Wednesday, 27th January, 2021 [Day 317]

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, 26th January, 2021[Day 316]

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

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

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

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

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Monday, 25th January, 2021 [Day 315]

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

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

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Sunday, 24th January, 2021 [Day 314]

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday, 23rd January, 2021 [Day 313]

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

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

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

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

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Friday, 22nd January, 2021 [Day 312]

 

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

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

 

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Thursday, 21st January, 2021 [Day 311]

It was technically this morning (well actually. few minutes after midnight) but Sky News were indicating that they were going to broadcast the first Press Briefing from the Joe Biden White House. This turned out to be fascinating, if only for the massive contrast with the Trump counterpart. The initial Trump briefing started off with a massive row between the accredited press correspondents and the new Trump spokesman who was attempting to argue that the crowds at the Trump inauguration were the biggest in history – a ‘fact’ easily disproved by recourse to the available photographic evidence of how far the inauguration day crowds extended down the Mall. Relationships with the press started off on a bad footing and never recovered. The Biden press briefing was entirely different. The new spokesperson was very experienced having done a similar job at the  State Department for years. She promised a policy of complete openness and transparency and the whole atmosphere made you feel as the years had just rolled away and what had transpired under the Trump regime was just a bad dream. One correspondent asked her whether the Joe Biden regime would prove to be boring to which she replied ‘I certainly hope so!‘ – none of the fireworks and press rows as previously but just old-fashioned boring government news!

Our Waitrose order came today and got put away, fortunately with nothing having been forgotten. Then we walked down under a fairly blue sky but quite a ‘nip’ in the air to collect our newspapers and thence onto the park. There we met with ex-University of Birmingham friend again plus the old lady who we know lives near the park so we had our normal pleasant chat before it was time to strike homewards. 

This afternoon, I busied myself with going through a pile of old newspapers to see if there was anything worth preserving. What tends to happen is that any unread bits of newspaper from the day before get put onto a pile which gradually grows until it gets ‘attacked’ (as this afternoon). I find that I tend to keep any interesting cartoons from the Times, plus any important media/diet/exercise bits. The Times publishes its health section each Tuesday and this is generally worth a read. I happened to find an article on Joe Biden’s wife (who has a PhD in education) so this obviates me having to traverse the web for something similar. I have managed to get most (but not all) of this task completed by the early evening.

The COVID news this evening is interesting. The number of people now successfully vaccinated is approaching 5 million but it looks as though there are still a proportion of the 80 yr olds to be vaccinated before the next tranche of vaccines is administered to the 75+ age cohort. As you might expect, we are awaiting our call day by day but do not know whether it will be a letter, by a phone call or by text message. By my calculations, this call ought to come within the next week or so which will take us well into February. There is a certain amount of discussion going on about the efficacy of a ‘one-shot’ virus with a second dose following within 12 weeks rather than the three weeks the manufacturers recommend. The UK government scientists are arguing that it is better to  ‘save’ the second dose that would normally be received three weeks after the first and to use to give a measure of protection to another person. This is following the utilitarian principle of the  ‘greatest good of the greatest number‘. However, Israel has been enormously successful in vaccinating way over 90% of their population already but the scientific data is revealing that the amount of protection may be quite low. Amongst the over 60-year-old’s who need the vaccine protection most, the efficacy has been reported as only 33% – which still leaves them quite vulnerable. This question may take time some time to resolve – the Israeli data is the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine whereas in pure numbers the UK Oxford University/AstraZeneca accounts for a greater proportion of vaccination. Whether the government will admit it is wrong and has over-estimated the effigy of a one-dose shot of the vaccine is an interesting question. After all, it would not be the first time that the government have proved to be ‘economical with the truth’.

Returning to American politics to conclude, Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives seems keen to press ahead and try to secure a conviction against the impeached Donald Trump. She has argued that ‘you don’t ignore a president’s actions because people think we should be nice-nice and forget that people died here’ Although it may consume a lot of the Congress time and not help to create a bi-partisanship working relationship in the new Congress, then if you do not impeach a president who has urged, stimulated and abetted the invasion of the Capitol by a white-supremacist mob, then who would you ever impeach?

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Wednesday, 20th January, 2021 [Day 310]

Today after a somewhat delayed start we wondered whether to brave the elements for our daily walk or not. Instead, we decided to compromise so we took the car down to collect our newspapers and then headed for the park. It was spattering with rain as we are still on the edge of Storm Christoph, which seems to be hitting parts of the North of England more severely. Having got to the park we decided to seek the shelter of the bandstand where, almost alone in the park, we met up with our Birmingham University friend. We braved the wind and rain together, surveying an almost empty park but still glad of a chat with each other. As we had the car, the journey home was relatively swift so we we did not get soaked through which is always a danger.

