Stop that. It’s silly

Some may remember Graham Chapman’s ‘colonel’ character from Monty Python. Another comedy team that wouldn’t be allowed near the airwaves in this time of political correctness, in which people get offended by tea.

He would have had to shout his line ‘Stop that, it’s silly’ until his throat was raw. The human race has, indeed, descended into a pit of stupidity it might never climb out of. Forget about diseases or crashing economies or wars. Humanity is heading into a race of drooling idiots who are offended by the mere presence of all the drooling idiots around them, never noticing the drool on their own chins.

I was in Local Shop on Saturday. My first visit for a month. I had to post a mug and pick up some minor essentials. This little shop has toilet paper, pasta and flour again. Any kind of flour you want. I can’t remember the last time I saw a not-empty flour shelf in any shop. Somewhere there are people with stacks of flour, pasta and toilet paper, all just waiting for the mice, mould and flies of summer to ruin the lot. We didn’t stock up with anything and didn’t run out of anything – but then we live far away from civilisation so tend to have a few weeks’ worth anyway.

You would think that people, especially the British, would now look at those immense stacks of pointless stocks and think ‘Well, we have been a bit silly. Let’s calm down and try not to do it again’.

No. Now they are arguing over masks. One side says nobody should wear a mask ever, the other says everyone has to wear one all the time. Which side is right? As is always the case, neither. Oh, and there are regular spam emails trying to sell overpriced cloth masks that won’t do a damn thing.

Actually that’s not true. Wearing a cloth mask all day virtually guarantees a repiratory infection. Medical masks have a hydrophobic layer because every exhalation carries a load of water vapour. The hydrophobic layer means the condensation resulting from that breath does not leave you with a damp mask over your face. Also, medics do not keep the mask on all day and they don’t put the same one on all the time.

A cloth mask will gradually get damp as you breathe through it. It won’t stop a virus. You might as well wear a sieve. What it will do is provide a damp environment, warmed by your face, that will delight any airborne bacteria or fungal spores that land on it. Keep that on for hours, let the populations grow, and inhale all those lovely infections. You’re going to feel a bit silly when you’re stuck in hospital with a fungal or bacterial infection caused by your futile attempt to stop a virus.

Those masks are to make you feel better about having other people around. That is all they achieve. They also achieve increased CO2 rebreathing, restricted oxygen intake, and a risk of other kinds of infection. All while doing sod all to stop a virus.

Okay, getting hold of proper medical masks isn’t going to be easy. If everyone stocked up we’d have the flour, pasta and toilet roll situation all over again (which I fully expect is happeneing now). Even the medical masks won’t stop a virus, which is why everyone wants an N95 mask.

However, N95 masks have to be properly fitted and they are, due to their fine pore size, hellish hard to breathe through. Keep that on all day and you’re going to pass out from CO2 toxicity long before you have to worry about any kind of infection.

Right, so let’s say a cloth mask is all you can get. You must get more than one and they must be washable. Minimum 60C wash. Forget about the bloody virus, the detergent will kill that at 30C. What you are trying to kill are the bacteria and fungi that your mask has been collecting while you wear it and you need at least a 60C wash for that. So no masks made of fleece that won’t survive a 60C wash.

Only wear it when you are around other people – and not the people you live with, it’s too late to worry about that now. Take it off whenever you are alone. Do not wear a mask of any kind when driving, there is a real danger of wooziness due to rebreathing CO2 which means you can’t concentrate. The virus cannot penetrate your windshield, trust me on that one.

If I am forced to wear a mask in a shop I will put it on when I go in and it’ll be straight off when I come out. Not that I’m likely to be visiting many shops, since CStM and I cannot shop together at the moment and we’re quite enjoying having the shopping delivered. Supermarkets are not likely to be much fun for a long time yet either.

Put the mask in the wash after ONE day of use. No, it is not okay to use it for three days in a row, those bacteria and fungi are still growing while it’s hung on a hook in your centrally heated home. Next day’s outing will add more. You need at least two masks so you can have one washed and drying and the other ready in case you want to go to the shops again.

If you are in a car alone or with members of your household you do not need a mask. The driver absolutely must not have one on. If you are cycling or running about in the countryside, well away from everyone, you do not need a mask and should not wear one. If you pass out, who’s going to find you?

Look at your memories of being in hospital. Admittedly I don’t have many of those but in the few I do have, none of the medical staff wore masks. Not the doctors, not the nurses and certainly not the patients. Masks were for surgery, and their purpose was to avoid contamination of an open wound by anything breathed out by the surgeon.

Suddenly everyone in hospital is wearing them. There was never any ‘PPE shortage’. Hospitals were stocked on the basis of normal use, not on the basis of every bugger in there wanting one. Stocks were not low. They were depleted rapidly because of a surge in demand. Restocking was hampered by that surge in demand happening in a hundred countries at the same time.

I could make a virus-stopping mask but I’m not really seeing the point any more. Well, I’m a special case I suppose, I have never really interacted with people very much and live where they can’t find me. If you live in a big city you can’t avoid that interaction. You also cannot escape the virus. Many of you have already had it, it can range from a cold to a really bad flu, but not many of you needed hospital treatment.

