“The important thing is to have a target.”

Matt Hancock

Deadlines make headlines. Whether the Health Secretary’s target gets met or not, all the attention on the target will serve as a smokescreen, distracting the public from the truth that far too few tests were carried out during the first months of the pandemic.

Posted in Dark Mutterings, Humour, Opinion, Personal, Science or Pasta Tagged , , ,

Lockdown Blues

loo roll

I’ve been buying only essentials
And obeying the government rules.
I’ve been doing the clapping for carers
And plenty of video calls.

I’ve run out of pasta and loo rolls
And queued at the chemist for meds.
I’ve done quizzes with friends on Zoom
And seen just the tops of their heads!

I’ve been planning more running and walking,
But I haven’t persuaded my legs.
In the stores, I’ve kept to two metres,
And danced in the aisles when there’s eggs!

I’ve promised to write a to-do-list,
But each day I go and forget.
I’ve bought lots of books for my kindle,
But haven’t got round to them yet.

I’ve remembered that Mondays are bin days
And made sure they’re out there by eight;
And then I’ve discovered it’s Tuesday –
I’m twenty-four hours too late!

I’ve watched all the daily news briefings
And marvelled at all of the stats;
When R equals one, I nod wisely
And pretend I’ve grasped all the facts.

I’ve bought wine for that special occasion,
When the end of the lockdown’s in sight…
But then I’ve succumbed to temptation
And drunk it the very same night!

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Or is it an oncoming train?
I hope you cope better than I do…
I can’t wait to see you again.

Posted in Humour, Nonsense Tagged , , , ,

I’m Under House Arrest?! For how long?

CoronavirusI never thought I’d echo a thought expressed by Donald Trump, of all people, but if we’re effectively under house arrest, maybe we should be worrying about the cure for coronavirus being worse than the disease?

Draconian restrictions of liberty are difficult to justify in almost any circumstances. The government is heavily hinting that a variety of lockdown scenarios will extend way beyond the three-week period initially announced by the Prime Minister. Estimates vary between three to six months, and maybe even further. As it stands, the current lockdown is likely to carry on into May and June. Some permutations of it may remain in place until September (and if there is a severe second wave of the virus, a lockdown would almost certainly be re-imposed in the autumn). Given this kind of timescale, I believe we should scrutinise the strategy very rigorously, evaluate the impact and consider alternative approaches.

Boris Johnson may tell us that “there really is such a thing as society”, but strict lockdowns where people are deprived of social contact could conceivably fragment society and jeopardise community cohesion. Indeed, the fabric of society could quickly become unstitched and fall apart before our eyes. There’s the potential for democracy to be hijacked and for the UK to be turned into a police state. A top police officer has already warned that his force will consider setting up roadblocks and searching shopping trolleys to stop lockdown flouters ‘putting lives at risk’. I wouldn’t go so far as to speculate that people might get a criminal record for buying their kids Easter eggs. That would be ridiculous. Nevertheless, we should be very wary of authorities imposing overzealous rules and enabling overzealous enforcement of them. Also, no one should underestimate the detrimental impact of social isolation on people’s mental health.

It also doesn’t help that government and health officials frighten us with misleading statistics. For example, according to a study by ISS (Italy’s national health authority), the vast majority (more than 99%) of the country’s coronavirus fatalities so far have been people who were already suffering from one or more severe medical conditions. It is not being made clear to us how many people are dying of coronavirus, as opposed to dying with coronavirus. There’s so much iffy data out there. When the health secretary claims that 761 million items of PPE have been distributed to front line health workers, I can’t help wondering if he’s counting a box of 100 pairs of disposal gloves as 1 or 100!

Our leaders neglected to close our borders and failed to urgently address the inadequacy of testing kits, PPE and ventilators. Meanwhile, our lives have morphed into a strange quasi-science-fictional scenario, where government policy is determined by statistical modelling (based on partial and selective data) and communicated by means of a “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” mantra which implies that what should have been treated as a public health emergency is being treated as a public order issue.

