COVID: Protected 7 ways!

I’m just on my way home after a visit to a UCLH research lab, having been injected earlier today with two doses of lab-grown COVID antibodies (two – one for each buttock). It’s been an extended visit: first, almost an hour with a doctor, explaining the study and asking screennin questions. Then followed a lateral flow test. When that came back negative, but not before, they were able to order the antibodies from the hospital pharmacy. With an expected hour delay waiting for it to arrive, I had time to get out for some lunch. After the injections, I was still not allowed to leave. I’m now being kept here a further hour under observation, to check for any adverse reaction. 

This is for a sub-study of the PROVENT clinical trial I joined in January last year. The point of both studies, is to test the effectiveness of laboratory grown antibodies as a possible alternative to vaccines for people with compromised immune systems, or for whom vaccination may for any other reason not be suitable. Early in the vaccine development process, it was felt that it was not known to what extent COVID vaccines would be effective, so Astra Zeneca (and other companies) developed this alternative approach. To be clear, this was not because the vaccine would not be effective, but just that it was not known how effective it would be. Also, it was not clear if GIST patients really are more at risk than other groups (some GIST specialists believed it to be so, other disagreed).  Either way, the combination of imatinib use and loss of spleen together with my stomach when I had my GIST taken out, qualified me in terms of government guidelines, so I was very happy to join the original trial last January. 

That involved an initial visit and injections at the first visit, followed by several more physical monitoring visits to UCLH during the next twelve months, ad weekly telephone or email monitoring checks, culminating in what should have been the last one last month. However, at that visit they told me that the trial has been extended a further three months, so they want me back again in April. I thought that was that – but no. Two weeks ago, they wrote to me to say that AZ are now doing a sub-study, to check the value of a second dose on antibodies, and would I be happy to participate? Of course I said yes, and so here I am. (For the record, I know that in the initial trial I was given the antibodies, not the placebo. They told me that when I was unblinded, after being offered the standard vaccine. The terms of the sub-study are such that everybody who was on the antibodies first time, gets antibodies again). 

That leaves me excessively well protected. I’ve now had two lots of antibodies, as well as three standard COVID vaccinations. In addition, the NHS wrote to me in December to warn that because I’m classed as extremely vulnerable, I should do a PCR test at the first sign of any symptoms – no matter how mild. To make that possible, they sent me in the post a PCR test kit (marked “priority” test kit) to keep always on hand. (After I did in fact use that test last month – which gave a negative result- they sent me a replacement). Finally – if all these protections fail and I somehow get COVID after all, as an extremely vulnerable person, I am guaranteed fast track access to new COVID treatments still in trial but not yet approved for general use. So, on paper I may be vulnerable – but I have abundant compensating protections. Looking ahead, iI will need to return for a further six monitoring visits over the next year, and will answere weekly email questions to check progress, If I do show or report any suspicious symptoms, they wiill send a nurse out to my home, for a thorough examination. (They did that last March, all the way from central London to the south of Surrey when there was something of concern in a blood test. AT 8:30 on a Saturday morning, I had a nurse at my door).

So, I’m fine. What does it mean for everyone else. especially for other GIST patients? Well, I think it’s extremely good news. While it’s still not entirely clear to me whether all GIST patients are necessarily more vulnerable to GIST, there will certainly be some who are – and there will be some people who for one reason or another are not suitable for vaccinations. For such people, the antibody approach could be a useful alternative strategy. Also, in parallel with the PROVENT trial I was one, there was a second trial with the same product, for use in cases where people who had not been vaccinated, believed they had been in contact with someone with COVID. In such cases, where it is too late for vaccination, direct injection of the antibodies could produce rapid protection. We still wait for the final results of both trials, but preliminary analysis done at the half way stage was extremely encouraging: for PROVENT (the arm I was on), there was found to be 83% risk reduction compared to the placebo group, no serious disease and no deaths. 

It’s also worth noting that Astra Zeneca are not the only company testing this approach. On the BBC News at 10 last night, there was an item taken inside a hospital of a patient being treated with what was described as “monoclocal COVID antibodies” – exactly analagous to the product I’ve been given. It’s not the same though – that was being delivered by infusion, mine was done by injection. When I discussed this witht the doctor administering the trial this morning, he confirmed that other companies are indeed developing similar products. 
Overall, this has to be considered a good news story – yet more weaponry in the fight against COVID, for all those who for any reason may be, or feel themselves to be, especially vulnerable.

Mary/Marion (Weldon) Lindsay Toone

Among all of our closer relatives, probably the most colourful name was that of my great-aunt Mary /Marion/Marianne Weldon / Lindsay O’Toone /Stomm / Carr – and her life was at least as interesting.

