Hello world!

This is my introduction to the world of blogging!
I display two photos, the first being a favourite ‘work’ photo of myself taken at the University of Winchester and the second of my wife (Meg) and I taken in the summer of 2016

Professor Mike Hart, University of Winchester, about 2007
Meg and Mike Hart, Hereford Cathedral, Summer 2016

Here for your amusement/entertainment or a series of more-or-less true anecdotes often of an autobiographical nature.

http://bit.ly/mch-vca

 

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Wednesday, 23rd September, 2020 [Day 191]

Today was one of those days that started somewhat gloomy but then got worse. True – the weather forecast had predicted that a band of rain was to sweep up the country but you are never quite sure what that means at any point in time. When Meg and I started our daily walk,  there was the faintest of drizzles but this intensified into a more conventional rain shower as we progressed, Having picked up the newspapers, we realised that today was going to be a ‘bandstand’ job – the park has a Victorian style bandstand, octagonal in shape but open on every side which keeps the worst of the rain off you. Nonetheless, we managed to juggle rucksacks, flasks and biscuit containers so that we could have a quick burst of coffee before we made for home. We both had a hairdressing appointment with our longstanding hairdresser who calls at our house to do our hair so we really had to press on to make it back home with 30 seconds to spare. As it happened, our hairdresser was quite late (not unusually) but it shows the Sod’s law does not always work (it would have worked if on the very day that we were late our hairdresser was on time!) Having been shorn, we then proceeded with lunch but had determined that we were going to have a venture out to our local Asda in the afternoon (when, incidentally, the weather had turned benign) The idea at calling into Asda was to see if we could replace our very battered stainless steel vacuum flask that we use for coffee everyday. This part of the plan worked very well but the trouble was that we thought we would take the opportunity to buy some other bits and pieces which are only obtainable at Asda and not in our normal Waitrose shopping. One thing led to another and we finished up with two really heavy bags that we had to carry for a mile uphill to our house. To the riposte ‘Why didn’t you take the car?’ the answer is that we thought that an additional bit of exercise would only be good for us – but we hadn’t reckoned that we were going to buy so many things and that they would weigh so much. You live and learn!

Meg and I are debating whether, now that ‘King Boris’ has spoken to us all last night, whether we could seize an opportunity to make a trip down to the Southampton area in a week or so’s time to see as many of our Winchester/Southampton former colleagues whilst we can. We are aware that the virus situation might only get worse, that the fine autumnal days are limited and that our friends may have lots of other priorities at the moment. I will have a hard think about this overnight and see how I feel in the morning before I send off some emails and perhaps make a hotel booking.

The COVID-19 situation has developed during the day -there have been 6,178 cases in the UK in the last 24 hours, up 1,252 cases since Tuesday. This is a really startling rate of increase and we are now within a whisper of the two worst days we have ever had before – the rate of acceleration is dramatic. I read the the police have started to hand out £1,000 fines to two people in Bolton who have acted recklessly in helping to spread the virus and they are hoping that this may act as a deterrent (I wouldn’t hold my breath). In the meanwhile, we are waiting to see what the Chanceller of the Exchequer is going to announce tomorrow to replace the furlough scheme as it appears that with the latest semi-lockdown unemployment is set to soar. To cap it all,  Michael Gove has been ‘explaining’ how we are building a lorry park in Kent to accommodate the 7,000 lorries that may well not comply with the increasing documentation required now that Brexit is upon us and we have ‘taken back control‘ It appears that lorries will need a ‘Kent Access permit’ to show they comply with all of the new requirements and the Government is estimating the perhaps as many 40% of the lorries arriving will not comply (the assumption being that it is ‘all their fault’ as they have failed to comply on time) In a few weeks time, we will have the worst of the COVID-19 crisis hitting us compounded by the Brexit scenario – one really shudders to think how bad things might become. We all voted for it in 2016, of course, as we are constantly being reminded!

