Thursday, April 30, 2020

Never miss the opportunities afforded by a decent disaster, by Wiggia

I can’t remember where I last saw that headline but it is something that is apt in the current climate when one item dominates the news and the thinking. We seem to have had a prolonged period of first Brexit and now Coronavirus that has afforded an ample smokescreen for less attractive additions to our daily lives being given official approval or extra authority in law as well as those items that are buried at the bottom of page 47 in the national press.

An item to which I will refer briefly before passing on, is one that has been buried and sanitized: the refusal to release the findings of the government's grooming gangs review. The mealy-mouthed answer of a few days ago can be seen here; I say mealy-mouthed because at no stage has a common factor among these criminals been officially stated in public, i.e. their ostensible religious affiliation (Islam). It is no good being assertive and virtuous unless you are prepared to name an important feature of many of the groups that the review focused on, because it hampers the next step, which is for influential figures from their community to speak out against an evil that has a long cultural, though not religiously sanctioned history - see for example this article by Shaista Gohir in the Guardian - Lumping in all other types of child abuse is simply an attempt to water down the whole point of the review itself.

It is difficult to believe that six years on from the Jay report on the Rotherham grooming scandal that laid bare the truth about who what and why, that the current government have seen fit to use the phrase “not in the public interest” as regards releasing the full inquiry, as shameful and cowardly as any whitewash to date. We all have our views on this and the cover up for the sake of community cohesion, or rather one community, carries on. The government's reply stating that 'Child sexual abusers come from all walks of life, and from many different age groups, communities, ethnicities and faiths' is an obfuscation of the truth, using the broad brush of child sexual abuse of all kinds across the whole of the UK to gloss over the main perpetrators in this particular category. Yes, all child abuse is criminal, but the Jay report was about one very particular aspect of that, yet no doubt as on so many occasions with similar issues that they see as ‘sensitive’, all will remain buried, until the next time.

Elsewhere the Coronavirus has proved a blessing for the displaced front page utterings of the eco brigade. Just as much of the latter's findings and predictions were being exposed as nonsense - not a single prophecy has come true in twenty years - the virus has quelled the retorts and the eco loons have re-jigged their approach, using the current lockdown as a model we should base life on after the virus.

Look at letters to the Times for instance, giving a personal reading of how the skies are so clear of vapour trails and the lack of noise, could this be a better way forward, no need for airport expansion, less travel for holidays, less pollutant, less carbon footprint, all the public need to do is stay as they are and do absolutely nothing at all and the world will turn into a form of Elysian fields where we all wander about saying how wonderful it is.

La lala lala...

There have been several letters in that vein, mostly from directors of vested interest groups or save the planet societies. Never once do they question in this utopia they wish to create, their utopia I add, how anything will be paid for, who will provide the food. Some have suggested our land should be returned to nature and our food imported, so obviously they do not apply their regime change to others !

Another suggested that with so few cars on the road perhaps there is a way we could keep it like that with a massive injection of cash into public transport, conveniently forgetting, even if this is what people wanted and they don’t, the huge debt being run up at this moment because of the measures to combat the virus, and they wish to add to it; coming from those who say we are impoverishing the grandchildren, this is almost funny.

Once we start to move towards normality expect a surge in ‘demands’ for measures like those proposed to be implemented. A compliant government as it is in these matters will undoubtedly give a bit more. As I have said before, minorities in all forms get a far larger share of the cake than everyone else these days.

Sample: "Coronavirus recovery plan 'must tackle climate change'"

As one of those who because of age are considered to be a hindrance, a thorn in the side of progressive thinkers, a bed blocker, a class of person who should have the vote removed because of bad voting practices, I am glad like many others I won't be around to see the resultant compliant populace impoverished by a tax take that keeps them down, an increasing Orwellian state that presides over ever more layers of our lives for  ‘our own good ‘, and at the forefront of all this will be the eco-centric, those who will put all ahead of their fellow man as it is the right thing, their right thing, to do.

