Monday, 31st May, 2021 [Day 441]

And so the ‘Spring Bank Holiday’ dawns i.e. that which used to be called Whitsuntide decades ago but which got secularised some time ago now. This was the week (and actually the day) when in Manchester and the Lancashire mill towns one used to have the ‘Whit walks‘. On Whit Monday (or it might have been Whit Friday) all the local Catholic institutions used to get dressed up in their finery and would then walk beneath a banner and to the sound of a local brass band. Actually the school I attended in Bolton, Lancashire in the mid-1950’s has one of the finest brass bands in the area (but I was in the school orchestra, not the Brass band) The type of organisations that would march would be the Legion of Mary, the Boy Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides, the local Catholic nurses with rather specialised capes and finally all of the various ethnicities in the area (usually Ukranians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans who had come to work in the mines and the textile industries). For all I know there were probably several other local urban collectivities who used to take part in the Whit walks as well. This was illustrated in one of L S Lowry’s famous paintings and, as it happens, I have a copy of this particular Lowry on my study wall to provide me with an occasional reminder of my Lancashire/Manchester days. If all of this sounds excessively sectarian, then the Anglicans and Non-Conformists had their own march the following week but without sounding unduly partisan, I think these were often a pale imitation of the Catholic versions. For those interested,  a Google search with the terms ‘Whit Walks in/around Manchester‘ will reveal a lot of interesting history, complete with photographs. I was consulting Google to attempt to find out if the Whit Walks still took place but COVID-19 over the last year or so are certainly hastening the death throes of this once thriving cultural highlight.

And so to return to Bromsgrove on what has turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. The thin layer of mild white cloud very quickly burned off and Meg and I had a delightful walk down into town, accompanied by a slight breeze which made the walk very pleasant. We noticed on our walk down the hill that all the local poppies seem to have sprung up in the last day or so – I suppose it was the combination of quite a dampish soil followed by two days of blazing sunshine. On our way down the hill, we noticed a mature tree which looked very maple-like in its appearance, at least judging by the shape of the leaf. But what was so extraordinary was that there must have been masses of seedlings, or at least seeds, which had fallen into/onto some loose gravel.Consequently, the seedlings had gone mad – out of interest, I pulled one out and it seemed to have grown some good roots. Tomorrow, I will take down a plastic bag and rescue some of these seedlings – the person who was living in the house next door thought his neighbour would be done a good turn if I ‘liberated’ him of some of these seedlings tomorrow so I will do this with an easy conscience. When we eventually got to the park, we met with two of our regular friends and discussed some of the findings (in a Daily Mail poll, of all places) indicating the Daily Mail readers were reacting to the Dominic Cummings/Boris Johnson contretemps. Some of the findings were quite interesting – for example, if I remember it correctly, there is quite a division of opinion whether the lockdown should end in three weeks time. Several prominent scientists are already arguing that the next wave of the virus might already have begun and we should be extra cautious. Even sources inside No. 10 are saying that there this a 50:50 chance that the forthcoming end to the lockdown in three weeks time may have to be delayed or softened somewhat. The next week or so will be critical whilst the data on new infections, their transmissibility and likely impact on the NHS and risk of spreading to the rest of the UK is very carefully assessed. Eventually, though, our conversations drew to a natural conclusion and so we made for home and prepared a very late salad type meal for ourselves.

As the past few days have been quite warm, I remembered in time that the plants that had been bought for me for my birthday needed to be dead-headed and then receive a good supply of water. This having been done, we were delighted to get a phone call from our good friends in Oxfordshire who have now decided to make a journey up North (probably to Scotland) for a mini-break. They are calling in to see us next Monday (and of course we will be delighted to see them) so we will probably prepare a nice hearty soup for them so they cay be sustained and get on their way as soon as they are sufficiently rested.



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Sunday, 30th May, 2021 [Day 440]

Today started off (and continued) as the most glorious of days. The sky was completely cloudless and an azure blue from almost first light. In fact the weather forecasters were predicting that today temperatures in Britain may well exceed those in Ibiza (Spain).  I walked down early as is customary on a Sunday morning in order to collect our Sunday newspapers. Then after indulging in our weekly Andrew Marr Show, I walked down to the park (on my own) where I hoped to meet up with our University of Birmingham friend, but when I got there I had received a text from him telling us that he was going out for the day with a friend and we would meet up again some time during the week. After I got home, I had a quick change of shirts (having walked to town twice on a very hot day) in preparation for our neighbour’s garden party which was due to start at 12.00 noon. We arrived fairly promptly and handed over our present (a large picture of an owl) which was much appreciated and then started to mingle and drink with the guests (mainly family). We discovered that one of the guests was a friend of our neighbours who knew southern Spain quite well and so we exchanged reminiscences of some of the towns we knew in Andalucia such as Antequera and Ronda.  Just as soon as some delicious food was being served, Meg started to feel quite unwell – we had to get her back home (only next door) and then she lay down and had a good sleep after which she felt a lot better. We are not quite sure what happened but we are surmising that a couple of glasses of red wine on an empty stomach in a very hot midday sun was probably a bit too much for her constitution to bear, particularly as she was feeling a bit wobbly in any case. Our neighbours were absolutely wonderful and, given that we missed out on some of the party, promised us that we can have a nice little party as a foursome when the weather and time permits. Meanwhile, our neighbour is actually starting a new job on Tuesday morning which is quite enviable for someone who has had their 73rd birthday. In some ways it appears to be a continuation of the job he had before retirement but this one calls for someone who has a lot of experience within the industry so our neighbour is well suited.

