Thursday, 7th January, 2021 [Day 297]

Today was a very incredibly frosty day with the weather at about -4 degrees and with quite a misty freezing fog over the whole of the area. We had our Waitrose shopping order delivered an hour later than usual which we think will fit our timetables a little better – but by the time we got everything put away, our walk down the hill was delayed somewhat. We made  our way a little gingerly but, in truth, the pavements were not especially icy or slippery. I am tempted to say that the weather was ‘cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey‘ which I always thought was actually a nautical term derived from the old sailing ships. The iron cannon balls were stocked in a pyramid on a brass plate (called a ‘monkey‘) and when the weather was very cold the differential rate of contraction between the iron and the brass was sufficient to give the pyramid a minute nudge and this caused the balls to fall off. However, in all honesty, I did find an internet source that comprehensively rubbished the whole of this explanation, including the fact that iron cannon balls were never even stored on a brass plate in the first place. Nonetheless, I think I will hang onto the first explanation…We collected our newspapers and ate our comestibles on a frozen park bench but the park was practically deserted. We did notice, though, that as the weather conditions seemed extreme, everybody we passed seemed exceptionally jolly. Is just the British tendency to smile in the face of adversity?  Whilst we were in the park, we received the very sad news (via a WhatsApp message) that Don Mariano Baena one of our oldest Spanish friends had died. In his younger days he had helped to frame the Spanish Constitution and then became the Head of the Department of Public Administration at the Complutense University of Madrid which is how we came to know him. Later he returned to the Supreme Court but he was under the constant threat of death from ETA – the Spanish terrorist group. This was not an idle threat as several of his colleagues had been assassinated. As Mariano was aged about 90 and had had a stroke, we did have the inevitable pang of sadness but also a feeling that Mariano might well be in a better place (he was a fervent Catholic)

When we got home, we treated ourself to a nice hot curry – a dish we often prepare on a Thursday but one that seemed to be especially called for. We particularly wanted to settle down in front of the rolling news programmes to see the sequelae of yesterday – no doubt, the American nation as in 9-11 will be full of a period of introspection asking themselves ‘How did we allow this to happen?‘ Three particular things are starting to stand out in the cold light of day. Firstly if this was not a coup, then it surely was an insurrection as Trump had urged his supporters on to virtually occupy the Capitol building. Secondly, many, many contrasts are being made between the way in way in which the Black Lives Matter protest outside the Capitol was handled. On that occasion, the National Guard were all protected to the hilt and several peaceful protestors were violently manhandled and even arrested. Meanwhile, the mob yesterday were allowed to roam over the building and were even escorted out with perhaps many not being even arrested or charged. I think the number of arrests is about 60 out of a crowd which at the preceding rally was numbered in thousands and many of them joined in the storming of the Capitol. The FBI are now appealing for video evidence and anything that might identify them. [Why did the police when reinforced by the National Guard not lock the building, handcuff everybody with plastic ties, put them in a secure location such as an army barracks nearby, try them in a specially convened court this morning and then keep them locked up for about two weeks until the inauguration was over? The suspicion remains that if they black, this would almost certainly have happened) Thirdly, there is now acrive consideration of the ways in which Trump could be removed from office immediately before he could inflict God knows what damage in the few days remaining.One possibility is Amendment 25 to the Constitution (the Vice President and the majority of the Cabinet with a quorum of 8) could declare the President ‘incapable’ and the Vice President could take over. Another possibility is impeachment which requites a two thirds vote in the Senate as as well as a resolution in the House of Representatives. This vote would pass through the lower house and then could pass through the new Senate if all of the Democrats and one sixth of the Republican senators (to give a two thirds majority) voted for it. This could be passed in one day, given the video evidence. I doubt, though, that either will happen but these are are unprecedented times. I always thought that a coup from the right was much more likely in the USA and the UK than a coup from the left and, of course in the UK, Boris Johnson tried to prorogue Parliament to prevent further debate before Brexit.The German government recalled that Hitler had arranged for the Reichstag to be burnt down before coming to power ‘democratically’!

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Wednesday, 6th January, 2021 [Day 296]

Today was quite a fine bright day but we were somewhat delayed whilst I updated my Waitrose order this morning (a job for every Wednesday morning for the foreseeable future). We collected our newspapers and made our way to one of our two favourite seats overlooking the boating lake? duck pond? which is a feature of our local park. On one of our customary benches, we struck up a conversation with a chap we recognised from our past ventures in the park. We started off our chat with each other by comparing our (very similar) stainless steel thermos flasks – and then the state of our walking boots! One thing led to another and we discovered that we had quite a lot in common as our new found friend had recently retired as a lecturer from the University of Birmingham. As it happened, I had with me in my wallet some details of my email, websites etc. so I handed one of these over so that we could keep in touch by email, if we wanted. We promised ourselves a beer together when the circumstances allow – which may be months off yet but it is always nice to have something to which to look forward. We were a little late home and we had to have a fairly swift midday meal because we had a video call scheduled with one of Meg’s therapists in the early afternoon. We got the video call up and running after an initial hitch and then had an interesting and fruitful conversation which took us up to our afternoon teatime.

