Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Presumption of what?

I have been a fan, for want of a better word, of Lord Sumption since last year's Reith Lectures (Icons passim). Because of this, I take warnings like this interview with him 17 minutes into yesterday's Word at One programme seriously without necessarily agreeing to the last decimal point.
The real problem is that when human societies lose their freedom, it's not usually because tyrants have taken it away. It's usually because people willingly surrender their freedom in return for protection against some external threat. And the threat is usually a real threat but usually exaggerated. That's what I fear we are seeing now. The pressure on politicians has come from the public. They want action. They don't pause to ask whether the action will work. They don't ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying. They want action anyway. And anyone who has studied history will recognise here the classic symptoms of collective hysteria.
Hysteria is infectious. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure may be worse than the disease.
Q At a time like this as you acknowledge , citizens do look to the state for protection, for assistance, we shouldn't be surprised then if the state takes on new powers, that is what it has been asked to do, almost demanded of it.
A Yes that is absolutely true. We should not be surprised. But we have to recognise that this is how societies become despotisms. And we also have to recognise this is a process which leads naturally to exaggeration. The symptoms of coronavirus are clearly serious for those with other significant medical conditions especially if they're old. There are exceptional cases in which young people have been struck down, which have had a lot of publicity, but the numbers are pretty small. The Italian evidence for instance suggests that only 12% of deaths is it possible to say coronavirus was the main cause of death. So yes this is serious and yes it's understandable that people cry out to the government. But the real question is : Is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hardworking people have taken years to build up , saddling future generations with debt, depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all, like the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister.
Q The executive, the government, is all of a sudden really rather powerful and really rather unscrutinised. Parliament is in recess, it's due to come back in late April, we're not quite sure whether it will or not, the Prime Minister is closeted away, communicating via his phone, there is not a lot in the way of scrutiny is there?
A No. Certainly there's not a lot in the way of institutional scrutiny. The Press has engaged in a fair amount of scrutiny, there has been some good and challenging journalism, but mostly the Press has, I think, echoed and indeed amplified the general panic.
Q The restrictions in movement have also changed the relationship between the police and those whose, in name, they serve. The police are naming and shaming citizens for travelling at what they see as the wrong time or driving to the wrong place. Does that set alarm bells ringing for you, as a former senior member of the judiciary?
A Well, I have to say, it does. I mean, the tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform. They are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government's command. Yet in some parts of the country the police have been trying to stop people from doing things like travelling to take exercise in the open country which are not contrary to the regulations, simply because ministers have said that they would prefer us not to. The police have no power to enforce ministers' preferences, but only legal regulations which don't go anything like as far as the government's guidance. I have to say that the behaviour of the Derbyshire police in trying to shame people into using their undoubted right to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the Fells so that people don't want to go there, is frankly disgraceful.
This is what a police state is like. It's a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers' wishes. I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion. Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions. There is a natural tendency of course, and a strong temptation for the police to lose sight of their real functions and turn themselves from citizens in uniform into glorified school prefects. I think it's really sad that the Derbyshire Police have failed to resist that.
Q There will be people listening who admire your legal wisdom but will also say, well, he's not an epidemiologist, he doesn't know how disease spreads, he doesn't understand the risks to the health service if this thing gets out of control. What do you say to them?
A What I say to them is I am not a scientist but it is the right and duty of every citizen to look and see what the scientists have said and to analyse it for themselves and to draw common sense conclusions. We are all perfectly capable of doing that and there's no particular reason why the scientific nature of the problem should mean we have to resign our liberty into the hands of scientists. We all have critical faculties and it's rather important, in a moment of national panic, that we should maintain them.
Q Lord Sumption, former Justice of the Supreme Court, speaking to me earlier.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Social Distancing During the Black Death

James Hankins is a professor of Renaissance history at Harvard University.
One of the comforts of studying history is that, no matter how bad things get, you can always find a moment in the past when things were much, much worse. Some commentators on our current crisis have been throwing around comparisons to earlier pandemics, and the Black Death of 1347 — 50 inevitably gets mentioned. Please. The Black Death wiped out half the population of Europe in the space of four years. In some places the mortality was far swifter and deadlier than that. The novelist Giovanni Boccaccio, who gave us the most vivid picture of the Black Death in literature, estimated that 100,000 people died in Florence in the four months between March and July 1348. The population of the city in 1338, according to one contemporary chronicler, stood at 120,000.
Boccaccio at the time was a city tax official and saw the whole thing at ground level. Every morning bodies of the dead—husbands, wives, children, servants—were pushed out into the street where they were piled on stretchers, later on carts. They were carried to the nearest church for a quick blessing, then trundled to graveyards outside the city for burial. As the death toll rose, traditional burial practices were abandoned. Deep trenches were dug into which bodies were dumped in layers with a thin covering of soil shoveled on top. Boccaccio writes that “no more respect was accorded the dead than would today be shown to dead goats.”
We are on day 8 of our Decameron project. Rationing out one story a day during lock-in.

