Sunday, 17th January, 2021 [Day 307]

Another conventional Sunday morning dawns. I popped down into the car to collect our supply of Sunday newspapers after which we watched the Andrew Marr show as usual. The weather was a little more mild than of late so we walked down as usual, meeting a couple of our friends (one out gardening, the other couple preparing to go out on their own ‘constitutional’ walk for the morning) The park was fairly busy with its usual complement of young children on their little bikes and a goodly supply of unleashed little dogs. However, we did not meet any of our usual park friends which was not unusual for a Sunday as you tend to have a different ‘flow’ of people who use the park at the weekends rather than those who are its daily visitors. For some reason, the weather seems to get a bit colder as they morning progresses (perhaps the cold air flows down hill) so we were pleased to get home and cook a very conventional Sunday lunch of roast beef (in the slow cooker) and Yorkshire pudding. After that, we indulged in a good in-depth read of the Sunday Times and the Observer which occupied most of the afternoon.

The forthcoming inauguration of the Joe Biden presidency on Wednesday next continues to occupy our thoughts. It will seem to be a very strange inauguration indeed with the Capitol building turned into an armed fortress (with some 21,000 troops) and the crowds will be kept a long distance away. Because of the pandemic crisis, the crowds are being urged to keep away which will guarantee that the crowd attending the Biden inauguration will be dramatically smaller than the Trump inauguration. Incidentally, as I remember it, Trump insisted that the crowds attending his inauguration four years ago were larger than those of his predecessor, Barak Obama. When photographic evidence was produced to show this was certainly NOT the case, then  a series of rancorous exchanges ensued between Trump’s new press spokesman (he had so many!) and the White House Press Corps and these ill-tempered exchanges set the tone for what was to follow through much of the Trump presidency. When Joe Biden does take over, he is letting it be known that he will immediately issue a series of Executive Orders (i.e. with no debate from Congress) to immediately rejoin the Paris climate accords, to reunite families split at the USA-Mexico border amongst other things.  When you think about it, President-elect Biden will be at his most powerful in his first 100 days when he can set agendas, institute programs and start to roll back some of the worst excesses of the preceding regime. I have a view (not shared by many of the commentators) that Joe Biden may surprise us all and prove to be quite a decisive and forceful president. Evidently, he is in a unique position because of his long experience as a senator of ‘working across the aisle’ (i.e. working collaboratively with the opposition parties who are the Republicans) as well as being the Vice-President to Barak Obama of course. I think he may realise that at his age (78) he is not going to run for office again so he has four years rather than eight to make a decisive impact. So time is short and he may well realise that he has most room for manoeuvre in the early days of his presidency whilst the Republicans are in some disarray so we might expect quite an exciting first few months. Many people think he will just ‘mark time’ so that his Vice-President, Kamala Harris (the first female and ‘person of colour’ to hold the office) can be primed as the next Presidential candidate for the Democrats. I am quite willing to be proved wrong in all of this but I remember well the case of Archbishop Roncalli who became Pope John 23rd. Most of his fellow cardinals thought that they were electing a real ‘patsy’ but he proved to be one of the most innovative popes in modern times, reconvening the Vatican Council to reform and update the institutions of the Catholic Church. So actually, Pope John 23rd turned out to be quite radical and achieved a tremendous amount in the five years before he died. I think you can probably see the parallels I am drawing here without labouring the point.

The numbers vaccinated here in the UK has now reached 3.8 million and several new vaccination centres are to be opened from tomorrow, Monday. It now looks as though the target of vaccinating  2million jabs a week might even now be achievable. Incidentally, I am quite pleasantly surprised about the innovative thinking that has been at work in commissioning cathedrals to act as vaccination centres. They should be easily found, there is lots of space for people to sit down before and after the jab at a safe distance, being large and airy buildings will help to disperse any remnants of virus that might be in the atmosphere, cathedrals are part of a mission to ‘provide succour for the sick’ and so on. I think this is a brilliant idea – it has been adopted by Salisbury, Lichfield and Blackburn cathedrals for a start. Some cathedrals have hit on the bright idea of providing soothing organ music as well. All in all, I think this is an imaginative and innovative solution to a national crisis.  

