You’re nothing but a pack of cards

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These last few days have been a crash course in just how compliant people can be, just how easily people can be swayed by junk science, and just exactly how willing some people are to believe those in authority, particularly if they are ‘experts’ or ‘scientists’.

These people, the useful idiots who jump up to support the government line and ignore the massive logical holes in it and the gaping assumptions and don’t ask for any sort of data to back it up – are as dangerous as they are stupid. The problem is that lots of those people are now in charge of our mass media and that many of us are programmed to believe them, right off the edge of a cliff and into the pits of hell.

Maybe I was naïve but this is quite a revelation to me. I guess my professional and family background has left me with the tendency to, as per the cliché, ask why is this lying bastard lying to me?

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This refusal to question government policy, those credulous journalists, all those people who told me I was wrong, that I should listen to the ‘experts. I was told because I have a ‘humanities’ degree (watch it!) I couldn’t possibly understand the science, or indeed basic logic.  This call for blind obedience in the face of wild incompetence.

Well – as you can see – it’s been sending me crazy.

Surely this is how  Groupthink is achieved – you get a group of politicians from the same backgrounds from the same institutions with the same experience of the world, and they create a really shaky policy but dress it up in an impressive way.

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Then the lapdog press just lap it up, because they all know each other and it’s all TERRIBLY cosy, and they all follow the yellow brick road called SCIENCE and we are all supposed to trot along and politely not mention the gaps and the turds and the fact that it isn’t yellow or a road but a massive pit full of snakes.

Listen. I am not a scientist. I am not a journalist. I am a bloody English teacher, but – and this is crucial – I AM NOT AN ACTUAL MORON. I can think, I can analyse data, I can work out when something just doesn’t make logical sense.

So on Friday and Saturday I spent lots of time arguing with people online and in person that this herd immunity policy was self-evidently full of holes, and murderously wrong.

(By Sunday I was bored with it, and it was clear that Hancock had abandoned it already.)

And today, it’s clear that I was right about this. 100% and completely right and Johnson’s proposals on Friday (Friday! Three bloody days ago!) to ‘mitigate’ the impact of the coronavirus pandemic would not work and would “likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over”. And that’s the best case scenario:

‘The mitigation strategy “focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread — reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection”, the report said, reflecting the UK strategy that was outlined last week by Boris Johnson and the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

But the approach was found to be unworkable. “Our most significant conclusion is that mitigation is unlikely to be feasible without emergency surge capacity limits of the UK and US healthcare systems being exceeded many times over,” perhaps by as much as eight times, the report said.’

OK so I am not writing this so I can gloat about being right.

Although it is a relief because it was driving me a little crazy, like I was through the looking glass.

I am writing it in just a vain hope that maybe, just maybe, that another time someone somewhere might not just swallow the government line without at least passing it through their brain, just once, just to see what that might do,

Not just because this government is deeply incompetent and corrupt. Although it is. Not just because I am an ‘armchair expert’ although I am.

But because this habit of believing what you are told, and defending something because it sounds convincing, without employing your critical faculties, is going to get us all killed. This is not a joke. We have already lost crucial days and weeks. The death toll will be higher than it would have been, because we didn’t question what we were told, just at this very crucial time.

And if Peston, Kuennesburg and that rest can’t be shocked out of their Groupthink long enough to stop acting as unthinking photocopiers for incompetent government advisers, then we are just going to have to start doing some critical thinking for ourselves.

So my next question – why the hell haven’t they been making ventilators for weeks?

 

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf

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Crisis? What crisis? Or how to maximise the death toll and make an already bad situation really appalling in 5 easy steps

 

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Step 1 – and this is really crucial, you MUST make sure the people you have in government are the most utterly incompetent and mendacious bunch of psychopathic criminals you could ever hope to assemble,  devoid of any skills whatsoever but only capable of serving their own interests and spouting meaningless slogans like ‘Let’s Get Brexit Done!’

This should be EASY as the press love this stuff as these kind of criminals will give their billionaire owners a very easy ride and the public will lap it all up.