I started a song per story Spotify Playlist this morning.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Stop all the clocks

There are five hundred clocks in Buckingham Palace. Among them are musical clocks, organ clocks, astronomical clocks and mechanical clocks. I seem to remember, from the days I was there a lot, being told that there was a member of staff whose sole job was to keep them all wound.

Today, they will all need to be adjusted by an hour. It is difficult to imagine the task appearing very high up on HMG's list of key workers and essential roles though,

Saturday, March 28, 2020

small mercies

I managed to get through the garage yesterday and pick up my MOT'd car. I had feared it would be stranded there indefinitely while the pandemic works itself out.

That said I can't think of anywhere I should drive today.

This day last week though I had no electricity and no vehicle.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Two blue ticks

When everyone has read a group message in WhatsApp the two tick icon next to the time at the bottom on the right turns blue.

If you can all make sure you have read your messages before I go to bed each night I can just pass my eyes over all the blue ticks and know that you are safe and sound.

Also Zoom seems too be having its day in the sun. Vince and Mandy both mentioned it to me yesterday and Ollie ran a quiz on it last night. One to watch,

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Motorists worried about getting an MOT because of the coronavirus crisis, have been handed a six-month reprieve.

The government has granted car owners a six-month exemption from MOT testing.

However, it won't come in until Monday 30 March which means vehicles due an MOT before then must still take it.

The exemption "will enable vital services such as deliveries to continue, frontline workers to get to work, and people get essential food and medicine," the government said.

The exemption will apply to cars, motorcycles and vans, but the government warned that vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition.

Garages will remain open for essential repair work while drivers will face prosecution if they're caught driving unsafe vehicles.

"We must ensure those on the frontline of helping the nation combat COVID19 are able to do so," said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

"Safety is key, which is why garages will remain open for essential repair work."

Ain't a lot of use to me is it with my car still stuck in Dees of Wimbledon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Future Legend

David Bowie
And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare
The shutters lifted an inch in temperance building, high on Poacher's Hill
And red mutant eyes gazed down on Hunger City
No more big wheels
Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now legwarmers
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald
Any day now, the year of the Diamond Dogs
"This ain't rock and roll! This is genocide!"
Good morning I am back on the grid with 'leccy but my car is still stranded in Dees of Wimbledon,

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

And after all, you're my Powerwall

My house is now hooked up to the generator in the road. I have knocked on the front doors of my neighbours, either side and opposite to explain it will be running for at least a couple of days. It rumbles like an idling engine. Because that is what it is I suppose.
Powerwall can detect an outage, disconnect from the grid, and automatically restore power to your home in a fraction of a second. You will not even notice that the power went out. Your lights and appliances will continue to run without interruption.
If you have solar and Powerwall, then solar energy will continue to power your home and recharge Powerwall. Without Powerwall, solar will shut down during an outage.
I am starting to think that my previous indifference to Elon Musk's Tesla Powerwall (https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/powerwall) may have been premature and short sighted.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Book of Job

My car went in for its MOT on Friday. I still haven't got it back as they needed parts.

The power went off at home yesterday. Not in the street, just in my house. UKPowerNet have been great. They put a generator outside in the street late last night and I hope it will be connected today.

Apart from no car and no electricity everything is fine.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Before coffee, I'm up and walkin' around but I'm not awake.

Here's my schedule for the day as social distancing begins to bite.

Tune to 5 USA on Freeview channel 21 for:
  • 09:25 Columbo: Make Me A Perfect Murder
  • 11:20 Columbo: Dagger of The Mind
  • 13:20 Columbo: How To Dial A Murder
  • 14:55 Columbo: It's All In The Game
  • 16:55 Columbo: Candidate For Crime
  • 18:55 Columbo: By Dawn's Early Light
I like Columbo. We have 69 episodes (no sniggering at the back)  to sustain us over the weeks and months (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Columbo_episodes).

