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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Sunday, 13th June, 2021 [Day 454]

Today being a Sunday, it was a day when the alarm gets set a little early and I get up ready to make my progress down to the newspaper shop bright and early in the morning. There is always quite an interesting atmosphere around first thing on a Sunday morning. For a start, I am generally listening to my trust old I-Phone I utilise as an MP3 player and this morning was a Mozart morning. I particularly enjoyed the track of a tenor singing ‘Il mio Tesoro’ from Don Giovanni – I remember this because the melody is sufficiently simple to be played on an instrument. In this case, my son played it on his clarinet for some sort of examination (Grade 3 I wonder?) All if can remember pf this is that the junior headmaster had asked my son how the examination had gone and received the answer of ‘Brill’ Later on he was to win the school prize for music in his year group playing the 2nd (slow ) movement of the Mozart Clarinet concerto. At some stage after this, a combination of three things entered my son’s life (photography, girls and classic locomotives but in which order I couldn’t say) Walking down to town at that time in the morning, one does not encounter many other souls but they tend to fall into the category of serious joggers (often in pairs) and dog walkers. To make life even more interesting this morning, there is evidently some cabling or other kind of activity gong on in the pavements in the town. All of the underground services are labelled in a variety of spray paints and I counted at least six colours of paint (white, yellow, cyan, blue, orange, red) as well as some white chalk marks. I suppose these represent water, sewage, gas, electricity and TV /communications and more besides) but evidently there are all sorts of codes and symbols represented by these symbols but with their meaning obscured to the general public. Also at this time, the owners of some classic vehicles take to the road and I spotted this morning one person on a Vespa scooter ( the last one I saw must have been decades ago) and I think I noticed a classic sports car called a Triumph Stag but as it swept past me, I was having to rely upon memory as to whether my identification was correct or not. After breakfast and the Andrew Marr Show, Meg and I wandered down to the park where we met up with a couple of our park regulars before we departed fairly early in order to have our lunch before kick-off in the England-Croatia match in the Euro finals. Actual, as it turned out Meg and I thoroughly enjoyed the match although football is not really our game. The match was enjoyable to watch, not least cause England secured a (deserved) 1-0 victory but also because the young English team demonstrated some enterprise and initiative. The goal was well-deserved and the Croatians were lucky that an earlier excellent England shot had rebounded from the upright. Tomorrow’s matches are going to be Scotland vs. Czech Republic and Spain vs. Sweden so there is something in both of these matches that might well attract my attention tomorrow. Of course, as the matches are played in European time zones, then one doesn’t have to get up in the middle of the night or ridiculously early in the morning which can happen if it is the World rather than the European finals.

Although I did not really want to do it, I thought the it was so long since the car had a wash that it badly needed a wash down. We haven’t been on the kind of trips that generally makes cars dirty but a fine dust had descended upon it over the last week or so. So I gave it a rather cursory wash, compared with normal, as it is the hottest day of the year and not the best day to engage in car washing although I did wait until 5.0 before I started. Tomorrow is going to be the day when the government plans will be announced whether the lockdown is to continue or be lifted. Boris Johnson will, in all probability, announce that the lockdown shall continue for 4 weeks more.This does have the ‘advantage’ of any eventual end of a lockdown being in the middle of July ie. approximately when the schools finish. Also it appears that more than half of the population agree that the restrictions should be in place for another month.On a societal level, we are waiting for the rate of vaccinations (and particularly  the second vaccination) to proceed at a faster pace than the virus can spread. However, this Delta variant seems to spread 60% more rapidly than its predecesors. It would appear on the surface that any  government that did not extend the lockdown for a further month would be guilty of the most severe dereliction of duty.

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Saturday, 12th June, 2021 [Day 453]

