Tuesday, October 6

Two months later and little has changed


It's two months later and not much has changed! Just the colours of the trees here in Zhytomyr where I happen to be once more.

This time the Ukraine government had closed its borders to 'foreigners' in an attempt to bring some increase in new COVID cases under control but it didn't make any noticeable difference. Maybe they merely increased at a slower rate. Like in almost every other country across the planet, however, the average number of new cases per day over the previous seven days per 100,000 population has been steadily increasing.

I had considered that a number of 5 per 100,000 was quite big, and that 4 was what some countries were using to denominate a Green / Red Zone. Now vast parts of the planet are showing numbers like 10 or more. 

The chart shows how many European nations compare. Leaving Montenegro to its own devices, the rest, while covering a range of rates, do show one thing very clearly - they're pretty much all doing the same thing! No one country's data is changing in a way that is much different from any other. Despite what are very great differences not only in government intervention but also in the extent to which people obey the rules, everywhere is proceeding pretty much in the same direction.

This leads me to just one conclusion: it doesn't really seem to matter what we do. The virus will spread one way or another and do its own thing. There is not a great deal we can do about it as a nation or even as a county or town. Individually, we can keep out of trouble and simply not go anywhere near anyone who might have it and those of us who manage that will probably get through unscathed but it will be a minority unless there is a vaccine or the virus just fades away.

So I have suggested that the government just let us make our own minds up on all this. I do believe that there is a great risk for the vulnerable and that they should be encouraged to lock themselves away or, at least, steer well clear of any risks. I also think it is important to respect what others may want. So if colleagues prefer to maintain a distance and do not want us close or to worry them then we should respect that. It may mean that we keep a good distance away but, where that is impracticable, then I think they should stay away and let us do what we wish, respecting our views as well. Those who worry about catching the virus in shops or pubs or events shouldn't go to shops or pubs or events. Then they won't catch it that way. And we can carry on without worrying that we're upsetting people by not wearing a mask or whatever.

Some of us will catch the virus, I'm sure. Most of us will get through it, though, and those who don't will, largely be the people who should perhaps have locked themselves away so their fate is their own decision. 

It may sound irresponsible and careless but I do believe that for the vast majority of us this will be a better existence and will enable most of the nation to get back to work and help repair the badly damaged economy. The country needs people in work and living reasonably normal lives so that we can feel better generally, with less stress and making sufficient resources available to care for those who are not so fortunate. With most of us not earning a living then the funds for health care will soon diminish and real problems will arise for those who succumb.

We are, as individuals or family groups, very capable of making decisions about the risks we face in our daily lives. Coping with the risk of COVID-19 is going to be just one addition we need to bear in mind. But let us decide what we feel comfortable doing, not a government. If a massive mob of teenagers is descending on the local pub then I may well decide that that's too great a risk for me and I'll leave. Naturally I'd be happier if they keep away but I'm not going to have some law telling them to do so. Similarly, I go into a store and will generally steer fairly clear of others there. If someone approaches me a bit too closely and is coughing and spluttering then I'll do my best to escape his proximity! Yes, it'll be a drag but no, I don't want laws about all this. By and large I would like to think that such groups or sick individuals would realise that what they may be doing is wrong or, at least, inconsiderate and adjust their behaviour over time in the light of experience and what they learn.

Here in Ukraine I see a few more masks but few worn properly. Life does carry on much as it did before and I cannot think of anything that isn't functioning these days. The numbers of cases reported have gone up but are following the same curves as everywhere else. I think that if I was going to get the virus I would have got it by now. I know I take a chance every time I go out on a bus or walk in a busy street. It is in my mind, for sure, and I don't feel as safe as I do in rural Astcote! Having said that, I have to go round Tescos and in and out of a few shops each week in Towcester and I am not so sure the risk is that much lower there than here.

I will return to the UK in a few days' time and there will be the risk of the airports and the plane journey itself to survive. I was hoping that the weather might be better than the grey, very grey days I'm having here, hardly ever leaving an apartment because of the weather, not fears for my wellbeing! From what I can gather, however, there is rain and more rain there too. I will be happier on ground level, though, and able to walk out of a door and stroll around a garden or field for a while. I miss that here where I am nine stories up and the field is a bit of a walk away.

Saturday, August 8

Is it chaos or just life as normal in the Green Zone

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that we have got our reaction this COVID-19 threat completely wrong. If I am still in good health in a couple of weeks then I will be certain of it. I am writing this in Zhytomyr, a town in Ukraine where I arrived on a very hot Wednesday 5th August. Suddenly, a few days earlier, the UK and Ukraine both became members of the Green Zone by virtue of someone calculating that their number of 'active cases' had fallen below a certain figure and this meant that I was no longer required to go through a hugely complicated process to enter the country.

A short while ago I would have had to download an app which would report my whereabouts and require me to take a photograph of myself in a particular place within 15 minutes of a request to do so. The app was totally written in Ukrainian and indecipherable to me. I had, with the help of my friend, started to enter some data which I had expected to need, when she told me to stop because people had been reporting problems if the address entered did not tie in with the location assessed by the app's geo-location software. Better to wait until I arrive in Ukraine, she suggested, and I could merely show the border patrol people that it was installed. at least.

