The Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which documented disproportionate incidences of deaths and disease in Irish mother and baby homes between 1922 and 1998, was published this week. The commission was set up in 2015 after the discovery of around eight hundred unmarked burial plots on the site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway. It found that around nine thousand children died in the eighteen homes under investigation. The mortality rate, around 15 per cent, was almost twice what it was for ‘illegitimate’ children in wider society. The children died from respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, from diphtheria and typhoid. They died in homes that were overcrowded, where there were large, shared dormitories and nurseries, where privacy was impossible, where cots were crammed together, sometimes only a foot apart.
The Covid-19 regulations are draconian, inconsistent, obscure and inconvenient, but they are not unconscionable. They do not require me to do things that the state should never make its citizens do. They are proportionate to the threat that the virus poses to health services, and necessary to slow the spread of the disease and protect those services: or at least, they are arguably so. The law and the reasons for it make sense. The regulations are contained within statutory instruments. They alone are the law. They are the ‘rules’. They can be enforced with criminal sanctions. Guidance and advice are not rules and cannot be legally enforced.
Were it not for the semi-consistent use of masks in the street, and the closing of the beaches on Sundays and Mondays, you could be forgiven for thinking the pandemic hadn’t reached Salvador da Bahia, the capital of the state with the second-lowest Covid-19 death rate in Brazil. The official number of deaths for the whole country surpassed 200,000 on 8 January. Locals and visitors (mainly from elsewhere in Brazil) congregate in groups at outdoor tables without masks, and people walk – some masked, others not – along the oceanfront. A festa continua, mas não.
In my first year of secondary school, a science teacher began a lesson on nutrition by asking us to tell her what we ate for dinner so we could categorise the components of our meals into their correct food groups. She looked aghast as child after child muttered ‘chips and beans’. For some, ‘chips and beans’ was cover for something less wholesome and dependable. The teacher quickly abandoned the exercise and instead reverted to the mythical meal on the ‘food wheel’ poster Blu-tacked to the wall, a testament to our parents’ failings.
Of all the mammals, the naturalist George Shaw (no relation) wrote when he first described it in 1799, the platypus ‘seems the most extraordinary in its conformation’, exhibiting ‘the perfect resemblance of the beak of a duck engrafted on the head of a quadruped’. Last week, the first near-complete platypus genome was published.
At the start of the third lockdown, I wonder: what if lockdowns suit me? And I worry: shouldn’t it be easier now to understand what they do to my thoughts? Every day, I go out to walk under the bare trees and listen to one of the two albums Taylor Swift made last year: folklore, which came out in July, and evermore, which came out in December. (I’m not the only one: evermore is currently the number one album in the US, and number two in the UK.) The songs are a product of lockdown – Swift wrote them in the blank space that opened up when a tour had to be cancelled – but they are also of lockdown in the way they use a trace of the life before, a line like ‘meet me behind the mall,’ to conjure a world.
Trump’s wannabe stormtroopers were all eagerly lined up to do his bidding, with a quiescent Republican Senate and compromised Justice Department under my old high school classmate Bill Barr, terminally stained and diminished by their allegiance to the monster, or so one hopes. They are now, at very long last, beginning to distance themselves from him, after he incited his armed acolytes to break into the Capitol Building in Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon.