Saturday, May 23

The Clap Trap

I do hope this business of people standing around banging pots and clapping every Thursday at 8pm comes to an end soon. I mean as some sort of national requirement that makes a top or second to top news item each evening two hours later. I have nothing against anyone showing their appreciation for the good work done by others, although I am quite relieved that there is not an out-of-work opera singer or bagpipe player living within earshot who wishes to do so. Everyone should be free to say thank you, draw rainbows or whatever. What seems to have developed, though, is criticism of those who do not participate.

It seems that it is necessary to be seen clapping and that has become as important a feature of the procedure as the sign of appreciation itself. It is like praying to one's God or whatever similar activity a person may wish to do in line with his religion or belief. Some people need to demonstrate that they are praying, attending church on Sunday or whatever when most religions I know about refer to being modest and not making any obvious outward show of intent. To pray quietly in the peace of one's own home seems far more genuine and desirable than to do so noisily in public.

Although everyone's clapping is not praying the two activities are similar in many ways and I think there has been enough public, organised 'thank you' activity. Indeed, just the one would have been extremely effective, as would, I suggest, celebration when we finally get something definitive by way of an all-clear of the virus or a vaccine produced.

I like all my neighbours. I do appreciate the hard work put in by many, many people in all walks of life to help keep me and my friends and family safe. I would just feel uncomfortable standing outside my door at a set time on a set day clapping. It's not something I feel at ease doing. It would be unnatural and the sole reason I would have done so would have been to have been seen doing so. Now I have to put up with the niggling thought that one or two people will be asking themselves, or each other, why I was not out there clapping or banging a spoon on a pan.

Things were going well for a while but now the virus and events around it are getting political. We have seen several efforts to make the Government ministers feel embarrassed, possibly hoping they might resign and slowly build support for the opposition. First blame for some shortages of protective equipment is placed on various ministers. No-one seems to ask what part the very well-paid and numerous senior executives running the NHS and other services might have played. They were, indeed the people whose job descriptions will have included ensuring the adequacy of supplies - and that would, I presume, include more that just asking for them and moaning when they don't receive them.

Secondly, blame for our either being locked down too late in the day or, bizarrely on the other hand too, for actually being locked down at all is placed on various ministers. None of them are experts in this field. There may have been scenarios played out in years gone by when the country's response to different types of threat were conducted and weaknesses here and there shown up. Whether any of our ministers were familiar with these or recommendations when all this blew up I don't know but I doubt anyone was particularly well-briefed personally and will have relied heavily upon the advice provided by those who, again, are paid handsomely from the public purse for doing so.

I maintain that, whoever had been in Government, whatever their political affiliation. then there would now be blame placed on them and the same amount of whingeing and journalists constantly asking questions about whether they should have done this or that several weeks ago when the public want to know what will be happening tomorrow and in the months ahead. I think we all largely accept that there may well have been better decisions taken at different times but we want to know now what decisions are being taken for the best outcomes in future.

I get the impression that most of the ministers directly involved in making decisions about my future are intelligent and sensible. I don't get the impression that they are being at all 'Conservative' but doing what they believe, after listening to advice from experts, is right. In contrast, we now have teachers' union officials stirring up great unease amongst a group who have tended to be Labour or Liberal voters in the main, in relation to the proposals to get children at certain ages to return to school soon. We expected that there would be parents who will be reluctant to move out of the security blanket that staying at home provides and I have talked before about those idiots who seek a guarantee that their child will not get the virus. Now, though, it is harder to get past a union decree that their members should not work until their representatives have been satisfied that it will be safe. Quite what these union officials can do that the people running the schools can't do is beyond me, especially as most, if not all the schools have been open ever since the damned virus first appeared.

Yes, it will be ruddy complicated. Yes, there will be times when it will be simply not be feasible to be 2 metres away or 100% certain that a surface does not harbour contagion. But all the experts I have heard talk about this, without any obvious political leaning in either direction, are saying that children appear to be far far less likely to suffer as a result of catching the virus and the numbers affected in any serious way are minute across the nation and that the risk to teachers in the school environment is no greater than in any other work environment.

You have expected our local supermarkets to be open and staff to be on duty. You have queued to buy non-essentials at a Garden Centre with staff there hauling plants and decking around for you but now you don't want to go into a classroom or you want to keep your child effectively locked in her room on the 7th floor of an apartment until September. Actually, I wouldn't mind betting that many of these left wing complainers and moaners are the same people who will be driving to some beach or barbecue area at the weekend and probably leaving their litter behind as well as their shit in someone's garden as they made no allowance whatsoever for public toilets being closed.

