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COVID 19 – Lockdown and Walking with Nature

I’m sitting here in the early evening enjoying my back garden, listening to the birds as I mull over this article. My terrace is bathed in warm, golden sunlight, as Sol starts to dip majestically behind the trees lining the nature reserve.

I am so very fortunate. I have managed to make the right decisions – either by luck, intuititon, or skill, that have resulted in me living in a beautiful part of the UK. Or it could be SWMBO’s excellent judgement.

I don’t question SWMBO’s judgement – she is, after all, with me, so her decision making and judgement skills are refined.

I live in Hampshire which, like most of the UK, has a timeline of civilisation that extends 14,000 years into the past.

Roman Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43 and shortly thereafter (in the larger scale of things), Winchester became the County Town of Hampshire.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the British concept of county towns – a county town was the ancient equivalent of of a capital city, but at county level. Traditionally, a county town is the most important or significant town in a county.

Winchester is not only the county town of Hampshire, but also a city in the truest sense of the definition.

In the UK, most people use the term “city” to describe any large town, but the status of a city was traditionally only given to towns that had a Cathedral – King Henry the Eighth establishing the first ones during his reign. To this day, the UK’s monarch has to grant city status to any town.

Winchester cathedral was consecrated in 1093, and is a wonderful old building, which seems to have history seeping out of its walls and emanating from its very fabric.

The opulence of Winchester Cathedral

Winchester is about 24 miles west of where I live. It is a beautiful old city. It is where the ancient English King, Alfred had his royal seat.

King Alfred the Great – Still watching for marauding Vikings…

The old part of the city, in which the ancient cathedral sits, is a maze of tiny cobbled streets and lanes.

Winchester City centre. Disney or Universal take note…

I digress.

The area in which I live is also historic. There has been a human settlement here at least since the 14th Century; the Roman army crossed the River Wey at Lindford, about 1 mile away, whilst en-route to battle in the west of the county in the early part of the the last millenium. The crossing over the local stream has been here since 1350, but the current bridge was refurbished in 2008.

So, we are in Lockdown.

According to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), we are allowed to exercise once a day. So, this last Sunday, SWMBO and I decided that we would partake of some gentle exercise in the form a walk through the Deadwater Valley Nature Reserve.

It was a beautiful afternoon, with a light zephyr tousling the crowns of the trees as we left the house. A six minute walk up the hill took us to the entrance of the nature trail.

The trail is cool, the smell of damp sphagnum moss mixed with that wonderful, rich, loamy, peaty aroma. The sunlight pierced the canopy with spears of golden light, impaling the shy bluebells and forget-me-nots hiding on the floor of the woods.

Quiet – and with no risk of bears or vampires…

We continue wandering, sowly, drinking in the scents of the woodland. The information board informs me that this is a home to Stag Beetles, Slow Worms, Sparrowhawks, Red Admiral butterflies, Nuthatches and Goldfinches – together with the occassional Roe or Muncjac deer.

We plod on, hand in hand, humbled by the sheer abundance of plants, insects and wildlife.

The Deadwater Sream, slowly meandering its way towards the River Wey…

We see few people on the trail; those that we do are keen to ensure that we all comply with the two metre separation. Sometimes, we yield to walkers coming towards us, standing in the undergrowth so tha they may pass. Natural selection seems to ensure that next time we meet fellow walkers, they hold back for us to pass.

However, the social niceties are maintained, with many “good afternoons”. “please”, “thank you” and “have a good one” as we contine our walk.

The trail isn’t crowded by any means; we are in solitude for most of it – just us, walking, talking, laughing. Soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying nature.

Bluebells carpet the walk – just about everywhere. I love Spring – my favorite season

We continued on, walking generally north until we reached the exit point, where the new housing estate starts.

Not wanting to just return on the same route, we decide to wander through the small town suburbia and re-enter the reserve a little further down.

It’s a relief to leave the road once more, lined as it is, with high density housing, and populated with bus stops, garage blocks and parking bays.

We re-enter the reserve, skirting the sticky muddy morass near the stile, and test the waterproof capabilities of our footwear as we stride on through the silty puddles that surround the more glutinous mud.

Looking at the tracks in the earth, I immediately deduce that the trail is used by mountain bikers, hikers, walkers, children and dogs.

Eat your heart out Sherlock Holmes. Go back to your flat Hercule Poirot.

Whilst the nature reserve isn’t large, we have never visited before, so I was happy that I had a fully paid up account with the Ordnance Survey, and had access to excellent charts.

Using the app, we quickly planned how we would return to the end of the park nearest our home.

Our route back took us past a picturesque pond, which, according to the information board, was home to Toads, Frogs, Herons and Dragonflies.

