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Capacity

After 25 years managing in a professional environment where the word ‘capacity’ frequently involves a justification to do little, please excuse me if I feel a bit fatigued with its application within the context of testing for the coronavirus.

Let’s peel back this context when Dominic Raab (The stand-in for the PM) explains the government as having a testing capacity of 40,000 a day, and this will be 100,000 in the next eight days.” On 25 March, the prime minister said: “We are going up from 5,000 to 10,000 tests per day, to 25,000, hopefully very soon up to 250,000 per day.” Professional anoraks often get themselves in a sweat over such terminology, but to help cut this short, there is the self capacity and then there is holistic capacity. There was a sleight of hand today by Dominic Raab who tried to shift the narrative from actually doing 100,000 tests a day to having the capacity to do 100,000 tests per day. Let me try to explain.

Self-capacity is pretty much self-explanatory. What government ministers are now repeatedly talking about is the government having the test capacity, which means having the resources and procedures in place so they can then commission adequate testing.

All well and good, you may say. Still, the health and care sector in the UK has been fragmented through the ideological enslavement of privatisation, outsourcing and artificial internal markets, as well as the climate of austerity, means that “self-capacity” is pretty futile. The government themselves do not do the testing. It is undertaken by either other parts of the state or a private agency contracted to carry out the tests.

One of the main reasons the government is struggling with PPE and testing is the lack of capacity throughout the health and care sector (holistic capacity throughout the supply chain) in the UK. We do not have an integrated national health and care service in the UK.

Decades of underfunding and trying to do things on the cheap through competitive market tendering have left weaknesses throughout the supply chain from service design, procurement, delivery and then right through to the quality outcomes for the person in receipt of the service.

Cruelty in our care homes is directly linked to UK politicians and social policymakers being obsessed with market competition in health and social care. The horrific case of Winterbourne View is but an example of what is going on and a simple Google search ‘care workers jailed for abuse in the UK’ will no doubt lift a few compassionate eyebrows.

At the end of the day, the government may have the capacity to resource 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. The whole health and care sector having the ability to deliver these 100,000 tests, well that is a different outcome altogether. The government are playing spin with the lives of our NHS and Care Sector workers, instead of sorting the supply chain shambles out.

In the murky world of political spin, the smoke and mirrors of tabloid headlines and the lack of interest for many to scratch beneath the surface, tragically lives will still be lost.

The Virus of Impunity

The decisions of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government have determined if a large number of people in the United Kingdom have lived or died. The only similarities between a state of war and tackling a pandemic virus are that when lives are at stake, there is no greater need for accountability. It was this reality and my growing anxieties that I wrote my first blog on this matter on 28th May 2020. The reaction to my first blog on this matter drew both criticism and praise.

Historically governments have stood and fallen by the decisions they made. However, in this era of fake news and an overwhelmingly biased media in favour of the government, it would seem Johnson’s administration is beyond accountability with impunity. In 2016 Johnson’s counterpart in the White House said, ‘I could shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.’ In other words, it does not matter what I say or whatever actions I take my voters will turn a blind eye. I am untouchable. His arrogance is neither surprising nor amusing but a sad reflection on the nation he leads. Likewise, Boris Johnson and his administration is a reflection of my country. Administrations on both sides of the Atlantic shelter in the disconnect between accountability, weak opposition and a voting populous that seem passive in demanding answers.

The UK Government operates as a sponge to public opinion. It continually seeks to weave its narrow ‘populist’ ideology through a maze of bobbing icebergs, tilting, swaying, ducking and diving. It is twitching a message here, making an empty promise there, and deflecting responsibility, while obfuscating in an ocean of soundbite drivel. The government is panicking, in holding its alliances together as it falls into its self-delusion of being a ‘one national’ political party. Paralysed by a Prime Minister terrified at the prospect of being cross-examined by journalists. A senior advisor with a hostile ‘drain the swamp’ mentality towards the civil service, they have created a toxic environment for a healthy government to function.

Trump threatens to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation. The government in the UK encourages tabloid headlines demanding wealthy footballers take a wage cut to fund the NHS. Yet, the same cabinet of politicians sitting at the centre of this government made up of multi-millionaires as well as drawing down a salary paid for by taxpayers refuse to contemplate any financial sacrifice themselves. It’s all a cynical pantomime, a deflection, but a deflection with deadly consequences.

