Why I don’t clap for the NHS

This is a guest post by my sister. As you read it, you’ll see why I asked her to write this. (The tl;dr – she writes like Terry Pratchett. Cosy humour thinly veiling extreme anger at stupidity and injustice.)


Let me paint you a picture of my quarantine (It’s not lockdown.  Our doors are not locked). I live in a good-sized semi with my husband and three children (14, 12 and 9).  We have an allotment, a large garden and a park opposite. My husband is working from home, all but one day a week when he walks up the road to work.  My girls are both at secondary school and are sent daily lessons, which they do on their laptops, our only last-minute before-quarantine-hits, panic-buy. The youngest also gets sent work daily.  I have a hands-off approach; they just get on with it and peace (largely) reigns. Most weeks we have a delivery from Ocado. We’ve recently ordered online such things as clothes, flour, a microscope, sheet music, tent pegs and an entertainingly large rubber mallet.  We have various musical instruments. We have a well-stocked art cupboard. I love to draw and write. We are cosy quarantiners. In fact, it occurred to me the other day, we are the Eloi, and out there in the unknown, Morlocks are working to deliver us our every need while we stay cosy, safe and entertained.

Concept art for “The Time Machine” (1960). (Couldn’t find a credit for this, but I’d love to know the artist’s name – JD)

So far, so idyllic.  But what of the crisis?  What of the looming threat?  How do we deal with the fear and the uncertainty of what the future will bring?  Um… well, we don’t. Mostly. Because, other than the fact that our movements are restricted, for us, and for me and for my husband in particular, the whole crisis/looming threat/fear/uncertainty thing?  Well, for us that’s business as usual.

Just over five years ago I was diagnosed with a type of sarcoma – a lumpy thing in the connective tissue around my intestines.  Surgery got rid of it, but there’s no effective treatment which stops such things coming back. I was given a 40-50% chance of it returning to finish me off.  The children were 4, 7 and 9. I learned to live with it, and it’s simple, really; simple, but not easy. My basic approach is a dialogue I have with myself. Initially it was more or less constant.  It goes like this:

Me 1: You’re miserable!  What are you afraid of?
Me 2: I’m afraid of losing my life.
Me 1: (a little patronising) But you have your life right now!
Me 2: Oh yes, I do, don’t I?  I’d better get on and enjoy it then hadn’t I?
Me 3: (even more patronising, verging on smug) Yes, you had!

And that’s it, really.  So, with that in mind I learned to live a day at a time, or as I say regularly, ‘It’s Today’.  Because it’s enough, or it can be. And I don’t think it’s hurt for my children to grow up with me constantly telling them that this is a day we have been given to enjoy and that each day is a gift.

But last year my cancer popped up in my liver.  I had chemo and then surgery and I have scans every three months.  I haven’t asked my odds because I don’t want to know, and actually I know anyway, secretly, without even admitting that to myself.  I had begun, after four years, to send out tentative tendrils of thought into the future; perhaps I would live to see my children grow up, perhaps I would grow old with my husband.  I had to prune those tender shoots back to ground level, with an extremely sharp pair of mental secateurs. I had to reduce my world back to a small bubble of relative certainty that is this single day, sent like a gift for me to enjoy.

So, Coronavirus?  It feels like a drop in the ocean, and any fear and uncertainty I feel about that gets put behind the thick, heavy velvet drapes somewhere over my right shoulder, behind which lurk abject fear and dread and sorrow and all that stuff.  Those things are behind a curtain rather than anywhere more secure, an iron strongbox, say, simply because they are always present. They’re too strong to be buried, and yet somehow my mind’s worked out a way of loving life alongside them. I laugh, I giggle, I’m light-hearted, I have many, many things I love to do, and I can do them with full awareness of the lurking darkness and yet with, often, a curious detachment which leads me to be able to think of times when I won’t be there for my children with total lack of emotion and mere practicality of mind.