The Government cannot really win, whatever they do. It only takes a nurse to die and they'll be blamed for her PPE not being adequate. One child will get ill and they'll be blamed for encouraging a return too soon. Old folk will die in Care Homes and that will be their fault too, whether it is from the virus or not. Many businesses will collapse because they will have been shut for too long and unable to get going again. That will be the Government's fault for the length of lockdown. Almost everything that goes wrong will be their fault and it will be virtually impossible to argue against the opposition's complaints or journalists' insinuations that then become headlines in our newspapers and on our screens.

Boris Johnson might just as well hold his hands up now and say "OK. It's all my fault. Vote Labour in 2024."

Except it isn't. And you need to realise something. China is where this all started. The people to blame are the Chinese Communist Party. And no-one gets to vote for or against them. Indeed, in Hong Kong last week, those members of parliament who were objecting to a change in regulations being introduced by Chinese Communist Party representatives in Hong Kong were forcibly prevented from returning to the voting chamber. The rules state that only those present can vote and so a raft of changes became law against the wishes of, I suspect, the vast majority of Hong Kong citizens. When we ceded control of Hong Kong to an arrangement between Hong Kong and China there was supposed to be respect maintained for the independence of Hong Kong. This was enshrined in agreements made between the United Kingdom and China at the time. These agreements are now being eroded to such an extent that it is quite wrong to sit back and not object.

Perhaps those people so keen to moan at the UK Government might use their efforts better by focussing on what China is doing. Now there they would have good cause to argue, moan, whinge and shout. Why don't you? The virus has conveniently led to our taking the eye off the Hong Kong ball. And it will be Hong Kong citizens who will pay the penalty.

Tuesday, May 12

Cars crash, smokers cough.

Some relaxation of restrictions here in England this week. It appears that I should be able to drive somewhere for exercise and to be able to visit someone outside, one at a time, and still maintaining a good distance between us all. I can also do this several times so I could meet one person in one place and then another in the same place afterwards or go somewhere else and neither distance nor time appear to be an issue.

I am not rushing to do so, though, as anyone who really wants to see or talk to me can do so by phone or video and there really are not many people I'm missing if the truth be told. I had very, very few visitors before all this started so I am hardly likely to see much difference. It does mean that I could go to Sussex to collect an old bicycle that someone is building for me but I can't go with my daughter so I'd have to borrow her car with the bike rack on the roof or, maybe, fit the device to my car. I probably won't though. It might be cheaper to have it posted to me. I could also go to the airport but Ukraine and Malta are still not permitting international flights so I'm still stuck in Britain for some time.

I have noticed something about the behaviour of many people during this crisis and the new  proposals have only served to emphasise this. It seems that many individuals have lost the ability to assess a situation and make decisions. Mr Tellme-Whattodo understood the Stay At Home message and pretty much did so. He and his wife dutifully stood in the queue at the supermarket and tut-tutted when anyone seems to be closer than 2 metres. They had studied what 2 metres was and, although they may also have been the same family that piled up their shopping trolley with loo rolls and pasta in March, they are now dutifully buying just the three packs of mince and casting a scrutinising eye over other folk's trolleys as they pass. Mrs Maskface wears a mask everywhere she goes and bustles quickly out of the way whenever she sees someone heading towards her. She looks pretty grim as if she has either had the virus or expects to be getting it any time soon although the flimsy bit of material will not protect her at all as she brushes her ungloved hand across her face after opening the shop door which a hundred other ungloved fingers had touched during the last few hours.

Now, though, there is much moaning and complaint. They don't understand the new message, they say. Those who had been waiting for a chance to criticise the government, mostly because it was Conservative and they'd voted Liberal or Labour or SNP or Plaid Cymru, now, at last had a chance to do so. Staying At Home had been crystal clear.  Quite easy to understand and fairly easy to obey. They also reckoned there would be a good chance of catching the virus and dying if they didn't. So that's a good incentive to do so. Now these people have a problem. They're being told to Stay Alert. Allowing for the fact that some particularly thick people needed to look up alert in a dictionary but didn't possess any books so had to ask a neighbour, many still had a problem with this. It meant that they needed to look out for danger, to think before doing this or that as they were now able to step outside and go places, perhaps go to work and shortly see some of their children off to school.

