Tier 3 Plus, Week 3, December 21st to 27th 2020 inclusive

Monday, December 21st

Ring Out Ye Solstice Bells … well, let’s hope that the light returns soon, because things are pretty grim at the moment.  I just cannot take in what is happening.  Over 40 countries have now imposed travel bans on us – some for 48 hours, some for a month, some indefinitely.  So much for thinking that I might get a long weekend in Italy over Easter!   But the big problem we’ve got is that this also applies to freight.  The Port of Dover is currently closed.  Yes, closed.  In peacetime.  There are lorries backed up all over Kent.  Sainsbury’s unhelpfully tweeted that they were going to run out of lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli if this went on much longer.  Whilst I’m sure we can all manage without lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli for a few days, this has sparked a bit of panic-buying.  I haven’t bought any more than I would have done anyway, but I did decide to go to Tesco and M&S today rather than tomorrow, and it was certainly far busier than it normally is at 8 o’clock in the morning.  OK, it’s Christmas week, but even so.

I can’t believe I’ve been sad enough to type all this out, but I thought that a sample of regional infection rates per 100,000, from last week to this week, would be interesting.  Incidentally, anyone visiting Greater Manchester or the West Midlands Conurbation from Tier 4 (which they shouldn’t be doing anyway) or Wales has been told to self-isolate for 10 days.  So, let’s have a look:

Thurrock, Essex – up from 387 to 1,056.
Havering, London – up from 514 to 1,022.
Rochford, Essex – up from 267 to 864.
Hastings, Sussex – up from 371 to 799.
Canterbury, Kent- up from 475 to 615.
Barnet, London – up from 197 to 417.
Lincoln – down from 491 to 417.
Stoke, Staffs – up from 298 to 339.
Hyndburn (the Accrington area), Lancs – up from 170 to 283.  Burnley, worryingly, is up to 412.
Rotherham, South Yorks- up from 207 to 249 – but Sheffield is only 157.
Birmingham – up from 202 to 247.
Eden, Cumbria – up from 77 to 229.  That’s not good.  And South Lakeland’s up to 175.
Hull, E Yorks – up from 190 to 217.
Bury – down from 213 to 190.
Manchester centre – down from 178 to 171.
Blackpool – up from 154 to 158.
Leeds – up from 137 to 142.
Liverpool – up from 92 to 125.
Stockport- up from 112 to 113.
Bath/N E Somerset – up from 96 to 103.
Dorset – up from 45 to 67.

Sadly, I think that this new version of the virus is probably already spreading across the country and probably across Europe too, but we can certainly see a big regional divide at the moment.  I’m concerned about East Lancs, though, especially Burnley.

Just look how much the rates have gone up by a week in parts of the South East.  Hospitals are coping at the moment, but … well, it’s a very worrying situation. What’s going to happen with schools, with businesses, with everything?  Earlier this year, one of the newspapers was talking about snakes and ladders – well, we have gone right down a very big snake.  These bloody restrictions could be in place for months – and we could all be in Tier 4 before long.  I just can’t quite take it all in.

Why did the bloody virus have to mutate in Kent (and it does seem to’ve happened in Kent)?

“Britain stands alone.”

I really am struggling to take this in.

 

Tuesday, December 22nd

Oh no!  A kid in my younger nephew’s class has tested positive for the virus.  Let’s hope that none of the other kids have got it – he’s not one of my younger nephew’s particular friends, so they haven’t had much contact.  But the whole class has now got to self-isolate.   The Christmas visit to Manchester’s already off, and now the poor kid isn’t even supposed to leave the house.  Talk about “The Worst Noel”, “I’m dreaming of a shite Christmas” and all the other bad puns going round.

Rates in our borough are actually falling, now that these outbreaks in care homes thankfully seem to be under control, but rates across Greater Manchester as a whole were up by 5% in the week to yesterday.  That’s not much compared to an increase of 62% across England as a whole, and far more than that in parts of the SE, but it’s obviously not good.  And, with rates having almost trebled in a week in the Northern Lake District, there are fears that the mutant strain’s on the loose there.

And don’t tell me that the mutant strain’s only in the UK.  Infection rates in the Netherlands have risen by 42% in a week.   If that isn’t due to the mutant strain, then … well, I’m a Dutchman.   Meanwhile, over 50 countries have now imposed travel bans on us.  But America hasn’t.

The situation in Dover is appalling.  Surely some sort of solution can be found?  These poor lorry drivers have spent two nights sleeping in their vehicles.  Toilet facilities and washing facilities are limited.  No-one even seems to be doing much to make sure that they’ve got enough to eat and drink.  And these drivers are from all over Europe, wanting to get home for Christmas.  It’s like a very bad Hollywood film.   Not to mention the fact that good food’s going to go off, at a time when a lot of people are relying on food banks anyway.

The whole of mainland Scotland’s going into Tier 4 level restrictions from Boxing Day, and restaurants and hairdressing salons in the Republic of Ireland are to close from Christmas Eve.

And Tesco have introduced limits on toilet roll purchases.  FFS!  Toilet roll does not come from France.  A lot of French toilets don’t even provide paper (don’t get me started on that subject).  30% of the UK’s toilet rolls come from Trafford Park!

Bloody hellfire.  I just don’t know what to say.

 

Wednesday, December 23rd

Bloody hell.  Little more than a fortnight ago, we thought that the worst was over.  Infection rates in Greater Manchester were plummeting, and we were pretty sure that we’d be in Tier 2 by Christmas.  Now, it looks as if the whole country could be heading into lockdown.  Infection rates across the 10 boroughs were up by 8% in the week to yesterday.  That’s not alarming, but they were still falling three days ago, so it’s a big change.  Just north of here, rates are up by 89% in Hyndburn (89%!), 46% in Burnley and 42% in Pendle.  These places are only 20 to 30 miles away.  Short of blocking up the M66, you have to fear the worst.