OK, got the lying criminals in place? You are ready for the next stage:

Step 2 – the emergency approaches

Excellent! The incompetent liars are now well suited to be massively out of their depth, equipped as they are with literally no intelligence or common sense, having spent their whole lives in Easy Mode, enjoying privilege and never having to make any tricky decisions at all.

They are also EXTREMELY LAZY and therefore they will spend the crucial first weeks of the crisis doing absolutely zilch, zero, nada, nothing at all when faced with the blaring alarms and klaxons of the impending crisis. The piling body bags and uncollected dead, the desperate faces of the bereaved and the panicking expressions of the medical staff will mean nothing to them, nothing. Because they are foreign and far away, and nothing will be done.

Because of course any kind of prior planning will distract from the REAL business of government, which is of course bullying junior members of staff to suicide attempts, hiding the Russian report into the corruption of your government and a report into the sexual impropriety of your PM making backhanders to his mistress. Oh and failing to make an agreement with the EU that was apparently oven ready months ago.

Step 3 – make sure you are as unprepared as possible

DON’T for example start requisitioning hospitals or making lifesaving equipment. That can wait, or not happen at all.

DON’T issue any reassurances to worried people – play it down. Most crucially of all

DO NOT take part in daily conference calls with those awful foreign EU types. What would they have to tell us! We don’t have to PLAN! WE ARE ENGLISH AND THE BEST AT EVERYTHING.

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Step 4 – last minute confusion!

At the very last minute, find yourself a really useful idiot on a very cosy programme, someone like maybe Philip Schofield, who gave you that whitewashing selfie just before the election. You can slip out to him your plan, which is to let the virus tear through the population and mention something really innocuous sounding like ‘take it on the chin… allow the disease to as it were move through the population’

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So by using all this softly softly language and the passive tense, you can make it seem like you are suggesting something very reasonable, rather than the unnecessary deaths of many many thousands of people.

When this is quoted back to you in the press, you can pretend it was just a POSSIBILITY, you are being misquoted. But now you’ve flattened the path, you can do on the telly next day and say….

Step 4 – tell everyone they are going to die, and repeat the thing you said the day before, the thing you said was misquoted, but now the impact is lessened. Now it sounds reasonable and less shocking.

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You might be tempted to say something stirring, something positive like EVERY OTHER DECENT LEADER WOULD, like Macron and Varadkar and LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE. No. don’t do this. This would calm things down, maybe stop people from panic buying. Just be relentlessly negative and doomy with no ‘we are all in this together’ Churchillian crap. You don’t want them to feel positive! EVERYONE must feel essentially hopeless and desperate. That’s how you make sure people start to panic as early as possible and turn your emergency into a crisis.

Also make sure you say something completely pointless to demonstrate how out of touch you are, like ‘old people shouldn’t go on cruises’ – Say nothing about the approx. 3000 older people currently homeless. Screw em. As long as they don’t go on a cruise, they’ll be fine.

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A nice touch is to add some junk science here, like ‘herd immunity’ as a justification for your reckless condemnation of many thousands of people to a painful death. This sounds nice and convincing and you should line up a useful idiot to repeat it, someone with a scientific background. When pushed he can put a completely random number to this notional herd immunity – under pressure this useful idiot can pluck 60% from the air, to add to the junkiness of the junk science. Don’t worry, you are working on easy mode with a lapdog press so no one is going to ask questions like –

What evidence is there that being infected leads to immunity?

How frequently do people become immune?

How long will this take?

How many people will die?

When do you think that a mutation will occur?

How many people will die this way?

How about we wait for vaccine instead?

How many people will die this way?

How does herd immunity work without a vaccine?

How many people will die this way?

How does achieving herd immunity coincide with the impact on the NHS and how many more people will die this way?

Where does the number of 60% come from?

Is it from your arse?

How certain are you that this will work?

What are the assumptions in your data models?

Are you really going to use the children as vectors to leak the infection into the community and for how long and will you tell them or their parents and teachers and HOW MANY MORE PEOPLE WILL DIE USING THIS MODEL THAN ONE USING SOCIAL DISTANCING NOW?

