Sunday, 31 May 2020

A bit of nostalgia. Quarantine fatigue behaviour. A bit more nostalgia.

Yesterday we went for a long nostalgic walk in the late afternoon sunshine, involving going through Slackcote, past the first house we bought together, where we lived for a decade, where our daughter was born in the main bedroom, and which we only moved out of because with two children the family was just growing out of it. It’s in a little hamlet between the two villages of Delph and Denshaw, always leading to discussion as to which village it belongs to. We once famously went to bed one warm summer night leaving the front door wide open, although the inner was closed, and only discovered it when we came downstairs next morning and wondered why the main room was so light. Oops! I don’t think we could do such a thing in the house we now inhabit. I’m not sure that you could do it now at Slackcote, which has grown a little, with the old mill building now converted into flats and rather more people around.

On our way home we went through Delph’s park and children’s playground. By the river (the River Tame, as it Tameside, runs through the village) a huge bunch of youths were congregating, messing around in the sunshine the way young people do and possibly jumping into the water. Others were arriving by bike and on foot, some of them with small rucksacks - was an English “botellón” outdoor drinking and carousing session about to begin? What was clear was that this lot were definitely not all from one household and not a lot of social distancing was taking place.

As we walked on, a couple of community police officers were heading towards the group. I rather suspect they might have needed to send for reinforcements. Has those young people decided to follow Dominic Cummings’s example and ignore the advice? Do they even follow the news? Maybe they were just fed up of being in their separate back gardens on such a fine sunny day. The numbers of people who made their way to beaches and beauty spots are perhaps indicative of some of that same quarantine fatigue.

The family next door to us have erected one of those do-it-yourself pergola things in the garden so that they can sit out in the shade, which they duly did for most of yesterday - burgers and barbecues in the shade. One garden further over, the sunbathers continued to work on their tan, with another socially-distanced visit from their grandchildren at the same time. To be fair, the paterfamilias (grand-paterfamilias?) had been busy earlier mowing the lawn. Mostly in our row we seem to have been quite law-abiding (apart from maybe the visiting grandchildren) and stayed home this weekend. But then we are lucky enough to have the garden space to do that.

Discussion still goes on about reopening schools. The proposed June 1st partial reopening looks as if it’s going to be very partial indeed and this article suggests that a September reopening will also be problematical. A full-blown reform of our education system might be needed.

This article has pictures of places where some famous names in the pop music business made their career starts. Small venues like pubs and small clubs have long been the proving ground for would be music stars. And budding musicians have become largely unacknowledged victims of the crisis. With pubs and small venues closed these young musicians have no way of making themselves heard and known and, of course, no source of income. You can’t claim government support for something so tenuous as an incipient career in music. There is always Youtube but I guess it works better if you have already got a foot on the lower rungs of the ladder.

We spent a good part of yesterday evening moving furniture around into an arrangement that made access to our collection of music on vinyl more accessible, while still allowing us to watch TV unimpeded. It’s something we have planned for a while and finally we got around to it. It won’t help the plight of young up and coming musicians but it means we are more likely to play the old vinyl records once more. Another bit of nostalgia!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! Oh, and be sensible, please!

Saturday, 30 May 2020

America!! Relaxing lockdown here.

America seems to be exploding! Or should that be imploding? There’s a badly managed pandemic (is it even real? is it a plot by Democrats to undermine the Republican presidency? is it a nasty plot by China to take over the world? is it a warning from God to mend our evil ways? all theories!). There’s a tweeting president whose tweets are being criticised and even blocked by Twitter. There are riots and demonstrations in a number of cities because of the death of George Floyd, another black man killed by police action. And to top it all there’s a heatwave, which can’t be helping anybody’s mood.

From a Guardian article:-

“Even before the pandemic hit, heat was killing more Americans than all other natural disasters combined. People who live in cities are especially vulnerable to heatwaves because of a phenomenon called the “urban heat island effect” – cities with populations of 1m or more can be up to 5F hotter than surrounding areas due to high population density, a lack of greenery and shade, and because materials like steel, concrete and asphalt tend to absorb more heat.” 

And of course the poorer districts suffer most with more overcrowding, less air-conditioning or if they have it no spare funds to pay to run it!

We have just spoken to our son, the southern branch of the family down in Buckinghamshire. He had been in the park with his little girl and reported that it was packed. The centre of the smallish town where they live was almost at a normal Saturday morning rate of busyness. He is still able to work from home, fortunately. The prospect of returning to a daily ride into central London on the tube is not appealing.

And so we move into a new phase.

Our road, newly opened after all the roadworks have been cleared away, is busy again, not quite up to pre-roadwork levels but obviously a major thoroughfare once more. No more strolling down the middle of the road, although most people out walking will still veer out if someone approaches from the opposite direction.

The village was moderately busy when I was out for a run this morning, not up to pre-lockdown busy but no longer a ghost village. The coop has tweaked its opening times to allow for deliveries to the store first thing in the morning without customers - the only entrance for customers and supplies is the front door - and there was only a short queue to get in, keeping customers down to a minimum in the shop.

The cafe in the village, closed since just before lockdown, has opened again today for take-away only. How long before they set up tables on the pavement again? They had arranged some interesting street furniture outside the door, with supplies of hand sanitiser, and a bowl of water for passing dogs. I had to send a photo of the Singer treadle sewing machine, very much like the one my grandmother had, to my oldest granddaughter. She already has two hand operated Singer machines which she has lovingly refurbished. So I was quite glad this machine did not appear to be for sale. Otherwise she might have wanted me to put in a bid for her.

We shall wait and see how the relaxation of lockdown progresses. In South Korea meanwhile more than 200 schools have been forced to close once more just days after reopening, due to a new spike in virus cases. Here in the UK, we still have significantly more deaths per day than other European countries - yesterday Spain 2, Italy 87, France 52, Germany 24 ... UK 324. I think we still have a way to go.

But life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 29 May 2020

Shopping. Being cautious about relaxing the lockdown. Thoughts on population density.

Listening to people from big shop chains talking about how they are going about preparing for reopening, I wonder if things will ever get back to “normal”. Clothes shops have goods on rails, last season’s clothes which will now be sold at sales price, but surely sales will not be able to go on as previously. I can’t imagine our seeing the hurly burly of people rifling through piles of stuff any time soon. And the high streets are going to have significant holes in them as places like Oasis have already gone under and others like Monsoon Accessorise are about to do so.

A report told of the big Zara store in Barcelona, where shops are open again, having a sort of one way system in place but a seriously reduced number of customers. People are understandably cautious. Personally I think that’s how it should be.

I recognise that I am in a privileged position as a comfortably retired person living in a place close to open country and with enough garden space to relax in. But some people have got to go out to work. The thing is that there are already reports of some increase in cases of the virus in London since the relaxation of lockdown there. And as different parts of the country are at different stages of recovery maybe we should have different stages of relaxation as well, as other countries have done.

At yesterday’s press briefing the prime minister appeared to tell journalists which questions they could ask and to tell his medical advisers which questions they could or could not answer. There are suggestions of a possible dictatorship running around! We need to get the economy going again but it seems that much of the rush to get back to “normal” is as much about the government wanting to be popular. This article suggests that we might be rushing into relaxation of lockdown altogether too quickly.

Here is a link to an article looking at why Lombardy suffered more than other regions of Italy. And it’s not all down to football matches in Milan. One factor seems to have been early testing. The neighbouring Veneto region instituted region-wide testing at an early stage and managed to contain the outbreak far more successfully.

Some people thought air pollution might be a factor but that has been pretty much ruled out; cities of similar sizes and with similar levels of pollution suffered less in the Veneto than in Lombardy.

A big factor might have been population density. Bergamo in Lombardy, one of the first places to be overwhelmed, has more or less 300 people per square kilometre, while Brescia and Verona in the Veneto, suffering far fewer cases and deaths, have 200 and 100 people per kilometre respectively.

Now, I have wondered for a while about population density in the UK and our huge number of deaths from coronavirus. We are a relatively small island with more or less the same population as much larger countries such as France. Surely common sense tells us that any kind of contagion is more easily transmitted in places where loads of people live and work in close proximity.

Anyway, here’s a more cheerful story. Uruguay’s Carrasco international airport, outside Montevideo, has not had flights going in and out recently. So they have converted the airport into a drive in cinema. A big screen has been set up, people turn up in their cars and watch the films. They use Whatsapp to order food and drink and snacks which are then delivered to the cars by waiters wearing masks. A nice little bit of enterprise and a good alternative to sitting at home watching streamed movies!

