Hello world!

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

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

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

http://bit.ly/mch-vca

 

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Friday, 7th May, 2021 [Day 417]

So we had a beautiful, spring-like day today and it was a delight to walk down into town when we eventually did. Our walk was a little delayed so I left Meg on the ‘top’ bench (i.e. one of the three that overlooks most of the park and hence one of our favourite perches) chatting with one of our regulars who espied us from afar and whizzes along at a fantastic speed in her battery-driven wheelchair. On my way through the park, I chatted with another of our regular group, mainly about computing-like things as were talking about email clients, alternatives to Microsoft Office and so on. Having collected our newspapers, I made my way back through the park and now we had a little congregation of about 5-6 of us who seem to coincide at about the same time of day in the park. On the way home, we were pleased to have a little chat with an elderly French lady who we know quite well (neighbours of some of our Catholic friends). She recently lost her husband who was pretty aged and had been very ill so we agreed that he was probably in ‘a better place’ right now. The funeral arrangements had gone quite well but of course the numbers were very restricted in these COVID-19 lockdown days. We intimated to the French lady (who I think has taught French in England for several decades during her working life) that we would be delighted to have her round into our garden to drink either tea or champagne according to our mood. We have only had conversations in the street but would welcome the opportunity to share some of our life experiences with each other. When Meg and I used to go on holiday regularly to the South of Spain with the Saga group (catering for the over 50’s) we often found it fascinating to have extended conversations with various people that we met about their life and careers. Everybody we met seemed to have such a fascinating ‘back history’  and I am sure the same is probably true of the people we meet here in Bromsgrove. And we had yet another cbat with our Italian friend on the way home – it was certainly the right kind of weather fo stopping and chatting all the way home.

We had to have a lightning lunch of cheese and biscuits because we had booked a fitting service for some clothes in the Longbriege branch of Marks and Spencer. Longbridge is where the assembly track to the Austin mini used to be and  the site as a whole is now dominated by some large retail outlets and social housing. It makes the days of strikes in British car factories in the mid 70’s seem so incredibly distant – well, of course, it was half a century ago.

The political news this evening is almost completely unprecedented. Firstly, the Tories have won the parliamentary bye-election in Hartlepool with a massive majority (taking approximately two thirds of the vote in what had traditionally been one of the safest of Labour seats) This is the first time the Tories have gained this seat since its creation about fifty years ago. The explanation is not had to find. Election analyst professor Will Jennings, of the University of Southampton, said the 2021 results showed the Tories were ‘making largest gains, and Labour feeling most pain, in areas that voted strongly for Brexit.‘ Conservatives are hoovering up Leave voters Prof Jennings said. That’s the stomping ground where the Conservatives are doing really well.‘ In terms of a broader analysis of the British political scene is is quite remarkable that a party should be in power for about 11 years and then make massive gains in the heartlands of its opponents. I am not sure whether this has every happened before in British political history and once would have to delve into political history books to find a parallel. All of the voters who voted Brexit/Leave seem to have fallen completely into the lap of the Tories. Added to this, of course, we have the ‘rally around the flag’ sentiment concerning the successful implementation of the vaccination regimes . To give a pithy illustration of this, the leader of the Conservatives in Walsall (where the Tories made enormous gains) was asked why the Conservatives had done so well in Walsall. For a local politician campaigning on local issues, his answer was revealing: ‘Well it’s all down to Boris Johnson and the success of his vaccination campaign‘ Enough said! In the meantime, the Labour Party seems to have strengthed its position in Wales and in Scotland, the SNP have also gained ground – whether enough to form an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament it is too early to tell. It does look as though, right across the UK (excluding Northern Ireland where there were no elections) that members of governing parties (Tory in England, Labour in Wales, SNP in Scotland) have generally reinforced their position. Is this a vase of ‘rally round the flag’ as the pandemic crisis is starting to recede?

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Thursday, 6th May, 2021 [Day 416]

Today seemed quite a nice bright day, albeit showery, in the morning. We were a bit delayed, as we are often are on a Thursday with our Waitrose delivery and the arrival of our domestic help as  we always seem to have a lot of news to catch up week by week.  So eventually we got to walking down to the park and, for a change, the weather was very pleasant although a tad cold for us. Whilst Meg sat on the park bench, I went off quickly on my own to collect the newspapers – in the meantime, when I returned, Meg had been joined by our friendly octogenarian who walks at least 10km a day come hail or shine. Then on our way home, we bumped into our Italian friend who we have not seen for quite a long time (but she had  seen the backs of us as we beetled down the hill one morning) Anyway, more pleasant chats for us both but it was very late when we go home for lunch. Fortunately, I managed to raid my store cupboard for one of those tins (chicken, steak) that we tend to keep in the cupboard to raid ‘in case of emergency’. So we managed to make a pretty fast risotto which was just as well as we tend to share a little of it with our domestic help. After lunch and a doze, the weather looked set fair so the lawnmower beckoned as it is now a couple of weeks since the last mow. Fortunately the rains held off and the grass got well and truly cut -as the gardening books often say ‘Choose a fine day to…‘ (as though one could)

