Monday, 28 December 2020

2020 with MEI

Well it's almost over at last!  Not the pandemic unfortunately, but 2020, a year which none of us is ever likely to forget, a roller-coaster ride, mostly depressing but at times inspiring.

My annual round-up of events is usually crammed full of people and places, but not this year of course. 2019 seems a lifetime ago and who would have thought that the photo below, taken on 14th November at Flotation '19 at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town would be the last MEI Conference photo for a considerable length of time.


The year started normally enough, beginning with rumours of a suspected new virus originating in Wuhan, China, but life went on as usual, and in early February Barbara and I travelled to Cape Town for the African Mining Indaba and were surprised that all arrivals at Cape Town International Airport were being temperature tested.

Mining Indaba is held every year at the Cape Town Convention Centre, and I have attended every few years. MEI was a media partner and although investment conferences are not high on our agenda the event often springs a few surprises due to the sheer weight of numbers, around 7000 this year, and my aim was to forge new contacts and hopefully catch up with a few friends from around the world, some of them occasionally from the distant past.

Relaxing with old friends at the Cape Town Waterfront during Indaba 2020

Indaba was not the only major event taking place in Cape Town during the week. On the other side of the mountain, at Newlands, South Africa met England in a one-day cricket international, so Barbara and I took the day off to see England thrashed by the home side. Little did we know that this would be one of the last major sporting events to play to huge crowds, nor did we have an inkling that when we strolled the 10 minute walk from the stadium to the Vineyard Hotel we would not be returning to our conference venue as planned in April and October, and again in April of next year.

A huge crowd at Newlands
The year's last drink in the bar at the Vineyard Hotel

Returning home, we did not suspect that the February mining sundowner at Falmouth's Chain Locker would be our last at a pub in 2020, and a week later I was in USA for the Annual SME Meeting in Phoenix, a huge event as always with a great deal of that now ancient ritual of hand-shaking.

With Dan Fitts and Carly Leonida at the Mining Media International booth,
the last MEI photo at a 2020 conference

Only a week after returning from Phoenix the world started to collapse around us, with conferences around the world being postponed, cancelled, or going online. March was indeed the month that change the world.

April was the first month where worldwide lockdown was imposed and towns and cities became ghost-towns. Walking through a deserted Falmouth on our government-sanctioned exercise was an eerie experience, and almost deserted beaches an unprecedented sight.

Falmouth's Swanpool beach
Falmouth town

Face masks became a familiar sight, and who would have thought a few months before that we would have to don a mask before entering a bank!

Shopping, 2020 style
At home, social distancing with Amanda and family

At the beginning of May Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK was “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak and set out his "conditional plan"for a gradual exit from the lockdown. Relaxing the rules regarding distances that could be travelled to beauty spots led to worries that the virus would be brought into remote and attractive areas such as Cornwall and the "normal" beach scenes contributed to a feeling among many that the crisis was over and that social distancing could be relaxed.

Falmouth's Gyllyngvase beach, May

The UK lockdown was eased even further in early June, to try to stimulate the economy, and thanks to glorious weather Cornwall relaxed in the summer heat.

They think it's all over!

After a 5-month gap the Cornish Mining Sundowner burst back to life in July, with a completely different setting. The previous sundowner, in February, was held at Falmouth's Chain Locker pub, and although it was back in business, it was not, unfortunately, for 'mass gatherings' such as ours, so on a balmy summer evening it was good to see old friends once more, this time for a 'bring your own' party on Falmouth's Gyllyngvase beach.

July had seen a further relaxation of lockdown, and it was hard to believe the crowds, freed from previous lockdown restrictions, and desperate for a break, flocking into Falmouth in August, although ominously the overall Covid infection rate in UK was steadily increasing and it was perhaps inevitable that in September the second wave of infections arrived.

Falmouth town centre- the place to avoid in August
A brief escape to neighbouring Devon in September

Although Barbara and I managed a couple of hikes on the Land's End peninsular in October, it was a depressing month in which the virus surged throughout Europe, and strict regional lockdowns were imposed on many parts of the UK.

