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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Thursday, 4th March, 2021 [Day 353]

Today was another cold day in the current spell of cooler weather with the thermometer just above freezing, but only just (about 4°) Tomorrow is going to be cold as usual and we have a few days more before the weather gets a little milder over the weekend. One would think we would be used to pretty cold weather at the start of March but we had got used to a few glorious days of spring-like weather a few days ago and I suppose we have got a little spoiled because of it. We collected our newspapers and sought friends and friends of friends in the park and we had a jolly good chat until the weather got to all of us (as we are standing around socially distancing) and so we made for home. I was telling our friends of an embarrassing incident that we had when we were students in 1968. Below the maisonette that we rented was a series of little stalls in some converted shops and one of them was a haberdashery stall, run by an Asian lady. At that time, we needed, in order to effect a minor repair, some knicker elastic (it is called ribbon elastic today) and it was on sale for 1½d a yard (i.e. the old money) We explained that we only needed a foot and the stall-holder told us ‘That’s all right – I will sell you a foot’ So she carefully measured it out, wound it round into a little ball and popped it into a little brown envelope. So we were asked to pay ½d  – we handed over our 1d and got ½d in change. We felt a little embarrassed about this transaction even at the time – ½d is worth approximately a fifth of the modern day 1p coin.

News is emerging this evening about Sir Philip Putnam who was the previous principal civil servant in the Home Office and who was suing the Home Office for constructive dismissal. It has been announced that an out-of-court settlement has been reached and Sir Philip was to be awarded more than £1/3rd million after it was acknowledged that he had been subjected to a campaign of bullying and abusive behaviour. The Standards chief Sir Alex Allan found that Ms Patel had broken the code governing ministers’ behaviour and ruled according only for Boris Johnson to not accept his findings (and thereby exonerated Priti Patel) whereupon he promptly resigned. My own stance on this if she had the intellect to argue her case, she would not have to resort to bullying and obscene language. Every time I see her on the TV I am reminded that she was the communications director of James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party which then transmogrified itself into UKIP. Eventually she found a natural home in the right wing of the Conservative party here she is quite popular with the rank-and-file (although there are rumours that she is destined for the chop in the next government re-shuffle, probably forthcoming in June). I am reminded of the minister in the first Labour Government who was not given a new portfolio in the Labour Administration from 1945-1950. He sought an an interview with the (very headmasterly) Prime Minister, Clement Attlee who, when asked why he had not offered a new ministry to the disappointed politician merely drew on his pipe and uttered the immortal words ‘Not good enough!” And that was that. However, since then we have a legion of ministers who have shown the most astounding incompetence but still retained office (they are all right wingers needless to say) The most outstanding example was Chris Grayling (popularly known amongst MPs as ‘failing Grayling’) whoo is estimated to have cost the taxpayer some £2,778,072 (i.e. nearly 3 billion pounds) in a succession of eleven failed ventures.

There is some dark talk tonight of yet new variants of COVID-19 that have emerged in the last few weeks. These are always worrying in the extreme, not least because they appear to be ‘super-infectious’ and seem to have evolved by evading all of the current vaccines.It is possible (as with the ‘flu vaccine) to reformulate the current range of vaccines to cope with these new variants but in the meanwhile even more variants might appear. The one real answer seems to jump hard on even a single case that appears. For example, Auckland in New Zealand discovered one case of the virus appearing and immediately put the whole of the city in lockdown for several days (it goes without saying that New Zealand is coping with its COVID-19 pandemic much better than we are). But to be slightly more positive, we are now up to 21 million having received their first ‘jab’ which is practically 40% of the adult population. Meg and I are counting off the days until April 12th when we are scheduled to receive our second dose of the vaccine and about three weeks after that, our immune status should be as high as it can be.

 

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Wednesday, 3rd March, 2021 [Day 352]

After we got up this morning, there was an item on the Radio 4 ‘Today‘ programme which was genuinely uplifting. It was an interview with the well known singer/songwriter/benefactor Dolly Parton. She had taken her own song ‘Joline, Joline, ‘Joline‘ and had re-worded it so that it was rendered as ‘Vaccine! Vaccine! Vaccine! Perhaps many people know by now the Dolly Parton is an exceptionally shrewd businessman as well as being a huge benefactor. She has started an ‘Imagination Library‘ in 1995 and, starting with her home state of East Tennessee, the program distributes 1 million free books a month to children at each month from birth to the age of 5. It has been calculated  that 100 million books have already been given away FREE and not for nothing is Dolly Parton just as well known for being ‘The Book Lady‘ as for her country and western prowess. Dolly Parton donated £1 million dollars to the ‘Moderna’ vaccine program but she had only just today received her jab because she did not want other people to think that she was ‘jumping the line’ (i.e. queue). This is all quite inspirational stuff really – there are still millions of Americans who need to be convinced about the benefits of accepting the vaccine.