Mary, as she was called by her family, was the youngest child of the ten children of Matthew Weldon and Catherine Quinn. She was born in Port Elizabeth in 1880, just a year later than my grandfather, John Charles Weldon. A confusing feature when I first came across her, was that she was not the only Mary Weldon of the family. There had been another some born years earlier, who had died aged just four or five. In keeping with common practice, the name was later repeated with another daughter. (My grandfather John Charles was likewise the second John in the family. John Flood Weldon had died when less than a year old).

Mary was just ten when her father Matthew died, but even while he was alive she is unlikely to have seen too much of him. After a colourful life of his own, Matthew had spend the last years of his life as a transport rider, serving especially the new malaria ridden gold fields in the Eastern Transvaal. There, he died in 1990, a mining camp called French Bob, near Barberton. After his death, his widow Catherine relocated to East London up the coast, presumably taking with her those of the children who had not yet left home – including Mary, and probably John Charles.

Ten years later, still only about twenty, she suffered two further bereavements. Early in 1990, her older brother Patrick Matthew died at Spioenkop (Natal), fighting for the British in the Anglo Boer War. A few months later, her mother also died, aged about sixty..

Just a couple of years later, in April 1902 she Charles Lindsay-Toone, who was then a lieutenant (presumably in the British army). Sometime within the next ten months, they must have made the move to England, because in February the following year, the birth was recorded of their daughter, Enid Rylda Aileen Lindsay – Toone, in Addlstone, Surrey. (Addlestone is just the neigbouring town to Woking, where I lived for a time early in my time in the UK).

However, the marriage did not last. In 1914 she divorced Charles and in 1917 married the rather grandly named Count Paul William John Augustin Stomm, and by the following year they were living in a property near Guildford called “Shoelands“, which is now a listed building. I have no information on the issues around the divorce and remarriage, but suspect it may have had something to do with her acting career, and the relative status of the two men concerned: on the one hand, an army lieutetant, on the other, a “count” (at least, as described in a note in the National Portrait Gallery).

At some point after her arrival in England, but before the divorce, Mary (who by now preferred to be known as “Marion”, began an acting career – described in some sources, as in “musical theatre”. There is confirmation of this in the National Portrait Gallery, which has in its “Theatre and live entertainment” collection, three photographs of Marion Lindsay Toole. On Ancestry UK, the Shaw Halett family tree states that she :

 Went on stage as Miss Marion Lindsay. Was one of the original Gibson Girls. 13 of the most beautiful women in England. [In the production, Gaiety Girls]

The National Portrait Gallery has three photographs in its “theatre and live entertainment” collection.

Elsewhere, there is a pencil sketch by Norman Lindsay of the “Gaiety Girls”. It’s fair to say this is somewhat risque, rather than mainstream serious theatre.

Artwork by Norman Lindsay, Gaiety Girls, Made of pencil drawing

Her marriage to Stomm ended with his death in 1923 , Many years later, she married again, to Phillip Carr in 1944.

Ten years later, in 1954 shee died in Richmond, Surrey,

EmmaWilliamson, world traveller?

My grandmother, Sarah Williamson Sussens, came from a long line of what she referred to as “Cape Dutch”. As a child during the Anglo Boer War, she had been held in one of the notorious concentration camps. Her father, Jan Gerrit Bantjes and grandfather had been taken prisoner by the British at Paardeberg, in the same war. Later, he was influential in introducing the Apostoliese Geloofsending (Apostolic Faith Mission) church to the Transvaal Republic. A great uncle, Jan Gerrit Bantjes, is credited with having made the first significant gold reef on the Witwatersrand, two years before the discovery of the main reef in 1886. At least two streets in Johannesburg carry her maiden name – Bantjes Avenue in Discovery, and Bantjes Streeet in Benrose. Earlier, her great-great-grandfather had played a prominent part in the Great Trek.

Among the other lines of her ancestry are numerous other familiar Afrikaans names. Her mother was a Swanepoel,, her grandmother a Kruger. great-grandmothers were a Viljoen and a Nienaber. Earlier still, there had been Venters, Vorsters, Joostens and more. So how did this woman of such clearly Afrikaner stock come to have such a distinctly English name – Sarah Williamson Sussens? The story begins with Emma Williamson (1828 – 1878), a woman who seems to have been remarkably well travelled for the mid-19th century. To get there, I’ll work backwards from my grandmother.

