Posts tagged ‘self-isolation’

May 29, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 10

Looking back at week 10 I have to report it was a most unusual week.

We had a liaison in a deserted graveyard with our son to receive some health supplies I needed – all gloved and masked up. Social distancing was practised throughout the short liaison which was odd, to say the least. Then it was straight back home and the bag taken from car boot to the quarantine room aka spare bedroom aka pantry for three days. He had slipped a honey comb in with the essentials so looking forward to that.

A couple of days later our daughter and son-in-law brought other medicine and rare commodities such as bags of flour and fresh yeast. It was a lovely warm day and chairs had been set out sufficiently distant from each other (pairs of) and we enjoyed a nearly normal visit albeit we sprayed their chairs and left them outside for several days afterwards.

Another major variation this week was a virtual family quiz. After some instructions earlier in the day from our granddaughter’s partner we got set up and it went remarkably well. Granddaughter spent hours compiling an excellent set of questions and really deserved her glass of wine during the quiz. Make that glasses. Tell me how many glasses does it take to affect eyesight? Grandson thought question about the Spanish Steps was a trick one but I couldn’t follow his logic of assuming they were somewhere in Spain since all steps in Spain are, er Spanish. Also since he has been up and down the Spanish Steps in Rome with US we weren’t too sympathetic when he struggled to get that one right. Well, he didn’t.

Despite all the medicines delivered last week wasn’t a great one for me but nothing too major. Managed to make some delicious griddle cakes which are a bit like girdle scones. Felt obliged to make something other than the bread my husband bakes given the amount of flour we now have; strong white, wholemeal, rye, spelt, Polish, plain white, SR white and banana flour. Yes, banana flour! And if any bananas turn up in our supermarket delivery this weekend I might bake a banana loaf using it. Bananas are a rare treat as we try to eat organic and they seem as rare as hen’s teeth although there were always plenty around when we used to get out shopping. What we did enjoy last week was an organic watermelon but I don’t think I’ll be making watermelon bread anytime soon.

The weather has been perfect for watermelons which is great for us folk with gardens but not so great for people without. Speaking to a friend on the phone who told me of a friend of hers with severe breathing problems has not been out the whole lockdown. He stays in a small flat. That must be hard. Another of her friends is slowly recovering from Covid19. He was extremely touch and go months ago and his voice was badly affected by the tubes down his throat so that he is only now finding his voice again.

Leaf cover means I can no longer report the starling saga in the tree across the road. Haven’t heard any great ruckus so assuming all is well there. Meanwhile our martins are busy doing what house martins do, eating mainly and tearing around at high speed – sounds like teenagers. They have been surveying another gable at our house for nesting, presumably, because our neighbours have again this year hung plastic carrier bags on the outside of theirs to deter the birds from nesting. Believe me it isn’t a good look (in all senses.)

Runner beans, lazing ladybird, evening sky, red tree peony, griddle cakes (weel done)

Most of the plants being raised in the greenhouse are enjoying the fine weather outside along with everybody else. Runner beans still romping away as much as possible given they are confined in pots. The summer savoury is possibly ready to eat but if we do that would clear one of the pots. The radish competition is hotting up and my five seedling are, well, seedlings not seeds anymore.

Still struggling to find anything we can bear to watch more than twice on Netflix and Amazon Prime (that we haven’t already seen.) I’m sure there are lots but not got into anything recently.

Finished reading Dreamers. The fascists still won. Latest fiction – I read other stuff all the time but the books mentioned are my bedtime reading. The latest as I write this is big, described as an epic and you can’t get bigger than that. As some of you know I’m not keen on big, epic, books as they’re not easy to hold up in bed and I tend to get bored before the end. Will see how I get on with the Icelandic Independent People by Halldór Laxness. It was recommended by my husband, he described it as superb. Annie Proulx described it as funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant though not directly to me. I like Annie Proulx’s writing, her descriptions are funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant.

