Tuesday, 30th November, 2021 [Day 624]

Well I must say I am rather glad to be at the last day of November which I always think to be a type of ‘non-month’ and one that has to be lived through rather than actively enjoyed. The month of December always has a few things in it to be enjoyed. Evidently, there is Christmas Day itself (which, I must say, has to be carefully managed) but then there are the social events with friends which is always a real pleasure. In a perfectly managed world, I suppose one should have massively cut back on the carbohydrates to prepare for the excess of carbohydrates with which one’s system is assailed in the latter days of the month. At the same time, I always look forward to December 21st/22nd  of the month, after which it starts to get lighter by an imperceptible minute or so per day and this helps to raise the spirits.

Tuesday is my Pilates day so we never quite have time enough for a normal walk down into town. We got up somewhat late this morning so all we could squeeze in was a quick dash to the newsgents by car before we returned home for a quick elevenses and then I began my walk to my Pilates class. As a matter of tradition, we generally wears pairs socks desporting some kind of animals – our teacher’s favourite socks, for example, always seems to be a pair displaying seals. When Meg and I went shopping to M&S last week, I hunted out some socks and discovered a collection of socks which happened to feature dachshunds (the sausage dog, that is). But this was enough for me to awarded the prize of ‘sock wearer of the week’ which makes a change. After next week, we shall all flash our Christmas socks at each other and I am pretty sure I have some stuck in a drawer somewhere with reindeers frolicking around which, evidently, I only wear at Christmas time. When I got home, we were going to have a fish-based meal and last week I had bought some mackeral fillets that could be eaten either hot or cold. In order to solve the dilemma of how to heat up the mackeral fillets without smelling the rest of the house out, I hit upon the idea of taking some of the mackerel fillets (that could be eaten either hot or cold) and putting them on a small plate absolutely covered in cling film. This was then lowered into a saucepan of boiling water which I hoped would impart a little of heat to them. This sort of worked but I think I need to refine my technique a little before I repeat the experimemnt next week.

Now for the ‘isn’t that completely obvious’ time. I have been doing a little bit of research into disposable batteries – and it isn’t really obvious that you get what you pay for. Like the rest of the population, I tend to use Duracell or Energiser for things that I regard as absolutely essential such as my computer mouse. More trivial things can take the cheaper ‘Poundland‘ type offerings. Well, we all know that lithium batteries are the best and the most long-lasting but they do cost the earth compared with the others. The middle of the range are the alkaline batteries which have a wide range of uses. The cheapest battery of all (the kinds that Poundland sell 10 for £1) are typically zinc batteries and self-evidently do not last for long. The important thing that one must remember is whether you intend to put the battery into a ‘high drain’ device such as a digital camera, portable video game or radio-controlled toys. By contrast, low drain devices are things like clocks, smoke alarms and a computer mouse. Whereas you would use lithium or alkaline batteries for high drain devices, you can put the ‘el cheapo’ batteries into low drain items.  The battery makers Duracell reckon that many of their batteries are thrown away with up to 40% of their potential powr unused. If it ‘fails’ a high drain device then it might have a lot of useful life left if put into a law drain decide. That I didn’t really know or appreciate. One trick is to take out you ‘Duracell‘ battery out of your high drain device, leave it for a few hours, warm it slightly (top of a radiator is excellent) and then insert into a low drain device of which clocks are the best example.

The location of the Omicron cases has been revealed. They are as follows:Barnet 2 (new), Brentwood 1, Camden 2 (1 new), Haringey 1 (new), Liverpool 1 (new), North Norfolk 1 (new), Nottingham 1, Sutton 1 (new), Wandsworth 1 and Westminster 2 (1 new). Of the nine cases in Scotland,  five are in Lanarkshire and four are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Boris Johnson has given a news conference in which it has been announced that all adults in the country should have received a booster by the end of January. Is this a case of being really prudent or a panic reaction by the government?





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Monday, 29th November, 2021 [Day 623]

The cold weather snap continues today and the weather remains raw. Judging by the appearance of cars parked outside, we had another dump of snow during the night so some of this was removed by the old trick of a watering can of warm water trickled onto the windscreen. Some time in the past, I had invested in one of those more specialist watering cans that had an especially long spout and it is incredibly useful on occasions like this. With having porridge every morning for breakfast, we have been running down our milk supplies so I popped into town by car to pick up extra supplies of milk and porridge – whilst parked nearby, I popped into Poundland for one or two little items that I needed.