In the middle of the night, I was following the election results from the two Senate races in Georgia. These are absolutely critical because were the Democrats to win the two seats, then the Senate would be effectively tied at 50:50. However, in the event of a tie, the Vice President automatically has the casting vote and as the VP elect is Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s VP elect, then ‘de facto’ control of the Senate passes from the Republicans to the Democrats. This has enormous significance because, in the past, the Republican Senate majority had the ability to block any progressive legislation and Biden’s presidency would have been ‘cut off at the knees’ at the start. But with control of the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, then President-elect Biden has the opportunity to press on with such issues as the fight against the COVID-19 virus, the measures to pursue a green agenda to combat climate change and so on. I was following the election detail by detail as the various counties in Georgia reported and I found the websites of the New York Times and a political website called ‘FiveThirtyEight‘ particularly helpful and informative. These websites not only give up-to-date stats of the counts from the various counties as they are uploaded but also some expert and informed commentary. As I write, the Democrats have certainly won one of the seats and are within an ace of capturing the other one, with 98% of the vote counted and the remaining vote to be delivered from areas that were largely black (in or around Atlanta ) and likely 85%-15% to split for the Democrats.

Tonight, as I started to blog, I got an intimation that Donald Trump’s supporters had stormed the Capital Building in which members of the Congress were trying to officially confirm the results of the election. I have to say never before have I watched TV news so open-mouthed as I saw the events in Washington DC unfold in front of me. Trump supporters had been all but encouraged to go and make their presence felt as they were protesting against what they thought was a stolen election. Donald Trump himself inflamed the crowd by suggesting that he had won by a landslide and the election was stolen from him by ‘false’ media and fraudulent Democrats! The very latest news that I have is that 1100 members of the  National Guard (i.e. the military) have been sent in to support the local police together with an additional 200 members from Virginia. As Trump supporters almost to a man are armed to the teeth and evidently so are the National Guard then as the hours unfold it is possible that we see an armed shootout within the Capitol building. Members of the Trump mob can be seen wandering through the Rotunda and the New York Times have just published a photo of Nancy Pelosi’s (Democrat ‘Speaker’ of the House of Representatives) office being ransacked with a Trump ‘supporter’ replete with Stars and Stripes and his feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. The rest of the world is watching in amazement as ‘American democracy effecting the transition from one president to the next’ is beamed throughout the world. Is the end of Trumpism? Or will it completely fracture the Republican Party between Trump supporters and traditional Republicans who are absolutely horrified by what they see?

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Tuesday, 5th January, 2021 [Day 295]

Today started off with a fairly clear sky which indicated that we might have quite a fine day today. It is going to be interesting to observe how closely the impending 3rd lockdown will be observed today which was only announced by Boris Johnson at 8pm yesterday evening. In law, the lockdown only starts at a minute past midnight on Wednesday morning but we were being encouraged to start the lockdown straight away. As it turned out, the day turned out to be a comparatively ‘normal’ day. The volume and validity of the traffic seemed to be no different to any other day and we made our way to our newspaper shop, wondering whether this was to be classed as an essential service and was therefore going to keep open during the lockdown. We joked with the shopkeepers that the shop was evidently an essential service to the public as it sold both chocolate and wine (as well as newspapers). We then made our way to the park which had slightly more than its normal complement of children – Meg and I surmised that they had probably been informed (by text message) that the school was closed (or at least ‘not open’ for the majority of children) and hence they had come to the park to amuse themselves and/or let off steam. We ate our comestibles but an icy wind developed so we were glad to get going and into some pale winter sunshine. On our way back up the hill, we bumped into some of our oldest friends who were having some problems with the water supply into their property and the water board was there with a ‘gizmo’ which detects the presence of water underground. I have no idea how these detection devices work, by the way, unless it is by the means of some ground-penetrating radar or a similar technology. Whilst we were chatting, I gave them the jar of compôte I had been carrying around with me for a day or so now and I hope that it hasn’t gone ‘off’ before they have a chance to enjoy it.

