Boris Johnson’s minders, & other pandemic and Black Lives Matter news from Britain

Somebody in government let the prime minister out on his own and before anyone could shut him down he’d blamed care homes for the nearly 20,000 Covid-19 deaths on their premises.

“Too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way they could have,” Boris Johnson said. 

All the predictable hell broke loose, along with reminders that: Care homes hadn’t been able to get protective gear. What guidelines they were given were unclear. They couldn’t get either staff or patients tested for the virus. Agency staff–that’s British for temporary workers–spread infections between homes because (guess what) they couldn’t get tested. The government rejected a proposal to lock down care homes before the infection entered. 

And did I mention that 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes without being tested?

Sorry, I meant to mention it. It’s a detail. It slipped my mind.

As soon as Johnson was bundled back out of sight, a government spokesperson said, “The PM was pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at that time.”

Which sounds almost exactly like what Johnson said if you took away his words and replaced them with other, more coherent words on a slightly different subject.

FYI: Asymptomatic transmission was known at that time, and at several other times, but let’s not pretend we’re talking about reality here.

Johnson’s minders are under strict instructions not to let him wander loose that way, but you know what it’s like. They can’t keep an eye on him every minute of every day. And he is the prime minister, so he gets to give the orders, at least when Dominic Cummings is out of the office.

They don’t have an easy job.


Irrelevant photo: a red hot poker.Not an actual one, you understand. A flower by that name.

The health minister has said that in all but  “certain circumstances” the government will be scrapping free parking for National Health Service staff members once the pandemic eases. No one’s told us yet what he really meant to say, but the shit is flying thick and fast. By tomorrow, someone should step in to explain that he really meant there’s been some concern about people parking on the white lines that divide their spaces and would they please exercise a bit more care.

Clapping for NHS workers, which the top government ministers did dutifully on many a Thursday, doesn’t cost anything, but it did have an unfortunately way of focusing the nation’s attention on NHS staff. And the next thing you know, people are looking asking why it’s been so long since they got a pay raise. And why they were charged for parking in the first place? 

It’s not easy, placating an entire country.


The committee of the Morris Federation–an organization of morris dancing groups–has written to its members calling for a halt to the use of blackface.

One strand of morris dancing has a tradition of appearing in blackface. No one’s sure when or how that started, and some dancers argue that it isn’t racist, it came out of the dancers’ need to disguise themselves. Other dancers have stopped arguing about origins and dropped it.

The committee writes:

Our traditions do not operate in a vacuum. . . . We must recognise that full-face black or other skin tone makeup is a practice that has the potential to cause deep hurt.

“Morris is a living tradition and it is right that it has always adapted and evolved to reflect society. . . .  We welcome the fact that many long-standing teams who used to wear full-face black makeup have chosen to use masks, alternative colours, or other forms of disguise.  We now believe we must take further steps to ensure the continued relevance and inclusivity of the tradition.”

They’ll be asking the group’s annual general meeting not to renew the membership of teams that continue to use blackface.

An annual general meeting? It’s a British thing. All you have to do is say AGM and everyone will know what you mean. It’s an–um, well, it’s complicated. It’s a general meeting. Held annually. And you have to have one or your right to call yourself an organization will be revoked. That’s enforced, with no mercy and no appeal, by the laws of physics, a handful of which apply only in Britain.

My thanks to @amuddleofmorris for keeping me up to date on this. 


I keep promising myself that I won’t report on coronavirus studies, possibilities, and assorted carrots dangling in front of us as we look for a way out of the hall of Covid mirrors. Most of them will come to nothing. That too is enforced, with no appeal, by the laws of physics. 

They’re ruthless bastards, those laws of physics.

Then I see a mention of another promising study or three and I break my promise. Because promises aren’t governed by law. And because we all need shreds of hope as we stumble through, bumping our noses into exits that turn out to be more damn mirrors.

So, here’s what I’ve found. I don’t promise that any of them will ultimately work, but they might. They just might.

1. A proposal to try the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine against the coronavirus in the hope that it will reduce lung inflammation and sepsis, two of the body’s most dangerous responses to the disease.

2. A synthetic antibody that may be able to neutralize Covid-19, both preventing any initial infection and helping people who’ve become infected to recover. Basically, it works as a decoy, drawing virus particles away from cells that could become infected. It was developed in mouse models. 

Mouse models? They’re improbably good-looking mice. The scientists give them the drug and photographers take pictures.

The less than great news is that if it works it would have to be injected into the bloodstream every two to four weeks.

They’re working toward human trials.

3. A test of canakinumab, a drug no one can pronounce that’s used to treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It damps down the body’s immune response and could prevent the cytokine storm–the immune overreaction–that occurs in some severe cases.

I was going to say it works by being so hard to pronounce that the disease goes into a state of paralysis, but I was afraid someone would believe me.


Madrid’s Teatro Real became the first European theater to stage a live production (as far as I know, which isn’t all that far; it’s a big continent) since the continent locked down. That doesn’t include the concert that was staged in Barcelona for an audience of live plants. That one’s in a category of its own. 

