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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Estate Cars, A Lost Art ? by Wiggia

A short piece on A K Haart’s blog about a SAAB 96 estate car gave enough food for thought for me to reply.

It set me thinking. I had some time ago mentioned in another piece about the Citroen DS that I had spent some time in a Safari version of that car, and which led me on to think (I will have to ration all this thinking, not good for me) how those great estate cars of yesteryear have largely disappeared and been replaced by either estate cars that are so well upholstered that they will never have a wet dog in the back, or the modern equivalent - the MPV or SPV or any other V that can take on board more than five people and luggage.

The Americans had capacious ‘station wagons’ long before we had this side of the pond. Many had ingenious items like rear doors that could open in various directions so giving flexible load areas and even providing a floor extension.

For me, the Citroen DS Safari is still the best of the European estates. It never sold in the quantities of its opposite number at Volvo the 240GL as there was an inbuilt fear (totally unwarranted) about the complicated suspension: it wasn’t it was just different, and it became the reason that the DS was the only estate car you could load up at the time while the car remained level and retained its superb ride.

The Volvo for good reason resembled a hearse and was the favoured vehicle of antique collectors. The Citroen also came in many altered states from ambulances various and camper conversions, all taking advantage again of the suspension.

During the same period Peugeot had another then utilitarian load carrier, the 404: this also had a long travel suspension that was as tough as old boots and many versions survived the treatment meted out to them in Africa and survived way past their sell by date. Simple to maintain and reliable, that is what is wanted in countries and continents like Africa in all things mechanical.

Again, the ride in the DS provided a wonderful example of its versatility, with the BBC camera car that was at the races for years.

And of course the famous ambulance known as the Break !

The Volvo had this rear extension that was as near a cube as you could get, hence its ability to swallow large loads like grandfather clocks and settees. Never the prettiest of vehicles, it nonetheless clocked up a lot of reliable miles as a load lugger. It also had a reputation for being safe, being built like a tank. I went along with that until one day I saw one on the old Southend Road that had been hit in the back by an Austin A60: the Volvo had been bent in the middle. The A60 is much prized these days for banger racing and I know why.

The Peugeot in its new found habitat !

And now the little estate that started this piece off. I had a family link to one of these: my brother owned one and at the time he was friendly with the late Brian Glover, famous for his part in the film 'Kes' among other roles. He was fascinated with the rear facing seat and would sit in the back facing the traffic on his own as though filming the traffic behind him. The car originally came came with a two stroke engine and the saloon version had a stellar rally career with Erik Carlson who was married to another rather good driver and horse woman Pat Moss, sister of Stirling.

My brother's car had the Ford V4 engine that suited the little estate, though not the greatest of engines.

The American station wagon can be traced back to the early thirties but the ‘woodie’ is probably the one most people associate with from that period. The wood structure and side panels were replicated over here in the later Morris Minor Traveller; the woodie was also much sought after as a surfing accessory.

The one above is a Plymouth Westchester Suburban of ‘38 vintage.

Later 50s and sixties station wagons from over the pond were large, some very large, and had all the trappings of the saloons of the times plus cavernous rear space for cargo or extra seats.

This one shows the space the seats and the multi opening rear door. The one below was rather a rare beast, a Studebaker Wagonaire from ‘65 that managed all the above plus an opening rear roof that turned it into a truck if you so wished. It never sold in big numbers as Studebaker never really solved the leaking roof.

I personally only owned one estate that fitted into this category, a Citroen CX. This was the successor to the DS, another cavernous estate car with the Citroen hydraulic suspension, wonderful for long drives but hard work in town being a manual and having a brute of a clutch. I travelled the length and breadth of the country in mine attending dog shows, not the breed variety but for trained dogs.

It had an added advantage of entertaining children in other cars if you were stuck in traffic jams as you could raise and lower the suspension, always to great amazement from those looking. A downside to the car was that the suspension hydraulics were pumped up by the engine when running, so every morning or when starting the whole car would raise up. If you had a breakdown with engine failure of any sort the car remained on the floor, so the RAC had a special trailer for this as the car could not be winched onto a normal trailer because of lack of ground clearance.

Again, the Citroen had many variants. Here's the  Loadrunner...

That period was probably the last for what could be termed real estate cars/station wagons. The upmarket versions put out after that by the likes of Mercedes and copied by others were complete with leather-lined rear areas and plush carpeting; to fit in a wet dog, a liner was required, where in a real estate car that would not be necessary. The designs changed as well: a sleek profile was now de rigeur rather than having headroom and space. It was the end of the estate car and the SUV /Range Rover lookalikes killed it off.

