I breakfast in the kitchen where I can look out through the windows onto the back garden. Every morning, I watch the squirrels — 3 of them, 2 parents and a young one — performing their circus tricks, chasing each other, skittering along the top of the wooden fence, lightly leaping onto the garden shed, springing upwards onto the oak tree, swaying and swinging from branch to branch, then gliding down onto the shed and scampering back along the fence. Why do they do it? Natural exuberance? The joy of living? Excitement at the approach of spring? Do they know something we don’t?
As Rina and I are 85, we have been advised to self isolate (horrible expression) so the garden has taken on a new importance. It’s an ordinary suburban garden, nothing special. But it’s quiet, screened from traffic and the hubbub of the city. I can immerse myself in the green of the garden and the rest of the world dissolves. The trees are just now coming into leaf. The star magnolia is a white foam of flowers. Soon the lilac will be blossoming. They say that this virus onslaught could continue for months, maybe even into next year, so we will have all the time in the world to observe the way the garden changes through the seasons.
Do you know how this thing started? Don’t believe what they tell you. This is what happened. On the first stroke of midnight, as Wuhan teetered on the brink of the new year, all the animals in Wuhan’s market gathered together and, under the guidance of a wise old dog called Mutt, decided to incubate a virus that would cause a complete shutdown of human society; bring the whole monstrous, mindless machine juddering to a halt so that we humans may consider our crimes and pay penance for them.
Is it working?
The government claims it is following the science but everything it does seems misguided, too little, too late. it makes one decision on one day and reverses it a few days later. The ‘herd immunity’ theory lasted about five minutes. It won’t mass test and then maybe it will. It wants to stop schools and nurseries closing on the Monday and then announces on the Wednesday that all schools will close on the Friday. it’s the Boris Johnson U-turn dance. He advises people to avoid pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas, but doesn’t make closing them down mandatory until the very last minute, probably too late. Why not? Could it be because if these venues are compelled to close, they can claim insurance for loss of revenue but if they close of their accord — as most have now done — they are no longer insured? Like the banks, insurance companies cannot be allowed to fail.
Of course, the government is keeping one panicky eye on the economic impact of this pandemic, balancing the measures needed to minimise the number of deaths against the damage to the economy these measures will cause. ‘Many more families are going to lose their loved ones before their time,’ announces Boris Johnson, putting on his very best fake-sympathy face. He forgot to add ‘unnecessarily’.
After a decade of austerity, the National Health Service, starved of funds, marketised, part privatised (a process started by Blair and New Labour), is in no fit state to deal with this crisis. Its staff are overworked and underpaid. It is short of doctors and nurses by 100,000. There aren’t enough intensive care beds. There aren’t enough ventilators or surgical masks. Doctors and nurses complain that their protective clothing is inadequate. They want to know why they are not being tested for the virus before they are inundated with infected patients. And — can you believe this? — the Conservative Party responsible for this dire state of affairs, the Conservative Party whose policies have plunged 4 million children into poverty, made millions of families dependent on food banks and forced 300,000 into homelessness, has just been re-elected with a massive majority.
Isn’t this the very definition of insanity? The squirrels must be laughing their heads off.
Sometimes we have visitors. Not human ones, of course, as we’re self isolating. Apart from the resident robin and the blackbirds nesting in the hedge, the usual suburban garden birds come and go: pigeons, magpies, blue tits, great tits, goldfinches and the very occasional woodpecker. And a flock of screaming parakeets, escapees from somewhere. A black cat circles the garden every day, as if to remind us that it owns at least a half share. From time to time a fox drops in, emerges from a hole in the fence in the corner of the garden, trots around the lawn, examines whatever catches its interest, lies on the grass for a bit if it’s sunny, scratches itself, yawns, then, in no hurry at all, saunters back to the fence and makes its way out. There used to be more wildlife. When we moved in about 55 years ago, we could hear hedgehogs copulating outside our bedroom window and an owl hooting from a neighbouring garden.
Thanks to Attlee’s Labour government (a Bomb with a bloody Union Jack on top of it, as I remember Ernest Bevin demanding), the UK has a nuclear deterrent so we are well protected against invaders. With the support of the Labour Party (despite Corbyn), Parliament voted to renew the Trident nuclear missile system. As of now, this consists of 4 nuclear-powered submarines, each one carrying 16 Trident missiles. There are 3 nuclear warheads on every missile, that’s 48 on every submarine, 192 in all. Each warhead has 8 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb. At least one submarine is on patrol at all times. How insane is that?
Trident, Trident, money down the drain
It can kill all living creatures and then kill them all again —
The estimated cost of renewing it is at least 100 billion pounds. One thousand five hundred and thirty six Hiroshimas. All that power and yet it couldn’t deter a tiny organism no bigger than one-millionth of an inch from entering the country, closing down society and killing thousands.
I see that an economist has suggested in The Guardian that this crisis is (God help us!) ‘an opportunity to do capitalism differently’. As if this monstrous, mindless, malignant machine can be humanised.
What’s the betting that the Coronavirus Bill now coming before Parliament will be used to curtail our freedoms and human rights?
Time for another sanity session. Let’s see what the squirrels are up to.