295. The Bowers re-up

From age 7 to 19, I lived in Bowers Gifford, a drowsy Essex village on the outskirts of Basildon. Memories of that semi-rural home are very happy, give or take a few exceptions.  

Along a very quiet road (Church Road) near to our house, you could cycle or walk south, fields on each side, towards the Thames. After a half mile, the land dips down to square miles of marshland which stretch out to the river. As kids, brother Neil and I would cycle down the hill at breakneck speed, usually halting along the flat by St Margarets church.

Rolling back the decades, I pulled up outside St Margarets again two weeks ago. This time in the car. It’s a beautiful building, believed to be about 600 years old.

Smiling, recalling my two years as a choirboy. Swinging on the long church bell ropes, climbing up into Father Ford’s belfry. Giggling in the pews to ease the boredom of the Sunday morning service.

50 yards away, the sight of the railway bridge brought back the time when a few of us – probably 10, 11 and 12-year old kids – scrambled up the embankment.

For a dare, I placed a stone on the line. Wondering how easily the next train would crush it. Never a bad lad…..but I did like to try stuff. The driver probably shat himself. The police were there in 10 minutes. The coppers and my parents both tore strips off me. I could have de-railed the train, they reckoned. And so of course young Kevin wondered (fantasised?) what that would have been like.

The road beyond the bridge once led out to some farm buildings. 50 years later, it has become a car park, serving the newly-created Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve. It’s the first time here for Maureen and I.

No café or toilets or play area – just an RSPB bird sanctuary that does what it says on the tin by bringing together several different wild wetland habitats ringed and interspersed by a series of trails to walk. Even if you know very little about wetfowl (ie me and the missus) it’s a glory to be out in the fresh air under a sky that always seems bigger when out by the estuary.

It was cold, so we wrapped up all warm and cosy.

I think we found the 5 km Wetland Trail, more by chance than any planning. It turned out to be a long circular route that encompasses a series of saline and freshwater lagoons. Some are fenced in to stop foxes intruding.

The odd sign or two pointed the way.

Following the path, we saw reedbeds and wild red berries.

Occasional benches scattered here and there. The odd lone birder peering through their bins. Everyone keeping their distance.

And the birds of course. We thought the one on the fence was a raven, but it could have been a crow.

Loads of Canada geese are around, as well as mallards, lapwings and plover. Lots more, but my eye is amateur and my binoculars low class.  

Then there is the thing on a nearby ridge. Is it a watering machine?

It makes me think of the orgone machine in the Kate Bush video for ‘Cloudbusting’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRHA9W-zExQ).

There is a deep quiet out on these marshes. Beautifully interrupted at one stage by a goose flying overhead. The sound of its wings cuts the air with a magical energy.  

Now and again a train moved along the Fenchurch Street line, in the distance. At one point two met, silver tubes seeming to merge and shorten before extending and disentangling.

Here are some other sights. The play of the light out here is liminal.

At one stage, Maureen bent to do something below my waist. I love my wife.

Eventually, after several miles, the path swings back around towards the car park and church.

We went past a tree with a hole.

Up on the distant hill, we could see Pitsea.

Kids there were tougher than their Bowers Gifford peers. I used to take the train from Pitsea to East London, to watch games at West Ham, my darling football team.

The farmer who once owned the buildings at the top of the next pic was not a fan of the young Kevin.

More than once he knocked on our door because I had been turning his haystacks into creative buildings, chopping down a small tree or two or rolling gleefully in his corn. Kids will be kids. I’m genuinely sorry, if it makes any difference all these years later. He didn’t much care for my dad either, after the old man burned the plastic from copper wire at the back of our house…right by his barley fields.

The church came into view again.

It reminded me of how I joined the choir so as to get in the football team that Father Ford had assembled. We didn’t play very often. Instead – I somehow got to be head choirboy – they must have been so short of decent singers! Then I discovered T Rex and David Bowie, and said my goodbyes to cassocks, chasubles and swinging thuribles.

By now Maureen needed a wee, so we found the car, and headed away. To Pitsea. Where there were once toilets in Howards Park. But they were absent now.

Had my first proper fight in this park, aged 8. I got pummelled by a bigger kid on a roundabout. Decided there and then that it was a mug’s game.  

We found toilets in an Aldi, then pulled in at Pitsea Broadway, for a bag of chips.

Hot, salted and vinegared. Munched them in the car, people watching. A perfect way to finish, before another trip down memory lane, driving back to Chelmsford through Basildon’s cramped houses and strained-looking streets. A huge contrast with the open sky of Bowers marshes.

It is so difficult to have any kind of day out right now, but we did. It made me throb with contentment for the next 48 hours.

Simple pleasures can bring great happiness.

294. Dad’s gift, amid the maelstrom

Ignoring the war-like barrage of Covid-19 news that has decimated 2020, my year has been dominated by the need to look after my dad. Nearing his 93rd birthday, and taking a range of medications, he is vulnerable to the virus. No surprise that my brother and I have kept him far away from most situations where Covid transmission is a possibility. It is impossible to make his ‘bubble’ watertight (he very occasionally wanders to his local newsagent while we are absent), but we have done all we can.

He is also terribly frail. And increasingly impacted by dementia. So we have kept the house clean, cooked his meals, changed his sheets, cut his hair and shaved him, done the shopping, and generally acted as his arms, legs and brain.

The great reward is that I have come to know his softer side, once-hidden. He loves to chat, above all else. Although huge gaps blight his memory, he still talks very clearly and with great relish about his first two decades. Listening, I have come to understand how he became somebody that naturally sides with underdogs and takes a contrarian view. As his offspring, I’ve inherited that gift.

I’m not sure that Dad ever said to me that if you see 95 people walking one way, tag onto four heading in the other direction. But that was usually the gist. The older I get, the more disinclined I am to follow any crowd.

That genetic trait kicks in even while doing my best to keep his house and personal space Covid-free. The journalist in me sees a wider, starker picture, one where much of the world has handed over its collective mind, unquestioning, far too easily, to the coronavirus narrative.

My thinking goes this way. Brother Neil and I have taken responsibility for Dad. He is one of the vulnerable. So we distance ourselves from people, with a few close family exceptions. Have done for 9 months. We are especially careful with our hygiene. And he sees nobody else inside the house. None of this is rocket science.

Here’s the question. Why would we – or other carers – need businesses and schools and pubs and borders to close, or the healthy to quarantine themselves? Or ‘tiered’ social restrictions decided by a divided SAGE committee. How can any of that help the most at risk, who are already shielded? Isolation and atomisation is not how the healthy sections of a population build natural immunity to infectious diseases. (Remember immune systems? They are amazing, and you have one, whatever the newsreaders may try and tell us.)

To protect Dad from a virus whose fatality rate is slightly worse than a bad flu season, Neil and I do not need lonely people to be confined in their homes; nor the NHS to postpone its cancer operations. It does not matter if Covid transmission speed accelerates 70%, because it can come to him only through us, and we keep our worlds tightly limited.

End of. There is nothing complex or far-sighted in any of this opinion. It is common sense, traditional practice for disease control.

And yet every day, I watch our world being shaken upside down, to combat a clearly measurable foe. I was hesitant to call out insanity at the beginning, as the UK seemed to be in a unique, very frightening situation. Maybe the March lockdown was necessary so we could take stock. But in recent months a shedload of peer-reviewed studies have emerged showing that the downside of lockdowns far outweigh the benefits, including long-term fatality numbers.

The world economy has been torn to pieces by the lockdowns. Tens of millions of people’s livelihoods ruined. Poverty and mental illness rising steeply. Health and education services shrunken. Holidays and gatherings and socialising curtailed or gone.

