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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Saturday, 31st July, 2021 [Day 502]

Well, today was a very different kind of day. Although Meg and I have a TV in our bedroom and very often watch Newsnight and similar programs in the evening while we are getting ready for bed, we hardly ever watch the TV first thing in the morning. However, this morning proved to be the exception because as soon as we woke up and were ‘compos mentis‘ we realised from the news broadcasts on our bedside radios that Team GB had won the mixed triathlon – the first time this event has ever been part of the Olympics schedule. So we turned on the TV straight away and we did not have to wait for too long before we were rewarded with a very full video summary of the race form start to finish. So Meg and I just sat on a large blanket chest that occupies a position at the foot of our bed and watch the whole race as it unfolded. It did not detract from the enjoyment of it watching a summary of it like this – although Team GB were the pre-race favourites, this did not mean that they held the lead at all times and indeed the at the various ‘transitions’ from one phase of the race to the next the lead did keep changing according to the strengths of the individual competitors in their various disciplines e.g. some were much better cyclists than swimmers and so on. So the way you watched the race unfold was by observing the gap in seconds between the first and second.We really enjoyed all of this but I did delay us for the morning. [Actually, as I was writing this blog, the BBC compilation program was showing the whole of the Mixed Triathlon completion again so I stopped blogging in order to watch it all over again – and it was just as exciting the second time around]

Eventually, Meg and I after a delayed breakfast walked down into town and we decided to adopt our normal routine which because of my isolation we had not managed for about a week. Everything worked brilliantly, actually, because as we approached our usual bench one of our regular crowd was already there. No sooner had we served ourselves with some coffee than our University of Birmingham friend showed up and I departed to collect our Saturday complement of newspapers. On the way back, I met up with Meg and two (male) companions and then another married couple who know us well stopped by and we had a very pleasant chat as we had not seen each other for about a week or even longer (this seems quite a long time when you are used to bumping into people nearly every day) So we set off for lunch quite late – so late, in fact, that we did not really have time to cook a conventional lunch so we made do with a cheese-and-biscuits followed by ice cream type of lunch. 

After lunch and a bit of a rest, we suddenly realised that we were scheduled to FaceTime our oldest ‘Waitrose’ friends. We knew that we had a lot to chat about, not least because they wanted to know the results of the medical investigations that were performed on me on Thursday. We were able to give them some reassuring news  that whilst multiple non-life threatening conditions had been found, the endoscopists had found no evidence of any cancer which is always the fear at the back of one’s mind. so I live to fight another day – although with our friends on FaceTime and in the park I did joke that whilst they were sticking various instruments into various orifices, at least I meant to successfully fend off the stake through the heart with which I felt be threatened at any moment. So we would had a long and very informative chat with our friends that went on for about an hour and twenty five minutes. Then we broke off to have a cup of tea and biscuits before we got ready for going to church at 5.30.

When we got home, we had our normal Saturday evening tea of a really good Waitrose soup and then turned on the TV to see if we could get any of the latest Olympics news. Whilst idly channel-hopping, we found we were half an hour into one of the best films of Pride and Prejudice ever made – it was the 2005 version with Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Judi Dench etc. I think this production was nominated for several Oscars. In face, I think one of the best (and wittiest) lines in the whole film comes from the lips of the paterfamilias, Mr. Bennet, who having seen three of his daughters get married off or at least affianced, said about his other two daughters: ‘If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, for heaven’s sake, send them in. I’m quite at my leisure!’

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Friday, 30th July, 2021 [Day 501]

I suppose in last night’s blog that I should have commented upon the fact that this blog is now 500 days since its inception which is about a year and a third in total – it is amazing how quickly the time has flown. Today has been very much ‘the day after the day before’ as I have been recovering from yesterday’s medical investigations which, whilst not being particularly traumatic, were certainly invasive – so I am taking life in the slow (slower?) lane for the next day or so. Today was a particularly rainy day about which we were relieved – it is quite easy to feel smug when the rains come but you are basically ‘gardened up’  and you are quite happy to let the rain work its magic on recent plantings. We spent some chatting, as is customary, with our domestic help who visits us once per week. In truth, we do discuss cooking, diet and many lifestyle things with her and I suspect that we learn a lot more from her than she does from us. This morning we went down to Waitrose by car and treated ourselves to our customary coffee and what-have-you. We explained to the regular staff who know us well why they had not seen us for several days. Then I went round the store buying a few things that I knew I had omitted from our weekly order and a few extra things that I intend to try out and substitute for other parts of our weekly diet. In particular, I need to avoid anything with seeds in it so I am trying to get used to some new variety in our normal diet.