So, what are the alternatives to lockdowns? Obviously, the development of a vaccine is, if you like, the holy grail. But the process of research, followed by clinical trials, followed by manufacturing and deployment, means that a viable, safe and effective vaccine will not be available until the early part of next year at the earliest.

That leaves the policy, favoured to some extent by countries like Sweden, of an effectively managed infection control programme, leading to a degree of natural ‘herd immunity’. When the outbreak first emerged in the UK, this was apparently the UK government’s preferred approach (although the Health Secretary has since denied this). Self-policed social distancing was considered an adequate response, but they got cold feet when health experts predicted a high peak of hospitalised patients requiring intensive care. The potential impact on the scandalously underfunded NHS became evident and anything short of a strict lockdown was deemed to be politically unpalatable, prompting a change of strategy. Everything was then focused on protecting the NHS. Well, obviously, none of us want to see the NHS overwhelmed, and we all recognise health workers as heroes, particularly at this time. I hope government ministers reflect seriously on the lack of PPE and testing kits and critical care beds when they join in the ‘Clap for Carers’ tributes.

We know so little about this virus. Is it seasonal? What if lockdown measures barely succeed in containing the outbreak? And what if relaxing the measures after a few months simply gives rise to a further escalation of the epidemic? And, in any case, what is the point of just kicking the can down the road? There can be no definitive resolution to the problem until the population acquires immunity.

Immunity can only be achieved through vaccination or by populations surviving the disease and acquiring antibodies. The trouble with draconian lockdowns is that even if the spread of the virus is slowed down, the majority of survivors fail to become immune and therefore remain at risk. Effectively shutting down the economy and imposing strict regulations limiting public movement may be acceptable over a timeframe of a few weeks, but most of us need social contact in order to function properly. I’m very worried for our collective mental health if our lives were to be impoverished in this way for the year or more it will take before a vaccine is ready… a period in which we will suffer individually as sentient human beings and society may get torn apart. How many lives will be lost to the side effects of the lockdown treatment (poverty-related factors, violent crime and suicide)?

Understandably, we’re all having emotional reactions to all the stuff that’s going on. At the top of this post, I referred to the lockdown as like being under house arrest. I’ve now calmed myself down by considering a different analogy – perhaps an extended period of salutary hibernation? It’s a complex issue and none of the solutions available to us right now is benign, but when we’re comparing evils, it’s incumbent on us to determine which is the lesser of them.

In the meantime, I don’t wish to give the wrong impression – much as I would love to go out and meet up with friends and family, I’m obeying the rules for as long as this remains the consensus of the scientific and medical communities. Now more than ever, we must all take personal responsibility for our actions and inactions, own up to mistakes, learn from them and put other people first whenever possible. After all, those principles underpin an ethical, empathetic and civilised society. And we must certainly expect those principles to be applied by those who govern us. This is a test of our humanity.

So, let’s come back to the question: is the cure for coronavirus possibly worse than the disease?  It would almost certainly have been better to have adopted better isolation measures at the outset. And better distribution of protective equipment would possibly have avoided the tragedy of frontline NHS workers losing their lives. Unfortunately, we’re hamstrung by the government’s lack of early decisiveness and lack of preparedness. Their shift of strategies came too late and we’re competing with countries across the world for components and chemicals required to conduct mass testing. This means contact tracing and isolation of cases is not as effective as it might otherwise have been. On balance, right now, I guess we have to accept that the worst case scenario is the NHS becoming entirely overwhelmed, such that people would struggle to get treatment for anything life-threatening, whether it’s related to COVID-19 or not.

Yes, we should go with the current protocols… for now… but we should monitor the impact on people’s psychosocial well-being. We certainly shouldn’t put too much credence in the principle of Occam’s razor and assume that simple solutions are the best just because they’re easier and more convenient to execute. Obviously, public health is vitally important, but our freedoms, rights and liberties are very precious too. I know it may seem unconstructive, in these unprecedented times, to criticise our government. There will be many who feel we should simply trust that they’re doing their best for us. But I believe we should continue to question everything and have a debate… because it’s so important that the policy makers get it right.

