Thursday, 31st December, 2020 [Day 290]

This is an interesting day that has arrived at last. I have the feeling that many people in the country are really sort of looking forward to today if only to say ‘goodbye’ to the year of 2020. On Thursdays, we are are sometimes a little delayed because we have the weekly order from Waitrose and that means everything has to be put away before our walk and hence we were a little delayed. Having said that, it was a beautiful day with a fine blue sky for our walk but Meg and I had to be careful when starting our walk together. Underfoot, there were places where it was icy in the extreme and we have not been holding on to each other, we both might have slipped twice. As Meg has endured a ‘FOOSH‘ (Fall On Out-Stretched Hand) fracture of her arm some eighteen months ago, we do not fancy a repeat of that when A&E departments are likely to be clogged up with potential COVID-19 patients. So we both exercised the maximum of care and then we got to the lower reaches of the road where the sun had managed to shine on the pavements and then ice had been turned to water. We saw one of our friends briefly (in their car) when we walked down and wished each other ‘Happy New Year‘ This year, in particular, we all seem to be saying to each other that next year cannot possibly be as troubled as 2020 – but of course, none of us really knows what terrors the virus has in store for us before we are ‘saved’ by the vaccine.

Today, I have promised Meg that I will say goodbye to an old and trusted friend (or should I say pair of friends) who have been very good to me over the past few years. I am referring, of course, to my tried and trusty boots which are superbly comfortable and the Vibram soles are still pretty sound. However, the heels are completely worn through and the rubberised section has completely gone and I seem to be at least halfway through a sort of composite which formed the heel. I suppose I must be particularly hard on the heels the way my foot strikes the ground as the rest of the boots seem OK. However, I calculate that I must have walked 1,000 kilometres in these boots and I do get rather attached to items of clothing that have served me well over the years. Tomorrow on New Year’s Day, I shall be breaking in a new pair of boots and I wonder whether they, too, will last me for 1,000 kilometres. I have in mind, though, not to absolutely throw my boots away for a week or so until the really bad icy and snowy weather is well and truly past us – if, for example, I get one set of boots absolutely sodden through in the snow (which can happen) then I will have another set to fall back on whilst the current boots are being dried out. I am going to give my boots some restorative polish before they start their journey but to be honest boots always seem to wear out from the bottom up rather than the other way around.

After lunch, I had said to myself that I would make another journey down into town. We had been a prescription from Meg’s consultant so I needed to get that into the system so that she does not run short of medication. Whilst on my way down, I popped a Kilner jar full of un-decanted damson gin so that one of my friends could either bottle it straight or blend it with some of her own. Whilst down in town, I availed myself of getting some cash from an ATM (an all too rare event these days) and popped into our local Asda supermarket which I do not really enjoy. Nonetheless, I was pleased to get a few items which I know I cannot get elsewhere – and I grabbed a large bag of red potatoes for £1.00 which contained several very large specimens that should be excellent for baked potatoes that I cook in the microwave. I needed to time my visit to town quite carefully because I wanted to get back before dark – and indeed the light held until 4.20 which was the time of my return. Once again, though, I did have to be especially careful not to slip on any of the icy sections of the pavement.

Upon my return, I treated myself to a nice cup of tea and yet another view of Paddington which I think is actually an extended social commentary upon the ways in which we treat and occasionally welcome newcomers to our midst. There are quite a lot of visual jokes which I still find hilarious – one of the best being when Paddington notices a sign on one of the escalators of the Underground which stated ‘Dogs must be carried‘ whereupon Paddington goes and seizes a dog to put under his arm assuming that was the point of the instruction!

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Wednesday, 30th December, 2020 [Day 289]

As soon as we woke up this morning, we were greeted with the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca virus has received the approach of the regulators and hence can be released for immediate use (from next Monday onwards) Whereas the dosage is normally one jab followed by another some weeks later, the regulators have approved the protocol that the first dose can be administered (giving about 70% protection) followed by a second dose some twelve weeks later. This approach means that the protection is being spread much more rapidly than if you had one jab followed by another some three weeks later. In order to protect the population, though, it is necessary to inoculate some 2 million people a week and whether this is achievable remains to be seen. The manifest advantages of this particular vaccine are its cheapness (about £3 a shot rather than £25 for the Pfizer alternative)  and the fact that it only needs normal refrigeration conditions (and not the -70 degrees of the Pfizer alternative) This makes it much easier to get into residential homes. Also the government has taken out an option for 100 million doses of the vaccine should be sufficient to inoculate the whole of the ‘at-risk’ population in the UK. But it is undoubtedly a race between the rapidly advancing new variant of the virus on the one hand versus the rapidity with which the new vaccine can be ruled out across the population on the other.

