I’m not long back from a week in London with my daughters that has been postponed several times in the last 18 months and spent the prior week panicking in case any of us were infected with Covid as once again rates in Wick were proportionately the highest in Highland. An abundance of masks, hand sanitiser and lateral flow tests packed to save time hunting for them when down there, we took the train to Inverness before flying south. I don’t think I’ve ever been on the train since masks were made mandatory without the majority complying and on the plane, it appeared to be the same with the crew making several announcements and checking passengers.
Arriving in London it became apparent however that things were done differently down there as we began to play the game affectionately known as “Spot the Scots” as mask wearers quickly became the minority. Despite signs stating that masks were to be worn indoors everywhere you went and an announcement at every tube stop, it just wasn’t happening although to be fair, there was a noticeable difference on the tube between peak time travel and the rest of the week with far more masks being worn at commuter time.
To enter the theatre you had to provide a vaccination certificate, proof of natural immunity or a recent negative test and I went armed with all 3. This was indeed checked whilst in the queue outside and the added bonus for us was that our position was right next to the cast entrance door! The other very clear condition was that inside, other than when eating or drinking, masks were to be worn at all times but if even 5% of the audience were following this rule, I would be very surprised. The ushers were dotted around the theatre holding placards displaying a mask symbol and announcements made but all were ignored. The tourist attractions had many, many sanitising stations dotted around them but finding any that contained sanitiser was difficult and this was early on in the day so unlikely to be a result of running out. As it is not a legal requirement to wear the masks in England, it appeared that they had just given up on any attempts at enforcement and the public were not going to comply with anything that they didn’t have to.
Whilst we were away it was announced that the wearing of masks for secondary school pupils would continue and I was relieved to see this decision. It had become a weekly occurrence to be notified that at least one of my children had been in contact with another infected child and masks were one of the few remaining measures; two days into the new term and the email has landed again. The vaccination clinics for the 12-15 year olds were arranged locally for the school holidays when many of the age group were away but another town had a clinic on the last day and like many other Wickers, we travelled there for them to recieve their covid injections. There has been a bit of a stooshie locslly as the covid booster and flu jabs are being organised by NHS highland rather than the local doctor surgeries and the advertisements had been online. The IT system failed and I know it took me over 4 hours to get through and the limited spaces were quickly filled; other clinics have been promised but it is so clear that if it is offered then people will use it; there just seems to be a completely different mindset here to how we deal with the pandemic and I really wish that the four nation approach followed the Scottish model.
The other story from home when we were off related to my last blog piece too where I spoke about energy price increases. More and more local businesses were coming forward to complain that their bills were being doubled and one local hotelier had his case raised at Westminster when he had received a revised bill with a 70% increase taking it into six figures. In an economy where many businesses are failing due to the unrelenting pressures on them from all sides, the energy scandal is the last straw. To be told that prices are so high here because we use too much whilst we actually produce it, is breathtakingly insulting. The Scottish Government are not blameless here either however as their commitment to cleaner, greener energy insists that home improvement grants and modifications are dependent on the properties using electricity; a fuel source that is not only impractical for the rural Highlands but has been ripped out of many houses because of its well known expense and poor results and replaced with the cheaper and more effective “dirty” fuels such as oil.
The one size fits all approach that we know does not work in many areas of politics certainly does not work here. Obviously the best solution for urban houses that are closer together or are newer and more energy efficient, the typical isolated old detached croft would never benefit from all electric and a distinction has to be made to promote an alternative that will be cleaner but most importantly, effective and affordable; again the Highlands seem to be on the thin end of the wedge with the SNP/Green tie in. Adverts abound displaying ways that we can improve our homes and make them more efficient however the caveat that houses with gas or oil need not apply or if our aging boilers are to be replaced then it is not to be on a like for like basis but rather a fuel source that doesn’t actually exist here, it shows why the exploration into hydrogen as an alternative energy source is crucial for the Highlands and has to be at the forefront of investment. With COP 26 fast approaching, dare we hope for some sensible energy decisions that will benefit the consumer first rather than the producer?