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

 

Continue Reading

Saturday, 20th July, 2024 [Day 1587]

Last night turned out to be quite an interesting, not to say productive night, in some ways. The carers were scheduled to come along earlier than usual last night which was not really to our liking. However, as it was to be the first night of this year’s Proms, we got Meg into bed and I got our portable TV installed alongside the bed so that Meg and I could watch this together. This half worked and although Meg did not really follow the concert or go to sleep, she seemed less agitated yesterday evening which was all to the good. After I judged Meg to be asleep or at least dozing, I composed the email to the District Councillor plus County Councillor with whom I am in contact to try to get some amelioration of our ‘absence of pavement’ problem. I succeeded in getting the mail sent off to our District Councillor expressing the disappointment that our County Councillor had not been in contact and asking that the email containing the videolink be sent on to her. I also discovered what I should have no reason to know that, by default, the video files shot on one’s i[phone will have a .mov format but this is not the best format for Windows 11 to access. So I managed during the night to not only access a program which concantenated (= joined together end to end) but also managed to save the resultant file in an .MP4 format which the Windows operating system seems to handle more easily without additional codecs (whatever they are) and then the resultant single videoclip incorporated in to the mini website. All of this generated results and fairly quickly. The district councillor to whom I had sent the email replied quickly informing me that my video was being copied to the County Councillor who has responsibility for highways and transport matters. Just after lunch today, I received a phone call from the County Councillor responsible for our area of Bromsgrove so she had evidently received the additional email plus video link. The upshot of this telephone call was that she was going to have a consultation with the Highways Department and some time in the next week they try and arrange a site visit so that they could assess the situation for themselves. As far as I am concerned, this is excellent news as my previous efforts have led only to an email response and a response that this is ‘low priority to be added to our spreadsheets as and when conditions allow’ But I think the circumstances are very different this time around and I am intrigued to see if the Highways department can come up with any workable solutions. But I think the combination of a degree of political ‘oomph’ if I can put it that way together, with some specialist highways expertise stands a fighting chance of something being done this time around.

After breakfast, Meg and I went down the hill to see our friends in the Waitrose cafeteria as is our wont. I had taken with me the ‘singing toy’ that our domestic help had loaned to us for a week. This is a working doll that sways whilst singing two verses ‘When I’m 64’ which is, of course, first recorded I believe by the Beetles. The young counter assistant who often befriends us on a Saturday morning before she goes off to university in January to start a paramedical course was tickled pink and amazed when all of the oldies managed both to remember and to join in the second verse of the song. So this was the source of amusement for the day. Having got the ‘pavement’ video and videoclip accessible on my iphone, I showed it to our friends who are a little intrigued to see what transpires. I have also learned during the night that the Highway Code has been revised over the past couple of years but with recommendations of which some motorists and indeed pedestrians for that matter are unaware. The principal philosophical twist is to assume a hierarchy of ‘risk’ and those users judged to be most at risk (and Meg, in a wheelchair would come into this category) would have a degree of priority. There is some dispute wether this code/philosophy applies at the exit to a roundabout where it is unclear which principle holds good but, in general, you can see that it is an attempt by those responsible for balancing the competing interests of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians (not to mention horses and the like) to coexist well with each other. This may explain why I find some motorists very accommodating when I am pushing Meg across the road i.e. the motorists either know of or are acting in the spirit of the newly revised Highway Code.

The huge IT outage yesterday in which Microsoft’s Windows installations were badly affected by the installation of a badly behaved, software bug occasioned in a security upgrade is still wreaking havoc across the globe. Some IT experts are indicating that it might even take weeks for all systems across the globe to be brought back fully into operation. Although the immediate bug has been identified and then ‘fixed’, machines have to be rebooted and then, almost inevitably there are some settings that have to be tweaked to get back to full functionality. The NHS is warning of GP disruption next week – as travellers report long delays and lost baggage. Airline passengers have reported long delays and lost baggage, while pharmacies are trying to deal with a backlog in medicine deliveries. The Port of Dover says it is dealing with ‘hundreds of displaced’ airport passengers. In the NHS appointment systems, patient records and prescriptions all seem to have been badly hit by the outage and then there is a tremendous amount of catching up to get done on top of already overloaded systems. It could well be that some holiday plans are disrupted as well as planes and their crews may find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time so I think getting back to normal, as it were, might be quite a long slow and painful operations for millions across the globe.

Continue Reading

Friday, 19th July, 2024 [Day 1586]

Today is another day, as they say. Last night was not a particularly happy night for us as Meg was put to bed at 7.15 but did not finally go to sleep until 10.15. It might have been the heat or something else but Meg repeatedly threw off her bedclothes and attempted to get out of bed. After I tried to put her back properly into bed on about half a dozen occasions, I gave up until she fell into a doze with no bedclothes on and with her legs out of bed. I dragged her back into bed and put a heavy blanket on her and now, after an agitated three hours, she fell and then stayed asleep. I resolved to take some remedial action in the morning but in the meanwhile, I tried to get done some of the things that I had intended to get done during the evening. The one thing that I did manage to do was to take the couple of videoclips of me wheeling Meg along the ‘de facto’ ring road which I will eventually send to the County Councillor who has not, as yet, responded to the email which her colleagues had forwarded on to her. I shall try again this evening if I can snatch some quiet time for myself. This morning just before the carers came along to get Meg up and ready for the day, I got the two videoclips into a website which I had managed to create very quickly (having a template which only needed the most minor of adaptations) The point of the website is that I trust that it should be quite accessible via an iPad or a mobile phone where the native files might be too big to download by themselves into a standard mobile. After breakfast, we knew that the weather was going to be fine so we repaired down the hill with Meg in her wheelchair but with a large sunhat because we knew that later on today it was going to get seriously hot. Whilst in the cafeteria we got into conversation with a lady who had lived in San Diego, California and we swapped stories with each other first about our lives whilst living under COVID regimes and then about life in Mexico, where evidently I could expand upon our visits to the country as our son had spent a scholarship year before going to university. Then our University of Birmingham friend turned up as we had arranged and we had a pleasant chat, as always, before it was time for us to leave. Our friend knows Switzerland quite well having holidayed there for extensive periods as a child so I wondered out loud to him why the Swiss had the reputation that they did have for cuckoo clocks on the one hand and for fine chocolate on the other. Both of these mysteries may be solved for us both in the fullness of time. Once we had arrived home and Meg had received the attention of her carers as she always does late morning, I set to making a salad. Normally I have some tins of tuna in stock but I had forgotten to replenish these but instead I had bought a can of corned beef several weeks ago and this served the occasion well. Like yesterday, I made up my own coleslaw and I was as pleased with this today as I was yesterday.

