Friday, 18th September, 2020 [Day 186]

I am writing these words in sheer relief because I thought that the whole of my WordPress site (which acts as the host for this blog) had ‘gone down’ because when I tried to log in, I got a message saying ‘There has been a critical error on your website‘ after which, I couldn’t even perform a log-in to attempt to fix it. As I was in despair (and consulting the web itself only confused matters even more) the only thing I could think of was to write to my webspace provider to see if they could perform some kind of ‘rollback’ for me. When I got into my emails, I noticed (in my ‘Spam’ folder!) an email from WordPress itself noting that I had experienced a critical error and automatically sending me a specialised ‘recovery’ mode of access to my blog site. Once I did get logged in, it was quite easy to identify the plugin (= auxiliary application often provided by a third party which WordPress uses extensively) which was causing the problem – it was highlighted in red! From then on, it was only a case of deactivating it (in effect, kicking it off the system) and thereafter, everything seems to be fine. As Safari (my web browser on a MAC) has recently updated itself to a new version, I wonder if there has been a conflict between Safari and the plug-in. Anyway, I cannot start to explain the relief I have felt – but I remind myself I must try and get a specialised WordPress backup system in case anything like this ever happens again. The highs and lows of computing!

Today being the most beautiful day (sunny but with a pleasant cooling breeze) Mag and I had a delightful walk down to our local park – a pleasure enhanced by chatting for a little for the friends we saw yesterday and with whom we shared coffee and biscuits in the morning (but for how much longer I ask myself?) The force of decades of tradition means that we were going to have a fish meal today but we made it into a big extensive salad (as I prepare some specialised little sauces and dressings this makes the whole meal a bit more complicated than you might expect).  Before lunch, we had another pleasant chat with our next-door neighbour who is getting to the end of extensive renovations in the next-door bungalow – we confirmed that it actually was his birthday (as I suspected) so I whizzed inside to make a quick ‘prezzie’ of a general-purpose card in lieu of a birthday card and a bottle of Prosecco which we just happened to have in the fridge, waiting for a suitable occasion. After lunch and a snooze I set myself to do a little gardening as the weather conditions were so delightful – warm but with a cooling breeze and, as you might expect by now, my activities were regularly supervised and inspected by Miggles, our adopted cat.

I have been ‘sort of’ following the news as it unfolds during the day and I am pretty sure as I write that we are being prepared for a second COVID-19 lock-down or a ‘mini-lockdown’.  Boris Johnson himself is talking of imposing measures that are ‘circuit-breaking’ and is issuing warnings that a second wave is coming, the R-rate (numbers of people infected by each new COVID-19 infected person) is now estimated as between 1.1 and 1.4 and this across the whole country, not just the industrial Midlands and the North, London it is being said is ‘increasingly likely’ to face tougher lockdown condition – if these are not warnings enough, then I do not know what is! (Personally, I would welcome all of this – every day’s delay will only make the situation worse and although the hospitality trade will scream they can still remain open and do some business until about 9 or 10 at night) It does seem a very strange set of national priorities that grandchildren cannot see their grandparents (as they are in a different bubble) but friends who are only slight acquaintances can go off to the pub together (it’s all about money. no doubt!)

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Thursday, 18th September, 2020 [Day 185]

You never quite know how each day is going to turn out and today was no exception. Remembering that it was our friends’ wedding anniversary yesterday, we decided to take along a couple of presents in the off-chance that we might bump into them. As it turned out they were in the garden, saying goodbye to one of their grandsons who is due to depart tomorrow to take up his university course. He was justifiably quite excited about the whole prospect and I am sure as he is a natural sportsman, he will make a success of whatever he turns his hand to. Our friends invited us into their garden to share coffee and biscuits with them and we were delighted to hand over our couple of presents. The first was a bottle of Cava (Spanish champagne) but the second was a horseshoe the I just happen to have restored to an almost pristine condition. Horseshoes nowadays are made of a mild steel and can be restored with a little bit of know-how and a lot of hard work to a dull silver looking finish – nonetheless, when restored and untarnished, they still look very attractive. Our friends were delighted with this little present and I am taking one they keep in their greenhouse, which has a lot of sentimental value, to restore as I have all of the gear (starting off with white vinegar).  We were with our friends for about an hour and a half and as they have friends and relatives strung across the globe (Australia, Canada, Pakistan to mention a few) and absolutely adore travelling in normal circumstances, then we found plenty of chat about. I forgot to mention that on our way down into town we chatted with our Italian friend for a few minutes and then, after seeing one lot of friends, we encountered several more (they happen to be near neighbours) We have just worked out that all three of us couples have a wedding anniversary within eight days of each other so we are starting to wonder whether we dare plan to have a joint celebration next September for the three of us together. It is just a thought – but what started out as a little walk ended some three and a half hours later. We thought we had better telephone our son in case he was wondering whether any misfortune had befallen us. Then home to a curry which I threw together in no time (we have tended to have curry once a week ever since our student days in Manchester – in fat, Rusholme which is the district of Manchester where we rented a flat is now known as the curry capital of Europe, although it was a predominantly Irish community when we lived there in the a1960’s)