This afternoon, as it had been raining quite hard, I devoted myself to getting my accounts and bank statements up-to-date and reconciled – this is a task I should really do once a week but occasionally things get let slip and I have a few weeks to catch up on. The trick is to get a regular day each week, I suppose, so I suppose I had better develop some better housekeeping habits from now on. Next week, I intend to seriously get our house de-cluttering underway but, as always, this is evidently easier said than done. I think I am going to start on two fronts simultaneously – excess clothing upstairs on the one hand and excess books downstairs on the other. I somehow think the excess clothing will be an easier problem to solve – if it hasn’t been worn in the last two years, then it can probably go to one of the abundance of charity shops that have {eventually) reopened along the Bromsgrove High Street.

The COVID situation is interesting, to put it mildly. One the one hand, it looks as though the amount of ‘Test-and-Trace’ referrals is reducing. But as Sky News reports:


While the government dashboard shows reported cases fell by a third in the week to 24 July, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the real trend was in the opposite direction. The ONS estimates that almost 952,000 people in the UK were infected during that week – a rise of more than 14% on the previous week. The ONS does random tests every week of large numbers of people, whether or not they have symptoms. This gives the most comprehensive picture of the UK situation because it includes asymptomatic infections


Now this is all very interesting. On the one hand, one part of the government machine is showing data that might appear to show the infection situation is improving. One the other hand, the government is in possession of data from the authoritative Office of National Statistics (ONS) which shows that the situation is much worse than would be good for public consumption. Incidentally, the ONS data is reinforced by the survey of water treatment facilities which also shows that the incidence of the virus is much worse than might be imagined. So it looks as though the 3rd wave of the virus is far from over. It is possible that infections could absolutely soar – at one stage, 100,000 new cases was mentioned. On the other hand, if people continue to wear masks, socially distance and take recommended precautions (including the now prominent messages on the importance of good ventilation) then the infection rate could be put into a ‘real’ reverse and eventually decline. There are many implicit agendas going on here. One is that the government is not too unhappy in high infection rates amongst the young to eventually achieve a level of herd immunity whilst the summer months are with us and before COVID cases coincide with the ‘normal’ winter flue patterns which, combined, could put the NHS under almost intolerable pressure.

Some interesting American political developments are in the offing. It looks as though Donald Trump’s tax returns must be handed to Congress according to the US Justice Department. This does remind one of Al Capone – wasn’t he eventually ‘done for’ by his evasion of tax returns? The parallels are striking.

 

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Thursday, 29th July,2021 [Day 500]

Today was the day of my medical investigations and I promise you that I am not going to dwell on medical maters whatsoever. However, there is one little incident which ardent readers of this blogg might be able to identify as having been written about 18 months ago. My son kindly took me to Evesham hospital some twenty miles distant which is evidently being used as a unit for the conduct of clinical investigations well removed from other potentially virus-threatened major hospitals in the area. My little incident was as follows. When I got into the hospital system, I was ‘received’ by a male nurse whose role was to take my particulars, go through my medical history and other formalities. I happened to mention to him that last time I had had such a procedure in the hospital in Kidderminster, the analogous role was performed by a little Spanish nurse who announced her name has ‘Amparo‘. Upon learning she was Spanish, we conducted a conversation in Spanish (which was not very good on my part, first thing on a Sunday morning) This is how the conversation went:

Me: I know what I would rather by doing at 7.00 on a Sunday morning.

Amparo: Yes, me too.

Me: What you rather by be doing then?

Amparo: I would like to be tucked up in bed snuggling up to my husband!

Me: And so would I – No (desperately thinking in Spanish) – I mean snuggled up in bed not with your husband but with with someone else’s husband. No – I mean snuggled up in bed with someone else’s wife. No – I meant snuggled in bed with my own wife.

Amparo: Are you sure ? You seem to be getting awfully mixed up between my husband, someone else’s husband, someone else’s wife and your own wife!

Me: (weakly) Yes, I’m sure…

We had a giggle together and promptly went on to forget the whole incident (apart from the blog of course) Now my whole point about reporting the story now becomes plain. The nurse who was inducting me at Evesham hospital happened to be – the husband of Amparo! He shot off to get his phone and showed me a photo of Amparo so that I could confirm her identity. Then, to add to the surprise, he showed me a photo on his phone of their little boy that they had had about six weeks beforehand.  So in some ways, this was a most amazing coincidence – and yet in some ways not given that nursing personnel tend to marry each other. 

