Storm Arwen

The storm (Force 11 here) which hit us on the 26th and 27th of November was one of the most destructive I can remember, and I can remember the big one of January 1968, known as Hurricane Low Q.

Wind speeds were between 90 and 100mph when it came ashore on the East coast of Scotland, and that included Dunbar.

The John Muir Country Park plantation of Scots Pine was devastated, with between 80 and 90% of the trees destroyed. It’s still unsafe, so I haven’t seen it for myself.

What I have seen is the damage to buildings and property in Dunbar, and the effects on sea life. A huge volume of kelp was ripped from the holdfasts on the sea-bed and washed ashore. A lot of the creatures which lived in its shelter were battered on rocks or sand, and now litter the beach. Jane and I walked along yesterday, and it was upsetting to see all the dead lobsters of all ages and sizes. Gulls had stripped away the flesh from most of them, leaving only their blue shells.

I know there are lobsters round here, but I’d never thought about octopuses being part of the marine fauna. Yet here they are, at least half a dozen of them, and that’s just on the surface. Below the tangle there may be many more.

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Telling Stories

What I learned about myself, in the period between 2016 and now, is that I love to tell stories. I love making up characters, settings and situations, the more three-dimensional and true-to-life (as I imagine life), the better.

So if I have to do some research on facts to fit places and events my characters exist in, I’ll do that quite happily. I know some story writers and novelists start with the imagination and stay in it for as long as their tale lasts, that’s not the way it works best for me. It’s even more essential with historical elements in fiction, as in one thread of my novel. Real things happened to real people, and we have records, even if some of them are partial. I have to get at least these bits right. And if I need to know upon which day of the week Hogmanay 1999 fell, so be it. I will find out.

Oh, I know I’ve experimented with “magic realism”, because I’ve read and enjoyed the fictions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others, but the “magic” bit is always minor, always secondary. Maybe it’s just a wholly implausible thing one of my characters does or says, while the other characters react in a wholly predictable manner – I quite like that technique – like when a wife says, out of the blue, that she needs to go to South America. I may write more of those stories.

The need to have my stories rooted in some version of reality is probably why I’ve never tackled science fiction, although I confess to having read an awful lot in that genre when I was younger. I probably just lack the depth of imagination to create whole worlds where the laws of physics or the inevitabilities of biology don’t apply. I still love the stories and novels of Ray Bradbury, for instance, because he was a masterly story-teller. But I couldn’t write the kinds of stories he wrote,.

I suppose it’s having finished a novel on which much of my time and thought has been focussed for several years that’s made me think about things like this. I do love the craft of writing, as well as the art of it. I want to write better.

I don’t know in which direction my writing will take me next; maybe more stories, or maybe poetry? And if poetry, is that the same as storytelling? I think not. Stories illuminate a character’s actions and intentions in a continuous fashion. Poems are like going for a walk in the hills at night, and only switching on a torch every few hundred metres. They illuminate a thought, a vision, a seeing, something that’s instant and all-pervading. I love that. I’ll try to do more, but it’s a different form of thinking, as well as a different form of writing.

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That’s the first draft of the novel finished, printed out, proof-read, and now I’ve started a critical read.

I’m more than halfway through the critical read, and I’ve already rewritten several sections that needed substantial revision. I should finish it this weekend.

What then? Frankly, I’m not sure. I didn’t write it with the aim of publication, as I’ve said before, but to get it out of my system, and to prove to myself I can write a novel. I’ve had the idea in my head for a very long time, ever since Jane and I visited the Languedoc and toured round some of the Cathar sites. Discovering that two of the major massacres of the Albigensian Crusade took place on my birthday, albeit in 1209 and 1210, gave me a weird feeling, as if I was somehow destined to write something which contributed to an understanding of the Cathars, their beliefs, and the reasons the Crusaders attacked them with such ferocity and brutality. I also wanted to describe something of the social setting for those living at the time. But I didn’t just want to write about some obscure events which took place in what’s now part of France in the 13th century. I wanted to write a modern story too, and have the Cathar narrative weave in and out of that story.

A lot of my short stories are about couples and their interactions, but they’ve usually been focussed on short time scales. This time I wanted to cover a longer period in the modern story, about thirty years in total, and I’d never attempted anything like that before. But it’s been constantly fascinating as well as challenging. And now it’s done, or at least drafted. At the moment it’s just over 90,000 words, the longest thing I’ve ever written, apart from my PhD thesis..