Meg and I walked down to collect our newspapers in relatively overcast but not snowy conditions. It looks as though the Midlands lay in between two swathes of snow bearing clouds to the north and to the south. However, where the sludge had turned to ice along the upper reaches of the main road had to be negotiated with a certain amount of care so we either walked on the road or navigated our way with extreme caution along the pavements. Conditions improved as we approached the park, though (warmer temperature? more feet to melt the snow?) After we collected our newspapers, we popped into Waitrose for a carton of milk  and then swung onto the High Street in Bromsgrove to go to replenish supplies at one of those cut-price ‘health and beauty’ shops that seem to have sprung up recently. This is because we suspect that we may be moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 later on today when the changes are announced by Matt Hancock so we were planning ahead for a lockdown (or ‘semi-lockdown’) lasting at least a month. When we got home, we had a nice meal of our favourite Waitrose fishcakes and then settled down to watch the latest news on the rolling news programmes.

Today was the day when the EU-UK trade bill was being rushed through Parliament, with the idea being to get all of the stages passed and then through the Lords ready for the Royal Assent later on this evening. The Labour Party has been whipped to support the bill but in the opinion of many, the Labour Party should have abstained leaving the Tories to pick up all of the fall-out that will undoubtedly occur once the full implications of the deal start to become apparent (not least the mountain of paperwork that is now required, the fact that the fishing industry has been left in the lurch and crucially the position of the services industry is still undetermined) The Commons finally approved the ‘deal’ bu 521 votes to 73.

Last night, I wrote a long email to our friends in Spain who seem to be experiencing some difficulties in coping with the long months of lockdown – I get the impression that the Spanish police are much more assiduous with enforcing regulations than in this country (which may be a long felt hangover from the days of Franco even though he died in 1975).  I am offering whatever advice and support I can, even including the suggestion that they try some Yoga which may have some benefits in alleviating long-term stress. It is interesting that the BBC is offering an item on their website under the title ‘COVID-19: Five ways to stay positive throughout the winter‘ in which they have assembled the help of several mental health experts who have provided a series of tips that may prove helpful for many.

Meanwhile, we in Bromsgrove (and many other parts of the country) have been moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3. I am not exactly sure how much more stringent this will prove to be in our day-to-day lives. It means that some three-quarters of the population are in the highest possible Tier 4 and most of the rest of the country in Tier 3. From the point of view of the politicians, at least they can say that this ‘Short term pain for long-term gain as the vaccine is on its way’


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Tuesday, 29th December, 2020 [Day 288]

Today was the ‘day after’ the snow storm of yesterday so when we woke up we anxiously looked out of the window to see if we had a fresh fall of snow overnight. We didn’t have any more snow but it did look as though some was threatened for later on. So Meg and I set off for our daily walk knowhing that snow was in the air and initially, we walked through some light sleet. On the way down, we bumped into one of our friends who kindly gave us back the empty bottle of damson gin which they had consumed over the Christmas period. We then popped the Times magazine political cartoons of the year through the door of other friends who we knew would particularly enjoy them.  Having picked up our newspapers, the snow started again in earnest and the flakes fell furiously around us. We popped into Waitrose trying to buy essential supplies (dishcloths! our existing stock having been pressed into service and used in a quadruple thickness as straining agents for the damson gin I had just bottled). We didn’t find any dish clothes but we did buy some essential supplies (carrot and parsnip mash, chocolate) before we braved the journey back home again. The weather had eased by this point but nonetheless we were pleased to have made the journey despite the snowy conditions. We then pressed on preparing a lunch of chicken thighs (which we really enjoyed, searing them in oil and cooking them in a in peppers, onions and the remains of a white lasagne-style sauce. Even though so I say it myself, this turned out to be delicious complemented with broccoli and a baked potato.

When lunch was over, I was idly looking through the TV schedules to see what might be our evening viewing when I say that Jane Austen’s Emma was to start in 2 minutes time. This was the novel I studied intensively for ‘O’-level so it it always particularly interesting to see if the portrayal of the characters match up with the mental images formed when you first read the novel (fifteen years old in my case) When I was that age, the family had fallen on some hard times and I remember my emotions upon reading the very first sentence in the book which reads as follows: ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich with a comfortable home and a happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to vex or distress her‘ I can remember now how my lip curled with disgust as I thought to myself that I certainly did not want to read any further than this as I could see no points of congruence whatsoever between the world that Austen was about to describe and my own existence. As it turned out, I quite enjoyed the novel as it unfolded but my feelings of distate having read that first sentence have remained with me over the years. The minute was Emma was over, we repaired to our iPad where we were due to  FaceTime some of our oldest ex-Waitrose friends. We were on the iPad for the best part of an hour and a half whilst we recounted to each the kinds of experiences that we had both had over the Christmas period – an experience largely revolving around the food we had enjoyed.

