CoronArona: Back on the graveyard shift

NOW, I know what you’re going to say. “Not another sodding graveyard!”

But before you pass judgment, please consider that today’s necropolis at Bunhill Fields is an entirely different kettle of corpses from the spooky Hawksmoor graveyards we have visited thus far.

Whereas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church Spitalfields and St-George-in-the-East were the final resting places of Anglican worthies from the 17th century on, the Bun hosts the remains of the literary punk rockers of their age – John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, William Blake.

In any case, while everyone else flocks to the nearest patch of grass as the lockdown eases, London’s graveyards remain relatively empty. You can socially distance on the benches at Bunhill Fields while swapping gossip, fags and a bottle of wine. This is guidance, not an instruction.

I have a particular affinity with this graveyard, just north of the City boundary, because it was just next door in City Road that in 1986 we launched The Independent, the last glorious gasp of broadsheet journalism before the present informational darkness fell.

Before the paper launched, we all trooped down to have our picture taken next to Defoe’s tomb. The 17th-18th century writer, journalist, Robinson Crusoe author and spy was the avatar of our forthcoming endeavour.

The bunch of post-Fleet Street misfits who flocked to the new and as yet unproven title liked to think they were in the mould of the non-conformists buried at Bunhill Fields.

The paper was a startling success, based on the formula of finding out what had happened, when, where and to whom – even why if you were lucky – and printing it in the paper.

Sadly, the world is now further from that era than we, at the time, were from Defoe’s.

Truth is now a malleable concept to be moulded according to the interests of those who control the narrative. So, who would want to be a journalist these days? Glued to your screen, chewing a lunchtime sandwich at your desk – lunchtime beers went out with the last millennium – only to be rewarded by the threats and opprobrium of the Twitterati?

It was never well-paid, and now it’s worse. You can earn four and five times the dosh in PR or as a consultant or, if you’re a complete failure at it, you can always get hired as prime minister.

Journalists are designated as key workers in the current coronavirus crisis. But, if they were waiting for applause on the doorstep every Thursday night, they will have been disappointed.

You may agree with those who argue that, in a time of crisis, the last thing we need is fact-checking obsessives disrupting the official narrative. As Boris Johnson has said, re: the Dominic Cummings’ furore, “Let’s move on.”

The Guardian and Mirror journalists who spent seven weeks meticulously assembling the evidence to show that Johnson’s top adviser was, indeed, a hypocritical twat, are right to feel aggrieved that many think the media, not the politicians, are the problem.

They must be thinking: “What’s the point?”

I feel their pain.

I had a connection with Bunhill Fields long before the era of The Independent. In the 60s, I worked as a packer-checker just across from the graveyard. The job was with a company that provided work for the disabled, assembling basic home electronic components – switches, plugs, valves.

My job, alongside a wandering American, Tom, was to unpack each consignment and check one-in-ten components to ensure they met specifications, then seal them up and send them on.

Weeks went by until the day I unwrapped a box of plugs to discover that the one I selected had the connecting wires misplaced.

“Tom! Tom! Look at this!”

“Eureka! Show it to Flo’,” he said.

We carefully carried the offending plug to the forewoman. She poked, she peered, she turned and twisted it. “Find any more like this?” she asked. “Not yet!” say I.

“Stick it back in the box, darling, and seal it up. No one’ll ever know.”

It was the day I learned, thanks to Flo’, that work, as opposed to play, is invariably completely pointless.

Dodging the lockdown: Something fishy at No.10

I HAVE so far stood aloof from the Cummings affair, aware that any intervention from me could be a tipping point in the the government’s struggle to contain a national crisis of confidence.

Now that Cummings has had his say, I feel free to renounce my vow of silence.

For overseas readers, and for those who might have been in a coma for the last three days, I should explain that the scandal involves Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s top aide, and his decision to flee London in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown.

Johnson has stood by his man, saying Dom was in full compliance with government guidance to “follow his instincts” by decamping from the capital for the distant pastures of his parents’ estate in County Durham.

The Cummster drove the 260 miles with his already Covid-infected wife and their young son in order to have family child care on hand in case he too should succumb.

