Saturday, July 11, 2020

Face masks- Covid-19 and Personal Freedoms

Learning that the  prime minister is probably minded to require face masks to be worn by those entering shops, added to which face masks are already obligatory for journeys on public transport, I have bought an attractive one for mrs maytrees and another for myself the latter decorated by gorillas. Both are cotton and can easily be washed though whether they will serve any useful purpose is hard to judge at this time.

The World Health Organisation which was of course rather slow to decide that the world was facing a pandemic, has just decided that face masks do protect third parties from the wearer's own Covid-19 viruses (or should that be vira?).   

Individuals' freedoms are probably more constrained now than at anytime since WWII and indeed in the USA I gather that some are strongly  protesting about this and not   simply by failing to wear masks. 

Upon reflection however I am not sure that individual freedom is always what it is made out to be. Thus using Covid-19 as an example, do I not have a duty to my sisters and brothers to minimise any risks to them that I might cause? In any event  a basic principal of Christianity has always been that of having regard to sisters, brothers and total strangers, as illustrated by the parable of the good Samaritan as recounted in St Luke's gospel.

Reverting to secular freedoms however, I have often speculated that the human rights set out after WWII and which if respected and honoured are undoubtedly beneficial to the world's population, should have had some kind of mirror in a list of human duties which if applied to   people of sound mind, would also have had a positive impact on humanity. However that was not to be, and the biblical accounts are as important for mankind, as ever.

In the USA the individual right to own fire arms is in my view not really a right at all but rather  an inhibitor of the human duties of giving warmth and friendship to each other. Of course there are some who are entirely self seeking and always trying to 'rip off' their fellow man or woman but gearing much of everyday life to the possibility that one might meet someone of criminal intent, is surely antithetical?  

Turning the other cheek is an ideal which does not always seem possible to follow but  possessing a gun with a view to wounding or killing another human being, intent say on doing one harm, is in my view going far too far the other way. Of course those possessing the gun might say it should deter criminals but that was the argument used in the 1960s Cuban missile crisis; personally I do not consider that possessing nuclear missiles is justified by any party but that is perhaps another issue.

My autobiography is now available at:

The Wandering Soul

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Lessening Covid-19 Restrictions in England

The British Conservative government appears to be criticised for every action it takes or does not take to reduce and overcome the dreadful effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A few weeks ago it was being berated, particularly by the BBC, for not making sufficient arrangements to repatriate the hundreds of thousands of people from this country who had been travelling abroad. When the government listened and repatriated about a million from countries as far apart as Argentina and Bangladesh, there was no apparent praise from the media. Perhaps  much of the criticism is best ignored by the government.

Of course after  repatriating so many from around the world, when the British numbers of people catching the virus began to increase sharply, there was no acceptance by the media that its shrill calls for repatriation of travellers from abroad, led to large numbers of Covid-19 affected people returning to the UK, thus increasing the  illness statistics here.

Much the same kind of attitude may be discerned in the media about the government's decision to ease the lock down at least in England by allowing restaurants and pubs to reopen and hairdressers to resume their work. For example the reader comments in the FT today at least those that I have read, are full of moans, whereas even constructive criticism would surely have been apt for the more  intelligent readers of that newspaper. Perhaps someone has borrowed the Covid-19 actions to take, book from the library and has forgotten to return it for Boris Johnson's government to use; absurd media comments in my view.

Taking a very early walk through Wimbledon Town centre and up through the Village to the Common, it was almost amusing to see queues of people outside barbers' shops although in some one has to make an appointment before attending. A restaurant in Wimbledon Village serving breakfast outside, was bursting at the seams at 8:30am and many more shops were preparing to open. I see too that Holy Mass is to resume at Southwark catholic cathedral tomorrow, though with limited numbers being permitted to attend. I wonder when mass with holy communion will resume locally?