The media in the UK frequently compares data with the US, Spain and Italy. Those worst affected by the virus, but rarely with other states who seem to be delivering much better outcomes for their citizens. The Johnson administration dodges, but the questions will not go away.

Why is testing capability so inadequate in the UK?

Why is the UK government only publishing death rates from hospitals and not from the wider community, including nursing homes, like Franch, for example?

Why are our frontline staff in the NHS, Care Homes and those providing care in the community not being provided with appropriate protective clothing, but the UK Government can find time to promote a badge?

Why has a government, which branded itself with the ‘taking back control’ mantle continued to allow flights from some of the worst-hit enter the UK without suitable checks?

While our closet neighbour The Republic of Ireland cancelled St Patrick’s Day celebrations and large gatherings of more than 100 people. The UK Government allowed the Cheltenham Festival, large rock concerts and a major sporting tournament to take place on UK soil with a team from one of the worst-hit countries. At the time of writing close to 400 people had died in Ireland as opposed to 12,000 in the UK. If you adjust for population differences, there have been 7.4 deaths in Ireland for every 100,000 people. In the UK, there have been 17 deaths per 100,000.

The State of California, USA, is another part of the world that seems to be delivering much better outcomes for its citizens despite the goon show from the White House. On the 9th March, Santa Clara County banned gatherings of 1000 people, shortly followed to groups of 50 people. Other counties followed suit soon afterwards. California, whose population do not face the extraordinary levels of high-density living, as many UK residents do in our urban cities and towns simply took the threat seriously from day one.

When asked if one day or two can make a difference in the efforts to save lives Dr Neha Nanda, the medical director of infection prevention at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California, replied “Oh yes….even being one day ahead can have a huge impact,” she told the BBC. “the mortality we will be able to avert – it’s huge.” 

While nobody knows how this will end for either the UK, Ireland or any other country. One thing is factually at the time of writing. UK citizens are dying at twice the rate as their counterpart in Ireland. Why is this not being reported in our press?

Clash with a Titan

I must confess that upon relocating to London from Bristol in the late 90s, like a child playing with an oversized train set, I loved using the London Underground system. I never entirely understood the wails and grunts from work colleagues as they arrived at the office first thing each morning.

Accepted, it was not the best place to be on a hot day between Brixton and Vauxhall. Especially in an over-crowded carriage, waiting for the light to change and drivers unintelligible announcements.

Donning my headphones and observing the subterranean world become one of my little daily pleasures. Witnessing the solemn faces of passengers navigate the unwritten constitution, which governs the use of the underground with an iron glove:

Do not acknowledge other people
Pretend to read something essential.
Do not disturb.
Do not invade space and avoid all physical contact.
Do not intervene in other peoples misdemeanours.
Learn to pivot and balance against gravity.
When the occasion arises, gawk at your reflection.
Rush hour: Be a complete and inconsiderate tosser.

The practice of social distancing, before it became a necessity. After a period of using the same route a small acknowledgement, a nod of the head would be exchanged between familiar faces.

One particular day, it was my first week of employment at Lambeth Council. I was still coming to terms with the kaleidoscope of new names and faces, and I jumped on the system at Brixton Underground.

The carriage was pretty full, but not overcrowded. As the carriage pulled away, I noticed one of my new work colleagues down the other end of the carriage. I looked him in the eyes and gave him a firm nod of acknowledgement. He looked down and did not respond.

A few moments later, he lifted his head and looked my way. I gave him a smile and reaffirmed my acknowledgement. Once again, he looked away only this time a little more uncomfortably as if he was being tested by a psychopath. He tried to move behind somebody close to him, but I could see him looking at me through the reflection of the carriage window. I gave his reflected stare an acknowledgement, and he shuffled behind this human shield again.

Now feeling somewhat offended, I thought, fuck it, you miserable sod. The carriage pulled into Stockwell Station. I watched my supposed work colleague take a quick glance, again through the reflection in the window. I looked away in disgust. The driver announced the closing of the doors, next stop Vauxhall. In the blink of an eye, my work colleague jumped from the train onto the platform, leaving me with no time to join him.

