Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Culturally Prepared Whispers

Overheard while having our daily exercise walk:

Chairman: "Why did that lorry driver just beep his horn, smile and wave at us?"

Hay: "Perhaps he's looking for some recognition. Maybe we should clap delivery drivers whenever we see them."

Chairman: "If we did it outside our track, perhaps we could divert them down our track and hi-jack their vans."

Hay: "A lorry load of supplies should see us right through to next year."

Hayley and I have a strange habit should we both wake up at night at the same time - we converse in whispers, despite being the only souls in the house. I can't fathom out why we behave in this manner.

I think I may have sussed out why Scandinavian countries are better at coping with the pandemic than the UK. The obvious reason is the fact they have high taxes and are far more socially minded than us, but the less obvious one is that they have a habit in summer of buggering off to their mountain retreats for a couple of months and the whole country practically shuts down. This is most obvious in Sweden, where towns and cities become ghost towns. I always avoided travelling on business in Sweden in the summer months for precisely this reason. They are used to having whole swathes of their economy dormant for several months and are prepared for it.

That said, Sweden is still open for business and hasn't shut down yet - but they are nonetheless culturally prepared.

If we're to avoid a similar situation in the future, we need to adapt our economy so it can do the same for a sustained period. Following the Swedish tradition, we also could try running the economy on life support for 1 month of the year in the summer and everyone go on holiday simultaneously, but one where you require no additional support, except food. Should a pandemic appear at any future time, as it undoubtedly will, then it would be relatively easy to shift that month to any time of the year, as needed.

We also need to wean ourselves away from unsustainable levels of debt. I know several close friends who are up to their eyeballs in debt and this situation will almost certainly result in them having their cars and houses repossessed, as they don't have a penny in savings. Thank God that Hay and I don't live beyond our means and are savers rather than spenders, not owing a penny to anyone. We could probably live for several years with no income at all.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Quick-Frozen Deaths

Hay decided to go out foraging for supplies yesterday at Morisson's, where she discovered that, while all the frozen foods were ravaged, there was plenty of raw meat and vegetables and she had no problem bringing home a veritable cornucopia of foodstuffs. It's almost as if everyone has forgotten how to cook a meal from scratch. There again, shoppers may just be obtaining frozen foods because they keep longer in the freezer and they can reduce the number of trips to the shops.

I do keep wondering how many of those who are dying from Covid would have died anyway from seasonal flu, which does take a heavy toll among those who are in the 'at risk' cohort. Following a bit of digging, I discovered that Public Health England estimates that the yearly deaths from flu vary widely, from a high of 28,330 in 2014/15 to a low of 1,692 in 2018/19. Compare that with Professor Neil Ferguson's worst case scenario, on the basis of current efforts to stem the epidemic, of 20,000 deaths. I reiterate that this is based on current containment strategies. From this, it would seem that the mortality is forecast to compare to a bad seasonal flu year and that the containment efforts equate, very roughly, to the availability of a vaccine.

With all the hand sanitising I'm doing, the skin on my hands is starting to look like parchment; however, there has been one benefit - for a number of months I've been suffering from dents in a couple of my nails that originate from some kind of infection in the quick. I was meaning to visit the doctor to see if I could be prescribed an ointment to cure it, but just didn't get round to it. The hand sanitising seems to have cured the problem and the dents are now moving down the nail, with normal, healthy growth now coming from the quick.

Must have been either a fungal or bacterial infection that the alcohol sanitiser has killed.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Virtual Tea Break Ventilators

What with the lockdown, Hay has been working from home. I can't work from home, as my work requires me to be at my place of work, so I'm simply kicking my heels and fixing things that have needed fixing for years and polishing things that don't really need polishing.

On Friday I spotted Hay having a virtual tea break with her work colleagues - they all dialled into a video conferencing facility and had a natter while partaking of a cup of tea. A novel idea for strange times.

I hear that a consortium of some 20 firms, many of them household names, have joined forces to aid Smith Medical and Penlon to ramp up production of their existing, approved ventilators so as to produce 10,000 in the coming weeks, with production starting tomorrow. Each company will be providing expertise in its area, whether that's manufacturing capability, 3D printing facilities, project management or simply storage.

Although Dyson has managed to grab the headlines with its untested and unapproved design, it isn't one of the above companies. It seems the government also pulled the rug from under Gtech a couple of days ago too, after having asked them to manufacture their own ventilators on the 20th March. Gtech will continue anyway, after having received interest in their design from abroad.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Bikers' Guide to Corona Survival

The biker is at a natural advantage when it comes to Covid-19.

Firstly, there's the PPE.

The mask, or helmet as we bikers call it, prevents others from spitting directly on your face, while also preventing the biker from directly coughing or sneezing on others. The latter advantage can, however, lead to the biker stumbling around in a supermarket due to a hazed-up visor. It combines the functions of both a mask and eye protection.

Then we have the leathers. Now black leathers confer no direct advantage, but leathers that mimic dangerous animals or insects can act as a visual deterrent. My livery, as in the above photo, has the psychological effect of making people believe I am a wasp or bee and so they keep their distance.

The third strand in the biker's armoury in the furtherance of social distancing is the baseball or cricket bat, which can be casually slung over one shoulder in the manner of a samurai sword.

The baseball bat is quite effective at persuading other people to keep their distance. While the exact reasons for this are unclear, scientific studies have shown that people see it as a crude, yet effective measuring device to ensure the correct social distance is maintained.

The final strand is the ventilator - a device of last resort. I call it the Henry Ventilator.

