A quick history of town criers

The pandemic dictated that this year’s Town Crier Championships had to be held in silence, so this might be a reasonable time to stop and ask about town criers’ history in England.  

 

The Normans. Doesn’t everything trace back to the Normans?

In England, we can trace town criers at least back to 1066, when the Normans invaded the country and put themselves in charge, adding an overlay of the Old French they spoke to the Old English that everyone else did.

While they were at it, they also took over the land, the government, and anything that was left after that was parceled out.

The reason I mention their language, though, is that roughly a thousand years later town criers still start their cries with “Oyez, oyez,” which is French for “Listen up, you peasants.” 

Okay, it’s French for “Hear ye, hear ye,” which is English for “Listen up, you peasants.” And it’s pronounced, “Oh yay,” for whatever that information may be worth. 

Whatever they say after that, they’re supposed to end with “God save the queen.” Or king. Or whatever. 

Screamingly irrelevant photo: primroses.

The reason we can trace town criers back to the Norman invasion is that two of them were woven into the Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the tale of the invasion in–um, yeah–tapestry. You can pick out the town criers because they’re carrying hand bells, which they rang to gather people around them. Because, loud as they were, a bell was even louder. 

They were sometimes called bellmen. 

Even today, town criers open their cries by ringing a hand bell, although historically some used drums or horns. 

But in spite of their Frenchified call,  it wasn’t the Normans who introduced the town criers–at least not according to the website maintained by the Loyal Company of Town Criers, which says the town criers in the tapestry were Anglo-Saxons carrying King Harold’s news about the Norman invasion to the populace.

Harold? He’s the guy who not long after sending out news of an invasion lost the battle, the war, and his life. 

If the loyal company is right and the town criers in the tapestry were Anglo-Saxon, then the tradition predated the Normans.

And who am I to question a loyal company? 

Well, I’m the person who stumbled into the Windsor and Maidenhead Town Crier site, which also mentions the tapestry but says its town criers came into the country with the Normans. 

That’s the trouble with drawing your history from visual art. A lot of interpretation is involved.

A third site ducks the issue by saying the town criers’ position was formalized after the Norman invasion. 

So we’re going to be cagey about this. Go eat a cookie or something and I’ll move us along while you’re distracted.

 

The town crier’s role

With the medieval period we can pick up more verifiable information about town criers. At a time when most people were illiterate, word of mouth was the social media of its day. Also the newspaper, the radio station, and the TV set. As Historic UK explains,  “most folk were illiterate and could not read.” 

Well, holy shit. As if being illiterate wasn’t bad enough, they couldn’t read either. Talk about multiple handicaps.

So the town crier would ring their bell or blow their horn or pound their drum, gather people around, and bellow out the news, proclamations, bylaws, thou-shalt-nots, thou-shalts, and whatever else the person pulling their strings felt was important. 

They had strings? Who pulled them? 

I haven’t found a direct answer, so I’m patching this together as best I can. Sprinkle a bit of salt over it, would you? 

The string puller(s) would probably have varied with the period we’re talking about. At at least some times and in some places, town criers were paid by the proclamation. Some sites talk about a city or town having a town crier, which makes it sound less like a casual job, and one site talks about town criers proclaiming ads. You know, “Oyez, oyez. Lidl is selling three lettuces for the price of two, but hurry or they’ll all be gone. God save the salad dressing.” 

But local government would also have come into the picture, wanting its announcements cried out, wanting the reason for a hanging made public, passing on announcements it received from the king or queen, which gives me a nifty excuse to mention that town criers were considered to be speaking in the name of the monarch, so attacking one was an act of treason.

Generally, once the crier had read out a proclamation, they’d nail it to the door post of the town pub. (Come on, where else are you going to gather the citizenry?) That gives us the word post in the sense of news and communication. 

Okay, they also made their proclamations at markets and town squares and anyplace else people could be counted on to gather. But an inn? If people gathered and listened, they might well step inside, buy a beer, and talk over what they’d heard. And a smart landlord might well offer the town crier a free beer after a well-placed announcement, although that’s the purest of speculation.

One site says town criers also patrolled the streets at night, looking for troublemakers (who else would be out after dark?) and making sure fires were damped down after the curfew bell rang. 

The origin of the word curfew lies in the Old French for covering a fire: cuvrir and feu. Fire was a constant threat in medieval towns. Having an old busybody with a bell making sure everyone really did cover theirs would be annoying but also useful. It’s believed (which is to say, it’s not exactly known) that one reason more people didn’t die in the Great Fire of London is that town criers warned people about the fire. It’s also believed that many more people died in the fire than were ever counted, so if you’ve still got some salt left, use a bit more of it here, because a good part of what I’ve found on the topic was written by nonhistorians. And speaking as a nonhistorian myself, we screw up more often than we like to admit.

Towns did organize unpaid overnight patrols (you’ll find a bit about that here), and the watchmen were sometimes called bellmen, but all men were expected to volunteer or to pay someone else to take their shift. They could all have been town criers, in spite of sometimes being called bellmen. I’m going to crawl out on a thin branch and say that some nonhistorian got fooled by the word bellman being used for two different jobs.

So who got to be a town crier? Someone with a loud voice who could sound authoritative. And someone who could read, because proclamations would come in written form and needed to be read out accurately. 

Town criers haven’t, historically, all been men. Some were husband-and-wife teams, and some were women. The Northwich 1790s records mention a woman who’d been carrying out the role “audably and laudably” for more than twenty years.

The collective noun for a group of town criers–of course you need to know this–is a bellow of criers. 

As literacy spread, town criers became less important, and where they continued, more decorative. These days, if you find them at all you’ll find them dressing in three-cornered hats (or other gloriously outdated headgear) and all the clothes that go with them. They’re most likely to show up to open local events or at contests.

 

And that brings us back to the silent championships

And so we return to this year’s silent championships: If the contestants couldn’t make a noise, what were they judged on?

Organizer Carole Williams said it was “a return to the bare bones of crying. . . .It’s a real skill to write a cry that sticks to the theme, that enlightens people, and doesn’t bore the audience. And it all has to be done in 140 words.”

That makes it sound like a shouted tweet, doesn’t it?

Williams, by the way is a crier from Bishops Stortford, which I include that because place names don’t get any more English than that, and a member of the Loyal Company of Town Criers, which I include because it hosts the competition and because organization names don’t get any more English than that. Even if you make them up.

Normally, the contest is judged on sustained volume and clarity, on diction and inflection, and on content, but this year’s entries had to be recorded and since not everyone could be expected to get their hands–or their cries–on good recording equipment, the organization decided to make sure everyone had an even chance.

The contest raised money for a mental health organization called–appropriately enough–Shout. 

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Thanks to Bear Humphreys at Scribblans for sending me a link to the silent crier championships. 

The Covid chronicles: Is herd immunity still possible?

With Covid raging in India and Brazil, it’s a strange time to be talking about herd immunity, but a cluster of scientific articles are doing just that. 

