In Wales, a recent apparent surge in Covid case numbers, the discovery of a new “mutant” and “more virulent” and “rapidly spreading form” of the virus particle, both here and more widely in areas of South East England late in December, saw the Welsh government placing the whole country into lockdown, with just a few hours of warning, on the evening of Saturday December 19th.
As a tiny personal insight, this sudden lockdown came just hours before our local hotel, the excellent Ty Mawr in Brechfa, had organised an (at the time) legitimate and permitted festive lunch for Sunday 20th. We wouldn’t have gone, considering social distancing a rational and safe approach for us both, but the food had been bought, the prep. work completed, and then suddenly bang. No customers were allowed in to eat it.
With great enterprise, they offered the meal as a take away, and we felt it important to support Paul and Mel in what has been a dreadfully tough first year of business for them. A real treat it was too.I do wonder what George Orwell would have made of all the current restrictions, or the thoughts of our ex-prime minister Tony Blair, (he of the dodgy Iraq war dossier) and his 200 strong team at the Institute for Global Change, (TBI), extolling the merits of going even further on societal control. Within six months Tony expects that no country in the world will allow travellers in, without proof of their disease status – and wants the UK government to get ahead of the curve, building a vast database of patient records, tests and vaccinations. It seems likely that his proposed health passports and biometric ID cards would end up being used not just for foreign travel but at home, with restaurants, shops and even employers demanding to know about an individual’s virus, or vaccination status. (As an aside, a 200 strong team takes quite a bit of funding, I guess, doesn’t it, Tony?)
“Collecting this data in one place, with one patient record, is going to be absolutely vital – testing, vaccinations, every single thing to do with the development of this disease. You need to record every single piece of data you can lay your hands on because we will be adjusting our vaccination programme as we go – we may even have to adjust the vaccine itself.”
I must admit when I wrote the following at the end of my first piece on the “pandemic” way back on January 31st, I didn’t see this sort of push for the restrictive control of many aspects of our lives, being on the agenda by the end of the year.
Yet with (officially declared) clinical cases and mortality figures increasing by 25 % per day in China, and the world beginning to (rightly in my opinion) lock down, I hope that this doesn’t turn out to be as bad as I fear. If it were to become so, all bets are off.
Figurative sense of “to bring to ruin” ?
Let’s hope this isn’t how the (new) roaring twenties begin.”
However, such is the current mindset, that the new tier 4 restrictions came as no great surprise, even though with a slight relaxation for the single day of Christmas (when very limited social mixing was to be permitted), travel, and social interaction of any meaningful kind is now completely verboten.
Many are destined to spend much of the winter weeks ahead indoors. The understandable concern is that a rising number of “cases”, will lead to a rising number of seriously ill Covid patients, and shortly afterwards a rising number of hospital admissions, and indeed fatalities as we head into what is always a crisis time of the year for our hospitals and the NHS more generally.
To ask the obvious.
Simply that anyone who studies case loads and hospital admission graphs, will see them typically peak over the winter months, mainly, though not exclusively, because of a rise in infectious respiratory diseases, as well as the toll that colder weather inevitably takes on the older and more frail. This has been recognised for decades.
But I wonder how many readers are aware of the possible role of Vitamin D, both as a vitamin (vital amine) and hormone in the normal functioning of our respiratory and immune systems? I know that some will be, but I’m including this element of the post, since I wasn’t, but now am, and we’re both now supplementing what we’ve always thought of as being healthy diets, on the basis of the evidence and discussion in the two in depth videos below.
The first involving two youngish American physicians. The second, three much older and very experienced, British doctors with expertise and knowledge in this field.
It’s also worth asking yourself whether these doctors are likely to benefit in any significant way from advocating this supplementation?
Although in places the discussion gets a little technical, and medical, it certainly isn’t dumbed down and the gist of the message is simple and critical:
During the winter months, the circulating Vitamin D levels in the bloodstream of most people living in upper Northern hemisphere countries, are woefully inadequate to maintain many key, normal, cellular biochemical functions. In big part this is because our life style indoors, our western diet, and the levels of UV light falling on our skin over the winter months, being simply insufficient to enable us to synthesise our own vitamin D, which is what normally happens during the sunnier summer months. So we need to absorb it ready made, from something we eat.
