above : Fran in the Forest on Monday

LOCKDOWN 2 - WEEK 3:   The pandemic rolls on and although there may be light at the end of the tunnel as a few more potential vaccines are being proclaimed, the current lockdown is very boring. None of the broad community spirit we all shared during the March/April lockdown, although we have been keeping in touch with our neighbours - the Akerys and the Kennetts, as well as regular calls with both the family and with friends Colin & Jacky. After a very wet and windy weekend the weather on Monday was suddenly much better, so Fran and I went for a walk in the woods together. A fairly rare phenomena because Fran usually limits her walks to two or three miles, while I tend to go for between five and seven miles - so we rarely walk together, and because we have to walk over a mile just to get to the edge of our local forest, Fran rarely walks there.  On Monday we compromised - we drove to the edge of Bracknell and street parked a few hundred yards from the Forest fence before setting off across Caesars Camp, out to the Upper Star Post and back around a loop of forest to the car. About two and a half miles in all. I usually love the solitude of walks in the Forest, but it was a nice experience to share and to be able to point out where I have seen deer, snakes, rabbits and such. We also did a really good walk on Sunday morning - this time all the way around Virginia Water (four and a half miles). We stopped part way round for a coffee on a bench overlooking The Punchbowl (a huge amphitheatre of azaleas - all bare at this time of year of course). It was so mild and bright that we were in shirtsleeves and sunglasses - almost Summery! Then in the afternoon we enjoyed a long Facetime chat with Colin & Jacky, making Sunday easily the most exciting day of this week! Of course we had some bright spots in the week like my Pilates class, Fran's gym classes and regular phone calls to mark the passage of time. The overall feeling though is one of boredom - I am only half heartedly tackling my jigsaw, my reading, my puzzle books, my CD cataloguing and my artists easel - sounds like a lot, but none of them as satisfying as doing something constructive or meeting with friends.

NEW NEIGHBOURS  My regular stalkers will know the saga of our next door property. The house was once the local vicarage, and after a brief habitation by a pair of Indian families, it has spent the last eight and a half years uninhabited while being "developed" by those same Indian families.  It has been a sad story and expensive for us in terms of litigation against the owners. The result is three flats in a very garish white pebble dashed building with "naff" Juliet balconies both front and rear. The look is quite out of context with the rest of the road, but luckily we are alongside, so we don't have to look at it. It is our neighbours over the road who have to tolerate that. The flats have been for sale at (imho) ridiculously expensive prices for well over a year, and potential sales have fallen through with regularity. Then on Thursday the doorbell rang and a lady named Nikki introduced herself; she would be moving into the upstairs flat the following day. On Friday afternoon the pantechnion arrived and we got ourselves the first new neighbours in years. On Saturday morning we took a "welcome" card and a bunch of flowers around met Nikkis partner, Taighd.  (Yes - he is very Irish). We are looking forward now to the end of lockdown so that we can get to know them better.

LOOKING FORWARD  One minor excitement in the week was that I have found a willing recipient for a spare OPD computer I had been asked to re-home - and a promising conversation with one of the curators of the Cambridge Centre For Computing History. I had been getting a bit fed up with The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park - they are obsessive about hardware and software, but not interested very much in the cultural impact of computing - which is my fascination. The Cambridge museum man sounded far more interested in the behavioural impacts of computing developments and we have agreed that that we will meet up in the New Year (as soon as the pandemic permits) to deliver the machine and discuss the changes in business and society which have been driven by the developments of computing.


