Hello world!

This is my introduction to the world of blogging!
I display two photos, the first being a favourite ‘work’ photo of myself taken at the University of Winchester and the second of my wife (Meg) and I taken in the summer of 2016

Professor Mike Hart, University of Winchester, about 2007
Meg and Mike Hart, Hereford Cathedral, Summer 2016

Here for your amusement/entertainment or a series of more-or-less true anecdotes often of an autobiographical nature.

http://bit.ly/mch-vca

 

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Friday, 14th June, 2024 [Day 1551]

Trying to work out what the weather is going to do these days is quite an art form. This morning as we were getting up, the weather looked a bit cloudy and one was not quite sure how the day was going to pan out. Nonetheless, we made a plan that after we had breakfasted, we would make a trip down to Waitrose in the hope that we might see some of our regular acquaintances. As we were walking down, there was a fairly huge black cloud overhead but it looked as though it might blow over and that better weather would follow on behind. Once we got into the cafeteria, none of our usual friends were there but our University of Birmingham friend phoned up, wondering whether we meet or not as he was suffering from a cold. I told him that I would like us still to meet and we were prepared to risk the small possibility of a cross infection but our friend very thoughtfully turned up with a COVID style face mask in place. So we had a jolly chat about current affairs as well as the current political scene and were deep in conversation when we suddenly realised that we would be late for the next call of the carers who were scheduled for the late morning. So I made a swift call to the telephone agency to get a message to the carers who were probably waiting outside the house to inform them that we would be delayed and then I pushed Meg up the hill as fast as I could (not a particularly easy task) When the carers had checked Meg over, it was time to start to prepare some lunch and, by way of a change, I had put some haddock fillets in tinfoil to bake in the oven and to be served with a baked potato, some broccoli and a microwaved tomato. Whilst lunch was being cooked, though, there was a fascinating press conference being held by the Reform party (previously the Brexit party and previously stiill, UKIP) Some very interesting news had just broken yesterday evening as a reputable opinion poll had actually put Reform ahead of the Tory party by a single percentage point. Last night in the shambles of the ITV multi-party debate (in which there was a lot of talking across each other) Nigel Farage was absolutely full of himself, just having received the poll news. Nigel Farage, forever the self publicist, taunted Penny Mordant that Reform was now the ‘de facto’ opposition party and that a vote for the Conservatives was now actually a vote for the Labour party. This morning, Farage was full of himself, still buoyed up by the same news no doubt and was making the point that the election was effectively over as the Labour Party had won it and the Tories would shortly be reduced to a rump in the new Parliament. Perhaps Farage has in mind that in Canada the then Conservative party suffered an absolutely cataclysmic defeat being reduced to only two MPs. The full story can be told here. Really surprising was the almost entire wipe-out of Canada’s Progressive Conservative (PC) party. It won the previous election in 1988 with 169 seats out of 295 total under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. However, Kim Campbell (Mulroney’s successor and to date Canada’s only female Prime Minister) lost her own seat and saw the party reduced to a rump of just 2 MPs. Now whether this is actually going to happen in the UK we shall have to wait and see, although I think it is very unlikely. But Farage is quite capable of dealing some savage psychological blows to the Tory party in its present mood and it will be fascinating if they turn into an army of Corporal Jones from ‘Dad’s Army’ shouting “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” whilst doing exactly that. Yesterday, Meg and I received our postal ballots and we are going to fill them in in a quiet moment this afternoon. But I noticed as we walked down the hill one or two individuals who had evidently received their postal ballots and were clutching them in their hands ready to post. There is quite a lot of research that indicates that people do actually fill in their postal ballots shortly after receiving them and presumably postal ballots are dropping through letter boxes all over the country. I think this is a really significant moment because if a lot of people in the country vote in the next day or so when the Labour party is 21 points ahead and Reform is probably level pegging with the Conservative party, then these postal votes will be ‘baked into’ the system and it means that a late swing will not have the effect one might imagine when a certain proportion of votes has already been cast.

The weather rather made us alter our plans for this afternoon.There was a very intense cloudburst type of shower at lunchtime and I thought that would probably put paid to any plans that I had to try to get the front lawn cut. But then the clouds rolled away and we had a burst of brilliant sunshine. So we watched the TV for a bit, stumbling cross a biopic of Mae West which was reasonably entertaining but whose double entendres were so outrageous I could not possibly repeat them here (except ‘You must come up and see me sometime’ is one of the most memorable) I just about managed to squeeze in getting the front communal greened area cut before the carers turned up for their late afternoon call. I was desperately hoping that they might be about 5-10 minutes late and, by courtesy of a local traffic jam, they did turn up a little late giving me time to complete the mowing. Tonight, the Euro football competition is starting off with the Germany vs. Scotland game some of which I might be tempted to watch. Scotland must stand as rank outsiders but German football is not quite the force that it was and, of course, anything can happen in the heat of a competition.

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Thursday, 13th June, 2024 [Day 1550]

