Sunday, 31st January, 2021 [Day 321]

This morning I did not oversleep as I sometimes do on a Sunday morning and was therefore in plenty of time to walk down to the newsagents and get back again in time for breakfast and the Andrew Marr show. When I am walking on my own, I often use an incredibly old iPhone that I generally use as a music player – somehow (and I am not quite sure how how I did it) I have about 200 classical tracks stored it (a good selection of Mozart and Bach amongst other things. And now for the coincidence I am about to explain. At the time of our 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, I got out our large album of wedding photos to digitise them (which I did). Out from the middle of the album dropped a lined sheet of paper torn from a notebook and on it was the original organist’s notes detailing what we had played at our wedding in 1967. Meg and I can remember most of what we had played but it was nice to have the ‘definitive list’ as it were – and for this, I managed to go onto the internet and get recordings which very closely simulated what one would have heard 50 years ago. One of the things that we had sung at the wedding was the cantata ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring‘  by J. S. Bach (incredibly well known to almost everybody). It was sung for us by a close friend of Mike’s called Austin who was training to be an opera singer but we have lost contact with him decades ago (and he may no longer even be alive) Anyway, a very good acquaintance of ours was Clive who used to walk his two Jack Russell terriers every day and we often stopped to engaged in conversation and jokes. Clive had played the trumpet for about 80 years and was very accomplished – we asked him if he would like to attend our wedding celebrations which he did and played ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring‘ for us at our reception. Now for the coincidence. The recording of this I got from the internet was a trumpet solo accompanied by an organ (a stunning combination, by the way) and, as it happened, this on my iPhone. Now for the coincidence. As I was passing Clive’s house, what came up on the iPhone as a random shuffle was the track of the trumpet/organ version of the cantata. Is this coincidence? fate? Beyond the grave? I am not ashamed to admit that as I was only own, I shed quite a tear in remembrance of my very good friend Clive, who departed from us in his 80’s about this time last year.

We picked up our newspapers and proceeded to the park where we met with a couple of our park friends. One we had not seen since about Christmas time and I had been carrying round a bottle of damson gin in my rucksack for weeks but we had not coincided. Now at last I could hand my little gift over and I hope she doesn’t drink it all at once (although there is more where that came from) Then we met our Birmingham University friend and caught up on several things we have been discussing over the days (I told him my ‘Clive’ coincidence by the way) Then, on the way home we met with some of our oldest church friends who were waiting patiently for their turn of the vaccination jab.

We had a normal Sunday lunch and treated ourselves to Part 1 of the Channel 5 series on ‘The Great Plague‘ – we have seen this before but it was well worth watching again and we look forward to the next two parts. Tonight, by way of experiment, I tried to see if I could access YouTube from our TV. I can, and after fishing about with Gmail usernames and passwords managed to get myself onto the YouTube system. Now we are really enjoying a production of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ (a production with stunning voices but I’m not quite sure in what theatre it was filmed and I don’t want to pause it or mess about with it in case I can’t get it back again – I can see to that in the morning no doubt) Now I can treat myself to all kinds of things that YouTube offers (in particular Amadeus, the story of Mozart’s life which is may favourite film of all time)

I see that the number of vaccinations is fast approaching 9 million (8.97 at the last count) so that looks well on track. I wonder whether the 70 year olds are easier to process as they find they can access the vaccination centres more easily compared with the 80 year olds. I also read tonight that the 100 year old Captain Sir Tom Moore is in hospital being treated for COVID-19. Apparently, he had not been vaccinated as he was suffering from a bout of pneumonia. Wouldn’t it be a terrible comment on the year if he succumbed to it? The nation must be holding its breath.

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Saturday, 30th January, 2021 [Day 320]

Well, we knew that the weather forecast for today was not good and so it proved. The day started with some swirling rain then turned into sleet which eventually turned into a rather light snow – but given the wind, one that looked as it would not settle anywhere. We decided to cut our losses and go in the car to collect our newspapers which we did. Then it was onwards to the park and we made for the Bandstand which is always our haven when it is raining/sleeting/hailing/snowing. As were enjoying our coffee (if enjoying is the right word) we were joined in our refuge with a young father who was looking after a four-year-old as well as a babe-in-a-pram. It was noble of him to brave the elements under the circumstances. It turned out that he was an environmental officer at Birmingham University whilst his wife was busy doing on-line tuition as an English as a Foreign Language tutor. You meet some interesting people in the park – needless to say, we were the only people in evidence save for a solitary dog walker in the far distance. We were pleased to jump in the car and have more substantive elevenses at home when we eventually got warmed up. 

