Sunday, 28th February, 2021 [Day 349]

This morning was our by now Sunday morning pattern i.e. I get up a little earlier and then walk down in the cold, clear light of the morning to pick up our Sunday newspapers. Sunday morning is always a little treat for me because as I am on my own, I treat myself to a little concert on my trusty very old iPhone and this morning played some Bach and Mozart to myself. After breakfasting during the Andrew Marr show (not particularly informative, I must say),  Meg and I walked to the park. The air was like champagne and we wonder how long this glorious little spell of high pressure is going to last but we think it is a few more days yet. The number of children on scooters in the park reached its typical Sunday morning ‘high’ but we met with a couple of park acquaintances and passed our time of day trying to solve the following (almost mathematical) puzzle, which is: ‘Why is it when you are waiting for a bus there is always a bus coming first in the opposite direction ? (Assuming that buses travel on each side of the road at 10 minute intervals)‘ I will leave this conundrum for others to sort out.

We dined  on chicken this lunch time using our normal ‘chicken’ recipe. We sear the chicken and in the meanwhile fry off some onions, peppers and tomatoes. Then the chicken, fried vegetables and half a jar of lasagne type white sauce go into a casserole and then into the oven for about 30-40 minutes (served with  tender stem broccoli and a baked potato)

There was no France-Scotland rugby match to entertain us this afternoon as half of the French team are laid low with the COVID-19 virus. (My son was of the opinion that as they hadn’t sufficiently self-isolated in training they should have made to field a 2nd or 3rd team of 15 or forfeit the match is necessary – I have some sympathy with this view) I found that the sports writers had no sympathy whatsoever for the English team and their performance and praised the Welsh diligence in keeping their discipline (and hence no penalties) as against the English who again offended considerably.

This afternoon is one of those little statistical ‘milestones’ in that we have passed the total of 20 million of the population having received at least their first jab – I think the proportion is well over a third of the adult population by now. But perhaps of some concern is that a cluster of six of the Brazilian variant of the vaccine have appeared and most of these cases occurred in travellers from Brazil but before the most recent lockdown. This tends to indicate that we should have locked down much more stringently and much more urgently. The present cases have been discovered in South Gloucestershire but there has been plenty of time for the virus to have spread much more rapidly. Apparently in Auckland in New Zealand they discovered ONE outbreak of the virus and immediately locked down most of the city for a few days! Meanwhile, the spell of really good weather is encouraging people to flock to the parks and to socialise as if the restrictions had already been lifted. I would not be surprised if we were to find that after this burst of fine weather the ‘R’ (reproduction rate) of the virus actually increases and this can well threaten the rest of the unlock down process. One of the scientists on the SAGE committee has already admitted that this is a ‘great worry to us‘ and one can understand why. What is so frustrating is that we have endured eleven months of turmoil and it doesn’t take much more self-restraint to ensure that we are not knocked back by a fair amount. But, I must admit. if the park is anything to go by there is already a feeling (probably unjustified) that we are nearly at the end of the lockdown and can therefore let go a little.

There are two political events of some significance during the forthcoming week and both on Wednesday. Firstly, we are having a budget on Wednesday – although it used to be the case that Chancellors of the Exchequer used to ‘go into purdah’ and make sure the budget contents remained a closely guarded secret. But today there seems to be a tendency to extensively ‘leak’ or ‘brief’ the budget contents several days beforehand, perhaps so any good news can be announced at least twice over. So we already know that billions of pounds are going to be offered to businesses to help them over the next month or so. The next big political event is going to be Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the Scottish parliamentary committee. It is really difficult for us down here in England to ascertain the exact cause of the dispute between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmon but it is a question of who knew what and when – somebody, somewhere is lying through the teeth but we may be a little nearer to the truth next Wednesday.

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Saturday, 27th February, 2021 [Day 348]

Today was another fine and bright day with a brilliant blue sky and very much the ambience of an early spring day. In fact, I was reminded of the time that I spent a term at the Complutense University of Madrid in which the mornings were frosty and cold but the skies were blue and clear. The dining room in the Residencia (= Hall of Residence) in which I lodged opened at about 7.30 in the morning but I had to leave at about 7.33 to walk to a metro station, catch a metro and then eventually a bus to the University campus of Somosaguas. When the restaurant opened, I used to dive in, gulp a quick cup of coffee and a small boccadillo by way of breakfast whilst also grabbing one or two to go in my pockets for a mid-morning break. Some other fellow diners who were also there when the restaurant opened use to say to me ‘This is terribly bad for your health, grabbing a little bit of food like that‘ to which I used to reply ‘I know- I know – but I haven’t got any more time!‘ However, it did make he breakfast on a Saturday and a Sunday morning a particular pleasure when you could have a leisurely breakfast and a civilised conversations with the many and varied visiting professors who were accommodated in the Residencia.