After the Dominic Cummings outpourings last week, the news media are still feeling some of the consequences. In particular, a spotlight has been well and truly focused on the UK’s preparedness (or lack of it) to face the COVID-19 pandemic. Lord Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, is of the option that nothing short of a revolution is required in the way that our civil service and other British institutions are run. Probably Dominic Cummings would agree. Although we thought of ourselves as being well prepared by for a conventional influenza epidemic, this was certainly not the case when combatting the coronovirus. By contrast, some of the South East Asian economies had had experience in the past of SARS, MERS and other similar pandemics and they fully appreciated the necessity to lock down hard and early. If we were to look at Vietnam, for example, we discover that in total they experienced 1347 cases and 33 deaths (compared UK with 4.4 million cases and 128,000 deaths). Lord Kerslake also attacks what he calls ‘British exceptionalism’ by which I think he means ‘it could never happen here’ Although UK TV screens were filled with the most horrendous images of hospitals in Bergamo, Northern Italy there seemed to a feeling that it alll might stop at the Channel Tunnel. The UK’s lack of preparedness for the epidemic will no doubt be chewed over at length in any future investigation. It is also becoming crystal clear that in an absolute panic to clear hospital beds, there was a huge decanting of patients (untested for the virus) back into residential homes. Instead of ‘throwing a ring of steel’ around the care home sector, it is now fairly clear to most journalists and informed members of the public that the influx of hospital patients would only serve to ‘seed’ the virus inside residential establishments but the figures for those who died of COVID (as opposed to other things from which they might have died sooner or later) will be difficult to ascertain. One would have thought that there would be a huge popular revulsion over the fact that this happened but the great British public  seems not to care (as the Tories are so far ahead in the opinion polls, even putting another 3% last week) It seems that a combination of the vaccines being successful rolled out and the fact that Brexit is sort of delivered is persuading people that Boris has done quite a good under the circumstances!

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Saturday, 29th May, 2021 [Day 439]

Today could best be described as a ‘glowering’ kind of day- although the weather is meant to be set fair for a few days, it was one of those days today when there seemed to covering of low white cloud and a generally muggy feeling. Despite this less than promising start, we nonetheless made it to the park where I deposited Meg on a bench before I set off to collect the newspapers. Then we soon acquired our regular cohort of park friends (well, at least two of them) and discussed the affairs of the day. Then it was home to have a fairly swift lunch because there was a job that needed doing in the afternoon. Basically, this was to get our communal lawns cut and this for a particular reason. The lawns were only cut a week ago but the combination of rain and sun has made the dandelions proliferate – and basically they look a mess. But tomorrow is the day when our next door neighbour is due to hold a birthday party on the occasion of his wife’s birthday. The whole Hart household is invited so we are looking forward to that and there may be up to 30 guests all in all, I must admit I didn’t want people turning up while the lawns looked an absolute mess so I was determined to get them cut and looking in good shape for the benefit of visitors. We got this done and then had to have a fairly quick turn around before we off to our Saturday evening church service where we leave the house at 5.30. Once we got the church car park we were greeted by one of the regulars (a vivacious Liverpudlian) who used to sit by us when we last had regular church attendances. She is now attending Harvington Hall where they have a regular Sunday morning service outdoors and therefore it is easier to comply with the COVID-19 regulations but one has a short car ride to get there (about 8 mikes away)

The COVID-19 news seems to be quite worrying this evening. Sir Tim Gowers – whose argument against herd immunity helped trigger England’s first lockdown last year – told Sky News that the recent increase in coronavirus cases ‘worries me’.They seem to be multiplying by a certain fraction each day – in other words, growing exponentially,” he said. Yesterday, he warned that the UK’s fight to contain coronavirus could turn bad ‘very, very quickly’ unless the government acts cautiously on easing lockdown further. How many other epidemiologists share his concerns in uncertain at this point. Certainly, if you wanted to grasp a smidgeon of comfort, it is that whilst yesterday’s infection figure was 4,182, todays is 3,398 i.e. nearly 20% less than the previous day. But evidently, as has been said before, we are racing between the vaccination rate creeping up day by day and the virus trying to reproduce exponentially. I think the June 21st deadline is still incredibly tendentious – Boris Johnson and the right wing of the Tory Party are incredibly anxious to maintain the original timetable but it all remains a huge gamble. As always on a Saturday night, it will be interesting to see what the Sunday newspapers have to say on this topic.

