........................................................................................ - a weBlog by Snowy and me.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Putting The Lie Into 'Disbelief'

It takes a very special sort of insensitivity
to calculate the levels of public stupidity
to know when to stop short of telling them
one lie too many, telling the lie that they will see
for what it is and in their way call the liar out.

The next calculation then becomes
how to get the lies the leader told before,
which are now no longer safe,
credited to somebody, anybody, else.

When testing the credulity of the public
the politicians have to first become
willing guinea pigs for each other
before testing the strength of their lies
on the public who have to vote for them.

That is today's-and tomorrow's-Political Science.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Friday, 29 May 2020


When 'moralists' seek to control those
they suppose to be weaker than themselves
by saying that sexual intimacy is dangerous,
those who are supposedly weaker presume
that the sex is where the dangers lives.

This is what makes want to live dangerously.

But the danger is less in the sexual activity in itself,
and much more in the lies that multiply around it.

Which is why the greatest truth lives in celibacy.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

The Immoral Maze

My greatest problem with sex
was always that it promised me
that it was playful. Then it set goals
and made strict rules of engagement
which made retreat from them seem absurd
and following them impossible.

What was first offered as direct reward
became gratification with-held
and the got further redefined,
as the force behind everything else,
until everything became that indirect
that the rules became the guide
to how life should lack meaning. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Contrary Vocation

Being a pessimist is such a difficult vocation
-when we are right life seems rather sad, and bad
which makes our being wrong that positive
that other people wish were wrong more often.   

Monday, 25 May 2020

Great Failed Ideas Of Our Time (2)

I wanted to start a new self help group,
not for myself you must understand,
It was called 'Narcissists Anonymous'.
But it failed to gain the traction I'd hoped
with who were meant to attend it most.

Not enough other narcissists would join me.

Did they resist because their self admiration
remained enough for them in themselves?

Or did they fear that their new audience
might not be attentive enough of them,
for being more absorbed in themselves?

Or was it that their narcissism
told them that the idea of anonymity
left them with nothing to reflect on?

Who can tell which reason
for not wanting to share
their self absorption 
was the most authentic?

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Pity The Deaf

who used to read the lips
of the people who talked to them
to understand what was being said,
whilst straining a deaf ear
to partially mishear what to them,
without all the sounds that were made,
becomes the sound of nonsense.

In these Covid 19 times,
when the public wear masks
to help each other 'stay safe'
when how they cover themselves
is of no agreed medical standard,
these masks cut the understanding
that the partial of hearing have
of knowing what is said to them
to know what to say back, to nothing.

When the deaf lead the deaf
which of them listens best
for where they are going?

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Gender, Speech, and Communication Over Distance

The telephone was invented by a man,
and from the candle stick of the 1920's
to modern times many of the appliances
into which we have to speak into
have been firm and somewhat phallic.

The lead in their pencils makes men
always insist on taking the lead in life,
unaware of how this makes them controlling,
and this include the design of technologies
to assist future communications.

Were women to take a greater hand
in our collective designs for future living
I wonder how much more feminine,
sensual and inclusive the shapes
of their designs for sharing speech
at a distance in future might be.

Would talking into differently designed phones
more naturally suggest everyday cunnilingus?

Friday, 22 May 2020

Rules Are Never 'Just Rules'

How I well remember sports in school,
though I wish I didn't. I now know
why I lost my sports kit quite so often.
It was deliberate. Natural ingratitude.

I got a natural allergic reaction
to how sport was organised and played.
Buried within the rules was the principle
that 'competition had to be without mentoring',
a deliberate unfairness which exposed the weakest,
and the most unsupported from home, first.

For being forced to participate
they were made to feel useless to themselves,
the better to support the few who knew all along
that sport was never  'just sport'-it was life,
'life chances' that they were playing for.

The few at the top then
was going to be there forever,
whilst the many fell away on the journey,
though it is believed that their failing efforts
were thoroughly worth it, for those who succeeded.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Social Isolation Can Make Us Contrary

But rest assured that other forms of contrariness
will return to common life 'in due time'
when the government declare that is life is safe,
long after it was so (they need to be sure).  

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Lonely Men

air their opinions quite often
and to whoever they are with
who might just be listening.

