Saturday, 9th May, 2020 [Day 54]

I am feeling a little tired this morning for quite understandable reasons. As I had a wakeful patch in the middle of the night, I came downstairs to interrogate my computer and idly wondered if Waitrose was offering any ‘Click and Collect’ sessions. As it happened they were so I immediately started to compile a shopping list for a few day’s time and I now have a slot booked for next Thursday in the morning. I suppose the next time I shop, the system will have remembered my last shop, and therefore I only have to amend it, but the first run-through is always quite time-consuming so that was about an hour’s less beauty sleep.

The day after VE day and there was still an interesting atmosphere in the streets. It must be a combination of the pandemic on the one hand and a mood of national solidarity on the other but everybody seemed to wish to stop and talk with us today. We met several groups of both friends and acquaintances, both on the way down to the park and also on the journey back up again, with interesting conversations to be had all round. In the park, we had noticed a particularly striking tree and on both sides, there were figures carved into it – a type of wooden sculpture, I suppose you would call it. We enquired with one of the locals whom we know by sight and we were informed that the ‘sculptures’ were of the two daughters, Lucy Sanders and Mary Sanders who inherited the whole of what is now Sanders Park and donated it to the town. They both lived to a great old age (81 and 95 respectively). The original Benjamin Sanders, the great grandfather of Lucy and Mary Sanders had established a button factory and when we first moved to Bromsgrove, I believe that we caught sight of the modernised version of this although it has now been incorporated into a private dwelling house. The grandfather of these two eminent ladies had inherited the Cotton Pool estate and drained the enormous pool which is now the ‘pond’ besides which we sit every day to drink our coffee and eat our biscuits (necessary sustenance after having walked for 1.5 km from our house!) This is only a sketchy history but I thought I would go on the web and Google for a few more details as the contribution of the 19th-century philanthropists who had great wealth and no doubt increased it with their entrepreneurial activities did tend to invest the proceeds back into their local communities. One is reminded of the great Quaker families (Rowntrees in York, Cadbury’s in Bournville (Birmingham) and  the Clarks of Street in Somerset).

Late on this afternoon, I set myself the task of clearing a bit of scrubland on a slope near to the point at which my fallen tree had had to be removed. There were quite a lot of brambles (one I swear was about 15 ft long) and ubiquitous ivy but I felt I had made some progress. Tomorrow is going to be really wet but when the weather improves I will need to ‘terrace’ the slope by putting in some retaining boards and then I shall finish it iff with weed control fabric and some forest bark. Fortunately, I already have some of these materials in stock but no doubt I will run out at the most inconvenient point!

Tonight I watched the Churchill film ‘Darkest Hour‘ detailing the events and dilemmas facing Winston Churchill in 1940. I wonder whether Boris has watched the film, probably for the second time, and whether there are parallels to be drawn between the dilemmas of then and now.

 

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Friday, 8th May, 2020 [Day 53]

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) day – as we walked down into Bromsgrove this morning, many houses were decorated with flags and bunting. Of course, the British love to revel in these occasions but my spies in Scotland indicate a much more ambivalent atmosphere. It looks as though lots of preparations are being made for impromptu yet socially distanced parties with friends and neighbours and it is quite easy to understand why. However, a part of me always thinks of the expression ‘Bread and circuses’ – there were regular revolts of the slaves and the underprivileged in ancient Rome but the solution was always to give a free supply of bread (pasta, probably!) and to provide a free circus as the entertainment offered therein helped one to forget potential problems and the revolt was quelled. However, it is fair to say that there was a fairly jovial and relaxed atmosphere as the populace enjoyed the Bank Holiday. [Incidentally, it seems a bit un-British to have Bank Holidays on a Friday, rather than a Monday where it gets tagged onto the weekend. In Spanish and Hispanic cultures, national holidays are generally taken on a Thursday on the principle that the following day, a Friday, is a puente [or bridge} which means that people forget about going to work on the Friday and hence have a break which extends from late on Wednesday afternoon until Monday morning]. On our walk down, we bumped into some of Clive’s relatives who informed us that the date of Clive’s funeral is going to be Tuesday, 19th May and although his many friends cannot attend the funeral, we can at least assemble and give him a good clap as a send-off, which we will do. Needless to say, we had several friendly chats up and down the street which is becoming the new norm for us!

