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, 27th January, 2023 [Day 1047]

So the end of another week and we were looking forward to see which, if any, of our acquaintances would turn up to Waitrose for a morning coffee. We did coincide with one of our pre-pandemic friends and as we did the last time we met, we exchanged some words of mutual support for how to care for ailing spouses. Our friend seems to be having a particularly hard time at the moment as she herself has health problems of her own and the assistance that she often needs to give to her husband does not fall within the window of time slots afforded by the care slots allocated to her. I told her the story of my mother who, when she was recovering from a broken hip and needed a care package at home, only succeeded in alienating every care worker who had ever been allocated to her. Eventually, I was told by the social services teamleader, as if was a naughty schoolboy, that my mother was the most difficult client with which Leeds social services had ever had to cope. I could not check on the veracity of this story but said, meekly, ‘Yes, I know’ as my mother always proved to be the most difficult of patients whenever she came into contact with members of the medical profession. Her mindset was brilliantly simple in that she divided the world into ‘Fools’ for those who did not perform her instructions to the letter within a reasonable period of time whereas the term ‘Bloody Fools’ was reserved for those who did not do what she wanted of them absolutely immediately. The question always remains, of course, whether we walk exactly in the footsteps of our parents when we approach their age. It does seem, though, as though we come to inherit the worst rather than the best of the characteristics of our parents but hopefully we can all learn from their example either positively or negatively. When we got home, we cooked a very nice dinner of smoked haddock with mangetouts and a baked potato and, as an experiment, tried a small smidgeon of sweet chilli sauce to see how it would work out (which, in the vent, was very well indeed).

This afternoon, we had a quiet afternoon as we were were expecting the visit of our chiropodist with whom we have a monthly appointment to help to keep us both super mobile. Before she was due in the late afternoon, though, we did enjoy a little concert of some Palestrina of which we just happened to have a CD. We both find this baroque music extremely relaxing. Primarily known for his masses and motets, which number over 105 and 250 respectively, Palestrina had a long-lasting influence on the development of church and secular music in Europe, especially on the development of counterpoint. This may well not be everybody’s ‘cup of tea’ but once in a while, it is an extremely good listen. I am still experimenting with all of the facilities on my Polaroid BoomBox and one which is extremely useful is the Bluetooth option. This means that I can play any of the hundred or so tracks that I have (somewhow) stored on my very much outdated iPhone selectable from anywhere in the room. The actual range of Bluetooth is some 10 metres or 33′ but I have never experimented with anything other than a few metres.

I follow Beth Rigby, the Sky News interviewer and analyst quite closely because she often seems to get to the heart of a story way before the BBC or other channels. She is now saying (as are many other commentators) that Rishi Sunak’s integrity is taking a hit as he prolongs the pain over the Tory party chairman. As one minister pointed out to her on Wednesday, what really mattered here was not the conflict of interest of Mr Zahawi being the chancellor while he was in dispute with the HMRC or what the PM knew when. What matters here is the naked optics of a cabinet minister receiving around £27m that he did not initially pay tax on when people were struggling to make ends meet. It is always interesting when fellow Cabinet ministers do not rush to the support of any of their colleagues when it evident to practically everybody that there is no long term future in the government. Meg and I tuned in to ‘Question Time‘ on BBC1 last night to get the view of ‘the man in the street’ (which happened to come from Scunthorpe on this occasion) and all of the panelists and the vast majority of the audience wanted Nadhim Zahawi to go now – one or two audience members thought we should wait until the results of the enquiry are known (like Rishi Sunak’s desperate effforts to play for time) but the general mood of the public is clear by now. Sir Rod Stewart, a prominent Conservative party supporter until hitherto, has now had enouh and has got into contact with Sky News to indicate (yesterday) that he had changed his allegiance as he said: ‘Change the bloody government.’ Naturally, this is like manna from heavan for the Labour Party and for us most of us observers the question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ the resignation and ultimate fall from grace will happen.

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Thursday, 26th January, 2023 [Day 1046]

Thursday is my shopping day and I was pleased to get going well before 8.00am without having to defrost the car’s windscreen – I think that the temperature overnight was exactly 0 degrees so not cold enough for a heavy frost to form. After I got the shopping home and unpacked, Meg and I breakfasted whilst listening to Hayden’s ‘Creation’ which disks arrived this morning. The version I got must have been the fullest version as it came on 2 CDs and I felt that I was supporting home industries as a (very youthful looking) Simon Rattle was conducting the Birmingham Philharmonic. I found the program booklet extremely informative as Hayden wrote it intending it to be sung in eiher English or German. I think it might have been first performed in Vienna (to rapturous acclaim,evidently in German) but apparently the Englist text was not so easy to adapt to the natural phrasing of the musical score and the first attempt tranlating from the German was a rather botched affair – subsequently, this has been worked upon and the English text now seems to sit nicely within the musical parameters. By the time we had breakfasted, the morning was progressing somewhat so we decided just to have a wander up and down the High Street in Bromsgrove instead of doing a circuit of the park. When we go to the end of the High Street, I looked inside the Age Concern furniture shop as I am on the lookout for a little occasional table and have, in the past, been extremely successful in a delightful CD cabinet/display case which they had on offer and is now sitting in our ‘music room’. After that, it was a case of getting home, having a cup of warming soup and then progressing on with our quite simple lunch of quiche. I prepared some cavolo nero and I had some tomatoes spare which, after a quick microwave, I dressed with a little mayonnaise (on one) and spicy chile sauce on the other. I only mention this because the results of what might be quite a banal lunch turned out to be exceptionally tasty so I must have done something right.

