Wednesday, 30th September, 2020 [Day 198]

Today started off gloomy and we had alternating, drizzle, gloom and then active rain almost all day long. However, we had a bright start to the day because in my new found enthusiasm for Skype, I managed to get into direct contact with a close friend in Oxfordshire – we try and meet every 4-6 weeks to have a meal and chew the fat over a range of world issues. We are going to meet in a few weeks time in any case to see the Pitt-Rivers anthropological museum in Oxford which will be a first for us.

Despite the gloom, Meg and I still managed to undertake our walk to the local park. The park was practically deserted but we had with us a spare towel with which we could dry the park bench and enjoy a peaceful few minutes (bereft of dogs and toddlers on little push bikes which is the norm).  Then we came to the ritual of reading of last night’s blog (accessed through my iPhone) after which we were more than happy to head homewards, sustained by the fact that I was going to make us a curry for lunch. Tomorrow we will our friends in the park hopefully to share some (birthday) cake unless we get rained off and then have the joys of the Waitrose delivery to unpack once it arrives. (I am reminded of the famous line uttered by Margot Leadbetter in the classic series ‘The Good Life‘ in which she said ‘Christmas is coming to us this year in a Harrod’s hamper’, the analogue of which is our weekly shopping is by courtesy of Waitrose in a number of plastic bags).

This afternoon, I thought I had better attack the growing pile of half-read newspapers which I have kept on one side in case there was anything that I really wanted to keep. Actually, as my iPhone contract is coming to the end of its contract I did find a useful article detailing the latest (and somewhat cut down) model of the iPhone which I think will serve my purposes admirably when I come to exchange it in a week or so.

Late last night, I received via a friend of a friend, a video clip in which Stephen King (eminent American novelist) had predicted that a character like Trump might arrive on the American political scene. King wrote a book in 1979 called ‘The Dead Zone’ in which an aggressive real estate salesman with a bad mouth and no morals or ethics, became President of the United States. The book was even made into a film and some of the scenes and activities depicted in the novel have actually come to pass. It really does look as though the coming of Trump had been anticipated by 37 years – uncanny (and not a little spooky, even) I watched a few minutes on-line of the Trump-Biden fiasco (aka known as a Presidential debate) and what a glorious advert for American democracy. One of the principal ‘stand out’ moments was Trump refusing to condemn a white, extremist  group who are inciting violence in American cities under the wonderful name of the ‘Proud Boys’ Pressed by the debate moderator to condemn the far-right, extemist group, Trump urged them them to  ‘stand back and stand by‘. Proud Boys members called his debate comments ‘historic’ and an endorsement and are already displaying tee-shirts emboldened with the message that they are ‘standing by’. One really has to wonder what will happen on election night, only about 5 weeks away, if Trump appears to be losing and the far right merge on the street, toting their automatic weapons…

There was an appearance at 5.00 pm this evening of Boris Johnson flanked by his two scientific advisers and I wondered if a significant announcement of a further lock-down was forthcoming. Instead, we had the usual banalities and journalists’ questions that are not directly answered and I wondered to myself what was the point of it all. The virus rate is still running at over 7,000 (about the same as last night) but university students have been told that they ‘will’ be able to come for Christmas – so that is all right then. Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Commons has given the government the equivalent of a dressing down for introducing regulations with the force of law at only a few hours notice completely avoiding any Parliamentary scrutiny (although it now looks as though Parliament i.e. back-bench Tory MP’s, are forcing the government to lay further regulations before Parliament for some degree of scrutiny before their implementation)



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Tuesday, 29th September, 2020 [Day 197]

