Wednesday, 30th June, 2021 [Day 471]

It seems extraordinary to me that here we are on the very last day of June which means that after today, the year is half over. To add the air on unreality about it all, as well, we are waking up with the realisation that England has beaten Germany and knocked them out of a football competition for the first time in 55 years. Moreover, England progressed to the quarter finals by winning the game within 90 minutes and therefore having to endure extra time or the almost inevitable penalties. When I got my copy of ‘The Times‘ I see that in their regular supplement (called ‘The Game’) they have devoted no less than 9 pages to analysis and comment. What happens if we are get to the final (which now seems less improbable than it did), we shall have to wait and see. But there is a strange feeling in the air that life is not supposed to be like this – the normal order of events is a national malaise and breastbeating after we lose to Germany on penalties. I suppose a fair comment is to the effect that here were two teams with a moderate ability to excite crowds with scintillating football but England manage to make the most of their very few chances whereas Germany fluffed theirs. If Mueller’s shot hd equalised very late in the day then Germany would probably have gone on to win the match. Enough of football – except that that the plucky little Ukrainians (with whom we had considerably sympathy when they were giant killing Sweden) will be our immediate opponents on Tuesday next.

We were a little delayed this morning whist I completed my Waitrose order, ready for delivery tomorrow. I was more than a little disconcerted when my Apple mouse seemed to have given up the ghost and I had to make do with a little temporary one that I use on occasions like these. I think the system had updated itself during the night and the mouse charge might have run down to zero – but recharging it seemed to have no effect. My son hearing of my plight took the mouse, rubbed it on his jumper for a second or so, clicked it and everything sprung into life again. I am at a loss to understood what had happened or why but at least all is now restored to normality. This morning Meg and I were due to make a visit to the dentists, not having been for about 18 months or so. Under more normal circumstances, we would see the hygienist for one appointment  and then see the dentist some three months later and repeating the pattern so that we seem them both each six months. We were a trifle apprehensive about how today was going to go, but in practice it was fine. Whilst Meg was being seen by the hygienist, I was examined by the dentist and then we swopped over. After so long a gap, I was fearful that our dental health might have deteriorated somewhat. But it was the most pleasant of news for both us that our teeth and gums seem to be fine and have stood up well to the deprivations of the last year and a half. So it was a quick run home and a lunch of quiche which is often our Wednesday bill of fare. 

This afternoon, I had set myself the task of trying to get more of the gully/border cleared by the side of our communal area. This is no easy task and there is no substitute to getting on a kneeling mat and doing a painstaking foot by foot clearance. The most important thing is to get hold of the invading bracken and pull it up so the stem is pulled up from the rootstock. Then, there are the nettles but the ivy and the counchgrass  prove to be the most troublesome to remove. I reckon that on average it takes about 20 minutes a foot to restore some sense of order and I think I have another 8-10 feet yet to do before the job is completed. Tomorrow, our regular gardener and I are due to tackle the overgrown ‘Mog’s Den‘ and I am hopeful after a couple of hours of hard work, we will have got this, too, restored to some sort of order.

The latest COVID-19 figures are 26,000 new infections which seems to be a horrific increase on yesterday. Yet the government seems curiously unconcerned about all of this as the link between infections and subsequent hospitalisations and a consequent death rate seems to have been broken, at least in part. It also looks as though ‘the vulnerable’ are now to receive a third, booster, jab in the autumn onwards, so the government is evidently trying to make plans for when we see a resurgence of the virus in the winter months, perhaps coupled with a ‘normal’  flu which will no  doubt fill the hospital beds (and the mortuaries) quite rapidly.

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Tuesday, 29th June, 2021 [Day 470]

Tuesdays are a little bit of a rush round because of the Pilates session which is my weekly commitment (and has been for a good few years now). After our return from our little holiday in Wales, the time had come for us to make an evaluation of our B&B which will be published for the clients to read. The system that AirB&B utilise takes part in three stages. First you can send private comments to the owner of the B&B which are ‘private’ and not intended for publication – so I took the opportunity to mention the malfunctioning toilet which kept us semi-awake for most of our last  night with its constant burbling. Then you write the review which is actually going to be published on the web for others to read. When this has been done, you can then read the comments that the B&B owner has said about you, the clients. So an interesting little set of procedures.

