Bunnies, scotch eggs, and religions: England greets the pandemic

No set of guidelines is so perfect that someone, somewhere won’t see a loophole and someone else won’t see a joke. A bar in Nottingham sees both. 

As usual, we need some background before we go on. Remember how Julius Caesar divided all of Gaul into three parts? No? Well, I was kind of young back then, but I swear no one talked about anything else for months. And here we are a couple of thousand years later with all Britain divided three tiers.

It’s so exciting. We’re following the example of the Roman Empire. We haven’t elected a horse to Parliament yet, so we may not follow every detail, but we haven’t ruled it out yet.

But back to the bar: Britain’s just come out of a lockdown and the tiers are about how many Covid cases each area has. If you have more cases, you have more restrictions, and if you have more restrictions, you have a higher tier number.

Nottingham is in tier three. That means that bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, and social clubs are closed “except for takeaway, delivery and click and collect services.”

Bowling alleys, casinos, and movies (not being able to do click and collect) are also closed, along with everything else you can think of that’s fun (or that someone you know thinks is fun even if  you don’t) and indoors and a handy place to trade viruses. So are some things that are outdoors, and I have no idea what the logic there is.

Irrelevant photo: A something plant. We got it last year and whatever is it, it survived the last winter. I’m hoping it’ll make it through another.

Places of worship are open, along with hairdressers, massage parlors, tattoo parlors, gyms, and a few other things that don’t like to be seen rubbing shoulders in a single category.

So what’s an enterprising bar to do? A tequila and mezcal bar called 400 Rabbits has applied to be recognized as the Church of the 400 Rabbits. Its website says:

“Join us as we begin our journey to answer absolutely none of life’s big questions. Such questions as why are we here, what’s the meaning of life, why didn’t they just fly the eagles to mordor and why did dominos stop making the double decadence pizza base?!

“Our aim is simple, to offer a place of worship to our deity the mezcal bunny. A place where you can drink mezcal without having to order a carvery dinner alongside it, a place where you aren’t kicked out into the cold heartless night at 10pm, a place where you can get away from the busy gyms, supermarkets, shops, beauty salons, massage parlours, cinemas, theatres, sports venues, xmas markets, schools, universities, betting shops and literally everywhere else that will be allowed to remain open while pubs and bars will remain shut.”

[I think their list’s of what’s allowed to stay open is off a bit, but let’s not quibble.]

“Our application to be recognised as an official place of worship and open our doors has been submitted to the registrar general. You can support our application by joining our congregation. Choose to be a ‘Bunny Believer’ or become ordained as a ‘Reverend of the Righteous Rabbits’ by signing up below.”

Membership costs £10 and gets you a T-shirt and an invitation to attend worship “if our application is granted (it definitely won’t be).”

The money will go to the Emmanuel House Support Centre, which works with the homeless.

How do you become recognized as a religion in Britain? It’s not easy, because England doesn’t have a central register of religions or any way to formally recognize one. (I think that’s true of the rest of the country but I’m not sure–sorry.)

What it does have, though, is a handy Form for Certifying a Place of Meeting for Religious Worship under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, and that’s what the bar owner is working with. The form asks about the building you’ll be using, the faith and denomination of the congregation, and whether it meets regularly for worship (“daily until late,” the 400 Rabbits wrote). That seems to be about it.

Given that the government hasn’t put itself in the business of deciding on any religion’s legitimacy, I don’t know if they’ll have any grounds to turn down the Church of the 400 Rabbits. 

The church is also on Facebook, and its page says, “We’ve had an absoloutely [nobody ever claimed rabbits could spell] overwhelming response to the church with hundreds of sign ups to the congregation from all over the world, from Kazakhstan to New Zealand, Russia and the USA and of course right here at home. And that’s before we’ve even officially launched the site!

“. . . Thanks to everyone for showing your support and helping us highlight the plight of hospitality businesses under the government’s batshit new tier restrictions!

“Now i’m off to have a hearty scotch egg for dinner!

“Praise be the bunnies.

I’m pretty sure I’d disagree with the owner–James Aspell–about opening bars in the middle of a pandemic, but he’s damn funny. Even if he and his rabbits can’t spell. 

 

What’s this about scotch eggs?

I wrote about this before, but hey, this is important, so let’s come back to it. The government’s tying itself in knots over scotch eggs (which, it turns out, don’t take a capital S) and the definition of a substantial meal. The definition matters because a pub can sell alcohol to anyone buying a substantial meal. But all a government has to do is tell that to the press (or the pubs) and they’ll start asking what a substantial meal is. Is it a scotch egg? A ham sandwich? A sausage roll?

The environment secretary said a scotch egg would qualify if the pub had table service. 

Then the prime minister’s spokesperson said the government wasn’t going to get into the definition of every possible meal.

Then the minister for the cabinet office, Michael Gove, said scotch eggs would make a starter but not a meal, and after that he backtracked and said they were a substantial meal. He also said the government was relying on people’s common sense.

That’s safe enough. They’re not using much, so there’s plenty left for the rest of the country.

This came up before, in October, when the housing secretary said a pasty was a substantial meal if it came with side dishes, and also when the Manchester police stopped a pizzeria called Common from selling single slices, although Common argued that the slices were “f*****ng massive.”