As might be imagined, we have a slightly different routine on a Saturday and today was no exception. Meg and I did some routine jobs this morning so our morning walk was a little delayed. Once we had both walked to collect the newspapers and the day was quite warm, we were more than happy to collapse on one of the lower park benches where we could oversee the peregrinations of the ducks and a few ducklings. Nonetheless, we ‘touched base‘  (as the Americans would no doubt say) with a couple of our park regulars and had the kind of conversations we generally do (not a million miles away from the latest state of play regarding the various virus variants and the UK government response to date) We started off home for lunch fairly late (at about 2.0pm, which is late for us as we have to prepare lunch when we get home). But not far from home we were hailed from the open window of a house where we used to stop and admire the Honda CR-V on the drive and we have subsequently got to know the owner of the house (an Asian lady with roots in South Africa) We had not bumped into each other for quite some time, although we did have an ‘understanding’  to try and have a cup of tea with each other in our garden as soon as weather and work conditions permitted. It transpired there was a good reason why our paths had not crossed. Upon trying to turn right from the main road into her own house she was run into from the rear by an on-rushing ambulance. As in the course of a 20-30 minute walk we see about 2-3 ambulances, many with blue flashing lights, then the fact that a collision had occurred with almost anybody was not a great surprise to us. So to cut a long story short, our friend had received some injuries including concussion and her car was extensively damaged – but the ambulance were trying to claim it was no fault of theirs (is this their default response I wonder) As the weather is still set fair for several days yet, our friend has been invited round here for tea with us next Thursday afternoon and we shall look forward, very much, to filling in each other’s back stories, Whilst we were chatting at the open window, we were joined by her aunt who had been staying with her for a few days. We learnt that she had recently (i.e. about a year ago) got her PhD in nursing from the University of West London which started off life as Ealing College of Higher Education and went through several transformations subsequently. Our friend took a selfie of the four of us and I was pleased to get this through our messaging links. So roll on next Thursday when lots of news will no doubt get exchanged.

This week is going to be quite busy – I think we are all trying to see each other and ‘socialise’ whilst we can and before the weather breaks. On Monday, we need to pop into Waitrose for a few things (‘cake-related’) and then on Tuesday our University of Birmingham friend and ourselves have been invited to take tea with two of our church friends just down the road. We have kept missing each other with one thing or another so it will be great to have a nice old chin wag not outside in the street but in the privacy of our own gardens. Then on Wednesday, our local Waitrose is going to re-open (we think and hope) so we intended to be there fairly early on to savour the delights of Waitrose coffee and cakes once again. Then on Thursday, we are seeing our friends from around the corner and on Friday I am not sure but we might have some more tea in prospect.

This afternoon, I got to mow the grass which badly needed it. Although it was only a gap of eight days since the last mow, the wispy dandelion stalks not to mention the daisies and the buttercups all contributed to a very  untidy sight. Now it has double mowed (first in one direction and then a cross-cut at right angles to this first cut) it looks a treat in the late afternoon sunshine. As I was mowing our own back lawn, though, I was dismayed to discover that we had practically no damsons on our damson trees (last year I collected enough to make 16 litres of gin!) I did a quick search on the web and it seems that a wet May might have contributed to the fruit not setting when it should. But another contributor gave forth the opinion that her damson tree tended to have a super abundant year (as we had) followed by an almost barren year – so perhaps this is just to be expected in the cycles of damson  tree development. Incidentally, we noticed out gooseberry crop seems to be non-existent this year as well – I suspect the very wet May might be the culprit here as well.

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Friday, 11th June, 2021 [Day 452]

Another day dawns in which we were going to diverge from our normal routines. We had set up in advance a day trip out with our University of Birmingham friend so we went through our normal daily routines and picked up our newspapers before we made a rendezvous-vous with our friend at the gates of the park. Then we made our to Arley deep in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside. Arley is most noted for having one of the most picturesque stations on the whole of the Severn Valley Railway – it has been used in a number of tv and film productions because it is maintained as a Pre Dr Beeching Railway Station. The second thing for which Arley is particularly famous is Arley Arboretum. I quote some of the blurb I have found on the web:  These beautiful historic gardens and arboretum dating back to the late 1700’s are surrounded by over 1600 acres of countryside within the picturesque village of Upper Arley beside the river Severn. In addition to providing wonderful walks through the 300 ancient trees of the arboretum there are walks along the banks of the river, all set in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside with far reaching views. Meg and I have visited the Arboretum in the past and really enjoyed it but that was not the point of our trip today. Instead we made for a delightful little cafe which straddles a little lane – on one side of the road you order your comestibles whilst on the other side there are some benches laid out with a magnificent view of the River Severn. The day turned out to be a little overcast and glowering – nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed the hot bacon sandwiches which the young staff of the cafe prepared for us. We had just about finished our repast and were treating ourselves to some tea and cake when there were a few spots of rain. The two young girls who ran the cafe very assiduously ushered us to the inside of the cafe in case the rain came on apace (which it failed to do) and then we carried on with out tea, cakes and interesting conversation. By the time we had finished, the sky had brightened up somewhat and we made our way home in a leisurely fashion through Kidderminster. We were very impressed by the old Saab that our friend had bought some six months ago – it cost only a little over £2,000 and was magnificently equipped with beautiful leather seats and the like on the inside.  Really quite tempting, I suppose, if you do not want to drive particularly fast but you want to do it in some comfort and style. In addition, I imagine, you would have to know a very good garage or service mechanic who could keep it well maintained but I must say these older cars have a charm all of their own.

