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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Surrendering on the playing fields of Eton

The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but would be surrendered if the relics of the Blairzeit now in command had their way. If they remain, the school’s reputation will not. The school famed worldwide for bringing boys up into the best of men is now committed to turning them into pathetic milksops. The boys may have other ideas of course.

I have always enjoyed the metaphor. The officers at Waterloo and at many battles over our long imperial history have been solid men, wedded to hardship and duty. A background of wealth might have dried up the manly qualities in ease and dissipation, as it did in many disgraced dukes, but places like Eton ensured the inculcation of those qualities of understanding and character on which a nation could be built, and those are the qualities which cool-headedly shepherded thousands in precision at Waterloo through hours of cannon, musket and lance, and drove the French back to Paris.

(There is actually room to fit a major battle on the playing-fields of Eton, if not one the size of Waterloo: so extensive are the collage’s lands that you can walk for an hour and still not be at the end of them.)

The character of a man is wrought through endeavour and experience, and more endeavour, but the seeds may be sown in his first experience of organised society, amongst his school-chums, and where he learns that there is more than himself in the world

And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

The actual scandal at Eton now has been reported in enough fora, erupting from a pretty unexceptional video put up as part of the College’s ‘Perspectives’ course, and the Headmaster’s desire to suppress it (with the result naturally that thousands more people have seen it in just a few days than were ever supposed to be aware of it).

The Tribunal hearing which must come will turn on dull legal grounds rather than the worthiness of the video in question – it would have been interesting to see a tribunal’s terrified chairman trying to consider socio-political doctrine opposed to truth, but a way will be found around that; that the master in question, Will Knowland, was dismissed for the fashionable ‘gross misconduct’ presumably for refusing an order, but behind it is a deeper conflict.

The Headmaster (so I read) has framed his reasoning along the lines of avoiding embarrassing the College, but the infamy of his intemperate action has dragged the College’s name through the mud publicly, and publicised the very material he sought to suppress. With such maladroit strategic insight, it is as well that his sort were not commanding at Waterloo. The boys are not so daft.

The outrage, or perhaps confected outrage, is that the video, “The Patriarchy Paradox”, has a straightforward denial of two concepts in cultural Marxist theory: the idea that the only differences between men and women are culturally determined, and secondly the concept of the oppressive ‘patriarchy’. Both those ideas are so comprehensively wrong that it should take upholding them is generally a sign of idiocy, blind ignorance, malice or (most common of all) fear. Granted the ‘patriarchy’ concept is a matter of perspective and emphasis: its root failing is that it is a development of the Marxist class-struggle narrative and clings to the same pseudo-science. However that is a minor subject. The main issue of the video is the differing characteristics of women and men.

That men and women are (as statistical averages) different psychologically is practically universally accepted by all serious experts in the field. There was a book out recently by a feminist denying it by claiming all the countless experiments and mountains of data had inherent flaws, but this libel upon the scientific community is not a serious study, and was politely torn apart by Simon Baron-Cohen soon after publication.

Essentially, to proclaim the idea that there is no gender dimorphism in psychology and that apparent differences are culturally imposed is as ludicrous as teaching such past pseudo-scientific ideas as “scientific racialism” or phrenology or astrology: to do so make you a laughing-stock.

Yet the Headmaster (apparently) took the view that the law requires that specific doctrines, blatantly false though they are, must be taught in what used to be the country’s most prestigious school. I have read the Regulations cited, and there is no such idea, not even hinted at. Does the Headmaster of Eton, of all places, really think that the law is so stupid? Who has advised him?

Let us be fair: the Headmaster of what was until his time the most respected school in the land is no fool: he is an intelligent, educated and no doubt erudite man. Many are who seem to bow to the fakeries arising from cultural Marxism, but the most common reason is fear: fear of being ostracised and removed by unseen hands whom no one has elected and who has not been given such authority. Yet either those hands have names, allowing us to judge their reliability, or they are phantasms of the fearful mind which a good, Etonian mind should dismiss. The Headmaster should in that case have thanked Mr Knowland for leading resistance, and shown some Eton spirit himself.

Maybe we will hear more in the tribunal, if the Chairman indulges the claimant with allowing him to put his case. Perhaps we will hear an attempt at justification of the Headmaster’s position: I would love to hear it. If the tribunal corrects a misconception of the law, all the better for the rest of us. If they decide that falsehood is indeed the law, then there is an opportunity to change the law, and remove those who try to change it back again behind the scenes, and those who try to intimidate Headmasters.

There is more than one master at Eton, and the boys may know more than a distant manager. It is vital for boys to learn robustness and duty, and if they have then this idiocy will wash over them: a middle aged trying to tell a boy what it is to be a boy is like a snail teaching a hare how to run. That Eton spirit is not so easily lost.

The ideologues talk of ‘toxic masculinity’ which is an insult to all men; anyone who talked of ‘toxic femininity’ should be horsewhipped as a fool and no gentleman, but somehow half of humanity has to be insulted (in revenge perhaps for the misdeeds of some men in past generations). If that ‘toxic masculinity’ consists in the qualities for which Eton was once famed, for courage, steadfastness, duty, perseverance, the instinct of the warrior and of the gentleman, then let the world be wrapped in its toxins, for those are half of the qualities which the world needs; the other half are the characteristics of womanhood, which men are less able to achieve. The two together, equal and complementary, are needed to make a world.

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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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