Don’t trust anyone with your WhatsApp messages!

It is important to celebrate small wins. Last Friday a horse drawing a hearse clip-clopped its way down the road past our front window. I only caught a glimpse of it as it went past, however when we went out later there was evidence – horse droppings in the road. When we were children, and my mother was establishing her garden, on what had been virgin veld in Swaziland, collecting cow pats was a regular weekend pursuit. We would pile into the car and drive along the dirt roads around Mbabane. When cow pat was spotted we would hustle out of the car and scoop it into a sack. I channelled my childhood, collected a bucket, went out, and now we have nutrition for at least a few of the roses!

And that leads me neatly into the next topic for this month, politicians and the UK government, which continues to amaze and dismay me. For the past week the news has been dominated by the leaking of WhatsApp messages, emanating from Matthew Hancock, and published in the Telegraph, a right-wing newspaper. In trying to make sense of this I will begin with the cast list. Before doing that, I need to be clear that these events are not important in the grand scheme, it is simply watching, with embarrassed horror, a political car crash in slow motion. We are fascinated and unable to look away. If the events convince undecided voters that the Tories are morally bankrupt and incapable of governing, that will be a good outcome. Let me list the dramatis personae.

Matthew Hancock1 MP is the Member of Parliament for West Suffolk. In July 2018 he was appointed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Hancock endorsed Boris Johnson’s successful bid for leadership and was Health Secretary through Covid-19. In June 2021 he was caught on camera in his office kissing his mistress, Gina Coladangelo, thus breaching Covid regulations. He resigned as Health Secretary. In 2022, Hancock had the whip suspended for appearing in ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’! He says he will stand down at the next election.

Isabel Oakeshott2 is a right-wing journalist who was political editor of The Sunday Times. She co-authored an unauthorised biography of former British prime minister David Cameron, Call Me Dave, and other non-fiction titles. It is the authorised book Pandemic Diaries, The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle Against Covid (2022) co-written with Hancock which is causing the stir. This is about Hancock’s role during the Covid-19. It is an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation.

Boris Johnson3 MP was Prime Minister (PM) and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2019 to 2022. I would describe him as a renaissance man, with Machiavellian tendencies, and an ability to adapt or obfuscate the truth. He supported withdrawal from the EU and was at the helm when the UK left. A few of the scandals that embroiled him were spending on Downing Street refurbishment; support of Owen Patterson; and lying about what he knew of MP Chris Pincher. This last led to mass resignations from government and his departure as PM. His moral bankruptcy enabled the scandals.

What is the issue? Hancock made at least 100,000 WhatsApp messages available to Oakeshott for their book. She then passed them to The Daily Telegraph, who have been publishing them in ‘The Lockdown Files’. She claimed this was in the public interest. Hancock regards this as breaking confidentiality and a betrayal. Oakeshott says Hancock sent a “threatening” message saying she had made a “big mistake”. However we learn, for example, Hancock proposed blocking funding for local projects in the constituencies of MPs who opposed the government on lockdown, this is alarming.

This story is still unfolding, it confirms some journalists can’t be trusted, no surprise there. At best, Hancock is naïve, at worst, he is completely lacking in judgement. It is further eroding the already miniscule confidence in politicians, who are seen to have contempt for the public. It shows the Conservative Government is past its ‘sell-by date’. Their policies are bankrupt, their politicians are self-serving and many people believe they are not to be trusted. The danger is that there is some time before the next election must be called, and ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ What remains to be seen is if the Tories can rehabilitate the party and the opposition keep up the pressure.

I am, as readers of this blog know, a Liberal Democrat. Ailsa is a Green. We are members of small parties with little chance of taking power. However, if these parties cannot be the Kings (or Queens) they could be the King makers and influence policies. Of the 650 seats in the House of Commons the Tories have 355, Labour, the opposition, has 197, the Liberal Democrats 14 and the Greens just one. What needs to happen is an alliance among opposition parties on a seat-by-seat basis. There has, though, been much progress at the local government level: county and district councils.

Enough of this! The weather is sometimes a filler in these blogs. I find it fascinating but know this is a niche interest. January and February were incredibly dry and cool, but not cold. I have both a rain gauge and a minimum/maximum thermometer so I can keep a record of these indicators. The rain gauge had nothing to report. The thermometer recorded day after day of miserable temperatures with little variation. The reason for this stasis was high pressure sitting over the UK, keeping the Atlantic frontal systems at bay. Finally in March we had rain and, indeed, even snow showers. There was about two inches of very welcome rain in the last few days.

