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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Wednesday, 27th October, 2021 [Day 590]

Today was another of those indeterminate type days in which it appeared to be uniformly cloudy but not actually raining or drizzling, although the threat was there. Meg and I walked down to collect our newspaper, as per usual, and then made our way to our normal bench overlooking the rest of the park. Whilst we were sitting there, we seemed to be passed by all kinds of people, including a near neighbour and had chats with four sets of friends and acquaintances overall. Some of our friends were off to watch the World Cup cricket on Sky TV and we talked cricket with another of our acquaintances as well. I told them the story that I had few regrets in life but one of them was as follows. If I had stayed on for one more year at Thornleigh College, Bolton (in which I was a boarder whilst my mother trained to be a teacher in Newcastle upon Tyne) then it was more than likely  that I would have received some coaching from an up and coming West Indian cricketer who was coming over to play in what was called the ‘Lancashire Combination’ and who had secured a coaching contract with the school. The name of this West Indian cricketer was – Garfield (Gary) Sobers. We are taking about 1958 here so it was long before Gary Sobers reached his full potential (and greatness) as a cricketer.  When Meg and I walked home, we felt quite enervated by the conversations we had had – of course, it is very much ‘luck of the draw’ and we could have ended up talking to nobody. After lunch, we finished up with a bit of a look-in to the Budget speech being given today but a lot of it has been pre-announced this year, to the great ire of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Then I got back onto BT to clarify the terms of the new (reduced) contract that I thought I had negotiated with BT about a fortnight ago. The trouble is the what I was I told at the time, the documents I received subsequently from BT and my account on the BT website all show different and to some extent contradictory things so this needed some resolution. The car is due in for service tomorrow but fortunately, I am on one of those schemes where the garage picks up the car to be serviced and then delivers it back either that day or the following day. So this makes life (in this respect) extraordinary easy for us. 

The next experimental day along and today it was the turn of ‘Leek and Potato soup’ The result was fine, if a little bland, althpugh it was delightfully creamy as the result of some coconut milk in the mixture and a large dollop of yogurt when it was served (and helps to cool it down as well) I still have half of the ingredients left for another day so I think that as this preparation is done I may experiment with some home-made croutons and perhaps a sprinkling of some fresh herbs. Looking at some cooking websites, it looks as though some fresh rosemary, thyme or even, for an exotic touch, chopped hazel nuts might do the trick so perhaps we might experiment a little next time.

It was budget day today and we get the usual smoke-and-mirrors performance from a chancellor (of either party) Sometimes, the full implications of a budget are not felt for a day or so until analysts have had a chance to dissect the ‘Red Book’ which is the huge folio published at the time of the budget containing a lot of data, statistics and graphs. Some commentators are calling this budget the end of Osbornomics (= austerity). Some are even calling it a ‘Labour’ budget given that this Conservative chancellor has raised taxes by a record amount, with the tax burden now at a level not seen since 1949, and increased spending to an extent that the state is bigger than ever before. But the acid test for this budget isn’t how it lands in the next few days but how this lands in the coming months against a backdrop of inflation, predicted to hit 4% next year, and continued cost of living pressures in the form of energy bills and rising prices, which the chancellor himself warned would take months to unwind. We have to take today’s measures in conjunction with the tax rises that will come into effect next April (National Insurance increases) and with the prospect of inflation rising to as much as 4%

As the political commentator Beth Rigby obsserved : ‘And in the meantime, there is a real risk that the gap between the optimism and the lived experience of people is going to grate and this budget and government could soon look very out of touch with the people they lead’.

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Tuesday, 26th October, 2021 [Day589]