In the early evening, we spent some time as we normally do on a Friday with a FaceTime chat with one of our oldest University of Winchester friends.We spent some time talking about computery types of things (our friend used at work at IBM and then taught some Computer Science so he very knowledgable about such things) We then finished off comparing notes about the various kinds of low alcohol beers that we had purchased from the likes of Lidl, Aldi and Waitrose so I have been given some ideas what to look for when I next browse the shelves of a supermarket. I know from my last trip to Waitrose there is a bewildering variety of beers now on sale, mainly from very small, independent brewers but short of a ‘Consumer Guide’ to low alcohol beers I suppose you have to buy them and sample them bit by bit. Whilst on this subject, I am reminded of one of the most innovative Christmas presents I have ever been bought. At the suggestion of a friend, my son had equipped himself with a large cardboard box and then went off to his local off-license were he bought one of every type of beer that they had on their shelves.The shop keeper was no doubt delighted to get rid of some of his old stock whilst from the point of the recipient, the pleasure of the present slowly unwinds week by week if you allow yourself one special beer per week as a kind of treat.

The COVID information is now worrying in the extreme. The number of new infections is now increasing at the rate of 1200 a day (and reached 8,125 today) and the R=rate is now between 1.2 and 1.4. The Delta (Indian) variant now accounts for 90% of the new cases. Today the BMA have called for the ‘end of the lockdown’ on 21st June to be delayed and it looks as though tomorrow many other medical bodies are going to declare their opposition to a premature end to the lockdown. We have have been warned!

 

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Thursday, 10th June, 2021 [Day 451]

Today was the kind of day when you knew your typical routine was going to be amended and thus it proved to be. The shopping lorry arrives on a Thursday morning and we thought that the fridge needed a good clean out before it got repopulated so this took up quite a bit of time this morning. We knew that our hairdresser was due to arrive around midday so one way or another, we knew that our timetables would go awry. In conversation with our domestic help, she spoke in glowing terms about the super AirBnB in which she has stayed whilst visiting her son in Devon so we speculated how something might be available in the Conway area. Whilst we were just vaguely looking we found what seems to be a super place not far away from Meg’s Uncle Ken who we badly want to visit when we can.So, almost on the spur of the moment, Meg and I booked up for three nights away in just a fortnight’s time in one of the AirBnB’s with a ‘Superhost’ commendation. The booking was all very easily done but we rather had fun and games getting registered with AirBnB to make sure our booking was accepted. Fortunately, I had a copy of the relevant page of my passport in my computer system so this bit was easy to supply. Then what was needed was an up-to-date photo of you which had to be matched up with your passport photo within their system. I opted eventually for their system to upload a photo of me taken with our own webcam – then we had an anxious wait to see if this would match up with my passport photo (which I must say looks fuzzy and blurred to me) After 20 minutes or so the confirmation came through and I could then go ahead and confirm the booking and exchange a message with our ‘Superhost’.  I was relieved the technology worked OK on this occasion. The last time I tried anything similar, when applying for an NHS app then the images did not match and were rejected, the application froze, the computer crashed – quite a nightmare which took hours. However, ‘all’s well that end’ well so we are looking forward to our three day stay in a fortnight.

After we had our haircuts and a light lunch, I knew I needed to get into town principally to visit the local branch of Santander. When I go there, I was actually two minutes late after their closing time (of 4.30) but I was very grateful be let in. I had been sent a new debit card through the post and as it was the first time in use, I was relieved that it dispensed me my money (and I could withdraw some cash, which I do once in a blue moon) but also revalidated my pin which I suspect might only have possible from the big machine inside the bank. This worked OK – but I still have to do the rounds of the people who have my card details on file in order to get the details updated. I hate this part of getting a new card but I hope it will see me all right for a year or so. After my visit to the bank, I picked up my newspapers ( and they were amazed to see me so late in the day but at least my papers were secure) and bought a few cosmetics. Then I spent quite a long time in our local Waitrose trying (and failing) to match up the incredibly good low-alcohol lager which I acquired through my Waitrose order recently but which seems to have disappeared both from their websites and, judging by today, from their shelves as well. I found a substitute but only consuming it will let me know whether they simulate the flavour of a lager or not. I also bought, on the spur of the moment, a low-alcohol milk stout which, again, may prove to be an interesting drink experience.