I think the government missed a trick when it issued its “stay at home” instructions at the start of the lockdown. It should have made crystal clear that the rule did not apply to those whose relatives had provincial properties with separate living accommodation in ample grounds.

In that way, it would have been obvious that such individuals were free to sacrifice themselves by travelling long distances in order to free up the hard-pressed care and charity sectors to look to the needs of all the other self-confining parents.

Cummings, of course, is a big believer in socialised health care for all, having invented the “£350 million a week for the NHS” slogan on the side of Johnson’s Brexit battle bus to proclaim just one of the benefits of leaving the European Union.

He last appeared briefly in these columns on March 31, some days after he was seen scurrying around the back of Downing Street.

As I wrote at the time, Johnson’s apostle of “weirdos and misfits” in government is a self-declared disrupter who would like to sweep away the messy compromises of the state.

With his trademark care-in-the-community woolly hat, crumpled T-shirt and torn jeans, he has brought a breath of fresh air to the stuffy corridors of Westminster.

These very accoutrements may, however, have risked his downfall as they made him easily spottable by the eagle-eyed public of County Durham.

Happily the usual suspects have risen to his defence. His techno-libertarian friends have denounced the Gestapo mentality of the curtain-twitching general public who snitched to the police about his whereabouts.

Notable among them has been online magazine Spiked, which moved to the looney right after emerging from the ashes of Living Marxism, journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Most of the old gang are still onboard and are therefore well equipped to tell us of the perils of informers and the police state.

Editor and former Troskyist Brendan O’Neill, an old RCP hand, opined that bending the rules like Cummings was one of the “wonderful buds of human rebellion in this dystopia we find ourselves in”.

“It isn’t Cummings who should be ashamed – it’s the shutdown Stalinists who are calling for his head because he dared to visit his folks.”

Brendan’s view appears to be that, if Dom wasn’t entirely in favour of a strict lockdown, he was entirely free to ignore its strictures.

It’s a point of view, but one that may not cut Dom much slack in the face of the anger of much of the country’s clearly Stalinist public that is indeed calling for his head.

Footnote: Today’s column was to have been a virtual tour of London’s original Billingsgate Fish Market. I fear that adventure will now have to await another day. I know many of you will be disappointed, but I took today’s full-colour panaroma of its fish-adorned facade, just to whet your appetites.

Graveyard cheers to a looser lockdown

THE graveyard at Hawksmoor’s St George-in-the-East is a dark place even in the spring sunshine.

Does the darkness come from the shade of the trees obscuring the faded headstones and concealing the presence of its solitary denizens? Or is it the shadow cast by the Radcliffe Highway Murders?

It was more solitary than usual this week. None of the usual winos, unless you count an old colleague and I sharing a spot of white to celebrate the easing of the lockdown.

There was a young woman incongruously sunbathing in a bikini and an older, larger one yelling “Come ‘ere, Porky” at her arthritic Staffordshire cross. Or was it Pikey? Certainly not Perky by the look of him.

The architectural critic Ian Nairn came here some years after the war to see the blitz-damaged 18th century church at a time when Wapping to the south was still dominated by the London docks and Whitechapel to the north by the gangster Kray twins.

“This is probably the hardest building to describe in London,” wrote Nairn. “This is a stage somewhere beyond fantasy…it is the more-than-real world of the drug addict’s dream.”

The church and its expansive grounds occupy part of what is still a faded boundary corridor barely touched by the East End gentrifiers.

At the time of the notorious murders in December 1811, the area was a squalid mix of overcrowded tenements, workshops and seamen’s lodging houses with a violent reputation even by the standards of early-19th century London.

The brutal slaughter of two families, 12 days apart and both within sight of the church, nevertheless sparked a moral panic, not only in the capital but across the country, spurred by the ghoulish reports in the emerging penny press.

The furore reached the highest in the land, from the newly-installed Prince Regent to the Tory government of the day. It was one factor in the eventual establishment of a professional police force to replace the elderly and often drunken watchmen who were supposed to keep the peace in areas such as the Highway.

The victims of the first attack on December 7 were Timothy Marr, a prosperous linen draper, his wife, their baby boy and the shop apprentice. Their bloody corpses were discovered by a maidservant, who had been sent out for oysters. Their skulls had been caved in with a chisel and hammer abandoned at the scene.