An haircut for me will probably take a day or two to arrange but  I speculate whether a visit to a local pub may be the Hand in Hand on Wimbledon Common might be possible meanwhile, as there is the whole Common  at its door making social distancing pretty easy.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Employment Tribunals and Covid-19

Having ongoing employment issues being dealt with by the Employment Tribunal system before the Covid-19 pandemic and still continuing after the UK  lock-down came into being  in March 2020, is proving interesting.

In January 2020 at an ordinary hearing at the South London Employment Tribunal orders were made by an Employment Judge which included details of how the claims were to proceed.

However, even before the lock-down, employment tribunals might take weeks to issue printed versions of their orders. In my case when  the printed ET orders arrived they included several errors. for example incorrectly referring to the issues as including disability  (rather than age) discrimination  which error  and others, continued after representations were made to the  learned ET  judge about the same.

The next step was that the parties were given time to exchange  witness statements on the issues of employment and age discrimination, which  exchange after the respondents were given extra time, occurred on 11th June. Unfortunately, the respondents' lawyers did not give any indication in advance that their statement would be limited to the employment issues (unfair dismissal etc) without referring at all to age so their  single witness statement contained no such evidence whereas mine included many evidential details. Previously the respondents had signified that they would provide three witness statements but appeared to abandon  this  without advance notification or explanation  at the eleventh hour

A Zoom type hearing had been offered by an Employment Judge for the hearing that had been fixed for last Thursday but the  respondents  opposed this so the hearing was instead converted to a case management conference over the telephone.

The learned judge at the case management conference, listened to my complaint about the failure of the respondents to cover the relevant issues in their witness statement, and after some  heated representations, ordered them to do so within 7 days. She then fixed a new hearing date for 18th December 2020 ironically specifying the very Zoom type hearing  previously opposed by the respondents, if full attended hearings at employment tribunals were still not occurring by then.

Though the outcome so far is relatively satisfactory, there is a need in my view to change and update procedures at such tribunals, especially as it appears that the backlog of cases caused at least partially by the pandemic, is huge and will take perhaps a year or more to clear.

The first change should be to require claimants to pay fees for commencing ET cases in much the same way as fees are paid for civil court cases  generally.  Of course these should be means tested where apt. Successful claimants would be rebated their fees by the respondents, in addition to payment of the compensation ordered. Unsuccessful claimants would not be rebated their fees. On the last occasion this change was made, the number of ET cases dropped by over 80% making the system more manageable. The fees aspect was at the time, opposed by the unions whose arguments were successful in the Supreme Court. Now that the government has a sizeable majority there should be rather less difficulty in securing this much needed change though legislation.

The second change should be far more involvement of the union/employer representatives with  ET hearings. Restricting so many hearings to Employment Judges alone,  risks parties who are represented by counsel, receiving or being perceived to receive, more sympathy from Employment Judges most of whom (admittedly not all) are themselves also  counsel.

The third change should be to restructure the system to make it far more possible for individuals to conduct their cases personally, as was the original intention when Ted Heath's old National Industrial Relations Court was replaced by the the system of what were then call Industrial Tribunals. The argument against this is that employment law has become so much more complicated as a consequence of European Court decisions. Now that the UK has left the EU this could become less of a difficulty.

When/if the position alters, I  expect to post more.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Imperial College Covid-19 Testing

Having agreed to participate in the Imperial College Covid-19 in-home antibody testing study, the kit required arrived by post within 24 hours which presumably says as much about the efficiency of the Post Office as it does Imperial College.

The kit seemed fairly impressive:

Using it turned out to be fairly straightforward though whether most volunteers would have found it so may be open to question. 

Still I was pleased to be invited to volunteer and to learn that probably Covid-19 has passed me by at this time.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Feeding of the 5,000?

The closure of  our local catholic church along with other places of worship for so many weeks since the compulsory lock-down in the UK commenced in March 2020, is sad. For many one of the ways in which solace could be drawn from the situation namely, holy mass or other religious service was shut to them.

