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It was only when I moved to England that I ate goose for the first time.

There’s no finer meat to serve at Christmas.

In the UK, now is the time to place an order.

Below is my recipe for a foolproof goose. It might take a while to prep, but it is well worth it.

Ingredients:

One 10 – 12 pound goose should serve 7 people.

Salt

Pepper

2 tsp granulated or caster sugar

2 tbsp sherry or balsamic vinegar

You will need a rack and a large roasting tray for this as well as two saucepans: a large one for stock and a small one for fat rendering. On the day of roasting, you will need a turkey baster and a large measuring jug.

Method:

Let the goose air dry for at least 12 hours before cooking (instructions below).

Make stock while the bird dries out so that it is ready when you want to make the gravy or jus.

1/ For the stock, you will need the wings. With sturdy kitchen scissors, cut the wings off at the body of the goose, then cut into equal portions.

2/ Put the wing pieces along with giblets and neck into a saucepan to brown and caramelise. When caramelised on both sides, cover with water, cook and reduce to make goose stock. Season with salt and pepper. This takes about one to two hours. When the stock is finished, set it aside to cool.

3/ Reserve the liver for a separate delicacy for two people, lightly sautéed in butter for a minute or two each side to place on warm, buttered toast. Salt the liver just before serving. Drench the butter over it and the toast. (You can have that the day before you have the roast goose or on the same day. With liver, the sooner the better.)

4/ Begin preparing the bird the day before roasting. Start by breaking the legs of the goose by stretching backwards without breaking the skin. This will make it easier to carve once you have roasted it.

5/ Remove any excess fat from the goose cavity and render gently over low heat in a non-stick pan. This is the best fat from the goose. Once cooled, pour into a sterilised jar and keep for roast potatoes. (Heat a tablespoon of fat at 375 deg. for 10 minutes, then put halves of dry par-boiled potatoes in it to roast for approx. 30 minutes.)

6/ The day before roasting, pour boiling water over the goose (with innards removed), pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Coat the outside with salt, vinegar and sugar (a somewhat traditional Chinese method for duck) and rest on a rack over a roasting tray. Let it sit in a pantry overnight.

7/ For roasting, put the goose on the tray over the roasting pan into a preheated oven at 500 degrees for 20 minutes.

8/ With a turkey baster, remove any fat from the pan into a measuring jug.

9/ Turn down the heat to 350 deg. or 325 deg. for two hours.

10/ Keep removing fat with a turkey baster into the same measuring jug.

The oven temp. is an advisory. If the goose starts to get too brown and the meat is not cooked, perhaps the heat is too high.

My Christmas goose takes about two to two-and-a-half hours to roast following this method.

11/ Keep the fat in the jug to cool. Reserve later for roast potatoes (as above). Have sterilised jars at the ready. You should have nearly a year’s worth of goose fat to refrigerate and use as you like.

12/ Let the cooked goose rest for about 45 to 60 minutes before carving.

13/ Make a jus with two tbsp. (approx.) flour, mix into remaining fat, then add Port or red wine. Make sure that is evenly mixed and cooked. Add some of your goose stock (from Step 2 above) gradually to thin slightly for a light jus to pour over the goose. Reserve any spare jus and refrigerate.

The 33-year-old also said, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’.

On Thursday, November, 25, 2021, Nigel Farage invited Bilal Fawaz, a rapper and amateur boxer, on his Talking Pints segment:

Bilal Fawaz was trafficked from Nigeria nearly 20 years ago as a 14-year-old. The premise was that he would be able to see his father in the UK:

In the event, he was kept in a house where he was an unpaid servant. He was not allowed to go to school. When he was told he might be sent to another house to essentially continue working as a slave, he began to get suspicious.

Eventually, he managed to escape and get himself into the care system in England. Finally, he was allowed to go to school and make British friends. He had a few scrapes before deciding that the self-discipline of sport was the route out.

Bilal decided to pursue boxing. Now, at the age of 33, he has finally been signed up by a boxing organisation.

He’s also a rapper, and not a bad one at that. The GB News video above shows a clip of him performing.

However, as Bilal only has the official status of ‘leave to remain’ in the UK, steady work has been hard to find. He has 30 months to obtain ‘indefinite leave to remain’, which, he said, sounds like a long time but really isn’t.