I’ve not commented on the politics of the lockdown this week. Nothing I can say can top the bizarre and corrupt roguery that’s been happening with the backing of Johnson. We expect nothing less from the contemptible Cummings. Think they’ve ramped up the deceit surrounding ‘we’re all in this together’ crap. From the ridiculous to the sublime. I am not uncritical of the Scottish Government’s handling of Coronavirus, specially at the beginning (and I recognise how difficult handling a new virulent virus must be) but Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has put herself up for scrutiny day in day out. She is faced with a hostile press not like the lame bunch down south and shows she has detail at her fingertips, adroitly handling questions on a wide range of topics. Compare with the bumbling fool that is Johnson. People thought that was an act. How tragic it is to discover he really is not clever but the biggest fool in Christendom. And not only a fool but ignorant. Totally and woefully ignorant – turning his head from side to side looking for someone to dig him out of a ditch because he hasn’t the first clue about – well, anything. Maybe that’s what he meant by dead in a ditch – his reputation.

Stay well.

April 14, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 4

Four weeks have come and gone. So far so good but there’s a long difficult road ahead.

Being even more canny with the anti-bacterial spray this week during the routine morning clean in case no replacement arrives in our latest shopping delivery, again. Still got plenty bleach and as our local GP has posted on the practice website 1% bleach to 99% water is an effective cleaner, if less easy to use.

Optimist that I am I’ve ordered more flour – both bread and self-raising and that rarest of consumables, yeast, with no real expectation of them arriving at the weekend. My son has managed to buy a bag of flour in town and my daughter is now the proud owner of two bags of SR flour. I suggested she places them on her mantlepiece as the rare specimens they are.

In my first plague diary I mentioned we were updating our wills but with self-isolation it is impossible to complete these in the customary way so we set up a video conference with our solicitor – a first for us and her. Had no great faith in managing it but it worked beautifully. Isn’t new technology amazing? So, there we have it our wills are signed off. Might re-visit signatures once out of seclusion and that’s something I look forward to.

In a rush of blood to the head(s) we decided to keep the family amused by videoing the two of us dancing to Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Blimey, does it go on. Seemed to have raised a few laughs from the ‘young ones’ that people so decrepit were capable of embarrassing themselves quite as much. I was even able to get out of bed next morning which was both unexpected and encouraging.

horned sheep and lamb 2

Weather is still very dry and so no excuse for not getting out for some daily exercise. However, I’ve been put off by the increasing numbers of heavy breathing cyclists and runners who haven’t heard of social-distancing and so tend to take my shorter walk along the farm track in preference to the slightly longer ones. The short one is nicer with lots of different bird song along the way, usually the sight of roe deer – three this morning – never close enough to get a good picture or rather I’m too slow to get a decent one – we came round a bend today and surprised a couple of them right in front of us but they fled before I got my camera out. Sheep don’t move as fast. More obliging for a slow-witted photographer.

Still no sign of the birdseed order arriving. Stocks getting low now. So many birds around – blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, chaffinches, sparrows (hedge and house), jackdaws, robins, siskins, woodpeckers, starlings, pheasants, collar doves, wood pigeons – so you see we go through a lot of seed. Off and on activity in the duplex nest across the road – where starlings and jackdaws are hoping to nest.

Finished Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. Definitely recommend it. The final story, of Ella, is a little repetitive but builds up to —I’ll let you discover for yourselves. Started to read Jack London again. Bâtard last night (in which a dog hangs a brute of a man) followed by part of To Build a Fire – man against nature (how apt) before my eyes closed.

Our daily (evening) two hours of television has moved from box sets to films as recommended by the BFI. Adelheid, set in post-war Czechoslovakia was satisfactory in the way a single slice of bread as a sandwich is. Next evening came something very different – Kurt Russell in Breakdown which we remembered having seen previously but it’s a very watchable slickly filmed yarn populated by slow-drawling rednecks up to no good. The fly in the ointment was the lead woman (although she hardly featured) presented as a victim incapable of behaving like an adult – “give her the gun” we kept shouting at the screen but Kurt Russell had to do what a man has to do and held onto it while driving. Last night we watched Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade. A rom-com with lots of very funny one-liners but in the end didn’t hit the spot. Why did Cary Grant have mauve hair? Perhaps there’s no need to ask.

Stay safe.

