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, 23rd February, 2024 [Day 1439]

Friday is the day when our domestic help calls around and she arrived bright and early today as she had to dash off for another domestic commitment in the middle of the day. We had one of Meg’s regular carers rather than the two which is customary as the agency’s short term staffing crisis is still working its way through their system but the single carer and myself got Meg up and ready to face the world. We then made our way to Waitrose hoping that we might bump into someone we knew but perhaps we have to wait until tomorrow morning for that to happen. We got a communication during the week that Meg’s eye-test was now due so we made a trip along the High Street to call in at the opticians to ensure that we could have an eye test with the optician who has been seeing us for years. Whilst we were on the High Street, we took the opportunity to visit a cut-price cosmetics store where we bought a few useful items. Then we could resist popping into one or two of the adjacent charity shops and I bought some books and other items that I hoped would help to provide Meg with some diversions this afternoon. Once we arrived home, we tuned into the Politics programme which, on a Friday, is a resume of the political events of the past week – normally, they would have one or two MPs airing their views but Friday is typically a day when they are in their constituencies where the conscientious MPs will give ‘surgeries’ (the analogy being with a doctor’s waiting room)so that their constituents can bring problems to them or make other representations. We had our traditional Friday afternoon lunch which was a bought haddock pie and very nice it was too, supplemented by a few fine beans and some microwaved tomatoes. After lunch, we thought we would avail ourselves of the episodes of ‘Breathless‘ which was a hard-hitting docu-drama broadcast on three consecutive nights last week (but which I missed) The book on which the programmes were based and the programmes themselves show, in graphic and harrowing details, the working life and dilemmas of a palliative care doctor who was working in Oxfordshire when patients with Covid started arriving at her hospital. What followed was catastrophic she says: ‘a lack of beds, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), colleagues working under hideous pressure, colleagues dying.’ Just to make matters worse, the first episode looked at official government statements in the days immediately preceding the first lockdown in March 2021 when the government and the health authorities appeared to be in a state of denial or to be arguing that the problem of COVID was being ‘contained’ when it is was plainly obvious to those working on the front line that it was not and that came to be termed ‘community transmission’ was rampant. Included in the first episode was the now famous (or should one say infamous) clip of Boris Johnson claiming that he had been in a hospital ward with other COVID patients and had shaken the hand of all of them. This bizarre episode rather reminded one of the incident in which at the height of the BSE crisis, the then Minister of Agriculture, one John Selwyn Gummer was show to be practically ‘force feeding’ a beef burger down the throat on one of his grandchildren in a desperate (and ultimately misguided) attempt to show that the eating of beef was absolutely safe.

I find it interesting, or should one say depressing, that innovative and hard-hitting programmes such as ‘Breathless‘ and the dramatic series on ‘Mr Bates vs. the Post Office‘ should have emerged out of the ITV stable. One could not imagine in a month of Sundays that the BBC would have dared to have made and broadcast so hard-hitting and indirectly critical of the government as these two series. One is forced to conclude that the BBC has been absolutely emasculated by the constant attacks upon it that have been made by the present government, not to mention most of the right-wing press. If the BBC had commissioned such programmes, there would have been, no doubt, howls of protest and accusations that the BBC was pursuing a radical left (or perhaps just an anti-Conservative) agenda. This is a sorry state of affairs when it is felt that only the commercial sector can supply any critical programmes. On a similar theme, it is quite instructive to follow up what the news media has been saying about Henry Staunton, ex-chief of the Post Office recently sacked and accused of lying by the Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch. It appears that Staunton has had an impeccable business career and has always manifested the utmost integrity whereas Kemi Badenoch has only in the last day or so been accused of lying by the Canadian government. Kemi Badenoch has said publicly that we are pursuing a trade deal with the Canadians who have flatly denied that this is, in fact, the case. So who does one believe in these circumstances? I am looking forward to the evidence that Staunton gives when he appears before a Select Committee of the House of Commons as early, I believe, as next week. The trouble is that politicians are used to giving equivocal and evasive answers as this is their stock-in-trade but businessman have less skills in this regard as they are not so often in the public eye and hence subject to media scrutiny.

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Thursday, 22nd February, 2024 [Day 1438]

We got ourselves up, washed and breakfasted although we had only one of the usual pair of carers to cope with Meg this morning. Nonetheless, I and the carer did things OK between us and I do appreciate that the care agency is under some stress at the moment as they have several members of staff out of action. Thursday is generally my shopping day and we another carer that turns up in the morning so that I can shoot off and do some shopping. I decided to go to the bigger Aldi store this morning because I thought this might save me a few minutes but some of the things I normally buy were either not stocked or had run out, which I found a little frustrating. But I managed to get the shopping done and be back inside the house within about 45-50 minutes which is fine. After watching some of the political news, I then set preparing a simple lunch (quiche and a few diced vegetables) but rather unusually, I ate it on my own. Meg felt quite tired at the end of the morning so I set her down on the settee in our Music Lounge together with a weighty blanket and she feel into quite a deep sleep rather than a doze. Rather than wake her up, I decided to let ‘sleeping dogs lie’ and I concentrated upon some editing work on my laptop. The task I set myself was essentially quite a simple one and involved getting all of my website and domain names in good order. As well as having an alphabetical list, I spent some time creating another but this time sorted by renewal date rather than alphabetically. This sounds a simple enough job and, in theory, all I needed to do was to cut and paste the name and its associated renewal date into a document and take things from there. But the cut-and-paste technique did not work very well on the supplier’s website so what should have been essentially quite a simple job finished up with complexities which I did not anticipate.