 

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Saturday, 16th January, 2021 [Day 306]

Despite a prognostication of rain and even snow, today turned out to be quite a fine day. Meg and I appreciated the faintest glimmerings of the warmth of the sun which reminded us that although some bad weather is undoubtedly to come, at least we have some slight indications of the spring to come. Before we collected our newspapers, we came across two of our church friends who were having a chat with a neighbour whilst they caught up on news not having seen each other for about a week or even longer now. Then we collected our weekend complement of newspapers (bulging with supplements) and made our way to the park where we met with our new-found university friend. We now have a well-established routine of sitting on adjacent benches which helps to ensure social distancing. Just as yesterday, our elderly lady trotted along none the worse for her virus jab yesterday and we chatted variously amongst ourselves. Finally, on our way up the hill, we met with even more church friends (our oldest) and again caught up with each other’s news. Needless to say, it was quite late by this time but we enjoyed a lunch of liver and onions which we had promised ourselves for some time but not actually eaten for months. This afternoon was spent on a good long read followed by some necessary tidying up which is always necessary to avoid the clutter building up on my desk and computer work areas.

A big scandal is emerging at the Home Office where due to a ‘human error’ some 400,000 police records were wiped from the national police database. Apparently, Home Office computer engineers were urgently seeking to develop some code which might help to restore some of the lost records and ensure that this does not happen again. The mind boggles as to what kind of system the Home Office deploys if so many records can be deleted accidentally. As we all know from our own personal (and professional) experience, when you hit the ‘Delete’ button, things rarely disappear for good but are removed to a type of archive from whence they can be retrieved. This happens regularly with our emails, for example, and if our simple domestic systems can deploy a methodology to ensure the safety of even trivial (as well as important) records, surely there must be a back-up system that ensures the safety of critical police records. It will be interesting to see how much data the engineers manage to retrieve – and I wonder who will be fired as a result of all of this. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is being called to account although politicians grasp of technical detail is typically woefully deficient.

Naturally, we are all waiting to see what preparations are being made for the inauguration of Jo Biden next Wednesday. It has been reliably reported that President Trump will leave the White House at the latest possible moment before he takes a flight for Florida and his ‘stately’ home. One account is that he will initially fly to an Air Force base where he will have a little leaving ceremony (perhaps with brass bands, certainly with much flag waving) so it appears that he will be a showman to the last. I would think that this last gesture is just meant to provide some video so that his huge band of supporters can still be energised. Meanwhile, the CNN website reveals some shocking details of the events of last week:


Emerging details paint an even grimmer picture than the shocking images of violence broadcast live around the world last week. Evidence suggests planning by the insurrectionists, and there are concerns that they may have received support from some Capitol Police, current and former members of the military, and even some members of Congress.
As rioters broke into the Capitol building and some chanted “hang Mike Pence,” the seditious mob ripped through the “thin blue line” many claim to revere, kicking and beating police with their own batons, spraying them with chemical irritants, threatening to kill them. One policeman and four others died that day.

Sky News reports that some 3.5 million people have now received a vaccine – more than the total number of people who have been infected with the virus itself. The Sky News website even has an on-line tracker so that you can see in real time how many in the population have actually been vaccinated and the progress being made towards the government target of 15 million by mid- February. Entertaining if nothing else – and it is one small way of holding the government to account given its proven record of over-promising and under-delivering. The news from the COVID-10 front line is that the COVID patients are getting both younger and sicker – and the peak is still some 7-10 days away as of tonight.

 

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Friday, 15th January, 2021 [Day 305]

Today proved to be one of our more interesting mornings. The weather was rather cold with a cold but not excessive wind. We greeted our domestic help as it was a Friday and then collected our newspapers. In the park we met up with our new found friend, the academic from Birmingham University, whose acquaintance we made recently. We met sort of by accident as we both knew the approximate time that we normally coincided. In order to make sure that we complied with the social distancing regulations, we met on adjacent park benches so that we could have a chat from a two-metre distance from each other – we formed a sort of triangle with Meg on one bench, our friend on the adjacent one and myself on the other side of the path. We are mainly discussing some of the literary figures that we had in common – for example, John Mortimer who wrote the ‘Rumpole of the Bailey‘ series, I was reminded of his biography which I believe was called ‘Clinging to the Wreckage‘ As a not particularly competent sailor, he argued that in the event of a capsize, it was ultimately safer in the long run to ‘cling to the wreckage’ and await rescue rather than strike out independently to swim for safety, probably only to die in the process. One journalist who had died in the last few days was Katherine Whitehorn at the ripe old age of about 92. I remember her for the way in which she took the well-known expression ‘Inside every fat woman is a thin woman trying to get out‘ and inverted it brilliantly to observe ‘Outside every thin woman is a fat man trying to get in‘ In the midst of all of this mirth, we encountered an ‘old’ acquaintance of ours who lives on the edge of the park and therefore used to walk quite regularly in the park with her little Jack Russell dog. Meg and I were saying to each that we hoped she was OK as we had not seen her since well before Christmas and then up she popped. She had received her dose of the vaccine earlier on that morning, so yet again we feel that our turn is not an incredibly long way off. She was pretty well and sprightly but as the cold did not suit her very much, so she was curtailing her walks in the park. And then some friends of friends who attended the local church came along – we had been introduced to them when we were regaling each other with mince pies and sherry at a kind of impromptu party on Christmas Eve, when the weather was quite fine and we entertained each other sitting in an open but well ventilated garage (sort of outdoors) The really interesting thing about all of this is that you don’t really know who you are going to meet on these occasions which makes the occasional encounter into quite a bonus. By this time, we were getting quite cold and the sharp wind had intensified so we made our way home with alacrity to cook ourselves a warming lunch. Although snow was sort of threatened, it looks as though some is definitely on the way together with some biting winds. It looks like a case of ‘winter draws on’ tomorrow (a phrase which the BBC under its first Director General tried to ban in the 1930’s as it suggested an extreme licentiousness, but there you are)