Today was a ‘grey’ day and the Midlands seemed to be swathed in a a cold mist which was not incredibly cool as there was no accompanying wind to increase the chill factor. Nonetheless, we picked up our newspapers in the normal way, meeting on the way one of park friends who is in his mid 80’s but still walks about 7-8 kilometres a day (but monitored at a distance by his daughter who can keep track of him, presumably via an Apple-type watch) We hope that we can sustain ourselves with such an energetic daily routine when we are his age but we can but hope. When we got home, it was straight on with cooking the mid-day meal and then watching the news unfold on the television. Today was Budget Day but a lot of this had been trailed beforehand in any case – I think the real surprise, though, was that the furlough scheme was going to be extended until September (as well as the £10 supplement to Universal Credit). I suppose it is quite easy to be a popular Chancellor of the Exchequer if you are still in the ‘giving out lots of cash’ stage but tax rises are on the way in a year or so. This will be done by the old-fashioned expedient of not increasing the actual tax rates but rely upon freezing the income tax threshold levels which means that owing to ‘fiscal drag’ more and more people get drawn into greater contributions of tax from 2025. After that, there is a prediction that the tax burden borne by the population will be the highest since the 1960’s and corporation tax will be increased  in a year or so to a rate which is higher than now but below the level of other G7 countries. We all knew that the expenses created by the pandemic would have to be paid for how somehow. The other major story is the Nicola Sturgeon evidence before a Scottish parliamentary committee but this is is labyrinthine and tortuous to put it mildly and who is lying about what is difficult to disentangle.

This afternoon, I busied myself with one file tidying and I started on one of Meg’s old medical files. Some of this stuff went back for more than 15 years so it was a case of seeing what could be safely be junked straight off into our green bin, those documents that had to have identifiers removed and shredded and that which it is prudent to retain even if for historical purposes. This is but part of a much longer process of tidying up files but I intend to keep up this good work until a lot of junk has been removed. At 5.00pm, we Zoomed some of Meg’s cousins in Derby and this time we were joined by another family member still in Cheltenham so it was good to have a kind of family get-together. We find these occasions quite enjoyable so we are going to repeat the exercise at about fortnightly intervals from now on.

Various European societies (principally France and Germany) are now re-tghinking their opposition to the AstraZeneca virus. Although it was subject to a lot of ‘black’ propaganda, we now have the evidence from the several millions vaccinated in the UK over its effectiveness in stopping the rate of infection, keeping people out of hospital and so on. Given that the UK is so far ahead of other European societies in the vaccination race, it now looks as quite a re-think is going on in Europe but decision makers do not like to admit that they were actually wrong or mistaken!

 

 

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Tuesday, 2nd March, 2021 [Day 351]

We wondered how today was going to turn out as the skies were initially grey and looked somewhat threatening. But once we got underway, the sky gradually changed from a freezing fog grey to a light blue and it turned out to be quite a pleasant day. I left Meg in the park in the company of our Birmingham University friend and walked quickly on my own to pick up our daily supply of newspapers. Upon my return, I found a little gaggle of friends, friends of friends and those of us who just happen to be exercising at about the same time of day every day. We laughed and joked for a while and then we get onto the more serious business of discussing backup technologies and strategies for the computers that we own. We swapped some bits of information and then departed as soon as the park police (actually two very young PCSOs – Police Community Support Officers) – were spotted in the distance from our vantage point and we judged it diplomatic to gradually start to disperse and make tracks for home.. It was a delightful walk home with some pale spring sunshine and a promise of some more to come in the days ahead. Although it was only about 1-2°warmer than yesterday, it felt a lot warmer as the wind had dropped. But I gather from the weather forecast that I have just heard that the weather is going to get colder and the winders stronger and keener in the next few days so we had better not greet the arrival of spring too soon.

We know that tomorrow is going to be a big day, politically as the two main events of the week unfold. One of these is the Budget which is more or less predictable (and has been predicted  or at least well-trailed) But the other much more explosive issue is going to be the evidence that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, will give to a committee of the Scottish parliament. If she has found to be lying or at least ‘economical with the truth‘ then she may be found to be in breach of the Ministerial Code which would normally lead to a resignation. Whether this is going to happen tomorrow or in the few days that follow, only time will tell but it looks as though Nicola Sturgeon will  have the fight of her life tomorrow. I think it would be a pity if one of the most effective of the current generation of politicians (and one who has had a ‘good pandemic’) were to fall at this stage. There is a saying attributed to Enoch Powell, though, that ‘all political careers end in failure‘ (actually part of a much longer and less snappy quote) but of course this is a truism, usually determined by an election or a ‘defenestration’ (literally death by throwing someone out of a window but now used in a much more metaphorical sense vide what happened to Margaret Thatcher).