And for what? Globally, there has been around a 1 in 4,000 fatality rate ‘with Covid-19’, and a much smaller death rate ‘from’ it.

Back in blog 287, I relayed how the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledged that only about 6% of the reported Covid deaths in the US by August 2020 were due to Covid alone, as in “died from the virus and no other causes.”

The other 94% – mostly elderly people – had prior medical conditions that were potentially lethal on their own, the CDC said. This sifting reduced the death-by-Covid-only number in the US from 185,000 to about 11,000 over an 8-month period. In the same period, about 30,000 people died in US car wrecks. Them’s the official facts.

If you are healthy and not elderly, that is the strength of the risk in the world’s most afflicted country. Even if you add in the numbers of fatalities in the subsequent four months, there is clearly more chance of dying in a car crash. There sits the reality upon which our world has been collapsed.

In the UK, basic freedoms have been eliminated to be replaced by curfews, house imprisonment, border controls, travel restrictions, prohibition of worship, limited access to doctors, the army on the Liverpool streets, suppression of free speech, arrests of protesters, and neighbours encouraged to shop one another. All fed by a mainstream propaganda blitz worthy of wartime. Driven by people in lab coats. Strikes me as a bit, what’s that word…….Nazi? Too strong? How about disproportionate?

In a genuine pandemic, to complain about any of this would be daft. In reality, nobody (thankfully) has died from Covid-19 in my village of around 500 people, which has a greater than average number of retired people. Some individuals have become ill, as will happen with all major respiratory viruses. The sole fatality I have any connection to, anywhere, was my cousin’s father-in-law, who died in Sussex of a heart condition in a care home. But because he had showed positive on a test he was labelled as a ‘with Covid’ death. This enraged my cousin’s husband, who is a retired GP, and had observed his father’s medical situation until the end.

I spoke to a friend yesterday who knows many hundreds of people in the UK. He knew of one Covid-related fatality. “Where?” I asked. “Paris” he said.

The excess death statistics around the world at the end of the year will be fascinating, particularly if they match up with previous years. The money spent on furloughing people will be equally interesting. Imagine if it had all been spent on building new NHS wards and training fresh staff, to cope with some very serious capacity issues.

Best leave it there. The facts speak for themselves. If the fatality trends change, I will change my mind.

To round off, I’m wishing anyone reading this a seriously healthy and happy Christmas.

Thanks very much for looking in on the blogs. That helps keep me going.

PS. Does Matt Hancock resemble a British cousin of Agent Smith, from the Matrix?

292. Relishing Richie

Until quite recently, reaching 10 p.m. on a weekday night signalled a clear end to the day. The TV drama or Netflix film or football live stream was over. The options were to watch the TV news, which would be shite, biased and presented by muppets.  Or to go to bed and read until sleep descended.

And then a friend told me she had been crying tears of laughter earlier that evening, listening on the Internet to the Richie Allen show. I had heard Richie now and again down the years, as I cast around for reliable forms of news alternatives, away from the growingly moribund, corporate-controlled mainstream. But I didn’t have much of a view either way. If a memory persisted, it was of a booming Irishman who sounded confident but polite as he talked to various people and tore apart what the TV and papers were saying.

From his dwelling in Salford, near Manchester, Richie puts out his show live from Monday to Friday, usually starting at 5p.m. I saw that the recordings were available later in the day on Podomatic, and so tuned in for the first time about six months ago. I didn’t know then that (if Richie is telling the truth, which he prides himself on) the show has the biggest audience for any independent European radio programme.

He has been a broadcast journalist for most of this century. It soon became clear that he focused on stuff that interested me. In particular, the sheer ineptitude of most news media. The endless number of well-paid journalists who lick arse and duck from asking the hardest questions. The frailty of our democracy. The corruption of global institutions. And, of course, Covid-19. Pulling the subject apart every night in a way that digs far deeper than the talking heads. ‘Covering the stories that the MSM won’t,’ is the show’s brand line.

Just as good, Richie likes sport and music. He likes ideas. And he tells jokes. He talks about his French partner, Carolyn, with an exquisite mix of love and wit. He talks about his friends, and his beloved Irish roots, alongside his despair at Ireland’s current situation. And he mercilessly mocks the people that run the world, without censoring himself or worrying about the PC/’woke’ communities. I like that about him more than anything else.

Generally, Richie talks for about 45 minutes, and allocates around an hour for his guests to talk. Every few weeks there are phone ins from listeners, often with unpredictably fascinating topics.

It’s definitely one of those shows that people will either love or hate. You cannot feel indifferent about the guy. Richie strives for balance, by lacing his show with a spread of fascinating guests, from all walks of life. His politics are leftfield, but he has no problem with talking to those on the right. As journalists should be, he is more interested in the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ rather than political choices. Take it from me though, it might be better to steer clear if you have fixed views or are easily offended.

I am anything but. Hence the last two hours of the day are looked forward to with relish. It has made the second half of this awful year so much more enjoyable.

291. A man walks into a bar

The last three blogs on this site all involve visits to pubs and bars. I have enjoyed nearly 50 years of that pleasure. Not because I crave alcohol. I can go for weeks without.

It is the other people, the chat, the lifting of self-consciousness, the sheer sociability. The smell and taste of the alcohol plays its part, but the possibilities opening take centre stage. Maybe Germaine Greer will talk to you. Could be the guy next to you at the bar once met the Queen; or was in prison for tax evasion. Your eye becomes more lustful with each drink. You might need Dutch courage to ask your brother or friend for a temporary loan.

That sense of freely merging with the new and unpredictable is enshrined and embodied in the classic joke opening where a man (or woman) walks into a bar. Perhaps he/she will then encounter an Englishman, Scotsman and an Irishman. Maybe a horse will be serving the liquor, or a dog will be sitting alone with a bowl of beer. The drink may have a transforming effect on the characters. Disrobing may occur. Vomiting or violence could ensue. The dog may show astonishment at the horse’s fluency in German.  

A couple of months ago I interrupted an afternoon countryside walk in mid-Essex by entering The Compasses hostelry, in the remote hamlet of Littley Green. I waited at the bar to be served, standing as proscribed, at a social distance from other punters. I must have been 9 feet from the nearest person, lost in so many good memories of the place.

Something I have always done without thinking is to lean on the bar. Deep in thought, I inadvertently stepped past a green line on the floor, placed both elbows on the dark panelled wood, let my eye rove along the optics and the various photos adorning the back wall.

It was a terrible mistake. The visored guy behind the bar almost leaped at me, barking out that I needed to stand behind the green line. Wow.

I complied, apologising that “old habits got the better of me”. He didn’t reply: but set about spraying the infected area and vigorously wiping away my dangerous germs.

I bought a pint. He served it sullenly. I understood. Maybe he was genuinely scared.

He was certainly being paid to observe official hygiene protocol as part of his job. I had just provided him with an unexpected and unwanted pain.

The regulations he was observing have subsequently tightened. When I started writing this, you could not enter a pub in Essex – nor go to the toilet – without wearing a face mask. You could sit outside with a friend, but not inside, after Essex was moved to the UK government’s Tier Two alert grading. Pubs closed at 10 p.m.

I suppose there were jokes waiting to be discovered somewhere in all the bureaucracy; they don’t spring to mind easily. Maybe a man tries to enter a bar but has forgotten his mask. So he sits outside and tries to order a pint using his phone app, but the horse brings him a bourbon. Four Jack Daniels later, he tries to kiss the horse, which is looking ever more attractive, but is wearing a visor. About to go home, he sees a mass of tiny Covid-19 particles congregating 50 yards away, waiting until their 10 p.m. moment, when they will pounce.  