But they are rarely listened to
as attentively as they would like,
or imagine that they actually are.

Their loneliness reduces
how they hear all speech,
particularly their own.

So they never hear themselves
as others hear them, and never wish
for brighter conversations.  

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

The Best Part Of Not Feeling Good

is that it can stir us to enquire
about what might be right
and why it might be so....

Monday, 18 May 2020

A Little Prime Reasoning

A friend always advises me
that when I 'go shopping', online
to find the books and the music
that I used to like to go to real shops for,
where getting to the building was half the pleasure,
then I should buy from the smaller suppliers
who advertise themselves on the online market
where the turnover is bigger than the money spent
in some of the poorer continents of the world.

This market place has it's Prime temptations
to persuade me to buying more, and more often,
as if life was not just about buying but being online.
But always I resist, I don't know how to want that much.

Why I am so so prim about Prime?
The company that sell it don't care
about the scammers who scare
Prime's more nervous customers
with bogus/cold phone calls
about 'updates' to their account
against which the best security
is not have any such account.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Watchfully Yours

Given the choice
of being mindlessly cheerful
or watchfully depressed
I know which suits me best,
and proves me most right.

The latter......

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Inconvenient Lie

In 2006 a man who nearly became
the President of The United States
made a film called 'An Inconvenient Truth'
which avoided a much much bigger,
and far less convenient, picture.

In that glossy video,
seen by the richest 5% of the world,
the wealthier consumers were told
in clear terms how sinful they were
for choosing to consume so much,
whilst the video was Trappist-quiet
about how the industries of the world
consumed more than all the individuals
in the world ever could, on their behalf.

Consumerism is at best passive citizenship
at worst personalising anonymity through debt
(if private and corporate credit facilities
were removed in rich countries and old debts
had to be settled, whoever the debtor,
then most businesses would go under).

Active citizenship will always mean
first living simply enough to be as aware
as you can be of what you are dependent upon
Then protesting clearly enough to make others aware
of the grave new world they are digging
for everyone else as well as for themselves.


Friday, 15 May 2020

It's No Game

I now know why I never play video games,
that is apart from being of the generation
where games were physical, like dominoes,
or games with packs of cards, or monopoly,
which was originally meant to teach children
that capitalism was evil before it was co-opted.

When  chance took away my will to win I stopped caring.

But I cared who won in real life,
and I wanted people I knew
who I thought deserved better
to not be sold one thing
and end up with another
where what they got was always
what they were going to be sold.

 I saved my anger for a politics
which will outlast me
which is why I remain angry.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Great Turn-Offs Of Our Time (26) -Covid 19 Special

The phrase 'as soon as possible'
is now so well embedded in the news
with regard to the many 'preventative'
measures to help stop the spread of the virus
whilst the science behind them remains obscure,
governments having decided it is too unsafe to share,
that I now turn the news off as soon as possible-
before the phrase is said for the umpteenth time,
the better to be more consistently misinformed
than my government would have me be if I listened.

Perhaps 'in the fullness of time' I may return
to listen more attentively to what my radio says to me,
but time always takes it's own time as far as I can see. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Nearest I Will Get To Opposite Gender Relationships

But it will only for a short while, and she will outlast me
and all the other humans on the planet,
though what sort of shape she will be in
after she has disposed of us is yet to be proven.   

Monday, 11 May 2020

Overt Oppression Used To Be In Monochrome, Now It Is In Colour

and these words make up the oldest and biggest lie in the world
that 'work makes you free'. Who knows?
These may be that actual words that the snake
used to seduced Eve, that led eventually to The Fall.....

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Note In Lieu Of A Comment On V.E. Day

Nationalism has always left me blank
and the further back the patriotic event
that the nation is celebrating happened
the more mystified I get, as to what it is
that I am meant to be happy about.

I prefer the French solution;
celebrate the past of the nation
through the names of different streets
and avoid the modern media repeats
of inaccurately told very old stories.  

On The Hundredth Day Of The Outbreak Of The Covid 19 Outbreak

and before Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, 'speaks to the nation' I present an article from The Times, printed several weeks ago but as a reminder of where the UK is (apologies for any Anglo-centricism in the artIcle).....