So we collected our ration of Saturday newspapers and made for the park where we met with our University of Birmingham friend and another mutual acquaintance of ours. Here we discussed the various statistics on the efficacy of the competing vaccines and racked our brains to see if we could remember the exact sequence  of what is allowed when on the timetable of ‘end of lockdown’. We do remember that on Monday, 8th March i.e. a week on Monday, we will be allowed by the powers-that-be to have a coffee whilst sitting on a park bench and chatting to a friend (whether with or without a mask I am not sure – and do you have to be at opposite ends of the park bench or not? Decisions..decisions). We made our way home knowing that in the afternoon we would be able to watch a couple of rugby matches i.e. Italy versus Ireland and then Wales v. England which is billed as the ‘big one’ of the current 6-Nations. This last match seemed to be extraordinary insofar as the (French) referee made a serious of bizarre and controversial decisions which awarded Wales two tries they were not expecting in the first half. England fought their way back to a 24-24 draw with about 20 minutes to go and then threw it all away with a series of tactical errors and unnecessary penalties although the referee was  behaving like a normal human being by this time (One view, shared by one of the commentators at half time was that if the very well known Welsh referee, Nigel Owens, had refereed the match, then the whole dynamics of the match would have altered and it is not inconceivable that England could have won the entire game).

By this evening, the total number of vaccinations has reached 19.7 million which must be about a third of the adult population. As we are approaching the month of March (from next Monday) it looks as though the 60-69 year olds and then the 50-59 year olds will be called forward to receive their ‘jab’. Tho 40-49 year olds will be started on 4th April. Then the 30-39 year olds will be started on 24th June and finally the 20-29 year olds will be started on 13th July. There are about 7 million persons in each category and the official government target is to have all adults vaccinated by the end of July, 2021. Of course, this does depend upon uninterrupted supplies of vaccine, a small overall refusal rate and no great sudden panic with the discovery of a new variant.  

They talk about the power of words but I had not fully appreciated how the staunch (not to say rabid) Republicans were weaponising the word ‘Democratic’ as in ‘Democratic Party’.  Here are some examples that Republicans of a certain hue are using. For example, rallygoers in Washington were urged to ‘put the fear of God in the cowards, the traitors, the RINOs, the communists of the Democrat Party.’  Yet others have argued that the claims of election fraud meant that Republicans were in a ‘death match with the Democrat Party‘. It does appear that the conservatives on the American right are seeking to identify themselves as members of the same tribe by seeking to define the opposition through demeaning language. Another example with which to conclude follows. After Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was removed from her House committees for espousing sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories, she tweeted: ‘In this Democrat tyrannical government, Conservative Republicans have no say on committees anyway.‘ In other words, the word ‘Democrat‘ or ‘Democratic‘ are always used in such a way that it evokes a negative sentiment in anything to do with the Democratic Party in the United States.


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Friday, 26th February, 2021 [Day 347]

This morning as we woke up, we realised there had been a slight ground frost and so we surmised, as it turns out correctly, that a fine day or at least a fine morning was in prospect for us. The air was like champagne and the sky was blue, all with a liberal dosing of pale spring sunshine. So we had an extremely pleasant walk down to our newsagents where we picked up our Saturday complement of newspapers, popped into Waitrose to pick up some frozen vegetables and then made our way into the park. As the weather was so kind to all of us and it was the weekend, then every man (and his dog) seemed to be present in the park. We kept on bumping into people that we know that included friends, friends of friends, park acquaintances and so on. It was so pleasant that we lingered awhile in the park and did not get back for lunch until way past our normal lunchtime. I rustled up a quick risotto (which I now make with some kippers and cauliflower rice – it might sound odd but with a normal complement of yogurt and grated cheese actually turns out to be a lot nicer than it sounds). I have recently developed a facility to communicate with the souls of dead pets (animals) and it works like this. I ask for the name of the favourite animal and then try to establish a line of communication between them and their long deceased pet. I then ask them to think of a number between 1 and 10 and ask them to perform a series of mathematical procedures on it. I then establish a link of communication with the dead ‘pet’ and then communicate a number which the deceased pet is ‘correctly’ communicating to the mind of the owner. Although this sounds complicated, it worked beautifully with our University of Birmingham friend AND with our Irish friend down the road AND with our domestic help who was still in the house when we returned home.