How many people need to be immune to a disease in order for the population as a whole to be protected? The answer varies with the disease. For measles, which is very contagious, the estimate is 95%. Vaccinate that many (or wait till they get sick and grow their own immunity) and the other 5% will get protection simply from not being around anyone covered with itchy little spots. 

For the initial Covid strain, the best guess was that herd immunity would come when 70% of the population was immune. But as a planet, we handled the disease so badly that we’re not dealing with that strain anymore. Instead, we have a small raft of more contagious strains, so the bar we have to jump over before we reach herd immunity has probably gone from–oh, let’s say waist height to shoulder height. 

Oh, yes, lucky us.

Irrelevant photo: Wood anemones.

So far, the countries with widespread vaccination programs also have groups of people who refuse to be vaccinated–that’s in addition to some who for medical reasons can’t be. They also have groups who for social and political reasons haven’t been reached. The US and UK haven’t done as well at vaccinating ethnic minority groups as they have at vaccinating whites. When I last checked, in April, Israel had gotten only dribbles of vaccine to the occupied territories, saying they weren’t its problem.

And most importantly, the world at large has done a shit job of getting vaccine to the poorer countries. So all those pools of unvaccinated people are where the disease will spread and mutate and create new variants, each of which carries in its itty bitty little pockets the possibility of outrunning the vaccines that those of us who are vaccinated are so relieved to have. 

Israel has vaccinated just upwards of 60% of its population and has in large part returned to normal life, but that normality depends on keeping its borders largely closed and wearing masks indoors. Countries like New Zealand and Australia, which have in large part stamped out the virus, rely on tight border control and strict quarantine. How long they can or have the will to keep those barriers in place remains to be seen.

One article (the link’s above) says that the trick will be keeping restrictions in place once case and hospitalization numbers drop. Primarily, it says, these will be Covid tests and masks. 

And just so’s you know: There’s no agreed-upon definition of herd immunity. I’m going to skip the details and say only that this doesn’t make the conversation about it any clearer. For a sensible discussion, go here.

Some of the articles I’ve read say we’re unlikely to ever completely eliminate Covid. In countries that have been heavily (but not completely) vaccinated, it’s likely to continue circulating and causing deaths, but at dramatically lower rates.  

Sorry. It’s not the knock-out punch we were all hoping for, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.  

Dr. Anthony Fauci tells us not to worry about herd immunity.

“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is.

“That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense. I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.”

 

The search for a Covid pill

At least three of the big drug companies are working on pills to keep mild Covid from turning into severe Covid. If they succeed, they’d make Covid’s continued presence in our lives a hell of a lot more manageable.

The first days after the virus moves into a human host are its busiest. It sets up housekeeping in a cell and creates a family to admire its work. And then the family spreads out, setting up housekeeping in new cells. And so forth. It multiplies like mad, and that’s when we’d need to drop that little pill–you know: the one that doesn’t quite exist yet–down our throats to disrupt the sequence. 

Researchers have trolled through existing drugs, hoping to find one that would, by chance, do the job but so far haven’t come up with anything. Hence the search for new ones.

One that’s in development is a protease inhibitor, which would interfere with the enzymes the virus needs to multiply. (No, don’t ask me. I’m just playing parrot here.) Drugs that treat AIDS and hepatitis C are protease inhibitors, in case that gives you the same illusion of understanding that glowed so nicely in my brain until I realizes I didn’t really understand a thing.

Other drugs in development target the virus itself. That does’t glow quite as nicely and I’d love to say more about the process but that’s all I’ve got, although I can repeat that they’d disrupt the virus’s ability to replicate itself.

The companies are hoping to have the first of the drugs on the market by the end of the year. And they may end up being used in combination to keep the virus from evolving some form of resistance. 

Don’t give up, folks. We’ll get through this, even if life isn’t quite the same as it used to be.

It wasn’t perfect then either, was it?

The Wallpapergate scandal goes free range; welcome to Nannygate

I hope you don’t mind a quick dip into political sleaze, because I do enjoy a good scandal and here in Britain we have one that’s going free range. Just before an election. Yes, friends, Wallpapergate is turning into Nannygate which is turning into Personal Trainergate.

I’ll stop gloating for a paragraph or two and translate for myself: Boris Johnson is being investigated for asking Conservative Party donors to pay for his and his partner’s £200,000 refurbishment of the prime ministerial residence, but that’s a few-days-old scandal. Now it’s now come out that he also approached donors to pay for his and his partner’s nanny and his personal trainer

I did use the phrase “the couple’s nanny,” but no, the nanny doesn’t take care of the couple, although if she (and I’m making assumptions there, I know) did she might’ve saved them from their wallpaper. But no such luck. She’s there to take care of their kid, who’s a year old. 

I won’t get into the whole nanny thing. Really. I won’t. I’m putting on mittens to limit my typing. 

Irrelevant photo: speedwell–a wildflower

It all makes me wonder, though, if Johnson also tried raising funds to pay for a food taster and a herald to blow the trumpet when he’s coming into a room. If he has, it hasn’t hit the headlines yet, but I’m ruling nothing out. 

The latest of Wallpapergate is that Conservative Party staff members have been told to hand over all communications that relate to it. They’ve been threatened with criminal charges if they don’t, which has a certain irony since their boss isn’t being threatened with criminal charges, although the email they were sent did say, “You are put on notice that this is a criminal investigation.”

Johnson is said to have taken out a personal loan to pay back whatever money was borrowed to cover  the renovations of his flat, although he’s dodged questions about when he did that. The loan he received hasn’t been declared, and neither has whatever he borrowed or solicited and then repaid. That signals trouble, although I have no idea how deep.

Prime ministers are given £30,000 to wipe away all visible traces of their predecessors, so that leaves only £170,000 to repay. 

To put that in perspective: If you worked a 40 hour week at the London minimum wage, which is higher than the national one, you’d take home something in the neighborhood of £17,000 a year, so if you didn’t frivvel that away on groceries and rent or anything else, it would take ten years to save that up. 

At the London real Living Wage of £10.85, you’d take home something like £22,000. 

Johnson, on the other hand, makes £150,000 a year as prime minister. That means he’s licking the underside of the top 1% of British earners, but he’s apparently told friends that he needs to make twice that just to keep his head above water. Rumor says he’s broke, although you might want to wait until the music stops and the numbers have all tried to grab the chairs that are left before you decide what to believe on the subject.

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But I mentioned elections, so let’s talk about them: All across the country we’ve got local elections coming up on Thursday, and they’re being taken as a test of the impact all this is having on the electorate. Whether it’s a fair test is arguable. I’m not sure how much national politics translate to local elections. 

Some pundits speculate that the mythical man in the pub (and I’m reasonably sure they do mean the man) doesn’t care about Wallpapergate. What I’ve noticed, though, is that most of the Conservative newspapers seem to have turned against Johnson on this. I haven’t a clue how it’ll go or what it’ll mean. 

