Saturday, 17th April, 2021 [Day 397]

Well, it was a beautiful bright day today and Meg and I were delighted to stroll down to town in the spring sunshine. We picked up our supply of Saturday newspapers (particularly full with a variety of Saturday supplements) and made our way to the park where we were happy to coincide with our University of Birmingham friend. All the upper benches were occupied so we had to ‘make do’ by sitting by the side of the lake but the morning was to prove not without incident. The resident black-headed gulls on the park were joined by a heron which was evidently very much larger. Consequently, the heron was being constantly mobbed and dive-bombed by the gulls but it was a bit like a David and Goliath contest. When the heron had been pestered for several minutes he took flight and headed in the direction of the flock of gulls who instantly scattered. After a little while, things settled down and the cycle of constant mobbing followed by a delayed retaliation repeated itself. There is some debate amongst the park cognoscenti  whether the heron we say today is the habitual ‘Henry the Heron‘  we used to see months back but was distinguishable because he had rather a gammy left foot (whether genetic or the result of an accident we do not know). Whilst we were laughing and joking in the park, I told them the story of a conversation I had had with my friendly Asian newspaper shop owner. I told him that I was feeling a bit tired that morning (it was a Monday) because over the weekend I had flown to Barcelona and back as I was representing the UK in an international athletics competition. Having arrived home, I then ran all of the way from my house to our Pilates studio in a one-piece bright pink ‘onesie’. My friendly shopkeeper was very sympathetic to my plight, even though I told him that none this had actually happened but was all portrayed in a particularly vivid dream I had had the night before. My park friends who know me well were of the opinion that the detail of running through Bromsgrove in a bright pink ‘onesie’ was probably correct and I was probably just in a state of denial over it all.

This afternoon was dominated by the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh which was a scaled down affair because of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. I must say that with 750 military from various branches of the armed services, it did not feel initially like a particularly scaled down event but the number of guests allowed inside St. George’s Chapel, Windsor was restricted to 30 who were all members of his immediate family. The funeral had been planned by the Duke himself over several years. One of these highlights of the funeral was the fact that Philip had designed his own custom-built Land Rover to carry the coffin at his funeral. The modified Land Rover Defender TD5 130 chassis cab vehicle was unveiled two days before the service. The duke first began the long-lasting venture to create the bespoke hearse in collaboration with Land Rover in 2003, the year he turned 82. He made the final adjustments to the vehicle in 2019, the year he turned 98. The Defender was made at Land Rover’s factory in Solihull in 2003 and Philip oversaw the modifications, in collaboration with the company, throughout the intervening years. The duke requested that the original Belize Green bodywork be switched to Dark Bronze Green, a colour used for many military Land Rovers. The service itself was one of stark simplicity and was suitably poignant. The Queen had to sit alone and with all the members of the royal family as obliged to wear a mask. Under the circumstances, this was just as well because a certain amount of the naturally felt grief would be obscured by the mask and the television cameras were certainly not visually intrusive. One has to say that the whole funeral was probably a case of ‘less means more’ and one felt that the Duke of Edinburgh had the sort of scaled down service of which he would have approved. As an aside, and without wishing to sound particularly nationalistic, I must say that the English are extraordinary good at arranging events like this at spectacularly short notice. Of course, the last event of a similar nature was the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales and on that occasion, too, the whole funeral was organised in about a week. I know that these things are well rehearsed and also that they have manuals of ‘timings’ (down to the second) to coordinate the various activities. Having said all that, I still think that the English? British? tradition of organising pageants at short notice is probably second to none in the world. Because of the the media onslaught, I feel I know a lot more ‘facts’ about the Duke of Edinburgh than I did previously – for example, one particular story is that as a baby he was stowed away in an orange crate and smuggled aboard /rescued  by a British ship after the Greek royal family (with baby Philip) was forced to flee from Corfu.

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Friday, 16th April, 2021 [Day 396]

Today was another fine and bright day, albeit a little cooler than yesterday. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our walk down into the town, chatting with one of our church friends en-route. When we eventually got to the park, we had a good old chat with our University of Birmingham friend who we had quite missed over the last few days as he was off playing tennis which is his grand passion during the summer months and when lockdown conditions apply. Then we were joined by another of our regular acquaintances  and our conversations turned to the subject of the statistics pertaining to the various vaccines. As always, we didn’t arrive at any really firm conclusions but I suspect that we like to test out our understanding of the issues through discussions with each other.