We are now at the total of 19 million of the population vaccinated which is 35% of the entire adult population. A figure just released is that 94% of the population indicate that they have either received the jab OR they intend to have it when their turn becomes due. Although there has been a slight hiccup of supply in the vaccine the UK as a whole still seems to be streets ahead. However the rates of infection are increasing in one of five (20%) of local authority areas. The ‘heat maps’ shown in the Downing Street briefings still show some worrying areas where rates of vaccination are lower, indices of social deprivation are higher and the rate of new infection may be increasing slightly. The government advisers are evidently worried that the population as a whole may ‘relax’ particularly as the weather is fine and that people might be ‘3-0’ up in a game of football only to relax and eventually lose the game 3-4 (an example given in the briefing tonight)

I sent off a long email to our Spanish friends expressing our delight that their daughter has just gained an Erasmus scholarship in the University of Gloucester (some 35 miles down the road) and promising all the help and support that we can give. We imagine that the university will give priority in university accommodation to Erasmus students (who cannot be expected to organise their own in the open market like indigenous students) We also sent them all of the information taken from ‘The Times‘  which details all of the stages to be undertaken in the ‘end-of-lockdown’ scenarios outlined by the government.  A source of some dissatisfaction, though, is that police and schoolteachers are not to be given any degree of priority other than provided by age alone -figures are being quoted that, the government argues, shows that teachers and the police die at a somewhat lower rate than the rest of the population and should not therefore receive any degree of priority.

Later on this evening, we FaceTimed one of our Hampshire friends as we do regularly on a Friday evening, and spent an incredibly pleasant hour chatting on a whole variety of topics. Our friend is organising a lot of Zoom meetings for ex-IBM employees which is taking him some time and keeping him out of mischief. 

The government seems to be edging slowly via a ‘review’  into a ‘de facto’ acceptance of a vaccine passport, although not to be called that. I read a letter in one of my daily newspapers that indicated that, as a newly qualified nurse, she had to show evidence of a BCG (anti-TB) inoculation before she could enter employment, so what is the difference in principle between that and a COVID-19 vaccination? It would appear to me to be axiomatic that one needs to be vaccinated before exerting a patient-facing role in the NHS so where is the problem?

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Thursday, 25th February, 2021 [Day 346]

It was a beautiful day today and felt extremely ‘spring’ like – in fact, I think, the temperature at the moment is above the seasonal norm. This wonderful weather did not last for too long, though, as a huge black cloud soon intervened. Nonetheless, we were glad to get to the park and we resumed conversations with our friend from Birmingham University and another friend/acquaintance of his who is a dog walker but also very interested in all things to do with local history. We chatted until we all started to feel a little cold and, as we had been some time out of the sun, we all thought we had better strike for home. As this afternoon was quite bright and fair, I thought I had better give the car a wash as, with one thing or another, it had got missed for a week or so. As I washed the car, I thought there was a very fine film of something resembling dust but according to the weather forecast this evening, what we have actually experienced is a very fine layer of Saharan sand. Every so often when the weather conditions are right, we do get a thin layer of Saharan sand/dust which has whipped up high into the atmosphere by strong winds. The raindrops in the clouds acquire particles of dust and then they get deposited, the water evaporates and we are left with a very fine covering of sand which shows up on our cars (but it must be everywhere)

We have some interesting bits of family news. First of all, Meg’s cousins in Derbyshire have emailed us to indicate that as we all enjoyed the Zoom session last week, shall we have another one soon? We will probably settle for a fortnightly pattern from now on – our cousin had very kindly given us a link so that we can now view Amadeus (the famous film about Mozart) in English rather than in Spanish. So we might try that over the weekend. The other fantastic good bit of news we only got a few minutes ago. We have heard from Spain that our Spanish god-daughter has just won an Erasmus scholarship to come and study for a semester in the University of Gloucertshire (this is about 40 miles down the road) This means that we can see quite a lot of her (if she would like this) and, of course, there is a comfortable home to retreat to at the weekends. We are short on details at the moment but no doubt I will get a lot more once I have emailed our oldest Spanish friend to get all of the ‘inside’ information. I just hope the UK government is not going to do all kinds of daft things to make the lives of Erasmus students difficult (e.g. visas, enormous charges in case you ever need to use our NHS for any reason and so on) Of course, we should be able to do lots at this end just in case anything does go wrong and it needs a little sorting out.

