Late Life Crisis - April 2020

.................Thoughts over April in the bunker. Apologies for more items than usual:

 

I have had to suspend for the time being the services of my cleaner (yes, I am a useless middle-class male who can't/won't clean for himself). I realise now that on days when I was at home she and I practised some social distancing even before the term was invented. After the frustration of wherever she was in the flat I wanted to be and wherever I was she wanted to be (to clean - this is going to sound like a boy band song), we developed a balletic ritual of her cleaning one space while I occupied another, and round and round we would go until the operation was completed. Those were the days.

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As I spend more time "WFH", I have noticed a couple of robins frequently appearing in my back garden to feed on the grass, recently cut to withing a millimetre of its life but now recovering. I am pleased that I resisted the temptation to replace the lawn with Astroturf. That feeling may subside in due course when I get bored with grass-cutting, as I usually do.

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Right at the end of March the restaurant chain Carluccio's and the rent to buy high street store Brighthouse filed for administration. Like it or not, law firms are needed at these times, for example to deal with the legal aspects of the insolvency process or to represent the interests of people who have lent to the business. Sometimes the involvement of the professional advisers will assist in saving jobs, although an event like this in the middle of Covid 19 is not going to offer much hope.

The Lawyer magazine has named two large law firms, Ashurst and Freshfields, as taking major roles in each of the insolvencies. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that the firms will perform valuable roles, the headline (31 March) with its vulture connotations,  "Ashurst and Freshfields swoop in on collapse of Carluccio's and Brighthouse", is one that probably should not get much airtime outside the legal press.

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Possibly a callous thought at a time when the lives of so many families have been shattered by Covid 19, but there must be some merit in the suggestion that over the longer term more lives may have been saved through reduced air pollution in the lockdown than were lost through the outbreak of the virus.  And we seem to have lost Greta Thunberg from our screens for the moment, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on where you stand.

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Mindful of friends who post pictures of their holidays overseas (and I do this too) I had planned a Facebook 1st April post along the lines of "Enjoying the bracing air of the Falkland Islands", but on the good taste front April Fools jokes went out of fashion this year.

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References to a "front". The war metaphor. Early in April there was talk of smaller research laboratories being the Dunkirk spirit small boats for virus testing, against the big ships of NHS driven labs. Some time ago I was justly picked up on social media by a friend who pointed out that my loose analogy with Adolf Hitler's behaviour was an example of Godwin's Law. This is a saying that the longer an internet discussion persists, the greater the chance of an individual's behaviour being compared to that of Hitler. 

There is a Hitler indirect reference in what follows, but not an application of Godwin's Law. Reading a review of Viktor David Hanson's book, "The Second World Wars", I saw the quotation: "Hitler's chief flaw as a strategist was that he used wild emotion to push his own daydreams". It strikes me that Boris Johnson has been struggling to tread the tightrope between communication emotion - invoking the British spirit that will get us through the crisis - and starkly rational laying out of the facts. I suspect that as a biographer of Churchill he lays awake at night wondering what the great man would do in this situation.

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Saturday 4th April broke with blue skies. How depressing!! Today would have been The Grand National. For years I went up to it with friends, but this year we will do a punting competition for the virtual race. The 'race" will be enterprisingly staged at 5pm om ITV. It will make a nice change from the Downing Street press conference.

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7th April - Boris in ICU, and the worst of human nature emerges, with some people refusing to have any sympathy for his personal position.

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Suspicions from the US that the spread of the virus was accentuated by the young people who travelled to the Florida beaches for the Spring break and then returned home. If it is true, a case of "Go forth and multiply", but not as intended by Genesis 9:7.

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Appropriate suspension of Bojo targeted ribaldry when he went into hospital. But by later in the week, a sense of relief that the tousled haired one seems to be ok. And so it would not be out of order now to suggest that there could be a more appropriate social media tag than #clapforBoris. 

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And if that last comment was mean, then what about the thought that if Boris was reported as sitting up in bed and engaging with medical staff then Carrie ought to start getting worried.

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Some suggestion that Boris's fitness may help him. His jogging style is not elegant, said by one whose running resembles a spurred along carthorse. But much funnier was the quip that Michael Gove jogging looks like a nun pursued by a bee.

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Older readers may remember the 1969 film, They Shoot Horses Don't They?, where in the US Great Depression an enterprising chap set up a dance marathon, the idea being that competing couples would dance until all had dropped out or fallen through exhaustion and so there would be a winning couple who would collect a 1,500 Dollar prize. The film had probably been forgotten by the time Tess and Brucie first delivered the closing Strictly line, "Keep dancing!" The current social distancing rule is that when exercising we should keep moving, so sitting on a bench or lying down on the grass is verboten. However, I did pass one chap on Hampstead Heath who could be taken as sunbathing but was combining it with arm movements: "Sorry, Constable, I was doing my Tai Chi."

