29 November 2020

What a good week! We’ve celebrated a memorably memorable occasion that, fortunately, we both remembered, had a great walk across some very muddy fields as well as some splendid virtual bike rides and even got to gate-crash a virtual Thanksgiving gathering. What could be better than that?

Wednesday was our anniversary, forty-eight years since a couple of youngsters decided, “What the heck – let’s do it!” It was a bright, sunny, “brisk” autumn day as we gathered at our housemate Lucy Eddy’s parents’ farm just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. Good friends (most of whom we can still remember) joined us for the occasion and we all had a great time.

25 November 1972

Of course, we’re not able to celebrate in the manner we might have liked just at the moment but the Red Lion, just down the road in Culworth, is currently offering an excellent takeaway service. So, we were able to enjoy a delicious candle-lit three course meal regardless.

The other great excitement this past week was the arrival last Friday of a new exercise bike which does just about everything apart from cook the evening meal. As most of you will know, Penelope and I used to go to the gym in Banbury several times a week for a spinning class (along with some Pilates and, for Pen, swimming).

Of course, the gym has been closed since March and although it reopened recently neither Pen nor I are especially happy about returning to sweat-infused rooms with people breathing heavily. Our gym memberships had been on hold since March so we had already saved about half the cost of the new bike. As winter approaches and the opportunity and/or inclination to cycle outdoors grows less and less, it was a no-brainer. Having said that, we will certainly miss the comradery of the spinning classes.

So far, we love the new bike – it’s a NordicTrack S22i if you want to look it up. It’s interactive so you can choose from a menu of hundreds of bike rides at different levels of intensity from all over the world. The bike automatically adjusts resistance and the incline. My only reservation so far – the instructors are way too keen and enthusiastic! So far, I’ve been riding in the Whitefish area of Montana while Penny has done a couple of rides in Maui, New Zealand and Norway. We’re looking forward to exploring and discovering lots more! (And, I can keep adding the mileage I am totting up to my virtual Land’s End to John o’ Groats ride. I’m currently on Stage 8 with only about 150 miles to go! I’ll include a photo when I finally get there).

It was great fun to gate-crash my brother Steph’s virtual Thanksgiving gathering on Thursday evening. For the past five or six years or so we’ve gone to the States to spend the holiday with my mother and Steph and his wife Hope always provide splendid accommodation and entertainment options. (Plunging into the nearly frozen Mascoma River after a sauna will always remain one of the highlights amongst the many stupid things I’ve done in my life).

This year, there’s no travelling of course. So, we spent Thanksgiving at home and were just settling down to the latest instalment of The Crown. Steph’s family, however, is scattered across the US – he was at his home in New Hampshire, his wife Hope was in Chicago with their daughter Amanda and their son, Greg, lives in Colorado. To facilitate some sort of virtual family gathering, Steph sent invitations to a Google meeting which mysteriously pinged into my mailbox about 19.00 our time. I was a bit surprised to receive the invitation but happily clicked the link and joined the gathering. Of course, Steph had meant to invite his son but in scrolling through his contact list he mistakenly sent the invitation to me instead. Never mind, it was great to see everyone and you will be relieved to know that “little Greg” did join the gathering a few minutes later.

Thursday also happened to be an outstandingly gorgeous day. Overnight we had the first really hard frost of the winter and the day was gloriously clear, bright and sunny with dazzling deep blue skies. Such a gorgeous day was crying out for a walk so we took ourselves off for a three and a half mile loop around the nearby village of Preston Capes.

Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the walk was across fields which, by this time in the early afternoon, had turned into muddy, claggy quagmires which made for very heavy going. As we traversed one field in particular our boots acquired increasing quantities of mud – by the time we reached the other side we were both about six inches taller.

Pen was very keen that I share with you a 360 degree panorama from one of the hills we climbed, just north of Preston Capes. Glorious day.

So many snippets from the You Could Not Make It Up department this week – it’s difficult to know what to include and what to ignore.

I guess we should start with some good news – the UK has agreed a trade agreement with Canada to replace the arrangements which we have enjoyed for all these years as a member of the EU. When we leave the EU at the end of the year our existing trade agreements which we enjoy as a member will cease. In future, unless the UK can agree some sort of trade deal with the EU between now and the end of the year, all trade will be carried out on World Trade Organisation terms which will mean tariffs on imports and exports. So, it’s good news that we’ve come to an agreement with Canada which will ensure that we can continue to trade with the same arrangements we had before. Yep, that’s right. Four years after the referendum and countless billions spaffed away, we’ve now negotiated an agreement which will enable us to carry on as we were before. With one country.

And, if you want any further pessimistic forecasts of life in the UK after Brexit, have a quick look at this article in the Guardian which warns that the UK is facing a systemic economic crisis. Brexit was always going to be a shit-show. Add Covid to the mix and you have the ingredients for a catastrophic calamity.

We’ve now had news of both the relaxations in lockdown for the Christmas period as well as the arrangements which will apply in the run up to Christmas once our current lockdown ends next week.

Of course, this is all political. Rather than having any regard for how best to keep people safe, the government is concerned more with keeping the loonier of their MPs on board. The PM “promised” that everything would be normal by Christmas and guaranteed that the national lockdown II (which, remember, he introduced six weeks after the scientists recommended it) would end on 2 Dec. As of next week we are going back to a three-tiered system which had a negligible impact in reducing transmission in 19 out of the 20 areas which were in the higher tiers beforehand. The difference this time is that 98% of the country is to be placed in tiers 2 and 3 which, essentially, is virtually the same as what we have now. But, it’s not a national lockdown because the Scilly Isles, the Isle of Wight and Cornwall are in tier 1.

All this to placate a hard core of about 70 libertarian MPs who want no lockdown and who consider the more than 50,000 deaths as a price worth paying for our freedom and for the sake of the economy.

To make matters worse, the PM has decided that Covid will take a few days off at Christmas as we are to be allowed to gather together for five days over Christmas. Not surprisingly, the scientists are aghast.

Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire. I think it will definitely lead to increased transmission. It is likely to lead to a third wave of infection, with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths.

Prof Andrew Hayward told BBC Two’s Newsnight programme.

And, while we’re at it, let’s hear it for the continuing saga of the “world-beating” Track and Trace initiative. Having now spent £22 billion (so far) it still is not performing any better at actually tracking and tracing (the hint is in the name) than it did at the outset. Remember, the scientists reckon the system needs to track at least 80% of an infected person’s close contacts within 48 hours to be effective at reducing the spread of the virus. In the 11 weeks up to 4 November it managed to track just 58% of close contacts and failed to contact 109,903 people altogether.

And finally, just to show it’s not exclusively in the field of healthcare where the government is failing, we finally found out this week how seriously the Prime Minister takes bullying. Not at all seriously, as it turns out.

Under pressure, the PM finally released a report into allegations of bullying against Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, which he has had in his in-tray since February. The independent report concluded that the way in which she treated staff at the three departments she has been in charge of in her time in government amounted to bullying and a breach of the code of conduct for ministers. Normally, this would result in a minister’s resignation and if he/she refused to resign, they would be sacked. The Prime Minister decided, however, to ignore the report and no sanctions were applied to the Home Secretary – no reprimand, no formal notice to improve and certainly no sacking. He did, however, at the same time, send a memo to all government departments saying that there was no place for bullying. So, that’s all right then.

Finally, how about a photo of a very clever young girl who was commended for the way in which she is crushing the challenge of learning to read.

Meanwhile, keep happy, keep smiling, keep isolating as much as you can, wear a facemask when you go out and keep your distance. And keep safe.

Lots of love to you all,

Greg

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