The COVID-19 news this evening is particularly bad, not to say shocking. The number of new infections has risen from 41, 385 yesterday to 53,135 today. That is a 28% increase in a single day! The latest daily figures come after it was revealed that England’s hospitals are now treating more patients than during the peak of the first wave in April. So it now appears that the NHS is facing the most ‘perfect storm’ and the real impact of the worst of the winter crisis has yet to bite (some time in late January or February) There are stories already of several hospitals at absolute maximum capacity with queues of ambulances outside hospital A&E departments as there is no space inside to receive the new patients, staff absolutely stretched to the limit and no space in the wards inside the hospitals. The fact that we have built several Nightingale hospitals all over the country is to no avail because where are we going to get the staff to staff them? Many of our European nurses appear to have ‘gone home’ For example there is a report (dated by now, from the Nursing and Midwifery Council) has shown has shown that the number of new nurses coming from the EU to work in the UK has dropped by 87% from 6,382 in 2016/17 to 805 in 2017/18. It is rather difficult to get accurate figures in this area as sometimes new entrants to the nursing workforce do not have their origins correctly stated but it is undoubtedly the case that the whole Brexit factor has deterred new entrants from entering the UK and several others (perhaps in their thousands) have returned home. Even a large majority of those who voted ‘Leave’ still want European nurses to come and work here but there are so many factors such as the ‘hostile environment’ promised to illegal migrants to dissuade many would be nurses wanting to come to live and work in post-Brexit Britain.


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Monday, 28th December, 2020 [Day 287]

Today when various members of the family were awake at 5.30am, it was a fairly typical late December day – but an hour and a half later, we had been dumped upon by a huge fall of snow which seemed fairly thick. After we had had a porridge breakfast it appeared to have stopped snowing so my son, daughter-in-law and I decided to brave the weather to walk to the shops. As it happened, walking on the snow was relatively straightforward but road traffic and other people walking to the park (with children and toboggans) was quite rapidly changing the snow into a more slippery slush. I was well prepared with two pairs of socks and two jumpers so I had lots of layers of clothing (as the Scandinavians say ‘There is no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing‘). Whilst the other family members were busy shopping, I made my way to my usual paper shop where I picked up our newspapers. I made an arrangement with the shopkeepers that if the bad weather were to persist and I couldn’t actually get my walk done to the shop, could they please keep my newspapers on one side and I would come in when I could and settle up with my vouchers. The walk home was uneventful and having had a good taste of the weather conditions and not needing to go anywhere by car, we decided collectively to let the snow clear itself and not bother with a few hours of energetic clearing. We had no snow at all last year and perhaps not even for the year before that but fortunately when the need arises we are quite all supplied with shovels and other snow-clearing equipment. Upon returning home, I did take a brush and push the thawing snow from our Lavatera outside the back window and also from those parts of the hedging around our BioDisk that I could reach.

It was evidently the kind of day to engage in typical Boxing Day type pastimes so I thought I would get to work bottling some more damson gin. I bottled another 19 bottles (four large Kilner jars worth) and had to stop only because I have run out of 25 cl bottles. I may fill up some 50 cl bottles and deploy these as intermediate storage jars in the meanwhile. Of course, I have to write my labels, which is a kind of mindless activity you can do whilst watching TV. When all of the bottling had been done (with the minimum of mess, I am pleased to day), I treated myself to watching a re-run of the Agatha Christie ‘Death on the Nile‘ featuring Hercule Poirot but several the other Boxing Day type films (The Jungle Book, Murder on the Orient Express) I had already seen relatively recently so gave them a miss.

For the first time, the number of new COVID-19 infections has exceeded 41,000 in a single day and 357 deaths. Horrendous though this figure is, there may be a degree of inflation as so many more tests are now being performed (presumably, the more you test you more you find) But what is particularly worrying is that hospitals are now operating at the peak levels that they were when the pandemic was absolutely at its peak last April. The epidemiologists know that two weeks after infection a proportion of patients will end up in hospital and two weeks after that a proportion will die. What the exact proportions are I do not at this stage know but we still have  the major months of January and February in front of us. Further Tier 4 zones may well be announced next Wednesday – perhaps a complete lockdown like the initial one last spring is the only answer. I wonder, though, whether the bad weather that is keeping people indoors might help in stopping the virus spreading somewhat (although of course we do have the Christmas Day and New Year family gatherings to factor into the equation)

One of the nice things about this time of year is that people have received your Christmas cards including details of email addresses and so can write to you. One of our friends from Leicestershire who is now working in South Wales emailed me with a long and detailed email and I have taken the opportunity to reply to this, and to other friends as well.  We inform each other of the various medical afflictions which are affecting our various family members and give each other a bit of mutual support.