Posted in Dark Mutterings, Opinion Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Animal Astronauts

LaikaSeveral tales of animal astronauts such as Laika, Ham and Felicette are well-known within popular culture and have lasting memorials, but very few people are aware of the ordeals they were forced to endure to facilitate human exploration of space.

At a time when we are also transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so drastically that thousands of plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, we need to address our role and relationship with nature….

Click here for the full story.

Posted in Dark Mutterings Tagged , , ,

Wishing Shelf Book Awards

The Wishing Shelf Awards 2019 Finalist

The Moon Pigeon has been shortlisted as one of the 2019 FINALISTS in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards.

The children’s books were read and judged by children in 8 UK primary and secondary schools, the adult books by 2 Reading Groups, 1 in London and 1 in Stockholm. The books were marked according to EDITING, THEME, STYLE, COVER and, in the case of many of the children’s books, ILLUSTRATIONS.

A curious incident occurred during the 1969 Apollo 10 moon mission. A white object, later dubbed a ‘moon pigeon’, was filmed moving above the moon’s surface below the spacecraft. An official NASA report entitled “Moon pigeons and other unidentified visual phenomena associated with space flight”, published in 1970, attributed the Apollo 10 ‘moon pigeon’ to either a piece of ice or a reflection from the window of the spacecraft.

This is the story of a pigeon named Phoebe Featherbelle, who met a NASA scientist and set out to discover the truth about the incident.

What happened to her is described by a pair of Trafalgar Square pigeons.

Click here to order the audiobook.

Click here to order the paperback.

Click here to order the kindle edition.

Posted in Humour, Story Tagged , , ,

Multiverse


Multiverse

Multiverse is a volume of nonsense verse with themes ranging from cosmology and philosophical questions about the nature of the universe… to mince pies and listening for worms.

If you were a clownfish, swimming languidly and contentedly amongst the anemones on a coral reef, you would assume that the charming ecosystem you inhabit is the entire universe. But suppose a diver with a net appears and lifts you out of the ocean. You see creatures you’ve never seen before. You see boats and a coastline and the sky above. Suddenly it dawns on you that your world is just a small part of a larger macrocosm. A much larger and weirder macrocosm than you could ever have imagined in your wildest dreams.

And what if there is a parallel universe in which clownfish are keen on tennis and frequently speak in rhyme? And what if this isn’t a hypothetical question?

Paperback:
Click here to purchase the paperback from Amazon UK
Click here to purchase the paperback from Amazon US

Ebook:
Click here to purchase the ebook from Smashwords
Click here to purchase the Kindle version from Amazon UK
Click here to purchase the Kindle version from Amazon US

David Winship’s Smashwords Author Profile

Posted in Humour, Nonsense Tagged , , , ,

Forsaking the Poppy

Poppy

It may seem natural to feel an allegiance with those who happen to occupy the same bit of the earth’s crust as you do, but that allegiance is purely arbitrary and, of course, divisive. This is obviously controversial, but, as Samuel Johnson opined, isn’t patriotism “the last refuge of a scoundrel”? Isn’t it often synonymous with racism and chauvinism? Isn’t it indeed, to some degree, the opiate of the masses?

Perhaps the time has come for us to envision a new era of humanity, moving from competing nation states to the flourishing of a multi-cultural planetary civilisation.

As Remembrance Day approaches,
Do you think it’s impolite
To decline to wear a poppy?
Is it wrong or is it right?

Having died in the line of duty,
Where poppies now abound,
Those men of Flanders fields deserve
To hear the bugles sound.

But does it just perpetuate
The jingoistic crap
That fuels these senseless conflicts
And holds humanity back?

Will soldiers have died for nothing
And will warfare ever cease,
If we hold a minute’s silence
And our thoughts don’t turn to peace?

Plucking the poppies from our coats
Is not really breaking faith;
It might just serve to help us
To create a world that’s safe.

Posted in Dark Mutterings, Opinion, Personal, Quotes Tagged

The Moon Pigeon (audiobook)

The audiobook speaks for itself! 😜…

It’s one giant hop for pigeonkind!

