Day 43 – Tuesday 5th May 2020
“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”
I find it better for my mental health to avoid watching too much news. In fact, I eschew the television news completely. Apart from the numbing statistics I find the quality of journalism so appalling I just want to rant at the screen. There seems to me to be so little rigour, so little researched and penetrating questioning of politicians’ meaningless platitudes. When I hear a Prime Minister call the UK’s death toll at over 32,000 and now the highest in Europe a ‘success’ I boil with anger and frustration. Piers Morgan, the sight of whom normally makes me a throw up a little in my mouth, now appears to be the only person asking penetrating questions, leaving the rest of the press behind. As I become more and more concerned about Starmer’s ability to do what the leader of the opposition is supposed to do and hold the government to account I can feel my angst building. Even my morning routine of the Guardian on-line does little to ease my fear that we no longer have a robust mainstream media. You will notice a link on my website to Independent Media organisation ‘Novara Media’ – I recommend them for a fresh viewpoint. I am also about to add Double Down News as another alternative source of news and discussion, particularly on the Climate Crisis.
Yesterday, Chiswick Calendar, a local on-line ‘news & views’ site * posted statistics from the Office of National Statistics concerning our neighbourhood Covid related death toll. Even these figures I worry about as they only count cases for i. people who are ‘residents’ ii. where the Virus is named on the death certificate. I have concerns. There have been reports that some GP’s around the country have been ‘virtually’ signing death certificates, based on previously existing conditions without physically seeing the patient and the whole issue of under-reporting cases in care homes is well documented. In fact, the pandemic has highlighted concerns about data collection and collation to the extent that the very same statistics that can be used by those claiming the situation is worse than reported in the government’s daily briefings and at the same time by those claiming the complete opposite. These failings, coupled with the government’s lack of transparency, for fear of contradiction and criticism (two key traits in a supposed democracy) allow for variable interpretation, which in turn encourages conspiracy theorists. There may be less ‘deniers’ in the UK than the US but there are still enough who say ‘its not that bad’. These tend to be from areas that have been less impacted. In London most of us know several people who have suffered from the Virus and their stories are enough to silence any doubt. These are not just ‘numbers’. They mask the individual humanity of the deceased persons. Again, when you know families who have had loved ones pass away from Covid related illness your attitude is likely to be a lot different. A typical argument of the deniers would be ‘they would have died anyway’. In many cases of the elderly or those with an existing condition that might be true but they would then have had the chance to be embraced by their families and die with dignity. The families would also have been able to grieve together at a proper funeral. ‘Deniers’ who then suffer a friend or family tragedy nearly always change their tune. The difference in attitude is not just how you react in the endless world of Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp blah blah discussions but how likely you are to adhere to the sensible precautions.
Another key point about the accuracy of Statistics and the integrity or transparency of the analysis is that understanding the Virus and its impact is vital in preparing strategies to combat it. If our Statistics are not accurate or our government fails to analyse them correctly in scientific terms or, and I leave you to consider this point, it prefers to only analyse or release it in ways that support their own actions then we are unlikely to be taking the necessary actions correctly. Given we are just about at that stage where it can be said we are the worst impacted country in Europe it might be worth asking that question.
Turning back to the ONS details I saw on Chiswick Calendar: needless to say most people’s immediate response is to see how relatively safe or at risk their own locality is. This is ‘Chiswick Confined’, though I hope it has a broader outlook, because this is my UK home. Apart from demographics (we have, in common with many wealthier regions, a slightly higher average age) but density of population, access to health services, income (and therefore diet) and other factors are well in our favour. For the period March 1st to 17th of April Chiswick has experienced 21 Covid related deaths. As far as I can work out that has Chiswick at just a little better of the average for all of Hounslow, our local Council, which has 69 deaths per hundred thousand people. The average for all of London is about 86. The next highest nationally, the West Midlands, is only just over 40, with the North West about the same while the lowest is South West at under twenty. This reflects how London is the UK’s riskiest area and the other denser urban conurbations the next. A closer look at London also highlights the ethnic and income related disparity, with poorer areas with higher number of BAME people and recent immigrants suffering the most. Compared to our well -endowed neighbour Richmond at 47 deaths per 100k our 69 looks poor but looking towards Ealing at 103 and Hammersmith at 96 we can see we are indeed sandwiched between some of London’s best and worst. The worst areas in London and therefore the UK (and indeed then, amongst the worst in Europe) are the ten boroughs that have death rates of 103 or more. The borough with the highest number of deaths is Newham in the East End with 144 deaths, closely followed by Barnet with 142. Returning to my point about statistics we really need to consider these numbers in human terms so that as a society we can better understand the impact of poverty on well being and as an electorate decide if we wish to be complicit in delivering governments who constantly take action that widens this divide. People who live in Canning Town are nearly three times as likely to catch Covid-19 and die than those of us who have the luxury of strolling down Turnham Green Terrace and politely distanced queuing outside Bayley & Sage yet we live in the same city. That is not a statistic we should condone.