(Of course the audience is full of your useful idiots and lapdogs and no one will ask the really important questions like, why have you done nothing to get ready so far? Where are the hospitals we need? Where are the nurses? And how has your gutting and chronic underfunding of the NHS over the last ten years increased the death toll?)

If you make it sound all scientific then more useful idiots will commit themselves to supporting this idea of the herd immunity, of course no one will be able to answer any of these questions above.

Then 24 hours later, chuck them all under the bus by going back on your previous statement and saying, no we aren’t going for herd immunity at all! The Health Secretary said so. Now the useful idiots are just idiots and CONGRATULATIONS! You have created far more of a panic than necessary! By now, the public is getting really worried and starting to panic buy. Soon everyone will be turning on each other and the fabric of society will start to break down! Well done!

Now for the next crucial step – what you must do now is make a massive U turn within 24 hours – based on the exact same data (because you won’t do any more testing, that would actually help you do some proper planning and mean less people die. Who wants that??).

Image result for herd immunity matt hancock‘HERD IMMUNITY IS NOT THE PLAN UNTIL IT IS THE PLAN AGAIN’

So using the same data as yesterday, you say the opposite. It’s time for draconian measures (although it wasn’t yesterday). You indicate that you are going to ban large public gatherings and isolate older people for several months.

But HOLD ON were you thinking of giving a press conference. Don’t be silly! That might give them some sense that you were in charge and taking careful steps to reduce their risks. Obviously don’t actually announce any ACTUAL actions, like building new hospitals and finding those 50000 new nurses, or financial measures, or I mean any bloody thing at all. Here’s what you must do:

 

Step 5 – put out some terrifyingly dystopian but extremely half-baked and ill thought out policies affecting the most vulnerable in our society like the elderly, but announce these policies to a lap dog photocopier like Robert Peston, late on a Saturday for the Sunday papers. so the old folk and those that love them have time to get extremely distressed about the terrifying prospect of 4 months of isolation with no chance of any answers to their very obvious questions. Like

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  • When is this likely to be, so I can get ready?
  • What are the benefits that you have calculated of this policy?
  • Is this voluntary or enforced? How will it be enforced?
  • If you don’t know the answers to these questions, WHY ARE YOU PUBLICISING THIS NOW??
  • What about my caring responsibilities for children and parents?
  • Who will walk my dog?
  • How will I get my regular medical care? Will the doctor or nurse come to me?
  • Will I still get my carers at the same time?
  • What happens if I get sick in that time?
  • Why is this necessary in the future but it’s still ok for me to pick up the grandkids from school tomorrow?

Now let them stew and make sure you ship out your absolutely most incompetent ministers (I know this is competitive field, but how about Matt Hancock? I mean he’s not only utterly useless but also very creepy, so that’s a nice apocalyptic touch). Make sure they say only really stupid things that make them look like an absolute imbecile – like anyone get in touch if they have any ventilators in your attic! Don’t worry the lapdog press won’t ask hard questions, they never do.

The whole feel needs to be ‘Orwell, but written by a dodgy-dealer from Rogue Traders with a hidden camera up his nose).

Congratulations! You are well on the way to creating an appalling crisis, much worse than it needed to be. They will be stripping the shelves, turning on each other, ignoring your measures for the foreseeable future!

The body bags will be piling up and the whole thing will come tumbling down, just like the house of cards it always was.

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Why I do not buy your reasons for keeping the schools open

schools

Why I do not buy your reasons for keeping the schools open

So a chasm opens up – as a nation we are advised to keep our distance, avoid close contact, avoid large gatherings, work at home if possible. Many organisations support these ideas and encourage homeworking to help protect their health. The streets empty, events are cancelled, we all retreat for our safety.
Not you though, teachers and children.