On the third Friday of January a silent and stealthy killer was creeping across the world. Passing from person to person and borne on ships and planes, the coronavirus was already leaving a trail of bodies. The virus had spread from China to six countries and was almost certainly in many others. Sensing the coming danger, the British government briefly went into wartime mode that day, holding a meeting of Cobra, its national crisis committee. But it took just an hour that January 24 lunchtime to brush aside the coronavirus threat. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, bounced out of Whitehall after chairing the meeting and breezily told reporters the risk to the UK public was “low”. This was despite the publication that day of an alarming study by Chinese doctors in the medical journal, The Lancet. It assessed the lethal potential of the virus, for the first time suggesting it was comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people. Unusually, Boris Johnson had been absent from Cobra. The committee — which includes ministers, intelligence chiefs and military generals — gathers at moments of great peril such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other threats to the nation and is normally chaired by the prime minister. Johnson had found time that day, however, to join in a lunar new year dragon eyes ritual as part of Downing Street’s reception for the Chinese community, led by the country’s ambassador. It was a big day for Johnson and there was a triumphal mood in Downing Street because the withdrawal treaty from the European Union was being signed in the late afternoon. It could have been the defining moment of his premiership — but that was before the world changed. That afternoon his spokesman played down the looming threat from the east and reassured the nation that we were “well prepared for any new diseases”. The confident, almost nonchalant, attitude displayed that day in January would continue for more than a month.

Johnson went on to miss four further Cobra meetings on the virus. As Britain was hit by unprecedented flooding, he completed the EU withdrawal, reshuffled his cabinet and then went away to the grace-and-favour country retreat at Chevening where he spent most of the two weeks over half-term with his pregnant fiancĂ©e, Carrie Symonds. It would not be until March 2 — another five weeks — that Johnson would attend a Cobra meeting about the coronavirus. But by then it was almost certainly too late. The virus had sneaked into our airports, our trains, our workplaces and our homes. Britain was on course for one of the worst infections of the most deadly virus to have hit the world in more than a century.

Last week, a senior adviser to Downing Street broke ranks and blamed the weeks of complacency on a failure of leadership in cabinet. In particular, the prime minister was singled out. “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there,” the adviser said. “And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.” One day there will inevitably be an inquiry into the lack of preparations during those “lost” five weeks from January 24. There will be questions about when politicians understood the severity of the threat, what the scientists told them and why so little was done to equip the National Health Service for the coming crisis. It will be the politicians who will face the most intense scrutiny. Among the key points likely to be explored will be why it took so long to recognise an urgent need for a massive boost in supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers; ventilators to treat acute respiratory symptoms; and tests to detect the infection. Any inquiry may also ask whether the government’s failure to get to grips with the scale of the crisis in those early days had the knock-on effect of the national lockdown being introduced days or even weeks too late, causing many thousands more unnecessary deaths. An investigation has talked to scientists, academics, doctors, emergency planners, public officials and politicians about the root of the crisis and whether the government should have known sooner and acted more swiftly to kick-start the Whitehall machine and put the NHS onto a war footing. They told us that, contrary to the official line, Britain was in a poor state of readiness for a pandemic. Emergency stockpiles of PPE had severely dwindled and gone out of date after becoming a low priority in the years of austerity cuts. The training to prepare key workers for a pandemic had been put on hold for two years while contingency planning was diverted to deal with a possible no-deal Brexit. This made it doubly important that the government hit the ground running in late January and early February. Scientists said the threat from the coming storm was clear. Indeed, one of the government’s key advisory committees was given a dire warning a month earlier than has previously been admitted about the prospect of having to deal with mass casualties
It was a message repeated throughout February but the warnings appear to have fallen on deaf ears. The need, for example, to boost emergency supplies of protective masks and gowns for health workers was pressing, but little progress was made in obtaining the items from the manufacturers, mainly in China. Instead, the government sent supplies the other way — shipping 279,000 items of its depleted stockpile of protective equipment to China during this period, following a request for help from the authorities there. The prime minister had been sunning himself with his girlfriend in the millionaires’ Caribbean resort of Mustique when China first alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 31 that several cases of an unusual pneumonia had been recorded in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in Hubei province.