One of his parents is Nigerian and the other is Lebanese. Bilal said that the Nigerians consider him ‘too white’ to be Nigerian, and the Lebanese consider him ‘too dark’, so he, too, has experienced racism, hence, his rapper name, which means ‘stateless’.

Over the years, Bilal has given motivation lessons to young people to encourage them to work hard and be positive about life.

He has no time for anyone who calls Britain ‘institutionally racist’. He thinks the UK is a great country and full of opportunity. He says that most people who consider themselves victims are being lazy.

He pointed out that everyone has had hard knocks in life, but that it is up to each of us to overcome obstacles and find a constructive way forward.

Nigel Farage was visibly moved by Bilal’s life story. It seems likely that the two will keep in touch.

The most moving moment for me was when Bilal said that he wanted very much to buy a house and start a family in Britain. I pray that he succeeds in that goal.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. I hope that their day is full of food and fun.

This is an important day, recalling the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts featuring English Pilgrims and the indigenous people who taught them how to plant and grow regional crops.

Alternatively, some prefer to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in Florida decades before.

Whatever the case, the day is also apposite for giving thanks to God for personal blessings, past and present.

This summer, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the trajectory of my life and those many blessings from the past that made my present days possible. It was a prayerful exercise, full of remembered pleasant surprises from the past. As I looked back, it seemed to be God’s plan for me. How thankful I am.

Those weeks of reflection while doing gardening were a useful exercise. They also helped to lift the gloom of lockdown prior to England’s mid-July reopening. I still feel elated.

The other day, I wrote about Grant Harrold, The Royal Butler.

My post ended with an autobiographical video about his life:

He describes the trajectory of his life, from being a youngster who persuaded one of his teachers to allow him to start an after-school drama club in Scotland. At that time, he wanted to be an actor but also a butler.

After he finished school, he gave tours of a Scottish estate. From there, he went on to work for the then-Duke and Duchess (now Dowager Duchess) of Bedford, in England. A few years later, he became butler to Prince Charles. He ended up being a guest on television shows, not only in Britain but also the United States and Australia, discussing various aspects of etiquette. His demonstrations of afternoon tea have been particularly popular. Clearly, he has achieved both of his childhood ambitions.

Grant Harrold’s life appears to have the hand of God upon it, even if he did not say so.

Currently, The Royal Butler gives courses on etiquette, both in person and online. He ended his video by saying how grateful he was to the people along the way who made that possible, beginning with his schoolteacher who allowed him to set up a drama club three decades ago.

Each of us has much for which to be grateful. Thanksgiving Day is a good time to reflect on our many blessings.

A new book, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn, discusses how various parts of the world abandoned by humans regenerate or deteriorate afterwards.

The Times featured a review of the book on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

I was most struck by the opening description of an abandoned herd of cattle in Orkney, which Cal Flyn visited in researching for the book. The animals reverted to feral ways (emphases mine):

The island of Swona in Orkney, Scotland, was a tiny community of nine families. In 1974 its two remaining inhabitants left, letting loose their herd of cattle, hoping they would fend for themselves until they returned. But they never did. When Cal Flyn spent a night on the island, she was told to sleep inside the abandoned cottage (not a tent) and lock the door. The cattle might trample her or break in. In fact they were defensive in Flyn’s presence, but the feral herd were far from “dim-witted, cud-chewing automaton[s]”. They had chosen a succession of alpha bulls and alpha cows, and banished unsuccessful males to the edges of the island. When one of the herd was dying, they would provide what comfort they could, and even introduced rituals to deal with dead bodies, which lay where they had fallen.

The Swona cows are one example of nature’s inextinguishable power to carry on despite the damaging impact of humanity. In beautiful, evocative prose, Flyn explores places that have been left behind by humans, and the ways in which nature has reasserted itself.

What fascinated me was their instinct to promote the fittest bulls and cows and juxtaposing that with death rituals.

Dumb animals? Far from it. God’s creation never fails to amaze.

I’ll return to climate change soon.

