Today was a sad day in the way in which it started – Meg and I received a phone call from the son of an ex-colleague to inform us that his father had just died the day before. As it turned out, his father was 98 years of age but in his later years had suffered from dementia but was also both deaf and blind so I suppose his existence may have been a pretty miserable one. His son and I exchanged some reminiscences about how his father – an ex-Royal Navy Commander- never entirely got rid of his military ways and some of his ‘bon mots‘ went down in the annals of our department’s history. One of the most famous of these was the example of a how a group of female students who had just returned from their year of work experience (in which the Polytechnics specialised) were chattering excitedly around a noticeboard when our colleague espied them. He then announced ‘Ah! young ladies! Come into my office and let me debrief you all!’ The students all giggled and I said to him ‘You can’t say that‘ whereupon he responded ‘Well, I really do want to debrief all of these students here and now' Collapse of stout party. We could multiply these tale over and over – but Meg and he worked very closely on the placement of students for about 10-15 years. We expect that the funeral arrangements will consist of a video link into the crematorium proceedings but this will not take place for some time yet.
The morning walk turned out to be more pleasant than we expected – certainly better than yesterday. Having picked up our newspapers, we made our way into the park where the fine weather had brought out the families with masses of young children on their scooters. A glance at the ‘top row’ of seats showed that they were all occupied so we had to satisfy ourselves with our erstwhile resting place by the side of the boating pond. But then one of our park (wheelchair) friends espied us and as we had not seen each other for several days we exchanged our various bits of news. Our friend was due to have second dose of the vaccine tomorrow and as she had been a little poorly after her first dose was not looking forward to the experience. We tried to reassure her that all would be well and we passed on the nostrum that ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself‘ We gave her our best wishes for the day ahead and got home a little later than usual (our morning walk having been delayed by the Waitrose delivery and by the telephone call concerning our ex-colleague’s demise).
After lunch, we did a most unusual thing and stayed glued to the TV all afternoon. Sky television are broadcasting the live proceedings of the trial of the policeman who murdered George Floyd. This was the famous (infamous!) case of the policeman who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes after which he was pronounced dead. The prosecution had called as a witness a world expert on the physiology of breathing (who had written the standard textbook on the subject) and he gave a very detailed and fascinating account of the anatomy and physiology of one’s neck. His conclusion at the end of a long and detailed explanations complete with diagrams, annotated video-stills and even mathematical equations showed the relationship between force and constriction of the windpipe and that the death was due to an absence of oxygen. This expert witness – Dr. Martin Tobin- may prove difficult to challenge but we shall have to see what unfolds tomorrow. As it stands the evidence seems to be beyond compelling. The second piece of TV which absorbed us was the the new US President, Joe Biden and his deputy, intending to row back some of the excesses of the gun lobby and a bring some degree of moderation to the American obsession with guns. I had not fully appreciated the ways in which the controls on guns are easy to evade in the USA – for example, if you buy a gun at a gun store you have to prove documentation on ID and place of residence but none of these restrictions apply if you buy a gun from a gun fair! Also you can buy a ‘ghost gun’ in which you purchase the various parts and assemble them yourself. This is all quite legal and there are no serial numbers on any parts of the guns so can be used by criminals and others. Jo Biden is seeking to use executive orders to order an immediate ban on some of these practices but other measures will require the support of Congress where he is liable to make very little progress, if any at all. So it may be that the mass shootings continue as well as the appalling death toll. Some of the facts Biden adduced are incredible to us in the UK. For example, every day in the US, 316 people are shot, with 106 of them dying. The cost of gun violence, according to the president, is $280bn every year – that’s in hospitals, lawyers, prisons, physiotherapy and lost productivity.