From David Maughan Brown in York: Investing in a whelk stall?

August 16th

In the unlikely event of future political scientists or historians perusing this diary in future years, they might, depending on their political leanings, be inclined to start making deductions about the effect of lockdown on the mental health of those who have been locked down.  Her Majesty’s Government, duly elected by a mature electorate to grace the illustrious benches of the Palace of Westminster, the Mother of Parliaments, in December 2019 couldn’t possibly have been as utterly hopeless as diarists have tried to make out.  The grumpy carping must have been an irrationally resentful response on the part of mentally fragile people, who happened to have nothing better to do than write diaries, to the wholly rational decision on the part of government to lock them down for their own good.  The tempting alternative would have been to allow a ‘herd immunity’ strategy to sort them out and save billions on state pensions at the same time.  You can never please some people.

A rapid run-through of a random day’s coverage of ‘Home’ news, in this instance yesterday’s, August 15th, by the Independent, a broadly liberal and by no stretch of the imagination radically leftist newspaper (not that ‘paper’ has much to do with an exclusively digital compilation of news-reporting and commentary) might give the historians pause to reconsider that diagnosis.   With the exception of a nod in the direction of VJ-Day, a story about a man who nearly lost a leg as a result of being bitten by a ‘false widow’ spider, and an article on the implications for the Arts of a premature termination of the current furlough arrangements for employees, the rest of the coverage focuses entirely on four issues:  the quarantine regulations, in relation to France in particular; the government’s handling of various NHS related issues; the A-Level debacle; and the on-going situation with cross-channel migrants.  I’ve written about these individually (in some instances several times), but the cumulative impact when they are all extensively covered on the same day is impressive.

The photograph on the front page is of the queues of people at the airport at Nice trying desperately to get a flight back to UK in time for them to arrive before the magic 4am deadline.  The editorial takes this as its topic for the day, suggesting very mildly that, given the implications of 14 days of quarantine, a collective shrug on the part of government and ‘Well, you knew the risks when you went’, isn’t good enough. It goes on to suggest that 30 hours notice of a deadline, generally poor communication, and weak quarantine enforcement, in a context in which the Cummings episode shows that the rules apply to some but not others, aren’t conducive to public confidence or compliance.  For my own part, the 4.00am Saturday deadline left me wondering which particular bit of science the government was following that dictated that anyone who set foot back on British soil at 3.59am was bound to be Covid-free, but anyone who did so at 4.01am needed to go into quarantine for 14 days to protect the rest of us.

Where the NHS is concerned the reports focus on the government’s declared intention to keep the outcomes of inquiries into the Covid-related deaths of 620 health and care workers secret; the recall from NHS hospitals of 200,000 defective gowns, following closely on the heels of the recall of the 50 million defective face masks; and the quiet removal of 1.3 million tests from the running total of coronavirus tests nationally as a tacit admission of double-counting.

The on-going debacle over the A-level ‘results’ was covered in four separate articles, one of which predicted similar levels of chaos when the GCSE ‘results’, based on the same algorithm are released this coming week.   It is anticipated that up to 2 million results are likely to be downgraded, with the examining bodies already swamped by appeals against the A-level outcomes.  As one commentator put it in relation to the A-levels: ‘Unless Gavin Williamson [the Secretary of State for Education] can set up an appeals procedure that resolves the worst cases within days, he will destroy any illusions that his government could run a whelk stall.’

One article on the migrants who have been crossing the English Channel in small boats in their tens and twenties during the calm weather was written by May Bulman, and focuses on our bombastic Prime Minister’s assertion that “this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do.”  Bulman draws on legal opinion in pointing out that there isn’t any legal obligation on asylum seekers to seek asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, and that they aren’t, in fact, committing any unlawful act in crossing the channel in small boats to seek asylum.  She argues that making the crossing is neither ‘bad’ nor ‘stupid’ if they are seeking asylum and choosing a country in which they would be joining known communities, and there are no alternative routes to do so.  Bulman quotes Frances Timberlake, coordinator at the Refugee Women’s Centre in Calais and Dunkirk, in this regard: ‘I would use stupid to describe most of the policies [in this regard] the UK has proposed so far, which have totally failed.’

