Friday, 31st July, 2020 [Day 137]

And so for the hottest day of the year – it was certainly very warm as we strolled down to the park this morning but gradually got more glowering, overcast and humid as the day progressed (a thunderstorm would have been excellent but one was forecast only in the East). We always like to engage people in conversation in the park. not least the local authority workers who have to maintain it. Today, one of these workers had the unenviable job of emptying all of the ‘parcels’ of dog excrement that are put in special bins throughout the park. Notwithstanding all of this, we mutually sympathised with each about the trio of noisy teenagers who occupied a park bench and played execrable music at maximum volume before becoming bored and wandering off. We eventually got into a conversation about ‘Henry’ our resident heron with a club foot who still manages to sustain himself with presumably some kind of small fish who populate the pond and then we roamed over the kinds of animals we had all kept in our youth (this ranged from hamsters to rabbits to pigeons to ferrets) Without romanticising these categories of workers, I have often wondered how many people pass them by without a word of appreciation of how hard they work to keep the park pristine for us to enjoy.

As it was a Friday, it was ‘lawn mowing’ day and although I have a break in between the public communal areas (twice as large as our own formal garden) and our own formal garden, the humidity made the task not particularly pleasant. However, I did ensure that critical trees, plants and tubs received a good ration of water both first thing in the morning and also later on in the evening. I also had a chance to inspect some of the cuttings I had been trying to root and about 50% of them seem to have put down roots but I cannot necessarily identify what these cuttings are from (as I collected them from a walk down to Bromsgrove one Sunday morning some weeks ago) I was also pleasantly surprised to see that although my plum trees seem to have failed to produce any plums this year (unlike last year), the very aged damson trees at the end of the garden seem to be laden and producing fruit about a month earlier than they should. I am resisting the temptation to pick all of the fruit now but need to keep a careful eye on it so that it doesn’t get shed in any violent thunderstorms that might occur later in the year. The damsons get immediately processed and made into damson gin and then distributed to friends, families and anyone else I can think of!

The latest news on the ‘pause’ of the easing of the lockdown is disturbing, to put it mildly. As England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, speaking at the prime minister’s briefing on Friday, warned the data showed ‘we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society‘.He said it could mean ‘if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things…The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong‘. Well, it could hardly be clearer than that. It is also interesting to note that other councils are considering following the lead of Sandwell and are considering introducing their own ‘trace-and-test’ regime because the service provided by Serco (the national scheme) clearly does not fit their needs and they have the best local knowledge (and the languages) to know what is going on in their own local areas.

Finally, a document released by Sage tonight is interesting (or frightening, depending upon your point of view). A document reveals that serious public disorder could “overwhelm all attempts” to control the coronavirus and “catastrophically” undermine the government’s recovery plans, scientists advising ministers have warned.

A paper written by a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) sub-committee, and considered by SAGE itself on 2 July, said the current “volatile and highly complex situation” means Britain will face “grave challenges” in keeping public order during the COVID-19 pandemic. Any disorder could be “comparable or bigger in scale” than the 2011 London riots, the scientists warned, with military support likely to be required. And extreme right-wing groups are mobilising as never before. You read it here first!

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Thursday, 30th July, 2020 [Day 136]

A good fine day, today, as befits late July and there are promises that tomorrow may well be the hottest day of the summer. We had hoped that some of our friends might join us for tea in the garden late on in the afternoon but as it turned out they were both busy with other domestic commitments. As we were due to have a pest control firm to deal with our wasp’s nest we were felt that all had probably turned out for the best. In the morning before our walk, I busied myself getting the Waitrose order updated ready for delivery first thing in the morning. In order to do this, I have to mentally walk around the supermarket I used to frequent before the lockdown and then update my list accordingly. The Waitrose pattern involves selecting a slot done 12-14 days ahead, populating a shopping basket with a previous order and then updating it the day before it is due to be delivered. This might sound a little quirky but it seems to be the way that the regular customers get the best out of the system. After this, Meg and I enjoyed our normal walk to the park, only a little disconcerted that we met none of our usual friends and acquaintances for a chat. Once we got home. we acted on a text I had received from my Pilates teacher for classes to resume on 1st September. I was fortunate, I feel, to be one of the four enrolled in the face-to-face class (there were previously eight in our class) and the rest of the class will participate with us doing the exercises but via Zoom. How this is going to work, we shall have to wait and see – I had already taken the precaution of buying my own Pilates mat to take along with me.