Last night after Meg had been put to bed, I could not resist watching the special Sky News debate organised between Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak. The ace Sky News reporter Beth Rigby was to question each deeply for 20 minutes after which they would have to answer questions from a live audience for some 25 minutes. Keir Starmer did appear more quietly confident after his last head-to-head with Rishi Sunak whereas the latter appeared much more on the defensive. A opinion poll conducted for Sky News just after the programme made Keir Starmer the winner by some 64% to 36% which was almost a knockout blow. Beth Rigby’s analysis was forensic and devastating. When Sunak tried to argue that a Tory government would cut taxes, Beth Rigby presented the evidence of Ed Conway, the Sky News data analyst that the tax take would rise if the Tories were returned to power even taking into the account the ‘tax cuts’ they are proposing. Sunak’s response from someone supposedly a ‘spreadsheet king’ illustrated the problems he is facing. His first response was to say that he did not know about the Ed Conway analysis (which is unlikely as surely his team would have ‘prepped’ him on this) but when pressed on this opined that the analysis was wrong. So our acting Prime Minister first denied having read of a report and then said that the report which he had not read was wrong. The audience was quick to take notice of fluffs like this and I think it is fair comment to say that many commentators looked at the face and body language of Rishi Sunak and concluded that he looked a beaten man. Perhaps concentrating so much on his disappearance from the D-Day celebrations last weekend had sapped his energy or attention spans but instead of delivering the knock-out below that was required to reverse the fortunes of the Tory Party, instead we got a very lack lustre performance. Keir Starmer did not give a perfect performance even responding to the observation of an audience member that he appeared ‘robotic’ replying in a way that could be considered robotic. What was especially interesting was that whereas Sky News were prepared to trump a winner and a loser after the debate, the BBC account made it appear that it was a much more even contest than was apparent to the rest of us. I suppose this is an indication of the constant emasculation of the BBC who are so frightened of appearing to be in the least bit partisan, then they appearing to be partisan by not following the consensus demonstrated by the majority of journalists reporting the contest.

Today was our shopping day so after the carers had departed this morning we received a visit form a carer who has taken on the role of rota organiser for the care company. Although being in post for only three weeks or so, she was vastly experienced in many differing social care settings and was getting to know each of her clients by visiting herself each of the clients in turn. My shopping seemed a fairly full week this week and took me a little longer than usual but I took the opportunity to add one or two extra things to our diet so what we have a bit more variety within it. Our lunch consisted of one of those collations of vegetables (onions, peppers, peas, meat remains, apple and sultana) of which I am all too fond. Not all of was dished up so I have left a bit over in case I feel the need for a bit of extra nourishment this evening. The morning was punctuated by a couple of telephone calls. The first of these was from our ex-social worker who happened to be the duty officer, responsible for pulling together bits of information before the next social services review. I needed to remind her of such basic facts that she should have had on file such as the number and timing of visits in a calendar week, the time that Meg was in hospital and so on. It now appears that we will not have a social worker visit for a week or so now, as I suspected and such is the pressure of their workload, they always to be slightly ‘behind the curve’ as they say. Then I received a phone call from one of the GPs from the GP practice who was generally friendly and informative. The important message is still to keep on ‘taking the tablets’ so that Meg’s DVT may eventually disperse itself but this period of time, I learnt today, could be measured in months rather than weeks. Whilst I was on the phone, I enlisted her help on our application to the wheelchair service which I gather is in train. It will be interesting to see whether an application from our doctor actually carries more weight than from an occupational therapist. I am fully prepared for either a rejection or a really long wait (the figure of a wait of 18 weeks has been mentioned) but we shall have to see when and if the application goes forward.

Today is the launch of the Labour manifesto which, as you might expect, is a little on the light side and in which there is pledge that there will be no changes to income tax, national insurance or VAT. As mentioned before, this is a little disingenuous because with fiscal drag (non indexation of allowances) then if politicians of any stripe do nothing, then as things stand at the moment the actual tax take goes up. Amongst all of the various quotes that are made about income tax I particularly like the one about income tax being the price we pay for living in a civilised society. Trying to track down the sentiment behind this idea as well as the exact form of words is not an easy task. But I think I will settle upon the following. On October 21, 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech in Worcester, Massachusetts and multiple newspapers reported excerpts the next day. Roosevelt credited Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who once said: ‘Taxes are the price we pay for civilised society.’ So the origins of the expression may well be American rather than of UK extraction but it is perhaps interesting, given the prominence that tax has in all of our political discourse these days, that no politician sees fit to resurrect and to quote the expression.

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Wednesday, 12th June, 2024 [Day 1549]

Wednesday is the day when our domestic calls around and we are always very pleased to see her. Today, we were particularly pleased because she came along this morning bearing a wonderful gift for Meg. In her ‘normal’ job, our domestic help works in a residential home and one of the residents had acquired a beautiful rabbit, complete with a little dress and bows in her hair and the resident particularly wanted the rabbit to go to a good home. So this was the gift for Meg and as the resident herself was so called, it was quite easy to name the rabbit ‘Angela Rabbit’ Our domestic help took a photo of Meg with her new found friend and this will no doubt gladden the heart of the donor who was concerned that the rabbit should find a ‘good’ home. This morning proved productive in many ways as our domestic help was able to have a chat with Meg whilst she cleaned our Music Lounge and its environs so I took the opportunity to visit the Bromsgrove High Street. I had various successful visits, the most important being to an ATM so that we obtain cash for our shopping and the big gardening clearance job that we are going to have done for us next week. I also took the opportunity to buy some cosmetic items and some cleaning products that our domestic help particularly likes and then made my way home to think about preparing lunch. Lunch today was a fairly standard affair with some of the remains of the ham joint from the weekend, some spring greens and a baked potato. One way or another I had had a fairly busy morning but Meg had not had a ration of fresh air so we thought that this afternoon we should pay a visit to the park. In the afternoons, the park often seems to be populated by schoolgirls in pairs (what happens to schoolboys I cannot say) with the occasional dog walker, jogger and mother of young offspring. On our trips to the park, I try to avoid patches of rough tarmac and even wheel Meg on a side road (a service road running alongside the main Kidderminster Road) where the journey is so much smoother. We got back only about fifteen minutes before the afternoon carers call around to check on Meg and to wheel her to her ‘evening’ location which is our main lounge where we typically relax to ClassicFM before the 6.00pm news.

