Day 17 in the Corona house: When the foeman bares his steel

Today’s title comes from the Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. For those who enjoy listening to the tracks it can be played on the control at the bottom of this post. Best known for the number about a certain major general, it also touches on how people deal with a crisis, how they tackle a dangerous enemy and the frustration of not knowing quite what to do for the best.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan (no he didn’t sing Clair) let me introduce you to the Pirates of Penzance. It seems somehow appropriate in summing up day seventeen in the Corona house.

In 1878 Gilbert and Sullivan introduced us to a leader, the very model of a Major General who wasn’t the brightest, had been promoted far beyond his capabilities but completely unaware of the fact. In unrelated news, I was drawn to comments made by President Donald Trump in which he questioned whether the cure for Corona virus might be worse than the condition itself.

President Trump continued to state that the Country should be open by Easter. This is despite the fact that the line showing new cases in the US is tracking exponential growth with a need for 30,000 ventilators in the five boroughs of New York City alone.

The current world statistics show the US has over 61,000 cases of confirmed coronavirus, the vast majority being in New York, followed by Washington State (Seattle) and California (Los Angeles). In light of this his claim seems far beyond optimistic, it’s just detached from the reality of the situation. In a particularly crass comparison, he said:

And you look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers [of potential COVID-19 deaths] we’re talking about, that doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars. We have to do things to get our country open.

So much for the major general. It did start me thinking though. Very often in a crisis, there is a sense of having to do something. It helps us with a sense of control, however false and gives the impression of activity. But does it help to rush to action? To return to the song inspiring this post, as you would see in a stage setting, it refers to the police being tasked to deal with something (the eponymous pirates) before they were ready and with no leadership.

Police move in to Shepherds Bush Green

Those of you who know me will know I’m usually a natural supporter of those who try to protect us. The thin blue line is thin enough and having done the job I know how challenging and thankless it can be. However, now more than ever, those exercising that power must remember than policing is by consent. I entirely support the breaking up of groups and enforcing the new public health restrictions on assembly. However, three examples gave me pause for thought today.

The first incident relates to the movement of around 12-15 people from Shepherds Bush green by the police. I wasn’t there so can only recount events second hand, but the photographs of the incident do seem to support the numbers and groupings.

Shepherds Bush Green is just under 8 acres in size. The 12-15 people were made up of groups of 2-3 people who claim to be household or family members. Each person or group were apparently well over the minimum distance for social gathering and it was not an event merely people taking some exercise and stopping in the nearest thing they have to a local park. I would have hoped that some discretion might have been exercised. If an example needs to be made (and it may) there would be better ones that this.

Are the homeless the policing priority?

The second related to a group of four homeless men and women gathering outside Tesco on the Old Kent Road. They weren’t causing any issue and contact could easily be avoided. We observed three officers none of whom had PPE and none of whom were practicing social distancing attempt to move them on. Put aside the fact that apparently experienced officers were trying to have a detailed conversation (an animated one, with copious exchange of droplets inevitable) about public health with an audience who were under the influence (though in no way disorderly), had nowhere to move on to and were less of a virus shedding risk where they were. Also discount the fact that although keen to enforce the new policy it hasn’t yet become law so they are relying on what would previously have been called ‘hat and chat’ – reasoned persuasion. Put all that aside and I still have three questions for the MPS. Firstly given all ongoing calls at the time were four homeless people gathering in a group really the priority? Tesco confirmed they had not reported the incident taking the stance that they were static some distance from the store and were causing no problem.

For my money, if you are seeking to move people on in these circumstances you need to recognise they have nowhere to move to. Perhaps the focus should be getting those on the streets off them even if just for this crisis. You should also consider if they are gathering together sleeping rough in London, it’s probably as much for their personal safety as anything else. Finally, let’s assume they are carrying the virus – well now it’s likely so are three police officers and just for good measure they’ve dispersed those carriers to the four winds. Being seen to do something isn’t what we need. Doing the right thing is.

Ready for a walk

The third instance was when I was stopped while walking Taz this morning. The fact of the stop I didn’t mind, the way it was carried out I did. Three community support officers none wearing PPE and each no further than two feet from the others told me ‘I needed to stop and account’. I declined to go over to them and comply with their request (and pointed out it was a request). I asked if stopping me and trying to increase my contacts by three today was really necessary? Response came there none. I pointed out there was no requirement for me to stop and account, nor were the powers they purported to have law (they genuinely believed they were).

My point in both cases is not to second guess the police or community support officers. But I would hope that they exercise their powers appropriately and where necessary, not merely to be seen to be doing something. Presence is important but if it causes further unnecessary contact it’s entirely counter productive.

We have heard much of front line medical staff having no personal protective equipment (PPE) which is of course unacceptable. However, have we thought that police officers with no protective equipment are high risk of being superspreaders? I would be concerned both for the safety of those officers but also for that of the people with whom they come into contact. It was clear police officers were in enforce mode. In fairness, when it was pointed out they were not social distancing and were creating an unecessary contact they adapted. However, it simply hadn’t occurred to them this could be the case. I for one think it should. Perhaps food for thought.

Turning to more positive news, the sense of community in our particular part of Peckerwell has ramped up a notch. A Whatsapp group for the street has been the catalyst for kicking off some community action, but more of that tomorrow.

Given that we’re going to be inside for a good few weeks, we are looking at some ways to stay in touch with our friends, maybe make some new ones and break up what could be very flat weeks. Watch out for a regular watch party among other ideas, further news to follow.

One new development was the second episode of Grub with V-Dub, this time a Chilli con carne. Some better tech and a little rehearsal (I’m now mentally doing the told you so dance) resulted in a more polished output which Vaughan seemed to enjoy making. I helped out with the camera work and certainly enjoyed eating the chilli.

Grub with V-Dub: Chilli con carne

Perhaps what was more surprising was that our neighbour in the basement flat came up with the same idea. Perhaps it isn’t surprising given that he has previously made his living as a chef. However, it was an odd coincidence that two kitchens, one above the other were both recording meals cooked for social media at pretty much the same time. Tom’s video is available on youtube and I suspect there may be more than the one. Here is the most recent edition.

Plenty to keep you occupied until tomorrow’s installment which (spoiler alert) gives me another 24 hours to try and get through to one/any of the help centres supposedly in place to help us through the current epidemic.

Today’s post title took inspiration from the Pirates of Penzance. For those who enjoy hearing the track it is available on the control below.

When the foeman bears his steel – Pirates of Penzance


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