The “Sussens” is easily explained. Sarah Williamson Bantjes married Clarence Sussens, who although born in South Africa had English grandparents. Sarah’s paternal grandmother shared her first names, Sarah Williamson , with the surname Frantz: still not Afrikaans, but also not English. That’s because it was German in origin. Sarah Williamson Frantz got her middle name from her mother, Emma Williamson, who was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1828.

At some stage (assuming my sources are sound, which I cannot yet guarantee), she found herself in the Eastern Cape, and married to Alexander Adam Frantz, whose parents were From Dresden, Germany – a reminder that there was a wave of 19th century German immigration to the Cape in addition the better known and more numerous British waves. Adam Alexander was caught up in the Eastern Cape Eigth Frontier War, the most costly of a long series of conflicts between the European settlers and the indigenous Xhosa people. He died on 19th February1851, according to his death certificate, “killed in battle against Kaffers” in the vicinity of Addo.

,The following year she remarried, to Jules Caesar Franck. Some family trees on Ancestry UK state that she travelled with him to the USA, and later died in Lichtenburg, Bavaria, Germany, If true, this would indicate a remarkable extent of travel for the time: England to the Eastern Cape, later to the USA, and finally to Germany. However, these can all be discounted. Although there does exist a Lichtenberg in Bavaria, the spelling given on these trees is Lichtenburg – which is located in the North West Province, South Africa. There is also another Ancestry tree with what appears to be much more plausible story. This lists, complete with dates and places, the birth of ten children to Emma and Jules – all born in South Africa, initially in the Eastern Cape, later in Rustenburg, North West Province.

The Bantjes Mines

Jan Gerritze Bantjes (1817 – 1887)

Jan Gerritze Bantjes (1865 – 1933)

Jan Gerritze Bantjes 1869 – 1933

Born  in Rustenburg, Transvaal, South Africa

ANCESTORS ancestorsSon of Bernhard Louis Bantjes and Sarah Williamson (Frantz) Bantjes;

Brother of Alexander Adam Bantjes [half];

Husband of Lourike Christina (Kroep) Bantjes — married 2 Feb 1889 in Nylstroom, Waterberg, Transvaal, South Africa

Jan and Lourika had two children- Lourika Christina and Bernard Louis. His wife Lourika died November 9 1891.

He married Dorothea Maria Bantjes (Born Swanepoel) in October 1892. They had twelve children together- making a total of fourteen when counting Jenneken and Bernard from his first marriage.

In 1900 Jan was captured at the Battle of Paardeberg during the 2nd Anglo Boer War. He was sent to a Prisoner of War camp in Ceylon at Diyatalawa at the age of 36.

Jan Gerritze Bantjes was friendly with John G Lake, the Apostle of faith who came to SA and started the AFM church (Apostolic Faith Mission or AGS- Apostoliese Geloofsending- in Afrikaans). In a country humiliated and impoverished by the Anglo-South African War of 1899-1902, a spiritual awakening became evident in 1908. As no existing church welcomed the revival in their ranks, John G. Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch started a new movement, the AFM in May 1908. Jan was instrumental in helping this church to grow.

He died of pleural effusion and heart failure on May 22, 1933, in Ventersdorp, South Africa, at the age of 68.

He was a house painter.

Source: Anglo Boer War Museum 2016 Boer Forces

Waverley &Guildford Cooperation to Counter Funding Cuts.

For over a decade nowocal authorities have been forced to manage significant cuts to their funding from Government The CO.VID pandemic has greatly exaggerated the problem. In Waverley and Guildford, the two “rainbow alliance” controlled administrations have been exploring the possibility of greater co-operation as one way to mitigate these cuts. According to a press release from Waverley BC, both councils are now ready to take formal decisions on this at their next full council meetings, on July 6th.

Guildford and Waverley Borough Councils’ partnership working moves forward

In February this year, Executive Committees at Guildford and Waverley endorsed working more closely together, and with the support of the Local Government Association have been exploring potential options for combining services and administrative functions. This week, both councils discussed these options further and agreed to make a decision on the next step for partnership working at their respective Full Council meetings on 6 July.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic both councils have worked hard to maintain essential services, help vulnerable communities and support their local economies. However, the additional costs of responding to the outbreak have impacted on already stretched council budgets.

A KPMG report into local government reorganisation and collaboration, published earlier this year, highlighted a clear need for neighbouring authorities across Surrey to consider the expansion of existing partnerships to reduce the duplication of services, increase efficiency and provide better value for money. In February, the Local Government Association was engaged to carry out a scoping report on potential savings for partnership working between Guildford and Waverley. The report provided the background for this week’s discussions.