However, today, I ran across an encouraging tweet about conversations, based on a study from 2018:

For those who cannot read the text in the tweet, the abstract to The Liking Gap in Conversations: Do People Like Us More Than We Think? reads as follows (emphases mine):

Having conversations with new people is an important and rewarding part of social life. Yet conversations can also be intimidating and anxiety provoking, and this makes people wonder and worry about what their conversation partners really think of them. Are people accurate in their estimates? We found that following interactions, people systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company, an illusion we call the liking gap. We observed the liking gap as strangers got acquainted in the laboratory, as first-year college students got to know their dorm mates, and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public got to know each other during a personal development workshop. The liking gap persisted in conversations of varying lengths and even lasted for several months, as college dorm mates developed new relationships. Our studies suggest that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know.

The full study is available here.

Studies were conducted among students at Yale University and in the United Kingdom.

Both sets of participants, regardless of country, judged themselves much harsher than their conversational partners, thereby manifesting the liking gap.

People were nervous, shy, self-critical and more, which caused them to perceive a liking gap.

However, their partners in conversation observed them differently — and much more positively — according to visible signals such as smiles, gestures and so on.

The most interesting part was the dorm study which evaluated students living together throughout an academic year. Interestingly, the liking gap persisted from September through February, disappearing completely only when the academic year ended the following May!

So, fear not: conversation is one of the most satisfying things we can experience in life. People are far less judgemental than we think.

Get talking — and enjoy!

When abroad on holiday, I still send postcards to friends and family.

A Times columnist, Emma Duncan, also appreciates postcards, spurred on by her late stepfather, who was an MP in the North of England (emphases mine):

Near the end of his very successful nine and a half decades on the planet, as measured by the number of lives brightened by his existence, I asked him whether he had any lessons to pass on about how to live well. He thought for a while, during which I assumed he was brooding over the difficulty of encapsulating the grand philosophy that had guided him through most of a century. “Well,” he said finally, “you can never send too many warm postcards.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Emma Duncan experienced a moment of pleasure recently when she received a thank-you postcard from a friend:

In the digital blizzard in which we live, it is rare to receive anything in physical form other than a catalogue, a bill or a leaflet offering £2 off substandard pizza. But one day this week a postcard landed on my doormat from a friend, thanking me for lending her my coat — my mother’s, a particularly stylish number from the Sixties — outside at a party. As thanks for the service, the sending of a card, which must be bought, written, stamped and posted, was quite over the top. That’s exactly why it gave me such pleasure. The greater the trouble taken to deliver a small gesture of affection, the warmer the payload.

It’s time we revived the ancient, lost custom of sending postcards. They really do warm the heart.

Britain’s veteran television presenter Richard Madeley has a weekly agony uncle column in The Telegraph.

Recently, a 76-year-old lady from Argyll and Bute in Scotland wrote to him complaining about her 73-year-old husband’s smoking and drinking.

Excerpts of the letter and Madeley’s wise reply follow, emphases mine.

Anon writes:

I am 76 and I don’t smoke or drink. My husband is 73: he drinks strong lager every day, he smokes and he takes no exercise whatsoever.

All of this is making me increasingly worried and angry. He is a good man, but I fear that he has deliberately set himself on a path to self-destruction. (Certainly he seems to take no evident pleasure from his habits.) He knows my views on the matter but we have never argued about it.

Richard Madeley begins by asking where the harm is in her husband’s habits, as he is in his eighth decade. He tells the woman that she is:

over-worrying a bit about this.

It’s not as if your husband is shooting up on class-A drugs every night or downing a whole bottle of whisky before sunset; he is indulging in some pretty mild vices. Yes, smoking is especially harmful, but if he hasn’t managed to kick the habit by now I think it’s probably a lost cause.

You say that he knows your views on the matter but quietly carries on puffing away and snapping open those tinnies anyway. You also say that you don’t argue about it and he doesn’t behave objectionably after he has sunk a few.

So my advice? Leave him be. It is not a perfect situation and you are quite right to be concerned about what his habits are doing to his liver and his lungs, but ultimately that is his responsibility, isn’t it? Carry on enjoying your own retirement in your own way and let him enjoy his on his terms.

Live and let live. Or, rather, live and let smoke and drink. There are worse things in a marriage, you know.

I couldn’t agree more.

This lady should be thanking God for a lasting marriage — and enjoying her husband’s company more often. No doubt he was smoking and drinking lager when she married him. If it wasn’t a problem then, it shouldn’t be one now.

Earlier this month, a compass jellyfish enjoyed a fish for lunch in Cornwall.

