Tuesday, 30 June 2020

100 days. Raves. Whacking moles. Speeches. Protests.

It’s 100 days since we went into lockdown. So the radio news tells me.

We certainly live in odd times. “Across the country, young people are ignoring lockdown, strapping on bumbags and making for woods and fields. With the coronavirus pandemic having closed bars and clubs and cancelled or postponed festivals, raves are sweeping the UK, just as they did during the “second summer of love” in 1988, when acid house swept the country and ecstasy and bucket hats were everywhere.”

So kids just want to have fun!

And can we blame them when it seems so much that much of the coronavirus crisis is trivialised by our leader. From boasting about shaking hands with hospital patients right at the beginning of the problem, to doing press-ups, to comparing to the matter of re-installing lockdown in areas with local spikes to a game of Whack-a-Mole It seems as though the whole thing is not taken seriously. And it may well be his style but personally I find it a bit offensive.

On the radio news at lunchtime today the newsreader referred to Leicester as the “first mole to be whacked”. I bet the people of Leicester are not happy to be a mole. But until first thing this morning they did not really know what the rules were for their extended lockdown. There seem to be odd standards about delays: children can’t go back to school until we know it’s safe (which I totally agree with) but even though they apparently knew Leicester was having a spike two weeks ago they couldn’t decide to extend the lockdown until they knew it was absolutely necessary!

I have wondered lately how it would have been if this pandemic had occurred 20 years ago before everyone had mobile phones and the technology for a lot of people to work from home and for Zoom meetings to take place. So much of the lockdown would have been so much harder: harder to cope with on an individual level and harder to police on a national level.

But Mr Johnson tells us he is going to build us back to health - economic health anyway - in another speech full of sound bites: Build back better. Build back greener. Build back faster.

It seems he is claiming his ambitions to rebuild Britain echo the achievements of Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR), who carried out a wholesale reconstruction of the US economy in the wake of the Great Depression and is remembered for large-scale projects such as the Hoover Dam.

Here are some of his words:

“It sounds positively Rooseveltian. It sounds like a New Deal. All I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand. A government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis.”

It’s strange! I always thought that flattering comparisons with politicians from the past were supposed to be made by other people, not in your own speech.

You have to be careful about saying things against our PM. Here’s the story of a woman who regularly wore a t-shirt emblazoned with “F**k Boris” to demonstrations. Returning from a Black Lives Matter demonstration, she was stopped by transport police and told to fasten her jacket to hide her t-shirt because it displayed an obscene word that could cause alarm or distress. You could not make such things up!

The rain goes on. Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 29 June 2020

Deliveries. Weather. Gardens. Invading fauna. And little bits of coronavirus news.

Well, we have a new washing machine, finally. After the initial delivery fiasco of a couple of weeks ago when the company sent just one delivery man who declared single person delivery impossible to our house, we were hoping for some efficiency this morning. Delivery was scheduled for between 9.00 and 1.00 but in fact they phoned at about 8.30 to tell us to expect them within the half hour.

They arrived promptly and my heart sank as I heard them muttering about the weather, the rain, the wet grass in the sloping side garden and possibly having to wait for a dry day to avoid possible slipping. And this after I had gone out yesterday and scrubbed the steps leading down from the side garden to the back garden, removing any of the sticky residue that collects from the overhanging tree. If they had to wait for a dry day we could be another week without a washing machine. We have had enough bags if washing trundling to and fro between our house and our daughter’s house over the last few weeks to keep us all satisfied for a while!

Fortunately they were able to transport the machine down the alleyway between our semi-detached and the next one, a firmer and relatively drier surface than the grassy path of our side garden.

My next fear was that it would prove to be too bulky with its packaging to go through the back door, which is stiff to open at the best of times. But all was well. The machine was eased into the kitchen, taking up an inordinate amount of space, and the old, dead machine was taken away. A binbag full of cardboard, plastic and expanded polystyrene later, all we needed to do was install the beast, following complicated instructions, give the thing a test drive and finally, maybe, catch up on some of the accumulated washing. Now all I need to is work out how the wash programme work!

Today is not an ideal washing day, however, as we have had slow drizzle all morning so far. It’s not even forecast to clear up later. On the whole I think I would have preferred one big thunderstorm and a good downpour, which is what we were promised! So it goes!

I don’t think I will be heading to my granddaughter’s house to do any gardening today. It will keep. My own garden is looking rather drab at the moment. The poor rose bushes will have been drowned once again by this continual drizzle but the ferns and the pampas grass have gone wild! The across the road neighbour’s garden puts mine to shame. He has large pots of exotic and brightly coloured lilies all over the place at the moment, a riot of yellows and oranges. I hope they withstand the onslaught of rain and wind.

Mind you, he spends a good deal more time titivating his garden than I do mine, so it always looks very good. At Christmas time he decorates the garden with baubles and fairy lights. My small southern-based granddaughter, who occupies the front bedroom when she comes to stay, says that he must do that simply because he knows there is a little girl who likes to look out at his Christmas finery.

Oh! The joy of being six years old and believing the world revolves around you!

One of the motivators for working on my granddaughter’s garden has been the fact that she saw rats in the tangled undergrowth of brambles and nettles creating a veritable jungle there. So we set out to remove their possible habitat. If nothing else, we may have frightened them away from that immediate area while we were busy but at quiet times she has seen them come and blatantly cross her garden, bold as you like, to eat seeds that have fallen from the bird-feeder. Then today I came across this article about the increased boldness of rats in this time of coronavirus. The closing of restaurants, fast food outlets and pubs and the consequent reduction in waste matter outside their premises has caused rats to seek alternative food sources. The situation is not helped by the old lady at the end of the row putting cat-food out in her open porch for local stray cats. We have had to speak to her care workers about that! Best intentions and all that sort of thing ....

Some places have increased presence of pleasanter wildlife: goats and deer are quite picturesque no doubt, although I should imagine that wild boar and wolves are a little threatening. Mostly what we have seen in our garden has been an increased variety of birdlife.

Out in the coronavirus world, there is discussion about Leicester is extending lockdown - the government and the local council have differing views about its hotspot status apparently.

The EU is discussing how much aid each member country should get from the Covid-19 fund.

And Boris Johnson has been doing press-ups for the press to prove how well he has recovered from Coronavirus. It’s not really his ability to do press-ups that bothers me.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Trump’s music. Travel plans. Going back to work in cities. Babies.

His country might be battling (and seemingly not very well) the virus but Mr Trump needs to keep on campaigning. Politics trumps (excuse the pun) public health concerns in most countries apparently. The latest bit of a problem on the campaigning front comes from Rolling Stones who have objected, not for the first time either, to their song “You can’t always get what you want” being used at a Trump rally. Another cease and desist order has been issued or maybe they plan to sue him. We shall see. So that’s Tom Petty’s family putting a cease and desist order in place recently and way back in 1918 Neil Young objecting to one of his songs being similarly used. It must be hard for a campaigning politician when the best songs belong to musicians who oppose you and despite all your wealth you can’t always get what you want!

Here in the UK the Channel Tunnel reports record bookings as travel to and from parts of mainland Europe is about to open up. Maybe a mobile home and going through the tunnel might be the safest bet for the immediate future if you need to travel. You wouldn’t even need to get out of your vehicle during the crossing. By contrast, a friend of mine who in recent years has travelled regularly between Manchester and Hamburg to visit her aged mother posted this:-

"Covid-19: What's the most risky?

"The common denominator is being indoors, being crowded, being there for prolonged periods of time, noisy environments where people are coughing and shouting, and so there’s more droplet transmission." (Sir Mark Walport, the former government chief scientific adviser)

I think this is a good summary of what's the most risky in terms of catching covid-19 and I'll bear that in mind:

indoors - crowded - prolonged - noisy

The sad thing for me is, for instance, that once flights have resumed, airports will meet all 4 criteria.” 

She’s not planning to fly just yet!

In general people are not rushing back into city centre either according to some reports:-

“New analysis of early June mobile phone data by the Centre for Cities thinktank shows footfall in London, Liverpool and Manchester was just one fifth of what it was before the country went into lockdown in March. Cities in Scotland and Wales, where tougher restrictions are in place, have been the hardest hit: Cardiff has experienced only 12% of its usual footfall and Edinburgh only 14%.”
Many of those who can do so are happier to continue working from home. The whole social dynamics of cities will change. So suburban shops and cafes will see and increase in business but city centre cafes and restaurants will lose the lunchtime trade from busy city centre office workers and the passing trade of all the commuters who pick up, or rather USED to pick up, a snack to eat during their commute.

