Friday, 30th October, 2020 [Day 228]

Today turned out to be an unseasonably mild day – the leaves were swirling around us in a wind that was not the bitter, biting kind you normally get in the autumn and winter but rather a mild and gentle kind. Having collected our newspapers (the very last ‘Times‘ in the shop!) we met with one of ‘park’ friends who we have not seen for a few days. She is a wheelchair user and comes to the park most days so we congratulated each other on keeping going to get our fresh air and exercise even while the intensity of COVID-19 seems to be increasing. On our way up the hill, we encountered our Italian friend who we have not seen for several days and we exchanged some very pleasant minutes together talking about families amongst other things. We made a general arrangement to meet over Christmas in one or other of our houses for a Christmas mince pie and sherry – although that is some way off, it’s nice to know that in the very truncated Christmas that faces us, we still have a circle of friends with whom we can commune. This lunchtime, we treated ourselves to one of my traditional curries (which I share with our domestic help) and now that I have discovered the joys of packets of cauliflower rice, I can eat my traditional curry without fear of sending my carbohydrate balance into overdrive.

Last night, we discovered rather late on that Oxford City is being ‘promoted’ to Tier 2 which puts into jeopardy our lunchtime date with friends tomorrow, where we were going to visit one of the of the Oxford museums before repairing to a meal. So, instead, after some emails and telephone calls, we went onto ‘Plan B’. Now we are going to eat in a Turkish restaurant in Bicester which has an excellent local reputation. The location is approximately equidistant between the two of us and it is quite easy to access from the motorway (and parking can be found quite easily) so we have rescued something from the lockdown restrictions, whilst keeping within the law.To be honest, Oxford was one of the last places I expected to be moved up a Tier and I wonder whether the great influx of students into the University (24,000 converging on the city) a few weeks ago has anything to do with the sudden increase in the COVID-19 infection rate. This seems more likely as I have seen a report that the COVID-19 infection rates in university cities such as Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham are up to SEVEN times greater than in the surrounding areas.

As the USA election approaches, the issue of ‘voter suppression’ is rearing its ugly head. Let us imagine that you are a staunch, and very committed Republican voter, who has followed the polling news given in various websites – you will be aware that Trump has trailed Biden by every poll since last January and the latest ‘poll of polls’ puts Biden at 52% and Trump at 43% – a 9% gap. As you know that approx. 50% of the electorate has already voted, then to reverse this pattern you would need a Trump polling figure of 52% (and Biden at 43%) within the next few days. To put on an increase of 9% in your share of the vote in the last 4 days would seem to be almost completely impossible, given you had been behind in the polls for the last nine months! So what to do? The only viable strategy is to get as many who think like you to come out to vote in person next Tuesday and do whatever you can to deter Biden supporters (more likely the not to be black voters) from voting, This can be achieved in a variety of ways.One is to get every retired policeman you know to turn up with preferably (large) weapons to march up and down the voting lines so as to act as ‘eyes and ears’ for the Republicans. Another technique is to rely upon your legislators in your local City hall to restrict the number of ballot boxes in your local area. So, far example, the Texas (Republican) governor has  limited drop boxes to one per county. In Harris county, Texas, home to Houston, that’s one box for 4.7 million people.  To round off, this merry section of news, the channel MSNBC (one of the liberal Main Street Media) has assembled a series of clips, including one from Trump himself, arguing that if the size of the electorate increases, the Republicans are always going to lose – and therefore, to ‘win’ you have to suppress the anti-Trump vote as much as you can relying upon the various courts (and the Supreme Court) to back up the decision. This is going to play out in the USA increasingly over the next few days. Watch this space!