This is a fascinating and unusual photograph from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust:

The Cornwall Wildlife Trust wants to know about incidents such as these:

Do remember to report all dead marine animals to our Marine Strandings Network hotline on 0345 201 2626.

Their Twitter feed has beautiful photographs of Cornwall’s flora and fauna. Well worth a visit.

Yesterday was Father’s Day. I hope that all dads reading had a good day with their children, communicating in some sort of significant way, either in person or by phone.

As ours is a childless household, I was interested to follow coverage of the day on GB News.

Alastair Stewart

Alastair Stewart got a pleasant surprise on his afternoon show, as his daughter, a headmistress, rang in with her good wishes and thanks on behalf of herself and her siblings as well as Mrs Stewart:

Stewart said that he has good relationships with all of his children, but that he and they relate to each other in a very individualised way, making fatherhood that much more special.

He said that he was taken aback that his daughter rang in to the show, at the suggestion of the production team. He wiped away a little tear after the call ended.

Neil Oliver

Archaeologist and television presenter Neil Oliver, also a member of the GB News team, appeared in the studio on Stewart’s show and the one that followed, where Father’s Day was the main topic.

Riding lessons for a young daughter

Oliver told Stewart that some children have an instinctive attraction to loving certain animals. He told Stewart how his daughter wanted riding lessons because she loved horses. Oliver and his wife thought the girl was too young. One day when the three of them were out, the girl saw horses in a field and spontaneously ran towards them. Oliver and his wife were worried for her safety, but the horses lowered their heads as she approached so that she could hug them. Riding lessons followed shortly afterwards.

His daughter will be entering Edinburgh University this autumn.

The awe of holding a newborn

On the show that followed Alastair Stewart’s, Oliver said that holding his children as newborns was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences he could have. He said that holding his tiny babies turned him to jelly. He said that he felt as if his ribcage were floating around in his body, it was such a tremendous experience.

Celebrating together

As Oliver was in London in the studio and his children at home in Scotland, he told them they could celebrate Father’s Day together once he returned to Stirling.

He said that he enjoys all the days that most of us regard as greeting card holidays, saying that any day that brings families closer together is worth celebrating.

Proudest accomplishments

Oliver said that his proudest accomplishments in life are being a husband and a father.

He said he knew from a young age that he wanted a wife and children. They make his life complete.

—————————–

I did search on Twitter to see if GB News had posted any of these clips. Alas, no.

Furthermore, Neil Oliver no longer has a Twitter feed.

He deleted his Twitter account in 2016, after harassment from people who want Scottish independence. The Express carried the story in August that year (emphases mine):

The archaeologist, writer and broadcaster, who presents BBC’s Coast, said he was forced off social media by the so-called cybernats, disappointing his 40,000 followers.

Mr Oliver says he became a target for abuse and received scores of hate-filled messages after deciding to speak out in favour of the Union

The Renfrewshire-born broadcaster said: “A great chunk of the response was not just negative but very personal and filled with bile and vicious loathing.

“People made it clear they wished the worst for me. They wished that I would develop cancer and said I deserved to be burnt as a traitor. It was one or two positive comments accompanied by hundreds of hate-fuelled messages” …

I realised that by having a Twitter identity I had opened a door into my personal life in which strangers could pass at will. The minute I deactivated my account I felt like I had brought my head out of deep water and could breathe easily. It was an almost instantaneous fix.”

Mr Oliver said that he was now worried about his three young children being targeted.

In an earlier article from January 2016, Oliver revealed his favourite personal photo to The Express, one of him and his wife as students at Glasgow University.

He told the reporter:

This is a picture of me and my wife Trudi at Glasgow University. l graduated with an MA in archaeology in 1988, and this was at Trudi’s graduation in 1990. We were together for a long time, then broke up in our twenties.

It was nothing particularly dramatic, but we were apart for eight years and met again by chance in 2002 after I bumped into her brother. It was as if we’d never been apart and we’ve been together ever since.

Our daughter Evie and sons Archie and Teddy were all present when we married in Solsgirth, Kinross-shire, on October 10, 2009, exactly 23 years after we first met.

We’re very similar people from similar backgrounds. We each had a happy and normal working-class childhood. Trudi grew up in Falkirk mostly, and I was raised in Ayr and Dumfries where my family still live. After several years working as an archaeologist, then I became a newspaper journalist – like Trudi.