It is that time, which comes round every three years when we are due to change our car. To be honest, we are not great car-enthusiasts, only wanting something that is ultra-reliable, gives us enough space for shopping and suitcases when we go on holiday (what is that?) and is easy to park. We are going to go for a Honda again as we have been more than satisfied with the Honda we have had for the last three years but we are going to go for a slightly different model because I particularly want a manual gearbox. I need to explain that I have never driven an automatic in my life and I do not intend to start now. Anyway, we have made an appointment for a test drive and have made an appointment to see one next Wednesday, so we will have to wait and see. We do not anticipate that we need to change until November (our changeover date) so we are getting things organised now in case we have to wait for our preferred colour which is sometimes the case. Enough of cars – except the YouTube reviews make them all sound wonderful but I am sure that there must be some quirks that are not to one’s liking.

In the late afternoon, our pest control man came round and did his stuff as we expected. This basically means that some extra strength powder is squirted from the end of a long lance into the wasp’s nest and the worker wasps get asphyxiated and then basically die as they do not want to enter the nest and so there is no work for them to do (so it was explained to us) If all is not well at the end of a week, then the firm will come to give a final fatal ‘puff’.

Boris Johnson had previously intimated that there 30 areas in the country where the virus was ‘bubbling up’. Tonight we learn that the whole of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and some parts of West Yorkshire are in a semi-lockdown – people are being forbidden to meet in groups in each other’s houses. Whether this applies to parks and other open spaces, is uncertain. These measures are designed to combat a sudden rise to 846 new cases (the highest total for a month) and a sure sign that the virus is still out there in the community but I am sure the vast majority of the population will be confused by the absence of any particularly clear message or guidance this evening.




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Wednesday, 29th July, 2020 [Day 135]

Today was a somewhat cloudy and blustery sort of day but with enough sunshine to make our walk pleasant and with the promise of more sunshine to come (although it did not quite materialise) We are hopeful of better weather tomorrow because we are hoping that some friends may be able to call around so that we can have a pleasant afternoon tea in the garden. We have been waiting for some better weather for some time now before we could have friends around but we need to make sure that we have a few sunny days in a row to ensure that we do not get rained off. In the late morning, we discovered that we appear to have an infestation of a wasp’s nest in the eaves of one of our dormer windows. As it happens, our next-door neighbour has just had to deal with a similar infestation and had negotiated a good price with a local company. So we got onto them and arranged for a visit sometime tomorrow. As this has happened a few years ago we know what to expect. An industrial strength pesticide will be inserted by a long lance into the wasp nest site and then they receive a blast which should put paid to them. Most of these firms work in the same way because the infestation might not be completely killed off (the oldest die but the younger and fitter ones survive – sounds familiar from somewhere) Generally the firm will come back within the quoted price to finish off the job if all is not clear after a fortnight. So we shall await our phone call tomorrow and see what happens.

There are a few interesting political stories that are springing to the fore this evening.  One of these, as reported by Sky News, is that No. 10 (Downing Street) is looking for a new spokesperson to smash the system of the lobby (a cabal-type group of accredited journalists who get privileged information on the condition that they do not disclose the exact source) The Sky news ‘take’ on this is that for a salary in excess of £100k the appointed figure will soon become a controversial and much-lampooned figure. If we look over the pond to see the variety of Press spokesman deployed by President Trump, they invariably leave because they find the demands of defending the indefensible, or the quasi-lying that they have to undertake quickly proves too much for them – unless they are already an outstanding political journalist, which is very unlikely. It goes without saying that they would have to be an ardent Brexiteer!

