Wednesday, 21st October, 2020 [Day 219]

We know that the weather might be quite fine tomorrow but it certainly was not today as the morning seemed dominated by windy and squally showers. However, the wind was not particularly cold so our normal walk was not unpleasant but I still had to engage in the daily ritual of wiping the park bench dry – fortunately, we always pack a spare tea towel in our rucksack so we are well used to making the place habitable. From a distance, we spotted one or two of our normal ‘park’ or ‘ex-Waitrose‘ friends but I suspect that none of us wanted to linger for too long in case we got rained upon even more. Meg and I had a hairdressing appointment in the middle of the day (our hairdresser comes to the house accoutred with visors and gloves) and was on time, so Meg and I had had to schedule our lunch so we had got it all over (if not washed up) before she arrived. We now tend to pay people who provide us with services by electronic payments which saves scrabbling around for the odd £5 note (which incidentally seem to be rare as hen’s teeth these days)

As my mobile phone contract had run its three years and expired a few days ago, I thought I would go down into town and work out what my options might be. So I ensured that my existing phone was backed up and 100% charged before I set forth in the late afternoon. Although my contract was with EE, I was pretty sure that there was a CarPhone Warehouse on the High Street and so my game plan was to visit CarPhone Warehouse, see what deals I could be offered and then use this to trade a better deal with EE. But as I have not visited the High Street for some time, then Carphone Warehouse seems to have disappeared (I looked on the web and discovered just now that they have closed 531 standalone stores and made 2,000 staff redundant on 3rd April.) As our attention was elsewhere because of the virus, I didn’t know or even notice the demise of CarPhone Warehouse. Undeterred, I went into my (deserted) EE store, told them I was at end of my contract and wondered what my options were – I vaguely had in mind that I wanted to trade up to a slightly smaller and more convenient model than my current iPhone and had read some reviews of the SE model. Basically, Apple have done a most un-Apple like thing and combined some old technology (screen size, footprint) with some advances in chip design and performance  to produce a phone with 90% of the performance of the bigger beasts in the Apple stable for about 50% of the price. I was pleasantly surprised to be told I could have a brand new phone at a price cut of 40% of the contract price I had been paying and they could transfer all of my old phone data over and have it installed on the new one within the hour. This was a pleasant surprise, and not what I was expecting The EE assistant pointed me in the direction of a cheaper shop that here I purchased a screen protector and a new case at a 20% discount and for about £20.00. So made my way home, amazed that everything had been so trouble free (as yet) as well as so much cheaper.

Meanwhile, back into the real world! the COVID-19 cases totalled 26,700 in a single day which is a frightening figure ( you have to work out how many become seriously ill, then have to be hospitalised, them progress into a Critical Care unit and then, for some, die of the virus). South Yorkshire have joined Manchester into being promoted to ‘Tier 3’ which basically outlaws any indoor or outdoor meetings, pubs can only stay open if they are serving a ‘substantial meal’ How many business in the hospitality sector can survive. However, having said that, there is certainly the growth of what one can term ‘the night-time economy’ There are 650 licensed premises (principally pubs) in Manchester City centre alone. How many nightclubs there are is anybody’s guess and I have not been able to even make a guesstimate but I would I suspect that it is in the range of 50-100. When I was a student in Manchester in the mid 1960s there were..2! One has to ask the question – how many pubs/nightclubs does a city like Manchester need? (I realise this is a somewhat heretical question to ask but I ask it anyway)

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Tuesday, 20th October, 2020 [Day 218]