The vaccine news sounds reasonably encouraging. Although it is very early days yet, it does appear that the government attempts to roll out the vaccine may be starting to bear some fruit. This government tends to ‘over-promise but to under-deliver’ and this may well prove to be the case here. One closely guarded secret is the data on the supplies of vaccine as the government fears that some of this data is subject to commercial confidentiality. However, the Scottish government inadvertently let some data slip out before the relevant website was pulled but it could be the case that in Scotland it is possible that most of the population could be vaccinated by the end of July. Of course, a lot of this is speculation and I suspect that the next week or so are going to be really critical when several new vaccinations centres will get into full swing. As from Monday next, all air corridors into the UK are too be closed. As I write, there is an advert on the TV warning everyone how infectious the latest variant to the COVID-19 is so I surmise that the UK is seriously worried that the hospitals whilst at full capacity are not yet at their peak (expected in some 2-3 weeks yet?) and that some variant of the virus which is not susceptible to the vaccines may well appear on these shores.

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Thursday, 14th January, 2021 [Day 304]

Thursdays are our normal delivery dates for our Waitrose order and so this normally delays us a little. However, today we got things put away in plenty of time and started our walk in weather conditions that although a little cold and dull were not particularly unpleasant. This was not to last, though, and the journey home was somewhat unpleasant with a  fine but sharp drizzle or it could have been the start of a freezing fog. The park was quite underpopulated today as, indeed, it was yesterday so I wonder if the message about the virulence and the proximity of the virus is eventually starting to ‘cut through’ with members of the public. Whilst having our coffee, an elderly lady passed us but it does not take long for the conversation to turn to the subject of COVID-19. She and her husband had just received her vaccination at a GP practice which is adjacent to ours. I was sufficiently ungallant to enquire as to her age and she informed me that she was 80 (although she didn’t look it) This means that she is the Priority Level above me (Priority Level 2) so you do get the feeling that the day will approach when we will get the call. All of the 80+ have to be vaccinated before they start on the next Priority level down so, in my mind’s eye, I still think it will be some 2-3 weeks before I actually get the call for vaccination. Whilst on the subject of medical matters, Meg had received her routine bowel cancer screening kit which is done once every 3 years – as I remember it, the procedures last time were quite a lot more complicated but now they seem to have refined the procedure so that you only have to submit one sample instead of several collected over several days. Anyway, we got that all done and dusted and posted off with the results promised in about two weeks time. Finally, I got a call postponing my physiotherapy appointment I was due to attend tomorrow but I am quite relieved about that because by the time the new appointment comes around, I might just then received my vaccine.

Another little ‘faux pas’ has been apparently been committed today in the person of Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. She was trying to provide clarity on whether one should exercise alone or not. (As an aside, Priti Patel is renowned for starting off a statement saying ‘Let me be absolutely clear‘ before embarking on utterances which are anything but clear) Apparently today she said that people should exercise ‘on their own’ giving examples from cycling and running where this might be the case. But she was swiftly contradicted by No. 10 who pointed out the policy remains that you can exercise with someone else in your own support bubble (typically husbands and wives) So not for the first time, we have ministers unaware of the guidance which is being issued to the population. It also transpires today that the Fisheries Minister had failed to read the portions of the Trade Agreement with the EU which details the new arrangements regarding shipping – so this, too, hardly inspires much confidence that the ship of state is in secure hands.