Will they return? Most things in life go full circle, perhaps people will get tired of the sameness of the SUV - and having to climb into Range Rovers: you get a good driving view with them but getting in the seat is like climbing into a lorry. Perhaps drivers will return to the more  normal estate car, who knows ?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coronascape – a look around

First, the cheerful news: according to Dr John Campbell’s exposition , 85% of the over-80s in China who contracted Covid-19 pulled through; in Italy, over 80%, for the same age group; so the prognosis for sufferers is good for the old, rising to excellent for the young. Accordingly, ‘as of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK.’

Some say that the curfew should stop because the pandemic model has been revised optimistically; it hasn’t, it remains the same. The new forecast of 20,000 fatalities (or fewer) is because public policy and behaviour have changed; without that, says Professor Ferguson, the original prediction of half a million dead would still stand. If anything, the potential danger is worse than originally assumed: the estimated ‘reproduction rate’ (for onward transmission of the sickness) has risen from 2.5 to 3.
Another meme is that it’s all a fuss about nothing, since the oldies who died had other things wrong with them, so they were doomed anyway. Not so: most old people have some health condition or other, but we should remember that they are, by definition, survivors – the average 80-year-old man has a 35% chance of living ten more years, and even at a hundred has a 65% probability of seeing out another twelve months. We got a note last week from an old drama pal who is well into his nineties, saying he’s moved to a care home and hopes we are well!
However, reassuring statistics aren’t personal guarantees. Only 10% of British soldiers on the Western Front in WWI were killed, but any squaddie who stood up in the trench waving his arms and shouting ‘Oi, over here, Fritz!’ would have found his own odds shortened; which brings us to (for example) the morons who recently took up the toilet-bowl-licking challenge . We are in (sort of) lockdown because many people can’t tell the difference between ‘unlikely’ and ‘impossible’ consequences and keep taking risks, including gathering in large groups (£ ) . As one Twitter user has said, ‘I absolutely hate that my chances of survival during this period are inextricably linked to other people having common sense.’
Stupidity alone hardly explains the teenagers who smashed up Kidderminster Hospital a few days ago , or the gang (including adults) who, claiming to be carrying the coronavirus, coughed at NHS staff. I assume they had no inkling that very sadly, though it rarely happens, even young people can contract viral pneumonia. Besides, there could be many other reasons why youngsters might need emergency treatment, which could be unavailable to them if the hospitals were already fully employed tackling a pandemic: ‘tough luck, kid, your motorcycle can be fixed but you’ve had your chips, shame the ventilator was vandalised.’
Not that ventilators are necessarily the answer. It’s good for many other cases that production of these machines is increasing, but writing in the Spectator magazine , Canadian critical care physician Matt Strauss says ‘up to 90 per cent of Covid-19 patients who go on life support will die.’ In any case, inundated with medical emergencies, Italy has stopped intubating patients aged over 60. A review just published in the Lancet of Wuhan’s coronavirus patients also suggested respirators were of little use, concluding that old age and indications of vulnerability to sepsis were significant factors in predicting a failure to survive. Aeration was of far less use than antibiotics and antiviral drugs.
That last highlights another vulnerability that the West has allowed to develop. In December 2019, during trade negotiations shortly before the coronavirus crisis arose, the US was beginning to worry about its dependence on China for the production of around 80% of America’s supplies of antibiotics. This month, according to Fox News, Chinese media agency Xinhua hinted dangerously at restricting its exports of drugs to the US, plunging the latter into "the mighty sea of coronavirus."