This afternoon as been a ‘musical concert’ afternoon which drags us away from the TV for an hour or so. In the spirit of experimentation, I have now relocated my (not so little) Polaroid Boombox on a chessboard (made, I believe by my father) and this sits on one of those fabric storage units bought with our suite decades ago. I am not sure if these are properly called a ‘pouffe’ or not but they are relatively large and contain things such as CDs and DVDs. I think they were manufactured to be exactly the same height as the sitting position of the settee and the chairs so that they form a natural extension to the furniture if you want to use it in that particular way. We have two of these which sit snugly on either side of the fireplace and fortunately, they are both on castors the more easily to be wheeled about. My point here is that I can pull out the unit for want of a better term with the CD player on the top of it and thus gaining a metre and angling the CD player somewhat means that we can have the volume of sound we would get from a full scale HiFi. It must be a tribute to the quality of the electronics design and/or the speakers that even at maximum volume (which is not needed) I cannot discern any distortion of the sound even when the volume is turned up to a maximum. I have been enjoying Cecilia Bartoli singing Mozart arias and as well as being a source of great pleasure, her incredible phrasing and high notes helps to test out the capabilities of the Polaroid to its maximum.

The Zahawi affair is rumbling on and is likely to do so for another ten days or so. It is reported that Rishi Sunak wants the whole enquiry process (‘to establish the facts’) to be cleared up as quickly as possible but this affair is not going to go away. The media and the news bulletins are running the story constantly and occasionally there are some contradictory accounts- so there must be some ‘porky pies’ (= lies) going on somewhere. The Times reported that the PM was ‘livid’ that he not been properly informed of Zahawi’s tax affairs when appointing him as Conservative party chairman but this has just been flatly denied by No. 10. However, in a meeting with MPs on a select committee, the chief of HMRC has stated that ‘there are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs’ But the concept of ‘carelessness’ in tax law is equivalent to that of ‘negligence’ in other spheres of life and from this we can conclude that Nadhim Zahawi has not just made a simple mistake but committed a transgression for which a penalty is payable and which he has, in fact, paid. So this would appear on the face of it to be an admission of guilt even before any enquiries are actually concluded.

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Wednesday, 25th January, 2023 [Day 1045]

Today is the day when our domestic help calls around so, as always, we have a good chat and a cup of tea before she starts on her weekly round. This morning I showed her the little German weather station which I purchased when we were in Droitwich last Thursday. The weather station deploys a thermometer, the barometer which is the largest dial in the centre and finally a hygrometer and my researches on the web show that it is a fairly well known make of West German manufacture and identical versions are still on sale via eBay. We were quite keen to watch Prime Ministers Questions today at 12.00pm so we had a brief walk in the park, once we had picked up our daily newspaper. We bumped into two people in the park who we know quite well by sight. As they were regular dog walkers they were having a chat whilst their respective dogs had a romp around. Eventually, though, we got home and we were wondering whether the Prime Minister had forced the resigation of Nadhim Zahawi after the tax avoidance scandal where he paid nearly £5 million to HMRC in past taxes including a 30% penalty. The attack on the PM by Keir Starmer was fairly effective but there was no knockout blow and, as we suspected, the PM by instituting an enquiry into the tax affairs of the Conservative Party chairman, was either buying himself some time or kicking the ball into the long grass (possibly both). There was no rush to defend Nadhim Zahawi and it is reported that Conservative MPs may be losing some faith with their parliamentary colleague but as often happens in politics, a certain amount of playing for time may work to the advantage of the government. A new development has been added to the story this afternoon as No.10 has refused to say whether Rishi Sunak has ever had to pay a tax penalty arguing that an individual’s tax affairs should remain confidential. But the same question has also been asked of Keir Starmer the Labour Party Opposition Leader, and the reply has been received that this is not known but the spokesmen would get back to the enquirer in due course.

