from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Lonesome George and the Cowboy

Lonesome George

June 29 I enjoyed Nike in Katerini’s account of sleeping with an owl and a snake by her bed.  In her culture, these are choices full of classical meaning.  In my own more prosaic world, I do not instinctively turn to such mythical objects when in need of guidance or security.

I was raised in a Protestant denomination.  Methodists focus on words, whether spoken, read, preached or sung.  They do not employ three-dimensional symbols to embody spiritual verities or to keep us safe from Bunyan’s lions, dragons and darkness.   I do, nonetheless, keep two objects on my desk to guard my endeavours, albeit of an altogether more humdrum nature.  

The first of these is a small, carved, wooden tortoise whose provenance I have long forgotten.  I explained the connection between this animal and the lot of the long-distance writer in the entry for April 29.  I have an engagement with tortoises beyond the ownership of my pet Herodotus (Nike may note that I was stretching for a classical association).  Ten years ago, whilst still a university manager, I was sent to give a keynote speech at the remarkable Loja University in central Ecuador.  The organisers arranged for the speakers to visit the Galapagos Islands before the conference started.  There I met Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island giant tortoise, just two years before his untimely death at the age of 102.*  It is one thing encountering a tree that has survived over centuries, it is quite another gazing eye to eye with a creature that has moved so little and seen so much over so many years.

My second penates is quite different and much slighter.  It is a mass-produced, 6.5cm high plastic model of a cowboy, six shooter in each hand.  I don’t know where I found it, but it speaks to me at some unconscious level.  I must have owned such a toy as a small child.  Now it stands at the opposite pole to my other desk guardian.  The tortoise represents the slow daily slog that all scholarly writing requires.  But I have read book after article after manuscript where the routine has overwhelmed the inspiration.  Each page represents a dutiful journey between evidence and interpretation, all true, all hard won, but lacking any spark in either the prose or the argument.   It is far from easy to sit down day after day and attack the project, putting to flight mediocrity of thought or writing.  My cowboy with his guns reminds me of that requirement.

So it has been during the pandemic.  The tortoise element has not been so difficult.  For those already living in semi-lockdown, surrounded by sufficient creature comforts, the prohibition on movement has not seemed a practical problem.  The real threat is avoiding the descent into the Slough of Despond which faced Bunyan’s Christian.  Deprived of the stimulus of events, travel and fresh company, it becomes a challenge to generate the spark of energy and creativity during a day that begins and ends in the same place as the one before. 

I have to find the six-shooter in me, up for whatever drama and danger I can manufacture.

*In February of this year, naturalists claimed that after all they had found thirty near relatives.  Too late for George.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Mr Worldly Wiseman

Pilgrim’s Progress

June 26. Pilgrim’s Progress has featured in the recent entries on Beveridge and the Welfare State.  For those who do not keep the text by their bed, here is a taste of John Bunyan’s writing.  The first part of the book was published in 1678, following twelve years in Bedford prison for refusing to cease unlicensed preaching. 

Christian abandons his family and the City of Destruction and sets off, carrying his burden, to find salvation.  Along the way he encounters a series of temptations and dangers:

Now, as Christian was walking solitarily by himself, he espied one afar off come crossing over the field to meet him, and their hap was to meet just as they were crossing the way of each other. The gentleman’s name that met him was Mr. Worldly Wiseman, he dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy, a very great town, and also hard by from whence Christian came….

Worl.  … I see the dirt of the slough of Despond is upon thee, but that slough is but the beginning of the sorrows that do attend those that go on in that way: hear me, I am older than thou, though art like to meet with in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and in a word death, and what not?  These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many testimonies. 

Worl.  Why in yonder village (the village is named Morality) there dwells a gentleman, whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, (and a man of a very good name) that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine are, from their shoulders, yea, to my knowledge, he had done a great deal of good in this way: Ay, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens.  To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently.  His house is not quite a mile from this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself…

So Christian tuned out of his way to go to Mr. Legality’s  house for help: but behold, when he was got now hard by the hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it was the next way side, did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still; and wotted not what to do.  Also his burden now seemed heavier to him than when he was in his way.  There came also flashes of fire out of the hill that made Christian afraid that he should be burned: here therefore he sweat, and did quake for fear.  And now he began to be sorry that he had taken Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s counsel; and with that he saw Evangelist coming to meet him; at the sight also of whom he began to blush for shame.  So Evangelist drew nearer and nearer, and coming up to him, he looked at him with a severe and dreadful countenance…  (Penguin 2008 edn, pp. 20-23).

