110. I Can’t Help But Wonder Where We’re Bound

Yes, I’ve gone from Tom Lehrer to Tom Paxton! Well, the announcements over the last couple of days regarding the UK Prime Minister and his advisors throws yet another unknown into 2020. I’ve tidied up blog post 109, which as well as typos had a messy paragraph, I didn’t like its appearance. I’ve adopted this style now, I hope it helps the text flow better. One final Lehrer song, which is very appropriate for these virus-ridden days.


But I digress (to quote from Tom Lehrer’s song ‘In Old Mexico’).

November by Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —

November by me (1955-20??)
No Pilates – no Piano!
No bars – no pubs –
No haircuts – no friends — no non-essentials.

No flights, no hols, no nice hotels,
No relaxing spas or treatments –
No meeting up for coffee, no Bonfire parties —
No ability to write good poetry —

I know. If I had a day job you could all tell me not to give it up.

Typical English November weather

The orange icing I proposed on my Christmas cake won’t be topical anymore. Still, it’s excellent news that there will be a dog in The White House again. Does anyone else have an old dog, and if so, can they explain to me how to get rid of the smell? Or is it just poor old Greta? I take her into the shower with me (like Bush, or was it Ford? Or both? Must have been the first Bush, looking at the link below), I clean her ears, I brush her but still she exudes an aroma. I guess this is one of the advantages of lockdown (no embarrassing explanations) and I’ll understand if none of you want to visit until you see her obituary here.

Back to Biden, I’m sure if he had a Welshie I’d know, so I’ll go and do some searching and let you know… Oh, he has two dogs, Champ and Major (that’ll upset Cameron, May and Johnson). They are German Shepherds (used to be called Alsatians, I’m not sure when it changed). Which will be the First Dog?


Last Sunday we watched the Remembrance Service on the TV. I found it more than usually moving, with only 26 retired servicemen (and women) instead of the tens of thousands who usually file past the Cenotaph. You could imagine the missing personnel so easily with so few people on Whitehall.


As an aside, I always thought the Cenotaph was made from Doulting Stone (which is an Inferior Oolite), from our local quarry. Having looked, it’s Portland Stone. Glastonbury Abbey and part of Wells Cathedral (and our house) used Doulting Stone, which is very special as it comes from a very small area. We are (currently) about 600 feet above sea level, but once this was underwater. We do occasionally find fossils in the garden. http://doultingstonequarry.co.uk/the-quarry/

Here we are at the beginning of Week 2 of Lockdown 2. (‘Lockdown’ being word of the year according to the Collins Dictionary). I would say it’s a lot quieter out than Lockdown 1, but a young lad helping in the garden says wherever he goes it’s really busy so I guess it’s an age thing. I’m going to the garden centres (no-one else in sight) and he’s going to…well, I didn’t like to ask. Before you ask, he’s not helping JD with the Log Pile. That is a sacred task a la Marie Kondo. If you’ve not heard of her, she’s a Japanese ‘organising consultant’. You hold each item (of your wardrobe if you’re a normal person) and ask if it brings joy. If it does, you keep it and if it doesn’t, you dispose of it. Or, in our case, you cuddle each piece of wood carefully then keep it for the fire or send it to the bonfire. We are going to have the best organised log pile EVER. https://konmari.com/

Greta having inspected the log pile

There’s news of a Covid-19 vaccine that looks promising in Phase III results: I only hope approval will be faster than one product I worked on, where discussion of the position of the bar code on the box delayed approval by around six months. People ask me about the vaccine. What I think they are meaning is would (will) I have it? The answer is a resounding yes. As someone who did not get vaccinated as a baby and subsequently developed ‘infantile paralysis’ (polio) I know what can happen. The U.K. MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency) always errs on the side of caution so it will be as safe as it is possible to be. They were set up after the thalidomide tragedy to ensure safety of medicinal products.

In normal times it can take 10 to 15 years from concept of a product to getting it to market, so the speed of vaccine development here is unprecedented. For those of you not involved in the medical or pharmaceutical world, I’ll give a very simplistic account of the phases of development. Corrections from those of you wincing at this on the comments page please!

After the basic chemistry and toxicity in animals (or, more and more often these days, in silico, a computer simulation) we try the medicine in humans. In Phase I there will be a handful of healthy volunteers, usually young men, to make sure the product doesn’t kill them (it has been known). How the body handles the medicine will be studied and doses increased very gradually to find acceptable levels. In Phase II, a few patients suffering from the disease / illness under investigation will be studied to see how they handle the product. It is probable that there will be two groups, one with the experimental drug and one with a comparator (either a placebo, which is a ‘sugar pill’ with no medicine in it, or a known effective drug, or both as the development progresses). By the time we get to Phase III it is likely that tens if not hundreds of patients will have been given the product but under controlled conditions (such as hospitals). Safety and efficacy will be pretty well documented, although many drugs do fall down very late in development. Phase III trials will be more like ‘real life’ with less control over who enters the study. Thus, older patients or those with complications receiving other medicines may be receiving the drug for the first time. It’s not possible to control everything in life, so the trials cannot reflect what might happen if you or I need to take a medicine.

As we’ve seen for this Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine, over 43,000 people have received the vaccine. Obviously, these were not patients suffering from the virus, we’re trying to prevent infection with a vaccine, so the description above is slightly different. Of the data we’ve been told about, 94 subjects developed Covid-19 and it’s reported that the vaccine was over 90% effective. If we assume half the 43,000 received placebo and half the drug, we can work out speculative numbers. The final analysis of the data will happen when there have been 164 positive Covid cases, when we should get the full data plus side effect profiles. The main issue at the moment seems to be that storage has to be at minus 70 degrees Centigrade. As The Times said on 10th November, ‘This temperature is far out of the reach of standard refrigerators’. Logistics play an important part in being able to have medicines readily available for all. The MHRA report that they’ve assessed the quality of the vaccine but have yet to get clinical data.


For Christmas 2018 I was given a present that, due to my usual overwhelming optimism, I have not had occasion to use. I think it would have come into its own in 2020 and maybe it will in 2021. I’ll give it a go. I’d never come across a disappointments diary before but I think we all should have one. On the other hand, the news above might mean I’ll never get the occasion to use it.

I suspect some of you are sitting reading this with your tongues hanging out. I don’t know how to please you lot. First someone (JT) tells me there’s too much about alcohol, then someone else (KW) tells me that they were worried when no alcohol was mentioned in the first sentence! We didn’t really have cocktails last weekend. I had two reddish leftover mixes from previous weeks so I opened a bottle of champagne and made anonymous cocktails. If our taste buds were correct, the first one was Campari based and the second Polish cherry vodka based. Proper cocktails next time. Meanwhile, I’ve given you some sunsets to admire.