Churches are from  today I believe, permitted to re-open for private prayer though I have not yet visited  my local  catholic church  The Sacred Heart Wimbledon.

There are many oddities about the easing of the restrictions of the pandemic. Mostly the media blames the government for these although given that there has not been a pandemic for over a hundred years such blame seems at best premature. 

My own view remains that a compulsory lock down is anti-democratic. Strong advice to individuals particularly  to the vulnerable and their supporters should have been provided but not the weakening of democracy caused  by the international compulsory  lock-downs.

Our local church has or did pre-lockdown, a daily 7:30 am mass attended by about 40 people most of whom also took holy communion from the celebrant or minsters of communion. The church seats over 500 people so the 40 or so in attendance were usually well spaced apart out of choice. Interestingly before the lock down, the principal diocesan concern appeared to be about fire precautions. Volunteer fire wardens  were encouraged to usher people outside through the nearest exit in the event of fire.  I suppose that will still be applicable though new rules seem likely to be that of entering the church by one door and exiting by another.

Reverting to this blog post's title; "Feeding of the 5,000?" 

A weekday mass for 40 people in a large church should not present any difficulty as regards keeping apart by  6'6' or even 3'3" . The main difficulty would be that of receiving Holy Communion. An answer could be surely for mass with small congregations, that  individuals bring their own bread and hold this out for consecration when the priest celebrating the mass takes up the host and wine for consecration. Each member of the congregation could then receive Holy Communion within  current secular rules. If unlevened bread is required then this could presumably be provided in much the same way as say sourdough bread in supermarkets?

Mentioning the above to a friend who knows catholic church clergy rather better than I, he said that they would not ever agree. 

However given that Jesus  used a boy's 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000 people in C1, is this possibility entirely out of the question  during the  C21 pandemic?

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Reflections on the Pandemic

For many, reflections on the Covid -19 are quite straight forward in the UK, simply blame the government, under Boris Johnson's leadership. 

Sadly however, such "reflection" is simplistic if not also purely political.

The UK to be sure, has published  the highest number of  tragic deaths in Europe and I believe the second highest number in the world to date. However that begs the question of whether other countries such as China are being honest with their publications. 

Furthermore, the media in the UK pushed hard for the million or so UK citizens around the world who had been travelling abroad, some even after the risks from Covid -19 were becoming apparent, to be flown home by the UK government.  Whether or not that pressure should have been acceded to so readily is not for me to judge.   Nonetheless, those million people returning to the UK from around the world, would have included many who sadly, were  already affected by the virus, which then spread to locals who had not travelled abroad. 

Naturally the media does not accept that it added to the government's pressure about this though whether the government should accede so readily to media pressure, is another question.

I appreciate that many other countries assisted in their nationals returns home, but a million?

At the time of the outbreak many wealthier UK citizens were enjoying skiing holidays in Italy where the virus was already hugely affecting people. The UK citizens naturally returned in droves to the UK thus again accidentally spreading Covid -19 here.

As one who suffered from Hong Kong 'flu in the 1960s, I recollect that the illness was very unpleasant. Nonetheless the country was not closed down during that tragic time. Of course Hong Kong 'flu bad though it was was not as bad as the current Chinese 'flu.

In my view, compulsorily shutting the country down was and is anti democratic and should not have been forced upon free citizens in the UK, or anywhere else. 

Instead, in  the UK strong advice  should have been given especially to the elderly and vulnerable, to remain at home but otherwise people should have been left freely to get on with their lives.

Care homes, hospitals and nursing homes  could have instituted their own non-visiting arrangements or insisted on masks, based on the  individual centre's circumstances but blanket changes and rules for every centre everywhere seem absurd. 

Perhaps the fear that the NHS would be overwhelmed without a lock down was understandable but since then the UK Nightingale hospitals have been set up with thousands of beds for the sick yet so far, hardly used. There is no need for the lock down to continue. People should be advised as suggested in the preceding paragraph then lock down rules  should be abandoned.

