Wednesday, 23rd December, 2020

[Day 282]

Today, the weather was terrible all day long with wind and squally showers which only intensified as the day progresses. However, paradoxically, we did not mind too much because as we had some Christmas presents to deliver, we had determined that we were going to take the car in any case. Our first port of call was, as usual, our newspaper shop and here I handed over a couple of bottles of our own recently bottled damson gin. I’m not sure if they have any alcoholic prohibitions in whichever faith they were raised but I am sure that there are some members of the family or friends who might appreciate the same. As it was raining heavily at the time, we rather had to dash in and not linger over Christmas pleasantries but this was the first of our missions successfully accomplished. The next venture was into our local Waitrose – we geared that we were going to be faced with a car-park full to overflowing and with a long queue to even get into the store. But fortune smiled favourably upon us because we found a parking space almost immediately and the store was not over-crowded. As I was the second customer along when the store opened two and a half years ago (on my birthday, as it happened) we have always had a special relationship with the staff of Waitrose who have often given little gifts of soon-to-be abandoned flowers or food. We have a tradition which goes back for two years now of buying the biggest box(es) of chocolates we can find and then donating them to the Waitrose staff restroom. We have a miniature easel upon which we place a favourite photo of Meg and myself (so that people know who is making them the present) and a few words of appreciation updated year by year. This worked like a dream this year because the minute we entered the store, we encountered one of our favourite members of staff who had helped us in this venture before. She helped us choose the chocolates, took payment for them at the till and then whisked them off to the staff restroom. I think that in the past, they have assembled a few staff in front of this little display and then posted it to their own online staff bulletin so I hope that the same applies this year. We were also the happy recipients of the news that the Waitrose store coffee bar may be reopening in January/February. As this was such an important social hub for ourselves and for many others, naturally we hope that this will come to pass as they say. When we got home, we treated ourselves to the coffee we would have had in the park if we had ventured that far today and treated ourselves to a (probably) calorie-bursting mince pie.

The weather forecast for tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is scheduled to be cold but dry, bright and sunny. If this proves to be the case when we wake up tomorrow, then we are going to fill our rucksack with some mince pies, a bottle of sherry and some paper cups and knock on the doors of some of our friends down the road. Then we may be able to have a series of impromptu but socially distanced Christmas ‘get-togethers’ which can take the place of that which we had intended to provide in our own house if COVID-19 had not intervened.

This afternoon, we treated ourself to watching the classic black and white film of Casablanca -although Meg and I had seen it several times before, I was still surprised by the twists and turns in the plot. Shot in black and white certainly added to the intensity of the drama and the emotions and forgetting exactly how it ended only added to our enjoyment.

The fairly dramatic news this afternoon was the announcement that yet another strain of COVID-19 had surfaced, with its probable origins in South Africa. Only two cases had so far appeared in the UK but the infectivity of this latest strain even exceeds that of the first variant. So the government has acted with a certain degree of speed and added several more areas to Tier 4, hoping to squash the latest variant. The government has said that emergence of a second variant of the virus is ‘highly concerning’ and, for this reason, millions more have been added to the existing Tier 4 in London and the South East. The new areas include Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Hampshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Soon when most of the country is classified as Tier 4 then the whole concept of Tiers will break down and we might as well have one national lockdown. I think it is a fairly certain bet that we will be going into a full lockdown quite early on in the New Year in any case.

Finally, some sort of good news. It does appear that the EU and UK are edging towards a trade deal, perhaps to be settled sometime tomorrow. We are not quite there yet, but the indications coming from both sides is that many differences have been narrowed and negotiated and only a few more sticking points have got to be negotiated before a formal announcement tomorrow.