We really feel the season these days as the weather is getting quite autumnal. The leaves are gradually turning yellow and in the case of the acers and the maples a brilliant red so the park is quite a sight to behold at the moment. We made a reasonably early start this morning and so having collected our newspapers we sojourned for a little in the park but knew that we did not have to tarry too long. That is because Tuesday’s is my Pilates day and I need to do a certain amount of food preparation before I venture forth again for my Pilates session. I have inherited a very stout Korean leather jacket (found in the next door neighbour’s garage when it was being cleaned out). I thought I would use it solely as a gardening jacket but that seemed a waste of an exceptionally tough and warm jacket so I had it renovated and it has proved excellent on these bright cold days. Whilst it will stand a certain amount of water, I am not sure how it will fare in an absolute downpour so I need a waterproof jacket which is big enough to cover the leather jacket as well as myself. Fortunately, the second last time we were in Conway we had purchased an outsized jacket and this I now pressed into service. It proved excellent and – as the Scandinavians say ‘There is no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing‘ and never was a truer word said. The trouble about the UK weather is that you can look weatherwards and get a little streetwise about the likelihood of rain by combining your own knowledge about the height, colour and direction of movement of the clouds with a little bit of assistance from the weather app on my phone. I needed to get into town a little earlier on my Pilates day as Bromsgove holds a street market on Tuesdays and Fridays and there is a lady who runs a bag stall who also sells watches and belts and will fit a new battery for you. But on the day I need her, she wasn’t there so I availed myself of one of the local cobblers who fitted a new battery as required. I also did a quick dive into one of the local charity shops and bought myself a cheap leather/plasticky belt as well. I tend to buy things for an unconventional use and hence my purchase of a belt. As wearers of rainwear-plus-rucksacks will know, the straps have an annoying habit of constantly slipping off one’s shoulders but with a belt, suitable cut down to size, I can ‘tie’ the carrying straps together across my chest so the shoulder slipping problem does not reoccur. This gives me two hands-free, one to carry my little lightweight stool that I use as a table for our victuals in the park and the other to link onto Meg to ensure that she does not trip over a kerb. I must add that Meg has form in this respect and a couple of years tripped over a kerb causing a ‘FOOSH’ injury (‘Fall On Out Stretched Hand’) that required surgery to correct and that we do not wish to repeat it unnecessarily.

This afternoon was dominated by the news of the stand-off between the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham and the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Basically, Andy Burnham supported by all of the leaders of the local authorities in the Greater Manchester area was demanding that if the Manchester Region was moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3 then some kind of support package was needed – more than the two-thirds of the minimum wage offered by the government. The whole thing came down to a haggle over money and the amount separating central and local government may have been as little as £5 million (small change to the Treasury when they have spent £12 billion on ‘Test-and-Trace’ i.e. 2,400 times as much) The whole episode is basically a tussle between an authoritarian inclined metropolitan government which feels that it knows best against the level of devolution which, having a policy of elected regional mayors suggests. How this will end is unclear at this stage – but the resentments between ‘The North’ and central government may well reverberate for years. Some informed commentators are saying that a clash like this would be inevitable sooner or later and that a policy of devolution-lite had not been really thought through.

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Monday, 19th October, 2020 [Day 217]

Today was a little out of the ordinary as I shall explain. Meg was in bed for the morning after a slight stomach upset so I made the walk down into town on my own. I took the opportunity to pop into my local Poundland where I want to buy some cut-price Tipp-Ex. Of course, Sod’s Law took over and the Tipp-Ex was the only thing I wanted that was out of stock but I took the opportunity to buy a few bits and pieces that are always useful but not the kinds of things you would specify on a normal shopping list. Having got home, I realised that I had not made my weekly Waitrose shopping order so I got onto the website and secured a slot very late on Thursday (which was pretty lucky given the lateness of the day).  I then ordered another slot for next week so I now have two ‘normal’ pending orders (and an ‘extraordinary’ Christmas week slot which I had booked up earlier in the week). After lunch, I received a phone call from our Oxford friends with whom we are going to share a tour round the Oxford Museum of Natural History as well as a lunch-date when we are exhausted with ‘museum walker’s foot’ We were both trying to organise a slot for this Saturday but as the slots are released in batches and you need to book about two weeks in advance, there were no spots available for this Saturday. After some telephone calls, we settled on going the week after next and at least now we know that we have a slot as the tickets are sent electronically nd hence can be printed off or the bar-code read directly from your phone. So we are looking forward to that in about ten days time. 

In the late afternoon, we knew we had an appointment with one of my Winchester colleagues/friends who has recently retired and we had agreed to ‘Zoom‘ each other. It took a certain amount of time to get our technology up and running but eventually we managed to liaise OK and had a wonderful chat, including news of old friends, pet cats and much else besides. We will probably repeat this about once a fortnight from now on and, as always in these COVID-19 days and the joys of video-technology, it is always rather wonderful to hook up in this particular way.

Now that the American election campaign is in its final stretches (15 days to go) I have found an incredibly informative website which gives a very careful analysis of the polling data without hyping up either side although its values do show! The title of the article I read was ‘8 Tips to Stay Sane in the Final 15 Days of the Campaign‘ and I found this to be incredibly informative. I was able to take a smidgeon of comfort from  the fact that on average, since 1972, national polling averages had shifted by an average of 1.8 points and a median of just 1.4 points in the final 15 days of the race. Given that Joe Biden is some 10 points ahead in the polls nationally, this is somewhat reassuring. However, I do have to keep reminding myself that opinions given over the phone (or internet) to a pollster intentions is one thing, but actually getting to vote (or getting your postal vote organised and not regarded as invalid) is another thing altogether.

