Friday, August 28, 2020

Every four months...

Bumped into an old friend in town yesterday who is certain to have had covid-19 twice (from the same source - a nurse residing in his house). I had to restrain myself from taking a step backwards on hearing this news!

On each occasion he had no truly dramatic symptoms, just a high fever for four days and an inability to taste his wine — though the latter might be considered at least a little severe.
He's roughly my age, not pelón, of appropriate BMI and O+ as far as his blood goes.
He joked that he is due his next round in October, but he might as well start pencilling it in, because my wife's nephew the epidemiologist (employed by a lab in Atlanta), has since confirmed to me that he has seen reliable stateside data — based on the best available testing — that details a significant number of TRIPLE infections.
His view is essentially that we have always known from studies of pre-existing coronaviruses that the human immune response tends to be weak and almost never really long-lasting — and that any opinion to the contrary is wishful thinking.
I'd say there has also been some manipulation of public expectation by the second and fourth estates.

Both the biologist and and the ex-pat in Antigua expect 2021 to be a horrendous year here.

The so-called Oxford vaccine is thought by many to be our best bet, but as it won't stop you getting infected or spreading it to others, even calling it a vaccine is also wishful thinking.

Suppose the borders were to re-open here and this thus permits me to return to the UK to get this jab on the NHS. I'd be improving my own chances of avoiding severe disease in as yet un-confirmed ways. 

But unless the same 'vaccine' were to be rolled out here in Guatemala, locals would have to trust me to continue to behave as if other people's health was as important to me as my own, as I could easily go around as a super-spreader.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sputnik (2020)


The Soviet Union of the 1980s is becoming a sort of cinematic sub-genre of its very own. 

This excellent Russian sci-fi horror might be open to complaints of Ridley Scott derivative-ness, but largely heads them off by virtue of being set within a highly-stylised version of that extraordinary period. 

I say stylised, because here the deliberate drabness occasionally occasionally comes across as rather attractive. 

And the USSR of this period in my own memories is anything but stylish. There were some prime colours around, just in all the wrong places. 

January 30, 1665

...and Samuel Pepys is having some trouble sleeping:

"At this all day, and at night to my office, there to do some business, and being late at it, comes Mercer to me, to tell me that my wife was in bed, and desired me to come home; for they hear, and have, night after night, lately heard noises over their head upon the leads.
"Now it is strange to think how, knowing that I have a great sum of money in my house, this puts me into a most mighty affright, that for more than two hours, I could not almost tell what to do or say, but feared this and that, and remembered that this evening I saw a woman and two men stand suspiciously in the entry, in the darke; I calling to them, they made me only this answer, the woman said that the men came to see her; but who she was I could not tell.
"The truth is, my house is mighty dangerous, having so many ways to be come to; and at my windows, over the stairs, to see who goes up and down; but, if I escape to-night, I will remedy it. God preserve us this night safe!
"So at almost two o'clock, I home to my house, and, in great fear, to bed, thinking every running of a mouse really a thiefe; and so to sleep, very brokenly, all night long, and found all safe in the morning."


Arnhem by Anthony Beevor

Beevor’s latest tome takes on the WWII battle that perhaps fascinates me the most.

For what occurred around that last bridge in September 1944 is forever poised in that uncertain space between heroic British failure and epic British cock-up.

Our lot were left to assign themselves the trickiest bit of the operation with the least logistical support, largely because they dared not run the risk of an American airborne division being wiped out whilst under British command. (The Germans later wrote up a report detailing how the whole air-dropped advance had been back to front.)

That said, the ‘plan’, as such, was flawed on so many levels and Beevor doesn't hold back...

“Many historians, with an ‘if only’ approach to the British defeat, have focused so much on different aspects of Operation Market Garden which went wrong that they have tended to overlook the central element. It was quite simply a very bad plan right from the start and right from the top. Every other problem stemmed from that.

“Montgomery had not shown any interest in the practical problems surrounding airborne operations. He had not taken any time to study the often chaotic experiences of North Africa, Sicily and the drop on the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. Montgomery’s intelligence chief, Brigadier Bill Williams, also pointed to the way that ‘Arnhem depended on a study of the ground [which] Monty had not made when he decided on it.’ In fact he obstinately refused to listen to the Dutch commander-in-chief Prince Bernhard, who had warned him about the impossibility of deploying armoured vehicles off the single raised road on to the low-lying polderland flood plain.

“Yet towering over everything else, and never openly admitted, was the fact that the whole operation depended on everything going right, when it was an unwritten rule of warfare that no plan survives contact with the enemy. This was doubly true of airborne operations.”

Monty’s reputation has certainly taken a a bit of a beating since my schooldays. As an Old Pauline he was quietly venerated in that institution, especially for his role in planning the D-Day landings. One of the key spaces in the school was permanently adorned with an example of the massive Normandy planning maps he’d apparently used.

I’d witnessed his state funeral in Windsor live on TV and was also aware how my uncle had served under him as a ‘desert rat’ in North Africa. Alamein was still seen as a key turning point in the war pre-Pearl Harbour.

But these days there’s no getting around the way he allowed ‘office politics’ to cloud his judgment in the formulation of Market Garden.

Beevor even suggests that part of the problem was that Allied commanders then felt somehow released from the need for extreme care that had preceded the establishment of the beachhead.

So far this is Beevor's most readable bit of wartime history, probably because he appears to be prioritising the narrative elements over the military detail that he has previously been over fond of. In the very first chapter he allows himself the levity of referring to 'A German regiment...' without further ado.

No matter how much one thinks one knows about these events, they retain their inevitable power to shock on re-acquaintance...

"Generalleutnant Walter Dornberger, the Inspector of Long-Range Rocket Troops, was later recorded secretly in a British prisoner-of-war camp speaking of the activities of his colleague SS-Standartenführer Behr. ‘In the Netherlands he made Dutchmen build the sites for the V2,’ Dornberger told fellow officers, ‘then he had them herded together and killed by machinegun fire. He opened brothels for his soldiers with twenty Dutch girls. When they’d been there for two weeks they were shot and new ones brought along, so that they couldn’t divulge anything they might discover from the soldiers."


"Approximately 110,000 Jews out of 140,000 were deported from the Netherlands, and only 6,000 of these survived the war."


Thursday, August 20, 2020


A couple of days ago we received a call with the very sad news that a near neighbour, a man my wife as known for most of her life, had lost his fight wit covid.  

This man was personally responsible for the erection of the bell-tower on our local church. His family home is less than 200m away. 

Another denizen of this village, a first cousin of my wife’s, has also been taken into hospital with the graver form of the disease. 

Guatemala is currently reporting around 50 deaths a day, especially around mid-week, but this is only the mortality recorded in hospitals, so that individual who dropped dead in the pharmacy outside the Bodegona last week, or the woman who passed away on a Litegua doubledecker, will presumably not have made it onto Worldometer. 

Yesterday, as they announced a record 91% drop in profits, the Australian airline Qantas suggested that international travel is unlikely to recover at all before the middle of next year — and even if a vaccine should turn up in the meantime, they won't be restoring the US to their market before the conclusion of 2021. 

This has to be a clear indicator of the ongoing challenges faced by countries like Guatemala, which have tended to depend on the more adventurous, longer-haul forms of tourism. 

Spain tried to salvage its short-haul summer holiday season, yet it has been left in tatters. In per-capita terms they now have post-lockdown infection levels on a par with us here in Guatemala. 

Unlike Spain — Italy and France too — the UK is now comparatively well off. For levels of active infection in England are now at the equivalent of ‘green’ status in Guatemala. 

Yet the late summer surge on the continent has to be a source for worry for the government, especially as local spikes continue to occur in northern cities, in particular those with a larger proportion of families of south-Asian ancestry. Oldham may be about to be put in localised freeze. 

