Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Blind Faith

A couple of summers ago I had to visit the optician. It was a particularly hot summer, large parts of which I had spent in a baking, stuffy office staring at a screen. This, it turned out, was drying out my eyes to such an extent that they had turned red. I looked like a cartoon baddie.

So I had an eye test. An eye test which did not involve climbing into my car and driving 30 miles to a beauty spot. This method - the one we are expected to believe was used by Dominic Cummings to determine whether or not it was safe to drive back to London from Durham - is unsurprisingly not one currently recommended by any of the major optical retail chains. To paraphrase Blackadder there is only one thing wrong with this explanation. It is bollocks.

The initial denials of any lockdown breach from Cummings, from bumbling Donald Trump tribute act Boris Johnson and a whole host of desperate, should-have-known-better careerist ministers were not enough to bury the story. Even Tory brochure of hate the Daily Mail turned on the government and its lying, entitled, narcissist chief advisor. The nation’s press could and should have employed some more sensible social distancing measures in the current climate, but they were fully justified in continuing to follow this story up. It was and still is essential to the continued efforts to control the pandemic that the little snot-weasel be made accountable.

All of which led to the announcement yesterday that Cummings would be making a statement and taking questions himself. Some had a problem with an unelected fraudster getting this type of national TV platform which was understandable. The man already has far too much power and to make him the centre of national attention was arguably pandering to his massive ego. But it also offered the viewing public an opportunity to see him try to explain for himself why it was fine for him to drive his family 250 miles to Durham while his wife was experiencing symptoms of the virus. Why was it ok for him and not for you? Why had you not seen your grandchildren, why had you lost loved ones without being there for them or missed funerals if this sort of thing was within the rules of the March 23 lockdown?

So he got his platform. Half an hour late he finally arrived, seated at a small table in the Downing Street garden. He looked like he was selling raffle tickets or some sort of cheap shit at the St Helens Show. Someone in government (possibly Cummings himself as it appears he is the one in possession of the administration’s one brain cell) had obviously judged the mood and decided he wasn’t worth one of the brightly coloured plinths reserved for ministers at the daily briefings. Bad Eyes? Get In Your Car, Drive 30 Miles would not have worked as an effective slogan.

What followed was an explanation that was inconsistent and implausible. We are back to Blackadder again when he had to explain to his puritanical auntie why she had just heard someone shout ‘great booze-up, Edmund’ from the drunken party he was secretly hosting in the next room. He thinks about it for an age before coming up with the tale of Great Boo who had just awoken after suffering from sleeping sickness. As Auntie Whiteadder had heard ‘Great Boo’s Up’.

Cummings told us that having himself fallen ill with the symptoms of coronavirus and isolating for the requisite 14 days he had been suffering from poor vision. The problem remained when he started to recover from the other symptoms so to find out whether he would be fit enough to drive, he drove. Of course, why wouldn’t he? Who hasn’t done that?

Well, everyone as it turns out. Cummings’ increasingly desperate supporters must have been dismayed at this explanation. They had spent the previous 48 hours explaining why driving 250 miles to a different part of the country, in a confined metal box with an infected wife and a four-year-old was not a breach of the lockdown rules. They thought they had nailed that, now here they were learning that the next task on their to do list would be to explain why it was not in any way dangerous to drive around for 45 minutes without the ability to see properly. You have to feel for these useful idiots. For me that’s like pushing my chair up the steepest ramp in Britain to get to the pub only to find a flight of stairs at the top of the ramp which lead to the pub. The hard work has only just started and maybe it is a hopeless cause. Couldn’t he have given them something to work with? Anything?

Not that it has deterred them. Cummings still has his loyal following. They tell us that in taking the child to a place where he could receive the care that he may or may not have needed Cummings was only doing what any caring parent would do for their child. These people queued up to tell us that they would have done the same in his position. We’ll ignore the fact that Cummings has to drive the length of the country to find someone who likes him enough to help him with child care. That tells its own story. The point is that had any of those people done what Cummings chose to do they would have been arrested and fined. What his explanation depends on is the public’s belief in his exceptionalism. That we will tug our forelocks and accept that he is better than we are and so not subject to the same rules. The sadness of it is that to a large extent it works. Or at least it has so far. Unless something changes dramatically Cummings is going to be allowed to ride this out on the back of cap-doffers who ‘aren’t interested’ in politics, absolutely do not vote Tory but have no doubts that Dianne Abbott would have redirected all of their taxes to the local mosque.

There are others who go a stage further. There have been some fairly vile takes which state that anyone objecting to Cummings’ actions has no idea what he has to go through because, being furloughed, all they have to do is sit in their gardens and enjoy a beer. It hardly needs saying how insulting this is to the millions who have had no choice but to be furloughed. The thousands who have made horrifying sacrifices to comply with the measures as their family members perished. To my personal dismay a couple of rugby league club owners and self proclaimed man of the people Tony Bellew are among those sitting in judgement of the furloughed. The same rugby league owners who are currently using the furlough scheme to pay their players at Rochdale and at Wakefield Trinity. As for Bellew, the next time he visits Goodison Park I would hope he is met with the same reception that greeted Rod Stewart when he went to Celtic Park just after the election. After hearing that the wannabe-Scot crooner had sided with the Tories during the campaign the Celtic fans unfurled a banner which read ‘fuck off, Rod’.

There are just the beginnings of a Tory revolt. Douglas Ross was a minister in the Scotland office until today when he became the first to make a stand. He decided he could not tell the public that they had been wrong to follow the rules and one government advisor had been right to break them. Yet this is merely a ripple. It will take similar action from several more weightier names in the government for our non-stick Prime Minister to abandon his plan to baton down the hatches until it all blows over. The prospects of that appear bleak at the moment. Only this morning Michael Gove, that symbol of self entitlement and psychopathic British exceptionalism, was on TV trying to keep a straight face while telling people that he has ‘on occasion’ driven to check his eyesight but that he is ‘not an authority on driving’. Indeed not, but the question of whether it is advisable or even legal to drive with impaired vision feels like something the DVLA left out of the handbook because it was just too bloody obvious.

