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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Monday, 30th November, 2020 [Day 259]

We always knew this was going to be a busy day and so it proved. We started off in the outpatients department of our (very) local hospital where Meg was attending for an outpatient’s appointment – all masked up and hand-gelled up as you might imagine. After a fairly long and quite satisfactory appointment, Meg was prescribed some new medication with might prove to be efficacious.  Once we had concluded the outpatient appointment, Meg and I went to our little local newsagent where we sympathised with each other because we both had experienced computing difficulties in the past day. And so on to the park where we partook of our coffee on a blustery not particularly cold day. Fortunately, the park was much less busy than yesterday as you might expect on a dull autumn day. Then we jumped in the car and made our way to the Webb’s department store to collect our Christmas tree voucher (available only to club card holders). When we got to Webb the queues were absolutely horrendous and must have snaked over at least one hundred yards with crowd control barriers that one got used to at airports in the days when we used to fly. Fortunately one of the Marshalls indicated that those wishing to seek Customer Services (as we were) could bypass the queues for which we were truly grateful as otherwise we might have queued for an hour just to get in. So we eventually got our precious Christmas tree voucher and made for home. In the early afternoon, I decided I would make a trip out to the pharmacists in order to get Meg’s new medication prescribed. Whilst it was being dispensed, I took the opportunity for a quick ‘whiz’ around Asda to get one or two things that I know that Waitrose does not stock and a few things that are so much cheaper at Asda. Then I picked up Meg’s medication and made for home. In the early evening, my daughter-in-law and I made a tip to the afore-mentioned Webbs store  so that we could pick up our Christmas tree, as we always do. Normally, it takes us about 1 minute and 20 seconds to choose a tree but on this occasion, we did take two minutes and went seconds. Then we met with our next door neighbour (who happens to work in Webbs anyway) and she had very kindly arranged to transport our tree home. This was because both my daughter-in-law and myself have changed our cars in the past few months and as they are both shorter than the Honda CR-V we have used in the past, there as a severe doubt whether we could get the tree home by ourselves. (The problem does not occur in reverse because we chop up the tree into manageable ‘bits’ before we take it back to Webbs for recycling) So we got our tree home and it is now firmly in its stand but now ‘resting’ i.e. we are allowing its branches to settle a little before the act of decoration starts in earnest in a day or do. Although we do put some decorations around our living room and have our own little ‘fibre-optic’ Christmas tree, I have taken the view over the years that the fewer the decorations we use for adornment and the less elaborate is their deployment, then the easier it is to clear them all away on or before the traditional ‘Twelfth Night’.

The economic news tonight is that Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia retail empire has collapsed in the worst single corporate failure of the COVID-19 crisis to date, leaving 13,000 jobs hanging in the balance. Even though he was given his knighthood by Tony Blair, modern commentators are being far from kind to Sir Philip. The consensus view of him now is that he was not a natural retailer but he was very good at asset stripping. Apparently with many of his stores, he sold off the properties they occupied to a property management company domiciled overseas (where they paid hardly any tax) but under the control of Philip Green and his family.  The stores, meanwhile, had to pay rent for he premises they occupied which reduced their profitability (and the amount of tax they had to pay) but the net effect of all of this was to make Sir Philip Green obscenely wealthy. It is said that Sir Philip Green’s wife once was awarded a dividend payment in excess of one billion pounds (but I have yet to check on the veracity of this story)

 

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Sunday, 29th November, 2020 [Day 258]

I thought this blog was not going to appear tonight – or indeed ever again! When I tried to log on to my site, I got a system message to say that WordPress would not run on an out-of-date version of PHP (the programming language in which WordPress is written) and it needed to be updated. Whatever I did I got the same system message – to say I was distraught is an understatement. Not knowing that I do, I wrote a desperate email to my friendly web administrator in Canada from whom I rent the webspace. She suggested a solution which meant that I had to go into a special control panel (cPanel) and then access a specific program that would update every folder in my webspace. I did this with bated breath – and it worked! A heartfelt email went winging its way to Karina – how often do you get personal service like that? But I have rented webspace from her for about 15 years now and its on occasions like this that it is worth its weight in gold. And now to return to more mundane matters!

