Hooked on Classics

Sunday morning, 24 Jan 2021: the Horror Channel is showing ‘Legend’, the Tom Cruise/Warwick Davis fantasy movie. Not what I would consider to be an authentic Horror movie, but the film contains many ingredients of the Gothic and macabre (candle-lit vaults, hideous goblins, and a devil with huge black horns).

Donald and Malaria Trump have left the White House, being whisked away to Mar-a-Lago to the strains of ‘My Way’. The departing FLOTUS changed into her best George and Mildred kaftan to get into holiday mood. The nation heaved a sigh of relief, and Joe Biden was sworn in as President with musical accompaniment from Lady Gaga.

Trump was fond of boasting that his inauguration had been attended by much larger crowds than any other POTUS; this was manifestly untrue, and it should have alerted us to the delusion and lies that would rule the White House over the next four years.

Because of the global Covid pandemic, Biden had asked for the ceremony to take place without public crowds, and the National Mall was instead filled with 191500 American flags to represent US victims of the coronavirus.

In the UK, we now have the Health Secretary saying that vaccine jabs can safely be administered twelve weeks apart, while Pfizer insist that the original recommended procedure (3 to 6 weeks) must be followed.
The daily death toll in the UK has started rising to over 1200, obviously due to the extensive household mingling that took place (with Government approval) over the Christmas holidays.

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 25.2 million cases, 421 thousand deaths
UK: 3.62 million cases, 95.8 thousand deaths

Channel Four launched the new series from Russell T Davies, ‘It’s A Sin’, which follows a group of young men who leave their homes and move to London in 1981 to start new lives and careers. They make friends, discover the gay scene and start to find their way round this exciting new world as their lives intersect.

Then they start hearing rumours of a strange new disease that seems to affect only gay men, and we see one character ill in hospital where he eventually dies. Other scenes show a girl washing up, frantically scrubbing a mug that she saw being used by someone with (she suspects) AIDS. She puts it in the kitchen cupboard and makes her way to bed; but after lying awake for half-an-hour, she comes back downstairs, wraps the mug in a tea towel and smashes it before dropping it in the bin. 

We also see a family whose son has died from an unknown illness; they have set up a bonfire in the garden and are busy destroying all his belongings along with old photographs and videocassettes.
‘Hooked on Classics’ will never be the same again…

Rootless

I’ve lived at 23 different addresses and worked in 15 different jobs.

My Native Land, by Sir Walter Scott

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)

The Stranger’s Hymn

Leafing through collected pages, numbers, lines and diagrams
It seems I find myself delocalised. Hovering between
Adjacent orbitals, the ambiguity of spin allows my eyes
To see but not to rest upon a suite of
Cars and houses, trees and people, all lined up
To help define my whereabouts.

How would I know my native land? Is this a place
Where I should feel that I belong? The pages that I browse
Are dull, with intermittent gleams of narrative
That may as well be someone else’s life. A scattered trail
Of half-remembered functional derivatives betray
The intersecting shells of liquid personality.

I search through dusty manuscripts, to find perhaps
A swaying web of algorithms that might
In some way correspond to places, names and songs
That I recall. Does the place where I grew up
Define the person I turned out to be? Or can
I find unfinished chapters carry so much weight
They leave me now with nowhere to belong?

Erase the Data

Journal Entry, 16 Jan 2021:
It’s Saturday morning, and the Horror Channel is showing ‘Monster Island’, a high-octane remake of last week’s offering, ‘Mysterious Island’. The older film has much to admire – a drama-filled plot, Harryhausen’s giant insects, and Michael Craig’s splendid torso. The modern film, however, seems packed with library footage of aircraft carriers, violent explosions and kraken-type monsters, with a soundtrack entirely lacking in atmosphere.

State of the nation: the UK is now in lockdown again, and the government has decided to ‘suspend all travel corridors’ to prevent the spread of a new Covid variant. What this actually means is not that air travel will be banned, but that passengers will be required to have a negative Covid test result before departure, and they will have to self-isolate for ten days on arrival.

This would be a great idea, except for the fact that Covid tests are not completely reliable. And there have been hundreds of cases where travellers have declared false address details to UK customs on arrival, leaving the police unable to locate them.

Some other people may also now be able to evade detection by officers of the law, since it was disclosed yesterday that 150 thousand records (figure later revised up to 400 thousand) have been mistakenly wiped from the National Police Database during routine maintenance. This includes DNA, fingerprints, and arrest records.