Not wearing a mask is about to become the New Smoking. They will point and scream at you, some shops will refuse entry, you’ll get nagged and harassed every chance they get, they will try to shame you because you are not one of the herd. You will need one, but do not wear it all the time. Especially if you have asthma or any kind of lung condition or have just recovered from any lung infection of any kind. That mask will restrict your breathing no matter what it’s made of and if your lungs are already struggling it will make that worse.

The mask is futile. Even N95, if you aren’t trained in its use. I note that all the mask wearers wear no eye protection even though we have known from the outset that this virus can get in that way. Yet it’s all about the mask.

There is no mention of taking supplemental vitamins C and D and zinc supplements. Watch it with the zinc, extended use can lead to anaemia but taking it for a few months while this nonsense rages won’t harm you. Vitamin D is cheap, and an orange a day will get you nicely loaded with vitamin C. Oh, I might get some Haliborange. I remember that from childhood, it was the only medicine that tasted like sweets. All these things help against a wide range of viruses and other ailments. As does being a miserable antisocial swine, but that’s just me.

Hydroxychloroquine… well, there are almost no lupus sufferers in the hospitals. That’s the drug routinely used to treat lupus. It does work although I’d only take it under medical supervision. For most people it’s fine but some do get an allergic reaction to it. You can get some quinine into you with a small daily glass of tonic water. Proper tonic water, not this modern trendy ‘no quinine’ shite. That’s why tonic water exists – gin and tonic was originally designed to get quinine into the Brits who had moved in on countries where malaria was endemic.

However, the mask is the new polarisation. Some see it as an oppressive thing, others see it as the only thing that will save humanity. It is neither. It is a fad, a sop to the terrified, a feel good farce. It will not protect you and will not protect anyone around you. And yet, if you are seen without one you will be treated as smokers have been treated for years.

The amusing part is that smokers, like lupus sufferers, are hugely underrepresented in hospitalisations from Flu Manchu. Nicotine is also protective and you don’t even have to smoke it. Several places are trialling nicotine patches as a treatment. I find this hilarious because it’s rather like this…

Smokers are excluded from most places now, places where everyone else gathers to spread their diseases. It’s just the icing on the cake to find that nicotine is the preventative they will all refuse to take.

If I have to go somewhere where masks are compulsory I will wear one, but it will not be a standard medical mask. I have a plague doctor mask and several ‘Are you my mummy?‘ style gas masks. I will only wear one where it is compulsory. While I could potentially make a virus-proof mask I no longer see the need. The virus has turned out to be far less dangerous than it’s been hyped up to be, although it could still be an issue in highly populated cities. It’s all about the percentages. If, say, ten percent need to go to hospital, then ten percent out here is a lot less than ten percent of London.

But still, if I have to wear a mask, it will not be a medical one, it will be outrageous. It will be scary and yes, I will have to hype up the scariness. Can’t help it, it’s what I do. I might even put a pointless posy in that plague doctor mask, just as in the old days. What the hell, they’re already primed for a scare. I just can’t let that pass.

There is no point telling people they are being silly. They are too scared to accept it. They have to be shown just how silly it all is and they have to realise it for themselves. Before it’s too late, before they hand their lives over to total control because there will be no way back from that.

How silly has it all become? Well, this is a modern baptism…

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I think it needs a clay pigeon launcher. The priest gets one shot and if he misses, the child belongs to Satan. If you’re going to be scared, let’s take it all the way, eh?

A little levity – Entertainment Time again.

Well, we could do with a break from tales of woe and despair about a virus. So let’s have a tale of woe and despair about something different for a change. This is an old one, it’s in ‘Fears of the Old and the New’ and was originally published in a now-gone Ezine called ’31Eyes’.

It should take your mind off the virus… by giving you something else to worry about 😉

The Window

The dark window seemed to call, “Come see, see the wonders within.”

Its mahogany frame was all that made it recognisable as a window against the featureless, black-painted wall. A black square on a black wall, framed with darkness, the building surrounding it indistinct in the moonless night. Thomas approached through knee-high grass, his legs shaking. He knew that behind that window lay something terrible, but he had to see. He had to look inside. He was close, so close. Just one more step, just a few feet more, and he would be able to touch the sill. He would see beyond the window. Then, he knew, he would die.

Thomas Crichton sat up in bed, the sweat-soaked sheets clinging to his quivering body. The dream again! This time he had been closer than ever. If he hadn’t woken, he would have reached the window.

He got out of bed, throwing back sweat-dampened sheets, and went to the shower. There’d be no more sleep tonight. Showered and clad in dressing-gown and slippers, he sat in his kitchen sipping at strong coffee. Thomas considered his dilemma. Every dream brought him closer to the window, that thin glass barrier between his soul and some nameless, undefined terror. As long as he was awake, he was safe. He’d have to sleep sometime, though. Sleep. Even as he thought the word, his eyelids drooped, leaden with the night-weights that called, soothing, to his thoughts. The kitchen around him flickered, fluttering between dark and light.

Thomas jerked his head up. He had spilled his coffee. He stared numbly as it spread across the table before him, brown rivulets pooling into crevices and knots in the pine. It was when he reached for the cloth to wipe up the mess that he noticed the whisky.