The political news last night and again today was quite interesting, particularly if you are of  cynical frame of mind. There are the Tories 10% ahead of the Labour Party the day before some of the biggest elections which we are holding today (some having been held over from last year, postponed because of COVID-19). Suddenly, eager to make a mark with the more Brexit and xenophically inclined sections of the electorate in the so-called ‘red wall’ (i.e. Labour seats in largely declining industrial areas) and handed to them on a plate was a fishing dispute with the French off the territory of Jersey.  The British government immediately sent two warships to the area, which immediately generated headlines such as ‘Boris sends in the warships‘ and similar headlines. It is a well known ploy of right wing governments to have an aggressive foreign policy, almost deliberately picking fights with enemies to ‘unify the nation’. But in this particular case, it is evident that Britain sending warships to defend ‘our’ fishing industry against the French is bound to create waves of approval, particularly from the more Brexit-inclined portions of the electorate. You could not have handed a ‘gift-wrapped’ bonus to the Government on the very eve of an election if you had tried. I am trying to fully understand the rights and wrongs in this situation. As I understand it, no Jersey fishermen have been allowed to land any of their catch in France so they are one casualty of Brexit. The French, on the other hand, have traditionally fished all around Jersey (it is only 14 miles from the French coast). However, under the Brexit agreement, their rights are guaranteed but the Jersey authorities are demanding proof from each particular trawler skipper that they have ‘traditionally’ been fishing in the area which sounds a bureaucratic nightmare. However, after a flurry of ‘gunship diplomacy’, it does look tonight as though the Jersey authorities and the French are sitting down to thrash things out in a relatively cordial fashion but I suspect that this is one of these loose ends from Brexit will rumble on and on.

Whilst I must admit to being an ‘election junky’, tonight is going to be an exception. Normally, I stock up with several bottle of Newcastle Brown ale which it is always my intention to slowly consume throughout the night as the election results roll in. The theory is that I will be celebrating if the party I support is winning or gaining seats or to console  myself if the parties I support are actually losing. But this evening, there will be nothing to keep me from my bed. In the first place, the Tories are about 10% ahead and reportedly 17% ahead in Hartlepool which I think has only been Tory on one occasion in the past century. Anyway, 17% behind on the day before the election makes the prospects utterly dismal for the Labour Party. Many of the councils will not start counting until Friday morning and some are even delaying the start of the count until Monday (because of the difficulties that COVID-19 creates for the count, presumably) So I suppose when the polls close at 10.00pm tonight and when the political analysis programs start at 12.00pm, probably there will not be much meat to chew over apart from some exit polls that may well have been conducted.

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Wednesday, 5th May, 2021 [Day 415]

Today was a very rainy and blustery day and although there were hints at some sunshine in between the showers, it was certainly raincoat weather. We were a little delayed this morning getting our Waitrose order in place ready for delivery tomorrow so we felt it was prudent to make a journey into town by car. This we did, collecting our newspapers, popping into Waitrose to get some extra milk and finally making our way into the bandstand in the park, which is our normal retreat in bad weather. Needless to say, we are about the only people in the park this morning although the car park seemed full enough – do people park here (free) and then walk down into town, we asked each other? Then it was time for lunch at a fairly normal time and we settled down for a good read in the afternoon.

This was not to be, however. The IBM Thinkpad I am gradually resurrecting and upon which I have recently installed Windows 7 kept informing me that I needed to validate my installation of Windows as otherwise dire consequences might follow (what MicroSoft archly call ‘Reduced Functionality Mode‘ which probably means that it will not run). I tried to validate using the automatic process (online) but only got an error code when I tried this. I was given the opportunity to attempt to validate by telephone and this is when the fun and games started. I phoned a Microsoft number that the machine gave me but their system needed to validate my phone by entering some validation digits. This worked (eventually) on the 3rd attempt and then Microsoft needed to validate my email by sending me an email with another validation code. Having got through these hurdles, all of the menus were assuming I was trying to validate Windows 10 (support for Windows 7 having finished some 15 months ago) By a series of accidents and lucky guesses on the phone, I eventually go through to a human operator (in the States, I imagine, judging by the accent) I tried giving them my Product Activation key (25 digits of alphanumeric characters) but this was not required. Nor was my Product ID code what was required. Eventually I was asked to read out another group of codes supplied to me by my Activation screen- this was about 9 groups of six which I had to read out.  In return for this, I was then asked to enter about 48 other numbers (eight groups of six?) which I did – and my version of Windows (which I always knew to be legal) was eventually activated. Naturally, I was relieved to get this done and have a fully activated copy of Windows 7 but there is a reason for all of this. Because there is so  much illicit copying and fraud throughout the world, Microfoft have to ensure that the same copy of Windows is not being installed on more than one system. The activation procedure involves a procedure whereby about six details of your configuration (CPU, memory, hard disk, motherboard etc.) are transmitted to Microsoft so that they can ascertain that this combination has not been used before. So, for example, if you had a desktop machine and also laptop you would have to have a fully legitimate copy for each of these installations. One can understand the reasons for all of this, I suppose, and having an ‘old’ operating system was not ever going to help but at least my efforts have been crowned with success (not guaranteed in the world of computing). I have just invested, though, in a ‘Windows 7 – the missing manual‘ which is part of an excellent series and would have cost me $40.00 when first published in 2010 but I acquired for about £3.50 post-free recently.