As the pandemic visits our lives, we are all us faced with ‘wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils,’ to say nothing of ‘nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and in a word death, and what not.’ The characters, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, Civility, and the places, Carnal Policy and Morality, may find their counterpart in people and locations you know yourself.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Permanence and Planning

Tom Scholar

June 17.  The clue is in the qualifier.  The heads of civil service departments in the UK are called ‘Permanent Secretaries.’  They are in charge of bodies of public employees whose tenure is independent of changes in the political complexion of government.

Two of the most senior members of this cadre, Tom Scholar, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, and Alex Chisholm, Permanent Secretary at the all-powerful Cabinet Office and formerly at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, were interviewed on Monday of this week by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on their preparations for a pandemic. 

Dominic Cummings said earlier this year that he wanted to recruit to the civil service “some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole.”  Scholar, the son of a knighted civil servant, fought his way out of the hell hole that was Dulwich College public school and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Chisholm struggled up from Downside public school and a degree (in history) from Merton College, Oxford.  They are in charge of sections of a civil service that has so far resisted attempts to politicise its membership.

The question is, what are the demonstrable gains from this oasis of institutional stability?  Over the last three years, there has been an obvious need for a locus of stable management of the affairs of a troubled state.  There have been three Chancellors of the Exchequer since 2016, one of whom, Philip Hammond, ended up having the whip withdrawn and retiring from Parliament.  The Department for Business has also had three heads, and the Cabinet Office, the central unit for co-ordinating the government machine, no less than five in four years.

What the PAC wanted to know, was whether the Permanent Secretaries had formed plans for the management of the economy during a pandemic, following the Cygnus simulation exercise in October 2016, which had modelled a scenario in which 50% of the population was infected by a flu-like virus.

It had cause to suppose that the civil service had a particular responsibility for this kind of planning.  The politicians were living day-to-day through the prolonged crisis set in motion by the Brexit referendum in June 2016.  Ideological commitment overwhelmed long-term thinking.  Ministers ate, drank and dreamed the pursuit of negotiating deadlines.  Cohorts of civil servants were taken from their normal duties to work with Brussels, but compared to their political masters, there remained wide areas of the government machine with the time and space to engage with medium and long-term futures.

The answer to the Committee’s question was that there had been no planning for the economic impact of a pandemic.  The measures taken once the real thing arrived were made up as the crisis deepened.  The chair of the PAC pronounced herself “quite dumbstruck” by this omission.  “Could you do us a follow-up note on the lack of economic planning for the pandemic?” she said.  Chisholm confirmed that he would. 

Countries which have done best in this crisis have been characterised not by their particular political complexion, but rather by their capacity to have in place and then fine-tune long-term plans for crisis management.  When the history of the UK’s lamentable performance is written, it will not be just the politicians who are in the firing line.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Lockdown Fortnight.

26 May. All of us are looking towards the future, seeking to understand how we can draw lessons from the crisis and build upon them.

This is my modest proposal.

From 2021 there shall be a legally-defined annual Lockdown Fortnight.

The Lockdown Fortnight will fall in the last week of June and the first week of July.  During that period, with exceptions listed below, every household will be required to observe full lockdown.

The Lockdown Fortnight will have four functions:

  • It will serve as a memorial for the tens of thousands who lost their lives in the 2020 UK pandemic, and for the health workers who risked their lives in supporting the afflicted.  Clapping is not enough;
  • It will serve as an annual reminder that we need to be prepared for the recurrence of a global pandemic. Countries, such as South Korea, that had an active memory of the SARS epidemic, were much better prepared for Covid19 than those without such a memory.  During the lockdown the government will be required to make an annual statement of preparedness;
  • It will create a pollution-free interval to remind us of what we have lost and have a right to regain;
  • It will provide a planned break from the distractions of late modernity in order that individuals recollect themselves and the importance of their immediate social networks (and also do the necessary home repairs that otherwise are left undone across the year).