The whole of Cheshire’s going into Tier 3 on Boxing Day, as is Warrington.  But not Merseyside, where Hancock’s family live.  Bristol’s going back into Tier 3 after a week!  In fact, the whole of Gloucestershire and Somerset, other than Bath/NE Somerset,’ll be in Tier 3, as will Northants, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, and the New Forest.  The rest of Hants goes into Tier 4, along with the rest of Sussex, Essex and Cambs, plus Norfolk and Suffolk.   Cumbria remains in Tier 2, and Lincs remains in Tier 3.

Herefordshire goes back into Tier 2, after a week.  Cornwall also goes into Tier 2.

Swiss ski resorts are hunting down British tourists.  Or are supposed to be.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, there’s another strain on the loose, and this one’s even worse.  This one comes from South Africa, but two cases have been found in the UK from people who’ve recently returned from South Africa.

France, Belgium and the Netherlands have agreed to let travel to and from the UK resume, but anyone entering those countries from the UK has to provide a negative Covid test first.  There are around 3,800 lorry drivers stuck in Dover, maybe more, – sleeping in their lorries, without adequate food, drink, washing facilities or toilets, and desperate to get home for Christmas.  Local charities and community groups are doing what they can, but the situation’s horrendous.

You know how it was all going to be over by July?  Then by Christmas?  Then by Easter?  Hancock’s just said that we hope to have things back to normal by 2022!  OK, obviously it’s not his fault that the virus has mutated, but …. bleurgh.  Nine months after we went into lockdown, it genuinely looks as if the worst may yet lie ahead.

I just can’t quite process what’s happened in the last few days.

 

Later – hooray, something good!  We beat Everton 2-0 in the Carabao Cup QF.  Unfortunately, we’ve been drawn against City in the semis, but at least we’re in the semis!

 

Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24th

Cold, but bright and sunny.  And, hooray, we have a Brexit deal!   We haven’t got all the details yet.  I don’t suppose it’s perfect, but deals never are, and I don’t suppose that Boris would have agreed to anything too bad.   At last!

Someone’s letting fireworks off.  It’s a bit annoying.  It’s not Bonfire Night!

I have now finished work until the New Year.  I wasn’t exactly expecting work to send me a Fortnum and Mason hamper or a pair of diamond earrings, but a card would have been nice.  Or even an e-mail, thanking everyone for all their efforts during a very difficult year, and for keeping the firm going, using their own phones, broadband and electricity.  Nada.  Absolutely nothing.

But, after work, I went to get a takeaway cardboard cup of mulled wine from Cuckoo, and quite a few people were stood (in small groups, not crowds!) in the street outside Cuckoo and The Grape & Grain, in the freezing cold, drinking mulled wine or hot chocolate out of cardboard cups.  It didn’t make up for the fact that my sister, brother-in-law and nephews are 200 miles away, and that I won’t be seeing my uncle and cousins on Christmas Day ever, but it was rather nice in a weird 2020 Tier 3 kind of way.

Enya:

Nice sunny day today, after heavy rain overnight.  I decided to walk round some different parts of town – first the “Northern Quarter”, then Castlefield/Deansgate Locks.   It was really nice, and blessedly devoid of a) dogs and b) kids on scooters.
There were plenty of places open for takeaway food and drink in the main shopping areas – but, worryingly, a lot of the independents were shut.  There were queues outside some shops, notably Primark and JD Sports, but other places weren’t busy, bearing in mind that the post-Christmas sales are on.  However, it appears to have got a bit chaotic at the Trafford Centre yesterday.  People are accusing both shoppers and the Centre managers of being irresponsible, but I don’t think it was really anyone’s fault: it’s just very difficult to organise things in a “Covid-secure” way when you’ve got a large number of different shops inside a big enclosed shopping centre.  I don’t know what the answer is.
Takeaway places in residential areas and parks are very busy.  I’m spending a stupid amount of money on cups of tea and cakes, when I could have a drink at home and I most certainly don’t need to stuff my already fat face with cakes/scones/mince pies, but it’s just something to do.I don’t know what to think.  I’m hearing worrying reports from people in London about the number of cases in their communities.  Can we act now, to try to reduce the chances of that happening here?  Given that it seems to be spreading quickly amongst kids of all ages, the best bet would be to close schools, but there are so many arguments against doing that.

On a more positive note, I’m also hearing about people I know who’ve had the vaccination.  But it could take a year to vaccinate everyone (and that’s if everyone wants to be vaccinated).  What do we do in the meantime?
Heigh-ho.  I’m usually really OCD-ish in late December, as if a bit of dust on the table or a bit of dirt on a carpet will somehow jinx the new year.  In any other year, the awful mess on the kitchen ceiling from the leak (which will cost even more money to sort, sigh) would be totally stressing me out.  But, this year, we know that it’ll be a rotten start to the new year!  The questions are how bad will it get, and how long will it be before things, hopefully, improve.

Tier 3 Plus, Week 2, December 14th to 20th 2020 inclusive

Monday, December 14th

Oh great.  A new variant of the virus has been identified in the South East.  Like everyone hasn’t got enough problems.

The tier review wasn’t due until Wednesday, and we still don’t know if any areas will be moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2, but Greater London, most of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire are to be moved into Tier 3 from midnight tomorrow night.  Tier reviews will now be once a week rather than once a fortnight … er, even though we haven’t even had the first one yet.

Two councils in London have told schools to close early for Christmas.  Well, move to online learning.  The government is not happy.

Back into full lockdown for the Netherlands.  Until January 19th!

We have been drawn against Real Sociedad in the Europa League.  They’re currently top of La Liga!  That’s the worst draw we could have got!

And my old headmistress died this morning.  She was 88, so she had a good innings, but it’s quite sad that, because of the virus restrictions, only 30 people will be able to attend the funeral.

