Not My Turn

Four years ago a chum conjured up a cracking idea. “Let’s do the Lions tour to New Zealand!” he said. A bunch of us signed up for the Mid-Life Crisis trip of a lifetime to spend two weeks immersed in the best rugby on the planet with an eclectic collection of rugby lovers from all corners of these islands in the country most devoted to the sport. The brewing anticipation since then has been joyful. I have loved the innumerable lunches, pub outings and incessant debate in the Cardinal Vaughn Car Park at Twickenham about the tour. I’ve never seen grown men reduced to such animated and childlike excitement as I have with this tour as it has morphed from a dreamy ambition to reality. My own sense of adventure was heightened because I have never been to New Zealand but have always thought of it as the place I am spiritually at least, most close to. Indeed, if ever the Mad Marxists get a sniff of the levers of power here that is where I’m heading.

Crumble Kid with our Tour Leader. I had to send him, the shirt doesn't fit me so well anymore...............................

Crumble Kid with our Tour Leader. I had to send him, the shirt doesn't fit me so well anymore...............................

It was then, a tad disappointing to miss QF002 to Auckland via Dubai and Sydney last night. What we might describe as an unfortunate confluence of events have conspired against me and forced me to drop out just at the four year finishing line. It was though fantastic news for the youngest Crumble Kid who got the phone call of a lifetime, packed up his university accommodation in quick time and drove down at 3am yesterday. A quick turnaround from summer to winter gear at home and off to Terminal 3 where, after a quick goodbye, he found himself luxuriating in the BA Lounge with my chum. Kind of surreal turnaround.

We tend not to sink into self pity at home, it just isn’t our way. You move on and move fast. It is after all, not the biggest disappointment I have ever had with missed flights. No, that one is forever etched on my memory.

In the summer of 1981 I was sent from the Scottish Infantry Depot at Glencorse to join the Gordon Highlanders for a couple of months before starting at Sandhurst in the September intake. After two months in Belize I was ready to go. Any sane person would have felt the same. So it was with as much of a spring in my step that I could muster while doing foot drill that I marched into the CO’s office in Airport Camp to be told, “Well done Corporal Crumble, I hope you have enjoyed your time with us. I want to wish you good luck at Sandhurst and I look forward to meeting you again sometime.” That though, is not what he said. Not even close.

“Now look here Corporal Crumble, I know you must be looking forward to your flight tomorrow and starting at the Academy but there seems to have been a bit of a cock-up in the paperwork back at the Depot. You will now be starting at Sandhurst in January so will stay with the Battalion until we leave Belize in November. When we get back to Kirknewton you will stay with us and come up to the Mess and understudy a Platoon Commander until you start in January.”

That was kind of him. I had a fabulous time with the Gordons who were a decent and professional bunch and the time spent with the other officers in Kirknewton was indeed, good preparation for the Academy. But, at the time, standing in his office, the news was crushing. Another three months in that stinking, disease ridden country; most of it spent humping heavy kit around the jungle. Disappointed doesn’t touch it. In Belize they brew a beer called Belekin, (tastes like cheap perfume and did the same sort of damage to your gut), and distill a rum called One Barrel which tasted much like the issue mossie-rep we used in the jungle. I think I drank most of the available supplies in the country that night. I never touched the bloody stuff again. Looking back, it was a good thing. Had that bad news not have come my way then a whole lot of cards would have fallen differently and life very probably, would have meandered down a different path. 

As I said, we banish pity at home but I allowed myself just a hint of pathos when I sat down on return from the airport to watch the Woody Allen movie, Cafe Society. Like all Woody Allen films it received mixed reviews. I loved it and it fitted my reflective mood perfectly. The film is worth watching for Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous cinematography alone and the soundtrack is full of my favourite music. It was a gentle and melancholic end to what was, a rather frantic day.

I guess then, it will have to be Japan in 2019.

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Hot!

The summer of '76

Crumble in another hot place, far away and a long time ago.

Crumble in another hot place, far away and a long time ago.

One of the more eclectic items on my CV is that of Jungle Warfare Instructor. This was quite useful in the jungles of Belize and Brunei and the memories of those happy days were front and centre in my mind when I started working outside earlier. I’ve stopped now. It’s hot, very hot; 1976 hot. 1976 was, at the time and since, the longest and sunniest summer in memory. The good news was beer was 25p a pint and it cost a fiver to fill the car up. The bad news was record unemployment, a sick economy without cure, riots in Notting Hill and the England cricket team getting hit out of the ground all summer by the storming West Indians. The major revelation that summer was that girls, in fact everyone, started to wear much, much less than we were ever used to in this country. It was quite an eye opener really and a great time to be a teenage boy. Perhaps that’s why, despite all the bad things during that period, we mostly look back on it with misty eyed fond nostalgia.