As it was a dull, wet afternoon, we decided to indulge ourselves with any old films being broadcast this afternoon. As it happened, BBC2 was showing the 1948 version of St. Joan with Ingrid Bergman which I assumed would be in black and white but was actually in colour.  It was quite a brave film to make as WWII had only ended three years earlier and most of the films made in the era tended to be uber-patriotic and certainly anti-German with one or two exceptions (Rommel coming to mind) Actually the French squabbling between themselves did not come out of it too well and might well have fed into latent English prejudices about the French. I always find it interesting that UNESCO tried to write an ‘objective’ comprehensive history of Europe but couldn’t find enough consensus to bring their project to fruition. For example, the English always tend to trump their victories at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt (particularly in Shakespeare’s plays) and consign to a small footnote the fact that the English actually lost all of their French possessions at the end of the period. The French, by contrast, will acknowledge some temporary defeats at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and stress, that at the end of the day they were victorious in repelling the English. They say that history is written by the victors, which of course is true. Before leaving this subject, how many of the British population realise that the USSR with a population of 170,000 million had quite a lot to do with the defeat of Hitler (and lost 20 million of their population in the process)

There are several distinguished diplomats in the EU who have been pulling their hair over the rushed decision to suspend part of the Brexit deal agreement on Northern Ireland, in its rush to impose restrictions on Covid vaccines, or components of vaccines, exported from the bloc. This decision was so ill thought-out and taken without the knowledge of the governments of the UK, Northern Ireland or Eire that it had to be reversed in a matter of hours. As a German newspaper put it, succinctly, ‘Brexit 1, EU 0’ and it does really look as though, at a stroke, the EU committed an enormous blunder and must fuel the Brexit-like feelings, wherever they exist in the UK or elsewhere in continental Europe.

Our ex-Waitrose friends had texted us halfway through the afternoon to say that they had received their doses of the vaccine (as had our friend in Hampshire, so we learnt last night). I am sure it will be a massive relief to them as they have patiently locked down for the last 10-11 months and have borne this with a great deal of patience and fortitude – but glad that the end may be in sight so that they can re-connect with members of their family.  In the meanwhile, the numbers vaccinated has now reached  8.4 million out of the projected 15 million (to be reached by mid-February). The UK is vaccinating at the rate of 12.3 per 100 people (and Germany, by contrast, is only 2.6 per 100) and the UK has vaccinated some 16% of its population which is an impressive achievement given the timescales involved. Meg and I have entered ourselves in the COVID-19 computerised system which recognised that we had been given our first ‘shot’ and allocated us a date and a time for our final shot which will be 11 weeks after our initial jab. So this will be on 12th April so we have to be especially cautious until then (and subsequently). And to conclude, one public health expert is warning the population tonight that we might have to reconcile ourselves to a two-year wait (when vaccination rates in the rest of the world catch up?) before anything approaching a semblance of normality returns.


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Friday, 29th January, 2021 [Day 319]

Today started off as quite a bright, blue day so Meg and I enjoyed a pleasant walk down to the newsagents this morning. Then we struck out for the park where we coincided, after a day’s absence, with our Birmingham University friend. One little conundrum which were trying to puzzle out together is the exact meaning of the phrase ‘to have all of your buttons sewn on‘ which I have used in the past but the origins of which are lost in obscurity. It tends to imply that someone is completely rational i.e. in touch with the world (‘ he has all his buttons‘) but my two sources do not help. I have on my bookshelves a dictionary of idioms and their origins but no entry is listed here so that is no help. Nor is the internet (which tends to be very USA-oriented when you trying to track down British expressions) I think I may have an explanation for the origins of this phrase but I may be entirely wrong. I believe it is a tradition in parts of the navy, or perhaps just the merchant navy, that you cut the buttums off your dress uniform and transfer them from one dress uniform to another – to ‘have all your buttons sewn on‘ then becomes to have everything in order. I am quite happy to be told the correct explanation for this expression. Whilst on this subject, I did discover at the bottom of a hole in a wooded area which bordered on my garden a button which when cleaned up I identified as probably worn by a submariner captain in the 1940’s – how it got there in the wood, one can only imagine.