In Washington, the number of troops protecting the Capitol building now exceeds the total number of troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan at 26,000. The most elaborate security arrangements with barriers and no-entry zones are now established and even private companies are doing their bit. Airlines are refusing to let people with firearms board a flight for Washington in the next few days. Airbnb, HotelTonight has just cancelled all Washington, DC, metro reservations ahead of Inauguration. Meanwhile, for those addicted to conspiracy theories, there are some reports that the Capitol building received quite a large number of ‘unusual’ visitors in the few days before the insurrection. In The Washington Post, it is alleged that In the days before the Jan. 6 attack, immediately preceded by Trump’s remarks at a rally, a number of Democrats have pointed to speeches, tweets and videos that they have said raised questions about whether the attackers may have been inspired or helped by Republican members of Congress.

So we are counting down the days before the inauguration next Wednesday, hoping and praying that Trump does not do anything completely bizarre in the dying days of his presidency. The one thing that may be helpful is that removal vans have already been spotted in the vicinity of the White House. There are also reports that most of the ‘staffers’ in the White House are avoiding Trump like the plague for the next few days so that they will be not dragged into any controversial actions in the few days that remain of the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, armed Trump supporters may turn up at every state capital throughout the land next Wednesday – you couldn’t make it up!

 

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Wednesday, 13th January, 2021 [Day 303]

We are always a little delayed on a Wednesday morning as it is the day on which we have to update our Waitrose shopping order in time for delivery in the morning. At the same time, I need to remember, (a few minutes after midnight!) to book my slot for a fortnight’s time. I have learnt over the weeks that new delivery slots get released just after midnight and although there were a few glitches with the website last night (on the server side), soon was all resolved and we got our order into hit the relevant slot.

The COVID-19 crisis continues to deepen as the number of deaths at 1564 exceeds the rate of one death per minute during the last 24 hours. There are some very slight signs that the rate of new infections (which eventually feeds into hospital admissions and ultimately, for some, deaths in hospital) may be just about lessening. It looks as though the death rate in this second wave of the pandemic has already exceeded the entire death rate from the first wave and we are not yet at the peak of this second wave. It could be that the lockdown measures are starting to have some import but it takes a week or so for these to be reflected in hospital admissions and even more in the death rate.

Meanwhile, many eyes this evening are focussed on the American political system as the House of Representatives may be about to impeach Donald Trump – if so, this will be the first time in history that a sitting president has been impeached twice. The House of Representatives have filed one article of impeachment, accusing Donald Trump of “incitement of insurrection”. This comes following the deadly riots that took place at the Capitol in Washington DC last Wednesday after a speech by Mr Trump to his supporters. Impeachment just means that formal charges have been laid and it takes a two thirds majority in the Senate to convict which is quite a high bar. However, there are other sanctions that can be applied which only require a simple Senate majority so there are several options open to the legislature after impeachment has actually taken place. As I blog, I am following the rather arcane procedures in the House of Representatives where each speaker is only allowed about a minute – this prevents the uttering of filibustering speeches I would imagine. 

Returning to domestic matters, readers may remember that last Saturday a group entered the park with a portable loudspeaker declaiming loudly that the whole of COVID-19 is a massive hoax and similar rubbish. I read in a local newspaper feed that four people from the area have been arrested charged with offences against public order. The principal transgression is that this group have been entering local hospitals (often at night) and photographing empty areas of the hospital to attempt to ‘prove’ that the pandemic is a gigantic hoax. Four men have been bailed but with the condition that they are not allowed to enter a hospital, except in a case of medical emergency. I suppose this means that might still try and speak again in a public place but the press reports are very sparse so I only have the slightest of details.

There are several juicy little morsels of news this evening. One of these is that because of the intense pressure felt within the hospitals at the moment, there are plans to ‘decant’ several patients from hospitals into hotels to release much needed hospital beds. What the patients feel about this, I wonder – some might enjoy it but others may feel very nervous and worried by these procedures. A second little titbit of news is that Boris Johnson has admitted that the schools may not reopen after the half-term break in mid February. If this is the case, then we can forget about schools opening at all until well after the Easter vacation. The third little bit of news is the way that British politicians are positioning themselves in the light of the impending Trump impeachment. Boris Johnson for one is still arguing for the ‘special relationship’ with Donald Trump. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has accused senior Tories of “sycophancy” in their dealings with the Trump administration. “Ministers were so eager to swallow the Trump playbook of how politics should be done that they abandoned British values, interests and their own self-respect,” she said.