The news today has been dominated as might have been expected by the increasing concern over the Omicron variant of COVID. As we write, the number of reported cases has risen to 11, with a cluster of 6 cases in Scotland. Judging by the speed of the government’s response so far, it indicates a degree of worry within Government circles that this variant could wreak massive damage if it evades the vaccines currently on the marketplace. The government is evidently playing for time as the scientific community is desperately seeking answers to various questions asked of the new variant such as how virulent is in in transmitting itself?  Does one get seriously ill with this version of the virus? To what extent has the virus got itself embedded  at the community level (i.e. there is no evident link with any of the South African bearers of the virus). To illustrate this degree of concern and also so that the government can get to grips with the scientific analysis  that it being rapidly undertaken, then the following steps have been announced by the government:

• Booster jabs for everybody over the age of 18

• Shortening the gap between a second jab and a booster from six months to three months

• Giving a second jab to children aged between 12 and 15 – again after no less than three months

• Severely immunosuppressed people given access to another booster – meaning for some, a fourth dose this winter

• Boosters consisting of either a Pfizer vaccine or a half dose of the Moderna jab

All of this is quite a marked change of gear. There is quite a lot ot talk about ‘saving Christmas’ but a thought that must be in the back of the Government’s mind is the pressure that placed on the NHS which is already practically overwhelmed as it attempts to deal with the backlog of patients not having been seen or treated during the first 18 months of the COVID provisions. The tentative knowledge that we have do have at the moment is that the Omicron variant might prove to be highly transmissable but so far it appears that this strain is not more virulent than others and it may even be that the effects are that it is even milder. The analogy being used is that of a race between the virus and the vaccine manufacturers. So far, the virus had undoubtedly got a headstart because it might be out there in the community (and perhaps as many as at least eleven countries so far). In the meanwhile, we have to tweak a vaccine, manuafcture it and then get it into the arms of a population which must take a matter of weeks and/or months by which time the virus might have infected even more and mutated yet again. Scary stuff.

There is a crisis in the British pig industry but the stories have been entirely relegated in the news media because of the migrant crsis and deaths in the English Channel first and then the mergenec of Omicron second. The slaughter of healthy pigs has begun on British farms, with farmers forced to kill animals to make space and ensure the continued welfare of their livestock, amid an ongoing shortage of workers at slaughterhouses. Pig farmers have been warning for several weeks that labour shortages at abattoirs have led to a backlog of as many as 120,000 pigs left stranded on farms long after they should have gone to slaughter. Practically all of this is, of course, caused by Brexit as many the more unplesant jobs in our abbattoirs were performed by workers from Eastern Europe who have been ‘encouraged’ to return home. The COVID pandemic has added a twist to this labour shortage, of course. One always has to add that the British population as a whole voted for this to happen, so if that is what people wanted, then why should we be surprised when it actually happens? However, now is the time when surely we could do with thousands of additional nurses – one estimate is 50,000 are needed immediately. One estimate is that we need an additional 1.1 million nursing and social care staff by the year 2031 and where are these to come from?

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Sunday, 28th November, 2021 [Day 622]

Today being a Sunday was the day for me to get up early and walk down to our local newsagent. Yesterday we saw the aftermath of storm Arwen which did its worst yesterday. This morning it was quite cold but there was no icy wind so it was not an unpleasant walk for me this morning. In our hall at home, we have a piece of furniture called a ‘Monks bench’ which combines a temporary set with a cupbord underneath and in this we store hats, gloves and scarves. In the course of time, the contents have got rather jumbled so I spent a certain amount of time sorting out a pair of usuable glothes from the jumble inside. Once I retrieved the various left hand and right hand gloves, I have left them all out so that we can have a good rationalisation. I retrieved, though, one pair with quite good cuffs on them and they made my hands as warm as toast on my walk down. After a breakfast of porridge (what else in these weather conditions), Meg was still feeling a little shivery so she stayed warm at home whilst I walked down to the park with a flask of coffee. There I met our University of Birmingham friend who was having a coffee with Seasoned World Traveller so once I had ascertained where they were in the park, I joined them in their coffee sojourn. We started off our conversation exchanging what we knew about the Omicron variant of COVID and then moving onto deeper questions,more related to the philosphy of science than anything else. Then it was time for me to drag myself away and make sure that the chicken I had put in the oven for lunch had not exploded or got overcooked. But everything was fine so lunch was quite easy to prepare. As it still quite a cold day, I am going to prepare the second half of our sweet potato and leek homemade soup into which I add one quarter of a tin of coconut milk and a soupspoon full of a Balti cooking sauce which should give it just a little degree of spice flavour, without being overwhelmed by it. This has again turned out OK, I am pleased to say.

