Leaving Verbier

Climb every mountain – the lovely scene at the end of The Sound of Music where the family hike over the Alps in the sunshine to Switzerland to evade the Nazis – it’s much less romantic to do it in a Volvo at midnight. Alas, these things are forced on one.

With the old home hearths barred to us by Nicola, one has to spend Christmas away in a salle à manger in a resort in Valais. I told the family it would be just like Aviemore but with reliable snow, and a few more zeroes added to every price. Also Verbier has that one thing which I consider essential for a skiing holiday: a hospital at the bottom of the slopes.

However it was to come to an end: we were not exactly invaded by Nazis, but health officials do their best to imitate the attitude, and all in the resort were told we were in quarantine. Forced to stay closeted in a luxury apartment overlooking breathtaking, glistening mountains, surviving on scraps from the restaurants and wine cellars: this was too much to bear. We are after all Britons, whatever Nicola might say, and an escape committee swiftly convened in the bar, and swung into action as night fell. As the local saying has it; “Chacun pour lui-même“.

It is all nonsense: I am not infected. If I did not get the disease at the coronavirus party we held in the spring, I am not going to get it now, am I?

The idea seized me of taking to skis, a high lang-lauf up the mountain and over into French Savoy, but it just would not do with the luggage. It might have worked for the von Trapp family, but they only had to walk for a few minutes before the credits rolled. (Although that does make me suspicious; I am familiar with the Salzburg region and it is about two hundred miles from the Swiss border; if they had actually crossed the mountain above their villa they would not have ended up in the cantons, but would find themselves having tea with Adolf in Berchtesgaden. It is almost as if Rodgers and Hammerstein had not studied a map beforehand.)

The hotel manager was terribly shocked to receive our call from Vallorcine in the morning, mainly because we asked for a refund. He had tipped us all off, so what did he expect? I gather that he knew nothing until his concièrges found all the rooms empty in the morning.

We never did get our money back – terms and conditions and criminal conduct and all that – most upsetting. His establishment is not getting any more custom from us, not until next year at any rate.

I fail to see what the Swiss authorities are complaining about: they didn’t want British people wandering about in their country spreading our ambitious new strain of “the disease”, and now we are not in their country at all. Oftentimes bureaucrats fail to realise they have won, just because the wrong box has been ticked.

Now our only problem is getting out of France, and I do not care to travel as most do, hanging onto a leaking rubber dinghy or clinging to the bottom of a Eurostar.

Deeper into communal panic

It’s beginning to look, er, not like Christmas. The apparent overwhelming support for Tier 4 restrictions is not shared by shopkeepers, pub landlords, cinema and theatre managers, or any businesses dependent on them: all those struggling to pay the rent and rates and staff wages and national insurance with no income. Now it has got worse.

The worldwide perspective is hard to grasp. There must be a worldwide view, and we do hear stories of mismanagement and government cruelty from Victoria, American states and from foreign lands too, but this plague has driven us inward, out of the wider world, out of society, to see only that which at our own front door. There is a global perspective, but now I just want to know if I can take a Christmas cake to my mother. It is hard even to consider the grim actions of the Welsh devolved government, because it is just over the horizon and fewer of the family are caught in it.

The nation sighed and accepted the first COVID-19 lockdown when we saw bodies piled up in the hospitals of Italy, and Professor Fergusson declared that it would scythe down a quarter of a million, and on the assurance that it would last just until the spring warmed up. It was nonsense; all nonsense. The disease is cruel to some, deadly to some, unnoticed in most. Its cruellest aspect is the relentless logic of the lockdown. It drives public policy to its own reductio ad absurdum.

A lockdown seems to slow the spread, but not to eliminate it. Now the virus has adapted by natural selection to spread more effectively, adapting itself to the lockdown. All the while the statisticians keep their eyes on the R-number, the reinfection rate, forgetting what it means in practice, which is that the epidemic continues, and will continue, which will justify (in their eyes) keeping in place the restrictions on freedom which are making it continue.

Now we have new restrictions, in the main commercial regions of Britain, and in Wales, based on blind statistics, and thus the epidemic continues.

If the lockdown slows it, that just means that the epidemic continues for longer: if it had ripped through the population it might be over by now. Even in the Middle Ages, in days when communication was at walking pace, the first Black Death epidemic was over and done in two years: we have managed to extend the COVID-19 epidemic so it could rival it in length.

We must still eat, and must still work to create value, which is the essence of man in active society. Faced with unworkable rules, the only thing to do is not just to find the limits of the new rules but to scrape them, to tread along the edge. We must ignore the restrictions as far as possible: it is your social, patriotic duty.

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Under marshal law

COVID marshals; I never thought it could come to this. In floods of tiers, and the council are sending marshals about in hi-vis jackets to ‘encourage’ compliance with their idea of the rules.

There was no need to worry, of course. This is “supporting the community”, and the marshals are given that para-military sounding title so that they can prowl the streets “reminding people of the importance of social distancing, wearing face coverings and regularly washing their hands”.

Official, bullying, self-important busybodies wanting any excuse to show themselves better and more virtuous than their neighbours. If I forget myself, I may take to reminding them of the importance of keeping away from me at all costs.

(Incidentally, and I cannot say this often enough: if I do not have the disease, and I do not, then I cannot possibly endanger anyone by existing in their space, and I resent being told that I am diseased by someone who does not know me.)

