Tuesday, 23 March 2021

The way we are

Spring is in the air but, I am not entirely sure that Winter is done with us. Some days have been pleasant and sunny, while others have been cloudy and windy. However, we have managed to spend some welcome time in the garden.


Today is a year since England went into its first lockdown and it has being marked by a National Day of Reflection. We are now starting to ease our way out of our third lockdown. Schools went back two weeks ago and we have a timetable for the opening of  hairdressers, non-essential shops, gyms and hospitality etc. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own plans, which are similar but different to England’s plans. During the coronavirus pandemic the three devolved governments have gone out of their way to be awkward and do things differently to England. However, their tactics have not given them a better outcome from the pandemic, with regard to infection rates and the number of deaths. My feelings are that it would have been better if the UK’s response to the pandemic had been managed from London. Then the whole country would have moved in and out of lockdown at the same time. Northern Ireland have managed things in the only the way that the Irish would - you probably need to be British to understand that sentiment. Scotland’s response has been chaotic and difficult to fathom with Nicola Sturgeon showing her true colours. While Wales have flipped in and out of lockdown as often as most people change their socks. Why am I bothered by this? - because we  live near Chester, two miles from the border with Wales and whatever the Welsh do has an impact on us. People from Chester work in Wales and vice versa. So if infection rates go up over the border, they will probably also go up over here. Last week Wales eased its lockdown ahead of Mother’s Day allowing families to meet up. Something we were not allowed to do here in England. In two to three weeks time, Wales will probably have a spike in infections resulting from Mother’s Day socialising. I see that Anglesey already has seen increased infection rates. I can't wait for the hairdressers to open, as I just want to get my hair cut.

Coronavirus vaccinations continue to be a hot topic of conversation with the shenangihans in the European Union causing concern not only in Europe, but worldwide. Mainland Europe is currently experiencing a third wave of infections leading to more lockdowns and restrictions. All exacerbated by the slow rollout of the vaccine there. Delayed supplies of the vaccines and worries about side effects being the most recent excuses to poke a political finger at the UK. This carton from The Times of Wednesday 17 March 2021 says it all.

The problem is the contract that the EU have with AstraZeneca. They negotiated on price which has put them at the back of the queue whereas the UK negotiated on vaccine availability, putting them at the front of the queue. The Europeans clearly do not understand the concept of queueing. We all know about the German towels on the sunbed.

Meanwhile back in the UK, the hiatus after the murder of Sarah Everard seems to have died down. I am not saying that her death was not a tragedy, but I seem to be missing something. At the time of her murder the whole country was in lockdown and we are still not allowed to meet anyone indoors. We can only meet one person outdoors, so what was she doing visiting a friend?  When I was around her age I too lived in London and probably walked home alone late at night, but I lived in a different area of London. I would never have walked around Brixton alone, even in daylight. The vigil on the Saturday evening broke the coronavirus regulations. The police were right to break up the crowds and despite all the fuss about their tactics, only four people were arrested.

The other issue still rumbling on is the Meg and Haz side show. Here in the UK people are not that interested. We are currently lockdown in a pandemic and have more important things to think about than two self centred and privileged individuals complaining about how badly life has treated them. After all, we lived through the events and saw then reported in the media at the time. I watched the interview, if you could call it an interview, so that I could make up my own mind about what they had to say. It was more like a conversation with Meghan steering it in the direction that she wanted it to go. It had taken them 15 months to write the script and learn their lines. Everything was twisted to fit the distorted narrative that they want to peddle. If Meghan had ever read a Jane Austen novel she would have understood the lot of a younger son, but she realised too late that she had signed up for a bit part rather than the starring role. The media is awash with stories of Meghan's erratic behaviour - they can't all be wrong. Every time I see her petulant face I see Wallis Simpson - that other American divorcee who caused the last constitutional crisis in 1936. One can only imagine how unbelievably let down and betrayed Prince William must feel. These tell all interviews rarely end well. They are probably already, regretting that they did it.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Getting the needle


 
Here at the moment, the hot conversation topic seems to be the coronavirus vaccine roll out. Well it is either that or the more depressing infection rate or daily death toll. Last week's spat with the EU over the export of vaccines to the UK has spiced things up and shown the EU bullies that the world is watching them and is not impressed with their behaviour. The UK continues with its' speedy rollout - showing the rest of the world how it should be done. Their aim is to have offered every over 70 their first vaccination by mid February and it is looking as if they are on target to meet that deadline.
 