In Scotland, though, the elections will decide whether there’ll be another referendum on leaving the United Kingdom and joining the European Union. That referendum, if it’s held, will either be sanctioned by the British government or it won’t be. And if it isn’t, it’ll either be held anyway or it won’t be. I think that covers all the possibilities.

It’s going to be interesting here for a while.

The Wallpapergate scandal

First, a warning: Actual wallpaper is involved in Wallpapergate–massively ugly wallpaper, in my opinion highly biased opinion–but no actual gate is known to be part of the story. If there were a gate, though, it would be a very expensive gate, a high-end type of gate, because this is about Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Whatsit, spending something in the neighborhood of £200,000 to redecorate the apartment that prime ministers live in. 

Whose money were they spending? That’s where it gets interesting. Initially it seems to have been from major Conservative Party donors, but when the nosy neighbors–also known as the rest of the country and specifically a former aide who he’d first confided in and then pissed off–started honking and quacking about it, he paid it back.

Apparently. All he’s saying right now is that he paid for it personally. He’s not saying when he did that, although he has been asked.

Irrelevant photo: Wallflowers

Prime ministers are given a budget of £30,000 to redecorate the prime ministerial apartment when they move in, and you might think a person could manage with that in a pinch. The Johnson-Whatsit household could not. So, hands up, please: How many of us (al) have £200,000 worth of spare change rattling around in our pockets and (b) would use it to redecorate an apartment we don’t own and don’t have a lease on? An apartment we could be kicked out of the minute the political winds start blowing from some new direction? 

Yeah, preliminary polling predicted the count would go that way.

Maybe Johnson and Whatsit are counting on a long political and residential tenure–a kind of thousand-year Reich, only with wallpaper.

The story starts, as nearly as I can figure out, with Johnson and Whatsit moving into the prime minister’s apartment and declaring it a “John Lewis furniture nightmare.” 

I need to stop and translate that for readers who don’t live in Britain. John Lewis is a department store, and it’s either upmarket or downmarket, depending on what street you entered the market from. If you came in on the street not just used but owned by people who’d be mortified to have the same couch as anyone else, then John Lewis is downmarket. 

Johnson and Whatsit very much came in on that end. 

But I could be wrong to call the piece of furniture we’re talking about a couch. Maybe it’s a sofa. Or a davenport. Or–oh, hell, I’ll never understand the linguistic clues to class that make British English such a minefield. I do know that key objects have different names depending on your pedigree and your bank account. And that it’s all horribly important and completely insane. And may all the gods of snobbery help you if you get one of them wrong among the people who came into the market from Unique Sofa Street, because they take this (not to mention themselves) very seriously. 

Stop giggling. They do. So consider their embarrassment if they find out they’re sitting on a couch that any Tom, Dick, or Theresa May could buy. 

Theresa May was never really one of their crowd, but in fact she wasn’t responsible for buying the couches. Silly thing that she was, she left the furniture alone when she moved in and focused on trying to govern the country. I can’t say I was impressed by her idea of how that should work, but I will give her credit, belatedly, for not trying to make it involve wallpaper.

The Johnson-Whatsit wallpaper is said to cost in the neighborhood of £800 a roll. And of course you need a couch and curtains to match the wallpaper, and a rug to clash with the wallpaper, and all manner of other stuff in startling patterns. The funniest of the photos seems to have disappeared from the internet, but as I remember it, it involved overwhelmingly patterned wallpaper, a couch screaming to itself in the same pattern, and a person who was almost camouflaged by it all. Someone who wasn’t me described the style as Victorian bordello. I’ll take their word for it since I’ve never been to a Victorian bordello–I was born far too late–but they may be doing bordellos an injustice.

[Late addition: You can find a photo here.] 

I do understand that tastes differ, but if I moved into a place that looked like their post-renovation apartment does, I’d pay a lot of  money to make it stop. And I could do it for less than £200,000. All I’d need is a few cans of white paint and a wrecking ball.

So what happens next? I don’t mean furnishings-wise, because the couple seem happy enough in their house of horrors. I mean what happens politically

Well, the Electoral Commission will be investigating whether Johnson broke any of the laws about political financing. That should be fun, even though the commission’s investigations don’t usually end up with criminal charges. 

What all this proves–if anything–is that it’s not the big-league scandals that set the national alarm clock ringing–the ones where the people running the government hand huge contracts to their friends, who then bungle the work and are thanked for it and get more contracts. Those hit the headlines regularly and we roll over and go back to sleep. The ones that wake us up are the wallpaper, the snobbery about stores most of us can’t afford to shop in. It’s not that the others are hard to understand, but this is on such a human scale. We’re watching a panto, that over-the-top British theatrical form where there’s always someone to boo and hiss.

They’re not behind us (as the audience yells at a panto). They’re right in front of us. We can’t take our eyes away.

 

News from the Department of Unexpected Results

Belgium is facing a different kind of crisis: It needs people to eat more potatoes. The country normally exports them, but the Department of Unexpected Results reports that because of the pandemic a lot of potatoes went unexported.

What’s going on here? Do people eat fewer potatoes during pandemics? Does exposure to Covid reduce people’s carb cravings? Do people only eat potatoes when they’re away from home? Tempted as I am to toss you a few off-the-top-of-my-head answers, these questions are too important for that. What we need here is a serious study. While—we hope–someone’s doing that, let’s treat the issue gently and try not to break anything. In other words, let’s not speculate.

And while we’re waiting for the results of those studies, why not make yourself a nice portion of potatoes? You’ll help improve international relations and fight Covid, all in a single act, with no intermission. The Belgians like their potatoes deep fried, with mayonnaise, but you’re welcome to eat them any which way. 

My thanks to Be Kitschig for alerting me to this crisis. 

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Young kids in Ireland and the U.K. responded to the recent lockdowns and school closures by reading longer, more difficult books. That comes from a survey of a million kids, who are reading fewer books but more challenging ones. And they’re understanding them. They’ve had more time to read and the little stinkers are surprising everyone by actually doing it. 

Then they get into secondary school–in the U.K. that happens when they’re around eleven–and after the first year the improvement stopped dead. 

Okay, admittedly, there hasn’t been time to follow the same kids from primary to secondary school. This is a different batch of kids we’re talking about. But is something about being in secondary school killing off kids’ interest in reading, even when they’re not in the building? The answer is a resolute I don’t know, but the study’s author is calling for schools to make more time for kids to read and for secondary schools to encourage kids to read harder books.

Still, we take our good news where we can find it these days: Young kids are voluntarily reading harder books. It’s a safe guess that they’re doing that because they’re enjoying them. And that’s got to be a good thing.

The London police strikes of 1918 and 1919

In true man-bites-dog style, the London police went out on strike in 1918 and 1919. 

Why is that man bites dog? Because when a government wants to break up a strike (or a demonstration, or a meeting) the police are the first people they think of. 

Why do I ask so many questions in my blog posts? Because it’s a cheap and easy way to organize my material. It’s a lazy habit but it works.

And I’m lazy but I work. It’s a good match.