Facebook has confirmed its ban on Donald Trump’s utterances. Twitter have banned him permanently but FaceBook’s oversight board is keeping him banned until ‘the risk of violence has decreased‘ That form of words seems to give Facebook plenty of scope to rescind the ban whenever they like. It seems that a way round the ban is already being found as Trump has launched a space on his website where he posts messages that can be shared by others on their own social networking pages. So it looks as though he has found a way, despite being banned, of getting his message across to whoever he likes. Under the banner of ‘From the desk of Donald J Trump‘ and complete with his photos, his prominent supporters can promulgate whatever message he wants on their own websites.

It is the day today before the local elections (and the Scottish elections) but although TV programmes are going to run from midnight tomorrow night there does not seem much to stay up for. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a lot of the counting is going to be delayed until Friday so news will no doubt dribble out during the day – so nothing much to waste good sleeping time for.

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Tuesday, 4th May, 2021 [Day 414]

Today was a day to which we had been looking forward for quite some time because it was the day when Meg and I were due to be shorn of our lanky locks i.e. receive our long promised haircuts. It was last December when we were last ‘done’ so we have had to be quite patient. Knowing that our hairdresser was due to come mid-morning, our morning walk had to be foregone. Instead, I went down by car to collect our daily ration of newspapers and then, whilst in the car, made a trip in person to hand in our postal ballots. I could have popped them into a postbox but with the Bank Holiday they would stayed sitting in the postbox from Friday afternoon until the following Tuesday with delivery on Wednesday at the earliest. So I handed in our postal votes, hoping that by saving a day they would get into the system and be counted as they should be. Then when I got home, we spent some useful time waiting for the hairdresser by doing some tidying up and filing of one sort or another. Eventually, our hairdresser turned up – about half an hour late- but Meg had a perm and I had my typical haircut, so we feel we have entered the ranks of the ‘normals’ for a change. The weather was very variable today and seemed more akin to April than to May and for a few minutes we actually had rain that turned to sleet and eventually to little round pellets of hail – before giving rise that is to bouts of brilliant sunshine.  That is why it is sometimes said that you can have four seasons in one day.

This afternoon was a lazy type of afternoon. and I alternated between bouts of reading, bouts of tidying and bouts of getting my ‘Power Banks’, purchased yesterday afternoon, properly charged up and loaded to go. I intended to search on the web to load Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (popularly known as ‘Elvira Madigan’ after a Swedish film of 1967 in which the second movement features prominently) This was a slightly frustrating search as most of the offerings available on the internet feature the second movement only. Indeed, the second movement ‘Andante’, of sublime beauty, with its few notes and bare outline, is incidentally a classic example of the manner in which Mozart frequently left himself room to improvise within the context of his own concertos. It is incredibly well known and frequently played on Classic FM for example. I did manage to find a complete recording but it seemed to be in mono, not stereo, and sound pedestrian in the extreme which is why, probably, it is made available in its entirety on the internet because nobody wants to listen to it!

We FaceTimed our close ex-Waitrose friends late this afternoon and they told us a tale of woe concerning her daughter. Whilst motoring slowly through the centre of Bromsgrove a youth dashed in front of her car and then proceeded to vandalise it. Apparently this 17 year may have been high on drink and drugs and had fallen out with his girlfriend. The police eventually proceeded to apprehend  the offender whilst the youth was busy inflicting damage on several other vehicles in his crazed state. The police had been round to take statements but were, apparently, unwilling to take any further action as the youth, despite causing mayhem, was ‘under the age of 17 and of unsound mind‘ This sounds to us like a complete cop out (sorry about the pun!) and it did remind me of my own accident in 1973 when I was run over by a probably drunken driver but the police did not show any inclination to be involved as the driver had knocked himself unconscious and one cannot perform a blood test for alcohol on an unconscious subject (but one coming round, he immediately caught the next flight to Florida where we eventually served a High court writ on him five years later) We advised our friends to get some legal expertise focussed upon their options in this circumstance as soon as they could  and before any evidence trails grow cold even though they might have to pay for it in the short term.