As we suspected, the political airwaves have been filled all day with the consequences of the dramatic scenes in the House of Commons last night. The Speaker of the House of Commons decided last night to allow three amendments to be debated in the Gaza debate with the intention, so he said, of allowing expression across all shades of opinions in the Commons. But had he followed the strict precedents, then the Scottish Nationalist party (whose ‘day’ is it was) should have been allowed to debate and vote upon their own motion and when this fell, which it undoubtedly would, then the government amendment would be accepted. But this put the Labour Party in an acute dilemma because MP’s would either have to vote for the SNP motion (which made reference to ‘collective punishment’ in Gaza and thereby accused Israel of a war crime) or for the Conservative motion which suggested a ‘pause’ in the hostilities. Many Labour MP’s, mindful of the heightened tension in their home constituencies, might have been tempted to vote for the SNP amendment as the alternatives were pretty dire i.e. to vote against it, to abstain or even to vote for the Tory motion. This would have split the Labour party down the middle but, in effect, the Speaker saved the Labour Party from massive embarrassment. The scenes in the House of Commons last night were dire as first the Scot Nats walked out of the Chamber (as the Speaker was in effect denying a vote on their own amendment) whilst the Tories were equally indignant that a major opportunity to embarrass the Labour party had been denied to them. Today, there have been discussions and recriminations all day long and the position of the Speaker is looking extremely tenuous. But there is quite a consensus view building throughout the day that we have seen quite a lot of low politics, masquerading as principle. Practically every party has a vested interest in the shenanigans in the Commons last night and at the end of the day it is a very sad conclusion that the reputation of the UK as the Mother of Parliaments is now sadly tarnished and the UK’s influence upon global politics which is never great these days has diminshed almost to the vanishing point.

I must say that now that the weekend is practically upon us, we can look forward to another round in the Six Nations rugby competition. It has now been a fortnight since the first matches took place and I have always imagined that the rugby authorities put in a two week pause at this point so that battered bodies have a chance to recover. The scene was stolen a fortnight ago not by any players but by a young Irish eight-year old singer who belted out the National Anthem with much gusto and self confidence. I am not sure how this young lad made it to the top of the pile but I was quite looking forward to seeing a repeat performance. Having said that, he probably only sung as Ireland were playing at home. It never ceases to amaze me how tuneless rugby players happen to be when it comes to their singing of the national anthem but I would except the Welsh from this stricture where the players always sing their hearts out.

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Wednesday, 21st February, 2024 [Day 1437]

Today turned out to be one of those days which I term ‘chewy’ because niggly little things happen all day long. Yesterday afternoon, I had received a telephone call from the agency that supplies carers for Meg to inform us that one of our regular carers had been involved in a car crash and, although not hurt, had been pretty shaken up by the episode. I hope that she does not suffer from delayed shock but I do know that this is a logical possibility in circumstances like this. So I said that I could easily cope with the other companion carer who was scheduled to turn up. But yesterday evening, I had just got Meg into bed when I received another telephone call from the care agency explaining that the second care worker’s car was ‘on the blink’ so she was unavailable for work as well. As the agency were having quite a staffing problem, I said that we would not mind if they gave us a miss for the next day I could get Meg ready by myself leaving the available care workers to cater for those needs must be greater than ours. Knowing that no care workers would arrive this morning, we allowed ourselves a ‘mini lie-in’ this morning. As soon as breakfast was over, Meg and I went to a local garage to collect our copy of ‘The Times’ before making our way, as we normally do on a Wednesday, to the Methodist Centre. The centre was actually quite full today but we did make contact with our Waitrose ex-chorister friend who we saw yesterday, who had turned up to the centre with a neighbour. We spent a good half hour or so here before we went home wanting to watch ‘Prime Minister’s Questions‘ which takes place shortly after 12.00pm each Thursday. Keir Starmer led his attack on the government over the Post Office scandal and perhaps what was most remarkable today was that Rishi Sunak did not echo the voice of Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, who had accused the ex-boss of the Post Office (who she had sacked) of lying. So we have the interesting questions of two protagonists – one being a belligerent Tory Business Secretary and other being an aggrieved and probably quite bitter sacked chairman of the Post Office facing each other down. Now one of these must be lying through their teeth and one is forced to wonder which one it is? This afternoon, an email has seen the light of day which comes some substance to the complaint of the sacked Post Office chairman without being quite as explicit as a ‘smoking gun’. I really do not know who is going to get the better of this very public spat but in the meanwhile one suspects that the public could not care less and the payments to the maligned Post Office sub postmasters seem to be painfully slow in their progress through the system.

