Thursday 9 April 2020

Maundy Musings...

For a few years now, most (if not all) of the Dioceses in England & Wales had transferred the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass to another date in Holy Week, because the Triduum was deemed too busy for all Parish Priests to get to their local Cathedral Church and back again in time for the Mass of the Lord's Supper. And, as in most years, the first part of Holy Week is still term time, I haven't been to a Chrism Mass for ages. I used to go because I was involved in what was an annual "demo" at Southwark, thanking our Priests for all that they do (not, I hasten to add, the one calling for women priests!) and started by me and Joanna Bogle in 2003. So, for a few years now, Maundy Thursday has, as far as I was concerned, started with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, in the evening.

This year, what with everyone in lockdown and all the churches being closed anyway, I have been able to give the day a bit more thought. Resisting the impulse to check emails, Twitter or WhatsApp when I woke up, I started off with making a quick coffee (so as to avoid falling back to sleep) fed Miaowrini a handful of Dreamies (my attempt to ward off kitty-related distractions), and settled down to pray Lauds. I then checked the Latin Mass Society listings to see what time Tenebrae was occurring in different places.

To my horror, I discovered that the listing had pretty much disappeared, apart from links to a small number of Masses in the evening. The FSSP LiveMass page only appeared to show links for Mass. Fortunately I had bookmarked a few of my favourite YouTube channels, and so was able to set up a reminder for Tenebrae from the ICKSP Dome of Home, New Brighton. I then amused myself by tweeting, checking the headlines and so on.

The reminder duly chimed in, and I promptly switched to "do not disturb" mode on my phone and opened up YouTube. Alas, technology is truly wonderful, but only if it works. For some reason there was no sound. Initially I assumed they were just a little late starting, but then noticed people praying. I assumed it was my phone and scooted over to my laptop. Still no joy. I tried to find some alternative places, but was wary of relying on the feed from Warrington which had proved temperamental earlier in the week due to sheer weight of traffic. A quick plea for information on Twitter revealed that the LMS site had recovered from pre-Triduum nerves, and was listing everything again, and another friend told me that the sound from New Brighton *was* working for him. Further investigation showed that the sound was working on their Facebook feed. I am no longer on Facebook, but some pages are more public than others and work even without a Facebook account - though you can't "like" the page or video.

For some reason, the Facebook video had a much narrower field of vision, which meant that you couldn't see either the priest or the server when they were at the side of the Sanctuary. I reached a handy compromise by playing the Facebook audio stream while following the video on YouTube. There were a few laggy bits - and Facebook's streaming quality was of a much lower quality than that of YouTube, but at least it meant I could access Tenebrae.

Facebook Video Stream

YouTube Video Stream
When actually watching I was able to go full-screen to remove distractions. I was also able to follow the texts on my mobile phone... and then I discovered that Matins was immediately succeeded by Lauds, which meant I got to pray it twice!

Obviously Tenebrae is more beautiful if you are actually present - and you really need far more (and younger) altar servers in order to appreciate the "thunder" once the last candle is extinguished. For some reason, altar boys get really enthusiastic with this bit. I was hoping we'd actually get to sing it this year at St. Augustine's Shrine, Ramsgate. Alas, it was not to be... However, it was definitely an amazing start to the celebration of the Triduum, especially given the circumstances this year.

After 2 hours of Tenebrae I was ready to play with the cat, and she was definitely ready for some more treats. To my distress, I found that I only had about quarter of a bag left. Knowing the sheer impossibility of getting an online delivery to arrive before the weekend, I decided to risk popping out to the shops.

I only intended to go to the nearest supermarket that sold the varieties Miaowrini likes - she won't eat the cheese ones, though she does eat real cheese. Unfortunately I saw that the two venues nearest to home had very long queues - made even longer by the two-metre distance between each person. I didn't mind having to wait, but baulked at the prospect of walking to the far end of the queue on crutches, making my way slowly back to the shop, standing for however long it took and then walking around the shop itself. I figured out that, even if the larger supermarkets in Westwood Cross were busy with queues, they at least provided mobility scooters, and so off I went.

There were many more people out shopping compared to Sunday, but they appeared to be queuing very good-naturedly from what I could see. The supermarket shelves were better-stocked, though there were still gaps, and items such as UHT milk and pasta were still being rationed. It is possible that some people were shopping for the Bank Holiday weekend, and some were also shopping for others (they were the ones with lists, frantically searching for items they don't normally buy!) Anyway, by the time I got inside it seemed to be a good idea to get a few fresh items for myself as well as the Dreamies. I was extremely amused to note that Dreamies are now sold in claw-proof boxes as well as in bags. So they aren't just Miaowrini's favourites.

I didn't bother to buy toilet paper.

