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.

44 . Where are the snowflakes now? CV#7

The rise in cases of Coronavirus continues, although the term ‘exponentially’ has been much misused in the press and even by those who should know better. It is small comfort that the NHS has learned along the way and in many cases the severity of the symptoms has been reduced by the treatments. Having said that people continue to die and to reduce the likelihood, the government has introduced three tiers of ‘control’: medium, high and very high. We on Tyneside remain in what is now called High, but Liverpool, for example, has been raised to Very High, which is basically full lockdown that we all saw in the early stages. Some areas like Manchester are protesting in advance of the government raising them to the highest tier, for perhaps party-political points-scoring, whereas London has grudgingly accepted the High tier, and perhaps not before time. The upcoming weeks should prove interesting in the battle between those who know better than – well – anybody else.

The other talking point since I last wrote concerns the snowflakes in my header. As far as I understand it, the term refers to young people, particularly those at university who protest on other people’s behalf at what they see as injustice. So it has been interesting to see, that with total disregard for the protections suggested by the government, the incidence of the disease within those communities has mushroomed well beyond the aforementioned ‘exponential’. But should anyone be surprised?

When you are 18 and flogged your guts out to get the A-levels to go to university, where for the first time in your life the tings you have been yearning to have: the option of getting stoned, getting drunk and getting laid. All three you know about, what they mean and the consequences – a choice – and free from going home to the critical gaze of your family every night.

Now there is a forth choice; a disease which kills old people, sad, but true. You have never seen someone suffering with Covid, you don’t know anyone who’s had it and you may have heard about someone you know dying of it, but lots of people are dying all the time. You may know people who choked to death on their own vomit, but it didn’t stop you drinking or took and overdose or got ‘the clap’. That’s life!

Why then should we oldies who have been along the uni’ path, or not, expect those who follow, to treat Covid any differently, as all we have to go on is what we read.

I’m nearly eighty and I know of ONE person who died from it in the early weeks; I know of nobody else who has ‘caught’ it. I really don’t know what it means to have the disease. Trump had it and he’s still an arsehole; Boris had it and he still bumbles on like before. As a young undergraduate, I would have no concept of what they suffered and whether it is bad enough to stop doing what I have been looking forward to doing for so long .

I doubt it.

43. A turn for the worse? CV #6

From last Friday (18/9/2020) restrictions on the ‘North East’ became stricter. Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and County Durham council areas are included. This is not to say that all these areas have a high infection rate, but some of them do and people pass from one to another. I believe this was done at the joint request of those councils.

Beyond saying that the regulations regarding the wearing of masks, queuing at supermarkets again, the number of people allowed in a ‘bubble’ and that visiting other people’s homes became much tighter, the closing time of pubs became the main talking point.

Most people younger than I, do not know that until the late 1980s many pubs closed at 10pm. This of course did not include ‘drinking up time’ whereas under these 2020 regulations pubs must be vacated by 10pm.

These regulations become national in England from 24th September 2020, with the wearing of masks compulsory when not seated, table service, with staff in shops and pubs also having to wear masks.

42. And so it goes on – CV #5

Day 175 and approaching 6 months. A former colleague has succumbed to the virus although he did have dementia and Parkinson’s disease. R.I.P.

Although as said last time; face masks are expected to be worn in shops, a few folks still think they know best, but most comply and some wear them all the time.

The expected problem of the arrogant young has got no better as they stil believe that social distancing ‘does not apply to them’. As a consequence the number of cases has risen, to the extent that the government has ruled that, from today (14/9/2020), the maximum number of people in a group, must not exceed 6 persons. As the rule was announced last week, the uncaring youth (and some who should know better) had large gatherings at the weekend presumably believing that the virus will not have noticed. It equates in my mind to the youth of 1914 ‘taking the queen’s shilling’ to go off with their pals to war.

Just to reinforce the point, my local pub has had to close for two weeks as a member of staff has tested positive. Those who insist on standing too near the bar or not behind the perspex screens – take note.

41. Coronavirus #4

Another week has passed and we’ve plucked up the courage to ‘venture forth’. I was beginning to believe I would never see anything beyond the supermarket and the ice-cream van in some car-park, so I ‘bit the bullet’ and booked a table at my favourite eating-pub.