We are very often tuned to Sky News and they are hosting an important head-to-head debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer this evening scheduled for 7.00pm this evening. We are about half way through the campaign as things stand with three more weeks before election day itself and the Labour lead is a fairly constant 21 points as it has been for about months now. The lead seems fairly stable and constant because very often at this point in a campaign there tends to be a narrowing of the gap between the two major parties. The Tories are desperately hoping that today’s debate may turn out to be a decisive turning point because of Sunak performs brilliantly and Starmer performs disastrously, then it is not inconceivable although highly unlikely that the poll gap may start to narrow. Tonight’s debate is going to broadcast from the newly created electoral district of Greater Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The format of the clash tonight seems quite interesting as it will be Beth Rigby as the Sky news interviewer and commentator asking each candidate 20 minutes of detailed questions followed by about 25 minutes of questions from the audience. The electorate itself is a ‘red wall’ seat before the boundary change although it looks as though following the boundary change, the Labour party could take the seat with a swing of about 17%. From some of the ‘vox pop’ that have taken place during the day, it seems as though many portions of the electorate have still to be make up their minds. In fact, the local mood could almost be classified as indifference combined with a distinct lack of enthusiasm for either candidate. One can quote see why. Brexit has failed to deliver the promised benefits although I think that Grimsby itself may be the recipient of some strategically given government largesse in the last year or so. On the other hand, the Labour party hardly looked after the constituency the last time it had been in office so one can almost understand the indifference, complacency and lack pf enthusiastic support for either candidate. So far, I discern that the Tories are worried that despite cutting National Insurance twice (which they are describing as a ‘tax cut’) the polls have not moved in their favour. A further cut in National Insurance is a prominent part of the Tory election manifesto but so far, to use the contemporary political jargon, it has failed to ‘move the dial’. There are also signs that the Tory strategy might itself be shifting slightly, not overtly indicating that the election is already won and lost (which it probably is) but trying now to convince the electorate that a Labour landslide would be a disaster.

The latest economic news will not have been good news to the Tory party, three weeks before an election. The latest figures indicates that the economy was basically ‘flatlining’ with falls in construction and consumer sales, offset to some extent by an increase in services. Apparently and understandably, as April was one of the wettest in recent years, then this simultaneously depressed both the footfall to local retail outlets as well as halting some construction work. One can never attribute too much significance to one set of figures but it does add to the general feeling that the economy is not delivering benefits for many people and, of course, the absence of any real growth also affects future tax receipts. I suspect that the next week or so might be quite crucial because as soon as postal votes are delivered, then the national mood starts to get ‘baked in’ to the final result and last minute swings of the polls might not achieve as much significance as the pollsters would have us believe.

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Tuesday, 11th June, 2024 [Day 1548]

Today has turned out to be quite a busy day. We made a somewhat slow start to the day as the carers were designated to start three quarters of an hour later than is usual for us so this rather delayed the normal start of the day. No sooner had we breakfasted then two nurses from Admiral (specialist nurses, trained to work with dementia patients) turned up to make a regular monthly visit which is always very welcome. One of the nurses spends some time alone with me so that we can discuss all aspects of Meg’s care including some concerns about myself whilst the other nurse spent some time with Meg, reading to her as it happened some of the many children’s books of which we have a supply. I am always pleased to see this couple of nurses who are incredibly supportive and can sometimes lodge an email with, for example, the GP practice where it seems to have more impact than if I were to make contact myself. It happened to be the eighth wedding anniversary of one of the Admiral nurses so I prevailed upon her to give her just the tiniest smidgeon of some of our damson gin which I keep on hand for occasions such as this. Evidently, I am not in the habit of plying care workers with alcohol but this was a little gesture to tickle the taste buds as it was a special occasion. The care nurses had not long departed when an especially large parcel arrived for me. This was a one-off vintage dining chair in which I secured it at a price of £15.00 plus transport and it came beautifully and carefully packaged. I have already given it a quick wipe to remove showroom dust but later on this afternoon when I have time I am going to apply some of my specialist polishes to it before it will occupy a position in our Music Lounge I have allocated for it. The chair I use in our normal lounge to access my lap top computer is actually one of the dining room set so the newly arrived chair will take its place, releasing the original chair back to the dining room which was its original home.

The carer arrived for her ‘sitting’ duties in the middle of the day, releasing me in theory to attend my Pilates class. But there are much more pressing things to me with this ‘released’ time so I welcomed the opportunity whilst Meg and safe and secure with the sitter she knew well to go to a large store in the centre of town that sells a range of household, cosmetic and medicinal products. I needed something from each of these categories largely to help the carers who are apt to hold out a hand whilst in mid-task (much like surgeon holding out a hand to have a scalpel slapped into it) calling out ‘Mike do you have a ….’ and then I have to act as a runner to hand over whatever supplies are needed at that moment in time. Some of the products of which I was desperately in need seemed to be missing from the shelves but I was relieved beyond all measure to find out they had been relocated to just around the corner to what I believe the supermarket stores call a ‘carousel’. Having located everything for which I was looking and at a price about 70% of the price at which I could have obtained these products on the net, I gratefully accepted the assistance of the store staff to help me to carry things to the car. Then, having for home, it was case of getting my fishcakes into the oven for my typical Tuesday lunch and whilst the dinner was cooking, I always enjoy a chat with the carer. The carer helped me to give Meg her lunch which is always much appreciated and even helped me with a bit of washing up before she had to depart to pick up children from school.

This morning’s session with the Admiral nurse bore some immediate fruit as we received a telephone call from Social Services which revealed that Social Services knew that they had not been in touch and that an awful lot of water has flowed under the bridge since they last saw and in affect assessed Meg. So the telephone call was to give me Social Services number and to inform me that once they had perused all of the available paperwork, I would receive another telephone call from a social worker and would eventually receive a domiciliary visit. But given the pressure that Social Services departments are under, this further visit/assessment may be some weeks further off. But the Admiral nurse had evidently done her bit as our advocate as she had spoken with the GP practice and had arranged an actual telephone conversation (given that the last ‘consultation’ was a one line text message to the effect of keep on taking the tablets) Also, the GP practice should be sending to the Admiral Nurse some indication of how far they were progressing/not progressing in forwarding a referral to the Wheelchair service for us. I expressed my profound thanks to our Admiral nurse contact because I really do feel that she acts as an advocate for us, particularly with the local GP who seem to adopt the most minimal and cursory of approaches whenever I approach them for help.