The strike was so man bites dog that when the much-arrested suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst heard about it, she said, “The London police on strike? After that, anything can happen.” 

She’d been arrested multiple times for campaigning for women’s right to vote. The police, in her experience, were the ultimate in Thou Shalt Not. When they went out on strike it must’ve looked like the moment when parts of the Russian army joined the revolution.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

Semi-relevant photo: To the best of my knowledge, no one human has bitten this dog. 

Background to the strike

At the time, a London policeman was paid roughly what an agricultural worker or an unskilled laborer would earn–in other words, not much. And to make it worse, the cost of living had more than doubled during the war, but their pay hadn’t done anything like keep pace.

What war are we talking about? World War I, which killed 886,000 young men in Britain (or by another count, over 700,000) and left I have no idea how many mangled. 

If you want more background on policing at the time, I’ll refer you to that noted expert on nothing, myself, in an earlier post.

Before I go on: You’ll notice I’m talking about police men. The war drained away enough men that women were pulled into the police forces to fill in. I can’t put my hand on any figures, but I’d bet the most important piece of furniture in the house (that’s the couch) that they were paid less. Probably considerably less. And told that this was the natural order of things. Because as women, they’d only go out and spend their pay on silly things like rent and food. There’s no point encouraging them.

So we’ll stick with the men’s wages. Especially since those are the figures I find quoted.

In case low pay wasn’t enough of a problem, the cops (gender neutral word marker there) who remained on the force were working a 96-hour week, with one day off every two weeks.

So basically, you’re looking at an unhappy workforce.

The National Union of Police and Prison Officers (called NUPPO by its friends and family) was founded in 1913. The central figure was John Syme, a former inspector in the Metropolitan Police who’d been fired for

Well, by one account it was for threatening to write to his MP (that’s his Member of Parliament) and by another it was for “undue familiarity” with his men. By a third account he was fired for supporting two constables who’d been fired. Those could easily be different ways of describing the same incident. So take your pick. I like “undue familiarity” myself. It has such a suggestive, Victorian ring to it, leaving me to wonder if they locked themselves in a toilet stall and had entirely too much fun or sat down with a cup of tea together after work.

And a biscuit. That’s where the real trouble comes from: biscuits. By which, if you’re American, you should understand that we mean cookies. I know you associate cops with donuts, but remember, this was a long time ago. Work cultures change.

By way of full disclosure, “undue familiarity” may have a Victorian ring, but Vic herself had been dead since 1901. It took a long time, though, to sweep away the traces she’d left behind.

Whichever it was, he’d been campaigning to get reinstated ever since.

The union stayed underground–wisely, given that five cops were fired for being members and that in 1917 the military police (who do you turn to when you want to police the police?) raided a meeting and seventeen more members were fired.

 

The 1918 strike

The 1918 strike started on August 30, two months before the end of the war, and it had two demands: increased pay and the reinstatement of Tommy Thiel, who’d been fired for union membership. 

Why Thiel in particular? 

Things happen that way. One person after another is fired, then someone who’s no more worthy gets canned and all hell breaks loose. 

You can’t predict this stuff.

The strike spread wildly and within a few hours over 6,000 cops had walked out, including members of the Special Branch, which worked–and still works–on national security issues. 

When those guys join your strike, the foundations of government tremble. Or maybe it’s the politicians who tremble. Either way, trembling gets done. Politicians look at each other and say things like, “We’ve got a problem here, don’t we?”

A day later, strikers marched to Whitehall, the center of government. A Scotland Yard official described them as “mutinying in the face of the enemy.” 

Scotland Yard? That’s the headquarters of London’s police force. It has nothing to do with Scotland. 

And mutiny? The war was still on, remember, even if the enemy wasn’t marching down London’s streets. If you want to win an argument during a war, drag the enemy into a sentence. 

By way of context, it’s worth remembering that the Russian Revolution had revoluted less than a year before, and the people running the country lost more sleep over the Bolsheviks than over the Kaiser. 

Of course I know that. I took a survey. It all happened well before I was born, but that didn’t stop me.

The prime minister, David Lloyd George, met with union delegates and agreed to their demands, promising to reinstate Thiel and raise their pay.

The strike ended triumphantly, without anyone noticing that they hadn’t won union recognition. 

Okay, they did notice but thought recognition would follow. Hadn’t the prime minister just met with them? How much more recognized than that can you get? And Lloyd George had said that union recognition would have to wait for the war’s end. 

Right, they said. Fair enough. Everything in due time.

Meanwhile, police in Manchester threatened to strike unless they were given a raise too. By October, police on several forces had gotten raises and by November union membership had gone from 10,000 to 50,000.

 

Round two

As far as the government was concerned, the strike had been roughly as predictable as a piano falling out of the sky, but by postponing union recognition it bought itself some time. It dedicated the next six months to defeating the union. The command structure of the police was reorganized, militants were isolated, moderates were won over, and partial reforms were introduced. 

Approved boards were established to represent the men, which gave them representation while edging the union off to the side. And although the ban on joining the union was lifted, its members weren’t forbidden to interfere with police discipline or to ask cops to withdraw from duty. Translation: You can join your poxy union if you want to, but there’ll be no more of this strike nonsense. 

Those phrases  about interfering with police discipline or withdrawing from dury didn’t come to me in quotes, but they have a starchy, quotationish sound, so I’ve left them as is. And with apologies, I’ve had to fall back on WikiWhatsia here. It’s usually reliable although it is subject to unpredictable fits of madness. I couldn’t find enough detail elsewhere and what it’s saying generally aligns with the other sources.

But back to our topic: The government set up a committee under Lord Desborough.

Was Lord Mr. Desborough’s first name? 

Of course it was.

The committee called for uniformity in police pay across the country, citing instances where cops were paid not just no more than unskilled workers but less.  

In 1919, the government passed the Police Bill, which established the Police Federation of England and Wales. In effect, this was a company union. It would represent the police but couldn’t strike. The law’s renewed periodically, most recently in 1996. 

The bill also prohibited cops from joining NUPPO, forcing the union into a strike. 

It was a disaster. Out of more than 18,000 London cops, just over 1,000 walked out.

In Liverpool, though, about half the force went on strike for several days. And although there’d been no violence or disorder during London’s 1918 strike, Liverpool saw both looting and rioting. The military was called in, working with cops who hadn’t gone on strike. Some 200 people were arrested and several were killed.

Smaller strikes took place in other cities and towns. 

Every last one of the nation’s striking cops was fired and the union was broken. 

On the other hand, policemen’s pay doubled and they became politically visible in a way that they hadn’t been before. 

What happened to the people who were fired? For most of them walk off the screen and disappear. A very few, though, I can account for. Several stayed active in the union movement. If I had to guess in what way, I’d say as organizers–it would have made them visible all these years later. Some became active in the socialist movement. The two strands wouldn’t have been entirely separate. Socialists were mainstays of the early union movement. One became the mayor of Hackney, running on the Labour Party ticket. At least one–Tommy Thiel himself–joined the Communist Party.

