Thursday, March 04, 2021

Panic revisited

 One year ago the great toilet paper panic began in the UK. Australia had already seen extraordinary scenes of shoppers overloading their trolleys, now it spread here. Our social media had pictures of empty shelves and the inevitable comments "What is wrong with people", and the heart-wrenching images of health workers unable to find food, after a very long day's work grappling with the first of the corona virus victims, were about to make headlines.

There was nothing "wrong" with people - that's the trouble. For individuals to try to protect their own position at a time of great uncertainty is rational. The problem is that what works for some does not work when everybody does the same, as economists have known for a long time whilst studying the workings of markets. I am currently reading a book about the South Sea Bubble of 1720, an amazing time in English history, when sophisticated financial products were snapped up by the upper and middle classes on the grounds that if someone else was doing it, then it must be the right thing to do. As with Bitcoin today, the rationale is always that there is no risk because you can sell out, when necessary, to others willing to buy. The notion that there might be nobody willing to buy, because everybody is aware that it is time to sell, always comes too late.

Anyway, those days of queues and rumour seem a very long time ago. We shopped this morning as normal, and the shelves were full and all was placid. Everybody was wearing masks and making spaces for others as they passed in the aisles; other than that one could barely distinguish the scene from that of normal times. Even the traffic around beautiful Ruislip was about as busy as it used to be.

We have reached a key moment in the vaccination campaign. Everyone over the age of 65 has been vaccinated, bar those who do not wish it or for whom it is not advised. This has been the main group of those admitted to hospital with severe breathing difficulties. The risk of the health services being unable to cope with those needing emergency treatment has therefore receded and continues to diminish.

Next week schools go back and then we face an agonising time to see if this pushes the infection rate back up to dangerous levels; if not, then the rest of the return to normality can continue.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021


 At a time when our news is dominated by stories of people receiving vaccination against covid-19, why should this column be different? Let it be herein recorded that last week, not only did I extend a bare arm to the ministrations of a very nice young lady in a local pharmacy, but Mrs Commuter had a similar experience in the local Youth Centre.

We had both been wondering when our turn would come. Curiously, whilst I received both a letter from the NHS and a text from my GP, the wife got only the second. Which is why we were treated at different locations.  

Within a day or so we were told that the vaccine we had both been given, the Astra Zeneca version, was not suitable for people of our age group, was ineffective against a new South African strain, might need to be boosted in the autumn, might be better if the second shot due in 12 weeks was the Pfizer vaccine ... but it's OK folks, really, because world-renowned virologist and medical researcher B. Johnson (also our local MP and Prime Minister) opines that it's all going to be fine. 

Not that it will make much difference. Until the level of infections is really very small (much below today's figure of some 12,000 new cases) our lifestyle will remain as it has been for the past 11 months - avoiding contact with people and staying almost entirely at home.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A Fitting Legacy

 I met a traveller from the New World,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand near a long abandoned golf course. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And sneering lip, and bulging cheeks
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
that filled and corrupted his subject's mind.
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
'I am the greatest President
My reign shall last 1000 years and my name be for ever remembered!'
But no name is there inscribed and none can say
Who this puffed and bloated boaster was.
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The bunkers and the ruined greens stretch far away.”

With thanks to Percy Bysshe Shelley, author of 'Ozymandias'