Virginia Water on Sunday morning


ROGER - 22nd NOVEMBER 2020

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Just in case you missed it : ROGERBLOG : 15th NOVEMBER  2020

above : Liquidambar tree changing colour
below: Singing reindeer at Longacres Garden Centre


LOCKDOWN 2   The pandemic The week started with great news - a 90% effective vaccine against SARS-COV-2 ("Coronavirus") has been discovered. Known by the catchy name of "BNT162b2" this vaccine uses messenger RNA from the virus instead of the more traditional attenuated version of the virus itself or a cocktail of associated viral proteins - a first time this mechanism has been used in humans; but over 21,000 trial participants have had the drug during the trial with no apparent worrying side effects and so far only eight of them have contracted Covid - and they all appear to have done so before the second dose had been administered. It is a double blind test, so another 21,000 people have been getting a placebo, which is - of course - proving to be 0% effective.  Although it is great news that it works, I can't help feeling that this is all a bit premature and I suspect it will still take many more months to finalise the trial and get licensing approved before they start production. After that it will be interesting to see how they sort the distribution logistics (it needs to be kept at -70 degrees until used) and there is bound to a bunfight about who gets it first. The best bit of this news is that this virus does seem to be fixable by a vaccine because many viruses - including the common cold, which is itself a less dangerous coronavirus - cannot be tackled this way. Hopefully we shall shortly see successes from other vaccine development programmes too - a cocktail of drugs often defeats a bug more effectively than a single fixer.

MEANWHILE  The lockdown continues to be tedious; the sense of community pulling together which we experienced in the Spring lockdown has not re-emerged, perhaps reflecting the confused and often inept political leadership in both this Country and the USA. So because we are grounded there are no big adventures to report this week. The biggest disappointment was the cancellation of our friend Monisha Bharadwaj's Diwali party. This annual extravaganza in Hounslow usually features great company, excellent food (Monisha is a fantastic cook), loads of fireworks, and "killer snap". The latter is the kids card game, but played ruthlessly by Monisha who can break her opponents fingers without trying with her incredibly rapid reflexes. This year Monisha suggested that we should use the money that we would normally spend on fireworks to top up our local food banks - so on Saturday I visited our local supermarket and bought a load of food which I was pleased to note almost filled one of the collection boxes.

WHAT ELSE  During the week I have completed reading another historical novel , this one was called The Giver Of Stars, by Jojo Moyes. If you like historical novels, I strongly recommend it. Fran and I are gregarious animals and in this time of social isolation even the smallest interactions with other humans seem exciting.  On Monday we had a visit from our window cleaner - of course he and his mate couldn't come inside, so just the outsides were cleaned.  On Tuesday I managed to break the frame of my glasses, so I had to venture into town and get Specsavers to repair them. Later that day I got to visit Carl, my chiropractorturer and Cidalia, my lovely KGB trained Physioterrorist who also likes to randomly stab me with acupuncture needles. Both are still allowed to ply their trades because they are "medical". It is always a pleasure to be abused by these two - great conversation, just about bearable pain, and I feel much better afterwards.  In the early evening Fran and I had a Facetime meeting with friends Colin & Jacky which involved glasses of wine - so that was alright to.  On Wednesday I did my first "remote" Pilates class. For the previous five weeks I have been physically attending the studio - usually the only student actually there and getting the full benefit of direct coaching from Michaela, the mistress of core strength - while all my classmates were just tiny little pictures on Zoom. This week was my first "virtual" class, which I have to confess is nowhere near as satisfying as actually being there. One-to-one walking in open air is apparently OK according to the Governments lockdown rules, so on Thursday Fran went over to Shepperton to join Jacky for a walk; leaving me home alone to mind the house while Ana, our lovely cleaning lady fussed around. Eventually I got fed up with being dusted and moved on so that Ana could do her work - so I went out to play at gardening. I managed to totally fill our garden rubbish wheelie bin with fallen leaves from the back garden Acer and the front garden Liquidambar; I also did a lot of rather drastic pruning, and as the wheelie bin was full I had to dig out some old paper sacks to contain the cuttings. The joy of company!  While I was pottering in the garden my neighbour Paul called round - their drains were blocked and he wanted to access the drain cover in my front garden. This isn't and unusual request, but it was great to have someone to talk to. Once every two or three years the drain blocks, and we neighbours (three of us in a row) keep a jointly owned set of drain rods in the wide hedgerow between our houses to facilitate unblocking. With the lids off the drains and lots of pulling and pushing with the connected rods we managed to dislodge whatever had obstructed the passage, and sent a tsunami of murky water hurtling off underground toward the main road, where it presumably connects with a bigger sewer. By then Ana had finished, which was useful because I needed a shower.  Fridays excitement was an early morning visit to Longacres, our local garden centre. This has an international grocery section - Fran was after some American apple sauce. The majority of the floor space was taken up with Christmas decorations, acres of boxes of chocolates, and the usual naff looking Christmas gift paraphernalia. We also wandered around the plants section and inevitably bought some plants to stick around in the garden. We had been fortunate in arriving early because shops have a maximum headcount limit as a pandemic protection measure and we only had to wait about five minutes in a short queue before we were allowed in. When we came out after shopping we were amazed to see that the queue was literally hundreds of people long! 