This afternoon turned out to be quite busy with one thing or another. I had spent some time yesterday evening preparing the 27 labels that I needed for the newly bottled damson gin and now needed to label up the bottles with them. I had intended to do all of these in one fell swoop but I only did half a dozen as I got diverted into taking some of the labels off the mini-wine bottles with which my neighbour keeps me supplied. As a couple of new empty bottles turned up in my porch today, I went round with a full bottle of damson gin by way of recompense and was shown round some of the various improvements that my neighbour is gradually making to his back garden as the weather permits. After I had done some damson gin bottle housekeeping, I decided that our dining room in which we have an iPad (and miscellaneous computer-y type things) badly needed a tidy up and I was half way through this exercise when I was interrupted by a telephone call. The call came through from the son of our ex-Leicester Polytechnic colleague who had died recently (in his mid 90’s) wondering whether we could attend the funeral in a couple of weeks time. We have other commitments that are unmovable on that particular day so we have accepted, gratefully, the offer of a videolink into the funeral service proceedings. In return, I scanned a photo that I had managed to find and send it off to Leicestershire with the observation that we are not sure exactly when the photo was taken. We now know that it could not have been later than 1982 as that was the date upon which our ex-colleague retired but I suspect that it was a year or so before that which would make it 1980. The clothes and hair of the 10 of us look very 1970’s but the trouble is that academics (like us) were never fully up-to-date with the latest fashion trends so what we are wearing when the photo was taken was probably newly fashionable 5-10 years before that. Through the good offices of my daughter-in-law, we tried get a copy of the .jpg file printed on glossy (photo) paper but their printer refused to play ball. Anyway, the photo has now been transmitted and can be added to the family’s own collections (and recollections) of their late father.

Tomorrow afternoon is going to be the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. To be honest, Meg and I have never been particularly interested in royal celebrations – in fact, the day that Charles and Diana got married, we were shopping for furniture in an almost deserted Leicester city centre. But I think tomorrow might be quite a special occasion and probably worth a watch. Having received my MSc at the hands of the Duke of Edinburgh just some three days after his mother had died, I do feel now that I was the fortunate recipient of the Duke’s sense of duty in that he turned to turn to perform his duties as Chancellor of Salford University. I saw the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, being asked today what he thought the Duke’s reaction would be to his own funeral. He opined that the thought the Duke would probably have said ‘Oh, just get on it with it‘ which does sound exactly the sort of thing that the Duke would say.  Apparently, the Duke had planned his funeral down to the minutest detail, including the specially designed LandRover which is to bear his coffin through the Windsor castle grounds as far as the chapel.

Just to end on a really gloomy note, the latest COVID-19 news, despite a reduction in the ‘R’ number, has some worrying features.The new Indian variant of the COVID virus that’s been detected in the UK has all the hallmarks of a very dangerous virus. It has two new significant mutations in the spike protein that help it infect cells and evade the immune system. Some 77 cases have been discovered in both England and Scotland and it is probably the spread of this variant which is leading to spiralling rates of infection across India.

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Thursday, 15th April, 2021 [Day 395]

Today was a beautiful spring day which started off with quite a severe ground frost but which rapidly gave way to a wonderful blue sky and a cool but pleasant breeze. We had to delay our walk to unpack our Waitrose order but this having been done, we were both keen to get out and enjoy the spring sunshine. As soon as we had popped out of the house, we had a long and pleasant chat with our next door neighbour who we have not seen for some time now. But as the weather was so beautiful, we took the opportunity to ‘chew the fat’ sharing with each other the news that we had now both received our second vaccination. Our neighbour has a magnificent collection and an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music from the late 1950’s onwards. We were reminding ourselves of singers that we both liked such as Mary Hopkyn, Connie Francis as well as our particular favourite of Joan Baez. As it happened, Joan Baez (in her 70’s?) did several final farewell tours of the UK a year or so back and we went her to see her perform although I suspect she must be in her mid 70’s. Having picked up our newspapers, we popped into Waitrose on our way home picking one or two vegetables which I knew we had missed off our main order. And so on we walked on to the park which was quite thinly populated this morning and we occupied our usual seats lingering in the spring sunshine and noting the stages of blossom in various trees within the park. Already some of the flowering cherries both in the park and along the Kidderminster Road  are already slightly over the top and starting to shed some of their blossoms as though in a miniature snowstorm. We noticed particular today that we have an abundance of blossom on our damson trees (or rather to be more technically accurate in the damson trees in the thick hedge which forms our rear boundary line – to whom the trees actually belong would be hard to ascertain)

This afternoon, I spent a certain amount of time writing some new labels for our newly bottles supplied of damson gin. I know that some people go to the expense of having such labels professionally printed (which gives the home-produced product a professional touch) but I am quite happy to make do with a particular design of sticky label which I try to ensure I always keep in stock. Fortunately, my next door neighbour keeps me well supplied with the small wine bottles with a screw top which I find particularly useful for my own bottling activities. However, I am always scrupulous in removing every bit of the old label and whilst some soak off easily, some labels seem to have been on with an industrial-strength  glue. I have a variety of techniques to get these put to rights including a little brass rotary wheel (designed for an electric drill) which I use for the occasional really stubborn case.