It seems that many people are totally unprepared for this kind of mental exercise. A classic remark from Mrs Tellme was that she wouldn't go to work until she had a guarantee that she would be safe. Union officials, of course, loved this too and suddenly a whole new career path opened for thousands of jobsworths who could spend days and months holding employers to account for not including X or Y in their risk assessments. How on Earth, I ask, can anyone on this planet ever have a guarantee that they will be safe doing anything?!

This period of intense protection that had been provided by the Government appears to have had the effect of neutralising people's brain cells in terms of their ability to think for themselves. They want The Government to tell them exactly what to do, not open a door and allow them to think for themselves whether to go out, whether to turn left or right or go straight ahead. They liked the Nanny State. They were the voters that Jeremy Corbyn knew were out there but failed to reach. I thought there might only have been a small proportion of the nation that would really have welcomed a socialist state in Britain but I may have been quite wrong. I am now seeing many, many people in interviews and even in discussion of the street, who are simply waiting to be told what to do next, who expect this guarantee of safety from a school, employer or whoever.

A good friend of mine wrote a message shortly after Boris Johnson's TV announcement to say that was confusing and how 'people' had no idea what to do. I immediately responded to say that it seemed very clear to me. If people felt that it was safe to go back to work then they would be encouraged to do so. They needed to be alert, careful when encountering others. If they could keep at a distance and follow the usual instructions of maintaining clean hands, not touching their faces then for the vast majority that would be sufficient to enable them to steer clear of infection. They would only get it from touching a contaminated surface or breathing in contaminated air. There would always be some risk but for all but a few of us that risk would be of similar order to the risks that we had lived with, probably unknowingly admittedly, all our lives so far. Cars crash, trees fall down, people fight, gas explodes, smokers cough. We walk through a valley of potential death every day and, for the most part, instinctively take precautions to minimise the number of events that could lead to us dying.

So the idea that we should Stay Alert seems pretty much common sense and totally comprehensible. If we don't have to go anywhere then no-one is saying we should go out for the sake of it but if we want to we can. No-one is forcing us back to work but if the employer makes changes that enable them to comply with various regulations for our safety then we can go. If we can't then the state will continue to pay our wages for a while longer. No-one is forcing children to go to school but if the school feels that it has complied with the regulations to keep children safe then they can go. Parents will not be fined for keeping their child away. It is all our choice in most cases still. But so many people are apparently anaesthetised by the Nanny State injection of Stay At Home that they are simply lost and cannot take responsibility for their future decisions.

It will be someone else's fault if they get ill. It will be someone else's fault if their employer goes bust because workers don't return to help rebuild the economy. It will be someone else's fault whatever 'it' is. They have this ridiculous desire for a guarantee, for certainty. They cannot ever have it.

This question of risk is an important one to consider further. There have been almost zero instances of  very young children being badly affected by the virus. In fact, amongst the under 50s the numbers of people who have been badly affected and who have not had any other health problems are still very small. It has been the old folk who have suffered or those may well have suffered anyway from something else but the virus got to them first. So for a huge swathe of our population it may well be the case that they could get the virus and either not know it or recover quickly from its effects and get on with life again. The problem is that they might pass it to the old or infirm and that's why we have had the 'lockdown' - to protect not so much the NHS but old folk. It has also had the benefit of keeping safe those few young people who would have been badly affected by it for reasons no-one is quite sure.

So children returning to school is very, very unlikely to result in their getting ill. It will be pretty much as safe as it ever was for them. The problem will be that they are great spreaders. They'll pick up the virus and give it to teachers and bring it home. That is pretty much unavoidable while the virus is around and it is isn't going anywhere soon. So young parents and teachers should be fine and will not die as a result of children going back to school but there needs to be care in managing encounters with old folk. Older people need to be alert - if they feel vulnerable and don't want to take the risk then they shouldn't teach or interact with the children. If they are the parents then, OK, don't send the children back yet. If they are the teachers, don't go back to work yet.

If we don't start taking risks now and entering environments where there might be virus around then we will have to wait until it is cleared or a vaccine is available. Are we seriously going to avoid work, keep children away from school, continue with our present strange insular lifestyles, waiting for Them to tell Us what to do for what could be another six months? We simply cannot ever have that guarantee that we won't get ill or die. We can get a large degree of certainty if we can be innoculated against this strain of virus but that seems not to be likely until 2021. The incidence of infection on surfaces or in the air should become minimal before that and statistics from tests will indicate the nation's progress in wiping it out as fewer and fewer people show a positive response in tests and, of course, the number of people dying from the virus becomes close to zero over a sustained period. We are already well down on earlier numbers and once the deaths fall to below 100 each day I, for one, will begin to feel much more confident that I will not be one of the future numbers on our TV screens or in the headlines. I may still get the virus but I feel much less likely to die and that, to be brutally honest, is the important thing for me. I want to stay alive.