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Tuesday, 22nd September, 2020 [Day 190]

This morning we had planned to meet our good ex-Waitrose friends in the park and so we got ourselves organised so that we could meet at 10.45 However, on the way to the park we received  a text indicating that one of our friends had had a terrible night without much sleep (for whatever reason) so we had to abandon out little assignation. However, to make up for this we arranged to FaceTime each other this evening so the we could catch up on all of our news on both sides. The FaceTime worked a treat, despite the occasional dropout on the video, and we spent a happy hour (that actually flew by) whilst we exchanged news of what we both had been doing in the past two weeks. Meg and I had been enjoying ourselves (with our trip to Chester, our wedding anniversary celebrations a couple of weeks ago, not to mention those of our friends down the road). However, our friends had been having rather a hard time with a round of hospital appointments (and even more to come tomorrow) so we sympathised with them in their plight. However, as we are shortly to celebrate two birthdays (one of friends on October 2nd and Meg’s birthday on October 3rd), then I think a cake may well be in the offing for all of us so we are hoping that the weather holds out for a future assignation in the park. Talking of which, we were just on the point of packing up our gear and walking back home when we were recognised by one of ex-Waitrose acquaintanceship (who I now know is called ‘Sue’) and we spent some fascinating conversation on lock-down news. In the main, Sue was telling us some of the very interesting walks in the vicinity of the park, some of which we vaguely knew about but which we have not actually traversed. As a type of reciprocity for all of this exchange of information, I gave Sue the URL for this blog so that might increase the number of bored readers from 3 to 4 (actually, there is a part of WordPress which details various statistics about number of accesses of the site so I must check it out some time and see how many readers there actually are).

[Just as an aside, and whilst on the subject of visits to websites, I thought I would consult the statistics on a web site that I wrote and used to maintain years ago to help students write their undergraduate ‘final year projects’ It is possible to insert a little piece of code into your website so that, eventually, you can consult who has been visiting your website, from where and with what technology (amidst a welter of other statistics) I will just pick out a few to give you a flavour – the year in which the website was most visited was 2011 , two years after I retired, with a total of 46,809 visits. 32% of the visitors were from India but I did have one from Burkino Faso, one from Togo and  one reader whose language was recorded as Uzbek.  55% use Windows XP technology (evidently still much used in the 3rd world), a third had a screen resolution of 1024 x 768, 41% came from Asia and 34% from the USA – and so on and so forth. Fascinating if you haven’t consulted it for a year or so – I think I last looked at it about three years ago!]

However, we knew that we had to make a certain amount of progresss as Tuesday’s are my Pilates class day so I have to organise a quick turn around and then walk back into town again. My Pilates class was fine but there were only three of us and we had our usual share of repartee and badinage as the class progressed (this is normal, over the years).

Tonight, Boris Johnson addressed the nation for 15 minutes indicating why we needed to return to semi-lockdown conditions. The interesting thing about all of this for me (apart from Boris trying to sound ‘Churchillian‘) is the Scots and the Welsh have gone much further than has Boris by effectively ditching the ‘Rule of 6’ being the number of unrelated people who can meet in a house/garden whilst maintaining social distancing. For once, Boris has made a policy shift one can only be described as ‘timid’ – not an adjective you would normally associate with Boris. Of course, he is terrified (as was Teresa May, David Cameron) of the Conservative party right wing who will ditch him as soon as Brexit is over for making a complete ‘pig’s ear’ of the COVID-19 crisis. It would have been far better (in my opinion only, for what is worth) to go the whole hog, follow the Scots and the Welsh and try and give COVID-19 a decisive blow instead of a slow attrition which is what I fear will actually happen. 

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Monday, 21st September, 2020 [Day 189]

This morning, I decided that I would re-visit an email client which I have used in the past and use now for mailing-list type entries that I do not wish to clutter up my normal email account. The email client is very secure (ProtonMail) and is hosted on servers on Switzerland which, in theory, keeps any communications out of the hands of the NSA. Wikipedia informs us that, the NSA (= American National Security Agency), according to leaked documents, intercepts and stores the communications of over a billion people worldwide, including United States citizens. The documents also revealed the NSA tracks hundreds of millions of people’s movements using cellphones’ metadata. ProtonMail is a paid service and, as such, does not take money from advertisers or collect user data for nefarious purposes. My subscription had actually lapsed and when I tried to renew it, the card was not accepted so I chose another method of payment and resumed normal service. But all of this proved to have consequences. Whilst we were having our coffee in the park,I received a message from my bank informing me that there may have been fraudulent activity on my account and therefore to contact them. I surmised that what had happened was that th email client had tried to take a payment on an out-of-date card which was then declined and this then triggered a security alert. I needed to speak with my bank in order to let them know that (a) there was no fraudulent attempt but that (b) I did not want the payment to be processed as it had already been paid another way, This ought to have been straightforward but it took the best part of half an hour going through my bank’s security protocols and then waiting endlessly to be connected with the fraud department who then took me through even more protocols before what should have been a fairly simple procedure was effected. I suppose one cannot be too careful but I suspect that what happened to me this morning must happen all the time as credit card expiry dates get exceeded. It then took me longer than I care to mention this afternoon to get my email client de-cluttered and put to rights and I have now determined not to subscribe to the mailing list of WebMD which seems designed to convince the average member of the public that they are suffering from multiple diseases (and are probably in the clutches of ‘big pharma’ in any case.