The second story is that a local council (Sandwell in the West Midlands) has got such little faith in the central government’s test-and-trace regime that they are actually setting up their own, independent of the centre. One has to say that at the very least, they will ‘know their own patch’; and will also have access to the prominent languages (other than English) which are present in the area. I would imagine that they can only be more successful than the Serco, sub-contracted, call-centre staffed outfits can possibly hope to be.

The third story is one that I heard on Radio 4 this morning – it was an interview with the European director of the World Health Organisation who was arguing, along with many others, that we are not so much dealing with a second wave of the pandemic as the dying members of the first wave, only to be predicted when the lockdown is eased. The analogy that I have in my mind is that once a major forest fire is brought under control, there are always a lot of little ‘brush fires’ along the perimeters of the original conflagration that have to be dealt with. Such is what I think we are actually seeing.

BBC2’s NewsNight this evening conducted an interesting investigation looking at how scientific advice had been used to justify policy in dealing with the pandemic. But nowhere could they find any evidence that the public would not tolerate a long lockdown and therefore it was prudent to delay the start of lockdown for as long as possible. It looks as though politicians and scientists had a ‘groupthink’ about how long a lockdown would be politically possible and ascribed this view to behavioural science – they then claimed to be ‘following the science’ for what was essentially a political judgement. We have been here before – one is reminded how elderly men in mediaeval times would minutely the bodies of typically young virginal women who had been accused of witchcraft for any warts or skin imperfections and then use these as ‘evidence’ that that was how the devil had entered the bodies of the young women thus providing the source of their witchcraft. You can always find what you are looking for if you have the right mindset!


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Tuesday, 28th July, 2020 [Day 134]

Today was a much finer day than yesterday and although a trifle windy, so much more of a pleasant day for our daily walk to the park. There we met some of our old Waitrose friends by prior arrangement and spent a pleasant half-hour or so, mainly talking about cooking (about which I needed some advice from a much better cook). After they had left us, we got into a conversation with another couple of regular bench-occupiers talking about the ways in dogs (and cats) can occasionally dominate the house and make it their own (This is only theoretically true of Miggles, our adopted cat, as we never allow her into the house and, in truth, she is much more of an outdoor rather than than a lying-by-the-kitchen-hearth type of animal). 

I have been trying to get my head around the exact causes of dispute between the UK and Spain over the application of quarantine regulations for travellers arriving (or arriving back) into the UK from Spain. Often, though, the figures are not comparable but here are some data I have gleaned from various sources:

While the outbreak remains under control in many parts of Spain, certain areas – in particular Catalonia in the north-east, which includes the city Barcelona, and the neighbouring region of Aragón – have seen a huge spike in infections.

According to data from the Spanish government, as of Monday, the infection rates in the Balearic and Canary Islands were 9.22 and 7.06 per 100,000 respectively.

The same data showed infection rates in Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, was 132.4 per 100,000, and 28.21 in Madrid.

Latest seven-day rates: July 21-27 (per 100,000)

Austria    10.3. Belgium  19.0. Denmark  4.6. France 8.7. Germany 4.6. Italy 2.8. Netherlands 7.1. Portugal 14.9. Spain 29.7.  UK. 15.0

[Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 28 July]

Europe is starting to see signs of a second wave, says UK prime minister

UK prime minister Boris Johnson today said Europe is starting to see signs of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. He said it is vital that people quarantine themselves when returning to the UK from places abroad where there are outbreaks. Johnson mentioned the government’s recent reintroduction of a 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers returning from Spain, and added: “We will continue, throughout the summer, to take such action where it is necessary.” Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez described the UK’s new rules and recommendations as “unjust” arguing that in most parts of Spain the prevalence of Covid-19 is lower than in the UK. Some parts of Spain, including the regions of Catalonia and Aragón, have seen a large uptick in infections recently. The rate of infection in Spain as a whole is 47.2 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 15 in the UK, according to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

A growing number of European countries are grappling with recent rises in coronavirus cases. Today the head of Germany’s public health agency, Lothar Wieler said he is very concerned by rising infections. “We don’t know yet if this is the beginning of a second wave but of course it could be,” Wielder said at a press conference. Belgium’s prime minister Sophie Wilmès announced a series of new restrictions on Monday, following a significant spike in infections and warned of a potential second lockdown.