This week is ‘manifesto week’ where all the major players in the election are revealing their manifestos. Both the BBC and Sky News seem to have taken it upon themselves to fact check the various commitments made in the various manifestos. Many a sleight of hand is at work here because the politicians are apt to say that hey do not intend to take any actions to increase the taxation on the electorate. But what they mean by this is that hey do not intend to alter the rates of taxation as owing to the non-indexation of allowances and the consequent ‘fiscal drag’ then the level of taxation, and higher levels of taxation, is gradually increasing even if the politicians do nothing.

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Monday, 10th June, 2024 [Day 1547]

Today dawned bright but as we (rightly) suspected cold so this altered our plans somewhat. After our experiences of yesterday when we had been to the park and Meg got a little cold, we decided to take extra precautions this morning. So accordingly, I made sure that Meg wore an outsize pair of my socks over her own to keep her feet and legs warm and put on an extra gilet to keep her a little warmer. I texted our Italian friend down the road to tell her that I intended to push Meg just as far as her house and then to turn back so that Meg could get some fresh air but not get too chilled. Our friend texted us to the effect that she was going to be out this morning but this strategy of ours worked out quite well because we had a bit of a constitutional without placing two much stress on either of us. Then it was a case of returning home and I experimented by making a beef and tomato soup (packet of tomato soup but enhanced by a spoonful of Bovril) and this was quite a nice change for us as well. Naturally, ever since yesterday, we have been reflecting upon the very sad demise of the celebrated TV doctor, Dr. Michael Mosley. The newspapers are reporting the news that he may well have died within fifty metres of the relative safety of the community where they were on holiday. If this report is substantially correct, then it makes his death even harder to bear for the many of us who feel very diminished by his death. I have several of his books adorning my bookcases and the very sight of them is evoking immense sadness when I think about the way that he lost his life. I wonder, though, how a man such as him could have not with them a tracking watch or even a mobile phone, the simplest of which would almost certainly have saved his life. This, of course, we shall never know. There is another item of news upon which I have been reflecting since yesterday. Several of the letters in yesterday’s ‘Sunday Times’ comment upon the fact that Rishi Sunak’s premature departure from the D-Day celebrations was one of the greatest political gaffes within recent political history. The letter writers made the point that there was perhaps a latent anti-Europeanism at work running through this episode in that Rishi Sunak had attended events which had a sole focus on the British veterans but then decided to absent himself from any events with a more international flavour.

Later on this morning, I had a call from the partner of one’s Meg’s carers who did quite a lot of gardening work for people in our situation. Although the lawns have been cut on a regular basis each week, the rest of the garden has been sadly neglected and is getting quite overgrown. So I was very pleased to see this gardener who surveyed what had to be done and thought, that with another helper, he could do a real blitz on the garden and restore a semblance of order after a day’s intensive work. When he called around, fortunately Meg was being attended to by some of her carers in the middle of the day so we were able to survey the garden and work out a system of priorities. It is possible that we might be able to have the work done some time next week which suits us absolutely fine and all I need to organise is evidently some cash in hand which is required for jobs of this nature. I knew that at one stage the garden problem needed to be faced so Meg’s carer who recommended her partner actually did us a tremendously good turn. Once we get the garden turned around, I think I need to work out how to have a regular gardener once again rather than a blitz merchant although this is evidently necessary from time to time. When Meg and I were renting a property in Hampshire in between the sale of our house in Leicestershire and the purchase of another in Hampshire, the fairly up market estate agents always ensured that the gardens of the houses on their books were kept in good condition. One can understand the reasons for this and evidently the ‘true’ cost is hidden within the overall rent but it meant that the house we were renting in Hampshire had a beautifully maintained garden when it was first viewed. To cut a long story short, once we moved into our permanent home, we employed one of the estate agent gardeners and his brother and between them they came around about twice a year and really transformed the garden. They deployed a lot of forest bark around the shrubs once they had done the basic pruning and weeding and I remember the astonishment with which I greeted the sight of a transformed and radically neatened garden when we first employed them and I returned home from work to witness the results.

This week is the week in which the various manifestos are being launched. We are starting off today with the launch of the Liberal Democrats manifesto which struck a very different tone to the usual debates about tax and spend. The Liberals used their leader, Sir Ed Davey, to highlight the plight of carers and to promise that all social care should be fully tax payer funded. Ed Davey spoke poignantly about the way he needed to care for his mother in her declining years when he was himself only a boy and now he is faced with similar problems caring for a disabled son. But the Lib Dem slogan is ‘Save the NHS’ because the problem of inadequate social care is causing a huge backwash through the NHS as not being able to discharge patients and has created a huge blockage in the system. One is reminded of the fact that both political parties have been promising to reform social care for seemingly a decade or so now but the costs are so enormous that the problem is constantly being kicked into the long grass as they say. Although the Liberals will not in power after the next election, it could be that if a goodly number of them replace Conservatives in the next House of Commons then there might be the change in political climate for this particular nettle to be grasped.

