Wednesday, 17th February, 2021 [Day 338]

Last night, we had quite an interesting experience on our TV set. I had done a search on YouTube for Amadeus (the film of the life of Mozart) and saw an entry for ‘Amadeus – the Director’s Cut’. Excitedly, we started to watch it only to discover that was an advert for a particular version of Amadeus. Disappointed, we trawled the rest of YouTube but did find a full version of the film but with the dialogue dubbed into Spanish. As it happened, we did not mind this too much and could follow most of the dialogue but in any case we enjoyed the music and the way the plot unfolded. After a little lie-in this morning, we were again delayed whilst I updated my Waitrose order for delivery tomorrow – this, by now, is part of our regular Wednesday morning routine. As the weather was so mild, the park was absolutely teeming with both children and dogs so we won’t be sorry when it quietens down for a little. On the way down we met with some of our church friends who who were a little distressed that nothing at all is happening in our own parish church whereas other parishes are taking a much more pro-active stance by keeping church services running whilst radically restricting the numbers. We seem to have been caught in a vicious spiral of the lockdown, our parish priest who has somewhat mysteriously retired from public view and one of the other major organisers of the parish is in infirm health. What is distressing is that other churches are making the best of a bad job and it appears that many members of our church community are deserting it in favour of services in other towns and it is problematic whether or not they will return.

After lunch, my son and I got the rest of my computer system sorted out. This involved making sure my backup system was working correctly – we formatted one of my pocket drives and then got Time Machine to make a backup.  This is one of the best possible utilities on a MAC – the first time it runs, evidently it makes a full backup but thereafter it performs hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for all previous months. The backups are incremental i.e. it only backs up what has actually been changed in the last hour, day or whatever and works well in the background. Perhaps PC’s have a similar facility these days but it means that you always have a ‘roll back’ in case anything has gone dramatically wrong whilst you are working.

Whilst we had the computer more-or-less decluttered and the backup systems working as I wanted, then I turned my attention to the desk itself. I cleared everything off it and onto some large trays on the floor. Now I can go about carefully putting back only what I need and discarding an awful lot of junk along the way. I did discover two things that I knew were at the bottom of the pile – the button from a submarine captain’s jacket which I discovered whilst digging in the garden and also a roman coin which I shall have to clean up a bit to discover its actual denomination. Whilst on the subject of working with a tidy desk, I know that in these days of ‘hot desking’ that one has one’s laptop and absolutely nothing else – I have coasters for coffee, notebooks, pens, stationery items and I dare not mention what else besides. But as I often say to members of my family ‘I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-nine just persons, which need no repentance’ – however, they are not convinced by this I am told that I need to keep on repenting (i.e. keep things tidy) I will admit to one foible, though that I think is widely shared. If I leave out a letter, a document or whatever, then I know that some action needs to be taken on it but once it gets (neatly) filed away then the pressure to do something about it diminishes.

Tonight, by prior arrangement we Zoomed Meg’s cousins over in Derby. We had a wonderful hour together and are going to repeat the experience at regular intervals, perhaps once a fortnight, and are looking forward to the days perhaps in late April/May when we go and have a little ‘get-together’ even if is only own a socially-distanced way in a garden. Meanwhile, I read that in Germany the (British) Oxford/AstraZeneca virus is not being well received and there are reports of many fevers and headaches following the vaccination. However, there are no similar complaints about the Modena or the Pfizer vaccine which is preferred. Strange that, isn’t it?


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Tuesday, 16th February, 2021 [Day 337]

Every so often, computer manufacturers release new copies of their operating systems and it is generally beneficial to upgrade whilst one can. The major upgrades used to be once every two years but Apple now releases a major upgrade every single year. As the new releases come on stream, so support for older MAC models tends to drop away i.e. you cannot upgrade and the more cynical will say that this is Apple’s way of making you change your hardware every five years or so whether you want to or not. As it happens, the new operating system will install on the desktop MAC I have in my study and the portable I have in the lounge (on which I am typing this blog) and as they both date from 2015 that makes them both about 5-6 years old and therefore ‘just’ upgradeable. So when I had the chance to update my main system in the study, I did so – and that’s when the problem started.  Every major release of operating system means that some programs which are well-loved and useful but ‘aged’ are no longer supported and therefore one had to learn to do without them. In my case, the update seemed to take most of the night and then the whole computer failed to start. I was in complete despair and thinking that I would probably have to buy a whole new system. What I did not know, but fortunately my son did, was that there is a special ‘Recovery mode’ for a dead MAC which enables a user with an apparently dead machine to reboot it with a special keyboard combination of keys  and this forces a reboot using an internet connection. Anyway, this worked and I eventually got the new operating system installed. But then my son and I spent about four hours getting the system cleaned up of redundant and dead programs, ‘clutter’ and other things that might potentially cause problems. we still have a little tidying up to do but I was mighty relieved to get my system up and running and in a ‘cleaner’ state than it was in before the upgrade (If you install or re-install new programs, all computers accumulate clutter so this is well known to most of us) So all is  well that ends well.