As you can see, the UK government and several other European governments are starting to get very concerned that we may be in the earliest stages of the second wave of COVID-19. It appears that after the lockdowns were eased, then rates have started to rise right across all European societies and the speculation at the moment is that is largely the younger population who are not self-distancing and using precautions such as face coverings. Of course, the number of travellers on would-be holiday destinations does not help the situation (August is the most popular month for holidays and we are only three days away from August)






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Monday, 27th July, 2020 [Day 133]

Today was a cloudy, wet and windy day and enough to make one thoroughly miserable – however, the longer-range weather forecast indicates that a high pressure in on its way so the weather should improve dramatically later on in the week. Before our daily walk to the park, we received a wonderful text from the relatives of our old friend, Clive, who sadly passed away a month or so back. They gave us details of where his ashes were to be buried in a local cemetery and as soon as the weather improves (in a day or so) we will make a little pilgrimage there and pay our last respects to him. In the meanwhile, Meg and I undertook our daily journey to collect our newspapers and have a wander in the park but today we were confined to the bandstand of which we were the only occupants. We espied one other dog walker and a lady in the far distance sporting an umbrella but that was the sole occupancy of the park this morning. For once, we were fairly pleased to get home this morning.

Most of the afternoon, I spent on technical work for this blog. The first and important task was to install a new plug-in which would act as a spam filter and so far it seems to have done its job most effectively. Then I installed another editor which allowed me to change the font of these posts to make it a bit larger and more readable to smaller devices than a computer. Although the various bits of advice available on the web gave me the option of tweaking the underlying CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) this did not achieve the desired effect so I ended up manually changing all of the 130 pages to the font and size that I wanted. As with all repetitive tasks, you get it down to seconds at a time once you get into the swing of things.

The government’s reaction to recent spikes of the coronavirus in Spain is receiving a lot of media attention. A very common view, if not a consensus, is that the government has panicked and adopted a blanket policy of asking everybody who has holidayed in Spain to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return. Luckless individuals are having to hope that their employers are ‘sympathetic’ to the necessity to quarantine but whether this run to paying two weeks of wages is another matter. I have a completely untested theory that the government is secretly worried about hundreds? thousands? of Brits getting abroad and as they are on holiday they will do anything except socially distance, with the consequence that many Brits might actually infect each other irrespective of whatever country they happen to be in and then come home to infect the rest of the population. But notwithstanding all of this, I cannot personally see why the government’s newly imposed quarantine arrangements should not apply if you have been to the islands of Spain rather than the mainland – after all, I would suspect that, at a guess, the islands are responsible for half of the UK tourists and that would help to minimise any degrees of risk.

Lastly tonight, a COVID-19 item which comes under the heading ‘you couldn’t make it up if you tried‘ The government has awarded Serco a £45m contract for test-and-trace – it has subsequently emerged that Serco has outsourced this to 29 other companies and that 85% of those recruited to run this service are not employed directly by Serco. We have been here before and it appears that the government does not appear to have learned any lessons from Carillion’s collapse and other privatisation failures, where outsourcing companies subcontracted the majority of work. This means that accountability for the new contract has practically sunk without trace and is another pure example of the ways in which contracts are being handed out to private sector companies whose experience in this field is extremely limited rather than resources being given to the local authority health teams who know the techniques for dealing with infectious disease and whose track record is markedly better.

