Through a glass darkly

Bouquets and Brickbats

A friend wrote to Susie to say that she heard I was blogging ‘to make sense of this COVID pandemic’. That’s not true. I am not able to offer a synoptic view. But, as we move into Week Five of the great lock-down, inspired by Piers Moron of the Daily Mail {probably the first time that phrase has been used in the English language ever, by anyone], here are my awards for inspirational behaviour over the past few weeks. And also a few, all too predictable, brickbats for people who have done stupid or shoddy things. Let’s take that latter group first and get them out of the way. Apologies to both my overseas readers; it is a very British list.

  1. Robert Jenrick

Robert Jenrick has been Tory MP for Newark since 2014. He is apparently the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government [no, I didn’t know before either]. He is, predictably, a commercial lawyer who, according to his website, makes money from advising businesses in London and Moscow. After being wheeled out on the tv as government spokesman to tell people to stay at home, he then drove 150 miles from his London home to his £1.2 million Herefordshire home [apparently that is only two of his three homes]. And he then drove a further 50 miles to visit his parents in Shropshire. And seems to have lied through his teeth when being  questioned about this.  [He claimed to be delivering food and prescriptions which had already been  delivered by their neighbours.] Another cabinet minister who thinks that the rules are only for other people.  I know the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland did something similar. But she resigned the same day as the news broke.

2. Tim Martin

Tim Martin is a British businessman, best known as the founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, a pub chain in Britain and Ireland. He owns 33.7 million shares in that company. He was a prominent Brexiteer, and was photographed with a pre-PM Boris Johnson as they both stood behind a bar pulling pints. He was reportedly £44 million richer after the Tory election win. As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived he fired all his staff, apparently by text message, without apology or compensation. The unspeakable Philip Green of Arcadia did much the same. Shameless behaviour. Deux véritables salauds !

3. Jacob Rees-Mogg

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a pin-striped Tory politician, currently serving as Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council. No-one ever mistook him for a Man of the People. Private Eye refers to him as the ‘MP for the 18th century’ He owns 15% of Somerset Capital Management, which reputedly earned him just over £1 million last year. Mark Asquith, the Fund Boss of Somerset Capital, is telling his investors that they can ‘make a killing out of the pandemic’. More deaths means fatter profits. This is despicable behaviour, even by the standards of the Tory Party and of end phase capitalism.

4. Joggers

I walk round Arthur’s Seat every day, exchanging brief greetings with fellow walkers as we circle round each other. It is a lovely park right on our doorstep. The only menace are lycra-clad joggers of both sexes, who jog past within eighteen inches of my elbow. Invariably they have speakers in their ears making them deaf to any rebuke. And many of them have a strange, self-obsessed look on their faces, as if they are managing an unusually large bowel movement.

5.  President Trump

There’s not much left to say. The USA has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, and a President who is patently out of his depth. His initial response was to worry about his re-election prospects. He then used racist language to label it as “that Chinese virus”. And he then gave his idiot son-in-law specific responsibility for dealing with it. Shades of Caligula and his horse.


1.The staff of the NHS

No quarrels about this. The NHS have been doing a great job, not always helped by shortages of testing kits and of PPE. We have prayed every morning for the past several weeks for the people who work in the NHS; remembering specifically a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law both working at Stoke Mandeville hospital, and a niece who started work as a nurse in Bristol two weeks ago. It has been good to stand and clap on Thursday evenings with the neighbours down our street.  

2.  Sainsbury’s delivery drivers

Lord Sainsbury never struck me as a philanthropist. [Is it true that British supermarkets operate with a substantial higher profit margin than their  equivalents in France or Belgium ?] But Sainsbury’s staff have worked hard throughout the crisis.  We have been grateful for their on-line delivery service and the cheerfulness of their drivers. And I guess that goes for our postmen and a whole lot of other delivery drivers.