And one became a gentleman’s tailor and seems to have done well at it. He’d been banned from the City of London police station and In 1920 he asked for the ban to be lifted so he could visit old friends and try to pick up some customers.

His request was turned down. 

No, vaccinated people do not shed spike proteins

The latest thing in nut theories–if it hasn’t been superseded by a newer one, and you’ll have to forgive me if I limp along behind this stuff–is that it’s dangerous for women who are still menstruating to even be around people who’ve been vaccinated.

Why’s that? So the little vaccy-things jump out of the vaccinated Person V and into still-fertile Person non-V, implanting some version of Rosemary’s baby that’s been updated to look like Bill Gates?

Quite possibly, with just the tiniest touch of exaggeration.

Utterly irrelevant photo: This is for all you British mystery fans out there. If you remember a detective called Campion, this is the flower he named himself after. It’s a wildflower–a.k.a. a weed–and grows wherever it damn well pleases. It stays in bloom for a good part of the year and is a cheery little beast. This is the red campion, in spite of being pink. It also comes in white.

The theory is that the vaccines shed the spike protein. (Please don’t ask about the mechanism for that.) Someone who described herself as a cosmic doula posted an Instagram video saying, “Women in their menstruating years are experiencing severe side effects from people around them having received this jab.” They miss their periods. They have excruciatingly painful periods. Post-menopausal women start to have periods. Cats flee from them.

Okay, I made up the bit about the cats, but you have to admit it’d be upsetting.

Someone on Facebook who likes to Capitalize stuff she Considers Important listed the side effects of being around a Vaccinated Person as bleeding, hemorrhaging, passing clots, irregular periods, miscarriages, severe cramps, abnormal pain, post-menopausal periods, and decidual casts.

Most of these things aren’t fun but they’re also not signals that an asteroid is headed for earth or that Bill Gates has implanted his own DNA into the Covid vaccines, which will turn us all into non-rich versions of him. They happen, even in non-pandemic times.

In other words, call me when men start having periods. You’ll have full attention. Until then, I’m not impressed.

Gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Gunter said, “Neither of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines . . . nor the Johnson and Johnson vaccine . . . can possibly affect a person who has not been vaccinated, and this includes their menstruation, fertility, and pregnancy. Let me be very clear. The COVID-19 vaccines cannot affect anyone by proxy.”

So she’s no fun at all. And cats flee from her.

 

Vaccination and pregnancy

If we’ve had our fun now, and if the cats have crept back into the room, allow me to mention a study of 35,000 women that says the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are safe for pregnant women–not to mention the people standing next to them. Their rates of complications, miscarriages, and premature births were the same as the rates for those things before the pandemic. 

The vaccines may also be safe for pregnant men, but it was hard to find a large enough pool for the researchers to follow. For the time being, guys, you’re on your own.

Longer-term follow-up is needed, but pregnant women face a higher risk of severe Covid and hospitalization than non-pregnant women in their age groups, although their babies don’t seem to be affected.  

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was released too late to have been included in the study.

 

Yeah, but what are we immune to?

A new study says that the Covid vaccines activate–

Oh, hell, this is complicated, so you’re going to have to pay attention, okay?  The immune system has these cells that we’ll call helper T cells, although when they appear in court they’re known by their formal name, CD4+ T lymphocytes. And to distinguish themselves from the defendants, they wear those strange, lawyerly wigs that distinguish British barristers from the normal run of human beings. But never mind all that. We’re friends here and we can afford to be informal and wigless. Helper T cells it is.

The study says that once activated by either of the two mRNA vaccines (those are the Pfizer and the Moderna), the helper T cells will recognize any of the current Covid variants and slaughter the little bastards. 

Okay, that’s not a direct quote. I get carried away with the opportunity to slaughter small and bloodless things that have no apparent nervous systems so I can do it in good conscience. 

The activated helper T cells may also protect us against one of the coronaviruses that causes the  cold. 

Sorry, not all colds. Just one form.

This is important because our antibodies are cute little things but they’re not as smart as T cells and sometimes need a phone call to tell them where to go and what to do when they get there. 

But before we get too excited, first this was a small study and second it may only mean that they’re able to prevent the variants from causing severe illness, not to prevent all infections.  

 

The Pfizer upgrade

If all goes as expected, the Pfizer vaccine will soon be easier to ship. Up to now, it’s had to be kept at the temperature of dry ice, meaning a country needed one hell of an infrastructure to use it at all. In its new form, an ordinary freezer will keep it safe. 

It’s also one of the more expensive vaccines on the market, so making it easier to ship won’t solve all the problems involved in getting it where it’s most needed.

How’s it stacking up against the variants?

Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, said “We have already data for the UK [variant]—I hate using the countries, but people know them like that—which is very prominent in Israel… efficiency was 97 percent.

“We have data from South Africa, with the South African variant, and overall the efficacy was 100 percent. And also have data from Brazil. And it looks also this is very well controlled.”

You’ll notice that he didn’t give us any numbers from Brazil. Let’s assume there’s room for improvement.

It takes, he said, 100 days to tweak a vaccine so that it’s more effective against a worrying variant. 

 

The search for a universal vaccine

So will there ever be a Covid vaccine that doesn’t need tweaking? 

Possibly, and I suspect I’ve written about it before but it’s not as if I pay attention to what’s going on here. That’s your job.

One has shown encouraging results in animal studies. It targets a part of the virus that seems stable–in other words, it doesn’t mutate–and indications are that it will protect against multiple coronaviruses, not just Covid. So it could–potentially, remember; we’re not there yet–protect against coronaviruses that have yet to make their way into our lives, and also against multiple cold viruses.

And it can be produced cheaply. If you brewed it in a keg the size of your car’s gas tank (or petrol tank if you’re speaking British), it would cost $1 a dose. That’s compared to $10 a dose for the mRNA vaccines like Pfizer. 

But if production is ramped up, you won’t be brewing it in your car’s gas tank, or even (Prohibition-style if you know your US history) in your bathtub. You’ll be using industrial-scale tanks and it’ll be a whole lot cheaper. 

“If you have two or three or four, pretty soon you get enough vaccine to immunize everybody in the world,” according to Dr. Steven Zeichner of the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.

The vaccine’s designed to attack a part of the Covid virus called viral fusion peptide, which sounds like it’s going to blow something up but is just another damn peptide, not a nuclear weapon.

When in your life did you hear the word peptide as much as you have this past year? 

This particular peptide is a universal coronavirus part. That means you can get from any used parts dealer, any junkyard. Etsy has it. I’d mention Amazon but I’m carrying on a one-person boycott so I won’t. It’s a part of the spike protein that hasn’t shown any changes so far and that’s unlikely to show any in the future. It’s like the headlight that’s used on this year’s model and also the 1957 model. 

Or so Zeichner says, and he knows more about this than I do–which wouldn’t be hard. Let’s say he knows considerably more than I do and trust his judgement on this. After all, he did have enough sense not to bring junkyards or headlights into the discussion. I’m to blame for that.