At least it’s stopped raining!

 

Tuesday, December 15th

We’ll find out tomorrow whether or not we’re being moved into Tier 2, but, after all the optimism a fortnight ago, hopes are fading.  This wretched spike in one small area’s set our borough back, although rates are thankfully now falling again, and rates are actually edging up a bit in Salford and Trafford.   More than that, there are concerns that rates are going to go right up after Christmas, as they did in the US after Thanksgiving.  There’s even talk that the Christmas amnesty could be scrapped, although I don’t think the government’d dare, and I don’t think people’d take any notice if they did.  And some business owners are worried about the prospect of spending a lot of time and money on reopening, only to be shut down again a couple of weeks later, as has happened to businesses in London.

Having said all of that, I’m desperately hoping for Tier 2.  I can stand a lot of things, but not being told that I can’t stay away overnight and am not even supposed to leave the area, even to go to neighbouring areas.  I’ve still got my booking at the Chester spa hotel I go to every year during “Twixmas”, but am prepared to have to cancel it 😦 .

The London boroughs which were going to close schools have agreed to keep them open.

It has been pointed out numerous times that the scientific advisory committee and several senior Cabinet ministers wanted to put London into Tier 3 straight after lockdown, and that it was Boris who said no.

No-one is impressed with all the messing about.

819,000 jobs were lost in the UK between the start of the pandemic and the end of October, 297,000 of them in the hospitality sector.  And that’s before Lockdown II.

Meanwhile, the gym has finally reopened … but it’s limited hours only, so I’m going to leave it for now.

 

Wednesday, December 16th

The “review” of the tierings has been carried out, but we aren’t allowed to know the results until tomorrow.  I’m sure Matt Hancock’s getting a kick out of this.  He’s like that bossy woman at a cafe, who made me go out and come back in because I’d inadvertently walked in through the “exit” door, even though I was already in by then, and there was no-one else there so it didn’t matter anyway.  “I have the power!”  Meanwhile, the infection rate in our borough aren’t dropping much, because of an outbreak at another care home!  I don’t believe this.  However, the rate is below the national average.  Ditto every other borough in Greater Manchester, other than Rochdale and that’s only fractionally above.  North of here, the rates in Rossendale, Burnley and Pendle are higher than they are here, but less than half what they are in parts of Kent.  I don’t know why Kent’s suddenly got so bad, but I don’t understand anything about this mad virus.

The government doesn’t want to cancel Christmas, a) because there’ll be a backlash (almost 3 3/4  centuries on, people still go on about Oliver Cromwell cancelling Christmas) and b) no-one will take any notice because people have already made their plans, but the Scottish and Welsh authorities have told people to make their bubbles 2 households rather than 3, and the Scottish government’s said that people should only meet up for a day and not stay overnight.  What if you’ve got a long journey?  Not everyone’s nearest and dearest live nearby.  And are people really going to ring Uncle John or Auntie Mary and tell them that they’re uninvited and will have to spend Christmas on their tod?  Oh, what a muddle.  There’s just no answer.  People are getting very down about being separated from their loved ones.  But infection rates are going up in most areas, even those under the highest level of restrictions.

300 people spent the night on a ferry in the Mersey (as opposed to a ferry ‘cross the Mersey), after several crew members on the Birkenhead to Belfast ferry tested positive for the virus.

Wales is going back into lockdown after Christmas.  There’s talk that the Republic of Ireland may do the same.  Italy is suffering badly.  Even in South Korea, where they’ve done so well, Seoul is running short of hospital beds.  It’s just a nightmare.

I’m hearing one tale of woe after another about kids being sent home from school to self-isolate – which. at this stage, messes up their plans and their families’ plans for the Christmas holidays.  The nursery and reception classes at my younger nephew’s school were sent home today.  These are little kids of just 3, 4 or 5 years old.   I really think that schools need to close.  I can’t believe I’m saying this: I would have had complete hysterics if my education had been disrupted and put my chances of getting top exam results at risk, plus there are the problems faced by parents who can’t work from home.  But nothing else is working.

And we are being advised to keep the windows open during Christmas dinner.  I don’t think even Victorians stressing about TB did that.

 

Thursday, December 17th

Oh FFS.  Bristol and North Somerset get moved down from Tier 3 to Tier 2.  (And Herefordshire gets moved down from Tier 2 to Tier 1.)  But Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Birmingham/Warwickshire and the North East all get left in Tier 3.  Even though infection rates have plummeted.  Even though infection rates here are now way below what they were in much of the South East, and indeed parts of Merseyside, when they got put in Tier 2.  If they’d said that they didn’t want to reduce restrictions anywhere until they saw what happened after Christmas, I could have understood that.  But, as ever, it’s one rule for the South and one rule for the North.  Bristol gets moved down.  Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, etc, do not.  Even areas where the infection rate is below 100 per 100,000 do not.

I am SO fed up and pissed off.

The furlough scheme’s been extended until April.

Secondary school kids, other than those doing exams, are to work online for the first week of the new term.

Berkshire, Bedfordshire, the rest of Hertfordshire, most of Surrey (how come it’s OK to split counties in the South, but not in the North or the Midlands?), and parts of Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire move into Tier 3.

I could slap Matt Hancock’s irritating face.  He harps on and on about how everyone needs to “work hard” and “pull together” to bring infection rates down, like it’s everyone’s personal fault if rates are high.  Then, when rates do come down, nothing changes.

Sacha Lord, the Greater Manchester “night time economy advisor” (who was the year above me at our brother school) was on Sky News this morning, asking why it’s OK to walk round the Trafford Centre but not to sit in a socially distanced café.  You may well ask, Sacha.  You may well ask.

Andy Burnham’s comment:

“It isn’t equal treatment. It’s as simple as that. When we had higher cases and cases rising, we were left on our own. When London and the South East have them it looks like everyone has to have them.”

