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There are Good Arguments, and Bad

Let me first report that a family dispute has broken out. Good news—no blood spilt. We agreed that I would acknowledge to being wrong. Contrary to my statement earlier that suggested that my wife could do without milk in her tea, we have agreed that it is indispensable, necessary, an absolutely vital part of her life, without which very serious consequences will follow.

Yesterday's Parliamentary debate on the Coronovirus Bill, only very occasionally descended to that level. One member was rebuked—quite gently—by the Presiding Officer for a not very funny "joke" directed at one of the Parliament's smaller parties. He rather feebly responded that he had previously used the same joke without criticism. That was closed down simply—by a look. And the debate moved on.

Parliament was working to a common purpose, but the Government was properly being challenged and held to account. Inevitably in a wide-ranging Bill drawn up through several overnight sessions, there were gaps and potential shortcomings to discuss.

I was even able to table my own amendment to the Bill, and in my absence, provide a speaking note for a colleague to use on my behalf. Not being there does not mean not paying attention, not being engaged.

It was not an amendment that I expected to be passed. Indeed I wanted the Cabinet Secretary's response to my amendment to show that it was unnecessary. And so it proved. It was what we call a "probing amendment"—designed to allow a further explanation of a bit of the Bill to be put on the record. 

Although Parliament sat from 0930 to 2000, I only dropped in from time to time to watch. But compelling viewing, of our legislature at its best, it was.

This quarantine business is wearing. The origin of the word is from the Italian "quaranta giorni", in English, 40 days. It has been known for centuries, perhaps even millennia, that disease burns out after a period. 

During periods of plague, ships would be denied entry to port for 40 days if they had been in contact with a serious communicable disease.

But this time around the quarantine applies to those who are well but potentially vulnerable by reason of existing condition or age. Quarantine does not mean no communication. It means no contact. Ships used to fly a flag, quartered in yellow and black, to signal "do not approach".

Yesterday's walk was another exercise in keeping my distance and for the first time in many days, I had no oral communication with anyone. It was limited to waving a hand at a couple of tractor drivers. But it is fascinating and educational in its own way.

Although I was brought up in an agricultural community, I have never been close enough to observe the process of farming in any detail. My earliest memory, I was probably under three years old, is of being placed on a wall and told to count the sheep as they came out of the sheep dip.

We were on holiday in Thurso and somehow were on a farm. My father seemed to have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances scattered across Scotland. Perhaps this was one such.

Another early memory, I have a photo to reinforce it, is of visiting a croft at Abriachan, just above Drumnadrochit, which sits on the shore of Loch Ness. This was run by a childhood friend of father's, "Clod" (was it Claud?) McLennan. And we travelled up an impossibly steep track to the top of the hill in his WW2 US army jeep.

I was inculcated into the mysteries of crofter's porridge. Make your porridge once a week and pour it into a kitchen drawer. Cut a slice off each day as necessary. It's not too hard to create fascinating and enduring memories for the blank canvas that is a child's mind. 

One of the risks of our self isolating is that we are, must be, cutting our youngsters off from new real-life experiences that will form memories like that. But in the age of the internet, we have access to images, writing and just stuff, that a previous generation lacked. 

Parents now, as always, have to strike a balance between being a heavy-handed filter of the cornucopia of the information therein, Bruce Crawford and I came up with a new word for being overwhelmed by information—"cumsnuggered", and giving youngsters a free and unsupervised romp in dangerous territory.

We can try to use this period of social isolation to prepare for life after it. Like me, I imagine, many will have made long overdue phone calls to friends and family. And I have plans for activities "post-bug".

This approach is not new. Even in the depths of the last world war, a committee was formed which, after proper deliberation produced the "Report of the Departmental Committee on Traffic Signs 1944". Another Committee looked at road numbering. And the "Social Insurance and Allied Services Report" of 1942, now remembered as the Beveridge Report, laid the foundations for much of the world we take for granted, and depend on, today.

So, although the Government has had to put aside important parts of their plans for legislation, and there ain't much dispute about the need to so, we have to think about " time after".

The farmers in the field provide the parable. One day I wave to him on my 2½ mile walk as he ploughs the soil.

Incidentally, I once had to urgently go into a company that manufactured ploughs and discovered that there were thousands of different designs. We might come back to that in a later blog.

The next day I see my neighbour harrowing that ploughed soil. And yesterday he was rolling it. I look forward to discovering what crop is to follow this investment of effort. I guess the farmer would be pretty scornful of my ignorance. But then even as a septuagenarian, I still have much to learn and now little time in which to do it.


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