Wonder of the Peak 0: introduction

De Mirabilibus Pecci is one of the lesser works of Thomas Hobbes, but influential, as others have followed him to explore and describe the Seven Wonders of the Peak. Over the next seven days (if I can manage it) I would like to look at them too.

William Camden may have been to record the tradition of seven wonders in the Peak District:

There are in High Peake wonders three,
A deepe hole, Cave, and Den,
Commodities as many bee,
Led, Grasse, and Sheepe in pen.
And Beauties three there are withall,
A Castle, Bath, Chatsworth.
With places more yet meet you shall
That are of meaner worth.

The Peak District is a wonderous place, certainly, and choosing just seven places for a list is limiting. The list, by Camden then by Hobbes, is fixed now, and ranges in themes that explore the eclectic nature of the Peak District.

Hobbes was born, of course, in Wiltshire, but he travelled widely, and lived for many years as a guest of the Earls of Devonshire, his patrons. He composed De Mirabilibus Pecci (‘Of the Wonders of the Peak’) as a grateful tribute to the 3rd Earl, his former pupil and his patron (who owned much of the Peak). It is a long poem, in Latin so I cannot comment on the quality of the poetry. The quality of the seven wonders he listed however I can explore. Mercifully for readers, I will do so in prose.

See

0 Introduction – 1 Chatsworth2 The Ebbing and Flowing Well3 Eldon Hole4 St Ann’s Well – 5 Poole’s Cavern – 6 Mam Tor – B The Devil’s Arse

Lockdown breakdown

Approaching Freedom Day, I looked around at how the nation is reacting in different places. We thought the nation was divided over Brexit, but Maskxit…

In London, the original plague-pit of COVID-19, masks are a rare, exotic fashion accessory. Shops still insist, but wearing one in the street draws a double-take. On the Tube the full force of law demands that all travellers be muzzled, but I have seen journeys where only a minority are. The young and fit frequently do not bother, and they must know that if they get it they are barely at risk. The double-jabbed (as I am) should not have to worry, but the law still insists, and if one is to be a pillar of the community one is expected to look like a pillock in the community. As soon as the crowd though crushes together through the exit, the masks are ripped off in disgust.

One observation: amongst those of East Asian extraction, masks are more commonly worn on the street – maybe more amongst those visiting from those plague-ridden lands who are in the habit.

In other towns there is no observable pattern, other than to see that lockdown is breaking down and has been for some time, not just in anticipation of Freedom Day. The vulnerable elderly are more likely to be in masks, even though presumably they have been jabbed, and it is one-use surgical masks as the muzzle of choice. (Cambridge I found works by a different rhythm: you see more masks on the street, worn apparently for virtue-signalling, or a political statement. You can tell the type.)

Shops are a mixture. Some do the bare minimum on masks and things: they know it has all got a bit silly. Some are all so uptight and demanding on muzzles, tracking, one-way systems and that goo that causes your hands to come out in blotches, that you wonder if they actually want customers. Some pubs will allow no one through threshold unless they have the government’s spy-app (so I go elsewhere). On the other side, in plenty of shops and pubs no one wears a mask, so it would be impolite to do so myself: it would look as if I were silently judging everyone who goes bare-faced.

Monday approaches; Freedom Day. However it is far from back to normal. The lamentable Mayor of London is insisting on masks on London Underground for as long as the virus is with us – but since it is now endemic in the population, that will be forever. He may find his rule impossible to enforce: even when the rule is law, it is commonly flouted. Several venues public and private up and down the land have announced that face-nappies must still be worn, without an end date. (What are they worried about? They can’t be prosecuted or blamed.)

Self-isolation is to remain too, and they are not even allowing the partial exemption for the fully vaccinated until August (and that exemption will be limited even so). It is particularly poor timing that Sajid Javid has just been tested positive with a snuffle: it has fuelled demands for eternal lockdown. Well, if the disease has still been spreading in spite of the lockdown, it’s not going to help to do it again.