Lots of angry debate around free school meals; instead of being issued with vouchers (£30) to purchase food for their children, some parents are now being issued with food parcels prepared by a private firm called Chartwell. One distraught parent posted a picture online of her ten-meal food parcel, which consisted of a loaf of sliced bread, a can of beans, some pre-sliced cheese, two bananas, two carrots, three apples, two potatoes, a tomato, two cake bars, three yoghurt drinks and a small bag of pasta. This amount of food would typically cost six pounds in a supermarket, but of course we must think of the poor shareholders in Chartwell and Compass Group.

Many children claim free school meals even though both parents are working, since the UK economy is now turning into a low-wage part-time free for all, with taxpayer subsidies helping to boost the profits of large corporations through benefits such as Universal Credit.

A few years back I was claiming Universal Credit and would dutifully turn up every second Thursday with my printed sheets of job-hunting activities on the DWP corpse-coloured paper.
My work coach would inspect the list and then print off a ‘Claimants Commitment’ which laid out all the things I had promised to do to find work, which ran to three (sometimes four) double-sided sheets. I had to sign and date both sides of each page of both copies, one of which then went to be filed. This means that I was responsible for at least 78 sheets of paper in that office; if there are about one million people claiming UC, will each of them also have to undergo this ordeal?

One of the commitments on my list was to apply for all and any suitable jobs found during an online search. This means that if the same post appeared on two different job agency websites, I would be required to apply for both vacancies. But if a company gets duplicate submissions for the same post, the HR manager will usually reject them to avoid any disputes with the agency concerned.

So if you fail to apply to both advertisements, you are breaking the terms of your claimant’s commitment and will have your UC sanctioned for up to 93 days, but if you apply for both you are almost certain to be turned down for the post and have wasted your time.

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 24.1 million cases, 401 thousand deaths
UK: 3.3 million cases, 87.3 thousand deaths

Lost in Sheffield
There were the driving instructions I typed out to help find my way to our factory, when I arranged to deliver a piece of equipment and collect a few test samples.

Turn L onto A 527 –  Second exit – keep on A 527 – Roundabout merge onto M 62 – 15 miles on M 62 – Take exit to A 57 for Denton / Sheffield – Straight on to M 67 – 4.7 miles to A 57 – Keep straight on to A 428  – 14 miles, A 613 – 1 mile, take exit onto M1 – 7 miles, junction 33, take A430 Rotherham – 3 miles on A430, slip road A182 / A527 to Ring Road / Worksop – Exit onto A 527

I asked one of my colleagues whether this was the route he would recommend, and he gave a non-committal shrug and said that yeah, it looks okay. A few weeks later I discovered that the works van had a sat-nav unit in the glove box to help with route planning, but nobody had mentioned this to me…

I wandered into the web and discovered a blog created by The Blissful Nomad, who creates elegant, atmospheric poems. One of his works is ‘Neptune: Erasure, in which the selective erosion of words from a text by Virginia Woolf (part of The Voyage Out) leaves behind a blank verse shimmering with aquatic allusion. Inspired by this, I wondered about how the outer moons of Neptune could be used in Project Management.

Five Layers of Darkness
Halimede (‘lady of the brine’), Sao (‘safe passage’), Psamathe (‘sand’), Laomedeia (‘leader of the folk’) and Neso (‘islands).

Every development project will have regions of uncertainty or ignorance, caused by a lack of information or the incorrect application of data. Some of these will be like sand, tiny aspects which are easily overlooked but which can disrupt the smooth running of a procedure. Others will be related to outlying islands; areas of research or knowledge which are remote from the main body of the project, but which represent useful resources. The principle of Halimede would be an individual who governs the ideas underlying the project, while Laomedeia is responsible for harnessing the skills and energies of the personnel working on it. And ‘Sao’ would involve charting a smooth course, anticipating hazards and finding ways to neutralise them.

Capitol Nourishment

Journal Entry, 9 Jan 2021
Ten years ago on a Saturday morning I would get up, gather some clothes into a holdall and scoop some Persil into an old margarine tub, then make my way to the laundrette about 20 minutes’ walk from the flat. The laundrette is there no more, having burned down a few years back, no more dusty net curtains or dead wasps gathered in the window or piles of elderly cheap magazines.

