Monday, 8 June 2020

Pulling down statues. Protesting in a pandemic. Odd actions. Crocodiles and bridges.

On television news programmes they have invited guests who commentate, via Zoom or Skype or some other video-link, on items coming up in the next days newspaper. Last night Peter Hitchins was one of those guests. Asked to comment on the pulling down of the statue of Edward Colston, 17th century slave trader, he said it should not have been pulled down in that way. Rather, years ago it should have been moved to a less prominent position with a plaque explaining why it had been moved and giving some of the history. I tend to agree that dropping the statue into the bottom of Bristol harbour removes it from its offensive dominance of the city but risks letting people forget why it was removed in the first place.

As the toppling of the statue took on a kind of significance similar to that of toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, I found myself wondering why, if the people of Bristol felt so strongly about it, campaigns to get rid of it had not been mounted before now. Well, it turns out they were and were not successful. Lots of places in Bristol, it seems, have been named for Colston, whose wealth helped build the city. Some have changed their names. But back in 2017 when it was announced that Colston Hall, the city’s prime concert venue, was going to change its name, a number of very respectable citizens declared they would boycott the hall if the name was changed, including a local councillor:-

“This disgraceful craven announcement by the Bristol Music Trust represents nothing less than an abject betrayal of the history and people of Bristol. It is a complete surrender to the forces of historically-illiterate Political Correctness. However, this pathetic capitulation will at least save me money. As a regular concert-goer to the Colston Hall, I do not intend to spend one penny on tickets there if it changes its name after 2020 and hope other true Bristolians will do likewise.” – CLLR RICHARD EDDY.

Of course, the slavery question is a very complex matter but rational, educated, 21st-century people earnestly concluded that they were taking a moral stance by refusing to listen to music performed within the walls of a concert hall unless that venue was named after a man who bought, sold and killed human beings. It gives you pause for thought.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations have spread all over the place and I must confess to feeling more than a little concerned about all those people gathering together. But it’s not really possible to put protest on hold until we have a vaccine, or until, like New Zealand today, we can declare ourselves Coronavirus-free?

And we do still have parts of the country where the much talked about R number is still hovering dangerously around 1.

So when those same commentators on news stories say that they envy our continental neighbours who are now permitted to sit outside cafes and bars and restaurants, having a friendly drink and a chat with friends or even eating out, I have my doubts. Let’s hurry up and open the terraces of our pubs as soon as possible, they cry. Well, yes, I can understand the desire but (1) our continental neighbours are a bit further down the Covid-19 road than we are and (2) they mostly have a climate that is more conducive to eating al fresco. We appear to have had our summer already and now June is doing what it often does, proving to be damp, blustery and even downright cold! Sitting outside is not quite so tempting.

Meanwhile, the horror stories are still coming out.

Victims of the virus are being discovered at home, having lain dead undetected for days or even for up to a couple of weeks. These are people who have lived alone, mostly but not all elderly people, and who have been discovered when someone finally tried to contact them and received no answer.That’s a lonely way to go.

People are doing weird things to try to protect themselves against the virus and poisoning themselves in the process. Some are soaking all their food in a diluted bleach solution. Others are swallowing solutions intended for cleaning fish tanks, believing that they contain hydroxychloroquine, recommended by President Donald Trump. And it’s not just Americans; in Bordeaux, France, people have had to be treated for rubbing bleach into their skin, and children have been drinking hand sanitiser. People have died as a result!

And some have subjected their pets to the same tender care. Vets have had cases of cats in an alcoholic coma after being washed in hand sanitiser. Dogs have had their paws damaged as owners have insisted on washing them with a variety of substances on returning from walks. The stupidity of humankind is astounding!

Hey! Ho! That’s enough gloomy stuff.

Here is a story about the towns of Tordesillas and Simancas in the Castilla y León region of Spain. They have been told not to bathe or go fishing in the Pisuerga river, despite this being June and the weather being favourable, because a Nile Crocodile has been spotted in the water.:“It was a crocodile that measured between 1.5 metres and 2 metres,” a local policeman told the Guardian. “I saw it move through the water before it disappeared under the surface. I’ve never been that close to a crocodile before; it was kind of stomach-churning.”  

And just to cheer us up, the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco has started “singing” since new railings were added to a cycle lane to improve windflow over the bridge. A spokesperson said, “The new musical tones coming from the bridge are a known and inevitable phenomenon that stem from our wind retrofit project during very high winds. The wind retrofit project is designed to make the Bridge more aerodynamic under high wind conditions and is necessary to ensure the safety and structural integrity of the Bridge for generations to come.
“We knew going into the handrail replacement that the bridge would sing during exceptionally high winds from the west, as we saw yesterday. We are pleased to see the new railing is allowing wind to flow more smoothly across the bridge.”

Some people find it weird and eery while others find it quite beautiful. I suspect I would be with the latter group. There is a bridge in Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain (one of its many bridges), whose cables “sing” in a similar fashion when the wind is in the right direction. I am always pleased to hear it, one of the nicer sounds of modern technology, and much less disturbing than the similar effect produced by the Hilton Tower in Central Manchester - a rather ugly building in my opinion and a rather frightening wail when it is windy.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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