Meg and I in order to save a little bit of time altered our normal routine a little. Now that Waitrose has liberalised itself a little, it has some benches outside for the use of clients to eat and drink (presumably?) Waitrose food and drink. So whilst Meg sat and waited, I popped round the corner and got  our newspapers – our newsagent is very much a tennis fan and is following Wimbledon intently including the career of Any Murray. For him. the attraction of the game is the fact that ‘much of it is in the mind‘ and that ‘you have nobody to blame but yourself’ I suppose this is quite true but I have stopped being a very keen of Wimbledon ever since the big serves (and grunts) dominated the game. I made a lightning visit into the store to pick up some milk and oranges and then we headed homewards. I always have a quick turn around on a Tuesday but as the weather was so humid, it was one of those occasions when you feel the need to change one’s shirt in the middle of the day. I undertook my Pilates class with my by now ‘normal’ three Pilates class members and as usual, a few jokes went chasing round the room. As we exercise with the door open, shielded only by a screen we often wonder what the reception staff make of the peals of laughter which occasionally emanate from inside our exercise studio.

We have a quick but conventional lunch of fishcakes on Tuesdays and today was no exception. After lunch and a bit of a rest, I put in a 20 minute shift ‘gully clearing’ in our front of house communal area. I discovered quite a few little young saplings but I am not quite sure what they are – they could be ‘Acer Campestre‘  or field maple saplings but I shall ask our gardener when he calls around on Thursday to make sure. In the meantime, I have transplanted them to a safer ‘nursery’ bed area where I can keep my eye on them before I grow them on. I have to say that about 12 years go, I discovered a little field maple sapling under one of our hedges. This I grew on in a pot and then transplanted into my neighbour’s garden whilst I was looking after it for him. When this tree was about a metre and a half tall, I relocated it into a gap in one of our row of trees and it is now quite mature and must be some 7-8 metres in heigh (and is my pride and joy).

Of course, we knew that the impending football match between England and Germany was going to be the highlight of the afternoon. I thought that the result was going to be quite predictable in that I suspected there would be a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw, even after extra time and that Germany would eventually win the game on penalties. I have to say that the England team after an initial ten minutes were reasonably good without being outstanding – and the German team certainly lacked the penetration, menace and sharpness of German football teams we have known in the past. The second half was a fairly pedestrian affair with no team seeming to have the ‘killer punch’ but with about a quarter of an hour left to play, Raheem Stirling scored a stunning opportunistic goal and suddenly England were 1-0 ahead. Then the English captain, Harry Kane, who had had an arid time over the last few games and hardly seemed to have touched the ball in this entire game scored an incredibly good header and there we were 2-0 against Germany. The very last time we were had knocked Germany out of a major competition was the World Cup which England won in 1966 – as this was 55 years ago, I doubt whether I shall ever see the likes of it again in my lifetime. England will now meet the winners of Ukraine vs. Sweden (currently being played) in the quarter finals and, whisper it softly, now that we have beaten Germany our route to the final does seem within the bounds of of both hope and possibility.  

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Monday, 28th June, 2021 [Day 469]

Today was a rather gloomy day with quite a lot of low hanging cloud without actually raining. I was somewhat delayed this morning for a variety of reasons. For a start, Meg was not feeling very well and decided to spend the morning in bed. I needed to make two medical appointments – one was an eye appointment and the second was with my GP for some checkups.The first appointment was quite easily made as it was all done through the web but the second involved a long wait on the telephone to make a GP appointment. I do not find it any surprise that several conditions are not being treated in time when it is so difficult to make a GP appointment. After listening to all of the routine messages, I then had to choose an option from a list none of which was the normal ‘Would you like to make an appointment with a GP?’ Instead you had to choose option No. 5 (Other) and then hang on the phone for 15 minutes until the phone was actually answered and you got a human being at the other end who could book an appointment. For some reason which I cannot comprehend, the all-singing, all-dancing website which my practice offers does not give you the opportunity to book an appointment with your GP – or at least, when I have tried I get  a ‘Service not available’ message. I do not know whether it is like this all over the country but an effect of the pandemic seems to make make life almost impossible for what you might term ‘routine doctoring’  Having got these appointments made, though, I started to go into town but coincided with our gardener who was busy doing a neighbour’s garden but was scheduled to come to us next Thursday. This was a heaven sent opportunity for me as I have a little area of garden known affectionately as ‘Mog’s Den‘ which is at the bottom of quite a steep slope on the edge of our property. Under normal circumstances, I like to keep this well tended but this year things have rather got out of hand and this area had got tother neglected. Some of the nettles are several feet high but I feel sure that it can soon be got in hand if I can spare the time. Anyway, I have enlisted the help of our gardener so that we can put in a couple of hours and I feel that working side-by-side, we can probably make enough impression on the plot to make it quite manageable from now on. I carried on walking into town and collected our newspapers before getting a few provisions for our daughter-in-law from our local Waitrose. Then it was s straightforward walk home (meeting no-one on the way as I bypassed the park) and finally came home to make preparations for lunch.

