A longer ride today, from Moffat to Queensferry, west of Edinburgh. 65 miles and 3000 ft of elevation. A combination of (some) A roads and B Roads takes us to the Premier Inn near to the Forth Bridge which is accommodation for the night (maybe £65 depending on season and time of booking)
Day 3 Thursday
Fun today, Queensferry- Dundee (for those how enjoy the crosswinds while riding on exposed bridges) – ride over the Forth bridge and into Fife. A mixture of roads takes us to the river Tay and we follow this until we cross over the Tay Road Bridge and into Dundee. 50 miles, and another Premier Inn. Plenty to see in Dundee – the hotel is right next to the river and the site of Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition ship, RSS Discovery. There is also a Brewdog pub in town…
Day 4 Friday
Heading into even more picturesque countryside today, Dundee-Pitlochry, and following an NCN cycle route. Along the other bank of the Tay, skirt Perth, then follow the river to Pitlochry. Accom here is probably a hostel and £18 each. Drying room and bike store available. 51 miles today, mostly following NCN 77
Day 5 Saturday
Final day of riding, and head out of Pitlochry to Rannoch. The road literally ends when you reach the rail station which is on the edge of Rannoch Moor, so it’s pretty hard to get lost!. Some amazing views as the route skirts the banks of two lochs.
Only 39 miles today, but the trick is getting to the station at the right time – there are only 2 trains a day to Glasgow (1242 getting in at 1534 and 1836 getting in at 2125) Late train will mean an overnight stop in Glasgow. Cost :£28.20 to Glasgow, plus on going train plus hotel if needed)
Here are the links to my Strava records of riding London-Paris in 2017. I’m guessing the routes won’t have changed that much for this year, so will give a good idea of what to expect.
Day 1 – London to Dover
A lot of miles for the first and Kent is hillier than you might expect – 3600 ft of climbing. Traffic to deal with a various points, such as getting out of London and also around Canterbury, but also some great countryside. Opportunity for fish and chips on the ferry during the crossing. There’s a few km to do on the other side to get to the hotel
First day in France, and what will hit you is how good the road surfaces are and how much space you are given by drivers. Again, over 3000 ft of climbing, but nothing too taxing. Arras is a beautiful city, worth a walk around before the evening team meal.
An easy day today, 75 miles and not too hilly. We will probably stop at one of the many WW1 cemeteries. Very sobering. Today there is a Strava segment that is used as a time trial – 10 km long and it comes after 50 miles. Great fun to have a go at and to blow your legs. The only serious climb of the day comes immediately after this, so you’ve been warned -climbing or time-trialling? In Compiegne there’s a Chinese buffet which I suspect is where the dinner will be.
The easiest day, just 52 miles. The journey into Paris is where driving reverts to standards we are used to and riding around the Arc de Triomphe is basically terrifying. Bubbly and photos at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower then a short ride to the hotel where you hand over your bike, which you will next see the following evening at St Pancras station. Final dinner and then I have a plan – we could get some rental bikes and do a night time tour of the sights!
It has been quite a year. I was fully expecting to be picking out stars of the year from a bunch of Olympians who had won gold medals, but 2020 did not turn out quite as planned.
It would be easy to produce a list of this year utter see-you-next-Tuesdays, full of Johnsons, Foxes, Trumps and others, but for now let’s look at the people who made my year better.
The big science story of the year was obviously the pandemic, which brought out armchair virologists and epidemiologists in their thousands, happy to share their opinions on social media while being unable to even explain how an exponential function works or what T-cell actually is.
Amongst the noise and the politics, some names stand out. Prof Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh university has been a consistent clear voice on public health and behaviour.
We’re moving now to a point where vaccines to protect against COVID-19 are available, so my scientists of the year are the founders of Biontech who were first to get a working mRNA vaccine Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. To quote Hamilton (more of this later); “Immigrants, we get the job done”.
There’s little point looking to the superpower that was America for inspiration, as their current president continues to lie and stir up hatred. Closer to home, few of our own politicians have covered themselves in glory this year either, at least in the national stage. As last year, my top politician is Jacinda Ahern. Proof that a successful approach to a pandemic is to lock down hard and quickly, so that economic recovery can happen more quicker. The Asia-Pacific countries have been pretty good at this, unlike Europe and the USA.