And so, I feel like I don’t belong in this crisis.  Fear of death? Box ticked. Awareness of the preciousness and precariousness of life?  Ditto. Grateful for the NHS? Profoundly and constantly and many, many thanks delivered wholeheartedly and in person, so that the whole ‘clap for the NHS’ thing seems rather juvenile and heaven knows what the neighbours think when we don’t join in.  But when they are no longer clapping and hollering and banging pans, I will still be smiling at my carers and taking them gifts of homemade jam and even sloe gin (with which they spiked their drinks in the local pub – well-deserved that day, having delivered the news of my liver metastasis and sat with me as long as I needed and this is a long parenthesesed bit but my wonderful consultant and the nurse specialist just sat and let me think and talk for a long time).  I will thank my carers again and again for the life that I have, the life that I’ve been given, as the most precious gift.

One final thing, which I have to add because it’s my best and most effective anti-depressant, happy-making, giggling-on-the-way-to-chemo technique for relative mental health: fanfiction.  I regularly disappear into the world of Stargate Atlantis, which is peopled by attractive and entertaining characters that are just itching to be taken on all kinds of hair-raising adventures and then brought safely and cosily home.  I started writing when I began chemo last year and I recently hit four hundred thousand words posted to fanfiction.net and Archive of our own, under the name salchat. When I write it’s as if the heavy velvet drapes and all the horrors they hide dissolve into so much black, bitter smoke and are poetically carried away on a bold, gusting wind of drama and excitement and pure, innocent silliness!


Links to Sally’s fanfic (which is just as wonderfully written, but usually rather less harrowing – I can heartily recommend the one called “Harvey” as a starting point!):
Fanfiction.net
AO3

Ma ma ma my Corona…

Over the last week or so I’ve thought of several posts I want to write about the coronapanic. But then, on one of my frequent visits to the wonderful worldometers.com to check the current figures and how various countries are faring, I spotted their other statistics. Such as the fact that, as I’m writing this, there have been 350,000 births today. That, encouragingly 40 million bicycles have been made this year but only 20 million cars. That depressingly, there are 850 million undernourished people in the world, and 750 million obese ones.

And finally, that 6 million blog posts have been written today. Given that my posts get at best about 100 readers, and that – much though those readers are very nice people and I’m grateful they read my witterings – none of them are influential on a world stage, I think it means I’m wasting my time trying to put together any coherent statement about why I think this crisis has been handled wrong, and where I fear we’re ultimately heading with all of this. If you’re a student of history you can probably predict the latter for yourself. If you’re remotely competent at being objective and reading statistics, I’m sure you can see many flaws with the former.

So I may write more about the panic. I may continue to blog about other things. Or I may not. I’ve been trying, once again, to meditate regularly, and one of the things that came out of a slightly calmer mind was the realisation that I’m stressed by the many many tasks on my mental ‘To Do’ list. And writing blog posts is one of these. So I hereby give myself permission to just not.

One of the things on my ‘To Do’ list last November was “top up the boiler with pellets (requiring a mask) despite having a terrible cough (requiring a corset to keep my intercostal muscles from going into spasm)”. Now I just look like I was channelling corona chic a few months early.

I also give myself permission to just not Facebook either, as it’s currently like having a Daily Mail reader shouting in my face every time I open the site. (Exceptions will be made for a) UP Radio, b) things like the translator chat group and the online translator’s pub quiz, and c) PetitBambou’s online meditation sessions.) I’m not currently sure if Twitter will have to go the same way, because my feed is much less toxic, consisting of a mixture of writing Twitter and No Man’s Sky players. Games are helping me enormously at the moment. Though it’s a strange feeling cycling round the deserted Normandy countryside for shopping then coming home and cycling around the deserted Navezgane countryside to loot the ruined houses inhabited by zombies in 7 Days to Die. As soon as they make masks compulsory IRL I’ll even have a similar outfit in both worlds.