After lunch, I gave myself a little bit of time to read ‘The Times’ and then I was determined to do half an hour’s ‘rough’ gardening on the border by the side of our communal green area in front of the house and then half an hour doing some computer-based work before setting down to watch the football at 5.00pm. In practice, the gardening proved to be a lot tougher (with some historic bracken intruding from what had been a field next to the house before it got built upon) so the 30 minutes became 45 minutes and there was just enough time to get cleaned up and settle down for the football. This was the match between Spain and Croatia and it proved to be one of the fascinating – and tense – of the whole competition. The Spanish gave away a particularly silly goal in the first half when the goalkeeper casually handled a back pass to him from one of his own backs and watched the ball dribble into his own net. The Spanish managed to equalise  and then went ahead to score two more goals so that it looked as they were cruising to victory with only about ten minutes to spare. Then Croatia scored and it was 3-2 and finally Croatia scored another in injury time and it was 3-3 – and injury time. So it was extra time but the Spanish managed to score two quick goals to make the score 5-3 and it appeared that they were cruising for victory but with one or two scares on the way. The relief all round when the final whistle came was palpable.

The Covid cases are climbing quite rapidly now – the latest reported figure ws 22.800 which sounds horrendous. But two additional factor are kicking on on this occasion compared with earlier waves of the pandemic. Firstly infections are not leading to hospitalisation as it did earlier on. An analysis in today’s ‘Times‘ reports research that the death rate from the virus is now 1 in a 1,000 (0.01%) – even amongst the vulnerable 75+ age group, the death rate has dropped from over 15% at the height of the pandemic last winter to less than 2% now. Perhaps this is why the rapidly increasing infection rate is not causing too many alarm bells to ring.

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Sunday, 27th June, 2021 [Day 468]

Today being a Sunday, I got into my usual routine of walking down early for the newspapers which promised to be a particularly good read this Sunday, after the resignation of Matt Hancock (the Health Secretary). As usual, I treated myself to a selection of Bach on my little iPhone player and it was particularly gratifying to hear again this morning the organ cantata ‘Wachet Auf‘ (Sleeper’s awake) which I think used to accompany a Lloyds Bank advert years ago. This was the aria that was played as Meg walked down the aisle of the church  (or more technically, the knave) on our wedding day. Later on my little morning ‘concert’ I got the Bach ‘Toccata and Fugue ‘ which of, course, is a glorious and riotous expression of joy which is, of course, why Meg and I chose it to walk down through the church all those years ago (1967 to be accurate). On my way down into town this morning, the only thing that I really noticed were the bikers (i.e. motorcyclists) who often seem to come out in force on a Sunday morning. When I did spent my few weeks in Jakarta (Indonesia) whilst working on the De Montfort University MBA program, I was always amazed to see that on a Sunday morning the streets were often bereft of cars but in their stead one got swarms of cyclists (well, they seem to number anything from 20-50). Then it was home to watch the Andrew Marr Show as per normal but given the gravity of yesterday’s resignation, I felt they ought to have a much more in depth examination of the rampant hypocrisy which led to the resignation of the Health Secretary yesterday. Instead, we had a Tory Minister, Brandon Lewis, who seemed to be defending Boris Johnson for not sacking Matt Hancock immediately. The general type of argument I have heard is something along the lines of ‘Well, because Boris Johnson has hardly lived the life of a monk, has had a plethora of relationships and will not even admit to the number of children he has actually fathered‘ then this might help to explain why Boris Johnson has not received much more explicit criticism himself. The extraordinary aspect of this whole affair hads been the way in the infamouus ‘passionate clinch’ was captured on a camera, apparently installed (and disguised) with a smoke detector. Two questions stand out. First of all, who installed the device? Was it MI5, MI6, The Chinese or who? The of course the video clop had to be transmitted to somewhat and release to all of the media. Is it normal for all minster’s offices to be bugged in this way? Whether we shall ever know any of the answers to these questions is a moot point.

In the park, we were delighted to be joined by our University of Birmingham friend who we have not seen for days- we exchanged some texts and telephone calls to make sure we actually coincided this morning. Meg started to feel a little wobbly even whilst we were sitting on the park bench so my friend and I walked Meg home slowly between us to make sure she didn’t do a sudden collapse on us. Once we got her walking, she seemed to recover some of her composure but her balance mechanisms are not very good these days. We used to joke that Meg’s mother was probably a mass murderer because she used to stagger and knock people over (once in a shop in Wigston, Leicestershire and one in the residential home in which she eventually lived). We suspect that either one or both of the people sent flying may well have suffered broken hips or other life-threatening consequences as a result of being sent flying. Of course, we shall never know for certain. 

