Saturday 30 May 2020

Litany for Watching a Facebook Service Upload on a Saturday Afternoon

Oh how many are my woes
All week long have I worked at this service and sermon
For it is given that for six days shall we labour
working out the best camera angles
wishing we had a proper camera, like unto All Saints Northampton
and not just this Chromebook
which maketh my face look like unto the pumpkin
and my voice to sound even like Kermit which is called the Frog
and splicing musical interludes
and contributions from members of the congregation
into a liturgical tour de force
a performance to make even Angela Tilby proud. 

And I have checked the copyright laws
even for the eighty-third time.
And on the seventh day shall I sit looking at a bar that saith "processing: 40%"
and all day long have I held out my hands 
at the computer screen
saying "How long, O Lord?
"How long shall I be trapped in this study
worrying that if I look not at the screen
the upload shall crash
under the strain of thousands of clergies
all over the world
all uploading their worship at the same time?"

And I think to myself - shall I trust instead unto Zoom?
And I think - probably not after the other week.
I'm not having that happen again.

And so shall I sit and weep
and pour out my tears upon the desk
and wait for the coming of the little red box
on the notification bell
that tells me that my work is complete
and I can enjoy my Sabbath rest
until the emails come in tomorrow
telling me it isn't working.
Surely this will be my life all the days of lockdown
and I shall abide in my study 
looking at the sunshine outside the window
until the summer is gone
and this video is not saved.

Better start again.

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Friday 29 May 2020

A Site for Sore Eyes

Thanks for all the help we've received from our new Beaker Person, Barnard Castle.

It was a surprise when Barnard pulled up in his camper van, with his wife, Beaumaris, and his young sons, Dudley and Warwick, a week into lockdown. We'd no idea they were coming but apparently they were acting on instinct.

And who'd have thought, at a time like this, that we would be lucky enough to acquire an optometrist! I'm not sure that Barnard's technique is altogether orthodox. But he's right. If people can get round that obstacle course without crashing their cars, there's nothing wrong with their eyesight.

Barnard's clinic will reopen once we've cleared the debris from the drive. Meanwhile Beaumaris is busy writing an article on their experiences here for the Beaker magazine: "Our Lockdown in East Grinstead".

Saturday 23 May 2020

"Durham Town" (to the tune "Cummings")

I've got to leave old Durham town,
I've got to leave old Durham town.
I've got to leave old Durham town,
Cos this copper says I'm breaking Lockdown.

Boris went down with a cough
Next day I was feeling off
ran down Downing Street and then headed north
Cos we were leaving, leaving, leaving....

I've got to leave old Durham town,
I've got to leave old Durham town.
I've got to leave old Durham town,
Cos this copper says I'm breaking Lockdown.

Driving from the big city
Your rules don't apply to me
Classic Dom does just what he wants
But now we're leaving, leaving, leaving...

I've got to leave old Durham town,
I've got to leave old Durham town.
I've got to leave old Durham town,
Cos this copper says I'm breaking Lockdown.

With apologies to the great great Roger Whittaker.

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Thursday 21 May 2020

New Beaker Hymn Book Out

When you're locked down, what helps to pass the time away more than tweaking a few words in some old hymns and repackaging them as a whole new concept?

And that's why we're really delighted to announce the launch of our new Beaker hymn book.

Its features include

  • More unnecessary modernisation resulting in terrible rhymes.
  • The complete removal of the word "rapture".
  • Some terrible new songs celebrating God as scientist, astronaut and celebrity chef. 
  • Removing any theology suggestive of penal substitution.
  • Some songs that don't really work about social justice that will probably be really popular with theological courses.
  • The beautiful Christmas carol for the liberal minded, "Snowflake for Jesus (I wanna be a)".
  • No martial images. So "Onward Christian Soldiers" is now "Onward Christian Plumbers". "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" now has God's truth "plodding on". And "Stand up for Jesus" now refers to "ye holders of the cross". 

The New Revised Complete Collected Updated Collated Modern Authorised Comprehensive Ancient & Prehistoric Sounds of  Living Pebbles (Anglicised) For a New Generation of Beaker Worship Part III.

Now only £32.17 from the Beaker Online Bazaar. Buy three and get a free pack of tea lights.

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Ascension Day

Can I thank Hnaef for doing his best to keep our liturgical life as normal as possible in these strange times.

Now if anyone has any ideas for a socially-distanced method of getting him off the Great House roof, I'd be really grateful. 

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Monday 18 May 2020

Safety Fears as Wetherspoons Carpets Dry Out

As the Government attempts to placate Telegraph columnists and offshore trusts by loosening lockdown, new concerns have been raised for the safety, after restrictions have been released for pubs, of the customers of Wetherspoons.