In addition I would have to be tested at a specified medical place in town within 24 hours of arrival. If I were found to be free of the virus then the app would be notified by the medical centre and it should then inform me accordingly that I need not remain locked in a particular location thereafter. Despite all their best efforts, though, there had been reports of delays in notification and incorrect results too. So i was not too enthusiastic about the prospect of not being able to leave an apartment for the duration of my stay here.

Finally, I would have to demonstrate that I had insurance that would meet the costs of any medical expenses incurred should I get afflicted with COVID-19 whilst in the country. I had purchased suitable insurance in March but, unfortunately, not only would it be invalid as a result of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office not recommending travel to Ukraine but, even if, as it turned out, that restriction was lifted prior to my departure, the company issuing the policy needed to have an administrative office of some sort in Ukraine! Mine didn't. For a while this massive hole in the road for anyone trying to get to Ukraine virtually prevented getting here but then the Powers That Be introduced a nifty button on the VisitUkraine website which enabled insurance cover to be arranged at a quite modest cost for the duration of the trip. I had been worried that there might be an age limit or some restriction for previous health issues but no, oldies like me were accepted and so I was able to see how to overcome one hurdle at least.

I was prepared to take a chance on the results thing but, to my delight, the UK changed from Red Zone to Green Zone and all that testing and quarantine stuff evaporated away, leaving only the insurance requirement and a bundle of papers to show the border patrol officer.

On arrival at Zhulainy Airport, a pleasant and efficient little airport, it soon became clear that most travellers from the UK had not done their homework. They might have learned when they boarded the plane as we were all asked to show our insurance documents. As they arrived at the border patrol officer's window they all started having to dive into their cases once more, not only for the same document but also for some paperwork which would show where they would be staying and with contact details. No-one seemed to have completed the forms and so were trying to dictate awkward-sounding addresses to the officer and it all took a great deal of extra time. Yes, I had everything all ready. I was determined not to fall at that sort of hurdle!

The real surprise, however, came as I left the airport. Almost no-one had a mask or face covering. No-one seemed to pay any attention to what we call social distancing. Taxi drivers were just like they had always been and there was no cleaning of seats every time someone got out. I had rather suspected that even in the UK this wouldn't be likely to happen but the drivers might make a semblance of effort at least. 

The bus from Kyiv outskirts to Zhytomyr was pretty full and stiflingly hot. A couple of passengers wore face coverings but that was all. To be honest it was quite a relief not to have felt obliged to wear mine in such heat and, instead, I spent most of the long journey leaning forward to attempt to make the most of the cooler air flow from a nozzle above my friend's seat. Real chaos ensued on the local buses in Zhytomyr town. Usually jam-packed anyway, they had been restricted to certain numbers prior to May but since the easing of many restrictions in the country, people just clambered aboard and stood close to each other as they always had done. There was an occasional face covering but the majority of people seems to dangle theirs from one ear or not bother at all. It was ruddy hot and I can well understand. Mine stayed in my pocket for the most part. Only on entering shops and offices did we use them and even then, if a brief look around showed that no-one was bothering with them, they were dropped or removed again.

One notable exception was on the trolley buses. Here a small round lady would control the numbers getting on at each stop to ensure that there were the same number as were seats available. Needless to say, I spent most of the journey wondering why on Earth an old chap with a dirty old shopping bag was hanging from a bar above my seat and blocking everyone's passage down the bus when there were plenty of seats empty.

In the streets people busily went about their business or shopping or just chatting in the street much as I reckon they always had done. I started trying to give others a wide berth and to avoid breathing in any air that might have recently been breathed out by a passer-by. That didn't last very long. Old and young, healthy-looking and infirm, men and women, all of us basically seemed to be operating on the basis that there was no such thing as COVID-19 or, if there were, it was no great shakes and, as with each years 'flu, what will be will be.

All so very different to the UK that I had left only a short time earlier. There our behaviour is much more tightly regulated and, whilst there may have been some areas where the number of new cases has been growing rapidly, generally we seem now not to be experiencing anything very different in ill health or deaths than might have been expected in any average year. It is also worth noting that even our very heavy death toll of 46000 is of similar magnitude, proportionately, to the deaths from Asian 'flu in 1957 when we took little precaution other than common sense.

We get angry at the mobs or youths and not-so-young too congregating at holiday beaches or tourist beauty spots and decry their irresponsibility at 'spreading the virus'. Personally I am more angry at the mess they leave behind and lack of good manners so many seem to show when they leave their council estates and carry-out meals in front of massive buy-now-pay-later tvs on their reclining buy-now-pay-later sofas to share the real British countryside. Do we ever read about any of these idiots getting ill or dying? Or, for that matter, those who might be expected to suffer from their proximity, the people who actually live in these lovely places. 