Five years ago on a Sunday night I would gather some clean shirts and start ironing them with Radio 6 in the background, ready for the week ahead at work. At work I would spray panels and then measure the film thickness using an incorrect (‘but that’s the way we’ve always done it’) procedure.
Five years ago I went to work on a day like this; wrapped in silent fog, the morning tried to watch itself unfold. The TV news channels announced to a stunned world that singer and actor David Bowie had died, just a day after releasing his last album, an enigmatic collection entitled ‘Blackstar’.

But it’s Saturday morning, and I’m watching the Horror Channel; they’re showing a 1961 movie called ‘Mysterious Island’, where a bunch of shipwrecked soldiers find themselves attacked by monstrous insects. Today’s commercials are busy inviting us to enjoy mail-order treatment for erectile dysfunction, or to install a luxury kitchen, or to set up a life insurance policy.

In the real world, outgoing President Donald Trump has caused outrage by holding a mass rally at which he told his supporters that the election had been stolen from them by a programme of organised fraud, and that he would always contest the outcome, and that they should take back their country by force – ‘you’ll never take back our country with weakness’.

The angry mob proceeded to storm the Capitol building, smashing windows and ransacking offices. Trump watched all this action on TV from the safety of the White House, eventually releasing a video statement in which he declared ‘we feel your pain, and we are sorry that you have seen the election stolen from you, but please make your way home in peace, and we love you very much.’

But in May, following the riots that followed the death of George Floyd, Trump told the nation: “I’m dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property“.

And in the UK, we have escaped from the clutches of the evil European Empire and are once again free to pursue trade deals with the rest of the world. Alas, we have no experience in setting up the export documents to do this, and have found freight wagons being delayed or turned away by customs officials.

Latest Covid-19 Statistics:
US: 21.3 million cases, 365 thousand deaths
UK: 2.89 million cases, 78 thousand deaths

Back in April, the government claimed that 50,000 dead would be the worst-case scenario for the Covid outbreak in the UK.

School’s Out (in-out-in yeah-but-no)

Journal Entry, 4 Jan 2021: The World Has Gone Mad

I’m sure that this idea, with numerous variants, has been uttered ever since the first cave-dweller defaced their living room wall with an ochre sketch showing Mister Ugg from number 17 being chased by an angry bison while waving a spear.

But here, at the beginning of 2021, we have political turmoil in the US. President Trump has refused to acknowledge that his opponent, Joe Biden, actually received more votes during last year’s election and has now been caught on tape demanding that Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State for Georgia, find an extra 11,000 votes which would overturn the result.

This type of coercion is obviously illegal; but Trump’s fans maintain that the election was rigged, and ballot boxes were interfered with, and counting machines were deprogrammed whenever a Republican ballot slip came in view. So their champion is perfectly entitled to disregard the law in order to obtain a level playing field.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it was recently announced that all schools would open as normal on 4 Jan, the first working day of the new year. Then it was announced that only Primary schools would open today, with staggered dates to reduce the spread of Covid. And some local authorities said that it would be madness to allow large numbers of unruly youngsters – none of whom wear PPE or practice social distancing – to mingle at school and then return to their family homes, so they refused to allow the reopening to take place.

There have been furious arguments about this decision, with some people claiming that youngsters are unable to either contract or transmit the disease, and so they should be allowed to attend school as normal.

Today sees the roll-out of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine; this material is much less fragile than the Pfizer vaccine and doesn’t need to be kept at minus 70 degrees.

However, since the government has spent hundreds of millions on elaborate testing and tracing procedures to identify those infected and their likely contacts, it seems odd that we are now having another crisis. The Nightingale emergency hospitals, opened with great fanfare last spring, were then closed down due to lack of patient demand (and staff shortages) but are now due to be reopened.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 21.1 million cases, 360 thousand deaths
UK: 2.65 million cases, 75 thousand deaths.

Xmas on Andromeda

Xmas on Andromeda, Thurs 24 Dec 2020

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m watching the Horror Channel, where they are showing a dreadful sci-fi movie called ‘Krull’, a sort of cross between Blade Runner and Robin Hood. One-eyed aliens and polystyrene boulders; ‘This can only mean we have arrived on the plant Krull!’