There are several other little snippets of political news this evening. The Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer is admitting that the party has a ‘mountain to climb’ before the bye-election on Thursday of Hartlepool, formerly a rock solid Labour stronghold but now one in which, according to one poll this evening, the Tories have a 17-point lead. It sounds as though Keir Starmer is already conceding defeat. In the meanwhile the political analysts are all saying that the amount of sleaze swirling around No 10 at the moment is not having any severe consequences because the voters ‘have already priced this in’  i.e. they know that Boris Johnson has a proven track record of lying and duplicity but they tend to vote for him anyway (like Trump and other populists)

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Monday, 3rd May 2021 [Day 413]

Today, you might say, was a typical Bank Holiday Monday i.e. it was wet , cold, windy and blustery. To be fair, it seemed to be like this all over the country so we did not feel relatively deprived – but it is amazing how many times Bank Holidays in the UK just happen to coincide with a spell of really awful weather. When Meg and I were wondering whether or not to walk into town, we decided to brave it as the sky was only spluttering a little and we thought the walk would do us good. Eventually, though, we made our way to the park where we were about the only people to be seen – apart from one lonely dog walker in a hi-viz vest about 300 yards away. So we consoled ourselves by having our snack absolutely alone and feeling a little wet and miserable – I kept remembering the line written in a Blackpool theatrical digs  establishment in which a rather disgruntled thespian had written in the guest book ‘We were cold and hungry – and you took us in’ As we were leaving we glanced towards the duck pond/boating lake only to discover that six little ducklings had made their presence known. They have a rather precarious existence having to contend with ‘Henry’ the (resident) heron on the one hand and some rats who we know inhabit the island in the middle of the lake. Last year, I remember seeing the mother duck paddling cross the pond with all of her ducklings spread out behind her in an orderly line. This made me remember something we once saw in Coruña in Northern Spain. A group of Japanese kindergarten children who must have been aged about 4-6 were being taken out by their teacher. The children held onto a long length of blue rope and they were placed alternatively and were similarly equally spaced on each side of the rope – they had evidently been told ‘Whatever you do – keep hold of the rope’  and all the teacher had to do in order to get them across the road was to wait for a gap in the traffic and then hang onto one end of the rope and then lead them across. A simple solution to a problem, really.

This afternoon although it was still very blustery, I decided to make a special expedition to our local Asda in order to buy a few particular things that I know cannot be bought anywhere else – for example, we quite like  tins of rhubarb that we have with a hot bowl of custard but only Asda seem to stock it. Anyway, I had about eight little items on my list and, fortunately, I managed to buy each one of them. The fact it was a Bank Holiday and so wet and windy made the store practically empty which sorted my purposes down to the ground. In particular, now that I am ‘in the know’, I bought a couple of what I now know to be called ‘Power Banks’ i.e. little stores of energy a bit like a battery but where you can top up your mobile phone if you out on the road and find your battery has run out completely. In my case, I am using these power banks to power the speakers on my resurrected ThinkPad which means that a precious USB port is not taken out of commission. Incidentally, I managed to find other reviews that contrasted with the rather scabby review that I read about the Logitech speakers I have brought into use recently. These other reviews were YouTube reviews and the presenters were very enthusiastic about the quality and functionality of these speakers (as indeed I am).  I gave them a good test by playing the whole of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 whilst replying to my emails this morning and I personally found the quality and the tone to be excellent. When you think of the number of variables (the quality of the actual sound card, the drivers, the speakers themselves and the inevitably subjective impressions of the hearer) perhaps it is not a surprise that one can get such a variety of opinions concerning the sound quality that the user is experiencing.

Today Boris Johnson has been declaiming that the end of the lockdown may well be in sight and that we can start to look forward to both the end of social distancing and also also the prospect of overseas holidays. It looks as France, Spain and Italy may well end up not in the ‘green zone’ but in the ‘amber zone’ which means that visitors to the countries will have self quarantine for a number of days upon their return. Quite frankly, I think it is a little too soon to be holding out such promises because there is plenty of time for new variants to arise and for all kinds of problems to manifest themselves. For example, some experts are explaining that when travelling through an airport terminal those from ‘red’ ‘amber’ and  ‘green’ zones will all be mixing and queuing up together which exposes everyone to all kinds of cross-infection. The fact that an election is due in three days time is probably explanation enough for the fact that a proper degree of caution is now being abandoned – and we may all suffer in the long run.