Analysis at a number of Wetherspoons outlets have revealed that, after unseasonably good weather throughout two months of lockdown, their carpets have dried out. This has not happened since the drought of 1976.

"We're really concerned about our customers when they get back in," said red-faced spokesscarecrow Tom Witherspoon. "It's like when Formula 1 teams are trying to pick the right tyres. In effect, the spongy, damp conditions underfoot have meant that our customers have always had plenty of grip. And all of of sudden, it's like they're going to be on slicks. The carpets are now stiff and unforgiving, it's suddenly like playing on a really dry cricket wicket, and we're worried that our customers, unused to the speeds they can now achieve, are going to smash straight into tables and other customers.

"Worst of all, we're worried that if the crusty top surface the carpets have developed gives way when cornering at speed, our customers could end up sprawled headlong on the floor. And without the usual spongy, damp texture, they might do themselves some real injuries instead of just laying there, complaining about Jean-Claude Juncker."

Wetherspoons have been experimenting during closure with dampening down the carpets with water or a thin Marmite solution. But nothing appears to give the same traction as spilling a trail of Ruddles Best nearing its best-before date repeatedly over the famously individual floor coverings. It is really hard to simulate the same adhesive effects as accidentally knocking Swedish cider on the floor.

"It's a really worrying time for our customers," Mr Witherspoon concluded. "It's already been a weird experience for them. Trapped in a thing called "the outside world" during the hours of daylight, and instead of the Germans they've had to blame the Chinese for things going wrong. It's a strange and scary world for our customers at the moment, and if they have to learn how to walk on normal carpets without the assistance of our familiar "walking on the moon" experience, we may see some serious casualties."

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Sunday 17 May 2020

The 5G conspiracy goes Further Than We Imagine

Brothers and Sisters, you must forgive me for putting up this post on a day of Sabbath rest. But let me explain.

Formerly, before the Government inspired lockdown to control us all so they can microchip us with vaccines made from the horcruxes of Bill Gates, I used to go across to the house of the so-called Archdruid Eileen to post my occasional inspirational messages. But since the Government, to further the interests of the capitalist-lizard-illuminati-vortex has decided that we cannot leave our houses or go within 6 feet of any other human being apart from our awfully wedded spouses and other relatives who live in the same house, this is no longer possible.

Since it is clear that the so-called coronavirus is both non-existent, artificially created by the Chinese in association with the FBI, and caused by 5G radio waves and not a virus at all, Marjorie and I have been living under the lead roof of Bogwulf Chapel. This has protected us from the baleful influence of the 5G waves, but has also meant that we have spent the last two months living on a diet of orange squash, bad coffee, and shortbread biscuits. You will note that we eat only of the shortbread biscuit, the plainest and most godly of the biscuits. We have no truck with the luxurious fleshy indulgences of custard creams or the bourbon.

But today we have returned to the Manse. This is not because we have confidence that the dreadful 5G has been switched off. But rather, we have run out of biscuits. And returning to the Manse, I now have access, when Eileen chooses to switch on the network, to the internet.

Brothers and sisters. I had a vision that I need to share with you. It came to me on the evening of the Lord's Day last week when, having drunk of black coffee made with rainwater and indulged in half a packet of hobnobs - our special treat of a Sunday evening, but only of the plain oatmeal. We eat not of the chocolate-chocolate chip - I had a dream.

In my dream I was lifted up to heaven. And I saw that honest people of all beliefs were coming together to protest against the 5G and the imaginary coronavirus which definitely does not exist, but which it causes. To come together in parks all over these islands, and stand nervously shoulder to shoulder and say "no. We will not tolerate your 5G and we do not believe in the coronavirus which it definitely causes and we demand the right to rub noses with Piers Corbyn in greeting."

And I realised, Brothers and Sisters, that these gatherings are themselves a part of the Master Plan for the Enslavement of the World. For in gathering in parks - without buildings to surround them or roofs over their heads - are not these innocent people not putting themselves at maximum risk of exposure to 5G waves from Elon Musk's satellites above their heads? And in using megaphones to protest - as surely as day follows night, a Corbyn in an open space will use a megaphone - do they not know that these are weapons of mass virus dispersion?

Believe me, Brothers and Sisters. When, in three week's time, these brave people are suffering from catching the imaginary coronavirus, it will not be because they have chosen to protest against the lockdown. It will be because, without his even realising it, Piers Corbyn has been spreading non-existent virus to all his followers through his innocent use of a megaphone, even as they have been bathing accidentally in the rays of the 5G radiation - a whole G more damaging than 4G radiation - and thus causing the virus to spread.  And this was all planned by Barack Obama.

