The Coronavirus Diaries, 7th January 2020

Last night I took down the cards, the various decorations and the lights that I only have at Christmas. I have left the flamingo lights, one set of white lights in the hall, and I am still burning candles, though a reduced number. Then I turned on the television to watch the news. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Like much of the world I suspect, I was slack jawed in amazed disbelief at the scenes from Washington. It was like some dystopian film. A mob, really I cannot bring myself to dignify them by calling them protesters, swarming around, threatening, breaking and intimidating; braggarts, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, while inside the building elected representatives were told to reach for their gas masks. Trump, from the safety of the White House egged on his followers, repeating over and over the lies about the election being stolen from him, about voter fraud. It was fascism in action. Ugly, dangerous, deluded.

Where were the police? Apparently close by, the lights of their cars flashing, but as so many have commented already their softly softly approach was markedly different to the one they took against a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in the summer.

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Lest We Forget

Last week it was the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. There were a number of programmes I watched on the television. Terrible times. The survivors’ stories never cease to shock and appal. The ritual humiliation, removal of citizens’ rights, rampant propaganda, extreme nationalism gradually increased until no one could be in any doubt what the Nazi attitude to the Jews was.

The television programmes include scenes of concentration camps being liberated by British troops, the words of Richard Dimbleby reporting on what he witnessed at Bergen-Belsen. Ordinary soldiers spoke of the shock and horror they felt. This is a story with which I am familiar: Allied troops as heroes, liberators, saviours. And indeed they were.

I have only recently become familiar with another story, thanks to a meticulously researched biography by Jack Fairweather, of a former Polish cavalry officer Witold Pilecki. He was a member of the Warsaw resistance. When his group learned of the existence of Auschwitz he volunteered to be captured so that he would be taken there so he could learn what was going on and organise a break out. He managed to smuggle a message out and was hopeful help would come. It did not. He persevered, continuing to document and pass on details of the barbarities he witnessed: the creation of the first gas chamber, the creation of a new camp called Birkenau. His comrades in the the resistance passed the information to the Polish government in exile who shared it with the allies, begging them to act. They did not.

Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill believed the genocide of Jews merited a direct response, and one British diplomat even said the Poles wee “being very irritating over this”.

Perhaps it is because we find it hard to believe stories of acts of such evil if we do not see them for ourselves that we can shut our ears and minds to them. In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing he writes “He said the wicked know that if the evil they do is of sufficient horror men will not speak of it. That men have only stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.”

But small evils gathered together become large ones. As John Dryden wrote of ill habits, they “gather by unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas” until something on the scale of the Holocaust happens. Continue reading

Liars, Charlatans, and Democracy in Peril

The last few days in Parliament have seen some extraordinary scenes. Boris Johnson, a man who seems determined to drag the office of Prime Minister through the mire, has repeatedly used disrespectful and inflammatory language. He has dismissed the fears of MPs of the death threats, rape threats, arson threats they and their families have received. “Humbug”was Johnson’s response, apparently seeing this as some kind of joke. He even referenced Jo Cox, the MP murdered by a member of the Alt Right who shouted “Britain first” as he killed her, and said she would have wanted us to ‘get on’ with Brexit. BS.

Others have suggested riots if we do not leave the EU on 31st October. Suggested these riots almost as a threat, almost as a call for riots.

I have been on a number of pro EU marches since June 2016. They have been characterised by good humour, politeness, warmth. They had a family feel. There have been dogs and children, wheelchair users. They have made me proud to be British at a time when my country, which I love, has been tearing itself apart.

I stood at Trafalgar Square over a year ago and, as I waited for the friends I was hoping to join, struck up a conversation with a a French family visiting London. They were warm in their admiration of the way this huge crowd was behaving. I have been with Americans who have taken photograph after photograph, and then decided they wanted to join in, be part of this. These marches, these demonstrations, have fostered such good feeling, such warmth from foreigners who had wondered whether London was a safe place to visit in these febrile times.

