From David Maughan Brown in York: A crannog and a clown

Crannog on Loch Tay

August 5th

Normality at last – or as close to normality as one can get in the UK these days.  At the micro-level, a week spent with our daughter, her husband and their two daughters at a hired cottage in Kenmore, at the northern end of Loch Tay.   A week spent exploring the area (all travelling in the same car!); canoeing on the loch and watching the family swimming; enjoying the Olympics on a very large television screen on the rare occasions when it rained (very much less frequently and persistently than we would have been subjected to had we stayed in York); and playing games with the grandchildren.  We spent a fascinating morning at the museum at the Scottish Crannog Centre, which was, paradoxically, all the more interesting because the crannog itself (an iron age dwelling built out over the loch to avoid building on land that could be cultivated on the shore) had caught fire and burnt to piles and ashes in six minutes just four weeks before our visit.   

At the macro level, everyone was calmly going about their business as though the sensible requirements to keep wearing masks and maintain respectful social distances were perfectly normal.  They had avoided the headline-catching grandiosity and sheer stupidity of Boris Johnson’s much bruited ‘Independence Day’.  When Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, appeared on television, one had the sense of having arrived in a serious country whose leading politicians actually cared about the people they governed.  Throughout the six-hour drive up to Kenmore – which turned into an eight-hour drive on the way up as a result of a two-hour hold-up on the motorway resulting from a bad accident – I had a relieved sense that I was driving away from badly-produced and singularly unfunny comic-opera country.  By the time we came back, I found myself wondering what I was missing that was preventing roughly half the population of Scotland from being desperate to shake off their subjugation to the idiocies and incompetence of the Westminster government as rapidly as possible by attaining a genuine independence.

Even in Scotland the only way to escape footage of our Honourable Prime Minister lumbering around in a hi-viz jacket, with the straw-like ends of his storm-ravaged haystack of hair sticking randomly out from the brim of a hard hat, was by avoiding turning on the television.   The point of a hi-viz jacket is in the name: high visibility.   ‘Look at me, look at me’ it demands, like a three-year old desperate to show its mother that it can almost do a somersault.  Whoever manages Johnson’s diary appears have been instructed to ensure that he visits at least one factory, workshop, laboratory, ship-yard, building-site, or anywhere else he can get away with wearing a hi-viz jacket, at least once a day.   It is as if the man was born wearing a small, ill-fitting hi-viz jacket and now, like Linus Van Pelt with his security blanket, can’t feel wholly comfortable without one.

Johnson, whose minders have somehow managed to keep him away from Scotland for many months as a 100% guaranteed vote-loser for the Tories north of the border, travelled up to pay a two day visit immediately after we arrived back.  His visit was characterised, first, by his lying about not having turned down an invitation from Nicola Sturgeon to visit her in Edinburgh.  But that wasn’t unusual as Johnson tells lies much of the time.  Second, by his refusal to self-isolate when he got back in spite of the fact that one of the aides who had travelled with him has tested positive for Covid-19.  This merely reinforces the widespread recognition that it is ‘one rule for us and another for them.’  Third, he ‘joked’ about the lead Britain and the Conservative Party took in combatting climate change under Margaret Thatcher by having the foresight to close the coal mines in the 1980s: ‘Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we’re now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.’  

This throw-away remark, made, almost unbelievably, on a visit intended to woo support for the continuation of the union, produced an immediate backlash.[1]  Alan Mardghum, secretary of the Durham Miners Association, said: ‘Johnson has again shown utter contempt for the people of former mining communities.  The wilful annihilation of the coal industry caused social and economic devastation in our communities that is still felt to this day.  It was an ideological assault.… It is no joke.’

Shortly after we arrived back from Scotland the BBC News covered the visit of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled leader of the opposition in Belarus, to London where she was inevitably shown being ‘entertained’ by Johnson in Downing Street.  My reaction to the coverage can only be described as one of embarrassment.  Here was a person trying to lead the opposition to a brutal dictator, who was coming to our country looking for support in her efforts to do so, and all we could do as one of the richest and formerly most powerful countries in the world was present her with a clown for her to have to pretend to take seriously.  Johnson is a supreme narcissist, a racist, a serial liar and philanderer, a wholly immoral man capable of the crassest of misjudgements, and he is, it would seem, the best leader our England-dominated political system can come up with.

It is difficult to know precisely what the long-term economic effect would be were Scotland to gain its independence, shake the dust of Westminster off its shoes, and rejoin the European Union.  The Scottish Crannog Centre, which reflects five thousand years of Scotland’s history, is due to be rebuilt on a larger and better site immediately across the loch from its present location.   Scottish Independence could not possibly wreak as much damage to Scotland as last month’s fire did to the crannog, and a fresh start, as far as possible from the taint of the little-England mentality that currently dominates UK politics, might well be the best way Scotland could  start its next five thousand years.