The Madrid production was Verdi’s La Traviata.

How’d they do it? They doubled the size of the orchestra pit so the musicians could keep a safe (we hope) distance from each other. The intermission lasted forty minutes so everything could be disinfected. The conductor was behind a plastic screen. The production was semi-staged, presumably to keep the singers at a distance from each other. And the audience wore masks and was half the usual size.

The production opened with a moment of silence for the victims of the virus and a statement from journalist Iñaki Gabilondo: “Nothing is simple now, including being here tonight. “ 

My thanks to Max Burrows for sending me a link to this article.


If you’re still holding out for herd immunity to protect us from Covid-19, prepare to accept a lot of dead bodies and damaged survivors along the way, because we’re nowhere close. A large study in Spain, which was hit hard by the virus, found that only 5.2% of the population has antibodies. The standard estimate is that 60% would need antibodies before you could talk about herd immunity.

If–and it’s a big if–anyone develops immunity to the virus. That hasn’t been established. We may, we may not. 


A group of 239 scientists from 32 countries urged the World Health Organization to give more emphasis to the use of masks and to acknowledge that the virus is spread not just by the big droplets we breathe out but by the aerosols we breathe out along with them–those tiny, near-weightless bits of breath that surf the air currents more gracefully (and more to the point, for longer) than their clunky droplet cousins.

WHO seems to be taking it on board. Its latest statement says there’s emerging evidence of aerosol transmission but it’s not definitive.

If the 239 scientists are right, it means that we may need to do more than keep two (or one, or however many) meters (or yards) apart. It means that especially in crowded, badly ventilated space, we need masks. 

Yeah, you too, cowboy. 

And there’s some evidence that wearing a mask does give the wearer a bit of protection. Which is a bit better than no protection.


York Minster’s been the center of a debate over whether a statue of a Roman emperor, Constantine, should be removed because of his support of slavery. Two newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, have run articles. Comedians and politicians have tweeted in the statue’s defense. It’s Black Lives Matter gone insane, they say.

The only problem is that no one proposed getting rid of it.

“We have not received a single complaint about Emperor Constantine’s statue,” a minster spokesperson said. “Nothing is happening: there is no discussion, action, intention or even thoughts about it.”

It’s disappointing. Just when you get a good lungful of outrage going–


That’s it for the moment. Stay well. I don’t have so many readers that any of you are expendable. 

78 thoughts on “Boris Johnson’s minders, & other pandemic and Black Lives Matter news from Britain

  1. “That’s enforced, with no mercy and no appeal, by the laws of physics, a handful of which apply only in Britain.” Still laughing.

    WRT Constantine statue, a friend in Israel sent me this: “Well, I’m off to knock down the pyramids, because Egyptians had slaves 5,000 years ago. Wish me luck!”

    Liked by 4 people

  2. If there was an audio feature on the comments I would demonstrate how easy I find the pronunciation of canakinumab, but there isn’t so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m absolutely happy to take your word for it. Especially since if there was an audio feature I probably wouldn’t hear it anyway. I generally work with the audio muted so those stupid videos people put on social media won’t break into song, noise, and general loud annoyance without asking first if I want to hear them.

      I don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t heard about that one, but a Scotsman article does an interesting job of looking for the motivation. They quote I’m not sure who (I’m working too quickly here; sorry) as saying it was probably his involvement in the campaign against the Moors in Spain. ” ‘While the religious motivations behind the actions of the Douglas party were obvious, they should not be used to obscure the racial element of the conflict that Scots were involving themselves with,’ the statement added.”

      So obscure, but not entirely off the walls.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Scotsman” is very clever in finding a connection between Robert the Bruce and racism. Robert the Bruce died a couple of hundred years before the trade in black slaves started. In his era the main slave traders were Barbary pirates who captured and sold thousands of coastal living Europeans to the Arabs, I presume Muslims. After his death his heart it is claimed was taken on a crusade. That’s what the historical account claims but I find this claim suspect. To my knowledge the not quite ancient Scots did not embalm their dead. Soft tissue (sorry for being gruesome but it is necessary) does not last long. But no doubt a great piece of self-aggrandisement at the time. If Robert the Bruce is to be held responsible for what people did with bits of his carcass after his death I think we all need to be a bit more careful how our bodies are disposed. No organ transplants ( the Brit state now owns your body after death unless you opt out but they are not stepping up to pay your funeral expenses). I should be safe. I’ve opted for cremation.

        Liked by 3 people

    • Oh, I’m a sucker for an irrelevant question.

      I don’t really. I learned the names of the more common wildflowers here because I was overwhelmed by how many there were and I couldn’t hold them in my head without names. I tried remembering them as little white flower, bigger white flower, even bigger than that white flower. It didn’t work. So I taught myself a few. I can’t often get closer than the generic name, so I know it’s speedwell, but is it slender speedwell, field speedwell, hairy speedwell, bad haircut speedwell? (I just might be making up the names there. I gave up on the speedwells long ago.) As for the stuff we plant, I remember some of the names and lose some of the others–especially the Latin ones.