Whisky. Of course. He always slept in blank oblivion whenever he had too much to drink. Thomas mopped up the coffee and threw the cloth into the sink. He picked up a glass, then put it down again. This was no time for niceties. He opened the bottle and took a deep drink, coming up coughing and spluttering. Wiping his eyes, he took another shot. He’d downed over half the bottle and was feeling very drunk and a little queasy by the time he staggered back to the bedroom.

Maybe he’d overdone it. He wasn’t used to so much whisky, so quickly. He’d have a hell of a hangover the next morning, but at least he’d be able to get some sleep. No choice now, the alcohol seemed to say as it caressed his brain. You’ll sleep now, whether you like it or not. Thomas collapsed on the bed, flat on his back, and just managed to pull the sheets over him as he passed out.

He was standing at the window. This couldn’t be. He didn’t dream when he was drunk. He tried to wake himself, but his body had passed out in a drunken stupor and didn’t want to know.

“You were wrong,” a voice said.

“What? Who’s there?” Thomas looked around, but only the limited view of his bleak dream-landscape was visible. The scenery faded into mist, maybe twenty yards away in every direction. There were no trees or rocks, nowhere for the speaker to hide.

“You always dream when you’re drunk. You just don’t remember it in the morning.”

“Where are you?” Thomas said, turning back to the window. His face was reflected in the dark glass. The reflection smiled. Thomas felt his face. He wasn’t smiling. So the reflection wasn’t him, although it looked like him.

“You’d better come inside,” the reflection said.

“I can’t come inside. If I do, I’ll die.”

“That’s not true. Who told you that?”

Thomas considered this. Nobody had told him, he just felt it. But this was a dream, his dream, and he was talking to his own reflection. The absurdity hit him like a hammer. It was just a dream, and dreams can’t harm anyone. He looked along the wall in both directions. “I can’t come inside,” he said. “There’s no door.”

Then there was. Just a few feet from the window, a black, panelled door was set in the wall. Thomas hadn’t seen it before. Maybe it hadn’t been there, maybe he hadn’t dreamt it up before. Thomas smiled. So, he thought, I have some control in my dream. If I want a door, there’ll be a door. The face in the window bore an enormous grin. Thomas took a deep breath and opened the door. It was time to face himself, time to see what this dream was about.

The room inside was grey. Uniform and drab, floor to ceiling. There was light, but no indication of where it was coming from. The room had seemed completely dark from outside. No furniture, nothing. Thomas heard the door close with a click behind him. He turned. The door had gone. Thomas was alone in the sealed room. He ran to the window to see his reflection, that doppelganger of himself, now outside and looking in.

“I was right!” he said, his voice trembling. “I’ve died, haven’t I? I suppose I choked on my own tongue while I lay drunk in my bed. Is that what you planned? Is that what’s happened?”

“I sincerely hope not,” the reflection said. No, not a reflection, not any more. It was him, Thomas, standing outside the window. Yet he was here, inside. That wasn’t him – but it looked like him. “I hope you haven’t done too much damage with that whisky. I’ve waited a long time for this.”

“Who – what are you?” Thomas said.

“I’m Thomas Crichton. Rather, I’m the other Thomas Crichton. We’re a chimera, you see. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Identical twins, fused together as an embryo. Two souls in one body. Only one of us can run the body, the other just has to watch. Thirty-four years I’ve been in that room, watching through that window while you lived life. Oh, it’s dark out here now, but that’s because the brain is asleep. When it wakes, you’ll see. Only now it’ll be me living life while you watch.”

“You can’t. Someone will notice. Someone will see it’s not really me.”

“Maybe. What will they do? Nobody can get you out but me, and I’m not likely to.” The doppelganger turned to leave.

“Wait,” Thomas said. “How did I dream this? How did you trick me?”

His double snorted. “It took me thirty-four years to work it out, and I don’t want you doing it any faster. Goodbye, Thomas, it’s time for the new Thomas Crichton to wake up. Looks like I’ll be starting life with a hangover. Still, things can only get better.” Laughing, the new Thomas Crichton disappeared into the darkness.

Thomas slumped to the floor of the grey room, hugging his chest. He had expected to die when he reached the window. If only he had. This was going to be worse, so much worse. To watch his life lived by another, trapped inside his own mind, unable to communicate, unable to tell anyone of his private grey hell.

Light streamed through the window as the body and brain of Thomas Crichton woke to a new day, with a different soul at the helm. Thomas curled on the floor of the grey room. He didn’t want to look through the window. He didn’t want to see what his life was doing without him.

But he knew he would. He had to.

The New Abnormal

Well, my car is fixed. It’s been an ornament for a month because of a broken transmission cable. The local dealerships have taken over three weeks (it took me a week to find where they were hiding) to source a cable and it’s still not here. I got one from the United Arab Emirates in less than a week, through eBay. I’m going to buy the dealer cable too. It’s an impossible part to find in the UK and it’s absolutely essential. If I still have it when I finally change the car I can put it up for sale and I bet I’ll make a profit.