After a night of precious little sleep and a lot of concentration in the morning, I should have felt terrible but in practice felt quite OK – I suppose it was a sort of delayed exhilaration in getting a system working again. We were were delayed in getting into town but passed by two of our sets of friends en route as well as coinciding with our Birmingham University friend who we had not expected to see this morning. After an extended chat about our various academic experiences of how we award classified degrees to our students, we returned home to a very, very late lunch but managed to rustle together a meal which was actually ready in about 20 minutes, which was just as well. Then I spent some time playing? learning? some of the new features of the newly installed operating system with which I need to familiarise myself.In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed  some of our ex-Waitrose friends that we communicate with every week on a Tuesday at about the sam time. It was good to catch up on current news (although neither of us had that much new) but I did manage to tell our friends about my success in getting my EHIC cards upgraded to the new GHIC cards which will be current for five years.

Tomorrow night, we will Zoom some of our cousins in Derby and fortunately, the entire system has been set up for us so with a bit of luck, all I need to do is to click a link and enter the appropriate password (sent to me in an email). Also on Wednesday evenings, there is an excellent series exploring the legacy of Donald Trump particularly from the perspective of other world leaders and this has been a fascinating watch for us. Tomorrow morning, in the wee small hours of the morning, I need to update my Waitrose shopping list for two weeks time – once in the groove, it is quite easy to get the slot you need with a bit of forward planning.

Yet another variant of the virus has been identified which may have the ability to bypass the vaccines so far developed. Although this sounds frightening, it is the fact that UK medical science leads the world in virus genome sequencing which means that we identify new mutations far more rapidly than other countries. There is some evidence that these newly occurring mutations are both deadly and can evade current vaccines which sounds bad. But on the other hand, as the rate of infection drops overall, it is easier for us to ‘jump’ on new mutations that do occur and hopefully try to prevent a rapid and harmful transmission process.

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Monday, 15th February, 2021 [Day 336]

Today started off ominously with a brown envelope from the NHS but on opening it, my forebodings turned to delight. The origin of all this train of events lies in the Brexit negotiations at the end of last year. Everything got done in a tremendous rush towards the end of the year and it was touch-and-go whether or not we conclude a deal by 1st January. I had read in the press that one of the casualties of Brexit was the EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card) which allowed all members of the EC to enjoy treatment in other’s hospitals. What was agreed in the case of the EHIC was that any time existing on the issue of the card would be honoured but not thereafter. On reading this, I went to check the EHIC cards for Meg and myself only to find that they had both expired (not having been on holiday, evidently I didn’t bother to check them) I decided to quickly make a reapplication for two new EHIC cards, hoping that as as I was making application whilst we were technically still members of the EC, then it might be possible to be issued with two new ones. When I opened the iron envelope this morning, some seven weeks after making application for replacements at the end of December, I found to my delight that Meg and I had been issued with Global Health Insurance Cards (The word ‘European’ has been replaced with ‘Global’ as there MAY be some non-EU countries with reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the UK) Moreover, these are valid for the next five years i.e. until December, 2025 so we can make use of them in a few months time. (It is interesting, by the way, that the word ‘European’ seems to be banished from any situations in which it may encourage citizens of the UK to think well of the EU. For example, the EU has promised to fund 50% of all of the foodbanks in the UK but as this was a requirement for a notice to be displayed that ‘this project was part funded by the EU‘ then the government refused to accept any help from the EU as it probably felt that many of the population would say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for being fed by the EU – and that would never do, would it?)

The day today was almost balmy as the temperatures of about -3° had given way to a temperature of about 5-6°, which is certainly a welcome change. We met our Italian friend on the way down into town as well as the cycling partner of one of our Church friends who was taking advantage of some non-icy conditions for a bike ride. We collected our newspapers and caught up with our Birmingham University friend but we had to keep a careful eye out for the COVID wardens who were doing their rounds at quite a leisurely pace. We timed our chats so that having them in our field of vision, we could ‘separate’ before they got at all close to us. Having said that, the day being the first day of half-term, there seemed to be kids and dogs absolutely all over the place, but that was to be expected.