So I shall be alert. I will look around at who is a potential threat to my survival and steer pretty much clear of them. I will not touch my face unless I can be sure my hands are clean. I will live my life with those that I know and love around from time to time but at a safe distance no doubt for some months yet. I will make one exception for my girlfriend as and when I am able to meet her again unless, of course, she is coughing spluttering and complaining of a lack of sense of smell or taste!

Friday, May 8

VE Day 75th Anniversary

Flags and more flowers

This lamb and often his brothers and sisters gather here, and prevent anyone getting through the gate at this point. I think they hope that we might let them through to this side as we attempt to pass! The funny thing is that if you walk about 10 yards to the right the fencing actually stops!! You (and the sheep) can simply take a slight detour and ignore the gate thing completely!!

Only a week or two ago this was all brown.

A hot afternoon but the horse still has his coat on and, by the seems of things, can see where he's going either at the moment! 

I spotted this little stone and loved the idea that someone had had of painting HOPE on it. The I noticed the #campion rocks (presumably without the space). I shall put this on Twitter and see if there is more information.

Butterflies usually fly off as soon as I manage to focus - or, more often, fold up their wings. This time I was lucky.

These are flag iris. Quite appropriate as it is also VE day.

This is quite a strange photo and the sheep appears to be in a sort of dungeon. In fact it is just a small stream at the edge of the field and the plants there seem particularly tasty too. If they stroll further down the stream they can also have a go at getting into the paddock behind where I live. Most summers a few of the chunkiest lambs make it and have a good time as we chase them to send them back.

Wednesday, May 6

Spring colours and £8.99 WizzAir tickets

The amazing colours of Spring are here and even though I know I have taken the same plants over and over they remain a delight and, of course, slightly different each year.

It seems a long time ago that I was writing about the restrictions on our movements due to the virus and the threats to some of our lives. Here we are in May and I should now be driving around small tracks on Gozo, seeking an elusive beach and drinking more coffee than is good for me. Instead I am still here in the village, several months older but little wiser about what may or may not be the outcome of all this.

I bought a string of WizzAir tickets recently. One was an optimistic 27 May flight but at £8.99 it was irresistible. My logic was that if, by some good fortune, I was able to go then I would kick myself if there was a mad rush for tickets later and that would push the price through the roof or even mean I couldn't actually get a flight at all. Similar logic then made me buy some more at the same crazy price so if May doesn't work I can try again in late June and if that doesn't work I'll try 12 July. After that we're in August and the times when everyone tends to go on holiday so the prices were not at all attractive. I suppose if I am still waiting I'll take what I can get but by then I might even be prepared to wait until the more pleasant month of September for travel when I might also be able to move on to Gozo too where the temperature will be substantially lower than the 40° that it reaches in Summer.

Whatever happens here in UK, I shall also need Ukraine to open its border, of course. So that is the first square on the puzzle board that has to be reached. They also need to permit travel either by private or public transport. Then, or by then, I need to be able to get to Luton Airport reasonably legally. For that I may need a face mask as it seems that airports and airlines will be insisting on those being worn. My daughter told me the type she reckons I should buy so I have a super efficient type coming but, as that looks pretty ugly and I shall not really need that other than in close proximity to others, I have purchased a couple of other simple affairs which might look a bit better. One is like a cowboy's scarf in black with white dots and I can vaguely imagine wearing that one. None of the others appeal at all, though. So I'll have the mask but can I actually get to the airport?

At the moment the regulations don't permit me to go so I need them to be relaxed so that I can drive my car at least to the airport and, ideally, to my friend's house from which I can then get a lift or take some form of transport. He does drive a taxi so I'm hoping that, even if we cannot travel together as friends, we can do so as drive plus fare.

Although there are signs of businesses beginning to open again and some relaxation will be announced soon, I don't expect much to happen that will assist my cause at this juncture. That's OK as Ukraine's border is still closed but when it does open I really don't want to be stuck because of UK regulations.

So there is quite a lot of change to happen before I can make use of my £8.99 tickets.

In all this I am, of course, assuming that I manage to avoid catching the damn virus or, if I do, not dying from it. Dying would be a great shame as I still have a considerable amount of tidying to do.