Prime Minister’s Questions

Keir Starmer shows the complete failure of the UK government to deal with Covid, and the appalling resultant death rate. ABdP Johnson shows the Tories’ concern for spin and presentation. Can Mr Johnson explain 10,000 additional deaths in care homes? He can not.

Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, gave the facts. The average number of deaths in care homes in April for the last five years has been just over 8000. This April, there were 26,000 deaths in care homes. 8000 are recorded as Covid deaths. He asked, can the PM say what the government’s thinking is on the additional 10,000 deaths?

Johnson: Covid is an appalling disease and the elderly are vulnerable. But since the care homes action plan began there are fewer deaths and fewer outbreaks in care homes. We need to reduce infections in care homes. We must fix it and we will.

That is, 10,000 additional deaths and he gives no answer. There are about 418,000 people in care homes, who must be terrified.

Starmer: we need to understand the figures. The overall figure given for Covid deaths is 32,600, greater than any other country but the US. The government has compared the figures to other countries, before, when ours were less. Yesterday, the government stopped publishing the international comparison. Why?

Johnson: The epidemic is unprecedented (untrue) once in a century (well, we hope so). Comparisons with other countries are premature. (So why has he been making them before now?) The figures are stark and deeply, deeply horrifying. This has been an appalling epidemic. We are getting the numbers down, and making small modest steps to come out of restrictions on going to work.

Johnson’s incompetence is skewered, no matter how much he wriggles. I would support the government in their efforts, if they were willing to admit the slightest mistake. This We are Fixing It line makes me hate him.

Dr. Jamie Wallace, Conservative for Bridgend, said the Tory government’s road map out of lockdown was clear, but in Wales the devolved Labour administration gave no such clarity. “Does he agree with me that the people of Wales deserve a government that is honest and clear with them about the road ahead?”

Wallace is so sycophantic, he fails to notice the trap he has laid for Johnson, who is opaque and blustering. Johnson said the four nations are working well together. People who talk of confusion or mixed messages are grossly overstating the position. The common sense of the British people is shining through this argument. They can see where we need to go.

John Spellar, Labour for Warley: The Foreign Office has washed its hands of people with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, stranded in other countries when their families are here. Will you sort this out?

Johnson: 1.3m British nationals (people with indefinite leave do not have citizenship) have now been returned. We are doing everything we can.

Peter Bone called for the Electoral Commission to be abolished. The commission attempts to ensure the fairness of our votes, with insufficient powers of investigation and sanction.

Johnson again refused to seek an extension of the Brexit negotiations. Remember that the disaster for the economy of the Tory hard Brexit is coming.

As a lawyer, I love Mr Starmer’s approach, and find Ian Blackford’s blustering by comparison. I can’t remember what Mr Johnson said that “surprised” Mr Starmer, but this particular piece of lawyers’ jargon needs explained. “I am surprised” means Dude! WTAF!!!!!!!

Mr Starmer was polite, and that is his way. Before, he was polite to trans-excluders, and trans people worried that he sympathised. Looking at what he said, he was not sympathising at all. In the same way with Mr Johnson he is raising the questions which must be answered eventually, and rather than shouting or repeating that the PM has not answered, he moved on. It will produce a clip or two for the news bulletins, showing Mr Starmer calm and measured, and I hope bringing out that Johnson did not answer about 10,000 unexplained deaths. I hope journalists and the public will continue to raise those questions, and I am doing so here now.

Right now, it’s lovely to see PMQ as a sort of headmaster’s office, where naughty Boris Bunter goes up before the beak and shouts Yarrooo a lot as he gets his deserved thrashing. The problem is that the Remove, indeed the whole rest of School outside that office, is firmly under Bunter’s control, and Bunter is selling it all off to buy cream cakes for him and his chums.

Once again.

10,000 unexplained additional deaths in care homes in April.

The deaths are coming down, though far too slowly for my liking. And between 7 March and 8 May there have been 49,833 deaths above the weekly national average in England and Wales, which declined from 11,498 to 9,576 as the weather warmed. At worst, that was a doubling of the weekly death rate. 33,365 deaths from Covid were registered in that period, though on 1 May the official Covid death rate was 27,510, being UK deaths in hospitals after a positive test. That figure is 33,186 at 13 May.

A Covid timeline

Governments should have known the effects of Covid 19, and the UK and US governments should have acted earlier. Here are some relevant dates. I am also including some personal dates, for what I noticed and the state of denial I was in. Denial is forgiveable in citizens, but not in governments.

December 2019

1st: the symptoms begin of the man whose infection is the earliest laboratory-confirmed case.

16th: First admission to hospital.

31st: The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission confirmed 27 cases, and advised people to wear masks in public, and not to go to enclosed public spaces.

A report goes to the US Center for Disease Control.

January 2020

3rd: Dr Li Wenliang detained in Wuhan on charges of “spreading false rumours” which “seriously disrupted social order”.

10th: genome of SARS-CoV 2 published.

20th: cases reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

23rd: China imposes lockdown in Wuhan. 25 deaths in total in China.

25th: UK government warns against travel to Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan is.

30th: WHO declares Covid 19 is a PHEIC, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

31st: Two cases of Covid 19 are declared in the UK. 259 deaths in total in China.

February

6th: First death in US, in San Francisco Bay area. However this is not announced until 21 April, based on post-mortem testing by coroner.

21st: Eleven municipalities in Lombardy locked down. First Covid death in Italy.

28th: WHO publishes report of the WHO China joint mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019. It reported that the disease was not airborne, but could spread in droplets in breath, and by fomites, which are inanimate objects touched by an infected person, which then infect others. Most clusters occurred in families. In Wuhan, 1800 five-person teams of contact tracers traced tens of thousands of contacts, of whom between 1% and 5% subsequently tested positive. Initially, the R0 figure was 2-2.5. That is, each infected person infected 2-2.5 others. 6.1% of cases are critical: respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction/failureIndividuals at highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.

First death known at the time to be of Covid 19 in US, in Seattle. 21 deaths in total in Italy. 2835 deaths in total in China.

March

3rd: In the UK, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene. However UK Prime Minister ABdP Johnson boasts, I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands. People obviously can make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is … our judgment is that washing your hands is the crucial thing.

5th: first death in the UK is confirmed.

6th: I meet a friend for coffee. We usually met monthly, and I proposed we meet in April. She thinks this won’t be possible. I am still in denial. In the coffee shop, there are boxes of tissues on the tables. Shopping, I note there is no spaghetti in the supermarket.

9th: All-Italy lockdown. All businesses except those providing essential services are closed. 463 total deaths in Italy.

12th: WHO declares Covid 19 is a pandemic. UK announces move from containment to delay strategy: no longer necessary to identify every new case.

13th: Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, defends government policy saying it could lead to “herd immunity”.

16th: I meet a friend, who tells me that as he is 70 he and his wife will be self-isolating at home for the foreseeable future. I arrange to meet a friend in London on 22nd March. I am still in denial.

New York City in lockdown.

19th: pubs and restaurants closed in London. UK government downgrades Covid 19, meaning that a lower level of PPE is required to treat patients.

All borders and entry-ports in New Zealand closed to non-residents.

23rd: UK-wide lockdown announced.

25th: Nationwide lockdown in New Zealand. All businesses except essential businesses are closed.

26th: Regulations on UK lockdown published, and come into force.

27th: Johnson confirmed to have Covid 19.

28th: Mr Amjed El-Howrani, an ENT surgeon, is the first NHS doctor to die of Covid 19.

April

4th: Keir Starmer declared new leader of the Labour Party.

7th: Johnson in intensive care.

27th: My first experience of a covid-related con. The phone calls saying “We’re going to cut off your internet, go to this website” have stopped, but this call asked for donations for the WHO. As always, I pressed the button to speak to a person, and the woman was surprised when I said, truthfully and believing it, that donating to WHO would be a good thing in the pandemic. She told me a manager would phone me back to give me the account details, and I should pay either £199.99 or £299.

30th: official death statistics China 4633, Italy 27,967, US 63,856, UK 26,771.

May

8th: From 7 March to 8 May there have been 49,833 deaths registered above the five year average, in England and Wales.

10th: Johnson’s public speech, not to Parliament, saying people should go back to work. Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives.

11th: (Monday) Government clarifies they meant go back to work from Wednesday.

25th: Dominic Cummings gives a press conference at 10 Downing Street, and refuses to resign.

June

1st: further relaxation of restrictions. Most vulnerable shielding people told they can go outdoors. I don’t trust the government. Schools in England supposed to reopen: many do, some children return.

July

10th: I meet a friend for a glass of wine in her garden, for the first time since March.

I wrote this for social media debates on what was known and when. The WHO report is the moment when governments should take swift action. The UK death toll is the worst in Europe, higher than Italy’s, over 32,000, and I blame the UK government. In the week to 24 April there were 11,539 more deaths than the average for that week in previous years. This will include some people who did not seek medical treatment because of fear of going to hospital. Confirmed deaths from Covid 19 around the world were over 250,000. 22.5% of confirmed Covid 19 deaths in the UK are in care homes.

A government which does not believe in the value of government- to protect the people, to act for the common good- will not only be incompetent in acting, it will not understand what needs to be done or could be done. The British government has got rid of all its talent, which was not cravenly loyal to either Johnson or his destructive Brexit project, and shows worrying signs of caring more about appearances than reality: it claimed to reach its 100,000 tests a day target on 30 April, by counting tests which did not have a result communicated to a person tested, and the figure has dropped since. It would be better if they acknowledged that testing is important, and stated clearly what they were achieving, because when their pretense is stripped away they only look worse.

