Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 16.6.21

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

Detailed info on Galicia and Pontevedra city here


The UK

There are 2 reasons, I think, for the UK – ridiculously? – now having greater restrictions than Spain, despite being way ahead with vaccinations. And despite a very low death rate. Firstly, the mistakes made in the past year – see yesterday’s overview – have been so egregious that the government is now afraid to make the smallest of mistakes. And so is erring on the side of extreme caution as regards the Delta variant. Secondly, none of the humungous public expenditure of the last 15 months seems to have gone on expanding NHS facilities, ahead of either another wave or the normal winter crisis. Possibly because, as with the Nightingale hospitals, it would prove impossible to find the staff for them. For one reason and another.

Below is a coruscating article on this theme.

Cosas de España/Galiza 

This morning I walked c.12km on the camino from Arcade to Pontevedra. Some ‘pilgrims’ but not a lot. So, I wasn’t passed by many, even on the steepest slopes of the first hour. Being rock-strewn, these become virtual river beds when the rains either are or have been heavy. But happily, not today.

As I walked down the station steps in Arcade, a young woman rushed past me in a failed attempt to catch the departing train. Fortunately for her, though, her mother had waited in the car park, against this eventuality and took her off in the direction of Vigo.

This stretch of the camino is a lot more `provisioned’ than it was when I first walked it 11 years ago, though no one was yet manning the food and drink stalls that never used to exist. And this very bosky stretch is now cut by the new Pontevedra by-pass road – the A57. Or it will be when construction in finished in the year 20xx.

There wasn’t the usual security at Pontevedra station at 8am. So, if you’re planning to blow up the Vigo-La Coruña train, just buy a ticket early in the day.

María’s Final Stretch: Days 9-12

The UK

Anti-Toryism – says the author of this article is the foundation of Scottish nationalism. It is this, above all – she avers – that allows the SNP to keep winning. Being virulently anti-Tory(Conservative) has become a sort of code for hating Britain and the English who give us Tory governments. It is the difference between now and 1979 when 31% of Scots voted Conservative.

The EU

Tens of thousands of British nationals living in France and 3 other countries risk losing local healthcare, employment and other rights if they don’t apply to remain resident in the next 14 days. France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta have been called on to extend their 30 June deadline, as the Netherlands has done, to 30 October.


The highest number of Brits vulnerable to loss of rights is here, where 135,000 Brits have applied for residency out of a population estimated at 148,300, leaving at least 13,300 at risk.  


Back to Laurence Sterne’s 18th century novel Tristram Shandy. . . .Sterne several times writes You was instead of You were. Maybe this was when the plural form You was beginning to be used as the singular form instead of Thou.

Finally  . . .

Since last Saturday, I’ve been hearing the voice of, I thought, a mother and child. After ruling out both neighbouring houses and their gardens as the source, I began to wonder if I didn’t have a poltergeist. But, this morning, I went down to my basement and realised it was coming from a toy dinosaur saying repeatedly: Yellow. Red. Blue. Choose another colour. Presumably a bloody Duracell battery . . .

If you don’t find that amusing, blame my younger daughter, who thought it was hilarious and worth a mention.


This isn’t a delay, but a disastrous trap for the PM and the country. Boris Johnson’s lockdown concession leaves the door open to semi-permanent restrictions on liberties: Sherelle Jacobs, the Telegraph

Small events can have world-altering effects. This is well understood in physics; chaos theory dictates that, in our complex and interconnected world, a butterfly can flap its wings in Brazil and trigger a tornado in Texas. But, in politics, the sentiment behind the so-called “butterfly effect” is strangely underappreciated.

We have already seen its power at the very start of the pandemic. The world has probably changed forever due to the West’s decision to follow China’s lead in adopting lockdown to control Covid-19. This draconian policy that was never part of liberal democracies’ pandemic planning but came to be seen as an inevitability after Beijing pursued it. China, in the words of Prof Neil Ferguson, “changed people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control”.

Once again, we may be about to witness the power of seemingly innocuous events. For many, Boris Johnson’s decision to postpone freedom day to mid-July will seem like a commonsensical measure if the time is used to accelerate vaccinations. But I fear what he has agreed is much more significant than that. Will this really turn out to be a minor delay on the long road to freedom? Or will it instead prove to be the first step down a dangerous path that ends with lockdown restrictions continuing in some fashion indefinitely?