On the subject of Omicron, Sky news is reporting the opinions of Professor Schoub, the award-winning author of ‘AIDS And HIV In Perspective’ who previously advised the World Health Organization (WHO) on several vaccine programmes He said: ‘This virus is a plastic virus – in other words, it tends to mutate very readily. And under conditions where it is mutating – particularly in people who might be partially immunosuppressed, in other words where they’re not getting rid of the virus – that remnant virus which remains will be selectively enriched to escape immunity and to become more transmissible

This is an interesting perspective and underlines the importance of getting as many of the population vaccinated as possible. There was a fairly heart-rending article in the edition of the ‘Sunday Times‘ today. This was written by a palliative care doctor who was explaining that many of the intensive care beds were actually filled with unvaccinated COVID patients. Some of them actually beg to be vaccinated – all of which is of course in vain. One can only imagine the psychological angst  of the medics who are desperately trying to keep alive those in intensive care beds who are there only because they refused to believe in the efficacy of a vaccine which could have saved their lives. 

Although the government has always claimed that schools were ‘safe’ places, they ignored the fact that school pupils could be carriers of the virus and could infect the adults around them in schools. But tonight, the government is suggesting that all Year 7 pupils (basically 11-12 years old and upwards), as well as all adults and visitors, must wear masks in communal areas.  They are also privately desperate for the school holidays to begin in about 3-4 weeks time because this, too, will help to stop the spread of the virus. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is now carrying out targeted testing in places the person visited when they were likely to be infectious – including, it is thought, Westminster. Of course if Westminster is threatened, does this account for the speed of the government response? The UK government is calling for a meeting of all of the G7 health ministers so that a coordinated response to the new variant can be organised.

It seeems incredible to believe that the month of November has practically ended and on Wednesday, we will usher in the month of December. ClassicFM to which I listen a lot is heavily trailing the fact that Christmas music will have an official start next Wednesday which is, of course, 1st December. They must have taken a policy decision that exposing people to Christmas music before the end of November is not a good idea.


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Saturday, 27th November, 2021 [Day 621]

Last night and in the small hours of this morning was when the storm Arwen passed over the UK, affecting parts of the country in the North East much more severely than the rest of us. Nonetheless, we awoke with a smattering of snow on the ground and the remnants of some sleet and snow flurries as the storm had evidently passed over and we were in the tailwinds of the storm proper. So as it generally quite cold and the temperature outside was down to about 1°-2° although projected to rise a little as the day progressed. In view of these weather conditions, we decided to go down and collect the newspaper by car and to forego the dubious pleasures of a walk in the park with icy-cold winds. So we came home and had our elevenses at home before preparing ourselves a treat of a lunch which is some venison burgers which we had with a baked potato and Cavolo Nero kale. This afternoon we thought we going to have a rugby match of Barbarians vs.Western Samoa but I think they had to pull this match at the last moment as some instances of COVID had appeared in the participating teams. Instead we were treated to Barbarians women vs. South Africa women and this turned out to be yet another rout (60-5) as I remember.  Mid way through the afternoon, I ventured into Mog’s Den to check on the electrics of my new fence surveillance system and to check that no falling branches had done any damage overnight. As it turned out, things were fine on both counts but this morning, I had to use a broom to get rid of the heavy, slushy snow that was bending our lavatorial branches right over – and if left as they were, then they could eventually split and cause a real mess to be cleared up. Again, it was a case of a ‘stitch in time saves nine’.

The new variant of the COVID virus has been officially named ‘OMicron‘ and has already caused a flurry of activity from government. Many if not most of the flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries have been banned. Also, in a news conference, Boris Johnson has announced that face-masks are to be made compulsory in all shops and on public transport. These extra regulations are to be reviewed again in three weeks time. He added that day two PCR tests will return for all international travellers, saying the government ‘will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result‘. All of this sounds incredibly sensible – two cases of the new variant have already been discovered in the UK (in Chelmsford and in Nottingham) so the time to transmit from Southern Africa to the UK has been incredibly rapid. 

This Omicron variant appears to be really nasty. This has all the hallmarks of a really nasty variant. Never before have we seen so many mutations all arising at the same time. At least 30 are in the spike protein, the part of the virus targeted by the vaccine. The scientists are deeply concerned but a lot more investigation is required before we know how dangerous this new variant really is.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that vaccines would be completely ineffective against OMicron  but it is the impact the individual mutations have on the shape of the spike protein that matters, not the total number. But the fear is that the protein would have shape-shifted and that could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. It’s not clear by how much, though one senior expert at the UK Health Security Agency said it was the worst variant seen so far.