  3. ‘.. we all need shreds of hope as we stumble through, bumping our noses into exits that turn out to be more damn mirrors’. Your pearls just keep coming, Ellen.
    Speaking of mirrors, statues reflect many things, including the culture of the times, the worship of individuals and sometimes even the celebration of goodness in the world. I’m not a fan of re-writing history; I’d much prefer people read about it and think about it and talk about it. Statue? No, it’s me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Whew ! Us ailurophiles over here were relieved to find that the Morris Association had to do with Morris Dancing – not one of our favorite orange spokescats

    It is especially good someone was able to corral your PM. Over here Dear Leader and his Education Secretary (whose brother is/was an important member of Blackwater) have decreed EVERYONE will go back to school FULL TIME. .No distance learning, and certainly no government $$ to help, because Ed Sec DeVos is a big proponent of charter schools, and of diverting money to them from public schools. (In the US public schools are – wait for it – public schools.). Some reporters are questioning if the schools attended by Dear Leader’s youngest son, and the offspring of Jarvanka, will be affected by this. Stay tuned,

    And in perhaps the saddest fallout from the impeachment :

    Col Vindman’s father – an immigrant from behind the Iron Curtain – was afraid his testimony would cause his son trouble, and Vindman had assured him – during his testimony – that this would not be a problem because “this is America, and right matters.”
    Most of this crappola just makes me furious. This (along with several thousand deaths) just makes me want to cry.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Other than “yeah,” I just don’t know what to say.

      I know. It happens.

      Funny, though, that an ed. sec. who supports home schooling wants to round everyone up and chase them back to school.


  5. I have severe Rheumatoid Arthritis (I’m wheelchair-bound), the many times I have heard a drug effective in its treatment that may somehow help control or be an effective anti-Covid 19 prescription I drag out my pill box to search if it is one of my prescriptions. No luck yet but it makes me wonder how many others do the same. Your blog is a favorite of mine, English humor with a Yankee understanding, you have it down.

    Liked by 2 people

          • Well, I am having my first attempt at a novel edited right now (first chapter looks like someone bled all over it. Apparently I “head hop” a great deal. Go figure. Maybe, just maybe, though, I could do better with “On the Catwalk: The Perils of Mouse Modeling”

            Liked by 2 people

            • You never know till you try.

              The head-hopping thing–yeah, a lot of people do it, especially at the start. If it helps, keep in mind that every time you shift point of view from one person to another, you lose a bit of momentum and scatter the reader’s attention. If the novel really demands more than one p.o.v. (and fewer of them demand it than writers think) the easiest way to handle it is by changing only when you start a new chapter.

              Sorry–you didn’t ask for advice. I’ll shut up now.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I appreciate the advice! You’d think, as an avid reader I’d just know some things. Apparently I didn’t fully absorb that rule. My head hopping slips were very minor, and sort of under the radar, but once they were pointed out to me it’s like, “whoa! Didn’t even realize I’d done that!”

                Liked by 2 people

              • I had very much the same experience. A lot of people do when they first write fiction. And–okay, I don’t like War and Peace and never did finish it, but Tolstoy’s practically been sainted, and he head hops all over the place. So you can find lots of sanctified writers doing it.

                Liked by 1 person

              • I recently read a book that I enjoyed so much, but I kept telling my husband about how often the point of view shifted—often from paragraph to paragraph. The author carried it off beautifully, (and now I can’t remember what the book was), but I did spend some time musing over it as I was reading. Definitely a distraction.

                Liked by 2 people

  6. I thought of you when I saw the Morris Federation announcement :-) I thought they had been sneakily reading out comments and taken note!

    I still have a few friends in Morrisland and they are in Morris facebook groups, there seems to be an unfortunate racist contingent who are outraged by the anti blackface announcement, luckily none of my friends are in this contingent to my knowledge… I left the groups a long time ago, otherwise I would be in a lot of arguments about now!

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve never associated Morris dancers with actual blackface (even though I vaguely assumed “Morris” was some corruption from “Moorish”, though how and why that was adopted, and with what associations, I don’t know): IME it’s flowery hats, bells round their ankles and somewhat alarming clashing of stout sticks. There might be a comedy horse and/or a Green Man somewhere in the offing as well, maybe some faint echo of the crusades, so that’s sensitive to some.

        There is a curious tradition of blackface in some less rural customs, which are probably much less (pseudo?) mediaeval in origin, maybe from the height of the assumptions of the industrial/imperial era (and therefore racist to the extent that it was considered amusing to dress up as a parody of the “exotic”, to put it at its mildest). You might want to look up the Bacup Britannia Coconutters, if only for the name (if you haven’t already done so).

        Liked by 2 people

        • That’s mostly my experience of morris dancers as well, although a few troupes I’ve seen have given up the white costumes for black ones and gone full Goth. I’m not sure what it means, but I kind of like it just for the sake of flying in the face of tradition. Locally, there’s a festival in Padstow that involves blackface and argues that it isn’t racist. Isn’t it lovely that no one’s racist anymore? It’s coming under increasing pressure–as well it should.


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