After the complete mess-up last year over the ‘A’-level gradings, the education secretary has done a volte-fee and allowed the teachers to undertake their own assessments of their students – a massive degree of ‘grade inflation’ is being predicted. Even some of the pupils who are affected seem a little unsure as I think the more ‘streetwise’ among them realise that passing a public examination has a certain degree of credibility but a grade based upon teacher assessments might not be regarded so highly by future employers and the universities themselves. But when we were at school, we often used to pass our books to our next door neighbour in the classroom to be marked and then handed back again – would it be beyond the wit of schools to pair with a partner and to ‘mark’ each other’s work? I am sure this could be made to work fairly easily if a little bit of thought was applied to it.

An interesting question is emerging this evening. We know that the rate of vaccination is quite high across the whole of the UK and is now up to some 18.7 million. However, it does appear that in London and large cities such as Birmingham and Manchester the rates of vaccination are well behind the rest of the country. This is associated both with ethnicity and also with deprivation (as well as the interaction between the two). Why this is a source of concern for policy makers is that whilst the rates of vaccination increase for the rest of the country, we are, in effect, leaving behind ‘reservoirs’ of virus that could continue to infect the rest of the population. One solution to this problem is to create much more active ‘intervention’ strategies that would go and seek out those who need vaccination (using mobile clinics with a bus, more active use of community facilities such as pharmacies) and in this way help to avoid problems building up for the future.

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Wednesday, 24th February, 2021 [Day 345]

Today was a different kind of day and we knew that we were going to break our normal routine today. When we buy our Christmas tree, which we do from Webbs (famous garden store down the road), they give us a voucher which covers most of the cost of the tree. This voucher has to be used by the end of February and as it is worth £35.00 it is not to be sneezed at. The days of February are rapidly running out so it was a case of ‘use it or lose it’  So today Meg and I went down in the car to collect our newspapers and then headed straight for Webbs – once in the store, we replenished our supply of wild bird food (fat balls, peanuts and the like)and that was that. The catering facilities within Webbs were not open and there were warnings at the entrance to the store not to bring in your own food and drink. So we tracked backwards and went to our familiar haunts in Sanders Park where we drank our pre-prepred coffee and our snacks.

This afternoon, we made for lunch a huge curry (I always prepare too much but the remainder is always gratefully received by our domestic help when we see her on Friday) After this and a snooze, I thought I would tackle the on-line renewal of my driving licence. This proved to be remarkably straightforward so far as I can tell but it calls for the interrogation of three national data bases (DVLC, the National Insurance computer and the the Passport office) and, so far, the process seems to have gone as smoothly as I would have hoped. There is always a slightly ominous warning that ‘we have received your application and are checking that the supplied information is valid‘ or words to that effect and, all being well, I hope to have the new licence supplied within the week. Past the age of 70, your licence still needs to be renewed every three years and it does rely upon the integrity of the applicant e.g. to tick the box to say that you meet the eye-sight requirements. When I was last having my annual eye checkup, I asked our friendly optician (who we have known for years) what kind of checks were made once you had ‘ticked the box’  He thought that there none to speak of and we surmised between us that probably people lied about their eye-sight all over the country – which is slightly frightening when you think about it.

I have been been exploring some modern SSD external disk drives (Solid State Drives) wondering whether or not they might have a life of more than the five years associated with a typical HDD (Hard Disk Drive) – it is interesting that Apple seems to install SSDs by default in the computers it build these days. I have my eye on a particular Seagate drive which is offering a three year warranty (and a half-promise that if it fails Seagate will rescue information from it and return it to you!) and also some included software that means that every time you change or update a file on your main system the Seagate software will ‘mirror’ it (i.e. incrementally back it up) on the SSD which, given the speed at which they operate, I should imagine one scarcely notices. I am tempted but will do a little more research before I commit myself finally.

We got an email from our Spanish friend last night and she told us, that in common with both France and Germany, the Oxford/AstraZeneca i.e. UK developed vaccine was not being offered to anyone over the age of 55.  This ‘excess of caution’ or is it just xenophobia may be due to the fact that the initial trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine did not include many people over the age of 55 in its initial trials and therefore might be said to be ‘unproven’ . However, in the last day or so,  a study has been reported on the effects of the vaccines on ‘real’ populations and it shows the four weeks after vaccination, the Pfizer-BioNTech  cut the chances of going to hospital by up to 85% but in the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine, this was 94%. In other words, both vaccines have shown that when used in actual (i.e. not trial) populations, they have a fantastically beneficial effect at preventing serious illness. Even in Germany, the best selling newspaper of ‘Bild‘ is saying ‘Dear Britain – we envy you‘. It used figures from 21 February showing the UK had given 17.7 million people at least one vaccination, with Germany lagging behind on 3.4 million. “While the British are already planning their summer vacation, Germany is stuck in lockdown,” the newspaper added.  It seems to me that there a certain amount of ‘not-invented here’ syndrome evident when it comes to evaluating the various vaccines against each other!