Ten days ago husband's brother in law, who was 72 last month and is seven months older than husband, received his appointment to have his first vaccination on Monday of this week. So, of course husband started to wonder when he would get his invite. On Tuesday a letter arrived for husband from the NHS, providing him with the information that he needed to make an appointment for his first vaccination. He wasted no time in logging into the necessary website, only to find that appointments were only available at a branch of Boots in the centre of Chester. Alternatively, the letter said that he could wait until his GP practice contacted him, which is what he decided to do, as we had heard that they were using a vaccination centre, which had been set up in a church hall nearer to us than the centre of Chester. Well, he did not have long to wait as on Tuesday lunchtime our GP surgery telephoned  offering him an appointment late on Wednesday afternoon. After a bit of dithering, as it was a slightly inconvenient time, he accepted and asked if I could go with him, although I am not over 70. So, it was agreed that we could go together. Really he needed me to hold his hand, because he does not like needles.
 
We left home at 5 pm on Wednesday afternoon for the 20 minute drive to the vaccination centre and were back home before 6 pm. Arriving early for our 5.30 appointment, marshalls in the car park indicated the parking options and explained the one way system in operation. At the door to the church hall we were greeted by a volunteer with hand sanitiser. Then another volunteer directed us to the desk handling our GP practice. Several GP practices are using this vaccination centre. Once checked in we were handed a questionnaire and shepherded into a queue for the vaccination. The queue moved remarkably quicky and within five minutes of arriving we had both been injected with the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine. But we were not quite done, we then had to spend 15 minutes in the post vaccination observation area. Before we could access this area a label with our exit time was stuck to the sleeve of our anoraks by another volunteer. This area was in a draughty marquee that had been erected at the back of the hall and was the worst bit of the whole process. Just to take our mind off things we had been given a leaflet about the vaccine to read. It was 5.30 in the evening, in the middle of the UK Winter with the outside temperture being five degrees Celsius. After that it took me all night to get warm! 

Now we just have to wait for the antibodies to do their business and the appointment for the second vaccination.
 
All in all, it was an impressively slick operation.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

2020 hindsight

Here in the UK we are lockdown once again, so I thought that I would look back on some of the events of the last twelve months.

Well, what a year it was! I am not sure that hindsight is of much use now. Foresight would have been more useful a year ago, but if any of us had seen in a crystal ball what 2020 had to offer,  how many of us would even have got out of bed last January?

About a year ago we set off for Cape Town. So as the pandemic kicked off in China we were reliant on the internet for news as we travelled around South Africa. I am sure that everywhere that we stayed had a television in the bedroom but we do not usually watch television when we are away from home. In fact we do not even watch much television when we are at home. We were aware of the situation in China but had no idea of what it would escalate into. No one did. Initially the weather was good and we enjoyed the blue skies and sunshine of the Western Cape. We didn't have a care in the world as we enjoyed a day's wine tour around Franschhoek with lunch at Richard Branson's Mont Rochelle vineyard, where the scenery is absolutely stunning.

The good weather was not to last. During our drive along the Garden Route the weather gods decided to end South Africa's drought with spectacular thunderstorms, torrential rain and power cuts. Maybe we should have seen this as a harbinger of what was to come. After Port Elizabeth we flew to the Victoria Falls for a couple of days. There the weather was dry. At Johannesburg airport we saw a group of Chinese people being taken to one side.  I think by now the whole world saw all Chinese as carriers of this virus which had infected so many people in China. The last six nights of our holiday were spent in the Seychelles, where every day we had yet more thunderstorms and rain. After nearly four weeks away we were glad to return home on February 1, to a UK that had just left the EU although there were no obvious changes at Manchester airport. We had managed to avoid delayed flights and quarantine and no one seemed to be bothered about where we had been, but then Big Brother Emirates knew exactly when and where we were flying to and from. I just hoped that we did not get burgled.