Tonight, as I was still in a recovery mode (my son having collected me and brought me home from Evesham) I decided to crash out and indulge ourself in a re-run of the film of Brideshead Revisited. Whether I want to be regaled with the cavortings of the British upper classes is another thing, but the film was shot at Castle Howard in Yorkshire and some of the cinematography and story lines are superb. Given the paucity of good films during the summer season, I was more than happy to indulge myself for once.

The COVID news today is quite interesting – and disturbing. For a start, the number of cases has risen for the second day in a row. This makes the recent 4-5 day dip in new infections seem to be only a temporary dip. More disturbing is the fact that monitoring of wastewater sites (sewers and the like) has shown marked increases in the virus in the last month. People shed fragments of coronavirus through daily activities like going to the toilet and blowing their nose, and these subsequently show up in the surveillance of wastewater at sites throughout England. This sounds like a very indirect method of measuring the virus but when you stop to think about it, it seems a remarkably comprehensive way of measuring the distribution of the virus. The BBC website reveals that: ‘Generally, the more people with COVID-19 in the community the more viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) will be shed into wastewater,” the report says. “Therefore, the concentration in wastewater is indicative of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community..’ In the meanwhile, the fact that we are going to let in lots of travellers from other parts of Europe and the USA is raising some serious concerns amongst some sections of the scientific community who are more than worried that new variants might be imported. After all, we have been there before (as in the case of India)

This afternoon, my daughter-in-law took Meg along to Webb’s to divert her whilst I was having my hospital visit. Webb’s just down the road is a remarkable institution – although starting life as a garden centre at which it still excels it has expanded into all manners of household goods. it has several interesting sections such as a cookshop selling kitchen utensils and a range of homemade local products.It will also sell you a range of household pets (rabbits, fish) if you prefer. But one of the start attractions is a riverside walk with a delightful calm atmosphere and many interesting shrubs, trees and flowers which are now in full bloom.

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Wednesday, 28th July, 2021 [Day 499]

Today I was carrying on with my isolation procedure and fortunately it was quite a fine day. This morning I had a telephone conversation with a financial adviser who had also advised my son and daughter-in-law recently. This turned out to be quite a brief telephone call and confirmed that the long term plans I had been putting in place were quite sound, so this turned out to be very reassuring telephone call. We have arranged another one for several months ahead to check that everything is still sound so we can now make progress with some degree of confidence. The rest of the morning was a fairly restful affair – we watched the dressage in the Olympic Games in which the British rider gained a bronze and were mightily impressed by the way in which the horses, in particular, performed their particular routines. This afternoon I needed to take the car down to our practice surgery in order to hand in a sample for analysis – fortunately, if you can get in and out of the car park within 15 minutes than you can do this without charge.  I had a little job to get done this afternoon which was to clean up a storage box which I keep down in Mog’s Den – the whole idea of this was the I could keep some essential tools dry and easily to hand so that I would not be constantly running in and out of the garage for any gardening requisites that I happen to need. I always seem to need a handy supply of green garden twine to hand, plus a little pair of scissors, so that plants can get tied up in plenty of time and before the wind and rain can batter them down. I had almost completed this little cleaning up job when the thunderstorm and hail rolled across the garden so, not for the first time, I had to do a rapid clearing up and retreat into the garage to finish off my little cleaning job. Needless to day, the minute I had finished, the storm clouds rolled away and we got a wonderful burst of late afternoon sunshine which 1s often the way. 

Halfway through the afternoon, I got a telephone call from the hospital where I was due to have some investigations on Friday afternoon – however, could I go in a day early and get into the hospital for tomorrow afternoon rather than Friday. I had to get do a quick check with the rest of the family to make sure that they could still take me and bring me back from these procedures so all being well that means one day less waiting. I suspect a certain amount of mis-communication has been taking place because the initial telephone call inviting me along to the procedure indicated Thursday, the official letter when it arrived said Friday and now we have another urgent call to reinstate the Thursday. To be fair, juggling appointments in these COVID days must be awkward with a combination of patient ‘no-shows’ and any other emergency events that throw the best laid plans awry. 

The political news today is that the government intends to lift quarantine restrictions from the EU and the USA if it can be demonstrated that they have had a double vaccination – to be effective from 2nd August. What is the great unknown is whether other countries will reciprocate in a similar way – at the moment, for example, if you want to go on holiday to Italy (which Meg and I do, in late September) then as things stand at the moment we would have to quarantine ourselves for five days out of a ten day holiday. But to be fully reciprocal, we would want the Italians to let us holiday without quarantine in the same way that Italians will be able to do when coming to England. The other major change is that the government is intending that as from 16th August, double vaccinated people who are ‘pinged’ by the Test-and=Trace app will not be under a legal obligation to self isolate or to undertake a COVID test unless they are exhibiting symptoms. This is all part of the gradual winding down of the COVID regulations but, of course, if we were to have a sudden upsurge in infection rates then all of this might have to be put into reverse very rapidly.

