It’s Just Inconvenient Not a Punishment

So, you’re feeling a twinge of cabin fever? A little frustrated that you can’t get up and wander where you want when you want, hold hands, hug a friend, sip a pint of tea, coffee or whatever, and solve personal and world problems better than using Twitter or a Facebook post.

Not to worry, you’ll find yourself back to what your normal was before the world spins off the rails. It shouldn’t take more than a year or two – and that’s less than a teardrop in the large bucket called “time.” Ah, yes, dear souls, it isn’t anguish we are going through in 2020 – it’s inconvenience. And inconvenience becomes downright discomfiting when it disturbs the comfortable pew of life we treasured and called normal.

Quite amazing, really. We have grown up from our earliest days learning about nations that became countries – prosperous, strong, and selfishly all-powerful, only to implode at the height of their power – and collapse. Never believing it could ever happen to the place where we live.

From the pyramids of the Egyptians and the Aztecs; from the amphitheatres of Rome and multitude of shrines to Greek gods, we read in wonderment of their achievements. And, if we have been fortunate enough to travel and witness those towering monuments to the greatest of empires, we have always wondered, and still do: What happened?

But do we ever wonder what the citizens were thinking as their nation world turned upside down? I read somewhere recently – and apologize for failing to note the author’s name: “Many generations have thought the world was dying, but it was only THEIR world which was dying.”

Greek, Aztec, Egyptian, Roman – all conquerors of the world they knew; Empires that flourished then died. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the creation and collapse of the Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia) and the break-up of the British Empire.

Both remain recognized on the world stage and are treated with respect, but their right to world empire status died long ago. And the world keeps turning even as China – an old Empire that seemed to die centuries ago – has emerged to challenge the USA’s world leadership role.

For the past four years. Canadians have been watching with fidgeting discomfort the antics of President Donald Trump as he theatrically degraded the U.S. from class act to bad vaudeville.

And, while we sat watching and hoping to see Humpty Dumpty fall off the wall, along came COVID-19 and lock-down, shut-down, face masks, virus checks, social distancing and a myriad of other annoying rules and regulations to set normally placid Canadians mumbling in their beer.

Just damned inconvenient, that’s what it is. Having to sit and watch – not even able to hold hands – while a plague runs rampant just across the border and Pied Piper Trump leads his nation into chaos.

The medical experts, who so far have served us well, tell us it could be this fall before the world has a medicine powerful enough to stop COVID-19, and maybe a year after that to be sure we have a winner. 

That’s a long time. Time enough to adjust and correct some of the bad living habits we have acquired. Time to accept and adapt to inconvenience. It is not the end of the world.

Ancient Traditions; New Dreams

The native war canoes swept across Victoria’s Harbour, synchronized paddles flashing as they moved through the narrows now spanned by the Johnson Street Bridge, across the Inner Harbour and then through “the Gorge” to the calm of its inland Gorge Waterway and a picnic end to the day.

Leading this First Nations procession and providing the perfect paddle-beat was a slow-speed launch carrying a military band dressed in the costume of early traders and explorers of the 1700s.

In the lead Canoe were the Nitinaht, the paddlers dressed in white. Then came the Clo-oose in light blue; the Malahat wearing pink; then West Saanich and Quamichan – each wearing yellow. Close behind came the Khenipsen in green then Kuper Island, dark blue. The Tsawout of South Saanich sporting blue and yellow were followed by Nanaimo in red and white.

Also included were three canoes billed simply as two “Americans” – one wearing green and white, the other pink and yellow and a “Clam-Clam-A-Litz” in red and green.

Following the war canoes was a motor launch carrying Sir Robert Kindersley, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company; his wife; and a gaggle of HBC head office types out west to celebrate the company’s 250th founding anniversary – and taking a look at its latest western Canada development, a brand-new department store.

It was May 1920, and for Victoria, a visit from HBC’s head honcho, who was also a Knight of the Realm, was as close as local toffs could get to royal celebrations without having to say “Your Majesty.”

The First World War and Canada’s military record in France, at sea and in the air, had done much to move Canada from the role of remote country cousin to solid, loyal member of the British Commonwealth family. And no province cherished that growing up more than Canada’s far western outpost which, despite frequent cries for change, clung to the British in its provincial name and its Queen’s name – Victoria – for the capital city.