Today, in the House of Commons, Matt Hancock the Health Secretary has been given his own evidence of a type of ‘rebuttal’ of the claims made by Dominic Cummings a fortnight ago. The committee have asked Dominic Cummings for some documentary evidence to back up his allegations – this has not been forthcoming as you might expect (if only because the documentary evidence to support ‘who said what’ in a heated conversation is hard to find) This will then allow the committee to disregard as much of the Dominic Cummings as they like  which will keep them in the good books of the Prime Minister and make any final report that they are to issue so much more anodyne (i.e. with any criticisms muted, which will suit Boris).  It also appears that we are still a long way of ‘herd immunity’  as although the doubly vaccinated adult population is now over 50%, there is still a huge ‘reservoir’ of the virus in the bodies of schoolchildren who, it appears. might carry the virus but not get sick from it. 

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Wednesday, 9th June, 2021 [Day 450]

Today was an interesting type of day. We were a little delayed as we composed our Waitrose order which is part of our normal Wednesday morning but that having been done, we proceeded on our way down into the park. As we walked down our access road (which is privately owned by us) we noticed that one of our near neighbours had a fence panel removed in order to allow access to their rear garden from our roadway. This is all fine and dandy but our permission should have been asked first. Also (and we have been here before) when this sort of thing has happened in the past, generally for the delivery of building materials such as paving blocks, sand, cement and other building supplies then it is not unusual for all kinds of mess to be left behind on our driveway which we then have to clear up. So I stuck my head through the gap in the fence and informed the garden makeover people that they had parked their vehicle on a private road – and I wanted/demanded that any mess be left behind be cleared up. Then we went on our way to the park and met one of our ‘usual suspects’ when we were sitting on our bench. We also bumped into our two sets of close friends who live down the road and were pleased to see them both as we missed each other for several days. One set of friends we made an assignation to come and have some coffee and cakes with them in their garden next Tuesday – the other set of friends had just returned from North Wales and we caught up quickly on some of the to-ings and fro-ings of the last few days but we still have some catching up to do when they had completed some of their grandparenting duties. I think we are all a little anxious to try and see each other whilst we can because the spell of fine weather is bound to break down after a few days so we all want to ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ So Meg and I eventually returned home and prepared a quiche-and-salad lunch which was easy to prepare.

Halfway through the afternoon a hand-delivered note had been popped through our letter box. It was from the neighbours who were were having a garden makeover and the letter (belatedly) asked for permission for delivery vehicles to utilise our driveway. I spent some time composing a diplomatic reply – and had just about got to the end of it and read it out to another neighbour who was effected in the same way as we were when the program containing my reply crashed and I lost everything. So I had to start all over again but, fortunately, I could remember most of what I had just said and I then liased with my son, working upstairs, to make sure that we had got the tone of the reply just right. Without being melodramatic about all of this, emergency vehicles such as ambulances need to make their way down our access road which involves two 90° degree turns to get to our house. Of the houses who contribute to our Residents Association, half of us have had to have ambulances accessing their properties within the last three years so this is not just a theoretical but an actual concern. We are going to have a final pair of eyes upon the reply which has been seen by several of us before it all gets hand delivered back again. The important thing is that all of this can be and will be handled amicably but we do not want little issues to fester, quite unnecessarily. Also, we have noticed before that firms who deliver building materials are often extraordinarily cavalier about the way in which they leave a trail of sand, cement and god knows what else behind them before they drive away. They always seem absolutely amazed that they need permission to enter a private road and we have to inform them that as well as owning the roadway we also have to maintain it, clear up any of the mess that they might make and so on. Actually, with cluttered garages and an inability to get to back gardens through the ‘normal’ side entrances, it is not uncommon for fence panels to be removed to provide an easy/easier delivery point for the supply of building materials but of course the permissions should have been sought first.

There is now a substantial risk of ‘a substantial third wave’, with Delta R number estimated at 1.5 – 1.6 which sounds seriously bad to me. Third waves have got to start somewhere and this has got all of the hallmarks of a start of a third wave to me (a non epidemiologist!) More than 1,000 people are now in hospital, largely as a result of the Delta variant – the whole progress of the ‘third wave’ seems to be the result of a race between those vaccinated on the one hand versus the progress of the virus on the other. So far, it seems a bit like a 1-1 draw with my suspicions that the virus may win the penalties shoot-out.