Tonight as I am writing this blog there is a wildlife programme on the television in the background when the young female commentator was commenting on the problems of an impala buck having to defend his territory during the mating season. The commentary that came floating over the airways explained ‘mating with fifty females whilst keeping an eye over your shoulder for any potential challengers can be quite an exhausting business‘ with which sentiment I can only say that I agree. I utter a silent prayer that I was not born into a religious tradition in which I might have be re-incarnated as a impala at stud – there again, envy is one of the most destructive of emotions. But in the same nature program, I did learn that 50% of black rhinos are killed in fights with other black rhinos but I suppose for an animal of that size there are not many natural predators.

Tonight, we FaceTimed some of our closest ex-Waitrose friends and caught up with each other’s news for the week.It should only be about four weeks to go before we can (legally) meet in an open space somewhere – perhaps in the garden attached to the residential block where our friends live. We are not in the business just yet of making too many active plans at this stage but we will wait until we are about a week to go before we make firmer plans.Tomorrow night, we are going by appointment to have a Zoom call with Meg’s cousins in Derby so that will be another opportunity to catch up news but this time with much more family-centred news. 

There is slightly better news on the Brazil variant of the virus this evening. Apparently, the one missing case has been narrowed down to one of a batch of 379 kits despatched out so with a certain degree of foot-slog, the miscreant person who has tested positive but failed to fill in the record card may well be identified – for all of our sakes!

 

 

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Monday, 1st March, 2021 [Day 350]

I suppose to be true to form, I should have started of the day by chanting ‘White rabbits! White rabbits! White rabbits!” (as it is the first day of  new month) but I resisted the temptation. Having said that, I am very pleased to have got February behind me and March in front of me. The postman brought us some interesting news. We in this house (and presumably lots of neighbours) had received a circular inviting us to join a neighbourhood ‘support’ area for Kidderminster Road. It seemed genuine (i.e. not a scam) and quite a good idea, so I joined up as, apparently, a lot of my neighbours have done. I am taking the view that if a more ‘communitarian’ rather than ‘individualistic’ philosophy pervades our lives than in these COVID-19 days that only be a good thing. I said in my introductory statement that I walked to the park every day and how I could be recognised so I wonder how many (more) social contacts this might generate. We shall see! On our way down (and up again on our way back home) we bumped into near neighbours and had a good chat with them. Having collected our newspapers (and some extra milk!) we made our way into the park and quickly met up with some friends and friends of friends. There we had a laugh and joke before the bad weather overcame us all. Whereas yesterday, the temperature was a warm 11°, today the temperature had dropped to about 2-3° and we were enveloped in a kind of freezing fog with a chilling breeze to boot. So we could not wait to get home, as you might imagine, and Meg thought she hadn’t been so cold for years so she had to have a sit by the living room fire to get warmed up again. I cooked the remainder of the chicken for lunch and supplemented the special sauce I had made – if anything, it was even nicer than yesterday’s so I have saved a little for future use.

There has been some interesting (and encouraging new research evidence) announced today. To summarise this, briefly:


  • Infections fall from around three weeks after one dose of both vaccines
  • Protection against symptomatic COVID in those over 70, four weeks after the first jab, ranged between 57-61% for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 60-73% for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
  • As well as the protection against symptomatic disease, people who had received a Pfizer jab had an additional 43% lower risk of emergency hospitalisation and an additional 51% lower risk of death
  • Those who had been given the first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were found to have a 37% lower risk of emergency hospital admission, but there is insufficient follow-up data to assess its impact on death

If nothing else, this MAY help to persuade some fellow-Europeans that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine might have something going for it after all. But as it stands, there is still a marked reluctance for Europeans to accept this vaccine (although it is actually manufactured in Belgium) and one suspects an excess of ‘NIH’ (not invented here) syndrome. There is still quite a lot of concern about the ‘Brazil’ variant of COVID-10 of which six cases have been discovered in the UK. Five of these have been tracked down to individuals (and presumably their contacts) but the sixth case remains a mystery as they ‘failed to fill in in a test registration card’ according to PHE (Public Health England). It sounds as though there has been some sloppy work going here but it really does underline how insecure our borders might actually be in practice. I did hear some inside stories about the Border Agency’s inability to grapple with all of the complexities of the process of travellers arriving in the UK with a variety of vaccination records (in different formats and different languages) All that I can say without sounding too xenophobic at this stage is that what I heard on Radio4 did not inspire confidence.