April 8, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 3

Actually into our 4th week of isolation but writing about week 3 and already I’m losing the ability to count as far as the fingers on my hand. Been an up-and-down week which started fine but a few days ago I became suddenly ill including the worst headache I’ve ever experienced, a real sledgehammer job, which has resulted in this blog being a day late. Don’t suppose any of you are counting that accurately either, or caring.

The morning clean continues apace with a well-established routine set using diluted bleach for bits and anti-bacterial spray (I know Covid isn’t bacterial) for other parts. Being very canny with the spray as last time I ordered it from my online supermarket I was sent floor wipes (which I haven’t used.)

On Saturday, gloved up, I moved the supermarket groceries and foods received from an online health food store out of quarantine bag and carton by bag and carton and gave all a good wash down in warm, soapy water – dried them off and put them away. Yeast and flour – self-raising and bread are in short supply and prunes, sadly, but we’ve now got lots of dates, sunflower seeds and even a bag of sour cherries to add to our daily porridge. The bag of linseed had a tiny hole in it. Couldn’t see it but seeds were dropping out so it couldn’t be given a bath and instead the seed was poured into a baking tray and given the heat treatment for around 30 mins. Lovely smell, if you like painters’ studio type aromas.

On the issue of flour and yeast shortages – there are unscrupulous people out there, one I noticed lives in Barrow-in-Furness selling flour and yeast at exorbitant amounts on Ebay. Presume they’re organised going in and out of shops buying it up and selling on. This crisis has brought out the best in people but it has also brought out the worst. Those Ebay types are despicable human beings. Expect they wouldn’t know what to do with a bag of flour if it hit them in the face, which might be a good idea.

Bag of peanuts arrived for the birds. It was so heavy my husband’s legs almost gave way. Should have used the sack barrow. Very grateful to delivery drivers who are dropping off our orders in the porch so allowing us all to keep our distance. I put up a thank you/appreciation notice in the porch for them and our lovely posties, men and woman, who we can’t stand and chatter to as we did in the good ol’ pre-coronavirus days. Husband did have a shouty conversation with one a couple of days ago. He’s become adept at shouting to neighbours across a road. Roadside shouting matches aside we’ve been in telephone conversation with neighbours as well as friends, and emails – messages flying around so much this past week with friends as far afield as New Zealand.

The New Zealand connection is tenuous as these friends were there on holiday when coronavirus hit. NZ closed down and they were forced to move out of their accommodation. They found a self-catering motel where other Europeans were staying while trying to get home. The British Foreign Office and British Commission did not want to know and offered no assistance so our friends were left to negotiate multiple-million-pound airfares with companies taking advantage of peoples’ desperation. They’ve sorted something out but I think they’d be better-off staying put in New Zealand. They were very impressed by its PM’s response to the deadly virus.

Able to get out for short walks most days. Weather still very good. In fact it’s been so dry in my part of West Aberdeenshire the burns (streams) are very low. That might not appear to be a problem but we have a private water supply. If that sounds high faluting it isn’t – just means water running down the hillside is collected in a gathering tank and piped to our homes. When there’s no rain (or snow in winter – and there hasn’t been) then our water tends to dry up. Then we have a problem. Along the banks of the burns the primroses are looking very beautiful with their creamy yellow petals, the darker yellow of whin blossom, stunning white wood anemones flower in abundance round here, goat’s beard glow in the sun and the marshmallow leaves are well-formed. Lots of ladybirds in the garden. Having been such a mild winter they’ve survived in big numbers.

In the tree hollow I mentioned last time starlings are visiting it often but so too, bizarrely, are jackdaws who also appear to be trying to nest in it. I don’t think the two species will make for the best of neighbours.

My bedtime reading has picked up from the last book. Currently enjoying Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, a trilogy of stories relating to London’s seedy pub culture in the 1920s. The descriptions are masterful and the dialogue fairly zings along from this accomplished novelist and playwright who wrote Gaslight and Rope, both made into popular films. Our two hours of television daily means we’re still ploughing on with Better Call Saul, nearing the end and series five has I’m pleased to report picked up from the dreary series four. Squeezed in a couple of episodes of Outlander, too, Sam Heughan should be placed on prescription at times such as these.

Stay safe.