It was a very hot afternoon and we spent a little time outside at the front of the house. Eventually, though, we retreated indoors and I searched YouTube using the search term of a ‘Life of Mozart’. This generated two or three possibilities and Meg got absorbed by one of them, I am pleased to say, before the two young carers turned up for Meg’s afternoon visit. These two young people, one male one female are best mates with each other so in the morning we had promised them a little treat of vanilla ice-cream. So for our afternoon treat, I treated Meg and myself and the two young people with a serving of vanilla ice-cream enhanced by a dollop of ‘Orange Blossom’ honey which the young people had never had the opportunity to try before. So this was very welcome on what might prove to be the hottest afternoon of the year and this heat could extend into the evening as well making for a hot and sticky evening. Having said that, tonight is the first night of the Proms and Beethoven is often performed on an opening, Friday, night and tonight it is to be Beethoven’s 5th. To try to learn from the events of last night when Meg lay awake for hours, tonight I am going to ensure that as soon as I have got her into bed I will discourage her from going to sleep and we can follow the Proms concert which is to be broadcast from 7.00pm-9.00pm tonight. In this way, I hope that Meg can fall asleep naturally and without the benefit of some of the ‘sleep’ preparations of which I have purchased several varieties and none of which appear to work.

In the USA, it now looks as though some of the leading lights of the Democrats party are trying to put pressure on Joe Biden to withdraw from the presidential race but, so far, he has shown all of the obstinacy for which old men are often notorious. It is rumoured that even former President Barak Obama has given his view that Biden should withdraw but the way in which Joe Biden is being encouraged to leave the Presidential race seems long and protracted and the eventual outcome far from certain. But it does appear that the Democrats must get Joe Biden to relinquish his hold on the presidency soon because time is very rapidly running out in which a replacement can be found, approved by the Democratic Congress and then a campaign mounted to start to fight with Trump. I personally think that Joe Biden may not be able to hang on until after Sunday but we shall have to wait and see.

Continue Reading

Thursday, 18th July, 2024 [Day 1585]

The spell of fine weather continues today so Meg and I thought that we would make the most of it whilst we could. Thursday is the day when the weekly shopping gets done and we have a sitting service from the care agency to enable Mike to go and get this done. The carer that we typically have is a young female psychology graduate and Meg is well used to her so we were pleased that she had been allocated to us again this morning. After I returned home with the shopping, I wheeled Meg into the kitchen as she was had been put into her going out’ wheelchair and the carer and I busied ourselves with unpacking the shopping. Then the time came for her to depart and we awaited the arrival of a couple of carers in the late morning who attend to Meg’s comfort. But whilst they were here and knowing there was typically not much to be done in a late morning call, I asked them if they would assist in a little project of mine. I am in email correspondence with Bromsgrove District Council/Worcestershire County Council concerning the absence of a pavement between our road and the main Kidderminster Road. This means that when I take Meg out in her wheelchair, I have to wheel Meg along what is a ‘de facto’ inner ring road around the town. I am trying to get the road authorities to alleviate this situation somehow and to assist me in my mini-campaign, I asked on one of the carers to make a videoclip of me wheeling Meg along the road. This he did and a car overtook us which rather makes the point. Of course this was crass bad planning and cost cutting some twenty years but my argument is that Worcestershire County Council has a duty of care to its residents and particularly to its disabled residents. If Meg and I were to be hit by a passing motorist and the local authority had done nothing to alleviate a clear and present danger, then my argument is going to be that they can sued for a considerable volume of money. Of course, none of this is going to happen and I would be amazed at the end of the day if I were to get any alleviation of our access problems but it will give me a certain amount of pleasure to keep pursuing the local authorities to see what solutions (or more likely excuses for inactivity) they come up with. The carers at the conclusion of each visit have to complete a task and a care log and I wonder what today’s entry might read – something along the lines of ‘assisting the service users to record a video documenting the dangers consequent upon no pavement being provided’ or something similar. Tonight, when Meg is safely abed and I hope, asleep, the video clips are to be forwarded onto the relevant County Councillor and we shall see what happens.