Navezgane Jane or Normandy Jane?

Anyway, you know the drill. I shan’t say “Stay safe”, because the phrase makes me want to vomit. But stay sane, if you can. And if not, I hope your madness is a pleasant one.


In case you’re wondering, the stuff I could have written about:

Why the French government chose to lock down the entire country, despite numbers of infected being almost zero in vast parts of France, when everything else runs as though each département is a self-governing country. Even totalitarian China only locked down the infected bits. But somehow Europe has to close entire countries.

Whether, if masks were the way to control the virus from the start, this means lockdowns were pointless (and, as I’ve pointed out before, far more damaging to society as a whole).

Whether, if lockdowns were the right way to go, we shouldn’t therefore actually lock down – rather than all still pottering about going to the shops and forcing everyone in the logistics chain to continue exposing themselves to infection.

What the point of all of this is, given that a) it could take months if not years before we get a vaccine that’s even partially successful, b) we all have to die one day and c) the number of people who’ve died from the virus is still a drop in the ocean compared to, for example, the number who’ve already died from smoking this year, which we could stop instantly if we banned all cigarette manufacture (but we can’t because the companies who make them pay our governments vast sums to be able to keep killing us).

Why there’s such hysterical criticism of Sweden for not locking down. Personally, I think this comes down to superstition. “If we all stick to the rules, we’ll be all right, and because Sweden isn’t doing that, we’re all in danger.”

Why, on the same subject, people are saying that Sweden’s approach is a failure because they have 1.5 times more cases than Norway, which, as well as having half the population of Sweden, is the richest country in the world (excluding the tiny places like Monaco), and therefore tolerably well supplied in terms of healthcare facilities.

Why top medical officials are apparently unable to distinguish between the total number of dead – which is inevitably going to increase every day – the number of cases, which reflects the spread of the virus, and the death rate, which reflects how good or bad any country’s healthcare system is.

How long it’s going to be before the UK’s mass hysteria about applauding the NHS becomes compulsory, with neighbours grassing each other up if they don’t participate, despite the fact that, demonstrably, 43.6% of the population didn’t give a toss about the NHS at the last election, just four months ago.

Whether everyone else’s weather has mysteriously got considerably sunnier and warmer since we’ve all stopped flying everywhere. And, slightly more worryingly given that we’re coming into summer in the northern hemisphere, whether air travel was simultaneously contributing massively to global warming but also protecting us against the worst effects of the heat.

What happens next. I mean, not just how long does this continue, but where do we go as a society? I read tweets and articles saying “everything will be different”, but I’m pretty sure that after this most people will be only too happy to just go back to commuting and consuming like they were before. And I very much fear that governments will take this as an opportunity to crack down on civil disobedience. “You can go back to work, but you can’t go to the beach. We, your betters, can fly around the world for business meetings, and you can travel squeezed in together on public transport, but you get no pubs, no restaurants, and certainly no more Fridays for Future protests.”

Or is that just me being cynical again?

Be angry. Be very, very angry

That discomfort you’re feelingisn’t grief…. it’s anger.

I’ve been getting increasingly angry throughout this panic, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Maybe you feel guilty about that. Because this is all for the good of society, right? So many people being scared and exhausted is the price we pay for doing the right thing. It’s for the greater good.

Well, no. The justification for us doing this is far from clear. I’ll get onto that in a later post, but to begin with here are a few of the reasons why I’m so furious at the moment – you can probably think of more – and why I think it’s perfectly justifiable to be angry in this situation.

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you know I’m left wing. I’m probably as left wing as it’s possible to get. I’ve never forgiven the Tories for what they did to UK society in the 1980s, and I never will. I’m proud to call myself a socialist.

Now, socialism has always said that we should use tax revenues to fund a national health system and other services that are best and easiest provided at state level and by non-profit oriented structures. It’s always said we should protect people when they lose their jobs or their homes, because everyone can be a valuable member of society, and society as a whole benefits when the most vulnerable also benefit.