Large parts of the NorthEast (basically, the whole of the Newcastle conurbation) will be subject to a semi-lockdown. Basically, this means that there is a curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants which need to close at 10.0pm and there is a complete ban of social mixing in each other’s houses. There is quite a debate whether on a technical level, this will do much to inhibit a virus which can be just as active after 10.0 as it was before. However, there is an argument that if under the influence of some (not a great deal of) alcohol, social inhibitions are lessened and social distancing becomes less and less evident. So a curfew may make a lot of sense from this perspective. However, it seems that the major effect may be the psychological one i.e. if this semi-lockdown does not work then the only alternative is a full-scale lockdown. I think that a judgement is being made that it is better, on balance, to keep the pubs open for limited opening hours rather than shutting them altogether in a full scale curfew (as many businesses will not survive in that event)

When Baroness Harding, the chief of ‘Test-and-trace’ was questioned today in a committee of MP’s, she opined that she doesn’t believe “anybody was expecting to see the really sizeable increase in demand” for coronavirus tests. Well it was interesting that with the end of lockdown and with schools and universities reopening, there was evidently going to be an increase in the COVID-19 ingestion rate. Every epidemiologist in the country worth his salt had indicated that the we would have a second wave of the virus about to hit us so to say that ‘nobody expected to see an increase in the infection rate of this size‘ seems naive beyond belief, given the brief she had been entrusted with by the government.

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Wednesday, 16th September, 2020 [Day 184]

How the weeks roll by! Since the COVID-19 crisis, we have shopped online with Waitrose and the order is scheduled to arrive each Thursday. But to secure our ‘slot’ we have to put in a make-believe order (based on an previous order) which we then have to refine before delivery. For delivery on a Thursday, we have to update our order the day before and before 12.00pm. As we cannot guarantee to be back from our walk by 12.00 we have to refine our order before we go out. Hence it is a job each Wednesday to update our order for delivery the following day.

Again it was a beautiful day today – sunny but not too humid and so we enjoyed our walk as normal. We met one of our park friends again and made the acquaintance of a couple of labradors who could not resist plunging into the pond and having a wet walk/swim (it is so shallow I’m never get sure whether the dogs who take the plunge walk or swim). They always emerge from the water dripping wet and with a kind of silly grin on their faces when they realise that they ‘may’ have transgressed against the wishes of their owner(s). Again, it was time for a salad- type lunch when we eventually got home.

This afternoon was scheduled to be our ‘lawn mowing’ day and everything worked smoothly although I realise that next time around I will need to buy a gallon petrol (the last of the season?) Miggles, our adopted cat, came along to supervise our activities both before and after the mowing and decided it would be a good idea to lie out on the grass in front of Meg to sunbathe whilst I got on with some necessary weeding (the cat did promise to help but eventually just adopted a supervisory position, checking that everything I did was up the requisite standard) Incidentally, there was a fascinating program on cats on last night’s telly – the average male cat has a range of about 100 metres whereas we reckon that Miggles‘ range might be as much as 400 metres as it is 200 metres from her own home to the end of our garden and I suppose that he/she ranges an equal distance in the opposite direction. The program put trackers and even miniaturised cameras on each of the 50 cats in an English village and discovered some amazing things e.g. although cat’s territories might overlap and therefore be a source of conflict, they learn to avoid/minimise such conflict by essentially ‘time-sharing’ the terrify – one cat might use it only in the mornings and the other in the evenings. Genuinely fascinating.