So what have we learned other than that the far right cult which comprises our government don’t much care whether the public believe their lies or not? Fundamentally that it is less about left or right wing politics and more about the more basic question of right and wrong and about not having a psychotic belief that you are untouchable. But most of all, we have learned what not to do if your working environment gets too hot and your eyes turn red.





Saturday, 23 May 2020

Cummings And Goings

Like most people I have barely left the house for the last two months. I have been working from home since the government announced on March 17 that anyone with any of a whole raft of underlying conditions should do so.

Though I am at an advanced stage of chronic kidney disease and am awaiting transplant I am fortunate that having not had my surgery yet I am not immunosuppressed. So I have been able to take the odd push down to the shops for essentials. I have even driven to the supermarket once. This constitutes a day out in the new normal of 2020.

Others have it worse than I do. I know people who are shielding. People who are immunosuppressed who according to government advice from March 23 could no longer leave the house at all if they wanted to avoid contracting the potentially deadly coronavirus Covid-19. The rest of us were told only to go out for food or medicines, exercise for up to one hour, work (if you are a key worker like an NHS worker, delivery driver or supermarket staff) or to take supplies of food or medicines to friends and family who were shielding.

Those rules have been relaxed slightly. On May 10 our jibbering halfwit Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the previous limit of one hour of exercise no longer applied. Activities like picnics, sunbathing, golf and ‘unlimited rambling’ were back on the agenda. There’s a certain irony in gaining permission for unlimited rambling from Johnson, a world class unlimited rambler. Yet visiting family was still a no-no. You could meet family members for outdoor activities as long as you adhered to the social distancing guideline of staying two metres apart but you could not visit them at their home nor let them into yours. The only exception to this was that children could spend time at the homes of each of their parents if they were not living at the same address. If you were a grandparent hoping to see the little ones you were still shit out of luck. You had to suck it up and stay away from them for the greater good. Many grandparents were more likely to be in the more vulnerable groups it was said. It was accepted that the measures were for their own protection.

Imagine all our surprise then when it was revealed last night that Dominic Cummings, the government’s special advisor, flagrantly and dangerously broke these rules. Rules that he had helped devise, let’s not forget. And not just by popping down the road or across town but by driving over 250 miles from his London home to Durham. Fucking Durham. He apparently did so to help his sick wife look after their son. In imposing the restrictions the government went out of their way to express sympathy on the matter but nevertheless explicitly stated that individuals should not travel even in such circumstances. The message was drummed into us day after day at the government’s pantomime plinth daily briefings. There was no ambiguity, no room for doubt. No circumstances in which it was deemed ok to just pop here or just go there. Not even if you were Dominic Cummings.

Though social media has been full of people delighting in eagerly grassing each other up for breaches of these rules they were mostly followed. There were photographs doing the rounds of people gathering on beaches and of one hard of thinking community dancing the conga on VE Day. Still, the vast majority of the population reluctantly complied and stayed at home. If there were sick relatives to care for in other parts of the country the people made other arrangements. Thousands have had to leave family members to die alone as a consequence of this directive. The cruelty of this needs no further explanation. I haven’t got the words for people who have been through this horror only to learn now that the rules didn’t apply to Cummings.

He stayed in a building close to his parents’ farm. That itself is a breach of the government’s own rules but it also places his parents at significant risk given that they are in the most vulnerable age group. He did all of this while himself experiencing symptoms of coronavirus! Either Cummings is sufficiently sociopathic to deliberately place his own parents in mortal danger or the risks aren’t quite as high as we have been told to this point. Either way millions of us have been taken for fools by the elected officials responsible for protecting us. I always knew that electing a government somewhere to the right of Paolo Di Canio would be damaging but I must admit to being slightly taken aback by the extent to which they have fulfilled that potential.

Such is their arrogance they are not even sorry. As I write the entire Tory cabinet is rushing to send out social media statements in defence of Cummings. He is receiving a more strict level of shielding from any wrongdoing than anyone vulnerable shielding from the virus itself. It’s actually an embarrassment and quite shameful to see the leaders of a developed democracy behaving this way. It is even more mortifying to consider that it is happening in our democracy. This is the sort of skullduggery normally reserved for despots and dictators who rule by fear. Consider the following responses;

‘Two parents with coronavirus were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those seeking to politicise it should take a long, hard look in the mirror’ - Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

‘It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find child care for his toddler when both he and his wife were getting ill’ - Health Secretary and ought-to-know-better recently recovered coronavirus patient Matt Hancock.

‘Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t’ - Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak.

‘Caring for your wife and child is not a crime’ - Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for Fuck All Michael Gove.

You’ll notice the common thread. Trying to spin these irresponsible breaches as some moral good. Looking after the family. Taking care of the kids. The problem with this approach is that it implies that the rest of us, including those who could not be with their dying relatives or who could not attend their funerals, just didn’t care enough about their loved ones to break the rules. If not, if the ministers are standing by the idea that Joe Public was right to stick to the rules however emotionally difficult that may have been, then what they are therefore trying to sell us is the idea that Cummings is entitled to be viewed as an exception. That his family matters more than yours or mine. Don’t you be driving up to a different part of the country to look after your family. You stay at home, save lives, stay alert, don’t be selfish. But Dom? He’s sweet. He gets a pass.

To be fair it wasn’t always part of the plan to let him off like this. No, phase one (this government loves a phase) was to cover it up for eight weeks. When an unusually inquisitive national newspaper got bored of complying with the bullshit and asked on April 5 whether it was true that Cummings was in or had recently been in Durham Downing Street said ‘that’ll be a no comment’. It wasn’t until Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield failed to specify his location in her account of his illness for The Spectator that the jig was up.