The leaders of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield councils have all spoken out about the unfair treatment of the North.

Emmanuel Macron’s tested positive for the virus.   So the head of the European Council, the French PM, the Spanish PM, the Portuguese PM and the Taoiseach are all having to self-isolate.  Obviously, this is not funny …

Northern Ireland’s going into a 6 week lockdown.  Straight after Boxing Day.

The Aussie Open’s been postponed by 3 weeks.  At least we know where we’re up to, but it’s usually the one thing that makes January bearable, even in a normal year.  Bleurgh.  And the socially distanced pantomime, planned when we were told that it was OK for theatres to open, has been cancelled.

On a happier note, I went to Lightopia at Heaton Park this evening, and it was brilliant!  At least that was allowed to go ahead!

 

And United won 3-2 at Sheffield United – the first time I’ve watched a United match on Amazon Prime.

 

Friday, December 18th

Just as if we haven’t got enough problems, the Greater Manchester Police Force has been placed into special measures after a report found that there were all sorts of problems.  Chief Constable Ian Hopkins has resigned.  Some people are trying to blame Andy Burnham.  Talk about it never rains but it pours!

Were I not so pissed off with Boris, Hancock & co over the way they’ve treated Greater Manchester, I could almost feel sorry for them.  If they cancelled the Christmas bubble plans, there’d be a huge backlash, and people would meet up anyway.  So they haven’t.  So people are moaning that this’ll mean a big increase in cases – and the R number’s already back above 1.  People have said that schools need to be closed for a while: some councils actually told schools to close.  So they’ve said that secondary school kids not in exam years should work online for the first week of the Easter term.  So now teachers are moaning that they haven’t been given enough time to plan lessons.

I had a blood donation appointment this morning.  I got a mince pie on the NHS!  It’s my third appointment since the pandemic started.

And I had to wait in a queue to get on the National Trust website this morning, which has never happened before.  And this was at 7 am!  I got tickets for Dunham Massey for Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, for the times I wanted, so that was fine, but zillions of people must have logged on at once, trying desperately to find something to do over the holidays.  I must cancel the spa hotel in Chester … I’m putting it off because it’ll upset me to do it.  Someone I know’s just been to a hotel in the Lakes.  They booked it months ago, and, when they rang to explain, the hotel staff said that they were so desperate for the business that they couldn’t care less if people were coming from Tier 3 areas.

Boris has been to Bolton today.  Presumably trying to convince people that he does actually know where the North West is.

It’s a week till Christmas …

 

Saturday, December 19th

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse.  Why did the bloody virus have to mutate?  In England?  Just now?

Thanks to this mutant strain of the virus, which has appeared in the South East, Christmas has been cancelled.  Everywhere in the South East which has just gone into Tier 3 is now in Tier 4, which is pretty much the same as the lockdown which the whole country was in from early November to early December, and travel between Tier 4 areas and the rest of the country is banned.  Similar restrictions are being introduced across Wales and Scotland.  It’s initially only until December 30th in the English areas affected, but it’s hard to see that much will change in 11 days.

So my sister and brother-in-law and nephews, whom I haven’t seen since the end of August, now can’t come to us as planned.

The rest of us, Tiers 1, 2 and 3 can still form a three household bubble, but only on Christmas Day.   People in Scotland and Wales may also form “Christmas bubbles”, but, again, only on Christmas Day.

I have actually cried.  It’s no-one’s fault, but … oh, we were so close.  Just days away.

There have been worse years.  80 years ago, nearly 700 people were killed in the Manchester area, in the Christmas Blitz.

But this is still a real kick in the teeth.  Thankfully, this new strain doesn’t seem to be any more dangerous, but it does spread more quickly.  Every time you think this virus can’t throw anything else at us, it does.

In other news:

I had my hair cut and dyed this morning.  The appointment was booked weeks ago, but, with another lockdown possible (hair salons remain open here, but will have to close in Tier 4 areas), I’m glad it’s been done.

I went to Sale Water Park this afternoon, just for somewhere different to go.

Christmas is off in Italy as well.

And I cancelled my Twixmas spa break.  Given that I’ve lost my trips of a lifetime to Iceland and Japan this year, you wouldn’t think that losing a night outside Chester would have upset me, but it did.  I think it was very good of me to cancel.  Someone I know went to a hotel down south and gave a false (Merseyside, so Tier 2) address.

Bleurgh.

 

Sunday, December 20th

Could someone please wake me up from this nightmare?  We can’t take much more.  I actually feel sorry for Boris: I would have cracked up completely if I were him.  I just can’t believe how much things have escalated in the space of a couple of days.

Apart from the odd sanctimonious person who’s saying that any sensible person wouldn’t have made any plans for Christmas anyway, people are upset over the Christmas plans being changed.  And whingeing that Boris left it so late – but he didn’t have the data on the mutant strain until yesterday.

Shocking scenes from the London railway stations last night.  You’d have thought people were fleeing from an invading army.  No-one’s supposed to be travelling out of a Tier 3 area (Tier 4 rules apply from today) before Christmas, but the stations were jam packed, and trains to all four corners of Britain, plus Paris and Brussels, were also jam packed.  Why the hell did no-one stop this?

Several countries, including the Republic of Ireland, have imposed travel bans on the UK.  It’s not a surprise.  We imposed a travel ban on Denmark over the mink.  If this new strain that emerged in Spain in the summer had been identified sooner, maybe the second wave wouldn’t be as bad as it is.  TBH, I think the new strain’s probably spread already.  I sincerely hope not – rates in our borough are falling, and, although rates across Greater Manchester are rising, the week-on-week increase is only 3.4%, which isn’t too bad – but it seems likely.