This afternoon, we watched Holland v. Czech Republic, in which the Dutch were beaten 2-0 (probably quite deservedly) Tonight is going to be a clash of the titans as Belgium take on Portugal and th rest of this is completely too close to call.

An interesting little story tonight on Sky News is a report on the numbers of police officers who have broken the COVID lockdown rules but not been sanctioned. At least 167 officers were found to have breached coronavirus restrictions since March 2020 – but the actual number is likely to be much higher as nearly half of UK police forces failed to say how many had flouted the measures . This raises the old question ‘Quis custody custodes‘ or ‘Who guards the guards?’ and no doubt adds to the general air of cynicism when the vast majority of the population agree to abide by the rules but they are flouted by those in authority. What is a little under-reported, I feel (and for good reason) are the numbers attending the demonstrations in London. One in the last few days attracted several thousands of protestors, some of whom threw  tennis balls with messages written on them into the garden of 10 Downing Street (apparently)

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Saturday, 26th June, 2021 [Day 467]

Well, I have to say that today has turned out to be a really curious day. Last night, we noticed the the WC in the ensuite bathroom in our B&B room had started to malfunction – specifically, the ball cock was evidently not functioning and so the loo was burbling away, loudly, right throughout the night. This meant that Meg and myself had a rather disturbed night’s sleep as the burbling kept us semi-conscious for most of the night. So when 6.00am came, it was as a kind of blessed release as we could get then up and start to pack our suitcases ready for our return journey. The total packing did not take us too long – just over an hour actually – and, of course, it so much easier to pack to come home because you basically pack everything that you have within the room. So we got down to breakfast some time after 7.00 and were on our way at about 8.15 which is quite early for us. The roads were relatively uncluttered at that time of the morning so we retraced our steps along the A55 Express Way towards Chester and cut south down the A483 to eventually link up with the A5. We know that places where we can stop for a coffee break and a loo visit are relatively scarce along this particular route but I half remembered that there was some sort of ceramics centre and tea shop just north of Shrewsbury. What we landed up in was some kind of strange ‘adventure park’ full of animals both familiar and unfamiliar all quite realistically made, some with natural materials and some in steel. After we followed the winding path, we had to wait for the establishment to open (as it did at 10.00am a few minutes later) and we followed the path to a point that indicated the coffee shop. Then we came to the entrance and we could only be let in after paying an admission fee of £3.00 each. So we abandoned all of the and went on our merry way, looking for the place that I had confused it with. So we resumed our journey and eventually found a strange place that advertised itself as ‘services’ This turned out what looked to be an old railway carriage with a queue of about 20 bikers outside it and a rather obscure toilet block, adorned with warnings that the whole block was under constant police surveillance and any illegal activities (such as what!) should be reported to them immediately. So Meg and I spent the proverbial penny  and decided to look for a third place to actually have a coffee break. Eventually, we did find a place which was Telford Services area and by stage already we have travelled about 90 miles we reckoned that we were only about 45 minutes from home by fast motorway, so we decided to press on. Eventually, we did get home a little frazzled by the events of the morning and made ourselves an earlyish lunch. After lunch, I went down into town and picked up our newspapers for the last few days and also popped into Waitrose to pick up a few fresh vegetables to keep us going for the next few days. In reality, we were just waiting for the Wales-Denmark match which is one of the first matches in the knockout stages, which starts today. Apart from about the first 10 minutes when Wales made quite a bright start to the match, the rest of the game became more and more dominated by Denmark. A stunning goal from beyond the penalty area put the Denmark team ahead and after that, it started to turn into a defeat and then a rout (with a score of 4-0). Of course, Denmark had a lot of support from the neutrals because in their opening match one of their players had a heart attack on the pitch. Also they had a lot of supporters who managed to get into Holland where the match was being played but this is not to detract from an excellent performance by the Danes where every single player performed excellently.

Whilst the football was on, the news came through of the resignation off the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. To many commentators, this was only a question of time since the ‘still’ of a videoclip was widely circulated showing him in a passionate embrace with an erstwhile Oxford fellow student who had, quite mysteriously, managed to land a plum job in the Department of Health where she seemed, by all accounts, to be as heavily involved in policy decisions as Hancock himself. The whole point here is the rank hypocrisy of a Government minister enforcing isolation and distancing rules upon the rest of the populations whilst fragrantly breaking the regulations himself. Also Hancock was not well regarded in the Tory party – was he too cautious (i.e. not reckless) in relaxing the lockdown regulations for the liking of the modern Tory party? By all accounts, members of the public were expressing their fury with his actions throughout the day and there is the promise of even more juicy revelations in the Sunday newspapers, so his resignation (which should have been demanded by Boris Johnson yesterday) is of no surprise.