This afternoon, I emailed the daughter of one of Meg’s cousins because we are hoping to set up a Zoom call on Wednesday so that about five of us can participate in a chat. I am not very sure of my ground when it comes to Zoom but our cousin’s daughter seems to have it well sorted it out so I have asked her for last minute instructions so that we can conjoin without a hitch. Incidentally, I felt a little sorry for the young adolescent couple who lived in separate towns in the West Midlands but had arranged to meet in a carpark for a kiss and a cuddle – whereupon, they were set upon by the local police and no doubt fined (would they each be fined, I ask myself)? All of this, the day after Valentine’s day as well.

There is a bit of an interesting twist to the success story of the vaccinations so far. That is Britain’s BAME community seem far more reluctant to be vaccinated than the rest of the UK population.  According to SAGE, nearly 72% of black or black British groups say they are unlikely or very unlikely to be vaccinated. This may be a dramatic mis-statement of the true position but the latest data does seem to reveal that adults in minority ethnic groups were less likely to receive the vaccine than those in white groups, by between 10-20%. Misinformation spread within ethnic minority communities often plays on religious concerns — that the vaccine might contain gelatine, or other animal products and is not halal, or that it can result in modification of DNA. In the face of this rather disturbing information, there has been a bit of a fight back as community and religious leaders have been enrolled to spread much more positive measures. Locating a vaccination point actually within a mosque seems to work well as well (after all, we used cathedrals in the early stages of the mass vaccination campaign)





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Sunday, 14th February, 2021 [Day 335]

Hopefully, today will be the last of our current cold ‘snap’ as a front of warm air is moving across Britain from the West, bringing with it a lot of rain and higher temperatures. I got up at 6.0am this morning and after a St. Valentine’s cup of tea (ever the romantic!) I got myself muffled up and stole off through the cold for our Sunday newspapers. After that I watched/dozed through most of the Andrew Marr Show, then Meg set off for our visit to the park where we met with our Birmingham University friend. We exchanged little bits of news and gossip, mainly talking about the rugby that we had so enjoyed on Saturday afternoon. But as it was still bitterly cold, we did not linger for long but had our coffee and comestibles and headed for home. The park, as you might expect, was well populated with dogs and their owners and although it just an impression, I am convinced that the number of dogs has increased since the lockdown last March. At least on the way home. the wind is behind us rather than in our faces and this makes the journey home seem a little less severe.

This afternoon was another Six Nations rugby match, this time between Ireland and France, played in Dublin (without any teams of supporters in the stadium) Wales was a little weakened owing to injury and a suspension and had a clutch of injured players in the course of the game. In the event, the French proved to be the superior team but only just and it was a hard-fought match with only a couple of points separating the two teams at the finish. 

Today, as we suspected, the vaccination total surpassed the 15 million that the government had promised before mid-February and the total is now standing at 15,062,000. This means that all the 70 years and older should have been vaccinated (or at least been offered) vaccination and now the target moves onto the 60+ band of the population. Some research has just been released by a leading epidemiologist who has analysed data from 50,000 users who have been vaccinated with either the Pfizer or the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The very interesting results show that irrespective of which vaccine was used, then one dose gave 46% protection after two weeks but this rises to 67%  after three to six weeks. This result had been anticipated from the initial trials of the vaccine but this data is collected from the first cohorts to be vaccinated from about a month ago and is especially interesting. As it happens, it will be three weeks tomorrow since Meg and I received our initial dose of the vaccine and we already have the second ‘booked’ in the system for 12 April with is about eight weeks away.

As we have to expect, ex-President Donald Trump was not convicted in the US Senate yesterday. A vote for conviction would have required a two-thirds majority which, given that the Senate is divided absolutely equally between Republicans and Democrats, would have meant the 17 of the Republican senators would have to have voted for Trump’s conviction. In the event, only 7 of the 50 for a conviction, thus leaving 43 out of 50 Republican senators who were unmoved by the mob ransacking the Capitol building and then seeking out the Speaker (Nancy Pelosi) and the Republican Vice President (Mike pence) presumably to try to execute them. If you do not convict for that, then what behaviour is liable to conviction? Our very own Boris Johnson has issued a statement to say that US democracy remains ‘strong’, despite the ‘kerfuffle’ over former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. If the result of the Senate failure to convict is regarded as a sign of the strength of American democracy then words fail one – it shows rather than approx 80% of American voters and Senators are not unhappy about mobs rampaging throughout the Capitol building so long as they, presumably are ‘on our side’ American society must now be so polarised that one wonders of any centre-ground still exists in the gulf between the two parties.

