62. What to do? #CV22

All legal Covid restrictions regarding masks and social distancing, except for the wearing of masks in surgeries and hospitals, have been removed. However the number of people suffering from the effects of the virus is as high as it has ever been; indeed in other countries it is even higher than before. Members of my family have contracted the virus for the first time; true they have been in public places, but that is allowed and it still concerns me. I believe the symptoms are ‘milder’ although those who have told me, they say it is not a pleasant experience. People have been advised to use their own judgement, but of course the mask protects other people and those choosing not to wear them in confined spaces are putting other people in danger and not themselves!

My wife is usually the only person in her hairdressers wearing a mask; we both wear masks in a supermarket, along with many others, and on entering restaurants until seated. I see the wearing of the mask more as a sign that Covid19 has not gone away and at my advanced age I cannot afford to take the risk of ignoring it.

61. I am a dinosaur

I read a lot; I write a bit, type a lot and talk very little these days, although talking was my job for 40 years.

I have no memory of how I learned to read, but my children were reading before they started school. We taught them using ‘Flash Cards’. These consisted of a graduated set of cards, initially showing words of one syllable which were shown to the child with the parent saying the word at the same time. I suspect that I was taught one letter at a time a (aa), b (bu), c (cu) and A (Ay), B (Bee), C (See), which method we also used to augment the flash cards as I recall. There have been many schemes over the years to teach reading in a different way, but they have passed both me and my children by.

Having no memory or personal experience of the inability to read makes it difficult to understand. In an earlier post I mentioned that my maternal grandfather could not read, but managed to conceal it so well that I did not know until reading my mother’s notes after she died. I am aware of terms like dyslexia, but have no concept of what it really ‘feels like’ as opposed to the clinical definition. Indeed a former headmaster, I worked for, an English specialist, never believed that the condition existed.

This morning I rose before dawn as this article was going round in my brain so I could not sleep. In order not to wake my wife, gently snoring in the bed next to me, I dressed in complete darkness and, perhaps with this still in my mind I thought about those who are blind and cannot read as I do. Some people, blind from birth will never know the joy of the written word and others, who lose their sight will know what a great loss it must be. However, in my case, learning to read lit the touch-paper as described in the last article.

Writing: where to start? Although I could probably write before going to primary school, it would have been ‘printing’ in much like the computer font Comic Sans. Indeed I have a letter I wrote as a child, in pencil, of course; even I am not old enough to have used chalk on a slate, although my parents may well have done. The next stage was what we called ‘real-writing’; my children called it ‘joined-up writing’ although I believe the correct term is ‘cursive’. In my case the accepted style was ‘copperplate’ which these days seems to be the preserve of calligraphers and old people. The teaching page was ruled with sets of three horizontal lines: the middle line being the height of the small (whoever had heard of lower case?) letters. The letters leaned slightly forward and woe betide anyone whose letters leaned backwards (backhand). Nobody other than printers had heard of fonts.

In my post #17 I referred to the (dip) pen and ink, but I’ll paraphrase it here to save you looking for it.. The pen in question was a metal ‘nib’ in a wooden stick, which was dipped into an inkwell integrated into the writing desk. It was barely a step forward from the quill of former times. The pen was cheap and difficult to learn to use as to press too lightly produced barely a scratch and to press too hard resulted in a bent nib and a pool of ink. Inky fingers were the look of the day. We all looked forward to getting a present of a fountain-pen, which I described earlier in the blog, but was simply a nib-pen with a built-in refillable reservoir. Some models fetch high prices in modern auctions.

The most exciting Christmas present I ever received was a ball-point pen. I can remember it even now. It was blue, hexagonal and had a top with a metal clip, just like the fountain-pens it was about to replace. I found it hidden on the top shelf of a cupboard where it was hidden and sneaked out every night just to look at it. Such anticipation! It was known generically as a Biro (after its inventor) , but later became the BIC we all know and lose. Of course it leaked and smudged, but I was the first in my class. Oh joy!