While lockdown has been going on quite a few of my former students, those from the very last cohort before I retired, now hitting the grand old age of 30, have been having babies. Putting aside the oddness and the possible anxiety of bringing a child into the world in the middle of a crisis, lockdown has provided these young families with the opportunity for the young fathers of these babies to spend far longer with their new offspring than they might otherwise have done, even with paternity leave. Most have been really happy to do so. A little bit of serendipity and the prompt to start thinking about clouds and silver linings!

On the subject of babies, yesterday I read this article about experiments in “growing” lambs in artificial wombs rather than inside sheep. Sheep were chosen for the experiment for the offspring being closest in size to human babies, among other factors. All the signs point to a successful development, one that could allow seriously premature babies to continue gestating in an artificial external womb rather than taking their chances of survival in neonatal intensive care units. Many or indeed most of the problems of these babies could be eliminated. In science fiction fashion it could become a normal alternative to carrying a child in the womb for nine months, solving problems of infertility, difficult birth and postnatal depression. What it didn’t mention was the question of bonding. Many pregnant women (the fortunate ones), and some expectant fathers, establish a close bond with their child well before birth just because the ”bump” is always with them. And because all the movements of the developing foetus can be felt by the mother. Would the same be true of a baby growing in a sort of bag or tank, even though the parents could see the development progressing?

That’s an interesting possible “new normal”!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Out and about in the rain. USA nonsense. Public toilets. Labour Party stuff.

Today has been one of those days when the weather cannot decide what to do. First thing this morning I ran round the village in reasonably fine weather. By the time I had showered and dressed it was pouring with rain, real bounce-off-the-road stuff. Later again it brightened up, the sun came out and the sky went back to being blue. As I had decided to take the risk and cycle over to check up on my granddaughter and the progress of her garden, naturally it started to rain again. So I waited for a lull in the rain. It was clearly going to be one of those days. I did cycle over. And I did get rained on but not all the time.

In the USA they seem to be continuing to pull down statues, as if having seen the example of Bristol and other places in the UK they have jumped on that bandwagon. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the meantime, says statues in Canterbury cathedral and Westminster Abbey need careful examination to see which need to be removed or renamed. There’s a lot of bandwagon jumping going on.

Here’s a bit of the madness that is the USA:-

 * Vice-president Mike Pence touted the country’s “tremendous progress” against coronavirus, as the US set a single-day record for new infections.
 * Pence declined to offer a federal recommendation on mask usage, instead referring Americans to their state and local officials.
 * Florida and Texas are clamping down on bars as they grapple with the surge in cases. The governor of Texas announced it was shutting down bars, and Florida will no longer allow alcohol sales at bars in order to limit the spread of coronavirus.
 * The Minneapolis city council has unanimously approved a proposal to change the city charter to allow the police department to be dismantled.
 * San Francisco has paused its reopening following a surge in cases in California.
 * Trump signed an executive order “protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues - and combatting recent Criminal Violence”.
 * Most US residents will likely be blocked from traveling to the European Union when travel restarts, due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus.
 * The US attorney general, William Barr, has announced the formation of a task force on “violent anti-government extremists”, which he said includes “Antifa”.

When everything kicked off at Bournemouth beach the other day, one of the things Priti Patel commented on, with justified disgust, was the number of people who couldn’t be bothered to stand in a queue for public toilets - which were open by the way - but simply went and squatted down behind the toilet block. The mind boggles! Here is a link to a little article about public toilets in the UK https://www.theguardian.com/society/public-sector-cuts

And here is an article about how the Labour Party leader appears to have got nasty with Rebecca Long Bailey. Oh, for an opposition party that was loyal to all its members! And allowed a bit of free speech!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 26 June 2020

Sunshine or showers? Going to the beach ... or not? Following the guidelines.

When I went out running first thing it looked as though the weather was about to break. It was very cloudy and dull but in fact still rather warm, not to say muggy. Not long after I got back from my run it rained, quite a heavy downpour, but now the sun has come out and we have quite an expanse of blue sky. Not the wall to wall blue of yesterday but enough to give us quite a bright day. Thunderstorms are forecast for later. We shall see.

Maybe a good storm will put off the beachgoers. I can almost understand the impulse to head for the beach but I cannot understand the will to stay there when you just about have room for your sun umbrella and all you can really do is sit and look at all the other people sitting under their sun umbrellas going, “Phew! Isn’t it hot!” Even the sea looked crowded in the footage we saw on television news. No wonder some sensible people turned back and went home.

And then there is the fighting! Three people were stabbed in an incident on Bournemouth beach. Who goes to the beach equipped for fighting? It beggars belief! And street parties! There was Brixton a couple of days ago and then Notting Hill last night. Police who went to break things up were attacked. Where did the urge for street parties come from though? I am pretty sure we had no such things before lockdown, except for special occasions like the Queen’s Jubilee. Listening to the reports, however, these are not street parties proper involving the whole of a community but a bunch of individuals deciding to have a crowd of friends round and setting up music and dancing and drinking on the street, upsetting the neighbours.

The Great British Public, praised for the ability to follow instructions during the lockdown, have just gone a little crazy! It’s rather as though the genie has been let out of the bottle and it’s going to be hard to put it back in if it should turn out to be necessary to do so.

Reporting maybe does not help. When it became clear that Liverpool were about to become champions last night, TV news reporters reported happily, almost joyfully that Liverpool supporters were gathering outside the Anfield football stadium to celebrate. They kept it going all night. Fortunately the fans were not violent but neither was there much evidence of social distancing!

Meanwhile outdoor pools and lidos, where numbers could be restricted ore easily than on beaches, remain closed. Going to an outdoor pool, could be a nice, more manageable alternative to the beach.

I have just heard on the radio our Prime Minister deploring people’s new tendency to disregard the guidelines on social distancing. Quite so!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Sunny weather reponses. Socially distanced visits. Nostalgia walks, and relaxation concerns.

What do you do when the weather picks up? You rush to the seaside and overwhelm the local facilities - Bournemouth yesterday and presumably other places today.

The neighbours had a barbecue in the garden.

We just had our daughter and her two smallest children do a socially distanced visit in the garden. We are still very careful about relaxing our lockdown too much but it’s nice to see the little ones play. 

Today we had another socially distanced visit, this time from my brother-in-law. We had been planning this for weeks but every time we came up with a tentative date the weather changed and it really wasn’t fit to sit in the garden and talk. For years we have gone for longish walks together when he comes to visit: up the hill to Dobcross, down the hill to Diggle, fish and chips from Diggle chippy, to be eaten by the duckpond, and then a return via the canal towpaths and the Donkey Line bridle path. So we checked that the chippy was open - Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 11.30 to 1.30 and 4.00 to 7.30 - a one in, one out customer policy and as we discovered a system of p,acing your order and paying at the front door and collecting your order at the back door.

So off we went on a nostalgia trip on one of the hottest days we have had for a while.

Knowing that my coeliac brother-in-law was visiting, yesterday I tried to buy gluten free biscuits from the cheese and biscuit stall at the Uppermill market. No joy but she did have gluten free and wheat free flour. And so I found myself making my own gluten free cakes, which worked quite well. 

Out in the wider world, I see Rebecca Long Bailey has been sacked from the shadow cabinet, ostensibly for something anti-semitic but possibly because she has argued that schools should not yet be opened up until we know it’s safe!

And workers in meat packing factories are having coronavirus spikes. Germany and Anglesey.

Israel has seen a surge of cases since relaxing the lockdown.

And journalist Giles Tremlett worries about British tourists taking more coronavirus back to Spain.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

No more briefings! Opinions on relaxing! Pubs! And heatwaves!

Well, it seems the Prime Minister has put a stop to daily Coronavirus briefings. Does this mean that they think it’s all over? That we can all get back to normal but remember to be vigilant? The scientists appear to disagree somewhat and there are calls for checks to be made to ensure that the country is ready in the event of a second wave, which they seem to think is quite likely.

I suppose we couldn’t realistically wait until we are ABSOLUTELY sure that it is safe to relax things and get the economy going again. We might be waiting a long long time. It’s a little like waiting to cross a busy road. If you wait until there is ABSOLUTELY no traffic whatsoever you might never cross the road and so you set off while there is still some traffic rumbling along but no huge lorry about to take your legs from under you. The trouble is that we are still not really sure whether or not there is a huge lorry just round the bend that we can’t yet see.