On entering we had to wait until the landlord guided us to a table. He asked for our telephone number, in case it appeared later that another customer contracted the virus, so we could be contacted to self-isolate. As it is supposed to be, no-one was standing at the bar and there was one door ‘in’ and another ‘out’, with notices advising on using the toilets. When an adjacent table was vacated, it was thoroughly cleaned immediately. Even those who were not eating were not allowed in unless a table was free.

The landlord told me that although he had had received reams of documentation from various sources, very little was useful advice on how he should prepare the pub for re-opening. Further to that there was no inspection to say he could open and was clearly told that there was unlikely to be any special visits from ‘ Environmental Health’. The measures he has taken e.g. perspex screens and fewer tables were at his own expense..

Having ordered our drinks and shortly after, our meals, things proceeded as normal and we left feeling satisfied and reassured.

Not having been to a pub just to drink and chat with friends I visited one of my usual haunts that same evening. I must declare at this point that I only entered the bar and have no notion of what went on in those rooms at either end where food is served. However it appears that there is an ‘in’ door and an ‘out’ door, but I was just lucky to pick the correct one. Although there are arrows on the floor in the bar which is between the ‘eating’ rooms I spoke of, they were totally disregarded by people passing from trips to the toilet who probably should have gone the outside route.

I was not asked for my telephone number on entering and, after mentioning this, I was directed to a sign-in sheet on the bar itself. There were only a handful of customers in that room, but, even s,o there were people standing at the bar (including me), which I believed to be a no-no. I don’t know for sure, but I cannot imagine there being any semblance of social-distancing in that room at the weekend even 1 metre+. I certainly will not visit there at busy times, but will have to take my chance on a night when it is as quiet as when I visited, as I enjoy the customers and staff.

Considering the eatery I visited has had sales 60% lower than usual and both places were closed for such a long period, it is no surprise that beer prices are higher, but the food prices were not noticeably higher there, but that does not seem to be true everywhere. The government has promised to recompense eateries for charging 50% less on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August.

I know of several people who are still afraid to eat-out or visit a pub; particularly older, but not nearly as old as me. Most younger folk don’t seem too bothered.

Face masks Since yesterday, it has been compulsory to wear a face mask (or other facial covering) in all shops and sandwich bars (with a few people with conditions and children under 11 excepted). The intention being to protect the other people if you should cough or sneeze not to protect yourself.

As you would expect, there are those who see this as a breach of their rights, as was the case with car seat-belt wearing and smoking indoors. There is a fine of £100 for non-compliance and the police complain they have better things to do. The shops themselves have no compulsion to enforce the law and indeed some supermarkets have stated that they won’t. The medical advice, on type of mask, with correct use and treatment of it, are complex and probably not understood to be important by some. However at my supermarket yesterday everybody seemed to be wearing a re-usable mask, more or less correctly.

40. Coronavirus #3

Now at 115 days (3 months +). The July 4th changes took place and as expected (by me) the younger element of the drinking classes behaved as badly as you would expect. I have yet to venture to my local or to eat-out as is we usually do.

My wife has had her hair cut under the new regulations, but it will be some weeks before she can have it styled again due to the time involved in cleaning between customers and only two in the salon at one time. I believe restaurants are low on customers as the fear is still there among older customers, who are the majority during the day. Shops seem to be coping with ‘in’ and ‘out’ entrances and queuing outside if the shop is full.

The lowering of the ‘social-distance’ from 2 metres to 1 m plus (whatever that means) has resulted in some cases in no social-distancing at all and/or the increased wearing of face-masks.

Face masks themselves have created a problem: to wear or not to wear, when to wear, how to wear and what type to wear? The government has not helped, by ministers contradicting each other and this has become the common factor during the pandemic i.e. uncertainty.

In 8 days time (24th July), facemasks become compulsory in shops (for most people over 11 years of age) as they have been on public transport for some time. The fine for non-compliance has been set at £100 although how it will be policed and how those obviously wearing them incorrectly are treated; who knows?