On our way home. we bumped into our two sets of friends who live near to each other so we had a genial chat. One of our friends is having some drainage work done which necessitates having a trench cut along the length of their drive. I reminded them if one partner reports to the police that their other half has suddenly gone missing and has not been seen for days, the police will look carefully at the patio to see if there is any signs of recent digging activity or irregularities in the patio surface – it seems in the light of experience, the best place to start looking.

After we had a lunch of risotto made with kipper fillets and cauliflower rice. Actually topped with cheese and with a big dollop of yogurt it turned out to be more delicious than you might imagine. Our domestic help enjoyed her portion anyway. After lunch, I walked down into town for the second time this day. The first thing I needed to do was to pick up some of the unsupplied portions of Meg’s medication – the pharmacist we use often seem to run out of things and give you a supply that will last for a few days but then you have to go back for the rest.  My second port of call was to visit Boots in order to pick up some electric pre-shave which I buy from thenm when I can. As they never have any in stock, I decided to buy a couple of bottles online and then go to the shop to pick them up. This part worked OK and then I thought I would check the open shelves and, sure enough, Sod’s law appeared to be in operation because there on the open shelves were four bottles (which I never seen in stock for years)

Today, the media has got very excited about another two vaccines that appear to have extremely good efficacy. One of these has an 89% efficacy whilst the other Johnson and Johnson is 66%  after a single injection. Each of these viruses work in a slightly different way so it is surely reassuring to have several arrows in one’s quiver so to speak. The EU, worried about its own sources of supply, is putting export controls upon vaccines manufactured in some EU-based factories and this has exploded onto the political scene in the context off Northern Ireland – which is evidently a potential border to be crossed between the EU and the UK. So this has the possibility of becoming really, really messy. One just hopes that cooler heads prevail and that everybody realises that it should be the virus that we are fighting and not each other. But again, national interests have sprung to the fore and the Germans, for one, may not recommend the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for their 65+ population (but is has just been approved for the rest of Europe)

Finally, we are keeping a careful watch out for a further bout of snow. We might get this in the next day or so and I, for one, hope this may be the last snowfall of the winter. At least we are fairly well prepared with snow clearing gear if we do get dumped on once again. 


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Thursday, 28th January, 2021 [Day 318]

This morning proved to be one of the most entertaining of mornings. Our Waitrose delivery was delayed as the SatNav on the Waitrose delivery van had directed the driver down flooded roads in the area so the driver had to take a roundabout route to reach us. We collected our newspapers and then on our way to the park we met one of the Waitrose staff that we know well who had a trolley full of bunches of daffodils. Somehow, somewhere Waitrose had finished up with masses of bunches of daffodils far in advance of what they could sell. They had already reduced the price from £1.00 a bunch to 5p a bunch and then decided to give the rest away to clients of a local veterinary centre and a local garage. We had a long chat with the Waitrose staff member and we exchanged stories (what else?) about how members of our respective families were coping with the pandemic and whether they had received the vaccine or not. At the end of our conversation, we finished off with five bunches of daffodils and so made our flower-bestrewn path to the park. After our elevenses, we proceeded up the hill and called in at two of our friends to donate each of them a bunch of flowers (gratefully received?) Naturally, we all compared our various vaccination procedures which almost invariably dominates all of our discussions thee days. Finally, we popped in one of our neighbours to donate to her our last bunch of daffodils. She had received her call-up to be vaccinated at our local surgery in a few days time but had tried to get vaccinated at the local Artrix centre. If she had made it before 10.0am they could have squeezed her in but after that time they were absolutely inundated (and the word from the street was that they had managed to vaccinate at a rate of approximately 2,000 each day) So she decided, having waited for 10 months, to wait for a few more days.

I do not intend to tread much into the AstraZeneca row which is boiling at the moment. But I will offer just two thoughts, both of which give pause for thought. The first is a quote from The Lancet (read by many if not most GP’s) published on January, 9th 2021. Here is the relevant quote: ‘Only 1418 (12.1%) of those assessed for efficacy were older than 55years of age meaning that…we cannot yet infer efficacy in older adults’ This would appear to be quite a damning quote, admitting that we did not have the evidence base for older populations. On the other hand, UK medical scientists have been piling in this evening with statements of support, indicating that they had seen data that tends to suggest that the immune response in the 65+ age-group is high (but where is the evidence?) This is one of those situations where only time (and the availability of more evidence) will prove one side right or wrong.