I have to admit I never thought as a nation it would be us at the head of this ill-thought way forward, but we are. A malleable voting public who continually put in positions of power persons of dubious (to be kind) value, not just here but world wide will eventually get what they voted for and it will not be pretty. If they believe that green industries will provide the number of jobs that will be eradicated for good by these current events and policies plus the enormous added debt to the nations' already sky-high borrowing, they live in cloud cuckoo land; it will be some time before the damage done to the economy by lock down measures are fully revealed, if ever.

Utopia v Dystopia: many feel we are already in the latter, but as with all opinion it matters where you are coming from, and far too many are coming from a position that Utopia is reached by flicking a switch. It isn’t and never will be.

But is Utopia sustainable, though?

The article linked below is typical of that being churned out at the moment. Reading through it there is never a mention of where the wealth needed for all this change will come from, yet the necessity to achieve the aims mentioned involves whole industries being culled, travel becoming something only our parents did, unreliable energy being the norm,  and whole countries who rely on tourism to maintain their economy going to the wall. Wildlife will struggle to be protected with no tourist money to support it, agriculture will be limited to that which can be shipped - and yet being self-sufficient is a dirty word, go figure.

The coronavirus has a lot to answer for, and it's not just the virus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Covid econo-apocalypso

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly figures have just been updated to Week 16 (ending 17 April) and they are not comforting.

While the numbers of Covid-related deaths in hospital (see Worldometer ) slowed in that week (and declined in the following one) the ONS’ numbers for Week 16 jumped another 40 per cent: from 6,213 to 8,758.
The ONS is recording cases where Covid is mentioned on the death certificate, and these are not limited to deaths in hospital. Fatalities involving non-Covid respiratory diseases continue to follow the trend of the previous ten years, so it seems implausible that many of them have simply been misrecorded as coronavirus victims.

 Overall deaths also continue to soar. In the seven weeks graphed above, we have lost 100,954 people in all. The average for the equivalent period in the preceding decade was 71,916 (the seven worst weeks totalled 83,843).

The meme that Professor Ferguson has been too pessimistic in his modelling may be exploded: last weekend we passed the landmark of 20,000 Covid deaths , which was what Professor Ferguson had hoped might be the maximum if we implemented control measures.

Those measures rely on public cooperation, and my experience is that people have gone along with the official advice and instructions, and are doing so with goodwill. As we walked an elderly friend’s dog yesterday, passers-by stepped aside to maintain distance, or thanked us if we did so. What will save this country is the ‘social capital’ that lets us pull together and look after each other in a crisis.

We are facing brutal alterations to the economy – ones that were overdue, and for which the coronavirus was a trigger event, like 9/11. How, for example, did our business class allow us to become dependent on a powerful Communist country? What let them give away our productive capacity yet expect society to maintain its cohesion, when Sir James Goldsmith was warning of the consequences a quarter-century ago? Do they not know that we really are in this together, that when civilisation falls all fall with it, that there are no rich Mayans hunkered down in air-conditioned Mesoamerican bunkers, still living off their investments?

The price we have just started to pay, is not because of the virus or the so-called ‘lockdown’; it is the result of the failure to plan and act. Here and elsewhere there have been studies and simulations going back years, and yet when the foreseeable needs arose the resources were still not there - witness the PPE debacle .

The disaster is set to roll over the economy also, because we have become – thank you, bankers – hopelessly dependent on debt; not just government deficit, but personal and corporate liabilities. It’s bad in many countries, but the UK stands alongside Japan as the worst. As far back as January 2012 McKinsey reported  (page 5) that Japan’s total debt-to-GDP was 512% and the UK’s rivalled it at 507% - five times the value of our economic activity. When debts mount further – as they must, to stop the system collapsing – and thousands of small businesses founder, and millions are added to the dole queue, and the tax base shrivels, that ratio is going to be cruelly higher, a tremendous burden even when interest rates are near-zero.