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Thursday, 29th October, 2020 [Day 227]

Today was a typical autumn day with a lot of low-hanging cloud and weather where the rain was sort of hanging in the air – i.e. not quite a drizzle but certainly feeling a little damp. I walked down to town briskly on my own this morning to collect our ration of newspapers because we had a lunch date in our favourite little cafe in Droitwich, to the south of us. We decided to take our son with us and as a threesome enjoyed a roast of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all of the trimmings. The dinners are so large that we never have room for the sweets which are homemade (like trifles) and which are, no doubt, delicious. We ate early today because we needed to get back in time for our Waitrose delivery which was scheduled too arrive between 2.00 and 3.00 but in practice, turned up a little later. I have now added to my stock of Newcastle Brown Ale as I am getting well prepared for the election marathon night/day following the US election on Tuesday. It seems that over 75 million Americans have already cast their vote either by mailing in their ballot paper. or else by dropping them off at special ‘ballot drop boxes’ which seem to be a particular feature of this year’s election. Some states have had them for years but the popularity of this type of voting has increased tremendously with the COVID-19 virus ripping through communities. They have to be cemented into the ground and are subject to surveillance by video camera so, in theory, they should be tamper proof. The 75 million is well in excess of the 130+ million who voted in the 2016 Trump v. Clinton election and is probably one half of the 150 million who may well be voting in 2020. This is the point at which the story starts to get confusing. Each state has different laws regarding when the contents of ‘mailed-in’ and ‘ballot box drop’ votes will be counted. Some states will not start counting until the ballot has officially ‘closed’ whereas some other states allow for pre-processing e.g. taking the ballots out of their envelopes, checking that they are valid/legal votes  etc. before the actual counting starts.

Now why should all of this matter? Well the following scenario may well play out. Pennsylvania is a crucial ‘battle-ground’ or ‘swing’ state which Trump just captured last time – but all of the indications are that Biden is narrowly ahead this year. However, we know that Republican voters typically vote in person whilst Democrat voters make more use of mailed-in or ballot drop boxes. The ‘in person’ votes are counted first so the initial indications may well be that Trump retained Pennsylvania – but the true result may well be known only in a few days time when the mailed-in votes are counted. So it is quite conceivable that Trump will declare he has ‘won’ Pennsylvania and attempt to use an army or lawyers to delay or invalidate the counting of the mailed-in votes, appealing all the way to the Supreme Court in the process (one of the reasons why he was so keen to get his own nominee, a proven conservative, to be confirmed in their position on the Supreme Court  only days before the election). So if the result in Pennsylvania is critical for getting the requisite votes in the Electoral College (the magic figure of 280 vote) then we may now know the result of Tuesday’s election for days (or even a week or so) later. The scenario I have just outlined for Pennsylvania could well be repeated for each of the other crucial battle-ground states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida for a start)- no doubt we will see in the days following Tuesday (I hesitate to even say Wednesday)

And now to the UK domestic scene. The rate at which the COVID-19 virus is accelerating with an intensity and a ferocity not only in the UK but also in France and Germany is a source of real concern. More areas are being moved from Tier 1 to Tier 2 even today – residents in areas of Yorkshire and the Humber, parts of the West and East Midlands, as well as Luton and Oxford City will come under stricter measures. This may put our trip to Oxford on Saturday under some jeopardy but we shall have to wait and see. It looks as though half the country will soon be in Tier 2 or Tier 3 from next Monday – and perhaps most of the country by Christmas! 

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Wednesday, October 28th, 2020 [Day 226]

Today turned out to be one of the most interesting of days. As we walked down into town this morning, we were called in to one of our oldest (church) friends who live down the hill and, as they espied us walking down, invited us in for a coffee and biscuits. They are such good company that we were delighted to accept the invitation. We engaged in what the Irish term ‘craic’ and I give the Wikipedia definition here: Craic (/kræk/ KRAK) or crack is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland. This is very interesting, not least seeing what I suppose is the original Gaelic term – otherwise if you were say ‘we enjoyed engaging in crack with our friends’ this is liable to a massive mis-interpretation. Anyway, we discussed our tentative plans to see each other over the Christmas period – and I had fun putting a bit of flesh on the ‘bare bones’ story (in last night’s blog ) with the Professor of Surgery at Manchester University whilst I was a student there in the mid 1960’s. After a very enjoyable get-together, we carried on into the town, picked up our newspapers, sojourned for a little in the park and made our way home in term for a somewhat delayed lunch.