Finally arriving home, I unpacked the shopping (I had to use lots of bags and carry them in one at a time from the car, so it was quite good exercise!) and showed Miaowrini her share of the goodies...

I think she was pleased...

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Feeling Guilty...

In mid-February, as reports of the COVID-19 virus spread, people started stockpiling supplies of toilet paper. It started in Hong Kong, where an armed gang stole 600 rolls. Then there were reports of people fighting over rolls in Australia. Statements were then made about the robustness of the UK's supplies of the stuff, and people were begged not to panic buy as there was more than enough to go around. Given that the virus doesn't even cause a runny nose, let alone diarrhoea, the need to panic-buy loo rolls seemed somewhat bizarre to me. I chortled merrily at the foolishness of the general public, and continued to order my usual online groceries.

By the middle of March, with reports of a lockdown being imminent, and two online deliveries arriving without any toilet paper, I was beginning to feel a little foolish for having so sneeringly dismissed the urge of other people to stockpile. I still had "some" supplies, so I wasn't quite desperate, but the supermarket shelves were completely bare (and not just of toilet tissue) - not something I had ever encountered. By dint of phoning around, I managed to locate a packet of nine rolls (I was tipped off as to the expected delivery time - just after Mass, fortunately!) and I virtuously resisted the impulse to grab two packets. The fact that, being on crutches, I couldn't actually carry two packets had nothing to do with it...

My mother then had a grocery delivery which arrived without toilet paper. She was following official advice about the elderly staying inside for the next 12 weeks or so, and I wasn't going to be able to just pop around with a few spare rolls. A friend on Twitter pointed out that Amazon was technically out of stock, but, unlike the supermarkets, it kept the orders open until the stock arrived, and then delivered it according to their records of who had requested it first.

This seemed like a good idea, and, on the basis that toilet paper might not arrive for quite some time, I put in an order for my mother and then added a separate order for myself. My mother's supply arrived within a week. However, the predicted delivery date for my order was the beginning of May, so, not sure how things would be developing, I went ahead and ordered toilet paper in my next online delivery.

To my surprise, my next supermarket delivery actually included toilet paper. Nine rolls. I felt like celebrating... only I was feeling just the teensiest bit guilty, because I hadn't even finished my supply from February...

...but only a teensy bit, because, when I went to a supermarket last week, they had loads of rolls sitting in the aisle on a large pallet; I concluded that the panic-buying had stopped. In actual fact, it seems to depend which supermarket you go to...

Now, I mentioned previously that I'm a little out of things at the moment due to my medication. I discovered this morning that I had failed to put my watch forward to British Summer Time - ten days after the clocks had changed. And, despite noticing that there were references to Spy Wednesday on Twitter, that the Mass of the day was not that of the Lord's Supper, and that the Office I'd prayed was for the Wednesday in Holy Week, I actually somehow thought tomorrow was Friday...

Given this, it will come as no surprise to read that I forgot to amend my toilet paper order on Amazon. Reader, it arrived today. All 36 rolls.

I might find myself doing something like this...

...or even this...

Monday 6 April 2020

Taking Liberties...

I mentioned in yesterday's post that, at least in Thanet, people appeared to be observing the Government's instructions to limit the number of times they left the house and to observe social distancing rules on the occasions that they did so.

The Government's official website currently has a banner with the following information:
"Stay at home. Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home.)
If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times. Wash your hands as soon as you get home. Do not meet others, even friends or family.
You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms."

The website itself gives more details. For example, you are allowed out for exercise, but only once per day, limited to an hour, and observing the standard distance of 2 metres. You should go out alone - unless you are with members of your household. Walking your dog should, apparently, be combined with the exercise period, and only be the one trip a day. Presumably, should you have a dog which is used to going out both morning and evening, then it has to cross its legs.

I made a few comments about the lack of consistency shown by the Bishops of England & Wales in shutting all the churches. However, the inconsistencies in official guidelines / regulations / laws* (*take your pick - it seems to depend on who's talking) is somewhat disconcerting. A lot of the goodwill which accompanied the original request for lockdown will be lost, and if this continues, it will inevitably lead to civil disobedience. From what I have seen so far, the confusion is already feeding into different conspiracy theories circulating online.

Now, it is always possible that the inconsistencies are purely and simply due to confusion, incompetence, over-zealousness, and people being, well, people. To be fair, this is the most likely reason. However, we have been lied to by various authorities and organisations right from the start, so it is hardly surprising that people worry when 2 + 2 doesn't appear to add up to 4.