I beat James Dyson by a country mile. I haven't quite solved the dust problem yet though, but I am expecting a lucrative contract from Boris any day now, providing he can be persuaded to come out from self-isolation in his fridge.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Self-Employed, Bugling Ventilators

So the self-employed are to receive 80% of their average profit over the last 3 years. The sting in the tail is that this is where those who scammed the tax system and didn't declare their full earnings get their comeuppance. The honest ones will benefit.

Who will pay for the hit to the economy? Well, us through government borrowing and the sale of government bonds - the world operates on IOUs and those IOUs are traded like hard currency, a bit like toilet paper. However, if governments were to agree to simply print money, there would be a plentiful supply for government to use without borrowing. Sure, your currency would devalue, but not if all governments agreed to print a certain percentage of their annual GDP. The only devaluation would be against the economies of Mars or Venus - we're all in the same boat. Am I guilty of proposing a very simple solution to a very complex problem? Probably.

James Dyson now has a contract to develop and manufacture several thousand much needed ventilators. But why, oh why did the government snub offers from existing manufacturers who merely have to upscale production and not go into research mode and regulatory approval before they can even start to manufacture.

Over a week ago, government was contacted by the ventilator manufacturer Direct Access with an offer to upscale their existing production to provide 5,000 new ventilators - the company has heard nothing since. MEC Medical, which is an existing manufacturer of ventilator parts, contacted the government about upscaling production - the company has heard nothing from the government.

Dyson could well be cheaper, but how would anyone know without at least talking to those companies? Yes, Dyson has offered to donate a large number, but that wasn't known previously either.

Not only that, but the government has refused to join the EU's Joint Procurement Schemes that would have allowed bulk procurement cheaply and quickly. The prime minister’s spokesman said, “because we are no longer members of the EU,” despite receiving an offer from the EU. Furious back-peddling is apace and slopey shoulder merchants within government are now in action.

Last night we joined in the Clapping for the NHS, but as we live in a sparsely populated area, I thought a bugle call would be more appropriate to give added penetration of the night.

I bought an old bugle some months ago as a decorative item, primarily because it had a resemblance to the bugle I used to play in the nautical school band some 50 years ago. Hay filmed my preparation just before 8pm - bear in mind I hadn't blown one in half a century and the mouthpiece was so small that it must have been designed for a bugling goldfish.

The actual performance was a tad better.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Either Or

I can't help feeling that a Universal Basic Income is the perfect solution to future situations such as this. Having a guaranteed sum of money, sufficient for the basics of life, would also keep many sections of the economy ticking over on life support. Decades, if not centuries of political ideology have been thoroughly consigned to the dustbin and, in the name of social justice, right wing governments around the world have finally been forced, out of necessity, to enact policies which are diametrically opposed to their ideology. They now praise to the rafters - as Boris Johnson did yesterday - the very public servants they have kept on low wages for the last decade/

It can no longer be either life or economy; it has to be both, with the emphasis weighted toward life and society.

Will the current situation halt the gradual privatisation of the NHS in the UK? Hopefully, yes; probably, no. How would the country have coped without a centralised, public health service? Marshalling hundreds of private, profit motivated health companies to act as once would be a monumental task.

UBI won't, however, cure our society's inexorable appetite for debt - it could even fuel it among some sections of society who are not that responsible in the first place, offering them the opportunity to buy even more expensive items than they buy now with their current levels of debt. Limiting debt responsibly has to go hand-in-hand with UBI, and that is the responsibility of the lenders, who must be strictly regulated - another necessity that neo-liberal ideology is antithetical towards.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Triumph of Lock Down

Some advice - remove any hand jewellery, such as wedding rings or signet rings. Viruses can get trapped underneath them will be very difficult to remove with hand washing. We've got all our rings sitting on a table next to the bed for the next God knows how long.

Spent the morning yesterday tidying up the Triumph in order to put it up for sale. I bought it for Hay and I to go away on road trips on but, since I came off it in August 2018 and buggered up my thumb, she wouldn't go near the thing with a bargepole - and I ain't putting a sidecar on it. I just don't use it enough to justify keeping it, beautiful though it is.

The Triumph Daytona had a design fault - the tank is plastic, resulting in ethanol in the petrol causing the paint on the tank to blister. The blisters don't crack, but they are a tad unsightly. The solution is to never fill the tank to capacity, always leaving it 3/4 empty when not in use. I made the mistake of leaving it about 1/4 empty and so the blisters have appeared. Standard practice is to simply empty the tank and allow it to dry out. The blisters then disappear over the space of a few days. Syphoning is impractical due to the baffles in it, so I'm simply running the bike till it's all used up and leaving the tank to dry.

With the lockdown, Hay realised she is usable to perform her March wild swim. She compromised yesterday by taking a dip in her father's pond at 9 degrees centigrade. I suggested she use the well, which would have been far colder, but she thought that a bit dangerous.

I see the bloke who owns Sports Direct has bowed to public pressure and closed his shops.

How the hell did he think he could keep them open - they're fashion shops for chavs, for Christ's sake, not sports shops.

I wonder when the undead will start to take to the streets in large numbers...

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Flattening the Curve of Panic

So, lock-down it is.