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Friday, 25th June, 2021 [Day 466]

Having seen Meg’s Uncle Ken yesterday, today was a day when Meg and I thought we allocate to ourselves having a pleasant little toddle around Conwy. We both had a very good’s sleep last night and so didn’t get down to breakfast until just after 9.00am. As we were breakfasting, we got into conversation with the owner’s mother who was charged with looking after things whilst her daughter was at work. We had quite an extended chat with one thing leading to another – it transpired towards the end of the conversation that our host’s mother had engaged in some missionary work so we swapped quite a lot of stories particularly as Meg’s cousin had engaged in very similar activity in Sierra Leone. It is amazing how many points of contact one can find when you get into a deep conversation and as we had nothing pressing to dash into town for, we were happy to swop some life stories.  When we eventually got as far as the car for our journey into Conwy, the heavens opened and we made our journey in pouring rain and a very blustery wind. Yesterday, as we made our way into our favourite tearooms, we noticed in the Mountain Warehouse shop so thought we would call in there today as we noticed that they seemed to be running some excellent reductions.We saw one particular form of outerware that seemed as though it would be fine for Meg but the very helpful owner directed us towards something that was more Meg’s size and colour and as it was raining so hard we were glad to wear it straightaway. Then we progressed along the street looking for a coffee shop and as it was raining so hard, the places were evidently at a premium. We had the frustrating experience of seeing the last available table go in our coffee house of choice as were beaten to it by a few seconds by another couple. So we wandered up and down for a few minutes more and when we returned to the coffee shop, we were now lucky to be squeezed in and enjoyed a very nice toasted teacake and coffee. By the time we had finished this, it was time for us to visit our favourite restaurant and we delighted to order one of their wonderful home made dishes of chicken, leek and bacon. As  were waiting for our meal, Meg twisted somewhat on her chair and finished off sliding quite gracefully onto the floor. One of the young waitresses was quite alarmed to see a guest of theirs on the floor but I assured her this was quite normal for Meg and the fact she was now on the floor might have been the result of the gin that Meg had been ingesting all morning. How else does explain that one’s wife is on the floor but this is nothing especially unusual as I have scraped Meg off the floor in more establishments than I have had hot dinners. I had taken along a bottle of our our own Damson Gin to give to the proprietor as I seem to remember that the last time we visited, we had promised her a bottle of the same. Rather unfortunately, both the actual owner and the contact we have made over the years were not on duty at the time we were due to leave but I explained the reason for the little ‘gift’ to the bar staff who were on duty and asked them to pass the messages on which is not quite the same)

Meg and I returned to our B&B room and our intention was to have rest and then do the packing. Instead we got rather diverted by writing various emails and watching old comedy programs such as ‘Fawlty Towers‘, ‘The Good Life‘ and ‘BlackAdder‘ and thought that we would leave the packing until the morning. On the way back to the B&B from Conwy, we just happened to pass an Asda store so on a whim I decided to have a quick dive inside to see if they were selling household utensils such as a kettle. I must say I could not believe my eyes when I found they were selling an absolutely serviceable, 2KW kettle for the princely sum of …£5.50, complete with a two-year warranty. I must say that having previously bought a container of milk and now with the facility to have hot cups of tea, then it made our last evening’s stay in the B&B so much more enjoyable. Tomorrow morning, we should be able to pack up fairly quickly, get away soon after breakfast and then be at home well in time to watch the Wales v. Denmark match which is being very heavily anticipated here in Wales, as you can imagine. The weather may be somewhat better tomorrow which might make the trip down the motorway a little less tedious.

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Thursday, 24th June, 2021 [Day 465]