This afternoon was tree planting day but the first the communal lawns and our lawns had to be cut. This worked as well as always – I am so relieved that two years I took the decision to buy a special ‘mulching’ mower made by a Swedish form (Stiga – normally big in the commercial rather than the domestic market) This machine has a slightly higher dome than normal and no grass collecting gear – the idea is that the grass gets cuts once and is thrown ‘upwards’ towards the mower hood and then is then cut again on the way down, leaving only minimal trails of grass cuttings most of which are mulched. It really does work very well. The tree planting worked well as the hole was prepared and fortunately, I had all the right materials to hand – compost (put in yesterday, tree root fungus preparation, bonemeal (for slow release fertiliser), blood fish and bone (for organic fertilizer), a thumper to compact the soil, a long stake to act as support and finally a sledgehammer to get it well hammered into the ground. However, I am slightly fearful that it might struggle as not much rootball remained and the taproot had been broken but with a lot of TLC and water, we shall have to hope and pray. When this had been completed, I nearly forgot that we were due to FaceTime some of Waitrose friends which we duly did – and we have made provisional arrangements to ‘encounter’ each other in the local park on Monday morning if it is not absolutely raining cats-and-dogs.

One of my Pilates friends had discovered the joy of walking the local fields and has ascertained that there is a public footpath across the field containing sheep at the rear of our house. As Monday is my birthday, she is going to attempt to drop by and I have got an improvised arrangement (a little cardboard box attached to the end of a snow shovel) which means that we may be able to offer a glass of champagne (over the barbed wire fence) to celebrate.

 

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Thursday, 7th May, 2020 [Day 52]

Every day seems to get chattier than the last! We were fortunate, though, to see a friend of the recently deceased Clive who gave us some intimation of when the funeral is likely to be. Evidently, because of the restriction upon numbers, we will not be allowed to attend but we do wish to position outside his house and give the funeral hearse a good send-off (by clapping) when the fateful day arrives. Then we had another long chat with two sets of friends who are themselves neighbours (making a potential little meeting of six of us – will this be actually sanctioned next Sunday?) Again, we met several acquaintances in the park (normally a dog runs up to us expecting to be fed some tit-bits and this provides an entree for a conversation with the owners) Finally, we chatted with yet another acquaintance on the way back who was extolling the virtues of James O’Brien on the LBC Radio Show. Apparently, he hails from Kidderminster which is just down the road from us. After lunch, I made an early start clearing the gullies in the garden which I really want to get finished before the weather breaks. I found a  child’s rake from Aldi to particularly useful in this regard as it has only eight prongs and is about a metre in length i.e. easily manipulated in one hand. Aldi does a whole range of children’s garden tools which are not cheap, plastic bendy rubbish (as you might expect) but real and miniaturized tools (including a rake, a lawn rake, a long-handled shovel, and so on) Although they are designed to be used by children they are just as useful for adults as well as they can easily be used one-handed and they only cost £2-£3 piece as far as I can remember. Then to finish off my gardening activities, I located the exact spot in the wilderness bit of garden we have inherited (and which we call ‘Mog’s Den‘) and dug the hole ready for the tree planting tomorrow. I lined it well with a tub load of my own 2-year old compost and then, as a bonus, thanks to Amazon my mycorrhizal fungi (for the tree roots) arrived so I am all systems ‘go’ tomorrow.

As it was a Thursday evening, our household and all of the neighbours participated in our ‘clap for the NHS’ ritual. This is really quite heart-warming and I hope that the tradition persists for a long time into the future. After this had ended, we paid a visit to our near neighbour to ensure that all was well as we understood that she had not been feeling too well in the last few days. Afterwards, we had a pleasant wander down by the side of the communal grassed area ‘Meg’s Meadow’ and I checked that the little beech saplings I had transplanted about 10 days ago were thriving and I am pleased that they were – even more so, after a good downpour, I would imagine. Actually admiring your handiwork in the garden in the early summer evening is one of the most relaxing things I know.

It looks as though two big scandals are emerging for any post-Coronavirus enquiry to handle are emerging. The first of these is the rampant non-preparedness for the pandemic as it has now emerged that the stockpile that had been built up had been allowed to diminish and at least 50% of the items in it were all past their ‘use by’ date and had to be re-tested or were otherwise deemed unusable. In some cases, new ‘Use by’ labels had just been stuck over the old ones! And the second scandal-to-be is the issue of care homes where it was known that any pandemic would be an immense problem and to which patients were transferred from hospital, perhaps infected with virus, but with no testing at all before reception into the care home. Needless to say, the staff had found it difficult to be tested and were suffering a severe shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) as they were evidently the ‘poor relations’.