In the days that followed China initially claimed the virus could not be transmitted from human to human, which should have been reassuring. But this did not ring true to Britain’s public health academics and epidemiologists who were texting each other, eager for more information, in early January. Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, had predicted in a talk two years earlier that a virus might jump species from an animal in China and spread quickly to become a human pandemic. So the news from Wuhan set her on high alert.

“In early January a lot of my global health colleagues and I were kind of discussing ‘What’s going on?’” she recalled. “China still hadn’t confirmed the virus was human-to-human. A lot of us were suspecting it was because it was a respiratory pathogen and you wouldn’t see the numbers of cases that we were seeing out of China if it was not human-to-human. So that was disturbing.”. By as early as January 16 the professor was on Twitter calling for swift action to prepare for the virus. “Been asked by journalists how serious #WuhanPneumonia outbreak is,” she wrote. “My answer: take it seriously because of cross-border spread (planes means bugs travel far & fast), likely human-to-human transmission and previous outbreaks have taught over-responding is better than delaying action.”.

Events were now moving fast. Four hundred miles away in London, from its campus next to the Royal Albert Hall, a team at Imperial College’s School of Public Health led by Professor Neil Ferguson produced its first modelling assessment of the likely impact of the virus. On Friday, January 17, its report noted the “worrying” news that three cases of the virus had been discovered outside China — two in Thailand and one in Japan. While acknowledging many unknowns, researchers calculated that there could already be as many as 4,000 cases. The report warned: “The magnitude of these numbers suggests substantial human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out. Heightened surveillance, prompt information-sharing and enhanced preparedness are recommended.”. By now the mystery bug had been identified as a type of coronavirus — a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). There had been two reported deaths from the virus and 41 patients had been taken ill. The following Wednesday, January 22, the government convened its first meeting of its scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) to discuss the virus. Its membership is secret but it is usually chaired by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty. Downing Street advisers are also present. There were new findings that day with Chinese scientists warning that the virus had an unusually high infectivity rate of up to 3.0, which meant each person with the virus would typically infect up to three more people. One of those present was Imperial’s Ferguson, who was already working on his own estimate — putting infectivity at 2.6 and possibly as high as 3.5 — which he sent to ministers and officials in a report on the day of the Cobra meeting on January 24. The Spanish flu had an estimated infectivity rate of between 2.0 and 3.0, so Ferguson’s finding was shocking. The professor’s other bombshell in the same report was that there needed to be a 60% cut in the transmission rate — which meant stopping contact between people. In layman’s terms it meant a lock down, a move that would paralyse an economy already facing a battering from Brexit. At the time such a suggestion was unthinkable in the government and belonged to the world of post-apocalypse movies.

The growing alarm among scientists appears not to have been heard or heeded by policy-makers. After the January 25 Cobra meeting, the chorus of reassurance was not just from Hancock and the prime minister’s spokesman: Whitty was confident too.

In early February Hancock proudly told the Commons the UK was one of the first countries to develop a new test for the virus

STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA “Cobra met today to discuss the situation in Wuhan, China,” said Whitty. “We have global experts monitoring the situation around the clock and have a strong track record of managing new forms of infectious disease . . . there are no confirmed cases in the UK to date.”.

However, by then there had been 1,000 cases worldwide and 41 deaths, mostly in Wuhan. A Lancet report that day presented a study of 41 coronavirus patients admitted to hospital in Wuhan which found that more than half had severe breathing problems, a third required intensive care and six had died. And there was now little doubt that the UK would be hit by the virus. A study by Southampton University has shown that 190,000 people flew into the UK from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities between January and March. The researchers estimated that up to 1,900 of these passengers would have been infected with the coronavirus — almost guaranteeing the UK would become a centre of the subsequent pandemic. Sure enough, five days later on Wednesday, January 29, the first coronavirus cases on British soil were found when two Chinese nationals from the same family fell ill at a hotel in York. The next day, the government raised the threat level from low to moderate.

On January 31 — or Brexit day as it had become known — there was a rousing 11pm speech by the prime minister promising that the withdrawal from the European Union would be the dawn of a new era unleashing the British people who would “grow in confidence” month by month.