Back in the UK it was cold, grey and wet. We seemed to have brought the South African rain back with us. From the edge of our seats, we watched the television news as coronavirus spread west from China. Here life was normal. We could socialise, shop for non essential items and go to the hairdresser. But for how long? Countries in Europe were locking down.  Horrified we watched as hospitals in Italy, Spain and France were overwhelmed by cases of the virus. It was only a matter of time before coronavirus reached our shores. We are an island. Someone would kindly import it for us even though the government set up isolation centres for travellers returning to the UK from hot spots, in an attempt to contain the virus. By the third week in March the battle was lost and the UK was also locked down as the number of coronavirus infections started to climb.

At first lockdown was a bit of a novelty. There was not much traffic on the roads, people were polite and kept their distance and restricted numbers in the supermarket made shopping a less unpleasant experience and the weather played its' part by being dry and sunny. This meant that we could spend time in the garden in addition to our allowed essential exercise of a walk around the village. Away from our Cheshire bubble things were grim, as the number of infections and deaths continued to rise. And so life went on. Holidays which had been booked and looked forward to for some time were cancelled and re-arranged. We naively thought that it would all be over in a few months and that life would return to normal. Then when we thought that things were improving as the infection rate dropped, we were instructed to wear face masks in shops, public transport and enclosed spaces. I am not a fan of mask wearing, but maybe the powers that be were right to insist on us wearing them. Everyday different scientists would pop up advising on what we should and shouldn't be doing. All seemed to be experts in their fields. Who knew that we had so many professors?

Over the summer the lockdown was relaxed, as the number of coronavirus infections fell and life became a bit more normal. We were even allowed to have a foreign holiday and we were fortunate enough to manage a week away on the Greek island of Crete at the beginning of September. But there were still rules to be abided by and that was the problem. Many did not follow the rules. In particular the young, who in general get away with an asymptomatic or mild dose of the virus. We were lucky enough to return from Crete just hours before England brought in quarantine rules for travellers returning from Crete, which had been necessitated by young people returning from the island with the virus, having partied the night away while on holiday. By mid September the second wave of the pandemic was starting in the UK as infection rate began to go up again and some parts of the country were under local restrictions. In October a tiered system of restrictions was brought in covering all of England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their own restrictions set out by their devolved governments. My husband and I had been shocked to see on the TV, places where people were partying in the street, hugging and kissing one another against all the rules. And the authorities were letting them get away with it. Infection rates continued to climb resulting in a one month lockdown during Novmber, in the hope of saving Christmas. It did bring the numbers down, only for them to go up again in December.

In the run up to Christmas the restrictions were tightened as the number of infections rose, but there were still plans to relax the rules for five days over the Christmas bank holiday. Then the weekend before Christmas the bombshell was dropped that a new more infectious variant had been identified and was spreading rapidly around London and the south east of England. These areas were effectively lockdown overnight leaving Christmas plans in ruins. As the news of this new variant spread countries in Europe and around the world banned travellers from the leper colony that was the UK. Within a day the Frog President Macron, while suffering from coronavirus himself, took the knee jerk decision to close the French border with the UK, leaving hundreds of EU nationals stranded in England. Most of those stranded were not coronavirus carrying Brits trying to cross the English Channel to France, but eastern European lorry drivers wanting to get home for Christmas.

This caused chaos around the channel ports in Kent as thousands of lorries, trying to cross the Channel, ended up blocking the roads. Some lorry drivers ended up spending Christmas in their cab. The French  will not be forgiven for their stupid actions and will live to regret them. This household for one will no longer buy anything French including wine. Other countries produce equally drinkable wine.

Within days several other countries admitted that the new variant, termed the UK or Kent variant, was already present in their country and had been present before the UK announcement. When you take into account the fact the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic started in Europe weeks ahead of the second wave in the UK, then it is quite likely that the new variant actually originated in Europe. The UK simply identified it and alerted the world, as we lead the world in genome testing.

All year the Brexit talks had continued between the UK and the EU, finally coming to an agreement just before Christmas. In the US it had been a presidential election year with the Democrat candidate Joe Biden defeating the Republican incumbent president Donald Trump. But everything, in this strangest of years, was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and I am wondering how many hours we have spent watching government briefings about how the pandemic has progressed and changes to the lockdown restrictions. I am also wondering how many times husband and I have walked around our village for exercise!

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Friday, 25 December 2020

For one day only

 

Here in England we are allowed to enjoy ourselves today. So we had better make the most of it!

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

In the nick of time

Do not adjust your computer. You have seen this photograph before and as with other things right now we are back to where we were a few months ago. We have seen this view a bit too much recently.

