Meg and I had intended to visit an elderly relative in North Wales next Wednesday but have called off our trip as the situation deteriorates. We will now start our ‘self isolation’ from Wednesday onwards but the Government announcements today may mean that we start on Tuesday, 17th March.
Today was an interesting day. I got to the pharmacy to pick up some medication at about 8.0am and then on to our local ALDI which had been pretty devasted the previous day – but the shortages were not as bad as I might have predicted. I did a ‘normal’ weeks shopping, my previous trip having been very light as we thought that we were going to be away. So we are stocked up with about 1.5 weeks shopping and have just learned how to utilise Ocado to have a delivery of supplies next Sunday (and for the foreseeable future)
Our local GP practice now has an online system – I learned how to navigate this to get a query answered about me medication for high blood pressure (I am 10mg Ramipril and I have learned this is an ACE type drug which latches onto the same receptors as the Coronavirus itself making any complication much more severe) I indicated that I had stopped my medication and the community pharmacist phoned me to say he had heard of the same report in The Lancet (medical journal) last week. If anyone wants the link, I will send it on to you! To cut a long story short, the pharmacist consulted with the doctors and they have issued me with an alternative Calcium Channel Blocker (Amlopodine) – I go into all of these details in case anyone else has the same medication issues.
Then onto my local ASDA to pick up one or two last-minute things before my self-imposed isolation – what a sorry sight (devasted, empty shelves, etc) I took some money out of my account using the cash machine to tide me over the next week or so. Now for a pleasant surprise – Holiday Inn in Chester refunded all of the money we had already paid for a three-night stay. However, it is going to be a long battle to get my money back from a holiday in Portugal planned for nest May – the credit card company say to contact your travel agent, the travel agent says contact the airline, the airline (Iberia) have written to say ‘Nothing we can do!’As all of these companies might go bust as people try to get their money back, they are all passing the buck onto everyone else. I am sure lots of you have similar stories.
This has been a long post – tomorrow I will regale you with two funny (and true !) stories about my experiences with the Spanish language
How do I feel at the start of this period of 4 months(?) of self-imposed isolation? Well, I suppose it is not unlike the emotions that people felt in the 1950’s when they were diagnosed with TB and had to spend 12 months in a sanitorium or eve as prisoners might feel at the start of a custodial sentence! I rather think it might have been like this is the world had been involved in a nuclear war and, after an explosion on the other side of the globe, you knew that something unseen but invidious was coming your way…
I started the day by texting my Pilates teacher, Helen, informing her and my fellow classmates that I would not be around for a bit and wishing them all well. Then I sent a message to one of my wonderfully friendly staff in Waitrose down the road to inform other staff members and some of the regulars of my contact details (mobile, email, blog) in case any of them wanted to keep in touch with us. I received a telephone chat call from my good friend Professor Dan Remenyi and we exchanged views on the state of the world we were in. Meg and I then set off for a pre-planned walk in a local park which is about 1km and a half away and we sat on a park bench drinking from our flask of coffee and ensuring that we were at least 10m away from any other park visitors (mainly dog walkers) Then we watched the Politics Today program starting at 12.15 on BBC2 before having lunch of our previously made Fish Pie.
The highlight of our afternoon was a good FaceTime video chat with our good friends Dave and Denise before we had our own tea. We have adopted a policy of keeping to strict meal times so that we minimise social contact with our son and daughter-in-law in case any of us are the unwitting bearer of virus. I had ensured that throughout the day each bathroom as ell supplied with a bar of soap (supposedly much more efficient at removing viruses than liquid soap.
I had promised? threatened? a couple of Spanish stories – apologies to my friends in Bromsgrove who have heard them both before and repeated ‘ad nauseam’ The first relates to our last holiday in La Coruña. Northern Spain when I realised that we were short of a comb. So I walked into a pharmacy and announced ‘Buenos dias, señora – quisiera comprar un nuevo pene por favor’ The assistant looked quite astonished until I realised that I had said ‘Good morning, madam – I would like to purchase a new willy, please’ To make matters worse, I went on to explain that I needed something that was just of the right size that was not too large but would just fit conveniently into my right hand. Too late, I discovered that I had mixed up the word for a combe which ‘peine’ with the slang word for a willy which is ‘pene’ – well, it is easily done.
The second story relates to one of the local hospitals who phoned up about two days beforehand saying, ‘Good morning, Mr.Hart – what are you doing first thing on Sunday morning? Would you like to come in and have a gastroscopy (tube down the throat into the duodenum to check for nasties) I knew it was about two years since the last check-up so I thought I had better get it over and done with. I was ‘prepared’ for the procedure by a little nurse who announced me ‘Good morning Mr. Hart – I am Amparo and I am looking after you today’ Having established that she was, in fact, Spanish we continued chatting in Spanish but I was not at my best at 8.0am on a Sunday morning. The conversation took the following turn: ‘I know what I would be rather be doing at 8.30 on a Sunday morning’ ‘Yes – me too’ ‘What would you rather be doing by doing on a Sunday morning?’ ‘I would like to be snuggled up in bed next to my husband!’ [Then it started to go horribly wrong] – I replied ‘Yes. so I would I – I mean not YOUR husband but I meant somebody else’s husband. No – I didn’t mean that – I meant to say ‘Somebody else’s wife’ No – I didn’t mean that either – I meant ‘Next to next t0 my own wife’ ‘Are you sure?’ she said. ‘Well’, I said hesitantly thinking about what I had just said (in Spanish) – ‘I think so’ “You don’t sound very sure to me!’ she said. ‘Yes, I said (weakly) ‘I am sure’ ‘We wouldn’t want you getting mixed up between my husband, someone else’s husband, someone else’s wife and your own wife, now would we?’ ‘No’ – I said. ‘So that’ got that little confusion out of the way then! We giggled together…
I spent some time this morning going through contacts on my iphone reminding them of my email address and this blog reference so that we have an easy way of keeping touch with each. Also, one of my ‘Winchester’ friends had been a purser on a cruise liner in a past life and gave us lots of practical advice how to protect yourself against rampant virus – rather than reproduce her email here, I will forward it to anyone reading this blog if you drop an email note.
My good friend, Professor Dan Remenyi, has written a letter/article which he has submitted to his local newspaper and it is very stimulating to read. With his permission, I reproduce it here, together with a few thoughts that I had on the matter as well.
We are indeed in a right mess. The government’s response to Covid 19 will destroy tens of thousands of small businesses and will cause millions of people to be laid off. The rescue package announced by the government which consists of, inter alia, a bundle of financial relief including a third of £1 trillion of loans will push the UK further into a financial chasm. Many small businesses struggle on a month-to-month basis and if they have to take out loans from the government in order to continue in the immediate term, their prospects of longer term survival may not be good at all. Providing loans may not be the answer to the problem.
All of this government action seems to be based on a computer model which has told our leaders that by requiring everyone to self-isolate and thus stay away from pub, restaurants and theatres, the potential death toll will drop from 250,000 to 20,000. Even without examining the detail of this model there seems to be a number of loopholes in the apparent logic behind the assumptions. I sincerely hope that the severe economic and social hardship so many of us are about to endure will really save so many lives and reduce the physical misery that is being caused to the nation’s health by this disease.
But this faith in computer models is to say the least surprising. It was a computer model that initiated the reckless financial behaviour which cause the crash of 2008. It was at least computer model thinking if not a particular model itself which led to the Boeing Company designing the 737 Max with its dodgy aerodynamics. In general modelling society to project what will happen in the future is a very or highly dodgy business. I am extremely sceptical of computer models and especially those which have such enormous impact on our society.
There is another issue behind our current situation which deserve some thought. In former times there must’ve been many strange diseases which struck society such as the Black Death or smallpox, the occasional outbreaks of cholera or the Great Spanish Flu of the earlier part of the 20th century. When these catastrophes really got out of hand they caused mayhem on a large-scale. But they were slow to develop and our understanding of disease was very limited. The situation we are facing is quite different and we have a much greater understanding of what we are really facing and how we find ourselves in this situation. There is little doubt that one of the drivers of the current crisis is globalisation. Our ease of access whereby we can travel to almost anywhere on the planet within 24 hours must surely be something which we should now re-evaluate. The great potential we have to spread disease all over the world, surely, should now be considered as a real downside to worldwide travel.
I have no idea as to how we can even begin to think about controlling our appetite for global travel. I think that the genie may be out of the bottle. Freedom to roam the world, if you have the resources to so do, is now so deeply embedded in our culture. But as one commentator recently said on television, “This may not be the last time we will see a pandemic like this sweeps the world”. And if we were to convince the world that travelling far and wide was not ideal what would we do about the tens of thousands of aircraft (which would have cost hundreds of billions of pounds) and the jobs of the millions of people employed by the travel industry?
We are indeed in a right mess!
[End of Dan’s article] – my response
Excellent analysis, Dan – do let me know if the local newspaper publishes your contribution. Looking at the Prime Questions Questions today, I have the feeling that we may not be very far off a Universal Basic Social Income as an ‘experiment’ which like Income Tax (Napoleonic wars expedient?) may become permanent. I feel that society may at a crossroads between (a) a more decentralized, more localized political economy with new lines of cleavage (not social class but a metropolitan elite vs. a more uneducated, localised and more unskilled populace (b) Calls for a ‘strong man’ who with the aid/behest of the military presides over an authoritarian regime prepared to shoot rioters (food stores, hospitals) when it occurs. Whatever – I have a strong suspicion that whatever measures we introduce in society as a strictly ‘temporary’ response will quickly become permanent. I am always keen to know your thoughts. Incidentally, whilst I share some of your doubts about modeling (or any other algorithm in which you do not know the underlying assumptions), are there any alternatives worth considering (lessons from history?) Keep in touch!
For a reason that will become evident shortly, the date of March 19th is always burned upon my memory. As it happens, on this date exactly 47 years ago, I was involved in a bizarre accident at my place of work, Leicester Polytechnic. I was with a couple of my students and I had just given a lecture on ‘Science and Magic as alternative forms of explanation’ (to Combined Science students). I explained that in some western cultures, a belief in magic was an alternative form of explanation (if malaria was caused by being bitten by mosquitos, then why should that one particular mosquito bite me? Answer – because someone was directing magical forces against me, whereas in the West we would tend to rely upon statistical probabilities). I ought to have known something was amiss because the handout that I typically gave to the students was peppered with strange black marks! To make matters worse I had just said ‘Look – if I walk out into the street and get knocked down by a car then in the West we would explain this not as magic but just as a statistical probability‘) A quarter of an hour later, a Hillman Imp approached a T-junction at speed (as the driver had apparently ‘fainted’) although he had been to all all night party the night before. I was sent flying as the car hit me first, severely severing all of the muscles in my right leg and damaging the joint in my left knee. As it was a hospital ancillaries dispute at the time, there was no bed for me in hospital but I was sent home and told to take a couple of aspirins for the pain -ditto the following day until I was finally admitted for surgery some 2-3 days later. And when I woke up from the surgery, my penis was covered in rapidly hardening plaster-of-paris which had to be removed (by a male nurse – sex is the last thing on your mind when in severe pain) Talking of which, I endured three hours of intense pain after the operation and eventually when a nurse asked me how I was, I admitted that I was in pain. The nurse consulted my medicines chart as then said ‘O dear, we’ve forgotten to give you any pain relief!’ [I was angry at that point] So that was our NHS in 1973 – things have improved since.
So what about today? I walked down to the park with my rucsack and a flask of coffee which was a bit difficult to manipulate with the rucksack in one hand whilst I poured the coffee and rummaged around for biscuits with the other. There was only one other dog walker in the park and it was raining and gloomy.
In the afternoon, I spent several hours attempting to claim a refund for a holiday to Portugal in May for which I had paid in January. After several fruitless quaters-of-an-hour hanging onto the end of a phone with recorded messages saying ‘all of our staff are attending to other clients in this exceptionally busy period’) I eventually found a website where you had to fill in all of the details of a claim on a form on the web, which you then had to ‘submit’ – although the form refused to submit. But I did find a telephone number and explained my dilemma to a friendly human at the other end who sighed and said ‘Yes, sir, all of our Expedia clients are experiencing the same problem’ Anyway, I got sent a 6 page form on a PDF for me to fill in, scan and send back so I am sort of making progress.
I have composed a little website with just three items on it that people may find interesting. One is a definitive document on everything you needed to know about COVID-19 (a 33 page document) well written and up-to-date from Harvard medical school. The second item is an article how to keep your immune system well-functioning. The third item is from an email which an ex-Winchester University colleague has sent to me which, as she had been a purser on a cruise liner which was afflicted by Norovirus,is full of practical hints and strategies. Here is the URL:
Hasta la vista!
Each day has its own particular ‘timbre’ and today is no exception. Our morning was considerably lightened up by two events. Firstly, one of the very friendly staff in Waitrose has offered me whatever assistance I might need in the weeks ahead. Accordingly, I/we are going to devise a system whereby I can leave a bag complete with my newspaper tokens and she can deliver ‘The Times‘ and ‘The Guardian‘ into the bag without my needing to enter the store – this will be brilliant if we can get it to work. It shows how some people are full of the spirit of altruism of which more later. The second thing that brightened up our morning was meeting one of our ‘Waitrose’ friends in the park – we were able to sit on adjacent park benches at least a metre apart and exchange gossip over how we were coping with the crisis. I think we were both incredibly pleased to see each other as it broke up the social isolation for us mutually On the way home, we called by one of our immediate neighbours and had a brief conversation through a partially opened window. She was telling us a horrendous story of local groups of people who were going into Asda and engaging in all sorts of panic buying before disgorging the contents of their trolleys into their cars, putting on a new set of other clothes and headgear so they would not be recognised and then entering the store again for a second sortie.
In the afternoon, I managed to successfully make a PDF file of my claim to the insurance company complete with accompanying documentation. I managed to successfully edit the PDF file of a page copied twice in error and then used an online pdf compression program to reduce its size from 11Mb to 1.6 Mb before I submitted it. Whether or not, I will get any of our money back from the planned trip to Portugal in May I do not know but at least I have tried one line of attack before I take issue with the credit card company, which will be the last resort.
On a more reflective note, the crisis seems to be revealing a polarisation in our society between a group of largely uneducated, individualistic and essentially selfish individuals on the one hand and a more responsible, altruistic and community-minded set of people on the other. Perhaps ‘thus was it ever so’ but certainly the crisis is bringing it into sharp relief.
The Sky News video of conditions in the Bergamo hospital in Northern Italy which is already completely overwhelmed gave pause for thought, to put it mildly. They are saying that this might only be a foretaste of that is to come in the UK as we seem to be some three weeks behind Italy and the rate of increase in the UK seems worse than other comparable societies such as China, Italy etc. Without being melodramatic, I think I would die peacefully at home rather than eventually in the insulated, chaotic and impersonal settings that we see in the Italian critical care hospitals (which, by all accounts, are better equipped than ours)
Today was a brighter day than yesterday and our spirits were raised by meeting a couple of friends on our walk down to the park - to whom we chatted from a safe distance of 2-3 metres but as the news seems to get more dire by the hour, it is an interesting question for how much longer this can be maintained. In northern Italy, for example, (the UK is reckoned to be about 3 weeks behind) it used to be possible for one person at a time to have a walk with a dog but it seems that even this is now being adjudged as unsafe.
Our son and daughter-in-law managed to secure us our daily newspapers (which we have had to forego since last weekend) and this was a welcome treat. After some messaging with a friendly colleague from Waitrose we are setting up a system whereby we leave a bag containing pre-paid tokens for the newspapers hanging up outside Waitrose and, we are hopeful, that within a few minutes the tokens will have been taken as payment and the bag filled with newspapers ready for us to collect. Our son daughter-in-law tried to go the pharmacy to pick up some routine prescriptions for Meg and myself but the pharmacy as a whole was shut (whilst they are processing enormous backlogs?) and a neigbouring pharmacy across the road had a queue outside and people were only being admitted three at a time. From what we can tell the local supermarkets have been emptied of certain items that we would normally buy week by week (eggs, cheese, milk) so we shall have wait and see if any of these can be supplied by Ocado.
I want to pass on a seemingly bizarre tip but it seems to work very well. After Meg and I had consumed our coffee in the local park, we treated ourselves to a banana each. I was just about to dispose of the skin in a nearby rubbish bin when I stared down at my scuffed walking boots and suddenly remembered an old tip. I rubbed the (inside) of the banana skin over my boots and they did a marvellous job in cleaning and renovating them. I seem to remember somewhere that the same tip works exceptionally well for rubber (not plastic) car mats - I think that the natural oils in a banana skin are very akin to the natural oils to be found in both rubber and leather and hence they do a good job in cleaning and renovating them. I am constantly reminded of what things were like in 1950 when I first started primary school when absolutely everything was in short supply. At schools, our crayons were cut into two so that we could have half a crayon each. If you needed to go the outside toilet to do a 'N0. 2' job, the teacher would assess your size and need and then from a roll of Izal toilet paper which she kept in her desk grant you either one or two pieces of paper. Those days may well return in the current crisis!
Digesting the news from yesterday when the whole of the private sector was subsidised by having 80% of wages to be paid for by the government, it almost seems as though we are living in an Alice-in-Wonderland type world for measures like this were not even dreamed of by Jeremy Corbin and, of course. nothing like this was attempted in the Second World War. One does get the feeling that once a business has been closed down, how many will ever re-open? Even having 80% of staff wages paid for by the government is pretty meaningless if there are no customers or footfall of any kind.
In the late afternoon we had an hour's FaceTime chat with two of our Waitrose friends which was absolutely wonderful. We may meet in the local park at a very safe distance if the weather is fine next week.
To say that the highlight of one’s day has been the delivery of a week’s groceries would, in normal times, seem the height of triviality. However, I was delighted, not to say relieved, to take delivery of my very first Ocado order between 8.00 and 9.00 this morning. I seem to have a superfluity of green vegetables and potatoes (but, apparently, the veg sections of the supermarkets have remained somewhat unscathed whereas the milk, chese, eggs, pasta sections seem to have been stripped). I am going to try my second Ocado order at about 1.30 in the morning as the rest of the time the web access times are incredibly long.
The four us us are settling into a new routine but some things are proving a little difficult. Martin will be working from home from now on but is going on a toilet roll hunt tomorrow (we are down to our last 4). In addition, we are regularly wiping down surfaces, light switches, door handles (including the front door) and the like and our hands get a wash in good old-fashioned soap whenever we are within range of a soapdish.
My son and daughter-in-law used my pre-paid vouchers to acquire our copy of the Sunday Times and Observer and it has been fascinating to have a deep and informed read. In particular, the Observer reproduced Imperial College’s report COVID-19 which completely dismayed the government and forced the abrupt changes in policy. The report indicated that the death toll would rise to 250,000 unless draconian measures were adopted. This evidence and the fact that we are only 2-3 weeks behind Italy where the death toll is already about 5,000, coupled with the harrowing Sky News reports from inside the Bergamo (Northern Italy) critical care units which are being overwhelmed made a goverment re-think inevitable.
Meg and I had our normal walk in the park keeping at least three metres from anybody. But we did meet an interesting lady whose husband had recently died of pancreatic cancer (and we all thought that this might have been a blessing given the present state of the hospitals) and another father-son couple making the best of Mother’s Day (which seems a complete irrelevance). We will still have to see what the week ahead brings where we have some routine GP and hospital appointments which will now be conducted by phone.
A final thought for the day – if there had been any church services in Anglican or Catholic churches where normally part of the Epistle would be a reading from the Old Testament, would we have two readings ‘The Apocalypse‘ followed by ‘Apocalypse Now‘? (Not really the Old Testament I know but you get my drift)
Well, we knew in our hearts that this day was eventually going to arrive and so it has. Of course, if you have already been self-isolating and keeping at least two metres from individuals you pass on a walk then nothing much will actually change. But, inevitably, the most dramatic impact is upon food distribution. Did all of the people who ‘panicked’ and collectively put £1 billion worth of food in their store cupboards act sensibly and rationally: if you tried not to panic and hoard then were you denying yourself essential supplies in the future? About 10 days I signed up for Ocado and actually got a delivery last Sunday. I now have a ‘normal’ week shopping of some £40.00 worth of goods in the Ocado system but no delivery slots are available so what to do? The official government advice is to use online delivery services ‘when you can’ (which are incredibly weasel words from a government which must or should have known/modelled these consequences) As of 8.30 this evening, the entire food distribution system is suspect. I’m not sure I particularly want to be starved into standing in a queue to be let in three at a time into a supermarket with basically no stock, but when the point of starvation arrives I suppose I will.
Today didn’t start off particularly well as our friendly assistant in our local Waitrose with whom I had set up an arrangement to collect my pre-paid newspapers had reported in sick and was self-isolating. However, she had fully briefed one of her colleagues and we handed in our bag and vouchers and got our newspapers for the first (and probably the last) time. We had some nice chats at a distance with friends and acquaintances in the course of the morning. The afternoon was spent composing a little note to send round the rest of the residents who share the BioDisk (mini sewage treatment system for our six houses) reminding them to only flush conventional toilet tissue down the loos in case desperation forces them to use cut-up newspaper or other improvised solutions which could well clog the system. We FaceTimed some more friends at the end of the afternoon and swopped notes about access to food, recipes and the like. Then a nice long chat with our new next-door neighbours that I hadn’t managed to see in quite a long while.
Martin sent me a very interesting article from Roy Lilley, a very well informed commentator on the Health Service. The article ‘Some thinking to do..‘ was essentially trying to predict what new models of economic and social organisation we would develop ‘when this is all over’ as the government’s response to the crisis in paying 80% of the wages of people working in the private sector is ‘pure socialism’ It is surely the case that nothing will ever be quite the same again. In particular, there is. a strong argument that our NHS must always start off from a position where it can respond well to new situations of pandemics which will surely arise again (three in the last century?)
This has been the first full day of ‘lock-down’ but it hasn’t seemed so very different from the days preceding it. The roads were certainly quieter but from our bedroom we can still see (a long way off) lorries making their way up and down the M42/M5. It was a beautiful spring day and one in which felt good to be alive with the birds singing and the trees starting to burst into bloom. On our way down to our normal pitch in the park, we passed a couple of neighbours who we have got to know better over the years – they attend the same church and were keenly gardening whilst they could. We chatted for perhaps half an hour exchanging horror stories and thoughts about the current crisis. The behaviour of fellow walkers was quite interesting. When we started to get within range of any other walkers, we engaged in a mutual swerve in plenty of time making sure that there were at least three metres between us rather than the recommended two. It seemed a reversal of normal patterns of behaviour – one exhibited on’s concern for other people by taking steps to avoid them rather than greet them. We observed just one example of antisocial behaviour in which a couple of parents and their two children and a dog were romping down the path without seemingly a care in the world – we turned abruptly on our heels and took off in the opposite direction so that we would come nowhere near them.
Our son, Martin, spent an hour and three quarters queuing to get into the local pharmacy picking up a couple of prescriptions for us (in a queue of about two dozen) for which we were very grateful. Lunch consisted of one of our own home-made fish pies and I reminded myself that I had all of the ingredients to male another one which lasts for 4-5 meals altogether. When every one has come home. we engage on a deep clean of kitchen surfaces and the like – I am taking over the duties of the light switches monitor, disinfecting each of the light switches in the house (of which there seemed to be a lot – I must do a count of them tomorrow)
Quite a lot of the day I have had my Ocado app running on the computer running down from about 40,000 in the queue only to find there are no delivery slots yet allocated. We are stocked up with enough food for about the next two weeks but I am trying to put in a sensible order for delivery in about a fortnight’s time although this may be a vain hope. Our daughter-in-law is going to try and buy a few essentials from M&S when she comes home from school tomorrow so we shall have to live in hope.
As I was watching the news bulletin at end of the day we learned that the NHS are concerting the Excel exhibition centre in London into a 4,000 bedded temporary hospital whilst Donald Trump is arguing that he intends to ‘open up’ the rest of America to the world by Easter which is now three weeks away, whilst the mayor of New York is pleading desperately for medical supplied as the virus is whipping through the city like wildfire!
Today started with a maximum degree of frustration. To order some groceries online, I am using Ocado which seems very good but is almost completely overwhelmed by the demand for online shopping – it is not unheard to join a queue of 50,000 whilst shopping. In order to maximise my chances of getting onto the system, I logged in about 1.00 am in the morning and was pleasantly surprised to get after only a 5-minute wait (eight hours is threatened if you try during the day). Having already saved a trolley load of groceries, I took on the remaining three delivery slots. However, the way the system works one has to order £40.00 worth of goods. As so many items were unavailable my ‘shopping basket’ dropped to about £20.00 so I was forced by the system to abandon my delivery slot in order to top my groceries to a volume which after allowances would not drop below £40.00. So I topped up with various items but by the time I came to checkout, all of the delivery slots had gone so I was left, as at the beginning of the night with a basket of groceries (a bigger basket in this case) but no delivery slot. On the assumption that slots are released each day in the wee small hours of the morning, I shall try again tonight and see how I get on. To be honest, as we have about two weeks of food, we have sufficient to cover our needs but I am trying to be organised for what is to come a fortnight down the track, as it were. As it happens our daughter-in-law managed to pop into M&S and had topped up with a few things for both herself and for Meg and me.
Today on our daily walk, we found people both friendly but also responsible as tended to swerve ‘outwards’ as it were to give each other a wide berth as it were. I am sure we are quite fortunate, having a large park to walk around only about 1.5km away but I can only imagine how people are feeling if they have been cooped up in a small flat for days on end.
This afternoon, I waited for a telephone call from my doctor to give me the results of my recent gastroscopy (some small polyps were removed but they were benign) and to update blood pressure medication so I spent some of the afternoon trying to get into a really relaxed state listening to ClassicFM before I took some blood pressure readings. As it happens, I am listening to ClassicFM as I type and they are trying to encourage the British public to do what the Italians, Spanish and French are already doing. At 8.00 every evening, people get onto their balconies (in flat-centred societies) where everyone gives a huge round of applause as a mark of appreciation to the NHS personnel who are struggling to preserve our lives in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We had previously arranged to FaceTime our closest friends in Spain and to get news from them. The ‘lock-down’ had been imposed much more rigorously there rather than here – for example, one was allowed to venture out about 200 metres with one’s pet to allow it to relieve itself and then back home. We joked that if they ran out of toilet paper (there had been a panic on this in Spain as well) it would be not only the pets that were relieving themselves on the side of the road. The military (‘Guardia Civile’) seemed to have played a much bigger role in maintaining the new social norms but after some terrible scenes in supermarkets, the access to food seems to have settled down. But Spain has many more smaller shops as well as supermarket chains so I suppose that helps. The view from Spain as the deaths in Spain exceed those in China was that the Chinese could be lying about their figures – but in any case, in a non-democratic regime people could be dragged from their houses and made to conform if it was evident that they were not doing so.
The Ocado website is down until 11.0opm so I wonder if I get any more success tonight – I will report tomorrow. Watch this space!
The day did not start off particularly well because, as I might have predicted, I got to the front of a queue of about 60,000 in Ocado only to find there were no slots available. However, this is not quite as dire as it sounds because our daughter-in-law managed to secure a few provisions for us from Marks and Spencers/Waitrose (the ALDIs and ASDAs of this world are a disaster zone) I may see if Ocado have any priority system for self-isolaters although I doubt it, despite government urging. I have also signed up to my local Iceland who is offering free delivery but there are no slots available (whilst my welcoming letter once I had signed up was promising the earth)
Actually, there is quite a jolly atmosphere in our house at the moment. We are all well and aiming to keep that way by being particularly careful about who we interact with. The house is reasonably stocked with food and we do not feel under any great stress, although I must say the local park is a god-send. This afternoon marked the first outing of the petrol mower and I was delighted that it started on the second ‘pull’ – I have to have the mower on a higher cut for the first cut of the season as the grass is so tufty. Incidentally, did you know that petrol contains 5%-10% ethanol at the moment (the petrol companies are very coy about telling you about this) and you need to buy a special ‘fuel stabiliser’ to add to the fuel in the container you use for the mower. It doesn’t matter too much in cars where the motion of the car joggles it all around but it does matter in the case of containers for your mower as they tend to hang around in the garage. The ethanol absorbs a layer of water from the atmosphere and the water and the petrol then separate and you have horrendous problems with the mower. For that reason, I always religiously drain off the oil and the excess fuel at the end of the mowing season and at the start of a new season I only ever use the highest quality of fuel I can and put in a Briggs and Stratton fuel stabiliser additive which lasts forever. I only found out about this because my mower handbook recommended that I use a fuel stabiliser and I did some Googling to find out why. If any reader also runs a petrol mower, it’s worth a search around.
Tonight we had the first? last? episode of the Clap for Carers event – everyone comes to their windows or doors at 8.00 in the evening and applauded the workers in the NHS who are keeping us all safe. We all found it quite inspiring – the most unlikeliest of our neighbours participated.
Today was the day when the Chancellor of the Exchequer unveiled a scheme giving a grant to all the self-employed of 80% of the profits they declared to HMRC. Has it occurred to anyone that many of the self-employed declared everything they could think of as expenses (cars, clothes, equipment, parts of rooms as office space etc. etc.) to minimise their tax liability and consequently paid very little in actual tax (whilst claiming that it was their taxes that paid for the NHS – not the hefty contributions from the rest of us on PAYE) This means that their actual ‘profit’ which is income minus expenditure would have been declared as very little and now they only receive a grant of 80% of this. None of the commentators have explained that but are declaiming how generous the government has been but I suspect not! Those who don’t qualify have to join the rest of humanity on Universal Credit where they wait 5 weeks for the first payment and an horrendous online assessment process. Hey Ho – the German word ‘schadrenfreude’ occurs to me!
After I have blogged in the past about the inanities of accessing Ocado, the online supermarket, I think I only need to report that I had to wait three minutes in a queue to join a queue which was more than 262,000 long (more than a quarter of a million) – and which now was ‘being paused! ‘ I think, enough said!
Meg and I were heartened to meet with one of our Waitrose friends in the park today and we held an interesting chat as a distance of some three or four metres. I have noticed that when people know each other and evidently have a regard for them then the distance between them actually increases so that perhaps on a subconscious level one is trying not to do harm to friends and kindred spirits. The park was extremely quiet today and it looks as though the social isolation message is really starting to ‘cut through’ – perhaps the prospect of £30 fines is deterring some people. When we got home and turned on the TV it was to the news that Boris Johnson (the prime minister), Matt Hancock (Health minister) and the Government’s chief medical adviser had all been stricken by the virus (but none, it appears, too severely at this stage)
In these very straightened circumstances, I have been reflecting upon the fact that my mother’s generation who had lived through World War II knew about social isolation (air-raid shelters) and privations and certainly know how to make a little go a long way. My mother tended to bake bread every day and had a range of other habits that seemed to date from her war-time experiences. For example, she always conserved what she called ‘good’ water i.e. water that had been used for one cleaning purpose but was not thrown away as it could then be used for something else. As we eke out our meagre and dwindling food supplies in the weeks yet to come, we may need to relearn some of those old-fashioned virtues of thrift and resilience. In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed some of our oldest and dearest Waitrose friends and nattered for practically an hour (which always seems to fly by) We may meet in the park for a distance at a distance if the nice fine days of spring return in a few days. This evening I spent a pleasant few minutes reading and replying to one of our Hampshire friends who had been reading these blogs and whose supermarket experiences seemed to parallel our own.
As I type, I am listening to Beethoven’s 9th (choral symphony) on ClassicFM and reflect that some things have got better. The various radios we have scattered throughout the house are tuned either to Radio 4 (talk programmes) or to ClassicFM with an occasional foray into Radio 3 when ClassicFM goes a bit downmarket by playing a Strauss waltz (does anybody actually choose that?) I suppose my appreciation of classical music started when I was at a boarding unit in a school in Bolton, Lancashire to which I was despatched whilst my mother trained to be a teacher in the mid-1950s. [As an aside, she was so desperate to get into what was then called a Teacher Training College that she altered the 1911 on her birth certificate to 1914 to make herself look three years younger, the penalty for this sin being that she had to wait for an extra three years before she could draw her state retirement pension!] The school did not have a particularly good reputation but I was in the school choir and the orchestra (and two members of the school were actually in the National Youth Orchestra) But much more prestigious was the school brass band (of which I was not a member being a violinist) and it played reguarly at the Catholic Whit Walks held in the Lancashire towns when all the various civic and ethnic groups (e.g. Ukranians who had come to work in the mines) used to parade in their best uniforms/national dress. On my study wall, I still have a Lowry (print!) showing the Whit Walks in the distance which is a reminder of our Manchester and university days.
Well, I sort of struck lucky in the wee small hours of the morning. I had set up an account with Waitrose ‘Click and Collect‘ mainly for cleaning materials, wipes and the non-food items that we were likely to run out in a couple of weeks time (or at least, not find in the store) To my delight, a ‘slot’ came up on Monday next which I eagerly accepted although it entails a jouney (by son and/or daughter-in-law to nearby Droitwich, where the Waitrose store is so much bigger) It will be interesting to see how much of the original order is actually fulfilled – we shall see!
Today, I was also delighted to be the recipient of ‘The Times‘ and ‘The Guardian‘ which had kindly been collected for us by the family on their morning walk. Although we are prepared to forego newspapers during the week, those on a Saturday are particularly valuable as they contain the guides TV programmes in the week to come.
As I was watching TV tonight, I was particularly struck by how pointless many of the advertisements are on commercial TV. Of course, they would have been commissioned months ago and made weeks ago – but an advert advocating a particular brand of cosmetic seems singularly pointless when it is impossible to go to a shop that could sell it for me. I forget who it was who opined that at least half of all the money spent on advertising is absolutely wasted but the difficulty remains that no one can discern which half!
I thought I would attempt to be virtuous today – if the weather had been better, I would have spent some time in the garden doing a bit of a spring tidy up. Instead, I engaged in a stepper routine to which I have a link via YouTube – the presenter is quite a likeable young American lady who with her partner runs a series of programmes called on a website called FitnessBlender.com. It takes me about 15 minutes and gets me out of breath as well as exercising my lower body – in the meantime, to get me going for the day, in the morning and before breakfast I do a series of Pilates style stretches and incorporate a 4kg weight to make sure my arm muscles do not waste away. The way that I know whether these various exercises are doing their job is (a) how easy it is to put a loaded suitcase in an overhead luggage compartment when one is going on holiday (a distant hope?) and (b) whether my muscles ache or not after the first mowing of the season (which tends to be the heaviest one) Whilst on the fitness theme, I am in two minds whether to do the online yoga course which my local yoga studio is putting on to try and gain a bit of income for themselves whilst it is not possible to attend in person. I think I probably will if only I would like their small business to keep going after the ‘crisis’ and a combination of yoga and Pilates exercises ought to keep me in shape.
The news continues to be shocking, of course, and I keep wondering where the ‘inflection’ point of the curve will come i.e. the point at which the rate of new cases starts to moderate, indicating one is nearing the tope of the curve. The following is copied from the MedScape website:
Number of Patients With COVID-19 in ICU Doubles Every 2 to 3 Days
Manca has calculated from the Italian data that the number of patients in intensive care with COVID-19 initially doubles every 2 to 3 days. This rate slows fractionally every day until, after 3 to 4 weeks, the doubling time is around 4 to 5 days. Around day 18, the rate of increase is maintained for 3 to 4 days without increasing further, known as the “inflection point”, after which the rate of increase in ICU cases begins to drop. He found that the inflection point was reached in Lombardy 19 days after the outbreak started in the region. For the rest of Italy, that point will not be reached until the start of next month, he therefore predicts. The consequence is that “every day counts,” he stressed.
On these calculations, we still have 2 more weeks of really bad news. Interesting that exhibition centres (ExCel in London, NEC in Birmingham, GMex in Manchester) are now being commissioned as instant hospitals-cum-morgues.
I always think that the day after the clocks go forward is the first actual day of spring, whatever the date of the Spring equinox - it is nice to get an hour of extra light at the end of the day. Although it seems a big job to get all of the clocks in the house done, my son and I share the tasks between us so it is soon done. I just have to remember the alter the time in the car the next time I take it for a drive. This afternoon, we decided to devote the time to a good clean of the house, now that our weekly help is not available to us. I did a certain amount of tidying up before hoovering and now fully appreciate what a difficult job it must be week by week when I leave little piles of things on the floor. Nonetheless, as a result of tidying up, I have now discovered a calculator which had been temporarily mislaid, two books that were in places that I did not expect them be (although I intend to give both of them away) and some coloured electricians tape littering my study floor (I used it for bookbinding purposes when I run several pages of e.g. a manual and make it into a little book, properly stapled and with tape covering the spine if you really wanted to know!) I sent a message to our home-help with abject apologies for being a miscreant in the past and have informed her that 'There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.." I have now promised my son that I will clear at least one 'pile' per day (a pile normally consisting of things I have run from the computer, books, newspaper articles, letters to be filed, etc. etc.) Once it is filed I know I will forget about it completely although if it there is on a pile it is a reminder to me to do something with it..
This morning in the park we managed a nice chat with one of (formerly) Waitrose acquaintances who was busy pushing her two twin girls in their buggy. We held the customary conversation at two metres distance and I have supplied her with details of this blog to get bored with. It really is quite amazing that most days we manage to see someone we know with whom we can have a conversation.My son managed to get me a Sunday Times and an Observer which were very gratefully received. From the Sunday Times, I discovered the following:
UK COVID-19 tests per week:35,000 Deaths : 1000+
Germany COVID-19 tests per week: 500,000 (available to all who ask for them- 14x UK) Deaths: 400 - 40% of UK figure
Our populations are similar so that is quite telling statistic! When challenged over the evident delay exhibited by the government before their volte-face, the response by various government ministers is always either complete prevarication or the mantra 'we have always been guided by the science' One wonders when this is all over and we have an official enquiry, what it will actually reveal (although I feel that we could probably write the enquiry report now)
So the start of another week – and the end of our first fortnight of self-isolation. We were really looking forward this morning to taking delivery of our first Waitrose ‘Click and Collect‘ groceries which my son was picking up for us from a larger Waitrose store in Droitwich. However, we only received £13 worth of the £40 worth of goods ordered, many being unavailable alhough the website did not list them as being out of stock. These were mainly cleaning materials and anti-bacterial wipes which we could really have done with but evidently, just as if one were shopping in person, there were none to be had. At least the Amazon website is brutally honest when it says “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock”
My niece had sent me a link to her local church in Harrogate where they are offering a vew of the special mid-day prayers. As this was a YouTube reference, I put the reference on a website with a specially short and snappy name to help to access it – and then the problems started. On my Panasonic TV I found on the menu where, in theory, you could access the web – I ascertained that I did indeed have an internet connection. I was incredibly pleased to get my webpage up and loaded although it was very tedious typing to type in the name by picking out ony letter at a time on the keyboard so I accessed the link and waited. Then I got a message saying ‘YouTube cannot work with this browser‘ as it was out of date. So I attempted to download an update to FireFox which then informed me ‘Error – FireFox cannot display this page‘ At that stage, I gave up completely and went to view it on the computer in my study where it took only seconds to load. The ‘service’ was a little basic (the pastor sitting in a chair and reading out a few bits of scripture and a prayer/contemplation or so) but out of interest I wondered what the rest of YouTube was up to and discovered that if one wanted one could have complete Catholic Masses complete with video images of the church and congregation, full music and the like (mainly North American or Canadian) and evidently produced at a professional level. So if I need some spiritual consolation (I am not at thet stage yet) we shall have to wait and see!
In the afternoon, I decided to tackle one of my well-known piles and made a fair degree of progress. I managed to throw away about half of the pile and the remainder was mainly newspaper articles and/or printouts from the internet which focussed on the following issues:
(i) bowel and prostate cancer
(ii) how to eat healthily
(iii) how to exercise healthily.
I then discovered to my delight that I had two empty box files (and an empty Apple iPad box which I can press into service) so the task for tomorrow is to do a proper sorting out into the relevant boxes and then finding a location in which to store the boxes (as my study is already rather full) I think it’s going to be a ‘top-of-the-bookcase’ jobby but at least it helps to fulfil the pledge both to my son and our home help that ‘There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth‘ – but I will have to keep on repenting until the study (and the rest of the house) are in a completely ship-safe and orderly state. Another bout of tidying up/sorting out/throwing away/filing awaits tomorrow no doubt. Incidentally, our local park was incredibly quiet this morning – we were approached by several enthusiastic licking dogs (whose owners kept at a respectable distance)
A beautiful bright day today and consequently the park seemed somewhat fuller of dog-walkers than normal – I mean we could see about six people in total rather than two. I was thinking aloud whether if we were spotted sitting on a park bench, we would be moved on by an officious community police person or a park attendant. Mind you, this is an entirely artificial concept, as in twelve and a half years of living in Bromsgrove, I have never seen a uniformed police offer patrolling the streets of Bromsgrove. Occasionally ( once or twice a week), you might see a Police Community Support Officer and I suspect that park attendants were least seen in the pages of ‘The Beano‘ because I do not recall ever having seen once since. When they did disappear? Parking wardens first appeared in 1960 so perhaps one was transformed into the other. On the way home, we spent a pleasant 20 minutes or so chatting with one of our friends from church. We made her appear by the simple expedient of standing in front of her house and waving at a window until we were spotted – these chats help us all to stop having cabin fever.
In the afternoon, I carried on with the organisation of press-cuttings and articles which I had allowed to accumulate over the years. I now have them organised into folders comprising a variety of health conditions (which I won’t detail now), exercise, dietary issues, the ageing process and finally a category I call ‘newsworthy’. These are now housed in a couple of box-files and I am resolved both to keep them accessible and also to constantly file away new material as I find it. In this respect, The Times Health section often contains interesting material and is generally very reliable. In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed some of our Waitrose friends and exchanged news about current supermarket access and the state of the world in general. It’s great to be able to talk over a video-link like this and I wish I had started it sooner with many of my friends and acquaintances. I am resolved to also get to grips with Skype which is a bit of a closed book to me at the moment.
If I were a member of the NHS front-line staff, I think I would feel incredibly frustrated at the government’s response to the absence of sufficient testing for the COVID-19 virus. When faced with direct and sometimes penetrating questions, they resort to evasion, aspiration (‘We hope very much that soon we will…etc’)and occasionally, a direct misrepresentation, for example saying that the shortage of a suitable reagent in the testing process is the source of the problem. It is evident that there has been a massive lack of preparedness over the years and is now manifest by a deficit in the testing facilities, the staff to do the tests and the analysis, not to mention the kits themselves. I am finding that the daily briefing at 5.00 pm is particularly irksome as the journalists can pose quite pointed questions over their video- links but after an evasive reply not answering the question at all directly, the journalist is not given the opportunity to have any come-back and hence this plays straight into the politician’s hands. There will be a lot more of this in the next two weeks, I am sure.
Although as a child I used to say ‘White Rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits’ and then hold my fingers crossed behond my back until I saw a policman riding a white horse on the first day of the month, I began to think I was too old for such childish nonsense and decided not to go down this road again – finding any policman is rare enough, let alone on a white horse!
It was an interesting venture into the park today although the weather was a bit grey with a lot of overhanging cloud. A police car pulled up into the park (notwithstanding what I was saying just now) – Meg and I wondered if they were going to cast an eye over diverse dog walkers or even, as reputededly happened in Ipswich according to a recent letter in The Times, to admonish a couple for not exercising and who were therefore breaking the spirit of the newly created social universe which we now inhabit. Fortunately, our customary park bench was out of sight of the police car but it appeared that the couple of officers (male plus female) had just pulled in to have a snack of a chocolate bar and was not chasing miscreants such as myself. As we were drinking our coffee, an elderly lady who I know by sight came into view, walking her little Jack Russell terrior dog. As I was born only two days when World War II ended and I am nearly 75, I had worked out that the only people who had any first hand knowledge would have to be about ten years of age or older and thus be 85+ years of age. After explaining why I needed to know, I tentatively asked my acquaintance her age – it turned out that she was actually 85 (but looked younger). I had been thinking that people of that generation would have had to have shown some resourcefulness and resilience to have lived throughout the wartime years and that would probably stand them in good stead for the times that we living through at the moment. It turned out that neither of us had known our fathers – my friend’s father had been drowned (they thought) crossing from Sicily to Italy. Her house in rural Worcestershire had been subject to some bombing but the three bombs dropped nearby had actually missed her house. It turned out that the German bomber had been pursued by a British fighter plane and the bomber had released his bombs indiscrimately in order to lighten his load and make good his escape. I thought this was quite fascinating social hisory – I explained how my own mother was bombed out of her house in Hull before going to Liverpool (for what reason I have not managed to ascertain but my sister was born there) before being bombed out of her house in Liverpool. On our way home, a sight that gladdened the eye was to see a duck with a brood of 10 ducklings swimming towards us in the park pond. They only looked a day or so old and I had not noticed them before so I wonder when they were actually born. The other remarkable fact was the ducks had nested on an island which is sits astride a stone wall at least a metre high so I speculated that the mother duck must have encouraged one or two day old chicks to have plunged that distance to reach the pond (a bit like us leaping at least from the top of a house)
Our daughter-in-law had very kindly offered to do the weekly shopping for us at a branch of Waitose in Droitwich. This was a surreal experience as the queue stretched right around the car park as individuals had to keep at least 2 metres apart and only about 10 were allowed in the store at any one time. However, we managed to get some basic supplies (at Waitrose prices!) to keep us going for the next week or so. I wonder what the COVID-19 death toll tomorrow will be as it was 560 today and can only get worse…
The highlight of our day always seems to be our daily walk to the park where, with luck, we can bump into old friends and acquaintances. Today was no exception as we met one of our Waitrose friends who had been out exercising and was just completing what may have been an hour-long tour of the park and its environs. By a careful piece of foresight, I had brought my daily newspaper tokens with me – although the son and heir is always telling me that I ought to just read it electronically, I am still sufficiently old-fashioned ? stuck in my ways? to enjoy reading the authentic article. Anyway, our friend secured my newspapers for me ( a five minute walk away to our local Waitrose) and I had a book full of ‘schoolboy howlers’ (most of which I had already read before ) which I readily gave her in exchange for her efforts. I remember one of these schoolboy howlers as it was particularly apposite to our current times, assuming that we are experiencing at the moment has its parallels in the Black Death 1347-1353 (Thank you Google!) The question asked was ‘What did a big red cross signify when painted on the front door of a house?’ And the answer – ‘There is a fully trained member of the Red Cross inside ready to administer first aid’ We also struck up a conversation with an assistant from the local veterinary practice who was giving some walking therapy to an injured dog (a poodle and pointer cross since you ask) which had been badly injured in a road accident and had spent some six weeks as an ‘in-patient’ in their clinic. We exchanged some stories about the capacities of dogs to read human body language (researchers from an Italian university have recently investigated this and argue that dogs have the ability to read body language both in humans and other dogs- apparently we as mere humans lost this ability a very long time ago in our evolution)
This afternoon was meant to be a ‘tidying up’ afternoon but somehow, I never got round to it as I got diverted updating/refining some websites which I maintain more as a hobbyist/filing system rather than for any real computing intent. I have discovered a British website that offers ‘free’ unlimited webspace and the ability to create some subdomains which act rather as though they were completely independent websites. Normally, I am a little chary of such things but I am just putting trivial things on them (such as a minimalist HTML template, or a simple HTML lister) so that no real damage if the whole lot gets junked. They make money from advertising not on your website (which is a traditional model) but on the Control Panel which is used for maintenance purposes – which I then block in any case with an ad-blocker (although I do get messages requesting me to unblock my ad-blocker which is, I suppose, to be expected.)