Today would normally have been my Pilates day – but as it is half-term, I have the ‘day off’ today. This means that I don’t have to rush back to get changed into my tracksuit bottoms and walk down to the studio. It was a kind of day today when it really was a ‘toss up’ whether we made a journey by car or whether we went on a walk as normal. Surveying the sky, we felt it was probably safe to go for a walk and so we collected our newspapers and called in at Waitrose for some more milk (we always seem to run short at this time of the week). And so we made our way to the park, wondering who we might run across on an indeterminate kind of day like today. We were were well into our flask of coffee and biscuits when our incredible octogenarian walker friend hove into view. He seemed hale and hearty which was incredible news to us. We knew that last Tuesday, he had needed to go into hospital for a prostate operation but of course we don’t want or need to know any of the gory details of this. Our friend referred to his procedure as a ‘rebore’ which one can sort of understand but I am not sure to what procedure he was absolutely subjected. He was in hospital a couple of days and then seemed to have resumed his normal round walk of some 7-8 kilometers per day. According to the app he had on his Apple Watch, he was supposed to be walking a route somewhere in the north of Scotland which sounds a lot more exotic than Bromsgrove. He never tarries for long because he doesn’t want his muscles to get cold but he kindly relieves us of our little plastic bag of rubbish (banana peel and tissues) in a proximate bin. We also chatted to some other park regulars that we know by sight. At this time of year, we take pains not to slip on the large forest type leaves which can go slimy and slippery when wet at this of year and before a frost shrivels them up and a wind blows them away. The colours of the trees are just about starting to turn. Meg and I admired on acer-type tree that was starting to turn a flame red and it reminded us of a novel, set in Kenya, which was called ‘The Flame Trees of Thika’ as fas as we can remember. When we eventually made it home, it was lunchtime so we popped some fishcakes into the oven and cooked some broccoli as a green vegetable. As a second veg. I decided to innovate and cooked an onion and some green peppers which I then made a bit more exciting with some tomato passata and brown sauce (quite a change)

After lunch, we had intended to do various jobs but finished off with a good read of both yesterday’s newspapers. Yesterday’s Times contained a fascinating article by an immunologist who was suggesting the practical ways in which we can keep our immune systems fine-tuned in the face of COVID vaccines, flu jabs and the particularly vicious cold circulating around the country this year. But then I read a sentence that almost made the eyes pop out of my head. The immunologist explains: ‘If you are mixing with people, you might get sick but you can reduce the odds by eating healthily, staying active and getting outside as often as you can. It is not just the activity elementof being outdoors that’s beneficial. Plants and trees release compounds that boost our natural killer cells, the body’s first line of defence against infection making a walk in the  park one of the best things you can do’ (It was the bit about the ‘walk in the park‘ which I found amazing)

And so on to today’s Times which, being a Tuesday, is the usual medical and life-style day. here again, I discovered something very much in my own self-interest. One of the by-lines in the article in the T2 section of the Times was the view of some experts  ‘cutting carbs to lose weight could be a mistake‘ The argument here is pushing up the amount of fibre is particularly beneficial and top of the list comes All bran cereal followed by porridge oats, wholegrain bread, pears, avocados, baked beans and chia seeds. As I have been trying to cut down on the carbs but am very partial to All-Bran and porridge oats, this is music to my ears. The advice that is given, which sounds very sensible is that ‘consuming food as close to its natural state is the best way to get more fibre. In general, that means minimally processed food and whole fruit and vegetables’ Knowing all of this, I can see that at my next visit to the supermarket on Thursday, I shall be reordering some of my food priorities.

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Monday, 25th October, 2021 [Day 588]

Here we are at the start of another week. Our son and daughter-in-law are going to be away for a break for a day or so so we are a little bit left to our own devices. Meg and I are somewhat toddling along in second gear today after our car journey to Hampshire yesterday but still full of the glow of a wonderful shared experience seeing our friends. Today, the weather is certainly drifting down to some degrees colder and although we have had some blue skies, we have also had a few periods of an incredibly fiine drizzle – but nothing to deter us from our normal activities. We collected our newspaper and then popped into Waitrose where we met with our friendly staff who know us well. We exchanged experiences about the wine that we had both been recommended (by another staff member) and had both, by pure chance, sampled yesterday. Our shared experiences were so positive that we are are resolved to buy one or two bottles of this marvellous vintage, particularly whilst it is on special offer in Waitrose. But we did have a very pleasant surprise this morning. Meg had lost her handbag (one recently purchased and just the right size and colour which we found in a ‘hospice shop’ whilst we in Brecon recently) Thinking about where it might be, we speculated to ourselves that that she might have left it behind in the toilet within the Waitrose store as we could not  think where else it might be. As it turned out, our hunch was correct so Meg and handbag are now reunited. The only question that remains is how to keep things that way. What with one thing or another, we had a very late lunch today – I think it was nearly 3.00pm in the afternoon until we eventually got round to it. In the late afternoon, I phoned my sister and brother-in-law to catch up on their news. In the past few days, they have both been in hospital – my brother-in-law as part of his recurrent condition and my sister who was worn out looking after him. Meg and I feel a little powerless in this situation as the last thing that we should do is to pay a visit to them which would only add to their problems. So we are in the situation when all we can do is to watch and pray until the situation improves sufficiently for us to make a journey to Yorkshire.