The day was dull and overcast so I went down and collected our newspapers by car before watching the Andrew Marr show (which is our default for a Sunday morning) Then we walked down to the park today and were a bit dismayed to find that it was absolutely teeming full – cars were parked on the nearby grass verges making a real mess of them as the car park was full to overflowing.  Another source of dismay that there seemed to be a feeling that the lockdown had already ended – there seemed to be hordes of people none of whom seem to be making the slightest attempt to socially distance. I wonder of there will be a big ‘spike’ in about a couple of weeks time as the virus has had a field day? As I remember it, the current lockdown was due to be announced on a Sunday but the newspapers had got wind of it. So Downing Street brought forward their announcement to the preceding Saturday and some people must have gone wild in pubs, clubs and whatever because about two weeks after this there was a massive surge in the infection rate. I sometimes wonder how uninformed and ‘lacking in intelligence’ some people must be given the warnings that are all over the place about the necessity to socially distance and so on. I suppose that people get inured to the constantly repeated messages and if they only catch the virus in a mild form or are unsymptomatic then they almost pretend that life must be back to normal.

Tomorrow is going to be quite a busy day for us what with one thing or another. First thing tomorrow morning, Meg and I are attending an outpatient clinic for Meg and this might take a certain amount of time – the appointment was made at quite short notice  and then we were phoned up with a list of questions to make sure that we were virus free. Then we will park the car and have our normal elevenses in the park before we go off to the Webb’s garden store to try to collect our Christmas tree voucher. Webb’s (a huge garden store with a national reputation) makes a special offer to its cardholders in that once you buy a tree at the normal price (which we always do) then most of the price is refunded in the form of vouchers in effect giving you the tree for nothing. We are doing that because in the evening my daughter-in-law and I are going to Webbs again to select our tree. Everything seems so much earlier this year – I have never started to think of Christmas decorations until December has actually arrived but there seem to be decorations going up all over the place. I wonder if people are so fed up the lockdown that they are desperate for almost anything to make life seem a little brighter in the meantime.

This afternoon we watched a rugby match (Ireland vs. Georgia) which you would have thought would have been one of the strongest teams against one of the weakest. As it turned out, the Georgians put into an extremely robust, not to say physical performance and performed very creditably against the Irish – so it turned out to be quite an entertaining match after all. Most of our TV viewing this evening got a little disrupted this evening as I was struggling with the WordPress technology.

There is a report this evening that Boris Johnson’s ‘concessions’ to some of the Tory rebels may backfire and instead of solving the problem may even fan the flames of rebellion. The cost-benefit analysis area by area is due to be published tomorrow but may well prove to be vague in the extreme. The vote itself is scheduled for Tuesday next so the next couple of days is going to be very interesting!

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Saturday, 28th November, 2020 [Day 257]

Today was a dull and gloomy day and so it stayed all day. Meg and I went to collect the newspapers in a semi-drizzle but fortunately for us, the rain had just about ceased by the time we came to sit on our park bench and have our customary coffee.  As the weather was so inclement, the park was denuded of its usual complement of mothers with young children and dog walkers – however, the joggers did not seem to be deterred and I suppose a modicum of rain might almost be both cooling and refreshing. We met with a friend of a friend and her husband who are evidently keen walkers and were not to be deterred – they had been to Hagley Hall ( a local 18th century stately home in the vicinity) the day before and enjoyed a good walk in the bright sunshine until the fog descended later in the day. This afternoon after our lunch we prepared to watch the England v. Wales rugby match which was broadcast on Amazon Prime. Fortunately for us, the reception as good enough for us to enjoy the match although we got the occasional drop-out and buffering factor (as Amazon Prime is delivered over the internet rather than through the airways as such) The England team powered their way to a place in the finals next week in what was an effective but not particularly pretty match to watch. The Welsh put up stout resistance playing in Llanelli but were eventually overhauled and could not prosper even in their home country. Of course, without a crowd, there is no home encouragement as such. To follow this match, we again tuned into Amazon Prime to watch the France-Italy match. The Italians started well and bravely against the French and even scored the first try but eventually, they were completely overhauled and lost the match by a large margin. In the interval, I amused myself (!) by trying on the four pairs of shirts we have recently acquired from a well-known shirtmaker who has a wonderful range of cotton, non-iron shirts (we don’t believe in ironing in our house!) These all fitted perfectly as we knew they would – we particularly appreciate the little metal stiffeners with which they equip their shirt collars to keep them looking straight and not ‘dog-eared’ looking.