The COVID second wave is getting seriously scary at the moment – new infections have risen from about 3,000 to 4,000 in a single day. Boris Johnson was forced to admit in a liaison committee of MP’s that Britain does not have sufficient testing capacity and the interviews with distraught people from all over the country is distressing. People seem to be spending hours glued to their phones/laptops to try and get the system to give them a slot only to be dumped off the system, informed that the nearest test centre is in Inverness or similar, or that that there are no slots available and try again later(even though local radio and TV is telling them that the local testing centre is largely empty, but you cannot access it unless the system has allocated you a slot)

Meanwhile,Boris Johnson is engaging in a partial climb-down by suggesting to groups of dissident Tory MP’s that he will allow them a second vote before the provisions of the Internal Market Bill are actually activated. The interesting question is how many of his own MP’s actually believe him? The interesting question is that in the last Parliament before the Tory party purged itself of any Remainers, there was actually a ‘Anybody but Boris‘ movement because several of the older and wiser Tory heads reckoned, quite rightly, that Boris Johnson might be a good campaigner or utterer of simple slogans (‘Get Brexit Done‘) but that he might prove to be a disastrous Prime Minster were he ever to occupy that position – and how right they were!

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Tuesday, 15th September, 2020 [Day 183]

This morning, I noticed on my mobile that Meg and I had received a message indicating that we needed to contact the GP’s surgery to arrange for us to receive a ‘flu jab’. It seems particularly important that we get our jabs now and not delay, as we did two years ago, with the effect that supplies of the vaccine had run out. As it seems important that we receive our flu jab in a timely fashion, I stuck on the end of a phone for some 20 minutes before speaking to a human and actually getting an appointment booked in 13 days time on a Sunday.  Last time, it was organised in huge batteries like a military operation and I am sure the same will be true this year.

We tried a slightly different routine this morning, largely because we wanted to save some time so that Mike was not to have a tremendous rush-around as today is the ‘Pilates’ day when he has to leave the house for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. So today, we tried a ‘mixed economy’ when we drove to the park and parked in the car park and then went on foot to collect our newspapers. We then walked back to the park but had the benefit of the car for the journey home after we had our elevenses and this saved a critical half hour or so. The new arrangements worked out particularly well and It was a particularly warm and pleasant day for our little venture. We bumped into one of our ‘park friends’ with whom we chatted for a few minutes. Already we are noting that the maximum size of the group we have observed is a grouping of five sitting on the grass i.e. within the ‘Rule of 6’ regulations and it was vaguely reassuring that nobody seemed to be breaking the rules, in force since last Monday. I walked down to Pilates on my own without my neighbour on this occasion so my class had the tremendous number in it of 2 (one of our regulars was taking her son to University) but joined by a third on Zoom. The class went well and we were soon back in our old routines – at least as we have been with the same teacher for years, we have a fair idea with only a minimum of prompting what is required in each move. With a combination of walking, an hour’s exercise then followed by our main meal of the day, I find it almost impossible not to have a little doze after lunch and today was no exception. I am already planning some of the jobs to be done in the garden whilst the good weather holds (not least the lawn mowing) but these are tasks for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, government ministers are struggling to answer basic questions on a range of issues. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, claimed that that the test-and-trace scheme was operating well in Bolton (the worst-hit town in the UK for the incidence of COVID-19) by constantly saying that ‘it was wrong to say that tests are not available’. However, there was clear evidence from reporters and many members of the public, filmed as they queued outside a test centre in Bolton, that the centre was not processing any cases because ‘the system’ indicated that no testing slots were available! In the same interview, she admitted that two groups of neighbours chatting in a group totalling more than six were breaking the law whereas it was permissible to hold a birthday party on a grouse moor as this was a legitimate sporting event! Matt Hancock, the Education Secretary was forced in the House of Commons to admit that the test-and-trace system could take ‘weeks’ to fix – as some schools may have to close as they are ‘running out’ of teachers forced to self isolate but not able to get themselves tested (a story oft-repeated for some GP’s and other health service professionals aired on the media). Meanwhile, in the House of Lords it was claimed that the government minister who admitted that international law would be broken by the provisions of the new bill suggested that the minister ‘had been answering the wrong question‘ and had, therefore ‘misspoke’ Finally, some members of the SAGE group (Special Advisory Group of Experts) are warning that if the ‘Rule of 6’ is not working after a fortnight, then another full-scale lockdown is inevitable. You couldn’t make up this catalogue of errors even if you writing it up as a farcical play…

 

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Monday, 14th September, 2020 [Day 182]

Past readers of this blog might know that as well as the WordPress version, I also maintain a parallel text version which, whilst not being indexed ‘per se’, allows interested readers to pick any day/date from the past six months to view the entry for that day (available at: http://mch-net.uk) Now that we have had six months of ‘lockdown’ my screen table of entries (7 columns of 26 rows) was now ‘full’ so I busied myself this morning with creating an extra table to follow on from the existing full one (I had tried to extend my previous table by inserting an extra column but this caused some overflow problems so I had to ‘undo’ it all – not particularly easy when there was a mass of HTML code to sort through). However, now is all ready to go so I am shortly to start to populate the second six-months worth of blog. Later in the day, I managed, after trawling the web, to dscover a couple of sites where I could test out the Viewports of a screen (either on a desktop, tablet or mobile) so that I could check out that my amended tables will now display correctly on my various devices without possibility of truncation or scrolling.

On our way down to the park this morning, we met some of our best friends who live ‘down the hill’ and we exchanged news about families, politics and the like. Then having collected our newspapers and done a little shopping in Waitrose, we fell into conversation with a guy who had spent many years in South Africa (and had a slight South African accent) and the subject got around to walking boots. I think this is because having walked down to the park every day for six months (and probably worn my boots for six months longer than that) the soles are starting to wear through (although I must say, they are still supremely comfortable inside). However a point is fast approaching when they will have to be thrown away but I would still like to get as much wear out of them as I can before they absolutely fall to bits. It was quite a warm day so when we eventually got home and to save a bit of time. we made ourselves a salad based around a small Waitrose quiche and that was very filling although rapidly thrown together.

After lunch, I spent some time checking the HTML code which I had needed to tidy up for an extension of the text version of this blog and then Meg and I got absorbed into the debate over the Internal Market Bill which Boris Johnson was going to head up himself. I thought that David Miliband and the SNP leader Ian Blackford made excellent attacking speeches and devastating critiques of the Prime Minister’s position. Altogether quite disheartening, then, that the opposition seemed to win all of the intellectual arguments but the Tories passed the bill this evening with a majority of 77 (which seems incredible). This is after three former Prime Ministers, two former Attorney Generals and a former Tory Leader have all indicated a profound disagreement with the stance of the Conservative party. What may be interesting to observe is what will now happen in the House of Lords (which is largely ‘unwhipped’ i.e. not instructed by party managers how to vote) which is meant to act as a brake on a maverick House of Commons. As all of the ‘Remain’ voting MP’s have now been thrown out of the Tory party or fail to be reselected by their constituency associations) the present Tory party is almost completely a Brexit or UKIP party (in effect, having taken over all of the UKIP party’s policies).

The ‘test-and-trace’ system seems to be in chaos tonight, as I write. As Allyson Polock, a well-known NHS expert has written “That’s because a key part of it operates not as part of the NHS, but in parallel to it – as a network of commercial, privatised testing labs, drive-through centres and call centres. The chaos this has brought has resulted in huge gaps in the information available to local services, causing delays in accessing results and hampering efforts to control the outbreak. Instead of putting local public health experts and NHS services in charge of contact tracing, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, handed over responsibility to private companies such as the outsourcing giant Serco, which has previously been fined for deaths of workers and members of the public that could have been prevented. The list of problems in the test and trace system is already immense – three data breaches, poor training and faulty online administration systems among them” 

Yet despite all this, the Government still hasn’t published the details of its contracts with the likes of Serco. According to the Treasury, £10bn of public money has been allocated to England’s test and trace programme but only £300m of additional funding has been offered to local authorities to support the system (ie.the private sector funded over thirty times as much as the public sector despite the evident failings of the former and the manifest productivity of the latter)

 

 

 

 

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Sunday, 13th September, 2020 [Day 181]

Today was the day when we were due to visit Oxford to have lunch with our friends so we made sure that we had breakfasted in plenty of time and checked that we had got the postcode OK for the SatNav. As it happened, we left a little before we had intended but were lucky to get a parking place outside our regular newsagents and secured the last copy of the Sunday Times and the last copy of the Observer as well – required reading for later on. We had left ourselves a certain amount of getting lost/parking time but we arrived half-an-hour before our lunch date, got the car securely parked in a blocked-off road where they had lifted all of the parking restrictions and enjoyed quaffing lasses of Leffe (Belgian) beer before our friends arrived. We always enjoy their company and always seem to have a lot to chat about. Because the restaurant (well. more of a bistro actually) was on several floors and it meant Meg would have a lot of running around to do from the top floor to the basement where the toilets were located, the young but accommodating staff thoughtfully provided us with a place on the ground floor to minimise Meg having to traverse several lots of stairs. I had some sea-bass which I thought was well cooked and delicious but unfortunately, my good friend’s duck was well over-cooked and by the time it had been eaten it was a bit too late to complain about it (although we did – it should have been sent back) We decided to have our after-dinner coffees in another little cafe down the road – the street was stuffed full of eating places so it was not hard to find. There seemed to be many more young women in fashionably stylish and shortish skirts which, to my mind, is a lot more attractive than the ubiquitous jeans but I do acknowledge that it is a very male perspective (although Meg did agree with my perceptions)

We are feeling the need to be extra careful in our domestic arrangements now that our daughter-in-law has returned to her primary school. Our rather pessimistic feeling is that given the catchment area it is only a question of time before a virus is brought into the school but in the meantime, we are being extra careful with surfaces such as kitchen preparation areas, taps and door handles of all types and so on. Of course, this is the day before the ‘Rule of Six’ comes into operation. This seems to an easy rule to remember and put into effect but it is somewhat more complex to determine exactly how support bubbles are to be defined.

After. day or so of reflection, we now seem to be in a strange situation politically when Boris Johnson has two major rows on his hands at the same time (Brexit and COVID-19). Each of these has the ability to blow up in a rather spectacular fashion and, of course, you could say that they were linked. The Government has now made it illegal (subject to a fine) to have a meeting of more than 6 people (the so-called ‘Rule of 6’) but at the same time says that it fully intends to break international law over the status of Northern Ireland in the forthcoming Brexit discussions. The justice secretary indicated on TV his morning that he ‘would ‘ resign if he asked to sanction any evident illegalities whereas the Attorney General (Sue Braverman) has been berated by fellow lawyers for bringing the whole of the legal profession into disrepute by not upholding the ‘rule of law’ following an oath that she took upon taking office. Of course, being an ardent Brexiteer, when she sought legal advice it was not from government lawyers (one of whom resigned last week anyway) but from known Brexiteers outside the government, arguing that it was quite acceptable to take legal advice from whichever quarter one wanted. Of course, if she had any integrity she would resign immediately but has indicated that she can ‘live with’ breaking international law even though past Prime Ministers and even past leaders of the Conservative Party and known Brexiteers like Michael Howard have indicated that Britain’s international reputation would be utterly trashed if we made agreements and then broke them immediately they ran foul of Brexit ideology (or should it be theology – a pure statement of  faith!)

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Saturday, 12th September, 2020 [Day 180]

Today was one of those somewhat indeterminate types of day where nothing quite happens the way it should. For a start, Meg had a rather disturbed night last night so I went to church on my own which is a novel experience – I must say that it is some decades since I have done such a thing on my own, but there we are. Whilst Meg stayed in bed this morning, I wandered off down into town to collect my newspapers (thankfully intact for a Saturday) and then made a rather rare venture along our local high street before availing myself of the delights of ‘The Works‘ to buy some stationery materials for Meg. Whilst in town, I bumped into my ex-Waitrose friends with whom I used to have coffee once a week. We enquired about mutual friends and bemoaned the fact that that our regular sojourn in the Waitrose cafe is now no more. After my little bits of shopping, I had a  solitary trudge home but it was made somewhat better because I had with me my ‘i-player’ I should point out that this is an extremely old i-Phone which is about eight years old and has no value in the market place. However, I had managed in the past to download about 200 tracks of classical music onto it and the play-back facilities of this gives it a new lease of life (Top tip – I tend to have it on ‘Aircraft Mode’ nearly all the time which massively conserves the battery life, given that I do now need it for WiFi/Web/phone purposes)