 

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Wednesday, 6th May, 2020 [Day 51]

Today was one of those days when we seemed to be chatting all morning. Firstly, we encountered some of our oldest friends from church, who were out busy gardening. As a plant was being removed only to be thrown away, I begged it in order to fill up some vacant pots which would normally have bedding plants within them but we haven’t been able to procure any during the lockdown. Then we popped a card into another set of neigbours who had promised us a lilac tree so we made final arrangements for collecting the tree this evening. In the park we had a few casual chats with passers-by – we normally ask them about the breed of their dog or mention how well-behaved it is which generally functions as a conversation opener. On our way home, we encountered sets of friends No. 2 who were busy still in their garden and managed to get some delivery of both bedding plants and supplies such as compost. Finally, we saw our Italian friend and ensured that all was well with her. One way or another, we seemed to spend the whole of the morning chatting which cannot be a bad thing. In the afternoon, I pressed on with doing my ‘gully maintenance’ and planted the shrubs that I acquired in the morning. It was a beautiful afternoon and I made reasonable progress with just about 1.5 hours of work left to do tomorrow before the weather breaks again. In the late afternoon, my daughter-in-law and I went to collect the lilac tree which I would estimate was 8-9 ft in height. Getting it home meant dropping the back seats of the car and having the top of the tree jammed up against the windscreen which meant that driving home was like navigating a forest – but it was only 1km home so we managed that all right. Tomorrow I am going to prepare my planting hole for the tree  but I will wait for Friday to do the actual planting as I have ordered some of the specialist preparation that enables trees to grow away quickly ( I quote from the manufacturer’s blurb – and certainly the Amazon reviews were almost universally favourable)


How does rootgorw work

Rootgrow contains a blend of UK origin and UK grown mycorrhizal fungi. Once these fungi come into contact with the plant roots they attach themselves and grow out into the soil looking for nutrients and water to feed their new host plant. This isn’t one side relationship as in return the plant gives the fungi carbon and sugars that they cannot process from the soil.


There is quite a lot of speculation in tomorrow’s newspapers concerning the announcement that Boris Johnson will make on Sunday next on the ways in which the lockdown might be eased. It looks as though the most likely candidates involve ‘fresh air’ i.e. people may be allowed to exercise more than once a day, some open-air activities such as a meeting of a few friends in a park may be allowed and there is the possibility of garden centres being allowed to open. The trouble is that too much speculation at this point can only lead to disappointment if the measures proposed turn out to fall short of peoples’ expectations – we always knew that lessening the tightness of the screw was always going to be a lot more difficult that proposing the lockdown in the first place. One can only speculate what the typical high street is going to look like in a few week’s time. Most high streets were moribund anyway – Bromsgrove, for example, has about 7-8 charity shops in a 3 hundred yard stretch. What is not fully appreciated at this point is that the income of the typical working family will have received a massive hit so how much actual money will be free to be spent is an interesting question. Even more interesting is the ‘fear’ factor with many people, according to the survey evidence, fearful of entering places where their fellow citizens might congregate.

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Tuesday, 5th May, 2020 [Day 50]

Whilst we were in the park today, we had a very pleasant surprise. Two of our friends who live down the hill are keen gardeners and when we last in conversation with them, I mentioned that I was thinking about acquiring a lilac tree to fill a gap left by a previous tree that we had to have removed. Our friends very generously have donated a lilac tree to us and it is sitting waiting in a pot ready for us to collect. As it is already quite large, my daughter-in-law feels we might adopt the ‘Christmas tree‘ strategy i.e. we use whichever of our cars is the larger, fold down the seats and have the front end of the tree sitting between the driver and the front passenger. This has worked well over the years so we will have to see if we can adapt this strategy to transport our recently acquired tree.

The afternoon has again been filled with intensive gardening i.e. I am pressing on whilst the weather is quite fine. Progress was quite fast until I encountered a section of garden with a small paved motif. The only trouble is that dandelions have overgrown this area so everyone has to be painstakingly removed (and often the roots can be up to 8 inches long) so that has slowed me down quite a lot. Still, I tell myself, once I get the garden in good shape before the middle of May, maintenance should be fairly easy but the reverse is the case if I don’t get on top of it now.