Then on December 19, a man was seen lowering himself by a sheet from the upper floor of the King’s Arms tavern, crying: “They are murdering people in the house.”

A constable and neighbours broke in to find the bodies of the 72-year-old landlord and his wife, both with their throats cut, and the mutilated corpse of a servant girl. A crowbar was found at the dead man’s side.

A hue and cry soon went up that a gang of foreign seamen must be responsible, specifically the Portuguese. The government was urged to post a proclamation from the Regent to be published locally in Portuguese and “oriental languages”. Three Portuguese were arrested but subsequently released after the intervention of their London consul.

Next, it was the turn of the Irish, widely suspected in the neighbourhood of having carried out the killings as part of a papist plot.

After a series of arrests, and following a tip-off from a Dane, suspicion fell on John Williams, a Scot. But, on December 27, before he could be committed for trial, he cheated the hangman by doing the job himself in his jail cell.

Although Williams’ guilt was never proven, the case was closed. In a judicial first for England, the authorities pandered to the outrage of the locals by having Williams’ corpse paraded past the scenes of his alleged crimes on the back of a cart. Some 180,000 people turned out to see him.

His body was dumped in an unmarked grave at the corner of St George’s graveyard.

Half a century later, workmen accidentally dug up his skelton along with the stake that had been posthumously thrust through his heart to prevent his spirit wandering.

Reflecting on his fate, Thomas de Quincy, of Confessions of an English Opium-eater fame, noted ironically that the murders were “the sublimest and most entire in their excellence”.

The killings were “amongst the few domestic events which, by the depth and expansion of horror attending them, had risen to the dignity of a national interest.”

Happy walking!

Post-lockdown: Wether to stay or Wether to go

IT’S all about risk.

As the British government prepares to reopen schools as part of its proposed easing of the Covid-19 lockdown, parents and teachers’ unions are naturally concerned about the threat of exposure to infection.

The outcome of the debate will provide valuable lessons on how we cope with another looming dilemma: when will it be safe to send our old people back to Wetherspoons?

For the uninitiated, Wetherspoons is a chain of some 900 pubs run by multi-millionaire man-of-the-people Tim Martin and patronised by, among others, solitary seniors who enjoy a cheap breakfast pint with their morning fry-up.

If you have an old person locked down at home, you’ll understand the toll self-isolation can have on mental health – yours if not theirs.

Better surely, despite the health risks, to have them back in the local Wetherspoons where they can reminisce with their contemporaries about “Two World Wars and One World Cup” or lament the imminent Muslim takeover of Britain.

Our local Wetherspoons, The Pommelers Rest, has been bolted and abandoned since the lockdown closed pubs on March 23, despite Tim’s argument that: “There’s hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs, and I think it’s over the top to shut them.”

Nevertheless, Tim bit the lockdown bullet, assuring his 40,000 staff that, since he didn’t plan to carry on paying them, they could probably get jobs at their local supermarket.

With some pubs due to reopen as early as July, it’s already time to consider whether to keep your wrinklies close or send them back to The Pommelers.

There will always be a risk. However, given that one-in-three over-65s has a nasty fall at least once a year – some of them by just getting out of bed – the local Wetherspoons may actually provide a ‘safe space’.

Flexible opening hours mean you can pack them off at nine in the morning and leave them there until midnight under the watchful gaze of geriatric-trained bar staff. The cleaners start vacuuming Tim’s custom-woven carpets at around 10.30PM, so there’s no risk of your elderly loved-ones sleeping through last orders.

No option is risk-free. Even before the lockdown, Tim’s customers were exposed to pro-Brexit beer mats that warned, inter alia, that: “If the unelected President Juncker and his apparatchiks continue to be obstructive, remember that all EU products can be replaced by similar alternatives from the UK – or from the 93 per cent of the world not in the EU.”

The New Zealand-educated Britain Firster is a man of his word. He announced more than a year ago that wines from France, Italy and Germany were being removed from his pubs, along with a third of draught beers from the European Union.