When it came to lunch today, the weather seemed a bit too warm for a conventional meal. I had already taken a quiche out of the freezer to defrost so I warmed this in the oven for the appropriate length of time. Then I made up a salad with tomato, pickled beetroot, cheese and some coleslaw. The coleslaw was actually made up myself with bits of pieces – I chopped some of the really bits of fine white cabbage up that I had in our fridge and then added a few sultanas and put it in a mayonnaise sauce with a topping of honey and mustard sauce. This sounds like a weird and wonderful combination but it actually worked pretty well, so much so that I will not mind repeating the experiment if I need to. The visit scheduled for the carers was an hour earlier in the afternoon than I would have liked so Meg and I had the prospect of a fairly long afternoon of Meg in her wheelchair. But we ‘solved’ this problem by having a trip to the park where we regaled ourselves with bananas. When we got home, we wondered what YouTube had to offer to us and the algorithm offered to us today ‘Romantic operatic arias for Valentine’s day’ Meg started to watch this and I attended to some emails but we were both enthralled by the music and enjoyed it more than we can say. Every one of the arias is known to us anyway as they are largely drawn from Puccini/Verdi/Mozart but why look a gift horse in the mouth. Just before lunch, I got a phone call from the nurse who specialises in Meg’s conditions who visit us about once a month or so and who is always available to advice and support where needed. She is always very helpful and supportive but was going off on holiday with her family and so was giving us a ring before she went. I mentioned Meg’s sleeping problems and she said that she would get into contact with the doctor on our behalf to see if a ‘melatonin’ agent could be prescribed for us which might be sleep inducing. The nurse always seems to get results when she communicates with the doctor and much more so when I do so, we shall have to see what happens in this instance as well.

Some of the political news today is highlighting the fact that Joe Biden is afflicted with a bout of Covid but according to the White House the symptoms are mild rather tan severe. But I wonder whether this medical event might be enough to induce senior members of the Democratic party to force a resignation of Joe Biden from the presidency. A factor that might be significant is that Joe Biden might not only lose the presidency but some Senate seats could also be lost giving the Senate as well as the Congress and the Supreme Court to Trump. This would hand Trump an unparalleled degree of power and is not the framers of the American constitution had ever envisaged. So once again, we shall have to see if this particular story stands up. The fact that a supreme isolationist, Vance, now has the ticket for the Vice Presidency means that the USA could well abandon Ukraine under a Trump presidency. He himself has indicated that he would force the Ukraine to accept a part of Ukraine back to the Russian state. At this point, I wonder if there is any truth in the rumours that the Russians have a video of Trump having sex with a Russian ‘honey pot’ when Trump was in Moscow and this helps explain why Trump is so beholden to Putin?

Continue Reading

Wednesday, 17th July, 2024 [Day 1584]

Today has been an interesting day. As is customary each Wednesday, our domestic help pays us her weekly visit and we exchange news about our tribulations and, indeed any good news, about the happenings of the last week. We knew from the weather forecast that we were going to have 2-3 days of quite warm and brilliant sunshine but this is only to be a short-lived interlude before the rains of the summer return. So we lost no time in getting ourselves geared up to go down the hill to Waitrose where we collected our newspaper and bought some milk. Then it was time for us to start back up the hill so that we could spend some time in the park where we could consume our elevenses. We were delighted that on the way home, we bumped into our Irish friend who was busy mowing his front lawn and we exchanged news with each other about the various things happening to each of us in our day to day lives. We were also equally delighted to see our Italian friend a little further up the road and we made tentative plans where we could meet in one garden or another whilst the weather was fine to catch up on our news in greater depth. When we got home, it was almost time for our carers to arrive and when they did, one of the female carers attended as she has often threatened to do in her dinosaur (Tyrannosaurus Rex) inflatable outfit. This was huge in size being at least about seven feet in height and complete with a little fan incorporated within it which had the whole task of keeping the outfit inflated and perhaps cool at the same time. Needless to say, I secured a couple of photographs of this which I can show to some of our friends and indicate some of the things with which as ‘service users’ we are subjected to via our carers. But this was not the only happening of this morning because our domestic help also let us listen to a doll about 10″ or so in height of a bear with sunglasses and hat and whose vest is emblazed with the text ‘At my age, We have seen it all, Done it all, I just do not remember it at all’ When a little switch on the left paw is activated we hear the Beetles song ‘When I get old and losing my hair etc. etc.’ which goes on for a couple of verses whilst the doll itself sways in time to the song and even the mouth operates in time with the song. Needless to say, this was a tremendous surprise and delight to us and we have already played with it a couple of times. We have it on loan for about a week so that we can play it several times over and over before we hand it back.

At 1.00pm this afternoon, I was the recipient of a long and detailed phone call from the care coordinator of Worcester Association of Carers. We had seen the lady who acts as the Coordinator about a year ago in the AgeUK club which is run in Finstall, a village adjacent to Bromsgrove and easily accessible from it. This lady is a very ‘can do’ person and has a host of information and contacts and she had organised a follow-up call from what might have been as much as a year ago. So much water has flowed under the bridge so I needed to explain the really significant events of the past year in my caring role for Meg. This has included Meg’s brief stay in hospital, the installation of a stairlift, the installation of a hospital bed in our downstairs living room and the latest developments which mean that Meg cannot walk, let alone stand, and therefore has to be hoisted from bed to wheelchair or armchair with a hoist and sling system. We also need a team of two carers to manipulate this hoist and Meg needs four visits a day – in the morning to get up, in the evening to be put to bed and a late morning and a late afternoon call to check on Meg’s level of comfort. Our phone call went on for an hour a half and I detailed all of the things that were most problematic which were Meg’s inability to sleep once put to bed about every other evening and the fact that she has to be attended to in the wee small hours of the morning. I also pointed out that I now had to sleep in a camp bed by the side of Meg in case she is distressed during the night and have not only to cook her food but to feed it with at mealtimes. On the other hand, I was able to point some of the mare positive things, principally my acquisition of the wheelchair (after a bit of a bureaucratic struggle) which enables me to push Meg up and down the hill so that we can visit either Waitrose or the park or sometimes both (as this morning) I also pointed out that the partner of one of our carers had called around and blitzed the garden for us so that Meg and I could round to the back of the house and enjoy the garden once more. I explained how poor I thought the GP services were in the supposedly proactive role catering for the carers of dementia sufferers and she was going to contact the practice manager of our GP practice to make sure that the relevant ‘flags’ were in place. Trying to get sense out of our GP practice is always difficult as one has to go through the process of web forms to elicit a telephone call in order even to get access to talk to a GP who does not visit Meg in person but relies only on whatever can be described in a telephone call. The Care Coordinator in whom I have a lot of confidence has several networks accessible to her and she was hoping to make some relevant points both to our GP but also to social services to ensure that I as Meg’s carer am getting the relevant attention and service to which I am entitled. She was particularly concerned that my own health might be suffering because I did not have the time or energy to conduct the things that need to be done such as blood pressure monitoring, access to dental services and goodness knows what else.