Microsoft founder Bill Gates warned of viral pandemic in a TED talk in 2015 , a year after Ebola had broken out in West Africa . He said how air travel could spread a sickness across the world in a short time, and how we should be making plans to coordinate medical and military resources to tackle pandemics fast. Within months, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped to set up and fund the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations , in partnership with others including the pharmaceutical research giant Wellcome Trust. The business potential for a vaccine needed to combat an illness that is destined to become a permanent feature, like seasonal influenza, is huge; but if it is found, it will take a long time yet to come to market, and there are those who say that mass vaccination has never been proved to be safe and effective.
Again, many contrast Covid-19 with influenza, saying that the latter claims many more victims. Oddly, that number varies very widely from one year to another. In 2014/15 28,330 are estimated to have died from flu (such figures are always educated guesses because of the variety of factors in a death) in the season [see Table 7, p. 51 here ], defined as week 40 of one calendar year (October) to week 20 of the following (May); yet with only five weeks before end-season 2018/19, flu had taken a mere 1,692 lives – so say 2,000 by week 20? If that is so, within less than one month , Covid-19 is already half-way to matching the toll of the whole of last year’s flu season.
While we wait in hope of a ‘magic bullet’ for coronavirus, Doctor Strauss argues for allowing those who are at very little risk of death to catch and overcome the illness while secluding the most vulnerable, so that when the latter come out into society they will be surrounded by people who have been through it and are no longer infectious. The difficulty with this idea – attractive though it is for us enforced homebodies and for all of us who want the economy to recover – is that absent mass testing, we don’t know how many people have had Covid-19. This is crucial because the more easily a virus spreads, the higher a percentage of the population that must be vaccinated or otherwise immune to establish that ‘herd immunity.’ In the case of measles, which has a reproduction rate 4 – 6 times higher than Covid-19 , Strauss says we need around 95% to be immune; for a ‘firewall’ against coronavirus, he estimates two-thirds. How will we know when that target has been reached? Some days ago, President Trump was talking of sending people back to work by Easter, because the pain of economic standstill was worse than the disease, but has since started to row back as advisers warned of a fresh escalation of cases.
Western leaders are between a rock and a hard place. In the UK, even as we are mostly confined to our houses, the planes are still coming in from Italy and China. We are so globally connected that we don’t know how to stop without blowing up the machine. We at the start of a time for building resilience rather than maximising profits.
Even when we think society is safe, surprises can happen: the last naturally-occurring case of smallpox was in 1977, in Somalia , yet in 1978 a 40-year-old medical photographer in Birmingham, England, vaccinated against it twelve years before, contracted the disease and died. It turned out that she had been working above a laboratory that was researching the virus.
This leads us to the blame phase of the current disaster. Some say the outbreak started with infected animal meat in Wuhan’s market – though a British teacher working in Wuhan, who caught the disease, denies seeing exotic meats there ; some hint darkly at a viral escape from the Grade 4 (highest security) bio-research lab in the city (the earliest tip I have seen was from a military spook in a Near Eastern country who contacted the Washington Times .) Already there are calls for China to pay damages for the consequences; but, says veteran blogger John Ward , China has responded by pointing the finger at a large US military sports team that stayed near Wuhan’s fish market, had come into contact with what turned out to be the first seven Chinese victims, and had previously trained at Maryland’s Fort Detrick, a germ research lab shut down in August 2019 over safety concerns. Ward goes on to say:
‘The Beijing Government’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on releasing this information, formally asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for an explanation.
‘Immediately afterwards Pompeo went over Wang’s head and phoned Yang Jiechi, Chinese state councillor in charge of foreign affairs. Pompeo “begged” Yang not to release the details shown above. They have since been leaked. Pompeo has yet to respond.’
American lawyers must be fainting with greed at the distant prospect of the world’s largest compensation case ever.
Meanwhile, what do we do? Accept the precautionary principle. Our government may be mistaken, but they’re certainly not doing this for a joke, even though April the First is near.