When Sir Robert and Lady Kindersley were later welcomed to Government House for a private dinner with 40 guests, I’m sure Sir Robert and his wife would have felt right at home. With his grand, new, company store looking for a fair slice of a growing city’s prosperity, all the stops would have been pulled.

In addition to the war canoe procession – a grand spectacle in its own right –the traditional Victoria Day parade stretching “more than two miles” and jammed with marching bands, floats – and new-fangled motor vehicles – had jammed city streets.

It was during Sir Robert’s visit that the Vancouver Island Automobile Club organized an adventurous “motor excursion” from Victoria City Hall to Elk Lake. There had been talk afoot about taxpayers buying Elk and Beaver lakes and preserving the area in perpetuity.

The Colonist newspaper reported that 40 residents signed up for “the excursion” but didn’t specify whether that meant 40 cars and drivers or 10 cars with a driver and three passengers. Whatever, it was by all accounts a great success leaving city hall at 2:30 p.m. precisely and traversing “the seven miles to Elk Lake in little over 20 minutes.”

The dream was never wholly fulfilled, but the primary goal of preserving Elk and Beaver lakes for future generations was. And, when urban families are again able to swarm their beaches for summer’s traditional activities, they might whisper a thank you to the folks who, 100 years ago, thought of the future.

What part of the original Elk -Beaver Lake park plan never made the final cut? The original plan saw Elk Lake developed for recreation; great beaches, a bit of fishing and boating, with Beaver Lake proposed as the ideal site for a swimming pool complex.

The swimming pool complex for Beaver never made the map when the property became the fantastic park it is today. I wonder how many, if any, residents or visitors swimming at the modern Commonwealth Pools out Royal Oak way know they are but a hefty stones throw from Beaver Lake where the original dreamers had hoped to see them. Not on the original plan – but close enough to claim a credit.

Final thoughts: That must have been a spectacular sight 100 years ago to watch a dozen or more 40-foot war canoes driving through the ocean, keeping the pride and traditions of their ancestors alive.

It all happened three years before I was born. But I feel quite privileged to have been allowed to wander half a world away from my birth-home and be invited to witness the survival of thousand year old native legends, and the birth of dreams a hundred years ago.

And I wonder what the writers of 2120 will have to say about my generations “gifts” to their way of life?

Still Searching For Answers

It was 1869 when two sisters described as “middle-class school teachers” were declared insane and by court order, removed from Victoria’s 10-year-old hospital – The Royal – better known as “the Asylum,” a health care facility with accommodation for a handful of patients suffering what the doctors of the day called “routine” afflictions.

The “hospital” was a two-storey building, and administrators were stressed to the limit trying to provide separate accommodation for male and female patients, “different” accommodation for patients of Chinese descent, and meeting what they regarded as the impossible demand to provide beds and care for “maniacs.”

We should spend a sentence or two with the Chinese problem because it is so difficult to believe. Affluent citizens in the 1800s and well into the 1900s hired servants of Chinese descent to clean their homes and do their laundry, their cooking, and everything else that contributed to good health practices – but couldn’t share a hospital ward with them because, well, they were not white.

The white people felt themselves to be cleaner, morally superior and deserving of softer pillows and better care than the Chinese.

Amazing but true. 

The Chinese and “the whites” did agree on one thing: That maniacs, the crazy people, should not expect, or get, the same care and hospital attention as the “normal” sick.

And, that brings me back to the sisters mentioned in my opening paragraph, “teachers of the middle class and deemed insane.” They were ordered to be transferred from Victoria’s hospital, certified as “insane,” and incarcerated in the Victoria City jail – with the key presumably thrown away. 

The charge against them? “These insane ladies were noisy and physically violent, and one refused to wear any clothing (so) they were kept locked in a bare brick cell in the Victoria City jail (and here’s a key phrase) with only male staff supervision.”

But there was a third sister who took up the battle on behalf of her siblings, challenged the touted “respectability” of Victoria citizens and drew commanding attention to the almost total lack of care for mentally impaired citizens. She mounted a letter-writing campaign to the press appealing for common decency and the need for women to be looking after her afflicted sisters.