There have been no arrests. At the largest march over one million people of all ages walked together, calm, courteous even when abuse was shouted by the odd Brexiteer who had turned up to jeer. Some people tried to engage with the Brexiteers, to speak to them. They were repaid with swearing and threats, not dialogue.

I have only witnessed a Brexiteer demonstration by accident. There were only a small number of demonstrators, but they were loudly aggressive, threatening. One wore a Donald trump mask while others sang “We love you Donald, oh yes we do.” As a Remainer, I would not have liked to challenge them. The outcome would almost certainly have been violent. More than one person has said that Brexit has become like a religion, a particularly fundamentalist religion, where questioning and discussion, let alone disagreement, is treated as blasphemy and quickly suppressed, the questioner demonised.

This is a dangerous development. Democracy is a delicate creature. Look at history and see how many times people who thought they were secure were forced to flee their homes with nothing when anti-democratic, often populist, movements silenced debate and demanded adherence to a particular ideology; when the people comes to mean only people who belong to a certain group. Continue reading

Shambolic and Terrifying

Weeks are passing and I’m not posting. I can blame work, blame a social life, but overall I blame Boris Johnson. I have never found clowns funny, but BoJo is terrifying, the clown of nightmares. He has a cohort of cronies who are equally awful. And some of the press… OMG. The usual suspects: the Express, the Mail, the Sun somehow spinning that Parliament is being anti-democratic, when to the meanest intelligence, Parliament is trying to do its job. The same papers, and the cohort, are telling people that the Supreme Court is biased, that the decision of the eleven judges was due to undue influence by the EU. This isn’t just nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense. Continue reading

Back to Brexit

You would think that there had been no march on Saturday, no five million plus signatures on a petition asking for Article 50 to be revoked. Europe is talking about it, the world is talking about it, the UK government isn’t. No. The day after the march our esteemed Prime Minister met renowned Brexiteer MPs, people who would be quite happy to leave the EU with no deal. The Prime Minister followed this meeting up with a speech where she spoke about the British People (yep, they’re being evoked again but apparently my birth certificate lies and I am not one of them) and how they would not countenance not leaving the EU. No mention of the march, the petition, the fact that the referendum was advisory and not binding, and had it been binding it would have been declared void because of illegal activity by the Leave campaign.
Not. A. Word.
There’s the usual baloney about respecting the ‘will of the people’ respecting ‘the result of the referendum’. Nothing about respecting those who march peacefully, who follow the rules, who do not threaten civil disruption, public mayhem if this goes ahead, who engage in debate not rhetoric and meaningless slogans. Continue reading

The Wheel Will Turn

Anger is only useful if it fuels action.

Yesterday’s anti-Brexit march felt useful. I wasn’t on it as I was working, but just seeing the pictures gave me a sense of solidarity, a sense of hope; this madness will stop.

If it doesn’t, those of us who wish to remain in the EU will continue to campaign to return. Please don’t talk to me about the will of the people, or democratic process. When the referendum was held in the early 1970s and people voted to stay in the EU, or Common Market as it was then known, the leave campaign sprang into action immediately. To paraphrase a meateater’s saying, what’s sauce for the lentils is sauce for the butter beans.

Democracy is about argument, not things set in stone.

My outrage meter was just returning to somewhere above normal after POTUS’ announcement that he would reverse his inhumane decision to separate children from their parents and then blame the Democrats, when I realised it doesn’t apply to those families already separated. The trauma those children have undergone for this Trumplestiltskin to make a point, beggars belief. I cannot begin to imagine how this is going to affect them in their adult lives. The insecurity, the realisation at a much too young age that their parents cannot always defend them will leave an indelible mark. And all because this man likes to think he’s strong, and that this is the sort of thing strong men do. The truth is he’s weak, and the weak never know how hard they are hitting you. Continue reading

Strange Times

I saw Michael Gove yesterday. He saw me too, but I doubt if he’s blogging about it. He wouldn’t know me from a hole in the road. It was at Westminster tube station, late in the afternoon and it looked like he was heading into the Palace of Westminster. Maybe he’s got some prep to do before next week’s party conference and decided to do it when fewer people were about. I don’t know what his popularity ratings are, but I’d be surprised if people are rushing to sit with him in the canteen.