The reaction from various parts of the UK has been interesting.The reaction of the Welsh and Scottish governments has been to approve the new regulations and to point out that this is what may happen if you relax regulations (e.g. on international travel) too far. Andy Burnham the mayor of Greater Manchester has opined that ‘This is right but shows why they shouldn’t have been relaxed. It will now be harder, and take longer, to get levels of compliance up to where we need them to be.’ The next week or so are going to be quite critical in our reactions to this new variant. One particular feature is to work out just how transmittable the new virus will turn out to be – if it spreads even faster than the Delta variant, then we are in real trouble! A second feature is what degree of illness the new variant  induces – it could be that even if a person is infected, the results might be less (or even more) severe than other variants. Existing vaccines may prove to have some limited effect but as of today the scientists have not the opportunity to test how vaccines have any effect upon the new variant. In practice, we may not get the answer to this question for several weeks.

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Friday, 26th November, 2021 [Day 620]

Today being a Friday was the day when our domestic help calls around and we always seem to have a lot of news to share with each other. Today was no exception and so our trip down into town was somewhat delayed. I had phoned our University of Birmingham friend to arrange that we meet in the Waitrose café and we fixed a time for 12.00pm. When we got there, though, we were a little dismayed that the whole of the cafe area was given over to a display of extra Christmas food and goodies. To be fair, they had told us about all of this when we visited last Friday but we had actually forgotten. So we made our way to another coffee bar on the High Street where the coffee is good and they had evidently taken pains to prevent any COVID style cross-infections by installing some perspex shields between each table. How effective these are, who can say but at least it shows that the management was taking these matters seriously which offers a degree of reassurance. So we settled down to some coffee and toasted tea-cakes and stayed sufficiently long chattering that we needed to treat ourselves to a second cup of coffee. We did get onto the absorbing matter of our respective family backgrounds and without going into details, we each have a fairly interesting story to tell each other. Evidently, Meg and I know a lot about the back-history of our respective families but this was news to our friend and similarly the reverse is true. So we had a fairly fascinating time in our conversations and it was interesting for all of us, I believe, that there were some similarities and continuities despite our different histories.  This sort of takes me back to a very influential book by an American sociologist, C.Wright Mills who wrote in ‘The Sociological Imagination‘ that sociology connects an individual’s circumstances (biography) with the larger institutional context (history). Possessing the capacity to exercise your sociological imagination, to understand how your life is conditioned by social institutions, is empowering. In 1998 the International Sociological Association listed the work as the second most important sociological book of the 20th century (Max Weber’s ‘Economy and Society’ being ranked as No. 1).

Earlier on today, I had taken our domestic help down into ‘Mog’s Den‘ so that she could see for herself how the building work of our next door neighbour is being built directly against our boundary fence post. In particular, I showed her how the newly installed video surveillance system worked and she was duly impressed. I am giving this an inspection every day now so that I can assure myself that the system is working as intended and that no further incursions seem to have taken place. So as it is now six days since I spotted the intruders last Saturday, it is a case of ‘So far, so good’. Later on this afternoon, we had an update from our plumber concerning our permanently dripping tap.This is undoubtedly faulty but the manufacturer had ‘run out of’ the internal cartridges’ which is an intrinsic part of the system. So a whole new tap unit is on its way to our firm of plumbers and should arrive with them by about Monday or Tuesday. Then, once arrived,  it has to be fitted into their work schedules so we are talking about next Wednesday or Thursday before we have a properly functioning unit again.

This afternoon, it appears that international concern about the new variant of the COVID virus is increasing rapidly. The new variant of coronavirus has been found in Belgium – the first case detected in Europe – as the UK’s health secretary warned there was “huge international concern” over the strain. Sajid Javid said it could be more transmissible than the Delta variant and there is a ‘possibility it might have a different impact on individuals’ who get COVID-19. Designated as B.1.1.529, scientists are still unclear whether existing antibodies would react well to the variant – which has 32 spike protein mutations. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, branded the mutations “really awful”.

Relationships between the UK and Fance are hitting a new low today. The French are particularly upset not just by the messages coming from the UK as by the method of transmission. The UK is putting forward a plan suggesting that France should take back anybody that the UK returns to them. What has caused particular ire is the fact that the suggestions to the French government has been published as a public ‘tweet’ (echo of Donald Trump here). The French are saying that the approach of the UK is just political grandstanding and not a serious attempt at the way in which governments should communicate with each other to solve a common problem. As a consequence, Priti Patel has been ‘uninvited’ from a meeting with her opposite number over the weekend. I must say I sympathise with the French complaint about UK behaviour – this is not the way to collaborate with one’s neighbours in the EU. 