We had no particular plans for this afternoon and intended to have a fairly easy afternoon. I was pleased to receive my fairly large parcel of address labels which I only order once every few years. I tend to buy them 1,000 at a time and they last for many years but at Christmas time, I tend to use them up in great quantity as I always stick a spare label in each Christmas card I send so that I know that th recipients have our latest contact details. On this occasion, I did take the opportunity of squeezing the lines of text a little so that I could include my mobile access number as well as our landline. However, I find that today there are a variety of other electronic-type addresses that you sometimes wish to convey which will not fit onto a conventional address label. So I am treating myself to an additional set of labels which I shall use sparingly which contains details of my mobile, email, website homepage and a couple of blog addresses (WordPress version and a text-based alternative). This afternoon, I took some time to hunt out our official NHS numbers which I intend to keep easily accessible as I may need them both in the fairly nature future. When we were chatting about the availability of the vaccine which we hope will be offered to us within the next 4-5 weeks, it is quite important that we have our NHS numbers easily available. It is evident (to us) that before we can receive any vaccine, those responsible for the vaccination will have to link onto our NHS records so that our eligibility can be confirmed. At the same time, once we receive our vaccinations, it is evident that our records will have to be updated and presumably the NHS number will act as link between the vaccinator’s own database and the rest of our NHS records. When you go to hospital and hand in a blood or urine sample, the nurse generally runes off a special label with the official patient details which can go onto the sample bottle. I typically ask the nurse if they will run off one or two spares and these ‘official’ labels can then go into my diaries and the like. In my own case, I had a spare label so I was catered for. In Meg’s case, I hunted through some old medical records and discovered a letter inviting her to a radiology appointment some ten years before but this letter contained details of name, address, date of birth and NHS number. These I managed to seal into a self laminating pouch so that means that I now have to hand both my own and Meg’s NHS numbers for when the vaccination call eventually comes. I am anticipating that I may be called in for a vaccine jab within some five or six weeks but we shall have to wait and see.

In the late afternoon, we were going to FaceTime some of our ex-Waitrose friends by prior arrangement but the Prime Minister was due to make a special broadcast so we watched this- complete with the news that something like 2% of the UK population is/has been infected with the COVID-19 virus which is quite a sobering thought. After this, we had a good long hour and a half chat with our friends before we settled down to a light supper of rice pudding plus our own special damson compôte (which was delicious).

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Monday, 4th January, 2021 [Day 294]

Today was somewhat overcast and chilly but no snow was immediately in prospect. The cold spell is going to last a few more days yet but we are relieved not to wake up to a further dump of snow.  So we conducted our normal walk, picking up our newspapers and making our way to the park which was not particularly busy. We had our elevenses and walked home without bumping into anyone although I am carrying a spare bottle of damson gin plus a jar of compôte in case we happened to meet with anyone who might be the recipients of further gifts. After lunch, we read our newspapers and listened to some of the rolling news programmes – the Scots are going for something approaching a full lockdown to cope with the COVID-19 crisis so it is a matter of speculation how far behind we will happen to be.

Earlier in the day we had a message from some of our near neighbours in Hampshire when all of the family were going to be at home and therefore accessible to a FaceTime webinar. We arranged  a time in the late afternoon when we could all coincide – and we are looking forward to that as we have not seen the younger members of the family for about ten years now and with the passage of time they have got their GCSE’s and ‘A’-levels and graduated from their respective universities. But before then, we Skyped some of our Oxfordshire friends and had a good chat about events that had happened to us both over the Christmas period (which we were both glad to have behind us) as well as matters much more philosophical. We parted saying that we should Skype again in a fortnight or so, which we certainly shall. No sooner had this call ended before we repaired to our iPad which is a better technology for us to make and receive FaceTime calls. It was wonderful to chat whilst we were brought up-to-date on what each individual members of the family was doing – principally, their work life after graduation. The son of the family was shortly to leave to go and work in London – the last time we saw him he was actually the first questioner in an edition of Question Time which happened to come from Cardiff University. The daughter of the family was living locally but under a bubble arrangement could come home to work remotely (as though going to the office!). The family had lost their family dog over the years but acquired another, bear-like looking dog which, if my memory serves me correctly was a cockapoodle (or a mixture of a cocker spaniel and a poodle) or a similar mixture.There are not many occasions in which all of the family would be together ‘en famille‘ so we were pleased to seize the opportunity for a FaceTime chat whilst we could.