We lunched on the last of the beef with broccoli and a baked potato and then I hoped that I would Meg down for a rest in the afternoon but this was not really successful. Whilst Meg was dozing, though, I started to do some work on updating and maintaining the list of websites and domains the details of which were restored to me yesterday. There are quite a number of these and some of these are probably out-of-date, some are waiting to be populated and some will serve as a reminder to me of what items I have got lurking away in various websites. I am working towards an up-to-date list so that I have a fully accurate record of what domain name points where and when the renewal dates will happen to fall. This afternoon, an important debate is taking place in the House of Commons and the eventual motion, if passed, will call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The Labour Party, probably in lock-step with the Americans, have refined their position on their support for an immediate ceasefire and it does appear that the United States, in particular, is letting it be known that whilst supporting Israel to the hilt, not least financially and through the provision of military hardware, is nonetheless losing patience with the present Israeli government. Joe Biden has voiced the view that the Israeli response to the attacks made upon it are excessive and I think that the ratio of Palestinians killed (many of them innocent children) to Israelis massacred in the initial attacks is now of the order of 25:1. There have been various shenanigans in the House of Commons this afternoon where the Speaker has broken with precedent and allowed both the government and the Labour amendments to be selected for debate and vote. This has the effect of actually helping the Labour Party and the Tories are furious with the Speaker whom, as an ex-Labour MP, they suspect of allowing his erstwhile political affiliations to show. I have been listening to the debate in the House of Commons passively in the background and every single contribution of which I have been aware is speaking in favour of an immediate ceasefire. The Tories, who one suspects would follow the line that Israel should be allowed to defend itself and an immediate ceasefire would play into the hands of Hamas, seem strangely silent in today’s debate but they will no doubt vote for whatever government amendment is tabled, whatever it says.

This afternoon, Meg had a rather restless period so we popped out in order to access an ATM to get out next week’s living money. Our weekly shop is being delayed tomorrow morning until Meg’s carer calls round for a sitting service and I am hopeful that I can make this trip as short and as focussed as possible by getting my money out in advance. This all worked out very well so on the way home I called in at some of our friends down the road as we do not seem to have seen them for some time. I gave our Irish friends a quick update on how Meg is being cared for these days and we will probably meet up for longer chat in the next few days.

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Tuesday, 20th February, 2024 [Day 1436]

Tuesdays are the days when we meet with our friends in Waitrose so after the carers and myself had seen to Meg, we breakfasted and then hastened down the road to see who we would see today. We did meet up immediately with the ex-hiker friend of ours (so-called perhaps in her youth she had probably climbed every Lake District mountain that was worth climbing, as well as staying in the majority of the youth hostels) We were shortly joined by another friend (the chorister) who we had not seen for a week or so and about whom we were starting to get a little concerned as we knew that she had to spend some days in bed with a chest infection. Anyway, whatever it was the doctor had zapped it with some antibiotics and then she had a bout of arthritis to contend with.But although she is 90 years old, this particular friend is very doughty and will struggle through all kinds of adversities. I think that all three of us (four including Meg) feel a little the same way and Tuesday mornings are quite important to us and we value each other’s company. This morning, each of the ladies got presented with a bunch of tulips, no doubt left over from Valentine’s day last week, so this will help to complement the large bunch of roses that were donated to us recently. Then it was a case of buying one or two items that we know that Waitrose sells and then making for home. As Tuesday is my Pilates day, a carer arrives to look after Meg whilst I am out of the house and so I attended my session, having missed last week. I find that even after a gap of a week, I feel it a little so I am sure that the various stretches that we do must have some kind of alleviating effect. Then as soon as I get home, I put on a ‘quick’ lunch which is nearly always fish cakes and some quickly microwaved vegetables which means that lunch can be cooked as quickly as practicable.

In the early afternoon, I received some welcome news in the form of an email from the company which I use to purchase webspace and domain names. After I had supplied photographic and up-to-date address information (I believe called Type A and Type B identification) the company had reinstated my access to my various records. I had first to supply a variant on my usual email address which was no real problem and then go on and reset my password but all of this worked. Then, as I had come to suspect, the whole of the website that the company uses for its products has been redesigned and things that used to be easy are now somewhat hard to find. For example, many users will want to get access to the ‘Control Panels’ which they used to control aspects of their domains and/or websites but I had to hunt round and click on a little homunculus symbol to (eventually) give me access to what I wanted and needed. The company itself admits that its site is still being ‘migrated’ and some features such as sorting on a column by clicking its name do not seem to be properly implemented as yet. But I have got to the stage where I can find the domain names that I want and then edit the re-direction details. All of this used to be second nature to me and I have done it constantly over the years but now I am faced with quite a learning curve and re-familiarisation. But my irritation at having to jump through all of these hoops again is alleviated by the pleasure of getting things back which I thought at been at risk. I must say that the redesign of the website seems to have motivated by the possibility of selling you add-ons and services that you do not really want whereas the more essential maintenance functions see to be much less transparent than they were before. So ‘upgrades’ to portals such as this sometimes turn out to be bad news for those of used to a certain way of doing things. I always suspected that my logon details that failed to work a few days ago were more due to the changes at the company end rather than anything I had done – and, indeed, even the words ‘log on’, which seem rather fundamental, seems to have been relegated to some obscure initials. Having got my head around the bare essentials, I am going to need to do a certain amount of playing about so that I can maintain my websites in the ways to which I have become accustomed over the years.