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Tuesday, 8th June, 2021 [Day 449]

Our busy social whirl continues – well, not quite! We made a very rapid trip to the park this morning and then had only the briefest of chats with our University of Birmingham friend because we knew that we had a fairly tight turn-around as I have my Pilates class in the middle of the day. After we got back we had about ten minutes for me to change clothing etc. before going down to my Pilates class. Here we have the same four regulars but it was our first week back after the break of a week for the Spring holiday. At least one of the four us (not me!) had been busy doing Pilates in odd moments in the kitchen (peeling vegetables seems to be a particular favourite at the moment) Then after a rush home and a scrambled lunch (from the leftovers of yesterday’s repast) we then awaited our particular ex-Waitrose friends who we expecting to call round to see us at 3.30. As one of our friends is a wheelchair user, we had to ensure that we didn’t have any wheelie bins occluding the back entrance to our garden (everything was OK as it turned out). We also, on purpose, did not lay any tables or the like in case we needed to change plans and arrange for our repast in the front of the house rather than the rear. But all is well that end’s well so our friends managed to gain access by our side entrance without difficulty and we sat down to scoff that which took our fancy from yesterday’s assortments of breads, cold meats, patés and cheeses. Then we had the most enjoyable afternoon catching on various bits of news, not to mention Bromsgrove history (about which our friends are extremely knowledgeable). One of the particular pleasures to be had on occasions like these are to show relatives and friends the points of interest in your own garden (or in our case the communal areas) Having explained the history of how we came to purchase the plot of land in the front of the house, I then went on to explain some of the improvements for which we could claim some credit. One of these is my ‘pride and joy’ and that is a tree, now some thirty feet tall or even more which I rescued as very young and self-set seedling about twelve years ago. This started off its life about 4″ high and sitting in a small plant pot but it got repotted as it grew and when it about a metre high I transplanted it into my neighbour’s garden (which I was looking after and helping to maintain at the time) And so my ‘acer campestre‘ or field maple to give it its English nomenclature feels as though it is getting on for the height for a house or about 8 metres tall but they can grow as much as 20m in total. It has some lovely dense maple style leaves but many of them will turn orange and then red in the autumn. Another particular favourite of mine is the silver birch which I bought and then planted about ten yers ago to fill a gap. Finally of course, we have the recently pruned golden privet around our BioDisk which after a heavy pruning is now showing signs of bursting back into life again.Suddenly, it was not too far short of 7.0pm so we had to let out friends depart so that our daughter-in-law could get her car correctly parked.  

The latest virus news is anything but encouraging. It looks as though the total number of new infections has increased to over 6,000 new cases in a single day, which I think represents practically a doubling within a week. More seriously, the Greater Manchester and Lancashire area are to receive a ‘strengthened package of support’ to help them to cope with the increasing incidence of the Delta version of the virus which is so much more transmissible than its predecessors. We had been intending to make a trip to Bolton in about 2-3 week’s time in order to pay a much postponed visit to Meg’s cousin. However, this too is starting to belong to the category of a forlorn hope and it looks as though we need to postpone the trip for about the third time. At the same time, we know that our Irish friends from down the road have had a magnificent time Llandudno in North Wales. By way of contrast, we had tried to book into a Holiday Inn in North Wales and been told that no booking would be entertained until July at the earliest. Meanwhile, some of our park friends announced to us that they were going to go off for a days ‘rest and recreation’ in mid-Wales and informed us that they had no difficulties of any kind making a booking. So the situation in Wales is varied (and confusing, at least, for the likes of us). We need to perhaps start to think of pointing in a different direction as perhaps it is now OK for us to head towards Derby where one of Meg’s other cousins is in the process of buying a house (and may well have moved by now).

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Monday, 7th June, 2021 [Day 448]