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Sunday, 26th July, 2020 [Day 132]

Today was set fair with no particular rain forecast so we had a pleasant walk to the park. On our way home, we were recognised by one of our erstwhile friends from church who often used to sit in the pew behind us and chat when we attended the service every Saturday evening. Whilst we were deep in conversation catching up on all of our ‘lockdown’ news and experiences, we were joined by two of more regular friends so we had a very animated conversation between the five of us. We were given the news that services in the open air have re-commenced each Sunday morning at Harvington Hall, which is just a few miles down the road. Harvington Hall is not a National Trust or English Heritage House but is owned by the Catholic archdiocese of Birmingham, being one of the centres of medieval Catholicism in the Midlands and it boasts the finest collection of ‘priest hides’ (where Catholic priests used to minister to the local population but were successfully hidden in the house during the Reformation when they hunted by the authorities) So we are resolved to all go next Sunday as social distancing is quite easy in the open air and we hope to see many more of our acquaintances then, assuming of course that the heavens have not opened on us to dampen our ardour. Just after we got home, our son and daughter-in-law arrived back home from their stay in Dorset where they seemed to have a restful and interesting time away for the last few days. It is our daughter-in-law’s summer holidays but she still has a lot of school organisation and planning to do whilst our son is still carrying on working from home as he has done since the start of the lockdown.

The rest of the day was spent quite peacefully enjoying a Sunday lunch, reading the Sunday newspapers and looking forward to the summary of the latest cricket Test Match between England the West Indies broadcast at 7.00 pm each evening. I normally only glance at the business news in the Sunday newspapers but I did read an interesting analysis how the chain of Pret-a-Manger had really lost its way since it had passed from initial business to various hotel and restaurant chains who had then sold it onto private equity owners. The impact of the article was to argue that private equity owners are only interested in ‘sweating the assets’ and milking the last drop of business and this is one explanation why Pret-A-Manger and similar businesses eventually meet their demise. I also read with a great deal of interest the account by Tim Shipman, the principal political correspondent of the Sunday Times wh0 always seems to be able to write some incredibly well-informed stories. This week he thought that privately No. 10 (Downing Street) is secretly fearing another Trump victory that might bind us into an incredibly unpopular ‘chlorinated chicken’ deal with the United States as well as being bounced into a much more hostile stance vis-a-vis China that might not be in the UK’s long term interests. (Just in passing, it seems incredible that in these days of Brexit negotiations we are falling out with the EU, the USA, Russia and ambiguous relationships with the US. Who are we going to trade with successfully, I ask myself?) Turning to HuffPost for some inside reporting of the current Brexit negotiations state of play, I read that a government analysis in November 2018 predicted that leaving without a trade deal would cause a 7.6% contraction in the economy, while leaving with an “average” free trade agreement would cause a 4.9% reduction in GDP, compared to the UK continuing as an EU member. There are already reports that the red tape businesses will need to navigate as a consequence of leaving the customs union could leave the UK with a £7bn bill. Of course, there is still room for a deal if there happens to be quite a lot of compromise on both sides but this might be one of those situations where the negotiations really do go to the wire i.e. not decided until hours of the final cut-off date/time. How much negotiation will go in August when most of the continent goes on holiday goes on holiday is hard to say so it makes September and October really critical months.

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Saturday, 25th July, 2020 [Day 131]

According to the weather forecast, a heavy band of rain was due to sweep across the Midlands mid-morning and so it proved. We waited until this pulse of rain had passed overhead and done its worst before we set off on our daily walk and although the morning as a whole was still extremely cloudy, at least we didn’t get rained upon. As you might expect, there were very few people in the park today apart from a few intrepid dog-walkers but we did run into some of our oldest friends from down the road, with whom we exchanged a few stories and jokes. They were off on their daily walk as well but I imagine they are well used to the rain by now. Once in the park, I deployed our National Trust portable stool as a kind of mini-table. Why I hadn’t thought of doing this a long time ago, I will never know but it made life a lot simpler (as I have to juggle hat, rucksack, coffee flask, biscuit container etc.). Once we got home, avoiding any showers, we consumed our Saturday lunch-time treat (some really high-quality sausages from Waitrose) and then I set forth to our local garden centre in order to buy some bags of topsoil. I acquired 4 bags at the price of £3.99 each and, out of interest, I looked for the price of the same on the web where you would pay three times this price. (I remember being caught this way before when I ordered a bulk of forest bark from a local supplier only to discover I could have bought the same considerably cheaper and in easier to manipulate 80-litre sacks from my local Asda store) When the weather improves the £65.00 worth of bulbs I acquired for a fiver will be planted out in some rectangular plant pots of which I have a stock and then arrange them strategically around the patio area for a splash of late summer colour.