“By choosing British beer and looking out for the British hops logo on your pint, beer drinkers can actively support businesses close to home.” Well said, Tim. As long as you can find a Romanian to pick them.

Sadly, by the time of the lockdown, the message had yet to filter down to his largely immigrant staff. The Turk at the Pommelers was dealing foreign booze across the bar right up to the last minute.

As the “Wetherspoons or not” debate looms, I must declare a personal interest. I not only belong to a vulnerable age group, I also suffer from an underlying condition – the inability of my aged companions to find their wallets as they stagger to the bar.

I suggested to my in-house carer that I could cover myself by standing the first round as soon as The Pommelers reopens. Her response: “You must be f***ing joking. Shut up and stay indoors!”

Waterloo Bridge: Lady welders, topless demos, Monet and the Kinks

WATERLOO Bridge, or at least its current incarnation, is also known as the Women’s Bridge. It used to be called the Ladies’ Bridge, but times change.

In the 1930s, the London County Council decided to replace the original bridge that connected Lambeth in the south to the Strand and Covent Garden on the north side of the Thames. It had opened in 1817, two years after the Battle of Waterloo, hence the name.

The 30s’ project was interrupted by the war, although the half-finished replacement was officially opened in 1942.

It was not completed, however, until 1945 and largely thanks to a predominantly female workforce. Just as women took over jobs in factories and farms to replace men bound for the front, so they picked up their tools to finish the bridge.

Their reward came at the opening ceremony in December, 1945 when the Labour deputy prime minister Herbert Morrison declared that “the men that built Waterloo Bridge are fortunate men”. Well done, ladies!

Despite this initial slight, the contribution of the women has since been recognised, although promises to erect a commemorative Blue Plaque have yet to be fulfilled.

The men in this story always claimed the women weren’t deliberately ignored. It was just that the firm that built the bridge went bust and its employment records were lost. Photographs of the women bridge builders only surfaced in the last few years, proving the Ladies’ Bridge story wasn’t just a fairy tale.

Since then, some have wistfully suggested that their role is reflected in the bridge’s elegant feminine arches. Pretty fanciful, given that the plan was drawn up by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, designer of London’s traditional but now mostly redundant red telephone boxes.

Women do appear to have a special affinity for the bridge. A group of them beat the lockdown by a couple of weeks to get their kit off for an Extinction Rebellion protest on International Women’s Day in March.

The charm of the bridge, however, is not so much the occasional topless demo as is its location, a favourite of painters and poets, from Monet to Constable, to Thomas Hood and Ray Davies of the Kinks.

Its location on a southward turn up the Thames means you can see St Paul’s and the skyscrapers of the City to the East, Parliament to the west, and much else in between.

Davies and I belong to that immediate post-war generation that just about remembers when the modern Festival Hall complex replaced the wasteland to the south to mark the 1951 Festival of Britain. It was the moment dreary London went from black-and-white to colour.

As the Kinks sang in Waterloo Sunset:

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night?
People so busy, make me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t need no friends
As long as I gaze on
Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Footnote: There! I did it! A whole column under lockdown without mentioning the C-word. That’s partly in response to the complaints of some readers that I’ve been using these pages selectively to quote experts to undermine the government’s flawless response to the C-crisis or to suggest its messaging to the public might have been completely crap.

On the contrary, I admire the agility with which Johnson’s team have kept us all locked up while blaming any inconvenience on the nanny-statists. I particularly admire the government’s decision to allow cyclists to join joggers as a protected cohort that is no longer required to abide by social-distancing rules. Or that’s how it seemed today, anyway.

So, long live freedom! And keep the wrinklies indoors!

Cable Street: Banning stuff can set you free

CABLE STREET is on the edge of the once very working class and very Jewish East End, site of a memorable battle in which fascism was defeated three years before the outbreak of World War II.

The Battle of Cable Street pitted an alliance of locals, workers, Socialists and Jews – some would have ticked all four boxes – against the British Union of Fascists, a rag-tag army of fanatics and thugs led by Oswald Mosley.

They were an army only in the sense that they got to dress up. It was collarless black shirts for the rank and file, with the addition of riding britches, jackboots and peaked caps for Sir Oswald and his officers.