We are right in the middle of a fairly mild spell of weather at the moment – that, plus the fact that the days are getting lighter to the tune of 1.0-1.5 minutes per day surely makes the spirits rise a little. Also, when we handed out our bunches of flowers (courtesy of Waitrose!), it was amazing to see how they lifted the spirits of the recipients. Of course, our own crocuses are out at the moment and daffodils will follow quite shortly. We also observed a Japanese flowering cherry which (I think) is on the point of bursting into bloom. One of the memories that we have when we used to Spain in January was to make a trip in the Alpujarras (mountainous area) to visit some of the highest villages in Spain. At some of our stopping off points, we used to marvel at almond blossom in full bloom right in the middle of the winter snows. I have been collecting empty boxes because I have a half-remembered idea (from somewhere) that I can get some seeds going at this time of year (perhaps some beet, leaflet, early lettuce) and get them going on a window sill. Then they should be quite easy to thin out and even easier to plant (as the fibre of the egg boxes should just rot away and of course, spacing becomes incredibly easy) As soon as I have acquired some more small wine bottles, then I can carry on with my damson-gin bottling activities as I still have several litres left to get processed. I must admit that of the two seasons, Spring and Autumn, I have a marginal preference for Autumn but after a year such as we have had with the pandemic, who can fail to look forward to the spring, particularly as the end is just about in sight!

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Wednesday, 27th January, 2021 [Day 317]

Meg and I went to bed an hour earlier last night as we were experiencing some slight flu-like symptoms after our receipt of the vaccine (an indication that our immune system is working the way it should). We enjoyed the benefits of an electric blanket and later on, when I awoke with a coughing fit, I treated myself to some genuine honey-and-lemon mixture which I made up into a good supply, had a good glass of it and then slept like a baby after it.

Today we knew we were going to be a little time-constrained as I needed to get to our local community hospital in the late morning for a (routine) blood-test. So we took the car down into town to collect our newspapers and then peregrinated towards our favourite park bench in the park. There we met our Birmingham University friend (which seems to be an almost daily occurrence nowadays) and  talked about some of our joint interests in the way in which statistics are presented, communicated and interpreted. (We both enjoy a Radio 4 program called ‘More or Less‘ which does an extremely good job in uncovering and sometimes debunking statistical measures).

As we had planned, we made a fairly rapid exit from the park and I dropped Meg at home before I set off for our local community hospital. In order to effect my progress my system, I had previously taken a little stick-on print out I had acquired from a previous visit to a hospital and this contains your name, address, date of birth, NHS number and a bar-code which I suspect is your NHS number as well. This proved to be incredibly useful as I had to go through a COVID-19 screening first and needed to be logged in to the hospital system. Then I went on to the ‘bloods’ department (where I was the sole patient) and taking the required sample was easy and straightforward. I must admit I had not been looking forward to visiting a hospital but, in the event, I must have been incredibly safer than I would have been wandering around the aisles of a local supermarket where customers did not socially distance, where goods were handled before being put back on the shelves and the COVID-19 is reputed to be rampant. (I had read somewhere that supermarkets are the greatest simple source of infection ranking with people getting too close to each other not observing social distancing).

There is a massive row going on between the EU and AstraZeneca which is getting more acrimonious by the day. The first source of contention is that the EU provided some money upfront to AstraZeneca to help avoid the production difficulties which the firm is now claiming it is experiencing (I think this complaint may be justified). A second source of complaint is the feeling that the UK is getting preferential treatment, although it had signed contracts a lot earlier than the EU. There are some ‘insider’ stories that the UK contract stressed continuity of supply over price (giving the company the opportunity to charge a higher price so long as the supply was forthcoming?) The UE because of its bargaining power had prioritised price, no doubt because of its superior bargaining power. (In this respect, I think the UK is probably correct in having drawn up the contract to expedite delivery and well before the opposition) And then thirdly the EU is angry for the simple reason that all this plays into the idea that Europe’s approach to vaccination has been stuttering and sluggish, particularly in contrast to the UK. It is reckoned that about 11% of the UK population has now been vaccinated. The best-performing country in the whole EU is Malta, with about 5% of the population vaccinated. It looks as though the UK is administering 4.5 doses per 100 of the population whereas the comparable figure for Germany is only 2.1

Boris Johnson is now indicating that schools will not reopen until March 8th ‘at the earliest’ Personally, I think this is just to placate the right-wing of the Tory party (desperate to have the schools reopened, and not for the purest of motives) More realistically, rather than opening the schools for some children (they have already been ‘open’ to key workers’ children and others) I suspect that schools will not reopen until after Easter which is probably just as well to be on the safe side. The number of vaccinations in the UK is now 7.1 million but the argument is increasingly being heard that vaccines are not a ‘magic bullet’ but will have to be complemented by a variety of other strategies, not least social distancing and the avoidance of anything resembling a large crowd. The government have also put into place a rather half-hearted attempt to curb new strains of the virus entering the UK by requiring entrants from certain ‘red-list’ countries (e.g. Brazil) to stay in government-provided ‘quarantine’ hotels upon arrival. But, of course, anybody determined to get in will just arrange a flight so that it appears they are arriving from another country e.g. Holland. Too little, too late it seems!

