Thursday, 30th September, 2021 [Day 563]

Thursdays are the days when I traditionally used to have our weekly shop but this week, we are having to change our plans somewhat. Having used the Waitrose online and delivery service during most of the pandemic, I have started to shop in a Waitrose store in Droitwich which is about 7-8 miles distant. My new pattern involves getting to the store about one minute before the store opens so that I am often the first customer though the doors. It is ? was? an absolute delight to shop in a store like Waitrose which is absolutely deserted apart from the staff doing bits of last-minute restocking. However, today because of the fuel crisis and because we are going up to Bolton on Sunday next, I decide to have a somewhat lighter shop by patronising our very much more local, but smaller store, about ¾  mile away. This will save me some precious fuel-miles which might yet prove critical in the days ahead. So I turned up a few minutes after 8am and did a lighter shop as intended – it could be that I will get into a new pattern of a ‘lighter’ week just down the road followed by a ‘heavier’ week in the more distant store. I don’t think that I missed out anuthing important, though, even though the range of goods in the smaller store if commensurately smaller. Meg and I thought after breakfasting, unpacking the shopping and showering (a little late) we would decide whether to go into town by car on on ‘shank’s pony’ (old fashioned expression for walking!) The reason was that we wished to buy a plant as a birthday present for some of our closest friends and this might have proved a little awkward to lug home. But this had the bonus of us having a conversation in the Waitrose cafe who we remember from our pre-COVID days.

Having got home, I thought I would cook a more exotic lunch as we had some venison steaks in the freezer. For veg I decided to try an interesting combination as follows. I had previously bought some red cabbage which can be a little bland, not to say boring, so we cooked one quarter of this alongside a couple of our own cooking apples that are now ready for picking down in Mog’s Den. I put in a smidgeon of demerara sugar as well. For our second veg, I parboiled a carrot cut into small wedges, added some petits pois and then, having drained the  pan, I finished off with some oil and a bit of runny honey which is a mixure I have tried before. All in all, this was quite a good dinner although we seem to have finished of with a moungain of washing up for our pains. Just after lunch, our friend called around to deliver a little ‘prezzie’ and a card for Meg on Sunday next. As it is our friend’s birthday the day before, we ended up exchanging cards and gifts and saying that we would have a bettter get together once the weekend (and our travels) are over.

What with all of the comings and goings in the morning, we had forgotten to pick up our newspaper. So  I decided to walk into town, if only to get some eercise during the day. However, the weather was decidedly showery and blustery and walking was not a particularly pleasant experience. However, once this had been done, I ‘amused’ myself to adding to my Premium Bond selection (by running down some other savings accounts) I had entertained myself on my journey into town by doing calculations in my head how many wins I would need in the course of a year in order to match the measly 0.5% I am getting on my accounts at the moment. I am trying to convince myself that I will maximise my chances of winning a prize if I can get my Premium Bond holdings as large as possible.

The media today has been full of the sentencing of the murder of Sarah Everard, walking home in an area of London near Clapham Common. I do think it is important that society recognises and deals with the problem of violence against women but the circumstances of this case are very, very rare. A policeman had used his powers of arrest to arrest, handcuff, rape and then murder his victim. There are calls for all kinds of immediate action, one suggestion being that no policeman should ever arrest a suspect on his/her own but only when another colleague is present. When society reacts to very rare events, you sometimes get legislation with really bizarre consequences, particularly if the legislation is passed in a panic. For example, the Official Secrets Act was passed in 1911 (since repealed but going for about a century) which made it an offence to communicate any knowledge acquired as a result of one’s employment by the state. So it became an offence to communicate the colour of the walls  of the office in which you worked as all such information was deemed to be an ‘offical secret’


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Wednesday, 29th September, 2021 [Day 562]

Today proved to be an interesting day. We knew that our routine was going to be a little bit knocked out of the ordinary because I had a ‘webinar’ organised by the Worcestershire Association of Carers from 10-12 around the theme of financial support packages. As I suspected, none of the issues that were raised in the webinar were at at relevant to Meg and myself so I spent a couple of hours sitting in front of a screen that was to all purposes completely ‘dead time’ But the facilitators had tried to fulfill their brief fully and the technology worked for all of us. The only thing that I did learn was that the Citzen’s Advice Bureau were in breach of their contract with various local authorities because they were no longer offering face-to-face contact or support which the contract (and I suppose the monies that flowed from it) specified. Hence there had been lot of argument going behind the scenes.