Most of the fighting on that October day was between the anti-fascists and the police, who had been sent in to protect Mosley’s blackshirts. The government had rejected a petition by locals to ban them from marching through the East End.

Some 20,000 anti-fascists manned barricades and used sticks, bottles, rocks and even rotten vegetables to block around 6,000 police and the 2,000 or so blackshirts sheltering behind them.

Mosley eventually abandoned his march, ostensibly to prevent further bloodshed. That doesn’t sound very übermenschlich, does it?

It was a technical knockout in favour of the anti-fascists. But the brilliant killer blow came in the following month, November 1936, when parliament outlawed the wearing of uniforms by political groups in response to the Cable Street battle.

It knocked the stuffing out of Mosley’s movement. After all, half the attraction of fascism is presumably the uniform. The movement went into decline from its peak of 50,000 members and was banned in 1940 after the war had already started. Mosley was interned.

There’s anecdotal evidence that some who donned the black shirt weren’t even political. In one confrontation, my friend’s docker father ran up against a workmate who was wearing the full black kit plus a thick belt lined with razor blades. “What the fuck you doin’ ‘ere?” says docker Harry as he aims a punch. “Cos they pay good money, pal!” says the other.

The Public Order Bill 1936 went through Parliament with little opposition. But even some who voted for it were uneasy. Lord Snell echoed the unease of many when he told the upper house: “It may mark the beginning of the end of our dearly cherished political liberties.”

The overwhelming view, however, was that fascism and its uniforms were disagreeable foreign imports that Britain could well do without.

The overall message from Parliament was that Mosley and his thugs could not argue that they had the freedom to do what they liked, including wear paramilitary uniforms, if their main purpose was to stamp on other people’s freedom through violence and intimidation.

Maybe someone should tell that to the anti-lockdown loons in the US who have marched into state capitols with automatic weapons to get their point across.

It is a constant refrain of these and other modern far-right groups that they are standing up for freedom. In reality, they’re talking about their freedom to do exactly what they like: abuse and intimidate immigrants, women, gays.

At the slightly milder end of the right-wing spectrum are those who constantly bang on about “political correctness/health and safety gone mad” or about imaginery campaigns by elites to silence them. If only!

Back in Cable Street, the only memento of the famous battle is a large mural on the side of the old town hall. Completed in 1993 to commemorate the event, it’s frequently vandalised. But then so are other parts of the neighbourhood.

And what of Mosley? He was preening product of the upper classes – the black shirt was based on his fencing gear. He was a Labour Party renegade who came to adulate Hitler and Mussolini.

He was released in 1943 and spent most of the rest of his life abroad. In the 1950s he came back to lead the Union Movement, an ostensibly pan-European group that served as a front for incitement against new generations of immigrants.

A pathetic bunch of them held what they laughingly called a torchlight parade that marched past our shop in New Cross in the late-50s. There weren’t many of them and, because the law’s still in place, they weren’t in uniform.

My dad, who’d spent six years fighting actual fascists, said: “Just ignore them.” But I couldn’t resist popping out and spitting in their direction anyway.

Post-lockdown: Chaucer was there

IN the spirit of the latest government coronavirus advice, I have decided to rename this column Alert Thoughts on London Walks.

It seems appropriate now that vigilance has replaced enforced idleness as the watchword of the day.

Unfortunately, due to unforseen technical issues, full details of the rebranding will not be available for several days. I do not apologise for any confusion.

In the meantime, it was with more than the usual alertness that I set off to the site of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Tabard Inn and to reflect on how the poet and his fellow medievals coped with pandemic in an age before they had a Johnson.

There’s nothing left of Chaucer’s pub in the narrow cul-de-sac of Talbot Yard. The last remnants were knocked down in 1873.

In 1386, however, when Chaucer set off from there to Canterbury with his 29-strong band of pilgrims:

The rooms and stables of the inn were wide:
They made us easy, all was of the best.

He and his companions could have told you a thing or two about the effect of viruses, even if they didn’t know what they were at the time.

They had not long before survived the mid-century Black Death, the most fatal pandemic the world has ever seen and one that changed the course of its history. B&Bs like the Tabard had then been under lockdown.