I have been thinking a little about the tremendous efforts that some of our Olympic athletes have made in order to compete in the games and, in particular, the ways in which training regimes might impinge upon the lives of other family members (e.g. conveying offspring to far-off swimming pools that might open early to accommodate a training session for would be Olympic athletes). Does one have to be self-centred to an extraordinary degree  (and be massively ‘selfish’) to fulfil one’s ambition? (The same thought applies to prominent academics who might have acquired their PhD through the dedication of other family members who sacrificed their own careers for the sake of another family member?)

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, 27th July, 2021 [Day 498]

Today has been a very strange day in lots of ways. I suppose you could say that it started off in a unique way as in a slightly wakeful patch in the wee small hours of the morning, I decided to come downstairs and turn the TV on in order to catch up with the latest news from the Olympics. No sooner had I turned the television on but I caught the closing stages (about the last 5 seconds) of the 100m men’s freestyle swimming in which Team GB got both gold and silver – this is the first time that this has happened since 1908 which is evidently 113 years ago. After the commentators had recovered their poise, the coverage switched to the women’s triathlon and this was equally exciting in its own way. Georgia Taylor-Brown has won silver for Team GB in the women’s triathlon, despite a flat tyre, caused by hitting a pothole, in the final lap of the bike race. She lost 20 seconds and dropped to fifth place although at that stage, the gold was within her grasp. She gradually clawed her way back through the runners in front of her and gradually overtook one of her best friends to eventually claim silver. So it was quite an eventful night – at that point, I took to my bed for the rest of the night.

Today I have been subject to self-isolation which I have to keep up for three whole days until I have my investigations next Friday afternoon. It is rather a strange experience to not even walk as far as the park which I have done every day for approximately the last 500 days. Fortunately, the day was the kind of day when you never knew whether it was going to rain or not. It was a little overcast and we had the slightest smattering of rain this morning but it did rain a bit more systematically – but not as heavily as we would have liked – later on this afternoon. This morning between 8.00 and 9.00 the power was cut off across our immediate neighbourhood. We had been given plenty of advance notice about this but the burglar alarm in my neighbour’s unoccupied house was squawking in a kind of alarm mode once the power was eventually restored. Our neighbour had let us have a front door key  together with her daughter’s telephone number and the code  to activate/deactivate the burglar alarm. I let myself into my neighbour’s house with a degree of trepidation and was relieved when the code deactivated the alarm so it was not screeching all day. I think these systems might turn themselves off after 20 minutes but I did not wish that any internal batteries got exhausted.

As it has been wall-to-wall Olympics for most of the day, this has helped to alleviate the strangeness of keeping myself to myself all day long. The pre-paid vouchers that I have for my daily supply of newspapers were taken down to the newspaper shop by my daughter-in-law and activated so we have enough reading matter for the day. Tuesday is the day which The Times devotes itself to medical issues and I read the results of one research finding to the effect that if you exercise regularly you run less risk of developing cancer – even if you have currently do have a cancer, then regular exercise can get to alleviate the symptoms. So this is another press cutting for the files.

The COVID-19 data for today is interesting in that UK records 23,511 new coronavirus cases and 131 more deaths. This means that the new cases is sharply down (for the seventh day in a row) but the death rate is sharply up and is the highest rate since mid-March. Government scientists are slightly puzzled by all of this but some tentative explanations are as follows. It could be that in the recent hot weather spell, people spent more time outside and this helped to reduce the amount of ‘free-floating’ virus in the air. Also, I have seen it argued that as Scotland got knocked out of the Euro finals quite early, then this, too, helped reduce the crowds following the match on TV’s in pubs and squares. In yesterday’s Times, I read with interest that ‘it is well known that schools are massive reservoirs of infection for the COVID virus and now that schools have closed for the summer vacation, this may help to avoid further infection‘ The bland statement that it is ‘well-known’  that schools are a reservoir of infection is certainly not one that would be admitted by the government. The government ‘line’ has always been that schools are safe places for the children within them – but the government have been deliberately vague, silent or contradictory on the fact that the adults who work in or near schools (teachers, teaching assistants, admin staff, some catering staff, anyone visiting the school, parents at school gates and so on) might have been massively at risk by insisting that the schools should re-open and the Tories seemed insistent upon this whatever the consequences (which subsequently, we may learn, has helped to fuel the infection rates)

