Statement by Jamaican Minister of Health and Wellness on COVID-19: March 2, 2020

Here is this evening’s statement, as anxiety over COVID-19 is slowly building in Jamaica. News of three countries in the Caribbean now being affected…

Statement by Jamaican Minister of Health and Wellness on COVID-19: March 2, 2020

Sharing nature’s beauty: weeks 9 and 10-London winter

I spent the last 9 days of February in London, where winter looks a lot different than it does in Jamaica. Being in a temperate zone not too far north, the UK gets cold weather but not the harshest of winters, usually. Days can be chilly (around 0-5 degrees Celsius) or a little warmer (up to 10 degrees). Precipitation in some form is common, ranging from light rain through heavy snow. Windiness is common. Vegetation is usually in a dormant phase which means for lots of plants leaves are shed.

The UK has a lot of evergreen plants–shrubs, trees and grass, so all is not brown and dank. As the winter passes, and spring is in the air, one sees the early buds on trees and bulbs start to appear, usually snowdrops and daffodils, first. Grey skies are common and when the sun shines, even for a few hours, or even minutes, it’s easy to get excited that a brighter day may be about to happen. But, the weather can change rapidly. One of the pictures below shows a double rainbow that happened to occur just as rain was falling lightly and a few rays of late afternoon sunshine appeared.

Much of the wildlife that inhabits the urban areas tend to stick around during the winter and can often be seen doing their usual thing and foraging for food, which is much easier when conditions are above freezing point.

Interestingly, the UK had been hit badly by Storm Dennis-no relation of mine :)-just before I arrived and there was major flooding in some areas.

Storm Ciara had saturated the country the week before and ‘Dennis‘ affected huge swaths of Britain, from the Scottish Highlands to the Cornish coast and large parts of Wales and Northern Ireland. It triggered a record-breaking number of Environment Agency flood warnings and alerts in England.

London calling: An Alphabet of Sights from #Brexit-infused England 2020-N is for not a clue

I am convinced that the average person who voted in the 2016 referendum to leave the EU did not have much of a clue what it really meant. The proof of the pudding is that those who should have had some idea have laboured for the better part of four years to get broad understanding of what it means in practice, even the costs and consequences of leaving the EU without a deal.

This is not to cast aspersions about anyone’s intelligence, but the EU is complex and the UK’s relationships with it and the rest of the world are also complex. Disentangling from the EU and reconnecting under different terms could not and will not be easy or simple. I guess most people in the UK are getting to understand that.

The feeling I have is also that many people seemed to think that the UK somehow used to survive ‘on its own’ without needing ‘the rest of them’. Nothing displays how wrong that is better, perhaps, than recalling how, in the 1920s, ‘Empire Christmas pudding’ was promoted as a way of boosting what Britain gained from having put its feet all over the world:

It’s self-explanatory in showing that almost everything ‘held dear’ as British was heavily dependent on things foreign. Now, only the most ignorant will think that Britain is made up of a set of homogenous people who’ve existed in the British Isles since the beginning of time. As noted in Wikipedia, ‘Britishness became “superimposed on much older identities”, of English, Scots, Welsh and Irish cultures, whose distinctiveness still resists notions of a homogenised British identity. Because of longstanding ethno-sectarian divisions, British identity in Northern Ireland is controversial, but it is held with strong conviction by Unionists.’

Yet, much like the nonsense that many people in the USA spout about ‘our country’, the UK is as much a bunch of mongrels as many other countries. If ethnic purity was the bridge to defend it would have been manned more by ‘real’ Britons (Scots, Celts, Picts, etc) and others who found themselves ‘swamped’ by Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normans and a bunch of others over the centuries. So, this desire to ‘take back’ our country is yet another slogan built on a total myth.

Lenten reflections 2020-6: 1966 and all that

1966 sits in my memory as the year I passed the 11-plus exams and gained a place to grammar school, which I would start in September that year. That event is the one I think shaped me the most that year and beyond. I can’t remember getting my results, but they now come out in October, so that would have meant my receiving them in late-1965. It doesn’t really matter, now. But, it was far from the most significant thing that happened with which I was associated that year, or for the world.

It was also the year that England won the FIFA World Cup for the first and only time, beating Germany 4-2 in a final played at Wembley on July 31.

