Oddities, U-turns and gambling, police brutality and protests, combining kindness with compassion

The Journal section of Tuesday’s Guardian carried a large picture of a sign on the gate of Beckers Green Primary School in Braintree, Essex which said

PLAYGROUND:  PLEASE

DO NOT ENTER UNTIL

YOUR ALLOTED TIME

With the Guardian’s former reputation for their typesetters’ creative approach to their old, hot lead, linotype machines, which produced some fascinating misprints (hence Private Eye’s calling it the Grauniad), it seemed likely that an editor had chosen this particular photograph intentionally.

A curious ad then appeared on my computer screen yesterday implying that pouring a can of Coke into a lavatory bowl means you’ll “Never scrub another toilet again with this new cleaner”.  I haven’t the foggiest idea if this is true but at least it saves having to drink the Coke.

There was also an interesting discovery this week by Tim King, a cryptic crossword compiler, that the government’s latest mantra “STAY ALERT / CONTROL THE VIRUS / SAVE LIVES” is an anagram of “Easily survives travel north to castle”.  Perhaps this will be taken into account when Dominic Cummings finally appears in court.

Boris Johnson has recently done four U-turns, which is a bit like doing a 4-point turn in a car:  you end up going in the original direction, just somewhere between 2 weeks and 6 months behind where you should be.  When admitting they’d had to abandon the contact-tracing app, Matt Hancock said “I’m from Newmarket, we back both horses.”  He may be from Newmarket but he clearly doesn’t know that it’s quicker to write the bookie a cheque than to back both horses in a two-horse race.

Then on Friday Gavin Williamson talked about the government’s “hugely ambitious plan” to do something about education and I felt my heart sink.  When they can’t even see the bleeding obvious, the thought of the government attempting anything that’s “hugely ambitious” just makes me feel ill.

However, there’s a cheering and thought-provoking 18-minute opinion piece from Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, an American satirical news program on Comedy Central, on things that don’t exist, like social ‘contracts’ that privileged white people take for granted.  Get a cup of tea and listen to what he says – https://youtu.be/v4amCfVbA_c

He likens the growth of local outrage into worldwide protests to a toppling line of dominoes and suggests that one of the first to go might have fallen when Christian Cooper, a 57-year old Harvard graduate, was birdwatching in a ‘wild’ section of Central Park in New York where dogs must be kept on the lead.  When he saw a woman whose dog was running loose, he asked her to leash her dog.  The woman got hold of the dog’s collar and went loopy so he started filming their exchange.

She said she would phone the police to tell them an African-American man was threatening her life, then did ring 911 as she struggled to restrain the dog, emphasising “African American” twice more to the police.  He just stood there, polite and unmoving, and continued to film her until she attached the dog’s lead when he said “Thank you” and stopped the recording.  Then, for safety’s sake I guess, he sent the video to his sister who posted it online where it went viral.

After the woman had been identified as Amy Cooper (no relation), she was fired from her job and Christian Cooper expressed his regret and said later “I am told there have been death threats and that is wholly inappropriate and abhorrent and should stop immediately … I find it strange that people who were upset that she tried to bring death by cop down on my head would then turn around and try to put death threats on her head. Where is the logic in that?  Where does that make any kind of sense?”

The police had already killed George Floyd in Minneapolis and then another police officer, Garrett Rolfe, had an altercation with Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.  Brooks was initially compliant but Rolfe got out his Taser, even though he knew it wasn’t loaded, and pointed it at Brooks who then appeared to get frightened, grabbed the Taser and ran away, pointing it back at the police as he ran.  So Rolfe shot him twice in the back then kicked him as he was dying.  For fear of being shot at with a Taser he knew wasn’t loaded.  Rolfe has since been charged with murder.

Protests continue under the banner ‘Black Lives Matter’ and have spread to other countries;  and they continue.  Perhaps the rest of the dominoes will now fall.

Sadly, the “All Lives Matter” internet meme has been hijacked by far right groups and is used to show that you are right-wing and don’t really think black lives matter all that much, if at all.  (I actually used this phrase a fortnight ago, but I meant it literally.)  In America, it tends to go along with prominent displays of the US flag and a large arsenal of lethal weapons under the bed – thank you Bryony from Connecticut for telling me about this misuse of ‘All lives matter’ and the flying of flags, though I made up the bit about guns.

But don’t you think it’s outrageous that one of last weekend’s far right anti-demonstrators was victimised and given a 14-day prison sentence for public micturition?  It seemed clear from the volume of liquid in the picture that he’d had a lot to drink, was busting for a pee and just found the quietest corner he could to preserve his modesty and not upset anyone else.  I don’t think for a moment he even knew he was pissing beside (not onto) a plaque marking the death of PC Keith Palmer, who was stabbed to death during the 2017 Westminster terrorist attack.  There’s something wrong somewhere.

I’ve recently been drawing attention to random acts of kindness but I’m beginning to think that kindness is even more powerful when it’s linked with compassion and we’ve seen two wonderful examples in the last week.

The first was when Marcus Rashford, a 22-year old footballer, wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson asking him to keep paying for the £15-a-week vouchers for needy families over the summer.  His plea was formally rejected by Downing Street, but Rashford had been doing charity work for the underprivileged for some time and wouldn’t let it go. 

On Tuesday, Johnson suddenly did another of his U-turns and announced a £120m “Covid summer food fund”, making the remarkable claim that he’d only heard about Rashford’s original request earlier in the day.  (Johnson only ever tells the truth by mistake and often isn’t even aware he’s done it so another lie doesn’t make any difference.)

(Sports non-fans like me might like to know that, in his spare time, Rashford is actually an unusually talented footballer, playing for Manchester United and England.)

The second example was when Patrick Hutchinson, a Black Lives Matter demonstrator carried a counter-protester to safety during last Saturday’s protests in London after he’d been injured and abandoned by his brave comrades on the far right.  Hutchinson later said: “His life was under threat, so I just went under, scooped him up, put him on my shoulders and started marching towards the police with him.”

And a final piece of good news to start the week:  Donald Trump has offered a solution to the ever-increasing number of Covid cases in America.  At his public appearance in Atlanta yesterday, he said “You know what?  You test more people, you gonna find more cases so slow the testing down – please”.  Sheer brilliance.

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