Continue Reading

Tuesday, 16th July, 2024 [Day 1583]

Last night and this morning have not run particularly smoothly. Last night Meg was awake all of the evening and although I tried to get an earlier night I was kept awake until about 1.00 in the morning. Then Meg awoke me at about 5.00am so I finished off with only four hours of sleep and consequently have felt like ‘death warmed up’ during most of the day. There was a large band of rain sweeping up the country but, fortunately, at the time that we came to make our journey down the hill to Waitrose, the band of rain had largely passed over just leaving gloomy clouds in its wake. In the store, we were pleased to meet up with two of our friends and we had our normal pleasant chat. To he musical nonagenarian chorister friend, we related the following story with some relish. Late yesterday afternoon, Meg and I found a programme on Beethoven celebrating the life of the great composer. Now most depictions of Beethoven show him with rather scowling features and certainly not a tranquil face at rest. The programme that we saw yesterday revealed the reason why. After he had achieved a degree of fame, it was decided that a bust of Beethoven be made (to be displayed somewhere in Vienna I wonder?) This procedure involved applying a kind of thick plastic wax or paste in some depth to the whole of Beethoven’s face and in order to breathe two large straws were inserted through the wax into his nostrils. Beethoven found this procedure particularly unpleasant (as I suspect we all might) and when the wax was removed and ultimately converted into a mould for a bust of the great man, he is depicted with a huge scowl, or rather a grimace. So the images that we have of Beethoven displaying a scowling or tempestuous air about him might ultimately all derive from the face mask. Another little nugget that came from one of the musicologists contributing to the programme was that after failed attempt to make a lasting liaison with the opposite sex, in which Beethoven was always unsuccessful, his music seemed to make a great leap forward. So the musicologists thanked all of the various women, usually of aristocratic lineage and beyond Beethoven’s league, for the fact that they had all turned him down (usually citing his ugliness and strange habits) and had thus helped Beethoven to write even more masterpieces.

After we had got Meg home, we had our late morning call complete with a third young care assistant who was shadowing as part of her training, and then we prepared for these care workers to depart and for the ‘sit’ call to commence. The carer allocated to the ‘sit’ call who we have known from some weeks back came along and we discussed some medications that I might be able to buy to induce some sleep in Meg this evening, given that the doctors are loathe to prescribe any sleeping aids whatsoever. So when I went out on the road this morning, I went into our local herbalist to find something that the carers have recommended based upon their clients and/or relatives so I purchased a bottle of something which may or may not help. All of these sleep supplements are a fantastic price but I suspect that they trade upon the fact that once deprived of sleep for some time one becomes almost desperate. Whether these preparations will work in conjunction with Meg’s other medications, I cannot tell and it may be that they are a complete waste of money but I feel that I have to make the effort because I cannot continue indefinitely only getting four hours of sleep a night and with the medical profession unwilling to help.

Gareth Southgate has resigned this afternoon and I suspect that whilst there may be some regrets, much of the footballing public will feel it is time for a new broom. What is ironic that some of the more avid followers of football are making the point that the individual talents of the squad seem quite manifest but often they fail to be displayed as soon as they pull on an England shirt. The point has been made by more than one commentator, that the players seem to manifest good performances for their individual clubs but these are often only brought to fruition in an England team when they are brought on as a substitute with ten minutes to go. Personally, I feel that we need to develop a more aggressive, penetrative style of football that runs at and takes on the opposition. The worst thing that I witnessed in the current England was the sight of three England players passing the ball laterally to each other in their own third of the pitch. So in the words of the old fashioned expression, perhaps it is a case of ‘Nothing venture, nothing gain’

Tomorrow is the day of the King’s speech in Parliament. The King’s Speech is a speech written by the government and delivered by the Monarch at the State Opening of Parliament. It marks the beginning of a new parliamentary year, or session, and is an opportunity for the government to set out its legislative agenda for the coming month. Tomorrow might be particularly interesting for us to observe which bits of legislation will receive a degree of priority and which will be sidelined. I foresee at least one defeat for the new Labour government. When they have the opportunity, the SNP has announced plans to table an amendment to the King’s Speech calling for the government to scrap the two-child benefit cap. There are so many of the new Labour MP’s who agree with the SNP that this is one of the best ways to alleviate child poverty that I foresee either a massive rebellion or a Labour retreat. Rather than risk a revolt at the very start of a new Parliament, the new Labour government must be able to find a way to prioritise this item of spending rather than resorting to the formula of lifting the benefit cap ‘when conditions allow’.