The Tory party seems to be in absolute disarray, not to say open revolt this evening, after the publication of the new ‘Tier’ rules to which we are going to be subject once the lockdown ends on Wednesday next. It seems that the Tory MPs who have constituencies in the South of the country or in areas that are largely rural or where the incidence of the virus appears to be low are in open revolt, including even the Chairman of the 1922 committee (a committee that is supposed to represent the interests of ‘ordinary’ backbenchers – i.e. not on the ministerial payroll) and will they will probably vote against their own government in the vote next Tuesday evening. Boris Johnson appears to be back-peddling for all he is worth with promises to end the new rules early, to promise a review within two weeks and goodness knows what else as he is an absolute panic mode) It is a strange situation to be in where the only real opposition to the government comes from its ‘own’ MPs and not from the opposition parties (e.g. the Labour Party) who have yet to determine whether they are going to support the government or to abstain. If the Opposition were to deploy an interesting strategy, they could always vote with the government to ensure that the ‘Tier’ rules were approved – and then taunt the government by constantly telling Boris Johnson that he can only get his legislation passed because the Labout opposition has come to his assistance. This might drive an absolute wedge in the split between Boris Johnson and the rest of his parliamentary party – and will probably lead to his demise within a matter of months if not weeks. My own personal view is that once Brexit is ‘done’ in some kind of weird way e.g. a ‘deal’ which is so thin that it is actually more like a ‘hard’ or ‘no-deal’ Brexit than anything else and the vaccine appears to be alleviating the worse of the pandemic, then the Tory Party will ditch Boris at the first opportunity and get another leade who might prove to be a more suitable and adept Prime Minister (like Rishi Sunak?) to help to lead them out of the mire. I have just a final thought on this – to the casual observer is does appear that the protesting Tory MPs would not mind seeing the NHS overwhelmed and thousands of people dying so long as their own business interests were satisfied. Michael Gove has apparently been arguing that the NHS will be overwhelmed unless the new ‘Tier’ rules are adopted but large sections of the Tory party either choose not to believe him (‘crying wolf’) or else do not even care (which is probably worse)

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Friday, 27th November, 2020 [Day 256]

Today turned out to be quite a fine and bright day, although it was pretty cold at the start. We are evidently in the midst of a high-pressure weather system at the moment and so enjoying the reasonable weather whilst we can. Today was the day when our domestic help arrives and we always have a good chat and a laugh about life’s vicissitudes before we start our morning walk. We met with two of our sets of friends today and enjoyed a chat on their drive – which actually passed quite a lot of the morning away. And so to home and to a risotto made according to my newly developed recipe (cauliflower rice, kipper fillets) which is turning out to be a Friday favourite. This afternoon, after lunch, I decided to have a second brisk walk into Bromsgrove on my own this time. I wanted to buy some cleaning materials and hardware type items that never quite make it onto our weekly Waitrose order – I am always amazed at the bits and bobs of things that you suddenly find you need (mainly cleaning materials) and I ended up buying and lugging home a large bag full of the kinds of things it is always incredibly frustrating to run out of. For example, I always like to have a supply of sponge cloths available to cope with a sudden spillage or other emergency and these start  a progression down the cleaning order (ready used get relegated to car cleaning before their eventual demise) Several large parcels arrived including some shirts and other Amazon deliveries to keep us well supplied. I try to avoid Amazon when I can largely for ethical reasons and they are not always the cheapest – but they do tend to be the fastest and with ‘free’ delivery (via Amazon ‘Prime’)  

The COVID-19 virus is causing myriad controversies. The Sage group are advising that the Christmas celebrations could cause the incidence of virus to increase ‘by  a large amount’. Last night at the Prime Ministerial briefing, Chris Whitty the Government’s chief medical officer said ‘Don’t hug grandma if you want her to survive Christmas‘. So there seems to be an indication that if we do collectively relax our guard a little (for quite understandable reasons) there will quite a price to pay in the New Year. The difficulty is that this is just the period of time when hospitals naturally experience a lot of pressure with ‘normal’ respiratory conditions that require hospital treatment. So this does place most people with real Christmas dilemmas – do we engage in something that approximates to a ‘normal’ Christmas with relatives or do we attempt to soldier on for a few more weeks, knowing the end (via a vaccine) may be within our sight?

