Friday, 30th April, 2021 [Day 410]

We were somewhat delayed this morning as Meg nd I had some domestic jobs to get done before we went on our walk. We did not want to rush in any case as it had started raining  at about 5-6 in the morning (and perhaps even earlier) and was spluttering on even in the mid morning. As the morning wore on, though, the sun eventually broke through and we finished with quite a sunny morning  Again, we had a slightly different routine this morning because having picked up our newspapers, we knew that we had better make a trip to W H Smiths (which also incorporates the Post Office these days) in order to buy some birthday cards and one, in particular, which needed to arrive by tomorrow in time for the birthday on Sunday. There was a group of colleagues at the University of Winchester who all had their birthdays strung out through various dates in May. We decided about twenty years ago now that we would have a large celebratory birthday meal to accommodate all of us, and this has carried on even after the year that many of us retired in 2007 or shortly thereafter. In fact, we call ourselves ‘The Old Fogies‘ and when we meet e exchange news of families,current politics an so on, I would like to think that we remind ourselves how excellent things were when we in charge and how things have gone to the dogs ever since then. We don’t actually say any of this but we might secretly think it, all the same. This year, one of our number has busily organised a large Zoom session for us on the night of 11th May (which happens to be my birthday) so the we can raise a virtual glass to each other (although, come to think of it, they could be real). Another of our number is 60 this year and would have daily loved to have a party at home but that pleasure may have to wait for another year (and perhaps even longer than that if a third wave strikes us).

I had another little ‘play’ on my IBM ThinkPad this afternoon. From somewhere, I have found about a free utility suite named ‘Glary Utilities’ which does all kind of housekeeping things on your computer. These include examining the Registry for any error or inconsistencies, getting rid of any tracks you may have left around whilst browsing, using a Disk Cleanup utility, examining the processes and start-up items on your computer and so on. Most of these things are forgotten about by the average user but a set of utilities like these helps get rid of the clutter which eventually slows all computers down. As I only have a small amount of installed memory by today’s standards (1.25 Gb rather than the more common 4Gb) I am trying to run a ‘clean and mean machine’ whilst I can. I also have given the sound system a good workover by installing and then playing from my Music Library a whole series of Mozart tracks. Just out of interest, I wondered how easy it would be to get my favourite Paint Concerto (Mozart’s No. 23) onto my system and found it ridiculously easy. I located and downloaded the relevant mp3 files I needed onto a pen drive on my main computer (I intend to use the Thinkpad to go on the web only when absolutely necessary) and then transferred them into the ThinkPad – the whole process must have taken about 2 minutes. I was then giving my little external speaker system a good workout – it looks a little like a golfball but the top twists to add some miniature bellows to give a bit of extra volume. The whole caboodle has to be charged up beforehand and lasts, I think, for about 5 hours but has the advantage that it doesn’t occupy a precious USB port but all you have to do is to plug in the audio lead. I am quite astonished by how good the quality is for such a tiny (and cheap!) device so this helps to extend the functionality of the sound system as a whole. I discovered that the sound card is by Realtek (very good reputation for quality) and is part of the motherboard whilst the video controller is built into the chip itself. Incidentally, one of my acquaintances in the park today handed me a leaflet for a little firm housed in the upstairs of a store whose function is to recycle unwanted furniture into the hands of ‘needy’ people. The little firm  advertises some incredibly cheap laptop deals with laptops with a 2.5Ghz CPU, 4 GB of Ram and a 250GB hard disk at prices ranging from £60.00 for a Lenovo to £90 for a Toshiba. If I need to install any new memory (quite a possibility) or have a need for a more specialised cable, then I know where I will be heading for in the future. 

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Thursday, 29th April, 2021 [Day 409]

Some readers of this blog may vaguely be aware that very occasionally (!) if I am finding it a little difficult to sleep it is not unknown for me to get up and play for a little on the computer. The IBM ThinkPad I recently acquired has a very loyal following amongst its aficionados and has an amazing history of being used in space! I take the following para from a website entitled ‘IBM ThinkPads in Space’ and it reads as follows:

IBM ThinkPads first flew aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle on Dec. 2, 1993 on the Shuttle Endeavour’s flight to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts used the ThinkPads 750s to view color images and sketches of the telescope that were loaded on the computer’s hard drive….

As the 20th century drew to a close, the only notebooks certified for long-term flight on the International Space Station (ISS) were the IBM ThinkPad 760XD and the 755C. Five 76OXDs and one additional 755C were placed on ISS during the May 1999 shuttle mission (STS-96), and another seven 76OXDs and one 755C were delivered on subsequent flights. (In 2003, IBM ThinkPad A31p computers were flown to the International Space Station for in-flight testing. The A31p is scheduled to become the new ISS Portable Computer System, replacing the ThinkPad 760XD.)

