DAY 76: Thurs 28 May

I had thought I would not have a lot to say today. Fat chance

It is evening and the blackbirds are singing away as they seem to have been all day, feels like there is a turf war, albeit good-natured and mellifluous, with the males of two pairs claiming either end of the garden as their territory.

I woke at 7 and was in the garden before 8 coming in to catch All Jazeera news at 9. My plan today was simple. Get the new chicken run sorted as far as possible. My house guest had promised to get up early to help. I called him 9:45, no response, nor at 10:15. Nothing again at 11; nor at 12:15. I had got as much done as one person could do unaided, and was already hot and sweaty and ready for the lunchtime news when he appeared. Bedraggled and apologetic. Another hour for him to shower and breakfast, and we got stuck in just after 2 pm! 

In the morning we were reminded that the ’NHS Test & Trace’ system was now in operation. It is being run under the supervision of Baroness Dido Harding, who presided over one of the biggest data breaches while In charge of TalkTalk, the phone company, and she was on board of the Jockey Club and Cheltenham Races, which was allowed to go ahead just as coronavirus firmed its grip on the country. Like so many of her ilk, she has worn many lucrative hats, and is married – surprise, surprise – to a Tory MP, for Weston-Super-Mare, where the hospital is in lockdown after an outbreak of COVID19 among staff. 

Any confidence there scheme might inspire was swiftly doused as the early glitches in the system quickly became apparent; workers on the scheme had precious little notice (or training according to some) it seems, and the website went down soon after the scheme started. Legitimate questions are being asked about the security of the personal information people are supposed to provide when being tested or explaining who they have been in close contact with. Marketed as an NHS scheme in fact the notorious outsourcing firm Serco is employing people to trace and call contacts and oil recently accidentally revealed the details of 300 contract trackers. It has a lousy reputation for it work the prison service, and the £90million it is getting for its COVID19 contracts will easily cover the £23million it was ‘fined’ for fraudulent claims over electronic tagging.

Another private company, the SITEL Group, an international ‘customer obsessed’ outfit that ‘connects brands with customers’ is also working on the ‘NHS’ scheme,, and even Amazon have their Web Services finger in the pie. They will be providing a ‘secure location’ for the data collected. Apparently the personal details of people with COVID-19 symptoms will be kept by Public Health England for 20 years; those of their contacts will be held for five years. What could possibly go wrong?

And anyway how does anyone check that they are being contacted by the right people? It really does feel like a gift to scammers. Indeed I have just put up a detailed warning from the police on the Back Lane Community Noticeboard about a multitude of new scams that have emerged during the pandemic.

I had a call from a distraught mother looking for advice about what will happen to her son who has been called back off furlough into work, if he is sent home after coming into contact with someone with COVID19. Quite rightly she says this could happen over and over again. How is his family supposed to survive if all he can then claim is sickness benefit? It really does not feel as if this thing has not been thought through (but it’s a great distraction from the Cummings affair).

Durham police, meanwhile, have said that Cummings may well have broken the law with his ludicrous eye-testing drive to Barnards Castle, and they would have sent him back home (which one?) had they stopped him. But they didn’t and they can’t retrospectively fine him, so he is off the hook (unlike all those ‘ordinary’ people the police did stop and fine, even if they were legitimately seeking to protect their children). How very convenient, but it cuts no mustard with ‘ordinary’ people.

In other news, it looks like a new UNICEF contract may be on the horizon, but instead of working in half a dozen countries it will mostly be done ‘virtually’. More when I know.

A couple of hours work in the hot afternoon sun and my house guest and I were probably very unpleasant to be with – though lockdown means no-one is around to complain. And we can’t really do more until we get some more timber. The garden had to be watered and bread had to be made.

No news from my children or grandchildren today, nor from my colleague for whom I had been reviewing material, so I watched Mr Johnson performing at the No.10 Briefing. I had not realised it was possible to be both arrogant and pathetic at the same time, but he managed it with ease. Not only did he duck all questions about his mate Cummings, but he banned his ‘technical assistants’ from expressing their opinions too. 

For once the journalists showed a little solidarity and kept up the pressure, and he not only refused to answer questions but also prevented any supplementaries. He has gone full Trump and expects us to swallow his bumptious assertions that ‘the British people just want to move on”. He has got another think coming on that one. He is pressing ahead with qualitative easing of lockdown, and I hope he will take responsibility if it all goes pear-shaped and the virus bites back.

No sign of anyone backing down on our street for the ‘Clap for NHS and Carers’ tonight, despite attempt to bring it to an end. However I do sympathise with NHS staff who feel that it is doing little to improve their lot, even if it assuages the guilt of the country’s leaders. It has done wonders for community spirit however, and united folk who just a few months ago may have been at loggerheads over Brexit.

It is nearly midnight and I need a shower before bed, as I spent part of the evening having a massive burn up of very dry garden waste in my incinerator, after catching a whiff of someone else’s bonfire and seen that none of the neighbours had washing out. I was stinking already, so I can now have a two-for-one shower,  Good night.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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