This afternoon was largely given over to domestic activities that are the type usually left to a Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow, though, we anticipate going to Oxford to lunch with some old friends. I haven’t taken the car into the centre of Oxford before but I am assured that car parking on a Sunday is usually unproblematic – now that I have my route planned out, I know how long it should take with a bit of extra ‘getting lost’ time added on in case of delays. This evening, I was trying to sort out a wicked little HTML/CSS problem that I think I have resolved. By the way, nothing is more infuriating when I am trying to get something to work on the computer which I know I had working OK in the past but now stubbornly refuses to be put right. It can be something as trivial as a misplaced semi-colon as I have just reminded myself. In the background, we had ‘Last Night at the Proms‘ going on where there has been some controversy (culture wars?) as the BBC were both unhappy and unsure about to broadcast the amazingly jingoist renditions which are normally quite good fun to watch but increasingly out-of-kilter in these times when we are beset by the COVID-19 crisis, Brexit negotiations and an impending constitutional crisis in which it looks as though Britain does not so much ‘rule the waves‘ but rather ‘waives the rules‘ 

Tomorrow’s Sunday newspapers are full of the news and the analysis of the news about the Internal Market Bill which Boris Johnson is due to bring before the Commons next week. Tow ex-Prime Ministers (Tony lair and John Major), who happen to have ‘issues’ with each other, write jointly in the ‘Sunday Times’ that “We both opposed Brexit. We both accept it is now happening. But this way of negotiating, with reason cast aside in pursuit of ideology and cavalier bombast posing as serious diplomacy, is irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.” In the meanwhile, it is evident from the expressions of urgent concern, that Britain is poised on the very edge of another major outbreak of COVID-19. The number of new cases diagnosed today was still of the order of 3,000 and there are fears that the younger generation, realising that they will be confined to a ‘group of six’ for the foreseeable future intend to have a party to end all parties whilst they can. Last night, a 19-year old in Nottingham held an illegal party for 50 in his house and was promptly fined £10.000 for it. Whether this is a sufficient deterrent is hard to say because the number of fines actually issued had been pretty small across the whole society.

 

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Friday, 11th September, 2020 [Day 179]

It was a fairly warm day today which made our walk to the park as pleasant as always. On the way down, we met our Italian friend with whom we had a good chat. After picking up our newspapers, we called into the nearby Waitrose in order to buy a big bag of red potatoes, which I forgotten to put in my weekly order. We do not eat many potatoes these days (about one a day, baked in the microwave) Hence purchase of a large bag of the same only takes place about once a month or so. Attendance in the park seemed quite attenuated today – whereas in the past few days we have seen groups of up to about 15 complete with camping chairs, food etc. one wonders whether this will now be a thing of the past once the ‘Meet only 6’ regime kicks in.

This morning’s Daily Mirror has revealed the results of a study by the think-tank Demos in which Britain appears to be more divided over measures to curb coronavirus than it was over Brexit. Their study suggests the “social fractures” triggered by moves to halt the spread of Covid-19 have proved more controversial than the rows unleashed by the UK’s exit from the EU. Their online survey of 10,061 voters, carried out between July 31 and August 7, found 58% of mask wearers have “severely negative attitudes towards non-mask wearers”. Some 68% of people who stuck to strict lockdown rules have “strong negative views” about lockdown rule breakers. In comparison, only 33% of people who did not vote Leave in the 2016 EU referendum “resent, hate, or think people who voted for Brexit are bad people”, while 26% either “admire, respect or think they are good people”, the survey found. The upshot of all of this is just when we thought we had a real ‘culture wars’ between Brexiteers and Remainers, this divide has been replaced by an even stronger social divide in the case of mask wearers v. non-wearers. One can understand where some of this resentment comes from when those who have largely kept to the shielding, social distancing and mask-wearing rules have seen many elements of the younger generation openly flouting these conventions (and thereby putting at some severe risk any members of their family who are much older and/or more vulnerable).