Chaucer, son of a London vintner from just across the river in Upper Thames Street, was a child when the bubonic plague hit England, eventually killing a third to a half of the city’s population.

But the memory was still very much alive when, as an adult, he penned The Canterbury Tales. In The Pardoner’s Tale, three young sinners go on the rampage to try and kill Death because the plague has taken the life of one of their friends.

It was a time when quack cures were just as prevalent as they are today. But, as intravenous shots of disinfectant were not available, the Middle Ages made do with chopped snake or arsenic.

Plague doctors would visit suspected cases and impose self-isolation on affected families or pack them off to plague hospitals. Social distancing was not a problem as everyone assumed they would catch the plague if they came near a sufferer.

King Edward III was no slouch in a crisis. He arranged the digging of plague pits and ordered the streets of London to be cleaned because they were “foul with human faeces, and the air of the city poisoned to the great danger of men passing, especially in this time of infectious disease”.

In the days before video links, Parliament had to be prorogued in 1349, since “the plague and deadly pestilence had suddenly broken out in the said place and the neighbourhood,” according to a contemporary, “and daily increased in severity so that grave fears were entertained for the safety of those coming here at the time.”

You can just imagine those medieval MPs complaining that, as a consequence, they had no opportunity to debate an eventual relaxation of the lockdown. Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?

Government preparations: They’ve got no defence

THE forward guns of the HMS Belfast in the Pool of London are permanently trained on the motorway services at Scratchwood, which means that if the enemy attacked via the M1 and stopped for fuel the war could be over in seconds.

But they might not come by road. They might come by air, in which case the Min of Def could deploy its brand new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. But not before 2021 because it hasn’t got any actual aircraft yet. The reason? Budget cuts.

And forget the army. Recruitment is down 30 per cent in some regiments and it turns out one in ten of those who have joined up are too fat to fight.

Now, no one wants us spending squillions on defence. Like Oliver Twist, the generals and the admirals will always ask for more. And maybe we don’t even need an aircraft carrier anyway.

But, given the government’s woeful lack of preparation for what was regarded as the country’s biggest security threat – a lethal pandemic – it does make you wonder how they would cope with a different sort of existential challenge.

Which didn’t stop them shamelessly exploiting the VE Day anniversary with characteristic jingoism.

How was it for you? I spent the day behind the sofa for fear that Boris Johnson would pop up on the telly to remind us that the wartime spirit of sacrifice and endeavour must now be deployed “in a new struggle against the coronavirus”. Which, inevitably, was exactly what he did.

As yesterday was the 75th the government awarded us a bank holiday, just what we needed when many of us are idling at home anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t deny the remaining veterans like Captain Tom Moore their day of national gratitude and glory. But the “We’ll meet again” sentimentality is sometimes a bit over the top.

Happily, I was inoculated against militarism from birth by my ex-commando dad who used to say he’d never seen a sub-machine gun until he got back from Dunkirk, except, of course, for the ones the German soldiers had.

So much for “Be Prepared”. Subsequent generations of soldiers have had similar experiences, turning up at distant battlefronts without the right body armour or with the wrong gas mask. Apparently, the US military regard their Brit comrades as a breed of scroungers, always on the cadge for some bit of missing kit.

That said, I’ve always found them a cheerful bunch and highly efficient in difficult circumstances, as they are now in trying to sort out the government’s NHS supply cock-ups.

Maybe they deserve a bit less flag-waving and a bit more support from above. It’s the same with the nurses and care workers. There’s no point elevating them to the status of national heroes if you won’t pay them enough or buy them the right protective equipment – until it’s too late.

It’s no surprise that Johnson has gone full Churchillian in the current crisis – The Guardian said the country’s now run by a Churchill tribute act – but frankly it’s wearing a bit thin.

I’m just waiting for him to go on TV tomorrow to announce a relaxation of the lockdown and to tell us: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

I’m taking bets.

A letter from the editor: Mea Culpa

DEAR Reader,

I regret to inform you that I am considering my position at Idle Thoughts on London Walks after it was revealed I had an old mate over for a morning coffee this week in violation of the government’s strict social-distancing measures.

