Tuesday, 31st August, 2021 [Day 533]

The gloomy weather continues today – the weather forecasters tell us it is because of a ‘blocking high’ to the north of Britain which is encouraging some cooler winds to flow around it. So we may have to endure this gloomy spell for a little while longer yet but there is a hint that things might get a little bit better in a few days time. Because today is my Pilates day, Meg and I thought that we would go down into town by car and we would treat ourselves to a cappuccino and a cake (which was very enjoyable) We then went by car knowing, that as usual, I have quite a quick turnaround to start my walk down to my Pilates class. All of this worked out well and the class went very well with five of us in attendance altogether. On the way home, I called in at our local Asda because I needed some home-made remedies to clean toilets and  washbasins. If you look on the web, you will see a whole torrent of articles that extoll the virtues of a combination of bicarbonate of soda (which the Americans call ‘baking soda’)  and white vinegar which will react together to form a foaming mass which should, with a little bit of friction, help to remove ground in dirt. So having bought these ingredients, I shall have a fun time doing a little bit of home-made chemistry. There are some sources on the web that argue that these ‘natural’ and ‘home-made’ cleaning agents are both more effective and also less damaging to surfaces than the conventional commercially available cleaning agents.

Meg and I had the lunch which we reserve for my Pilates day which is normally fishcakes accompanied by some of those greens that only take a few minutes in the microwave. So after our  lunch and a coffee, we FaceTimed my sister as it was her birthday today. I had taken great pains to try and get a birthday card to her in time for her birthday – unfortunately, it had failed to arrive. When I got through to my sister, she was not having the best of birthdays as her husband had been admitted to hospital the previous day and they were running some scans on various parts of his anatomy to identify the source of his problems. We only had a few minutes chat with my sister because the time was approaching when we normally FaceTime our ex-Waitrose friends and so terminated the call with my sister, having agreed to call her later. Then we had our normal weekly session with our ex-Waitrose friends and we updated them with various bits of news (some medical, some culinary, some domestic and family) by which time we were ready for tea.

After tea, I had just started this blog and my sister returned my FaceTime call (fortunately, I was sitting right in front of my portable which I have in the living room so that I could respond quickly) We got the full blow-by-blow account of what had been happening to her husband (my brother-in-law) so we are hoping that his stay in hospital his short and that the various scans will help to suggest some treatment options for him. Once he returns home, then certain adaptations may have to be made to their accommodation. My sister had taken it upon herself to order a   specialist ‘riser’ chair for her husband which will assist him in getting out of his chair and keeping a degree of mobility and it seemed that a firm with which they had been dealing for decades was helping to expedite all of this. So we will have to wait until my brother-in-law is discharged from hospital and then, no doubt with plenty of assistance from other family members, we have the situation in which my brother-in-law had been my sister’s principal carer but now their roles are going to be reversed – at least temporarily.

Earlier in the day, our good Italian friend called around dressed in her ‘going to a funeral’  gear had turned up to our house, thinking that the funeral of our near neighbour was going to be today rather than Thursday. Our friend had tried to telephone us on our landline but as I was in the shower and Meg was simultaneously at the wash basin, we neither of us heard the telephone. To cut a long story short, we have now got our plans aligned for next Thursday (the day after tomorrow) and we have arranged to pick up our friend and we will all go to the funeral together. This is bound to be quite an emotional day for all of us but we are a little sustained by the thought that our neighbour did not linger too long (after her first stroke) and died in her sleep (from the second stroke). So we trust that she did not suffer in her final days and we are just left with lots of memories (all  generally happy ones)


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Monday, 30th August, 2021 [Day 532]

Today was a Bank Holiday – and true to form, it was a dull and uninspiring kind of day. In fact the temperature seemed to have drifted a degree or two cooler but, undeterred, Meg and I made our way to the paper shop to pick up our daily ration. Tomorrow, I am going to inform my newspaper supplier that I have formally ended ny subscription to the Guardian and that I only have about 9 days of subscription left. On the other hand, I’m looking forward the the extra £50 a month of my subscription which can be put to a much better use. Meg and I occupied out normal bench and marvelled, yet again, at our 86-year old who regularly works 7-8 kilometres a day on his daily rounds. Although he has a little rest when he sees us, he does  not tarry for long as he reckons his muscles might seize up unless he keeps himself going. He has a special app which ‘pretends’ that he is navigating a world famous trail somewhere else in the world and, no doubt, this adds to his motivation. We popped into Waitrose and picked up one or two things of which were were running short, including some green veg, so then we struck off home and finished off the beef for yesterday.