On my IBM Thinkpad, I have recently started using a very secure German mail system which goes by the obscure name of ‘Posteo’  As they are a subscription only service (adverts are evidently anathema) the rate is only 12 euros a year. This program contains within it a feature called ‘Notes’ which means that whatever scribbles you might have made, it is automatically saved for you under whatever ‘Notes’ title you have chosen and in a folder called ‘Notes‘ (This can be made to share data with the Apple app of the same bane if you really want to) This little Notes feature seems incredibly useful but it I designed just to get text onto the screen (as if you were using a scrap  of paper) and therefore has no formatting capacities of any kind. In fact the only ‘controls’ are ‘New Note’ (which is self-evident) and ‘Send to email’ (self-evident again) I wondered if it would be at all possible to get any degree of formatting into the text (e.g. bold,italics) and experimentation revealed that if using an external email client (such as Outlook) one could copy a say an emboldened character into the Clipboard and thence into Notes. So I have made a sort of toolbar for myself with one emboldened characters on it. To  get, say, an emboldened heading, I copy the emboldened character (which is a ‘B’ for bold) into my Notes file, carry on typing immediately after it and the subsequent text incorporates the preceding formatting. I then delete the ‘B’ at the start of the heading and there I am with an emboldened heading. This might sound incredibly ‘kludgy’ as the Americans say but it works fine for me – and makes mo Notes files more readable. I tend to put in them little computing ‘tips and hints’ on how a particulate program works and whatever I write is automatically saved whenever I leave to the program.

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Friday, 28th May, 2021 [Day 438]

Today was the day when our domestic help calls round to do her weekly stuff for us and we always have a lot of family news and gossip to catch up on. As it happens, her part-time job in the retail sector went ‘belly up’ but she has acquired a new one in the care sector where her many skills and talents will no doubt be put to excellent use – so we exchanged a lot of news about this as she has just had her induction day and it looks as though she and her new employers are going to get along very well together. Meg and I engaged in our normal routine and installed ourself on one of our regular benches in the park (fortunately there are three adjacent to each other so it is a rare day indeed when all of them are occupied by the time we got there) We were soon joined by one of our regular park friends who has taken a very keen interest in what you might call the ‘politics’ of the pandemic. So we spent some time this morning, speculating in the light of Dominic Cummings revelations, what it must have been like in the febrile and chaotic atmosphere in 10 Downing Street at the height of the epidemic (going back to March, 2020) when the virus was out of control, the hospital beds were filling upon rapidly, a vaccine might well months away and so on. We were trying hard to think what decisions we ourselves might have made at that time – although it is not an enviable thought. The one metaphor that Dominic Cummings has helped imprint upon the popular consciousness is Boris Johnson as a shopping trolley i.e. uncontrollable, liable to lurch from one side to the other, capable of banging into one wall and then another in an uncontrolled and random way… need I say more? It is certainly a powerful image – I wonder if the cartoonists will manage to pick upon that?

In the late afternoon, I espied my next door neighbour in his garden and wandered over to have a chat. This is  because on Sunday, he is organising a special birthday ‘bash’ for his wife’s birthday and as the weather forecast is set fair, then hopefully all of the proceedings can take place outdoors in the fine weather. I popped round to see if there was anything that he might run out of at the last moment (outdoor chairs, paper plates and so on) but everything seemed well in control. We admired our neighbour’s garden which he has radically turned around and improved since the days when I used to roughly maintain it for the previous occupants for whom it was all a bit too much. After that, we turned to politics (fortunately, we tend to share the same political outlook on the world) so the antics of Dominic Cummings and his revelations about the chaotic days in the early days of the pandemic were quite a source of fascination for both of us. On Sunday then, as it is a happy birthday occasion, all discussion of politics will be strictly out of the question but we are looking forward for a chance to mingle and converse with our fellow men.

In the early evening, I FaceTimed one of my ex-colleagues from the University of Winchester – we normally have a chat each Friday evening. As my colleague used to work for IBM, he is a mine of information about all computing matters in which IBM is, of course, a major player. We then turned our attention to gardening implements and the kinds of implements we used when keeping deep holes for fences and so on.