April 3, 2020

Lockdown Cooking: 3 Mimosa Salad

Today I return to the former Soviet Union whose population knew a thing or two about stretching out limited stocks of food. Anyone who ever visited the USSR will be familiar with shops filled with not a lot except tinned fish and might have gone away with the idea the people just loved the stuff. Not much truth in that, they were prepared to queue for hours to get rare fresh fish.

In the battle to feed its vast empire during WW2 a woman was recruited to oversee this daunting task. She was Polina Zhemchuzhina and she shook up the whole fishing and processing business. She became the People’s Commissar for Fisheries and introduced large-scale canning factories and re-organised fish processing to ‘ramp up’, as today’s parlance goes, output of tinned fish right across the country.

Tinned fish had been around for years but the preference was for fresh so to persuade people to buy the canned kind the Central Committee of the Communist Party came up with a tale that pearl smugglers hid jewellery in tins of fish. To prove the point a can was opened in public and to everyone’s amazement, other than those government officials behind the scam, a pearl necklace was produced out of it. They couldn’t keep cans of fish on the shelves such was the clamour for the stuff. Polina and the Fish Factory was the forerunner of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with pearls in place of Charlie Bucket’s golden ticket, only there were no pearls.

Stalin was a hard man to please and Polina was condemned as an enemy of the people and thrown into a labour camp for five years – don’t know why but not for her tinned fish scheme surely. She was released. Still a Stalinist.

Stalinism on a plate

traditional-russian-salad-with-a-salmon-mimosa-traditional-russian-vegetable-salad-with-a-salmon-stock-photo_csp23450222

Mimosa Salad

Serves 4
4-5 eggs, hardboiled and shelled and grated
1-2 carrot, boiled till soft, grated
1 small onion, grated and blanched in boiling water
400g tinned fish, drained and broken up with fork
150g mayonnaise
Optional:
1 apple, grated
100g cheese, grated
100g butter, frozen then grated

Build up salad in layers: fish, mayonnaise, onion, egg, mayonnaise, fish, mayonnaise, onion, egg, mayonnaise, carrot, mayonnaise, egg.
If using apple, cheese and butter add to layers.

The whites and yolks of the eggs should be separately grated, but life’s too short. The yellow yolk provides the colour of the mimosa flower.

Ref: CCR Cook Book; Olga and Pavel Syutkin.

 

 

 

March 31, 2020

Year of the Plague – Self-isolation week 2

Another week of self-isolation and it’s beginning to feel normal. Odd that instead of lying in bed planning the next day’s activities there’s a feeling it doesn’t really matter because what’s not done tomorrow can be done the day after, the week after or the month after – all being well. All being well is the qualification of everything said and planned at present. All being well. The great unknown has taken on far greater resonance of late. About the only thing that has become regular and a priority is the daily assiduous bathroom clean followed by door handles including the front door, inside and out, the letterbox, doorbell and computer keyboards.

But, anyway, one or two events shook up the monotony of last week. My new spectacles arrived. As all deliveries are placed in quarantine for three days before moving into their permanent positions it took a few days to check them, usually done at the opticians. Two pairs, both varifocals – one normal and the other sunglasses. The sunglasses are fine although their designer case is way too over-engineered but the ordinary pair made me feel I was walking through syrup. Phoned the optician who were very good about it – clearly I couldn’t take them back or post them and anyway they were about to close down until – well, until whenever so I’m back to wearing my old pair.

Lots of deliveries this week from online shopping to join the specs in quarantine. Notice now up in porch for packages to be left there, quite safe as we’re always in except when out for a short walk and anyway all the criminals are in lockdown, too.

Mild panic when we couldn’t get access to our usual supermarket home delivery. Gave up after 30 mins on phone but days later persevered, waited over 50 mins and someone picked up. This someone was a young woman with young children who could be heard crying in the background. Felt for the poor woman. She sorted out our problem and a delivery is due next week – a moderate-no-panic-buying-type delivery. I’d highlighted an issue for people like me in Scotland on Twitter and it was taken up by an MSP who was straight onto the supermarket concerned and so now, hopefully, the difficulty is sorted for others in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s one of the advantages of living in a small country, sense of collectivism. Also on Twitter had a bit of a run-in with someone from BBC Scotland over its haphazard broadcasting of daily updates on coronavirus from the First Minister, Medical Officer of Health for Scotland and a Scottish government minister. Radio listeners in Scotland have got used to second best but is it too much to ask for them to take Covid-19 more seriously than sport or local news bulletins? Evidently it is.