Meanwhile, pressure seems to be mounting for at least a limited lock-down. 67% of the population are in favour of some type of ‘circuit breaker’ and some 61% do not trust the PM on COVID-19. If we were to have a full lock-down, the models suggest that the number of deaths would reduce from 20,000 to 12,000 (8,000 lives saved!) whereas were we go for a partial lockdown keeping shops and schools open, then the number of deaths would reduce from 20,000 to 15,600 (4,400 lives saved!) Meanwhile the (Asian)MP for Bolton South has just been admitted to a Manchester hospital once her COVID-19 symptoms had worsened – apart from Boris Johnson, is this the first MP to be hospitalised? A quick and not very systematic search of the web indicates that about 3 MP’s have been hospitalised, two from the Manchester area and two as members of the Asian community. Let us hope for the best.


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Sunday, 18th October, 2020 [Day 216]

We thought that today was going to prove to be a normal, restful Sunday morning but it was not to be. Having collected our Sunday newspapers, I settled down to watch the Andrew Marr show only for there to be a powercut within a few minutes. Going around the house and consulting our circuit-breaker box it became evident that the fault was on the power circuits and only those our living room. Now we had the difficult job of trying to identify which of the consumers could possibly be at fault. My suspicions fell on a large Dimplex electric fire we have which occupies our hearth because it seems to chomp through bulbs at a fairly regular pace and we suspected that that was the source of the problem. However when my son inspected the bulbs in the rear of the fire (I know how to get in and out of it quickly having done it several times before). My son followed his instincts and pulled at the fire’s cable which went through a hole cut in the fireplace surround (by the installers when we had our fire fitted thirteen years ago) and then saw the source of the problem. The fire’s own cable would not extend to the wall socket so the cable was attached to an extension lead. The fire’s own plug had one of those types of fuses that used to be popular when the fuse is visible from outside the casing and can be replaced without unscrewing the whole. The fuse in the fire’s plug and evidently melted and fused itself into the fuse carrier rendering the whole of that useless. Still, having identified the source of the problem I hastened down to a hardware shop, purchased a new plug with a conventional, internal fuse as well =as some spares and then set about rearing the plug. This I hadn’t done for about 20 years but you don’t lose the skills and techniques of a lifetime but the diagnosis and the repair both proved to be effective but only after a certain degree of stress. Meg and I walked to the park and then had a conventional, Sunday lunch, upon our return.

Last night, I came across a fascinating article, probably because as search terms I had used terms like ‘Can Biden Lose?’ and ‘Voter Suppression‘. The article was entitled ‘A Campaign of Voter Subtraction‘ and I found it gave me considerable pause for thought (and some pessimism). I already knew that the Republicans would try a variety of electoral tricks to try and disenfranchise their opposition but I hadn’t realised how systematic this was. The article maintained that whereas the Democrats try and increase the size of the electoral roll by leading drives for voter registration, the Republicans try to actively subtract voters by making it difficult to vote. Although some of your own supporters will lose out in this process, the tactic attempts to ensure that even more of your opponents (generally lower-income and black) are denied the vote. For example, if your signature does not exactly match that they have on file then a postal ballot is liable to be declared invalid. Another tactic is that anyone convicted of a felony, even decades ago, is automatically disqualified. The House of Representatives (Democrat-controlled) is well aware of these abuses and had passed several bills to modernise the voting procedures, only to have this legislation voted down by the Republican senate. In this way, voter suppression has proceeded apace and may reach new heights in this 2020 election. The article concludes that it is quite possible that Hillary Clinton as well as leading in the popular votes had actually carried more states than Trump (i.e. she won) but the disqualified and largely Democratic votes in many cases was larger than the small majority by which Trump had carried several states. So the margins in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania totalled 107,000 across the three states. Of course, this proposition is conjectural but it is undoubtedly true that Trump won with razor-thin margins in these states. By the way, I am predicting that some ‘dirty tricks’ will emerge on about Thursday i.e. 12 days before the election as this is the date (not too close to the election, not too distant) in which any damage that might be inflicted is at its maximum (like the disclosure of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails 12 days before the 2016 election!)