It’ll take a while to get used to the repair. The gear shift is much easier to move now. I suppose fifteen years of gradually accumulated crap in the cable sleeve would account for that, and is probably also what caused it to break.

The dealership called me about the cable, and about making arrangements for me to safely pick it up. They are 50 miles away and it’s a transmission cable. Surely they would realise that needing that part means the car is immobilised? No bus service out here either. Nearest bus stop is just over two miles and the buses go in the wrong direction. The nearest railway station is 15 miles. No car, no going anywhere. Unless you want to walk along a narrow country road used by maniacs as a race track.

The racers have been even worse during lockdown since they think the road is empty. They are idiots. On this road it is not unusual to round a corner and find a couple of deer standing in the middle of the road. Hitting one of those at speed will not end well for either the deer or the driver.

We once saw a family of pine martens crossing the road. Deer are pretty frequently seen here – there was once one munching a bush in the garden. Add in the old fencing around the sheep and cow fields, resulting in frequent escapes, and you really do need to be pretty cautious on this road.

Anyway. I am once again mobile. Not that there’s much point with pretty much everything still closed anyway. At least I can go to Local Shop for essentials and if I really really have to, visit Tesco. Although we have managed to book weekly delivery slots with Asda so far and we’re getting used to not bothering with going to shops at all. We can’t both go anyway, and CStM doesn’t drive so it would be me shopping unsupervised and you know what’s going to happen if Aldi have a power tool event and Tesco have cut price malt whisky…

Really, there have been few effects of lockdown here. The big ones are not being able to shop together, not being able to get the part for the car and not visiting son, daughter or granddaughter. Aside from those, nothing really changed. We are naturally miserable antisocial fuckers.

The worst part of the car saga was that I have three petrol mowers, one of which is a ride-on, and almost no petrol for them. I had an ornamental car with a full tank of petrol and no safe way to get any out. And no way to go anywhere to fill my petrol cans. So the grass has run wild for a month and is now at scythe height. No way the mower will cope with it. I’m going to be partying like it’s 1699 again, with a three foot razor blade on a stick.

It also pissed me off that petrol became cheap during the time when I couldn’t get any and is creeping back up now I’m mobile again. I have come to expect that sort of thing.

So, things can get back to normalish now. With the month-long wait for the car repair and all the other stuff that has gone wrong this year it’s been hard to concentrate on anything. I have a Leg Iron Books mug to send out from a competition weeks ago and this year’s plan to clear out a lot of stuff through eBay can finally begin. I can concentrate on editing Wandra Nomad’s book, work on Gastradamus’s and continue Panoptica. Better hurry up, it’s coming true.

There is a lot of talk of a New Normal which will be anything but. I have seen people posting Outrage! because a business requires them to wear masks while shopping there. Well. I fully support the right of a Christian baker to refuse to make a gay wedding cake, and this is no different. If a business decides to impose any rule, including the wearing of a mask on their premises, you have two choices. 1. Wear a mask. I have some delightful ones, and recently acquired a plague doctor mask. Or, 2. Don’t go there. It’s not complicated.

Businesses can decide the rules that apply on their premises, within the law. They cannot state that stabbing people is acceptable but they can make reasonable rules. I admit to a chuckle when I see any business of any kind state they have a ‘no smoking policy’. No you don’t. You are not allowed to decide that, it has been decided for you.

There have been many bemoaning the closure of hairdressers. I don’t care, I had a damn good shearing at the beginning of March so I would look less Morlock at my dad’s funeral. I’ll be thinking about another one when people start calling me Gandalf again or when it starts to feel heavy. There are far bigger things to worry about than appearances, but these days it seems appearances are very important to far too many people. Even if they are not allowed to go out and be seen.

Well, best get to the end of this pointless ramble. There is going to be a ‘new normal’ and well, you’re not going to like it. Even those of you who have actively supported it. You’re going to emerge blinking into the light after this lockdown ends and you’ll think it’s over but around October there’ll be another one. Every flu season, every year, forever, until lockdown becomes your normal way of life. Sorry kids, but your future is shit. Don’t worry about me and the other oldies, we won’t be around to experience it and we won’t be there to tell you how to stop it – not that you’re listening now anyway.

The New Normal is best shown in the video in the previous post. It shows something very close to what 10538 saw on his screens.

You could stop it, young people, but you won’t. You don’t want to.

And when you do, it’ll be too late.

Speed of Life

When I was just a tiny bundle of pestilence, hardly anyone had a landline phone. Nobody had central heating except for schools and other public buildings. They ran it from a coke-fired boiler, usually, with massive cast-iron radiators. There are still a few of those around but there are few, if any, still in use.

Heating at home was a coal fire in the living room, cooking had just passed the ‘fire’ stage so we had a ‘proper’ cooker although the kitchen was heated in winter by firing up the old cast iron range. I don’t recall my mother ever using that for cooking. I remember being repeatedly warned to stay away from it.

I remember our first television. It had a tiny monochrome screen and it was in the kitchen. I’m not sure if that was because the ‘rabbit ears’ aerial only worked there or whether my parents didn’t want it in the living room. Anyway, we had it in time to watch the beginning of Dr. Who in 1963. It took about 50 more years, when I got those first episodes on DVD, before I realised that most of the Daleks were just painted on the walls.