Public hearings followed with resignations of old hospital officials, and, in 1873, the passing of the BC Insane Asylum Act as a shocked public forced subsequent governments to seek solutions for the care of the mentally ill. It has never been a pleasant battleground. As recently as 1901, psychiatric literature in BC still listed the causes of insanity as “hereditary, intemperance, syphilis and masturbation.”

How to handle the mentally sick among us would continue to be a significant problem. In 1904, the government thought it was on the way to a solution when it purchased 405 hectares of land in New Westminster-Coquitlam (including Colony Farm) for the construction of a new therapeutic centre for the mentally ill. In 1913, it opened its first ward – the Male Chronic Building. It is not a record to boast about, but within a month, it was filled with 900 patients, double its planned capacity.

Colony Farm was part of what was now known as Riverview, a central model of psychiatric health care quickly named internationally as one of the most progressive asylums in North America. Its patients worked the grounds, and at its peak produced up to 700 tonnes of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk a year.

But the idea of big hospitals and institutions was losing favour as various regions of the province sought solutions “closer to home” populations. In 1998, the government announced plans to close Riverview, but two years later said a new 20-bed unit would be built to house patients who found it difficult to obtain treatment in home area residential centres.

In 2000, Riverview and the provincial government were attacked for the hospital’s use of controversial electroshock therapy. The dispute led to the resignation of the president of the medical staff who had fought against the practice. The same year a group of former patients launched a lawsuit claiming male and female patients had been illegally sterilized between 1933 and 1968. Evidence revealed 200 patients had been sterilized. Nine women received settlement totalling $450,000.

Most of the land today is included in a land claim by the Kwikwetlem Nation and is recognized provincially as a botanical garden and architectural heritage site. Some old buildings are still in use by private companies, others stand empty like acid tears shed for a worthy cause that went awry.

And the problems of how to best handle the mentally fragile among us remains unanswered. If a fully modern care facility staffed with the finest mental health advice and backed by a working food-producing farm isn’t the answer – what could be? Not unsanitary instant – hovel tent shambles disgracing boulevards and parks. And surely not the unused rooms of basic motels built primarily for overnight stays not for extended stays.

(The Internet is jammed with stories pre-Riverview and the Colony Farm; stories of enlightenment and ignorance, hope and regret, fear of the mentally ill, and the discomfort many of us still feel in its presence. The history of Psychiatric Nursing in BC provides a useful timeline on the long battle for a better way in BC. So does Riverview Hospital a brief history/CBC News. And with “Society, Place, Work –The BC Public Hospital for the Insane” BC Studies, autumn 2011, provides its usual excellence research.)

I have no suggestions, but welcome yours.

Who Will Win Patent and Distribution Rights?

So begins the next great arms race with the superpowers, and some less than superpowers, jockeying for the top spot in the world of international medical power-brokering.

The last time, only two nations were left standing at the end of a global race, when each had military arsenals jammed with nuclear missiles capable of destroying, with the touch of a button, the world.

We called it the “Cold War” at the time. The superpowers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR – Russia) and the United States of America, were challenging each other, and each seemed ready to destroy their rival and the world.

The only thing delaying the final act was the fact that any cataclysm started by one would destroy all.

And so, the world moved on. The mighty Soviet Union disintegrated. Russia remained on the world stage respected but not as powerful or as feared as it once was. Old Europe tried to re-group as the European Union joining forces for economic clout, but in recent months that shaky union has been travelling a bumpy road threatening EU survival.

Now, seemingly overnight, China has stepped from the global shadows into the world spotlight. In fact, China began its transition decades ago from the instability of revolution to an internationally powerful military and economic force capable of facing down the threatening bluster of the United States and President Donald Trump.

Now, China is positioned to challenge the USA for the best weaponry in the field of public health care. 

China has become a favourite Trump target since he ignored warnings in late 2019 that an outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was being reported. The president chose to ignore the early warnings that with no vaccine or treatment known for the disease, it would become a global pandemic.

China attempted to confine the COVID-19 outbreak by isolating the communities in which it was reported, banning new visitors and confining all citizens until further notice.

But it was too late. The first carriers of COVID-19 had unknowingly spread the disease to Europe and other corners of the globe.

President Trump was quick to blame his political rivals for running a vendetta against him and for supporting Chinese government attempts to cover up laboratory work that had gone astray and permitted the release of the disease.