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Sunday, 27th December, 2020 [Day 286]

After the details of the EU-UK trade agreement had been published, I read that the EHIC card would be honoured as long as it was current but then was due to be replaced (details not yet worked out) So I went to look at our EHIC cards to ascertain when they were to expire only to discover that they had actually expired last September. By rather indirect means, I got onto the website that issues new EHIC cards and put in an application for Meg and myself – they may last as long as 5 years and, of course, are provided free of charge by the government. The issuing authority may take the view that if an application has been made before the deadline of 31st December 2020 and although it indicates that the application may take 10 days for the cards to be delivered, then we might prove lucky and get new ones. On the other hand, the government could take the view that any unfilled order by 1st January 2021 is void and refuse to fulfil our order. Having said that, I suspect the latter but we will have to wait and see. I went down to collect our newspapers by car to get back in time for the Andrew Marr show at 9 am only to find that the show was not on this morning.

After breakfast, we went on our normal walk to the park where it was quite busy with children and dogs as you might expect.On the way back we met with both of our sets of friends. One of the couples informed us that their son and daughter-in-law (I think I have this the right way round) has tested positive for COVID-19, as well as their two next-door neighbours so we really do get the impression that the virus is ‘moving ever closer’  Tomorrow morning, Meg and I may well to go down to the newly opened test centre and see if we can get an ‘on-the-spot’ test. In the meantime, we are determined to be very watchful in the next few weeks until we ourselves get vaccinated, perhaps towards the end of February. The local Arts Centre has also been converted into a vaccination centre so we are just waiting for our number to be called which, of course, will reflect the priorities by age-group ( I am in the 3rd category down according to the published criteria)

This afternoon, I had intended to spend some time betting more supplied of damson gin. I attempted to contact our close friends in Spain as I have done for the last day or so but to no avail. Then we received a telephone call from one of the nieces in Harrogate, N. Yorkshire, where we exchanged a lot of information about COVID-19 and how it was impinging upon various members of the family in Yorkshire. We are resolved to have some kind of ‘open house’ party in the Spring-Summer when the grip of the virus has lessened so that we can see the newest member of the family (now about 15 months old) as well as other family members.

As might be expected, a lot of attention is being paid to how EU-UK trade agreement was arrived at and what compromises had to be made and by whom. I m not sure whether the journalists had access to the full 1,426-page document before they began their analysis. The consensus view that has emerged so far is that we have a deal but an incredibly ‘thin’ deal (e.g. no services are included) which is near to a ‘no deal’ Brexit as it is possible to get. Many of our legislators are going to try and examine the deal in great detail before the one day debate next Wednesday and it seems very likely that, just like a Budget, that which seems OK at first sight, all kinds of little ‘nasties’ will emerge in the fullness of time. The New York Times has published a very good and objective analysis under the title ‘Brexit Deal Done, Britain Now Scrambles to see How it Will Work’ and their conclusion, at the end of the day, is given by the analyst called Kibasi who has concluded that ‘But the way it’ll play out is by damaging investment in the UK, so it’s a slow puncture, not a quick crash‘ Of course, to the ardent Brexiteers, the deal was never actually going to be about trade ‘per se’ because all they ever wanted was a dis-entanglement from the EU in order to regain ‘sovereignty’ whatever the economic cost to the nation.

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Saturday, 26th December, 2020 [Day 285]