I’ve had to focus a lot of time and energy on the writing this past year. Fortunately, with the social effects of the pandemic, I haven’t had any real conflicts of interest or time. That’s been a bit of a luxury, I suppose, and I shouldn’t expect that to continue in future. I’ve got some editorial commitments for the next few months, so any writing time I have will be for shorter things.

I feel happy and relieved that I’ve completed what I set out to do, and I’ll consider very carefully what I want to do next, both with the novel and with my writing life. Would I write another novel? Not immediately.

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Novel update


This is part of the ruined Cathar stronghold of Peyrepertuse, the most dramatic of the hilltop castles we visited in the Languedoc in 1998. This is the view from the higher fortifications to the lower ones. It was never captured by the Crusaders, but it was always a remote and difficult site to occupy, and it could never have withstood a siege.

At the moment I’m nearing the end of the first draft of the novel, with nearly 74,000 words written. Of course it will need rewrites and revisions, but I’ll do those based on the first full draft.

Originally I thought the novel would be complete at 80,000 words, but it will probably run to about 86,000.

I know what are the major events which will take place in the next major section, the ante-penultimate one, and I’m working my way through it now. The final section is partly written, but I haven’t even started on the one before that, so it exists only as a title at the moment.

Each section, and there are 14, is between 4,000 and 8,000 words, and will be split into chapters.

The Cathar interludes are all written, and will be tipped in to the main narrative when I assemble le tout ensemble.

The tower at Minerve

Minerve is where the Cather story ends, in 1210, but I won’t say where or when the modern story ends, because that would be a spoiler.

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My novel in Autumn 2021: the “why?” of it

Title: The Way We Say “Yes”

My interest in the Languedoc and its history goes back some considerable time. I read Montaillou, by Emanuel Le Roy Ladurie some time after it was published in English in 1978. I was fascinated by this story of Catharism, the Albigensian Crusade, and the Inquisition.

It stayed in the back of my mind until my wife and I rented a holiday gîte in Paraza, on the Canal du Midi, in 1998. En route we stopped at Beziers and learned of the massacre which took place there on 22nd July 1209. Later, because it was far too hot to hang around, we toured the hilltop fortresses at Queribus, Montsegur and Peyrepertuse, and visited Carcassonne, Mirepoix and Minerve, among other medieval sites. At Minerve I learned of the burning there of 140 Cathars, on the 22nd of July 1210, exactly a year after the massacre at Beziers. My own birthday is the 22nd of July, albeit in 1942. I convinced myself that I was destined to write about the history.

At the time I was still working at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and also very much involved with my profession of librarianship. It didn’t leave me much time for writing, but I was able to fit in some research, decided on a structure for the novel and sketched out my ideas. The novel was to feature a modern story, taking place mostly in the Languedoc. It would also contain a parallel 13th century narrative. I had filled out some of the blanks in my structural diagram, and written some of the easier sections, sometimes on the commuter train between Dunbar and Edinburgh.

Then Kate Mosse published her excellent novel Labyrinth in 2005. It too contained a modern story with Cathar interludes, but it was a totally different book from the one I was writing. What completely knocked the stuffing out of me was that the names of four of her Cathar characters were the same as four of mine. I will freely admit that I’d selected mine from Inquisition records mentioned in Montaillou.

The coincidences, although they are superficial ones, led to me abandoning my novel. and it’s only recently that my interest has been rekindled.

There have been further ups and downs along the way, and a second abandonment in 2019, but now I’ve come back to it with renewed determination to finish it, for my own satisfaction.

Among the sources I’ve found useful are:

Le Roy Ladurie, Emanuel: Maintaillou. 1978
Lambert, Michael: The Cathars. 1998
Mosse, Kate: Labyrinth. 2005
Gougaud, Henri and Sioen, Gérard: Lands of the Cathars. English version 1994
William of Tudela and Anon: Song of the Cathar Wars, Parts 1 and 2. 1213 and ~1275. English version published 1996.

The title? The word for “yes” in Occitan, the langue d’oc, is “oc”. There was no ‘France’ at that time, and the land was a collection of feudal estates originally settled by Frankish tribes, but in most of them, apart from those belonging to the Counts of Toulouse and Foix, the word for “yes” was “oïl”, which became “oui” in modern French. The whole region, southern ‘France’, the ‘kingdom of Aragon’, northeast ‘Spain’, ‘Catalunya’ was flexible, except that allegiances were to specific fiefdoms, which in turn were nominally or actually in vassalage to higher authorities.

