Having spent some time here in February, Pat and I have been on the island since the middle of March. Our fortnight’s self-isolation (a very sensible ruling) proved useful in many ways; we got lots done (including a fair bit of exercise around the back lawn) and actually the time flew by. Over that time, I have developed some thoughts on all that has been going on both here and in the UK and I share some of those views with you today.
Amongst the highlights in the world that did or didn’t happen during our self-isolation were International Piano Day (did) and the Eurovision Song Contest (didn’t). You were probably not aware that on 28 March the world celebrated International Piano Day. Why that particular day? Well, it’s the 88th day of the year and there are 88 keys on a piano.
As far as the ESC is concerned, thank heavens we were spared the humiliation of ‘Royaume-Uni nil points’ again; but more relevantly at this difficult time we were spared the UK entry being introduced by its title, ‘My Last Breath’. I’m not making that up!
We’ve tuned in to the regular updates from Team Guernsey. We are full of admiration for the leadership and judgement of Gavin St Pier, Nicola Brink and their colleagues. We will all have PhDs in hindsight at the end of all this but none of us are having to deal with this once-in-a-lifetime crisis as they are having to and Pat and I applaud them and support them in all they are doing. They are getting it right!
At the totally opposite end of my sentiments spectrum are found Premiership footballers. I appreciate that living in a protected, over-remunerated bubble can imbue in you a warped sense of your place in the world and your worth and importance, but I just cannot believe they don’t get it. Thousands of UK businesses are still working as best they can, major company CEOs are giving all or part of their salaries to NHS charities, people in every walk of life are making enormous sacrifices every day and what are some of the little cocooned darlings doing? Being dragged kicking and screaming towards giving up 30% of their huge salaries ... and they’re not even kicking a ball. Meanwhile their employers are furloughing non-playing staff and the UK taxpayer will be paying 80% of their wages. That is disgraceful! Why don’t the playing staff in each club pay the furloughed non-playing staff’s wages? Sorted.
Government munificence (aka all taxpayers) can have unintended consequences, which must be avoided. No subsidy should be given to Heathrow when its owners are Spanish, Qatari, Singaporean and Chinese investors who have paid themselves £4bn in dividends over the past eight years. Tesco must resist the urge to declare a final cash dividend of £550m. when HMG has just given them a business rates 12 month holiday worth £700m.
I have spent our self-isolation becoming more and more annoyed (to the point of incandescence, it has to be said) at Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC. Brexit’s over, Laura! Boris et al are not your enemy any more. This is truly a national crisis, not an issue where people take sides. We are all in this together. Cut out the accusatory tone please.
I joined hundreds (maybe thousands) of millions around the world to watch and listen to Her Majesty’s broadcast. The calm strength and reassuring leadership were there (as always) and I can’t be the only one to have had a lump in my throat as she ended with the promise that we would all meet again. Countries who have no connection at all with the Queen were tuning in and deriving comfort and inspiration at this time of global crisis. But then, there is only one ‘The Queen’.
As the crisis has grown, I have developed a greater feeling of frustration than usual at Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues in Scotland. Not one hint of a union flag at her press conferences, never an acknowledgement of being in this as one united country fighting a global threat, not one word of thanks to the UK military for helping construct in record time the Nightingale hospital in Glasgow and not even a passing reference to the fact that it is the UK, not just the Scottish, taxpayer who is footing the bill for the financial support that the First Minister of Scotland is doling out daily. Scottish independence, Nicola? With the greatest global recession peacetime has ever seen hanging over us all, and with that offshore black stuff on which you’re basing your economic policies at record low prices... probably not! If you were now independent, who’d be bailing you out now? The EU? That is risible. The borders (not just on the ground either) have gone up around Europe more quickly than you can say ‘Brussels’.
And then there’s China, the country where, in Wuhan, this all began in late November last year. The country whose public health regimen is patchy at best. The country which then consistently lied and dissembled about the growth of Covid-19 (to the point of banging up the doctor who first sounded the alarm). The country which influenced the World Health Organization to tell the world with confidence on 14 January that ‘the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission’. The country that was finally forced to confirm the epidemic on 20 January, by which time the disease had become a pandemic and spread to 14 more countries on four continents, and some 200 million Chinese were on the move around the globe because of Chinese New Year, including the workers from Wuhan going back to their jobs in the textile factories of Northern Italy. The country that successfully stopped the spread of the virus by enforcing lockdown in the draconian, penal way that totalitarian regimes can. The country that is the first in getting back on its feet. Oh, and the country that builds 50% of the world’s cars, 80% of its computers and 90% of its mobile phones. The country that could exploit the acute economic weakness of liberal democracies, that could buy up western assets at very low values. China, the country that could end up being the ultimate beneficiary of the global meltdown to which it gave birth.
So as I file my offering during on this first Monday of an April the likes of which none of us under 75 have ever seen, I hope the editor will ask me back next month, when I will reflect on exit strategies and consequences (it is far too early for our chief minister and Team Guernsey, or Boris – get well soon please, PM! – and his ministers to announce anything on that front; we are in this for the long haul).
I leave you with an observation from Rod Liddle at the height of the panic-buying of loo roll: ‘People clinging to soft-ply tissue as if it were a last, cherished remnant of an easier life.’
For as a dear, sadly deceased, friend told me many years ago: ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.’