What is the way out? Massive defaults?

Or reckless money-printing? Perhaps we should visit the ATMs more regularly and build up a stock of banknotes, just in case there is another shortage of toilet paper.

Friday, April 24, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Roy Hamilton, by JD

Another great and unjustly forgotten singer - Roy Hamilton. The man who inspired Elvis Presley and listening to some of the songs here you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Elvis during his Vegas years!

Roy Hamilton (April 16, 1929 – July 20, 1969)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Covid update

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases its weekly data at c. 09:30 each Tuesday. For administrative reasons it runs a couple of weeks behind, so today’s figures take us up to Friday, 10th April. In the first graph below, I show the average number of deaths from respiratory disease in the decade 2010-2019, plus the highest figure for each week in that period, and compare those with:

ONS figures for 2020 excluding Covid
Registrations where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate
Hospital deaths reportedly related to Covid, as mediated by Worldometer

I start from Week 10 (ending 6 March 2020) because that is when the first death from Covid was reported, though it doesn’t appear there in the ONS, which records date of registration, not decease.

According to this, the death trend from respiratory disease (excluding coronavirus) is slightly above average, though not the highest, but the new virus claimed three times as many victims in Week 15 as from all other respiratory illnesses combined.

There is a temptation to hope that, at least in some cases, the causal connection with Covid is mistaken or tangential. However, if we focus on total deaths from all causes whatsoever, it looks as though the recent increase roughly tallies with the official count for coronavirus victims:

In Week 15, this year’s number is around 6,000 higher than the maximum in the equivalent week a decade before, and 8,000 above the average. Something is certainly going on, and the onus is on the doubters to explain what that may be, if it isn’t the pandemic.

That’s not to say that we have adopted the correct strategy for dealing with it. Here is a report from a 74-year-old professor in Canada:

‘We live in an Ontario health district about the size of Connecticut (with ~200,000 population), in a small city with a medical school. Our public health officer in January alerted nursing homes and hospitals to prepare, e.g. get supplies and train staff for higher hygiene standards. Example, auditing handwashing practices in nursing homes. As a result, we have 50 total positive cases, almost all cases traceable to travel. No nursing home outbreaks. No deaths. No ICU care. Two people currently in hospital.’

The floundering in the UK seems to have led, not to lying about the facts (which could be very serious for those involved) but to contradictory advices. For example, first we were told that masks didn’t really make a difference, then that they did, and now that we shouldn’t use them because that would leave the NHS short of supplies.

Good old British ‘muddling through’ has brought us to the brink of absolute disaster more than once in our history, the incompetence perfumed by myth-making and sprinklings of medals. There will be other, quite possibly even worse threats in future; can we begin to prepare for such eventualities systematically, rather than wave COBRA at them like Sooty’s wand?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Friday, April 17, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Music to panic by, by JD

Oh how the media love to frighten us with their daily onslaught of panic and the "whoopee we are all going to die!" narrative; their daily invitation to thanatophobia.

And while the world's leading crackpots are drooling at the prospect of vaccinating the whole population to 'protect' us from dis-ease, a much more agreeable and joyful and long lasting immunisation will always be provided by music!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Stirling Moss, by Wiggia

By coincidence it was only a week or so ago that I said to the wife, 'We haven’t heard much about Stirling Moss.' I was aware that he had been unwell ever since he contracted a serious chest infection in Singapore in  December 2016 and retired from the public eye on return after 134 days in hospital, so he was anything but a well man.

Yet somehow with the likes of Moss they become so embedded in our psyche that they are mentally to us always there, immortal; of course, no one is, but with some people that is how it seems.

When I was a youngster, Stirling Moss was the stand-out British driver of the age, an icon; the phrase often used by police if they stopped a speeding driver was, 'Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?' and it stuck.