If we were judging achievements outside of sport, then clearly Marcus Rashford, fo his work on school meals and reading, is ahead by a country mile. In January I would have been forecasting this year’s sports star would be someone like Dina Asher Smith or another Team GB track and field star. For consistent performance though, this has to go to Lewis Hamilton – 7 world championship titles, equalling Michael Schumacher, and a world beating 95 wins in Grands Prix.
There were few opportunities for cinema this year, with plenty of “big” movies having their release dates postponed, so a great year financially for streaming services. The Guardian has put “Parasite” as their number one film of the year, but my vote is for something a bit less international – “Lovers Rock” by Steve McQueen, still available on BBC iPlayer
I’ve never been a fan of musical theatre, but then in then in the spring, Disney added Hamilton to its streaming offer. Oh my word! Michelle Obama has described it as “the best art ‘I have ever seen in my life” and it has become the soundtrack to my year. . From a standout cast in the version available on Disney+, my pick from the musical is Renée Elise Goldsberry who plays Angelica Schuyler (now we all know that Eliza is really the star of the story – don’t @ me, you know it’s true). Have a hanky when you listen to Angelica sing “It’s Quite Uptown”.
This year we lost one of the great authors of the English language. John le Carré wrote books that are not just spy thrillers, he says something about the human condition, about a world that is in shades of grey, not black and white. Over 30 years after I first read it, this year I bought a new copy of “A Perfect Spy” to read while away on a trip. If the smoke and mirrors of the Smiley books baffles, then read this – once again we see inside the British secret service, but the deceptions are of almost everybody and everything.
It’s been a febrile week so far, and it’s only Tuesday.
In response to worldwide and national Black Lives Matter demonstrations, universities, like many other major corporations, have taken to social media to make statements to express their solidarity, as discussed in this article “We can’t separate the issues of race and reopening in universities” by Tahmina Choudhery on Wonkhe who says:
“Some were strong, some impossibly generic. Some were from real people and leaders, others read more like corporate marketing material. But whatever form they took, one they were met with the same response – why do you suddenly care now?“
Winning a prize for being tone deaf is possibly Edge Hill who repurposed a photo previously used for Epilepsy Awareness, resulting in the person running their social media channels publicly resigning over not being consulted…
Today also saw the publication of the first of this year’s crop of league tables – again more on this can be read over on Wonkhe where Paul Greatrix has cast his eye over the results (spoiler alert, there are no surprises). The surprise changes in league tables will only come after taking into account the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on students’ satisfaction, attainment, employment and indeed recruitment, but that won’t feed through in the data for another two or three years.
So why don’t we try to combine these two threads…
For years, universities have now that they have a problem with an attainment gap between White and BAME students. And for years the research has been available that shows that even correcting for entry grades and other factors that these gaps still exist.
Data produced by Office for Students in their Access and Participation dashboard can be used to see the attainment gaps in the sector and across different institutions. Downloading the data allows us to create a league table that shows, amongst other things, the attainment gaps in each university. A word of caution – for universities with small populations of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic students, then because the data is rounded to the nearest 5, then the results may not be significant. However, by looking at the data on the online dashboard, results which are statistically significant are highlighted.
This is what happens if we take the data, and filter it for:
mode of study = full time or apprenticeships
level of study = all undergraduates
If we then rank in terms of attainment gap between Black and White students in 2018-19, here’s the two ends of the table:
And if we put the universities in order of change in attainment gap in the last 5 years (which might show who has been successfully working to tackle this):
And those with increases in attainment gaps in the last 5 years:
This may not be a perfect way to look at what is known to be a hugely complicated, multi-variable problem. But having some numbers easily available certainly shows the differences between universities.
A final thought – this has been written in terms of attainment gap, as it is often described in the literature and indeed in the data files. Other authors have suggested that this is the wrong terminology – it assumes a deficit in the student, and what we should really be reporting is an “awarding gap”.
So, my last day of isolation. No symptoms at all now, maybe
a bit of a lingering cough, but that’s it. Maybe I’ve had nothing wrong with me.