Meanwhile, in the real world, a new variant of the Coronavirus has been identified which appears to be more highly contagious than the standard version. The French authorities have responded to this by imposing a ban on cross-channel freight, leading to a queue of angry lorry drivers at Dover. Senior cabinet figures (including Boris) declared that the number of stranded wagons was about 170, but it turned out to be over 900 – and has steadily increased over the past couple of days to reach 6,000.

After much discussion, the French have announced that they will allow drivers to enter the country only when they have been issued with a negative Covid-19 test result, so the army, NHS workers and French firemen have been touring the vast lorry park at Marston airfield collecting swab test samples.
Fortunately, the UK government arranged back in April to purchase millions of portable Covid-19 test kits from the DNA-nudge firm at Imperial College, so we should be able to clear this backlog in a matter of days…

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 18.9 million cases, 334 thousand dead
UK: 2.15 million cases, 69 thousand dead

We have one blond American in the White House, and another in 10 Downing Street; it is widely expected that each of these will soon be heading out of office to spend more time with their families. And in preparation for their departure, both Donald and Boris have been handing out the pardons.

Trump has issued pardons to fifty of his loyal followers who were convicted of lying to the FBI, committing fraud, and (in one case) grotesque blackmail. And Boris has elevated several Tory backers to the house of Lords, including Peter Cruddas – despite being advised by the Appointments Committee that this individual should not receive a peerage.

Boxing Day 2020:
The Horror Channel is showing some glossy sci-fi nonsense called ‘Andromeda’ where a bunch of English-speaking Caucasians (and a couple of mixed-race aliens) inhabit an absurdly spacious spacecraft and engage in laser-gun battles.

Outside in the garden, I can see tits, blackbirds and a single magpie. Sometimes we observe a pheasant in the field, but today there is no sign of him. The nearby farmhouse is normally hidden by the trees, but occasionally its windows catch the morning sun and create a golden blaze.

Two days ago Boris emerged from the tense discussions with the EU commission, giving the thumbs up gesture, and announced that he had secured a trade deal on behalf of the UK, adding:
“Everything that the British public was promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year is delivered by this deal’. The statement added: ‘We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters. ‘The deal is fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK.”

Keen scholars of the classics (such as Boris) will be aware that the thumbs up indicates approval for the fatal strike to be delivered against a fallen adversary. Johnson has built a glittering career out of promising all things to all men, so it will be interesting to see how this trade deal pans out…
And having left the EU, we will no longer be able to access the European Solidarity Fund, a financial support network which provides help for member states suffering the effect of natural disasters, such as the extreme flooding due to hit the UK during the next 24 hours.

On Christmas day HM delivered her traditional speech offering hope and assurance to the nation, while Channel 4 broadcast their customary ‘alternative speech’ – which this year took the form of a sarcastic ‘deepfake’ parody in which the queen was showed dancing and making irreverent comments. It was obviously false and was intended to prompt viewers to question the veracity of what they might observe in social media; but since the Queen is an elderly lady and her husband has recently had health issues, it might have been wise to adopt a more respectful approach.

For a change, I didn’t start the day by drinking pink champagne or watching videos from CERN; I don’t have a record player, so I can’t enjoy my vinyl disc of In The Mist (although I did look out across the fields and see the misty morning taking shape).

For dinner we didn’t start with Cup-a-Soup, the twisted hors d’oeuvre that only the most refined of diners will deserve. Instead we launched ourselves directly into a pie that lurked inside a tin, Fray Bentos was his name. And then, a treacle, mustard and paprika glaze began to galvanise the blanket-pigs upon the plate, raising our dinner from good to great.

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 19.2 million cases, 338 thousand dead
UK: 2.22 million cases, 70 thousand dead

Monday 28 Dec 2020:
Since Boxing Day fell on Saturday this year, we have today off as a bank holiday in lieu; the Horror Channel is showing ‘Riddles of the Sphinx’, a dreadful, derivative mystery thriller involving astronomy and cryptography.
There may be dozens of aspiring scriptwriters at this very moment, carefully putting together screenplay treatments based around a conspiracy thriller plot where we see an Egyptian tomb being opened in 2015, and efforts by an unscrupulous collector to acquire newly-unearthed artefacts.