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Side Effects

Ben's maternal grandmother, Jane's mum Caroline, probably has only weeks to live.

There was supposed to be a do today (her idea) at which we would say goodbye while she is still with us. (I have never heard of such a thing before, but I can see it is gutsy.)

It won't go ahead now after the Prime Minister closed all pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, and gyms nationwide last night in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Further her imminent decline will coincide with the NHS being stretched as never before. This is inevitably going to be harrowing for my son and his mother.

There must be so many other consequences of these desperate days that my life is too blessed to allow me to imagine.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Plan

I'm not going to the Winchester ............ I'm going to the Standard.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Round Are Way

Here' Callum - a year on from his senior England call up - showing the world you can get over Covid-19. More power to his elbow in these difficult days. A particular delight of the video is that the exercise bike is not in an exclusive gym, it's in the hallway of his mum and and dad's house round the corner.

The game is kicking off in around the park
It's twenty five a side and before it's dark
There's gonna be a loser
And you know the next goal wins
Cab it to the front as it's called a draw
Everybody's knocking at yours once more
Ernie bangs the sound
And no one's spoken since half past four
La, la, la, la, laaaa, laa

Round are way the birds are singing
Round are way the sun shines bright
Round are way the birds are minging
Round are way it's alright
Round are way the birds sing for you
'cause the already know yer
They already know yer

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Social Distancing

'Nuff said
Boris Johnson has advised against mass gatherings, sporting events and nights out in the pub.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Decameron

The year is 1348. The Black Death has begun to ravage Europe. Ten young Florentines—seven women and three men—escape the plague-infested city and retreat to the countryside around Fiesole. At their leisure in this isolated and bucolic setting, they spend ten days telling each other stories—tales of romance, tragedy, comedy, and farce—one hundred in all. The result, called by one critic "the greatest short story collection of all time" (Leonard Barkan, Princeton University) is a rich and entertaining celebration of the medley of medieval life.

Witty, earthy, and filled with bawdy irreverence, the one hundred stories of The Decameron offer more than simple escapism; they are also a life-affirming balm for trying times. The Decameron is a joyously comic book that has earned its place in world literature not just because it makes us laugh, but more importantly because it shows us how essential laughter is to the human condition.

The excuse that we do not have time to read the the thousand plus pages of Giovanni Boccaccio's masterpiece is starting to look a bit threadbare considering that we are all likely to be confined to barracks for weeks on end. Come on, escape the plague-infested city and retreat.

Film and Television Adaptations
  • Decameron Nights (1924) was based on three of the tales.
  • Decameron Nights (1953) was based on three of the tales and starred Louis Jourdan as Boccaccio.
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Decameron (1971) is an anthology film which includes nine of the stories.
  • The 2007 film Virgin Territory is a romantic comedy based on the framing story of The Decameron.
  • The 2015 film Wondrous Boccaccio is loosely based on four of the tales.
  • The 2017 comedy The Little Hours adapted tales III, 1 and III, 2.

Monday, March 16, 2020

a little light relief

When Johnny Boon, Ben's old muay Thai cru, posted this back in January I was at best peripherally aware of Matt Hancock MP. Now that we live in virus land, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is as prominent as anyone in the country.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

I had a fight with Sam Smith's cousin once

The Gloucester Service Station on the M5 is not as other service stations:
We were the first family run motorway services on the UK roads. There are no franchises or fast food on our forecourts. Instead, a Farmshop selling locally produced food, a Butchery featuring meat reared from our own farms and a Kitchen serving homemade dishes produced daily using local ingredients.
Proper food with locality and a sense of belonging is at the very heart of everything we do. We believe proper food matters. So we serve it where you’d least expect it—on the motorway.
Ben and I stopped off there on Friday drawn by the grass on the roof and stayed to buy the evening's scan, Can I suggest you do the same?

Also add Mo Gilligan to the list of good stuff to which Ben has introduced me.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sowers of Discord

We were already over the Severn Bridge yesterday when we heard that today's Wales Scotland Six Nations game had been cancelled; in the limbo or purgatory that is the congestion leading to the Brynglas tunnels. I have had many opportunities for reflection on Fridays over the last few years stranded on this God-forsaken section of the M4.

We couldn't visit mum and dad when we got to Cardiff because their homes have cancelled visits in light of Covid-19, so we have come back to London today to give Ben more time to practice in the run up to his driving test on Tuesday.