Because it will be planned and of a fixed duration, the disorder and stress of the current crisis can be largely avoided. Before the Lockdown Fortnight, supplies can be purchased, encounters with family and friends can take place, hairdressers can be visited.  Any other practical difficulties can be borne for only fourteen days.

During Lockdown Fortnight, the only permitted movement will be such as can be conducted on foot, or on a bicycle (powered or otherwise).  The only long-distance travel will be pilgrimages to the shrine of St Cummings the Martyr in Durham (and/or Barnard Castle).

The Lockdown Fortnight will be timed for the period of maximum daylight in Britain. It will incorporate the May Bank Holidays which will be moved forward for this purpose. The school summer half terms will be extended to two weeks and also be moved to this period.

The event is partly based on the Potters Fortnight, which was still functioning when I started work at Keele University.  This was a relic of an industrial holiday, when the potbanks were shut for maintenance, and when, before the 1956 Clean Air Act, it was the only time when you could see across the city.

Exemptions to the Lockdown Fortnight will be:

  • Health and related workers, though A and E business may again decline if the pubs are shut.
  • Hospitality workers serving overseas visitors, who will be welcome to bring their currency to Britain and spend it at otherwise un-crowded hotels and bars (on production of a passport).   This will represent a temporary but annual reminder of what we have lost with Brexit-inspired hostility to all foreigners. Britons travelling abroad will have to leave and return before and after the lockdown.
  • Home-working will be permitted although no household will be allowed more than 10 hours video conferencing a week (5 work, 5 social).  Wherever possible factories should arrange their annual maintenance for this period (see Potters Fortnight above). 
  • Sporting fixtures will be closed (the football season will be over), except Wimbledon on the grounds that it provides televised entertainment for those in lockdown.

The Lockdown Fortnight would be disruptive, but perhaps we have learnt this year that unbroken continuity of event and practice can oppose wisdom and self-knowledge. There may be a small net hit on the national GDP, but everything now is a balance between cost and benefit. See above for the gains.

The regulations will be rigorously policed by the Priti Patel Compassionate Enforcement Agency.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: the bad news and the good news…

May 19. Last week two differing visions of the post-covid19 world were published.

The first was by the distinguished political philosopher John Gray in his ‘Unherd’ blog (thanks to my friend John Naughton for this).

https://unherd.com/author/john-gray/

He answered the question in his title, ‘How Apocalyptic is Now?’ with a resounding affirmative.  The pandemic fitted into an established pattern.

‘history is repeatedly punctuated by discontinuities in which what was gained is irrecoverably lost. Whether because of war or revolution, famine or epidemic — or a deadly combination, as in the Russian Civil War — the sudden death of ways of life is a regular occurrence. Certainly there are periods of incremental improvement, but they rarely last longer than two or three generations. Progress occurs in interludes when history is idling.’

After dwelling at length on the millions of lives lost after the Russian Revolution, ranging from civil war to state-induced famine, he reached the modern day full of pessimism:

‘Much in the way we lived before the virus is already irretrievable … More than government-enforced policies, public attitudes will prevent any reversion to pre-Covid ways. Covid-19 may not be an exceptionally lethal pathogen, but it is fearful enough. Soon temperature checks will be ubiquitous and surveillance via mobile phones omnipresent. Social distancing, in one form or another, will be entrenched everywhere beyond the home. The impact on the economy will be immeasurable. Enterprises that adapt quickly will thrive, but sectors that relied on pre-Covid lifestyles — pubs, restaurants, sporting events, discos and airline travel, for example — will shrink or disappear. The impact on the “knowledge classes” will be far-reaching. Higher education operates on a model of student living that social distancing has rendered defunct. Museums, journalism, publishing and the arts all face similar shocks. Automation and artificial intelligence will wipe out swathes of middle class employment. Accelerating a trend that has been underway for decades, the remains of bourgeois life will be swept away.

By contrast, the American writer Rebecca Solnit wrote a long op ed piece in the Guardian. 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/14/mutual-aid-coronavirus-pandemic-rebecca-solnit

She listed multiple examples of how the crisis had been met by community action in different parts of the world, including Britain, and looked forward to a transformed society:  ‘I sometimes think that capitalism is a catastrophe constantly being mitigated and cleaned up by mutual aid and kinship networks, by the generosity of religious and secular organisations, by the toil of human-rights lawyers and climate groups, and by the kindness of strangers. Imagine if these forces, this spirit, weren’t just the cleanup crew, but were the ones setting the agenda.’ 