The Americans are facing quite an acute dilemma at the moment as they are trying to negotiate how to celebrate Thanskgiving (which is when many American families traditionally get together) with a pandemic that is still wreaking a terrible toll. The incidence rate is approaching 13.5 million and another 8 million have apparently had the virus and recovered. The death toll is 270,000 (more than a quarter of a million) and it could be that if the situation approximates to that of the UK, then this figure may almost double once we take into account the number of people who may have died prematurely because they could not be availed of suitable treatment when resources are diverted to cope with COVID-19 cases. I did read a terrible ‘Vox pop’ account about a week ago where some people who were dying of the virus had so swallowed the Donald Trump line about ‘false news’ that they refused to believe that they were actually dying of the virus – they thought they were dying of pneumonia. There is a conspiracy theory of which the majority of Americans have heard that powerful people actually planned the coronavirus – 5% of people think this is definitely true whilst another 20% believe it is probably true. If we were to stratify the responses by educational level, then approximately half of the American sample (educated only with a high school education i.e. without any form of higher education) believe that this conspiracy theory  is definitely or probably true. Of course, this section of the population formed the bedrock of support for the Donald Trump vote so beliefs in the virus have helped to form a chasm in American society similar to that formed by Brexit in the UK.

Donald Trump has finally admitted that he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden (which they will) But he explains that it is hard for him to concede because ‘we know that was massive fraud’ Of course, we do not know whether Trump is so deluded that he believes his own propaganda or whether it is all part of a massive game to keep his support base as high as possible.

 

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Thursday, 26th November, 2020 [Day 255]

Today started off with a rolling ground frost (as predicted in the weather forecasts) but this fog and frost was gradually burnt off and it turned out to be rather a nice day with clear blue skies nd a pale winter sunshine when not in the shade. Today was the first day in which our Waitrose order was due to be delivered in a morning slot (and it was, at 8.30am) so the day get off to a good start. We are making some very tentative plans to see if we can venture a bit further afield in about a week’s time to visit a much larger Waitrose store upon the outskirts of Worcester when there are ought to be plenty of choice for us to buy some Christmas food and drink.

Today was the day on which the new ‘Tiers’ were announced that would take over once lockdown is completed on December 2nd. It seems that Tier 1 is going to be used for areas of the country where the incidence of the virus is already very low (Cornwall, the Scilly Isles and so on) Tier 2 is going to be the ‘default’ position for most of the country (including us here in Bromsgrove) whilst Tier 3 is reserved for Birmingham and the West Midlands, the Manchester region and much of the North East. The overall situation is that most people will be covered by Tier 2 which is more stringent than the Tier 1 to which they had become accustomed. Some members of the Tory party are expressing extreme disquiet at the stringency of the new provisions and may rebel when there is a vote in Parliament next Tuesday. They are demanding a full cost-benefit analysis for their constituencies which is felt particularly acutely in these areas of the country here you have large centres of the population (where the virus rates tend to be high) surrounded by a large rural hinterland (where the rates of virus tend to be low) The government evidently has some kind of algorithm as to how allocate areas into the appropriate tiers. Factors that are taken into account are these: the use detection rate (particularly in the over 60s); how quickly rates are rising or falling; ‘positivity’ in the general population; pressure on the local NHS and finally, the local context and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak.

There is quite a lot of discontent being expressed in the media tonight. Local businesses in the hospitality business who have just moved into Tier 2 feel very hard done by as do those areas in which there is a large discrepancy between urban and rural areas caught up into the same Tier. The government had promised to review the situation after a fortnight’s operation – but one does have the feeling that once you in a Tier (similar to being allocated to a class in a streamed secondary school?) then getting out of it may be incredibly difficult and the situation may not be resolved until the arrival of Easter and/or the vaccine. Evidently, a lot of businesses in the hospitality industries cannot survive this lack of footfall and subsequent income.

There is news from the Brexit front line, courtesy of Sky News. The government have set up a series of portacabins at which they attempt to show drivers arriving in the UK the complexities of a post-Brexit life. Until now, all they had to do was to wave a passport at the border staff – now they have to complete a customs declaration giving details of all of the goods that they are transporting. Many of the drivers have only a minimal command of English – so border staff are attempting to help with the aid of Google ‘Translate’ In addition, the app which they are supposed to be using does not even work yet. In total, this new pile of red tape will run to 270 million customs declarations a year, and, in practice, responsibility will fall to hauliers and drivers, 3.5 million of whom cross the short Channel straits into Kent, largely through Dover, every year. The Brexit talks are absolutely on a knife-edge. French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to scupper any Brexit deal that ‘sacrifices’ French fishermen, as he continues to stand in the way of Brexit talks reaching a breakthrough. He is said to be concerned that 20 percent of French fishermen risk losing their jobs if quotas are drastically reduced if the EU does not have the same access to UK waters after the transition period. French fishermen have also threatened to blockade lorries carrying Britain’s catch, as most of the fish and seafood caught by British fishermen is exported, with three-quarters of it going to the EU. As we have said often before – you couldn’t make it up!