Tonight there is going to be a broadcast from Bosis Johnson to the nation so it is fairly evident that something approaching a new lockdown is imminent. The important question about which there is speculation before the broadcast is whether schools are to be involved in the lockdown (like last spring) or not. I am continuing the blog  few minutes after the broadcast so now some of the details have been filled in. It now seems that the lockdown will be total i.e. like last spring, but essential and key workers will still travel to work and continue to work, Really significant change, for all of us, is that the lockdown will stay in place until mid-February at the very earliest. The political commentators are suggesting that Boris Johnson did not sound at all confident that even some of the most stringent measures could be lifted after mid-February. In other words, the lockdown will last at six weeks and probably for a fair amount of time after that. The provisions will come into effect from midnight tonight but will become law on Wednesday (presumably after Parliament has approved the emergence legislation). People will be allowed to leave the house for essential shopping and exercise (once per day) but all social contact has to be minimised. In the case of the schools, children in general will be asked not to attend school but to engage in distant leaning whilst they can. But, as we have discovered this evening, the list of ‘essential’ and ‘key’ workers is long and complex and schools are meant to operationalise this sounds like a logistical nightmare. For example, is a parent living on a one room flat turns up with a child and claim a ‘carer’ status, what element of proof will have to be supplied to the school to work out whether a child is eligible to return to school or not? As I write, the senior staff in schools are frantically trying to work out how all of this going to work but it sounds as though the next few days are going to be particularly fraught at the school gates (or when the school is telephoned, if nobody can get through, of course, on over-whelmed phone lines)

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Sunday, 3rd January, 2021 [Day 293]

Last night there had been a scattering of snow so I wondered how deep it would prove to be this morning. As it happened, the snow was quite thinly scattered on an underlay of slush – I walked down in my ‘old’ boots thinking that a deep covering of snow might not do my new ones any good but in the event I did not need to worry. After I collected my newspapers, I was walking upon along the road (safer than the pavement!) when I got into a conversation with a lady cleaning the snow off her car. As our conversation progressed from one topic to another, it transpired that she was an evangelical christian and so we started to discuss some interesting points of theology e.g. in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ the phrase ‘Lead us not into temptation’ in the Latin is ‘ne nos inducas in tentationem’ which could be translated as ‘let us not fall into temptation‘ which is subtly different. There is a massive theological debate in all of this in which the present Pope had expressed his view but time and space to do permit us to enter in the the intricacies of this debate just now. This all made me a little late for the Andrew Marr show but I was quite happy to miss a few minutes of Boris Johnson who was on the show this morning (complete with ruffled hair)

Meg and I made our usual trip to the park (the trip being foreshortened as the papers had already been collected) and we sat on a dry park bench to have our elevenses. As always, we were passed as we sat by the normal collection of young children on their scooters and dog walkers with their unleashed dogs (the latter always approach us thinking that some food might be in the offing, which of course, it never is) After we got home, we discovered that the lamb pieces that we had in a kind of stew and cooking throughout the morning was almost burnt to a cinder. However, I managed to resurrect it with some onion gravy and, in the event, we had quite a nice dinner. The afternoon was devoted to a long and lazy reading of the Sunday newspapers in which the two major topics of the day (the worsening COVID-19 crisis and the full implications of our exit from the EU now that we had a minimal trade agreement in place) were well and truly analysed.

In the early evening, we got into contact with our friends in Spain who were now in a happier state of mind as their daughter who is at university in Madrid has tested negative for the virus and subsequently has been allowed to go home to see her parents for ‘Reyes‘. (‘Reyes‘ literally when translated from the Spanish is ‘kings’ and is the day in Spain when children will traditionally receive the presents from their parents and friends). They might have opened a little present on on Christmas Day itself but ‘Reyes‘ which we know as the feast of the Epiphany is that day when major presents are given and received. In small fishing communities, the ‘Kings’ will arrive by fishing boat whilst on some of the islands such as Tenerife they might actually arrive by camel – all of this adds to the sense of veracity to impress the younger children.

The COVID-19 news continues to be terrible with new infections again at 55,000 and the number of deaths 454. Boris Johnson is insisting that schools are safe for pupils (probably true) and for teachers (probably untrue). Some teachers at the suggestion of their union are sending in letters indicating that they are not prepared to work unless the school can guarantee that they are entering a safe place of work. Even Boris Johnson is saying that further restrictions may need to be applied ‘in the weeks ahead’.  Meanwhile, Keir Starmer (the leader of the Labour Party) is calling for an immediate national lockdown (similar to that experienced in the spring) and his argument is that the government is always doing doing too little, too late and we should attempt to be ‘ahead’ of the curve and not always behind it. If the virus continues to infect at the present rate, then perhaps the only solution may be another national lockdown. Some senior Tories (but not the government) are arguing that all children should be kept out of school until half-term (towards the middle of February). The situation is fast moving and it will be interesting to see if schools actually do reopen next week or whether the absence of teachers may force a ‘de facto’ closure. It may be that schools find themselves in an almost impossible situation and the headteachers and school authorities may have to cope with whatever complex situation confronts them when the schools actually resume next week.

