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.



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Saturday, 10th June, 2023 [Day 1181]

This morning dawned as another bright day but Meg and I had no particular commitments on today apart from our weekly visit to church in the early evening. As soon as breakfast was over, I hunted out a little spray container that I found in the garage, filled it with some ‘strong’ vinegar plus a little washing up liquid and decided to utilise it to spray on some little weeds that we have in some of our paving at the front of the house. I was relying upon the theory that the combination of acetic acid and hot sun would dessicate the weeds in pretty short order and then they could be removed in about a day’s time. This seemed to work absolutely as intended because after a few hours, the weed tops were completely brown and my patent treatment works so much faster than the proprietary prodcts that can take days to work. Meg and I collected our newspaper and made for the park where in the hot weather the population was desporting itself in a variety of suntops but this cannot last a great length of time because some thunderstorms are forecast to hit us in the Midlands quite soon now.

Late last night, I rang off a copy of the ‘Largo‘ from Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony which is very well known as ‘Going Home’ but which also looks quite easy to play. Now that I am getting the notes in the score allocated in my mind to the actual keys on the keyboard, I am very gradually improving my keyboard skills but I have only been practising for a day and, at my age, I tell myself it might take a smidgeon longer than if I were sixty five years younger. There was a section on the score that threw me a little because the notes were scored in what I now know as the bass clef rather than the treble clef and I have never sight read from this clef before. But a quick Google search has told me mnenomics by which to remember the staves and intervening spaces (‘Green Buses Drive Fast Always’.and ‘All Cows Eat Grass’) so now I know. This whole section of score that I located on the web and ran off is 30 bars long so all I have to do is to practise the various sections and then stitch them all together once each part has been learnt) Just after lunch, Meg and I had a little play around on the keyboard by trying the same tune to a variety of instruments, some of which work very well and give a good sound but others are invariably a little naff but I suppose we will gradually learn what is a good combination and what is not.

The news yesterday evening and today has been dominated by the shock resignation of Boris Johnson as an MP. He had been given an advance copy of the report by the Committee of Privileges into the allegations that he misled Parliament in his accounts of partygate within Downing Street by either deliberate or by reckless behaviour. In theory, there was a fortnight in which Johnson and his advisers in the shape of a bevy of well paid lawyers could have perused the report and presumably challenged matters of factual accuracy. But the report appears to have been so damning that it appears (but we will not know until it is published in full) that Johnson was found to have misled the House of Commons and the penalty might have been exclusion from the House for 10 days or more. Under existing legislation, if an MP is so suspended, then the electorate have the right to request a ‘recall election’ and Johnson would almost certainly have lost his seat in the present political climate. Seeing the ignomy of literally being thrown out of the House of Commons and then being spurned by he electorate was evidently far too much for a narcissist like Johnson to bear so he decided to be in control of his own destiny and narrative, announcing to the world that he was only leaving ‘for now’ The BBC pulled its punches by arguing that Johnson could never be underestimated and his political career was far from over. But Sky News is far more forthright than the BBC and has lost no time in announcing that they think that Johnson is a ‘busted flush’ He has also been followed by some camp followers, one of whom (Nadine Dorries) was hanging on in the Commons desperately hoping for a peerage but her name was excised by the House of Lords scrutiny committee leaving her with absolutely nothing (apart from her adoration of Boris Johnson) Johnson is very much doing a ‘Trump’ by claiming a witchhunt against him and a biased judicial process and has resigned with a vituperative letter casting doubt upon the integrity of the Committee of Privileges and the whole of the Sunak government to boot. An interesting quirk in all of this is the the Committee of Privileges is going to meet on Monday and is already regarding the comments made upon its integrity as an actionable matter. Over the next few days, we will no doubt see the whole of the report when it eventually sees the light of day but I imagine, now that Johnson has already resigned, that the critical parts of the report will find its way into the columns of the Sunday newspapers.

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Friday, 9th June, 2023 [Day 1180]

Today was a day dominated by the fact that this morning, I was due to go to the doctor’s surgery to get the results of my monitoring review and blood test taken a fortnight ago. The news was generally good apart from one issue where the practice nurse and the supervising doctor thought I needed to increase my dosage of one particular piece of medication (which I had been a little remiss in taking in the first place, I must say) Nothing is perfect but I was more pleased than displeased with the results of my review. I was particularly impressed by the nurse conducting my review who I had not seen before. We had a pretty grown up conversation including some discussion of the science behind some of my results and this is quite refreshing these days. I asked her, though, if I could have a printout of my bloodtests (given that they test about 20 things in a full blood assay) and she did not know how to interrogate the computer system to achieve what I wanted, and have had before. I asked the reception staff on the front desk and they, too, struggled a little to generate the printout I required expeditiously. I can only conclude that they are not asked for this very often as it seems a bit of a kerfuffle to provide data which, after all, is about ones self. Then Meg and I popped into Waitrose for a coffee but none of our regulars were in evidence so we drank our coffee in relative peace. Then it was a case of getting home and enjoying our fish pie which we generally consume each Friday.