THE WEEKEND Saturday brought stormy weather, incessant rain and some gusty winds, but we ventured out to buy some meat for Sunday lunch from the butchers at Fernygrove Farm. Later we undertook another shopping trip, this time to Sainsburys, where I did my Diwali Food bank shopping while Fran did real shopping for us.

ROGER - 15th NOVEMBER 2020

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And a last chance to read : ROGERBLOG : 8th NOVEMBER  2020

Diamond Light Source @ Harwell

LOCKDOWN 2   The pandemic is expanding exponentially again and the UK entered the second wave of lockdown on Thursday, so Fran and I have broken out the jigsaw puzzles and I have resumed my (seemingly endless) task of reconciling and cataloguing all my CDs, Brennan files and iTune files.  I'm about half way through my music collection, and have currently logged 8077 tracks from 621 albums by 290 artists ! Mind you, some of those tracks are multiple tracks. Some of the BBC Live Sessions can have as many as three live songs plus an interview all presented as a single "track"; and classical music "movements" are typically eight or nine times longer tracks than the average sixties pop song.  I enjoyed the last of my "live" Pilates session on Wednesday - this time instead of just me, Michaela and the ladies on the Zoom screen we were joined by three real live ladies-in-lycra who normally attend the Thursday session, and whom had brought forward their sessions rather than resort to Zoom. From next week the Physio Studio will be closed, so we are all going to have to do virtual Pilates on Zoom. Wednesday was also the last day before lockdown and several homes in our neighbourhood had decided to have Guy Fawkes night a day early - so the evening was full of bangs and flashes; although there were a good few more on both Friday and Saturday as well. Big event of the week was my pal Colin Pattendens 73rd birthday on Sunday - and although sadly we couldn't celebrate with a party, we did manage to have a Facetime birthday chat and toasted him long distance. Happy Birthday Col.  Apart from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the other major news event of the week has been the American Presidential election, which seems to have subsided into a dystopian travesty of democracy where - although there appears to be a clear winner - it is now down to lawyers try to decide which old man should lead (or otherwise) the Western World.

THE WEEK  Fran and I drove up to Hitchin on Tuesday to see Jenn & Suj. The self propelled wheelchair which I had rented for her (see last week) hasn't been effective so I returned it to the hire company.  We drove back home mid afternoon to prepare for the evening where Rich brought over the two smallest mini-Coopers for tea - their last chance to see Grandma and Granddad for the next four weeks at least. We are finding that being unable to hug our children or grandchildren is proving to be the hardest impact of this pandemic.  Tuesday and Wednesday were the first full days without rain for many weeks and the high winds on Monday and Tuesday had a reasonable drying effect; so on Wednesday afternoon I mowed the lawn for probably the last time this year. Also on Wednesday we both managed to get our NHS dental checkups - for various delaying reasons they were just eleven months later than they were originally scheduled and my NHS dentist was surprised to find that in the intervening nineteen months my private orthodontist had used a brace to straighten my bottom teeth !  Lockdown Thursday dawned damp and misty with a touch of frost and a whiff of smoke in the air from the previous nights fireworks. Very evocative of Autumn. We celebrated Lockdown2 by getting out a new 1000 piece jigsaw - Old Sarum from the air - with a lot of very similar green bits.  The biggest disappointment of the week was the cancellation of our planned gig on Sunday - we had been planning to go see Howie Casey, Joe Jones and Cornel Richards playing at The Poole Hill Brewery in Bournemouth; but obviously this was cancelled. Instead we stayed home and read books.  Nowhere near as exciting.