Even if he turns out to be wrong and under pressure from the vaccine the peptide does mutate, we will have been given some breathing room.

This doesn’t have to be a new vaccine. Existing vaccines will be able to incorporate the target as they add new tweaks.

But a universal vaccine isn’t ready for human studies yet. For one thing, in animal tests it prevented severe symptoms but not infection. The developers want to tinker, retune the engine, give it a new set of tires, do all those things that will make it more lethal to coronaviruses. The preliminary data, they say, are exciting, but these are the very early stages still.

A nice British scandal

Who doesn’t love a good scandal? And Britain’s rich in them right now. They’re buzzing like flies around the rumpled head of our prime minister. We have so many that–metaphor switch here–it’s like standing in front of a dessert buffet with a too-small appetite and a too-small plate. 

To translate that, I can’t cover them all, so let’s focus on the Covid-related one: Before the third lockdown, Boris Johnson allegedly said, “No more fucking lockdowns. Let bodies pile high in their thousands.” 

Allegedly? Well, yes. The source of the quote is, so far, unnamed, and Johnson denies having said it before changing the subject, but it’s being taken seriously and the subject doesn’t stay changed for long. 

You can probably guess, even without following British politics closely, that letting the bodies pile up isn’t a popular stance. 

I’m sure someone in government is looking for the source of the quote even as I type. Back in October, someone leaked government plans for a lockdown and an inquiry was ordered so that blame could land somewhere. To date, the culprit remains unnamed. More recently, families of people who died of Covid have been calling for an inquiry into the pandemic’s mishandling and the government’s said it doesn’t have time for that sort of hindsight. Haven’t these families noticed that we’re still in a crisis? 

Irrelevant photo: Wild primroses with violets.

However, there is time for an inquiry into top civil servants taking outside jobs that may be conflicts of interest. There’s also time for an inquiry into who leaked text messages between Johnson and a businessman in which Johnson promised to change some tax rules the businessman had complained about. There won’t–if Johnson & Co. can help it–be an inquiry into the exchange of messages itself. 

After all, there’s only so much time a government can devote to inquiries.

Sorry to have passed up the other scandals. They look delicious, but it’s not nice to be greedy.

 

Yeah, but what are we doing about Covid?

A taskforce–we’re still in Britain in case you folded your map away–has been told to find two new drugs that will stop mild Covid from progressing to severe Covid. If that makes it sound like someone’s misplaced the drugs and they’d show up if you’d just move the couch away from the wall for me, please–well, that’s probably not what they have in mind. 

You can shove the couch back in, thanks. It hides the dust.

The drugs they’re looking for have to be something people can take at home instead of in the hospital, and they have to come in either tablet or capsule form. 

What’s the difference between a tablet and a capsule? Does it matter? They’re both pills. If you’ll just shut up and swallow one, by tomorrow you won’t remember which it was.  

When he announced the task force, Johnson said experts expect another wave of Covid later in the year. In spite of which, and in spite of the possibility that the pills dropped into the heating ducts and won’t be found until years from now when the whole system’s torn out and replaced, no one’s adjusting the steps toward easing the country out of lockdown. The economy must be revived. Let the bodies–

No, he’s not going to repeat that particular quote. And I hope we’re not in that dire a position this time around. Almost 47 million people have had at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s out of a population of almost 67 million. In precise percentages, that’s a lot of people. But it’s not a suit of armor. If another pandemic wave comes, it does no good to tell the newly bereaved, “Well, nowhere near as many people died this time around.”  

How likely is the taskforce to succeed? I don’t know, but I do know that it isn’t the world’s only group working on the problem. With luck, someone will get there, and whoever shows up first–and second and forty-eighth–I’m prepared to applaud.

*

So how vulnerable is the country?

Professor Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, expects a third wave this summer. He considers the country vulnerable and says the dates for easing lockdown may need adjusting.

Britain’s vulnerabilities include new Covid variants, the still-large number of unvaccinated people, and the inevitable breakthrough cases among the vaccinated. The number of deaths expected in that wave vary from 30,000 to 100,000, depending on what software the statisticians rely on. The time when the wave’s most likely to hit also varies. What does seem to be solid is that another wave will come.

You remember that Greek myth about Orpheus going down to the underworld to bring his love Euridice back to the land of the living? He’s told not to look back at her until they’re above ground, and he doesn’t until he comes into the sunligh. Then he looks back, but she’s still in the shadow of the underworld and, damn, you blew it, Orph, so back she goes, yelling, “You damn fool, you never did think of anyone but yourself,” the whole way down.

We need to think about that tale as countries emerge from the underworld. Don’t let yourself believe you’ve solved the problem just because you feel the sunlight on your own silly skin. 

*

That noted non-scientist our prime minister, however, says there’s nothing in the data to show that everything can’t go ahead exactly as planned. 

 

And meanwhile–

A nurse in Manchester, Karen Reissman, was fined £10,000 for protesting the 1% raise that the government saw fit to give the nurses it spent months applauding. She’d handed in a risk assessment for the protest, but the Manchester police decided the rally was breaking Covid rules anyway.

“Somebody calculated that if I used my 1% rise, it would take me 56 years to pay the fine off,” Reissman said.

Believe me, the fine will be appealed.

The nineteenth-century English cop

We can date the beginnings of Britain’s police forces back to the nineteenth century, but let’s not talk about how they were organized. Let’s talk about what kind of person became a cop in those early days and what life was like for–and I use the pronoun advisedly–him. 

The first women weren’t hired until World War I. We’ll come back to that.

If you want some background on the origin of the police forces themselves, you’ll find it in an earlier post. I’m referring you to myself here. You know, to that noted expert on everything. 

Irrelevant photo: hellebore

 

Your average copper

Until the end of World War II, your average cop came from an unskilled or semi-skilled working class background, and he was almost invariably white. He was likely to have joined when he was out of work, because the pay was low, although it was at least steady. 

Joining the police force doesn’t seem to have been anybody’s first choice. If you’ve seen Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, you might remember the song “A Policeman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One.” Yes, they were kidding around, but they had something there to work with.

Semi-relevant factoid: The first recruit to London’s police force lasted four hours before being found drunk while he was on duty and getting his hind end fired.

The cop’s work involved patrolling on foot, regardless of the weather, and at least in larger cities that would have been under the supervision of a sergeant who checked every so often to see that he was where he was supposed to be. In London, he was supposed to walk a regulation 2.5 miles an hour on a regular beat. After about a century of organizing the work that way, it occurred to someone that any burglar with half a brain would plan their work for the moment when the cop on the beat went past. 

A century? That’s not me exaggerating for the fun of it. It really did take them that long to shake the pattern up a bit. 

The job did have benefits, however, both legal and il-. Some forces offered help with the rent or free medical care for the family, and many a cop got freebies from local shops or–more lucratively–cash in return for not noticing a bit of illegal activity here and there. 