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Monday,, 26th July, 2021 [Day 497]

Today was the day when our gardener was going to call on us at 9.00am and, between us, we were going to repair the archway trellis, replete with a heavy honeysuckle, that had become both overgrown and also unstable as each of the supports had rotted at the point where it made contact with the soil. This proved to be a much more demanding – and heavy – job that either of us had anticipated. The first thing that had to be done was to give the honeysuckle a radical pruning and this took about an hour and was the easy part. Then we decided to dig (or rather dig out) four new fence post holes. Rather than using a thin narrow spade which is typically used in operations of this type, we used a specialised tool which I already happened to possess. This was an augur which is like a giant corkscrew and operates in a very similar fashion. If you are working on virgin, un-stony ground then this tool will work exceptionally well. Its diameter is just slightly larger than that of he average fence post and, I general, you get a lovely clean hole in which the new post is located and which requires the minimum of specialised fencing post concrete (‘postcrete’). But this is the point where we ran into problems. Evidently the original fence erectors had used concrete and about 5-6″ down we met this layer of concrete. In order to circumvent this  we needed to deploy a large, heavy metal 2-metre tall implement (it might be called a wrecking bar but I cannot be sure.) This tool has a wedge shape on end and a point on the other and it requires a certain degree of concentrated thumping with this to make an impression on the concrete. We eventually broke through with a combination of thumping and hammering with a sledge hammer and of course we needed to do this four times over. You would have thought that all we had to do was to pop the structure into its seated holes but nothing in life is this straightforward. We soon discovered that the old and thick honeysuckle branches  acted in much the same ways as metal ties on a bridge – at one point we had the ‘support’ hanging in the air over the support holes with the thick branches holding everything up. So we then had to identify which branch was providing the most impediment and started on a policy of snipping these right around the structure. Eventually, we got the structure more-or-less in place and more-or-less  stable before we started to make the structure a bit more stable by the simple expedient of getting some old Victorian style building bricks, bashing them into several large pieces and then using the irregular pieces as wedges around each post. Then we started to pour the fence post concrete around each post and finished off by tamping down with some of the decorative stone which was already in place. So what with the screwing, the thumping and the heaving around, I had an intensely physical morning which I did not particularly want. Still, we got the job done and as it been postponed on at least 2-3 previous occasions we were mightily pleased to get it done at last. We just want the concrete to stabilise and harden now – the gardener filled his wheelbarrow with water and sloshed around the while structure just before the tidying up part. 

This afternoon, I was scheduled to go off to Worcester Royal Infirmary to have a COVID-19 test of the PCR type (before my investigations on Friday) I got there in plenty of time and was actually half an hour early but there were only about a couple of cars in front of me so it did not seem to trouble the staff. The entire swabbing procedure takes place inside your own car and went more or less to plan. I must admit then when the nurse was taking the throat swab I gagged several times as it touched the vagus nerve (which makes to retch if you touch it) but one way or another she got her sample. Then it was a swab up each nostril and although this was unpleasant, it was not massively so and therefore I could be on my way home very quickly – I actually got home before the swab procedure was theoretically to have taken place. 

I spent the afternoon by a certain degree of quite pleasant ‘pottering’ in the garden. I managed to rescue and support a bit of a red campion that I had in an obscure corner of the garden. But the principal thing that I did was to resurrect one of those plastic contraptions designed to grow a multiplicity of herbs and actually planted acorns in it (14 in total) I think these might be my own acorns and I do not recall having gathered them but they have been in a clear glass jar in the garage waiting for a suitable moment at which to be planted, We shall see!

 

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Sunday, 25th July, 2021 [Day 496]

Today was a different Sunday, as it turned out. I went and collected our newspapers and then, in place of the Andrew Marr show, I indulged myself in watching a bit of Olympics action. This was the concluding stages of the Women’s Road Bicycle Race and it turned out to be very exciting as a young, unknown Austrian rider broke away from the pack (45 kilometres out?) and eventually secured her gold medal as she built up an assailable lead.  We had a lunch date in Oxford with two of our oldest friends so we set off in plenty of time, got parked in a reasonably secure location and then found our way to the restaurant. We had allowed ourselves plenty of ‘getting lost and parking time’ but still arrived at the restaurant a good half an hour early so we had a leisurely cup of coffee whilst we waited for our friends who turned up absolutely on time. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about so we had a good enjoyable chat. The restaurant was a Thai restaurant which our friends had used before and we enjoyed our food but there wasn’t very much of it. So we decided after lunch to have a coffee and a pastry in a different venue –  that part of Oxford is stuffed full of interesting little cafes so it was no problem to find somewhere and carry on chatting. As has become customary between us, we exchanged some little gifts of home made produce – our friends gave us some of their own home-made honey which is always absolutely excellent and in turn we exchanged some of our damson gin which I suggested they do not drink as such but try as a flavouring in ice-cream or yogurt. I am told by some of the recipients of our damson gin that using it as a flavouring gives excellent results but that is something that we ourselves must try. And so it became time for us to part and we made good progress getting back to Bromsgrove in what seemed a very space of time (probably just over an hour)