Been having usual sort of printer problems which involved having to order a supply of paper. It arrived about two weeks before the date given – that is blooming fast. So many jobs to do on the computer it was almost like being back at work but with the weather being generally good am still getting out most days for a walk on what has become far busier roads and even the farm track where it’s always been just me, my shadow and I is attracting neighbours in their multitudes (relatively speaking) entailing a good bit of nipping onto verges and general awkwardness. First primroses flowering, lambs appearing and dippers darting up the burn. Talking of birds the little hollow in a tree opposite the house where various birds have nested over the years is been investigated by a couple of jackdaws, one sticking its head right into the hole and another pecking down from the top. Today starlings looked like they were thinking of moving in. That’s not going to end well.

Eventually got around to running off the FT weekend crossword. It’s almost completed. As another week’s gone by there’s another one waiting to be run off. Rushed through His Bloody Project I mentioned last time. It’s set around Applecross but could as easily be set in Devon for as a Highlander I don’t recognise it as in any way Highland through description or language. Different setup for a novel. Just not to my taste. Still not finished watching Better Call Saul. We’re on season 4 and frankly it’s a bit dull, not as good as the first three. Began an occasional blog of quirky recipes for the self-isolating (nearly the whole of the world) but don’t think many are impressed with my selections so far.

Our household has had one birthday and one anniversary this week – with all the fizz of flat Champagne. There are far worse things to contend with. And finally, we updated our wills by speaker phone. Desperate times.

Stay safe.

March 28, 2020

Lockdown cooking: 1 Fried Eggs and Jam

Once the monotony of lockdown sets in sapping your imagination for preparing meals – don’t despair for I aim to help you work through those foods you stockpiled in the early mad days of just-in-case shopping.

Recipes will come from a variety of sources including a wonderful little book on food in the former USSR from which I’ve taken today’s suggestion. My offerings will be selected for: 1. their simplicity and 2. their quirkiness. You don’t have to be a whizz at culinary preparation to enjoy a good square meal and a smile. Please note fish might sometimes be included but not meat. If you are looking for meat dishes I suggest you try your local abattoir.

Today’s is taken from this volume and could not be simpler to prepare.

fried eggs and jam6

Fried Eggs with Jam

2 eggs per person
Jam, any flavour
Fresh fruit garnish

Fry the eggs for 1-2 mins, cover for a moment or two so the yolk gets a glaze. Serve with jam of your choice and a handful of berries or currants.

Bon appetit.

 

 

March 24, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 1.

Today is Tuesday March 24th which marks my (our) first week in self-isolation. I was lucky enough to have a pre-booked hair appointment on the Monday before taking to inside. My wonderful hairdresser, Sarah, cut my hair with a view to me not getting back to have it cut for months. Was in two minds about going along to her because of anxiety over contagion but she cheered me up. Her website shows her salon is now closed, till the pestilence has passed, as she puts it.

Next day we did our final shopping in the local village. A sombre affair with people clearly worried despite the gorgeous weather. Not everything available but that’s become the norm. Drove back home and locked the door (metaphorically speaking.)

Wednesday was again very sunny and spring-like. We’re so fortunate to have a garden with lots of flowers, shrubs and trees all behaving normally and bursting with life and colour. And a garden means we can work in it and wander around and sit in.

Hellebores in the garden

Ongoing sore throat and cough, so ongoing I’m sure they’re nothing to worry about. Lucky, too, we have quiet places to walk close to us. Check when neighbours go out and come back and nip out before the next lot get their boots on. We’re very rural so there aren’t many immediate neighbours.

The weather is still great on the Thursday with the briefest of a shower later on. I have food intolerances so a bit worried about not being able to get what have become essential foods for me as small shops close so ordered online from a health chain. Phoned the optician to explain I couldn’t get in to pick up my new glasses and they promised to send them out.