And as a result of the emergence of COVID-19, everyone else seems to have suddenly become aware of the truth of the above. Which is all fine and dandy. I’m delighted that you now see the value of a national health service that can, you know, look after the nation’s health. But the really big thing about this is… yeah, now you know this truth. Fucking well remember it. Don’t go back on it as soon as this is all over. Never, ever, ever, vote Tory – or whatever your country’s equivalent is – ever again. Never forget.

Also, “as soon as this is all over”… you do realise that it’s never going to be over? I’ve read many articles saying “when we’ve developed a vaccine…”, which is reckoned will take about 18 months.

There are two problems with this.

Firstly – and this is my quibble with the whole “lockdown” idea – can we really stand being stuck like this for 18 months? Well, I can, because this is my normal life, but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people out there who can’t:

Also, there are huge risks to people who wouldn’t normally be vulnerable:

And many others.

The second problem with the “as soon as this is all over, when we have a vaccine” idea is that “a vaccine” probably isn’t going to fix this. After all, we have a flu vaccine. And yet people still get the flu.

Speaking of which, did you know that 10-30,000 people die of the flu in England every year?

I’ll just say that again.

TEN TO THIRTY THOUSAND PEOPLE DIE OF THE FLU, EVERY YEAR, IN ENGLAND ALONE

(Source)

Just like the coronavirus deaths, the vast majority of these are old people. Just like the coronavirus, it’s extremely contagious. And clearly, just like the coronavirus, it’s potentially deadly. But we don’t shut down the whole of society every year for the seasonal flu. Why not? Simply because we never have. We’ve always, all of us who are alive today, and all of our ancestors for about the last 500 years, lived in a post-flu world. We just accept it.

And we’re going to have to accept the fact that we now live in a post-corona world. It’s here. It’s not going away. We can mitigate it, we’ll ultimately be able to vaccinate the most high risk groups, but it’s not going to stop just because we all cower in our homes for a few weeks.

Finally, if all that wasn’t enough to make you angry, consider this.

How much of an impact could world governments have had on the real issues the whole of humanity faces today if they’d acted as forcefully on those problems as they have on COVID-19?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/28/coronavirus-tackle-climate-crisis-and-poverty-with-zeal-of-covid-19-fight-scientists-urge

First, principles – or why I’m absolutely not an apologist for capitalism

I’ve had a certain amount of pushback about my last article on the pandemic, so before I post any more on the subject I thought it might be a good time to make my principles absolutely clear:

Nobody could hate the capitalist system more than me:
I’ve been arguing for 30 years that we’d all be much better off if we went back to living in an extended family setup on our own patch of land, feeding ourselves and getting plenty of exercise and social interaction. And with the benefits of modern technology (healthcare, education), plus those of creativity (art, music, theatre) provided to us through professionals who would receive a tithe of our produce.

I firmly believe that capitalism is a poison to the Earth and to humanity. It promulgates an attitude of continuous and conspicuous consumption that’s totally counter to anything sustainable. I believe in a single universal wage, draconian measures to prevent/clean up pollution, and that no company should make a profit that isn’t immediately invested in making society better for all of us.

Furthermore, I don’t have a pension, investments or anything else that might suffer from an economic collapse. The two houses of which I’m a joint owner are worth maybe 200k€ in total on a good day. So I have no interest in propping up this system.

I’m perfectly well aware of the risk this virus poses to vulnerable groups:
I have a number of close friends/family who are cancer sufferers, asthmatics and/or old enough to be in the high risk group. No, I don’t want them to die because all of you can’t be arsed to stay at home for a few weeks.

I am not suffering whatsoever:
I work from home. My life normally consists of doing exactly what I’m doing now. My workload has actually increased since this crisis began. And in any case, I have a chunk of money set aside that I inherited a couple of years ago when my aunt died.