After the seminar was over, I walked into town on my own because I had some business on the High Street. I went to the branch office of my bank in order to bank a cheque (rare these days – but the refund from my ex fuel-supplier which was rapidly issued) I then toured one or two of the charity shops in search of a cheap belt. I need this so that I can adapt to act as a ‘tie’ between the two straps of my rucksack which have an unfortunate tendency to slip off my shoulders – this should alleviate this problem and it means that I have an arm free so that Meg can link onto me which should help to prevent any trips or falls to which Meg is now prone. I acquired a belt and also a ‘pooch’s dog collar’ from Poundland so I shall have to see which one these these proves to be the most serviceable under the cirumstances. On my way home, one of our KidderminsterRoad friends spotted me and offered me a lift home. Normally, I would have refused this, preferring to walk for the sake of the exercise but in a moment of weakness I  gratefully accepted the offer of a lift as I was running a bit late anyway.  After we had had a spot of lunch and as it was a really fine (but cold) afternoon, Meg and I made a little trip to the park to get in a little bit of our daily exercise. Rather than coffee, we consumed a bottle of iced peach tea which I just happen to have  left over from some entertaining or other. As we were now so late in the day, the population of the park had completely changed its character and according we bumped into none of the friends and acquaintances that we might have expected if our trip had been earlier on in the day.

Today we see the continuation of the coverage of the Labour Party Confrence (to be followed by the Conservative conference in a week or so) As you might expect, the Labour Party conference is rather a fractious affair which the press (and the BBC) are always eager to exploit. Personally, I do not find the Labour party conference particularly interesting as one has grown to expect a lack of consensus in a party of the left. However, it does look as though the left wing of the Labour party has been well and truly ‘put in its box’ and they have been completely out-manouvred by Keir Starmer and his immediate followers. So we are having lots of anguished cries from the left as they enter their death throes and perhaps a realisation that they will never dominate the party again as they did in the Corbyn era. The feature of the party conferences are that they are alway driven by the extremes as the activists and the delegates are always way to the left of the parliamentary party (the MPs) in the case of the Labour party and well to the right of the parliamentary party in the case of the Conservatives. I personally find  the Conservative party conferences much more fascinating affairs. This is because they are generally the party of government  and therefore the spokesman are generally ministers. It is said that many MPs and particularly ministers really fear the party conference because they have to make the most blood-curdling threats (meaningless of course) to find favour with the delegates. To do otherwise, means that it does not look as though they are in touch with their grassroots and therefore they may be liable to demotion or dismissal at the next reshuffle. At the last Conservative party conference (two years ago), it was the Brexiteers who were creating all of the running but now that Boris Johnson has an 80 seat majority and all of the Remainers in the last government were sidelined, dismissed or even thrown out of the party so the modern Tory party is an almost completely Brexit party.

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Tuesday, 28th September, 2021 [Day 561]

Today the weather has changed into a truly autumnal pattern and one has the feeling that the last warm days of summer are behind us.  Before we left for our walk, I was involved in a financial transaction where I was decanting some small savings accounts I have with a building society into a larger ‘pot’ with which I am going to buy some National Savings and Investments (NS&I) Premium Bonds. Evidently, in this sort of operation one has to be ‘mega’ careful not to put in a wrong digit when it comes to transferring pots of money from one place to another. However, it was very satisfying to see that my various savings accounts had successfully  been transferred into my current account from which they were used to fund the purchase of a block of Premium Bonds. This is now prominently displayed in my NS&I webpage and after they have been in the system for a month, they will be eligible to be put into the ‘draw’ at the very start of November. I have also downloaded a webpage which calculates the return that you might get from a block of Premium Bonds given the ‘average’ degree of fortune (or statistical probability, I ought to say). It might well be that over a year and a half, I only just match the 0.5% which my building society accounts were yielding but I have a feeling that with a block of Premium Bonds I might better this rate, particularly if I were to have a bit of ‘beginner’s luck’. Like all of these types of ventures, you have to be a little careful getting them set up but once the system is working as intended, it should be a fairly simple job to add to this block of savings whenever I wish to in the future.