Some things I've been ruminating on:

  1. There's talk of flattening the curve of infection so that the NHS can cope with demand. However, flattening and spreading the curve over a longer period may not impact overall deaths. What's important is the total area under each curve, and many of the curves I've seen promulgated have approximately the same total areas. Now these curves may be purely illustrative, rather than based on modelled numbers - but it makes you think. Common sense dictates that there will be lower mortality if the NHS is not overwhelmed, but I want to see curves based on data, not illustrative ones which simply confuse people and can lead to false assumptions.
  2. The NHS' ability to respond will itself be compromised by NHS staff contracting the virus. The line on the various forecast graphs showing the upper limit of NHS capability appears to be straight, which does not take reality into account, and NHS staff are one of the most vulnerable groups.
  3. One factor not being considered is the number of lives being saved through the dramatic reduction in pollution. Some 28,000 to 36,000 people die prematurely in the UK per annum through long-term exposure to pollution. Obviously not all of these will be saved by a short-term respite, but some will. The same goes for RTAs.
  4. It seems supermarkets are now, what with social distancing being imperative, allowing fewer shoppers into them simultaneously. This, on its own, will create long queues outside them, giving the false impression that panic buying is taking place, fuelling actual panic buying.
  5. As restaurants weren't seeming to have problems with food deliveries to them, one wonders whether, in the instance of long queues at supermarkets, whether from panic buying or restrictions on numbers of simultaneous shoppers, such restaurants could be dragooned into functioning as shops for remoter areas with reduced access to supermarkets?
  6. Why on earth hasn't trading on the London stock exchange been suspended? No-one should be allowed to speculatively profit from this situation.

Nostalgic comparisons are being made by the older generation with WWII, rationing and how much better everyone behaved, but it's not generally known (or acknowledged by that generation) that crime increased dramatically during rationing and a thriving black market ensued. Not everyone pulled together and many were complicit.

The Chairman's share tip of the day is Neutragena, or rather their parent, Johnson and Johnson. If your knuckles are red-raw, like mine from obsessive hand washing, skin creams are the next thing that will be panic bought. That said, coconut oil is cheap as chips and I've found it to be most efficacious at making my knuckles look less like parchment. Not only that, but it chicken breasts taste delicious when fried in coconut oil.

Boris' body language coach has a tough job, if last night's stilted and unconvincing performance is anything to go by.

Monday, 23 March 2020

The Resilient Society

One outcome of this emergency is that the public is reassessing what sectors of society are critical to the continuation of that society - and the discovery is that it's the little people that government usually ignores. The fashion industry, sport, entertainment, the hedge fund businesses, scented candle manufacturing - they're all nice to haves, but they're less than essential in a crisis and some are actually a hindrance. They arise only once the essential foundations of a functioning society are in place - food, warmth, shelter, health and security - the bottom layers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Once there is a surplus of the essentials, then the fripperies emerge to adorn the exterior.

Resilience is not a feature of many societies, where bigger is often considered better. Once this current situation is past us, we need to reassess what needs to continue to be centralised - such as command and control - and what needs decentralising - such as community, responsibility, mutual co-operation and sustainability.

The success of the internet is due to there being no single point of failure that brings the entire system down. Rather, it is a system that has redundancy built into it - parts may fail without bringing the entire system to a halt. Basically, it's inefficient, but resilient due to that inefficiency.

Here is a good definition of resilience; "It is the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors such that the system remains within the same regime, essentially maintaining its structure and functions. It describes the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, learning and adaptation."

The omnivore has a far greater chance of success than either a carnivore or a herbivore - it's adaptable. Someone who is multi-skilled can adapt and find employment in times of crisis. Specialisation and increasing reliance on other specialists to do what you no longer can, due to your specialisation, sows the seeds of societal destruction.

We have created a society where the majority is not adequately resourced to cope with stressors. It is small wonder that the Scandinavians, who are more socially minded, were able to administer succour faster and on a greater scale than the UK, where the cult of the individual and the neo-liberal mantra of increased efficiency in pursuit of profit has taken root over decades. Right wing, market-led, competitive orthodoxy is not a solution to crises such as this, nor indeed climate change - it merely fans the flames, so to speak.

We are living in what will possibly be a seismological shift in our culture and society, if we learn from the experience. If we don't learn from it, we're doomed to repeat it.

This situation is also highlighting the large number of stupid people in our culture.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Bearded Tracking

Overheard yesterday:

Chairman: "Both sides of my family are renowned for having good beards."

Hay: "What about the men?"

Apparently people are being tracked by their mobile phones in Taiwan to ensure they are not going out. Not such a bad idea when there's a pandemic around, but a better use of tracking would be to see who people found to have the virus have been near.

The civil liberties groups would obviously have a problem with tracking people, but there are also the civil liberties of the people who don't want to die of a nasty virus to be considered too - a classic case of a clash of civil liberties.

It would be preferable if the facility was independently monitored against abuse by governments, but making it an opt-out choice would not be ideal. For it to be effective in locating and identifying who an infected person came into contact with, everyone would have to be compulsorily  tracked under some emergency power.

My knuckles have become red raw from extra, enforced hand washing and use of sanitizing alcohol. If I don't inhale the bloody virus somewhere, it'll enter through my bleeding knuckles. That said, the consensus is that contracting the virus through your skin, even if bleeding, is very low.

 Not only buy shares in Co-Op Funerals Ltd, but also Neutrogena (Johnson & Johnson).

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Panic Marketing

I thought of a novel marketing strategy yesterday and implemented it with the small stock of toilet paper from the management WC.

You get a free Nissan Leaf EV with every purchase of a pack of 16 toilet rolls costing £21,795 . It got some admiring glances from passing motorists but, unfortunately, no-one was desperate enough to take up the offer. They will in time.