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Tuesday, 23rd February, 2021 [Day 344]

It was quite a dull day today but the weather was quite mild so Meg and I walked down to collect our newspapers as usual. There I discussed with our newsagent the fact that we both owned Apple Macs and he told me that he had, at one stage, owned one of the very earliest MACs which he had actually given away. If you look on the web, you can see that vintage MACs are now a collector’s item and can be worth up to $1,000 each – or perhaps even more for a really early, vintage model. My newsagent told me that he thought that the MAC he had given away might now be worth thousands of dollars.

Having picked up our newspapers, we made our way to the park and there we coincided with our Birmingham University friend. We had a chuckle about colleagues that we had both experienced in the past who had proved to be irksome to us. I recalled one particular colleague who upon my return from the Complutense University in Madrid teaching Information Technology (in Spanish) to public administration students, informed me that he was ‘proud’ he could only speak English and no other language. Although we were a friendly and non-argumentative department, I did rather ‘express my displeasure at his attitude’ (and this is putting it mildly). But to put things into context, I only had one or two matters of really serious dispute in the whole of a teaching career and, in general, worked with a very amiable and professional set of colleagues in the two universities in which I worked.

Out of an idle curiosity, I thought I would look at the comparative merits and prices of hard disk drives (HDDs), solid state devices (SSDs) and memory cards in variety. Whilst I browsed for various items on Amazon and noted some prices, navigated away and then navigated back again, I noticed that one items I had been looking at had jumped from £80 to £100 in the space of a few seconds. I think this is an Amazon ‘ploy’ ultimately to extract a degree of profit as they might work on the principle that if you want something urgently you may be willing to pay a premium price for it. Anyway, I have come to no firm conclusions on this subject except that in my researches to examine which medium has the best storage properties, baked clay tablets that have lasted for thousands of years may have something to be said for them. But given the speed at which technology is advancing, can one be sure that the media one is using today will still be readable by a future generation in, say, 10-15 year’s time? The solution, I have discovered, is to think about a backup strategy rather than storage devices. A good backup strategy is to think of the 3-2-1 rule i.e.  ‘The 3-2-1 backup rule is an easy-to-remember acronym for a common approach to keeping your data safe in almost any failure scenario. The rule is: keep at least three (3) copies of your data, and store two (2) backup copies on different storage media, with one (1) of them located offsite.’ So I will continue to have thoughts and ruminations about all of this.

In the late afternoon, I caught up with my emails only to discover that a Hampshire friend was suggesting we Skype in 20 minutes time. Then I discovered there was an ominous ‘question mark’ over the Skype desktop icon which suggests that the newly updated operating system could not use the out-of-date application in my computer. So I quickly deleted it and then managed to reinstall a more up-to-date version which fortunately worked like a dream. So I Skyped my friend and we had an entertaining few minutes before we FaceTimed some of our other Bromsgrove friends as we have a regular arrangement each Tuesday afternoon. So all in all, about an hour and a half of non-stop ‘chatting’ via video technology.

There is an interesting political ‘brew’ developing this evening. The Tory party has firmly set its face against anything that sounds like a ‘vaccine passport’ which may well be demanded by airlines, other holiday destinations and so on.  But civil liberties organisations are alarmed about the project. “Vaccine passports would create the backbone of an oppressive digital ID system and could easily lead to a health apartheid that’s incompatible with a free and democratic country,” says Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch. “Digital IDs would lead to sensitive records spanning medical, work, travel, and biometric data about each and every one of us being held at the fingertips of authorities and state bureaucrats.”  Nonetheless, the idea is gaining a degree of traction and the government may well be approaching a volte-face on this issue. Already some of the technological and ethical issues are being explored within government and something akin to the old yellow card, more formally known as the International Certificate of Vaccination may well emerge. I can firmly predict, however, that the government will call it anything but ensure that the old ‘passport’ is never actually used!



