John Prine, NHS, benefits of lockdown, domestic violence and kindnesses

12 April 2020

John Prine sadly died this week.

Of the many songs of his that I particularly like, my favourite is probably ‘Lake Marie’, in which he wrote these lines:

Many years later I found myself talking with a girl
who was standing there with her back turned to Lake Marie
The wind was blowing


through her hair

Many years later we found ourselves in Canada
trying to save our marriage

and perhaps catch a few fish
Whatever came first

(I love the “especially / through her hair”.)

The song then takes what he called “a sharp left turn” and includes a TV report on a couple of earlier murders near Lake Marie before returning to the break-up of his relationship.  Bob Dylan is also one of his admirers and once said, if he had to pick a favourite John Prine song, it’d probably be this one.

Boris Johnson’s official instructions, with the sub-text “do as I say, not as I do”, finally arrived the day after he was taken into hospital for not doing as he said.  I said to a friend that I couldn’t honestly say “Get well soon” so I settled for “Get well slowly”.  Happily, he left hospital today and said “I can’t thank them [the NHS] enough, I owe them my life”.

Coming from a man who has apparently always considered illness (and working for a living) a bit infra dig, this is a big thing.  Let’s hope he can now see the need to reverse the funding cuts made by his predecessors;  and that the people who kept him alive might lead him to rethink the immigration rules;  and to cut through the hostile bureaucracy that’s currently preventing thousands of doctors who qualified abroad from joining the fight against coronavirus.

But his spell in hospital must have been pretty awful for Carrie Symonds and I hope she’s now managed to stop worrying if the father of her baby would survive to meet it.

He may need to stay below the radar for some weeks but, given Matt Hancock’s reassurance last week that large numbers of items of Personal Protective Equipment such as masks and gloves have been ordered, he probably won’t mind not having to answer questions about why PPE wasn’t ordered months ago, and why the lockdown was left so late.

Then Priti Patel said she didn’t believe there actually was a shortage of PEP and that the medics were lying.  She didn’t use quite these words of course – she said she apologised if anybody felt they weren’t being properly supported but there was plenty of PEP in the pipeline, it’s just they were having delivery problems.  Why can’t politicians just say “I’m sorry, we didn’t get off the ground fast enough but we’re doing our best to catch up”?

Most organisations are required by law to carry out regular assessments of the risks they face and how to reduce the chance of their happening and how they will respond if one of them happens.  What a shame that the politicians who passed the law were too stupid to realise they needed to do the same.

The frightening shortage of life-saving PPE for NHS staff has led to the formation of The NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Appeal fund to help support the NHS through the crisis.  Julia and Hans Rausing have already given £5m to it.

Yes, I know we’ve been paying for this for years through our taxes and national insurance contributions (anybody else remember when these were called National Health Insurance?) but the money’s all been spent subsidising … other things … and this fund sounds worth supporting.  It’s the same story as the prodigal son’s father – you give money away and then, after it’s been squandered on other things, you have to give it all over again.  Having donated on Friday, I feel a bit like this but I’m glad I gave.

More details of the fund and how to donate can be found at

Readers with good memories will remember that I mentioned recently ago that, while Brits were panic-buying lavatory paper, Americans were panic-buying guns.  Well, it turns out that New Zealanders have been panic-buying sex toys.  I wonder if this is linked to Jacinda Arden’s decisive action in locking the country down early, subsequently appearing on Facebook Live in her tracksuit urging people to “be kind”, which now appears on advertising hoardings all over the country.

Unexpected benefits of the pandemic lockdowns include an improvement in air quality worldwide and the fact that our road is now being used by children on skateboards and bikes.  Normally, they’d have to dodge speeding drivers who are too self-important to consider themselves subject to the 20 mph speed limit.

Our wildlife too is benefitting, and not just the Welsh sheep* who have left Great Orme to go window-shopping in Llandudno.

Another benefit is that, with so few long-distance flights overhead at 35,000-40,000 feet, there are virtually no contrails above us and there’s much less cirrus cloud, which makes the sky clearer and the air beneath that much cooler, though I don’t know if this will help slow global warming.

And Scotland – which often seems to be well ahead of England and Wales in such things – has just passed the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020.  This gives additional protection to tenants from eviction by increasing the notice a landlord must give a tenant.  Some landlords are also reducing the rent if the tenants are finding it difficult to pay it.

We’re also seeing some companies, large and small, giving money and goods to help others and some wealthy individuals are sharing money around.  The most impressive I’ve heard about is Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, who has pledged to give $1bn (£800m) – more than a quarter of his total wealth – to fund coronavirus research.

Mark Dowie, chief executive of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, is taking a 50% pay cut as part of the charity’s response to the coronavirus crisis and several public companies have said they’ll stop paying dividends while some of their executives have even volunteered to take pay cuts.

Interestingly, Dan Price, the co-founder of Gravity Payments, a credit card processing and financial services company, announced way back in 2015 that he was taking a $1m pay cut to give all of his 120 employees a $70k minimum wage and, five years on, the company is thriving.

As expected, there’s been a huge increase in domestic violence around the world because of lockdowns.  It’s reported that France is encouraging victims to use a codeword (‘mask19’) to a pharmacist who will secretly organise support but I also heard the urban myth (shared 20,000 times on Facebook) that, if you can’t talk without being overheard, you can dial 999 followed by 55 in the UK, and help will arrive.

This isn’t quite true:  all this actually does is connect you straight to the police who may not be able to identify the location of a mobile phone anyway.  It’s better to contact the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number – 0808 2000 247 – run by Refuge, or  In emergency, 999 is always available and earlier abuse can be reported on 101.

This week’s random kindness comes from one of our sons-in-law who is a consultant anaesthetist (or, in layman’s terms, A Big Cheese) who spent a day at home last week making food to take in to the hospital to cheer the people he works with.

And here’s a small thought:  if you have a cleaner who isn’t part of a larger firm and you’ve stopped them coming to work because you’re self-isolating or in quarantine, are you still paying them?  If not, why not?


*          My in-house proof-reader has just told me they were goats not sheep;  it’s a good job I don’t have to decide who’s allowed in the Pearly Gates.

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