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Saturday, 17th October, 2020 [Day 215]

I always knew that today was going to be a bit busier than a normal Saturday and so it proved. Meg and I were a little late  but then we bumped into two of our friends that we had not seen for a few days followed shortly by another so soon we were five (No. 6 was busy weeding so he had already had his share of attention) Of course, we are all trying to make the best of things before some kind of new lock-down emerges as we will probably move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 within a few days. Eventually we made it to our newspaper shop and thence to our normal park bench where we had a snatched coffee. We knew that we did not a massive amount of time so had to cut short yet another couple of conversations in order to get home by 1.00pm. As it happened, we just had time to throw some sausages into the oven and then settled down in our study to enter a Zoom session with our two of our friends and ex-colleagues from our De Montfort University days (although we have met for meals at approximately yearly intervals since then) It was really good to chat with our friends again but the technology (‘Zoom‘) rather let us down because the quality of the video was pretty poor – we looked as though talking to each from under the sea,  and the audio seemed to come and go. Nonetheless, we  exchanged what stories and reminiscences we could for over three quarters of an hour but resolved to try another technology (‘Skype’?) in two weeks time.

I knew that after lunch I had to make my way to a nearby hospital to have a (routine) CT scan, ordered months ago by my cancer surgeon after an episode some two years ago. I treated myself to a brand-new face mask as I was going to visit a hospital and, fortunately, the car parking charges were suspended as well. I won’t bore you with details of the procedure except to note that the first attempt to insert a cannula into my left arm failed so I had to have it inserted into the other arm (this was to allow for the injection of the radio-opaque agent which has the strange effect – upon everybody – of making the bottom of your abdomen feel all warm) Removing the cannula seemed to result in the spillage of a certain quantity of blood so I was relieved to get home and have a nice cup of tea! (The procedure itself was relatively quick and trouble-free). Then we had to prepare ourselves for going to our church service from 6.00-7.00. In theory, we should have telephoned to reserve a place amongst the congregation to be one of the 36 allowed maximum. So we got there 20 minutes early and pleaded the we were ‘lost sheep returning to the fold‘ and, fortunately, there was space so we were not turned away. The service seemed a little more intimate tonight for reasons I cannot exactly put my finger on. Anyway, at an appropriate point in the service, a beautiful rendition was made of John Henry Newman’s poem/hymn ‘Lead, Kindly Light – amongst the encircling gloom; Lead thou me on‘ The story behind the penning of these lines is quite interesting. Apparently, it was composed in the middle of a tempestuous storm where all the fellow passengers were being sea-sick and all feared for their lives – Newman just got on and composed the poem  (I sent a recording of this to a friend of mine who was living out her last days in a hospice, hoping that it might bring a little bit of comfort to her. Whether it did or not, I do not know)

In the US, Donald Trump and Joe Biden did not debate with each other but each had what the Americans call a ‘town hall meeting’ with the two broadcasts transmitted at the same time. This format is favoured by Joe Biden and he appears to have performed well with a reasonable yet avuncular tone. Donald Trump did not fare so well, however, coming off second best to a feisty female interviewer and not helping to capture any of the middle groups by refusing, yet again, to condemn any of the white supremacist groups who are supporting him. In the meantime, the British political scene seems to be just as cantankerous but I am looking forward to tomorrow’s newspapers that often contain some interest insights/bits of gossip that do not get repeated much in the Main Street Media. It looks as though Boris is cooking up a miniature ‘circuit breaker’ of his own – it could be that something is devised which avoids the use of the term ‘lock-down’ or even ‘circuit breaker’ itself, whilst essentially being the same thing.

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Friday, 16th October, 2020 [Day 214]

We had a different set of routines for today so up to a point we were running to catch our own tails, as it were. In the morning, we had another video consultation for Meg and this took up most of the morning as it happened, although we were given the opportunity to have a break and a cup of tea in the middle of it! When all of this had been completed, we still needed to collect our daily ration of newspapers so we thought we do the unthinkable and collect the newspapers in the car (which we did), and then we made our trip to the park and a brief sit down and the briefest of walks before we return home in the car. On a Friday we used to make ourselves a ‘risotto’ but as this was principally a rice-based dish, we had got into the habit of doing another fish dish in its stead. But now I have discovered something called ‘Cauliflower Rice’ which is cauliflower florets made up into a rice-like consistency but with a minimal amount of calories. So I made a risotto using the cauliflower rice as a substitute, some kippers which were boiled in the bag and the other usual ingredients (onions, peas, yogurt) and the result was ‘OK-ish’ but I have made better, I must admit. In the afternoon, after a good read of the newspapers, I devoted myself to getting my accounts in order. Although it is not strictly necessary, I tend to write my transactions into a large ‘day book’ and then I have a complete written record of what I did and when. However, I not maintained my records for a long time so it took me an hour or so (the best part of the afternoon) to get all of this done. I am now firmly resolved to attend to my records a little more assiduously in the future. In the early evening, I had a video call with a Hampshire friend – we discussed mainly the American elections about which my friend is extremely knowledgeable but a domestic crisis intervened so we had to cut short our call and resume at a later date.