Today was the day when we knew that some of our close friends from Oxfordshire were due to break their journey here in the Midlands. So we had a complete change to our routines this morning. As it happened, Meg had not been feeling too well and spent the morning in bed – in the meanwhile, I raced off down to the newsagents in the car and thence to our local Waitrose. As I had gone down to town in the car, I did not bother to wear my trade-mark Australian leather hat and the newsagent almost failed to recognise me as, hatless, my appearance had changed so much. – at least I did not have a repetition of what happened last week when a 3-4 year old tugged at his mother’s arm upon seeing me in my hat and exclaimed ‘Mummy! There’a  a cowboy who has lost his horse!‘ This morning when I was wondering what to wear, I looked through some of my range of shirts and reminded myself that I had a Batique shirt that I had bought when working in Indonesia – as I had not worn it for about 20 years, I thought now was quite a suitable occasion to  try it on for a change. Batique shirts are meant to be worn close fitting and I must say I have probably put on a little rotundity over the course of the last 20 years but I could still get it on without every button straining at its fastening so I gave it a go. Batique designs are a little difficult to describe if you haven’t seen the design before but it is intricate, with many interlocking swirling shapes and motifs that look vaguely like flowery or fiery shapes – anyway, it is a special occasions type shirt and the Indonesians tend to wear them for particularly smart and/or formal occasions (without a tie). Dressed in this, I popped into our local Waitrose and bought a selection of breads, cheeses, patés and salads such that we could throw together a meal when my friends arrived. I needed to do a minimal degree of wiping down of our external garden furniture and then I complement the metal chairs with some large cushions that I had bought in bulk from Oxfam a year or so back and which we keep in the garage for just on those occasions when we are going to eat outside. Our friends arrived shortly after midday and I was delighted that Meg had sufficiently recovered to come downstairs and to eat a meal with us in the beautiful sunshine. Normally, I would have erected a parasol to shade the outside table and this was sorely needed today. Anyway, the last time I got out the parasol, the mice had had a good old nibble at it all the way around the edges making it look like Cinderella’s dress on a good day (and so it had to go) Today we started off in the sunshine but decided to move the whole table into the shade as the midday sun was so hot. We had a wonderful couple of hours chatting and enjoying each other’s company until was time for our friends to depart and carry on in their journey through the Midlands (where they are due to call in on another of their old friends) with their ultimate destination being Scarborough (on the basis they had never been there before).

Our avenues of unalloyed pleasure is set to continue tomorrow. We had made some tentative plans to meet  with some of our Waitrose friends that we FaceTime regularly but who we have not met face-to-face for over a year now. Tomorrow is my Pilates day which rather messes up the middle of the day- we had made some outline plans to meet in Webbs,the huge garden centre down the road, but we decided to rip those plans up and come and have some afternoon tea in our garden. Our friends had seen the outside of the house but not the inside or the garden so we are going to negotiate access for our friend’s wheelchair down the side of the house (which we think we can do with no difficulty) and eat out in the garden again. If all of this comes to nought, we still have lots of options to eat at the front of the house (as we are quite private and some of our neighbours do the same). We are looking forward very much to tomorrow and our friends are going to bring a cake and we have lots of salad-y things left from today so we shall not go hungry. I must say that I felt that Meg felt so much better having made the effort to get out of her bed and see our friends and they have certainly given her spirits a huge fillip. Whilst the weather is good, we are making the best of seeing our friends whilst we can – next Wednesday, if all goes to plan, our local Waitrose cafe may soon reopen and let us see then how many of the old crowd will reconvene.

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Sunday, 6th June, 2021 [Day 447]

Today was an indeterminate kind of day – the kind of day in which Denis Nordern the famous comic who used to broadcast regularly on Radio 4 when asked to make up an ‘un-newsworthy’ news item that might appear in a footnote to an obscure column in ‘The Times’  would venture ‘Small earthquake in Chile – not many killed’ The pattern of the day followed the normal routine for a Sunday in which I walked down to town in order to collect our newspapers crossing the path of absolutely nobody (typically a jogger or a dog-walker) whilst en route. Then, of course, we watch the Andrew Marr politics show and again we have an appearance by Matt Hancock who must be by now of the most visible’ Health Secretaries on record. He was rebutting the argument that he sent people unvaccinated (certainly untested ) straight from hospital wards (in order to clear them) back into the residential homes from whence they came. His rebuttal has become second nature to him by now i.e. to repeat like a mantra that ‘we put a policy in place’ to vaccinate the elderly (repeating the fact that they had reached their target of 100,000 or whatever) completely ignoring the question that although they had a plan in place, people actually did progress straight from hospital to residential homes. At one point, there was a slight chink in his armour when he let slip well ‘it was a  question of priorities‘  but Andrew Marr did not seize upon the remark as he should have done. Matt Hancock was in effect right – as a ‘question of priorities‘ then the elderly occupying much needed hospital beds were a ‘lower priority’ then COVID patients. Eventually, I walked on down to the park alone this Meg because Meg was having a slightly ‘off’ day and was resting at home. In the park, I met up with one of our park regulars and we had quite a long quasi-theological discussion whether it was legitimate to seek to persuade people from holding whatever views that they may have with conviction. We were of a like mind  in that that we did not think it was legitimate to dissuade somebody from whatever view which might be deeply and sincerely held, even though we might disagree with it. On the other hand, we both agreed that we were rankled if we had an encounter with someone of pronounced religious views who were convinced of the truth of their own position and had attempted to teach us the error of our ways.