Covid-19 deaths are tragic indeed but are natural, despite being unexpected at this time. 

By reacting in the ways this country and others have, many young people are being deprived of education, employment and normal lives which tragically may result  in illnesses and deaths, including suicide or self harm for years to come, which could and should, have been avoided. 

The country's finances will have been pushed beyond overdraft limits and will take years to be brought back to an even keel at no doubt the cost of huge tax increases again falling heaviest on the young.

I note that in France, commentators have said that if Covid -19 cases and deaths increase there again, which by some accounts is beginning to happen, there will be no further national lock downs as the people would not obey second time around. 

Doubtless the same could be said of many other countries but should there have been a first round of lock downs at all?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Public Transport

Blog posts for the past two weeks having had as their subject matter, what turned out to be pleasurable and permitted, walking and cycling excursions during the Covid-19 lock down, this week almost accidentally,  the excursion was partly on public transport, hence this blog post's title.

Mrs maytrees and I had decided to walk to Morden Hall Park at which in less restricted times, I had spent an enjoyable couple of hours  see for example:

Antiques Roadshow

The  3/4 hour walk to Morden Hall Park is along flat terrain and is usually easy. However as  the morning of the day of our intended walk was windy with threats of thunder mrs maytrees decided to wait for another day. The wind meant that umbrellas would be pointless so I ventured out alone without one.

The walk to Morden Hall was refreshing but not a little damp. Sadly entry to the wooden planked way over the wetlands was barred presumably because its three feet or so span is too narrow for  Covid -19 social distancing arrangements. However most of the parkland at Morden Hall was open although not the tea shops or plant nursery possibly because the National Trust which runs Morden Hall, had not yet decided how best they should open although  plant nurseries are permitted to operate.

Even Richmond Park has managed to open its attractive cafe next to Pembroke Lodge to those who wish to eat and drink outside. On the other hand cycling in Morden Hall Park is permitted but not in Richmond Park until next week, when limited cycling will be permitted once more. What times we live in.

After walking  for a  while through Morden Hall Park in the wind and rain, I became slightly disorientated directions-wise but eventually arrived at Phipps Bridge tram stop and decided to see if it would be possible to take  a tram back to Wimbledon. There were signs at the tram stop from the Mayor of London (not my favourite politician) requesting passengers to wear face masks, which of course I had not brought with me.

A tram arrived within a couple of minutes and thankfully only one of the ten or so people in the tram carriage was wearing a face mask so that proved no problem.

Upon the tram arriving at Wimbledon Station platform 10, tram passengers quickly left but it was sad to see the other 9 platforms at the station empty of people. Equally sad was the sight of trains stopping at or passing through, the station, empty of passengers.

I wonder whether Sweden has it right as regards not imposing lock downs etc on its people? Currently Sweden has more deaths from Covid -19 per head of the population than its neighbouring countries. However the neighbouring countries may find that upon lifting  their downs, the number of Covid -19 cases begins to increase once again.

Maybe it will be found that Covid-19 like the common cold will affect people come what may and that no vaccines will be capable of being made, to create immunity. If so, lock downs will prove to have been vastly expensive with sadly little benefit whereas in addition to the employment saved and personal suffering for many avoided, ending the lock down entirely could have brought on a herd immunity far sooner. 

Arguably, the NHS in the UK could not have coped with large numbers of sufferers in February but given that huge but hardly used Nightingale hospitals were constructed in March,  ending the lock down then if not now, may in the long run, have saved or  save more lives than its continuance  now might do; not to mention vast and ongoing, government spending and personal financial deprivation for many people, caused by the ongoing lock down.

Face masks- Covid-19 and Personal Freedoms

Learning that the  prime minister is probably minded to require face masks to be worn by those entering shops, added to which face masks are...