The foreign news is dominated by the decision of West Germany to let Ukraine have some Leopard 2 tanks. This policy shift has occurred after a great deal of soul searching and some understandable ‘angst’ in view of their past history. However, it may well be that a certain log jam may well now be released. There are rumours that if the US contributes some of its Abrams tanks after the West German decision as now the Poles may commit some of their Leopard 2 tanks (as the manufacturers and the West German government have to give permission) and other European governments may well follow suit – and a number as much as 100 has been mooted but this may be optimistic. The Ukrainians are saying that they need 300 tanks altogether but once they have a goodly number, then the Leopard tanks can probably outrun, outgun and prove to be generally superior to their Soviet counterparts. So if we have an old fashioned tank battle (like the North African theatre in the Second World War) then the Leopard tank is likely to prevail. The military implications of all of this is that the Ukrainians can move from defense to a more aggressive strategy which can gradually push the Soviets out of Ukraine altogether. But all of his will not happen immediately as the critical element is the training of the tank crews and this takes a certain amount of time. In fact, it is said that the American Abrams tanks are so bristling with technology that the training times are likely to take perhaps months rather than weeks before they cen be deployed. So committing American Abrams tanks may be more of a political support move as Joe Biden has just announced that training troops to use this complex technology may well take a long time.

A new report released today has documented the stark differences between North and South in our country – and why levelling up may never be achieved. The North of England receives one of the lowest levels of investment among advanced economies, a think tank (Institute for Public Policy Research) has said. Greece would be the only OECD nation to see less public and private investment, if the region was a country, according to a new IPPR North report. Researchers found the UK as a whole ranks 35th out of the 38 OECD countries in terms of receiving the least investment. Slovakia, Poland and Hungary all enjoy more investment than the UK. If the OECD average was applied to the UK for 2017 to 2020, £397bn more would have been invested. Meanwhile, the exisiting ‘levelling up’ shows all of the examples of what the Americans term ‘pork barrel’ politics. Pork barrel, or simply pork, is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to an MP’s constituency (e.g. Richmond in North Yorkshire which has received funding and which just happens to be the constituency of the Prime Minister himself)

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Tuesday, 24th January, 2023 [Day 1044]

So Tuesday has dawned which is the day for our regular weekly visit to the Waitrose coffee bar, where we hope to bump into some of our regulars. No sooner had we got ourselves in place and enjoying a repast of muffins and coffee, one of our pre-pandemic Waitrose friends turned up and we started chatting again about musical topics as in a previous conversation, she had revealed to us that she used to sing regularly in a choir and that her son had been a music editor with Decca records. I know from another friend, not with us today, that our friend actually had her 89th birthday last week so I am going to note down the actual date of her birthday so that hopefully, I can remember it next year and, as it a ‘big’ birthday, reward her with a cake or something similar. Our friend indicated to us that she had been invited back to sing in the choir now that the Covid restrictions are no longer in force. When I asked her if she knew what the choir was going to practice in their next session and did you need any sheet music to participate, she informed me that she knew the piece already as it was Brahm’s requiem. It also emerged in the conversation that she had sung Mozart’s Requiem and was very familiar with Handel’s Messiah having, in the past, sung some of the solo mezzo/contralto cantatas. We must have known our friend for some three years now and she has the demeanour of a quiet and unassuming person, so I was amazed to discover that she was so talented. The popular expresson, not much heard these days, is not to ‘hide ones light under a bushel’ which seems rather a strange expression until you go back to its origins in the New Testament (Matthew 5:15): ‘Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick.’ which is drawn, I suspect from the King James Bible.

After the experiment of last night in which some sections of the population were attempting to save all available power between 5.00pm and 6.00pm, I got onto my account with my energy supplier to see if, in these days of SmartMeters and accounts that can be calculated by the minute, I could tell how much energy I had saved (or points accumulated). I was a bit disappointed to be thanked for my participation and then informed that it would take them ‘some days’ to calculate the actual contribution I had made, which was disappointing. Then came the news that the National Grid was going to repeat the experiment his evening but over a longer period of time – not an hour this time but an hour and a half from 4.30pm until 6.00pm. I decided to try a somewhat different strategy this evening, in view of the longer time period. So I decided to turn off all of our major consumers of which the greatest at this time is a Baxi electric fire which supplements the central heating on really cold days. But I did leave on a really low energy lamp in our living room and the TV itself and I did dig out a blanket which I threw over Meg and for myself, I put on a extra thick jumper. Apart from the electric fire, it is actually quite difficult to save energy whereas for other people, it just a case of rescheduling activities. For example, in the TV reports of how this experiment was proceeding, the case was given of a nurse who typically came home and threw her uniform (and other family washing) into the washing machine when she got home at 5.00pm and I would imagine that this particular family could save quite a lot of energy in the relevant time slot by just using the washing machine an hour later than was her custom. It will be interesting to see if the experiment will run for several more days and whether, in fact, the combined efforts of many of us will have succeeded in averting the use of either or both of the two coal-fired power stations that are standby in case they are needed. Perhaps a large advertising campaign that just encourages people to move activities away from the pressured 5.00pm-6.00pm slot would be a good way forward.