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Tuesday, 26th January, 2021[Day 316]

So this is V (for vaccination day) + 1 – in other words, we are waiting to see if the vaccine will inflict any of its side effects on us or not. We got up at our normal time, having had a night of untroubled sleep, and then settled into our normal routine. We then collected our newspapers passing our Birmingham University friend en route and we said we would catch up with each other later. When we got into the park, we were hailed by our next-door neighbour who was busy giving his little dog a walk. We expressed our effusive thanks to him for having tipped us off the day before and we explained how we had all successfully received our jab. Then we resumed our conversation with our Birmingham University friend where we discussed a paper I had come across as a postgraduate student by Sir Peter Medawar, the principal executive of the Medical Research Council. His seminal paper was called ‘Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?” (or something similar). His whole thesis is that the typical scientific paper proceeds by laying out the literature base of the extant theory, then some new theoretical insights arising from current work from which hypotheses are drawn, data is collected and then a conclusion reached as to whether the new theoretical formulation receives support (wholly or in part) or fails to be confirmed by the available data.  The point of the Medawar paper is that describes the formal logic underlying the scientific paper – actual research, however, does not proceed like this and is actually quite a melange of data collection, hypothesis formulation and reformulation, some working adjustments in the light of the data – in other words, quite a messy and complicated business which is not at all like the ‘formal’ procedures outlined in the paper as it is actually presented for publication.

So you can see that we had quite a busy morning and came home to a meal of fish cakes. I busied myself getting some of our medical documentation in order (some of which will require copying and then a careful filing) In the late afternoon, we had a couple of video calls, the first of which was a Skype call to a colleague/friend from Hampshire – we then went down memory lane exploring some of the ways in which as external examiners or PhD candidates we had come across some current problems and concerns. Immediately following this, we engaged in a FaceTime call with some of our ex-Waitrose friends who had eventually secured a ‘slot’ for them to receive the jab. Actually, the husband should have received his call-up weeks ago because of his medical history but somehow the appropriate ‘flag’ had not been set on his records so he had got missed off the priority list. Anyway, better later than never.

Although I generally do not discuss medical matters, the reactions of our bodies to the jab is interesting. Meg and I have generally felt OK and it seems to be a characteristic of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that the older you are, the fewer symptoms you appear to have. Having said this, Meg and I are starting to have a few flu-like symptoms so we have switched the electric blanket on early and will probably go to bed an hour earlier tonight. The symptoms are signs that our immune systems are working as they should and are not a cause for alarm but they should last for 24-48 hours.

Today is quite a dramatic day in the history of the pandemic in the UK for it is the day when the death total since the start of the pandemic has topped 100,000 lives. One the government’s medical advisers had stated at the start of the pandemic that 20,000 deaths would be quite a ‘good’ outcome but this has now been exceeded five times and we are not near the end of the second wave yet. On the more encouraging side, the number of people vaccinated is now 6.85 million. It does appear that the death rates in hospital are less than the first wave of the pandemic as the medics have discovered new ways of treating (if not actually curing) the disease.

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Monday, 25th January, 2021 [Day 315]