On Friday made short video while walking locally along a farm track, always things to see and hear – birds, flowers, mosses, trees, the sky, running water in the burn. Very uplifting but I was suddenly hit by the threat we are all living under while nature does its usual spring stuff. Nature = benign and nature = malign. Our supermarket order from 3 weeks ago was delivered. I dreaded being confronted by the guy at the door. He kept his distance and I kept a scarf over half my face! Probably he thought I was mad. Ah well. I’d let them know I was in one of those ‘vulnerable’ categories so brilliantly they’d packed everything into those usually shunned plastic carrier bags. We put them into an empty room and left everything except fridge and freezer items for three days in case of contagion. Yes, we’re that paranoid. Lots of alternatives and some things I’d never ever order but we couldn’t find the stuff quickly so just accepted the lot.

Couldn’t face not having the FT’s weekend quiz and crossword to do so took out digital subscription to it but haven’t worked out if I can fill in the crossword through the downloaded pdf so decided to print it off.

Days are taken up editing writing. Discovered read aloud on Word and find it a great way to speed up tedious proofing. Publisher was in touch to say that book due out in May might not be because of events. Got me thinking that some of the companies included in it might not be around once we get out of this horror. Sobering thought.

Ordered a few more items online from an Aberdeen health store. They’re always reliable but I wish they’d offer more such as food items. Trying to figure out if dentists will be available if things go wrong. What if the central heating breaks down?

Kindnesses emerge. Online contacts offer to deliver food/medicines and a couple of local women have put a leaflet through the door with their phone numbers on offering the same.

One week in and my mood fluctuates between feeling optimistic (don’t ask me why) and horrible sinking despair. I’m very worried about my family, several have health issues and so are vulnerable and some have lost their jobs as places shut down. Friends, too – and so I got back in touch with a very old friend on Facebook (which I dislike) and found he’s doing okay but very reliant on a younger relative. Lots of messaging going back and fore.

Yesterday, Monday, the teenager next door was out exercising, running around their garden, and soon her mother joined her. Today we went out for a walk along the road. All quiet, a wave from passing farmer, until on our way back another farmer chose that moment to drop off his ewes and lambs – getting out of his truck to open the gate. We slowed down, shouted our hellos, and speeded past once he’d crossed the road. Can’t be too careful. I’ll repeat that, can’t be too careful. And I still haven’t run off the FT crossword. Maybe this afternoon. Our evenings are largely taken up reading – just finished The Life of Irène Némirovsky and starting Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project watching Better Call Saul which is hugely entertaining. Thumbs up for Netflix. No sign of my new spectacles arriving.

Stay safe.

March 19, 2020

Covid-19 – Coronavirus and the Libertarian

Guest blog by Textor

Things, as they say, are sometimes liable to come back to bite you.

That is if you let your guard down.

And let’s face it many of us have in one way or another let our guards down.

Coronavirus aka Covid-19 has bought home to us that as content as we are in our privileged advanced (there’s a cultural joke) economies the world is other than it seems. Assuming we are not in the gig economy, not queuing at a food bank then things can only get better. We who have access to a fair number of the good things of life; we who thought the real world was little more than novelties in the digital market place – including the delights of Amazon Prime or Netflix – or ever more commodities; we have been brought up short in little over three months by the brute fact of Nature.  Bang! Nature has reared up and taken an almighty bite out of this hubris.

Yes, we are all more or less aware, all more or less concerned/unconcerned about climate change and the impact of the Anthropocene (the Age deemed to be when humankind’s effect upon the planet Earth has been sufficient to cause global, catastrophic change.) Regardless of the evident societal alterations required to alleviate a “far off” doom we – those lucky enough to avoid floods, devastating fires etc.- could in the short term just get on with it; recycle as if there were no tomorrow you might say. Waiting for the end of climate change.

But sometimes Nature does not allow us the luxury of waiting for the apocalypse: coronavirus is just such a time. For decades microbiologists have been predicting the coming of a pandemic. The so-called Spanish Flu provided a model of how devastating a modern microbiological disaster could be. Wikipedia gives figures as high as 100 million dying in the influenza pandemic of 1918-20; more than the man-made slaughter on the battlefields of the Great War. Science had the capacity to devise the most wonderful weapons of death but could not stop the ‘flu.