In my walk back from my Pilates session, I took particular care to look at some of the trees and shrubs in the gardens that I pass on my walk back home. I noticed about three trees/shrubs where, if you looked carefully, you could just about discern some buds that are waiting for the advent of spring. Although no biologist, I get the impression that some plants do an initial budding from deep within their stems and then put the process into abeyance once the cold weather starts. But then, when we get some spring like weather, the trees and shrubs can get off to a flying start. It is also possible that we shall have another high pressure/cold weather snap in February which is not unusual in the winter months. Meanwhile the temperature had been up to 16 degrees in some parts of Scotland whereas the cold artic air means that Oxfordshire has experienced -9 degrees last night.

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Monday, 23rd January, 2023 [Day 1043]

Today dawned a little less cold although the high pressure/cold snap is persisting a little longer than the weather forecasters initially predicted. This morning, though, we treated ourselves to a good bowl of porridge which, as all of the health experts tell us, is full of good, slow release carbohydrates and sets one up for the day. This morning, after we had breakfasted we had picked up our copy of the newspaper and we trundled along the High Street making our way towards a card shop. There we located the section for ‘In sympathy’ cards but, as I suspected, they were both hard to find and stuck at the end of a carousel and very few in number compared with the yards of space devoted to birthday cards suitable for practically any age. This task having been completed, we made our way past our local Poundland where we popped in to see whether any of our favourite little plastic containers (that are exactly the right size for storing 20+ CDs) were in stock – and they had a goodly number in stock. We purchased three of them which ought to be enough for our needs and also bought the little felt ‘feet’ that we stick on the bottom so that they do not scratch surfaces. Finally, we visited our local Waitrose where I wanted to buy a little something as a little bereavement present for our next door neighbour who has just lost her brother. Our neighbours are now in that twilight period where they are waiting for the funeral in about 10-12 days time after which, no doubt, they can start to adjust to life without their relative. As I write, we are playing a CD of a compilation of Mozart tracks and the one playing at the moment is the aria ‘Soave sia il vento’ (‘Softly blows the wind’) which I always associate with my mother’s funeral. This is because on the night before the funeral when the coffin was present in the church all night and we had just arrived in the church car park, this aria was playing -it represesents a sort of ‘goodbye’ when the two young girls in the opera are waving goodbye to their lovers. As a sort of spooky coincidence, when we were visiting Harrogate about a year later and went past the road leading to the cemetory where my mother was buried, this track was being played on ClassicFM.

This afternooon, after we had our post-prandial cup of tea, we popped around to our neighbours with the little gift and the condolence card. She was bearing up quite well but I am sure must be feeling the loss of her brother quite keenly. I busied myself in the afternoon looking up at the stocks of CDs that we have in various places to try to pull together the various bits of both Hayden and Handel that we have as I think I will now keep them altogether and much more accessible. I rediscovered part of Hayden’s ‘The Creation’ which I had in for some time and was particularly delighted that my favourite cantata (‘The heavans are teling the glory of the Lord’) was on this particular CD but as the various parts were given their German titles, I had not immediately recognised it. By today’s post came the John Eliot Gardiner rendition of arias and choruses from Bach’s ‘St John Passion’ which we particularly enjoyed playing whilst we are having a relaxing read during the afternoon. I have relocated the Panasonic ‘BoomBox’ which I purchased incredibly cheaply a few weeks ago in a more proximate location in our living room so that we can enjoy afternoon concerts whenever we want. As I am writing this, Meg and I are engaging in an interesting type of social experiment which I think is being tried across the country. If you have signed up for this experiment as Meg and I have through our utility supplier, then you are encouraged to turn off as much power as is possible to save a certain degree of energy during a period of what may well be maximum demand. With the introduction of smart meters, it is possible to calculate exactly how much less than normal your power consumption is for this particular hour (from 5pm-6pm) and then your utility company will reimburse you some money (of the order of £2-£3). In this way, the National Grid (who may well be the ultimate funder of the scheme) may be able to tunnel through this period of maximum demand without having to rely upon some coal-fired power stations that are being kept on standby in case power supplies dip below the normally accepted safe levels. Although we can import power from continental Europe, they may not be able to supply it as their own domestic customers will evidently take some priority. A few hours later when all of the sums have been computed, I am hoping that my utility provider (‘Octopus’) will manage to compute for me how much power I have actually saved and how much money I have ‘earned’ It does feel quite exciting to engage in a national project like this, the first of its kind I think, and I will report in future how successful it has been.

