Division in your head

Fear not, I am not going to make you do long division in your head. They stopped teaching kids how to do that a long time ago. This is a different kind of division.

When my son started school, very early 1990s, they still learned ‘times tables’. One five is five, two fives are ten, and so on. The difference I noted was that they only went up to the ten times table, whereas I had to learn eleven and twelve. Well, I was there pre-decimalisation so we had to learn Imperial units. Twelve was a big thing back then. Twelve inches in a foot, twelve pennies in a shilling.

So I taught him the easy way to multiply by eleven. I didn’t push him for twelve, he won’t need it and twelve is a bastard of a table. Eleven though, is so easy to do if you know the trick.

But I digress. This isn’t about numbers and yet in a way it is. It’s about the divisions being applied to the world now. Divisions you never knew existed. All imaginary, all in your head.

We have just seen the spectacle of Black Pound Day. Spend your money with businesses owned by black people to boost their custom. Nobody, at all, seems to have noticed that this is in support of a movement that wants to abolish capitalism. They want all private businesses destroyed.

Some black business owners noticed. Some decried the silliness of anticapitalists demanding support for private businesses, and some simply responded with ‘we do not want charity, we want to succeed because our business is a good one producing stuff people want’. They see the attempt at division and patronising pet treatment and they do not want it. Good for them.

In the end, since Scotland is still in Alcatraz mode and getting worse (Wee Nippy now wants to enforce quarantine on visitors from England, so if you were hoping to help out Scottish tourism you will spend two weeks locked in a hotel room and then go home), I didn’t spend anything in any business that day. They are almost all closed. Local black-owned businesses are thin on the ground, most people of recent African descent don’t like it this far north. Heck, most British people don’t like it this far north. It’s not at all unusual to put the heating on on Midsummer’s Day. If it hits 20 C it’s a heatwave. If you’re used to tropical temperatures this is like an inverse Hell for you. In winter it’s the ninth circle.

Digressing again…

Black Lives Matter has begun to fragment. There was a march in support of Black Trans Lives Matter and I have to say, it was well attended. Mostly by white people, at least 90%, but well attended nonetheless.

The Mayors of London and New York both issued statements in support of Gay Pride, and both had the same message. They lauded the black trans men who started the gay pride movement.

Yes. Read that again. That is what they said. I have seen pictures of Peter Tatchell, the biggest name in Stonewall and he looks pretty pasty to me. I have never seen him express any desire to change sex either. He is happy as he is.

Now, being not-gay and not-trans and on the Pantone scale, probably the total opposite of ‘black’, you would be forgiven for expecting me to give no shits at all. None of this should matter to me.

Yet, I am a smoker and have experienced the ‘unpersoning’ first hand. I am also a white straight old male and am villified for that too. The old rhyme ‘First they came for the…’ well, I am the one they came for first. So I can see it when it comes for others.

Straight white males are called ‘transphobic’ if they won’t date ‘girls’ with dicks. That’s been around a long time. I’m not single so I have an easy ‘out’ there. Even if I was single, if the thing dangling between your legs looks a lot like what dangles between mine, we really don’t have a good starting point for a relationship here.

Does that make me a ‘transphobe’? In this modern daft world, yes it does. I can be friends with gay men and trans women but I have no interest in sleeping with either. Not that they’d want to if they saw me anyway, but we are talking about principle here.

The BBC published an article claiming gay men are transphobic if they refuse to sleep with ‘trans men’ (women who decide they are men). They have deleted it now so I can’t link it. You have to be a fast watcher these days.

Coupled with the mayoral rewriting of gay history as black trans history, it seems gay white men can now join the smokers, drinkers and straight white men on the wrong side of the ‘deleted’ line. Welcome, brothers. I wonder who they’ll send over the line next?

Divide and conquer, that’s the old saying. And it has worked, many times.

It does not work when the attackers divide themselves and unite the defenders.

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.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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.

____

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.

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 Mask

I have sourced a replacement transmission cable for my car. It’s in United Arab Emirates. There were a couple that were closer – in Lithuania – but they were second hand parts. I’d use them in a pinch but I don’t have very good past experiences with second hand parts – and this is a critical part. The car has been absolutely immobilised for over three weeks.

So the cable is on the way from UAE. I have a friend also trying to get one in Wales and there is still the possibility that the local dealership will come through, although that seems increasingly unlikely. If I end up with three I’ll sell one and keep the other in case it ever happens again.