Well, you never know what a day is going to bring and today was no exception. As we have now decided that we are not going to risk visiting Hampshire to see ex-colleagues and friends, we wondered whether we might try to ‘Skype’ some of our friends instead. As it happened, I had ‘Skype’ on my computer but had never utilised it, not least because you need to have the person you wish to contact at the other end to see if the system works. When I fired up Skype it seemed to have one of my friends in the ‘Contacts’ list so I fired off a quick email to him last night, saying that I would try to ‘Skype’ him at 9.0am this morning. Promptly at 9.0 I fired up Skype, clicked on my friend’s name and there he was! It ws easier, they say, than taking sweets from a baby (not that I have ever tried to do anything as mean as this!) So we had a wonderful chat fo the best part of an hour which was particularly pleasurable as I have not seen my friend for about a year now or even longer. All of this delayed our daily walk to the park but we were so pleased to establish contact with old friends that we really did not mind. Today was my ‘Pilates’ day so we had to get home to have a fairly brisk turn around and then I attended the Pilates class, accompanied by my near neighbour who introduced me to Pilates more years ago than I care to remember (about 6-7 I think)

After a delayed lunch and a quick snooze, I wondered whether it ws worth contacting some more old friends as my experience with Skype had gone so well this morning. So I sent off a quick email and got my friend’s Skype identity which the system found very quickly and, just like this morning, we had a wonderful long chat. We had a very long chat and members of his family had been ill so it was all the more pleasant to be in touch again. We have set up a little system so that we can Skype each other at about the same time each week from now on.  Then we FaceTimed some of our other Waitrose friends who, as it had turned out, had a rather dramatic sequelae to a CAT scan undertaken earlier in the week. Anyway, we are pleased to say that ‘all’s well that ends well‘ although our friend is going to have further investigations in a week or so. In the meanwhile, we have plans to meet again in the park in a few days time to partake of some celebratory birthday cake even we are both anticipating things by a day or so.

The COVID-19 news is worrying today as over 7,000 new cases have been diagnosed today, which, if I am reading the graphs correctly, is the highest daily total recorded. Of course more tests are being conducted now than in the Spring. The proportion of tests indicating ‘positive’ is also increasing which must be a worrying tendency. Just out of interest, I checked on the number of infections in my local postcode area and they had doubled from 18 to 36 in a week. So I think it is a case that, without being neurotic about this, we cannot afford to be cavalier about our normal COVID-19 precautions.

After last night’s revelations on Channel 4 News about the way in which Trump had tried to suppress the black vote in the last presidential election, tonight’s programme followed this up with more revelations. This time, it was revealed how the same algorithms and databases that were used to suppress the black vote was directed to particular sections of the white vote who might be susceptible to the Trump message. In particular, the ‘law and order’ theme played out large and if the same trend is repeated in this year’s election then the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign could serve to energise both a degree of BAME solidarity but also white fears and resentments. It appears to me that the ‘middle’ may well be evaporating in the American electorate and opinion solidifying between those who feel that Trump has stood up as no other candidate before him for their interests (generally, white and without a college education) and those who feel that Trump is an unmitigated disaster and must be stopped at all costs. Tomorrow morning is the first of the presidential debates and I wonder what attack lines the street-fighter in Trump will utilise to further enthuse his support.

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Monday, 28th September, 2020 [Day 196]

The start of another week and I have a few things to deal with, as usual. Firstly, I sent off an email to the secretary of our newfound church to book our place for Saturday morning and this I did before I forgot about it. Then I got onto one of our good local hotels whose restaurant we use for special ‘birthday’ and ‘anniversary’ meals and got a booking for next Saturday as it is Meg’s 74th birthday actually on that day so we thought we would have a bit of French cuisine. All around me, there seems to be building work going one – our immediate next-door neighbour is having bathrooms and the like installed and the last of a garden make-over, our neighbour across the communal green area is having a wall built down the side of her house, the house just round the garden is having a radical make-over which has involved mini-diggers and the erection of new fences and so on. I suppose a lot of work that would have been done ‘normally’ was delayed during the lockdown and now people are making up for lost time. We enjoyed our normal walk to the park today but attendance was quite down – the normal supply of toddlers and dogs seems to have diminished somewhat. However, there are still groups of ‘oldies’ who seem to congregate in circles of six complete with light aluminium camping chairs.