Friday, March 27, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Arthur Lee and Love, by JD

Music for oldies who remember when the world made more sense...

We are all familiar with the famous musical names from the sixties. Some of them are still playing 50 years on! But there are/were other lesser known but very good musicians during that decade and some were better, much better than many of those who are still played on 'oldie' radio stations.
One such is Arthur Lee (1945-2006) who along with fellow songwriter Bryan McLean (1946-1998) and guitarist John Echols fronted the Los Angeles based band called Love.

Commercially they were not successful but musically they were unique in combining rock and roll with light orchestral and Mexican styles into their sound. Their influence is still felt today and in particular their 1967 album Forever Changes (I bought that in 67 or 68 and I still have it and still play it.)

The other thing which was unique about their style was the contrast between the bright and upbeat music with often bleak lyrics. In fact 'The Red Telephone' could have been written this year with its dark warning about the future. The music was "melancholy iconoclasm and tasteful romanticism." (cf. Gene Youngblood of LA Free Express)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Kill The Old

One day in the 1980s, I climbed to the upper deck of the bus, where smokers and schoolchildren gravitated, and saw a simple graffito on the back of the seat in front: ‘kill the old.’ I didn’t know then that it would become government policy.
For example, there is (or was) the Liverpool Care Pathway, developed in the late 1990s. The word ‘care’ in this context is a sick perversion of the normal usage: even the worst felon in any British prison would not be made to die of hunger and thirst. Allegedly the LCP was to be phased out seven years ago, though the Daily Telegraph then commented (£) that it was merely being ‘rebranded’, replaced by ‘individual end-of-life care plans,’ another mealy-mouthed verbal formula that smells of rat.
A couple of years later (2015), the NHS was adopting the United Nations’ ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDG), under the terms of which the death from ‘non-communicable diseases’ of patients aged 70 or over would not be counted as ‘premature’, with obvious implications for health service targets and strategies. (£) This ageism was challenged by Professor Lloyd-Sherlock , seeking to change the word ‘premature’ to ‘preventable’, because:
‘The problem lies in how the UN (and World Health Organisation) define ‘premature mortality’. This is specified as deaths occurring between the ages of 30 and 69. In other words, deaths occurring beyond age 70 should not be considered to be ‘premature’ and should not be included in the UN target.’
To date, he has been unsuccessful, as the deadly word remains in place (target 3.4) .
Please don’t imagine it will stop there. Already the ageist attitude is seeping down in the NHS to apply to patients below this cut-off point and to cases that are eminently treatable. My wife, who is under the Biblical ‘three score and ten’, healthy and active - received a telephone consultation on Saturday regarding a condition that is painful but correctable by surgery, and in the course of the discussion the consultant twice came back to her age, which felt to her as though he was implying that for that reason, she should seriously consider not bothering.
As Dr Vernon Coleman says ('Coronavirus – Why and How the Government and the Media Are Wrong,' Health, 16th March)
'The young who seem to welcome the idea of the elderly being deprived of medical care might like to reflect on two thoughts. First, they may one day be old themselves. Second, the age for cutting off medical services will get younger and younger – as the pension age gets older and older. Today’s 20-year-olds may well find that they are ineligible for medical care when they hit 50.'
 (I am also indebted to Dr Coleman for his reference to the UN’s SDG, among other valuable points in the same piece.)
In the current crisis, it’s not true that the PM advocated a ‘take it on the chin’ approach to the coronavirus , which might potentially result in hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths – but in the US, CNBC’s Rick Santelli did .
Yet is it really a choice between the money men’s ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ approach and the blanket curfew here that threatens to crash the economy? The cost of the latter surely dwarfs that of a more focused alternative plan (as others have argued here on TCW): testing, tracking and isolating cases of infection (numbered even now in the thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands); and putting in place protective measures for the elderly and others who are particularly vulnerable – organising systems of supplies, checking the health of their carers etc.
While we are on this subject, why is it taken for granted that thousands in this country should die every year from influenza? Those who want to downplay the coronavirus contrast the low (for now) toll with that of flu – which spreads less easily and is less often fatal. Unlike Covid-19, flu sufferers are most contagious after symptoms appear, a smaller proportion of the population is affected than is predicted for WuFlu, and a smaller proportion of flu sufferers need hospitalisation and intensive care. However, as with coronavirus, the risk of death rises significantly with age and with comorbidities.
So why is there not a national plan for annual flu, more than just the hit-and-hope vaccination against the strain that is guessed to become the commonest that year? Not all of us can escape the British winter and fly to the south of France as the upper crust used to before the War, but we could all consider our behaviour – and our plans for care - towards those who are immunocompromised by age and health conditions; we can wash hands more often and remember the wartime slogan ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’. Why should flu-riddled employees be praised for taking tablets to suppress symptoms, struggling into work and infecting colleagues (and indirectly, many others), rather than be ordered to self-confine for public safety? Is it merely coincidence that since we started to think about these things, deaths from respiratory diseases in February have dropped by hundreds per week, even when compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019? Are the old being murdered wholesale by indifference and negligence?
In the shadow cast by this pandemic, rough beasts are slouching towards us to be born: the abrogation of civil liberties by the Executive (see Peter Hitchens on this) ; and the death culture that is moving from abortion on a scale that was never envisaged in 1967, past the implications of the way courts have sometimes tackled cases of alleged ‘mercy killings’, towards an ugly scrutiny of the expensive and troublesome aged. Perhaps we are in a battle for values that we thought we were defending in the last World War.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Mad Covid Disease: a heretic writes, by JD

A heretical post based on my own observations and conversations from my daily round:

The way the Government has now reacted to the coronavirus is causing concern about changing official attitudes to the old, in medical treatment and social care. Also, if a vaccine is successfully developed, we may see compulsory vaccination for the whole populace. We seem to be in a voluntary, self imposed totalitarianism which is alarming and this has been caused by the ignorance and stupidity of the politicians and the press.