In the late afternoon, I received a couple of phone calls. The first was from the widow of our newsagent who had died as I particularly did not want her to feel neglected and forgotten by former customers. I really wanted her to accept an invitation to come around for a meal but do not feel she is really ready for this just yet but I have hopes for the future. The second phone call was from the care agency looking after Meg with the news that our favourite carer had had a car crash and would be out of action for several days even though she was unhurt. I explained that I was quite happy to assist the other carer scheduled to see us tomorrow morning and am sure that we can make a good ‘2 person team’ until our other carer is in a position to return to work (hopefully, without any delayed shock reactions)

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Monday, 19th February, 2024 [Day 1435]

Here we are at the start of a new week and I wonder what is in prospect for Meg and myself. The first thing to which we look forward is the visit of our chiropodist who visits us once a month and keeps us both mobile. I told her of the things that I was giving up for Lent (an annual tradition) and the list extends to four things this year – gambling, fast cars, loose women and chocolate. The first three of these evidently derives from Georgie Best, the ill-fated footballer, who famously said that he spent a lot of his money on the first three items in the list above and then admitted to wasting all of the rest. I always like to tell my chiropodist a joke or two and reminded her of the married couple leaning over their garden gate and observing the milkman (in the days when we used to have milkmen) making his progress down the street. When the husband observed to his wife that the milkman had a reputation for being a jack-the-lad and had claimed to have slept with every woman in the street except one, the wife declared ‘So that must that snooty bitch at No. 47!’) I then wondered aloud whether this just a modern urban myth that milkman were notorious for early morning liaisons when our chiropodist confided in us that her own uncle had been a milkman and did indeed live up to the stereotype, including one pair of women who shared the same name of Jean. Apparently he was undone when one of his customers bore him a pair of twins and tried to pass them off as completely the progeny of herself and her husband who did not believe her. So after the departure of our chiropodist, we ventured as far as Droitwich noting that one of the access roads we use regularly to get to the other side of town was closed yet again, having been closed for about two months and open for one week. We arrived at our favourite cafe and had our usual bacon butty and cup of tea, having a conversation with a lady who works occasionally in the cafe but seems to spent quite a lot of time talking to customers. After our repast, we made a venture as far as the Worcestershire Association of Carers charity shop where we made three purchases, all of which will prove to be very useful to us. One of these is a decorated teacup with matching saucer and I was hoping to find something like this so that Meg’s cup of tea will always be complete with saucer. I also bought a rather nicely designed little mug which I am going to use exclusively for Meg as we have some glass mugs for cordial on our dining table that seem to get regularly knocked over. I also bought a couple of simplified books that are nicely illustrated and which I hope will give Meg some diversion.

After lunch, I started out to resolve one of the major frustrations of the day. I have bought domain names and webspace from a particular company for at least the last 15 years which suddenly refused to accept my email address as a user name even though I am sure that nothing has changed at my end, as it were and I quite regularly pay bills to keep my domain names/web space up to date. I suspect that the company in question has had a quiet change in policy but it is frustrating in the extreme. So I got onto their support line who asked me to fill a form for ‘account recovery’ and this required both colour photo and up-to-date proof of address ID which I have had to submit and then will have to wait the three days they say it will take to recover things. I have a sinking feeling that they might only recover the three or so websites/domain names that I listed on their form although I suspect my involvement with them is at least 20 and I wonder whether this one is going to run and run. All I can do is to sit tight for three days and then hope for the best. Whilst on the subject of computing issues, the file sync program which I downloaded the other day and which has been taken over by another company and renamed has just written to inform me that my previous ‘indefinite’ licence only now entitles me to a one year subscription and access to 10GB of cloud based storage space. I recall some 25 years or so ago trying to get a ‘FENSA’ certificate for some windows that had been renewed in the house and for which the FENSA certificates were required as part of the conveyancing. The firm that had installed the windows had gone into liquidation, as it were thus relieving themselves of all of the legal obligations involved in their warranties/certificates. But having ceased trading on a Friday, they had re-opened under a slightly different name on Monday morning but all of their previously issued warranties were now null and void. I am sure that I am not alone in having the subject of a practice like this but I suspect that it is not that uncommon.

The Navalny case (Russian opposition leader that the Putin regime tried to poison and since banished to the harshest prison regime imaginable in the polar regions) is rumbling on. The Russians are refusing to release the body to family which is fuelling the suspicion that he has been murdered, perhaps by an agent such as Novichok. His mother has been told that the Russian authorities are going to hold his body for two more weeks to undertake a ‘chemical examination’ but the suspicions in the West are that the Russians are holding onto the body so that any agent used in the probable murder of Navalny might disperse and not be detectable in any pathological examination that his family might decide to have.