The World Health Organization cleared the Chinese government of wrongdoing. Trump has held back WHO funding pending review.

In the next few weeks or months, the WHO will be expected to play a lead role if a vaccine is discovered to defeat COVID-19. For many years now, it has coordinated significant research and discussion in the realm of international public health policy, helping determine what standards should be set and met. But it lacks the power of binding decision making.

So, the great race begins for new, more powerful weapons, new armour to protect citizens against invading forces, new strike forces to move anywhere in the world to defeat the invisible alien virus.

And, every country in the world can bid to deliver those weapons. It should be a great war rooted in high ideals, healing and happiness. But, can that happen with Trump muscling to get his “America First” thumb on the decision scales? Can China overcome inherent distrust on the part of western nations and agree to coordinated research and delivery of the product?

It should be possible – but it’s hard to ignore the warning message from Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates. Talking about vaccines and cures a few days ago, she feared a final decision on a vaccine or cure would go to the highest bidder. “The worst situation would be if, when these tools are available, they go to the highest bidder – that would be a terrible end for the world. COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere. And that’s why it’s got to take global cooperation.”

Oxford University scientists have a head start in the race for a cure. They had been researching inoculations for viruses similar to COVID-19, and figure by September they will be ready to release their vaccine.

They could stay ahead in the race for rights, but they will not be alone. The competition will be fierce. We can only watch and hope that world leaders listen to Melinda Gates when they decide on resolution. Covid-19 is a world problem not an “America First”” election slogan.

When a Great Plague Ran Rampant In The West

“Death pervaded the outskirts of Victoria. Shallow graves covered the ground, and a putrid smell hovered over them. In late June 1862, because there were too many bodies to bury, heavy rocks had been tied to corpses and thrown into two nearby bays. But it wasn’t until the following year that a sense of the enormity of the destruction in Victoria was reported on …” 

That was June 28, 1863, when The Daily British Colonist reported on Page 3 that (near the town) “the bodies of from 1,000 to 1,200 northern Indians who have fallen victim to smallpox lie unburied in the space of about an acre of land.” The site is never explicitly identified, but shallow graves for the dead in places other than official cemeteries became a repeated editorial complaint of the local press.

Readers who have already decided that this is unpleasant reading are correct; it is unpleasant. But, it is nowhere near as unpleasant as we would be experiencing today if our leaders had let history repeat itself when dealing with the current pandemic.

We have been fortunate to have public health officials with a high sense of duty and responsibility as well as the courage to freeze all social interactions, thus limiting the spread of contamination. As a result of the rules and regulations keeping us at home or in well-spaced social casual conversation, COVID-19 has been contained with 111 BC deaths compared to more than 50,000 dead in BC from smallpox in 1862.

There is talk now of easing those regulations sometime next week. I hope our public health people and our provincial government show great resolve when they decide which – if any – rules and regulations they need to keep in place. Their record to date is that they will use good judgement and follow medical science recommendations.

Back in 1862, doctors and government officials had three avenues available to cure or contain smallpox: A proven vaccine discovered in 1790 by Edward Jenner, but in short supply and still viewed by some with suspicion; isolation of a victim in a particular hospital; or, what was bluntly called “expulsion” with the victim expelled without assistance from the healthy community.

Most religious groups had a hand – not always merciful – in the ultimate enforced solutions as did the press but with a role that switched and changed direction as sudden as a coastal squall. The government was blamed for everything that went wrong – sometimes justly.

One fulminating editorial demanded “the prompt removal of every Indian, whether male or female, from the town and vicinity. They should be sent to some place remote from the whites and that without a moment’s delay else, we shall in all probability have to record among our white population many serious losses from the infection …”

When the government finally made a decision to return all natives – healthy or infected and dying – to their home tribe territory, they moved them out in a convoy of native dugout canoes roped together and towed by two navy vessels.

It is estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 natives were living in small villages along the coast north of Victoria. As they vacated their home sites, the military escort burned their old homes and barns and any remaining property to discourage any thoughts of return.

Historian Robert Boyd has estimated the indigenous coastal population between Victoria and southern Alaska at around 30,000 before the 1862 smallpox epidemic. A year after the terror struck, only 15,000 survived. Haida Gwaii lost 75 per cent of its population, and the history books tell us the number of Haida villages dropped from 13 to seven.