You need to squish up together in close proximity, in fact in larger and larger classes, even if your head advises against it. On the BBC a few days ago, the capacity to increase class sizes and merge classes and schools was listed as a way to reduce the infection.
A few reasons are put forward for this… and none of them stand up to scrutiny. The contradictions, chop logic and just plain callousness of these ‘arguments’ have been taking up far too much brain space for the last couple of days, so I thought I would try to set them down. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can answer my objections and challenges here, because God knows I would love to be wrong in my conclusion that the current government is incompetent and reckless with our lives.
1. The schools have to stay open because otherwise there will be a huge gap in childcare for families especially for NHS workers.
Well I can see that may be true, but let’s take that apart for a moment. If it’s childcare capacity you want, then schools are a really inefficient way to provide it. I mean the vast majority of secondary students don’t need childcare, so that not really a reason above Y7. So why not close the secondary schools and reopen them in some helpful way to provide emergency childcare centres, with proper cleaning, testing and advice. This is a much more efficient way to solve the problem, for the purposes of this emergency. I have no classes at all that need childcare. In fact some of the students I teach could in fact help out.
If it is to do with providing childcare, then what’s going to happen in three weeks time when the schools close for two weeks? Also very few working parents can get by with just schools hours for childcare; so what about all that wraparound childcare? Are we going to insist nurseries, childminders and preschools stay open too? And what about all the grandparents providing care at the beginning and end of the day, which brings me onto…
2. The schools must stay open otherwise the grandparents (who are more vulnerable) will have to look after the children and the children will give them COV19.

This one has more holes in it than a Gouda. Firstly, it’s a false dichotomy: if the children are at school, they AREN’T in contact with grandparents at all. There is a huge amount of wraparound childcare being provided by grandparents outside of school hours, and indeed in the holidays, in three week’s time. Even if they aren’t being cared for formally, children will visit grandparents anyway and come into contact. Unless we recommend that children don’t see grandparents at all – which we aren’t – this makes no sense either. In fact, keeping children in school rather than leaving them at home with grandparents in fact significantly increases the chances of children passing on the infection to grandparents – at home with just granny or even at the shops or the park, their chances of catching the infection are much much lower. If you want to protect the elderly then do that – and give them more detailed advice than ‘don’t go on cruises’. Suggest the elderly and vulnerable stay indoors, mobilise services to support them in this, including providing alternatives for their childcare responsibilities. Which leads me onto:
3. Children only get it mildly anyway.

SO MANY HOLES here. Firstly, the issue is surely (see above) that the children are passing on the virus? So whether they get it mildly or not is hardly the point. Also, surely if they only get it mildly that’s MORE dangerous, as if they are well, aren’t they are more likely to pass it on to the vulnerable? A coughing child might stay at home; a seemingly well one won’t.
Secondly, this suggests a general rule (children get it mildly) is specifically applicable (all children will get it mildly) – whereas many children do in fact have health issues. Are we suggesting that they stay at home? No, we are sending them all in, to take their chances.
The biggest hole here of course is it presumes that only the children count, whereas schools are full of adults, many of whom will NOT get it mildly, and some of whom will die. Stop press, not all staff are young and fit and some of them are STOP PRESS AGAIN – grandparents, the same ones as we were trying to protect in 2. Grandparents at home = need protecting from the virus; grandparents in the classroom or serving up pasta = fine for them to get it. And then there are the staff with elderly parents, many of whom provide care for them too.
So we should allow students and staff who would be at risk to not attend school so they don’t die. This seems like quite a straightforward statement, yet suddenly it’s apparently controversial.
4. If we let children stay at home they will go down the park anyway or mix with their friends.
• Chance would be a fine thing, they will stay indoors on their phone or X box
• At most they will mix with two or three of the same people in the open air or one room. Are you really suggesting this is as dangerous for infection as staying in a confined space with hundreds and perhaps thousands of students?

5. Everyone will be ok, especially teachers, if they just follow the advice and wash their hands.

This would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. If it’s as simple as ‘just washing your hands’ then why are their huge spikes in infection? Also, and I can’t emphasise this enough, schools are FILTHY DISGUSTING places. Not the one I work in obviously, but the rest of them. The loos are so bad in most schools that students won’t use them. Give it a quick estimate – how many students wash their hands for 20 seconds with hot water and soap at least once a day during the school day? 20% 10% 1%? Now, tell me again how it’s easy to avoid infection in a school.