It is little defence that, unlike at the now infamous tryst between Professor “Lockdown”, Neil Ferguson, and his married lover, there was no touching.

At this time of national crisis, it is vital that we influential thought-leaders, as much as boffins like Ferguson, should avoid the charge of hypocrisy.

The prof has now fallen on his sword, quitting his role on the government’s SAGE committee, presumably in order to spend more time with someone else’s family.

The Daily Telegraph which broke the story sealed Ferguson’s fate when it revealed that the woman in question was a left-wing activist who lives in a £1.9 million house.

It is fair to say that The Telegraph has not been the biggest fan of lockdown, even though many of its aged readership already live in permanent self-isolation.

Ditto at The Sun, which opined that Ferguson’s “bombshell” research predicting that deaths could overwhelm the NHS was a “hammer blow” to the government’s initial hopes of building “herd immunity”.

None of this absolves me of my crime of taking pity on a frail, pensioner friend as he passed my home this week. Unlike Ferguson’s paramour, the only modest comfort I could offer was a hot drink (milk, no sugar).

But who will cast the first stone? How many of YOU have broken the rules, perhaps ignoring the six-foot requirement at the supermarket to grab the last packet of pasta, or illegally sitting down on a park bench?

So, watch this space. As I contemplate my future, I may resolve to just hang my head in shame as I continue to fulfill the critical function of this column.

The Editor

Religion: Armageddon outta here!

As I was walking by St Paul’s
The vicar grabbed me by the balls

THE traditional children’s nursery rhyme not only celebrates the Anglican Church’s legacy of clerical pederasty, it also evokes the more innocent pleasure of a stroll past Christopher Wren’s English Baroque masterpiece.

The Diocese of London’s “mother church” sits atop Ludgate Hill on which the Romans earlier erected a temple to Diana, goddess of chastity (ball-grabbing vicars, please note).

Wren took a lot of flak for his plan to replace the cathedral tower destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 with a foreign-looking dome. Some protestant worthies claimed it smacked of Papist devilry.

This year, the poor old C of E has been having a bit of a rough ride.

The ruling Synod finally decided in February that it should pay compensation to children and vulnerable adults who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy and its associated God-botherers. There were 3,287 cases in 2017 alone.

The Synod’s Bishop Jonathan Gibbs told his fellow divines: “It will mean money, serious money, and we will need to work out how we’re going to fund that.”

Then, along came Covid-19 and trashed Easter, a time when the Church can usually count on raising an extra bob or two via the collection plate.

Perhaps the C of E could top up the kitty by emulating the enterprising revivalist “bishop” who is selling bottles of oil and red yam to his South London parishioners at £91 a shot, with the assurance it will protect them from coronavirus.

You would think that Armageddon would be a busy time for organised religion. But with churches, mosques and synagogues shuttered, you could be forgiven for thinking religion has been marginalised in the present crisis.

It turns out, however, that a growing number of people are turning to it in lockdown. Downloads of Bible apps shot up by two million in March, the same month that Koran downloads hit a record high. Britain’s top online Christian bookstore reported a 55 percent rise in Bible sales in April.

Will this apparent revival outlast the crisis or will these foul-weather converts return to their godless ways once it’s all over?

“What if, after the lockdown is lifted, the pews remain empty?” the Catholic News Agency’s Luke Coppen asked in The Spectator. “Some sociologists believe that coronavirus is a dire threat to western Christianity. They predict that the disease will speed up the already fast drop in churchgoing.”

The canny C of E has long made up for declining numbers of churchgoers by charging tourists to visit its more notable sights. Salvation doesn’t come cheap at St Paul’s, for example, where visitors pay a whopping 20 quid entrance fee.

Business is nevertheless so brisk that the cathedral is planning to open a swish new visitors’ entrance in August, virus permitting.

I thought I’d find the area deserted when I strolled up there this week. Not a bit of it. There were two fire engines, a serried rank of firefighters, several men in suits, a gaggle of photographers and a lady vicar (see today’s pic).

They’d turned out to lay a wreath at the monument to London’s wartime firefighters.

Not even social-distancing advice can prevent us Brits from glorifying World War II, particularly with VE Day approaching. Maybe that’s our true religion, right behind the National Health.