I think we should encourage them all to get the hell out of Britain and soil some foreign country's beaches if they have to behave that way. Make it easier to travel abroad, not more difficult. And let's not stop there. Let's lift all the restrictions and just get back to life as it was at the start of the year, or as close as we can get to that. By all means be selective about who we permit to join us from other places but the true chaos is, in my opinion, going to be in the United Kingdom, not Ukraine from here forward.

Friday, July 17

COVID-19 New Cases around the world

As mentioned in the last article, I have been watching the data across the world and, i particular, the numbers of new cases each day and my sheet expresses these as the number per 1m population. This, I feel, provides a better comparison that mere totals and the total active cases seem most unreliable with totally different methods of calculation in different places.

I do appreciate, of course, that there will also be huge problems in the reliability of some of the data from countries with poor recording or testing facilities or procedures. This will almost certainly mean that where the virus has taken hold in a poor, less well-equipped country then the  number of active cases must be significantly higher than the official data shows. or all that, I do feel this is a useful guide, especially as 'active' cases are not available for the UK and some other countries and it is really to see how we're doing in comparison to others that I do this. More in hope than anything else these days, though.

I got a mouthful from some woman in Portugal when I put these on Facebook. She was most offended that I had shown Portugal as red and UK as a nice apple green. Clearly, as she pointed out amongst the huffing and puffing, every country will have lovely safe places where no-one is ill and you can happily visit and hug people and wander around without a mask. I am sure Portugal has many. But unless someone provides me with all the detailed regional data all I can share is the national stuff and, indeed, that is what tends to guide authorities, for better or worse. But, yes, don't make any decisions based on what I publish. It's purely data, made a little more comprehensible.

Depending upon what I am doing with this sheet from time to time it may change to show all the days or may be filtered to show just Europe or just certain areas of the planet.

Stuck in the Red Zone

This is not exactly Astcote news but I feel I need to write about the continuing confusion and difficulties getting away. There is a definite sense that we are pretty much clear of the virus in this part of the country and people are, albeit cautiously still, coming out and moving around a lot more than they have been doing for many weeks. With this new-found freedom, however, comes the dreaded masks, or I should say, face covering. I am not at all fond of the things which strap around your ears and have instead acquired a supply of quite nice banadanna things. They're made of thin material, seem quite easy to breathe through and look a lot more decent and, if not natural, a little less science fiction. However, I am still not inclined to wear them unless I really have to and I really will have to in shops in a week's time.

I shall be doing my best to avoid shops, therefore, while this face covering thing is necessary. With that in mind, and also encouraged by beginning to look more like a tree than a human, I got a haircut in Towcester yesterday. It was totally unplanned, a spur of the moment thing and I simply called in at the first salon I came to after parking my car. A nice Romanian chap did a first class job and took so long I wondered whether he'd ever finish. With no-one else in sight, though, I guess it didn't matter. I had intended to hang on until I reached Zhytomyr where an excellent young lady would take care of my thatch for a very small price but goodness only knows when I will get there.

Ukraine still lists the UK as a Red Zone and so I would have some difficulties on arrival. There has been an improvement and some much-needed clarification, however. It seems that I would have to download an app on my phone using a Ukraine SIM card. Luckily my phone can have two SIM cards so that is feasible but not for many people I would imagine. It will, however, be entirely in Ukrainian so I won't have a clue what it says but Olga would be able to help.

Having downloaded the app and shown this to Border Police on arrival (assuming I manage that on my own, that is!)  I can then choose either to have a test within 24 hours in Zhytomyr or quarantine myself for 14 days at a stated address. If the test shows I am clear of the virus then a message should be sent to my phone and the app will no longer be needed. Until then, however, or if I choose not to have a test at all, I will be called at random by some official who will want to see a selfie of me at the stipulated address given on arrival. If I do not do this within 15 minutes I can be arrested and taken to Chernobyl to do gardening or something.

Knowing Ukraine administration, however, I have some doubts that my results would be communicated very quickly, if at all, or that I would recognise the message if it arrived. And, of course, there is the small matter of the possibility of my results being mixed up with someone who has got the virus - or, God help me, I do actually have it! - and I finish up in some grotty hospital miles from anyone who speaks English.

So I am inclined not to go until the UK is Green - but there lies another problem. It seems that to go Green a country has to have fewer than 400 'active' cases per 100,000 population. So that's about 25000 for the UK. Now, I cannot find any statistics anywhere that provide the number of 'active' cases for the UK. I can find 'accumulated total' cases since Year Dot and 'new' cases each day but not 'active' cases. So I assume that it is reasonable to calculate 'active' cases as the number of people who had the virus but have not yet got better. I can add up the number of 'new' cases over the last month and that is about 25000. OK, but many of those people will have recovered or probably not even had any problems to get better from in many cases. And surely there will not be many people who have had it for more than a month? So the total could be, in reality, pretty close to, if not quite a lot lower than 25000 and the UK is, in my view, definitely in the Green Zone.