 

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Sunday, 2nd May 2021 [Day 412]

Today was the day that yesterday ought to have been I.e. it was bright, sunny and springlike and was the kind of day that you associate with May Day (1st May) rather than May 2nd. So we were straight into our Sunday morning routine which involves me going and getting the Sunday newspapers early and before we settle down to watch the Andrew Marr show. My newsagent who is busy writing a book at the moment asked me if I knew of any editors in Bromsgrove – by this, I think he means a proof-reader plus ‘second pair of eyes’ to oversee a manuscript so ever keen for this sort of thing I volunteered to do it for him chapter by chapter whenever he wants to let me have it. As he uses MicroSoft Word on a Mac (as do I) then there should be any compatibility issues. After the Andrew Marr show, we walked down into town and, believe it not, soon met up with about 2-4 of our park ‘regulars’ where we had a jolly time but recognised that tomorrow might be quite a wet and soggy day according to weather forecasts so tomorrow we will feel less inclined to linger if the heavens have opened above us. On our return home, I got to work on the pork joint that we had slow cooking throughout the morning. I always make some onion gravy and then divide the whole joint into two halves -freezing one half for future weeks. Then I cut off some slices from the joint and pop it in the gravy thickened with instant potato (a cheat, which I buy from Asda incredibly cheaply when I see it) and finally a splash of Sarson’s ‘Browning’ (colouring agent) which is yet another cheat to make the gravy look richer than it is. Finally this gets complemented with Cavolo Nero kale and a baked potato. As you might expect, most of the afternoon is devoted to an intense reading of the Sunday newspapers.

In the not quite middle of the night, I was playing about with the little speaker I have popped onto the resurrected IBM ThinkPad, when I suddenly remembered that I already had some quite decent little speakers tucked away somewhere. Actually,I had bought them to complement a little Samson machine I had a few years ago and then disposed of. Excitedly, I hooked up the speakers to the Thinkpad and although it was the middle of the night (and therefore I had to keep the volume right down) nonetheless the tone and quality seemed excellent to me. They were little squat Logitech speakers, made in China but well constructed with some interesting little detail.The speakers themselves were about 1½” which is surely enough for a laptop, for which they were designed. The speakers housings were about 4½” tall and had little rubberised strips incorporated into the base so that they wouldn’t slide around all over one’s desktop. Another design detail that I had not fully appreciated when I bought them a few years (current price £15) is that the back of each speaker contains a cable management arrangement around which you can wind any excess length of cable so that you only have the amount of cable lying across your desktop that you happen to need. They achieve their power through a USB which does take to take up one precious USB slot. But then I had a bit of a brainwave. I had bought from Poundland about a year ago a ‘Power Bank‘ (for the princely sum of £1!) designed to give your phone an emergency boost of power if you need it whilst out on the road. Anyway,I had one of these units already charged up and found this was an excellent power source for my speakers (which at half volume are only about 0.6 watts anyway) Remembering my ‘O’-level physics (Watts=volts*amps) I worked out that this power brick might give me 50 hours of play time before it needs to be recharged (if I got this wrong by a factor of 10, 5 hours is still quite a decent whack) I went on the web on my main computer to find a review of these Logitech speakers and the reviews that I found were incredibly sniffy about them (e.g. ‘with the volume cranked up to only 50% the speakers emitted a distorted and jarring sound..the bass and mids tended to fade away as the volume got higher’) I have to say, they sounded incredibly good to me and I played a variety of classical tracks on them this morning – I wonder if audiophiles and audio experts get anything intolerant of a system that doesn’t cost hundreds of pounds! Anyway, I am delighted by what I have and I suspect that I will be giving myself a good diet of my favourite classical tracks to give them a good trial whilst I am busy reading and writing my emails first thing every morning!

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Saturday, 1st May, 2021 [Day 411]