A final note for us moderns, especially those among us who feel that the spectre of COVID-19 is the greatest threat to health our world has ever faced. Make room for smallpox in the standings.

Wikipedia tells me smallpox was around when Cleopatra was doing her thing with Mark Anthony 3,000 years ago; that during the 18th Century, it killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year, including five reigning monarchs and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Between 29 and 60 per cent of those infected – and over 80 per cent of infected children – died from the disease.

During the 20th Century, smallpox was responsible for more than 300 million deaths. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated the disease claimed two million lives that year. In 1979, the WHO certified smallpox as eradicated.

Now, follow the rules as our leaders try to find us safe haven beyond Covid 19. Stay calm. Always lean toward stringent safety precautions; and don’t ever think it brave, or even cute, to make it easy for a fatal infection to find a home.

Active or Ruminant When It Comes to Issues?

In 2015, Bill Gates was featured on an episode of the popular TED Talks series. Dr. Shaun Peck, a well-remembered public health official in BC, reminded me of the event a few days ago when we exchanged emails about our current battle with COVID-19. He suggested I take a look and listen, which I did, and now I suggest you do the same.

Go to:

If you heard Gates’ warning of pending pandemic danger and his plan for global preparedness, you might recall he subsequently donated multi-millions of dollars for research to try and find a vaccination for a disease getting ready to pounce. And, after all this, you may be wondering why it has taken so long to wake the rest of us up to the threat.

It’s easy for pundits, like me, to shrug and point out the failure of governments to listen to Gates while carefully removing ourselves from any possible shadow of blame or hint of responsibility.

What could we have done if we had taken heed of the warnings of Gates and others five years ago and possibly before that?

When such events come in the shape of fire and flood, humans do a pretty good job of organizing help and providing care and support. Fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves – we have seen them all, and up to now, we have fought back and survived.

We could have joined a then-small chorus of concern to let our politicians know we expected them to lead and protect. We have had ample opportunity in the past five years. Locally, provincially, regionally and nationally, we have chosen teams of men and women to run our affairs and safeguard us – sometimes from ourselves and human intransigence, and always when what we call “nature” throws an ugly and deadly curve our way.

We don’t do so well when the natural disaster involves the unknown, but even there our men and women of medicine over the years have won a few and will win more. However, they can only do that if our political leaders “listen to the science” and “we the people” make sure they are listening to the science not the politics. Unfortunately, we the people are not as alert as we might be or as anxious we should be to take action.

In most countries in the world governments have been listening to doctors and scientists and rational politicians. But not in the United States of America where political power ranks with great personal wealth as the height of ambition. In the US of A we see one of the greatest nations in the world for advanced thinking and scientific research, fearful in the face of pandemic and with a President seemingly incapable of rational decisions.

His first major was a few months back when China announced the shutdown of an entire city and the immediate area surrounding it in and attempt to control the outbreak of Covid-19, President Trump immediately ordered closure of land, sea and air travel connections between China and the USA — and has since praised himself many times for his travel ban decision.

His critics have not been so kind. They have pointed out that Covid-19 was already established in New York, brought to that US city from China via Italy and/or German. The Governor of New York State welcomed the China travel ban but put it in timetable with this blunt comment: “He closed the front door – but left the back door wide open.” And Covid-19 got settled in with all the current irritation and dangers before, too late, the world tried to shut all the doors.

My voice of conscience on public health, Dr. Peck, suggested I catch up with the several books by Laurie Garrett, paying particular attention to Betrayal of Trust – The Collapse of Global Public Health and an article by the same author published recently in the international medical journal The Lancet, to be found at :’-6736(20)30600-0/fulltext

This following final item, stumbled across while looking for other things, is too good to let slip by unnoticed. It is from President Donald Trump’s 1987 book “The Art of the Deal” – which should have had a sub-heading “How to Manipulate the Press.”

In one chapter this imitation pearl of dubious honesty shines through: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to peoples’ fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.”

Whatever you say, Donald.