We've has 8 straight days of no-one coming into the showroom and buying a car. In normal circumstances we're selling 15 cars a week. The previous record was 6 straight days during the Financial Crisis.

The saving grace is that with our kind of discretionary purchase, the demand will generally be pent up and not completely lost forever, unlike the restaurant business. The problem with that will be servicing the spike once the crisis is over, which may necessitate a slimming down of the sales process somehow to speed up the process.

I fully expect we'll close down on Monday for the duration.

Had an epiphany yesterday. Panic buyers are possibly not all simply greedy bastards - they're irrationally frightened. You can help alleviate their fright by not re-posting some of the weird shit you see on Facebook. Panic buying is fright; panic selling is greed, as they say in the stock market. Brexit was caused by the same kind of irrational fear engendered by false tropes. Fear is a powerful motivator; truth doesn't have the same emotional appeal.

One bright thing on the horizon is a forecasted week of wall-to-wall sunshine and me being able to get some grass cutting in. It is currently at a length where even the ride-on mower will struggle to cut it.

I must say Rishi Sunak looked infinitely more like a PM than Boris in yesterday's briefing. Boris simply blathers and blusters, saying nothing of any importance, relevance or weight. Sunak is one to watch - he'll go far. Boris, on the other hand, has been promoted way beyond his capability, and it shows - glaringly - like a rabbit caught in headlights.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Operation Survival

Operation Survival has been mobilised - No.2 Son has been infiltrated into Tesco's staff as a home shopping picker for a 12 week contract which starts Saturday. 

That's us sorted for food for the next 3 months. However, we intend to beat the panic merchants by buying our meat at the local butcher and our veg at the local greengrocer; the typical panic buyer doesn't have a clue such shops exist. I might put a hat on the floor outside Tesco and entertain the panic buyers with a bit of unicycling to earn a bob or two...

The AirBnB is almost ready and I just have the en-suite to sort out with a bit of judicious polishing of the Cotswold stone shower floor and then sealing it.

Pity we won't now have any customers due to the emergency, but we have considered advertising it as a high-spec self-isolation room for the more discerning croaker. Mind you, Badminton Horse Trials haven't been cancelled yet and could be good for a bit of business, although I'm not keen on inviting potentially virus-laden people into my home, or horses.

Meanwhile, Mrs Queen issued a message of solidarity while heading to her bunker at Windsor. Perhaps that's a bit unfair - she is 80 odd, after all.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Don't Panic

These types of toilet rolls aren't being panic bought, as they're not available in supermarkets, so the supply is plentiful. They're for businesses, such as the one I work for, with public toilets having industrial sized toilet paper dispensers on their premises.

I'm sitting on a goldmine at work. All I need now are some normal-sized cardboard inserts, some time on my hands and I'll be making a fortune during the lock-down. Every cloud has a silver lining...

Within living memory, before we had the ability to micro analyse viruses (the flu virus was first isolated in 1933), the current situation would have been put down to an abnormally intense flu season, everything would have proceeded as normal and the extra deaths among the elderly would have been accepted as par for the course. That's just the way things were.

Surely, isn't it less economically damaging (and this is merely an opinion) to isolate the elderly and vulnerable, who are in any case less likely to be in the workforce, and allow the virus to rip through the rest of the population, who are going to recover anyway and thus gain a high degree of herd immunity? Closing everything down simply risks a resurgence when restrictions are lifted again, with the cycle being repeated until a vaccine is developed, which is still some 12 months away despite stage 1 clinical trials now taking place. Shoot me down if you believe differently.

You never know - behavioural scientists may well be screwing around with our heads as we speak. The irony is that we mustn't know how they're doing it, else it becomes ineffective. Just look at how we've changed our habits within a few, short weeks - everyone has started washing their hands furiously Wish they could do something with the minds of those engaged in panic buying - although that could also be a psychological ploy to frighten us more so that we're more susceptible to another suggestion. Just look at what behavioural geeks did with Brexit - they persuaded a large proportion of the populations to vote against their best interests.

Meanwhile, a team of Chinese scientists have conducted an analysis of the blood types of those susceptible to corona virus and have tentatively suggested that those with type-O blood (such as myself) are less susceptible to the virus than those of type-A. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed and might just be due to other causes, or even happenstance.

My advice is to buy Co-Op Funerals shares - I hear they're going to shoot up in value. Of course, if I die then it's unlikely anyone would be able to attend the festivities anyway.

I hear that Eastenders has ceased filming, but surely this situation is a perfect plot line as Albert Square copes with the virus. Viewing figures would be through the roof.

To move on to those saying Brexit should not be postponed during the viral emergency - let me get this straight; the self-employed and those on zero hours contracts, who are probably the least affected by Brexit as they're generally operate in the domestic economy, are about to be filleted by business drying up though Covid-19 isolation but, somehow, the decimation of exporters and their workers through the auspices of Brexit is going to improve matters? Brexit is merely piling avoidable misery on top of unavoidable misery. Give me a break! - what ideologically hamstrung morons believe this is actually desirable? At the very least Brexit should be postponed, if not cancelled in its sad, misinformed entirety. Those promoting the currently timetabled Brexit must have the empathy of a snake or the Borg.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Upcycled University

When I went to collect No.2 Son from Winchester University halls on Sunday, I took this photo of the bustling Student Village, as it's called, at 10:30am. 

A veritable hive of activity...

On Monday I made my weekly pilgrimage to WotNot, an emporium in Westerleigh where people take any items they have for sale, WotNot taking a commission on the sale, and a veritable treasure trove of 2nd hand items. I saw this intriguing lamp made from an old, Singer sewing machine.