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Sunday, 22nd January, 2023 [Day 1042]

The weather was supposed to be getting a trifle less cold this morning but it seemed to maintain the pattern of the past few days. I got up early as I typically do on a Sunday and then walked down into town. I was greeted by the most magnificent of layered sunrises, so much so that I succumbed to the temptation to take a photo and a video of the panoramic sky. But whether the full beauty of the different layers of colour can be appreciated in a photo, I cannot tell. The cold morning was punctuated by four ambulances, one jogger and one intrepid dogwalker, after which I was glad to get home to watch the Laura Kuennsberg (Politics) programme. For once, I thought that Laura Kuennsberg was relatively penetrating and persistent in her questionning of James Cleverley, the Foreign Secretary, who had been despatched across the airwaves knowing that much of the questionning was going to be on the subject of Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative party chairman. The story of Zahawi’s tax affairs goes back quite a long way and there have long been persistent rumours that he was under investagtion by HMRC for a large underpayment of tax. The latest facts, insofar as they can be ascertained, is that Zahawi owed a tax bill of £3 million and paid a penalty of over 30% making a total payment to HMRC of practically £5 million. The story of this tax avoidance (which is what it appears to be) is tangled but it involves the distribution of shares between Nadhim Zahawi and his father, the subsequent appearance of £99,000 and and an off-shore account in Gibraltar. The MSM (Main Street Media) have restricted themselves to the reporting of facts as admitted by Zahawi himself but the contributors to Twitter have no such inhibitions and several other facets of the affair have received a good airing. According to these accounts, Zahawi should have paid tax on a total of £17 million. When other journalists and commentators have tried to pursue this story, Zahawi’s lawyers have threatened them by the issue of a libel writ (a favourite device used by the rich and powerful when they are trying to prevent full disclosure of their affairs) Another rumour is that Zahawi was on line for a knighthood but the Cabinet Office advised against this because of the ongoing rumours about his tax affairs. From the viewpoint of the members of the public, we have a situation in which the Chancellor of the Exchequeur, ‘de facto’ head of HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) is investigating a department of which he is the titular head. But another financial type scandal has also broken in the last day. It appears that the person appointed as head of the BBC also acted as a ‘contact’ person to help arrange of loan to Boris Johnson of some £800,000 when Johnson was running into financial difficulties. Although it is being mooted that the Chairman of the BBC was the best applicant for the job at the time, the proximity of helping to arrange a huge financial loan to the Prime Minister and shortly afterwards being appointed Chairman of the BBC is noteworthy. The shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, has written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, William Shawcross CVO, asking him to investigate the appointment process. Meanwhile for us bystanders there is an enormous air of sleaze hanging over the present Conservative party and one wonders whether Zahawi, for one, will survive as long as Wednesday which is the day for Prime Minister’s Questions. Of course, the whole premiership of Rishi Sunak himself which pledged high ethical standards and a professional deportment from his ministers is seen to be so much empty rhetoric as these scandals swirl around him.

Today has been a quiet day for Meg and I. We were not particularly tempted to go for a constitutional walk today as a freezing fog was still in some evidence. In addition, our University of Birmingham friend sent me a message to the effect that he had a heavy cold and did not want to inflict it upon us. So we stayed in and had a leisurely lunch of some unsmoked gammon which had cooked for several hours in the slow cooker this morning. The afternoon was devoted to a leisurely reading of the Sunday newspapers and a viewing of ‘Endeavour’ on ITVX (the new name for the ITV hub). Tomorrow morning, I suspect that Meg and I need to make a little foray along the High Street in search of a condolence card for our next door neighbours. They have recently had a bereavement of a brother and this comes hard on the heels of another family member who died about a fortnight ago. This remnded me of a terrible year which we had some years ago in which there were about eight bereavements in almost a few months but these were people unrelated to each other and in various parts of the country. Our close friends from down the Kidderminster Road were also setting forth today for a funeral tomorrow down in London so it is one just wishes that all of these individuals has a relatively peaceful end (and for which in my teenage years we used to pray for a ‘good end’ without fully appeciating what was meant by the phrase).

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Saturday, 21st January, 2023 [Day 1041]

