Sucker punch

30th October 1974 – The Rumble in the Jungle was slowing to stalemate, both boxers drained by the Zaire heat, going through the motions with punches that would have barely knocked the skin off a custard. With a little more than ten seconds remaining in the round, Foreman let an Ali hook catch his cheek. He turned to respond and, from nowhere, was caught by a vicious five-punch combination, then a left hook and a hard right straight to the face that sent him, senseless, to the canvas and defeat.

Ali had, against all odds, taken Foreman’s title but, worse than that, he had humiliated the big man. Throughout the fight, Ali had taunted Foreman, asking, after every flurry of punches, “is that all you’ve got, George?” until, inevitably, Foreman was spent. Then Ali pounced with the sucker punch.

Going into the fight, Foreman was the strong favourite. He was the champion, had a punch like a jackhammer and was undefeated in his professional career. Ali was yesterday’s man, a former champion but now more a talker than a fighter. He no longer floated like a butterfly nor stung like a bee. It was odds-on that Foreman would defeat Ali. Many feared his iron fists would do more than that. Several newspapers ventured serious concerns for Ali’s well-being in the face of such firepower.

But you can never underestimate the power of complacency. So confident was Foreman of victory that he made no attempt to pace himself. He attacked wildly, swinging enormous energy-sapping punches, any one of which would have ended the fight had it reached its target. But Ali boxed clever, simply covering up until the storm passed. By the middle of the eighth round Foreman was defeated. He just didn’t know it yet.

Okay, I admit that this is one of those clumsy segues that will have you all groaning but let me voice it anyway.

Complacency and arrogance allowed Ali to defeat Foreman. The same complacency and arrogance is allowing coronavirus to defeat us. If you’re not interested in my thoughts on this, just stop here. I hope you enjoyed the reflections on Muhammad Ali. If, on the other hand, you want to be privy to my concerns about coronavirus and its likely autumnal trajectory, read on.

We all know the story or at least we think we do. Novel virus, found initially in China, spreads worldwide over the next six months, killing around three quarters of a million people worldwide. Summer arrives, the number of new cases falls (except in America, obviously) and the public begins to celebrate the end of lockdown.

Flames fanned by the newspapers (at least in part), the end of lockdown is seen erroneously as the passing of the pandemic. Pubs open, gyms too, toilets, libraries and Starbucks. Shops reopen, tentatively at first, like flowers after a forest fire and the hoi polloi head to the beaches. Meanwhile the scientists are watching the behaviour of the virus like hawks, anxiously studying the data for signs of an impending spike in infection rates.

Before long, the British beaches are insufficient for the sunbathers and, just as the airlines, opportunistically announce cheap flights pretty much everywhere, the inevitable happens. Thousands of fake-tanned narcissists make their lusty way to Ibiza for sun, sand and sangria. Or whatever. Social distancing? How long before somebody invents a cocktail with that name?

Of course this hedonistic escapism only lasts so long. Inevitably the number of new cases each week begins to rise. The scientists begin to sweat. Probably more than the sunseekers. And suddenly, almost out of nowhere, we are standing at nearly 3000 new cases a day. That’s not a little spike. That’s half what it was at peak on the first wave of infections. And at that point, the death toll was nearly 600 per day.

This time, although the pattern of infection is similar and rising sharply, there are far fewer deaths. Instead of 600 a day, it’s less than 10. Time to relax, eh (George)?

But before you reach for that swimsuit and after-sun, let’s think why. To my mind there are three plausible explanations.

Firstly, perhaps the virus has mutated to a less lethal form. Viruses often do this. It is after all not in their interests to kill the host (that’s you). The longer they can keep you alive, the better their chances of reproduction. And that’s all a virus really cares about.

Secondly, the rise in infection is predominantly among the younger who are comparatively resistant to coronavirus’s virological charms. But of course their parents and grandparents are less so. If that’s correct, there will be another peak (yes, a third one) as the funlovers bring home the virus as a holiday souvenir to their aged relatives. Expect a big peak in mortality around Halloween.

