6 pm outside St Peter's Eaton Square ... Has time stopped?

Hysteria and hyperbole – the hallmarks of the modern world

in Big Issues

During this visitation of what some are now describing as a modern plague, Pissed-off Toff will be observing what remains of life in London. In the meantime, he wonders whether – terrified witless by the media, the ‘experts’ and the politicians – we have lost all sense of proportion.

Several friends have advised me that to question the generalised hysteria which is the reaction to the Coronavirus would turn me from a polemicist into a pariah. But it is surely reasonable to wonder why we are destroying the lives and livelihoods of countless millions, just because of a disease that has killed a few hundred vulnerable and elderly people … and when in the UK viruses and the complications caused by them (in the case of Coronavirus, severe pneumonia), kill off many thousands every year.

Thus for the cold months of 2017-2018 the Office of National Statistics recorded over 50,000 so-called ‘excess winter deaths’. Other sources quote an annual 8,000 to 20,000 deaths from flu. As I write, this contrasts with a total Coronavirus deathtoll in the UK of a little under 600 so far. 

And yet the entire country of 67-odd million people has been closed down, with the entire population now virtual prisoners in their own homes. I have a tiny bit of money in the bank. But most families are just one month away from penury. Very soon we will see generalised chaos and collapse. We see the first signs of it already. Flailing around for an appropriate message, the government endlessly repeats the infuriating mantra that they will “do whatever it takes” to see us all through this. But that, I suggest, is just rhetoric – the worthless stock-in-trade of politicians. You can’t, after all, close an entire country down and stimulate it at the same time. It’s a contradiction in terms.

* * * * *

In this abandoned city I’ve already lost all sense of time. It was less than a week ago that out of curiosity I went to the coach station at Victoria and asked about passenger numbers. Almost overnight, they had fallen dramatically, and many people were not turning up for the journeys they had booked. However, the place was still alive and functioning.

Then on Monday of this week, I was in touch by email with a friend who is stuck somewhere in the Mediterranean. He had a car parked at Stansted Airport, and if it wasn’t picked up straight away they were going to start charging him not just the full daily fee, but a further £25 per day as well. I said that I’d go and collect the machine and drive it down to somewhere on the south coast of England. 

That was my last half-way normal day. The train to Stansted was empty. When I found the car, I wondered what had prompted me to make my offer. It was a top-of-the-range Volvo, super-modern and very expensive. The dashboard and even the steering wheel were of horrifying complexity, with hundreds of flashing knobs, buttons and levers protruding from every surface, ready to be activated by the lightest touch and then carry out who knew what irreversible operation. And with all this technology, I couldn’t even work out how to turn on the engine. I might as well have been in the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Somehow I started up the car, filled it up with diesel in a half-abandoned town off the M11, got it down to the south coast … while the electronics, operating largely of their own volition, played havoc with my sanity. Three hours later, when I emerged from the vehicle and taped the key to the top of the front right-hand wheel, I realised that my neck was paralysed with stress.

My friend later told me that I was the only person who had been willing to leave the house and do this. All because of the virus and the fear of it. Already, the whole country was closed … this before the official death sentence.

* * * * *

The next day (on the Tuesday) lock-down took place. I realised that whatever my private thoughts about this virus, the only permissible reaction to it, in public at any rate, is the deepest Puritanical seriousness … and panic. 

And how my elderly neighbours are panicking!

I have offered to do the shopping for various people in this block. This resulted in a text message from a neighbour which annoyed me. I transcribe it here verbatim. “When u shop are u handling everything with gloves on? Don’t tell [my husband] about anyone in block with virus. We could all get it. I am doing my best to keep clam. You MUST [sic] wear gloves at all times when leaving [the flat] and not touch anything with your bare hands. If there is any bleach or disinfectant like vinegar [in the flat], use this to clean all your surfaces and your keys / mobile / anything you touch. Prince Charles now got it. Do not continue to be gung-ho any more.”

A message from someone else urged me not to look in on his mother to see if she was all right. To these text messages I did not reply. No point in stirring up fear and loathing, when I suspect that the drama has only begun. But I am still allowed to go out of the house to buy essential supplies (gin for myself and other things for various others). I am still allowed to take exercise every day. Nor, yet, am I obliged to wear gloves and a mask … and I will do so only if and when it becomes law. Plus, nothing says that while I am taking exercise, I cannot take fotos too. Here are some of London around midday on Tuesday.

The Mall, abandoned
Green Park, abandoned
Knightsbridge, abandoned
Chinatown, abandoned

And lastly, here is Charing Cross Station with not one person in sight … except for a bored security operative.

Charing Cross Station, abandoned

* * * * *

I will be bringing you more pictures on a regular basis.

But in the meantime, the same question that won’t go away. Why are we carrying out an act of mass economic and social destruction on a scale never seen in modern times, and with results that we cannot begin to imagine, just because a few elderly people and vulnerable patients are dying, as they do every year?

It is not callous, I believe, to suggest that what we are seeing here is a complete lack of proportion in our reaction to the actual threat. To judge from how the media and politicians and various ‘experts’ are talking about it (and oh, how they are revelling in the drama), we might be facing the reappearance of the Plague of 1666, at the height of which over 7,000 Londoners died in one week, often falling down in the street. What is currently going on is not even remotely comparable. 

Which brings us to a more general point. Namely, that the appearance of any risk or danger or possible threat to our pampered comfort now induces wild panic and wild over-reaction, in all cases first created, and then stirred up gleefully by the broadcast media, with the politicians obediently following suit.

There is a pattern here. Think of Brexit and ‘Project Fear’. Think of the insane ‘man-made global warming scare’, according to which the planet will self-destruct in 10 years. Think, too, of the #MeToo movement. What we see, at every turn, is hysteria, hyperbole and the complete loss of all sense of proportion, the complete inability to put anything into any sort of context. That, it seems to me, is the defining characteristic of our world … and one which is now leading directly to the wholesale destruction of our lives and livelihoods, together with a loss of liberty – sudden and unquestioned – not even seen in wartime.

More, even, than the craven politicians and the ubiquitous ‘experts’, it is the media – most especially the TV channels with their 24-7 doom-mongering – who will bear the responsibility for turning a nasty seasonal disease into a self-inflicted disaster on an epic scale.

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