By this time, there was good reason for the government’s top scientific advisers to feel creeping unease about the virus. The WHO had declared the coronavirus a global emergency just the day before and scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had confirmed to Whitty in a private meeting of the Nervtag advisory committee on respiratory illness that the virus’s infectivity could be as bad as Ferguson’s worst estimate several days earlier.

The official scientific advisers were willing to concede in public that there might be several cases of the coronavirus in the UK. But they had faith that the country’s plans for a pandemic would prove robust.

This was probably a big mistake. An adviser to Downing Street — speaking off the record — says their confidence in “the plan” was misplaced. While a possible pandemic had been listed as the No 1 threat to the nation for many years, the source says that in reality it had long since stopped being treated as such.

Several emergency planners and scientists said that the plans to protect the UK in a pandemic had once been a top priority and had been well-funded for a decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But then austerity cuts struck. “We were the envy of the world,” the source said, “but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years when there were more pressing needs.”.

The last rehearsal for a pandemic was a 2016 exercise code named Cygnus which predicted the health service would collapse and highlighted a long list of shortcomings — including, presciently, a lack of PPE and intensive care ventilators.

But an equally lengthy list of recommendations to address the deficiencies was never implemented. The source said preparations for a no-deal Brexit “sucked all the blood out of pandemic planning” in the following years.

In the year leading up to the coronavirus outbreak key government committee meetings on pandemic planning were repeatedly “bumped” off the diary to make way for discussions about more pressing issues such as the beds crisis in the NHS. Training for NHS staff with protective equipment and respirators was also neglected, the source alleges.

Members of the government advisory group on pandemics are said to have felt powerless. “They would joke between themselves, ‘Haha let’s hope we don’t get a pandemic,’ because there wasn’t a single area of practice that was being nurtured in order for us to meet basic requirements for pandemic, never mind do it well,” said the source.

“If you were with senior NHS managers at all during the last two years, you were aware that their biggest fear, their sweatiest nightmare, was a pandemic because they weren’t prepared for it.”.

It meant that the government had much catching up to do when it was becoming clear that this “nightmare” was becoming a distinct possibility in February. But the source says there was little urgency. “Almost every plan we had was not activated in February. Almost every government department has failed to properly implement their own pandemic plans,” the source said.

One deviation from the plan, for example, was a failure to give an early warning to firms that there might be a lockdown so they could start contingency planning. “There was a duty to get them to start thinking about their cashflow and their business continuity arrangements,” the source said.

A central part of any pandemic plan is to identify anyone who becomes ill, vigorously pursue all their recent contacts and put them into quarantine. That involves testing and the UK initially seemed to be ahead of the game. In early February Hancock proudly told the Commons the UK was one of the first countries to develop a new test for the coronavirus. “Testing worldwide is being done on equipment designed in Oxford,” he said.

So when Steve Walsh, a 53-year-old businessman from Hove, East Sussex, was identified as the source of the second UK outbreak on February 6 all his contacts were followed up with tests. Walsh’s case was a warning of the rampant infectivity of the virus as he is believed to have passed it to five people in the UK after returning from a conference in Singapore as well as six overseas.

But Public Health England failed to take advantage of our early breakthroughs with tests and lost early opportunities to step up production to the levels that would later be needed.

This was in part because the government was planning for the virus using its blueprint for fighting the flu. Once a flu pandemic has found its way into the population and there is no vaccine, then the virus is allowed to take its course until “herd immunity” is acquired. Such a plan does not require mass testing.

A senior politician told this newspaper: “I had conversations with Chris Whitty at the end of January and they were absolutely focused on herd immunity. The reason is that with flu, herd immunity is the right response if you haven’t got a vaccine.

“All of our planning was for pandemic flu. There has basically been a divide between scientists in Asia who saw this as a horrible, deadly disease on the lines of Sars, which requires immediate lockdown, and those in the West, particularly in the US and UK, who saw this as flu.”.

The prime minister’s special adviser Dominic Cummings is said to have had initial enthusiasm for the herd immunity concept, which may have played a part in the government’s early approach to managing the virus. The Department of Health firmly denies that “herd immunity” was ever its aim and rejects suggestions that Whitty supported it. Cummings also denies backing the concept.