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Thursday, 25th November, 2021 [Day 619]

Thursdays are my early morning shopping days which means that I leap out of bed, have a fairly quick wash, throw some clothes on and start off for Waitrose in Droitwich at about 7.35 Then I should be all prepared to enter the store the minute it opens. Today, I realised a little too late that I forgotten to take with me my trusted collection of Waitrose hessian shopping bags, so I knew I would have to see what Waitrose had on offer when i got there. As it happened, I purchased four of their more recyclable bags but they were only 50p each and their purchase was financed by staying my hand on one or two purchases, plus some vouchers that Waitrose send me from time to time. I managed to get everything that was ‘in my head’ that we needed to purchase and it is always quite a good feeling to get home and unpack knowing that you have not forgotten anything. We had quite a big washing load this morning, as I wanted to wash the five pairs of socks that I had purchased from M&S yesterday, together with some underwear ordered  over the internet. I had been sent a text, telling me that the delivery of my ordered Christmas tree from Wilkinsons would be delivered by carrier not tomorrow as first indicated by today – between the hours of 11.00am and 1.00pm. Thinking that a signature might be required, Meg and I stayed in this morning, only to discover a small package had been left outside our front door, so we did not need to stay in at all. The small package was the extension cable and the Christmas tree lights that I had ordered at the same time – so I can only assume that the Christmas tree itself will arrive tomorrow, as originally intimated. So I popped into town by car to collect the newspaper and Meg and I had elevenses at home, rather than sitting on a park bench which would have been pretty cold in any case.  In the late morning, I collected our dustbins from where they were left for emptying by borough council Refuse department and ran across Miggles, the cat who has adopted us, sunning himself in a sunny spot at the front of the house. I suspect that there is a bit of reflected heat from our metallic garage door which creates a bit of a micro warm spot suitable for cats. Anyway, true to form Miggles trotted around to the back of the house and availed himself of some Waitrose special tit-bits to which he is particularly partial. Today, when shopping, I noticed some diced sweet potato so I bought that with a view to making a sweet potato and leek soup which will be another ‘first time’ for the soupmaker. When it came to it, I didn’t have any spare leeks but I did have some celery which I used instead – and half of my sweet potato mix. The result was really good – perhaps it’s the addition of an onion lightly fried and about a quarter of a tin of coconut milk that makes all the difference. This is good enough to repeat during the week, without getting bored by it.

Late on this afternoon, my sister phoned from Yorkshire with not very good news. My brother-in-law is in hospital again, this time with a bout of cellulitis and he seems to be getting a bit weaker day by day. My sister sounded very worried and pessimistic about her husband’s prospects and I tried to make what soothing noises I could. Although my sister seems to think that her husband might stay in hospital for quite some time yet, on the other hand hospitals are well known to empty themselves considerably just before Christmastime, no doubt because staffing difficulties over the Christmas period must be extreme. We can only hope that with a bit of timely intervention, by brother-in-law might receive enough amelioration to be home in time for Christmas.

The tragedy of some 27 lives lost in the Channel yesterday has dominated the airwaves and the media throughout the day. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is under massive pressure from the Tory constituencies to ‘do something’ about immigration, not to mention her own vociferous right wing.  It looks as though the UK has offered a lot of joint working of the UK police with French police and perhaps, behind the scenes, they are trying to do something about the supply chains stretching back across the continent. I understand that many of these ‘dinghy’ type boats are manufactured in Germany but they have to get to the northern French coast somehow. Having thrown brik-bats at each other for days and weeks now, I think both the French and the UK governments now appreciate that massive collaboration with each other is called for and is really the only viable route forward.

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Wednesday, 24th November, 2021 [Day 618]

Today we were going to have a different routine because we thought it would be a day for a little shopping expedition. So we went and collected our newspaper by car and then journeyed to Longbridge, the erstwhile manufacturing site for ‘The Rover’ but now devoted to new housing schemes in blocks of 3-4 storeys and some large retail stores including Marks and Spencer. It had been some time since we had been to Marks and Spencer and a few changes were in evidence. For a start, they were advertising for staff anticipating a  Christmas shopping spree, no doubt. There was also a new Opticians service which we didn’t know anything about. We were shopping for some underwear for Meg and I have to say, as a mere male, I was throughly confused/bemused by the vast amount of different kinds of brassiere. Needless to say, that I am not an expert in all of this but we had availed ourselves of their fitting service in the past so decided to return to see what was on offer this time. However, I did buy myself some socks  but decided to break the tradition of a lifetime. Normlly, I buy simple, unadorned socks in a dark colour and do not hunt around for anything ‘fancy’ However, in my Pilates class where we perform in our stockinged feet there is always some friendly rivalry, not to say mutul admiration, of the various animals depicted on our socks. In this friendly rivalry, I have not managed as yet to participate as my socks are normally clerical grey or dull black. However, I took the opportunity to buy a multiple pack of socks with dogs on them but I haven’t had time to examine them minutely enough to discover what kind of dog they are meant to be.