Thirdly, perhaps we’re just getting better at treating people with coronavirus. No longer are we simply rabbits in the headlights. We have one or two drugs and at least some of the population are heeding the facemask advice. The promise of an imminent vaccine is now no longer the province of desperate tabloid headline writers. It’s looking good. Overall, and for whatever reason or combination of reasons, the number of deaths is low in relation to the number of infections. You’re more likely to survive it now than you were six months ago.

Okay, time to wheel on the complacency. Because that’s exactly what this is. And we would be well advised not to punch ourselves out and think we have this thing beaten. Because this virus is a canny little fella. Already it has probably mutated to a less virulent form in order to increase its likelihood of spreading. Logically its next step may well be to acquire resistance to the drugs we are using. Bacteria are experts at this and hospital mortality statistics are chock-a-block with the consequences of multiresistant bacteria. Successful surgery undone by superbugs. Or maybe the virus will mutate into a “scorpion” form – one that keeps victims alive much longer so that they can pass it on but couples that with a later mortality. Just imagine that. Or perhaps you’re trying not to.

It’s been a few months since I wrote about coronavirus. Although much has changed and we are learning new normals, I don’t believe for one second that we are ready for what’s coming. If we throw in seasonal flu as well, the period until Christmas looks alarming. While the summer has emptied people out of the homes, the first winter winds will drive people back indoors and trigger the second wave. If the first wave was a spring tide, the second will be a tsunami. Whether we like it or not, lockdown is coming again. And if the government has any sense, it will act now. Not next month.

In March I predicted 150,000 dead in the UK from coronavirus by Christmas. In the intervening months I have seen nothing to dissuade me from that view.

We are too complacent. And the sucker punch is waiting for us. Just like George.

Village cricket vignette

I’ve never really been comfortable with the idea of sledging in sport. Well, in cricket specifically. I can’t really comment on other sports, mainly because I think there is less sledging and less opportunity for sledging but also because I have never played other games to a standard that sledging is integral. Those who have seen me play cricket would argue that the same applies to that sport.

I think cricket is susceptible to sledging because of the nature of the game. It is, at once, a team game but also one that contains within itself individual skirmishes. And it is those individual one-to-one scraps that help to shape the whole battle that is a game of cricket.

When you play cricket, you enter into a realm of infinite complexity and also beguiling simplicity. Even the best batsmen in the world concede that batting is a case of ‘See ball, hit ball’. And many bowlers often do little more than attempts to hurl the ball towards the batsmen as fast as they can. But draped over this simple philosophy is a lexicon of nuance. The cover drive, the pull, the hook, the sweep and so on. And the bowlers have their inswingers, outswingers cutters, bouncers, googlies and chinamen (are we allowed to call them that any more?). 

This is the cricket you see as a spectator, punctuated by the sound leather on willow. The sun always shines and the runs always flow.

But there is a darker side to cricket. An ugly expansion of the conflict. Gone are the days when a batsmen would nod to a bowler in appreciation of a fine delivery that had beaten the bat’s edge. Or a bowler might shrug his shoulders to acknowledge the batsman who had just dispatched him back over his head for six.

These genteel appreciations of the wider game have largely been replaced by vocal input of a less worthy nature ostensibly in the form of commentary but in truth focused on the batsmen. After a testing delivery, the wicket-keeper will comment to the slips that the batsman’s footwork was dubious and that, in consequence, he had failed to play the delivery correctly. I’m paraphrasing. These things tend to be expressed in a much more vivid vernacular.. But the objective is the same – to break the batsmen’s concentration in a manner that can if necessary be defended as innocent commentary 

Of course much of the chatter that goes on the pitch is genuinely innocent. I have, more than once, been part of a slip cordon that spent several overs comparing the merits of doughnuts over a good old-fashioned Victoria sponge. Weighty matters. It was not unknown for the batsmen to join in, perhaps venturing the coffee eclair as an appropriate alternative. I could discuss cricket teas forever (and will at a later date). The Empire was forged and lost over cricket teas. Don’t get me started.