Now that we are at this stage in the unlock down proceedings, Meg and I are starting to look at options for the next month or so. Of course, the next big ‘unlock down’ date is May 17th and I think that is the date when we go ahead and book hotel rooms if we wish to make more distant trips. We do have Saturday, 15th May, pencilled in to see Meg’s cousin in Bolton, Lancashire, but we are going to make that a one day lightning trip. There are quite a lot of National Trust properties within an easy motoring range so we are starting to think of where we might visit if the weather holds out. Top of our list is Coughton Court (home to the errant Guy Fawkes of Bonfire night infamy) but this was years ago and we have probably forgotten most of the key features. At this stage, we suspect that the Houses themselves may still be closed to the public but the grounds will be open to the public – and generally the ex-stables have been converted into eating places of various kinds. I need to do some internet searches to see what is open and what facilities are available in the National trust properties that are open.

The ‘sleaze’ scandal seems to be gathering speed as Parliament is announcing a variety of investigations ( I believe that up to seven enquiries may be projected at the moment). One particular bit of scurrilous gossip that is doing the rounds at the moment concerns a rivalry between Boris Johnson and David Cameron that dates back to their days together in Eton. There they never really liked each other and it may well be that Boris Johnson is quite happy to see David Cameron get his ‘come-uppance’ as a result of these sleaze investigations. This might sully Cameron’s reputation and enhance that of Johnson so you can see the ulterior motives involved!

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Wednesday, 14th April, 2021 [Day 394]

Wednesday is always a day when we are running a little hard to catch up with ourselves because it is the day when we have to refine our Waitrose order, ready for delivery the following day. Upon my son’s instigation, though, we decided to see if we could book a special excursion on the Severn Valley Railway in one month’s time on the occasion of my birthday on Tuesday, May 11th. The arrangement is that you can book a carriage which can contain four people. So my son can take a day off work and make up a party of four which will include  the three Hart family members and also include our University of Birmingham friend who has also been looking forward, we know, to a trip on the railway. Basically we start off at Kidderminster and make our way through five interesting stations before arriving at Bridgnorth, where they have a pub with lots of real ale at the very end of the platform. So we are all looking forward to this trip immensely – even if the weather is bad, we are under cover for a lot of the time. Also, as a bonus, because of my son’s membership of the SVR, we managed to secure quite a substantial discount for our day’s excursion. So our walk to the park was a little delayed, as is typical on a Wednesday even without the railway booking.  On our way down we were stopped and engaged in a conversation with an acquaintance  which eventually led to a discussion of military matters and why firearms that are ‘rifled’ are more accurate. The process of ‘rifling’ means that a system of helical grooves are incorporated into the body of the rifle which makes any bullet basically spin. This spinning motion effectively neutralises any slight variation in the weight of a bullet (and there is no longer a ‘light’ side or a ‘heavy’ side) and makes it more accurate both in flight and the ability to reach an intended target. Actually, for someone who is totally ignorant about all things military, I knew all of the facts that our acquaintance was trying to convey but I couldn’t say how and where I acquired this esoteric knowledge. Eventually, when we got to the park we could see at a glance that all of our more normal benches were occupied so we had to make do with a seat by the side of the pond/lake so we ate our comestibles without any chats with anyone. The weather was starting to look a little threatening and it had clouded over quite markedly – however, by the time we got home the weather had brightened again and it looked as though we were set for for a fine afternoon.

After lunch, I started another bottling process and in this case, cooking oil. We buy our cooking oil in 5-litre containers and buy a rapeseed oil which is half the saturated fat of Olive Oil, rich in Omega 3, 6, 9 and Vitamin E. This has the advantage that I never run out off cooking oil when I need it as I generally have a stock of about a dozen bottles in stock. Also our domestic help (and her husband) loves this oil to cook with as it has a much superior ‘fry’ temperature to other oils and quite a delightful nutty flavour.  In addition, we are cutting down on food miles and utilising an ‘almost’ local product.

In the late afternoon, we had a visit from our local chiropodist who provides a domiciliary service for Meg and myself. We tend to have our hooves ‘done’ about every 4-5 weeks or so and this keeps us mobile. As the weather was so fine this afternoon, we decided to sit on our bench at the front of the house as it was a beautiful spring afternoon – this proved to be so pleasant that we might chose to have our feet done like this for the rest of the summer.