This afternoon was a fairly mild afternoon so I thought I would at least make a start in installing my new video surveillance system for the back fence. When I explored in the garage I discovered I had a sort of flat spatula type of cooking implement (complete with hanging hole) which I had been soaking in some cooking oil before bringing it into use. This would turn out to be an excellent ‘back-plate” for the camera as it could then be ‘hung’ rather than permanently affixed to one particular location. I was also lucky in that I discovered that I had invested in some stout hooks which I had no doubt intended  for all kinds of typing up jobs in the garden but had forgotten about. To cut a long story story, once the camera was mounted on its back plate it was quite easy to  locate in in a particular spot in a hawthorn tree where I could easily access it for maintenance. Then I took my little piece of MDF (liberated from a skip down the road) and then cut to size for the exact dimensions of the ‘CCTV in operation’ sign supplied with the camera. I made sure the MDF was waterproofed by the addition of very strong black tape that I have and then the sign could be affixed adjacent to the camera.  Any intruders ought to be left in no doubt that their presence was being noted and even recorded. So this sign went on the tree and my final ‘warning notice’  was screwed onto the fence. I now have a system which ought to do its intended job which is to deter any errant workmen from jumping into my back gaden in order to complete their building work. The interesting thing is that I have shared my recent experiences with some ex-Waitrose friends who we FaceTime every Tuesday afternoon and they (like our friends down the road) had had a very similar experience to our own. Although the English are temperamentally fairly peace-loving and slow to anger, we really do as a society fall out with each ‘big time’ when it comes to issues such as boundaries and fences. 

There has been some shocking news emerging from the channel this afternoon. Some 31 migrants (at the last count) are reported dead and several injured. As the craft carrying them – it may have been an inflatable dinghy-  capsized,  than perhaps no one survived uninjured. The French and British authorities are both using their resources to hunt for survivors which happened just outside Calais. One wonders where the political blame for all of this will settle. No doubt, the UK government will blame the French for not stopping the dinghy from sailing in the first place – what the French will say, who knows. This item is fast rising up the British political agenda – it has been confirmed that as well as discussions with the Albanians, it is understood that the Foreign Office carried out an assessment for Ascension Island – a remote UK territory more than 4,000 miles away for the ‘remote’ processing of invdividuals caught attempting to cross the Channel.

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Tuesday, 23rd November, 2021 [Day 617]

Today was quite a fine day – although a little overcast, it was still quite a pleasant start to the day.  When the post arrived, it contained some of the warning stickers (advertising the presence of CCTV in the vicinity) which had not been anticipated until Thursday or Friday. As these had arrived, they promptly got put into position onto two of our concrete uprights and secured with some really heavy duty tape which should help avoid the ravages of any wet weather. 

Meg and I decided to make an earlier start than normal because we always need to get back in time for Mike to depart in good time for his Pilates class. We particularly wanted to get a good walk in today whilst the weather remains mild-ish and before the ice and frosts intrude. In the park we met with our Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker who had completed about 7km of his 10km daily routine and also another younger friend who we meet quite often but not as regularly. Then of course we had to make our way home quite rapidly so that Mike could get changed and go down to the weekly Pilates class. On the return home, we had quite an innovative lunch. We both enjoy kippers but they have to cooked with a degree of care so that they do not smell out the house with a cooking spell. This time around, though, we took the expedient of cooking the kippers by a ‘boil-in-the-bag’ method which does minimise the cooking smell. We had these with a new type of ‘quasi-rice’ which is on the market but which contains beetroot and some other plant-based foodstuffs but which do not carry the calory overload associated with conventional rice. This all turned out to be quite a delicious meal and certainly one which we will repeat next Tuesday when turn-around times are tight and we have to cook a meal in a hurry. 

There is a very interesting COVID story which is starting to hit the airwaves this evening. The nub of the story is that the AstraZeneca virus may be helping to protect the UK population in an interesting way. The chief executive of AstraZeneca explains why hospitalisations in the UK might be less than in Europe despite the fact that we have an average of approx. 40,000 new infctions every day.