Today being a Saturday, we are always in a bit of different routine. Meg and I slept in a little this morning but we got our act together once we actually got up, had breakfast and then repaired to our Waitrose cafe hoping to see some of our regulars. We made contact with one of our pre-pandemic Waitrose regulars and spent an interesting half hour chatting with each other, mainly talking about the health needs of our respective partners and we how we were both managing to meet them one way or another. When we got home, I read my emails and we had received one from one of the sons of an eminent professor of publc administration in Spain, who died about two years ago. His name was Mariano Baena and he actually helped to frame the modern Spanish constitution after the death of Franco. As the Professor of Public Administration at the Complutense University in Spain (roughly equivalent to our Cambridge) he made contact with us at Leicester Polytechnic and, cutting a lot of history short, helped to form an exchange relationship under the then Erasmus scheme, designed to facilitate students (and staff) to spend a certain portion of their study in a partner university. We sent several students to Spain once we had given them a crash course in Spanish and received several back, some of whom are now amongst our oldest and closest friends. I spent a term teaching Information Technology to Spanish public administration students and Mariano Baena was immensely kind to me, generally offering me a trip at the weekends to other Spanish cities such as Avila and Burgos, usually centering upon monasteries. I have one abiding memory of one trip out which we made with some of his trusted, postgraduate students. We were parked in a very tight space and even though our own car was small, it would prove difficult to get it out of the tight space. Mariano Baena’s solution was to edge his own car forwards and bump the car in front about a foot. He then adopted the reverse procedure and bumped the car behind him a similar distance. And so this proceeded until it was judged that we had space enough to get out of the parking space without more ado. All that I can remember about this particular incident is that the postgraduate students and myself were absolutely helpless with laughter. I have to add that Mariano Baena was a distinguished academic and an equally esteemed High Court judge who, at one stage, required round the clock protection lest he get assassinated by ETA, the Basque terrorist group, who had a penchant for killing High Court judges when the occasion arose.

Late on this morning, the postman delivered nearly the last of my acquisition of classical CDs, bought through eBay. I must say that I could not resist a boxed set of all 9 Beethoven symphonies on six CDs with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic recorded by Deutche Grammaphon. This is about as perfect a combination as it is possible to get for which I paid £5.60 and so again, like my other recent acquisitions, hours of listening pleasure remain. I tend to give Meg and myself a breakfast time concert as we are preparing, eating and then washing up after breakfast – and ditto at lunchtimes. Although I haven’t done a count, I suspect that I now have a collection of about 120 classical CDs so that it certainly enough to keep us entertained and relaxed over the weeks ahead. Saturday afternoon is always a fairly relaxed affair as we attend church late on in the afternoon and when we return, we already have the good tin of soup organised for when we return, as well as scoping out the TV we intend to watch for the rest of the evening.

Politically, the big story today is how Nadhim Zahawi, a one time Chancellor of the Exchequer of the many we have had recently, has reportedly paid a tax bill of at least £5 million if not more. He says that the tax error was found to be ‘careless and not deliberate’ after calls for his sacking by the Opposition parties. But it is evident that he has paid a penalty of some 30% of the overdue tax so there is an evident lack of transparency, not least to officials of the Inland Revenue, in the past. Zahawi has repeatedly indicated that he had nothing to hide when enquiries have been made of him by journalists but it now looks as though events are overtaking him. How long he can survive as Chairman of the Conservative party remains unclear because although he has the reputation of being a good communicator, every public appearance from now on will be dominated by questions about his tax affairs. This means that he either keeps quiet on futue occasions (thus rather making a mockery of his present role) or he has to face persistent and potentially embarrassing questions. If questions about his tax affairs persist for more a week, then I suspect that like other Tory politicians who have been found out, he will soon become toast (as Alastair Campbell, ex Labour party spokesman was wont to say about other long lasting scandals)

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Friday, 20th January, 2023 [Day 1040]

This morning I leapt out of bed sufficiently early for me to get myself washed, dressed and ready to enter the supermarket as soon as it opened. Although we had a frost last night, the car was not as iced up as it was a few days ago so it was relatively easy to get onto the open road and the traffic was generally quite light as well. Before I went out, my son kindly donated to me a Pure Radio which is almost an exact replacement for one that I already have except that it is ‘stuck’ on one station (which happens to be Classic FM) and is therefore almost non-functional. The Pure DAB radios are really easy both to tune and to save favourite stations to presets and also has the feature of displaying the time in a bright, digital display so I am glad to have a nice functional unit in place once again. Last night, I received a special delivery from Amazon which was a copy on the actual publication day of my great niece’s first novel. This seems to be rather a ‘dark’ oevre but reading the dedications and acknowledgements to family and friends was interesting and as far as I have got at the moment. My great niece has always shown a great talent both for acting and also for creative writing – it is said that many novels have a degree of autobiography about them and I feel that this is probably true in this case as well. Once I had got back from shopping a largish prcel had arrived which was the collection of 46 classical CDs for which I had placed a successful on eBay a few days ago. Unpacking and carefully organised the CDs into some special plastic containers (already judiciously purchased from Poundland) was a pleasure that had to await our return from our visit to the Waitrose cafe where we met one of our regulars who even at her age is still a keen bowler during the winter months. I knew almost exactly what the collection of CDs would contain and, no doubt, the pleasure that they will give will unwind during the days ahead. Whilst we were having lunch, Meg and I treated ourselves to some famous Bach choruses sung by The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner which must rate as as definitive a performance as it is possible to get. In fact, I was so delighted with the collection that I wrote a special note to the chappie on eBay who had sold them, explaining how these CDs were ones that were very consistent with our own musical tastes and how the CDs had gone to a ‘good’ home. Although a seller just wants to complete a transaction, the whole collection had evidently been been carefully thought about and assembled by a real aficianado so I felt he/she deserved to learn of their ultimate fate.