Being a Friday night, we are relaxing before the normal fare of end-of-week comedy. More unintentional comedy is being provided by Donald Trump who has apparently posted a tweet to a satirical news site that claimed that the whole of Twitter was being shut down to slow the spread negative stories about Joe Biden. The satirical website then claimed that the Twitter boss had smashed “as many computers as he could” with the help of a robot programmed to use a sledgehammer. It looks as though Trump eventually saw his mistake. The article ended by saying that “after hearing the Twitter employees talk about critical theory, the robot got woke and began attacking all the cis white males”. And as the president said ‘This has never been done in history‘ (You couldn’t make it up, if you tried!)

There seem to be two big political stories in town tonight. The first of these is the Brexit negotiations in which Boris Johnson has declared that negotiations are at an end.  The consensus view is that this is but the last stage in a last-minute stand-off and, in practice, a deal might be achieved at the very last moment in which Boris Johnson will claim victory and the rest of the supine British press will agree. The second story is, of course, the huge row between Manchester and Whitehall with Manchester refusing to be pushed into Tier 3 of lock-down categories, like Liverpool. The central government will always have the upper hand here as they control the purse strings but there is a feeling that the bitterness created by this dispute will last for a generation. One can understand the frustration of Manchester in this respect as moving to a more complete lock-down means that many businesses in the hospitality business will close down never to re-open. On the other hand, despite its protestations, it appears that the government is actually working on a variant of the ‘circuit-breaker’ approach and we might see a sort of ‘circuit-breaker lite’ appear that will be timed to coincide with half-term and will last for some 2-3 weeks.

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Thursday, 15th October, 2020 [Day 213]

Today, the weather is fine i.e. we are in the tail-end of a high pressure system which is gradually moving away. We are also not in a lockdown at the moment, being in Tier 1 – BUT this may well change in a few days time. Apparently, the good burghers of Worcestershire have been called into Whitehall to discuss why the whole of Worcestershire should not be placed into Tier 2 as there appear to be high rates of infection of COVID in both Bromsgrove (121 per 100,000) and Wyre Forest (=Kidderminter, Stourport) which is 87 per 100,000 whilst the rate for the county as a whole is about 94/100,000. The fellow feeling of the rest of Worcestershire is self-evident as they are arguing furiously that Bromsgrove and Wyre Forest should be regarded as separate from Worcestershire and put into Tier 2 leaving the rest of Worcestershire (and their businesses) alone. It looks as though Bromsgrove (and Wyre Forest) will almost certainly be put into Tier 2 early next week but we shall know soon enough. As the rate of COVID increase is 50% in the past week, then this seems to me to be a cast-iron certainty. When our friends invited us to have some coffee and cakes with the last week, it looks as they knew what was coming – to be honest, they are very well-informed about local matters and affairs.

Meg and I thought we would seize the moment and go off to Droitwich to the little cafe we frequented about a week ago and when we knew they put on a special last dinner once a week. So we popped in to have our morning coffee and to put it our oder for lunch later on in the morning. Then we did our round of charity shops which seem to have proliferated in profusion over the last year or so and we bought a very fashionable type of cardigan for Meg which will go well with some of her kilts and, on the spur of the moment, I bought myself a felt hat which fitted me perfectly and which will be used on fine days if I feel inclined to leave my black leather Australian bushman type hat at home. When we eventually got ourselves seated for lunch, we were treated to the most enormous meal you could imagine. The roast was turkey and we each had about 4 thick slices, a mountain of stuffing, carrots, sprouts, roast potatoes and gravy. We neither of us felt that we were going to manage to eat it all but I packed away almost all of mine and Meg ate most of hers as well. There seemed to be a supply of regulars who turn up week after week – perhaps they do not need to eat anything else for the rest of the week, given potions like that. Then we popped into the local Waitrose to buy some odds and ends that we knew were not coming in tonight’s order.