He argues that  ‘both the antibody response and the T-cell response were important factors in the body’s immune response to a virus….Everybody’s focused on antibodies, but antibodies you see them decline over time.  What remains, and is very important, is this T-cell response and as soon as the virus attacks you, they wake up and they come to the rescue and they defend you. But it takes them a little while, so you may be infected but then they come to the rescue and you don’t get hospitalised.’  This is all quite interesting stuff and it may that a positive ‘spin’ is being put upon the effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine which, of course, has several competitors. For a reason about which even the search engines is unusually opaque, the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorised for us in the USA. But from what I can gather, they have ‘given’ away 4 million does of the vaccine to their neighbours (in Canada and in Mexico) and have an option or may have purchased another 60 million doses. So I can only infer that the USA Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) are operating a ‘not invented here’ syndrome which may have the effect of protecting some of their home-made vaccines. It may be that the Americans are being super-cautious because of the reported, and very rare instances of blood clots associated with the Astra Zeneca vaccine. But the incidence of blood clots is incredibly small. For the vast majority of people the benefits of the vaccine vastly outweighs the risks. By the end of April, according to the UK medical regulator, the MHRA, 79 cases were identified, and 19 people died. This was out of a total of more than 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been given in the UK at that time. And the incidence of blood cots is less than associated with widely available contraceptive pills (made, of course, by American manufacturers) Forgive me if I ‘smell a rat’ in all of this but I am sure that a degree of ethnocentrism is involved in all of this – it seems bizarre in the extreme that a vaccine is judged good enough for one’s neighbours and for export to every other part of the worl but not for your own population. What must be remembered is that the US government authorised the first trials of the oral contraceptive not on its own population but  on a population of Puerto Rican women in the mid 1950’s – a population that happened to be black, local and compliant enough to be ‘leaned upon’ by the American medical authorities.  Need I say more?



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Monday, 22nd November, 2021 [Day 616]

Today was going to be the kind of day that the weathermen predicted – a very clear blue sky and a temperature that had dropped from about 14° to about 7°. We both felt a little tired today, perhaps after the long journey of yesterday so we were determined to take things easily and decided to go by car to collect our newpaper and to visit the park.  In the park, we met with a couple of our older Irish friends who we first met and drank damson gin half-in,half-out of the garage last year in the house of mutual friends last Christmas Eve. We were observing the lockdown regulations at the time and hence we were half-in, half-out of the garage but determined to make the best of bad job. Here we are, though, nearly one year later. No sooner had we said goodbye to one set of our friends when our Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker strode into view and again, we expressed our admiration for his hiking ventures. What Meg and I had not fully appreciated was that via the app on his smart watch, he could pretend to be undertaking all kinds of exotic walks, after which he could collect a medal. He said that at the moment, he had a shelf-full full of medals which I am sure are fully deserved. Once he has completed his morning treks, he goes home for a coffee and what-have-you and then turns out again in the afternoon to do another 2km to complete his minimum of 10km for day. And all of this in an 88-year old, as well. Whilst we were in the park we got a telephone call from our central heating engineer who explained to us the problem with the delay in replacing our dripping kitchen tap. He has to get an invoice from his local suppliers and this has to be sent to the manufacturers who will then issue a replacement part – but as you can imagine, all of this will take some days yet.

Although we were going home by car, we pulled up outside the house of our Irish friends because there  were a few things about which we needed to chat. He had heard via his wife who reads our daily blog of our problems  concerning the new building work next door. He also had a problem with a neighbour’s building construction where gutters had threatened to intrude and so he was sympathetic to our plight as he had encountered a very similar problem in the past. In the late afternoon (and after dark), we received our new external security camera which we are going to deploy on a tree which conveniently overlooks the portion of path which we wish to protect. So this will have to get fixed tomorrow morning. In the meanwhile, I have some additional CCTV warning signs arriving in a day or so. These I can stick on some MDF and attach to the fence so that anybody who attempts to work on the fence on our side will have been well and truly warned that they are caught on camera.

Late on this afternoon, I got the communication from the bank which looks after our Resident’s Association affairs which will allow me to complete the safeguarding procedures online. This looks complicated enough – one’s code is necessary to be sent another OTP code as well as one’s own username and password (which I have forgotten) so I am going to devote an hour or so tomorrow on this and see how I get on. I am somewhat fearful that I will get so far along the procedures and then a little ‘something’ (a forgotten detail) might trip me up but ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. Tomorrow is going to be the kind of day that has to be carefully negotiated.