Well, if there was such a thing as a typical Boxing Day then today was it. Meg and I were a little slow to get going this morning, having stayed up a little later than normal to watch a film about Maria Callas, the great 1960’s opera diva. Today was a bit colder and more blustery than yesterday but we were a little dismayed when we got to our normal newspaper shop to find it shut. So we trotted around the corner to pick up our Saturday newspapers from Waitrose only to find that closed as well. That was quite irritating because today would have been the first full day after the EU-UK trade agreement had been completed on Christmas Eve and we were anxious to see what the informed journalists had made of the deal. So we drank our coffee as usual in the park and resolved to go out and collect the newspapers by car. First, I made a trip to our local BP garage and managed to pick up a copy of the Guardian but not the Times. However, this was remedied by another car trip so I could walk down our local High Street where I found a newsagent that had copies of the Times. As it happens, I was particularly pleased to have secured copies of the newspapers today. The Times weekend magazine had devoted itself entirely to a review of the year in political cartoons by their award-winning cartoonist, Peter Brookes.  He has the facility to link together what has been happening on the political scene with other elements of popular culture. I will give you four examples of what I mean. The cover of the Times magazine has Boris Johnson masquerading as Vicky Pollard (the Little Britain character, played by Matt Lucas who as an irresponsible teenager will never accept the blame for any of her transgressions) The cartoon shows Boris Jonson in the guise of Vicky Pollard at the Downing Street press briefing. Where the podium is normally adorned with NHS slogans, now we have Vicky Pollard excuses such as ‘Yeah But’, ‘No But’ and ‘Yeah But’. In another cartoon, you have a make-believe film poster for the Good (portrayed by Richi Sunak), the Bad (played by Boris Johnson) and the Ugly (portrayed by Dominic Cummings). The American election is also brilliantly covered by showing Joe Biden at his desk in the Oval Office of the White House saying ‘Phew! I thought he’d never go! ‘ If you look carefully at the cartoon though, you can see a bulge in the curtains and the tip of a long red tie (belonging to Donald Trump) behind the desk. But my fourth example is one of a cartoon which I think is sheer brilliance and displays several jokes at once. The cartoon is as an advertisement for ‘Matt Hancock’s‘ half-hour in which the features of Matt Hancock have been cleverly morphed into those of Tony Hancock, the comedian who made ‘Hancock’s Half Hour‘ famous. Hancock is receiving an injection by a nurse who is saying ‘Just a little prick‘. In the body of the poster, there is a further text explaining ‘From the Blood Donor to the Guinea Pig‘ (Of course, the ‘blood donor’ is Tony Hancock’s most well-known and practically iconic sketch) Finally, across the right-hand corner of the cartoon is a little banner explaining ‘Live on TV’  (as Matt Hancock says he will be shown having the vaccine live on TV) This cartoon, as I have described it, combines at least five jokes into one – sheer brilliance!

In the afternoon, I engaged in that perennial exercise of removing sticky labels from my supply of damson gin bottles. The first fourteen have already been given away so I now need to prepare a second batch. Some labels float off very easily after the usual soaking but sometimes the wine manufacturers of those little 25 cl bottle that I particularly like to deploy reserve their toughest industrial glue for the front label. I find that this takes a combination of fingernails, a stainless steel scrubber, a brillo pad, and for stubborn case a little brass wire tool I have and a bottle of boiling water which, if dribbled on, softens the glue somewhat before being attacked by other implements. I hope to have everything in place to do this tomorrow.

The newspapers have had a preliminary chance to look at the EE-UK trade agreement but the full text is 1,246 pages and has only been published today – in time to be debated in Parliament on Wednesday, where Boris Johnson wants to have the whole thing debated and passed into law in one day. Needless to say, this is not enough time for proper scrutiny but of course, this was the idea all along and rather makes a mockery of the ‘supremacy’ of parliament. Already the fishing industry is crying out that Johnson has sold out and of course services, including the important financial services which are a dominant part of our economy, are not included in the trade agreement in any case.

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Friday, 25th December, 2020 [Day 284]

Well, Christmas Day has arrived at last. I imagine that for many families around the country, Christmas Day in 2020 is to be enjoyed for itself but then got over with as quickly as possible. Bereft of family members, Christmas Day will seem a very strange experience for many families and some couples will be spending time along with their spouses for the first time in years – or ever. For Meg and I this is is not a particularly strange experience as we have spent quite a few Christmasses in each other’s sole company but we can imagine that it is a source of some heartache for many families. Knowing that we had to make a fairly early start this morning to get to church at 8.30 we did not want to oversleep and so so employed an additional alarm to make sure that we did not just turn over at 6.30 and go back to sleep. As the night had been particularly cold and we had several degrees of frost, we decided to line our stomachs with a good bowl of porridge before we set off for church at about 8.00am. The porridge strategy turned out to be a useful one as the church’s heating system has been out of commission for some weeks and this, coupled with an absence of hot bodies to warm it up over the weeks, meant that attending church was a pretty chilling experience. Of course, hymns are not allowed but we did hear Berlioz’s ‘A Shepherds lament’ which is a particular favourite of mine. On the way out of church, I did manage to smuggle a bottle of damson gin ready for the priest’s  ultimate enjoyment – I am going to remind him when we next meet face-to-face that I hope it doesn’t get it mixed up with communion wine (although I think, in an emergency such as a POW camp priest is allowed to used anything of alcoholic content to act as a substitute).  For Christmas dinner, Meg and I know what we like and we generally avoid turkey preferring to have some good topside of beef with a  good bottle of Rioja to wash it down. 