Last night before I eventually rolled into bed I thought I would consult the American website, MSNBC, which I now know was created as a result of a merger between Microsoft and NBC in 1996 (but perhaps is not very widely known, or even accessible, in the UK).  I found a fascinating analysis on that website which served to dampen my optimism at the prospect of a forthcoming Joe Biden election. The analysis examined the contest between Clinton and Trump in 1996 and then the context between Biden and Trump in 2020 in several of the key ‘swing’ states. The analysis was making a comparison at the same point in the electoral cycle i.e. about three weeks out and the startling thing was that Hillary Clinton was typically appearing to be beating Trump by an even greater margin than Joe Biden is at the moment – and then she still lost! This does give pause for thought. However, there are two important differences, the first being that four years ago, America was not in the middle of a pandemic with hundreds dying every day. Also, the news broke 12 days before the election that Hillary Clinton’s email records were about to be investigated again by the FBI with a suspicion that they might reveal evidence of corruption. This added to a very volatile and unstable situation for Clinton which led to her eventual eclipse in the polls – even though she did win several million more votes in the popular vote (but not, evidently, in the Electoral College) and the rest is history. The final point that I shall make about American politics is that as well as observing the Presidential race and the contest for Senate seats, the composition of several state legislatures could well ‘tip’ from Republican to democrat. Given that the Republicans typically pass legislation that makes life difficult for black people to vote (‘voter suppression’) then Democratic victories in some of the contests for the state legislatures could help to redress this balance. So another thing to keep my eye on!


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Wednesday, 14th October, 2020 [Day 212]

Today has turned out to be quite a busy day, as it turned out. The day before our Waitrose order is delivered, we always have to spend a certain amount of time updating it and, even so, there are always one or two things that you forget. Consequently, we popped into our local Waitrose store to buy one or two things of which we have run out before the order arrives tomorrow evening. Then home to prepare  our, by now, traditional curry which we shared with our domestic help (who loves them!) This afternoon as the weather was set fair, I thought I had better ‘gird up my loins’ and go and get the grass cut, which activity takes some 40 minutes for the large communal grassed area we have in front of our house and then some 20 minutes for our own lawns to the rear. This proceeded satisfactorily and I am completing how many cuts are needed before the end of the season – one or two? The last cut of the season I try and time to be as near to November 5th as I can and it is always a bit fiddly in that the hour has generally gone back so I have to press on before the light fades. I am always scrupulous in ensuring that I have not petrol left in the mower to ‘clog’ up things during the winter, so in the last cut of the season I am generally walking up and down, over-mowing the already cut areas whilst muttering to the mower ‘Die! Die!’ as I am waiting  for the last drop of petrol to be consumed. Then the season’s oil has to be drained out which is always a bit tricky. I try to ensure that I have a previously emptied tin can, shaped to provide a rudimentary lip before the old oil is stored in a bottle waiting for the next time that I go to the tip to dispose of it safely.

Today has been a day free of ‘video calling’ but I have one call arranged to call an ex-De Montfort University friend on Saturday and am in the middle of an email exchange to get something sorted out to video call an ex- University of Winchester colleague some time tomorrow. I am hopeful that once I get all of my systems and contacts set up, video-calling friends will become easier and easier once you have an agreed time to talk to each other.

Last night, before I went to bed I thought I would just do a quick check on the American media CNN and MSNBC to see what the polls in the American media were saying. The MSNBC results seem to be particularly detailed, giving Jo Biden a lead of 10.5% but also showing an indication of how individual polls were reporting in each of the swing states. Again, the majority of these reported that Joe Biden had a lead but the MSNBC reporting seemed to be highly ethical in that it would indicate ‘lack of sufficient data’ if the poll size looked too small or somewhat suspect. I thought I would also look at the massively pro-Trump Fox News to have a look at their spin which, as you might expect, was to generally agree that size of the leads but then to argue that the polls might have ‘over-sampled’ the Democratic vote. The big problem with all of this is that the intention to vote reported to an opinion poll is one thing, actually getting your vote into the system, regarded as valid (i.e. not excluded) and actually counted is quite another thing in a system where ‘voter suppression’ is so rife. On Election Day itself, we will be able to compare the opinion poll forecasts and what the actual counted votes reveal and I forecast quite a large discrepancy in the case of the Democratic vote.

