Covid-19 in England and France

Having recently spent a few weeks in France, I can confidently say that the experience of life is currently very different from that in England. This is simply because the way that the covid-19 pandemic is being managed differently in the two countries.

France was easy to visit in September, all that was required was to demonstrate double-vaccinated status using the NHS app. To return to England we had to take two covid tests, one in France and one in England (now it is just the one in England) – despite the fact that the French covid statistics were much lower than the UK rate. So English measures are apparently more strict, but actually less effective.

While in France we never felt in great danger from covid-19, simply because mask wearing is widespread, and public spaces such as restaurants require either proof of double vaccination (the NHS app is accepted) or proof of a recent covid test. It became apparent that this is policed by the restaurants themselves, as we witnessed the exclusion of someone whose test had expired just a couple of hours before.

Returning to England, we were shocked by the low level of mask wearing and lack of social distancing in public after ‘freedom day’, particularly at large social events where no vaccine passport is required. For the clinically vulnerable and the elderly, this has now created a two-tier society where these groups are effectively excluded from many forms of social discourse. 

The current daily rate of new cases is now below 5000 in France and over 40000 in England, which does suggest that the French ‘control’ approach is keeping the virus under much better control than the English ‘hands off’ approach.

Of course, the French approach is not universally approved of in France, particularly by the large population of French anti-vaxxers – but it works. The English approach is or course applauded by that constitutuency that objects to receiving any instruction from the state, even if it is for the general good – but it seems not to be working.

I know which approach I prefer.

Kindness is key to health and happiness, and it’s free!

A nice reminder from Jane of the need to be kind, so easily forgotten in these confrontational days when the extremes of polarities seem to become all-important to many people.

Robby Robin's Journey

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and, just as with Thanksgiving in Canada (which is a little earlier, when travel is more predictable), it’s a time for many people to consider all that they have to be thankful for and to be reminded that gratitude is good for our health. In fact it’s very good for our health. Just google “gratitude and health” and you’ll find out.

As it turns out, being kind to others is also good for your health, maybe even more so. You can google that as well! Engaging in kindness has all kinds of positive physical effects. Ongoing research shows that kindness can actually extend your life. It lowers your blood pressure, reduces anxiety and depression, and helps the immune system. Research shows that kindness can help you live longer and better, both in the giving of kindness and in being the recipient of kindness. And…

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Air pollution

I remember hearing about the great smog of London in 1952 and the clean air acts that were supposed to resolve the problem. Luckily I lived far away up north, in Lincoln. Although I remember cycling through thick East-England fogs, scarf over mouth, there was nothing to compare with that polluted London smog that killed thousands.

This was brought to mind by a recent insightful article in The Times by Tom Whipple: Air pollution: Undertakers knew truth about the Great Smog (sorry, it’s behind the Times paywall). As well as outlining the story of the smog and the official prevarication before it was addressed, Whipple takes the story forward through a number of similar problems related to air pollution in the intervening years since then.

The response to the smog was to reduce smoke by mandating smokeless fuels and tall chimneys. But nothing was done about the sulphur, until ‘acid rain’ made the problem unavoidable from the 1970s.

Then, in the 1980s and 1990s it was realised that lead in fuel was reducing the general IQ, so there came lead-free petrol.

Then came global warming and the move towards more diesel cars to reduce C02 emissions. Sadly, the car manufacturers and standards authorities were economical with the actualité of NO2 and other emissions, and gradually another major pollution problem has engulfed our cities. And there is an unexplained spike in occurrences of asthma, alzheimers, cancers,…

So what did we learn over those nearly 70 years since the London smog?

Basically, we need more checks and balances on introducing new technologies, and we need to anticipate the downsides that are inevitably there, with more effective regulation. So we need a U-turn from the current political atmosphere of deregulation.

But don’t hold your breath… Or maybe you should, while waiting to cross the road at a busy junction.

Featured image Nelson’s Column during the great smog 1952,
by N T Stobbs via Wikimedia Commons


It seemed a good idea to go through the local lanes blackberrying with friends in Normandy. Due to the dry weather a lot of the berries were quite small, but there were plenty if you could reach, and we got enough to make a few jars of jam.

