Things to keep you busy in lockdown (1)

Replacing or repairing the pans you battered applauding the NHS workers. After which, making your own sourdough bread. I didn’t realise that there was anything other than sliced white until I was about 37, but you, dear reader, are probably accustomed to all kinds of pain, or even pan.

For the sourdough you need to make a starter from flour and water, watch over it and add more to it each day for five or six days. It’s a bit like having a pet – without the mess.

You don’t need yeast – apparently it’s flying about you in the atmosphere like dust motes, and forlorn hopes and that activates your brew. Mix it in with flour and water, pop in the oven and there you are.

Next week how to make alcohol with an old pressure cooker, a length of tubing, a handful of grain and some old socks.

Lockdown things (2)

There is large patch of wild garlic at the bottom my garden which I tried to obliterate for years with glyphosate before I knew what it was. It’s always been my habit of blundering in foolishly to situations I don’t understand while spraying indiscriminately in all directions. I don’t remember how I twigged what the pointed-leaved plant was. Perhaps the smell was the clue, but now I’ve more than I can handle for stews, soups ... well any edible dish really.

During this second week of lockdown I’ve discovered another recipe to use it in – wild garlic and cheddar cheese (I recommend extra strong, but your choice) scones. They are absolutely delicious.

I appreciate you may have difficulty sourcing the garlic (the bulbs just aren’t the same) so I am your man. These are times of shortages and difficulties so there will be a premium – not the £29 a friend of mine was quoted for a face mask – but somewhere north of £10 a gram I’m thinking, slightly more than the street price of marijuana, I’m told.

Drug death warning

My lawyer daughter points up problems with drug supply of the illegal sort. As well as clients, she has friends who work on the frontline in homeless and drug charities, and all report that street supply has been affected by the coronavirus, with shortages of the Class A drugs, like heroin and cocaine.

The lockdown has obviously made it much more difficult for dealers to deliver, although they may claim they’re essential workers. But more than that, the supply chain has been affected by the number of routes in from Colombia and the Middle East curtailed (although international flights, from the few operators, come and go despite the embargo, Boris!).

Marijuana, or weed as a I understand the younger people call it, can be grown easily here under lights, unlike the poppy and coca plants which provide the base materials for the stronger stuff, which then has to be produced in laboratories and then brought in.

So weed hasn’t gone up massively in price so far and is still fairly easy to source, apparently. The difficulty is at the heavy end of the market. We know that Scotland leads much of the rest of the world in drug-related deaths, the majority of which involve heroin, often with pharmaceutical additives. The real danger is that addicts will now switch to fentanyl (or an analogue), which is easy to make, cheap to buy, available on the internet and around 100 times stronger than morphine.

It is responsible for at least 20,000 opioid deaths in the United States a year and each year since 2013 the rate of deaths from it has doubled there. We may well be facing another drug death holocaust here.

Dumb and Dummar

It was on this day, 44 years ago, that a bizarre story began to unfold which took decades to resolve. Call it the tale of dumb and Dummar. It began when the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who had been a recluse for more than 20 years, died on a plane taking him from Acapulco to Houston for medical treatment. Hughes was a semi-mythical figure who had made a fortune in a family tool company, founded an aircraft firm and bought over a Hollywood movie studio, discovering Jane Russell who starred in his film The Outlaw. Hughes even designed an underwired bra for her to wear in the movie.

However, Hughes had a drug problem and, probably, an obsessive-compulsive disorder which made him afraid of germs, and those that carried them – people. After years of neglect in darkened penthouses he was almost unrecognisable in death and the FBI had to take fingerprints to establish it was, indeed, Hughes. He was buried two days later. A manic search began for a will, as you might expect when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.

On April 29, officials of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons, revealed that they had discovered a will in their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Apparently it had been anonymously dropped in four days earlier, addressed to David O McKay (no relation), president of the church from 1951 to his death in January 1970.

The stained document was dated March 19, 1968, and was signed by Hughes. Or at least it appeared to be. There were spelling mistakes and inconsistencies – including leaving money to two ex-wives even though both women had alimony settlements barring claims on the estate, and also to a partner with whom he had bitterly fallen out decades before.

Fortunately, the Mormon church was to receive one-sixteenth of his estate, as was an unknown called Melvin Dummar, who had apparently saved Hughes life years before. Dummar was then working at a service station in Willard, Utah, about 150 miles north of Las Vegas when, driving through the desert, he came across a lost and dishevelled man lying beside the road. The man asked to be taken to the Sands hotel in Vegas and only in the last minutes of the drive revealed himself to be Hughes. Dummar was in line for $156 million.

The Hughes document, known as the “Mormon Will”, was eventually ruled to be a forgery by a court in 1978. In 2006, Dummar filed suit again for his “share”. This followed an investigation by an ex-FBI agent who claimed to have found new evidence partially substantiating Dummar’s account. Apparently a Sands doorman recalled Hughes' arrival at the hotel. Hughes had also bought interests in mines located in the area where Dummar picked him up and was also said to have frequented a local brothel. Dummar’s action failed in 2007.

That was not the end of it. A further 40 “wills” were “discovered”, and various alleged wives and children emerged staking claims. The estate wasn’t finally settled until 2010, 34 years after Hughes’ death, with 16 cousins on his mother’s side the main beneficiaries – after the lawyers had taken their share of around $1.5 billion.