As with Gray, she viewed the crisis as a turning-point in history, but with a quite different outcome:

The pandemic marks the end of an era and the beginning of another – one whose harshness must be mitigated by a spirit of generosity. An artist hunched over her sewing machine, a young person delivering groceries on his bicycle, a nurse suiting up for the ICU, a doctor heading to the Navajo nation, a graduate student hip-deep in Pyramid Lake catching trout for elders, a programmer setting up a website to organise a community: the work is under way. It can be the basis for the future, if we can recognise the value of these urges and actions, recognise that things can and must change profoundly, and if we can tell other stories about who we are, what we want and what is possible.

Take your pick.  What may be said is that such speculation, though understandable, is premature.  The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is said to have replied ‘too soon to tell’ when Richard Nixon asked him whether he thought the French Revolution was good thing.*  So also with our present drama in this third week in May 2020.

What may also be said is that Gray’s determinism seems out of place.  Post-modernism has taught us to mistrust cyclical views of history, the notion that liberalism, imperialism, capitalism, the proletariat, Corbyn’s Labour Party, must eventually prevail, irrespective of individual intention.  Gray’s negative version of this trope, that all plans for progress will regularly be overthrown by versions of the apocalypse, belongs to that tradition.  If a more benign vision is to transpire, it will be the outcome of conscious, determined action in the aftermath.   The coronavirus by itself will not guarantee progress.

*In their tedious instinct to overthrow a good story, historians have now suggested that the exchange was a translation error.  Zhou Enlai, speaking in 1972, may have thought the question was about the French Days of May of 1968.  More likely, less fun.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Why are some people so unconcerned?

22 April: My daughter, her husband and my grand-daughter live in Florida. My daughter is a nurse. She doesn’t need to be told that covid19 is serious. She knows that very well – and has to go to work every day in that knowledge. Her fellow citizens in Florida however, including the Governor, don’t seem to be that concerned at all. Even when the Governor, one of the last Governors to do so, called for a ‘stay-at-home’, his order listed “essential services” to encompass “attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship” – and indeed, he actively encouraged people to attend Easter services. This order was supposed to be in force from 3 April to 30 April but, surprise, surprise, he opened various beaches on 17 April. Sure enough, people flocked to them provoking a rather unpleasant hashtag trend ‘FloridaMorons’ – and there are all sorts of people tweeting that they have a right to respond to the virus in any way they please without being labelled in this way.

Apart from having a vested interest in Florida being rendered as safe a possible during this time, I am fascinated by what makes people scared of one virus and not others. I am reading a book called Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond  by Sonia Shah and she asks the question: “why do some pathogens provoke yawns while others trigger panic?”  Americans have not been particularly disturbed by Lyme disease, dengue (which, by the way, is likely to become endemic in Florida), malaria or rabies but they were absolutely terrified by Ebola. The terror took on a name “Ebolanoia”. Shah concludes that it didn’t seem to matter “that Ebola was easily and simply avoided”, it was “its untamable nature that was at the root of the panic.” Corona virus statistics clearly don’t frighten and the death rate, except for specific categories, is relatively low. So far.

Polls in Britain show that the British are concerned, support the lock-down measures and reduced train and car travel suggests people are obeying the rules (#TheEconomist, 18 April)

One can’t resist pondering whether the difference lies, partly, in the messaging from the leaders in the two countries. In Britain, the Government’s message is unequivocal: “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” – and it is repeated all the time on all media. Maybe it is the positioning of ‘protect the NHS’ that strikes such a strong chord. It seems to me to be an excellent communication.

In sharp contrast, in the United States, the messaging from the glorious leader has been confusing, obfuscating and sometimes, downright wrong.

We know that this pandemic will change the world in many ways, unknowable right now but we should call governments to account for their unpreparedness for this pandemic. That is something that should concern us all. It shouldn’t happen again quite like this. I recommend  Shah’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/sonia_shah_how_to_make_pandemics_optional_not_inevitable

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: on National Pride …

April 21stBritish readers will recall the carefully crafted address by the Queen on 5th April.  It studiously avoided saying anything about the Government whose leader had so embarrassed her over the proroguing of Parliament last Autumn.  Instead it concentrated on national character:

I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.  And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.