I mentioned that the pub next door to us appears to be quite well prepared for the grand reopening. Well, yesterday afternoon I was almost convinced that they had preempted the government decision and gone ahead with the reopening anyway. There were definite sounds of ribaldry and carousing from one corner of the newly-converted carpark-now-beer garden. And I swear I heard people singing “Happy Birthday to You” at one point. Maybe the staff were practising and maybe it really was someone’s birthday. Since the trees are in full leaf and since they constructed so many pergola-style shelters in the pub’s grounds it was impossible to actually see what was going on. I could have walked down the road a bit and looked over the wall, I suppose, but that was a little too nosy-neighbour-interfering-busybody even for me. Besides, it was hardly an illegal rave, whatever was going on!

I wonder what will happen when pubs do reopen. The headlines in the papers about regaining freedom to go to the pub, celebrating the 4th of July, labelling it Super Saturday all seem like marketing, calculated to send people rushing en masse to pub. Goodness knows how it can all be controlled in an orderly fashion.

But that’s really not my problem. We are fortunate to live in a reasonably rural setting. I would not like to live close to town centre pub when they reopen.

Since the lockdown eased just enough to increase the traffic flow around here we have noticed a reduction in birdsong. Even on the bridle paths, far enough from the main road to give some sense of isolation but close enough for some traffic still to be heard, there is less variety than there was only a few weeks ago.

The promised heatwave has arrived. Yesterday I went out into the garden and was quite dismayed to see what looked like a dead blackbird lying spreadeagled on the grass. As I went to take a look he moved his head. Oh, I thought, the poor thing must be injured. So I took another couple of steps, unsure what I could do to help as I am very squeamish around possibly injured wildlife. And then he righted himself and flew off. Later in the day he came back to the same spot and settled down to what looked for all the world like a bit of sunbathing. Basking blackbirds! Whatever next!

Today it was already hot at 9.00 when I set off to walk to Uppermill market. I was glad of the shade along the Donkey Line bridle path on my way home.

Uppermill and the market were moderately busy, not quite pre-lockdown busy but closer to normality than I have seen so far. There are still not many face masks in evidence but people are careful to observe the distances? Shops and market stall have long straggly queues trailing off along the street. The fine weather helps. I see the buses running empty exceptvfor a few passengers, all sporting their masks. At least we don’t have a rebellion against them. I read about states in the USA where people have protested against wearing masks because being made to wear them is the first step towards “tyranny and communism”. Oh, boy!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone?

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Planes ... and banners. Opening the pubs. Water. Art work.

Airlines are tentatively opening up their services although some of us are reluctant to try out air travel just yet. But planes have featured in news items we have come across.

As Manchester City and Burnley prepared to play a match last night the players took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter protests. And then a small plane flew over the Etihad Stadium trailing a banner which read “White lives matter Burnley”. Someone must have some spare money to make that possible. The leader of Burnley Council has made public statements deploring the banner and declaring that Burnley Council does not support the sentiment expressed.

Trans World Airlines bedeck the tails of their planes with the letters TWA. Phil found a picture someone had tweeted of the tail of on such plane with the caption, “the repainting of Boris Johnson’s plane is almost complete”. I leave that to your imagination.

Mr Johnson assures us that it is now safe to ease the lockdown. From the 4th of July the social distancing rule will be changed. Where possible we should still remain 2 metres apart but where this is not possible we should keep 1 metre + apart. The + apparently indicates taking care to make conditions as safe as possible, presumably wearing a face mask and so on. We’ll see how that goes.

When Mr Johnson announced the reopening of pubs and restaurants, albeit with restrictions, a cry of Halleluyah went up from MPs! Some people have clearly been missing their pint.

I noticed the pub next door to us seemingly taking delivery of beer this morning. They are getting prepared.

Some places where restrictions have been lifted have seen local spikes in cases of the virus. In Texas they are not letting this make them close down. Even the wearing of masks in advisory rather than mandatory. We’ll see how that goes as well.

On the subject of the USA, I read an article about the numbers of families living without a water supply or with an unreliable, probably unclean water supply. This is the 21st century and this is happening in the richest country in the world. Of course, poor families and predominantly people of colour are the ones suffering the most. How can this be happening? Who cuts off families’ water supply? Even Soy-Muy-Pobre, the young woman who used to beg outside our supermarket in Vigo, Galicia, never complained to me that she had no water supply. After reminding me of how poor she was - hence the nickname I gave her - she might well tell me that she had no gas bottle and therefore could not cook food for her son, and then ask me to give her €10! But she never asked to buy her a bottle of water. There was never a question of her not having clean water to drink or not being able keep herself, her family and her home clean!

Another story of amateur art restoration making a mess of perfectly good works of art has emerged in Spain. This time it was a copy of a famous painting by Murillo, the Immaculate Conception. The owner apparently paid €1200 to have restoration work done. Unfortunately he gave the job to a furniture restorer. Big mistake! Who thinks a furniture restorer would be the ideal person for such a job? Maybe the furniture restorer was related to someone in the owners family and was given the job on those grounds - a family favour! And a perfectly fine painting was thus ruined.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Thoughts on the summer solstice. Out and about. Relaxing things.

The summer solstice has come and gone. We have had the longest day but it will be a while yet before we start to notice a real difference. I love the long evenings but it always seems odd to me that midsummer is not the hottest day. In fact August and September are often hotter, maybe because everything has had time to warm up. Back when I was a full time teacher we used to go on holiday at the end of July or beginning of August, camping in Brittany as a rule. Again it seemed odd that the farmers had already made hay bales and were busy harvesting. Because English schools finish for summer so late, it felt to us as though summer had really only just started.

If we were in Galicia now we would be seeing everyone gearing up for the feast of Saint John on the 24th. I din’t suppose there will be any jumping over bonfires this year. I wonder if people will organise sardines cooked on a barbecue to fill the air with the smell of sardines as usual. As well as leaping over bonfires, hoping to see the person you will eventually marry, there is the collecting of specific herbs and wild flowers to make a concoction to improve your complexion. The idea is that you put the flowers in water and get up at the crack of dawn to wash your face in the flower water. I am afraid that I have always turned down the opportunity to do that. Just as I have never leapt over a bonfire. 

Apparently there is also a tradition of witches (or the local youth) going round doing mischief on the eve of St John. It must be something about bonfires for we always used to have “mischief night” on the 4th of November, the night before our Guy Fawkes Night.

We seem largely to have forgotten about the feast of St John but poets, including John Dryden, have written poems about it in the past.

A bit of a heatwave is forecast for the next few days. We shall see. After the rainy weather of last week, it has been fine enough over the last few days to get out and about. here are some photos to prove it.

Today I cycled to my granddaughter’s house again to continue our assault on her bramble jungle. Progress has been made. We are now working on getting rid of the bramble roots and constructing a fence to prevent her neighbour’s dog from using the garden as a toilet!

On my way home I spotted goslings in Uppermill, near the canal. As I have been avoiding canal towpaths because of the difficulty of maintaining social distance on such narrow paths, I have not seen the goslings when they were smaller. Now they are what I refer to as teenage goslings and today they were out and about pecking the grass outside the museum.

On the radio news they are discussing the gradual relaxation of the lockdown for people who received letters about shielding. Pretty soon they can meet friends and go back to work and lose their sick pay! Oh boy! And this just as Germany has a bit of a spike! Let’s wait and see how that goes. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Campaigning. Music. Nostalgia. Feeling the need for a world solution,

Well, Mr Trump may have tried to have a great rally in Tulsa but it wasn’t as successful as he expected by all accounts. It has been suggested that he chose a small stadium as a venue because it would be easier to make it look crowded. In the event, even that didn’t work because the top tiers remained empty, and the planned use of big screens and possibly a presidential sortie to address the overspill crowd were not needed because there was no overspill crowd. Personally I am not at all surprised by this. Surely even Republicans must recognise that gathering in huge numbers in a sports stadium is a good way to put yourself at risk of catching the virus - well, at least some Republicans!

Then on Facebook I came across this:-

“Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down” was used today at Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Trump was in no way authorised to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind.

Both the late Tom Petty and his family firmly stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. Tom Petty would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate. He liked to bring people together.”

It goes on quite a bit more in this vein and ends with the statement that they have issued a cease and desist notice to the Trump campaign. I should think so too.

