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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Monday, 22nd April, 2024 [Day 1498]

When our carers showed up this morning, we all commiserated with each other as, one way or another, each one of us had a disturbed night’s sleep. I finally get Meg settled into bed after a restless period at about 1.00am and actually got to bed myself at about 1.30 but one of the carers had been up until 2.45 with her one of her children who had a stomach upset after spending the day with his father (it was evidently something that had eaten) Our mood was not particularly improved as it was a grey and drizzly type of day and the bad weather seemed to set in for most of the day. It was a bit difficult to make plans when the weather was as wet as this – nonetheless, we delivered some letters (principally our voting ballots for the forthcoming mayoral elections) and called in to see if our friends happened to be at home down the hill. They were not in so we proceeded to the supermarket where we obtained some much needed supplies of requisites of which the other supermarket had sold out when we shopping last Thursday. Then we collected our newspaper and made our way to the Methodist centre for a coffee. We were quite glad that we did because we made the acquaintance of one of their activities organisers with whom I had previously been in correspondence by email. We had missed the opening session of the club they are starting off on the third Friday of each month so, armed with a leaflet, we will ensure that we make a calendar entry so that we do not miss it next month. We chatted with a ex-nurse and another lady, the topic of conversation being how long we had lived in Bromsgrove and why we had come to live in the town nearly seventeen years ago. Naturally, we availed ourselves of their tea and teacakes and we enjoyed the social chitchat in which we engage when we are sitting on what is termed the ‘Chatty Table’ One lady was trying to persuade us to go to an open afternoon in the local Salvation Army citadel but we declined the invitation, preferring to have lunch at home and then have a quiet and peaceful afternoon at home. After we had had a disturbed night last night, I was hopeful that Meg would have a longer doze after lunch because she (and I) are always so much the better for it. Lunch was the ham we cooked yesterday in which we heat up slices in a thick onion gravy, prepared yesterday, and complemented with broccoli and a baked potato.

The political news is dominated today by Rishi Sunak who gave a press conference this morning in which he stressed how he was unequivocally going to get his Rwanda flights scheme off the ground. It may well be that both the Lords and the Commons will continue to battle it out until the small hours of the morning. The Tories are blaming the Labour peers for prolonging the battle and although this is true to a certain extent, it is not the full story. Some of the opposition is coming from the cross benches (i.e. not party politically aligned members of the House of Lords) as well as some influential Tories. There is no doubt that in terms of ‘realpolitik’ and constitutional conventions, the House of Commons will eventually have its way. Apart from the damage that may be done to Britain’s international standing by breaking some of the tenets of international law, the Lords have other reasons to oppose the legislation. If there had been a clear mandate from the electorate i.e. the boats policy was part of a government manifesto, then the opposition from the Lords would have melted away more quickly. But as it stands, the Lords are saying that they are a revising chamber and this legislation is crying out for revision in the way it has been drafted and will be implemented. Rishi Sunak is saying today that commercial flights are standing by to process a whole stream of migrants but in view of the damage done to their reputation, I doubt this is actually the case. Small boat arrivals in the UK since the beginning of the year have increased by 24% compared with the according to Home Office data published today. Some 6,265 small boats arrived between 1 January and 21 April 2024, compared with 5,049 during the same period the year before. Vietnamese and Afghan arrivals were the main two nationalities, making up 40% of total arrivals during the period. Some 56,744 claims were granted and 36,597 were refused, representing a grant rate of 61%. Some details from the press conference which I have only fleetingly heard are the numbers (in their hundreds) of personnel who have been specially recruited to physically handle the migrants, many of whom will no doubt be dragged kicking and screaming onto the planes and then escorted all the way to Rwanda – one wonders if they will be manacled and/or physically restrained during the flights. All of this will be kept away from the prying eyes of the press and independent observers but I fear that eventually, if the policy works as the government intends, then all kinds of force will be used to implement the policy and I predict that some suicides will occur. One can only speculate whether the government will actually quite enjoy it to take place in order to placate their own right wing and the most illiberal of their supporters in the so called ‘red wall’ seats for whom the forcible removal of migrants is said to be a priority.

The other story abounding today is the Jewish activist who has forced an apology from the Met police after he tried to exercise his right to walk (confront?) a march organised by supporters of Palestine. There is a lot more here than meets the eye. One commentator who has seen the whole of the confrontation with the police filmed by Sky News and not just little selected clips from it broadcast has argued then an arrest would have been warranted for trying to break through a police cordon. This area is incredibly fraught for the police and sometimes they may get things wrong (as they may have done on this occasion) by telling the protestor that he is ‘evidently Jewish’ but I, for one, would not like to be on the front of the police lines trying to maintain the rights to demonstrate and also to keep the peace in an arena which is so emotionally and politically charged as this one.

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Sunday, 21st April, 2024 [Day 1497]