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Sunday, 9th June, 2024 [Day 1546]

We woke up this morning to a beautiful and bright sunny day, so we thought this boded well for a little trip down to the park later on in the morning. After the carers had got Meg up, washed and dressed we had a quick lunch and started watching the Politics programs which were, of course, still dominated by the story of Rishi Sunak’s D-Day gaffe when he left the celebrations early. Naturally, the Tories are doing what they can to mitigate the damage by stressing the patriotism of the current Prime Minister but, of course, it is very much damage limitation territory. Trevor Phillips on Sky even was sufficiently bold to ask a Government minister sent out to defend Rishi Sunak whether the Tories would actually lose less seats in the forthcoming election were they to choose a new leader even at this point. Of course, this is never going to happen but it is instructive that a political interviewer can even ask the question. During the course of the Politics programmes, there was a news flash that indicated that a body had been found on the Greek island of Symi which must have been that of the missing TV presenter, Dr. Michael Mosley. I must confess that a tear sprang to my eye when I heard the news as it is pretty certain when the full facts are known that Michael Moseley lost his life at the age of only 67. The dramatic irony of all of this is all too evident to all of us and naturally the airwaves of full of the details as they gradually emerge. The latest news that we have is that a body has been recovered and was being sent to a mortuary presumably before a post-mortem examination. Given his popularity and the massive amount of TV programmes that Dr Mosley made during his lifetime, I wonder whether the broadcasting authorities will make a biography of his life. Although he was best known for his approaches to dieting, he was not averse to bouts of self experimentation when it came to demonstrating certain physiological characteristics and some of these seemed brave in the extreme. Above all, his work was always scientifically well-informed and researched and he sought to evidence all of his work rather than spinning a fanciful theory for the sake of it.

Our walk to the park did not turn out to be as pleasant as we had anticipated. Although the day started off brilliantly sunny, by the time we came to walk to the park it had clouded over and was quite chilly. Although I had obviously out an anorak on Meg she felt the cold quite intensely whilst we were sitting on our normal bench. Then I discovered, that although I had prepared a flask of coffee I had forgotten to load it into our little travel bag as I had taken down a smoothie for Meg to replace the coffee. We were just on the point of texting our friend to say that we were going to start to walk back again, he saved the day and gave us some of the coffee from his own flask which warmed us up a little. Naturally, on the way home then what is termed Sod’s Law swung into operation because half up the hill, the chilling cloud rolled away and it got almost warm again. I think perhaps I always need to take an extra jumper along with me because Meg does feel thew cold more than I do. So when we got home, it was back to the chicken soup routine to warm us up again, much as we did yesterday. Meg watched the concluding part of the Pilgrimage program in which a group of modern day pilgrims were traversing Scotland to reach Iona. I have enjoyed these programs of which the first was a journey from the Swiss Alps to Rome, the second a journey through Portugal to Fatima, the third being a pilgrimage encompassing the Celtic shrines across North Wales and then this final Scottish one. I am not sure if the BBC intends to make any more of a similar nature but for Meg and I they are highly appropriate Sunday viewing.

Robert Ford is a professor of politics well known for writing ‘Revolt on the Right’ documenting the rise of the right wing. Today, he is openly speculating about the plight of Rishi Sunak speculating this might be the week the wheels came off for Rishi Sunak. After two weeks of campaigning for ‘a clear plan of bold action for a secure future’ the verdict in the polls is clear: voters don’t like his clear plan, they do not want his bold actions, and they believe their future will be more secure without him. All of this was true even before the prime minister’s calamitous Thursday afternoon decision to leave D-day commemorations early for a pre-recorded media interview. So the possibility is being raised that the Tory party as we have come to know it might be almost completely annihilated in the forthcoming election. The same thing did happen to the Conservative party in Canada and some commentators are now openly speculating that if the Reform party continues to grow in strength as it appears to be doing, then the same fate might befall the Tories. The opinion polls in the next few days might prove to be illuminating when the full effect of the D-Day gaffe and Farage’s assumption of the leadership party are taken into account by the electorate. But the modern Conservative party really understands how to gain and then retain power aided not least by very compliant right wing press. If a lot of the press swings behind Reform the Tory party may well be doomed but it is very early days yet and we still have three and a half weeks of the polls to go. Election campaigns often contain unplanned incidents that send a campaign off the rails but not a single vote has yet been cast. But it could be that the electorate has already made up its mind weeks if not months ago and therefore we are in a situation where the campaign itself, disastrous though it might be, does not actually change many minds at all. Our own voting cards arrived in the past a few days ago and I suspect that those who have oped for voting by post will receive their postal votes shortly. So by the time that election day comes, a lot of votes will already have been cast and therefore the results baked in, whatever the latest onion polls say.

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Saturday, 8th June, 2024 [Day 1545]

This morning we had in mind to make our usual journey down the hill to see our friends in the Waitrose cafeteria and were relieved that the weather app on my phone informed us that the rather drizzly start to the day would clear up shortly after 9.00am in the morning. I have put into place a new little system to help with Meg’s ablutions first thing every morning, now that Meg’s hospital bed is relocated downstairs. Rather than carrying bowls of warm soapy water along corridors which was almost an accident waiting to happen, I scoured the web and purchased two ‘mini’ i.e. miniaturised little buckets which fulfil their intended function absolutely admirably. These mean that I can carry hot water, soap and sponges easily from downstairs ground floor toilet to ‘bed-room’ easily and transport them back again. I had previously looked up my records and discovered that today was indeed the sixth anniversary to the date when I had my colon cancer operation. With a certain amount of glee, I recounted the story that the (Asian) surgeon earnestly asked me if I had any questions about the forthcoming operation. I replied to the effect that I only had one question which ran along the lines that when the operation was completed and he was holding my body in his one hand and the diseased and excised portion of bowel in the other, could he ensure that he threw away the right bit! This was not the appropriate time for a burst of black humour and the surgeon professed that he had no idea what I was talking about so I abandoned the idea of any further questions. We spent about an hour in Waitrose with our friends, including our University of Birmingham friend who had joined us and, as always, they are very kindly when Meg feels a little wobbly. We did some shopping for things that only Waitrose sells and then made for home. I had not checked the exact time that the mid-day carers were due to call and we arrived home some five minutes late. However, and fortunately, the carers were themselves running a few minutes late themselves so we had actually arrived home before them. As Meg was feeling a little chilled upon our return, I regaled her (and myself) with some chicken soup which we find is a good restorative (as indeed, used to be a staple of Jewish households). The web revealed to me the information that chicken soup with matzo balls, affectionately known as Jewish penicillin or ‘matzo ball soup’ for short, is a traditional Jewish comfort food. It is traditionally served on Passover, along with other classics like brisket and matzo crack, but Jewish mothers and grandmothers think of it as a year-round cure-all for everything from colds to more serious ailments.