Here we have another sunny day. Soon we will be able to get friends and family together in the garden to enjoy the sunshine. Mr Johnson has given us permission - some people have already preempted that ruling.

I’ve been having fun with phone numbers, trying to text my grandson and accidentally sending messages to a complete, and rather indignant, stranger. All you need is to reverse a couple of digits! Oops!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Social gatherings -newstyle. Out and about. Reactions to news reporting.

I looked out into the garden yesterday afternoon and found it strewn with almost the whole of the family next door together with a couple of visitors, probably a friend of the daughter of the family with her small boy. Ours looks like a communal garden. On the deeds to the two houses there is actually a demarcation line between our property and the neighbouring property. We could put up a fence or a wall but it would not really benefit either party. So we jog along with a much bigger space available to all of us. As a rule I tend to sit out in “our” bit of the garden although when the grandchildren come around, which hasn’t happened for a while, of course, we tend to run races, play catch, play football, fly paper aeroplanes or whatever all over the area.

So there they were, the neighbours, plus visitors, spread evenly over the whole garden, nicely spaced out. I had been planning to sit outside to read but somehow I did not feel I could butt in on a family gathering. And besides, who knew what germs they were carrying? A little later Phil also looked out of the window, planning to go out and cut the grass, which has grown considerably, but he also decided against asking everyone to break up their social gathering. (Yes, he cuts all the grass. We have been known to comment wryly when we return from a few weeks away that nobody has bothered to cut the grass. So it goes!)

Outdoor meetings may be becoming the norm. One of the neighbouring families has fairly regular grandchildren visits in their garden. My daughter-in-law told me about my son going off to a local park with his cans of beer to have a socially distanced drink and chat with his best friend. Lots of other pairs of people were there doing the same thing. Will benches - equipped with some kind of barrier to prevent people from sitting too close together - appear on streets and corners to enable people to meet and chat? A new way of life!

Later in the afternoon, unable to carry out our planned activities, Phil and I took ourselves off up Lark Hill, a local steep lane up to a vantage point for good views.

Later still, after our evening meal, we ventured forth again to enjoy the evening air. We did not see the space rocket that was supposedly going to be visible over the UK during the evening.

I do appreciate these long evenings, at least while the sun has been shining and the evenings remain fine. I cannot say that I feel the same about the early morning brightness. Being woken at about 4.30 to the sound of the raucous squawks of rooks and crows is not really to my liking.

On the radio news they have been discussing the tracking and tracing system which is supposed to be going live today. One of the employees was expressing her surprise that she only found out it was beginning today when she heard it on a news bulletin yesterday. That sounds efficient! Let’s hope it gets going properly.

As expected, there was some adverse reaction to Emily Maitlis’s Tuesday evening introduction to Newsnight, in which she stated in no uncertain terms that Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules and shocked the nation by doing so. The story was that she was removed from last night’s broadcast and replaced by another newswoman. This looked rather like a punishment of sorts but today Emily Maitlis herself has seemingly said that she chose to have a night off. Is she placating her bosses? Hmmm!

On the radio news I have just heard that police have said that if they had stopped Dominic Cummings when he was out and about in or on his way to Barnard Castle and if he had taken their advice to return to his place of residence, then they would have taken no further action. So they are taking no further action now, However, they say that he DID break the law, contrary to the government’s declaration that Mr Cummings’ actions were WITHIN the guidelines. Oops! It rumbles on!

As I have possibly mentioned already, right now we should be in Sicily. Last year on a similar cultural visit there we went round the Villa Romana del Casale, admiring the beautifully preserved mosaic floors. Now I have read about the discovery, or the uncovering perhaps, of a similar ancient Roman mosaic floor near Verona in mainland Italy. The site of the villa was discovered in 1922 but mostly left abandoned until digging began again last year. The coronavirus lockdown caused excavation to be suspended but now it has begun again. Exciting stuff?

There we go!

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Football. Contrasting Spain and the UK in the post lockdown. Criticising the Cummings story.

We all need football, it seems. La Liga has got going again in Spain and moves are ahead to see if they get things going again in the UK. Football teams are beginning to move from non-contact training to training that includes tackling and other bits of contact stuff. Off the pitch they still need to observe the social distancing rules. In France, however, some football fanatics have taken the law into their own hands:-

“Officials in Strasbourg have appealed for hundreds of spectators who attended an illegal football match at the weekend to be tested for Covid-19. The authorities fear a second wave of the pandemic in one of France’s worst-affected regions. They have called on the estimated 400 people who took part in or watched the game to go to a testing centre set up at the European parliament building where they will be screened anonymously and without an appointment. The match was played on Sunday between teams from two of the city’s districts – Neuhof and Hautepierre – in a local stadium in defiance of rules that limit public gatherings to a maximum of 10 people.”

And it wasn’t just Strasbourg:-

“A second football match was held on Tuesday evening in Grigny in the Île-de-France region, which is also red on the coronavirus map. Police said there were about 300 spectators but officers did not have the means to break up the game.”

I’ve just been talking to my Spanish sister. As it’s her birthday we did a video chat. My English sister, by the way, video chats my Spanish sister every day. This is a reduction from the first week of lockdown, when she video-called her about four times a day. So my Spanish sister and I both apologised to each other for being “bad sisters” and not calling so regularly. And then we both acted a little superior, complimenting each other on our ability to occupy our time so fully that we don’t feel the need to chat to each other daily.

Anyway, I spoke to my Spanish sister. She still hasn’t had her hair cut but she has had her small grandson stay overnight. The Spanish are a little ahead of us in stopping the lockdown and allow visits to friends and family. I don’t how they ensure social distancing in private homes but that is their problem, I suppose.

My sister has a ticket for an Eagles concert in London in August. She is wondering what is going on with that. On the Eagles website it seems that the UK concert is still flagged up as going ahead. Maybe they are waiting to see if the situation changes by August but I don’t really see a mass gathering at the London O2 Arena being permitted. My sister was surprised to hear that she would need to quarantine for two weeks if she flew to the UK at the moment. After all, Spain has cancelled that requirement. It’s another thing to which she needs to apply the wait-and-see policy.

We are similarly applying wait-and-see to the possibility of going to Vigo to sort out our rented flat there. Spain may well be accepting international flights from the start of July but will they accept flights from the UK? Will there be flights from the Northwest if England to the Northwest of Spain? And, just as important, will we be allowed to make non-essential flights to foreign countries?

Life is rather full of questions at the moment.

The Dominic Cummings question rumbles on. His wife’s account of the period of their coronavirus isolating is substantially different from his, according to this article.

And in one of those oddities of our social-media-obsessed society some of the bishops who criticised the government and said that Mr Cummings should resign or be sacked have been receiving death threats.

Emily Maitlis on BBC’s Newsnight had a rather fierce go at the government’s handling of the Dominic Cummings story. There has already been a twitter-tweet backlash apparently.  The BBC is supposed to be impartial. Really? Here is a sample.

“Julia Hartley-Brewer said: "I’m sorry but this is TOTALLY unacceptable from @maitlis, Newsnight and the BBC. The BBC is REQUIRED to be impartial. "This is a clear breach of their own rules. Commentators (including me) can give their own opinions, BBC presenters cannot."
Another tweeted: "This is pure propaganda. I was waiting for Maitlis to reveal which Opposition MP she was quoting but, no, all her own work, it seems."
A fourth Twitter user wrote: "Newsnight is now starting with a monologue telling you what you are supposed to think. We’re being forced to pay for a left-wing version of Fox News." “

Goodness me! Next thing we know there will be major ructions and the BBC will be denied access to daily briefings!

There we are.

It’s another Wednesday. I’ve been to the market again. The sun is still shining.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Garden furniture. Bikes. Further Cummings stories. Viruses and vaccines.

We have a garden bench which spends half the year indoors, taking up a bit of space in our fortunately quite large kitchen and occasionally causing people to bark their shins as they go past it. We could leave it outdoors all year but bringing it indoors mid-autumn reduces the need for serious maintenance. Anyway, finally yesterday we decided to move it out into the garden again. We really should have done so weeks ago as the weather has mostly been so kind to us. But we are where we are and yesterday’s sunshine pushed us into action. Consequently this morning, which was sunny and warm when I went for a run first thing, turned dull and cloudy. Perhaps it will improve again later.

At some point yesterday - well, at a few minutes past 2.00 in fact as I had just heard the news summary on the radio and was about to make a cup of tea - the electricity went off. Not just ours but for all the houses in our row and, as we discovered later when the electrical engineers turned up, for about half the village. So, with no cups of tea available, we did something else that we have been talking about for weeks: we gave the bikes an overhaul and went for a ride along the Donkey Line bridle path, to ensure that we still knew how to work the gears and such like. I am very much a fair weather cyclist. In fact we both are nowadays, although there was a time when Phil used to cycle to work in all kinds of weather. Consequently the bikes haven’t had as much use in recent years as they should have had as we have mostly been away in Spain during the best cycling months. This year will almost certainly be different.