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Sunday, 18th February, 2024 [Day 1434]

Our Sunday morning routines took over this morning but with a slight hitch. We had been informed that the two carers would arrive an hour earlier today so we set our alarm accordingly. Although the alarm worked perfectly, we immediately fell asleep again so had a bit of a rush before the carer arrived. She was on her own this morning, her companion not having turned up but the two of us got stuck in together and this made the job easier for two of us. I was delighted to learn that having expressed our satisfaction with this particular carer to her manager who called around the other day, this good news had been conveyed back to her and this always makes for a cemented relationship for the future. After we had breakfasted, it was time for the Eucharistic minister to arrive and as she is such a good musician that any questions that I have of a musical nature, I save up until she comes so that I can ask her. After she had departed, we received a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend and we agreed to meet in Waitrose at 11.00am this morning. We got ourselves down to the store, picking up our copy of the ‘Sunday Times‘ when we got inside the store. Shortly afterwards, our friend turned up together with his newly acquired lady-friend so we had an interesting coffee together. We got onto the subject of ‘North v. South’ differences and there was quite a meeting of minds between the four of us how the present government was so disconnected form the lives of ‘ordinary’ people. We concurred that the Prime Minister and individual members of the Cabinet were so individually wealthy, that they had no real appreciation of the struggles of much of the population enduring the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Just before we left Waitrose, one of the staff presented Meg with a bunch of red roses left over from Valentines Day and which they would otherwise have thrown away. For dinner, we had the other half of some beef we cooked some time ago but with one half frozen up for future use, such as today. We had this with a baked potato and some broccoli, the only real preparation that I needed to do being to make a rich onion gravy in which the slices of meat were immersed to heat them up.

In the early afternoon, Meg had a quiet period on our little two-seater settee recently acquired for our Music Lounge and whilst Meg had a doze, I had a chance to read some of the Sunday newspapers. Then we treated ourselves to the second episode of the ‘Pilgrim’ series (in which a group of modern day pilgrims journey from the Swiss Alps to Rome via an ancient, mediaeval pilgrim route) The second half of this episode we had stumbled into before by accident but we are now enjoying watching the whole of the series of three in its entirety. This we really enjoyed and we are looking forward to seeing the last in the series next Sunday (documenting what happens when the pilgrims finally reach Rome) En route, the pilgrims stay in a variety of hostels specifically catering for pilgrims and I find it interesting that when the pilgrims are addressed in a slow but clear Italian, I can manage to understand nearly all of it. Given the congruence of the Spanish and Italian languages, this is perhaps to be expected. Meg and I have discovered in the past that if we were to run into Italians with no grasp of English, we agree to each other that if we speak slowly to them in Spanish and they reply to us, slowly and simply in Italian, we can manage to understand each other.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that rather than backing up these blog entries manually, there ought to be a way of making simple i.e. incremental backups in which only the changed files get copied to their backup destination. In my pre-Apple days, I knew that I used to use a program which was incredibly simple to use with your existing folders in a left hand pane, the backup destination in the right hand pane and then a simple click to perform an incremental backup. The trouble is that I had forgotten what it was called and suspected that it might be called ‘FileSync’ or similar. So I did some internet searches and then discovered that the program which I had enjoyed using as called ‘Allway Sync’ Moreover, I managed to locate my original order for it and and the credentials for an indefinite licence that I had bought at least a decade or so ago. To cut a long story short, although the program had been re-titled and taken over by another company, I managed to download and install a brand new and up-to-date copy and it is said that they will honour past licences. From my playing about it, it seem to work well and incredibly quickly. As a bonus, they throw in 10GB of cloud based storage so I have actually got this for nothing. So I have two little ‘jobs’ already set up in the system, one of which makes a backup from my SD card to a Western Digital USB drive (more reliable in the long run?) and the second of which zings my stuff straight into the cloud based backup space. By my calculations, I have enough space given to me which will accommodate my blogs for the next 800 years so I suspect this will be sufficient.

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Saturday, 17th February, 2024 [Day 1433]

Our two carers arrived right on cue this morning and so between the three of us we got Meg up, showered and dressed. One of the carers had started off life as a hairdresser so when we have Meg sitting in her bedroom chair, the carer supplies some of her hairdressing skills which is always much appreciated. As it a Saturday morning, we know that we have our Waitrose friends to which to look forward, so after breakfast we made sure that we got down there at the appointed time. In the car park and before we had had a chance to set foot inside the store, I ran across one of our fellow parishioners who like Meg and I used to attend the 6.00pm service in our local church on Saturday evenings. This chappie is a very chipper Irishman who is always seems full of good humour and I had a chat with him. When I enquired after his health in a casual sort of way, he informed me that he had oesophagal cancer and had only been given about three months to live. But was so remarkable was that he seemed to be cheerful and unfazed by this prospect. It is fair to say that he a very fervent and devout parishioner who often used to read out some of the epistle and lessons. I can only conclude that he really is quite pleased that he is shortly to meet with his Maker and is delighted by the prospect. I wonder whether when I approach the end of life I can meet it with such a joyous prospect but the chance meeting meeting between us was fortunate and I trust that I can bump into him many more times in the weeks and months ahead. Once we actually got inside the store, we learn that one of our friends is still poorly with a chest infection but we were delighted to meet up with another of our Tuesday/Saturday regulars. This lady is recently widowed and the crematorium service was last Wednesday so we had a rather mordant conversation about how she intended to dispose of her late husband’s ashes. Our friend was an incredibly good hill walker in her youth and probably climbed even more Lake District mountains when I did when I was younger. Knowing that she knew the Lake District well. I asked her what precautions she took whilst disposing of the dead body of (any past) husbands in the depths of England’s deepest lake which is Wastwater and is 260 feet deep. As she was a bit lost for words, I told her of the story of the dentist who had disposed of his wife in this fashion some time, I believe, in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Rowing out to what he hope to be the deepest point of the lake, he heaved his wife’s body overboard and then lived a tranquil life for the next 30 years. But it was unfortunate for him that his wife’s body ledged upon a sharp prominence of rock that extended from the lake’s bottom to a few metres below the surface of the lake. In the severe droughts of the 1970’s, the woman’s skeleton was discovered draped over the afore mentioned rock but the husband had forgotten to undertake the most elementary pf precautions which was to remove his dead wife’s wedding ring from her skeleton before disposing of it. This wedding ring was still in place on the appropriate finger and from the hallmark on this, the police were able to discover its hallmark and probable date of manufacture and from this information, it was not too difficult to connect the errant dentist with his crime with which he got away for decades. So the moral of all of this clear, namely that one should dispose of all jewellery and identifying marks before disposing of a dead spouse’s body – does this extend to gold teeth, I wonder?