Not funny. I know. It really isn’t.

For the past week or so, all British pubs have completely closed their doors, until the government declares an end to lockdown. When I drive to see my father, or take my daily exercise, they sit empty and unused, no sign of life.

Many of Britain’s 60,000 plus pubs were already under hefty financial pressure. Some will clearly not survive this time in our history. I can’t help wondering if the pubs that make it through will ever be the same. Will there be restrictions on who can enter, linked to taking vaccines or flashing a ‘health passport’? Will there be screens all over the place? Arrows on the floor? Service at the tables? Card-only payments?

If so, I might call it a day. Keep the good memories. Leave the new pub experience to others.

290. Was that Germaine?

It has been difficult to feel free and happy this year, for reasons that need no explanation. One of the more uplifting highlights was an afternoon out on the bike in late July.

I stopped after 6 miles in the Essex village of Writtle, at the Wheatsheaf, a little old pub with a decent beer selection. One cold lager later, I took a slow ride out to Fyfield, about 8 miles away, for a second chilled beer in the back garden of the Black Bull pub. So relaxing. The ride back – on roads with virtually zero traffic – was ecstatic beyond words. Everyone should cycle, mildly drunk, through deserted countryside. Where inner magic meets outer glory.

I probably should have gone home, but the sun was still high in the sky, my mood was dancing, and I thought to myself: “More of this moment is necessary.” Back at Writtle, I decamped at the Rose & Crown, opposite the Wheatsheaf. The garden was half-full, and a third lager beckoned.

I parked my bike at the back of the garden, away from anybody else. Coming back from the bar with another cold beer, I noticed an elderly woman at the nearest table. Grey-haired, maybe in her late 70s, she looked up from her notebook, in which she carried on writing for the next hour. There was definitely a resemblance to the Australian feminist writer Germaine Greer. 

Vibrating with happiness in the sunshine, I recalled watching a 2011 documentary on Germaine, a month or so previously. In this, she said she would continue to live in Essex for the rest of her days.

The woman had her back to me. Deep in thought as she wrote.

A discreet photo proved irresistible.

I listened hard as she talked occasionally to her well-behaved dog. Was I kidding myself that she sounded half-Brit, half-Aussie? She had said in 2011 that dogs ruined bluebells. Maybe age had brought the need for a loyal companion.

There was no certainty, so I could not be starstruck. Nonetheless I got to thinking about Germaine’s blunt maverick streak – and her good looks in younger days. How she would bait TV presenters and men in general with a mixture of sassiness, wit and radical ideas.

I fetched myself a fourth beer, deciding to use a very quiet back route to Great Waltham that would add 20 minutes but remove almost any threat from traffic to a drunken cyclist. As I returned to my table, the woman was ordering two coffees from the garden waitress. 

Two. A singular type of request. Who orders two coffees?

I wanted a frontal photo. I wanted to talk to her, to find out. But have always been respectful of the privacy of others. And I might slur a few words, due to the alcohol. Then of course there was the Covid-19 distancing guideline. In any case, why would she welcome any intrusion, given her absorption in her notebook? If it was Germaine, she was surely enjoying the anonymity?

But when she stood to leave, and looked over, I had to ask: “Has anyone ever said you look like Germaine Greer?”

The accent was believably Essex now. “Well then I had better see what she looks like.” Said with a smile that had more than a little craft.

The woman and her dog then walked away with a slight stiffness that would characterise many of her age group.  I remembered that Germaine had been struggling to walk in the documentary, anticipating a hip operation to ease the discomfort. Nine years on now.

So maybe I fleetingly met Germaine Greer. She always had guile. And it is not hard to imagine her scribbling away in a pub garden, concepts flying around as she observed humanity.

Whatever, it was a cracking day out. And I got home in one piece.

PS I just googled Germaine Greer’s dog and found this. I think it’s a different dog. Maybe she has a new canine? Or maybe my well-lubricated imagination was working overtime!




289. Back to the source

 

When I was a kid, I knew that I would want a wife in adulthood. Maybe that’s unusual for a male?

To the young Kevin, at the tender age of 8 or 9, it looked like the best deal. I would see old men walking around slowly, their faces lined, and think: ‘if it comes to that, which it probably will, I’ll be needing a romantic companion to cheer my journey’.

I met mine on 24 September 1980. At the Cricketers pub in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. It was my mate John Devane’s 24th birthday. Maureen turned up in a small crowd. We went for a curry, where I sat opposite my future wife. Never a fast mover, I drove home later thinking how I would enjoy meeting her again. In another 10 weeks or so we did. A few weeks after that, somebody took this photo.

Last week, exactly 40 years after our first mutual sighting, we went back to the pub. The return pilgrimage involved a fish and chip supper, which we had to eat in the car, due to driving rain that eliminated any chance of sitting by the sea that evening. Lauren, our eldest daughter, came along for the ride. She was deeply amused that our anniversary weather was so foul.

Then we found the pub. Glad to escape the relentless rain.

The gaff was almost unrecognisable from the meeting place of four decades ago, when it had a no-frills, homely charm. Something, a vibe, had disappeared, replaced by a more corporate ambience. The Covid regulations – triggering the safety signs and floor markings – hardly helped. But it didn’t matter. We had a drink. Toasted the fateful moment, 40 years on.

My hearing isn’t what it used to be, especially when there is background noise. Lauren and Maureen chatted, moving in and out of earshot.

I mused on why I love my wife, and what a lucky lad I’ve been. No hesitation in saying that the allure of a good-looking, sexy, kind and intelligent woman has been a huge driving force. Four decades on, age has shrunk and diluted the testosterone roar that accompanied our visit to Wales in 1981. But there is still a quiet rumble. And Llandudno memories will warm me to the grave.

There is so much more. Maureen looks after me. Better than I care for myself. That kindness was important in our early days; and is something I have come to rely upon and cherish. It extends, naturally, to everyone in her orbit. From friends, relatives and neighbours to strangers in the supermarket. She loves to help. She cared for her parents and her uncle in their last years, has helped at a Chelmsford day centre for the homeless and collected for the local hospice.

I’ve swum in that kindness. She tends to my aches, listens to my spectrum of grumbles and complaints, and does what she can. Laughs at my attempts at humour, dishes out common sense advice for my conundrums, responds if I ask for something specific. Supports me in my choices, and forgives me in my errors, some of which would have sent less tolerant women fleeing.

Imagine being her child. I’ve witnessed that magic at first-hand, watching her mother our three kids. Seeing comfort, nurture and guidance tumble out of her like water from a spring. She’s a qualified nursery nurse and working nanny, but her skills with young ones are innate, from the heart.

Yet she is modest – a strange and wonderful thing, given the span of her talents. She could easily have been a chef or interior designer. Instead we have been the beneficiaries, fed with deliciously healthy meals and housed in residences that boom with colour and craft. The girl could paint for Essex, or even England.

As the kids have grown up, she has become my co-adventurer again. Holidays across England, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. We have got drunk together too often to recall, taken magic mushrooms together, meditated together. I love walking in the countryside with her and have adored the fun of dancing with her. I should add that she has the kiss of an angel.

I’ll stop there, in case she finally decides to become big-headed.

She was very taken with a phrase that we came across recently. ‘Be calm, be beautiful, be love.’ It sums her up.

As for me, I think I did OK. Very grateful for that.

288. RIP the Viper

We always had to dig deep on the final hill, which became progressively steeper until about 40 yards away from the pub. When you arrived, panting with exertion, almost unable to get off the bike, there was usually an unoccupied bench outside to flop down at. In minutes, you would be drinking from a pint of Brewers Gold or Oscar Wilde, looking at the surrounding woods, feeling the sun and the breeze, thanking the universe for being alive.