Today has been the most interesting – and eventful-  of days. The day started off well with a phone call from our local doctor’s surgery inviting me along for a COVID jab next Friday, which I was very pleased to receive, needless to say. I thought they ought to be getting around to the 75+ age group quite soon now. Although we had a fresh fall of snow yesterday evening, it was only a thin layer over the recently cleared paths and driveways so walking down to the park was a real pleasure as it was quite nice and crunchy (and not slippery) underfoot. On our way down, we met with one of our acquaintances who we know very well and is a supervisor in a local supermarket (name starting with an ‘A’) She was at home because the test-and-trace app told her she may have been in contact with an infected person so she was staying at home for the relevant number of days (despite pressure from her employers to get back into work!) Outside the park, we met with our Birmingham University friend so whilst he and Meg progressed on to the park I made a quick detour to collect the newspapers. After that and another detour to buy milk (having porridge in the morning makes us run out!) we all coincided in the park and had yet another interesting and fascinating chat. I was telling our friend the experiences I had had in Leicester when I was run over by a driver who had ‘fainted’ at the wheel (after a heavy night of all-night partying the night before) so there were quite a lot of stories about the accident and its sequelae with which to bore our new found friend. We made for home and met with some of the oldest of our church friends so we communicated the good news about the fact that I had been called in for our vaccination jab. On our final stretch of the way home, we were stopped by a couple (but I didn’t recognise them) They live on the new estate built where the orchard happened to be adjacent to our house and after they had moved in and their ‘cess-pit’ alarm was ringing constantly I had gone round to explain how the whole thing worked and what they needed to do about it (none of it explained by the builder/developer by the way) We exchanged news about the progress with vaccinations because as it happens they attend the same surgery as we do and they had received their invitations for a jab next Sunday.

In the middle of the afternoon, the fun started! Our next-door neighbour called round to thank us for clearing the snow in front of their house – useful as my neighbour has had some heart problems so a lot of energetic snow moving is NOT what the doctor ordered (one of my family doctors, when I was a teenager, died whilst digging his car out of the snow whilst doing his rounds). Our neighbour informed us that the newly re-purposed Artrix Arts Centre (see last night’s blog for details) was in operation today but they still had a degree of spare capacity as fewer people than you might have thought couldn’t get to them because of the overnight snow and ice. So I quickly grabbed my wife and and we went down to the vaccination centre. As I had previously been a ‘wise virgin’ and got the NHS numbers for Meg and myself kept in a laminated card in my wallet, then processing ourselves was quite easy. We had to socially distance and then take our turn at one of four processing stations – fortunately, Meg and I were allowed to be ‘done together’ after answering the routine battery of questions. Meg did not feel a thing and I only experienced the slightest pinprick and so we were all done and dusted within about ten minutes.  So all in all an eventful day and so what if we have a sore arm in the morning because we both feel quite good having had the vaccine (but realise it takes three weeks for your immunity system to be ‘primed’ and then another twelve weeks before we get the 2nd dose). 

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Sunday, 24th January, 2021 [Day 314]

Today was a snow-laden day and we were speculating how much snow had fallen overnight since our dump of snow the previous day. We got up at a reasonable time and I set out on foot to get our supplies of the Sunday newspapers. The snow was reasonably thick and crisp but relatively easy to walk upon. Although I took my ‘three-legged’ portable stool with me  (which doubles as a walking stick), I did not really need it. The most unpleasant part of the whole journey was a stinging snow in my face as I walked down the hill – as the wind was heading towards me, I finished up at the newsagents looking like an abominable snowman by the time I had accumulated snow all the way down my front. I was relieved to see newsagent was open and so having collected my newspapers, I ate my customary banana for a quick burst of energy and then headed for home and the snow seemed to be falling a little less intensely.  I must say I felt fairly tired having trudged through the snow so I was pleased to get to watch the Andrew Marr show as is customary on a Sunday. To get ourselves warmed up, I treated myself to a cup of powdered soup as I felt rather chilled to the marrow and then felt all the better for it.  We had a quick consultation with the rest of the family as to when we would clear the snow from our communal driveways (about 150-170 metres all in all) and decided that we would eat in the middle of the day and then start to clear the snow at at about 2.30. We actually started off a little earlier this with a trusted team of myself, son and daughter-in-law (for whose benefit we were clearing the driveway in case she has to make it into work in the morning). We had a combination of tools to help us – my son was utilising a conventional plastic snow clearing implement whilst the daughter-in-law and myself were equipped with huge plastic shovels which, I believe, are designed primarily for mucking out the cow sheds. These proved to be worth their weight in gold as they prove highly effective in snow clearance. Whilst we were at it, we cleared the driveways of our immediate neighbours such that emergency vehicles, postmen etc. can easily get to them. The temperature is predicted to be -5° tomorrow and we suspect that our driveways will be especially slippery tomorrow. We need to get in a supply of rock salt and/or ice clearing material – I think that cat litter might prove to be a good anti-slip agent but I haven’t tried this. I did a quick web search in which I found enough information to discourage me – ‘Just don’t put the cat litter on your walkways. It’s clay and will form a paste once it’s saturated with water. You’ll have a hell of a time getting rid of it. You’ll track grey muck into your house all winter. And it’s somehow, slippery and sticky at the same time when it gets wet‘ . Having ascertained this, we will stick to rock salt and/or sand in the future- we managed to get all of our work done within the hour. Our daughter-in-law had to communicate with a lot of her staff using social media to ascertain how many of them can get into work in the morning.