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Easter Saturday. And amongst the gloom of rising Covid 19 deaths, a good day to be a cricket lover. Due to the sterling service of TMS we can all relive Day 4 of the Third 2019 Ashes Test, where England pulled off an unlikely win against Australia, largely due to an innings of 135 from Ben Stokes. I bet that any self-isolating Aussie households setting up the barbie will be keeping clear of the airing.

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Easter Sunday. "He is risen......but only to go out for essential shopping, exercise once a day, and attending to the care needs of a vulnerable person."

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Easter Monday. My brisk walk revealed a number of men - yes, it's the men who clean the cars - out washing and polishing their pride and joy. Sadly a case of all dressed up and nowhere much to go. If PC Plod appears, presumably they will say that this is their daily exercise. But if PC Plod consults his manual of what stuff he must allow, I doubt that he will find car-washing permitted.

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Two schools of thought in the cabinet on lockdown restriction. Hawks favouring sooner rather than later: Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of the Exchequer); Priti Patel (Home Secretary); Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education). Doves favouring later rather than sooner: Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Health); Michael Gove (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster aka Secretary of State for any Coronavirus stuff that does not fit easily into someone else's brief). Unifying factor? "If the other faction gets its way and it all goes belly up then will I be criticised for not fighting my corner enough?"

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I realise that my grass is refusing to go into lockdown.

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Lines from Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol":

"I never saw a man who looked

With such a wistful eye,

Upon that little tent of blue

That prisoners call the sky."

 

Those of us with gardens are very lucky.

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News that the High Court has refused permission for certain trials to be adjourned due to Coronavirus, in one case where it was reported that one of the lawyers on the case had contracted the virus. The show must go on 

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I heard of a report that the Government did a pandemic rehearsal in 2016, but declined to take the preparation steps that would have been necesssary to be properly ready eg PPE for an event such as Covid 19. There were apparently other priorities at the time. Like what? Oh yes. In 2016 we voted for Brexit.

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The First Sunday of the Second Lockdown, in liturgical speak. In a penalty shoot-out the best five players on either side for this task are put up. But if the teams are equal at the end of the shoot-out then the shoot-out continues with other players having to take a turn. It felt like this when the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, came to the media briefing podium. Stumbling in delivery, as wooden as the panelling behind him, he looked seriously uncomfortable. And that very dark suit, white shirt and black tie. I thought we should rename him the Secretary of State for Undertakers.. 

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Later in the month, and following credibility fragility evident from Mr Williamson's appearence, rifts opened wider on who was doing what to deal with the pandemic, whether what was being done was enough, and who should be accountable for any perceived mistakes or failings. Each ministerial appearence at the podium became a credibility test. Public and media cyniciam became more prevalent, and a reaction of weariness appeared whenever, with the probable exception of Rishi Sunak, a Minister declared: "I am today able to announce that...."

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Last Sunday of month. During the Blitz, anti-aircraft fire blazed into the night sky from cities around the UK. Government and the military knew the deficiencies in the technology - there was no accuracy in the fire - but it gave the population a feeling that "something was being done". So arguably with the issue of testing all international arrivals at UK airports. The scientific and medical community tell us rightly that testing on arrival for Covid 19 symptons is no use when someone is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. However, a mere temperature test might pick up someone who on visual inspection could appear ok. So the dilemma is, for the sake of identifying the minority of people who would be presenting symptoms, as against the hassle involved, is it worth it? Or would one go further and quarantine everyone arriving? Difficult stuff, but we should appreciate that managing people's behaviour is as much a challenge as managing the virus itself. And in the Blitz they liked those guns. 

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Repeating a line from above, in a different context: "He is risen". But on his first appearance before his disciples Bojo looked as though he had just been on a big night out with the boys. And he definitely needs a haircut.

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It would be smutty to link "He is risen" to Carrie producing a baby. We should all be joyful at the news, Cynics, though, may suggest that Boris has now garnered two ratings approval spikes, and that he will be struggling to achieve a third. Back to the bothersome business of running the country. 

,,,,,,,,,

Times have changed: "Darling, have you discovered that delightful top of the range medical grade mask? Only £750 online from Selfridge's. One of my friends saw Chris Whitty wearing the same model the other day. And it's had a fabulous review from Giles Coren."

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At the end of the month some common sense journalistic writing on easing of restrictions. A pointing out that these are political decisions, and that although politicians may be influenced by the science, they are not instructed by the science. There is a trade-off: any relaxation so that we have an economically functioning world to return to brings some risk of greater spread of the virus. You can't duck that. One of the most important questions will be how we respond to whatever is set as the latest new for the time being normal. So: "How many sociologists does it take to forecast with reasonable accuracy how the public will respond to the latest guidance/instruction?" Unfortunately I don't have the punchline for that one.

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The author is a former City law firm partner, still teaching legal practice but also doing guided walks as a professionally qualified tour guide and writing and speaking on various things.

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