I don’t want this blog to become just a billboard advertising my wares but… well, that was why I started it in the first place. So please forgive me for using it now to draw your attention to MY LATEST BOOK!!!
At last! My smash-hit fifth opus – Bobby Shafter – is now available as an e-book. It costs a derisory US$2.99, which works out to 0.003 cent per word. You can buy it on almost any e-book sales platform except Amazon (but I am working on that).
I suggest getting it from Smashwords by clicking here.
Four days ago I had my second cataract operation, and have 20/20 vision for the first time in my life. The operation took about 15 minutes for each eye, there was no pain, and between them Medicare and BUPA paid for everything except the eye-drops.
I now realise that I’ve been seeing the world through a yellow-brown filter for years, maybe decades. Every day I walk round the house gazing at the pictures on the walls, marvelling at their true colours. I amuse myself by staring out of the window and counting the leaves on distant trees. I can sit at the back of a cinema and see every pixel.
But I know the euphoria won’t last. Already perfect vision is already becoming my new normal. I call it the MG Effect.
When I was a boy I wanted to own an MG, a real MG, preferably a TC or a TD (left). But my first car was a Bond Minicar (below: a 3-wheeler powered by a 250cc 2-stroke engine mounted on the front wheel), My second was a Fiat 500.
Then I got married, took out a mortgage and had a baby. Sports cars were off the agenda. Fast-forward 25 years: the children grew up, the mortgage was paid off, and an MG became a possibility. But in my heart I knew that the novelty would wear off and I’d be left with an uncomfortable, under-powered, environmentally unfriendly machine that would need constant repairs and long hours globally Googling for spare parts.
PS I’ve just come from the Trak Cinema (Adelaide) where Mrs SG and I sat at the back and watched a French animated film called ‘The Swallows of Kabul’. We recommend it, especially if you are in any doubt about the Taliban’s true colours.
There is an upsurge of guilty feelings about slavery, especially in the UK. Statues of people who made fortunes from that evil trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been wrenched from their plinths. There is agitation to re-name city streets – even Liverpool’s Penny Lane, because it may have been named for the slave-trader James Penny.
And I have just read a review in the Guardian Weekly of Nicholas Rogers’ book ‘Murder on the Middle Passage’, which deals with horrific crimes committed against African slaves for the sake of profit. It made me think…
Slavery has existed for millennia, considered a perfectly normal aspect of human society and economy. It is often said that all nations have practised slavery but only the British abolished it. This is probably true, if one considers the laws that were passed by the British Parliament that were then enforced by the British Navy.
Slavery that is legally sanctioned, where one human and his/her offspring are the property of another, no longer exists anywhere so far as I know. But the ILO estimates that 40 million people suffer some form of virtual slavery. One hears of sex workers whose passports are withheld by their ‘owners’, debt bondage in the brickfields of India and kidnapped migrants on Thai fishing boats.
But there are conditions of employment that have become normal, but in some respects are worse than slavery. If one has paid for and owns a slave, one has an interest in keeping him or her fed, clothed, housed and healthy. I think of the ‘labour lines’ on a Sylhet tea plantation I visited in 1967. The living conditions were basic and the wages almost non-existent, but the benign Scottish manager ensured rations and medical care were available, and even schooling for the children. How different it is for employers who engage ‘contractors’ who are obliged to be available for paid work but have no guarantee that it will be offered.
Should there perhaps be a legal option to sell oneself into a form of slavery, rather like the bonded labourers on whose sweaty backs the Fijian sugar industry was built? Or the Pacific islanders who used to cut cane in Queensland?
More provocatively, will future generations vandalize the statues of contemporary heroes because of our appalling acceptance of the enslavement of other species?
We have a cat staying with us at the moment, so I was thinking about posting about that species. Then last week we saw a documentary about life in a black suburb in the USA, and I thought I should write something about that. Then I realised that what I would write about one is pretty much what I would write about the other.
The fact is that my relationship with Bella (the cat) is characterised by mutual bemusement. She rubs around my leg in the morning and is pleased to have me stroke the top of her head – once. Then she stalks off shaking her head as if to rid herself of parasites. Later in the day she alternates between rolling voluptuously on the carpet in my path, bolting in apparent panic at my approach, and ignoring me.