Of course, the UAE one could end up in a catch-22. There are bound to be import duties, I’ll probably get a card telling me where to go to pay and collect it, and then I’ll have to try to explain why I can’t come and collect it until they bring it here. Hopefully I’ll be able to pay those import duties online, otherwise I have to wait until one of the other two channels come through before I can collect the part I need to fix the car so I can collect the part.

This is normal life for me, it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow any more.

Anyway, masks.

Everyone wants N95 masks because they are fine enough to stop the virus. You need training and fitting to wear one of those masks properly. They seal around your face so the only air you breathe is coming in through the mask. No doubt you’ll have seen pictures of the nurses who have been wearing them on long shifts, day after day. They chafe your face.

They are also very difficult to breathe through. Any mask will be, but these especially so. Most of the air you exhale into the mask fails to leave the mask and you breathe it back in. Some new air, sure, but you’re also breathing back the CO2 you just exhaled. Keep it on for too long and your blood oxygen is going steadily down while your blood CO2 is going up. Eventually you’ll pass out and if nobody nearby thinks to take your mask off (I guarantee they won’t because they’ll think you have the virus) you might die of asphyxiation. Those trained in the proper use of the masks know to watch for the early signs in themselves and others, but the general public do not.

Any mask of any kind will have the same effect, the finer the pores the worse the effect will be – but then too open and it won’t stop the virus. Flu or asphyxiation, make your choice.

Masks with exhalation valves are better for you but these are not going to stop someone with the virus from breathing it out. And that is what the mask is supposed to achieve. It’s not to protect you, it’s to protect those around you.

Doctors and nurses are trained in the use of these masks. They know not to keep them on all day. Get to a safe area and take off the mask, get yourself oxygenated and then put the mask back on. The general public are not trained. They will have masks on all day (I even hear of people driving alone, wearing a mask) and some will even have them on at home. That is when you get people suddenly collapsing in the street, as in all those Chinese videos.

It’s called hypercapnia.

So, should you refuse masks? Well, no. You do not need N95. If you don’t know how to fit them properly you might as well wear a standard dust mask. A badly fitted N95 mask is an expensive waste of time.

A mask made of a salted layer and a HEPA layer cut from a vacuum cleaner bag will do, but don’t even wear that all the time. Do not wear at home or when driving (both pointless) but masks will help in places like supermarkets or on busy streets. You don’t need a mask if you’re hiking up a mountain and there isn’t a single person within sight. In this idiotic age, I fully expect a police drone to order you to put one on and I am counting the days until someone smashes one of those things. It’s bound to happen.

Really, you shouldn’t wear any kind of mask if running or otherwise doing any kind of strenuous exercise. CO2 at 10% is enough to kill you (yeah, it takes a lot more than parts per million but let’s not spoil the Church of Climatology’s beliefs with facts) and you can definitely get the level high enough to make you sick with any kind of mask. Especially if you are breathing heavily or already have asthma or any respiratory condition.

So, should you wear a mask? Only when absolutely necessary. Never at home. Absolutely never when driving since passing out at the wheel means you won’t have to worry about any virus killing you. Not while doing any form of strenuous exercise (have one handy in case a jobsworth wants to insist you wear it and take it off when the jobsworth is around the corner). Alternatively wrap a loose scarf around your face, so you can still breathe. It won’t stop the virus but that’s far from the only risk in this situation now.

Soon we will hear Boris’s plans for the current lockdown. I hope he doesn’t do what the Miniature Scots Idiot has done and extend it, because people will simply not listen any more. Surely Boris has known this from the start, lockdown has a limited compliance span and it is already starting to fail.

I can see why, especially in London. Some years back I lived in the highest flat in a small town. Very nice flat but it was four rooms and up three flights of stairs. Then I moved out to this big farmhouse with a huge garden – at cheaper rent but isolated. If I had been in that flat during lockdown I would have been stir crazy by now. Especially if every time I crossed the street to the shop there were jobsworths demanding to know if my 40-yard journey was ‘essential’. I’d be getting very close to decking one of them by now. Many people have less patience than I do. At least five.