Some readers of this blog have expressed their appreciation and read it every day so I wondered if I could lay my hands on a similar blog which I had written in the days before the term blog was even invented (in May, 1999!) The story is this. Whilst working at the (then) Leicester Polytechnic, we established an exchange relationship with the Public Administration department of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (often regarded as the Cambridge of Spain) We exchanged students for several years under the EU ERASMUS (later (SOCRATES) scheme- the acronym ERASMUS stands for European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. Under this scheme, staff were also encouraged to undertake a period of teaching in their partner university and, to cut a long story short, I was invited to spend a term at the Complutense teaching Information Technology to Public Administration students (in Spanish) This I did in the spring term of 1990 but whilst there, I thought it would be useful to record my day-to-day experiences and to post them back to colleagues at Leicester Polytechnic (in the days before email really became established and also before web pages). I rather had in mind the Alistair Cooke programme on Radio 4 which was called ‘Letter from America‘ and so I called mine ‘Carta de Madrid‘ (or ‘Letter from Madrid’). I should also point out that as part of the philosophy of sandwich education developed particularly in the polytechnics, students were encouraged to keep a ‘diary’ (although Meg and I changed the terminology to ‘field notes’ following our social anthropological roots). At the end of their year, students had to submit a formal report which was marked (and graded) so their field notes were a vital raw material providing a record of their activities and also a vehicle for them to reflect upon their experiences during the year. So that is why the ‘Letter from Madrid‘ came into being – some if it is factual, whilst other parts of it are certainly reflective (no doubt of the joys and frustrations that are a part of one’s novel experiences.

On a more technical note, the text was written using a text editor which produced pure ASCII text on the grounds that it could then be fed into whatever word processor one wished in order to ‘prettify’ it. Microsoft Word was only one program amongst many (and nothing like as universal as it is today) – I actually taught Word Perfect which was a competitor (and many at the time considered it superior) The upshot of this is that every line ends in a ‘hard’ CR (carriage return) character and to replace all of these in over 3,000 lines of text would take for ever and a day. Consequent, the simple .txt file has been converted into a .pdf file and this should be viewable in all browsers. Here is the URL if you are interested in dipping in or out of all of this:

http://kesland.info/blog/carta.pdf

 

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Monday, 4th May, 2020 [Day 49]

This morning was a fine, bright morning and it was not surprising that it brought a fair sprinkling of visitors to the park, where we enjoyed our customary elevenses and a few passing conversations with fellow walkers, including our friend Julie who espied us from a distance on her walk and managed to catch up with us. Most of the regulars are on the look-out for the ducklings and we usually tell them ‘Yes! they were delicious!‘ We despatched a sympathy card to Clive’s relatives on our way down the hill and also a belated birthday card to one of my ‘old fogies’ friends from my Winchester days. The ‘old fogies’ are a group of colleagues from the University of Winchester who still meet regularly two or three times a year to have a meal and to reminisce how much better things were when we ran them over thirteen years ago. Actually, we tend to talk more about politics (which we mostly share) rather than work. We started this tradition before we retired because about five of us all had birthdays in May so we decided to have a communal birthday dinner and we have carried on ever since. After the meal, a few of us often repair to a local pub where we carry on until our wives and mistresses call us home. Later in the morning, we felt that we had to take the car for a spin to keep the battery recharged (is this an essential journey or not we ask ourselves?). On our way home, we stop off at one of our oldest friends in Bromsgrove and chat over the garden wall, exchanging news about family and mutual friends. This always makes us feel good (not that we really feel miserable) and so home to lunch. In the afternoon, I resumed doing some gardening (clearance of the gullies and beds surrounding our back lawn) Needless to say, I had my work inspected, checked for quality, and ‘rolled in’ by Miggles, our adopted cat. Miggles, by the way. is engaging in some hank-panky with another cat I have christened Peter ( lots of quasi fighting and almost playing ‘cat and mouse’ with each other – I have my suspicions).  I was pleased to be able to utilise some of my cardboard shreddings to go with the other cleared weeds and leaves- almost anything arriving from Amazon now gets the shredding treatment. I still have to add some of my traditional compost heap accelerant – below is what Google in its first entry has to say on the subject:


Human Pee Added to Compost Boosts Crops. … But scientists now believe they can turn human urine into liquid gold—as composting material. The premise is simple: Pee is rich in nitrogen, which plants desperately need. Commercial fertilizers boost plant growth and yield by providing abundant nitrogen to the plant’s roots.