So why do we appear in the Red Zone all the time? My conclusion is that there is a fundamental error that seems to have been missed. We are testing 200,000 or more people every day and record those who have the virus. What we don't do is test people later so there is no evidence that they do not have it any more. The records for the vast majority of people are simply that they had it and, to all statistical intents and purposes, still have it and are thus 'active'! Without a procedure to test the same vast numbers again and take them off the 'active' list the UK is well and truly buggered in terms of how it will be viewed by other nations. Probably for ever.

Consequently, assuming nothing gets done about this (and I have written to some well-connected people), I shall just go on 5 August and hope for the best. I have a ticket for 22 July but I think I won't make that one. 5 August is OK and I return on 21 August. Then I have another for 7 September and again 12 October. I am hoping that we can have a holiday in October / November, probably Malta as the weather will be nice then.

I had been watching the list of Green Zone countries, which supposed to be updated daily, slowly scrolling to the bottom and hoping that United Kingdom would appear, doing this several times a day. Now I have come to the conclusion that it is not going to happen anytime soon. 

But you can check here. Just in case. You never know!

Sunday, June 7

Who'll stop the rain?

After weeks of really hot sunshine it rained this weekend aand there was hail in June. In fact, just along the road the hail had accumulated and looked exactly like some snow that might have been there since January. Clearly, that spot must have its own minute climate as it was many hours later when I had ventured out after the storm had subsided.

With a bit of luck this might have put off some of the people planning to join a protest march in whatever town or city the marxist agitators had arranged as the place to chuck things at police, knock out some windows and generally frighten residents nearby. Whilst there are, of course, many people who genuinely wish to make a point, hold up a placard, get some attention for whatever it is they think needs to be fixed this week, or still hasn't been fixed to their liking since last week, month, year or, in most cases ever, there are forces at work within society that aim to maximise the impact of these events. Violence erupts and property gets damaged. Often just a small group of organisers can be most effective. They start by working on social media to get people worked up and usually succeed in concentrating marches or gatherings in a particular place for maximum effect. There they excite those who can be excited and swell their own numbers so that when the nasty stuff starts later there are many more getting involved who had no intention at the outset of doing much more than moaning for a while. 

The object of the exercise is seldom of any relevance to the cause declared on the placards. 

In a matter of a week or so we have seen journalists shouting and pushing and shoving as they try to interview a government adviser who they had been told had broken the lockdown rules. Oddly, it was perfectly OK, it seems, for them to do so as well. But they were hardly likely to dob each other in, were they? And anyway, it was all on TV and whatever the cries of foul that viewers might utter at home, they wouldn't be heard. Then we see thousands of people gathering and definitely not keeping either to groups of 6 or even anywhere near a safe distance from each other as they did their demonstrations and moaning in various cities this weekend.

Yes, indeed, one rule for us, one rule for them.

Saturday, May 23

The Clap Trap

I do hope this business of people standing around banging pots and clapping every Thursday at 8pm comes to an end soon. I mean as some sort of national requirement that makes a top or second to top news item each evening two hours later. I have nothing against anyone showing their appreciation for the good work done by others, although I am quite relieved that there is not an out-of-work opera singer or bagpipe player living within earshot who wishes to do so. Everyone should be free to say thank you, draw rainbows or whatever. What seems to have developed, though, is criticism of those who do not participate.

It seems that it is necessary to be seen clapping and that has become as important a feature of the procedure as the sign of appreciation itself. It is like praying to one's God or whatever similar activity a person may wish to do in line with his religion or belief. Some people need to demonstrate that they are praying, attending church on Sunday or whatever when most religions I know about refer to being modest and not making any obvious outward show of intent. To pray quietly in the peace of one's own home seems far more genuine and desirable than to do so noisily in public.

Although everyone's clapping is not praying the two activities are similar in many ways and I think there has been enough public, organised 'thank you' activity. Indeed, just the one would have been extremely effective, as would, I suggest, celebration when we finally get something definitive by way of an all-clear of the virus or a vaccine produced.

I like all my neighbours. I do appreciate the hard work put in by many, many people in all walks of life to help keep me and my friends and family safe. I would just feel uncomfortable standing outside my door at a set time on a set day clapping. It's not something I feel at ease doing. It would be unnatural and the sole reason I would have done so would have been to have been seen doing so. Now I have to put up with the niggling thought that one or two people will be asking themselves, or each other, why I was not out there clapping or banging a spoon on a pan.

Things were going well for a while but now the virus and events around it are getting political. We have seen several efforts to make the Government ministers feel embarrassed, possibly hoping they might resign and slowly build support for the opposition. First blame for some shortages of protective equipment is placed on various ministers. No-one seems to ask what part the very well-paid and numerous senior executives running the NHS and other services might have played. They were, indeed the people whose job descriptions will have included ensuring the adequacy of supplies - and that would, I presume, include more that just asking for them and moaning when they don't receive them.