Inevitably with the budget just having been tabled in parliament in South Africa, and about to be presented in the UK, money and incomes are an issue. This is made all the more imperative by the cost of living crisis and inflation. In the UK in January 2023 inflation was 8.8%, in South Africa it was 6.9%. Which?, the British consumer magazine, produced figures showing what level of income is needed in retirement for various lifestyles and I reproduce these below, with the South Africa equivalents calculated on 10th March 2023.4 It should be remembered that in the UK the National Health Service reduces out-of-pocket payments for health care, so I think South Africans need more.

Annual Income Needed for Various Lifestyles in the UK (in £ and in Rand)
Household size Essential Comfortable Luxury
£ R £ R £ R
Single person household 12,000 266,000 19,000 420,000 31,000 685,000
Two-person household 18,000 399,000 28,000 619,000 45,000 995,000

Although I find the weather and money endlessly fascinating, I recognise it is not everyone’s passion! I have also enjoyed some of the recent television. The series Happy Valley was excellent but bleak. It was a ‘police procedural’ set in the gritty north of England. The film, The Banshees of Inisherin, was released in 2022. This film had a lot of good publicity and sounded most intriguing. It is a set on an island (perhaps one of the Aran islands) off the west coast of Ireland. The story is about a relationship between two men when one decides that the friendship is over, and the other neither understands nor accepts it. It is a bleak story of mental health problems and the difficulty of living in a small and isolated community. There is a nod to the unhelpful role of the church and existence of child abuse. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are the stars, and Martin McDonagh is the director and producer. They, together, made the film In Bruges (2008). Both films are worth watching and are thought provoking.

The other entertainment has been Pokerface. This is a murder mystery series centred around Charlie Cale who has the ability to detect lies which is interesting, but an inability to keep quiet when she does, which is hazardous for her. She travels from job to job across the United States and solves the homicides she comes across. The question of causation and correlation is not addressed! Each episode is a standalone story. The back story, introduced in the first episode, is that she is on the run from a casino owner, as she triggered his son’s suicide!

Let me end off the March Blog, and say I hope spring comes quickly.


Back to the Heatwave

I returned to the UK in mid-August after spending just under three weeks in Canada. As I said in my last posting I did not think I would be able to travel, as I had Covid. Fortunately, I started testing negative a few days before the scheduled departure. It was an interesting trip. The first part was to attend the International AIDS Economics Network (IAEN) meeting ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Montreal. I then travelled down to Waterloo for 10 days. It was great to reconnect with many friends.

There were changes and sights that really shocked me though. In Montreal we saw a young woman attacked by a vagrant at 7.30 in the morning. She got away before we could intervene, and went to a nearby police car. When I arrived at the Kitchener station, there was a tent camp next to the railway line. The sight of tents and tarpaulins providing shelter to many people was totally unexpected. Worse was to come, I was told there was another informal settlement in, the rather special, Victoria Park, next to the first house I rented. The person who gave me this information warned that it might not be safe to go too close, a telling comment in and of itself! The formerly pristine park is home to another encampment. In South Africa it would be called a squatter camp!

Continue reading

Pandemics and travels

It has been an inordinately long time since I last posted to my website. A lot has happened. In early July I travelled from Durban to Cape Town for a few days, seeing friends and staying with Derek and Lynn (my brother and wife). On Sunday 10th July I flew from Cape Town back to Norwich via Amsterdam. By Thursday I had a scratchy throat, headache, cough, and a metallic taste in my mouth. A day later I tested positive for Covid-19. The virus I had written so much about got me! I was not seriously ill, but it was not pleasant. I am convinced I was infected in an airport or on a plane.

I was due to travel to Montreal for the International AIDS Economics Network (IAEN) meeting ahead of the International AIDS Conference on Monday 25th July. Although I do not believe I was infectious, travelling seemed unwise. I was very relieved to consistently test negative in the days before I flew. At one point I thought my attendance was in doubt which would have been difficult for my colleagues as we were co-organising a meeting.

Continue reading

‘Love Light’ and ‘Love Life’. Reflections on Retirement

The heading for this posting is taken from a festival held in Norwich in mid-February and my own admonition to myself. It has been a while since I last posted anything on my website, it was at the beginning of January I see. Confusingly quite a lot has happened, but at the same time it seems as though not very much has. Perhaps a sign of the times.

I am coming to the end of my second month of retirement. It is challenging. One of my wise friends wrote to me saying there were three things to be aware of with this changing status. The first is a dramatic decline in income. This is certainly true. That is not to say that I don’t have enough, I do, but instead of, in economic terms, drawing from the flow I may need to dip into the stock. Some argue good planning means the cheque for one’s funeral should bounce because there are insufficient funds. Sadly, I think this is not a feasible option. Gene Perret, a Hollywood screenwriter, said:

“Retirement: it is nice to be out of the rat race, but you have to learn to get along with less cheese.”