This afternoon was, to be fair, a little on the lazy side but I do enjoy a good read of ‘The Times‘ before we made a Skype call to one of our ex-Winchester friends. This, too, turned out to be an incredibly enjoyable three-quarters of an hour with stories, jokes, reminiscences and so on. We are both looking forward with a kind of fascinated horror to the US election next Tuesday/Wednesday and will no doubt text/email each other constantly as the story unfolds. In the meanwhile, I have been busy ordering more supplies of my favourite tipple of Newcastle Brown (ale) which I intend to work my through, either by way of celebration or to drown my sorrows, whatever the case might be. (I hasten to point out, though, that if the result is delayed by several days which could well be the case, I do NOT intend to be in a state of permanent inebriation as normal life has to go on!)

As I blog this evening, it looks as though both France and Germany are heading quickly towards full-scale lockdowns similar to the spring (with the possible exception of keeping children still within the schools). If this is indeed the case, then can the UK be far behind? The difficulty is that  we do not seem to learn the lessons of history and do ‘too little, too late’ so it could be that delaying the almost inevitable full UK-wide lockdown by a week doubles the number of deaths, infections, hospital admissions and so on. Of course there is a division of opinion between the libertarians who would wish for no lockdowns at all once the extremely vulnerable are protected and the majority of scientific opinion that seems to indicate that a full lockdown is better done sooner rather than later.

Every so often, you get a news story that leaps out at you and this is a story from Wisconsin, USA. There is an incredibly well informed website called ‘‘ and what they have to say is so extraordinary that I quote their headline in full (it was also reported on Channel 4 news in the UK):

Once in a blue moon, you see a poll that makes you blink twice to make sure you’re not seeing things. This morning’s ABC News/The Washington Post survey of Wisconsin was just such a poll. It showed Joe Biden 17 points (not a typo) ahead of President Trump, 57 percent to 40 percent, among likely voters. To put it mildly, this is a stunning margin in what is supposed to be one of the most competitive swing states in the country — a place that Trump carried by less than 1 percentage point in 2016.

Of course, this might be a completely rogue poll – as there are so many polls conducted in the USA, across all of the states as well as nationally, then statistically one would expect the occasional ‘outlier’ or statistical aberration. But what is so extraordinary about this poll is that it is conducted by ABC News/Washington Post which is regarded as one of the ‘gold star’ polls in terms of the methodology deployed. As I have now learnt, there are three ‘rust-belt’ states across the north of the USA in which many of the traditional industries have declined – these are Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If Biden were to win these three northern states than together with other states that are pretty secure Biden should have enough votes in the Electoral College to gain the magic 270 votes needed (even if, subsequently, he fails to win Florida in the ‘Sunshine Belt’)


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Tuesday, 27th October, 2020 [Day 225]

This morning our car was returned good and sound having sailed through its latest service and MOT. What was so innovative (for me) was that I received a video with the car mechanic having video-ed each of the tyres with the amount of tread chalked on, the suspension, the exhaust and other bits of the car’s underside (rather like an endoscopy for cars) All of this is no doubt enabled by the ease of taking a video clip complete with running commentary and putting on the web for owners to view, but it certainly is a worthwhile innovation as reassurance for car-owners. Do all the modern, well-equipped garages do this nowadays, I wonder?

The major news of the day, however, was the news that arrived overnight in our email that the wife of one of our closest friends in Hampshire had passed away earlier on in the day. This was not unexpected but nonetheless it always comes as quite a trauma to the grieving partner when the inevitable happens. I wrote what words of comfort I could but on these occasions I find it difficult not to sound trite. I made the suggestion that perhaps we could a have a memorial meal or a similar social gathering some time in the summer when we might all be able to travel to be with each other and commemorate the the life of our friend. Another Hampshire friend had emailed during the night suggesting that we Skype at 9.00 this morning, but when the appointed time came along, so an email arrived saying my friends could not access Skype as the internet was down (and his wife was not well either, manifesting the line from Shakespeare that ‘troubles come not singly like spies but in battalions’). So we will have to Skype and chat on another occasion when the time is a bit more propitious.