Secondly, blame for our either being locked down too late in the day or, bizarrely on the other hand too, for actually being locked down at all is placed on various ministers. None of them are experts in this field. There may have been scenarios played out in years gone by when the country's response to different types of threat were conducted and weaknesses here and there shown up. Whether any of our ministers were familiar with these or recommendations when all this blew up I don't know but I doubt anyone was particularly well-briefed personally and will have relied heavily upon the advice provided by those who, again, are paid handsomely from the public purse for doing so.

I maintain that, whoever had been in Government, whatever their political affiliation. then there would now be blame placed on them and the same amount of whingeing and journalists constantly asking questions about whether they should have done this or that several weeks ago when the public want to know what will be happening tomorrow and in the months ahead. I think we all largely accept that there may well have been better decisions taken at different times but we want to know now what decisions are being taken for the best outcomes in future.

I get the impression that most of the ministers directly involved in making decisions about my future are intelligent and sensible. I don't get the impression that they are being at all 'Conservative' but doing what they believe, after listening to advice from experts, is right. In contrast, we now have teachers' union officials stirring up great unease amongst a group who have tended to be Labour or Liberal voters in the main, in relation to the proposals to get children at certain ages to return to school soon. We expected that there would be parents who will be reluctant to move out of the security blanket that staying at home provides and I have talked before about those idiots who seek a guarantee that their child will not get the virus. Now, though, it is harder to get past a union decree that their members should not work until their representatives have been satisfied that it will be safe. Quite what these union officials can do that the people running the schools can't do is beyond me, especially as most, if not all the schools have been open ever since the damned virus first appeared.

Yes, it will be ruddy complicated. Yes, there will be times when it will be simply not be feasible to be 2 metres away or 100% certain that a surface does not harbour contagion. But all the experts I have heard talk about this, without any obvious political leaning in either direction, are saying that children appear to be far far less likely to suffer as a result of catching the virus and the numbers affected in any serious way are minute across the nation and that the risk to teachers in the school environment is no greater than in any other work environment.

You have expected our local supermarkets to be open and staff to be on duty. You have queued to buy non-essentials at a Garden Centre with staff there hauling plants and decking around for you but now you don't want to go into a classroom or you want to keep your child effectively locked in her room on the 7th floor of an apartment until September. Actually, I wouldn't mind betting that many of these left wing complainers and moaners are the same people who will be driving to some beach or barbecue area at the weekend and probably leaving their litter behind as well as their shit in someone's garden as they made no allowance whatsoever for public toilets being closed.

The Government cannot really win, whatever they do. It only takes a nurse to die and they'll be blamed for her PPE not being adequate. One child will get ill and they'll be blamed for encouraging a return too soon. Old folk will die in Care Homes and that will be their fault too, whether it is from the virus or not. Many businesses will collapse because they will have been shut for too long and unable to get going again. That will be the Government's fault for the length of lockdown. Almost everything that goes wrong will be their fault and it will be virtually impossible to argue against the opposition's complaints or journalists' insinuations that then become headlines in our newspapers and on our screens.

Boris Johnson might just as well hold his hands up now and say "OK. It's all my fault. Vote Labour in 2024."

Except it isn't. And you need to realise something. China is where this all started. The people to blame are the Chinese Communist Party. And no-one gets to vote for or against them. Indeed, in Hong Kong last week, those members of parliament who were objecting to a change in regulations being introduced by Chinese Communist Party representatives in Hong Kong were forcibly prevented from returning to the voting chamber. The rules state that only those present can vote and so a raft of changes became law against the wishes of, I suspect, the vast majority of Hong Kong citizens. When we ceded control of Hong Kong to an arrangement between Hong Kong and China there was supposed to be respect maintained for the independence of Hong Kong. This was enshrined in agreements made between the United Kingdom and China at the time. These agreements are now being eroded to such an extent that it is quite wrong to sit back and not object.

Perhaps those people so keen to moan at the UK Government might use their efforts better by focussing on what China is doing. Now there they would have good cause to argue, moan, whinge and shout. Why don't you? The virus has conveniently led to our taking the eye off the Hong Kong ball. And it will be Hong Kong citizens who will pay the penalty.

Tuesday, May 12

Cars crash, smokers cough.

Some relaxation of restrictions here in England this week. It appears that I should be able to drive somewhere for exercise and to be able to visit someone outside, one at a time, and still maintaining a good distance between us all. I can also do this several times so I could meet one person in one place and then another in the same place afterwards or go somewhere else and neither distance nor time appear to be an issue.

I am not rushing to do so, though, as anyone who really wants to see or talk to me can do so by phone or video and there really are not many people I'm missing if the truth be told. I had very, very few visitors before all this started so I am hardly likely to see much difference. It does mean that I could go to Sussex to collect an old bicycle that someone is building for me but I can't go with my daughter so I'd have to borrow her car with the bike rack on the roof or, maybe, fit the device to my car. I probably won't though. It might be cheaper to have it posted to me. I could also go to the airport but Ukraine and Malta are still not permitting international flights so I'm still stuck in Britain for some time.