Wearing T-shirt tucked into long trousers, there did not seem too much danger of insect bites. But then a day or two later came an insane level of itching around ankles, thighs and waist, and the discovery of 36 ‘bites’. Our friends thought they were from local spiders, but subsequent research suggests that they were bites from chiggers, or harvest mites, or aoutats in France (August pests).

chigger life cycle
Life Cycle from Wikipedia

I was not really aware of these pests. See the above Wikipedia entry. The larval stage of the lifecycle of this mite is of size about 0.007inch, so hardly visible to the naked eye. Once on you they can come and go as they please! They burrow down and eat the inner skin, and can cause skin rashes, blisters etc. Two of mine blistered and took ages to heal.

Well worth being aware of these little pests, and beware those tempting blackberries in an area you’re not familiar with!




Looking back over many years at periods when I’ve been ill or suffered pain, I can see that they were often related to times of physical or mental ‘stress’. The latter were basically of the mind and emotions. Of course mind and body are totally interlinked so this is not surprising. In fact, it seems likely that many ‘illnesses’ are actually psychosomatic, so have causes that lie deep in the psyche – mental and emotional. What proportion I do not know, but it seems likely to be a significant proportion.

divided_mindSo why do we not hear more from the medical profession about psychosomatic pain and illness? The book The Divided Mind by Dr. John E. Sarno gives convincing answers.Read More »

Excess sugar in diet

I know I recently complained about sugar in US bread, but this is just the tip of an iceberg. Are we really aware of the effects of all the sugar in Western diets on our children, let alone ourselves? Try some of these adapted quotes from AskDrSears, Huffpost or other similar websites.

  • Excess sugar depresses immunity.
  • Sugar sours behavior, attention, and learning.
  • Sugar promotes sugar highs (High adrenaline levels) or crashes with consequent mood swings, maybe even depression.
  • Some children are sugar junkies.
  • while the neurotransmitters in the brains of normally active children signal the hormones to regulate blood sugar, brains of hyperactive children do not seem to send the same signals
  • (Refined) sugar promotes obesity.
  • Sugar promotes diabetes.
  • Sugar promotes heart disease.
  • Sugar impairs memory and learning skills.
  • Sugar is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

So now look at the shelves of sugared breakfast cereals in the supermarkets, at the shelves of bottled drinks heavy with sugar, at the shelves of sweets, cookies, chocolates, at the sweets handily stacked by the checkout… At the local Kroger it is actually quite difficult to find non-sugared breakfast cereals.

Parents really do have a big job on to resist all this stuff and get their kids eating healthy food. Not all will go to the lengths of this Swedish mum who went viral, but it does seeem to have worked!

Maybe regulators should really get a bit tougher with those commercial interests whose denial happens to coincide with self interest, profits and their political lobbying.

Featured image shows the oldest remaining business in Texas, a sugar refining complex in Sugarland – By Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons.
There is no implication intended on this company specifically.

House Plants

A current version of our Spider Plant

We have always had house plants since we first set up house together in Bishop’s Stortford in 1967. Our landlady gave us a Spider Plant, which in a sense is still going strong – not the original roots, but the plantlets from the original one, creating new plants every year or two. This is definitely one of the easiest plants to grow – quite a huge amount in a year if well fed, watered and potted on – and it is very tolerant of the occasional unintended drought! It throws out stems with small flowers and then tiny plantlets which grow nourished by the parent plant until they achieve contact with the soil – or until you transplant them.

We always had a theory, which I think was shared quite widely in 70s and 80s UK, that house plants were good for the house environment, both visually and air-wise. Garden centres used to have great masses of them for sale.

Over the years we had all sorts, even a huge Swiss Cheese Plant that lasted several decades, eventually growing as high as the ceiling and starting to take root in the walls and carpet. Eventually this long-standing friend had to be sacrificed, it was struggling and too big to pot on. But it is quite amazing how long plants will last with fairly minimal attention.

We tended our son’s university Yucca through a growth spurt. It was outgrowing our house, but fortunately he moved into a flat in Edinburgh with high ceilings, and the two of us could just manage to transport it there, filling our campervan to the limit.

As the years went by, I think people got busier and had less time for house plants, perhaps less of a feel for connection with nature with all those electronic distractions. The sections in the garden centres have seemed much smaller over recent years, although now I sense a revival.

And now the evidence is in. A recent programme from the BBC series Trust Me I’m a Doctor showed new research that established that house plants are very good at reducing the levels of chemical pollution produced by household cleaning and freshening products – they just absorb the nasty chemicals from the air. So there’s a good healthy reason to maintain house plants.

They are also visually attractive and keep us just that little bit more attuned to nature and her seasons. And of course, they sequester carbon dioxide from the air, so in a very tiny way contribute to the battle against global warming (I suspect not trivial if multiplied by the number of households in the world!).