 The British political scene is showing signs of complete fracture. In Northern Ireland, a type of ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown has been announced lasting a month. Wales has banned all visitors from affected areas in England, the Scots are imposing tighter ‘lock-down’ rules than the English 3-tier system, many northern local authorities are pleading/demanding with central government the they receive much more financial resource before they will consider being moved from ‘High’ to ‘Very High’.  In other words, the UK looks a complete mess at the moment as the national consensus has broken down with the Labour Party now supporting a 2-3 week circuit breaker for the UK whilst many Tories (on the right) want even fewer restrictions than we have at the moment. The situation does seem to be evolving day-by-day and it does appear that it will only be a matter of time (days?) before a type of ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown will be announced for the UK…

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Tuesday, 13th October, 2020 [Day 211]

It was an interesting, and somewhat different, kind of day today. At 9.00 am I had arranged to Skype one my Hampshire friends and this went ahead as planned, with the technology behaving itself as it should. My friend had worked in the same area of Manchester as I did back in 1969 but we were separated by a few years. Nonetheless, we spent a very pleasant hour going down ‘memory lane’ of significant points in our teaching career with our experiences when we first starting teaching, through the interesting encounters we had in validating degrees with the body known as CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards) to our more recent encounters with students and interesting colleagues. We are going to Skype at fortnightly intervals from now on but it’s possible that our interests will intensify as the American elections draw nigh. Then Meg and I walked to the park on a most beautiful day – sharp, bright and cool with plenty of almost warm autumn sunshine. In the park, we met with our Italian friend with whom we had a very interesting conversation – mainly reminiscing about the operas which we had been to see in the locality, sometimes in each other’s company. We also ‘tut-tutted’ about those people, fairly few in number and invariably younger than us, who did not seem to observe any degree of social distancing. On the way home, the weather had got more and more cloudy and it felt as though some rain might be imminent. Then we had a fairly quick turn around as I needed to walk down to Pilates with one of neighbours. When I got into the class, I announced that we all ought to be grateful to Present Trump as he announced that he was going ‘to kiss the guys and the beautiful women- a big fat kiss‘ So we worked out that if we had been present in Donald Trump’s rally in Florida last night we would have been thrown a face-mask (which we were not to wear) and then shoulder-to-shoulder (no social distancing) whilst Donald Trump threatened to kiss us all. You couldn’t make it up, could you? In the late afternoon, I had another fascinating Skype video link with one of my ex-University of Winchester friends and we exchanged news and gossip – we are going to repeat this exercise every week from now on.

The government have consistently claimed that in their response to the COVID-19 crisis they have always ‘followed the science’  However, tonight it has emerged that the SAGE committee advising the government (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) has recommended some weeks ago that there should be a 2-3 week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown similar to what we had experienced in March/April. Whether or not this would include school children is not completely clear but presumably so as there is talk of the coinciding with the half-term break in any case. The government has chosen not to follow this advice (fearing the enormous costs, job losses, difficulty of re-starting the economy and so on) and consequently the virus seems to be spreading at an enormous speed. The Labour Party has now clearly aligned itself with the scientists and so there is now a clear split in the political consensus. The Labour Party view will not prevail because a sizeable faction of the Conservative party want there to be radically less restrictions (at what cost to the health of millions?) I feel, personally, that the intellectual arguments must align with those who argue for a rapid ‘circuit-breaker’ type of lockdown, although the costs (financial, emotional) or undoubtedly enormous. But if we had less restrictions, then the hospitals will be over-whelmed and people will die in their  tens of thousands. As I said last night, the government’s present policy of three-tiers seems ‘too little, too late’

In the American elections, it does appear that Joe Biden might be 11% points ahead – according to the BBC poll of polls. But of course, this might be a misleading statistic as there is no point  in piling up votes in California which is always Democratic anyway. The crucial factor seems to be the lead in the swing states (equivalent to our ‘marginal constituencies’) which is tending to be in Biden’s favour by anything from 2%-7% (although Ohio is leaning towards Trump still) As all the states have their own electoral laws and voting arrangements there is plenty of scope for ‘voter suppression’ (making sure your opponents can’t actually get to the vote) at which the Republicans seem to be particularly adept. One tactic is to exclude anybody who has been convicted of any offence (e.g. for possessing marijuana 40 years previously) or to make sure that in the predominantly black areas, the polling stations are so few and far apart if it is not physically possible for all of the opponents to vote on the day. To see what I mean. look at the following fragment gleaned from the web

Last week Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, ordered counties to close extra drop-off sites for absentee votes until they have only one each. The move means that the 4.7m residents of Harris County, which surrounds Houston, will all have to converge on the same drop-box if they wish to cast an absentee vote in person.