I have noticed something about the behaviour of many people during this crisis and the new  proposals have only served to emphasise this. It seems that many individuals have lost the ability to assess a situation and make decisions. Mr Tellme-Whattodo understood the Stay At Home message and pretty much did so. He and his wife dutifully stood in the queue at the supermarket and tut-tutted when anyone seems to be closer than 2 metres. They had studied what 2 metres was and, although they may also have been the same family that piled up their shopping trolley with loo rolls and pasta in March, they are now dutifully buying just the three packs of mince and casting a scrutinising eye over other folk's trolleys as they pass. Mrs Maskface wears a mask everywhere she goes and bustles quickly out of the way whenever she sees someone heading towards her. She looks pretty grim as if she has either had the virus or expects to be getting it any time soon although the flimsy bit of material will not protect her at all as she brushes her ungloved hand across her face after opening the shop door which a hundred other ungloved fingers had touched during the last few hours.

Now, though, there is much moaning and complaint. They don't understand the new message, they say. Those who had been waiting for a chance to criticise the government, mostly because it was Conservative and they'd voted Liberal or Labour or SNP or Plaid Cymru, now, at last had a chance to do so. Staying At Home had been crystal clear.  Quite easy to understand and fairly easy to obey. They also reckoned there would be a good chance of catching the virus and dying if they didn't. So that's a good incentive to do so. Now these people have a problem. They're being told to Stay Alert. Allowing for the fact that some particularly thick people needed to look up alert in a dictionary but didn't possess any books so had to ask a neighbour, many still had a problem with this. It meant that they needed to look out for danger, to think before doing this or that as they were now able to step outside and go places, perhaps go to work and shortly see some of their children off to school.

It seems that many people are totally unprepared for this kind of mental exercise. A classic remark from Mrs Tellme was that she wouldn't go to work until she had a guarantee that she would be safe. Union officials, of course, loved this too and suddenly a whole new career path opened for thousands of jobsworths who could spend days and months holding employers to account for not including X or Y in their risk assessments. How on Earth, I ask, can anyone on this planet ever have a guarantee that they will be safe doing anything?!

This period of intense protection that had been provided by the Government appears to have had the effect of neutralising people's brain cells in terms of their ability to think for themselves. They want The Government to tell them exactly what to do, not open a door and allow them to think for themselves whether to go out, whether to turn left or right or go straight ahead. They liked the Nanny State. They were the voters that Jeremy Corbyn knew were out there but failed to reach. I thought there might only have been a small proportion of the nation that would really have welcomed a socialist state in Britain but I may have been quite wrong. I am now seeing many, many people in interviews and even in discussion of the street, who are simply waiting to be told what to do next, who expect this guarantee of safety from a school, employer or whoever.

A good friend of mine wrote a message shortly after Boris Johnson's TV announcement to say that was confusing and how 'people' had no idea what to do. I immediately responded to say that it seemed very clear to me. If people felt that it was safe to go back to work then they would be encouraged to do so. They needed to be alert, careful when encountering others. If they could keep at a distance and follow the usual instructions of maintaining clean hands, not touching their faces then for the vast majority that would be sufficient to enable them to steer clear of infection. They would only get it from touching a contaminated surface or breathing in contaminated air. There would always be some risk but for all but a few of us that risk would be of similar order to the risks that we had lived with, probably unknowingly admittedly, all our lives so far. Cars crash, trees fall down, people fight, gas explodes, smokers cough. We walk through a valley of potential death every day and, for the most part, instinctively take precautions to minimise the number of events that could lead to us dying.

So the idea that we should Stay Alert seems pretty much common sense and totally comprehensible. If we don't have to go anywhere then no-one is saying we should go out for the sake of it but if we want to we can. No-one is forcing us back to work but if the employer makes changes that enable them to comply with various regulations for our safety then we can go. If we can't then the state will continue to pay our wages for a while longer. No-one is forcing children to go to school but if the school feels that it has complied with the regulations to keep children safe then they can go. Parents will not be fined for keeping their child away. It is all our choice in most cases still. But so many people are apparently anaesthetised by the Nanny State injection of Stay At Home that they are simply lost and cannot take responsibility for their future decisions.

It will be someone else's fault if they get ill. It will be someone else's fault if their employer goes bust because workers don't return to help rebuild the economy. It will be someone else's fault whatever 'it' is. They have this ridiculous desire for a guarantee, for certainty. They cannot ever have it.

This question of risk is an important one to consider further. There have been almost zero instances of  very young children being badly affected by the virus. In fact, amongst the under 50s the numbers of people who have been badly affected and who have not had any other health problems are still very small. It has been the old folk who have suffered or those may well have suffered anyway from something else but the virus got to them first. So for a huge swathe of our population it may well be the case that they could get the virus and either not know it or recover quickly from its effects and get on with life again. The problem is that they might pass it to the old or infirm and that's why we have had the 'lockdown' - to protect not so much the NHS but old folk. It has also had the benefit of keeping safe those few young people who would have been badly affected by it for reasons no-one is quite sure.