This morning the governments chief scientific adviser and chief medical adviser transmitted a briefing from Downing Street at 11.00 am (repeated throughout the day) that the country was heading for 49,000 new cases per day by mid-October if no further actions were taken and deaths would exceed 200 a day by November. Meanwhile, the alert level was raised to 4 (5 being the highest) meaning that the coronavirus was an exponential growth path. Tomorrow morning, Boris Johnson will announce what new restrictions or policies are to come into effect. In effect, the Prime Minister is torn between actions which will defeat the virus (meaning a near-return to lockdown) but can only be done at the risk of trashing the economy. If he adopts a ‘middle course’ tomorrow, it is, of course possible that we arrive at a situation in which the virus is not being pushed back whilst, at the same time, the economy teeters on the brink. (Then of course we have Brexit on top of all this!)

Finally, in Bolton (the town mot affected by the virus with about 200 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, a survey by the Manchester Evening News revealed that some 94% of Boltonians did not believe their fellow citizens would follow the semi-lockdown rules.To make matters even worse, Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, said many people in the area believed the virus was a fake, government-constructed concept and as a result were refusing to adhere to social distancing guidelines. ‘There is a lot of confusion about the virus in the area and there are a lot of people now who do not believe it is true’  she said. Qureshi added: ‘They genuinely believe it’s some kind of conspiracy. A lot of them don’t understand the rules either and so there are many who just aren’t following them – they think it is a way of controlling them somehow. It is very dangerous.

It seems hard to believe that such a high level of public ignorance could become common place. It does appear that social media (bolstered by #thinkingforyourself) had encouraged many young people to break all the rules and assume that COVID-19 was just a conspiracy! I am speechless!

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Sunday, 20th September, 2020 [Day188]

Today we entered into our ‘Sunday morning’ routine – this entails getting up reasonably early and Mike walking down to the newsagents to pick up our supply of the Sundays before walking back in time for the ‘Andrew Marr’ show. This worked out fine but the Andrew Marr show did not add very much, if anything, to the analyses that had emerged overnight. Then we picked up our coffee flasks and made for the local park but not before quite a long and friendly with our Italian friend who lives down the road. She told us that in the early days of the lockdown she had actually seen quite an unkempt male spitting on each of the keys of an ATM machine in Bromsgove High Street. Just after we had had our coffee I got a surprise phone call from a very old (in every sense of the term) friend, now 95 years of age, with whom I had worked in the Central Office of Information in 1964 – so our friendship goes back 56 years! For the sake of anonymity, I shall call my friend ‘Jan’ and she has had the most remarkable career. In the course of her early scientific career, she had worked in the same room as (and alongside) Alan Turing (the ENIGMA code breaker and the person many would regard as the father of modern computing) Jan and I and our respective families try to meet at least once a year but COVID-19 has prevented that this year. As soon as it is safe (and Jan would have to travel from her home on the South Coast probably up to London) we shall try to meet again with our son and daughter-in-law and Jan’s son and his wife – but that is breaking the ‘Rule of 6‘ already. It was wonderful to hear from Jan and I am going to send her a photo which I took of the view of the park where we usually tend to sit, overlooking the little lake around which some of the local dogs like to race.  Then on the way home, we enjoyed another chat with one of our regular church friends (with whom we had coffee and biscuits a few days ago) so it became quite a busy social morning for us. We treated ourselves to a ‘Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding’ type dinner (doing in the slow cooker during the morning) which we enjoyed greatly.