Food sources with reliably adequate vitamin D amounts in them, are surprisingly few, and the UK chooses not to supplement any foods to help resolve this potential winter shortfall issue. Thus supplementation in some format seems to be the only way to boost our levels to a healthy point, over these gloomy winter months. I think it’s worth listening to, and thinking about, some of the data presented here about how the Covid virus causes significant pathology – and only in some people – to appreciate how significant adequate blood levels of vitamin D might be, in maintaining good health.
And then decide if you need or want to do anything about it!
And finally ask why this simple, cheap form of supplementation, (pence per day) with a negligible risk of side effects, is rarely figuring in any mainstream discussion of providing a route out of the current mess that we’re in?
All the doctors involved recommend it, and take it, as indeed does America’s Dr. Anthony Fauci – but not at the dose our own NICE still recommends of 400 i.u. per day, which is apparently fine for preventing rickets, but apparently way too low to be adequate for raising blood levels to necessary protective values for respiratory problems.
I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with the marked contrast between vitamin D’s tiny cost, and say the costs of PCR testing (about $149 per test), lateral flow tests ($6-8 per test) or vaccination ( $5-30 per dose). Or indeed that the TBI includes the following in its lengthy reported involvement with the global Covid response:
“As part of our work on advocating for a mass-testing strategy in the UK, TBI has been working with a network of innovative testing providers. We have sought to highlight innovation and opportunities in responding effectively to the crisis. An example of this is our collaboration with “Curative” (an American biosciences company) in relation to their saliva-based Covid-19 Rt-PCR test. When TBI and Curative first established contact, Curative was struggling to get its test validated by the UK government, and since that time it has become the biggest testing provider in the USA.”
Just before the shortest day, we’d picked up on the much heralded great conjunction of planets, in this case Jupiter and Saturn, which with their differing sized and shaped orbits around the sun, were due to appear as close as they’ve been, from a standpoint on earth, for over 8oo years. Ending up less than a fifth of the width of the full moon apart, this optical illusion is a real illusion – in spite of their apparent proximity, the planets were still more than 400 million miles apart! A wonderful statistic to contemplate as the two of us stood at dusk, chilly, in an upland Welsh field.
In fact the last time they were this close, happened just before dawn on March 4th 1226. Whether the weather was favourable to actually see them celestially kiss, way back then, is debatable. Little history of what was happening in Wales in 1226 is readily available, though I read that in Paris, the stone masons were roughly half way through the construction of Notredame cathedral. Large telescopes hadn’t even been invented either, so it would have needed a sharp eye, and a canny awareness of where and when to look, for the locals to have glimpsed this near planetary conjunction.Interestingly, there is evidence which I’ve hinted at before on these pages, that the locals at least centuries before even this long ago, were very aware of planetary events, and their possible significance. Click here for more. Or more simply, this summary from one of our local hostelries:
The Dolaucothi Arms has been at the centre of life in Pumsaint for almost 500 years. But the history of this area goes back much earlier, beyond the Romans to the iron age Celts. The Celts would have known of the gold in the hills around Pumsaint and had the knowledge to extract it on a relatively small scale. For many years the history of Pumsaint was the history of the gold mine. Indeed, the gold in our hills may have had a role to play in the location of an ancient iron age temple referred to in the prose of the early Welsh bards. Jay Laville’s ‘Introduction to the Pumsaint Temple of the Stars’ 2017, describes a temple in the form of a colossal landscape zodiac. A map of the stars on a gigantic scale, formed by natural and man-made features in the landscape – roads, streams and boundaries for example. The contention is that early man reproduced the constellations visible in the night sky with scaled reproductions on the ground. In Wales this temple, sacred to the Druids, is believed to have been created circa 4000 years ago. It is centred on Pumsaint and extends in a circle with a radius of 12 miles from Llanddewi-Brefi to Talley, from Cilycwm to Llanydydder, from Lampeter to Llandovery and Abergorlech to Rhandirmwyn.
I wonder if our (British) prime minister Boris Johnson had studied astronomy or astrology, in addition to classical literature and the life and times of Winston Churchill, he’d have been as keen on taking up the reins of running the country when he did?