We will not cease from our mental strife to make fools of ourselves. Because we are British. It is our birthright.

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Friday 15 May 2020

How Social Distancing Will Impact Church of England Seating Arrangements

"UK Churches consider ticketing for after Lockdown"

Before lockdown (A&B are married)

People seated, sparsely, in pews - nobody near the front

After lockdown, with social distancing

Same as the first picture

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Wanna be a Hero

The BBC's "what the papers say" section carries the Daily Mail's striking headline, "Let our teachers be Heroes". Thanks to several people, including Twitter's own Steve Peers, for pointing out that the cuddly image on the Mail front page has been cropped a bit from the original image, removing the black children. Nice work, Daily Mail!
But leaving aside that - no doubt unintended and awkward - bit of photoshopping. The headline is inspired. "Let our teachers be heroes". It's good to aspire to be a hero. Like Achilles, Beowulf, Capt Scott, Joan of Arc, William Wallace for the Scots, or Llywelyn ap Gruffydd for the Welsh. Or Admiral  Nelson or maybe those brave British soldiers at the Somme who...

Sorry. Young Keith just popped over to suggest maybe the Daily Mail was thinking of heroes with a better survival rate. In which case, I suggest the combined editorial teams of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. All utter front-room  heroes as they sit on the couch in their onesies, knocking up inspirational columns while moaning that Lorraine Kelly is a bit tough to be interviewing Tory ministers. They're much more the sorts of heroes we want.

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Thursday 14 May 2020

Death by Door Handle

Late edit: I discover I should have credited "Death by Door Handle" as a concept to Dr Bell (National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow, House of Commons)  who originally coined it. 

A lot of people have been picking up on this article in Christan Today by David Baker. And it's left me scratching my head. It's about the possibility that a minister, by praying or streaming a service alone in church, might have inadvertently killed a load of people by infecting them with Covid19.

Now I'm no big beater of the drum one way or the other about where people choose to stream solo worship from. I've said that streaming from the Moot House would at least mean I didn't have to rearrange my entire living quarters every time i want to lead the Beaker Folk. But if in a local context, a minister and their congregation agree that the minister should stream from the church rather than their luxuriously-appointed library or their hot tub (or their hot tub in the garden) then who am I to tread on their own theology of place? The risk of walking or even driving to a church, opening, leading a service (suitably locked in) and then going home again seem slight to nil.

The example David Baker gives for why there is a risk is a bit of a "parallel universes" one:  that having left the church, the minister leaves Covid19 virus on the door handle. A passing care worker who has presumably forgotten all about there being no private worship in churches, tries the door handle. They go home, develop Covid19, pass it on to the people they care for, and everyone suffers and possibly dies.

But that is just one example of what might have happened. A correspondent has told me that in his road a couple of weeks ago, a succession of domestic CCTV cameras filmed the same man trying the handles of all the cars. What if, instead of walking to church to stream, the minister uses the spare time to drive to the country for recreation, leaves Covid19 virus on the car door handle, and the thief infects everyone in the street? Some might see this as poetic justice for the thief, but everyone else also suffers.

What if, instead of driving the car, the minister decided it was a good time to give it a wash, and a piano fell out of an upstairs window with terrible effects?

What if, instead of going into church, the minister had gone for a walk, brushed against a stem of aquilegia, keck or bindweed, that same unfortunate care worker had brushed against that - having decided that, instead of sitting in church, a nice bit of sunshine might be good - etc etc?

Or what if the minister had washed their hands before unlocking, then again before leaving the church, and left nothing of viral nature on the door handle? What if the care worker, being a care worker and alert to the threats of the outside world, simply washed their hands when they got home? In that case, nothing happens.

And then consider. A door handle in the outside world, probably on a south-facing door that gets the sunshine, is vanishingly low in its risk profile compared to even being ten minutes in someone's breathing, speaking, presence. The transfer from sneeze / cough (I presume the minister has ignored advice, sneezed or coughed into their hand during the streamed service) via hand to door handle to another hand - which is then not washed - would still deliver low levels of virus. Frankly if this case were likely enough to be considered, we should all hide in cellars for the next 10 years to be on the safe side.

And what "journalistic endeavour" could possibly prove that the minister streaming 9 Lessons and Carols  had caused this terrible disaster, and not the care worker sadly picking up the virus from someone they passed in the street, or an asymptomatic family member? I don't believe journalists - who these days mostly seem to earn their money by curating tweets - are going to have the technology to determine that viral RNA is still on the door handle weeks later as the tragedy unfolds.