Meg and I then walked down into town and bumped into our Italian friend half way down the road. We had long promised each other a little ‘get together’ once we had got our holidaying all done and dusted so we have gratefully accepted an invitation to call around for coffee with her on Friday morning. There is so much more that close friends can say to each other in the comfort of one’s own homes rather than a snatched conversation on the street and so that is something to which we are both looking forward. When we got down to the park, we were delighted when our University of Birmingham friend turned up ‘on cue’ – we converged on the same park bench practically to the second and we always enjoy each other’s company. Then we were joined by two more mutual friends and discussed the fuel situation locally (what else?) amongst other things. Then I was just about to peel off from the group in order to go and buy a newspaper when I realised that as it was my day to go to Pilates we were going to run out of time. Accordingly, Meg and I struck off for home and I had a few minutes of time to get some of the elements of our lunch prepared, change into my tracksuit bottoms and then trot down to my Pilates session. What with holidays last week and a hospital appointment for Meg the week before, I had missed two Pilates sessions in a row so I was keen to attend this particular session and get back in the swim of things. 

This morning, we received an email from the daughter of Meg’s cousin who now lives in sheltered accommodation in Bolton, Lancashire. We have been trying to arrange a meeting for months now but lockdowns have kept intervening and we seem to have made arrangements several times over but events have always conspired to defeat us. We are hopeful that we can make a journey up to Bolton on Sunday next so it will be both a family reunion and Meg’s birthday as well. Evidently, we have to think carefully about the logistics of the trip given the scarcity of fuel situation but we are determined not to let events defeat us on another occasion. We think we can get up and down to Bolton on two thirds of a tankful of fuel if we drive carefully by motorway and maintaining a moderate speed all the way. Then we should be able to replenish our supplies next week at the local independent garage later on in the week. As we have not seen our relatives for a good decade or so we have quite a lot to catch up on. So we thought we would start off at Meg’s earliest recollections of her cousin (when they are teenagers?) and then carry a narrative forward from there, explaining our lives and work have evolved during the intervening years. Meg’s cousin had an interesting career as an opera singer in Germany (or was it Switzerland?) during the 1960’s so I am sure she has a lot of interesting stories to tell. 

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Monday, 27th September, 2021 [Day 560]

As the weather forecasters had predicted, we had a tremendously fierce rain storm at about 7.30 which appeared to wash a lot of dust from our cars – after this, the clouds seem to skud away  and we had quite a pleasant morning and an even more pleasant afternoon. Wth one thing or another (like getting up a little late), we decided to go into town by car because we needed to do a little shopping in Waitrose. There we met one of our former Waitrose friends that we often meet in the park anyway and we enjoyed having a chat with her whilst I went and purchased a few provisions to keep us going until our next shopping day next Thursday. As we left for home, I decided to make a slight detour to visit the petrol station where I normally buy fuel but this forecourt was closed, not having had any fuel since Friday. We circulated near to our local Morrison’s store but there we could see the queues of cars queueing out of the garage, down the slip road and in danger of clogging up a local roundabout. Without counting, I would estimate a queue of about fifty cars. Whilst we were on the road, I decided to visit an independent garage/petrol retailer in a little village some 4 miles distant. Here there was only a queue of about 7 cars and we managed to top up the car again following our return journey from Wales. As we left the garage, I counted a queue of some 37 cars so I wonder if the local ‘social media’ had gone mad  with news of locally available fuel.  Later on this evening, there was an item on the local news that this independent retailer employed its own HGV drivers and had increased its deliveries from three a week to two a day. As an experiment, they had stayed open late on Saturday evening to give priority to NHS workers and may repeat this policy if necessary. Even so, on occasions, they had a queue of up to ¼ mile which, as they are situated just on a bend in the main Kidderminster Road, means that they have needed to have some careful marshalling to keep the cars queueing for petrol apart from the normal road users (not always an easy job).

After lunch, as it looked as though the weather was set fair, then it was an ideal oppportunity to get our lawns cut. Normally this takes about an hour and a quarter and I thought I had heard that the heavans might open again at about 4.0pm in the afternoon, so it was a question of seizing the moment whilst I could. The sun shone benevolently on me as I mowed the front lawn and I had just about finished it when my next door neighbour popped round for a chat. It was the first time I had seen him since the demise of his beloved litle dog who had reached the end of her days but we had quite a long chat with the subject often reverting to late 1950’s/early 1960’s popular songs of which our neighbour has a huge collection (and the juke boxes to play them on).

The German election results are really very interesting. It look as the SPD (equivalent of the Labour Party) and their natural coalition partners, The Greens, should take about 40.5% of the vote. Menawhile the CDU (Conservative party) and their natural allies, the Free Democrats are taking about 35.6% of the vote. So to form a government either the SPD (most likely) or the CDU (less likely) have got to convince the leaders of the two next largest parties to enter a coalition with them.The difficulty is that the Greens and the FDP (Free Democrats) are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. So a coalition might take weeks or even months to undertake. According to the German constitution, Angela Merkel remains Chancellor until a new coalition is in place and the new leader confirmed.