 

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Saturday, 2nd January, 2021 [Day 292]

Today was one of those kinds of days when you were not sure whether it was going to stay fairly quiet on the weather front or indeed even rain or sleet or snow. Nonetheless, we decided to venture forth and although there was a slight flurry of snowflakes, we felt it was nothing to bother us much.  After we had collected our supply of Saturday newspapers, the weather worsened a little but we thought we would make for the bandstand where we were, at least, sheltered from the rain. Our intention was to drink our coffee and immediately make our way home. Also sheltering in the bandstand was a man we had recognised from some months in the park when we were occupying adjacent park benches. Our fellow park visitor had lived for a lot of his life in South Africa but we spent some time discussing how COVID-19 had implications for people of our age and generation. We shared a similar outlook wondering what the views of the medics might be if they had to make ‘life-and-death’ decisions in the dire event that we were struck by the virus and hospitalised. Would the medics apply a ‘Triage‘ system i.e. only bother to give intervention to those who they had a chance of saving given scarce resources (critical care beds, specialised nursing staff, ventilators) and how would we both fare if a medic was poised over us with a ‘tick-list’ and whether we would be offered any life-saving treatment or not. After these macabre thoughts, we started to discuss racism  (particularly in the context of Southern Africa) as our park friend revealed that he was one eighth Sri Lankan and we laughed over the notions of there being such a thing as a ‘pure’ race, white or otherwise. This proved to be an entertaining twenty minutes or so, after which the weather was starting to close in on us and we made for home. However, there was no biting cold wind and the pavements seemed quite sound underfoot.

After a lunch of curry, we decided as a household to remove our Christmas decorations, the principal job being to ‘undress’ the Christmas tree and then carefully disentangle the electrics and store carefully the fragile ornaments. Now we came to disposing of the tree because on the way in, the tree was protected by a type of netting which was evidently removed once we got it inside the house. When we do things in reverse, we snip off some of the smaller branches to make the whole tree slimmer and capable of being taken outside without damage to anywhere. Then I set to work with my trusty bowsaw, inherited from Meg’s parents which is particularly well suited to tree pruning activities. The tree got divided into three largish chunks which will then fit into some garden rubble sacks and thence into the boot of the car without much more ado. We then gave the car a spin (to get rid of the snow lying on its roof) as far as our local garden centre which accepts back the trees you have bought from them and recycles them. After that, it was a relatively simple job to remove the decorations, take down the Christmas cards (which we will give one last read) and pack up our little fibre-optic Christmas tree and crib. I must say it is good to get rid of all the Christmas clutter once you are well and truly into the New Year but there is always a feeling that the livings rooms look a little denuded after them – and of course, the Christmas tree which used to illuminate a corner of our communal hall is now no more.

An interesting situation has now arisen since the Government’s latest U-turn which has resulted in all of London’s primary schools being closed (although still ‘open’ for looked-after children, children at risk and the children of key workers). A leading union has said that staff at schools have a legal right not to return to classrooms due to the spread of COVID, while another has started legal proceedings against the Department for Education. This raises the interesting question of whether schools can be regarded as safe places in which to work. although the government is desperate to keep schools as ‘open’ as possible. But in the face of infection rates that are soaring, is it sensible for school children of any age to return to school and whilst not becoming ill themselves may play a part in transmitting the virus to older generations? The interesting question about a legal challenge is that the government may be forced in any legal action to display the reasoning that has led to some primary schools being ‘closed’ whilst others remain open despite the fact that the local risk factors appear to be similar. it will be interesting to see how this plays out – a fortnight’s delay in returning to school for all school children may buy us a little bit of time and, perhaps, allow more time to have adequate testing facilities to be installed within the schools.

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Friday, 1st January, 2021 [Day 291]

Well, it is very pleasant to write 1st January at long last. I am sure that most of the population are only too happy to be getting rid of 2020 in its entirety. Too express our feelings, one of my close friends had sent me a videoclip, German in origin, which shows Santa Claus urinating (simulated by a series of little illuminated lights) on some kind of model which shows ‘2020’ Perhaps these are the feelings of many of us. I was going to watch the New Year in but fell asleep 5 minutes beforehand so was spared some of the celebrations which, of course, were not really taking place this year.