Now we come to the really mind-bending part:

6. We have to keep the schools open because this will mean that people get the infection sooner, so we achieve herd immunity and peak sooner. We are all going to get it, so we might as well get it now. I have heard a description of how children can help ‘leak’ the infection into the population.

Note, first, how this one contradicts 100% our justification number 1. Are we trying to encourage children to infect their friends and family, or not? If schools are forming an infection hub, what does that mean for those grannies we were so careful of a minute ago? Note, dear reader, that the use of children to form a hub for infecting their friends and the wider community is without their consent. Note that it is only children and school staff that are being used in this experiment in this way, with no clear idea as to how this might affect them, what is required for herd immunity (60%?) or how long it will take to get there, or even if herd immunity can be achieved without a vaccine, still some months away. No consideration for those who are part of this experiment that might have higher chances of death than others = everyone must take part. No word of accurate death rates at all.

If we are all being signed up for this experiment, let’s see what we are signing up for. How many more people will be infected sooner? How many will die? What are the calculations you have made with teachers’ and children’s lives? What effect will creating a peak early have, and how will the NHS cope with this? How far away are we from getting a vaccine, staffing and resourcing the NHS properly so we can reduce those deaths?
And if a school of 1500 is an excellent hub to bring the peak sooner, then why not the House of Commons? Why not football matches? Why are the children and staff the right feeder unit?

And tell me, because I REALLY want to know, will the private schools be forced to stay open too? I think we all know the answer to that.

7. If we close the schools now, they will be shut for months.
So F**KING WHAT! Close the schools if it’s needed, not if it’s not needed. If it’s a question of timing, tell us that. But dead is dead forever, so you had better be as sure as you can be before you start playing God with us and our children.
So can we just stop trying to convince us with this set of circular and flimsy arguments. Level with us – tell us the risks, and tell us why you think we should take them, and tell us how you are taking them too. Show us the evidence, show us the data, and put away your contradictions. We aren’t falling for it.

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Return to Calais

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The first time I visited Calais was a bitterly cold February Saturday in 2017. The experiences I had have left a deep impression with me, and it took many weeks to process my thoughts about what I saw and what I heard.
 
I wrote at the time about visiting the Catholique Secours centre run mainly by nuns and the wonderful group of mainly Eritrean teenagers I met there. The calm atmosphere of the place was the most surprising, and of course the horrible normality of being with a group of teenagers who just want to laugh and joke with each other, who are always hungry, and who were unfailing polite. They wanted to send messages back to England, to the people who had raised funds and sent aid. They wanted to say thank you but mostly they wanted to say hi.
 
I remember their willingness to learn English and my feeble attempts to learn Eritrean. And the jokes: lots of jokes. Jokes about how they tried to sleep standing up in the woods against a tree, because that way they would be camouflaged and the police wouldn’t be able to see them and catch them. And me laughing at that too, as if that could possibly be something to laugh about.
 
And just like in every group of teenage boys in the UK, by the end of the afternoon there was a game of football and someone was whizzing up and down too fast on a bike. At the end of the afternoon I was embraced warmly by all the people I had chatted to and played games with for several hours. I wished them good luck, while deliberately avoiding thoughts of what they wished for their futures, and what in fact their futures might bring.
 
The abiding memory for me though was a huge notice on the wall above the place where food was served, which listed missing people. My eyes focused on one entry out of maybe a hundred. It said a woman’s name and her age and next to it the words read – Looking for my sister, pregnant, last seen at the Greek border.
 
What kind of effort does it take to be normal, and polite, and to make jokes when that’s the reality you are living in?
 
Not normal then. Not normal at all.
 
On returning to England, I thought of them often – how could I not? I teach and spend time with teenagers just like them – and yet so unlike them – every day.
 
I thought of them particularly this winter, which was so cold and biting. As my friend Norman commented a couple of months ago, the reality of life in Northern France and the hundreds of people living rough there (and indeed closer to home) has changed my feelings about the snow. I used to enjoy feeling cosy and wrapped up against the cold, and even playing in the snow.
 