My ex-colleague Eric has passed onto me a URL which gives an up-to-date picture of the latest published COVID-19 statistics so I will pass on it one for those readers who are compulsive followers of such things!
Just as an afterthought – today being Thursday, we all hung out of our windows and applauded all of the public sector workers (ourselves) is what is becoming a weekly tradition. However, the response was somewhat down on last week which was the first of these events – and as the hour had gone forward, it was still not quite dark so the dramatic effect was a little muted. Still, we did our bit! During the day, I took the opportunity to order 1000 single-use plastic-type gloves – I reckon this is going to go for months and they will always be useful. Delivery time is about 2-3 weeks but we can hang on with some that we already have in stock until then.
It might sound a little strange to say that the highlight of our day is our walk down to the park and the people we meet there, with whom we can chat. Today was no exception for we met one of our Waitrose friends who was pushing her two baby girls out in their buggy. We chatted a lot about the NHS as we all have extensive links with it and our friend and her partner both work in the NHS. We had an interesting conversation concerning the way in which the modern NHS was taking people in some of the ancillary professions and training them up in more than one skill so that workers were, to some extent, multi-functional. Was this the way that the NHS was going to go in the future, we speculated. After having given our friend this blog reference, I regaled her with one of the anecdotes in my ‘Virtually Challenged Anecdotes‘ ( all true stories) concerning our next-door neighbour when we lived in Wigston, Leicestershire. Our neighbour was a very doughty Belgian lady (Flemish to be exact) and when we had known for only a few days she recounted the story of how she had circumcised her husband with a carving knife on the kitchen table. This was all done under the friendly gaze of the local family doctor – whether they used any anaesthetic was not mentioned but I doubt it. As our neighbour proudly announced ‘Well, he was no use to me like that’ and subsequently her husband went on to sire both a son and a daughter. We then went on our merry way and passed a distant neighbour who was out jogging – we both recognised each other vaguely by sight and we found out that she lived in a cottage about three hundred metres down the hill We both speculated that one of the unintended consequences of the present economic worries is that the developments which are threatening to engulf us will probably not now happen – or be delayed by a goodly number of years so that we will be past caring. Finally, we came across our new next door neighbour who was walking the family dog and we exchanged views (which we both happen to share) about the lack of talent in the present government who are trying to make the best of the pandemic for us.
As so many of our creative individuals have been subject to lockdown, their talents still continue to be manifest. On YouTube, there are a variety of COVID-19 parodies of popular song and film. Just entering ‘COVID parodies’ into Google will reveal many of them – for example, there is a rather nice COVID version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. But my particular favourite (and I think the funniest) is the Do-Re-Me song from The Sound of Music in which a new COVID soundtrack replaces the original – extremely funny!
I finally got round to clearing the tray I keep on top of my filing cabinet which houses the kinds of things you would normally keep in a desk-drawer such as paper clips, elastic bands, highlighters, tape, glue etc. etc. This has been threatened for several years but COVID has actually made it happen at last!
Although the weather forecasters said it was going to turn out to be a sunny day (and so, indeed it was, in the afternoon) this morning was pretty cold and miserable. Probably on account of this, the park was practically deserted – Meg and I were keen to drink up our coffee and not tarry, particularly as we did not coincide with any of our friends and acquaintanceships. However, our day was lightened by the fact that our daughter-in-law had managed an ‘intermediate’ range shop up at Waitrose so we now feel comfortable for a week or so. Although I am used to paying cash for everything at the supermarket and not paying by card, I am in a very small minority and cash is very much frowned upon these days (potentially virus-laden) So I am having to get used to a new system of purchases all paid for electronically and I transfer monies over to settle my bills with the rest of the family.
We were greeted with the news that Keir Starmer had won a convincing victory in the election for the Labour party leadership. Now although conventional politics has all but been suspended whilst the COVID-19 pandemic is upon us, it seems as we have a ‘proper’ opposition at last. I was musing to myself what two acts I would do within minutes of being elected and think I would settle on the following. The first thing I would is to offer new posts to Seamus Milne and Karie Murphy (these are the two extreme Left-wing, Stalinist aides who have hijacked the Labour Party since Corbyn was elected) Seamus Milne I would offer the post of a fraternal permanent delegate to the Peoples Republic of North Korea and suggest he could best fulfill his new role by living there. Karie Murphy has already been suggested for the House of Lords and I am struggling to find a suitable position for her. Perhaps a fraternal delegate to Kazakhstan might do the trick) The second thing I would do is to move the Labour Party HQ to Manchester – after all, it was the birthplace of the Trades Union Congress and has a blue plaque to prove it – of course, the proximity to the BBC and the whole media centre in Salford Quays would be important. I would leave a small branch office staffed by a couple of part-timers in London to make the point. Somehow, I don’t think that this is going to happen but we are living in very strange times politically.
This afternoon, as the weather was reasonably fine I managed to get our communal lawns cut (I maintain the communal grassland that serves our six houses and is some 500m²) and it is always a relief when the mower starts unproblematically. I am pleased to report that my efforts were supervised by Miggles, the good looking cat who has adopted us and she acts as a clerk-of-works whenever I am doing jobs in the garden, checking that everything is being done correctly. When I was having my mid-mowing break, she actually came and sat in my lap for a stroke but desiring something more, no doubt (foodwise!) As she prefers female laps to male laps, then this is quite something.
So we are in Day 20 of our self-isolation and it is interesting to see where the ‘peak’ of this will be. According to some optimistic predictions, the pandemic may peak in about 10 days time and it does appear that both Italy and Spain may be able to view the ‘summit’ of their infection in a few days’ time. However, we are about 2-3 weeks behind Italy so that the prediction of a peak in 10 days’ time looks optimistic. In view of the fact that the number of cases is still accelerating, I think a better guess might be the end of April rather than the middle of April i.e. at least three weeks from now. We shall see – I suppose when it happens, I will look back upon this blog and see how right or wrong I was. Today was a beautiful bright day (as forecast) and we enjoyed our trip to the park where we coincided with an old Waitrose friend (and her friend) with whom we exchanged some pleasant chat. And when we got home, I was delighted that my family had managed to obtain a copy of both the ‘Sunday Times‘ and the 'Observer' (with some difficulty, as the supermarkets were assuming you were only going to shop once per week and that for food, not newspapers). I was musing to myself that when the Martians come to visit us again they will report back to their mission controllers that the people on earth all seem to have personal modes of transport in front of their houses (i.e. cars) that they never seem to use, that all of their gardens look incredibly neat and tidy as people have been working on them constantly but all of the men seem to be growing long straggly hair for some unexplained reason!
This afternoon, as the weather was fair the family engaged in a collective pruning of a large Eleagnos shrub which as at the corner of our communal plot and was proving to be a nuisance when we were rounding the corner. Whilst the daughter-in-law was doing the pruning, my son and I were chopping it all into smaller pieces for disposal. This may actually prove quite difficult as the local authority has suspended collections of the ‘Brown Bins’ in which we put our garden waste so we may have to activate the shredder that we keep in a corner of the garden (but do not actually use a great deal)
We are looking forward to a period of fine weather in the week ahead of us. It looks as though that if the public does not obey the ‘keep your distance’ rules assiduously, the government may be forced into banning all walks from the house even for exercise. In the case of Spain, one is only allowed 200 metres to exercise the dog. We must say that we are counting our blesssings as with a fairly large garden and some space along the private road that services our little block of houses then we could always ‘exercise’ by walking around the gardens front and rear and along the roadways without leaving our own property. I think the chances of this are about 40% at the moment but we shall see in the days to come!
It was a beautiful, bright and sunny morning this morning – but on our daily trip to the park, we did not happen to see any of our friends or acquaintances so we had to enjoy our mid-morning snack and coffee in total solitude. In fairness, there were very few people in the park so perhaps the message about self-isolation is really getting home. It is sad to report that after the delight of seeing a brood of ten young ducklings a couple of days ago, the pond is now totally bereft of ducklings. One can only assume that they have constituted a tasty meal for someone – possibly a fox that roams by night or seagulls that predate during the day. In any case, the sum total of ducklings now appears to be zero. When we arrived home, we were greeted with a minor domestic crisis. We have a communal mini-sewerage treatment servicing our six hours and although this has been serviced only 2-3 weeks ago it was starting to smell somewhat. A tanker driver had mistakenly turned up at our property and upon inspection, it turned out that our unit was over-full and in urgent need of emptying. Once the level of the effluent reaches a certain level, a pump should be activated which disperses the ‘grey’ water, theoretically biologically pure, through a herringbone series of pipes that lay underneath our communal grassed area (which we have jokingly called Meg’s Meadow) So phone calls had to be made, one to the company that services the electrical and mechanical elements and to another which is engaged in the six-monthly emptying. The ’emptying’ company at first said that our contract had been terminated despite a direct debit being in place – we suspect that an accountancy upgrade and move to ‘paperless’ billing meant that we had been thrown off their maintenance schedules. So we have to arrange for an emergency emptying followed by an inspection by the maintenance company that no vital component had failed or is malfunctioning. We think we have now got the two firms involved to resume their normal schedules and let us hope that equilibrium is soon to be restored.
In the afternoon, we resumed some house-cleaning duties. I am reminded of the American comedienne Joan Rivers who once remarked ‘The thing about housework is that there is so much hoovering, dusting, cleaning, polishing – and then nine months later you have to do it all over again!‘ In the late afternoon, we had a FaceTime chat with two of our closest Waitrose friends – we exchanged recipes and other tales of how we were coping the crisis (quite well actually) Without this modern bit of technology, we would feel the absence of social contacts with friends acutely, I am sure. I reflect upon the fact that when our son spent an academic year in Mexico just before email became prevalent (1986-87) a letter would take three weeks to get to him in Mexico and the reply another three weeks to get back. If his scholarship to Mexico had been a year or so later then an email would have made keeping in contact almost instantaneous.
During the course of the evening, we get the news flash about Boris Johnson being admitted into intensive care. As it happens, the news media have some footage which indicates just what being in intensive care in the COVID-19 era looks like (i.e. frightening). One is bound to wonder whether the Prime Minister will survive all of this and in any case, he will not be in a fit state to resume office for a period of time probably measured in weeks – if at all. One only hopes that the rest of the political system is sufficiently robust to take the correct decisions and judgment calls that will have to be made in the weeks ahead.
What a beautiful day it was today – sunny with clear blue skies and the modicum of wind. I can report that having been bereft of ducklings, we were delighted to see another brood of four ducklings emerge. Whether it was 40% of the previous group of ten or whether they were absolutely newly hatched chicks born to a different mother (which I can suspect), who can say? We were also delighted to see some of our favourite friends who live just down the road and who we used to see at Mass on a Saturday evening – the latter habit we have got into to enhance our range of social contacts, but we did manage to give some solace to the Monsignor when he was stricken with colon cancer and Meg and I went on a journey to see him at a rather splendid diocesan retreat for sick and retired priests (in a house designed by Pugin) located in Staffordshire. Our friends seemed, like us, to be bearing up quite well – they were going to walk across the public park in Bromsgrove (Sanders Park – donated by a 19th C. industrialist) and round the grounds of Grafton Manor which is an Elizabethan manor house in the vicinity and used, in more normal times, as a wedding venue and up-market restaurant. Bromsgrove has a festival of arts and similar events once a year and Grafton Manor has hosted some concerts there. We attended a concert in which a young violinist played Mendelssohn’s violin concerto brilliantly (if I remember correctly).
We had a quiet afternoon in which I rediscovered the joys of dusting, polishing, etc (our bathroom on this occasion). I suppose years ago, and perhaps even today, there used to be the ritual of the ‘Spring Clean’ and so this was a brilliant opportunity to reinvent the tradition. Actually, whilst turning out our bedroom, I did discover a hardback notebook that I had forgotten about. It was actually a 2019 Page-a-Day diary but I had labelled it up nicely with some of those little stick-on letters that you can buy in some stationers. The idea behind it is this. Often by our telephone and on our working desks, we have little notebooks in which we write down the ephemera of the day. In the course of time, a lot of this can be junked – but the more important bits of information (telephone number, people’s names and addresses) can be written up in the Scrapbook where they will not get lost (at least that it the theory, anyway – it only works, though, if you make a conscious effort to transfer useful stuff from your daily jottings into it on a regular basis) The idea for this came to me several years ago when I got frustrated learning how to do something on the computer (e.g. finding software that puts captions across the bottom of photos that you wish to keep) So I called this book ‘What have I learnt/re-learnt TODAY’ and I notice that I actually started it in March 2102 (evidently 8 years ago) My little system is. like this – whenever I discover a new technique or something I wish to retain, then I will enter it on a new page with the date first and the subject matter second. Opening it at random, for example, the entry for Wednesday, 20th August 2014 was ‘MCH’s own URL shortener’ i.e. a way of taking a long and complex web address and shortening it into something more memorable without going to the trouble and expense of buying a new domain name (although I do do this on occasions) Then, at the back of the book I have an index of all of my entries (they number 92 at the moment) which gives the subject matter and then a date e,g, see entry for such-and-such a date. I must say, that I found this system does work very well for me – how many of us can remember what you did in March, 2012 if you do not use the technique regularly? Anyway, as I thought it was of a thin day, I would pass that tip on to all and sundry…
Yet another fine day – I suppose we had better enjoy it whilst the good weather lasts! As you might expect, there was a sprinkling of people in the park (rather than none) and we spent a happy few minutes chatting with some of our acquaintances. When we got back, Meg had a medical ‘appointment’ but everything is done by phone these days and quite a lot of things do not actually require face-to-face contact. We read one of the many articles that appear in the quality press these days and, of course, the consensus view is that no area of social life will ever be the same again. It looks as though the default medical consultation (GP’s, outpatients) will now be performed remotely as the technology becomes more widespread. As we use Apple technology in our house, we tend to use FaceTime which I must say has already worked excellently. One letter (or was it an article in the Time newspaper?) was arguing that more has been achieved by using the new technology to facilitate doctor-patient interaction in the last three weeks than in the last twenty years. Personally, I feel quite optimistic that the ‘new normality’ which will emerge after the worst excess of COVID-19 (not when it is over, if ever) may mean new forms of economic and social organisation in which as many one third of the population work from home (probable), new patterns of sociability and patterns of cooperation will emerge (more than likely) and that essential local shops and businesses may enjoy a resurgence (a possibility). What the modern-day High Street will look like in the typical town will look like, goodness alone knows, as many of the presently closed businesses will surely never re-open again (if only because there is not the footfall or the consumer spending power) to make them viable. In some ways, this might present more opportunities – e.g. bars/cafes more like their continental counterparts that sell coffee, cakes, alcohol, light meals and so on. We shall see!
In the afternoon, we had the organisation come and empty our BioDisk (miniature sewerage treatment plant) and were relieved that although it was quite full, everything was functioning normally – it will be checked mechanically tomorrow all being well. In the autumn rains, we had a large Hawthorne tree that had been overcome by ivy and was a little precariously growing on a slope. Anyway, it became uprooted and had to be removed which it was very efficiently. But left behind was a large amount of garden detritus not to mention some garden tools that used to be hung up in its branches (to save a journey into the house – don’t ask!) and this had been left all winter. So I set myself the task of a tidy-up which was meant to last 20 minutes but became an hour. I am glad to say that Miggles, our neighbourhood cat that has adopted us (not the other way around) supervised all of my activities, pretending to catch spiders and insects (she missed the two frogs that I unearthed), and checking that everything I did was being performed to specifications. I must say I have never seen a cat like her. When last autumn, I was laying a path and that involving taking slate delivered in a ton bag which had been delivered to our house down in bucket loads to where the path was being laid, my every move was carefully observed and scrutinised. When I filled up my buckets with shovelfuls of slate, Miggles observed and counted out the correct number of shovel loads per bucket and then followed me down the garden path and supervised that it was distributed correctly before the procedure was repeated) I wonder if any readers of this blog have had similar experiences like this with any of their household pets (I exclude goldfish and hamsters from this observation)
Another quite interesting day. Before we enjoyed our daily walk in the park, the BioDisk maintenance company turned up and found that everything was in good working order (and it had been emptied only the day before). However, it was mentioned to us (and we had received the same message the day before) that they had noticed that in the last week or so such communal facilities had come increasing pressure as people were working from home, thus creating demands on the system. I think a note to fellow residents might well be called for, and we may have to increase the number of ’empties’ in a typical year.
As we have come to expect, we enjoyed another fine day in the park and were pleased to meet one of our Waitrose friends there, so we had a good chat. Also, we observed some 5-6 ducklings that looked very young and we surmised that they might be part of a newly hatched brood. One of the regular dog walkers in the park who had evidently kept a keen eye on things wondered whether the local heron, easily identified as it has one club foot(!) might have been responsible for the predation of duckings in the past. He told us that when the park pond was emptied for maintenance a few years ago, it was discovered to be teaming with perch fish. As we were on our way out of the park, we were approached by a volunteer in a hi-viz vest who thought that we might have been tarrying over our coffee somewhat too long on the park bench and potentially providing a bad example. to others. We explained that we understood that Michael Gove had explicitly stated that individuals (related to each other) could legitimately sit on a park bench during exercise – the exchanges were good-natured and I am sure the volunteer was acting according to his best lights. Just out of interest, I undertook some Google searches and found the following advice from the Director of Public Health for Gloucestershire published two days ago on 7th April. I reproduce the relevant bits below…
“Park benches are a really important part of our community because if you are a bit older or frail they are quite helpful to give you a rest when you are on your daily exercise route, and we’ve had a question about whether people can sit on benches together…..
We have had messages with some places closing their benches, putting tape across them. There is nothing wrong with having a park bench, if you are a members of the same family you can sit on the bench together, but if you’re not you have to keep two metre distance.
“This means if the bench is on its own, one person sits on the bench, one person has to stand two metres away.
We spent some time in the afternoon doing a communal shredding – this was quite satisfying but our garden shredder is a little ‘picky’ about the width of twigs that it will accept but after a bit of sorting, we overcame that problem and added the shreddings to our compost bin. Fortunately, I discovered in some of my ‘outside’ garden things that I keep under the eaves of the house some concentrated organic composting accelerator (although, as we all know, all men are very good at producing their own on a daily basis, preferably after some good long drinks of tea or beer). Then we started the long hunt within the house for ‘the bell’. This is quite a long story – when we had a really long (100 yd +) vegetable garden in Leicestershire, my wife needed something to summon me to the house when I was working at the bottom of the garden. And so when we were on holiday on the Norfolk Broads one year we discovered a ship’s bell in a boat-keepers chandlery and hence we acquired the bell which we screwed onto some French doors that opened out into the garden. We haven’t had a use for it in the last 34 years but we really needed it tonight. Why? you might ask. Well, it was to add to the clapping, car hooting, saucepan banging and other celebrations that we engage upon to show our appreciation for NHS workers and several others which is now a tradition at 8.00 pm each Thursday evening. We played our part – but our son who was operating the bell was soon ‘clapped out’ i.e. the clapper fell out of the bell within a few seconds and had to be re-attached.
It is evident that the government is getting increasingly worried that the coincidence of fine weather with what was traditionally the Easter vacation period will bring people out into the parks and recreational spaces. The frequency and stridency of the messaging seem evident because the ‘peak’ of the COVID-19 deaths is not yet actually in sight – all could jeopardised if a significant portion of the population decided to kick over the traces and try to see some friends ‘en-masse’ Although by and large, the police have gone about their law-enforcement with a degree of sensitivity, to some police chiefs the crisis gives the opportunity for the assumption of wide-ranging powers. One police chief suggested that an individual’s supermarket trolly be examined for goods that were not deemed to be essential. Fortunately, this last proposal had to be rapidly withdrawn when it became evident is was both draconian and unenforceable.
We had four interesting conversations with diverse groups of people. The first was with our friend, Julie, who we know from our Waitrose days and who lives on the edge of the park, in any case. Then we bumped. into a youngish couple who were out dog walking and it turned out that the husband worked for the part of the Health Service that evaluates the efficacy and affordability of various drug regimens. As he was working at home (like our own son) we were speculating how this situation might become the norm rather than the exception in the post COVID-19 UK. Finally, we saw two lots of our friends who live along the Kidderminster Road and we adopted our by now usual policy of standing outside a house and jumping up and down until we are noticed and people come out for a chat.
As it is Good Friday today, I also scan the broadcasting schedules to see if any performances are to be broadcast of Bach’s Mathew Passion or St. John Passion. As it turned out, I was not disappointed as St. John Passion was broadcast on Radio 3 and to be honest, some of the cantatas seem quite similar between the two works. I listened to the first hour of this before attending to the cutting of the communal lawn whilst the weather is so good. The mower stuttered once or twice and actually stopped although it started again quickly but I couldn’t find any evident cause (a slight malfunction of the carburettor, I wonder) As I type at the moment, I am listening to Dame Judi Dench who is conversation with John Humphries – and as it is Good Friday she has chosen the closing section of Matthew Passion (the cantata 'In tears of grief') which I always find incredibly moving. Bach wrote this cantata in such a way that one can almost ‘hear’ the sobs embedded in the rhythms of the music. I first heard this when I was 13 going on 14 yeas old in the school music room and it has been a particular favorite of mine ever since.The news that the daily tally of deaths in a single day (980) now exceeds the biggest ‘one day’ totals recorded in either Italy or Spain seems grim. A more local analysis reported in the Worcester News seemed to show the rate of increase was moderating in Worcestershire i.e. we were getting near the ‘top’ of the curve but the national picture does not look at all encouraging yet.
Another really beautiful day here in the West Midlands, only marred by the news that the West Midlands is emerging as a COVID-19 hotspot. I quote from the Health Services Journal:
While London has continually topped lists of coronavirus cases in the UK, Birmingham has the highest number outside of the Capital, with the West Midlands emerging as a hotspot for transmissions last month….The government has said it is investigating reasons why that might be the case, amid suggestions that people’s religious convictions are contributing to the spread.
Now for some more cheerful news. Although I didn’t count any ducklings in the park today, I did see a snow-white duck (which stood our amidst the mallards) and a bird which I surmise from its very long and upright neck was actually a goose. Well, it takes all sorts! As a sight for sore eyes, I was amazed to see a woman runner who, as she approached, appeared to be absolutely naked from the waist down. But as she approached, it became apparent that she was actually wearing exceptionally tight-fitting, flesh-coloured exercise leggings. I am reliably informed that this is quite fashionable amongst the younger women these days but I must confess I had never seen anything thing quite like it – perhaps I don’t get around much!
Later in the morning, I made a large fish pie – I normally do this every 2-3 weeks and it supplies a meal on the day and a further three meals for the freezer. It is not at all difficult to make but would be too fiddly for one meal and hence I make a large casserole of it. Typically it would four different kinds of fish (salmon, haddock, cod or plaice, prawns) with a bottom supplied by sliced (parboiled) potatoes and a topping of mashed potatoes and shredded cheese. I do cheat a little and add some Schwartz Fish Pie or White Wine sauce if I have in stock – the subsequent meals are really quick because it only takes about 3 minutes in the microwave and is normally accompanied by tender-stem broccoli. I realise this is not to everyone’s taste but I am trying to cut down on my consumption of meat (for a host of reasons) and increase that of fish.
In terms of political news, I observed that the Twittersphere was getting incensed by the news that Boris Johnson has been amusing himself during his recovery by playing Sudoku. The particular object of anger was with the rest of the Main Stream Media (MSM) for giving prominence to such trivia at a time when the best part of 1000 people a day are dying – surely there are more penetrating questions that journalists should be asking. Also quoted today was the estimate by a domestic abuse charity that in a single day last week the number of cases which it had to deal had risen by 120%. But most anger (in the press and which I share) was the briefing given by Priti Patel who was asked to apologise the fact that many of the deaths of NHS personnel from the COVID-19 virus ould be attributed to their lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). After being asked twice if she would apologise to NHS staff and their families over the shortages of PPE, Ms Patel said: “I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.’ This must rank as one of the most half-hearted, weaselly-worded apologies of all time – a point quickly picked up by the press.
We FaceTimed our dearest and closest friends in Spain in the evening. I think it is true to say that whilst the death rate in Spain is now at a three week low, the population is starting to feel the pressure of a very strictly enforced lock-down policy – for example , only one person is allowed out of the house at a time and that to walk the dog but only a distance of 200 metres (but it can be done twice a day) It may come to that yet in the UK and some are thinking that if the WestMidlnds continues to be such a hot-spot, that day might not be too far off!
This must be one of the strangest Easter Sundays that any of us have ever experienced but I suppose we will all get used to living in strange times. This morning we were delighted to make our daily trip to the park which, actually, was extremely quiet compared with yesterday. I am pleased to report that the ducklings now number 5 from that we suspect is brood No. 2. Whilst we were having our daily coffee (necessary for the ‘oldies’ to regain their strength after an energetic 1km walk to the park, you understand) we had a couple of conversations, one with the elderly lady with whom we exchanged wartime reminiscences early on in the week, and the other with Julie, our ‘Waitrose’ friend. In the midst of our conversations, a heron swooped and nearly made off with one of the ducklings, only to be beaten off by an assiduous mother duck. And so to home, where we enjoyed a nice dinner of roast beef, cooked in our slow cooker (and I saved half of the joint for another Sunday lunch). In the afternoon, I undertook one of my regular duties which is to round the house, wiping each light switch with an anti-bacteriological wipe which may, or may not, fend off the COVID-19 virus. This task doesn’t take that long but I am amazed how many light switches there are in the house overall (I lose count after the first 20!) I feel that I will have the same degree of success as that enjoyed by the elderly gentleman who used to throw little pieces of pink paper out of the top of a Chapham omnibus in order to deter the elephants. He was always successful, by the way, as no doubt I will be.
In the early evening, I was playing about with the FaceTime contacts list that FaceTime displays when an older Winchester colleague accidentally made me a video-call. He intended to call his son but hit the wrong button! I was delighted and we exchanged notes. They were amazed at the sojourns that Meg and I enjoy on our local park bench as down in Southampton, the local officials have taped up all of the park benches to deter would-be loiterers and aged rest-takers from utilising them – I must say, that I feel that it is a bit over the top. Incidentally, after my encounter with the flesh-coloured tights lady yesterday, we were passed in the park today (at a suitable distance) by a lady runner who was displaying a full face-load of makeup complete with false eyelashes and sporting a fetching leopard-skin leotard (or whatever you call the gear that people run in these days).
In the early evening, we watched the rerun of last Thursday’s Question Time on the Parliament channel (232). We then had a FaceTime chat with my sister (who I didn’t realise had an iPad) so that was a pleasant bonus and we are now arrangements in place to FaceTime the rest of the family as well, once we have suitable times organised. We are also in email contact with one of Meg’s cousin’s daughters who had been re-located before the crisis to Seattle. We received a long email telling us that things were like in the USA from the inside and are making similar arrangements to FaceTime each other as soon as time zones and diaries allow. So all in all, we have had a fully communication-rich Sunday – we wonder what the forthcoming week is going to bring. If the crisis had any benefits whatsoever, it was to appreciate how lucky we are to have family and friends with whom we can rapidly communicate – perhaps this will set up a good model for the future when we don’t neglect the friends that we have as we were forced to do during our working years.
Last night, a brief but very intense squall hit the Midlands – when we woke up this morning, we discovered that two owls had been smashed to pieces and the body parts lay scattered around the patio we have outside the house in the back garden. Before readers recoil in absolute horror, I ought to mention that the owls in question were china owls (well, pot actually) and had been residing on our outside patio table. So what were they doing there in the first place? Well, the story is this. Last summer, I renovated some aluminium garden furniture (table and four chairs) by repainting them with a dark green ‘Hammerite’ paint. However, a local robin had taken to perching on the back of one of the newly painted chairs and was threatening to ‘poop’ all over my handiwork. In order to preserve their renovated status, I scoured the local Charity shops (of which we have at least half a dozen) and managed to secure two pottery owls, often used as money boxes, They were put at slightly different angles and they were used to deter robins and the like from messing up our garden furniture. Unfortunately, the storm arose before I had the chance to lay them flat and they paid the ultimate sacrifice…
This morning the normal pattern repeated itself in that we exchanged several pleasantries with dog walkers in the park but we did not tarry long as there was quite a brisk wind. On the way back home we did have a chat with some near neighbours who live just around the corner but with whom we have not had the chance of an extended conversation before today. They were digging over and renovating a little triangular plot in front of their house and they had been waiting for a spot of rain so the earth would have softened a bit before they started digging and planting. We mentioned to each other that one of the side effects of the present crisis was that once people had got bored with decorating, gardening and spring cleaning they would revert to more traditional modes of indoor entertainment and the experts were predicting a ‘baby boom’ in about nine months from now. We reminisced that the last time a national crisis brought together groups of neighbours was in 1973 when the country as a whole had to endure a three-day week as well as intermittent power disconnections of both gas and electricity. The official (Conservative) government advice, which we followed enthusiastically was that we should ‘shower with a friend‘ to save the country’s diminished energy supplies. ‘Oh, that’s interesting’ the wife of the couple remarked ‘as I was born in 1974!’ We giggled and wondered?
In the late afternoon, we were delighted to have an hour-long FaceTime video link with my wife’s cousin’s daughter (is that called a ‘cousin once removed’?) We found out how at first hand how COVID-19 crisis was affecting the USA – predictably, the Democratic states were blaming the lack of preparedness on President Trump whilst the more red-neck states (inland, Republican) were inclined to believe that it was all a conspiracy to attempt to discredit Trump! Whereas here in the UK, we quickly added shops selling alcohol (off-licenses) to the essential stores such as supermarkets, pharmacies and garages the Americans had decided that it was a top priority to keep open – the gun stores! One really has to wonder. Now that we have discovered the joys of FaceTime-ing, we wonder why we have not done it long before. Of course, it does assume that you have Apple technology at both ends but given that the Apple Contacts pages give you one link to activate, then what could be easier?
A busier than usual day in our local park today. We espied our friend Julie from 200 metres away as she was nearing the end of an hour-long walk and so another long and interesting chat. Julie told us about a flowering cherry in full bloom that had been felled in the recent storm but I think it’s not an unusual occurrence. We have an occasional gardener who tells us that quite a lot of trees in the area have keeled over because the water table is so high after the recent rains so they lose their footing. Incidentally, did you know that scientists think that trees have developed some communication systems with each other via their extensive root systems? It’s not quite as daft as it sounds. We then had another chat with another of ex-Waitrose friends who is the mother of two twin girls. She was in good heart but somewhat tired as she was only getting a couple of hours sleep before it was interrupted by one or other of the girls. On our way out this morning, I decided to make a present of a magnificent hoe made by Wolf tools that I think is technically called a ‘push-pull’ weeder. It has a flattish blade but with a wavy front edge and is magnificent for quickly cultivating some ground if it has been recently been dug over. It works by cutting off any the heads of any tiny little weeds which then shrivel up and die on the surface of the soil. I think this particular hoe was given to me over thirty years ago as a birthday present but as I have another more up-to-date model of this type, I was willing for its older brother to go to a good home. When we got home, we found some Easter cup-cakes had been delivered to us a ‘thank you’ and they were delicious.
We spent a very pleasant afternoon taking coffee with our new next-door neighbours. They have been incredibly busy juggling work commitments and getting the bungalow exactly to their likes which has involved building a conservatory, trying to reconfigure the whole of the garden and so on. They (and we) have been so busy of late that it was great to spend the days in each company – as it happens we think alike on many issues (such as the mutual loathing of Donald Trump, for example). As it happens, I had one or two garden implements that helped my neigbour with some difficult tasks (removing old concrete posts, for example).
We see that the Government has today reverted to its traditional mode of lying to us. We had a graph which showed the UK death rate below other European societies, particularly France – but the UK figures included only the deaths recorded in hospital and were not comparable with the more inclusive figures than the French data which included all COVID-19 deaths, whether in hospital or elsewhere. When one of the journalists pointed this out in the press conference, there was the usual obfuscation, answering a question that was not actually posed, trotting out that it was the government’s intention to… and so on. There happened to be a letter in today’s Times which argued that journalists should only ask one question and pursue it relentlessly until the question that has been asked is actally answered instead of being evaded, met with a half-truth, statement of the obvious and so on. In general, at the daily press conferences, the journalists nearly always do ask pointed and well-directed questions but the resplies are nearly evasive. The favourite seems to be answer a question that was not actually asked or else to think of a answer with a really big number in it that is meant to impress but is really meaningless. My particular gripe is over the claim that the NHS frontline has recently been supplied with ‘x’ million pieces of equiopment which does not answer the question that the front line is evidently short of PPE and needs a lot more!
It seems incredible to me that we are mid-way through April already – the months go faster and faster. Today, I met an acquaintance in the park who knew two of my sets of acquaintances but who I didn’t know knew each other. This got me thinking a bit about how networks of social relationships develop. I am going to be a little more theoretical but bear with me and you will see where I am going. When I was at university in the mid-1960s, one of our tutors was Professor Ronald Frankenberg who compiled a book called ‘Communities in Britain‘. Sociologists and social anthropologists had written a series of studies starting with simple fishing, mining and agricultural communities and progressing through larger and more complex communities including small market towns. The idea was to build a type of continuum of the way that communities had developed through time from simple to more complex. In a theoretical chapter at the end, Frankenberg attempts to arrive at a theoretical and mathematical understanding of the way in which we can describe communities using social network and communication theory. He borrowed from a 1949 work ‘On Human Communication‘ to show how messages arrive from A to B. Put simply, if A is connected to B and the link is broken, then communication cannot occur. If however, there are some other points in the system (let us call then C and D) then if the link between A and B is broken, it is still possible to get a message through the system by going through C or D. This is technically called redundancy by telecommunication engineers – put really simply, the more extra nodes there are in the system (i.e. the more redundancy) the greater a chance that a message will be delivered. If we take an example from the last war – if the British had bombed a railway line between two German cities and they were only connected by one direct line, then the effect would be no trains!. But now imagine the Germans attempting to bomb a railway line shall we say between Birmingham and Manchester. The railway chiefs could always route a train through ‘Didley Squat junction‘ and the train would get through eventually, albeit with a little delay. This must actually be happening all the time on the World Wide Web – if one link is down then a router will despatch messages in different directions to ensure that the email gets delivered. Frankenberg’s great insight was, I believe, that we can define a ‘community-ness’ by the amount of redundancy as well as by the connectedness of the system. Can you see where I started off and where I am going from with this idea?
In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed some of our closest friends who described to us how they ought to have been in receipt of the government letter, sent to all people with complex medical needs (which the husband of our friends certainly has) Put briefly, life had been very stressful trying to get supermarket slots. medication and the like. However, through some kind of systems failure, the letter had failed to be sent or to arrive – but when part of the medical networks caring for our friend realised this they got the wheels in motion and suddenly everything changed dramatically and life got a lot easier as they could now get the priority access through supermarket queues to which they are thoroughly entitled (but which hitherto had failed to materialise) So gradually things are starting to get better.
Some sad COVID-19 related news for us today. One of my daughter-in-law’s relatives had died of the virus (although he was of an advanced age and suffering from dementia) We were also saddened to hear that one of our closest friends in Leicestershire had also suffered a bereavement – first the mother died last autumn and then one of her own sons died of oesophageal cancer in the last day or, with very few family members or friends being allowed to attend the funeral. This must be happening to families up and down the country…
One of the joys of stopping for chats with people is that you discover new points of contact that you never knew that you had in common. And so it proved today when we were chatting with acquaintances along the Kidderminster Road (up and down which we walk daily) only to discover that we had stayed in some of the same places in Spain (Calella. north of Barcelona) Then in turn we chatted to their neighbour who, as it turned out, was a French national by origin and was a teacher of both French and Spanish. So suddenly our number of ‘Spanish’ connections seemed to increase rapidly.
In common with many other people I use the app on my mobile phone called WhatsApp but as this is designed specifically for a mobile, it is not designed to work on a desktop. However, it is so much easier typing on a ‘proper’ keyboard rather than using the fiddly keys on a mobile – I find that even though I bought a slightly bigger than normal iPhone than normal two years ago (an iPhone 8 Plus), my fingers still cover three of the keys at once and despite Apple technology ‘learning’ your particular typing style, I still make multiple errors when texting (and that is before predictive texting takes over). So I was delighted when I found a way to get a version of WhatsApp to run through a browser on one’s desktop, so I spent a certain amount of time last night playing with some of the people in my ‘Contacts’ section (brought over from my iPhone) and sending them a message saying I was experimenting an inviting a reply to see if the messages had actually got through (which they had). Incidentally, one of the interesting features about the command ‘Send‘ is that you actually have started a transmission process (analogous to popping a letter in the post) and do not know whether (a) the message has actually been delivered, let alone read and (b) whether the message was understood. I remember an incident in the comedy series 'Only Fools and Horses' in which Rodney and DelBoy were tested at a local hospital for some condition or other and when they got a message back saying the results were ‘Negative‘, they interpreted this communication from the hospital as though they had contracted a fatal disease from which they would die (a ‘negative’ outcome)
It being a fine afternoon. I gave our communal lawns (500m²) their weekly cut and my trusty ‘Stiga’ (Swedish) petrol mower behaved flawlessly .The only thing I did after it faltered once or twice last week was to soak the sponge air filter in engine oil. After a quick Google search, I have now come to appreciate that this is essential and not just an optional extra – apparently, unfiltered air can rip through and damage your engine but the addition of engine oil makes the filter much more ‘sticky’ as minute particles of pollen and dust which can damage the engine are trapped much more efficiently if the foam air filter is correctly oiled with engine oil. Now I know! When this was done I emailed my very old (in both senses of the word) friend and former colleague with whom I worked in the Central Office of Information (COI) in 1966. I was keen that we both keep in touch during the current crisis so I have given her the choice of communicating via email (which I suspect she prefers), SMS (text), FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype. I’ll have to wait to get her reply before deciding which to use on a regular basis.
Tonight being Thursday, we had our usual ‘Clap for our Carers‘ session at 8.00 pm. Methinks the response was a little bit down this week but I am still delighted that there are people in our local community who still care. My son rings a bell whilst I bang an open aluminium cooking pot with a spoon which makes a really raucous din. Immediately after this, Question Time was transmitted at 8.00 on BBC1 and one of the panellists, a doctor, argued that wearing a mask may not protect you from the virus but reduces any virus load that you may eject by a cough or a sneeze to 1/36th of the virus load. If true, this makes the case for wearing masks to prevent onward transmission (rather than to protect oneself) almost unanswerable. I think I would like to see it happen but I suspect the government with its present problems would rather not know!
Well, today has been one of those indeterminate days where nothing has really gone right – we all have days like that. The spell of good weather is coming to an end and although a spattering of rain arrived in the afternoon, the weather was sufficiently fine for us to enjoy our customary walk to the park. However, the colder weather was keeping the joggers away and all but the most determined dog walkers so we quickly drank up our coffee and made for home – but we did have the bonus of chatting to two of our closest friends on Kidderminster Rd on the way home. As it happens, they were on the way out to enjoy their constitutional so it was a happy coincidence that we did not miss each other.
In the afternoon, I had set myself the task of trying to chase the insurance claim for the holiday that we had booked for Porto in Portugal in mid-May. As you might expect, this was problematic from the word go. The insurance company, even I contacted them by phone (in desperation) will refuse any claim if Expedia has not issued a cancellation invoice. In the meantime, the Expedia website is completely overwhelmed and speaking to a ‘human’ is impossible. They have an automated system to respond to queries that refused to recognise the itinerary number or my email address although I have the original confirmation in January ready to quote to them. Eventually, I gleaned from the insurance company that even I had been able to speak to an agent at Expedia, they would refuse to deal with me until the planned holiday was only 10 days away. So I put a note on the calendar and resolved to contact them (if I could) a bit nearer our planned departure date. To cap it all, as I started out to write this blog I received a communication from Expedia asking me whether I would like to cancel (which I did) and then intimating that for the outward leg of the journey, the airline Iberia would offer me a voucher for the unused flight and British Airways would do the same for the return leg of the journey. So the whole thing is turning into a logistical nightmare, given that nobody will be flying anywhere for months ahead, so far as we can tell! But enough of these woes and now for more serious issues.
The lack of the UK’s government’s preparation for the COVID-19 crisis is really starting to unwind this weekend. As I write, there appear to be indications that trusts all over the country will run out of gowns which are necessary to don before one can treat patients without putting your own health/life at risk. The official line appears to be ‘see if you can wash it and use it again’ which implies instant turn around laundry and sterilisation issues not to mention wear and tear. I have also some intimations, both personally and through the columns of Health Services Journal that the situation in Accident and Emergency departments is fast deteriorating. It appears that ‘normal’ A&E admissions are not taking place so many suspected heart attacks, strokes, and potential cancers are now not being treated, as potential patients are too scared or unwilling to attend A&E departments. Last nights ‘I’ newspaper, which I haven’t had the chance to read or verify, is arguing that we may be saving some COVID-19 patients’ lives but the collateral damage in untreated cancers, strokes and heart attacks might mean that there are an additional 60,000 deaths (i.e. 4 times of the present COVID-19 death rate) The A&E departments themselves are, anecdotally, being populated by victims of domestic violence, botched suicide attempts, and alcohol abuse problems. I wish I could end on a more cheerful note but it is not possible. I wonder what the inevitable ‘official’ inquiry will reveal if one is held when the immediate crisis is over.
Today was a wet, cold-ish and miserable day throughout most of the Midlands. Meg and I undertook our daily trip to the park and rather than shivering on a park bench, we stood in the deserted bandstand area where we drank our customary cup of coffee and got home as fast as we could. There were no joggers in evidence and even the ardent dog-walkers had been reduced to about two or three as far as the eye could see. At least, we could regale ourselves with a (homemade) vegetable curry when we got home – left-overs from previous curries when I have been in the habit of making them too big! I read in the newspapers today that under these strange conditions, many people are spinning out their food resources somewhat and no doubt re-discovering some of the techniques of ‘making do’. Thinking back to my childhood, my mother used to serve us mince at least two or three times a week. In those days, you had an old-fashioned mincer which was an awesome contraption that screwed onto the side of the kitchen table and would ingest any scraps of neat one had left lying around together with stale bread and anything else to extend the protein. My mother used to bake bread nearly every day as well- I suppose these habits were engrained by living through wartime conditions and they never really left her. I was often told the story that when I was about 4-5 we cook not afford a chicken for our Christmas meal (expensive in 1949) but we made do with rabbit meat which, paradoxically, was more readily available and cheaper as well. Nowadays whenever Meg and I travel to Spain and we see ‘conejo‘ (rabbit) on the menu, we always eat it and it is often served in the form of a cocido (a thickish stew really).
This afternoon was devoted to the delights of house-cleaning – something we had forgotten since we have had someone to clean the house for at least the last forty years (at a conservative estimate) I have discovered that we actually possessed a type of feathery duster which I use for vertical surfaces (book in bookcases), light fittings and delicate things like clocks, whilst conventional dusters are used for flattish surfaces. Then, of course, comes the hoovering. As our old Dyson went belly-up a few weeks ago, we have now acquired a new model (a ‘Shark Lift-Away‘) which splits into two to hoover the stairs and sports a light in the front (like the really old-fashioned Hoovers used to have, which I used to use whilst hoovering the ballrooms of the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate where I worked as a porter (as well as a dish-washer, barman and numerous other jobs) when I was a teenager. What exciting lives we led!On a more technical note, I thought it might be quite a good idea to string these blogs together into one long HTML This I have now done and if you want to read the blogs in one continuous stream or quickly pass from one to the next, this is now possible. All you have to do is to access http://mch-net.info/all-blog
After yesterday’s dull and rainy weather, it was predictable that lots of people would be out and about on a bright and sunny morning, and so it proved. We were equally delighted to simultaneously meet two of our sets of friends down the Kidderminster Road so we formed a large circle of six people chatting and wondering whether the police would come and break up a social gathering! Our son and daughter in law had kindly gone to get us some Sunday newspapers and they passed us on the road. In the Sunday Times there was a fascinating article ‘Revealed: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster‘ which documented in great detail how the British political elite had dithered in the face of the forthcoming COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the revelations were shocking e.g. Boris Johnson had not attended 5 of the vital COBRA meetings and it was evident that in late January the Prime Minister was so concerned with Brexit/divorce/holidays that vital days were lost which has resulted in a possible excess of thousands of lives. This is shocking almost beyond belief.