After lunch, we had a bit of a household drama with which to deal.  We noticed that our downstairs toilet seemed to be draining a little slowly – more critically, when it was first flushed it looked as though it was not far from overflowing. I was keeping a careful eye on it and if it was evidently getting better, then whatever blockage there was might cure itself. My son did a quick inspection of some of the outside manhole covers and discovered nothing amiss so we decided that the fault must lie in the toilet unit itself. We consulted our ‘household’ file ( which is several inches thick) to find the name of the firm we might have used some 5-10 years ago when we thought we had a blockage and it turned out to be  blockage in a feeder drain (it could have been a nappy or something else in the system) We decided that it was a bad idea to call anybody on a Bank Holiday so we decided to tackle the problem ourselves insofar as we could.  I have a ‘mighty plunger’ which I call into service on occasions like this but it seemed to have no effect on the problem. Much against my better advice and instincts, my son decided to tackle the problem himself by inserting his arm as far through the system as he could. At first he located some wedges of toilet paper and then, to our mutual delight, discovered the obstruction. It turned out to be one of those plastic toilet rim disinfectant units – and this happened to be a particularly awkward size as it was one of those that appeared to be five little circular units in line with each other. Once we had located this and extricated this, the source of the problem was clearly identified and cured. We were left to imagine what a professional firm of drain unblockers might have charged had we actually needed to engage their services. Anyway, I told my son and daughter-in-law I would reward thereby paying for a ‘home delivered’ meal the next time they decide to have one. In the meanwhile, although we still have a replacement toilet rim unblocker in place, I have attached it to a large and cumbersome weight such that this problem could never reoccur. I must say that in my years of being a householder, I have never experienced a problem like this ever before and, of course, one always resolves that a similar problem will never reoccur in the future. 

This afternoon, I decided that my little patch of beetroot was never actually going to come to fruition. Although in my little beetroot patch, the seeds had germinated within a few days, the resulting plants were very weak and spindly and were in danger of being overwhelmed by weeds. I am not sure whether the soil underneath trees) is basically a little sour and denuded or whether the beetroot seed had deteriorated with age. So I decided to call it a day and basically dug over the whole patch – as it was only about two yards by one yard, this did not take long. The last time I was in Wilko in Droitwich I had bought a box of lime so I used some handfuls of this to ‘sweeten’ the soil before I try some new re-plantings.  Tomorrow, we hope to be on a more even keel as we will have got the Bank Holiday over and done with – on my way back from Pilates,  I will see if Asda are selling some begonias or other colourful plants towards the end of the season and put them in the plot to brighten it up a bit during the autumn months.

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Sunday, 29th August, 2021 [Day 531]

Today started off somewhat dull and overcast and the the temperature seemed to have drifted down a degree or so. I walked down for the newspapers at about 8.00 am as I generally do – and didn’t even come across the usual crop of joggers and dog-walkers who are the only other people to populate the streets at that hour. Nonetheless, I was back by 9.0 am and instead of the Andrew Marr show, we had plenty of Team GB successes in Tokyo to watch and to celebrate. After we had our fill of the paralympics, we engaged in our normal walk down to the park where we met with our University of Birmingham friend. Before he turned up, though, we had a fair share of the regular dog-walkers to entertain us. Most people bring with them a special long handled plastic ‘thingy’ (called a ‘launcher’ in the pet-shops) which helps to propel a standard tennis ball a long way – hence, those in possession of one of these implements can send their dogs crazy by launching their ball a long way and there are always some breeds of dogs (e.g. collies) which love chasing after the projected ball. Other breeds of dogs, though, seem to be indifferent to a flung ball – I suppose it must depend upon the volume of ‘retriever’ type genes that are in the dog’s heritage. We must have spent at least an hour in the park deep in conversation which we both enjoy before we realised that we had better get home and cook some lunch. We had a conventional lunch of beef, cabbage and baked potato before we settled down to a good read of the Sunday newspapers.