Christmas present opening time is always a source of pleasure and if we do it one present at a time it fills out most of the morning. I acquired four books which I know will keep me occupied for weeks – and was made a present of a fifth which was ‘All New Dad jokes’ which Meg has commandeered for most of the day. But fair exchange is no robbery because I have similarly requisitioned some classical music CD’s which I bought for Meg as a ‘stocking filler’. Actually, when I was in town a couple of weeks I happened to see in one of the charity shops that they were selling 5 classical CD’s for £1.00 (evidently, 20p each!) One of these proved to be absolutely superb. It was the classic recording of the three tenors (Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti) in that concert recorded live at the Caracalla Baths in Rome in 1990 on the occasion of the World Cup held in Italy of year. This CD has 17 tracks altogether and each rendition is accompanied by the applause of an enthusiastic audience which really added to the sense of occasion. I played the whole CD at quite a loud volume which I would not normally have done if Meg and I had not been alone in the house. As our kitchen is 27′ long and the heritage Sony sound system we keep in the kitchen is hardly ever extended to its real capacities, I really indulged myself whilst I was preparing the Christmas dinner. As I generally do, I had already prepared some parsnips, carrots and sprouts the evening before and had them chilling in the fridge overnight. Then I prepared rather a super onion gravy, supplemented by the meat juices from the slow cooker receptacle in which the beef was cooked. Then came the job of par-boiling the parsnips and carrots before getting them plus roast potatoes plus Yorkshire puddings plus dinner plates into the oven at the right temperature and in the right sequence. I found myself actually working quite heard as I also had to fit in preparing the smoked salmon starters, getting the Rioja wine prepared and ensuring that all of the necessary sauces were on hand. No mishaps occurred, I am pleased to say (because there is quite a lot that could go wrong) so Meg and sat down to our starters at 1.30  precisely. Needless to say, we treated ourselves to another hearing of the ‘Three Tenors’ CD which had given me so much pleasure during the morning.

We had intended to attempt to get into contact with our ‘family’ (i.e. closest friend) in Spain at about 4.00 in the afternoon. After trying FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, their mobile numbers and their landline – all with no reply – we had to give up on our attempt and hope that nothing untoward has happened. I only mention this because Laura’s last email indicated they were going to have a pretty miserable time isolated and cut off from the rest of the family when Christmas time is normally a time when they are all together! No doubt, we will get the whole story in the fullness of time.

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Thursday, 24th December, 2020 [Day 283]

We knew from the weather forecasts that today ought to have been cold, bright and clear – and so it turned out to be. In anticipation that some of our friends might not be otherwise occupied this Christmas Eve morning, we loaded up various bags with a supply of mince pies, oloroso sherry and some paper cups, and supplies (presents actually) of damson gin. We dropped a bottle of damson gin at some acquaintances round the corner and then knocked on the door of ‘close friends No. 1’ As it happened, they were both in so we made a present of the damson gin and then we arranged an impromptu party in the garage which was airy and windy whilst we could be socially distanced from each other. Then we really got dug into our mince pies and sherry-in-a-paper cup contemplating what a very strange year it had been and how we had had to make adaptations to our normal routines. Then another couple turned up to visit our mutual friends so we invited them to join the party so there we were at our maximum six. As it turned out, we shall see them in church tomorrow morning when we get there at 8.30 in the morning. Then having taken our leave of ‘close friends No. 1’ we knocked on the door of ‘close friend No. 2’ and fortunately they were in as well. Our friends put a little table in their porch so we had somewhere to place our comestibles so we repeated our little Christmas party experience all over again. Our friends just happened to have some of their own home-made damson gin as well as some that their daughter had donated to them (which was actually about two years old) So we seized the opportunity to taste and compare all three of the gins – and I was relieved to say that ours compared very favourably with the other two. By now, full of gin, sherry and mince pies we thought we had better stagger our way to the newsagents. As they had been the recipients of some of my gin the day before, we were favoured by a Christmas and some chocolate treats which we thought we would preserve until we got home. Then we got home very late but just before our son and daughter-in-law were going off to the hotel (French cuisine, very sophisticated) which they had managed to get booked into a few days ago. Fortunately, I had put a ham on my previous Waitrose order and we had acquired some ready-to-heat red cabbage so we managed to rustle up a meal in two shakes of a lamb’s tail as they say.  In contemplation of the morning’s events, we have to say that this was of the most impromptu but engaging series of encounters we have ever had!

In the afternoon, I realised that we needed to put our little crib in place and a few tinselly things that we scatter around pictures and the like (the tinsel I got into place in 11 minutes flat this year). Over the years, I have come to the view that the fewer bits of decorations we put around the house, the sooner they can put away on twelfth night – or whenever the deadline approaches when the Christmas tree is due for recycling at the local garden centre. But the major focus of this afternoon was catching up on the news of the trade deal that had eventually been struck with the EU.