3. The Queen

The Queen’s unprecedented broadcast to the nation last week was a perfect example of how to do these things. It was measured, affirmative, concerned, and not too long. She didn’t need to lick her finger to turn the page [Dominic Raab]. Nor did she attempt to deflect difficult questions to someone else [Matt Hancock].But then, as she acknowledged, she has been doing these broadcasts since 1940, since before they were born.

4.  Gareth Malone

Gareth’s afternoon on-line singing lessons have apparently picked up 150,000 followers. He is gifted, enthusiastic, and encouraging. The sessions are a perfect antidote to the government briefings, which go out at much the same time. I’d pick Gareth any day. And Jamie Oliver’s simple cookery recipes which turn up at odd times on Channel Four are equally positive. He too gives you the feeling that you can just got away and do it.

5.  The Titfield Thunderbolt

This bouquet really belongs to the Controller of BBC 2, for scheduling a series of classic Ealing comedies in mid-afternoon in Passion Week. I know the timing was a bit tricky, but that’s why we have the I-Player facility. The pick of the bunch, for me, may have been The Titfield Thunderbolt.

TEB Clarke’s script, about a group of villagers attempting to keep their railway line open after British Rail want to close it down, was apparently  inspired by the story of the Talyllyn Railway in Wales. My maternal grand-father worked for the GWR, and as a child I spent all my school holidays on a small station between Swindon and Kemble Junction.  And some of the scenes were filmed around Freshford and Limpley Stoke, close to where my grand-parents lived in retirement. Watching these elderly steam trains against the Somerset scenery was a great delight.

6.  Emily Maitlis

Emily Maitlis is a television journalist and regular presenter of Newsnight. She seems to be the first person to have disputed publicly the lazy assertion that COVID-19 is something that afflicts us all equally. That we are ‘all in his together’. “They tell us coronavirus is the ‘great leveller’, it’s not, it’s much, much harder if you’re poor…this is a myth which needs debunking,” she commented. “Those who have been on the front line right now, bus drivers, shelf stackers, nurses, care home workers, hospital staff and shopkeepers are disproportionately the lower paid members of our workforce. They are more likely to catch the disease because they are more exposed … …  Those who live in tower blocks and small flats will find the lockdown tougher. Those in manual jobs will be unable to work from home. This is a health issue with huge ramifications for social welfare, and it’s a welfare issue with huge ramifications for public health.”.

7. Jacinta Ardern

Jacinda Ardern is the New Zealand prime minister. It may well be easier to introduce social distancing in that more thinly populated country. But from a long way away it looks as if New Zealand’s elimination strategy, based on rigorous  quarantine testing at the borders, early adoption of social distancing and travel restrictions, and major investment in both testing and contact tracing, has been remarkably successful. The decisive and humane leadership of Ardern seems to have been a key factor in this policy. And she and members of her government are now taking a 25% pay-cut in solidarity with many who have lost their job and their income.

Going forwards

Will the COVID-19 outbreak significantly change our society ? Gloomily Matthew Parris thinks that nothing will change as a result of this pandemic. Peter Frankopan argues that the Black Death was a catalyst for social and economic change; that in the following decades of the fourteenth century urban wages rose, leading to better diets and better general health. It would be good to believe that a similar pattern may emerge. Archbishop Justin Welby has called, in recent days, not only for a different way of being church, but a different way of being society; for a more caring, and a more generous, and a fairer world. I guess that is something we could all be praying for. And perhaps an additional prayer that Boris will pick up a copy of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett;’s book The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone as he and Carrie convalesce in their comfortable second home.

April 2020

Published by europhilevicar

I am a retired vicar living on the south side of Edinburgh. I am a historian manqué, I worked in educational publishing for 20 years, and after ordination worked in churches in the Scottish Borders and then in Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes. I have a lovely and long-suffering wife, two children, and four delightful grand-children

2 thoughts on “Through a glass darkly

  1. What a gallery of portraits! As usual, with a great pinch of salt! Some government members are a bit of an easy target, but it needs to be said.


  2. I know you said it was and Anglo-centric list, but I am gratified that you saved one brickbat for my president.


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