The shade is hideous, but I do like the unusual upcycling and may try something similar. Not at all bad for £40, plus the cost of a replacement shade in grey or black.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Fake Pride

We were watching Pride and Prejudice on Sunday afternoon on TV (for the umpteenth time), much of which was filmed at Stourhead and Dyrham Park. It always amazes me that the makers of period dramas don't tart up the buildings a bit. They are presented resplendent in their current, aged glory, whereas at the time the dramas are set in they would have looked brand new in the period, neo-classical style. The National Trust would obviously not be best pleased, but I'm sure it could be done graphically in post production editing.

Back to the issue of the day - Corona. Spotted a Leave.EU Facebook post yesterday, warning about the dangers of posting fake news. I spluttered when I saw it - the words pot, kettle and black came to mind; Leave.EU is guilty of posting more fake news about the benefits of Brexit than virtually any other site. Irony is not their strong point, not to mention truth.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Pasta Panic

Ain't it funny that, when panic buying strikes, the UK population suddenly becomes Asian (rice), or Italian (pasta). We don't go buying Yorkshire puddings, bangers, Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies, toad in the hole, frozen chips or the makings of shepherd's pie in bulk.

Went to Winchester yesterday to collect No.2 Son and wanted to call in at the local Aldi for some shopping - couldn't even get into the car park. The queue stretched down the road, and it was 5 minutes before opening.

Went to my local Tesco instead, where there was more than the usual parking space for a Sunday. The pasta, rice and bog paper aisles were denuded by the mindless morons who don't seem to understand that supplies aren't threatened. However, I was after bananas which, mercifully, are not yet subject to panic buying or rationing. It has now become the norm for supermarkets to sell totally green, unripe bananas; I buy bananas for eating, not for laying down for a few months to age.

I predict that as a result of the national bog roll panic, planning regulations for new homes will soon include mandatory bidets.

As an aside - given the lengths to which the government is going to have to go to stump up to help airline and travel companies with the commercial effects of coronavirus, there's almost zero chance of Boris being able to commit to his election promise of a public spending splurge. He's in an unenviable, cleft stick situation.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Efficiency vs Resilience

It's situations such as the current coronavirus pandemic that show how fragile our society, indeed our entire civilisation is and how we strive to make it even more fragile through the twin drivers of specialsation and efficiency.

Any system which is tuned to within an inch of its life, for one specific purpose, inherently becomes more susceptible and sensitive to external shock - the racing car, the thoroughbred horse, any system whereby the bits that don't serve the prime directive are removed. It's like building an inverted pyramid and expecting to be able to continue building it vertically when it rests on a very narrow and unstable base.

Rampant, neo-liberal capitalism, with its unceasing search for efficiency to gain competitive advantage, actually sows the seeds of its own destruction. The whole system becomes interlocked to such an extent that a failure in just one, seemingly insignificant part, can bring the whole edifice crumbing about our knees - a massive game of Jenga, where the more pieces you remove, the more the remaining pieces become critical and reliant on each other.

Systems that tolerate inefficiency - the mongrel dog, the cobbled together car, the omnivore, the person who grows his own veg - are far more resilient. It is often said that we are nine meals away from starvation, yet our food system is totally reliant on just in time methods of distribution. Upset the apple cart and we end up with anarchy in a very short space of time.

Nature, in and of its own, strives for Darwinistic efficiency and specialisation to the extent that entire species are in constant danger of being wiped out by the shock of either climate change or man's encroachment on their natural habitat. Some species are capable of adaptation, but they are the minority.

This thin, fragile smear on the surface of our planet, which we call life and take for granted, is unique within our solar system, and quite feasibly (although not necessarily), the entire universe. We must make it resilient to sudden shocks. Similarly, we must tolerate inefficiencies within our society in order to make it more resilient to shock. More focus on the greater good, rather than being self-centred and ruthlessly efficient. A balance between efficiency and resilience is needed - built in redundancy at the cost of efficiency. Competitive pressures, however, do not favour this; greater co-operation at the expense of competitive advantage does.

The obvious inferences here are the pandemic, climate change and Brexit - systemic shocks from which it may be difficult to extricate ourselves without massive, negative implications for many. That said, a massive shock to an economic or social system facilitates a very few with an opportunity to make massive financial gains from the wreckage, further destabilising the system in the pursuit of profit through efficiency gains...

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Glamping on Selling Sites

We're toying with the idea of a yurt.

You can get nice ones like this from Mongolia for under £4k. Very seasonal though, but people pay up to £69 a night to stay in them when glamping in the summer.

I'm currently looking for a cheap caravan that we can use when touring the UK and have been using Facebook Markeplace, eBay and Gumtree. eBay isn't so bad, as sellers are a bit more serious and get back to you quite swiftly after you've asked a question. People on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree are a pain in the backside and, if they do deign to reply, it's usually a day or two later. If you want to sell something, then for God's sake be available to field calls. 

Actually, perhaps I should buy a whole load of cheap caravans and sell them on as Coronavirus isolation pods. Alternatively, I might buy a stock of corrugated steel and advertise it as DIY Anderson Shelters in which people can store their supplies of bog paper.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Machiavelli's Mask

We are being told that facemasks are next to useless as prophylactics against coronavirus, and I can see the logic behind this - particles can stick to the mask, but still be sucked in when breathing in.

That said, surgeons wear facemasks to prevent particles that are breathed out infecting the open wounds of patients. That suggests that they are of use if someone suspects they may have the virus and want to lower the chance of spreading it to someone else. 