Our trip to the park was conducted through rather blustery and rainy conditions. We had to wipe our park bench down with the tea towel which we keep inner rucksack for such a purpose – needless to say, nobody else was actually sitting down as we were.On the way home. we had a rather strange encounter with a man who was visiting Bromsgrove who  was visiting his brother who he had not seen for twenty-five years. We were informed, though, that this man’s ADHD was probably the result of his mother’s Narcissism which had itself manifested itself by his mother taking off with another man the day after his father died (you DO meet some people in the park!) On our way up the hill, we were pleased to have a pleasant snatched conversation with one of our friends who we had not seen for several days and we made commiserations with other as to how strange Christmas was going to be this year when particularly extended families could not get together as they normally did. As the weather was inclement, we were pleased to get home and to have the prospect of a good long post-prandial read before our next social interaction.

In the late afternoon, we Skyped another of our Hampshire friends and his wife, with whom we all share some Manchester affiliations. I regaled them with one or two of our Manchester University memories.One of these was my encounter with the Professor of Surgery at Manchester University, long since dead so I can refer to him as Professor Boyd. I had discovered a little lump in my neck and somehow (to this day I do not know how) I finished up in his office requesting that he remove the offending tissue. He readily agreed to this but his post-graduate students seemed to be in a state of some panic as I had not been properly prepped before the operation. I woke up an hour later and was discharged from hospital the following day, only to discover when the swelling had gone down that the good Professor had missed taking up my lump about an inch and a half. I went back to see him and he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘Just don’t worry about it – I’ve had a lump in my axilla for decades and it hasn’t caused any harm‘ So I did just as he suggested until we happened to meet again as he turned up on my ‘patch;’ when I was a Census enumerator of the 1971 census. The good professor used to throw some exotic dinner parties, all seated round the large dining table he had in his living room. These dinners were fabled,  not least because Professor Boyd possessed a pet monkey who lived to swing from the chandeliers and regularly used to urinate in a line across the dinner table just as the guests were sitting down to their soup. I heard this story from several old hands who, when they complained to the Professor (‘Excuse me, Professor, but your monkey’s just pissed in my soup’) would be informed  ‘Don’t worry – its well filtered and should be biologically pure!”  Now have I heard the ‘Don’t worry about it’ epithet somewhere before, I wonder?


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Monday, 26th October, 2020 [Day 224]

Today was quite an unusual and atypical kind of day. Firstly, my car needed to go into the garage to get its MOT done before we trade it in within about twelve days. These days, the garages offer the most civilised of services. Instead of driving to the garage, the garage staff will come out to you in a car that you can utilise for the rest of the day. When your own is handed over to them, all the touchable surfaces are disinfected (keys, steering wheel etc) by staff who are all masked and helmeted before the car is handed over. Presumably the procedure is reversed at the end of the day when you got your own car back again but in our case the procedure was going to be delayed for a day whilst the garage’s MOT machine was being repaired) I checked with the garage that all would be well when we pick up our new car in twelve days time and I was reassured that all would be well, and we arranged a ‘pick up’ time for a week on Friday. This week, as it happens,  will be our last biggish trip in our present car as we are due to meet some friends outside the National History Museum in Oxford where we are going to visit and then go off afterwards for a meal.