There used to be a time when Budget secrets were closely guarded and prior disclosure resulted in huge penalties (including one famous case in the 1950’s when on the golf course a budget secret was revealed as part of an imprecation to ‘tea (tee) up’). But the situation today is one where budget anouncements are being made on a daily basis before the budget is actually held on Wednesday next. So we are being fed announcements on the minimum wage, NHS capital funding, infrastructure money and God knows what else. I am pretty sure that the Speaker of the House of Commons will take a pretty dim view of budget announcements being made like this rather than to the House of Commons – I suppose the Government takes the cynical view that announcing something a day or so before hand, getting the newspapers to publish it the following day and then ‘officially’ announcing it on Budget day is a good way to let the ‘good’ news spin out (literally) over three days rather than one. 

Tonight, as it was a little chilly outside, we decided to have the other half of the soup that I made in the SoupMaker some two or theee days ago. This was basically a curried parsnip soup but about a third of it was carrot and coriander from the day before. Today, it was a little thick and gloopy so I supplemented it with a third of its volume with whole milk and the result was – delicious! I am not sure if soup can actually improve having been stored for a day or so but I served it up with a rice cake (to add a bit of crunch) and some grated cheese on top. These results were so good I am going to try and replicate them in the future.

Some of the latest COVID news where I just quote the bald statistics. If you remember, Italy was the first country to feel the full force of the pandemic (particularly in the city of Bergamo) but the latest comparisons show us the degree of complacency from the present governmemnt. By the way, Italy has a population of nearly 61 million and the UK 65 million so the two countries are roughly comparable.

New cases: UK (35, 567) Italy (2,535). UK rate is 14 times the Italy rate. Deaths in the last 24 hours: UK 38 Italy 30. UK rate is 26% higher No further comment at this stage!


 

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Sunday, 24th October, 2021 [Day 587]

Today was the day which we had planned a few days ago to see our some of our good old Winchester University friends so we knew that we needed to make a fairly early start. Instead of going down on foot to collect our newspapers, we decided to collect them ‘en route’ as we set off on our journey. We allowed ourselves plenty of time and only had a brief stop in a layby where we could drink our coffee. This we did as the traffic thundered by within feet but at least this section of the M34 (between Oxford and Newbury) is quite well supplied with laybys which are OK for a snack or an occasional drink of coffee – not so good for answering the calls of nature. We made good time and got to the vicinity of our friend’s house about 20 minutes or so before the allotted time so thou ght we had better give them a ring so that we did not arrive before our time. When we got there we handed over some of our gifts that we used to appease the household gods (one of the things that I learned from my early years in Latin, which also incorporated parts of Roman history is that the Roman hearth/home was protected by the household gods Lares and Penates). So whenever, we visit friends we try to ensure that the housegold gods are well and truly appeased. Today, some of the oblations were our own produce (damson gin, cooking apples, eating apples) and a few opera CDs. After that, we had the most magnificent meal with our friends and the time actually flew by. The thing that sometimes emerges from these occasions (sharing a meal together) is that as your friendship lengthens and deepens, you find out parallels in your own lives. Foer example, my friend and l had worked in the same area of Manchester separated by only about a mile in distance (but about 4-5 years in time) We had a pretty simple journey home, punctuated only by a brief visit to a service station about two thirds of the way home for a loo visit which we thought might be prudent for the both of us. Our visit to that part of Hampshire proved interesting for us, not least we left fourteen years ago but, almost inevitably, new blocks of housing seem to be springing up all over the place.

Tomorrow being Monday morning, I must get to making a lst of all the things that need to be done during the week. Having said all that, I not really a ‘making-a-list’ type of person. In a job that i held in the Reference Division of the Central Office of Information (a Government department in London, now dissolved) I had a fair amount of discretion in my own workflow. I started making lists and generally had about 7 items on the list of which I managed about 2½. The reason for my apparent tardiness was that the telehone would ring with a query to which an answer had to be given as quickly as possible (many of the staff of COI were journalists, TV producers, exhibition specialists and the like and that needed the answer to questions as quickly as possible – in those pre-Google days. Absolute priority had to be given to these telephone queries and hence progress on my own list was slow. So I would add my 4½ items on the list left over from yesterday onto todays list which was now a dozen items. And so on and so on. By the end of the week, I had an incredibly long list with items of a different priority and through the dint of bitter experience, I learnt that not making a list was quite a sensible policy. Of course, you always keep a list in your head where you can reorder priorities more easily.