I’d been living in England long enough to feel something for the home team, and as far as I was concerned there was no Jamaican team that I should be supporting, certainly not at the World Cup. [Brazilian coach Jorge Penna led Jamaica in its first attempt at World Cup qualifying in 1965, for the 1966 World Cup finals. Jamaica made it to the final group of three, which included Costa Rica and Mexico. The group winner would represent the CONCACAF region at the finals. But Jamaica lost at home to Mexico 3-2 and in the return leg in Mexico City under high altitude they were crushed 8-0. Jamaica lost 7-0 to Costa Rica in their first encounter and had a 1-1 tie when they played at home.]

Again, I don’t recall many details but the whole country was in an excited frenzy so I imagine an 11-year-old boy would have been, too. But, locally, the joy was short-lived.

On August 12 that year, the most devastating thing happened in England, almost on my doorstep, when three policemen were shot dead, near Wormwood Scrubs Prison, to the north of where I lived. It terrified locals and the country, and a manhunt went on for months to catch the main culprit, Harry Roberts. However, the event came really close because the funeral for the policemen was held in my church, St. Stephen’s, as you can see from the video, passing by the primary school that I had just left (with secondary school starting in September):

When a former primary school classmate reconnected 12 years ago, this event was one of the first he recalled; he said he was in the crowd opposite the church. By that time, I had moved from Stanlake Road (opposite the school) to another street (Conningham Road), and I suspect that I was not able to get so close.

My biographical memory is not bad, but tit’s nothing like my eldest daughter’s who can remember many fine details. I don’t mind not having such recall for events such as the so-called ‘Murder on Braybrook Street’ or ‘Shepherd’s Bush murders’. He became a real-life boogie man for many years and name ‘Harry Roberts’ was used to frighten many children.

Roberts was released in November 2014, after serving 48 years in prison. Bizarrely, he was idolized and immortalized by some football fans, in a chant to antagonize the police (‘HarryRoberts is our friend…’). I’ll let you search for that.

Lenten reflections 2020-5: Friends and family

So, I’m back home after a nice 9-day trip to London, from which many memories flow as a result of which I will go into a nostalgic phase for a few weeks, at least.

While travelling yesterday, I took for me the unprecedented step of paying for in-flight WiFi with Virgin Atlantic. I’ve tried transatlantic WiFi before but back then it really didn’t work well, so I decided to not go for the ‘full Monty’ but just take the messaging package for £2.99. Well, it was money well spent as I spent a lot of the flight ‘chatting’ with my family, in particular two of my daughters in the USA. A good amount of catching up with the eldest, before she went off to a soccer scrimmage, and the latter was having a weekend with friends and doing some shopping therapy-albeit in a good cause to get gear for a new sport, softball. But, our communications went on after the flight and up to my arrival in Jamaica some ~20 hours after taking off from London. Phew! My wife was out at events at the university and later having dinner with friends and nice of her to call me while I was in transit and share a few words and laughter with her hosts, who sent dinner for me, I understand 🙂

But, I also used WhatsApp to have some conversations with friends with whom I’d reconnected during my trip. One was at home; the other was also on a flight in the opposite direction to Singapore. But, it was great to do more catching up.

I’d spent part of the weekend at the Wellcome Collection, again with friends, this time from my undergraduate days. The Exhibition is ‘Play well’ and I recommend it for some free and stimulating looks at what playing means to human development. But, the catching up went on for a good hour+ before we went into the exhibition, and I’d recounted (at length) some of what had happened with my previous reconnecting during the week.

Guess what? Three seemingly disparate groups of people, with me as a common feature in the mix, are only one degree of separation apart. That the son of one of my work friends (in both the UK and USA) is now living in the same sometime-infamous massive public housing estate in London, the Aylesbury, where a dear friend from grammar school lived (and he sadly died a few years ago) and whose wife was with me at the Wellcome, was just one of those degrees. Ironically, the Wellcome is just around the corner from University College’s Bartlett School, where I did my postgraduate studies in urban planning.

Let’s just say the Aylesbury Estate was not urban planning and architecture’s finest moment, as another ‘great idea’ for relieving the plight of poor people and their housing failed for what should have been clear reasons then but were not seen or ignored.

We choose our friends but not our family, but both should be important to us at all stages of our lives. Friends are often there when family isn’t, sadly. I often say that close friends aren’t just those you see or communicate with frequently, but those whom you can be pretty sure will be there for you whenever YOU need them, no questions asked.

I love my family, dearly, but I also love my friends dearly, too.