Oliver is known for his shoulder-length hair, which he has had since he was 15.

He doesn’t dare get it cut:

I’ve basically had the same haircut since I was 15. When I was at university, quite a lot of men were scruffy with long hair, and I fell into that and fossilised. But Trudi was taken with my long hair. She is my number one fan and likes the way I look.

We’d end up in the divorce courts if I got my hair cut short now! But I’ve always had people telling me I should get it cut. A TV reviewer from The Guardian recently wrote that whenever I appear on screen she wants to scream, “Get your hair cut, laddie!” Any review I get for a TV show always starts with something like “the Scottish archaeologist with the long flowing locks…”

He missed his family when he was away filming his series:

I miss Trudi and the children when I’m away from our home in Stirling. My job is not onerous in any way, and I enjoy it thoroughly, but being away is the hardest part by far. I’ve missed a lot of birthdays, school concerts… just family time. I try and minimise how long I’m away. When I’m home I do the school run and I go in from time to time to talk about history.

Although I’m away for long chunks of time, the kids have always had their mum with them 24/7. She has the toughest gig, operating as a single mum for half the year. But, when I am home, it’s often for periods of about two months.

He wrote books when at home:

I spent five months of the last year writing my first novel Master Of Shadows in the spare bedroom at home. I had previously had eight non-fiction works published, but I was more nervous about the reaction to this.

Now Neil Oliver has a weekly show on GB News. He told Alastair Stewart that this was a career move he had not anticipated but feels that now is the time, because he has much to say about British society today.

He added that doing a show live is much different from doing a television series, where something can be redone, if necessary. He said he is always nervous before filming. He and Stewart agreed that any presenter who isn’t nervous beforehand should probably stop broadcasting.

In closing, it was fascinating to hear Oliver’s thoughts on fatherhood, especially as his children are teenagers now.

And who doesn’t like a good love story?

Early in March 2020, my far better half and I were optimistic that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his government and his advisers would not be too proscriptive about coronavirus restrictions.

In the end, they were, but the following timeline shows how quickly their thinking on herd immunity changed.

In light of Dominic Cummings’s testimony to the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday, May 26, and his lengthy Twitter thread prepared beforehand (continuing afterwards), I offer a short and a long version of what happened.

Short version

The Government denies that natural herd immunity — catching the virus — was ever government policy.

Yet, here is Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, at a coronavirus briefing on Thursday, March 12, 2020:

It seems that Cummings might have advised the government to backtrack and deny it was policy, however briefly:

As Cummings said on Wednesday, once he received numbers from an NHS specialist/mathematician who extrapolated scenarios on what could happen, the Government changed tack:

Long version

I haven’t missed a single coronavirus briefing since they started in March 2020. As regular readers will know, I have been deep-diving into the pandemic since then.

February 2020

Lessons From The Crisis has an excellent article on how the herd immunity plan unfolded and changed. ‘It’s bizarre that this needs saying, but *of course* the UK had a Herd Immunity plan’ is well worth reading.

It includes a capture of SAGE minutes from February 4, 2020, advocating that policies for influenza be followed. The article summarises this as follows (emphases in the original):

On the 4th of February, at the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’s fourth Covid meeting, influenza planning, with its assertions that spread was “inevitable”and halting the virus “a waste of resources” was adopted as the official recommendation- tragically this was about ten days before Chinese covid cases peaked, never return to their early 2020 levels …

The scientific consensus presented to ministers was: mass infection of the population was inevitable, a vaccine would not be available in time, so the only choices were about how to manage the mass infection of the population until the country had accumulated enough cases to get to herd immunity

The alternative being attempted by governments elsewhere, trying to stop the disease from infecting the population, was regarded as folly; the UK government’s scientific advisors were certain that countries attempting suppression would fail …

March 2020

In his testimony on Wednesday, Cummings claimed he broke rank with the Government on Wednesday, March 11:

Publicly, however, he was still on board with the Government plan:

Vallance gave his aforementioned briefing on herd immunity on March 12. This is what appeared afterwards:

This is a summary of an interview Vallance gave to Sky News the next day (full video here):

The Independent quoted a BBC interview with him on March 13:

Sir Patrick told the BBC that the advice the government is following for tackling coronavirus is not looking to “suppress” the disease entirely but to help create a “herd immunity in the UK” while protecting the most vulnerable from it.