The pond, basking in the sunshine, as it has done for over 100 years.

Sadly, we didn’t see any of them, but it has given me an excuse to come back again to check it out more regularly.

I would not necessarily have discovered this wonderful place if I hadn’t been on lockdown – so something good has come about as a result of COVID19.

My day today has been filled with catching up on various tasks around the house, so maybe tomorrow I will dig my bike out, and go and explore in a bit more detail.

A great way to do an hours exercise without having to go to the gym, which I find abhorrent at the best of times.

Go Well…

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Coronavirus – The Catalyst for Global Change?

Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.

The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.

Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.

The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.

Stations shut as a result of Coronavirus

Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.

The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.

Flight Radar 24 – Screenshot showing flights in South East England. This was taken mid morning on the 13th April 2020. This airspace would normally be teeming with traffic, given that this is a Public Holiday in the UK.

Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.

Imagery from the Copernicus Programme’s Sentinel 5P satellite. The left hand image shows Nitrous Oxide pollution over France and Italy. Darker Red is higher levels of pollution. The right hand image shows how the levels and extent have reduced throughout the month of March 2020

It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.

I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.

So, what may happen?

Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.

Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.

After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.

The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.

The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.

Who can really say?

If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.

Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?

Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.

Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?

It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.

In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.

The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.

Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.

The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..

This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.

Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.

This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.

There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.

This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.

Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.

Go Well…

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Discount For Cash? Not for much Longer!

The barmaid passed the pint of Forward Pass[1] over the bar to me, smiling.

Locally made, and perfect for glugging during the Six Nations!

“Thanks” I grinned, holding my smartphone out.

Grabbing the electronic card reader, she held it to my phone, which dutifully chirped, signifying that the £3.60 had been transferred from my current account into the club’s coffers.

Sooo easy to spend your money like this!

Taking my pint to a quiet table, I sat down, musing about the transaction.

Only two years ago, my club would only accept a card payment if the transaction value was over ten pounds. This was to cover the 2.0% transaction fee levied by the card processing company.

Not being a heavy drinker, I rarely spent over ten pounds during a post-work visit to the club, except on Friday nights, when I would meet with the “Last of the Summer Wine” crew and I would stand my round.

So, on Fridays, I would always hit the ATM at the Co-Op on the way home and withdraw enough cash to cover me for the weekend, and for coffees and snacks at work for the following week.

Two things have caused a seismic shift in how we pay for things.

In 2014 Apple introduced Apple Pay, enabling contactless payment transactions to be made using Apple smartphones. Initially, like a lot of people, I was suspicious of this as a means of payment.

Quick and Easy – Apple Pay from my Smartphone…

However, six years of advances in security including the use of thumbprints and facial recognition technology has meant that I now feel much more comfortable with using my phone to pay for items.

Some retail outlets such as Tesco’s limit the maximum contactless transaction value to £30.00, but in many places, including department stores and garages it is still possible to pay using a smartphone or a debit card.

The other thing that initiated a quantum shift in payment methods is that the UKGovernment banned debit and credit card surcharges on January 13th 2018.

All of a sudden, retailers were no longer able to charge for the use of a debit card or credit card payment, so almost overnight the need to carry cash became far less urgent.

So, is cash being phased out as a means for paying for goods and services?

Cash has been with us for over 30,000 years, before written history – and evidence of accounting using tally sticks goes back to the later stages of the stone age.

The Ancient Roman author and scholar Pliny the Elder (AD23- AD79) writes of the best woods to use for tally sticks.

Cash is a meaningful and tangible token of worth, and is universally accepted within a society as having a standard value – as opposed to barter, where individuals trade specialist skills in exchange for goods and services.

Because of the universal acceptance of cash, both coins and notes, it is used as an instant way of paying for goods and services. It is also largely untraceable, so whilst two individuals may conclude a transaction there is no record of payment being made or received.

One of the advantages of anonymising transactions, is that it makes the use of cash attractive for the conduct of criminal activities, and in the past ransoms have been demanded to be settled in unmarked used bank notes.

Even otherwise honest members of society may unwittingly commit crimes by defrauding the government of income tax.

Tradesmen who would never steal from, or swindle their customers may routinely offer a discount for cash – meaning that such transactions never go through their books, and are therefore free of income tax or VAT.

This benefits the tradesman, as the cash received may be used for personal spending, and the buyer saves overall on the cost of the item or work.

There is, however, an indirect advantage to this, which is that the cash earned is frequently injected into the local community, either in the local shops, or pubs and clubs.

Call me a cynic, but the rapid introduction of digital banking is positively welcomed by governments globally. as all transactions will be traceable and identifiable.

Only a year ago, the BBC reported that the use of cash is in decline, and will only account for 10% – 15% of all transactions by 2026.