The anti-migrant rhetoric is obviously intended to pander to the xenophobic right wing of the Tory party and the populace as a whole.  Any one of the other three debacles – the mishandling of the response to Covid-19 and its impact on the NHS, the A-levels disaster, and the quarantine issue – should, one might have thought, be enough to sink any government without trace in the opinion polls.   Future historians, even those sceptical about the mental health of those of us who have been self-isolating for five months, seem likely to agree.  But, while Johnson’s own credit rating is falling, the polls suggest that responses to his government as a whole seem to remain astonishingly little affected.  So anyone up for investing in a government-run whelk stall? 

From David Maughan Brown in York: Quarantine again

July 17th

This week our Sheffield grandchildren are with their parents at a cottage in Anglesey and our York grandchildren, having spent a week near the sea in Galway, are now similarly ensconced in a cottage in a valley somewhere in the west of Ireland.   Last year we were with them all in a country house surrounded by fields of artichokes near Morlais in Brittainy.  We are still taking social distancing very seriously so are having to share their holidays vicariously via Face Time and Whatsapp, and very much appreciating the fact that they are taking the trouble to share them with us, and, once again, thankful for the difference technology has made to the experience of the past few months.  Within a few minutes of arriving at the cottage in Anglesey our two granddaughters, aged 9 and 7, were showing us around the cottage with palpable excitement, one giving us the guided tour of the ground floor, the other of the first floor.   The family in Ireland have to climb a significant hill get any signal so we are seeing and hearing much less of them.

The excitement of the children at the prospect of holidays, their anticipation and enjoyment of new places and new experiences, are infectious; their crushing disappointment if the holidays they have been looking forward to have to be cancelled for any reason is equally contagious.   Our two Cape Town granddaughters look forward all through the year to the week they have been able for the last few years to spend at our timeshare, sometimes with us, in the Drakensberg in Kwazulu-Natal.  So the bad news had to be broken to them well in advance this year that Covid-19 had resulted in the resort being closed and none of us being able to go.  I can imagine how devasted they would have been had they counted down the number of sleeps until their holiday, packed their bags and gone to bed early the night before their crack of dawn departure for the airport, and then discovered when they woke up that the government had during the night issued a decree that meant their holiday had to be cancelled after all.   I feel for all the families to whom that has happened in UK today as a result of our government’s sudden decision to impose two weeks’ of quarantine on anyone arriving back from Spain from today.   Many parents will be in serious need of a holiday after months of lockdown and home schooling, and will be disappointed and angry too, but it is the bitter disappointment and bewilderment of the children that strikes the strongest chord.

We know that Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are both geographically challenged.  Cummings thinks that London and County Durham are indistinguishable when it comes to rules about social isolation.   Boris was reported by The Times in 2012 to have thought that Brussels was in Spain; he referred to Africa as a ‘country’ at the Conservative Party conference in 2016; and he had to be corrected by Theresa May at a cabinet meeting in 2018 when he repeatedly confused Yemen with Lebanon, a mere 1400 miles distant, in spite of being Foreign Secretary at the time.   So it would be too much to expect him to be able to distinguish between different parts of Spain.  As it happens, Las Palmas, which is included in the blanket quarantine rules, in spite of having a significantly lower Covid-19 infection rate than UK, is almost exactly the same distance from Barcelona, where there is a spike of infections, as Yemen is from the Lebanon.  The Balearic and Canary Islands all have much lower rates of infection than we do, and one might expect people living on an island to be able to recognise other islands when they see them.  So what does the government think it is doing repeating the stupidity of forcing people coming from areas with significantly lower infection rates than ours to quarantine themselves for two weeks after arriving here?

Belgium has distinguished the six regions in Spain where the Covid-19 spikes have occurred from the rest of Spain in its response to the surge of infections in Spain.  If our government can draw a distinction between Leicester and Coventry, 25 miles apart, when it comes to infection spikes and regulatory responses, why can’t it draw a distinction between, for example, Las Palmas and Tenerife on the one hand, and Barcelona and Zaragoza on the other?  I suspect that there are two reasons for this.  One is that they aren’t interested in fine distinctions:  all ‘foreigners’ (as a polite generic term for a plethora of racist sobriquets) are inherently threatening and to be distrusted, so there’s no point in distinguishing between Brits coming back from different parts of a country run by foreigners.  The other is that the motivation behind this illogical, abrupt and very contentious imposition of a blanket quarantine may well be very similar to the reason for the last one.  Simon Calder discloses in an article in today’s Independent that Dominic Cummings phoned The Times shortly after his return from his notorious visit to Durham to let them know about the imminent imposition of the blanket quarantine.  The aim, it is said, had much more to do with distracting attention from the adverse publicity being given to the government’s lethally carefree treatment of care-homes than it had to do with people arriving from other countries.  If that is true, it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that last night’s abrupt implementation of another quarantine had equally little to do with the safety of UK citizens and was intended, rather, to distract attention from the fuss around the Intelligence and Safety Committee’s Russia report.  Whatever the reasons, the adults whose holiday plans have been ruined can always vote for a different government in four years’ time.   It is the bitterly disappointed children, abruptly denied their summer holiday on the beaches of the Canary Islands, I feel most sorry for.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: A down-under political story of our time…