Consider the basic principle that the Prime Minister has conceded: vaccination of the vulnerable is not a sufficient condition for reopening society. In effect, the Government seems to be saying, lockdown can only end once the link between cases and hospitalisations has not just been weakened but severed. We need herd immunity to go back to normal.

But vaccines may never fully break the link between cases and hospitalisations. Fast forward a couple of months, when the jab has been offered to every adult, and we may still be seeing significant localised surges in hospital numbers. Experts think that the evolution of more contagious variants also means that the percentage of the population who need some form of antibody protection to secure herd immunity may have risen – from achievable (60 per cent) to borderline unrealistic (80-95 per cent).

Mr Johnson might only want a brief pause until we can all learn to live with the virus. But the logic of his failure to take the leap now is that restrictions could continue until we reach what may prove to be an entirely unrealistic goal. This flirts perilously with an acceptance that restrictions may have to go on forever.

I don’t envy the Prime Minister. I am sure that he wants to return our freedoms. But he is under tremendous pressure to bow to experts, whom the broadcast media treat as objective oracles of truth rather than purveyors of narrow judgment. Much of the public has been conditioned into a permanent state of Covid fear, a fact for which the Government must take partial responsibility. It has failed to communicate lucidly that the way out of lockdown is to roll out the vaccine and then accept the virus as another manageable risk among many.

Mr Johnson’s allies argue that the PM wants to avoid at all costs forging ahead now only to reverse the lifting of measures. Yet, in his dithering and pathological avoidance of confrontation, he resembles nobody so much as Theresa May. On Brexit, Mrs May was undone by the catastrophic concession to “sequence” EU talks, which trapped her in a doom-loop of endless capitulations. Mr Johnson may struggle to recover from surrendering on the idea that lockdown cannot end until Covid is effectively defeated.

There is still time for Mr Johnson to regain control. Lifting lockdown in July, while levelling with people that many people will still die in the coming years, could save him and the country. But if he cannot, the great danger is that Britain will stumble into a Zero Covid strategy in desperate pursuit of herd immunity. A nasty ethical row on child vaccination is already looming, with experts warning that Britain must inoculate young people to gain a true grip on the virus. So, too, an ugly public debate about whether imposing restrictions on the unvaccinated could drive down hesitancy rates.

Just suppose we endure these controversies and do restrict people’s liberties further. Having taken things so far, society will want to protect its gains. It won’t seem such a great leap to keep restrictions in place in a bid to drive down cases even further. Social distancing will carry on as hospitality businesses adapt or die. The young will no longer look forward to nightclubs, but look back on them as a bygone hedonism, like ballroom dances before the Second World War. With the developed world unlikely to ever reach herd immunity, foreign tourism beyond Europe and America will be effectively abolished.

Such a picture may seem extreme. In Britain, we tend to believe that moderation will always prevail. Yet, in crises, it tends to be ideologues rather than pragmatists who gain momentum. Mr Johnson has for months been locked in a vicious cycle of seeking a middle ground, before relenting to those who favour extreme caution.

The Prime Minister still does not seem to fully appreciate that he is increasingly fighting not just a pandemic, but an ideology. This is not simply a case of a few overzealous modellers. The interests of the two most powerful movements of the moment, environmentalism and global health, are converging. Eco-warriors have attracted attention for unapologetically eyeing the collapse in aviation as an opportunity. Less appreciated is the fact that infectious disease specialists have been warning against the dangers of globalist capitalism and mass travel even longer than the green lobby. The window of opportunity to challenge their drastic, deglobalising remedies is closing. Even if the Prime Minister wanted to, with so many citizens terrified, and a middle class zoomocracy facing few risks to its material comfort, he will struggle to mount a challenge later down the line.

This week, Britain badly needed the Prime Minister to show conviction. It needed No 10 to shift from the “precautionary principle”, to the “slippery slope principle” which recognises that small decisions can unleash an unstoppable spiral of events. This has not happened. We can now only wait to see the consequences – and whether the most important moment of Mr Johnson’s prime ministership has just come and gone.