The other major items of news this evening concerns the health of the Duke of Edinburgh. I do not follow the comings and goings of royalty with very much attention but I did receive my MSc from him 1969. As his mother or another near relative had died a day or so beforehand, we assumed that he would not turn up for the degree ceremony at Salford University but he did – I suppose it it is a part of the old-fashioned devotion to duty.  The fact he has been transferred to Barts where an existing heart condition might be monitored is somewhat worrying – I do hope that he manages to make until the age of 100 sometime in early June. Presumably his wife will write him a special congratulatory letter if and when this happens (I believe the Queen writes to you when you reach the magic age of 100)

 

 

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Sunday, 28th February, 2021 [Day 349]

This morning was our by now Sunday morning pattern i.e. I get up a little earlier and then walk down in the cold, clear light of the morning to pick up our Sunday newspapers. Sunday morning is always a little treat for me because as I am on my own, I treat myself to a little concert on my trusty very old iPhone and this morning played some Bach and Mozart to myself. After breakfasting during the Andrew Marr show (not particularly informative, I must say),  Meg and I walked to the park. The air was like champagne and we wonder how long this glorious little spell of high pressure is going to last but we think it is a few more days yet. The number of children on scooters in the park reached its typical Sunday morning ‘high’ but we met with a couple of park acquaintances and passed our time of day trying to solve the following (almost mathematical) puzzle, which is: ‘Why is it when you are waiting for a bus there is always a bus coming first in the opposite direction ? (Assuming that buses travel on each side of the road at 10 minute intervals)‘ I will leave this conundrum for others to sort out.

We dined  on chicken this lunch time using our normal ‘chicken’ recipe. We sear the chicken and in the meanwhile fry off some onions, peppers and tomatoes. Then the chicken, fried vegetables and half a jar of lasagne type white sauce go into a casserole and then into the oven for about 30-40 minutes (served with  tender stem broccoli and a baked potato)

There was no France-Scotland rugby match to entertain us this afternoon as half of the French team are laid low with the COVID-19 virus. (My son was of the opinion that as they hadn’t sufficiently self-isolated in training they should have made to field a 2nd or 3rd team of 15 or forfeit the match is necessary – I have some sympathy with this view) I found that the sports writers had no sympathy whatsoever for the English team and their performance and praised the Welsh diligence in keeping their discipline (and hence no penalties) as against the English who again offended considerably.

This afternoon is one of those little statistical ‘milestones’ in that we have passed the total of 20 million of the population having received at least their first jab – I think the proportion is well over a third of the adult population by now. But perhaps of some concern is that a cluster of six of the Brazilian variant of the vaccine have appeared and most of these cases occurred in travellers from Brazil but before the most recent lockdown. This tends to indicate that we should have locked down much more stringently and much more urgently. The present cases have been discovered in South Gloucestershire but there has been plenty of time for the virus to have spread much more rapidly. Apparently in Auckland in New Zealand they discovered ONE outbreak of the virus and immediately locked down most of the city for a few days! Meanwhile, the spell of really good weather is encouraging people to flock to the parks and to socialise as if the restrictions had already been lifted. I would not be surprised if we were to find that after this burst of fine weather the ‘R’ (reproduction rate) of the virus actually increases and this can well threaten the rest of the unlock down process. One of the scientists on the SAGE committee has already admitted that this is a ‘great worry to us‘ and one can understand why. What is so frustrating is that we have endured eleven months of turmoil and it doesn’t take much more self-restraint to ensure that we are not knocked back by a fair amount. But, I must admit. if the park is anything to go by there is already a feeling (probably unjustified) that we are nearly at the end of the lockdown and can therefore let go a little.

There are two political events of some significance during the forthcoming week and both on Wednesday. Firstly, we are having a budget on Wednesday – although it used to be the case that Chancellors of the Exchequer used to ‘go into purdah’ and make sure the budget contents remained a closely guarded secret. But today there seems to be a tendency to extensively ‘leak’ or ‘brief’ the budget contents several days beforehand, perhaps so any good news can be announced at least twice over. So we already know that billions of pounds are going to be offered to businesses to help them over the next month or so. The next big political event is going to be Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the Scottish parliamentary committee. It is really difficult for us down here in England to ascertain the exact cause of the dispute between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmon but it is a question of who knew what and when – somebody, somewhere is lying through the teeth but we may be a little nearer to the truth next Wednesday.