Sadly, hardly anyone ‘writes’ anymore, except on shopping lists and Christmas/birthday cards. Even they are moving to the cyber-world. Typing is another thing, but the mechanical keyboard itself is competing with the touch screen. Perhaps because the letters on a mobile touch screen are smaller than the average finger or because a text message may only use 160 characters, there has evolved a new form of messaging where letters replace words e.g. R U OK? This as you would expect has aroused the ire of those even more pedantic than I, that the world as we know it is going to hell in a handcart. To use ‘texting’ in a text message is fine by me, but not otherwise if you don’t mind. However I do admit to using acronyms from time to time. They are OK IMO.

Spelling is a whole new can of worms. Since the arrival of Microsoft Windows and Apple computers, American spelling has become commonplace because the dictionary and the spellcheck or the language of the keyboard has not been re-set to the UK version.  It should automatically sense the country of installation, but that is not always so, certainly on mobile phones. I would rather someone spelled (or is it spelt?) something incorrectly than gave up ‘writing’, but there is no good reason why most people should ignore a spelling checker: it’s just rude or lazy. As a physicist I seethe when I see focussed with double ss, when even in the US it is focused, yet I notice that the spellcheck on my UK version of ‘Word’ has not picked that up.

Don’t get me going on pronunciation. I have my idea of how I expect things to be pronounced and the reasons for it e.g. a see-saw is a lever (leever) yet the US talk of leverage as levverage (as in ever). I have no problem with that except although I understand that a British programme hoping for sales in the US uses that pronunciation, why then is the BBC newsreader pronouncing it incorrectly! For me a kilometre is a kilo-meter and not a kilommeter and I defy anyone to stop me shouting at the TV!

I’ll finish with punctuation, because at this point I might just burst into flames. I received, through the letterbox, a while back, a magazine produced by my local North Tyneside Council. The covering introduction did not contain any punctuation beyond full-stops and capital letters. It was almost unreadable. As a scientist/mathematician the precision of language is important to me. I spoke in my last post about reading ‘other’ books when I run out of fiction and my ‘go to’ is ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss. I know I tend to over punctuate, but the comma is your friend. It keeps ideas apart and allows your brain to breathe as you read. Chuck in a semicolon when you need a super-comma, or a full colon if you are making a list, but they are the icing on the cake and you can live without them. As for ‘speech marks’ or inverted commas; the “double” inverted comma seems to be on the way out except when directly highlighting something which is being said or quoting from it. Wait for it …… wait for it – The APOSTROPHE has arrived! You may not need it, some authorities have abolished it, but I love it. I don’t mean the one that I just used instead of writing do not 11 words ago, I mean the possessive apostrophe that has become known as the Greengrocer’s (or should that be Greengrocers’) apostrophe because of signs saying apples’ today or banana’s reduced. ‘If in doubt miss it out’ like a local hotel near me calling itself Commissioners Quay. If you need to use it, the rule is simple: the singular is John’s shoes; the plural is housewives’ choice and the exception is James’s because James is not a plural..

That’s it for now. I doubt that my journalist daughter will agree with much of this, but they live in a different world and I cannot see it from here (misquote).

60. Books and libraries

I am a reader. There has been no time in my life since learning to read, that I was not actively reading a book (and sometimes more than one).

The subject of the books has varied over time, but, when young, I recall reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories, that I could get access to. Recently I have read 200 consecutive books by James Patterson, followed by similar titles in the mystery/murder/detective/spy genre. However that has been interspersed by period studying all I could find on World War 1, local history or coal mining. It really doesn’t matter as if I complete a book before bedtime then I will turn to the bookcase for a non-fiction that I have not read for some time.

I never knowingly read fiction books more than once although it has happened and I have only realised part-way through. Having read, so many books by a single author I have had to keep a record, and the computer is ideal for this.

You may think that I must have a large collection, but in fact ~99% of all the books I have read belonged to local libraries. From the earliest Junior Library membership and whatever part of the country I have lived, I have been a member of a local library.

Libraries were not always public and if you visit cathedrals and country houses you may see books chained to the shelves or behind locked doors as they were so valuable. However public lending libraries, like museums, really did not appear in this country until the mis-1800s. Of course, further back in history, very few people could read, so scribes and clerics read, and wrote, on their behalf and ,of course, may not always have told the truth!