With great stature, he stared directly at me, as the carriage slowly started to move. His eyes shouted out to me, “who the fuck are you?”

At this point, I realised my work colleague was none other than Mick Jones, guitarist from The Clash. Our paths were never to cross again.

Arc.

Herd Impunity

A bit of a lengthy read, so I know I’ll lose quite a lot of people who absorb their knowledge through the cut and paste the meme culture of social media. If you believe the UK government has handled this situation correctly, then I’m not here to convince you otherwise or even attempt to change your mind. I suggest you stop reading now and go about your day. Those that remain please I encourage you to read on.

It may come as no surprise that you have been spun. Such is the growing unease in government it has been reported that Johnson has now hired the same ‘messaging gurus’ who sold the successful 2019 Conservative election campaign to oversee the communications on the UK’s response to the virus.  Public exposure to the Government’s cock-ups started just over a week ago when they admitted that “a communications mix-up meant it missed the deadline to join an EU scheme to get extra ventilators for the coronavirus crisis.” Until then No. 10 was ahead of the game with their slick new chancellor leading the public message, but you can only spend the same money a limited number of times before the fig leaf slips.

Remember as early as January 2020 reports of the severity of this virus were known by governments across the world. Those who immediately attacked it are now in the best position to manage it, which does not mean it will be easy, but it does look percentage-wise fewer people will die in those countries. As well the as lockdown, public advice and large funding stimulus packages to protect the economy. The key seems to be mass testing, in effect to hunt the virus down and kill it. This enables governments to understand the hotspots, how it is spreading and respond with appropriate restrictions when needed. This is precisely the strategy Germany has adopted and the results are the envy of those fighting the virus.

And here is the marked difference in German and UK leadership. The German chancellor has a Doctorate in quantum chemistry and the training to appreciate what the scientists were telling her and she act on it. As a country, Germany has a well-resourced health service and a strong industrial base. They had the capacity to respond. In the UK we have a clickbait writer in charge who is far more interested in projecting his pound shop Churchill pantomime act.

From January to March the Johnson administration with its pool of ‘weirdos and misfits’. The mavericks who think off the wall because Johnson and Cumings do not trust Whitehall civil servants seemed more interested in the notion of herd immunity. It was widely reported that Cummings had made some reference to, “if a few old people die, so be it. The priority is to protect the economy.” If this is true or not is hardly the point. The fact is that Johnson went on TV in the same period of time and spoke openly about herd immunity, letting the virus simply pass through the population and in his own words, “take it on the chin.” Johnson talked openly about shaking hands at the start of the crisis. His cavalier approach seems to confirm what many people believed. In the initial stages of the virus spreading, he did not take the threat seriously and viewed it as nothing more than the seasonal flu.

Let me try to explain herd immunity. This is simply the notion of allowing a majority of the UK population to catch the virus or the disease so they become immune. At this point, the virus can no longer spread and you achieve herd immunity. Measles can’t spread because our population is immune. So if someone comes to the UK with measles, one or two unimmunised people might get infected, but it no longer spreads. We have herd immunity. The herd is protecting the weak. Johnson’s self-entitled ‘weirdos and misfits’ had this idea that they could just let the population get infected. Once 60 per cent of the population was infected, the epidemic would be over because there would be herd immunity.

The trouble is if you just let the virus spread at any rate and lose control, you actually get overwhelmed with the numbers of infected people. The UK’s population is 70 million, 60 per cent of them is 42 million people. Even with a 1 per cent mortality, that’s 400,000 deaths. (Further reading here) Currently, in the UK, the mortality rate is 5 per cent, which translates to an estimated 2 million deaths.

Boris Johnson suddenly realising the magnitude of his dreadful mistake in taking time to listen to his ‘weirdos and misfits’ who seemed more excited about eugenics than the immediate task of saving lives. While some governments had started to fight back Johnson was still caught pondering his university undergraduate days and the privileged networks where along with his friends and fellow toffs like Toby Young they would self-flagellate over (Young’s term) “progressive eugenics.”   