This afternoon was largely devoted to reading (and some computing) with an eye as to what is happening politically. I had found in a web-search a simple directory listing written in PHP but I needed to find a way in which I could format the admittedly simple output into the font styles I wanted (hence  combining HTML and PHP) I think more by good luck than anything else, I found a way to do this so, having succeeded, I think I will stop this particular line of experimentation.

The COVID-19 news today is pretty scary, whichever way you look at it. Birmingham has had to restrict the visiting of households (working out that this is how the transmission seems to be occurring) whilst the critical ‘R’ factor (= rate of reproduction) factor has risen to about 1.1 which is the highest value than has been the case since early March. When you consider that thousands of university students are about to travel all across the country to their new universities, one wonders what the effect of this is going to be when added to the return of the schools and the easing of the lock-down on commercial premises. The universities are really trying to do their best before the students return but the implications of all of this must be a bit scary to university chiefs and policy makers alike.

For those interested in the political process, the next week or so will prove to be absolutely fascinating. Boris Johnson will face opposition from Bexiteers who think the bill goes too far and from those who think it does not go far enough. Teresa May has indicated that she will head any opposition to the new proposals but fortunately for her she will be out of the country when some vital votes are taken. Otherwise, we would see the prospect of Teresa May voting against the Johnson government, having the Conservative ‘whip’ withdrawn and thereby being thrown out of the Conservative party. It is now well recognised that the ideological frvour of the Brxiteers is now so great that they honesrtly do not care if the entire economy is wrecked if there is no deal (which is now quite probable)

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Thursday, 10th September, 2020 [Day 178]

Today was very much the ‘day after the day before’ i.e. everything seemed a bit of an anti-climax after the excitement of yesterday. Nonetheless, we ventured forth and collected our newspapers as well as calling in at a cut-price cosmetics store before settling down for our coffee and biscuits. In the park we met with one of our park friends who had previously lent us her book on trees – in return, I had shown her how to access my blog on her phone. She had not been particularly successful in this so I took over her phone for a few minutes and loaded the blog onto her in-phone browser (and everything seemed to work OK) Then we walked home in quite pleasant sunshine where the clouds had cleared somewhat to give us quite a pale sunshine. After lunch, I entertained myself by getting some file listing programs and empty web formats into one folder, instead of scattered in various places. I also refined the footer that I like to copy over into the bottom of each new web page indicating the day/date in UK format/time that the website was updated, made a little bit prettier with some in-line styling to get it the way I wanted (basically a smaller but italicised font in a pleasing but non-intrusive text colouration) This sounds quite straightforward but actually, the different ways of displaying a date in Javascript have to be seen to be believed so it took some web-searching to get exactly the format I wanted without an enormous volume of coding.

Tonight, we witnessed an extraordinary Promenade concert played, without an audience, in the Royal Albert Hall. Tonight was quite an extraordinary night because the principal work was Beethoven’s Seventh symphony. This was first dissected theme by theme and section by section of the orchestra – almost like taking a piece of machinery apart to see how it is constructed before it is all put back tother again. The second extraordinary part of tonight’s performance is that the members of the orchestra performed standing up and, obviously, socially distanced from each other. To my mind, the fact that the orchestra performed standing rather than sitting allowed the members of the orchestra to use their bodies more expressively (and much more so than if they sitting in a conventional way). The other musician who performs this way is Gustavo Dudamel who has forged an outstanding, internationally-renowned youth orchestra in Argentina – their performances are always enthusiastically received not least because the performances demonstrate so much vivacity and excitement. So it was tonight and, to my mind, the members of the orchestra were not also concentrating hard but really enjoying themselves in what is really a most exciting piece with a myriad of paces, colours and timbres. (In case, you think I am waxing lyrical it is because I was the leader of the second violins in my school orchestra at the age of 14 – then I changed schools to a school with no musical traditions at all and all of that investment and pleasure in my musical education came to an abrupt end)