The Japanese, who are quite socially minded, are known for wearing facemasks. They tend to wear them, not as protection for themselves, but to protect other people from infections they may have. Look up facemasks and NHS on Google, and the advice it to wear one if you suspect you have flu - yet no-one is giving this advice at present.

Am I missing something here?

It may seem somewhat Darwinistic, but those who are most susceptible to dying from coronavirus are pensioners with underlying health conditions - people who use the NHS a lot; people who are drawing a pension, and people who could still, even though retired, be in the workforce. Allowing a large percentage of such people to die would solve a number of government problems simultaneously - future pressure on the NHS, lower state pension payouts and opening up jobs for younger people who need them. Thank God we don't have a Machiavellian, low tax, small public service government - oh, hang on!

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Bergson Curtain Pole Co.

Hay has been desperately looking for a brass curtain rod after several flimsy metal ones failed. The description I had to follow, if I saw one on my travels, was 170cm unextended and 300cm extended. 

I'm not sure if you're familiar with Mony Python and the Take Your Pick sketch, but we thought it would be a novel idea to create an Henri Bergeson Curtain Pole Company. Henri Bergson famously resisted the reduction of psychological phenonema to physical states and insisted there was no point of contact between the extended and the unextended - i.e. mind is independent of brain.

Bergson also argued that processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism and science for understanding reality.

I doubt this. On Tuesday my intuition told me that the sourdough starter, which has been languishing untouched in the fridge for over 6 months, was well and truly dead. To test this theory I decanted some two thirds of it, along with some nasty looking mould, and rejuvenated it with some wholemeal flour and warm water. I left it standing yesterday and, hey presto, it's now as alive and active as ever.

Rational thought, on the other hand, would have told me that sourdough starter, if kept in a fridge - and especially if kept in the freezer - is almost indestructible. And indeed it is.

Intuition can and does have a role in science - as the spark of an idea. However, it is the scientific method that proves the theory and refines the idea. The spark, when it works, is caused by billions of neurons firing, weighing up alternatives and making possibly billions of small decisions that we're not even consciously aware of.

Superforecasters are renowned for using what is thought to be intuition, but an analysis of them shows it's not an ex nihilo flash of inspiration, more an ability to analyse and weigh the evidence from many sources dispassionately, without allowing bias to cloud judgement. The less the bias, the better the forecast. Brexiteers take heed.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Go-Faster Stripes

You know the go-faster stripes? I was wondering where and when they originated. By all accounts, they're the same as horse racing colours and different stripes identified different cars on a racing circuit.

They started being used in the 50s, with the first car to use them being those belonging to the Cunningham racing team. The first road car to use them as go-faster stripes was the Ford Shelby Mustang GT350 in 1965.

An iconic car.

The racing stripe, however, must not be confused with racing tripe, which is a sport peculiar to northern counties...

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Pudding Tum

What's with the pudding tum?

Hay and I went out for dinner on Saturday night to a pub in Hawkesbury Upton that we've been meaning to visit for a couple of months. 

Half way through my meal I lost my hunger and was full up; however my pudding tum was still empty and I managed to put away a rather nice portion of Belgian waffles with syrup and icecream. The remnants of the main course came home with me in a take-away tub to be eaten on Sunday evening.

The pudding tum is a real phenomenon and is backed up by science. Rather than go into lengthy explanations, just click on this link and you'll learn about it.

Monday, 9 March 2020


Been without the underfloor heating for 2 days now. The air-source heat pump keeps tripping with a U1 error code, which signifies something to do with the water flow being amiss. Bit of a bugger, but there's a separate immersion heater, which is usually only used to boost the water temperature up to 60 degrees once a week to kill bacteria. It at least gives us domestic hot water until the engineer can come to fix the problem.

We also have the log burner and can filch some logs from Hay's dad. Not the most ecologically sound source of heat, but it was only ever a backup for this type of situation and has been lit just 3 times in 6 years. It was strange getting used to radiant heat from a single source, rather than simply having a warm floor and even, enveloping warmth from the underfloor heating.

The smoke stack is exposed, right through to the top of the house, enabling us to capture the maximum amount of heat from the gasses before they pop out at the top. Keeps both downstairs and upstairs snug.

Talking of power, here's an interesting statistic:

The present human race produces about 5.6*10²⁰ Joules of energy each year. This is, on average, 1.75*10¹³ J/s, or watts. This is a lot of energy; 13,000 times more energy than the solar radiation that hits the Earth's surface every square klom, and 37,000 times more than the average nuclear power plant produces.

I don't really believe climate science deniers actually deny the science. They know anthropological warming is a fact - they'd have to be pretty dense not to believe it - they are merely looking for an excuse to do nothing, relying on the fact that those with a social conscience will do what needs doing and taking any financial hit. They're OK with individuals doing their bit, but hate the prospect of them being taxed to achieve the result faster. Essentially they're selfish shits.

Stop press: discovered this morning that the immersion heater indeed warms heats the underfloor heating tank as well as the domestic supply, hence there was no need for the wood burner after all. It just means we're using an expensive system to heat the water, rather than the air-source system.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Heavy Stuff

Overheard in the living room:

Hay: "I really want to progress my 'couch to 5k' training."

Chairman: "What's that?"

Hay: "From being supine you gradually progress, over time, to running 5 kloms."

Chairman: "Where are you currently in the regime?"

Hay: "Still on the couch."

We managed to get the heavy stuff hung and mounted in the AirBnB room yesterday.

