It’s day eight in the Corona house and both Vaughan and I remain well, or at least asymptomatic. With the vast majority of the time being spent inside it’s odd where you find mental stimulation. I found some in the naming of these Corona updates and theming each update.
I have to give special mention in dispatches to Jules Phillips and Karen Young, regular readers of this series. They were the first to spot (or at least the first to comment on) the daily updates all being based around song titles. One person has called foul about the update called How do you solve the problem, ask Korea – all I’m going to say is think Sound of Music. In quarantine, you get your laughs where you can.
Had I been focused on books rather than music, today would have been brought to us by Dickens. I have in mind an opening paragraph that sums up the current state of affairs brilliantly, at least for me, even though the words were penned 162 years ago.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. ~ Charles Dickens A tale of two cities.
I remember reading that paragraph first over forty years ago in Park Library, Swindon. It was one of those life-changing moments. After reading it I knew two things that until that point had been facts of which I had been unaware. The first was I had found an author I liked and who has been a long-standing favourite of mine ever since. Second, I realised I responded to and felt the poetry within the words, I could feel the music in the sentence structures, the heartbeat of the book and a glimpse at the soul of the author. For those reasons, this paragraph has long been seared into my memory. Perhaps it’s no surprise it should jump to mind today.
What started the Dickensian train of thought was the sight that greeted me this morning. Those of you who know the location of Gumnut Towers will know it’s a busy little road in a moderately busy area of south east London.
This morning and throughout today, the road has been significantly quieter and there has been much reduced pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It’s not quite a ghost town, but it’s certainly Paris in August, at least in this corner of Peckerwell. With the move to shield the elderly and those with chronic long term conditions (of which I may be one) this could well be the norm moving through to the summer months. While I’m probably better placed to deal with this type of isolation than many or even most, this certainly counts as the worst of times or at least the worst I can remember.
It also brings me back to today’s song title referencing the outstanding Eurythmics. It seems to me that in relation to self-isolation, attendance at work sisters (and brothers) are doing it for themselves. In that sense, we’re exercising our own judgement regardless of the prevailing governmental guidance. That’s problematic if what we chose to do is unhelpful. However, until the government catches up with the public mood, it could just be we’ve helped save the world today – albeit just a bit of it.
My next comments are contentious. I recognise that, but they are not intended to be intentionally inflammatory. I need to declare an interest and clarify my intent. As most of you will know, I’m not a fan of the EU institutions and was one who after due consideration voted to leave and have not changed my position since that time. I don’t seek to single out the EU in the following comments. Until 4.15 pm today I would also have included the World Health organisation, that is until I heard the content of their press conference. I don’t seek to make a broad point about the benefits or otherwise of EU membership, but I do make a more general point about supranational bodies. I’ll also point out my error in judging them a little too quickly and hopefully encouraging others to consider whether they may be doing the same?
Ursula von de Leyen
In the ‘worst of times’ category, I would have to include the style of messaging coming out of the EU. It’s clear the EU has a legitimate and useful voice in tackling the epidemic in Europe. I have significant time for Ursula von de Leyen, President of the European Commission, less so for whoever is her communications officer. The steps the EU has taken to date have been clumsy and as they are not a State but dependant on its member States to act they are always going to be behind the curve and responding to events.
I have always supported a coordinated approach to global issues but do criticise the EU for trying in the wrong places. For once, it’s not the economy stupid. I would prefer to see the EU supporting its member states in their actions and having confidence enough in the European project to be unthreatened by the legitimate actions of member states by imposing the restrictions (including border or access controls) that are appropriate in the country concerned.
It is unfortunate that the voice and message have been focused on protecting the single market when in my view at this time the issue is not one of narrow protection of the greater project. The EU could provide a significant and valuable facilitation and coordination role and should do so. It need not try to stamp its authority on events where neither its competencies nor its organisational structures suit a timely and coherent message as an output.
Until this afternoon, I would also have put the World Health Organisation on the naughty step. I thought they had been a wonderful collector of statistics but had contributed nothing meaningful to the debate to this point. Their press conference changed my view on this matter. Not only did they publish some very useful guidance for those suffering from or caring for someone with Covid19, they also published a small library of strong research and guidance.
They have clearly been working non-stop over recent weeks. The potential failing for both the EU and WHO has been in the delivery of their messages and communication between times. It’s easy to assume silence equates to no action. I’m pleased to say I fell into that trap with the WHO and am prepared to cut the EU the benefit of the doubt. It may be worth us all considering this may be the case with HMG and other authorities who are clearly overwhelmed by the current situation. As always communication is vitally important but easily overlooked.
However, I am encouraged by the WHO conference and despite their finding that we should isolate for 14 days post recovery, they shifted from the worst of times to the best of times pile.
The last bit of bad news then the more encouraging side of the coin. The graph is blurry, but that doesn’t really matter. The thing to take from this diagram for me is the angle of the upper line. That represents the experience Italy is having at the moment. However bad it is here, they are at least one possibly two orders of magnitude worse.
I’m checking each day to see when the steep incline might flatten out. You might have expected to see this today given the strict measures imposed in Italy around a week ago. However, so far, all lines apart from South Korea follow a similar trend. This could mean all actions result in broadly the same outcome or the figures may be unhelpful given the differences in testing regime across the countries concerned. In any event, I won’t be the only one looking for the incline on the Italy line to plateau.
I have also been critical of the UK for its lack of testing and would still like to see more as would the WHO. However, before being too critical, it’s worth reflecting on the following – we (the UK) are in the top five countries carrying out testing. I was surprised to learn that was the case.
Hopefully, you’ll see that what for me started off as the worst of times may have fragments of the best of times hidden within them.
A little tincture.
One such example came today via courier landing with a fairly hefty thud on the doorstep. I had spoken to friends who run a cider shop in Somerset. They had expressed sympathy for our trip being curtailed and wished us well in isolation and hoped we had avoided bringing anything back with us.
On opening the box it’s clearly from someone who knows us well. As I unwrap the first item from its bubblewrap, I hear Vaughan in a rapidly improving Somerset accent say
Oh, zyder, I likes zyder
I doubt their shop has much in the way of footfall, I’ve no reason to believe they are independently wealthy, but this particular example of the kindess of friends was both a surprise and a welcome morale boost.
I’m looking forward to establishing whether Vaughan prefers (say it quietly) Herefordshire or the real Somerset deal. We have medium. dry, sparkling, even cloudy scrumpy. Those will certainly count as the best of times.