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Baith Hope and Clarity

We are settling down to a new routine. Helped by a diary that firmly allocates time to tasks, many long-discussed but previously neglected, and sets objectives into a timeline.

Our own little local government structure is covering a population of two of the genus Felix, who are in charge, and two subservient hominids.

Yesterday's walk, brisk as ever, was 3.6 miles, an increase over the usual 2.5 miles. Because my usual route was shut as Openreach had to do some work on poles near us. If there is one service essential to maintaining our sanity - "our" being the hoo-mans, our rulers are indifferent - it is the internet.

Yes, the TV continues to receive signals from the Astra group of satellites sitting 25,000 miles above us and well away from infection, but linear TV, so 20th century, makes the decision as to what we will see and when.

By contrast, the internet puts us in control. Allowing us to chose what we read and view, and when.

But also allows us to see some unmitigated mince. No, not the stuff that can be turned into a delicious spag ball, burger or simply enjoyed in its own right with an admixture of onions, peas and carrots.

No, the mince here is a word in Scots that I had always thought came from the French "mence", which is slang and quite rude.

But I cannot make my long-held assumption about this word stack up.

I put "mence" into the "please translate this from French to English" box on the wonderful translate.google.com and got the answer "mence". Not helpful.

Then I got suckered into word games. "Mince", not "mence", Mr Google translates from French into "slim" in English.

I always send the translation back to see if I get back my original word or phrase. But no, "slim" in English becomes "svelte" in French. A word we've adopted into English, that most acquisitive of languages, as a sort of sophisticated slim.

And translating "svelte" back into English it becomes "slender".

Finally "slender" gets translated back into French as "mince".

That's a good bit of time wasted. That's why I need a diary to allocate time and a set of tasks to undertake and a clear, written down objective all this serves.

But it illustrates how difficult it is to achieve clarity through language alone.

Little domestic misunderstandings will mostly just start with a single word, misheard, misunderstood or misinterpreted.

In politics, we are normally particularly culpable. But it seems to be one game we've laid aside for the time being. We are seeking out the best connotation, not the worst, from what is said.

As long as we can see clarity of purpose and decision, we're relatively content.

But inevitably as we move at lightning speed to develop policy, without the usual extended consultation process, it may have to be constantly refined as we receive feedback from that ultimate test environment, the real world.

An old saying from management theory is,

"Anyone can make a decision given enough facts.
A good manager can make a decision without enough facts.
A perfect manager can operate in perfect ignorance."


And we are in an environment where the hesitation that can come from having incomplete information, cannot be allowed to defer action in the face of this crisis.

Our leaders seem to be demonstrably "good" managers.

Meaning that they decide, get feedback, refine previous decisions, move on to the next decision.

For us, isolated at home, away from work, physically detached from loved ones, clarity of voice is vital.

Other countries are making decisions too. And they reflect local conditions, needs and cultures.

Sweden and Denmark, neighbours physically connected only by the ├śresund Bridge, are taking different approaches. But seem to be achieving similar outcomes. A niece living Sweden and a nephew in Denmark muse, like their fellow citizens, about the differences but seem content to conform.

In Australia, a niece and her Tassie partner have been, post-retirement, touring their vast country in a motor home for over a year and are confronted by the closure of caravan parks. A world away, but the same issues as in Scotland. But a friend has a large plot and they can park there.

The fiercely independent Tassies, from Tasmania, proudly say "we've got a moat" but recognise like our islanders, that in the modern world that simply doesn't stop a virus's journey.

I am re-reading Bill Bryson's "Shakespeare", I think I have all his books on the shelf, and on page 44 he notes that in sixteenth-century London,

"Plague .. flared murderously every ten years or so. Public performances of all types .. were banned each time the death toll in the city reached forty."

Isolation was part of the solution then as it is now.

I hope to see you all when there is clarity about the outcome of this pandemic.

But not any sooner than is safe for all of us and our collective health.

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