Being able to read is one thing; having the wherewithal to purchase a book was another and there the library did, and still does, serve the purpose for many people. Libraries gave people access to much more than books. Lectures by erudite travellers and social commentators were held in places like this and still are. My local library still holds talks, but it also houses various local government departments a café, accessible computers and a large reference section, of, particularly, local history.

In my youth, newspapers where held on large ‘easels’ in my local library for public access. In my riverside town that was particularly important as ‘shipping’ newspapers chronicled the comings and goings of all marine vessels. People like ‘news’ and although there is far too much of it on TV now, the newspapers and originally pamphlets were sold on the streets by vendors crying out the name of the newspaper or the headlines designed to catch the ear, and thus the attention, of the passer-by. World-shattering events like wars and local football results often resulted with reprints and hastily added ‘stop press’ at the end. It seems strange to me now that two newspapers, one on green paper and the other on pink were hawked around the streets on a Saturday evening simply containing reports of that afternoon’s football games.

During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, libraries were closed for a time. To a bibliophile like me that was a major crisis. I could, of course, have downloaded books to my ‘tablet’ or pc, but I like the touch and look of print on paper and resorted to paperbacks from the local supermarket, which had shrewdly spotted a gap in the market, or maybe they were there all the time and I didn’t notice.

The libraries are open again and, such is the power of the computer that, I don’t have to scour the shelves of my local branch, as their entire catalogue is online along with that of all other branches in the local authority. I can search and reserve tiles from the comfort of my home and collect when they become available,

Sorry I must end now as I am nearly finished my latest tome and I have three more waiting.

59. It’s all gone quiet CV#21

We are in quiet period, where the virus is, in fact, raging through the population, but it seems to be accepted. Plan B is still in operation. As I said in my last post, this includes shops, restaurants and public transport, but not pubs and outdoor events. Two of my friends have contracted the disease in pubs and another at a football match. Fortunately they have only suffered the equivalent of a nasty dose of flu-like symptoms which cleared within a week, but I wonder whether it was worth it for a pint or two of beer and to see Newcastle United lose yet again. Members of my family in other parts of the UK have suffered similarly and is it to be accepted that this is the look of the future. On the other hand newspapers and TV tell of hospitals full to overflowing, increased/increasing death toll and cancelled operations.

Because of the effect of a more drastic shutdown on business and the industry there is little more that the government can do so the it will go on going on until events force otherwise or the disease becomes endemic like flu and we learn to accept regular vaccinations and period outbreaks.

It is interesting to a student of human nature to see people wearing masks when not obliged to, not wearing masks when they should be, and observing social distancing while passing folk in the street. I do wonder, how many people wash their mask after each use or discard their disposable one? Off to wash my hands.

58. Omigod – Omicron CV#20

Apparently a Covid variant christened ‘Omicron’ has arrived, originating from South Africa.

Because it seems to be more transmittable, the usual panic has run through the newspaper headlines. The government is ‘between a rock and a hard-place’, in that the ideal solution is lockdown, but Christmas is looming with the obvious effect that would have on the retail and hospitality sectors.

The compromise is called ‘Plan B’. Masks have been made compulsory in places where people are in close proximity i.e shops and on public transport, yet pubs remain unaffected! Because two vaccinations and a booster jab seem to be providing 70% protection then a ‘Covid passport’ showing that the holder has had all three is proposed for large musical gatherings and clubs. This is not popular, both with the young and some Tory politicians. The availability of the booster ‘jab’ has thus far been limited to certain (older) age groups, but this has been lowered resulting in long queues and shortages of both vaccines and testing kits.

57. Where are we now? CV#19

To be honest, I’m not sure. Anyone finding this blog in the future will realise how confused we were.

I visited Specsavers (opticians) yesterday. They insist on hand gel at the door and provide a mask if you are not wearing your own. That, for me, is as it should be. Staff all wear masks to prevent THEM passing the virus to ME. It is NOT for their protection, that is what my mask is for.

Yet I can go to a pub, where nobody wears a mask. It makes no sense to me, so I have not been since lockdown.

Most people at my (Morrisons) supermarket are wearing a mask, but I fancy they believe that it protects them.In reality it may help, provided they are not handled unnecessarily and are disposed of or washed every time. Yet most of the checkout staff do not wear them or those picking shelf items for home delivery!