Additional deaths are the best way to find how many the pandemic is killing. The figures from the Office of National Statistics, for England and Wales not Scotland and Northern Ireland, for previous weeks are here. The figures for the official death toll, being UK deaths in hospital after a positive test, are here. How many deaths above the five year average were there in England and Wales?

Week to 13 March: 5 Covid deaths registered, 186 extra deaths.
Week to 20 March: 103 Covid deaths registered, 72  extra deaths. 258 cumulative.
Week to 27 March: 539 Covid deaths registered, 1011 extra deaths. 1269 cumulative.
Week to 3 April: 3475 Covid deaths registered, 6082 extra deaths. 7351 cumulative.
Week to 10 April: 6213 Covid deaths registered, 7996 extra deaths. 15,347 cumulative.
Week to 17 April: 8758 Covid deaths registered, 11,854 extra deaths. 27,201 cumulative.
Week to 24 April: 8237 Covid deaths registered, 11,539 extra deaths. 38,740 cumulative.
Week to 1 May: 6035 Covid deaths registered, 8012 extra deaths. 46,752 cumulative.
Week to 8 May: 3930 Covid deaths registered, 3081 extra deaths. 49,833 cumulative.
Week to 15 May: 3810 Covid deaths registered, 4385 extra deaths. 54,218 cumulative.
Week to 22 May: 2589 Covid deaths registered, 2348 extra deaths, 56,566 cumulative.
Week to 29 May: 1822 Covid deaths registered, 1653 extra deaths, 58,219 cumulative.
Week to 5 June: 1588 Covid deaths registered, 732 extra deaths, 58,951 cumulative.
Week to 12 June: 1114 Covid deaths registered, 559 extra deaths, 59,510 cumulative.

Between 7 March and 12 June, 48,218 deaths included Covid on the death certificate in England and Wales. There were 59510 deaths above the five year average.

More links:

14 April: NYT: New York ER doctor’s diary.
14 May (sic): NY Review of Books: Trump the Vector in Chief by Fintan O’Toole.
7 April: The Atlantic: Jacinda Ardern‘s leadership.
Ongoing: British experiences of working in healthcare.

Walking while trans

How can you walk as if you own the world? Being trans may be an advantage: I have had to learn to walk three times. The first was before I was one, of course, and that is a huge challenge: it is inspiring to watch children’s single-hearted concentration on the task and their delight as they master it. But then in my teens, I tried walking in what felt to me like a more relaxed way, and demonstrated it to my mother. She did not approve. She said it looked homosexual and her voice indicated her shock so strongly I never walked that way again.

Then Carol told me I was walking in such a “Prognathous” way. It means having a protruding jaw. We talked about it- she said she could have said “Neanderthal”, and I got the message. Relax all that control. Just allow yourself to walk. Not too fast, perhaps- on holiday with my trans friend near Florence, we were late for the last train and had to hurry through the city, and she consciously went into man mode walking that quickly. I was presenting male at the time, and had taken only male clothes. She did not want to walk with me, then. She did not like man mode. She walked ahead.

Finding and permitting sadness, letting go of the anger suppressing it, means I can know my desire, and my desire is to be respected, and to be seen. This animal has value. I know the opposite and I don’t like it. I cycled to the station to go to London (God, Lockdown has been such a long time, it really is another world) and at the station realised I had not brought my wig, only my cycle helmet. Oh dear. Never mind, I went to London, went to the art gallery, in tight jeans and Mary Janes, and no-one looked at me. It was not the strange, female-dressed man with bald top and fluffy sides, it was just nobody, hardly there.

H’s dog whose name I hope to remember in a moment- Jess, that was it- walked less and less far. Once, I was walking her and a small girl said to her mother, “Oh look, a sheep”. There was no sheep in her, a bit of collie most noticeable in the head, a white, tubby body and a tail she kept firmly clamed down between her legs. I was sad for her. She did not like when other dogs came up to smell her, and could nip. I had not at the time seen leads with signs saying the dog is nervous or anxious and may appear to over-react. It looked to me rather like this police officer:

Buttocks firmly clenched. Are you ever like that? Eventually Jess would walk to the end of the next house, cross the road, walk back up the road, and back in to H’s house, and refuse to go further.

Lots of trans women were socially isolated before Covid. Ach, this post is turning out less confident and positive than I had hoped. Walking now, distancing, it seems people are self-effacing or nervous, and it could be fear, or it could be angry tension manifesting in being extremely careful with others. Or it could be just not knowing the rules, really, and wanting to follow them.