So holidays are off, which is bad enough, but more of a problem is that France has banned freight traffic for 48 hours.  The Port of Dover is closed.  I just cannot believe that this is happening.  I should imagine we’re going to see panic-buying over the next couple of days … even though, at this time of year, a lot of fresh fruit and veg comes from outside Europe anyway, and, as yet, it’s only European countries and Israel imposing bans.

I wonder if the Queen’d mind her Christmas Speech being broadcast a few days early!  OK, I’m not being serious, but we urgently need to pull together, and the Queen’s the only person who can pull us together.

I just cannot believe what is happening.  Vaccinations have just started.  We’re supposed to be getting towards the end of this nightmare.  Instead, it’s just got a million times worse.  There were nearly 36,000 new infections today.  Last Sunday, there were just under 18,447.

In other news:

  1. United beat Leeds 6-2.  This is the best thing that’s happened all week.
  2. Lewis Hamilton is Sports Personality of the Year.
  3. I’ve been to Hollingworth Lake (again).
  4. My sister managed to get a turkey roll and the trimmings, so at least they’ll have a Christmas dinner … just, sadly, not with us.  My brother-in-law’s mum and dad will be joining us, though.

For a short time this morning, I put some Christmas music on, re-read some festive scenes from children’s books, as I do every year, and tried to block this nightmare out.   It’s the travel bans that get me.  We can’t even go to Liverpool at the moment, FFS.  It’s all making me feel trapped, which is my main anxiety symptom.  But there are bigger things going on here.  We are suddenly in a huge crisis.  And we’re on our own.  And we’re not even united.

I wish I could Do Something.   Instead of wasting the next 4 days on pointless work.

I know.  80 years ago – well, 80 years ago, minus a few days – we were facing the Christmas Blitz.  Nearly 700 people in the Manchester/Salford area were killed.  There have been worse times.  But this is still a pretty crap time.

 

 

Lightopia

I started writing this before, thanks to the virus deciding to throw us a curveball by mutating, Christmas was cancelled.  I may as well still post it: Lightopia was literally a bit of light in the darkness.  Tiers for Fears, eh?  “Going nowhere, going nowhere …. hide my head, I wanna drown in sorrow.”  OK, there’s an Enya Christmas song which, in this instance, works better than Tears for Fears.  “When tears are in your eyes,  it’s time to look inside, your heart can find another way.”   Hopefully, the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was going to say “the light that never goes out”, but I’m not sure that this is quite the time to be quoting Morrissey.  And, hey, at least it’s not 1940 and we’re not living through the Christmas Blitz.  There’ve been worse times.  There will be better times.

This has been a rotten, rotten year.  The Great Outdoors has been one of the few saving graces.  I’m eternally grateful that I was able to spend a week in the Lake District in August, and I’m very glad of the National Trust places that I’ve been able to visit.  And I’m extremely glad that I live within walking distance of Heaton Park, the biggest municipal park in Manchester: I’ve been going there since before I can remember, but I’ve never spent as much time there as I have this year.  The staff in the cafes (takeaway only, the “joys” of Tier 3) there now know me so well that they put skimmed milk in my tea without my even having to ask 🙂 .  And, at the moment, it’s hosting a Lightopia Festival, which I was fortunate enough to go to on Thursday night.

With the Christmas market and the pantomime cancelled, and not being allowed to go to football matches, it was particularly joyful that Lightopia was still able to go ahead.  It really was lovely, not just the pretty light installations and the very impressive lights show over the lake, but the whole atmosphere – Christmas music playing, stalls selling hot chocolate, (sadly, alcohol free!) mulled wine, mince pies and other treats.  Everyone  (apart from the odd yowling child) had a big smile on their face.  There is still some festive cheer out there!   And, hooray, there were no dogs!  The one thing that spoils the Great Outdoors is that there are dogs everywhere – but, thank goodness, not at Lightopia!  It was just a lovely evening.  It’s the first time for ages that I’ve actually been out in the evening, except to go to Mum and Dad’s for tea in the support bubble!

Thank you to the people who organised this event.  Thank you to the people who keep the National Trust and English Heritage sites going.  Thank you to the people running the cafes in parks and beauty spots, especially The Olive and Pickle at Hollingworth Lake.   Yes, I know that none of them are reading this, but never mind!   And let’s just hope that 2021 will be a better year.  Meanwhile, it was good to see some light in the darkness.  Literally to see some light in the darkness!

Christmas is cancelled

  Thanks to the mutant strain of the virus which has appeared in the South East, Christmas has been cancelled.  Everywhere in the South East which has just gone into Tier 3 is now in Tier 4, which is pretty much the same as the lockdown which the whole country was in from early November to early December, and travel between Tier 4 areas and the rest of the country is banned.  Similar restrictions are being introduced across Wales and Scotland.  It’s initially only until December 30th in the English areas affected, but it’s hard to see that much will change in 11 days.

So my sister and brother-in-law and nephews, whom I haven’t seen since the end of August, now can’t come to us as planned.

The rest of us, Tiers 1, 2 and 3 can still form a three household bubble, but only on Christmas Day.   People in Scotland and Wales may also form “Christmas bubbles”, but, again, only on Christmas Day.

Maybe my brother-in-law’s mum and dad will join us: they’d planned to go to my brother-in-law’s sister’s, but can’t do that now.  We can’t ask the rest of the family because that’d be too many households.

I have cried several times today.  We were so close … just a few days away..  The turkey’s ordered.  We’ve got the trimmings and the crackers and everything.  And I’ve got plenty of other friends and relatives in Tier 4 areas who were desperately hoping to see their loved ones over Christmas, and now won’t be able to do so.

I could also cry for all the shops, hairdressers, gyms etc – well, for the people who own and work in them – which will have to close again.

This is nobody’s fault.  I don’t know why the virus had to mutate in England, or why it had to choose just now.  It just has done.

If anyone’s reading this, and your Christmas has also been ruined, have a big hug and a virtual mince pie from me.  Hey, have a great big glass of Christmas sherry – I think we all need one!