And one person on their own going into church is not a crowd of US fundamentalists trying to pray the virus away. Not a situation where thousands could catch the virus. I can't imagine that the Archbishops said to themselves "I see that if you put thousands of people into a church all singing their heads off and handling the same snakes then they can spread the virus. Let's not let Father Midge of Ss Mary and Mungo worship all on his own in case he lives in an area of dedicated door handle graspers". More likely they were worried that the priest might make their worshippers feel left out, or they might suffer pressure from people saying "do you mind if I just join you". And they likely didn't realise, given their own backgrounds, just how deeply the places - and the things within them - mattered to some clergy.

Personally, I'd say home was best a few weeks ago when infection rates were much higher - just one less bit of travel for most clergy (not those who more or less live above the shop) and therefore one tiny bit less risk, and I mean tiny. But if the congregation wants it due to their theology of place, then streaming from the building will do no harm. But let's embrace the upside - whether streamed from a church building or a vicarage, or the Methodist minister's garden labyrinth or the Lay Minister's summer house or the bishop's Jacuzzi, this time has enabled many Christians to join in, and to re-learn or learn disciplines in daily prayer. Which will have helped a lot of people's mental health. And may outlast the pandemic.

And don't go grabbing random church door knobs. Or, if you do, please wash your hands. You don't know where the vicar's been.

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Tuesday 12 May 2020

Summer Solstice Arrangements

It's with regret that, like Stonehenge, we're not going to be able to celebrate the Summer Solstice in June.

However, unlike Stonehenge, we are not so pessimistic as to cancel it completely. We're thinking if things get better, we might be able to hold it early October, after the Equinox.

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Sunday 10 May 2020

The Boris Johnson Speech Leaked

Johnson: Hello England! Bojo the White here! Squasher of Sombreroes, Shagger-in-Chief and Slayer of Death! Hurrah!

Charles Moore: Hurrah!

Johnson: Enough, Charles. Can you get back to cleaning my sandals? Now, this Covid thingy. Bit embarrassing. When we told you all to stay home, save the NHS and save lives, we weren't really expecting you to do that. We thought you'd all be more like, well Etonians, really. Climbing the walls, going off to buy some coke, stealing matron's false leg*, that sort of stuff.

I mean, Neil Ferguson and I were frankly disappointed in you. After all, we knew the rules didn't apply to us. So why did you think they applied to you? That's not the spirit of the Blitz, when happy Cockneys danced in the streets of London Fields, defying Fritz to land one on them. No, if key advisers to the English and Scottish Governments were sneaking out for a quick bit of rumpy-pumpy or a weekend in their second homes, why would we think you'd do what you were told?

Frankly, I'm disappointed in you. The whole plan was for herd immunity, where the stupider members of the herd would indulge in a bit of self-culling while everyone else baked banana bread. And it turns out you're more intelligent than we thought. And we weren't expecting that after Brexit. So well done, at least, to the people of Grapenhall, Warrington.  You showed those Scousers a thing or two on Friday about industrial warfare-scale stupidity.

So it's time for Phase 1b/c. This is where we move to a more nuanced message. So now we're categorizing risk into five risk levels, and three colours.

Hang on, shouldn't there be as many colours as risk levels? Cripes, it's confused even me. And I'm a Johnson so I know loads of things. Can someone get Ferguson? Oh. OK. Let's skip over the risks and colours. I'll get Dom to find a misfit to fix it, if he's not had to fire them all while I was ill, on holiday or "working from home". Let's get onto the new messaging.

 "Watch out  Watch out  There's a Colin about"

You see what we've done? We've introduced new happier colours in a kind of bunting theme.Mixed in a much-loved bit of advertising gold from the 1970s. And we've boiled down three messages into two. Short, snappy, and the sort of thing anyone can use to guide their behaviour.

We thought it was a good idea to rename Covid19 as Colin. After all, Novel Coronavirus is knackering the sales of Mexican lager. And you common people will probably want to buy that for when you're having to barbecue your pets later in the summer. And Covid-19 sounds all techie and SciFi, like when Ferguson was telling us not to shake people's hands. So from now on, we're calling the virus Colin. Much friendlier message, I think.

And the other part of the messaging is really clear - watch out! In this part of the message, I'm to a large degree sampling the work of that other bloke who conquered death, but had fewer children than me. No, remind me later, Charles. You've the Wellington boots to do next. And what I'm saying is - watch out! Because if you catch a case of Colin, that's going to be your fault for not watching. Not mine for sorting out my personal affairs and getting the Cabinet to do silly chants about Brexit when I should have been working to keep you all safe.