The whole of this ‘just managing to get a deal done by Christmas Eve’ was actually tremendously stage-managed. I think it was fairly obvious that Boris Johnson was always going to a deal, or be close to a deal, the day before Christmas Eve. This way, all of the newspapers could say ‘A deal is imminent’ but nothing had been published yet which could be criticised. Some of the newspapers even participated in this ‘deception’ one of them obliging (almost at the suggestion of No. 10) with  a cartoon of Boris Johnson dressed up as Santa Claus, pushing ‘goodies’ in the form of a ‘done deal’ down a chimney, making sure that there were lots of union jacks (what else?) Of course, being an ex-journalist, Boris would have known that there would no newspapers published on Christmas Day and by the time any more newspapers did appear (on Boxing Day) people would have lots of other things on their mind (such as Tier 4 classifications) which would distract them from any criticisms of the deal. Although the (subservient) UK press will hail the deal as a ‘triumph’ for Boris Johnson, in the cold light of day it will emerge that the UK has made quite a lot of concessions because we never had a very strong hand to play. Eventually, when it is too late, we will get the full-bloodied analysis of what has been agreed in our name. If we haven’t left the EU, we could have claimed a large share of the 750 billion euro fund that the EU is putting together to cope with the effects of the pandemic. Enough said!

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Wednesday, 23rd December, 2020 [Day 282]

Today, the weather was terrible all day long with wind and squally showers which only intensified as the day progresses. However, paradoxically, we did not mind too much because as we had some Christmas presents to deliver, we had determined that we were going to take the car in any case. Our first port of call was, as usual, our newspaper shop and here I handed over a couple of bottles of our own recently bottled damson gin. I’m not sure if they have any alcoholic prohibitions in whichever faith they were raised but I am sure that there are some members of the family or friends who might appreciate the same. As it was raining heavily at the time, we rather had to dash in and not linger over Christmas pleasantries but this was the first of our missions successfully accomplished. The next venture was into our local Waitrose – we geared that we were going to be faced with a car-park full to overflowing and with a long queue to even get into the store. But fortune smiled favourably upon us because we found a parking space almost immediately and the store was not over-crowded. As I was the second customer along when the store opened two and a half years ago (on my birthday, as it happened) we have always had a special relationship with the staff of Waitrose who have often given little gifts of soon-to-be abandoned flowers or food. We have a tradition which goes back for two years now of buying the biggest box(es) of chocolates we can find and then donating them to the Waitrose staff restroom. We have a miniature easel upon which we place a favourite photo of Meg and myself (so that people know who is making them the present)  and a few words of appreciation updated year by year. This worked like a dream this year because the minute we entered the store, we encountered one of our favourite members of staff who had helped us in this venture before. She helped us choose the chocolates, took payment for them at the till and then whisked them off to the staff restroom. I think that in the past, they have assembled a few staff in front of this little display and then posted it to their own online staff bulletin so I hope that the same applies this year. We were also the happy recipients of the news that the Waitrose store coffee bar may be reopening in January/February. As this was such an important social hub for ourselves and for many others, naturally we hope that this will come to pass as they say. When we got home, we treated ourselves to the coffee we would have had in the park if we had ventured that far today and treated ourselves to  a (probably) calorie-bursting mince pie.

The weather forecast for tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is scheduled to be cold but dry, bright and sunny. If this proves to be the case when we wake up tomorrow, then we are going to fill our rucksack with some mince pies, a bottle of sherry and some paper cups and knock on the doors of some of our friends down the road. Then we may be able to have a series of impromptu but socially distanced Christmas ‘get-togethers’ which can take the place of that which we had intended to provide in our own house if COVID-19 had not intervened.

This afternoon, we treated ourself to watching the classic black and white film of Casablanca -although Meg and I had seen it several times before, I was still surprised by the twists and turns in the plot. Shot in black and white certainly added to the intensity of the drama and the emotions and forgetting exactly how it ended only added to our enjoyment.

The fairly dramatic news this afternoon was the announcement that yet another strain of COVID-19 had surfaced, with its probable origins in South Africa. Only two cases had so far appeared in the UK but the infectivity of this latest strain even exceeds that of the first variant. So the government has acted with a certain degree of speed and added several more areas to Tier 4, hoping to squash the latest variant. The government has said that emergence of a second variant of the virus is ‘highly concerning’ and, for this reason, millions more have been added to the existing Tier 4 in London and the South East. The new areas include Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Soon when most of the country is classified as Tier 4 then the whole concept of Tiers will break down and we might as well have one national lockdown. I think it is a fairly certain bet that we will be going into a full lockdown quite early on in the New Year in any case.