In the midst of all that was written about the fairly ignominious retreat from Kabul, one particular offering stood out for me. This was a cartoon brilliantly drawn by Riddell in today’s Observer in which one sees a ghostly line of soldiers, all drawn correctly in the military dress and with the contemporary weapons of the day, trudging away in the road that leads away from Kabul. Each soldier’s kitbag or uniform is labelled with the year of the retreat in question and they are in order: 1842, 1880, 1919, 1989 and finally 2021. The whole cartoon is titled ‘Retreat‘. The post of the cartoon is clear – Britain had had many military ‘adventures ‘ in Afghanistan and they always ended in disaster and a military retreat. In what has been termed one of the greatest disasters in Britain’s military history, in 1842 some 16,000 lives were lost in the retreat and there was only survivor who limped into Jalalabad on his mortally wounded horse. When asked what had befallen the rest of the army, the survivor pointed out ‘I am the army’. The point here is to wonder any of our military high command or senior civil servants in the Ministry of Defence have ever read any British history – did they not know (or care) that campaigns in Afghanistan nearly ends like this? Another related point is the realisation that any so called ‘special relationship’ with the United States is only in the fevered imagination of the British – and seems completely moribund. There are also columnists who are arguing that Jo Biden is not up to the task of the situation in which the USA finds itself. Although most American citizens are in favour of their troops not being in Afghanistan any longer, they also recognise a blunder of a withdrawal when they see one. So the presidents short term popularity is at an extreme low and may never actually recover. There are still folk memories of the retreat from Saigon decades before. Finally, the Sunday Times lead story is that the recriminations in Whitehall are reaching fever pitch. One particularly shocking revelation is that MP’s and ministers to asked to log concerns about individual Afghans that were particular worthy of rescue (in the main, interpreters) by email to the Foreign Office. it now transpires that at least 5,000 of these are logged onto Foreign Office computers and have not even been read, let along entered in to a spreadsheet or similar. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab is due to appear before a select committee next week and in view of his already manifest failings (being on holiday and not returning the minute that the fall of Kabul was evident), he looks as though he might receive the most severe of grilling from MP’s. Many think his days are numbered in any case. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s national security adviser has suggested the West faces another 9/11 if it abandons Afghanistan for a second time. It seems that the only sensible way forward is for British diplomacy to seriously engage with the Taliban to try to establish a ‘modus vivendi‘ for the months ahead. Certainly, there are many with military experience (sometimes in Afghanistan) on the back benches of the Tory party who are deeply unhappy with the government’s performance – so we may see quite a lot of blood-letting in the weeks ahead!

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Saturday, 28th August, 2021 [Day 530]

Today dawned as a beautiful bright summer day and it looks as though we are going to be in for several days of fine weather. Meg and I were left a little to our own devices today as our son and daughter-in-law were off to visit relatives, not being back until tomorrow, so we have a day or so to organise a wild party. Instead, though, we headed for the park where Meg and I met up with our University of Birmingham friend and another mutual friend – whilst they were chatting, I went off to collect our newspapers and buy a birthday card for my sister. As the Bank Holiday will take place on Monday, today was the last day on which, if I got the timing of the Post Office collection right, I could almost guarantee that the card would arrive by the appointed day which is next Tuesday. Our is-called Post Office is now embedded within the local W H Smiths so, having written the card in Waitrose where it was bought, I could get down the High Street to get it posted in the main postbox. Hopefully, this will arrive OK. I take the opportunity to pop into one of our many ‘Health and Beauty’ shops to buy a couple of items and then made my way back to the park.

Lunchtime was going to be quite experimental for me as a cook. Firstly, having bought some venison in my quest to buy (and consume) some iron-rich red meat, I wanted to cook it well to maximise its flavour and not to overcook it (to which I am prone, I must say). So in my brand new lidded casserole dish, I followed the same basic instructions as per the fish that I cooked yesterday under the instruction of our domestic help. This involved getting a small amount of rapeseed oil to a high level heat and then ‘searing’ the meat by cooking it for 2 minutes on one side and then two minutes on the other. The idea, of course, is to get the mere seared (and sealed) on the cooked side whilst leaving it still somewhat ‘sanglang’ I.e. bloody) on the inside. This worked out well but instead of serving the meat as a ‘slab’ I cut it into quite thin slices that were then layered against each other. The vegetables (broccoli and some fine beans) were then steamed for a total of about minutes which left them a little ‘al dente’ but incredibly flavoursome. So the whole meal, completed with some jacket potato, did not take too long to prepare and was incredibly flavoursome, so I must repeat (or rather put into practice). Incidentally, I decided to see what was the official NHS advice on the eating of red meat and this is to restrict the quantity that you eat to some 70 gram (approx. 2.5 ozs) per meal.  Although this might not sound very much, Meg and I felt quite satisfied by the end of the meal so we must get ourselves accustomed to eating very small portions of red meat on the occasions that we do indulge ourselves. We now have enough venison for another couple of meals so I don’t have to panic if I do not see any more on the supermarkets selves for a week or so.

