Floods, cleaners, dogs, the weirdness of Covid-19, food banks and more kindnesses

17 May 2020

The devastating floods in east Africa which have killed almost 200 people and displaced some 40,000 more would, in normal times, have made the front pages but the western world has become tunnel-visioned about Covid-19 and the huge risks being taken by various states in America which are re-opening while the death curve continues to hurtle upwards and the president no longer has the bottle even to hold press conferences.

Mexico has been suffering from thunderstorms and tornadoes and snow fell in New York last week, the latest snowfall there since 1977 but at least they pass quite quickly.  Other things taking a back seat include the Brexit negotiations which seem to be getting nowhere, and exactly what last week’s easing of the lockdown actually means.

My initial reaction, having heard the prime minister’s broadcast as I was finishing last week’s blog, was one of relief, that he hadn’t opened the door any further.  As we awaited more detail of how this would affect our lives, incomplete guidance was slowly released, some of it self-contradictory, the rest of it confusing, leaving polls showing that (for the first time since the pandemic started) a majority of people think any easing is dangerous and the government is handling it badly.

Luckily, Boris Johnson’s sense of humour remained intact as he reintroduced us to an old warning, which I first became aware of in the 1970s when bombs were going off in places like Welwyn Garden City.  “Stay Alert”, he said, allowing us all the opportunity to resurrect suffixes like “Britain Needs Lerts”.

The new rules say it’s now OK for domestic cleaners to return to work;  it seems daft that they’re allowed to go from house to house, some of whose occupants could be unwittingly infected and infectious, but we took up his offer and have unfurloughed our cleaner.  (She said that only one other customer has continued to pay her during the lockdown, the rest just laid her off;  I guess some people just don’t think what the lockdown might be doing to people like her.)

I have been hoovering and cleaning things, honestly, but it is the Labrador Shedding Season.  I’m convinced that, yesterday, I left more dog in the wood than came back home with me.  (Commercial break:  Furminators are wonderful inventions and get out much more hair than normal dog-combs.)

We all know that dogs can be trained to do all sorts of amazing things like judging the height of a branch to ensure their visually impaired companion doesn’t bang their head on it, and loading washing machines, and sniffing out everything from drugs and bombs and guns and fugitives and cancers and blood-sugar levels, but they’re now being tested to see if they can identify Covid-19.  Can anyone help me train ours to stop identifying fox poo and rolling in it?

Johnson (who was described this week by Marine Hyde as “a prime minister who has never entered a bedroom without first checking if there’s a wardrobe”) is encouraging people to go back to work where possible and Jacob Rees-Mogg* has said parliament should be setting an example by crowding back into the House and sod physical distancing (isn’t ‘social’ completely the wrong word when describing distancing?).

Jacob, if you really believe people should go back to work, volunteer for one of your local food banks that you’ve previously said are such a brilliant idea, thereby completely misunderstanding why they exist and why they’re now more essential than ever;  you might even just start to see a little more of the real world.

Actually, of course, the reason Rees-Mogg wants parliament to reconvene is that, without the braying of his supporters, it’s all too obvious that Johnson hasn’t read his briefing papers, is completely unprepared for PMQs and hasn’t yet realised his blustering doesn’t work against a meticulously prepared and unflappable opponent.

It’s also becoming clear that Covid-19 is unlike any other coronavirus we’ve encountered with different people suffering different symptoms and taking differing times to recover.  It even seems that it doesn’t automatically produce a cough and a fever, which means that temperature checks at places like airports don’t pick up all those affected.  Nobody even knows whether having had it provides immunity against being infected again.

Professor Paul Garner of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine developed an unusual form which gave him a variety of unpleasant symptoms that came and went over a period of weeks and it’s now believed that about 5% of patients suffer from long-term “on-off” symptoms for months.  It also leaves some people feeling fine while their blood-oxygen levels are so low that established medical science would have expected them to be severely incapacitated or dead.

On an even more sombre note, yesterday produced an impressive example of what a difference a word makes.  A headline said “Body found in suitcase” while the article below said “Gloucestershire Police have found a body in two suitcases”.  Doesn’t that ‘two’ conjure up a whole new, gruesome picture.