We got up in plenty of time this morning aware of the fact that our carers were timed to appear at 8.00am this morning but aware that yesterday they actually turned up one hour earlier. So we we were well prepared this morning and I had Meg up and ready to receive their ministrations by the time that they turned up on time today. Being a Sunday, we normally watch the Lorna Kuennsberg Politics program but were more than happy to see Trevor Phillips on the Sky equivalent which starts half an earlier as the BBC slot was taken over with coverage of the London Marathon. In fact, I found it rather refreshing to hear Trevor Phillips say to a government minister ‘Yeah, yeah, we have heard this all from you and your colleagues lots of times before’ when the spokesman for the Tory party goes into the script which seems to have been prepared for them before they are unleashed on the media. I only wish that more interviewers would do this these days but of course both politicians and interviewers need each other and, almost deliberately, run interviews with an agenda known between the two of them. Too aggressive an interview means that no more interviews will ever be held with that interviewer. I think that the Tory party has a very ‘iffy’ relationship with Channel 4 hardly ever agreeing to be interviewed on that particular channel whose interviewers are judged to be too aggressive – or in other words, to the point. After breakfast, Meg and I mapped out how we thought we would spend the morning. We intended to obtain our newspaper, make a visit to a local Aldi store and then go and have our coffee in the park. Our University of Birmingham friend phoned up so we were delighted to make an assignation a bit later in the park. We were actually a bit later for our meeting in the park than we intended because calling in at Waitrose, we were surprised to see they had no copies of the ‘Sunday Times‘ Assuming that if Waitrose did not have a copy of the newspaper, then no one would would, we bought a copy of the ‘Observer‘. But then armed with this, we decided to call in at the local BP garage not expecting to see any copies of the Sunday Times but secured a copy (for which we already paid, via the voucher system to which we subscribe) Then it was off to the park where it was a beautiful day but a little on the cold side. We occupied our normal bench and our friend was there waiting for us, having brought along his own flask of coffee and we spent the most enjoyable hour of conversation enjoying the spring sunshine. Before we parted, we made some tentative plans to have a day out together in Alcester, a charming little Georgian town, quite accessible for us. When we got home, we had some ham cooking in the slow cooker but quickly rustled up our lunch which I think I made in record time. Then it was time for Meg’s afternoon doze which did not last that long but was better than nothing.

When we awoke from our semi-slumbers, Meg and I tuned into the second half of the film ‘Ladies in Lavender’ which we had actually seen before. ‘Ladies in Lavender’ is a 2004 British drama film directed by Charles Dance and is based on a short story actually written in 1916. It stars Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith as two elderly sisters living in a small Cornish fishing village in 1936 who befriend a young Polish man who I think is washed upon on the beach and turns out to have a prodigious talent for the violin. The film is very emotionally charged and has some wonderful cinematography and although we had missed the first half, a lot of this was scene setting so we did not feel as though we had missed a great deal. On Channel 5, they followed this up with a detailed examination of the life of Maggie Smith who seems to have a penchant for acid one liners and an ability to play women of whatever age even from the earliest age. One of her finest performances was, of course, playing Miss Shepherd playing the part of ‘The Lady in the Van’ in the largely true story of the lady who camped on the property of Alan Bennett but latterly, she is better known for her performances as the dowager in ‘Downton Abbey’

Yet another Tory MP has had to resign in disgrace, after being kicked out of the party (i.e. the Conservative whip was withdrawn) Mark Menzies, the MP accused of misusing campaign funds has quit the Tory Party and will not stand at next election. A Conservative spokesperson says the party will now install a whistleblowing helpline and retrain MPs on how to manage certain financial accounts. This is rather a case of closing the stable door since the horse has bolted since the number of Conservative MPs seem to appear at the rate of one a month. 100 Tory MPs are standing down at the forthcoming general election, knowing that hey will almost certainly be defeated and a life in opposition, perhaps for as much as 10 years, means that their opportunities to take on lucrative second jobs will have diminished sharply. The argument is often made that MPs need to have second jobs in order to keep their current professional links alive and vibrant but this argument would have so much more force if after a modest amount of retained earnings, all of the rest of the money should be devoted to charities (and not a charity of their own choosing, either) Our local MP, Sajiv Javid, who is standing down at the next election has secured a remuneration for about 4 times his parliamentary salary for about a quarter of the work but this is not untypical for ex-Tory ministers.

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Saturday, 20th April, 2024 [Day 1496]

Meg and I were slightly disconcerted this morning as we had woken up at 6.30am and at 7.00am, I went downstairs to make our early morning cup of tea. But then the doorbell rang and it was a couple of pleasant enough carers who we had not met before who had turned up one hour early. Well, the schedule on their phones had indicated a 7.00am start whereas the spreadsheet with which we had been provided indicated a start at 8.00am. Last night, the carer was scheduled to appear at 8.20 but was half an hour later than this. The upshot of all of this was that one way or another Meg was short of about two and a half hour’s sleep which I am sure her body actually needs. So this morning, we had plenty of time in hand but managed to get down to Waitrose in good time, taking in a feeding of the cat which opportunistically keeps an eye open for our front door and also makes an appearance if he/she feels we are on our way out. We met with three of our normal ‘Tuesday’ crowd friends today and kept each other entertained for an hour. Occasionally, I see other patrons of the cafe shooting glances in our direction whether out of annoyance or curiosity, I cannot say because we always seem to have a lot to say to each other and humour abounds. It was one of those days with brilliant sunshine but I imagine it might have been very cold first thing in the morning because we were all glad that we had put on extra clothing before we went out. When we returned home, we started to prepare lunch which was a simple half of a quiche with some primo cabbage and a peas/carrots mixture parboiled and finished off in the oven (and normally I add a dollop of syrup to this mixture but forgot today) After I consulted the TV schedules for today, I saw that it was the Six Nations Women’s Rugby fixture between England and Ireland starting at 2.15.I calculated that if we had lunch promptly and as the weather was fine, I could probably just squeeze in getting the front communal grass area cut and still be in time for the rugby. I put Meg down to sleep immediately after lunch and when she appeared to be in a deep doze, immediately started on the grass cutting. This normally takes about 40 minutes but I divide it into two twenty minute sessions and half way through each session (i.e. at 10 minute intervals) I need to shoot inside to ensure that Meg is OK and suffering unduly from separation anxiety to which she is prone. I managed to get the lawns cut and the mower cleaned up and put away only missing one minute from the start of the rugby match. To start off, this was quite an enjoyable fixture to watch but the English team were so dominant being several tries up and over thirty points in the lead at half time so the match tended to lose its power of attraction.