Callum (that spotlight is mine, it follows me wherever I go) Hudson-Odoi has tested positive.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Just get in, and we'll go for a ride

I am due at Leamington Spa, Telford, Kidderminster, Portishead and then Cardiff today. There's a map for that.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

Grauniard: University vice-chancellors have told the government they cannot completely shut down if the coronavirus outbreak worsens..

Myself: In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Isaac Newton to return home. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to formulate his law of universal gravitation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

This one will run and run.

This morning, for your viewing pleasure, we have an animation. It may also be worth watching Michael Osterholm on last night's Joe Rogan Experience #1439. Osterholm's 2017 book Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs seems to put him credibly ahead of the curve on this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

'Fog In Channel, Continent Cut Off'

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

Monday, March 09, 2020


I have pinched this tracker from the Telegraph to provide myself with a convenient reference for the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

86 not out

Dad is 86 today. Let's give him this soon-to-be-classic try that Wales scored against England in Twickenham yesterday as a present.

I missed the game as I was, unlikely as it sounds, curling in Tunbridge Wells.
David Frost rang Peter Cook up some years ago. "Peter, I'm having a little dinner party on behalf of Prince Andrew and his new bride-to-be Sarah Ferguson. I know they'd love to meet you, big fans; Be super if you could make it: Wednesday the twelfth." "Hang on... I'll just check my diary." Pause and rummaging and leafing through diary noises. And then Peter said "Oh dear. I find I'm watching television that night."
I've used the Cook line for ages when I can't make it to a function. From today it is dethroned by  "Oh dear. I find I'm curling in Tunbridge Wells that night."

Saturday, March 07, 2020

When one door closes, another ....... shuts

I have finished reading The Human Stain by Philip Roth and started on Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia. I came across the latter after stumbling on a podcast (Icons passim).

The former was recommended by Steve (Icons passim) and it is is indeed a fine, fine novel. That said I struggled with it at first as I thought the insufferable Nathan Zuckerman was an alter ego speaking in the author's authentic voice, as opposed to an unreliable narrator who is probably as deluded as the other characters. This is what makes the ice fishing scene at the end of the last chapter so poignant. I started to wonder if Les Farley was guilty at all. Roth was the matador and Zuckerman the cape to my confused and outraged bull.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Good Rockin' Tonight!

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Khan-do attitude

My brother John will be up and staying with me for the night later, so I have got a Nihari on in the slow cooker. (It is based on a cooking sauce from a company called Kohinoor.) Last time he was here we had one in Tooting's Lahore Kahari, fourteen years on from our first! (Icons passim.) I have got him a Laziza Nehari Masala pack to take home so he can develop his own in the laboratory of the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen. (Exotic as they sound, I got my Kohinoor and Laziza products in Sainsbury's.)

The Wikipedia entry on Nihari says, "In some restaurants, a few kilos from each day's leftover Nihari is added to the next day's pot. This re-used portion of Nihari is called taar and is believed to provide the unique flavor. Some Nihari outlets in old Delhi boast of an unbroken taar going back more than a century."

I used to wonder about perhaps running my slow cooker permanently and just loading it up with more ingredients every time I took a serving out. What do we think? Would it evolve into an ur-casserole of unique depth and flavour or would it kill me? When are you coming round for dinner?

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

the dining philosophers problem

This post is intended, in years to come, to remind me of my lunch with the Bomber in the William Morris yesterday. Don't beat yourself up if you don't understand why this should be so.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

My Left Nut

Early in August (Icons passim) I wrote about Sid's band Bainbridge and Co. The track of theirs that featured on that post is now on the soundtrack of a new BBC 3 Series.

You can hear it thirty four seconds in to the clip above and My Left Nut's iPlayer page is https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/p083shlt/my-left-nut.

Monday, March 02, 2020

I wouldn't go as far as Wimbledon with Beryl Willard.

The Crown star Claire Foy and Fleabag's Andrew Scott were among the big winners at the WhatsOnStage Awards on Sunday.
Foy won best actress in a play for her performance in Lungs, while Scott took home best actor for Present Laughter.
And I saw both of them, both in the Old Vic as I recall. Present Laughter in July and Lungs in October.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

The man on the Clapham omnibus

Journey back home to confront the truth and find the moment that defined you. Peter Gill’s poetic masterpiece receives a timely revival.
This will be on just up the road in Clapham from April 21st to to the ninth of May. I will try and get along to it. Herewith the skinny: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/small-change/