Obviously, there are also advantages to a business becoming cashless. Retail premises such as pubs, clubs and restaurants may save money from not having to buy expensive sales terminals and then enjoying lower insurance premiums as a result of having no cash on the premises.

Intangible expenses such as employee time wasted in cashing up, and paying in money at the bank’s premises are immediately removed. The inadvertent acceptance of counterfeit money is also eradicated.

Cashing up at the end of a shift – a thing of the past?

Losing cash forever, would, in my ‘umble opinion, be a bad thing, as the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged would be unfairly penalised if their way of paying their way were denied to them.

The merciless march of automation and the ruthlessness of the digital economy may well change our society for ever.

Brave New World?

You decide.

Go Well…


[1] Triple F Brewery, Alton, Hampshire, UK

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Abandoned – and on the Verge of Falling Apart…

On December the second last year, I left home to endure my pre dawn commute. Driving down the lane, I noticed a black Mini car parked on the grass verge outside my neighbours’ house. As I passed it, I could see that it wasn’t in bad condition, and assumed that it belonged to a visitor.

Thinking about this later, I realised that if it were one of Jim’s visitors, then they would have parked in his large forecourt, off the road, rather than untidily parked on the grass.

I continued to wonder what the true situation was, and made a mental note to chat with Jim at the weekend.

Happily, and by coincidence, my Brother and Sister in law (of Tread the Globe fame) visited during the week, and Chris wanted to test fly his new drone, in preparation of it being used on their epic Round the World journey. During his test flights, he captured a nice image of the car parked in the lane, and that photo, shown below, was dated 5th December 2019.

The Mini Car parked on the grass – Drone photo courtesy of Chris Fisher of Tread the Globe

On Saturday morning, I spotted Jim, my neighbour, so wandered down to have a chat to him.

I asked him about the Mini car, and he told me that it was abandoned, and that he had checked with DVLA and the vehicle was untaxed, and he therefore assumed that it had been either abandoned or stolen. He had called the local council, and had reported this so that they could organise for it to be collected and disposed of.

To date the vehicle is still sitting there on the grass, and as each week passes it is subjected to further vandalism and damage; both door mirrors smashed off, and the rear wiper ripped away. It now looks very sad, and is slowly decomposing in the wind and rain.

Abandoned and un-loved. Wing Mirrors smashed, and under threat of further vandalism

Abandoned vehicles are a much bigger problem than I had imagined.

It appears that UK Councils spent almost a million pounds to remove the 32,000 abandoned vehicles from Britain’s highways and byways in the 2016/2017 fiscal year.

It’s alarming to find that there has been a 577% increase in the dumping of cars and vans in a four year period (2012-201).

A Freedom of Information request lodged with Britain’s 436 local authorities revealed that across the nation, 31,812 vehicles were removed and disposed of.

It is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenities) Act of 1978 to abandon a vehicle, and carries a maximum penalty of £2,500 and/or three months imprisonment.

This doesn’t seem to deter people from dumping, and the revenues raised from fines levied (when the owners may be traced) amount to £115,610 – which comes nowhere near the costs.

The authorities costs may be even higher if the abandoned car needs to be scrapped, and the shortfall in funds have to be recovered from local residents from taxation.

It seems that the highest number of reported and removed vehicles are in the South East, probably because this region is densely populated with both people and cars.

Motor insurance comparison website, Confused.com conducted some research, and this seems to suggest that the high costs associated with recovering and repairing a car have become unaffordable for some, with 23% of respondents claiming that this is the reason for dumping a vehicle. 30% of respondents dumped their car because it had broken down, and they could not afford to have it towed to a garage for repair.

7% said that they could no longer afford to run a vehicle at all.

The statistics also seem to suggest that 16% of drives who abandoned their cars did so for an average of three weeks, which suggests that these drivers are basically honest, and returned to recover the car when they could afford to do so.

Naturally there are a percentage of drivers who dump their cars because they can’t afford to pay the VED, or the insurance, and a small percentage who have stolen a car to get somewhere, and dump it when they have finished using it.

Some abandoned cars may have been used to commit crimes, and these too will be dumped at tax payers expense.

But back to my situation

It is now 28th February. 88 days since Jim reported the Mini outside his house.

I wonder how long it will take the local authority come out and move it?

Answers on a postcard…

UPDATED 02 MARCH 2020

I spotted this sign during a trip to some of the local shops…

I dont know whether to laugh or cry… Or maybe cry with laughter!

A bit of an empty threat really. They havent been able to remove an untaxed, probably uninsured vandalised vehicle from the lane in which I live after more than ninety days, so signs threatening removal after 48 hours seem somewhat ambitious.

Go Well…