DIAMOND SATURDAY Our son Richard works at Oxford University and in his speciality of x-ray spectrography he sometimes gets to use The Diamond Light Source. A huge x-ray source at nearby Harwell. He knows my fascination with science, so he flagged to me that there was a "virtual tour" planned for Saturday afternoon - I applied and got an invitation to attend the Zoom powered tour. So Fran and I spent two and a half hours on Saturday afternoon sitting at our kitchen table watching an excellent forty five minute presentation followed by a somewhat enthusiastic (but slightly more amateur) ninety minute video tour of the facility.  The Diamond Light Source is a synchrotron where they accelerate electrons to 3GeV (three million volts) around a 560 metre circumference synchrotron - or storage ring - at just shy of the speed of light. The storage ring is not a true circle, it is actually a  fifty sided polygon of straight sections, and the beam is angled around the corners with bending magnets. Electrons don't like to be made to change direction, so at each point where they are bent the electrons generate a lot of radiation in the form of a very bright "light" (x-rays actually) which at3GeV are, almost unbelievably, ten billion times brighter than the sun! At the change of direction points the "rays" continue in the direction of the straight section while the electrons are "bent" off to whizz around the circle some ten million times every second. The whole device is shielded in a lead and concrete tunnel to prevent the radiation leaking out where it isn't supposed to. But at twenty two points around the circumference there are gates into surrounding laboratories to enable these "beamlines" to be tapped for experiments. The rays are used for a variety of purposes and each beamline is tailored and focussed for specific qualities - some extremely narrow and some quite broad, and some at different frequencies - but basically all the experiments are either about how the sample they hit absorbs x-rays, like a hospital x-ray; or about the diffraction or diffusion caused by the collision. The latter measure either the scatter of x-rays after they hit the target, or the scatter of the electrons which they knock off the target when they hit it - either of which can be used to determine the structure and nature of the target at a molecular, or even atomic, level. The lecture gave lots of examples of the sorts of experiments done, which range from finding the component molecules in grains of rice to exploring the three dimensional internal structure of microscopic fossils. Perhaps the most current example is the work to determine the shape and molecular capabilities of the Corona 19 virus, and also to identify the sort of elements which can bind to and block it's receptors - which may therefore be a candidate for a vaccine.  This was the first ever "virtual" tour which The Diamond Light Source had conducted, and there were a few tiny glitches, but overall it was well done and provided a fascinating afternoon. It also gave us an intriguing view into the sort of things our son might be doing when he vanishes into Harwell, sometimes for days at a time.

SLEEP No idea what is happening to me this week, but I seem to have been sleeping for England. My regular habit (when not with a live band) is to go to bed about ten or ten thirty and watch DAVE TV until midnight - and then I'm usually up again at seven the next day, or even earlier. This week started with some unusual sleep ins until half past eight o'clock. Friday was early because Fran set the alarm, but on Saturday I was out like a light until gone nine o'clock and today (Sunday) it was almost ten o'clock when I awoke! In fact by the time I had showered, shaved, dressed and watched the Remembrance Day service at The Cenotaph on TV, I didn't get breakfast until after midday!  I'm not aware of sleeping badly - I wonder if this is perhaps a sign of old age?

SAD DAY FOR BRACKNELL This week the retail business sector in general has realised that the social changes happening during the pandemic means that it cannot continue operating as it has in the past. Among the many thousands of redundancies announced this week have been the loss of one and a half thousand jobs at the HQ operations of Waitrose/John Lewis - whose head office is in Bracknell. We know several people employed locally at Waitrose head office and we have our fingers crossed that their jobs are safe.


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