I’m currently in lockdown in rural France. I have a very large house to live in, and although it’s a bit basic (like, pretty much entirely unheated), it’s really not a struggle to be here. I can go out for walks or ride my bike around the country lanes.

And, on the lighter side of things, I’ve had dreadlocks since 1993. I’m not going to come out of this with a self-inflicted bowl haircut.


So… now that I’ve established I’m not a sock puppet for our capitalist masters, let’s move on to the serious stuff…

Economic Armageddon – or why it's not a good idea to knock the entire house down just because the roof leaks

Our destination, globally, is clear. We are heading for economic – and thereby social – Armageddon.

The warning signs have been there for years. Decades.

But there’s an irony to what’s happening: it isn’t rampant capitalism or environmental collapse that’s endangering our world. Not an asteroid, nor even a nuclear war. No. Instead, it’s incompetent and panic-ridden leadership on an enormous scale.

What we’re doing to our economy – globally – in response to a relatively small threat from a virus is a massive, massive over-reaction. And long after the virus has (hopefully) gone, the much greater costs, even in terms of life, will roll on for years to come.

The economy needs to be restarted. Now. Before it’s too late.

All these shutdowns are the wrong medicine. They’re a panic measure. A flexing of the wrong muscles, too late in the day.  

Look at it like this: imagine the roof of your house has a leak. The leak is a nuisance. It’s spoiling your furniture and possessions inside the house. One of the bedrooms is now out of use. The leak needs to be dealt with. Yes.

But would you knock the house down in order to deal with that leak? No. Of course you wouldn’t. You’d work slowly but diligently towards moving things out of the way and accept that there will be some loss, some damage, call it what you will. But you’ll get through the wet days and repair the leak.

And once it’s all done, you may even (hopefully) admit that you were very wrong, for so many years, to not invest in repairs to such vital structures as your own roof.

As things stand, it isn’t too late to prevent decades of damage – and the loss of countless thousands, perhaps even millions of lives – as a result of the current policies of economic suicide. Things can be done to prevent that catastrophe from ever happening. Free money can be given away, for, say, the next 18 months. Governments can reduce their tax takes, generate economic growth with massive stimulus packages and, of course, invest heavily in that most precious of things: healthcare. The staff, the hospitals, the medicines and the equipment.

On the other hand, in order to spare significantly less than 1% of the population a close (and, yes, sometimes fatal) encounter with the Covid virus, we can carry on demolishing the whole damned house. And, once that’s done, and we find ourselves destitute and on the street, we can then try to blame it all on the wet weather.

We have the technology… so why aren’t we using it?

A guest post by Geoff. You can get his unputdownable transgender romance free this week on Kindle (here for UK readers, here for outside the UK).


COVID-19. It might be a short term thing or it might be the end of civilisation as we know it. A nasty form of cold germ or a species threatening menace. Who knows?

But whatever it is, it should be tackled in a systematic, cool, reasoned and logical way.
And that isn’t happening – far from it.

Let’s look at English football. No, it’s not ‘important’ in the grand scheme of things, but it is a multi-billion pound industry and a good example of how the current crisis is being handled reflexively rather than reflectively.

All games are currently suspended until 3 April. Then, the official line goes, the matter will be reviewed again.

Well…. the bug will still be here on 3 April. That’s for sure. And, in all likelihood, the situation in the UK will be much worse by then.

So what will the authorities do? Obviously, they will continue to suspend all games. After all, if they’ve done that now, and things will be worse in April, then that seems to be the logical choice.

But for how long will they suspend them? The clock is ticking. If they want another season to start in August, they can’t kick the can down the road for many weeks. 

In fact, they’ll have to consider another option.

But what other options are there?