Continue Reading

Monday, 15th July, 2024 [Day 1582]

So last night whilst fortunately for me, Meg was soundly asleep, I settled down to watch the England vs. Spain Euro finals match. After the end of the first half, I thought that it was a fairly evenly matched competition with Spain probably having the slight edge. But after half time, it was a different story. The Spanish went ahead with a well deserved goal although it did appear to me that there was a woeful lack of marking of the Spanish forward who seemed to have a clear run at goal. Then the Spanish played much better football but then England managed to score an equaliser. For about 10 minutes, it looked as though we had a real match on our hands as England pressed forward perhaps confident that a second goal would secure them the match. But this did not last and the Spanish started to overwhelm the England team with much superior football and then scored the winner some four minutes before full time and not leaving enough time for England to mount a counter strike. So at the end of the day, the Spanish victory was very well deserved as they had played much better football not only in this match but throughout the whole competition and were therefore worthy winners. Why we can only play ‘properly’ with an attacking intent when we are a goal behind and not throughout the whole of the match is undoubtedly a topic that will engage acres of newsprint and much discussion but points to the fact that a very cautious and defensive strategy is never going to win you a football competition although it might work for a single match.

There are certain photographs of historical events that live on in our collective memory. Many will remember the images of people in business clothing falling from the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, shortly before the towers collapsed. Or, going further back in US history, the photo of soldiers raising a US flag on the battlefield on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, during the final stages of World War II in the Pacific. It looks like there’s another image for the history books now: the photo Evan Vucci, a photographer for the Associated Press news agency (AP), took of Donald Trump seconds after Trump was shot in an assassination attempt during a rally on Sunday. Already, people are comparing the photo to the iconic flag raising picture from WWII. A user of social media platform X called it the ‘Iwo Jima picture of this generation.’ Renowned The New Yorker magazine pointed to similarities too. It is easy to see where the comparison comes from. Trump’s raised fist and his facial expression, accentuated by the blood splatters across his cheek, can be read as a declaration of defiance in the face of adversity. And then there’s the flag itself, the center piece in the Iwo Jima image, and the perfect patriotic background to Trump’s ‘I am still standing’ gesture. However, to my mind there is something that does not ring quite true about the image that is being flashed across the world. For a start, the sky was not a startling blue but a little overcast. Secondly, I do not actually recall an American flag flying ever so conveniently just over the image of Trump defiant fist pumping the air and mouthing ‘Fight! Fight!’ I am sure that the photographer opportunistically took his moment to capture an important image, But without saying that the resultant image has been doctored or even enhanced, I suspect that some judicious rearrangement of certain elements of it have been made perhaps with the photographer unconsciously aware of the ionic Iwo Jima image. If one decomposes the image – a flag, a wounded but defiant hero exhibiting strength in the fact of an assassination attempt- then it all seems a little too good to be true. I do not suscribe to conspiracy theories as such but if the Republican party in their wildest dreams had thought of an image that exemplified Trump’s heroic status, then they could hardly have bettered the image that has now been flashed around the globe.

Last night, I needed to ‘help out’ the care agency by being the second pair of hands to help to prepare Meg for bed in the evening. I was not a particularly happy bunny by being asked to do the same again this morning but fortunately with a carer with whom I find it easy to collaborate. Staff shortages/illnesses are being blamed for the absence of staff but the cynical side of my nature wonders wether the absence of a second carer last night might be football related and the absence of a carer this morning hangover related. However, I am pleased that this Euro competition is now well and truly over and in the near future we have the Olympic games to be held in Paris to entertain us. I do have the feeling that advance publicity about the Olympics is incredibly sparse this time around, perhaps because they are to be held in France. But normally there is quite a lot of news in the build up to the Olympics, highlighting the anticipated successes of locals.

After breakfast this morning, Meg and I went on our way to the park. We called in at our Italian friend down the road but she was not in but fortunately another set of church friends from down the road happened to be in so I could return the dish in which a cottage pie was baked for us. In the park, we had a conversation about football with a local dog walker and were then passed by a group of an older woman and two younger females walking their collective dogs. When the elder female cast an admiring comment about Meg’s hat, I explained that it was very similar to the hat worn by Tonya (played by Geraldine Chapman) in the classic film of Dr Zhivago. I briefly went through some of the plot of the film and how Zhivago was torn between two women – the blond Lara (Julie Christie) and the brunette Tonya. The film ends with Zhivago on a tram espying a woman who he believes to be Lara on the streets of Moscow. He struggles to get off the tram and runs to try to keep up with the blonde Lara only to have a heart attack and to die before he could actually meet up with her again. The older lady explained that she had wept buckets at the conclusion of the film and the younger females thought they might try and see if they could view it for themselves.

Continue Reading

Sunday, 14th July, 2024 [Day 1581]