Incidentally, I thought I would let readers of this blog know that I have been appointed as a spokesman for the Government to assist in the daily COVID-19 briefings and press conference. The training for this was actually very easy and consisted of the following 6 steps that had to be followed, whatever was the question. In this, I was greatly assisted by watching the performance of the Education Minister, Gavin Williamson, today. The formula is really very simple and goes as follows. Firstly, given that each journalist has about a five-minute slot, waste a good few seconds by congratulating the chosen journalist for asking a really pointed and penetrating question that required a full and detailed response (this can waste at least a quarter of a minute) Secondly, preface any remarks by the formula ‘I would really like to pay tribute to the dedicated and hard-working staff who have worked tirelessly on our behalf et… etc‘(another half a minute) Thirdly, particularly in the case of shortages of critical equipment such as PPE indicate that the government had been working tremendously hard on the problem of supplies, ‘had all of the supply lines in sight’ and was working round the clock to solve the problem.. Fourthly, and perhaps as a type of response to the actual question asked, give completely irrelevant response such as the following asking whether the social care staff in Nottingham would receive their supplies of PPE in time reply that you would like to thank the two universities in the region who had been doing a magnificent job as part of the local Resilience team…(I am reminded of the schoolboy who, in a Religious Studies exam, was asked to list the Ten Commandments replied that he had forgotten them but he could recite a list of the first 20 kings of Israel!) Fifthly pass the question sideways to Jenny Whats-her-name who is meant to provide a more ‘scientific’ response, as she has a Phd in Obfuscatory Studies particularly when asked a question such as ‘How would you feel personally about having to be in the front-line of patient support without adequate PPE putting your own life and that of your family at risk’ Finally, and sixthly, invite the journalist to say if they had any supplementary questions knowing that you had not answered the first but you were keen to give the impression that you are being frank and open and willing to answer any supplementary questions, knowing that you hadn’t answered the original question so there was no reason to attempt a coherent answer to any supplementary. The great beauty of this checklist is that it works whatever the question is asked from whichever journalist. Watch out for me on the media briefings shortly!
This afternoon, I thought a would do a little gardening whilst the weather was fine. No sooner had I started then the local cat who has adopted us, Miggles, came to supervise my work. No sooner had I cleared a gully of weeds by the side of our communal grassed area, then she came and sat in it, luxuriating in the sunshine. She pretended to try to catch a robin that was singing nearby and then pretended to catch a Holly Blue butterfly to make it look as though she was actually busily engaged before she got tired of her supervisory duties and wandered off. By the way, I suspect there is some hanky-panky going on with another little black-and-white cat who I have nicknamed ‘Peter’ as they seem very friendly together, particularly first thing in a morning. I have my suspicions…
We are promised a few days of fine weather, after which no doubt autumn will commence. Today was another fine and bright day, albeit a trifle windy. We were delighted to see our mother duck was leading out her band of seven ducklings onto dry land for an excursion so several of us captured the event on our mobile phones. In the midst of all of this, we were especially pleased to see our friend Julie who had bought Meg one of her favourite pastries from Waitrose (of which she has been deprived for the last seven weeks) so she enjoyed a delicious coffee break. Having said that, our sojourn on the park bench is always a perilous affair as I have to ensure that nothing touches the hard surface of the park bench (lest it is virus-laden) So we have to balance my rucksack on one knee whilst simultaneously unscrewing the cap of our coffee flask and pouring out its contents single-handed – and then we have our oatmeal biscuits to be extracted from their plastic container. Still, you get used to any manouvre in time. Julie was greeted by a near neighbour and we were saying to each other that never had we realised that there were so many footpaths to be explored, not to mention the park itself whose charms were very much under-appreciated when we used to walk straight on past each day.
This afternoon was very much a gardening afternoon and a typical spring-time clearing task at that. There really is no substitute for getting down on your hands and knees and tackling the weeding head-on. My particular task is to clean out a gully by the side of our communal grassed area and this is always completely overgrown with a combination of couch grass, dandelions, ivy, nettles and a variety of other weeds that I cannot begin to describe. The only way to tackle the job is to cut a section of the overhanging grass about a yard at a time and then clear the gully in about two-feet sections with specially ‘grippy’ gardening gloves that pull out the unwanted growth before cutting the grass again. Although this sounds long-winded and tedious (which it is) at least if you get on top of it in April then the task for the maintenance for the rest of the gardening year becomes somewhat easier. To make matters worse, my task was not supervised by our adopted cat, Miggles, about whom there is speculation in the house that she may be pregnant. I’m not too sure but if you are an avid reader of my ‘Virtually Challenged Anecdotes’ you will realise that I have yet to perfect my skills in performing gynaecological type operations on the cats of neighbours (see VCA No. 29 at the start of the blog website for full details of my earlier career as a would-be surgeon)
This afternoon was very much a gardening afternoon and a typical spring-time clearing task at that. There really is no substitute for getting down on your hands and knees and tackling the weeding head-on. My particular task is to clean out a gully by the side of our communal grassed area and this is always completely overgrown with a combination of couch grass, dandelions, ivy, nettles and a variety of other weeds that I cannot begin to describe. The only way to tackle the job is to cut a section of the overhanging grass about a yard at a time and then clear the gully in about two-feet sections with specially ‘grippy’ gardening gloves that pull out the unwanted growth before cutting the grass again. Although this sounds long-winded and tedious (which it is) at least if you get on top of it in April then the task for the maintenance for the rest of the gardening year becomes somewhat easier. To make matters worse, my task was not supervised by our adopted cat, Miggles, about whom there is speculation in the house that she may be pregnant. I’m not too sure but if you are an avid reader of my ‘Virtually Challenged Anecdotes’ you will realise that I have yet to perfect my skills in performing gynaecological type operations on the cats of neighbours (see VCA No. 29 at the start of the blog website for full details of my earlier career as a would-be surgeon)
Although I haven’t followed tonight’s COVID-19 news in any real detail, it appears that some of the more Republican elements of the USA are out on the streets (with the tacit support of their President, whose lockdown orders they are actually ignoring) demanding the freedom to go out and restart their economy. I suppose that in a rather grisly way, it will be a fascinating social experiment to see what the consequences of a too-early loosening of the lockout policy will prove to be. It always amazes me that ‘freedom‘ is one of the totemic rallying calls of the American population but the freedom to do what (carry guns? exploit your fellow citizens?) I can never actually discern.
On a technical computing note, I was quite pleased to be able to purchase yet a domain name at a specially cut-price (£0.99 + VAT) and then apply it to the text version of this blog which is now available as a continuous ‘stream’ at http://mch-blog.uk
Another fine day, I am pleased to report. Meg and I had an extended walk around the park today, discovering new bits of it that we must explore later such as a small patch of woodland we did not know anything about. We encountered one of our acquaintances who walks a little Jack Russell terrier dog and enquired after a mutual friend who we have not seen for about 4 weeks. The news was not particularly good as our mutual friend had not been very well recently. We suspect that he may not be getting some of his regular courses of chemotherapy he has been receiving recently, so we trust that he is having a temporary setback.
I am a little intrigued by the various sets of figures that are being bandied about by the government, concerning the supply of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) which seems to be in critically short supply at the front line. The government strategy seems to be to quote a very large figure and hope that we will all be so impressed that we give the government the benefit of the doubt that any shortages of equipment are not their fault. These figures seem to be plucked out of the air. For example, according to some of my Google searches, some 240 million pieces of PPE had been despatched by 30th March. On 3rd April, this figure had magically increased to 397 million – had an extra 157 million extra pieces of PPE suddenly materialised, representing an increase of 65% in just 4 days? And to extend this wonderful way of pulling big figures out of the air, the government claimed that two weeks later (by the 18th-19th April to be exact) the figure of 240 million had become 1 billion (1000 million) In other words, the supply had magically increased four-fold in a fortnight which is a remarkable feat by any standards!
I am reminded of the fact that during America’s conflict with Vietnam, it was very important that the American public who were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the war effort, be fed a constant trickle of any enemy combatants that had been killed in order to convince them that the conflict was worth fighting and the USA was actually winning the war. But how many people had actually been killed when you were estimating it from a B-52 bomber? The military hit upon the following strategy. We are going to bomb this village which, according to the 1954 (French conducted) census contained 450 inhabitants. Let us now assume that with little access to contraception, the population would increase at 5% a year. Compounded up, this would make a figure of 848. Now after the bombing raid, we caught sight of 8 people fleeing the village – by definition, we must have killed 840. So that will be our kill ratio for that particular day. Two assiduous journalists trawled through all of the figures supplied day-by-day by the American military over the years and published in the press daily and concluded that the entire population of Vietnam had been killed four times over! I perceive something of the same process going on with PPE. However, if you are a doctor or a nurse on the front line who doesn’t have a sufficient supply of PPE before treating a patient and you are putting your life and members of your family at risk, you know that the government cannot possibly be blamed if they supplied 1 billion? (1 trillion?) worth of gear.
In the afternoon, I finished off a particularly difficult section of weeding in the front garden that had to be wrested back inch by inch and foot by foot (I think creeping buttercup was the principal culprit) Then we enjoyed another good FaceTime chat with our good friends – the audio was clear but as the connection was poor, we only had fleeting looks at each other’s faces. We discussed cooking, supermarket access and the proximity of COVOD-19 in the neighbourhood to cheer ourselves up.
This was quite a liberating day for us today for reasons that I will explain. We had our customary walk in the park on a beautiful spring day and held chats with some of our friends, both in the park itself and on the way back from the park along Kidderminster Rd. As it has been over seven weeks since we had occasion to go out in the car, we realised that we had better go out and give the car a spin, not least to ensure that the battery doesn’t go flat. Bromsgrove is connected to the neighbouring town of Redditch via a fairly fast and uncluttered dual carriageway so we progressed as far as we could until we met the roundabout outside Redditch town and came back at quite a speed – solely for the health of the battery, you understand. On the outskirts of Bromsgrove, we decided to come back a slightly different way and on the spur of the moment decided to call in on of our closest friends, whom we generally see once per week. Although we interrupted her exercise routine, we were delighted to see each other and had a good old natter, exchanging information about relatives and friends. This was so enjoyable that we think we will repeat this once a week, for now on. Incidentally, the Chief Medical Officer intimated today in the press conference from No. 10 something that he could say that no politician dare say- that the lockdown is likely to last until the end of this calendar year (a further eight months) and could even last for a whole calendar year which would be twelve months. The reasoning appeared to be that we would have wait until a vaccine had proved its effectiveness and could be manufactured at scale. Some interesting news emanating from the World Health Organisation is that the proportion of people displaying antibodies post-COVID is actually pretty low. I quote:
There is no evidence that people who have recovered from coronavirus have immunity to the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said…The UK government has bought 3.5 million serology tests – which measure levels of antibodies in blood plasma….But senior WHO epidemiologists have warned that there is no proof that such antibody tests can show if someone who has been infected with COVID-19 cannot be infected again
So bang goes the theory of herd immunity which at least was the initial stance of the government, which they quickly had to abandon.
After lunch, I got to work clearing a triangular plant bed that had been colonised by comfrey. (Needless to say, my work was closely supervised by Miggles, the cat that seems to have adopted us. She sprawled over the ground and evidently enjoyed the sunshine - for some reason, she always locates herelf a couple of feet away from where I am working). Some people quite enjoy the plant of comfrey whilst others regard it as a weed. It is said that once you have it in a plot, you never get rid of it, largely because the roots go so deep and it took a spade to remove them. Actually, some people make this plant into a tea or a tisane whilst some old-fashioned gardeners insist it is excellent manure, not least because the deep roots bring so many minerals into play from the deepest regions of soil. The medieval herbalists used to call this plant ‘knitbone’ and used it in a sort of poultice to treat fractures and similar broken limbs. After consultation with the daughter-in-law, we have decided to try out a selection of dahlias that we had in stock. We also have a seed tray full of theoretically out of date annuals seeds so we thought we would get some going tomorrow and see what comes up. I remember that the author of a gardening book I used to have (Frances Stevenson) always used to say that you could sow any seed in May and it would be guaranteed to jump out of the ground. In the meanwhile, our fruit trees (plum, apple) seem to have the requisite amount of blossom for a good harvest later on in the year but we will have to wait and see.
The spell of fine weather continues and the absence of wind made the morning feel even warmer. We met our friend, Julie in the park (as we do most days) and also struck up another conversation with a gentleman of about the same age as ourselves who was concerned that the police might try to move us on from our sojourn on the park bench. We assured him that we had a piece of paper in our rucksack which indicates what the current rules seem to be – and then reminisced about what could be remembered of the Second World war and its sequelae (I find this is always a good conversation opener as everybody has members of family who were affected in one way or another by WWII).
After lunch, the gardening continued apace whilst the weather was fine. Our daughter-in-law grows superb dahlias – the only trouble is that last season’s display had died back and there was now a tangle of last year’s dahlias, this year’s daffodils and the inevitable encroachment of bracken, dandelions, a weed known as ‘Lords and Ladies’ and so on. We decided that I would meticulously clear the entire patch and then we would do a careful dig over to extract the dahlia tubers. I am then going to give the whole a good composting (hopefully, with my own 2-year old compost) and we thought we would abandon the daffodils which rather get in the way of everything and confine the daffodils next year to a few strategically placed pots. Miggles, our adopted cat, came along late in the day to give my work a supervisory nod of approval and then to sprawl in the newly cleared patch, which she is wont to do. There was a source of much merriment later in the afternoon as I was doing a bit of strategic watering and the cat followed me around the garden to make sure I did it correctly, Then she decided to make her way through one of the plastic tunnel cloches that we had taken off the dahlias so I thought it might be a good idea to train her (like a dog!) to navigate tunnel cloches as though she was in a display. This effort failed miserably – after all, can you herd cats? As it is a Thursday, we started to make our customary ‘clap for the NHS’ applause at 8.0 in the evening, my own contribution being a metal spoon on an aluminium cooking pot which makes a suitably ringing sound. This so startled all of the local cats in the area that they all fled for the safety of their own houses as soon as the cacophony started.
My daughter in law had obtained a copy of ‘The Times’ for today and the top people’s newspapers were actually instructing you how to make your own face masks (out of linen cloth, old tee shirts and kitchen paper respectively) It is evident that there is going to be a change in policy but Amazon is already selling face masks at massively inflated prices so we intend to make our own. I managed to locate some old cotton tee shirts that I will never wear again and also a couple of neckerchiefs that we used to protect our necks in the hot summers of the 1970s. One crucial resource is going to be elastic to hold the whole contraption around the ears. Accordingly, I went on the web and managed to buy twenty metres (the postage cost more than the elastic). In former times (I am thinking if the 1950s) this was always known as ‘knicker’ elastic as its principal use seemed to be to provide a means of support for critical undergarments worn by the fair sex in the days before elasticated fabrics hit tour clothing stores. Every self-respecting and provident woman would always carry a yard of rolled up knicker elastic in her handbag as when the inevitable ‘snap’ occurred, she could step daintily out of her undergarments and then effect some emergency repairs with the said elastic. My last encounter with ‘ribbon’ elastic (the correct term) was in 1969 when Meg needed a small amount to effect some kind of emergency repair. We found a little stall staffed by a friendly Asian lady who had knicker elastic on sale for 1½d a yard. We explained that we only needed a foot but the stallholder was very obliging and said she would sell us a foot if that is all we wanted. I watched her carefully measure out a foot which she rolled up and put in a little brown bag for us. I handed over a 1 (old) penny piece and received a ½d in change. I remember feeling embarrassed at the time – after all, a ½d is worth only about a fifth of the modern 1p coin. Little incidents like that stick in your memory, for some reason!
As we walked down into Bromsgrove this morning, we met with two of the grand-daughters of one of our best friends and received the news that we had been half expecting but was nonetheless distressing for us to hear. Our friend who is 88 had survived bouts of colon cancer and liver cancer and had been receiving regular chemotherapy for leukemia which was at least keeping the illness at bay. However, he is now on an end-of-life pathway and is only expected to live for about two more weeks. We hope to be able to go to his house (his nurses will not allow us inside) and perhaps we say a few words of goodbye to him through a downstairs window. We used to pass our friend nearly every other as he as taking the family Jack Russell dogs for their daily walk and we would always exchange jokes and the like with him. Our friend had been brought up in a Salvation Army household and although he had rejected this in his youth, he and his brother were encouraged to play a musical instrument and indeed played the trumpet for more than 75 years. One particular and very fond memory that we have was when he attended our local 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, he played the Bach chorale ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring‘ using a variety of different mutes. Fortunately, we have this on video to remind ourselves of better times. As it happened, an opera singer friend of ours had sung this chorale at our wedding in 1967, so it was rather fitting that another close friend should help us celebrate fifty years later. We shall miss him tremendously – the only thing we can say is that it does not appear to be the COVID-19 virus which is hastening his end and so he at home surrounded by good medical care and surrounded by his family and friends who all love him. Here is the URL for any readers of this blog who remember Clive and would like to hear his rendition, performed when he himself was 85 years old: Trumpet piece Of course, what is distressing for all of us, his family and friends, is that Clive will not be able to have a proper ‘send-off’ as the funeral arrangements generally restrict the numbers to six close relatives only. We may be able to have a memorial service and ‘celebration of his life’ a bit later.
In the park, we had an interesting chat with a gentleman who, as it happens, was a past Chairman of Bromsgrove District Council (although he himself originally came from Kent) We exchanged views of what life was like in Bromsgrove and were thankful for the legacy of the 19th-century industrialist, Joseph Sanders, whose sisters had bequeathed the whole of the park to the town. After lunch, I cut the communal lawns, and then we spent a very pleasant couple of hours with our new-ish next-door neighbours in our back garden, being careful to observe a strict two-metre distance as we sat around a garden table but with the chairs well pulled back. It must have looked a funny sight but as both households had been busy of late, we had never managed to have a good ‘getting to know you’ conversation with them since they moved in. We were both taken aback by the news that President Trump had actually suggested that people should inject themselves with disinfectant as a way of overcoming the COVID-19 virus.
I experimented with an old tee-shirt to provide myself with a home-made face mask I looked at an online video to complement the diagram found in yesterday’s Times. This sort of worked but as the tags to tie it around your head need extending with spare strips of linen, the result looks a bit weird when viewed from the rear if not the front. I am reminded of a Kenny Everitt sketch of the world’s most incompetent do-it-yourselfer where there was a proliferation of bandages and the end result did look a little like this. I would rely on this home-made mask to escape a blazing conflagration but I not sure it makes an ideal fashion statement! But perhaps practice makes perfect, although a better solution might be just to wear my recently re-discovered neckerchieves.
This morning on the way to the park, we called in at the house of our dear friend who is on an ‘end-of-life’ pathway as we were informed by his grand-daughters yesterday. We were fortunate enough to see his son who is staying with him at all times and we managed to give our friend a (farewell?) wave through the window. We will call around every few days whilst he can still recognise us. We felt a mixture of emotions, evidently feeling sad at the thought that we would soon be without him but also comforted by that fact that he was receiving excellent medical care, was dying with his friends around him and was spared what is happening to perhaps hundreds of people who are dying daily of the COVID-19 virus with no family members present and the prospect of no funeral to speak of. The tragic thing here is the last that some relatives see of the patient admitted to hospital under the COVID-19 regime is that all they can do is to wave at the rear doors of a departing ambulance.
Now for some cheerful news. We met our good friend, Julie, in the park and exchanged notes about mutual friends. Then an elderly lady who we know by sight stopped by and she told us it was going to be her birthday on Tuesday so we have to see if we can get a little cake organised. As we were leaving our customary park bench, she said to us that she was so glad we occupied that particular bench as she had donated it to the local authority after her husband had died – it happened to be located in such a place that she could actually see the bench from her house near the park and she was always delighted that other people could sit down and admire the park that her husband helped to look after for the last fifteen years of his life. On our way out of the park, we encountered the same gentleman that we had met yesterday and he informed us that he had personally organised one of the flower beds in the park to be a permanent reminder of the holocaust – accordingly, he had supervised this whilst he was the leader of District Council. Finally, we met an old Italian friend who was working at home on her incredibly well-tended garden and remembering the fact that her husband had died at this time of year about three years ago. As you might imagine, it was full of emotions of one sort or another – we never know what we are to encounter when we start our journey to the park.
In the afternoon, I devoted about an hour to the (part) clearance of a gully where the land slopes away from the grassed communal area to the boundary fence. This is itself on two levels – a top level which is easy to get at and to keep cultivated and a wilder lower area, the boundary between the two being a fallen tree that forms a sort of natural division between the two areas. I have a sneaking suspicion I forget to ‘do’ the lower area last year – this involves throwing away a lot of brambles and associated debris but replanting the occasional tree sapling I come across (these may be beech or hazelnut (Avellana) – I need a ‘proper’ gardener to give me a definitive answer) This ‘heavy’ bit of gardening only needs doing once a season and, after that, a quick rake should keep it in good condition before I move onto the next job.
The weather is somewhat ‘on the turn’ today and I know that there is a certain amount of gardening to be done before some showers occur tomorrow and the probability of more prolonged rain on Tuesday. Meg had a slight stomach upset this morning so did not accompany me as is normal on the trip to the park so I enjoyed a solitary sojourn on our normal park bench. The park was fairly busy as parents were dragging their children around the park. I heard more than one 3-4 year old complaining that walking around the park was ‘boring’ and they would prefer to be at home. I won’t tell you how I feel about this as I might be blamed for being an old reactionary! On the way home, some of our oldest friends greeted me and we exchanged news and commiserations about my other friend who is approaching the end of his life.
This morning, I was sort of passively listening to the “Sunday’ programme which is broadcast between 7am-8am on BBC Radio 4. Towards the end of this, I heard one of the most powerful and moving pieces of audio I have heard for decades. A consultant at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, Dr. Mark Tan, was explaining in his ‘Telephone Lament for Coronavirus‘ how he often had to communicate with relatives by phone to discuss the progress made by their loved one in hospital. As his conversations often started with ‘I just called today..’ this reminded one of the famous Stevie Wonder song ‘I just called to say I love you‘ which was played gently in the background to accompany his commentary. Dr. Tan indicated the fragments of conversations that he would have with relatives, explaining the procedures of the hospital and the progress that the patient had been making. The whole piece was incredibly moving and I must confess I was moved to tears by it. If you would like to hear it for yourself, then this is the relevant link:
and if you can you need to position the progress meter at about 37.18 on the progress meter. I actually listened to it again immediately after it had been broadcast on BBC iPlayer but it should now be more available and accessible through Google and other search engines. I would urge all the readers of this blog to try to listen to this if you can.
After lunch, it was time to re-commence and try to finish off the big gardening ‘push’ before the weather breaks and I was very pleased to be able to achieve this with about 2 hours hard work (although I feel a little ‘gardening stiff’ after it). It was a very much a ‘hands and knees on a kneeling mat’ job and I was pleased that I managed to reduce the tangle of foliage to something more presentable, having one or two little beech saplings which I re-planted and cursing some of the overgrown holly, ivy and brambles. When I am gardening like this, I am always impressed by the dexterity of the human hand (there is really no substitute) and I always try to ensure that I wear a pair of gardening gloves that have a kind of tacky facing so that I can grip words to extract them more easily. Needless to say, when I had finished one particular section and came up for air to throw some of the weeded material on the compost heap, I observed that my faithful adopted cat, Miggles, was waiting for me patiently along the top. She then accompanied me to the compost heap to make sure everything was correctly thrown away and then had the breakfast that she should have had this morning. Afterwards, my work was duly inspected and Miggles pretended to watch a little hole at the base of a small pile of stones hoping that a mouse would emerge (it didn’t!) Tomorrow, I need to retrieve some two-year compost from my compost bin, rake it in and then leave my daughter-in-law to plant her dahlias for the season (all before the rains come)
The political agenda is now changing before our eyes. I hear that the phrase ‘the new normal’ is being used more and more and I must say that in my numerous little chats with people, everyone seems to know that things will never be the same again and we shall all have to get used to a certain of social distancing perhaps for a year or so to come.
Today, I have reaped the reward of successful compost making by going to my trusted compost bin and using compost that was at least two years if not three years old. My daughter-in-law and I had collaborated in preparing our dahlia bed this year. I had weeded and cleared the ground a few days earlier, As soon as all the perennial weeds had been removed, the bed was dug over- I then added three large garden-tub loads of manure and raked it in. [Incidentally, the contrast between the fairly pale-looking soil and the dark, rich-looking compost could have been taken out of a text-book) My daughter-in-law then carefully planted her dahlia tubers, making sure that each one was protected by a plastic ‘slug’ collar which prevents the slugs from munching up the tasty green shoots and negating all one’s efforts. The rewards will come later on in the year, we trust!
Incidentally, there is a bit of an art as well as good science that lies behind good compost making. In order to provide the best environment in which the microbes can convert decaying vegetation into rich compost, you require a ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) of about 30:1 In practical terms, this means that there should be one part of ‘brown’ materials (dry leaves, cardboard, soil itself) to two parts of greens (recently pulled weeds, grass clippings), Too much green material and the compost heap will be slimy and may start to smell (solution: add more brown) and too little greens (solution: compost accelerator, human urine!) will make the compost heap slow to warm up. Finally, one needs a certain amount of water (judicious watering can every now and again) and aeration (turning it over with a fork occasionally). I attach some advice I found on a compost-making website, of which there are hundreds!
Principle #2: 2 Parts Green to 1 Part Brown
(The best strategy to mix your compostable materials)
Generally speaking, you can get C:N ratios of 30:1 to 50:1 by adding two parts of a GREEN material to one part of a BROWN material to your bin. A “part” can be defined as a certain quantity of the material, such as two 5-gallon buckets of GREEN and 1 packed bucket of BROWN.
All of this is not rocket science – but I include it as I think the principle of ‘browns to greens’ is not widely known and many people just throw garden weeds and clippings into their compost bin without much thought.
Being, Monday our local park was quite sparsely populated, but we did manage to meet one of our good friends, Julie, who is there almost every day (if we happen to coincide) We observed our local heron (he/she with a strangely deformed left foot that looks as though it is pointing the wrong way) being mobbed by a couple of black-headed gulls and even having to duck when one bold one made a kamikaze style bombing approach.
After lunch, whilst the dahlias were being planted, I made myself busy edging the border to our communal green area (technically it called a drainage field for the BiuoDisk but we have nicknamed it ‘Meg’s Meadow’) All of this frantic gardening is being done because of the fact that the rains are coming – certainly a smattering tomorrow and a really sustained downpour on Wednesday, according to the weather forecast. I have decided to name the lower part of the gully bordering our fence ‘Mog’s underpass’ (Mog is the name to which I answer in the Hart household – named after the Judith Kerr children’s author character as in ‘Meg and Mog’ but more likely because the initials spell out ‘Miserable Old Git’ ) That really is enough gardening chatter for several days (if not weeks) from now on!
The long-anticipated rains arrived overnight at last- this is always a pleasant sight, particularly when one is well ‘gardened-up’ and it has been one of the driest Aprils on record. Meg was still suffering a little from what we think is a stomach upset so I made the journey to the park on my own. I did pass by the house of our friend who has not many days left to live on this earth. I spoke with his son who informed me that his father, having not slept not particularly well last night, was now asleep. I bid my adieus and said I would call back in about another three days’ time. When I got to the park, it was practically deserted. I cut a solitary figure, standing alone in the bandstand and drinking the coffee from my flask (even harder to manipulate standing up in my desire to avoid touching any hard surfaces.)
This afternoon, I thought I would try my hand at making a facemask out of a discarded pair of socks. The first method involves making slits and cutting pieces out so that two ‘lugs’ are formed to stretch around your ears. I could not quite see how this would work with the open end, so I adopted Method 2 which seems a lot more successful. Basically, I put an elastic band over each end of the sock and then secured it in position by folding and securing with a safety pin. This initiated a house-wide search for safety pins which hardly anyone uses these days. Eventually, I improvised (as always) by securing each folded over portion with a large paper clip, unfolded and then used as a giant staple before being secured into position – I finished it off with a brief bit of masking tape to avoid scratching myself. The next task is to see how to sanitise /disinfect such a mask. As with hands, it is difficult to better hot water and a fair dolloping of soap although normal washing in the washing machine should also do the trick. I thought we try these out tomorrow (I have made three pairs already) and resolve to wash them every day as part of my new routine.
In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed our old friends who have been feeling the pressure a bit recently. We were speculating whether we could risk an accidental ‘meeting’ in the park in about 13 days’ time. The point is that Mondays are always very quiet and therefore we were very unlikely to encounter many other souls – Monday, May 11th is my 75th birthday so we may be able to celebrate at a distance!
I read a letter in yesterday’s Times which indicated that three countries (France, Denmark and Poland) had intimated that state aid would not be made available to companies in their respective countries who had funnelled their profits off into tax-havens. This seems like an excellent suggestion – if you had deprived the state of so much revenue over the years, why hold out your hand for state hand-outs now? It the type of suggestion that would (a) never occur to the British political elite and (b) certainly never be implemented. A second letter was from a Professor of Dentistry who pointed out that whilst hand-washing was a central part of the strategy to guard against the transmission of the Covid-19, perhaps the same consideration should be given to teeth-brushing. He argued that as droplets of saliva could well act as a vector of the Covid-19 virus, then sanitising the mouth with toothpaste (and mouth-wash, I ask myself?) would seem to be equally as sensible as hand-washing. Food for thought?
Today was the predicted wet day and so it proved. We had a chat with one of our friends on the way down to the park but the rest of our trip was a pretty soggy and miserable affair. As we had no real desire to sit on a wet park bench, we took refuge in the bandstand to consumer our coffee and provisions. I am given to understand that in WWII, all members of the armed forces, the Home Guard and perhaps the civilian population as well were trained in ‘aircraft recognition’ The present-day analogue of this is when we scan the horizon to see if there is anyone we know that we can recognise by their general shape and gait (there wasn’t!) – this enables one to spot friends and acquaintances long before you can see their actual faces. Thus it was today as we scanned the horizon in vain.
Once a week, we consume our by now traditional fish pie which has been made a fortnight or so ago and saved as several portions. The one downside of this fish meal, although it is easy to heat up in the microwave, is that it does tend to smell the kitchen out so that we have to counteract this by flinging a window wide open and keeping the hob extractor fan on at full blast. The afternoon was filled with nothing more exciting than a routine dusting and hoovering but so it is for most of the population. We did receive a text from our chiropodist with whom we have not had contact for several weeks offering us an appointment slot. This we accepted until after consultation with our son and daughter-in-law we realised that this might be a somewhat risky venture as we did not know how many other older clients might have been seen recently harbouring perhaps asymptomatic virus, so we decided to cancel this and try and arrange something in the future when the panic had died down a bit. Our daughter-in-law had done our weekly shopping for us and this is always very welcome but we do feel a bit guilty about accepting it. We have decided to be loyal Waitrose customers in the future using their ‘Click and Collect‘ service and we thought we would activate this again in a week or so when it becomes more apparent whether our daughter-in-law will be attending her school on a regular daily rather than a sporadic basis. Accordingly, I made a dummy order at Waitrose and saw that we were on their priority list and there were a few slots available to us in a few days’ time – so we think we will get this system going in earnest in an about a fortnight’s time.
The media have been full of the news that Boris Johnson has fathered another child, but the interesting aspect of this affair is that Boris will not admit to how many children he already has. I think the answer is four legitimate and one illegitimate but in his election campaign, Boris refused to answer questions as to how many children he actually has. So it was some surprise that in the House of Commons, Wliiam Rees-Meg congratulated Boris ‘as one father of six children to another‘. I am a little reminded of the story of the Irish bishop (was he called Eamonn Casey?) who was forced to resign and flee to America when the story of his illegitimate children emerged in Ireland. It was the time of one of the football World Cups and when the bishop entered the stadium and was looking for his seat, he was spotted and recognised by two Irish wags who shouted 'Dad! Dad! Over here!‘
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?
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.)
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.
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: Clive 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!
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?
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:
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.
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 were 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
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)
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.
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’.
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 firm (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.
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.
As I had finished last night’s blog (in the wee small hours of the morning I must confess) I had a quick look at my emails and saw that I had received an email from Iceland. I was not expecting this but I must have registered my email address with them sometime before. I quickly registered with them and wondered if they had any free slots as they promising ‘free’ delivery the next day if you spend £35.00 on a basket of groceries. A slot was being offered from 6.00-8.00 next Tuesday morning and. not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I set about constructing an order not so much of essentials but of ‘usefuls’ including toilet and kitchen paper, some long-life milk and some other commodities it is good to have in one’s pantry even if not needed in the next day or so. So next week, I shall two grocery consignments (a ‘click and collect’ from Waitrose on Thursday morning and now the delivery from Iceland on Tuesday morning). I think once I get my act together, I might have one delivery from Waitrose per fortnight and another from Iceland in the intervening weeks.
We were very disturbed immediately after breakfast to observe an ambulance outside our next-door neighbour’s door. If there had been a blue flashing light, we might have assumed a heart attack but as the ambulance remained for quite a long time, we really did fear the worst. However, as we were leaving for our walk our neighbour emerged and walked into the ambulance unaided. We discovered subsequently in chats with his wife throughout the day that he had been suffering some angina pains and was admitted to our local hospital in Redditch. He is to be seen by a specialist cardiologist on Monday morning (surely a good thing!) and will probably spend a day or so in hospital for monitoring and routine tests. Apparently, he is in good spirits and we are all mightily relieved, as you might imagine.
The weather forecast indicated bands of rain sweeping across the country and a lot of cold air. We certainly got the cold and blustery winds but not the rain. As we were huddled up on our park bench, one of our best friends who lives opposite the park had espied us and on her morning walk dropped by a carrier bag containing some birthday goodies, which I shall not open until tomorrow. If the weather is not atrocious tomorrow, we may bump into some friends in the park tomorrow, see another long-standing friend later, and then see one of my Pilates friends who will emerge from the middle of a flock of sheep in the early afternoon (see earlier blogs for an explanation). We shall have to wait and see. According to King Boris, it will be quite legal fur us to sit and have a snack on the park bench on Wednesday next and not just as a break in the middle of a strenuous(!) walk which is what we are doing at the moment.
The next week or so will be quite interesting, politically. For once the unions may have a very significant voice (which they haven’t had for about 40 years ago now) because if they advise workers to stay at home until their employer guarantees them a safe working environment, then we could have workplaces that are ‘open’ but with no workers within them. It is quite interesting that the population as a whole do not seem over keen to get back to work – perhaps the graphic images (of which there have been plenty) of what happens when one gets put into an acute care unit and then a ventilator is quite enough to persuade people that home is the best place to be.
So the day has arrived – today I am 75 years of age and rather pleased to have another half-decade under my belt. We always thought that today was going to be quite a busy day and so it turned out to be. We left on our journey for the park and, indeed, got there at just 11.00 am whereby, by complete coincidence, two of our long-lasting Waitrose friends just happened to be waiting for us. Within a few minutes, we were joined by Julie (also of Waitrose ancestry) and within only a few minutes more, another couple of friends joined us. We had a happy reunion and drank our coffee with glee, although if the truth be told the weather was sharp and cold and the wind quite keen and blustery. Earlier in the day, my favourite niece had phoned at just the point I was due to get into the shower and I had to reassure myself that we were not on FaceTime and that I was appearing naked. My sister had also sent me a message earlier on the day so a lot of family-related news was relayed. Having heard so much about the lake, I had been asked to take and supply some photos on my iPhone, which I duly did but the evidence proves that we were all at least two metres apart. And so for home, but not before collecting another birthday card and a wonderful present of some gardening gloves from our gardening friend down the road (as it happened, I had been admiring the gloves she has been wearing a day or so before, not anticipating a prezzie later on) And so we got home only to pick up the car and go to ‘accidentally’ visit yet another friend who had been busy baking a most magnificent cake for me (pumpkin and rhubarb made according to a brand-new recipe) This turned out to be some of the nicest cake I had ever tasted and we sampled some of it after having our lunchtime soup. After this, although it was bitterly cold, a Pilates friend with whom I have a particular friendship, hove into view from a field at the back of the house, emerging from a flock of distant sheep and a bunch of nettles (we happened to be under the surgeon’s knife at about the same time just about two years ago and were commiserating with each and giving each other messages of moral support). I had already constructed an elaborate arrangement of a cardboard box affixed with double-sided tape to a long-handled snow shovel which proved to the perfect way to hand over a glass of champagne and even more cake which Meg, myself and my Pilates friend all had together in what must have been one the more esoteric birthday gatherings of all time! Another photo ensued was taken to record the event for posterity. The afternoon was spent watching Boris Johnson in full burble mode before the House of Commons before we decided that we would treat ourselves to an Indian ‘take-away’ meal. We decided to break the house rule and all eat together on this occasion and we probably ate far too much than was good fur us, as well as polishing off the special birthday cake. We shared the birthday cards we have received and even Miggles, our adopted cat, got included in one of them (it showed an illustration of a cat sitting in its cat-bed with a thought bubble coming out of its head with the musing ‘Here we go .. another day of being wonderful me – cute, fluffy and adorable … with just a hint of evil, psycho, ninja assassin‘. This was courtesy of my Pilates friend who had read the blogs about my family nick-name (‘Mog’) and the exploits of Miggles. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson and his government are busy making announcements about back to work on Monday, only to be corrected as Wednesday and with several ministers displaying ignorance of their own policy in early morning interviews not to mention the fact that the right-wing of the Tory party, exhibiting a strident English nationalsim, are ignoring the wishes of most of the English population, not to mention the Irish, the Welsh, the Scots… we have been here before with the Brexit nonsense and see where that had landed us. The end, however, of one of the most enjoyable birthdays it was ever possible to have, so life can’t be all bad…
Here is a link to some birthday snaps (some a little dark!): Mike's 75th
Well, I thought today might be a little anti-climatic after the jollities of yesterday. As is now usual, we met two sets of friends on the way down into the park where the weather was so much kinder to us than yesterday, with a fairly clear blue sky and a wind that had moderated since yesterday. On the way home, we encountered one of our friends for the second time and commiserated with each about the fate of elderly relatives whose families were not treating them as well as they should have been. In the afternoon, I had set myself to do half an hour’s gardening but this soon turned into an hour and a half. I had pulled some dead branches complete with a complement of ivy from our fallen tree and I now had the task of disposing of it. I decided that it was a better job to sit down and chop it all into 3″-4″ pieces which I duly did, and this will make disposal of one blue sack of clippings so much easier. When clearing a little bit of banked woodland, I was wondering whether ivy was universally to be cleared and should be eliminated, or whether it was worth letting the younger, greener shoots still climb over the tree stumps. I decided on the latter course of action because, otherwise, the tree stumps would have been like blackened rotting teeth and I have a ‘cunning plan’ to let the little triangle of earth which is difficult to cultivate be colonised by a little white plant that I have elsewhere in the garden that may provide some ground cover.
This evening, we had a little domestic drama on our hands. Not knowing what we had done with some socks, washable face masks, and one or two other odds and ends, we hunted through the whole house for them before we found them in a special ‘receptacle’ which is positioned in front of the filtration unit in our dryer. This filtration unit is meant to be cleaned every six months but with this new model of machine, we had somehow forgotten to do it since it was new. However all’s well that ends well as after a collective effort from the household, we managed to retrieve the lost items (and it still a mystery to us how they ended up there!) and put everything else to rights.
Today, I received my delivery of goods from Iceland – instead of being delivered in the slot from 6.00-8.00 in the morning, it arrived at 5.55 (to be fair to Iceland, they had sent me a text telling me that I was first on the list) However an order of £40.00 had been reduced to £31.00 after certain items could not be supplied (kitchen rolls – fancy that), catfood and eggs – all of which we can live without. Now I am getting myself geared up for a ‘Click and Collect’ on Thursday morning.
We didn’t bother to observe the Downing Street briefing which has been a habit of ours in the last few days. I suspect that there if there is a groundswell of opinion, it is that ‘following the science<‘ is not as clear and simple as the politicians would have us believe. After all, the ‘science’ told is to ‘test, test and test again‘ as in South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and elsewhere that have got on top of the virus much more expeditiously than we have. The truth when it emerges will probably reveal that we didn’t go in for a regime of rigorous testing because we had neither the kit, the laboratories or the personnel to do it. News has emerged that we send 50,000 samples to the USA to be tested because our own facilities could not cope for one reason or another. Some people are already looking forward to what the inevitable enquiry might reveal – one government minister is quoted as having expressed the thought that ‘we might avoid the blame for getting us into the mess in the first place but we shall surely get the blame if we mess up the exit!''
Today is the day when, in theory, there should be some liberalisation of the great lockdown but it has brought with it a series of nonsenses and anomalies. If I understand it correctly, you can sit on a park bench with two strangers provided you are at least two metres apart. If one of them is your parent, then it is permissible to converse with one them – but if both people are your parents this would constitute a meeting of three people and would be illegal (if you were to talk to both of them at once – but not, in turn!). If you were selling your house, then it would be legitimate for your agent to accompany two people who are viewing your property but you are not allowed to join them. Transgressions are to be met with an increased fine (£100 for a first offence) And, of course, this is only in England but not in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland where the previous lockdown rules still apply. And if you go to work and your employer asks you to engage in a practice which breaks the new rules, can you walk out or not? (A government minister on Radio 4 refused to say whether it would be illegal to fail to comply with an employer’s not-legal instruction …and so on and so forth). It will be interesting to see how many fines and/or prosections are actually handed out to deal with all of this.
Our journey to the park today followed its usual course except that we didn’t stop to chat on the way there or on the way back. The amusing thing is that when we are seated on our park bench eating our elevenses (now absolutely legal and of course we can sunbathe as well if we wish to) many of the dogs let off the lease to have a run around make straight for us on the assumption that food is in the offing – their owners are inevitably full of chagrin but we are rather amused by it all. The park was busier than normal and it appeared that most benches were occupied – evidently, people had realised that they could now get to the park and chat with friends and neighbours quasi-legally (but see the above!)
After lunch, I thought I would move a youngish tree from one location to another, such that it helps to distract attention away from the next-door neighbour’s garden which is replete with every kind of outside toy it is possible to have so that the whole approximates to a children’s playground. (There is a hidden irony in all of this as part of our three initially successful attempts to object to the orchard adjacent to our hose being replaced by a miniature housing estate, one proposal was there should be a public children’s playground provided within a metre or so of our simple-wire (stock) fence!) Digging the hole ought to have simple but it didn’t quite turn out that way. I need to explain that the plot of land upon which our house was built was originally a nursery complete with outbuildings and the like. When it came to developing the site, there seemed to be a policy of bulldozing the buildings over, removing the subsequent rubble and then covering the remains with earth. Consequently, any attempts to dig on the outer fringes of the garden are nearly always met with a plethora of half-bricks, stones, bits of concrete and the like – and today was no exception. Having got the planting hole well prepared with compost, root fungus and bonemeal now it came to the transplanting itself. My tree purchased a couple of years ago is, if I remember, a Tilia Cordata Greenspire but I now estimate it to be about 16ft tall. In negotiating it out of its former position, I succeeded pretty well except for inadvertently breaking off (or damaging) the top foot of it. Nonetheless, now it is well in position (exactly where I wanted it to be) and well-watered and it seems to be surviving the shock of transplant already. Time will tell!
In the early evening, we FaceTimed some of our former Waitrose friends whom we had met in the park on Monday last and they seem to have a tremendous problem with their priority order at Asda (systems failure, wiping out their basket of shopping, their priority slot and all future priority slots) but eventually succeeded with Waitrose – I must say I am not surprised that Asda’s systems seemed to be unable to cope as even after a year, the system could not cope with reading my newspaper vouchers when I occasionally tried to use them in store.
Today was the fateful day in which I was to collect my first Waitrose ‘Click and Collect’ order. As it worked out, all was plain sailing – although there was a long and orderly queue, I was directed to enter the store directly and then waited whilst all my order was delivered in a series of carrier bags on a Waitrose staff trolley. I was then supplied with a customer trolley into which I unloaded all the bags and then straight home. I think next time, I will wait until a fortnight has elapsed and then go for a straight delivery service which is available once you spend a certain quantum of money. Once we eventually got to the park having encountered our usual two sets of friends and their grandchildren en-route, we enjoyed the pleasant sunshine. We also passed by Clive’s house where his family was chatting with other neighbours and we made sure that we all have he arrangements in place for the funeral next Tuesday. The grandchildren had prepared an information leaflet giving all the neighbours up and down the Kidderminster Road details of the video-feed from the crematorium so I am sure that after the initial ‘clap-off’ we shall repair to our respective houses and follow the proceedings on our laptops.
This afternoon turned out to be a heavier afternoon than I would have liked. I set myself the task of encouraging a Wegela to grow nice and tall – this entailed attached a length of bamboo cane to an existing cane and then affixing the various branches to it. The trouble was that everything was a bit precarious because I was balancing on a pile of bricks in one hand whilst trying to manipulate string, plant-ties, scissors, etc, with the other. I am not sure that the result looked much better than the original but at least I have had a go. Then I decided to construct a sort of miniature fence halfway up the slope near the area cleared by the fallen tree. Fortunately, I had in my possession a post-boring implement (actually it looks like a giant corkscrew but it enables you to construct the type of hole you want for a fencing post without too much digging or the use of concrete). All that is required then is a lot of hammering with a heavy-duty sledgehammer which was really quite hard work. Then I utilised some timber that my neighbour had kindly let me have as surplus to his own requirements when he was having some building work done and the timbers neatly stacked behind it and were held in position by two more staves (previously pre-creosoted) at the rear. The idea is to store things like bags of compost, topsoil and other garden requisites behind the fence so that everything will look nice and neat once more tidying up has taken place.
As it is Thursday evening, our little ‘close’ participated in the weekly ‘Clap for Carers‘ but perhaps the response was little more muted this week? We took the opportunity to have an extended chat with our new-ish neighbours. The husband had returned home yesterday from a spell in hospital where he was being treated for some heart problems so we exchanged some hospital stories with each other. We have both every reason to be grateful for some high-quality care in our local hospitals but hospital organisation is a little complicated in this area as the local trust covers Redditch, Kidderminster and Worcester and patients often shuttle from one hospital to another in the course of their treatment. This can make life a little complicated at times as Bromsgrove is in the middle of this little ‘triangle’ being approximately twelve miles distant from each but one gets used to it in time.
Another bright day with the weather set fair for a few days more. Actually, I wouldn’t mind if we had one or two really intense rain showers as the gardens are looking pretty dry at the moment. Having just ordered a Hornbeam tree for myself, I know that smaller varieties of this tree are often used as a hedging plant, the reason being that although it is fairly similar to beech, it keeps its leaves right throughout the winter, even though they have turned brown. Therefore the hedge functions as a hedge i.e. as a barrier either in the summer or the winter, even though it is not an evergreen. Having read about this characteristic, I am pretty sure I have seen one or two examples of it in neighbours’ gardens as I walk down the hill so I am making a mental note of the houses and their numbers so that I can confirm my hunches when I next see the occupants. Today, I have succeeded in doing something which has eluded me for the last 60 days of lockdown and daily walk – i.e. I have spilled an entire cup of coffee into my rucksack, as I sat juggling diverse flasks, cups, biscuit containers on my knees. Fortunately, I had plenty of kitchen paper to help to mop up the contents – maybe, I should try a different way of drinking my coffee tomorrow and in the future. There seemed to be a lot of children in the park today, mainly on their scooters, bikes (but no hobby horses). When we returned home, we had a ‘free’ lunch, courtesy of Waitrose – I had ordered some cod fillets in my ‘Click and Collect‘ but as these were within one day of their sell-by date, Waitrose supplied them to us gratis which was very ethical of them. I supplemented the parsley sauce that I had with some fresh parley which we just happen to have growing in an odd corner of the garden.