Defending the indefensible is merely an encore to what has been a scandalous cover-up from which there should be a succession of rolling heads, not just that of Cummings. Someone in Number 10 sanctioned Cummings’ Covid road trip. I’d send them on another one. A European football tour with Harry Redknapp and Razor Ruddock and the boys at the earliest opportunity. If the electorate can’t hold them to account and make them change their shameful ways then perhaps a few nights listening to Paul Merson trying to save them from their vices might do the trick.

Cummings’ lockdown flout is not the first of its kind. Yet the response from the cabinet ministers is markedly different to the one we saw previously. Neil Ferguson was a government advisor on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) before he broke lockdown rules by receiving a visit from his married girlfriend. Before that Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood lost her position after visiting her second home.

On Ferguson future fall-guy Hancock declared himself ‘speechless’ and said that Ferguson had ‘made the right decision to resign’. Hancock also said he would ‘back the police’ if they saw fit to take action. In the end they decided not to, but it was not the backing of those in positions of political power that got Ferguson off the hook. Hancock just didn’t want to be seen to be trying to do the job of the police for them. Just as well since he can’t even do his own job, as over 35,000 deaths and counting will attest.

The most worrying aspect of all of this shameless rank-closing within the cabinet is what it says about Cummings’ influence within government. What is it about him that has Hancock, Raab, Sunak and Gove so desperate to avoid cutting him loose? My best guess is that he is the only one among them with an IQ over 12 and that without him they just won’t know what to do to get us through the rest of the current crisis. Or is it something more sinister? Has he got the negatives? Has he kidnapped Gove’s mum? Nah, that can’t be it. Like Gove would care. Whatever the reason for it the government’s collective refusal to force the resignation of an unelected advisor in clear breach of the law at a time of national crisis is deeply troubling. We are back to the question of government without accountability. Of dictators and despots.

We may all yet pay a price for the government’s abhorrent double standard. How can any government minister stand behind his or her brightly coloured, confusingly sloganed plinth each day from now and tell us to adhere to rules that its own insiders can break without consequence? There will be those who will no longer listen which can only increase the chances of more gatherings, more crowded streets, more congas, less compliance with social distancing and - if what we have been told is true - more of a likelihood of a second huge wave of infections and deaths.

If that happens and Cummings is still in his job then good luck telling people that they can’t visit family or attend funerals. Some of you will have already hit the road.


Thursday, 30 April 2020

Testing Times

This story starts with Emma unexpectedly coming home early from work yesterday. She’s a key worker at the crown court. Though there are no jury trials going on amid social distancing in the current crisis they remain open for sentencing. Somebody has to staff them.

Until yesterday that is when it was discovered that two members of staff had tested positive for coronavirus. The building was evacuated and will be closed now until Monday at least. Although the two staff members in question have been off with symptoms in recent days their diagnosis obviously increases the chances that Emma could have contracted the virus. Last night she said she thought she might be getting a bit of a sore throat as well as some aches. By this morning the sore throat had not developed but the aches persisted. Matt Hancock had announced yesterday that key workers outside the NHS were eligible for a test along with their co-habitants. So it was time for us to get a test.

Emma went online to find that we had three options in terms of testing centres we could visit. Two were in Manchester at either the airport or the Etihad Stadium while the other was in Knutsford. Not ideal if you live in St Helens especially at a time when the government don’t want people venturing far from their own localities. But this was essential. We decided that Knutsford was just about the best of those options and were given a time slot of between 1.00 and 1.30pm today.

It wasn’t that easy to find. The website claims it is on Toft Road but when we got to Toft Road we had more to do. There is some very small white signage, hastily printed no doubt, leading you to the Covid-19 test centre. It would be very easy to miss and considering the litany of problems we had with the testing process thereafter it is a small miracle that we managed to find it without missing our time slot.

When you get there two things immediately greet you. Queues and soldiers. It was extremely hot inside the car this afternoon so we had the window open on the passenger side as we approached the queue. We were barked at to close the window by one of the soldiers. He was wearing a flimsy looking mask and full military uniform. There were dozens like him, all shuffling about from car to car giving instructions to an increasingly bewildered public.

At this point the barking stops. Once inside the grounds of the centre you cannot have your window open more than just a crack. Even then that is only for brief, simple instructions. More commonly they stand next to your car window holding up a card that reads ‘please call.......’ and then a mobile number is written underneath. So you call and have a conversation on the telephone with a soldier who is six feet from your car window. I didn’t read the full instructions on the website. Emma did that. So I don’t know what happens if you don’t have your mobile phone to hand.

The first part of the conversation is about scanning. When your appointment is confirmed they send you a text message with a link on it. You are instructed to open the link which takes you to a scannable (is that a word?, Pages for the iPad seems to think so) code. You are asked to hold up the code to your car window to be scanned which is supposed to allow you to register so you can be given your testing kit. Only it doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t work. This is me and Emma, remember? After a few minutes twiddling with knobs and muffled whispers between soldiers our man is back on the phone. He says there is a problem with the scanner. This has been fine all day, he tells us, until now. Again, has he not heard about us?

All is not lost. There’s a phone number on a receipt card that is part of the testing kit. We can ring that number to complete our registration at home once we have taken the test. He says something about attaching a bar code to this card and I have no clue what he means because what he doesn’t explain is that within the testing kit are four stickers each with bar codes on. He says it will all become clear when we get the testing kits. He asks me to wind down the back window so his colleague can drop two testing kits on to the back seat. We are then asked to move out of the queue and park up by a hedge on the edge of what is actually just a big car park next to Knutsford Leisure Centre. He attempts to reassure me that this will not be difficult but says that if I have any questions I should put my hazard lights on. He doesn’t state the obvious by telling me not to get out of the car which is a shame because I was looking forward to the look on his face when I told him that to do so would be more trouble than it’s worth since my chair is in the boot of the car at this point.