My parents had a tape recorder. It was the size of a small suitcase and used big reels of tape. Nobody had a video camera, although I do remember ‘Super 8’ cameras that rolled a strip of film wheich then had to be developed and you needed a projector and screen to see it.

Still cameras used rolls of film that you had to wind forward to the next frame, then take it to the chemist to get it developed and printed. I still have cameras like that and fortunately I have darkroom equipment because finding a photographic shop that even recognises a roll of film is difficult now.

There was no way to record a TV program. If you missed it, you missed it. There weren’t too many of them anyway, and you had BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. That was it.

I remember the invention of cassette tapes. Then came those Walkman tiny portable cassette players. They were expensive, now they are museum pieces. Likewise the laserdisc, VHS and Betamax battle for recorded films. It was 1980 before I first saw a VHS player/recorder. I didn’t own one until 1985. Video cameras became available about that time, if you had a lot of money and a good strong arm to hold the thing. They became smaller over time until they disappeared altogether, to be replaced by hard-disk tiny videocameras.

I remember watching ‘Tomorrow’s World’, that old show about flying cars and monorail trains and all sorts of wonderful future machineries. The CD was the only thing they showed that actually came true, I think. The CD is long gone, replaced by the DVD which is soon to be replaced by Netflix and other streaming services.

Vinyl records fell to the CD and now we have music streaming services too. No more shelves of tapes or disks, you just tap in your selection and it plays.

All these things are now on your phone. You don’t need a bulky music system, just a Bluetooth speaker system linked to your phone. You can read books and watch films on your phone. You can have a camera at your front door so you can see who’s there – on your phone – even if you’re not home. You can control your heating remotely to warm up your house before you get home. You can even speak to other people with it if you can work out how. That’s a long way from the ‘press button A’ phone in the phone box I remember at the end of the street.

Is there a point to all this? Well, consider. In sixty years I have seen inventions come and go, I’ve seen the telephone move from a box at the end of the street to a device that does everything and which almost everyone has in their pocket. My starting point was fire as the only source of heat, now everyone is terrified of a wisp of smoke. I started when playing a song meant lining up a needle with a groove in a plastic disc, now it’s just a matter of tapping a few buttons and you can get the video too.

This, today, is the starting point for modern children. They will look at a floppy disc from the 1990s and think someone has 3D-printed the ‘save’ icon. When I started life, computers cost millions and filled whole rooms and had a tiny fraction of the computing power of a cheap modern phone. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX-81 in 1981 and you had to type in programs in BASIC then save them to cassette tape. It had a massive 16 kilobytes of memory. No internal or external drives, just the cassette.

Even that seemed amazing at the time. This tiny box held considerable computing power. Imagine how impressed I was with Amstrad’s later PCs, and those 2 Mb hard drives. Ten years after the ZX-81 I bought a 286 with 512 Mb internal memory and a 30 Mb hard drive. So much computing power, so much storage space! You couldn’t even get a modern operating system into it now. The advances in those ten years – and since – have been incredibly fast.

Anyone remember daisywheel printers? Basically, an electric typewriter linked to a computer. If you want a different font you have to change the typing wheel. Then dot matrix, then fantastically expensive laser printers, now you can get a colour printer with scanner and wifi so you don’t even need a wire… for about £30. Sometimes it’s even cheaper to buy another printer than to replace the ink cartridges.

Think about the world you started in and then consider what modern children are starting with. To them it’s normal to have a supercomputer in their pocket. They will grow up with the normality of contactless payments with their cards. That’s a step too far for me, I don’t like it, but to those young now it will be normal.

They will look at vinyl records and record players in museums and marvel at the primitive sound systems of the ancient past. They will scoff at the way ancient peoples had their film and music collections on separate discs instead of having it all available to anyone, any time. They will not understand how we could have filled our houses with books when all they need do is tap in a title and read it on screen. We will become the Ancient Ones in a couple of decades, possibly while we are still alive.

They will not understand how all those things can be restricted, censored and changed at any moment, while the fixed versions could not be.

They will delight in getting those chips implanted. I would absolutely refuse any kind of chip implant for any reason. If I worked somewhere that required I be chipped to, say, open a security door, I’d want to know what happens if I move to another job. Do they dig it back out? I can easily hand back security cards, I cannot easily hand back an implanted chip.

To the modern child though, it will be normal. As they grow, they will have everything implanted. It will not seem at all sinister or strange to them. Why risk losing your contactless card? Have it implanted. That, I think, is where it will start but not where it will end.

So, how far fetched is the world of Panoptica? How far fetched is the medichip that transmits your medical information, including mood, to a central monitor? Can it ever happen?

It’s already begun.

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If I have that right, clicking on the video should play it here.

The children see nothing wrong with wearing those headbands except that they are uncomfortable. Implanted chips will solve that problem.

There are so many other things that today’s children are being brought up to see as normal. Adults rebel against these things but to a child, it’s just part of their world. They will accept it. They won’t know any other world. Just as I could not know the world of my grandmother, born before the invention of the automobile, never mind the Wright Brothers. She saw the world move from horses to cars to planes to landing on the moon. I suppose every generation will see an equivalent massive shift in humanity’s abilities – and moralities.