Last night, Meg appeared to be soundly asleep and I got to bed at about 11.00pm. Later in the night, I got up and idly turned on Sky News only to be greeted with the news that Donald Trump had been shot and wounded in one of his ear lobes at a Republican national really in Pennsylvania. Images soon emerged of Trump bloodied but unbowed fist thumping the air and shouting ‘Fight! Fight!’ These images of a bloodied but not seriously wounded ex-President are like manna from heaven for the Republican cause and already the iconic images of the ex-President on his feet and not seriously wounded are dominating the airwaves and, no doubt, social media as well. Sky News to its discredit managed to get hold of two rabid Trump supporters who immediately blamed Joe Biden, the Democrats and the (liberal) CNN network for the shooting. They were so foul-mouthed that eventually Sky had to cut them off. The gunman himself had climbed onto the roof of a neighbouring building, was spotted by some of the rally participants but who used a semi-automatic rifle to fire a volley of shots – he was almost immediately shot dead himself by Secret Service snipers who identified the direction of fire. As I listened to the news and digested the implications of it all, it became clear to me within seconds that this would hand the White House directly to Donald Trump. My initial thoughts have been confirmed by subsequent political analysts on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most thoughtful of the American commentators has made the point that all of the Trump supporters will be energised to come out and to vote for their wounded hero whereas the reverse is probably the case with Joe Biden. So this will be enough to edge the vote in several of the key swing states without a single voter changing sides as it were. But it is also quite likely that several uncommitted or wavering voters will now certainly vote for Trump and I read today that after Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded in 1981, his poll rating went up by 8 percentage points. The dead gunman has been identified as a young man who was a registered Republican voter which ought to scotch some of the conspiracy theories that the Democrats has master minded the entire assassination event. In the hours and days ahead, more might emerge about the motives of the would be assassin but having been shot dead by Secret Service snipers needless to say he was unavailable for questioning. So it was a heavy heart that I eventually trundled off to my bed knowing that we shall see the slow but sure progress of Donald Trump to an almost certain victory and I ponder what this might mean for our own security, the future of Ukraine and goodness knows what other bloodletting will now take place in a deeply polarised USA. Joe Biden has done all of the right things phoning Donald Trump who he called ‘Donald’ and as one might imagine there is universal condemnation expressed by the world’s political leaders. In a moment of sadness, I am driven to reflect that when members of the American ‘left’ are shot they tend to be fatally wounded (JFK and his brother Bobby, Martin Luther King) but when members of the political right are shot at they tend to survive (Governor Wallace of Alabama, Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump) You have to conclude that those who try to shoot left-leaning leaders are better shots than those who attack right wing leaders. Amongst some of the blood curdling analysis following a Trump re-election, we have the following. According to one analysis, a resurrected Trump will ‘energise the left which could lead to massive civil unrest and possibly deaths — particularly if he tries to make good on his threat of mass deportations. It is possible that Federal agents are deployed to towns and cities to do the job, but many of them flatly refuse to participate in what feels to them like a modern-day re-enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act. They are joined by Democratic mayors and hundreds of thousands of Americans who are willing to form human chains around homes and neighbourhoods to keep the agents out. But Trump does not back down, and governors in red states call out the National Guard to break through the protests. Many are hurt, some are killed, and riots ensue.’ This may sound to be over dramatic but there is a feeling that we have not seen anything yet and a further Trump presidency, bolstered by the Supreme Court in its pocket, will ‘go after’ those perceived to be the enemies of the nation i.e. anyone who does not subscribe to the ‘Make America Great Again’ narrative.

After breakfast, we received a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend and were delighted to go down and meet up with him in Waitrose. It was a beautiful day today so after our coffee, Meg and I and our friend went to our favourite bench in the park so that we could enjoy a breath of fresh park air. After that, we made our way up the hill just in time for the late morning call from Meg’s carers after which I needed to crack on with lunch. We had the second half of a beef joint cooked some weeks ago and preserved in the freezer and ate this alongside some spring greens and a baked potato. Then I settled Meg down in front of one of the ‘Pilgrimage’ programme that we have seen before (the journey through Portugal to Fatima) but Meg can hardly remember it from the first time we viewed it so this was worth a second viewing. Today, I have been informed by the care agency that they cannot supply a second helper to help to put Meg to bed this evening so like last night, I am obliged to be a second pair of hands. There is actually quite a lot to be done in the ‘putting to bed’ routine so I am not a particularly happy bunny about all of this. Tonight, of course, the Euro Finals are to fought out between England and Spain which I fully expect England to lose. So after we have got Meg put to bed, I shall have to arrange our little portable TV by Meg’s bedside and watch the match from there although it is always possible that Meg may fall asleep halfway through the match. The pubs across the nation have been given permission to stay open until 1.00am so that the English nation can either rejoice in the England success or, more likely, drown its sorrows.

Continue Reading

Saturday, 13th July, 2024 [Day 1580]

Last night I had just watched the 10.00pm news on BBC1 when it was announced that there was to be an edition of ‘NewsNight‘ on BBC starting at 10.30 and it was to be a special edition as it was to be the very last programme hosted by Kirsty Wark after a continuous run of some thirty years. The first part of the program was a detailed examination of the Joe Biden saga and whether it was opportune for the Democrats to attempt to replace him as a candidate after his recent gaffes. To call the president of the Ukraine, President Putin and his own Vice President, Vice President Trump may just be interpreted as an odd verbal slip but here we are talking about the person who is to lead the most powerful nation on earth for the next four years. As an aside, one wonders what the Chinese must be making of all of this because the top echelons of Chinese society are quite meritocratic – the thought that someone with the mental agility of either Biden or Trump leading China must be unthinkable to the Chinese leadership. The second half of NewsNight was devoted to several tributes paid to Kirsty Wark by ex Prime Ministers and fellow journalists who all paid tribute to her professionalism, calmness ‘under fire’ when things went wrong in the studio and kindnesses shown to younger and less experienced colleagues. Kirsty Wark is retiring at the age of 69 and a run of thirty years which is a remarkable achievement. She is not retiring absolutely completely, though, and she will anchor her first episode of Front Row – which puts creative industries in the spotlight – on 13 August at Edinburgh Fringe and she will then present one edition of the programme weekly from Glasgow. This seems an excellent way to enter semi-retirement, as it were and one has the feeling that NewsNight will never be quite the same again.

Today started off gloomy and cloudy but no actual rain was forecast which is just as well as today was the Bromsgrove Carnival day. Many of the principal roads in the town are coned off for the processions timed to take place between 12.00pm and 4.00pm and a lot of the town do turn out to watch the spectacle. We wondered if our journey down to Waitrose would be impeded at all but as things turned out we made it at our usual time but met up with three of our friends as is customary on a Saturday. Then it was our customary journey up the hill after our elevenses and our journey home was punctuated by two conversations, one with a couple that we used to see regularly in the park in our COVID expedition days and the other being a neighbour who we know principally as the friend of friends. Once we got home, the carers called around for Meg and then I proceeded to make a kind of stir-fry with chicken pieces and a mixture of vegetables served on a bed of rice. As is customary, I prepared slightly too much so have some left over to enhance further meals.