Just before I went out to do my weekly ‘mowing’. I received a phone call from the son of my deceased friend, Clive. He was phoning to ensure that I had all of the details for the funeral on Tuesday next. Having got a relevant email address, I can now forward the link to the video clip of Clive playing his trumpet at our 50th wedding anniversary celebrations so the family will have another clip to add to their collection. As we suspected, Clive had gone downhill extremely rapidly in the last few days so I am delighted that we managed to make a farewell wave to him whilst he could still recognise us before the very end. My mowing was extended a little as I ran the petrol mower over my neighbour’s front lawn as she has not been feeling too well recently and I thought this might give her a bit of a helping help before our gardeners return. I couldn’t bear to watch the Downing Street briefing this evening as the evasion displayed by the politicians is starting to get to me a bit – interesting how the graph showing international comparisons has suddenly disappeared now that it is evident that we have fared the worst of all the European nations in coping with the crisis.
Two or three little snippets of COVID-19 news that came into prominence today. Firstly, it appears that the rate of infection amongst children is just about the same as the rest of the population. Secondly, obesity and associated diabetes is now an extremely influential factor, being displayed in a quarter of all deaths. And thirdly, the ‘R’ factor (rate of infection) seems to be getting closer to 1.0 as one approaches the deprived areas of the North East of England – which gives one food for thought.
Today has been rather an unusual day, probably relating to the fact that it is the weekend. For a start, we saw none of our usual friends to have a chat with on the way up and down the hill – this is probably a function of the fact that everyone has a somewhat different routine at the weekend and there were certainly a lot more children evident in the park and faces that we didn’t recognise. In the afternoon, I had two little ‘projects’ to carry out. The first of these involved planting a whole variety of seeds with my daughter-in-law We have a large seed-planting tray that helps to confine the mess on our outside table. As we didn’t have any specialised seed compost, we used ordinary compost leavened with a dose of vermiculite which we happened to have in stock. The seeds are some years old now and we have had them in stock for some time so we have not lost anything if they fail to germinate. But if they do, we ought to have a supply of foxglove, sweet peas, hollyhocks and others whose name I have forgotten. We happened to have in stock some lightweight seed trays with attendant plastic covers (a little like a mini-cloche) and we now have 3-4 stored away safely in our airing room (to assist germination) before we will bring them downstairs and outsides to encourage them to ‘harden off’ (if any germinate, that is).
In the late afternoon,I turned my attention to tidying up the neglected corner of ‘Mog’s Den‘ in the garden. But a word of explanation is in order to understand what is going on. Right at the edge of our formal garden there is a sharply sloping bank of hitherto neglected land (I think it was neglected because in formal terms it lay between our formal boundary and a stock fence erected by the owner of the field which used to adjoin our garden) When we moved into the house 12 years ago, this area was full of 5-6 ft high nettles, brambles, holly, ivy and goodness knows what else. I have gradually reclaimed this space (now legally ours) and converted some of it into a woodland garden, complete with a slate path, forest bark to cover the slopes and shade-loving ever-green plants like Skimmia and a couple of fruit trees. But I did have an area upon which I had constructed a knee-high work area with some paving slabs- in the past, I had used to organise some cuttings but it was full of a great deal of clutter which included bags of compost, topsoil, my own sieved soil, spare sand, slate, buckets and containers of every description not to mention a mini-greenhouse with creosote, gardening implements, gloves, knives, string, scissors, plant ties. With a certain amount of neglect and the combined effects of wind and rain playing havoc, then the whole area had become a right mess and needed a good tidying up (to put it mildly) However after an hour and a half of sorting out, throwing away and relocation I had restored a degree of order to the whole so it is now looking a bit more shape-shape. I have set myself a mini-project of constructing a little curving path up a slope to my storage area beyond the fence. Some time ago in Poundland, I had invested in some little lattice arrangements of wood being sold off for £1 (I think to put plant pots and the like) but I think I can utilise them for a somewhat different purpose and use them to construct the steps for my path. I suspect I will going to do some sawing to construct a series of little pegs in order to construct a curve. Mind you, I often think that instead of opting for a mathematical precision, it is better to judge things by eye as it is the overall impression that counts in the end (and one doesn’t have to be too perfectionist about it after all!)
As it is Sunday, Meg and I get our day organised so that we can watch The Andrew Marr politics show at 9.00 on BBC1. However, as the weeks roll by I really wonder why we bother because the politicians never get subjected to detailed scrutiny or (successfully) evade every question. Today, it was Michael Gove who succeeded in his glib way of saying absolutely nothing so that at the end of the interview you think ‘What did he actually say?’ The walk down to the park was uneventful but we did have quite an interesting chat with a lady who indicated that she had been an Ofsted inspector but her comments about teachers seemed to bely this. However, once we got off the vexed subject of whether teachers were right in being pressurised by the government to resume a limited return to school on 1st June and onto the subject of the best local garden centres in which to buy trees, the conversation took on a more fruitful turn. My own (not very educated) guess is that only 50% of parents may allow their children to go to school – in a conflict like this, the Government will claim success whilst teachers will be able to point to the low attendance rates across the country as a vindication of their stance. In the North East, around Gateshead, where the R factor is said locally to be above the trigger figure of 1.0 it seems that the local authorities may follow the Scots rather than London in keeping people away from school and themselves ‘safe’ in their own houses. The next week or so will be interesting to see how this plays out.
The afternoon was relatively uneventful as it was largely occupied by housework. The phrase keeps running through my head, uttered by the American comedienne Joan Rivers ‘The trouble is with housework is that you have all that dusting, polishing and hoovering – and then 9 months later you have to do it all over again!‘ However, there is a slight bonus in that the choice of music on ClassicFM is normally pretty good on a Sunday afternoon and that helps to alleviate the tedium. When this had been completed, I managed to get half-an-hour tidying up the contents of my mini plastic greenhouse, which were in a state of some disarray as the plastic cover had perished and needed to be ripped away. I have an initial search on the web to try and find a replacement cover without success so far so I must make more a more concerted effort in the morning.
I think the country is in an interesting state, politically. Initially, the government had a fairly strong approval rating for its actions on lock-down and this trend can be observed amongst all governments dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, whatever their political hue and degree of competence – the American political scientists have called this the ‘rally round the flag‘ syndrome, However, there seem to have been an abrupt change in political mood in the last week since the lockdown is starting to be released. The government’s approval rating has gone negative i.e. more people think it is doing a bad job than think it is doing a good job, according to a poll published in the Observer today. In particular, the vagueness and lack of precision behind the phrase ‘Stay alert‘ is a huge problem and the population is now confused by the ambiguity of the message compared with the simplicity of the ‘Stay at home‘ message it was replacing. Also, a certain psychological angst is being created by some evident anomalies e.g. (i) you can now accept a cleaner into your house (because of the ‘cash nexus’) but not see your own parents (ii) everybody should stay 2 metres apart from each other but it is quite OK for this rule to be transgressed when getting on a Tube train or catching a bus (iii) as a teacher and a grandparent you will not be allowed to see your own grandchildren but you are being ‘encouraged’ by the government to see other parents’ children 'en masse' if and when the schools resume. No wonder patience with the government is wearing exceedingly thin (and this is putting it mildly!)
Fortunately, we seem to be in the middle of a warm spell and the weather seems set fair for a few days. As it looked as though it might be a good ‘drying day’ we whipped the sheets off the bed and had them into the washing machine the minute we got up. When the washing machine had done its job, we got them out onto the clothes line and in no time they were billowing out as though they were a TV commercial. Speaking of which, there used to be a clothes washing product called ‘Omo’ (which stands for ‘Old Mother Owl’ i.e. wise enough to use this brand of washing powder) A search on the web revealed that it was still being made and available in 4.9kg cartons (although it was ‘unavailable’ when I checked on the web just now). According to the Unilever Website, it was introduced to the market in 1954 and is still available in Brazil, Turkey and Germany, Australia and Romania and has just been re-launched in Kenya where it was first available in 1953 (but it was discontinued in the UK in 1960’s – I wonder why?)
When we got the park, we were greeted by our friend Julie who looked hale and hearty but told us her tale of woe. Apparently, she had been taken ill on Friday night and had to have an emergency admission to hospital by ambulance with symptoms that sounded as though they could have been a heart attack. It turned out that it was a gall-bladder that had been playing up and after diagnosis (and presumably some treatment) she was back home the following day. It sounds as though it must have been a really frightening experience when living on your own but fortunately a good and long-standing neighbour (who we now know) stepped in and gave a helping hand. After lunch, we resumed our house cleaning duties and completed them for another week until they start again. I was itching to get outside and do one or two little gardening jobs which I eventually did. One of these involved hammering a stake into the ground and then pulling an errant branch of an apple tree in a more vertical orientation and this seemed to work out OK. Fortunately, I had in stock an appropriate length of polypropylene rope (thank you Poundland!) which served the purpose well although I generally persuade the ladies of the household to donate to me their discarded tights as this makes for a light, strong rope-like fixing agent which is not harsh on the bark of a tree but has just the right amount of ‘give’ in it when under tension. My second job was to re-purpose a plastic gardening bag so that it would provide a cover for my now denuded mini greenhouse (again, thank God for Poundland) This worked pretty well and I seem to have been just in time because I noticed that later on in the evening the ground was wet. so we must have had a passing shower.
Mid-way through the evening we had the ‘Order of Service‘ for Clive’s funeral service delivered by hand to our front door. This is scheduled to take place tomorrow at 11.45 and we have been supplied with a web reference so that we can follow the proceedings ‘on-line’. Earlier in the day, we had a long discussion with our daughter-in-law regarding the exact preparations that need to take place before some children are allowed back into school on 1st June (or not, as the case might be) It is also interesting that the government has finally added ‘loss of taste’ as a symptom to be added to help diagnose COVD-19 (but won’t even attempt to answer how many more people there are ‘out there’ who may have had the virus and not known it and unknowingly infected many more in the. meantime).
Well, the day has arrived that we were sort of looking forward to and not looking forward to, as it was the day of Clive’s funeral. Instead of walking down to the park, Meg and I made a detour so that we could arrive outside Clive’s house to see his funeral cortege depart. A crowd of some forty people had assembled in total – rather than a clap which I had rather anticipated, the crowd watched in a respectful silence as the funeral cars departed. The poignant moment in all of this was when one of Clive’s relatives held up the two Jack Russell dogs that he had exercised every day for years now so that they could have a final look at Clive before the cars moved off. Not that this would be at all meaningful to the two dogs, of course, but it was still a rather poignant moment nonetheless. Afterwards, we all repaired to our own houses where there was a webcast direct from the local crematorium and a wonderful service that reflected some of Clive’s preferences such as a Shakespeare sonnet, a poem written by one of his grand-daughters and a piece of jazz trumpet by Stan Kenton that Clive no doubt knew very well. [In fact, I recall an amusing story that Clive had told me when he and his brother had been engaged to play at a 50th birthday party. As it happened, the household had a little dog called ‘Delilah’ so when Clive and his brother played ‘No, no. no, Delilah” and got the rest of the birthday celebrants to join in the chorus, the little dog went spare with excitement!]
I had set myself a little project in the afternoon to lay a little path from wooden squares along one of my recently cleared slopes in Mog’s Den but I reasoned I had better try to get the slope moderated by inserting a little timber detente (I suppose you might call it) but I spent some time painting everything I was going to use with a creosote substitute (creosote is now banned on Health and Safety grounds!). I then made a narrow little trench which I lined with builder’s sand and then inserted my timber and held it in place with specially prepared long ‘pegs’ that I had previously prepared (creosoted, put a point on) and which I then hammered in with my 12lb sledgehammer – fortunately, I have done this sort of thing before so I knew what to do and the results were as expected. However, as I somehow thought might happen, although the timber is mathematically in the right place (to the nearest half-inch) the result doesn’t look quite right – it’s one of those cases to which I have alluded before when the human eye can be a better judge than exact mathematical precision might indicate. I think I can ‘soften’ the line by transplanting a few evergreens in front of it so that people won’t notice, so I am looking at my little batch of cuttings to see what I can utilise.
It seems that the government is now coming sustained attack over the COVID-19 deaths in care homes – Matt Hancock the Health Secretary was forced back into the House of Commons today to provide some sort of explanation. It seems fairly clear that in a desperate bid to clear the hospital wards of elderly patients in order to make room for the anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients, many were practically forced into care homes, untested, and the virus spread like wildfire. There was also a semi-admission from one of the scientific advisers that the advice to cease testing came about largely because it was known that testing facilities on the scale required were clearly inadequate. Let us all wait for the official enquiry (which might take years to complete) Another bit of ‘juicy’ political news is that the Brexiteer element of the Tory party are practically salivating at the prospect of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit (where we depart from the EU on minimal World Trade Organisation terms) because the undoubted costs to the British economy will be impossible to disentangle from the economic effects of the Coronavirus and will thus effectively be hidden or lost for all time!
Well, it’s been one of those days today when I seem to have been chasing my own tail all day long. I had got onto the Iceland website yesterday and it indicated that no slots were available but new slots would be available at 11.00 am each morning, from Monday to Friday. So I got onto the website and made up an order of things that I knew I needed as well as doubling up on other items and managed to secure a slot from 8.00-10.00 on Friday i.e. just over a day’s time. This was handy because I am running out of certain things which are in short supply (according to one of our friends, eggs are hard to find because everyone is at home baking away and using up eggs as a consequence) Nice to get this done but it delayed all of our normal routines by about an hour. The park was absolutely teeming and when we first entered, every single bench was occupied although some were vacated just as we approached. There seemed to be a lot of sunbathing, yappy dogs, scootering children (but a bit too warm for serious jogging) On our way home, we saw two sets of friends and had pleasant chats with each of them, helping to set the world to rights.
After our lunch of chicken fricassee, I embarked on my path construction. Before I could really get going, though, I had to supply myself with a set of retaining pegs that involved a certain amount of sawing, putting points on the pegs and finally creosoting. The actual path construction turned out to be just about what I had anticipated with no real problems. I cut a shape around each wooden ‘step’ with an edging tool and extracted about an inch of baked topsoil (which I can use subsequently) before putting down a couple of shovel fulls of builder’s sand and then setting each step in place, preventing subsequent movement by driving in a wooden peg about 7″-8″ long fore and aft to prevent any slippage or drift. The end result was just about what I had expected/intended – any fine-tuning can be dome tomorrow! After I had finished, we FaceTimed our good Waitrose-era friends as we do every 3-4 days and had a good old natter, mainly centering around our differing experiences with online shopping with the local food supermarkets. I am starting to warm a little to Iceland as their delivery slots – only a day or so to wait – seem quite useful if you know you are running short of things although their range is necessarily limited. As you may have guessed, I am missing the regular supply of ‘Unicorn hoof oil essence’ available only in Waitrose stores which is absolutely de rigeur in the modern kitchen.
In the early evening, I received an email from Clive’s son who very much appreciated the rendition of Clive playing ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring‘ ( a J.S. Bach Chorale) on the occasion of our 50th wedding anniversary celebrations. I had an iPhone video clip of this as part of the wedding website so it was quite easy to extract this and send it on. I mentioned in my email that the whole ‘funeral service’ was very ‘Clive-like’ and he would have approved heartily – as it turned out, this was no surprise as Clive had largely organised this before his demise. It is wonderful in these days of modern and easily accessible technology to have little movie clips of old friends like this. Meg and I miss him a lot as we used to see him nearly every day or every other day-for once, I was absolutely struck by the finality of cremation where, of course, nothing remains.
Believe it or not, today has been an immensely ‘gardening’ type day – probably just as well before the weather breaks. On our way down the hill this morning, we had a long chat with two of our friends and were invited around the garden of one of them. We exchanged notes about what was what in the garden and indicated what plans we had – this is always the same with gardens and gardeners as one is always looking forward to what is to come and delighted by the unexpected successes as well as prepared for the inevitable failures. Once we actually made it into the park, it was not quite as busy as normal but there were lots of picnics in evidence – blankets spread out on the ground and comestibles being consumed. We had to hunt to find a seat, all our favourite ones being occupied. Once we eventually returned home, we had a salad type lunch based around a quiche – I am always amazed by what you can rustle up without the aid of lettuce or other salad-like greens.
On our way home, we passed the house of an acquaintance who I happened to know had a series of external wall tiles (there was a particular short-lived fashion from about 1965-1969 to build houses with a kind of external tile cladding on the upper storeys – we lived in a house like that in Thurnby in Leicestershire and it was built in 1968, as I remember) To cut a long story short, I asked our friend if he still had his wall-tiles as I had previously discussed him that I thought that they make an excellent edging to a lawn or a flower-bed – and whether he still had any to spare. Very generously, he offered me as many as I wanted and when I tentatively asked for half-a-dozen and tentatively upped it to a dozen, I went down in the car after lunch and picked up a consignment which turned out to be 20! And so to my latest construction. In the slope below the detente, I made a cut with an edging tool and then excavated an area about 18″ in width and I then lined the back of this area with my recently acquired, wall tiles. The idea was to put two large (40cm diameter) black plastic pots into position and fill them with some spare trees that I had growing adjacent to our communal grassed area. The first of these beech trees proved to be extremely problematic to extract as I suspect it had taken root by itself on the top of a buried pile of stones – consequently, every time I put in a spade to get it under the root-ball, I encountered stone after stone. Eventually, though, my efforts were crowned with success and I extracted the tree only to discover it was actually about six feet tall, However, in the plant tub it went with some previously excavated soil, some of my own compost, bone-meal fertiliser as a long-lasting fertiliser around the roots and blood, fish and bone as a top dressing. The second tree was almost the same height but a lot easier to extract. Since transplanting (at not the best time of year) they have both drooped a little but I am fairly confident that with some good compost, watering night and day and a little TLC, they will thrive – if not, I haven’t lost anything. I then finished off by transplanting a little oak tree in the middle (this was only about 8″ tall) and finally dressed the whole area with some large slate chippings that I happened to have spare. All in all, I am pleased with the overall result but the rest of my family have yet to see it an cast an opinion on it. To finish it all off, I have a packet of 150 California poppy seeds on order which I shall nurture and germinate and put in the few remaining triangles of the ‘slope’ remaining. I promise you not to bore you with any more gardening from now on!
We held our usual ‘Clap for Carers‘ tonight – don’t the weeks roll by! We are waiting with great anticipation to see what the Iceland delivery van brings us in the morning…
It comes to something when you look forward to the Iceland delivery of shopping as the highlight of one’s day! But this is not quite as ridiculous as it might sound as I got delivery of a pack of 10 eggs which my spies tell me are hard to find as everybody is going crazy baking goodness-knows-what in which eggs are a vital ingredient. Anyway, the order came as expected and I suspect that the quality is going to turn out OK (although I did change one item when the reviewers said it was the most disgusting rubbish they had ever eaten). Today proved to be a different kind of day as our regular cleaner/domestic help was now allowed to come along (she can come into our house because that’s for money but not into her mother’s house because… the difficulty in applying the lock-down rules) However, we managed fine by agreeing never to be in the same room together at the same time. On our walk down into the hill, we encountered one of our regular husband-and-wife friends who we were glad to see again because their grandson is about to enter higher education and having given advice to countless youngsters over the years at a similar stage in their lives, we were quite happy to make the offer again when these strange times are over (or have at least, moved on).
Friday is grass-mowing day and again this went without a hitch – I say this, because there is always the slightest scintilla of doubt in my mind whether my petrol driven mower will actually start – it is a Swedish ‘Stiga’ model and it always does. I only mention it because I once had a Mounfield which was an absolute ‘beast’ ( polite word!) to start and eventually, I got so fed up with it that I gave it away. I suspect it had never been set up properly form its manufacture but it leaves a horrid memory. Right at the end of the afternoon, I did finish off my gardening ‘opus’ with a swift strategic use of forest bark and the construction of a bed with the slope removed (or at least ameliorated) in which I can plant my California poppy seeds tomorrow. There happen to be one or two poppy plants that have ‘escaped ‘ onto the public highway (footpath) so I will attempt to ‘liberate’ one tomorrow, all being well.
The breaking political news this evening is the ‘revelation’ that Dominic Cummings, the Svengali-like special adviser to the Prime Minister has been caught apparently breaking the ‘lock-down’ laws following a period of self-isolation (definition of Svengali: a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another) Other senior figures who have engaged in such hypocritical behaviour have been forced to resign (e.g. Professor Neil Ferguson, the scientist whose modelling led to the lockdown, the Scottish health minister) and it remains to be seen whether the same will prove true of Dominic Cummings or not. It is a sad reflection of the operation of political influence that the nearer one is to the centres of political power, the greater the feeling that ‘rules are only meant for the little people, not for people like us‘ It all depends on whether the press, which is generally Tory-supporting, decides collectively that they are going to ‘go’ for a political figure or not. I think it was Alastair Campbell, the last press secretary in the Labour administration who argued as a rule of thumb that if a negative story ran for more than about three days, then the individual in question was probably ‘toast’ – so we shall watch ‘What the Papers Say’ with particular interest over the next few days…
For whatever reason, I had a wakeful period in the middle of the night last night so I decided to deploy my time productively my updating the Waitrose order I have scheduled for eight days’ time. This all went smoothly and it is always reassuring to be emailed an up-to-date copy of your order which helps to ensure that the extras you have ordered are actually included. The park today was not quite so busy as it has been in recent days – perhaps a function of the fact that the temperature has dropped down several degrees, it was very windy and the sunbathing tendency has abated. Whilst in the park, we met with our friend Julie who now seems fully restored to health after her recent little health episode. She told us though of one of the Waitrose staff who we know well who seemed to have similar symptoms to Julie’s (gall-bladder?) – however, our Waitrose friend had not had a happy time in A&E at our local hospital and was left for several hours with no prospect of a scan or similar investigations. She felt that she had been badly treated and we were speculating whether she got worse treatment by having her husband drive her directly to the hospital rather than calling an ambulance. It might just be the luck of the draw whether you get good treatment or not – Meg and I were hoping that no implicit racism was involved. Whilst in the park, we also ran into our good friends who had bought us an excellent bottle of wine on the occasion of Mike’s recent birthday. This wine turned out to be absolutely excellent so we soaked the label off the bottle to give to our friends in case we saw them – which of course we did. It sometimes happens when you give a bottle of wine as a present, then apart from the price and the label and the vintage, you might have few clues whether it was a good or an indifferent wine so we were glad to pass the label onto our friends so that they could enjoy a bottle for themselves.
I promised not to keep mentioning, ad infinitum, my gardening activities so I will keep this particular entry short and sweet. I finished off the major construction work that I have needed to do once our fallen tree had been removed and now include a little video clip so you can get a mental picture of what is going on. I must mention that the iPhone first records the journey down the steep little slope (a height of 6ft) into what we call ‘Mog’s Den’ and you can then get an idea of the shoring up that has been necessary in what is quite a steep slope. Whether or not my beech trees survive is another matter but they can always be replaced. After a little ‘pan around’ the journey is reversed and you traverse up the path towards ground i.e. normal lawn level. Here is the URL : Mogs Den
The Dominic Cummings story continues to dominate the news agenda, as you might imagine. On tonight’s ‘Review of the Papers‘ (Sky News Channel, 11.30-12.00), I have never seen a journalist so incandescent with rage as was Christina Patterson in her comments. She even used a phrase that I myself had used last night (‘contempt for the little people‘) but, of course, will the rest of the press join in the hue-and-cry? What makes the story particularly juicy was the revelation that, if true, Cummings had transgressed on at least two if not three occasions! There are now calls for Boris Johnson to sack Cummings forthwith – if he does not, then Boris Johnson himself seems to be condoning the moral, if not downright illegal, transgressions that have taken place. Watch this space!
I once asked one of my Spanish students what was the worst time he had ever spent in England and he replied ‘4 pm on a Sunday afternoon!‘ I suspect that is because when he was studying at the Complutense University in Madrid, many of the students used to go to a really atmospheric bar in central Madrid where they could drink coffee and meet up with friends – and hence the contrast with England. Today we watched the Andrew Marr show and noticed how adeptly Grant Shaps managed to evade or wriggle out of tighter corners than Houdini. For example, when confronted with the statement from the Durham police about the contact with Dominic Cummings’ father, we were offered the following (i) ‘You haven’t gone on to give the whole quote and particularly the portion that follows‘ (tending to imply that this would somehow negate the damning quote that had just been read out to him) And how about this for circumlocution ‘The police did not speak to Mr. Cummings père but he spoke with them‘. This was a downright falsification anyway but it only serves to potentially confuse the listener.
Just after we first moved into this house, nearly thirteen years ago, I planted some golden privet hedging (Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’) to shield the BioDisc(= mini sewage treatment plant) we have outside the house. At the time, I got 30 plants in the boot of my car. Now it has grown to the extent that it is at least 1.5 metres tall and equally as wide and so, consequently, it was in need of pruning twice a year. My daughter in law had invested in battery-operated hedge clippers but even standing on some home=made platforms it was still too wide to get a completely even cut. Nonetheless, the job was done and cutting is the easy part – the more tedious part being clearing up all of the clippings into plastic sacks (two huge ones) Anyway, we managed to get the contents of these plus a sackful of cardboard shreddings into our compost bin (the right combination of both ‘green’ and ‘brown’ i.e. nitrogen/carbon as the aficionados of this blog will recognise) and all I need know is copious quantities of home-made compost accelerant (aka human urine) to let the microbes get to work. The people next door are having a party (I counted some 8-9 adults+children besporting themselves around a recently constructed garden bar – I am reliably informed these are increasingly popular but I had no idea they existed, until very recently…) I think it is several conjoined families so that is all right then – the distinction between a household’ and a ‘family’ is rather a subtle one anyway!
It is quite possible that this forthcoming week is ‘the calm before the storm’. Our daughter-in-law will be returning to school a week on Monday (June 1st) and it remains an interesting question of how many children actually turn up. But it is quite possible that she will be exposed to many more children than hitherto and, of course, there are several adults running a school as well as the teachers and parents who will be both leaving and collecting children from school – whether they will properly police themselves to be at 2-metre intervals is an interesting question (I suspect not) We feel that we might have to take extra precautions in our household cleaning and domestic routines from June 1st as there may be a very small, but nonetheless increased risk that the Coronavirus may still pose a potent threat.
Politically, it looks as though the Daily Mail is turning against Dominic Cummings. The Daily Mail always thought of itself (particularly under the editorship of Paul Dacre) as having its finger on the pulse of Middle England and if they pursue an anti-Cummings agenda for any period of time, then the future does not look bright for the most senior adviser to the Prime Minister.
Well, today doesn’t exactly feel like a Bank Holiday when most days feel alike. However, we must say that the park was a lot busier than normal and we had to hunt for a park bench upon which to munch our comestibles. Being what used to be called ‘Whitsun’ or ‘Whitsuntide’ put me in mind of the Whit walks that used to take place in Manchester and other Lancashire mill towns in times gone by. I thought the tradition had died out some time ago but apparently, they are still lingering on, according to Google, with a march of 1800 people as recently as 2018. The Catholics used to walk on one weekend around Whitsuntide (perhaps on Whit Friday) and the Anglicans and Non-conformists a week later. What was always so colourful was that as well as the scouts, guides, nurses, trade unions, brass bands etc. it was a good excuse for various ethnic groups (particularly, as I remember, the Poles and the Ukrainians who were strongly Catholic) to process in their national dress. As I write this blog and look upwards, I have a print of L. S. Lowry’s ‘A Procession in Pendlebury’ (showing a Whit Walk procession) on my study wall. I am told that L.S. Lowry who was a curmudgeonly old soul, used to take a taxi to the moors above Oldham and then set up his easel and paint.. pictures of Manchester mill towns!
As I write this, I am listening to ClassicFM and as a special guest they have Prince Charles on his own personal selection of classical music (Only Wagner and Strauss so far, but I have only been listening for 15 minutes) I think that as well as being a guest today, he may actually be presenting a show of his own in the next day or so. Interesting, really (well, it is for me)
Today, after lunch, I spent some time in Mog’s Den putting some finishing touches to the various supports I have put in place but in truth, I was just killing time because we had heard that Dominic Cummings was to have his own press conference later on in the day. I guessed it would be about 4.00 but it actually got going at about 4.30, eventually. Whatever, your view of Dominic Cummings (hero or villain depending on whether you are a Brexit or a Remainer supporter), it was an unprecedented type of event and an extraordinary piece of political theatre. Some of the revelations were incredible – e.g. going a 30-minute round-trip to ‘test one’s eye-sight’ before returning to London by car) In view of this self-confessed break of the regulations (which none of the journalists actually pinned him to the ground on) is surely grounds for a prosection or a £1000 fine (like the rest of us) I bet the Durham police pull their punches though. More of this later – I am fascinated to see Sky TV’s ‘Review of the Press’ make of it all. I will report later when I’ve had a chance to view it!
It seems now that it is quite legitimate to ‘use your best instincts as a father’ to exempt yourself from the lockdown rules you had helped to create. Some aspects of the Cummings account stretch our credulity to the limit e.g. you go on a 60 mile round trip to test your eyesight (incidentally putting the health and safety of your wife and child at risk) – an alternative explanation is that it is your wife’s birthday and you go a pleasure trip before you return to work in London the following day! What is fascinating is that politicians, the clergy, the police, scientists, lawyers, medics and the rest of the media have all universally expressed their disbelief and astonishment at the Cummings account. To read this for yourself, the article is entitled ‘Dominic Cummings draws condemnation from across UK society’ condemnation
As we suspected the Daily Mail is not at all convinced (and neither are the rest of us!)
As you might expect, this was a much quieter day after the Bank Holiday yesterday – quite unusually, we saw none of our usual friends to chat with on the way to the park but we were graced by the sight of our resident (club-footed) heron. The ducks seemed unusually prolific this morning but we suspect that they had been fed some chunks of bread, which is not good for them as it fills them up without giving them many of the nutrients that they might need. A few nights ago, our garden was graced by a hedgehog (observed in the middle of the night when one of our PIR lights was activated) and we know that there are masses of corners full of dead leaves and the like, which they will enjoy. The more the merrier, I say, if they constantly feed on the slugs that play havoc with several of our plants.
Our local authority, for reasons best known to itself, has started a policy of only mowing the central grassy strip that runs along the length of Kidderminster Road to a width of one metre (something to do with the fact that only one man can mow at a time but it sounds a fishy story to me) There is a bonus in that the un-mown areas are starting to sprout some wild meadow flowers. There seems to be an invasion of what at first sight might look a dandelion but is actually a dandelion-type wildflower known as ‘Cat’s ears‘ Tomorrow, I will gather a specimen and see if I can more definitively identify it but comparing it with images on the web. There is also a proliferation of poppies at the moment and I am keeping my eye on a whole series of poppy heads in a vacant house so that I can liberate them for future supplies of poppy seed.
More gardening this afternoon whilst the weather was fine. As opposed to construction work, this was just ‘routine’ gardening which involved clearing away about a year’s worth of fallen holly leaves from Mog’s Den. I decide to enlist the help of a huge plastic shovel which I purchased some time ago to shift snow (but actually looks like one of those huge things that you see stable workers muck out horses with – it might even be called a stable shovel). But in truth, I was just waiting to see what the latest briefing from Downing St. had to make of the Cumming’s affair.
Throughout the day, more and more Tory MP’s were withdrawing support from Cummings and one Scottish junior minister has resigned. Matt Hancock took the press briefing which was almost farcical as it was cut from 60 minutes to 30 and half of this time were the ritual presentations of graphs and statistics. Practically every question was on the Comming’s affair and Hancock allowed no supplementary questions. He half promised the first questionner (a vicar from Brighton) that he and his Treasury colleagues would examine the case for rescinding the fines of all of those who could plead a ‘special case’ à la Cummings – but having made up policy on the hoof, as it were, Downing Street went on to deny that there was going to be a change in policy. This really is like watching a car crash in slow motion but the interesting question remains that half of the cabinet have lined up to support Cummings whilst the other half wants to see him sacked! Michael Gove even suggested that he himself had driven to test his own eye-sight! If the situation persists, whereby every briefing from Downing Street is asked no questions about the pandemic but concentrates on Cummings with more and more influential Tories withdrawing their support, then Cummings looks doomed (and perhaps Boris Johnson doesn’t come out of it at all well either)
Today was the day that we decided to ‘liberate’ some of the wildflowers we have seen growing on a central verge. But first, we had our customary walk to the park which really did seem a lot busier than usual. For the first time in weeks, I did feel a little unsafe on occasions. Those of a certain age (65+) make every effort to avoid you, providing an almost ritualised arc-shape as you walk past each other. But we did notice that as we were sitting on our park bench, young couples with a 3-4-year-old on tow (or a little bike) made no effort at all to avoid you as we were sitting on the park bench, walking, in my estimation, within about a metre of you. not to mention two metres . The same was equally true of some of the residents of residential homes whom I presume were being pushed in a wheelchair by their carers who trundled along the path making no effort to avoid anyone. Given that residential homes may be the lurking-place for virus (more deaths were recorded in residential homes yesterday than in the whole of the hospital sector) then perhaps the trepidation that I felt had a degree of substance to it.
On our way home, I took out a sharp knife I had brought with me and liberated some small clumps of ox-eye daisies, cat’s-ear (similar to but not to be confused with dandelions) and a common poppy. These are, in effect, weeds but I wondered if I get them going in a few small plant pots and use them to brighten up a dark corner. I may not have much success in this particular venture as the specimens I obtained all seemed to have exceptionally shallow root systems but at least it was only about 10 minutes after lifting them before I got them into pots and watered.
After lunch, I busied myself with tidying up the steps that lead down into Mog’s Den but in truth, I didn’t spend a lot of time doing this as, apart from being assisted by the cat, I knew that Boris Johnson was due to appear before the Select Committee chairmen at 4.00 and I particularly wanted to evaluate his performance. A few little things stood out (i) despite referring to evident ‘falsehoods’ in the press treatment of Dominic Cummings, he couldn’t name any (ii) although he indicated that he did check on the evidence supplied by Dominic Cummings he was not going to refer any of it to the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service as he was ‘already far too busy to be troubled with things like that’ (iii) he hadn’t read any of the scientific papers but only relied on summaries of them provided for him (iv) he seemed not to know at all that there were thousands of migrants to the UK who because of their ambiguous citizenship status had no recourse to any public funds (and could be destitute for all he knew or cared) (v) he must have mentioned 5-6 times that it was time to ‘move on’ because that was the great British public wanted(!)
After reflecting upon the day’s events and some of the comments on late night TV, I suspect that three factors will stand out. The first of these is that the rebellion of 40+ Tory MP’s is showing some signs of fizzling out which means that Cummings may survive and hang on. However, Cummings may well be a ‘busted flush’ and will have lost whatever authority/respect he used to muster. But the second thing to emerge is that in the lockdown, the great British public invested a lot of trust in the government and helped to prevent the direst of tragedies (whilst still having the highest number of deaths/related deaths in the world) but this has largely evaporated and government messages may not be heeded (as there is ‘one law for the powerful and another law for the rest of us‘) Thirdly, and this point follows from the second, the ‘Test and Trace‘ system (due to be announced on Monday, 1st June but brought forward two working days in an attempt to ‘move the agenda on’) may well be fatally flawed as it is by no means certain that when contacted by a ‘tracer’ and told to isolate for 14 days the request will be followed as no sanctions are to be deployed in the short term. It is also evident that the fabled tracing app is not ready, that turn-around of test results is far too slow, and that we have failed to learn how to do things properly (as in South Korea, Germany for example)
This morning was fairly uneventful for Meg and I although we did have the opportunity for a brief chat with our Italian friend who lives down the road and then for a longer chat with two of our friends from church. One of their relatives had had an operation yesterday morning and we were all relieved that it seemed to have gone well so far. Another hot day which called out for a salad but we managed to rustle up quite a tasty collection of salad-type things even though we didn’t have what you might call any salad greens.
In the late morning, we got the news about Durham police’s view of the Dominic Cummings escapade. The whole wording seemed a little bizarre to us and designed to help the government get off the hook. For a start, the Durham police said that it was a minor breach (well a breach is either a breach or it isn’t a breach- the argument that it is minor because no social distancing was involved seems curious as surely if there had been a social distance issue this would have been two offences of leaving the house and breaking social distance rules). A lawyer has commented on the case as follows:
The fact that the initial journey from London to Durham was adjudged not to have broken regulations presumably drives a coach and horses through the advice? legal requirement? to ‘stay at home‘ and one wonders what will happen if some of those who have already been fined decide to appeal against their convictions. Finally, one has to say that a wording which says a ‘minor breach’ which ‘may’ have occurred seems to be bending over backwards not to offend Downing Street.
I had a frustrating session this afternoon. Part of ‘Mog’s Den‘ is an area in which I throw stones, bits of brick and other stuff retrieved whenever I go and dig in the garden. To tidy this up a little bit I thought I would put a bit of fencing (Poundland Special) and as I was doing this, I thought I would remove a protruding bit of stone from the route of the fence. Half an hour later and I was still struggling because as I excavated more and more of the ‘stone’ it became apparent that it must have been some kind of lintel, burried by the builders, as it was over 30″ long and about 6″ wide and 6″ deep. Having struggled to free this monster all without success, I reasoned to myself that even if I did free it would be too heavy to move anywhere and I would probably injure my back in making the effort. So I covered it all up again and made the best of a bad job.
Emily Maitless, the lead presenter on BBC Newsnight programme decided she would not appear the following evening after she had intimated that it was evident that Cummings had broken the law but the Government would not admit it. The BBC did not ‘discipline’ Maitless but felt they had to reissue guidance on political partiality but said they were not going to take any further action of a disciplinary nature. It should be very interesting to see what Newsnight says tonight, given that Cummings may have committed a breach of the regulations (subject to a court deciding the case – which of course it never will) The extremely partisan Attorney General has tweeted on Saturday in full support of Dominic Cummings and in which she quoted the full text of the No 10 statement on Boris Johnson’s chief aide in which the prime minister said he had behaved “responsibly and legally”. So the Attorney General’s role is compromised even before the Durham police statement earlier on today…
The end of another hot week – and more hot weather to come. We were particularly pleased to see our domestic help arrive to assist us in the burden of housework and we always seem to have a lot of news to catch up on. We do try to be careful to not be in the same room at the same time so there is a certain amount of calling to each other from doorways! We had a chat with one of our regular friends on the way down the hill and wondered if the park was going to be teeming today. However, despite the proliferation of picnic blankets, the park was only moderately busy and we enjoyed watching various antics with dogs and balls. By the way, by consulting Google, I have just discovered that the official name for the device that throws a ball further than one could unaided is called a ball-launcher – you live and learn.
After lunch, I cut the communal lawns and our own lawn with the trust petrol mower, but in truth, it had hardly grown at all but I succeeded in removing the wispy bits of dandelions. The two ‘weeds’ that I liberated from the roadside verges (an ox-eye daisy and the dandelion-like cat’s ear) seem to have taken in their planted plots and the trees I recently transplanted are just about surviving the heat (I think) Halfway through the afternoon, we took delivery of the lilac bush/tree that was a birthday present from the rest of the family. I also took delivery of a dozen half-round fencing posts with which I intend to construct a hand-rail to assist in reaching ‘Mog’s Den’ in the lower recesses of the garden. Although I have all the materials in place (posts, screws. cement, hole-boring implement) I think this job might be a bit more than a one-man job so I have sent off a text message to a useful contact of ours to see if we could do the job together sometime in the next few weeks (time is not of the essence)
Life next week will start to see some of the ‘turning of the analogue dial’ as the country as a whole is entering the first stages of release from the lockdown. As a family, we will face some changes – our daughter-in-law is in charge of the complicated logistics of getting the primary school in which she teaches ready to receive Year 1 and Year 6 pupils. I am going to enter a regime in which I go and collect my own newspapers which entails going to a small newspaper shop in town. I will go masked-up and will not enter the shop unless it is clear of other customers for a start. I have acquired a collection of face masks which will now come into their own. In addition, we are having the outside of the house receive a routine painting which is another small return to normality. As the government attempts to gradually end the various furlough schemes, the grim reality of how many businesses will be able to survive will become all too apparent. My own feeling is that this stage of the unlock down is going to be incredibly difficult. I suspect that as people have got used to new patterns of doing things (e.g. using online grocery shopping), then the old ways of doing things may never return.
Our local newspaper is reporting that Bromsgrove is in the top 20 of COVID-19 hotspots in the country. Of 329 local authorities, Bromsgrove has the 15th highest coronavirus death rate with a standardised rate of 106.4 per 100,000 (Birmingham was 89.7 per 100,000 and Worcestershire 50 per 100,000) A local consultant neurologist has pointed to the high death rate in residential homes (38 of the 105 deaths reported in Bromsgrove) and has argued that it is the neglect of care homes by the government that has led them to become pockets of infection where it is easy for the disease to spread and to re-spread. A sobering thought!
We thought that today the park was going to be exceptionally busy as people were anticipating the end of the lockdown. But, in truth, although it was a little busier than normal, the park was busy but not teeming. We decided to vary our route on the way back through the park and encountered one of our ‘old lady’ friends that we had not seen for several days and hoped she was OK. The husband of this particular acquaintance had worked for the Parks Department and, upon his demise, the family had donated a bench to the borough council and upon this bench, we often sit. The old lady in question can see this bench from the vantage point of her own home as she lives adjacent to the park – and she is always delighted to see that the bench is in use. We had not seen her as she had varied her routine and got into the habit of going around the park very early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds. She was having a few problems with her health but at least she had some hospital appointments lined up in the forthcoming week, although the logistics were getting to be a bit of a nightmare as under the Coronavirus rules one couldn’t be accompanied into the hospital. Still, we were pleased to see her. On our way up the hill, we exchanged news with one of our oldest friends and then bumped into an acquaintance who was visiting his parents and who we often see at the weekend. As it happened, he was engaged in the most humdrum of tasks (sieving through a bucket full of slate chippings to remove the bits of leaves and twigs) What was so coincidental about this is that I had detailed myself to do exactly the same task myself in the afternoon. Last year, I had taken the pains to lay down a whole new path along half of the length of ‘Mog’s Den‘ and, to keep a naturalistic look, I had laid down some weed control fabric and then had a ton of slate chippings delivered in the customary large plastic/hessian builder’s bag in our driveway. I had then made the journey down with loaded buckets of slate chippings to lay the path. This is generally quite maintenance-free but although the weed control fabric prevents the problems of annual weeds growing from below, one still has the problem of dried leaves accumulating on the top. This maintenance job didn’t turn out to be particularly arduous and I finished off the whole job with a Bosch blower that I use just to disperse dried leaves and the like. This now completes the makeover of ‘Mog’s Den‘ and whilst there will also be ‘pottering about’ little jobs to be done, at least it is now looking fairly shipshape and should be easy to maintain for the rest of the season. All it needs now is a good downpour of rain, but we will have to wait a little longer for that.
The political news this weekend looks interesting. It seems that the ‘love-in’ between the scientists/health chiefs on the one hand and the politicians on the other has finally broken down, particularly with the added irritant of the Dominic Cummings affair. In particular, they feel that trust has been badly damaged by Cumming’s failure to stand down and the prime minister’s refusal to dismiss him. In addition, they feel that the failure to set up an effective test, trace and isolate regime means that the safety and well-being of the general public are now certainly at risk. Today was a day when I missed the Downing Street briefing but for the first time, one of the senior scientists has made his feelings known. The government’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, with Dominic Cummings in mind, laid his criticisms on the line thus : “In my opinion the rules are clear and have always been clear. In my opinion, they are for the benefit of all and they apply to all.” And so say all of us (or over 80% in an opinion poll published over the weekend).
We speculate how busy our local park is going to be in view of the weather and the release of the lockdown sentiment in the country – as it turned out, it was the most pleasant of days with a gentle breeze keeping the temperature a little cooler than in recent days and the numbers of people in the park being quite tolerable, A few days we watched whilst some of the local authority workers dredged the pond which only has about 8″ of water in it but acquires a certain amount of dead branches and other debris falling into the water. The park caretakers had carefully arranged for the detritus to dry out when no doubt it would easier to dispose of. Our enjoyment of the pond was marred somewhat by the sight of a couple of teenagers, evidently quite bored, who hunted some of the biggest sticks that could find and threw them back into the pond. In circumstances like this, does one intervene with a reprimand? Whilst contemplating what to do, the youths got bored and ran away. In the early afternoon, we got a text from our domestic help with the red-hot news that Asda was selling off 70-litre bags of Forest Bark at 3 for £10.00. Actually, this was very good news to us as we had engaged one of our neighbours in conversation who was giving his garden a makeover and he had unsuccessfully toured some of the local supermarkets (who typically have supplies of forest bark with their gardening requisites outside the store) Accordingly my daughter-in-law and I went down to Asda where they had a well-developed system – whilst I loaded up my trolley with the forest bark, my daughter-in-law went inside and paid for it with crisp £10.00 notes (which the staff preferred not to handle even though virus does not survive for about 11 weeks on crisp new notes) Nonetheless, this was a very welcome little venture as we had contemplated doing it a day or so ago but it all depends upon the local supply situation.
The afternoon was quite a busy one. The principal task was to plant the lilac tree that had been bought for me as a birthday present and I had a green 75-litre pot which certainly ought to be a sufficient size for a young tree. Fortunately, during my make-over of Mog’s Den I discovered that I already had a bag of topsoil as well as one of compost and already had some ‘normal’ soil put by ready for a large planting. As I am always running out of both bonemeal and Blood, Fish and Bone, I had recently bought from Amazon some 10kg bags of both so it was quite easy to make a nutritious mixture (bonemeal at the base, blood fish and bone as a general fertiliser) and planting was thus incredibly easy, I have decided to locate it against a wall of the house in the back garden so that all members of the family can see it from the kitchen window. To make space for it, I relocated the (pot-grown) Corylus avellana which is a hazel bush/tree. My final job of the afternoon was to relocate all of the dustbins, gardening impedimenta away from the sides of the hose so that our painter and decorator has a free run of the outside of the house when he starts off at 8.30 in the morning.