The virus news this evening is not particularly reassuring – in fact, quite the reverse. It seems as though the Indian variant of the virus now accounts for 60%-75% of the total new cases. Also, the number of cases is now rising and the number of new infections has now exceeded 4,000 – this figure represents a doubling in the last week. As the Indian variant is making an impact across various parts of the county (i.e. not just in the North West) and nowhere seems to be going down, it does appear, as some of the politicians have been saying, that we are in for a real race between the virus on the one hand and the vaccinated population on the other.

Glancing sideways at American politics for a change, it looks as though the Senate Republicans have organised a filibuster to ensure that there will be no Congressional investigation into the invasion of the Congress building after the last presidential elections.  This means that one of the greatest attacks on American democracy will never be fully investigated by the Congress itself. It is said that most Republican voters still overwhelmingly support Trump and his policies despite what happened on Jan. 6 2021 and most believe he did nothing wrong. One has the feeling that if the attack had come from the far left rather than the far right, the result would have been a vote for an instant Congressional investigation.

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Thursday, 27th May, 2021 [Day 437]

As predicted by the weather forecasters, today was a beautiful fine day – and not before time as we have to endure so much rainy weather over most of the month of May. So we collected our newspapers and then made our way to the park where we enjoyed the sunshine. We were joined by one of our park ‘regulars’ in the seat which has a commanding view of the parkland and chatted over matters political, cultural and cosmological (as is our wont) Then we progressed gently home, not meeting any more of our regulars on the way home. We made ourselves a meal which finished off the chicken which we have enjoyed over the past few days.

There is quite a big political story, following the attacks by Dominic Cummings on the Health Secretary in yesterday’s committee hearings. We know that a year ago last March when the first wave of the virus was really hitting our society, the hospital authorities were desperate to clear beds – so any elderly resident of a hospital bed who could be was immediately discharged back to the care home from whence they came in order to release the bed. The nub of the political argument is this – apparently, Matt Hancock had promised the PM that anybody discharged from a hospital to a residential home would be tested for the virus before discharge – but did this actually happen? There were lots of anecdotal  stories at the time that actually hospital patients were being discharged but without being tested as Hancock promised the PM they would be. But when questioned in the House of Commons today and, even more so, at the Downing Street press conference held at 5.0pm onwards, journalist after journalist quizzed Hancock as to whether hospital patients had actually been tested before discharge. No clear answer to a very clear and specific question was at all forthcoming and indeed, to quote Sky News:  ‘In his responses he suggested testing could only be introduced for people being discharged to care homes once testing capacity had been built. He said his “recollection” was that he had committed to building up testing so it could be in place in the future, but avoided an explicit denial of Mr Cumming’s accusation, saying ‘there’ll be a time we can go through all of this in greater detail’….One of the key claims made by Mr Cummings was that Mr Hancock lied about COVID-testing people before they returned to care homes from hospitals in the early part of the pandemic.   Mr Cummings told MPs on Wednesday that the Prime Minister was furious to discover in April 2020 that untested hospital patients had been discharged to care homes, adding Mr Hancock had told the PM a month earlier they would be tested.

The importance of all of this is hard to overestimate as it does look as though the elderly residents discharged back to  residential homes might have been a massive source of infection which spread like wildfire through the residential homes sector. One estimate of this tangled statistical story by the Nuffield Trust indicates that perhaps as many as 35,000 excess deaths may have been due to COVID-19. So the results of a panicked government response, desperate to clear hospital beds but in effect transferring the problem to an under-resourced residential home sector led to deaths in the tens of thousands. In the face of all of this, one can see why the politicians are being evasive the whole of the time – imagine Matt Hancock saying ‘Yes we made a massive mistake as a result of which over 30,000 deaths have occurred’ One can only hope that some journalists will not let this one rest but will pursue the politicians relentlessly – I think that Newsnight on BBC2 might be quite incisive in tonight’s edition but we shall have to wait and see.

If we are going to have a spell of fine weather, then I really do not have excuse not to get out into the garden and do some tidying up which is badly needed. Of course, when we had so much rain recently, there was plenty of excuse not to get out out and about but now after a lot of rain followed by bursts of sunshine, the weeds might be going mad in various areas. I have an area of the garden which I call ‘Mog’s Den‘ down into which one has to descend via some steps where the land slopes away sharply at the end of our plot of land. I have some fruit trees in this area and on the slopes under the trees I am trying to grow the kind of shade loving plants like Skimmia and periwinkle. These plans have generally worked out but there are some areas that badly need an hour or so of hard gardening to get things back into shape. I know from hard experience that if a garden ‘gets away’ from you in May, then you have a struggle for the rest of the year – and vice versa. 




