Toby, George & Apple

Happy St George’s Day!

And to mark the occasion, here’s a bit about another national hero, facing down a fierce dragon…

Toby Young now claims to have caught the coronavirus. He also claims to have beaten it. In his latest piece [gestures vaguely towards places on the internet I don’t frequent], he describes how he self-diagnosed and then self-medicated, taking Trump’s favourite drug, hydroxychloroquine. He claims the illness took him to the edge of a “cliff” and his sympathies are now with those suffering even worse than he did.

Just to confirm: this is the very same Toby Young who was so cavalier with mortality projections just a few weeks ago. That’s when he led the charge of right-wingers, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy nuts, and the liberally callous to suggest that the economy was worth more than a few lives.

In fairness, the new Young is more sympathetic. If he’s done any research into COVID-19, he would now know that it’s a fucking miserable way to go. Excuse my French but I believe that’s the technical term for describing death by coronavirus. If your lungs don’t succumb, the damage it does to the rest of your body is enough to finish you off, either now or in later years. Two critically ill doctors in China woke up to discover that their skin had turned dark, such is the damage that the virus does to the liver.

What wasn’t a reasonable response is treating it as another facet of the culture war; a stick which you can use to hit liberals because they believe in a national heath service, caring for the elderly, and having a life that isn’t explicitly devoted to turning a profit.


I hope that his experience has given Young has a new appreciation of the virus. There are simply so many things we don’t know that fear is an entirely reasonable response. In fact, I’ve wondered in recent days if I’m not fearful enough. UK deaths are now approaching 20,000 but the FT put the number closed to 41,000. It’s hard to put that into a scale we can properly comprehend but, in the US, there were initial projections that put deaths as high as 100,000 to 200,000. That was considered a really bad result should they hit it.

America’s population is 366 million. We have 60 million in the UK. The US is therefore six times our size. So, 20,000 in the UK is closer to 6 x 20,000, or 120,000. In other words: it’s in the range they feared. If the FT is right, the number is closer to 246,000. Now, I’m sure these things aren’t equal (I seem to recall some debate around per-capita figures being fair) but I’m sure it indicates the size of the UK’s failure to contain the virus.

I still remember raising objections when Vance told a press conference that since people were likely to give the virus to 2-3 people, they were just as likely to do that at home as they were in a football ground, so keep the football and racing going. It baffled me that he was describing it as though that number, R0, was absolute; that somehow the maths prohibited one person from giving it to 20 people if they sneezed near them. I’m still baffled by that argument.


On a lighter note, I’ve buggered up my lip. I did it when I woke up this morning and popped my tablet on my chest to check emails. The Surface tablet has a great kickstand but it does encourage this stupid habit I have, which has resulted in numerous painful noses, chins, and lips. If you’re not entirely awake, it can easily tip forward and the arc is clearly calculated so the top of the tablet hits you around your lower teeth. The result this time is an enormous blood blister inside my lip. I did take a picture but it’s really too much to share.

I’m sure there has to be a word for this accident. I’m can’t be the only person to have been left traumatized like this.


Oh yes. St George’s Day. I suppose I should say something about our patron saint except you can probably guess that I don’t believe in crass traditions that have been hijacked by nationalists. I have nothing against the myth itself. In the days before I was taught that the crusades were particularly barbaric and nothing to be celebrated, I was entirely enamoured by knights, especially those that had the red cross on the white tunic. I still count the novel Ivanhoe among my favourite books. I read it as a very young boy, though having read it again as an adult, I realise I probably read a heavily abridged edition. No way I got through Scott’s novel as a seven-year old.


Right, time to draw. Today I’ve already written a 1000 word review of Fiona Apple’s new album, Pass the Boltcutters, which I really can’t stop raving about. It really is that good and easily an album that feels seminal. There was life before hearing it and then life after hearing it. The two are different in subtle but important ways, not least in that I’m now a confirmed Apple fan.

My drawing today: I’m finishing a cartoon strip I’ve wanted to draw for a long time but haven’t had the confidence. It’s built around non-sequiturs, so nothing about it makes sense. It is random and strange and, I hope, somewhat funny. It might be a total disaster but it’s an interesting experiment and I like it. I can’t ask or except much more at the moment.

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?


Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.