It comes down to the analysis Fay wrote at the beginning: the nation is divided into the terrified the fed up and the bullies. The bullies are certainly in the ascendant at the moment.

It is a stifled cheer then for Freedom Day on Monday, but a look forward to genuine freedom when the unofficial lockdown breaks down entirely.

See also

Books

Victory in the heights

Soaring above 50 miles high in a beauty of a vessel, the age of space tourism began. The Unity-22 flight by Virgin Galactic, with a British pilot and British passengers, opens a new era, not just for multi-millionaires who can afford the experience, but for options for spaceflight in general.

Yes, Blue Origin will be coming along later, and their New Shepard is a most brilliant machine, but it does not swoop out across the sky and glide home with the elegance of a swallow, as Branson’s did. Virgin Galactic has built an aeroplane to space.

It was a very Branson occasion. The flight was short, the presentation glitzy, with a rock band plying for the crowds, whoops and cheers, and a presentation reminding us of all the other Virgin-branded endeavours Richard Branson is leading – including his investment in Elon Musk’s hyperloop.

For those who have followed the career of Burt Rutan, Spaceship Two, of which Unity is the one flying example at them moment, is unmistakably his: it has his familiar curves all over it and crowns a most remarkable life of aircraft design. (That said, he has not stopped, even in retirement.)

It shows us how things have changed. This is not the X-15 rocket-plane, with a pilot cramped inside a cabin barely big enough to move his arms, fighting to keep control of a wayward machine – Unity has a passenger cabin with comfy seats, lounge room, yet it flies as high and as fast as the X-15.

Up until now, we have always had astronauts who were carefully chosen men, the best pilots entrusted with the fasted aircraft, young and trained to the peak of fitness, as they had to be so as endure being confined in a narrow box, to endure the crushing forces of blast-off on a converted ICBM, and to keep exact control of a tumbling capsule. Now we have Richard Branson, fit perhaps but 70 years old, stepping from the spacecraft at the end without showing any discomfort. That is a great achievement.

Jeff Bezos will be taking an eighty year-old lady, a veteran pilot: that too shows how far rocketry has come.

The key element of both Spaceship Two and New Shepard is 100% reusability. Spaceship Two is a spaceplane and New Shepard a vertical rocket, two very different concepts. There is room for each, and for SpaceX, which will take passengers even into orbit. The idea of a spaceplane is to use up the fuel in the ascent, and then glide back to Earth empty, while for a reusable rocket there are no wings, which reduces friction but requires the vessel to keep much of the propellant ready to relight the engines for a controlled descent.

Space for everyone is in reach. There has been talk of taking Tom Cruise to the International Space Station just to film a scene for a Mission Impossible film: that would have been inconceivable before Elon Musk made it a reality.

Will Virgin Galactic put paying passengers into orbit? They have put satellites into orbit. After yesterday, it is only a matter of time before customers are taken on orbital flights, and whether they will beat Blue Origin I do not know.

The years ahead of us will be exciting.

See also

Books

Fiction:

Yearning to be unfree

Millions begging not to have their freedom: a strange sight yet perhaps expected. It was once a shock to find the nation bowing so quietly to the lockdown restrictions, and now they are to be lifted, many want to hide. Be comforted that a sizable majority will cast off the hated masks with joy, but others are showing positive anger at freedom. That is a new thing for a nation that used to breathe freedom with the air.

Unfreedom is comforting. It is a reversion to childhood, looked after by Mummy and Daddy with barely a care. The wide world where we take responsibility and bear the consequences is frightening.

The harsh reality of all human existence, and all animal existence, is that we must eat or die, and the further away we can get from that reality, the better we feel. Those who have lounged at home, fed by those of us still working and paying taxes, will not want to go back to the work-or-starve world. Those who have been working through it all may have the comfort of a steady salary and can be purely mechanical. It is thought and challenge that are frightening. Freedom is frightening, if you are incapable of running with it.