One wonders how long the Rishi Sunak mistake in leaving the D-Day celebrations before the international part of the celebrations began is going to rumble on. I tuned into the BBC debate between seven party leaders last night which was a rumbustious shouting match in the main between Penny Mordant for the Conservatives and Angela Raynor for the Labour party. The audience as a whole and no doubt many viewers wondered what kind of comment Penny Mordant would make as she represents a very military constituency (Portsmouth North) and had herself been a rival for the leadership in the most recent Tory party leadership battles as a result of which Rishi Sunak was elected. Penny Mordant pulled no punches, declaring that Sunak had been ‘completely wrong’ and indeed ‘very wrong’ and probably made no friends amongst the Tory High Command. But, of course, she is one of the front runners for any leadership race once Rishi Sunak is defeated and is fighting hard to retain her seat in Portsmouth North so probably felt she had to completely condemn her own leader. She then went on to tear into Angela Raynor with well-rehearsed and prepared attack lines but Angela Raynor was relatively muted in her response, probably not wanting to grant any hostages to fortune. It is very rare that I agree with anything that Nigel Farage, the new leader of Reform has to say for himself but his contribution last night hit the point home. He said it was a ‘complete and utter disgrace’ from an ‘unpatriotic’ Prime Minister, adding: ‘If his instinct was the same as the British people, he would never have contemplated for a moment not being there for the big international celebration and it shows how disconnected he is with the people of this country.’ We will have to see if this story will run and run and what the Sunday newspapers make of this enormous election gaffe.

There is quite a dramatic human interest story developing this afternoon. The celebrated TV doctor and author, Dr. Michael Mosley who has written seemingly scores of diet books has gone missing on a small Greek island. He was apparently going to walk a few kilometres home to where he was holidaying with his wife but failed to arrive at the anticipated time. Some of the early part of his journey home seems to have caught on CCTV but after that he has vanished without trace. The Greek authorities have been searching for him for a couple of days now but evidently without success. The weather has been very hot and there is a theory that he could have succumbed to a heatstroke. On the day that he disappeared, the temperatures might have been approaching 40 degrees and the search dogs themselves can only work for an hour at a time. In addition, we know from his many writings that he is a diabetic which may or may not have been insulin controlled but although this has not been mentioned in the TV despatches, this must be a factor that cannot be ruled out in his disappearance. A statement by Dr Clare Bailey Mosley came as the couple’s four children arrived on the Greek island of Symi and the focus of the extensive search for the broadcaster shifted to a snake-infested mountainous area after CCTV footage emerged of his last known movements. There is a certain dramatic irony in the disappearance of this very well known character – I have several of his books on my bookshelves and the 18:6 approach to dieting has been followed by many (including myself, for brief periods) Is it possible that this well known author, advocating the sensible diet to follow to help to sustain a long and healthy life has indeed lost his own life at quite an early age?

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Friday, 7th June, 2024 [Day 1544]

Today we had no firm intentions for the day as events had rather conspired against us. I received a text last night from our University of Birmingham friend with whom we had a vague arrangement that we might meet later on today. But our friend was having to go to the dentist for an emergency repair to a tooth this morning so we made a firmer arrangement to meet in the Waitrose cafeteria tomorrow morning. After we had breakfasted, we knew that the Eucharistic minister was due to call around at 10.30 which indeed she did and we were very pleased to see her. There was no real time to go down to the park as the late morning care workers were scheduled within the hour. Meanwhile, we received a visit from a District nurse who had been given a very unclear remit as to what was expected of her. But she confirmed to us that Meg’s leg seemed to be in a good condition so that is one worry less. Earlier on in the day, I had sent a message to our GP practice for some creams that Meg’s carers have suggested might be useful to her and suggested that I get onto the GP to request a prescription. By mid afternoon, I had received a reply not from a GP but from the community pharmacist who gave me the good news that he had added two items onto Meg’s prescription list so these ought to be working their way through the system but may take some days to arrive. But in the short term, I have some other creams that the care staff can deploy and it is part of their protocols that they know that creams have to be applied regularly to people who are vulnerable so I am quite reassured that this aspects of caring for Meg is not being neglected.

There is an absolutely massive political story developing today and it follows on from the Rishi Sunak ‘lie’ that the Labour party are going to tax every working family in the land an extra £2,000. The senior civil servant at the Treasury has rushed to declare that the costings for the sum of £2,000 had not been prepared or promulgated by civil servants within the Treasury and rested upon assumptions made by the Tory policy advisers. So this particular row has been rumbling on for days and has now collided with the D-Day celebrations. But the major political story is this. Whilst other world leaders (the Presidents of France, Canada, USA) all attended the D-Day celebrations and were present until the very end, listening to the stories of the veterans themselves. Given the demographics involved, many of the veterans are now aged 100 and very few will be around in the next few years to attend any future celebrations, for example in five year’s time. But Rishi Sunak cut short his attendance at the celebrations in order, ostensibly,, to give an interview to ITN in which he was to maintain the veracity of the £2,000 tax claim. But even this claim is disputed, as others in the Tory party have said that the logistics for this D-Day had been planned a long time ago and Rishi Sunak always intended to leave the celebrations early. The optics for this for the Tory party could hardly be worse. Firstly, it really does look as though Sunak did not appreciate the importance of attending these celebrations and seems to have demeaned the office of Prime Minister when every other world leader (including Jo Biden) stayed until the conclusion of the celebrations. So by returning to the shores of the UK early, Rishi Sunak seems to have demonstrated both a lack of patriotism, a massive lack of judgement and one of the most spectacular own goals that a Tory leader, some 20 points behind Labour and only 2 points ahead of Reform, could possibly make. Sunak has since issued a half-apology for returning to the UK early which has convinced hardly anybody and the opposition parties, of all kinds of political persuasions, cannot quite believe that a Tory leader could make such a crass mistake.