And there must be a way, to walk relaxed, to walk in joy, because the world is beautiful and things are alright, mostly. I hope I will return to this, from a more successful pov, later. Meanwhile I set my intention.

Trans pride and self-respect

I maintain self-respect as a trans woman, despite the hatred and mockery of the transphobes, despite the prejudice of society. How? Through self-knowledge and acceptance.

I am coming round to the phrase “I am a woman with a trans history”. You put your transition in the past, and move on to other concerns. You have done the emotional, intellectual and physical work of transition. It need not mean you abandon trans people or deny being trans. We can be proud of accepting this daunting and difficult path, and of the progress we have made on it, wherever on the path we are.

We can’t reach self-respect through creating a hierarchy of trans, this trans is better than that trans because they are further through transition, or transsexual as opposed to cross-dresser, or through attempts to create a war between androphile and gynephile trans. Every way of being human, including those “social conservatives” pick on to hate such as different skin colour or eye shape or sexuality as well as gender, is of value. The conservatives create slurs to denigrate those they hate, and get others to join in. Like in this post– content warning transphobia, obviously.

Self-respect is not “even though I am trans” or “I am trans but”. Being trans is a characteristic like being left-handed or aphantasic. It is something society enthusiastically tries to make me ashamed of, with the phobes making various spurious arguments why we are all dangerous or to be feared, and moralists calling us disgusting. If we are to be feared or admired it is for what we do rather than what we are. They want us ashamed, they want us hiding away, and therefore we need gay pride, trans pride as an antidote to that- I am happy to be trans, because if I were not trans I would vanish in a series of weird space-time paradoces, and cease to exist. The person in my space would not be me. This pride is not the opposite of humility, but of shame.

Like with aphantasia, the well-meaning often can’t quite believe how shit it is to be us. Look at this blurb on an aphantasia programme. What if you could not… it seems inconceivable, but that is the reality for some. It’s not concern-trolling, but the effect is to make people pity others as abnormal and lacking rather than value them (us) as diverse and gifted. It’s all-pervasive. My imagination is just fine, thanks.

Against this pressure it is necessary to say, I am Trans (aphantasic… Scots… ) and that is OK. That is the heart of Pride marches. This is who we are and you will not bully us into hiding it.

In the past I surrendered to that bullying. I conceived of dressing female as a temptation, as a bad, unmanly thing which I wanted because of Sin or something, and gained false self-respect by denying it. I am not really like that. I compartmentalised, imagining a good me shorn of all these bad impulses, and with righteous desires. Or, I hoped I could resist the desire to cross-dress, and make a man of myself. I felt self-respect insofar as I could make a man of myself, and when I could not that false self-respect was torn from me, which was extremely painful.

And in the past I gained self-respect by what I could achieve, which in the end was the most monstrous perfectionism: any achievement was only what was to be expected, any failure even if it was entirely because of circumstances beyond my control was a disaster. I could not cope with the pressure, and that self-respect vanished too.

I was left with myself, the trans woman, whom I despised. Feminine, emotional, every characteristic wrong. Taught to loathe and despise my true self I fled from it, but could not get away, and it makes me think of Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven.

I am myself. Myself I’ll know.

Then self-respect is a matter of seeing what I have been taught to admire, letting it go, and finding ways of admiring what is actually there. This person, with these gifts. There is no self-respect without self-knowledge and self-acceptance. A lot of this is what I am doing here in this blog: teasing out aspects of self which were not valued so which I denied, which I need to see and value for myself.

And as I strip away the false understanding, in order to accept who I am, I need lots of self-forgiveness. This is who I am, this is what I have done, these are the pressures and difficulties I suffered. I would rather be in a less precarious place than I am, but if I curse myself as useless or stupid for ending up here, that only traps me here.

In the lockdown, here is a verse I wrote:

Eight little peanuts
lying in a palm
wondering what would happen
would they come to harm?

Eight happy peanuts
One gets dragged away
where has it gone to?
None of them can say

Seven salty peanuts
are getting their kicks
another is taken
then there are six

six surprised peanuts
begin to get concerned
another is taken
nothing have they learned

Five roasted peanuts
looking all about
one of them is taken
he didn’t even shout

Four little peanuts
arranged in a square
Now it’s a triangle,
the fourth isn’t there.

Three sanguine peanuts
think it can’t be that bad
one is pinched in fingers
two are going mad

Two little peanuts,
lying side by side
One got eaten
The other tried to hide

One lonely peanut
hadn’t long to wait
Thrown up high, and caught in mouth
and then it was ate.

It is about death and the fear or even dread of death, though that is part hidden by playful fantasy. I thought it was for Covid. Perhaps it is not just for covid. “Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully.”

Leaving your house

No person in England may leave the place that they are living without reasonable excuse, during the emergency period. What might a reasonable excuse be? Some are listed in the regulations, but if you have to go out and a police officer challenges you, you can explain why and they must decide whether that is “reasonable”.