Today's forecast

Zika

A quick word on the Zika virus. The name "Zika" refers to a forest just outside Uganda's capital, Kampala, where the virus was discovered in the late 1940’s. It has since been identified in other parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. The spread of Zika is similar to that of the chikungunya virus: Once it is exposed to a dense population, aided by the right factors and conditions, it spreads rapidly. Concerns about severe birth defects associated with the Zika virus are not only understandable, but also are aggravated by the difficulty in detecting infection. Several studies are underway to conclusively prove the link between Zika and microcephaly, a congenital disorder associated with small infant head size and neurological impairment. Studies in Brazil have already shown a strong correlation. There is also evidence linking Zika to autoimmune disorders such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, but more findings will likely emerge over the coming months.

However, hard facts are difficult to come by and the media are not being proportionate in their reporting. It may well be proved to be very serious but the BBC colouring the whole of Brazil in crimson red on their graphics is hardly helpful. One recent report suggests that up to last week there were only 270 confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil and only 6 of those had Zika. 

There are also some suggestions amongst the Twitterati that there may be a story drawing in the mandatory Tdap vaccination for pregnant women in Brazil, (became mandatory in 2015). Tdap is manufactured by Glaxo and Sanofi. There also seems to be growing evidence that the disease can be sexually transmitted. I’m not taking a view on any of this. I’m simply keeping an open mind and question how a 65 year old virus suddenly becomes a threat to human health on a trans-continental scale. Mossies rarely travel far.

The WHO officially considers the Zika viral outbreak, which is currently plaguing the Americas, to be a global emergency. Yesterday’s announcement followed an extraordinary meeting to assess the extent of the infection. Labelling the virus an international health emergency improves the chances of getting it under control, thanks to an anticipated influx of personnel, resources and expertise spurred by the WHO designation. The emergency decision could even accelerate efforts to develop a vaccine, though this will not happen immediately. The virus is spreading rapidly through South and Central America and could lead to 4 million new cases this year. At least 20 territories, including Panama, Guatemala, Barbados and Puerto Rico, have registered local transmission of the virus. The disease, which is spread by the Aedes mosquito, produces no symptoms in the majority of cases and only mild symptoms in others. 

 There will be an economic impact. Containing and managing an outbreak is expensive, as is dealing with large numbers of dead and infected. This can lead to severe disruptions in trade, accompanied by enhanced screening measures to prevent the transmission of the virus across borders. Developing treatment, cures and vaccines requires huge investment, as seen in the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa. And then there is the loss of productivity resulting not only from sickness but those refusing to work and those taking time off to care for the infected. If the disease is neither deadly nor debilitating, however, the loss of economic productivity from death or incapacitation is low.

Mossies are a fact of life in the Tropics and whatever personal protective measures individuals take its usually a case of minimising bites rather than eradicating them. Zika is not the only mosquito-borne disease that is endemic to the Americas; dengue, chikungunya, West Nile and malaria have all taken hold, (before I was posted to Belize I came out of the Med Centre feeling like a pin cushion although at the time, the last thing we were worried about in the jungle and in the rivers were mossies. The Green Tree Viper, the Fer de lance, the Jumping Viper, the Bullet Ant, African Bees, bitey spiders too numerous to mention and scorpions; nice). Without mass eradication efforts, similar to those carried out in the mid-20th century, it is likely that several mosquito-borne diseases will remain endemic to Latin America. The difficulty in controlling these other diseases is a strong indicator that controlling Zika will be equally difficult. There are significant costs associated with constantly combating and treating mosquito-borne diseases, costs that are hard for cash-strapped countries to shoulder. In fact, the prevalence of such diseases in the tropics has historically hindered the economical emergence of countries in that climate range.

The biggest geopolitical effect of this outbreak may not be seen until 18 years or more after the current outbreak. Fear of Zika and microcephaly has to potential to lead to a decrease in pregnancies in the region, possibly assisted by political initiatives. The governments of El Salvador, Columbia, Jamaica and Honduras are already telling women to delay pregnancy until the virus is under control. Unlike other countries and regions that are expected to face demographic crunches in the next two decades, much of Latin America still has a healthy demographic curve, with a large, young population base. A rapid halt in population growth, caused by something akin to Zika, would threaten the continued productivity associated with sizable Latin American labour pools. This has the potential to hasten regional decline in decades to come although, I do emphasise, no one seems to yet have real handle on this thing regardless of what the newspapers are saying..