And we're opening the garden centres! Now I know they're kind of catnip for old people. And this may be counter-productive if they don't remember to watch out for Colin. Especially when quite a few of them are called Colin. Or Stanley. But then papa has people that go to the garden centre for him. But anyway - dig for victory, everyone. Hurrah!

So Phase 2 a/b! Or whatever Dominic said! Whichever Dom it was. As Charles says when he's not cleaning my shoes, now is the time for every man and woman to get out there and die for the economy! Buy the Telegraph! It's more absorbent than the Sun! Watch out for Colins! It's time to renew your liaisons dangereuses! Hurrah!

Charles Moore: Hurrah!

Dominic Cummings: Time for my shoes now, Charles... The pop-out daggers need a clean.

* Thanks to Roy Clark

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Saturday 9 May 2020

The Great Flugelhorn Catastrophe

You see, I get it. I know everyone wants to try and be productive and to develop their inner selves, during this strange time of lockdown. Which is why it's good that people should want to try to write books, to paint, to create great poetry. To learn new languages or musical instruments.

And so Burton Dasset decided this is the month to learn the flugelhorn. And when he kicked off at 9pm with Gabriel's Oboe, he did it safe in the knowledge that I can't get at him to stop him.

Albeit unfortunately for Burton, he though the vents in the floor of his room were just for central heating and air conditioning. And didn't realise I can push any gas I like through them.

He's sleeping soundly now. And when he wakes up in the morning, I'll let him know. Next time it's going to smell of almonds. If he's lucky, it'll just be marzipan aroma.

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Friday 8 May 2020

Bringing Beaker Worship into my Home

I think it is fair to say that I have always discouraged the Beaker people from entering the Archdruidical suite. I feel it is fair enough that, with great personal generosity, I let people live - for a nominal rental on very reasonable long-term leases - in the former servants' quarters of my ancestral home. I provide the Moot House, Orchard and Holy Oak Grove (under construction) for collective worshipping activity, and the Rainbow Room for people to hide under their hoodies when suffering from earth-destroying hangovers.

Hence the sign on the door that divides my rooms from the common Druidical Administration Office, "Private - stay out. Beware of the Killer Doberman". Within that door, is the corridor where Rosebud the Doberman ran free. Sadly he's getting on a bit now, and spends his life mostly sleeping in his basket, dreaming of former massacres. So I've had to install the laser detection and tear gas canisters instead.

My Archdruidical suite is my very own hidey hole. My place to lay down the cares, fears and tears of pastoral life, and watch "Pointless". A place to invite my friends for a meal, or a quiet drink. And when I say "friends", you can be sure I mostly don't mean the Beaker Folk. So you can forget angling for an invite after the lockdown is over, Burton.

When we had to suspend public worship, it was a real problem. After all, is the Community to be treated as one houshold that can still meet, or as a number of discrete units that can be isolated as best as possible? I went for the latter. Not least as it means I get a bit of peace and quiet. But in a very spiritual sense, those Beaker Folk that do not live on site should not be disadvantaged even if they do pay less. So we decided to go to streaming all worship.

And I felt that it was wrong I should sit in the Moot House all on my own to stream worship. I know the Beaker Folk have a deep affinity to the place. It is very much a thin place. But frankly, it's effort. And I might meet some Beaker people on the way there or back. And if it got a bit dusty, I might have to clean it.

So I made the decision to stream worship from my suite. Now that is a major effort for me. I have to rearrange the entire sitting room. All those Bertie Wooster and Blandings books apparently look "too flippant" so they're all dumped on the kitchen table during the service, while I have to get all those old boxes of Schüssler Fiorenza, Moltmann, Eusebius, Kierkegaard, David Irving and Saint Augustine out of the attic, dust them down, arrange them into colour sequence, check there's no Mr Men lurking in there. And then remember to take the David Irving back out. Definitely shouldn't be there. That takes a couple of hours. I then have to borrow the pictures of Charlii's family from her and Young Keith and hang them on the wall, so it looks like I have some kind of personal life. And get some fresh flowers in to put in a few vases.

Then of course I have to get two Beaker People, suitably wrapped in cling film, to carry the Worship Focus table up from the Moot House and place it on the right spot around the house. This does involve them moving the three piece suite, dining table and possibly having to remove the Home Cinema setup from the wall.

And they have to set the Worship Focus table up in the correct place, so that I can use the
Compo from last of the Summer Wine gets a bucket of water poured over his head
A passing Beaker person, enjoying the early-morning Rose Garden
lighting just right. I find that, for Filling Up of Beakers in the evening, it's best to sit with the sun streaming in from the west window. This gives a generally peaceful, all's-well-with-the-world feel to the worship, I find. And just before dawn, for the Pouring Out of Beakers, it's best to be by the balcony if possible. That means I can pour the water straight out of the beaker and onto the rose garden below. If you occasionally hear a shout, it means somebody has walked underneath as I've poured the water out.