Full disclosure: That may have been the Manchester Evening News, not the restaurant, being coy about spelling out fucking. Or it could have been the rabbits, although I wouldn’t expect them to be coy about that.

The police, someone from Common said, told them the slices “don’t fit the substantial food brief,” but ”couldn’t tell [them] what substantial food was.”

All this matters because businesses face a £10,000 fine if they sell someone alcohol without a substantial meal. That’s enough money to focus your attention on exactly what a substantial meal is. Common is now serving only whole pizzas. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t started a religion, although I just might join one that prayed for pizza.

 

Politicians and hungry kids: it’s the pandemic news from Britain

After refusing to find common ground with Manchester’s political leadership over money to support workers and businesses devastated by a local lockdown, the government announced a new package of support for businesses and workers devastated by local lockdowns. 

Andy Burnham, Manchester’s mayor, said it was what he’d been pushing for all along

So why did the government let the talks blow up before agreeing to provide support? So it can say, “Nyah, nyah, we win.” The government can now claim that it was their idea all along and that they’ve forgotten where Manchester is anyway.

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Irrelevant photo: Starlings in the neighbors’ tree. They gather in large flocks in the fall and winter. The Scandinavian starlings spend their winters here. The ones that spend the summer here head south in the winter. Go figure.

This might be an appropriate time to talk about sewage

No, that wasn’t an editorial comment. I am so politically neutral that I can’t even see myself in a mirror. 

Ninety sewage treatment sites in England, Wales, and Scotland are starting to test for Covid. A pilot program in Plymouth spotted an outbreak that was clustered around some asymptomatic cases well before the test and trace system spotted it.

Admittedly, the test and trace system couldn’t spot a Covid-infected camel if it crashed  through the Serco board room with a nickelodeon on its back playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but the point is that the sewage folks spotted the outbreak at an early stage. They’d have no problem spotting a camel either. 

The nickelodeon might be more of a problem. It needs a different set of reagents and an entirely different testing protocol.

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Having finally noticed that the test and trace system not only isn’t working but that the percentage of people it contacts has fallen, the government placed an ad for someone with a track record of “turning around failing call centres.” 

The job pays £2,000 a day. And as I often have to remind you, in a pinch a person can live on that.

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When I was looking for details on the program to support workers and businesses devastated by etc., I thought I could save myself a few keystrokes by just typing in the chancellor’s last name, Sunak. Auto-complete took what I’d written and supplied “flip-flops.” I was delighted: Sunak and Johnson had both flip-flopped on support for etc, and here Lord Google was writing an editorial for me. 

I followed Lord G.’s editorial to pictures of physical flip-flops–those plastic sandals you can slip your feet into without having to fasten anything. Turns out I’d flip-flopped a couple of letters and typed “Sanuk,” a brand of flip-flop that cost anywhere between £20 and £55. 

I remember when flip-flops were cheap. Of course, I remember when gas (or petrol if you speak British) was $0.29 a gallon. I also remember when I was nineteen, and it was a shockingly long time ago. 

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After rising for seven weeks, the number of Covid cases in England looks like it’s stopped rising. Hospitalizations always tag along behind, kind of like a pesky younger brother, so they’re still going up.

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An Australian company is working on a Covid test based on saliva–no swabs involved–that reports back in fifteen minutes and uses a hand-held device. That doesn’t necessarily mean the device is cheap–the article didn’t say what it costs–but it does mean you don’t need an entire lab for the test, so there ought to be some savings in there somewhere.

Of course, in Britain, we’ll have to contract with an outsourcing company to bring it into the country, and that should add a few million to the cost, if they get it here at all. But hey, what’s a few million pounds between friends? After all, Parliament just voted not to give low-income families £15 per kid over the school holidays so the kids wouldn’t go hungry. We might as well spend that money somewhere. 

The tests themselves work out to about $25 each, although to get a more exact figure I expect you’d have to do some sort of mathematical gymnastics involving the cost of the hand-held gizmo and the number of tests you’re going to do on each one. 

The bad news is that the system’s still being tested, but the hope is that it’ll detect the virus when people haven’t  yet shown any symptoms but are already contagious. The current tests are most effective after symptoms have started, meaning they give a lot of false negatives.

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After Parliament voted not to give families that £15 per low-income kid over the school holidays, cafes, restaurants, and local governments stepped in to help fill the gap.

The issue of kids going hungry was raised by a football player, Marcus Rashford, who learned enough about hunger as a kid to qualify as an expert. He shamed the government into creating a program over the summer, but the thing about eating is that having done it once doesn’t keep you from needing to do it again.

Reacting to businesses stepping in to help, Rashford said, “Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.

“I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.”

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, “declined to welcome the offers of assistance,” as one paper put it. I assume some reporter gave him the opportunity just to see if he would. But hell, if these kids wanted to eat over the holidays, they should’ve had the foresight to get themselves born into better-off families, the way he did.

Arguing against spending the money on kids, MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said, “I do not believe in nationalising children.

“Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility and this means less virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

Like low pay, possibly? Or a lack of jobs? 

Nah, it’s got to be personal irresponsibility.

The government’s decision is particularly grotesque since it spent over £522 million on a summer program to tempt people back into cafes and restaurants, but only if they could afford to pay half the cost. And MPs are expected to get a £3,000 raise.