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Tuesday, 12th January, 2021 [Day 302]

Today’s date is one of those interesting ones which occur from time to time as it can be written: 12.1.21, which if you examine it means that it can be written backwards and the date will remain exactly the same. This is called a palindromic date and there are various cult groups who both study these things and also make dire predictions about them. For example, one cultish type group is convinced that the world is going to end today (but what happens when they wake up in the morning and find they are still alive?) Notwithstanding all of this, we were a little delayed on our walk down into the town today but encountered one of our near neighbours who we have not seen over the whole of the Christmas period and also our Italian friend who lives further down the hill. The topic of conversation soon turned to when we might receive the call to be vaccinated and our best guess is that this will probably be within about 2-3 weeks time. The government is hoping to have all of the over 70-year olds and the especially vulnerable vaccinated by the middle of February which is in some five weeks in time. Although there are some mass vaccination clinics being set up around the country, whether we would want to go and queue up in central Birmingham (the site of our nearest mass clinic) is uncertain. One rumour is that supplies of the Oxford AstraZenica vaccine actually arrived at our group practice last Friday, but, as with so many things in life, we shall have to wait and see. We were somewhat delayed because a gentleman we have met before in the park engaged us in conversation and the question tuned to politics – I might hasten to add that I never initiate a conversation like this but will not run away from the challenge. When I was asked if I could challenge the fact that the vast majority of the universities and the press in this country were left-wing, I realised that this conversation might not end well. So I got in a few parting shots (e.g. Brexit was hardly the last word in democracy as only 37% of the population actually voted for it, that referenda were beloved of fascist dictators and were generally used on the right to engineer social change and so on) and we then made our way homewards for a belated lunch.

In the afternoon, we had a couple of video calls to make. First I called one of our Hampshire friends whose wife had been ill and had had to have some further investigations but so far, these have turned out to be reassuring negative. We spent a lot of time comparing notes on the minutiae of the American ‘coup’ attempt by the Trump brigade and then turned to more domestic matters. After we had been chatting for an hour, it was time to terminate that call and start another with some of our ex-Waitrose friends here in Bromsgrove and we were chatting for some 75 minutes before we realised that our tea-time was approaching.

The  pandemic news as well as the American news continues to dominate. After the announcements of yesterday when the politicians were arguing for more complete adherence to the lock-down rules, we imagined that the police and or some COVID vigilantes employed by the local authority might be more in evidence, but this was not the case. Although Meg and I enjoyed our normal coffee, we are still minded to cut short the quite legitimate (in our view) rests upon the park benches and replace them by standing up in the bandstand and having a quicker snatch of some coffee and some fruit. The American news continues to be of interest to us. Today, the Democrats are going to ask Vice-President Pence to invoke Amendment 25 which allows for the replacement of a president if the Vice President and rest of the cabinet agrees. This is extremely unlikely as Trump and Pence seem to have ‘buried the hatchet’ in the last day so it appears that a resolution will be passed tomorrow for the impeachment of Donald Trump. The current feeling is that the Democrats so as not to cause further distress before the inauguration on January 20th, a week tomorrow, will hold off until President Biden has completed his first 100 days and will then press the Senate for a vote after Donald Trump has left office. If successful (which is by no means certain) then Donald Trump would not be eligible to run for President again in four year’s time, which may be his intention. The news however is a little chilling in that the FBI are preparing for there to be armed protests taking place in each of the 50 state capitals on inauguration day. Were this to happen, is the USA on the brink of a civil war (or a re-run of the last one?)

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Monday, 11th January, 2021 [Day 301]

It was quite a grey and overcast day today – the temperature was actually 2-3° higher than yesterday but there was a slight breeze to make you feel it was actually a bit cooler. We collected our newspapers and sat, as normal, in the park but we it was getting a little chilly so we were not inclined to linger for too long. I knew that the government were speaking about tightening up some of the rules surrounding how people behave in public and the following ‘guidance’ (which probably does not have the force of law) came today.


Mr Zahawi ( the minister in charge of vaccinations) highlighted people failing to wear masks or obey one-way lanes inside supermarkets.“These rules are not boundaries to be pushed at, these are rules that help all of us, hopefully bring down the death rate.” Asked on Times Radio if people should avoid sitting on park benches, he said: “Don’t go out and sit or have that opportunity of social interaction, because you’re helping the virus and that’s what we want to avoid.”