July 15. Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of our time: of quarantine, of pride coming before a fall, of stupidity and of obfuscation. It’s a story also of political intrigue. This is all alleged, of course. Hopefully, in time, all will be revealed (but not if some politicians can stop it). Here it is.

All overseas passengers have to go into quarantine for 14 days upon entry into Australia. This is done at the port of their arrival and they are allocated accommodation in certain designated hotels.

Recently, Australia started accepting more international travellers. They were arriving into Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. In most cases, there has not been a problem. In most states, the police have been involved in making sure that the rules are observed by patrolling the hotels. In Victoria, the government initially requested assistance from the police but within a few hours changed their minds and cancelled the request.

Instead, it is alledged, a Victorian minister decided to give contracts, without tender, to 3 security firms using private contractors. It is alleged that the minister in charge had some sort of ‘relationship’ or knowledge of the industry. Very soon it became apparent that the security guards were not doing their jobs. They were not trained. Some said they had had 3 minutes training. Taxpayers were often charged for ‘ghost’ shifts.

A review of the security guard industry revealed: ‘lowly paid (workers), regularly lacked English-language skills, and are often so poorly trained they do not perform the basic functions of their job’.

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/security-industry-review-exposes-little-training-sham-contracting-20200704-p5590f.html

What we do know is that within a very short time a cluster of COVID-19 cases popped up related to those supposedly quarantine individuals. The guards got infected and took the virus home to their multi-generational households.

Journalists started investigating and found out that the security guards were ineffective. An understatement. It is alleged that they let the passengers go shopping, go out for meals (using Ubers) and go into one another’s rooms. Most salacious of all there is the allegation that some of the guards had intimate relations with those quarantined. I am not sure where lack of training overlaps with lack of common sense. Anyway, by the time action was taken, it was too late. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Community infection was rife. From having almost no active cases, Victoria jumped to 70 and then almost 300 per day.

Then on July 13, the Age newspaper released the information from leaked emails showing that the government was aware of the problem within 24 hours of the launch of the quarantine program: ‘Top bureaucrats warned senior health officials at the beginning of the Andrews government’s botched hotel quarantine scheme that security guards were ill-equipped for the work and demanded police be called in to take control. Needless to say, nothing was done.

Oh, another thing. The Victorian State government used the numbers of these private contractors (1,300) to bolster their ‘Working for Victoria’ program of getting people (in theory unemployed) back into jobs …EXCEPT these contactors already had jobs – “The office of the responsible minister, Martin Pakula, confirmed on Wednesday that any worker employed in a government-funded job as a result of the pandemic could be classified as being placed under the Working for Victoria scheme.”

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/working-for-victoria-quarantine-hotel-guards-pumped-up-job-scheme-numbers-20200708-p55aa3.html

Now, Victoria has gone into crisis mode: total lockdown in many suburbs around Melbourne. In particular, some high-rises have positive cases. Tonight’s news is that there are 108 cases in 32 residential care homes. The defence force has been called in to help.

Not long ago, Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, had made a fly-away comment that he wondered why Victorians would want to visit South Australia when they could stay in Victoria. Well, Victorians began to leave as fast as they could: to escape Victoria before the borders were closed. Yesterday, four young stowaways were discovered on a Victorian freight train trying to escape into South Australia.

On July 2nd, Daniel Andrews announced a judicial inquiry into this mess up, which he called a “public health bushfire”. (We are very aware of the dangers of bushfires this year…). Those who are sceptical will say this is a perfect way to refuse to discuss the failures until the report is tabled in September – maybe it will be forgotten by then – perhaps overwhelmed by further acts of stupidity. Meanwhile, no one will take responsibility, except the Premier, who is looking very rattled.

What we all know is that this virus does not observe closed borders and it’s extremely virulent. Now it is making its way into New South Wales. So far, we in South Australia, have not had any new cases, but watch this space.