In 2015, at the height of the migration crisis, Angela Merkel invited  a large number of migrants to come and settle in Germany – estimates vary betweem ¾ million and 1 million. Many at the time thought that Merkel was signing her own political death warrant but within a year or so her popularity had bounced back to pre-migration levels. Her political slogan at the time was ‘We will manage‘  which was largely vindicated but there has been an increase in right wing parties and right wing violence direct against the immigrant population. But the differences with British political culure remain stark. For a start, Angela Merkel gained a doctorate in quantum chemistry but lived in a squat after qualification as she was so short of money. Contrast that with the gilded and priveliged background of Boris Johnson whose occupational credentials as a journalist are often questioned. The Daily Telegraph eventually sacked him when they discovered that many of the articles displaying the European Union in a negative light were actually just made up – but the damage was done by then.


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Sunday, 26th September, 2021 [Day 559]

Another Sunday dawns and Meg and I are getting used to our ‘normal’ routine having just returned fom our jolly holidays. I must say I rather like getting back to a routine again after our stay in Brecon. Living in one room in a guest house is, I rather feel, rather like life in a submarine – everything has to be absolutely shipshape and all of your temporary systems (e.g. for making a cup of tea) is always a bit of a logistical challenge rather than the ease of doing things in your own kitchen. Today was an overcast day when I walked down for our Sunday newspaper but later on in the day it brightened up and even became quite warm by the afternoon. I was hoping that this little spell of fine weather might continue for one day more so that I can get the lawns cut tomorrow but if the weather forecasters are correct, then a heavy band of rain is going to sweep across the country all tomorrow but sometimes the forecasters get it wrong by a day if they do not forecast the wind speed accurately.

After breakfast we made our elevenses and progressed towards the park as normal. Meg had a bit of a stumble and slid gracefully to the ground but she is a bit of a weight to pull to her feet again. A passing motorist stopped to give assistance but by this time I had got Meg on her feet and steadied again. However, I have made a mental note to myself that tomorrow I must pop into town and buy a dog collar. Before you ask, I deploy dog collars in the following way – the rucksack that I utilise every day has a habit of gradually slipping off my shoulders and the best way to prevent this occurring is to have a small strap (e.g. a dog collar) to provide a bit of a ‘tie’ between the two  straps of the rucksack. By doing this, I always have both hands free – or at least one as, in the other, I have my little portable, aluminium, three-legged stool which we use as a miniature table once we are seated on our favourite bench. It didn’t take too long before there was a congegration (aggregation during the week but a congregation on Sundays) of the Bromsgrove Literary amd Philosophical Society where we discuss issues of the day. This morning was an issue raised by the first showing of this season ‘Strictly Come Dancing‘ where some of the professional dancers had not been vaccinated – should contestants have the right to refuse to dance with an unvaccinated partner? It is the age old question of one’s right to privacy versus the collective good and my general stance on this is to argue tht whereas freedom of speech is always to be desired, one is not at liberty to stand up and shout ”Fire‘ in a crowded theatre. But we soon descended from these lofty heights and discussed the local rugby (as the local team is enjoying some success), the weather, our holidays or what remains of them and a general sense of enjoying the autumn sunshine whilst it lasts. When we returned home, we treated ourselves to the venison and juniper berries pie that we had bought recently in Brecon, to which we added some onion gravy and a generous portion of curly kale.

This afternoon, I busied myself with ordering some more of our medications before they run out. In theory, the system should ‘know’ when you are about to run short and reorder almost automatically for you – or at least issue a reminder but it doesn’t always work out this way. Anyway, we made sure we had got all of Meg’s medications ordered so that she doesn’t run out. Then I turned my attention to reactivating my old National Savings and Investment account. I remembered that I had a dormant account from the days a few years back when George Osborne, I think it was, gave an exceptionally good deal in what became known as ‘Granny Bonds‘ aka Guaranteed Growth bonds. This account was empty but I had forotten the password and after three attempts I was locked out and needed to get a temporary password by post. This arrived but did not appear to work so yet another phone call to NS&I was needed. I was directed to another department where I had to dictate my new password but this required OTP verification with pressing a hash key on one’s mobile following by a OTP on the computer screen. One way or another and after several attempts, I now have a fully functioning NS&I account into which I may put my savings as the 0.5% I am getting at the moment is so derisory that I am happy to forego the derisory tiny bits of interest in exchange for something approaching 1% if I am lucky – and even remote possibility of even more if I am extremely lucky!