But sledging has little to do with cricket teas. Indeed, in my view, it has little to do with cricket full stop. Although confrontation between batsmen and bowler can sometimes spill over in the heat of the moment, it is rare. Don’t get me wrong – I was is captivated as any at the famous eyeball to eyeball stand-off and exchange of words between Allan Donald and Mike Atherton [4th Test v South Africa at Trent Bridge, Day 4] or the attempted intimidation of Jacques Kallis by a young Kemar Roach 3rd Test West Indies v South Africa in Barbados ]– the perfect example of a young hothead being given a lesson in respect by one of the legends of the game. Used sparingly, this sort of thing lends a certain frisson to international cricket. In village cricket, it looks petulant and unconvincing. Yet it still occurs. There is something vaguely laughable about being sledged by a 13-year-old fast bowler. Ask them if they’ve finished all their homework and watch their line and length fall apart. 

Throughout the villages of Kent and East Sussex, where I used to play the game (and I use the word “play” in its loosest possible interpretation), each village had its own hallmarks – elegant faded pavilions speaking of more prosperous times and exalted bygone teams. Brutish Portakabins disgorging angry adolescents, determined to bruise and better. And that was just the spinners.

You learn to recognise the signs. Meeting the opposition captain out in the middle for the coin toss gives you a pretty good foretaste of the ensuing encounter. Chat for a moment or two, recall previous encounters and (genuinely) wish each other good luck. You know you’re in for a good afternoon irrespective of the result. On the other hand, when you shake hands before the toss with an expressionless Neanderthal, monobrowed and monosyllabic, you swiftly realise that this will not be an afternoon of gentle banter so much as what Steve Waugh used to call mental disintegration. It’s a tactic perhaps successful at the WACA, but all rather unnecessary in the East Sussex league division 12. Besides, our batting was as frail as a bee’s wing. There was no need for mental disintegration. Our teams typically had one halfway decent batsmen, ageing but able. The attack (and again I’m stretching the definition) consisted principally of a former first-team seamer, short of a yard or two now but naggingly accurate. The remainder of the team were bits and pieces sorts of players. And before you say anything, yes I count myself in that category. I have always thought of myself as a classic English all-rounder – I can’t bat and I can’t bowl.

But all this talk of batsmen, bowlers, all-rounders and such detracts from the linchpin of each team, the wicket-keeper. It doesn’t actually matter too much whether they are good. The principal requirements of the position are to keep up a steady stream of chatter between themselves, the bowler, the slips and gully. An eight-hour game of cricket can pass surprisingly quickly if the chatter is good.. For a few short weeks our 4th XI had an Aussie keeper. Only a few short weeks sadly – as long as it took the club’s management to realise that he could actually play the game and was therefore underutilised in the ‘dads and lads’ team.

He was unusual. A dead ringer for Phil Jupitus, he had a vineyard somewhere in Australia. And for a few short weeks, he punctuated and commentated the afternoon’s entertainment.

“Like a gazelle, Jon” he called as I tripped chasing a quick single and landed upside down in a heap. Or, as one of Julian’s dibbly dobbllies pitched on the adjacent strip, “that’s enough variation Jules”. When one young but erratic fast bowler was still trying to finish is over after 11 deliveries I called out to him “come on G, we’re right behind you” in what I thought was an encouraging tone. “Safest bloody place” said Paul in a theatrical whisper. 

Above all, he understood the nature of sledging. Well sledging in village cricket I mean. He admired quality in every aspect of the game and would happily complement (sincerely) opposition batsmen on elegant cover drives or balletic square cuts. He filled those long periods when nothing seemed to be happening with bat or ball with amusement and advice.

It was inevitable of course that the club would soon realise that he actually knew how to play the game. But in those short weeks he showed the 4th XI how the game should be played. 