The failure to obtain large amounts of testing equipment was another big error of judgement, according to the Downing Street source. It would later be one of the big scandals of the coronavirus crisis that the considerable capacity of Britain’s private laboratories to mass-produce tests was not harnessed during those crucial weeks of February.

“We should have communicated with every commercial testing laboratory that might volunteer to become part of the government’s testing regime but that didn’t happen,” said the source.

The lack of action was confirmed by Doris-Ann Williams, chief executive of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association, which represents 110 companies that make up most of the UK’s testing sector. Amazingly, she says her organisation did not receive a meaningful approach from the government asking for help until April 1 — the night before Hancock bowed to pressure and announced a belated and ambitious target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of this month.

There was also a failure to replenish supplies of gowns and masks for health and care workers in the early weeks of February — despite NHS England declaring the virus its first “level four critical incident” at the end of January.

It was a key part of the pandemic plan — the NHS’s Operating Framework for Managing the Response to Pandemic Influenza dated December 2017 — that the NHS would be able to draw on “just in case” stockpiles of PPE.

But many of the “just in case” stockpiles had dwindled, and equipment was out of date. As not enough money was being spent on replenishing stockpiles, this shortfall was supposed to be filled by activating “just in time” contracts which had been arranged with equipment suppliers in recent years to deal with an emergency. The first order for equipment under the “just in time” protocol was made on January 30.

However, the source said that attempts to call in these “just in time” contracts immediately ran into difficulties in February because they were mostly with Chinese manufacturers who were facing unprecedented demand from the country’s own health service and elsewhere.

This was another nail in the coffin for the pandemic plan. “It was a massive spider’s web of failing, every domino has fallen,” said the source.

The NHS could have contacted UK-based suppliers. The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) was ready to help supply PPE in February — and throughout March — but it was only on April 1 that its offer of help was accepted. Dr Simon Festing, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “Orders undoubtedly went overseas instead of to the NHS because of the missed opportunities in the procurement process.”.

Downing Street admitted on February 24 — just five days before NHS chiefs warned a lack of PPE left the health service facing a “nightmare” — that the UK government had supplied 1,800 pairs of goggles and 43,000 disposable gloves, 194,000 sanitising wipes, 37,500 medical gowns and 2,500 face masks to China.

A senior department of health insider described the sense of drift witnessed during those crucial weeks in February: “We missed the boat on testing and PPE . . . I remember being called into some of the meetings about this in February and thinking, ‘Well it’s a good thing this isn’t the big one.’.

“I had watched Wuhan but I assumed we must have not been worried because we did nothing. We just watched. A pandemic was always at the top of our national risk register — always — but when it came we just slowly watched. We could have been Germany but instead we were doomed by our incompetence, our hubris and our austerity.”.

In the Far East the threat was being treated more seriously in the early weeks of February. Martin Hibberd, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was in a unique position to compare the UK’s response with Singapore, where he had advised in the past.

“Singapore realised, as soon as Wuhan reported it, that cases were going to turn up in Singapore. And so they prepared for that. I looked at the UK and I can see a different strategy and approach.

“The interesting thing for me is, I’ve worked with Singapore in 2003 and 2009 and basically they copied the UK pandemic preparedness plan. But the difference is they actually implemented it.”.

Towards the end of the second week of February, the prime minister was demob happy. After sacking five cabinet ministers and saying everyone “should be confident and calm” about Britain’s response to the virus, Johnson vacated Downing Street after the half-term recess began on February 13.

He headed to the country for a “working” holiday at Chevening with Symonds and would be out of the public eye for 12 days. His aides were thankful for the rest, as they had been working flat out since the summer as the Brexit power struggle had played out.

The Sunday newspapers that weekend would not have made comfortable reading. The Sunday Times reported on a briefing from a risk specialist which said that Public Health England would be overrun during a pandemic as it could test only 1,000 people a day.

Johnson may well have been distracted by matters in his personal life during his stay in the countryside. Aides were told to keep their briefing papers short and cut the number of memos in his red box if they wanted them to be read.