Colin Will

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2020; a personal review of the year

I used to keep a diary, just for myself. I wrote down what I was thinking and feeling, not with any purpose in mind, but for the sake of recording my thoughts as time went by. The other evening it occurred to me to restart it. I had the idea of recalling my personal recollections and thoughts about the events of 2020, which has been pretty momentous for so many people. I opened the diary and went back to the last entry in it.

It dated from June 2019, and recorded that we had returned from a short trip to Mull, Iona, Staffa and the Treshnish Islands the previous evening. There was a garbled and almost inaudible message on our phone from brother-in-law David, about his COPD and hospital, and his sodium levels being low. This started alarm bells ringing with me, as I know that low sodium levels can be a sign of cancer. I recalled his previous diagnosis of pancreatitis and the subsequent removal of his gall bladder. I suspected pancreatic cancer.

Jane phoned him that morning, and discovered that he was actually still in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. We drove in to see him, and he did not look good. For the remainder of June, and for the whole of July and August, we visited him in ERI and later in St John’s, Livingston, where he died on the 28th of August from cholangiocarcinoma – cancer of the bile duct. I put the diary on the shelf and somehow never got round to looking at it until now.

So 2019 was a traumatic year for us, but that was on a personal level. We had no idea of the upheavals that 2020 would bring, and on an international scale.

Having worked in scientific institutions for 30 years, I’ve always kept up-to-date with developments in science. My PhD in in the Department of Information Science at Strathclyde was a study of the communication process in science, so it had me researching epistemology – the study of knowledge itself, knowledge creation and knowledge transfer. I had come across the work of an epidemiologist who described parallels between knowledge models and epidemiological models, so it was natural that I would still follow developments in epidemiology, even 30 years after gaining my PhD.

It was in January 2020 that I first read reports of a previously unknown virus which had led to the rapid spread of a disease in a province of China. As the year went on, news reports of the virus itself – SARS-Co-V2, and its related disease, Covid-19 – would become ubiquitous.

In February the city of Wuhan, where the virus had first been recognised, described, categorised and sequenced, was subject to a form of city-wide (later region-wide) quarantine. The word ‘lockdown’ was introduced, disseminated and bandied about by commentators. Pockets of infection were popping up in other Chinese cities, so internal transport was shut down, and the first international spread was acknowledged. At the end of the month, our long ago booked holiday in Tenerife looked close to cancellation when an Italian family staying at the hotel we were due to go to developed the illness, and the hotel was quarantined. Jet2 changed our destination to a different destination on the island and a different hotel. We debated it, and on the balance of probabilities decided to go ahead. It was fine; the hotel was excellent, and we enjoyed our break in the sun, the first trip since our Mull trip the previous June.

We arrived home in the early hours of the 10th of March, the day after Italy declared its first lockdown. I was infuriated on hearing the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser talking about herd immunity. The guy obviously doesn’t understand epidemiology. For herd immunity to work effectively, somewhere between 60 and 80% of the population would have to be infected. For the UK that would work out at around 45 to 60 million. The mortality from covid-19 is between 1 and 2%, so that would imply, taking the lowest of both figures, a death toll of at least 450,000. Simple arithmetic. No politician could possibly find that number ‘acceptable’, and eventually, they decided against that strategy (but the guy is still in his job). Johnson, that inept Upper-Class Twit of the Decade, dithered, but was forced into declaring a UK-wide lockdown from 23rd March.

Everything closed, apart from shops selling essentials. Near the beginning I said I’d do all the shopping, and for a couple of weeks I did. Then Jane tried it – we were supposed to shop alone – and it freaked her out. So I kept on doing the shopping, until we were allowed to shop together as a household. That was better.  Now it’s fine. I’ve never considered having groceries delivered.

We walked together, a lot, down by the sea or inland. It was great. More than great, it was wonderful. The spring flowers were opening, the resident birds were establishing territories, and the weather was good. There was hardly any traffic noise, because there was hardly any traffic. The air smelled good for the same reason. The skies were spectacular, because there were very few aircraft polluting the atmosphere. Best of all, the golf course was closed, so we could walk along the shore at the edge of the rough, without having to keep out of the way of golfers. We watched the shore birds, the waders, ducks and swans. We found a previously unvisited wood, its floor strewn with wild garlic and primroses.