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Wednesday, 25th November, 2020 [Day 254]

Today looked as though it was going to turn out to be a miserable day but we were a bit delayed in our walk down into town. I was awaiting a telephone call from my local GP surgery to discuss the results of some blood tests – what should have taken place at 9.30 eventually took place at 10.40 after some prompting. So this delayed me somewhat and then I had to update my Waitrose order which I always do the day before the order is due to be delivered. We are now onto a regime where if I can time the advance order correctly, I can get a delivery slot between 8.00am-9.00am two weeks later which is our ideal. I do have to remember to get the order in at just the right time but that is how people who use the system regularly have learnt how to use the online system effectively. So by the time we started to walk down to the park, the weather had cleared somewhat and it turned out to be quite a nice day.In the park, we met with our old and dear Italian friend who often seems to ‘take a turn’ in the park these days and had one of those interesting conversations that range over life, birth and death. As we walked home together, we helped to cement the relationships between two of our sets of friends and for whom we are the common factor – as it happened, they had some acquaintances in common. I think I have pointed out months ago a theoretical notion that one of our tutors at university (Professor Ronald Frankenberg) had espoused that one index  of community is the density and interconnectedness of the social network – hardly a completely revolutionary notion in itself but one that is capable of a degree of mathematical measurement. The telecommunication and railway engineers are well aware of this aspect of networks – which can be made more robust if you can route a telephone call (or a train) though a verity of routeways to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ if one of the legs of the network happens to get taken down. This incidentally, was also publicised in a book I read about the haphazard nature of the way in which the railway system as developed in the UK – if the Nazi invasion of Britain had ever taken place, then it would have been quite difficult to disable the railway network because those ‘in the know’ could always route a train through ‘Little Puddleton-on-the Marsh’ (a factitious nameplace) in the event of a link broken somewhere on the system.

This afternoon, after our traditional curry lunch for a Wednesday, Meg and I got to work with a variety of domestic tasks. Meg was mending one of her kilts (well worth the investment in time and effort given what useful garments they turn out to be the autumn and winter) whilst I ordered a supply of new clothes (mainly shirts) over the internet as we have not bought any new clothes since the start of the lockdown some eight months ago. 

The political news today has been dominated by the spending review (a sort of mini-budget) given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The official figures have revealed that the depth of the recession facing the UK. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects GDP to decline by 11.3% this year, the biggest drop in annual output since the Great Frost of 1709, Europe’s coldest winter in 500 years that caused widespread death and destruction to agriculture. Added to this, and now public acknowledged in some forecasts, is that the results Brexit, dire in themselves, may be added to the effects of the pandemic and a ‘normal’ ‘flu epidemic to produce a crisis of almost epic proportions in which social order my well break down. In The Guardian today, there is a photograph of a huge queue of lorries, five miles in length, on the M20 motorway in Kent – all a result of the delays occasioned by the French trying out some new software that may well be needed whether or not there is a Brexit deal. The government last month apparently gave a warning that could be queues of some 7,000 vehicles on the main motorway routes to the Eurotunnel and Dover ferries before you reach for your calculators – if each lorry is twice the length of a car and they are separated by one one yard, then 7,000 lorries  would occupy some 28 miles of road. (These incidentally, are the government’s own assessments of the ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’)  This might impel negotiators of the UK side to seek some kind of deal as Brexit on top of all of other worries would only be throwing petrol onto an already blazing bonfire. And finally, today is the day when Diego Maradonna (one of the greatest footballers of all time) drew his last breath – at the age of 60.

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Tuesday, 24th November, 2020 [Day 253]

The month of November has just flown by and it seems incredible that we are only a week away from the end of the month and eight days before the end of the lockdown. The rules have just been announced for how as a society we will ‘celebrate’ (if that is the right word) Christmas this year. It seems that we shall be allowed to form a temporary three-household Christmas ‘bubble’ from 23rd-27th September which by my reckoning is the Wednesday of Christmas week until the Sunday, with Christmas Day itself being on the Friday. I can foresee that there may well be some problems how people are to interpret and behave in accordance with the new regulations. It is being pointed out the the coronavirus does not know it is Christmas and it is probable that we have to deal with a spike of infections in January as the increased social interactions will have given the virus more time to spread.