After dinner, I was browsing the TV schedules to see what we might view this evening when I spotted that ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (probably our favourite film) had started 20 minutes previously. This film has quite an emotional ‘pull’ for us because we first saw it in 1968 and as it happened, Meg was expecting our son Martin and, at that time, looked very similar to Geraldine Chapman who played ‘Tanya’ – of course Zhivago himself was torn between the brunette Tanya (Geraldine Chapman) and the blond Lara (June Christie) and it is Lara’s theme (played on the balaika which is so well known even now) The cinematography is, of course, superb but the greatest impact of the film is the emotional pull between the characters and families caught up in the throes of the Russian evolution of 1917. It is impossible to summarise the complex plot in a few words but, for many including us) the film is a real ‘weepie’. It is amazing to reflect that film made half a century ago can still be so powerful.

The Sky political commentator is reported tonight as writing: ‘As autumns go, this was always going to be a tough one for the government…A deadly virus preparing its second assault, a Brexit trade deal stuck in the mud and the usual predicted winter pressures of flu and flooding.’ This seems as good a summary as you are going to get and it quite evident, as Matt Hancock the Health Secretary has been saying all day ‘Britain is at a tipping point‘ A rather under-analysed factor is the fact that in the last day or so, thousands of university students are travelling from their parental homes to the universities of their choice and it could well be that the students, whilst being unsymptomatic themselves, could be carrying the virus into communities all over the country. I suspect that the government know this and are secretly dreading what may be the consequences but after the ‘A’-level debacle feel they do not want another educational crisis to hit them! The next two weeks re going to be quite critical (and of course, we have Brexit rumbling along at the same time)

 

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Saturday, 19th September, 2020 [Day 187]

After the traumas of my blogging experience yesterday, hopefully today is going to be a much more tranquil day. As is by now customary on a Saturday, Meg and I got up reasonably earlier and after we had breakfasted went to collect our newspapers before we set out for our church service at 10.00am this morning. There were only about a dozen of us in the church so it remains quite an intimate experience. In addition, the drive to and from Harvington village, just outside Kidderminster, passes through some beautiful Worcestershire countryside and it is a pleasure to motor along. When the church service was over, we returned home and picked up or normal ‘daily walk’ gear which is a rucsac, National Trust collapsing stool which doubles as a little table, good walking shoes, outerwear which is appropriate to the weather conditions. Just before we set out for our walk and seeing that our next door neighbour was toddling about (and who had just celebrated his birthday yesterday) I made him a gift of a especially restored horseshoe – and this is such an unusual thing to be given, I suspect that he was genuinely very pleased to receive it. I joked with him that he needed to have three more birthdays to acquire another three horseshoes and then a final year to acquire a big strong animal to put on the top of them (he said he would try and oblige). As we started our walk, I am reminded of the expression attributed to one of the Scandinavian nations – ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’. That having been said, we did have a rather peculiar combination of climatic conditions this morning as the sum was shining in a wonderful blue sky but coupled with quite a good and gusting wind. To my mind, the park was a little less full this morning but we still occasionally speculate how we would have coped with the COVID-19 lockdown and its sequelae without this regular part of our routine. 

In the afternoon, we decided that we needed to buy a few things from one of our cut-price cosmetics shop as well as a tour around Poundland to buy a few more materials necessary to restore a few more of my supply of rusty old horseshoes whenever I can find the time. I decided to walk down into town in order to get a bit more exercise and bumped into some of our good friends (with whom I discussed the contents of last night’s blog as they are avid readers of this as well as following all of the latest political developments) I am not sure how we got onto the subject as I am not really a very ardent or knowledgable football fan but I did discuss with our friends the formidable ‘back four’ of the 1960’s Leeds defence – ‘big’ Jack Charlton in the centre (not a pretty footballer but difficult to get round), Billy Bremmer (who was terror like in his pursuit of attackers), Johnny Giles (sublime tackling skills) and Peter Lorimer (who had a fearsome shot and linked the backs with the forward line) The fullbacks were Paul Madeley, Paul Reaney and Ian Bell – although the goalkeepers played for their respective countries ( Gary Sprake for Wales  and David Harvey for Scotland), I suspect that that the famous Don Revie philosophy was not to have goalkeepers in the team  that were outstandingly good (as this would motivate the ‘back four-seven’ to let nothing get past them!). What started off the conversation was that Leeds had just gained promotion to the Premier League and had narrowly lost to Liverpool in their first match in this division. Today they are playing Fulham and I thought I would have a quick look at the result (Leeds won 4:3) and YouTube showed all of the goals and terrific goals they all were. It seemed a tremendously good game of football and of much higher quality that I remember in the 1960’s. Enough of boring football!