The 1st May has dawned with a bout of distinctly cloudy, or at leat variable, weather. Meg and I did not start our walk into town until nearly 12.00 and when we started off, the weather was set quite fair but it was soon to change. By the time we were sitting on our bench, it had started to rain and neither of us had coats on. So we packed up our camp and headed down the hill where we decided to head for the bandstand – together with several others sheltering from the rain. There we bumped into University of Birmingham friend and another of our park regulars and we engaged in one of our long and rambling conversations. In the course of this, and à propos nothing in particular, I regaled them with a story from the days in which I used to work in a big, 4-star hotel in Harrogate. This hotel was huge and about 375 bedrooms with a very high occupancy rate, so it was no surprise that occasionally a guest died from natural causes.The problem is – how to you safely transport a body through the hotel without attracting the attention of the police, ambulance crews, other guests etc (I am talking about the period from 1959-1964 here) The answer is, of course, that we rolled the body inside a carpet and brought it down in the service lift. After all, nobody gives a second glance to a group of hotel workers bringing a roll of carpet down in a lift and I think this happened on one or two occasions whilst I was working there. I started washing dishes – 12½p an hour, graduated to washing silver (15p an hour), then washing glass for the bar (20p an hour) and finally worked in the main bar itself only to be rewarded, eventually, with my own little cocktail bar  (25p an hour). As you can tell, there was a minute stratification structure to the hotel which had managed in its entirety by about 3-5 managers. When we went back to the hotel for a 70th birthday treat, I espied an organisation chart where there were now about 5 times as many managers (including occupations that didn’t exist in the 1950’s such as ‘website manager‘) but the number of rooms had been reduced by a half (as they knocked rooms together to provide en-suite facilities, I imagine) This, if course, happens in the ‘private’ sector where the bureaucracy had grown over the decades as it has in the public sector of course.

We got home incredibly late after all of this chattering (we had also stopped to have a natter with some of our church friends going up the hill) so it was getting on for 2.30 when we eventually got home. So to save time preparing and cooking a meal, we just had a thick soup which is a Waitrose specialty to which we treat ourselves. The rest of the afternoon was a deliberately lazy affair as we knew we had to get ready to go to church at at about 5.30 in the afternoon.We only just booked in time to get into the service on this occasion and I think that the church was full to its new ‘semi-lockdown’ capacity which is about 45 people. We do see and wave to other people at a distance but perhaps it will not be too long before we can have the normal types of social discourse that occurs between members of the congregation once we start to experience what will be the ‘new normal’ times.

The Sky News website hosts an interesting graphic of ‘Covid-19 around the world‘ and by putting your mouse over a country of interest, you will be informed of the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases expressed as a rate per 100,000. Some of the comparisons are amazing – for example the rate in France is 824 (15 times the English rate of 55), in Argentina it is 772 (14 times the English rate), in Mongolia 541 (10 times the English rate) and in Vietnam 0.2 (0.04 of the English rate) It makes you think, does it not?

Next week is going to be a busy week, what with one thing or another.On Tuesday, we are looking forward very much to getting our locks shorn by the hairdresser for whom we have both been waiting for weeks. Then on Friday, we are scheduled to go to Marks and Spencer in Longbridge (site of the old Austin production line) for a specialised (free) underwear fitting session which they offer but for which you have to book way in advance. We will probably need to hand deliver our voting papers for the forthcoming election because the Bank Holiday has rather crept up on us and if we were put our postal votes in the postbox, they would sit there until Tuesday and not get delivered until Wednesday which would be cutting it a little fine – so we will have a run out in the car and hand deliver the votes through the door of the council offices themselves.

 

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Friday, 30th April, 2021 [Day 410]

We were somewhat delayed this morning as Meg nd I had some domestic jobs to get done before we went on our walk. We did not want to rush in any case as it had started raining  at about 5-6 in the morning (and perhaps even earlier) and was spluttering on even in the mid morning. As the morning wore on, though, the sun eventually broke through and we finished with quite a sunny morning  Again, we had a slightly different routine this morning because having picked up our newspapers, we knew that we had better make a trip to W H Smiths (which also incorporates the Post Office these days) in order to buy some birthday cards and one, in particular, which needed to arrive by tomorrow in time for the birthday on Sunday. There was a group of colleagues at the University of Winchester who all had their birthdays strung out through various dates in May. We decided about twenty years ago now that we would have a large celebratory birthday meal to accommodate all of us, and this has carried on even after the year that many of us retired in 2007 or shortly thereafter. In fact, we call ourselves ‘The Old Fogies‘ and when we meet e exchange news of families,current politics an so on, I would like to think that we remind ourselves how excellent things were when we in charge and how things have gone to the dogs ever since then. We don’t actually say any of this but we might secretly think it, all the same. This year, one of our number has busily organised a large Zoom session for us on the night of 11th May (which happens to be my birthday) so the we can raise a virtual glass to each other (although, come to think of it, they could be real). Another of our number is 60 this year and would have daily loved to have a party at home but that pleasure may have to wait for another year (and perhaps even longer than that if a third wave strikes us).