Today was the day upon which we had planned to visit Meg’s uncle and everything worked out as planned – or rather better than planned.Given we had our first night in a strange but very comfortable bed, we eventually got ourselves showered and ready for breakfast. We had been shown how to help ourselves so the cup of tea was particularly welcome and we complemented this with some cereal and slices of toast which is not our normal breakfast but very welcome all the same. By the time we had finished all of this, we washed up after ourselves and then went off to meet Meg’s Uncle Ken. Considering we had not seen him for about a year and a half we found him to be in remarkably good heart. At nearly 95, he is evidently very frail but not as frail as we suspected that he might be. We were joined almost immediately by a very close family friend who we knew very well and we chatted for most of the morning until it was decided by all of us that it would be nice to have a family meal together. We decided to have fish and chips so our family friend telephoned through the order and collected it half an hour later. We were then treated to some home-made ‘Bara Brith‘ (translated from the Welsh ‘Speckled Bread’) which is like a moist fruit loaf and which is one of the most delicious we had ever tasted (to a home-made recipe of course) So we took our leave of Uncle Ken and made our way to the classic little city of Conwy. There we parked in our usual spot and the sum had come out his afternoon so it was quite sunny. We repaired to our delightful but little known tearooms where we have several stairs to negotiate but if has a delightful, what I call a Jane Austin atmosphere inside. There we not only had a delicious pot of Earl Grey tea but treated ourselves to some fruit and ice cream. We also made a booking for lunch tomorrow about which we are delighted and although the owner does not know it yet, we are going to treat her to a bottle of our own damson gin (labelled up as ‘Chateau le Ceuf‘ or ‘Hart(=male deer) Chateau)‘ for evident reasons) After we had our afternoon tea, we popped into the camping shop to see if we could buy a little camping kettle (we couldn’t) but we saw some excellent bargain weather proof anoraks that we have bought before from that store and which has proved to be excellent. Then we popped round to a chemist’s shop and bought some toiletries and finally into a Spar supermarket where we bought a few things to eat in case we get hungry in the evening. If there had been a little hardware store, I would have bought a little cheap kettle to keep our blood diluted with tea during the evening. We will probably be able to manage now until Saturday morning when we depart. I must say we are quite looking forward to our little ‘poddle around’ Conwy in the morning. There is always a bit of sea wall to walk along if we want to get some fresh air but also the centre of the city is particularly compact. Of course we have our favourites, amongst we would number the National Trust shop (great for little gifts for people), the Welsh Wool Shop (the equivalent of Edinburgh Woollen Mills) and a range of little curio and antique type shops.

I have entertained myself this evening if ‘entertained’ is the right word manipulating the intricacies of a Sky box which is what controls the TV in our B&B. Apparently, the previous TV remote had gone walkabout (and this rather reminds me of what happened three years ago when the control to the TV in the hospital day-room had been pinched by past visitors, thus depriving the recovering patients of a much needed source of diversion). Meg is in bed (which is her wont after she has got over-tired throughout and I am rather struggling with the hit-and-miss vagaries of a control I do not really understand so quite a lot of trial and error is involved) At the moment, I happened upon an old recording of Fawlty Towers which I had seen only about a couple of weeks ago but any port in a storm. However, I now get a message on the system to say the system was going to turn itself off – which it did. So I am now watching another episode which I also happen to have seen in the last week or so – but again, I suppose I mustn’t grumble. Anyway, I am fairly used to making out in hotel rooms having survived a hotel in Jakarta whilst I was doing a stint of teaching out there for De Montfort University in the 1990’s.


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Wednesday, 23rd June, 2021 [Day 464]

This was the day when we were due to travel to North Wales and we made a reasonably early start at 9.20 this morning. Everything proceeded satisfactorily until we made a stop at a Starbucks near Shrewsbury in order to make use of their toilet facilities. There we had a panic when Meg lost her handbag (not for the first time!)and eventually found an assistant with a master key and opened up all of the locos until the missing handbag was located. Then we proceeded on our way only for the car information system to display a big tyre meaning, I suppose, an inflation problem. I pulled into a service station and checked all of the air pressures but the ‘tyre’ symbol remained. So this means either a faulty sensor, or the sensor needs to be turned off, that actually do have a slow puncture or any combination of the above! We proceeded on our way cautiously but seemed to be OK. We arrived at the restaurant in the country park where we had pre booked a meal in the restaurant and had a delightful meal of sea bass. We then set off for our AirBnB but got there about 30 minutes too early. As we were fiddling about parking we met another couple from Birmingham and decided to have  quick cup of tea with them before we ser off for the AirBnB which we had previously located. When we got there, there was no space to park and we were greeted by the mother of the host who was friendly but! We have found somewhere to park the car down the road and in the meantime we have t work out how we can use internet access without a password. In the short term, I am managing to write this blog by ‘hot spotting’ my iPad onto my iPhone but feel this is only a short term solution. However, now a little later I have managed to establish contact with the owner, se3veral little things have improved. First and most importantly, I have managed after several false starts to get this IBM Thinkpad connected to the BT network. This involved quite a long and involved password with a variety of upper and lower case characters but eventually after some errors (all of which were my own because I had failed to copy some of the characters correctly. Also I had forgotten my mouse but I m having to learn how to use the ‘nipple’ on the Thinkpad keyboard but of its type, its quite good really. We now have a front door key so I can pop out to the car and get some bits of pieces. Also, I begged from the owner a black plastic bag which we can now use as a dirty washing bag (important if you are aware for several days) The absence of a kettle so that we can have a hot drink is a little irksome – but of course we are applying the norms of a ‘normal’ B&B to an AirB&B which of course we should not. When I get to know the owner a little better, I can ask her whether it is legit for us to pop down and make ourselves a quick cup of tea downstairs and then take it up to our room – once is a little frightened to ask. The TV remote has gone walk about so we are having to manipulate things through an obscure (to us) Sky box so far from ideal or restful.