The regulations are reviewed every three weeks, so on 16 April Dominic Raab announced they would last a further three weeks, and may last months. He must also withdraw parts of the regulations, if those parts are found to be unnecessary. They will next be reviewed on 7 May.

The regulations are here. Paragraph 6 lists some reasonable excuses. Going to work is a reasonable excuse, including voluntary work, when it is not “reasonably possible” to work from home: even if the work is not classified as “essential work”. Shops are closed except those listed in schedule 2 part 3:  bike shops, laundrettes, dentists, and car repair shops but not car showrooms, are allowed to open. Businesses listed in part 2, such as hair salons, gyms and playgrounds, have to close. Theatres, concert halls and bingo halls, but not nightclubs, can open to broadcast a performance.

A friend can only attend a funeral if no family member or member of the household of the deceased will be there.

Giving care to vulnerable people is an excuse. Some vulnerable people are listed in paragraph 1- people over 70, “any person who is pregnant” (including trans men and non-binary people! Yay!) and any person with an underlying health condition, some of which are listed in schedule 1. So if someone is not included in that list, you might still argue they are vulnerable, and I think mental health conditions make someone vulnerable. Therefore I argue that visiting to talk to a depressed person is a reasonable excuse to leave your house. Isolation can make mental health conditions worse. Communicating electronically is not the same.

That is my argument for sitting on a park bench, or sunbathing in a park. Being outside is good for depression. There is class privilege here. I am articulate, and sound like a middle class person even if I do not always look like one. So I might try to persuade a police officer that I had a reasonable excuse for sitting on a park bench. Other people might not.

I argue if you go out with a reasonable excuse, doing other things incidentally is lawful. So the Northamptonshire chief constable saying that police could go through a shopping trolley to see all the goods in it were “basic necessities” (including pet food) was simply wrong. You can buy chocolate along with your tinned tomatoes and spaghetti.

The Crown Prosecution Service issued a practical guide on reasonable excuses. It says, There is no need for all a person’s shopping to be basic food supplies; the purchase of snacks and luxuries is still permitted. In general terms, a person has a reasonable excuse to visit the shops which remain open to customers under the Regulations. So even if you went to a permitted shop and only bought chocolate and alcohol, that might be OK, but I would stick in a pint of milk as well to be safe from police questioning.

The regulation says you can go out to “obtain basic necessities,” not “to go shopping”, so the guide says you could pick up surplus basic food from a friend’s house.

The guide says you can buy tools to repair a damaged fence, but not brushes and paint to redecorate a kitchen. That means they could actually look in your trolley, at the hardware store. Again, you could buy essential items, and also get non-essential items incidentally.

You can drive somewhere to go for a walk, they say, if you don’t drive longer than you are walking. This makes sense. If people from separate large towns go to a particular beauty spot, there is a chance for Covid from one town to pass to the other. It is a question of balancing risk. Other people will lawfully be going between the two towns. In France the distance you can go from your home to exercise is one kilometre. The guide says you can stop for lunch while on a long walk- or cycle ride, I would have thought- so they are imagining people being quite far from home.

The guide seems keener on interpreting the given reasons in the regulations, than considering other possible reasons, and possibly it takes a suspicious view. If someone has a row with their partner, and goes away to cool down, Moving to a friend’s address for several days to allow a ‘cooling-off’ following arguments at home is OK. This is explicitly under the “moving house” exemption. Moving out for a few hours, says the guide, is not OK. Possibly, they think people might use “cooling off” as an excuse for visiting friends whenever they wanted. Not every visit to a friend will be spotted by a police officer. But then people are going to allotments, which I think is reasonable, and they are not specifically mentioned.

I note the regulations specify to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm as a reasonable excuse- so if the house is on fire, or to escape a violent partner. Now it’s reasonable to state every excuse they can think of, perhaps, when drafting the regulations, but that this needs stated might indicate the police will question reasons not explicitly stated in the regs.

Don’t make mordant jokes to police officers. Irritated by delay, my friend once told a US border guard that the purpose of her visit was “subverting the government and constitution of the US”, and the official, with a weary sigh, said, “Shall we start again, Sir?” Don’t assume that the police officer is as forebearing. They may be angry and scared.

Before deciding you have committed an offence, police officer has to assess the evidence, which includes what you tell them. Therefore, they should believe you unless they have good reason not to. Cycling for exercise, I noticed a police van prominently marked ANPR. Then they consider whether your excuse is “reasonable”. If not they can tell you to go home, or take you home using reasonable force if necessary. If you are out without reasonable excuse you have committed an offence, and they can issue a fixed penalty notice. The penalty is £60, £30 if you pay within 14 days. The second fixed penalty notice is £120, the third £240, the fourth £480, the fifth £960.