The danger of being at home is being drawn to the constant new cycle, and the
even more constant social media cycle.
Social media as usual provides some great entertainment, as
well as showing the best and the worst of people – have a look in today’s
heroes and zeroes.
Looking back at the history of the virus, it’ interesting to
see what we knew and when. In the last two weeks of January I was working in
Egypt, and making plans for a trip to China in early March. On a daily basis in
Egypt we saw the information coming out of China and the restriction from the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office stopping further travel to China. Travelling
back through Cairo and London, people were already wearing masks, including on
the tube. Clearly this was a virus that was going to spread, as globalisation
means extensive travel, through a variety of different hubs – it’s all very
well stopping direct flights to and from China, but every far east trip I have
ever made was via a hub in the Middle East. So, we knew about this virus and its
potential in January.
Let’s look at a timeline:
China alerts WHO to cases of pneumonia
China first death
first case outside China
China, 3rd death and 200 cases
China 17 dead, 550 cases
Wuhan and 2 other cities under
China 26 dead, 830 cases
travel restrictions affecting 56 million
56 dead, 2000 cases in China, cases confirmed in US, Taiwan, Thailand,
Japan and S Korea
WHO declares global emergency
first UK case
China 490 dead, over 24000 cases
over 1000 dead in China, virus named COVID-19
over 1500 dead in China
UK PM boasts of shaking hands with Coronavirus patients
UK announces no need to limit major sporting events
First PM announcement to country – “Herd immunity” plan hoping to let 60% of the country become infected, in contradiction to plans of other countries. Everyone does the calculation – 1% of 60% infected could die = 400,000
Imperial College data suggests 100s of thousands will die following the
Voluntary limits to social contact proposed by PM, pubs and bars still
Bars and restaurants to close immediately, stricter social distancing
Large numbers go out for a walk in the country or the seaside
Strict controls announced regarding social distancing and limiting the freedom to go out. UK deaths now at 335
UK deaths reach 1408
The spread of a virus is a scientific phenomenon, and epidemiologists
have models to show how one will spread. However, the policies that an
individual government will take to limit the spread are political, informed by the
science and constrained by established societal norms in any particular country.
What does seem clear is:
We knew about the virus and its seriousness from
January but did nothing until mid-March. Maybe it’s hard to get people to isolate
and distance themselves when they can’t yet see the problem, but this will lead
to unnecessary deaths.
We didn’t start stocking up on protective equipment
for health workers when we could , who are now paying the price, again possibly
leading to unnecessary deaths.
Other countries who have contained the virus, on
the recommendations of WHO are testing many, many more people. Testing means those
who are infected can be isolated and their contacts traced. Even now the UK failing
to meet its planned 10000 tests per day, when countries like Germany far exceed
The UK approach seemed to be one of British exceptionalism –
“we will take it on the chin” according the PM (I think he was thinking of one
of his biscuit games from Eton) whereas those countries who are containing the outbreak
have all taken a different approach
It’s hard to predict how many will die – that’s best left to professionals who have an increasingly rich dataset to model, and who can compare the effect of different policies and behaviours in different countries. What is clear is that the deaths in China appear to have been brought under control at 3305 as of 30-3-20. So a country of 1,400,000,000 has 3305 deaths. The UK with a population of 66,000,000 has 1408 an dis likely to reach the China figure in the next 7 or 8 days. Even if the deaths in China are under-reported, then the UK strategy may not have worked. In the inevitable enquiry that will happen afterwards, either formally or through the press, people will ask – did our government do enough and at the right times to prevent unnecessary deaths?
Heroes and Zeroes
Our hero award has to go to the Shropshire police twitter account, for totally owning this racist.
There’s a lot of it about – false claims just to spread a little hate around.
For those who’ve been reading this isolation diary, then
let’s finish with what C P Snow wrote in 1921, in an essay to mark the centenary
of the Guardian.:
“Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so
called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of
friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a
self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair.
This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters is hardly given to man. Perhaps
none of us can attain to it in the desirable measure. We can but try, ask
pardon for shortcomings, and there leave the matter.”