Epidemics of a Tragic Kind

“Epidemics are endings of a tragic kind, and they are neither rare nor lamentably, foreseeably eradicable. Viruses – bacilli, fungi and parasites – are as integral a part of the earth’s ecosystem as the plants, animals, and people they destroy. And, the microorganisms have seniority; their ancestors were the first forms of life on the planet. And, their descendants may well be the last.”

The quote is from Charles Panati’s “Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody,” published by Harper and Row in 1989. It talks about “Plagues – one of nature’s most treacherous endings, taking more lives than all the wars in history …” It reads like the pages of yesterday’s newspapers, and today’s and tomorrow’s.

Panati deals with many historic plagues with considerable focus on the three great Bubonic Plagues that brought death and societal destruction to the known world in three waves over more than a thousand years between the 6th and 17th centuries. The death toll from those three encounters with what became known as The Black Death has been estimated at 137 million.

The outbreak in the 1300s was one of unprecedented fury. Panati’s description: “Like a tidal wave it struck in England in the summer of 1347 prostrating the city of London … by the following year, it had washed over Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Panati quotes Italian writer Agniola di Tura writing about burying “five of my children in a single grave. No bells. No tears. This is the end of the world.” It still feels that way in 2020 for those who live through but suffer most in a pandemic rampage.

It all happened a long time ago, you say, when medicine was primitive compared with today, when cures were unknown, when prevention was only just beginning to be considered better than a cure.

Even 1918 – 19 seems too far back in time to be seriously considered an advisory warning when infectious disease threatened. “Spanish ‘flu” they called it, although it is believed by many its origin was U.S. soldiers who had been serving in WW1 in Europe. For sure, 20 million cases had been reported in the USA, with close to one million deaths by the time it was all over.

And it is worth remembering we still do not have “a cure” for the “flu”.

There have been a few “alerts” of pending and possible disaster since, 1918 but they approached, were faced, flashed and faded. Then, late last year, rumbles out of China warned something unhealthy was casting threatening shadows. The world shrugged, “just the regular ‘flu,” and celebrated Christmas.

Early in 2020, concern was growing that maybe, just maybe, “the ‘flu could be a little worse this year.”

And then, what now seems like overnight, it was worse. Much worse. We went to bed one night, warm, safe and feeling cared for and awakened the next day to find the world under lockdown. Law-abiding citizens on holiday or travelling were told to return home as quickly as they could – and if they had difficulty finding a flight, the government would charter planes to get them home.

People feeling unwell were told to stay home; to stay two arm lengths away from anyone they were conversing with; to wash their hands repeatedly. And, we began to hear or read or see on television stories from round the world  of hospitals short of care beds; of minor but important surgeries being postponed; of frontline paramedic first responders, nurses and doctors short of the weapons needed to fight an uncaring monster with a name – Coronavirus-19.

And, every day we got a tally of those newly infected, those infected but mildly and recovering; those more seriously infected, the number hospitalized; the number in intensive care; the number requiring assistance from machinery to breathe; the severe shortage of that equipment; and daily, the number of dead. Each day the totals grew.

In mid-April it was announced that the death rate in the USA had reached 35,000, surpassing Italy with 22,000 plus Pandemic plague fatalities.

And each day we chafed a little over travel restrictions, wondering when we would be able to again shop and wander through stores at will, converse with friends face to face, not six feet apart; and go out for a special occasion dinner.

And, I got to wondering how we would all be making out if we were recovering from the major earthquake we are assured will hit my part of the world – the west coast of Canada and the USA one day.

Just think for a minute before you answer. We have been told it could be huge and up to six or seven days before aid could get to us through ruined streets. We have been well-schooled over the years to have a food supply for at least seven days stashed away, a water supply handy, a basic first aid kit, battery-operated flashlights, somewhere close designated for basic sanitation and, of course, our all-important medications.

COVID-19 has shut us down and is inconveniently upsetting our comfortable pew living. The latest news from international Epidemiologists tells us to get used to the new normal – that COVID-19 is on course to peak in waves until 2022 – unless science can find a shield for us.

While waiting it might might be wise to revive those old advisories on the Big One.

(Readers not familiar with the works of Charles Panati should seek him out for reading guaranteed to move the mind to new challenges, maybe even new conclusions. He’s been writing since at least 1974 with (Supersenses.)