His family needed to be prepared for the announcement that Symonds, who turned 32 in March, was pregnant and that they had been secretly engaged for some time. Relations with his children had been fraught since his separation from his estranged wife Marina Wheeler and the rift deepened when she had been diagnosed with cancer last year.

The divorce also had to be finalised. Midway through the break it was announced in the High Court that the couple had reached a settlement, leaving Wheeler free to apply for divorce.

There were murmurings of frustration from some ministers and their aides at the time that Johnson was not taking more of a lead. But Johnson’s aides are understood to have felt relaxed: he was getting updates and they claim the scientists were saying everything was under control.
400,000 deaths
By the time Johnson departed for the countryside, however, there was mounting unease among scientists about the exceptional nature of the threat. Sir Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist who is a key government adviser, made this clear in a recent BBC interview.

“I think from the early days in February, if not in late January, it was obvious this infection was going to be very serious and it was going to affect more than just the region of Asia ,” he said. “I think it was very clear that this was going to be an unprecedented event.”.

By February 21, the virus had already infected 76,000 people, had caused 2,300 deaths in China and was taking a foothold in Europe with Italy recording 51 cases and two deaths the following day. Nonetheless Nervtag, one of the key government advisory committees, decided to keep the threat level at “moderate”.

Its members may well regret that decision with hindsight and it was certainly not unanimous. John Edmunds, one of the country’s top infectious disease modellers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was participating in the meeting by video link but his technology failed him at the crucial moment.

Edmunds wanted the threat level to be increased to high but could not make his view known as the link was glitchy. He sent an email later making his view clear. “JE believes that the risk to the UK population [in the PHE risk assessment] should be high, as there is evidence of ongoing transmission in Korea, Japan and Singapore, as well as in China,” the meeting’s minutes state. But the decision had already been taken.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College, was in America at the time of the meeting but would also have recommended increasing the threat to high. Three days earlier he had given an address to a seminar in which he estimated that 60% of the world’s population would probably become infected if no action was taken and 400,000 people would die in the UK.

By February 26, there were 13 known cases in the UK. That day — almost four weeks before a full lockdown would be announced — ministers were warned through another advisory committee that the country was facing a catastrophic loss of life unless drastic action was taken. Having been thwarted from sounding the alarm, Edmunds and his team presented their latest “worst scenario” predictions to the scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling (SPI-M) which directly advises the country’s scientific decision-makers on Sage.

It warned that 27 million people could be infected and 220,000 intensive care beds would be needed if no action were taken to reduce infection rates. The predicted death toll was 380,000. Edmunds’s colleague Nick Davies, who led the research, says the report emphasised the urgent need for a lockdown almost four weeks before it was imposed.

The team modelled the effects of a 12-week lockdown involving school and work closures, shielding the elderly, social distancing and self-isolation. It estimated this would delay the impact of the pandemic but there still might be 280,000 deaths over the year.

Johnson Returns

The previous night Johnson had returned to London for the Conservatives’ big fundraising ball, the Winter Party, at which one donor pledged £60,000 for the privilege of playing a game of tennis with him.

By this time the prime minister had missed five Cobra meetings on the preparations to combat the looming pandemic, which he left to be chaired by Hancock. Johnson was an easy target for the opposition when he returned to the Commons the following day with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, labelling him a “part-time” prime minister for his failure to lead on the virus crisis or visit the areas of the UK badly hit by floods.

By Friday, February 28, the virus had taken root in the UK with reported cases rising to 19 and the stock markets were plunging. It was finally time for Johnson to act. He summoned a TV reporter into Downing Street to say he was on top of the coronavirus crisis.

“The issue of coronavirus is something that is now the government’s top priority,” he said. “I have just had a meeting with the chief medical officer and secretary of state for health talking about the preparations that we need to make.”.

It was finally announced that he would be attending a meeting of Cobra — after a weekend at Chequers with Symonds where the couple would publicly release news of the engagement and their baby.

On the Sunday, there was a meeting between Sage committee members and officials from the Department of Health and NHS which was a game changer, according to a Whitehall source. The meeting was shown fresh modelling based on figures from Italy suggesting that 8% of infected people might need hospital treatment in a worst-case scenario. The previous estimate had been 4%-5%. “The risk to the NHS had effectively doubled in an instant. It set alarm bells ringing across government,” said the Whitehall source. “I think that meeting focused minds. You realise it’s time to pull the trigger on the starting gun.”.