After we got home, our son was giving himself a coffee-break so I played him the ‘speech’ version of the blog which I discovered how to activate yesterday. However, either false memory syndrome or senility seems to have overcome me because in my account of long shadows on an aerodrome tarmac, the aircraft we had gone to see was not a Vulcan bomber but the last of the English Electric Lightenings and the aerodrome was actually Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire. The other details were correct though! Here is the URL of a photo which my son took at the time and has in his collection:

I am reliably informed that these could actually outpace the American U2 spyplanes which the Americans thought invincible but the Brits wanted to go one better – however, given the height at which it could travel and the thinness of the air it became somewhat difficult to manouvre.

I thought I could not be shocked by political news any more but the Channel 4 evening News at 7.0 pm this evening was jaw-dropping. At least half the programme was devoted to showing how in the 2016 Americal Presidental campaign, black voters were disproprtionately targeted to persuade them not to vote (‘voter suppression’)  and hence give a victory to Trump. Here is the link to the whole story

Basically, Channel 4 news had obtained 5,000 files (some 5 terabytes) that had data on 200 million Americans and 3.5 million Black Americans. The latter  group had social media messages, primarily from FaceBook targeted at them – many of these messages were ‘dark’ i.e. could not be traced after the sponsors (right wing money) had stopped funding the adverts. FaceBook refuses to release the historic data that they held saying ‘it could not happen now’ which was a tacit admission that it happened then. The black vote turnout seemed to have dropped by some 20% points which was enough to give Donald Trump victory in several key ‘swing’ states. Perhaps I ought not to mention that the same gang (Cambridge Analytica) used similar techniques in the Brexit referendum campaign but it has proved incredibly difficult to inestigate their full involvement as of now – and too late anyway.

Meg and I did have in mind whether or not it was sensible or foolhardy to go to Southampton to look up some old friends in the narrow ‘window of opprtunity’ that we have before the winter sets in, the COVID-19 epidemic worsens, future lockdowns re activated etc. I got into contact with an old and trusted friend to work things how things are down in that neck of the woods and after we had had an exchange of emails, it seemed sensible not to engage in this little venture. But in the meantime, we have a lunch-time dinner date which has just been arranged to see the Pitt-Rivers (anthropological) Museum in Oxford where the collection of shrunken heads has just been removed from public display (are they stored away somewhere, I ask myself?)

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Sunday, 27th September, 2020 [Day 195]

Today was another bright but cold day. Actually, I got up fairly early to get my newspaper supply and get home well before the Andrew Marr programme started and the weather was delightful (aided and abetted by the fact that as I was on my own, I treated myself to some baroque music on my aged but trusted ancient iPhone cum MP3 player). On the way home, as the skies were clear but the sun was low in the sky, I experienced the most extraordinary effect where my shadow was about 20 feet long. My son and I had experienced something similar years ago when we went to an aerodrome in the East of England and watched Britain’s last remaining Vulcan bomber make a journey along the runway. It wasn’t allowed to take off but the event took place in the early evening to intensify the effect of sound and sight of the engines blazing and, on that event at least a decade or so ago our shadows on the aerodrome runways appeared to be about one hundred yards long!

After we had had a delayed breakfast and shower, it was time for Meg and I to attend our Health Centre for our flu jabs. This was organised like a huge military operation. We arrived at our allotted time, as did a group of other people and then we were taken along to a ‘holding area’ fully staffed by a full complement of both nurses and all of the doctors who called us forward individually to get our jabs. Mine was actually administered by one of our family doctors and the whole procedure must have taken about 2 minutes. Evidently, the practice are trying to get as many of the ‘oldies’ vaccinated as possible perhaps before a second spike of COVID-19 really hits us. I estimate that they probably vaccinated something in the order of 500 people this morning and perhaps even more. It all seemed incredibly sensible – but after this, we took the car along to the park where we walked and had our normal elevenses (although by now it was half-past-twelves). There was a pretty keen i.e. cold, wind in the park today (I know now it was arctic-type air in place over the British Isles as the jet stream has been pushed south) so we cut our stay down to the minimum and were pleased to get home and have a warming cup of tea.