Then, I don't really like the performance aspect of the whole thing. I mean, I've never enjoyed liturgical dancing at the best of times, But having to do it yourself is frankly embarrassing, and those jumps ain't good for my ankles. The liturgical juggling is OK, as long as it's just something simple like bean bags. There is nothing worse than getting hit on the head by a juggling club during the singing of "Will you Come and Follow Me." And sometimes when sword-swallowing, I wonder whether the service is really becoming all about me.

And when it's all over, I have to get all the stuff back, the books all back in their place, the Worship Focus Table back to the Moot House, fill in the holes in the wall where I hung Charlii's family photos, and have everything disinfected and deep cleaned.

And it worries me that, in focusing on the domestic normality of this whole thing - in acting as if what is going on in an ordinary little home is like a public act of worship - maybe I'm withdrawing worship from the public square. I mean, it's nice that people get to see me worshipping naturally, on a small scale, unaffectedly, at home. But it's not real church, like sitting all on my own in a cold Moot House with my smartphone.

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Beaker VE Day Celebration

Obviously it's great to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe today. Not Victory Over Europe, as some of our Daily Mail-reading members have it, nor "Stick it to the Germans Day", as others have.

So as we cower in our bunkers, awaiting this latest terrible disaster - that has killed more than the Blitz - to go over, we'll give it some good cheer. The timetable is as follows:

11:00 Silence to remember the lives of good men and women, who fought for a noble cause.  British, Poles, Indians, Americans,Canadians, Russians, Free French, the Resistance in occupied countries, volunteers from Ireland, those from Africa and Asia and Australia and New Zealand and many others I've failed to include in this broad sweep. Those who stayed at home and prayed. Those who were brutally slaughtered at the command of evil men. And also the people who were deluded into supporting evil men, and suffered as much as our own islands many times over. And those who came out of the war and realised that they still weren't free.

11:02 A cup of good ol' Rosie Lea.

11:30 Knees up, Mother Brown

12:00: Lambeth Walk (physically distanced)

12:30: Hold a Pebble for Mother Julian

13:00: A proper Cockerney knees-up lunch.

14:00 Run out of Cockerney things.

15:00 Make some bunting?

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Thursday 7 May 2020

Not an Equal Competition

A friend shared this cartoon, showing Boris Johnson as a WW1 captain leading his army over the top while the enemy (the coronavirus, Covid19) waits patiently, luring him into a trap.

I think it's a real mistake, personalising the virus in this way. It's what Donald Trump did, when he claimed it was so smart it had managed to avoid being treated by antibiotics. It's what the Tory party does when it refers to our approach to the pandemic as if it were a war. Clumps of RNA and proteins can't fall for propaganda, plan air strikes, or make invasion plans. They're just what they are.

We shouldn't treat a mindless bundle of genetic material, programmed only to reproduce, as if it were an intelligent, sentient creature.

And we shouldn't depict the Covid19 virus like that, either.

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Just Bloody Stay In

The press today is full of joy that from Monday, they believe, the lockdown in the UK will be loosened. Headlines include "First Steps to Freedom" (Express) "Happy Monday" (Sun) and "Get out there and die to get our shares up" (Telegraph).

But among the unconfined joy, as frolicking Brexiters lick each others' armpits in delight at the sudden lack of virus when only this afternoon Dominic Raab announced another more than 500 deaths, I'd like to introduce a slight, nuanced, cautious note.

Just bloody stay in.

Here's the nuance. I don't mean, totally stay in. By doing limited exercise outside the home, working from home when possible, only shopping for necessities and using delivery services, this country has massively reduced the face-to-face interaction rate. This is great news. The fact the normal human beings of this country were doing this before our useless, reckless, feckless government had really stopped worrying about its own love life tells us we're wiser than we looked when we elected them. To be fair, with such a useless opposition at the time, it wasn't a great choice. And I know that being more intelligent, more mindful of our neighbours, less reckless and less self-centred than Boris Johnson isn't hard. But nevertheless you can only beat the team that is in front of you. Well done, Britain.

Now I know some people are saying they're going to break lockdown if the Government doesn't change its rules. And I'm a scientist - with a bit of a background in virus research, as it goes, though not much and not recent. But I'm missing the lab. So I'd like to propose a bit of an experiment.

Let them go out. It's what they want. Let us see how they do when they're running around Trafalgar Square waving their union jacks. Give them four weeks. And see how the T0 (Telegraph-reading infectivity rate) is doing.