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Saturday, 25th September, 2021 [Day 558]

Today is the day when we are due to go home – as is often the case, we woke up early at about 6.00am and didn’t bother to try and get any more sleep as we knew there is alway a lot of last minute packing to do,. Having said that, packing to go home is normally quite satisfying procedure psychologically as out of the ‘ordered chaos’ of the bedroom comes a degree of apparent order when things are packed up and put away occasionally even thrown away! I put some packages in the car (dirty washing bag!) to reduce the final lot and the proprietor’s wife called us into the dining room earlier than our allotted time slot. After our final big breakfast, we got into conversation with some fellow guests who were staying in Brecon to attend a relative’s wedding. We commiserated with each other that at our time of life, it is a sad fact of life that people of our age and generation are attending funerals rather than weddings. We managed to get underway at just after 10 am in the morning and remembered that there was a garage within a short distance of our guest house. We already had half a tank of petrol and filled up with no difficulty at all – in view of what appears to be happening in other parts of the country where people are panicking and queues for petrol are already forming we were exceptionally lucky (or perhaps the Welsh are not as panicky as everybody else) This situation, incidentally, is the perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that if people think that the lack of delivery drivers will result in petrol shortages then by their buying behaviour consumers will cause that they most fear. At the start of the pandmic it was toilet rolls althouh it has to be said that a shortage of petrol is way more serious. Without wishing to sound unduly pessimistic, I cannot see an early end to this petrol crisis or a simple resolution. We know that we are 100,000 delivery drivers short of what is required and these shortages were starting to appear bfore both Brexit and the pandemic. The demographic profile of the delivery drivers shows that many are male and in the fifties and year by year many more are leaving the occupation than are entering it. After Brexit, many delivery drivers just went back to their home communities and of course the pandemic neant that he ‘normal’ testing procedures whereby new drivers could get qualified was severely disrupted. In addition, the Priti Patel regime has ensured that lorry drivers (regarded as unskilled workers) find entry to the UK incredibly difficult – an explicit arm of government policy. It now looks as though, although the cabinet is split, Boris Johnson is insisting that temporary visas should be offerered for ‘up to‘ 5,000 drivers to assist in the present crisis. But one has to ask what impact an extra 5,000 drivers are going to make when there is a shortfall of 100,000. Also, the present government does not appear to have factored in that many continental drivers will not fancy coming to the UK at all even for somewhat higher wages. For a start, the state of the pound makes the UK less attractive than it was. In addition, tax changes designed to make drivers not be regarded as self-employed so that they start to pay Income tax and National Insurance at the correct rate will reduce their real wages. In addition, crossing borders in continental europe is now easy whereas in Britain, it is becoming a  bureaucratic nightmare. It is a sad fact of life that the UK is providing no proper toilet or washing facilities on our transport networks. One hears horrendous stories that on the way to the ports, drivers are having to relieve themselves in their cabs and both urine and faces are being thrown out of their cabs to adorn the countryside. So to cut a long tory short,I do not think that extending visas to attract lorry drivers will have anything like the impact the politicans might hope.

We got home just after 12 and our daughter-in-la very kindly made us some homemade soup. We did a certain amount of unpacking and got the washing machine going whilst I dashed into town to get a few essential groceries to keep us going for the next day or so. Being a Saturday, we went to church in the early evening and were delighted to see our two lots of friends from just down the road. We feel as though we are getting ‘back to normal’ when we see our friends again but I have the feeling, naturally after an early start and the driving, that I could do with a holiday to get over the holiday. We notice the nights really drawing in but there is another month before the clocks get changed on 31st October which is five weeks away.

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Friday, 24th September, 2021 [Day 557]