A particularly beautiful perfume bottle ends up being smuggled out of the dig and offered for sale on the black market.
Three years later a Chinese billionaire manages to secure the item, and has it delivered to his private gallery in Wuhan, where his housekeeping staff are busy planning to steal some of his watches and jewellery. During the raid, one of them picks up the bottle, opens it, and decides not to bother keeping it since it appears to be empty.

Alas, the flask was not empty at all; it carried a deadly virus, used as a curse to protect the tomb from would-be grave robbers. Within a fortnight we see the fugitive housekeepers holed up in a secure warehouse, suffering from extreme nausea and fatigue. Gradually they all die from respiratory organ failure, and a race begins to find out why so many people are starting to fall ill in the region around Wuhan.

In 1975 I started school; it was a huge, ugly building with random coloured panels between the big, square windows. At one end of the playground was a small patch of muddy grass hemmed in by a shallow concrete ledge, beyond which was an electric pylon whose cables soared above us when we played football during lunch break.

In 1980 I left school; everything about the building was exactly as it had been five years previously. There was a cylindrical chunk of concrete lying on the floor with three sturdy metal strips sticking out of one end, all badly bent; this lump had been there when I started, and it had not moved by the time I walked away for the last time.

Only many years later did I realise that this concrete lump would have been the base for a litter-bin, and the steel bands were designed to hold the basket, which we could see lying on the flat roof of the Portakabin which served as a classroom.

Escape from New London

19 Dec 2020: It’s Saturday morning, and I’m watching the Horror channel; today’s movie is ‘Megapiranha’, a charming low-budget thriller about a shoal of mutant killer fish with bizarre anatomical upgrades. The film has some unsteady camerawork, lots of fast-forward rushes, and generous use of atmospheric sepia filters to convey the suffocating heat of Venezuela.

The action sees mighty, aggressive piranhas launching themselves out of the water and crashing into buildings or attacking people on dry land.

Over the past three years, keen Brexiteers have claimed that when we leave the EU we will take back control of the fishing territory around the UK, and we will be able to stop evil foreign trawlers from raiding British waters and stealing British fish. And now, with just 12 days to go until the end of the transition period, the UK and EU have failed to reach agreement on a trade deal.

One of the sticking points is the arrangement which allows French fishermen access to the waters around Great Britain. The majority of fish caught around the UK are herring and mackerel, but the most popular seafood in the UK are cod, haddock and salmon. So we sell most of our fish to markets in the EU, while obtaining most of our fish from the EU. And all this exported fish accounts for about 0.1 percent of the UK’s global trade.
Which makes me wonder if the Horror Channel is trying to wind us up by screening all these dreadful aquatic disaster films – Sharknado and Megapiranha…

Meanwhile, in the real world, a highly-contagious version of Covid-19 has been identified in London but Boris has advised people that they are still free to gather in special ‘Christmas Bubbles’ of three households for up to five days. This arrangement seems to be expressly designed to encourage the spread of the disease; perhaps this is what he meant by ‘we could take it on the chin’.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 17.8 million cases, 320 thousand dead
UK: 1.97 million cases, 66 thousand dead

Later: Christmas plans have been plunged into disarray by the announcement that a new Tier 4 of restrictions is to be introduced in London to prevent the spread of Covid. People living under this Tier will not be allowed to mix with anybody else from other households at all over the ‘festive’ season, while everybody else in the UK will now be able to spend just one day in an extended three-household bubble, instead of the promised five days.

This has provoked outrage, with people being forced to abandon travel plans and cancel family visits. The TV news shows huge crowds of passengers attempting to board trains, while long queues of traffic have formed on the roads leading out of London.

Zombie in your pocket?

Tuesday 8 Dec 2020:

It’s V-Day, the national rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. I was expecting the TV news reports to show Mark and his colleagues pushing a trolley along a hospital corridor to the majestic strains of ‘Zarathustra’, before finally opening the thermal box and letting the precious cargo of vaccine solution rise slowly from a cloud of dry-ice fumes.

Today marks the anniversary of John Lennon’s death in 1980; I remember coming downstairs to the kitchen to find BRMB playing wall-to-wall Beatles tracks and having to wait for a few minutes before the DJ announced what had happened.

Now that the national lockdown has been lifted, some regions are able to allow limited numbers of fans into stadia to watch football matches. On Saturday, a few thousand Millwall supporters were present for the game against Derby County. When the players took the knee (a widely-practiced gesture at matches now) the fans began booing in disapproval. Various political figures have helpfully pointed out that Millwall fans are actually very astute and their anger was directed not at the anti-racist message of the knee, but at the neo-Marxist agenda of the BLM movement.
Which is probably the least convincing explanation of anything ever offered in the history of the world.

