from John T. in Brighton, UK: the obliteration of sport …

“I’m gutted” to dip into my football lexicon. I’ve been pre-empted to borrow from the bridge equivalent. For a while I’ve been thinking about another blog and earmarked this one specifically for today for one good reason. Then in yesterday’s Observer Kenan Malik nicks my thunder with an excellent article on a similar theme – corona and sport. Apart from trundling around on my bike my sporting base is largely block W1G at The Amex aka Brighton and Hove Albion, the boundary at Hove or an armchair. In the flesh is so much more atmospheric – my brother could watch England rugby on terrestrial telly but will happily travel from Cornwall to Twickers as a day out with adrenaline flowing, euphoria or dismay both mitigated by a pint or two ….of champers or beer depending on the outcome.

As a season ticket holder I’m sure that our first response as the fixture list comes out is to look for the zingers, the not-to-be-missed and for some at Brighton that would be arch rivals Crystal Palace but for me it’s Liverpool as a club that’s had a cachet for as long as I can remember. Bill Shankly was not only a great manager but had the odd pithy comment in his broad Scottish brogue perhaps most famously declaring football more important than life or death. His current counterpart Jurgen Klopp was perhaps closer to the truth as the coronavirus took a hold “football is the most important of the least important things but today football isn’t important at all”. Great teams over the years but has there been one better than the present –  World club champions, European champions and now 25 points clear at the top of The Premiership?

To borrow a much used word of late, that’s unprecedented. Why specifically today for the blog as alluded to above? Well as Rod Stewart sang “Tonight’s the Night” …or at least it should have been. I should have been at The Amex for an 8pm kick off to watch first hand the brilliant team and their charismatic manager, no rain and perfect conditions – today it doesn’t feel like it’s not important but of course it is in reality. 

And there’s something even bigger about Liverpool and a key feature of sport that we are missing. The crowd, the social side, it’s like a family – we celebrate the highs together and commiserate as we drift towards the dreaded “bottom three”. Congratulations to Michael Ball and Captain Tom on reaching the top with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but I’m afraid it will never top the Kop’s version in full voice. The Anfield anthem sends a shiver down the spine. I wish we had a song …so I started to write one:

Beware, before the season’s throu’

The mighty Seagulls will shit on you.

But they won’t – we lose more games than we win. And the BBC would probably ban us. So I gave up.

It’s not just a social event. Sport is an escape whereby for a few hours the mundane and the stress moves to the back-burner. A couple of hours watching Sussex cricket is so much more peaceful and genteel but has a remarkable calming effect lacking , at least for me, the passion that accompanies football. Willow on leather and some gentle applause is almost Ye Olde England. And it’s a chance to witness the thoroughbreds playing at a high level  – those who achieved what we might have aspired to but quickly realised was never to be. The Open golf comes South once every five to ten years and for the first time ever I have a ticket for Day 1 at Sandwich but I’ve no doubt it’ll be cancelled. Surely watching the very best golfers in the World will clarify why they make the game look ridiculously easy whilst us hackers tack from rough to rough and three putt to boot.

And then sport offers the chance to express a bit of national pride. For years we waited for a British winner at Wimbledon only to meet a debate as to whether strictly speaking Andy wasn’t one of us – he’s Scottish so keep your hands off him you Sassenachs. Will it happen again in my lifetime I wonder, certainly not this year thanks to corona? And of course The Olympics, arguably the pinnacle of international sport, has been postponed for a year.

So there it is the buzz, the highs and lows, the social contacts of sport knocked out (boxing is one sport I eschew) not by a hunky muscleman or a nifty sprinter but by a spiky little ball (that’s as near as it gets to sport) of genetic material coated in lipid and a mere 80-billionth of a metre diameter.  As Kipling said :

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 

And treat those two impostors just the same

For many of us the obliteration of sport feels like a disaster and we can but hope that a vaccine will kick the virus into touch and the good days and evenings resume before too long but I’m not optimistic.

from John T. in Brighton, UK: count your blessings …

All things are by degree as they say. Today would have been the climax of an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen but corona virus precluded the gathering of dwindling numbers of survivors and families.  