I wonder what the children will see? And I wonder whether it will be good or bad.

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No competition this time, I still can’t get to a post office to send the prize from the last one. So here’s the answer.

Tinfoil at the ready? Then let’s begin

I do like to delve into the tinfoil hattery layers of the internet when it’s late and I can’t sleep. Absolutely masses of story ideas down there. Mostly I can’t sleep tonight because I’ve begun editing another short story collection, this one is by Wandra Nomad and should only take a few days. There’s another possible one in the works by Gastradamus but that needs illustrations so it’ll take longer.

Anyway. A few nights back I came across a rather long video of three guys chatting about all this coronavirus stuff. They had a very interesting take on it and they were able to back it up with actual real world references. Whether they are right or not, it’s an excellent basis for a story. I can’t find the video now but if I do, I’ll post a link.

They showed an animation of the currently known near-Earth-orbit rocks (there are a lot of them, and more are found every day) and a couple of weeks back, the animation showed around ten of those rocks intersecting with the Earth on its orbit. This was an actual animation of actual rocks using actual data, not some gamer-geek’s Sims game.

Now, these animations can’t really be to scale. We are talking rocks a few metres across and the entire planet Earth. So where the animation shows all those rocks bombarding the Earth, there is enough leeway in the scale for them to all miss by maybe a million miles. Still, that was a very risky moment and there would have been astophysicists somewhere trying to work out the actual level of risk of a strike.

In fact there was a strike, in Nigeria. Not a big one but it still made a fairly big hole. Fortunately well away from anywhere populated.

Well, these guys’ thesis was that if astrophysicists were watching this convergence of rocks on their models, they might have considered the risk of a major strike to be pretty large. What can they do though? If governments announced the possibility of an extinction level event there would be mass panic. Uncontrollable rioting. Everything would collapse. Then, if all the rocks missed, fingers would be pointed…

But if they did nothing and there was a big strike, the devastation could be enormous. How would they cope? Again, fingers would point… ‘Why didn’t you warn us?’ It’s a no win scenario.

Ah, but along comes Flu Manchu. Which Trump’s Dr. Faust was initially right about – it’s a bad flu, it will kill people, the elderly and those with serious medical conditions need to take care, but it’s not the end of the world. He later changed his tune. Why?

Well what if there really was an ‘end of the world’ possibility coming along in the shape of a massive space rock? The governments of the world would be informed and they also know they can’t just blurt it out. So, what if they use the virus as a reason to boost up hospital capacity and get people to avoid large and vulnerable gatherings…

Almost none of that extra hospital capacity has been used. Anywhere. Most of that extra capacity was ill-equipped to deal with a respiratory illness, they were just plain old field hospitals. Many of them are now being dismantled. That rock cluster has passed by leaving only a minor hole in Nigeria.

Coronavirus figures have been reported in a way no other flu figures have ever been reported. People are getting Covid-19 on their death certificates when they die from any cause. The virus has all but wiped out deaths from flu, pneumonia, heart attacks, stroke, falling anvils and anything else. Currently, if you don’t get coronavirus you’ll never die. Why? Why ramp up the fear like that?

The NHS put out a call for volunteers. Many people volunteered. As far as I can tell, not one was actually called upon. Around eight thousand people applied to be ‘contact tracers’; not one was hired. NHS nurses have been putting dance videos on TikTok filmed in empty hospitals. Hospital staff have been furloughed because they aren’t needed.

It is true that some hospital staff have died of the virus, in the same proportion as the general population. No massive increase in deaths or infections in the hospital environment.

The gradual rollout of antibody testing is already showing that the virus has spread far more widely than first thought, and many people have had it without showing anything more than symptoms of a cold. Others have had a bad flu, a few have been hospitalised and some of those went on to intensive care – but that happens every year with the flu. It’s horrible when a family member dies – but it’s also inevitable. Nobody lives forever. I’ve had to come to terms with that myself this year.

One thing the tinfoil guys said that caught my interest – Trump shut down America when there were around 250 deaths. In a population the size of America that is not a national emergency. Yet he trashed the economy he had spent three years bragging about building up for a number of deaths that doesn’t even touch the annual flu death toll.

Were the tinfoilers on to something? Was the virus used as an excuse to prepare for a different kind of disaster? I mean, astrophysicists are pretty brilliant people but on the scales they work with, even a tiny statistical deviation can mean the difference between a space rock hitting us and that same rock missing us by a million miles. With a cluster of them arriving at once, they’d be concerned.

They also wouldn’t be able to pinpoint where such a rock would hit, not until it was so close it would be too late to do anything about it. It might land in the sea, in the desert, or in a major city. Although if it’s big enough it probably wouldn’t matter where it landed.

Lockdown was a separate issue. It was based on a model created by Neil ‘Beware the Ides of March’ Ferguson, who has predicted so many disasters that never happened, I wonder that government were still listening to him. They did though, and we are now likely to kill more people with this lockdown than the virus would have. Especially in Scotland and Wales where lockdown continues just to spite the Tories.