Not long after we got back the electricity supply was restored. So we managed to get our cup of tea after all. I had been contemplating a cheese salad for tea as all our kitchen equipment is electrical. Somewhere in the shed is an old camping has stove from our camping holiday time but goodness only knows exactly where. Perhaps we should do a major shed sort out so that we can be prepared for future power cuts. We already have a vast supply of candles, bought, indeed stockpiled, who know how long ago at a time when winter power cuts were a regular thing. And to think that I have mocked people stockpiling loo-roll!!

There is a story doing the rounds about Dominic Cummings having foreseen the pandemic back in 2019 and having blogged about it. But then there is another story about his having added references to SARS and coronavirus to an earlier blog post some time in April and May of this year. Oh, dear!

Meanwhile jokes and satirical comments abound suggesting that people should go to Barnard Castle for eye tests.

Here is a link to an admittedly rather long article about the last man alive in an iron lung. Paul Alexander, now 74, was six when he caught polio in the early 1950s when it was endemic in the USA, just prior to there being a successful vaccine. His determination and indeed his whole life are an inspiration to anyone. I remember polio scares when I was a child. My mother would not let us go to the local open air swimming pool, the sea bathing lake in Southport, for fear it was a hotspot for that virus. And now, thanks to the vaccine, there are people who have no idea what polio is.

And right now we are struggling to find a vaccine for the current virus. And here’s a scary bit of reporting:

“Scientists have warned there could be major delays in producing a Covid-19 vaccine if current UK infection rates remain low and lengthy waiting times are needed to show if candidate products are working. As a result, some researchers insist that ministers must now consider implementing radical alternative measures to speed up vaccine development.

In particular, they argue that Britain should consider deliberately infecting volunteers involved in vaccine-testing projects – in line with World Health Organization proposals to set up such human challenge trials. Earlier this month, the WHO issued a 19-page set of guidelines on how these trials might operate.

However, other UK scientists have reacted with horror at the proposal to implement human challenge trials for a Covid-19 vaccine on the grounds that these could cause serious illness and possibly deaths of volunteers who had been deliberately infected with the virus.”

One way or another, we need to find a solution and then adapt our lives to the possibility of living with this virus as we live with influenza.

But, looking for silver linings, I was also reading this article about vulnerable youngsters who have actually benefitted from being in school in its odd form during lockdown. Being in small groups, receiving a lot more attention from teachers, having the normal curriculum altered to meet the unusual circumstances has been good for them. Maybe we need to rethink how our schools are organised altogether.

There we go. The sun has not come out again yet but it’s not raining so maybe another bike ride is in order this afternoon.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 25 May 2020

Things that are not happening. Ganging up to protest. Some silliness.

It’s a lovely sunny Bank Holiday Monday here in Saddleworth. In other years we would have had the Brass Band Contest last Friday, with bands from all over the place competing with each other. It’s quite ironic that in the year when the weather has been decent enough to make a proper outdoor spectacle of it the band contest had to be cancelled.

People would also have been going around this week hunting for scarecrows dressed up and placed in gardens and shop windows and doorways. That”s not happening this year either.

Messages have been flying to and fro between those of us from the Italian class who should have been meeting in Catania later today for a week in Sicily. I’m making do with sunny Saddleworth instead.

It might be a Bank Holiday but lots of places have been asking people to stay away this year. In the USA, however, they have just had their Memorial Day holiday, the start of summer apparently. This article shows people gathering to celebrate. And their president is playing golf and shaking hands with other golfers! He should think about what happened to a certain prime minister who insisted shaking hands was fine!

As regards breaking rules, even the church is critical of Mr Johnson’s support for Mr Cummings. I am afraid the headline about bishops turning on Boris Johnson created in my head an image of massed bishops physically setting about the prime minister, perhaps threatening him with their mitres!

Now, a really cool prime minister seems to be Jacinda Ahern. Not only has she seemingly dealt very well with the coronavirus crisis but she was filmed commenting unconcernedly “We seem to be having a bit of an earthquake” as she was about to be interviewed on television. You have to admire her sangfroid!

Now for some bits of nonsense!

I was reading about the benefits of bananas. Well, it makes a change from reading about how fattening they are! As well as providing you with various vitamins and roughage to keep you regular, there is this:-

If you’re having a banana a day that also means you’ll have a banana peel handy every day! Banana peels have great cosmetic benefits and can be used at home for teeth whitening, fading scars, reducing wrinkles and helping with acne. All you have to do is rub the banana peel on for a few minutes on a regular basis to see results- bananas are a 2-in-1 deal for your insides and your outsides!”

And so I think about rubbing banana peel over my face and then going around smelling of banana all day. No, it’s not going to happen!

And finally some odd bits of vocabulary, sent to me by a friend who appreciates words as much as I do:-

The way it smells after the rain is called “petrichor”.
The rumblings of your stomach is called a “wamble”.
The day after tomorrow is called “overmorrow”.
When you combine an exclamation mark with a question mark (!?) it is called an “interrobang”.
The armhole in clothes, where the sleeve is sewn in, is called the “armscye”.
And the dot over an “i” or a “j” is called a “tittle” - presumably giving rise to the expression “not one jot or tittle”.

There you go.

Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

(Dis)obeying the rules! Thinking about post-lockdown problems.

Well, the Dominic Cummings thing rumbles on and on. It now seems that he went not once, not twice but possibly three times to Durham during the lockdown. One commentator on the newspaper headlines on television last night was almost incoherent with rage. No, in fact she was extremely coherent in her total condemnation of Mr Cummings. If they finally decide that he must lose his job, how will all those high-ranking government people who have stood up for him feel about it? I suppose they could always deny that they ever said he did the right thing or that in fact they meant something else altogether!

It’s rather dull and gloomy here today, not so windy as yesterday but possibly with a bit more rain about. So it feels a bit odd to think about sitting outside and having a drink with friends. And yet, that is what I have been doing. An old friend and I have met for lunch at intervals at the pub next door for years and years now. That has not been possible lately. The landlord, who must have lost thousands of pounds worth of custom over the last two months, has been keeping a workman busy cleaning up and repainting the furniture in the Garden Terrace. He must be keeping his fingers crossed that we don’t get a second wave of the virus before he has had a bit of a chance to recoup his losses. And so I imagine my friend and me sitting outside, socially distancing across a table, having lunch outdoors. Something else will have to be arranged of course for the later months of the year when Garden Terrace life is really not a very practical option. 

Everyone is beginning to think of life-after-lockdown. This article looks at how Madrid and Barcelona are approaching opening up cafes and bars. For a lot of smaller bars, opening with 50% of their terraza tables available is not much of a relief from being closed. I have long wondered how they manage to make a living at the best of times, without their client base being so radically reduced. One problem is the difficulty of extending the terraza area without reducing the pavement area to such an extent that people cannot walk safely distanced from each other.

I think the pub next door to our house could extend his Garden Terrace into the car park area as he will be accepting a reduced number of customers. No doubt a solution will be found.

As well as thinking of pub lunches I am planning possible socially distanced walks with other friends and family members such as my brother in law - meet somewhere, walk along some of the out-of-the-way paths that Phil and I frequent because you meet few people there, maybe stop for a snack, which we would of course take with us - and then go our separate ways. Oh dear, am I succombing to Dominic Cummings syndrome?

But, as I said, plans are being made. People are looking for solutions. Yesterday as we made our way home from a fairly long walk we went through the carpark of a nearby housing estate and noticed that someone had set up a trailer as a mobile pizza-selling place. A little bit of enterprise!

There are suggestions that businesses could divide their workers into teams with Team A working Monday to Wednesday and Team B working Thursday to Saturday. This would reduce congestion of roads and public transport systems. It could help with childcare as well. But ... would people work longer hours on their in-work days or would they work from home on their at-home days? If not, would people still receive full pay? Those in manufacturing jobs could not work from home. So would some kind of universal top-up income be needed? So many questions.

Then there is the matter of public toilets. It has occurred to me more than once while I have been out and about that I would have a problem if I needed the loo as all the usual stopping places are all closed. Around here there are notices saying that certain pubs and cafes toilet facilities serve as “community toilets”. Not if the pubs and cafes are closed, they don’t! Ducking behind a bush is not really an option if you are walking alone with nobody to stand lookout for you!