Today is going being to be our last day here in the Brecon Beacons so we decided to make the most of it. We decided to do today perhaps what we should have done on Day 1 and went to visit the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre. So immediately after breakfast we set off to find this just off the main Brecon to Cardiff road and up about a mile long purpose built road. When we got to the centre (smaller than we expected) we got some very clear instructions how to proceed on a local walk and we got underway. The two local peaks in the area are Pen y Fan (886m) which is the highest mountain in southern Britain, followed by Corn Du at 873m and Cribyn at 795m, and each year more than 250,000 visitors make the trek to the summits of these impressive peaks. We set off to climb another of the local hills and walked for about a couple of kilometres up a grassy track which would have led us eventually to an iron age hill fort (Y Gaer Fawr). However, we felt that we had walked enough and did not want to lose our way as the grassy tracks tended to fade and reappear so we turned around and made the journey, downhill all the way, down to the Centre. We were surrounded by a multitude of sheep but saw a couple of ravens (or incredibly large crows), some meadow pippits and some red kites. Also on our walk we disturbed a couple of ground nesting birds (larks?) and there was evidence that there must have been a large rabbit population as well. Upon our return to the Centre, we treated ourselves to some hot drinks and toasted teacakes but there were only 2-3 couples using the facilities. We got into an interesting conversation with a lady who was there with her 16 year old daughter and year-and-a-half year old son, who happened to be born on lockdown day – as I had started blogging that day, I could tell her exactly her many days old he was. Then we had a ritual tour around the gift shop where we bought one or two lottle ‘prezzies’ and a few simple guides in case we decide to repeat our trip to the Beacons and can now get off to a flying start. Then we made our way back into Brecon and decided to visit the little cafe with the interesting menu that we discovered only yesterday. The meals that we ordered (a tuna salad and a veggie burger type creation) turned out to be so enormous that neither of us could finish our meals. Nonetheless, we ordered two elderflower pressés as we did yesterday, so we are now 4 bottles to the good of the approximately 27 that we will need to bottle our damson vodka and gin.

After lunch, we made a call to the Market Hall which we had whizzed round and eye-balled a few things last Tuesday. We made a beeline for a hardware store where they were selling heavily discounted goods and bought ourselves a heavy duty skillet pan. As I am now eating a bit more fish (like sea bass) than previously, I hope the skillet pan will come into its own. There are some styles that you do not wash but just keep well-oiled so I will read the manufacturer’s instructions with care. From the same shop, we also bought a really wide yard brush as our recent one, used primarily  to remove leaves and berries, is now practically bald after about ten years of use. Finally, we made our way to a stall where we knew that they were selling some special home venison and juniper berries made pies. We bought three of these, one of these for our domestic help who I am sure will appreciate it – I must take her tips as to what kind of gravy I should prepare to go alongside it. After we got back to the Guest House and we had a little nap, we started packing up ready for the morning. Actually we have gone as far as we can but a lot of stuff actually has to be left until first thing tomorrow morning.

The lorry driver shortage is causing us a degree of concern – but we also wonder what the government is going to do about it. Only a day ago, the message from No 10 and Whitehall was that it absolutely out of the question that visa restrictions could be relaxed so that we could recruit some lorry drivers from mainland Europe. Today, though, the message is changing. The latest line is ‘we have to consider every alternative‘ and it may well be that the government are forced into a U-turn. Of course this is acutely embarrassing for the avid Brexiteers  in the government (i.e. all of them!) as they will be forced to admit that if Brexit had not occurred then the shortages of lorry drivers would be nowhere so acute. Will the Government be forced to eat humble pie?

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Thursday, 23rd September, 2021 [Day 556]

We slept in a bit this morning which is quite unusual for us, so not waking up until 7.30 we had a bit of a scramble around to get ready in time for breakfast. I also need to write a formal letter for my son to process so I was delighted that I had this MacBook with me (generally used on a desk in the lounge so that I can multi-task by listening to the TV, as well as talking with Meg and blogging) When we got into town, we enountered some strange weather conditions – the weather forecast had indicated that we eventually we were going to have a really sunny day but first thing this morning, we were presented with a kind of drizzle hanging around in the air which made us don some weatherproof clothing. After a certain amount of Googling last night, I discovered the location of the local Information Centre which you would imagine would have a really prominent position and easily accessible psition on the High Street.  Yesterday, we found one of those ornate brass finger posts in the centre of the town but it pointed to the information Centre by indicating the middle of a building. We did locate it, rather hidden down a sidestreet and rather difficult to find – however, the sole person staffing it went out of his way to be helpful. When we complained (mildly) the Centre was a little difficult to find, we got the observation that the local planning commitee would not tolerate a more prominent signpost to it. I think I smell some dirty politics here – but there is a rival National Park Information Centre some way away in a little village called Libanus. Methinks that that is the place to go to get spectacular vies of Pen y Fan, the local ‘highest’ mountain and, I suspect, the start of some good walks. We discovered a completely delightful teashop decorated with a light and modern decor and friendly staff next to a huge town car park that we knew nothing about. So we had our customary elevenses but I had a hot chocolate which was really hot and delicious. We also indulged in a local teacake before girding our loins for another visit to the cathedral which was about a kilometre away up a steep hill. We enjoyed our second and more contemplative visit to the cathedral. On this occasion we stopped to admire the huge 12th century font dated to about 1150 but filled with symbols such as a ‘green man’ which might date the font back to celtic times. We avoided some of the military stuff although some of it is quite interesting e.g. the original colours brought back from the Rorke’s Drift Battles in January 1879, when 11 VCs were won by men from the Brecon area. There is also said to be a sharpening stone where the archers (many from the Brecon area) sharpened their arrows before the battle of Agincourt (but we didn’t happen to see this)