Maybe the guys are just plain old tinfoil hatters. Maybe they’ve read this wrong. Or maybe they really have picked up on something. Tinfoil hatters exposed Common Purpose long before anyone else (including me) believed it was real. They do sometimes get it right, it’s just that what they find is so bizarre we don’t readily accept it. At least they didn’t try claiming that some people are lizards. That’s still a red line for me.

Anyway, if it was a risk of collision, it appears to have passed. Now the challenge is to remove the fear of a virus that’s clearly nowhere near as deadly as we’ve been told. That won’t be easy, not least because certain governments are revelling in the new authoritarianism and don’t want it to end.

Whether it’s true or not, it’s a great plot for a novel. Major disaster about to strike Earth, governments need to prepare without letting the people know what’s really happening and thereby avoid mass panic. Disaster averted – but now, how to remove the artificial fear they created?

There will be those in government who don’t even want to. Quite an intriguining potential story there, I think.

Luck and vaccines

I now have the cable to fix my car, and then I can find out what else has rusted up after its month-long furlough as a lawn ornament. I’m not going to do it myself. I do have a trolley jack so I can lift it easily enough, but I don’t have axle stands. The way this year has been going I am not confident that getting under a car that’s just on a jack is in any way going to go well. I’ll call the mechanic.

The cable came from United Arab Emirates. In under a week. I had a text to say there was import duty, as expected, but shortly afterwards Fedex showed up with the cable. I guess they trusted me to pay the duty later, so I did. Under a week to get one from halfway across the planet. The local dealer hasn’t got one yet.

I’m going to get the other one too, when it arrives. This part is absolutely critical, the car simply will not move at all without it so I’d like to be ready in case it happens again. Also, it’s a part that is clearly in very short supply in this part of the world so when I sell the car I can put the spare cable on eBay, assuming I haven’t used it. The third one I have stopped, I am really not likely to need three.

The arrival of this cable, I hope, means my luck is changing. It’s been pretty crap so far this year.

Now, vaccines. I am a microbiologist and have dealt with some nasty diseases but never with vaccines. The stuff I’ve dealt with is all intestinal and I’ve developed treatments, not vaccines. However, it’s all part of the subject area so I do know a little.

There are no antivaxxer microbiologists. You can’t get on the undergraduate course without a basic set of vaccines otherwise you’re just a liability in practical classes. Tetanus, TB, polio, that sort of thing. They don’t want you catching something from the stuff you’re handling even if it seems, on the face of it, harmless. It might be contaminated.

I don’t know for sure but I suspect the same is true in most areas of biology or any of the environmental sciences. If a student catches something in a practical class or on a field trip, the college or university risks getting sued all to hell. Imagine a geology field trip where a student trips, cuts themselves and gets tetanus. Hoo boy, it’s lawyer time.

As you move up in the field you come into contact with more dangerous stuff (especially when you specialise in gut bacteria) and then you get more needles stuck into you. I have a list somewhere. If you want to visit certain countries where yellow fever is present, you have to have a certificate of vaccination or they’ll turn you around at the airport. I don’t have that one. I did get rabies vaccine before visiting China, but that doesn’t make me rabies-proof. It simply gives me time to get to a hospital before I start frothing at the mouth and biting people.

Antivaxxers aren’t just putting their children at risk of disease. They are seriously limiting their future career options. Unvaccinated kids cannot get on to medical or veterinary courses. Pretty much no biological science courses. I bet they won’t even let an unvaccinated cleaner into a hospital.

The parents of this generation don’t know much about measles or mumps or a host of other things we had to deal with before there were vaccines. They consider them ‘childhood illnesses’ that kids just have to get through. I had to catch them all and some of them are real bastards. If there had been vaccines against measles or mumps when I was a kid, and my parents put me through those horrors anyway, I’d be furious. Mumps isn’t just a bit of swelling. It hurts like hell. Measles isn’t just spottiness. It’s horrible and it can kill.

Scarlet fever, German measles, chicken pox… I road tested the whole lot as a kid because there were no vaccines to stop them. You’ll all be familiar with the antivaxxer line ‘Oh but years back kids were only injected with eight vaccines, now they get dozens’. That’s because years ago we only had eight effective vaccines. We didn’t have vaccines against all the diseases I went through in childhood. In most cases, now we do.

It’s true that not all vaccinations are safe. Polio is a case in point. There are two vaccinations, injected or oral. The injected one puts a load of dead virus into you, there can be no infection, your immune system just forms antibodies against the alien proteins. The oral one uses a live but attenuated virus. You get a weak infection which your immune system soon clears up. The risk is that a live virus can mutate back into its nasty form. It has happened.

This is how a virus works. There is no intelligence involved.

Imagine one of your body cells as a factory making important stuff. Someone gets in and makes a subfactory that hijacks your production line to make something else and also the packaging to put it in. The thing is, their staff are blind, drunken idiots. What they put into the packaging won’t always work because it’s often the wrong stuff. Sometimes the packaging is faulty and won’t stick to what it’s supposed to stick to. The workers don’t care, they make so many copies that a few are bound to be right.

