Tuesday, 19th January, 2021

[Day 309]

Today we carried on with the series of self-help sessions that Meg is undertaking via a Webex link with the local hospital so this took a little ‘chunk’ out of the morning. We texted our Birmingham University friend to say we would be a little late today and indeed did coincide, by chance, outside the newspaper shop. Once having collected our newspapers, we made our way to a pair of adjacent park benches where we could continue with our daily reminiscences and dreamt of the barmy summer days when we hope we can peregrinate up and down the Severn Valley (preserved) railway line, hopefully taking in some nice beer en route. In fact, in Bridgnorth station, there is a pub (‘Railwayman’s Arms‘) accessible from the end of the station platform that serves good range of beers (including a superb mild if they still stock it) which is always worth a visit. This afternoon, we read our newspapers assiduously and then FaceTimed some of our ex-Waitrose friends in the late afternoon. We were swapping news with each other for over an hour, mainly wondering when the vaccine will be offered to the four of us which we hope can only be about 1-2 weeks by now. The government rather ‘jumped the gun’ by announcing that the vaccination regime was to be rolled out to the 70+ age groups. However, they did not bother to inform the GP practices of this policy and many (or most) of them up and down the country had to cope with masses of telephone calls asking when the vaccine would be available. The actual story is a lot more complex than this. The government was attempting to indicate that IF all of the 80 year olds had been vaccinated, then a GP practice COULD start to extend vaccination to the 70 years if they had a mind. In practice, though, across the whole of the country only about one half to two thirds of the 80+ age group have actually been vaccinated and there are reports of shortages of vaccine to complete the job. To complicate matters, if a practice has a temporary excess of vaccine and is tempted to vaccinate the 70+ age group then these supplied will be diverted to those areas that have already run out of vaccine. Once again, we have seen an example of the ways in which the government is so desperate to generate ‘good news’ that it actually runs far ahead of what is the actual situation on the ground.

Tonight, we stand on the eve of the Joe Biden inauguration. This is going to be an inauguration like no other that anyone can recall, given that that there is the backdrop of the pandemic (which would be intensified if large crowds were allowed to gather as is customary), together with the foreground of the recent attacks on the Capitol building by the the Trump white supremacist mobs. In practice, the Capitol is guarded by some 25,000 members of the National Guard. The FBI have had to undertake some rapid background checks to ensure that no Trump sympathisers were embedded in the National Guard – in the event, some dozen members of the National Guard were ‘stood down’ when it was revealed that they had extensive links with extremist right-wing groups. In the place of actual people, there will phalanxes of American Stars and Stripes flags. In addition, the FBI said last week that it had separately identified more than 200 suspects threatening violence at the ceremony and had picked up an ‘extensive amount of concerning online chatter’. As it happens, the Capitol is so heavily guarded with troops and extensive barriers that it is unlikely in the extreme that tomorrow’s inauguration will actually be disrupted. But there must still be legitimate concerns that Trump mobs might turn up at any of the 50 state capitals across the country and threaten to overwhelm the local defence forces. The situation is confused because there is an enormous mount of right wing ‘chatter’ across the social media to make one last effort to prevent Joe Biden’s inauguration. On the other hand, there are some of these groups who are urging these members to stay away from these local conflicts as is is likely to be radical ‘left’ elements such as Antifa (= Anti Fascists) who are only pretending to simulate Trump supporters in order to discredit them. At this point, I have to admit that is is difficult for us Europeans to get inside the mindsets of the American right – listening to the ‘Vox pop’ interviews with some of the members of these groups, they have such a visceral hatred of Barak Obama (the preceding president) that one can only conclude that a deep vein of racism is actually fuelling their hatreds. Donald Trump himself seems to have been spending his last day in office cloistered with members of this family deciding how to distribute about 100 ‘pardons’ which traditionally is in the gift of each departing president (and is often shockingly abused, this year being no exception)