The website referred to above is full of some history and NASA have only ever allowed IBM ThinkPads anyway near their space shuttles. I think I can remember seeing a photo of an astronaut with a ThinkPad in one hand (no gravity!) and a repair tool in the other – presumably following video instructions. So what I am referring to here is a kind of loyalty towards a machine which is not a great games machine, is not the fastest or the slickest but is certainly one of the more robust, being designed to last for decades if necessary in an office environment. Now I had upgraded my ThinkPad from XP to Windows 7 where everything seemed to be OK but without the benefit of any sound drivers. Naturally, I searched the web and tried one or two things but nothing seemed to work. But eventually I stumbled across a disk on eBay which cost the princely sum of £1.85 entitled ‘Windows Universal Driver Installation DVD – 2020 Drivers’ . This DVD contains a program which scans the whole of your PC noting any absences of drivers and giving you the opportunity to install whatever you wanted. It noted the absence of sound drivers so I gratefully accepted the offer of installing these but neglected the opportunities to update other drivers just in case it sent the whole computer haywire. Imagine my delight, when the icon on the TaskBar went from ‘not working’ to ‘working’ – and of course, eventually, the sound seemed to be working OK. However, the volume was pretty low but I managed to discover some software settings (in different places) to boost the volume level – and then discovered two specialist keys, (not Function keys) on the ThinkPad which were evidently sound increase/decrease buttons and eventually I had a system with fully featured sound. I also happened to have a small, USB-driven, loudspeaker which is somewhat more than golfball size but is nonetheless much larger than the thin strip of a speaker which laptops utilise. So all in all, I must say that I am a very happy bunny having a laptop which enables me to do what I want (principally show my 30 year old statistics programs) as well as the ‘marriage’ between my digitised wedding photos and an .mp3 music file which runs alongside them which is a very accurate representation of all of the wedding music played at the original ceremony in September, 1967.

Being reminded that tomorrow is the 25th wedding anniversary of our domestic help, Meg and I decided to alter our routine somewhat. We went down into car and, having collected our newspapers, popped into our local Waitrose where we bought some anniversary presents (Prosecco, a couple of sweet pea arrangements complete with their own netting and bamboo hoops). By an extraordinary coincidence, I encountered a lady within the store clutching the same two items so we evidently had similar thoughts in mind. So we got home not particularly late but laden with gifts appropriate for the occasion, we hope! Meg also passed on a brand-new item of clothing which was no longer wanted or needed but proved to be an exact fit. 

In the extraordinary maelstrom which is contemporary UK politics, it looks as though the noose is tightening around Boris John’s neck as it now appears, more likely than not, that a donor to the Conservative party had quite illegally paid for Boris Johnson’s flat renovations (now rumoured to be £200,000 whilst the taxpayer provides the first £30,000) Some reports are indicating that one of the reasons for the expense is that Johnson’s ‘girlfriend’ has a penchant for gold wallpaper. Meanwhile the great British public do not seem to care at all as the Conservatives are now polling at  44%, unchanged from a week earlier. whilst Labour was down a point on 33%.

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Wednesday, 28th April, 2021 [Day 408]

Today was one of those days when we knew that we were going to have quite a busy morning (for us) and so it proved. We are usually a little later than normal because Wednesday morning is our ‘update’ morning for the Waitrose shopping order which we have delivered tomorrow. This having been done and being a bit later than usual, we cut off into the park and had our elevenses (as it was more like a midday snack being an hour later than normal) Then we popped by our newspaper shop to pick up our regular supply of newspapers. We ventured after this onto the High Street in Bromsgrove in order to access an ATM – with these strange lockdown days, we tend to get a block of money to last us for several weeks as everything else tends to get paid by card over the internet. Having got our money out of an indoors ATM, we wandered down to Waitrose but, on an impulse, ventured into one of the local charity shops which are now re-opening. The one we entered was the British Heart Foundation shop and we had a quick look around to see if there was any item that might take our fancy. Just as we leaving, we caught sight of a small display with about 3-4 ladies handbags on it and one we immediately thought would be just the job for Meg – so we bought it. Now that we have it home and I have subjected it to the most minute examination, I am pretty convinced that it is unused and although the label inside says ‘Made in China’ one cannot really tell whether it is actual leather or a leather substitute which is so good you cannot tell the difference. But I did notice at least a couple of men’s barber’s shops where I could have wandered in and had a haircut (which I sorely need) on the spot i.e. without their being a queue or an appointment system. Our own hairdresser is coming to us next Tuesday morning so having waited this long, we can sure hang on for six more days. Being on the high street, we also took the opportunity to dive into a local shop to buy some toiletries which we like and typically in stock. We then visited our local Waitrose which serves as a drop-off point for any clothes purchases that we make online with John Lewis. We were pleased to pick this up today as the item of clothing was ordered a few days ago and John Lewis had despatched it to the wrong Waitrose store. We got an apologetic email from them (after being invited to call them) but as things were only delayed by a day or so, we did not honestly mind. 