Last night, I rather wanted to watch ‘Question Time‘ but it did not seem to be broadcast at the normal time – however, Meg and I are enjoying very much watching it on the BBC i-Player this afternoon. At the time of the broadcast, the D-Day blunder had not occurred but the audience was well aware of the £2,000 lie and seemed to be universally skeptical about it. I have to say, though, for the sake of political balance, that the Labour party did itself no favours by responding to the original Tory ‘dodgy dossier’ with an equally dodgy dossier of their own which only further demeans the whole political debate. But what I am rather enjoying about the present Question Time broadcast is that the Tory minister is being laughed at by many of the audience (in Chester) and I suspect that being openly derided by their electorate is something that politicians find particularly hard to bear. There is going to be an election debate this evening in which Penny Mordant, one of the Tory party hopefuls once Sunak loses the election, is going to go head to head with Angela Raynor, the deputy leader of the Labour party in a mixed party debate. But an opinion poll has been published this afternoon which indicates that Mordaunt may well lose her seat. Penny Mordaunt, has been tipped to lose her seat in Portsmouth North as bookies cut the odds on Conservatives winning the General Election. Ms Mordaunt, an MP since 2010, served as a Cabinet member under three of the UK’s last five Prime Ministers. One can only wonder what the effect of this will be on morale – the Tory party is showing every sign of imploding. Our visitor from church this morning actually told us about a website called ‘stopthetories.vote’ in which interested members of the electorate can put in their postcode and be informed which party is best placed to defeat the Tory candidate. So this is tactical voting in action and when I consulted the website and inserted the postcode for Bromsgrove, I got the news that the Tory candidate only seems to have a lead of 1%-2% and there is still the best part of a month to go. Of course, the Labour party must be secretly hoping that the Reform party go from strength to strength which can only be to the detriment of the Tories across the nation.

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Thursday, 6th June, 2024 [Day 1543]

Today is the day when our friends from Hampshire are due to drop in to see us and we have been looking forward to their visit for a week or so now. Meg had a slightly disturbed night last night which meant that it took us some time to come round this morning but we managed to get ourselves up and ready for the carers’ early morning call. Then after breakfast, it was time for the ‘sitting’ carer to call so that I could get out and do the weekly shopping. The carer who sits with Meg on Thursday mornings is a pleasant girl and she and Meg generally get on pretty well. I left them both watching the ‘Post Office’ enquiry live feed until the YouTube froze and we had to tune onto something else. I got my shopping done at my usual Aldi store and then the carer and I started to unpack it slowly after I had treated myself to a little coffee break. Then it was time for the carers to make their calls and to depart and I busied myself preparing some vegetables that we could alongside the quiche that we were going to have for lunch. In between the kitchen and the Music Lounge, I witnessed some of the celebrations for the 80th anniversary of the ‘D’ Day invasions that are taking place in Normandy. One particular celebration was the fact that the president of France, Macron, was awarding the ‘Legion d’Honeur’ to some of the particular aged veterans, probably averaging about 100 years old, who had managed to travel to France for the occasion. After the French president had embraced each old soldier, the award was pinned onto their costumes followed by a handshake with Jo Biden, the American president, who was also present for the celebrations. I found that this was a strangely moving experience and Meg evidently felt the same about the schemes that we were witnessing. Then we had quiche accompanied by the mixture of fried vegetables (onions, peppers, tomatoes, petit pois and some onion gravy). After this, we needed to prepare for the arrival of our friends from Hampshire who we were expecting at about 2.30. They turned up on time and stayed for a very pleasant couple of hours, accompanied by their very amiable dog. I had bought some cake and some little mini-byte type titbits and this was fine to accompany or coffee. Our friends needed to depart, not least to claim their room before the very end of the afternoon and they were anxious not to get blocked in by the cars of the carers who were due to arrive in the late afternoon. As it happened, our friends departed and the carers for Meg turned up in the late afternoon with only about 30 seconds between the departure of one and the arrival of the others. Once settled in our normal lounge, I found a program on YouTube which was basically a biography of Mozart and although we had seen this once before, I hope that Meg would find this sufficiently diverting.

By tomorrow, Friday. most of the candidates for the various political parties should have been selected. In every single party, there seem to be various shenanigans going on. For the Tories, it can be quite a scramble to secure a nomination when there have been several re-drawing of the boundaries of constituencies by the Electoral Commission. The Labour party seem to be doing their best to ensure that any Corbyn supporting would-be MPs are excluded from shortlists. And the Reform party say that they are going to put candidates into practically ever constituency in the country. When there is an unseemly rush like this, there is always the prospect that candidates who would otherwise have been weeded out by a more rigorous selection process with appropriate due diligence get selected almost by accident. We have seen in the last Parliament one or two individuals who one wonders how they ever got through a selection process – in short some ‘oddballs’ may end up getting elected. Almost inevitably in times of general election campaigns, the question arises as to how the electorate takes decisions. We know from the referendum that there were several ‘big lies’ that might have swung the result and one wonders whether the Tories ‘£2,000’ tax bombshell might resonate with politically uninformed voters and gain the Tory party some seats. When Meg and I were on holiday in Yugoslavia, we had an interesting discussion about democracy with one of the quite young Yugoslav tour guides (who spoke her three national languages before learning German, Italian and then English as her sixth language) We were informed that the hotel in which we were lodged was run by a director who had been elected by members of staff (had he actually made enough profit in the last year) And the senior school pupils and the teachers elected the headmaster of their local school (on the basis of whether the exam results were good enough) In short, Yugolavs did not live in a democracy and could not change their government but they could, and did, have a lot of day to day control over the institutions shaping our lives whereas in the UK, of course, we do live in a democracy but only ‘demock’ for a new government every 4-5 years and do not have the same degree of control over local institutions that the Yugoslavs seemed to enjoy. So I believe that the question of how we exercise our democratic freedoms is quite important. I am quite impressed by the way that the Irish, for example, used the discussions given by Citizens’ Assemblies to achieve some degree of consensus over abortion law reform which could eventually be passed into law. So Citizens Assemblies could be an experiment which might help us cope with difficult questions such as Climate Change and Assisted Dying both of which are huge questions are not particularly well dealt with in our current political institutions.