Lockdown II Week 4, November 23rd to 29th 2020 inclusive

Monday, November 23rd

Feeling very disheartened.  Assuming we’re put back into Tier 3, it’s going to be even worse than it was before:

  1. Hotels and restaurants will be banned from reopening.  As we’re not being allowed to carry holidays forward, I’d booked a spa day.  Leisure centres and beauty treatments will be able to go ahead, but it’s at a hotel and included afternoon tea, so I don’t see how it can go ahead.
  2. Indoor entertainment centres will be banned from reopening.  I’d booked the pantomime – it’s limited numbers, with social distancing, but even that won’t be happening now.
  3. Some fans will be allowed back into stadia, but not in Tier 3 areas.  Another kick in the teeth.

We’ve been under additional restrictions since the end of July.  No other part of the country has been penalised as much as we have.  Sorry to whinge, but I’m feeling pretty fed up.  And nothing’s been said about areas moving into lower tiers.  And, as fed up as I’m feeling, it’s far worse for the people who work in sports/hospitality/entertainment.

On a happier note, the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine’s 70% effective, or 90% effective if a lower dose is given first (I’m a bit confused about why the figures say 70% rather than 90%).  But that’s not much help just now this minute.

Bleurgh.

 

Tuesday, November 24th

Christmas is on!  From the 23rd to the 27th … which makes no sense, as the 28th is a Bank Holiday because Boxing Day falls on a Saturday, but whatever.  Three households (with a support bubble classing as one household) can meet up.  So we can’t have my uncle and my cousins round like we usually would, but my sister and brother-in-law and the kids can come, and my brother-in-law’s mum and dad can join us.

Er … and I thought it wouldn’t happen, and had all the presents sent to them!!

In other news, that stupid git Grant Shapps (the Transport Secretary) had a right dig at Andy Burnham on Sky News, saying that infection rates in Merseyside had come down more than those in areas which delayed going into Tier 3 (i.e. Greater Manchester),  What crap.  The areas of Greater Manchester where rates are still high are Oldham and Rochdale where, as in Blackburn and Bradford, it’s due to the prevalence of multi-generational terraced housing.  There aren’t any comparable areas in Merseyside.  Kay Burley, who loves stirring up trouble because she thinks it makes her look tough, then more or less accused Andy Burnham of being responsible for people’s deaths, which was just awful.  And we’ve had Boris saying that areas will have no right of appeal/negotiation over which tier they’re put into.  Is it really necessary for the Cabinet to behave like a bunch of playground bullies?

And then Matt Hancock (the Health Secretary) said that British people need to stop going into work when they’re ill, and that it’s “peculiar” and we do it because we feel we ought to soldier on.  OK, like a lot of people of my generation, and certainly my parents’ generation, I was brought up to think that you went to school or work unless you were so ill that you couldn’t get out of bed, and that to do otherwise was skiving, but it’s not just that.  Unless people work in the public sector, with unlimited paid sick leave, they go into work when they’re ill because they don’t get paid otherwise.  OK, there’s Statutory Sick Pay, but it’s sod all, and there’s a three day waiting period for it, and self-employed people don’t even get that.  I’ve known people go into work when they’ve actually been given a sick note by a doctor, and sign an employers’ liability insurance disclaimer, because they just can’t afford not to.  And number of sick days taken is often used as a criterion in selecting people for redundancy.  If Hancock seriously thinks that the reason people go into work when they’re ill, spreading germs around, is because they’re “soldiering on”, he’s even stupider than I thought he was!

The traffic coming back from Tesco this morning was utterly horrendous, far worse than usual rush hour traffic.  I assume that people going to work (the “work from home” thing isn’t really happening in a lot of cases) are driving rather than getting the tram or bus: the trams in particular are packed to the rafters at rush hour, in normal times.

Anyway.  Christmas is on!   Just not sure what else will be – the tier announcements are on Thursday.  The Cabinet seems to hate Greater Manchester so much that I dread to think what they’ll do 😦 .

And United beat Istanbul Basaksehir

 

Wednesday, November 25th

The average infection rate for Greater Manchester is now below 300, which was originally the main category for Tier 3, but a) the government seems determined to be shitty with us (and Andy Burnham’s fired another salvo in the war of words today), b) rates are quite a bit higher than that in Oldham and Rochdale and c) hospital admissions haven’t dropped by as much as infections had.  So I’m not hopeful.  I just hope it doesn’t go on beyond January.

Trafford’s got the lowest rate of infection of the 10 boroughs, although it’s unlikely that that’ll make a difference.  However, I do wonder if it was in the minds of the people who sent out the survey I received today from Old Trafford, asking various questions about a possible return to attending matches.  One of the questions asked was which borough you live in.

I had a mince pie in the park today.  It’s a month till Christmas.  An 8-year-old kid wrote to Boris to ask about Father Christmas coming down chimneys.  Boris said it was OK 🙂 .

Kids today watch too much American TV, though!  “Santa” and “cookies”?!  Glad to see that Boris put “Father Christmas”!!  Brilliant handwriting for an 8-year-old, though.  I wish mine was that neat!

696 deaths “with the virus” recorded today.  Pretty horrendous.  Worse figures (per head of population) are being recorded in a lot of other countries, so it’s not just here, but … bloody helll.

And the government spending review’s shown horrendous economic figures.  I feel rather sorry for Rishi Sunak.  He’d only been Chancellor for five minutes when this nightmare started.  And, like the rest of us, every time he makes any plans, more restrictions mess them up.

In non-virus news, Diego Maradona’s died.  Due to the events of 1986, he was hardly a hero of mine, but what a player.  I remember being told, when I went to Buenos Aires, that, when he died, he’d have the biggest funeral Argentina had seen since the death of Eva Peron.  Presumably that won’t be able to happen now, but it’ll hit both Argentina and Naples hard.