I cannot imagine how people who need to stay home for 12
weeks are coping. Six days, and I cannot wait to be able to go out just for a
I’ve started to wonder what the endgame is going to be. In
the press briefing today (Sunday) the Deputy Chief Medical Officer suggested
that it could be many more weeks of restrictions. At any point, the government,
as indeed any organisation dealing with strategy, will be thinking about the
With limited information on how well the current measures
are actually working, then it’s not possible to forecast when we will be able
to change behaviours, but someone somewhere has to be modelling this.
Multiple scenarios exist. In one, we could wait until the number
of deaths no longer rises and then allow more normal life to resume. This might
lead to further outbreaks, and subsequent restrictions, but could be a way of keeping
things moving. This seems to be the approach in China
In another scenario, we could end up with deaths continuing
to increase, since the virus has already spread over all of the country, and so
the current lockdown conditions continue for a significant time.
Alternatively, deaths could continue to increase, but the decision
could be made to relax restrictions to ensure that businesses, in particular
food production and supply can continue.
In all scenarios there are multiple factors to consider.
What happens once too many shop staff, too many deliver drivers and too many
food production staff are ill or dead? How resilient are our just-in-time
logistics, and how well could the country cope with serious shortages? Already
farmers are highlighting a lack of migrant and other workers to pick vegetables
that are soon coming into season. Social
unrest will never be far from the minds of government, and shortages of food
could lead to unfortunate behaviours.
As well as considering the short-term endgame – what we do to
get back to business as usual– this could also be a time to reflect and
consider what other changes we might want to see. What has been laid clear in
this crisis is:
A realisation of the value of all workers, especially those on below average wages
A lack of resilience in our health service
The fact that experts are worth listening to
The importance of being prepared to change strategy when it is clear that a chosen one isn’t right.
Heroes and Zeroes
For today’s heroes how about three NHS doctors who have died
of the virus
Bloody migrants, taking our jobs, coming to work in the UK, treating us when we are dying then dying in service, and even having families who are prepared to do the same.
The Mail on Sunday – blaming China for the existence of the virus, and the EU for the Prime Minister becoming infected.
Don’t forget that the Prime Minister was bragging of shaking hands with everybody only a couple of weeks ago, including Covid19 patients. And that he and others are meeting up with each other all the time. Dog-whistle journalism 101. In answer to the question “Did Michel Barnier infect Boris Johnson?”: almost certainly not, but if you had testing and contact tracing, just think what you would learn!
The Mail and its journalists will be spending a lot of time from now blaming “foreigners” and not paying critical attention to failings in the UK. Or “business as usual in other words.
Monday is the last day of isolation and maybe it’s time to look at a timeline of this crisis and the subsequent response.
The good news is that I am hardly coughing anymore, and even
felt well enough to get on the turbo trainer for half an hour. Which just
reminded me that:
Being at home constantly means you eat all the
I haven’t exercised for a week
I hate the turbo trainer
So this means that on Tuesday I can go out into the big wide world and see what is left of it. Part of me expects a dystopian wasteland,
Although I suspect, based on the local Facebook group pages the problems will be nowhere near as bad.
Imagine – no branded groceries.
Today it was reported that the number of deaths exceeded
1000, which was readily [predicted by every exponential curve ever. However,
this was a cue for a number of commentators to ask whether these are deaths of
people from the virus, or did people die with the virus. We’re going to see a
lot more of this – it’s a narrative that has appeared in the US and is now
being seen here. It seems to feed in to yet another skirmish in the
manufactured culture wars. The writers who are questioning this – and they are
right to question, provided they have evidence to back up their claims – are
the same ones who oppose the strategies that have been taken to minimise
contact between people. The same writers are on the lookout for over-zealous
police responses, just so that they can shout out that individual freedoms are being
lost, and that this is becoming a police state (and look, the libs are quite
happy with it this time!).
For example, look at Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. He had previously tweeted that the virus may not be too much of a problem. Fast forward, and now that he has more facts at his disposal he changes his mind, and criticises the government’s response on Question Time. And right on cue, the accusations fly, saying he is an Extinction Rebellion leftie (I’m not sure how a view on climate change or party politics has anything to do with responses to a pandemic), and in choosing to identify him with ER and the left, the debate has been neatly shifted, from a point he was making about the current situation to a snap-portrait which is supposed to reveal everything that he thinks. This is the tactic – deflect and mislead. Just ask – why people want to stifle valid criticism?