Today is very much the feeling of the ‘day before’ the Euro Cup Finals due to take place tomorrow evening between Spain and England. Many of the population are persuading themselves that England might actually win the competition but I must say that I think this is unlikely in the extreme. The Spanish have consistently shown themselves to be playing excellent football right throughout the competition and they are still basking in the glory of the stupendous goal scored by their 16 year old teenager during the week although he himself will be turned seventeen today. My own prediction is that Spain will win the match 3:1 and on the basis of their form so far, they certainly deserve to do so. Having said all that, strange things can sometimes happen in Finals. It is possible that the Spanish might be more nervous than they should be and make some simple mistakes, although this is unlikely. Based upon English performances so far, it is quite possible for England to put in a mediocre performance and still win by a single goal in an individual act of brilliance. And it is the case that in football matches, the best team do not always win – if the game is still a draw after extra time which is a possibility then the English record of taking penalties might make them a slightly better than evens odds on this occasion. Some of our carers, whose houses are near to a pub, have told us that when England score the pub goes mad with shrieks of delight and the celebrations can be heard even down the road. Before we leave the subject of football altogether, the England manager Gareth Southgate is reported as saying he wants to win Euro 2024 to bring ‘temporary happiness’ to ‘angry country’ which is surely the case.

Keir Starmer is reported as saying that there is a ‘mountain of mess’ left by the preceding government. Up to a point, this always happens, I suppose, because difficult decisions are left by an outgoing administration, particularly one that is well predicted to lose the election because they are not unhappy for a new government to clear up the mess that they have bequeathed. Crucial decisions have not been taken in time which means that we have the current scenario in which prison places have not kept pace with the longer sentences and the ways in which courts are currently sentencing, no doubt under a steer from the Tory government. So any incoming government would have to face this problem and the very short term solution is to release non violent prisoners after they have served 40% rather than 50% of their sentence. This sounds like a ‘sticking plaster’ type of solution but, of course, depends upon there being a probation service to cater for newly released prisoners. But after a period of privatisation which was almost universally acknowledged to be a disaster, after seven years the probation services were returned to public control. A longer term solution to the problem of insufficient prison places might be to empty most of the gaols housing female prisoners who tend to be in gaol for child neglect and addiction types of problems rather than violent crime ‘per se’ and to fill the newly emptied gaols with a male rather than a female population. This suggestion may well have merit but must rank as a medium term rather than a short term solution to the present crisis.

Continue Reading

Friday, 12th July, 2024 [Day 1579]

We sort of look forward to Fridays because we tend to make a journey down the hill to see friends in Waitrose. This morning after Meg’s carers had got her up and dressed, we had our normal breakfast of porridge and toast and then started to think about our journey down the hill. We received a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend and so we happily made an appointment to meet in the cafeteria which we did. Our 90 year old chorister friend also turned up so we had a nice little chat which made our day. Tomorrow, though, although Saturday is one of our normal meeting days, tomorrow it is Carnival day and so a lot of the local roads are going to be closed to allow for the processions and floats to take place. I spoke to some of the staff in Waitrose who were not looking forward to tomorrow morning because the store and its cafeteria and the immediate environs are populated by crowds of onlookers who use the facilities in Waitrose without necessarily spending anything. I think that I think that we may try to make our way through the crowds and get to Waitrose if we possibly can but it is possible that our path is blocked by the crowds who have come to watch the procession so we have to be prepared to turn back if we cannot reach our destination. After we had returned home, the late morning carers made their call and then we concentrated upon lunch which is a (bought) fish pie baked in the oven and supplemented by vegetables, I decided to make a mélange of vegetables starting off with some fried onions and complemented by some diced up tomato, mushroom and parboiled beans with a squirt of tomato essence to enhance the taste. This worked out fine and then we started to contemplate how the afternoon would pan out. I had in mind that the front lawn badly needed a haircut not having been cut for I think a couple of weeks now and the clover and vetches were starting to go mad. There was a large black cloud overhead but I judged that it would probably move over and we would not get rained on. I cut the lawns first on a North-South direction and then a transverse cut in an East-West direction but half way through the first cut, we started to get some spots of rain. So I relocated Meg to inside the porch and then after the first cut, we had a few refreshments which I had put outside ready for ‘half time’ Then the weather started to brighten a little and I managed to get the second half of the cutting job done without getting ourselves wet. After we had got ourselves indoors, we knew that we were going to treat ourselves to watching yesterday evening’s ‘Question Time‘ which we knew we would be able to get on the BBC iPlayer. We watched the programme with quite some interest today if only because they seemed to have a very interesting set of panellists in the programme last night without the usual political ‘knock about’ and this made for a much more interesting programme.

Last night, a lot of media attention was focussed on the fact that Joe Biden was going to conduct a press conference and the American press and media really wanted to know how Biden would perform without an autocue. There is a head of steam building up with the American Democrats to try to replace Joe Biden as their candidate but nobody is quite sure how to administer the ‘coup de grace’ or find a way of persuading him to step down. So tonight’s performance was going to be regarded as critical. But the press conference was to be preceded by end of Nato meeting press briefing and here Joe Biden performed the most enormous gaffe, With the Ukrainian president by his side, Joe Biden referred to him as ‘President Putin’ before correcting himself. A little later on, Biden referred to his own Vice President, Kemala Harris as Vice President Trump. Now Joe Biden is fairly notorious for his verbal gaffes but with the increased media scrutiny, this was about the worst possible time to perform gaffes like these. I had been watching NewsNight and the American drama critic, Bonnie Greer, seemed to change her mind from lukewarm support for Biden to the expression of a view that he really ought to go now. But Joe Biden is absolutely determined to stay as a candidate believing that he and he alone has the ability to beat Trump. His problem now is that every sign of infirmity, large or small, feeds into an established narrative – one that tells the story of a stubborn old president, cosseted by a government machine not listening to a growing crescendo of concern for his mental fitness. If the Democrats are going to move to replace him, there is now only a very small window of opportunity to do the deed – commentators are of the view that a move against Biden has to be made within a fortnight or it will be all too late and the Democrats will have to be reconciled to Joe Biden as a candidate and an almost certain election victory in November by Donald Trump.

