I was once invited to the Cheltenham races and found the experience underwhelming. Everything was too respectable: not nearly Hibernian enough. I had expected to see Blazes Boylan, Flurry Knox, the Joxer and Christy Mahon, propping each other up in a determined attempt to drink the west of England out of Guinness. The reality was much tamer. But there was one source of amusement. By halfway through the afternoon, undeterred by their skill in dispensing losing tips, a lot of my journalistic colleagues had become equine experts. The previous day, these chaps would not have known the difference between a foal and a fetlock. Yet here they were, insisting that there was not enough stamina in the dam’s bloodline, and so forth. Just as well that they did not run into Flurry Knox. He would have sold them a stable-full of three-legged hunters.
Something similar is happening with Covid-19: instant expertise syndrome. Two months ago, many of those now afflicted would have had to pause before spelling epidemiology. Switching from Greek roots to Latin, none of them has any problem with pontification. Yet on a less puffed-up assessment, there is only one point on which we can be certain. There are a lot of unknown unknowns out there. Back at the beginning, the Swedes were much praised. They seemed to have found a calm route to herd immunity: keeping the economy going and the bars open, avoiding panic. This was widely attributed to the strengths of the Swedish character. Pan was not a Norse God. The price of a pint in a Swedish hostelry would surely reinforce Swedish stolidity. It would also silence other nationalities. They would be comatose with shock. Finally, if you did not observe social distancing in Sweden, you might suddenly find that you were playing chess with Death.
But there is a problem. The Swedish figures are not impressive. On both the economy and death rates, Denmark and Finland are doing better. It may be that the Swedes were right and that the ultimate goal should be herd immunity. Even so, their approach depends less on miracles than on stoicism.
Stoicism: if it were part of the banking system, a lot of its clients would now be heavily overdrawn. An Irish parliamentarian once declaimed that ‘Ireland’s cup of troubles is running over — and it is not yet full’. One knows how he felt.
There are similar sentiments in Jeremiah. Lately, I have been doing a bit of dipping and skipping in the Bible: the King James Version, needless to say. The so-called New English one ought to be known as the dumbed-down, banalised, decline-of-English, insult-to-the-Scriptures Bible. Who in their right soul would forsake the Authorised Version for the pasteurised one? There is nothing pasteurised about Jeremiah. Although he did live in difficult times and had many enemies, one feels that he enjoyed difficulties and relished enmity. If the land had been flowing with milk and honey, with no Babylonians to menace Jerusalem, no market for Jeremiads, he would not have known what to do with himself. Jeremiah was put on Earth to be the patron saint of the Free Presbyterian Church.
That body has followers in the town of Coleraine. They would be scandalised about the town’s name appearing on a wine. But it does. Though there are plenty of rivals, the Buck family of the Te Mata estate produce the best New Zealand wine I have come across. Around two thirds Cab Sauv, 30 per cent Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc, the 2005 Coleraine I drank could have passed muster as a classed-growth claret. It was only just ready. Any earlier, and it would still have been… locked down. That is good for wines: less so for humans.
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