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Saturday, 27th February, 2021 [Day 348]

Today was another fine and bright day with a brilliant blue sky and very much the ambience of an early spring day. In fact, I was reminded of the time that I spent a term at the Complutense University of Madrid in which the mornings were frosty and cold but the skies were blue and clear. The dining room in the Residencia (= Hall of Residence) in which I lodged opened at about 7.30 in the morning but I had to leave at about 7.33 to walk to a metro station, catch a metro and then eventually a bus to the University campus of Somosaguas. When the restaurant opened, I used to dive in, gulp a quick cup of coffee and a small boccadillo by way of breakfast whilst also grabbing one or two to go in my pockets for a mid-morning break. Some other fellow diners who were also there when the restaurant opened use to say to me ‘This is terribly bad for your health, grabbing a little bit of food like that‘ to which I used to reply ‘I know- I know – but I haven’t got any more time!‘ However, it did make he breakfast on a Saturday and a Sunday morning a particular pleasure when you could have a leisurely breakfast and a civilised conversations with the many and varied visiting professors who were accommodated in the Residencia.

So we collected our ration of Saturday newspapers and made for the park where we met with our University of Birmingham friend and another mutual acquaintance of ours. Here we discussed the various statistics on the efficacy of the competing vaccines and racked our brains to see if we could remember the exact sequence  of what is allowed when on the timetable of ‘end of lockdown’. We do remember that on Monday, 8th March i.e. a week on Monday, we will be allowed by the powers-that-be to have a coffee whilst sitting on a park bench and chatting to a friend (whether with or without a mask I am not sure – and do you have to be at opposite ends of the park bench or not? Decisions..decisions). We made our way home knowing that in the afternoon we would be able to watch a couple of rugby matches i.e. Italy versus Ireland and then Wales v. England which is billed as the ‘big one’ of the current 6-Nations. This last match seemed to be extraordinary insofar as the (French) referee made a serious of bizarre and controversial decisions which awarded Wales two tries they were not expecting in the first half. England fought their way back to a 24-24 draw with about 20 minutes to go and then threw it all away with a series of tactical errors and unnecessary penalties although the referee was  behaving like a normal human being by this time (One view, shared by one of the commentators at half time was that if the very well known Welsh referee, Nigel Owens, had refereed the match, then the whole dynamics of the match would have altered and it is not inconceivable that England could have won the entire game).

By this evening, the total number of vaccinations has reached 19.7 million which must be about a third of the adult population. As we are approaching the month of March (from next Monday) it looks as though the 60-69 year olds and then the 50-59 year olds will be called forward to receive their ‘jab’. Tho 40-49 year olds will be started on 4th April. Then the 30-39 year olds will be started on 24th June and finally the 20-29 year olds will be started on 13th July. There are about 7 million persons in each category and the official government target is to have all adults vaccinated by the end of July, 2021. Of course, this does depend upon uninterrupted supplies of vaccine, a small overall refusal rate and no great sudden panic with the discovery of a new variant.  

They talk about the power of words but I had not fully appreciated how the staunch (not to say rabid) Republicans were weaponising the word ‘Democratic’ as in ‘Democratic Party’.  Here are some examples that Republicans of a certain hue are using. For example, rallygoers in Washington were urged to ‘put the fear of God in the cowards, the traitors, the RINOs, the communists of the Democrat Party.’  Yet others have argued that the claims of election fraud meant that Republicans were in a ‘death match with the Democrat Party‘. It does appear that the conservatives on the American right are seeking to identify themselves as members of the same tribe by seeking to define the opposition through demeaning language. Another example with which to conclude follows. After Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was removed from her House committees for espousing sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories, she tweeted: ‘In this Democrat tyrannical government, Conservative Republicans have no say on committees anyway.‘ In other words, the word ‘Democrat‘ or ‘Democratic‘ are always used in such a way that it evokes a negative sentiment in anything to do with the Democratic Party in the United States.

 

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Friday, 26th February, 2021 [Day 347]

This morning as we woke up, we realised there had been a slight ground frost and so we surmised, as it turns out correctly, that a fine day or at least a fine morning was in prospect for us. The air was like champagne and the sky was blue, all with a liberal dosing of pale spring sunshine. So we had an extremely pleasant walk down to our newsagents where we picked up our Saturday complement of newspapers, popped into Waitrose to pick up some frozen vegetables and then made our way into the park. As the weather was so kind to all of us and it was the weekend, then every man (and his dog) seemed to be present in the park. We kept on bumping into people that we know that included friends, friends of friends, park acquaintances and so on. It was so pleasant that we lingered awhile in the park and did not get back for lunch until way past our normal lunchtime. I rustled up a quick risotto (which I now make with some kippers and cauliflower rice – it might sound odd but with a normal complement of yogurt and grated cheese actually turns out to be a lot nicer than it sounds). I have recently developed a facility to communicate with the souls of dead pets (animals) and it works like this. I ask for the name of the favourite animal and then try to establish a line of communication between them and their long deceased pet. I then ask them to think of a number between 1 and 10 and ask them to perform a series of mathematical procedures on it. I then establish a link of communication with the dead ‘pet’ and then communicate a number which the deceased pet is ‘correctly’ communicating to the mind of the owner. Although this sounds complicated, it worked beautifully with our University of Birmingham friend AND with our Irish friend down the road AND with our domestic help who was still in the house when we returned home.