The next rather strange event was a phone call (pre-arranged) from one of the GP’s in our local practice. I had received the results of a CT scan which I had undertaken some ten days before and whilst my consultant (cancer) surgeon said there was no indication of any recurrence of bowel cancer the CT scan had raised an issue for me to discuss my GP. The GP seemed to be floundering about a little and I gained the impression that she was at a bit of a loss to know how to proceed. Eventually, we agreed a course of action which will involve referral to another consultant. I also asked her to recommend a course of physiotherapy for a finger which is troubling me and was informed that all of the physiotherapy procedures were now being conducted by an organisation called ‘Physiotherapy First‘ or something similar. I was given a telephone number to ring which, as it happened, was the physiotherapy centre next to the GP practice where I undertake my weekly Pilates. Having established I was an NHS referral, I then got an assessment interview for later on in the afternoon, which I gladly accepted. As it happened, the physiotherapist and I knew each other by sight both having been at the practice for about eight years. I had my assessment consultation today but any therapeutic sessions will take weeks to come through (but at least I am ‘plugged into’ the system) To complete my ‘medical type of day’ I had also requested a routine monitoring blood-test and this was arranged eventually (but it took half-an-hour in a telephone queue to get this booked) Whilst I am not complaining about the service I have received from the NHS, my experiences today have highlighted both the fragmentary nature of the current NHS with linkages that do not always work, as well as a system under pressure.

Channel 4  News tonight had quite an interesting revelation in a ‘Vox Pop‘ kind of interview with electors in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania (a traditional coal-mining state which Trump just managed to win last time on the promise of regenerating the coal industry!) The ‘Vox Pop‘ indicated that the ardent Trump supporters were convinced that COVID-19 either does not exist or is being grossly exaggerated for the purpose of robbing Americans of their traditional freedoms (i.e. to NOT wear face masks!) and is being used by the Democrats as just an electoral ploy to ‘steal’ the election which is rightly theirs by playing on people’s fears. I wonder how the state of Pennsylvania will actually go (Biden is narrowly ahead in the opinion polls) and what people will say on the after the polls are declared if Trump does lose Pennsylvania. Incidentally, the sight of so many ardent Trump supported displaying huge amounts of weaponry is undoubtedly unsettling if the election to be decided in Biden’s favour by a very slim majority.

Meanwhile, back in the realm of domestic politics, Boris Johnson is still refusing his policy of not extending free school meals to certain children over the half-term period. He continues to say the existing policy will not change whilst arguing that ‘no child will go hungry’ The government seem to appreciate that allowing children in a rich country to go hungry (at a cost of £21 million per week) whilst billions are spent elsewhere does not make for good politics, or headlines. I suspect that it is only a matter of a few days before there has to be a humiliating climbdown but we shall have to wait and see!

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Sunday, 25th October, 2020 [Day 223]

Today in the wee small hours of the morning is when the clocks were turned back one hour so this morning we were engaged in making sure that our various clocks and timers were all pointing in the right direction. Fortunately, our computers and clock radios which receive a signal automatically will update themselves without human intervention whilst everything gets our manual attention. I always find that the clock provided in the car always takes some thought but fortunately I remembered how to do this as well. I ‘cheated’ a little by going down to collect the newspapers by car instead of walking down and back as I normally do. Then, after the Andrew Marr show, which is a regular feature of Sunday mornings, Meg and I walked down to the park and got into an interesting conversation with a cyclist who was out taking the park air together with her father. We found that we both had solved a common problem i.e. at the age when children were old to acquire something like a juvenile or adult size bike but were not safe enough to be let out on the roads on their own, then one or both parents would buy an adult bike and accompany their youngsters on the open roads. We do have a few cycle lanes, of course, but they are actually   few and far between an then one has to take a decision whether to risk the main roads (legal but not very safe) or ride along the footpath (safer, but of dubious legality). We then had a rather thrown-together type of Sunday lunch before we settled down to a really good long read of the Sunday newspapers. The Sunday Times had done a massive exposure on the ways in which in the early days of the epidemic (approx April) when admissions to hospital were rising at an alarming rate, then the government introduced a type of rationing system. In this the over 80’s, particularly if they had other contributing conditions such as heart disease, obesity or diabetes, were routinely denied admission to hospital or else were decanted into residential homes (often infected with virus) where they subsequently died. Some of the most severe rationing was eased somewhat when it was evident that the peak had passed but in the meantime, there were probably thousands of people throughout the country who lost loved ones early by them not getting the treatment that they needed. Of course, the government has denied the impact of these reports but the depth of the investigative reporting by the Sunday Times is impressive and it hardly likely that the journalists and investigators would have lied (whereas governments of all political persuasions have often taken the easy way out be being ‘canonical with the truth’ i.e. lying to their electorate)