This morning as a beuatiful day to start off with a clear blue sky and some pale sunshine. Much of the ice and snow had melted so walking on the pavements presented no hazard. Today was the day when I was going to try out my new walking boots but first I gave them a treatment of leather preservative and finished off with a coating of dubbin. The boots, Aldi’s finest which I bought at least nine months ago turned out to be supremely comfortable – they fitted like a glove despite my two pairs of socks and had some good ‘D’ ring fastenings which I like on a walking boot. Let us now hope that they manage to last for as much as 1,000 kilometres like their forebears.

After lunch, we thought we would get into contact with some of our relatives. Meg telephoned her uncle in North Wales who is in his 90s now but who seems to be of nature’s great survivors. He seems to have survived Christmas quite well without incident but Meg is going to make another call in a day or so to continue the conversation. I telephoned my sister in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire who had also experienced a Christmas Day bereft of family but other family members had been in touch via a variety of social media which helps somewhat. We caught up on some family news and all expressed the view that having lived through some 9-10 months of coping with the pandemic we could surely hang on for a few more weeks before vaccines head our way. I busied myself with processing the damsons that remain once you have poured off the rest of the liquor as a result of my last bottling exercise.Without bothering to make a formal jam, I merely heated the damsons in their gin-enhanced juice with a modicum of sugar and then allowed the mixture to cool and set. Today I bottled and labelled the compôte and most of the bottles I will give away to friends and neighbours. After a quick Google search, I have ascertained that compôte only lasts about two weeks even when refrigerated but that’s fine. Meg and I had some with a bowl of rice pudding and I have to say it was absolutely delicious – but we will probably consume it quite quickly.

The COVID-19 situation is developing quite rapidly. A quick look at Sky News has just indicated that ALL of the London primary schools are to remain closed and it is not clear when the situation will be judged sufficiently safe for them to reopen. However, the situation appears similar to the first lockdown that we had in the spring because the schools will still remain open for especially vulnerable children and also for the children of key workers. The situation will be reviewed again on 18th January i.e. in two weeks on Monday. The number of new cases has again exceeded 50,000 for the fourth day in a row – numbers this high are especially serious when we know that after a couple of weeks hospitalisation is inevitable for a proportion of cases will die.The figure in the spring was that approximately one third of all patients admitted to hospital will die of the disease but this proportion has been slowly dropping (i.e. patient’s chances of survival increasing) as the medical profession has had a chance to learn from experience and to manage cases. The situation changes so rapidly that it is hard to get definitive and up-to-date stats in this area but it is certainly the case that the older you are and your sex (i.e. male rather than female) count very much against you.

The next situation to keep an eye on is how we are actually going to cope with Brexit, now that it has actually happened. The full situation will only unwind in the next week or so and probably only for exporters. The government has decided only to check for ‘controlled substances’ (alcohol and tobacco)coming in to the country and full checks on impairs will not take place until 1st July, 2021 – an even this might be extended. This sounds to me like a smuggler’s bonanza in the making!

 

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Thursday, 31st December, 2020 [Day 290]

This is an interesting day that has arrived at last. I have the feeling that many people in the country are really sort of looking forward to today if only to say ‘goodbye’ to the year of 2020. On Thursdays, we are are sometimes a little delayed because we have the weekly order from Waitrose and that means everything has to be put away before our walk and hence we were a little delayed. Having said that, it was a beautiful day with a fine blue sky for our walk but Meg and I had to be careful when starting our walk together. Underfoot, there were places where it was icy in the extreme and we have not been holding on to each other, we both might have slipped twice. As Meg has endured a ‘FOOSH‘ (Fall On Out-Stretched Hand) fracture of her arm some eighteen months ago, we do not fancy a repeat of that when A&E departments are likely to be clogged up with potential COVID-19 patients. So we both exercised the maximum of care and then we got to the lower reaches of the road where the sun had managed to shine on the pavements and then ice had been turned to water. We saw one of our friends briefly (in their car) when we walked down and wished each other ‘Happy New Year‘ This year, in particular, we all seem to be saying to each other that next year cannot possibly be as troubled as 2020 – but of course, none of us really knows what terrors the virus has in store for us before we are ‘saved’ by the vaccine.

Today, I have promised Meg that I will say goodbye to an old and trusted friend (or should I say pair of friends) who have been very good to me over the past few years. I am referring, of course, to my tried and trusty boots which are superbly comfortable and the Vibram soles are still pretty sound. However, the heels are completely worn through and the rubberised section has completely gone and I seem to be at least halfway through a sort of composite which formed the heel. I suppose I must be particularly hard on the heels the way my foot strikes the ground as the rest of the boots seem OK. However, I calculate that I must have walked 1,000 kilometres in these boots and I do get rather attached to items of clothing that have served me well over the years. Tomorrow on New Year’s Day, I shall be breaking in a new pair of boots and I wonder whether they, too, will last me for 1,000 kilometres. I have in mind, though, not to absolutely throw my boots away for a week or so until the really bad icy and snowy weather is well and truly past us – if, for example, I get one set of boots absolutely sodden through in the snow (which can happen) then I will have another set to fall back on whilst the current boots are being dried out. I am going to give my boots some restorative polish before they start their journey but to be honest boots always seem to wear out from the bottom up rather than the other way around.