Now I can’t get out of my mind the pain and misery that the refugees in Calais, Dunkirk and elsewhere have had to endure throughout this long, hard winter, in a situation where their tents are confiscated and their sleeping bags urinated on and pepper sprayed.
 
I returned this weekend for a longer stay – the wonderful people who organise Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity have honed their organisation to a fine art. We are no longer trying to get there and back in one day; there is time for winding down, and for debriefing around a longer period of volunteering.
 
Our numbers have grown too; this weekend there were 30 ish of us on three minibuses. This means we have more room for the extensive aid that we manage to collect – and 30 of us can collect a lot of aid – and also that we can provide large numbers of volunteers to help in the different locations. We can also support each other – an important part of the process as it can be, to be frank, a very difficult experience to manage.
 
On Sunday I was involved in a large-scale coat distribution at an ‘illegal settlement’ (note inverted commas there) of around 300 refugees near the ferry terminal.
 
It was easier in that I felt more able to open conversations with the men there. I could not help but look for faces I met before. It was hard to know if I wanted to see them, for that would mean they were ‘safe’ (there are those inverted commas again) but also that they had endured 400 grinding days in this place since I was last here.
 
As before, I was struck by the inability of circumstances, however horrific, to crush the human spirit completely. That even in these bleak circumstances – where young men and boys have their tents destroyed by the local police on a weekly rota and were at risk of being teargassed while queuing for food – the instinct to make connections, to laugh and also to look as cool as possible is too strong to be ignored. Style is style, no matter where you are, and some of these young men were extremely stylish.
 
And again, at the end of the afternoon, there was a game of football and some boys whizzing up and down too fast on a bike.
 
I was also struck afresh by the sharp contrast between the youthful looks of so many – and some of the people there were incredibly young – and the trauma they have experienced. The stories that you hear are often difficult to process at the time, told as they are in a matter of fact way. It’s only later, often in the middle of the night, when a chance remark or description of a journey will pop into your head and you can only think, did I really hear that? The extraordinary becomes ordinary, but there is nothing ordinary about the strength and the resilience of the people who have got as far as Calais.
 
The most extraordinary experience of all happened on Monday.
 
After helping to prepare lunch for the volunteers in the warehouse, we travelled to take aid to a church house near the border with Belgium. It was an ordinary French town like hundreds of others.
 
There we met the most extraordinary ordinary woman, about 70 years old. She started feeding the African refugees in her town 10 years ago, because, in her words, ‘They were cold and hungry. What could I do?’ At one time, the place was home to a large settlement feeding around 180 men, women and children – although she was keen to emphasise that the refugees always cooked for themselves, and still do. But now repeated raids and crackdowns have reduced numbers to fewer than 20. The men can be there during the day but at night they must sleep where they can in the open air – and as in Calais they are frequently picked up by the police and their belongings confiscated and destroyed.
 
She told us, in her matter of fact way, that she has been threatened, and that her car was firebombed and her house set on fire because of the choices she made not to stand by. No one was arrested for this crime, because the police told her it must have been ‘the migrants, the blacks’. She was arrested, her house ransacked and put in jail for giving a lift to an eight month pregnant woman to the hospital 11 km away. The police thought that she should have let the woman walk along the road. What if she had been killed, she said. How would that driver feel?
 
The day centre she runs is repeatedly raided by armed police in riot gear and bullet proof uniform. These extraordinary tales of bravery, set against the reality of the calm and ordinarily-incredible woman and the delightful and gentle Sudanese refugees, who chatted happily with us and brought us strong coffee and sweet tea. She asked to meet with us when she comes to London – she has been invited to the baptism of a child born to people she helped who have now settled there.
 
What a film that would make, except it’s too far-fetched isn’t it? Too surreal, that such things should happen right on our doorstep.
 
Which is why I have to go to Calais again, because if you don’t
see it with your own eyes, if you don’t hear it for yourself – well, you will never believe it.
 
I believe it, but (I am ashamed to say) a small part of me wishes this was all some implausible story instead of the lived reality of life in Western Europe in 2018.
http://care4calais.org/
 
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Reasons to be cheerful parts 1, 2, 3

black mirrorYes, you’re right, it IS a long time since I wrote anything on this blog. And I can’t just blame the ridiculous workload of this ridiculous job either.