This evening, as it is a Saturday, we attended our ‘normal’ church service – this is normally over in 35 minutes which means that we still have a nice long evening in front of us. On the way in, we stopped by our plum tree bordering the communal green area in front of our houses. Several of the plums were ripe to the point of falling off and one or two were actually on the ground. Nonetheless, we collected about eight pretty ripe specimens and had these with our tea this evening, accompanied by some raspberry ripple ice-cream and some natural yogurt.  So this was bonus number 1 for the evening. The second pleasure was watching ‘Today at the Test‘ where England and India were locked in an interesting conflict, the Indians having capitulated in their first innings but made a much stronger showing in their second. However the English bowlers were superb today and the Indian team were blown away and so England won by an innings. The second pleasure was turning over for a few minutes of the paralympics and seeing Team GB athletes securing gold in both the swimming and the cycling arenas. Tomorrow we should start to see the start of the athletics competition where some well-known stars from the last Paralympic games in Rio should be self-evident.

Tonight, I read that Italy had described to scrap quarantine regulations for double-vaccinated travellers from the UK as from 31 August.   This has come too late to ‘save’ the booked holiday we had to go to Rome – but the organiser is hoping to organise a similar one next January to March  so there may be some hope left for us in the New Year (although we have booked up for a few nights in the Brecon Beacons once the Rome trip was cancelled)

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Friday, 27th August, 2021 [Day 529]

Today started off as a gloomy day and we hoped that later on in the day, perhaps in the late afternoon, we would get a burst of late afternoon sunshine – but it was not to be.  When we eventually got down to the park, I left Meg with a copy of yesterday’s ‘Guardian‘ whilst I knew that I needed to make my way to an ATM to replenish our supplies of cash.This having been done, I popped into Waitrose because I needed to buy some extra bits of seasoning to accompany the sea bass that I bought yesterday. This having been done, I was delighted to see that Meg and not been left on her own for long as our University of Birmingham friend had decided to make a trip to the park in the morning as his customary tennis was postponed until the afternoon. We were delighted to meet with him and we are going to pass onto him a Spanish course that he may well be able to make use of as he is busy teaching himself the language at the moment.

When we got home, we had a minor domestic issue with which to deal which could have turned nasty but everyone was all right in the end.  We had noticed that our bathroom wash basin was draining quite slowly so we decided to ‘have a go’ at it using both a conventional plunger and also a wire ‘drain unblocker ‘I had purchased from Poundland yesterday , thinking that I might need to us it. I think the source of the problem is that during the pandemic, we have been using conventional soap rather than hand wash as we had read (somewhere?) that ordinary soap was much more effective pitted against the COVID virus than other agents. However conventional soap leaves quite a lot of scum, as we know, and therefore a build up of deposit is only to have been anticipated. My initial plunging attempts resulted in the slightest of improvements and then I tried my wire drain unblocker to no effect at all. If anything, I think we might have made the problem worse as the sink had turned from a very slowly basin to a never draining basin. So we turned to ‘Plan B’ which was to use a combination of soda crystals and kettle fulls of boiling water.  After a strange gurgle about a metre or so away, the water started to flow and so I think the problem is resolved, for now. To prevent this happening in the future, I think I need to avoid conventional soap from now on and to give the wash basin a soda crystal treatment fairly regularly (once a week or once a fortnight) from now on. Having got over the plumbing traumas of the morning but also having eaten a magnificent meal of sea bass, our domestic help informed us that the local Asda was selling a particular type of casserole dish complete with a glass lid on a half-price offer. So I shot off down to Asda to get one of these before they sold out and was successful. The manufacturers claim that the non-stickiness is 5 x stronger than their competitors and they are giving a warranty on it which is meant to be a ‘lifetime’ guarantee  but only subject to ‘normal and tear’. I doubt many people will claim under this provision but I wonder what a court would make of something as vague as ‘lifetime’?

One wonders how the Afghan situation is going to play out in the next few days. It seems to have dawned on the American and British military leaders that an absolute deadline of August 31st for the withdrawal of ‘occupying’ troops is fast approaching.Given that 3 days are required to remove all of your own troops not to mention equipment, then counting backwards means that all non-military personnel must be removed by Saturday at the latest. The word on the street is that the Americans are having to leave behind vast quantities of military equipment including attack helicopters and night-vision goggles and therefore the Taliban will be grateful recipients of all of these once the Americans have actually left. There is also a story that the Russians have left behind quite a store of military equipment but without a regular supply of spares, not to mention manuals, then a lot of this is unusable. Imagine having to translate Russian military manuals e.g. for helicopters both to fly them and to service them, into the two official Afghan languages Pashto and Dari. Somehow, I feel this is not going to be done. I also get the feeling that once the actual withdrawal of the UK forces has been undertaken, there will be a long slow fuse of resentment about the military blunders involved. Will there be an official enquiry into the conflict to parallel the Iraqi war enquiry – I think not!