In places, cops might also add to their income by working as knocker-upppers–the folks who tapped on windows to wake people in time for their shifts at work. Why not? They were already awake and walking a predictable beat. It made them some extra money, even if it sometimes took priority over policing. And it wasn’t forbidden.

What was forbidden was for a policeman’s wife to work. The theory was that having her own job might mean she’d influence her husband in some untoward direction. I can’t entirely make that argument come together, but hell, it was the nineteenth century. Women were, by common agreement, such frail creatures. Let them out into the world and, silly little things, they’d believe any words that were poured into their ears and then go home and use their wiles on their husbands. 

Never mind the logic. It was a rule. And besides, the wives of respectable working men didn’t have jobs of their own–or not ones that paid them money, anyway. You know how women get it they have money of their own. So even if the police forces didn’t pay as well as a respectable working class job, policemen and their wives were expected to follow the era’s social media influencers and forgo that second income. In villages, a policeman’s wife acted as his office, taking messages for him if he was out. But that was respectable, because she didn’t get paid.

In some forces a wife might get away with a bit of dressmaking or domestic service. If, of course, it didn’t interfere with her wifely duties at home. 

So the wives didn’t work for the police forces but had to live by their rules anyway. 

If the low pay and the insistence on a couple having only one income sounds like a perfect formula for corruption, it was. Whee.

It also led to police forming unions. During World War I, the police went on strike twice, and it’s an interesting tale but too long to wedge in here. I’ll get to it soon.

 

Chief constables

In the tradition of Britain’s class hierarchy, the chief constable in cities and in some counties would be someone who could mix comfortably with the elite. He would often have a military background and be used to commanding others. 

It wasn’t until after World War I that it occurred to anyone in power that it might be useful for him to know something about police work. That probably speaks to how much systematic thought was given to policing.

Only in smaller forces was the chief constable likely to be someone who’d risen up through the ranks–which is to say, someone from the working class and someone who knew what was involved in the job.

 

The police forces open up–however reluctantly

Women didn’t join police forces until World War I, when they were recruited to (and I’m quoting History Extra here) “supervise young women who either worked in munitions factories or were feared to be ‘pursuing’ young men in uniform.”

If I’d made that up, I’d scold myself for being too heavy handed and I’d tone it down. But yes, they were recruited to keep an eye on those shameless hussies who worked in the factories. We’re coming out of an era, remember, when a hefty percent of the women who worked outside the home were in domestic service–in other words, in the houses of people who had more money than them and who would, the world assumed, police their sexuality. 

Or that was the theory. In practice, they might be sexually assaulted or seduced at work, then fired if they got pregnant. It was common enough to have become a cliche, but saying that it’s a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.

World War I, though, offered women jobs outside the domestic sphere, and that made some folks nervous. 

With the end of the war, though, the police forces didn’t need the women they’re recruited anymore. Let’s quote History Extra again: “Many chief constables were delighted to be able to get rid of women at the war’s end in 1919, and regretted having to recruit them again in 1939 [that’d be World War II in case you’ve lost track]. Chief constables did their best to limit women’s activities to typing, filing and making tea.

“The women officers who remained or who joined after the Second World War were largely limited to looking after women and children until the equality legislation of the 1970s, which made their role legally and practically the same as their male colleagues.” 

Well, legally anyway. I doubt I can tell you anything you don’t already know about what that was like in practice. 

It was in the 1970s that the police forces also opened up to Black and Asian recruits, and they were about as welcome as the women were. 

 

Real-world information on Covid vaccine effectiveness

For the first time, we have some real-world data about how effective the Covid vaccines are. The good news is that a very small percent of fully vaccinated people get sick. The bad news is that the vaccines aren’t  a three-hundred percent effective suit of armor against serious disease. Or even quite one hundred percent.

Among the 77 million fully vaccinated people in the US, the Centers for Disease Control reports 5,800 Covid cases. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.0001%. Of that group, 7% were hospitalized and 74 died, and damn it I wish they’d give statistics either entirely in percentages or entirely in absolute numbers to dopes like me could compare them. I can get as far as saying that most of the cases have been either mild or asymptomatic. If you can translate, leave me a comment. Even if your answer’s wrong, I’m not likely to know. 

Infections in vaccinated people are called breakthrough infections, and it would be unusual if they didn’t happen. They were found in all age groups, although 40% were in people who were 60 or older, 65% were in women, and 29% were asymptomatic. 

Irrelevant photo: apple blossoms

So far, they haven’t identified what, if any, risk factors incline vaccinated people toward getting Covid or which (if any) variants are more likely to be involved, but believe me, someone’s staying up late crunching numbers. It’s also not clear how the asymptomatic cases were noticed, since it’s unusual to test fully vaccinated people who show no symptoms. It could be that they were hospitalized for other reasons and a Covid test was run as part of the admissions routine. Whatever the reasons, though, we can assume that the number of asymptomatic infections is an underestimate.

But didn’t they tell us that the vaccines were 100% effective against severe Covid? Yup, they did, and they weren’t lying to us. The odds of a fully vaccinated person getting a severe infection are so small that the sample would’ve had to be insanely large for a case to have surfaced. The people who ran the trial gave us the numbers they had. As real-world information comes in, those numbers change. That’s the annoying thing about the real world. Every so often, it doesn’t line up with our predictions.

I get a rightwing newsletter in my inbox every so often–it’s been interesting so I don’t unsubscribe, although I’m not the person they have in mind–and it’s fond of reporting on cases of people catching Covid after being vaccinated. The tone leans heavily toward See? We told you it didn’t work. If I could, I’d compare that 0.0001% of breakthrough infections with the percentage of unvaccinated people who catch Covid in the US, but we’ll need a person with some minimal mathematical competence to work it out. I asked Lord Google but he was in one of his moods. If you’d like percentages on many unrelated things, I can point you in the right direction. 

The conclusion, if you want one to put in your pocket and take it home, is that the vaccines aren’t 110% effective and we still need to be careful, but we can let go of the anxiety. The numbers are on our side here and the anxiety isn’t helping anyway.

There’s nothing like someone telling you not to be anxious to make you less anxious, is there?

The additional conclusion is, keep the mask. Even if you’re vaccinated, you can still spread the disease. You’re less likely to–if you have an asymptomatic case you’re likely to have a lower viral load–but you can still do some damage. Other people share this world with us. Try not to do them any more harm than you can help.

 

What’s the story on vaccines and blood clots?

The two vaccines that have been linked to very rare incidents of blood clots are based on a single technology–one they share with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Basically, they take an adenovirus–that’s a virus that causes colds–deactivate it, and turn it into a chariot for the vaccine to ride in on.

Vaccines are hopelessly vain. They can’t resist a grand entrance. Horses, polished metal catching the sun, noise, dust, cameras. 

The clotting problem seems–and we’re still at the stage of seems–to be related to that damn chariot. 

The clots happen in veins in the brain, in the abdomen, and in arteries, and at the same time the person’s level of blood platelets fall, and those platelets are the beasties that help our blood clot. We end up with blood clots happening at the same time as hemorrhages, which in everyday English means bleeding. That’s kind of like an elevator going up and down at the same time. 