Such was my anticipation last Friday, September 11. A noted day for disasters. Hadn’t tackled the hill for a couple of years. So it was good to get to the top in one piece, aged 63. Wheezing like a dog, but cleanly, as The Viper came into sight. It seemed quiet for a Friday lunchtime. No cars parked in the adjacent space across the road. And no voices drifting through the warm air. Intuition whispered a terrible message. ‘Ah fuck, surely not?’

It stood there. Stark and still. Doors closed. No seats or benches. Weeds littering the grounds where I had marvelled at the sheer pleasure of drinking beer with friends.

Behind me, Martin groaned at the miserable view. We peered in through dirty curtains at deserted rooms. No sign of life. Mooted the idea of breaking in and seeing if we could find a couple of leftover bottles from the local Crouch Vale Brewery.

Back in Blog 227, I logged the demise of another country pub (the Three Elms, near Mashbury), and the wider decline of rural pub numbers. It isn’t an unexpected trend, as people stay within drink-driving limits and buy their alcohol from supermarkets. Unless you are serving food good enough to draw repeat visits, or have loyal, thirsty locals, running a country pub has become a slow ticket to extinction.

But the Viper! Shit. It was iconic, as if a space craft had blasted a clearing in the woods at Mill Green, Fryerning (about 7 miles southwest of Chelmsford) and planted the most perfect pub. A literal oasis.

MILL GREEN PUB WALK (30/6/17) - YouTube

I remembered listening to the landlady talking outside a few summers back, as she watered her roses. It had been a brilliant summer’s evening, but there were only half a dozen punters spread around the lawn. My impression was that she wore a brave face.

Not sure when she called it a day. A bit of rooting around on the Internet showed it had closed by the end of 2019, due to a “quarrel with the pub owner”. Maybe she couldn’t pay the rent.

All I can do is pay tribute with memories. I remember jumping in a taxi with Maureen and our friends Jono and Gina almost 20 years ago, so that we could drink ourselves happy in the lovely snug public bar. We did just that. Must have shoved many twenties and tens into their till. The conversations were free, happy, absurd and probably pornographic. The same taxi took us home hours later. A 14-mile round trip. The felicitations never let up.

THE VIPER, Ingatestone - Restaurant Reviews, Photos & Phone Number -  Tripadvisor

For Jono and I, it was a deep sacrament to cycle there and neck a few ales. The route outwards was uphill for significant stretches, hard work, but often tempered by the sight of deer in the fields and woods, and sometimes bats flying above us at night, amid the never-diminishing anticipation. Just the first sight of the place was enough to get you high, as your lungs heaved and puffed from the climb. Conversations were a release of the imagination, a dive into the surreal and the impossible, a brew of lust and laughter. We confided our fears and dreams, and it felt like no other time. As well as Jono, I also went there regularly with brother Neil, and a couple of old friends, Tony and Steve (see Blog 10).

The Viper was where I drank my first single malt. On a December evening. A warm habit to acquire. Tony fell into a ditch on the way home, jumped back on the bike and pedalled on as if nothing had happened. Neil and I turned up on our bikes one midweek evening in 2018 to find a beer festival getting underway. I enjoyed a cinnamon-flavoured ale. Maureen remembers the shade of the surrounding woods on hot days.

The Viper, Mill Green - Wikipedia

Even when time was called, the experience was not over. Because what goes up slowly can come down very fast. In the dark, Viper Hill, as I think of it, was always a reckless thrill. With a few pints inside, the initial descent was mesmerising, with gathering acceleration and wind whistling past your ears. Halfway down, lit sparsely, the road quickly bends right, enough that you need to be in the middle or already braking if nearer the edge. Nobody ever came off, but I nearly shat myself a few times, with the distraction of Jono’s rebel yells breaking concentration yet adding to the madness as you somehow surged forward into the darkness at speeds of at least 30 miles an hour. Into a dip, up a small rise and then another swift, curving descent before the route levelled out.

Magical and legendary.

And so Martin and I re-enacted it on Friday. After lunch at the nearby Cricketers pub, now unhindered by any competition, we came back to Viper Hill.

Plenty of daylight, but that bend hasn’t softened. My tyres strayed worryingly close to the undergrowth beside the road, pumping a surge of adrenalin that made the next few hundred yards feel like I was 19 again.

It’s a dry life without a bit of risk. I’ll miss the Viper.

287.Guided by numbers

images

This is a long blog. Driven by world events. The figures I used are from the Worldometer website, which collates the official Covid-19 data from each country. It may not be precisely accurate, but is the most comprehensive global guide available. It can be found at: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

When I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, I started collecting sports statistics. It was my own nerdy world, where dark ink applied to white paper brought untold happiness. For cricket, I used primary school maths to work out batting and bowling averages in the English county championship; and kept these in a logbook, for easy guidance to who were the best players.

Similarly, for soccer, I added every goal that each First Division footballer scored to a running tally, so that I knew the leading scorers by my own work.  I recorded the attendances at games, and knew which clubs drew the biggest crowds. It was quiet, delightful self-sufficiency.

In my mid-20s, when I got into horse racing, and betting, the statistics available to punters were my headiest drug. I would get each daily fix using the times that horses ran, the distance and weights carried, the prize money and so on. Ingesting these statistics allowed me to form my own ideas about how races would pan out, rather than listening to tipsters and other ‘experts’.  Again, I kept logbooks of races, and how my bets worked out.

It brought no overall riches. However, it did help me to see more clearly that data and numbers underpin our physical world. When I became a journalist, I had developed the mindset to see that headlines required corroboration. What I have learned, almost three decades down the road, is to take nearly all news with an initial pinch of salt. Even if it is told frequently and loudly, facts need to bear out the narrative. Otherwise news swiftly becomes toilet paper.

toilet paper

One standout example from the current coronavirus situation is the “state of disaster” recently declared in Australia, by the state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne, after 671 new Covid-19 infections were recorded in a single day. Disasters are clearly awful. A “disaster”, for me, would be the recent explosion in Beirut that killed over 220 Lebanese and left over 200,000 homeless or living in homes with no windows or doors. A health “disaster” might be the 1918-20 Spanish Flu, which may have killed up to 50 million people.

Numbers are important. At the time of the “disaster” announcement in Victoria, the whole of Australia, comprising 25 million people, had experienced 247 deaths linked to Covid-19. The median age of those deaths was over 80 years old. Terribly sad and tragic for those involved and their families and friends, but in terms of fatalities, roughly 1 in every 100,000 Aussies, mostly people who had existing morbidities, had died from the virus. The real, encouraging and good news (that you didn’t hear or read) was that  99,999 in every 100,000 Aussies had survived.

And I’m still hunting high and low for the “disaster”. Where is it? What was it based on? It cannot be the 671 “cases” of infection, because they are based on PCR tests, which seem to produce huge numbers of false positives for Sars-Cov-2.

I looked on the Australian government’s Department of Health website. It said the following: “The reliability of COVID-19 tests is uncertain due to the limited evidence base.”

If you also take into account that a huge majority of “cases” are asymptomatic, then an infection “case” count for Sars-Cov-2 may be bordering on meaningless. The “disaster” is toilet paper news. Deceptive, alarmist. With no focus on hospitalisations or fatalities, the whole thing looks horribly like sleight of hand.

Even accepting that virus transmission in Victoria may have risen, the state’s most vulnerable – its unhealthier and its elders – could surely be isolated for their own protection. A common sense measure so that normal life would go on. But no. Based on a test that their own government has acknowledged as potentially unreliable, the state’s entire 6.3 million inhabitants, nearly 5 million in the city, are now forced to follow ‘lockdown’ and curfew restrictions.