My Seasoned Word Traveller friend in the park asked me the other day why I was so disputatatious – or least inclined to argue the toss about almost anything. I think it all starts from the first few seconds I experienced in my very first University tutorial where a general question was put to the group. Racing through my head for a few seconds was the fact that I had left school 4 years ago and worked for most of that time, suffered a life-threatening illness and done all of my ‘A-levels on my own with no tutorial assistance at all( I didn’t write a single essay) I thought to myself ‘I have struggled this hard to get to University so I am not going to just sit there but I want to learn (preferably through argument – a lesson I gleaned for the preparations I made in my A-level Logic course). So I opened my mouth, gave my opinion and a fellow student took issue with me – and we argued our way through the subject for the whole of the year (everyone else kept quiet!)

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Saturday, 23rd October, 2021 [Day 586]

The weather today had gone decidedly cooler so Meg and I needed to wrap up a little more warmly than we have been accustomed. We took our time getting ready and then sauntered down, fairly late, into the town. On the way down, we were delighted to see two of our Catholic friends from down the road that we do not seem to have seen for a couple of weeks. We were delighted that the friend who had some heart problems now seemed incredibly well on the road to recovery and was busy gardening away to her heart’s content. We exchanged family news and our various comings and goings and indicated how pleased we were to see each other again – but, in truth, it was a little bit chilly for us to stand motionless so we resumed our walk and our friend her gardening activities. When we got to the newsagents, I was persuaded by the owner to purchase some pink Himalyan sea salt. This is claimed to have  all kinds of benefits not bestowed by other kinds of sea salt. The benefits appear to come from about 80 minerals, some iodine and oxides of iron which gives it the pink appearance. Tomorrow we will be having a ‘quickie’ i.e. not a normal cooked breakfast but I will try and give it a good trial on Monday morning when I will prepare a cooked breakfast of red onion, tomatoes and mushrooms made into an omelette for Meg and left as cooked vegetables for Mike.  We needed to pop into Waitrose which we did in order to buy some things that we had run out of and eventually got tho the park very late. We bumped into our friend Seasoned World Traveller as he was leaving the park and we were entering it. As time was pressing a little, we went onto one of the benches adjacent to the lake that we used frequent in the past and ate our comestibles before heading off for home. By this time, it was about 2.00pm but we had a quiche ready and waiting in the oven just to be heated so we managed to make ourselves a ‘quickie’ lunch (thank goodness, for frozen ‘petit pois’ and a tin of plum tomatoes). Then the afternoon, or what remained of it, was a somewhat lazy affair reading newspapers and generally crashing out before we go to church later in the afternoon.

Our next door neighbour (in the newly built mini-estate of some 18 houses) is doing some building work at the side of his house, the details of which I cannot discern as there is our own fence and his own fence in the way.  I assumed, in my naivety that he was probablt finishing off the side to his entesnion that he built about three or four years ago and has remained uncompleted for some 2-3 years now. One of the workmen constructing the ‘new’ edifice came round to ask permission to jump into our back garden (Mog’s Den actually) to finish off some pointing. I agreed readily and was pleased that they had bothered to ask permission (they have never communicated with us before).  Later on in the afternoon, I went down into Meg’s Den to discover that our neighbour seems to be building ‘something’ which can only be a metre wide and the wall is about 1″ at the very most from our boundary line. What the new construction (which needless to say is only about one third built) is going to be I can only guess. One possible use might be secure enclosed space that might accommodate overflow things from the garden (kid’s toys, his own Harley Davidson) that would release some space in the garage so that things can be put away at night. We shall just have to wairt the ‘thing’ is finished and then try to infer what is going on. My only real concern at the moment is that there is no space for any rainware goods so I am trusting that we won’t have cascades of water coming into our garden from next door. Under recent planning permission regulations,  people can do all sorts of things without even informing the planning committee so we shall just have to wait and see before passing any judgement on this.

As we suspected, some of the medical experts are giving much more explicit warnings about the COVID infection rate. Sky News is reporting that:


The nation is “dilly-dallying into lockdown” and action should be taken now to avoid much tougher COVID restrictions later, a government scientific adviser has warned. Professor Stephen Reicher told Sky News that vaccines are “not quite enough” on their own and “other protections” are needed now to tackle coronavirus


Of course, this is evident to most of us (as recent editions of this blog will testify) but, once again, the government looks as though they are trying to ‘tough it out’ as they are frightened to death about anything which even remotely looks like another lockdown

 

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Friday, 22nd October, 2021 [Day 585]