At 3pm on Sunday 15th April 1945 British troops entered the camp to horrors that were all but inconceivable. A sign outside the camp subsequently indicated that 10,000 unburied dead were discovered and another 13,000 succumbed within a short period of time afterwards.  The first journalist to gain entry was the war correspondent Richard Dimbleby and if you’re feeling sorry for yourself confronting another three weeks of lockdown (for starters) then a listen to his broadcast may reset your emotional compass. The BBC initially refused to broadcast his report as they didn’t believe it could be true but relented when Dimbleby threatened resignation.  It went out on the 19th April, 75 years ago to the day. Available on BBC Archive it is a brilliant account – in a mere twelve minutes Dimbleby paints a picture that leaves nothing to the imagination. He later stated that this was the worst day of his life. A sunny afternoon in Hove on lockdown suddenly feels like a walk in the park – which we are still permitted.–the-holocaust/zbdqrj6

Starvation was universal and cannibalism ensued – one survivor joked at a previous commemoration event that it was the first hot meal he’d ever had at Belsen and despite the panic buying shortage hasn’t really affected us.  Water has never been under threat for us – in Belsen you’d drink from a puddle. Yes, disease was rampant – typhus, typhoid, diphtheria and more and surely many a virus even if it wasn’t corona but there the commonality ends. Dimbleby describes that what was “so ghastly” (sic) wasn’t so much the individual acts of barbarism but the gradual breakdown of civilisation as happens when humans are herded like animals in such dreadful conditions. People ceased to care about the customs and conventions of normal life. Contrast that with one cause for corona celebration as communities and individuals have pulled together more than at any other time in the living memory of most of us. 

And there’s perhaps another reason to remember this day as well as a counterpoint to the relative hardship that we perceive. The news tends to focus on the topic of the moment and after months of Brexit, Brexit, Brexit I haven’t heard the word for about two months. We should not take our eye off the ball that there are pockets of ethnic and religious hatred simmering in various parts of the World and whose erumpent shoots could burst forth given half the chance. This must never be allowed to happen again. Corona virus may have brought most things to an end, albeit temporary for many, but we can’t rely on it to prevent other evils emerging.

from John in Brighton, UK: the debate of health v the economy

April16. As the debate of health v economy gathers pace I do support the current policy of maintaining the lockdown pro tem.  Maybe that reflects my background in health as opposed to business and economy which seems like a foreign land when people explain the intricacies of the economy. My level is that I have a certain income each month, certain outgoings and try to save a bit for the rainy day. Speaking of which, and I wouldn’t have said this a month ago when Covid first crossed The Channel, but perhaps our clap for carers could double as a rain dance for the weekend. But in the immediate notwithstanding my bias health would trump economy – every life saved spares families of the unthinkable grief, so well illustrated by some of the interviews we see on the news and we can always try and restore the economy to health in the months or years to come.

Nevertheless pent up in my South coast version of Wormwood Scrubs the recent warm afternoons have allowed my mind to drift into the sunlit uplands and reflect on whether we’ll be entering a different era. Above all will the pendulum that Margaret Thatcher swung away from the ethos of community and society swing back? It’s as if a genie has been let out of a bottle in the last few weeks and up and down the land people have grabbed the opportunity to do their bit – the Thursday clap, the NHS volunteers, communities looking after the old and vulnerable or the fundraising to name but four. Has there ever been a more extraordinary enterprise than 99 year old Captain Tom strolling in his garden aiming to raise a grand and this morning he crosses the twelve million mark and rising – all for the NHS?  It’s out of this World so with apologies to David Bowie perhaps I could plagiarise a few of his lines:

This is Captain Tom to Boris J

I’m stepping through the door

And I think my Zimmer knows what I must do

Tell the NHS I love it very much…

But here’s the crunch – is this a transient silver lining to a very black cloud or could it just be the beginning of a brave new world?  Will the moral compass swing along with Thatcher’s pendulum? Money will cease to be the benchmark of success and misguided lodestar towards bliss. Poverty brings misery but wealth won’t make you happy as my father taught me from a very young age. Instead we will focus on each other and the good of society now and the planet for the generations to come. Distinctly lacking in my view to date has been the role of politicians to lead by example – be it the dubious expense claims or the pay rises from which all other public servants are excluded there has been a degree of self interest and protection. So as primus inter pares we can look to Boris the bellwether – and perhaps his recent sojourn in intensive care might make him realise that the public services are a pillar of that society and deserve far more support than the Tories have offered to date. I don’t tend to gamble but I’ll stake a quid that he’ll be seen on the steps of Chequers this evening clapping away but more importantly will the tangible follow despite the enormous financial hit we are taking?  I’d love to be proved wrong but my glass is a little less than half full at present.

from John in Brighton, UK: an email from the GMC – the General Medical Council

April 10. I readily accept that examples of “being desperate” for the man on the Clapham omnibus would pale into insignificance in many parts of the World. The inveterate smoker on a long haul flight or train journey (not me) or urgently needing a leak on the motorway and the sign you pass says “Services 5 Miles” (been there, done that). Or more topically as the curtain is soon to come down on Lent my current yearning for chocolate after six weeks abstinence – surely that’ll mitigate some of the corona pain that we’re all feeling. But then there’s Matt Hancock’s desperate need for more doctors as their numbers shrink thro’ ill health (including a few deaths) and the vast numbers of patients. There’s no point building giant Nightingale hospitals if you cannot staff them. I was positively reassured that it was only to be doctors within three years of retirement who would get the call “Your Country Needs You” but just replace Kitchener with Matt or Boris. Let’s me off the hook, no need to feel guilty. 

But stone the crows on the afternoon of 2 April an e-mail from the GMC arrives out of the blue to tell me that my licence to practise is temporarily restored and if I don’t opt out within three days my details will be passed to the health service. My heart tells me that this is an opportunity to do my bit, something that will make a difference and is urgently needed – I’d love to do it. My head tells me otherwise and it’s unsafe in two ways. Firstly I’ve just received another text to say I’m high risk and essentially housebound for twelve weeks so that alone kicks it into touch. Maybe I could act as a telephone doc / advice helpline. But more generically I haven’t laid a finger nor a stethoscope on a patient for over five years. Medicine moves forward fast, my abilities retrograde with equal haste. I’m sceptical that a short refresher would get me anywhere near back to speed. I’d be worried that I might be something of a potential liability and I know from personal experience if you do make a serious error the stain on your conscience stays with you to the grave. Even in these unprecedented times I question whether I would want to take the risk and who covers my indemnity? Sadly I’ve declined the offer. Sorry Matt.

There is a final irony to this. I retired a little earlier than planned because of the bureaucracy and demands of revalidation – a process to weed out unsafe doctors (not that I was ever convinced it could). Politically correct, reassuring to the public but we all know that Shipman would have had no trouble revalidating. Maybe I would have still been in a position to help if I had stayed on – press-ganged into early retirement ‘cos I eschewed the safe doctor assessment, unwilling to resume now because I don’t feel safe.

from John T. in Brighton, UK: A week of sunshine

April 7. It must be at least fortnight since we saw rain and we’re blessed with a week of sunshine. The problem is that we’re like dogs who have been caged for hours on end in showing our enthusiasm to break free. The vast majority still adhere to the Government instruction staying local and restricting themselves to a once daily quota of exercise. But there’s always one … as the saying goes, except in this case rather more than one and some people sit in the park or on the beach or wander around in large groups. Sadly, unlike us humans, Covid does not adopt a happy and benevolent front under the spell of warm spring rays and our guard needs to be maintained.