It was cold and damp on the streets of Victoria shortly after midnight on Thursday, April 10, 1995. In the car, a 12-year-old boy, Nicholas, listened quietly as his father explained why they were making a sudden return to the Hospice they had left little more than an hour earlier after a long evening visit with his mother, Candide.

We had just returned home, and I was sitting on his bed before tucking him in when the phone rang. The Hospice: If we wanted to say goodbye, the time was now. He dressed quickly. I explained that earlier in the day when we were visiting, his mother was very tired, had been sleeping in a “coma.”

And may still be asleep. “I’m going to drop you at the main entrance. You know which room Mum is in. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I park the car. You just sit and talk to Mum. She may not answer, but she will know you are there.”

He was talking about school when I got there a few minutes later. I think she knew.

This is the first time I have written about Candide’s final struggle since it happened. I don’t know why, other than the grief as we passed through that time that strengthened all of us – five sons from my first marriage and Nic, who inherited many of his mother’s attributes. Oldest son Stephen delivered Candide’s funeral oration. In it, he mentioned his youngest brother’s inheritance of strength and courage from his mother.

Some years ago, after two years of travelling the world, Nic returned to earn a postponed degree from the University of Victoria. He then joined BC’s Emergency Health Services and its well-trained army of paramedics in which he serves as a Primary Care Paramedic with other front line first responders – where courage is a standard requirement. For good measure, he also serves with St. John Ambulance as a Provincial Staff Officer attached to 176 Division, Victoria.

And, on Friday, April 10, barring unforeseen circumstances, he would be visiting his mother’s grave at Royal Oak to make sure everything is tidy, in good shape, and the flowers are fresh. Normally, I would be with him, but lock-downs and other restrictions have confined me to barracks. But I’ll be with him, in moral support, doing the little things that keep family strong.

Readers wondering how Nicholas felt and what he remembers about April 1995 will find a remarkable recollection on his Facebook page. I mean – remarkable.

Do We Really Care?

The experts are determined to impress on us, in their oft-repeated warnings, that things are going to get worse before they get better. History and the recorded observations of those who have lived through similar world upheavals and disruptions of what was once “normal” living, convince us to accept their forecasts and nod in agreement.

Not that any of us have lived and survived a pandemic as vast and uncaring as COVID-19. But, there are more than a few of us who survived the cataclysms of the Great Depression of the 1930s and a worldwide war in the 1940s that ended with two man-made thunderclaps over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They say more than 200,000 died in such a fearful way in just two air raids and we started to believe mankind would never again embark on such a mass suicidal end to life on earth. Some of us still hold to that belief, although our faith has been sorely tested over the years.

Nervous though our journey was, I don’t think anyone ever thought there would come a day when the world would be turned upside down by an invisible virus capable of defying man’s greatest scientists. Powerful enough to circle the world unseen and unknown. Powerful enough to force people into virtual isolation; to stop aircraft from flying and ships from sailing; to force the closure of stores and suspend what for centuries had been the natural and essential course of commerce.

And to kill at will. The medical experts and the frontline warriors standing between the virus and its victims assure us they will eventually find an answer, but stress that we must help by avoiding personal contact by maintaining six to 10 feet of separation when we meet to talk.

Over and over again, they tell us we cannot, must not give up these disciplines, and that things are going to get worse before they get better. And they, the doctors and the political leaders faced with a problem they maybe should have recognized sooner, tell us the virus will claim 200,000-plus before we can begin to guess where the end may lie.

Citizens of my generation remember the courage and self-sacrifice we were asked to make during the Second World War to preserve our democratic freedoms. And, some of us remember the cold, uncaring, merciless behaviour of so many who looted and stole from neighbours and government aid programs.

When announcing his programs of financial relief for workers losing jobs or small businesses losing everything, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned would-be con artists not to scam the relief benefits. When caught, he promised swift justice.

Maybe someone had acquainted him with the case of Englishman Walter Handy, who claimed government compensation for being bombed out 19 times in five months during WWII. He got three years in jail for betraying what should have been loyalty to fellow country pledged in common cause.

A major player in the UK looting and black-market game was Billy Hill, who spent a few short terms in jail. He hired a ghostwriter to tell his life story, “Boss of Britain’s Underworld” (1955). He once boasted he didn’t just make use of the black market, “I fed it.” He became quite a wealthy man.