This afternoon my order for simple face visors arrived for both Meg and myself. These are very simple arrangements and come with several replacement face visors and cost only a few pounds each – they are as simple to don as would be a pair of glasses and will actually fit on over your own glasses. It is unclear whether these constitute ‘face coverings’ within the letter of the relevant law and their effectiveness is as yet, untested – however, one Swiss study found that the wearers of face visors in a Swiss hotel become infected whereas the wearers of face masks did not, Like many things in the current crisis, one has to use a certain amount of one’s own discretion in all of this.

The big political story tonight is the fact that the coronavirus seems to be rearing its head again in various parts of Spain and particularly around Barcelona. The British government has now changed its travel advice for visitors to Spain which means that returning holidaymakers returning from Spain will now have to self-isolate for 15 days. In an ironic twist, this might even apply to Grant Shaps, the transport minister, who is reportedly on holiday in Spain. This will be a massive blow to the Spanish tourist industry as I suspect, many people who had intended a quick holiday break in Spain (including ourselves) will now decide not to bother.

Today, various facilities such as swimming pools and gyms, are now free to offer their services to the public, all with suitable precautions. However, many local authorities are thinking twice about opening up their facilities at all. If the facilities had not been well maintained in the years of austerity, then it might not be economic to re-open them again if this entails considerable investment. So it looks as though a fair proportion of these facilities (a bit like restaurants on the high street) will never open again which has all kinds of implications e.g. for teaching young people how to swim which is a critical life skill upon which their life might depend at some time in the future. As with so many areas of social life, we will shortly discover how many local businesses and services have actually managed to survive.


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Friday, 24th July, 2020 [Day 130]

So a cloudy day to start off with but it brightened up as we started our walk down into town, where we were due to coincide with our Waitrose friends in the park. On our way, I encountered one of my Pilates class-mates and we exchanged notes as we are both due to start back on 1st September. She had been following some Pilates classes on Zoom (in common with many others these days) but she reckoned it wasn’t quite the same and she couldn’t wait to get back. I explained that our Pilates teacher when I had texted her when the lockdown was being slowly released and had indicated that we would probably all have to bring along our own Pilates mats (which makes a lot of sense) On the strength of this, I had gone onto the internet and bought myself one so I will be ready for the off as soon as we get the word. After another pleasant hour with our friends, Meg and I got home and I immediately went off to collect a camping chair from Halfords ready for the days when we are going out on little expeditions like the other day. We already have a National Trust collapsible stool which is ultra-light and hangs over your arm or can be used a walking stick – we must have bought it at least 15-20 years ago but it hasn’t had a great deal of use. The idea is that when we next go a=on a trip and assuming that we will be roaming around parks and gardens rather than going around the stately home, at least we have some gear that we can transport around with us (including a small tarpaulin purchased for 99p a year or so ago which we can use to picnic upon)  After lunch, our chiropodist called and Meg and I had our feet serviced (in the garden as the weather is fine) and then I started the weekly lawn mowing. I was just finishing the communal lawns at the front of the house when the Waitrose van arrived with our weekly order so this had to be seen to (putting frozen stuff away) before I completed the lawnmowing of our own lawns to the rear of the house. In the late afternoon, I went to water my Tilia Cordata which seems to have survived its yellowing leaves trauma as I now water it every day. I disturbed Miggles the cat who was stretched out on the forest bark beneath the tree – she then accompanied me around the garden as I filled up the watering can to water some of the plants that we have in pots which would not survive on the rainfall alone. I was accompanied (supervised?) as always after which the cat deigned to sit on my lap and fall asleep. She had previously tried to make me a present of a small bird but when she opened her mouth to say ‘Miaow’ the bird popped out of her mouth and fluttered away. Miggles didn’t bother to chase after it but merely came over to us to say ‘Hello‘ and then stretched out on the flagstones to fall asleep.