This week is going to be another ‘bottling’ week. After waiting to get a supply of miniature (200 cl) wine bottles, I am now faced with the task of removing all of the labels (some of which is easy, some of which requires a variety of implements and techniques) so that I can to bottle some more of the 16 litres of damson gin with which I started. Any tradesperson who comes to the house (e.g. service of the central heating boiler) gets a bottle of damson gin to help to keep them onside. All in all, I hope to bottle another 15 litres or so this week which is about twenty bottles or so and then they just have to be carefully labelled and they are ready to be dispensed again.


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Saturday, 13th February, 2021 [Day 334]

We are braced for only two more days of this particularly cold ‘snap’ which we trust will be over by Monday. Meg and I braved the walk to the newsagents today but the conditions were not at all pleasant as the icy winds were driving in our faces. Nonetheless, we survived and collected our complement of Saturday newspapers (which are always replete with supplements of various kinds, some of which go straight into the recycling bin) In the park we did meet with our Birmingham University friend but we all decided that as it was so very cold today (-3°but the wind-chill factor made it seem a lot colder than this) so we decided to drink our respective coffees and get on our way home so we did not catch cold. When we did arrive home, we regaled ourselves with some hot soup which is always a useful way to get warmed up from the inside. We then prepared a fairly traditional Saturday lunch which involves baking some of the specialist sausages we get from Waitrose and give ourselves the occasional treat. 

The highlight of today was certainly the two 6-Nations rugby matches, one played in the early afternoon and the other in the late afternoon. The first match was England vs. Italy and England certainly improved on their abysmal performance of a week ago, when they were beaten by Scotland. Today, England had an easy win over Italy which was to be expected and their performance had certainly improved but they still have some way before they meet the Welsh who will be playing on their home ground in a fortnight’s time. The second match was Wales vs. Scotland and this proved to be pulsating. The Scots soared to several points ahead but then had a man sent off  ‘(red-carded’) for foul play in the ruck and the whole tenour of the game changed with the Welsh coming back strongly. In the event, the Welsh won by a margin of 1 point and in the last few minutes of the game either side could have won with a last minute score. Actually, the Scots captain was heading for the line with the ball in hand and only 2-3 minutes left on the clock – but then he slipped on the wet Scottish turf and the opportunity was lost. This is just to show what fine margins there can be at this level and how often rugby games are won or lost with only a minute or so remaining (quite unlike Association Football)

The government is well on target to get 15 million vaccinated by Monday. The total tonight is 14.5 million so could well be exceeded by the end of tomorrow and certainly will be by Monday. The target seemed incredibly ambitious when it was set about a month ago so for once, the UK government has actually delivered to a target on time. This means that by Monday, all of the 70 + segments of the population will have been vaccinated, including some others whose health status is such that they need to be vaccinated immediately. The next target will be get all of the 60-69 year olds vaccinated and then all of the 50+ in the population. This last milestone when it is achieved may prove to be highly significant and important in the campaign against the COVID-19 virus. When all of the 50 and upwards have been vaccinated (in about a couple of month’s time) then Including the over-50s covers 98% of those who die from coronavirus – and about 80% of all those who go into hospital. Furthermore, as Professor Whitty has stated “If we then vaccinate all the way down to people over 50 and those who have actually got pre-existing health conditions, you then get through virtually all the people who have a high chance of dying.” So it is hard to overstate the importance of this stage of the vaccination process once we get to it. Of course, the protection will need to be enhanced by a second dose some three months after the first (in the case of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine) and, then potentially, some additional boosters in the autumn to cope with strains such as the South African variant (and any others that might have emerged by then) And, of course, we will have the normal ‘flu vaccination programme starting in the Autumn, so I feel that we will have to get used to vaccinations for many months and years ahead.

Now for a piece of absolute trivia. When the Flying Scotsman first started its non-stop journeys between London and Edinburgh and offered a high class dining facility, what to do if you ran out of salmon half way through the journey? The solution was to put a message on a piece of paper and stick it into the cleft of a potato and then throw that into the vicinity of a passing signal box. The signal man would then telegraph ahead for fresh supplies of salmon which which find its way (somehow!) into the Flying Scotsman cab no doubt travelling at speed. How this was achieved was not actually revealed by my source (A BBC programme called Full Steam Ahead playing in the background)


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Friday, 12th February, 2021 [Day 333]