So that puts us in a bit of a dilemma because we are in receipt of some advice, issued in the Spring lockdown, that a sit-down was quite permissible if taken in the context of a long walk (in any case three kilometres) On the other hand, we do not wish to give the impression that we are openly flouting rules and sitting on the park bench each day might give that impression. So we have decided for the next three or four weeks, ur until we get vaccinated, we will stand in the bandstand and a have a quick swig of coffee and perhaps some ‘small eats’ in our hand such as as a banana and a cereal bar. I think we are conscious of the fact that voters may be observing our behaviour and assuming that we are breaking rules although it is not at all clear that we are. This is part of the dilemma of interpreting general regulations and trying to act within the spirit of them if at all possible.

The government are evidently getting seriously concerned about how to deal with the rapidly worsening pandemic. In the spring lockdown, the numbers of people keeping indoors was very much more (and the number of key workers was defined as less than now.) We now have a situation, though, where the new variant of the virus is much more infectious than before, the numbers of key workers seems to have been expanded tremendously, some of the primary schools are about 25% full with vulnerable and key-workers’ children and the population as a whole after 10 months do not seem to be taking things as seriously as they once did. Hence it is no surprise that the number of new infections is rocketing and the hospitals, particularly in London, are on the point of collapse. A vaccine will only give partial protection and is, by no means, a ‘magic bullet’ as the full immunity will not be released until the second dose is administered some 12 weeks later (and then a further 2-3 weeks on top of that) The government is rolling out vaccination centres across several points even including a race course such as Epsom) but I do wonder whether there are sufficient staff, even when assisted by volunteers, to get the jab adminsistered. In my mind, I am writing off ‘the call’ for a vaccination for some 3 weeks from now which is when I reckon the 80’s year olds have been done and they move on to the 75+ into which category I fall. 

The news from America also makes some fairly grim reading. The FBI are warning that there could be fifty armed protests in State capital cities as well as in Washington, DC on inauguration day. The Democrats have drawn up articles of impeachment and that will almostcertainly pass through the House of Wednesday., There would not be enough time for the Senate, who act as jury, to one to a consideration before inauguration day. The Democrats, though, seem to be working on the assumption that Donald Trump’s wings have been clipped in the short term and he may not try anything dramatic in the next 10-12 days – but who knows? The Democrats may well wait for at least ‘100 days in office’ before the papers of impeachment are lodged with the Senate. In any case, President Trump will be the only president who has been impeached twice within his term of office. If the Senate (augmented, of course, by some more Democratic senators from Georgia) might just vote for a conviction, although this is a little unlikely and would debar Trump for running for office again. The thing that is really disturbing after the events in the Capitol last week is the number of Republican legislators (about a hundred) who still support Trump even after the attempted coup – and perhaps some 40% of American republican voters are still loyal to him as well.

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Sunday, 10th January, 2021 [Day 300]

So the day 300 of this blog has actually arrived – it will only be a couple of months until we have completed a year of these musings. Today was a fairly typical Sunday in that I went off in the car to collect the Sunday newspapers before returning to get my weekly ration of the Andrew Marr show. Evidently, with the looming crisis in the hospitals and the fact that the pandemic is almost poised to overtake this, this was the major focus of the discussion. I did, however, think they might have spared some 5-10 minutes discussing the developments in America, considering that we claim to have a ‘special relationship’ with the Americans. Actually, although we claim to have a   ‘special relationship’ with the Americans, they never seem to claim the same in reverse. I suppose the last time that the Capital Building was invaded and even set on fire was by the British in 1814. Apparently, the the ensuing fire reduced all but one of the capital city’s major public buildings to smoking rubble, and only a torrential rainstorm saved the Capitol from complete destruction. Also destroyed was their collection of special books and manuscripts from the Library of Congress – the Americans have regarded the Capitol building in which both the House of Representatives and the Senate meet as an almost ‘sacred’ place and hence the sense of violation after the events of last Thursday night were felt only too keenly. I read a most interesting article on the American FiveThirtyEight website which argued, very persuasively, that the storming of the US Capitol was not just a protest against a so-called ‘stolen ‘election or a simple manifestation of the president’s lies about the integrity of his defeat. Rather the whole article argues that like so much of American politics, this insurrection was fundamentally about race, racism, and the white American’s stubborn commitment to white dominance (and hence the Confederacy flags that were borne aloft) no matter what the cost or the consequence. As can be seen from the video footage which is plentiful, the mob of rioters carried Confederate flags, hung nooses, and paraded white supremacist symbols as they violently breached the Capitol. I mention all of this because, strangely, it does not get reported as such in the British media. The British media tend to say things such as ‘Donald Trump’s supporters, emboldened by the words of the President’ etc. etc. and not phrases such as ‘a white supremacist, racist mob invaded the Capitol intent on murdering Speaker Nancy Pelosi if they had happened to come across her‘ It is interesting that the secret service made sure that Vice-President Pence was led away to a place of his safety to protect him from the mob after he refused to accede Trump’s request to nullify the election. It is especially interesting that the members of the British Conservative party who had had snuggled up close to Donald Trump just after his election (but before Brexit) were keeping their mouths firmly shut at the moment. 