But it really is a wider problem, especially if/when shopping centres contemplate reopening. It seems that the British Toilet Association's managing director Raymond Martin has been advising councils and companies on how to keep washrooms clean and safe amid a global pandemic. (No, I didn’t know such an association existed either!)

“In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Martin said potential solutions range from foot-operated flushes and self-closing seats to sensor-activated taps and soap dispensers.
However one of the most substantial proposed changes is the elimination of separate toilets for men and women.
Instead, one-way gender neutral facilities could see men and women queuing at one door and exiting on the other side with individual cubicles in between.”

Oh, boy!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Storms of one kind and another. Cranky beliefs. Language. Shopping.

For a while in the winter, quite a long while in fact, we seemed to have one named storm after another. At the moment we have strong winds and intermittent rain. The garden is strewn with bits of tree, not large branches but relatively large “twiggy” bits and lots of leaves, not to mention blossom of different kinds. Apparently it’s worse further north. Is this a storm? If so, does it merit a name?

A storm of another kind was going on for a while down south in Westminster. Dominic Cummings drove from London to Durham, where he has family, at the start of the lockdown. Looking back to scientist Neil Ferguson having been caught out having a lady visitor during lockdown and having to resign from the SAGE committee, lots of people started to declare that Dominic Cummings should also resign, or even be sacked.

But, no! That’s not happening. The storm has all been calmed down.

Downing Street has defended his decision to take his wife and four year old son to Durham while he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms, so that help would be on hand if needed. “His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally."

So convinced is Mr Cummings of having done the right things that he told the press, “ It's a question of doing the right thing. It's not about what you guys think."

I’m rather surprised nobody has said that it’s all about the welfare of a child!!

So he appears to have weaselled his way out of that! Not for nothing do the most frequently printed photos of this government advisor make him look very weaselly!! But now we know where he disappeared to when we didn’t see him for a while.

Now, here’s an article by Afua Hirsch about how Ghana and Senegal have dealt, apparently very successfully, with the virus. As she points out, nobody seems to have taken much notice of this.

According to the London Economic, a study by the University of Oxford shows that the Uk also has its share of cranks and loonies:-

 “Conspiracy theories
The study shows that over 45 per cent of the population believe, to some extent or other, that Coronavirus is a bioweapon developed by China to destroy the West. More than 19 per cent, at some level, believe that COVID-19 was created by Jews in order to collapse the economy for financial gain, and almost 20 per cent consider it a possibility that Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on Western values.”

There you go!

Here’s a bit of a break from virus stuff. A friend of mine drew my attention to the influence of Irish Gaelic on American English. In Irish Gaelic the expression “s lam é” means “it’s bleak”. From this we got the word “slums”, apparently because most of the residents of really poor areas of New York spoke Irish Gaelic.

Similarly, “gee willikins” (all right, nobody says it now but there it is) derives from “Dia Thailleachus”, which means “the will of God”. “Gee" is the approximate pronunciation of Dia, or the Irish word for God. "Holy cow" means Holy Cathú or Holy Cahoo or Holy Grief. "Darn" is another Gaelic exclamation. In Irish you say daithairne ort, which means, "darn on you" or "misfortune on you." Gee whiz comes from Dia Uas or Geeuh Woous which means "noble god."

If you want to gather people together you make a ballyhoo about the gathering, which in Irish is bailliú, and pronounced like ballyhoo. You might use a slogan in your ballyhoo to promote the gathering, as slogan comes from slua ghairm, the yell of a crowd or a battle-cry. Ballyhoo entered the language at the circus, where Irish people would use slogans to make ballyhoo about a new show everyone should come out and see.

Fascinating stuff! I listen to American English and see grammatical influences from other, mostly European languages. It”s no wonder it sometimes seems like a different language. Despite all these immigrant influences though there is still anti-immigrant feeling and even on occasion people being told that they don’t “look American”, whatever that means. I suppose it could be a reference to the First Nations but somehow I doubt it.

I ran around the village this morning, before the rain showers set in. I wanted to pick up a couple of things from the co-op. It’s the first time I have been in the store on a Saturday for a while. When I have called in during the week it has been very quiet but today there was a long queue to go in. Maybe the people still going to work are shopping in a Saturday. Maybe lots of people are still buying weekend papers. It was all well organised with a big notice in the doorway about restricted numbers of customers. However, I overheard one of the shop assistants talking about an occasion when she was the only person on duty and masses of people simply ignored the notice and barged in anyway!

Quarantine fatigue?

Phil and I are still being cautious. I won’t be shopping for a while and have just organised having our milk delivered to the house - just like the old days.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Coronavirus news over breakfast. Gloomy stories and some cheerful stuff.

We sit over breakfast most days and pick out bits of news from our iPads to comment on to each other, sometimes both selecting the same thing at the same time.

This morning we note that 1,200 California pastors say they will resume in-person services this month in defiance of Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of coronavirus. They have signed a “declaration of essentiality” (that’s a nice bit of legalese!!) that announces their plan to reopen on 31 May. “This letter was not sent for the purposes of asking for permission,” said their lawyer.

Once again I am amazed at the “essential” nature of praying together but a sneaky bit of me wonders if some of these pastors find it “essential” to meet so that they can continue to receive donations. Am I too cynical?

I am also amused by the fact that churches are grouped together with hairdressing salons and sporting events as businesses the governor of California says must not reopen yet.

Still on the other side of the world, I found this:-

“In San Luis Potosí, a city in central Mexico, some people believe the coronavirus is an invention by the government. They are sharing memes, videos and recordings with misinformation, in which people tell you that in the hospitals they drain the fluid from your knees and planes spray the city with the virus at night.”

And we thought it was just the North Americans who were crazy!

But in San Luis Potosí it’s difficult for people to stop working and self isolate. People are growing fatalistic. The prevailing attitude is: “The virus will strike who it strikes.” How sad! And some of those who do believe in the existence of the virus, and how lethal it is, have responded by attacking healthcare workers instead of staying at home and protecting themselves.

Mind you, we have seen instances of that here, with too many reports of people spitting on NHS workers and declaring that they have the virus. I fail to understand the mentality of people who do such things.

Maybe it’s a chaotic reaction to a chaotic situation. Not to mention the vagueness of guidelines and the sudden reversals of decisions.

There is this article about the lack of co-ordinated planning, or indeed any planning at all, for the return to school. According to the article the June 1st date has not been confirmed (?!), rather similar to the instruction for people to return to work on Monday 11th May which then changed to Wednesday 13th.

And last night on the television news I heard how tracking and tracing is working in Germany because they are doing it on a local rather than a national level. Have we perhaps opted to follow the wrong method again?

Which brings me to this article about the government simply being in disarray.

I am so glad not to have to go out to work any longer in the modern world! And then I feel a bit guilty for being in this rather smug situation.

That’s my gloomy bit over. Here are some more cheerful stories.

In Paris a certain Hugo Meunier is rescuing neglected plants which have suffered during France’s lockdown. His company, Merci Raymond, named after his father, is going round collecting half dead plants from offices as workplaces reopen. I am not sure how he makes money out of this. I suspect he makes his living out of bigger ecological projects for “greening cities”.

Then there is the story of “animal Zoom”. I had not heard of Zoom before lockdown came along. I have still not had occasion to use it but Phil has had chess committee meetings, our daughter has had union meetings, and at least one friend of mine is having Italian lesson, all via Zoom.

Lots of online interviews are undermined, or enhanced depending on your point of view, by a small child wandering in and asking the interviewee to play with them. Now there are people, like the owners of Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire, who are making a bit of extra money by allowing their goats to be included in Zoom calls. Apparently the goats have been to a Zoom rave in Berlin and a birthday party in New Zealand. £5 for a ten-minute appearance! Not bad!

And increasingly, it seems, a variety of animal breeds are being booked to join Zoom meetings, perhaps breaking the tedium by surprising everyone with a llama or a dog contributing to the discussion. “I’m on the phone all day and people are just in hysterics because they’ve sneaked a goat into the business meeting and the boss hasn’t noticed,” said the goat farmer. “It’s so ridiculous, it’s complete escapism. At the moment people just want something completely surreal so they can forget about everything else.”

As for me, I am just video calling members of the family. Our daughter has just about managed to persuade her head teacher that she can work almost entirely from home, via the computer, after all. As a still-breastfeeding mother she deserves a special level of care - another advantage of breastfeeding your baby. And I am working on organising socially-distanced walks with friends and relations, possibly establishing a new kind of social life provided the weather favours us.

Today is wild and windy. This did not stop me from running this morning and should not prevent me from persuading Phil out for a walk later today.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Weather. Quarantine fatigue. Cassandra-scientists. Being prepared.