Yesterday, when I wrote about a trip to the Worcestershire countryside, I was a little disengenuous becase I did not want to reveal too much until the time was ripe. We were actually on a pre-arranged trip to pick up a Casio keyboard which was a very big seller several years ago. I put in an offer for the keyboard which included both the specialised stand and also the power supply (sometimes, these are omitted from the listings when this product is offered on eBay). The seller and I agreed a price and the item was sold on a ‘collection only’ basis which I did not mind in this case as Meg and I could enjoy quite a pleasant trip to the address in a little village near Malvern. Having got this home and installed (not there there was anything to install) I am more delighted. Now that I have practised the ‘Old Hundredth’ hymn tune using on online keyboard, I could then try it for real and an pleased to say it was almost note perfect on the first rendition. What is so innovative about these Casio keyboards is that the keys look very similar to those of a normal piano i.e. not toy like. But there are several incredible features about tbis piece of technology which is evidently aimed at those teaching themselves the piano. Firstly, there are 100 built in ‘tunes’ of which over one third are classical excerpts. A second feature is the instruments that can be emulated and there are 100 of these. So far, I have favourites of ‘Church Organ’ (surprise, surprise) but I am also quite impressed by the offerings of a Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Tenor Sax and so on. To complement this there is a list of 100 rhythms which I do not envisage using very much at all. To assist learners, there is an assumption that many of the songs have a ‘left hand’ (background) component and a ‘right hand’ (melody) component. To help one practice, you can only play the melody part by turning off the left hand and supplying this oneself. Similarly, one can turn off the melody part and supply this over the background. There are also a series of preprogrammed chords in all of the major chords but I have not had the time to exeriment with this. However, whilst I have had this unit for less than day I am still quite busy hunting out little bits of simple classical music which I can just play with the right hand (Pachobel’s Canon springs to mind) and then I want to see if I can master about one simplified (i.e. right hand only) piece per week so that my skill set can gradually improve. I am hopeful that as Meg learnt the piano in her youth, some of these skills can be retrieved from deep memory if only ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. Incidentally, whilst browsing on eBay for electronic keyboard, I saw a Yamaha which is a similar unit to the Casio entered into an auction starting at about £20. I watched the bidding in the final stages and there must have been an auction frenzy as the price shot up at the last moment to £81 but, there again, I suppose a Yamaha must have the edge over a Casio. But it was fascinating to watch – and had the effect of making me even happier with my own much more modest purchase. I am going to ask around friends and family to see if anyone has some simple old piano tutorial books lying around in an old piano stool that I can cadge or to which I can at least guarantee a good home.

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Thursday, 8th June, 2023 [Day 1179]

Today is my normal grocery shopping day so I collected some money from the ATM amd got myself positioned outside my local supermarket just before 8.00am. There was quite a chill wind blowing around this morning but we all seem to be aware of the same weather forecast to the effect that things would get a lot warmer by this afternoon, which proved to be the case. Once I had got home and the breakfast cooked, we were ready to set forth for the park wondering who we might meet today. As is always the case, whilst Meg and I were sitting on our normal park bench we get inspected first by dogs (often hunting for titbits) and then by their owners. This morning we starting off having a chat with a whippet owner which was a wonderful silvery shade often called ‘blue’ Shortly afterwards we got into conversation with another dog owner who owned a dog called a Hungarian Vizsla. I must admit that I had never even heard of this breed before but I looked it up on the net when I got home and this confirms the impression that we gained that these are friendly but quite vivacious dogs who evidently like playing with other dogs whenever they got the opportunity. So we live and learn in our walks in the park. We finally had a chat with a lady we have seen a few times before and we started chatting about countryside matters, both of us having had long and therefore large gardens in the past. She let us know that baby’s talcum powder is a very good antidote against ants which evidently thrive along the borders of paths and lawns, particularly if the conditions are both hot and humid. The ant season is almost upon us if not already here so we must try out this practical remedy when the occasion demands it. I shared my tip of an ecologically sound but cheap weedkiller. This is basically vinegar with a dose of washing-up liquid put into a simple spray bottle such as you can find in ‘Poundland’. The point about the washing up liquid is that it reduces the surface tension of the fluid thus making it ‘wetter’ so to speak. The acetic acid will basically draw moisture from the plant and if put onto offending weeds at the start of what is going to be a hot day, then by midday the weeds should have basically shrivelled up. The roots still remain of course but to all purposes, the weed is effectively killed. I use this remedy for small, hard to get at weeds rather than the bigger variety that can just be gently pulled out so that on gets the roots out as well as the rest of the plant. We have not had rain for so long now I suddenly realised that some of the plants in pots outside our kitchen at the back of the house are starting to droop with the absence of moisture so I must get into the habit of throwing some water over them until such time as the rains arrive which they surely will in seasonable thunder storms as the temperatures rise in the next few days.