We are now at the total of 19 million of the population vaccinated which is 35% of the entire adult population. A figure just released is that 94% of the population indicate that they have either received the jab OR they intend to have it when their turn becomes due. Although there has been a slight hiccup of supply in the vaccine the UK as a whole still seems to be streets ahead. However the rates of infection are increasing in one of five (20%) of local authority areas. The ‘heat maps’ shown in the Downing Street briefings still show some worrying areas where rates of vaccination are lower, indices of social deprivation are higher and the rate of new infection may be increasing slightly. The government advisers are evidently worried that the population as a whole may ‘relax’ particularly as the weather is fine and that people might be ‘3-0’ up in a game of football only to relax and eventually lose the game 3-4 (an example given in the briefing tonight)

I sent off a long email to our Spanish friends expressing our delight that their daughter has just gained an Erasmus scholarship in the University of Gloucester (some 35 miles down the road) and promising all the help and support that we can give. We imagine that the university will give priority in university accommodation to Erasmus students (who cannot be expected to organise their own in the open market like indigenous students) We also sent them all of the information taken from ‘The Times‘  which details all of the stages to be undertaken in the ‘end-of-lockdown’ scenarios outlined by the government.  A source of some dissatisfaction, though, is that police and schoolteachers are not to be given any degree of priority other than provided by age alone -figures are being quoted that, the government argues, shows that teachers and the police die at a somewhat lower rate than the rest of the population and should not therefore receive any degree of priority.

Later on this evening, we FaceTimed one of our Hampshire friends as we do regularly on a Friday evening, and spent an incredibly pleasant hour chatting on a whole variety of topics. Our friend is organising a lot of Zoom meetings for ex-IBM employees which is taking him some time and keeping him out of mischief. 

The government seems to be edging slowly via a ‘review’  into a ‘de facto’ acceptance of a vaccine passport, although not to be called that. I read a letter in one of my daily newspapers that indicated that, as a newly qualified nurse, she had to show evidence of a BCG (anti-TB) inoculation before she could enter employment, so what is the difference in principle between that and a COVID-19 vaccination? It would appear to me to be axiomatic that one needs to be vaccinated before exerting a patient-facing role in the NHS so where is the problem?

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Thursday, 25th February, 2021 [Day 346]

It was a beautiful day today and felt extremely ‘spring’ like – in fact, I think, the temperature at the moment is above the seasonal norm. This wonderful weather did not last for too long, though, as a huge black cloud soon intervened. Nonetheless, we were glad to get to the park and we resumed conversations with our friend from Birmingham University and another friend/acquaintance of his who is a dog walker but also very interested in all things to do with local history. We chatted until we all started to feel a little cold and, as we had been some time out of the sun, we all thought we had better strike for home. As this afternoon was quite bright and fair, I thought I had better give the car a wash as, with one thing or another, it had got missed for a week or so. As I washed the car, I thought there was a very fine film of something resembling dust but according to the weather forecast this evening, what we have actually experienced is a very fine layer of Saharan sand. Every so often when the weather conditions are right, we do get a thin layer of Saharan sand/dust which has whipped up high into the atmosphere by strong winds. The raindrops in the clouds acquire particles of dust and then they get deposited, the water evaporates and we are left with a very fine covering of sand which shows up on our cars (but it must be everywhere)

We have some interesting bits of family news. First of all, Meg’s cousins in Derbyshire have emailed us to indicate that as we all enjoyed the Zoom session last week, shall we have another one soon? We will probably settle for a fortnightly pattern from now on – our cousin had very kindly given us a link so that we can now view Amadeus (the famous film about Mozart) in English rather than in Spanish. So we might try that over the weekend. The other fantastic good bit of news we only got a few minutes ago. We have heard from Spain that our Spanish god-daughter has just won an Erasmus scholarship to come and study for a semester in the University of Gloucertshire (this is about 40 miles down the road) This means that we can see quite a lot of her (if she would like this) and, of course, there is a comfortable home to retreat to at the weekends. We are short on details at the moment but no doubt I will get a lot more once I have emailed our oldest Spanish friend to get all of the ‘inside’ information. I just hope the UK government is not going to do all kinds of daft things to make the lives of Erasmus students difficult (e.g. visas, enormous charges in case you ever need to use our NHS for any reason and so on) Of course, we should be able to do lots at this end just in case anything does go wrong and it needs a little sorting out.