Quite a chilly air is still very much in evidence and despite the wearing of two sweaters, both Meg and I felt as though we could do with something a little hotter than our seabass served on a bed of lettuce. The dilemma was solved by serving the fish on one of those low-carb packets (sweet potato in this case)and the result was both delicious and warming.In fact, this combination reminded me of the days when at Leicester Polytechnic, the then Medical Officer of Health (who is the local government official charged with public health responsibilities)used to give a talk once a year to Health Visitors and Field Work Teachers. One, in particular, was concerned even in the 1980’s about the importance of good diet and the avoidance of obesity and junk-food generated disease patterns. His standard line of argument always used to be that we needed here in the affluent West to adopt the ‘poor man’s diet’ of fish and rice which seemed somewhat ‘way out’ when he was giving his advice but somewhat less so now that we are one or two decades down the track. Last night in the evening, Meg and I settled down to watch some back episodes of ‘Happy Valley’ on the BBC i-player in which we have become completely engrossed. I was psychologically prepared to leap up every 30-40 minutes to overcome the buffering problems that have plagued our FireStick since we have started to use it much more to catch up on past episodes. As I was poised in readiness, the technology performed flawlessly for an hour of the repeated programme – which I suppose is a sort of Sod’s Law in operation. Half way through the afternoon, our next door neighbour called around to tell us that her brother has died last night in a hospital in Wales. This was not at all unexpected but of course, it is always a bit of a shock when it occurs however prepared one feels one is. We gave what words of comfort we can and resolved to have the neighbours round for a cup of tea and a chat once the immediate turmoils are behind them. When a relative dies, there is always quite a lot to be done but her employers are expecting her back at work on the dot first thing tomorrow morning.

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Thursday, 19th January, 2023 [Day 1039]

Today we decided to break with our normal routine somewhat and delay our weekly supermarket shopping for a day, assuming that the weather might have improved a bit by tomorrow morning. We decided to go instead to Droitwich which is just ‘down the road’ and have a toddle around our normal haunts. So we picked up our newspaper, filled up with petrol and then made our way to Droitwich to begin our peregrinations. We start off by going to one of the most popular coffee bars in the town which happens to be our favourite because the coffee is good as well as being hot and they serve a magnificent (buttered) teacake which we share between us. After we had eaten and drunk our fill, we stagger next door which is a Cancer Relief charity shop with generally a good range of clothing inside. There seemed to be an interesting pricing policy going on in this particular store because I normally take a 15½ size of shirt but if you moved up to a size 16 the price dropped by a half. I bought myself a ‘Brookes Brothers’ shirt which normally retails at anything from £50 upwards so this moving half a size upwards might be an interesting experiment for me. We generally look for a skirt for Meg but these to be in very short supply as there stores are generally overflowing with tops but very light in the skirt department (as so many women now wear trousers rather than skirts I imagine) We were also tempted into buying a small barometer/hygrometer/thermometer hanging unit which seemed neat and relatively inobtrusive. When I got this home, I gave it a clean-cum-reconditioning with some furniture polish and it is now hanging from a spare picture hook which is in our newly refurbished ‘music room’. Then we progressed onto my favourite hardware/toiletries store which is ‘Wilko‘ and from here we replenished some of our stationery supplies and did a quick tour to see if anything else happened to catch our eye which it did not. Then we got back into the car and reparked it so that it was nearer to the eating place at which we had booked lunch but made a trip to the TV and white goods store which had sold us our television setup a few years ago now. I asked them for some help with the buffering problems to which our Firestick is subject and they told me things that I already know i.e. have I checked the WiFi access speed and so on. Last night, when we are accessing some of the previous series of a programme we are watching on the BBC iPlayer, the Firestick ran into a buffering problem and froze within 20 minutes. I then performed my now, usual trick of disconnecting and then re-connecting the Firestick and this made it perform without problems for the next 1 hour and 40 minutes. So long as I have a quick and ready solution to the buffering problem, I can live with this but I am wary of spending on WiFi extenders which may not be necessary and which might not cure the problem anyway.

We finally got to our appointed lunch slot (in a kind of ‘Olde Worlde Teashoppe’ type cafe) where they do an enormous roast each Thursday and got there at 1.00pm. We waited for 30 minutes for our lunch but the cafe clientele are generally regulars who know each other so there is a fair amount of general chat and banter flying backwards and forwards. Once our dinner arrived, it was absolutely enormous slices of lamb and piled up with vegetables – the sort of ‘Christmas dinner’ type meal that you think you are never going to finish. But Meg and I ploughed onto the end but as it was a much bigger meal than that to which we are accustomed, we may well eat very light meals for the next day or so to rebalance ourselves. After that, it was a case of getting home, unpacking our shopping and collapsing in front of a warm fire and with a warming cup of tea. The shopping trip which should have taken place today is now postponed until first thing tomorrow morning but the weather should be several degrees warmer by then.