Matt Hancock is quick to react but I can’t agree with his “threat”.  If people continue to transgress then the lockdown dial will be turned up and all outdoor exercise will be banned. Where I think this is flawed is that exercise is of paramount importance to physical and mental health and is to be encouraged. Add to that the reports of escalating domestic violence and there are very good reasons why we must “find a way”. Which leads to the second point – we would be punishing the vast majority who show social responsibility on account of a small number of recidivists. Cast your mind back a few years – it’s like the whole class will stay in at playtime because the culprit who committed some peccadillo declines to own up. Surely the right solution is to deal with the flaunters, even if that is to be deemed a crime, and let the rest of us out of our kennels for an hour or two.

From John T. in Brighton, UK: Grim News

Yesterday the grim corona news served us up a doozy – in Margate  a 39 year old previously well nurse and mother of three died at the hands (or to be more scientifically precise pepiomers) of covid-19. That’s just dreadful. My anger at the disgrace of inadequate PPE for the front line goes up a notch to white heat. Of course we can’t say that she’d have been safer but at least we could classify it as an act of God and not potential negligence. I’m reminded that exactly ten years ago we heard how soldiers had been inadequately equipped to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan – equally disgraceful but staff in the NHS don’t expect to risk their lives, the army do.

After forty years at the NHS front line I know just how committed and kind are the NHS nurses  – we undervalue them, underpay them and they still go over and above. I also thought I was pretty battle-hardened to tragedy but this story brought a tear to my eye.  A young nurse dies doing her bit for the sick – that’s unthinkable, preternatural ….except that I doubt that it will be the last.

The  clapping is a fine gesture, politicians and celebs labelling them heroes…..but  I’m sure the staff would prioritise the tangible of correct safety equipment and testing every day of the week and not just on Thursdays.  

John in Brighton, UK. March 2020

29 March. Well it’s just gone 8am – or 7am in yesterday’s “money” – and there’s a chilly north wind telling us that the weather Gods forgot that it’s now British Summer Time. But despite that I’ve still managed to get a bit hot under the collar. 

After firing off yesterday’s little contribution I watched Question Time on the i-player. Clearly Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, was equally exercised describing the Government’s responses (or lack thereof) to Covid-19 as a scandal. But what really got me was the response of Robert Jenrick that they were now providing all the equipment needed (only a month late Bob) and when challenged totally denied that the Government policy was transiently to encourage infection to 60% of the population creating herd immunity. We all know that was the case. Why don’t MPs ever admit they got something wrong, why don’t they ever apologise , why do they lie to us? Surely it’s counterintuitive and we would respect them much more if they acknowledged the occasional human frailty.

Then I hear on the early news that BJ is writing to every household to tell us to behave ourselves and stay indoors or something similar…at an estimated cost of 5 million quid. Surely most of us are and the recidivists will pay as little attention to BJ’s letter as BJ’s dad did to the dictum to avoid pubs. I can’t help feeling we could have spent that dosh more judiciously and not to mention replacing all the trees.

Anyway I’d better go and take the blood pressure tablets before I have a stroke….’cos there sure won’t be a bed for me at the hospital.

28 March. Medical Final exams are stressful enough at the best of times – which these aren’t – and sadly covid-19 sticks its knife in. Having done their OSCEs (objective structured clinical exam to the uninitiated or in basic demotic “the practical”) my daughter and her peers have their written papers starting on Tuesday gone. Seems an age ago but that was “lockdown day”. So  a text at 10pm the night before tells the insomniac students that the exam is off. No details on a replacement or anything else. Five years of study, weeks of intense revision peaking at the right time they all hope and suddenly an anticlimax and uncertainty. In Aintree speak (another covid casualty) this was no ordinary hurdle but Becher’s or The Chair – fall badly and it could be fatal. They’ve now been given dates for an online exam next week but most have lost all motivation to revise further. By all accounts the goal will be to pass as many as possible – the country is desperate for more doctors and even a fledgling as green as a spring leaf is better than nothing. But she’s ambivalent she tells me – partly the pressure and demand of starting your first post in the height of a pandemic and secondly quite simply because the young are at risk albeit to a lesser degree than us geriatrics but death is not unheard of. Indeed today the 50th doctor has died in Italy and we’re just two weeks behind them. Of course I hope she passes but a bit of me would prefer that in a resit a month or two hence when maybe things will be a bit more settled…or maybe not. 

