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!)

The UK Doesn’t Need You! (apparently)

I don’t know what your reaction was to the announcement by the British government of a new, points-based immigration system, but mine has developed over a period of days, like a particularly interesting coloured bruise.

The official points list – would you qualify?

The biggest, purplest, patch comes from the fact that I’m not actually sure I’ve ever known anyone in the UK who has a job paying more than £25,600. I certainly wouldn’t want to bet my life on knowing more than three or four of them.

Then there are various colours made up from “What counts as an official sponsor? Or an appropriate skill level?” to “What foreign-born person with a PhD is going to bother to try to gain entry to such an obviously xenophobic country?” and “You have read the level of English in Brexiteer comments, right?”

And then I contemplate my own arrival in a foreign country, aged 35, with no obvious skill set and a minimal grasp of the language. I got a job as a hotel cleaner – along with all the other immigrants – and spent the first couple of months in the job nodding vigorously, saying “Oui” and then copying the more experienced cleaners when the manager instructed me to clean such items as “les plinthes” (that’s the skirting boards, in case you too never encountered this particular term during your school French lessons).

By the time I’d lived in France for a year, I spoke the language fluently enough to get a job selling houses. By the time I’d done that for a year, I could speak it well enough to rock up in an obscure hamlet and engage the nearest paysan in a patois-ridden conversation about who might possibly have an empty house they’d like to sell.

And by the time I’d moved to another country and gone through the same process again, I realised I could set up as a freelance translator; a job in which I set my own working hours, refuse projects I don’t fancy the look of, and earn about three times what I’ve ever earned from a “real” job (and yes, rather more than the magic £25,600 a year).

Because, unless we spring like the other Cabinet members, fully formed from a public school education and several hundred years of wealthy ancestors, it sometimes takes us ordinary mortals a while to find our place as useful members of society. Occasionally, we even need to move from one country to another to do it. We may even – shock, horror! – have to become self-employed! But that still doesn’t make us unworthy of living in the UK.

Except by choice, of course.

You can find out for yourself whether you’d be eligible for immigration* in this fun game, made by Upstart Theatre.

Here’s my result:

Colour me disappointed…

*Answer: almost certainly not.

Why Gandhi was a liar: being the change you want to see in the world

Since I’ve begun translating self-help texts more often, I’ve encountered that Gandhi quote about once a month, because everyone uses it. And it sounds right, doesn’t it? Gandhi was the kind of chap who would say you need to make an effort to achieve good things.

The problem is that Gandhi never actually said it. Yes, I’m sure he thought things that amounted to the same, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, a civil rights leader from the early-mid 20th century didn’t actually talk in soundbites like an inspirational poster from nearly 100 years later.

The same applies to many other great thinkers – in fact, you can pretty much guarantee that if you’ve seen it used as an inspirational quote against a picture of the sea*, it was never uttered in that form by the person it’s attributed to.

But today I’ve come across possibly the most bizarre example of this ever – and, topically, it’s a bit of a Valentine-themed one.

Charles Bukowski wrote a wonderful piece entitled “An Almost Made Up Poem”, which contains the fabulous lines “She’s mad but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire”.

Except… he didn’t. Well, he did write such a poem, and it is really good, but his actual words are “she’ mad but she’ magic. there’ no lie in her fire”. Which is, you know, infinitely better than the sanitised version. Much more… poetical, you might even say.

And yet, if you Google that line, you’ll see page after page of neatly laid out “She’s mad…”s, all with the ‘correct’ grammar and capitalisation.

Now I kind of get the Gandhi thing – you’re trying to make the point that improving society starts with improving yourself, and you choose the great man as the authority to back up your assertion. Fine. But why think “Ooh, I really like that poem by Bukowski, but I think he could have done with a good proofreader. I’ll fix it before I upload it”?

Anyway, if you want to read Bukowski’s original poem – trust me, it’s well worth a few minutes of your time – you can find it here.

*(ironically, the one? correctly quoted version does indeed have a background image of the sea!)