The weathermen have forecast thunderstorms for today but there is no sign of stormy weather so far. Yesterday was crazily continental, with southern European sort of stuff going on. Washing hung out in the garden was bone dry in an hour, rather like hanging washing on the roof terrace of my Spanish sister’s block of flats in Andalucia.

While today is nothing like as hot as yesterday, the early morning cloud had shifted nicely by lunchtime.

Yesterday’s sunshine encouraged masses of people to head for the beach. Photos abounded of places like Bournemouth with the beaches packed out. It’s quite likely they were all socially distanced while on the beach but I bet there was fun getting on and off the sands. It’s probably going to continue in that vein.

“A combination of good weather, treacherous surf, an absence of lifeguards and the easing of travel restrictions in England is causing the RNLI and coastguard deep concern for this week and weekend.
Last weekend alone, coastguard rescue teams were called out 194 times in the UK to incidents including inflatables drifting offshore, crashed jetskis, people injured while out walking or cycling along the coast, paddle-boarders, kayakers, windsurfers and kitesurfers who were in difficulty as well as people cut off by the tide.”

Perhaps we just need to be patient. The culture secretary said yesterday that there are hopes of reviving the holiday industry in the UK by the start of July. “I would love to get the tourism sector up as quickly as we possibly can. We’ve set this very ambitious plan to try and get it up and running by the beginning of July,” he said. And Easyjet has announced plans to restart domestic flights in the near future. International flights will have to wait a little longer.

Although reports say that the majority of Britons are cautious about relaxing things too soon, the suggestion is that many are also suffering from “quarantine fatigue”. It’s not just here in the UK. This report by Arwa Mahdawi is from yesterday’s Guardian:-

“Coronavirus is officially cancelled: the US is bored of it, so it is over. That is what it feels like, anyway. In Wisconsin, bars are packed; Texas has reopened restaurants; and Mississippi and Louisiana are reopening their casinos. People in Georgia can get their nails done.
In New York, where I live, strict lockdown restrictions are still in place, but people are growing lax. The weather was beautiful over the weekend and the streets were full of people drinking takeout cocktails with friends. Beaches were crowded. Quarantine fatigue has set in.
That is not just my observation: researchers at the University of Maryland tracked phone location data and found that, over the past few weeks, people have started going out more. While all the polls say that Americans support stay-at-home orders, their actions tell another story.
Unfortunately, we have a good idea how this story ends: during the 1918 flu pandemic, many areas saw a deadly second wave of infections. Looking at the current scramble to return to normality, it seems highly possible that history will repeat itself.
It is a privilege to feel bored. Those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home owe it to the workers who are risking their lives every day to suck it up and stay put. Nevertheless, I don’t think there is anything to be gained in shaming those going out. We can’t expect people to stay home for ever, particularly those of us who live in small inner-city apartments with no gardens.
As the US magazine the Atlantic recently noted, “instead of an all-or-nothing approach to risk prevention”, we need clear guidelines on how to live safely in a pandemic. Instead of the UK’s vague messaging about “staying alert” (which is still better than the US’s lack of any federal governmental messaging), we need clear direction about what constitutes a high-risk activity and what constitutes a low-risk activity.
This is a marathon, not a sprint; if we are going to get through it, we need a more nuanced, more manageable approach to lockdown.”

Meanwhile, scientists and epidemiologists, the Cassandras of the modern age, are still giving us warnings of bad things still to come. The prospect of a second wave of coronavirus infection across Europe is no longer a distant theory, according to the director of the EU agency responsible for advising governments – including the UK – on disease control. “The question is when and how big, that is the question in my view,” said Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Who’d be a scientist or epidemiologist? Politicians can pick and choose which bits of the science they want to work with but these Cassandras have, as one report pit it, “emerged as the straight shooters of the crisis, sometimes to their detriment.”

Let’s hope, therefore, that our government is better prepared if or when a second wave strikes. This article  suggests that they might have been prepared for the wrong kind of pandemic - influenza rather than the pandemic we have been faced with. Such a conclusion doesn’t, however, excuse the running down of supplies of necessary through the austerity years! 

And here’s an article   which suggests that preparedness for tracking and tracing might not be going so well as our leaders would like us to think. Reading it, I was reminded of IT training sessions when I worked as a sixth from college lecturer. The person delivering the training might have known what it was all about but those at the receiving end ranged from those who understood fully, through those who got bits of it, to those like myself who got frustrated with the whole thing and had to go away and look up instructions for ourselves. I hope it works better in this more important case.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Planes. Ministerial waffle. Sunshine.

The oddness of seeing a plane fly over the house. And yet, according to this article some 1800 private planes landed in the UK during the lockdown. Who knew? And the occupants were not necessarily tested for the virus or quarantined. Truly, the mind boggles.

Lots of waffle from the prime minister about what went on in care homes. There’s a bit of a difference of opinion about how quickly steps were taken to protect care homes but the prime minister says we should pay tribute to the health staff, so that’s all right then. It is generally agreed that we need to get testing done more quickly. Well, yes, I would agree with that. And I have just heard the PM say that we are well en route to having a working track and trace system. We shall see. 

Today we should have been in sunny Sicily but instead we are in sunny Saddleworth. And today is very sunny and warm. I set off to walk to Uppermill market early this morning in a light jacket - a mistake! The jacket ended up in my bag after five minutes. Maybe we need more of this sunshine if we are all to stay in the UK for our holidays.

There is definitely more traffic on the roads today. And the plant-sellers have returned to the market in Uppermill. Large numbers of people were queueing to buy bedding plants. By midday the temperature was well into the twenties.

With the sunshine, there are concerns that it will be hard to ensure social distancing as people exercise their right to sunbathe. My brother-in-law sent us a story about a group of people having a baby shower in the open air, complete with about 30 children on a bouncing castle. They ran away when challenged by the police, but not before one was able to comment that as children are going back to school on June 1st they thought it was perfectly okay for them to go on a bouncing castle.

So some parents seem not to be terribly worried about the return to school. Here is a link to another article giving the scientific view of that return.

In this article about Porto coming out of lockdown it seems as though the Portuguese are not rushing back into open spaces. Or maybe it’s just Porto. It could be quite different in Lisbon, for example. Or maybe the Portuguese as a whole are very cautious.

I read that many couples have had their relationships tested by the lockdown. The writer Neil Gaiman decided to relieve the tension in his relationship and to give his wife space by flying from New Zealand to the Isle of Skye, where he has a second home. He has since apologised to the authorities in Skye for being so reckless. So that’s all right then! I just hope he didn’t bring any nasties with him. And could he not find anywhere in New Zealand to escape to? Or are things so dire with his wife that they needed to be almost a whole world apart?

I may need to go and sit in the garden at some point soon. So far my response to the sunshine has been to do a load of washing. On the menu today we have leftovers of various kinds and a substantial salad.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Face masks. Getting back to work safely. Preventive measures. Getting enough to eat.

I ran round the village this morning, donning my face mask to pop into the coop store for some milk. So far I have seen precisely NO people wearing a mask in the village, apart from me that is. The chemist’s has a big notice in the window, however, advertising that they now have face masks and hand sanitiser on sale. (Marks and Spencer, by the way, has been getting some stick for selling bottles of hand sanitiser for £11.50, when similar sized bottles are on sale for around £4 elsewhere. Accusations of profiteering and taking advantage have been flying around!) I wonder how many masks they will sell.

When I go to Uppermill I see more people wearing masks, although still not a huge number, but then, Uppermill is bigger, practically a small town rather than a village any longer. Both in our village and in Uppermill the shops are being very careful to limit the numbers of customers allowed in. I have no idea what the situation is on buses as I have not been on a bus since early in March. Buses are still running in our area. I see them trundling along, mostly empty by the looks of things but presumably some people are still having to get up and use public transport to go to work.

Unlike cafes in larger Uppermill, Edna’s Cafe, the little cafe cum craft shop cum artists’ studio in our village shows no sign of preparing to open anytime soon. Mind you, they closed about a week before lockdown due to bereavement. I never managed to find out who had died - was it the eponymous Edna or her husband? - or what that person had died of. So I no longer stop for a chat with Edna sunning herself on the little terrace, if you can call the bit of pavement commandeered continental-style by the cafe, or with her husband who has spent time in Spain and swops stories with me.