After lunch, we indulged in a good read of the Sunday’s and, in particular, some of the inside stories about how ‘Boris’ is subject to conflicting pressures (health of the nation through locking-down or rescuing the economy). I also read but I am sure that this is only speculation that despite the bravura, Michael Gove is absolutely terrified of a no-deal Brexit landing right on top of a tremendously damaged economy in which unemployment is due to soar. If true, then this might nudge the powers that be into a last minute deal trade deal with the EU.

After my success yesterday on getting a webpage written and updated from the iPad, I thought I would see if I could update some FTP apps which I have used before. One I had to pay the princely sum of £1.99 for, whilst the other was updated from the £2.99 fee that I must have paid more than three years ago. I am still playing about with these and have not had a chance to explore how easily I can access the files on the ‘local’ side (ie. actually on the iPad) but it seems as though I can inspect and access the files on the remote side (and even display the .html files in a Preview mode).

Late on this evening, I was idly trying to find something or other when I right-clicked on my mouse whilst I was examining some text (yesterday’s blog actually) and discovered an item called ‘Speech’ When I selected some text this was then actually spoken back to me using quite a good computer-voice. No doubt, experienced users of an iPhone knew they could do this all along but it was a revelation for me. I then discovered a way in which I could actually do the same on my iPhone – and gave Meg the surprise of her life when last night’s blog that I had read out to her in the park was now actually spoken for her by the iPhone. Amazing now that I have discovered it!


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Saturday, 26th September, 2020 [Day 194]

It was a beautiful fine day with a clear blue sky but with quite a biting easterly wind that swirled around us, making us feel distinctly cool. Part of our Saturday routine is to attend the service at St. Mary’s, Harvington (Hall) and we were a select band of 15 this morning. The church service sheet contained even more warnings from the government concerning social distancing and related measures, so the government has probably written to all of the churches asking them to reinforce the message. After this, a wonderful drive back where we always enjoy the Worcestershire countryside and then we picked up all of our newspapers (and supplements) that tend to sell out early on a Saturday. Then we came home and gave ourselves a Saturday treat (Waitrose sausages) which we bake in the oven supplemented by an onion gravy.

After lunch and after pressure from other family members, I set to work clearing the garage of empty bottles which had been generated by the damson gin-making process. Eventually, I need about 70 220 cl bottles in which to put the decanted gin so our domestic help and I are saving these frantically. In addition, whenever I get an empty glass jar, I tend to wash it up, remove the label (not always easily) and these I will donate to my sister the next time I see her. In addition, I keep glass jars in theory to accommodate screws and handyman bits-and-pieces within the garage. I got halfway through the task today but tomorrow will be a ‘gin-shaking’ day (to encourage the damsons to release their flavours into the gin). We are still eating the compote I made from the left-over damsons several weeks ago and it is delicious as it takes only a small spoonful in yoghurt, semolina, rice pudding or what have you.

Since I have put a keyboard and mice on my iPad I have been experimenting with software that will enable me to write or refine a document or .html file and then transmit it into the ‘cloud’ or, preferably, to one of my own websites. I had to consult an old diary to see how I had managed to do in a very ‘kludgy’ way in the past but reminding myself of the software I had used in the past, I downloaded the updated version of a special coding and text-editor which goes by the name of Textastic. This is now up to version 12, I think it is which speaks highly for it. Some of the documentation I gleaned from the web indicated that it should be possible to FTP files over to a remote server (e.g. to one of your own web page) and to cut a long story short, I found that I managed to write a .html file (actually adapting another file I managed to download) and then get it successfully uploaded to my webspace. To be able to do this in one package on an iPad is incredibly useful to me as I like to be able to do things when I am on holiday and away from my normal computing resources. The whole philosophy of the iPad was that it was meant to be. vehicle for ‘consuming’ (e.g. viewing) things and is not very well oriented to producing things (documents and webpages) but, over time, developers have found a way to write packages that enables one to do this. In the early days of the iPad, the designers did not let you get anywhere near the file structure which we are accustomed to on desktop PC’s but eventually, I think the users have found a way of bending an iPad to their wishes, as it were.