In the political world, the ‘levelling up’ agenda is having some interesting developmemts. Apparently, the phrase ‘levelling up’ is to be officially dicouraged. According to ‘The Times‘, terms such as ‘stepping up’ or ‘enhancing communities’ is now the official terminology. But even more cynically, some so-called levelling up funds are now being directed to the South East rather than the North East. The Tory West Midland mayor is furious at the process for allocating levelling up funds, calling for an end to Whitehall’s ‘broken begging bowl culture’. In an angry statement, Andy Street said he wanted ministers to justify why ‘the majority’ of bids in his region had been rejected.The West Midlands received £155m from a £2.1bn pot of levelling up funds whilst the PM’s constituency (Richmond in North Yorkshire) as received a large allocation of money of £19 million whilst £151m is going to London, the North East gets £108m and the Humber is getting £120m.

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Wednesday, 18th January, 2023 [Day 1038]

Today has been an interesting day. On Wednesdays, our domestic help calls around and we are always pleased to see her and exchange news with her. Last night, we had listened quite carefully to the weather forecast and although the weather was still freezing, it looked as though there was going to be quite a gusty wind which, at this time of year, equates to an icy blast. So we decided to give the park a miss for today and perhaps wait for the weather to improve a little. As it turned out, our domestic help had walked to our house (to make sure she had plenty of exercise) and informed us that it was quite a beautiful day to walk so we revised our plans and then determined to go for a walk around the lake in the park but not engage in a sojourn on a park bench. After our walk we make straight for home and warm up on some soup. Meg and I dived into the chest where we keep scarves, gloves and similar items and discovered a beautiful warm scarf for Meg. At the same time, I located my University of Manchester scarf at the bottom of the pile which I had not worn for about 20 years but today was surely a good time to press it back into service again together with a good pair of gloves which are also sorely needed. So Meg and I had quite a pleasant little walk in the park and muffled up to the eyebrows, we did not allow the cold to penetrate too far. We got back in time for the Wednesday ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions which was full of the usual knockabout stuff and one gets the feeling that both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition have their attack lines well rehearsed and it shows. After the initial exchanges, there is always the cringeworthy spectacle of government MPs asking self-congratulatory questions which are not really questions at all but very often contain an invitation for the PM to visit their constituency which request is always granted (but I wonder how often honoured) Just before we went out, we had a delivery from the postman which was meant to be the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas that I had bought for 99p + postage but what turned up was very different. It turned out to be a complete box set in 10 CDs of Mozart’s 50 symphonies which was actually a surprise to me as the last one he wrote is No. 42. However, I did see an explanation on the web to the effect that Mozart actually wrote 41 symphonies but No. 17 was written by his father, No. 18 by another composer and a third was one to which Mozart only added a few bars to a Michael Haydn symphony. This makes 38 but if we add in 14 early sinfonias this brings the total to 52. In any case, this was evidently a mistake by the well-known firm who specialise in selling off ‘job lots’ so I have accepted the complete box set with a degree of pleasure.

We are contemplating where to go tomorrow for a little trip out. We have been recommended a magnificent local restaurant which sounds good for a special occasion but we are still deciding whether to splash out on it or not. We may well go to our usual haunt in Droitwich where I can can call in the TV shop that sold us our TV kit a few years ago so ask some advice on the Firestick buffering problems we have been experiencing (which, incidentally, our son has also experienced but our domestic help has not)

Today in the Hpouse of Commons, Keir Starmer pressed the PM on waiting times for ambulances, starting off with a hypothetical question (looking at the Commons clock, if a person had heart attack symptoms now, how long would they have to wait for an ambulance at various locations throughout the UK?) The PM response was to attack Keir Starmer for not supporting the Government’s attempts to force Minimum Service Level agreements – the legislation for which has only just started its journey through the Commons and the Lords and may take months to come into force. Then Keir Starmer followed up his attack by mentioning the case of a 26 year old cancer sufferer who died before she could be transported to the hospital which was only a few miles away. The House of Commons heard this in complete silence and I wonder how much the clip will be replayed on the news bulletins later on today. Whilst the Government appears to be desperately playing for time, public sympathy is still with the striking nurses and ambulance drivers so the stalemate may well continue right throughout February and March. On 1st February, teachers will strike to be joined by other public sector unions. But today, a junior transport minister has admitted that settling the rail dispute would have cost less than the costs to the society of the strike. Having admitted this, I wonder how long the Rail minister, Huw Merriman, will keep his job as it seems true that the strike is being prolonged just for the government to ‘hold the line’ on pay.

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