Evolution has “designed” a human organism capable of sophisticated speech with the capacity to adapt itself to wide variations of environmental conditions. At the same time, and perhaps a necessary part of being human, it put its stamp on Nature. Beavers might dam rivers and create lakes but humans could build the Grand Coulee Dam, produce electricity to power a so-called Second Industrial Revolution. Clever, even ambitious. But no matter how sophisticated is the vast commodity producing system that is industrial capitalism it is no match for the potential speed at which a micro-organism might evolve. Humans have brains big enough to predict outcomes and have the technical knowhow (probably) to design and manufacture anti-virals capable of slowing and even halting the spread of Covid-19 – yes humans could in the next few months do this. But for all this Nature remains unconquered. Natural selection continues without any mastermind operating behind the scenes. And we know, or should know, that this process of selection can be good for some species and bad for others.

And so, the long-predicted crisis has arrived. The pandemic is here and the search goes on for a solution. As with previous modern national and global health events the pharmaceutical industry play a crucial role. However, historically necessary component solutions come under the direction and control of local or national state apparatuses. In other words, individuals/institutions are first advised and then told what to do. Sanctions are threatened and sanctions are imposed.

Nothing new in this. Here in northeast Scotland as far back as the 15th century Aberdeen’s magistrates fearful of plague had the bell rung through the medieval town proclaiming the city’s ports (gates) close, lokit with lokis and keis, at night to prevent strangers entering unobserved. A compact medieval town could very swiftly succumb to viral and bacterial threats. Medieval doctors and apothecaries knew little of the causes of infectious diseases but empirically they were aware that for all claims of God expending his wrath on a sinful community, contagion could be slowed by isolating infected families and potential carriers. Whether this would thwart Divine justice was maybe a theological point not to be dwelt upon. And, it’s worth noting that certainly by the 17th century Aberdeen’s magistrates were also attempting to clean the city of middens, street filth and asking that households be kept clean. This lesson on the need for cleanliness was largely lost by the early 19th century when poorer parts of Aberdeen where people living cheek-by-jowl and in slum conditions were condemned to the horrors of cholera and dysentery. This was industrialising capitalism; the poor were there to be exploited and maybe pitied.

As the centuries progressed even more controls were imposed. Vessels were prevented from entering the harbour, merchandise was left in ship holds. On the other hand, when the threat was seen to be coming from internal migration strangers were banned from entering the town. Town ports were watched and at one stage in 1606 dealers in timber were told to stay away under paine of death. Trade suffered as commodities ceased to flow between manufacturers, tradesmen and consumers. In 1647, again in the midst of plague, draconian measures were introduced with, for example, all ydle stranger beggars . . .  forthwith removed and banished. Any who returned were to be scourged, branded and driven out.

Authoritarian management is a basic mechanism for control of epidemic-pandemic events. Our current crisis has stark contrasts. On the one hand the relatively fast and severe imposition of lock-down in parts of China. With over seventy years of state control the Chinese Communist Party has an apparatus better adapted to widespread controls than liberal democracies. Compare the Chinese response to the bumbling worlds of the UK and USA brought stumbling towards closing doors and mass quarantine.

These manoeuvres will probably bring howls of anger from libertarians both right and left – those who don’t want to be told what to do by the state. Their individual rights, some might say entitlement, trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) all else. Allowing for the nastiness of all three states mentioned (China, US and UK) this form of libertarianism smacks of, at best, infantile petulance and at worst disintegrative individualism which fails to recognise a larger vision of human community even one within a capitalist formation. Remember the outcry about seat belts and crash helmets – with cries of freedom from state tyranny? Of course the consequences of a libertarian freedom to roam in a time of a modern plague threatens not only the lives of the defence of freedom lobby but ultimately the well-being of global communities. 

And the bite of Nature? As much as humankind imagines itself master/mistress of the world the reality is otherwise. From small nibbles such as occasional volcanic eruption to the all-encompassing bite of climate change Nature exists, not dependent on human imagination, not caring one way or another what happens to humans or any other species. It, if that’s the correct word, does what it does.Humans although in Nature and of Nature are different insofar as this species can make choices. It can gather knowledge, can know history and can act. There lies the rub.