The trouble is, it’s supposed to be funny. Or at least mildly amusing in a wryly light-hearted way. And the truth is I have been finding it rather challenging to find a light-hearted way of writing about what life is like now, compared to when I started this blog.

Only a few years ago, and yet it seems like a faraway dream; a distant paradise where I could make carefree jokes about the dog-poo fairy and hair straighteners, when there wasn’t a tangerine toddler-Nazi in the White House and I didn’t spend my evenings on the internet, pricing up fall-out shelters. These are dark times, and the task of making jokes seems impossible when all I see around me is the angry pile-up of furious chickens coming home to roost.

But do you know what, I think I might have had enough of feeling gloomily livid, ambiguously pleasant though that combination can sometimes  be. I am after all, as was noted by my old head of sixth form on my school report, ‘relentlessly cheerful’ (which, on reflection, might not have been a compliment) – surely not even the imminent threat of impending global apocalypse can hold me down forever?

In the end, jokes are perhaps the only thing that will help us survive this somewhat sticky time in our history. That and our British sense of understatement.

So I have spent today thinking about what I can still feel cheerful about. Feel free to add any ideas of your own in the comments below….

Pronouncing the name of GUY VERHOFSTADT. Geeeee Fheerrr HERRRRF STARRRRTT. GHHHEEEEEE VER HEEERRRRFFFSTAT!!! What a splendid name for a splendid person. Definitely my second favourite Belgian (after Plastic Bernard).

Shouting BREXIT MEANS BREXIT!’ very loudly whenever I see Theresa M on the telly. (In the 80s I used to chuck things at the screen when Thatch appeared, so perhaps that’s progress in terms of my level of political debate.) The vacuous meaninglessness of BREXIT MEANS BREXIT never fails to raise a smile, and in 2018 laughing at your own jokes is sometimes the only pleasure available. Sometimes you can swap it for other meaningless but satisfying phrases like ASDA MEANS ASDA! Or PANCAKES MEANS PANCAKES! Try it – it’s fun.

(I also like to shout ‘THEY WILL PRISE THIS BURGUNDY PASSPORT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS!’ occasionally, which makes the children just a little bit scared).

Twitter-brethren – finding out through the fevered medium of Twitter that the most unlikely people are in fact your brothers-in-arms. Exhibit A, Gary Lineker with all the energy in the world it seems to torment Piers bleeding Morgan – an open goal if ever there was one, but still fun to witness. Ditto Neville Southall, Lily Allen, our Anthony from the Royle Family and – weirdest of all – Sam Allerdyce. Realising that I have something in common with a load of ex-footballers and minor Brit-celebs I’d probably struggle to recognise in the pub is a strangely cheering thought.

The fashion for amateur ukulele playing among the young folk seems at long last to have passed (I have even taken down the ‘NO UKES!!!!’ sign in the sixth form common room) along with the desire play Mumford and Sons songs.

The young folk have become, almost overnight, passionately interested in politics. Perhaps once they stopped trying to play those elusive two chords on the ukulele they had time to pick up a newspaper for once.* Not a moment too soon and they are finally pretty cross about, erm, everything. Some of them were under the impression that the older generation could be trusted to look after their interests and not actively destroy the planet before they got to enjoy it and – well – they have had a fairly rude awakening in the last couple of years. Could be interesting when they wake up one day and realise exactly HOW much of a massive disaster everything REALLY is and how we really can’t fix any of it. Who’s going to tell them? Not me, thanks.

BLACK MIRROR– It’s a great time for satire. In fact it’s hard to escape the idea that satire is just writing itself. Also, Netflix, Game of Thrones, Hamilton – maybe difficult times make for great art?

The state of UKIP.

And you can’t work out whether this blog is genuinely cheerful or bleakly ironic, well, that’s 2018 for you.

*This is obviously a joke. The young folk are as likely to pick up an actual newspaper as they are to vote Tory. And who can blame them? The newspapers know nothing, nothing at all.

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