Last comment: Daniel Andrews is the bright-spark Premier who has decided to sign a Belt and Road agreement with China against all advice from the Federal Government and against all common sense!

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/andrew-flags-fresh-bri-deal-vows-to-stay-the-course-on-china-ties-20200609-p550y2.html

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: apple chapati for my mother-in-law

apple chapati

Apple Chapati. My mother in law is 91 years old. She has stayed with me since 2010. After my daughter got married recently only two(oldies) of us are at home. She did not move out of the house except twice. Once when I moved to another city for a job and once when my daughter got married. Otherwise she is confined to her room. Past ten years she is following a fixed time table: have morning tea and breakfast, then read newspapers/books/magazine, followed by lunch, again read, have a nap, have evening coffee & snacks followed by dinner and then sleep. She manages on her own except taking bath on her own.

She is very much missing newspapers due to lockdown. The only question she asks is when this lockdown will get over. Even though she is almost in a quarantine situation since  more than 9 years as she can’t really move out, even then she is living her life as per her wish. Whoever comes to meet me, she meets and greets them enthusiastically, shares some stories with them and laugh with them. I am astonished and surprised over her approach towards life, her attitude with which she is living. Not complaining about getting bored. On the other hand I recieved many telephone calls from young and adults including some teachers that they are getting bored because of Lockdown. There is so much to learn from these kinds of old people. At least I am learning something.

She is very fond of eating tasty Indian food, especially sweets. Every alternate day we give her some sweets to eat. But yesterday there was no sweet at home. I was thinking what to do. Suddenly  I saw an apple lying in the fruit bowl, inviting me to eat it. An idea came to my mind – to use it to make Apple Chapati out of it and I made it. She liked it.

I used an apple, sugar, cardamom, ghee( butter), whole wheat flour, very little salt and milk. First I made a dough out of wheat flour, milk and a pinch of salt then made a filling(paste like) out of ghee, apple, sugar by heating it till you get a paste. Then follow the procedure as we follow to make a stuffed paratha. You may try one. Taste depends on the skills. I am sharing a picture of the final product with you.

My experiment was successful!

from Susan S. in Washington, DC: dreams and birthdays …

“ This is one birthday I’m not likely to forget.”

I woke this morning after the first fitful night of sleep since the C-19 pandemic began affecting my community.  Normally I don’t remember dreams, but last night was one awful pandemic-related dream after another.  I was in impossible and dangerous situations I couldn’t escape from.  Different people and different circumstances in each dream, but all with the same theme.   I read an article in the Washington Post recently about people experiencing frightening dreams.  I’m no expert, but this seems perfectly understandable.  We are all coping as best we can, and then at night the demons of our fears grab us in a way that our normal defenses protect us from during the day – most of the time.   One more consequential cost of what we are all experiencing worldwide.  

Last week my mother turned 97.  She lives in a retirement community that has different levels of care. Thank goodness she is still able to live independently in her own comfortable apartment.  Two residents in the assisted living unit recently died and several members of staff tested positive.  As a result, all residents in independent living have been quarantined in their apartments.   Today is day 27 of that quarantine.   We were able to get permission from the staff at her community to let a few members of the family who live nearby sing happy birthday to her – us standing in the open courtyard and Mom on the 2nd floor balcony of her apartment.   Here’s a photo.  Her comment after we’d sung and congratulated her – “ This is one birthday I’m not likely to forget.”

a neighbor’s statement of the times

My neighbor decided to make a statement about C-19.  Please see the photo of the large boxwoods for which he fashioned wire glasses and masks.  It’s drawn a lot of attention from people in the neighborhood who have been out in the good weather. 

Meanwhile at the national level, President Trump is exploiting the C-19 crisis to accomplish his right-wing political agenda so he can tout his accomplishments to his base support in the presidential election process.   He has relaxed regulation of mercury in the air and water; he is appropriating private land by imminent domain along the southern border to build a wall; he has banned immigration for 60 days, and the list goes on and on.  Former VP Biden’s fundraising is $187 million below Trump’s and Biden’s staff is not in place – he has 25% of the number of people Trump has running social media end of his operation.   Still, there are more of us than there are of them, and with the recent unity in the Democratic party, I remain hopeful.  

Keep well  and remain resilient.  

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: Quarantine!

My daughter Janhavi Welukar, Consultant Skill Education            B.L.S/LLB, MA in Public Policy and Masters in Development Management added the following story.