Today was a bit of grey and overcast day but it did not threaten any rain so we managed to collect our newspapers and enjoy our perambulation in the park as per usual. As well as the normal supply of ducks we also enjoy the presence of  flock of gulls, except I am not sure which actual breed of gull it is (not a ‘seagull’ in any case) I counted up to forty of this morning and no doubt they feed on the bread which is often brought along (contrary to the advice given by the park officials) to feed the wildlife in the area. 

We met with our Italian friend on the way down to the park this morning. She, quite rightly, takes all of the precautions advise to deal with the pandemic very seriously but it was interesting to know that she is in regular contact with members of her extended family in Italy and none of them, to my knowledge, have succumbed to the virus. In the late afternoon, I went through my ‘stepper’ routine which I am now resolved to do regularly and then we FaceTimed some of our ex-Waitrose friends. They have been through the wars a little, medically speaking, but had some good news to tell us. As they are in the category of ‘clinically extremely vulnerable groups’ then they were finding it difficult to get out and receive their routine ‘flu jab. However their medical practice had realised that according to the policy of rigid shielding they both had difficulties getting out to the surgery for their ‘flu jabs. However, the practice nurse had come to their house (well, a window actually) and had administered the ‘flu jabs to them both. In addition, she conveyed the news that the army was due to deliver supplies of the new Oxford University/AstraZenica vaccine as soon as it has received approval  and they were in the highest priority group to receive the vaccine perhaps even well before Christmas. Whether this is possible or not I really could not say but our friends were delighted to discern a light at the end of the tunnel and were looking forward when they could get out and have a bit of fresh air and a change of scene.

In the US, the General Services Administration has declared president-elect Joe Biden the apparent winner of the US election, clearing the way for the formal transition from Donald Trump’s administration to begin after weeks of delay. The GSA said on Monday that it had determined that Biden was the winner of the 3 November race after weeks of Trump refusing to concede and violating the traditions of the transition of power at the White House. So whilst Donald Trump has not (and probably never will) concede that he has lost the election, he has at least authorised the executive of the General Services Administration to release funding which will allow for the orderly transition of power to Joe Biden. A key date will come in a few days time on December 14th when the Electoral College will meet – and formally cast the states allocation of votes according to the winner in each state. As the situation stands at the moment, Joe Biden has 306 of these votes and Donald Trump 232 – evidently, in a very close election, the winner of the election is the candidate who gets to 270 votes out of a total of 538 Electoral College votes. Sometimes, some individual electors do not vote the way they have been mandated by the popular vote in the state but we shall have to wait and see if there are any such shenanigans this year.

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Monday, 23rd November, 2020 [Day 252]

Well, it’s the start of another week. This morning it was dry and cold with quite a heavy fog when we awoke – as the morning developed and the day warmed up, so the mist intensified somewhat.  We collected our newspapers knowing that they could be full of details of the post-lockdown arrangements which are to be announced formally sometime today. Our stay in the park was uneventful but we were fortunate on the way home to bump into both of our sets of friends who live down at the bottom of the hill. We made some tentative plans to have a Christmas ‘get-together’ for the four of us on the Monday after Christmas if the regulations then in force permit this. I sent off a quick email to my Pilates teacher to see if our class is resuming and she is going to get back to me on this – however, it seems that there is a relaxation of gym membership over the whole of the country on December 3rd. Talking of gyms and gym membership, I decided to weigh myself morning and was a bit horrified to have put on a few more pounds than I would like. So this afternoon, I started again on my ‘Stepper’ regime (a ‘stepper’ is like a small bench incredibly useful for exercise purposes) I have a favourite video of a routine demonstrated by a very vivacious but quite sensible young American lady who puts me through a series of routines, each only lasting a minute with a 10-second pause between each exercise. The whole routine takes about 10-15 minutes altogether and, to make sure I am in the correct frame of mind, I always change into my ‘tracksuit bottoms’ much as I would if I were actually doing a Pilates routine. The trick, as always with any weight-reduction routine, is to notch down one’s calorific intake a little (but not too much as the body goes Into ‘starvation mode’ and your metabolic rate lowers, thus increasing your weight in your attempt to reduce it). So a slight reduction in calorific intake coupled with a bit of exercise enough to raise your metabolic rate should be just about enough to lose about 1.0-1.5 lbs a week which out to be ideal. In a week’s time, I will report on my progress (or lack of it).