This evening what should have been a quietish night in front of the TV turned into one of those nightmare type repair jobs. We have a downstairs toilet which as a simple locking mechanism to prevent another person from entering the loo when it is already in use. But the locking mechanism had fallen to pieces and it seemed that a tiny little ‘grub’ screw had somehow got detached and was nowhere to be seen (I have a horrible suspicion it had probably been hoovered up and then thrown away) So I searched amongst a collection of screws I had inherited to find a replacement screw but all the woodscrews would not fit the bill. I eventually raided some old electrical spares for an engineering screw that then had to be cut to size as a substitute that just about worked – this took the best part of an evening to fix but at least it is now done.

It is the end of Boris Johnson’s first year as PM and for the first time, we have a sort of acknowledgement that ‘things could have been handled differently‘ There is still no acknowledgement of the fact that the lockdown came a week or so too late, thus costing about 20,000 lives. Instead, it is being claimed that the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which coronavirus could be transmitted asymptomatically between people, meaning it had spread further than believed in the UK before the lockdown was imposed. But the blame game has started, history is being re-written and there is no acknowledgement that the whole crisis has not been handled well (compared with Scotland, for example).



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Thursday, 23rd July, 2020 [Day 129]

Today at long last we managed to venture forth into Bromsgrove High Street in order to make an appointment for both of us to have regular eye-tests at Boots Opticians. There we were greeted by the manager who has grown to know us over the years with the news that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to make an appointment at this time. Any issue that required urgent, quasi-medical attention, could be dealt with in-branch but in the meanwhile, the branch had to wait for the operation of national guidelines, presumably issued by Boots HQ because the number of tests would now be severely time-constrained (only one third to a half of their normal daily throughput) and of course there were disinfection and deep-clean procedures to be organised after each client. So to cut a long story short, we may be on a list but it is a case of ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you‘ The situation with visits to one’s dentist are probably even worse and one wonders whether it will take a year (or even longer) for backlogs to work their way through the system.

Having got home, we organised a fairly prompt lunch for ourselves because this afternoon we had a booked visit to Hanbury Hall, which is a William and Mary house (although actually built in the reign of Queen Anne) near Droitwich and not many miles distant. As with other National Trust properties, the house itself was still out-of-bounds for visitors but one could walk around and admire both the formal gardens and the surrounding parkland. We made for the Stable Block where we joined a socially distanced queue to buy some refreshments to go with the flask of coffee we had brought with us. Unfortunately, there was a very slight drizzle and low cloud hanging over everywhere so we ate our food/drank our coffee in not very pleasant conditions and then made the best of a bad job and after a brief tour of the gardens decided to call it a day and started for home (Naturally by this time the rain had ceased) The proportions of the house looked magnificent and it will be interesting for us to tour the actual house when it is open again to visitors.

Tonight was the second episode of Jane Austen’s Emma (a book I studied for ‘O’-level) I only mention this because I remember once seeing a hilarious book called ‘The Unexpurgated Jane Austen‘ in a Winchester bookshop (Jane Austen has a memorial to her in Winchester Cathedral) The whole book is evidently a spoof, perhaps written by a postgraduate but very much in the Jane Austen style. Browsing through it, I can only remember one particular fragment of it which was Jane Austen in conversation with her publisher. The dialogue went something like this ‘Your writing is very promising., Miss Austen, but we must get rid all of this gratuitous swearing and foul language you throughout your work. One cannot say, for example, that f*****g Mr. Wickham‘ (I have substituted asterisks for the sake of decency but the book contained the unexpurgated adjectives)

One of the political stories this evening is the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee condemning the lack of preparedness by the government for the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, they condemn the fact that there appeared to be no planning for job losses or school closures. The report is also scathing about the failure to obtain PPE equipment to protect front line staff. And it says despite warnings from medical chiefs in January, the Treasury waited until mid-March, days before the lockdown on 23 March, before deciding on economic support schemes. As from midnight, any member of the public entering a shop should be wearing a mask or face covering, by law. As a social experiment, it will be fascinating to see what the level of compliance will be – although surveys indicate that 2 out of 3 people back the new policy, what will be revealed about which shops and which sections of the population exhibit both the highest and the lowest degrees of compliance! There is also a report that the government want 50% of the population to receive a flu vaccination which shows the degree of official concern about what will happen when the ‘normal’ flu epidemic coincides with a second potential wave of COVID-19 in the forthcoming winter.