The icy cold weather still continues but, fortunately, we only have about two more days to endure before some milder air appears on Monday. After a chat with our domestic help, I went down to collect the newspapers on my own this morning. Fortunately, I had already agreed with our gardener to postpone the outside task we had got detailed for us this morning – Meg had decided to give today a miss as she has got pretty frozen in the last couple of days so I ventured forth alone.  I did bump into a couple of my oldest ‘church’ friends who were busy giving their new granddaughter a push out in her buggy and we paused to chat but not for too long as it is best to keep moving in this kind of weather. Having picked up our newspapers, I made for my usual park bench and had taken the precaution of taking a flask of coffee along with me. Although I was on my own, no sooner had I got up to go but my Birmingham University friend spotted my Australian bush-stye hat from afar and made over to join me, sporting a similar one of his own. No doubt, we will soon have the reputation of the couple of old geezers who wear practically identical hats, although it does help to spot people at a distance. I have noticed during this pandemic and subsequent lockdown that I have learnt to recognise the shape and stance of people from hundreds of metres away, even though I could not actually discern their faces. I imagine that during World War 2, various members of the population (Dad’s Army?) were trained in aircraft recognition from the shape of the aircraft and perhaps also the sound – one had to learn to distinguish whether they were friends (i.e. one of ours) or one of ‘theirs’ in which case you might have to take rapid evasive action. (I am reminded of the not very amusing story that during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, when an Exocet missile was seen winging its way across the surface of the sea towards one of our ships, a radar system was turned on called ‘IFF’ (interrogate French or Foe) only for the system to respond that as it was an Exocet owned by the French, it must be a ‘friendly’ missile, despite the fact that it was heading towards and actually hit one of our ships). A certain amount of re-programming of military computers then had to take place  to indicate that even though it was manufactured or utilised by the French, they had taken the opportunity to sell it on to the Argentinians and therefore we could not infer that it must be ‘friendly’

We had a spare piece of cod leftover in our freezer and I baked this in the oven for lunch. However, under the expert tuition of son and domestic help, I managed to make a roux sauce, filled it with a packet of parsley sauce and then ‘spiced it up’ with some mustard and black pepper. The whole effect was delicious – so much so, that I am resolved to perhaps make an order to Iceland for another supply of Atlantic cod for the freezer. After a good newspaper read, I then devoted the afternoon to finally get all of my bank accounts up-to-date and ensure that all of my savings plans are as they should be ( I tend to have separate savings pots for such things as vacation, car renewal, computing needs etc.)

Sky News is running a series of TV programmes and web-based presentations under the heading ‘Learning the Lessons‘.  I am finding this quite interesting as it is a fairly contemporary account of how, as a society, we have done some things well and other things abysmally. No doubt, we will have official enquiries in the fullness of time but it is quite obstructive, as we are not far off from a complete year living with the crisis, of doing an ‘interim’ assessment of how were are doing. There is quite an interesting argument between medical scientists and epidemiologists going on within the Channel 4 news this evening. One side of the argument is that we have no real evidence that a delay in the administration of a second dose of the vaccine will be efficacious – this is probably true as most of the evidence from the initial trials were based upon very small samples. The counter-argument is ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (of an effect)‘ This argument derives from everything that we know about how vaccines in general work and how our immune systems respond. According to this side of the argument, we can infer that a delay in the second dose does not reduce, and may even increase. its effectiveness. This argument will probably resolve itself as we collect more and more data on different age-bands within the population but, of course, we had to wait until this evidence accumulates over time. It will be interesting for us to learn which side of the argument has more force i.e. is either confirmed or disconfirmed as the evidence does become available over the weeks ahead.


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Thursday, 11th February, 2021 [Day 332]

I make no apologies for starting off commenting on the weather as last night was the coldest night in the UK for 25 years – a temperature of -23° was recorded in Braemar, Scotland. I had thought that this cold snap might be ending today but tonight might be just as cold, if not colder. This has an impact on things that I had intended to do tomorrow. I was scheduled, together with our gardener who calls by once a month, to replace a kind of wooden arch support down one side of the house. We were going to saw off the rotten base and then re-plant it in concrete (which I have already purchased in anticipation of the event) I was not looking forward to being out in the cold for several hours tomorrow morning so after a brief telephone chat with our gardener, we both agreed that the ground would be too hard for us to do anything so we had better postpone things for a week or so until the weather improves. I have to say I am not at all sorry about that!  This morning was quite busy as our central heating engineer was fixing the unexplained loss of pressure in our boiler. He may (or may not) have cured a slight leak that we have somewhere on the system by introducing some sealant into a radiator but it will take some 2-3 weeks to percolate around the system. Then we had our normal Waitrose grocery delivery after which we set out on our walk, picked up our newspapers and met our Birmingham University friend ‘en route’  We called in at Waitrose for one or two forgotten items and made our way to the park. However, we jointly took the decision we would not loiter in the park but just drink our respective coffees and then get on our way – just to keep moving and hence keep warm. When we got home, we warmed ourselves up with  some cuppa soups  and then made a lunch of Swedish style meat balls (which I made a bit more piquant by adding them to some fried onions and peppers and then adding a modicum of gravy tarted up with a good dollop of brown sauce). It all worked out well, although it stands a little pedestrian. After a good read of the newspapers, I busied myself getting my accounts up to date (a process which involved working through my online statements and then recording the transactions in a large ledger that I keep) and I like to do this so that I do not get too many weeks behind. All my incomings and outgoings tend to take place in a flurry in the middle of the month which is now fast approaching.