People in flats with no gardens are having a really hard time of it, and they are out of work too. The stress I am under is as nothing compared to theirs (to be honest, apart from the difficulty sourcing car parts, life hasn’t changed much) and of course they can only stand it for so long. That time is up now. Lockdown cannot be maintained. Sturgeon is going to find out the hard way. I hope Boris has enough sense to take the easy way.

It’s not going to affect those who want to live in eternal lockdown. They still can. It’s likely to cause a surge in cases and the inevitable ‘I told you so’ but those who want to be totally safe will still be safe. Voluntarily. Social distancing will continue for quite some time; the fear instilled by the government and media isn’t going to just vanish.

Of course, CStM and I will still be in lockdown even if Wee Nippy comes to her senses and relaxes it. Involuntarily, until the cable I need to fix the car arrives.

Even if they abolish it completely, we’re going nowhere any time soon.

Mask

Well, I have heard back from all but one author on edits on the next anthology. The last author is unwell (no, it’s not the current pestilence) but I have a cover to finish and a book to assemble so it’s really not slowing things down. Author contracts will be out in a couple of days and payments will be out before publication – hopefully that will be this week.

I am considering adding a masked monster to the Loch Ness picture I’m using. It’s still possible.

There are several other single author books delayed by this mess and my own writing has stalled. I have to do some catching up. Especially with Panoptica, which is coming true very fast now.

So, masks. We are to be told soon that masks will be compulsory but will they do any good? Can you afford them from the price gougers? Can you even get them?

A surgical mask is not designed to protect the one wearing it. It’s designed to stop the surgeon infecting the patient. Wearing one does not protect you, it protects everyone else from you. Of course, if everyone wears one, that’s okay, but can everyone get one? You can’t re-use it. It’s meant to be sent for autoclaving and disposal after use and not too many people have access to a box full of masks and an autoclave. Although many people still have pressure cookers, so 15 minutes with the full weight on will do the same. The mask will not be useable afterwards though.

Right, so you are likely to be told to wear a mask even though you can’t get one. A scarf isn’t going to do too much to help. The fabric masks with the bottom half of a skull printed on them will have near-zero effect too. And something that seems to have been forgotten – the virus gets in through your eyes. Wear safety glasses, the ones that wrap around the sides.

Home made masks. It’s not as simple as wrapping a scarf around your face, you will need a bit of sewing.

First, you need the layer next to your face. Make it heavy gauge cotton perhaps from an old pair of jeans because you really don’t want the next two layers touching your face,

Next layer, HEPA material from one of those white cloth vacuum cleaner bags. Careful with this stuff, it has fibreglass in it so wear gloves handling it and cut it outside or at least near an open window. It can cause long term irritation. It is, however, very good at filtering.

Next layer, any material soaked in 30% (30 grams per 100ml) salt solution. Ordinary table salt is fine. Add a touch of detergent to help it spread, a drop of washing up liquid will do. Let it dry completely and lay it on the stack.

Finally, outer layer. Anything you like. It’s not really doing anything other than keeping the lower layers in place. Remember you have to breathe through all this stuff so the outer layer can be as open as you want.

When it’s assembled, I’d say don’t put the loops over your ears. Use some kind of elastic to hold the loops behind your head, it takes pressure off your ears so you don’t end up looking like Prince Charles, aka Plug from the Bash Street Kids.

Stitch or staple pleats either side of your nose, to make it fit snugly. Air flow will be much easier around the mask than through it and you want to avoid that. It’s not going to be easy to breathe through this thing so don’t think you’re going to be running a marathon wearing it but walkkng slowly through a supermarket should be fine.

Oh and if you are thinking of taking up smoking because of the effects of nicotine on this virus, it’s too late. The effects of nicotine on ACE2 receptor expression don’t happen overnight. The current French experiment using nicotine patches is most likely going to fail unless the patient is a current or recently-quit smoker or vaper. If it does, that failure will be pounced on by the WHO who seem intent on causing as many deaths as possible for their Chinese masters.

Me? I just stocked up on baccy and whisky and vitamins D and C and zinc sulphate. But what do I know, eh?

Some will say I should have stocked up on tinfoil. We shall see.

Just when you think it can’t get worse…

…the car broke down.

Last Wednesday in fact. I had just gone to Local Shop and when I got back into the car and moved the handle to ‘drive’, nothing happened. The cable between that handle and the gearbox has snapped. Naturally, this was the one day I hadn’t taken my phone with me so had to borrow the shop’s to call the AA.