In the last day, I have received a couple of emails to which a response is required. Meg’s second cousin has written to give us the date of the funeral of her cousin and this is the best part of three weeks away. We will need to make a trip to the environs of Derby for the actual crematorium and no doubt we can SatNav this to get the precise directions. The funeral is to be held at 11.00am in the morning which gives us good time to get the funeral rites performed and then the traditional funeral bash following on from that. Hopefully, Meg and I should be able to manage that all right and it is always pleasant to see distant relatives, even though it is a sad occasion. It happens to be the day before we are due to go down to meet the same relatives in Cheltenham in any case, providing that the arrangement we have already made still sounds. The second email to which I need to respond was from the Secretary of the Church Parochial Council of which I used to be a member but I needed, with some regret, to relinquish as Meg’s infirmity increased. It was a delightful and touching email and it is always nice to know that one is not forgotten.

The latest Trumpism of which I have become aware is that Trump through his own social media website is attempting to put pressure on the members of the jury who have just been selected, after a long and arduous set of procedures, who are due to pronounce on his guilt or innocence. This has got so severe that the judge in the case is considering whether Trump should be fined for each attempt to make disparaging remarks about members of the jury, the judge, the court proceedings and anybody else even remotely connected with the case who comes within his sights. On this side of ‘the pond’ we observe these court proceedings with a kind of fascinated horror but it looks as thought the trial proper may start next week with opening statements from the prosecution and the defence. Six additional jury members have been selected to act as reserves in case any of the original members drop out. But if Trump is successful and puts all kind of pressure on jury members then it is is always possible that one or two may drop out and then there is a possibility of a mistrial being declared, in which case we have to go through the whole procedure of jury selection all over again. Some of the legal team that have previously advised Trump are of the view that Trump is almost certain to be convicted but if this were to be the case, it looks as though the penalty for a ‘first offender’ might be a fine and community service rather than a period of imprisonment.

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Friday, 19th April, 2024 [Day 1495]

This morning we had our carer from Peru who we saw yesterday so this morning, it was as though she had not been away. But we had a pleasant text first thing in the morning because our Italian friend from down the road texted me to ask if it was all right for her to call around at 10.00am this morning. When she arrived, she brought several cakes and goodies with her so we had a coffee and exchanged all of our news. Our friend had had a bout of sciatica from which she was recovering after some physiotherapy and we supported each other in the view that it was much better for the doctor to prescribe a course of physiotherapy on the NHS rather than doling out pills. So we had a very pleasant morning in, after which it was time for us to prepare and eat out our haddock fish pie, which is our typical lunch on a Friday lunchtime. After lunch, Meg and I made a quick visit down the road to collect our newspaper as the visit from our friend had precluded us from doing this earlier. Rather frustratingly, the internet access on my TV seems to be ‘down’ this afternoon although the laptop seems to be able to use internet access all right so I am not sure how to fix this particular problem. However, switching the whole unit off, leaving it for several seconds and then on again seems to have done the trick. There seems to be a common thread when problems occur and each group of professionals seems to have its own default way of dealing with the problem. In the case of IT and computer related problems, the answer always seems to be to ‘try a reset of the system’ and I suspect that medics also have a standard operation that they sometimes do to resolve problems.

Sky News is reporting today that former prime minister Boris Johnson has breached government rules by being ‘evasive’ about his links to a hedge fund that set up a meeting between him and the president of Venezuela, a watchdog has said. Mr Johnson raised a few eyebrows earlier this year after his spokesman confirmed he had flown to the country to meet its controversial leader Nicolas Maduro. But now, the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) Lord Pickles, has highlighted further controversy around the meeting which was arranged by a company called Merlyn Advisors – a hedge fund. Under government rules, any minister leaving office must run new jobs or appointments by the Acoba watchdog before taking them up. But Lord Pickles said despite repeatedly being asked to clarify his relationship with the firm, Mr Johnson had not done so, nor had he denied the reports in the media that he had been working with Merlyn Advisors on a non-contractual basis. According to the Institute for Government, while Acoba can publicly say when a former minister has breached the rules, it has no power to enforce sanctions, and it is left to the government of the day to decide on any action to be taken. This is not the first time that MPs are shown to be either bending rules if not breaking them and there seems to be a process by which such transgressions are reported. But after the breach of rules has been identified, then nothing seems to happen. All that this does is to lessen the faith of the public with MPs as a whole. Conservative MPs are much more numerous than other kinds of MPs and they are also the governing party, so it is perhaps no surprise that there seems to a goodly number amongst them who seem to demonstrate a disregard for the rules. But there are examples of MPs from other political parties who demonstrate bad behaviour in a variety of guises so a party political point is not being made here. But when a Tory MP breaks the rules, there seems to be a collective sigh from the electorate who repeat the mantra that ‘they are all the same’ and MPs of all political parties get tarred with the same brush. I have sometimes modelled what I would do if I were the new Prime Minister of a recently elected government, having been elected on the basis of a reaction against the sleaze of the present Government. As Prime Minister at my very first cabinet, I would announce to the cabinet as a whole that ‘we had been elected as a reaction against the sleaze shown by the previous government and that if there is the slightest whiff of scandal concerning any government minister, then they should be in no doubt that their dismissal would be swift and immediate and that their feet would not touch the ground in such a case’ I would also announce this on the steps of Downing Street on the morning after the election, telling the electorate that faith needed restoring in the British political system and that their new Prime Minister would try to demonstrate this by his immediate and swift reaction to any emerging scandal. I do not expect to see anything like this if and when we get a new government later on this year but I can but have a dream that it could be so.