You need a nursing degree to decipher the testing process. If we ever get back to the office I might ask some of our nursing academic staff to give me a few pointers because initially I was clueless. You get four pages of instructions where one would have done. Part of those instructions is a diagram, ambiguously labelled. It is meant to identify all the items in the testing kit so that you know exactly what to do with which item. You wouldn’t want to be downing the contents of the vial, for example, or sticking the swab in the wrong orifice. The vial looks just that - vile. Like something they used to put in the cocktails in Maloney’s when the bar men thought they were Tom Cruise. Maloney’s is still the only Irish bar I’ve ever been in where buying a pint is frowned upon.

The swab is for your nose and your throat. You only get one so it is dual purpose. The instructions are to take a swab of the throat first. There might be a medical or hygiene reason for this but if there is it is not elaborated on despite the forest-decimating amount of paper they are using. When I swab the back of my throat I gag and splutter like someone who has downed the vial or a cocktail at Maloney’s. There’s also a self consciousness that comes with having to twirl the swab around inside your nostril for 15 seconds. It’s like picking your nose but without getting your hands dirty or removing any significant bogey-age. That’s definitely not a word whatever iPad Pages says.

The swabbing is the easy bit. It’s the labelling that causes the problems. The four stickers containing bar codes are there for a reason. There is meant to be one on the vial which by now should have the used swab inside it. That’s another difficulty. The swab is too long to fit into the vial so you have to snap some of it away. It bends easily but it does not break for what feels like several months. By this time we have been here over an hour. I have had to put those hazard lights on for assistance long ago. Anyone who thinks this is like going to a McDonald’s drive-thru think again. You don’t even get a happy meal at the end of it. Eventually the swab snaps, I can now close the vial and attach one of the bar code stickers to it. Another goes on your receipt card which we have to take home. Remember, we have to ring the number on the receipt card to complete our registration. The other two labels are for the clear plastic back now containing the vial with the swab inside and a bigger grey plastic bag into which the whole lot should be placed.

Except we’ve lost the remaining bar code stickers.

I had them just a second ago. I insist several times that I have put them in the bag but Emma has emptied the contents of said bag twice and there are no bar code stickers. To borrow Hancock’s phrase the pressure is ‘ramping up’ now. The soldier is back by our window, this time on Emma’s side and he’s trying to explain to us as patiently as possible how everything should be packaged before we can leave. As the search for the missing stickers continues and gets ever more fruitless, and as we start to bake inside an air-tight hunk of metal with the sun blazing down on us - conditions that would kill a good sized dog - Emma breaks into uncontrollable laughter at the farcical nature of this scene. I’m not laughing. I’m panicking. I’m worrying that Covid-19 will be a note in human history by the time we get out of Knutsford. Or that we may never get out. Perhaps to protect the public in a time of crisis the army will be authorised to just shoot the idiot that has managed to lose the fucking sticky labels! My fear turns to anger. Anger at Emma because she just won’t stop bloody laughing. Yet the angrier I get the more she laughs. What hope is there for us?

Eventually some sort of arrangement is made. I’m barely listening to what has been suggested or agreed but Emma is writing something on the various bags and bits of paper that seem to have multiplied faster than Covid-19 itself. Finally we are set free, still debating where the bloody hell those stickers got to as I negotiate the one way system which leads back to the outside world.

We stop at a Co-op on the way home. Since there is a chance we’ll test positive there a few things we need to stock up on if we have to isolate. Emma is slightly symptomatic and more likely to be positive (we think) so I go in. As I climb off the driver’s seat into my chair I notice something under my foot. Something yellow that looks like an office sticky that you write notes on. I pick it up and turn it over. It is the remaining two white sticky labels that we had just wasted half a lifetime not to mention the military’s time and resources looking for. I had seen this at the time but hadn’t bothered to explore it any further. It was yellow and I was looking for two white sticky labels. I hadn’t noticed that the reverse was office sticky note yellow. I just get a look from Emma. She doesn’t need to say anything. She still thinks it’s funny which considering how angry I was earlier at her fit of the giggles is a result.

I go into the shop. A man in the queue turns to me and tells me he has forgotten his card and needs to go back to his car. I’m not sure why I need to know. Perhaps he’s just making conversation. After all he probably hasn’t seen anyone for six weeks. It is only when he gets back from his car and thanks me before stepping back into the queue in front of me that I realise that he was expecting me to save his place in the queue. He shapes to leave no fewer than four times to let me have my turn before on each occasion turning to grab some other essential item (a 24-pack of Carling) off the shelf.

Finally served I make my exit. On my way out I decide against using my ruck sack to carry my shopping back to the car. It’s right outside the door and I’ve only bought bread and milk, some biscuits and a six-pack of Coke. I’ll be ok, right? Wrong. The top hat is placed perfectly atop my afternoon when I drop the plastic bag sending the biscuits rolling along the shop floor as the loaf plugs at the base of my front wheel. Only the milk and the Coke stay put. Ignoring social distancing because a biff who has dropped a bag is much more important than public safety, a woman comes to my aid, scooping up the biscuits and handing them back to me with the loaf. I thank her and apologise. Wisely, she doesn’t hang around.

The results will be in in the next 48-72 hours. I fully expect mine to come back positively brain dead.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Boris Is Back - But So What?

Well I feel a lot better, don’t you? No. Not really. The government and an increasingly compliant media are framing the return to work today of Boris Johnson as some kind of measure of relief if not an out-and-out saviour. You can almost hear them collectively exhale at the prospect of their beloved leader returning to lead the ongoing effort to eliminate coronavirus. Personally, I feel more secure now that Johnson is back in situ in the same way I would if you told me that Kyle Walker was organising a party for one of my elderly relatives.

The narrative that he has ‘taken one for the team’ after recovering from coronavirus is as sickening as it is false. First because he had previously boasted about shaking the hands of coronavirus patients and was therefore at least partly culpable for his own predicament, but also because it implies that those who do not recover somehow lack the requisite level of good old English bulldog spirit. Far too often we apply this narrative to illness, as if the outcome somehow depends on the will of the victim to just bloody well get up and go on living and not on other factors like human biology and absolute dumb inexplicable luck.