As it turned out his darkest day, December 21st 2020, saw Britain temporarily cut off from Europe with travel bans over concerns of the new more rapidly spreading mutant variant of Covid 19; chaos at Dover with continental lorry drivers banned from returning before Christmas following a sudden 48 hour travel ban from the UK introduced by President Macron; concerns over whether a Brexit trade deal could still be cut and avoid yet more chaos on January 1st as the really final deadline for Brexit was passed; and swiftly rising Covid cases in the UK meaning a rapid revision of permitted Christmas social mixing plans for the Christmas period.
He would certainly be familiar with the questionable attributable quote of Harold Macmillan’s about “Events, dear boy, events”. Would he also have pinned on his Downing street office wall this earlier, and very apt, quote from 1919?
“The task upon Ministers of the Crown at the present time is really a very heavy one indeed. But at any rate, the difficulties we have to face are only the difficulties of circumstances, and the opposition we have to encounter—the only opposition we have to encounter—is the opposition of events. It is well that that should be so, because the tasks are heavy and formidable.”
Quite possibly, since this was a quote from Winston Churchill. And Boris and all ministers have my sincere sympathies at the hand that has been dealt to them recently.
Nothing really changes: the conjunction of planets, the opposition of events, life’s evolutions, or revolutions.
However, back to the planets. I’ve been unable to find any source which tells me when this great conjunction last occurred on the shortest day, December 21st – my guess is it could well have been over 100,000 years ago (365 days X 800 years = 292,000 years – pluck a figure from 365 days as the likelihood of it falling on a previous December 21, and at a time when it would be visible – dodgy assumptions, but an interesting speculation).
Since the next such close encounter won’t happen until 2080, we realised that whether it would seem dramatic or not to our eyes, it really was a once in a lifetime chance. Scanning the forecasts, it was clear that the evening of Monday December 21st was going to have 100% cloud cover here, so we opted to try for the day before, when they weren’t quite as close. Just after dusk, there was indeed a fleeting gap in the drifting, building clouds above the horizon to the South West. Helped by Fiona’s phone app giving us a clue as to where to look, it wasn’t until I zoomed in with the camera, that I could make out the double bright stars, and then only later discovered on an enlarged on screen image, that the 4 moons of Jupiter were also just visible as tiny white dots in a line from 10 to 4 o’clock.
I waited outside for another half an hour or so for a clearer view with a darkening sky, but the clouds conspired to hide further revelation.
The weather from mid-December has certainly been unsuitable for much skin manufactured Vitamin D, with any sight of the sun, other than around dawn, extremely limited and rainfall levels typically high. The ground is now saturated, and in need of a good few days of strong chilling and drying winds. However, Christmas Eve provided us with a rare sunny spells day, and after a much needed morning bike ride (and puncture!) we could take our cups of tea up to the Hut and sit down, take in the views and peace, and listen to the festival of nine carols from King’s College Cambridge, this year broadcast from a congregation free Chapel. As the sun dipped in the west, the shadows lengthened, and the light turned golden, a wonderful peace fell across the land, as mainly solitary birds made their way to their night time roosts.
One of the things we’ve noticed in recent years is the apparent increase in wood pigeon numbers locally. This is in spite of the local population of Goshawks, which I’m never able to identify until I sit and enlarge a photo, to get a better idea of body shape and colours.
Christmas Day’s sunrise was even more dramatic, but preluded a return of rain in time for another bike outing mid morning.
Having recently reviewed one of my posts on scent marking by animals, including the significance of the handstand position (!) of urine marking in Giant Pandas, click here, I’d been laying a round-the-garden dribbled trail, mid-morning, when I reached the end of the yard and was about to cross the top of the track. I sensed, almost felt, a large bird swerve around my calf, avoid the held metal watering can spout, and then correct its flight path to continue straight down the track at speed, skimming at what seemed like ankle height, between the tall hedge topped, banked sides. Fortunately, the only bird remaining in the track at the time – a blackbird – exited scene right, into the dense protective foliage of the nearby Pieris. So, it was an abortive mission for what I took to be a sparrow hawk, and probably currently one of its favoured hunting grounds, since the huge numbers of fallen acorns which still litter the top of the track seem to be a magnet for all manner of birds, small and large, from dawn until dusk, as well as the occasional mammal:Perhaps after all though, the hawk might have been a goshawk?