Normally, you’d pour an anticoagulant called heparin into a person with a blood clot forming in scary places, but when you pair the clots with hemorrhages, you can’t do that.

What are the signs that a person’s getting a serious reaction to one of the vaccines? Severe headaches, abdominal or leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination.

Every article about this says the clots are very rare. 

How rare is very rare? Last I checked, 222 cases had been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and Britain, along with 18 deaths. That’s out of 34 million people who’ve gotten the vaccine. Most of those were in women who were–okay, not young but under 60, which looks younger all the time. In the US, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been linked to 6 cases out of 6.8 million people who were vaccinated with it.

So how rare are the clotting problems? About the same as the chance of being struck by lighting in the UK in any year you choose. And that’s in a country that, by comparison with the American Midwest, doesn’t get a hell of a lot of lightning.

The risk of Covid, though, is no small thing. 

And if you’re inclined to roll the dice by going unvaccinated, the risk of having a blood clot after a bout of Covid is 8 times higher than after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. The risk of clots after Covid is 100 times higher than after a normal infection.

 

Covid immunity and prior infections

And vaguely related to that is the news that having had Covid doesn’t give young people full protection from another bout of it. That’s from a study of 3,000 healthy U.S. Marines who were between 18 and 20 years old and unless the regulations have changed since last I looked had radically and irrelevantly short hair.

Even though the marines had antibodies, they didn’t have the level of protection that the vaccine offers: 10% got reinfected. That compares with 50% who hadn’t had an earlier infection, although in the previously infected group 84% of the infections  were asymptomatic or mild compared to 68% in the previously uninfected group.

The numbers of infections and reinfections were higher than would be likely outside of a military base because of the cramped living conditions and close contact.

The advice to people who’ve recovered from Covid is to boost your immunity with a vaccine.

Why the royals didn’t wear uniforms at Phil’s funeral

The BBC overdid its coverage of Prince Philip’s death so massively that it received a record 110,000 complaints. Enough many shows went off the air that I started to wonder if there’d been a coup.

For the funeral, they decided to be more moderate. I’d report on what was left on the air but I wasn’t watching. Sorry. I can’t do daytime TV, even in the name of research.

I also don’t do royal-watching, but I’ll make a brief exception. The word came down ahead of time that William and Harry wouldn’t walk next to each other in the procession. You know what it’s like when the kids are both in the back seat. It starts out well enough, but then they’re arguing about who reached across the imaginary line between them, escalates to who poked who, and the next thing you know they’re throwing ice cream at each other.

The brothers–watch the procession as many times as you like if you don’t believe me–were not allowed to carry ice cream.

Not only that, no one in the family was allowed to wear uniforms, which is interesting, because the royal family does seem to enjoy playing dress up, and they all have honorary military titles to match their clothes. Except Harry, who had to give up his honorary titles when he left the family business, although he has a less impressive one left over from when he actually served in the armed forces. Andrew, who (mysteriously) is still in the family business, was insisting on his right to wear an admiral’s uniform. And stand in the prow of a ship. That was to be towed along a street flooded to a depth of–

Ellen, stop. Somebody’s going to think you’re serious. But he did want to wear an admiral’s uniform. I’d love to know who leaked that glorious bit of gossip.

Irrelevant photo: Osteospermum–probably.

 

Fake journalist makes real news

An online gamer called Kacey Montagu infiltrated the White House press corps, claiming to work for a nonexistent news outlet, White House News, or WHN. Or alternatively for the Daily Mail, which does exist but which she didn’t work for. 

But it’s not just WHN that doesn’t exist. Neither does Kacey Montagu.

What she–and let’s call himherthem a she, since herhistheir persona is female–did was relay questions to the press secretary via other reporters. That isn’t unusual in these pandemic days. The usual 49 seats in the briefing room have been whittled down to 14, so any number of real reporters can’t be in the room, and the ones who are regularly relay questions from colleagues.

Montagu became visible in December, setting up a couple of Twitter accounts, and her tweets were useful enough (even if they do sound pretty bland) that she gathered a serious political following. 

She was finally unmasked by Mediaite, a website that focuses on politics and the media, and it was her success that did her in. She asked a question about Biden’s relationship with Obama that another reporter followed up on. It wasn’t your most incisive question, but there’s no predicting what’ll grab people’s interest. Or what’ll lead to your downfall. 

What Mediaite found was that Kacey Montagu was, as they put it, “a gag persona for a former Secretary of State made of Legos.” 

That needs translating, doesn’t it? 

Montagu was active on ROBLOX, an online global gaming platform where users call themselves Legos. Which in case you’re not laughing is a joke. 

I didn’t laugh either. Even after I found out it was a joke. The best I could manage was to frown and shake my head. 

Somewhere on the platform is a role-playing group called nUSA–a mock U.S. government. 

I know. People do this to entertain themselves. I’ll never understand our species.

Montagu was the secretary of state at one point but resigned because ”the President went to war with some U.K. and I thought it was a pretty bad idea!”

From this we can deduce that she’s principled if not grammatically gifted.

So who is this person? She’s been careful enough not to leave a electronic trail that leads to the person behind the persona, so no one’s sure. She told one set of people that she was an 18-year-old law student from the United Kingdom who was born in the U.S. and moved to Britain at six. That six is an age, not a time of day. She told another that she was studying political science and wasn’t motivated by politics but was socially liberal and conservative on economic issues.

People who know her online are skeptical about most of that. What they’re sure of is that she bragged online about passing herself off as a reporter.

She did say “I love journalism, and I think the Press Corps is doing a pretty bad job at the moment, so I decided I would ensure some transparency and ask some questions me and some friends wanted the answer to.” 

Because what’s more transparent than passing yourself off as someone else and claiming to work for a media outlet that doesn’t exist, and what’s more incisive than asking about Biden’s friendship with Obama? Talk about your burning issues.

 

Cake and gnome stories

Britain’s caterpillar cake wars have begun.

Britain’s what?

Well, store A, which we’ll call Marks & Spencer, since that’s what everyone else calls it, sells a cake called Colin the Caterpillar. It’s chocolate and cartoonishly caterpillarish. And since M & S is known for high-end food, it got huffy when it found that store B, which we’ll call Aldi and which is known for discount food, started selling a cheaper cake called Cuthbert the Caterpillar, which is also chocolate and cartoonishly caterpillarish and looks similarish. 

So everybody’s going to court, where the lawyers will wear wigs and look cartoonishly British-lawyerish, although, disappointingly, they will not emerge from a chrysalis to show off their wings and fly.

You needed to know about this.

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In the meantime, Britain is suffering through a shortage of garden gnomes. Also of garden furniture, but it’s the gnome shortage that really hurts. The problem is due to a tragic combination of Brexit, Covid, and a hangover from the Suez Canal blockage. 

I don’t know what’s going to happen to this country, but it’s getting serious over here.

Send gnomes.