I might point out that in my various activities, throughout the day I have been assisted and supervised at times by Miggles the cat, who has variously supervised my hanging out of the washing, planting of the lilac tree, relocating the hazel tree and preparing for the decorator. At one stage when I had just planted the lilac the cat investigated the pot by standing on her hind legs and then jumped in to roll in the soil (a trait she has exhibited many times before!)
We made a fairly early start to the day this morning because our decorator had come to undertake the external painting of the house – we like to have it done every 5-6 years. Naturally, we had to have a walk around to ascertain that access for ladders was maintained in all of the relevant places and, of course, we have to ensure that relevant supplies of tea and/or coffee are made available from the word go. Well, the day has arrived on what might be billed as the start of the unlock-down and one wonders what social changes might be evident. On the ground, there was not much apparent here in Bromsgrove although the TV channels report that the Birmingham IKEA has experienced a huge queue as the lockdown appears to be easing. It is reported that some people starting queuing at 5.45 in time for the store opening at 10.00. I must admit, I didn’t think that IKEA was judged to be an essential store like a supermarket or a pharmacy but apparently the government has ‘tweaked’ the definition of essential retail shops so that furniture and hardware shops are now to be allowed to open. I had thought that shops could only open in a fortnight’s time of June 15th but apparently, hardware and homeware stores are now regarded as essential – subject, of course, to rigid social distancing rules. Actually, today for the first time in about 11 weeks, Meg and I decided to buy our newspapers directly instead of relying upon our son and/or daughter-in-law to do it for us. As it turned out, the process was ridiculously easy as we choose a little newspaper shop in a not particularly busy street in the town. Having ascertained there was no one else in the store it took all of half a minute to enter, choose the newspapers, hand over my vouchers and then leave. This will be our routine form now on – although I had taken the precaution of having a face mask and disposable gloves with me, this no longer proved to be necessary. The park was delightful today, as it was certainly not too busy and there was a slight breeze to make the day feel really pleasant. On the way home, one of our ‘friends-who-garden’ had consulted their RHS book to ascertain what plant (portion of a plant) some other friends had donated to us. It turns out that it is ‘Lychnis coronaria Abrosanguinea Gp‘ which a quick Google search reveals has the popular name of a rose campion and our little plant is now flowering beautifully.
This afternoon turned out to be a pretty hot afternoon and the early morning breeze had abated, I had started what I call ‘routine’ edging/gully clearing from the edge of our communal grassed area and managed to get about two-thirds done of what I had hoped. These days, I find that having low expectations of what you set yourself to do is the way to happiness – otherwise, you are only dissatisfied with what have you have got done rather than satisfied with what you have achieved. I particularly wanted to get my tasks finished by 5.00 pm so that I could watch the Downing Street briefing but why I bother, I really do not know as it only sends my blood pressure sky high. Today, the Health Secretary was asked the perfectly reasonable question of ‘how much use has been made of the Coronavirus test-and-trace’ regime since its inception. Every kind of evasion was being deployed although Hancock claimed that the system was ‘up and running’ and was ‘successful’. However, there are several reports from the front line that many of the 25,000 testers recruited to do the job (all employed by private-sector agencies’) were sitting around all day twiddling their thumbs and perhaps only 25% of the 8,000 or so new cases each day are getting caught up in the system. When pressed for some statistics, the Health Secretary eventually admitted that the figures would be ‘forthcoming’ in a few days’ time – the truth probably being that the whole thing has been botched from beginning to end with ill-trained contact tracers manning call centres, a promised app that has not seen the light of day and the experienced local authority workers who do have experience of dealing with communicable diseases sidelined. You couldn’t really make it up!
Today, we were going to alter our routine just a little to see how it goes. But first, of course, we have to make sure that the decorators are settled and well supplied with coffee before their work starts. I think that all of us (and particularly the decorators) will welcome the slighter cooler air that is promised for us and the possibility of a refreshing shower tomorrow at some time. We occupied our normal park bench and then I left Meg to contemplate the pond (and chat with other young mothers and their children) whilst I made haste to get our daily ration of newspapers and back to the park bench which round trip took me all of 10 minutes. As we have a plethora of plastic bags left behind from several grocery deliveries, I think I will transport the newspapers home in one of them and immediately discard it once I get it home. Then I had a slightly frustrating experience traying to amend my Iceland order, due for delivery tomorrow between 6.00-8.00pm. I realised that we had just run out of potatoes but the Iceland website would amend my order and then come up with a problem when I tried to pay for the extra. A customer services number was of no use because the recorded message said they were so overwhelmed with queries that they could not cope. Eventually, I texted my domestic help pleading that she brings some spuds with her when next we see her.
This afternoon was the first date upon which I could actually get some vegetable seed sown. Last year, when I laid down the slate path on ‘Mog’s Den‘ I had purchased several of what are technically window planters and they form a line alongside the path so that I can sow and harvest the veg more easily. Luckily, I had some beet seed in stock which was not out-of-date so I used an old gardener’s trick which was to scarify (i.e. scrub the seed with sandpaper) to remove some of the hard husks and then soaked it in water overnight. I sieved some compost and laid down about a two-inch layer in the planters which I then made flat and even using a half-brick (a longitudinal half brick which I had discovered in the garden) which is excellent for tamping. Then using a piece of bamboo cane, I made a couple of pencil-like indentations before planting the seed at 1-inch intervals. Finally. I finished off with sieving (yes, an actual old metal kitchen sieve I had in my vegetable garden tools section) of compost to provide the lightest of layers over the seed before it had a final tamping and watering. If all of my efforts are successful, I would hope to see some germination within 3-4 days and then I must remember to sow at fortnightly intervals. If all goes to plan, I can use the young beet leaves as a salad, pull young small beetroots and bottle them in vinegar and let the more mature plants grow on to their full size. We shall see!
It seems as though the government is eventually being caught out. I read somewhere that less than 50% of the population actually believe the guff which passes for information at the daily Downing Street briefings and the general public prefer to believe the scientists (when they are allowed to speak) and not the politicians. I quote from an ITV news report below:
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been rebuked by the UK’s statistics watchdog over coronavirus testing figures which are “still far from complete and comprehensible”. UK Statistics Authority chairman Sir David Norgrove said “it is not surprising that given their inadequacy data on testing are so widely criticised and often mistrusted”.
He criticised the way the figures are presented at the daily Downing Street briefings, with the headline total including both tests carried out and those which have been posted to recipients but not yet conducted.
Well, I always knew that today might be quite a full day and so it proved. Knowing that I had an Iceland delivery slot for groceries sometime between 6.00-8.00 am, I actually got up and going at 5.00 to be in plenty of time for the delivery – the order actually arrived at about 6.40 and everything was as it should be so that was quickly unpacked and then put away. I then walked down into Bromsgrove and actuated my new ‘newspaper buying’ slot which I started on Monday. I make sure that nobody is inside the shop and today I got in, selected my newspapers and got out again all within 30 seconds. I then thought I would hunt for potatoes which I had tried, unsuccessfully to add to my Iceland order yesterday but the little veg store I thought might be open was closed and the local Iceland store did not open until 9.00 am. So I decided to try my old haunt of Waitrose – I might state, at this point, that I have a particular relationship with the staff in Waitrose as I was actually the second customer through the doors when it opened on my birthday more than two years ago. The staff greeted me like the prodigal son which I suppose I was, in a way, and we had to give each virtual hugs from a distance of two metres away. Anyway, I got my bag of potatoes and shot off, but not before ascertaining that as they opened at 8.00 each morning, then after a little early morning rush their quietest time was about 9.00 am so if I run out of anything, I can make a quick dash into the store in future, not least to get my supplies replenished of unicorn hoof oil essence which I know (!) they stock.
Today, was the day when our incredibly ‘handy man’ who I shall call Len (not his real name, I might add) were going to erect a handrail down the precipitate slope down into Mog’s Den. I had got this job planned out in my mind as I had acquired some half-round fencing poles (round poles, split in half longitudinally and hence one curved surface and one flat surface) I had also acquired a couple of years earlier a fence boring auger which is like a huge gimlet or corkscrew and I know this would be excellent for boring some quite deep holes of just the right diameter. Then, if all works well, all you need to do is to insert the fencing pole (with a spike put on the end with a saw) and then hammer into the ground with a hefty sledge-hammer. When processing the first of our holes, all seemed to be going well until we encountered some sort of obstacle and the auger would not progress any further – on further investigation, Len felt into the hole and we discovered that at the exact spot upon which we were sinking the first hole, we would have to encounter a lump of metal which turned out to be a scaffolding shackle. The rest of the job proceeded satisfactorily and we were both pleased with the overall result which has a sort of naturalistic feel to it as befits the descent into a woodland garden. However, as it was raining (smattering) most of the morning, I was starting to feel the effects of standing around on a cold rainy day. There are some timbers left over so I may use them to provide a type of capping rail as a whole – hence, I was hunting around in the garage of drills, drill bits, chucks, chargers and the like.
There are warnings tonight that we need to prepare for a second and possibly a third more subsequent waves of the coronavirus to which most of the population has not actually been exposed and to which we are certainly not immune. Also, at 50,000 deaths the UK has the highest death rate in Europe. We await the result of the official enquiry in what has undoubtedly gone wrong in the UK, although the main lines of explanation are already clear (e.g. critical failure to respond with alacrity in the first few weeks of the pandemic as even starting the lockdown a week earlier might have saved about 8,000 lives)
Today we enjoyed a slight variation on the theme of our daily routine. Meg and I went to our little newspaper shop to collect The Times and The Guardian aa per usual. Then, as we had an earlier start in the day, we decided to brave a little venture into the weird and wonderful world of Waitrose. At the door, we were informed that only one of us would be allowed to enter the store but when we were recognised by the staff inside, the previous instruction was overwritten and we were both allowed in. Then we treated ourselves to some dark chocolate Digestive biscuits and some of our favourite oatmeal crackers before escaping the store as fast as we could. Then we sat by the lake in the park and drank our coffee. On our way up the hill, we encountered both of our sets of friends and exchanged some gossip as a six-some – quite legal as we were in the open air and keeping our distance from each other. After lunch, I had determined to do a mini tidy-up of some tools and similar ‘useful things’ whilst at the same time looking for some things that might be useful for some woodworking activities. The bad news is that when I opened a large wooden chest that was filled with spanners and other bits of ironmongery ‘that might come in useful at some time’ I was dismayed to find that we had been visited by our little furry friends who had evidently been on the search for nesting materials – hence what used to be jiffy bags I used for storage had been reduced to a mass of chewed up paper clippings not to mention mouse droppings. I wondered how on earth they could have got into a closed box (which had been housing for a radiogram popular in the 1960s) until I realised that various holes were cut in the back panel to allow for the ingress of cables and leads so the little blighters had just walked in. So there had to be a lot of washing down with a strong bleach solution, throwing away of some items rendered useless and a general sorting out which took most of the afternoon. However, there was a slight bonus to all of this because I discovered three things that I think that I will need in the next day or so when I affix a capping rail to my newly installed handrail, namely a wood chisel, a type of rasping tool which acts as a plain and a chuck for muy little Bosch hand-held drill so I had a certain amount of fortune to offset the misfortune.
Tonight was the end of the Thursday night ‘Clap for our Carers‘ routine. I went outside ready to join in with whatever clapping might take place but there was just silence in the gloomy and rain-filled evening air. The official website had stated that last week’s was to be the final one but as the lockdown was being eased perhaps the movement had run its course. It was good whilst it lasted but had perhaps outlived its purpose. Out of interest, I clicked on a map showing the hotspots of Coronavirus throughout the country (i.e. at least 100 deaths per 100,000 of the population) and there seemed to be a smattering across the South, the Midlands and the North with no evident pattern staring you in the face and Bromsgrove remained one of the hotspots. I did wonder whether the hotspots could have been made ‘hot‘ by having more than the average share of the population in residential homes in each area and this constitutes a reservoir of infection back into the local community as we know that the sector as a whole is under-tested and not well supplied with PPE. This might have to await further analysis but perhaps is too difficult to tease out statistically. Just to keep things in perspective, about 0.5% of the population in the UK have experienced the virus whereas smallpox afflicted 1 in 6 of the population in early Georgian England (the latter rate being about 30 times more than the former)
Every day has a slightly different flavour despite the lockdown and so it proved today. I had left Meg in the park to contemplate her surroundings whilst I went to pick up my daily ration of newspapers. After leaving Meg, I encountered an elderly lady I recognised as having attended our local church way back in the past. She seemed to be coping reasonably well with the lockdown but was feeling a little isolated e.g. some days she had no conversation with anybody at all. So I pointed out Meg to her on a distant park bench so they could meet up and have a good natter, which they undoubtedly did whilst I went on my way and joined them later. It might well be that another member of the congregation who often sits and chats with us may well come along tomorrow so we form a little gaggle (or is it a ‘conspiracy’?) of Catholics together. We had to endure a shower and at one stage took shelter underneath a nearby willow tree and later on the park’s bandstand (which is open on all sides but at least keeps the rain off you) As we were walking back, the sun burst forth and we chatted with one of our friends on the journey back up the hill. Today was a day in which I decided I would make a curry which I accordingly did (a tradition from our student days) and our domestic help was more than happy to help us demolish it (as were we to devour her rhubarb and ginger cake which was absolutely superb)
After lunch, I decided to see how easy it would be to install the capping timber on my newly installed handrail. This involved chopping off a triangular section from the top of each of the supporting posts so that they all pointed down the diagonal slope. What I thought was going to be tremendously difficult turned out to be relatively easy although I was obliged to make a whole series of little adjustments to make everything line up properly. Now for the screwing down process which I suspected might be tricky as my screws had to be quite long ones (2.75″ or 7 cm in length) and therefore quite deep guide holes were required. But all went quite well, overcoming the’normal’ crop of misfortunes that might befall one who is not a regular driller or user of woodworking tools e.g. a broken drill on one occasion or the drill leaving the chuck and getting stuck in the hole on another. However, I used the trick that I often used on similar occasions which is to use a somewhat shorter and thinner screw to make the guide hole and then finish off with the longer and wider screw for the final job. However, everything was nice and stable when I had finished and it looked good as well. I took the advice of our painters and decorators just before they completed their own work and got their recommendation as to which make and shade of wood preservative to apply and then I duly ordered the same from the web (Sandolin Classic Light Oak which I was assured would let the natural grain of the wood shine through) I finally finished things off with a wooden ornamental owl that I just happened to have bought as a folly some months ago but as it happens a perfect emblem to affix to the start of the handrail. Tomorrow, I resolve to go through the collection of garden tools I have got into the habit of storing in buckets under the eaves and rationalising the contents of them so that the outside of the house looks a little less cluttered. Some of them can always be located down into ‘Mog’s Den‘ and some of them relocated into less evident locations.
The shocking COVID-19 statistics for today are (i) total cases now to exceed 40,000 but this figure does not take into the ‘more than expected’ deaths figures so the actual amount of deaths caused both, directly and indirectly, may well exceed 60,000. Also (ii) the death totals yesterday in the UK at 359 exceeded the death toll of 330 from all 27 European nation-states.
Today was quite a lot colder with a high wind and not very pleasant ‘sitting in the park’ conditions. We were pleased to drink up our coffee quickly and to get on our way back home almost as soon as we could. The newspaper routine seems to be working quite well, I am pleased to say, and tomorrow will be a quite big day as we have to lift up all of the supplements to go with the Sunday newspapers. No doubt, we will watch the Andrew Marr show in the morning without a great deal of enlightenment, as per usual. After I had lunch today, I set myself the task of rationalising the various bits of gardening gear that we had in a series of buckets down a ‘private’ side of the house. Why this has developed over the years is because the soffits on this particular house are quite wide and this means that little hand tools and other gardening implements are generally kept quite dry whilst also being accessible. But, I have to admit, this has created a certain amount of clutter over the years so as I had moved it all away from the side of the house to assist the decorators (whose work has now finished), this was an ideal opportunity for an element of rationalisation and tidying up. This took most of the afternoon as I have a variety of aids to help me reach hard-to-reach spots when gardening, hedge trimming or car cleaning. One of these aids is one of the once popular plastic milk crates. These were very rigid and strong and typically were much used by GPO telephone engineers who tended to upload one from their van the minute they had to do some work on the telephone control panels you occasionally see along the main roads. I had acquired one from goodness knows where years ago and enhanced it somewhat with some rubber matting on the bottom (which now become the top) and a reinforcement of my own patent design inside. If you were to check on the web, you would see that these sell for £30.00 which is a tribute to their versatility and utility. Then, of course, there are the buckets and garden tubs of various sizes used in weeding and clearing, a variety of things in plastic containers such as ant control, compost heap accelerant before we actually come onto the handtools of which I have several favourites, primarily for weeding, as well as a variety of ties, clips, string, wire – the list seems endless (as did the clutter) Anyway, eventually order was restored, bucket and tubs were brushed clean, tools were neatly oiled with WD40 if necessary and then stored sensibly at last.
There seem to be two big breaking COVID-19 stories this evening. The first is the ‘about-face’ (forgive the pun) on the wearing of face coverings for all staff and visitors to NHS hospitals i.e. 800,000 staff at one week’s notice. It seems very improbable that adequate supplies will be on place and seems to be another example of the politicians assuming that by announcing that something will happen that this will actually take place. One is reminded that the ‘test and trace’ regime was meant to be ‘world-beating, but it now transpires that the fully-effective service that was promised will not come to pass until about mid-September! Secondly, there seems to be a realisation that bluster and political point-scoring à la Boris Johnson does not really help get effective policies implemented. Johnson is being urged this evening to cut the rhetoric and to prepare for the second wave of the pandemic that many experts believe is now inevitable and may well be on its way. The rather scary thing is that according to a model shown in ‘The Times‘, a second wave might be more vicious and more deadly than the first as only about 5% of the population may have acquired any level of immunity (leaving 95% with none, of course)
The weather did not bode particularly well this morning as there was a smattering of rain. After the Andrew Marr show, I made my way on my own to pick up the Sunday newspapers as Meg was not feeling very well and decided to spend some extra time in bed this morning. Lunchtime included a good portion of spinach – some Dutch clinicians have discovered that a deficiency of vitamin K is often exhibited in those who succumb to the coronavirus so it is well to keep our consumption of broccoli, spinach and particularly kale on the menu from now on. After lunch, I set myself the task of cleaning up some plastic storage boxes that I use previously to grow veg in – this is all part of the rationalisation of my garden tools outfit. This sounds a deceptively simple task but the boxes I have seem to have hidden curves and ridges in them which means that no longer do you think you have one surface cleaned when other springs into view. The overall plan is to keep all gardening utensils neatly stored away so that the boxes themselves are not an eyesore and contribute to a feeling of clutter. Miggles the cat was my constant companion and whenever I had completed one box and lined it with cardboard (to keep it pristine) the cat would insist on occupying it and giving it her seal of approval.
Last night, we watched the Life of Pi on the TV (story of a young boy. shipwrecked alongside some zoo animals of which the most prominent is the tiger) We had both seen it before and enjoyed it the second time around – but if you go on the web, there is an amazing amount of philosophical explanation as to which of the two accounts to believe (as depicted on the film or a sanitised version, without the zoo animals, given to the Japanese investigators of the shipwreck) Unusual and enjoyable, all the same.
The Sunday newspapers are full of speculation that the government is desperately keen to end the lockdown as soon as possible because there is a prediction that 3 million jobs could soon be lost unless the lockdown is eased quickly. But the public mood is quite interesting because three times as many people feel that that the end to the lockdown may be preceding too rapidly as want a quick end to the lockdown. I suppose there is a feeling that having come this far, then why risk the rapid emergence of a second (and more brutal?) 0r and/or third wave for the sake of a week or so? However, it is true to say that other European countries seem to be on a faster trajectory to end lockdowns than is the case in the UK – there does seem to be a long ‘tail’ to the statistical distribution and fears that the ‘R’ rate is already exactly 1.0 in the SouthWest but greater than 1.0 in the North West (which would mean that start of exponential growth in those regions) The consensus view is that the only sensible course to follow is to allow liberalisation only if there is an excellent ‘test and track’ regime in place to immediately pounce on any hotspots. However, we now know that the ‘test-and-trace’ service is woefully incomplete and will only be fully functional in September. This implies that too rapid an end to the lockdown is an incredibly risky venture – but then it was the same bunch of politicians who have progressed with Brexit which again is an enormously risky undertaking.
The other big political story this weekend is the continuing ‘Black Lives Matter‘ protests taking place in cities in the UK and, indeed, globally. I find it fascinating that it not just members of the BAME communities that are out on the streets but the protesters seem to be drawn from every section of society – it seems from the broadcast images that there are as many white as there are brown or black faces. Of course, the original spark that lit the flame was repulsive (a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black person squeezing the life out of him for seven minutes whilst being filmed doing so).
There are certain dates that stick in one’s memory and today’s date is one of them. It was the date, exactly two years ago, in which I had a bowel cancer operation (technically a ‘low anterior resection‘) to remove a polyp that had turned cancerous. At the same time, I was given an ileostomy, subsequently reversed about four weeks later. Well, here I am to tell the tale – the survival rate over 5 years is about 80%. The one incident that sticks in my mind is as follows. My surgeon asked me, just before the operation ‘Now Mr. Hart – are there any questions you would like to ask me just before the operation?‘ I replied ‘Yes – I just have one question: when you are holding the diseased portion of my bowel in one hand and the rest of my body in the other, can you make sure you throw away the right bit!‘ To which, the surgeon replied,’I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t know what question you are asking me?‘ I replied saying that it was all meant to be a joke but it had backfired. But that is enough of that.
Today, the weather had brightened and Meg was particularly looking forward to her walk to the park as she had missed yesterday. I left Meg on the park bench whilst I went to collect the newspapers and noted, upon my return, that about a dozen young mothers with attendant 2-4 year olds had assembled in the open air or in the park’s bandstand and were organising the children into ball throwing games. (This seemed to involve throwing a ball into a large sheet which was then pulled taut so that the ball was propelled into the air and children then had to chase after it) The whole affair had evidently been organised but whether it was spontaneous or part of a pre-school group, I couldn’t really tell.
This afternoon, after lunch and a rest, I decided that the lawns needed their weekly cut, although to be honest, they had hardly displayed any growth after the dry spell we would have had for the last few days. But things do look a little neater now. I had intended to start painting my newly erected fence/handrail into Mog’s Den but I was suddenly beset with doubts that the paint I had been recommended by our decorators could turn out to look awful. So as to not ruin it, I had decided that it might be better to paint a spare timber that I have to see how it looks and whether the natural grain of the wood is enhanced (which I want) or disguised (which I don’t want). But I never got round to this because we had a long chat with our next-door neighbour who is recovering from some angina pains and with whom we have not had a chance to catch up on his latest news for several days now.
One of the really big political stories is the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol by ‘Black Lives Matter‘ protestors over the weekend. Although this was undoubtedly an illegal act, it is fascinating to see how our political leaders have responded to it. Instead of an ‘illegal but understandable’ tone, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel’s first instincts have been to condemn what they have termed ‘thuggery‘. But would the citizens of Bristol really want to see re-erected a statue of a man who was responsible for the transportation of 84,000 slaves of whom 19,000 died in transit? I turned to the web to see if there was any legal opinion as to whether or not you find a jury that would actually convict anybody in the climate of today. One wonders whether the government actually has thought of the embarrassment that would be caused by pursuing a conviction in the post ‘Black Lives Matter‘ days. I did find the following legal opinion (which with I concur, actually) but it will be interesting to see what transpires. The leader of the Bristol City Council hit an interesting tone when he suggested that the statue might be fished out of the Bristol dock but the council had many other priorities at the moment! Here is the legal opinion:
According to the weather forecasts, today was meant to be a bright and sunny day but it certainly didn’t start that way being somewhat cloudy and what I might call ‘brooding’ – however, the sun burnt through the cloud later on and we had quite a warm and pleasant day. On our way to the park, we were delighted to see some friends we had not seen for a day or so, so it was lovely to gossip and exchange news with each other. The park seemed to have more than its normal share of groups of mothers entertaining their pre-school offspring, so it does look as though this is part of a trend. On our way up the hill, we stopped to admire several of the front gardens which are at their best at the moment – yesterday, we had liberated some poppy seed heads from a venue where they were growing wild and unrestrained. I need to go onto the web, which I will shortly, to get some up-to-date advice as the best way to store poppy heads and their seeds. In the afternoon, it had been my intention to empty a dustbin which we have in an outside corner to rearrange its contents (largely things like gardening gloves, twine, supports of various kinds) but I didn’t quite get round to it. Instead, I hunted around for a small bag of pea gravel which I still had in an odd corner. I then divided this into four and carefully introduced it around the base of each of the supporting posts of my new fence/handrail. That having been done, I then located my tin of used motor oil which had been emptied from the mower and was waiting for the next trip to the local authority tip to dispose of it safely. In this case, I allowed the oil to penetrate the pea gravel and then gave it a light tamping with a flat stone I had to hand. The theory behind all of this is that fence posts always rot at ground level due to the combined effect of soil-based microbes, oxygen and moisture. Anywaything that can be done to eliminate these conditions will assist the treated timber posts to survive even longer. Having got this task completed, I then opened the tin of light-oak external wood paint as recommended by our painters & decorators and painted a sample timber with it. The results were quite good i.e. the natural grain of the timber still comes through without the timber taking on an orange-y suntanned hue (sometimes seen on American presidents we know well). As this experiment has worked well, the full painting job can be done tomorrow – and the gloss paint when it arrives might just make a good job look even better but we will have to wait and see.
It looks as though the government has bowed to the inevitable and realises that it not possible to get all children back into school before the end of term. There is also talk of trying to get secondary pupils back into school in September, if possible. David Blunkett (ex-Labour education secretary) was suggesting that with a lot of national will (as displayed by building the Nightingale hospitals in exhibition centres) we could get schools working again. His solution was to use a combination of reducing social distancing from 2m to 1m only for school children, using every inch of space e.g. school halls and gyms, using a shift system (e.g. 7-1, 1-6) or similar. You would have to give teachers a great deal of local autonomy for this to work and giving autonomy to teachers to try innovative solutions is the last thing in the government’s mind!
According to Sky News ‘New figures show around half of primary schools in England reopened to more children last week, as the government scrapped plans for all pupils to return before the summer holidays. According to the Department of Education, around 659,000 children attended an education setting last Thursday, 6.9% of all pupils who normally attend.’
Today was an intermediate day, weather-wise – we wondered if we were going to get a smattering of rain and indeed we did get a few drops later in the day. Today was a little unusual in that having collected our newspapers and had our usual supplies in the park, we didn’t encounter any of the ‘usual suspects’ for a chat on the way home. But before I forget, I must mention one of the best ‘mot-justes‘ that I have heard for a long time, and this coming from the lips of Meg. When we were discussing the fate of the statue of Edward Colston, the notorious slave owner which was dragged from its plinth and dumped unceremoniously into the harbour in Bristol recently, Meg made the remark ‘May he rust in peace‘ to which I added (‘or in pieces’) but, in truth, Meg’s comment was far more funny.
Just before lunch, I thought I would give my new fence/handrail its first coat of point – by sod’s law, it started smattering with rain within 10 seconds of my starting but soon stopped. The first coat took about 3/4 hour to complete and I think the results are going to be OK. Certainly, the timber doesn’t ook as untreated and has a more mellow appearance. Meg likes the overall appearance of it but I am not absolutely sure. I think I will reserve judgement until the second coat is applied and then it has had a chance to ‘age’ for a bit. I still have the option of adding a bit of external varnish to it if I think that will improve it overall. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with tidying up various things within the garage, left rather strewn about when I was assembling various woodworking tools to secure the top handrail. I was eager to get finished by 5.00 pm so that I could see what Boris Jonson had to say for himself in the light of the latest revelations. Tomorrow is going to be quite a busy day as I am expecting several deliveries from Amazon and also the delivery of a 2-metre hornbeam tree that has been on order for nearly a month now but ought to be with me by tomorrow. It will come complete with fixing stake and helpful root fungus so I will try and plant it immediately if it is not absolutely pouring down. Late on this evening, I took delivery of the latest Waitrose order which soon got put away. But the joys of internet shopping – I discovered that the two items of ‘Fishy Fish pie’ I had ordered turned out to be two tins of dog food! I shall try one out on Miggles the cat tomorrow and give the other away.
The astounding political news is the revelation that in the opinion of Prof. Neil Ferguson, one of the most influential of the modellers of the pandemic crisis that if the Johnson government had locked down a week or so earlier than one half i.e. 25,000 lives could have been saved. If I were the surviving relative of one these ‘unnecessary’ deaths, I really do not know how I would feel. It is too early to say whether this revelation has fed back properly into public opinion but it seems astounding that the Conservatives are still ahead – just – in the opinion polls. How is that possible, I ask myself, after having been responsible for so many deaths of the population? It now seems likely that as well as the politicians, several critical errors were made by the scientific community. According to the BBC Radio 4 statistics programme ‘More or Less‘ it seems that the modellers did not take fully into account the fact that the infected numbers seemed to be doubling every 2-3 days (not 4-5 as they thought) or take into account that much of the UK infection came from the rest of Europe and not directly from China. Also, it has emerged today that government advisers did not anticipate how high deaths would be in care homes as they were acting on the assumption that the residents would be shielded. Nor did they build into their model that many carehome workers were employed by agencies and would move from care home to care home thereby contributing to the spread of the virus.
Today was a very cloudy and overcast day with the rain constantly threatening – so it was not a surprise that in our daily walk to the park we did not encounter any of our friends. We did pick up the newspapers, though, in what is becoming an established pattern. We were anticipating several deliveries today from quarters and none of them disappointed, The first of use was a very special spade made by Spear and Jackson that goes by the wonderful name of a ‘Tub Draining Tool’ – the ‘Tub’ is short for Tubular and the whole is manufactured of an extremely strong high strength carbon/manganese steel epoxy coated to reduce rust. What is special about these types of spade is that they are specially designed to make short work of digging fencing posts, moving deep-rooted shrubs or breaking up hard and stony soil. Whereas a normal spade is about 8* wide and 11″ long this is narrower (at 6″) but with a blade that is 50% longer (at 16″) Because of the weight and the design, these types of spade quickly cut through tree roots, submerged concrete, rubble and bricks (which we have a-plenty in our garden) The Amazon reviews included several from landscape gardeners who reckoned it was the most useful spade they had ever bought so at £25.00 (delivered) I thought this was quite a bargain and snapped it up. The next delivery along was the hornbeam tree (‘Carpinus Betulus‘) which I bought complete with a planting stake, tree tie and special root fungus. It arrived in superb condition at 2 metres in height in a special cardboard box and I resolved to try and get it planted this afternoon, which I did. However, the weather was exceptionally windy and not the best in which to try to plant a tall tree but planting was the least of my difficulties. I had already half prepared a planting hole but in making this deeper to receive the tree, I encountered a huge stone which must have been about 18″ x. 10″ at exactly the spot in which I had planned to plant the tree (Now you might appreciate why a specialised digging spade comes in useful) Having got this stone extracted successfully, I then proceeded to drive on the support stake only to be met with more resistance (this time, a Victorian brick in exactly the wrong spot) This seems like Sod’s Law x 2 – but all ended well with the tree well and truly planted, watered and in just the right position. It should grow at the rate of 1-2 ft per year which will help to screen us from the neighbour’s garden. Earlier in the afternoon, I had had a pre-arranged telephone consultation with my cancer surgeon, this being two years after my successful operation. He is going to get a blood test organised for me (but I have to go to a local hospital to get the blood sample taken) and a CT scan – all as part of routine monitoring to check all is well. Thank God for the NHS!
There seem to be three big political stories in town tonight. I didn’t see the Downing St. briefing this evening but apparently, Matt Hancock briefed with the news that 70%-80% of people who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus were not displaying any symptoms. If validated, one can only feel uneasy about this. The major story was the first stats from the test-and-trace regime in which one-third of the people referred to the system would not give (for whatever reason) details of their contacts. If you take the view (which I do) that those refusing details of contacts may have something to hide, then this hardly bodes well for a system that is meant to be our salvation out of lockdown. And finally, there is the real cat-fight between Priti Patel (the Home Secretary) and a group of BAME Labour MP’s who have written to her to say that the views she had expressed on racial abuse she had experienced in the past do not qualify her to make pronouncements on the types of abuse suffered by many of the BAME communities over the decades. Of course, Priti Patel is still responsible for clearing up the Windrush scandal but one wonders if she ever will- sometimes there is no love lost between the Asian and other BAME communities who have shared such different life experiences.
Today was a much better day than yesterday although some rain was promised for later on in the day. In the park, we met our good friend, Julie, who we have not seen for several days now so it was particularly good to have a long chat for about half an hour and get up-to-date on each other’s comings and goings. Julie has been busy with her golf, we had been busy with our fence and tree activities. At lunchtime, we treated ourselves to some special smoked haddock fishcakes from Waitrose which were expensive but delicious. I am sure you can make them for yourselves but it’s a bit fiddly unless you make them in quantity (which I might be tempted to do in future). This afternoon, I had set myself the task of applying the second and final coat of light oak paint to the fence-cum-handrail but this time I was a bit better prepared. In my garage tidying up activities, I discovered that we had two decorators masks we had bought some time previously and one of these proved to be excellent. As it happened, the weather conditions proved to be absolutely ideal for the task in hand as it was reasonably warm and sunny but there was quite a strong swirling wind that kept all of the VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) at bay. Then in the late afternoon, we had a heavy but not very prolonged shower, so I was relieved to get my painting done on time. Readers of yesterday’s blog will recall I was waxing lyrical about a particularly specialised spade which I had recently purchased and utilised and it might well be that it makes a good father’s day present for other acquaintances of ours – we shall see.
We are getting into the pattern of ordering our ‘main’ shopping from Waitrose but this has the slight snag that although we have a sort of priority at Waitrose, we are not part of the government-sponsored priority scheme for those who are registered as shielders. Hence our orders are always for about eight days ahead and it is not very easy to work out what you will have run out in 8 + 7 days time. So, I have got into the habit of using Iceland which has a more limited range but with much shorter ‘slot’ times, generally a day or so ahead and a much lower limit to qualify for free home deliveries. So I was pleased to be able to book an Iceland slot for tomorrow night which will help to fill in the gap before my more major order is delivered from Waitrose in just over a week’s time.
It looks as though my Ceanothus (Californian Lilac) I used to obscure the view from my study of a blank brick wall has actually died. At first. I imagined that my neglect of water was to blame – but a few internet searches reveal that they have an average life expectancy of 10-15 years and this one had lived for 12.5 years! Tomorrow, I shall have to engage in the sad task of chopping down a 2-3 metre high tree and disposing of its carcase. It also seems that ceanothus has sold out of every nursery in the country so I may well have to wait for a few months until they are re-stocked again.
The authorities are worried that this weekend we may see demonstrations and counter-demonstrations from the BAME communities and the extreme right. The Home Secretary (Priti Patel) and the Justice Minister are revising plans to have emergency courts and immediate gaol sentences if we get into the situation in which violent clashes occur. There is a lot of pent up aggression on the streets of London and other large cities – and this may just be the start of a violent summer. I hope I am wrong but I have a foreboding that having let the demonstrators have their head last weekend, there will be quite a crackdown this weekend and the situation may rapidly escalate out of control. Let us hope I am completely wrong!
There is a definite feeling of ‘letting go’ evident when we made our walk down to Bromsgrove this morning – in theory, some of the liberalisations of shops are to start on Monday next but, no doubt, some employees may be in shops installing the ‘social distance’ measures (if they have not already done so) in time for Monday morning. Also, today is the day when two single households can form a ‘bubble’ so it should be possible for a grandchild to see one grandparent – but not two grandparents, if I a have interpreted the rules correctly). Again, we did not encounter any of our typical friends this weekend but often people have a very different pattern of interaction on Saturdays so this is not a source of surprise. The numbers of children using scooters seem to be rising exponentially (I suppose it is so much easier in a park rather than on a pavement where I believe it is legal but the person riding the scooter has no rights of way. But try explaining that to a 6-year old!)
After lunch, I had set myself the task of checking my beet seeds for germination and ‘cleaning up’ the vegetable tubs in which they were sown. I should explain that in the area of Mog’s Den adjacent to the path, I imagined this to be an excellent place for some easily accessible vegetable sowings. In practice, though, the tubs had attracted a number of round holly seeds (whether dropped in or blown by the wind I cannot say). So I set myself the task of removing each of these holly seeds by hand and decided that I use a pair of what are called Long-Nosed Pliers ( sometimes, Snipe-Nosed Pliers) and these proved to be excellent at the task – but better than attempting to do it by hand with clumsy fingers and thumbs. I used the same pliers to thin out the germinated seeds to one every quarter of an inch or so but subsequent thinnings become so much easier. [Incidentally, I am never happy with the philosophical underpinnings of thinning out seedlings because you are, in effect, saying ‘You are a little weakling so you will have to be sacrificed to increase the chances of survival of your already much stronger sibling’) I call this the Fascist tendency in gardening and it does run counter to my general world view that it is not morally right to dispose of the weak to assist in the survival of the already strong! But I am pleased to report that my method of scarifying the seeds with sandpaper and then soaking overnight seems to have worked exceedingly well, so I must remember to utilise this technique in my regular fortnightly sowings.
After the Iceland delivery had been made and all the items put away, Meg and I watched an amazing and disturbing documentary broadcast in primetime on BBC2. It was presented by the historian David Olusoga and was entitled ‘The UnWanted: the Secret Windrush files‘ It showed good documentary evidence that successive British Governments had all contributed to the increasingly ‘hostile environment‘ experienced by members of the Windrush generation (the ‘Empire Windrush’ was the steamer that brought the first influx of Jamaican migrants to our shores in 1948). What follows is a review by Amelia Gentleman which is hard to summarise so I reproduce it in full below:
Anyone who thought that the introduction of the hostile environment was one of Theresa May’s few clear, tangible accomplishments will need to reconsider. It turns out that even this unpleasant creation is not something she can claim as her core legacy since it had already been 70 years in the making.
Although the postwar government estimated Britain needed 1.3 million extra workers to help rebuild a country shattered by five years of war, officials turned out to be more welcoming to ex-SS soldiers from Germany than British subjects from the Caribbean. In his powerful film, The Unwanted: the Secret Windrush Files (BBC Two), the historian David Olusoga manages to explain complex immigration law and decode dense documents from the government archives in an arresting way. He pulls out devastating passages from forgotten files to showcase the hostility of successive governments to non-white settlers.
Everything begins with the British Nationality Act of 1948, which confirmed the right of all British subjects to move freely and live anywhere they liked within the newly created Commonwealth. But the act, Olusoga argues, was intended to ensure frictionless travel for the large white populations of Canada and Australia. “No one imagined that black and brown people from Asia, Africa and the West Indies would use their rights under this act to come and settle in Britain.”
Incriminating archival material reveals the scale of official panic about immigration and the underhand measures taken to discourage residents of Britain’s colonies from settling. Crucially, politicians wanted to restrict access without actually appearing to be racist. The film exposes their shameful contortions as they scrabbled around to justify their prejudices.We learn how ministers in the 1950s commissioned researchers to come up with reasons for concluding that non-white immigration was problematic, with senior civil servants instructing dole officers to conduct secret race surveys to see if there was any truth in the assumption that migrants were coming to live off the welfare state, and asking police chiefs around the country leading questions such as: “Is it true that they are generally idle?”, “Do they have low standards of living?”, and “Are they addicted to drug trafficking and other types of crime?” Winston Churchill was obsessed by the “considerable” number of “coloured workers” employed by the Post Office, and, by 1955, was suggesting to ministers that they should fight the next election on the slogan “Keep England White”.
This gradual tightening of immigration legislation exploded in the hands of Theresa May’s government last April, with the Windrush scandal – when thousands of Caribbean-born citizens, legally settled here since childhood, found that they had been silently transformed into illegal immigrants, and threatened with deportation, detained, sacked from their jobs or made homeless.
Olusoga shows how the roots of the scandal lie in a single line from the 1971 Immigration Act, which put the onus on individuals to prove that they are here legally – something so many people were unable to do, with devastating consequences. “Who keeps receipts from the 1970s?” Anthony Bryan asks, explaining how he was detained for five weeks and booked on a flight back to Jamaica. A letter from the Home Office to his lawyer demands more proof: “Your client has stated that he has been resident in the UK since 1965. As such, the evidence submitted must be continuous, and cover the entirety of the 51 years that your client has claimed to reside in the UK.”
The most moving parts of this film are the interviews with three Windrush victims (all of whom helped expose the scandal in the Guardian). “It was a country I was proud of, but now I don’t think I feel proud of it,” Sarah O’Connor says, after being wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant, despite her 51 years in the UK. “At times I got so low I wanted my life to end.” Sarah died before the film was finished. No one could feel proud of Britain after watching it.
A slightly different routine for today. Last week, I noticed that in our usual newsagents the Sunday Times had all sold out by the time we got there, after our trip in the park. So having ascertained that they opened at 7.30 even on a Sunday morning, I decided to make a quick trip to town on my own (which I did) suspecting that many people pop in quite early to get their papers whilst getting back in time to watch the Andrew Marr show at 9.00 (although I am not sure why I bothered) So I spent quite a nice leisurely morning reading the Sunday newspapers. The newspapers were quite full of the riots on Saturday night but I notice that Boris Johnson and Priti Patel said that the demonstrators last week were ‘thugs’ whilst those who were rioting this Saturday were also …’thugs’ as though there was some kind of moral equivalence between the two. The difficulty here is that using the word ‘thug’ in both contexts is almost like saying that there is no real difference between the BAME communities demonstrating last weekend and the extreme right-wing who were certainly rioting this weekend. But there is a massive difference between the two – the BAME demonstrations were large and generally very peaceful with the odd outbreak of violence from some who had hijacked the event. The riots this week were organised by a variety of those on the extreme right who had come ‘tooled up’ i.e. armed and ready for the fight, fuelled by alcohol as well. So we get the bizarre spectacle of a group of proto-fascists, some of whom were displaying a fascist-style salute applauding Winston Churchill who had led the war effort to defeat fascism. Some of the commentaries in the newspapers were saying that the government are ‘losing the plot’ not with respect of keeping order on the streets but also in managing (mismanaging) the coronavirus crisis, not to mention how to manage the lockdown. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the UK – over 41,700 as compared with 22 in New Zealand and zero in Vietnam both of whom displayed swift and decisive action with evidently beneficial results.
This afternoon was the afternoon for the ‘chopping down’ of the dead ceanothus tree. It took about 20 minutes or less to chop down but about an hour and a half to reduce all of the smaller branches into disposable twigs whilst the larger elements of the branches and trunk I have saved and may well be able to utilise these in Mog’s Den as a sort of mini-embankment to help to stop the downward drift of forest bark. I had also ordered for myself from Argos an outdoor garden toolbox but not ticked the right box which meant that I should have made a journey of some 30 miles round trip to another Argos store to collect it. I cancelled the order (successfully and with a refund available quite promptly) and immediately re-ordered it but this time with a small delivery charge (which I worked out I would have paid in petrol anyway) This arrived halfway through the afternoon and I have still to populate it with the requisite tools – a task for tomorrow. I am also busy taking the rust off an old horseshoe which got delivered in a bag of farmyard manure a year or so back. I have tried this renovation trick and it works up to a point – tomorrow, I will finish it off with the ‘half a potato’ treatment which certainly does work (the oxalic acid in the potato loosens the rust, and dipping it in salt gives mild abrasive action as well) I will report on my success or failure tomorrow.
Quite a lot of ‘un-lockdown’ activities start tomorrow morning – I suspect that many people will react as though the ‘un-lockdown’ is complete whilst a few will still be quite nervous in entering into ‘normal’ retail shops again after the best of three months internet shopping.
We had quite a busy morning this morning what with one thing or another. Our local GP practice had called Meg in for a routine blood test but this entailed getting there 10 minutes early, taking along a cardboard box for one’s clothes (which in the event was not needed) and then queuing as only one patient could be allowed into the building at a time. However, whilst all of this was going on, I took the opportunity to pop along to the garage to get one gallon of high-grade petrol which is to be used in the mower for the rest of the season (I always try to get high-quality fuel to try to ensure it is as ethanol free as possible, as ethanol attracts water and can cause great problems in petrol mowers). This having been done, Meg and I then went by car to our local park for our elevenses and bumped into one of our old friends who was busy making a tour of the park with another friend so we didn’t stop for a chat on this occasion. Then, almost on the spur of the moment, we decided as we were in the car to make a flying visit to Asda to see if they still had supplies of forest bark available, As it happened they had and one of the supervisers we know well was organising operations on the outside so I loaded up my trolley with six bags for £20.00 and then got it paid for quite easily using an assistant at one of the automatic check-out desks to handle the transaction for me. Then we loaded up the back seat of the car (forest bark is quite easy to handle) and got it home so we now have copious supplies. We had a salad lunch after which I spent some time getting the supplies of forest bark in various locations throughout the garden (assisted, as usual, by Miggles the cat). I then need to shift a small aucuba shrub some distance from its present location where it was getting in the way of the footpath down into Mog’s Den. Needless to say, in preparing the planting hole for the aucuba I encountered the by now traditional large victorian brick just where I was digging the planting hole. it is no wonder that the London sewers have lasted for about a centry and a half when you consider how dense and well made these victorian bricks were – I suspect they must weight at least 50% more than a modern brick.
I then turned my attention to my horseshoe to see how effective the white vinegar had been in removing the layers of rust. I have to say ‘very effective’ and then I finished off the restoration process with a good old fashioned brillo pad. The result was a gleaming, evidently low carbon mild steel which positively gleamed and took on quite a silvery appearance. I applied a liberal dose of WD40 once it was thoroughly cleaned up to try and keep it pristine. The next problem, so I have discovered, is whether to affix it, as some way, in such a way that the ends point up, so that the horseshoe catches the luck, and that the ends pointing down allow the good luck to be lost; others say they should point down so that the luck is poured upon those entering the home. I think I have decided to play safe and affix it with the ends pointing up to keep our luck!