After the complete mess-up last year over the ‘A’-level gradings, the education secretary has done a volte-fee and allowed the teachers to undertake their own assessments of their students – a massive degree of ‘grade inflation’ is being predicted. Even some of the pupils who are affected seem a little unsure as I think the more ‘streetwise’ among them realise that passing a public examination has a certain degree of credibility but a grade based upon teacher assessments might not be regarded so highly by future employers and the universities themselves. But when we were at school, we often used to pass our books to our next door neighbour in the classroom to be marked and then handed back again – would it be beyond the wit of schools to pair with a partner and to ‘mark’ each other’s work? I am sure this could be made to work fairly easily if a little bit of thought was applied to it.

An interesting question is emerging this evening. We know that the rate of vaccination is quite high across the whole of the UK and is now up to some 18.7 million. However, it does appear that in London and large cities such as Birmingham and Manchester the rates of vaccination are well behind the rest of the country. This is associated both with ethnicity and also with deprivation (as well as the interaction between the two). Why this is a source of concern for policy makers is that whilst the rates of vaccination increase for the rest of the country, we are, in effect, leaving behind ‘reservoirs’ of virus that could continue to infect the rest of the population. One solution to this problem is to create much more active ‘intervention’ strategies that would go and seek out those who need vaccination (using mobile clinics with a bus, more active use of community facilities such as pharmacies) and in this way help to avoid problems building up for the future.

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Wednesday, 24th February, 2021 [Day 345]

Today was a different kind of day and we knew that we were going to break our normal routine today. When we buy our Christmas tree, which we do from Webbs (famous garden store down the road), they give us a voucher which covers most of the cost of the tree. This voucher has to be used by the end of February and as it is worth £35.00 it is not to be sneezed at. The days of February are rapidly running out so it was a case of ‘use it or lose it’  So today Meg and I went down in the car to collect our newspapers and then headed straight for Webbs – once in the store, we replenished our supply of wild bird food (fat balls, peanuts and the like)and that was that. The catering facilities within Webbs were not open and there were warnings at the entrance to the store not to bring in your own food and drink. So we tracked backwards and went to our familiar haunts in Sanders Park where we drank our pre-prepred coffee and our snacks.

This afternoon, we made for lunch a huge curry (I always prepare too much but the remainder is always gratefully received by our domestic help when we see her on Friday) After this and a snooze, I thought I would tackle the on-line renewal of my driving licence. This proved to be remarkably straightforward so far as I can tell but it calls for the interrogation of three national data bases (DVLC, the National Insurance computer and the the Passport office) and, so far, the process seems to have gone as smoothly as I would have hoped. There is always a slightly ominous warning that ‘we have received your application and are checking that the supplied information is valid‘ or words to that effect and, all being well, I hope to have the new licence supplied within the week. Past the age of 70, your licence still needs to be renewed every three years and it does rely upon the integrity of the applicant e.g. to tick the box to say that you meet the eye-sight requirements. When I was last having my annual eye checkup, I asked our friendly optician (who we have known for years) what kind of checks were made once you had ‘ticked the box’  He thought that there none to speak of and we surmised between us that probably people lied about their eye-sight all over the country – which is slightly frightening when you think about it.

I have been been exploring some modern SSD external disk drives (Solid State Drives) wondering whether or not they might have a life of more than the five years associated with a typical HDD (Hard Disk Drive) – it is interesting that Apple seems to install SSDs by default in the computers it build these days. I have my eye on a particular Seagate drive which is offering a three year warranty (and a half-promise that if it fails Seagate will rescue information from it and return it to you!) and also some included software that means that every time you change or update a file on your main system the Seagate software will ‘mirror’ it (i.e. incrementally back it up) on the SSD which, given the speed at which they operate, I should imagine one scarcely notices. I am tempted but will do a little more research before I commit myself finally.