I have been sort of following the Donald Trump impeachment proceedings in the senate, although the result is a foregone conclusion. The Democrats have put together a video presentation drawn from a variety of sources (and some of them not in the public domain) which shows that the mob were quite close to capturing some key members of Congress – including Pence, their own Vice-President. This video is apparently quite impressive whilst Trump’s defence lawyers are abysmally bad – I suppose it doesn’t help that he sacked one set about a week or so ago and is now working with their replacements who are definitely ‘second tier’.  The Democrat case is primarily that Trmp had incited and ‘de facto’ given orders for the Capital building to be invaded. As the Democrats say “He invited them with clear instructions for a specific time and place – and with clear orders: ‘Fight to stop the certification (of the election result) in Congress by any means necessary’.” For a  conviction to take place, 17 Republican senators out of 50 are going to have to vote against their own president and this is not going to happen.  However, given the compelling nature of the video evidence any Republican senator who votes to save Trump must be doing so for reasons of pure ideology rather than any dispassionate discussion of the evidence.

British medical researchers have been trying to see if any existing drugs can be ‘re-purposed’ to assist them treat victims of COVID-19. They have discovered that a combination of two drugs may prove to be quite efficacious. These two drugs combined, tocilizumab and dexamethasone should cut death risk by about a third for patients on oxygen and halve it for those on a ventilator, the researchers say. This is quite a dramatically good result and may well to keep the death toll from the virus quite a lot lower than it would have been. Again, one has to pay tribute to the dedication of medical researchers who have discovered these drug combinations which makes COVID-19 more treatable than it would have been even a few months ago.

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Wednesday, 10th February, 2021 [Day 331]

Today was another fine but very cold day. The wind had abated somewhat and whilst the temperature was probably sub-zero, it was actually quite a pleasant day and, on occasions, you can feel the rays of a weak sunshine on your face which is always good to feel. We had a brief chat with some of our church friends on the way down the hill and then, having collected our newspapers as normal, made for the park where we met up, as usual, with our Birmingham University friend. We were having a chat today about some common pedagogic problems that we had faced e.g. I contended that ‘every teacher was a teacher of English‘ whilst our friend bemoaned the fact that standards of numeracy seem to have dropped over the years. We also discussed the fact that English is the most comprehensive of languages in that if it is an animal, cold and wet and standing in a muddy field, we call it by the Anglo Saxon name (cow, sheep, pig) whereas once it is cooked and served on a plate we tend to use the Norman-French derivative (bouef = beef, mouton=mutton, porque= pork) Another non-culinary example is that we use the French word for a room (chamber) but invest it with a new layer of meaning which in this was is a large, ceremonial room. All of this is well explained in Melvyn Bragg’s book which I think is called ‘The Adventure of English‘ which I would recommend to anyone who is interested in how our language has developed over the centuries.

Again, we chatted in the park until we got particularly cold again and then made for home just in time to cook our lunch at the normal time. This afternoon, after a good read of the newspapers, I ventured out to our local hardware store to pick up some bags of quick drying cement that are used to cement posts into position. Our gardner who calls by about once a month and I had decided that we needed to do something about a type of pergola, be-topped by a heavy growth of honeysuckle which forms a kind of archway down one side of the house. This has become rotten at the base (typical – this is water, air and microbial activity do their worst and why posts always rot at ground level and not, as you imagine two feet under)  So on Friday, I am going to act as the ‘gofer’ and a second pair of hands whilst our gardner does the bulk of the work. I had previously let my neighbour have some spare cement and I wondered if he had any left over – as he had used it all up, I needed to go out any but some more. Actually, in the post I have acquired a wonderful tool designed to dig holes for fence posts. It is known as an ‘auger’ and in reality if just a giant corkscrew but in the past I have found that a good clean ‘corkscrew’ type hole only needs the post inserting into it followed by a few hefty blows of a sledge hammer which I have also in my stock of ‘heavy’ gardening implements. I hope the weather is not too cold on Friday next when we are scheduled to do the job as I do not fancy standing around much in this cold weather. However, I think the worst of the weather should be blown over by Friday.