Today turned out to be a beautiful day as the sun was shining, the sky was blue and there was still a modicum of sunshine to enjoy. We were a little late down into town today as our domestic help gives Meg’s hair a specialist ‘twirl’ after we had showered and this, plus other general chats, ensured that we were a little tardy. When we got down to our favourite bench, none of our friends were there so we drank our coffee and ate our biscuits (Meg) or oranges (Mike) before we set off in the general direction of the newsagent. On our way down through the park, we bumped into our University of Birmingham friend and Seasoned World Traveller friend who were having a coffee together in the sunshine and near the café which was the source of their coffee. After a chat about films (particularly what the Americans had detailed in the film ‘Pearl Harbour‘) I went off to collect our copy of the Times. It is often said that war is the American’s way of teaching themselves geography – so I wondered by extension whether Hollywood movies are the American’s way of teaching themselves history and so on. Whilst on the subject of American history, I was exploring the two channels to which I now have access once I have retuned the TV. I stumbled into a documentary about Annie Oakley, the great American wild west hero (either on the Sky Arts channel or the PBS America channel – probably the latter). Annie Oakley regularly took part in ‘Wild West’ type shows, involving her shooting and horseriding skills. On one occasion, she was subjected to a hoax by an imposter who suggested that Annie Oakley herself had committed several dastardly crimes and was having to spent some time in a penitentiary. The ‘true’ Annie Oakley reckoned that the ‘imposter’ story had to be denied and rebutted at every single opportunity so she spent years suing every newspaper (including those in the Randolph Hearst stable) to restore her reputation. Although she won every one of her cases against the newspapers (bar one) she hardly made any money out of all of this, most of her ‘winnings’ that were small spent on the lawyers engaged to defend her. I am reminded of the expression, though, that ‘A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on?‘ Some version of this saying has existed since Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) and probably well before him. This particular phrasing is usually attributed to the American writer Mark Twain (1835–1910) or to the former Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill (1874–1965). It should be attributed to a British preacher named C.H Spurgeon (1834–1892) whose 1859 book has it as: “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” The interesting thing about all of this is that the expression has been coined, and quoted several times, before anything approaching the era of mass communications has dawned. This raises the interesting question of why lies are often believed but the original (true) story is disbelieved?

After I returned home, it was time to start cooking in earnest. I had promised our domestic help that I would cook some sea-bass for her (as she had originally taught me how to do it in the first place) So this only took five minutes (three minutes on the skin side, two minutes on the other) served on a bed of salad leaves and served with some tenderstem broccoli. This was washed down with some glasses of Pinot Grigio (I had a bottle in the fridge and thank goodness for screw tops as it only took a few seconds to serve) We all really enjoyed the meal and I promised that next week, I would treat us all to some home-made soup. Whilst on a culinary theme, I was a little bolder in my soup-making activities this evening. I decided to use up the coriander-flavoured carrots left over from last night’s soup and then added to it a fried onion, some parboiled parsnip (half of a huge one), a third of a tin of coconut milk and a smidgeon of curry powder. The result was pretty good (even though I say it myself) but again I prepared too much and saved half of it for a future occasion. I am still a learning curve here but so far so good. I think next time I will avoid any parsnip or carrot based mixture and try a leek and potato instead.   

The COVID story rumbles on with results as predictable as a Greek drama. On the one hand, we have an almost united medical profession saying ‘Start Plan B immediately‘ (i.e. compulsory facemarks, work from home). They also make the point that it is better to act now rather than later when the virus is even more rampant. On the other hand,  Boris is terrified of his own right wing and the Daily Telegraph  and will only act when forced (but too little and too late – have we been here before?)

 

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Thursday, 21st October, 2021 [Day 584]

Today was quite a sharp contrast, weather-wise, with the past few days. There was a clear blue sky and plenty of sunshine but the temperature had dropped dramatically to about 7° so we were experiencing our first cold ‘snap’ of the winter. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a wonderful day for walk but not today as we had plans to visit Droitwich (6.5 miles down the road). As is our new pattern on Thursdays, I leapt out of bed to get ready so that I can leave the house at 7.40 and get to the Waitrose store in Droitwich about one minute before it opens. Then I have quite a pleasant hour shopping and avoiding temptation (some of the time) but the eventual bill is mitigated somewhat by the £8 voucher if you spend over £40 and have a Waitrose loyalty card. After we had put the shopping away and had a delayed breakfast, we went by car to collect our newspapers and then made a journey straight to Droitwich as we had planned some days ago. We had made a lunch booking for 1.00am but arrived a few minutes earlier so decided to have a little wander via the chariry shops (of which there are several in Droitwich, as every other High Street these days) On our way we passed a second-hand shop full of all kinds of things that you imagine might be useful. For example, they had two guitars in stock – one at £15 and the other at £20 although they did not look like the full size article to me. But what caught our eye was a collection of 4 CD’s ( a total of 58 tracks altogether) of famous operatic arias  for the grand sum of £3.00 We bought this without demur because we thought it would provide a very good accompaniment for us when we go on a long car journey and we do have one in prospect. Then we make our way to ‘Ye Olde Worlde Coffee Shoppe‘ (not its actual name) where we had booked in for our roast dinner. Everybody is absolutely crammed in but there is always a lot of jollity around. We had a lamb roast where our plate was piled high and accompanied by roast potatoes and two other veg. The meals are always so huge that it is quite a struggle to finish them but we did polish them away together with a couple of glasses of cordial – all for the princely sum of £18 for the two of us. 