Rishi Sunak has made the shock claim that the current disability welfare bill is set to increase by more than 50 per cent over the next four years if left unreformed. He said:’More than 500,000 people have been unemployed for six months and well over a quarter of a million have been unemployed for 12 months’. 250,000 people have been warned benefits could be removed entirely with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak launching a crackdown on sick note culture. The PM warned that the current situation is economically unsustainable. There is an admittedly real problem with which an incoming government would have to deal as well as the present one. But complex problems require complex solutions and removing the responsibility to issue sick notes seems an excessively retrograde step. The replacement system is likely to be a private sector firm with non medically trained staff working through a pre-determined checklist and paid by the results of how many people they remove. I think that this might be a case where the ‘cure’ is far worse than the ‘disease’ it is meant to cure. Perhaps an alternative idea would be support people into work by having a transitional welfare payment to ease the transition back into work again.

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Thursday, 18th April, 2024 [Day 1494]

We were almost in danger of oversleeping this morning but fortunately, when I looked at the schedule sheet provided by Meg’s care providers, I saw that the two carers were not due for some time, giving me time to shower before they arrived. In the event, they arrived a quarter of an hour late, one being the carer from Peru we know well and other one new to us. So we got ourselves up and breakfasted and then the pattern for the morning changed. The carer from Peru had been detailed to stay on when Meg was ready in order that I could go out and do the weekly shopping. This actually worked out fairly well and I left the carer reading stories and listening to some classical music whilst I ploughed my way through various sets of traffic lights (which all seemed to be at red) on my way to the supermarket and back again. As I know this supermarket pretty well, then almost all that I felt that I wanted or needed I managed to find complete with one or two extras. When I got home, I joined Meg and the carer in conversation, mainly about her forthcoming trip to Peru in July, before it was time for her to leave. Then it was time for me to prepare the lunchtime meal which today consisted of cooking some onions, peppers, peas and fragments of chicken which I serve on pasta (for Meg) and some cream crackers for myself. The idea of the cream crackers is to keep my carbohydrate count as low as practicable. We had just about finished lunch when the doorbell rang and it was our chiropodist, with whom I had just reestablished our patterns of appointments since Meg had been in hospital. When I described to her the various travails that we had with Meg in hospital and the fact that we were waiting for days for the ReAblement team to swing into action, our chiropodist explained that an almost parallel experience had happened to her mother-in-law. She had an episode quite similar to Meg’s and had been taken to the huge Queen Elizabeth hospital in the centre of Birmingham where she appeared to be stuck in the system until the NHS ReAblement bureaucracy had done its work. I do not know if this little story made me feel better or worse but it does illustrate that the experience that Meg and I have was far from being unique. I then popped Meg on the settee for an after dinner doze but it was not to be but I had the rest of the shopping to put away as well as getting the washing up all done. At this point, I realised that I had not had the time to get my daily newspaper but, as Meg did not relish the prospect of being left on her own, she was trundled into the car and we then made our way down to Waitrose to get a newspaper. You would have thought that this was quite a simple transaction but I got stuck in a queue behind a lady who could not get the system in the supermarket to recognise the vouchers on her mobile phone. After all of her packed shopping had been unpacked and rescanned, the app vouchers would still not be credited whilst the young assistant and her supervisor struggled to get things to work. Eventually I was allowed to get through the system quickly as all I wanted to do was to present my voucher and to get out of the store quickly.

Something rather strange is happening on the political front with consequences that be hard to predict. Normally when one party is extremely unpopular in the opinion polls, then the corresponding chief Opposition party hits a corresponding high. But today a polling firm has revealed that the Tories are on 19%, the lowest level of support it has ever recorded for the party – and Sir Keir Starmer also registers his lowest net satisfaction rating in his four years as Labour leader. So if the two major political leaders are unpopular, does this mean that third parties or nationalist parties will receive a boost? I suspect that one of the consequences might be a low turnout in the general election whenever it comes and this is never good for the democratic process. I suspect that part of Keir Starmer’s low poll results might be a combination of disillusionment with Starmer’s stance over the Gaza conflict where Starmer appears to throw his weight unequivocally behind Israel, thus alienating many Muslim voters. At the same time, some of Starmer’s policies seem to mirror those of the Tories and even the Tories themselves ‘stole’ the taxation of non-doms policy from the Labour Party. It does not bother me a great deal that Starmer does not appear to have instant political sex appeal as it were because I feel that modern political developments have been far too presidential for my taste. One of the most successful Labour Prime Ministers was Clement Atlee whose style was headmasterly rather than presidential. Today came the news that yet another Tory MP has had the whip withdrawn (the equivalent of being suspended from the party) for mis-allocating funds apparently for his own personal use. The Tory party at the moment does give the appearance of party that knows it is beaten, that its days in power are numbered and one is hoping against hope that ‘something might turn up’ This feeling is not completely irrational because it is not well known that Margaret Thatcher was regarded as one of the post unpopular Prime Ministers of all time immediately before the Falklands war but one of the most popular immediately afterwards. So ‘the something that might turn up’ certainly did in the case of the Falklands war and, of course, immediately the war was won it quite easy for her advisers to suggest that she call a general election so that she could immediately benefit from her new found popularity. And, of course, as Harold Wilson used to say ‘a week can be a long time in politics’

The latest news from across the pond, as they say, is the story that campaign for Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid has come up with a new way to raise cash — which involves calling on down-ballot candidates who use his name and likeness in fundraising pushes to give him a cut of the money they raise.’Beginning tomorrow, we ask that all candidates and committees who choose to use President Trump’s name, image, and likeness split a minimum of 5% of all fundraising solicitations to Trump National Committee JFC. This includes, but is not limited to, sending to the house file, prospecting vendors, and advertising’ Trump co-campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita wrote in a letter reported on by Politico.