Initial reports suggested that contaminated meat came from a wet-market in Wuhan, China. Bat soup was mentioned, and most of the press reports continue to push this theory (though they try to downplay the fact that it started in China because, well, racist...). The Chinese government definitely lied to the World Health Organisation about when the outbreak actually started, which made other countries slower to react to the threat than they might otherwise have been. But back in February I realised that there was a Level 4 laboratory in Wuhan (I mentioned before that I have an interest in research on viruses) and the emergence in Wuhan of a coronavirus which was carried by bats, and bearing similarities to the SARS virus was just a bit too much of a coincidence.

Two months ago I tweeted a query about this to a friend, and was discouraged from pursuing the matter, being told it was rumour-spreading, and anyway the cause was irrelevant. Now, following further revelations about safety procedures from people working in the lab, the reports of the destruction of medical files (and blood samples) on a new respiratory virus back in late November / early December and the speed with which field hospitals were constructed - practically overnight - in Wuhan once the seriousness had been admitted to the WHO, I am not the only person wondering about that Level 4 laboratory. I am not suggesting that there was a deliberate release of a biological weapon, or even that it was being researched as a biological weapon. I am of the opinion that poor safety procedures led to the escape of a virus which was being studied.

With air travel being as easy as it is, the threat of global infections has increased considerably. We have had SARS (2002-2004), H1N1/09  "swine flu" (2009-2010), MERS (2012), Ebola (2013-16) and Zika (2015-16) and with the outbreak of each of these we were warned that they could devastate the human race. We also had the normal outbreaks of "seasonal" flu, which actually caused large numbers of deaths on a yearly basis. However, with none of these did the Prime Minister of the time feel it necessary to give a press conference warning that our loved ones could die from it. The NHS came under pressure, but there was no call to shut schools across the whole country. No lockdowns. And, while the press has been critical about the delay in calling for a shutdown, it all happened relatively quickly.

So, what information about the virus prompted this action?

In a similar way, the advice about going out has been inconsistent. People are being told to work from home where possible. But, supermarkets are still open for business. Now, by reason of queuing systems, barriers around tills and limiting numbers, one can ensure a certain amount of social distancing, but it isn't easy. On the other hand, people actually are allowed to travel to work, even if they are not deemed to be essential workers, if it is not possible for them to work from home. As a result, public transport is still operating. But the Mayor of London decided to cut the number of tube trains available (in order to discourage travel) with the result that people are having to go to work on crowded trains, unable to keep their distance. Many of these workers are in the hospitals, being exposed to cases of the coronavirus... and, even if they do not have any symptoms themselves, we are told that they can still spread the virus...

Schools are still open for the children of essential workers. I am a teacher, albeit not in work while waiting for knee surgery. I know from experience the size of classrooms, and the number of children still attending school because they are considered vulnerable or are children of essential workers etc. I do not for one minute believe that the children are all being kept two metres apart. That's just not going to happen. So all these children are circulating and are presumably able to spread the virus among themselves, even if they are not showing any symptoms... and then they go back to their homes at the end of the day. On public transport, for the most part.

But people have to stay at home, and can only go out once a day for exercise. There have been reports of some people being moved on by police because they were deemed not to be exercising but were instead sitting down to enjoy the sunshine. Even though these people were observing the need to keep two metres apart, they were deemed to be breaking the regulations. Various councils, horrified, decided to close their local parks, to encourage compliance. People have been fined. It won't be long before people are arrested for non-compliance.

It is generally understood that UV radiation helps to break down viruses. Viruses are strands of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat, and both DNA and RNA are damaged by UV radiation (it is what causes skin cancers.) There have been reports contradicting this, stating that the amount of UV light needed to kill the virus would be harmful to human skin, but a quick look on Google revealed at least one paper which had studied the effect of UV light on various viruses designed for "biodefense" - the authors used the data to calculate how much normal sunlight would be needed to destroy the viruses (solar inactivation) at different locations (presumably because they get different strengths of sunlight at different latitudes.) They concluded that:

"A midday solar effective flux of 0.17 J/m2254/min (implying a daily total fluence of approximately 50 J/m2254) might be “marginally effective” for inactivating viruses relevant to biodefense, e.g., a full-day exposure would produce about a 3-log decrease in infectivity for the more-UV-sensitive and much less for less-UV-sensitive viruses."

So, while sitting still in the sunshine isn't guaranteed to inactivate the virus, it isn't going to hurt. If anything, it will boost people's immune systems because of the increased Vitamin D production. And why, if social distancing is being maintained, is sitting still in the sunshine going to be so much more risky than running around? Are they afraid the coronavirus might catch up with people if they stay still? Or is it simply that the opportunity to take away basic freedoms has been too much to resist for some authorities?

As I said, the regulations being imposed are inconsistent. This has been exacerbated by what has been perceived as heavy-handed, authoritarian policing of those regulations in some parts of the country. The most likely explanation is that people in charge made sweeping regulations without thinking through the implications and are now unwilling to be seen to contradict themselves or admit overreaction. But frankly, the best way to ensure that people actually comply with whatever regulations are being put in place is to explain exactly why they are needed. Merely telling some people that they have to stay at home isn't the way to do it.