Once in a while they make a packaging that sticks to a different receptor. Once in a while they pack in some new genes that the original plan didn’t have. These events are rare, in the order of one in a hundred million, but they are producing billions. So the new combinations, like the infinite monekys typing Shakespeare’s plays at random, will happen.

Polio doesn’t change much even though it’s an RNA virus like the coronaviruses. Its effective configuration is in a small range and mutations don’t do well. Vaccination can work. Coronaviruses are like ninjas, they have a wider range of effective configurations so the tiny bastards just keep coming back. Sometimes with a mild cold, sometimes with a killer flu.

There is no vaccine against tthe common cold and no truly effective vaccine against any form of the flu. There won’t be one against this new Flu Manchu either. Ever. Some things simply cannot be vaccinated against. Immunity is the only way to go.

The Bill Gates vaccine is based on an idea that has never produced a marketable vaccine. It’s a stupid idea. It gets DNA ro RNA into your cells so your own body produces virus surface protein and your immune system then attacks… you. An autoimmune disease. It will never work.

Unless your goal is population reduction. Then it will be very effective indeed.

The Easy Terror

Okay, first off, I have finally completed Tales From Loch Doon, every author who wanted cash has been paid and books are (slowly) making their way to those who wanted books. Amazon are prioritising ‘essentials’ and print books aren’t essential. They might take a week or so to arrive.

I went with the lighter cover image, did some meddling to sharpen it and (hopefully, I haven’t seen a print copy yet) make it more dramatic. There some little things in there to find, naturally 😉

Okay. I can now get back to Panoptica and the other books waiting in line. I can also stop banging on about Loch Doon. It’s complete.

So what’s the scariest thing I’ve written? What I hear most about is things like ‘The Hand that Feeds’ (goblins in a dishwasher), ‘Telephone Pest’ (demonic spirits spread through silent phone calls) and the preamble stories for Panoptica.

Nobody is scared of stories about wild-eyed demons or ghosts or zombies or vampires. Those are entertainment. It’s when you take the ordinary and everyday stuff and turn it on its head – that’s when people start checking under the bed and behind the sofa, and sleep with the lights on. The ordinary is the place where the easy terrors lurk.

So it is with the Flu Manchu. We now hear that it might be in the water supply. Apparently Boris says so, so all the already-terrified drones will believe it.

Well… no. It is not in the water supply. I am certain. Absolutely definitely certain. If it is anywhere it’s in the bottled water the drones will buy to avoid drinking from the tap, but really it’s not in there either.

That won’t stop me scaring them shitless about it, of course. I haven’t been able to leave the house for nearly a month now and I miss that direct interaction with people, and watching the colour drain from their faces.

The only way it would get into water is through faecal contamination. If your water comes from a reservoir, it had bird shit, fish shit, insect shit and all the fox and badger and everything else shit washed off the surrounding banks going into it. There’ll also be quite a few dead things in there, rotting away nicely and making your drinking water into dead-thing-and-poo soup.That’s why you don’t just dip a cup into a reservoir.

When it comes out of the tap, all the nasties are gone. The processing plant has cleaned them all out. We know this because drinking water is tested. One of those tests is for faecal contamination and that involves looking for Escherichia coli. Why that one? It’s only found in guts so if it’s in the water, there’s shit in the water. If it’s absent then we can be reasonably sure there’s no shit in the water. There are other tests too, quite a few, but if the processing is working correctly the water will pass them all.

So what makes this virus so special that it can withstand processing? Nothing. Nothing at all. It can’t. It’s not the Johnny Bravo of the microbial world. It will not get past the processing plant even if it gets into the water in the first place.

If it did, then so can everything else and you’d already be shitting water through every orifice from all the nasties you’d pick up.

Bottled water is also processed and tested. It’s not bottled by an unwashed hippy dipping bottles into a stream, you know. Any kind of foodstuff/drink on sale has been tested for safety unless you’re into eating raw bats you got from a dodgy blood-soaked madman. No safety tests, no sale. The suppliers want to see and keep documentation of the tests, otherwise they’d be liable too.

A long time ago, I was actually involved in food and drink testing. It’s not something you can be casual about. Wrongly reporting something as safe means an outbreak of food poisoning and it’s your fault. Wrongly reporting something as contaminated means a massively expensive recall operation – and that’s also your fault. Believe me, the labs doing these tests are careful.

Town water is chlorinated to make absolutely sure it’s safe to drink. Out here, it isn’t chlorinated – but it goes through two filters and a sealed UV blaster so it’s safe to drink right from the tap. Without chlorine. That’s because the water treatment plant is in the utility room so the treated water doesn’t have to travel far. If it was my personal well I’d be allowed to risk it, but since the landlord is supplying tenants, he can’t. The filters and UV are changed every year and the water gets tested.

The virus is not in the water supply. If you are still scared, boil the water first. The virus will not survive that. It cannot live inside your kettle either.

I don’t blame Boris for this scare story. He has no background in science, much less in microbiology or water treatment and supply. Someone has fed him this scaremongering bollocks and he probably thinks he’s doing us a favour by passing it on.

All it is doing is adding to the fear. Don’t fall for it.