It’s manufactured outrage, and it’s all for clicks and
likes. I’m not going to give Brendan O’Neill and his crew a link, but they are
loving the opportunity to write their usual contrarian views.
My view remains the same – as yet we still don’t know the
mortality rate, and so caution seems like a good idea. Very strict lockdowns do
seem to work, as we can see in China, although we may want to question the data
they provide (again, I’m being even-handed, I’m not going to assume it’s automatically
Certainly looking at what is happening in the US, where the President wants business back to normal by 15th April, we can see that the lack of testing, the initial refusal to accept that the virus will affect them, and the lack of socialised medicine are going to hit hard.
Today’s Heroes and Zeroes
Lauren Laverne – her 6Music breakfast show is the antidote
from rolling TV and radio news. Listen in, I guarantee it will make you feel
All the dogs of Twitter
Chartwells, who supply food to schools. This is what they provided for 5 days’ worth of lunches for those on free school meals. Let’s face it, if you’re rich or even just on an average income, and have a nice house, possibly with a garden, feel physically safe at home, you’re pretty much ok. But a lot of people won’t be.
A final thought.
Maybe this cartoon from today’s Observer is what we should start to think about – what happens when this is all over.
On Thursday night we saw people take to their doorsteps and
windows to “Clap for our Carers”.
A fantastic sentiment, and I hope that those who over the
last decade supported cutting the numbers of staff and keeping wages fixed had
a massive shite into their hands before they started clapping.
I’m also not sure Clap for our Carers is the best slogan.
I’m going to be promoting “Gonorrhoea for our Politicians”.
We look for light relief as we all sit at home, and for me this came from the inestimable Marty Beard in an interaction with the never over-estimated Douglas Carswell. I think this is called “have your arse handed to you on a plate”.
On a more serious note, some thoughts about data and interpretation of the differing theories provided. At the beginning the UK government promoted an idea of herd immunity, which led to everyone scurrying away and working out that if 60% of the population are allowed to contract the virus, and 1% die, then there would be 400,000 deaths. More detailed analysis by Imperial College put this at 250,000, which was a wakeup call to government who could see the need for reducing the death toll considerably by promoting policies such as the ones we have seen latterly regarding social distancing and curtailment of movement. A more recent paper from Oxford has again promoted the idea of herd immunity (which has not been peer reviewed and is being promoted by a PR company rather than the university press office). There’s a great write up of this in the FT (https://www.ft.com/content/14df8908-6f47-11ea-9bca-bf503995cd6f) where Tim Harford weights up the differing perspectives. As he points out, the data as yet isn’t very good, and so the best policy for now is stay indoors, expand health system capacity and test. He also suggests that some policymakers and individuals may come up with reckless responses based on this one report. For me, this is always going to be a danger. As we move through this crisis, there will be multiple papers assessing the current position and forecasting the future based on different strategies. My view would be that until data gets significantly better, we need to remain cautious. I’d also be questioning the motivation of the pundits who take papers such as the Oxford one and use this to suggest that the current measures aren’t worth continuing with. As with so many pieces of scientific work, it’s always good to get a wide range of analyses, but it’s better to follow the one where the majority agree. And when there is dispute, sometimes it’s worth asking who benefits. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that you could find plenty of evidence to say that smoking wasn’t harmful.
Tomorrow in this somewhat random blog, I’ll look at how some people are already using the coronavirus as the next battlefield in the culture wars as well as thinking about what the future might look like
Today’s Heroes and zeroes
Everyone who has starts drinking when the afternoon press conference starts
(by Modern Toss – always worth a read.)
Branson – asking staff to take 8 weeks without pay after previously
suing the NHS and asking for a bailout for his airline
Mike Ashley having to apologise for wanting to keep sports equipment stores open and now trying to regain credibility by offering to lend trucks to the NHS
Tim Martin for his u-turn on paying workers but now not
Who’d have thought these See-You-Next-Tuesdays didn’t have the best interest of their staff or the country uppermost in their minds? I, for one, am shocked. Shocked I tell you!