They turned up pretty quickly, really. Apparently they’d had a busy day, with all the cars sat idle for a week or more taking to the roads, many with deferred MOT tests and no servicing or maintenance… maybe those things are not quite as non-essential as the police and government think.

So anyway, they dragged my immobilised car onto the back of a truck, took me the two miles home and dragged it off again. It’s an automatic stuck in ‘park’, all you can do is put sliders under the wheels and drag it. It doesn’t have an override to put it in neutral. The driver got a cup of tea and a Leg Iron Books mug as a tip because he was really patient with a right bastard of a job – but it might be a while before I get that competition winner’s mug posted.

Replacing the cable is a reasonably easy task but… all of the dealerships are closed. I cannot get the part. EBay is no use, the only ones selling cables that *might* fit are in Lithuania, the USA or the UAE. Amazon UK has one seller with one cable at a price that would make me scrap the car. Lots of them on the American and Canadian sites, at much more reasonable prices, but again, I cannot be sure they are the right ones. I can’t get the parts department at the closed dealership so I can’t get the part number.

A mobile mechanic came out to look at it yesterday. He did what he could, patched it so it can be moved, but without the right part he can’t do a final repair. So if I drive anywhere I could get stuck there.

Therefore we are now in full lockdown, missing only the welded-shut doors. We cannot go anywhere. CStM has placed a delivery order but it won’t come until April 30th so we will be heavily reliant on Local Shop’s emergency delivery for a while. They have been really spectacular in all of this, maybe one day I’ll even tell them who I am. But then it’s only been four years, I don’t want to seem pushy.

Okay, we have two freezers of food and I have a good stock of whisky and baccy so we’ll get through this without me taking pot-shots at passing Audis, tempting though that always is.

Editing on the anthology stories is now also complete and they’ll get sent out to authors this weekend. If you sent in a story and don’t hear back before Sunday, I might have lost it in all this year’s confusion. Don’t hesitate to drop me a reminder.

RooBeeDoo gets first place on the editor list for this one, she did most of the editing while I was in a blue funk for the last few months.

Finally, I need to come up with a title for this one. Something about quarantine, masks, handwash or toilet paper, ideally. Once all the edits are out, I’ll have a bit of a think.

Suggestions welcome, of course.

Meh

I have suffered an attack of Meh the past few days. I don’t know what it is but I had it once before, years ago.

It was the time I spent New Year’s Eve sober. Meh is characterised by general fatigue, listlessness and total loss of appetite. Last time I didn’t eat anything for almost a week, this time it seems to have lasted just a few days. I managed half a pizza today. Recovery has begun.

It’s a strange one. I don’t feel ill, I just don’t feel hungry nor indeed have the impetus to do much of anything.

At least this time it didn’t coincide with New Year. That New Year I drank one beer over the course of the entire evening and watched New Year TV sober. It’s seriously crap if you’re sober. It went downhill fast after 1999.

A dose of Meh comes at a bad time, I’m already way behind but I should be able to catch up quickly.

It’s not as if I’m going to be able to go anywhere…

The Mouse War

Living in the country, you get mice coming in every winter. Never fails. We’ve even had a shrew in the living room. Gloom Dog dealt with it.

We also get very high humidity in summer. Weeks of rain, saturated ground, then one warm sunny day and you can hardly breathe. It’s even worse outside than inside. For this reason, as well as the annual mice, anything that can be affected by humidity or mice is in plastic, glass or metal containers. Sugar, rice, flour, pasta, anything like that.

This year the little hairy bastards have been especially persistent. Every one we kill is instantly replaced. I’m really glad we don’t have a hoard of flour or pasta, nor a hoard of lovely nesting materials like toilet paper. We’d be overrun, as the hoarders will be soon. We have just enough to store safely.

This is the first year I’ve caught them running across the kitchen worktops. So this year, the Mouse War has gone nuclear. I have seven traps and eleven bait stations around the house. It’s a big house and we rarely use most of the upstairs rooms anyway – especially in winter because there’s no heating up there. All of them are now death traps.

The only food available to the mice (aside from the Death Blocks and Springy Head Smashers) is Gloom Dog’s dry food supply. Gloom Dog does not appreciate her food being stolen so she has stomped a few – and has become better at it since she’s realised she gets rewarded with bacon for every stomping. Since Gloom Dog has her nose in absolutely everything (painting skirting boards is a nightmare) all the Death Blocks have to be encased in the Boxes of Doom that only the mice can get into. Fortunately these are cheap, I bought one big one in Home Bargains and a pack of 10 smaller ones on Amazon. The Death Blocks are cheap too. I’m currently using Roshield which is working.