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Wednesday, 17th April, 2024 [Day 1493]

Our friendly and hard working Polish-born carer turned up this morning absolutely on cue so we are always pleased to see her and it helps to get the day off to a good start. She is having a couple of days off now so we shall have to see what her replacement is going to be like tomorrow morning. This morning, we were absolutely delighted to see our domestic help back again after an absence of about 10 days, during which time she has to cope with the euthanasia of her pet Jack Russell dog which, at 17 years old, was part of the family. I am pleased to say that she was coming to terms with the loss of her pet which I think had struck her quite hard (and coming on the heels of the death of a close family member as well) In the middle of the morning, we were happy to see the Eucharistic minister who tries to call on us at weekly intervals if this is possible. She and I are both complete aficionados of Mozart but I told her all about the fantastic programme I had seen on Beethoven recently courtesy of YouTube so I hope she manages to get a sight of this. Although we had our mid-morning coffee at home, Meg and I still felt the need to get out this morning. I managed to find a car parking space fairly near to an accessible ATM and I was pleased to get our living money out as I am going shopping for our weekly shop tomorrow morning. We did whizz around Waitrose and I bought some things like milk that I really did need for today. After that, we got home and I got on with our lunch which was our last full meal of the chicken we had for last weekend, complemented with some mange-tout peas and baked potato. After a tasty lunch, I encouraged Meg to have a good long doze but it was not to be. By the mid afternoon, the weather looked quite sunny and Meg expressed the desire to go for a walk in the park. This we did but as soon as we got to the park, quite a bitterly cold wing sprung up which meant that we had to confine our stay in the park to the bare minimum. Needless to say, the minute we got back to the car, the sun seemed to shine brightly once again so we were just a little unfortunate in our timings.

As I write, the parliamentary game of ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons is still proceeding. The Lords has whittled down amendments to the last two which are deemed critical – one of them is trying to guarantee the rights of Afghanis with a substantial connection to the British Army should not be deported to Rwanda whilst the second is seeking to strengthen an oversight committee, designed to ensure that Rwanda really is a ‘safe’ destination. It is possible that many of the almost sleeping members of the Lords might be encouraged to come up to London and to vote in favour against any amendments but the results of this last ditch stand is a bit difficult to call at this stage. If the Lords does pass further amendments, then the Royal Assent night be delayed until Monday whereas if the two Lords amendments are not passed, then the Bill could actually receive the Royal Assent tomorrow. The news is developing as I write and it now looks as though the Lords have passed the amendment concerning Afghans who have assisted the British army which means that the final vote will be delayed until Monday. The Opposition estimates that the cost per refugee is £2 million pounds, that less than 1% of asylum seekers will de deported to Rwanda under the scheme and the costs are in excess of £500 million (0.5 of £1 billion)

Whatever one’s politics, the veteran Labour politician, Denis Healey, used to say ‘In war, the first casualty is truth’ and this seems to be true in the case of Russia and Ukraine. A recent report has put the number of Russians killed at 50,000 and when this figure is put to the Russian military they would neither confirm or deny it. The official figure is about 25,000 but the true figure has been compiled by counting up the number of new graves dedicated to soldiers across the country which is proof indeed. The American military when in a conflict in Vietnam were desperate to maximise the numbers killed in the conflict to try to sustain public support for the war. A strategy that was used was to look at the population of a village surveyed by the French in 1954, increase the number by the putative birthrate so that 500 became 750, for example, and then bomb the village. If 4 people were seen running away, the death toll was then put at 750-4= 746. Two assiduous journalists looked at the figures published in very small print in the ‘New York Times’ and concluded that the population of VietNam must have been killed about 10 times over. So this immediately blew the pieces the claims that were being made of the ‘kill rate’ and, of course, public support for the war drained away and eventually the Americans were forced into a humiliating withdrawal. I knew that Donald Trump had dodged the draft on one occasion but I did not know until I checked that this was done five times. On four occasions it was because of attendance at college and on one famous occasion it was because of his bad feet. Whether this fact is well known to his avid supporters is interesting to know but the American elite made sure that their sons did not serve by using one draft dodging ruse after another, leaving the unskilled and poorly educated to beat the ultimate costs for the war.

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Tuesday, 16th April, 2024 [Day 1492]