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Thursday, 26th August, 2021 [Day 528]

Today was a day which either started off well or badly depending upon which way you look at it. Under my new regime, I now get up at the crack of dawn (well 7.00am actually) and throw some clothes on so the I can leave the house at 7.40 and arrive at Waitrose in Droitwich at 1 minute to 8.00am when the store opens. I was the first customer through the doors when the store opened and I think altogether there may have only been about three of us in the store at that time. After discussions with my family, I have more-or-less decided that I need to amend my diet slightly to include some more ‘red meat’ within limits. I did find some venison steaks that were beng discounted (quite heavily for Waitrose) and these I bought. When I eventually did some research on the web, I discovered that venison per 100g portion actually contains almost twice the amount of iron as the equivalent portion of beef and twelve times the proportion of iron to be found in chicken. Not only does it contain gram for gram two and a half times as much iron as spinach or broccoli – moreover, the iron is of a form (‘haem’) that can be more easily absorbed by the body. Now that I know all of this, I am resolved to eat venison fairly regularly if I can find but I suspect that  stores like Waitrose will always have some supplies of it. Whilst I am it, I intend to keep my consumption of pulses and dark-green vegetables at an optimum and perhaps to eat fish twice rather than once per week. So I was feeling quite pleased with having to managed to get everything on my list (and one or two things that really should have been on the list in the first place) when with a sickening thud I realised that I had left all my money (and credit cards) at home. I approached the help desk full of contrition as I had a trolley full of food and no way of paying for it. However, I have to say that the staff could not have been nicer or more understanding about my plight. The customer services manager did a quick scan of things in my trolley to find out things that might melt or unfreeze (like ice-cream) and we put these back on the shelves. Then my trolley full of food was parked with my name on it whist I raced back home to pick up my cash and then back again to the store (a trip of about 6½ miles each way, which wasn’t too bad) I then returned with the cash and paid for my purchases. Like last week, I find that I am actually saving money by shopping directly rather than relying upon online shopping even though I had bought one or two unanticipated things so again, I am more than happy to be getting into my stride in the new system. Then it was a case of unpacking the shopping and getting  Meg to her optician’s appointment  at 11.30. Naturally, I took the opportunity to wander around Poundland whilst her eyes were being examined and bought one or two little things that might come in useful. Then we went by car to the park and parked in what is a ‘top’ car park so that we can avail ourselves of our normal vantage point. We heard some distant sounds of what seemed a children’s entertainer and a crowd of exuberant children. Chatting with the couple (who we know by sight, plus their dog) on the next park bench to ourselves we were were speculating whether it was an old-fashioned ‘Punch and Judy‘ show which we could hear in the distance but not actually see. We were speculating whether the ‘wife-beating’ is still a regular part of the show or whether modern sensibilities means that some changes are  observed. Just out of interest, I wondered a little about the history of Punch and Judy and discovered this on the web:

In one apparently representative Punch and Judy performance in 1827, Judy appears as an ugly and “disorderly” wife, slapping Punch and then leaving their baby in his care. When the baby begins screaming, Punch throws it out the window. Judy returns and, learning of her child’s death, begins hitting Punch, who eventually kills her with a stick and celebrates the murder with a song. While Punch was also known to beat and murder a cast of other puppets, including a blind man and the devil, the conflict with his wife remained the most consistent and popular aspect of the shows

This afternoon seemed fairly quiet and I had a quiet read of The Times whilst at the same time absorbing some of the terrible news from the rolling news programme about the bomb explosions outside the airport in Kabul where about  thirteen people have been killed and even more injured. I then successfully persuaded a credit card company to alter their payment date so that it aligns more clearly with my pattern of expenditure.

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Wednesday, 25th August, 2021 [Day 527]

Meg and I have no real commitments today so we decided to have a more lazy type of day. Consequently, we did not rush to get ready too rapidly this morning and made our way into town at a fairly leisurely pace. It was one of those gloomy, overcast days that is always a little oppressive but we strolled on to the newspaper shop to pick up our newspapers and then onto the park. In the park we met one of our regulars who was busy looking after a child in her charge whose thirteenth birthday it was today so we wished him well and occupied our traditional park bench before we struck off for home. Meg and I consulted the TV schedules imagining that the paralympics would be on all day but it was not to be. Although the more conventional Olympics were shown in repeated bits during the way, the Paralympics is shown live in the morning and then there is only a half-hour résumé of the highlights later on in the day. As we tend not to watch things in the morning, it looks as though we shall have to rely upon this summary program to keep up with the games.