The question of whether we still have any right to take a national pride in the response to coronavirus has been thrown into relief by the revelations in the press over the weekend, particularly the 5,000-word piece in the Sunday Times.

The generalised ‘attributes of self-discipline, quiet good-humoured resolve and fellow-feeling’ remain valid.  Indeed, they have proved stronger than the Government initially feared as it hesitated about imposing a lock-down.  The street protests against restrictions on movement in the USA reported this week demonstrates what can happen in the absence of such resolve.  That said, there are also worrying reports about a sudden growth of domestic abuse inside closed-down families which may yet disfigure the celebration of fellow-feeling.

In terms of public policy, however, shame is the more appropriate sentiment.  Just ask yourself this question, of all the countries fighting the pandemic, which are seen as a model to be followed?  South Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany and some others.  No-one is viewing the daily British news conferences for lessons about what they should be doing.

It is not as though we have no inherited strengths.  We have an economy strong enough to withstand emergency bail-outs worth many billions of pounds.  We have a sophisticated production and distribution system which has ensured, unlike many developing countries, that there is still food in the shops.  We have a health service which, in contrast to Trump’s America, covers the whole population.  And once we led the world in the specific field of pandemic resolution.  No longer.  According to the Sunday Times:

“Several emergency planners and scientists said that the plans to protect the UK in a pandemic had once been a priority and had been well funded for the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But then austerity cuts struck. “We were the envy of the world,” the source said, “but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years, when there were more pressing needs.”  [to judge from a TV interview I saw, that ‘source’ is Sir David King, a former Chief Scientific Officer]

The planning had atrophied.  The funding had been cut.  And once the crisis began, the wrong decisions were taken by a Cabinet whose members had been appointed solely on the basis of their attitude to Brexit.  Its leader fulfilled all the expectations which his career had predicted:

“There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there,” the adviser said. “And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”

What we still have is a world-class scientific community (though universities, including Imperial, are going to be very hard hit by a combination of the pandemic and Brexit).  It may yet be that those working on a vaccine at Oxford and elsewhere will come up with the solution that will save the world.  Then, and only then, will we have a cause for national pride in how we responded.      

from John F. in Tadcaster, UK: the pandemic economy in Madrid.

The pandemic economy. Gigi was a surprising name for an Iberian ham cutter –a nattily suited Romanian, and definitely a man – who was renting out my garage parking spot. But then his Oklahoman colleague at the ham cutting business was surprising too. Glen had moved from a marketing role at a blue-chip American bank to being the office manager for Emilio García Ortigosa, a colourful Spanish personality show with an appropriate acronym, EGO, which he used as his company name. Glen saw no contradiction in being a practising Jew and the purveyor of cured Iberian ham, professionally cut, served and presented, with considerable ceremony and explanations, by trained ham cutters. Happily, this was an irony we could joke about together, the first of many.

The company provided a package deal, so to speak, for restaurants and high-end hotels around Madrid and beyond. Gigi was the star cutter and trained the junior ham cutters. This is a business model that would be difficult to explain succinctly outside Spain, where ham-cutting is a respected trade, combining artistry, performance, understanding of a high-quality artisan product and long hours putting up with the public. Pretty much the gastronomic equivalent of bull-fighting.  EGO’s ham cutting business was doing perfectly well, until eating out, a staple of Spanish life, became one of Covid 19’s first casualties. All restaurants were required to close under the State of Alarm imposed in the middle of March.

A little more than a month before, Gigi, Glen and I had been out together to celebrate our new rental arrangement. A bout of flu somewhere in China in no way impinged on the important business at hand: we were virtual strangers, united by the flimsiest of bonds, but this was more than enough for three adoptive residents to enjoy Madrid, a true party city. We had a splendid evening at a smart hotel bar, gobbling down EGO’s excellent ham as it was sliced, with actorly flourish, by one of Gigi’s protégés.