The really big news which hit the news bulletins this morning is that the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca seems to have an efficacy rate of 70% – or even a rate of 90% if the immune system is (counter-intuitively) primed by a half-doe followed by a full dose some four weeks later. The government is mega-excited about this for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the vaccine seems cheap to produce (about the price of a cup of coffee). Secondly, it can be stored at normal ‘fridge’ temperatures making it readily accessible. But thirdly, and most importantly, the Government has an option to obtain 100 million doses of the vaccine which should be enough for most the UK population. It is hoped that the those who need the vaccine the most (NHS front-line staff, those with especially compromised immune systems) should be vaccinated by Easter of next year. So truly, the end may be in sight. However, I refuse to be swept away in a wave of excitement as (a) there are still quite a lot of safety and regulatory hurdles yet to overcome and (b) we need to use the vaccine alongside more traditional safeguards such as social distancing, facemasks and hand washing. But one has to say that it is a tribute to the hard scientific work that has been done that not one but three vaccines have all appeared at once. The Russians have their own version of a vaccine as do the Chinese but one wonders what degree of rigorous testing has been undertaken compared with the protocols which we have experienced in the West.

Christmas, to which we are all no doubt looking forward, is going to seem very strange this year. On the one hand, there is a feeling of slight anticipation even though the opportunities for social intercourse and for Christmas meals will be limited. Nonetheless, the members of our immediate family will have a Christmas meal and we are making tentative plans for a Christmas tree and other festivities. Yet, on the other hand, I have a feeling that I want to get Christmas over and done with – the days will be getting longer by about a minute or so a day and there is always the spirit of optimism that the New Year will bring. I did float an idea that we should all cancel Christmas and celebrate it on June 21st – the Australians are used to having Christmas in full summer after all.

 

 

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Sunday, 22nd November, 2020 [Day 251]

Today is what is popularly known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’. To any people, particularly those living in more rural communities, this is the day traditionally when people started to make their Christmas puddings, giving them plenty of time to be baked and then mature with liqueur before Christmas Day. It used to be the the tradition in some households that grandchildren used to help their grandmothers (typically) prepare the cake – sometimes, small coins (such as a silver 6d was included in the mixture). But the words ‘stir up’ actually relate to a much older tradition – the Collect for this particular Sunday used the words ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people‘  but the words themselves got a little displaced sideways to refer to culinary rather than theological, activities. I dare say that many of these old customs and traditions are dying out but there must be some elderly members of the community who remember them. Before I went down on my walk this morning, I listened to the radio station ‘ClassicFM‘ and heard the classic recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto by Jacqueline Du Pré who career was tragically cut short by MS at the age of 28. She was only 20 years of age at the time she made the classic recording – and is still regarded by many as one of the greatest cellists of all time. Listening to the recording and contemplating why it was so distinctive, it occurred to me that it was the exquisite timing of her phrasing – she seemed to pause for about a fifth of a second before entering each phrase and this gives an additional poignancy to her rendition. In fact, many followers of classical music will listen to a cello recording and say ‘That was the Jacqueline Du Pré recording‘ and as it was made in 1965, it had certainly stood the test of time being recorded more than half a century ago.

I collected our newspapers early as I tend to do on a Sunday and made contact again with my friendly Asian newsagent with whom I hd exchanged web addresses last week. His style of cooking seemed to evoke great admiration both in California and in London and I resolved to see if I could try and sample some of the style of his cuisine when (if?) I ever get to London again. In the meanwhile, he had read some of these blog entries and quite enjoyed them. After we had a pleasant stay in the park we walked home meeting nobody in particular (the Sunday ‘crowd’ in the park does differ quite a lot from the people we meet during the week – after all, the weekends do have a somewhat different rhythm to the weekdays). After a chicken dinner (prepared in the style of what I think is sometimes called ‘Spanish chicken’  – onions, peppers and tomatoes fried off and then added to a white lasagne sauce and baked in the oven for an hour) served with broccoli. Delicious, even though I say it myself. Then in the afternoon, we watched the France-Scotland rugby match where e had anticipated that the French would overwhelm the Scots – it was actually quite a hard-fought much with the scores level at half time but the French eventually prevailed as we thought was inevitable.