Watch out for all of the dirty tricks that will be played out for us, particularly in states such as Florida and Texas!




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Monday, 12th October, 2020 [Day 210]

Today’s blog will be a return to ‘normality’ following the excursion of yesterday’s blog down memory lane – forgive the self-indulgence. Today was a ‘spitting’ kind of day in which it was not actually raining as such but there was plenty of water in the air and a type of drizzle. Having collected our newspapers, we had a fairly soggy sojourn on our park bench but got into an interesting conversation with a lady who we recognise who regularly comes to our area of the park and who recognised us. We had an interesting conversation but had to rather curtail it because everyone was getting a little cold and miserable but no doubt there will be other occasions for a more extended chat. I did not mention that yesterday we attempted to Skype (but eventually Zoomed) Meg’s great-niece and her husband living at the moment in Seattle. We spent more than an hour chatting with each with other with family matters and politics being the main topics of conversation – we arranged to have another video-chat on the day after the election in the USA to which we are both looking forward in a macabre sort of way. Actually, all of the focus is on the presidential election but one-third of the Senate seats come up for re-election and it is just possible that the Republicans who have a very narrow lead in the current Senate lose that lead and the Democrats could end up with a lead of one. The American constitution (which we studied at university) is predicated upon a system of checks and balances and it does not often happen that the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives are ALL governed by the same party. Of course, there is till the countervailing power of the Supreme Court which could well have an extra ‘conservative’ nomination approved in the next week or so, leaving the balance of Conservatives to Liberals of 9:3. With an important case shortly to come before the Supreme Court (whether to exclude pre-existing conditions from the Americans ‘Affordable Care Act‘) then the composition of the Supreme Court can have a direct effect upon millions of Americans. So I shall try and follow the senate elections with as much interest as the presidential elections – remember, you read it here first!

Today has been a more technological kind of day. Last night, I managed to get Zoom installed upon my Mac and now I have to learn how to use it! One way or another, I have arranged for a good friend and ex-De Montfort University lecturer who runs her own research consultancy to get into contact next Saturday, so if I get that working OK then I will have most of my most significant contacts accessible on either FaceTimeSkype or Zoom. Tomorrow, for example, I have Skype slots to talk to ex-Winchester colleagues, one at 9.0am and the other at 4.40 (after my Pilates class) As the second wave of COVID-19 gathers pace, ‘winter draws on’ (a phrase once banned by the BBC) and the ability to meet people in the flesh diminishes, the uses of social and technological communication assumes a new level of importance.

As I write tonight, the UK is to be divided into three-tier lockdown levels – medium, high and very high alert levels. Much of the South and a half of the Midlands area in the medium-risk level, whilst much of the North and the North-East are to be placed in the high-risk area and Liverpool will be placed in the very high-risk area. Reluctantly, the central government appears to be conceding that the national test-and-trace regime is not fulfilling its potential and no wonder why when it was subcontracted to Serco and did not utilise the real expertise which the local authorities have ‘on the ground’. It does appear that a metropolitan i.e. London based government is laying down an almost colonial-style regime for the North and the Midlands – who are reacting with a degree of fury. Once totally locked down (as in Liverpool) then the night-time economy will ‘de facto’ cease and the workers will have to survive (or starve) on two-thirds of the national minimum wage (whilst paying 100% of their mortgages and food bills) There is a palpable degree of anger and frustration in the country tonight and a feeling of rampant unfairness. The Nightingale hospitals (emergency large scale industrially built hospitals) are being readied again and the NHS stands on the point of being overwhelmed again (if hospital admissions double every week or so) There is a feeling that ‘something has to be done’ but my own feeling is that it is ‘too little, too late’ I must admit to feelings of dismay when I ty to observe social distancing in my daily walks to the park whilst being dismayed by the scenes of what happens at pub turning out time with hundreds of young people, not generally masked and not observing any social distancing whilst the police stand by helplessly. (Just a thought – I said to the lady in the park today ‘Why don’t they use police horses like the way the used to police large crowds at football matches’ and then I saw a clip of videotape in which the police were doing just that in Liverpool!) But again – too little, too late! 

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