Of course, to a certain extent all works of art, of any kind, become In a way public property to be interpreted as the public sees fit, but there is a kind of arrogance in appropriating a song for such a public purpose without the permission of those who hold the copyright. But then, Mr Trump does have form for “borrowing” songs and somehow misinterpreting (aka twisting) the message to suit his own purposes.

Music becomes so personal that I almost feel insulted when a piece of music I love is used to promote a cause I disagree with. And sometimes, especially when a piece of music is used for advertising and frequently heard in that way, the damage is semi-permanent. There is a bit of Bizet’s Carmen which has me singing under my breath “The E-e-sso sign means happy motoring.” This is especially so as it was one of the favourite tunes of my high school orchestra, played as we filed out of the school assembly, all of us girls in our green uniforms humming along.

Phil and I have rearranged the furniture in our living room, giving easier access to our collection of vinyl records. Consequently we have been having a good number of trios down memory lane, listening to LPs that have not been played for years. One of these nostalgia-trigger songs is Buffy Sainte Marie’s “Universal Soldier”, featuring the line “He’s all of 31 and he’s only 17”. Those were the days, back when 31 seemed a great age for someone to have reached!

Getting back to serious stuff, I read that Florida is having trouble with increasing numbers of Coronavirus cases because of a possibly too ambitious an early relaxing of lockdown. That’s another place wanting to get its tourist industry up and running again. And yet Mr Trump still jokes in his rally about doing less testing in order to have lower numbers of cases!

Here in the UK we have the ongoing debate about reducing or not the two metre rule for social distancing. To boost the economy reducing the distance would be useful but I am pretty sure I heard the Health Secretary stressing the need to keep us all as safe as possible.

And now we also have an apparent terrorism incident in Reading last night. It’s confusing. News reports last night assured us that this had nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter protests that took place there during the afternoon. And yet news headlines today have been worded in such a way as to suggest a link.

I get the depressing impression at the moment that all the values and ideas of the world are being turned upside down. We have the major health problem of Covid-19. We have the consequent upheaval in the economy and the employment situation. The scientists tell us we have about six months to sort out the environment. And then we have the Black Lives Matter protests, raising the racism and discrimination issue world wide - and this despite Kenan Malik insisting in this article  that we have all become more liberal in our attitudes.

In an ideal world we would be creating a world plan to solve all the problems together. That’s not going to happen, is it?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Where we might have been. Preparing for the “new normal” in schools and catering. Fickle fame.

If it weren’t for this virus crisis we would now be in Sanxenxo - the Marbella of Galicia - where Phil would be playing in the Carlos I Silgar chess tournament and I would be making use of the hotel’s fine swimming pool, walking up and down the tide line on the beach with masses of Spaniards, possibly taking boat trips out to the Isla de Ons and other such touristy activities. Goodness knows if we will be able to do that next year. I imagine chess matches will be hard to organise with social distancing and all the problems of touching pieces. I hope enough Spaniards are visiting the place and that the friendly staff at the Hotel Carlos I Silgar are managing to be employed. Strange times!

As the government tries to get us all back to normal, a good deal of discussion is going on about schools and the desperate need to get our children back into education. Huge sums of money are being talked about:-

“Under the plan, state schools in England would be given £650m to fund efforts to help pupils affected by the coronavirus lockdown, under which nurseries, schools and colleges have been closed to most children since mid-March.”

Nurseries and sixth form colleges would not get that financial help however.

And even so, the huge sums come down to much less when you divide it by the number of pupils:-

“The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that the £650m amounted to £80 per pupil, a 1% increase on current spending that still leaves spending per pupil 3% lower than in 2010. Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the IFS, said that due to the exclusion of nursery and sixth-form pupils, the amount would rise to £88 per head.”

There is also talk of summer schools to help pupils catch up with lessons missed during lockdown. I rather get the impression teachers have not been consulted, again, about how this would work. Head teachers interviewed on TV and radio pointed out that their teachers actually need a break and corrected the idea that those teachers have been sitting around paid for doing nothing for the last few months. They also express a greater concern for the wellbeing of their pupils, more worrying for most than how much learning has been missed.

The pub next door to us appears to be preparing for the new normal by setting up lots of those gazebo-like tent affairs all over their quite extensive car park. Clearly they have resigned themselves to the fact that they will not be cramming their indoor bar and restaurant with customers and therefore will not need so much parking space. At the same time they want to be able to serve as many socially distanced (be that 2 metres or 1 metre or whatever reduction the government comes up with) customers as possible outdoors, with protection from the sort of inclement weather we often have around here.

Here, by the way, are some details, leaked to The Times I think, of what the “new normal” will be like for restaurants, pubs and hotels:-
 * Regular patrols of pub gardens to make sure people are observing social distancing.
 * Customers will be encouraged not to order drinks at the bar.
 * Waiting staff will bring out napkins and cutlery with the food, as opposed to setting tables in advance.
 * Waiting staff will be asked to wash their hands each time they serve a different table.
 * Laminated menus will be replaced by single-use ones.
 * Porters will leave guests’ bags outside their hotel rooms.
 * Spacing out of tables in restaurants and exercise equipment in gyms to maintain social distancing, along with staggered bookings to avoid overcrowding.
 * Even if hotel restaurants reopen, visitors could be urged to use room service, which will be delivered outside the hotel room door.
 * In spas, physiotherapists, masseurs, pedicurists and manicurists will all wear full protective gear.

Of course, all of this is subject to revision from one day to the next.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s experience shows how hard policing quarantine will be. That’s assuming any kind of international agreement is reached about quarantine and safe corridors for travel. Strange times indeed!

In a more ordinary, “old normal”, kind of reporting comes the news that Sir Ian Holm, actor, has died at the good old age of 88. Sad news but he had a good innings, I suppose. On the radio I heard an newsreader say, “Sir Ian Holm, most famous for his role as Bilbo Baggins.” No, that should be “most recently famous for ...” or “known to a wider public for ...”

Here’s some Wiki info:

“Sir Ian Holm CBE

Sir Ian Holm Cuthbert CBE (12 September 1931 – 19 June 2020), known as Ian Holm, was an English actor on stage and in film. He received the 1967 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor for his performance as Lenny in The Homecoming and the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance in the title role of King Lear. He won the 1981 BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his role as athletics trainer Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire, for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award. His other well-known film roles include Ash in Alien, Father Vito Cornelius in The Fifth Element, Chef Skinner in Ratatouille, and Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.”

Similarly we have Sir Ian McKellen - famous for playing Gandalf, among a whole host of other stuff. Fame is a fickle thing.

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

Friday, 19 June 2020

Juneteenth. Taking the knee. Being (un)aware. Traditional values.

Today is June 19th. Juneteenth. Also known in The USA as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day. It is an unofficial American holiday and an official Texas state holiday. Some say it should not be regarded as a holiday as such but more of a commemoration of Union army general Gordon Granger’s reading of federal orders in Galveston, Texas, on the 19th of June 1865, declaring that all slaves in Texas were now free. This was about two and a half years behind the Emancipation Proclamation but Texas was the most remote of the slave states and enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent. However it was done and celebrations date back to then, mostly church and community celebrations originally.

It was rather eclipsed by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s but now there are pressure groups asking for it to be made into a national holiday. Modern observance is primarily in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and reading of works by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations include rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests.

Here’s a link to some information about it.

I have to confess to ignorance of this commemoration day until now but I suppose I have the excuse of not being American. Not so President Trump, who had to be told about it by a black member of his security staff. He had planned his first campaign rally since the pandemic for that date but was persuaded to cancel.

Here in the UK we have our own politicians showing off their ignorance, with Dominic Raab expressing his belief that the practice taking a knee originated in the TV serialisation of Game of Thrones. In fact it is a longstanding practice, predating even the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe it’s just that it is not a part of traditional “British values”.

Now, the counter-protester carried to safety by a Black Lives Matter protester has been identified as a certain Bryn Male. “A delivery driver living in Basingstoke, Hampshire, Male was among football supporters who had travelled to London on the day when BLM protests were due to take place. He is described as a Millwall FC fan on the website of a local village club where he volunteers. A fellow member of the club said Male was “a patriotic Brit, England through and through”. He told the Daily Mail he had travelled to London to protect monuments after seeing graffiti.”