Meanwhile, 1700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University are being asked to spend 14 days in self-isolation after 127 have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. This pattern may well be repeated at universities up and down the country – at the last count, there were at least 32 universities reporting COVID-19 infections. Unfortunately, halls of residence are exactly the places where it is difficult to socially distance and the virus can rampage unchecked throughout all of the communal areas. Should the student body have been discouraged from attending, I ask myself, as the term probably only starts on Monday!

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Friday, 25th September, 2020 [Day 193]

Today was a fine, bright and quite sunny day but with a tremendously high gusty wind which meant that Meg and I had to incline our heads and hang onto our hats in case they blew away (have you ever see a hat blown away by the wind, by the way? My Australian-style leather hat can get bundled on its side and rolls down hill like a wheel if the wind catches it right!) As the weather was getting colder, Meg and I decided that today was the day when we were going to retrieve our electric blanket and get it on the bed. But of course, it is a bit more complicated than this as thought we had better strip our bed right down, turn the (double) mattress in two directions (bottom to top and left to right) and this does call for some heaving around and balancing skills but we got it done OK. We chose the day today because our domestic help could give us a hand, if necessary with all of the necessary laundry as well as bed-making activities and that is another job well done. Being a fine day, today was the kind of day to get some lawn-mowing done but first I had to make  trip out for petrol – the mower only consumes 2-3 gallons a year but I now know that you should only buy the best (hopefully ethanol-free petrol) for one’s lawnmower rather than the cheapest. I had to scour  the web in the last week or so to get a new foam air filter for my mower. As it was cheap enough, I bought two of them and a spare cover which was working loose so the fitting of these parts delayed the mowing even further. I didn’t start until 5.15 and finish at about 6.30 which is quite late in the day for me. At this time of year, I may be able to get away with a mow every 10-14 days instead of every week and and I always aim to finish the season on the Friday closest to November 5th (a date which it is not possible to forget)

This evening, I spent some time searching for my second, experimental blog site. I installed this a few months ago and it was meant to be a sort of ‘sand-pit’ i.e. you play about with things without any serious consequences. One way or another, I had forgotten the website provider and the folder where the new blog was located so I hunted through my system in vain for about an hour before I remembered that I had actually acquired some new webspace (at a minimal cost, from my Canadian friend) and a memorable name to link onto it. I had got all of my credentials set up in Filezilla (FTP client) but had totally forgotten about it. Now that I have remembered all of the critical details, they go into my book entitled ‘What I have I learnt/re-learned today?‘) which is a little system I have to ensure that I can retrieve computing type things I have done over the years. I start each entry with a date (today’s) and then a subject heading and then I put in the details. I then make an index  at the back of the book with subject heading together with date. Then if I think I did something about 6 months ago and I need to refresh my memory, I consult the index in date order) at the back of the book which then locates the page in the main body of the book. This is actually ridiculous easy to maintain – looking at my first entry, it was actually 3rd March 2012 and was concerned with how to encode and thus password-protect .html files (just as relevant today, as it was then!)