However, we decided to keep Steer for ourselves, as he complements Dave the Stag on the oak beam in the kitchen. I still think Steer's needs the seat to be white, especially now he's got competition from Dave.

Today is picture hanging day.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Bully For You

100 of Priti Patel's mates have signed a letter to say she has never bullied them and is using this as evidence she's not a bully. That's just dandy then - if ever I'm accused of a transgression, such as stealing something, I'll get 100 of my friends to sign a letter to say I've never stolen anything from them and so couldn't possibly have stolen anything from anyone else, using that as a reason why I shouldn't therefore have to face a police investigation - despite several allegations made against me.

The twisting of logic being perpetrated by Patel is beyond belief. It's a formal fallacy - because A did not do B to C does not preclude the possibility that A could have done B to D. It's the fallacy of the biased sample and like saying Trump can't possibly be an idiot because his followers don't believe him to be one, despite him saying idiotic things - all the time. Clearly this is logically incorrect.

Imagine you're getting a character reference for a job - who do you ask? Certainly not people you've had altercations with or upset in some way - you get your mates to write one. No sensible person believes a character reference anyway, and I can't see why companies use them.

There needs to be an independent investigation, as there should be for Labour's antisemitism allegations, Bercow's bullying allegations and the Conservative Islamophobia allegations. You cannot simultaneously be screaming for Bercow to be investigated while shouting that Patel should not, especially when Patel is on your team. That's what we experts call a lack of consistency. In the political sphere it's called political bias.

One of Patel's accusers received a payoff of £25k, or some such figure, for dropping the case. That is bribery, but not fully in legal terms, which seems strange. There's a continuum from bribery to blackmail - at the one end, someone is offered an inducement to do or not do something without asking for that inducement, which is semi-illegal; at the other end there's a request for an inducement and it's automatically called blackmail and is fully illegal. Why, the minute there's a request, does an inducement become illegal? Anyone with an answer, you know where to write your response.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Don't Panic

It's great being married to a biochemist - you can get proper hand sanitizer on Amazon by looking for the right chemical names, rather than generic hand sanitizer. The usual stuff you get on Amazon and in the supermarkets just doesn't have enough alcohol in it anyway and so is next to useless. 99.9% alcohol is better than nothing, if you don't have constant access to soap and hot water. Text me for the right chemical names to seek out - it's cheap as chips and you can buy it by the litre, as no-one except a chemist is aware it's hand santizer.

Panic buying - there comes a point when buying food when everyone else is hoovering up what's available becomes plain common sense and natural prudence. If you don't, and there is a problem with supply logjams, then you run the risk of end up with nothing for what could be a long time. 

I suppose the secret is to bulk buy before everyone does panic. It's like playing the stock market and gauging the critical point. The difference is that bulk buying what you would normally buy anyway doesn't result in you losing anything - you simply have more of what you would usually have in stock. Beans, pulses, cat food and bog paper - not that we eat cat food, but I would if push came to shove, and BBQ sauce on it would make it taste delicious, as my recent experiment with jackfruit has shown.

I wonder whether the Chief Medical Adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, could be persuaded to stand for Parliament in a new party - the Expert Party - and be its leader. About time we had a person as the leader of the country who is a bit of an expert in something, preferably science, rather than a jobbing journalist with a penchant for false stories. Maggie was a chemist, after all. Whitty shows all the positive traits of a leader who can command respect in a crisis.

Whitty for PM!

I heard someone (naturally, a Brexiteer who wants an ideologically pure Civil Service - the hallmark of a totalitarian state) call for the Civil Service to be run by high-flying people from the world of business. I would suggest, on the basis of this government's performance, Fred the Shred. They would have a problem finding someone from the world of business who actually supports Brexit. The Wetherspoons man, perhaps, but could you imagine him running a Civil Service department?

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Vegan Pulled Pork

So Boris has said people who are eligible for SSP can now claim it from day 1 of self-isolation. Who pays for that? The employer, who may be struggling anyway through having up to an estimated 20% of his or her workforce off - coupled with a similar percentage of their customers. I think employers were looking for the government to underwrite the extra cost and amortise it over all of us - that's what happens in a civilised society. Let's just hope the budget provides some other assistance next week, especially for the poor buggers who don't earn enough to even qualify for SSP in the first place.

By the way, have a thought for blind people, who rely on touch.

About once every two weeks I make a lunchtime meal for my work colleagues - invariably a chicken korma or pulled pork made in the multi-cooker for ease.

One of my colleagues has given up meat for a while due to stomach problems, which has given me a bit of a dilemma. I solved the chicken korma problem by turning it into a vegetable korma, which everyone enjoyed. This week I made a vegan pulled pork, using jackfruit instead of pork. The jackfruit has a stringy consistency and, once cooked, does look a bit like pulled pork. It also assimilates the flavour of whatever sauce you put with it.

Had a helluva job finding tinned jackfruit in Tesco on Monday - it took 3 assistants to help me locate it. Works out slightly cheaper than pork, but the result was surprisingly convincing and tasty and gained the seal of approval from my work buddies. That said, you could put a BBQ sauce over a turd and it would taste good.

Onion, garlic, 3 tins of drained jackfruit (should have used a tin per person), white wine vinegar, brown sugar, smoked paprika, a dash of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, some chili sauce, some tomato puree and a hint of brown sauce.

One thing I noticed while shopping in Tesco - there have been acres of hot cross buns for sale since Christmas, but now we're approaching Easter, the buggers have disappeared and you have to hunt them down. Why? I guess they have to make space for Christmas produce...