When we got home, we had received a message from our gardener who we have about once every three weeks to see if he could come along to help to fix our ‘honeysuckle’ arch. Basically, this is a timber construction where the support posts have rotted at ground level. I am going to act as our gardener’s ‘gofer’ or at least a second pair of hands. The plan is to lay the honeysuckle flat on the ground,  chop away the rotten parts of the support posts and then relocate them into the ground making the while structure lower than before. Then we will try to relocate the honeysuckle over the re-sited posts and the job will be done. All of this sounds so easy to do in theory but I wonder how it will work out in practice, I have some specialist post-setting concrete (purchased earlier) so I hope this has not degraded over time as I have stored it under the eaves of the house which is quite, but not absolutely dry.  This job has got to get completed by the end of the morning as tomorrow afternoon I need to drive to the Worcester Royal  Infirmary to have a COVID test before the investigations on me start on Friday. 

In the early evening, the whole family (myself, Meg and our son and daughter-in-law) spent some time in the quiet of the evening talking about some of our knowledge of, and reminiscences, of the songs of the 1960’s. But a little bit of background is in order. Meg and I met at Manchester University in the mid 1960’s. The Faculty of Technology of the University (later to become its own University – UMIST) had its own Student Union facilities which was the whole of one floor (‘J’ floor) of a large Victorian building. There they had a folk singing evening every Sunday singing songs by ‘The Seekers‘, ‘Peter Paul and Mary‘ and singers of a similar ilk. Meg and I used to really enjoy these evenings and occasionally we were treated to songs sung by Anna Ford, the president of the Owens Student Union who later went on to have a distinguished career as an ITN newscaster. To supplement this picture, I then worked a cocktail barman in the only nightclub in Manchester called ‘Tiffany’s‘ They had a resident band with an unbelievably 1950’s name (‘Ross Mitchell and Les Nocturnes‘) However, they had two incredibly good female vocalists  – Eve Graham (brunette) and Lynn Paul (blonde) who later became part of the ‘New Seekers‘ This group recorded the world famous ‘I’d like to teach the World to Sing’ and eventually represented the UK  in 1972 in the Eurovision Song Context coming in at second! So that is the connection (in fact the only connection) that Meg and I have with the world of folk/popular singing – but that is why we know and remember some of these songs. I must confess to a particular liking for ‘Foggy Dew’ which is a traditional English song song first recorded in1959 but best known for the version by Roger Whitaker.

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Saturday, 24th July, 2021 [Day 495]

The weather is evidently on the turn and when we woke up this morning, there was quite a breath of fresh air when we popped our noses out of the back door. There were occasional smatterings of rain throughout the early morning but not the prolonged and sustained downpour for which we had all been hoping. So we decided to make our journey down into town by car just in case the heavens opened – but as it happened, they did not. Having collected our newspapers, we then bumped into our University of Birmingham friend so we all dived into Waitrose to have our mid-morning coffee. As it happened, we had quite a lot to catch up on with various happenings throughout the week so we spent quite some time explaining the various things we have been up to in the last week. We explained that next week is going to be a little fraught for us because I have to Worcester for a COVID-19 test, then three days of isolation before I have some investigations performed on me next Friday. So I think the week ahead may be a little ‘chewy’ bit just has to be managed one day at a time.

In the afternoon, I spent a certain amount of time spreadsheeting some of our finances so that we could make some plans for the post COVID era. It looks as though our planned trip to Rome in late September is now looking more ‘on’ than ‘off’ and we have also an offer from the tour organiser to forgo one day’s vacation but to fly from Birmingham rather than Bristol. We will have to see, of course, whether Italy is still enforcing five days of quarantine to travellers from Britain but there is about seven weeks to go before the flight is scheduled to depart. The skies were still threatening a little this afternoon but I was determined to try to get the lawns cut before we left for church at 5.30 this afternoon. I was fortunate because although time was tight, I still managed to them cut in time. Then it was our customary attendance at church on a Saturday evening, Up  until now, we have been having to book in for the service every week but now we have booked in the ‘last’ time as all of the data for this week  will form the template for the weeks to come so the attendance record will ‘roll on’ week by week. Outside church, we managed to have a brief chat about the week ahead and they were not to be surprised if they didn’t see us as we have to self-isolate from Tuesday to Thursday. 