And forced is no exaggeration. Victoria state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said 500 military personnel would be deployed to enforce the self-isolation orders, with fines of nearly A$5,000 (£2,700), for those breaching the rules. Repeat offenders would face a fine of up to A$20,000, he said. In Melbourne, a group of birthday partygoers were slapped with an eye-watering fine of $26,000 (£14,360) after multiple KFC purchases triggered phone calls to police.

aussie police

I’m giving you numbers. But pictures can also tell amazing stories. There were some extraordinary shots from Melbourne of police smashing a car window and pulling a woman out, to make her comply with the lockdown restrictions. The astonishing thing was how Australian media actively defended the powers-that-be, by describing the police as somehow pushed into this aggressive behaviour, with absolutely no choice. All I could see was men in uniforms, the rampant righteous, treating a potentially innocent person like an animal. Law enforcers acting like thugs, while newsreaders talked about the woman as if she was a criminal. And I wondered. Was 1930s Germany like that?

And all this on account of a virus that, yes, is certainly more contagious than the norm, but no, poses no serious threat to most humans on the evidence to date.

Back in late April, while mainstream journalists were parroting the British government message that Covid-19 is the most serious crisis we have ever encountered, the true state of play was spelled out by Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, in a televised speech. From the horse’s mouth, it is worth repeating.

“The great majority of people will not die from this and I’ll just repeat something I said right at the beginning because I think it’s worth reinforcing: Most people, a significant proportion of people, will not get this virus at all, at any point of the epidemic which is going to go on for a long period of time.

Of those who do, some of them will get the virus without even knowing it, they will have the virus with no symptoms at all, asymptomatic carriage, and we know that happens. Of those who get symptoms, the great majority, probably 80%, will have a mild or moderate disease. Might be bad enough for them to have to go to bed for a few days, not bad enough for them to have to go to the doctor. An unfortunate minority will have to go as far as hospital, but the majority of those will just need oxygen and will then leave hospital. And then a minority of those will end up having to go to severe end critical care and some of those sadly will die. But that’s a minority, it’s 1% or possibly even less than 1% overall. And even in the highest risk group this is significantly less than 20%, ie. the great majority of people, even the very highest groups, if they catch this virus, will not die. And I really wanted to make that point really clearly.”

chris witty

A public figure telling a simple truth about Covid-19.  Treasure that rare moment.

But I doubt that anyone paid much attention, given the unrelenting propaganda blitz that had already overwhelmed many Brits with deep primal fear. By the end of April, most of us were reeling, punch-drunk, from a wall-to-wall messaging flood about the “pandemic”. Hospitals were set to be over-run with patients and our struggling medical infrastructure was going to collapse under their weight. And locking down society was the only way to prevent this calamity, regardless of how much damage it did to livelihoods. News reports, ads, public service announcements, talk shows, newspaper articles and press conferences imploring us to ‘stay at home’, ‘flatten the curve’, ‘protect the NHS’, ‘save lives’, ‘wash your hands’, ‘stay alert’ and get the ‘R number’ below 1.

I believe most of us became so emotionally invested in the apparent urgency that we lost the ability to think critically. I tried to take the most sensible parts of the media blitz on board, as my father is 92, with weak lungs. My brother Neil and I decided that we would be the only people that he saw while the virus was at its most contagious. Five months on, we still shield him and social distance, to limit any chance that we transmit the virus.

Back to the numbers. What do they say? The global statistic as of 18 August was that 783, 430 humans have died around the world as a result of Covid-19, against a global population of 7.8 billion. That’s a global death rate of around one in 10,000. Pretty good odds, I would say. 99.99% of humans have not been killed by Covid-19. And so much better odds if you are relatively young, with no existing health problems. A Canadian scientific team has estimated the individual Covid-19 death rate for people under 65 as 6 per million, or 1 in 166,666: about the same as the annual chance of motor vehicle accident death. (Do you fret much about that risk?)

car crash

In the UK, as of 18 August, the total coronavirus death figure was 41,381, according to Public Health England. (It had been over 5,000 higher, until the Department of Health announced that thousands of people who may have recovered from the virus before they died were still counted in the headline number. Easy mistake to make).

For me, the standout statistic is that, by mid-July, only 1,388 of these deaths had been officially attributed purely to Covid-19, where the victim had no other illness or morbidity.

Just 1,388.

Numeric comparisons are useful tools for putting things in context. Let’s dive back now to 2017/18, when there were an estimated 50,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales from a nasty flu season. Over 50,000, more than the equivalent Covid-19 numbers. Yet no lockdown or masks or job losses were needed for us to come out on the other side. The vulnerable were advised to isolate, and the rest of us got on with it. There were no school closures nor sinister talk of ‘bio-security’. No stopping the UK economy, despite the greater number of excess deaths in 17/18. If ever I felt rough, as I acquired natural immunity, then I know that I would have taken heavy doses of garlic and ginger, lemon and vitamins, and topped this up with fresh air, sunlight and good nutrition. The common sense response.

Has something happened in the two years since 2018? What new knowledge did I miss?

What became of the accepted, traditional idea that immunity builds naturally across social groups, as the virus recedes from lack of hosts, leading to a safer environment for all? The miracle of the human immune system that has evolved over hundreds of centuries by taking in pathogens and building antibodies. Why is that now insufficient? Someone? Please?

immune system 

Back to the present, where, in New Zealand, plans were announced in mid-August (because of four new Covid-19 “cases”, not deaths) to take people who are infected with Covid-19 into “quarantine camps”. PM Jacinda Ardern was very clear. She said that “you either get your tests done and make sure you’re cleared or we will keep you in a facility longer.” To combat bubonic plague, that strategy might be warranted. But hardly apt (in my opinion) for a flu-like virus that mainly targets the old and sick, in a country that had not had a reported death since May. Due to a test that has recorded ‘positive’ on a papaya fruit.

To these eyes, both Australia and New Zealand have started to show dangerous signs of being prepared to strip people of their freedom, privacy and autonomy, for no good reason. A woman in Australia has just been imprisoned for 6 months for avoiding a 14-day quarantine period. Can that be anything but tyranny?

Not many people have the guts to resist coercion. France had a population of 41.7 million in 1939. I just found an estimate that only half a million of these offered resistance during the subsequent Nazi occupation. Resistance does require bravery. It is far easier to be told what you can wear, where you can go, when you can go there, and who you can touch, than it is to disobey. Feel free to disagree.

Another big trend as the Germans occupied Europe was “ratting out” disobedient neighbours to Hitler’s men. We have been getting pretty good at that in the UK, especially in Greater Manchester, where restrictions on socialising in indoor spaces have been increased, despite the UK mortality rate dipping below seasonal averages for the last two months. On one weekend in the first half of August, 1,106 Covid regulation breaches were phoned in to Manchester police, 25% more than the previous weekend. 540 of the calls involved reports of other people’s house gatherings and parties.

ratting

Whether you like it or not, I’m simply pointing out trends. Here is a potentially huge one. Tedros Adhanom, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said explicitly that we will not be going back to the ‘old normal’. Is Ted by some miracle clairvoyant? If not, then when did the WHO acquire any legitimate power over how ordinary lives should proceed?

The WHO accepts huge donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Could that be a clue?

This ‘new normal’ seems to involve a flood of ludicrous medical suggestions, each designed to make people increasingly fearful of their neighbours, family, human contact, and the very air that they breathe. A doctor (Amir Khan) appeared quite recently on the UK’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ TV programme, suggesting that men should take a contraceptive pill filled with oestrogen, on the grounds that this will boost the male immune system. Dr Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has suggested people in high-risk areas or multi-generational homes should consider wearing a mask at home.