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Leaderless Internet

If as much as 1/5th of the population succumbs to Corona virus, what the hell am I going to do if the internet goes down? No catch-up TV or Netflix and I've given all my DVDs to the charity shop. Never mind, at least I have my library.

I wonder whether the virus spreads faster in countries where languages use the velar fricative like German, Dutch and Scottish English? Perhaps the Japanese greeting of a stiff bow is the way we should go to prevent touching.

I listened in full to Boris Johnson's Corona virus press conference yesterday, and I've never heard someone waffle on in such a bumbling manner since, well, the last time I heard him speak. When quizzed on plans, all he could muster was; "We have lots of well prepared plans," and nothing else, besides telling us to wash our hands. At one stage he answered; "Yes, but I've forgotten the question." Not the most inspiring performance.

Yes, he was rescued several times by experts who did a very good job of communicating the medical part of the plan, but it still didn't make up for his atrocious performance and lack of a grasp of the essentials on other matters related to assistance for the low-paid and self-employed who cannot afford to self-isolate - precisely those who are most likely to spread the virus. Cameron did a better impersonation of a leader - even Sooty could have done a better job, and he couldn't talk.

I was waiting for him to tell us that within his strategy; "I have four weapons at my disposal; bullying, intimidation, ruthless ineptitude, a fanatical devotion to Brexit and a Dominic Cummings - damn, the . five weapons at my disposal are....."

Meanwhile at the Home Office there are claims that 'dark forces' are trying to oust Priti Patel as historic claims of yet more bullying are coming to light. Strange statement when it's public knowledge that Boris and Dom are trying to purge the civil service of anyone who is not a fanatical Brexiteer - if those aren't dark forces, I don't know what is. Nobody expects the British Inquisition...

Boris merely does the usual things and expresses his full confidence in the Home Secretary, which I've always seen as code for an imminent sacking (as that always seems to follow such announcements), and orchestrates an investigation where he is judge and jury, rather than a more transparent, independent inquiry.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

What Am I Bid?

Psst - I can do you a deal.... It's the Special Stuff - 99.9% pure alcohol rub. Kills viruses.

I wonder when we'll see the first case of Corona virus caught from handling a bottle of hand sanitiser in Tesco?

Tory MPs have said they will not support Boris if he ignores expert advice on Corona virus. Boris' entire career has been based on ignoring expert advice, so what's going to change? Corona is a Godsend to him as he can blame any Brexit fallout on it and it would be very hard to disentangle it all. Same with the floods. Plague and floods - some of a religious bent might see a biblical, divine retribution connection.

Boris is essentially engaged in a game of dare with the EU and has to portray himself as driving toward the EU at full speed in a no-deal scenario, cabriolet GTi, having removed the steering wheel and brakes. It's a very high risk, all-or-nothing strategy and involves a lot of subterfuge, such as the removal of workers' rights from the binding part of the Withdrawal Agreement to the non-binding part, the utterly ridiculous timetable, negotiating with Trump on chlorinated chicken, saying there will be no border checks, etc. He has to portray the UK as heading inexorably toward the position of an off-shore, deregulated sweat-shop that would be a permanent thorn in the EU's side, regardless of the consequences for the UK workforce or economy. The ERG are appeased by the thought of an economy in collapse and ripe for easy pickings in a fire sale and are thereby neutralised.

The question is whether this is actually what he wants. I don't believe he does, but he has to make the EU - and indeed everyone, including us - believe he does in order to convince the EU that he does. However, the EU could see through the smokescreen (as many in the UK have done) and call his bluff, which would leave us in a very precarious position which would in all probability lose him the next election. If his bluff were to be called, he would need to act very swiftly to get us back to a safe position as a rule taker, if that were even possible. Very high risk - but that's Cummings' style.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Feeding a Fad

I'm seeing an explosion of magazine articles and books explaining how one can feed an entire family for under £20 a week. It has become a competition to see who can come up with the lowest budget. I seem to remember it starting off at £30 a couple of months ago. What do you think is driving this? Brexit. perhaps?

We were in Marlborough yesterday to have lunch with a friend. Now Marlborough is a rather affluent area, with not a Lidl or Aldi for miles, and we spotted books instructing people on how to feed a family on a budget of £200 a week...

Sunday, 1 March 2020

A Complete Steer

"Steer" is finally complete. I ended up using chrome pipe brackets for the horn fixings as the handlebars were simply too heavy and long to be supported by a leather and upholstery nail strap - they would have swivelled and fallen downwards. I may, however, use some leather as decoration, although the chrome brackets don't look at all bad.

They are very secure and, being chrome, don't detract from the overall aesthetic.

The seat was bolted on, having discarded the additional seat ironmongery as it made the fixing somewhat overly complicated and fiddly.

Total cost -£10 for the breadboard from IKEA (could have gotten something cheaper), £16.99 for the handlebars (again, not the cheapest ones available), £5 for the seat (plus £2.90 postage) and a couple or three quid for the fixings. So - £37.89 in total - but I could have done it for £25 or less if I'd searched a bit more diligently for the necessary parts.

OK, I wasted a bit of cash on the wrong sized bolts, but I can reuse them elsewhere - no man can have too many different bolt sizes.

I still think the seat would be better sprayed a chalky white to more resemble a bleached skull, but Hay thinks it looks better as it is. Who am I to argue?

My only regret is not having taken a cast of Bully/Jim Bowen before decorating him. I'm hardly going to find more of these bulls' heads to work on.

Could start a business - how much am I bid for a Steer or a Jim Bowen?