On our way home and halfway between Waitrose and Bromsgrove School, we were delighted to meet up again with an acquaintance of ours who we used to meet some 2-3 times a week in the Waitrose coffee bar when it was open. Our friend is a local teacher of ‘A’-level politics and had also attended university in Leicester so we always had quite a lot in common. At least a year ago, I had rounded up some of the politics textbooks I was never going to need again and made her a present of them – if they were not useful to her then they could always be donated to the school library or even used as little gifts for some of her students. Our friend told us that the coffee bar in Waitrose may well be scheduled for re-opening on July 21st so we may have to wait for several more weeks before the old gang can reestablish itself. I asked one of the staff inside Waitrose whether each visitor on reopening day would be given a bottle of Champagne as a mark of loyalty – she thought not but hope springs eternal! Anyway, I have quite missed our friend (not seen for over a year) and her little child who is now rapidly growing up and was at nursery school so having waited for a year, we just need to show a little more patience so that we can eventually have friends re-united.  By the time we had made these various shopping excursions it was fairly late when we got home so lunch was quite delayed, even by our standards.

In the late afternoon, we FaceTimed some of our ex-Waitrose friends whom we normally contact once a week but we had to delay our normal call a week ago because of some technical problems. Anyway, it was great to catch up on each other’s news and, of course, as the weather has been fine we have all taken the opportunities to make little excursions. Our friends were delighted to make the acquaintance again of their latest grandchild who they have hardly seen in the last five months. Naturally this caused a great deal of pleasure but it does raise the interesting question – for many people – whether young children may find it a little difficult to recreate the social relationships (e.g. with grandparents) which the lockdowns have denied them over the months.

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Tuesday, 27th April, 2021 [Day 407]

The spell of really good weather is gradually coming to an end and today was certainly cloudier than yesterday. Nonetheless, we popped off down to collect our newspapers and then onto the park where we enjoyed the company of several of the ‘park regulars’ – I was joking with them whether we ought to form a lodge or one of those funny societies you occasionally used to see. In my youth, I vaguely remember that there was an Independent Order of Oddfellows which sounds broadly like an offshoot of the Masons but it is not. (To confuse matters, many masons are  also Oddfellows but not the reverse) They have their roots in the 1700’s in England but faced a degree of suppression but they seem to have a much bigger and more vigorous movement in the United States. By the time we had chatted anyway and even met up with one of our friends from yesterday, it was nearly 2.00pm when we got home so we had to organise a pretty fast lunch for ourselves, which we did. After all of the excitement of yesterday, we decided to have a nice peaceful afternoon whith we did but we had some telephone calls to make and receive so the afternoon seemed to shoot by, one way or another. 

I am trying an experiment, not succeeding to get audio drivers to installed onto the Thinkpad, to get our composite .mp3 of our wedding music loaded onto my iPhone. You would have thought that it would have been as simple as emailing yourself a copy of the relevant .mp3 and then saving it into your ‘Apple’ music collection but this is not the Apple way of doing things. To be fair, Apple do not allow you to to do this directly as it is a route by which viruses and other nasties could infect your phone so Apple has its own way of doing this which is to get your .mp3 file uploaded into iTunes and then sync this with iTunes on your iPhone. But to complicate matters, iTunes no longer exists in the latest iteration of the operating system but you do have Apple Music. When you read on the web how to perform the procedures of getting a mp3 file onto your Phone, it all sounds so very straightforward but it didn’t seem to turn out that way. Many people suggest a third part app and, indeed, I already had got DropBox installed  on both my computer and also on my iPhone. I must have previously uploaded my wedding music some two and a half years previously but I discovered that with DropBox you can actually download a file such that it can be played ‘offline’ This seemed to work fine and I tested out that it works by turning off my WiFi and Bluetooth and making sure that the music I wanted on my iPhone was actually there as it would play OK. There is a point to all of this which is this: if I want to play the moving slide show of our (original) wedding photos and have a facsimile of the original music playing alongside (on the iPhone) this I can now do. We are thinking about when we go and visit Meg’s cousin in Bolton in just under three weeks time.