We spent about an hour on the phone last night discussing options with our daughter, who is about the come to the end of her maternity leave just as the thorny question of primary schools reopening is under much discussion. Nearby Bury, another of the boroughs of Greater Manchester, has decided to defy the government and keep schools closed, as has neighbouring Rochdale. I read that since they reopened last week as many as 50 schools in France have been forced to close again after cases or suspected cases of covid-19 have been found. But our council is going ahead with the reopening and our daughter has been devising ways to juggle the time she will have to be in school and the amount of working from home she can incorporate into her week with managing to keep her two smallest out of nursery. She is being very noble and wants to do her bit but she has also become very union-savvy and is doing her best to keep ensure that her working life is as safe as possible. She’s always been union-savvy -she is OUR daughter after all - but I get the impression some of her primary school teacher colleagues have had a fairly steep learning curve.

Another person having to deal with unions is Jacob Rees Mogg, who is doing his best to insist that all MPs return to the House of Commons and give up on virtual voting. He seems to think that they should lead by example in returning to work but the House of Commons can only hold about 50 socially distancing MPs, not a full House by any means. Last Wednesday, Rees-Mogg told the Commons that MPs could not “hide away” while other workers returned to work, raising concerns that the government simply wished to avoid any bad PR they might get for not being seen to be at work. Reports say that the unions will argue that the government is at risk of breaching their own guidance to employers, which states that “employers will need to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions”.

However some parliamentary veterans doubt Rees-Mogg is serious about a full return to parliament. They claim he is prepared to lose in a fight with the Speaker and the unions so ministers can blame them when questioned why MPs are allowed to work from home while others are told told return to work. “This is a canny move by Jacob, and it is probably done with the sanction of those close to No 10,” said one senior MP.

It would seem to be all about the politics!

Across the Atlantic Mr Trump is reported to be dosing himself with hydroxychloroquine, despite medical,and scientific advisors saying that there is no proof that it will prevent him from catching the virus. The US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed her concern: “He’s our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group ... morbidly obese, they say,” she said. But Mr Trump himself said: “I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years.” There you go!

Still in the USA, there is this story about culling poultry and animals such as pigs . It’s one of those strange anomalies that many families do not have enough to eat, many really suffering from hunger, but sources of food are being destroyed because of Covid-19 related slaughterhouse shutdowns. It’s a strange world!

On the subject of going hungry, I have read that our government has sneaked in a change to free school meals, meaning that from now on children aged 5 to 8 no longer have an automatic right to a free lunch. Another example of acting put of concern for children’s welfare I suppose!

Phil and I continue to eat well without problems, for which we are grateful. On the menu today is the chicken in tagine sauce dish which needs finishing off. No fancy dessert but there are blueberries. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 18 May 2020

Cancellations. Consequences. Changing symptoms. Criticism. Things coming to an end.

Monday has come round again. I’m not quite sure how that happened. According to a radio news report, today should have seen the opening of the Chelsea Flower Show, another even that is not happening this year. One of the odd consequences of the cancelling of all these events - the Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon, Glastonbury, a whole range of music and sporting events - having been cancelled is that there is likely to be a strawberry glut. Who knew that so many strawberries were sold at such events. English strawberries are the best in the world, naturally, and I am rather partial to strawberries. So I hope that the prices come down for us ordinary mortals, not Wimbledon fans or the like.

The government has just added loss of the sense of smell to the list of symptoms to look out for. As I hung washing on the line one of the neighbours told me that she had been suffering from chilblains, which she had heard was some kind of symptom. How odd! Her chilblains have disappeared and so she assumes that she is all right now. I have heard nothing to suggest that chilblains have anything to do with the virus crisis, but it is odd that she suffered from them when the weather was still warm rather than in the colder weather that followed. 

According to this article some people have been taking advantage of the ongoing chaos to go out shooting birds of prey. Why they would want to do so is a mystery to me. Red kites are among the species suffering. Whenever we visit our son in Buckinghamshire we admire the red kites that swoop elegantly and ride the thermals above his house. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to shoot them, but some people do such things just because they can.

Around here we suffer more from dog walkers who seem to have decided that lockdown has made it more acceptable than previously to festoon the area with pooh-bags. And this is despite the notices reminding them that there is no such thing as the pooh-fairy and that they should take their dog-pooh home with them.

Over in the USA (former) President Obama has been addressing graduating students and incidentally making some criticism of how his successor has been dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Mr Trump has been rather huffy about this but he remains confident of sorting things out. “So I think we had a great weekend. We did a lot of terrific meetings. Tremendous progress is being made on many fronts, including coming up with a cure for this horrible plague that has beset our country,” said Mr Trump on Sunday. “It was a working weekend, it was a good weekend. A lot of very good things have happened.”

It must be nice to be so confident.

Other things are sneaking their way into the news:- Brexit and the whole deal or no deal, extension or not question is back in the news. I feel quite nostalgic for a time when that was our main concern.

There is also the matter of what will happen to Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as this article makes clear. She is currently out of prison on a kind of parole at her parents’ home because of an outbreak of the virus in the prison where she was held, but she could be sent back to prison, perhaps indefinitely, at any time. We mustn’t forget the doubly locked down.

Back in September (at least I think it was September but it seems to have been going on so long it feels permanent) they began repairs to the drainage system along our road. The road was closed to through traffic and diversions appeared all over the place, We watched the works approach our house, give us a noisy interlude while they dug up the road immediately outside our house, and then move on, disappearing from our immediate view. Our stretch of road became remarkably quiet, even before lockdown reduced traffic everywhere. You can walk down the middle of the road with relative impunity. We grew used to the quiet and the cleaner air. It was supposed to take sixth months but it has been longer. It must have been considered essential work for it has continued throughout our house arrest period. And now it’s about to end. What kind of “normal” will be resumed over the next couple of weeks?

But then, life goes on.

Today on the menu we have mushrooms on toast, a fairly simple dish.

Stay safe and well, everyone.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Opening up the country - different places approaches. Cinema. Food.

Well, here we are, busily arguing about the speed of relaxing the lockdown. Tourist attractions all over the place are in a quandary: they want the tourist income but they don’t want the overcrowding and the risk that goes with it. Mostly they are saying they would rather wait a bit longer. Mr. Johnson wants us to be back to normality by July. Does this include tourism? Does this include Britons travelling out of the country? We shall see.

Meanwhile other countries are also thinking about it.

In an attempt to gradually reopen tourist venues, PM Edouard Philippe said France’s residents would be allowed to go on holiday from July, but only within the country. That’s probably not too much of a hardship as in France there is a long tradition of the majority spending holidays in France. In fact, for a long time the Germans and the British have been the greatest travellers for holiday purposes. It’s been changing in recent years but really you just need to look at how Mallorca, for example, caters so well for those two nationalities.

Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has said several times that Italians will be going on holiday this summer. Yesterday, the government approved a decree which will allow travel to and from abroad from June 3. Free travel within the country’s borders will also be permitted from the same day. An Italian friend of mine is spitting feathers as she feels that opening her country to foreign travellers too soon is a dangerous mistake. And this is despite her own real longing to get back to her beloved Sicily for the summer!

Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, warned at the end of April that the country would re-open to tourists only “when it’s in a position to guarantee tourists’ safety”. Everyone arriving in Spain from abroad since 15 May must undertake a two-week quarantine, with new arrivals allowed out only to buy food or medicine, seek medical attention, or on emergency grounds. The quarantine will remain in force while the state of emergency, declared on 14 March, endures – possibly until the end of June. So we’ll see what goes on there. We have a personal interest here as we really need to sort out our Vigo flat. Mind you, even if Spain were to let us in, would the UK government allow us to travel, especially those of us in the 70+ age group? Besides as we usually fly Liverpool to Porto, will there be buses from Porto to Vigo? Watch this space! It’s all we can do.

One country is ahead of the rest in plans to get its tourist industry up and running. Greece has emerged with one of the lowest infection rates and death tolls in Europe after enforcing radical lockdown measures early on. “If things go according to plan, we’ll be open by 1 July,” prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said last week. “Europe’s tourism pie is going to be much smaller, but this summer we want a bigger part of it.”

Meanwhile, the search for a vaccine goes on. Llamas appear in one of the the latest ideas. Apparently llama antibodies have been used in combatting Sars and so might be useful in the current situation. I suppose nothing should be ruled out, within reason that is. Witchcraft and exorcism are both a step too far!

We still hear a good deal about how all the isolation is bad for the nations’s mental health. Here is a writer putting the opposite point of view. And it may well be that there are people suffering from lack of solitude. Not everyone has the space to go and be by themselves for a while. In most middle-class families each child has his or her own bedroom which they can retreat to for a bit of “me-time”. But that’s not the case for everyone. I know what it’s like to share a bedroom with two sisters. You don’t have a space of your own. We used to wait until our brother went off to camp with the Boy Scouts and then take it in turns to have his bedroom. Maybe that’s why I have always appreciated a bit of solitude from time to time. It’s a funny mixed up world.