In the late afternoon (and thinking about our friends who might be visiting us tomorrow and who are keen gardeners), I decided to plant up the stone planters I had recently acquired from a friend. In these, I put a combination of both top soil and some of my own 2-year old compost but I had run out of bonemeal/Growmore that I generally deploy on such occasions. Anyway, they got planted up with some spare plants that I had around the garden and are sitting on the front of some decking to form a sort of leafy boundary or instant wall. However, after a good watering I must keep on remembering to water until the plants are established/reestablished.

I have just this evening experienced one of these really frustrating half hours that beset us from time to time. As we all know, the Sunday newspapers are replete with supplements of various kinds. Various things such as ‘Style’ or ‘Fashion’ goes straight into the bin whilst other sections are flipped through incredibly quickly to see if anything catches your eye. So I spent at last 45 minutes scanning each of the supplements of todays (and yesterday’s) newspapers, trying to discover an advert for a patio cleaning fluid which I am sure we need. Of course I couldn’t find the advert even though I had recourse to the vertical filing system (aka. green wheelie bin) Eventually, I found what I was looking for as I had already detached the relevant page and saved it ‘in a safe place’ but that was a fruitless half or so spent on a fruitless search.

Tonight, there are more and more hints that a full end to the lockdown is not to be forthcoming in two weeks time. Matt Hancock is quoted as saying that he is ‘open’ to an incomplete end to the lockdown on June 21st. Given that the infection rate is 70% higher than a week ago and the Delta version of the virus is judged to be 40% more transmissible that the previous variant, then one can understand that the government is going to backtrack like mad. What I find interesting is that the right wing of the Tory party and much of the press are constantly urging an end to the lockdown but my judge of the public mood (Vox pop on TV, people I meet in the park) all seem to think that having endured 15 months of COVID restrictions, then one month more is not going to make a lot of difference.

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Saturday, 5th June, 2021 [Day 446]

We have another beautiful day in prospect, so it is a case of enjoying this spell of fine weather whilst it lasts. However, I am finding that I need to religiously water some of my pot plants in the evening as they could quickly  become dehydrated. Some of the trees bordering our communal grassed area are growing beautifully tall and are doing a good screening job but some of the leaves are looking a little heat distressed and look as though they could benefit from a good soaking. Although we did get plenty of surface rain in May, I am not sure whether we got the really good soaking that helps to fill the underground aquifers and wherever else surface water eventually gets stored. We walked down into the park and soon teamed up with a group of regulars for a pleasant chat. However, only for about the second time in about fifteen months, I dropped the full flask of coffee just as I had opened it and spilled practically all of its contents on the ground.  So after I popped off to collect our Saturday ration of newspapers, I had a good look in on of the compartments in my phone case and was relieved to find an emergency £10 note which I needed to press into service. With this, I treated myself to a bottle of refrigerated ginger beer which I have not drunk in years but sounded  superior to peach flavoured tea and other offerings in the newsagent’s chiller cabinet. This morning, I was hunting out a short sleeved shirt (which I rarely wear because I prefer long sleeved shirts if only to obviate the need to plaster arms with sun-tan lotion) After I had located my short-sleeved shirts, I was delighted to espy a particularly psychedelic tie (which screams 1960’s at you) and which I thought I had mislaid. Anyway, despite the weather, I decided to wear this tie if only to prove to my park friends that I really am a child of the 1960’s. Mind you, to complete the outfit I feel as though I probably need a kaftan, some beads, some John Lennon/Yoko Ono style sun glasses and perhaps a stock lot of popular phrases such as ‘Make Love! Not war! (which I do believe in, by the way) I think I will have to work on all of the other items and then, of course, what are the occasions (apart from garden parties in one’s own garden) when you would actually want to wear the full outfit. Having said that, I took off the tie and decided not to offend God , the priest and the rest of the congregation by wearing it for the evening service this evening.

This afternoon was a quiet afternoon which it always is when I know we have to bestir ourselves to leave the house at 5.30 in time for the evening service. We have to book in for this as soon as the subscriptions lists open at 6.00 on a Wednesday evening and it is easy to get caught out and miss one’s slot – it happened to me once only a month to so so back. We get sight of some of the regulars in the congregation but we cannot really stop for a chat until the present regulations, which may well soon be lifted in any case.