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Wednesday, 26th May, 2021 [Day 436]

So another Wednesday rolls by and, as usual, I had to update my Waitrose order ready for delivery tomorrow. Fortunately, I remembered to book my slot for about three weeks time which I did whilst waiting for a few minutes after midnight on Tuesday at which time they tend to release new time slots for the weeks ahead. So after all of this was done we walked down to town, picked up our newspapers and then popped into Waitrose where we picked up some milk and a birthday card for our next door neighbour for next Sunday. Whilst we were there, we bumped into one of our ex-Waitrose friends that we used to see quite regularly in the park during the wintertime when she was involved in undertaking long walks around Bromsgrove. But we haven’t seen her for some time because she is quite busy off playing golf – she has a good and supportive circle of good friends in the golfing community (which is great, as she lost her husband just before the pandemic really got underway). Whilst we were in Waitrose, we noticed a sign to say that the cafe – the hub of many social activities – was due to reopen again on Wednesday, June 17th which is some three weeks away. We reminded the staff to reward their first few customers with a free bottle of champagne when we walk through the doors in three weeks time and the staff promised to send the message onto the manager. On our way down to the park this morning, we were delighted to have a few words with our Irish friends who live down the road. They were looking after their grand-daughter for the day (which they do for a day or so in the middle of the week) and were delighted to be going off to spend a few days in Llandudno next week now that the restrictions are being lifted and the weather is set as a high pressure system sets in for the next few days.

Today was the day when Dominic Cummings (ex principal adviser to the Prime Minister) gave evidence to a Parliamentary select committee. The word used most often by the media today is ‘excoriating’ and one has to say, that at least superficially, his evidence seems compelling in the extreme. Cummings has argued that Boris Johnson is completely unfit for office and that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, should have been sacked for lying on multiple occasions. A picture is painted of a complete lack of preparedness at the start of the pandemic, a reluctance to lockdown (initially and on subsequent occasions) and a dysfunctional, ‘rabbits in the headlamps‘ approach to  government (i.e. paralysed into inactivity) Cummings himself is apologetic for not having pressed the ‘panic’ button and added new information to ‘explain’ his flight to Barnard Castle at the height of the pandemic.  What I think is often forgotten is that a long way before Boris become leader of the Tory Party and therefore before Brexit, there was a large group often Tory MP’s who were arguing for a ‘Anybody but Boris‘  candidate. I think it was well anticipated that Boris Johnson might have great skills with his rhetorical or journalistic flourish but as a practical decision maker he would prove to be a disaster. Privately, many of the current crop of Tory MPs would agree but they do not really care so long as Boris Johnson managed to secure 80 strong majorities for the Tory party. As I blog, Channel 4 news is attempting to interview a Tory MP (Tobias Ellwood) and asked who he would believe when Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings completely contradict each other. Of course, no answer was forthcoming, despite repeated questioning  and all we got was the the typical politician’s evasiveness. The particular question to which everyone would like an answer is that Dominic Cummings says he heard Boris Johnson say he would rather ‘let the bodies pile high‘ than hit the economy again with a third lockdown and this is the oft-repeated quote which Boris Johnson denied in the House of Commons (was he lying to the House of Commons?) and which Dominic Cummings claims he overheard (was he lying as well?)

Apart from the raw politics involved, what has been fascinating about today’s proceedings has been the spotlight that has been thrown onto the machinery of government. It is well known that ‘scientists advise, politicians decide‘ but even so it sobering to realise that our whole machinery of government were not very good – and the South East Asian economies of Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea and so on dealt with COVID-19 so very much better than we did. Also, the Prime Minister comes out as a person who does not seek advice or even consult with cabinet colleagues (e.g. Michael Gove seems to be almost completely lacking from today’s accounts). As the days roll by, we can expect to hear rebuttals of what Cummings has to say, not least from Matt Hancock who Cummings felt should have been sacked for multiple transgressions.



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Tuesday, 25th May, 2021 [Day 435]