Now, here is something randomly different. In an article about appreciating the cinema, where famous people reminisced about their early experiences, I found this:-

“A spear flung from the back of the crowd stays dangling on the screen.

Tilda Swinton
A sheet hung on a tree in the middle of a village in Kitui County, Kenya, a cranky old western screened via an even crankier old projector and its generator, which was all driven round by two geezers from Nairobi in a loop from Somalia to Tanzania and up and over again every two years or so. An audience of hundreds, gathered from a distance of many miles. In the middle of the shoot-out in the saloon, a spear flung from the back of the crowd hits the baddie in the chest and stays dangling in the heart of the sheet right up to the final romantic clinch. Unforgettable. Magic cinema of dreams, you rock us everywhere and always – ad astra and back, ad infinitum and beyond.

Those were the days!

The weather is a bit dull today. Maybe it will put people off flocking to the beach and National Trust places. We are certainly not going far. I ran along the Donkey Line bridle path earlier, when the sun was actually shining. And Phil and I will probably go for a walk later, but that’s it.

On the menu today is a chicken dish with a Moroccan tagine sauce. Maybe a glass of red wine. Our daughter came to beg a bottle of red wine from us yesterday. She has bottles of white wine and prosecco, given to her as presents from time to time, which is ironic as she almost teetotal. Her partner wanted to cook a dish which required a generous splash of red wine. So she asked if we had a suitable bottle, not especially good, a cooking wine. Then followed a discussion as I explained that if you cook with wine you have use decent stuff. There really is no such thing as “cooking wine”. Not for culinary snobs anyway. She laughed as that was exactly what her partner had said to her. So she came a collected a bottle, which gave is a chance for her and the children to stand in the garden and chat - just a little bonus!

Life goes on! Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Lies. Loonies. Not rocking the boat.

Yesterday I had a bit of worry-rant in my blog. A final remark, someone has pointed out to me that public schools are not reopening until after the summer break. Maybe someone should suggest that they be the first to reopen ... on an experimental basis ... and see how it goes.

Anyway, today is another day. Here we go.

I find myself wondering if some members of our government live in a fantasy world when they come out with things like this, from Matt Hancock during the daily briefing:

“I want to tell you what we've been doing to protect people in care homes throughout the crisis. (From 2 March to 1 May 2020, there were 12,526 care home deaths involving coronavirus.)
Right from the start, it's been clear that this horrible virus affects older people most. So right from the start we've tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”

Or maybe they just manipulate the truth. I am reminded of some of my former students coming up with explanations about the (lack of) progress in their coursework!

How do they sleep at night?

Then, in the middle of all the other madness going on at present, we have the religious nuts. My friend Colin wrote in his blog yesterday about Somali imams who are saying that muslims are immune to the coronavirus. Well, today I read about American Christians. According to this article “Fifty-five per cent of American believers say they feel at least somewhat that God will protect them from being infected.
Evangelical Protestants are more likely than those of other religious backgrounds to say they believe that, with 43% saying so strongly and another 30% saying so somewhat, while Catholics and mainline Protestants are more closely split on feeling that way or not.”

There are a lot of believers in the USA, some 82% of the population apparently. I really don’t know what percentage of the UK population would declare themselves believers.

Anyway, it seems that about 2/3 of American believers think that with the virus God is telling humanity to change how we live.

Well, yes, I could go along with the need to change bit. I might not need a deity to tell me so.

The virus hasn’t changed people’s beliefs much, it seems, despite its having killed some 80,000 American citizens. 2% say they believe in God today, but did not before. Fewer than 1% say they do not believe in God today but did before.

(I wonder if the virus, and the government’s handingling of it, has prompted any to want change the way they vote - in both the ISA and the UK.)

It’s easy to poke a little fun at the beliefs of other countries. So what about the leader of the Catholic church here in the UK? Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, has apparently said that Catholic churches should be allowed to open sooner than Pentecostal churches and mosques. This is because catholic believers, he explained, are more likely to want to go in alone to pray.

That smacks to me a little of holier-than-thou. And surely, if your god is listening to you it shouldn’t matter if you speak to him from the church or from your home or from the bottom of your garden! 

Okay, enough of that.

The Health Service Journal on the 15 May 2020 reported that NHS staff in London have been warned by national regulators not take part in public protests asking for a payrise. It seems that there was an email about a “spontaneous” protest involving 10 protesters holding a banner which said ‘We saved Boris. Now give us a pay rise’. The gist of the message was that protesting at the current time could adversely affect public confidence.

It’s a bit more let’s-not-rock-the-boat stuff.

We finished yesterday with a nice evening walk, the sun having finally come out after a rather gloomy day.

Today’s forecast suggests that the current gloom might also give way to a bit of sunshine later.

On the menu yesterday was rainbow trout on a bed (as the best cookery writers say) of potatoes, onions and peppers, accompanied by a very nice glass of Albariño wine. Today is simpler: soup and leftovers and salad.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Growing disheartened about the political shenanigans around coronavirus.

I’ve just heard on the radio news that they expect London to be relatively clear of Covid-19 sooner than elsewhere in the UK. It’s certainly recovering faster than some other parts of the UK, such as the North East, and indeed the North West. According to this article it is still on the rise in Greater Manchester.

This difference in infection could perhaps lead to a decision to restrict travel from one part of the Uk to another. Other countries, such as Spain, have had this policy in place and are only now beginning to think of lifting the restriction. 

I also wondered if this difference, and especially the prospect of a virus-free capital, affects the decision to relax the lockdown. If your immediate work place is less affected, then you are more likely to say go ahead and open places up. Is Westminster really in touch with the rest of the country. 

However, the London area remains a dangerous place for those who have to travel to work.

Which brings me to two other items in the news which have particularly attached my attention: Transport for London’s situation and the reopening of schools question. We have family working on both those areas.

When we were talking to our son last week, he flagged up the probability, nay, the certainty, that Transport for London was running out of money and needed help from the government. Now comes the news that TfL is getting financial assistance but ...

“there will be substantial conditions attached. Which is odd, because EasyJet did not get any. Nor have any of the one million businesses now furloughing staff had conditions attached. And the bounce back and other loans seem to be remarkably condition free. And yet TfL gets them. TfL have also got to put up fares. That can simply be described as a tax increase on London to pay for coronavirus. And the bailout money is being provided as a loan, not a grant. So it will have to be repaid. Which means that there will be more fare rises in future for an event that was beyond anyone’s control and from which no one gained.”

This article, from which the quote above is taken, suggests that there is a political element to this. What a surprise! Is London being punished for having elected a Labour mayor?

Then there is the reopening of schools question. This is being portrayed as being all for the good of our children. On the radio just now someone from the Sutton Trust went on about our falling behind education-wise in competition with other countries, especially Germany who sent their children back to school a few weeks ago. But Germany is having to rethink its lifting of lockdown as virus cases have gone up again. Also, I am not sure that France, Spain and Italy plan on sending children back to school until September.

The Daily Mail brays that we must “Let our teachers be heroes”. The implication is that teachers are all longing to be back in school but the wicked unions are preventing them from doing so. As if the teachers and the unions were two different groups of people.

Clearly it is important to get the children back to school as soon as it’s safe and appropriate to do so – but is June 1st the right time?  

Is this a reasoned decision based on the science, or a political decision, mainly based on the pressure the government is under to get the economy moving again, with the useful side effect of creating a distraction by setting up the teachers’ unions as public enemy number one (knowing they would resist a premature return – see the headlines in Daily Mail for instance).  

Here are a few items Phil just collected for me:  

simon maginn Retweeted
Ash Sarkar @AyoCaesar  

We’ve got the highest official death toll in Europe, mass testing is still a mess, and contact tracing hasn’t yet been set up. Can someone explain to me why this is a good time for teachers to go back to work?

Kevin Courtney
#NEU NHS @cyclingkev  

The Daily Mail says we are standing in education workers way. NEU had 7.5k new members in last 3 days; 2.4k reps on a call yesterday & 100k response to a survey in 2 days.
Our members want to get back to wider opening. When it’s safe.
Our #FiveTests are responsible & sensible.

 “The Department for Education’s chief scientific adviser admitted he has not assessed whether guidance on reopening schools is effective, adding the current advice is “draft” and “will be developed”. Appearing in front of the Parliamentary science and technology committee today, Osama Rahman also admitted the DfE had done no modelling on the impact on transmission rates of starting to reopen schools after the May half term break.
During a hearing that left some MPs visibly bemused, Rahman also suggested the government guidance issued yesterday on safety is a “draft”, and will be reissued after further consultation with Public Health England.
He also said the decision to reopen schools was made by cabinet, not the DfE.”
Later it seems he’s been “nobbled”:.

 simon maginn Retweeted
Tom London @TomLondon6  
Phase ONE Coronavirus is no big deal  
Phase TWO It's a killer virus! It's a HUGE deal  
Phase THREE Only snowflake treacherous wimps wouldn't expose themselves and our kids to this virus.  