Certainly, on Boxing day afternoon I spotted another flying West, at higher altitude.
The prevailing winds and high rainfall for most of December has mainly kept severe cold weather at bay and resulted in more snowdrops showing their blooms above ground, than we’ve ever managed before at this time of the year – 46 cultivars, as I write this on New Year’s Eve. They survived the battering of the winds from Storm Bella which hit last weekend, and I was hoping to include a few more photos for this end of 2020 post.
But today a sharp overnight frost, followed by early morning snow and hail showers has flattened them. They’ll recover, in time, but I’ll include a fascinating snippet and slides from my snowdrop talk, which I don’t think has ever reached these blog posts before, to explain how they manage to be so resilient. This comes from “The Remarkable Snowdrop” section of the talk, which features many other aspects of snowdrop physiology and biochemistry.
This is the antifreeze molecule ethylene glycol, which is the commonly used antifreeze we put in our car’s engine radiators. It works very simply by lowering the freezing temperature of the water in the radiator.This, by contrast, is the snowdrop antifreeze molecule, a huge glyco-protein, which is obviously way more complex than ethylene glycol, and works completely differently too. As water molecules (shown as the red balls in this image) begin to freeze, they start to form tiny ice crystals. Normally as freezing continues a few ice crystals start to grow much bigger at the expense of the many smaller ones.
The snowdrop antifreeze glycoprotein works by wrapping around the many tiny ice crystals that are forming within the snowdrop’s leaf tissue cells, as temperatures drop below freezing, and by doing this, stops the tiny ice crystals from growing into bigger ones. It’s the growth of the tiny crystals into a few bigger ice crystals within rigid plant cell walls which would otherwise burst the cells apart, and then kill the plant. Think of it as a protective glove (the protein) wrapping around the water/ice crystals (fingers).
Once the water is trapped as tiny ice crystals within the leaves, and with the roots unable to draw up more water from frozen ground, the leaves will tend to wilt – freeze dried if you will, since there’s no “free” water in the cell to maintain normal cellular pressure.
But the cells can rehydrate very quickly when temperatures recover, and the ice crystals melt back into water and are freed from the clutches of the glycoprotein. Apparently extracts of snowdrops were used as a very early antifreeze to keep tanks going in the First World War.
Pretty clever, eh? And so much so that scientists have picked up on the idea. If you’ve ever eaten wonderfully smooth Haagen Daaz ice cream you’re enjoying the effects of a synthetic antifreeze glycoprotein, working in exactly the same way to keep the ice cream nice and smooth, and free of large ice crystals!
Though the ice cream manufacturers have dropped the antifreeze word in place of ice restructuring proteins, and don’t even have to list it on the containers apparently, which is a little scary.
My final point to mention in this post, is that it currently seems unlikely that government restrictions will allow any NGS garden visits in the near future, even though a socially distanced, outside walk in a remote garden might be just the tonic that many would benefit from during the wintry months ahead. So, I shall end this post, and this year of blogging, which is indeed my tenth, with some more images of hope.
No matter that the Met Office have just warned of a sudden stratospheric warming in early January – with its implications for prolonged colder weather ahead!
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast”.
Narcissus “Rheinveld’s Early Sensation” is living up to its name. Never mind the challenge of having a daffodil in bloom for St. David’s day – this year we had them out for Christmas.The first Crocus sieberi “Firefly” is doing its best to be a coloured candle of light.
And these other poetic lines, less famous then the quote above, from Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Man”, written in the 1730’s, seem pretty pertinent to life at the beginning of 2021:
“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself, abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
Go, wond’rous creature! mount where Science guides,
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old Time, and regulate the Sun;
Go, soar with Plato to th’ empyreal sphere,
To the first good, first perfect, and first fair;
Or tread the mazy round his follow’rs trod,
And quitting sense call imitating God;
As Eastern priests in giddy circles run,
And turn their heads to imitate the Sun.
Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule—
Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!”