Today is the day which we thought would never come but here it is at last – the Inauguration Day for Joe Biden to be installed as the 46th President of the United States. Evidently, it was going to be a very different inauguration – for a start, President Trump vacated the White House (without being prised out!) and made his way to the Andrews Air Force base where he was greeted as president for the very last time. After a fairly perfunctory speech he wished the new regime well without referring to the name of his successor by name and eventually to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’ll do it my way!‘ then AirForce 1, the presidential plane, took off for Florida and Mar-a-Lago, the Trump retreat where he stay closeted with members of his family for a while. Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC the inauguration organisers had to make the best of bad job, in the absence of any crowds. So instead of a Mall filled with flag-waving crowds, we now just had the flags placed at strategic intervals but fluttering nicely in the January breeze. The overall effect was visually quite effective. Then we had the arrival of the members of the political elite, principally all the ex-Presidents and their wives. The one exception, for understandable reasons, was Jimmy Carter who is 96, a survivor of both liver cancer and brain cancer, and whose health was too frail even for an inauguration. We had the normal patriotic songs and prayers followed by the swearings-in and the oath of office by Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, then to be followed by the inauguration speech. This was full of appeals to unity (and was in marked contrast to that spoken by Donald Trump four years ago) To my mind, this was quite an effective call for national unity in the face of a raging pandemic, a faltering economy and a democracy whose fragility had been exposed by the invasion of the Capitol Building a fortnight ago, on January 6th. A theme of the Biden speech was that ‘democracy has triumphed‘ which is evidently the case after the earth-shattering events within the last fortnight. Normally, there would be an inauguration ball in the evening after a day full of ceremonies – I suspect that they have decided to cancel this in view of the pandemic. If my memory serves me correctly, Bill Clinton went off and played his saxophone on the occasion of his own inaugural ball years ago. The Biden presidency has started off with three acts of presidential empathy which must have hit the right tone. Last night, he went with Kamala Harris to the Lincoln Memorial, lit by an avenue of lights, and paid tribute to the 40,000 Americans who have died in the pandemic. He then paid tribute to them again in the midst of his presidential address by calling for a moment’s silence where people could offer their thoughts and their prayers for the dead. Finally, he went straight off to the Arlington National Cemetary again to pay tribute to past American heroes (and the burial place of past presidents). I suppose one has to say that if any presidential hopeful was capable of riding the huge divides in the American political life, then Jo Biden as a centrist who has often worked ‘across the aisle’ in the Senate is the best-placed person to do it.

Meanwhile, we have more grim news from the home front. The number of deaths is now at an all-time high of 1,820 (and a total of above 93,000 in total). Just to compound this diet of bad news, it is also a source of concern that the South African variant of COVID may be resistant to the latest vaccines – in time, of course, they could be tweaked like the ‘flu virus but there is still more time for more deadly mutations to arise. Meg and I are still awaiting the call for our vaccination which we suspect may still be at least two weeks off, amidst some reports of shortages of the vaccine in various places (who would have thought that?)

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Tuesday, 19th January, 2021 [Day 309]

Today we carried on with the series of self-help sessions that Meg is undertaking via a Webex link with the local hospital so this took a little ‘chunk’ out of the morning. We texted our Birmingham University friend to say we would be a little late today and indeed did coincide, by chance, outside the newspaper shop. Once having collected our newspapers, we made our way to a pair of adjacent park benches where we could continue with our daily reminiscences and dreamt of the barmy summer days when we hope we can peregrinate up and down the Severn Valley (preserved) railway line, hopefully taking in some nice beer en route. In fact, in Bridgnorth station, there is a pub (‘Railwayman’s Arms‘) accessible from the end of the station platform that serves good range of beers (including a superb mild if they still stock it) which is always worth a visit.  This afternoon, we read our newspapers assiduously and then FaceTimed some of our ex-Waitrose friends in the late afternoon. We were swapping news with each other for over an hour, mainly wondering when the vaccine will be offered to the four of us which we hope can only be about 1-2 weeks by now. The government rather ‘jumped the gun’ by announcing that the vaccination regime was to be rolled out to the 70+ age groups. However, they did not bother to inform the GP practices of this policy and many (or most) of them up and down the country had to cope with masses of telephone calls asking when the vaccine would be available. The actual story is a lot more complex than this. The government was attempting to indicate that IF all of the 80 year olds had been vaccinated, then a GP practice COULD start to extend vaccination to the 70 years if they had a mind. In practice, though, across the whole of the country only about one half to two thirds of the 80+ age group have actually been vaccinated and there are reports of shortages of vaccine to complete the job. To complicate matters, if a practice has a temporary excess of vaccine and is tempted to vaccinate the 70+ age group then these supplied will be diverted to those areas that have already run out of vaccine. Once again, we have seen an example of the ways in which the government is so desperate to generate ‘good news’ that it actually runs far ahead of what is the actual situation on the ground.