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Monday, 22nd February, 2021 [Day 343]

After a somewhat delayed start, we decided that it was not going to rain today so Meg and I walked down to collect our newspapers and journey into the park as part of our normal routine. We found the park reasonably quiet after the weekend which is obviously always a busy time. We did appreciate the little bit of peace but found that every park bench was muddy as children had evidently clambered all over them in their muddy shoes. Fortunately, we came prepared for all contingencies and have an old tea towel which served both to wipe the mud off the seats and to dry them at the same time. Apart from a wave from a car, we did not bump into any of our sets of friends today, of the park genre or otherwise, so I read yesterday’s blog to Meg which I can access via my mobile phone.

This afternoon, I decided to tackle a pile of old files which required some rationalisation – and I hope to reduce the clutter a smidgeon by seeing how much of the contents I could dispense with. As is the way with things, quite a lot of things that seemed important at the time could now get junked so I helped to fill our outside paper-waste bin to overflowing before it gets emptied on Thursday morning. One of the tasks that I quite enjoy is to recycle some of the old files which I do by carefully peeling off the old labels – I noticed that on one, which had a label ‘stuck over’ a label, the original referred to the applications my son was making when he went to university which makes it about 34 years old! I also discovered a photo of myself with my ‘Spanish’ baby  – well, not mine exactly, but the baby belonging to a professor from Barcelona who was a fellow examiner of a PhD in La Coruña, Northern Spain, about 6-7 years ago now. 

As part of my clearing up activities I came across an old ‘pocket’ hard disk drive that I must have bought years before – when I looked on it, it did not have a great deal of data but it did have some oldish photos that I had forgotten about. So I copied these across to a legacy folder on my principal computer and then reformatted the newly discovered disk (it was FAT32 and I wanted to make sure it was NTFS compatible with the MAC) and then copied the files back over on it. As I was congratulating myself on a new discovered extra source of computer storage, I thought it might be a good idea to try to discover how old the disk drive actually was. By putting the serial number into a Seagate database, I discovered that it was about 9 years old. A bit of research on the internet indicates that most portable hard disk drives are only anticipated to have a life of about 5-6 years so I already appear to be living on borrowed time. So do I need to buy a new disk drive as a backup when the newly discovered one seems absolutely fine? I need to have a think about this one.

This afternoon’s political news has been dominated by the much-trailed ‘roadmap’ for the way in which the lockdown is be gradually released. Whilst I am not a fan of this particular government, I do feel that they have got the roadmap about right. They are suggesting a series of four gradual  easing of restrictions and always subject to four criteria which are that vaccination rates continue, death rates are still reducing, infection rates are not surging and finally new variants of the virus do not threaten us. The innovative part of the proposal is that there should be a gap of five weeks before one stage and the next – this is to allow for an examination of the data to show that adverse consequence are not flowing before the next wave of the ‘un-lockdown’ continues. This all sounds incredibly sensible but as predicted the the right wing of the Conservative party (all ex-Brexiteers by the way) are still calling for restrictions to be eased at the earliest possible moment i.e. in time for Easter. The reaction of the popular press and any opinion polls gathered in the next few days will prove to be extremely interesting reading.

One treat I am saving for later on this evening is to view that new footage released by NASA of the ending of ‘Perseverance‘ onto the surface of Mars. This is said to be ‘stunning’ but I think it relates principally to the way in the craft was landed without damage, on the surface of Mars via a type of ‘sky crane’ from which the craft was lowered on a series of tethers. Whether is actually is stunning or just ‘hype’ I will be able to tell later on the evening.


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Sunday, 21st February, 2021 [Day 342]

Today was the type of day in which the poetic would say that the clouds were ‘scudding’ across the sky – in fact, I don’t know if we use that verb for any other object or activity except clouds. Anyway, I got up fairly early-ish and then walked down to the newsagent for our normal Sunday supplies, all done at this hour in the morning in order to get back in time for the Andrew Marr show (which, I am ashamed to say, I largely slept through). Then we made our way down to the park, being met on the way by some of our church friends. We continued our discussions as to what has (not) been going at our local church and the news to date does seem very encouraging for us.  In the park we met with our Birmingham University friend and another park regular who occasionally seeks out our company and has a lot to say for himself. Enough said for the moment.  We met some more of our church friends who told us that the police had been called out about 6.00 am to a large disturbance in the vicinity of the park involving several young males so I wonder whether some kind of illegal drinks party had been organised.

After lunch, and a brief rest, I thought I would busy myself with the tidy-up of the study. I had ordered several things from Amazon and I hoped that would package them in a fairly large box- which fortunately, they did. I could then use this box to store some competing ‘hardware’ which was adding to the clutter but now they are safely boxed up, labelled and put on a bookcase top where I cannot forget about them but quickly access them when needed.