Despite the number of cases reported to be falling in this country, cases are rising on the continent, but there seems to be no urgency to be prepared beyond vague half-hearted appeals to get tested before Christmas shopping. How many people would not go shopping if they tested positive?

Since I don’t (now) mix socially I am not aware of anyone I know who has contracted the virus, so am I too cautious or am I a voice crying ‘wolf’? Time will tell

PS. I don’t really miss leaving home on a cold dark winter’s night to go and meet the same people I always meet, talk about the same stuff as last time and trip to the loo several times during the night. Yet I did it for sixty years without a second thought.

56. To rent or to buy? Those were the days.

I have had my Covid booster jab and one for flu. It may not be related, but I’ve had a couple of sleepless nights and it gave me time for thought.

In article 9 (Radio and TV) I never thought to explain how the average family was able to get access to a TV set which was quite expensive at that time. When they were rare, it was common to visit the homes of friends and families, simply to watch their television. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 created a boom in sales which lead eventually to every home ‘owning’ their own. It was, however normal to rent a TV. The sets, even with their tiny black and white screens, were too expensive for the average family to buy outright. There were a few firms that specialised in renting, but the most well-known was Radio Rentals and their brand was, usually, Sobell.

Renting was not altogether a new idea as my grandparents and parents had a ‘radio’ supplied by cable. The firm was Rediffusion and the set was supplied by a cable coming in through a window frame. Most terraced house were connected to the cable, whether they choose to have the ‘set’ or not. You may see older houses still have boxes and cables high up below the eaves. My father had a document stating that he was entitled to a ‘peppercorn rent‘ which meant very little, but ensured that the brickwork near the fitting were always the responsibility of the company. The set. which just looked like a loudspeaker, was always connected and a simple rotary switch found one of the few radio stations available at the time. Apparently the company had early cable TV, but the war prevented its expansion in that field. They (Rediffusion) too went on to rent televisions and eventually enter the broadcasting market.

However when bigger items such as washing machines and refrigerators came along it was more usual to buy on ‘hire-purchase‘. For a deposit and monthly payments, the item remained the property of the company until the final payment (often known as getting it ‘on the drip’ or the ‘never never’). It worked out expensive in the long run, of course, but changed the life of many ordinary households. This differs from the modern credit system where the item is yours from the off and if the payments are not paid, then it becomes a matter for the courts whereas with hire-purchase the item was simply repossessed, which may, of course, happen with a credit agreement, but in that case the courts must be involved..

In my time as a teacher financial education fitted no part of the curriculum unless the school or the individual teacher chose to introduce it. I would like to think that in these time of social media, that, and a general worldly awareness, found a place.

55. Numbers rise again. CV#17

‘Winter draws on’, as my grandfather used to say, with a smirk, and the threat of Covid rearing its head once again rumbles below the surface of news bulletins on government fears.

Reports of a plan B: that masks and 2m social-distancing be re-introduced as mandatory, or a plan C: that the number of people meeting be returned to 6 with no mixing between households, should plan B be implemented and not succeed. The plans have clearly been discussed, but are not yet in force despite reports that The NHS and doctors groups have asked for this.

Masks are used, not to prevent the catching of Covid, but to prevent the ‘giving’ of the virus by coughing or sneezing. However it is also a ‘signal’ to those around that ‘I believe this is happening and I am doing my best to help’. Conversely anyone seen not to be wearing a mask may be construed as a ‘non believer’ or since the wearing of a mask is not mandatory, then they believe that things must be getting better.

It was clear from a televised news conference yesterday, that the government is basing its plans on the belief that vaccination is the solution. This seems largely to be based on figures that show that admission numbers to hospitals are far higher for those who have not been vaccinated than for those who have. It is also true that the effectiveness of vaccines wanes with time, resulting in the introduction of a third ‘booster’ dose for those of us who are vulnerable and have had their second jab more than 6 months ago.

The fears for the winter are compounded by the expectation that any flu outbreak will be worse than usual because lockdown last winter meant that there were fewer cases of flu and so little resistance will have built up in the population. This of course means that lockdown was the most effective way of preventing the spread of both types of virus, but its effect on the day-to-day running of the country inhibits the government imposing it unless it is the last resort.

