What a year . . . !

That goes without saying . . .

2020 makes HM The Queen’s Annus Horribilis of 1992 seem like a stroll in the park.

Who would have thought, as the clock struck midnight last 31 December that we’d be facing a year of unprecedented restrictions on our daily lives. Oh, and the overuse of words such as unprecedented that have really got my goat these past Covid-19-ridden months. It seems that the politicians and pundits (and others who should know better) have employed this description for almost everything that has happened, even when, with a little more careful planning and foresight, things would not have become so unprecedented. Tell that to the victims of the fourteenth century Black Death or the1665 Great Plague in London, for example. Not to mention the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. How unprecedented were these events? And it’s not as though more recent emerging pandemics were unheard of. Take, for example, Ebola in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, SARS in 2003, or MERS in 2012.

In the UK it’s not as if the government hadn’t been thinking about pandemic scenarios. Admittedly the thinking was geared more towards a repeat of a Spanish flu-like pandemic, not the emergence of a novel virus such as Sars-Cov-2 this past year. As recently as October 2016, the British government ran Exercise Cygnus, a cross-government exercise to test the UK’s response to a serious influenza pandemic . . .  to test systems to the extreme, to identify strengths and weaknesses in the UK’s response plans, which would then inform improvements in our resilience. Okay. So it wasn’t designed to address emerging threats. Here’s the cop out on the government’s website: Exercise Cygnus was not designed to consider other potential pandemics, or to identify what action could be taken to prevent widespread transmission. I wonder how recently that caveat was added.

Clearly the government took its collective eye off the ball, and was NOT prepared for Covid-19. I guess, since 2016, it has been more obsessed with delivering (or not) Brexit. More of that later.

But what seems clear to me at least, is that unprecedented became the catchall adjective to explain away most if not all failures or shortcomings in the government’s response to the pandemic. With the drastic consequences that has had on all our lives. Not just the restrictions, but the threats to the National Health Service and its staff, and the thousands (more than 67,000) grieving families who have lost loved ones to this insidious virus. Boris Johnson has a lot to answer for. As recently as 19 December he has had to retreat on the advice over Christmas, even though he was strongly urged much earlier by scientists and opposition politicians alike not to relax the restrictions over the Christmas period. What a fiasco!

That’s Covidiot Swayne (behind then ‘Father of the House, Ken Clarke) serving his constituents during a debate in the House of Commons.

And now, as we approach Christmas, with continual mixed messages emanating from Downing Street, a new and more infectious variant of the virus spreading alarmingly, French ports now closed to traffic from the UK, and the end of the Brexit transition on the immediate horizon, it seems we lurch from one crisis to another. The whole response to the pandemic is not helped by the misguided interventions (video) by Covidiot MPs like libertarian Sir Desmond Swayne and others of his ilk (who also happen to be fervid Brexiteers). Give me strength!

Birds of a feather – were there two more reprehensible individuals in 2020 that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump?

While the failings in the UK are plain to see, they don’t come close to the response (or should I say, lack of it) from Donald Trump and his administration. It seems to me that he and his cohorts in Congress have been criminally negligent, made worse by 2020 being a presidential election year. “Screw the victims“, Trump seemed to be saying, “2020 is all about ME!” And his lack of response can be considered even worse when you realise that his predecessor, President Obama, had set up a pandemic response unit in the White House (as a response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa and fears of its global spread), and there were also staff in China to help monitor emerging threats. But Trump being Trump and averse to anything—ANYTHING—that had Obama’s imprimatur on it, dismantled any coordinated response to Covid, with the dreadful outcome that we have observed from afar: five percent of the world’s population but more than 20% of the Covid deaths. And that’s a particular worry to Steph and me since our elder daughter Hannah and her family live in Minnesota, where Covid rates are continuing to climb. There’s been a serious uptick in infections in the Upper Mid-West.

And uptick (a term previously confined to descriptions of the financial markets, meaning an increase) is another word that got under my skin this year. Hells bells! Why not just say increase. I suppose that whoever used uptick in relation to the pandemic statistics thought they were being clever. Now it’s caught on. When can we ever expect a downtick?


Brexit. What more is there to say. Except that it continues to be a complete shambles. Already there are long queues of trucks on both sides of the Channel, some trying to beat the 31 December Brexit end of transition deadline, others caught up in the general pre-Brexit preparations ‘melee’. And now compounded by the fallout from the new SARS-CoV-2 variant.

It’s hard to believe that with less than two weeks to the deadline, there is still no agreement with Brussels. Johnson and his government of Brexit acolytes have seriously mismanaged negotiations with the EU. Words fail me, except . . .


So how have Steph and I coped with Covid? On reflection, not too bad, really. So far we have come through unscathed (touch wood!).

We began self-isolating before the official lockdown on 23 March and kept to a minimum any shopping that we had to do. In fact I ended up doing the weekly supermarket shop on my own as the supermarkets were restricting the number of customers allowed inside at any one time.

Who would try to sell a house during a pandemic? We did . . . and succeeded. What would have been a stressful at the best of times was made even more so by all the pandemic uncertainty. But we got there, leaving our home of more than 39 years on 30 September to move 230 miles north to Newcastle upon Tyne, to be closer to our younger daughter Philippa and her family.

Being retired, we already had hobbies to keep us busy, so there was really no change in our routines. Steph had her various jewelry and beading projects, and the garden. I kept blogging, combining my love of writing and photography (this is my 62nd post of the year, with more than 70,000 words). And taking, whenever the weather permitted, daily walks around Bromsgrove, mostly on my own, but accompanied by Steph when the fancy took her. And we enjoyed more BBQs than usual. Here in Newcastle we are very close to the coast and have enjoyed several bracing strolls along the magnificent beaches that line this stretch of English coast. Exploring the local byways close to our rental home has been a delight. Since we are buying a new house close by, we’ll still get chance to explore here further.

Because of the Covid restrictions we have not been able to see much of Philippa and family, apart from a visit to a country park in October, and a week ago we took the boys for a long walk in Jesmond Dene close to their home.

With Philippa, Felix, and Elvis at Plessey Woods near Cramlington on 28 October.

Enjoying hot chocolate and blueberry muffins at Jesmond Dene on 12 December.

Christmas won’t be the usual family get-together this year. We have already decided that despite the relaxation of Covid restrictions—now limited just to Christmas Day—it’s not worth the risk. We’ve come so far during 2020 in keeping ourselves safe and well. There’s no point risking everything for the sake of a few hours under the same roof, especially as there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination campaign being rolled out. Hopefully we’ll both get the jab soon into the New Year; I think, being in our early 70s, we will be in the fourth priority (though who knows with this government?)


It only remains for me to wish you all . . .

Take care. Keep safe.

Remember . . .


 

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