With the closure of Madrid’s night life, EGO’s business went into hibernation with no forecast as to when the revenue stream would start up again. What to do with the master cutter’s snazzy motor? Leaving it on the street in Madrid’s Latin quarter was not a sensible option. The neighbourhood is popular with anarchists, and the nearby square still houses the headquarters of the obstreperous CNT trade union, still remembered from the Civil War and the focal point for anti-fascist rallies on key political anniversaries. That is not to say that Gigi’s large black BMW would be any safer elsewhere, but he was a proud and protective owner. This was our dilemma; the owner of the BMW had no cash, but the owner of the parking space needed to make a return on her investment, too.

Some currencies, however, can acquire liquidity. Which is how I ended up lurking on the third and lowest floor of an underground carpark waiting for a Romanian ham cutter. 30 vacuum-packed envelopes of Iberian ham changed hands, and the rent for this month was sorted. Next month might be a good one for sheep’s cheese.

Guest blogger: Henrietta in Madrid

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: a world with and without antibiotics

April 15. Memories of Contagion 2: a world with and without antibiotics – all in 80 years.

1941. Kings African Rifles from Nyasaland in Somalia. My father, Mervyn Smithyman, on the left.

I fear we have become complacent about the power of science to discover ways to deal with diseases that attack us: bacteria that are evolving all the time. What makes us think that we will discover a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19?

In 1941, My father’s life was saved by the use of one of the first antibiotics, Sulfapyridine, which was called M&B (May and Baker). It was also used on Winston Churchill in 1943 when he contracted pneumonia.

My father, on the other hands was a lowly officer with the Kings African Rifles (a battalion of Nyasaland askaris) stationed at Zeila on the Gulf of Aden in British Somalia.

He said, ‘When I was on that line at Zeila, the conditions were very poor, the town had no latrines. When the tide went out the miles of sand were exposed. The tide would come in and clear out the mess and rubbish.’

‘In Zeila I contracted bacillary dysentery, and I was very sick. The Colonel sent an ordinary two-seater plane to evacuate me. I lay next to the pilot. They landed me at the Dire Dawa army hospital, in Ethiopia. I was in a coma. Apparently, they dug my grave. In my coma it seemed as if there was a man up there with a machine gun directed at my stomach. The doctor was a fellow from Durban. He told me afterwards that he had these sample M & B pills, May & Baker. He said to the nurse, “I’ve had these samples and they may be useful in dysentery; this poor chap is going to die, we might as well try it.”‘

‘Well, I was obviously very fit and strong at the time, very resistant, so with a few pills I was OK. I woke up one morning and there was no pain. I saw the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: it was the blue sky and a small cloud out of the window of the hospital tent. But I had a terrible pain in my shoulder and, as I slowly got better in the hospital, they said that I had a ‘winged scapula’. So I was not fit for army duty and had to be sent back south with the wounded.’

In the book Pandemic by Sonia Shah, I read that we are currently close to the situation where antibiotics will be ineffective against the superbugs that armouring themselves against attack and are spreading throughout the world. The internet is full of stories of super-resistant bacteria that are found in farm animals and people across many countries. One called the mcr-1 superbug is causing concern, ‘Health officials fear the mcr-1 gene, carried by a highly mobile piece of DNA called a plasmid, will soon be found in bacteria already resistant to all or virtually all other types of antibiotics, potentially making infections untreatable.’

Part of the problem is the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals which has allowed bacteria to develop resistance.

https://www.the-hospitalist.org/hospitalist/article/121560/antimicrobial-resistant-infections/superbug-infections-rise-no-antibiotic

Most frightening of all is the NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-ß-lactamase-1) gene that was found in bacteria in 2008 and is now widespread in India. With this strain the bacteria becomes resistant to the most powerful antibiotics. ‘The NDM-1 gene allows the bacterium to produce an enzyme that neutralizes the activity of these antibiotics … The World Health Organization is concerned that NDM-1 could see in “the doomsday scenario of a world without antibiotics.” ‘

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/197616#what-is-ndm-1

If NDM-1 crosses to other bacteria, further diseases will become extremely difficult to treat. Medical operations will become almost impossible to perform safely.

Eighty years ago, antibiotics were like a miracle in the world, going on to save millions of us. But we have abused this most amazing medical discovery and now we are facing a possible pandemic that will make Covid-19 look like a side-show.

I owe my life to M&B. My father travelled down Africa to the army hospital in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. While convalescing, he met and married my mother.