I am not going into a long résumé of his life, there will be far better versions out there in the near future by those in the know than I could ever cobble together, but it certainly was an interesting life and one played out at probably the most glamorous and most dangerous time in motor sport. Drivers and motor cycle racers died at alarming rates in those days and for far too long it was taken as being part of the job; in fact I would go further, it was not considered to be anything other than expected, so all carried on regardless.

Moss was one of those British drivers that made the sport glamorous: the girls, the parties, the venues all added to the overall 'dashing racing driver' image promulgated at the time.

He was also a bridge between those earlier legendary days of pre-war racing and the emergence of Fangio, on into the resurgence of British racing car design that in many ways saw us become the leaders in that area, to Britain as it is today.

He was very much part of the jump from cars like the Maserati 250 F, every boy's real racing car, to the early Cooper Climax and the wonderful designs by Chapman and Eric Broadley and others that put us in the top tier of motor racing. Enzo Ferrari didn’t like it one bit, calling them ‘garagistas’ - a condescending remark about small race car operations - and saying ‘aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines'; statements which backfired on him for a while.

Moss was also the bridge between the previous generation of racing drivers, the gentleman drivers, many who had money and indulged themselves with fast cars. The day of the social-climbing talented driver was only just beginning; the likes of himself, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn and later Graham Hill were every boy's notion of what a racing driver driver should look like and be. They said what they liked, they were seen everywhere with glamorous women, drove fast on public roads, were feted on TV chat shows and were known by name by a large part of the public. The corporate restricted driver was yet to come but come he did and in my opinion the public's interest has waned, apart from petrol heads: who on the Clapham omnibus wants to know who was fastest on the second set of qualifying tires? Answer: no-one.

Moss was not a rags to riches driver. His parents were middle class, his father a dentist who Moss spoke of as having invested wisely in property in central London. Moss went to several independent  schools including Haileybury where he suffered from anti-semitic bullying because of his Jewish roots.

His father, an amateur race driver before the war, purchased an Austin 7 for young Stirling at the age of nine that he could drive round their grounds in. It was the start of a long love affair with cars, racing cars that is. His first successes came in what was the equivalent today of Karting, 500cc rear engined race cars using Manx Norton engines. He was an accomplished horseman and competed, as did his talented sister Sheila, and the winnings from the equestrian world went towards his first race car, a Cooper Norton. His father was reluctant to see his son start racing cars as he wanted him to follow in his own footsteps and be a dentist.

The rest is history. Moss was not an exclusive driver of Grand Prix cars as like most drivers of the era he drove almost anything and his win in the Mille Miglia in 1955 was for many his greatest drive: a road race round Italy in a Mercedes with his co-driver Denis Jenkinson, who relayed directions using pace notes as in rallies today. Ten plus hours of driving on your own; just staying awake was an achievement, but in Moss fashion 'After the win, he spent the night and the following day driving his girlfriend to Cologne, stopping for breakfast in Munich and lunch in Stuttgart.' Ah, golden days indeed.

It was also one of the few times he beat his then team mate Fangio. If he had a weakness it was his deference to Fangio; always he put Fangio on a pedestal and when he did beat him it was because Fangio let him or he had an off day. Actually, in many people's opinion he was never Fangio's inferior; Fangio was just the elder statesman, to be deferred to.

Moss drove 84 different machines during his racing career, unimaginable today. In later years, after Mercedes he drove British cars, despite never having the best works cars: he drove for a private outfit - Rob Walker was one - and they would have last year's cars with updates, never the current Grand Prix model, which naturally put him at a disadvantage. Why not drive for a foreign factory again? He answered, 'Better to lose honourably in a British car than win in a foreign one'; always one to show the Union flag, he did so to the end.

I was fortunate to see Moss drive on a few occasions before my own short and expensive foray into motor racing. One outing in particular stood out: in a last year's Lotus 24 (the 25 revolutionised Grand Prix cars) he was in an early pre-season race at Goodwood, not a Grand Prix; the cars were really using the race in many ways for a shake down before the season proper, and there was much pitting and adjustments being made. Moss more than most, but each time he reappeared he seemed to take great chunks out of the opposition and it was ‘round’ the corners he did it, not on braking, not on acceleration but with sheer corner speed; you could see him time and again close on the opposition, a masterclass in driving skills.