We were somewhat late for lunch but nonetheless I busied myself preparing a roux to act as the basis for a cheese sauce to baste over the half cauliflower head I have left over. I must say that the roux I made on this occasion was somewhat better than on the last occasion but I have some way to go to perfect my technique. I made far too much sauce but I have kept some back just in case I can use it up in the next day or so. At least the result was very tasty even though I had probably made a lunch that was far too big for the two of us. Late on this afternoon, I knew that our lawns badly needed a cut and so I started on this task fairly late on in the after noon. However, I had the task completed by 6.00pm which is a kind of ‘shut-off’ point for gardening activities at this time of year. The grass seemed to have grown enormously thick since it was last cut – that must be the combination of masses of rainfall and some quite warm days. 

The COVID news continues to be a source of concern. The number of new infections is about 36,000 and the number of deaths just reaching 150 per day. The available data seems to show that it the young, unvaccinated who are increasingly likely now to end up in hospital and the government, for its part, is trying to get all children from the age of 16 upwards to get the jab. A little disturbingly, some of the evidence is pointing to the fact that the various vaccines are effective for about 6 months and then their potency seems to decline somewhat so this point to the fact that as some of the older sections of the population received their jabs about six months ago then there is a strong case for a ‘booster’ jab. Whilst on the subject of jabs, we received a message on our mobiles today inviting us for a mass flue vaccination event on Sunday, 12th September. The last time our surgery ran an event like this, it was run like a military operation and with military precision. We queued outside and were then invited in about 30 second intervals into one of several vaccination ‘lines’ Every member of staff I.e. the entire complement of doctors and the nursing staff were all on duty – I was amazed that by a coincidence I actually got vaccinated by own preferred ‘family’doctor ( the sort that it would normally take three weeks to see if we lived in normal times) I suspect that they are trying to get as many as 1,000 vaccinated with the ‘flu jab in one day which is very sensible when you come to think about it. The thing that I am unsure about is whether this mass vaccination event is just the initiative of our own surgery or whether it is part of a huge NHS drive and in practice, most surgeries throughout the country are being encouraged by the Department of Health/ NHS England to vaccinate in this particular way.  

I had an interesting discussion with members of my family regarding the prevalence of iron in one’s diet. It may well be that in my desire to cut down on red meat over the last year or so, I might have gone too far in the opposite direction. Therefore I may try and ‘rebalance’ my diet to include more iron-rich foods (such as liver, some seafoods) so I will have an early opportunity when I go shopping first thing in the morning to start my ‘diet re-balancing’ activities straight away.

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Tuesday, 24th August, 2021 [Day 526]

Today is my Pilates day so we have to organise things a little differently to ensure that we do have a very rushed late morning. We were helped in this respect because we had an appointment for a joint GP appointment for both Meg and myself – the telephone consultation was due to start some time between 8.40 and 8.50 and we did get a telephone call in the middle of this time slot. Meg and I had quite a lot to discuss – in Mike’s case it was a more formal advice session after the investigations that were performed on me about three weeks ago whilst in Meg’s case, she has not had any ‘routine’ doctoring for about a year and a half now and almost inevitably for people in their 70’s there are some issues that need discussion with a doctor. We felt that we had a pretty good discussion with the GP and we are both having some extra blood tests ordered for us. However, the news was generally good, or at least reassuring from the GP, so we were left with the feeling that we had both had  quite a satisfactory consultation. 