Gloom Dog has been ill recently. The vet has her on four medications at once so she’s now Stoner Dog. She’s a less effective mouser after she gets her daily dose of painkiller and then just lies around watching the rainbow dragons dance. She’s recovering though, she’ll be back on stomping duty soon.

I handle the Death Blocks with latex gloves on – one of many recent benefits of having all my lab stuff here now. I don’t know if mouse poison can be absorbed through skin and I’m not willing to chance it. This isn’t a suicide mission.

I know, there are humane mouse traps that let the hairy ninjas live but once you’ve seen one run out from behind the bread bin and dive behind the cooker, you can forget humane methods. These things have got to go.

In summer I have to find out where they get in. That won’t be easy, there is one hell of a perimeter around this place and parts of it have been losing mortar since the 1700s. I suspect the utility room, since it has the walls built in 1830 still as exposed stone on the inside. There are bound to be holes in there. They don’t need to be very big holes. If you can poke a pencil through, a mouse can get through.

I have considered offering my cousins a free holiday, the ones who are in the building trade. They’d have that room fully pointed and rendered in no time. Unfortunately they live in Wales, they are always busy, and travel is going to be restricted this summer. My mother had planned to visit next month for my 60th birthday but that’s out of the question now. I might not even be able to see my kids by then.

I was lucky to get to my father’s funeral which was very well attended. Funerals are now restricted to immediate family only and all the churches are closed. I read out a version of this at my dad’s funeral. It didn’t seem real until the curtains closed around the coffin at the crematorium. The only shaft of sunlight that whole day rested on the curtains as they closed. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but my son built the casket for my father’s ashes. He learned his woodworking skills from my father so it was very fitting indeed.

So, I am engaged in a war on the mice. Not a war on the Chinese virus (Oh yes it is) because self isolation is no issue for someone who hasn’t even bothered to get dressed for the last few days. The mice, for me, are a more pressing concern right now.

Also the eleventh Underdog Anthology. It is going to be delayed but it is going ahead. As it’s all online there are no contamination issues. Payments will be PayPal or bank transfer. I’m uninfected but I’m not sending cheques because that would force people to go to the bank which will be full of potential plague carriers. Bank branches are likely to be closed soon anyway. Within the UK I can get Amazon to send books directly to those who prefer to be paid that way.

Gradually, life is getting back up to speed. Although I might yet have to spend a night in the kitchen on a swivel chair, holding a crossbow, if the poison doesn’t get the little buggers.

The gospel according to Boris

So, our tousle-haired ruffian Prime Monster has given advice. It’s not compulsory, not yet, but some of it inevitably will become so.

Despite the frothing, hysterical demands from some that ‘The Government Must Do Something’, it seems to me he’s gone about this the right way.

This is not China. The people here are not conditioned to do as they are told by government. Most of us delight in doing exactly the opposite, and there is nothing the UK government can do about it… yet. Do these foaming loons really want Boris to turn this place into a China lookalike, where any deviation is punished and any criticism of the government results in disappearance? That’s what they are demanding after all. And yet, they’d be first!

Let’s have a cup of tea, chill, and look at it calmly.

There is much muttering about ‘oh it’s only flu’ and ‘flu kills many more so what’s the problem?’ and even some who don’t believe the virus exists at all. The truth is, it’s a new virus and the facts of it are not fully pinned down yet. I’ve retired from a microbiology career and I know it can take a long time to work out what a new species is capable of. When it’s a nasty one like this one all the stops are out but you still can’t fix it overnight.

It’s related to flu but it’s not plain old flu. It hasn’t killed as many as flu yet because it’s still in its first year. The symptoms look a lot like flu so some of those flu deaths could be this virus. China admitted to it in December but it had been around for a few months before that so it was already spreading around the world. Many people reported a bad flu over Christmas (my brother and his wife had it but they spend a lot more time with people than I do) which could well have been a first wave of this virus.