The gym closed, but I had my allotment, so I had my permitted exercise there. The ground had never been so thoroughly prepared before, and I could still buy vegetable seeds locally. May was wonderful, warm and sunny, although June was cooler. In July the first easing of the pandemic rules took place, and for the first time I realised, as did many others living in Scotland, that our nation could do things differently from the way things were done in Englandshire, and that the outcomes were better. Our First Minister was someone I felt I could trust and respect, unlike Boris the Balloon and his incompetent, dishonest, corrupt and crooked cabinet colleagues. In my view they are arrogant, stupid, uncaring, unscrupulous, and mendacious, a government vile and rotten to the core.

July was when Nicola said we should wear masks, and that made a lot of sense to me. Naturally Dumbo Johnson was late to the party, but even he, with his useless advisors, eventually joined in.

Further lockdown easing took place, and then the inevitable second wave started in September. Lockdown levels were introduced, and they’ve fluctuated back and forth since then. In late October we had our own sobering close shave. One of our friends had invited us to join her for coffee at a café in Midlothian, at a time when that was permitted, subject to distancing, masks and hand cleaning. We had a very pleasant hour with her, catching up on news. That was on a Thursday. By Saturday our friend had developed a cough, and she was advised to go for a covid test. The positive result came through the following day, and she phoned us to tell us, and to say that she had reported us as two of her contacts. On the Monday the NHS Scotland app on my phone alerted us, and said we had to isolate for 14 days from the date of contact. So we stayed at home, taking our temperatures daily. They remained normal, and we did not develop symptoms. We regarded it as a lucky escape. Our friend has recovered.

By December all four administrations agreed a five-day  Christmas break from the most stringent rules, and that was a stupid decision, soon rescinded as infectivity levels soared. As Christmas neared, rates increased in our own county of East Lothian as a result of people breaking the rules by travelling in to Edinburgh for Christmas shopping. The Christmas break was reduced to one day – Christmas Day itself, which meant our planned family get-together on the 23rd had to be cancelled. Our son came through on Christmas Day to join us for lunch, but he couldn’t stay, as he was due to prepare the Christmas lunch for his own family.

So it was mostly just the two of us, as it has been all year. We have supported each other, made each other laugh, kept ourselves going. And we’ve talked. All the time. I can’t remember a time when we’ve talked to each other so much. Oh, it’s not always lovey-dovey and cheerful – we have had the occasional falling-out, but in nearly 55 years of married life we’ve learned the best ways of dealing with that. We’ll get through this, and we have the vaccinations to look forward to. And since we’re both over 75, we’ll be vaccinated earlier than most.

I am acutely aware that it’s been easier for us to get through 2020 because we’re a couple, and because we’re both healthy and reasonably fit. Many of our friends and neighbours live on their own, and I can appreciate how hard it is for them to face their fears and insecurities in isolation. I am very sympathetic. Also, both our sons and their partners are working, and dealing with the complications that brings. As pensioners, we don’t have these pressures.

But still, there are very real risks associated with the virus, particularly for the elderly, like us. There is a chance that we might not both make it unscathed. We mitigate these risks by being as careful as we can be. We stick to the rules, because they seem to us to be appropriate and sensible. But that might not be enough. I worry about the consequences if one or other, or both of us, become seriously ill. But I don’t dwell on it.

Here’s to 2021 being a better year.

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Colin does computing

I’ve been thinking about my background in computing lately, and it occurred to me to write down the story of how it all developed.

After a shaky start in the world of work, I became a librarian, gaining my professional qualifications in Glasgow and working in public libraries for ten years. I’d always had an interest in science, and wanted to work in scientific librarianship, but I didn’t have a science degree. Then the Open University started in 1971, and I was one of its first students, and later one of its first graduates.

I started my Open University degree course in 1971, taking Foundation courses in science and maths. In M100 I learned BASIC programming. I’d started with a Sinclair ZX81, and now I bought a BBC Model B micro. I crammed my studies, and graduated in 1973, also starting a new job as the Edinburgh Librarian of the Institute of Geological Sciences, later British Geological Survey. My OU courses included geology, geochemistry, geophysics, organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, comparative physiology, ecology and the biological bases of behavior (neurophysiology, psychology, ethology).