The American elections, as you might expect, are extensively analysed and discussed by the British media. It is now becoming apparent that as a Biden victory looks more likely than not then the British government is finding itself badly wrong footed. Normally, a British government would make sure that it had constructive links with both sides of the electoral divide in the USA on the grounds that you wanted to establish good relations with whoever won. However, the Boris Johnson government has made practically no efforts to establish any links with the Democrats, preferring to see themselves as a natural ally of Donald Trump. According to Andrew Rawnsley in ‘The Observer‘ then ‘Being Britain’s Trump goes down almost as poisonously being Trump himself among many in Team Biden. They are bracketed together in the minds of the Democrats …because both are rule-breaking populists who have polarised their countries and trashed historic alliances.’ It looks as though this is impacting upon the Brexit negotiations – in the (now very unlikely) prospect of a Trump win then a deal with the USA may be on the cards and therefore a ‘no-deal’ Brexit more likely. But in the absence of any kind of sympathetic deal with the US, then the UK may be ‘forced’ by economic logic to accept some kind of minimal deal with the EU, even though they would ideally like to walk away. COVID-19 and Brexit are related,of course – many on the Tory right (i.e. the majority of the current Tory party) are salivating at the prospect of ‘no- deal’ with the EU because the undoubtedly economic cost would not be identifiable when the COVID-10 induced recession bites really hard.

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Saturday, 24th October, 2020 [Day 222]

We were a little delayed this morning getting some domestic jobs out of the way before we started our walk this morning. Although there was a little drizzle initially, by the time we made it to the park the heavens opened and we had to make a bee-line for the bandstand in order to prevent a complete soaking. I had forgotten one or two items on our regular Waitrose order so we called in at our local store (the one we used to frequent every day before the great lock-down) Although I only bought about three items, the staff who were on duty treated us like prodigal children and made us a present of a Victoria sponge cake. Once we got lunch out of the way, we had an afternoon of rugby for us to enjoy and watched quite a good match, if a little one-sided between Italy and Ireland. We didn’t see the last five minutes of what proved to be particularly exciting as we were getting ourselves to go off to our Saturday evening church service. After this, we got back home to have our traditional Saturday afternoon bowl of soup before we treated (if that is the right word) to a Wales vs. France match. As I write, the French seem to have got the better of the Welsh as one particularly brilliant fast running French player has scored three tries and has almost beaten the Welsh single-handed. The rugby matches are a completion of last year’s Six Nations and some of the players are in the strange position of starting off this year’s season for their clubs whilst completing last year’s internationals. However, at the end of the day, the Welsh seem to have beaten by a French team who were incredibly good at seizing opportunistic tries and exploiting weaknesses in the Welsh defence.

Tonight, there seems to be a proliferation of political stories. It seems that in Wales, many are objecting to the fact that supermarkets have been instructed to sell only ‘essential’ goods (and then to apply ‘common sense’).  In London, there seems to have been some demonstrations against the lockdown (or rather the fact that London is now in Tier 2 rather than Tier 1) and some police officers as well have demonstrators have been injured (this might be the precursor of things to come) There also seems to be a rumbling discontent from some Tory MP’s that the majority of them voted NOT to allow children to have free school meals extended to half term and some councils, including Conservative ones, have indicated that they are going to continue to provide them. Some Tory MP’s believe that for comparatively minuscule amounts of money there is a public relations disaster in the making as the Government itself seems to be happy to let children go hungry – even some commercial companies, as well as local authorities, think this situation is so dire that they are providing funds for school meals. Meanwhile, the number of new COVID-19 infections has risen by one quarter since yesterday to 23,000.