The COVID-19 news this evening revealed that more than 50% of the British workforce is now being paid for by the government. And it is also reported that 80% of the population are fearful of too rapid an ‘unlock down’  for fear of contracting the virus. But, whisper it gently, could it not be the case that actually at least some people rather like being paid 80% of their wages for doing nothing apart from staying at home and avoiding the sometimes harsh exigencies of work. I have not heard anybody suggest this but it is a thought that occurs to me. I think it makes the case for citizens’s wage (paying everybody in a society the same basic allowance whether they are employed or not) come somewhat closer and seem less of an outlandish idea than a few months ago. In the US, there is now a report that in early June, the daily totals for the number of deaths may exceed 3.000 a day.

 

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Sunday, 3rd May, 2020 [Day 48]

As you might imagine, the park has a different clientele on Sundays, being dominated by young parents with associated children (some on bicycles) and dogs. Thus it was today and consequently, we did not meet any of our regulars. It rather reminded me of when I was a barman in my student days at Tiffany’s in Manchester. My fellow members of staff used to joke with each other that if you had forgotten which day of the week it was, all you had to do was look at the clientele and there were always social variations e.g.  Friday night was the ‘lads night out’, Sunday was often the engaged couples and so on. At Tiffany’s fire precautions were taken quite seriously – the band was instructed to play Teddy Bear’s Picnic which was code for us that the fire was real, not imagined. As a barman, you were instructed to stand by your till (and burn if necessary) to avoid the till being looted if there was a panic exit. Incidentally, the two girl singers in the band (Eve and Lynn) went on to become the core of the ‘New Seekers‘ if anyone goes back that far.

There was an interesting letter in today’s Observer which gave food for thought. One prominent theory in recent years has been ‘nudge’ theory i.e. you move to achieve a policy objective by a series of small shifts and incremental moves. Sometimes this works well – for example, the use of electronic displays to warn you to keep your speed down. Sometimes, however, the theory results in abject failures such as attempting to warn people of the dangers of tobacco smoking by the use of large letter warnings and graphic images on cigarette packets. What worked in this latter case was actually quite a leap in policy i.e. making it illegal to smoke in public places. Now we can apply that theory to the present pandemic crisis. The first stages were classic ‘nudge’ theory (a series of small steps such as ‘advice’ given to the public, messages that were transmitted but not really adhered to such as Boris Johnson going around. and shaking hands with lots of people). But a more significant policy shift, i.e. lockdown, if effected two weeks earlier, would have saved literally thousands of lives. The moral of this: there are times when a sagacious politician (are there any?) should have taken decisive action. By the way, has anybody else noticed that simplistic slogans (‘Stay home‘, ‘Protect the NHS‘,  ‘Save Lives‘) are produced by the same advisers who launched ‘Get Brexit Done‘ on the great British public?

Many of the commentators are saying that the coming week will be a ‘pivotal’ week in political life as the government and other decision-makers grapple with how to unlock the economy. In retrospect, the decision to lock down was incredibly simple compared with the complexities of travelling towards the ‘new’ normality.  There are still some certainties, such as the necessity to keep 2 metres apart in social distancing and if I had to make a guess, I would say that certain ‘outdoor’ businesses would cautiously re-open. High on the list would be garden centres, zoos, gardens open to the public, and the like. We would certainly be moving from a type of digital mode of operation (on/off open/shut, allowed/not allowed) to a much more analogue mode in which we need to have gradations of approach. Some institutions will have changed their modus operandi for good – I would imagine that all universities would offer the majority of their output in an online mode from now on  and the idea of mass lectures and smaller group tutorials/seminars will be regarded as a relic of the past. The travel industry will also be radically reshaped and I wonder how many would willingly travel on public transport unless there were compulsory face-masks and a radical restriction on numbers travelling to preserve social distance?