I had another little ‘play’ on my IBM ThinkPad this afternoon. From somewhere, I have found about a free utility suite named ‘Glary Utilities’ which does all kind of housekeeping things on your computer. These include examining the Registry for any error or inconsistencies, getting rid of any tracks you may have left around whilst browsing, using a Disk Cleanup utility, examining the processes and start-up items on your computer and so on. Most of these things are forgotten about by the average user but a set of utilities like these helps get rid of the clutter which eventually slows all computers down. As I only have a small amount of installed memory by today’s standards (1.25 Gb rather than the more common 4Gb) I am trying to run a ‘clean and mean machine’ whilst I can. I also have given the sound system a good workover by installing and then playing from my Music Library a whole series of Mozart tracks. Just out of interest, I wondered how easy it would be to get my favourite Paint Concerto (Mozart’s No. 23) onto my system and found it ridiculously easy. I located and downloaded the relevant mp3 files I needed onto a pen drive on my main computer (I intend to use the Thinkpad to go on the web only when absolutely necessary) and then transferred them into the ThinkPad – the whole process must have taken about 2 minutes. I was then giving my little external speaker system a good workout – it looks a little like a golfball but the top twists to add some miniature bellows to give a bit of extra volume. The whole caboodle has to be charged up beforehand and lasts, I think, for about 5 hours but has the advantage that it doesn’t occupy a precious USB port but all you have to do is to plug in the audio lead. I am quite astonished by how good the quality is for such a tiny (and cheap!) device so this helps to extend the functionality of the sound system as a whole. I discovered that the sound card is by Realtek (very good reputation for quality) and is part of the motherboard whilst the video controller is built into the chip itself. Incidentally, one of my acquaintances in the park today handed me a leaflet for a little firm housed in the upstairs of a store whose function is to recycle unwanted furniture into the hands of ‘needy’ people. The little firm  advertises some incredibly cheap laptop deals with laptops with a 2.5Ghz CPU, 4 GB of Ram and a 250GB hard disk at prices ranging from £60.00 for a Lenovo to £90 for a Toshiba. If I need to install any new memory (quite a possibility) or have a need for a more specialised cable, then I know where I will be heading for in the future. 

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Thursday, 29th April, 2021 [Day 409]

Some readers of this blog may vaguely be aware that very occasionally (!) if I am finding it a little difficult to sleep it is not unknown for me to get up and play for a little on the computer. The IBM ThinkPad I recently acquired has a very loyal following amongst its aficionados and has an amazing history of being used in space! I take the following para from a website entitled ‘IBM ThinkPads in Space’ and it reads as follows:


IBM ThinkPads first flew aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle on Dec. 2, 1993 on the Shuttle Endeavour’s flight to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts used the ThinkPads 750s to view color images and sketches of the telescope that were loaded on the computer’s hard drive….

As the 20th century drew to a close, the only notebooks certified for long-term flight on the International Space Station (ISS) were the IBM ThinkPad 760XD and the 755C. Five 76OXDs and one additional 755C were placed on ISS during the May 1999 shuttle mission (STS-96), and another seven 76OXDs and one 755C were delivered on subsequent flights. (In 2003, IBM ThinkPad A31p computers were flown to the International Space Station for in-flight testing. The A31p is scheduled to become the new ISS Portable Computer System, replacing the ThinkPad 760XD.)


The website referred to above is full of some history and NASA have only ever allowed IBM ThinkPads anyway near their space shuttles. I think I can remember seeing a photo of an astronaut with a ThinkPad in one hand (no gravity!) and a repair tool in the other – presumably following video instructions. So what I am referring to here is a kind of loyalty towards a machine which is not a great games machine, is not the fastest or the slickest but is certainly one of the more robust, being designed to last for decades if necessary in an office environment. Now I had upgraded my ThinkPad from XP to Windows 7 where everything seemed to be OK but without the benefit of any sound drivers. Naturally, I searched the web and tried one or two things but nothing seemed to work. But eventually I stumbled across a disk on eBay which cost the princely sum of £1.85 entitled ‘Windows Universal Driver Installation DVD – 2020 Drivers’ . This DVD contains a program which scans the whole of your PC noting any absences of drivers and giving you the opportunity to install whatever you wanted. It noted the absence of sound drivers so I gratefully accepted the offer of installing these but neglected the opportunities to update other drivers just in case it sent the whole computer haywire. Imagine my delight, when the icon on the TaskBar went from ‘not working’ to ‘working’ – and of course, eventually, the sound seemed to be working OK. However, the volume was pretty low but I managed to discover some software settings (in different places) to boost the volume level – and then discovered two specialist keys, (not Function keys) on the ThinkPad which were evidently sound increase/decrease buttons and eventually I had a system with fully featured sound. I also happened to have a small, USB-driven, loudspeaker which is somewhat more than golfball size but is nonetheless much larger than the thin strip of a speaker which laptops utilise. So all in all, I must say that I am a very happy bunny having a laptop which enables me to do what I want (principally show my 30 year old statistics programs) as well as the ‘marriage’ between my digitised wedding photos and an .mp3 music file which runs alongside them which is a very accurate representation of all of the wedding music played at the original ceremony in September, 1967.