We got an email from our Spanish friend last night and she told us, that in common with both France and Germany, the Oxford/AstraZeneca i.e. UK developed vaccine was not being offered to anyone over the age of 55.  This ‘excess of caution’ or is it just xenophobia may be due to the fact that the initial trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine did not include many people over the age of 55 in its initial trials and therefore might be said to be ‘unproven’ . However, in the last day or so,  a study has been reported on the effects of the vaccines on ‘real’ populations and it shows the four weeks after vaccination, the Pfizer-BioNTech  cut the chances of going to hospital by up to 85% but in the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine, this was 94%. In other words, both vaccines have shown that when used in actual (i.e. not trial) populations, they have a fantastically beneficial effect at preventing serious illness. Even in Germany, the best selling newspaper of ‘Bild‘ is saying ‘Dear Britain – we envy you‘. It used figures from 21 February showing the UK had given 17.7 million people at least one vaccination, with Germany lagging behind on 3.4 million. “While the British are already planning their summer vacation, Germany is stuck in lockdown,” the newspaper added.  It seems to me that there a certain amount of ‘not-invented here’ syndrome evident when it comes to evaluating the various vaccines against each other!

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Tuesday, 23rd February, 2021 [Day 344]

It was quite a dull day today but the weather was quite mild so Meg and I walked down to collect our newspapers as usual. There I discussed with our newsagent the fact that we both owned Apple Macs and he told me that he had, at one stage, owned one of the very earliest MACs which he had actually given away. If you look on the web, you can see that vintage MACs are now a collector’s item and can be worth up to $1,000 each – or perhaps even more for a really early, vintage model. My newsagent told me that he thought that the MAC he had given away might now be worth thousands of dollars.

Having picked up our newspapers, we made our way to the park and there we coincided with our Birmingham University friend. We had a chuckle about colleagues that we had both experienced in the past who had proved to be irksome to us. I recalled one particular colleague who upon my return from the Complutense University in Madrid teaching Information Technology (in Spanish) to public administration students, informed me that he was ‘proud’ he could only speak English and no other language. Although we were a friendly and non-argumentative department, I did rather ‘express my displeasure at his attitude’ (and this is putting it mildly). But to put things into context, I only had one or two matters of really serious dispute in the whole of a teaching career and, in general, worked with a very amiable and professional set of colleagues in the two universities in which I worked.

Out of an idle curiosity, I thought I would look at the comparative merits and prices of hard disk drives (HDDs), solid state devices (SSDs) and memory cards in variety. Whilst I browsed for various items on Amazon and noted some prices, navigated away and then navigated back again, I noticed that one items I had been looking at had jumped from £80 to £100 in the space of a few seconds. I think this is an Amazon ‘ploy’ ultimately to extract a degree of profit as they might work on the principle that if you want something urgently you may be willing to pay a premium price for it. Anyway, I have come to no firm conclusions on this subject except that in my researches to examine which medium has the best storage properties, baked clay tablets that have lasted for thousands of years may have something to be said for them. But given the speed at which technology is advancing, can one be sure that the media one is using today will still be readable by a future generation in, say, 10-15 year’s time? The solution, I have discovered, is to think about a backup strategy rather than storage devices. A good backup strategy is to think of the 3-2-1 rule i.e.  ‘The 3-2-1 backup rule is an easy-to-remember acronym for a common approach to keeping your data safe in almost any failure scenario. The rule is: keep at least three (3) copies of your data, and store two (2) backup copies on different storage media, with one (1) of them located offsite.’ So I will continue to have thoughts and ruminations about all of this.

In the late afternoon, I caught up with my emails only to discover that a Hampshire friend was suggesting we Skype in 20 minutes time. Then I discovered there was an ominous ‘question mark’ over the Skype desktop icon which suggests that the newly updated operating system could not use the out-of-date application in my computer. So I quickly deleted it and then managed to reinstall a more up-to-date version which fortunately worked like a dream. So I Skyped my friend and we had an entertaining few minutes before we FaceTimed some of our other Bromsgrove friends as we have a regular arrangement each Tuesday afternoon. So all in all, about an hour and a half of non-stop ‘chatting’ via video technology.

There is an interesting political ‘brew’ developing this evening. The Tory party has firmly set its face against anything that sounds like a ‘vaccine passport’ which may well be demanded by airlines, other holiday destinations and so on.  But civil liberties organisations are alarmed about the project. “Vaccine passports would create the backbone of an oppressive digital ID system and could easily lead to a health apartheid that’s incompatible with a free and democratic country,” says Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch. “Digital IDs would lead to sensitive records spanning medical, work, travel, and biometric data about each and every one of us being held at the fingertips of authorities and state bureaucrats.”  Nonetheless, the idea is gaining a degree of traction and the government may well be approaching a volte-face on this issue. Already some of the technological and ethical issues are being explored within government and something akin to the old yellow card, more formally known as the International Certificate of Vaccination may well emerge. I can firmly predict, however, that the government will call it anything but ensure that the old ‘passport’ is never actually used!

 

 

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