One of the news stories this evening is the fact that some two million children have done little or no schoolwork at home during the lockdown, according to a report that lays bare the impact of school closures on education. The study by University College London (UCL) found that a fifth of the country’s ten million schoolchildren had done no work at home or less than an hour a day. A separate academic study found that about four million pupils had not been in regular contact with their teachers and that up to six million children had not returned the last assignment they had been set. This means that eventually in the same classroom will be children who have massively behind their contemporaries who do have access to computing facilities (i.e. without having to share with other siblings) and the pedagogic implications of this are truly disturbing.
Here we are in the second half of June and not too far off the longest day – it seems as though this year is really flying by (at least for us, if not for many others). Today was a rather muggy, humid kind of day in which as we walked to the park armed with an umbrella (in case of a sudden torrential downpour) but we had to divest ourselves of our outer clothing as it was so hot and sticky. On the way, we met with a couple of our friends so we felt cheered by this, as always. We were a little late back and subsequently had a rather delayed lunch but no matter. After lunch, I had set myself the task of using some leftover bits of timber from my fence/handrail construction to create some small barriers to help to mitigate the effects of the slope in the wilder parts of Mog’s Den. To do this, I have to utilise my well-established procedure of creating some long ‘pegs’ some 40cm (16″) in length – this generally entails some sawing in half of longer pieces of timber and then putting a pointed end on each. Then the barriers are put into position on the slope and held in place by four pegs (two on each side) hammered into the ground with the aid of my trusty sledgehammer – as you might gather, I have done this lots of time before. I then utilised some of the thicker and straighter portions of a branch and or trunk from the recently cut-down ceanothus tree to reinforce the barrier before putting the icing on the cake (pouring the contents of the sacks of forest bark into the desired location) This last bit is actually the easier bit of the lot and takes no time at all. I am pleased with the overall look as the sections of half-round poles look quite natural in this setting and I am pleased with the overall result (except that the presence of recently added forest bark shows I need to put a few more bags down into the upper reaches) This was all accomplished before we FaceTimed some of our oldest Waitrose friends that we have got into the routine of FaceTiming every Tuesday and Friday. We were aware that a storm and the long-awaited rains were coming and after an intensely black cloud passed overhead, we did actually get some 20 minutes or so of quite intense rain. The next day or so, we should anticipate even more and there is no more ‘smug’ feeling that you can have is to await the rains when you are truly ‘gardened up’.
More on the horseshoe shoe saga – I asked our Irish friend is she could lend me another three horseshoes and a horse to stand in them (she said she would see what she could do) I reproduce below a bit of my Google research which you can either believe or not as the spirit takes you.
The lucky horseshoe is a big part of Irish folklore and history (despite being typically associated with western cowboy culture). The story of Dunstan and the horseshoe varies greatly depending on where you look. But the gist of the story is that in the 10th century, St. Dunstan (a blacksmith at the time) was visited by the devil himself. The hoofed devil asked for a horseshoe for himself. So then, Dunstan nailed a red hot horseshoe tightly on one of his hooves, and the devil howled in pain. The devil begged for Dunstan to remove it. Dunstan agreed under one condition — the devil must respect the horseshoe and never enter any place where one was hung above the door.
Because of this, people believed that the horseshoe could keep evil spirits out of their homes, and thus bring in (or keep in) good fortune.
By the way, I am delighted that a well-paid footballer has not forgotten his roots. Marcus Rashford has almost single-handedly forced the government to change its mind and let children who are entitled to have free school meals to carry on receiving them during August (rather than starving!) So much for a majority of more than 80 MP’s!
Today started off somewhat differently – my son’s car was booked in for a service but this was now handled like a military operation. He had to drop off his car at a very precise time and the attendant paperwork was all handled to observe the social distancing regulations. As it happens, this particular garage was located just around the corner from a huge Morrison’s supermarket so we made an arrangement that I would arrange to pick him up and bring him home whilst the car was being serviced. As it turned out, all of these operations worked like clockwork so Meg and I could then continue with our daily routine of a walk to the local park. On our way ‘down the hill’, we met one of our constant friends who was herself approached by another friend bearing a birthday gift of a card and a bottle of wine. Realising that we had ourselves forgotten about our friend’s birthday, we made an abrupt change of plan and so, having acquired our newspapers from the usual little newsagent, we decided to make a lightning tour inside Waitrose in order to buy two birthday cards (one for yet another friend), a bottle of Cava and a Rhône so that she and her husband can celebrate in style. Whilst chatting about how the weather is likely to pan out over the next few days, we mutually wondered whether we might meet in each other’s gardens when the weather improves and observing whichever rules that happen to be in force (given that they appear to be changing so rapidly!)
Although the morning was relatively fine, we knew from the weather forecast that more rain was on the way. After lunch, I drove my son to collect his just-serviced car and on the way back decided to drop into my local family-run hardware store in Bromsgrove. This store always has a selection of 80cm (31.5″) staves with their points already machined so these are excellent for gardening purposes. They can either be used just as they are to stake up a large plant or bush or sawn in two they provide nice deep pegs as described in yesterday’s blog. However, they first have to be treated to make them less liable to rotting and for this purpose, I have a supply of a creosote substitute (called Creocote – here is the manufacturer’s blurb)- ‘Similar physical/water repellency/application characteristics of traditional creosote but contains no biocide/preserver. A bitumen/wax based treatment that helps to protect exterior rougher cut timber by repelling water and preventing ingress.’ So there you have it. I generally paint all of my timber staves with this product so that I have one readily to hand whenever I need it, as otherwise, an untreated stave would rot off at ground level within a year or so, or perhaps even after one winter.
To replace my ceanothus tree (and so that my study does not look out onto my neighbour’s brick wall, nice though it is) I am thinking of constructing a little platform but it needs to be about a metre in height. I shall probably need to purchase 4 legs (timber which has not been sharpened to a point this time) and I already have a square block of timber some 25″ by 17″ which I had made into a saw table before I had to ‘deconstruct’ it when the new building was undertaken next door and we had to regularise some of the land I had inadvertently utilised (but that is another and longer story which I won’t go into now except we are now absolutely legal with possession ratified by the Land Registry).
Some political news this evening – there is a particular hard-line Republican ‘hawk’ and former national security adviser, John Bolton, who was employed as an adviser to President Trump and who claims in a book tonight that Donald Trump sought Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s help to win the 2020 presidential election. If these claims are verified and not buried, then this could be a game-changer as regards the forcoming Presidential elections in November. Watch this space, as they say!
After the intense rain that we had last night, the day was still blustery and showery. I spent some time amending my Waitrose order which is due to be delivered on Sunday and, in the meantime, we have had a letter from Waitrose informing us that we are on their priority list (which is good to hear) but it might take 10 days for the account details to be updated. Hopefully, I will get into a pattern so when I have one order delivered, then I need to be about two orders ahead to keep everything flowing at approximately weekly intervals. I went for the newspapers on my own today but took the opportunity to have a quick ‘whiz’ round Waitrose where I renewed acquaintances with some of the old regulars in the staff. I needed to buy some chocolates as a birthday ‘prezzie’ for a friend and 1 or 2 other essentials that had been forgotten about in the rush. Then when I got home I had to hunt around for some present wrapping paper (avoiding anything that had Christmas bells all over it, of which I seemed to have an excess!) Then a traditional curry at lunchtime, appropriate when the day is a bit on the cool side.
As the weather had evidently changed, this was a good opportunity to go through a pile of newspapers, seeking out an article I thought I had read days ago. Needless to say, I didn’t find so I resolve that whenever I see anything that is to be kept, I do it that night before the newspaper is jettisoned. Reading my emails this evening was quite interesting in that some businesses are evidently reaching out to try and establish a more normal trading relationship. My yoga class which I was attending more and more sporadically before the lockdown is now turning itself into a little shop and supplies centre and hoping to resume classes of about 4 or so in a week’s time, so I must have a long hard think whether to attend or not (I think I probably need to). Also the National Trust are opening up their gardens (although not the interior of their houses) but are running a series of timed slots for which you have to book in advance so that they know when to expect you and the overall numbers can be socially destined and kept manageable.
I do not normally comment on TV programmes that I have watched but today is an exception. I have just watched the first episode (0f 4) of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and it remains fresh in my memory because I re-read the book quite recently whilst on holiday in Salobreña, Southern Spain (the hotel had a little library of books for the guests and the Hardy was well worth reading) I have to say that the acting and the cinematography are both superb and I was thoroughly absorbed for the hour it was on. A regular treat each Thursday night for the next three weeks.
It is interesting that quite a lot of attention is being paid to the question of how life will be changed once the immediate crisis of the pandemic is passed. One of the most interesting comments I have read suggests “What we have now is an opportunity, and we have two options of what we can do with it: one is to pick up the pieces and try to put them together as they were before. But the other option is to assemble the pieces in a different and smarter way.” This does mirror my own feelings as it almost feels as though we are pressing the ‘reset’ button and starting all over again. I have to say that having got into the habit of online shopping, this is one particular change in my lifestyle which I think will continue. And although we dare not think about it too deeply, it may well be that in a week or so we might be in a position to think about a holiday in Spain to see our dearest Spanish friends (and see how other societies are coping with the crisis as well)
This morning we had rather a delayed daily routine. Reading my emails, the National Trust (of which we are members) have circulated us to inform us that their properties were now ‘semi-open’ i.e. although the historical houses still remain closed, the gardens are open as it so easy to ‘socially distance’ whilst walking around them. To facilitate this, you have to have a timed slot which must be booked in advance on the web. So I took a chance to see whether Coughton Court (which we have visited before) in Warwickshire was open. As it happened, we managed to get a timed slot in the afternoon of next Wednesday. Although some of the facilities are closed including the coffee shop/tea-rooms, a refreshment bar will be open as well as the rest of the grounds. So Meg and I are booked in which, naturally, will be our first ‘proper’ venture out of the house for nearly three months. Needless to say, we are looking forward to this and it will be interesting to see whether with timed entry and social distancing the whole experience might be even more enjoyable than in more normal times. Also, by next Wednesday, the weather should have improved considerably and we can stay until closing time, although I am sure a couple of hours will be enough. As National Trust members entrance is free in any case. I am hoping that they may have some interesting plants and shrubs for sale as National Trust properties (with a dedicated staff of gardeners) often run this as a sideline (but as the shop is closed, perhaps this facility will be unavailable as well) After I had made this booking, I decided to see what Waitrose had on offer and managed to get a slot for a week on Friday which I then populated from my ‘favourites’ selection – if I think of anything that we need before then, I can always amend the order which is quite an easy thing to do.
The coronavirus news today was interesting and quite encouraging. Firstly. the threat level has been dropped from 4 to 3 (or orange to yellow on a scale that from red to green) Of more use is the fact that the government is now able to publish the rate at which the infection is falling day by day and this seems to be in the range of 2%-4%. The latest indications are also that pubs and restaurants – as well as hairdressers and beauty parlours – are hoping to be given the green light to reopen on 4 July. Finally, there are broad hints given by Boris Johnson that he hopes that ‘all’ children will be back at school by September. I read an article in ‘The Times‘ which mirrors my own thoughts i.e. with a combination of social distancing reduced for children only from 2m to 1m, a morning and an afternoon shift and perhaps utilising some non-classroom space, that it might be quite possible to establish new routines that will help to provide a classroom experience for most pupils. A lot will depend on the extent to which schools have a degree of autonomy to work out the policies that will best fit that particular school.
We FaceTimed our friends this Friday, as we always due nowadays on Tuesdays and Fridays. We are assuming that their own more severe form of lockdown might be terminated by the end of July (if not before) so we have been excitedly thinking about the prospects of visiting a National Trust property (probably Coughton Court again) and also making a trip to Bletchley Park which they really enjoyed but we haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet. And, of course, in about a fortnight, it might be more clear whether ‘air bridges’ will have been established with several European countries including Spain so that we can start to think again about making a booking for late September (to see our friends in La Coruña)
Well, there was certainly a pronounced ‘end-of-lockdown’ feeling in the air this morning as we made our normal trip to the park. It seemed to be teeming with children on their scooters (and why not?) but much busier than even a normal Saturday of late. We chatted with two lots of friends on the way down this morning and we were speculating how long it would be before the churches were open again. Apparently, our local parish priest is making the best of a bad job and is getting the church decorated whilst there is no congregation (but apparently, this has its difficulties in a listed building) This puts me in mind of a postcard which an artist friend of mine once showed me (or even described to me – I cannot now remember which) It showed Michaelangelo putting the finishing touches to his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel whilst the then Pope was remarking to him ‘You really shouldn’t have bothered – all I wanted was a blue sky and a few stars!’ However, this story is quite interesting because when I did a quick Google search I discovered that ‘when Michelangelo began to work on the frescoes for Pope Julius II in 1508, he was replacing a blue ceiling dotted with stars.’ I suppose that the cartoonist who had drawn the joke postcard realised that – but who knows! The morning actually turned out to be quite showery and we did get caught in a light shower on the way home – fortunately, it was of the ‘April’ variety which was quite light and transient rather than the ‘June downburst’ variety. After lunch, I made to my way to my favourite hardware store to buy some pieces of timber so that I can start to construct my little framework to raise up my flower pots to a level where I can appreciate their effect when I look out of my study window. I can see that quite a lot of creosoting needs to take place but I will wait a few days until the weather warms up again which I believe it will in the next day or so.
It is now almost a foregone conclusion that the government will shortly reduce the 2-metres social distancing rule down to 1 metre. I must feel, I have a degree of ambivalence about this. One the one hand, having come this far, why put everything at risk for the sake of, let us say, another month? Of course, there is the argument that backbench MP’s have been pressing pon the government that for many businesses particularly in the hospitality area, the difference between 2 metres and 1 metre is absolutely critical as businesses will never be profitable if a 2-metre rule is maintained but they might just about be viable if the distance is reduced to one metre. This argument I understand but it appears to be made for absolutely economic reasons with no real concern about the health of the population or the possibility of a second wave of the virus (actually the ‘R’ rate in Germany has just risen to 1.7 which is truly frightening and shows what too early a lockdown may lead to) On the other hand, the Office of National Statistics has published some projections that argues that if we have a recession followed by no recovery for a year or so (the so-called ‘L’ shaped recession) there may well be en excess of 12,000 deaths a year which are recession-induced. This figure is about 20% of the present 60,000 odd deaths attributable to the virus and five years of this would mean that as many die in the recession-induced by the lockdown as are killed by the actual virus itself. So what to do for the best – I suppose, no one really knows!
It is amazing to think that today (or perhaps yesterday!) was the year’s longest day and that we now start the long slow countdown to winter as the days shorten little by little. This year seems to have absolutely flown by for us but I am sure that for others the enforced lockdown must have seemed indeterminable. I decided that I would repeat the pattern that I set myself last week not to have a lie-in as one might be tempted to do on a Sunday but to get up and go and collect my copy of the Sunday newspapers before breakfast and the Andrew Marr show. It was the most delightful morning to do this as the sky was blue, the temperature was pleasantly cool at that hour of the morning and the world seemed to be populated only by joggers. Also, as I was on my own, I re-established the pattern that I used to employ when I made these walks as a solo trip each morning. I have an exceedingly old iPhone (iPhone 4, introduced in 2010) which I now use only as a music player. The quality of the reproduction is superb still (for my ears) and somehow in the past, I managed to download over 200 tracks onto it (mainly of Bach and Mozart). I have it on ‘airplane’ mode to conserve the battery life and I find it an incredibly useful bit of kit which is compact and more useful to me like this than the few pounds I could get for it if I ever tried to sell it (a quick Google search shows it might be worth £30.00 but I did find one website that would offer me 50p for it!) Meg and I were intrigued when we got into a conversation in the park today with a young couple with a dog and we wondered what was their breed of dog (sort of pointer looking but very smooth haired). Apparently, it was a German breed called a Weimaraner and another quick Google search shows that they cost around £1500! I must say we had never seen a dog quite like it but we do see quite an assortment of dogs of every shape and size (but the Jack Russell seems to be one of the most popular dogs here in Bromsgrove)
After lunch, I needed to help my daughter-in-law to plant out some sunflowers. Actually. my part in all of this was only to bore some drain holes in the bottom of two rectangular plant pots we had bought in readiness and haul some bags of compost and topsoil over. Then I proceeded to do my ‘weekly’ grass cutting although this had been a bit delayed because of the recent rains. A few days earlier, I had lovingly restored an old horseshoe to a beautiful old silver colour which, on the spur of the moment, I gave away to a good friend on the occasion of her 50th birthday and which is now occupying pride of place in the log cabin she uses as a sort of studio/escape den. I thought I would go onto eBay again and I have just purchased five more used horseshoes (all the way from Yorkshire!) for little more than the cost of the postage. I am going to restore these using my well-established techniques (immersion in white vinegar for a day, scrubbing with a wire brush and then a final finishing off with a Brillo pad and some Duraglit. I have two horseshoes in soak at the moment and I gave them a preliminary look to see if the vinegar had worked its magic (it had!) If the weather is fine tomorrow, I will complete the restoration task and then proceed with the following three (which I am minded to restore and then give away to friends)
The coronavirus news from Germany tonight is very disturbing. They calculate their ‘R’ rate as 2.88 (i.e. each infected person infects nearly three more). In an abattoir, they tested 1000 workers and two-thirds of them tested positive. This must be a warning as to what might happen if you relax a lockdown too soon!
We always suspected that today was going to be quite a busy day and so it proved. We knew that there were several things we needed to do on the High Street today so after collecting our newspapers, we started out on our various ventures. We succeeded in our first foray into a Health and Beauty type shop where we bought some lipstick for Meg. Then our next trip was to the opticians to get Meg’s glasses adjusted but they turned out to be closed (until tomorrow) My venture to buy printer paper was similarly abortive as Staples seem to be shut indefinitely so I have had to resort to ordering some online – at a rather premium price. We also made a trip to the bank to pay in a cheque and this was rather like entering a spaceship but at least the personnel were welcoming and the transaction proved quick and easy. Finally, I couldn’t resist a quick dash into my local Poundland and bought a few garden requisites for a fiver so all I had to do was to feed my money into a machine. So it was a mixed day. On the way home, we met some of our regular friends who we have not met for several days – we started off by chatting about some red campion which I think I have identified growing just inside a side gate into the park. We chatted for about half an hour as we seem to have a lot of mutual news to catch up on (and were passed by our near neighbour as well) so we were well and truly delayed, not getting our lunch until way past 2.0pm instead of our usual 1.30 Nonetheless, we were delighted to catch up with old friends and we hope we can visit each other’s gardens as soon as we both have the time and the weather is set fair. In the afternoon, I had set myself a creosoting job of several staves which involved getting my gardening trousers, a painting shirt and a mask so it was a little fiddly but I got everything I wanted to do. I finished off the afternoon by giving two of my horseshoes a final scrub in white vinegar but it is only when I get the brillo pads and the Duraglit on them tomorrow that I will know whether I can achieve the glowing results that I did last week.
Tomorrow is the big day when it has been widely trailed that the lockdown will start to end. It looks fairly likely that the 2-metre rule will be reduced to 1-metre by 4th July which is still twelve days away. I have rather a foreboding that after tomorrow, people will not wait and will act as though the lockdown has already completely ended. Also, whilst people make an effort (excellent in some cases, minimal in others0 to avoid each other when the distance is two metres), I fear that a one-metre rule will make people behave as though everything is normal and will make no efforts to avoid each other. When Meg and I entered the various shops today, we ensured that we were wearing our masks and will continue to do so every time we enter a shop or a confined space from now on. But on a more positive note, our chiropodist has now texted us to say that she has received government advice that she can visit us as she will be equipped with full PPE. We will accept but ask to be treated outside if the weather is fine which I think it will be for the day or so. What is perhaps not fully appreciated is the issue of time – if you pass someone in the street even at a distance of 1 metre then the chances of exposure to the virus are pretty small but increase rapidly if you were to stand still and have a conversation for 10 minutes or so…
I think that today marks the three-month point since the nation went into lockdown. In any case, the expected major liberalisation was announced today and will probably get analysed to death – of course, these new arrangements are meant to start on 4th July ( a Saturday) but my hunch would be that many people will start to use the 1-metre rule from tomorrow onwards instead of 12 days time. One wonders about all of the signage in shops – will there will be a lot of felt-tip pens and Tippex in evidence as 2-metres of reduced to 1=metre plus (whatever the plus is meant to be). And, I suppose, you can keep the 2-metre markers and just add intermediate markers as from 4th July. We have now arranged a visit from our chiropodist who will be arriving o m Friday in full PPE (but if the weather is fine we will probably go outside). We have also made contact with our hairdresser who is considering how she is going to cope with a tsunami of her regular clients – still, it’s nice to be back into the system.
The major event for me today has been the construction of my 4ft high plant shelf to grace the outside of my study window. This involved various stages – first, the upper legs had to be braced and then affixed using some angle bracket. Then the lower legs had to be attached using steel plates of each side. To make the whole structure more stable, various cross-bracings had to be deployed so a certain amount of sawing was involved. The screwing process was quite involved – I have. a little Bosch handhand electric screwdriver which is excellent for its size. Nonetheless, for every screw hole that I made I first used a small bradawl, then a larger one, finally a hand-drill unto my drill bit broke at the last moment, then a fine guide screw and then the final screw adjudged appropriate for that particular fixing point. I always tighten up by hand, as well, using a rubberised glove that is nice and grippy – I reckon to have done this for above 80+ screws in total. This took me all afternoon but I had a break to FaceTime our friends which is part of our Tuesday pattern, then a quick spot of tea and then a final screwing together and tidying up that took me until about 8.30 in the evening. My hands are pretty sore but I am quite pleased with the overall result. I just need to put a bit of Creocote on some of the sawn timbers and do a bit of refinement and tidying before I move it into position probably on Thursday (as we are going out tomorrow). I am not a natural ‘do-it-yourselfer’ and therefore I am pleased when the whole job doesn’t look incredibly bodged up (whether the rest of my critical family agree is another matter) and I know I haven’t had to make too many compromises en route (there are always some problems that one has to work around). Looking in the garage, I find I have some Poundland adhesive vinyl squares in a subtle woodland effect (Poundland doesn’t often have the word ‘subtle‘ applied to it) so this will help to put the finishing touches to it. I just have to wait for my (Amazon-ordered) Lavatera to arrive and hope it is not too small and weedy – the problem with buying plants over the internet.
Finally, I read in tonight’s news that Americans are likely to be banned as and when the Europeans open their borders as the rates of coronavirus are disturbingly high in the USA. I wonder how ( or whether) this will actually get reported in the USA. Will Donald Trump tweet about it (I doubt it!)
We always thought that today was going to be quite a busy day and so it proved. After we had bought our newspapers, we popped into Waitrose knowing that we were going out on a trip this afternoon and so we bought ourselves some Waitrose sandwiches not knowing what the restricted catering facilities would be like at the other end. Whilst there, we were greeted like long lost souls (which I suppose we were) and got some of the tales from some of the familiar staff. One who we know particularly well had caught the virus and so had her husband who was particularly ill but he just managed to pull round before a spell in hospital was called for. Waitrose always had a good display of plants outside and we were tempted to but an Alstroemeria which is a South American tuberiferous plant also known as the Peruvian lily that produces a proliferation of flowers that cut well and display right throughout the summer until the early frosts, so we had to have one. We were also tempted into buying a rhododendron plant which is just on the point of bursting into a proliferation of blooms so the two of them should sit particularly well on the tall plant stand I have just constructed. But to show you cannot win them all, my lavatera arrived by post this morning and although I was not expecting much, I did anticipate getting a plant that was only about 5″ in height. We had an early light lunch consisting of a good soup and set off with our provisions for Coughton Court. We had not realised it was quite so close as it is only about 18 miles down the road and we had allowed ourselves some ‘getting lost’ time so we set off an hour early. On the gate, they did not seem to mind that we had arrived half an hour before our allocated ‘slot’ time but as they due to shut at 5.00 we enjoyed the extra half-an-hour. The gardens proved to be as delightful as we remembered them from the time of our last visit which must have been over a decade ago. We treated ourselves to a super ice-cream and then, like other families, enjoyed an impromptu picnic beside a large mowed area set aside of picnics although most of us were seeking the shade of the trees. We then had a stroll alongside the lakeside area and were impressed by the ways in which those responsible for the upkeep of the grounds had various information points which were painted onto the flat ring of a tree (when a large fallen tree had evidently been cut into rings, like slicing an enormous carrot) Also, they used naturally curved branches to form bedding boundaries – it is always useful to see how good gardeners make use of whatever natural materials they had to hand, Then we made our way home on what has the been the hottest day of the year so far (although tomorrow may be even hotter and then we may have thunderstorms on Friday).
Politically, it looks as though the Environment and Community minister, Robert Jenrick, is heading for a fall. It is a typical Tory corruption scandal in which the advice of the planning inspector was overridden and the planning application was rushed through in such a way that the developer (who had made hefty donations to the Conservative party) made millions of pounds. The whole thing looks like a classic ‘cash for favours’ row. It also looks as though the medical profession is united in suspecting that there is a very real risk that with the amount of virus still around in the community there may be a second wave (worst than the first) which will hit the country in the middle of next winter coinciding with the normal ‘flu’ epidemics. We have been warned!
Today has been the hottest day of the year so far and may well turn out to be the hottest day of the year. It really is pretty humid and I, for one, cannot wait for a tremendous downpour which I hope will turn up tomorrow. At least, I am hoping that is the case because I have been working on my latest project with the aim of having it completely finished by tonight before the rains come tomorrow. It looks as though the UK as a whole has been hotter than Ibeza in Spain today with the temperature at Heathrow recorded as 33.3ºC which is 92º degrees F. As we walked down to the park this morning, there was quite a strong breeze blowing and this persisted even as far as the journey back. Then we made a salad lunch and prepared for the afternoon’s activities. I was putting the finishing touches to my home-made plantholder which is now completely finished as I needed to put some vinyl squares onto the top surface, even up one of the legs which had somehow finished up being shorter than the rest, applying some wide black vinyl tape to the edges, affixing some guards to the top so that plant pots don’t slip off and finally finishing off with a creosoting of all of the areas of uncut timber that evidently needed waterproofing before it is brought into use. For those whose life would be incomplete without seeing the results of all of this, then you pick a photo or even a video from the last two items in the directory listing which is available at: plantholder
Tomorrow is going to be quite a busy day for us. We are expecting a Waitrose delivery in the morning and our domestic help will be arriving to help to turn the house around. Then in the early afternoon, our chiropodist is going to call to have out feet checked over and then we have a FaceTime with our friends at 5.0 in the afternoon which is part of our Friday routine. Earlier in the day, one of our friends in Oxfordshire has invited us over for lunch together with some other friends the week after next, so there is a feeling of life returning ever so slightly to normal. And as it is Thursday, we have also had our weekly fix of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (full of dramatic tension in this episode!)
There seem to be two big political stories that have broken today. The first is the situation arising in South Brixton (massive illegal street parties with 20 police officers injured) and Bournemouth (people flocking to the beach on the hottest day of the year in clear defiance of the current 2-metre social distancing rules) One does get the feeling that many in the population, and particularly the young, have almost decided that the lockdown has ‘ended’ and do not really care much about the consequences (they won’t die, only the ‘oldies’ and we don’t care about them anyway) One does not have to subscribe to a kneejerk reaction to this news and feel that the moral fibre of the nation is somehow lessening but there must be a legitimate worry that as a nation we are storing up trouble for ourselves. I am sure that in private, the scientists advising the government must have the feeling that current developments are increasing the elements of risk of a second coronavirus spike occurring. The other major development is Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey after her endorsement of what may well have been an anti-semitic tweet. When he woke up this morning he could hardly have dreamt that such a gift-wrapped opportunity would come his way – at one stroke, he could lessen the influence of the Corbynite left, he could help to appease the Jewish community and he could demonstrate that as a political leader he could act really decisively (compared with Boris who has failed to act with any degree of decisiveness over the Dominic Cummings affair as well as the latest Jenrick scandal)
Today was the day when I thought that the long-awaited and anticipated thunderstorms would roll across the country – however, it was not to be and we just had a few spatters of rain at about 10.00 followed by another hot, humid and sticky sort of day. We received our Waitrose order early in the morning and I must say that I rather like some aspects of their policy – for example, if vegetables are a bit near the end of their shelf life they supply them at no charge. Also, if they run out of something that is a small size they give you the large size for the same price (in our case, ice cream which is always welcome these days). On our way home from the home, we had a good gardening natter with two of our acquaintances who live down the hill. One is a Welshman who can talk for Wales and who very kindly gave me a supply of the tiles that used to face the front of his house (a very popular design in the mid to late 1960s but has subsequently gone out of fashion) This meant we had to have rather a lightning lunch before our chiropodist came and was able to resume normal services. Although she came with full PPE, we had our feet done outside which is nice and safe for all of us and exchanged news and gossip about our two families. I told her that one of the very few regrets that I had in life was if I had stayed on at the school I attended in Lancashire from 1956-1959, I would have received coaching from a young West Indian cricketer who was coming over to play (as many did) in one of the Lancashire leagues. His name was ..Gary Sobers! However, our chiropodist rather ‘shot my fox’ by saying ‘Oh yes, I know Gary Sobers well – he used to be my father’s next-door neighbour!‘ So who would have thought that?
Last night was very hot and sticky and I woke up just 5 am and sunrise was only ten minutes before. I then espied our adopted cat, Miggles, on her way up from Mog’s Den shortly followed by her enamorado (Spanish: literally ‘loved one‘) who I have christened Black Peter. When I gave the cat her breakfast (well, she was hanging around waiting for it) she seemed ravenously hungry so I supposed that is what a night on the tryst does for you. I questioned her closely on her nocturnal activities but only got a one-word reply (typical teenager) i.e. ‘Meow‘
This afternoon, I needed to repot some of the plants with which I was going to populate my new plant holder. (Incidentally, when I woke at 5.0am I realised that my new creation needed a drain hole as otherwise, it would flood so I rapidly make a hole in the centre lined with a rawlplug so it should function as a drain in the case of a downpour). I found that I had four plants that needed bigger pots, two of them being homegrown from own cuttings. One was a forsythia which is now about 1ft tall so I am encouraging it to grow tall by encasing it in four little bamboo canes plus encircling string. The other is a viburnum although it often flowers only in the early spring. The other two plants I have bought from outside our local Waitrose – an alstroemeria (although not in flower yet) and an absolutely superb hydrangea – but unfortunately I’m not actually sure what variety it is. So now, I have my little display complete so I had better talk to them nicely, water them regularly and feed them occasionally.
The coronavirus news is not at all encouraging. In the UK, the daily death total rose to 186 (up by a fifth from the day before) whilst in the USA, 37,000 new cases have been reported in the last day. In the USA, several states are attempting to end a lockdown whilst the infection rate is increasing – baffling, or a triumph of ideology over common sense.
Today was meant to be the day when showers swept up the country – we did have three or four transient showers but not the good old-fashioned downpour I had been expecting (and hoping for). Meg and I managed to get our walk to the park without getting rained on either the journey or the way back and we managed a chat without an Italian friend as well. I forgot to mention in last night’s blog that the government has asked me to participate in an antibody trial targeted at a national UK sample. The website was easy to navigate and just took a few confirmatory questions and I expect that I will be sent a full testing kit in a few day’s time. It probably entails a small finger-jab blood sample and then we will have to wait and see what happens. I am (mildly) interested in the results.
This afternoon, I set myself the task of getting a few plants repotted but never quite round to it. The first thing I did was to use a metal tent peg as a type of ‘fastener’ and then applied that to my new plant holder so that tempestuous winds do not send it flying. I then applied a couple of small wood ‘chips’ to the front feet to give it a slight backward tilt and thereby make the whole caboodle somewhat more stable. (Incidentally, since time immemorial I have applied this tip to any freestanding bookcases that I have to enhance their stability – it is not at all funny to realise how unstable an open-ended bookcase can be without some type of offset – I generally deploy small pieces of tile) Finally, to get ready for repotting some of my smaller plants I had to wash and scrub out some old ones that I had lying around but need to be cleaned so that things like slug eggs, ant eggs, plant viruses and the like do not infect the new plants. I really do not like this task at all but my task was made considerably easier by a spare bottle of bleach in a spray carton that I happened to have and which meaks the whole job more tolerable.
And now – here is a question for the really. really nerdy i.e. do long screwdrivers give you more torque (turning power) than shorter handled ones. My reason for asking the question is that, quite impressionistically, I often have the feeling that a longer screwdriver gives that extra bit of ‘oomph’ when tightening a screw to the ultimate and therefore I treated myself to a 14-incher which seemed to be of good quality and reasonably priced. If you look on the web, you find an amazing variety of answers. On the one hand, you get some experienced joiners who will say ‘Yes‘, as for whatever reason they always get extra turning power out of long-handled screwdrivers. On the other hand, there is a mass of mathematical data that shows that the length of a screwdriver can have no relationship to the torque that it applies. The answer may lie in between the classical mechanics and mathematics of turning forces on the one hand and the actual alignment of wrists, arms and shoulders when using a long-handled driver. I shall go out and experiment tomorrow. I did say that this section is for the really, really nerdy – but what is interesting is that people’s real-world experiences seem to be at odds with what the mathematics says.
The Jenrick affair rumbles on, as the Sunday Times leads with the story that civil servants pleaded with the minister not to allow the development but it was pushed through a day or so before the developer would have been liable (under Tory legislation) to £45 million to one of the poorest local authorities in the country. The ministerial code states clearly that there should not be the appearance of a conflict of interests and the appearance is only too self-evident in this case. But the only person who can police the ministerial code is Johnson himself and the ‘word on the street’ seems to be that if Cummings survives, Jenrick should so as well. However, there is a real stench of corruption in this case – but most people are preoccupied with the pandemic crisis in any case.
As is often the case, we start off a conversation with a dog owner in the park when the dog comes bounding towards us attempting to be friendly and so it proved today. The conversation progressed beyond dogs to what was happening in the world of work and it is always fascinating to find out what others people’s preoccupations and concerns turn out to be. Such was the case today where we spent a very enjoyable 20 minutes with a lady who was exercising her dog, discussing a wide range of issues. On our way back up the hill, we encountered two of our sets of friends (who are both near neighbours to each other so not surprising, really) We were shocked to discover that one of our friends had had an accident in her car and had had a collision with an 86 old gentleman. We were even more amazed to discover that our friend’s car was practically a write-off whilst the old gentleman was completely unscathed. I expressed my amazement that this could happen – but only then did it emerge that the elderly gentleman was himself in a car and he immediately accepted liability (and so did his insurance company) for all that had happened.
The afternoon was quite blustery with several showers which was quite frustrating for us as there were several things that we wanted to do. I did succeed in eventually repotting my lavatera and weigela (bought) plants recently, although the latter is such a weedy little specimen I am resolved not to buy plants over the internet again as you cannot see what you are getting! I did, though, on my way down to collect my Sunday newspapers take several little cuttings as May-June is the best time to propagate these and June is nearly up. I’m not sure what I have got but I think I have managed to purloin a weigela, perhaps a skimmia, certainly a laurel and have collected the seeds of both a sycamore and a laburnum which I am going to try and raise from seed (without too many hopes of success). In the late afternoon, I finally got round to rescuing two horseshoes which I had got de-rusting using white vinegar (for the acetic acid) It could well be that Coke (phosphoric acid) will give you the same effect but I haven’t got round to trying that yet- if it de-rusts metal, imagine what it might do to one’s guts! I also managed to get my daughter-in-law’s old exercise trampoline into the back of the car which gives me a good excuse to go to the garden centre just around the corner from the municipal tip so I can cast an eye on what shrubs (or even small trees) they may have on offer, as well as buying perhaps a bag of grit (to help to top out some of my plant pots).
There are two political developments tonight which seem disturbing. The first is the situation in Leicester which is incredibly near the point of a total lockdown due to a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. There now seems to be 80 new cases a day and it is fair to say that the city is on a ‘knife-edge’ – however, if the city does go into lockdown it may be the first of similar cities. The virus seems to be concentrated in the poorest parts of the city where population densities are highest and perhaps the general health of the population is already poor. The Metro (free newspaper) is also reporting tonight that the UK may be on the cusp of a second wave – as many of the unlock down measures will take place in a week’s time, then the next week or so may prove critical in the UK’s experience of COVID-19.
The other political story is the fact that Dominic Cummings appears to have had his way and the head of the civil service has been forced out (to be replaced by a Brexiter?) When the Cabinet is populated only by those people who agree with Boris Johnson, it appears that any source of opposition to the present government is immediately quelled. One only has to look at the scientists who appeared in the daily briefing who were all dropped, one by one, the minute they did not give 100% endorsement to the government position. So it seems that we are living in profoundly authoritarian times which, in the long run, makes neither for a properly functioning democracy or, indeed, for effective government. It is interesting also to see that the committee which can release the report into Russia’s meddling in the UK’s electoral process has not been constituted (delayed by No. 10 Downing Street) as the report if it ever sees the light of day is bound to be damning!
Today was one of those indeterminate types of day when the weather cannot make up its mind whether to rain, be cloudy or what have you. It was very windy, though, which means that hats have to be constantly held onto for fear of losing them to oncoming traffic. As you might expect, our local park was bereft of children propelling themselves along on a variety of scooters which we have come to expect in the fine weather and so we were able to claim our usual park bench without too much difficulty. Some of my more distant friends have wondered why I natter on so much about our local park and to be honest, whilst I used to walk past it every day when I used to make a regular trip to our local Waitrose to buy my daily newspapers and claim my free cup of coffee (in the days before lockdown), I didn’t fully appreciate its qualities, My only wish is that the local authority would engage upon a venture to label each tree (or provide a list of what the trees are given that they are all numbered) so that we can all be educated about what we can see in front of us. Here is a URL for a video which was taken in the park some years back but it provides a good overall impression: Sanders Park, Bromsgrove
We had decided that we would make a trip out this afternoon to our local municipal tip (which is about 5-6 miles away in the depths of the Worcestershire countryside) to dispose of my daughter-in-law’s old trampoline exerciser. However, we were completely thwarted – I suppose in retrospect, Monday afternoon was not a good time. As we approached the tip, there was a queue of about 20 cars and they all appeared to be stationary so I suppose they were limiting the numbers and there was a great surplus of people wanting to dispose of their junk so we turned the car around and said that we would have to think about it another day (a nuisance when you have the car full of junk) We did, though, go round a local garden centre and bought a Weigela of a decent size (and with blood-red flowers eventually) but it was a wet, cold and windy experience and not the kind of day for browsing so we were glad to complete our purchase as soon as possible and not linger but get home to a good cup of tea!
It has now been announced that Leicester is the first city to be ‘locked down’ i.e. the existing restrictions will stay in place for another two weeks. I am sure this will come as a major psychological shock to the residents of Leicester who may well be asking ‘Why us?’ and it appears that even some of the limited openings of local shops may now have to be put into reverse. The question remains, of course, how many cities and communities there are like Leicester which may also be ‘on the brink’ and I would imagine that, in private, the government are very worried about the situation. Of course, if we had a ‘proper’ test-and-trace service in operation, then this might give us some good, accurate local data to pinpoint local sources of infection. Tonight’s Panorama programme on ‘test-and-trace’ (which some call the Serco ‘test-and-trace’ rather than the NHS ‘test-and-trace’ has uncovered some really shocking evidence how terrible the privatised, cobbled together Serco ‘test-and-trace’ really is. The government subcontracted the service out and 25,000 call handlers were recruited who had only contacted 15,812 people (an average of about one contact for every two call handlers. In the meanwhile, the much more professional 870 public health officials had handled over 98,000 cases (more than 100 each) This made each public health official about 200 times more effective than their private-sector counterpart. But the ideology of the present government is convinced if that it is provided by the private sector it must be good but if provided by the public sector it must be poor. But the discrepancy is absolutely horrific and just shows that the what happens when you hand essential public sector work over to an army of untrained, call-centre workers many of whom were paid taxpayer’s money to not contact a single case! Shocking, almost beyond words!
I made my own way down for the newspapers this morning realising at the commencement of my journey I had forgotten to put my incredibly ancient iPhone 4 (10 years old?) which I use solely as a music player to recharge so I had to make do with my own company. The weather was still changeable this morning but it was not the kind of day when you could really look forward to doing any outside jobs so I resolved to do some tidying up within my study. Some of this time was devoted to unjamming a jammed up printer (which does happen occasionally) but as I am now on a paper economy drive I take once used paper and put it the ‘wrong’ way through the printer so that its gets printed upon the blank side.
On the spur of the moment, I decided to buy myself a Bahco ratchet screwdriver as it seemed to get rave reviews – although originally manufactured in Sweden it is is probably now made in Taiwan. Eager to try it out, I did a little bit of research on the web to discover some practical woodworking advice (of which there is plenty) I now know that for a Reisser 5.0 screw (of which I have a box) I need a pilot hole of 3.5 mm (i.e. the width of the shank of the screw, excluding the actual screw ‘ridges’ and a PoziDriv bit number PZ2) Going to my new plant holder stand, I drilled a pilot hole by hand using my newly Bahco and with exactly the correct width of drill for the pilot hole. Then exchanging the chuck containing the drill with the correct screwdriver head (a PoziDriv PZ2) I then screwed in the Reisser screw so I had taken care to ensure that I had carefully matched the pilot hole drill size, the screw size itself and the screwdriver bit size and I have to say that inserting the screw like this (i.e. the correct way!) was like inserting a hot knife through butter i.e. incredibly easy. So although I had done everything by hand, using the correct materials and dimensions made life easier than if I had used a cordless screwdriver! And I haven’t even mentioned further refinements such as drilling a clearance hole slightly wider than the shaft of the screw only for the ‘top’ piece of wood – or using a lubricant such as bar soap, candle wax, petroleum jelly or a dry spray lubricant. If I had been taught woodwork at school, then this might have been instilled into me – but now I know better, I am resolved to do things the correct way from now on. And to think that I always imagined that screwing two pieces of wo0d together was child’s play and took no intelligence or prior knowledge to sort out.
I see that ‘The Guardian’ newspaper is tonight saying that following the instance of Leicester, more local lockdowns may be on the way. As to why Leicester should be the source of a spike in cases, I quote from an analysis in The Guardian:
I do get the terrible foreboding that the end of the lockdown may have come two weeks too early and that the health of the nation is being sacrificed on the altar of commercial interests. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish seem to be handling the whole thing so much more sensibly. In the USA at the moment, new infections are running at the rate of 40,000 per day and there is an informed prediction that this could well rise to 1000,000 per day. The only silver lining to this particular dark cloud is that the response of the USA to the pandemic crisis may well be putting paid to Donald Trump’s chances of re-election in November! We shall have to wait and see.
Today we were fortunate again to meet with one of our closest friends on the way up from the park. We talked over the latest political situation (as we often do) and reinforced each other in the view that the lockdown may be coming two weeks too early and that apart from Leicester, there may well be other communities in the North and the Midlands with a socioeconomic profile not too dissimilar to that of Leicester where subsequent spikes of infection may still occur. After lunch, I was just getting psychologically prepared to give the lawns their 7-10 day mowing when the heavens opened – not for long, but just long enough to write off any thought of grass-cutting whilst the ground was damp. So I turned my mind to other things such as revising my Waitrose order that is due to arrive first thing on Friday morning. Halfway through the afternoon, I received a delivery from Amazon but it was not what I was expecting. Several days ago, I had espied on ebay a traditional hat-and-coat stand of the traditional bentwood variety that I had been looking out for some time and so I ordered it at what I thought was a reasonable price. I wasn’t sure what kind of packaging it would arrive in but what did arrive was a flat box with a self-assembly kit inside. This is not what I was expecting so I went back to the original advert and there was no mention of ant flat-pack or self-assembly. But I set to work with a vengeance following the pictorial instructions (no words of any description) It was one of these jobbies where the advice was to only screw things up halfway because there was a certain amount of jiggling about to get circular supports in place but all went well before I gave things a final tightening of the screws and then polishing of the whole before deploying it where I needed it in our bathroom. I have a variety of PosiDriv screwdrivers which I deploy on occasions like this as I invariably find that if one tool doesn’t work quite as well as intended then another one will. A final ‘tip’ was that I keep in a bathroom cabinet some especially ‘grippy’ gardening gloves – these I keep in pristine condition and use for things that require a good grip but are normally a bit problematic such as the rounded covers that are used when you fit on new shower hoses and the like. Anyway, this proved ideal for those vertical sections that needed a good twist to lock into position and I must say I am pleased with the results of my efforts.
Still on the subject of screwing together any pieces of timber for any construction works in the garden, I am keen to follow the advice given in my searches on the web to provide a ‘clearance’ hole in the top piece of timber that is being used and will eventually accommodate the smooth i.e. shank part of the screw. I had never thought much about why wood screws contain shanks but here is the explanation:
Having an unthreaded shank at the top allows the tip of a wood screw to pull the screw into the wood just as a regular screw would. The difference is that the shoulder portion of the screw will actually slide through the first layer of wood and pull it against the head. This causes compression from the head to the threads. When installing two pieces of wood together then the first will be pulled tightly against the second one. The threads can continue to pull forward as long as enough torque is applied. Coincidentally, this can also make the removal process much easier than trying to remove a fully threaded screw.
Second, when a fully threaded screw is being screwed into wood the screw threads cause friction. This friction results in the screw heating up. This causes two flaws in the material. As the metal heats up it will begin to expand. Once it expands inside of a hole that was drilled for a specific sized screw, the screw will seize in the hole. At the same time, the materials overall strength has now also been compromised due to the heat. Overheating leads to a screw breaking and snapping.
These two factors will highlight any flaws the screw may have and exploit them. This typically results in bending or snapping of the screw. So, how can a shank help? The shank allows for heat dispersion in a screw. As the threads begin creating heat, it moves up into the shank which will take longer to heat up and will not generate nearly the same amount of friction when it goes through the wood.
So another of life’s mysteries solved – something I am sure you always wanted to know!
The latest coronavirus news is that several other lockdowns are being considered. Further local lockdowns are “just days away”, Sky News understands. Sources in Public Health England (PHE) and the Department for Health told Sky News they are “working collaboratively”, focusing on the areas in England where coronavirus cases are rising.