There has been a bonus for armchair football fans as, in order to complete the regular season, there have been matches played every day, with many being televised ‘free to air’ and to subscribers of the pay-channels. The faux crowd noise at all matches has, as you would expect, pleased some viewers and irritated others and it can only be muted in some cases. The players themselves have still cuddled each other after scoring goals despite a charade of bumping fists and elbows at the start and end of the game. ‘Taking the knee’ prior to kick-off has become the norm, to reinforce the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign, continues.

Despite my fears that reduced social-distancing and the other changes of July 4th, there seems to have been no drastic rise in either deaths or cases in infection un the UK. Other parts of the world are not so lucky, The USA seems to be vary from state to state and the latest whim of president Trump, while the overpopulated and ‘undeveloped’ parts of the world are yet to ‘peak’.

On a brighter note, the DFDS ferry service between North Shields and Amsterdam re-commenced today.

39. Coronavirus update #2

96 days in and changes are afoot. Shops are now free to open, but the 2 metre social distancing (except for people who live together) remains. There is a loosening of regulations allowing families, who do not live together normally, to meet.

All shops have adapted the procedures of food stores with ‘in’ and ‘out’ entrances and exits, directions of travel and lines on the ground, inside and outside, at 2 metre spacing. Perspex barriers at the cashouts are universal, but some staff and customers wear masks and some don’t. Some school pupils have gone back.(see full details at the end of this post)

Football is being played in empty grounds, but the players apart from touching fists instead of shaking hands seem to have little regard for the non-touching rule at other times. Many Premier League matches are being televised ‘free to air’ and on radio with simulated crowd noises in some cases.

The weather has been unseasonably hot, leading to beaches in some parts of the country being packed with no regard for social distancing. There seems to be a feeling by many that if they don’t know anyone who has the virus then ‘anything goes’. Liverpool United won the Premier League title before the season has ended, leading to large celebrations in that city with total disregard for health considerations. There have also been mass protests as a result of one police action on a black suspect who died in the USA. This has lead to worldwide gatherings with disregard for distancing and injuries to police and protesters.

The three events above compounded by the announcement that social distancing is to be reduced to one metre-plus, pubs and restaurants will be able to open on 4th July and that holiday flights will begin soon, have led some people to believe it will all soon be over despite the warnings that a second wave of illness is extremely likely.

It will be interesting to see whether there is a further rise in cases in the next two weeks as a result of the gatherings of this last week.

The new regulations from 4th July 2020

The two-metre social distancing rule will be reduced to “one-metre plus” – Pubs and restaurants can reopen but will have to take the names and contact details of customers in case they need to be reached as part of the government’s test and trace programme – People will be allowed to stay overnight at hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites – Hairdressers and barbers can reopen – Community centres and bingo halls will be permitted to reopen – Wedding services of up to 30 people will be allowed, provided social distancing is maintained, with places of worship permitted to reopen – Outdoor gyms and playgrounds can be used – All reopened premises will have to introduce a range of safety measures to ensure they are “COVID secure” – Gatherings of two different households can take place indoors, providing social distancing is maintained, meaning families will be reunited and dinner parties will be allowed. People are however still advised to limit the time they spend with others – Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions can reopen.

What restrictions are still in place?

People still can’t hug their loved ones – Theatres and concert halls can begin operating, but cannot stage live performances – Nightclubs, indoor gyms and beauty salons must remain closed “for now” – The government is hoping to reopen gyms and leisure centres in mid-July – Spas, casinos, nail bars, tattoo parlours, massage parlours, soft play areas, swimming pools, bowling alleys and water parks cannot reopen

What people could already do before:

Gather in groups of up to six people in public or private outdoor spaces, as long as social distancing was practised – Visit non-essential shops – Play sports such as tennis and football with the people that they meet, but only if it is possible to keep a two-metre distance – Return to school if they are in reception, Year 1, Year 6 or of nursery age – despite teaching unions expressing serious doubts – Meet loved ones if they had been “shielding” from the virus – Visit outdoor retail spaces such as outdoor markets and car showrooms where social distancing can be observed – Return home from university if it was a permanent move – Go to property viewings in person and visit agents for both sales and rentals – Invite nannies and childminders to come to their house to look after children, provided good public health measures are adhered to – Form a “support bubble” with one other household – meeting inside and staying overnight – if they live alone or are a single parent with a child under 18

Fines

The government introduced fines for breaking lockdown rules in March which later increased from £60 to £100. Repeat offenders will see the fine double for each subsequent breach to a maximum of £3,200.