The day started with two of our favourite carers, one hailing from Poland and the other from Peru and, as it happens they are great mates with each other. The carer from Peru told us that in July she was going to visit Peru with her two sons and they were going to visit Machu Picchu which is one of Peru’s best known tourist attractions. The other would have liked to have gone back to Poland for some summer holidays but none were in prospect for her. And speaking for Meg and I, we have not started to think about the viability of summer holidays, just wanting to be on a stable keel for a week or so yet. Tuesdays are our regular Waitrose meeting days and we were delighted to meet up with a couple of old friends. Our conversations are always far ranging and we never quite know where we are going to end up but today’s topic of discourse was ‘Barns I have slept in’ Our veteran hiking friend was evidently used to making a billet in a Youth Hostel but if by any chance it was full or unreachable there were always the local farms. The farmer and his wife would let well behaved hikers spend a night if necessary in one of their barns and the hikers would typically purchase some eggs and milk from the farmer’s wife (who, in the remote areas would have these in abundance) and I dare say that if you were lucky, there might be a small loaf of freshly baked bread available. Whilst we were exchanging these stories, our chorister friend told us of a night she spent in a barn only to discover that a half door into the barn had been left open and their sleep was disturbed by a sheep also wishing to find shelter for the night. Needless to say, there were a lot of impromptu jokes about woolly jumpers and the like. We again had a very jolly hour as we spark each other off and then we all had to go our separate ways. Later on in the morning, I knew that it was my Pilates day and a new carer had been allocated to us who was new to us. She arrived a quarter of an hour late what with SatNav problems and we established quickly that she been in the care business since she left school although she now ran her own beauty salon. I put on a ‘Pilgrimage’ program on the BBC iPlayer thinking that this would help the first hour of the hour and a half session before my return to pass more quickly. When I returned, we got into conversation about walking activities and our carer had just returned from a walk up Snowden which we ourselves have walked on quite a few occasions. My Pilates class was the first that I had attended for about a month now and I felt that my body really needed the stretches which are a part of the Pilates routines. I had seen one of my Pilates class members in the park a couple of days ago so my return to the Pilates fold was anticipated.

The Government bill to establish Rwanda as a ‘safe place’ to which to deport refugees who are claiming asylum is returning from the House of Lords where the battle of ping-pong will continue. In six votes on government moves to throw out Lords amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the majorities were 65, 71, 70, 70, 74 and 59. The Bill is now walked down the corridor to the House of Lords who will eventually capitulate as the government seems to be in no mood not to accept a single Lords amendment (which is often the case) Then the bill will receive the Royal Assent, become an Act of Parliament and then even more machinations come into play. The government will have to find a carrier to transport the asylum seekers, many of whom will be dragged screaming and kicking and will have to manhandled into the planes. Whether any of the press will witness any of this is an interesting question – the government will try to ensure that is not done before prying eyes. I even anticipate that a suicide might take place – not that the government will care. Then we shall start with all kinds of legal proceedings both domestically and in front of the International Court of Justice (which has just toughened its stance recently in any case) This will run and run and one shudders to think of the cost per migrant which is horrendously large. The government argues that once refugees are on a flight to Rwanda this will act as a massive deterrent to those wishing to cross the Channel in small boats but this seems like wishful thinking rather than based upon any hard evidence.

I am following the court appearances of Donald Trump with a kind of fascinated horror. Yesterday, Trump passed another milestone which is the first ex-President to be charged in a criminal court, the actual offence here being not to actually pay the porn star with whom he had a dalliance but to attempt to conceal all of this as a legitimate business expense. I keep reminding myself that Al Capone was eventually brought to justice on the subject of tax evasion. What I had not fully appreciated but did with a certain amount of ‘schadenfreude’ (what a wonderful expression in German – ‘malicious delight in another person’s misfortune’) is that Trump is going to appear in court every day for maybe weeks whilst the case is heard. It is also being said that if Trump is convicted, he will not actually be sent to jail but may be forced to do so many hours of ‘community service’ e.g. cleaning the streets, removing graffiti from city walls and the like. Of course, there will be appeals and appeals and there are several other cases along the line. Nonetheless, the face that Trump presented to the world last night was a kind of tired belligerence – one wonders, whether after some weeks of this, the fight might go out of him somewhat.

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Monday, 15th April, 2024 [Day 1491]

Today was the day when our previous set of carers were due to take over again and one of them, a Polish lady who we respect very highly, duly turned up just before 8.00am as planned. Between us, we got Meg up and ready and just then the ReAblement duo turned up, no one having told them that their contract had finished the evening beforehand. Today was always going to be a bit of a funny day because the lights were flashing on our BioDisk system, meaning that there had been an interruption of power supply to the unit. We had phoned up the maintenance company last Friday and the lights had been flashing for at least a day before I notified the company – in the event, they turned up today at about 2.00pm and found nothing wrong of any significance, I was glad to be told. It might have been that we had a power outage and the unit had failed to reset itself but all seems fine now. However, Meg and I did not feel that we could go out anywhere until the engineer had called around and done his stuff and hence we were reconciled to having to stay in for most of the morning. However, the morning did have a compensation which came from a most unexpected quarter. Meg and I tuned into ‘YouTube’ and watched a performance of Beethoven’s 9th (the so-called ‘Choral’ Symphony) As a follow-on, a programme was advertised called ‘A World with Beethoven’ which I think is one of a series of three films made about four years ago to celebrate an anniversary associated with Beethoven. This film turned out to be one of the best pieces of television that I have watched in years and both Meg and I were enthralled. It was presented by a French horn player, Sarah Willis, and she posed the question of what the world of music would have been like if Beethoven had never lived. The film took a series of themes, the first of which might called the development of the ‘riff’ or the motif beloved of guitarists and rock bands. The argument ran that the iconic first three notes of Beethoven’s 5th is recognised the world over and the notes can be represented in Morse code as dot. dot.dot. dash or a ‘V’ and were used as a shorthand of ‘V’ for Victory deployed extensively during WWII. The argument then developed arguing that Beethoven’s music led to the development of the concert hall as we know it today, that it was first used to propel a political agenda, that it created a bridge between the traditional and the innovative, that it broke new ground by getting music to evoke specific images (as in Beethoven’s 6th symphony, the ‘Pastoral’), that it pushed forward the concept of exact timings by utilising extensively the timings of the recently metronome and finally that the use of complex rhythms (think of the left hand followed two beats to the bar and the right hand three beats to the bar) were a precursor of syncopation and some of the melodic forms that were to be fully developed in the jazz era.