Even if you are naive enough to view Johnson’s recovery as heroic there is still very little evidence that his return will have a positive impact on the situation. As well as the arrogant, oafish handshaking in which he engaged Johnson spent two weeks away on holiday at a time when much of Europe was starting to enter the most dangerous phase of the pandemic. The bit when shit got real. Johnson missed no fewer than five Cobra meetings before the UK was finally locked down on March 23. That delay has translated to more than 20,000 deaths related to coronavirus in hospitals alone. Thousands more are thought to have died in care homes. To put that into context the government’s scientific advisors told us that if we could keep our overall death toll under 20,000 it would be ‘a good result’. We have failed to do that. The final tally could be double that figure.

The government have consistently claimed that their decisions were guided by the science. They have stated publicly that it is not problematic nor even unusual for a sitting Prime Minister to miss out on Cobra meetings. As if they are entirely voluntary and ultimately inconsequential like my failure to turn up for more than one shorthand session in three years of a journalism degree. Yet they will also tell you that it is absolutely necessary for Johnson’s closest advisor and vile architect of Brexit Dominic Cummings to be present at meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Let that sink in as absolute weapons on Twitter sometimes say. Prime Minister at Cobra meetings - optional. Spin doctor and political influencer at science think-tank gatherings - essential. Just who is running this country? Perhaps that question isn’t so easy to answer when you consider that there were people expecting the Queen to announce some game-changing policy when she made a televised speech recently.

Though it happened way too late the government did finally start to get things right in terms of tackling the pandemic. Social distancing is working in as far as infections and hospitalisations are now decreasing, even if the death tolls announced at the daily briefings are still horrific. Lockdown has worked to that extent but hapless supply teacher Dominic Raab was right when he told us yesterday that now isn’t the right time to be relaxing the lockdown measures. There is a debate to be had. The people who would have us locked down for two years are just as dangerous and batshit crazy as those who go round licking shelves in Tesco. But measures need to be relaxed gradually with proper thought and consideration at every stage.

The right, driven to distraction at the thought of an economic crash, have been pushing for some relaxation of measures for weeks. They argue that the damage it is causing economically will lead to more death and destruction of lives than the virus itself ever could. They suggest that we should just shield what they call ‘the vulnerable’ so that the rest of us can go back to life as we know it. What they fail to understand is that we have moved on from the belief that only the elderly or the sick are at risk from the very worst effects. We haven’t yet established what it is that makes coronavirus lethal to some people but a mild inconvenience to others. Until we do we need some form of lockdown or social distancing until a sophisticated and effective programme of contact tracing is established or a vaccine is available.

Yet you can see where this is going politically. Johnson’s return coincides with the important improvements we have seen in the statistics on infections. If lockdown measures are relaxed within the next few weeks it will be Johnson who is presented as the saviour. The poor old rudderless UK bumbling along, failing palpably to control infections, acquire PPE or ventilators until Johnson rides in on his white horse and lo.....light appears at the end of the tunnel. The man is conceited and deluded enough to believe that his return has made all the difference and so are his idiot public. Voting for his party’s debilitating cuts to public services over the last decade yet absolving themselves of any responsibility for that dismal choice by clapping every Thursday night until their hands sting like a Portuguese Man O’ War. Even then some of his disciples can’t manage to show their appreciation for the NHS without breaching the very social distancing rules that their exalted leader announced before his enforced quarantine.

Johnson and his government have done too little too late. They are not heroes saving the day. They are only now doing what is and has been required of them for months. Those who feel they are in an impossible predicament and therefore not accountable forget that when you put yourself forward for the highest office in the land you have to accept your accountability. It is not all weekends at Chequers, multiple mistresses and hiding in fridges. That Johnson and his followers don’t accept that is evidence of how unsuitable he is for the role.

To finish and with due apologies I’m going to borrow, slightly embellish and eventually strangle an analogy from a friend of mine on Twitter. He pointed out that Johnson’s return at this juncture is like Ray Wilkins’ return to the England side after the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Wilkins has been sent off in a group game with Morocco which ended goalless. In his absence England breezed past Paraguay in their next game, free from the constraints of Wilkins’ crab-like horizontal but impotent distribution. They then went toe-to-toe with Argentina in an epic quarter-final which is infamous for both the genius and the villainy of Diego Maradona. Johnson is Wilkins, a man who some feel we cannot do without but in whose absence we are perhaps more likely to progress. The problem is that the government doesn’t have a squad as strong as the one Bobby Robson had featuring Peter Beardsley, Trevor Steven or Glenn Hoddle. Though it does have plenty of Hoddle-esque enemies of the disabled. The virus is more powerful and more villainous than even the great Diego. But all we have to throw into the game when Johnson is not around is Raab and Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Essentially we have Steve Hodge and Terry Fenwick.

Perhaps that’s why Johnson’s return is being pitched as a blessed relief.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Lockdown Update

It’s difficult to relay any amusing access-related anecdotes during lockdown. Since I was sent home to do my job on my sofa on March 17 the biggest access problem I’ve had is slaloming through Padme’s litter trays to throw my jeans in the washing machine at the back of the house. The Co-Op is still the only place I have ventured out to, adorned as its floor now is with X’s meant to indicate social distancing that are clearly not two metres apart. They must have been put down by the same person who decided how much space there should be either side of the disabled parking bays at work.

A lot has happened elsewhere since then, however. The headlines should probably about the rapidly increasing coronavirus death toll. Yesterday a record 980 people succumbed to the illness. In total the number of deaths in the UK is close to 10,000. That’s an almost unprecedented number even taking into account the annual and largely unreported deaths we see from seasonal flu. Yet it has not only been normalised after a sustained period in which hundreds have died every day, it has also been pushed to the margins of the news agenda by the fact that Boris Johnson is still in hospital with coronavirus.