The Guardian – that once-great bastion of liberty and free speech – ran an article entitled “You’re wearing a mask – now consider a face shield and goggles”. (Hmmm..The Guardian takes money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its ‘global development’ website). This echoed comments by the diminutive Dr Anthony Fauci, of the seemingly all-powerful WHO, which has U-turned on its April pronouncement that face masks were unnecessary. Fauci now claims that “perfect” virus protection would involve wearing visors or goggles over your eyes.

In May, Qatar announced a penalty of up to 3 years’ imprisonment for not wearing face masks in public. Not to be outdone, researchers at Harvard University said in June that to prevent transmitting COVID-19 from one person to another, sexual partners should be wearing a face mask while interlocked. I don’t think they meant gimp masks.

The study also advised against kissing. I guess the authors simply forgot that humans have evolved over millions of years to be social creatures, seeking intimate human companionship in our lives. Easy mistake. It suggested partners shower before and after doing the filthy, disgusting deed, and clean everything, the whole horrible mess, with alcohol wipes or soap.

hazmat sex

If you filmed this tepid, highly sanitised sex, it could be labelled as actual fear porn, to match the metaphorical stuff pumped out by our alarmist media. Which, for the record, includes stories claiming that cats can get Covid-19, and that they should now stay inside. Or the warning from string-puller Bill Gates himself, who is reported to have said that singing, laughing and even talking can spread Covid-19. Wouldn’t it be great if Bill stopped talking, once and for all? I would be so happy.

Even if you ignore this drivel, from people who should know better, the existing regulations in Britain seem designed to confuse and baffle. Masks are now mandatory in shops for customers, but not staff. In restaurants, it is the other way around. In the Manchester lockdown, you were prohibited from entering your lover’s home for sex; but could lawfully get it on in a hotel. Standing in a graduation line is a “safety hazard,” but lining up at huge stores is not. If masks are so critical, why were they not mandated immediately upon lockdown, rather than when infectiousness had subsided?

And why are national journalists rolling over so tamely, not tearing apart this utter crock of shit? A key job of the media is to hold power to account. The same goes for the political opposition, in this case Labour, which bends over tamely and pulls apart its cheeks for each new Tory government move.

Why are questions not asked about Japan? Despite the population of 126 million – 38 million people of these stacked together in Tokyo – there has been no lockdown. Yet Covid-19 has claimed just 1,088 Japanese victims. Does that not warrant huge press coverage, to see how another country is coping brilliantly? Could we not learn something? Or from Sweden, where life has continued uninterrupted, despite significant deaths linked to Covid-19.

One reason for the piss-poor national journalism is probably that the UK government has become one of the leading advertisers in newspapers. Nobody rubs up their advertisers the wrong way. So mainstream journalists let things go, failing to underline and highlight that we are being led up a garden path towards a creeping totalitarianism due to a virus that has as much chance of killing most of us as a car crash.

brave journalism

As medical martial law gradually seeps in, one outstanding exception to the press cowardice might be journalist Peter Hitchens, who seems to enjoy sticking his head over the parapet and pulling apart official hubris. Hitchens called face masks a “a soggy cloth muzzle, a face-nappy that turns its wearer from a normal human into a mumbling, mouthless submissive.”

I like the boldness of that. But, as a left-leaning voter, it is galling that the bravest journalist in Britain writes for the right-wing Daily Mail. Elsewhere in the private sector, YouTube now forbids content that contradicts the line taken by the WHO or local health authorities. Forget freedom of speech. Forget counter-opinion and evidence. Or even discussion and debate. The Nazis were happy to forget all of those. Remember them?

As if the above lunacy were not enough, a grimmer reality is the dismantling of people’s incomes across the planet. In India, there were a massive 122 million job losses officially reported in April from the lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. It is difficult to get my head around the impact of that huge figure.

In the European Union, the effects of lockdown were enough to trigger the biggest drop ever recorded in its employment figures in the second quarter of 2020. In the US, GDP dropped a record 32.9% during the same period, marking what economists called the greatest collapse in American history. British GDP declined by more than 20% in the second quarter, the worst economic hit from the coronavirus in Europe. All of this to combat a flu-like virus that mainly targets the old and sick. Disproportionate hardly seems a strong enough word.

The social consequences of this will almost certainly dwarf the medical impacts of Covid-19. UK government officials have already suggested that deaths due to lockdown, rather than coronavirus, could exceed 200,000, as a result of stress, alcohol, drugs, unemployment, poverty, domestic abuse, lack of medical care for other conditions, starvation, isolation and suicide. Economists in Britain have said the true underlying picture of the jobs market is much worse than official data indicates.

economy smashed

We had a clue ourselves last week. I said a big ‘thank you’ to the universe when our lad Rory managed to land a part-time job at Home Bargains store in Chelmsford. He was told that there had been over 200 applicants for the part-time job. In July, Mick Dore, who manages the Alexandra pub in Wimbledon, south-west London, said that 484 people sent in CVs for two £9-an-hour jobs at the pub. He would usually have expected around 12 replies.

Dropping the numbers for a minute, I think we’ve been gaslit. Sold a puppy. Our arms invisibly twisted, while we all tried to do the right thing, out of essential decency and the goodness of our hearts. So many of us worked at home, social distanced, Zoomed, TikTokked, volunteered, exercised, clapped key workers and watched Netflix: all to try and “save lives”. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients have had operations put on hold. Children’s education has been inexplicably shelved. Hand on heart, I can say that nearly everybody I know has suffered from mental health problems at one stage or another during this period. All to “combat” a flu-like virus that kills 1 in 10,000.

How can that make sense or ring true? What have I missed? I’m genuinely open to a reasoned explanation.

An early clue, to me, that the health risks were less than we were being told, came from two of the key architects of the UK lockdown, Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, and Dominic Cummings, the Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister. Both flouted their own rules. That behaviour indicated (to me) that the lockdown might not be about health or safety. That it might, just might be a cover for bringing in much greater state control, while people became too isolated and demoralised to pay attention. Another huge clue had occurred earlier on March 19, hidden in plain sight, when Public Health England downgraded COVID-19 from its former status as a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID). The downgrade was announced several days before the British lockdown came into play.

Virtually every country in Europe is now reporting average, or below average mortality. On a personal level, I don’t know anyone who has died of the virus. Neither do most people I have spoken to over the past five months. Whereas, in a “pandemic”, you would imagine everyone would know someone that had died of Covid. Although I do know someone who has lost two acquaintances that had ‘death by Covid-19’ printed on their death certificates. Wrongly, having died of other causes.

Tellingly, the Nightingale hospitals, built quickly with the capacity to treat almost 10 000 Covid-19 cases, have been mothballed. To balance that, I know of people that have been very sick, for protracted periods. But again, that happens in any flu season.

Has anybody else noticed that, as Covid-19 fatalities have tailed off, the number of “cases” continues to be used as the stick to beat us with – probably until mortality rates from colds and flu begin their inevitable seasonal rise as winter approaches, and we can all be scared shitless again by new Covid headline numbers. Tell me I’m wrong. I hope I am.