When we have not had to look at the rain pounding our garden furniture we have been working in the garden. I had hoped that that the circumstances this year would have given us the opportunity to get on top of the garden, but the weather has once again foiled our attempts. Everything looked so promising in the Spring when we had such good weather. We should have known that it was too good to last. Anyway right now there is not much else to do. Lockdown 2 has seen to that.

I know that I have been absent,  because of nothing much to write about, but I suppose what is worth writing about is our week away. We have been back a couple of months now. However, I imagine that a week away in September will turn out to be the highlight of our Summer. Back in June we were hoping to go to Corfu in September. As the Summer progressed we had second thoughts about going to Corfu. This was to be our first visit to Corfu and we decided that we would be better going to somewhere that we were familiar with. Eventually we managed to get through to Jet2 who allowed us to change not only our destination but also our departure date. So on September 1 we set off to one of our favourite destinations - Agios Nikolaos in Crete, which meant that we did get to see this lovely view - without the cruise ship.

As the holiday approached there was always the risk that the UK government would decide that Crete/Greece's coronavirus infection rate was too high and we would not be allowed to go, which meant that most of our preparations were left until the last minute. To our relief  the week before we went Crete was on the approved list of countries and we were able to go. Our flight to Heraklion was at 8.55 am. We were at a very quiet Manchester airport by 7.00 am, wearing face masks of course. During our journey we were allowed to remove the mask a couple of times to eat and drink. By the time we reached our hotel in Agios Nikolaos we had been wearing the wretched thing for about nine and a half hours - quite an endurance test. At last we could remove it. The hotel reception took our temperatures with a forehead gun then left us to our own devices. We had chosen this hotel because we had been before and felt that we would be safe there. The accommodation is mainly in bungalows spread around its extensive grounds. The dining room has a roof but no windows so is essentially outside, as is the bar. There are plenty of sunbeds and umbrelllas around the hotel grounds and it has a large swimming pool which we have never seen more than about six guests in at any time. Then there is a small beach and access to the sea from sunbathing jetties. In our bungalow was a pack containing a small hand sanitiser, wet wipes, two diposable face masks and a leaflet about the Greek coronavirus restrictions.

After a quick unpack and freshen up it was time to go out for our evening meal. It was good to see that the small supermarket across the road from the hotel was still in business. However, just down the road the nearest taverna to the hotel was closed and for sale. It was not a place that we used much. We had decided to walk down to the lake. To our relief most places were still there and open for business, but the resort was very quiet. We headed to one of our favourite tavernas by the lake run by twin brothers. They were pleased to see us - business was very slow. Their season had not started until July - normally it would start late April. That night, while we ate in their taverna, we were about the only customers they had.

Our lazy week in the sun went all too quickly. Most days we walked down to the lake for lunch or our evening meal. We did a bit of shopping, lay in the sun, read a book and swam. There was nothing else to do. There were no trips or excursions. The boats used for day trips were moored between our hotel and the next one. We enjoyed ourselves. And I have to say that we preferred a quiet resort to the usual busy one. We only wore face masks for our brief forays into shops. The hotel did not disappoint and we shall be going back next year.

To our relief while we were away Crete remained on the UK's approved list of countries that we could travel to without having to quarantine on our return to the UK. However, on our last day, September 7, the UK government announced that from 4 am on September 9 travellers entering the UK from Crete and some other Greek islands would have to quarantine for 14 days. How lucky were we? We were due to fly home on September 8. That evening as we went out for our last supper the waiters in the tavernas had heard about the UK quarantine rules, but I am sure that they did not realised that it would mean that holiday makers from the UK would not come.

Although we would have liked to have stayed for longer, we were pleased to be going home.  Our taxi got us to the airport in good time and from the departure lounge we watched our plane land. Then saw the not very many new arrivals as they left the plane.

 Would we have come if our holiday had been a week later? We don't know. 

Our return flight was full unlike the flight out, which had been about two thirds full. We landed back in a wet Manchester at 6.20 pm on September 8 - nine hours to spare. By the following day Jet2 had suspended holidays to Crete.

It had been good to get away, even if only for one week. We had had seven days of blue skies and sun - something which we had not seen much of in Cheshire during the Summer and I had not had to cook for a week.