You might be thinking that you feel sorry for the virus in that case. Now that he seems to be over the worst of it I’m inclined to agree. When he was taken into intensive care the kindest thought I could muster was that I hoped he didn’t die. Politics should never push us to the point where we are wishing death on individuals we don’t like or agree with. However, the media coverage of his situation has been nothing short of sycophantic rumination. His recovery has been pitched by Pravda the BBC as an act of heroism - his illness as some kind of martyrdom - irrespective of the fact that as recently as March 3 Johnson was boasting about having shaken hands with coronavirus patients on a hospital visit. If ever there was a man too arrogant and ignorant to read a situation, too convinced of his own infallibility then it is Johnson.

Because of this, while the media focus should be on attempts to flatten the curve of infection and so slow the death rate, it is instead on what films Johnson is enjoying during his convalescence. While he kicks back in front of Withnail & I a succession of even more witless clowns have replaced him at the daily press briefings. Dominic Raab - a man who it transpires does not know what an island is - is second in command while Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been trying his best to dodge what awkward questions there have been. Home Secretary and all around bucket of shit Priti Patel made a rare public appearance in that capacity today. You remember Priti? She’s the one whose immigration ideas would have prevented her own parents (and therefore her) from living in the UK and who wants to introduce the death penalty for farting in a bakery. Between these luminaries they cannot explain why NHS workers still don’t have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for treating infected patients or why several flights a day still land at our main airports without checks.

People tell me constantly that this issue should not be politicised. Invariably, these are the kind of people who voted for this idiot government ‘because Brexit’ or ‘because Jeremy Corbyn’. Or the kind of people who refuse to engage with politics at all because ‘they’re all the same’. Often this last group go on to post all kinds of political statements on their social media which is fine because they ‘don’t vote’. All that I’m hearing from these people telling me not to politicise it is that they do not want to be made to feel guilty for the stupid and ignorant choices they made in the General Election in December.

The irony of it all is that in response to the economic crisis created by the lockdown the government has had to do exactly what it and its supporters told us was the greatest threat to our way of life and why Jeremy Corbyn ‘had to be stopped’. Spend public money. And lots of it. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had to pledge billions to cover 80% of wages for businesses to stop them going bust. Yet those same voters will be comforted to know that he has already warned that it will all have to be paid back. What does that mean? In all likelihood it means another two years of austerity, job losses, pay freezes for the lucky ones, before a slight relaxation of the purse strings prior to the 2024 General Election. At which point the grateful idiots vote them back in and the whole cycle starts again. Only without a deadly virus next time. That should make Johnson look like Nye Bevan to his retarded disciples. Assuming they know who Bevan is which I know is a stretch. Rather like expecting Padme to name the England batting order in the 2005 Ashes series.

The money we are ‘paying back’ to Sunak when this is all over is our money. Money you have already paid in tax. Meanwhile, Hancock has the brass stones to single out footballers who, he argues, should take a pay cut to help their billionaire clubs through the lean period during which no football is being played. The PFA have not helped the situation, reacting slowly in their own self-serving fashion, but why is Hancock calling out Dejan Lovren or Phil Jones and not his billionaire banker mates or the irksome super rich in other fields like Richard Branson, Tim Martin or James Dyson? Footballers will no doubt do their bit financially, and many of them have already made massive donations to the cause. Who is to say that if they took a pay cut that the money saved would find its way to the places where it is needed? Do you trust the owners of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United or - until a recent shame induced u-turn - Liverpool - to not pocket that money for themselves when they are (or were) all happy to furlough non-playing staff at the government’s (tax payer’s) expense?

It hasn’t been announced yet, but anyone who has been furloughed can expect that to continue for a while longer. Ludicrously - despite the absence of any evidence that we have reached the peak of this thing - despite warnings from science and health experts that we need to take things slowly even when we reach that peak - the media has nevertheless spent much of their time at this week’s daily briefings raising unrealistic expectations about ending the lockdown. What they might have been better served asking is not when it will end - that’s currently impossible to say - but what the stats might have to look like for restrictions to be lifted. For how long would we need to see a reduction in cases and deaths before restrictions are lifted? What structures will be in place to prevent further waves when we do come out of lockdown? None of this has been asked or answered, but we know that Johnson is well enough to tackle a sudoku puzzle so that’s something.

I have one last point to make. The restrictions that are in place have gone far enough. We do not need to see a complete lockdown that I know some people are calling for. A land where even your daily walk (push?) to the Co-Op would be off limits and all the local parks closed along with the already abandoned pubs, restaurants and cafes. Every day I see posts on social media from people foaming at the mouth because they have seen hordes of people on the roads, in the parks or in the shops. But what were the people writing the posts doing there? Everyone is entitled to go out for the reasons specified in the current guidelines and it is unhelpful for anyone to judge others for it. Let the police do that. They have been the powers to do so now and in any case, one of the few bits of useful information gleaned from the briefings is that the percentage of people flouting the social distancing rules is far lower than the great and the good of Instagram would have you believe. We are making a difference. It is just hard to appreciate that now because the figures we are currently seeing are the result of the government’s catastrophically slow decision to lock down which only arrived on March 20. Until then Johnson was shaking hands, telling us to take the loss of loved ones on the chin and hoping that the disease would only be as deadly as flu while offering the rest of us herd immunity.

I’m not suggesting that exaggerated levels of flouting of the social distancing measures means people should feel free or safe to ignore them. To those people protesting that they were more than two metres away from anyone else when they were sunbathing in the park I would say that if we all went sunbathing in the park it would become a very crowded, virus-friendly scene very quickly. You are not the exception while the rest of us sit at home watching endless repeats of Homes Under The Hammer and a coronavirus briefing that we are sure we saw word for word the day before. Do your bit. Take your stroll, walk your dog, enjoy your run, do your shopping. Whatever. Just piss off home when you’re done.

Otherwise there will be a lot more blogs like this than either you or I would ideally like.