Lunch today was our final meal, finishing of our chicken legs. We tend to buy chicken thighs as they are more flavoursome than the breasts and we cook them with the skin on and bones in before discarding these at dishing up time. The trouble with chicken meals is that they tend to go on and on and after several days, one gets a bit fed up with it. This does not happen with other joints of meat because we tend to buy the smallest joints we can buy, then cook the lot but immediately divide it into half before freezing it for future use. So each ‘half’ joint as it were tends to last for two or three days but not four days which is what happens with our chicken meals.

This afternoon, Meg had a little round trip planned for the Worcestershire countryside. It was a glorious afternoon and we drove to near the Malvern hills but on a future occasion we think it is possible to drive three quarters of the way up the hills and then launch off for a walk towards the summit. We have not done that yet although our son and one of his bosom mates did it not too long ago but as Meg’s health has deteriorated somewhat, then really strenuous hill walks à la Lake District feels are now beyond us. However, it looks as though we might have quite a decent summer and one does hear tales of friends and others who have gone onto continental Europe and experienced a lot of rain whereas we have been basking in Mediteranean type temperatures. In a similar vein, there was news this morning that London Airport was likely to be inflicted by strikes on every weekend throughout the summer which might deter some of us taking holidays abroad for a bit.

I have acquired a new skill over the last day or so. It is possible to find on the web a ‘virtual piano’ and using one of these websites and with a little bit of practice, I have learnt how to play the very simple hymn tune called the ‘Old Hundredth’ aka ‘All People That On Earth Do Dwell’ I might entend this to very simple classical music melodies if I hear them on ClassicFM and can find the music score for them.

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Wednesday, 7th June, 2023 [Day 1178]

Today was a fairly uneventful day with not a great deal to report. Our domestic help had called around today rather than Friday which is her usual day. She had very kindly brought around some items of kitchen equipment for me to utilise when we entertain Meg’s cousins in about ten days time. We needed to purchase a condolence card for the son of the elderly relative of Meg who died recently two weeks short of his 100th birthday and our domestic help also wanted me to buy some cleaning products for her to utilise this morning. Then we returned home and I started to think about the lunch preparation which I needed to get done in plenty of time. I seared off a couple of the remaining chicken thighs and then got them going for a thorough cook in the oven so that we could eat fairly promptly. Wednesdays are now the days when I get the lawns cut but I must say that with the absence of rain, their growth had moderated slightly. I started getting the lawns cut promptly after lunch and was pleased to get them all done by mid afternoon. Then it was a case of getting a treat of some ice cream as it had been quite a hot afternoon after which I did a couple of outdoor jobs and prepared for a restful evening.

Today, I have re-started a little savings process which I used to deploy some years ago but I had got out of the habit. I found £2 coins quite hard to come by these days and I suspect that I know the reason why. As part of my little savings program together, I suspect, with similar minded savers throughout the country, every time I get a £2 coin in my normal change it goes into a little ‘savings owl’ that I am utilising for the purpose. I keep track of how much my owl contains and when I get to a total such £10 or even £20, then I withdraw so much less from my normal shopping money for the week. My savings are now effectively banked and this being the case allocate it into which ever particular savings pot I want. This has the effect of making that savings pot receive ‘interest’ which greatly exceeds the paltry rate that the banks and building societies pay to savers. Of course, since quantatitive easing (aka the government throwing money at the banks to ‘stimulate’ the economy) financial institutions do not have to try to attract savings from customers which is part of the traditional financial orthodoxy and which is why until the recent rise in interest rates, they managed to get by with only rates such as 0.1% a year. Of course, I know that I am paying myself interest with my ‘own’ money but I find this little savings regime psychologically satisfying and a bit of thrift is not a habit to be ditched lightly.