The political news this afternoon is quite interesting. In the House of Commons, Boris Johnson has successfully beat off a challenge from the Labour Party to establish a special Commons committee to investigate what is being called ‘Tory sleaze’ i.e. David Cameron, the ex Tory PM attempting to get a commercial firm with which he was associated to be awarded some privileges by the Treasury. If successful, David Cameron would have made a great deal of money – but instead the firm involved, Greensill Capital, has collapsed. However, a very powerful and influential Commons Select Committee, the Treasury Select Committee, has decided to investigate the whole of this affair formally and they would have the power to call whatever witnesses they required which would include both David Cameron (ex-PM) and Rishi Sunak, present Chancellor off the Exchequer, whose hands do not seem to be entirely clean in this affair. We shall have to sit and see!

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Tuesday, 13th April, 2021 [Day 393]

Well, this is the day after our second jab so the interesting question is whether we will get any side-effects after the second jab or not. Last night, I just had the hint of a temperature rise but this could have been imagination. Similarly, this morning, I felt that I had the slightest bit of tenderness around my jab site but this, too, could have imagination. There is rather an odd feeling about the state of the anti-lockdown this evening. Boris Johnson is saying that people must just understand that ‘we will have increased infections and increased deaths’ as we un-lockdown. He also gave us the news, if it is news , that all of the benefits we have seen is largely the result of the lockdown and not the effects of a mass vaccination campaign – I wonder what the science is behind all of this? The sight on the TV bulletins of lots of youngg people going out to drink and celebrate and not observe any social distancing does not exactly fill me full of joy. It seems to be an odd paradox that those who have vaccinated and even double vaccinated (like Meg and myself) are staying at home in the evening whereas the streets are generally filled with the younger elements of the population who have not been vaccinated. I know that some in the epidemiological community are watching current developments with a degree of apprehension. After all, what we are doing is really a massive social experiment which could go horribly, horribly wrong but is now a certainty that Boris Johnson is following ‘the dates, not the data‘ The fact that as a democratic society, we are going to have national elections shortly is probably not in our long term interests as politicians choose policies that they imagine will bty some them some short-lived popularity and votes.

Today, though, was. a beautiful day for us to walk down into town. We picked up our newspapers and then headed off to the park, noting that there were a lot of cars parked in the vicinity of the park which is usually an indication that the park’s car parks are full and people are parking in the streets nearby. But as we got into the park, it seemed not particularly busy and we were soon involved in lots of conversations with a variety of our park friends and park acquaintances. This even extended as far as the two COVID wardens who patrolling order to give ‘advice’ to members of the population who may be transgressing the rules. Some friends who live any the bottom of Kidderminster Road told us of a terrible car  crash that had happened quite near to their house. At least one car was severely damaged, several young men tumbled out of the car and the police almost had to close the road until the accident debris was cleared up. One can only speculate but I did wonder of some younger people had consumed too much alcohol and pushed their car beyond sensible limits (the accident occurring on a corner)

In the meanwhile, we have yet more horrifying stories from Mineapolis where another young black man was shot dead by the police. The young black person was pulled over by the police for a minor offence and when he struggled to get into a (police) car he was shot by the policewoman – who thought she was firing her taser and got ‘mixed up’ between that and her regular firearm. The police officer, herself experienced, has resigned as has the chief of police whilst the black population of Mineapolis is literally up in arms (being met with shows of force and arrested by members of a white police force) One has to wonder whether the deep racism in American society together with a rampant gun culture makes the whole society a deeply unattractive one. It is also interesting to speculate what influence this is going to have on the minds of the jury in the George Floyd case (black man whose neck was knelt on by a white police officer and who subsequently died) This case is being heard in a court house a few miles away from the present shooting and the defence are starting their case shortly.

Tonight, I finally got to work bottling a lot of the remainder of my damson gin. This is not a difficult process but is a little fiddly. First, my little wine bottles have to be sterilised and I do this with a Milton solution (or the Boots equivalent). Now the tricky part – kilner jars full of damson gin (and damsons) has to be emptied into/filtered into a jug. I generally use an old man’s vest (the type with little ‘vertex’ type holes in it) with a thickness in which the vest material is at least doubled, it not quadrupled. The to the top of each jar, I add literally 1-2 drops of concentrated almond essence which gives the final product a little extra kick of flavour. Then I will label up my 27 extra bottles of gin before they get distributed again to friends and neighbours.