Sadly this was the last time Moss would race. He crashed out of sight on the far side of the circuit, a plume of smoke went up and the word soon spread that it was Moss. As always he drove flat out even when it didn't matter, he had lost several laps with pit stops; what happened was never fully explained. Did he overdo it, did he get on the grass and lose it? Moss himself was never sure, as he was in a coma for some time, but it was the end

After his crash in ‘62 the resultant injuries and near death caused a pause and when he tested again that was it, he did not feel he had got back to where he should be and retired.

Most race drivers when they retire start their own teams, go into managing teams or something similar. With Moss he made a very good living out of being Stirling Moss. Even his house in Mayfair, which he lived in to the end, was pure Stirling, with modern gadgets that got it into the House Beautiful magazines, such was its high tech interior much inspired by Moss himself. He raced vintage cars, made public appearances around the world and as in an earlier time loved telling the world all about his career and life.

Was he the best? To answer that is always an impossible task, as all eras in sport are different. It is all relative, and today total wins seems to cancel out any other attributes which would put Moss out of the frame; but for me, yes: I have never seen anyone with that car control. 'Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?' We have all wished we were, at one time or another !

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Idle Hands, by Wiggia

Being imprisoned for any length of time does strange things to the mind. One starts to look for things to occupy the time to keep the old grey matter active and the body moving.

This shutdown must be the biggest imposed restriction on mankind in, well anyone’s lifetime, probably any lifetime other than being incarcerated in Château d’If. Being let out to go to the supermarket is about all the exercise many are getting, so those of us who have an outside space are turning to outdoor exercises as in projects.

After weeks, and it is weeks now, of finding tasks that have been put on the back burner for years we have slowly worked our way through repainting small rooms to repainting large rooms, clearing rubbish accumulated over time, discovering lost relics of the past in the loft, re-organisation among the Christmas decorations, finding long lost tools down the back of boxes in the garage and starting to repair those items that have been waiting half-dismembered on the workshop bench.

The sight and sound of this industry can be seen as neighbours emerge from hibernation desperate to find something to do. Hands appear above fence level as next door's daughter starts to paint the shed, on the other side a lot of banging as they construct a run for the new puppy, gardens are being spruced up to levels never before reached and a new-found love of growing your own has swept the land.

How long the nation can go on discovering projects long forgotten to keep idle hands busy is anybody’s guess though I am sure many of us are beginning to run low. The wife who has been smiling at all those requested jobs that were never completed but now are, is beginning to falter in finding more of the same; once those flaky windows have been painted that is that for another couple of years and some jobs despite needing doing are now out of bounds as the advancing years make them verboten - the long extending ladder doesn’t see daylight these days.

So what has been my latest project? The shed, long awaiting a clear out and re organisation. I started to attack it a couple of days ago. It is a fairly large shed (12 x 12) and contains much of my garden equipment including the ride on mower, yet somehow it has become the dumping ground in recent times for non related items that could not be found a home elsewhere. So while the sun shone all came out onto the lawn and a good spring clean ensued. Large numbers of spiders were disturbed, their webs pulled down and boxes opened to find nothing but rubbish inside. Why do we keep rubbish? That old adage ‘it might come in useful later’ has been shown over a lifetime to be just, er, rubbish, so the garden fire just got bigger.

Lost tools were found, a rather nice Italian container believed missing in action was found also, along with assorted lengths of different hoses (why?), and - a small delight that I related to JD yesterday - the home of the dormouse was found at the bottom of a large cardboard box: perfectly round and around five inches across, it had been made from small pieces of capillary matting in the same box chewed off in small pieces and assembled into this most cosy of winter abodes, a work of art indeed. No sign of the dormouse though, perhaps he has moved.