After lunch, I had said to myself that I would make another journey down into town. We had been a prescription from Meg’s consultant so I needed to get that into the system so that she does not run short of medication. Whilst on my way down, I popped a Kilner jar full of un-decanted damson gin so that one of my friends could either bottle it straight or blend it with some of her own. Whilst down in town, I availed myself of getting some cash from an ATM (an all too rare event these days) and popped into our local Asda supermarket which I do not really enjoy. Nonetheless, I was pleased to get a few items which I know I cannot get elsewhere – and I grabbed a large bag of red potatoes for £1.00 which contained several very large specimens that should be excellent for baked potatoes that I cook in the microwave. I needed to time my visit to town quite carefully because I wanted to get back before dark – and indeed the light held until 4.20 which was the time of my return. Once again, though, I did have to be especially careful not to slip on any of the icy sections of the pavement.

Upon my return, I treated myself to a nice cup of tea and yet another view of Paddington which I think is actually an extended social commentary upon the ways in which we treat and occasionally welcome newcomers to our midst. There are quite a lot of visual jokes which I still find hilarious – one of the best being when Paddington notices a sign on one of the escalators of the Underground which stated ‘Dogs must be carried‘ whereupon Paddington goes and seizes a dog to put under his arm assuming that was the point of the instruction!

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Wednesday, 30th December, 2020 [Day 289]

As soon as we woke up this morning, we were greeted with the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca virus has received the approach of the regulators and hence can be released for immediate use (from next Monday onwards) Whereas the dosage is normally one jab followed by another some weeks later, the regulators have approved the protocol that the first dose can be administered (giving about 70% protection) followed by a second dose some twelve weeks later. This approach means that the protection is being spread much more rapidly than if you had one jab followed by another some three weeks later. In order to protect the population, though, it is necessary to inoculate some 2 million people a week and whether this is achievable remains to be seen. The manifest advantages of this particular vaccine are its cheapness (about £3 a shot rather than £25 for the Pfizer alternative)  and the fact that it only needs normal refrigeration conditions (and not the -70 degrees of the Pfizer alternative) This makes it much easier to get into residential homes. Also the government has taken out an option for 100 million doses of the vaccine should be sufficient to inoculate the whole of the ‘at-risk’ population in the UK. But it is undoubtedly a race between the rapidly advancing new variant of the virus on the one hand versus the rapidity with which the new vaccine can be ruled out across the population on the other.

Meg and I walked down to collect our newspapers in relatively overcast but not snowy conditions. It looks as though the Midlands lay in between two swathes of snow bearing clouds to the north and to the south. However, where the sludge had turned to ice along the upper reaches of the main road had to be negotiated with a certain amount of care so we either walked on the road or navigated our way with extreme caution along the pavements. Conditions improved as we approached the park, though (warmer temperature? more feet to melt the snow?) After we collected our newspapers, we popped into Waitrose for a carton of milk  and then swung onto the High Street in Bromsgrove to go to replenish supplies at one of those cut-price ‘health and beauty’ shops that seem to have sprung up recently. This is because we suspect that we may be moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 later on today when the changes are announced by Matt Hancock so we were planning ahead for a lockdown (or ‘semi-lockdown’) lasting at least a month. When we got home, we had a nice meal of our favourite Waitrose fishcakes and then settled down to watch the latest news on the rolling news programmes.

Today was the day when the EU-UK trade bill was being rushed through Parliament, with the idea being to get all of the stages passed and then through the Lords ready for the Royal Assent later on this evening. The Labour Party has been whipped to support the bill but in the opinion of many, the Labour Party should have abstained leaving the Tories to pick up all of the fall-out that will undoubtedly occur once the full implications of the deal start to become apparent (not least the mountain of paperwork that is now required, the fact that the fishing industry has been left in the lurch and crucially the position of the services industry is still undetermined) The Commons finally approved the ‘deal’ bu 521 votes to 73.