Today was one of those days when you seem constantly be running to catch up with one’s self – as they used to say ‘Like a dog chasing its own tail‘  We knew that we would have keep a careful watch upon our timings because of a couple of appointments in the middle of the day. Nonetheless, I dropped Meg on her normal park bench where she met with our University of Birmingham friend  who is busy teaching himself some Spanish. Naturally, Meg and I were happy to step in with our little bits and it is always interesting to note that the books tend to teach you one thing whereas ‘colloquial Spanish’ (what you hear people speak on the street) is quite another. We were taught an important lesson when our son spent a year in Mexico and had to teach himself Spanish in as short a time as possible.  His tip was a good one – never bother to learn the future tense of a verb in Spanish (although it is useful to know of it when you are reading a more formal report in a newspaper, for example) So instead of saying (in Spanish) ‘I will catch a train’ we can use the much more colloquial (and sloppier way of saying something) such as ‘I’m going to catch a train’ where all you have to remember is the ‘I ‘m going’ to bit and then the infinitive of the verb ‘to catch’ and hence ‘Voy a coger un tren‘ rather than ‘Cogeré un tren‘ which is more formally correct (but perhaps harder to remember). Anyway, I left Meg and my friend exchanging little bits of colloquial Spanish which our friend assiduously wrote down in his little notebook whilst I went to collect the newspapers. Then we had to race home and I had to quickly fill in an on-line COVID assessment form before I raced down to the physiotherapy clinic to have my knackered shoulder looked at (in the same building where my Pilates class was die to start 35 minutes later). I was 2 minutes late for this appointment but then we ran over a bit and I was five minutes late for my Pilates class – but it was that kind of day. At the very end of the class, one of my Pilates classmates of several year’s standing let something slip about a widow’s pension. It was only then that I was told that her husband had died last November of a massive heart attack. With the COVID-19 restrictions in place, their daughter could not come back from Australia to attend the funeral and the funeral itself was the by now all too familiar Covid-19 restricted affair. I felt particularly sad on their behalf because I do not know how much of a happy retirement they had managed to spend together.

By the time we had a delayed lunch (typical on Pilates days) I carried on with some newspaper tidying before we suddenly realised it was time for our weekly chat with our ex-Waitrose friends which we generally do using FaceTime. With the lockdown gradually easing, our friends had managed to make more sustained contact with members of their family which was a great source of pleasure to them. It looks as though the weather will change for the better in the next day or so and then we might have a series of fine days – if so, we might be able to go to Webbs (the nearby large garden centre) where we may be able to share a socially distanced coffee and cake in the next few days ahead.  We are particularly pleased about the weather because our immediate neighbours are planning an outdoors 70th birthday party on Sunday next – although contingency plans are no doubt in place, it will be so much easier to mingle and chat if the weather is fine.

The government is evidently in a dilemma and in some disarray this evening. It is evident that the Indian variant of the virus is taking quite a hold in various areas of the country (all starting with a ‘B” – Bolton, Blackburn, Bedford,Burnley) as well as Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside. In order to counteract this, the Government quietly introduced a policy of ‘de facto‘ lockdown in which travel into and out of the area was to be severely discouraged (to put it mildly) The trouble is that nobody bothered to tell the relevant local authorities what was meant to be happening in their own areas. After the most tremendous row (behind the scenes) between local and central government, the advice on the Government website was withdrawn – sorry, ‘updated’ in government speak. This little episode can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either one can argue that central government have an autocratic disregard for the wishes of the local populace and did not see fit to inform them.Or else, it was a massive communications ‘cockup’ which only displays the government’s lack of grip on the levers of government.


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Monday, 24th May, 2021 [Day 434]

Today was a day when our normal routines went by the board as we were engaged in some different appointments today. Practically first thing in the morning, my son and I drove to Redditch so that my son’s car could receive a software upgrade – this procedure takes most of the day, apparently. So we needed to drive in convoy so that having dropped his car off, I could transport him back home again. Then I proceeded on to Droitwich as I needed to pop into a cafe/restaurant that Meg and I had frequented last week and we saw a piece of artwork that we particularly liked. Having checked with our next door neighbour that his wife would appreciate the piece of artwork we had seen for her forthcoming 70th birthday, I was more than pleased to secure the same i.e. it had not been sold in the meantime. I did have to go and get cash out in order to complete my purchase as this is handed over straight to the artist without going through the books of the cafe but that’s OK. I then go round a local hardware store (Wilko, popular in the Midlands) and purchased one or two little things whilst I could. I had also seen a copy of Bill Brysons ‘The Short History of Nearly Everything‘ which I had noticed on display outside one of the charity shops in Droitwich. I intended to buy a copy of this (for about £1) so that I could put it in the hands of my local park friends but of course Sod’s law was in operation and the book had evidently been sold. However, I have managed to locate a (cheap enough) second hand version  on eBay so this should be with me by Friday. When I eventually got home, we were in the middle of a hail storm and we could, in theory, have waited for the rain clouds to pass over and then walk down to the park. So Meg and I decided to give our walk a miss this morning as the weather seemed so variable – the occasional shower is one thing, but at this time of year it is quite possible to be subject to an instant cloudburst and get absolutely soaked to the skin.