Nothing is as simple as it seems. I grow very downhearted but ...

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Fishing. Deliveries. Changes. Getting out and about.

The fishermen were out in force around the millpond this morning. Fishing is one of the sports which is now permitted. I am not sure that fishing is really a sport. It’s not terribly active, after all. And if it’s a competition between man and fish, the odds seem rather stacked against the fish, although often the fish are pretty good at dodging. But you don’t see many fishermen falling in the water, do you?

One thing I note is that fishermen don’t seem to need to listen to music or podcasts as they sit at the water’s edge, unlike the numbers of joggers and runners who seem to need their earbuds in so that they don’t get bored. Personally I like to let my thoughts roam as I run or as I walk if walking alone. Maybe it’s a generational thing but also maybe the fishermen are the last of the great thinkers.

Whatever may be the truth of that, the fact is that fishing is now allowed again - a part of the relaxation of restrictions.

Meanwhile I read that Germany’s infection rate has tripled and Mrs Merkel is going to bring back stricter measures. We should take note and learn from the experience of others. Be warned!

Deliverymen have taken to ringing the doorbell and running. Well, if not actually running, making it obvious that they are getting away as quickly as possible. This is how we ended up yesterday with a package for the house next door. There was no time to check the parcel was actually for us before the young man disappeared in a puff of smoke. Not that I looked at the address label in fact but just wiped it with a disinfectant wipe and opened it up, only to discover something we had definitely not ordered. That was the point at which I looked at the address label! Oops!

The family next door have always had a lot of stuff delivered. Maybe it’s the young people of the family, 22 and 24 years old, who order lots of stuff. Our eldest granddaughter also orders lots of stuff. Where I might think about looking out for an item the next time I went shopping, she just orders immediately whatever she feels a need to acquire. It’s another generational thing.

And yet now we are all becoming online shoppers, for things it would never previously have occurred to me to purchase that way. I have just stocked up on vitamins from the healthfood store Holland and Barrett, whereas normally/previously I would pop into Boots. And I am seriously considering ordering skin care products online from Boots, as well as shower gel and the like from The Bodyshop. If this is what the future holds, I will miss wandering round the shops looking for stuff, maybe being tempted to try something new.

I hear that Michael O’Leary is planning to restart Ryanair flights from July Ist. I don’t know where he plans to fly to as so many countries are putting people arriving straight into 2 weeks quarantine. That could make a two week holiday in the sun into a six week affair: travel to your holiday destination, quarantine two weeks, have your holiday in the sun, swimming and messing about on the beach, visiting interesting places, and then flying home to two weeks quarantine in the UK.

Of course, by July things may have changed again!

However, I don’t think we personally are going very far. Fortunately spring has been kind to us this year and we have fine places to walk to. When we moved into this house, more years ago than I care to remember, our children were aged 8 and 6. Walking around the area, the children and I discovered what quickly became known as “the secret path”, a path off the main road to nearby Dobcross, taking us through a wooded area clearly not very often visited. The path is a bit more established now, with proper steps in steep places, and Phil and I have walked it frequently over the last few weeks, admiring the progress of the bluebells. Here are some photos.

We could well go back there today as the sun is shning nicely once more.On the menu today we have spicy potato wedges and stuffed tomatoes.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

On getting back to normal,

Having walked to Uppermill to go to the market, as I usually do on a Wednesday, I notice some people’s determined efforts to “return to normal”. These are mostly small cafes, it seems. The “Vintage Cupcake Kitchen” now has a sign declaring that they are open for business Friday to Sunday at limited times and for take-away only. I hope enough customers are desperate for vintage cupcake to make it worth their while. The small cafe that calls itself “The Secret Garden” was cleaning up, looking for all the world as though they were planning to open. Now, they have an external area with separate “pods”, kind of plastic bubble cabins, where presumably customers could socially distance themselves. And another cafe, one that used to belong to the Java chain but has now changed its name, was also busy sprucing up. Are they allowed to open now? Are they planning a busy weekend?

The shops and market stalls I wanted to go to were all still maintaining socially distanced queues - all good. I did overhear conversations between stall-holders about how much busier the roads have been already. In city centres public transport is reported to be getting relatively crowded again! I think I’ll stick to going to places I can reach by walking.

In the spirit of “getting back to normal”, here is some non-coronavirus related stuff. Pearl Lowe was the vocalist of the indie bands Powder and Lodger and part of the “Primrose Hill set”, alongside Kate Moss, Jude Law and Sadie Frost. I can’t say I’ve heard of her but I think that’s a generational thing. Anyway, she has also been a fashion designer. Here’s something she said:

“I’ve always been very much my own person. Everyone I knew in the 90s was so thin and I’m not. Skinny jeans don’t suit me because I’ve got hips and a bum. Attitudes to body image weren’t so accepting when I was younger but I love voluptuous girls. When I’m casting models for my range I’m like: ‘Hang on, I don’t want a size four – have you got any … 12s?’”

Since when has a size 12 been voluptuous? I hover between a size 10 and a size 12 and if I were as tall as most models, I would be pretty skinny.

Then there is Twiggy, who says: “I don’t think the high fashion industry will ever go completely away from slimness but I think other parts of the industry have started to use different shapes and sizes, and I think they should.” Her range for M&S, she points out, went from a size eight to a 22.

Okay, that’s the fashion bit. Now for some other stuff.

Here is a section of a report about Mike Pompeo:

 “The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has arrived in Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic to discuss US-backed plans to annex large parts of the Palestinian territories. The single-stop visit – Pompeo’s first in nearly two months – will last just a few hours, with a small US team afforded exemptions from strict Israeli coronavirus restrictions that require any arrivals to self-isolate for two weeks. Pompeo stepped off the plane wearing a striped face mask in the colours of the US flag. He will travel to Jerusalem to speak with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz, the former head of the opposition who will soon join Netanyahu in a unity government.”

Some things don’t stop for Coronavirus. But how about this from the USA, where some Republican states are seeing a sudden increase in Coronavirus cases?

“The geographical spread of new hotspots suggest that the virus is advancing quickly outside major coastal towns and cities such as New York, Newark and Seattle where infection rates are now plateauing or dipping. Many of the new emerging hotspots, both rural and urban, are in states where governors refused to issue stay-at-home orders, or are following Trump’s advice to relax lockdown restrictions despite public health warnings about the dangers of doing so too soon.”

Mr Trump says the crisis in dying down in the States and yet he appears to be putting his fanbase at risk!!

We are getting more than a little anxious about our daughter, who is going through major anxiety herself, because of the decision that primary schools should reopen on June 1st. Teachers’ unions and a large number of head teachers have protested about this but our daughter’s head wants all his teachers back in school. Here are a couple of extracts from this rather disturbing report from the TES:

“Government guidance on reopening schools says that most staff will not need personal protective equipment (PPE), and admits that social distancing cannot be maintained with the youngest pupils who could return to school on 1 June.
"The majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of two metres from others," the guidance says.”

"We know that, unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain two metres apart from each other and staff. In deciding to bring more children back to early years and schools, we are taking this into account," the Department for Education document says.
Because of this lack of social distancing schools should "work through"  a "hierarchy of measures":

* Avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms.
* Frequent hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices.
* Regular cleaning of settings.
* Minimising contact and mixing.

"It is still important to reduce contact between people as much as possible, and we can achieve that and reduce transmission risk by ensuring children, young people and staff, where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group and that small group stays away from other
Well, I can think of all sorts of ways that won’t work. You keep one small group away from another in school but how do you prevent them from mingling as they make their way to and from school, especially if they live, for example, in the same street? Even if they don’t mingle on the way to and from school, those children will go home to a household where maybe the parents have had to go to work, maybe bringing home another load of germs!!

We are hoping for a reversal of the decision to reopen schools.

 Mind you, today Mr Rees Mogg, in his wisdom, has said that MPs should prepare to get back to the Houses of Parliament in person. MPs should “lead by example”, he said. Remote voting on bills and the like will be extended until May 20th but by the beginning of June voting should revert to the old pattern. Doesn’t that involve MPs filing through doors on the different sides of the House. Well, that will need a bit of social distance policing! The madness continues!

Today I have had a request to put baked beans on the menu. That’s nice and easy.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!