One of the symptoms of a nationwide tendency to kindness is that in March, when it was becoming obvious even to government that the Pandemic was going to be serious, the NHS asked for 250,000 volunteers to help people who were self-isolating or older, and NHS staff and other care providers needing deliveries.  750,000 people offered to help.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week and its theme this year is kindness.  We know that the lockdown is causing more people to suffer from mental health problems, particularly those who are concerned about the virus itself, so let’s show them our non-judgemental understanding and, rather than telling them what to do, let’s just let them talk while we listen.


*          The Rees-Moggs called their latest, sixth child Sextus.  I reckon the next three will be called Septum, Octavo and Eneuf.

The genius of Boris Johnson

29 February 2020

As a courtesy to a very wonderful man, I’ve decided I should no longer refer to our outstandingly competent and selfless prime minister as ‘Bonzo’ and future references in this blog will be much more respectful.  For the benefit of cynics, I should explain this decision is based solely on my realisation of the sheer genius of the Rt Hon Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and is not in any way influenced by the fact that so many of his decisions are intended to concentrate power in his hands so that he will ultimately become He Who Must Be Obeyed.

His unassailable majority in parliament, his appointment of a cabinet of sycophants, his attempts to transfer power from the judiciary to the government, his ejection of civil servants who actually know what they’re doing, his trust in an adviser who’s a walking advertisement for charity-shop clothes, and his emasculation of the BBC, one of the few British products that is still respected worldwide, are obviously all planned to make it easier for our dear prime minister to assume personal control of everything.  The help he’s getting from the self-destruction of the royal family is fortuitous but no self-respecting prime minister would take unfair advantage of this, would they?

His disappearance from public view (apart from a brief visit to a hospital to patronise the staff) and his refusal to carry out the duties that former, lesser prime ministers have done, such as visiting flooded areas and talking to their victims, are just further proof of his natural leadership qualities and, when he does declare himself Dear Leader and assume complete power over everything, I’ll be in the front row cheering him on because I want food on my plate in the weeks that follow.

I’m glad the Court of Appeal has ruled plans for a third runway at Heathrow illegal (on the grounds that they didn’t match the government’s plans to tackle the environmental crisis) so our nice Mr Johnson won’t have to prostrate himself in front of the first bulldozer and risk getting his clothes dirty.

I’m also absolutely confident in his ability to get a brilliant Brexit deal out of the EU in the 10 months that remain and, at the same time, do the deal of the century with America.  He’s already described the EU’s concerns about chlorinated chicken as “hysteria” and “mumbo jumbo” and I’m sure he won’t let the EU’s more stringent food safety controls stand in the way of importing contaminated chicken as part of a deal with America.  Come on, Mr Johnson, you don’t need to worry about the idiots in the NFU who said “To sign up to a trade deal which results in opening our ports, shelves and fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would not only be morally bankrupt. It would be the work of the insane.”

But, Mr President-To-Be, you stick to your guns.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve promised in the past, or what experts advise (that almost-as-nice Mr Gove has already written-off all experts), it’s what you want for yourself that matters.

Forget the independent Pitt review carried out after the serious floods in the summer of 2007 during which 55,000 properties were flooded, 7,000 people had to be rescued and 13 people died, costing insurance companies an estimated £3 billion.  The report made 92 recommendations covering “prediction and warning of flooding, prevention, emergency management, resilience and recovery”, many of which were “far-reaching and called for a radical reshaping of our flood risk management practice”.  (One key point was that flood defences pay for themselves many times over.)

The 2007 report said “The country must adapt to increasing flood risk” but I’ve been unable to find any recommendation in the report to build more than 11,000 new homes, which are now planned, on land at the highest risk of flooding in the regions suffering the worst winter storms in a generation, or to the estimated 10% of new homes that have already been built on high-risk flood sites since 2013.

The (Labour) government in power in 2007 responded to the report’s recommendations by increasing spending on flood defences by 10%, but we then had George Osborne and the cuts he made in the name of austerity so hard-working and dedicated company directors’ bonuses could increase astronomically every year.

I’m also thrilled to hear that you’re now about to have your sixth child (at least) and am deeply impressed that, at your age, you still have the energy to devote to managing the staff who will look after the baby.

I’m ending here, your greatness, because I don’t know how long I can keep this up.

PS – Since I published this yesterday, I’ve learnt that the ever-modest Mr Johnson owns socks depicting the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, who called himself “king of the world”, an ambition also expressed by Mr Johnson who, when he was a child, announced that he planned to be “world king”.  When I was a child, I wanted to be an engine driver.  I didn’t make it.