 

 

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Saturday, 2nd May, 2020 [Day 47]

Meg and I were on the way to see our good friend, Clive, who is on an ‘end-of-life’ pathway and hoped to be able to wave to him through the window of his house. But we were intercepted as we approached the house by a desolate daughter-in-law who informed us that Clive had died at 8.30 the previous evening. This news always comes as a shock when it happens, even though it was expected in the days ahead. On the one hand, we are filled with utter sadness at the loss of a dear friend – on the other hand, we were extremely relieved that he died in the comfort of his own home surrounded by his relatives and people who love him and largely free from pain. At least we have been spared the sight of a departing ambulance which is the last that many people up and down the land are experiencing with the COVID-19 virus. Clive had been a good friend to Meg and myself – we entertained him two or three times for a meal or a Christmas ‘do’ and one occasion had a wonderful trip on the Severn Valley Railway which we all enjoyed. And, of course, he played his trumpet at our 50th wedding celebrations in 2017 and we are so pleased that we have a clip of video of him playing at that event [in this blog, Friday 24th April, 2020- Day 39] and here it is again: https://www.mike-hart.net/Anniversaryvideos/i-mH2Sqdt/A  Of course, the funeral arrangements are going to be a bit difficult but it looks as though up to 10 family members can attend the actual funeral. All of his other friends and acquaintances will probably gather outside his house at about the time that the hearse is due to depart so that we can all give him a heartfelt clap for a life well-lived, which seems to be a tradition which is rapidly becoming established these days. As we walked around the park, we were really fortunate in view of our really sad news we had just received to encounter three sets of friends. We had chats with all of them and it helped us enormously to get us back onto a more even emotional keel. In the afternoon, as the weather was set fair, I became tempted to do some of the edging and gulley maintenance I used to do before we had some help in the garden. I must say, there is no real substitute for getting down on your knees and tacking things with a gloved hand. These days, I tend to do these things in fairly small bursts (i.e.no more than an hour) so that my back doesn’t suffer, followed by another hour of routine housework.

Now that spring is here, I am starting to think again about my composting routines. Although there is a lot of confusing advice out on the web, the consensus view  is 3 parts ‘browns’ (carbon-rich) to one part ‘greens’ (nitrogen-rich) If you are doing a lot of weeding and therefore have a lot of ‘green’ materials, you need to add a fair quantity of browns and for this, I shred whatever cardboard comes my way – particularly in the early part of the year. Later on in the year when you have more dead twigs or leaves, then this ratio is easier to maintain. (I have been known to scour supermarket shelves for ’empty’ cardboard containers at the start of the season) The tip is, of course, to have a shredder but it is not unknown for these to break down as they become clogged with paper dust. The secret is to keep it well oiled (every 2nd or 3 use). Now, for the ‘not many people know this‘ advice. The shredder oil that manufacturers try to sell is 99.9% canola oil so the tip is that you can use any vegetable cooking oil rather than shredder oil and if you want to be particularly careful, you can always buy and use rapeseed oil (which the North Americans call ‘canola’ – originally developed to be more ecologically friendly in the Canadian logging industries) This will prolong the life of your shredder no end and will also aid the composting processes by ensuring that the ‘brown’ (i.e. carbon-rich) components of the compost are already in a broken-down form. But you knew all of this anyway!

 

 

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Friday, 1st May, 2020 [Day 46]

Another showery day which made our daily journey rather a damp one. As the local bandstand was colonised by a family with young children, we decided to sit on a soggy park bench although we were fortunate in that we did not actively get rained upon. On our way home, we ran across a person who we know by sight as he visits his father on a Friday at just about the time. coincidentally, that we are walking home.. We always ask after each other but stopped for a longer chat today. It turns out that he was a software engineer so we exchanged some details of programming languages with which we were familiar and had utilised in the past. The day turned out to one of those infuriating days when there are bouts of brilliant sunshine that lull you into a false sense of security punctuated by showers. As it was over a week since the lawns had had their cut, I took a chance on it and managed to get the communal areas and our lawns cut just before the heavens opened which would have given me a good drenching.

The 5.00 briefing from 10 Downing Street was dominated by the news that the government had well exceeded their target total of 100.000 tests to be conducted on one day – a target that they had set themselves before the end of the month (which was yesterday) and which few thought that they would actually meet. As it happened, and as you might suspect, there was a massive fiddle of the figures going on – the announced figure actually included test kits that had been despatched to peoples’ homes but not yet returned (a practice that =Downing Street had earlier in the week said would not be included in the returns) It took Channel 4 News and a couple of the journalists to ask pointed questions but the rest of the ‘brat-pack’ were pretty tame. Channel 4 claimed that the true figure should be about 83,000 not 120,000+. It does appear that as the Health Secretary was desperate to meet his target, about a third of the total (39,000) related to kits mailed out but not, as hitherto, actually dispatched for analysis to the laboratory. The government scientific advisors did their usual trick of ‘throwing sand in the eyes of the enemy’ i.e. quoting a lot of other statistics which whilst not being untrue were not related to the pointed questions that were asked and which only served to confuse the issue ( I always thought that ‘throwing sand in the faces of the enemy’ was derived from gladiators in mortal combat who had been disarmed and resorted to the only thing they could possibly do whilst prostrate in the arena and that was to grasp a handful of sand and throw it in the face of their attackers) But I am wrong – the expression dates from the 17th century according to Google.