We had purchased as part of our Waitrose shopping a Waitrose chicken, complete with herbs etc and in its own metal tray and cook-in-the-oven plastic bag. I evidently had not bought a chicken like this – the technique I used to use was to flour the inside of a ‘roaster bag’ and then put the chicken inside and roast this way. Anyway, I followed the Waitrose instructions – after the cooking was about two thirds done, you cut a large window in the top of the bag to allow for a more complete roast. I have got to say this turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and tastiest meals of chicken I have had in years! We tend not to eat a lot of chicken here in the UK and when we do we tend to buy only chicken thighs, complete with bone and cook them in their entirety before removing the (too fatty) skin and leg bone at the point of serving. When we are in Spain, we are not averse to eating chicken but I suspect they are more ‘free range’ and more flavoursome than would be their counterpart on the UK.

On my IBM ThinkPad, I have installed a copy of OEClassic as an email client and this works OK on the additional identities I have installed (for web-based emails) – however, the Outlook bit seems to be a bit ‘iffy’ for a reason which is a bit beyond me. I suspect that my original account was with Hotmail and this was migrated over to Outlook and then somehow stitched (by Microsoft) into their Office365 suite so I am not surprised if there seem to be occasional glitches. However, I have installed a copy of the super secure email system called Protonmail and paid them a subscription for the full version. However, they do allow you to install a ‘free’ version of the program which is essentially the same and with some limited functionality (which you would expect in a free version anyway) but with an mailbox that will only store 500MB (i.e. 0.5GB) of emails. On consulting the number of emails on my main system and looking at how much memory they consume, I think that 500MB should give me approx. 4,000 emails before I run out of space – as this will only be for occasional use (e.g. when you have to supply an email address to access some shopping-type websites) then I am sure this will more than suffice for at least a couple of years. 

Meg and I have just watched the classic episode of ‘Fawlty Towers‘ in which a guest died (not that Basil noticed when he served him his breakfast) and the staff had to make frantic efforts to hide the body. Incidentally, when I worked in a 375-bedded 4-star hotel In Harrogate in the 1950’s about once or twice a year a guest would die in bed. How to dispose of the body? Answer – wrapped in a roll of carpet and transported downstairs in the lift (and the guests suspected nothing!)

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Sunday, 23rd May, 2021 [Day 433]

Another Sunday dawns and as we have come to anticipate, we awake to another gloomy and cloud-filled day. I get up and collect my newspapers early which is part of my normal Sunday routine and I didn’t even pass my usual quota of joggers and/or dog-walkers which is more typical of an early Sunday morning. Then as usual, we listen to the Andrew Marr Show before we get ourselves turned around and walk down to the park as usual. We meet with our University of Birmingham friend plus ‘Park Regular No. 2’ and we start our early morning discussions by wondering about the results of last night’s Eurovision song contest in which the UK excelled itself by scoring a total of 0 points from the specialised panels and also a total of 0 from the popular vote taken across Europe giving a grand total of zero or ‘nul points’. The UK has received this rare distinction once before – but at least both Austria and Norway have received this dubious honour on four occasions. At last, when the UK result of 0 was announced, there was a sympathetic cheer (not, I think, ironically meant) across the auditorium. The Dutch, by the way, had done an incredible job in staging the Eurovision Song Contest in the most challenging of COVID-19 circumstances. We discussed a lot more than last night’s TV, as you might imagine, and as usual our conversations seem to swirl around cosmological questions such as ‘Is the universe infinite? Is it spherical?‘ And to be really mind-blowing a Google search term such as ‘What is the Geometry of the Universe‘ will keep you lost/amused/amazed for hours if you can follow the logic of all the arguments here. By the time we had amused ourselves with all of this, the weather started to get a bit cool so Meg and I made tracks for home. On our way back through the park, we were recognised and stopped by a lady who recognised us from our Saturday evening church attendance. We chatted a little about church activities and resumed our journey home. As we were now so late, we had to abandon our normal plans for Sunday lunch and, instead, rustle up a quick rice-based lunch. We then spent a pleasant and restful Sunday afternoon digesting the Sunday newspapers which needless to say are full of the recent BBC fracas- I, for one, cannot wait for the object of media interest to move on.

 Although we do not have much in prospect this week, Wednesday may prove to be quite an explosive day – or a damp squib. It is the day when Dominic Cummings, the ex-advisor to Boris Johnson, is due to give evidence in Parliament. The day’s highest-profile event will probably be the appearance of the former chief adviser to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, before the joint inquiry into lessons learned from the pandemic, by the Health and Social Care and the Science and Technology committees, to talk about the government’s decision-making. The interesting question to be determined is this: does Cummings have evidence that Boris Johnson initially followed a policy of ‘herd immunity’ (protect the elderly and let everything get and then recover from the virus)? On the other hand, Cummings evidence might be regarded as totally suspect and Johnson loyalists on the two committees may try to cast doubt on the whole of his evidence (which he may not be able to give, in any case, as it breaks the ‘Official Secrets Act‘) As with so many things in politics, we shall just have to wait and see.