It is being reported tonight that UK airports have been the busiest they have been since the start of the pandemic but the system of COVID-19 testing ( or showing that you have been tested) is taking a wait of at least two hours. What is not clear is whether people are actually missing their flights because of these enforced delays or whether the airlines themselves are having to reschedule their flights. I suppose that it was fairly predictable that having been subject to pandemic restrictions for the best part of 500 days, people are desperate to get away particularly as the schools have just broken up.  From the brief snatches of videotape I have seen, it looks as though airports might become a magnificent venue for the spread of the virus. Some members of the SAGE committee are showing their exasperation with the present government strategy. One of them broke ranks yesterday and argued strongly that the government attempting to generate herd immunity by letting the virus rip through younger sections of the population (20-29 year olds) by giving free reign to the nighttime economy of pubs and nightclubs was immoral. On the other hand, there is a glimmer of hope that the infection rate may have peaked and may just about be starting to fall consistently. The amazing thing is that the government is starting to lose its popularity but still seems to be ahead of the Labour party in the opinion polls.

Tomorrow should be an interesting day for us as we are meeting some old friends for a lunch date in Oxford (we will ‘sat-nav’ the restaurant to find it OK) I only hope that there are not devastating storms and floods because Hampshire, where we used to live, seems to have received a real battering since the hot weather broke down and the almost inevitable flooding now occurs. I must say the I am really looking forward to a period of prolonged rainfall – but I say this from the rather smug position of having all of my lawns cut, all my plants planted and the garden in generally good order and receptive to being trained upon! 

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Friday, 23rd July, 2021 [Day 494]

What a very strange day today has been! We spent some time chatting animatedly with our domestic help who had given us a miss last week as she was busy with family matters and had to give us a miss. Anyway, as soon as we could, we went off to town and the weather is just starting to moderate itself from a very hot and sticky heat to something a degree or so less but with breezes that are almost cooling. We knew that we had to get home and have a fairly rapid lunch because it was absolutely vital that I get down into the local branch of HSBC which I did by about 1.20. As we shall see, the timing is quite important here because I explained to one of the two staff on duty in the branch of the bank that I needed to get in touch with the HSBC Safeguarding team. I explained that both myself and the treasurer of our residents association had hung on the phone for about 40 minutes without making any contact and could they help. The local staff were fairly sympathetic and let me have access to a desk and a phone to telephone their HQ. All in all, I waited for about 25 minutes and then made contact with the Safeguarding team – this appears to be a big drive against money laundering, fraud, scams and other internet-based ills. I managed to convince the Safeguarding team of my bona fides but then needed to be put onto their  internet banking team as myself and the treasurer had not used (or forgotten) our log-in details. This time, I was put on hold for about 40 minutes although, in theory, it was only a transfer from one department within HSBC to another. Eventually, though, I got through a real live person but again the staff member had to be called who had then to give of all of her codes to establish her identity as well as mine. The upshot of all of this was that I finished off with our little business account verified, my user-name communicated to us (as I set it up 12 years ago and not used it, I had forgotten it) and when I returned home, I would be sent a password through my email. Once I get this part done at home (and I haven’t tried it yet), I then need to get onto my account details and fill in an on-line questionnaire which, once completed, I have to print off on my own printer. Then I have to take this completed document back to the branch where they have to scan it using their own scanners and their own secure lines for transmission to their HQ. So we will have to see how all of this works out. All in all, I was in the branch office for 1½  hours and the staff joked with me that they would provide me with a bed if I needed one. I then had to race to my own bank to get some money out of the ATM (and this worked as it should have done). Finally, I had to go and get my Pilates session paid for by card – I had tried to set up an online payment system but as the bare sort code details and account number generated a Germanic sounding back name and my own bank informed me that the payee details were not recognised by this system, I decided that this might prove foolhardy to set up with ‘iffy’ details. Although I had paid for a couple of hours parking, I only had about two minutes of legitimate parking time so I had to sprint (well, walk briskly) to ensure I did not end up with a parking fine.