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Monday, 12th April, 2021 [Day 392]

Well, this is quite a significant date. For most of the population, today’s date is memorable because it is the date when some of the COVID-10 restrictions are being lifted. Of concern to many people (especially the younger elements) is that you can now have a drink with friends but only in a pub garden (and today, as it happened was the most unsuitable day for it as the weather is still pretty cold for April) But of most use to many people is the fact that ‘non-essential’ retail can now open. In particular, this means that hairdressers are open and if reports are to be believed, many have bookings that extend anything up to a month into the future. In addition, those retail outlets that haven’t gone bust are cautiously re-opening and with the restrictions on numbers entering a shop, this might mean that shops do not so much make money as minimise their losses. Gyms are open but only for individualised sessions – they are not open for group sessions which means that I will probably have to wait until May 17th (i.e. five weeks) for my Pilates class to reopen and, even then, I expect we shall be restricted to the four corners of the room. Shopping for the sake of shopping does not hold any particular attractions and it does make one wonder how many people having got used to shopping on the internet will ever want to go back to their old habits.

I mentioned in the past that I managed to put Windows 7 onto my IBM ThinkPad but without any drivers either for the WiFi or for the sound card. Anyway, I discovered a local firm that advertised ‘No fix,no fee’ and having ascertained that there was no call out charge as such, I decided to give it a go. A computer technician called round to the house this morning and confirmed for me that Windows 7 is no longer supported (hence, no drivers) and that Windows 10 basically could not run on such a machine specified at least 15 years ago. However, he took my machine away and was going to put some of the missing drivers on it but now I know that it is basically un-upgradable and also that Windows 7 has as many security ‘holes’ in it as has XP which it replaced. However, I am much better informed than I was having spoken to an expert so now I know that if/when I get this machine back, I should only use it for looking at my statistics programs (written in the 1980’s) and my PhD (written in a version of Word in 1995)

However, today’s date was a much more significant date for Meg and I because it was the date, eleven weeks on from the date when we received out first vaccination, that we were scheduled to receive our second vaccination. Accordingly, we altered our routines somewhat for the day. We went down in the car to collect out newspapers and then on into the park where we had a little walk and a quick elevenses. The we made our way to the Artrix Centre (= repurposed Arts Centre) in good time for our re-vaccination at 12.00pm. There all of the systems worked like clockwork, all the way through from being checked in at the door, then at another check-in desk and finally to the vaccination point. The staff were very caring and cheerful – we expressed our delight in getting our second dose of the vaccine and they mentioned that many people had mentioned the same thing to them. We wondered how many people had got ‘over’ concerned about the 1 in a million chance of dying from a blood clot and they mentioned to us that they had heard that A&E departments were being inundated by people worried about possible side effects. We received our vaccine jabs which we scarcely felt at all and then made our way home where we could have a leisurely lunch and afternoon, just in case we felt poorly. We were meant to be having a Skype call with one of my ex-Hampshire colleagues but this had to be called off at short notice which gave us a clear afternoon. The sun was shining and the weather looked set fair so we immediately thought it was a good opportunity to get the lawns cut. If we were going to feel poorly, this would be in a day or so and not immediately so this was an ideal opportunity to get the lawns cut as it was now ten days since the last cut. Without wanting to sound too neurotic about this, it is necessary to keep up a weekly schedule of lawn cutting until about mid-June as the grass grows so quickly at this time of year. Anyway, this was all done in plenty of time. As a nice bonus to end off the afternoon, my son and daughter-in-law went off to get their own vaccinations a couple of hours later than us. In the absence of anything else, we have some little cards with both our vaccinations dates on it which is the only ‘proof’ that we have been jabbed twice. Our daughter-in-law kindly laminated our cards for us whilst she was doing their own so it is nice to have this record until a more official ‘vaccination certificate’ will be in place (which it surely will be).

 

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Sunday, 11th April, 2021 [Day 391]

It was our normal Sunday morning routine this morning where I go and collect the newspapers almost first thing in the morning and then we watch the Andrew Marr show before setting off for the park. Today when we walked down, there were the occasional blasts of very Arctic feeling air – when these moderated, there was some nice but pale spring sunshine but often so often the icy blasts would return chilling one to the marrow. Not sooner were we seated on our customary bench but we had to ensure a hail storm which was not pleasant to put it mildly. Then we almost had a gathering of the clans with lots of us regulars all coinciding so we had multiple conversations all round. We did have considerable sympathy for an elderly Irish couple that we meet almost every day in the park. Yesterday, we bumped them in Bromsgrove High Street  as they were looking for a local Ladsbrooks so that they could place a bet on the winner of the Grand National. They intended to bet on the woman jockey (who may have been riding an Irish horse) In the event, we heard subsequently that this particular jockey had won – the first time a woman jockey had won the Grand National. When we saw the Irish couple, we assumed that they would be flush with their winnings but it was not to be – they hadn’t managed to find the bookies and hence had not placed their bet (and hence no winnings). Then as we were absolutely chilled we made for home where we had some lamb being prepared in the slow cooker. This I prepared last night before went to bed – coating the lamb in flour and then searing in a frying pan before transferring it to a slow cooker, adding some quickly prepared chicken/vegetable stock and the cooking overnight for some 6 hours. Then I chopped some carrrots and parsnips into minute squares before they got a good boiling (as they were due to be mashed eventually). Finally we washed some ‘pimientos de Padron’ and had them slowly cooking in some olive oil/rapeseed oil before we brought all of the elements of the meal together into our final dish.

