7 February 2021

Astonishing! Another quiet week. Having said that, I did have a real Red Letter Day yesterday – I had my first Covid-19 vaccination. Our local medical centre has teamed up with two others and all the vaccinations are carried out at the Weedon Medical Centre a few miles up the road.

In spite of my constant criticism of our government’s pandemic incompetence, I have to concede that the UK is doing very well at rolling out its vaccination programme. That’s probably because it’s being handled by the NHS rather than being handed to some private outsourcing company whose only real interest is in ripping off the tax payer and lining the pockets of their directors. £22 billion for Track and Trace which has failed consistently in meeting its targets and remains not fit for purpose, for example.

In contrast, the NHS has, so far, vaccinated more than 10 million, i.e., about 18% of the total population and, perhaps more importantly, about 90% of those aged 75 or over. Penny, of course, is so young that she will have to wait a few more weeks to get hers but I suppose it gives us some light at the end of the tunnel.

The process was marvellously efficient. I turned up at the medical centre at the appointed time, had my name & birthdate verified (three times) and was in and out in probably about ten minutes. And, I also had a lovely chat with an elderly woman who was sitting quietly having been told (because of adverse reactions in the past) that she would have to wait 15 minutes before leaving. She admired my LA Dodgers fask mask and baseball cap and it turns out she was born in Hawthorne, California. Like me, she came to the UK for love.

The cycling has continued – heck, what else am I going to do? This week I have been mainly riding “endurance” rides in a variety of scenic locations – French Polynesia, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

When I “finished” my Land’s End to John o’ Groats cycle challenge just before Christmas, I set myself a further challenge – to cycle the Pacific coast, from Vancouver, BC to Imperial Beach just north of the Mexican border. A grand total of 1400 miles or 2253 km (so much more impressive in kilometres).

As of Thursday I have finished Stage One (of five) from Vancouver to Astoria, Oregon (364 miles or 586 km). (Clearly it’s easier to start in the north and cycle southwards – it’s all downhill, obviously).

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) held their annual Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend. Basically, folks are encouraged to count the birds in their garden over a period of one hour and then to submit their counts to the web site.

The guidelines say that you’re supposed to only count the largest group of a particular species you see in an hour, the idea being to avoid double-counting birds which might come to your feeder several times in the hour. But, I fear that results in under-counting. Clearly, it’s not the same birds coming back to the feeder over and over and over again. Surely, there are some newcomers each time. I’m not sure why they all can’t wear little name tags so that we could spot them and identify them properly.

We watched The Dig the other night with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Muligan. (We didn’t watch it with them – they star in it). It’s on Netflix and is about the excavation carried out in East Anglia which uncovered the Sutton Hoo burial site. A friend and former colleague had recommended it and related a story of how he and his family had “run into” an individual who turned out to be a minor character in the film:

In the early sixties we took our first family holiday by car – a big old Rover Dad had bought just a few months before. It was an eventful trip: on a narrow winding south Pembrokeshire lane we experienced a minor collision with a car coming in the opposite direction. It was the first crash I think any of us had experienced.
The driver of the other car introduced himself as Professor Grimes, an archaeologist. We swapped details, and I think the insurance was sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction (truth to tell, he and Dad had probably both been going a bit too fast for the road) but in consequence the professor entered family folklore.
I was delighted therefore to find him turning up as a minor character in this excellent film we watched on Saturday – twenty years younger than when we met him of course, and well before his appointment to the chair of archaeology at London University (yes, he’s got his own Wikipedia page).
Small footnote: William Grimes was in charge of uncovering the Uffington White Horse after WWII, and was the first to confirm it was dug into the chalk. Just five miles from where we now live.

It’s a small world.

And so to this week’s You Could Not Make It Up selection.

One of the problems we face in the UK is that a significant number of people who should self-isolate (either because they’ve tested positive or because they’ve been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive) are not doing so. Some of this may be down to ignorance or “lockdown fatigue.” But a significant number don’t self-isolate because they cannot afford to.

To address this the government introduced a means-tested financial support package to help folks do the right thing. The only problem is that only about a third of those who apply for support to self-isolate receive any payment. People, especially those in low-paid or zero-hours contracts are forced to decide between doing the right thing and surviving.

The Guardian revealed last month that a government review had concluded that the scheme excluded too many people and was too complex to administer. So, what have they done to address this shortcoming in the pandemic response? That’s right, you guessed it. They’ve done nothing at all.

Similarly, only about 20% of international arrivals to the UK (whether foreign or Brits returning home) complete the 10 day isolation spell required. So, not surprisingly, with all the new variants of the virus appearing all over the world, the government is at last talking about requiring arrivals to isolate at one of the many virtually empty airport hotels where they could be monitored. “Talking” being the operative word. The government has promised to reveal the details of the plan and to implement it several times this week. So far, nothing. And, there’s been a lot of press about the fact that the government has yet to contact any of the major hotel chains with airport capacity. It seems that saying you’re thinking about doing something is just as good as actually doing something.

Some have been recommending a complete border closure. But, apparently we cannot close our borders because we are an island, unlike Australia and New Zealand, according to the Transport Minister Grant Shapps. Yep, you read that correctly. Who knew that Australia and New Zealand were not islands?

Another jaw-dropping admission from Dido Harding, the hapless wife of a Tory member of Parliament who was mysteriously put in charge of the Track and Trace programme which has been uniformly useless. She is the one, you will remember, who claimed that no one could have predicted a second wave of the pandemic coming in spite of everyone predicting precisely that as the second wave surged all over Europe at precisely the same time the government sent all students back to schools and universities.

Now she has claimed in testimony to a Parliamentary Committee that no one could have foreseen that the virus might evolve and mutate. This prompted one reader on Twitter to post a photograph of his seven year-old’s science book which pointed out that that’s what viruses do – they evolve and mutate.

Staggeringly incompetent. That’s £22 billion of taxpayer’s money marvellously well spent!

And, let’s not forget the continuing saga of Brexit!

Andrew Rawnsley had an excellent article in the Guardian.

The bill for Mr Johnson’s Brexit is coming in and that bill is a punishingly steep one. It is being paid by the fishing fleets in Scotland and the West Country that are tied up because they are unable to export their catch. It is being paid in a slump in activity at Welsh ports because the trade they used to handle is being diverted to France and Spain. It is being paid in billions of pounds worth of transactions disappearing from the City of London, which may not be much loved by all that many Britons but employs a million people, because the deal was so threadbare for the financial sector. It is being paid in car manufacturers shutting down some production because they can’t get parts across borders in time. It is being paid in tonnes of British meat exports rotting at European harbours. It is being paid by many UK businesses, especially the kind of smaller, exporting enterprises that the Tories always profess to love, which are being overwhelmed by the heavy burdens and high costs of the thin deal the prime minister rushed through parliament at the turn of the year.
This has to be one of the greater absurdities of Brexit. British companies are being told by the British government that the way to survive is to lay off British workers and transfer their jobs to folk across the Channel.

No, you could not make it up.

I ran across a selection of excellent photographs in the Guardian from the Travel Photographer of the Year 2020 competition.

And finally, a villager shared the following on the Moreton Pinkney Facebook page.

There are some very clever people out there with way too much time on their hands!

And finally, finally, this little beauty (and its mates) popped its head up a couple of days ago. Surely, spring cannot be too far away.

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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