Johnson went into full panic mode to change policy by backtracking and staying away from public scrutiny. He is now beyond accountability and questioning as he is self-isolating. From the confines of his isolation, he makes pronouncements. His latest is “testing would unlock the puzzle.” 

Firstly, it’s not a puzzle. It is a virus and like all virus’s you need to hunt it down and kill it. You can only do this with information and data. You only get this information by (you’ve guessed it) mass testing. Secondly, he is now spinning beyond his own control by repeating things he does not understand. It’s straight out the Trump playbook, say something often enough, and ultimately some people will believe you and he will probably get away with it. People want to believe. And when you have a sizable proportion of the public in fear they are hungry for belief and will believe in anything. At the moment, the UK is some way behind other countries when it comes to testing. South Korea, for example, has been able to test far more widely than the UK. Despite having a slightly smaller population than the UK, it has twice as many labs and about two-and-a-half times the weekly testing capacity.

At the end of the day, people have died because of Johnson’s stupidy. Though the vast majority of people (thankfully) will not be faced with losing a loved one because of his incompetency. Any decent person under the illusion that Johnson is fit to be a world leader will no doubt seek herd impunity once this is all over.

*Written as a criticism of his policies and competency and not the man. I wish him and his partner a speedy recovery. 

Don’t Pause the Film

Today would have been my parent’s 64th wedding anniversary and once a year around this time, I share a photograph, which I have taken, not in sadness but celebration.

Just short footnote in the annuals of life where a child can recognise the luck they have had in life. I’m acutely aware that not all children have had the foundations of good parents. My heart truly goes out to them, but as important as it to recognise the failings in our world. We should also acknowledge and honour when things just simply go right. It is now 4 years since my Mum and 3 years since my Dad passed away.

Yes, I miss my parents every single day. Still, I don’t allow this to overcast what lovely people they were individually and collectively as parents. Things were often never perfect, and I did not get the opportunity to carry out those plans in later life for them, as I’d planned in my head. Time, you see it is a bugger. Its the one resource we often take for granted and is in short supply for everybody.

If life is a film.
Don’t pause it.
Don’t try to rewind it.
Live it.
Embrace every frame as if it is the last before the credits.
And remember you don’t get the opportunity to write those credits.

Face the Music

After all, what is a festival or concert without its audience, but an empty field or room? The communal celebration as a gathering of people engrossed in the celebration of music has no equal. Attempts at explanation fall short, words expressing themselves as self-indulgent jibberish, yet we know that sense of connection is real. A short period when I become us. The moment of realisation that a single purchase sitting amongst a collection, the downloaded file occupying your hard-drive, or a streaming code reassembling itself on your mobile is connected to a community. It’s the discovery of a new sound, the uncertainty and doubtful expressions shared with a stranger. The connection and consciousness that we share much more in common than what divides us.

A collection of West Holts audience photographs taken during the 2017 festival. 

Tonight the Streets Are Ours

By 1963 Duane Eddy had sold over 12 million records. One of the beauties of the West Holts Stage is our ability to celebrate a great performer whose presence may have skipped a generation and is equally as special is when a younger performer comes wants to come along and give respect to those who have given an influence to their careers. Sunday, 26th June 2011 and Richard Hawley came along and joined Duane Eddy at West Holts.

Calling

The heat of June and the crowds start to gather for the West Holts ritual of a cider, catch up with old friends and find some food. This set of photographs are from Thursday 2010. The stage is 99% ready for the opening band tomorrow and the vibe of anticipation is building, although a mellowing chill is evident as people acclimatise from their day-to-day lives.  There is this magical moment, which the crew love. It is called the Sound Propagation Test, which normally takes place early evening on Thursday after the PA rig has been installed and we test the system with some recorded music for a short time. The crowd react with a cheer and to others, it acts like a medieval horn beckoning them to come and join the gathering.

A New Beginning

The transition from Jazz World to the West Holts Stage took place in 2010. Exploring the old hard drives for this year confirms my memory that it was a hot one with a number of photographs demonstrating the many creative skills our loyal audience deployed to find or create shade. We’ll come to those shots later, but for now, why don’t we start here? A number of ‘behind the scene’ technical improvements were introduced this year to accommodate our growing audience, along with new stage dressing, but as yet no side screens had arrived.

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