Finally, some sort of good news. It does appear that the EU and UK are edging towards a trade deal, perhaps to be settled sometime tomorrow. We are not quite there yet, but the indications coming from both sides is that many differences have been narrowed and negotiated and only a few more sticking points have got to be negotiated before a formal announcement tomorrow.




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Tuesday, 22nd December, 2020 [281]

We knew there was quite a lot to get done today and we were particularly pleased to see our domestic help come and give us one quick ‘burst’ just before Christmas. Before we undertook our journey, we were having a conversation in the kitchen about the possibilities of Yogic Flying. I promised to do some investigation and saw some instances of Yogic Flying on the net. As illustrated in the ‘YouTube’ videos which I viewed, Yogic Flying consists of sitting cross-legged and then basically launching along the ground in a series of bunny hop type moves. I am sure it is excellent for your pelvic floor muscles which is how I think the conversation arose in the first place. Meg and I collected our papers and bumped into one of our friends who informed us that he and his wife had just tested negative for COVID-19 – because we were in a bit of hurry we didn’t get the full story why they needed to have a test in the first place. The park was teeming today (no children in school, quite a fine day, dogs to be exercised) but we managed to locate one empty park bench that was fortunately dry. We knew that time was pressing but even so on the way back home we saw an ambulance draw up next to the neighbour of one our friends. We knew that the gentleman involved had had a stroke a few months previously and had just spent another spell in hospital so we just hoped for the best, also chatting with other of our friends about what may have been happening to his neighbour. 

When I got home, I had a fly around to get ready for my Pilates class. Today I was going to play Santa Claus (a tradition going back for a few years now) but this was having to be organised in a completely different way owing to the COVID-19 crisis. I resolved to organise the logistics like this. Firstly, I pulled my red Santa Claus trousers underneath my normal ‘tracksuit bottom’. Similarly I donned a ‘Santa Claus’ red shirt and then wore my normal shirt over it. Then I had to transport by Santa Claus outer jacket + hat, five bottles damson gin and all of the accompanying Christmas cards which had to be rapidly written. I took down my Santa Claus ‘Ho, Ho, Ho‘ sack together with my Pilates gear within it by car when I parked on the Waitrose carpark and then walked along to my class. Cards were distributed each to another inside the class by people throwing them in their neighbour’s vicinity. Then we had our ‘normal’ Pilates class, a highlight of which is the 3-5 minutes at the end of our session where our tutor encourages some deep relaxation. Whilst my fellow classmates were deep into their relaxation (and presumably had their eyes shut) I busied myself in my corner off the room divesting myself of my track-suit bottom and shirt to reveal my Santa Claus gear underneath. All I now needed to do now was to pull on my Santa Claus outer robe, don my hat (and mask) and lie down for the remaining few seconds of the relaxation session. When they came round they observed ‘Santa Claus. in the far corner of the room, who then pranced round, distributing to each (and to the reception staff) their bottles of damson gin. The only problem on this occasion was that Santa only had to remember three words of which the first was ‘Ho’ but unfortunately, he kept forgetting the second and third words of his greeting. There was an almost universal feeling in the class that a full lockdown or something very similar was on the cards and therefore we might not be in a ‘live’ class together until Easter (although the ‘Zoom’ option is open for all of us)

Approximately 4,000 lorries are still waiting to get through the ports to get to Continental Europe. The French have suggested a solution which is to offer immediate transit for any lorry driver with a negative COVID-19 test – but the difficulty here is that the ‘gold standard’ test takes about 2-3 days for the results to be processed whereas the ‘lateral-flow’ test  will give a result in 15-20 minutes  but is regarded as less reliable. How this is to be resolved is not clear at this stage – there are some black rumours that the French are trying to indicate to the British what will happen with a ‘no deal’ Brexit. In the meanwhile, there are signs that a deal might be possible, although fisheries remains a great problem for both sides. There are suggestions that the talks might extend beyond the 1st January but No. 10 has firmly rebuffed any suggestions that this in the cards.

The latest COVID-19 figures are really frightful with 36,800 new infections in a day and nearly 700 deaths. Thee figures are as bad the country has yet experienced and there is a feeling that the worst is yet to come. It seems to be a racing certainty that more severe restrictions will be applied once we have Christmas out of the way. The Home Secretary (Priti Patel) was hinting that the country should get used to more severe lockdown conditions from  the New Year onwards – but other commentators are indicating that once we get Boxing Day out of the way then the government may act immediately. What seems particularly worrying is the more infectious variant of COVID-19 seems to have ‘escaped’ London and the South East and is now represented in all parts of the country.


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