Another press point suggested that the marshals would do something practical, like cleaning surfaces that get touched. That would be useful. I find it hard though to imagine someone granted a flashy title and a uniform and authority to shout at their neighbours being ready to demean themselves with actual work that means getting dirty.

Posters and webpages appearing lately in connection with the marshals scheme say that 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 show no symptoms, so you can’t be too careful. That is not a statement backed by reliable science. Statistics produced by different studies vary wildly about how many people catching the disease are unaffected by it: it goes from about from 1 in 5 being unaffected to 4 out or 5. Even that does not take account of those with such mild symptoms they take little notice of it, or notable symptoms but which are not the ones on the list, or those who just let it go by, as no doctor is interested these days. You must add to that all those other coronaviruses out there, and there are countless of that type of virus: one may catch a coronavirus cold a few times a year, a different virus each time, and distinguishing one type from another confuses the statistics. The point in summary is that the “1 in 3” figure is nonsense because we do not know the actual figures nor can we place then within any meaningful order of magnitude.

I am repulsed at cynicism usually, but I have been through all this and cannot say anything else.

It is winter. Colds are spreading, and many are caused by a cocktail of rhinoviruses and coronaviruses. It will always be so. Reaction to it that goes beyond the common-sense strictures we are brought up with, is overreaction. In those days when the nanny-state public health campaigns launched, no one suggested sending virus marshal onto the streets to yell “coughs and sneezes spread diseases!” (Tony Hancock had a sense off it in The Blood Donor, when he started singing the phrase to the Deutschlandlied, which suggests how a relatively mild campaign of nannying was taken at the time, even without street-commissars to enforce it.)

Back to the COVID marshals, why do we bristle at the idea, apart from its liberal swallowing of taxpayers’ money, yours and mine? Ask yourself: what sort of person will volunteer to be a COVID marshal? It is bad enough with freelance bullies thinking they have licence to shout at their neighbours: give him a badge and a title and there’s no stopping the village Mussolini.

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Are we at last to be free?

Crawling until we end Lockdown2, struggling, society dying. We can make it though through a week until it ends – but even then we are not free.

Actually, I have made this lockdown tolerable simply by ignoring it. Apart from the germ-sodden facenappy I am forced to clamp to my mouth when travelling and when entering less accommodating shops, it has been much as normal, apart from the absence of people in the open air, timid people anyway. I travel resentful, but when released from the train and I have coughed my guts up from the induced asphyxia, I am free again to ignore these paper rules.

Now the new Lockdown is coming to an end, the shops will reopen. Life will start to become normal, just a bit. Except that it will not: this is not a liberation – it is tiers before bedtime. The clampdown continues so that while venues can open, they must keep visitors six feet apart, which is not going to revive the cinemas or theatres or anything else really: pocket tyrants standing at the doors forcing you into a mile-long queue for an hour with no promise of being able to get in the door and no, I am not joining in. All these social and cultural venues will close and I have stopped caring about them because they are now a distant, forgotten world. I cannot see how they can come back when the world has moved on. They remaining shops will struggle to their feet again as there are always customers for frocks and whatnot, but art and culture must be our sacrifice for the new, horrid world we have created.

The cure has been far worse than the disease. Now we live with a strange new world of devastation following the plague as they did in the Middle Ages, but it was not the plague which devastated but the measures taken against it.

We can only thrive if we are free. Freedom brings endeavour and innovation. e are crawling towards it again. My worry is that some politicians are too fond of this unwonted power they now wield;  “in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death.” Maybe Boris is genuinely not comfortable with it, but that Matt Hancock, the most powerless become a great power, he always seem ready to tighten the noose around the neck. On the other side of the House, those even less powerful, have called for powers and restrictions, and commissars and whatever their cruel hearts imagine.

There is resistance. The push back for freedom has come entirely from the Conservative benches. If they are accused of living in the past, good for them, for we were free in the past.

The self-justification of power must be broken. Then we can be free to thrive.

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There was only one catch: concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind; he was crazy and could be furloughed. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to go back to work; he’d be crazy if he wanted to work and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he’d have to work. That’s Covid-22.

If you don’t have coronavirus, the doctor won’t see you; you’re wasting his time; but if you do have it he won’t see you as you’re a danger to him and his imaginary patients. You go home and die. That’s Covid-22. If you want to protect the NHS you have to close the economy and that takes away the money that pays for it: that’s Covid-22. To stop the NHS being overwhelmed you stop allowing it to treat patients, you close it down; that’s Covid-22.

You let the infection run wild and the population quickly become immune, except those it kills, but protect them by locking everyone at home, and they don’t get the immunity and it carries on and they still die: that’s Covid-22.

You have political parties competing to talk about liberty and personal freedom for centuries, then a single bug from China makes them compete to condemn liberty: if they call for an end to freedom they are called tyrants, and if they call for freedom they are murders: that’s Covid-22.

Despair: that’s all there is. In the spring we accepted breathing in for a couple of months, and almost a year later we are still not free, resenting and hating whenever we are forced to pull on a fœtid face-nappy, and whenever a neighbour suddenly crosses the road to avoid us. This is what it is doing. Personally, I would prefer everyone to get the damned thing, and me first, than to put up with this. Does that make me crazy, or the only rational man on the street? That’s Covid-22.

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