April 9. QUARANTINE has become the new “it” word. Everything in our lives has started revolving around the “quarantine” issues. Memes about quarantine have been flowing in like biblical flood since the start of lockdown period; your WhatsApp, Facebook Instagram everywhere there’s just one thing trending. In this time of social distancing Virtual has become the new Real. Screen time has increased since personal interaction has reduced. If you scroll through your feeds on social media, you’re bound to run into many perspectives of people about this quarantine period.

Some people are looking at the optimistic side for mindfulness and are of the view that maybe we all should practice this for more days in a year to enhance mindful living. There are retrospective talks about missing one’s loved ones and missing important things in life like the growing up years of your child, children or parents living abroad, maybe a broken relationship or friendship which was worth much more and many such thoughts and feelings. Some people said it’s a great reminder of how important nature and environment is and we are nothing but small specs of a much larger system. Some even said that it is an humbling experience as one understands the true meaning of life itself and what it means to live. Whichever medium you use today, you’re sure to have come across one of these things. But in my mind, it’s just intellectualizing things.

I dedicate today’s article to my mother and many such mothers across the world. My mother was a housewife. Every day when I returned from school, she would greet me with an enormously enthusiastic smile like I had just made the discovery of the century. She would then proceed to feed me healthy food (for which she would have to find new ways of garnishing to make it more interesting for me). Then it would be the time for my homework, sleep and then sending me off to play time. By this time, it would be the time for my father to come home. She would greet him so very lovingly and chit chat about his day and share a nice cup of tea with him and move on for dinner. Then sleep then again breakfast, send child and husband to school/office and the same routine would continue. She went out once a week to get the groceries and would get about 5 hours per month to do her own thing. And yet I never heard her say I am bored, or life is too monotonous, or I feel caged, or I am depressed, or any those fancy things we discuss today in times of quarantine.

One thing to note is that my mother lived in the pre-social media age. Our lives today are nothing different than a regular housewife’s life every day. But see the hoopla around it. This comes from a life of privilege and luxury of spending our time on our own terms without any restrictions. I can’t imagine how my mother and many other mothers kept their morale, energies and creativity high every day of their lives. The only thing they strive for is a happy and healthy family, good education for their children and prosperous lives of their children. Now imagine having to do all of this on a tight budget. Today I pledge that I dedicate all my 21 days or more to all those housewives who imbibed the simplicity within the complexity that we know as “life”. And henceforth promise to keep my spirits high, help people around me and find innovative ways of keeping my mind active and healthy for as long as I can.

from David Maughan Brown in York, UK: You couldn’t make it up.

April 3. You couldn’t make it up.  Our government has devised a cunning new strategy for meeting the imperative needs of the country it is supposed to be governing.   When you are busily demonstrating that you are manifestly incapable of meeting the (derisorily low) targets you have set yourself, and you realize that someone has noticed how badly you are doing, what do you do?  You just raise the target.  So, when it was pointed out to Boris that his 10,000 tests a day target wasn’t even close to being met, he dexterously raised the target to 25,000 a day.  When a couple of weeks later it becomes glaringly apparent that the 10,000 target still isn’t close to being met, Matt Hancock in his incapacity as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care earnestly, and with a spirited demonstration of commitment to the cause, raises the target to 100,000 tests a day.  Meanwhile Germany has been conducting 500,000 tests a day for weeks.

There’s a certain, but very limited, schadenfreude to be had from watching what was always going to be the most incompetent UK government in living memory, if not history, floundering in the face of the present emergency.  It is only very limited because their hopeless inadequacy is resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths.   If the sole criterion for appointment to a senior position in government is going to be support for Brexit, as it was with this cabinet, don’t expect the combined wit of the whole assemblage of Secretaries of State and other Ministers to be up to organizing the proverbial in a brewery, let alone to protecting the public in the face of a global pandemic.   Support for Brexit required nothing more than a blind determination to ignore all advice to the contrary and crusade on down some imaginary yellow brick road to what the ridiculed experts predicted would be a wrecked economy.   Not the ideal qualification for addressing the worst crisis the country has faced since World War II.  The irony is, of course, that a long predicted and entirely unplanned for virus has come along to show them exactly how to wreck an economy.  Not, needless to say, that that has so far managed to persuade any of them that it might be a good idea to postpone the deadline for the final departure from the EU beyond January 1st.  If their thinking is that the economy is already in its death throes so they might as well get on with performing the last rites, one could understand, if not sympathise with, it.  But they won’t be thinking that.  They will be convinced that, like Jesus raising Lazarus, their longed-for Brexit will somehow miraculously bring our economy back from the dead.