After that, we progressed onto one of our favourite hardware stores which is Wilko. This is a kind of hardware store that also sells stationary, cosmetics, kitchen and gardening goods and so on. I had a little list of some stationery items and some kitchen utensils and was moderately successful in buying what I wanted. One particular thing I wanted was some fairly long bladed scissors, a size greater than the normal offering you get in stores these days. On ‘spec’ I bought a pair of scissors advertised as ‘Fabric’ scissors, not knowing the exact difference beteen them and ordinary scissors.  When I got home, I did a bit of research and discovered that fabric scissors are generally longer-bladed and are manufactured from a carbon steel (easier to sharpen and harder) rather than stainless steel. There are lots of imprecations that you should never cut fabric with ordinary scissors and vice versa but I discovered a website which details the differences for you. Apparently, in the process of paper manufacture there are harsh fibres, minerals ,various clays, calcium carbonate and other additives that will blunt the scissors. The website had assembled a series of experts (usually scissor manufacturers) who explained why, in general terms, you should avoid cutting paper with fabric scissors. But according to at least some of the experts, all scissors become dull with use eventually. But if you do need to cut paper with fabric scissors, make sure that the paper lint is wiped off the blades after each use. One conclusion is that the harm done to scissors by cutting paper is often exaggerated by those who use them for dressmaking. So in conclusion, I am pleased to have paid £1 extra for a superior product that has a sharper blade, feels a ‘tighter’ fit and with larger, more comfortable handles. You live and learn.

The COVID story rumbles on and I have a fair idea of how this is all going to end (i.e. a government climb-down, too little and too late) The UK government has changed its booster jab advice so people can book without being contacted; more than 50,000 daily cases are recorded and it is the highest figure since 17 July; doctors warn the UK is being “wilfully negligent” by not moving to Plan B. In the meanwhile, the most mixed of messages are being conveyed. In the House of Commons, none of the Tories will wear face masks for, as the Leader of the House (Wiilliam Rees-Mogg explained) ‘after all, on this side of the house, we all know each other!‘ (I am sure the virus has the intelligence not to transmit itself if the recipient is already known to the transmitter)

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Wednesday, 20th October, 2021 [Day 583]

Today really was a rainy day and we were resigned to the fact that our normal activities would have to be curtailed somewhat. Consequently, we took our time getting ready and when we were ready to set forth, we had changed our plans somewhat. We collected our newspapers and then went to the park where we only intended to walk through the drizzle to the bandstand – which we did. Needless to say, nobody else of a sane disposition was walking in the park save one intrepid beagle owner so we went to the bandstand and ate a few biscuits which we had taken with us, foregoing the coffee which is fiddly when you do not have a park bench to perch upon. As we were finishing off, the clouds rolled away and we were subjected to that kind of really bright sunshine that you tend to get after a storm, with all the colours of the trees and shrubbery having a specially vivid appearance. We knew we had to have an early-ish lunch because I was going to be telephoned by the doctor to discuss some blood tests some time after 2.00pm. The doctor actually phoned at about 1.30 and we had a general discussion with the result that I am being prescribed some iron for my sins.

After we had discussions with family and neighbours we have heard mention to two or three free-to-air programmes at least that we do not seem to be able to receive. I am never very happy about re-tuning the TV but after some reading around the subject, it looks as though this is what is required in order to get the TV to update itself. So after midnight, I took my courage in both hands and re-tuned the TV which was actually quite a breeze and only took some five minutes or so.  Later on today, I thought I would have a quick look at the channels I hd managed to access. One of them is Sky Arts and another is PBS America (Public Service Broadcasting, America) and whilst lingering on the channel, we stumbled into a documentary on Annie Oakley, the great all-American ‘Wild West’ heroine. Another channel  is the Smithsonian (associated with the great American museum of that name) and I am looking forward to exploring this channel and the other two if nothing else grabs my attention. To be honest, I tend to find the things I want to watch on BBC2, BBC4 and Channel 4 so now I feel that I have expanded considerably my viewing options.