Continue reading

Of Birds and Viruses

I have officially been retired since Saturday 1st January, or perhaps, to be pedantic, since midnight on 31st December 2021. I must confess to feeling a little uncertain as to what the future holds. There needs to be a plan, budget, and cash flow projection, all but the first can be done quickly. The Covid crisis has made planning difficult. I really want to do some travelling, but it is hard to book tickets with any confidence. This is changing slowly though. It is hard to believe that the world began this seismic shift just two years ago. I became aware of this new disease in January 2020. I had no idea how rapidly and far it would spread, or the incredible disruption it would cause. More on this later.

Continue reading

Lovely Lisbon and Demonstrating in Norwich

I went to my first conference in nearly two years last month. It was fantastic for many reasons: a chance to get out of the UK; visit a new country and city; meet with colleagues; catch up with developments in the field; and above all be reminded of what we had lost. My word I enjoyed myself. The primary purpose of the trip was to attend the International Association of Providers in AIDS Care’s (IAPAC) Fast-Track Cities 2021 Conference.

To their credit the conference organizers included Covid-19 in the programme. My presentation, which I shared with Corey Prachniak-Rincon, an IAPAC staffer, was on ‘Exploring Legal, Public Policy, and Finance Dimensions of Health Responses.’ The take-home messages were not encouraging, until Covid is on the decline, HIV will not be a priority, even though it (HIV) is not going away. The number of HIV infections continues to rise.

Continue reading

The clock ticks

I was shocked to see it has been over a month since I last posted. I have two countdowns going on in my life. The first, at the end of 2021 I will get my last salary cheque. Apart from a few short ‘student type’ jobs, since 1980 I have always had someone paying me a regular income. The short jobs in Swaziland included working for a school book supplier one holiday, and a week as a ‘hanger round’ at the Central News Agency in Mbabane. In the UK I spent a week packing bulbs (tulips and daffodils) etc. in a warehouse, ironically in the industrial site near where we live. I was fired for being too bolshy. I also spent three summer months as a warehouseman in Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The second milestone is, in March 2022, on my 66th birthday, I become eligible for a British State pension.

Most young people, certainly those under 40, see people aged 50 to 80 here as an exceptionally fortunate generation. This is true for a high proportion of us. We had access to free university education, jobs, and many will get a state pension that, while not hugely generous, is significant. We were able to travel widely. We only became aware of the appalling damage we have wrought on the world, in terms of over exploitation and environmental damage, as we were doing it.

Continue reading

What’s next, I ask?

Welcome to the first of my monthly, meandering blogs, put on my website, and emailed to everyone who signed up to receive my news. Let me begin with a warning, this is not primarily about Covid, so you may wish to take yourself off the list. Obviously, I am still following Covid, but no longer closely, and certainly not enough to write regular posts. Having said that here is something everyone should read – “How the risk of side effects could change with Covid-19 vaccine boosters” – we are all, probably going to offered these soon.

Continue reading

And, finally, for now

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal –


On 4th March in 2020 I started posting a ‘Covid-19’ blog to replace my normal monthly meanderings. It began:

“I am expected to know something about epidemics and pandemics, their causes and consequences. Many friends and colleagues have been asking me about Covid-19.

Here is a quick ‘fact sheet’ as of 4 March – what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know. I include hot links. Please feel free to send it on.”

Initially I used red text to indicate where figures or information would change, and bold text to show key points. I managed to keep up a weekly report for over a year. I then reduced it to every two weeks, but gaps increased and I am afraid I lost steam.

More than a month after I previously posted my Covid blog, this is the last. If you are getting it as someone who signed up for the Covid update you might want to ‘unsign’. If you do not, you will continue to receive my monthly personal blog. This is about what I am doing, books I am reading, ideas, and the minutiae of daily life – there is a lot about flights, airports and aircraft. The first of this new series will be posted in a couple of weeks.

As to the reasons for me ending this blog, the main ones are: it was surprisingly time consuming; the situation with regard to the science, numbers and response is increasingly complex; and it was getting too depressing to keep going. There are plenty of other people doing what I was trying to do. Nonetheless there are still areas that are ripe for research and writing. In particular the consequences of the pandemic, its economic, social, psychological and political effects. They are, of course, still unfolding.
Continue reading


Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal –


Regular readers will have noticed that it is three weeks since I last posted a blog. I am planning to write one more piece after this and will then end regular posts on Covid-19. I will still blog once a month but it will be a more general article. There are several reasons for this: preparing and writing is time consuming; the situation with regard to the numbers and response is increasingly complex, it might be possible to focus on one continent, but globally the situation is ever more diverse; it has dawned on me how incredibly disruptive and damaging the pandemic is, frankly it is too depressing to keep going; and finally there are many other resources available. Among them is

‘This personal site provides data analytics on the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of the World Bank country income classification – hence “pandem-ic”.’

It is produced by Philip Schellekens, a Senior Economic Advisor at the World Bank Group, but is a personal blog.1
Continue reading