Normally, at this stage I concoct a witty (in my opinion) Segway into a Vinyl album cover but clearly, given I have just written somewhat more serious paragraphs, that would be inappropriate. Yet, I am going to move towards the music topic on the basis that this week we have lost yet another influential artist and indeed, this time from Covid-19 complications. Keyboard player Dave Greenfield was widely recognised as the inherent difference between the many punk bands that shrivelled away after their anarchy had shaken up the moribund ‘70’s music scene and The Stranglers who continued and developed over the decades. The Stranglers were older and seemingly always not quite fully part of the punk scene but they were just as angry and just as ready to raise a middle finger to, well, just about everyone. Greenfield was a Brightonian and my first memories of the Stranglers were when I was in Brighton and still just about going to gigs where weirdly coloured spikey hair could be seen bobbling up and down at the front (I was at the back by the bar, obviously) and roadies had to keep coming out with a mop and wipe the gob and spit from the stage. The Stranglers had more of a musical heritage – Greenfield’s arpeggios have often been compared to The Doors (just listen to Golden Brown).
Having heard the sad news, before I could even get to the cupboard where my collection is stashed my phone pinged and Chiswick resident and mate Ian sent me not one but two photographs of Stranglers’ Vinyls. The first “Rattus Norvegicus” was also their first album released in April 1977. All the tracks were written by Hugh Cornwell (Guitar) and /or Jean Jacques Burnel (bass) who despite being French is a local lad – being born in Notting Hill and currently living in Chiswick, close to the River. The fourth member of the original Stranglers is still Jet Black, the drummer, who rarely performs due to health reasons.
The second album sent by Ian was “Black and White” from 1978. I haven’t asked Ian if he has a copy of a bonus E.P. that bizarrely included a version of the Bacharach and David song, made famous by Dionne Warwick, ‘Walk On By’ that was included in the first 75,000 sales. In 1983 Ian went to see them at Reading Festival and saw an impressive line up that included two other bands that have or will feature in this Blog (plus one of my favourites that won’t because I don’t have the Vinyl unless anyone sends me one – Stevie Ray Vaughan). According to Ian as the only punk (post punk?) band there he thought they were pretty grumpy and deliberately cranked it up to piss off the ‘metal’ head bangers. They certainly had a reputation for hell raising and not caring where they did it. One of Ian’s mates, George, was in the army in 1999 guarding The Maze Prison when the Stranglers came to play in the NAAFI ** (that mental picture seems to need a great deal more consideration!) He apparently offered Dave Greenfield a drink and was told “A Pint”. When asked a pint of what? He replied “Bacardi”, which is what he got and, according to George, he drank the lot. Having seen George accompany his teenage daughter on a lock down video Abba song I had thought his musical influences would have been far calmer – but then I guess we all Mellow!
Just five years ago Ian and another mate ‘Whiters’ went to see The Stranglers at Camden’s Roundhouse. Ian commented that the normally straight-faced Burnel obviously found the bunch of middle aged men “going mental” in front of the stage amusing as he was grinning all evening. I found a You Tube video of the rendition of my Stranglers favourite “Peaches”. It looks like a great gig – I can’t actually see Ian and Whiters doing their attempt at pogo-ing but then it’s probably for the best!
However, I am actually going to leave you with an earlier clip. I mentioned ‘Walk On By’ earlier. This might appear to be then a strange choice but actually I think the longevity of The Stranglers is in the reasons why they were never quite seen as pure Punk. They had much wider influences and the strength to be different. Greenfield’s keys here display that ‘Doors’ like sound and the musicianship of the rest of the band shine through even though, as someone commented on the link, that whereas Warwick’s version was ‘bitter- sweet’, The Stranglers version was “bitter- sour”. That nicely sums up quite a bit of The Stranglers output and a bit of ‘My Corona Mood’ this evening.
Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more ………………… maybe there are but they all work in the NHS and other front line services?
Dave Greenfield RIP
* Please Chiswick Calendars’ website for more details, access to the ONS Covid data map or just to check out our local news https://chiswickcalendar.co.uk/coronavirus-deaths-in-chiswick/
**The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) is a company created by the British government on 9 December 1920 to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces and to sell goods to servicemen and their families.