Apart from Dominic Cummings’ journey by car to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight.

And apart from Tommy Davies, who boasted in May 2018 that he had successfully driven from John o’Groats to Land’s End in a specially adapted Audi, completing the journey in under ten hours.
However, when he was tried for dangerous driving and perverting the course of justice, he claimed that the journey had taken far more than ten hours and that his blog had simply exaggerated every aspect of the trip for the purposes of entertainment.

Serious question: high-performance Audi. North Wales. Male driver, aged 26. Go on, what will his insurance premiums be?

Saturday 12 Dec 2020:

Well, the vaccine was used on Tuesday morning on several elderly patients, the first of whom were called Margaret Keenan and William Shakespeare, and who experienced no ill-effects. This must have been a great disappointment to the anti-vaxx brigade, who were confidently expecting them to be transformed into rabid zombies.

No rabid zombies on the Horror Channel this morning, where we are watching ‘Princess of Mars’, a sci-fi drama with bronzed hunks, latex aliens, and pneumatic blondes in leather bikinis. A sort of ‘Carry On Xena’.

The Carry On films set out to lampoon Ancient Egypt or Tudor England or Cold War espionage; but what they did perfectly was to analyse British social values during the ‘60s and ‘70s. And it was announced two days ago that Dame Barbara Windsor has passed away at the age of 83, after suffering from dementia for several years.

Covid-19 statistics:
UK: 1.8 million cases, 63 thousand dead
US: 16.3 million cases, 302 thousand dead

Antibody Blues

Antibody Blues

The call came through at four-nineteen; “Synchronise
Your twisted catalogues of cryptic signs
Until at last the fallen leaves
Create a vast parade of static ambiguities.”

Searching for the perfect vaccine
We journeyed far and drew up maps of fabulous terrain
But in the end, bewitched by charts and diagrams
We found the case was empty all along.

Beyond the wall of Saturn’s frozen dreams, there lies
A village dark, whose language drained away
When people started falling sick beneath the hungry moon.

To keep it safe, the vaccine occupies a shell
Made from the scales of a slaughtered pangolin; the
Profile of the spike betrays
The torment of those who never can be cured.

Our thoughts and prayers, our swords and spears
Are not enough to keep at bay this rolling wave
Of unseen death that threatens to engulf

A land set free, the shining pearl
Where people wait for trains that never come.

5 Dec 2020: It’s Saturday morning, and we’re heading towards Christmas. The shops have been allowed to reopen following the second Covid lockdown, and the TV channels are starting to fill up with heart-warming romantic comedies featuring estranged couples who find themselves thrown together in snowbound situations.
This morning on the Horror Channel we had three people on a sled being pulled through the snow by a team of huskies. Alas, they were not on their way to a picturesque village resort for a family reunion but were instead fleeing a shark-filled tornado. The fifth instalment in the Sharknado film series had the usual killer whirlwind, together with a Vatican-endorsed ray gun, a container ship carrying drums of nuclear waste and a bevy of stunningly pretty robot-women. Oh, and some unhinged Indiana Jones-meets-Stargate stuff involving the great Pyramid.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it has been announced that the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine has been ‘authorised’ for use as an emergency treatment for Covid-19, and this has been greeted with much excitement. Senior cabinet ministers have been rejoicing, telling the world that it is a great achievement, and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson gave a TV interview where he declared (seriously):
‘I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators – much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have – that doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.’
Keen students of British politics will recall that Williamson was sacked in April 2019, after it was claimed that he had leaked details of a National Security Committee meeting, where the topic of Huawei telecoms had been raised.

Today marks the anniversary of Stockhausen’s death in 2007. In 1985 I missed the chance to see him in London at an extended festival, but I did manage to hear some of the Klavierstücke at the Purcell Room, performed by a pianist wearing black gloves.

Covid statistics:
UK: 1.7 million cases, 61 thousand dead
US: 14.9 million cases, 287 thousand dead

Priti Vacant? She don’t care!