In the park, we did not meet any of our usual gaggle of acquaintances but still got approached by all of the local un-leashed dogs, suspecting that a tasty titbit might come their way (although I doubt that oranges and chocolate biscuits would do them any good, even if it was offered). We did get into conversation with a lady who at the time of the initial lockdown in the Spring was actually in Portugal. Her opinion was that the Portuguese police handled their function pretty well being firm whilst polite and it was quite a marked contrast to the British police who’s presence has hardly been felt at all (near to where we live, anyway). We thought we were going to have a special lunch of roast partridge, bought recently from Waitrose. But when we got it out it out of its packaging and were preparing to put into a roaster bag, it did smell somewhat ‘off’. So we immediately threw the whole of it away, not particularly wishing to get a dose of salmonella and being stuck in an A&E department for hours? days? on a trolley whilst the pandemic is at its height. I spent some time this afternoon locating chargers for my trusted air of Nokia 1100 phones. Just out of interest, I looked up some of the specifications and reviews for the Nokia 1100 and its variants. It holds the record for being the biggest selling  phone of all time. having sold some 250 million units – it had a talk time of about 3 hours and a standby time of some 350-400 hours, which is way over a fortnight!

 

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Saturday, 9th January, 2021 [Day 299]

Today has been an interesting day! It started off in a very conventional way as we walked down to collect our newspapers (saved for us behind the counter at our friendly local newsagents!) We then made our way to the park where we met up with our new found friend that we met the other day (an academic who taught OR [Operations Research] at Birmingham University) We had just about finished our chat for the day, social distancing well maintained, when we saw a group entering the park armed with a powerful portable loudspeaker and with a message to spread. This collection of individuals was declaiming that the whole of COVID-19 was a myth, that the vaccine was an abomination against nature, that the lockdown was fundamentally a fraud to deprive us of our liberties and similar scientifically illiterate utterings. If they had come anywhere near me, I would have had a real go at them for being (a) scientifically illiterate and (b) a positive danger to their fellow citizens if they were dissuading them from accepting the vaccine if offered. As it happened, the group turned off at a tangent with a massively amplified message broadcast across the park. We were on the point of leaving but as we did a couple of police cars turned up and two youngish but seemingly well-prepared police officers emerged (not your average ‘plod’) I approached them to report what I had seen and they quickly reassured me that they knew all about the ‘vaccine deniers’ and were on their way to deal with it.

On my way home, I reflected to myself (and to some of our old friends that we met on the way home) whether what we had seen was just the exercise of free speech or whether a threat to public order was in the making. Of course it is often argued that ‘your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins‘ or, to put it another way, given that all freedoms have to be exercised responsibly that one is not free to shout ‘FIRE’ as a member of a theatre audience. I suspect, but do not know, that the group may well have breaking local authority bye-laws particularly as they had been targeting a park. Would they have been equally free to spout the same rubbish up and down Bromsgrove High Street, I asked myself. I did wonder where the motivation of the group came from i.e. was it religious or political? I did a quick Google search and think that I MAY have some of the explanation. It is apparently the case that many climate-change deniers have now turned their attention to the pandemic, arguing in each case that a massive hoax is being perpetrated upon the great British public. This is what I discovered using on a very rapid search of the internet:


In the UK, one of the most prominent voices questioning the science of COVID-19 has been astrophysicist Piers Corbyn (the elder brother of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn). In 2020, Piers Corbyn attended and organised demonstrations across the UK and argued the pandemic is a “pack of lies.” 

Corbyn has long rejected mainstream climate science as “fraud,” and has pushed alternative theories of global warming, based on analysis of the sun’s activity, through his company WeatherAction


Of course, it is possible that I am completely barking up the wrong tree at this point and that a more careful and analytical search might reveal a much more complex story. However, the fact that groups might have switched their attention from ‘climate change’ to something much more current which touches everybody’s life such as the pandemic does have a superficial plausibility to it. If conventional journalism or the Main Street Media pick up on these or similar stories then it would be interesting to know. In particular, is it just a Bromsgrove phenomenon or part of a larger nationally organised protest? I do suspect the latter, by the way.