54. Smoking Revisited

In article #6 I talked about smoking in my younger days. This is an attempt to bring it up to date and add facts forgotten at the time of writing.

The government has long used the tax laws to penalise smokers on the grounds of health. Of course if they really believed that then they would have banned them altogether, but then they would have lost considerable revenue.

In 1960 a standard packet of 20 cigarettes cost ~20p; by 1980 it was 60p; 1990 £1.65p; 2000 £3.88p ; 2015 £9.16p and I believe today (2021) it is £10+ for the most expensive brands. In passing: shops are now compelled to hide their cigarettes behind shutters and smoking ads are not permitted in the UK.

The price rise seems horrendous, but in comparison a pint of beer cost 5p (1/-) a pint when I had my first (illegal) ‘half’. The same (keg) beer costs ~£3.60 in a pub in this area – i.e. 72x dearer. On the cigarette prices above the rise is only ~50x. However the average wage outside London has only risen ~45x so in those good old days beer and fags really were ‘cheaper’.

While my memory is still functioning: I mentioned the cheaper brands of (Wild) Woodbine, Park Drive and Players Weights, available or popular in different regions. There were dearer brands which included Players, Capstan, Gold Flake and Senior Service being the most well known. Du Maurier, Black Cat, Turf and a ‘perfumed’ Turkish(?) brand called Passing Clouds, appeared after the war and in, I suppose, the mid 60s, the tobacco companies launched new brands to appeal to the newly well-off young people: Strand, Benson & Hedges, Embassy, Lambert & Butler, Rothmans, Silk Cut and more that I have long forgotten.

It just occurred to me that when I was 10 years old (1951) at primary school, my teacher used to send me to a shop half a mile away to get his cigarettes and as brands were scarce, he was not always happy with the brand I managed to return with.

In recent years electronic smoking devices have emerged. These vaporise a liquid to produce a ‘smoke’ which may or may not contain nicotine. They also emit to the air a (sometimes ‘flavoured’) cloud of vapour to simulate the traditional cigarette smoke, although I believe this is not an essential part of the process and is simply for effect. This is known as ‘Vaping’ and although nicotine is addictive, the tar associated with tobacco is absent, making the claim that the product is ‘less’ harmful. Whatever the claims, they are banned in most indoor spaces.

53. And so it goes on: CV#16

It is difficult to know what exactly is fact and what is not. An app (CV-19) on my phone tells me that the numbers are falling, week on week, yet the media claims there are localised outbreaks associated with e.g. sports events and music festivals. Customers at the supermarket I use, almost all wear masks even though it is recommended, but not compulsory any more. Public transport seems to insist on mask wearing, but clubs and pubs do not! The government-backed test-and-trace app became so affected by ‘false-positives’ that it was uninstalled by many and logging in to a venue with it became optional.

As we near the end of the school summer holidays there is an expectation that there will be another rise in cases and to that effect there is talk of vaccination down as young as 12 year-olds; down from the current age of 16. There are, however people who do not believe it helps and some are protesting in major cities to that effect.

While this has being going on, the headlines in the media has concentrated on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by UK and USA after a long, fruitless war. The rights and wrongs and who will ‘escape’ will soon came to an end as the UK left yesterday and the US by 31st. The Taliban a fundamentalist Muslim sect have taken charge of the country, but they themselves are threatened by more violent ‘tribes’ vying for power.

At home, the football season is as if it had never ceased. All Covid restrictions on crowds have been relaxed so that too should prove interesting if the spread of the virus does or does not increase. Conclusions will be drawn as to whether there should ever have been a lockdown, forgetting of course that now most supporters will have received two vaccinations. The longevity of the effectiveness of the vaccine is in question at this time and talk of a third (booster) jab is about.

Personally I have been out for a meal several times. I wear a mask until seated and tables and menus are still sanitised between customers, but unlike most of my friends, I have yet to venture to a public house solely for the purpose of drinking. This is partly because I am not yet convinced that it is safe to do so, and partly to leave the comfort of my home to sit with friends, or more usual just acquaintances who I meet nowhere else, to talk about memories of times gone by seems daft. Having said that I have been doing just that for 60+ years. :o?