Geneva, Tuesday 21 April 2020
My grasp on reality was shaken yesterday evening when a pink, three metre long, helium-filled “Rarity” version of My Little Pony drifted high over our balcony. I thought this lockdown really could not get any crazier. Well…. The news this morning is that US oil prices have gone into negative. What?? That means suppliers of crude oil are paying people to take the black gold (!) off their hands. Storage space for oil is now more valuable than the oil itself.
About two years ago I found myself playing golf with some high-flying financial chappy from the Geneva business world. I asked him what he thought the impact on the markets might be of a major public health event such as a repeat of the 1918/1919 flu pandemic. He looked at me as though I was totally off my chump and muttered that it would make little difference and anyway nothing could ever again be as bad as the 2008 crash.
Just as crazy – and also in the US – I read that health-care personnel are out on the streets demonstrating against and confronting those demonstrating against the imposition of lockdown measures. The two schools of thought (see Day 34 ) on how best to respond to the pandemic are now facing-off on the streets. It is no longer a policy discussion. This is without precedent and should really ring alarm bells.
New Zealand is currently seen as the country that has best managed the pandemic. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has claimed “We have done what very few countries have been able to do.” She has repeatedly used sporting terms as opposed to war analogies. Good on her! She thanked her five-million strong team for “stopping an uncontrolled explosion of COVID-19.” From my perspective, it’s just a little early for such self-congratulation. New Zealand may indeed get away lightly, but COVID-19 cases globally are still booming and the country’s history has shown just how easily a viral pandemic can roll through even a geographically isolated nation. The 1918/1919 flu entered New Zealand on one of seven ships that docked in Auckland in late October 1918. It takes a tiny viral spark to ignite this particular fire.
At home, my wife has noticed that Donald, my sourdough starter, is suspiciously active. Indeed, as active as her two week old Boris. I might be in trouble here.
Each day in the life of a natural sourdough starter, half has to be discarded; the remaining half is topped up again with flour and water. Repeated, this cycle selects the more active yeasts. Today was Donald’s first day of discard. Rather than waste it, I added a little milk together with pinches of salt and baking powder, and made a couple of delicious crumpet-pancakes for breakfast.
Today’s putting: me 1 up. Overall, me 17-9.
As a follow-on from Day 36 and by popular request…. The Sun front page from 25 November 1859.