Sunday, 3rd May, 2020

[Day 48]

As you might imagine, the park has a different clientele on Sundays, being dominated by young parents with associated children (some on bicycles) and dogs. Thus it was today and consequently, we did not meet any of our regulars. It rather reminded me of when I was a barman in my student days at Tiffany’s in Manchester. My fellow members of staff used to joke with each other that if you had forgotten which day of the week it was, all you had to do was look at the clientele and there were always social variations e.g. Friday night was the ‘lads night out’, Sunday was often the engaged couples and so on. At Tiffany’s fire precautions were taken quite seriously – the band was instructed to play Teddy Bear’s Picnic which was code for us that the fire was real, not imagined. As a barman, you were instructed to stand by your till (and burn if necessary) to avoid the till being looted if there was a panic exit. Incidentally, the two girl singers in the band (Eve and Lynn) went on to become the core of the ‘New Seekers‘ if anyone goes back that far.

There was an interesting letter in today’s Observer which gave food for thought. One prominent theory in recent years has been ‘nudge’ theory i.e. you move to achieve a policy objective by a series of small shifts and incremental moves. Sometimes this works well – for example, the use of electronic displays to warn you to keep your speed down. Sometimes, however, the theory results in abject failures such as attempting to warn people of the dangers of tobacco smoking by the use of large letter warnings and graphic images on cigarette packets. What worked in this latter case was actually quite a leap in policy i.e. making it illegal to smoke in public places. Now we can apply that theory to the present pandemic crisis. The first stages were classic ‘nudge’ theory (a series of small steps such as ‘advice’ given to the public, messages that were transmitted but not really adhered to such as Boris Johnson going around. and shaking hands with lots of people). But a more significant policy shift, i.e. lockdown, if effected two weeks earlier, would have saved literally thousands of lives. The moral of this: there are times when a sagacious politician (are there any?) should have taken decisive action. By the way, has anybody else noticed that simplistic slogans (‘Stay home‘, ‘Protect the NHS‘, ‘Save Lives‘) are produced by the same advisers who launched ‘Get Brexit Done‘ on the great British public?

Many of the commentators are saying that the coming week will be a ‘pivotal’ week in political life as the government and other decision-makers grapple with how to unlock the economy. In retrospect, the decision to lock down was incredibly simple compared with the complexities of travelling towards the ‘new’ normality. There are still some certainties, such as the necessity to keep 2 metres apart in social distancing and if I had to make a guess, I would say that certain ‘outdoor’ businesses would cautiously re-open. High on the list would be garden centres, zoos, gardens open to the public, and the like. We would certainly be moving from a type of digital mode of operation (on/off open/shut, allowed/not allowed) to a much more analogue mode in which we need to have gradations of approach. Some institutions will have changed their modus operandi for good – I would imagine that all universities would offer the majority of their output in an online mode from now on and the idea of mass lectures and smaller group tutorials/seminars will be regarded as a relic of the past. The travel industry will also be radically reshaped and I wonder how many would willingly travel on public transport unless there were compulsory face-masks and a radical restriction on numbers travelling to preserve social distance?