The rest of us, let's be what is known as a control group. While the Telegraphers are dancing in their union jack underpants under the Westway flyover, don't fall for it. When their party to celebrate VE Day is conga-ing down Bletchley High Street, let them. Drink your latest 22 bottles of Waitrose Direct wine or whatever is your tipple, raise your glass to The Boys (and a few Girls) - whether British, Canadian, American, Dutch, Free French, Polish, Indian, Russian or whoever. Feel sorry for the lies that were fed to the Germans. Pray it never happens again. Pray it never happens here like that. I know you're missing the pub, your friends, your family or your church. And yes it's really hard for all of us. But we've probably saved tens of thousands of lives over the last few weeks. So phone them up. Wave as you exercise past their window. Videocall, IM, text, or whatever. Join a virtual Morning Prayer. Say the rosary with the Shrine of Walsingham. Whatever. Just bloody stay in. Keep doing what you did last week, be careful, smile at strangers, say hello, while you stay well away from them.

Perhaps we could even have a Placebo Group, where we stick VR headsets on a few members of the Tory Party and just let them think they're doing the Lambeth Walk along the White Cliffs.  Give it four weeks. And then let's see how the Test Group are doing. And if they're just as well as the Control Group, maybe we can unlock and thank our red-faced guinea pigs. But my advice for now?

Just bloody stay in.

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Lockdown Haircut Health Warning

I gather from the plethora of similar-sized parcels coming off the courier van this morning that everyone has seen Hnaef's lockdown haircut (at a safe distance, while doing his one exercise a day) and decided that getting in electric clippers is the way to go.

Just a hint of a warning. I remember when Burton Dasset decided to go to electric clippers. It was that day 15 years ago, when we stapled him to the lawn with croquet hoops and removed that ridiculous comb-over with hedge clippers. And told him if he grew it again, it would be a scythe next time.

Burton was (eventually) so pleased not to have to keep combing those wispy locks back every thirty minutes, that he went for a Number Zero haircut. But then, vanity, vanity all is vanity. He spent ten minutes every morning bringing it to a beautiful shine.

Then one sunny day like today, he went out for a walk without his cap, and came back with a shiny red bonce.

The following day, his noddle still glowing like Betelgeuse on a bad day, he went for a run in the park. He thought it was safe without his cap, since it was much more overcast that day. The bad news for Burton was that, in the more humid conditions, as he jogged along, he swung away to the on-side and was caught in the leg gully. Not a pretty sight. Don't be like Burton.

On the subject of non-pretty sights. Please can Philbert stop with the naked yoga. When Gove said you could do one piece of exercise outside, this really wasn't what he was imagining. Though I suppose Boris Johnson might have been.

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Sunday 3 May 2020

Daniel Hannan Picks a Number: A Problem of Density and Virus

Where the rest of the United Kingdom, including even papers like the Mail, have been guarded, nervous about unlocking a Covid19 lockdown, there's one paper that has been surging ahead in wanting things opened up.

The Telegraph.

Asa Bennett is just one article away from telling us that staying indoors is for snowflakes, and the lesson we should learn from the Bubonic Plague is that dying is for wimps. Janet Daly has always been clear that it's basically just a bit of a cough and we shouldn't go panicking. And Daniel Hannan has been demanding we release lockdown since a few days after it started. With exciting, go-getting headlines such as "If Sweden succeeds, lockdowns will all have been for nothing", "It's time to start loosening the lockdown" and, on 28 March, "This unprecedented curtailment of our freedom must end as soon as possible". Which we'd all agree with, with the reasonable caveat, "as long as it's not going to kill half a million people."

Death-Defying Daniel has a special place in his heart for Sweden's approach. And yesterday's column is a gem. Hannan has realised that you can con the British public over Brexit by waving your hands and shouting "opportunity" and "project fear". But faced with an actual threat outside our doors, we react by doing what we're told and being very careful. Now Daniel Hannan yesterday used some statistics to prove we should get out and start dying for the country.

I don't want to suggest that this was deliberate. But on the other hand, the following is what happens when you pick the stats you want, to fit the outcome you've already defined. He says this, proving that we should unlock because not too many Swedes are dead yet:

"Stockholm is more densely populated than London".

Yeah, I was surprised, too. In my head, London is a teeming metropolis, while Stockholm is more kind of Brighton, only with better social provisions. So I went to Wikipedia to check - well, you do, don't you?

So first up - which areas am I comparing? Problem. For Stockholm, Wikipedia gives population data for the municipality, the urban area, and the metropolitan area. Since the London "metropolitan area" includes places like Dunstable, and I've no idea where in Sweden is like Dunstable, let's go with the first two.