As part of a commentary on social and cultural lives in the UK, a new approach has recently been undertaken to acertain where to draw the line between north and south in contemporary Britain. This approach looks at the distribution of fast food stores and notes where ‘Pret a Manger’ gives way to ‘Greggs‘, the latter being judged to be much more proletarian and hence ‘northern’ A similar analysis has also been done but this time using the distribution of ‘Waitrose‘ versus ‘Morrisons‘ supermarkets as a cultural marker.
But more importantly than all of this is a report that has been prepared by the TUC as part of its submission to the COVID enquiry. The report details how the years of austerity made major cuts to each of the necessary parts of the social fabric and hence, when COVID did strike, the necessary social infrastructure was ill-prepared to cope with it all. George Osborne and David Cameron as the relevant Prime Minister and Chancellor at the time who implemented the years of austerity are going to be asked to give evidence to the COVID enquiry. I am not sure at this stage whether they will be subject to a stringent barrister-led investigation of their role but this might be quite an interesting ‘calling to account’ that will be worth listening to when it eventually happens, probably in the Autumn. I also heard a rumour recently that the timetable for the subjects that the COVID enquiry is due to undertake so that ‘lessons can be learnt’ has been adjusted so that the ‘success’ of the pandemic such as the developmemnt of effective vaccines will be discussed first but the preparedness of the NHS and the Care sector in residential homes for the elderly might not now be heard until after the next election. On the face of it, this seems like drawing the teeth of the enquiry before it has even started its work. We are still unsure who will win the tussle between the Chairman of the enquiry and the government over the release of un-redacted WhatsApp nessages. A much wider question remains, of course, what the government was doing allowing the background to critical decisions being conducted using the medium of WhatsApp in the first place rather than using more bespoke secure government systems.

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Tuesday, 6th June, 2023 [Day 1177]

So Tuesday has rolled around again and this is the day to which we look forward because we generally meet up with old friends in the Waitrose cafe. Our regular ‘veteran singer’ was in evidence again – this is my sobriquet for her as she was recently part of a choir that sang Brahm’s requiem when she is approaching her ninetieth year and we often find that we can have a chat about things musical. For reasons that will become apparent shortly, I have recently come to the realisation that a full piano keyboard is 88 keys which is the equivalent of 7.25 octaves whereas most modern electronic equivalents make do with a 61 key keyboard which is 5 octaves. The octave are the 7 ‘white’ notes and the five ‘black’ notes making 12 keys per octave – 12 times 5 is 60 with the extra top ‘C’ added to the top to make 61. For many learners five octaves (or 61 keys) are sufficient and I did not know until today that most baroque music and the early Mozart and Beethoven can to all extent and purposes be played on a 61-key keyboard. By the middle of the 19th century, pianos typically had 85 keys. By the end of the century, pianos began to emerge with the now standard 88 keys. It was not really until the late 1880s when 88 keys became standard on pianos. So a beginner ought to be able to make quite a lot of progress on a 61 key piano until he/she meets composers from the mid 19th century onwards. A bit of Googling has revealed that the reason Mozart can be played on 61 keys is because, during his time, there are only 5 octaves (61 keys) on the keyboard instruments of that era. Thus, most of Mozart’s piano pieces are composed using 61 keys. Nowadays, Mozart’s pieces are transcribed to be played on the modern piano keyboard. A bit more research revealed that Mozart did not play on the 88 key piano we have today. The 88 key piano was created by Beethoven when he started writing pieces for the 88 key piano that had yet to be created by the piano manufacturers of his day. Beethoven was such a rock star that the aristocracy pressured the manufacturers into changing the design of the piano so that they could hear the pieces that Beethoven had written. Mozart was born in 1756, 24 years before Beethoven was born and so Mozart played on the 66 key Fortepiano. The keys are thinner and closer together and therefore are more difficult to play. Meanwhile, our friend is off on holiday with her family to mid-Wales so we shall miss her company next week. We discovered, incidentally, that both Meg’s mother and her own mother were excellent seamstresses and so made all of the clothes that their children needed.

So Meg and I made our way home and I then progressed down to participate in my normal Pilates session. There were only three of us this week, supplemented by one extra person on ‘Zoom’ which sometimes happens. Our Pilates teacher is very good and experienced and if any one of us has a niggle which can happen then alternative exercises are suggested to help that sufferer participate fully in the lesson. I suppose that would not be possible if we were part of a group some 20 strong which is what some classes happen to be.

Every so often a news item occurs which tickles the imagination. On the news today was the story of the Aston Martin ‘Bulldog’ designed to reach a speed of 200mph. Only one was ever produced as a sort of prototype and an attempt to run the car ended in disaster when the engine blew up on an initial run in the 1980s. However, today the engine has been restored and a test run performed on a remote Scottish air landing strip. I suspect that the test driver must have been incredibly brave (or foolhardy) to attempt this feat but today the target was achieved with a speed of 205 mph.

In the Ukraine war, the world must surely be shocked with the breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam. It is being reported that some 80 villages and communities and some 22,000 population below the dam have had to be evacuated in the light of the flood waters released by the breached dam. Even more serious is the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station for which the reservoir cools reactors and nuclear waste stored at the nuclear power plant. Pumps will stop working if the water level dips below 12.7 metres, an expert has said. The situtaion is said to be ‘stable’ at the moment but the ecological disaster is evident. The Americans are leaning towards blaming the Russians but tonight both the Russians and the Ukrainians are blaming each other.