Tomorrow, nearly all of the newspapers are headlining the proposal? suggestion? that those who refuse to self isolate or break quarantine should be subject to an £10,000 fine. In case this sounds excessive, the govermemt has data to show that compliamce with self-isolation is some of the worst in Europe so, we might say ‘Something has to be done‘!

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Friday, 18th September, 2020 [Day 186]

I am writing these words in sheer relief because I thought that the whole of my WordPress site (which acts as the host for this blog) had ‘gone down’ because when I tried to log in, I got a message saying ‘There has been a critical error on your website‘ after which, I couldn’t even perform a log-in to attempt to fix it. As I was in despair (and consulting the web itself only confused matters even more) the only thing I could think of was to write to my webspace provider to see if they could perform some kind of ‘rollback’ for me. When I got into my emails, I noticed (in my ‘Spam’ folder!) an email from WordPress itself noting that I had experienced a critical error and automatically sending me a specialised ‘recovery’ mode of access to my blog site. Once I did get logged in, it was quite easy to identify the plugin (= auxiliary application often provided by a third party which WordPress uses extensively) which was causing the problem – it was highlighted in red! From then on, it was only a case of deactivating it (in effect, kicking it off the system) and thereafter, everything seems to be fine. As Safari (my web browser on a MAC) has recently updated itself to a new version, I wonder if there has been a conflict between Safari and the plug-in. Anyway, I cannot start to explain the relief I have felt – but I remind myself I must try and get a specialised WordPress backup system in case anything like this ever happens again. The highs and lows of computing!

Today being the most beautiful day (sunny but with a pleasant cooling breeze) Mag and I had a delightful walk down to our local park – a pleasure enhanced by chatting for a little for the friends we saw yesterday and with whom we shared coffee and biscuits in the morning (but for how much longer I ask myself?) The force of decades of tradition means that we were going to have a fish meal today but we made it into a big extensive salad (as I prepare some specialised little sauces and dressings this makes the whole meal a bit more complicated than you might expect).  Before lunch, we had another pleasant chat with our next-door neighbour who is getting to the end of extensive renovations in the next-door bungalow – we confirmed that it actually was his birthday (as I suspected) so I whizzed inside to make a quick ‘prezzie’ of a general-purpose card in lieu of a birthday card and a bottle of Prosecco which we just happened to have in the fridge, waiting for a suitable occasion. After lunch and a snooze I set myself to do a little gardening as the weather conditions were so delightful – warm but with a cooling breeze and, as you might expect by now, my activities were regularly supervised and inspected by Miggles, our adopted cat.

I have been ‘sort of’ following the news as it unfolds during the day and I am pretty sure as I write that we are being prepared for a second COVID-19 lock-down or a ‘mini-lockdown’.  Boris Johnson himself is talking of imposing measures that are ‘circuit-breaking’ and is issuing warnings that a second wave is coming, the R-rate (numbers of people infected by each new COVID-19 infected person) is now estimated as between 1.1 and 1.4 and this across the whole country, not just the industrial Midlands and the North, London it is being said is ‘increasingly likely’ to face tougher lockdown condition – if these are not warnings enough, then I do not know what is! (Personally, I would welcome all of this – every day’s delay will only make the situation worse and although the hospitality trade will scream they can still remain open and do some business until about 9 or 10 at night) It does seem a very strange set of national priorities that grandchildren cannot see their grandparents (as they are in a different bubble) but friends who are only slight acquaintances can go off to the pub together (it’s all about money. no doubt!)

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Thursday, 18th September, 2020 [Day 185]