Computing at IGS in 1975, when I moved the library into its new home in Murchison House, was then a specialist service run by NERC Computing Services. They used a mainframe computer, based I think in Swindon, with a DEC minicomputer in Edinburgh. If I remember correctly I was using a Commodore 64 as a dumb terminal, for comms , including emails, and access to databases using JANET.

Later I used a NERC-developed package for library loans, on a twin-floppy disk machine running CP/M. (Remember 5¼” disks? The program was on one disk, the data on the other.)

In 1985 I began a part-time PhD programme in the Department of Information Sciences at Strathclyde University. Broadly, my field was epistemology, studying the structure and transmission of knowledge itself. Specifically, I researched the processes of scientific communication, from the acquisition of new knowledge by research through to its incorporation in the corpus of accepted scientific paradigms (a la Popper and Kuhn). The particular discipline I focussed on was, naturally, geology.

In the course of it I learned a lot about statistics, evaluative bibliometrics, knowledge models (including those derived from epidemiology), information management, citation analysis, co-citation analysis, cluster analysis and the use of computers for mapping.

Halfway through my research I moved jobs to become Chief Librarian at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in 1988. I was a qualified librarian with a science degree, and a Member of the Institute of Information Scientists. My interests lay in information science and information management, not primarily in the technology, so they’ve always been platform-independent.

The Garden at that time ran all of its computing using an Altos mini, linked to dumb terminals. I felt it was inadequate for use in  word processing, library management and external communication, and I said so on a number of occasions. The Garden commissioned Edinburgh University to review its computing facilities, and to make recommendations for improving them. I was asked to liaise with the review team. The review found that the Altos, while adequate for the Garden’s small Finance Department, did not support scientific software, and it’s word processing software was extremely limited in scope. On receipt of its report, the Regis Keeper asked me to set up and chair a Computer Management Group, and to implement the recommendations. (I remained chair of the Group until 2000).

We acquired a number of IBM PS2 machines, among the first commercially available true personal computers, and networked them. One of my first tasks was to evaluate word processing programs for general use, since I had expressed such strong dissatisfaction with the previous system. I was familiar with WordStar, having used it on a my CP/M machine, but MS Word had just been released, and I checked its performance and ease of use against WordStar and Word Perfect. I recommended MS Word, and implemented it. I’ve used it, in all its iterations, ever since.

We went on to acquire and integrate taxonomic and database software on Apple computers, and to introduce specialist software for Finance and library management.

I was awarded my PhD in 1991, for research on scientific communication. As a late friend said about me, ‘Colin is all about communication.’ That remains true, whether it’s my scientific interests or my writing.

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Writing in lockdown

I’ve been thinking back to March, when we heard Johnson and Vallance’s first press conference, and the ‘herd immunity’ strategy they were going to implement. I had come across epidemiological modelling in the course of my PhD research, and I thought this strategy would probably work eventually, but it would inevitably lead to a horrendous number of deaths. I was horrified that a British government could be contemplating such a strategy, almost calculating an ‘acceptable’ number of deaths. No deaths are ‘acceptable’. They are inevitable in a pandemic, but surely any Government and its advisers should seek to minimise death and suffering in the people of that country, and not just treat it as collateral damage. That was when I wrote my first blog on the subject.

But since then a wee voice has nagged away at me from time to time, questioning exactly what I did uncover, back in the day, about the way diseases spread in a population. After all, we are talking about the late 1980s, early 1990s, and that was a long time ago. So a couple of weeks ago I dug out my PhD thesis and read the relevant chapter – first time I’ve done that in more than 20 years.

What I was researching was the nature of scientific knowledge, and the mechanisms of knowledge transfer. And lo, as they say, it was all there after all. An epidemiologist, name of Goffman, had in fact used studies in his field to develop a knowledge transfer model, and I had read and quoted him in my thesis. I did have my facts right after all. At the end of the day other models fitted my data better than epidemiology, but I did learn about R numbers, socially acquired immunity and other factors in disease transmission.

I didn’t at any point seek to keep a diary of my thoughts and experiences of living in a pandemic, but somehow some of my thoughts have found their way into poems and stories, and three of the poems have actually been published online. One of the short stories will be in my next book, scheduled for publication by Postbox Press next January.