Journal Entry, 21 Nov 2020:
It’s Saturday morning, and I’m watching the Horror Channel. We have adverts for twee Cotswold home furnishings, Hello Fresh food delivery, and emergency gas repair services. Today’s film is ‘Sharknado’, the everyday story of a freak whirlwind which scoops up thousands of killer sharks and gradually scatters them over southern California. This movie rejoices in its own absurdity and has become a cult classic.

But for really preposterous action, we need to travel to the UK where Prime Minister Boris Johnson (!) yesterday leapt to the defence of Home Secretary Priti Patel. Patel is a charming woman who is keen to restore the death penalty (even though there have been numerous miscarriages of justice in Britain) and casually dismissed calls for an investigation into benefit sanctions and mental health issues.

She also worked as a lobbyist for British American Tobacco before joining a parliamentary committee to support small shops, during which role she campaigned against the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes.
And in 2017, Patel was forced to resign from her post as Development Secretary after making unauthorised visits to senior government figures during a personal holiday in Israel.

In February 2020 Sir Philip Rutnam resigned after Patel had ordered him to dismiss Andy Tighe from his post at the Home Office on Christmas eve. This led to a cabinet office investigation into allegations that Patel had behaved in a bullying manner towards junior staff, and the final report concluded that her conduct – shouting and swearing at other civil servants – did constitute bullying, even if she was not aware of this herself.

The report’s author, Sir Alex Allan, was then asked by Johnson to tone down the report. When he refused, the PM announced that he had considered all the evidence and found that Patel had not broken the ministerial code, and was therefore not liable to face any disciplinary action.
At which point, Sir Alex resigned.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Donald Trump’s hair has staged a miraculous recovery and is now once again porn-star blond. Mister President has demanded that the votes cast in Georgia should be recounted to prove that he was the actual winner in that state. He has also launched a series of moderately incoherent legal challenges against the election result, and some observers are alarmed that his staff in the White House may be engaged on the destruction of records before he gets dragged out of the building by security officers.

And a district judge in Pennsylvania dismissed Trump’s attempted legal challenge as being ‘without merit’ – pretty damning stuff.

Later, Sunday morning:

Tonight, the Horror Channel is showing ‘Triangle’, a weird time-slip thriller movie which I really enjoyed at the cinema many years ago but have not seen since.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry has heard that when their panels failed the fire-spread test, Celotex submitted alternative sample with a different composition which passed the test. They then doctored the report so that it appeared to say that the successful test data belonged to the original – inferior – samples.
The various parties involved have been given immunity from prosecution to allow them to disclose relevant details – such as the fact that everyone knew that ‘The cladding will fail in the event of a fire’. But everything related to this case was done expressly in order to reduce the cost to the local authority.

Imagine a reworking of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle: Judith makes her way carefully across the damp cobbles in the courtyard, past the Anti-Vaxxer propaganda posters showing two crossed hypodermics beneath the slogan ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’.

Bluebeard is already halfway down the stairs, where the paintwork is badly worn, revealing the various colours beneath.
Strange molten faces appear at intervals in the walls; Judith follows her husband along a gloomy corridor, which opens out into a round chamber with seven doors.

Room one: a gleaming white operating theatre, with chairs and tables made of clear plastic. No indications of any human activity visible here. Surgical instruments are laid out, ready for use.

Room two: a pale blue library, with vast constellations of Tarot cards of different shapes and sizes arranged over the walls and ceiling.

Room three: on elegant tables, nine wind-up gramophone players are neatly arrayed, scores perched on music-stands behind each one, while violins and French Horns hang from the ceiling. Small gold musical notes and treble-clef symbols are sprinkled across the floor.

Room four: laboratory glassware sparkles on a set of shelves, while the walls are covered with posters depicting chemical structures. Bubbles drift elegantly through tall glass columns of coloured liquid.

Room five: paintings and photographs of war and battlefield scenes cover the walls, while a glass cabinet in the centre of the room contains guns, bullets, and shells. A list of military casualties runs around the ceiling.

Room six: one end of the room is dominated by a large picture of Pope Alexander VIII, champion of the corrupt and venal empire. The other walls carry a frenzied landscape of banknotes from various ages and countries, like leaves in a blizzard.

In room seven, we encounter a series of department-store mannequins, unclothed, each bearing a printed replica face-mask of a political figure: Boris, and Priti, and Dominic, and Dido, and Matt, and Michael, and Alok, and Theresa.

They don’t care, they all say “We only did what we thought was right”.