As it is approaching the end of the month, the weather forecasters are casting an eye backwards over the last month which has been pretty strange, historically. I had not appreciated that it actually been the frostiest April for 60 years and rainfall has been only 10% of the average. Of course, there will be a few days of rain at the end of the month to moderate these statistics but is hasn’t all been ‘down’ side because we got some gloriously sunny days last week associated with a stationery high pressure system.

The political scene in the run up to the elections in interesting, to put it mildly. There are a swirl of allegations swirling around No. 10 on a range of issues but the most important is whether the redecoration to the flat in Downing Street was done legally or not (if a Tory donor had put up the money and then Boris Johnson repaid him this would not be within the rules) But the extraordinary thing is that many political journalists think the Prime Minister’s problems, which are largely of his own making, are potentially very serious. On the other hand, the Tories seem well ahead in the opinion polls and no amount of sleaze appears to have done them any harm as yet. One explanation is that voters know that Johnson is a serial liar and untrustworthy but they are prepared to overlook these failings as a price for having got Brexit done. A not dissimilar view ix expressed by some Tory MP’s for as one senior MP told me on Monday: ‘The Conservative Party’s relationship with Boris is very transactional. He wins us elections and we put up with his crap. If he starts being a vote loser, well that will change.’



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Monday, 26th April, 2021 [Day 406]

We were very pleased that this day had dawned because it was the day,if the weather was helpful, when we were scheduled to entertain our friends in the back garden.  In the morning, I busied myself giving the garden chairs and garden table a wash down (with a specially soft car brush so nothing gets damaged) After a rinse, they were left to dry in the sun and I organised the cushions that we utilise on occasions such as these. Then we picked up our newspapers and made an excursion into our local Waitrose to buy some comestibles. Waitrose had a very good selection of sandwiches, cakes, cordials, wines and ‘party things’ so we bought what we need, loaded them to the car and set off for home, giving the park a miss for the day. Once we got home we treated ourselves to a coffee at home and enjoyed some of the goodies we had just bought for the afternoon ‘get-together’. Then we had a light lunch, quickly put some pieces on plates and there we were. 

After our friends arrived, we had great pleasure in opening a bottle of champagne and I have to say we had been looking to this moment for a long time. We had intended to have a similar little party, indoors, just around Christmastime but of course the lockdown intervened. On that occasion, we sat around in chairs. socially distancing in our friend’s garage with the door open and imbibed our own damson gin.That only added to the surreal nature of the experiences at the time so we were delighted today to have a more normal ‘get together’ in our own back garden. The weather was reasonably sunny and there was a bit of a cooling breeze but we chatted our way through it. As it turned out, it proved to be an excellent opportunity to appraise our friends of our longer plans in the housing sphere. We had always intended that in the fullness of time we would downsize somewhat and the households of Meg and myself and my son and daughter-in-law would disaggregate. We had always intended that our final resting place would be within walking distance of all essential goods and services including shops and transport links thus making a car unnecessary. However, we are determined to stay in the area and keep up the regular friendships that we have made in the last few years here in Bromsgrove so we are seeing our eyes and ears open for anything suitable that comes up within the next year or so. So it was a useful opporunity to let our lowest friends know what we were thinking and why so that nothing would be a surprise to them. After we had eaten and drunk our fill, we had great pleasure showing people round the gardens both front and back. There is a certain amount of explaining to do as we have bought the green space in front of the house which houses our (discreetly hidden) BioDisk from the builder/developer several years ago and this has helped us to make sure that an access road is not driven past our houses to service the new development which has been built in the last few years immediately next to your plot. Both of our friends are very keen gardeners (even arranging flowers for the church) so they very much appreciated the wild, woodland feel which characterises our garden. There is a certain amount of cutting back yet to be done but it is always very interesting to have your house and garden viewed though the eyes of another as it were. When we looked at our watches it was practically 6.00 and as we started proceedings at 3.00pm the last three hours had absolutely flown by. I have a feeling that if the summer is fine, we may be repeating this very pleasant experience quite a lot.

Today has not been the kind of day when we have watched any TV news. But the evidence of the top senior civil servant, Simon Case, appears to have been underwhelming and uninformative. Amid MPs’ exasperation with the top Whitehall official, former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused Mr Case of delivering a “badly-scripted version” of 1980s TV sitcom ‘Yes Minister‘. One can understand, I suppose, why senior civil servants do not want it to appear that they ‘betraying’ their political masters. However, it has to be said that there appears to be so much skulduggery, chicanery and pure sleaze surrounding Downing Street at the moment that civil servants run the danger of being drawn into the same sleaze-ridden culture. After all, as master wordsmiths, there is always a way of distancing yourself. One is reminded of Francis Ewan Urquhart,a fictional character created by Michael Dobbs, whose catchphrase became ‘I couldn’t possibly comment‘ said in a certain way and with a certain look that certainly conveyed what the character thought about events swirling around him.