Last night, I wrote a long email to our friends in Spain who seem to be experiencing some difficulties in coping with the long months of lockdown – I get the impression that the Spanish police are much more assiduous with enforcing regulations than in this country (which may be a long felt hangover from the days of Franco even though he died in 1975).  I am offering whatever advice and support I can, even including the suggestion that they try some Yoga which may have some benefits in alleviating long-term stress. It is interesting that the BBC is offering an item on their website under the title ‘COVID-19: Five ways to stay positive throughout the winter‘ in which they have assembled the help of several mental health experts who have provided a series of tips that may prove helpful for many.

Meanwhile, we in Bromsgrove (and many other parts of the country) have been moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3. I am not exactly sure how much more stringent this will prove to be in our day-to-day lives. It means that some three-quarters of the population are in the highest possible Tier 4 and most of the rest of the country in Tier 3. From the point of view of the politicians, at least they can say that this ‘Short term pain for long-term gain as the vaccine is on its way’

 

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Tuesday, 29th December, 2020 [Day 288]

Today was the ‘day after’ the snow storm of yesterday so when we woke up we anxiously looked out of the window to see if we had a fresh fall of snow overnight. We didn’t have any more snow but it did look as though some was threatened for later on. So Meg and I set off for our daily walk knowhing that snow was in the air and initially, we walked through some light sleet. On the way down, we bumped into one of our friends who kindly gave us back the empty bottle of damson gin which they had consumed over the Christmas period. We then popped the Times magazine political cartoons of the year through the door of other friends who we knew would particularly enjoy them.  Having picked up our newspapers, the snow started again in earnest and the flakes fell furiously around us. We popped into Waitrose trying to buy essential supplies (dishcloths! our existing stock having been pressed into service and used in a quadruple thickness as straining agents for the damson gin I had just bottled). We didn’t find any dish clothes but we did buy some essential supplies (carrot and parsnip mash, chocolate) before we braved the journey back home again. The weather had eased by this point but nonetheless we were pleased to have made the journey despite the snowy conditions. We then pressed on preparing a lunch of chicken thighs (which we really enjoyed, searing them in oil and cooking them in a in peppers, onions and the remains of a white lasagne-style sauce. Even though so I say it myself, this turned out to be delicious complemented with broccoli and a baked potato.

When lunch was over, I was idly looking through the TV schedules to see what might be our evening viewing when I say that Jane Austen’s Emma was to start in 2 minutes time. This was the novel I studied intensively for ‘O’-level so it it always particularly interesting to see if the portrayal of the characters match up with the mental images formed when you first read the novel (fifteen years old in my case) When I was that age, the family had fallen on some hard times and I remember my emotions upon reading the very first sentence in the book which reads as follows: ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich with a comfortable home and a happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence and had lived nearly twenty one years in the world with very little to vex or distress her‘ I can remember now how my lip curled with disgust as I thought to myself that I certainly did not want to read any further than this as I could see no points of congruence whatsoever between the world that Austen was about to describe and my own existence. As it turned out, I quite enjoyed the novel as it unfolded but my feelings of distate having read that first sentence have remained with me over the years. The minute was Emma was over, we repaired to our iPad where we were due to  FaceTime some of our oldest ex-Waitrose friends. We were on the iPad for the best part of an hour and a half whilst we recounted to each the kinds of experiences that we had both had over the Christmas period – an experience largely revolving around the food we had enjoyed.

The COVID-19 news this evening is particularly bad, not to say shocking. The number of new infections has risen from 41, 385 yesterday to 53,135 today. That is a 28% increase in a single day! The latest daily figures come after it was revealed that England’s hospitals are now treating more patients than during the peak of the first wave in April. So it now appears that the NHS is facing the most ‘perfect storm’ and the real impact of the worst of the winter crisis has yet to bite (some time in late January or February) There are stories already of several hospitals at absolute maximum capacity with queues of ambulances outside hospital A&E departments as there is no space inside to receive the new patients, staff absolutely stretched to the limit and no space in the wards inside the hospitals. The fact that we have built several Nightingale hospitals all over the country is to no avail because where are we going to get the staff to staff them? Many of our European nurses appear to have ‘gone home’ For example there is a report (dated by now, from the Nursing and Midwifery Council) has shown has shown that the number of new nurses coming from the EU to work in the UK has dropped by 87% from 6,382 in 2016/17 to 805 in 2017/18. It is rather difficult to get accurate figures in this area as sometimes new entrants to the nursing workforce do not have their origins correctly stated but it is undoubtedly the case that the whole Brexit factor has deterred new entrants from entering the UK and several others (perhaps in their thousands) have returned home. Even a large majority of those who voted ‘Leave’ still want European nurses to come and work here but there are so many factors such as the ‘hostile environment’ promised to illegal migrants to dissuade many would be nurses wanting to come to live and work in post-Brexit Britain.

 

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