The shed with the contents back inside looks twice the size: items can be seen, new hooks added for tools and all that rubbish gone, job satisfaction guaranteed.

But what next? The first project in this confinement period I tackled was a mower brought out to be serviced before the summer season begins. Having completed the service I fired it up, only to see it hiccup and die. Several repetitions had same result. I went through the usual troubleshooting list but still couldn't get it running, so I parked it and ordered the only item I thought would solve the problem: a new carburettor, not kosher of course but a Chinese repro model. Why? The mower is a Honda and anyone who has owned anything Honda knows that spares are expensive, and this mower being 34 years old is not a candidate for expensive overhauls. It has never ever faltered until now and is a good example of why I purchased a lot of Honda equipment in previous years: they don’t go wrong.

The new carb arrived and was fitted but the problem remained: it would run at start up and then die. I parked it and was not prepared to spend any money on something that old, as it is not cost-efficient, but I was loath to dump it as everything else about it was in top condition.

Anyway to cut a long story short I ordered online (as you can’t find anywhere open) some spark plugs for the other mowers and strimmers as I was servicing all, and when they arrived I put a new plug in the old mower, pulled the cord and it started and stayed running; problem solved. The plug in it was the original, it had never looked worn so was never changed but it has now and a new lease of life has been given to a trusted piece of equipment. This early model Honda was, I see, voted best mower ever in an American publication on the subject; I’ll go with that, it is a Honda HR214 before the roto stop became obligatory.

Enough of mowers. The garden itself has had extra treatment: new edges have been cut on the lawns, the final vestiges of autumn leaves have finally been cleared away (a pain job this season as the prevailing strong  winds have meant being the last in line of a series of large plots and gardens I get everyone else's leaves as well as my own), the seeds are all sown in the propagator, the greenhouse has been cleaned earlier with Jeyes fluid, the containers are ready with fresh compost and yes I am running out of things to do, though the exterior windows of the house do in some cases need repainting. After that if lock down continues, apart from the country being broke I will be sitting outside, weather permitting, drinking my way through my cellar. I have already started, all that good stuff that has been purchased and hoarded for later in life has finally reached that later in life stage when you start to broach it. Would that moment have happened without the lock down? Probably not, so at least one good thing has happened.

I see two doors away the daughter there is now painting the front door. It seems a trend here with daughters, and the father is starting to renovate their under cover eating area, something I know he has been promising for at least five years - he really isn’t into doing anything round the house other than talking about it.

Where and when will it all end? Dogs have never had so much walking imposed on them, the trip to the supermarket has gone from one resembling those pictures of cold war eastern GUM stores with one loaf on the shelf to a form of a retail maze with arrows, taped areas and wardens directing you; the antics of people trying to self distance in a place that cannot ever allow two metres and all times has resulted in people doing some athletic sideways jumping and backtracking resembling line dancing, so worried are people about actually meeting someone inadvertently.

Will we ever get back to normal? Of course. Those who say things will never be the same forget what history has taught us. Certain things will change but most will revert. They had better hurry up with it all for as well as the country bankrupting itself I am rapidly running out of things to occupy myself with.

Friday, April 10, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Easter 2020, by JD

Easter has crept up unawares with some other story the only thing on TV....... so here is some music for Good Friday and Easter Sunday:

Friday, April 03, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Mechanical music, by JD

A collection of mechanical music making!

Wiggia sent me one of these videos and that sparked an idea. We are all currently under 'house arrest' and pubs, restaurants, 'non essential' shops and the productive economy has been brought to a standstill. This means that lots of machinery is standing idle but, resourceful as ever, people with imagination* have decided to make music with these mechanical rhythm sections! Some of this even sounds like real music.

And two bonus tracks, being late entries from Wiggia! (The first one is an imposter as it is not a redundant machine but was created as a musical instrument; it deserves to be included.)

( * people with imagination excludes politicians and civil servants; that much is self evident.)