Nothing changes. We are still Lions led by donkeys!

I found this story on Spiked from Alex Cameron who is under 'house arrest' in Madrid:

From the comments there were links to a couple of other stories; this from The Spectator -
"Coronavirus is less contagious than stupidity."

And this from the Jerusalem Post referring to the 'lockdown' of the Diamond Princess cruise ship:

"The Diamond Princess cruise ship represented the worst-case scenario in terms of disease spread, as the close confines of the ship offered optimal conditions for the virus to be passed among those aboard. The population density aboard the ship was the equivalent of trying to cram the whole Israeli population into an area 30 kilometers square. In addition, the ship had a central air conditioning and heating system, and communal dining rooms."

“Those are extremely comfortable conditions for the virus and still, only 20% were infected. It is a lot, but pretty similar to the infection rate of the common flu,” Levitt said. Based on those figures, his conclusion was that most people are simply naturally immune."

Over the past week or so I have not met a single person who takes this current 'deadly' threat seriously. Probably because most people I meet are, like me, ancient and we have seen it all before. Mad cow disease, AIDS, salmonella in eggs, nuclear winter, the coming new ice-age etc. All of it false and all of it subject to wild speculation about the end of the world as we know it, the flames of fear fanned by a hysterical press.

The greatest threat to our way of life is, as always, the stupidity of our 'leaders' who really ought to stop exercising the larynx and start to exercise the brain (if they have one), after which they might have something worth saying.

Friday, March 20, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Hot Club Du Nax, by JD

I have no idea who they are but they play some wonderful 'Gypsy jazz' and they began in a bar called Nax in Innsbruck which presumably is why their web pages are in German.

To my ears the singer Isobel Cope and the violinist Tomas Novak are excellent.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Eastenders Goes North, UK Goes West

So, because of Covid-19, filming of Eastenders has been cancelled.
Of course, Eastenders themselves were cancelled long ago, thanks to the financialised economy that made homeowning there a bigger fantasy than the TV series, now regularly shot in Hertfordshire.
To be a Cockney, traditionally you had to have been born within sound of the church bells of St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside. Our Dad was – it was in the borough of Lambeth, but the noise carried over the water; as did the 1917 munitions factory explosion in Silvertown, which his mother still remembered in the 1970s.
Mind you, it’s getting harder to find a Brummie, too. In the 1980s, Gas Street Basin was full of old narrowboats. The area was dirty and dark, the canal surface a bloom of rubbish. Warehouses rotted slowly by the water’s edge. Then the gentrification started, but even at the turn of the ‘90s I met an old woman in a house off Broad Street, still making widgets and dropping them into a bucket inside her front door. Where are the metal-bashers now?
The nation has become a museum of itself; a place where people used to manufacture, used to family-farm and make a living at it, rather than take up shepherding as a middle-class rural pastime. Our cities have been rebuilt with borrowed money, our youngsters have (mostly) been excluded from property ownership, mortgaged for their college education, denied access to final salary pension schemes, entertained with vicious TV and cinema, distracted with officially enabled alcohol abuse, (but warned ‘drink responsibly’), tacitly encouraged in substance abuse (‘don’t prosecute, help them’), given the false hope of escape via a big win in gambling (but ‘when the fun stops, stop.’)
We are governed by moneymakers who keep us subdued with sentimental reminiscences, cultural illusions and snarling drama serials vicariously acting out the confusion and desperation of a people unloved, left to their fate like the passengers in ‘Lord Jim.’
Yet the biggest fantasy is that of the captains who imagine they will escape the consequences of the socio-economic damage they have caused, fleeing to boltholes like New Zealand or some imaginary island like The Man With The Golden Gun.
In a globalised world, the crisis is universal and there will be nowhere to hide. Already the stock markets have lost a third of their value, and that is before the mass redundancies and bankruptcies have started. Shares halved in the three years post-9/11, and recovered with monetary boosting; halved again in 2008-2009, and were rescued by enormous subsidies to the sector that had caused the problem; now we are going down for the third time, and already the Masters of the Universe are hinting that perhaps the old are expendable.
The 2004 Civil Contingencies Act required the setting up of ‘local resilience forums’ to plan for emergencies; we are now finding out that the current emergency is merely a spotlight on the vast systemic vulnerability that successive governments have allowed, helped to develop, and the implications of which they have almost completely failed to address. Like the faux Cockneys of Walford, we don’t know who we are, or where we are.