You won’t find the real heart of cricket at the MCG, at Sabina Park or at Lord’s. The real beating heart of cricket and the key to its survival is found in the hundreds of tiny clubs dotted around the country and in the personalities who play the game. Cricket is not about mental disintegration. Cricket is about being part of something that is timeless. 

Believe me, I watched Boycott bat at Headingley when I was young. I know what “timeless” means.

Bedroom broadcasts

The virus induced lockdown has had some peculiar televisual side-effects as broadcasters have struggled to interpret the stay home message from government. Whilst under normal circumstances (whatever those might be, I can’t remember) conversations and interviews might take place on sofas the size of tennis courts against studio backdrops of carefully selected special effect images and projections, none of this now applies.

Smart suited men and women speaking in front of backdrops of the Manhattan skyline at night are replaced by the kind of broadcast quality associated with student vlogs, video apprenticeships or those rather overearnest afternoon advertisements for haemorrhoid ointment. Talking heads, for once, are exactly that, their fisheye round faced proximity necessitated by the limited pickup of the laptop’s microphone. Suave newscasters and correspondents, hair brushed and airbrushed, colour-coordinated complexioned sophisticated interpreters of events are replaced by their mad rustic cousins, ties akimbo, plethoric complexions unmasked beneath scarecrow hair. As a friend of mine once said, it’s a bit like waking up next to a new lover and discovering that the hot water bottle was actually their colostomy bag. Or that the genteel, tea drinking Frank Bough was actually a cardiganned crackhead.

Broadcasting from one’s home is of course fraught with uncertainties. Inevitably no sooner have you at last got the Russian ambassador on screen than Amazon rings your doorbell. Or your cell phone receives a text to the tune of Colonel Bogey. Or your three-year-old child marches confidently into the room just as you are doing a live piece to camera about the deteriorating Korean political landscape.

But the thing I love most about these broadcasts, apart from their splintered spontaneity and the frisson of excitement lent by imminent broadcasting implosion is the insight into the broadcaster’s home life. I have seen it all.

Broadcasts from attic rooms, with magnolia walls and a single unshaded bulb above their heads. Echoes of gulags and isolation, of rooms unloved, remote from the rest of the household.

Contrived backdrops of rococo mirrors, chandeliers and candelabras, like Viennese palaces transposed to Muswell Hill. Objects (or should that be objets?) carefully positioned in the frame. Keeping up appearances for posterity. After all, digital is forever.

Fashion conscious bookish boys masquerading as Renaissance men, their razor-blighted complexions and ill-advised goatees betraying the lie.

Then, a world away from these contrived filmset mockups, there are those whose standing is enhanced, their integrity strengthened by broadcasting from the living room with its children’s toys, washing baskets overflowing and background noise. Real people. Or so it seems to me.

How many broadcasters, I wonder, have delivered a piece in a shirt, tie and pyjama bottoms? Such as the West of England Reporter doing a piece to camera about the state of Britain’s care homes. Everything went perfectly, until he stood up to make a particular point. And in a manner of speaking, he did.

Fly home

These are not tears

Not sorrow’s salty trails

No testament of age nor laughter frail

No steely pupils pierce no frozen mask

No silent screams, no ecstasies unasked

I will not crawl where once I walked

Along the now bleak scarp of my imaginings

Nor fan the flickering embers

Of stolen kisses half remembered

Nor raise my eyes to meet your pleading gaze

I will not trip or stumble on the mountain’s narrow path

Nor slip in your soft footprints far ahead

Nor stand rain-matted, shivering on the ledge above the scree

Nor scratch with faltering hand “In dreams I fly”

Over ravens’ raucous babble, did I hear your distant call?