We made our way down the hill back to same cafe where we had enjoyed our elevenses earlier on. We had taken the opportunity to examine their lunchtime menu and they seemed to have some excellent light lunches which we thought we might try. However, neither of us were particularly hungry so we decided to avail ourselves of a carrot and coriander soup accompanied by a scone. Having a chance to examine some of the maps of Brecon (now that we have visited the Information Centre) we now know that there is a huge car park just behind some of the main shopping streets with a supermarket at each end of it. This we knew nothing about until today. On our first day, on Monday, we followed the signs for the first carpark that we saw which had spaces for about 20 cars and have used that one ever since, as we knew it, not knowing or appreciating that evidently all of the locals use the large car park to the rear. We have noticed before, and Brecon is no exception, that you might have stayed in a place for a day or so before you really get used to the ‘systems’ in place for that particular town. Now that we have discovered this huge, and accessible, carpark we shall use it for the rest of our stay here. On our very first day here last Monday we had gone round an almost deserted  Market Hall.This we intend to go round again before we leave because they are selling some local delicacies (I fancy the venison and herb pie) as well as a shop that was selling some good kitchenware at unbelievable prices – and I have my eye on a particularly good skillet pan, as it happens. This afternoon we had a lazy time in our B&B bedroom but, as I blog, I am enjoying watching for the second time the journey of the ‘Flying Scotsman‘ along the Severn Valley Railway line (of which our son knows every inch) 

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Wednesday, 22nd September, 2021 [Day 555]

Today was a day which we had allocated to a sightseeing of the Brecon Beacons so last night I ‘Googled‘ what I hope is to be a scenic route over the Black Mountains which I hope will give us the authentic experience. Meg and I both had a pretty good night’s sleep so presumably a change of locale and some good meals out are wreaking the desired effect. We both had excellent breakfasts for the second day running and by about 10.00 am, we were ready for the off. SatNav-ing just a road number does not get you very far so I thught I would SatNav a village at one end of the scenic route and then another at the other end so that we could hit the correct route over ‘the Black Mountains’  correctly. As it turned out, we got the first part of the journey done OK and then slightly missed the turn off for the critical road which is the A4069. We knew we had gone slightly astray but that did bother trouble us a great deal as I was just about  to enter a new set of coordinates in the SatNav in any car. But just then we spotted a strategically located hotel which looked as though it was in the busines of offering morning coffees so we treated ourself to a cappuccino, a mocha and a nice toasted teacake between us. Then we had a stroke of real luck. We fell into conversation with a couple also taking a morning coffee – he was a bank employee celebrating his 60th birthday and she was a care worker from Indonesia. They knew the area quite well and also the road that we wanted so they encouraged us to follow them up the roundabout where we could turn off into the mountains – and took the same route themselves so that we could follow them. The mountains resembled some of the huge wide passes in the Lake District and I quite enjoyed them but as a driver I had to concentrate upon the road quite a lot. When we came down from the mountains we set a course for Brecon which involved some backtracking of our steps and then having made the wrong call at another roundabout, finished up traversing the Black Mountain in the reverse direction. The mileages involved over the actual tops are actually quite small and we were not unhappy to see the mountain tops again from a different direction. I managed, though, to get betters views on my way back when I was ascending as when you are descending, you do not have a lot of time for sight-seeing when you are concentrating upon the bends on tne way down. There was quite a mist (not unexpectedly) so visibility was not as good as we might have hoped for, given the fine weather over most of the country.