There were not many Billy Hills, but there were thousands of God-fearing, law-respecting Britishers who gave every appearance of total loyalty to a nation’s call for sacrifice but didn’t mind a bit of profit from breaking the rules here and there.

It is not fondly remembered that by wars end in 1945 there were more than 114,000 prosecutions for black-market trading and looting. Some for minor offences, many for major crimes, a few for murder. Some from stripping rings and other jewelry from corpses to emptying homes of anything that could be easily moved while a family took shelter during an air aid.

The crimes became so prevalent that the UK government made a few punishment revisions to various laws as wartime expedients. For example, a guilty party could be sentenced to death or life in prison for looting.

No one ever was. It was deemed unwise to let those faithfully embracing Winston Churchill’s challenge of living with “blood, sweat, toil and tears” know all their brothers and sisters were not like-minded.

Which leaves me wondering how we are going to do overall as we are asked to make relatively small sacrifices today? We are told they will make a difference in the fight to slow down, even halt COVID-19 until we can find a cure.

Do we care, enough? Or would it better to ask: Do we care at all?

Stronger Than You Think

It was 80-years ago that I became involuntarily engaged in a world-wide war. I was 15 years old, four months short of my 16th birthday, when I listened with my mother and father and 18-year-old sister as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.

It started a conflict which later enveloped the world in the Second World War.

There have been many other wars since WW2, but none encircled the globe until December 2019 when a strange new virus attacked a city in China and within months, spread with lethal force around the globe. At the time of writing this report, it shows no sign of abating.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes daily appearances on the front steps of his Ottawa residence, where his wife has tested positive for the COVID-19 and is serving a period of compulsory isolation, an integral part of government programs worldwide to halt spread of the virus until a cure or preventive vaccine can be found. Ignoring or defying compulsory isolation orders can result in heavy fines or prison sentences.

Personal hygiene is being emphasized as another essential step in the battle for control with an additional caution that personal contacts should never be closer than two arm lengths. It and the appeal for frequent washing of hands are two essential precautions – and,sadly, could be most ignored by the public.

The reality that no one can estimate how long this “virus war” will last makes for trying times for citizens who since WW2 and massed bombing of civilians ended have witnessed minor conflicts around the world, but have never been embroiled in front line fighting when loyalty and caring for each other can spell the difference between life and death.

Loyalty and caring for each other were all civilians could do in 1939 when leaders of democratic governments called for both, even as the world collapsed about them.

It was not always easy to respond, especially for families with a husband on far away battlefields and with wives at home caring for children and often aging grandparents. In my British homeland and across Europe in those dark days, rationing alone was an enormous challenge for every woman with a family to look after – often in a city a badly shattered ruin from nightly bombing.

In the UK weekly rations were recorded in “stamp books” which could be used at only one store selected by the customer and approved by the storekeeper.

Once rationing began citizens could register, shop and walk home each week with (for one person): One egg, four ounces of bacon, eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of tea, one ounce of cheese, two ounces of butter, four ounces of margarine (uncoloured), two ounces of lard and for those with a sweet tooth “preserves,” such as marmalade, but only eight ounces a month.

The meat ration was so small the authorities listed it by price rather than weight. It was one shilling a week which translated into six or eight ounces depending how friendly your butcher.

And, lest we forget, the famous UK “striped mint” sweets – eight ounces to 16 ounces a month depending on supply.

Now, let’s do a quick leap over the decades from then to now. The morning I started to write this, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth praised the people of the UK for again “coming together as one” to fight the present plague; United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez had a similar message; the President of the United States dreamed that tomorrow the world will have spun back to normal by Easter; and, my own PM, Trudeau, remained confident “the people” can win this fight as they won the last Global battle if they understand it may take a while.

How long? To conquer the bug some experts figure 18 months to find and distribute a cure and defence.

By comparison, the burden of surviving the rationing (and other) vicissitudes of WW2 commenced in January, 1939, (three months after the declaration of war) and lasted until June 1948 when the last food item “bread” was removed from the list.

Morale shaking rationing had lasted longer than “blitz” and the fighting and “the people” had bent on occasion, but never broke.

“People coming together” had made it possible to end well, as they can and will again.