Being reminded that tomorrow is the 25th wedding anniversary of our domestic help, Meg and I decided to alter our routine somewhat. We went down into car and, having collected our newspapers, popped into our local Waitrose where we bought some anniversary presents (Prosecco, a couple of sweet pea arrangements complete with their own netting and bamboo hoops). By an extraordinary coincidence, I encountered a lady within the store clutching the same two items so we evidently had similar thoughts in mind. So we got home not particularly late but laden with gifts appropriate for the occasion, we hope! Meg also passed on a brand-new item of clothing which was no longer wanted or needed but proved to be an exact fit. 

In the extraordinary maelstrom which is contemporary UK politics, it looks as though the noose is tightening around Boris John’s neck as it now appears, more likely than not, that a donor to the Conservative party had quite illegally paid for Boris Johnson’s flat renovations (now rumoured to be £200,000 whilst the taxpayer provides the first £30,000) Some reports are indicating that one of the reasons for the expense is that Johnson’s ‘girlfriend’ has a penchant for gold wallpaper. Meanwhile the great British public do not seem to care at all as the Conservatives are now polling at  44%, unchanged from a week earlier. whilst Labour was down a point on 33%.

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Wednesday, 28th April, 2021 [Day 408]

Today was one of those days when we knew that we were going to have quite a busy morning (for us) and so it proved. We are usually a little later than normal because Wednesday morning is our ‘update’ morning for the Waitrose shopping order which we have delivered tomorrow. This having been done and being a bit later than usual, we cut off into the park and had our elevenses (as it was more like a midday snack being an hour later than normal) Then we popped by our newspaper shop to pick up our regular supply of newspapers. We ventured after this onto the High Street in Bromsgrove in order to access an ATM – with these strange lockdown days, we tend to get a block of money to last us for several weeks as everything else tends to get paid by card over the internet. Having got our money out of an indoors ATM, we wandered down to Waitrose but, on an impulse, ventured into one of the local charity shops which are now re-opening. The one we entered was the British Heart Foundation shop and we had a quick look around to see if there was any item that might take our fancy. Just as we leaving, we caught sight of a small display with about 3-4 ladies handbags on it and one we immediately thought would be just the job for Meg – so we bought it. Now that we have it home and I have subjected it to the most minute examination, I am pretty convinced that it is unused and although the label inside says ‘Made in China’ one cannot really tell whether it is actual leather or a leather substitute which is so good you cannot tell the difference. But I did notice at least a couple of men’s barber’s shops where I could have wandered in and had a haircut (which I sorely need) on the spot i.e. without their being a queue or an appointment system. Our own hairdresser is coming to us next Tuesday morning so having waited this long, we can sure hang on for six more days. Being on the high street, we also took the opportunity to dive into a local shop to buy some toiletries which we like and typically in stock. We then visited our local Waitrose which serves as a drop-off point for any clothes purchases that we make online with John Lewis. We were pleased to pick this up today as the item of clothing was ordered a few days ago and John Lewis had despatched it to the wrong Waitrose store. We got an apologetic email from them (after being invited to call them) but as things were only delayed by a day or so, we did not honestly mind. 

On our way home and halfway between Waitrose and Bromsgrove School, we were delighted to meet up again with an acquaintance of ours who we used to meet some 2-3 times a week in the Waitrose coffee bar when it was open. Our friend is a local teacher of ‘A’-level politics and had also attended university in Leicester so we always had quite a lot in common. At least a year ago, I had rounded up some of the politics textbooks I was never going to need again and made her a present of them – if they were not useful to her then they could always be donated to the school library or even used as little gifts for some of her students. Our friend told us that the coffee bar in Waitrose may well be scheduled for re-opening on July 21st so we may have to wait for several more weeks before the old gang can reestablish itself. I asked one of the staff inside Waitrose whether each visitor on reopening day would be given a bottle of Champagne as a mark of loyalty – she thought not but hope springs eternal! Anyway, I have quite missed our friend (not seen for over a year) and her little child who is now rapidly growing up and was at nursery school so having waited for a year, we just need to show a little more patience so that we can eventually have friends re-united.  By the time we had made these various shopping excursions it was fairly late when we got home so lunch was quite delayed, even by our standards.

In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed some of our ex-Waitrose friends whom we normally contact once a week but we had to delay our normal call a week ago because of some technical problems. Anyway, it was great to catch up on each other’s news and, of course, as the weather has been fine we have all taken the opportunities to make little excursions. Our friends were delighted to make the acquaintance again of their latest grandchild who they have hardly seen in the last five months. Naturally this caused a great deal of pleasure but it does raise the interesting question – for many people – whether young children may find it a little difficult to recreate the social relationships (e.g. with grandparents) which the lockdowns have denied them over the months.

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