The Bi-Weekly Meerkat Muse – 9th December 2020

We’re into the final month and final hurdle of the strangest, most challenging year. The end of 2020 is in sight, a vaccine is now being distributed (with other vaccines well on their way to being approved), and on the virus front, there are signs that come Easter next year, a semblance of normality will return. Cue a mad rush to book holidays.

A lot depends on the global distribution of the vaccines. Only with a concerted international effort can we put Covid-19 to bed. I can imagine a few more vaccines popping up and with luck, we’ll knock this on the head, once and for all, by the middle of next year. There won’t only be holidays; quite a few family parties will happen in 2021!

There are still challenges. Anti-vaxxers have been given a harrowing demonstration of a world without vaccines and yet continue to pour pseudoscientific doubt as to the nature and effectiveness of the vaccines. Anti-mask, anti-lockdown protesters continue to behave as though this is all a hoax, particularly in my local neck of the woods (which, surprise surprise, has one of the worst infection rates in the country). Is there a cure for this kind of staggering ignorance? I mean come on people, how can anyone be so wilfully blind to the facts???

We have another problem here in the UK. On the 1st of January we are out of the EU and no one, not the government nor many businesses, is prepared. The ridiculous no-deal scenario is looking increasingly like a reality, something that would have to be a big bad mark against Johnson and his cabal of like-minded fools. After all, have they not promised us it would be easy to negotiate a great deal, and that we’d do so from a position of strength? Where is that deal Johnson? You said it was oven-ready.

Don’t give me that look. You know what you’ve been saying.

The Weather

December brings winter’s cold embrace and the last few days have rammed that home quite exquisitely. I’m not a fan of these conditions, I much prefer to be warm, enjoying the sunshine. It’s reached the stage where I’m wearing my snug work fleece in the house, in order to have a chance at staying warm. Unfortunately this is just the beginning – worse weather is coming. Speaking of what’s coming…


The big day is fast approaching. Christmas is a special time and yet also a stressful one. I don’t mind admitting I get anxious about Christmas – have I done enough for my family, got them enough? I know they will appreciate any gestures, yet I wish I could do more. I am quietly terrified I haven’t returned the gestures enough. Beyond that, there’s the logistics of it all. Getting the food, sorting out who is visiting who and where everyone will be… trying to appease everyone is a recipe for appeasing no one, and then there’s the added factor of work. Being in retail limits my options. The Christmas period is a joyous time and I do enjoy it, not least of all seeing how delighted my daughter gets.

I was thinking, and perhaps reminiscing a little too, about the spirit of the season. As kids we get something truly special – we get to believe in magic. For a few years the illusion of Santa Claus and the reindeer bringing presents gives children a wonderful feeling, and generates a beautiful time of eager, happy anticipation. I have loved watching my daughter experience this, and I hope she’ll keep good memories of this as she gets older and the magic goes, but the spirit remains.

Roald Dahl

Mixed feelings time. As a kid books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox and Matilda formed some of my favorite reading material. I adored them. Years later, Dahl’s family are apologising for the late author’s anti-Semitic remarks, remarks I didn’t know he’d made. Where does this leave me?

I find myself thinking back to a recent conversation with Lolsys about separating art from the artist. My daughter loves the Harry Potter books and films. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the series. They bring joy to millions of people around the world, much like Dahl’s work. It’s not a simple matter to tell her, or indeed anyone, that they cannot enjoy the material. As I said in my conversation with Lolsys, what if it emerged tomorrow that the animators of The Lion King were all horrid people? Would that detract from the majesty of the film itself? Could I bring myself to reject it going forward? I doubt I could do that.

Bad Luck

I felt pretty heartbroken for George Russell in Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix. Russell had been drafted in to replace a recuperating Lewis Hamilton (who tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of last week) and did a fantastic job in practice, qualifying and the race, only for Mercedes to mess up both his and Bottas’ pitstop during a late safety car period. Following that, Russell might still have won, only for a puncture to end his chase of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez. It was gutting for Russell but I was elated for Perez, who has been a consistently quick performer, taking advantage of situations and proving more than capable of scything his way up the field, something he demonstrated to maximum effect on Sunday. Following a first-lap crash, Perez was the last of eighteen remaining cars but recovered to win for the first time in F1. Esteban Ocon of Renault claimed a first podium of his own, coming home in 2nd.

It’s a travesty that Perez might not have a drive for next season. He’s outperformed Lance Stroll quite comfortably, but Stroll’s father has a controlling stake in the team and he’s pairing his son with Sebastian Vettel next season. Red Bull haven’t yet reached a decision about Alex Albon, but Albon was yet again well off the pace, despite the car he has, which has happened all-too frequently this year. Speaking of which…

Car or Driver?

One of the forums I visit to chat F1 burst into life with the idea that Russell’s strong showing in the Mercedes shows the car is the only reason for Lewis Hamilton’s success in recent years, with one poster even going as far to say that Russell’s performance should be used as leverage against Hamilton in contract negotiations. An awful lot of conclusions have been reached on the basis of one race, and they manage to stretch the boundaries of credibility (in fact, they puncture the boundaries quite considerably).

Russell deserves credit, credit he’s not getting on this forum for stepping into a car he was unfamiliar with and matching comfortably a guy whose been racing it for a year. He had the measure of Bottas and would have beaten him if not for the puncture. This isn’t to say he’d have beaten Hamilton – until the two race in equal machinery we cannot know how that would play out, and we’d need a season’s worth of races to draw reasonable conclusions. The big loser from Russell’s performance is Bottas.

Why you ask? Not only has Bottas been trounced by Hamilton (much as he’s been for the last four seasons), he’s now been left wanting against a newcomer. Again, definite conclusions after one race are foolish, but if we were to make them, the only direct comparison we can make is between the two drivers who have actually raced against each other, supported by the relative showings of both drivers in normal circumstances.

Until racing in an unfamiliar car, Russell had outqualifed his teammate at Williams at every single race. In contrast, Bottas usually ends up behind Hamilton. Hamilton has usually outperformed Bottas by a considerable margin over the last few years. In the last few races Bottas has had poor starts and gone backwards, and he only likely to beat Max Verstappen (in the slower Red Bull) by virtue of greater fortune, rather than racing ability. If the car is the only factor in the success of any driver, why is there such a gap between Hamilton and Bottas on a consistent basis?

Similar comparisons can be made. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had the same car for five years. In every season they were paired up Vettel beat Webber at Red Bull, and in 2011, 2012 and 2013 comprehensively trounced him, winning the world championship in the process. If it’s all about the car, where was Webber? He went close in 2010 but every other season the team gave him a title-winning car, he failed to even get close. Clearly driver ability plays a significant part of winning, even in the best cars.


By the time of the next muse I’ll have a new addition to my family of ink. It’s not Lion King, Star Trek or Star Wars-related, see if you can guess what it will be…

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