We descended into Brecon at a fairly late hour for lunch (1.30-ish) and I decided to we might try a quirky little establisghment with rave reviews called the Hop Inn Beer and Gin. The reviews on the web showed statements like ‘Takes Tapas to a new level – worth coming Brecon just to eat here‘ and things in a similar vein.  But the craft beer I had was not a touch on yesterday’s down the road and the egg, sausage and chips pedestrian – the lunch time menu was uninspiring. Perhaps, to be charitable, the place really comes alive at night but there was a big discrepancy between what the web reviews led one to expect and our actual experience.  After lunch, we walked into the town to collect a copy of a newspaper (the ‘I’) and after we picked up the car, suddenly realised that we needed to stock up on much needed supplies such as milk and biscuits. I must say, we were rather pleased to get into our own room again and have a bit of a rest and a refreshing cup of own Earl Grey tea.  As soon as we got in, we received a text message fom our son who required a formal letter from me for his own financial purposes – since we joined households together some fourteen years ago, there are occasional joint issues that have to be resolved or untangled. I needed to compose a Word Document which I did ‘in the cloud’ using Google docs but the resulting PDF would only display half the file and would not scroll as  was intended. Eventually, I installed a new PDF reader (Foxit) and also accessed an online Word processing Word clone (Zoho) which I had used before – but it needed passwords, OTPs and the like. But my efforts were crowned with success as I managed to produce the document I wanted, save it OK and get a PDF downloaded onto my computer to transmit onto the son and heir – he seemed quite saisfied with it at the end of the day!

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Tuesday, 21st September, 2021 [Day 554]

Meg and I spent a good night in our temporary abode last night. The TV and its reception quality in the hotel bedroom are of excellent quality which is also a bonus. In a wakeful period in the middle of the night, I used our iPad to listen to a recording of Brahm’s A German Requiem which I always enjoy hearing but I hadn’t played it to myself for some time. The breakfast arrangements in the Boarding House have been refined to a fine art in the light of the COVID regulations. The proprietor has guests organised into an earlier and a later time so that the breakfast room is not crowded out with individuals and we can keep our social distancing. Meg and I enjoyed a ‘Full Welsh Breakfast’ which was the traditional B&B/boarding house standard and all of the ingredients were locally bought (common for Wales) and beautifully cooked. We will probably have a lighter breakfast in the days ahead but it is now nice to enjoy the full fare on our first day. We remembered the following little story that we recounted to our host after breakfast. The proprietor of the B&B in which we always stayed when we visited family in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, has written a book about amusing incidents that happened in the course of his catering career. Meg and I figure in one of these incidents and it goes as follows. Meg decided to have some boiled eggs for breakfast and enjoyed dipping slices of toast, cut into thin strips, into each soft boiled egg after which they are known as soldiers. As the proprietor was clearing away the breakfast dishes and asked Meg if she had enjoyed her breakfast, there was a natural lull in the conversation over which Meg’s clarion like voice could be heard exclaiming ‘It’s a long time since I enjoyed having so many soldiers for breakfast‘ (after which the whole restaurant guffawed with laughter).

After breakfast, we knew we would have a gentle toddle around the sunny streets of Brecon which we did, making the highlight of our visit a trip to a ‘Savers‘ as we knew that we needed a good few toiletries for our story. For a start, the room is not serviced as part of the COVID regime so we knw we needed some shower gel and hair shampoo, not to mention the toothbrushes which, believe it or not, we had actually forgotten to bring with us (we did find one, extremely low quality NHS toothbrush which we carry round as an emergency in our toilet bag) Still, Meg managed to buy other things such as hair grips and lipstick, without which, of course all modern women would look like Gorgons (dictionary definition: A fierce, frightening, or repulsive woman. …)

I had consulted the internet last night to work out a good eating place for our meal in the middle of the day. We located where this was (at one end of the one of the principal streets) and then went off for a coffee and tea cake for our mid-morning prandials. As we were a little laden up with shopping, we walked back to the car, Sat-Nav’d the restaurant and then let it take us there. I had a magificent glass of local beer (starting with a half and quickly translated to a pint) followed by a chicken, leek and ham pie with mediterranean vegetables whilst Meg had a similarly good lasagne. We felt as though we had dined extremely well, as well as reasonably – on another occasion, we might go back and have a starter and a sweet foregoing the main course.

After lunch, we visited Brecon Cathedral which was a real treat. When we first arrived the Cathedral was unfortunately closed but we ran into a couple of the local cathedral volunteers who opened it up for us. The cathedral started life as a Benedictine Priory and is now regarded as one of the arhictectural masterpieces of mid Wales. The chancel is a superb example of Early English architecture, while the later nave is primarily Decorated Gothic in style. One gets the overall impression of beautifully uncluttered early gothic and we may well go back to enjoy some of the extensive walks around the grounds (about two miles altogether through beautiful woods but a bit much for the late afternoon) and now we know what we are looking at, a second visit to the cathedral and its shop and its tea-rooms might be very much worth while. We could always save it for a rainy day, if we have one.


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