The options could potentially lead to savings and better, more sustainable local services for residents under two separate democratic councils. Savings could include those achieved by sharing a single senior management team, economies of scale in the delivery of some services and increased purchasing power when negotiating with suppliers and contractors.

Leader of Guildford Borough Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore said:

“We are exploring closer working with Waverley Borough Council as a way to future-proof and protect our services to our residents and businesses and keep them local. Our joint budget challenges mean we must explore ambitious plans. A merged set of officers supporting two separate groups of councillors is a model that has been implemented in councils across the country delivering increased resilience in service and cost savings to budgets and is one of the options councillors will now decide on the 6 July. At Guildford we need to find £6millon over the next four years and recent changes by the government restrict our abilities to act in the commercial world to offset substantial reduction in government funding.

“We keep 9% of Council Tax and around 5% of the business rates we collect and despite being on target to achieve £8million of cost savings from our Future Guildford Transformation Programme, we need to make more savings. I think this organisation has performed amazingly well to maintain the services we provide when considered against this brutal funding environment and with the additional response to the pandemic, but it is not enough and we must continue to explore all options. There are natural synergies between Guildford and Waverley, in our communities and geography and we are excited to progress looking at greater partnership working.

He added: “It is time for councillors to make some challenging decisions. I am now confident we can be certain there are significant tangible benefits for both councils and our respective communities to progress further partnership working and to do this at a pace.”

Leader of Waverley Borough Council, Cllr Paul Follows said:

“Local authorities have been forced to manage significant cuts to their funding from Government for over a decade now, and most are reaching the limits of what can be achieved on their own, without having to make some really tough decisions about cutting local services to make ends meet. Even before the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Waverley Borough Council had embarked on an ambitious programme of measures to deliver cost savings and to maximise the use of our assets to increase income. However, we still have a residual budget shortfall of £7.8million over the next four years, so we continue to explore a range of options including collaboration.

“The KPMG report stressed that joint working is the way forward, and it is clear that doing nothing is simply not an option. Cooperation with our neighbour Guildford, could enable us to make financial savings while protecting and even helping us to improve our services, even as other areas are having to contemplate cuts to theirs.

Councillor Follows added: “Local government reorganisation has been high on the Government’s agenda for many years now, and it appears a reasonable possibility that at some point, there will be a move to a Unitary council structure in Surrey. Guildford and Waverley would make a logical core for any such organisation covering our area, and closer cooperation could help demonstrate the effectiveness of that arrangement. Ultimately, we hope to achieve a highly successful partnership, that other local authorities in Surrey will want to use as a model or even join.”

Haslemere Needs Street Trees.

There are numerous benefits to street trees going way beyond their decorative appeal, as the graphic below shows. So it puzzles me that Surrey County Council are reluctant to replace dying or dead street trees – even though their website encourages residents to report these.

When a resident contacted me to complain that the street tree outside his home was dead and needed replacing, I found a facility on the Surrey CC website to report dying or dead trees. However, when I duly reported this to Surrey Highways, the response was somewhat puzzling.

They wrote that ” the problem does not need immediate work”. This is somewhat bizarre, as if a tree does not need replacing when it is dead – when does it need replacing? When I pushed further, I got an answer that was at least more rational, but still not satisfactory. The assessment found that the dead tree posed no risk – by which I assume they mean risk to pedestrians or vehicles.

But this completely misses the point. From the monarch down, we are being encouraged by all levels of government (including Surrey CC) to plant more trees. Why plant more, if we can’t or won’t even replace those that have died?

I suspect that the real answer is that there is just not the money.

If Surrey Highways simply do not have the budget to replace trees, how else can we get this done? One way or the other, it must surely be possible. The Surrey CC website states that under certain conditions, individuals or groups can secure permission to undertake planting themselves. Street trees are important, and I will continue to argue for more trees for Haslemere. Haslemere town council has some (limited) funds available for neighbourhood improvements. This will not be enough to pay Surrey to do the work, but it could be enough to underwrite the basic expenses to secure permission for local volunteers to do the work. 

Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament is an affront to democracy | Financial Times

Sound comment from the Financial Times (not usually noted as hostile to the Conservative Party):

Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom. The prime minister’s request to the Queen to suspend parliament for up to five weeks, ostensibly to prepare a new legislative programme, is without modern precedent. It is an intolerable attempt to silence parliament until it can no longer halt a disastrous crash-out by the UK from the EU on October 31. The seat of British democracy, long admired worldwide, is being denied a say on the most consequential decision facing the country in more than four decades. So, too, are the British people — in whose name Mr Johnson claims to be acting. It is time for parliamentarians to bring down his government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.

Source: Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament is an affront to democracy | Financial Times