Asked if there is a fear that clamping down too hard on its spread could see it return, Sir Patrick said: “That is exactly the risk you would expect from previous epidemics.

“If you suppress something very, very hard, when you release those measures it bounces back and it bounces back at the wrong time.

“Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it.

“Those are the key things we need to do.”

That same day, SAGE’s Professor John Edmunds also advocated natural herd immunity in this Channel 4 interview:

Nigel Farage was outraged by the policy:

The Lessons From The Crisis article says that the turning point happened almost immediately:

Partly in response to this outrage, the government changed course; Boris Johnson swapped strategies and began locking down the country just 3 days after the herd immunity plan became public, with new priorities built around suppressing the virus with blunt instruments such as lockdowns to buy time for building countermeasures- testing and tracing capacity, vaccines, treatments.

That is not to give Nigel Farage single-handed credit. The media also helped a lot, especially with frequent footage of what was happening in northern Italy at the time.

On Monday, March 16, Prof Neil Ferguson released his (spurious) numbers from Imperial College London, which changed the Government’s policy. 

UnHerd reported on it the following day — ‘Why the Government changed tack on Covid-19’:

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the government’s science adviser Dr David Halpern indicated that the government’s strategy was to allow the virus to pass through the population, to allow individuals to “acquire herd immunity” at a delayed speed, while vulnerable groups were “cocooned.” This strategy, however, was subsequently contradicted by health secretary Matt Hancock, who insisted that “herd immunity is not our goal or policy”.

The quick reversals did not end there, as a ban was announced on mass gatherings just a day after the government’s initial claims that it was not the right time for such measures. On Saturday, the government briefed select journalists on “wartime measures” to quarantine the elderly at home or in care homes, away from any contact with the rest of the population; earlier than such measures were expected to be announced.

Finally, it was revealed yesterday afternoon that the Prime Minister had decided to dramatically step up countermeasures, and switch entirely to a strategy of containment as a result of advice from an expert response team at Imperial College London, which concluded that the strategy of delay would likely cause “hundreds of thousands” of avoidable deaths.

The initial plans — to establish herd immunity based on research on social fatigue and assumptions that effective vaccines would not be developed — contradicted the guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the wealth of evidence in the fields of epidemiology, behavioural science and immunology, so it is unsurprising that countless experts have already questioned and criticised the strategy, including epidemiologists, immunologists, and behavioural scientists.

On Saturday, March 21, Alex Wickham from Buzzfeed summarised a tense and confused week inside No. 10, and the road to lockdown (emphases mine):

While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials, and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

Towards the end of last week, some ministers and political aides at the top of the government were still arguing that the original strategy of home isolation of suspect cases — but no real restrictions on wider society — was correct, despite almost every other European country taking a much tougher approach, and increasing alarm among SAGE experts.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point. They continued to privately defend the controversial “herd immunity” approach outlined to the media by Vallance, even as other aides scrambled to claim the UK had never considered it to be policy.

And there was fury behind the scenes among members of Johnson’s team at the likes of Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, who had been publicly saying the government had got it wrong.

But data from Italy — presented to the government before it was published by experts at Imperial College on Monday — changed all that. Their report confirmed the earlier fears of the epidemiologists who had been calling for more drastic action.

On Monday, March 23 — the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson took away every Briton’s civil liberties in five minutes by announcing the first lockdown — Byline Times posted a must-read article, ‘COVID-19 SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Part Three — Behavioural Scientists told Government to use “Herd Immunity” to Justify Business-As-Usual’.

SPI-B is our behavioural, or ‘nudge’, unit and is part of SAGE. Dr David Halpern, a SAGE member, runs the unit. This was allegedly their role in the herd immunity discussions:

A SPI-B document dated 4 March, which rejected the need for school closures, went on to refer to the medical concept of immunity. In a discussion about how the public might be confused about the disparity between the Government’s approach of “not applying widescale social isolation at the same time as recommending isolation to at-risk groups”, the document acknowledges disagreement within the SPI-B.

The document explains: “One view is that explaining that members of the community are building some immunity will make this acceptable. Another view is that recommending isolation to only one section of society risks causing discontent.”

