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29th Day

As I enter my fifth week of social isolation, today is my 29th day, and I am somewhat surprised to find that rather than being bored by it all, I find myself stimulated by the opportunity that time creates.

I have certainly found myself more directly engaged in the day to day challenges faced by others as the lockdown continues through the increased constituency workload. And neighbours in the immediate vicinity of where I stay, are now people with whom I am at least on nodding terms with. Getting out of the car and onto my feet has had some social benefit as well as benefitting my health.

In Edinburgh, I would have found myself having a degree of social interaction during my 12-minute walk to and from Parliament. But substantially less than in the now 80 minutes or so of my daily walk.

I suppose that in part, that is because people in the country that I meet are not rushing to be somewhere. They are already where they need, and want, to be. By contrast, in the city one may feel oneself closer to more people than one wants to be, and hence seek distance rather than contact.

I carry a reminder of another form of city life in my pocket. I have a character from Star Wars hanging from the keyring which has the means to open my Parliamentary office door. As I exited Waverley Station between 0730 and 0815 each morning, I would see a gentleman sitting on the pavement. 

His sitting where he does is not a choice, but circumstance. And should it be that I have coins in my pocket, I put them in his cap. As a present from him to me, he gave me the Star Wars character. He is thinking about me. And that's quite humbling.

My part in his life is suspended for now. And there is no significant flow of passengers out of the station each morning. With shops encouraging us to use our cards, rather than cash, to pay for our purchases, fewer of us will have coins in our pockets. So the previous meagre flow of money into his cap will have been all but stopped.

How is he getting on? I don't know. But I do know that the present crisis is hitting those with the least, the hardest. 

There might be an airline owner living on a Caribean island, begging various governments for huge sums of money to support his business, while having hundreds of millions in his personal bank account, but my concerns lie elsewhere. With the airline owner's staff certainly-they won't have millions in their accounts. But as Andrew Carnegie put it: "Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community."

I wonder if there is another issue creeping up on us. In 28 days, I have now walked 121.84 miles according to the watch on my wrist, and have only got very slightly damp from a mere smirr of rain lasting no more than 10 minutes. In a year where domestic food production may be more important than ever, the fingers of drought are tickling our countryside. There was even a dust storm a few miles away in that period.

I have seen the dust rising too, as farmers are out ploughing, harrowing and rolling their fields. And spreading muck. For the country dweller, the sweet smell of dung hanging in the air is a reminder of Spring. A visiting town dweller can be recognised by their wrinkled nose.

Some years ago, I was sent to a plough manufacturer in East Anglia to whom my employer, a bank, had lent money. It had not gone well, and on a Friday, we had had to put in receivers. At about 1600 hours that day, I got the call to attend on Monday to assess what value we should place on a piece of software they had been developing that assisted in the design of ploughs. And to generally cast my eye over the company.

I spent Saturday planning my Monday's work. And flew down to Norwich on the Sunday.

From a position of total ignorance about ploughs at 0830 when I attended, I moved to understanding much of its considerable complexities. One might imagine that something that had been around for thousands of years would be "sorted". The answer is yes, but.

It seemed that each field, each soil type, each crop, would deliver an optimum outcome when the plough was designed to reflect the exact relationship all these factors had with each other. The company I was visiting reckoned that they had delivered thousands of different plough designs in their last few years.

Hence their efforts to build an intelligent plough design software system to help them. But what was this incomplete system worth? I had to suggest that it was worth nothing as it was but could be £1 million if finished. Alas finishing required the knowledge still locked up in the minds of the software engineers. Who were already on the move to other companies desperate for their expertise. So my conclusion had to be zero. Sad.

During my visit, I met many of the senior people involved in the firm. And something about their varying descriptions of the firm's books did not quite ring true. There was a smell that even the relatively untrained nose of a non-accountant could detect. And my report on the company reflected those doubts.

In a few short weeks, it became clear that fraud at a senior level had played its part in the firm's collapse—One-nil for my nose.

Today it, and I guess many other noses, will have been twitching as the story of PPE companies being directed to only supply England's care sector emerged yesterday. An instruction, perhaps merely a request, to ignore requests from the other three nations in the State of which we are part.

To quote Marcellus in Shakespeare's Hamlet, "Something rotten in the State of Denmark."

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