There you go: “a patriotic Brit, England through and through”

Incidentally (coincidentally?) I have been reading The Forsyte Saga. It’s a mammoth read and I am now half way through volume three. In this volume a young man by the name of Wilfrid Desert (pronounced not like the dry, sandy place but like the action of deserting something) is taken prisoner in the Middle East and forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam. Back home in the UK he is met with criticism and contempt. It is considered NOT BRITISH that he did this at gunpoint and did not let himself be shot!! The man was clearly YELLOW. And he reduced the standing of all Britons abroad! It was so serious that it ruined his romance with a young lady of good family and he was forced to flee the country once more. Good British values!

And, while I am on the subject of our image abroad, can someone tell me why Boris Johnson needs a red, white and blue plane?

That’s all. Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Changes. Thorny questions. Nostalgic morale boosting. Ignorance. And testing.

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday it was all flamboyant foxgloves against the blue sky.

Today it’s a bedraggled digitalis in the rain.

Despite forecast storms yesterday turned out to be brilliantly fine and sunny around here. I cycled over to my granddaughter’s house in the afternoon to attack the jungle of blackberry brambles which has taken over her garden, before it was her garden, when the previous occupants ignored it. Today I posted a picture of a rambling rose, prompting comments from a friend that this is the nastiest, prickliest thing to take over your garden. I should be glad, she said, that the one I photographed is on some wasteland and not in my garden. She compared it to a triffid because of it’s ability to spread, seemingly moving independently. I beg to differ! The nastiest, prickliest thing to take over your garden is the blackberry bramble. I have the scratches to prove it. I even had to dig out a thorn that had embedded itself in my finger.

The brambles send out runners which root themselves a few yards from the original, meaning that the thing is rooted in more than one place. So my granddaughter and I were busy chopping off from one end, pulling like crazy to find where the other root was and then chopping at that end. No doubt there would have been a splendid crop of blackberries later in the year but it would have been almost impossible to collect them all. We have now cleared all but one corner and amassed a pile of stuff to get rid of, a pile almost as tall as I am. All we need to do now is go over the terrain again and dig up the roots! It’s a good job it’s only a small garden.

In the middle of the evening the weather changed and we had a splendid thunderstorm. I swear I saw a lightning fork flash down into the next door garden to ours. I have been told that they pile of uprooted brambles, nettles, dock leaves, buttercups and goodness knows what else was blown over during the storm. So it goes.

After the worst of the storm had blown over the rain continued through the night. So this morning, after some hesitation, I ran in the rain.

The radio news is full of tributes to Dame Vera Lynn who has died today at the grand old age of 103. The forces’ sweetheart during World War II, she has become an icon of hope for the current crisis, so often compared to wartime in the media. Is it sceptical of me to think that if the queen had not finished her morale-raining speech to the nation with the reassurance that we’ll meet again a whole younger generation might not know who she was? The queen and Captain Tom sort of brought her back into the public eye.

It’s easy to forget people and events from the past, or even to cover them up, as with the slavery question. And if course, often it’s not the last we are unaware of but the present. John Bolton, in his recently published memoir, maintains that President Trump was unaware that the UK had nuclear weapons.

“He recalls a meeting in 2018 with the then prime minister, Theresa May, at which a British official referred to the UK as a “nuclear power”. Trump replied: “Oh, are you a nuclear power?” in a tone of voice that made Bolton believe it “was not intended as a joke”, according to a Washington Post excerpt from the book.”

And a former US official has described a similar conversation with May when Trump made a state visit to the UK in June 2019. “He told May the number one existential threat is still nuclear weapons, and not climate change or any of these other issues that all these other people were raising”. When May asked how that would affect the UK deterrent, the official said Trump appeared taken aback by the question. “In his view, this was all about the US and Russia,” the official said. “He didn’t really factor in the other countries.”

There you go! But when you think about it, most of us are pretty ignorant about life in other countries. And I don’t just mean the extremes such as the hairdresser who once asked me in all seriousness about a visit to Madrid, “Was that Madrid city or Madrid plage?” Oh boy! I suspect that we know, or think we know, more about life in the USA than the Americans do about life here, largely because we watch so many films and TV series set in the USA.

Test and trace is also featuring largely in the news today. Having announced not so long ago that we would have a world-beating system up and running in no time, the government now tells us not to expect one before the winter. And it’s not such a priority as it once was. A bit of a turn around! Now, New Zealand has had a couple of women with the virus slip through their checking system and now they are trying to contact 320 people with whom they were in close contact. Does this not suggest that we need a working system? Personally, I am not too concerned about having a “world beating” system but I would like there to be something that works. Strange times.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

On u-turns, awareness and odd reversals.

Odd things went on yesterday.

The question of providing meals for disadvantaged children during the school holidays had been batting backwards and forwards for a few days. It was announced in a briefing that free school meals were not usually provided during the summer holidays and therefore would not be provided this year. But the young footballer Marcus Rashford, himself a recipient of free school meals in his childhood I understand, had written a letter and begun a campaign. And as I typed yesterday’s blog I heard on the radio news that the government had done a u-turn. Vouchers would be provided for families whose children qualified for free school meals. Hurrah for joint action to get things done.

Later in the day, however, I heard our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, say that he had only become aware of Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals “very, very recently in fact, today”. Really!? I know he’s a busy man. He has newspaper columns to write and a country to run. But Marcus Rashford’s campaign was pretty well publicised. And Mr Johnson has advisers to keep him aware of stuff that is going on. Or do they hide from him things that might be upsetting or contrary to his ideas and decisions? What else that is going on is he unaware of?

That was the governmental oddity that went on yesterday.

Then there was the weather.

We had a very nice day on the whole. A friend of mine commented that people queueing outside Primark would be getting wet as it was raining. Raining? Not here it wasn’t. In the late afternoon we went out for a walk, taking our waterproofs with us as the cloud cover had come over and storms were forecast. By the time we got back - not rained on - the sky was clear again.

Then my daughter sent pictures of hailstones and heavy rain battering her windows in nearby Ashton-under-Lyne. Our granddaughter reported a few big stormy raindrops in Mossley, a little closer to us. We still had blue sky.

And the Manchester Evening News put this out:

“Thunderstorms have wrecked (sic) havoc on the roads in Greater Manchester tonight. Intermittent torrential downpours throughout the afternoon and early evening have caused flash flooding in many places.

Several major routes have become impassable or there are now long delays after they were left with several inches of water. That includes two of the region's major motorways with motorists being warned to take lots of extra care and caution and ensure they "drive to the conditions."

A lane of the M60 has been closed from clockwise from junction 27, the Portwood Roundabout to junction one, Stockport, due to flooding in the carriageway which is causing queues.”

Oddly enough Delph did not get those rainstorms. A little bit of distant thunder rumbled around. Havoc was not wrecked, or even wreaked, around here.

Later the Manchester Evening News also published this:

“A new record has been broken as thunder, lightning and heavy rain batter Greater Manchester.

In Oldham, a record-breaking 22.4mm of rain fell within 60 minutes on Tuesday (June 16) afternoon. The data was recorded by Oldham Weather, in the Chadderton area of the borough. Previously the most rain to fall in the area was 21.6mm on November 21 back in 2016.”

That was in the very early evening. We still had no rain at that point. The promised torrential downpour didn’t come until quite late in the evening. How odd! As a rule it can be brilliantly sunny in central Manchester, a bit cloudy in Oldham and pouring with rain in Delph. It’s our proximity to the foothills of the Pennines that does it. But everything was back to front yesterday. People were talking about it in queues at market stalls in Uppermill this morning.

Today began fine and sunny but more storms are forecast. I need to check up on this and decide whether or not I plan to cycle to my granddaughter’s. We shall see.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Shopping and Ascot open for business. The cost of eating in the summer holidays. Travelling.

Non-essential shops opened yesterday and people inevitably, predictably, queued up outside so that they could eventually go in and buy non-essential items. Here is a list of some of the things people bought at John Lewis stores, culled from one of the newspapers online.

Top sellers in the first two hours of trading at Kingston John Lewis:

* Buttons 
* British Fashion Council face coverings
* Egg cups
* China sets
* Baby sleepsuits

Top sellers in the first two hours of trading at Poole John Lewis: 

* Towels 
* Sofas 
* Pillowcases and bed sheets 
* Televisions 
* Printer cartridges

Some things are understandable. Babies will have grown out of sleepsuits. And no doubt parents who have been printing worksheets for their children to complete at home will have found their printer cartridges running out. But buttons? How many buttons can you need to buy? And sofas? Who is so desperate for a new sofa that they need to go out and buy one on the first day of shops opening again?