This means that if an officer simply tells you what you should not do- don’t sit on that bench- they are giving advice, as they are allowed, rather than investigating an offence. Listening politely and saying as little as possible is a good tactic, in order to avoid such an investigation.

If a child is going out the police can order their parents to keep them in and the person responsible for the child is responsible for enforcement.

I don’t want to spread this disease. I have vulnerable friends and relatives. So we should all behave responsibly and not go out unless necessary, because going out might spread the disease. However there may be reasonable excuses for going out which the police don’t recognise.

Here’s a second world war poster to make us feel all British:

Christ is Risen

Queuing for the supermarket
is like walking a labyrinth.
Every few moments, some mindful steps.
Ribbons wind the path, and we turn in sunshine.
Blossom and birdsong are beautiful.
Over the fence,
a path curves into the woods,
in cool green light.

“Wonderful,” said a friend. “You woman of so many talents. I’d lose the last sentence…” Well. I wanted to share the idea, of walking in the queue being like in a labyrinth, but for me it evokes a specific place. The police are telling people not to buy inessential items or sunbathe in parks, and they have the power to impose on the spot fines, so if you want to enjoy sunshine, doing nothing at all, a supermarket queue is a permitted place. This one has trees, so even if a carpark is not beautiful there is beauty there worth my attention. And across a steel fence of sharp uprights a few inches apart, there is the Greenway, with the contrast of light through a scrap of mature woodland. There is a contrast in the last three lines, in the lowered intensity of words matching the difference of the vision. So there.

There is no afterlife. If “He descended into Hell”, as the Apostle’s Creed says, it is here, in this life on Earth, and if Jesus saved people from Hell as apocryphal Gospels state and the Orthodox Church celebrates in icons it is now, and how better when people are afraid of a pandemic?

I remember my first labyrinth. The path was marked in different coloured square tiles, and was square so that repeatedly one turned a 90° corner, facing a different vista, bushes, trees, grass, and angle of sunlight. I did it slowly, barefoot in March, in about 2007. It did the job, bringing me into the moment, contemplating the beauty, out of Hell. From that place one can begin to see what needs to be done in the moment now. I probably didn’t have covid two weeks ago, but I don’t know if I picked it up yesterday; and the sun is so hot in my back yard that I sit in the shade. A siren. Is it a police car come for someone who bought something inessential, or an ambulance taking away a sufferer? Someone tells me her child brought it home from school and they all had it, and were fine after a week. Someone has died. A neighbour shouts at his daughter for eating chocolate before tea.

Here is an icon of “The Harrowing of Hell”. Christ breaks the walls to rescue the imprisoned, while angels hold Satan down.

Western European art tended to go more for Last Judgment scenes, with sinners falling unequivocally and finally into torment, but there are some examples. In this by a follower of Bosch, the devils resist, and only some people take notice. Click for a larger version.

In this Cezanne, Christ saves individually and personally.

Another follower of Bosch. Most of the people are untrusting. The woman covering her nakedness makes me think of Eve.

I went to the supermarket
and came home with a poem.
Would the police deem it essential?

Covid dreams

My house is much cleaner than normal. I tidied away a lot of papers and stuff a couple of weeks ago, and have gone on a cleaning jag today, vacuuming crannies and crevices for dust. If a tiny particle can make a sufferer cough, irritating the airways further, I do not want my house as dusty as it was.

Eight percent of people over fifty coming down with Covid 19 need hospital treatment. My fear is that if I can phone and describe symptoms I will not be deemed sufficiently sick for transport or treatment, and if I can’t then I won’t be helped. And what that means for poorer areas without a fair hospital system horrifies me.

Oh I would like to talk face to face! I last had a friend over on Monday 16th. I like video calls, and now can attend Quaker meeting twice a week or even more- so I am having more conversation!- but I like hugs. Ministry is mostly guardedly positive- things are bad but we will be OK, quotes from 17th century Quakers- with occasional reminders of people who are particularly vulnerable.

And I think of people I know- people with MS, people over ninety, people who need oxygen to breathe even without 19. I fear for friends, I fear for people, I fear for myself. I am likely to suffer only minor discomfort, little more than any cold, but the worst possibilities are unthinkable. It is likely that someone I know will die of this thing.

The restaurants were told to close on Thursday 19th, and we were told to go into lockdown- only essential workers to go out to work, others can work from home if they can, stay at home but for one session of exercise daily and one shop weekly. Not having a freezer, and not always finding what I wanted, I shop more often. There are no rules yet on wearing masks. I don’t know the differences between masks, but with NHS staff angry about their lack of PPE, and the ENT consultant Amged El-Hawrani dying- he will not be the last- should I have a mask at all?