You never quite know how each day is going to turn out and today was no exception. Remembering that it was our friends’ wedding anniversary yesterday, we decided to take along a couple of presents in the off-chance that we might bump into them. As it turned out they were in the garden, saying goodbye to one of their grandsons who is due to depart tomorrow to take up his university course. He was justifiably quite excited about the whole prospect and I am sure as he is a natural sportsman, he will make a success of whatever he turns his hand to. Our friends invited us into their garden to share coffee and biscuits with them and we were delighted to hand over our couple of presents. The first was a bottle of Cava (Spanish champagne) but the second was a horseshoe the I just happen to have restored to an almost pristine condition. Horseshoes nowadays are made of a mild steel and can be restored with a little bit of know-how and a lot of hard work to a dull silver looking finish – nonetheless, when restored and untarnished, they still look very attractive. Our friends were delighted with this little present and I am taking one they keep in their greenhouse, which has a lot of sentimental value, to restore as I have all of the gear (starting off with white vinegar).  We were with our friends for about an hour and a half and as they have friends and relatives strung across the globe (Australia, Canada, Pakistan to mention a few) and absolutely adore travelling in normal circumstances, then we found plenty of chat about. I forgot to mention that on our way down into town we chatted with our Italian friend for a few minutes and then, after seeing one lot of friends, we encountered several more (they happen to be near neighbours) We have just worked out that all three of us couples have a wedding anniversary within eight days of each other so we are starting to wonder whether we dare plan to have a joint celebration next September for the three of us together. It is just a thought – but what started out as a little walk ended some three and a half hours later. We thought we had better telephone our son in case he was wondering whether any misfortune had befallen us. Then home to a curry which I threw together in no time (we have tended to have curry once a week ever since our student days in Manchester – in fat, Rusholme which is the district of Manchester where we rented a flat is now known as the curry capital of Europe, although it was a predominantly Irish community when we lived there in the a1960’s)

Large parts of the NorthEast (basically, the whole of the Newcastle conurbation) will be subject to a semi-lockdown. Basically, this means that there is a curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants which need to close at 10.0pm and there is a complete ban of social mixing in each other’s houses. There is quite a debate whether on a technical level, this will do much to inhibit a virus which can be just as active after 10.0 as it was before. However, there is an argument that if under the influence of some (not a great deal of) alcohol, social inhibitions are lessened and social distancing becomes less and less evident. So a curfew may make a lot of sense from this perspective. However, it seems that the major effect may be the psychological one i.e. if this semi-lockdown does not work then the only alternative is a full-scale lockdown. I think that a judgement is being made that it is better, on balance, to keep the pubs open for limited opening hours rather than shutting them altogether in a full scale curfew (as many businesses will not survive in that event)

When Baroness Harding, the chief of ‘Test-and-trace’ was questioned today in a committee of MP’s, she opined that she doesn’t believe “anybody was expecting to see the really sizeable increase in demand” for coronavirus tests. Well it was interesting that with the end of lockdown and with schools and universities reopening, there was evidently going to be an increase in the COVID-19 ingestion rate. Every epidemiologist in the country worth his salt had indicated that the we would have a second wave of the virus about to hit us so to say that ‘nobody expected to see an increase in the infection rate of this size‘ seems naive beyond belief, given the brief she had been entrusted with by the government.

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Wednesday, 16th September, 2020 [Day 184]

How the weeks roll by! Since the COVID-19 crisis, we have shopped online with Waitrose and the order is scheduled to arrive each Thursday. But to secure our ‘slot’ we have to put in a make-believe order (based on an previous order) which we then have to refine before delivery. For delivery on a Thursday, we have to update our order the day before and before 12.00pm. As we cannot guarantee to be back from our walk by 12.00 we have to refine our order before we go out. Hence it is a job each Wednesday to update our order for delivery the following day.

Again it was a beautiful day today – sunny but not too humid and so we enjoyed our walk as normal. We met one of our park friends again and made the acquaintance of a couple of labradors who could not resist plunging into the pond and having a wet walk/swim (it is so shallow I’m never get sure whether the dogs who take the plunge walk or swim). They always emerge from the water dripping wet and with a kind of silly grin on their faces when they realise that they ‘may’ have transgressed against the wishes of their owner(s). Again, it was time for a salad- type lunch when we eventually got home.

This afternoon was scheduled to be our ‘lawn mowing’ day and everything worked smoothly although I realise that next time around I will need to buy a gallon petrol (the last of the season?) Miggles, our adopted cat, came along to supervise our activities both before and after the mowing and decided it would be a good idea to lie out on the grass in front of Meg to sunbathe whilst I got on with some necessary weeding (the cat did promise to help but eventually just adopted a supervisory position, checking that everything I did was up the requisite standard) Incidentally, there was a fascinating program on cats on last night’s telly – the average male cat has a range of about 100 metres whereas we reckon that Miggles‘ range might be as much as 400 metres as it is 200 metres from her own home to the end of our garden and I suppose that he/she ranges an equal distance in the opposite direction. The program put trackers and even miniaturised cameras on each of the 50 cats in an English village and discovered some amazing things e.g. although cat’s territories might overlap and therefore be a source of conflict, they learn to avoid/minimise such conflict by essentially ‘time-sharing’ the terrify – one cat might use it only in the mornings and the other in the evenings. Genuinely fascinating.