  •  Capital city 974,073
  •  Density 5,200/km2 (13,000/sq mi)

  •  Urban 1,605,030
  •  Urban density 4,200/km2 (11,000/sq mi)
For Greater London, I suppose I could compare the Ceremonial County, or the EU region. I've gone with the region, which is very slightly bigger as it contains odds and sods like the City of London. And the corresponding figure is 
  • Population 8,546,761
  • Density 5,437/km2 (14,080/sq mi)
So if you take a whole city, London is more densely populated than Stockholm.

But I think what's actually being compared here is the most densely populated area. On this, Stockholm does beat London. I assume Daniel Hannan has been looking at this Guardian summary 

On this basis, a chunk of West London comes in at 20,477 people per square kilometre, while Stockholm comes in at  26,120. So yeah, there is definitely a square kilometre where Stockholm is denser. But consider that the most densely populated square kilometre in Athens is denser again (28,880 people per square kilometre) and yet Greece, despite - or because of - a health service in a far worse state than ourselves or Sweden, avoided issues by not thinking it was special, not taking it on the chin, and protecting its people. 

And consider that is just one square kilometre. London has 1,569 of the things. And there's far more densely populated ones of those in London than there are in Stockholm - hence the overall figures. For instance:  

  • Islington 16,097
  • Tower Hamlets 16,057
  • Hackney 14,681
  • Kensington and Chelsea 12,884
  • Lambeth 12,157
Between them, just those five boroughs have a higher population than Stockholm. 

So unless I'm missing something - which I may be - the statement "Stockholm is more densely populated than London" is true. As long as you very carefully pick which bit of Stockholm you are talking about. As I say, if you know what you want to prove, you can find the figures to do it.

It's also worth nothing that the Swedes aren't just running around hugging each other and generally holding Coronavirus parties. The people are to a large degree locking themselves down wherever possible, because Swedes don't like dying either. Given it's one of the most atheistic cities on earth, after all, they probably feel they have more to lose. The city is closing down bars that break the personal distancing rules. And incidentally, after people plugging that Stockholm would be reaching herd immunity soon, the evidence that's coming in suggests that it's actually just a quarter of the way there.

Incidentally, as well as being more densely populated than Sweden, four times more Londoners go on the underground each day than their Swedish friends. And I think we can all agree that cramming people into metal tubes that travel quite slowly is a very efficient way of spreading virus.

There's a nice little line in Daniel Hannan's piece: 

"One of the small ironies of the debate is that many people who spent three years decrying the idea of British exceptionalism as a Europhobe fantasy now find themselves arguing that we must remain in lockdown for longer than Continental countries." 
Yes, that's very ironic. Because if we hadn't had the Europhobic fantasy that we were different to everyone else, we'd have locked down when we had the warnings, our Prime Minister wouldn't have run round hospitals shaking people's hands, Dominic Cummings wouldn't have discovered that the trouble with "herd immunity" is that he and people he loves are part of the herd, we wouldn't have spent 3 weeks thinking we could "take it on the chin", we wouldn't think singing "Happy Birthday to You" was a protective chant, and we'd probably be loosening lockdown by now with a level of infection that we could track and trace, and with maybe 20,000 more people alive than we now have. Ironic, indeed.

Let me put it this way. If this really were a war, Daniel Hannan wants to be General Melchett. And he wants you to be Blackadder and Baldrick for him. Yeah, a few of us may die, not that he wants that. But overall, it will be better for the country. Better work on that Charlie Chaplin impression. There's no evidence that sticking your pants on your head and going "Wibble" helps. 

**Late Edit** 

I find that Daniel Hannan told us in February that Covid19 was unlikely to be as lethal as a normal influenza. Albeit he does say he's not an epidemiologist, immunologist or pathologist. It's OK, Daniel. We guessed that. 

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Friday 1 May 2020

Virtual May Morning

I hope everybody enjoyed our "Wicker Man" watch party in lieu of actually burning one this year. You will note that in the "extended highlights" piece we also included the bit where Nicolas Cage gets his knees broken. I know that wasn't the version of the film we showed. I just feel like that's the only bit of the remake that's worth watching.

This morning at 6.30 am we were treated to the sound of the Hnaef family singing "summer is i-cumen in". I'm sorry. We tried to stop them. But the crowd-funder never reached its target.

And on the bright side - no Morris Dancers.

But thanks to Hnaef for jumping in the duck pond to ensure we had our quota of ex-public-school boys doing life-threatening things. Although it pales into insignificance compared to Boris Johnson shaking hands with people in hospitals.

Now, have a Virtual May Morning treat from the Choir of Magdalen College.

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