This week I begin with news from over the pond. In the US private schools are reporting a huge increase in applications from parents concerned their children will miss out in public education. State schools in California, Virginia and Washington, amongst others, are not offering in-person learning when term starts later this month. Consequently private schools are offering increased financial aid packages to help those unable to afford fees, which can typically range from $15,000 to $50,000 a year. In the UK we are seeing some similar trends, with parents making application to private schools because they can’t cope with the uncertainty of state education. If we look at the much feted alternative of zoom lessons, which became all-the-rage during lockdown, the uptake of zoom lessons in primary schools was 60% in the private versus 3% in the state sector [72% in independent versus 6% in state secondaries]. Now, given our children were out of school for around 4 months, what were the other 97% doing? Were they – like so many others – just engrossed in online games or the perennial villain, TV? What were all the state financed teachers doing, if not in school, or not delivering online? And yet unions are screaming out for their right (not) to work…
Despite our government’s insistence that our children are going back to school ‘at all costs,’ it would seem that once again the teachers union has a sizeable agenda, proffering a 25 page ‘ransom note’ with a list of 199 non-negotiables. This includes, as an example, rubbish bins all requiring lids and being double bagged. Probably sound advice in the wider world, but far less critical in an environment where – according to the science – it is known that children cannot pass a virus on to adults. It seems another game changer moment for the NEU: how many obstacles can we put in place? This Machiavellian tactic has been labelled a Wreckers’ Charter by MPs, as it is wholly devoid of any social sense of obligation. I doubt these 200 checklist points are in place in any returning businesses. Why would it? Despite many outstanding teachers in our communities, we have edged down the path of Safety, along the cliff of Sensibility, to the Rocky Cove of no return. Sounds like an Enid Blyton moment, but without the predictable happy ending. This union strategy comes as new studies emerge from both Oxford and Edinburgh Universities. [Ok, everyone should be happy cross-borders, now!] The former study confirms the long lasting effect of interrupted schooling, combined with an additional study of 20,000 pupils and 100 teachers, which showed that transmission is virtually zero. In the Edinburgh study, Mark Woolhouse, head of infectious disease epidemiology, corroborated that not a single case of Covid transmission (pupil to teacher) exists across the whole world. Unsurprisingly many teachers are walking away from the unions, as they can see the power struggle for what it really is. This officious pedanticism has also been transferred to many other sectors via the Big Brother mechanism. Gavin Williamson is obviously not a man but a meagre mouse, plainly unfit to end the stranglehold of unions. He should pass the school chalice to another individual with more fortitude, before it becomes totally poisoned.
Thanks to the ‘wisdom’ of Sage, (now there’s an oxymoron if ever there was) and the shambolic contradictory guidance, social distancing has become synonymous with business ruination. Their risk aversion to get back on the bike has not only brought down British industry and investment, but the near death of the Arts, Entertainment and associated Hospitality sectors. Many friends of mine are musicians and some have reported their orchestras have not been able to do ONE concert since March. Now perhaps – if they’re lucky – these musicians are on furlough, rather than being made redundant, but inactivity is no replacement for artistic endeavour. Another friend, who is involved in the management of an organisation, said that they ARE allowed to do a concert, as long as they only have 20 musicians on a stage, although normally they would have up to 60. So, they can only have a full orchestra concert now, if they have extended stages. However, as long as they don’t play, they won’t sell tickets. And, I bet you our musicians unions are looking for solutions to get back to business, not drawing up a thick rule book to stay home and vegetate. This is, of course, but one side of the coin; the other side being a whole generation of music lovers and potential musicians who are being slowly and surely starved of all artistic education or appreciation. Opera, Theatre and Dance have also experienced a similar fate, and a specific arena affected – especially upsetting for me – is the pending demise of one of the most influential ballet schools in the world. This school has just announced its intention to close its doors permanently. Some readers will know which ballet school I’m referring to, as it’s one of international excellence, one which will likely never be replaced. They shared with me that they were reduced to surviving on 20% of normal revenue, and able to run only 15% of their classes, and even those were on zoom. Anyone who is interested in preserving this particular Ballet school, can contact me for further info. I also heard months back that The Globe, beloved to Shakespeare artisans, was going to close forever. Distancing, masks, quarantine, track and trace – its fast creating an artistic apocalypse, either through ministerial lack of awareness, a dafkenik attitude or sheer ignorance.
Dozens of us can now go shopping, but not attend shul – unless you follow a myriad of rules; you can mix on the beaches in flabbergasting numbers, but not find a swimming pool open; you can attend a rave without police enforcement, but be forbidden to resume normal life at school. And for all those ‘permitted activities’ …. you still have to conform to ridiculous extra measures. It’s bonkers. Can you imagine the chorus in Marriage of Figaro singing, whilst wearing visors, or the corps de ballet in Petrushka tripping across the stage in surgical masks? The notion of ‘chorus’ is additionally lost if you’re moving in a formation 1.5 metres apart. It truly is a death knell. For anyone still not sure about the joy of wearing a mask, I’m struggling, as I find it rides up my face to the point where I can neither see properly, nor hear well. It’s a total sensory nightmare.
Returning to my opening comments on schools, I reiterate that we’ve been promised they will go back as a number one priority, and stay open. This to be guaranteed, even if it means pubs and shops should shut. Let’s take it one step further, and just shut all superfluous industries, to ensure our centres of learning and excellence can (stay) open. No exceptions; Music schools, Drama schools, Art schools and Ballet schools, all these must be included. The rest is dressage. Although, having said this, I’m savvy enough to realise every business owner regards his business as essential, and he needs to stay open to survive. So, maybe just open everything, Boris.
Also in this week’s Telegraph there was a massive call for the public to be protected from fakery in alternative treatments for cancer. Obviously, as a cancer patient myself, this was of interest. Unsurprisingly MPs are concerned that with the backlog of cancer treatments during Covid-19, patients will take themselves to alternative agencies, in the absence of proper provision in the NHS. At the end of the day none of us wants to die prematurely, so we are willing to try off-book remedies. Some of the controversial treatments include the Gerson therapy (includes coffee enemas); consumption of apricot kernels (to be used with caution, as they contain cyanide); cannabis oil also gets a hammering, although many people would argue that there are properties in plants that are definitely beneficial. I know individuals who fortunately have effected cures, for their cancers. So the jury really is still out on that one. Another of the other treatments which came in for a slating was one based on sound & light treatment. Now curiously enough, this one has been suggested to me, but I’m a little too cynical to follow such an unorthodox and expensive remedy. One lady called me up to encourage me to buy a Rife machine, but for right or wrong, I remain unconvinced.
I recently had an article published in an American Journal, and on the back of it, I received dozens of emails, mainly offering me support or sharing that they were inspired by the article. There were a few well meaning individuals who were trying to get me to follow some completely unregulated treatments. I’ve declined, as I’ll only take on those with good evidence. Sadly, as a cancer patient you’re often absolutely desperate, and you’ll consider anything, but if I have any words of advice for somebody considering such methods, it might be to undertake these in conjunction with mainstream therapies. I take the pragmatic view if one doesn’t work, the other one might. And two weapons are better than one. Are my therapies making me healthier, you ask? I know not, but my forthcoming scan will be the litmus test.
Finally a huge congratulations to someone who has beaten all the odds. Neil Heritage (39) is the first above the knee, double amputee to scale the Matterhorn. Neil lost his legs whilst serving in Iraq and was told he’d never walk again. He refused to be beaten, by disability nor by the mountain. Fighting spirit, and we’re right behind you.