Today was a cloudy day with occasional bursts of sunshine, interrupted by the occasional dark cloud scudding across the sky. In the park whilst we were having our elevenses as per usual, one of our closest friends happened by together with another friend from church. As they are both ‘golf widows’ for the morning, I took delight in telling them the only golfing story I know. It was our next door but one neighbour in Leicestershire whose husband happened to be the treasurer of the local golf club. Our neighbour was deeply resentful of the time her husband spent away from her (with good reason, as you will soon see!) and took it upon herself to fling wide open the doors of the committee room where her husband was meeting with fellow members with the exclamation ‘Peter! You shouldn’t be here -you should really be at home cooking my tea! The two sequels to this story are that (i) the golf club immediately threw out the husband and installed a new Treasurer (ii) When we subsequently bumped into Peter (as I shall call him) and we enquired after his wife, he replied ‘Oh, she’s died‘ and grinned from ear to ear. Meg and I often said to each other that if the local newspaper had run a headline which read ‘Man runs berserk- chops off wife’s head with an axe‘ we would have thought to ourselves, ‘Well, I suppose that must be Peter!‘
After lunch, it was evidently grass-mowing time and I hastily set to work trying to get everything done before the rain threatened at 4.00 pm in the afternoon (I find the timings of the Weather app on my iPhone to be incredibly reliable) After this had been done, I indulged myself to trying out my new 17″ spiral ratchet screwdriver to which I had treated myself – I am sure that in the days just before cordless screwdrivers hit the market, joiners used to use these all the time and it only seemed to take a quick ‘whoosh’ or two to drive a screw in. Looking on the side of its cardboard case, I noticed that in Spanish this type of screwdriver is known as a ‘destornillador de carraca‘ If you keep saying ‘carraca‘ to yourself quickly several times, I convinced myself that this was a classic onomatopoeia and that the screwdriver was named after the sound of the word. However, I turned out to be wrong because carraca is the Spanish word for a ratchet even if not a spiral ratchet. But is one of those words with several layers of meaning, one of which is an ‘old crock’ if applied to a car. You can sometimes be too clever trying to guess at the origins of words, by the way.
I read in the news tonight that the coronavirus infection rate has risen in 36 local authority areas- and that is before the liberalisation if this weekend. So am I being neurotic or merely prescient, by being perturbed by this rise in cases? It does look as though we are ending the lockdown too early – if you look at other European societies who are ending their lockdowns, they are doing it when the infection rate is running at a much lower level and with superior ‘test-and-trace’ regimes in place. The other members of my family have been laughing with a kind of gallows humour at how one manages to have a full class of children in September with teachers maintaining a two-metre distance from the children and with breaks organised in such a way that no years of children overlap. As one teacher explained on Radio 4, how do you organise breaks in a 7-year entry – do you organise it in such a way that the breaks extend over a three hour time period? The problem is that the current lot in government have never run anything properly (often coming up through the ‘political adviser’ route) and have literally no idea how to organise the logistics of anything. When told of practical difficulties, the teachers are told they are being obstructive or even worse!
On these cloudy days, one never knows how the day will eventually work out. Meg and I were pleased to avoid any rain on our trip to the park where we engaged, as is by now customary, with several conversations with dog owners. The sequence is as follows – the dogs have been let off the lease but thinking that food might be in the offing, they come excitedly towards us on our park bench. This actually happened this morning and one enthusiastic spaniel caused Meg to drop her lemon-curded oatmeal biscuit – the owners then apologise profusely for having caused a nuisance as they see it and the conversation flows from there. (Incidentally, I believe that it is not unknown for second relationships and even marriages that may be initiated by dogs playing together and thereby drawing their respective owners into a conversation. Well, I know of two cases. one on each side of the family, where this or something similar to it has actually happened) When we were in the park, we got a disturbing telephone conversation from our son who had emerged from his study only to find two plumbers wandering about the house looking for a stopcock! What had happened was this – the loo in our en-suite bathroom was starting to fill exceedingly slowly so we sent a quick message to our local plumbers who only live about 400 metres away. We were informed that one or two of the sons would call round after 1.0pm but as the plumbers were in between jobs they decided to call around at about 11.30. Our domestic help had let them in but we had not told our son about it at that stage because we were going to wait until we got back from our walk so as not to disturb him. To cut a long story short, we now have a fully functioning loo (and I suspect it had been going dodgy for quite some time). After lunch, I was all geared up to do a bit of planting and one or two odd jobs in the garden, only to be thwarted by a thin drizzle of rain that persisted for a lot of the afternoon. So I busied myself with doing other things (getting my accounts up to date) before we FaceTimed our regular friends as we normally do on a Friday. They are desperately looking forward to a bit of ‘unlock’ time so we may meet them in the park early next week but, if not, certainly on Thursday to celebrate a birthday. On Wednesday, we are off to see old friends in Oxfordshire and I think the weather is going to be fine by then.
An interesting snippet of news from this morning’s Today programme (but not much-reported since) Apparently the Germans have offered to help us to adapt their own coronavirus test-and-trace app which has been used than 14m times – and works! In the meantime, we have spent millions on an abortive attempt in the Isle of Wight experiment (which proved fruitless) and current progress is not much better. So I am delighted to say that we have swallowed our national pride and accepted help from a society that seems to know what it is doing.
More coronavirus stories that have emerged. It now looks as though the government are resigned to dealing with several ‘mini-spikes’ and intends to deal with each of them as and when they occur (a bit like dampening down a forest fire) The Chief Medical Officer for Health in England, Professor Chris Whitty has warned that: ‘If individuals, families and firms do not take them seriously the possibility of a second wave goes up sharply….The virus is a long way from gone, it’s not going to be gone for a long time….Nobody watching this believes there are no risks in the next step.’
There is a dire story that Israel was the model of how to lock down effectively but then entered an end to their lockdown and, as people have relaxed, they now have a second peak of cases worst than the first. And in Texas, a doctor has reportedly said that ‘we are heading for pure hell‘ as the number of hospital admissions has quadrupled in the last month.
As we have by now come to expect, this was another overcast and somewhat cloudy day, but no actual rain was forecast. As it was a little bit cooler and less humid, our walk to the park was more pleasant than usual. Outside the park, we were delighted to bump into of our ex-Waitrose friends who we had not seen for about a fortnight, so we had a fair amount of gossip to catch up on. She is probably going to make a trip to France later on this month and for our own part, now that the travel arrangements seem to be clarified somewhat, we are going to text our friends in Spain and may make some plans to get there in late September if we possibly can. Julie informed us that Bromsgrove High Street was like a madhouse so we are determined to stay away for a bit until the dust settles. The press is calling today ‘Super Saturday‘ and it remains to be seen how the majority of the citizenry respond to an alleviation of the lockdown measures today. The rest of the day was a little nondescript so we contented ourselves to having a lazy afternoon reading the weekend newspapers. Although I do not normally comment on TV programmes that we have seen today is a bit of an exception as I shall explain. In the late afternoon, there was another showing of the Disney version of ‘The Jungle Book‘ and although we have seen most if before, Meg and I thought we would have a second look. Some of the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) effects were stunning and we put up with some of the banalities of animals bursting into musical type song on occasions for the sake of the rest of the film. Towards the end of the film, the wolf pack were being taught to say ‘Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.’ On hearing these words, I had an intense mental image of the following scene. It was a dark basement of the church’s social club in St. Roberts, in Harrogate, Yorkshire in about 1953. The room was dimly lit by two or three candles, meant to simulate the flickering of a woodland campfire. The ‘Cub’ Leader (‘Akela‘ in Rudyard Kipling’s parlance) was reading aloud sections of the Jungle Book (including the lines mentioned above) to a group of eager, upturned faces who listened in rapt attention, their faces illuminated only by the candlelight. What made this scene so incredibly vivid in my memory was that ‘Akela’ was actually my mother (who led the Cub Pack before she went off to train to be a teacher in 1956) and I was one of the pack of ‘wolf cubs’. I don’t wish to sound mawkishly sentimental but the imagery in my mind was so strong and although my mother died over twelve years ago, this was a wonderful memory to have of her, doing what she loved doing best. Just as an aside, my mother was so desperate to become a teacher that although she was born in 1911 she doctored her birth certificate to make it look as though she was born in 1914 and would, therefore, appear to be three years younger than she actually was. One has to remember how rare it was for mature students to enter teacher training college in the mid-1950’s – the price that she had to pay was that she had to work for three years longer than she normally would in order to retire and claim her teacher’s pension. For anybody who wants to follow up on some of the details of my mother’s life, I include an URL which are the words that I spoke on the occasion of her funeral (Marie_Hart)
More ‘Do as I say, not do as I do time‘ Boris Johnson’s father has flown to Greece in spite of Foreign Office advice not to do so. Nigel Farage has returned from the USA and instead of being quarantined for 14 days has been seen out drinking in a pub – for which he could be fined £1,000. Do you think this at all likely? (Actually, a conviction of a high-ranking member of the elite evidently breaking the rules might set an excellent example of the rest of the population!)
We have a slightly different routine on a Sunday as I walk on my own to the newspaper shop aiming to get there by 8.30 so I can pick up my ration of Sunday newspapers and then be back in time for the Andrew Marr show at 9.00 am. Today was a day which was both cooler and yet brighter so walking even at speed was quite pleasant. We have come to expect Sunday morning in the park to be teeming with children and dogs and today was no exception – nonetheless, we managed to exchange a few words of greeting with some of the regulars. Sunday lunch was cooking in the slow cooker so there was no frantic last-minute preparation to be done. I had aimed to get several outdoor jobs done this afternoon but was somewhat thwarted by the weather. I managed to get the Weigela planted I had purchased recently but how exactly it will develop I am not sure. I wanted to buy a variety with deep red flowers but on the web, it stated that the flowers were clusters of creamy white – I went to check the label where it was stated that the flowers were indeed creamy white but ‘deep red in bud’ whatever that means. Both the nurseryman who sold it to me and I myself must have looked at the label hurriedly and saw the word ‘red’ and hence concluded the purchase. Too late now – I must look a bit more carefully next time. I also took the opportunity to get rid of a mass of creeping bindweed that was growing over a nearby plant and was so similar to it that you couldn’t tell which was which. I also dumped the two beech trees that I had tried to transplant from other parts of the garden and failed spectacularly – I ought to know by now that you really have to wait for trees to enter their dormant phase in the late autumn or really early spring before you attempt to transplant with any degree of success. I am also a bit worried about my Tilia Cordata (lime tree) that I relocated a month or so back – the leaves had suddenly started to turn yellow. However, the gardener who comes to do some routine maintenance once a month and is incredibly knowledgeable about plants thought the yellowing was not a virus (again!) but a reaction to the absence of water as it is planted on a slope and water runs off it very quickly. So another job I have to do is to creosote some more staves, cut them to length and create a kind of barrier which I can pile up with earth and/or compost to help to mitigate the effects of a slope. Anyway, it got a bit cold, blustery and miserable so I decided to cut my losses and come in for a cup of tea and a read of The Observer. There are always things to be done in a large garden and the gardening advice often starts off with a homily such as ‘Choose a nice day to ...’ – chance would be a fine thing. There’s probably better weather tomorrow.
An interesting political development is detailed in The Guardian scheduled for publication tomorrow. A group of health workers and relatives of coronavirus victims are requesting that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s special adviser, be investigated by the Met and if they take no further action, then it is possible that a private prosecution may be mounted, As one of the lawyers of the specialist legal firm which is backing the case has argued: ‘The broad consensus of public opinion is that he broke the law on public health, and the entire weight of the state has been deployed to prevent proper investigation and proper due process.’ The crux of the argument is that the Durham police only investigated Dominic Cummings behaviour whilst in Durham but the fact that a journey was inititaed in London means that the Met could well inestigate this case if it had a mind to. Probably nothing will come of this case – but it does add to public cynicism when those close to the centres of political power appear to be able to flout with impunity the laws with which the rest of us have complied.
This morning after we had breakfasted, I thought I would pay another visit to our municipal tip to dispose of some ironwork – last week, we had an abortive attempt when the queue was some 20 cars long so we abandoned it. Today, I sailed through as there was only one car in front of me and although there was a degree of ‘social distancing’ within the tip site, it was easy to dispose of my unwanted items. Then upon my return, I spent some time getting all my wood-working bits, drills, screws etc. in some semblance of order. It sounds as though I lead a sad life! However I now know that when joining two bits of wood, you need a narrow drill for the pilot hole, a wider drill for the clearance hole and the PosiDriv bit that exactly fits the screw that you are driving, so one has to be organised. I have also experimented which of the various hand drills I have acquired seems to work best if you are not relying upon a cordless driver. About a year or so back, I acquired a block of beeswax for a £2 or so, so I use this now to lubricate my screws before entry (Some say you can just use soap, whereas to others this is anathema!) Although it sounds incredibly nerdish, I found the following video clip of how to drive in screws to join two blocks of wood incredibly informative (and I actually learnt quite a lot) Here is the URL for the practically minded: Wood Screws
This afternoon, the weather was quite bright and sunny so I busied myself applying my remaining dregs of creosote to some staves which I already shortened to peg size so that I can shore up my ailing Tilia Cordata – hopefully tomorrow if it is not teeming down. Having completed this little task, I then set about refurbishing and polishing a couple of items which I may well make into surprise presents – more will be revealed in the fullness of time. I have had to have recourse to a very old-fashioned remedy (sugar+olive oil or I suppose sugar+washing up liquid) as a means of removing ground-in dirt on some of the fingers and thumbs. It is not an unknown problem for me but I suppose I should always get used to wearing gloves, even light ones when doing any manual type jobs.
I see that Boris Johnson has tried to deflect criticism that the residential care homes have been huge repositories of the COVID-19 virus by claiming that they ‘didn’t follow procedures’. It seems a classic ‘throw sand in the eyes of the enemy’ tactic to disguise the fact that there have been multiple failings in the ways in which this government has handled that end of the pandemic. For a start, care homes were practically forced to accept inmates untested as the NHS went about emptying wards as fast as possible to prepare for the assumed wave that was going to hit them. Secondly, they were at the back of the queue when it came to PPE. And thirdly, nobody properly realised that agency staff moving from home to home would act as efficient vectors for the transmission of the virus. Let us see what the official enquiry says (whenever that is)
Next week, Meg is going to have a routine ophthalmology appointment at the Worcester Royal Infirmary (at which I was treated for bowel cancer two years ago now. Strange to say, I am not really looking forward to the experience of negotiating a hospital out-patient department – I am sure it will be full of masks, hand-gel and social distancing but I think I will regard any hospital appointment with some degree of trepidation from now on. I am sure that the risks are absolutely minimal but as we have got used to avoiding meeting people in any kind of building for several weeks now and although not of a nervous disposition, one does wonder where the virus is still lurking in our community (and hospitals must still be high on the list of suspects)
Today bands of rain were forecast to sweep across the north of the UK with scattered showers on the edges affecting the Midlands so we suspected that today was going to be one in which we had to dodge the rain showers. As it turned out, we were kept in the dry until we sat down for our elevenses which we then proceeded to munch through to alleviate the effects of the constant drizzle. However, as we turned to go home, we got into a conversation with a couple of friendly gentlemen (one of whom recognised us from our church attending days) It turned that these two were long standing friends who had both suffered from heart problems in the past. Apparently with a large group of fellow ‘sufferers’ they had been organised into a walking club which traversed many of the footpaths surrounding Bromsgrove. There had been at least 20 odd members of this fraternity and perhaps even more but they used to meet in the Scout Hut which is located within the park’s perimeter. Over the years, these numbers had dwindled somewhat and the lockdown, whilst the pandemic was raging, had put paid to any of these regular activities. But our two acquaintances had formed a duo and they still used to walk regularly as far as their strength would allow. One, in particular, had some interesting connections e.g. a son who had lived in France and who had been a professional ski instructor. I was reminded of the story of a particularly athletic fellow boarder and member of my year group in Bolton in Lancashire. This lad was a prodigious, natural athlete and in 1958 lowered the record for the 100 yards (for 13-year olds) from 13.9 to 11.3 seconds. He was also extraordinarily good looking which meant that he had quickly acquired a reputation for impregnating at least two of of the local girls and was subsequently expelled (for reasons that to this day remain unclear to me). Looking him up on Friends Reunited in later years I discovered that he had emigrated to Australia and become the equivalent of the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen. His daughter, however, had become the national surfboarding champion of Australia so athletic genes must have had their play after all.
After lunch, the rain came down pretty hard but I knew that as we were due to make our lunch-date in Oxfordshire tomorrow, I had better get the car checked over. Filling with petrol under the canopy was one thing but bending over in the pouring rain whilst I checked the type pressures was quite another. However, I was glad I did so as I really cannot remember when was the last time we had checked the air pressure and I am sure that it needed to be done before a longish journey. A week or so ago, I was caught up in a national sample in a survey organised by Imperial College, London, to test the level and antibodies for Coronavirus in the population at large. I had previously intimated that I was willing to participate in the survey and had been sent some testing materials which arrived a few days ago. The test was relatively straightforward and involved taking a pinprick of blood from a finger and putting it in a special container, adding some moderating agent and then waiting for 10 minutes, and then observing the result. I tested negative for antibodies (what a surprise) and then had to fill in an online questionnaire and transmit the photo that I had taken of the rest result to the survey organisers. I also intimated that I would be willing to participate in further surveys if required – in the meantime, it will be quite interesting to see what the general results reveal (which I anticipate will be in about a month)
I thought it was interesting that three pubs who had recently opened had been forced to close again as one of the patrons of one of the pubs had tested positive for coronavirus. The publicans had conscientiously telephoned 90+ of their patrons to indicate to them that a fellow drinker had tested positive and they should seek further advice and/or testing. Then Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, had the gall to claim in the Commons that this pointed to the success of test-and-trace whereas the pubic spirited publicans had actually done all of the hard work!
Today was a very different kind of day, as we followed none of our normal routines. Just after midnight, I exchanged a series of messages with my sister as we were evidently both poised over a keyboard in the wee small hours of the morning so we exchanged several messages until we both decided it was time to go to bed. Today was the day that was scheduled for us to visit some of our oldest friends in Oxfordshire who we evidently haven’t seen for months because of the lockdown. I went by a slightly different route which turned out to be an excellent one and we even arrived half-an-hour early as we had allowed for a certain amount of getting lost/fishing around/diversion time. We sat down for the most magnificent Spanish meal that had been prepared for us. These included some of our favourite dishes including ‘pimientos de padron’ (small green tasty peppers fried in oil and served with sea salt)- as it happens it was a favourite of our friends also. They acquired some plants from somewhere and grown their own so they were picked and cooked especially for us. We had that with serrano ham, a freshly prepared tortilla and salad many of the ingredients for which were grown in the nearby kitchen garden. We had contributed a bottle of Cava and a bottle of Rioja so we had the kind of meal which would not have been out of place if prepared by Spanish chefs in a Spanish kitchen. Naturally, each of the ingredients was delicious. We were then taken on a tour of the garden where all kinds of projects had been undertaken with the establishment of specialised new ‘gravel’ flower beds, a tour of the beehives and a look over the magnificent vegetable garden which could easily have graced a TV cookery programme. So we had a really enjoyable day and set off for home which should have been a straightforward journey. Instead, on the M40, we had to cope with a breakdown, three lanes of traffic being channelled into one whilst a central barrier was being renovated and a torrential downpour. All of this meant that we had one of those ‘creeping along, stop/start at 5mph experiences’ for half-an-hour which I am afraid is not particularly uncommon on the M40. Nonetheless, we arrived home enervated by the wonderful experiences of the day We had made our friends a special gift the identity of which I shall not reveal until tomorrow for reasons that I will explain tomorrow night.
If I read all of the various announcements correctly, then the government has spent or is committed to spending £190 billion to cope with the effects of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown and rescue efforts for the economy. These sums are eye-wateringly large and completely unprecedented – they amount to the largest state support perhaps for centuries and are the equivalent of 10% of the UK’s GNP. However strange though it might appear, these sums may still not be large enough to perform the necessary rescue. For example, when the furlough scheme ends and employers will have to pay the wages of their former employees for three months from the end of October, will the promise of £1,000 per worker be enough incentive to keep an employee on the books for three months if there is no demand for the services they are providing? One does have the feeling that when the furlough schemes actually do end (and the government is not paying the wages of the workers to stay at home and do nothing), will employers not simply declare many of them redundant and the levels of unemployment will soar?
Boris Johnson’s latest attempt to excuse the attack he made on the care homes recently when he accused them of ‘not following procedures’ seems to be backfiring again. The Prime Minister was arguing in the House of Commons today that nobody knew that many people might not exhibit symptoms of the virus but still be infected and help to transmit the virus. However, as many in the media have pointed out the warnings were clearly there but not heeded so it seems. Finally, in the view of many Tory backbenchers it appears that doling out huge sums of money is making the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Richi Sunak, line himself up to be the next Prime Minister and they are quite prepared to ditch Boris to get him instead. Interesting times indeed!
Today was the day in which we had scheduled to meet some of our oldest Waitrose friends in order to celebrate a birthday. We had made a long-standing arrangement to meet in the park at 11.00 am, an event to which we were all looking forward, not least our friends who have been ‘shielding’ for weeks but were now (legally) taking the opportunity for some social contact. However, the best-laid plans of mice and men! Our friends were expecting a delivery from Waitrose and today, of all days, it was delayed by about an hour after the designated time. So the opportunity for our meeting was lost – and we would have massively rained upon in any case. But to make the best of a bad job, we are resolved to meet at the same time tomorrow so hopefully, it just a case of pleasure delayed rather than pleasure denied. As Meg and I were sheltering under a tree to escape a particularly sharp little shower, I was reminded of an expression that members of the acting fraternity used to use. In the days of touring companies, there was often a system whereby members of the cast would stay in what was termed ‘theatrical digs’ which were really just bed and breakfast boarding houses. There was typically a visitors’ book in which guests could write comments, appreciative or otherwise, and the actors who were staying there would add to the visitors’ book a line adapted either from a well-known play or even the Bible. As we were sheltering cold and hungry under the tree and wondering if we might see any of our friends who might give us shelter, I was reminded of the entry ‘We were cold and hungry – and you took us in!‘ Another one of these which sticks in my memory must have happened on a Friday evening when the guests were evidently served up with some fish that was probably well past its sell-by date. So the entry in the book became ‘This was the piece of Cod (rather the peace of God) that passeth all understanding‘ If the company felt they had been treated particularly badly in any set of digs and they knew they were not likely to return, then they would acquire a fillet of fish and nail it to the underside of the (typically wooden) breakfast table – there to rot for weeks afterwards.
This afternoon passed uneventfully, the rain putting a bit of a dampener upon things but we were looking forward to the concluding episode of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I only mention this because I have a sort of direct link with the very last scene of the book (and the film). Tess had just been executed for the murder of the man who had raped her as a young girl and severely abused her since her husband, Angel, had gone to seek his fortunes in Brazil. Tess knows that she would be caught and executed and made Angel promise to marry her younger sister. In the final scene of the play, Angel and the younger sister are walking up ‘West Hill‘ which overlooks the prison in Winchester as Tess is executed. This became ‘West Hill Cemetery‘ through which I used to walk every day on my way from the railway station to King Alfred’s College (later to become the University of Winchester) So, as you can imagine, I feel as though I have a very direct connection with the closing scenes of the novel (which, I must add, is poignant in the extreme for those unfamiliar with it)
Sky News is reporting the results of an investigation they have made into the ‘chaotic’ testing regime which the government have bungled through. I quote just the main themes of their report below:
It looks as though Keir Starmer has got his teeth into this emerging scandal and will subject the government to a necessary degree of scrutiny. In the 5.00 pm press briefing, the Sky News reporter referred to this ‘hand-cranking’ of the figures but the criticism was just brushed aside with the assurance that the capacity for testing was being ‘ramped up’ (whatever that means, but in an odd kind of way quite true!)
Well, today promised to be and actually turned out to be. a much more pleasant day than yesterday. This was just as well because we had an arrangement to meet some of our long-standing Waitrose friends in the park. We did have the excuse of a birthday to celebrate as well and we had made some plans accordingly. I had been busy renovating (if that is the right word) a special birthday gift which was unusual in the extreme – it was a lucky horseshoe (a real one, that is) that I had bought as a job lot through eBay in a rusty condition and I had then renovated it (the process involves soaking in white vinegar to lessen/remove the rust, following by brushing with a wire brush, a scrub with brillo pads and a final ‘seasoning’ with WD40 and some silver polish). As it happens, I did exactly the same for our Oxfordshire friends and when I wrapped the present up, I include the story, taken from the web, of why horseshoes are considered to be lucky. Of course, they have to be fixed the right way up so that your good luck does not fall out of them – I am amazed how many people actually know this (because I didn’t until a week ago) In the park, we had some delicious birthday cake. Then as a birthday treat, I read out the Gerard Hoffnung classic recording of a supposed bricklayer explaining to his employers how, owing to series of accidents involving bricks and a barrel, he wanted to report sick for work. For those who have never heard it, here is the URL of a soundtrack of Hoffnung’s speech to the Oxford Union (in the 1950s?). It is incredibly funny if you have never heard it before: Hoffnung
This afternoon, it was evidently time to get grass mowing done as after our recent rains the grass seems to have shot up and badly needed a cut – it looks so much better now. As soon as this was done and I had my customary cup of tea, I received a call from my near neighbour who needed some assistance to get her hose pipe properly connected so she could utilise it in the garden. I managed to get connected OK at one end but we may need to acquire an extra piece of hose and connect the two halves together before we can use it fully in the garden.
We received tonight a long and detailed email from our closest friends in Northern Spain indicating to us why they thought it was not a good idea for us to visit as we had planned to in late September. This has given us pause for thought and Meg and I are having to reconsider what our holiday plans might have to be. In the short term, we know that we need to make some tentative plans to see Mike’s relatives in Yorkshire and Meg’s relatives in North Wales but after that, the future is a lot less certain. Certainly, the idea of transiting through an airport does not appeal so we may have to think of the days out we can have and the social contacts which we can sustain whilst the pandemic unlock down is occurring. It is quite difficult to think of what a sensible course of action might be that does not expose one and one family and friends to any unnecessary degree of risk.
There is talk tonight that Boris Johnson wants to reform the NHS again! Whilst the last reorganisation was judged to be a bit of a mess (to put it mildly) one shudders to think what happens if politicians do not want to keep the NHS at arm’s length but want to get involved in decisions that border on the clinical – for example, massive political pressure to cut down waiting lists may mean that the more easily seen and treatable are dealt with first (the ‘low-hanging fruit’) and more difficult cases receive less priority. Again, we shall have to wait and see what transpires but the omens are not good.
My day started off very well in the wee small hours of the morning. During a restless period in the middle of the night, I decided to do my accounts and looked at when my credit card statement was due (although, as it happens, I only use this particular account for ‘holiday’ expenses and therefore had nothing owing on it). I was pleasantly surprised that Expedia, with whom we had booked our trip to Portugal which we could not undertake in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown. had credited me with the monies I had paid earlier for the hotel expenses. To be fair, Expedia had indicated they would do this within 30 days but I wasn’t informed that they had paid me back some money and therefore it was only by accident that I discovered that I had the credit sitting there since early May. I then turned my attention to the flights element of the cancelled holiday, one flight provided by Iberia and the other by British Airways. The Iberia website implied that under the terms of the original booking no flight charges would be refunded so I have to make up my mind whether to spend hours pursuing this element of the holiday. The British Airways flight also offered me vouchers (as they have done to thousands of other people in the last few months) but to convert this back into cash I have to speak to a British Airways customer services representative in person (if I can hang onto the end of a phone line for hours). I will have an attempt to do this on Monday morning but am not hopeful of success. According to information on the web, though, I should be able to claim a cash refund as of right. Knowing that I had a certain amount of credit under my belt, I spent some time looking at accommodation in both North Wales and in Yorkshire should we decide to give either side of our family a quick visit. However, I sent a message to my sister so that we can have a proper FaceTime discussion later this afternoon.
As you might expect, today was reasonably busy in our local park to the extent that we were displaced from our traditional park bench – however, whilst refreshing ourselves we encountered two of our closest friends and spent a few happy minutes in joke-telling and idle chit-chat. Then home to a somewhat delayed lunch and a preparation for the job in the afternoon. I needed to construct a little wooden framework around my Tilia Cordata at the point where the ground sloped away and the roots were in danger of being exposed. This having been done, I then used up my last remnants of some good topsoil and topped off the whole with a bag of forest bark chippings. I am hopeful that the mound of forest bark will help to keep the roots of the tree somewhat more damp and this might help to alleviate the yellowing of the leaves I have experienced to late. Having said that, it seems to be responding to my remedial work (including daily watering) so far.
I then had a couple of conversations with my sister on FaceTime and it appears that her lockdown period lasts until July 31st – even after that, she is still understandably nervous about exposing herself to any risk of the virus because with a compromised immune system and some congestive heart failure, the view of the rest of the family is that she would probably not survive. Although we had intended to spend a few days in Yorkshire at the very end of July, this might be somewhat too premature so we have resolved to leave things until August at the very earliest and then see how the situation unfolds. It really is hard to tell whether such fears on the part of the shielded part of the population are absolutely justified as, on the other hand, the government are anxious for people to get out and ‘spend, spend, spend’ as soon as possible even though this may well trigger a second wave of the virus. So we will put all tentative plans for some mini-vacations to see relatives on hold for a few weeks more.
Another fine day in prospect which is always uplifting. I was a little disconcerted, though, to make sure I arrived at my newsagent quite early for a Sunday morning (8.30 am) only to be sold that they had sold out of The Observer. I was particularly keen to get The Observer as it featured some interesting articles, such as the 20 councils at greatest risk where the coronavirus threat was said to be greatest. The borough of Oadby and Wigston, where I lived for about thirteen years was actually fifth on the list but this is a statistical artefact as these two small towns are only about 4-5 miles from the centre of Leicester. which was way out in front of the rest with a fairly large ‘spike’ in cases. The Sunday Times reported last week that the spike was probably concentrated in the streets where there are a plethora of small textile factories, many paying only one half of the minimum wage – about which nothing has been done for years if all accounts are to be believed. So when we made our daily trip to the park we extended our journey, donned a mask and dived into our local Waitrose where supplies of The Observer were more plentiful. On our way down the hill, some of our close friends were busy gardening (as they typically are) and we were invited in to look at the progress of their various plants which were all thriving.
This afternoon, we treated ourselves to a long leisurely read of the Sunday newspapers and after lunch, I embarked upon some gardening chores. I thought I had an old hose on a reel which I managed to locate in my ‘stores’ section near the compost heap where the combined effect of being stored under some fir trees not to mention the wind and rain over the months had made it all rather grubby. So I gave it a reasonably good wash down and check over before I offer it to my near neighbour whose need of it is, I think, greater in the short term than is mine. Finally, I had a quick ‘go’ at my latest horseshoe to which I am giving the vinegar and wire brush rust removal treatment.
If I am reading a complex situation correctly, it does appear that various societies (such as Sweden, Portugal) which have tried to bounce back quickly from a lockdown (strict in Portugal’s case, more relaxed in Sweden’s case) do experience various flare-ups and spikes just when they think they have the virus under control. Perhaps the same pattern is happening over here as well because the case of Leicester certainly gives us pause for thought. Some of the Swedish analysts are of the view that the advice given to the population only to self isolate if they had symptoms meant that many members of households where the virus was present but they were pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic did not quarantine themselves and might have helped to spread the virus much more in the non-infected community. And we have a case of an outbreak in a Herefordshire where 73 (one third) of key workers picking and packing vegetables have tested positive and I would imagine that might come as quite a psychological shock as a lot of the farm work is, by definition, in the open air (but what about the packing plants, the proximity of the workers to each other, the quality of the temporary accommodation given to migrant workers? Well – it is a very different scenario to a concentration of the virus in BAME communities in packed terrace houses and textile factories in Leicester)
There seems to be total confusion at the heart of government over mask-wearing. Boris Johnson was giving several very strong hints that mask-wearing might be made compulsory in confined spaces such as shops and was pictured in his constituency wearing a mask. And then Michael Gove said that the wearing of masks should be left to the individual and what they deemed to be ‘common sense’. But there is a massive problem here, not to mention sources of outright confusion – although I might think it is absolutely ‘common sense’ to wear a mask in a supermarket, to all of the other shoppers it might be also ‘common sense’ not to wear a mask! Personally, I think the sooner we all wear masks in supermarkets and other large stores the better. And I would encourage all of the large stores to give away masks to all of their customers so that no one could have any excuse.
Today turned out to be a dismal day, weather-wise. It started off cloudy and Meg and I largely avoided the rain whilst we were in the park but started to get rained upon with slight smatters on the way home. However, the rain intensified for the rest of the day meaning that we could concentrate on ‘inside’ jobs (which turned out to be just as well). After we had returned home, I decided to contact British Airways (as their website had suggested) in order to speak to a customer services representative to attempt to get my vouchers turned back into the cash that they extracted from me months ago. Needless to say, my worst fears turned out to be justified. The recorded message on the suggested BA number indicated that owing to ‘unprecedented demand’ and in order to ‘protect their staff’ presumably from abuse, they would not even put you in a queueing system but asked you to call back later. As it happens, their call times are 8.00 am to 8.00 pm so I am currently ‘on hold’ at the moment as I type. I am not very hopeful but I did manage to get an email through to them which has acknowledged ‘automatically’ that has probably disappeared into a BA black hole as well. I can now report that I did manage to get through and speak to a BA staff member who told me that the contract was with Expedia and not with them and therefore I should try to claim from Expedia. Meanwhile, the Expedia website is telling me that flight+holiday trips are not refundable. Tomorrow, I shall have a go at contacting my credit card company who ought to be liable under the terms of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. We shall see!
As it was a rainy afternoon, this was a good opportunity for me to look over an academic paper which I am reviewing for an academic colleague/friend. The paper was an interesting one and well-written so the task was not arduous as can be the case if the author happens to be a non-English writer first speaker. The author of this paper had written me an email saying he thought he knew me because he had bumped into me at a conference in South Africa. However, I was able to tell him that I actually attended a conference in which there were two instances of a Professor Mike Hart giving papers on widely different subjects – and I was the other one. You can imagine the confusion that caused.
The government, after much vacillation, are now going to announce a change in policy re. face masks – i.e. it is going to be obligatory to wear one as from Friday, 24th July. When the government was asked by the BBC’s NewsNight programme to supply a spokesperson from any government department to explain the decision (or rather the vacillation over the decision), quite mysteriously no spokesperson could happen to be found. So it looks as though the UK is going to follow 100 other countries in recommending the use of face masks. What is so significant about this is that the far eastern countries (South Korea, Vietnam) that have had experiences of other pandemics such as SARS and have made the use of face masks compulsory at an early stage have overcome the ravages of the virus more easily (and almost exactly the reverse is happening in the USA)
The other interesting statistic that is being aired this evening is that in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s approval rating is +60% whilst that of Boris Johnson is -39% – in other words, a 99% difference between the two. One the one hand, Nicola Sturgeon appears calm, competent and empathetic whilst Boris is bombastic and disorganised. Is it any wonder that support for Scottish Independence has now gone up to 53% – no doubt, voters thinking that if the Scots could handle as important a crisis as COVID-19 so much more competently then in England, then an independent Scotland is surely very viable!
Today started with a pleasant surprise – some of our closest friends who have been in ‘shielded’ lockdown for weeks but who we met in the park last week texted to ask if we would like to meet again in the park today. This we did with alacrity and it was particularly heartwarming to know that this type of meeting is not only pretty safe (we wear face masks as well just as a precaution) but also such a source of pleasure for all of us. So we all met for half an hour, a little earlier than usual, which was fine as we have commitments for the rest of the day. The weather. although cloudy, was kind to us as well and we were in no danger of being caught in a shower. We will probably repeat this about twice a week from now on and after July 31st/August 1st (the end of shielding for the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable‘) we can probably plan a joint day out to a National Trust or similar property. This is what the Government are saying about this should you be worried about the risks of infection:'The latest evidence shows that the chance of encountering Coronavirus in the community has continued to decline. Four weeks ago, around one person in 500 had the virus. Last week it was even lower with less than one in 1,700 people having the virus.'
This afternoon, Meg needed to go to Worcester Royal Infirmary for a routine eye-check after she a corneal transplant some 9 years ago (they told us). To be honest, Meg and I were a little apprehensive that car parking would be a nightmare (last time I went there for a checkup in took 1½ hours to get out of the car park) and there was always the Coronavirus regime within the hospital. As it happens, absolutely everything was plain sailing. For a start, car parking fees had been suspended and we managed to find a bay quite near to the Ophthalmology Unit. Also, they were only letting people in about 2 at a time so there was no sitting around in crowded waiting rooms. Meg was seen by a couple of nurses who took some questions as a history and then we saw the consultant himself who conducted further examinations using specialised equipment. As we had arrived early, we had a half an hour to wait but I shot off to the haematology department to have a blood test done (as my bowel cancer consultant had requested) and normally one is confronted with a room with about 20 people in it. Today, there was none so I sailed in and got the whole blood sample taken in about 2 minutes before I returned to the unit so that I could accompany Meg through the eye clinic procedures. Having been used to a teeming hospital (in which both Meg and I have been treated) it was somewhat surreal to be in the same surroundings but with hardly any other people around. All of the clinical staff were extremely friendly – perhaps they appreciated not being rushed off their feet which is the norm.
A Tory MP representing a New Forest (Hampshire)constituency is tonight venting his outrage at having to wear a face mask in 9-10 days time. But my impression is from the various clips of vox pop shown on the news channels is that most people are not unhappy about the change in policy and it may yet encourage more people to venture out into the community. It will be quite interesting to see (in a day or so?) what the general public feel about the new regulation, given that we are gradually falling into line behind 120 other countries who wear a face mask with no qualms!
Medical scientists are modelling the chances of a second wave of the coronavirus and believe that up to 120,000 people could lose their lives (the current total in this first phase is 45,000). Of eight respiratory virus pandemics since the 19th century, five have had two or more waves which usually happen in colder months regardless of when the first outbreak occurs. So it looks as though we must all hope for the best (but prepare for the worst). It seems to be a good idea to get a flu jab as soon as they become available in September so as not to be hit by two viruses at once.
This was another dismal day- and just when we thought the weather was going to get a bit better as well. Meg and I endured a slight drizzle as we sat in the park drinking our coffee but the drizzle was not sufficiently serious to strike for home. We got into a conversation with an ex-teacher and her husband whose labrador-like dog was on its first trip out after a serious leg operation. I mused that when we had watched TV programmes featuring surgery on animals, then when the (typically) dogs had recovered from the amputation of a leg and the anaesthetic and were reunited with their owners they incredibly quickly adapted to their new status and were not thinking to themselves ‘I am a disabled dog’ Instead, they just got on with it and adapted to their new circumstances. I wondered if there were any lessons from this we could learn – but of course, we have a much longer memory span than dogs (I suppose).
Having allowed myself to read a feature in The Times on face masks, a particular firm was mentioned which sold high-quality cotton or cotton/silk face masks. To cut a long story short, I decided to buy two good quality face masks for Meg and myself that were both washable, comfortable and also had the facility to incorporate a filter. Although I have a good supply of temporary face-masks, I thought I would reserve these for the occasions when I shoot into my local newspaper shop, gather up the newspapers, hand over the tokens and get back outside again – a process I can generally achieve in about 30 seconds. Of course, it will be compulsory to wear a mask in about 9 days time in any case. But now we have settled down into our new regime of ordering online from Waitrose but the higher quality masks will be reserved for those occasions when we may be having extended conversations with people or else are having a longer shopping experience than 30 seconds. We are now well into the system of having about two or three orders at weekly intervals stretching out into the distance (to secure one’s slot) but we have also to remember that about the day before the order is delivered, it needs to be amended with what one actually needs for the week ahead (rather than having filled up the shopping trolley from an ex-order some weeks back).
There were then three outdoor tasks I had set myself. The first of these was to follow the advice that I had read on the web and ensure that whatever mulch one puts around a newly planted tree, the recommendation is not to form a ‘volcano’ (which I had) but to spread the mulch around over a radius of about two metres because this would be more beneficial to the roots in the long run, particularly by ensuring they were starved not of oxygen. The next task was to pull some sticks of rhubarb which was very easy (and our plant is doing reasonably well this year and not tunning to seed which it often does) The third task was to ‘take out the dustbins’ which entails dragging the relevant bins along our access rods to a point at which they can be more easily accessed by the refuse collection vehicles (one of the downsides of living on a private road is that the local authority has a policy that local householders have to be responsible to dragging their own bins to an access point) Needless to say, each of my outdoor activities was closely monitored and supervised by Miggles, the cat who has adopted us.
There have been two really interesting political developments this evening. The first of these is that the Boris Johnson nominee to head the influential House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee has been rejected. Johnson has nominated Chris Grayling to the committee expecting he could be elected Chairman, However, not for nothing is Grayling known to fellow MP's as 'failing Grayling' that they rejected him and elected another Conservative, Julian Lewis in his stead (who had nominated himself and got the agreement of the Opposition MP's to back him) Grayling's record of incompetence is legendary and I quote from The Guardian to be published tomorrow:'He presided over the collapse of Northern and Thameslink rail services and the granting of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships. As justice secretary, he part-privatised the probation service and banned prisoners from receiving books from relatives, a measure that was overturned in the courts.' (The privatised probation service was such a disaster that even a Tory government had to bring it back into public ownership as the firm contracted it to run made such an abysmal mess of it) Downing Street has reacted by withdrawing the Conservative whip from Julian Lewis i.e. throwing him out of the party. The second development is that the important report which indicates that the Government should take immediate steps to make sure that we do not have 120,000 deaths in the second wave of the Coronavirus had not even been read by Boris Johnson - he revealed in Prime Minister's Questions only that he was 'aware' of it. One can not really believe this level of incompetence in a Prime Minister - but the electorate voted for him and gave him an 80 seat majority!
Today was an interesting day for us in the park. We struck up a conversation with a couple of locals who lived on the far side of the park but were very knowledgable about the various plans that were being put forward in the locality and we suspected that absolutely none of them could hope to come to fruition if the developers only wanted to build houses but the existing road infrastructure would not bear the weight of the extra traffic. We calculated that of the suggested 500 new houses with 2.5 cars per household (Mum, Dad and teenage children so eventually 2.5 cars) they would stretch for 2.5 miles which is approximately all the way down into Bromsgrove and back again if the cars were actually bumper-to-bumper. If the proposed developments were to take place under the government’s policy of ‘presumed consent’ then it would be the first new development in a town where nobody would go anywhere because the roads would be so clogged up! The developers and the County Council are of the view that many people would walk anyway (presumably on the grounds that gridlock would mean that was the only way to get into the town centre). What is desperately needed is, in effect, a Western bypass but the county council will not even fund a feasibility study for that because it knows what the answer would be (absolutely necessary and therefore undesirable because it would draw funds away from the rest of Worcestershire) The joys of local planning -we speak as one who has won three planning appeals against the destruction of a local orchard adjacent to the house to be replaced by 16 houses but lost on the final planning application (as the developer can keep on submitting for evermore until they are successful and can appeal against a decision but local residents cannot)
This afternoon I had decided if the weather was fair (which it was), that I would pick over my gooseberry bushes which I planted about three years ago. I had noticed that although the leaves had dropped off the bushes (in response to the absence of rain?), the fruit was still hanging intact. I picked 800 grams of berries which is about 1.75lb of fruit. This was sufficient for us to have a delicious meal of them stewed and then served with ice cream but the rest will be despatched to my sister in Yorkshire who, I hope, can turn them into jam for us which we can collect the next time we see her. This having been done, I then turned my attention to my neighbour’s hosepipe where I was attempting to turn two lengths into one. She had an assortment of fittings but even though they were Hozelock they all seemed to leak like mad. Eventually, I was forced into the situation where I had to get a half-inch ‘female’ hosepipe onto the conventional ‘male’ part of the fittings (yes- they do call them that) which took for a lot of manipulation of the female end to make it pliable and a lot of brute force and ignorance to get the male connector to fit. This is what we used to do in the days before Hozelock fittings became standard and I recall the struggles that I have had in the past.
It looks as though there are two big political stories in town tonight. The first of these is that it looks as though there is a split between the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser over whether it is sensible or not to resume working in one’s normal workplace or at home. One has seen the tensions apparent for a week or so now but the divergences in approach are now much more transparent. One report is that the experts recommended a full lockdown at least one full week before it actually occurred (a week is a long time when the infection rate is doubling every three days). It looks as though the politicians and the scientists know that in a forthcoming public enquiry, it is evident that mistakes were made and they are trying to blame the other party first. The second issue is the fact that the Russians may well have interfered in our last general election (as they probably did in the US Presidential election also) and this issue is being conflated (to muddy the waters deliberately?) with a suggestion that the Russians may be trying to ‘acquire’ i.e. steal our corona vaccine research. The government knows that the ‘Russian dossier’ will be published next week and parts of this will make uncomfortable reading for them so releasing reports about Russian interference with the ‘body politic’ in the UK is probably a diversionary tactic on their part. Then, of course, there is the effect of the Russian state in promoting Brexit and undermining the strength of the EU by helping to break it up but this has not really hit the public consciousness yet!
When I used to trek up and down our High Street in Bromsgrove, I occasionally used to see sets of pottery (such as half a dozen plates or saucers) being sold off at ridiculously cheap prices and I tended to purchase them, if they were of a pleasant design, for use as saucers to put under indoor plants. I had, in the past, purchased a set of six small bowls and in fact use one of them every day to give breakfast to Miggles, the cat who has adopted us. Today, just out of interest, I turned to see who was the manufacturer and it was Grindley’s, a well-known potteries firm whose vintage pottery is still in demand. So as my curiosity was now aroused, I hunted around on the eBay websites and discovered that the design I had in my possession was called ‘Tudor Rose‘ and although not what you would call valuable, individual items seem to sell for about £3-£5 so there must be some kind of market for people who either collect them or want to replace some missing items. The next dinner party to which we are invited I shall try and weave into the conversation ‘Evidently we only use our Grindley’s ‘Tudor Rose’ ware to feed our cat‘ which sounds like a line out of Jane Austen.
Today in the park we had an assignation to meet some of our oldest Waitrose friends but first had to buy our newspapers and then make a trip to the Post Office (in W H Smiths currently) in order to post a parcel off to my sister. That having been done, we met our friends on the way to the park and proceeded to our normal park bench only for a local authority worker to come along with a portable, petrol-driven strimmer with which he proceeded to cut off the lower branches of the willow immediately beside us. As we now could scarcely hear ourselves think let alone talk, we had to grab and bits or pieces and make for the safety of an alternative bench where we were now out of earshot of the offending machine.
