24 May 2020
Happy birthday Bob Dylan! 40 concerts planned for April to July this year (he’s averaged more than 100 concerts a year since 1988) have been cancelled because of Covid-19 pandemic. Now he’s trying to remember where he used to live.
Let’s celebrate His Bobness reaching 79 with some fascinating but useless information. We all know that the earth spins very fast but we’re unaware of it because we’re attached to it. However, the Coriolis effect means that moving things tend to get a bit left behind. For example, the mean high-water level on the western shores of the Pacific Ocean is about 18” (44 cm) higher than it is on its eastern shores. So, you could slide downhill all the way across the Pacific from Japan to California in a kayak if it was absolutely calm all the way and if friction didn’t slow you and if you didn’t starve to death or get eaten by a shark or choked by plastic micro-particles*.
The same ‘drag’ deflects long-distance gunfire: a shell fired from a gun in, say, Minneapolis that travelled 15 miles (24 km) due south, would land about 295’ (90 m) west of its ‘straight line’ target and might accidentally land on a secret American missile silo site and start World War III.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been monopolising the news for months now and, this week, eclipsed even a plane crash on Friday in Pakistan that killed at least 97 of the 99 people on board. The Airbus jet crashed into a crowded residential area of Karachi on Friday afternoon on its second attempt to land at the airport. As it circled round to try again, the captain reported the plane had “lost engines”. Karachi ATC immediately cleared both runways but the plane didn’t make it. It’s not yet known how many people died on the ground at the crash site.
British farmers are still unsure whether they will be able to find up to 40,000 British residents to harvest their fruit and vegetables in the summer and autumn. In previous years, foreign workers have come to the UK to work on farms and take the money home to their families but the combined effects of Brexit and the Covid-19 travel restrictions are putting them off. The Brits who do come are, of course, likely to go back to their day jobs as the lockdown is eased, if their day jobs still exist.
Counter-intuitively, the government is simultaneously trying to introduce a new immigration bill. This is intended to repeal freedom of movement within the EU (as promised by Boris Johnson during the 2016 referendum campaign, along with all that money for the NHS) and will introduce a new system that defines who will be allowed to stay in Britain.
At the same time, the Home Office is planning, in the next round of Brexit talks, to remove the rights of child refugees to be reunited with their families in the UK.
As the home Secretary, Priti Patel, didn’t quite say “You foreign? You no on good money? You go home. Need professional skills. You qualified medic? That good – go Kent, pick fruit.” (This quaint way of speaking is how Brits tend to patronise furriners who probably speak better English than wot the natives does.)
Those of us who have been clapping the NHS and keyworkers on Thursday evenings are now feeling increasingly hypocritical as we see pictures of the prime minister clapping outside number 10 even though his own party so nearly succeeded in destroying the NHS entirely.
Annemarie Plas, a Dutch national living in London, who originated the idea of ‘clap for carers’ was overwhelmed by its success but now believes it’s time to stop and would like Thursday’s to be the last.
An anonymous doctor wrote an article published in the Guardian on Friday saying that, while he accepted many of his colleagues still appreciate the applause, he believes it now distracts everyone from the problems that still exist:
“Are we still allowed to complain about poor resources and potentially unsafe working conditions now we’ve had clapping, rainbows, free doughnuts and a centenarian walking round his garden for us? How dare we? …
“The NHS is not a charity and it isn’t staffed by heroes. It has been run into the ground by successive governments and now we are reaping the rewards of that neglect …
“I hope the reality is dawning that immigrants and BAME staff are vital to the NHS and we couldn’t manage without them.”
The only small consolation is that Johnson’s been forced to change his mind about the visa surcharge of £400 (rising to £624 in October) he wanted to impose on NHS and care workers from overseas.
He’s also been forced to change his mind about Huawei, whose involvement in 5G networks will now be reduced to zero by 2023.
What he needs to do next is reconsider the case of Taitusi Ratacaucau, a former British soldier who’s being charged £27,000 by the NHS for the removal of a brain tumour because hospital staff have decided he’s an overseas patient because he was born in Fiji.
His lawyers believe hundreds of other veterans might be similarly affected, all people who put their lives on the line for Britain and fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we won’t even let them stay in the country when they leave the service.
This was also the week when, despite having avoided a criminal investigation into his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, Johnson is still facing another investigation after the Independent Office for Police Conduct found evidence that officials were influenced by their close relationship while he was Mayor of London.
Then, in today’s Covid-19 briefing, the medic reminded us that “for most people, it’s a mild condition” before Johnson defended Dominic Cummins for having, in defiance of government instructions, driven his wife and child about 250 miles to his mummy and daddy (might they be in a more vulnerable, older age group?) in Durham because his wife was showing symptoms of Covid-19. Johnson said he had just “followed the instincts of every parent” and his actions were legal.
Presumably Cummins doesn’t have any friends or family closer than Durham who could have helped out with childcare if he and his wife both became seriously ill, and they can’t afford to pay for live-in childcare if they did both get a serious dose.
Several journalists asked if Johnson’s excusing Cummins would set a precedent and Johnson, clearly on the back foot throughout, refused to answer any of them and just fell back on the “it’s what every parent would do” in his script. No doubt his critics will accept he was just being kind to his puppetmaster, once they’ve explained to him what ‘kindness’ means.
Encouragingly, there has been an increasing amount of talk about people’s kindnesses since the pandemic took hold, extending way beyond this this blog. Let’s hope people get used to it, and like it, and kindness remains more of a motivator than it has been in the past.
* It’s estimated that one cubic metre of water on the west and east coasts of the Atlantic contains 3,700 particles of microplastic, more than the number of zooplankton.