  • Cancel the whole season? That’s one way forward. Liverpool – on the brink of their first ever Premier League title – will be mightily annoyed about that. So will Leeds and West Bromwich Albion – both looking likely to return to the Premier League. On the other hand, the likes of Norwich, currently doomed to be relegated, will be well chuffed. The implications of suspension are immense, both financially speaking and in terms of ‘fair play’. Clearly Liverpool, Leeds and the others deserve their rewards.
  • Stop the season here? Say that these are the final tables, as things stand at the moment? That’s nonsense too. Fulham could yet win promotion. So could Brentford. Villa could be relegated or they could escape. Same as above; financially and in terms of fair play, this solution would be bullshit. This isn’t any better than cancelling the season.

In short, the only solution – even if civilisation stands on the brink of collapse! – is to play the rest of the games. Just to do so behind closed doors. It’s not like we can’t do video streaming of games now.

But, hang on…. if that’s the only sensible solution…  why the fuck did they suspend all the English matches in the first place?

Why? Well, because the authorities haven’t acted rationally, logically and calmly. They’ve panicked and done the equivalent of bulk buying loo roll ‘just because’.

It’s the same with closing shops and schools – but allowing airports to remain open. How is it ‘wrong’ to send your kid to school, or to go to work in a shop, but ‘right’ to still fly from London to Guangzhou or Paris to Istanbul? What about the wider implications of bringing the whole economy grinding to a halt without any safety nets in place for vast swathes of it? Doesn’t that mean even more people are going to die?

There is no consistency here. No logic. Ironically, no keeping calm and carrying on.

Whatever the COVID virus is, whatever it may or may not do to us, we – and particularly governments – should be controlling the situation in a calm and coherent way, not just running around doing the first thing that comes to mind.

Coronavirus pandemic? That’ll do nicely!

As someone who can’t be doing with hysteria, either on a personal or national level, I’d been intending to write a blog post complaining about the stupidity of the Italian government’s overreaction this week to the number of cases of coronavirus in the north-east of their country. And to relate it to the insanely biased media reporting of the “successes” of UKIP, which led to Brexit and so on.

I mean, I don’t want to die of the coronavirus… but nor do I want my personal liberty removed for the flimsiest of reasons, in an uncanny parallel to the restricted security measures we now all suffer “to prevent terrorist attacks”.

But then I thought about what a pandemic would actually mean in the slightly longer term.

Let’s say a third of the population of any given region died from the coronavirus. Now, as far as I know, even the Greta Thunbergs of the world aren’t advocating that we reduce the world’s population by 33%. But would it clearly reduce anthropogenic pressure on the climate? Yes. On the environment as a whole, in the form of reduced resource extraction, reduced water use and reduced pollution? Yes. On the race to the bottom in terms of salaries and employment conditions? Yes. What about the burden on our healthcare systems? Well, initially it would be hideous. But after the death rate had stabilised again? Statistically you’d probably lose no more medical/ancillary professionals than you would anything else. And there’d be fewer of us needing their services. The same applies to education and all those other “luxuries” that we apparently can’t afford to fund properly in the 21st century. We’d have to use the skills and resources we had in much more efficient, intelligent ways. That would be great for the whole planet.

There’d also be housing sitting empty, cars unused, whole swathes of farmland untilled – and inevitably some laxity on the part of the normal authorities. We wouldn’t quite be back to the days of the tŷ unnos (or whatever the actual practice was that allowed poor people to claim squatted land), but possibly not far off.

The world would be a very different, quieter place. We’d have to rethink a lot of what we currently accept as normal.

And yeah, OK, I might be dead. But that’s going to happen some day anyway. And I’ve always had a love of post-apocalyptic stories. So… coronavirus pandemic? Yes please! Bring it on!

Max Headroom: 20 minutes into the future. The original Channel 4 film. Not exactly post-apocalyptic, but well worth watching anyway, despite the poor quality reproduction, both for the writing and the music – and particularly for Breughel and Mahler! (And if you happen to have it on DVD, HMU – I’d *love* a copy of this!)