On the other side of the Atlantic, it appears that both candidates managed to land blows on their opponent in the last Presidential debate but there was no clear winner or loser. The format of the debate helped in that the debate organisers had instituted a mute button so that listeners could not hear the interruptions of one candidate whilst the other was speaking (which made the first debate such a disaster) According to the BBC poll of polls, Biden is some 8 points ahead whereas, in the CNN poll of polls, Biden is some 10 points ahead. It appears that some 56.5 million voters have already voted (about 30% of the entire electorate) and the turnout may well be the highest since 1909. If the turnout figure is accurate, this can be an advantage to the Democrats as Democrat-leaning non-voting last time around certainly handed Donald Trump history. Of course, there are still about 9 days to go before the actual election date and a lot of eyes are turned upon Florida. This state is always a crucial indicator and may declare before some of the other big ‘battleground’ states. But if you wanted to be pessimistic, it could be several days (or even weeks) before the final result is actually known. Florida has always had really tight and sharply contested elections and this year will be no exception.



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Friday, 23rd October, 2020 [Day 221]

Today was the last in a series of video-links in which Meg was undertaking some tasks and tests and this took up a good part of the morning, as you might imagine. When all of this had been conducted, Meg and I thought we would make a quick ‘short-circuited’ dash for our newspapers in the car which we did and were also relieved that our NHS COVID-19 app was now working. When I tried it yesterday, the app (on my new phone) said there was a conflict with other technology and so it wouldn’t run. So I dis-installed (i.e. removed) it, re-installed it and today it operated the way it should when I entered the newsagent. Then we made our way to the park, had a quick banana and made our way home after a somewhat truncated morning. We cooked ourselves a risotto (made with mackerel on this occasion) and the results were better than last week, I am pleased to say.

Tonight, as I was starting to blog I got a FaceTime call from my ex-University of Winchester colleagues/friends whose wife was now extremely ill. We discussed various matters at great length and I hope that we managed to exchange some useful information with each other. Actually, we spent quite a long time discussing Floridoan politics as Florida is now such a key state in the forthcoming election. There was an extraordinarily good Channel 4 expose the other evening which detailed how the Republicans had got all kinds of demographic data which meant they could target individual members of the Florida electorate with a message tailored to their voting preferences. The Hispanic members of this particularly targeted precinct were illuminating but disturbing. Apparently one quarter were already firmly committed Trump supporters, one quarter was ‘persuadable’ i.e. uncommitted voters and a further quarter were voters who had to be dissuaded by any means possible from voting (for Clinton/Biden) Apparently, the techniques used four years ago had really intensified and the Democrats seemed powerless to contradict the social messages. So although Biden is a few points ahead in the current set of opinion polls, I am not at all sure and would be surprised if for a second/third occasion the Republicans just about sneaked it again. Only about eleven more days to go now, so the Mike Hart crate of brown ale, is slowly being populated whilst I wait for the election night (or rather the day after it)

The COVID-19 data seems a little difficult to interpret this evening. One the one hand, the level of new infections per day seems alarmingly high (about 35,000 new cases in the last day, according to the BBC website but 20,530 according to Sky News) It might be that these figures are capable of being reconciled but without doing a great deal of background work, I am not sure how, as I write this evening.  On the other hand, it does look as though the rates of infection amongst the younger population (less than 30) seems to be moderating whilst the corresponding rates of infection for the more elderly age groups seem to be rising. There is also some evidence, tentative at this stage, from Public Health England that in this second wave the rate of increase may be levelling off somewhat i.e. although figures are rising by large amounts each day, it is not by quite the same percentage as the day before. It is certainly the case that Wales has a fairly complete lockdown whilst in England, the Tier 3 infections cover Liverpool, Manchester, Lancashire and parts of South Yorkshire. This pattern is evolving day by day and some areas might be about to be classified as Tier 3 in a few day’s time. The fact that the concentration of virus appears to be so much greater in the older, erstwhile industrial areas of the North and the Midlands must be a source of concern. Whereas there was always a health gradient between these older industrial areas and the more affluent and prosperous South of England, then COVID-19 seems to have added an extra layer (and twist) to these pre-existing patterns. What is needed is a redistribution of power and wealth across the national landscape – moving the capital to the North would help (although plans to move the House of Lords to York were soon squashed) Perhaps, also, the time is now ripe to move away from the ‘winner takes all’ approach in the first-past-the-post electoral system and that we move to a form of PR which would probably mean an almost complete era of coalition governments (which might be a recipe for disaster if the coalitions take weeks or months to form!)