The COVID second wave is getting seriously scary at the moment – new infections have risen from about 3,000 to 4,000 in a single day. Boris Johnson was forced to admit in a liaison committee of MP’s that Britain does not have sufficient testing capacity and the interviews with distraught people from all over the country is distressing. People seem to be spending hours glued to their phones/laptops to try and get the system to give them a slot only to be dumped off the system, informed that the nearest test centre is in Inverness or similar, or that that there are no slots available and try again later(even though local radio and TV is telling them that the local testing centre is largely empty, but you cannot access it unless the system has allocated you a slot)

Meanwhile,Boris Johnson is engaging in a partial climb-down by suggesting to groups of dissident Tory MP’s that he will allow them a second vote before the provisions of the Internal Market Bill are actually activated. The interesting question is how many of his own MP’s actually believe him? The interesting question is that in the last Parliament before the Tory party purged itself of any Remainers, there was actually a ‘Anybody but Boris‘ movement because several of the older and wiser Tory heads reckoned, quite rightly, that Boris Johnson might be a good campaigner or utterer of simple slogans (‘Get Brexit Done‘) but that he might prove to be a disastrous Prime Minster were he ever to occupy that position – and how right they were!

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Tuesday, 15th September, 2020 [Day 183]

This morning, I noticed on my mobile that Meg and I had received a message indicating that we needed to contact the GP’s surgery to arrange for us to receive a ‘flu jab’. It seems particularly important that we get our jabs now and not delay, as we did two years ago, with the effect that supplies of the vaccine had run out. As it seems important that we receive our flu jab in a timely fashion, I stuck on the end of a phone for some 20 minutes before speaking to a human and actually getting an appointment booked in 13 days time on a Sunday.  Last time, it was organised in huge batteries like a military operation and I am sure the same will be true this year.

We tried a slightly different routine this morning, largely because we wanted to save some time so that Mike was not to have a tremendous rush-around as today is the ‘Pilates’ day when he has to leave the house for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. So today, we tried a ‘mixed economy’ when we drove to the park and parked in the car park and then went on foot to collect our newspapers. We then walked back to the park but had the benefit of the car for the journey home after we had our elevenses and this saved a critical half hour or so. The new arrangements worked out particularly well and It was a particularly warm and pleasant day for our little venture. We bumped into one of our ‘park friends’ with whom we chatted for a few minutes. Already we are noting that the maximum size of the group we have observed is a grouping of five sitting on the grass i.e. within the ‘Rule of 6’ regulations and it was vaguely reassuring that nobody seemed to be breaking the rules, in force since last Monday. I walked down to Pilates on my own without my neighbour on this occasion so my class had the tremendous number in it of 2 (one of our regulars was taking her son to University) but joined by a third on Zoom. The class went well and we were soon back in our old routines – at least as we have been with the same teacher for years, we have a fair idea with only a minimum of prompting what is required in each move. With a combination of walking, an hour’s exercise then followed by our main meal of the day, I find it almost impossible not to have a little doze after lunch and today was no exception. I am already planning some of the jobs to be done in the garden whilst the good weather holds (not least the lawn mowing) but these are tasks for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, government ministers are struggling to answer basic questions on a range of issues. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, claimed that that the test-and-trace scheme was operating well in Bolton (the worst-hit town in the UK for the incidence of COVID-19) by constantly saying that ‘it was wrong to say that tests are not available’. However, there was clear evidence from reporters and many members of the public, filmed as they queued outside a test centre in Bolton, that the centre was not processing any cases because ‘the system’ indicated that no testing slots were available! In the same interview, she admitted that two groups of neighbours chatting in a group totalling more than six were breaking the law whereas it was permissible to hold a birthday party on a grouse moor as this was a legitimate sporting event! Matt Hancock, the Education Secretary was forced in the House of Commons to admit that the test-and-trace system could take ‘weeks’ to fix – as some schools may have to close as they are ‘running out’ of teachers forced to self isolate but not able to get themselves tested (a story oft-repeated for some GP’s and other health service professionals aired on the media). Meanwhile, in the House of Lords it was claimed that the government minister who admitted that international law would be broken by the provisions of the new bill suggested that the minister ‘had been answering the wrong question‘ and had, therefore ‘misspoke’ Finally, some members of the SAGE group (Special Advisory Group of Experts) are warning that if the ‘Rule of 6’ is not working after a fortnight, then another full-scale lockdown is inevitable. You couldn’t make up this catalogue of errors even if you writing it up as a farcical play…