Without becoming too conspiratorial, it is worth at least noting certain indicators that our situation may have been orchestrated behind the scenes. The World Bank staged a pandemic simulation in Washington DC in October 2019 to prepare for a major health crisis that was “only a matter of time”. You can check the details and participants at https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/event201/.  It may also be worth checking the ‘Lockstep’ section of the white paper formulated by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2010. It starts on page 18 in the document at https://www.nommeraadio.ee/meedia/pdf/RRS/Rockefeller%20Foundation.pdf

Judge for yourself.

rockefeller foundation

One question begging to be asked is who will decide the terms on which lockdown finally ends. We all want our old lives back, but what if they have been stolen from under our noses? Traded in, without a fuss, for the illusion of “safe” new lives. Traded in for years of vaccines, surveillance, temperature checks and tracking controls, where obsessive attention to matters of health could come to dominate every aspect of life.

I really hope not. But, just as the Nazis crowed that they were waging a war against the “subhuman races”, the WHO and its government followers already appear to be set against anyone who “endangers the public health” or is a “risk to others”. The language is starting to feel semi-religious.

One zealot in the US has put forward a possible flavour of the future. Parker Crutchfield, Associate Professor of Medical Ethics, Humanities and Law at Western Michigan University, reckons that people who refuse to follow the medical guidance are “defectors” who need to be “morally enhanced”. Crutchfield has suggested medication to make people more “empathetic” and “co-operative”. This medication should be compulsory and/or administered secretly via the water supply, he believes. I can’t see a single argument of his that is not dystopian.

It feels like there are big choices coming up for some of us, as the talk of a ‘second wave’ ramps up. Those choices might feel like plucking up the courage to leave an abusive relationship. For sure is that while people keep complying with the swelling body of new rules, the government mandates are likely to become ever more intrusive, more authoritarian, and harder to roll back.

Here is a big question: is there any point at which you and I are going to stop doing what the government tells us to do? When might we say no? How far down the line? Will it be face masks in shops, or maybe further along, when the government decides that you now need to wear a face mask, gloves and goggles, not only in public spaces, but in your own home as well? Or if the government decides that you now need an “immunity passport”, or a microchip in your arm, in order to access public spaces? Look at Nazi history and you will see a series of freedom snatches, increment by increment. Tell me I’m wrong.

Thankfully, I do see signs of people brave enough to question the official narratives. There was a demonstration in Berlin on August 1 against the coronavirus restrictions. The numbers were interesting. The BBC (which receives money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) reported a turnout of 20,000. Alternative German media said the figure may have been over a million. What an interesting disparity in those figures.

berlin demo

Just as encouragingly, a group of 640 medical professionals, centred in Germany, Austria and Spain, has formed a group to challenge the Covid-19 narrative. 640 is a hefty number. They compare the Covid-19 risk to normal flu, and stress that there is no need for undue anxiety. They will all risk dismissal from their profession for challenging the WHO stance. YouTube has already taken down their video “for violating community guidelines”.

Again, in my opinion, our current obedience and our conformity will help construct a dreadful new reality – for us, our children and our grandchildren – unless this type of momentum keeps building. While millions of people across the West are being thrown out of work as their “furlough” periods end, the economic route among government and the biggest corporations will clearly be more ‘contracts for the boys’. Look at how the UK government brazenly handed out PPE contracts worth £155 million to its cronies, for equipment that may turn out to be useless. There is the future. Right there. While many people kid themselves that things will soon be back to normal.

Some of the world’s richest individuals, who hang out at the World Economic Forum (WEF), have quietly announced the so-called “Great Reset”. Handed down from on high, this marvellous plan – although with few firm details – is supposedly designed to beat Covid-19 and address climate change. Like the WHO, the WEF hasn’t bothered to consult anyone down here in the trenches. You can only hope that the plan includes generous Universal Basic Income (UBI) for everybody that lacks employment.

For the time being, for hundreds of millions of workers and small businesses across the world, the likelihood is a slide into an abyss of unemployment, bankruptcy, repossession, hunger, homelessness and premature deaths. 7,000 Marks & Spencer job cuts in Britain were announced on 19 August. That could be the tip of the iceberg. Management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company has estimated that 7.6 million UK jobs are at risk when the furlough schemes end in a couple of months, with nearly half of these in occupations earning less than £10 per hour.

I haven’t even talked about vaccines, because it should be clear to anyone with an enquiring mind that producing a safe vaccine takes over a decade of research. The current ‘operation warp speed’ to develop a wonder vaccine, urged on by Billy Boy Gates, can guarantee only a shed load of money for the pharmaceutical manufacturers, who will be indemnified against any potential legal action from recipients if things go pear-shaped. Good luck to anyone who wants that vaccine. I do mean that genuinely.

One element that bubbles away without much discussion is that we all die. Dad will die of something, eventually. It is sad but it’s not ‘tough shit’. Death isn’t a glitch. It happens to everyone. Whether we go of Covid-19, pneumonia, a heart attack, liver disease, diabetes, dementia or murder, we shuffle off this mortal coil. It is the most natural and predictable thing in life.

Good public discourse would include this reality. That life has always been crammed with risk, and chance. But the WHO and many government officials, backed by media, seem to envisage people living in permanent “bubbles”. A life with minimal friction and tone. Infantile existence where people can no longer make and act upon their own risk assessments.

I’m massively grateful to have enjoyed some kind, good, common sense company since the end of March. It has helped in getting through the weirdness. My wife has a sharp brain, my journalist friend Martin sees objectively through the media fog, and my next-door neighbour Dean provides me with more wisdom over the garden fence than any health “expert” or Member of Parliament.

Sometimes I try and imagine a saner world where Covid-19 had been treated as a straightforward flu-like virus. Clearly it would still be a terribly sad time for the deceased and their loved ones. Lots of people would get very sick. We might hear about it regularly, along with all the other news. But no hyperbole, no hysteria, no lockdown, no mandated masks. No controlled economic demolition. No bio-security. No interfering with educating children whose risk of Covid-19 fatality is almost zero. Obviously plenty of social distancing involving the vulnerable, so that they were shielded and isolated. As happens in Sweden. As has happened with my dad, whose vulnerability has rightly kept me at a distance from all but a few close others for almost five months.

But no “disaster”, because attention would have been paid to the numbers, which show quite clearly that most of us are safe, and able to get on with our lives.

That makes more sense to me than tearing apart our old world over what is, for a big majority, a car crash risk. It’s just my opinion, but I reckon the numbers offer strong support.

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PS.  On August 26, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) updated its site with a co-morbidities section, where it admitted that only about 6% of the reported deaths by Covid in the US in 2020 were due to Covid alone, in the category of “died from the virus and no other causes.” The other 94% of deaths included an average of 2.6 other causes. This reduced the death-by-Covid-only number in the US from 185,000 to about 11,000 over an 8-month period. In the same period, about 30,000 people died in car wrecks.

But to hell with it…..let’s keep locking down the planet, destroying economies and untold numbers of lives in the process.

286. Cognitive dissonance

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Sometimes silence is best. To can it. Totally zip it. Just shut up. Look and listen. Let it all sink in slowly.

Know that you don’t know.

Otherwise you may talk shit; say things that make little sense a few weeks later. Especially when the information flow is so relentless, but with twists and turns that curve back on themselves.

Being quiet, amid endless clamour, means you can pick out nuggets.

Three images – real and undeniable – sum up the mental damage wrought by COVID-19.

I pulled the car into Oxford services 12 days ago, returning from Gloucestershire. Needing a leak, the nearby public toilets were found to be sparklingly clean, with all facilities spaced out by at least two metres. A haven of sanitisation. No charge. Then back to the car, shutting the eyes for a 20-minute meditation. I opened them to witness a fit-looking young lad, maybe aged 25, looking around furtively before pissing against the side of his vehicle. There were three police cars parked in a huddle about 120 yards away.

I can only imagine that he was desperate to avoid the public loos, and a possible interface with the virus. Or might he have an elderly relative who requires shielding? Why else risk being arrested and fined for public indecency?