Echoing among the hillside pines and brush

I will not gorge on grief for those days when I flew

You knew me once but not as I knew you

Smiling in Heaven

Although few outside the family would have guessed, my fatherwas a lifelong fan of Liverpool. While his two sons chose to support Leeds United and Arsenal, he was resolute in his support. He would recite, like a rosary, the names of the great Liverpool sides of the times. Bill Shankly’s battle hardened team – Ray Clemence, Alec Lindsay, Tommy Smith, Chris Lawler, Larry Lloyd, Ian Callaghan, Emlyn Hughes, Steve Heighway, John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. Gritty football based on work rate and Bill Shankly’s insistence that the team would play from whistle to whistle. As other teams flagged, the Liverpool strikers pounced. So often the scoreline would read Keegan (85), Toshack (87) or Heighway (89). Scoring in the last five minutes was the hallmark of Bill Shankly’s teams.

But these values were ingrained into the Liverpool ethos over generations. In those days management was about continuity. As Shankly went, Bob Paisley took over and built success upon success. New names to conjure with – Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Robbie Fowler and so on.

Opposition sides were intimidated before they even reached the pitch. Above the final steps from changing room to field was the famous sign “This is Anfield”. And for perhaps 20 years, those words let opposition players know they were in for a game. And the Kop was merciless. Every opposition error was greeted with a mix of pantomime cheers and jeers in that confection of twinkle eyed disrespect that marks the Scouser apart from his fellow man.

Gradually the red tide ceased. The trophies dried up and the talk was of great games in the past rather than the prospects for the forthcoming Saturday. Nostalgia replaced promise. “This is Anfield” became a limp reminder of the home team’s identity rather than the full throated voice of threat.

Two years without a trophy became five. Five became ten and, unthinkably, ten became twenty. Until Wednesday this week Liverpool had gone thirty years without winning the title. For a fan base that did not so much expect success as demand it, the frustration must have been unthinkable. Managers came and went, each confidently promising success but ultimately failing to deliver the big one. Flattering to deceive. Other minor (and major) cups still found their way into the trophy cabinet at Anfield, even, most amazing of all, two champions league trophies. But, as any football fan will tell you, knockout competitions rely on good fortune as well as skill. Upsets occur. But to win the league, good fortune is not enough. You need a team that is as strong and resolute in February’s rain and mud as on the green baize and bright sunlight of early September. You’re not a real team until you have won the league.

And in an instant on Wednesday evening, Liverpool erased thirty years of frustration and disappointment. Thirty years when they had been bridesmaids but never the bride. Thirty years in which they were forced to watch helplessly as arch rivals Manchester United racked up title after title. Thirty years in which “The Reds” became synonymous with United rather than, as any Scouser will tell you, Liverpool.

But “the Reds” are once again Liverpool. In a season full of records, and disrupted in ways unpredictable and unimaginable, Liverpool have taken the premiership title, with seven games remaining. A breathtaking achievement. Unless they relax and play some of the juniors during the remaining fixtures (and why wouldn’t they), they will have rewritten the records books by the time we finally call it a day on the 2019 season. One brilliant German coach – Juergen Klopp – and probably the most talented Liverpool team ever to take the field. Only the most grudging and mean-spirited football partisan could fail to acknowledge the quality of the football played. Once again “This is Anfield” means something.

And as I watched Juergen Klopp, tired and emotional, I thought of my father and how much this would have meant to him. I think back to all the games we watched together, father and son. European cup finals and so on. Happy days.

I just hope they have a television in heaven. Because I can see him smiling.

They think it’s all over

As summer sweeps in and sport returns there is a tendency to feel that all is right with the world. The pandemic is apparently over or at least not occupying every single inch of the front page of every newspaper. It’s easy to relax. In beautiful sunshine it’s hard to imagine people dying. People are bored of that. Not least the government which has today announced the lifting of several restrictions. Or more accurately announced that it will be making an announcement. The end of lockdown is touted as a liberation of the people, VE (Virus Eradication) Day and a fillip to the country’s tattered finances. An awakening of our comatose economy if you will. All is good. The pandemic was a bad dream. You can shake hands, hug, kiss and make up, kiss and make out. Whatever you want seems to be the order of the day, while Boris attempts to put the paddles to the chest of the Treasury.