Thursday, 26 March 2020

Lockdown

We’re only four days into this social distancing shit show and I’ve had just about enough. We are in what the media like to sensationally refer to as lockdown for an initial three weeks, but the likelihood is that it will go on for longer. Every time there is a headline or article offering cause for hope or optimism it seems to be immediately followed by something contradictory.

Take yesterday for example. It was reported by several sources that a Public Health England official had claimed that coronavirus testing would be widely available by next week. That testing will be crucial in telling us who has had the virus and who is still at risk of contracting it or passing it on to others. Today Chris Whitty, that odd-looking bloke you might have seen at government press briefings or in hastily produced government information films about social distancing, poo-poo-ed all of that. Whitty, who might be part of a cunning ruse to frighten the virus away, says that further testing needs to be done to make sure that the tests get the correct information that we need to make a difference. So we are awaiting tests on the tests. That sounds absurd but kind of encapsulates where we’re at.

It always seemed fanciful that this government would be able to arrange such a quick roll-out of mass testing despite the higher levels seen in other countries. I’m always genuinely surprised when I see Boris Johnson at one of his press briefings because it means he’s managed to remember to turn up. That he smirks his way through delivery of the gravest public advice since the Second World War is not endearing or reassuring. It just reinforces the view that the mop-headed toff is doing what he’s always done, bluffing his way through a situation that he is ill-equipped for. The only qualification he has for leading the country is his massive sense of entitlement. Quite how we are meant to put our trust in him to lead us out of this mess is a mystery that Fred Thursday wouldn’t have anything to do with.

Despite my scepticism about Johnson I had allowed myself to believe that we had made the strides towards widespread testing that were suggested yesterday. That was born mostly of the fact that it was a public health official making the claim and not Johnson or a member of his government. That immediately gave it extra gravitas for me. I’m not noted for my optimism as you know, but I wanted to believe it. A week of working from home, unable to go anywhere except the Co-Op which has become the new highlight of my day, has done strange things to me. My normally heightened, Olympic levels of cynicism have been swept aside. Social distancing is as mind altering as Stella Artois. Much more of it and I’m sure it will make me want to punch people in the same way too. I’m unable to contemplate many months of this, particularly if televised sport continues to be absent. Literally the only way I can imagine getting through it without eating my own leg is to stay optimistic. To check developments every day and look for positivity and encouraging signs. And, if you’ll humour me, writing the odd blog in an attempt both to lighten the mood and to organise my thoughts.

But if it isn’t health experts like Whitty pissing on any good news that I find it is the relentless doomsayers on social media. Some of them are perverse, revelling in any bad news because it ‘proves’ that they were right when they told everyone what should have been done weeks ago. They like to also make predictions about death counts, rubbish any suggestions that death rates have slowed across Europe, and generally hammer home the message that the UK will be in this state for the next 18 months. If we come out of this in anything like the time scale that has been achieved in China and South Korea, if death rates slow as they are reported to have done in Italy and Spain, these people will no doubt be sorely disappointed.

Tomorrow is a big, possibly pivotal day. I was due to go to my nephrology appointment at the hospital but they phoned me yesterday and asked me not to attend. It is difficult to practice social distancing in a hospital waiting room. Many of the patients are probably on the list of those at extra risk who have been told not to go out at all. Not even to the Co-Op. Thankfully I have not had that advice myself. If I’d had my transplant early in the New Year as was initially thought there would be no Co-Op for me. Not even Bargain Booze. With few patients to attend and with social distancing an issue for those who can make it they’ve just called the whole thing off. Instead they will be conducting the consultation by telephone. The virus has put paid to hopes of my transplant taking place for at least the next few months so I need my kidney function to hold up. They are unlikely to rush me off for dialysis given that I am still reasonably well and that to do so would place an extra demand on the NHS, but it would be ever so slightly unsettling to find out that my function is falling at a time when I’m understandably not a priority.

A few minutes ago I was watching television coverage of people standing outside their houses clapping NHS staff for their efforts during the crisis so far. Those staff deserve more than applause but it is right that they at least get this level of acknowledgment. I can’t help but wonder though how many of those people out on their doorsteps (palpably failing to observe the social distancing advice that they have been screaming at everyone else for allegedly flouting) voted for the Tory party which has consistently, deliberately underfunded the NHS for the last 10 years? Do those people imagine that their applause compensates for their irresponsibility in giving these entitled, arrogant fools the controls to the country during the last decade?

It’s odd that I’m finding this so difficult in some ways. When I have the freedom to do so I rarely go out. I haven’t had a beer since the middle of February and when I get home from work during the week I’m always more inclined to stay in watching a game than go anywhere. But there isn’t any sport. What is more, the same people who barf on about how long we will be locked down for, how many jobs will be lost and how many will die, also have a few thoughts on the comparably trivial effects of the virus. They are insistent that none of the sports that are currently suspended will come back this year.

The Euros and the Olympics have been postponed and the lowest levels of football outside the professional league have had their season voided and results expunged from the record. This has convinced some that all football will follow suit, which ignores repeated statements from club owners, managers and players and those running the professional game that the season will finish even if it has to be behind closed doors. Over in rugby league some fans are using the suspension as an excuse to push their vom-inducing franchising agenda. A chance to reset is what they’re calling it. Most of them are World League advovates who might be intrigued to learn that the biggest obstacle to rugby league clubs receiving the help with salaries announced by Rishi Sunak last week is the presence of two non-UK teams in the competition.

I’ve gone off the point a bit. I suppose what I deduce from my cabin fever is that although I don’t go out a lot I don’t like to have that decision taken out of my hands. This is not freedom or anything like it and I just wish more people would have a day off from jumping on the doom and gloom bandwagon and do something to spread a little more optimism. Putting a bit more pressure on the government to speed up testing would be a far better use of time than telling me the finer detail of what UK death tolls mean in relation to Italy, France or Spain.