[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/boris-johnson-mine-closures-joke-b1898337.html

From David Maughan Brown in York: Roosting chickens

October 14th

Flocks of chickens are coming home to roost on our Prime Minister, the supposedly Honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and it isn’t just the odd stray feather they are contributing to his general air of lazy dishevelment.  When the great moment came on Monday for the unveiling the new Covid-19 tiered lockdown system that had been trailed so extensively for the better part of the previous week, Boris Johnson’s Chief Medical Officer, standing a socially distanced few feet beside him, calmly asserted that he had no confidence that it would work.  Immediately after the news conference, the Scientific Advisory Council for Emergencies (SAGE) released the minutes of a meeting it had held on 21st September at which the Government’s own hand-picked scientists unequivocally advocated a short, sharp, ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as the only way to get the rapidly escalating incidence of infections under control. Boris Johnson rejected their advice and implemented his Rule of Six and the 10pm curfew on restaurants and bars instead, thereby comprehensively demolishing any last remnants of his endlessly repeated claim to have been ‘following the science.’  He can no longer get away with blaming the scientists.

The latest figures show that very nearly 20,000 people were diagnosed as Covid-19 positive in UK yesterday.  There has been an exponential increase in the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths in the weeks since Boris and his lackeys took that September decision, and we are headed within the next two weeks to equal the March and April numbers in intensive care and we haven’t hit winter yet.  The trailing of the severe Tier 3 restrictions in Liverpool five days in advance inevitably resulted in the predicted partying in the streets on Tuesday night in anticipation of the midnight implementation of the new rules.  The almost unbelievable stupidity of that crowd differed only from the stupidity of the similarly maskless crowd that flocked to Donald Trump’s recent election rally in Florida in that, whereas the stupidity in Florida was suicidal given the age-profile of that crowd, in Liverpool the sozzled revellers appeared to consist largely of young people who probably won’t die themselves but will inevitably be passing the virus on to their elders, some of whom most certainly will die.  The measures brought in by Boris on 21st September as an alternative to the lockdown simply haven’t worked, and there is no reason whatever to imagine that his new Tier system will work either.   The number of infections in York, currently in tier 1, has increased by almost 50% in the past 24 hours.

If the current exponential growth in infections and deaths is stripping the Emperor of whatever clothes he had left, the wedges Johnson’s incompetence has succeeded in driving between the different nations of the supposedly United Kingdom will soon be making his unsightly nakedness even more glaringly apparent.  Northern Ireland has decided to implement the national lockdown Boris is refusing to agree to.  In two weeks time it will be possible to compare the results of the two different approaches to the crisis.  In the meantime the government of Wales has felt obliged to take the extraordinary step of trying to protect the public health of its citizens by banning cars from the North West of England.  Scotland, one gathers, is contemplating taking similar measures.  So some parts of the UK are, indeed, taking control of their borders – but, again, not in the way Boris anticipated.

The flocks of chickens do not cluck in unison.  Johnson is caught between several competing factions.  One flock consist of the supposedly ‘libertarian’, Tory backbenchers who oppose any kind of lockdown on the basis of the damage it does to the economy.   Closer inspection would probably reveal that that group really doesn’t care how many plebs in ‘the North’ die, just as long as their own shares in in the Wetherspoons pub chain don’t take too much of a hit.  That group would be better described as braying rather than clucking.  Another group, including extra-parliamentary experts, is warning the government about the destitution that will result if a lockdown is implemented without adequate support for those whose incomes will suffer: parents won’t be able to buy shoes for their children; women will have to prostitute themselves to keep food on their children’s plates.  The official opposition is demanding a national lockdown along the lines of SAGE’s September recommendations.  The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is still threatening to bring legal action against the government and refusing to cooperate if restrictions in his area of responsibility are raised to Tier 3 without adequate financial support being put in place

If the variously suicidal or homicidal crowds of revellers and Trump devotees can be fairly described as stupid, their idiocy does not begin to compare with Johnson’s stupidity as he steadfastly lumbers towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit in 10 weeks time, apparently intent on making sure that the worst crisis in UK since World War II gets a whole lot more catastrophic for everybody involved.   And ‘everybody’ includes the entire continent of Europe, even if it will be vastly more catastrophic for us in the still ‘United Kingdom’. Having opportunistically lied and cheated his way into the position from which he can do greatest damage to the country he is supposed to be leading, Johnson fully deserves everything the roosting chickens can dump on him.   If I sound close to despair, it is because I am.

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.’