4th April. Apart from 90 minutes or so spent weeding between the autumn raspberries, which are beginning to show signs of life on our allotment, most of the day has been spent in a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfactory wrestle with IT.  Nothing could have been better calculated to highlight for me just how much we will miss by way of sun, wind and birdsong if, as seems likely, the government’s answer to the idiots who are gathering in parks and on beaches as soon as the sun comes out is to tighten the lockdown and force everybody to stay at home rather than going to their allotments.

Susan’s no more than middle-aged Apple laptop has been hobbling along geriatrically, behaving erratically during its long pauses for breath, so an update of the anti-virus software and a deep-clean (to use current virus terminology) is needed.  The software is purchased and uploaded with various difficulties I don’t need to go into, solved in part with the assistance of a brother in Swakopmund; the computer is scanned; 58 (!) assorted viruses are identified; and we arrive at the moment of eventual triumph when I get to press the button that delivers the coup the grace.  My finger hovering eagerly above the button, I discover I’m being set a multiple-choice test with three possible choices:  ‘Trust’, ‘Quarantine’, and ‘Repair’.

‘Trust’ is easily enough discarded as the wrong answer.  Why would I bother to go to all the trouble to identify the viruses as viruses, and therefore, presumably, in 1066 and all that terms ‘not a good thing’, if I was then going to ‘trust’ them?  Trust them to do what?  Behave themselves and stop messing around with the computer?  No way.  I’m in quarantine myself and am fully intending to get out as soon as possible, so ‘Quarantine’ looks to be a merely temporary solution.  Unless, of course, viruses somehow starve to death in quarantine, which seems unlikely.  The third option threatens to blow what is left of my mind.  ‘Repair’ a virus?  I don’t want to ‘repair’ the damn things, I want to nuke them.  If they aren’t doing as much damage as they are supposed to do, that can only be a ‘good thing’.  To abuse the overworked viral analogy once again, it’s as if the devilish Wuhan scientist who invented the Covid virus (according to the racist conspiracy theorists on social media) were to be asked to ‘repair’ it because it wasn’t killing enough decadent Westerners.  ‘Repair’ seems a straightforward enough word, but I obviously don’t understand English any longer, and don’t want to press either ‘Trust’ or ‘Quarantine’, so the finger, getting tired of hovering, takes the plunge and presses ‘Repair’.  A long wait later, the message comes back telling me that all the viruses can’t be repaired after all.  So out of sheer exhaustion I press ‘Quarantine’ and hope that whatever ‘quarantine’ means the viruses can’t escape from it as easily as the idiots in the parks.

5th April. We have just, for the fourth time in 24 hours, been told in some detail what the Queen is going to tell us when she broadcasts to the nation at 8.00pm tonight.  I admit to listening to the news too often – but that is beside the point.  This is only the fourth time in her 68 year reign, we are repeatedly being told, that she has broadcast to the nation at a time other than for her annual message at Christmas.  We are to understand from this that these are uncommon times and circumstances.  We might not have realized that if we hadn’t been told so often.  But what are all the tasters, tempters, teasers or trailers (take your pick) all about?  Who thinks it is a good idea that everyone should have heard what she is going to say up to ten times (if they listen to the news even more often than I do) before she gets to say it herself?

Is this a way of giving the plebs an opportunity to get their heads around a long string of words, some of which have more than two syllables, so that they can understand what she is saying when she finally gets to say it?  Is it, in other words, a variation on the ‘Get Brexit Done’ mode of communication:  things need to be said over and over and over again if people are to take any notice, and the Queen, bless her, can only say it once herself?   Or is it, much more simply, an attempt by the BBC to get their money’s worth out of Nicholas Witchell as their long-standing Royal Correspondent.   Witchell was appointed as Royal Correspondent in 1998, by which time Her Majesty was already 72.  It is my private suspicion that he must have been appointed in anticipation of her soon to be lamented departure.   Witchell’s lugubrious expression and doleful tones equip him perfectly to sound appropriately funereal when the time comes.  In the meantime he serves the very useful purpose of discouraging the hoi-polloi from envying the monarchy, and resenting the extent to which it depends on their taxes, by managing to make the life of the royal family always sound so irredeemably miserable.