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Wednesday, 22nd July, 2020 [Day 128]

We thought today was going to be quite a busy day and so it proved. We knew that we were going to meet our long-established Waitrose friends in the park at 10.30 am so we started off our walk 5 minutes earlier to ensure we had time to pick up our newspapers and to rendezvous at the correct time. Then after we met we chatted and chatted – it was incredible that we spent nearly an hour in each other’s company before we both realised that the day was slipping away and we both had other commitments to which we needed to attend. Our friends have been in the ‘strong’ form of shielding and so are particularly looking forward to 1st August, a week on Saturday when they can be legally  ‘released’ and spend some time on trips out in the car. The week after that we may well form a four-some to visit a National Trust property together. We knew that we had to get home and have a prompt lunch because we had two commitments this afternoon, the first being a visit from our chiropodist at 2.00 pm and the second a long-awaited visit from our hairdresser at 4.00 pm. In the event, our chiropodist failed to arrive and after a quick text, we discovered that our due date was Friday, not Wednesday, so your’s truly must have made a mistake when it was entered up onto the planning board which is a family feature. My son and daughter-in-law left at 7.00 am to get to the South Coast where they were going to enjoy a few day’s respite in a hotel they had chosen. We got a text from them to indicate they had arrived safely which is always reassuring. The haircut was quite a long experience. Meg was having a perm done which always takes about two hours and I get fitted in during some of the breaks that occur when the setting solution is doing its work. Our hairdresser arrived all visored up and, naturally, she had been incredibly busy since the lockdown restrictions were being eased. She told me that if you go onto the Government website, then most of the popular trades have specialist pages indicating exactly what precautions had to be taken and how interactions with clients were to be handled in this transitional phase. We also received some useful tips about the best/cheapest kind of visors to buy which was useful information. Our hairdresser was wearing a type of model which attaches to a type of pseudo-glasses frame which I would never have thought of for looking for – it is always useful to get advice from those who have tried out and tested these kinds of things, particularly as they are not bought every day. They may be less trouble to put on when entering shops than manipulating a face mask over the ears (particularly if you have ear-rings and glasses to circumnavigate at the same time). In the late afternoon, we saw our adopted cat, Miggles, sauntering across our garden grass with something in her mouth (a mouse? bird?) I was mildly disappointed that the cat did not bring it for me to peruse for me delectation (the family cat we had as a child used to love bringing a half-dead mouse into the house for us to witness – and she would then proceed to ‘play’ with it until it was absolutely dead after which time she lost interest in it).

I tend to turn to Huffington Post for interesting angles on the political news that is not covered in the UK Main Street Media. This sequel to yesterday’s news on the potential impact of Russian cyber activity is particularly interesting…They report that ‘the aggressive use of Twitter bots, coupled with the fragmentation of social media and the role of sentiment, could contribute to the vote outcomes’  Tho Pham, one of the paper’s authors, told the Times that “the main conclusion is that bots were used on purpose and had influence”. The Times had revealed that Russian Twitter accounts – many of which are believed to be bots – had posted more than 45,000 messages in 48 hours during the EU referendum.

This whole area has remained unexplored since the result of the 2016 referendum was announced. There is an argument, not much heard nowadays, that the overspend by the Leave campaign plus the influence of the social media as reported above were grounds enough for the whole referendum result to be declared ‘unsound’ Other countries. more used to referenda as a way of answering constitutional questions appreciated that a narrow majority was not good grounds for making profound constitutional changes (which Brexit undoubtedly was) and required a majority of 60% for a result to be valid. Our own House of Lords even passed an amendment requiring that a result of a referendum is only valid when a 40% of those entitled to vote threshold is reached. In the 2016 referendum 52% of 72% who voted is 37.4%. The House of Lords amendment was overturned, though, in the Commons and the rest is history!


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