All the signs are present, at the moment, that our press is preparing to come to the aid of the government which looks set for a ‘U’-turn on the complete unlocking on June 21st (two weeks on Monday) There is quite a lot of speculation as to what measures may well continue after the ‘end’ to the lockdown. Top of the list is the use of face masks which looks set for continue. Another hot favourite seems to be advice to carry working from home, where possible. A slight delay to the date of the unlocking, say for another fortnight, may well be on the cards as well. Apparently, the government is going to be faced with a really difficult policy decision in a week or so because the government ‘line’ has been that the unlock down is going to occur ‘come what may’ on June 21st or the government feels that it will lose all credibility (not to to mention the wrath of the right wing of the Tory Party but as we know, this always be taken as a constant). The problem for the government is that much of the data seems to be pointing in the wrong direction and we will have to wait until almost the last moment to have a more complete date set (with projections about projected numbers of hospital cases and so on) At least they do not have the problems being experienced in Belgium were the country’s leading virologist is being targeted by a far right military shooting instructor who is pursuing a vendetta against virologists and Covid lockdowns and is on the run with a rocket launcher and a machine gun (and the Belgian police cannot find him).

 

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Friday, 5th June, 2021 [Day 445]

Today, the spell of fine weather continues and so we were delighted  to start our walk, after our customary chat and exchange of news with our domestic help who has been ‘doing’ for us for at least the last ten years. Then we made our way into town but did it in a series of ‘three hops’ so that Meg could manage the various stages in the heat without undue distress. First we popped down to our loca and Meg sat outside on some benches whilst I popped around the corner to pick up the newspapers. Then we both ventured forth into town and bought some toiletries from a local ‘Health and Beauty’ type shop – having completed the second leg of our venture we could not wait until we continued to the park and consumed our coffee and comestibles (the only slight problem being that any of the local dogs who have been let off the lead bound towards us in the inspection that they might get fed). After that, it was home for a fairly quick lunch before we settled down to our Friday afternoon activities. The principal activity was to get the lawns cut which includes the communal green area which is in front of the house (and which I have affectionately in the past nicknamed as ‘Meg’s Meadow’) and then our own private lawn towards the rear. The lawns look so much better once they have been transformed from their wispy appearance once the dandelions have done their worst to a much tidier condition which looks great in the afternoon sunshine.  Then I needed to get some heavy stone pots which I had recently acquired into the positions I had chosen for them. My daughter-in-law helped me with some of the heavy lifting involved and then we scoured the garden for some plants with which to populate them. Our daughter-in-law had already been busy with her dahlias which she had uncovered ready for the new season and she had sown and planted some sunflowers (in variety) in various parts of the garden so we just have to give them a bit of TLC now in order for them to thrive.

In the early evening, one of my ex-colleagues from Hampshire FaceTimed me (we generally do each Friday evening and he always seems to have such a busy life with organising this, that and the other) We are still vaguely wondering whether it would be possible to book ourselves away for a few nights in North Wales and, as things stand, we should be seeing Meg’s cousin in about three weeks time. Last night, I made some tentative attempts to make a booking at the Holiday Inn we have used several times before but did not get anywhere. So this morning, I telephoned them only to be informed that they are not contemplating opening again until July at the earliest. (I am not quite sure whether this is because they come under the Welsh lockdown rules which differ a little from the English, in any case).

I am finding it interesting that a lot of political heat is being generated today by the Government’s decision to move Portugal from the ‘green’ category (no quarantines) to the ‘amber’ category (which implies a fortnight’s quarantine plus a couple of tests upon your return) It seems that one of the factors behind the government’s decision is an understandable nervousness about exposing British holiday makers to the ‘Nepalese’ variant (which seems to be a variant upon the Indian variant) It might be the the UK government are being over-cautious at this point, but I don’t think so. They were rightly criticised for delaying putting ‘India’ in the ‘red’ zone thereby exposing the great British public to potentially hundreds or even thousands of people flying in from India perhaps carrying the new mutant strain of the virus with them.Now without wishing to sound ethnocentric, it must be of concern when a variant itself mutates because the so-called ‘Nepalese’ variant could evade all of our current vaccines and our subsequent defences. 

The COVID news tonight sounds genuinely scary to me as coronavirus cases in the community rocketed by 76.5% in just one week, official data for England indicates. Waves of infection have got to start off from very small beginnings and this looks incredibly like the start of another wave to me. Also, the R rate has moved up too a figure in the rate 1.0-1.2 which probably means about 1.1 This means that every 10 infected people will generate a further eleven infections and so on. The date for the end of all lockdowns (21st June, only 17 days away) is now looking very uncertain at this stage. If we were to completely unlock down then, we might be releasing the whirlwind!

Tonight, Donald Trump has been banned from FaceBook for the next year and a half at least.The timing means Mr Trump will not be able to use his accounts ahead of the November 2022 national midterm elections, when his Republican party will be competing for congressional seats. But tens of millions of Republican voters are still providing Trump with their support (at least nominally)

 

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