Keir Starmer has probably enough reason to be satisfied having been invited into the Oval Office of the White House and having an hour long discussion with Joe Biden in which the Brits (unlike the Americans) always like to utter the sentiment of a special relationship. But Starmer’s problems are likely to mount the minute his feet touch the ground back in the UK with immediate problems crying out for solutions such as the threatened loss of thousands of steel jobs in Wales, the absolute crisis in our prisons which are completely full and the necessity to end the junior doctors dispute. But in the first week of the new Labour government, most ministers seem to have made a promising start.

Continue Reading

Thursday, 11th July, 2024 [Day 1578]

I was pleased to say that Meg and I enjoyed a good night’s sleep last night which is always welcome these days. But last night was a quite extraordinary night in terms of the Euro finals because England actually qualified for the final. England’s opponents were Holland who took a lead with a brilliantly taken goal. But there was a fairly instant riposte in the form of a penalty awarded to England that made the scores equal. But England dominated the first half and played football which was far more attacking and less tentative that we have become used to over the competition to date. In the second half, the Dutch came back and the second half did not have the excitement of the first half and England seemed to be flagging somewhat. Then there was an inspired substitution and a player from Aston Villa, Ollie Watkins, was brought on. Less than ten years ago today, English football’s ‘quiet man’ Ollie Watkins was playing for Weston-super-Mare in front of a few hundred fans. But last night, with one second to spare in the full time period and before extra time threatened, Ollie Watkins scored a stupendous goal to rocket England into the finals on Sunday where they will meet Spain. I think that on the run of play, England deserved to win last night as apart from the two goals they scored, they had one goal disallowed for offside and on occasion the ball was cleared by a Dutch defender literally bouncing on the line. A video replay does show that the centre line of the ball had crossed the centre line of the goal line but the relevant rule is that the whole of the ball has to be over the line before a goal can be awarded.So England played as the Italians, Spanish and French have played throughout the tournament and one has to ask the question that if they were quite capable of playing like this, why had they not played like it before? However, this is tournament football and one has to prepared for a long haul and a change of tactics and personnel to meet the challenges of particular opponents so suddenly, Gareth Southgate who was regarded as the national villain when it appeared that England was on the point of exiting the competition has suddenly been transformed into a national hero. I suspect that Spain should quite easily win the final on Sunday and are probably the much superior team. Having said that, England start off as underdogs which is always a good position in which to start and the Spanish, finding that they are expecting to win, may well find that nerves gets the better of them and a crass mistake is made. In football, it is is not always the best team that wins and we have seen quite often in this competition that an inspired moment of brilliance can rescue a team from a generally mediocre performance. Our friends in Spain have texted me and are delighted to have England in the final although they are hoping that the Spanish prevail.

Today being a Thursday, it is my normal shopping day and I managed to get all of this done and back home within the hour which was my intention.Today was a somewhat lighter week than normal and I try to be fairly careful not to over buy as I hate throwing away food which has gone over its date. I managed to get everything I needed except that the bars of ‘dark’ chocolate which Aldi sells were sold out leaving behind masses of white and milk chocolate bars which the discerning shoppers seem to ignore in favour of the dark chocolate. Having said that, it is always quite a satisfying experience to get the shopping done and put away before the weekend. The day has been a rather indeterminate day today so Meg and I had to wonder how we were to spend the afternoon. If the weather had been a little finer and warmer, then Meg could have sat outside in the wheelchair whilst i cut the front lawn but I judged that today might be a little too cold. So instead, we decided to view again a YouTube presentation of a documentary called ‘A World without Beethoven?’ which we have seen before but is well worth a second viewing. The care workers’ schedules are somewhat misaligned this afternoon and I ha had to phone up the car agency to ensure that there was not a one hour gap at one point in the afternoon followed by a five hour gap later on. However, they did respond favourably to a phone call requesting a change but I am left in the position of not knowing exactly who is going to turn up this afternoon or when which makes life a little difficult to organise.

Now that we are one week on since the General Election, it is time for a little contemplation. There are times in our national political life, when the nation is evidently yearning for quite a dramatic change and the dates that come to mind are the huge Labour victory at the conclusion of WWII, Harold Wilson’s narrow victory in 1964 bringing to an end 13 years of Tory rule, Margaret Thatcher’s famous victory in 1979 and Tony Blair’s in 1997. And the statistics for 2024 are still mid blowing in that the Labour gained 412 seats and an overall majority over all other parties of 174. This, too, ranks alongside the other dates mentioned as the point of a decisive shift in British politics. But what the future holds can follow one of several scenarios.On the one hand, the Labour party can make a determined and consistent start to repair the ‘state of the nation’ because there is now an almost universal recognition that most of our national institutions from the health service to local government to our transport systems are in urgent need of repair. If this is done with a degree of commitment as well as basic competence and with no overarching scandals, then the Labour Party may be in power for at least two five year terms. On the other hand, who would have thought that a Conservative majority of 80 seats could have been turned around so dramatically in a five year period? Some Conservative thinkers are arguing that if a dramatic change can happen in one time period then it can be reversed some five years later although I think this is unlikely in the extreme.

Continue Reading
1 2 3 159