The first poem, Getting On, was published in the Irish webzine Pendemic (, and it was written in the early days of the virus.

The second, Ghost Train, was published as Day Twenty in the Postcards From Malthusia series ( It was written in the lockdown period. I have an allotment just outside Dunbar, which backs onto the East Coast Main Line. While I was digging, empty trains would pass by, just polishing the rails, near enough for me to look in the windows.

The third one, Starting a New Normal, was written by invitation from Dumfries-based poet, Hugh Macmillan, who has been inviting poets to contribute poems, and to video themselves reading the poems. I was asked to contribute, and I feature as Number 108 in A Plague of Poets, Poems from the Backroom, at 


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Writing and Speaking in Scots

I’m prompted to write again about Scots by watching a programme by Alistair Heather called The Rebel Tongue on the BBC Scotland Channel the ither nicht.

I was born in Edinburgh (in 1942, since ye ask sae nicely), and spent my first sixteen years there. I don’t recall Scots being used much in conversation, certainly not by my aspiring parents. The odd Scots word crept in of course, as one would say ‘dreich’ for example. But when I was very small – certainly afore the skweel – my grandparents sometimes babysat for me and my little brother, so that my mother could go out to work. My grandparents were from Aberdeenshire, and maybe it’s from them that I got my ear for the Doric. And finding out that my ancestors were from Buchan made Doric more special to me.

I’ve written some poems in a kind of boilerplate Scots, and even had some published. That’s using literary Scots, oot ae a dictionary, bit it’s nae the same as the leid ye hear fowk spik yae day. I’ve also edited collections of poetry in Scots and Doric.

In 2009 and 2010 I was the Scottish Poetry Library’s Poet Partner to Moray, and I heard the distinctive spik o Buckie, Lossie, Kinloss, Fochabers an ither toons in that byordnar county. Ma faimly tree has branches in Ellon, Strichen, Longside, Lonmay an a wheen o ither places.

Last year I wrote a short story in the voice o a Buchan loon whae’d moved Sooth, an sae his leid kinna reflectit baith Doric an the mair refined Scots o the Sooth-East. It wis shortlisted in a competeetion, bit it didna wun. Hooanivver, Ah aye like it, sae Ah’ll sneek it intae ma next buik o short stories, due oot neist year. The thing aboot writin like this is Ah dinnae need tae rin tae a Scots or Doric dictionary tae fun the words Ah need. Ah hae thum aa in ma heid.

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What’s happening now?

Having started blogging about coronavirus Covid-19, AKA SARS CoV-2, I suppose I should continue to log what’s happening in my mental neck of the woods.

The lock-down announced on Monday night was the latest in a series of measures aimed at reducing contact between people, with the avowed aims of building capacity into the NHS to cope with the peak of the infection, now estimated to be just over two weeks away, while saving lives. I suspect some further tightening of the lock-down will be necessary in a few days time. Mortality of 20,000 is a figure which has been mentioned.

The curves, for confirmed cases and for deaths, continue to be exponential, that is the rates of both are accelerating, rather than going up in straight lines. This is normal in any epidemic. They will rise to maxima, flatten off, and then decline, as the numbers in the community who have had the disease and recover build up immunity in the form of antibodies in their blood. In most epidemics, and I have no reason to believe Covid-19 is any different from other coronaviruses which are better known (such as SARS and MERS), such individuals should not suffer recurrences of the disease, unless their systems are exposed to exceptional viral loads, such as our front-line medical and nursing staff might encounter. I hope they don’t. When a sufficient number in the community have such immunity, the rates of transmission start to diminish, although they don’t disappear completely.

At that point we will need a vaccine, and with the worldwide effort devoted to that purpose, I am sure we will have one, maybe in a year or so.

But society has changed so much in the last few weeks; UK and world economies have changed so much, that I think the world which will emerge post-Covid-19 will not be the one we know; the one we’ve always known.

Scientists, doctors and science fiction writers have been telling us for years what a global pandemic might do to us; to our bodies and to our societies. Sadly, we’re now beginning to see the dangers for ourselves.

And what will happen next time? I’ve said before that the thing we learn from history is that we don’t. I don’t have much faith in governments and politicians to pull us unscathed out of the next one. So far, they’ve failed us on climate change, on pollution, on antibiotic resistance, on famine relief, gun control, wars and on social injustice, to name but a few.

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