From David Maughan Brown in York: The Rule of 6

September 23rd

With spasmodically jerking clenched fists and a steadfast, and studiedly serious, gaze down the camera lens, our Prime Minister, trying on a statesman costume that doesn’t fit, chose the autumn equinox as the cosmically appropriate day to tell us that his Rule of 6 (no groups of more than six are permitted to meet indoors) was likely to last through until the spring.  It is just over six months since I posted my first entry to this diary on our delightful youngest granddaughter’s birthday on 18th March.   This means that because Anthony and Kate have three children, not two, we are effectively going to miss out on the entirety of Rosie’s fourth year of growth and development, in spite of the fact that she lives little more than a mile away.  At least we are all still alive. And at least we can see Sarah and Andreas’ family from Sheffield, because they took the precaution of only having two children.  

I’m sure Browning would understand if I alter his first line slightly in present circumstances: ‘Oh to be in Scotland now that winter’s here!’  In spite of opting for much tighter restrictions in the face of the exponential increase in coronavirus infection numbers, Nicola Sturgeon appears to understand that adding a three year-old onto the Rule of 6 mix is unlikely to increase the risk significantly, provided one is observing social distancing rigorously.  It is entirely unsurprising that Sturgeon’s approval rating among the people of Scotland is vastly higher than Boris’s is among the electorate here. Meanwhile, apart from gloomy prognostications and dire warnings about what might happen if the virus got out of control, and threatening us all with the army and the possibility of £10,000 fines, the only practical outcome of Boris’s speech was to introduce a regulation requiring bars and restaurants to shut at 10.00pm.  It would appear that he has belatedly discovered that the virus only gets out of bed at 10.01 pm.

I have just had to draft an email to the 1600 or so of our U3A members who have email addresses to alert them to the fact that, unannounced by either Boris or the media, the Rule of 6 exemption whereby we could continue to run our interest groups with more than six members – not ‘educational’, not ‘business’, not (fairly obviously) ‘religious’, but (somewhat oddly) ‘charitable activities’ – has now been rescinded.  So all the work that has gone into preparing for groups of more than six to resume their activities in the rooms we lease in the Friends Meeting House has been in vain – at least where the next six months are concerned.   I thought it appropriate in the circumstances to quote two African proverbs in my email.  One from Ethiopia: ‘Don’t blame God for creating the tiger, instead thank him for not giving it wings’ (not to mention for encouraging tigers not to live in Ethiopia).  The other from the Congo: ‘No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.’

From David Maughan Brown in York: To mask or not to mask?

August 24th

So the ringmaster, who doubles as the lead-clown in the Tory circus tent, has folded the holiday one he pitched in the wilds of the Scottish countryside in the hope of inducing the Scots to hate him a little less, and is back on his version of the job.  Actually, suggesting that he either pitched or folded the tent himself is almost certainly an overstatement: the hard work is always done by someone else.  Having cleverly avoided being around to answer for the A-level results fiasco, Boris has popped up in time to reassure the parents of children in England not only that it is perfectly safe for their children to return to school, but that there is no need for them to wear face-masks when they do so.  He is obviously hoping that the same parents will have forgotten that he confidently reassured everyone, worried parents in particular, that the algorithm-generated A-level results were wholly reliable – “they’re robust, they’re good, they’re dependable for employers.”   So good, so robust, so dependable, in fact, that they had to be binned a few days after his robust reassurance because they just happened to be grossly unfair and discriminatory.   

It will almost certainly be no coincidence that the two leaders in the Western world who appear to have been most successful in their approach to Covid-19 have been women, Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ardern, and that, if one feels inclined to take the coronavirus policy of any of the four prime, or first, ministers in the UK seriously, it would be Nicola Sturgeon’s.   Sturgeon is following WHO advice on the wearing of face-masks in the communal areas of schools, but Boris knows better and asserts that they aren’t necessary.  In just the same way, Boris knew better than the WHO when it came to locking down and concentrating attention on tracking and tracing when the pandemic first arrived, and an estimated 20,000 deaths of predominantly elderly people resulted as a direct consequence.   It would, however, probably not be a good idea to bet the house, not even a very little Lego one, on our not being about to see another of Boris’s screeching U-turns.

The best compromise for Boris, given the latest round in the English culture war, this time relating to the singing, or otherwise, of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia!’ at the BBC Proms (of which more in a later entry), would probably be to accept that face-masks are a good idea, at least where singing is concerned, and relent on the masks in public spaces in schools in England.  That would allow him to distribute free Union Jack face-masks to all pupils in English schools (now that the Tories have discovered a forest of money-trees) and turn the return to school into a festival of ‘patriotism’ befitting the Tory circus tent.  Pupils could be encouraged march up and down the corridors wearing their masks and singing patriotic songs that glorify the Empire that still features so prominently in the New Year Honours the Queen awards every year.