Lunch was an interesting affair – I had previously bought from Iceland a packet of frozen unspecified ‘white fish’ that turned out to be pollock. If you look on the web, you will find that pollock has the reputation of being a good looking but incredibly tasteless fish. I got around this by making a little concoction of my own which a spoonful of seafood sauce (a la Waitrose) a spoonful of garlic mayonnaise, a splodge of tomato ketchup and a dollop of 1000 Island dressing. This was then all mixed up and given a quick whizz in the microwave and it made an incredibly tasty dish as it turned out. As the potatoes had in my store jar were starting to sprout, I picked out some which I then cubed into very small pieces prior to boiling them and then added to them a raw egg, some butter, some whole milk and some grated cheese which I then mashed together to gave a kind of enhanced mashed potato. I only mention all of this to show that if you start off with some fairly pedestrian ingredients, you can actually turn them into quite a good meal using a little imagination and enterprise.
After lunch, it was time to give the lawns their 7-10 day mowing and they really seemed to need it this time – the combination of a lot of humid weather must have really made the grass grow quite rapidly. Whilst on a gardening theme, I was circulated the other day by a firm from whom I had evidently bought stuff in the past who were selling off a lot of their summer stock at massively reduced prices (they claimed £65 worth of stuff for a fiver) Anyway I succumbed and should be soon be getting 12 dahlia tubers, 100 gladioli corms and 25 oriental lilies which might collectively make for quite an interesting display even if we just put them into pots and distribute them around as ways of brightening up a few borders.
Yesterday was a beautiful and fine day and one in which it was a real pleasure to meet with our long-standing friends in the park. By all accounts, tomorrow is meant to be the same kind of weather, with fine weather projected over most of the country. But today was very much the day in between – it has been a cloudy, humid and glowering kind of day which has really been quite oppressive and quite unpleasant all day long. So it was not really the kind of day in which one could do anything much, so I indulged myself in a really good read of The Times the weekend supplement of which was actually quite interesting for a change (for example, the foodstuffs to eat to keep you healthy in the long run – it was no surprise that broccoli makes it into the list once again, justifying its position as a superfood. Try putting ‘Broccoli: Super Food’ into a search engine such as Google to see what I mean). Just to compound the type of rotten day that today has proved to be, the bad weather in Manchester meant that there was no play in the England v. West Indies Test Match in which a potentially match-winning position that England is in (which would level the series) is put at risk since a whole day’s play has been lost.
Today is the day when our Waitrose order is delivered, quite late in the day but at least it arrived in the allocated time slot (unlike last week where it was much delayed) I always amaze myself that one can spend such an amount on shopping only to see it all disappear into store cupboards and you seem to have nothing to show for it (although we did avail ourselves of spending some money on cosmetics which would normally have been bought in a different type of store) Earlier in the day, my sister had texted me with the excellent news that not only had my package of gooseberries been successfully delivered to Yorkshire (it was only posted yesterday) but she had already turned it into three jars of jam. Rather than posting a jar down to us, we resolved that it could wait until the next time we visit Yorkshire so that will be quite a treat then. We had been in some doubt as to what is the best occasion to see relatives both in North Wales and also in Yorkshire in view of the uncertainties generated by the coronavirus. We have a tentative plan which is to wait until the 1st August deadline has well and truly passed and then go off to North Wales for a few days in the second week of August (assuming hotel booking’s can be made as normal) and then visit Yorkshire about two weeks after that, which would be the final week of August and will coincide with my sister’s birthday at the end of the month.
It looks as though the blame game for the coronavirus debacle has well and truly started. Well and truly in the firing line is the body called Public Health England where there is already a certain amount of dispute whether under the reforms instituted by Andrew Lansley (generally regarded as pretty disastrous) give the Secretary of State (for Health) to power to take direct control or whether the degree of autonomy they were granted meant that ministers lost the power to intervene and control that part of the NHS. In any case, it looks as though Public Health England (or PHE) which undoubtedly made some mistakes will now be the fall guy thus deflecting the blame away from the politicians who dithered and delayed by at least a week thus doubling the total number of deaths due to the virus. We are talking about an excess death toll due to the delay in the lockdown being of the order of 20,000 which is a truly staggering figure (equivalent to about 60 jumbo jets crashing with a total loss of life) The Sunday newspapers tomorrow will no doubt expose the divisions between the scientists and the politicians in forensic detail which I am sure will pass most of the population by (but which news junkies such as myself will surely lap up)
When I walked down to collect our Sunday newspapers this morning, it was a most delightful morning and the air was like champagne. It clouded over a bit later on but it was still a very pleasant day compared with Saturday. Meg and I had several extended conversations on our way down this morning. One of our oldest (and continental) friends had experienced the bereavement of her brother within the last fortnight so naturally, we talked things over and extended whatever sympathy we could – your natural inclination is to give people a big hug under these circumstances but obviously the coronavirus has paid to all of that. We had recently learned of the illness of the wife of my ex-colleagues with whom Meg and I have a particular fellow feeling as she was only a few years ahead of us in the Economics Faculty of the University of Manchester. This was housed in a magnificent set of houses known collectively as Dover Street and it was most famous as the home of Engels who wrote the extremely influential 'Condition of the Working Class in England' which later proved to be a profound influence upon the work of Karl Marx. Other famous alumni of Dover Street had been Elizabeth Gaskell (the novelist after whom a teacher training college was named in Manchester and which provided my first professional employment) and Sir Frank Worrell (the West Indian cricket captain and Meg knew his daughters and had met Sir Frank and his wife as a result) So, a strangely inter-connected world. Then on the way home, we had another extended chat with some of our gardening friends that we meet regularly. The net result of all of these wonderful conversations was that we were too late for a conventional Sunday lunch but what we had in mind could keep so we rustled up a quiche-type lunch that we could prepare quite quickly. We had an enjoyable afternoon lazing around in the garden (joined, naturally, by Miggles the cat) and I put the finishing touches to a horseshoe which I was reconditioning and then made a present of to my daughter-in-law to celebrate a promotion at work and to bring her good fortune in her new role. After the rust had been well and truly removed (my white vinegar trick) it got a polish up using some stainless steel cleaner I had added onto my Waitrose order and a final polishing and conditioning with WD40 to prevent further rust (although I could have used a very thin smear of coconut oil which is also a good rust preventative)
This week is going to be quite a busy week for us in comparison with the comparative lull of the last few weeks. We need to get up-to-date on appointments that have been let lapse such as optician and dental hygienist appointments, for which no doubt there will be huge waiting lists. On Wednesday, our hairdresser will be arriving complete with a set of sheep-shearing shears which she will undoubtedly need at this stage in the proceedings. Later on in the same day, we are are also going to have a visit from our chiropodist. On Thursday, we have made a booking to visit a nearby National Trust property (Hanbury Hall) and again, although we cannot visit the house itself, there are extensive gardens and walks for us to enjoy, We have already made our booking (free for National Trust members) so we are just hoping that the good weather holds out for us.
It looks as though one of the interesting political developments to look out for is for the coronavirus is hurting the ‘red wall’ seats that Boris Johnson’s Tory party took away from Labour in the 2019 election. The North East is projected to be one of the worst-hit regions and they already contain a high proportion of vulnerable local authorities (nearly half compared with 23% across the UK as. whole) It seems that the ‘red wall’ seats could see a 12% permanent output loss against. 5% contraction for the South East. Plus ça change!
Some of our not very immediate neighbours were having renovations to their communal driveway done which meant that some cars spilled out and were parked on our private roadway. As we need to keep access clear at all times for emergency vehicles, one of our immediate neighbours asked the relevant questions and we discovered who was parking in our roadway and why. This occasionally happens and there is generally an innocent explanation but it is not fully appreciated that we need to keep our roadway clear for emergency vehicles (such as ambulances) who have to have unimpeded access at all times (a fact not fully appreciated when other people think ‘Oh, I’ll just pop the car here for an hour or so’). Our near neighbour got the problem resolved but it would have been much better if we had been informed/consulted beforehand.
As you expect on a Monday morning, there seemed to quite a lot of ad-hoc groupings at various places in the park. Evidently, there is some degree of organisation to this as people tend to turn up at a particular time complete with portable chairs and then get round in a circle and get on with whatever they were meeting for in the first place. After lunch, I started to write an email to the wife of my ex-colleague but our peace and tranquillity were disturbed by a variety of vehicles (unconnected completely with the first set around the corner) who had come to undertake a garden makeover of one of our local residents and were using our access roads (without our permission) so that their vehicles could take away soil, deliver slabs and proceed to dump all kinds of materials directly onto the roadway and without the benefit of protective plastic or a tarmac. We were assured that they would completely clear up after themselves and jet the roadway clear to restore them to the state they were in before they started their work – needless to say they only did a rough sweep up and so my son and I were left to do a more complete sweep-up and had to ensure that the excess and other extraneous materials were cleared away. Needless to say, we hadn’t been informed that any of this was about to happen so we had to make our feelings absolutely clear that permissions needed to be sought and the site restored to the kind of condition it was in before they started their work. More is expected in the next day or so and therefore we are anticipating that the contractors/sub-contractors not employed by us have to be watched like a hawk and make good on their promises which were glibly given. Interesting that the French existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Satre used the expression ‘Hell is other people‘ although I think that the expression is often quoted in ways that Satre himself did not intend.
There is a lot of news in the bulletins tonight about the likely success of the vaccines that are being developed – and perhaps a lot of false optimism. It was only at the end of a news item that the correspondent let us know that many, if not the great majority, of potential vaccines, fail after having shown initial promise. It may well be that the press is desperate for a breaking ‘good news’story about a potentially successful vaccine for the coronavirus and all normal (and scientific) caution is abandoned. I think the best comment upon all of this came from the commentator Matthew Parris (ex-Tory MP, on the liberal wing of the party) who has indicated tonight that it is a bit like predicting the Grand National winner after a few successful fences have been jumped (and ignoring the majority of fences that lie ahead). We also learn that in the now infamous Downing Street press briefings, the UK’s chief nurse who was due to appear on the podium was immediately dropped from the panel when she replied that she would not give immediate support to the fact that Dominic Cummings (the PM’s ‘adviser’) appeared to have breached the lockdown rules with his well-publicised trip to his parents in Durham. This only reinforces the suspicion that many of us held at the time that the scientists that appeared on the podium during the press briefings were only used a prop to the politicians to give them a kind of legitimacy- but were immediately dropped when basic scientific integrity conflicted with the political message or ‘line’ that was being peddled at the time.
This turned out to be one of those vaguely frustrating days. Meg and I had determined that we would venture out onto the High Street to make an optician’s appointment for both of us at Boot’s opticians. When we got there the store was closed – some kind of annual holiday so we would have to wait until tomorrow. I thought we would walk up and down the High Street (Tuesday is a market day when stallholders sell their wares) to see if a little hardware man who sells bits and pieces was there today as I needed to buy a wire brush. Frustratingly, he wasn’t there so having got all masked up we de-masked ourselves at the end of the High Street and made off for the park (where all of our usual benches were occupied – it was that kind of day) So we drank our coffee, admired the local heron who has a club foot and the locals call ‘Henry’ and made for home, encountering none of our normal friends en route. As we were walking home, the weather clouded over and what started off as quite a pleasant day became cloudy and oppressive.
The principal news of the day was the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into the amount of illegitimate Russian influence in some of the recent UK electoral processes. Astonishingly, it appears that the security questions did not ask itself any questions about the amount of Russian influence as it felt that this would drag it into the arena of party politics which it wanted to avoid. However, it now looks as though it is belatedly recognised that Russian influence had been at work in the Scottish referendum. Noting that the Russians had attempted to interfere (and may well have done ) in the last USA presidential election when Trump was elected, it was now recognised that the Russian state liked to dabble in any politics that would destabilise any countries in the West. There is absolutely no official information whether there was any Russian influence in the Brexit campaign. However, the report recognises that London is now the money-laundering capital of the world as the UK welcomes Russian money following the opening of a new visa route in 1994 for foreigners who invested in the county and that few questions, were asked, if any, about the provenance of this considerable (Russian) wealth as Russian oligarchs embedded themselves into many aspects of British society (football clubs etc.) Although no questions were asked of MI6 about the involvement of Russia in the Brexit campaign, it seems inconceivable that Putin would not have seized the opportunity to destabilise the UK (by it being involved in a massive internal debate for years), weaken the EU (by detaching one of its members), aid the break up of the UK (if Scotland then Northern Ireland eventually leave the UK) and, add a stroke, greatly reduce any influence that the UK might have in the world (losing its place on the UK security council, for example). It is all a bit reminiscent of Horatio Nelson putting the telescope to his blind eye and saying ‘I see no flag’ so that he could countermand orders.
Under these circumstances, one has to turn to sources other than the British media which is now so supine. If you were to turn to the Huffington Post (independent of the Murdoch empire) you would read the following:
But there is also a lot we didn’t learn. Including footnotes, there are a grand total of 175 redactions in the report, indicated simply by three asterisks. Of course, there is one inference we can make about all of them – they’re redacted because they’re super juicy and top-secret.
The phrase that is being most commonly deployed is that our security services ‘took their eye off the ball‘. To the parliamentary committee that is meant to oversee their activities, the security services provided only six lines of written comment. By way of contrast, the American authorities treated allegations of Russian interference much more seriously. And a very detailed analysis of the 2016 presidential campaign by Kathleen Hall Jamieson has concluded ‘How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump’ Her meticulous analysis of online activity during the 2016 campaign makes a powerful case that targeted cyberattacks by hackers and trolls were decisive. In the case of our own Brexit campaign, it seems equally likely that Russian money and Russian cyberspace attacks helped to change the national mood (and you would only have to influence two people in a hundred – one person in 50) to reverse the result…
We thought today was going to be quite a busy day and so it proved. We knew that we were going to meet our long-established Waitrose friends in the park at 10.30 am so we started off our walk 5 minutes earlier to ensure we had time to pick up our newspapers and to rendezvous at the correct time. Then after we met we chatted and chatted – it was incredible that we spent nearly an hour in each other’s company before we both realised that the day was slipping away and we both had other commitments to which we needed to attend. Our friends have been in the ‘strong’ form of shielding and so are particularly looking forward to 1st August, a week on Saturday when they can be legally ‘released’ and spend some time on trips out in the car. The week after that we may well form a four-some to visit a National Trust property together. We knew that we had to get home and have a prompt lunch because we had two commitments this afternoon, the first being a visit from our chiropodist at 2.00 pm and the second a long-awaited visit from our hairdresser at 4.00 pm. In the event, our chiropodist failed to arrive and after a quick text, we discovered that our due date was Friday, not Wednesday, so your’s truly must have made a mistake when it was entered up onto the planning board which is a family feature. My son and daughter-in-law left at 7.00 am to get to the South Coast where they were going to enjoy a few day’s respite in a hotel they had chosen. We got a text from them to indicate they had arrived safely which is always reassuring. The haircut was quite a long experience. Meg was having a perm done which always takes about two hours and I get fitted in during some of the breaks that occur when the setting solution is doing its work. Our hairdresser arrived all visored up and, naturally, she had been incredibly busy since the lockdown restrictions were being eased. She told me that if you go onto the Government website, then most of the popular trades have specialist pages indicating exactly what precautions had to be taken and how interactions with clients were to be handled in this transitional phase. We also received some useful tips about the best/cheapest kind of visors to buy which was useful information. Our hairdresser was wearing a type of model which attaches to a type of pseudo-glasses frame which I would never have thought of for looking for – it is always useful to get advice from those who have tried out and tested these kinds of things, particularly as they are not bought every day. They may be less trouble to put on when entering shops than manipulating a face mask over the ears (particularly if you have ear-rings and glasses to circumnavigate at the same time). In the late afternoon, we saw our adopted cat, Miggles, sauntering across our garden grass with something in her mouth (a mouse? bird?) I was mildly disappointed that the cat did not bring it for me to peruse for me delectation (the family cat we had as a child used to love bringing a half-dead mouse into the house for us to witness – and she would then proceed to ‘play’ with it until it was absolutely dead after which time she lost interest in it).
I tend to turn to Huffington Post for interesting angles on the political news that is not covered in the UK Main Street Media. This sequel to yesterday’s news on the potential impact of Russian cyber activity is particularly interesting…They report that ‘the aggressive use of Twitter bots, coupled with the fragmentation of social media and the role of sentiment, could contribute to the vote outcomes’ Tho Pham, one of the paper’s authors, told the Times that 'the main conclusion is that bots were used on purpose and had influence'. The Times had revealed that Russian Twitter accounts – many of which are believed to be bots – had posted more than 45,000 messages in 48 hours during the EU referendum.
This whole area has remained unexplored since the result of the 2016 referendum was announced. There is an argument, not much heard nowadays, that the overspend by the Leave campaign plus the influence of the social media as reported above were grounds enough for the whole referendum result to be declared ‘unsound’ Other countries. more used to referenda as a way of answering constitutional questions appreciated that a narrow majority was not good grounds for making profound constitutional changes (which Brexit undoubtedly was) and required a majority of 60% for a result to be valid. Our own House of Lords even passed an amendment requiring that a result of a referendum is only valid when a 40% of those entitled to vote threshold is reached. In the 2016 referendum 52% of 72% who voted is 37.4%. The House of Lords amendment was overturned, though, in the Commons and the rest is history!
Today at long last we managed to venture forth into Bromsgrove High Street in order to make an appointment for both of us to have regular eye-tests at Boots Opticians. There we were greeted by the manager who has grown to know us over the years with the news that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to make an appointment at this time. Any issue that required urgent, quasi-medical attention, could be dealt with in-branch but in the meanwhile, the branch had to wait for the operation of national guidelines, presumably issued by Boots HQ because the number of tests would now be severely time-constrained (only one third to a half of their normal daily throughput) and of course there were disinfection and deep-clean procedures to be organised after each client. So to cut a long story short, we may be on a list but it is a case of ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you‘ The situation with visits to one’s dentist are probably even worse and one wonders whether it will take a year (or even longer) for backlogs to work their way through the system.
Having got home, we organised a fairly prompt lunch for ourselves because this afternoon we had a booked visit to Hanbury Hall, which is a William and Mary house (although actually built in the reign of Queen Anne) near Droitwich and not many miles distant. As with other National Trust properties, the house itself was still out-of-bounds for visitors but one could walk around and admire both the formal gardens and the surrounding parkland. We made for the Stable Block where we joined a socially distanced queue to buy some refreshments to go with the flask of coffee we had brought with us. Unfortunately, there was a very slight drizzle and low cloud hanging over everywhere so we ate our food/drank our coffee in not very pleasant conditions and then made the best of a bad job and after a brief tour of the gardens decided to call it a day and started for home (Naturally by this time the rain had ceased) The proportions of the house looked magnificent and it will be interesting for us to tour the actual house when it is open again to visitors.
Tonight was the second episode of Jane Austen’s Emma (a book I studied for ‘O’-level) I only mention this because I remember once seeing a hilarious book called ‘The Unexpurgated Jane Austen‘ in a Winchester bookshop (Jane Austen has a memorial to her in Winchester Cathedral) The whole book is evidently a spoof, perhaps written by a postgraduate but very much in the Jane Austen style. Browsing through it, I can only remember one particular fragment of it which was Jane Austen in conversation with her publisher. The dialogue went something like this ‘Your writing is very promising, Miss Austen, but we must get rid all of this gratuitous swearing and foul language you throughout your work. One cannot say, for example, that f*****g Mr. Wickham‘ (I have substituted asterisks for the sake of decency but the book contained the unexpurgated adjectives)
One of the political stories this evening is the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee condemning the lack of preparedness by the government for the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, they condemn the fact that there appeared to be no planning for job losses or school closures. The report is also scathing about the failure to obtain PPE equipment to protect front line staff. And it says despite warnings from medical chiefs in January, the Treasury waited until mid-March, days before the lockdown on 23 March, before deciding on economic support schemes. As from midnight, any member of the public entering a shop should be wearing a mask or face covering, by law. As a social experiment, it will be fascinating to see what the level of compliance will be – although surveys indicate that 2 out of 3 people back the new policy, what will be revealed about which shops and which sections of the population exhibit both the highest and the lowest degrees of compliance? There is also a report that the government want 50% of the population to receive a flu vaccination which shows the degree of official concern about what will happen when the ‘normal’ flu epidemic coincides with a second potential wave of COVID-19 in the forthcoming winter.
So a cloudy day to start off with but it brightened up as we started our walk down into town, where we were due to coincide with our Waitrose friends in the park. On our way, I encountered one of my Pilates class-mates and we exchanged notes as we are both due to start back on 1st September. She had been following some Pilates classes on Zoom (in common with many others these days) but she reckoned it wasn’t quite the same and she couldn’t wait to get back. I explained that our Pilates teacher when I had texted her when the lockdown was being slowly released had indicated that we would probably all have to bring along our own Pilates mats (which makes a lot of sense) On the strength of this, I had gone onto the internet and bought myself one so I will be ready for the off as soon as we get the word. After another pleasant hour with our friends, Meg and I got home and I immediately went off to collect a camping chair from Halfords ready for the days when we are going out on little expeditions like the other day. We already have a National Trust collapsible stool which is ultra-light and hangs over your arm or can be used a walking stick – we must have bought it at least 15-20 years ago but it hasn’t had a great deal of use. The idea is that when we next go on a trip and assuming that we will be roaming around parks and gardens rather than going around the stately home, at least we have some gear that we can transport around with us (including a small tarpaulin purchased for 99p a year or so ago which we can use to picnic upon) After lunch, our chiropodist called and Meg and I had our feet serviced (in the garden as the weather is fine) and then I started the weekly lawn mowing. I was just finishing the communal lawns at the front of the house when the Waitrose van arrived with our weekly order so this had to be seen to (putting frozen stuff away) before I completed the lawnmowing of our own lawns to the rear of the house. In the late afternoon, I went to water my Tilia Cordata which seems to have survived its yellowing leaves trauma as I now water it every day. I disturbed Miggles the cat who was stretched out on the forest bark beneath the tree – she then accompanied me around the garden as I filled up the watering can to water some of the plants that we have in pots which would not survive on the rainfall alone. I was accompanied (supervised?) as always after which the cat deigned to sit on my lap and fall asleep. She had previously tried to make me a present of a small bird but when she opened her mouth to say ‘Miaow’ the bird popped out of her mouth and fluttered away. Miggles didn’t bother to chase after it but merely came over to us to say ‘Hello‘ and then stretched out on the flagstones to fall asleep.
This evening what should have been a quietish night in front of the TV turned into one of those nightmare type repair jobs. We have a downstairs toilet which has a simple locking mechanism to prevent another person from entering the loo when it is already in use. But the locking mechanism had fallen to pieces and it seemed that a tiny little ‘grub’ screw had somehow got detached and was nowhere to be seen (I have a horrible suspicion it had probably been hoovered up and then thrown away) So I searched amongst a collection of screws I had inherited to find a replacement screw but all the woodscrews would not fit the bill. I eventually raided some old electrical spares for an engineering screw that then had to be cut to size as a substitute that just about worked – this took the best part of an evening to fix but at least it is now done.
It is the end of Boris Johnson’s first year as PM and for the first time, we have a sort of acknowledgement that ‘things could have been handled differently‘ There is still no acknowledgement of the fact that the lockdown came a week or so too late, thus costing about 20,000 lives. Instead, it is being claimed that the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which coronavirus could be transmitted asymptomatically between people, meaning it had spread further than believed in the UK before the lockdown was imposed. But the blame game has started, history is being re-written and there is no acknowledgement that the whole crisis has not been handled well (compared with Scotland, for example).
According to the weather forecast, a heavy band of rain was due to sweep across the Midlands mid-morning and so it proved. We waited until this pulse of rain had passed overhead and done its worst before we set off on our daily walk and although the morning as a whole was still extremely cloudy, at least we didn’t get rained upon. As you might expect, there were very few people in the park today apart from a few intrepid dog-walkers but we did run into some of our oldest friends from down the road, with whom we exchanged a few stories and jokes. They were off on their daily walk as well but I imagine they are well used to the rain by now. Once in the park, I deployed our National Trust portable stool as a kind of mini-table. Why I hadn’t thought of doing this a long time ago, I will never know but it made life a lot simpler (as I have to juggle hat, rucksack, coffee flask, biscuit container etc.) Once we got home, avoiding any showers, we consumed our Saturday lunch-time treat (some really high-quality sausages from Waitrose) and then I set forth to our local garden centre in order to buy some bags of topsoil. I acquired 4 bags at the price of £3.99 each and, out of interest, I looked for the price of the same on the web where you would pay three times this price. (I remember being caught this way before when I ordered a bulk of forest bark from a local supplier only to discover I could have bought the same considerably cheaper and in easier to manipulate 80-litre sacks from my local Asda store) When the weather improves the £65.00 worth of bulbs I acquired for a fiver will be planted out in some rectangular plant pots of which I have a stock and then arrange them strategically around the patio area for a splash of late summer colour.
This afternoon my order for simple face visors arrived for both Meg and myself. These are very simple arrangements and come with several replacement face visors and cost only a few pounds each – they are as simple to don as would be a pair of glasses and will actually fit on over your own glasses. It is unclear whether these constitute ‘face coverings’ within the letter of the relevant law and their effectiveness is as yet, untested – however, one Swiss study found that the wearers of face visors in a Swiss hotel become infected whereas the wearers of face masks did not, Like many things in the current crisis, one has to use a certain amount of one’s own discretion in all of this.
The big political story tonight is the fact that the coronavirus seems to be rearing its head again in various parts of Spain and particularly around Barcelona. The British government has now changed its travel advice for visitors to Spain which means that returning holidaymakers returning from Spain will now have to self-isolate for 15 days. In an ironic twist, this might even apply to Grant Shaps, the transport minister, who is reportedly on holiday in Spain. This will be a massive blow to the Spanish tourist industry as I suspect, many people who had intended a quick holiday break in Spain (including ourselves) will now decide not to bother.
Today, various facilities such as swimming pools and gyms, are now free to offer their services to the public, all with suitable precautions. However, many local authorities are thinking twice about opening up their facilities at all. If the facilities had not been well maintained in the years of austerity, then it might not be economic to re-open them again if this entails considerable investment. So it looks as though a fair proportion of these facilities (a bit like restaurants on the high street) will never open again which has all kinds of implications e.g. for teaching young people how to swim which is a critical life skill upon which their life might depend at some time in the future. As with so many areas of social life, we will shortly discover how many local businesses and services have actually managed to survive.
Today was set fair with no particular rain forecast so we had a pleasant walk to the park. On our way home, we were recognised by one of our erstwhile friends from church who often used to sit in the pew behind us and chat when we attended the service every Saturday evening. Whilst we were deep in conversation catching up on all of our ‘lockdown’ news and experiences, we were joined by two of more regular friends so we had a very animated conversation between the five of us. We were given the news that services in the open air have re-commenced each Sunday morning at Harvington Hall, which is just a few miles down the road. Harvington Hall is not a National Trust or English Heritage House but is owned by the Catholic archdiocese of Birmingham, being one of the centres of medieval Catholicism in the Midlands and it boasts the finest collection of ‘priest hides’ (where Catholic priests used to minister to the local population but were successfully hidden in the house during the Reformation when they hunted by the authorities) So we are resolved to all go next Sunday as social distancing is quite easy in the open air and we hope to see many more of our acquaintances then, assuming of course that the heavens have not opened on us to dampen our ardour. Just after we got home, our son and daughter-in-law arrived back home from their stay in Dorset where they seemed to have a restful and interesting time away for the last few days. It is our daughter-in-law’s summer holidays but she still has a lot of school organisation and planning to do whilst our son is still carrying on working from home as he has done since the start of the lockdown.
The rest of the day was spent quite peacefully enjoying a Sunday lunch, reading the Sunday newspapers and looking forward to the summary of the latest cricket Test Match between England the West Indies broadcast at 7.00 pm each evening. I normally only glance at the business news in the Sunday newspapers but I did read an interesting analysis how the chain of Pret-a-Manger had really lost its way since it had passed from initial business to various hotel and restaurant chains who had then sold it onto private equity owners. The impact of the article was to argue that private equity owners are only interested in ‘sweating the assets’ and milking the last drop of business and this is one explanation why Pret-A-Manger and similar businesses eventually meet their demise. I also read with a great deal of interest the account by Tim Shipman, the principal political correspondent of the Sunday Timeswho always seems to be able to write some incredibly well-informed stories. This week he thought that privately No. 10 (Downing Street) is secretly fearing another Trump victory that might bind us into an incredibly unpopular ‘chlorinated chicken’ deal with the United States as well as being bounced into a much more hostile stance vis-a-vis China that might not be in the UK’s long term interests. (Just in passing, it seems incredible that in these days of Brexit negotiations we are falling out with the EU, the USA, Russia and ambiguous relationships with the US. Who are we going to trade with successfully, I ask myself?) Turning to HuffPost for some inside reporting of the current Brexit negotiations state of play, I read that a government analysis in November 2018 predicted that leaving without a trade deal would cause a 7.6% contraction in the economy, while leaving with an “average” free trade agreement would cause a 4.9% reduction in GDP, compared to the UK continuing as an EU member. There are already reports that the red tape businesses will need to navigate as a consequence of leaving the customs union could leave the UK with a £7bn bill. Of course, there is still room for a deal if there happens to be quite a lot of compromise on both sides but this might be one of those situations where the negotiations really do go to the wire i.e. not decided until hours of the final cut-off date/time. How much negotiation will go in August when most of continental holiday goes on holiday is hard to say so it makes September and October really critical months.
Today was a cloudy, wet and windy day and enough to make one thoroughly miserable – however, the longer-range weather forecast indicates that a high pressure in on its way so the weather should improve dramatically later on in the week. Before our daily walk to the park, we received a wonderful text from the relatives of our old friend, Clive, who sadly passed away a month or so back. They gave us details of where his ashes were to be buried in a local cemetery and as soon as the weather improves (in a day or so) we will make a little pilgrimage there and pay our last respects to him. In the meanwhile, Meg and I undertook our daily journey to collect our newspapers and have a wander in the park but today we were confined to the bandstand of which we were the only occupants. We espied one other dog walker and a lady in the far distance sporting an umbrella but that was the sole occupancy of the park this morning. For once, we were fairly pleased to get home this morning.
Most of the afternoon, I spent on technical work for this blog. The first and important task was to install a new plug-in which would act as a spam filter and so far it seems to have done its job most effectively. Then I installed another editor which allowed me to change the font of these posts to make it a bit larger and more readable to smaller devices than a computer. Although the various bits of advice available on the web gave me the option of tweaking the underlying CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) this did not achieve the desired effect so I ended up manually changing all of the 130 pages to the font and size that I wanted. As with all repetitive tasks, you get it down to seconds at a time once you get into the swing of things.
The government’s reaction to recent spikes of the coronavirus in Spain is receiving a lot of media attention. A very common view, if not a consensus, is that the government has panicked and adopted a blanket policy of asking everybody who has holidayed in Spain to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return. Luckless individuals are having to hope that their employers are ‘sympathetic’ to the necessity to quarantine but whether this run to paying two weeks of wages is another matter. I have a completely untested theory that the government is secretly worried about hundreds? thousands? of Brits getting abroad and as they are on holiday they will do anything except socially distance, with the consequence that many Brits might actually infect each other irrespective of whatever country they happen to be in and then come home to infect the rest of the population. But notwithstanding all of this, I cannot personally see why the government’s newly imposed quarantine arrangements should not apply if you have been to the islands of Spain rather than the mainland – after all, I would suspect that, at a guess, the islands are responsible for half of the UK tourists and that would help to minimise any degrees of risk.
Lastly tonight, a COVID-19 item which comes under the heading ‘you couldn’t make it up if you tried‘ The government has awarded Serco a £45m contract for test-and-trace – it has subsequently emerged that Serco has outsourced this to 29 other companies and that 85% of those recruited to run this service are not employed directly by Serco. We have been here before and it appears that the government does not appear to have learned any lessons from Carillion’s collapse and other privatisation failures, where outsourcing companies subcontracted the majority of work. This means that accountability for the new contract has practically sunk without trace and is another pure example of the ways in which contracts are being handed out to private sector companies whose experience in this field is extremely limited rather than resources being given to the local authority health teams who know the techniques for dealing with infectious disease and whose track record is markedly better.
Today was a much finer day than yesterday and although a trifle windy, so much more of a pleasant day for our daily walk to the park. There we met some of our old Waitrose friends by prior arrangement and spent a pleasant half-hour or so, mainly talking about cooking (about which I needed some advice from a much better cook). After they had left us, we got into a conversation with another couple of regular bench-occupiers talking about the ways in dogs (and cats) can occasionally dominate the house and make it their own (This is only theoretically true of Miggles, our adopted cat, as we never allow her into the house and, in truth, she is much more of an outdoor rather than than a lying-by-the-kitchen-hearth type of animal).
I have been trying to get my head around the exact causes of dispute between the UK and Spain over the application of quarantine regulations for travellers arriving (or arriving back) into the UK from Spain. Often, though, the figures are not comparable but here are some data I have gleaned from various sources:
While the outbreak remains under control in many parts of Spain, certain areas – in particular Catalonia in the north-east, which includes the city Barcelona, and the neighbouring region of Aragón – have seen a huge spike in infections.
According to data from the Spanish government, as of Monday, the infection rates in the Balearic and Canary Islands were 9.22 and 7.06 per 100,000 respectively.
The same data showed infection rates in Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, was 132.4 per 100,000, and 28.21 in Madrid.
Latest seven-day rates: July 21-27 (per 100,000)
Austria 10.3. Belgium 19.0. Denmark 4.6. France 8.7. Germany 4.6. Italy 2.8. Netherlands 7.1. Portugal 14.9. Spain 29.7. UK. 15.0
[Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 28 July]
Europe is starting to see signs of a second wave, says UK prime minister
UK prime minister Boris Johnson today said Europe is starting to see signs of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. He said it is vital that people quarantine themselves when returning to the UK from places abroad where there are outbreaks. Johnson mentioned the government’s recent reintroduction of a 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers returning from Spain, and added: “We will continue, throughout the summer, to take such action where it is necessary.” Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez described the UK’s new rules and recommendations as “unjust” arguing that in most parts of Spain the prevalence of Covid-19 is lower than in the UK. Some parts of Spain, including the regions of Catalonia and Aragón, have seen a large uptick in infections recently. The rate of infection in Spain as a whole is 47.2 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 15 in the UK, according to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Today was a somewhat cloudy and blustery sort of day but with enough sunshine to make our walk pleasant and with the promise of more sunshine to come (although it did not quite materialise) We are hopeful of better weather tomorrow because we are hoping that some friends may be able to call around so that we can have a pleasant afternoon tea in the garden. We have been waiting for some better weather for some time now before we could have friends around but we need to make sure that we have a few sunny days in a row to ensure that we do not get rained off. In the late morning, we discovered that we appear to have an infestation of a wasp’s nest in the eaves of one of our dormer windows. As it happens, our next-door neighbour has just had to deal with a similar infestation and had negotiated a good price with a local company. So we got onto them and arranged for a visit sometime tomorrow. As this has happened a few years ago we know what to expect. An industrial strength pesticide will be inserted by a long lance into the wasp nest site and then they receive a blast which should put paid to them. Most of these firms work in the same way because the infestation might not be completely killed off (the oldest die but the younger and fitter ones survive – sounds familiar from somewhere) Generally the firm will come back within the quoted price to finish off the job if all is not clear after a fortnight. So we shall await our phone call tomorrow and see what happens.
There are a few interesting political stories that are springing to the fore this evening. One of these, as reported by Sky News, is that No. 10 (Downing Street) is looking for a new spokesperson to smash the system of the lobby (a cabal-type group of accredited journalists who get privileged information on the condition that they do not disclose the exact source) The Sky News ‘take’ on this is that for a salary in excess of £100k the appointed figure will soon become a controversial and much-lampooned figure. If we look over the pond to see the variety of Press spokesman deployed by President Trump, they invariably leave because they find the demands of defending the indefensible, or the quasi-lying that they have to undertake quickly proves too much for them – unless they are already an outstanding political journalist, which is very unlikely. It goes without saying that they would have to be an ardent Brexiteer!
The second story is that a local council (Sandwell in the West Midlands) has got such little faith in the central government’s test-and-trace regime that they are actually setting up their own, independent of the centre. One has to say that at the very least, they will ‘know their own patch’; and will also have access to the prominent languages (other than English) which are present in the area. I would imagine that they can only be more successful than the Serco, sub-contracted, call-centre staffed outfits can possibly hope to be.
The third story is one that I heard on Radio 4 this morning – it was an interview with the European director of the World Health Organisation who was arguing, along with many others, that we are not so much dealing with a second wave of the pandemic as the dying members of the first wave, only to be predicted when the lockdown is eased. The analogy that I have in my mind is that once a major forest fire is brought under control, there are always a lot of little ‘brush fires’ along the perimeters of the original conflagration that have to be dealt with. Such is what I think we are actually seeing.
BBC2’s NewsNight this evening conducted an interesting investigation looking at how scientific advice had been used to justify policy in dealing with the pandemic. But nowhere could they find any evidence that the public would not tolerate a long lockdown and therefore it was prudent to delay the start of lockdown for as long as possible. It looks as though politicians and scientists had a ‘groupthink’ about how long a lockdown would be politically possible and ascribed this view to behavioural science – they then claimed to be ‘following the science’ for what was essentially a political judgement. We have been here before – one is reminded how elderly men in mediaeval times would minutely the bodies of typically young virginal women who had been accused of witchcraft for any warts or skin imperfections and then use these as ‘evidence’ that that was how the devil had entered the bodies of the young women thus providing the source of their witchcraft. You can always find what you are looking for if you have the right mindset!
A good fine day, today, as befits late July and there are promises that tomorrow may well be the hottest day of the summer. We had hoped that some of our friends might join us for tea in the garden late on in the afternoon but as it turned out they were both busy with other domestic commitments. As we were due to have a pest control firm to deal with our wasp’s nest we were felt that all had probably turned out for the best. In the morning before our walk, I busied myself getting the Waitrose order updated ready for delivery first thing in the morning. In order to do this, I have to mentally walk around the supermarket I used to frequent before the lockdown and then update my list accordingly. The Waitrose pattern involves selecting a slot done 12-14 days ahead, populating a shopping basket with a previous order and then updating it the day before it is due to be delivered. This might sound a little quirky but it seems to be the way that the regular customers get the best out of the system. After this, Meg and I enjoyed our normal walk to the park, only a little disconcerted that we met none of our usual friends and acquaintances for a chat. Once we got home. we acted on a text I had received from my Pilates teacher for classes to resume on 1st September. I was fortunate, I feel, to be one of the four enrolled in the face-to-face class (there were previously eight in our class) and the rest of the class will participate with us doing the exercises but via Zoom. How this is going to work, we shall have to wait and see – I had already taken the precaution of buying my own Pilates mat to take along with me.
It is that time, which comes round every three years when we are due to change our car. To be honest, we are not great car-enthusiasts, only wanting something that is ultra-reliable, gives us enough space for shopping and suitcases when we go on holiday (what is that?) and is easy to park. We are going to go for a Honda again as we have been more than satisfied with the Honda we have had for the last three years but we are going to go for a slightly different model because I particularly want a manual gearbox. I need to explain that I have never driven an automatic in my life and I do not intend to start now. Anyway, we have made an appointment for a test drive and have made an appointment to see one next Wednesday, so we will have to wait and see. We do not anticipate that we need to change until November (our changeover date) so we are getting things organised now in case we have to wait for our preferred colour which is sometimes the case. Enough of cars – except the YouTube reviews make them all sound wonderful but I am sure that there must be some quirks that are not to one’s liking.
In the late afternoon, our pest control man came round and did his stuff as we expected. This basically means that some extra strength powder is squirted from the end of a long lance into the wasp’s nest and the worker wasps get asphyxiated and then basically die as they do not want to enter the nest and so there is no work for them to do (so it was explained to us) If all is not well at the end of a week, then the firm will come to give a final fatal ‘puff’.
Boris Johnson had previously intimated that there 30 areas in the country where the virus was ‘bubbling up’. Tonight we learn that the whole of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and some parts of West Yorkshire are in a semi-lockdown – people are being forbidden to meet in groups in each other’s houses. Whether this applies to parks and other open spaces, is uncertain. These measures are designed to combat a sudden rise to 846 new cases (the highest total for a month) and a sure sign that the virus is still out there in the community but I am sure the vast majority of the population will be confused by the absence of any particularly clear message or guidance this evening.
And so for the hottest day of the year – it was certainly very warm as we strolled down to the park this morning but gradually got more glowering, overcast and humid as the day progressed (a thunderstorm would have been excellent but one was forecast only in the East). We always like to engage people in conversation in the park. not least the local authority workers who have to maintain it. Today, one of these workers had the unenviable job of emptying all of the ‘parcels’ of dog excrement that are put in special bins throughout the park. Notwithstanding all of this, we mutually sympathised with each about the trio of noisy teenagers who occupied a park bench and played execrable music at maximum volume before becoming bored and wandering off. We eventually got into a conversation about ‘Henry’ our resident heron with a club foot who still manages to sustain himself with presumably some kind of small fish who populate the pond and then we roamed over the kinds of animals we had all kept in our youth (this ranged from hamsters to rabbits to pigeons to ferrets) Without romanticising these categories of workers, I have often wondered how many people pass them by without a word of appreciation of how hard they work to keep the park pristine for us to enjoy.
As it was a Friday, it was ‘lawn mowing’ day and although I have a break in between the public communal areas (twice as large as our own formal garden) and our own formal garden, the humidity made the task not particularly pleasant. However, I did ensure that critical trees, plants and tubs received a good ration of water both first thing in the morning and also later on in the evening. I also had a chance to inspect some of the cuttings I had been trying to root and about 50% of them seem to have put down roots but I cannot necessarily identify what these cuttings are from (as I collected them from a walk down to Bromsgrove one Sunday morning some weeks ago) I was also pleasantly surprised to see that although my plum trees seem to have failed to produce any plums this year (unlike last year), the very aged damson trees at the end of the garden seem to be laden and producing fruit about a month earlier than they should. I am resisting the temptation to pick all of the fruit now but need to keep a careful eye on it so that it doesn’t get shed in any violent thunderstorms that might occur later in the year. The damsons get immediately processed and made into damson gin and then distributed to friends, families and anyone else I can think of!
The latest news on the ‘pause’ of the easing of the lockdown is disturbing, to put it mildly. As England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, speaking at the prime minister’s briefing on Friday, warned the data showed ‘we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society‘.He said it could mean ‘if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things…The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong‘. Well, it could hardly be clearer than that. It is also interesting to note that other councils are considering following the lead of Sandwell and are considering introducing their own ‘trace-and-test’ regime because the service provided by Serco (the national scheme) clearly does not fit their needs and they have the best local knowledge (and the languages) to know what is going on in their own local areas.
Finally, a document released by Sage tonight is interesting (or frightening, depending upon your point of view). A document reveals that serious public disorder could “overwhelm all attempts” to control the coronavirus and “catastrophically” undermine the government’s recovery plans, scientists advising ministers have warned.
A paper written by a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) sub-committee, and considered by SAGE itself on 2 July, said the current “volatile and highly complex situation” means Britain will face “grave challenges” in keeping public order during the COVID-19 pandemic. Any disorder could be “comparable or bigger in scale” than the 2011 London riots, the scientists warned, with military support likely to be required. And extreme right-wing groups are mobilising as never before. You read it here first!
It was a cooler and much more pleasant day today after the intense and humid heat of yesterday. I started off by getting my Waitrose order in place for about three weeks time and then Meg and I engaged in our traditional promenade. On our journey, we met up with an old Waitrose friend who we knew was going off to France with a lifelong friend and had just got back a few days ago. She seems to have a wonderful time there, so much so that she may be returning in a couple of weeks time or so. All the flights and airport arrangements seem to have gone exactly according to plan and she certainly looked fit and rested after her first vacation for some time. It makes us wonder when the rest of us might enjoy the same because with the recent upturn in the incidence of infection travelling almost anywhere looks somewhat problematic. Upon reading my emails in the morning, I learned that one of my former colleagues from the Univerity of Winchester had decided to take an early retirement one year early to provide employment for a younger colleague and had communicated her decision to the rest of the group of us who meet regularly (we call ourselves ‘The Old Fogies‘ but this name may change!) My previous colleagues and I all sent emails of congratulation and support along the lines of ‘better go now instead of being declared redundant‘ but evidently Winchester, in common with universities up and down the land, are feeling the immense financial pressure imposed by the pandemic and are having to cut their coat according to their cloth accordingly (this is the politest way of putting it but least said, soonest mended as my old mother used to say).
After lunch and a good pore over the Saturday newspapers, we went for a little toddle around the garden where I did some gentle pruning of the plants I have located on my ‘high’ plant holder outside my study window. The Alstroemeria purchased recently from Waitrose is in full bloom about which I am delighted – I am hopeful that keeping it and its neighbours well-tended, watered and fed will keep it that way for the rest of the summer.
There seems to be one story dominating the media at the moment but presented in various guises. This stage of handling the end to the lockdown has got to be handled with a sure and deft political touch, not to mention intelligence and a high degree of political skill. The issue highlighted by the scientists appears to be we are just about at the limit for what, as a society, we can afford to be ‘unlocked’ with the amount of virus certainly circulating in the community. There seem to be two factors at work here but this is somewhat speculative. The first is that the younger elements of the population out ‘socialising; either in or near pubs do not appear to be exhibiting anything like the required degree of social distancing (some of the scenes of youngsters in Soho, London and in Manchester have to be seen to be believed) A second factor is the fact that many people are now meeting up within each other’s houses and the fact that this weekend is the Muslim ‘Eid‘ (equivalent to Christmas Day) has come at an unfortunate time. The massive political dilemma for the government is this – if the advice of the scientists is to be followed and we are already at the limit of what is sensible given the amount of virus in the community, then does a straight political decision have to be taken along the lines of ‘Either get the children back in their schools or the pubs/restaurants opening for business – but not both‘ This dilemma is particularly acute for the Tory party who desperately want the schools to be open so that young mothers can back to work but have traditionally also represented the interests of the brewers in the UK. So it comes to a straight political choice of ‘children’s education’ versus ‘keep the pubs open‘ You wouldn’t normally associate deft political skills with Boris Johnson (compared, say, to Nicholas Sturgeon) but if he doesn’t get the next week or so of trade-offs absolutely right, then this could put paid to his premiership.