Meanwhile the tug of way between the COVID enquiry chair and the government is continuing. The COVID inquiry chair insists it is for her to decide what material is ‘relevant’ in the row over Johnson WhatsApps and there are broad hints that she will resign rather than accede to the government’s desire to redact (presumably embarrassing) material. If this case ever gets to the Courts, the government is almost certain to lose the case anyway.

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Monday, 5th June, 2023 [Day 1176]

Today was always going to be a ‘car dominated’ day and so it proved. Meg was not feeling too well this morning so stayed in bed for an extra hour or so. In the meanwhile, I gave the car interior a tidy up and then took it down to my local Kurdish car washers who have done a good job for me in the past. There I requested a good clean inside and out but I was informed that I would have to leave the car with them got a couple of hours. The newspaper shop is just around the corner from the car washing outfit so I collected my newspaper and then walked to my local Waitrose. As Meg was not with me, I availed myself of the free coffee that is provided for card holders and bumped into the long established member of staff who is going to leave our store soon and go to her local store which is so much closer to her home. When I informed her that Meg was not feeling too well this morning, a bunch of roses was immediately forthcoming, armed with which I decided to walk home. On the way up the hill, our Italian friend was just leaving the house in her car so she opened the car window and had a good chat. I actually found it easier to kneel down rather than to bend down and passers-by might have regarded this as strange, not that I care a lot. Then our son who was working in our house this morning gave me a lift down into town and I drove my newly cleaned car home and Meg and I had a lighning repast of cheese and biscuits. This was because we had an appointment at the garage from which we buy our new cars and as this dealer was in Solihull, we needed to leave quite early. When we got to the car dealers, there was a certain amount of waiting around but we were supplied with free coffee. We had decided to come to the dealership today because we were informed by a telephone call last week that we needed to get a new car order in because the wait was probably of the order of some four months. We had taken down a file with a variety of documents in it most of which we did not need but I did remember to take with me my driving licence which was needed for the dealer’s system. The replacement car when we get it is going to be a hybrid battery and petrol model and I have never driven an automatic car in my life. But the salesman drove us some miles down the road so that we could appreciate the ride and feel and then we swopped over so that I could drive back with the salesman beside me. This whole experience turned out to be a lot easier than I might have expected. In the first minute or so, my left hand wandered vaguely in the direction of the non-existent gear lever but afer all I am trying to break the habit of more than fifty years of driving a geared car. But I got used to the new system pretty quickly and drove back confidently and safely. When our present car was new, the reviews indicated that the technology and displays within the car had a slightly 70’s feel to it even then. But the new version of the car has a completely redesigned electronic display and SatNav system, all of which looked much more the part. I do not place a great dal of store by car reviews but the one or two I had glanced through showed that the motoring journalists were much more impresssed by the new models ‘Infotainment’ system and I am sure that the new vehicle will suit us down to the ground once we get it. I am pretty sure that I will enter my normal system of being ‘new car neurotic’ when I first receive the new vehicle which always means parking as far away from other vehicles in a supermarket car park as it is possible to get in case a wide flung open door causes damage to one’s new vehicle. But I am very pleased to have got our new car order ‘into the system’ and also ensured that my savings plan will fall nicely into place to cover the appropriate costs.

It was a pretty warm afternoon as we motored back from Solihull so we dived into the house to treat ourselves to some ice-cream. To make this slightly more exciting, we add a sprinkling of apricot halves to which we treat ourselves practically weekly, together with a scatter of walnuts, some yogurt and a little drizzle of honey. All of this might sound a little exotic but we enjoy it. Meg and I had a fairly light tea this afternoon and we only had a rushed cheese-and-biscuits type of lunch but I am sure that a slightly lighter day, foodwise, is probably quite good for us. Our next door neighbours kindly donated some apple pie late on yesterday evening which we accepted and consumed with alacrity, supplemented by a little yogurt of which we always have plenty in stock.