As might be expected, there is a massive stand-off between the EU and the UK tonight. The EU is in effect saying ‘Withdraw this Bill in the next 20 days and/or we will sue you and the trade talks will be at an end‘ On the other hand, the UK is saying an absolute ‘No‘ What is making the EU apoplectic is the fact that the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill lists all the legislation that can now, once this is approved by parliament, be ignored by ministers. This includes, not only, as expected, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and “other provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement” but also – incredibly – “any other EU law or international law“. There is no further detail why this is necessary in the accompanying explanatory notes. Or why it doubles down a few lines later that this law can override “any other legislation, convention or rule of international or domestic law whatsoever, including any order, judgement or decision of the Europe Court or of any other court or tribunal” There is so much discontent amongst traditional Tories that a wrecking amendment may well be forthcoming when the Bill is presented to the House of Commons next week. The House of Lords may well be minded to reject the Bill – after all, their constitutional duty is to act as a brake on a maverick House of Commons. In addition, Nancy Pelosi. the speaker and ‘de facto’ leader of the Democrats in the USA Congress is, in effect saying to the UK that if you press ahead with anything that threatens to wreck the Northern Ireland peace deal, then forget about any trade deal with the USA (the Brexiteer’s long-cherished wish’)

 

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Wednesday, 9th September, 2020 [Day 177]

Today, or rather today’s date, is rather a special day because it is Meg and my wedding anniversary. Today is anniversary No. 53 which is evidently three years on from the triple celebrations that we spent three years ago (one in Yorkshire for members of Mike’s family, one here in the Midlands for family and friends and the final one in Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain). Today, though, we had muted but equally enjoyable celebrations. We did undertake our normal walk to the park this morning which was uneventful. Then we had a lunch date organised at 1.00pm in our favourite hotel/restaurant some eight miles distant, where we incidentally we had held our Midlands celebrations three years ago. Meg and I chose some fairly simple things off the menu (roasted mackerel followed by sea bream for Meg, a delicious pork chop for Mike) but this was supplemented by a fantastic bottle of Rioja of which we seem to have been deprived for months. We had indicated to the hotel when we made the booking that it was going to be an ‘anniversary meal’ and so we had a pleasant surprise when to go with our coffee the chef had prepared a little side dish with some select chocolates and adorned with ‘Happy Anniversary‘ traced out in chocolate in the dish. We had a pleasant conversation with the restaurant manager (from Lithuania!) and made enquiries of our favourite member of the waiting staff who is ‘on furlough’ at the moment. Always when we have had lunch here, we take the opportunity to have a walk in the extensive hotel grounds which are maintained as a beautiful natural park. It is hard not to remind ourselves that we are actually in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside and I collected some ripe acorns which I hope to grow on. It was a most beautiful afternoon and one our way back in we exchanged some thoughts with our next door neighbour (whose own birthday celebrations were being impacted somewhat by the new ‘maximum of 6’ regulations to be in force from next Monday). We then enjoyed a nice treat of ice-cream and the obligatory cup of tea before settling in to relax for the evening. All of this might not sound very exciting but Meg and I have had a really enjoyable day.

The news the afternoon is still dominated by the two major stories of the new COVID restriction to 6 persons on the one hand and the Government plans to legislate in such a way that some of the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement (now a treaty in both national and in international law) is to breached. Actually, the BBC News website was full of a quite useful ‘question-and-answer’ section because the rules that sound simple in theory may be quite difficult to put into practice when people have made arrangements in groups such as birthday parties or walking groups. Although there is some over-optimist talk (not least from Boris Johnson) that the new restrictions might be lifted ‘by Christmas’ if all goes well, the ‘vox pop‘ interviews with random members of the public reveal that many people are resigned for the new measures to last at least until the spring. We shall have to wait and see.

In the meanwhile, the shock waves continue from the Johnson government intention to deliberately break some provisions of the internationally binding Withdrawal Agreement. The Irish, in particular, seem to be in a state of shocked disbelief, as they contemplate the possibility that that a hard border might be virtually re-installed in the island of Ireland. It seems that key components may contradict the Withdrawal Agreement passed by parliament last year, by letting ministers hand themselves the power to determine rules on state aid and goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Other European countries are dismayed that the UK is attempting to renege on its obligations in such a cavalier way and it raises the interesting question of why any group of trading nations would possibly want to conclude any kind of a deal with the UK if the respect for international law is so low that the UK will walk away later from any provisions that it does not like. Even as a negotiating tactic, this seems like a serious mistake by the government (although the ardent Brexiteers will, of course, be delighted).

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