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Sunday, 25th April, 2021 [Day 405]

It was our normal Sunday morning routine this morning in which I collected our Sunday newspapers early on and then got back in time for the Andrew Marr show. I was expecting a lot of cross examination of Liz Truss concerning the Boris Johnson ‘decoration expenses’  and Andrew Marr tried his best (which was not very good) When asked if Boris Johnson had personally stopped a leak enquiry (about the leak of plans for a second coronavirus lockdown because it would have implicated a close friend of his fiancee, Carrie Symonds), he got the reply ‘I think this is a complete load of Westminster tittle-tattle that people simply don’t care about” which is of course not a denial but the typical ‘throw sand in the face of the enemy’ tactics that all politicians deploy when they are being evasive or do not wish to tell the truth – which is nearly all the time. Then we drifted down to the park where we met up with our University of Birmingham friend and we discussed all kinds of matters concerning our local Severn Valley railway (upon which we are going to make a trip in about 2-3 weeks time) Then we were joined by a mutual friend who is generally very well-informed on matters and likes to keep abreast of news and current affairs. Our conversations roamed over (a) the changing and preferred shape of womens’ bodies (b) the current political scene (c) efficacy and ‘risks’ associated with the current crop of vaccines. Our conversations are like that, but Meg and I needed to get home so after we had put the world to rights, we started for home to cook Sunday lunch which we did.

The afternoon, as every Sunday afternoon, we devoted to a good read of the Sunday newspapers but I did break off in the late afternoon to put a supply of Growmore (for a quick tickle) and ‘Blood, Fish and Bone’ (for a longer lasting fertiliser) around the privet hedge plants that our gardner and I chopped down to about half their height during the week. As the hedge has received a bit of a bashing, we thought it would be a good idea to give it a bit of feed at the start of the growing season to encourage the denuded top to ‘green over’ – which I hope it will within about three weeks. I am conscious of the fact that a certain amount needs doing in the garden to get it fully ship-shape but we need a spell of fairly good weather before I commit myself to a daily half hour or so in the garden.

As the pandemic is ravaging the towns and cities of India and our TV screens are filled with heart-rending images of individuals who are denied admissions to hospitals (and who have practically run out of oxygen anyway) and cemeteries that have overflowed into any adjacent land and which is now burning with a succession of funeral pyres, according to Hindu rites. The UK is going to send off a supply of ventilators which is part of a consignment of 600 items which the UK is sending to India. Perhaps this only a symbolic gesture but we do have a vested interest, given the links and history between the UK and India, in making sure that India receives as much help as possible. I am reminded that the Victorian middle classes worked out that it was in the interests of the already privileged to give the working classes a clean water supply and good sewerage system. It is often said that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’ husband, died of typhoid fever but more modern medical research has pointed out that Albert suffered several bouts of illness towards the end of his life. A modern diagnosis is that he died of Crohn’s disease which precipitated an ulcerative perforation of the bowel leading to septicaemia and a rapid death.

Last night, I decided to put (or try to put) Windows 7 onto my IBM ThinkPad. All seem to go well untilI was asked for the product code but after a bit of an internet search I found a product code relating to an educational version and this seemed to satisfy it. All seemed to go well until, at the final stage, a Windows logo appeared on the screen and after a long wait, I concluded it had frozen. So I left it (and the word on the net indicates that you sometimes to have leave things for an hour or so to resolve) and went to bed. First thing this morning, nothing seemed to have happened so I pressed the power switch on the Thinkpad and the existing installation of Windows 7 loaded. (If you consult the internet, lots of installations seemed to hand at the point that I experienced) Having got Windows 7 up, I got an informative little message saying that Windows 10 had encountered an error, failed to load and now the whole machine was being reset to the condition it was in before the installation.I am sure this little story has been repeated thousands of times by other Window users trying to upgrade. I was not surprised – but quite pleased it left my machine in a useable state after all.

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Saturday, 24th April, 2021 [Day 404]

It was another fine bright day in this wonderful spell of weather we have been enjoying. It was a bit cooler than yesterday with a cooling breeze but nothing to spoil our enjoyment. We ordered some more clothes from John Lewis (to be delivered in a day or at no charge to our local Waitrose) and then made our way to our normal bench. There we met with one of our regular friends and we congratulated her on her recent birthday (in her mid-70’s) In the expectation that we may see her, I had included in my rucksack a large bottle of my own damson gin. As it was happened it was her birthday last Thursday when we didn’t get round to going to the park – the cafe in the park (run by people she had known for decades) had made her a present of a lovely large cake and she had other treats on the day itself. As it happens she is only about three weeks older than I am so we keep a check on well (or badly) we are doing for our age. We expected to see our University of Birmingham friend but we had a ‘no show’ – at least initially. However, as we were walking home he caught up with us in his car – we hadn’t coincided earlier as he had an appointment in Kidderminster just down the road. We admired his lovely Saab car, now about 14 years old but since Saab went bust, our friend has his car serviced by an independent garage who mage to get hold of Saab spares when they need to without too much difficulty. We chatted by the side of the road for several minutes but will have a more comfortable assignation tomorrow when we meet in the park.