Tonight, we stand on the eve of the Joe Biden inauguration. This is going to be an inauguration like no other that anyone can recall, given that that there is the backdrop of the pandemic (which would be intensified if large crowds were allowed to gather as is customary), together with the foreground of the recent attacks on the Capitol building by the the Trump white supremacist mobs. In practice, the Capitol is guarded by some 25,000 members of the National Guard. The FBI have had to undertake some rapid background checks to ensure that no Trump sympathisers were embedded in the National Guard – in the event, some dozen members of the National Guard were ‘stood down’ when it was revealed that they had extensive links with extremist right-wing groups. In the place of actual people, there will phalanxes of American Stars and Stripes flags. In addition, the FBI said last week that it had separately identified more than 200 suspects threatening violence at the ceremony and had picked up an ‘extensive amount of concerning online chatter’. As it happens, the Capitol is so heavily guarded with troops and extensive barriers that it is unlikely in the extreme that tomorrow’s inauguration will actually be disrupted. But there must still be legitimate concerns that Trump mobs might turn up at any of the 50 state capitals across the country and threaten to overwhelm the local defence forces. The situation is confused because there is an enormous mount of right wing ‘chatter’ across the social media to make one last effort to prevent Joe Biden’s inauguration. On the other hand, there are some of these groups who are urging these members to stay away from these local conflicts as is is likely to be radical ‘left’ elements such as Antifa (= Anti Fascists) who are only pretending to simulate Trump supporters in order to discredit them. At this point, I have to admit that is is difficult for us Europeans to get inside the mindsets of the American right – listening to the ‘Vox pop’ interviews with some of the members of these groups, they have such a visceral hatred of Barak Obama (the preceding president) that one can only conclude that a deep vein of racism is actually fuelling their hatreds. Donald Trump himself seems to have been spending his last day in office cloistered with members of this family deciding how to distribute about 100 ‘pardons’ which traditionally is in the gift of each departing president (and is often shockingly abused, this year being no exception)

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Monday, 18th January, 2021 [Day 308]

We were a little delayed this morning because we had an call from Meg’s support group and this took about an hour of our time that we were not expecting. Eventually, though, we got going but as we were a little delayed, we decided to vary our routine somewhat. I left Meg in the park chatting with our new  ex-Birmingham University friend whilst I made haste rapidly to collect our newspapers. Then I rejoined our little meeting in the park and we chatted until the chill got to our bones a little and we decided to call it a day and make for home. Then we had a rather delayed lunch which we threw together (life being made a little easier as we had cooked our joint yesterday so all we had to do was to heat up some slices of the joint and then prepare some vegetables)

I have just given myself an amusing few minutes as I read that someone on Sky News has worked out that Donald Trump published 57,000 ‘tweets’ in ten years and has collected together some of the more outrageous of them. Here is but one to give you an idea of the flavour of some of them. Donald Trump is arguing that he possesses a tremendously high IQ and so he tweeted: ‘Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault’ But on a slightly more serious note, the esteemed Washington Post decided some time ago to establish a database of all of the lies that Donald Trump had ever told (while in post) The newspaper identified what they called a ‘tsunami’ of lies emanating from the Oval Office. The paper’s fact-checker reveals that on 9th July last year, when 62 false claims were made in one day alone, the total reached 20,000. Many of these came in interviews with Fox News (the incredibly right wing news channel which was Trump’s favourite but which ‘dumped’ him before the end of the presidential election campaign) The column also noted that Trump had expressed 1,200 lies about the pandemic alone.  On this topic, there is now a plethora of concern about the legacy of a president who had lied so extensively and repeatedly about almost everything. Matt Frei, the respected TV correspondent for Channel4 News, posted an extremely thoughtful piece on the Channel 4 news today about the dangers of the Trump election campaigns and presidency to American democracy. What is self evident to us now is that every little item of news that was remotely favourable to the presidency was lauded and magnified massively through the right wing channels. However, anything that was critical of Trump (of which there was a lot) was immediately labelled as ‘fake news’ as though it had been entirely made up. The really interesting question for commentators and observers is the fact that some 70 million of Americans were either persuaded that the so-called ‘fake news’ actually WAS fake, or that they know they were being lied to but did not really care as long as he stood up for ‘us’ (us being the downwardly mobile, trapped white working class population in the main). What we shall see in the next few weeks in court houses in USA (or at least in Washington DC) is what the courts will make of the excuses given by the rioters when they are eventually charged and they claim in defence that they had the ‘honest belief’ that their country was in danger because a ‘stolen’ election and they ere only acting out what they believe the president wanted them to do to save the country from ‘danger’ What is undoubtedly true is that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have defined the internal dangers to the USA as coming from the left and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and not from the racist, white-supremacist Trump supporters which is where the violence has actually emanated. We shall see!

I thought I would end on some really depressing news, for a change.An Oxford University research platform has recently computed that the UK death rate, expressed as 16.5 deaths per million of population, is actually in the highest in the world. Of course, we must hasten to point out that some countries will more readily put COVID-19 on a death certificate than others and hence world-wide statistics may be somewhat misleading. However, they will not be massively wrong – the USA death rate is about 10.0 per million which is about two-thirds of the UK rate. It is by now quite a commonly known fact that the British Army was seriously worried by the abject state of physical health of many of the young men called up to fight in the First World War – I have read a figure that as many as 40% were rejected on medical grounds but I suspect that as the Army got more and more desperate for manpower the minimum physical requirements were ‘tweaked’.  It may well be that when (if?) we have an official enquiry into the UK’s preparedness for the pandemic that a similar moment occurs to the more thoughtful members of the British elite that more than a decade of Tory austerity has seriously weakened the ‘body politic’ i.e. the ability of the population as a whole to withstand a pandemic.

 

 

 

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