And now to more prosaic matters. As part of my pre-Christmas rummaging about, I discovered a couple of old Nokia 1100/1101 mobile phones that I have not used for about a year. I always used to take one or both of them away with me on holiday because whilst I was struggling, on occasions, to get my iPhone to recognise the hotel’s Wi-Fi networks and protocols, I used to switch on my little mobile which would show a message ‘Welcome to Spain‘  One of them had about £70 of credit left on it (well worth preserving) whilst in the other the SIM card no longer registered, for whatever reason. So I sent off to Tesco mobile for a free Sim replacement (Tesco tend to have a policy of keeping your sim alive rather than ‘killing it’ after six months of inactivity as some networks do) So I spent the afternoon fitting the SIM card (a few seconds) and then spent some time getting some credit on it of a type that would not expire in a month (which is typically the case) As the technology is so simple (ante-dating smart phones and just monochrome screens with block graphics – but the talk time and charge time lasts for at least a week if not more) My efforts were crowned with success and one of the phones is now destined for the glove compartment of the car as a permanent ‘carry around’.

 

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Friday, 8th January, 2021 [Day 298]

Today was one of those ‘nothing much happened all day’ type of days. There had been a light scattering of snow overnight but nothing to trouble us on the pavements. Having collected our newspapers and trudging towards the park, though, it started snowing (fairly lightly) so we did not tarry excessively but drank our coffee and headed homewards. Today was the day that our domestic help comes to help so it was great to see her again after the excitement of Christmas and New Year – we chatted away excitedly about the kind of Christmas we had both had but, of course, we have to be particularly careful to keep a fair distance between all of us. We worked out little culinary treats that we are going to do for each other – whenever, I have some curry left over (which is nearly always) a save a bit extra for her and similarly she was to cook for us one of her specialist lasagne which, no doubt, will be streets ahead of anything you can buy or eat in a restaurant.

We had a fish dinner today (some pieces of cod which I found in an obscure part of the freezer that I had forgotten all about). We tart it up a bit by making a specialised little piece of hot sauce (equal elements of Thousand Island dressing, mayonnaise and tomato sauce heated up for a minute in the microwave) and it works a treat. We try the same dressing, incidentally, to make the fishcakes we tend to have once a week slightly more interesting.

Watching the rolling news programmes, it was amazing to see Donald Trump in something like a contrite mood and formally conceding the election as well as promising an orderly transfer of power. It is fairly evident to us what is going on. There is now a real possibility of being drummed out of office either via the 25th Amendment procedure or via another impeachment. It looks as though Trump is now seriously fighting for his political life and hence the strange spectacle of him reading out a statement condemning the rioters (that he had previously egged on) and indicating that the offenders would be prosecuted (but is anyone going to ‘shop’ them to the FBI?) It appears that some 4-5 people have actually lost their lives during this storming of the Capitol building. My son showed me something he had seen on social media that I had not been able to verify concerning how one of the rioters had lost their lives. After being photographed brandishing a couple of rifles in the air, he attempted to steal a picture from one of the walls. In the course of wrenching it off, he had discharged a taser which he was carrying into his own scrotum – in the subsequent distress he had inflicted upon himself, he had suffered a heart attack from which he died.  I do not know if this story is correct but, if it is, it gives an extra twist to the meaning of the German word ‘schadenfreude’ which means malicious delight in another person’s misfortune.

The COVID-19 news tonight is truly frightful. In the last 24 hours, there have been 1325 deaths recorded and 68,000 new infections. Of these statistics, the ‘new infection’ rate is always going to be the most important because a proportion of these are destined to become hospital in-patients – if there is any room left in the hospitals. The hospitals in London are at breaking point and the London Mayor has declared that the state of the London hospitals is now a ‘major incident’. As so many commentators are now saying, it really is a race between trying to get as many of the elderly and vulnerable vaccinated before the middle of February and the fact that the hospitals, already at breaking point, are going to have to cope somehow with an intake that seems to be increasing more than their discharge date day by day. Once the wards are full, the A&E corridor space is full with trollies and the ambulances outside are full, then what is to be done? The government is so worried about the next few weeks that they are going to start a major advertising campaign that members of the population should act as they are already infected by the virus and should keep to social distancing religiously – something that even a casual observation in the streets shows is not happening. Another source of worry is that a recent survey has shown that many people think they once they have been vaccinated, then many restrictions may be eased. It could be that ‘easing of restrictions prematurely’ will exceed the benefits to be derived from the vaccination itself which willingly prolong the misery for all of us.

 

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