I had consulted my emails and so on first thing this morning and I get a feed from a local news gathering app called ‘InYourArea’ which can be a good source of local news. We used to have a local Arts Centre called the Artrix which doubled as a cinema/theatre/performance space. In the past, we have seen films of operas transmitted there.  Under the impact of various lockdowns, this has had to close its doors. However the whole building has now ben re-purposed as a specialised vaccination centre which is capable of performing 2,500 vaccinations per day (which according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations is ¾ million per year). According to their press release, opening day should be tomorrow and we should expect letters to arrive on our doorsteps on Monday or Tuesday. As there is plenty of car parking and it has a reasonably central location, I wonder if this will become the permanent vaccination centre for the whole of Bromsgrove – what with 2nd dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine and the ‘normal’ flue jabs, it should be quite well occupied in the foreseeable future. Tonight, the total vaccination rate in the UK has hit 6.3 million (approx 12% of the population) so what with lots of new centres like the our local Artrix centre, then perhaps the government target of having all vulnerable and 70+ people (some 15 million) vaccinated by mid-February could well be achieved. For once, the government might actually hit its own target but the debate whether it was wise to extend the period of time between the first and second doses of the vaccine from 3 to 12 weeks rages on.











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Saturday, 23rd January, 2021 [Day 313]

Today when we awoke it was evident that we had had a short sharp snow shower the previous evening. All of the trees and shrubs, as well as the countryside in general, looked magnificent in the snow, particularly as by now we had bright sunlight and a clear blue sky. We made our way with a degree of caution down the hill but the snow was quite crunchy underfoot and indeed had quite disappeared on sections of footpath that had received the full complement of the sun’s rays. On our way to the newspaper shop, we bumped into Birmingham University friend so whilst he and Meg went off to the park together, I made a quick dash to collect the newspapers. Whilst in the park we adopted our customary juxta-position of our friend on one bench, Meg on another and myself forming the third point of the triangle. I am not quite sure how we got onto the topic but we got onto the subject of plagiarism in universities and what was to be done about it. Eventually, we explored some mutual interest in the philosophy of science where we discussed the work of Karl Popper and the principles of falsifiability. Although all sociology students will have been exposed to the work of Karl Popper, many physical scientists had not. We quickly established that both of us preferred slightly to be at the edge of our respective disciplines and hence sort of moved sidewise into cognate fields. Hence I started off my academic career as a sociologist but via teaching Research Methods and statistics finished up as a teacher of IT. Similarly, my Birmingham University friend’s discipline was in Mechanical Engineering but he had moved into Operations Research. So all in all, we found some interesting areas of communality in our various academic endeavours. We were speculating whether the journey home would prove treacherous but everything was fine. In fact, the sun had melted quite a lot of the snow on the pavements so compared with an hour previously, we had quite a quick journey home.  Just outside the park we caught up with some of our church friends and as always happens got onto the perennial topic of vaccinations. As it happens, the husband of the couple with whom we had been chatting had just been vaccinated the day before whilst his wife was waiting impatiently for her own jab.

This afternoon, I thought I would bring a Bluetooth portable speaker into use that I bought several month ago but only used occasionally until now. As it happens, I often listen to a Piddock recording of Handel’s ‘Messiah‘ which I have playing on earphones through an old iPad which I have in the bedroom and which generally sends me off to sleep quite quickly (something to do with alpha brainwaves, I surmise). So this afternoon, I ran off a copy of the manual for the portable Bluetooth speaker (long since mislaid) and then found the recording I wanted on the net, courtesy of YouTube. I then paired my iPhone with the speaker and Meg and I listened to the recording during the later part of the afternoon. Having done this once, I might try it with other classic recordings that I enjoy. 

According to the Weather app in my iPhone, we should have a continuous dump of snow between 9.0am and 12.0am.  If this proves to the case, then we shall have to spend a lot of the late morning digging ourselves out because our daughter-in-law needs to leave for work at about 6.0 am on Monday morning. We have about 150 yards of driveway that services ourselves and four sets of neighbours but we are pretty well equipped with snow shovels so we shall have to wait and see. Actually, it is a few years since we had a large dump of snow so I suppose it is about time that we were due for one. I tend not to attack the snow the minute it had fallen as some people do but wait for the sun to do some of the work for me, if possible.