As Royal Ascot goes ahead without spectators, will the ladies who normally attend watch from home wearing ridiculously beautiful / beautifully ridiculous hats? Who will be the influencer to organise that?

The government has decided to extend through the school holidays the free school meals voucher scheme, I just heard on the radio. So a bit of direct action by a young footballer has had some effect. Who says young stars should keep out of politics?

And this whole discussion about free school meals points out once again that it’s the poorest who have been most severely affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Those who can afford to think about holidays abroad might not get much chance to travel far in the near future. Greece won’t accept Britons. Perhaps rightly so. For New Zealand, which declared itself Covid-19 free just a few weeks ago, allowed a couple of women from the UK to fly there to visit a dying relative. Both women turned out to be suffering from the virus. Fortunately, it seems that quarantine and further checks have contained the virus and hopefully will prevent new contagion. How easily they could have slipped back into lockdown.

Meanwhile, Spain is talking about British visitors, unlike those from other European countries, having to go into two weeks quarantine on arrival - possibly a reaction to the same measure being instituted here for people flying in from abroad.

You would think that every country would want to get its tourism industry up and running again. And you would think that some international cooperation would help. And then this bit of information pops up:-

 “Tourism and travel leaders have expressed disappointment and frustration after it emerged that the UK will not be taking part in an EU-led data-sharing project to reboot tourism as lockdowns lift. The European commission has launched an app and website that provide travellers with real-time information about coronavirus rules and the status of infections in each European country.
A commission spokesman told the Guardian the UK was not included as the government had not asked to be involved. “No information was provided by the UK. The information was based on questionnaires and I don’t believe we have received information from the UK,” he said. “We are open to the participation by [non-EU countries], provided they make the request and, secondly, they commit to providing updated and regular information to the website … The UK has not made such a request to participate.””

It looks a little like cutting off your nose to spite your face! But in the meantime, we shall continue to follow the guidelines. And I don’t see us travelling any time very soon.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone?

Monday, 15 June 2020

Posting late!

A very late and probably very short post today. I set off mid- to late-morning to ride to our oldest granddaughter’s house. She has been having intermittent bouts of anxiety and I am one of her ports of call. So off I went. We talked it out, she calmed down. I continued to attack the jungle that is her back garden. Blackberry brambles have taken over. Clearly the previous occupants did little or nothing with the garden.

We have managed to clear a good deal of undergrowth; buttercups, nettles and the most enormous dock plants I have ever seen. Now we are at the point where there is almost nothing but the bramble jungle, brambles sending our a runner which then roots itself a couple of yards away, adding to the tangle and making simple pulling up an impossible task. I have a collection of scratches to show for my efforts!

I rode home in the mid to late afternoon, managing to avoid the rain until I was just a few hundred yards away from home. And even then it was that funny sort of storm rain - big drops but not too many of them. It has been very close all day. Maybe there will be a proper storm to clear the air.

As I rode along the bridle path, ringing my bell to warn people of my approach, two elderly ladies got very excited about the fact that I have a bell, and even more so that it is a good old fashioned bell with a proper ting-a-ling. Clearly they have been surprised too often by silent cyclists suddenly swooshing past them, as have I.

I keep finding examples of political correctness nonsense. Here is the latest, from David Mitchell in the Guardian yesterday:

“Miriam Margolyes has been cleared. Her 'crime'? Telling the truth.

When Miriam Margolyes was “cleared by Ofcom” last week over remarks she made on Channel 4’s The Last Leg in early May, I was broadly pleased. But there was a lot about the situation that vexed me. Here’s what actually happened. On a live late-night comedy show, speaking from her kitchen because of the lockdown, Margolyes described the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis as “a disgrace” and “a public scandal” and then went on: “I had difficulty not wanting Boris Johnson to die, I wanted him to die, and then I thought that reflects badly on me and I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants people to die. So, then I wanted him to get better, which he did do, he did get better, but he didn’t get better as a human being and I really would prefer that.” The remarks elicited 494 complaints (after being widely reported in the press) and led to “an initial investigation” by Ofcom, which concluded on Monday that Margolyes will not face “an official investigation”.

Oh boy! No comment!

One of the things we have not missed during lockdown is the collection of fast food rubbish dumped at the roadside, especially outside the cricket club not far from our house. It’s a place where people like to stop in their cars and snack and then throw the containers out of the window. MacDonald’s drive through places are open again. A couple of days ago the first lot of MacDonald’s detritus appeared on my regular running route!

Out and about I see more of our local cafes and pubs serving takeaway food and drink. People sit outside at wooden tables with their throw-away drinks containers. So presumably there will be some of those littering our streets as well.

In France cafe culture seems to be re-established. Here is a link to an article about places in Paris taking over the pavements and carparks. Look at the closeness of the customers in those Paris pavement restaurants!! No social distancing theree! Am I being pessimistically over-cautious?

Life goes on! Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Protests. Political correctness. Virtual family reunions.

In a world gone more than slightly mad extreme right wing groups have had running battles with the police, supposedly “protecting” statues of famous figures from the past. In a supreme irony a man with a swastika tattooed on his chest growled out that if it were not for Winston Churchill we would all be speaking German. Just a bit confused!

There was also a photo in the news of a Black Lives Matter protester carrying away an injured right wing protestor so that he could receive first aid. Enough said.

In the attempts to be politically correct a little controversy has sprung up about the “don’t mention the war” episode of Fawlty Towers and it was removed from streaming because of racial stereotyping.

 “The original broadcast included a scene in which Major Gowen, a regular guest at the hotel, uses very strong racist language in relation to an anecdote about the West Indies cricket team. A decade ago many broadcasters began editing out this part of the programme, although the racist language can still be heard on the version hosted by Netflix.
The Fawlty Towers episode in question, first shown in 1975, also features Cleese’s bigoted character apparently shocked at being treated in hospital by a black doctor.”

Surely satirising and laughing at bigoted attitudes does not condone but ridicules and condemns such attitudes and points out the wrongheadedness of holding them in the first place. Molière’s “Tartuffe” was not an attack on religion but on false piety and charlatans who used it for personal gain! Should it now be condemned as an attack on Christianity?

Nobody has yet banned “Allo! Allo!” Maybe that’s next. Or maybe someone will see sense. But sense is one of the things in short supply.

Over in Brazil, where the death toll is above 40,000, activists from a civil society group called Rio de Paz dug 100 symbolic graves on Copacabana beach before dawn on Thursday to represent the Brazilian lives lost. And then a supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro, presumably outraged at this implied criticism of their government’s handling of the crisis, went and desecrated it, overturning the symbolic crosses.

On a less pessimistic note, I read about the footpaths that people are wearing across parks and while taking short cuts over grassy areas between buildings. Rather like the sheep tracks that you see crossing farmers’ fields because the sheep always walk that way, these tracks have been worn as people have walked more frequently than they used to and have trodden a path on the grassy surfaces. Some of these are tracks parallel to the official paths in parks, for example, where people have been carefully walking two metre apart. Town planners and the like, people who study such things, have dubbed these tracks “paths of desire”.

Who knew that such planners were so poetic?

Yesterday began very mistily here with a lot of low cloud masquerading as morning mist. By midday it had all cleared and we had a fine sunny day. Our daughter brought us some washing that she had done for us in her washing machine, ours having died and still awaiting the arrival of a replacement. She had the two smallest members of the family with her and stopped for a cup of tea in the garden.

We have been planning this ever since we were told that this was permitted but we have had such a lot of rain in the last week that it really was not worth while. So yesterday we spread a blanket on the grass for the baby to sit on, we sat andhad a cup of tea and his slightly bigger sister wandered around the garden examining this and that. We had to keep reminding the small girl that she was not to get too close to us, her grandparents, demonstrating how difficult it is to do social distancing with small children.

In the midst of all this we FaceTimed our son down in Buckinghamshire. Contact established, the small granddaughter (3 years and 9 months) at our end took over. Speaking to our son’s daughter (6 years and 4 months) she first confirmed their relationship - “I am your cousin and you are my cousin!” - and then set off with her mother’s mobile phone on a tour of the garden, chatting away. So we FaceTimed our daughter in law using my phone and had an adult conversation going on.

Suddenly we had a virtual family reunion. Not as good as the real thing but the best we can do for the time being.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Fashion, flying and fixing the garden ... all in the time of Coronavirus.