38. Coronavirus update #1

72 days in and it seems to have been like this for ever. The panic buying of toilet rolls and hand gel has calmed down and shops have restocked. Shops and supermarkets selling food and essentials have come to terms with 2 m social distancing. Some people choose to wear masks and the cashouts everywhere have perspex shields at head-height.

Until today there has been almost no rain and lots of warm sun. Some people, particularly, but not entirely, the young, have been unable to resist gathering on beaches and in the sea before the regulations were reduced. Now this has happened and the once-closed carparks have reopened, then beaches and parks have become popular to such an extent that it has become impossible to enforce social distancing in some places.

Two days ago (June 1st 2020) restrictions were changed to allow some schools to open. These were principally specified primary school year-groups, with reduced class sizes and social-distancing in the classroom and elsewhere. Some parents have been afraid to send their children back to school. Whether this is because the regulations have been unnecessarily strict only time will tell, but it has helped to keep the numbers wishing to return to school to a manageable level.

Some non-essential shops have been allowed to open, but not all have chosen to do so. Pubs and restaurants are still not allowed to open, but some have created a delivery service for food. A local small brewery is also doing home deliveries.

Very large hospitals were created at the outset and have only been necessary so far to keep the infected patients out of the local hospital wards. Britain does not appear to be recovering as well as some other countries and it will be interesting to see whether there is a second wave of infection as a result of those who ‘misbehaved’ during the warm weather and/or the relaxing of the rules.

There is much talk of professional sports restarting behind closed doors and indeed horse-racing has done this, but football is still under discussion.

Some people do not seem to be able to live without a holiday abroad and there is still much debate as to how and whether this can be achieved safely.

Personally nothing has changed for me since lockdown. I probably should have self-isolated from the outset and indeed I have only left the house for our weekly shop, a midweek top-up and to take photographs of ships on the river for my other blog, website and Facebook pages. So far so good. Watch this space.

37. Coronavirus (2020)

Like many of the earlier ramblings, it is difficult to believe events that took place in my parents; and grandparents’ time, let alone my own youth. It is with that in mind that I am setting down what is happening now in the hope that it will all blow over and be difficult to believe  it happened at all.

Early in 2020 it became increasingly clear from newspaper and TV reports, that a virus was causing major illness and indeed fatalities in China from 2019. The virus which became known as Covid-19, apparently originated in the city of Wuhan. Whether it was by scientific accident or a blip in the food chain is still under debate, and I leave the reader to find out when ‘the dust has settled’. Whatever the cause it soon spread throughout the world to be designated as a pandemic.

Many of us, including the governments in many countries, really did not understand what action to take, apart from constant appeals to ‘wash your hands’. It was initially treated as a virulent version of seasonal flu or equated to the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 which killed more people than The First World War.

As time passed, hospitals filled and more people than expected began to die, so warnings were issued that the older generation would be the first and worst affected, but it was not until later (some say too much later) that ‘lockdown’ was enforced.

Indeed it was taken seriously enough for me to contact my family to let them know the contents of my will, the keys to the house and the passwords for my computer.

Lockdown in broad terms was taken to mean that everybody stayed at home unless it was essential that there was a reason for them to leave it. Pubs, clubs and restaurants were the first to be closed, followed by shops selling non-essential goods and Schools.* Of course ‘reason to leave’ and ‘non-essential’ became topics of debate. Eventually food shops and supermarkets were allowed to open with the proviso that limited numbers were allowed to enter at one time and ‘social-distancing’ was applied. Social-distancing was deemed to be 2 metres (the designated distance of the average sneeze). Supermarkets had security to allow people into the store’ and the queuing area outside was marked in 2m intervals with tape, and at the checkout with stickers 2m apart, on the floor. The staff it the tills were protected with Perspex shields and much use made of hand-wipes.

Initially panic-buying emptied the shelves of alcohol-based hand gels and hand-wash, but less-understandably toilet-rolls. Flour and other home cooking items were also hit initially, but in time most products returned to normal.