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Wednesday, 5th June, 2024 [Day 1542]

This has been quite an interesting day so far. Meg and I slept in a little later than we normally both have liked but the carers came and got Meg up, washed, dressed and into her ‘going out’ wheelchair. After we had breakfasted, we made an excursion to the park, made easier by the fact that I had made a lightning visit just after breakfast to collect my newspaper. It was a pleasant day and we exchanged pleasantries with the normal cohort of dog walkers whilst we were sitting on our bench overlooking the pond. A few days ago, I found some sunglasses which had evidently dropped off a pram or a buggy and had been placed on a wall near Waitrose. So I gave these a clean up and asked Meg if she would like to try them did, which she did imitating the Sophia Loren look (who, I believe, use to wear large sun glasses before it became fashionable to do so) Last night, after Meg was in bed, I watched the first of the televised debates between Sunak and Starmer hosted by ITV. In this debate, Sunak was adjudged to be the narrow winner and it was not hard to see why. From somewhere, Sunak produced a figure that an incoming Labour government would tax each family £2,000 and when Starmer did not immediately deny this, the point was pressed over and over again. Naturally, all of the Conservative leaning newspapers (which is most of them) repeated this claim over and over again and it is probably the case that most people, hearing the claim repeated over and over again and not immediately denied, would tend to believe it. But in the cold light of day, analysts have started to examine this claim and have found it as near to a lie as it is possible to be. It looks as though some policy advisers to the Conservative party had some, but not all of the Labour spending plans ‘verified’ by some Treasury officials and then did some totting up and dividing by the total number of households to arrive at the £2,000 figure over a Parliament. But this morning the Labour Party have been quick to denounce this figure as an absolute lie whilst the Treasury itself produced a letter which had indicated to the Tory policy advisers that this computed figure had not been produced by civil servants and the data they produce should not be quoted in any party political broadcasts. So having produced a ‘dodgy dossier’ the Labour party has produced its own dodgy dossier and the Tories have responded with their own dodgy dossier Mark 2 arguing that the initial estimates of £2,000 per family were too conservative an estimate. So what we are left with is the two large political parties, both arguing about dodgy numbers and statistics and with nobody any the wiser until much after the original claim has been made and the damage done. One is reminded of the EU referendum bus campaign in which the amount that the UK sent to the EU each year was painted on the side of a campaign bus. Like other examples of this type, there is always some sleight of hand involved in these types of debates. If I remember rightly, the sum painted on the side of the bus indicating what the UK paid too the EU each year took no account of the subsequent rebate which arrived later so the impression was given, deliberately, that the ‘sent to EU’ figures was the same as ‘contribution to the UK’ which it was not. To bring this row up to date, we now know that Office for Statistics Regulation is ‘looking into Rishi Sunak’s claim over Labour tax costs. It comes after the prime minister alleged repeatedly that Labour have a £38bn black hole in their financial plans, which will cost households £2,000 each. Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News today that Mr Sunak had resorted to ‘desperate lies’ with the allegation. In response, the Conservatives insisted their claim was based on ‘clear Labour policies, their own costings or official HMT [His Majesty’s Treasury] costings using the lowest assumptions’. However, doubt was also cast on Sunak’s claim by a senior Treasury civil servant, who wrote to Labour to warn them that the Tory assessment of their tax plans ‘should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service’. The OSR watchdog said it was looking into the claim but stopped short of saying it was launching a full-on investigation. One is tempted to quote the saying attributed to Churchill that ‘a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on’ but the spirit of this observation may indeed go back to the Roman author, Vergil centuries beforehand. When all is said and done, I am rather saddened by all of this. Politics is always a bit of a dirty game but when standards of integrity starts to slip so that one party feels that it is obliged to lie as much as the other side then an enormous cynicism comes over the electorate who tend to opine ‘that they are all the same’ If this view prevails, then the political process as a whole gets so demeaned that any kind of more progressive politics becomes more and more difficult to attain. I do get the feeling these days that we need a reset of our political process and although in the past I have not been enamoured of proportional representation, I am beginning to feel that the case for this is becoming stronger by the day. But of course, one has to ensure that in any new voting systems, one does not give power to extremely small parties for whom hardly anyone has voted but who can hold the balance of power in tight elections.

Meanwhile, the news from the other side of the Atlantic continues to dismay. There are new reports that Jo Biden’s cognitive decline is rapidly accelerating which does not bode well for the presidential elections in November. But there are equally prominent reports that Donald Trumps bizarre behaviour and frequent rants are a sign of his mental instability. So we have the bizarre situation in which the two front runners for president of the United States leaves one to doubt whether either one of them has the cognitive and emotional capabilities that one might expect in a leader of the ‘free world’ It is probably too late in the day but one wonders whether even at this incredibly late stage two candidates might emerge either of whom would ultimately be a ‘safer’ choice as president.

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