Once we got home, I set about cooking some odds and ends for a pasta type meal. This turned up to be much too large for Meg although she did manfully manage most of it. Not liking to throw food away, I had cooked one onion, some mini sweet peppers, mushrooms, a cupful of petit pois and some strip of pre-cooked chicken. Then I added a dash of brown sauce, a smidgeon of onion gravy and finished off with an apple diced small, some sultanas and a modicum of brown sugar. Meg’s dinner gets served on a bed of pasta but to keep the carbohydrate count low, I serve my own on 2-3 cream crackers, broken up inso small pieces. A lot of the food could have to be thrown away if I had not cooked it today so I am always quite pleased to turn odds-and-ends like this into a nourishing meal.

The airwaves have been filled yesterday evening and today with the demise of Alexei Navalny who is undoubtedly dead and probably murdered at that, as ee have evidence that he was alive and well yesterday and captured on video whilst on a court appearance the day before. The Russians have responded to the death of this arch critic of Putin by hardly mentioning the facts in the media, arresting anyone who wants to lay flowers as a tribute and refusing, as I write, to hand over the dead body to his own mother. Of course, we in the West are well used to the murderous ways of Putin (who after all, is ex KGB and for whom life may be regarded as cheap) but for may in Russia, the sentiment is that they have lost their ‘Mandela’ as the country slides deeper and deeper into an authoritarian nationalism.

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Friday, 16th February, 2024 [Day 1432]

We always look forward to Fridays because it is the day when our domestic help calls around and we always seem to have a lot of news to exchange with her about the comings and goings of the past week. So we got ourselves up and breakfasted but our domestic help arrived a little late as she has an ailing little dog which is keeping her up at nights. It was a beautiful and mild, almost spring-like day this morning so we had no hesitation in deciding that we make a little trip to Droitwich, which we often do on Friday mornings. Our University of Birmingham friend had a domestic commitment and so could not be with us this morning but we are always happy to get to Droitwich and enjoy our bacon butty and a pot of tea. After we had our fill, we made a slight detour to one of our favourite charity shops in the town but there was nothing to particularly take our fancy so we were quite happy to get home. We had a few things we wanted to discuss with our domestic help and I then busied myself with making a rather different kind of lunch. The fish pie I normally purchase in our local Aldi was not in stock so I was tempted to buy some mackerel fillets which came, pre-cooked, in their own plastic film. We heated these fillets up by the simple expedient of soaking them well in some boiling water – the alternative of popping them in the oven can occasionally make the kitchen smell decidedly fishy which we wanted to avoid. We ate the fish with a horseradish dressing and some baked potato and fine beans and a delicious lunch it turned out to be. After lunch, we thought we would treat ourselves to a Prime Video offering of ‘Peterloo‘ which we are going to watch in two halves, with the second half tomorrow. Today’s part of the film was full of the rhetoric of the Lancashire people crying out for electoral reform with the cry of ‘One man, one vote’ Tomorrow’s half is no doubt going to be filled with scenes of the bloody massacre of Peterloo but as both Meg and I are graduates of the University of Manchester, the events of Peterloo are still commemorated by the fact that one of the large squares in Manchester behind the town hall is called St. Peter’s Square.

Last night when Meg was in Meg I had set myself the task of solving a computer problem that had been bugging me for several days. When I purchased my new laptop, I paid as part of my purchase a subscription to the McAfee anti-virus program. This was not included so I requested the installation code which the supplier sent back to me by email. I had downloaded a trial copy of McAfee and there was no way I could find of getting it to accept the authorisation code as the system was just designed to make you pay for it first. So I got on to the McAfee support website which took you all around the houses but did not actually solve the problem. I got as far as installing the program for some seconds at which it then ‘stuck’ or hung. The automated technical help desk which I requested on two or three occasions promised a chatline response within a minute but all that happened was that the McAfee chatline cut me off after some moments of nothing happening. I then had a bit of a brainwave because I have used McAfee products before and I vaguely remembered that there was something called a McAfee Customer Removal Tool which was a piece of software that removed all traces of previous installation from the system. I managed to locate a copy of this, downloaded it and then ran it and it took several minutes for it to do its job. But this proved to be the right thing to do because, after that, the installation routine link which the supplier had given to me worked and the whole program installed itself rapidly and in only a few minutes. So the unsuccessful ‘messings about’ took over an hour and a quarter but once I had a ‘clean’ machine, life became very straightforward. Heartily relieved that I now had a system that was fully protected, I wondered to myself how many other consumers had run foul of this system and did not know how to put it right. I only use the laptop in the Music lounge for emails and for writing this blog and precious little else but I did not want to venture far into the internet unless I had a fully protected system. Having got McAfee installed, it now informs me that it will scan each and every file ever downloaded onto the system and will update itself automatically at regular intervals which is, of course, just what I want.