This afternoon, the most extraordinary speech ever made by a British prime Minister has hit the airwaves. He was addressing the CBI conference and the speech was even more shambolic that that of Teresa May at the Conservative party conference when all of her election slogans kept dropping off the wall. This afternoon, Johnson seemed to have total lost his place, swore and then tried to improvise. He went on a rant explaining the virtues of Peppa Pig and then compared himself with Moses coming down from the mountain with the equivalent of the 10 commandments. He is also trying to justify the government’s new approach to social care which means that ‘poor’ people might have to sell their houses to pay for their care but ‘rich’ people will manage to keep about 80% of the value of it. There may be some Tory rebels in the vote taken later on tonight but with a majority of 80, anything less than a really massive rebellion will mean that the Government will get its way. But this is yet another election promise broken and impacts worse on the newly won ‘red wall’ seats where ex-Labour voters may have cheaper houses which will have to be sold to be used up to fund their own social care. 

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Sunday, 21st November, 2021 [Day 615]

As we expected, today was a fine and bright day. The jet stream has apparently ‘kinked’ the other way and this helped to release the cold artic air which is now descending over the most of the UK. The temperature is declining from a run of several days when it has been greater than the average but now we are expecting something a bit lower than the average which means we are in for a  cold few days. Following the incursion into our garden from the neighbour who is building himself an extension absolutely flush with the boundary line, I have now decide to invest in a security camera and the appropriate signs. Fortunately, there is a nearby tree that will provide the best possible fixing point and when it arrives it may help to deter any further incursions. I have emailed a surveyor who did some work for us when we had to determine the exact position of our fence line, requesting that we employ him to give us an expert opinion on our options. All of this equipment should arrive fairly soon so I hope it is not too long before we have a fully installed security system.

I walked down through the clear, champagne like air to collect our Sunday newspaper this morning and treated myself to my weekly ration of Mozart (‘Exultate, jubilate‘) and Bach (the double violin concerto) These two pieces alone are enough to lift the spirits,not that they needed much uplifting. Then it is a watch of the Andrew Marr show as usual and when this over, we made our preparations for our lunch date to see our friends in South Oxfordshire. We have worked a slightly different route for us and it all worked incredibly well. We had a stop about two thirds of the way down for a quick cup of coffee from our flask and then we proceeded to out friends, arriving one minute before the appointed time. We had taken a little ‘prezzy’ with us of a display of flowers in a little watering can and this immediately took pride of place on an outdoor table where it was just the kind of winter outdoor decoration they liked for that location. Our friends had invited another fellow academic for lunch as well. He was of Dutch heritage but was a citizen of Canada and enjoyed travel around Europe so we had a lot to chat about. He was very good company so together with our friends, we really had the most enjoyable meal and enjoyed lots good food, fine wine and interesting conversation. 

Part of the way in which we do things as a family is to have a whiteboard on which items are calendared on a day-by-day basis. This serves the deal purpose of looking at commitments (usually medical appointments) at a glance and it also means that w all know what each other is doing in the days ahead. What is amazing, though, is that when we look at next week, we have an absolutely free week so we may take the opportunity to go ‘down the road’ to Longbridge where a huge Marks and Spencer store has been built on the site where British Leyland/Austin Rover production line turned out MG’s and Rovers. What I hadn’t realised was on this site during World War Two, over 3,000 aircraft were also produced at Longbridge – including the famous Hawker Hurricane, which won around 60% of air victories in the Battle of Britain.

We have started vaguely to think about Christmas, now that the month of November is two-thirds over. Having had a traditional Christmas tree for years, we just might do the absolutely unthinkable and get an artificial tree this year, perhaps going for a ‘silver’ one which we would decorate with coloured lights. I haven’t made my mind up on this and there is plenty of time yet to do the necessary. One of  the abiding memories that I have of going to primary school in immediately post-WWII England, as children we were deployed crayoning in little strips of paper to make paper chains. These were glued together but seemed to be perpetually falling apart.  I think that in those days when everything, including paper, was in short supply you had to make your own decorations because I do not think you could actually buy such things in the shops (I am thinking about 1951-52 – not that I shopped for anything except ½p sticks of ‘Spanish’. Liquorice is a constituent of the root of the liquorice shrub which grows wild around the Mediterranean, including Spain. … Hence the term ‘Spanish’ has been traditionally used to refer to sticks of liquorice root sweet enough to be sucked as they are (I have found out from Google). Years ago, there used to be a slogan ‘Put Christ back into Christmas‘ which I think is a bit rich as the origins of the mid-winter festival are undoubtedly pagan and Christianity has conveniently latched onto it and colonised it with the Christmas story.

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