Much has been made of our clapping and banging our saucepans to thank the NHS staff and carers – a warm gesture indeed. But how much more they would have appreciated masks, gowns, visors and appropriate testing far quicker than it’s all materialising. Nine days ago on Question Time Matt Hancock issued reassurance that all staff would have the protective gear by the end of last weekend – if only! How come Johnson and Hancock can get tested and a result within 24 hours of symptoms whilst health workers are simply told to lump it at home for a fortnight? But there is a theme with the Tories and public services – warm words but little more. The courage of the police (and Theresa May cuts their number), the firemen of Grenfell and the health workers’ commitment and exposure to risk. But the only group worthy of a good pay rise was……11% for the MPs. Money isn’t everything but I’d like to propose that in acknowledgement for their efforts no nurse should need to resort to a foodbank.

23 March. I’m due a blood test this week. Thinking the arrangements may be changed I ring the Polyclinic – “yes, still functioning as normal”. “Do you mean it’s still open access?” I ask someone against my expectation. “Yes, open access…” she jauntily replies “….for the time being” added almost as an afterthought. So restauarants, cafes, shops, National Trust sites, sports stadia are closing en masse but you can still toddle along for a blood test. Almost by definition this is a vulnerable group with a health problem either acute or chronic and in my experience you can expect to wait packed closely together for well over an hour. Surely it would be more logical to resort to an appointments system (which is how it used to run) and simple to reinstate. Do I need to go to Specsavers or is this nearly as short-sighted as downgrading the WHO recommended protective wear for NHS staff and even then not providing enough? Anyway it’s decision time and I’m going for mid-week as potentially the quietest and thank God the weather is better so I can at east go outside and wait alongside  the fag smokers. Another good reason for social distancing. I know it’s only March but surely that’s a hot tip along with corona or corvid as word of the year 2020. Or maybe it’ll all be distant memory by December.

22 March. For starters, I could let rip re my 7am trip to Sainsbury this morning for the geriatric and vulnerable hour – naively half-expecting to be wandering as lonely as a cloud (Wordsworth) but they were already queuing right across the car park on my arrival. And there were several shoppers who were either incredibly well worn for 70: ie they looked about thirty and a few even had young children or the vulnerabilities were well hidden. And then to boot loads of shelves were empty. The bloke on medicines told me he hadn’t seen paracetamol for two weeks!!! That really annoys me as it’s NHS recommendation and we’re constantly told “there’s enough of everything” by Boris and his mates. How therapeutic to get that off my chest.

22 March. I never thought I’d be saying this but I was glad of the arthritis this morning. Unbeknownst till my arrival Waitrose reserved the first half hour for the fragile crocks aka old and vulnerable. Indoctrinated from a young age never to fib I had to deny being over 70 but like the best of strikers (football lingo) I netted the rebound and got in on the arthritis card. Brilliant – only about twenty of us in the store (but I still sneeringly wondered how a few young and fit looking shoppers managed to get past the bouncer). Anyway shot round, got the free newspaper and first on the coffee machine….out by five past ten, never done that before. What a contrast to the rabble at Sainsbury on Thursday. Notwithstanding under-reporting, still only 17 documented cases in Brighton and Hove so far but the dilemma will be if and when to start fighting for an online slot as things escalate which they surely will. ….worry about that later but for now it’s The Observer and a cuppa coffee in the spring sunshine.