There is still quite a debate going on as to whether the schools should be ‘open’  on 8th March (not that they ever closed as they catered for the children of key workers as as well as disadvantaged children) The government argue that they will be driven by ‘the data’ but all will be revealed tomorrow afternoon (to Parliament) and then other address to the nation by Boris Johnson at 7.00pm.  What is interesting is that Meg and I watched the replay of Thursday night’s Question Time which is broadcast on the Parliament channel between 6.00 and 7.00 on a Sunday. The consensus view (even agreed to by the Tory MP who was part of the panel) was that any lockdown should be gradual in the extreme and there should be a pause after each step to ensure that the R factor does not increase. 

The BBC seems to be taking its role as a public educator in these troubled times. I notice that on their website tonight, there is a contribution entitled ‘Lockdown review: What are the risks of schools, pubs and shops reopening?‘  The article appears interesting and informative and was written by a member of the BBC Reality Check unit. There seemed to be plenty of graphs and reference to the latest research evidence so this is probably worth a good read once I have the time.

This morning, acting on a whim, I turned to a section of Google called Google Scholar which will detail for any researcher who has published a series of papers how many citations have been received. In this context, a citation is a  reference by another author to one’s own published work. In this way, it is possible to measure if only in a simplistic way whether one’s paper had any points within it that another academic wished to reference. I was surprised to find that the most popular paper (twice as many citations as the next highest) was a paper written on the subject of plagiarism.(By the way, my son commented ‘Who did you copy it from?‘) I think that myself and my co-author had just hit the rising tide of concern at just about the right time and also had it published in an electronic journal (which would it easier to find in a wide-ranging Google search, I imagine). The ‘citation indices’ are heavily used in the academic community to help to assess the quality of published work in what was called the Research Assessment Exercise, to which all universities had to subject themselves at regular intervals (every four years as I remember).

The latest data seems to indicate that some 17.5 million of the population (about a third of the adult population) have now been vaccinated. There is also a suggestion this evening that jabs may reduce the amount of transmission by about two-thirds. But we have a difficult job statistically to work out how much of the reduction in transmission is due to vaccine and how much is due to the generalised effects of the lockdown – perhaps this type of analysis might be forthcoming in time, but it is evidently far too early to come to firm conclusions at this stage in the proceedings.


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Saturday, 20th February, 2021 [Day 341]

As today was one of those ‘raining all morning’ days, we decided to pop down and collect our newspapers in the car and then make our way to the park. Once there, we made for the bandstand as it was too wet to take a seat – but then we were joined unexpectedly by our Birmingham University friends.  We spent about twenty minutes chewing the fat until we all decided we had got a little cold and decided to call it a day. Fortunately as we were in the car we got home without getting wet and immediately started cooking our mid-day meal. Then we had a lazy afternoon, reading the Saturday newspapers until I decided it was time to complete the tidy up of the study. On top of my book cases in the study, I tend to store the empty boxes of any hardware that we have bought in the past (in case anything needed to go back within the guarantee period) I located a little stool that I had underneath a desk and ‘liberated’ it so that I could make some space on the bookcase tops for things that I needed to store but keep accessible like our Photo Frame (which we may need to drag out once we make contact with members of the family). One thing that I re-discover was a type of hard-drive which we used to use with an Apple Mac – this particular model, whilst expensive, is the kind that film producers and professionals of a similar ilk use to make sure that their work does not get lost. To cut a long story short, it was already formatted for a MAC so I tried it out as an alternative backup mechanism and was delighted to find out it saved 16 Gbytes of data in about 8 minutes, which is a good reason for doing it regularly from now on.

It will be interesting to read the Sunday newspapers tomorrow morning to see how the world at large is responding to the imminent ending of the lockdown. The most immediate point of contention is whether schools should all be re-opened in almost the form of a ‘Big Bang’ on March 8th. Were this to happen against the advice of teachers and many in the scientific community (including the Government’s Chief medical officer, Chris Whitty. There is a strong feeling that whilst the right wing of the Conservative party are baying for schools to re-open, it may prove to be an incredibly risky procedure. I had not realised that children whilst not suffering much from the virus itself can certainly pass it on adults with whom they come into contact. Most of the scientific community are of the view that the current R rate of between 0.6 and 0.9 will rise to 1.0 and over if the schools get reopened in a ‘Big Bang’ sort of way. The Scots and the Welsh seem to be heading for a much more measured and phased return of children to school which is surely the way to go – but of course political considerations come dramatically to the fore. Whilst there is a consensus that this has to be the ‘last’ of the lockdowns, it it is far from clear how carefully we need to tread, as a society, to make sure we do not throw away the efforts we have made during the last 10-11 months. For example, most of the population are of the view that pubs should not reopen until about May at the earliest.