Available Now…. on Audible, Amazon and iTunes!



The Moon Pigeon (audiobook)

A curious incident occurred during the 1969 Apollo 10 moon mission. A white object, later dubbed a ‘moon pigeon’, was filmed moving above the moon’s surface below the spacecraft. An official NASA report entitled “Moon pigeons and other unidentified visual phenomena associated with space flight”, published in 1970, attributed the Apollo 10 ‘moon pigeon’ to either a piece of ice or a reflection from the window of the spacecraft.

This is the story of a pigeon named Phoebe Featherbelle, who met a NASA scientist and set out to discover the truth about the incident.

What happened to her is described by a pair of Trafalgar Square pigeons.

The audiobook features the vocal talents of Siobhan Dowd

Click here to purchase from Amazon UK
Click here to purchase from Amazon US
Click here to purchase from Audible UK
Click here to purchase from Audible US

Also available from iTunes!

Posted in Humour, Story Tagged , , ,

Free ebook!



Through The Wormhole, Literally

What would happen if aliens discovered the Voyager space probe?


The ebook version of ‘Through The Wormhole, Literally’ is currently available FREE from Smashwords. Use the code SW79C at checkout (offer good throughout August 2019)…

The Voyager 1 space probe was launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, to study the outer solar system and, ultimately, interstellar space. It carried a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that it might be found by intelligent life-forms from other planetary systems. The record contained photos of the Earth and its life-forms, spoken greetings from people including the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and a medley of sounds from Earth, including whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore and music, including works by Mozart and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. It was discovered by goopmutt bandits who towed it through interstellar space at superluminal speed. In an effort to conceal their crime, they manipulated the data on the craft’s digital tape recorder and left it in the heliosphere where its signal could still be picked up from Earth. Eventually, they abandoned the probe in the Centaurus galaxy where it was picked up by two itinerant spacecombers from a small circumbinary planet known as Morys Minor.

The discovery of the golden record attached to the Voyager probe raised expectations of harmonious relations between inhabitants of the two planets, so one of the spacecombers who discovered it, smolin9, was dispatched by wormhole to Earth to investigate the planet and determine its suitability for colonisation. However, following extensive study, the Mortians decided the planet exceeded volatility thresholds and deemed it unsuitable. During smolin9’s brief sojourn on Earth, he met life coach, Melinda Hill of Camden in London. This story charts the events arising from this encounter.

If you have an Amazon account, please post a review!

Posted in Humour, Story, Voyager Series Tagged , , ,

Reinstate Pluto!

Pluto (and Charon)This enhanced colour image of Pluto and its moon, Charon, was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015.

Pluto was discovered and classified as a planet in 1930, when astronomer Clyde Tombaugh of the Lowell Observatory examined photographic plates of the sky and noticed a tiny dot against the backdrop of stars. The name “Pluto” was proposed by 11-year-old English schoolgirl, Venetia Burney.

But, in July 2005, astronomers found the distant object, Eris, which was thought to be larger than Pluto. The discovery prompted the awkward question: if Pluto is a planet, shouldn’t Eris be considered a planet too? And what about all the other icy objects out in the Kuiper belt? In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) ruled that Pluto should be demoted to the status of ‘dwarf planet’.

Pluto is smaller than the Earth’s moon, with an orbit that is so eccentric that it crosses the orbit of Neptune and actually gets closer to the sun than Neptune for 20 of its 248-year-long trip. Nevertheless, it is a complex world of oceans, mountains and glaciers. Scientists have found evidence of ammonia on its surface, making it likely that an underground ocean exists. The presence of ammonia is exciting, because it is a significant precursor to prebiotic chemistry, including the formation of amino acids and a whole bunch of other biologically interesting chemicals.

Pluto should be swiftly reinstated as a planet. Not least because we can then revive the highly useful mnemonic for remembering the order of the planets in our solar system: My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets!

Posted in Matter, Opinion, Science Tagged , , , , , , , ,