The other major story was the fact that the death rate for the COVID-19 virus had hit the poorer areas of the country twice as hard as the more affluent areas. The death-rate for the poorest areas was 55 per 100,000, twice the rate for the more affluent areas. Of course, there are a variety of explanations that all contribute to these figures such as the fact that the poorest individuals are in jobs where they are forced to go out to work and do not have the ability to work ‘from home’ And, of course, a decade of austerity means that housing and welfare payments have been slashed for the poorest communities before the COVID-19 virus compounded their difficulties. It is evident that a major task of reconstruction needs to take place but whether this will happen under a government of this complexion will have to wait to be seen.

 

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Thursday, 30th April, 2020 [Day 45]

The month of April seems to have absolutely flown by – to think it is May Day tomorrow (although hardly celebrated in the UK as it is in the rest of Europe) Today was a little chilly in the park as we have come to expect but we did bump into (not literally) the friend of a friend with whom we exchanged some pleasant thoughts. It turned out that the wife of the couple was brought up in Sheffield which was the university in which our son did his degree all those years ago (33 to be exact). To the regulars who come to see if any of the little ducklings have survived we tell them the same story i.e. that they were delicious!

Our son had bought us a copy of the Times today and in it, there was a very full and well-researched article on COVID-19. One thing that I had not fully appreciated was that a third (actually between 35%-40%) of the NHS patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 had died, a rate that was comparable to Ebola wards in Africa. The data sample was huge (17,000 patients admitted to 166 UK hospitals between 6th-18th April 2020). As the Professor of Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool  (Calum Semple) indicated ‘people need to get it into their heads the reason the government is keen to keep people at home is that this is an incredibly dangerous disease‘ At 8.00 pm this evening, as has now become the new tradition, we joined with all of the neighbours in a 2-3 minute round of applause/saucepan banging/instrument playing display of thanks to the NHS and allied workers. We wonder when the immediate crisis is over, whether people will be willing to grant them a hefty pay rise and also pay the necessary taxes to pay for it?

This afternoon, I played around with a little bit of Javascript (which all browsers utilise) because I wished to put a ‘Date Website Updated‘ caption at the end of my composite blog. There is a ‘quick and dirty’ way of doing this but the trouble is that the default is in the (American style) format of mm:dd:yyyy which to a British readership is very confusing (is 05/10/2020 October 5th or the 10th of May?) So, I learnt how to do this according to GMT and UK conventions and have got this working OK. As I have explained before (so I won’t repeat myself) when I find out how something works, I write the details down in a ‘What have I learnt/re-learnt TODAY’ hard back book so I can easily find out how to do it the next time I need to utilise the technique without re-inventing the wheel the whole time.

Having just dozed through this week’s edition of Question Time on BBC1, I reflect that a new style of (non-confrontational) politics seems to be emerging. The national crisis we are living through has led, I believe, to a quasi-coalition government (or at least a willingness to cooperate more closely with constructive opposition viewpoints). There is a return to more evidence-based politics, although I am not completely convinced that ‘the science’ as the politicians like to call it is quite as clear-cut or unequivocal on a range of issues as might be imagined. After all, why was ‘Test, Test and Test again‘ never taken very seriously as an over-riding policy option? At the end of all of this, it may well be that we have a reformed set of political institutions (e.g. some form of proportional representation may well be on the cards) and a realisation that certain core parts of our national infrastructure (the NHS, social care) cannot be left to the market and must certainly not be allowed to return to a stripped down version under the mantra ‘it is all the nation can afford’.  I think there will be a realisation that the political dogma of the decades since Thatcherism which divides the world into those who provide the wealth of the country (entrepreneurs) and those who consume it (NHS again, education) is just too simplistic. There is a very strong argument that good education, welfare and health services provide long-term capital formation without which a modern economy cannot operate and some of the fripperies of the merchandise that floods our stores on occasions can easily be dispensed with and do not really add to the nation’s wealth (e.g. outfits for children around Hallow’een is my particular bugbear.)

 

 

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