As I write this blog, there. is a programme being broadcast on Sky News on ‘Learning the lessons of the pandemic‘ This may well prove to be very interesting because with the benefit of hindsight, it might be useful to reflect on where as a society, we went badly wrong and finished up with one of the highest (if not the highest) death-rates in the world. Of course, we all have our personal ‘takes’ on what has gone right/wrong and no doubt there will be an official enquiry eventually. But in the meanwhile, there might be a useful kind of stocktake so that we can learn the lessons. But do politicians learn the lessons from history – even a recent history?

From my own perspective, there are certainly highlights and lowlights. The outstanding success must be the brilliant way we have researched and brought a vaccine into use in a remarkably short turn around time. A ‘lowlight’ had got to be the abysmal performance of the ‘test-and-trace’ regime on which we have spent £22 billion – the money should have been spent on the local authority teams who have been doing infection tracing for a century and know how to do it. And, it is almost certain, that we started the first lockdown a week too late (where the infection rate is doubling every 3-4 days a week is a long time) and lifted our first lock down far too early. (Jeremy Hunt, previous Health secretary. has just said the very same thing on the Sky news programme)


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Tuesday, 9th February, 2021 [Day 330]

I wouldn’t say it was the most major of domestic tragedies but we happen to have quite a tall 1-litre capacity Pyrex measuring jug that is constantly in use – or at least twice a day. I use it to prepare the coffee for our elevenses every morning and also, because of its height, I tend to use it constantly to microwave green vegetables because we have a lid that just fits it nicely. To my display, I discovered that the tip of the lip had broken away and a crack was in the process of appearing over what might have been a seam. As I use it so constantly, I thought I would try and Amazon/Ebay search for a replacement, only to find it extraordinarily difficult. Most of the 1 litre jugs tend to be squat and wide rather than taller and narrower so it took a lot of searching on the internet to find a replacement  at quite a price (about £14.00) but at least it was a ‘genuine’ Pyrex. Now for Sod’s law in operation. Meg may have caught a chill after yesterday’s stay in the park so she went to bed a little earlier last night and decided to stay in the warmth of the house today. So I went to collect the newspapers on my own and then made a quick detour into Asda (which I normally avoid) to see on the off-chance whether they stocked any measuring jugs of the sort I wanted. As luck would have it, they did have one which is an exact replacement of the one that had died a death but at a price of £2.70 which is about one fifth of the internet price – but how was I to know that what I wanted would be so readily available locally and so hard to find on the internet? I took the opportunity, though, to buy one or two things that I know only Asda sells though by inclination I feel like avoiding the store as much as possible.

Today was a very interesting day in the park. Near the entrance, I met my Birmingham University friend who was deep in conversation (about dogs) with a dog-walking couple. We then acquired the customary cup of coffee and went to take up position in our ‘by now’ usual vantage point only to meet friends, friends of friends, dog walkers that we know and so on. At one point, there were as many as eight of us in a gaggle but we quickly moved on so as not to constitute a ‘gaggle’ and to keep out of the purview of the COVID-19 rangers. By this stage, I was thoroughly chilled as the temperature is about -3° which is not too cold if you are constantly on the move but can get to you a little if you are stationary. So I got home a little late and prepared our lunch time meal of fishcakes dressed with yesterday’s sauce and some fresh broccoli. 