This year’s final year students on the fashion course at Central Saint Martins are the latest of the odd victims of Covid-19 I have heard about. No, there hasn’t been a sudden outbreak of the disease among these students. The foreign students on the course all packed their bags and went home in the early stages of the pandemic and before you could say “that’s an interesting outfit” all the rest were sent home to be on lockdown wherever they came from.

Of course, all final year students at universities all over the country have had the same experience. Several young friends of ours have been doing finals exams online. There will have been no last minute stay up all night revising for the very last exam and then crashing out to sleep on the grass in the university gardens for them. No end of year balls. No last ever getting drunk as a skunk in the students’ union bar. One young friend celebrated the end of exams with his family in the garden, his mother having ordered in a fancy tea with champagne for everyone - he is the oldest of four brothers and so they managed a fair party with just themselves, and cleverly did so just before the weather took a turn for the worse and the rain set in.

But the Central Saint Martins students rely on their graduation fashion show, more than just as a social event, to give at least some of them, hopefully the best of them, a leg-up into their professional future. From the end of course fashion show come invitations to internships in Paris and Milan with the big fashion houses. But all is not lost. This cohort have grown up digitally aware, more so probably than other cohorts, and are almost certainly already organising a fashion show online or via Instagram and putting it out there on social media.

Fashion is a funny business. If you want a swimsuit in August because you have just organised a holiday at the last minute, instead of sorting everything last November, you can’t find one in the shops for love nor money. They are full of the autumn and winter lines. The same applies for winter coats in mid-February, when stores are suddenly full of summer clothes! It is widely predicted that all of this will change. Besides, it is highly likely that we will simply buy fewer clothes. After all, shopping will be such a different experience that the fun of browsing the fashion shops and impulse-buying an outfit that you might wear three times, if you are lucky, that many people will just not bother. Besides, masses of people have grown accustomed to working from home, slobbing around in their pyjamas, or in informal leisure wear on a good day!

Travel’s another thing which will need to adapt. Airlines are thinking a lot about how to organise things for the best. However, they disagree about what is for the best. British Airways, I think it was, are advising passengers to put everything in their hold baggage and to avoid carrying any hand luggage at all. This will speed embarking and disembarking, thus reducing the risk of contagion. On the other hand, Mr Ryanair advises everyone to travel hand luggage only as much as possible and avoid checking luggage in to go in hold, also to avoid contagion. He makes a good case, despite this meaning he will need to find a new way to increase charges: your hand luggage will be touched by you alone, while checked-in baggage can be touched by a multitude of baggage handlers, whose standards of Covid-19 avoidance measures you have no control over. However, all of that remains largely academic as most of us are going nowhere in the near future.

No doubt Spain wants to get those flights going again. So the Spanish government announced that the compulsory 14-day quarantine for overseas arrivals would end by July 1. The Tourism Ministry then proposed that safe travel corridors be opened up between regions in the European Union with a similar level of control over the outbreak. And so close on 11,000 German tourists look likely to descend on the Balearic Islands on June 15th, in a sort of pilot tourism scheme. But the option will not be available to British tourists. Other regions of Spain will probably follow suit. However, we Brits seem to be a bit of a risky proposition at the moment.

And so, for the time being we shall muddle along, proposing schemes such as catch-up summer schools, without consulting the teachers and local authorities, and probably cherry-picking who h bits of scientific advice to pay attention to.

So it goes.

Despite predictions of thunderstorms for today, we have the sunshine back again now. Yesterday I cycled to my granddaughters in the drizzly rain and spent most of the afternoon, in spells of reasonably dry weather between the showers, helping her make some sense of the jungle in her garden. We pulled up mountains of weeds, trying not to destroy the strawberry plants who h have proliferated there. Buttercups can grow to amazing heights and blackberry brambles yards long have an amazing ability to get themselves tangled in everything.

Consequently today I have spent some time removing very small but very nasty, quite viciously painful thorns from the ends of my fingers. I need better, stronger gardening gloves!

If the sun keeps shining, I might consider tidying up my own garden today, now that the season of aquilegia and poppies is over. Which is a shame as it made my garden rather fine to look at for a while there.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Up with the lark. The right to express opinions. Promises. Not being in the vaccine club.

Today I was up with the lark -well, not quite, but a bit of exaggeration is permissible, I think - because the washing machine repair man was scheduled to arrive between 8.00 and 10.00. He finally arrived just before 9.00. So, not too bad timewise but the machine is a write-off. The mechanic expressed surprise at our museum piece of a machine. So it goes. Time to find a replacement.

The washing has been piling up, of course. There’s only so much you can hand-wash and it’s been a little like being on a primitive holiday with no laundry service in the hotel. And of course, this would happen at a point when my daughter was not really available to come and collect a stack of washing and take it to her house. She has had enough going on in her life. She’s going to be a classic woman of the modern age, looking after children and ageing parents at the same time.

Out and about yesterday, I noticed that the chemist in Uppermill had a notice about face masks and gloves for sale ... and dental repair kits for those people not able to get to the dentist when their filling falls out!! Usually only available at big Boots stores. A sign of the times! Now, hairdressers have been on the TV and radio advising us not to try DIY haircuts and hair-colouring but so far no dentists have been asked to give their opinion of DIY dental treatment. But even as dentists begin to open up their surgeries, I personally would be wary of jumping on a bus to make my way to ours. The same goes for my hairdresser, by the way. And the optician.

As various famous people give their considered, or sometimes not so considered, opinion of the state of our various nations, singer/songwriter Carly Simon posted a picture of an incoherent-looking Trump captioned with a poem by W. H. Auden:-

 "The Ogre does what Ogres can, 
Deeds quite impossible for man. 
But one prize is beyond his reach, 
The Ogre cannot master speech. 

 About a subjugated plain, 
Among it’s desperate and slain, 
The Ogre stalks with hand on hips, 
While drivel gushes from his lips." 

 –– W.H. Auden 

The response from followers of Ms Simon has been interesting!

“Really don't want to hear about your political views. Stick to music.”

“You are an entertainer. Leave it at that. We want to hear your music, not your political commentary.”

“So sad. I loved your music but now you are tainted with snowflakism. Keep out of it Ms Simon. It won’t do you any good.”

A bit fierce and condemnatory, as if a singer is supposed to be just a pretty face and a good voice. Clearly not meant to appear on discussion programmes, unlike writers and poets!

But not all feel that way.

“❤️ thank you Carly, I quite agree! And please keep on voicing your opinions! I think people forget that they can look elsewhere on Social media if they have orange blurred vision and don’t know their a... from their elbow ❤️”

“Yes, he's a petted and pampered ogre. Thank you for your voice. You definitely see who Trump is!”

“Keep writing Carly. Love your music and your political views!” 

Some also criticise the critics.

“These posts are blowing my mind. So she can't voice her opinion as protected by 1st amendment? Is her opinion surprising to you? You folks need to listen....to yourselves.”

“Don’t understand why others suggest you “stay out of politics”. You have the right to free speech like everyone else and I have no problem when celebrities voice their opinions, even when they don’t match my own. It just so happens that you and I probably do agree when it comes to this “ogre”. 😩 And, I appreciate the quote. It’s very suitable....”

“Good grief, don’t people listen to lyrics or have any sense of an artist’s point of view. All artists express a viewpoint. If you don’t like it why are you a fan? It would be a very poor artist who had nothing to say.”

Quite so!

A good deal of fuss was made lately about foreign NHS workers being asked to pay a supplement so that they could receive medical treatment from the service they work for. Promises were made. A friend drew my attention to this from The Times:

“Doctors have complained of a “kick in the teeth” as the immigration health surcharge is still being enforced, despite the prime minister vowing to scrap it for NHS and care workers. Boris Johnson said on May 21 that the £400 annual fee, paid by non-EU migrants on top of visa charges to use the NHS, should be removed “as soon as possible” for health and care staff. It represented a U-turn after he had defended the £400-a-year charge at the previous day’s prime minister’s questions.

However, those applying for new visas say they are still being told to pay and getting mixed messages when they ask officials whether any upfront payment will be refunded, or if the fee scrappage applies to their dependants.”

Well! Promises! Promises!

From the Irish Times comes this little piece, pointing out a disadvantage of leaving the EU:-

“The European Union plans to place advance orders for coronavirus vaccines currently under development to ensure supplies for member states, officials have said – and the United Kingdom will not be included.