 

Thursday, November 26th

Tier 3 it is.  Despite the fact that infection rates here are falling at a rate of knots, and that the average for the area is now below 300.  If it was the old Tier 3, it wouldn’t be so bad, but this is shit.  From a personal viewpoint, the pantomime will be off (I’ve already had an e-mail from ATG), my spa day will probably be off, and, because horrible work won’t let us carry days forward, it’s not like I can rebook it, and it means 2 more holiday days wasted, and my annual Twixmas overnight break may well also be off.  Tiers are to be reviewed after a fortnight.  Andy Burnham’s said he hopes we’ll be moved into Tier 2 then – but, as Downing Street seems to consider him Public Enemy No 1, I doubt that’ll help.  And what a nightmare for the hospitality industry.  And also for football and rugby league clubs – there are already rows going on about the fact that now some clubs will be able to admit fans but others won’t.

And what a utter, utter nightmare for Blackpool Illuminations.  The whole of 1974-borders Lancashire also stays in Tier 3, even Lancaster where rates are low.  Also in Tier 3 – the whole of the North East/Teesside, West, South and East Yorkshire, most of the East Midlands (Derbys, Notts, Leics, Lincs), much of the West Midlands (Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the rest of Warks and Staffs), Slough, Kent, Medway, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucs.  Merseyside and Warrington move into Tier 2.  It’s vaguely amusing that Liverpool is now the Blue Eyed City of a Tory government: you really couldn’t make that up.  Cheshire stays in Tier 2.

Everywhere else is in Tier 2, other than Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles.

14 London boroughs have got infection rates higher than the average for Greater Manchester.  Havering has got an infection rate which is double Trafford’s.  But they get to be in Tier 2, whilst Greater Manchester gets put in Tier 3.  Quelle surprise.  Let’s hammer the North and Midlands, but heaven forfend that London and the Home Counties should be affected!

In other news, I have made my first purchase from Amazon Prime Wardrobe – new walking boots.  Mine are starting to fall apart.  This proves how much walking I’m doing.  So why am I putting weight on, not losing it 😦 ?  I feel a bit awful for buying them from Amazon: I would have gone to Sports Direct when it reopens next week but, last time I went, they were only letting a few people in at a time, and I had to queue for over 1/2 hour, and that wasn’t in peak shopping season.  I can’t go at a quiet time because of work, and I just haven’t got the time to spend in long queues.

Mongolia and East Timor have been added to the travel corridor list.  Well, that really helps.  I’m sure zillions of people are planning to take festive breaks in Mongolia and East Timor.  In fact, even if you were, you can’t, because they’re not letting people in!   So why put them on the list?

 

Friday, November 27th – Lancashire Day

On the plus side, the R rate is now below 1, and my spa day is on although I will be getting the afternoon tea in a cardboard box, rather than in an elegant hotel restaurant.

However, people are fuming over the tiers.  There are so many places in Tier 3 where rates are the same as or lower than those of places in Tier 2.  And there are places in Tier 2 where the rate is as low as 67 per 100,000, and which feel that they should be in Tier 1.  And now they’re saying that, for all the talk of a review in mid-December, there’ll be no changes until January.  In Greater Manchester and Nottingham, in particular, there’s a strong feeling that we did everything we were asked to, rates have come right down, and yet we’re still under even tighter restrictions than before.  People are angry and resentful – especially as there’s a strong feeling that London’s been given preferential treatment.  When areas of London with rates of 340 are in Tier 2, and areas of Greater Manchester with rates of 170 are in Tier 3, it’s hard to feel otherwise.   There’s also anger that businesses in Tier 3 are not being given additional support.

If Boris says “Alas” just once more, I shall scream.

A local journalist – who went to the same school as me – told Sky News that she gets the impression that Matt Hancock’s actually enjoying having the spotlight on him.  That might be a bit unfair, but he is certainly very irritating.

And now it looks as if the Arcadia Group could go bust.

Back with the Mutant Mink, apparently the millions of mutant mink which were massacred were buried near a source of drinking water and a lake used for swimming.  It has now been pointed out to the Danish government that this wasn’t really the best of ideas.

 

Saturday, November 28th

I’m seriously starting to think I’ve displeased some vengeful god of household appliances.  Now the tumble dryer has packed up.  Admittedly it’s 19 years old and hasn’t worked brilliantly for months, but it did work until today.  Did it have to choose just now?  When I’ve just had to pay hundreds of pounds for the emergency plumber and then a new oven, and will have to pay hundreds of pounds more to have the kitchen ceiling repainted?  I am really, really pissed off.

I had a load of wet towels and bedding.  It has rained nearly all day.  The wet towels and bedding are now in Mum’s tumble dryer.

Despite the rain, I went to Dunham Massey.  Their Christmas tree is up.  So is the one in the precinct here.  I’m putting mine up tomorrow.  I also got my first Christmas card today.

We’re being told that restrictions could be in place until Easter.  OK if you’re in Tier 2, but do they seriously expect people not to leave their local areas in Tier 3 until Easter?  And how many restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, hotels, cinemas, theatres and sports clubs can survive until then?   The sense of discrimination makes it worse.  Rural areas of Warwickshire and Northumberland, which have hardly had any cases of the virus, have been put into Tier 3, whilst parts of London where infection rates are 340 per 100,000 are in Tier 2.  There are reports that the scientific advisory committee said that London should go into Tier 3, but that Boris said that London wasn’t to be put under tighter restrictions.  It may or may not be true, but such is the mood that people are inclined to believe it.

