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.