So children returning to school is very, very unlikely to result in their getting ill. It will be pretty much as safe as it ever was for them. The problem will be that they are great spreaders. They'll pick up the virus and give it to teachers and bring it home. That is pretty much unavoidable while the virus is around and it is isn't going anywhere soon. So young parents and teachers should be fine and will not die as a result of children going back to school but there needs to be care in managing encounters with old folk. Older people need to be alert - if they feel vulnerable and don't want to take the risk then they shouldn't teach or interact with the children. If they are the parents then, OK, don't send the children back yet. If they are the teachers, don't go back to work yet.

If we don't start taking risks now and entering environments where there might be virus around then we will have to wait until it is cleared or a vaccine is available. Are we seriously going to avoid work, keep children away from school, continue with our present strange insular lifestyles, waiting for Them to tell Us what to do for what could be another six months? We simply cannot ever have that guarantee that we won't get ill or die. We can get a large degree of certainty if we can be innoculated against this strain of virus but that seems not to be likely until 2021. The incidence of infection on surfaces or in the air should become minimal before that and statistics from tests will indicate the nation's progress in wiping it out as fewer and fewer people show a positive response in tests and, of course, the number of people dying from the virus becomes close to zero over a sustained period. We are already well down on earlier numbers and once the deaths fall to below 100 each day I, for one, will begin to feel much more confident that I will not be one of the future numbers on our TV screens or in the headlines. I may still get the virus but I feel much less likely to die and that, to be brutally honest, is the important thing for me. I want to stay alive.

So I shall be alert. I will look around at who is a potential threat to my survival and steer pretty much clear of them. I will not touch my face unless I can be sure my hands are clean. I will live my life with those that I know and love around from time to time but at a safe distance no doubt for some months yet. I will make one exception for my girlfriend as and when I am able to meet her again unless, of course, she is coughing spluttering and complaining of a lack of sense of smell or taste!

Friday, May 8

VE Day 75th Anniversary

Flags and more flowers

This lamb and often his brothers and sisters gather here, and prevent anyone getting through the gate at this point. I think they hope that we might let them through to this side as we attempt to pass! The funny thing is that if you walk about 10 yards to the right the fencing actually stops!! You (and the sheep) can simply take a slight detour and ignore the gate thing completely!!

Only a week or two ago this was all brown.

A hot afternoon but the horse still has his coat on and, by the seems of things, can see where he's going either at the moment! 

I spotted this little stone and loved the idea that someone had had of painting HOPE on it. The I noticed the #campion rocks (presumably without the space). I shall put this on Twitter and see if there is more information.

Butterflies usually fly off as soon as I manage to focus - or, more often, fold up their wings. This time I was lucky.

These are flag iris. Quite appropriate as it is also VE day.

This is quite a strange photo and the sheep appears to be in a sort of dungeon. In fact it is just a small stream at the edge of the field and the plants there seem particularly tasty too. If they stroll further down the stream they can also have a go at getting into the paddock behind where I live. Most summers a few of the chunkiest lambs make it and have a good time as we chase them to send them back.

Wednesday, May 6

Spring colours and £8.99 WizzAir tickets

The amazing colours of Spring are here and even though I know I have taken the same plants over and over they remain a delight and, of course, slightly different each year.

It seems a long time ago that I was writing about the restrictions on our movements due to the virus and the threats to some of our lives. Here we are in May and I should now be driving around small tracks on Gozo, seeking an elusive beach and drinking more coffee than is good for me. Instead I am still here in the village, several months older but little wiser about what may or may not be the outcome of all this.

I bought a string of WizzAir tickets recently. One was an optimistic 27 May flight but at £8.99 it was irresistible. My logic was that if, by some good fortune, I was able to go then I would kick myself if there was a mad rush for tickets later and that would push the price through the roof or even mean I couldn't actually get a flight at all. Similar logic then made me buy some more at the same crazy price so if May doesn't work I can try again in late June and if that doesn't work I'll try 12 July. After that we're in August and the times when everyone tends to go on holiday so the prices were not at all attractive. I suppose if I am still waiting I'll take what I can get but by then I might even be prepared to wait until the more pleasant month of September for travel when I might also be able to move on to Gozo too where the temperature will be substantially lower than the 40° that it reaches in Summer.

Whatever happens here in UK, I shall also need Ukraine to open its border, of course. So that is the first square on the puzzle board that has to be reached. They also need to permit travel either by private or public transport. Then, or by then, I need to be able to get to Luton Airport reasonably legally. For that I may need a face mask as it seems that airports and airlines will be insisting on those being worn. My daughter told me the type she reckons I should buy so I have a super efficient type coming but, as that looks pretty ugly and I shall not really need that other than in close proximity to others, I have purchased a couple of other simple affairs which might look a bit better. One is like a cowboy's scarf in black with white dots and I can vaguely imagine wearing that one. None of the others appeal at all, though. So I'll have the mask but can I actually get to the airport?