I have read in the Sunday newspapers from a usual well-informed source (Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times) that the days of Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, may well be numbered. The word ‘on the street’ appears to be that Boris Johnson has protected her ‘for now’ and to avoid giving the impression that he is bowing to Labour pressure. But come the reshuffle of the government, scheduled for early in the New Year, after Brexit is finally done and vaccines my be in sight to deal with the coronavirus then Priti Patel might be shuffled sideways to become the Chairman of the Conservative party (i.e. concerned with party organisation) as she is already the darling of the Conservative faithful. What is especially interesting is the notion being put about that she is moved because she is not particularly competent in her role. Perhaps if she was, she could resort to intellect rather than having to shout obscenities to her staff – to my mind, this is an indication that she is surely out of her depth. One of her university professors has opined that her MA at the University of Kent was so bad that he practically had to write it for her!

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Saturday, 21st November, 2020 [Day 250]

As today is ‘Day 250’ since I started this blog, it feels like some kind of anniversary – but of course it isn’t. We did have a more pleasant and milder date than of late, so although there was a cooling wind we enjoyed our customary walk to the newspaper shop and the park. On the way down, we had quite a long chat with one of our closest sets of friends who espied us through her window and came out to greet us. Our pleasure was only increased when we encountered some more of our friends who were brave enough be outside doing a bit of autumn maintenance. We spent some time discussing what we thought might be the arrangements for more ‘normal living once this period of lockdown finishes on 2nd December. In particular, we were speculating whether the churches would be allowed to open in the post-lockdown period and what the arrangements might be for the various Christmas services which will be held, all being well, on Christmas Eve. We did rather go down memory lane and exchanged reminiscences of the student parties we used to enjoy in the 1960’s. This was the era before nightclubs so we all had to make our own entertainment. The ideal party lasted for about 12 hours (7.30pm to 7.30 am) and generally consisted of three elements. The first of these was a certain degree of drinking, sometimes with food if we wanted to be posh and to have a ‘wine AND cheese’ party. The stable musical entertainment were Beatles and Stone records played on something like a Decca Dansette record player (remember that Radio Caroline only started broadcasting in March, 1964 and we were at university in 1965 – out of the range of Radio Caroline anyway) The second phase of the party was when a certain pairing off ensued – generally couples sank to the floor and canoodled in the semi darkness for as long as was deemed necessary. The third and most enjoyable part of the proceedings started at about 3.30 in the morning when we would sit round in a circle on the floor and argue about the meaning of life, political and moral questions of the day and so on. We generally had a dim of view of engineers (if, for example, you looked in the Yellow pages of a telephone directory and looked at ‘Engineers’ there was a cross-reference to ‘Boring’). Medics, although well qualified in terms of their ‘A’-levels never got beyond their comfort zone. We seemed to have some of the most stimulating conversations with people studying Law, Geography, Town Planning, Psychology – on occasions I even attended some of their lectures out of interest!)Then you would wander home at about 7.30 in the morning with all of your physical, emotional and intellectual needs fulfilled (well, not completely fulfilled but you get my drift)

This afternoon, we watched a highly entertaining rugby match between England and Ireland which I had anticipated that the Irish would win – in the event, the England team steamrollered their way past the Irish who only made a score late on the game. We had intended to follow this up with watching the Wales-Georgia match but for whatever technical reason we could not get Amazon Prime to deliver us the video of the match today although we were successful last week.

The Priti Patel row is still rumbling on, despite Boris Johnson wanting to draw a line under the matter. There re several issues that are rearing their ugly heads. The first of these is that Boris Johnson had on two occasions asked the author of the report to ‘tone down’  his conclusions but had met with a refusal. In addition, opposition politicians are expressing outrage that the home secretary’s apology was for the upset caused, rather than the behaviour itself. There are also calls for the full report to be published rather than an edited summary of it – this might happen as a result of pressure from a Select Committee which is going to investigate the matter or even have to be produced as evidence in an Industrial Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal. If this continues to run and run, then as well as Priti Patel being damaged, the role of the Prime Minister in over-riding the decision of his own ‘independent’ report looks distinctly sleazy. Ultimately, of course, along as Priti Patel remains the darling of the Tory right wing and the ardent Brexiteers (i.e. nearly all of the newly constituted Tory party since Boris Johnson/Dominic Cummings organised the departure of modern voices such as Ken Clark, Philip Hammond, David  Gauke- one could go on and on) then Priti Patel will be safe.

 

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