Politically, it seems that the government seems to have switched its tactics somewhat and does not seem as desperate as it was to appease its own right wing and ease the lockdown as fast as possible. The discovery of the new variants of the virus which seem to transmit much more easily militates against quick and easy of the lockdown in any case. It looks as though instead of ‘over-promising and under-delivering’ the government has decided that it is much more judicious to ‘under-promise and to over-deliver’ It does appear the vaccination rate has really picked up over the last few days but it is an interesting question whether they can get all of the vulnerable and over 70 yr olds done by the middle of February which was one of their promises.

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Friday, 22nd January, 2021 [Day 312]


We always knew that today was going to be a different kind of Friday and so it turned out to be. I had a (routine) appointment for a CT scan in one of our local hospitals and the arrangements for this were interesting. Instead of making my way through the bowels of the hospital towards the Imaging Centre, instead I was directed towards a ‘mobile’ scanning unit which was situated in a pair of relocatable buildings erected in the hospital car park. This arrangement is no doubt safer because you are not breathing in potentially COVID-19 infected air or touching surfaces inside the hospital but rather the improvised treatment unit can (by design) only handle one patient at a time which must enhance the safety. I got there way before time but the car park was full to bursting so it was a nightmare trying to find somewhere to park. Nonetheless, I made my way to the unit and had my scan which must have only taken ten minutes for the whole procedure. Whilst waiting for my cannula (for the injection of a radio opaque die) to be removed, I chatted to the nurse who happened to be Spanish so we spoke in a mixture of castellans and English, swapping experiences of COVID-19 across our two societies. Needless to say, ‘Silvia’ had not seen her family for months and months – her husband, it transpired, hailed from Porto (Opporto in English) which is where Meg and I had a holiday booked last May but which we evidently had to abandon. So I got home to meet the happy throng of our son, wife and domestic help before a much needed cup of coffee. As it was a fine and bright day (but pretty cold outside), Meg and I decided to make a lightning visit to the park for a mini constitutional little walk in the park. There  we met with some of our park friends who were not really expecting us because I had told them of my hospital visit. I was explaining to my new found ex-Birmingham University friend how I got into the string of research which was to climate in my Phd because a happy chance. After the fall of Maggie Thatcher, John Major took over and he wanted one ‘big idea’ to follow Thatcherism. This turned out to be the Citizen’s Charter.  and then the Patient’s Charter in the NHS. One of the key metrics for the latter was that all visitors to the hospital out-patients’ departments should be seen within half an hour. Through the good offices of one of my part-time students who worked in Quality and Infection Control at Leicester General, I was asked to give some help in devising a measurement instrument for measuring outpatient waiting times. To cut a long story short, we devised a measurement instrument and I provided all of the statistical analysis in the form of reports divided by consultant. The hospital management then used the data I provided to institute whatever changes they could to reduce waiting times. The end result of all of this was that we reduced the waiting times from only about 48% seen within 30 minutes to about 85% in the course of three months. A stream of further papers followed, around which a ‘Quality Management’ PhD was written which was then submitted to de Montfort University which had changed its regulations allowing a a PhD to be submitted around a series of published papers. Having got my PhD in 9997, I was then a bit more marketable and went off to get a job as Professor of Business Informatics at King Alfred’s College which  later became the University of Winchester. And the rest is history.

Tonight, there is the news that the Kent variant of COVID-19 appears to have a higher mortality rate than its predecessor, which is the kind of news that none of us particularly wants to hear. But there is some news to mitigate the gloom. Firstly, whatever evidence there is tends to suggest that the vaccines that we have are just as effective against the new variants of the virus as well as the original. And today, it appears that 400,000 more people (0.4 million) have been vaccinated in a single day, which really is a marked acceleration in the rate of vaccinations (largely as a result of new centres coming into service) The final hint of good news is that the ‘R’ rate seems to have dropped to between 0.8 and 1.0 which is good news as it stands. But the hospitals are still having to bear the brunt of whatever the infection rate was some three to four weeks previously, a proportion of which ends up in the hospital wards. There now seems to a near consensus building up that whilst the second wave is proving much more traumatic than the first wave, the numbers of people at work (and children of ‘key workers’ in schools) are so much greater than first time around and this is almost certainly aiding the increased rate of transmission of the virus.


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