As you might imagine, the Sunday newspapers were filled with end-to-end coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. Most of his numerous ‘gaffes’ were repeated again (probably for the last time) Of the may indiscreet stories that were told about the Duke, I rather liked his quip when Kenya was just about to declare independence. The formula is nearly always the same i.e. just on the stroke of midnight, a spotlight will illuminate the fluttering Union flag, shortly to be replaced by the flag of the newly independent nation. Just before the Union flag was lowered for the last time, The Duke of Edinburgh turned towards Jomo Kenyatta (the first president of Kenya) and quipped ‘I don’t suppose you would like to change your mind?‘ – his reply was not recorded. The second and more contemplative post I got from the newspapers related to the Queen herself. There was some very sympathetic coverage of the grief that the Queen might be experiencing and some analysis that after 73 years of marriage, she might find her few remaining years without the presence of her life long companion very difficult to bear. Let us hope she finds the resources from somewhere to manage the years ahead.

As I was checking the actual date of my graduation with an MSc (see last night’s blog), I discovered one or two things I had forgotten about. The first was a Certificate in the Schools Religious Certificate in which I gained a distinction just before my GCE ‘O’-levels and this certifies me as competent to teach religion in any Catholic school (but this would have to be seen to be believed) The second thing I discovered again was the results sheet from the Civil Service Open Competition examinations I took in 1964 ( which largely mirrors ‘O’-levels – five papers in English, Arithmetic and three voluntary subjects of French, Chemistry and Physics) In these examinations I gained exactly 600 marks out of a total of 900 which evidently gave me an average grade of 66.7. All of the results were placed in order from the highest to the lowest and I remembered that I had been placed 77th/6085 (which is 1.27% in the distribution). The numbers who passed (i.e. gained 400 marks or more which is about 45%, the same as GCE ‘O’levels) was 2662/6085 or 43%. I suppose that in today’s scales of A,B or C these results might have been classified as an ‘A’. Before the GCE was amalgamated with the CSE to produce GCSE, there were five grades of pass (A-E) and it possible, but I can’t be sure, that these marks would have given me an ‘A’ in the old system as well. The first time around, I did actually fail my ‘O’-level Physics which is a bit strange as I had good marks in my mocks, secured a 60 when I reset the exam the following year and it was one of highest grades when I sat the Civil Service exams two years later. Strange but true! Perhaps the examiner had turned over two pages at once but you did not (and were not allowed) to challenge results in those days.

 

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Saturday, 10th April, 2021 [Day 390]

After being told of the death of one of our ex-colleagues from the then Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University), I decided to have a rummage through one of the drawers of our filing cabinet where I suspected that I might have some photos from our Leicester Polytechnic days. My rummaging efforts were rewarded in that I managed to find one photo in which there were ten of us featured, standing up (i.e. not in front of a dining table) in a posed photo with Meg and myself and some 8 other colleagues from the Business School at De Montfort. I am trying to work out from various clues when the photo was taken – we were dressed in rather late 70’s clothes but there again, it was a student ‘do’ so we would all have raided our wardrobes and grabbed some smart-enough clothes i.e. not just especially bought as if for a wedding. If I had to put a time frame on it, I would date it between 1985-1990 but that is still the order of 35 years go. I then established an email contact with the son of our recently departed colleague and told him about the photo I had unearthed. I am probably going to scan it and then make a PDF of it. If I can I will also make a copy of it on some glossy paper and then I can despatch the whole towards Leicestershire. The family may be making some kind of archive of their father and, as we know, it is quite interesting after somebody’s death that the recollections of the departed one very much depends on the role occupied (family member, friend, colleague and so on) In the fullness of time, it might be that we meet with the family and share some reminiscences but this will have to wait until the lock-down measures are such that we can all meet indoors to have a lunch-time meal in a restaurant.