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Thursday, 22nd October, 2020 [Day 220]

Today was predicted to be a beautiful autumn day so we decided to make the best of it whilst we possibly could. So we decided to repeat the pattern of the last week or so and visit Droitwich, the small town to the south of us and home to a wonderful Waitrose, as it happens! We collected our newspapers and then headed off for Droitwich where we made our way hastily to our little teashop in which we were going to lunch later. Having had our elevenses and a chat and a joke with the locals (it is that sort of teashop) we headed towards the local Wilko store that we frequent almost every time we are in Droitwich.  I bought a range of stationery items including things you do not see every day (such as a packet of address labels on sheets that can be fed into my laser printer thus making short work of my Christmas card list). Two years ago, I put in the investment of ‘computerising’ my Christmas card list thus alleviating the tedious chore of hunting through old diaries and address books to find the names of distant relatives to whom you only send a Christmas once a year to prove to them (and yourself) that they are still alive.  After this, we did return to our tea shop to have one of their huge roast dinners that they put on once a week (on a Thursday) and partook of a huge lamb meal on this occasion. When we got home, we asked our son if he would like to join us next week and as he is ‘on leave’ he will do so which be a revelation for him. The only thing to mar our enjoyment of the day was to return to the car, only to discover it had been dive-bombed by a local, incontinent seagull who had made a right mess of the roof and both sides of the car. (Incidentally, why should it happen that only my car receives this treatment and not the two on either side which appeared to be absolutely pristine and unscathed) One of life’s great mysteries! So on my return home, I immediately got to work with a bucket of soapy water and a long-handled car brush to remove the offending deposits, As the car has not had a proper clean for a long time, after a cup of tea, I decided to treat it, and myself, to a good carwash in an establishment at the back of a pub run by a group of Kurds. As my contact appeared a little shorthanded today I had to wait about an hour and a quarter until it was ready. I entertained myself by spending a really long, leisurely wander around my local Poundland store – normally, it is a quick in-and-out job as I know what I want and where to find it.  As we are approaching Halloween, the store was full of cheap crap which will end up in landfill in a few days time in the second week of November, no doubt. Nonetheless, I did manage to buy one or two stationery items which will add to my store.

It looks as though the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now appreciated the depth of the crisis of the individuals facing severe economic hardship in Tiers 2 and 3. So the scheme he devised in order to replace furlough has already been revised and made a little less mean than it was.  Employees now only to work for 20% of the time (down from a third) to receive 75% of their wages (up from two thirds) whilst the employer’ contribution is reduced to a token 5% (down from 33%) and a system of cash grants will operate. The irony of all of this is that only two or three days ago, the government were quibbling about stumping up an extra £5 million to support businesses in Manchester when suddenly up pops a scheme which costs multi-millions of pounds. As Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester who led the revolt against the government plans for the Manchester region said tonight he was ‘open-mouthed’ because suddenly the government suddenly gave him everything he had been asking for a couple of days ago but were denying him. The truth of the matter, as several economists have observed, is the government is way ‘behind the curve’ and reacting to events in a panic/crisis mode rather than trying to plan rationally for what is evidently going to be a huge second wave of the virus.

Tonight we received a long and detailed email from one our closest and dearest Winchester colleagues detailing how very ill his wife had become and the various medical interventions being undertaken on her behalf. One feels so helpless in these situations and the only thing we can do is to reassure our friend of our continuing love and support in the days and weeks ahead.

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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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