I feel awful for saying this, because obviously education is important, and, having been the sort of kid who got hysterical if I got less than an A for any piece of academic work and would have been beyond devastated if my exam studies had been put at risk, but I’m getting a bit fed up with this argument that everything else should be sacrificed so that schools can stay open.  Other than, bien sur, in London, and now in Merseyside, most of the most deprived parts of the country have been put into Tier 3.  Businesses are going to fold and jobs are going to go, not to mention the impact on people’s mental health.   We’re being pushed down and down.  Does anyone in the Westminster bubble care?

 

Sunday, November 29th

My Christmas tree is up!   And a bar/cafe within a short walking distance is doing takeaway mulled wine.  Hooray!

Went to Hollingworth Lake this morning.  Again.  I’d normally be doing Christmas stuff – the markets should be open by now, and all the Christmas events at the National Trust houses should be on, and the Festival of Trees at the Lowry.  Great to see The Olive and Pickle so busy with takeaways, though.

Boris is trying to stave off a rebellion by angry Tory MPs by saying that the tier system’ll end at the beginning of February.  What, like we were told that lockdown’d end at the beginning of December, and then we were told that most of the North and Midlands would effectively be staying in lockdown, at a crucial time of year for businesses, whilst parts of London with far higher infection rates wouldn’t?

The infection rate in London, in Tier 2,  has risen by 13% over the past fortnight.  It has fallen by 39% across the North West, most of which is in Tier 3. The press are now reporting that Michael Gove said that London should be in Tier 3, but that Boris refused on the grounds that it could cost 550,000 jobs in London.  But to hell with all the jobs that it’ll cost in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bradford, Hull, Newcastle, Sunderland, Leicester, Derby, Blackpool, Preston and everywhere else affected – and businesses in Tier 3 areas are getting no more support than businesses in Tier 1.   Practically all of the most deprived areas in the country are in Tier 3.   I’ve got nothing against London, but I have got an awful lot against the North and Midlands being treated like this, whilst London gets preferential treatment.

There’s a rumour that Andy Burnham’s been told that Greater Manchester will be being moved into Tier 2 on December 17th, although he’s denied it.  Fingers crossed …

And United came from behind to win 3-2 at Southampton

The Great Christmas Debate

  Over the next few days, the powers that be are going to be telling us what we are and aren’t allowed to do over the festive season.  I can’t believe that I’ve actually just written that: it sounds as if Oliver Cromwell’s troops are liable to call round, take us by our left legs and throw us down the stairs.  That’s 2020 for you.  However, it sounds as if the authorities, not just here but everywhere else, *don’t* want to be like Cromwell and go down in history as the people who cancelled Christmas, so we’re going to get a few days “off”.   But is that the right decision?

We, in Greater Manchester, have been banned from going into other people’s homes, or meeting people inside public places such as restaurants, since July 31st.  It was announced late at night, with no warning, to come into effect within little more than two hours.  We were barely out of national lockdown at that point.  Due to work and educational commitments, many people hadn’t yet chance to be reunited with loved ones whom they hadn’t seen since before this nightmare began – and some still haven’t.  In mid-October, we were told that we could at least see people in private gardens, but, less than a fortnight later, not only had we again been banned from doing that but we’d been told that we weren’t even supposed to leave our local area.  In an age in which pretty much everyone’s got immediate relatives and close friends living in other parts of the country, imagine how that felt.  I hear people down south moaning about having been put into Tier 2 – maybe try to remember that we’ve had tighter restrictions than Tier 2 for almost four months now.  So we, more than anyone, are desperate to get together with our loved ones over Christmas.

Usually, by this time of year, I’ve got “Fairytale of New York” (with or without words banned by the BBC) and “Merry Christmas Everybody” going through my head.  This year, it’s Freddie Mercury singing “Oh, my friends, it’s been a long hard year.  But now it’s Christmas … for one day”.  One day.  Well, a few days.  It’s not even just about the fact that it’s Christmas.  Yes, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”.  Yes, most of us have got a sentimental attachment to it, regardless of what religion, if any, we practise.  But, after the year we’ve had, I’d jump for joy at the thought of being able spend time with family and friends to celebrate the fact that it’s actually not raining this morning, or that United beat West Brom last night.  Anything.

And yet … switching from Queen to the Pet Shop Boys, “Is it worth it?”.  (OK, the song’s “Was it worth it?”, but near enough!).  There’s a lot of talk of facing five days of tighter restrictions for every one day of a Christmas truce.  We’re probably talking five days over Christmas, plus, to respect Scottish culture, two days over New Year.  So that could mean over a month of near-lockdown.  A lot of businesses and not-for-profit cultural institutions won’t survive that.  Small shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, hair and beauty salons, gyms and leisure centres, hotels, public transport, museums and other tourist attractions are struggling as it is.   The airline industry, sports clubs whose fans are banned from entering the stadia, cinemas, theatres, live music venues, wedding planners, caterers … they’re on their knees.  Another month or more of tighter restrictions could cost thousands of jobs.

And there are the mental health implications.  January and February are never the most cheerful months of the year as it is.  We’re already going to be facing them under severe restrictions.  Could this mean that those restrictions are even more severe?  And there is, of course, the issue of spreading the virus.  Infection rates here are, mercifully, falling, down by 25% in our borough since last week, after sky-rocketing throughout September, October and early November.  Do we really want to risk seeing them go right back up again?  See hospital admissions, and, tragically, probably death figures, go up again?  For the sake of a few days?

And yet those few days would mean so much, in what’s been a pretty rotten year.

I don’t know what the answer is.  There are no easy answers.  And, let’s face it, a lot of people will be getting together over the festive season anyway, because they’ve just had enough.

So what’s going to happen?  Well, apparently we will be finding out over the next few days.   One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a Christmas like no other.  But, eighty years ago, the Luftwaffe killed nearly 700 people in the Manchester area in horrific bombing raids on December 22nd, 23rd and 24th, and over 350 people in the Liverpool area on December 20th, 21st and 22nd.  If the wartime generations coped with that, we can cope with whatever this year brings.  Somehow.

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