The bloc’s executive body will propose to its 27 member states that they negotiate with pharmaceutical companies as a united bloc and offer upfront financing to speed development and ensure priority access to any successful vaccine.

“We pay up front a significant part of the investment needed in exchange for a commitment from the pharmaceutical manufacturer to give us a vaccine when is available,” an EU official explained. The first available doses will be distributed to member states according to the size of their population, according to the plans, and national governments will be in charge of which citizens get priority to be vaccinated first, for example starting with health workers.

As Britain left the EU in January this year, it will be left out of the process, officials made clear. “We are very sad about it, but the UK decided to no longer be a member state,” the official said. “So they’re not part of this initiative.””

The law of unforeseen consequences strikes again! Sad and angry once more!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 11 June 2020

On feeling sad and angry about things.

Just as we have borrowed the German word “schadenfreude” for that feeling of almost happiness about someone else’s, possibly well-deserved, misfortune, and people talk about being “hangry” when we are so hungry it makes us cross, so I think we should have a word that encompasses the angry sadness / the sad anger evoked by the list of stupid mistakes made by our government over the last few months.

  • The scientist Neil Ferguson is now saying that we should have started the lockdown a week earlier than we did and thus saved lives. 
  • This article talks about genetic analysis of coronavirus tests revealing how many cases were brought into the country by people arriving from abroad - a lot from France, Spain and Italy. (Similarly a large number of cases in Iceland arrived there via arrivals from the UK.) Had we systematically tested and quarantined arrivals back in March we almost certainly could have saved lives. 
  • Had we had sufficient stockpiles of PPE to deal with a foreseeable and indeed foreseen pandemic, the outcome could have been different. 
  • Had elderly people not been shunted off untested to care homes poorly equipped with PPE, again the outcome could have been different. 
And the list goes on and on. And every time I see figures and comparisons with other countries I feel sad and sorry and decidedly ashamed of my country.

Oh, and right now they are discussing the 2-metre rule, largely because of the difficulty of opening pubs and cafes and restaurants. Apparently only the UK, Canada and Spain maintain the 2-metre rule. Everywhere else has something shorter. But according to the radio news it’s more a question of WHEN than IF it is reduced in the UK.

And once again it will be a decision that shakes people’s trust in the whole guidance business. So it goes.

In the USA President Donald Trump has speculated that the Buffalo pensioner shoved to the ground by police could be an ‘ANTIFA provocateur’ who faked the fall. This despite masses of video footage of the “fall”. But then ANTIFA is pretty much a terrorist organisation, isn’t it?

And it seems that someone has paid $750,000 bail for one of the policemen charged with aiding and abetting in connection with the death of George Floyd. But then, in both the USA and here there are still strange things going on.

In Bristol they have retrieved the statue of Edward Colston from out of the harbour and removed it to an undisclosed location, prior to it eventually having a place in a museum. Meanwhile in Poole, Dorset, they are talking of, maybe only temporarily, moving the statue of Baden Powell while stories of his having been a Nazi sympathiser are investigated.

It could be said that these statues are now in protective custody.

Here is an interesting article by David Olugosa about time he spent as a young journalist living in Bristol. Some of the prejudice he had to face just while looking for lodgings is quite astounding, stuff we thought had disappeared decades ago:

“two weeks before my start date, I began phoning around, trying to find somewhere that rented rooms by the month or, even better, by the week. The first place I called was on St Paul’s Road in the wealthy Bristol suburb of Clifton. The guy I spoke to told me that he did have rooms, they were cheap and could be made available on a short-term let. When he named the price (which was more than I could afford), I hesitated. Sensing my uncertainty, but not knowing its cause, he filled the silence by reassuring me that although the room was in a property on St Paul’s Road, it was nowhere near the St Paul’s district of Bristol. “You know,” he said. “Where all the blacks live.”

My standard English accent had led him to presume that I was white, and that led him to another presumption: that one of my criteria when looking for accommodation was that it was far away from the homes of black people.”

“I answered an advert I found on a noticeboard that had been posted by a group of guys in their 20s who were in search of a new flatmate for a shared house. The first question they asked me when I arrived, after they had rearranged their faces and before I was allowed to ask any questions about the room or the house, was if I would not perhaps find it uncomfortable living in a house in which everyone was a university graduate. I had two degrees in history and one in journalism. They never asked if I had gone to university.”

Perhaps most disturbing is that last situation; so we still have people educated to degree level who still adhere to stereotypes that suggest that black = uneducated.

Okay! Enough gloomy stuff!

Here is an odd and amusing consequence of the lockdown. There is a shortage of marmite because there is a shortage of brewers’ yeast because less beer is being brewed. Personally I do not like marmite - horrible stuff! - but those who do will be reassured to know that some specialist brewers are considering getting going again so that barrels of beer are available when / if pubs open again. 

And I came across a completely un-virus-related story from Switzerland. During the Sissach town carnival in early March pretend Euro notes were distributed, clearly false with Chinese character printed on them. Children collected them, as children do, and at the end of April an eight year old boy, accompanied by his brother and a friend, went to a local shop and asked if he could buy something with one of these toy banknotes. The shopkeeper called the police. Yes, even though the note was clearly identified as pretend money,. “It is our policy; we were instructed to do so by the headquarters in Winterthur,” said the store manager Tanja Baumann.

You might think it would stop there but, no, the police were worried that counterfeit money might be being circulated. So went and searched the eight year old boy’s house, where they seized three 50-euro notes, two 20-euro notes, five 10-euro notes and three five-euro notes on the grounds of preventing crime. And the little boy was not charged with any offence but his name will reportedly be on police records until May 2032. Yes, 2032!!

Unbelievable! Something else to make you sad and angry!

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

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Irony, sadness and political correctness in the modern world.

In one of the odd ironies of the Coronavirus crisis situation, Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses are expected to get a tax rebate of nearly £1m as part of a government bailout for tourism businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis. Before the crisis, the Trump Organisation’s golf resorts in Scotland should have been paying a large amount of money in property tax but now they qualify for 100% relief and won’t have to pay anything.


A largish number of people have expressed the view that the very rich should not benefit from such schemes as this or from government grants to pay their furloughed staff during the crisis. I would say that sounds very reasonable.

In the case of the Trump Organisation some Democrats are asking whether it is even lawful for his companies to accept benefits from the UK and Scottish government. There are rules and regulations about what the president can and cannot accept as gifts. But of course he might have cannily got round this by making his companies into trusts since he became president.

Clever folk, these rich guys! Or they have clever advisors!

Also clever, and something of a master of irony, is the columnist John Crace. Here is his take on our Minister of Education and his handling of the back-to-school question. Well worth reading!

Meanwhile there are more and more calls for proper planning for what education will be like after the crisis.

In Italy a new post-virus problem has cropped up. At the point when Italian hospitals and morgues were being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of coronavirus victims, in Milan victims whose bodies were unclaimed by family members were buried in Campo 87, a section of the Maggiore cemetery. The graves are marked with a simple cross bearing only the names of the victims. In some cases though the bodies went unclaimed simply because their family was also overcome by the virus and people were unable to get in touch with the hospitals until they recovered. By then their deceased relatives had been buried in Campo 87. Now they want to reclaim them and give them a proper family funeral and bury them in a cemetery of their own choosing. The problem is the law that says that bodies of people who died of a contagious disease cannot be disinterred until two years have gone by. A further sorrow for families who have lost loved ones.

While many of our cities’s mayors and councillors are running around being very politically correct looking at all the statues to assess whether they have links to slavery and should therefore be removed, the Independent reports that the film “Gone with the Wind” has been removed from the HBO Max streaming service over concerns of its racist depiction of black characters. An HBO Max representative said, “Gone With The Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society.
 These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”

They continued: “These depictions are certainly counter to WarnerMedia’s values, so when we return the film to HBO Max, it will return with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

Well, at least it seems not not to be permanently banned!

I have seen the film a fair few times. Indeed I have also read the book a fair few times. My copy of the book is old and dog-eared. Now, I had never thought of the portrayal of Mammy and other slaves as particularly racist but rather that the film depicted the society of the time. I recognise that saying “that’s how society was” does not justify slavery but showing society as it was does not necessarily make a film racist. Shall we condemn all the films about World War II as anti-German? Is every film that does not portray an ideal world to be condemned as anti-something?

That way lies serious censorship! Think of all the books and films we could have nothing to do with! 

2020 has not been a kind year so far.

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