Many NHS workers have been left without proper protection.

At the Cobra meeting the next day with Johnson in the chair a full “battle plan” was finally signed off to contain, delay and mitigate the spread of the virus. This was on March 2 — five weeks after the first Cobra meeting on the virus.

The new push would have some positive benefits such as the creation of new Nightingale hospitals, which greatly increased the number of intensive care beds. But there was a further delay that month of nine days in introducing the lockdown as Johnson and his senior advisers debated what measures were required. Later the government would be left rudderless again after Johnson himself contracted the virus.

As the number of infections grew daily, some things were impossible to retrieve. There was a worldwide shortage of PPE and the prime minister would have to personally ring manufacturers of ventilators and testing kits in a desperate effort to boost supplies.

The result was that the NHS and care home workers would be left without proper protection and insufficient numbers of tests to find out whether they had been infected. To date 50 doctors, nurses and NHS workers have died. More than 100,000 people have been confirmed as infected in Britain and 15,000 have died.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers. The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Canned Company

is all we can have amid the lock down
from the safety of our social distancing.

Who realised until it was taken away
that an audience and frequent applause
made so much of television and radio
seem so much more entertaining?

I didn't before, but I do know now,
and on youtube, vevo and the BBC,
I seek out that vintage humour
recorded before an audience
where I can almost take a bath
in the warm laughter from the past
and in doing so see my spirits lifted. 

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Less We Have To Say

the more our ways of saying it
expand beyond all need or want
which put us off from expressing
what might originally have seemed
a neat and tart turn of phrase. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Distance Enough For Humour?

The right distance for humour is always farther
between people than we like to think. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The False News Cycle

When we read trivia
dressed up as vital information
we won't know
that we have been fed
false news until it takes effect
by leaving us dispirited,
by which time
the next lot of false news
is primed and ready
to depress us beyond belief.

Monday, 4 May 2020

The Spirituality Of Personal Pain

I am not sure about the 'just' in this statement,
I am never sure about words like 'just' and 'only'.
But the idea that those who feel suicidal
feel that 'home' is elsewhere rings true enough,
particularly when in the body they are in 

they feel estranged from the housekeeper of it
for living through the circumstances they do.
As for angels, my closest friend often thinks
that he is not human and that my closeness to him
means that I am not human either.
Angels are our imagined 'spiritual' animals.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

The Wisdom Of John Cage

When John Cage wrote '3'44"'
he knew that even inactivity
needed to be divided neatly
to be understood for what it is.
Which is why, silent, as it is,
it is split into three movements.

In these lock down times
with reduced human contact
we have more time to reflect
which we have to structure
and divide, the way John Cage did.


Saturday, 2 May 2020

People Of The World Unite; You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Passivity

Life without television sport
and the engineered publicity
that promoted nonentities
as if they were future stars,
or had done something useful,
might seem like The End of the World to many.

But the time of the virus
is is not the end of anything
it is merely a pleasing hiatus
from the false frivolity
of light entertainment.

There was a time before television
when watching a sport and playing it
were interchangeably engaging activities
-both happened in the same stadia.

Back then there were few professional bodies
and sportsmen (it was usually men, but not always*)
that organised sport did not rely on the oxymoron
of the cross promotion of sport on television
via advertisers whose main aim was to sell sugary drinks
and fatty foods to ready glazed and rotting couch potatoes.

*Women in England played football on the same terms
as men did up to 1921, when men banned women
from playing on the same pitches that men used.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Picture Set of The Month - May

'Waiting for Columbus' 1978 Little Feat live release, 
sleeve design by Neon Park (1940-93)  
Original sleeve design for 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh'
By The Mothers of Invention 1969 as transcribed to a gable end.

More work by Neon Park, it was visual work like this that made
him and Frank Zappa continually shocking and therefore relevant.  
'Hoy-Hoy' by Little Feat, a 1981 album of out-takes demos
rarities and live cuts that closed the Lowell George era
of the band as if the band were still a going concern 
(they were....  it would take time to discover it though).