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Sunday, 4th June, 2023 [Day 1175]

Another Sunday morning dawns and Meg and I spent a few minutes contemplating the week ahead and our various commitments – almost one per day next week. We started to think about the funeral of the brother of Meg’s cousin and how a trip to Bodmin would take some organising as we would probably need to stay in a hotel for two nights. The more we thought about it, the more we came to the conclusion that only having met the brother of Meg’s cousin for a few minutes on the occasion of a birthday party, we thought that we probably send our apologies and give the funeral a miss. As it happens we have some dental appointments on what would be the day of the funeral and these would have to be re-arranged. We both felt a little relieved that we had come to this decision more or less independently of each other as we turned over in our mind the logistics of such a trip. Perhaps in a week or so, we may pay a flying visit to Yorkshire where we can see some of our relatives there, including my sister but a lot depends on what kind of deal we can get from our favourite hotel in Harrogate. After we had collected our newspaper, we realised that there were one or two things that we really did need and that only Asda in town sells so I made a ‘on the run’ visit to the supermarket. Needless to say, since the last time we shopped there, they had rearranged various items on the shelves so to find what I needed took a certain amount of hunting around but they were located eventually and then we made our way to the park. We had prepared some elevenses and we were ready for our coffee when we sat down. As is quite often the case, we were recognised by some acqaintances and had some interesting conversations. The first of these was concerned with the intracies of payroll systems as our acquaintance was working out her last year or so as a payroll administrator. Her view from the inside as it were was that very few people actually understood their payroll and income tax allowance codes must be a nightmare if you have employment split over two or more jobs which will be the lot of many people these days. After this little chat, we met up with another couple who we know well by sight and had another lengthy chat. The conversation tends to start off with the observation that they had not seen much of us in the park these days. This is undoubtedly true as during the pandemic, the park was our lifeline and we visited it every day but as the Waitrose coffee bar has re-opened, we have been tempted away from the park some 2-3 occasions per week. Incidentally, we texted our University of Birmingham friend who is undergoing a bout of illness at the moment but he did not feel well enough to venture out and see us this weekend so we wished him well for the days ahead.

When we got home, it was time to prepare a chicken meal. I fried off some onions, seared the chicken legs and then added a can of chicken soup and some petit pois and cooked in the oven for the best part of an hour. To serve things, I fish out the chicken thighs and throw away the skin, the bone and any gristle – doing things this way both makes the ensuing meal more tasty and also cheapens the cost by up to 50%. This afternoon, Meg and I are going to indulge ourselves with yet another viewing of Paddington of which we never tire although we have seen it lots of times before. Althpugh a children’s film and no doubt enjoyed by many, there is some interesting social commentary smuggled in round the edges as well as some fantastic visual jokes. One of the best, I find, is that when Paddington sees an instruction on an escalotor in the Underground that ‘Dogs must be carried’ Paddington immediately goes to kidnap a dog so that he can carry it on the journey up/down the escalator.

By virtue of some TV watching this afternoon, I came across the concept of ‘eco tourism’ We are mainly used to fellow humans, not least through the tourist industry, helping to trash the environment. But the concept of eco tourism is to encourage interested travellers to view primates, for example, in the wild under the tutelage of expert and dedicated guides. If this is carefully done, then income streams will be generated that can be plouged back into the conservation work itself, both with direct expenses and also the development of community resources. I also discovered that being a dedicated park ranger, looking after the mountain gorillas in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) is an extremely dangerous operation. As an illustration of this, Virunga National Park founded in 1925 has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It is known for its fauna and landscapes as it is a vast expanse of deep forests, glaciers and volcanos, with more species of birds, reptiles and mammals than any other protected area in the world. But it is also known to serve as a base for a number of armed groups for more than two decades. The armed groups and gangs of poachers kill the forest rangers whom they perceive as a threat.

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Saturday, 3rd June, 2023 [Day 1174]

The spell of fine weather is continuing so Meg and I were more than happy to get ourselves up, breakfasted and prepared to make a visit to the park. We wondered who we might meet in the park today as we have not visited the park quite as regularly as has been our habit during the years as we have tended to make more of a visit to Waitrose over the past month or so. As it turned out, we had a delightful surprise visit in the park. As we were sitting on our normal bench we were espied at a distance from a lady walking her little dog with whom we have often had pleasant conversation in the past – let us call her Molly. She remembered our names and we chatted for quite a time before she told us that she had mentioned our names to her son who had exclaimed to her ‘I know them well!’ Her son was a handyman who has performed several little jobs around the garden for us, the last one being a handrail in which I helped him it (being a two man job) to provide access the lower area of the garden that I have made into my own little private area and which I call ‘Mogs Den’ So this was quite an extraordinary coincidence because we had no idea that our friendly handyman, recommended to us by our domestic help, was actually the son of one of our park acquaintances. I suppose that this is a case of ‘wheels within wheels’