Tonigh, as I write, it looks as though COVID-19 is really taking off in the universities. According to Sky News tonight ‘At least 32 universities in the UK now have confirmed coronavirus cases, and another one has suspected cases. More than 510 cases have been identified among students and staff since universities reopened, according to data collected by Sky News up to 25 September.’  Of course this was quite predictable, and credited, but the government were in a mad panic to get the educational system open for business and the university students got swept in the tide. Instead of students going to congregate in the halls of residence where the virus can spread freely and they might not be allowed home for Christmas, perhaps better not to have gone in the first place and done  all the tuition on-line at home (at least until January)

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Thursday, 24th September, 2020 [Day 192]

Today seemed a bit kinder day and although there was some rain in the air, we did not appear to be threatened by continuous rain as happened yesterday morning. My normal newspaper shop had run out of The Times by the time we got there so I popped round the corner to redeem my voucher in Waitrose. Whilst (briefly) inside the store I enquired of some of our favourite staff whether we could still use the table and benches that they had outside the store and they affirmed that we could. So the possibility arises that when we next meet some of our friends, we will meet not in the park but just outside  our old haunts (is there a symbiotic link I ask myself?) Apart from that, we settled into our regular routine and I was reminded of a long-standing joke in Endeavour (TV series based upon the younger Morse). Every time, the elder detective Fred Thursday) was wondering what the sandwiches prepared by his wife would contain that day, Endeavour would reply along the lines ‘It’s Tuesday – so it will be cheese and pickle‘ (He was invariably correct) Thinking about detectives and lunchtime meals, I am also reminded of scenes from Maigret which I think I remember correctly from when I used to read reach novels for ‘A’-levels. Maigret’s wife was a cordon-bleu chef and the meals that she prepared for her husband were always described in loving detail – Maigret by contrast came in and bolted his food with hardly a word of appreciation (My memory may be suspect at this point but I do wonder if Simenon was being semi-autobiographical at this point) As the rain came down, we thought we might have to undergo another coffee-partaking session in the bandstand but, fortunately, I looked skywards and saw that the rain cloud was just passing so took out an old tea-towel, freshly laundered as it turned out, to wipe down the park bench so that we could eat and drink in peace – which we did.

This afternoon, I set myself the task of linking a keyword and mouse on my iPad. When I was last in a stationer’s shop, I saw a Bluetooth keyboard for sale at an incredibly low price so I went onto Amazon and ordered a keyboard-plus-mouse (from the same manufacturer, sold as a set) which arrived yesterday. I am always a little suspicious of Bluetooth technology because although in theory devices ought to recognise and pair with each other effortlessly, in practice I have had my struggles in the past. But having inserted my batteries (not supplied) the keyboard, mouse and iPad did all recognise acth other and work very well. I was a little disconcerted not to get a usual mouse pointer but a little grey circle (whose colour you could change in the ‘Settings’) which seems to be the Bluetooth way of doing things. I am pleased to say that the technology is now working just as I wanted – and I even had a spare Bluetooth Logitech mouse if the supplied mouse were to fail. The keyboard itself is only 4mm in depth (plus a raised area that gives the keyboard some rake ) and some 13.5″ in length – anyway, easily transportable within a suitcase for when we go away, so this will be a permanent feature of my suitcase from now on.

This afternoon, Rishi Sunak, was announcing the Job Support Scheme which is intended to replace the furlough scheme for those already in work. The new scheme will be less expensive (estimated 3.6 billion per year with employers raising their contribution towards the wages of employees from 25% to 55%) – this compared with the eye-watering £40 billion that the furlough scheme has cost so far. Perhaps one of the most significant things that the Chancellor had to impart was that the new arrangements were to be in place for at least six months if not a year. Moreover, we would have to assume that the shape of the economy would be fundamentally altered – this is the first indication that we have had from a member of the government that it is not just a case of getting through this crisis and then back to normal. Meanwhile, we have the highest rate of new infections ever (6,634), Glasgow University are having to cope with 124 COVID-19 infected students and 500 self-isolating. One has to wonder what is going to happen at other universities up and down the country, two weeks behind Scotland. Just as a reminder of old times, Morrisons supermarket is experiencing a run on toilet rolls, disinfectant, bleach … 

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Wednesday, 23rd September, 2020 [Day 191]

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

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

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

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Tuesday, 22nd September, 2020 [Day 190]

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

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

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

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

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Monday, 21st September, 2020 [Day 189]

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

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

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

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

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