I’ll be checking that myself, albeit looking for a more positive slant and for signs of hope.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Coronavirus - For One Blog Only

I’ve had enough. I’ve tried to hold back on having my say on the current crisis because frankly it is the most depressing event of my lifetime. Thinking about it at all is a serious threat to my mental health so writing about it regularly is a non-starter. So this is an attempt to get it all out in one chunk.

To summarise. Your esteemed racist Prime Minister De Pfeffel has just treated us to one of his now daily briefings on the coronavirus crisis. These were never going to be a good idea. I understand the clamour for more communication from the government at a time of national crisis but you have to remember who is the leader and therefore the public face of that government. All half an hour of dispiriting, daily waffle from him will ever achieve is anger and subsequent criticism for the things he doesn’t say, irrespective of what he does say.

It wasn’t until yesterday that he announced that schools should close in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. He had been widely panned for refusing to take this step in any of the previous briefings which started this week. So you might think the announcement would be met with widespread relief when it came. That went out of the window when he added a not insignificant caveat. The children of so-called ‘key workers’ will be allowed to continue to attend so that their parents can do their jobs without having to worry about who is looking after the kids. So schools are demonstrably open then. Especially given that the list of key workers is quite lengthy. Those who Tory drawbridge-puller Priti Patel has recently referred to as ‘unskilled’ in her shameless attempt to deport everyone except herself and Sajid Fucking Javid are now key workers.

Whether you are a key worker or not you were advised from Tuesday of this week to work from home if possible. A list of vulnerable groups was published and if like me you were on it then it was made quite clear that staying in your place of work was a risk to your very existence. If this isn’t your first MOAFH rodeo you will know that I have chronic kidney disease, a condition which was quite prominent on the list. Those over 70 and those with asthma or other respiratory conditions and those with diabetes were also amongst those deemed to be at greater risk. It was a list almost as long as the list of key workers. If you did not have the capability to work from home then basically you had no choice but to go to work and take your chances with Covid-19. In some cases that meant either risking your health or missing your mortgage or rent payments because - like Susannah Hoffs from that famous Bangles song written by Prince - you just wouldn’t get paid.

Until today. Today the Tories, led by good cop Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak, finally announced measures to help this economically vulnerable group. He pledged to fund up to 80% of salaries for businesses large or small. This came on the back of some rather high profile I’m-Alright-Jackery from entrepreneurs as they scrambled to lay off their staff as quickly as possible. Working class hero and absolute wanker Richard Branson took a scandalous approach for somebody who owns an actual island, asking 75% of his staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave.

Well, he wasn’t sacking anyone, right? Branson, who will no doubt welcome the cancellation of school exams (did I mention that?) because he never tires of telling everyone how he left school with nothing but a kick up the arse, is estimated to be worth around £4billion. His wage bill over the period is said to be somewhere in the region of £34million. That’s a gigantic sum of money admittedly but not one likely to stir him from his 40 winks on his island hammock.

The reaction to Sunak’s announcement of the new funding was overwhelmingly positive. And why wouldn’t it be? He’d just saved thousands of jobs. But you couldn’t help but think back to a pre-Election Theresa May looking a nurse in the eye and telling her that there was no more money, no magic money tree, to properly compensate those on the front line of our NHS. So who planted the magic money tree since then? If you squint you might just see Sunak’s pledge as an act of socialism, something which pre-coronavirus was painted by these people as the most dangerous evil on the planet. I guess it’s fine in a crisis which can be loosely defined as a time when people who hate socialism suddenly find that they do need it.

I want to know if there is any more money on the tree. The World Health Organisation has repeatedly warned that the most important thing in getting through the pandemic is testing for the virus. Yet still the UK lags behind most other affected countries in this area. Which means that we are learning less about the virus than others. Piffling matters such as who has already had it without knowing? Have they built up antibodies as a result and are they therefore less likely to pass it on to others? We don’t know any of this, so our strategy is still to bring society to a complete halt until, like the Martians in the Mini advert, the virus gets bored and goes home.

The effect on the country’s mental health if we are all confined to our homes for months on end is incalculable. Last week they had to replace Match Of The Day with fucking Mrs Brown’s Boys. Yet mental health and general psychological well-being does not seem to have been considered at this stage. Ever the optimist, Johnson spoke only yesterday of ‘getting it done’ by which he meant beating the virus presumably by an indefinite period of hiding from it. Does the phrase ‘getting it done’ seem familiar with Johnson? Is someone pulling a chord in his back? What else does it spew out? Racist insults? Homophobia? A tactless warning about losing your loved ones? We can only speculate.

He claimed that we could ‘turn the tide’ within 12 weeks but he made no promises nor even hints that the already draconian social distancing measures - stepped up today with the closure of all pubs, clubs, restaurants, gyms and leisure centres - would be relaxed after that 12-week period. We could conceivably spend the whole summer in our houses. This is no fun for anyone but for those of us who face the prospect of a kidney transplant and around three months recovery after that, it is the shittiest of sandwiches. This is a best case scenario if we are holed up all summer. Live donor transplants will not take place while there is a risk of infection so I could also be facing a period on dialysis if my kidney function drops before the surgery can be arranged. I genuinely cannot say with any great certainty that dialysis is preferable to contracting coronavirus. Avoiding dialysis has been my life’s work for the last 12 years. I have been bloody good at it considering the amount of alcohol I have consumed in that time. I am close, but the way this outbreak has been handled inspires about as much confidence as I have in Johnson’s ability to locate Wakefield on a map. Of Wakefield.

I don’t mean to be totally negative about the situation so here is some good news. China, which had its first case in mid-November, is currently reporting no new cases while in India there are suggestions that they have developed an effective treatment through a combination of drugs not dissimilar to those which make it possible to live with HIV. South Korea has also had significantly reduced rates of infection after a period of lockdown. So maybe we just need to take our medicine for a few months before we come out the other side? The difference it would appear is that there has been greater testing in those countries. Without that - if we continue to combat it with social exclusion and the magic money tree, we could be in for a somewhat longer haul than has been necessary elsewhere.