As I write this blog, we decided as it was a terrible night on the television to see a YouTube production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The two principal singers are Luciano Paraotti and Ingvar Wixell (the Swedish baritone) and this production was evidently made when they were very much in their prime. The production is a German one and as one might expect, the quality of the singing (naturally), the quality of the acting, the staging, the camera angles and so on are of the very highest standard. Rigoletto is one of those operas which is full of really good tunes (and no doubt the Italian audiences would come away from a production singing or humming many of them). Anyway, when there is a really stunning aria, I break away from my blog and soak up some of the glorious moments from the production – this is a sort of multitasking becausse it is quite easy to listen to music and blog at the same time.

This afternoon was the final of a women’s rugby competition between the two best teams in the tournament who happen to be England and France. We knew this was going to be a tough match and the two teams having quite easily beaten the opposition in the course of the tournament were fairly evenly matched. Having said that, the French had vastly superior scrummaging, better backs, a somewhat more imaginative approach to their forward play – but still lost. To be fair, both teams displayed some nervousness and the kicking at goal meant that some easy attempts at goal were fluffed. In the event, both the French and the English teams had a conversion where the conversion ball hit the post and then, just, slid inside. The English forwards were pretty brutal in an effective but not particularly pretty fashion. The French were only about 3-4 points behind about 10 minutes before the end and could have sneaked the game but the English team managed to snaffle balls away from their line, get it upfield, force a series of penalties from the French and eventually won the game. So neither team played particularly well and the windy conditions did not help.But I would not have been disappointed if the French had gone on to win the final because in many ways they did everything right – but not at the crucial moments as did the English team ( scoring the only try of the match about 60 seconds before the end of the first half of the match)

If I had to make a guess at the stories dominating the Sunday newspapers tomorrow morning, it will be one or both of the following. For a start, the row over who paid for the ‘over the top’ refurbishment to the PM’s Downing Street flat, fuelled by a particular animus between Boris Johnson himself and Dominic Cummings (the Brexit ‘master mind’ and at one time the principal advisor to Boris Johnson) will occupy a great deal of space and attention. And secondly, there is a culture war going on as Oxford Street shoppers are heckled over face masks as thousands protest coronavirus rules in London. But we have now passed the point where more than half of the population have received at least one dose of vaccine.


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Friday, 23rd April, 2021 [Day 403]

Another beautiful day today to wake up to. Meg and I were a little delayed because Friday is the day when our domestic help calls around and we took the opportunity for her to work some magic wonders on Meg’s hair which is getting a bit ‘out-of-control’ until we have it done a week on Tuesday. I asked our domestic help  to make over Meg’s hair so that when we went to bed this evening, I would feel I was climbing into bed with a different woman (and I think she succeeded.) As we were a bit later that we would have liked, we  picked up our newspapers and then tried to occupy one of our preferred ‘top’ park benches but they were already fully occupied. So we made do by sitting and looking over the lake which is, of course, what we used to do at the start of the year. But then, on our way home uo the hill, we ran into both of our closest (Catholic) friends and to cut a long story short, we have invited them both round to have a nice English cup of tea (or something even stronger) next Monday afternoon. We are just hoping, of course, that the weather holds out until then but it is true to say that once we have a high pressure established like this, they tend to persist for quite a few days (I think that low pressure systems ‘bounce’ off them) We do not mind the weather being a tad cooler so long as we do get completely rained off. Actually, we intended to have a similar little ‘soiree’ last Christmas time but evidently one of the COVID-19 lockdowns intervened.

Our domestic help has forwarded me a recipe for rhubarb gin which sounds simple enough to make. According to the recipe, as well as rhubarb some orange peel is involved and a rather exotic ingredient of either a vanilla pod or some vanilla bean base (which I must admit, I have never even heard of) I have been sent the Jamie Oliver recipe and all seems straight forward but I never thought of baking the rhubarb to release ? enhance? some of the flavours. As we have a small clump of rhubarb growing, I might as well as make it something useful and, at least, I have all of he gear such as Kilner jars and sterilising fluid.