This afternoon, I brought back into use a radio which is designed to be used in or near a shower. This I bought years and years ago for about £5 and it was cheap even then – it seems to keep going on two AA batteries for about 3 months so is evidently designed to perform well at a very low power consumption. The proof of the pudding will be tomorrow morning (I have it permanently tuned to ClassicFM which is the only radio to which I would want to listen in the shower) At 4.00 in the afternoon, I Skyped one of my oldest Hampshire friends and we regaled each with stories from our pasts. I enjoyed retelling the story of how members of Leicester Polytechnic enjoyed moments of ‘Schadenfreude‘ (= malicious delight in another person’s misfortune) The then director of the polytechnic wished to avail himself of the flat at the top of the Queen Anne mansion which was a feature of the Scraptoft Campus in order to entertain his current ‘amour’ at weekends (and for no cost!) To make his pleasure complete, the Director had ordered a double bed which the delivery men struggled for hours to try to get up the narrow spiral staircase of the Queen Anne mansion. Eventually, they failed and the bed had to be returned back to the delivery van from whence it came, much to the amusement of the members of staff who had watched the late Friday afternoon’s proceedings unfold with a fair degree of mirth. After this Skype call, we FaceTimed some of our ex-Waitrose friends as we do every Tuesday afternoon and caught up all with all of the week’s news. We generally take the best part of an hour and pass on any local news or gossip about things happening in the area. Tomorrow, if we are lucky, we should be getting our central heating engineer to come and see to our boiler which appears to be functioning OK in the exceptionally cold weather apart from the fact that a crucial pressure gauge is tending to read ‘zero’ which is a definite malfunction. As the boiler is fairly new, we trust that is a part has failed, we should be able to make a claim under the warranty.

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Monday, 8th February, 2021 [Day 329]

The ‘Beast from the East’ more properly known as Storm Darcy was still very much in evidence this morning. Actually, it felt a tad less severe than yesterday and when the gusts of icy wind abated, there were hints of spring sunshine but we are having to get accustomed to sub-zero temperatures. The BBC weather app says ‘heavy snow showers and a gentle breeze’ for my postcode area but in practice there was only the slightest hint of a few flurries of snow in the wind which you would not have described as ‘gentle’. Nonetheless, we collected our newspapers and trudged up to see our friend in the park who had thoughtfully already dried the park bench for us with a towel he keeps for the purpose (and we ourselves have an tea towel reserved for park bench drying duties in our rucksack) We chatted for a little while mainly about the rugby (about which our friend is much more knowledgeable than are we – but then he used to play rugby in his younger days) Eventually, the cold got the better of both of us so we bid each other adieu and headed homewards for a cup of warming soup. Lunch consisted of chicken breasts which were seared and then add to the remains of the tomatoes/peppers/onions/sauce mixture left over from yesterday. This was delicious, particularly when complemented by baked potato and some freshly prepared greens.

This afternoon, after a good newspaper read, I promised myself that I would go through a pile of newspapers and other mailed items that I had promised myself I would read and then sort out. I notice that at this time of year, the newspapers seem to be full of supplements along the themes of keep fit/coping with the pandemic/ensuring your mental health (which are really inter-connected themes when you think about it) So eventually stuff either got thrown away or filed or put into the ‘books I got for Christmas which I haven’t had time to read yet’  pile.

There is quite a degree of concern that the South African variant of COVID-19 has popped up in various places throughout the UK including an area in North Worcester which is just about 15 miles south of here in Bromsgrove. The variant of the virus has differently shipped ‘spikes’ enabling it to lock onto human cells more easily and this makes it more infectious (although the severity of the disease does not appear to differ) The AstraZeneca vaccine seems to have limited power to vaccinate against this variant- the figures quote as ‘22% effective’ but I am not sure what this actually means. Does it mean that only 22% of viral particles are treated by the vaccine and the 78% escape the bodies immune system? The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is slightly less effective against the South African variant but certainly more than the AstraZeneca version. This situation is a little confused not to say worrying. The Government’s has been has been keen to stress all day that the AstraZeneca vaccine – the most popular one – is effective but it is in the public domain that it doesn’t to appear to stop mild or moderate versions of the disease in younger population. This leaves open the question of how effective it is against more severe infections of the virus? There seems to be quite a degree of ‘radio silence’ on this point but there is talk, not particular reassuring, that the vaccine is being ‘tweaked’ and that a third dose might be offered to people ‘in the autumn’ None of this, I must say, do I find particularly reassuring but I keep saying to myself that as it is two weeks since the initial jab and about another nine weeks to go before the final one, that I must take pains to be especially careful in the few weeks ahead of us.

We bumped into some of our church friends as well as our Italian friend on the way down into town – she was muffled up to the eyeballs both against the cold and also with her face mask so we only recognised her at the last moment. I am promised to a bottle of wine as soon as conditions permit by way of thanks for taking her to be vaccinated. This bout of bad weather is due to last for several days and Meg and I have acquired some sniffles and cold-like symptoms after braving the weather. We will have to make a careful judgement whether it is with while venturing out tomorrow but the weather is so changeable that when you set forth it does not seem too bad and then can take a turn for the worse.  Whilst our daily walks probably do us more good than harm, it will be frustrating for us if our little sniffles turn into a full scale cold. We are taking some cold-and-flu preparations when we go to bed as a precaution in any case.



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