After all of this, we walked down into town and got our newspapers as well as a visit to Poundland to pick up some of the routine things that only that store seems to sell. We then made our way into the park and eventually located ourselves on one of the top benches where we were soon joined by some of our park ‘regulars’  We were all discussing the latest debates concerning the Oxford/AstraZeneca virus and whether or not the ‘brouhaha’ over the blood-clotting dangers are a significant risk or not. One of our regular friends told us that some of the doctor’s clinics were being overwhelmed by people phoning up to enquire of their doctors the relative risks of the AstraZeneca virus and they had neither the time nor the resources to cope with a flood of enquiries like this.

This afternoon when we turn on the TV there is still yet more coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. But even as I blog tonight, there is a somewhat more critical tone being displayed by some aspects of the media. For example, Channel 4 is broadcasting a documentary revealing things that could not (tastefully) be discussed until an event such as this. For example, Prince Philip felt incredibly excluded from the royal protocols as his first two children were only known by the surname of ‘Windsor’ But how many knew that Prince Philip with the aid of Louis Mountbatten managed to get the family name changed to ‘Mountbatten-Windsor’ before the birth of the 3rd royal child. So it is now being revealed how Prince Philip as the ultimate ‘outsider’ was managing to transform some of the more conservative elements of the Royal Family into something more akin to the 1960’s. Another fact that is emerging is that several films were shot of the royal family in a more ‘domestic’ and less ‘regal’ role – but many of these films having been made have not then been shown – until now that is. Channel 4 might be quite an interesting watch on this subject in the next few days (the BBC would never dare do anything like this of course)

Tonight, we went to church as usual and were part of a congregation of about 45 or so (the current limit) As it was raining cats-and-dogs when we came out of church and we are encouraged to depart quickly, all we managed to do was to wave to some of the regulars that we recognised but at some time we will no doubt be able to socialise a little more easily (e.g. there are occasional functions in normal times in the adjoining parish hall). We will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings, weather-wise, but I want to get the lawns cut again as soon as I can. And, of course, the Sunday newspapers may be full of some reflection and meditation upon the life of Prince Philip and future directions for the monarchy which may be worth a good read.

 

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Friday, 9th April, 2021 [Day 389]

Today started off as what you might term a ‘normal’ day but it was not to end that way, as we shall shortly see. The day started off with quite a lot of rain in the air and developed into kind of thin drizzle when we started off to go down into the town. We picked up our newspapers and then made for the park where we were pleased to unite/coincide with our University of Birmingham friend who we had not seen for several days. We had quite a lot of news to exchange with other – in particular, we recounted the stories about our ex-Leicester Polytechnic colleague about whom there were many stories to relate, many of them amusing in nature (as yesterday’s blog reveals). On our walk down, we received a call on my mobile from our visiting hairdresser who had been trying to make contact with us for some time. We have an appointment now in our diaries for about a month’s time so we will have to endure our shaggy locks for some time yet. We were exchanging a lot of stories with our friend about what is often known as school boy ‘howlers’ i.e. things written by school children which are the results of stress and half-remembered facts but which now are incredibly amusing. One of these that springs to mind is the story that ‘Sir Francis Drake played with his bowels whilst the Armada sailed up the English Channel‘ whilst yet another reveals that ‘Migration is a headache that birds get when they fly south for the winter‘  Whole books have been written full of stories like these and a few are still genuinely amusing, even to this day.

Whilst we were in the park, I turned on my phone to check something or other and received the news flash that the Duke of Edinburgh had died. Like the rest of the population, I felt a sense of loss for the other members of the royal family but knew that the minute we got home we were going to get ‘wall-to-wall- coverage’ of the sequelae to the death of the husband of the monarch. I was prepared for the fact that the news channels would be dominated by this but not that the BBC went into blanket coverage, broadcasting the historical tributes and stories of the Duke’s life in the most extreme detail on every single channel. I suppose that they must have masses of material ‘in the can’ waiting for this event to occur because it was evident that the Duke was getting increasingly frail. At the age of 99, there were some of who thought that he would not survive his latest stay in hospital where he had yet another heart operation designed to keep him going (was it another stent, I wonder?) I did have the feeling, though, that is he had managed to hold on for another couple of months or so, then he might just have made it to his 100th birthday (on which occasion, the Queen would no doubt have to send him a special letter of congratulations) But having said that, he has probably got at least one letter of congratulation having married to the Queen for over 70 years (73 in fact).

I have a very slight personal recollection of the Duke of Endinburgh as follows. His mother was known as ‘Princess Alice of Battenberg‘ although she had many other titles by which she was known, including Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark. (Her story is quite a long and convoluted one if you want to follow up that sort of thing via Wikipedia). She had suffered several traumas in her life including deafness and schizophrenia and was given shelter by the present Queen and Prince Philip in quarters in an obscure part of Buckingham Palace. Anyway, she died in December, 1969, three days before the Duke if Edinburgh was due to attend  a graduation ceremony at the University of Salford. Although we had been looking forward to receiving our MSc’s at the hand of the Duke when we heard about the death of his mother three days beforehand and we said to each other ‘Well that’s it – he will never come to Salford now‘. (I checked out the veracity of this statement by rummaging around to find the exact date when I did graduate with my MSc and my recollections were correct) Well, he did come to Salford University and gave us our degrees, exhibiting, no doubt, the old-fashioned sense of duty and devotion to the advancement of the young that we have by now come to expect.