This afternoon was the Cup Final match between Manchester City and Manchester United. This would normally be held about the time of my birthday in mid-May but the World Cup in Quatar at the start of the year has rather disrupted other football schedules. As I used to live just around the corner from Manchester’s old ground in Maine Road, I generally used to support them but once they have moved into the upper echelons of football, I thought that today I would support Manchester United in today’s game as United were the slight underdogs. The game started in a dramatic fashion when the City captain struck a ball from outside the penalty area and scored when the match was only thirteen seconds old. This, for the record books, is the fastest ever goal to be scored in the entire history of the FA Cup. Towards the end of the first half, Manchester United were awarded an incredibly dubious penalty several minutes after the event when the VAR system and the referee adjudged that a City player had handled the ball and this was an automatic penalty. From this United scored although up to that point I do not think that they had had a single shot on goal. From this point on, my sympathies changed completely and I thought that Manchester City had been very much at the wrong end of some refereeing decisions. When the City captain scored again from outside the penalty area early in the second half, then City went deservedly ahead. Despite some very late flurries from United, City just about hung on and the best team certainly won the Cup Final. The best team does not always win if a team scores a breakwaway goal against the run of play but I have to admit that Manchester City were deserved winners and they have now won the double of winning both the League and also the FA Cup. But next Saturday City will attempt to complete a treble by winning the game against Inter-Milan in the European Cup to be held in Instanbul next Saturday.

In the Unites States, economic meltdown has just been averted as the Congress votes through a series of measures to ensure that that the US does not default on the federal debt. Moderates on both the Repblican and the Democrat side have come together to isolate those on the right of the Republican party and the left of the Democratic party who did not wish the measures to pass through Congress. Meanwhile, an ex-White House Chief of Staff under Donald Trump who ought to know a thing or two has predicted that Trump will win the Republican nomination but go on to fail the election. Whilst the Trump supporters are fanatically loyal whatever transgressions the ex-president has committed, Trump will never win over the critical middle ground in any future Presidential race. But whilst the popular vote is important, this by itself does not determine the outcome of the presidential race. Each state is allocated a number of votes determined by the number of senate seats and congressional districts and there are 538 in total. So a winner is the first to achieve or exceed 270 votes in total. The number of votes range between 4 (Alaska) and 54 (California) but each state can determine its own voting protocols (e.g. by postal ballot or not) and even its own technology, many states using voting machines which have not always proved to be very reliable. There are still about 18 months to go before the next Presidential election and it is possible (but not probable) that Trump does not actually get the Republican party nomination or that Joe Biden will secure the Democratic one.

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Friday, 2nd June, 2023 [Day 1173]

We had our normal extended chat with our treasure of a domestic help who calls around to us on Fridays. We texted our University of Birmingham friend to see if we could meet in Waitrose but did not receive a reply – nonetheless, we still called in there and met with two of our regulars, one of whom was going off to participate in a bowls match and hence she was all in her ‘bowling’ uniform. When we got home, we persuaded our domestic help to join us for a simple meal of sea bream, which is cooked in five minutes or less and then served on a bed of salad. We try to have some capers in store to cook with the fish but I had run out but we had a little spicy sweet chili sauce which is always welcome.

This afternoon, I thought I would try and access Worcestershire Adult Social Care department as I had read recently that as my wife’s sole carer, I am entitled to a certain amount of support on my own account. I always suspected that this process was not going to be especially easy and I was not wrong. Firstly, I tried to access services over the telephone but here the ‘system’ was to indicate that nobody was available to take your call, that someone would call you back and that the message would be repeated five times. Nobody called back although it was still within the normal week’s office hours and then you are cut off and told to ring back later. I did this on three occasions and got nowhere so after 35-40 minutes I had made no progress. I then tried the recommended ‘portal’ service to which the tepehone message had directed any callers but here no progress could be made until the caller had registered with their service and had their registration verified. Having got through this hurdle, I then tried to request a formal needs assesssment using a fairly complicated form and I did this get submitted. If the form is monitored as it should be, then I should have been successful in making an application for a Carer’s Assessment but of course if there is nobody at the other end of the portal to receive and monitor the information supplied, then one is no further forward. It was for this reason that I wished to speak to someone rather than just submitting a form which may just disappear into a ‘black hole’. Of course, none of this was a real surprise to me. Adult social care has been in crisis for years and are struggling to provide even the most rudimentary of services as local authority spending has been savagely cut back over the past decade. I suppose you could call this ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’ and that local authority services have been cut to the bone. So now we have the prospect of local authorities appearing to be offering help but in practice there is practically no one to man the phones and instead refers callers to websites.

Boris Johnson has now agreed to hand all of the required messages and diaries to the COVID enquiry. But this offer is not as generous as might be thought because after a security leak following the disclosure of Boris Johnson’s personal phone details on a website, he was issued with a new (and presumably more secure) phone. But messages from the early part of the pandemic including some of the early lockdowns may not be available, following advice from the security services. But a certain amount of pure politics is in play here as Boris Johnson is giving unredacted material directly to the enquiry and is thereby bypassing the Whitehall machine which is refusing to submit the entire tranche of WhatsApp messages to the COVID enquiry. Of course, things start to get very murky at this point – should Boris Johnson ignore the advice of the security services to access his old messages? But surely, there is a simple solution to all of this. The old phone, complete with whatever passwords were used at the time, should be handed to the police who can then use their own IT specialists to access the material that they need and they must do all the time when investigating criminal activity. The police could then hand over what material is recovered directly to the enquiry.