The grandiose rhetoric of politics talks of freedom in terms of speech, association, due process and those familiar tropes, but these barely impinge on everyday life for most of us – in the everyday, freedom is getting up when we feel, choosing our breakfast, turning left instead of right out of our front door, taking our own car for a spin for no reason, randomly stopping at a cake shop: spontaneity without needing a reason. All this was forbidden.

It is easier, being directed. We have missed holidays, but have been relieved of the pain of having to organise the holiday; those who used to go to a club or an evening classes may miss them, but they no longer have to shift themselves in time for it and lose an evening; those who organise community events have been delighted not to have to for over a year. We may find that all those pastimes we used to enjoy actually we enjoy missing more. We do not want to but gloriously the decision has been taken out of our hands.

An industrial, office-bound world then is readier to accept control by others. These locked-down years with their petty regulations and endless excuses to wag fingers at the non-conforming has been comforting, as for a helpless child who just has to follow all his loving parents say.

It is ending now, and we have to stand on our own feet. No wonder there is resistance. There is resentment too, of those who will exercise their freedom, growing (in the letters page of the local paper and comments columns on the BBC) into anger that some people just will not do what they are asked to do. The nation divides again, as we did over Brexit: it will be interesting to see if there is a correlation between attitudes to the national freedom and attitudes to personal freedom.

There are psychological studies to be done on this phenomenon in future generations.

On Monday, all being well, we will be free again. We will still have busybodies urging us to stop breathing and hide behind useless masks in case, just in case…, but we will free to make our own choice to refuse.

If in the meantime much of the nation has been shown to be like sheep, we are all poorer for it. For the rest of us, there is work to be done, to create wealth and prosperity in these islands by competition for endeavour; to lead and command. If those around are sheep, they should not be surprised to find that I and others are wolves.

See also

Books

Reading between the worry lines

Delay unnecessary, unwanted delay. Polls suggest it is popular, but the effects will not be. Data demands a full opening up, to end the Lockdown, but it is not to be, at least not completely.

Why, we can guess. It is not following the data, but avoiding the blame in the unlikely event that anything goes wrong. It is not running a country by running scared.

A loud battle has been fought this month by rival press releases from lockers and from openers. It is blatant. The headline writers love it: an obscure medic somewhere wanting publicity can make dire predictions and be plastered over the front pages under a headline along the lines “Government must keep lockdown forever or millions will die”; the sort of hysterics that made the Remainiacs so laughable in previous years, and just as accurate. Then it is snapped back by someone facing bankruptcy unless his business is permitted to allow customers back in, and each story phrased as if it were an official announcement.

There is no sense to it any more. If before the first lockdown the figures for infections and hospitalisations had been those we are seeing today, then idea of locking us up and closing businesses would have seemed madness, for such a petty outbreak.

We are being shown today charts with a dotted line climbing and the question “if this rate continues…”, but it cannot continue, as the medical profession well knows, because the population has reached herd immunity, through vaccination and infection. The climbing figures will be found to be amongst those who have refused vaccination, who happen to be from the same cultural community most directly in touch with the Indian variant. That is a limited pool. They should be cared for and isolated as individuals. They are not going to take us back to the height of the epidemic though.

There is still an opportunity to rescue the nation from the damage of a delayed opening. They could just drop the whole nonsense and open up on 21 June as planned. They could leave a local lockdown in place in the most affected areas. They could remove most of the restrictions on Monday, and leave a few that they are most reluctant to let go. They could exempt from all rules those who have been double-vaccinated.

Continuing restrictions will be largely ineffective anyway, as we will largely ignore them. In the meantime as it drags into the holiday season, seasonal businesses (which make a profit only in July and August) will collapse, unnecessarily and all because of a minister’s cowardice.

The motive for continued restriction is not of principle nor science, but fear of personal criticism. That is a corrupt way to govern.

See also

Books