* The closing of schools meant that children were to be taught in their own homes by parent(s) with the help of their schools via internet and provided materials. As a former teacher I understand that some parents will cope fine, while others will not and the discipline already present will decide whether it is a pleasure or hell on earth. One reader has already suggested that in 20 years time the country will be run by home-schooled kids taught by alcoholic parents (Nigel Lewis)

The UK government agreed to pay 80% of those prevented from working and the word formerly used to mean holiday in the USA ; furloughed , became the term for such people. Massive emergency hospitals have been built and medical staff caring for infected patients in hospitals and nursing homes have suffered worst.

As things stand today 25th April 2020 the lockdown has lasted 5 weeks and it is only in the last week or so that most people have learned to conform, but whether this will cause complacency and a second-wave, remains to be seen as there is no clear way to come out of lockdown.

Obviously a vaccine is being developed and the numbers of deaths and infections falling, partly because those with previous health problems have been the most likely to die and partly because lockdown and social-distancing is effective so long as it lasts.

False information as to possible cures and treatment abound, as does the benefits of wearing a facemask or simply to let it run its course in true Darwinian fashion. Until it has run its course in parts of the world yet to be seriously affected, who knows?

I’ll finish now and come back later. In the motto of the moment STAY SAFE – STAY WELL.

36. Heathfield Grammar School

When I began teaching, my first post was at Heathfield Co-educational Grammar School in Low Fell, Gateshead. It was newly built and not yet ‘full’ as Gateshead Boy’s and Girl’s Grammar also existed at the same time and pupils who passed their 11 plus were, I think, given the choice of which they wished to attend. The building was a ‘CLASP system‘ structure of steel and wooden framed blocks on concrete rafts. Since it was on a slope, the ‘rafts’ could move without damage to the structure. It was designed to last ~25years and so it did. I fancy there was so much asbestos in it, it would have had to be closed and perhaps that is why it was? I lived in the South until I returned and there it was ‘gone’. (Burned after it was closed, I believe)

However as a new teacher it was a wonderful place to start my career. The equipment in the physics lab was all new and the best I had throughout my teaching life. The headmaster, Mr James was a kindly man, but took no prisoners either from pupils or staff. Two pieces of advice I remember him giving me were: ‘never be in a room with a girl with the door closed’ and ‘if you want to get promotion in County Durham, you had better have a “card” (i.e. Labour Party Membership)’. I always remembered the first, but never tried the second. A few of us staff used to slip out to the Nine Pins on a Friday lunchtime for a ‘pie and a pint’ followed by neat peppermint cordial to hide the smell of beer from the headmaster.

The memories are somewhat distant now, but there were some staff I recall, of course especially the formidable JML Mock (I believe his full names were Jasper Masculine Lynn as his parents were theatrical). Four of us used to play bridge in the lunch hour as he played at a high level locally I believe. He was a big noise at Gateshead Fell Rugby Club. Among others were Howard Crozier, the chemist, but unless someone reminds me of others it is all a blur

Being among the youngest I was tasked with organising 7 christmas parties in one week, each year and it was interesting to see the pupils in Form 1, as it was then, having to be forced to ask a partner to dance (proper dances) then having to prevent the older years from nipping off ‘behind the bike sheds’ when we weren’t looking.

There was a peculiar practice, I met nowhere else, of the whole school, in ‘groups’ spending DAYS playing rounders after the summer exams, in the grounds. I suppose it was while marking was done and reports completed, or maybe just to kill time in that useless part of the year.

I twice took advantage of the free ticket for teachers to: a) take a trip to London, where I remember allowing girls of 12 or 13 to wander off as long as ‘they stayed together’. Imagine that happening today; b) a trip to Konigsee in Bavaria via train, boat to Ostend and another train all the way to Saltzberg(?), to get on another bus. I still have a photo of the visit to a salt mine. The first film I saw on return was Sound of Music, filmed where we had just been.

The metalwork team made a hovercraft, which insisted on going to the lowest point i.e. the drain in the middle of the playground and a gocart which we all took turns to drive.

In 1966 the education committee decided that comprehensive education was king and a system of Junior and Senior Highschools was to be the order of the day. I did not agree with the way it was to be done and so I moved on to spend the rest of my career in private education, details of which appear in earlier parts of this blog.

I would not have missed my few years at Heathfield which honed my skills for later life.