After I had had a smidgeon of a much delayed lunch (ice-cream based as usual) I popped round to see my next door neighbour with whom I had set up a little arrangement to have a chat over some issues. There are some matters of mutual concern to our two adjoining properties so we had a very useful discussion (lubricated by a wonderful bottle of cooled ‘Newcastle Brown‘ I must say) 

Earlier on today, I just caught snatches of some of the opening ceremony from the Tokyo Olympic Games. My own personal feelings are that it is rather ridiculous to have the Olympic Games held with no audiences, a majority of the host community opposed to it and the possibility of the most massive of ‘super-spreader’ events. From the bit that I saw which was the cauldron lighting ceremony lit by a young Japanese athlete. This seemed incredibly tastefully done and I must say I was impressed by the simplicity and the elegance of it all. Whether my views of the Olympic Games will change over the next week or so it is hard to say – the whole could end in disaster if more than a small number of athletes actually do get infected with COVID-19.

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Thursday, 22nd July, 2021 [Day 493]

Every so often I get up early and whilst the temperature is comparatively cool, I review my finances, including savings plans and saving ‘pots’. So I spent an hour or so this morning getting things in order to my satisfaction. Then it was breakfast, a shower, (and ditto for Meg) and then we walked down to the park together. Instead of throwing away yesterday’s Guardian, I have started to take it with me so that having parked Meg on one of our favourite benches and partaken of our coffee she can read it. Then  I pop off and get today’s newspapers. Upon my return it was a fairly leisurely stroll home and lunch – except it was so hot we just made one of our favourite mélange of tinned fruit (apricots), yogurt, ice cream and a drizzle of honey. We felt that we would be better to leave our main cooked meal until this evening, which indeed we did.

This afternoon, my much delayed consignments of extra plants arrived from the online company. I have purchased a Buddleia which I know is almost a weed-like plant (think of railway sidings) but this particular one is somewhat unusual in that the horticulturalists maintain that they have grafted three colours of Buddleia onto a common rootstock. I suppose these are white, pink and purple so we will have to see if it fulfils its promise.I made a little wigwam of canes to support it as one or two of the fronds had suffered a bit in transit but overall, it looked in pretty good condition. Then I had ordered two more little bulbs that were almost thrown in as an afterthought and were being sold off for £1.00 each. One of these was an miniature orange canna lily which, I must admit, I have never actually seen before. The other was an orange peony and, as before, I have never actually seen an orange peony before either. Having got these three plants planted, I had three more little tasks to perform. One was to put some sulphate of iron around the roots of my recently planted hydrangea. In theory, this ought to turn the whole plant into a really vivid shade of blue (such as you often see by the seaside) Whether this works or not, only time will tell. The second little job was to adapt one of my staves such that I could add an additional support to one of the steps leading down into Mog’s Den which appeared to be slipping downhill a little. I have done this sort of task lots of time before and everything worked OK.  The final little task was to transplant another bit of mint from a neglected part of the garden to my newly established mint bed.  I then have just one more little seed sowing job in front of me. Whilst I was in Poundland the other day, I bought to my amazement (for £1.00) a packet contains six different type of spicy and aromatic herms i.e. Serrano Chilli, Coriander, Japanese Greens, Chilli Cayenne, Cinnamon Basil and finally Pak Choi (Chinese cabbage).I honestly cannot see many of these seeds germinating but if I get half a dozen plants from each variety of seed, the venture will have been well worth while.

There are two bits of COVID-19 news this evening. The first is that more than 600,000 people have been ‘pinged’ by the Test and Trace app in the last week and they therefore have to stay at home and self-isolate. This is creating mayhem in the economy with supermarkets being quite badly hit as delivery drivers are not available. The government is so worried about this and tonight they have published a list of sixteen sectors where fully vaccinated workers do not need to quarantine provided they also take a daily test which proves negative – and. these exemptions will only run to the 16th August in any case. Many different parts of the economy are being adversely affected  tonight – but Test and Trace is only just doing its job and do we want to get on top of this pandemic or not? The second major areas concern is that rates of infection are now very high amongst the (unvaccinated) 20-29 year olds and some vaccination points are returning vaccine to their headquarters perhaps destined for ultimate destruction because not enough are. coming forward. to be vaccinated.

A Labour MP (Dawn Butler) has taken  Boris Johnson to task for misleading the country. As she  says:   

I am disappointed that the prime minister has not come to the House to correct the record and to correct the fact that he has lied to this House and the country over and over again.

The deputy Commons speaker was asked repeatedly to withdraw her comments but she refused. She then had to withdraw for the rest of the day (actually only an hour as the Commons is going into recess for the summer) but Dawn Butler is unrepentant arguing that:

I have been thrown out of Parliament for saying what we all know: Boris Johnson has lied to the House of Commons and the country over and over again.

Under the rules of Parliamentary etiquette, one MP is not allowed to call another a liar so one must either withdraw the offending remark (even if true?) or be suspended from the House of Commons

 

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