General Incompetence: Series 2

General Incompetence: Series 2

‘Modelling’, now there’s a word to conjure with. Call me old-fashioned, but didn’t it used to mean beautiful people sashaying up and down a catwalk, or small toddlers mashing plasticine into what is supposed to be a cat or a frog? But those days are long gone. ‘Modelling’ now means basically spending a lot of time and money and Big Brains predicting the bleedin’ obvious. (Pace, scientists everywhere.)

A huge problem

For instance, I should have thought even a primary school child, given the right information, could conclude that Virus + people = problem… Or bigger problem, or absolutely huge problem. Those incomprehensible graphs that we saw on the BBC on Saturday – that were cut off at the margins, so they could have been depicting Marcus Rashford’s goal-scoring average last season for all I know – compared a variety of different models (not of the Gigi Hadid variety obviously) and all… Pay attention, because this is most uncommon… came to THE SAME CONCLUSION. Which, at the risk of being boring, amounts to: Virus + people = Huge problem. The aforementioned bleedin’ obvious.

 Covid Modelling


Ed Ball’s salsa

I’m not a Luddite. I love my computer and my phone – mostly. My life as a writer has been greatly enhanced by whatever algorithm it is that facilitates how I write/edit/rewrite my books – not being a pen and ink or carbon paper/typewriter-ribbon sort of girl. And my phone has gone from being sneered at to an annoyingly essential in my life. But algorithms are not people – thank goodness. So, how much scientists can mimic human behaviour with an algorithm obviously hangs on a good few variables: the quality of the data, the interpretation, the design of the model, the size of the Big Brain etc. One false move and the result is as scary as Ed Balls’s salsa. ‘We’re all going to die,’ Or, conversely, ‘Calm down, dear, it’s only a commercial.’

Ed Balls

Endangered species

On Saturday, the model scientists came down definitively on the side of the ‘We’re all going to die’ scenario. But I, for one, will do everything in my power to resist this conclusion. I hope you will too. It would be so sad to see a world reduced to algorithms and models (not Gigi, as previously stated), the human race relegated to a graph on a dodgy government slide show. So, cheers to the human race, virus-ridden but preferably not extinct.

More from Hilary’s weekly ramblings

A writer’s dilemma

A writer’s dilemma

The virus is messing with my head again – amongst everything else it’s messing with. I’m just settling down to write my next novel. It was to be set in 2020, but now I’m having a drastic rethink. I can’t comfortably start a story that will span the year, when I don’t know how it will all end. It’s not like Brexit, where you can just not mention the damn thing – leave  politics out of the picture altogether. Covid has affected every inch of all our lives these last months, so my fictional characters can’t escape, unless I decide they live in some far-flung corner of the world, like, for instance, Kiribati, which has so far had no cases. But then it’s in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and clearly it was too much effort to infect the islanders, even for this wily virus. Anyway, I can’t go and visit for research any time soon.

No sex?

The thing is, we’ve all slogged through months of lockdown and had to endure endless tiresome coronaspeak, such as the dreaded R-number and self-isolating and PPE – which used to be a university course, right? Then there’s poor old Durham, which is now eternally twinned with Specsavers. So will we really want to read a novel which features Matt Hancock on every page? And in which the only sex is virtual? I’m not saying it’s all about sex, obviously, nor that my characters will be doing it with Mr Hancock, but I’d like to point out that I write romantic novels and if my characters can’t even kiss unless they’re self-isolating together… it rather ruins the plot.

Land of milk and honey

So, I reckon I’m not going to say when this book is set. It’ll be a sort of no-man’s-land time where anything is possible and where the virus is only a glint in poor Boris’s eye – that’s a real case of ‘Be careful what you wish for’, eh? Nobody will have heard of our Dom, or know how to wash their hands properly or raid the supermarket for loo rolls or lose half of every meeting because they don’t know how to work Zoom. They won’t even have heard of Zoom. It’ll be a glorious land of milk and honey – both bought in a normal shop, of course, with crowds of people jostling at the till and spitting enthusiastically in each other’s faces. What a joy this book will be to write, I bet you can’t wait to read it!