The idea of immunity does not come up elsewhere in the SAGE corpus. But, Professor Chris Whitty, the Government’s Chief Medical Advisor, claimed that 20% of the population of Wuhan, China, had contracted the Coronavirus and acquired herd immunity. He believed that this explained why new cases had begun to fall in China

This flatly contradicted data from China showing that, by end of January, after the crisis had peaked, just under 95% of the Wuhan population remained uninfected by the virus. This was, therefore, nothing to do with herd immunity, but a result of China’s emergency containment response. 

The UK Government, it seemed, had made a gamble: one that Dr Brian Ferguson, Director of Immunology at Cambridge University, described as “not scientifically based and irresponsible” because typically “Coronaviruses don’t make long-lasting antibody responses”.

Whether or not it was a specific goal of the Government, its network of behavioural science advisors had fielded herd immunity as a way of justifying to the public why the Government was not taking early action – despite having no scientific evidence behind the idea

Social media discussions on herd immunity began to appear:

On Tuesday, March 24, Byline Times posted another must-read article, ‘The Coronavirus Crisis: Oxford Model Touting “Herd Immunity” was Promoted by PR Agency Tied to Ministry of Defence and Nudge Unit’.

Excerpts follow:

On 24 March, the Financial Times claimed that as much as half of the British population may have already been infected by the novel Coronavirus, according to a new model by Oxford University’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group

The conclusion, according to the FT’s science editor Clive Cookson, suggested that the country “had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of COVID-19 over more than two months”. If true, this would vindicate the Government’s “unofficial herd immunity strategy – allowing controlled spread of infection,” he stated.

Although numerous epidemiologists and scientists had questioned the validity of the Oxford model – which had not been peer-reviewed – it was promoted to the press by a PR agency with ties to the Government, raising questions about how and why this model was published and disseminated at this time.

The draft paper, which was originally posted to Dropbox, included a disclaimer noting that its content was “not final” and could be “updated any time”. The disclaimer also contained a contact point for journalists: “Contact for press enquiries: Cairbre Sugrue, cairbre@sugruecomms.com.”

Dr Lewis Mackenzie, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Discovery Fellow, commented: “Why on earth has this been sent to the media via a third party PR company instead of the Oxford University press team? Seems very irresponsible to encourage reporting on this topic before the scientific community had a chance to comment and peer-review it.”

When asked why its own press team did not release the study, Oxford University said: “All Oxford academics have freedom of expression regarding their areas of specialism, including communication through the media. It is therefore not uncommon for academics to make their own arrangements for contacting the press. The university cannot comment on individual arrangements that it is not party to.”

Caibre Sugrue is the founding director of Sugrue Communications, a technology PR agency. He is also a non-executive advisory board member of 100%Open, an innovation consultancy – which has worked for several British Government agencies, including the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and a leading charity which co-owns the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or ‘nudge unit’.

This seems to be the first appearance of Prof Sunetra Gupta, later of The Barrington Declaration (a libertarian approach to coronavirus self-isolation), who works at Oxford University:

The original FT piece had claimed that, if substantial herd immunity had been achieved, restrictions could be removed sooner than expected. The article added: “Although some experts have shed doubt on the strength and length of the human immune response to the virus, Prof Gupta said the emerging evidence made her confident that humanity would build up herd immunity against COVID-19.

I contacted Professor Sun[e]tra Gupta, one of the co-authors of the study, to find out what this emerging evidence is. She did not respond to a request for comment. However, the model was reported worldwide and some commentators in both the US and UK used it to suggest that strong social distancing measures may be unnecessary

Scientists are divided on the prospects for achieving herd immunity, but most agree that, while achieving it may be possible at some point, it is not clear how long it would last. In any case, whether or not it is achievable, the immediate focus should be on minimising fatalities.

By the end of the month, confusion among journalists reigned:

April 2020

In April, it appeared that dealing with coronavirus was becoming highly complex. Author Ian Leslie tweeted a considered an explanation from a Financial Times reader:

May 2020

Two months later, Sir Patrick Vallance denied that natural herd immunity was ever a plan:

Prof John Edmunds gave Channel 4 another interview, wherein he appeared to backtrack on his previous claims about herd immunity. The first video is from his March interview and the second from May:

I’ll have more on the UK’s approach to herd immunity next week.

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