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?

52. Two months on. CV#15

The hoped-for lessening of precautions expected for this week were, in my opinion, built more on hope than expectation, and have been postponed for another month. As the eternal realist, I am personally not convinced that it will happen then although I would like to be proved wrong. Those who really do not understand the nature of the beast are becoming ‘ostriches’ and if they do not know anyone affected then it must not be happening.

A variant of the virus known initially as the ‘Indian’ variant and renamed the ‘delta’ variant has appeared and is more infectious than the last.

Adults as young as 18 are now offered the jabs, but the number of infections is once more on the rise. It appears that those with both vaccinations are less likely to be infected with milder symptoms if they do.

Pubs and restaurants are able to serve both indoors and out, with masks worn while moving around, and tables separated by screens. Large sums were spent on providing outdoor seating, which is being used as the weather has been mild and sunny. It may come in useful if the current rapid rise in infections persists and restrictions reimposed.

Limited mask-wearing crowds have been allowed into football stadiums throughout Europe for the current (postponed) Euro-2020 competition. It all seems to work well until goals are scored when social distancing goes out the window.

One local club and a school have been closed for deep-cleaning so it is far from over despite some people’s misplaced optimism.

51. Another step CV#14

We had our second Pfizer vaccination today. It was so quiet, the ‘jabbers’ were jokingly touting for business 🙂

This week the pubs and restaurants were allowed to serve outdoors. Fortunately there has been no sign of rain, although it has been unseasonably cold with some north wind.

Enterprising pubs and restaurants have capitalised on outdoor seating, by both extending or covering what area they already had. A shower of rain will prove interesting, but it hasn’t happened yet. Pubs with no outdoor seating have another month to wait.

When it changed on Monday last they were expectedly busy, but weekdays since then have been quieter. It will be interesting to see what transpires this weekend in terms of a rise in infections in the weeks to come.

Non-essential shops are now open. The wearing of masks indoors is now an accepted part of life.

Small steps are being taken nationally with limited audiences to the current World Championship Snooker tournament and the second FA Cup semi-final. Spectators to these events must have proof they are Covid-free, wear masks and be socially distanced when not in a family ‘bubble’. These venues are bar and restaurant free. There is also a proposal for an outdoor ‘gig’ with no restrictions beyond proof of a negative test.

50. Roadmap to normality CV#13

The Prime Minister outlined a ‘Roadmap’ to end the restrictions imposed. It consists of four blocks, each lasting five weeks. Each block is more ‘lenient’ than the last until sometime in July, things should be back to normal.

Each step allows for more social contact especially a return to school. Restaurants with outdoor seating will be the first to open, but not until mid-April at the same time as non-essential shops and hairdressers. Indoor pubs will have to wait until mid-May

All this is dependent on no flare-ups of cases in the meantime. It is not absolutely clear, to me when wearing a mask indoors will be relaxed and social distancing reduced.

49. Light at the end of the tunnel? CV#12

Three weeks on from my last post and it would seem that new cases are levelling off and in most areas including ours, falling slowly.

At this time there have been 3.9 million cases in the UK with 110,000 deaths Nationally 800,000+ people had the virus last week this equates to the level last October before the recent rise.

90% of over 75s have been vaccinated (Including me). This vaccination is not in itself active against the virus, but enhances the body’s response to it. It will be followed by a second ‘jab’ in 12 weeks to increase the effect. People have had to be constantly reminded that this is not a cure and one can still be infected and pass it on. The virus has mutated many times, usually into a more infectous variant. It is not certain that the vaccine will be effective against these other forms, but we are being assured that it is most likely. IMO since the body is the tool and not the vaccine itself, that seems reasonable. However nothing is certain and that light may well be a long way off.

48. Second or is it third lockdown? – CV#11

As many people predicted, the loosening of regulations at Christmas has caused a surge in cases in the new year. The original plane to allow families to meet up for five days was reduced to Christmas Day only, but people being unwilling to stick to this has the consequences we all feared.

As a result another lockdown has been imposed and although a little less severe than the last, it means that people should only leave home for exercise in their local area and to shop for food and necessities. Supermarkets are back to ‘clicking’ customers in and out, but there appears to have been little panic buying of toilet rolls and hand gel. In our area the wearing of face-masks inside shops has been good, but it is now compulsory unless you have an exemption. Many people are choosing to shop for groceries online, which has resulted in increased congestion by students(?) collecting items for delivery while normal customers are shopping. Fines are being imposed by police on those who are away from home without good reason although people are still going to beauty-spots when the weather is fine.

There has been a roll-out of several vaccines, particularly for the elderly. They all consist of two injections a few weeks apart. This does not make one immune from day-one, but creates antibodies which in time will fight the virus. However experience tells us that people will not listen, or more likely will not understand, and once vaccinated they will go back to their former behaviour. Today Scotland has increased the severity of their lockdown and there seems to be a likelihood that England will follow suit.

47. It just got worse – CV#10

The virus has morphed into a more contagious variant and as as a result a new tier TIER 4 has been imposed on London and the South-East. This is effectively the same as the original full lockdown with non-essential shops closed along with pubs and restaurants.

The government under Boris Johnson were hoping that the Covid restrictions regarding families meeting could be relaxed for FIVE days around Christmas Day, but this was obviously a silly idea from the start .That has been abandoned with two families being the maximum allowed to meet indoors aka a ‘bubble’. The concept of ‘bubbles’ means that you can meet a limited number if people (the number has varied) and those people only. People in Tier 4 may not meet indoors with anyone they don’t normally live with. No other person form another tier may include anyone from Tier 4.

This has also had the knock-on effect that people cannot travel within the country or abroad, without good reason and people have to do Christmas shopping for both presents and food, who were not expecting to be at home. To make matters even worse, countries on the continent have removed access to us and hundreds of lorries are stuck at the channel ports. This will inevitably cause shortages of imported goods and trigger panic buying.

Of course during all this, negotiations on Brexit are deadlocked and must be completed before the turn of the year.

46. Tears from Tier 3 – CV#9

As predicted a tier system was imposed. We are in Tier 3, the most severe, not because our borough is particularly bad, but because the main population centres like Newcastle are bad and people would travel to a lower tier in order e.g. to use pubs and restaurant so we have neither. Tier two on the other hand have both and although pubs can serve until 10 pm there, they must include a ‘substantial’ meal (the contents of which are debatable).

In Tier THREE all shops are open, mask must be worn while indoor shopping and on public transport. Some people are still deniers and gathering to protest in cities like Newcastle.

The vaccine is ready and went into use this week. It will be a long time until everyone receives it, but it is a light at the end of the tunnel, unless people think this is an excuse to ignore the precautions.as Christmas approaches.

45. Second lockdown CV#8

From November 5th and until December 2nd a second lockdown has been imposed. Much the same as the first: all pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops closed. Apart from the usual whingers and ‘deniers’ most folks are wearing masks in stores and on public transport.

It seems that several vaccines are in the final stages of testing and the infection rate is at least levelling out if not falling. The fear is that because of this, people will think it’s all over and begin congregating again.

Christmas is approaching and there seems to be a feeling that if we forget all lockdown for a day or two, it want make a difference and granny will be able to come round for turkey and we can all have a party . Personally I believe that would be a recipe for disaster.

The newspapers are predicting that we will return to a tier system, but unless it is adhered to more strictly than before, then we will have learned nothing. The thought of pubs being fully open even with social distancing and hand sanitation fills me with dismay.