Late on this afternoon, I did some mundane little tasks (screwing a new head on a brush – something for some reason I seem to spend all of my time doing in my mid-teens) and then came the Wednesday afternoon ‘chore’ in which I drag our brown and green bins to the end of the drive where they can be accessed by the Refuse Disposal vehicles (we have to do this because our road is ‘private’ i.e. unadopted and the bin men do not/come down our road) Whilst doing this I met and had a long chat with one of our near neighbours who I had not seen to chat to for several weeks now. When we moved into this house her two children were very much younger. Now of course they have grown up, both gained first class degrees from De Monfort University in Leicester and are now in gainful employment and living fairly locally still. We were just finishing off this conversation when our immediate next door neigbour swept into view and we are always good for a natter whenever we coincide. Sometimes the topics centre around classic pop songs/groups of the1950’s and 1960’s of which our neighbours has an encyclopaedic knowledge (as well as a collection of juke boxes whih he lovingly collects whenever he comes across a good specimen) 

The COVID news is dominated this evening by our Health Secretary (Sajiv Javid) warning us that the number of cases of the virus, currently nearing 50,000 cases a day could well reach 100,000 cases before too long. It seems to me that the Health Secretary is almost trying to blame the public for this state of affairs by urging everyone to come forward as soon as possible for their booster jabs (as the immune status of the first vaccinated might be waning after six months) He could always make a start, of course, in making sure that the massive reservoir of infection otherwise known as schools receive the attention that they deserve (particularly as other societies have been vaccinating schoolchildren for months) I suspect that face-mask wearing (or the absence of it) is not helping the situation as it worsens day by day. I listened to an interview with an A&E consultant explaining that the number of attacks on staff was increasing rapidly. Some of the frustrations amongst patients was caused by the reluctance of patients to wear masks, wash their hands and generally accept that hospitals differ from other spaces!

 

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Tuesday, 19th October, 2021 [Day 582]

Today is rather a ‘special’ type of day as it is 14 years ago by the date that we moved into our present house. Fourteen completed years seem to have flown by and exceeds by a few months the longest that we have ever stayed in any one house. We know that we moved in on a Friday and we can check that out in the following way: 14 years + 4 ‘leap’ years then there is an extra day (2008, 2012, 2016, 2020) makes 18 days ‘forward’ as it were. If we were to count back 18 days from a Tuesday, we would get to a Friday which is absolutely correct. In our 14 years we have done a fair amount in that we have acquired the whole of the drainage field and associated roadways  (in concert with some neighbours), put a thick hedge around our BioDisk facility disguising it completely, acquired a thin triangular parcel of land which has become ‘Mog’s Den‘ and evidently kept all of the systems of the house up and running.  Meg and I treated ourselves to a trip down to Waitrose where we had a cappucino and met up with one of the erstwhile regulars. We had determined to do this anyway on a Tuesday because we need to be back in plenty of time for me to undertake my walk down to the Pilates class, which is a regular feature of every Tuesday. Whilst in Waitrose, I went to buy some vegetable stock and was delighted to find that a new line has been introduced into their store called ‘Zero Salt’ vegetable stock. What is interesting, though, is that a product without salt is twice the price of a comparable product with salt, which tells us something. The nutritionists tell us that ‘salt is the new sugar’ i.e. to be avoided by those in danger of developing hypertension. So we made our way rapidly home and I walked down to Pilates, avoiding the rain which I also avoided on the way back home again.

This afternoon, my son and daughter-in-law were upgrading their computer systems and there is always a certain element of doubt whether things will work as, in theory, they should. Anyway, all is well that end’s well and I am very pleased that they can relax knowing that their systems are now functioning well and as intended. Whilst they are at, they may be upgrading their TV system which is probably about ten years old and, of course, technology has moved quite a lot these days. 

I am not normally a follower of Twitter but a very authoritative source has posted the most disturbing of tweets. The expert in question is Anthony Costello who is Professor of International Child Health and Director of the UCL Institute for Global Health. He has tweeted the following, along with a table of data to prove his case:‘The UK has the highest case rates of COVID-19 in the world. One third of our population is not protected. China has already vaccinated a higher % and through infection control has a death rate of 3 per million. Our death rate is 2028 per million. The govt + advisers are silent.’ Even allowing for a selective quotation of statistics and perhaps a desire to make a political case, the implications of some of this data are disturbing in the extreme. Even the government is saying that it is getting worried as COVID cases top 40,000 a day and deaths are the highest for seven months at 223. One has to ask why these rates are so high compared wih the rest of continental Europe and it does appear that we have certainly unlocked down far, far too early. Other countries seem to have vaccinated their school populations starting months ago whilst we have only just got round to it. Also, the absence of facemask wearing not to mention absence of social distancing must collectively be taking their toll. In addition, the booster jabs seem to have slowed to a crawl just at the point where the effects of some of the earlier vaccinations might be washing themselves out.