Last night, I was attempting a procedure on my newly acquired IBM ThinkPad and succeeded in somehow messing it up so much that it became unusable. Thinking that I had nothing to lose, I decided to reformat it with a copy of Windows 7 which completely overwrites the version of XP on the hard disk. This has just about succeeded and the version of Windows 7 works OK except it cannot establish any wireless contact with the internet and also seems to have lost all of its sound drivers. Whether this reparable or not, only time will tell.

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Thursday, 8th April, 2021 [Day 388]

Today was a sad day in the way in which it started – Meg and I received a phone call from the son of an ex-colleague to inform us that his father had just died the day before. As it turned out, his father was 98 years of age  but in his later years had suffered from dementia but was also both deaf and blind so I suppose his existence may have been a pretty miserable one. His son and I exchanged some reminiscences about how his father – an ex-Royal Navy Commander- never entirely got rid of his military ways and some of his ‘bon mots‘ went down in the annals of our department’s history. One of the most famous of these was the example of a how a group of female students who had just returned from their year of work experience (in which the Polytechnics specialised) were chattering excitedly around a noticeboard when our colleague espied them. He then announced ‘Ah! young ladies! Come into my office and let me debrief you all!’ The students all giggled and I said to him ‘You can’t say that‘ whereupon he responded ‘Well, I really do want to debrief all of these students here and now” Collapse of stout party. We could multiply these tale over and over – but Meg and he worked very closely on the placement of students for about 10-15 years. We expect that the funeral arrangements will consist of a video link into the crematorium proceedings but this will not take place for some time yet.

The morning walk turned out to be more pleasant than we expected – certainly better than yesterday. Having picked up our newspapers, we made our way into the park where the fine weather had brought out the families with masses of young children on their scooters. A glance at the ‘top row’ of seats showed that they were all occupied so we had to satisfy ourselves with our erstwhile resting place by the side of the boating pond. But then one of our park (wheelchair) friends espied us and as we had not seen each other for several days we exchanged our various bits of news. Our friend was due to have second dose of the vaccine tomorrow and as she had been a little poorly after her first dose was not looking forward to the experience. We tried to reassure her that all would be well and we passed on the nostrum that ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself‘ We gave her our best wishes for the day ahead and got home a little later than usual (our morning walk having been delayed by the Waitrose delivery and by the telephone call concerning our ex-colleague’s demise). 

After lunch, we did a most unusual thing and stayed glued to the TV all afternoon. Sky television are broadcasting the live proceedings of the trial of the policeman who murdered George Floyd. This was the famous (infamous!) case of the policeman who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes after which he was pronounced dead. The prosecution had called as a witness a world expert on the physiology of breathing (who had written the standard textbook on the subject) and he gave a very detailed and fascinating account of the anatomy and physiology of one’s neck. His conclusion at the end of a long and detailed explanations complete with diagrams, annotated video-stills and even mathematical equations showed the relationship between force and constriction of the windpipe and that the death was due to an absence of oxygen. This expert witness – Dr. Martin Tobin- may prove difficult to challenge but we shall have to see what unfolds tomorrow. As it stands the evidence seems to be beyond compelling. The second piece of TV which absorbed us was the the new US President, Joe Biden and his deputy, intending to row back some of the excesses of the gun lobby and a bring some degree of moderation to the American obsession with guns. I had not fully appreciated the ways in which the controls on guns are easy to evade in the USA – for example, if you buy a gun at a gun store you have to prove documentation on ID and place of residence but none of these restrictions apply if you buy a gun from a gun fair! Also you can buy a ‘ghost gun’ in which you purchase the various parts and assemble them yourself. This is all quite legal and there are no serial numbers on any parts of the guns so can be used by criminals and others. Jo Biden is seeking to use executive orders to order an immediate ban on some of these practices but other measures will require the support of Congress where he is liable to make very little progress, if any at all. So it may be that the mass shootings continue as well as the appalling death toll. Some of the facts Biden adduced are incredible to us in the UK. For example, every day in the US, 316 people are shot, with 106 of them dying. The cost of gun violence, according to the president, is $280bn every year – that’s in hospitals, lawyers, prisons, physiotherapy and lost productivity.

 

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