The European Cup finals were in the final stages of the initial group stage tis evening. In the event there were several dramatic touches in the matches. At one point, when Hungary were beating Germany 2-1 10 minutes from the end, it looked as though Germany might not progress beyond the group stage. Instead, we have the situation in which Germany equalised, they progress onto the knockout stage and will meet England next Tuesday I suppose it is pretty self-evident how this one will end, given the nature of the encounters between England and Germany in the past.

The COVID news seems pretty grim, in some respects, this evening. The number of new infections has leapt from 11,000 to 16,000 in a single day. Nonetheless, the death rate and the hospitalisation rates do not show commensurate increases so it does look as though as the infections seem concentrated on the younger sections of the population and therefore it can  be argued  that ‘the vaccines’ are winning this particular battle. Tomorrow we will see Meg’s Uncle Ken (who is in his 90’s) and then we hope to a meal in our favourite little restaurant in Conway (specialising in lovely home-cooked recipes like fish pie) and have a toddle around our favourite shops in Conway. We hope the weather will improve tomorrow because here in Wales we have run into a ‘North wales drizzle’ the likes of which Meg remembers well from several wet holidays in Wales!

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Tuesday, 22nd June, 2021 [Day 463]

Today was one of those days when I seem to have been like the proverbial dog chasing its own tail. We were a little late getting up this morning but knew that we had quite a lot to fit in. Our domestic help had promised to come along for a few minutes to work her magic with a hair-dryer and make Meg’s hair more presentable before we set off on our jolly little holiday break tomorrow. I was just on my way into town when our domestic help asked me if I could wash Meg’s hair first. This I did – Meg and I have a well-worked routine but it meant I was delayed by several minutes. I walked fairly quickly into the town and picked up our daily ration of newspapers. Then on my back, I made a slight detour into the park to see if I could espy our University of Birmingham friend  on one of the high benches. As it happened, I couldn’t see him so I struck straight off for home knowing that I had to have a quick turn-around when I got home (changing into my track suit bottoms in which I do the Pilates exercises, gathering my mat and a few things together) before I met one of my fellow class members on the way down. The other two regular members of the class were away on holiday so we formed a little bubble of two in the class and it is so much more difficult to hide when there are only two of you. We had a fairly rigorous Pilates routine today and I remembered to pay for my sessions, some in arrears and some in advance. Then it was a brisk walk home in order for me to prepare my traditional, ‘fast’ lunch for a Tuesday which involves fish-cakes heated up in the oven and some microwaved vegetables. After the briefest of rests, I took the car down into town because I needed to fill up with petrol and check the air pressure and water. I know is is outrageous these days but at the BP garage at which I like to fill up on petrol one has to pay £1.00 to get a supply of air and you have to race around and try to get it done in a minute. Then some frustration set in as I needed s supply of water to top up my detergent bottle and this needed an (outrageous) £2.00. The machine was filled with £1.80 worth of coins but refused/was not designed to cope with the 5p coins I had to make the amount up to £2.00. All I got a smidgeon of detergent water left over from the last user to top up my washer bottle but the machine refused to deliver the proper complement of water as it hadn’t been loaded with the correct money – so I finished off losing £1.80. Having got the car filled with petrol and checked over, I then repaired to an ATM where I got out a supply of money to help us with casual purchases over the days whilst we are away. I then went on a tour of cosmetics shops trying to buy some cosmetics of a particular type and was eventually successful after quite a frustrating search. Whilst in Boots chemists, I got a FaceTime call from our Waitrose friends with whom we had an arrangement to FaceTime at 5.0pm each Tuesday. As soon as I did get home, it was time for a quick cup of tea and then a meal of ice-cream and fruit before setting down the football at 8.0pm.