On Saturday I went to Asda, and was taken aback to find the front door locked. There was only one door in, round the back by the car park, and people were queuing quietly to be allowed in, one in one out, by the guards on the door. The aisles had arrows on the floor marking a one-way system, so we could keep 2m apart, and while I heard gallows humour a week before now it was silent. Again I could not get tinned tomatoes, but cooked with fresh tomatoes instead. I could not get basmati rice, but got brown instead, so that now I have got basmati rice I have 1kg of brown rice to use. Boil uncovered for 20-30 minutes, in six measures of water for each measure of rice, then drain, put back in the pot and cover to steam for ten minutes. It’s alright. This seemed to bulk out quite suddenly after 22 minutes.

I like worship on the net. I place the laptop on a table slightly to my left, and sit below my window, composed. Today, I sat in the sun for twenty minutes paying attention to my fear. Paradoxically, the desire for a crisis in which the British can show our mettle is the desire for a more ordered world: a world where priorities become clear, action becomes defined or predetermined, our feelings fit the needs of the moment. Actually, the crisis increases mess: we still have the same old problems in the same messy lives, but unaccustomed new ones- using kitchen roll as toilet paper, perhaps, or not knowing how to care for parents suddenly under such great threat.

There are horrors, on the net, such as video of overworked doctors and patients on ventilators. The New York Times quoted a website advising doctors on how to broach difficult topics with relatives- your beloved granddad is getting no better, so we need to take him off the ventilator so we can save someone else. So here is a sweet article by George Monbiot on people being creative and generous. I have The Mirror and the Light to savour, but at the moment I am rereading Bring up the Bodies. Here is Cromwell: in those huge hands Holbein places a legal writ, but that crease down the middle of it makes it look like a dagger.

I was moved to parody TS Eliot.

Johnson the Etonian, a fortnight dead,
had forsaken spaffing for bouts of coughing.
Those are pearls that were his lies.

We do not wish anything to happen.
Seven days we have lived quietly,
Zooming, and queuing at the supermarket,
Living, and partly living.

Let us not go, you and I
where society now sleeps upon the world
like a patient etherised upon a table
Let us not go through half-deserted streets.
In the room the women stay
With Covid, there is naught to say.

Is this the world changing, or the world’s strangeness revealing itself?

Covid moodswings

The weather is beautiful. Living in the country, I can go cycling, and afterwards I sat in the back yard and had lunch. I met my new neighbour and his daughter, who is four, as they played together with bouncy-balls. He is an essential worker.

I sat in the sun yesterday as well. My upstairs neighbour, whom I have not met yet, occasionally kicked tiny stones off the flat roof. None landed on me, some landed near, and I wondered about going up and telling him off. I don’t know if he knew I was there. Especially after my friend was burgled for food4fuxache! Burgled for food!- this led me to paranoid thoughts appearing reasonable. It is the covid 19 lockdown, I thought, people will be angry and will be looking for a cat to kick, and the first resource will be us queers. Thank God simply being queer is no longer an excuse as it was in the nineties, but they will imagine excuses for hostility easily.

After the isolation was announced- only essential workers can go out to work, others can work from home if they can, I can go out for one period of exercise a day, and once for essential shopping as infrequently as possible, and as far as I am concerned my common yard is staying at home- I thought, well, actually, I feel quite good. There are rules, which give a false feeling of certainty. My comfort is old male Doctor Who. It’s not that I have anything against Jodie Whittaker, but I find Chris Chibnall mean and repulsive- I like mild threat and horror, but his situations are horrid rather than horrific. Spoiler for the latest episode: Time Lord cybermen in the wreck of the citadel are the last straw.

I want to talk to people. My friend proposed a video chat this morning then could not, as she had crises to deal with, and I was disappointed. So I went cycling, and paid attention to the beauty of grass, trees, sunshine- the sun sparkling on what I will call a brook by the road, though some might call it a drainage ditch. The rapid change of experience on these back roads, as they go up and down over the downs, among trees then open farmland. I paid attention to my momentary experience rather than fearful projections of what might happen. There was the effort of climbing hills and exhileration of descents.

Added: next day I went to the supermarket and got spaghetti, rice, fresh meat and fruit, bread and milk. I felt anxious, queuing up at the checkout. One of my anxieties was being picked on as trans. I stood and noticed the anxiety, and consciously accepted it, and then it bothered me less.

I took a lot of photos at that camp in 2012, and one of them has resurfaced. At the time, it might have been thought unflattering or uninteresting, but now it contains just the right level of seriousness.

And now, here’s today’s little drop of sunshine from Théodore Géricault.

It could be worse…

The header picture, and the picture below, are The Raft of the Medusa by Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault. We are in lockdown, unable to leave our homes, and they are on a raft. The Medusa sank off the coast of Senegal, and 147 crew were stranded on a raft, without any means of navigation. After the first night, they had no food. I have food, at least for the moment.