Last night whilst I was playing with my new HP computer, I found a way of getting my old DOS statistical software to work under Windows 10. I downloaded a specialist piece of software called DosBox which enabled my old software to run. I had to find out how to ‘mount’ a specific folder after which the software would run. I even found a way to configure it so it utilised more of the screen surface and was centralised. One piece of software I was glad to resurrect was a program I had written called EzeStats After development, this was eventually bundled with a statistics textbook ‘Jon Curwin and Roger Slater with Mike Hart: ‘Numeracy Skills for Business‘(Chapman Hall, 1994) Having looked at this piece of educational software some decades after it was written, I was struggling to remember exactly how I did it. This is what I think I did. I utilised a simple text editor to write the words for one screenful of information. Assuming I could work with 80 characters a row x. 25 lines, each screen could contain 2,000 characters. But each character occupied two bytes – the first was the ASCII code of the character itself and the second was  a colour encoding for that particular byte (making 4,000 per screen). I think I then utilised a utility called ‘Paint’ (nothing to do with the Windows program of that name) which enabled you to ‘paint’ the foreground (or ‘ink’) and the background ( or ‘paper’) for each screen. Some screens asked you to choose a character which gave an answer to a tutorial type of question – to capture the responses and to send you to the screen which told you whether you had the correct answer or not, I think I used a batch file which could send you back and forth amongst the various pages. Somehow, all of these pages get stitched together (perhaps via the batch file) and then I think I used a program to take a batch file and turn it into an executable file (.com or .exe) This is how I think I did it all, but it certainly still runs incredibly slickly and I think the entire tutorial course runs to about 40 screens of information, all stitched again into a fast, colourful and incredibly concise little system – I think the total size of the two main .exe files only cane to about 20k in total (and the public domain version of the MicroStats program was only about 37k). Those were the days when memory was expensive and programmers had to make every byte count!




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Thursday, 22nd April, 2021 [Day 402]

We woke up this morning to a really bright and beautiful morning but not one we could enjoy in the usual way. We were somewhat delayed this morning by the arrival of the Waitrose order which had to be unpacked and then put away. We were aware of the fact that Mike had an appointment for a CT scan in the Kidderminster treatment centre (some 14 miles day distant) at midday – so we needed to alter our routines somewhat. We went down in the car to pick up our newspapers and then had to pop into Waitrose in order to return a garment to John Lewis via their Waitrose network.  Actually, this bit worked pretty well as the original delivery note contained a returns address and a QR code. All we needed to do is to get onto our John Lewis’s account get a RMA code, then include it in the packed and readdressed parcel and hand it in to Waitrose. I already had an email acknowledging the safe receipt of the returns package back into the system and a refund will no doubt shortly follow. The we went back home by car and had some elevenses in our front garden (delightfully sunny). I then went by car to Kidderminster and got there about 10 minutes early, got scanned very quickly and was back home at only a few minutes after 1.0pm. In the afternoon, we decided to make a trip out to Marks and Spencer’s in Longbridge (on the site of the old Austin assembly line) to do some clothes shopping for some much needed items for Meg and then got home in the mid afternoon. It was a glorious day and we had to forego our normal walk to the park but hopefully, the high pressure system will persist for a day or so yet so we have a nice clear day tomorrow, all being well.

There seems to be something going wrong with our various friends computer systems at the moment. Some of the regulars who we FaceTime or Skype seem to be having a variety of computer problems which means that we haven’t been able to communicate with each other over the last few days. The modern technology is wonderful when it works but systems can be a nightmare if things start to go wrong – we are hopeful that these problems will soon be  sorted out so the we can start to chat again.

There is a World Climate summit organised I believe by the Americans in which various leaders are appearing to pledge allegiance to new emissions targets. To get the ball rolling, as it were, Jo Biden has agreed to cut greenhouses emissions by 50% by the year 2030. The interesting question is whether both China and the USA as the earth’s two biggest polluters will be able to generate the changes needed in our whole economy and ways of living to achieve meaningful objectives. One suspects that the Chinse government, once it puts it’s mind to it, might be in a better position to deliver than the Americans. The Americans are apparently concerned that the Chinese might be a long way ahead of them in the deployment of solar technologies. Whilst some argue that  as the Chinese who have access to cheap capital and labour, then it is no surprise that they dominate some 60& of the available market in ‘solar’ technologies’. But a better explanation of China’s success in solar is that the energy industry prioritises low costs and China excels at cost-cutting and scaling — not just from cheap resources but from a superior ability to innovate manufacturing processes to drive down cost and scale quickly, known as process innovation. One also wonders whether Jo Biden can push the necessary legislative procedures through Congress at the moment as there are so many vested interests still in the energy industries.