The COVID news is quite interesting to analyse this evening. The rate of infection is at more than 11,625  which is the highest since mid-February. But there is some limited evidence that the rate of infection in the North West may be starting to abate somewhat. The more startling news is that the highest rates of increase are in the 20-29 years old olds (i.e. the unvaccinated) in multiple hot spots throughout the country. This points to the importance of getting the vaccine into the arms of the younger generation in all parts of the country. Also for most of the pandemic, the admissions numbers were dominated by those aged 65 and over. Today, for the first time in this pandemic, those under 65 are outnumbering those over 65. Also it does appear that the link between infections and the ultimate death rate is becoming more tenuous – whilst the infection rate has increased, the death rate does not seem to have increased at the commensurate rate. 

There is quite a lot of concern expressed by the WHO amongst others about the UEFA semifinals and finals to be played at Wembley. The stadium will be quite fullish at 60,000 and there will be a fairly full complement of Uefa officials who are demanding a quarantine-free stay in the UK – this, at a time, when the infection rate in the UK is worse than the European average. One suspects some kind of financial stitch-up here i.e. the rules get ‘bent’ in order to keep the economic advantages of semi-finals and finals to be played at Wembley.

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Monday, 21st June,2o21 [Day 462]

Today is the longest day but it does not quite feel like it as we have endured quite a humid cloudiness for most of the day. Meg and I did our usual walk into town, bumping into one of our near neighbours on the way down and it was quite useful to inform her that we would be away for a few days, starting on Wednesday, although our son and daughter-in-law would be keeping the home fires burning. Meg and I are settling into a rather different routine now as we go straight to the Waitrose cafe and have our elevenses there. I have started to partake of their spicy soup which I have instead of a coffee and a pastry which I reckon is probably better for me carbohydrate-wise. Then I go up and pick up our newspapers which is 2-3 minutes around the corner and then I call back and meet up with Meg again. In the cafe, we did bump into one of our previous Waitrose acquaintances for a brief chat – also we just missed a young lady complete with young son with whom we share quite a lot of interests as she teaches Politics and History at Bromsgrove school. In the past, I have off-loaded to her some of my collection of politics books which are probably of much more use to her and some of her pupils than it would be for me. I must get round to slimming down my collection of other academic books once I found a reasonable home for them. Actually, some months ago before the lockdown I was in contact with a firm who would take them off my hands – but every book had to be catalogued first and I reckoned that for several hundred books this would probably take for ever so I never got started doing it.

When we eventually got home, we had a rather delayed lunch and then after a bit of a rest got going with the major task that we had set for ourselves in the afternoon. This was to get packed up for our mini-holiday starting on Wednesday. We have a fairly simple rule given that we are not going to be away for long and that is to have one clean set of clothes for when we start off and two copies of other items (e.g. underwear) to go in the suitcase. Things like our nightwear always goes in last of all, of course, and I am never quite sure whether we provide our own towels or not but we had better be prepared. We have made an arrangement, confirmed by telephone conversations, to see Meg’s uncle and godfather on Thursday morning. I am sure he will be delighted to see us and he is, of course, Meg’s oldest living relative. On Wednesday, we are already booked in for lunch at an establishment at which we have dined several times before. It is a restaurant attached to a golf club in a country park just off the A55 North Wales expressway, so all being well we will have a good rest there before we progress to make the rest of the journey (another 30 miles or so) after we have been fed and watered.

The COVID news continues to be mixed. The number of new infections is still quite high at 10,000+ but at least the rate is not rising exponentially. Boris Johnson is simultaneously trying to sound optimistic about July 19th (which he is calling the ‘terminal’ point) but pessimistic about the prospects for international travel until next year and the prospects of a resurgence in the virus to coincide with the winter months cannot be discounted. We are now in the position where all 18+ adults can at least book a vaccination – there may be a waiting time and then of course quite a lag between the first and the second jabs before the immunity really builds up. A Scottish player in the Eurofinals has tested positive so he will miss the remaining games – meanwhile a couple of English players are having to self-quarantine as a precaution. The interesting question is how the virus has managed to evade the protective bio-security cordons that ought to be protecting both of the football teams.

The big ‘infected blood’ scandal that hit our country in the 1980’s is finally facing the scrutiny of a public enquiry. In a nutshell, haemophiliacs who suffer constant bleeds and need  to have their blood supplemented by blood products such as plasma received supplies that were infected with AIDS and hepatitis-C from which many (thousands) subsequently died. The point of all this is that the initial days of the NHS, this would have been impossible because all blood was donated. Then someone had the (not very bright) idea to import blood products from America where it is common knowledge that blood is often sold by drug addicts, down-and-outs and the like because no doubt it was ‘cheaper’ than the administrative costs associated with taking blood from the volunteers in the UK. A prime example of where ‘the market’ does not provide the best (actually, the worst) solution to problem of shortages.

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