There is freely available information clearly specifying that the number of people in their mid-20s impacted by the coronavirus is smaller than negligible, especially if their health is robust. But that information is generally buried beneath the never-ending fear memes.

Much more amusing has been a new trend at Premiership soccer grounds. As the football has returned, to spectator-free grounds, TV screens show players slipping back easily into intimate habits of grabbing and hanging onto each other like wrestlers; and celebrating goals with big group hugs. All very natural for team animals, engaging in contact sport. Shouting and breathing over one another.

The novelty comes several times during the game, when masked men spray the corner flags with sanitiser. When first seeing this lunacy I fell about laughing, helplessly.

Am I alone in perceiving massive absurdity, if not complete cognitive dissonance? Coaches and managers wearing masks mix freely with their unmasked players during the breaks.

The third image was a picture of two neighbouring houses in Leicester, encountered today when browsing online. A new lockdown has been declared in the city, without any evidence of new hospitalisations or a rise in critical care. One of the two households was under medical martial law, while the residents in the other, but a yard away, are free to go about their business.

It made me think of another anomaly. How the UK government insisted that we must stay at home, to ‘save lives’, because the virus was so, so dangerous. So terribly infectious and deadly. But then suddenly it wasn’t, if you wanted to protest on the streets against racial injustice. How very odd.

Worry is in the air. I have seen solo cyclists out in the countryside, miles from anything or anyone, wearing face masks. Several younger people in my extended family have run into mental health problems. Reliable anchors have gone. I have felt deep agitations that are difficult to pinpoint. Like we inhabit a bad sci-fi film or a dream with no exits. As if the map of agreed reality is changing, old carpets pulled from under feet.

But my inner journalist takes notes. Speaking on CNN on 25 June, multi-billionaire Bill Gates was unequivocal. Paraphrased, he said that if 80% of the world does not take the wonder vaccine, when it finally appears, then there can be no return to holidays, sport and travel.

Well thanks for the heads up. It’s good of you Bill. By the way, what are your qualifications in medicine or politics? Ah yes, zero. Not a single credential.

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And yet the words of this unqualified man indicated that he either wields huge political and medical influence, or is privy to discussions at a top table, such that he can somehow place his finger on the future pulse of humanity. Do any of us get a say in this? Do I get a choice, or has an unelected CEO of Planet Health Inc. already decided for me?

Others are less polite about Gates. In mid-May, Sara Cunial, the MP for Rome, denounced Gates as a “vaccine criminal” and urged the Italian President to hand him over to the International Criminal Court. Both she and Robert F. Kennedy Junior have referred to a Gates-led polio immunisation campaign in India, which local doctors have reportedly blamed for a paralysis epidemic that impacted around 490,000 Indian children beyond expected rates, between 2000 and 2017. Nearly half a million kids. Maybe it is worth doing some research on that story of benign intervention. Proper research, not steered by Google algorithms.

What is beyond doubt is that Gates has leveraged his mega-fortune from Microsoft into a structure of powerful global connections, often through the ‘philanthropic’ use of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to shape policy.  This has funnelled money into the World Health Organization (WHO), in which it is now the largest shareholder. Significant money has also been extended, among many other British institutions, to Imperial College London. What an amazing coincidence that the advice in March that the UK should ‘lock down’ emanated from Imperial College.

Inevitably, there are various speculative theories concerning the coming COVID-19 vaccines. One knocking around says that your RNA will be modified, changing you at a genomic level. Being no scientist, I can offer no insights. Another says the vaccines may contain micro tracking mechanisms, that could help control humanity as a collective. Again, pass.

But I do possess what one young man in a white lab coat termed in a recent documentary as “vaccine hesitancy”. For one thing, it is standard medical practice that vaccines need to be thoroughly tested, over a period of years. Good luck to anyone who wants into that first muddle of guinea pigs, participating in clearly rushed vaccine trials.

But there is something else. In his past, Gates spent time in the company of a certain Jeffrey Epstein. The same Epstein who trafficked humans for money and sex. That JE who was inserted deeply into a predatory class of humans up to their rotten necks in a mire of crime, technocracy and eugenics.

I wonder how our history will read 100 years from now. Perhaps it will say: “There was this horrible pandemic until Saint Bill arrived with his vaccines.” History tends to be written by the victors.

For me, it is galling to think that, if you live in Sweden, everyday life has proceeded apace. Yes, the level of COVID-linked deaths in Sweden has been significant, albeit less than the UK, but economic lifelines were left in place to mitigate the fatalities. No ‘lockdown’. No house arrest.

In Belarus, President Alexander Grigoryevich was loudly derided by bleating Western journalists and ‘progressives’ for eschewing a lockdown and claiming that vodka would keep the virus at bay. They even carried on playing football, lawd love ’em.

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Disaster? Hardly. So far, just 400 or so COVID-associated deaths are officially recorded in Belarus. That works out at 43 fatalities per million inhabitants, compared to the current 647 per million in the UK. (And 399 in the US, 607 in Spain, 576 in Italy)

I’ll down a big shot of vodka to that, because saving lives is the most important criterion. Looks like the “strongman president” may have more common sense in his drinking arm than the combined brains of Gates, Fauci and Dominic Cummings.

Here in Britain, one of the most disturbing aspects of the lockdown has been the tens of thousands of old people slung out of hospitals into care homes. Essentially left to die through neglect. Some observers have bluntly called this as manslaughter.

Then there is the unimaginable collateral damage. Cancer patients and those with other morbidities have been denied essential treatments. Seaside town trade has been essentially destroyed, pubs and restaurants destroyed, retail therapy destroyed. Small businesses are gasping for financial oxygen. Large businesses have begun to lay off staff as the ‘furlough’ period ends. Job prospects are receding. Student schedules are still gutted.

A lot of people that I know say that this carnage is OK, a price ‘worth paying’ to ‘protect Britain’s NHS’. Really? Most of those who have told me this are financially secure, with decent pensions in place.

Because there are so many more questions than answers, I’ve tried to stick to facts.

Here is one worth considering. In the second half of March, several days before the British lockdown was announced, Public Health England downgraded COVID-19 from its former status as a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID). Yep, downgraded it. You can check it for yourself.

Another is that marriages can again take place in Britain, as from tomorrow, 4 July. Under new government rules for weddings, fathers cannot walk their daughter arm-in-arm down the aisle. Brides and grooms will have to wash hands before and after exchanging rings. And spoken responses during the service should ‘not be in a raised voice’. Perish the thought. And any singing and playing of instruments that are blown into should be avoided, among other rules.

While pubs open, and everyone stumbles into each other, pissed as parrots.

Is this not utter barking lobotomised March hare madness? Or is it just me? It could be.

Your answers are acceptable only on a ‘deep cleaned’ postcard.

 

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P.S. Joining the dots isn’t easy, given the spew of media information. But there are clues out there.

The US death total from COVID-19 is officially around 132,000, the highest in the world.

Perhaps a little light was cast on that number on April 8 by Senator Scott Jensen, who told Fox News that “if it’s a straightforward, garden-variety pneumonia that a person is admitted to the hospital for – if they’re Medicare – typically, the diagnosis-related group lump sum payment would be $5,000.”

Jensen continued: “But if it’s COVID-19 pneumonia, then it’s $13,000, and if that COVID-19 pneumonia patient ends up on a ventilator, it goes up to $39,000.

Jensen said he doesn’t think physicians are “gaming the system” so much as other “players”, such as hospital administrators, who he said may pressure physicians to cite all diagnoses, including “probable” COVID-19, on discharge papers or death certificates to get the higher Medicare allocation allowed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act