He didn’t look great; rather pudgy, as though he’s been comfort eating. Ah well. It’s not every day you do your bit to lead your country to a disastrous referendum vote and then find yourself voted out of power. I am indebted to Ken Clarke, words I never thought to type or say, for his pithy summing up of the situation in which we find ourselves. It is bizarre that I and people like me who voted remain are now hoping and praying that we can make leaving the EU work, while those who voted leave snipe from the sidelines and demand that the things they thought they voted be enacted in every tiny detail. Ken is a heavyweight survivor of the Thatcher era. Not my favourite politician, though perhaps I should be careful what I say as his London pad isn’t so very far from my own abode. However, according to Sky News, this is what he said.
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Brexit Blues, Other Music and Even a Smile or Two

Three days on, and as I haven’t woken up to find I dreamt the whole thing, I think I have to accept that a slender majority of the UK population has voted to leave the EU, and it is going to happen. The fact that numbers of people who voted leave are now saying they only did so as a protest vote because they thought there was no chance of it happening is hardly comforting. Nor is the fact that there are growing reports of people being being told to ‘leave’ or ‘go home’ exactly reassuring. I wished I could remember Lenny Henry’s repatration gag about about how much it cost to get home to Dudley. Anyone got a link to it?

I want a badge that says I am one of the 48%, or perhaps the hashtag started by Jo Rowling #theindecentminority in response to the Farago saying it was a victory for decent people. As a London Remain voter I find myself now dismissed as a wealthy Prosecco swigging loft dweller who enjoys diversity as an exotic background to my rarified life and has no understanding of how ‘ordinary’ people live. I do swig Prosecco occasionally, but the rest is very wide of the mark.

Power Monkeys raised bitter smiles from me late on Friday evening while MasterB reacquainted himself with the garden and checked out the smells left by new cats in the neighbourhood. In time maybe I can rewatch the whole series and it’ll make me laugh again. Right now, I think I’d cry. Though I just rewatched this from a couple of weeks ago and laughed again, so maybe I should just head to Channel 4 on demand right now.

So long as Andy Hamilton and co keep writing there is some good in my country. And tomorrow I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue returns to Radio 4 for a new series.

Back to the Brexit emotions. One of the moments on the news that got to me the most was when President Hollande announced, in a good speech I felt, that la Grande Bretagne was no longer part of the EU. He should have said le Royaume Uni, or has it been decided that Northern Ireland can stay? It was a speech that I should have liked the politicians in this country to make.

Nicola Sturgeon has suggested the Scottish Parliament could throw a spanner in the works by refusing to agree to departure, and more than three million people have signed a petition started before 23rd June demanding a rematch if certain criteria were not met. The person who started this petition voted Leave and is now furious that it has been hijacked by Remainers. I think that is quite funny. Until Angela Merkel spoke up saying the UK should have some time to sort itself out, it seemed that the rest of Europe was going to demand the keys back tomorrow. These two songs started going round my head:

for the rest of the EU
and this for the Remainers

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D’You Get Me?

I’m a fan of public transport, and I use London’s buses on an almost daily basis, but sometimes I could happily swap my seat on the upper deck for the inside of a limo with darkened windows.

It’s not my own privacy that I’d be protecting, but being the unwilling audience of other people’s conversations is something I find trying at times. It’s not even what they are talking about that disrupts my thoughts, it’s the verbal tics.

This morning, travelling to work on the 148, I was reading my book. Suddenly I lost concentration, and didn’t know why. Then the penny dropped; I had registered that a woman several seats behind me was using the phrase Do you know what I mean? as a form of punctuation. For the rest of the journey, and I got off before she did, and she was still carrying on her ‘phone call, I noted with increasing discomfort her repetition of these words. I couldn’t tell you what the conversation was about.

At lunchtime, I shared a table with three strangers, twenty somethings, obviously well-educated and articulate, yet they punctuated every statement with like. Continue reading