There is so much attention being given to the Philip Schofield affair at the moment that I am, quite frankly, bored to death with the whole issue. But when the media starts to turn attention to he media itself, a sort of feeding frenzy seems to take over. There are certainly some questions to be asked such as the extent to which those in dominant positions in organisations can exert illegimate power relationships over others. But this happens in many areas of our social and political life in any case. If I were Philip Schofield, why not retire to a a quiet part of the UK assuming that a certain amount of money has been put by and then develop a new life style and interests totally apart from the media world? This might sound easier said than done but John Profumo after the massive national scandal in 1963 worked in the East End as a social worker and after several years managed to rehabilitate himself.

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Thursday, 1st June, 2023 [Day 1172]

Today is my shopping day and this all worked as smoothly as clockwork and having left before 8.00am to be there the minute the store opened, I was back on the stroke of 9.00am. Then we had to get ourselves up and breakfasted before we made our planned little trip out to Alcester, a pretty little Georgian town some 14 miles distant. We always eat in the same old fashioned hotel where they do a pensioner’s lunch for less than £9.00 and it is always more than you can eat. I phoned up the hotel to make a booking but they could only manage an ‘early’ or ‘late’ so we chose to eat at 12.15 As soon as we arrived in Alcester, we found a parking spot and then proceeded to our favourite coffee house. Quite close by was one of tbose little hardware shops that seem to be stuffed to the ginnels with all kinds of useful stuff – naturally, I could not resist a little walk round it. It is one of those shops where you think ‘How useful – I could use one of those’ and hence temptation had to be constantly resisted. I did not resist for very long, buying some stationery items that I felt that I really needed and also being tempted by one or two little items. I was on the lookout for some quite wide white tape for which I have a usage on occasions so I bought myself a reel. When I got it home, though, I found it was a specialised packaging tape because it had the word ‘Fragile’ printed along its length. I found this quite amusing and I am sure that there will be occasions when I need to post off fragile items. Alcester is well known for its charity shops which are a cut above those found in Bromsgrove and Droitwich, our usual haunts. We finished off buying two skirts for Meg of a pretty floral design which I am sure she be happy to desport herself in during the summer months. At the same time, I bought a shirt for myself and a clothes brush that was being sold off for 50p. I honestly only buy things that I think I am going to use regularly and this extends to kitchenware as well. And so it was time for an early lunch although I am not sure why we needed to be given this slot because there were a couple of elderly gentleman dining when we got there and, in addition to ourselves, a party of three elderly female friends turned up and that was about it for the restaurant as a whole. Because Meg and I have eaten in this establishment several times before, we are all well aware of how filling their lasagne and cannellonis can be and thse are always served with a wonderfully fresh salad with watercress prominent rather than your limp Webbs lettuce. So Meg chose a beef lasagne and I chose fishcakes but as the lasagne proved to be overwhelming for Meg, halfway through the meal we did a swopsy and finished off each other’s portions. So all of this worked out very well and we were well satisfied with our meal. We made our way back to the car via another two charity shops and then pointed for home. We were were actually home in half an hour but although the day had started off a little gloomily, it turned out to be a pretty warm day and so we treated ourselved to a bit of icecream and yogurt to help to cool us down.

After we had had our obligatory cup of tea, I needed to repackage an item I had bought from eBay and needed to return as the supplied photograph did not match the description and as such, the item was wrongly described and under the eBay rules I am entitled to a return and a refund. So after a repackaging job, Meg and I shot down into town and I took the item to the Post Office where I was quite happy to pay for a ‘signed for’ service and to be fairly confident it would be delivered back tomorrow or the day after. Then when Meg and I returned home, I spent some time putting the Post Office receipt through the scanner and sending this off to the eBay seller. This gentleman had unequivovally misdescribed the item but got pretty tetchy even when I (quite politely) pointed out the error he had made in misdescription and requested my refund.

At 4.00pm this afternoon, the deadline ran out by which time the Government should have complied with the request of the COVID enquiry to release unredacted notebooks, diaries and WhatsApp messages. The government have refused to comply by this deadline and are threatening a judicial review of the request for these documents. This is almost unprecented in that the government has set up an enquiry with wide ranging terms of reference and then will not comply with submitting the available evidence. One can only presume there is either a lot to hide and/or a lot of embarrassing detail that the government does not wish to see aired. So we are now set for a tussle in the courts between the Cabinet Office on the one hand and the official COVID enquiry on the other.

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