I’ve noticed one common thread in pretty much all government policy relating to the pandemic. Governmental decisions consistently seem to precede acts of open disobedience by a few days or, in some more extreme cases, by a matter of hours. For the terminally naive, this creates the illusion of a government in touch with its people, reading the Zeitgeist and at the same time powered by strong scientific argument. And of course that’s exactly what it is meant to look like.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from leading, the government is shadowing the people, responding with populist legislation to placate imminent insurrection. The spectacle of beaches brimming over with lobster bodies basting in suncream was enough to evoke a modest lifting of restrictions prior to bank holidays and so on. Understandable. Otherwise the government just looks foolish. What do you mean it does anyway.

So before we all reach for our bikinis (not me personally you understand) let me try to instil a note of caution. Let me pour cold water on some of this inappropriate optimism.

The lifting of lockdown restrictions does not mean the pandemic is over. All it means is that currently there is room in ICU for you. Obviously as the second spike/wave begins, that may no longer apply. And lifting restrictions is of course a good way of doing just that.

2 m or not 2 m? That is the question. Well actually it is. The government now says 1 m will do. On the other hand the scientists calculate that halving the social distance will increase the likelihood of infection between twice and tenfold. Needless to say their views are not being widely reported in government briefings for the press. The hospitality industry is of course, cock-a-hoop. The 1 m spacing means something like three times as many places in a restaurant and thus three times as much revenue. Well at least to begin with. Obviously it will drop off as the clientele start to fall ill again.

These are not visionary ideas from a government populated by intellectual colossi and brimming over with inspirational legislation. Quite the reverse. These are knee-jerk policies from a largely decerebrate cabinet of browbeaten Boris lackeys. And we have the worst death rate in Europe as a result.

Perhaps the signature moment of the whole sorry business was Boris appealing to British common sense. The last time we did that we ended up with Brexit and Boris. Perhaps the saddest double act in all politics.

They think it’s all over? It’s hardly even begun.

Campari and tonic

“Campari and tonic please. One part Campari to three parts chilled tonic. No ice, no slice”.

This was the nurse’s preferred aperitif throughout most of her adult life, a habit acquired whilst in the Navy nursing service, stationed in Bighi, and ordered with that slow precise yet confident diction we British reserve for use when talking to foreigners. The perfect summer evening drink to enjoy on the terrace below the officers mess, watching the low evening light turn Valleta from pale sandstone to rich coral or salmon. Tiny fishing boats bobbed along on the swell, the painted eyes on their bow guiding them home. The smell of frying lampuki wafting up from the harbour cafes, while feral cats picked out scraps of fish carelessly tossed from the kitchens.

It was a long way from Wigan, that’s for sure. You would struggle to find anyone who had heard of Campari. Or anyone who could spell it. But these were before the days of globalisation. International brands simply didn’t exist. You drank gluhweein in Germany, sangria in Spain and, God help you, ouzo in Greece. But don’t expect to find them back in Blighty. This after all was the 1950s. Rationing was not long gone and we were only gradually emerging like colourful butterflies from khaki gabardine cocoons. Who wouldn’t want that vibrant pink drink, bitter with wormwood, sparkling in the sunset to wipe away those evenings in the Dog and Basket on Station Road, nursing a half of mild while nicotine fingered old men bickered over dominoes.

“Hello” he said. She looked up, screwing her eyes against the sunlight. It was the naval surgeon from the landing ship anchored in the harbour.

“Hello” she replied awkwardly.

He looked away for a moment, collecting his thoughts, sorting his words.

“That looks interesting. Can I get you another”, he said gesturing to her drink.

She hesitated.

“Thank you” she said “Campari and tonic please”.

He repeated the words silently to himself.

“I’m John” he said.

“Pat”.

“Pleased to meet you, Pat”.

It was 1956 and even in those drab post-war years there was still such a thing as love at first sight. They were engaged within two months, wed within four.

And until the day she died, some fifty years later, she drank the same aperitif. They played a little game. As the sun settled over the yard arm, she would say “Campari”. He would reply “and tonic”. And they would alternate the remaining words as though struggling to remember them.