The enormous challenge presented by the re-opening of schools nationwide is also just around the corner. 

A new poll just released seeks to tease out just how brave Britons are feeling amidst the prevailing mood of uncertainty...

95% say they have left their home in the last seven days. 

However, 26% say they still feel uncomfortable about doing so. 

73% have met up with friends or family to socialise. Of these, 47% say they observed social distancing. 

Just 40% say they would feel comfortable sitting inside a pub or restaurant.

20% have cancelled plans to travel abroad.

Only 14% say they would be comfortable visiting a swimming pool.

Monday, August 17, 2020


There was talk this morning that economic activity across continental Europe is likely to settle at a level around 10% lower than the pre-pandemic one, for the time being at least.

Meanwhile a poll in the UK found that 86% of people say workers should be able to work from home until a vaccine is found. Of course, a complete medical solution to this problem may never present itself. 

This will inevitably feed the discussion about the likely medium term fate of the big metropolises like London and New York

San Francisco has also witnessed a massive exodus since the start of the year.

In Britain certain conservative factions would like us to feel passionate about the prognosis for Pret A Manger, poster boys for the important economic activity seemingly squandered in major city centres during lockdown.

Yesterday morning V and I were reminiscing about the lunchtime grazing options available in London during the nineties and then the noughties. Chains like Pret and the various branded coffee outlets clearly contributed to the fairly rapid decline of traditional sandwich shops in the West End. I’m thinking in particular of Battista’s in Charing Cross Road, close to the old Foyles, which eventually turned into a Caffe Nero. (Superficially, still kind of Italian, right?)

If there is some nuance to be added to the immigration discussion surrounding Brexit it is this. The old-style coffee and snack shops were the product of pre-globalised, twentieth century immigration. Most were family run, single outlet businesses. Wherever these little clans hailed from originally, they had come to stay.

Once displaced by the likes of Costa, Starbucks, Pret and so on, a newer, more opportunistic form of immigration took hold. London started to fill up with workers from abroad who, in the main, had little intention of putting down permanent roots. It was simply there as the most humungous short term opportunity in the EU block, and as such, just had to be milked.

Companies founded by British marketing and business consultants then took full advantage of this new mobile and temporary workforce. The immigrants of previous generations hadn’t a hope of competing, at least not with their existing models.

I’m no Leaver, and I have not been any sort of Londoner either for over a decade, but I do understand why many of my local-born friends in London of more or less the same age as myself, and equally averse to populist rhetoric, find it hard to worry all that much about the fate of the post-millennium coffee and sandwich industry in the capital.

They had their moment and they exploited it ruthlessly and not without collateral social damage. So if it is now gone, so be it.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Bay Of Silence (2020)

This can only really be enjoyed as a sort of anti-thriller, a movie that lurches around trying to tick all the boxes of the visual tropes of the genre, but is utterly clueless about how they are supposed to function narratively.

It is packed with irrelevances, starting with the Italian location that gives it its title, and which viewers are taken to, irrelevantly, at the beginning and then again at the end.

Then there's a possible lost twin and his (albeit briefly) surviving sibling, who turns out to the most glaringly irrelevant thing in the entire story.

His mother is less a character to care about than a walking plot device, while her own father would have had a sign on his head from first entrance saying 'bad'un' even if they hadn't chosen to cast Brian Cox in this role and then given him an entire Chekhovian cabinet of pistols.

As for Claes Bang. We enjoyed him over Christmas as Count Dracula, but it showed how he needs to ham it up a bit to escape from the innate limpness of his anglicised persona...although of course this is what worked so well in The Square.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

The Rental (2020)

Dave Franco's take on Airbnb paranoia and, appropriately enough, fraternal collision. 

His direction is solid (carefully avoiding the direct portrayal of violence against women; unusual for this genre) but the material has certain weaknesses — that unfortunate combination of predictability and slowness to ripen.