The government has published its ‘Green’ Strategy in advance of the COP (Climate Change) meeting to be hosted in Glasgow in about three weeks time. This is a multi-pronged policy quite a lot aimed at the domestic market, the ambition being that no new gas boilers will be sold by 2035. It is anticipated that ‘heat pump’ technology will take over the role provided by today’s gas boilers and to this end, there will be a grant of up to £5,000 per household. In addition, there will be an end to the sale of diesel and petrol driven cars by 2030. It is intended that there will be a host of measures to have a new generation of small nuclear reactors. According to the PM, up to 440,000 new jobs will be created in ‘green industries’ by 2030. How much of all this will come to pass is unclear but the direction of travel has been laid out for us.

 

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Monday, 18th October, 2021 [Day 581]

We knew that a band of rain was due to sweep across the country and so it proved. The rain was not particularly intense but enough to stop a normal sit down in the park. So Meg and I went together to pick up our daily newspaper and then swung back towards the park where we headed, as might be anticipated, for the bandstand. We imagined that this would be full of joggers and dog walkers but in the event, we had the whole bandstand to ourselves. Meg was seated in the middle of this on our three legged stool (which we take to act as. small improvided table as it is so light) and I juggled with the comestibles trusting that Meg would not make a sudden lurch to the left or right which, on a three-legged stool, might deposit her on the floor. Then we made for home so I could get on with a range of domestic jobs – principally getting on the phone to organise or reorganise various payments. Firstly, I mamaged to get the car booked in for a servivce and that was very easy. The next client along was the online delivery firm Ocado which I had used  about a year early in the early stages of the pandemic but not recently. I managed to  cancel my subscription to their services – incidentally, isn’t it interesting that to sign up for things takes only a few ‘clicks’ and is all too easy – whereas to cancel a service takes a phone call and is certainly not a prominent option on the organisation’s website. But this experience ended OK as well because I did get through to a friendly person who accepted my cancellation and even said they would return the small payment that had somehow crept onto their system (despite an out-of—date card) which was fine by now. After lunch, I was due to tackle ‘the big one’ because I have had a feeling that I am paying too much for my landline and feel the need to reduce the costs to an acceptable minimum. When I did get onto BT, I asked to be put through to their ‘retentions department’ and threaten to cancel my account altogether. My bills were higher than usual because I was on an unlimited tariff (which I didn’t realise) so I got this put right by getting put on to a minimal tariff. Then I was transferred to a different department to explain why my bills seemed to be doubling compared with last March but for no apparent reason. The explanation seemed rational but irrational at the same time – my bills last year might appear low because I had built up some credit which lowered the quarterly bill but as the quarters rolled by so the credit expired and the bills increased. Then I asked where the credit had come from and how it got built up and the explanation seemed arcane. However, I have now simplified my payment system to a single, direct debit system which avoids the problem of BT estimating my bills, charging me against that estimate and other weird and wonderful accounting methods which do not appear to be particularly transparent. However, by the end of the afternoon I got myself in the situation where I wanted to be which was lower bills for the same service and a more transparent insight into how my bills get calculated. In the fullness of time, I may try and get my broadband and fixed line systems aligned when they are each up for renewal provided always that I can keep my landline number which is on countless lists by now.

Later on this evening, it was my chance to put my newly acquired SoupMaker into use, now tht I have found out how to actually use it. The recipe I had downloaded from the net indicated that I should use four parsnips but did not specify their weight. I had bought some enormous parsnips from Waitrose the other day so I decided to peel 1½ of them and parboilded this as I suspected that it might be left a bit too chunky of I put them in absolutely raw. The recipe called for some sautéd onion as well as some Granny Smith apples – the apples were no problem as I now have plenty of those. And so I started on my first soupmaking venture – after some huffing, puffing and blending my first results were ready in about 25 minutes. The results were even better than I had anticipated as the result was very ‘creamy’  and piping hot and we really enjoyed our very first meal. I had prepared too much parsnip and apple as initially I looked as though I was going to exceed the ‘maximum’ limits so I swiftly divided my prepared veg into two tranches. No doubt tomorrow (carrot and coriander?) I will be able to make much faster progress than even today.  

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