Tomorrow might be quite an interesting day. In the early morning, I am due to take accompany my son as he takes his car in for a service – then having dropped the car at the garage for what might be a full-day job, I will bring him home and then progress onto Droitwich (just down the road) where there are one or two two items I particularly want to get my hands on. All will be revealed if I am successful in that which I am looking for but we shall see. 

Some interesting virus-related news has emerged over the weekend as research evidence slowly accumulates. It seems that both the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccines are equally effective (at a rate in the 80% range) against the Indian as well as the earlier so-called Kent variant of the virus. However, both of the the vaccines may only be about 33% effective some three weeks after the initial vaccination. If these findings are confirmed by much more detailed studies,  then this would point to the importance of getting the second jab into people’s arms, after a suitable interval, and still to exercise caution until the second jab has been received. It also reinforces the government’s intention to put a full -release from the lockdown into effect from June 21st onwards, although I suspect that there might still be a recommendation to wear face masks as a precaution and other recommended restrictions even after that date.


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Saturday, 22nd May, 2021 [Day 432]

We are still in the phase of a whole succession of rainy days – in fact as last month (April) was the driest for 60 years then I think I have heard recently that this May is proving to be on the wettest on record. Today was a glowering kind of day with quite a lot of oppressive low hanging cloud but nonetheless, we decided to risk it and walk down for our newspapers and our park run. Meg and I went straight to the park this morning and it wasn’t too long before we got joined by our University of Birmingham friend. He is busy teaching himself some Spanish and I think he is doing an online course – in any event, he is more than happy to try out some phrases and short sentences with us. Needless to say, Meg and I are happy accomplices in this venture. I raided our bookshelves for some ‘Teach yourself Spanish‘ books of which we have accumulated quite a multitude over the years. After we had explained sone Spanish constructions we were joined by another park friend who, I think, is quite interested in mathematics and cosmology. I am not sure how we got onto the topic several days ago but I mentioned a short-cut way of  multiplying by 25 (multiply by 100 and then divide by 4 or half and half again) In the course of our conversations, I mentioned the ‘Trachtenberg System of Speed Mathematics‘ or something similar. When I was a young civil servant in London and living in a civil service hostel (way back in 1964  i.e. 57 years go), I came across a battered old book (the Trachtenberg book mentioned before) and already I only read the first few chapters I remember being quite captivated by it. Our other park friend had also heard of the book or even come across it and the back story is quite interesting.The author who was Jewish was interned in a Nazi concentration camp and the book was devised in his mind as a way of passing the time and/or keeping hold of reality. I went onto Amazon and was amazed to discover that I could buy a recently re-issued version of the book for about £8.00 so I indulged myself and bought it. As soon as we have a moment, we are going to read the book and pass it around ourselves (the three of us) but we all have slightly different priorities at the moment. What I think is amazing is that I can remember the author and approximate title of a book I first came across 57 years ago. Whilst on the subject of mathematics, I remembered that the number 104348/33215 is an incredibly good approximation for ‘pi’. In practice, if you were to use this to help you in calculations for the circumference of the earth (24,900 miles) then with an error rate of 3 parts in 10 billion, an estimate of the circumference of the earth would only out by about ½” (not many people know that – or even care)

The weather forecast for tomorrow is pretty dire so I decided to push myself on and get our front and back lawns cut. Fortunately, we had some pale sunshine during the afternoon and the clouds seem to have rolled away.I must say that although it was six days ago that the lawns were last cut, the rapidly growing dandelions and dandelion-heads had made all the lawns look very tatty. So, I was very pleased fir the lawns to get cut and then bathed in some late afternoon sunshine before we had to leave to go to church in the early evening. On our way as we parking the car, we bumped into our next door neighbour who is deep into quite elaborate preparations for his wife’s 70th birthday celebrations a week on Sunday. I was delighted to see our neighbour because I happened to see a certain ‘something’ when we were in Droitwich last Thursday. I checked out that this would be acceptable (which it certainly would be) as a birthday present so I am going to make a lightning visit into Droitwich next Monday morning to grab this particular item before it goes – at the same time, I can pop into my favourite hardware store (Wilko) where I am sure I will find lots of things that I really need to stock up on.

It looks as though the fallout from the Martin Bashir interview which is trashing the reputation of the BBC is continuing. To my mind, this situation is getting a little Kafka-esque – after all, Prince Charles and Princess Diana had both admitted adultery which must rank as being a lot more serious than an interview gained under false pretences, (although compounded by management failure to properly investigate) What is happening at the moment is that those on the right who absolute hate the BBC (i.e. many members of the present government) are now coming out of the woodwork and muttering all kinds of hard threats about how the BBC should be reformed (read emasculated, made into a pale imitation of a Russian/Chinese propaganda regime if the right had their way)



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