I was reflecting upon the crisis that the world as a whole faces in the Middle East with Iran and Israel. The terrible paradox here is that Israelis think they are ‘strong’ by retaliating hard against Iran and ‘weak’ by doing nothing i.e. not retaliating. But the rest of the world, led by the USA, thinks that Israel would show strength in a policy of non retaliation and weakness by lashing out at all and sundry. I remember one or two key things from my undergraduate days and one that sticks in my mind is a book by Lewis Coser called ‘The Functions of Social Conflict’. Coser made the point over half a century ago that right wing governments always pursue aggressive and belligerent foreign policies in order to try to ‘unify’ the nation that would otherwise be rent with internal conflict as a result of their policies. So right wing leaders (and in the case of Israel) extreme right wing leaders such as Netanyahu will automatically hunt for enemies. As one military analyst said on the radio this morning, it is hard-wired into the DNA of the Israeli military that after any blow the only response is to fight back hard. For this reason, I am not hopeful that Israel will refrain from further military action against Iran or its proxies which will almost certainly ensure a ‘tit-for-tat’ and so the conflict will escalate, possibly completely out of control.

This afternoon after Meg had a bit of a doze and as we had not had the opportunity of a walk this morning, we decided to go for a spin in the car. We popped down the road to see if any of our friends were around and then went on to our favourite charity shop located in a street some distance from the High Street. Quite unusually, there was nothing there that took my fancy so I contented myself with buying a glasses case and then we returned home and watched some of the Parliament channel to guage the reaction of MPs on the strike on Israel.

The last time Meg and I went to the Age UK club, we were seated next to a lady who hails from Leeds and who was attending as a carer for her father. We exchanged email addresses and have exchanged some practical tips and hints with each other as to how to cope with our caring functions. These kinds of mutual support friendships are incredibly valuable and I am a firm believer in the principal that ‘1+1=3’ i.e. that we can always learn something from each other. I am hoping in the fullness of time and if the weather remains anything like fair, we can tea together in our garden and I can share our list of notes (and useful contacts) with each other. We are also looking forward to another meeting group like the one organised by the AgeUK charity but to be held in the Methodist centre down the road, of which we are patrons generally on Wednesdays of each week.

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Sunday, 14th April, 2024 [Day 1490]

This morning being Sunday, we saw the last of the carers who attend Meg in the morning. In some ways, this was a sad occasion because the male carer who I dubbed ‘Mr. Teazy-Weazy’, as he had been a hairdresser in a past life, we would not encounter again. Similarly, when we see the carer this evening, this will probably be for the last time as well. But tomorrow morning, we will re-establish contact with the previous team so we are looking forward to this as well. We breakfasted watching the Lorna Kuennsberg ‘Sunday’ program where evidently the news and the program was dominated by the launch by Iraq of some 300 drones and a goodly number of Cruise missiles against the state of Israel. It is evident to all of the players that the Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system, supplied and maintained by the USA, would stop the vast majority of these attacks ever reaching their target. The Israelis themselves claim a 99% success rate in shooting down the drones and the missiles and the Iranians probably realised that this was going to be the case, almost giving the Israelis advance notice of an attack and allowing the Israelis to get their defences in place. The really big question now is whether the Israelis are going to offer a retaliation or whether both sides now tacitly agree that a ‘tit-for-tat’ has taken place. What I think was a genuine surprise was that British jets were in action overnight, apparently shooting down some of the drones as they progressed over Jordanian airspace. But one commentator who was a supporter of the Labour Party expressed some misgivings given the intensity of the conflict on both sides of the Gaza conflict should be seen as so evidently taking sides. A fuller picture may emerge tomorrow morning when surely there should be a statement before Parliament which should be reassembling after the Easter recess. But I suspect that Britain’s military planners should exercise the most extreme caution before any involvement in the cauldron of Middle East conflicts.

After breakfast, as it was a beautiful day, we decided to go to the park which we have not visited for about a month now. Some of the flowering cherries in the park were at their absolute best and the weather was sunny and quite mild. We had taken along a flask of coffee and some biscuits and reflected upon the fact that this was a daily occurrence during the height of the COVID pandemic. As we taking our repast, we were approached by one of my Pilates fellow class members (plus dog) and we had a pleasant chat for a few minutes. I explained that, all being well, I should be able to attend the class this Tuesday as we ought to have someone available to sit with Meg so that I can attend the class. When we got home, we finished off our viewing of one of the ‘Pilgrim’ series, courtesy of the BBC and this particular one is following a group of pilgrims in their journey to Fatima, Portugal. We realised that we had forgotten to get our copy of the ‘Sunday Times‘ but this was soon remedied by the swiftest of visits down to Waitrose where I knew that they would have plenty in stock. For lunch, we had one of those chicken crowns which are already in their tin and ready to be popped into the oven. This we ate with the baked potato (what else), primo cabbage and a tomato. I try to ensure that Meg has a doze immediately after lunch and today as soon as she was settled and in at least a deep doze, I set about cutting the lawn at the back of the house which had gone twelve days without a cut. Fortunately, I got more than half of this done before Meg started to await from her after dinner sleep and so it was quite easy to finish off the lawn, clean up the mower and be assured that a much needed job had been done. We decided to view an opera as a mid-afternoon treat and so we selected a version of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni‘ but Meg did not enjoy this production very much and so we abandoned this. What eventually we settled upon which engaged Meg’s attention was some Rick Stein’s programmes on the cookery of Spain. These are part travelogue as well as pure cookery and they were visiting San Sebastian and the coast of Cantabria, both of which we have actually visited.