The Greensill affair rumbles on with revelations that David Cameron lobbied the Treasury so much that he was in danger of morphing from ‘Dodgy Dave’ to ‘Desperate Dave’ as he sought, repeatedly, to get the Treasury to favour the firm which was now employing him (and which eventually went bankrupt) At the same time, Boris Johnson has been revealed as almost being at the beck and call of James Dyson (vacuum cleaner manufacturer who was an ardent Brexiteer but who eventually took his business off to Singapore to lower his costs) What is some concern to some senior civil servants is that Boris Johnson shows himself as being susceptible to exchanges of messages via WhatsApp – as such, these are not ‘meetings’ and therefore are not subject to the Ministerial code of accountability and so on. The combination of these types of stories seem to ensure that the Tory party seem to be the absolute party of sleaze – not that they care as the public does not seem to mind so much apparent sleaze as the Tories are so far ahead in the opinion polls. It is a strange world!



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Wednesday, 21st April, 2021 [Day 401]

Today started off as quite a gloomy and overcast day and the temperature seemed to have dropped markedly since yesterday. We had plans to make a little trip this afternoon so we hoped that the weather would gradually improve in the afternoon. Knowing that we were going to make a trip out, having collected our newspapers we popped into our local Waitrose for two purposes. We had made some online clothing purchases for Meg from John Lewis and organised delivery (at no charge in our local store) Although the order was theoretically ready for collection on late Thursday afternoon (and hence, Friday morning actually) I got a text to say it was ready for collection this morning, which was very welcome. At the same time we picked up some sandwiches and biscuits ready for later on in the day. We had organised a fairly early lunch for ourselves and set off for Coughton Court (a nearby National Trust property) by 2.00pm, having had to call off and fill the car with petrol. As it happened, we got to our destination, guided by SatNav about 25 minutes before our timed entrance but we were still greeted with open arms and allowed in. By this stage of the day, the weather had brightened considerably and once having negotiated our entrance we went straight to the outdoors cafe, not least for the pleasure of having an outside snack once again conscious of the knowledge that we were helping the National Trust finances anyway (admission being gratis for National Trust members) Then we went on a most pleasant woodland walk, encompassing a walk by the river Arden and feeling ‘at one’ with nature. A particular feature of Coughton Court which has impressed us greatly is their use of natural materials to enhance the nature of any walks you undertake. Thus at various information points, the message was provided  by the expedient of writing the message (black paint, white background) on the ‘slices’ taken from a large tree which had fallen (imagine slicing a carrot and you will get my meaning) Also, any large branches are used to provide natural edging materials for the paths in the woodland walks so the whole experience is an incredibly naturalistic one. Having got most of the way through our intended trip we espied a strategically placed bench upon which we gratefully sat ourselves. We had taken a couple of portable chairs with us because we know from experiences in the past that suitably placed benches can be short supply so we had equipped ourselves not only with portable chairs but also a tarpaulin in case we needed to camp out on the grass. So we sat and drank coffee, ate some absolutely delicious rice cakes coated with an orange and dark chocolate topping and observed the distant rooks – and a flight of birds that seemed to soar a little like raptors but which we couldn’t really identify. So we had a delightful day out, only encountering the normal rush hour when we returned to Bromsgrove at about 5pm in the afternoon. 

As indicated in last night’s blog, the two crucial decisions that I was expecting today actually came late last night. Looking firstly at the collapse of the plans for a European Super League for elite football clubs, it looks as though ‘fan power’ from below has caused the whole project to collapse – demonstrations at grounds all over the county displayed the sentiment that the ‘beautiful game’ was being expropriated from them. The government having said that it was going to create an enquiry into the whole affair, it is not going to abandon it but is probably using this as an occasion to engineer some changes in the structure of the industry in the UK. It is interesting to note that no German clubs were involved, nor could they be, as fans are entrenched much more in the ownership of their clubs. Whether any of the elements of the German model can be used in the UK is a moot point as so many British clubs are now owned, or controlled, by oversees companies, owners and entities. (As an aside, the Brexit slogan of ‘take back control‘ is particularly apposite here but not from European institutions but from other varieties of an aggressive and rootless capitalist model that can buy and sell football clubs whatever the ultimate wishes of their fan base. Who ‘owns’ a football club – the fans ‘morally’ or the large commercial interests ‘legally’?) 

The second interesting question is the ramifications of the ‘Guilty’ verdicts in the George Floyd case in the USA. The view is being strongly expressed that this court case is only the start of a very long road for the institutional racism which permeates American society (or at least American police forces) to be addressed. Of course given the American legal system there is still a long process of appeals to follow and a gap of eight weeks before sentencing so the verdict is one one battle in the course of a very long war. Some of the ramifications of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement are washing up onto UK shores as well because black people in the UK justice system are probably not treated as well as they should be.

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