Sunday 5 April 2020


It's been a very strange Palm Sunday. For several years (almost continually since Summorum Pontificum was promulgated) I have been involved in the singing of the beautiful chants the Church has for this feast. At the start, we only attempted to sing the Rossini propers, the very simple psalm tones designed to accompany the texts of the Procession and the Mass for those who are unfamiliar with Gregorian chant (or any musical notation, in my case!) Then, when we managed to get a few more experienced singers to come along, more of the proper chants were added. This year, having joined a proper choir, I was expecting to sing the full set. God obviously wasn't too keen on the idea - all Masses were suddenly declared off limits to congregations, and churches were closed. And, just to make sure our choir director didn't have any thoughts of going ahead anyway, parishes in Southwark were instructed not to have any servers or choir.

I have often pondered on God's mysterious ways, but this seems a little over the top. I mean, he could have just given me a dose of laryngitis...

Whatever. We are having to celebrate Palm Sunday remotely. I woke up early, and, thanks to the invaluable Mass listings being maintained by the Latin Mass Society, I was able to tune in for Mass at Portsmouth Cathedral. Unfortunately, about halfway through, my medication kicked in and I fell asleep. I woke up for the Consecration, dropped off again and surfaced during the Leonine Prayers and the chanting of the Ave Regina... Even though there is no obligation to watch a Mass, I felt that I wanted to try and catch a few sermons for my edification.

It does seem that the devil is unhappy with the number of people choosing to view the many livestreamed Masses on offer. I'm not sure about viewings for the Novus Ordo, but several people have reported difficulties in getting a connection. Last Sunday there were various excuses offered, such as the sheer number of people logging on, the fact that this was totally new technology for many of the parishes involved, and the bad weather and high winds interfering with wifi signals. By this morning, however, people had got to grips with the technology and the weather was (and is) gorgeous. But several feeds were interrupted by long buffering periods, Ramsgate's Mass not only failed to stream once past the Epistle but it actually failed to record, and the FSSP Mass at St. Mary's Shrine, Warrington completely lost sound by the time they got to the Passion. Usually, at the TLM, the sound is almost irrelevant, at least for the Canon, but not so for the Passion, especially if it's being chanted!

I know, I know... everyone is at home, video conferencing, streaming programmes, using the internet. But, I haven't heard any reports of difficulties in connecting to Netflix or Amazon Prime, or of any major problems when sports events (such as football matches) are being livestreamed. It seems odd that only Masses are affected to this extent...

Anyway, at this point I decided to give up, and went shopping instead.

I have been reading about how people are being told off for not complying with social distancing requirements, and for going out to sunbathe in the park - apparently sunbathing does not count as exercise, even if one is in the middle of nowhere. I was keen to see how the message was being received in Thanet...

There were very few cars on the road, and hardly anyone on the Margate Main Sands or Westbrook Bay. This was noteworthy in itself - I live on a road by the beach, and normally, on a sunny Sunday, I have real problems finding anywhere to park when I return from Mass. Today, not only was the place practically deserted, but, on my return, I was able to park in the identical space I had vacated earlier...

The petrol station was my first port of call, and I was surprised to see that most of the pumps had been switched off. This was not due to any shortage, but purely because they were so quiet, the cashiers found it more practical to keep an eye on just a few pumps. One of the cashiers actually rushed out when she saw me arrive. "I recognised you," she said, "and we're ever so quiet, so would you like a hand filling up your car?" She even provided me with a pair of disposable gloves to use when tapping in my PIN.

The supermarket was similarly deserted. Only one door was open, but security staff were encouraging people to go straight in. One member of staff went to get a mobility scooter for me. There were empty shelves for items which could be stored such as rice, pasta and sauces, but plenty of fresh produce. I must confess to getting more than the bread and milk I had originally set out to buy, but it was such a pleasure to go round the aisles with everyone keeping a good distance and the store being so less crowded than usual that I couldn't resist buying some treats - biscuits, oranges and wine for me, Dreamies for Miaowrini. I spoke to several members of staff who were busy stocking shelves. They seemed pleased to be thanked for their efforts, and it's worth reminding ourselves, I think, that they have been bearing the brunt of the public's frustration due to queues and shortages, while being very much in the firing line for catching the coronavirus, given the number of people they encounter.

Another member of staff offered to take the mobility scooter back when I had put stuff in my car. At first she thought the battery had died, as it refused to move. I explained that it wouldn't move unless the "driver" was seated, and so she sat down... As I left the car park, I heard a distinct cry of "Wheeeeeeee! This is fun!" so I'm pleased her good deed was rewarded!
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