At the moment the regulations don't permit me to go so I need them to be relaxed so that I can drive my car at least to the airport and, ideally, to my friend's house from which I can then get a lift or take some form of transport. He does drive a taxi so I'm hoping that, even if we cannot travel together as friends, we can do so as drive plus fare.

Although there are signs of businesses beginning to open again and some relaxation will be announced soon, I don't expect much to happen that will assist my cause at this juncture. That's OK as Ukraine's border is still closed but when it does open I really don't want to be stuck because of UK regulations.

So there is quite a lot of change to happen before I can make use of my £8.99 tickets.

In all this I am, of course, assuming that I manage to avoid catching the damn virus or, if I do, not dying from it. Dying would be a great shame as I still have a considerable amount of tidying to do.

Monday, April 20

In the air

A crow

An advantage of a decent zoom on my camera!

The blue tit was a nice surprise. He just landed on the branch as I passed by.

These pylons cross the odd little path that I referred to in a recent post. I have a certain fascination with these but don't feel comfortable standing beneath the crackling current a few feet above my head!

Friday, April 10


I found this nice map of footpaths around the village. If you live somewhere else then just change the settings to find those near you.

Not all the paths are obvious! I just happened to know that one went straight across this field.

In the middle there is an interesting, if not particularly scenic, view! And you can hear the loud buzz from the cables which are not that far above you at this point.

Friday, April 3


One of the nice things about living here is how you can wander around without having to talk to people but, if you do happen to come across someone they are nearly always pleasant and have a smile and a greeting. 

On my travels today I can across some very cheerful people gathered around the small bridge where my children used to play Poohsticks, since modernised with variations on themes to prevent sheep crossing. Substantial dredging and bank clearance work in recent months has helped the stream to develop quite nicely and it flows much faster than it used to. The rains, though, swelled it for several weeks and the newly cleared banks are now just mud. Sticky mud. The sort of mud that you really can't stop young lads wanting to walk into, if only to see how far up their wellies it will go.

One lad had done just that!

Prior to this posed picture, he and the wellington boot were at some distance from each other. What made me laugh, though, was his mother attempting to extract the barely visible boot with a stick!

It was a brave effort and might have worked if she had had a couple of hours spare. She was standing on a dry part of the bank, leaning forward and jiggling the stick around and I could see her slipping and falling in the stream with her enthusiastic but sadly slightly misguided plan. I reassured her that her wellies would allow her to go into the stream, from where it would be an awful lot easier to reach the boot with her hands and rescue it.

Now, I didn't actually know whether her boot wouldn't leak and fill up while she was at it but I took a chance on that one. A few minutes later and the boot was rescued and the young lad could stop hopping around.

As I said, there are nice people around. I felt slightly useful and was surprised to learn that one of the ladies knew about this blog. So I really do have to feature them in today's rambling.

In other news we have to figure out some new etiquette for passing people on footpaths. You're approaching someone on a narrow path by the side of a road. Who moves first? So far I have had some amusing near dances as I've waited until almost the last moment and then we've both moved, moved back again and, eventually, one or other has stayed in the road! One lady went to the opposite side of the road almost as soon as she saw me and stayed there until she had passed, unable to get any further away short of clambering over a hedge and I'm not sure she hadn't even though of doing that. She looked pretty terrified and was quite grey and not one of the happy people here.

I have always thought that it was for a gentleman to move onto the road and my inclination is to do so, whether the approaching human obstacle is a group, has a dog or children or a pram or all three. I will stay put for a bike, even a lady on a bike and most certainly for anyone in lycra on a bike. For another bloke then there has to be some sort of visual assessment of their age and condition. I'll move off the path if I think they look a bit old and doddery. If they then do the same I just have to accept that I am not young any more.

Something else I have noticed that has nothing to do with wellington boots or path etiquette is the way the landscape is changing. The slopes and hills are generally much as they always have been but there are definitely new bumps and mini-valleys appearing. I also find new places where a stream is starting to run or where you tread in trainers at your peril. There is one part of my normal walk where in the last few weeks I have had to make quite a significant detour to keep my shoes dry. I usually follow the well-trod paths left by the sheep but these are not as reliable as they used to be.

I have managed to avoid shops for most of the week but will need to visit Tesco tomorrow. I expect the experience will be noteworthy. We'll see.

Thursday, March 26

A day of colour and accounts.

Dawn was pretty this morning. One of the advantages of sleeping with the curtains open. Later, the sun came out and it has been a beautiful day. This was my permitted walk, of course.

On the way back I spotted Graeme's bonfire which is building up nicely. Can't wait to see that go up in flames!

Nothing else much happened. apart from some extraordinarily generous support for self-employed people! Whilst they do have to wait until the beginning of June for money, it will be a sizeable chunk for everyone, representing 80% of the average of their last three years' declared profits, divided by twelve to get a monthly figure (maximum £2500) and backdated to 1 March.

Quite a few people may now be wishing that they hadn't reduced their profits quite as markedly in previous years!

The Chancellor did, however, make a curious and further unexplained remark about the 'difference' between taxation for employed and unemployed. Could there be trouble ahead, I wonder?