The big problem with this one is not the death rate. It’s higher than flu, but it’s still not the big problem. The issue is spread. You could be spreading the thing for anything up to two weeks before you even know you have it. That will cause a very rapid spike in infections and a massive surge in cases pretty much overnight. 80% of those cases only need to drink lots of fluids and lie around going ‘urgh’ for a while, but a high percentage will need hospitalisation. Higher than flu, and that already stretches the NHS. Remember, there are other diseases too.

With flu, only a small percentage need to go to hospital and it’s spread out over the winter. The new kid on the block is far more contagious than flu and sends a higher percentage to hospital. As we have seen in other countries, that spike can rapidly overwhelm the health service leading to doctors having to make horrible decisions over who would benefit from treatment and who they should just let die.

If you’re wondering how doctors sleep at night after making those decisions… they don’t.

So the advice is to avoid large gatherings, avoid interactions with people, only go out when it’s really necessary and generally become… me. I’ve been doing this most of my life. It’s great, you don’t even need to get dressed most days.

There are calls to shut all the schools. This is a good idea and a terrible idea. Children don’t seem to get this too bad but they can spread it. So one infected kid can, over the course of a few days, infect most of a school before that first kid even coughs. All those kids will take it home. Close the schools!

But wait. If the schools are closed, the parents have to stay home to look after them. Those parents include doctors, nurses, policemen, postmen, delivery drivers, shop staff… if every parent has to stop work because the schools are closed, where will you panic buy your toilet paper? Who will you turn to when the magic toilet paper cure doesn’t work? When the ferals come for your toilet paper hoard, who will you call?

Closing schools will happen but do it too soon and the whole country will fall apart.

Total lockdown? That’s been demanded. The Italians tried it and the death rate soared to 9%. If you’ve seen ‘Watchmen’ you’ll recall the scene in prison where Rorschach shouts ‘None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me’. Lockdown gives the virus a captive food supply. Nevertheless it will have to happen eventually.

Do it too soon though and you’ll have people looking around thinking ‘This is silly. Nothing is happening.’ Then they’ll break quarantine. The neighbours will see them break quarantine and think ‘Oh, it must be okay then’ and that is the end of the lockdown. You cannot have a lockdown too early or nobody will accept it. I repeat, this is not China. We do not simply do as we are told without a clear and visible reason.

Quarantining the over 70s. That is like herding cats. My mother is 78 and has been checking her flight to Aberdeen in April is still okay. That generation were born into and grew up through the second world war and aren’t scared of things they can see, never mind those they can’t. They grew up through the nasty flu pandemic of 1957 and are still here. They came through Harold Wilson unscathed, the three day week, the power cuts, the Winter of Discontent… you are not going to scare them into staying at home because of a virus.

At the other end are the Indestructibles, brought up to believe that everyone wins and nobody should ever be hurt, not even their feelings. They do not believe the measures they demand will apply to them, why would they think a virus applies to them? You see them online all the time, delighting in the death of the old through this new virus. They will not observe quarantine, they think they can spread it unharmed and kill off all the old people they disagree with. They will never accept that it can kill them too.

It does kill off the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions mostly, but those are averages. Recently an 84-year-old woman successfully recovered from infection and 30-year-olds have died of it. Pre-existing does not mean pre-diagnosed. You can have a heart condition in your twenties and you, nor anyone else, will know about it until your autopsy. Don’t laugh at this virus. It’s laughing at you.

All the measures Boris outlined are, for now, voluntary. He will need to force pub and restaraunt closures soon and ban all large gatherings such as sporting events and concerts. Here, the GP surgeries have closed and there is more to come. The suggestions will become rules. Because you won’t do it otherwise. Those measures… will they ever be reversed?

And so the no-physical-contact world of Panoptica becomes reality. I am up to 17 chapters on that one. I promised a chapter a week and we are about 12 weeks into the year so I’m taking that as a success so far, despite personal mitigating circumstances.. Those reading it will have noticed that the authorities need no permission to enter your home, they just come right in. That’s now being proposed in the real world.

I have to get back into working. My father’s ghost will be poking me in the back with his stick otherwise, he never had an idle day in his life. Even after two strokes. His funeral was epic though, there were people sat in the choir stalls because the church was full.

Best quote of the dark day was when the undertaker asked how many pall bearers we had. Four. My cousins. The undertaker said that for a man of my father’s size (he wasn’t fat) they usually used six. My brother just said. ‘You wait until you see them.’

They did a fantastic job. And they are all gentle giants.