I’d like to have a conversation with Bella, to find out how she sees the world, human beings, and me in particular. Is she conscious of her own mortality? Does she distinguish between the humans she knows, or is it just a matter of who last topped up her food bowl? Above all, is she curious about the things she sees humans doing? Curiosity killed the cat, as my prep school teachers would say to any wayward child who exhibited curiosity about anything that wasn’t on the immediate syllabus; but are cats curious about things other than the next meal and the warmest place to sprawl?
And it was exactly the same with the American documentary. I found myself at a loss to understand the ways, manners, habits, choices and even the speech of the people on the TV screen – fortunately the programme was subtitled. It wasn’t just that they were black; it was that they seemed to live in a parallel universe in which drugs, gangs, guns, unemployment, promiscuity and incarceration are normal.
Of course, it’s not unusual for a certain neighbourhood to contain a preponderance of one ethnic group or another, but it seems to me that in the USA (much more than in Australia or the UK) the black population has seceded from the Union and developed their own culture, language, values, forms of religious expression, even their own de facto laws.
My mind went back to 1966, when I used my university vacation to travel around North America. It was the year after the infamous Watts riots in Los Angeles, and I was curious about the term “motherf***er” – new to me at that time. Did negroes (an acceptable word at that time) really believe that white mothers were in the habit of having sex with their sons? I sought out the neighbourhoods I’d read about – as well as those I’d heard about through songs (Kalamazoo, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Buffalo, Laramie…). I hoped to come home with insight but gained little.
I was brought up when the British considered their empire to be a great civilising force, replacing the ball-and-chain of tribalism with the institutions, laws and infrastructure of a modern nation state, illuminated by the glory of The Enlightenment. It looks to me as though that high-minded project has ground to a halt and shifted into reverse.
There was a programme on ABC Radio National this morning, about farmers in Queesland are selling raw milk (ie unpasteurised) labelled “Bath Milk”. In that state it’s legal to sell raw milk, but only for cosmetic purposes. Well, Cleopatra bathed in asses’ milk, so why not the ladies of the Sunshine State?
But of course it’s a ruse. People are apparently willing to pay a premium of 100% or more to drink unprocessed milk that might make them sick. “OK,” you may say, “it’s their risk, so why not let ’em?” In fact, that’s what one of the interviewees on the programme did say.
That’s also the view of the anti-vaxxers and the many people who have chosen to go onto the street to demonstrate in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, flouting* the rules about social distancing. They draw a parallel between what’s happening in the USA and what happens here when indigenous Australians run foul of the law. Understandably perhaps, they consider this to be an important enough issue to justify breaking the odd rule.
But it makes me stroppy. Why? Because the cost of your risky behaviour will be borne in part by the wider community, therefore the community has a right to restrict your risk-taking. Even if you have top-shelf private health insurance the cost of hospitalising you, treating you and perhaps cremating you will fall on your fellow policy-holders.
I suppose I’m a socialist at heart. I want my freedom, but I acknowledge that I cannot succeed at anything without a measure of security, rule of law, health and welfare safety nets, subsidised education (for which I have the taxpayers of Lancashire to thank) and a robust functioning economy. To enjoy all of that I must accept certain responsibilities, and they include looking after my own health, maintaining my productivity and obeying democratically enacted laws.
* I have noticed that substituting the word “flaunt” for “flout” has moved from being an occasional slip of the tongue towards becoming the norm. It’s joining the ranks of “A bacteria”, “Between you and I, me and Jim are going steady” and “You can’t underestimate the importance of climate change”. Is this happening only in Australia, or it is a verbal pandemic? If so, is anyone working on a vaccine?
Covid-19 inspires dread and may bring about the deepest economic recession of the twenty-first century. But it also inspires creativity, kindness and a true sense of community. Oh, and criminality and cruel hoaxes too, but let’s leave them aside for now. Let me mention two examples of what I mean…
Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, when we recognise the heroism of our armed forces and mourn the fallen. The day starts with a Dawn Service in every city, every town and everywhere worldwide where there are more than a handful of Aussies and Kiwis. These are always well attended.
Because of Covid-19 the normal gatherings were not allowed today, so our local RSL (Returned and Services League) delivered invitations to surrounding houses inviting us to stand in our driveways at 0615 holding candles, to at least hear the sounding of Last Post and the reading of “They shall grow not old…”; and then walk to the RSL Club for tea and an Anzac biscuit and a chat with club members – observing the obligatory 1.5m social distancing rule of course.
We accepted the invitation and it was a moving experience. We also got to meet neighbours whom I usually see only when I’m collecting for the Salvation Army. I’m expecting a repeat, without the social distancing, in future years.