We started walking down to town about half-an-hour earlier than we had thought and ran across our Italian friend who lives down the road. She had just finished mowing her lawn but had had the misfortune that has happened to all of us at one time or another of severing the electric cable. Armed with a knife, a pair of scissors and some white tape, I managed to splice the two ends together to effect a repair. As a teenager, I seemed to be forever splicing together sections of cable if only to extend a length of flex in the days before extension flexes were readily available.We checked that the repair was working OK and then resolved that we would have a nice Italian meal together as soon as circumstances allow. Then we progressed on our way but I left Meg in the park whilst I went off to collect our newspapers. In the shop, I was waiting to be served and, perhaps for the first time started to observe the kinds of comestibles that the shop sold. In a display rack in front of me, there were some different kinds of biscuits and as we had run out of chocolate digestives, I went ahead and bought a packet. This reminded me of the period when Meg and I were university students and in the long vacation in 1966 we were working in adjacent factories. Mike was working in a cardboard box factory with the most casual of recruitment policies – I just presented myself to their personnel department and said ‘I am a mate of Jimmy _____’ and that was enough to land me the job. In the meanwhile, Meg was working in the McVities biscuit factory as part of an ‘industrial’ placement that all social administration students at that stage were obliged to undertake. Meg worked on the line that produced ‘home wheat’ and also ‘chocolate covered digestives’ . On that line, there was also a bevy of youngish female workers who had their eyes set upon one object of desire, who they would have dearly loved to have married, namely a ‘chocolate man’  The task of handling large vats of steaming hot chocolate was judged to be work only suitable for a male worker and hence a ‘chocolate man’ The girls on the production line often indicated what they would do if one of the objects of their desire actually cast an eye in their direction and they would chatter what they would do if they got their hands on one. The crowing epithet belonged to the girl who exclaimed ‘if I got myself a chocolate man, I  would lick him all over until there was none of him left‘ to which I think any riposte has got to be superfluous.

So I joined Meg and in the park and then we made our way home and I prepared most of the lunch so that I could quickly get it heated and served once I got home. Meg was able to look at the opening ceremony which was being broadcast for the Paralympics whilst I was at Pilates – once home, we did a quick turn around before we had a Skype session which had been arranged for one of our Hampshire friends. These calls are always very interesting and entertaining – our friend was faced with the problems of an incipient planning enquiry which we also experienced when we lived in Hampshire and were faced with a firm who wanted to drill for oil underneath our local primary school.  After this call had ended, we had a five minute break for a tea break before we FaceTimed some of our oldest Waitrose friends. Although we FaceTime at the same time each week, we always seem to have a lot to say to each other, particularly as there seems to be an intensification of social life as the summer progresses and the pandemic is slowly unwinding. 

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Monday, 23rd August, 2021 [Day 525]

Today has turned out to be one of the ‘chattiest’ of days. It started with a near neighbour of ours – as we were commiserating about the lack of a pavement on the stretch of road between us and the main Kidderminster Road, we were complaining to each other about the ways in which the local traffic often reaches the speed of 40-50 mph despite a 30 mph speed limit being in place. There is a sort of explanation for this. If one to examine the road which acts as a distributor road to us, it is a ‘de facto’ inner ring road but in practice had not been widened or upgraded in decades whereas the traffic has increased exponentially. Also, there are a great variety of speed limits along the road with very frequent changes (variously 30mph, 40mph and 50mph) but absolutely  no speed cameras in place, so when the local populace reaches this stretch of road, they tend to let rip (particularly as the first bit is downhill). Further on down the road, we were particularly pleased to make contact again with some of our close (church) friends who live down the road but who we have not seen for a week or so whilst they have been off on their jolly holidays (in England) We confirmed the fact that their wedding anniversary is within about a week of ours so that that makes three of us couples (the two near neighbours, plus Meg and I) who have decided to ‘push the boat out’ and have a celebratory wedding anniversary meal two weeks on Thursday. I still have to organise this with the hotel but that will happen later on this afternoon – as indeed it did (after, frustratingly, it seemed to be difficult for them to answer my call). So we had a good old natter in the sunshine and then struck off, very late, to collect our newspapers. Meg felt she would appreciate a stop off at the Waitrose coffee shop so I left her there munching away whilst I went to collect our newspapers. Then I needed to collect a few things that unfortunately made my rucksack extraordinary heavy – I needed to buy just a few baking potatoes but finished off with 2kg of King Edwards plus 2 times 2 litres of milk so the resulting load was so heavy that Meg couldn’t even lift it off the floor. Nonetheless, we trudged home even though we were incredibly late by now but half up the hill we were stopped by someone we know well by sight who had only just heard that the Honda Civic  was no longer to be manufactured in Swindon but either in Japan or in Turkey for the UK market. As our neighbour was an absolute fan of all vehicles made by Honda, he was a bit dismayed to learn they are no longer to be manufactured in Swindon. But is in the nature of modern manufacturing that vehicle production can be switched from location to location as often the same model is manufactured in more than one plant.