On the more positive side, it does appear that there will some liberalisation of the contacts between members of a family and their aged relatives in residential homes. What is being suggested is a very limited form of contact where holding hands will be allowed but no hugging or kissing – and members of the family must wear full PPE. Meg and I are anxious to try and see Meg’s cousin in Lancashire who is in sheltered accommodation. We will have to see what the actual norms are but I will wait until about Tuesday (the final versions of the regulations may well be published late on Monday afternoon). We hope that it may be possible to make a visit at least in a garden if we were to wait until mid-April and the regulations permit members of facilities to meet in the outdoors. Anyway, we shall to wait and see. I see that BBC are running an article in their website called ‘Coronavirus: What Europeans have learned from a year of pandemic’ and at first glance, it appears to be interesting to see how other societies have coped with the common threat. I think that we in the UK are particularly bad at learning from other societies – always assuming that we know and do things better than anywhere else on earth. But if do imitate other societies, it always seems to the worst of practices in the USA rather than our European neighbours. 


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Friday, 19th February, 2021 [Day 340]

Today was one of those kinds of days in which there was a degree of low-hanging cloud and showers always threatening but not quite materialising. We collected our newspapers and were in two minds whether or not to seek the shelter of the bandstand in the park – in the event, we decided to try our luck on one of the local benches and it although it was blustery and lots of water in the air, we were not being actually rained upon so we judged it better to try our luck on the bench. The poor weather kept some of the mothers with young children away whilst the ardent dog walkers were there in force as always. Talking about mothers and  young children, I saw a young mother made up to the eyeballs who was dragging a two and a three year old through the mud. They were both howling and covered in mud but their mother dragged them along anyway, no doubt encouraging them to stand ‘on their own two feet’ which they didn’t. Just a little scene from park life. We didn’t meet with Birmingham University friend today as he had other things to do but we will probably meet on Sunday, all being well.

Today, I thought I would try something different for lunch. We had ordered some coley from Waitrose which actually came cut in the form of blocks of fish (but not reconstituted) I made a background mix of onions, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms and then added the fish. Under the instruction of our domestic help, I made a type of roux which went over the fish and then slopped half a jar of onion and garlic ‘goo’ onto it before the whole was baked in the oven. It did actually turned out OK and I am sure I have tasted something similar in a Spanish restaurant but I couldn’t recall what they actually called it.

This afternoon after a slight snooze and a read, I decide to carry on cleaning up the study because having cleared some much ‘clutter’ off the desk, I did need to do something with it. One of these items was  what I think is called a Digital Picture Frame and I had purchased one about four years ago, principally with our (then forthcoming) 50th wedding anniversary in mind. During my cleanup, I had an extraordinary stroke of luck because I discovered an unlabelled pen drive near to the picture frame but I had no idea what was on it. Inserting into the computer, I found that it actually contained the ordinal wedding photos (from 1967) which I had digitised and soundtracks of the music that had been played. This afternoon, I took the picture frame, inserted the pen drive into the slot provided, turned on the ‘On’ button and wondered what would happen. What we actually got was a rolling display of the digitised wedding photographs from 1967, all of the photos of the guests that we had taken at the celebration we held in a hotel near Kidderminster in 2017 (some three and a half years ago) complete with all of the tracks of music (internet derived copies of the original playlist that approximated very closely to the originals). I felt that all of this was an absolute bonus so now that I know what a fantastic record that we have of the memories of both the original service and our celebration some fifty years later. I must box it up carefully and as soon as the lockdown ends, we can bore some of our friends rigid with it all when we next manage to socialise in each others houses. (I suppose I could take a big video of all of this on my iPhone but the resultant file might be multiple megabytes in length so perhaps not. )

More interesting vaccine news is forthcoming tonight. A study in The Lancet (weekly medical periodical) has shown that the efficiency off the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is raised from 76% to 81% if a gap of about three months is left between the initial and the second dose. The report also said that a single standard dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is 76% effective from day 22 to day 90 after the jab – meaning protection was not reduced in the three months between the first and second dose. The infection rate in London is also reducing very rapidly. What would be very interesting to know is how much of the reduction in the infection rate is due to the lockdown, how much to the vaccinations provided and how what is the ratio of one to the other. Perhaps in the fullness of time, we will tell. To round off the week, I FaceTimed one of my Hampshire friends who seems incredibly busy organising various Zoom events and we had a good old catch up on the last week’s news. 

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