The picture is 7m x 5m, so in the Louvre it is overwhelming! But we can enjoy it in our homes, on our computers. Who needs to go out anyway? I might go food shopping on Wednesday but I might not need to. On the raft, they were reduced to cannibalism.

The picture was not popular when first exhibited in France. French people eating other French people is not a good look.

But we are British! It was hugely popular exhibited in Greenwich just after Waterloo, as it showed our moral superiority to our cowardly foes, especially when HMS Alceste ran aground in 1817. Captain Murray Maxwell maintained discipline, evacuated all the crew to a nearby island, and repelled attacks from Malay pirates.

We can bear lockdown in our comfortable homes: there are 167 episodes of Doctor Who to watch again. I have a translation of À la recherche du temps perdu on my e-reader.

Let us encourage each other.

My song is love unknown

These are interesting times.

If I get breathless so that I need oxygen, I have no friend with a car who could take me to hospital, so would need an ambulance. It is harder to believe I have a chance of getting one if I need it, after seeing the fresh meat shelves of Aldi almost empty. I am not that far over fifty, and my normal lifestyle is pretty much social isolation anyway, and I wonder whether the death rate percentages I read apply to a fully functioning hospital system when there is O2 and intensive care for everyone who needs it.

And others have more to worry about. If you are going for chemotherapy, you are immunocompromised, and you get it in a hospital where there are lots of sick people, including some with covid 19.

I was thinking of writing a post on if I disappear for a bit. I am extremely unlikely to disappear because I have died, though it is possible. Most people have mild symptoms from 19. I could of course have an accident. The longest time I have been off the air was a gap of ten days in March 2013, when I simply stopped having anything to write about. When I came back, four regular commenters commented, one saying Good to have you back Clare I was worried. Please, please don’t worry. With less social contact I have less to write about, and if I am even slightly more depressed I can’t see the point always: I could do yet another post summarising an article with my own take on it, but I feel more and more repetitive.

I get a lot of my self-regard from blogging. When people read me and comment positively that makes me feel good. And I keep checking the stats for a tiny dopamine hit, which is addictive. So I try to get more views for such hits, and that seems unhealthy to me: it seems more unhealthy when I feel more depressed.

My writing was going to appear in print- yes, print, not on line, how old fashioned. Now I wonder if it will be printed, if the printer will do the job or be shut down. (I am pessimistic when I am depressed.) My words being printed would not prove to the world, or even to me, that I had value; and it was one of those acknowledgments that I like. Something to look forward to that makes me feel good. In the uncertainty, when I am stripped of those, and other things to look forward to- I will meet her for lunch, I will meet him for coffee- I feel more pointless, even worthless. How can I do anything of value?

I do not know myself. Paul wrote I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Many people buy veg they will throw away uneaten, books that sit on their shelves unread. I thought of cycling about seven miles this morning, in the sunshine, and wondered what in me might not want to- some negative, depressive, heavy grey toad squatting on my life, preventing almost all activity, perhaps. Or worry: to cycle I have to make some small decisions. I need more motivation than the joy of the thing itself to get me out of bed: I need to talk myself into it and consider what might be the objections from that part of me which objects, which I refuse to see as merely a toad.

A hymn came to mind.

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

I do not believe in God. The loving eternal creator, numbering each of my hairs and seeing me as a daughter, who created the World, makes no sense to me. Yet emotionally the words make sense, and I cling to them.

Well, I did go cycling. The sunshine is beautiful, and as I passed the church its Church Open sign was in the slot, so I went in and looked up that hymn. It is beautiful, written in 1664. It has little to trouble an atheist. There is a frank assertion of the doctrine- He came from His blest throne/ Salvation to bestow– but that is only two lines. There is also an elegant expression of the unfairness and randomness of life, and the lack of relation between suffering, luck and deservingness- A murderer they save/ the Prince of life they slay.

The Christianity I have rejected is not as poisonous as that of my blogging buddy Sirius Bizinus. I can be in that church and experience it as having the energy of Love. On that quiet country road, Love kept it open. I read the hymn aloud to the empty church, weeping. Christianity has some truth in it, for this atheist materialist: there is something in me which some call God, which has value and which I may unite with and express, something of inestimable value, which values me when I allow myself to hear it, that I might be lovely.

So I went to my Quaker meeting by Zoom, sitting by the south-facing window, with a Bible and QFP to my left. I also took my Scottish Book of Common Prayer, as I thought that hymn would be in it. It isn’t- the book has “Hymns Ancient and Modern Standard Edition” from 1916. I still held it in my hands as I sat in Meeting, one of my few objects associated with my parents. I could see it negatively- without the hymn I wanted- or positively, as a symbol of their imperfect love.

Sitting alone in my house, I can suffer deep miseries and find strange consolations.