In the wee small hours of the morning the results of the two by-elections held yesterday came through and the Labour Party made two stunning victories in both Wellingborough and in Kingswood with much higher than predicted swings. The Tories are attempting hard to console themselves by saying that their ‘core supporters’ had just stayed at home but would come out to vote for them in a General Election, now only months away. But it is fairly evident, displayed in the audience members in ‘Any Questions‘ last night, that the population as a whole are just fed up to the back teeth with the present government and just want it to be got rid of. The full political consequences of these two defeats are widely interpreted as nails in Rishi Sunak’s coffin and will no doubt receive a lot of detailed attention in the days ahead. In particular the Reform (ex UKIP/Brexit) party is making a sturdy showing and is helping to splinter the rightmost extremes of the right wing vote. The Tory party itself is said to be split (again!) between those who want to fight Reform at every opportunity and those who want some kind of accommodation between Reform and the Conservative party. The Reform party itself has an interesting agenda as it seeks to stand against the Conservatives in every constituency, force the defeat of the present government and then argue hard for a form of PR in whatever configuration of parties shows after an election.

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Thursday, 15th February, 2024 [Day 1431]

Today turned out to be quite a full day in ways that we both did not anticipate. We knew that we had our meeting with our social worker scheduled for 11.00am but we decided to go to town earlier than is normal for us. We managed to call in at a distant ATM where the parking is convenient and then called by our erstwhile newspaper shop which was again bereft of newspapers. But I was pleased to see the new owner of the shop in place and left her one of my business cards with a request that she pass it on to the wife of the previous owner of the store. We last saw her at the funeral of her husband and I hope that once she has got over the immediate grieving process she might give me a call. We would like her to call around for a meal if she feels up to it and we are anxious, that although she no doubt feels the death of her husband and business partner so keenly, that we can still maintain some social contact in the months and years ahead. We then popped into Waitrose but this is not our usual ‘port of call’ for a Thursday so we did not anticipate bumping anyone that we knew. But we were delighted to meet up with one of our Tuesday regulars and we soon fell into a conversation on matters political, today being the day of the Rochdale by-election. In particular, we quite enjoyed telling each the stories of how, in the past, we had tied up the canvassers of a political party that we did not support, into extended conversations (in our case over several hours) thus giving their fellow canvassers the headache of not knowing where their fellow politician had actually got to. Then we looked at our watch and suddenly realised that we had better make a dash for it, so that we were at home in time for our appointment. We arrived back at our house about three minutes before the appointed hour and the social worker had already arrived and was knocking at the door (as we feared she might) but all’s well that ends all. After we were all safely inside the house, the owner-manager of the care agency looking after Meg and his principal assistant-cum-scheduler turned up so that we could all have a productive review meeting. This is one of the few occasions when I was pleased to have a lot of spare chairs in our Music Lounge. I started off by showing them the facility of Widows 11 to ‘speak’ the contents of a website to them, including the page I had posted recently for the benefit of fellow carers. Then the manager of the care agency asked a fair number of questions to which he wanted (and got) frank replies about the quality of service we had been receiving from his staff. To be fair, it was quite easy to say something positive about each of them although some are evidently so much more experienced than others. But evidently, the manager wanted a comprehensive and fair picture so that he knew how his staff were doing and so he could correct any deficiencies in their training or preparation. In the meantime, the social worker was furiously scribbling notes, trying to get a comprehensive record of the meeting. But at the end of the day, apart from meeting people such that we could, on both sides, put a face to a name the meeting also achieved some positive outcomes. It was confirmed that the daily care package for Meg should continue. Also, we had out into place two additional ‘sitting’ sessions for a care worker to be with Meg whilst I went out to do my Pilates class )in Tuesdays) and go out and do our weekly shopping (on a Thursday). So all in all, we felt that the meeting had a favourable and productive outcome and the manager was going to try and schedule the care worker in whom we have most confidence, and with whom Meg has a very good relationship, to be the ‘continuity’ care worker as it were although she herself has to have regular day off and only works on alternate weekends. But the manager of the agency seeking that I could access the web easily enough, promised to send me a link such that I could read the daily logs on Meg that the care workers supplied and perhaps also give some access to schedules to that we knew who to expect and on what day. So the various professionals had to make a departure for other meetings but Meg and I were satisfied with the outcomes. As it was a beautiful day and we both had a positive feeling, we decided to go out together and make a joint shopping expedition. We decided to go to the usual (smaller) Aldi store that I normally frequent but this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I put Meg in her wheelchair and then slotted this into one of the more specialist shopping trolleys designed to be used with a wheelchair. Whether I was operating this correctly I know not but we made good progress to something approximating to a normal week’s shopping with Meg in her wheelchair pushing and steering the trolley and with our goods piled up on a fairly narrow tray on the top. We managed to do all of this and getting everything into the car was a bit of a challenge but one which Meg and I met successfully. When we returned home at about 2.00pm., I made a lightning lunch of a thick lamp soup on a slice of toast and this was an almost an instant, but more than adequate, lunch for us under the circumstances.