Walking near Land's End

With the nights getting longer, November was even more depressing with regional lockdowns in England being replaced by a lockdown of the whole country, despite infection rates being very low in Cornwall. The lockdown in England ended on the second day of December, although there were no major easing of restrictions in many parts of the country as a very controversial tiered system was introduced. Cornwall was the only area of mainland England to be in the low-risk Tier 1, while 99% of the country, in Tiers 2 and 3, complained of many injustices, parts of neighbouring Devon, for instance, with very low infection rates, being lumped together with the county's Tier 2 restrictions, with its inherent severe consequences, particularly for hospitality businesses.

But some amazing news on the same day, that the UK was the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the massive logistical operation to start the programme of vaccinations began on December 8th. Despite the awfulness of 2020 I hope it will also be remembered as a period of an incredible global expansion of scientific knowledge. Although it seems like a lifetime ago, it is only 11 months since the first Covid-19 case was documented and it would have been inconceivable then to envisage that at the end of the year not just one, but several vaccines would be available. The Christmas miracle is all down to the fantastic efforts of scientists around the world and it is a shame that certain politicians have been seeking political gain from this.

The news in the middle of this month was not so good, however, with a new strain of Coronavirus being detected and a rise in Covid cases leading to many areas, including London, being put into Tier 3. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, warned that we must be more vigilant in following the rules, but the prospect of a Christmas without large-scale celebrations was obviously preying on Boris Johnson's mind, who probably did not want to be seen as the first person to cancel Christmas since Oliver Cromwell in 1646. Even though the evidence was clear that the new strain of virus was rapidly increasing infections, and ignoring the advice of two peer-reviewed medical journals, he decided 9 days before Christmas that he was sticking to his guns and relaxing the rules for Christmas, putting the onus on the public, saying "'tis the season to be jolly careful."

Peter Brookes, The Times, December 17th

Inevitably, three days later, when many had made plans for the festivities, he tightened the rules, effectively banning Christmas altogether in London and SE England, which was put into a new Tier 4, and tightening of restrictions throughout the rest of England allowed families to mix on Christmas Day only.  This allowed very limited 2020 festivities and hopefully our guard has not been let down when help is so close at hand.

But only two days ago, as the mutant strain continues to spread rapidly and travel to over 50 countries from the UK has been banned, the country was effectively put into quarantine. With another highly contagious strain, emanating from South Africa, being identified, restrictions were escalated and now Cornwall finds itself in Tier 2, along with the county of Herefordshire. 

We must now put our faith into the amazing efforts of the scientists and their vaccines and hope for better things to come in 2021.



  1. Barry,
    I share the pain in your heart which you expressed so soothingly.
    To take it philosophically, we know for definite that mankind went through many such periods -may be in only some countries at given times but definitely all(history tells us)-some may be man made or nature's fury------
    Let us all be brave--MAY GOD (NATURE) bring normalcy and smile on all the faces across the globe at the earliest--

    1. Thanks TC but the pain in my heart is not severe as I have great faith that we will be led along the path to 'normalcy' soon, thanks to the tremendous efforts of scientists worldwide who have worked tirelessly to produce the vaccines. Unfortunately GOD (NATURE) got us all into this mess in the first place so we must now rely on human effort to bring us all out of it.

  2. This philosophical quote offers a universal basis for trust in a Happy New Year!

    All that is gold does not glitter,
    Not all those who wander are lost;
    The old that is strong does not wither,
    Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
    From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
    A light from the shadows shall spring...

    J.R.R. Tolkien

    1. Very appropriate words, Franklin, to end an awful year and usher in the new one with a message of hope.

    2. This awful year ended with the UK effectively in quarantine. At the beginning of the month Cornwall was in the lowest Tier 1, medium alert, but due to the surge of Covid cases caused by the highly infectious new strains of the virus, on New Year's Eve we were put into the high alert Tier 3. No areas of England were in Tier 2, the Isles of Scilly being the only area in Tier 1, and 75% of England was in Tier 4. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were in full lockdown.

      The only good news was that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved on December 30th and roll-out of the jabs begins in the New Year. Boris Johnson is confident that the pandemic will end by Easter.


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