My second example is the astounding success of an old soldier’s fund-raising on behalf of the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service). 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore resolved to walk 100 laps of his garden, with online sponsorship to raise a targeted GBP1,000 before his 100th birthday. He has actually raised close to GBP30 million. And to top it off, he now holds the record as the oldest person to have a single at No.1 in the British charts. If you haven’t seen and heard the video-clip already, click here now.
This is not the same record as ‘Ground Control to Captain Tom’. Click here if you haven’t seen that one.
Tom Moore’s effort is not directly related to Covid-19, but I have no doubt that the stupendous scale of the public response has everything to do with it.
Covid-19 is at the top of everyone’s agenda, so I’m going with the flow. Here are some miscellaneous musings of mine…
- There’s no standard way of writing it yet. I think the fully-capitalised COVID-19 is ahead, but I’m sticking to the Guardian’s upper/lower case version: Covid-19. After all, it’s not as if each letter stands for a word (as in ‘Carelessly Opened Vial of Incurable Disease’).
- The artistic world, amateur as well as professional, has responded with amazing creativity and diversity. One might say that from adversity has been born a new genre. Click on these links for the Covid-19 versions of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘One Day More’ if you haven’t seen and heard them yet.
- Newspapers and magazines are full of advice on how to fill one’s days of home-incarceration, as though we’ve all become so dependent on our work and external stimuli that we’ll go bonkers if deprived of them. I do hope that’s not the case.
- We’ve suddenly been made aware of how numerous and big cruise ships are. At any time on the oceans of the world there’s a waterborne population the size of a fair-sized city.
- Due to panic buying our usual supermarket was out of low-fat milk, so Mrs Stroppy Git went elsewhere and bought a different brand. I compared the nutritional information (that’s how I find amusement in these trying times) and saw the list of ingredients: “Skim milk, milk, milk solids. Contains milk.”
- The Queen’s speech-writer should get an MBE (or better) for the final line of her Address to the Nation: “We will meet again.” With those four words she referenced Vera Lyn’s great wartime song, evoking an ocean of memories and associations that still resonate powerfully with her British subjects.
It seems perverse of me not to have pontificated or at least propounded about the biggest news story since Harry and Meghan took off – beyond blogging about bog paper. I’m talking about Corona Viral Disease No.19, aka COVID-19.
No-one knows how bad things will get or how soon a vaccine will become available, but I have amused myself by running some plausible numbers. Let’s say that one-third of humanity is infected; that’s within the range that we’ve heard from experts. Then let’s assume that 1% of those unlucky people die. That’s below the rates that are being talked about; but those are based only on the known cases of infection, which are almost certainly the minority of actual cases.
There are about 7.5 billion people alive today, so my assumptions would mean a death toll of 7,500 million x 1/3 x 1% = 25 million. That’s a lot of people, but it’s equivalent to:
- No more than 50% of the number who died of the Spanish Flu a century ago, when the global population was only 1.8 billion.
- Less than 50% of the usual number of deaths in a year.
- About four months of humanity’s natural growth rate (births minus deaths).
Moreover, mortality is going to occur much more than proportionately among the old and the sick, many of whom would die soon anyway. So when future students of demography examine a graph of human population growth they will notice a deceleration in 2020. It may pique their interest enough to glance at a footnote that mentions COVID-19.
Relative to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, Australia has a handful of Covid-19 cases. But intense media attention and Government exhortations to keep calm have predictably given rise to panic buying. Hand sanitizer disappeared first from supermarket shelves, followed closely by… toilet paper. There have even been scuffles in the aisles as people try to prise the last pack of this prized commodity from the arms of rival shoppers.
This morning I received an email from the Australian supermarket chain Coles, where we do most of our shopping. It informed me that the limit of 4 packs per customer had now been replaced by a 1 pack limit, and they had told their suppliers to concentrate on the 30-roll pack size. The email added:
“… a pack of 30 rolls should last an average family for around 3 weeks.”
As is my habit, I did a little arithmetic. Let’s say that an average family has 5 members. The toilet paper we have in stock (bog standard, and not a stockpile), has 180 sheets per roll. So if 5 people get through 30 rolls in 3 weeks they are each using (30×180)/(5x3x7) = 51.4 sheets per day.
What on earth are they doing with the stuff? Eating it?!
Sometimes I wonder if I was born into the right species. Do you ever feel like that?