This afternoon we both watched, and really enjoyed ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ which is provided as part of our Prime subscriptions and there were some achingly funny moments, as well as memorable lines, that made this film a really good watch for us.

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Wednesday, 14th February, 2024 [Day 1430]

This morning we knew we had a sort of social engagement later on in the day, so after we were up, washed and breakfasted we set out to visit the rugby club in Finstall. a small village which to all extent and purposes a suburb of Bromsgrove. Here AgeUK runs a special cafe on the second Wednesday of each month so we made sure that we got there promptly for proceedings to begin at 10.30. Today being Valentines Day, we had some activities based around this (recognising songs on the ‘Love’ theme principally) I also took the opportunity to speak for 2-3 minutes at the end of the meeting informing all of those present about the little one page website I created recently for the benefit of carers but which may grow if other carers want to email me with additional comments that I can incorporate into further pages. Our activities, complete with coffee and biscuits, were completed by about 12.15 so we picked up a newspaper from a local suburban post office and then made for home. We lunched today on a fairly conventional lunch which did not too long to prepare and then we settled down, afterwards, to watch the second half of the biopic ‘La Vie en Rose‘ which was the life story of the French ‘chanteuse’ Edith Piaf. This was a fascinating, but not an easy, film to watch in many ways. True, it did start with her early life and it did end with her death but most of the film consisted of episodes that reflected the turbulence of Piaf’s life. There was a gritty realism to the film and it pulled no punches in its telling of the Piaf story. Meg and I watched it with a kind of fascinated horror, not knowing exactly what episode was going to be displayed next which is an approach to film making with many may well find disconcerting. After we had concluded our viewing, I did a search to see if I could find reviews of the film and did find an American review, full of praise for the biopic which was one of the finest that the reviewer had actually seen, but the sentiments expressed almost echoed my own feelings. Incidentally, this reviewer also translated ‘La Vie en Rose‘ in the manner that I suggested when I blogged yesterday as ‘life viewed through rose-tinted glasses’ At the conclusion of the film we had Piaf singing ‘Je ne regret rien’ which sounds morbid and mournful but is actually a song with quite positive sentiments as it encourages one to look forward to what the future may hold in the store despite whatever vicissitudes have been endured in the past.

Further aid for the Ukraine might well be in doubt after votes in the US Congress. Although a bill for billions of dollars has passed through the Senate (Upper House), the House of Representatives (Lower House) may well vote down the bill requesting additional funds. There is a large amount of political opportunism in all this as Republicans are generally supportive of extra spending on the military. But the Republicans sold it as ‘why should we be helping Ukraine secure its own borders when our own are wide open’ and is proving an argument which is appealing to even uncommitted voters in the USA at the moment. Speaking of Ukraine, it is reported today that their forces have destroyed the Russian Navy’s Tsezar Kunikov large landing ship off the occupied peninsula of Crimea in the Black Sea. This has been done with the aid of ‘sea drones’ and it may well have been that the Ukrainians struck lucky by getting the ship’s ammunition store to explode, this destroying the whole ship. The Ukrainians have now developed a pattern of being able to destroy some of the Russian landing craft in the seas around the Crimea which cannot be replaced in that part of the Black Sea. To some extent, this may be a consolation prize for the fact that the Russians may be getting the better of the land war as they are pushing back at the Ukrainians defences.

As I was reflecting upon some of the archaic customs associated with St Valentine’s Day in the past, I also remembered a rather strange custom which I had observed when we lived in Leicester. Being a city the economy of which was based on the textile industry, there was a large factory much of which output went to Marks and Spencer. There was a tradition that when young women were to be married, her mates would dress her up in the gaudiest clothing imaginable and with garish make up on her face as well. The ‘victim’ would then be taped to a lamp post with yards and yards of sellotape, string and other tape such that it was impossible to escape. Thus tied to the lamp post, the girl did not attempt to make an escape but had to endure the laughter and comments of passing pedestrians and motorists for several hours (normally from about 2.00pm in the afternoon until about 6.00pm) Her friends would then come and release her and get her thoroughly drunk for the rest of the evening (although she may have drunk something at lunchtime as well) In the sixteen years that I lived in Leicester, I think I observed this about twice and certainly more associated with the 1970’s rather than later. I suspect that this habit may well have died out a long time ago and one wonders what the attitude of a modern day police force might be if faced with a girl-tied-to-a-lamp post scenarios in today’s world. I would suspect that this practice has been replaced by a more modern version which might be a hen party organised in Amsterdam or in Prague. Meg and I actually bumped into a more mature hen party when we were staying in a hotel in Madrid – the members of this group all wore identical tee-shirts but I cannot remember what their slogan was at the time.

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