 

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Monday, 14th September, 2020 [Day 182]

Past readers of this blog might know that as well as the WordPress version, I also maintain a parallel text version which, whilst not being indexed ‘per se’, allows interested readers to pick any day/date from the past six months to view the entry for that day (available at: http://mch-net.uk) Now that we have had six months of ‘lockdown’ my screen table of entries (7 columns of 26 rows) was now ‘full’ so I busied myself this morning with creating an extra table to follow on from the existing full one (I had tried to extend my previous table by inserting an extra column but this caused some overflow problems so I had to ‘undo’ it all – not particularly easy when there was a mass of HTML code to sort through). However, now is all ready to go so I am shortly to start to populate the second six-months worth of blog. Later in the day, I managed, after trawling the web, to dscover a couple of sites where I could test out the Viewports of a screen (either on a desktop, tablet or mobile) so that I could check out that my amended tables will now display correctly on my various devices without possibility of truncation or scrolling.

On our way down to the park this morning, we met some of our best friends who live ‘down the hill’ and we exchanged news about families, politics and the like. Then having collected our newspapers and done a little shopping in Waitrose, we fell into conversation with a guy who had spent many years in South Africa (and had a slight South African accent) and the subject got around to walking boots. I think this is because having walked down to the park every day for six months (and probably worn my boots for six months longer than that) the soles are starting to wear through (although I must say, they are still supremely comfortable inside). However a point is fast approaching when they will have to be thrown away but I would still like to get as much wear out of them as I can before they absolutely fall to bits. It was quite a warm day so when we eventually got home and to save a bit of time. we made ourselves a salad based around a small Waitrose quiche and that was very filling although rapidly thrown together.

After lunch, I spent some time checking the HTML code which I had needed to tidy up for an extension of the text version of this blog and then Meg and I got absorbed into the debate over the Internal Market Bill which Boris Johnson was going to head up himself. I thought that David Miliband and the SNP leader Ian Blackford made excellent attacking speeches and devastating critiques of the Prime Minister’s position. Altogether quite disheartening, then, that the opposition seemed to win all of the intellectual arguments but the Tories passed the bill this evening with a majority of 77 (which seems incredible). This is after three former Prime Ministers, two former Attorney Generals and a former Tory Leader have all indicated a profound disagreement with the stance of the Conservative party. What may be interesting to observe is what will now happen in the House of Lords (which is largely ‘unwhipped’ i.e. not instructed by party managers how to vote) which is meant to act as a brake on a maverick House of Commons. As all of the ‘Remain’ voting MP’s have now been thrown out of the Tory party or fail to be reselected by their constituency associations) the present Tory party is almost completely a Brexit or UKIP party (in effect, having taken over all of the UKIP party’s policies).

The ‘test-and-trace’ system seems to be in chaos tonight, as I write. As Allyson Polock, a well-known NHS expert has written “That’s because a key part of it operates not as part of the NHS, but in parallel to it – as a network of commercial, privatised testing labs, drive-through centres and call centres. The chaos this has brought has resulted in huge gaps in the information available to local services, causing delays in accessing results and hampering efforts to control the outbreak. Instead of putting local public health experts and NHS services in charge of contact tracing, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, handed over responsibility to private companies such as the outsourcing giant Serco, which has previously been fined for deaths of workers and members of the public that could have been prevented. The list of problems in the test and trace system is already immense – three data breaches, poor training and faulty online administration systems among them” 

Yet despite all this, the Government still hasn’t published the details of its contracts with the likes of Serco. According to the Treasury, £10bn of public money has been allocated to England’s test and trace programme but only £300m of additional funding has been offered to local authorities to support the system (ie.the private sector funded over thirty times as much as the public sector despite the evident failings of the former and the manifest productivity of the latter)

 

 

 

 

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