I once asked my mother, many years later, why she always drank the same evening aperitif.

“Because every time I take that first sip, it’s sunset and I’m back on the terrace at the naval hospital”.

With God on whose side?

I don’t normally write blogs on two consecutive days unless I have to, driven by a change in circumstances or unforeseen events. I wrote yesterday of my misgivings about President Tweet and of the moral vacuum at his heart. I wrote of his intellectual inadequacy. Like Colonel Kurtz, this is truly a heart of darkness. He has brought shame to the office of President, embarrassment to his country and disbelief from the rest of the world.

I thought we had reached absolute rock bottom with him, that he could sink no lower. After all, as an ethical and moral cesspit, there comes a point when you can sink no lower.

Or so I thought.

Last night on the news, we were treated to the sight of armed police using rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a peaceful demonstration outside the White House to allow President Tweet to walk to church, Messiah like, Bible held aloft.

“Is that your Bible?” asked one voice.

“It’s a Bible” was the response.

Leaving aside the shocking symbolism and fanning the flames of a religious war, this was the most cynical photo shoot ever. Did the president go to church that day? Does the president normally attend church there? Does he attend church in the Washington dioceses? The answer is no to each of those questions. As Bishop Marianne said, he’s not a church attendee.

That in itself is not an issue. The issue is claiming to be something you are not, wrapping yourself in the flag of your country or with the trappings of religious faith. In one moment, against the backdrop of tear gas and guns, President Tweet redefined the word hypocrisy for the world to see.

Matthew 6:5.

“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men”.

Dear President Tweet

Dear President Tweet,

The news from America seems to get worse daily. Protests and looting in several major cities, while you cower in the White House bunker, blurting out scattergun thoughts and ad hoc policies like a five-year-old with the TV remote. One minute you tell us China is wonderfully transparent, the next you are practically lining up coordinates for the missiles. Your amnesia is breathtaking – coronavirus has gone from something that will miraculously disappear to the cause of death for more than a hundred thousand in the US. And in the parallel reality that you, President Tweet, seem to occupy, this is somehow portrayed as validating evidence of your vision and foresight, rather than, in what others call reality, the terminal indictment of a man whose response was that of a rabbit in the headlights. On the other hand, how can you be held responsible for your actions when there were none. Your ratings mattered more to you than the death toll from this very obviously not disappearing virus.

But pandemics don’t magically disappear. Nor is it the case that “nobody knew that”. Actually the CDC and the pandemic planning office did know that. And you would have known that if you had not abolished the office shortly after becoming president. “The cupboard was bare”, you whine endlessly. If it was, then you should have done something about it. You have been the president for more than three years. That’s what presidents do. Well, real presidents I mean. The buck stops with you.

So what is your response to this? How do you make sure that America is best prepared for the pandemic. Unbelievably, you withdraw support from the World Health Organisation, an action that beggars belief in the middle of a pandemic. It is hard to believe, at a time when the world is sharing its experiences of dealing coronavirus through the WHO, that the US should deny itself access to that information through an act of presidential petulance.

And yet, while America burns, you threaten protesters with big dogs and sharp teeth. Or sometimes just bullets. These are the reactions of school yard bullies not leaders of the free world. You are oblivious to the issues and consequently have no hand to play, being unable to comprehend that.

Still, your performances in press sessions are positively Shakespearean in their combination of the tragic, comic and pitiful. Rambling and incoherent, the words tumble out, like Kerouac on amphetamines. Nothing is connected to anything else, each response the sound of an engine revving in neutral. And when a reporter penetrates the outer reaches of what passes for reality in your mind, you plead that it is a ‘nasty question’. Well mummy is not listening. You have to do this one all by yourself. You are the president, remember.

Not everything is “fake news”. Pandemics are real. Looting is real. The fires are real. The injustices are real. While you fan the flames of civil disobedience with one inflammatory tweet after another, understand that this is not fake news. This is reality. You are the fake, Mr President. You are a stain on the office you hold.