Last night, after Meg was soundly asleep in bed, I started idly watching a ‘Royal Palaces’ programme which actually features several ‘things you do not know’ about our royal family. One fact that emerged was so extraordinary that I could scarcely believe it and had to check out its veracity but true it was. George V was dying perhaps of lung cancer but his physicians decided to give nature more than a helping hand. One physician let it be known that the ‘King’s life was drawing peacefully to a close’ whilst another administered a huge and lethal dose of cocaine and morphine straight into the dying king’s jugular. This meant that the King was dead within the hour but the motivation behind all of this was not the alleviation of suffering – rather, it was that the death could be in the evening so that it could be announced in the columns of ‘The Times‘ the following day. Any later, and the death would have to have announced in the evening newspapers which were judged not to be a suitable vehicle in which to announce the death of a monarch. So here we had a process of undoubted euthanasia, not to say murder, performed in such a way that the time most judged to be suitable could be chosen. Even the editor of the ‘The Times‘ was pre-alerted and requested to hold the front page so that the ‘news’ of the king’s death could be properly announced. All of this was kept a secret for fifty years but eventually the facts leaked out in a biography of one of the physicians concerned when all of the other interested parties had been long since dead. Even in 1986 the Palace when approached would only comment that it was a long time ago. Whether this euthanasia of a monarch is well known in the general population, one can only speculate but it quite a story.

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Saturday, 13th April, 2024 [Day 1489]

Today being a Saturday we pop into our weekend routines. We had two carers this morning, one an old faithful but the other one new to us but we shall only have two more days left on this ReAblement contract until the previous firm takes over on Monday. We generally can rely upon bumping into two of our regular Tuesday crowd on Saturday mornings and indeed we did meet one or two of our regulars as we were making our way into Waitrose. But then our routines were to be sadly disrupted because the local Waitrose management had decided not to open the coffee bar section because of staffing difficulties. After a rapid consultation, Meg and I got our newspapers and one or two other things that we intended to purchase and then we decided on a local coffee bar in the High Street. This turned out to be pleasant enough and the coffee was reassuringly hot and so we had a pleasant chat with one of our friends (the other one deciding to give this coffee shop a miss) At the end of our stay, we had an amusing little episode. My friend and I were seated on a very low couch whilst Meg was in her wheelchair. When it came to it, it took me all my time to get my friend out of the low slung settee – we had noticed it seemed a long way down when we first sat down in it but the moment of reckoning came when we came to clamber out of it. After Meg and I returned home, we adjourned to the kitchen listening to ClassicFM whilst I assembled the various ingredients for a salad I was preparing. I dare say that I was a little ambitious because the salad finished up with some slices of German ham, potatoes which had been previously cooked, a carrot-walnut-sultana mixture, tomato, boiled egg, beetroot, grated cheese and a pickled onion all dressed with a garlic mayonnaise. As this dish was so full of different flavours, I was pleasantly surprised when Meg ate up every bit of it so this must count as some kind of success. The weather is due to drift colder in the next few days so I am not liable to repeat my salad venture for a little while.

After lunch, Meg seemed fairly sleepy so I got her settled and decided, as the sun had come out, to try my luck and see how much of the front communal lawned area, I could manage to get cut. My preparations were interrupted a little by what I think was a cold call to sell me house insulation – as the caller asked to speak with the householder this aroused my suspicions. Only later, did I remember the classic response to this type of cold call which is quite rare these days. This is to give a response along the lines of ‘You have called the the regional office of MI6 – can I ask how you obtained this number?’ When I have tried this tactic in the past, the phone gets put down within about half a second but I am afraid that I thought of it a little too late on this occasion. I managed to get the first half of the first cut done and popped in to see Meg was still asleep. As it happened, she was waking up but I still persuaded her to keep dozing until I had finished the first cut completely. Then I came in for a bit of a break and Meg was still a little sleepy. As she now knew that I was just outside giving the grass its second, quicker transverse cut, this would only take a quarter of an hour and, in practice, a few minutes short of this as I do not hang around. Then I came in, made Meg a cup of tea and I gave myself a 5 minute break before a clean up of the mower until it gets put away for another week. Our principal viewing this afternoon was always going to be the excitement of the Grand National. We watched a little bit of the England women thrashing Scotland at Rugby until it was time to switchover for the big race. The racing authorities are sensitive to the carnage that can sometimes occur in what is always termed as the greatest steeplechase in the world – two horses had to be destroyed yesterday. So several measures had been put in place to reduce the levels of danger somewhat and towards the end of the race, it looked as though any one of about five horses could have won it so this must make this year’s Grand National one of the most open in years. When a horse has won the race, I always wonder whether they know it has won and it always faintly amusing to see buckets of cold water thrown over the flanks of the winning horse to help it to cool down. On a slightly offbeat note, it is known that after a certain distance a horse’s muscles will lock up with lactic acid and the horse will be reduced to a walk and then eventually to a dead halt. Some bright soul had the idea to pit a man against a horse and if the distance is carefully calculated (but I do not know what it is) then a man can just about beat a horse.

A rather amusing political story was to be found in the columns of ‘The Times‘ today. Apparently, Liz Truss who was Prime Minister for just over 40 days complained that she had a very uncomfortable time in the Downing Street flat which she was argued was flea-infested, the fleas having been provided by the Johnson’s dog. I suppose that this story has some foundation in truth and she says in her recent book that the Downing Street had to be especially fumigated to stop her perpetual itching. On the other hand, she did seem to have been quite fond of Larry, the Downing Street cat who looks for all of the world as though they could be the parent of Miggles, the cat who has adopted us and came around to see us when Meg and I decided to sample a little of the late afternoon sunshine.

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