We had a very, very delayed lunch. I improvised by trying out a tin of chili beans into which I stirred some cubes of beed that were to be eaten up, petit pois, a stirring of chinese curry and topped with some plain yogurt. If this sounds absolutely foul, then it really wasn’t too bad – and I did get the meal prepared in just about 5 minutes flat. We did treat ourselves to a smidgeon of ice-cream to help to compensate for the earlier culinary ventures. In the late afternoon, I had set myself the task of putting a restraining ‘tie’ on one of our plum trees which is fairly heavily laden with fruit but which could snap or shear away from the main tree if not supported. For tasks like this, I always implore the women of their household not to throw away their old tights but to donate them (having been washed) to my ‘ties’ bag. Because of the material of which they are made, nylons make an excellent tying up agent as they are strong and rot-proof but with a tiny bit of ‘give’ in them which is just what is required. To put this in place, I had to balance on two of my home made devices – one is an old (heavy duty) plastic milk crate which I must say is well prized by those in the know as they can easily bear one’s weight. The other is a stool arrangement which I use to balance on the milk crate.In case, this sounds precarious, it was but at least I didn’t fall off and I managed to get the job done in about 5 minutes.

The Afghanistan pull-out is proving to be incredibly problematic. The Taliban say they are going to allow no extensions but the USA are saying that it will take 3 days (70 hours) just to pull their own troops and equipment out, only leaving four days as from this moment to pull out civilians. I have potential solution to this: why do the British and Americans not pull out (complying with undertakings given to the Taliban) but leave it to the UN to organise whatever evacuations need to take place over their own timescale?

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Sunday, 22nd August, 2021 [Day 524]

Today has been a wonderful day in many senses of the word. Firstly, the weather was set fair and I enjoyed ny Sunday morning walk early for the newspapers, together with my (by now) traditional music concert on my ancient iPhone (Bach in the the main). I time my journey for the Sunday newspapers so that I can get back in time for the Andrew Marr show but, of course, I had forgotten that  in the middle of August all of the political elite are on holiday (even when countries like Afghanistan are falling to the Taliban) We sent a quick text to our University of Birmingham friend because we were having our customary weekend meeting with him half an hour earlier than planned because we were seeing our other lots of friends after 11.0am. We were very pleased to have a long chat with our friends over coffee and cakes because they had just returned from Ireland and we had a lot to catch up. The first thing wa to coordinate our plans for possibly ‘resurrecting’ our planned little holiday to Rome. Having conferred with out friends, we have decided to go for a date in March if the flights are still available and the UK/Italiam governments have lifted their quarantine regulations by then. Of course, it is also possible that we are in the middle of yet another wave of the pandemic by then but we shall have to wait and see. A second pleasurable task lay before us and that is to see if we can coordinate plans for a joint wedding anniversary meal for 9th September which is, of course, only just over a fortnight away. Our friends were going to contact some other mutual friends whose wedding anniversary is incredibly close to ours. So to cut a long story, we are going to hold a 6-strong wedding anniversary meal in just over two weeks time. This is the first time that we have ever participated in a joint wedding anniversary celebration of this type but it makes a lot of sense and is really something to which to look forward.

We have some more good news of a family nature – we have now firmed up completely that we are going to journey up to Bolton on October 3rd which just happens to be a Sunday on which Meg’s birthday falls. So this means we can have a great reunion plus birthday celebration rolled into one and, again, that is a family occasion to which we can look forward. Even more family news came through to us as we were blogging this evening. Meg’s very aged uncle who we used to try and see as regularly as we could (in North Wales) has moved into a care home in Alsager, Cheshire, in which his sister is already resident and his nephew lives quite near by. One of Meg’s uncle’s relatives phoned up this evening and we have all of the news about the care home that he is in (which sounds absolutely marvellous by the way) Knowing how frail a 94 year old can be, Meg and I feel quite relieved because as he was getting so much more frail, he was only a fall away from some kind of tragedy so we are relieved that he is a much safer place than his own home and with staff (in theory) available at the touch of a button. 

In the later part of the afternoon, I finally got my accounts up-to-date. What I mean when I say this is that I like to copy each of my transactions into a large day book and so  I have a permanent record going back over the months and the years. Then I have a few spreadsheet pages going back over the months for about a year – once my system is up-to-date, I record current balances and regular payments on the spreadsheet so that I should be able to see what my available balance is but also what commitments are likely to turn up one during the month. I have most of my regular payments organised around the date when my pensions flow in but there are one or two in the latest stages of the month and these can be a nuisance if you don’t have an accurate spreadsheet page with commitments detailed on it as you might think you have more money than is actually the case.

A little household ‘system’ that we have is a largeish whiteboard in which the various comings and goings of family members are detailed with a dry marker and updated every month. Then we can see, ‘at a glance’ what is coming up in the forthcoming week, fortnight or month. Looking at next week, for example, Meg and I have only thing which we must not forget which is Meg’s appointment with the opticians on Thursday next

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