Sunday, 31st October, 2021 [Day 594]

Today was one of those days when it was raining cats-and-dogs when I woke up. However, this does not matter a great deal to me as it was the night after British Summer Time had ended at 3.00am in the morning and, consequently, all of the house clocks needed to be put back by one hour. Normally, this task proceeds quite smoothly but there are always one or two household appliances where I can never remember exactly from one six month period to the next how to make the adjustment (e.g. the cooker) Nonetheless, I got all of this task accomplished and then looked skywards to see if I could brave a walk doen to the newspaper shop or not. As it was still raining pretty hard, I decided to go in the car and took the opportunity to change the car’s time whilst I was at ai it. There was nobody in the newspaper shop so I had quite a chat with the young lad is regarded as a ‘trusty’ and who opens up the shop first thing on a Sunday morning. We exchanged experiences of both having had bar work in the past and I had a look at the range of wines offered in the newspaper shop, which I have noticed out of the corner of my eye but never really had occasion to buy from. When I got home, we watched the Andrew Marr show (as usual) and then had to decide how to fit in our morning walk. As there were spells of sunshine followed by blustery squalls, we decided to walk down to the park whhilst the weather was fair (i.e.not actually raining) but we equipped ourselves with plenty of rainwear and took an umbrella with us. Then we made for the Victorian bandstand (full of wrought iron work) and were half way through our coffee when we joined by one of our regulars in the park, Seasoned World Traveller. Our conversations this morning ranged over the typcal bizarre range (the innate characteristics of the friendliness of labrador dogs, the degree of ‘wokeness’ exhibited by the Labour front bench) before it was time to go home. As we we walked, we were greeted by a burst of sunshine where we felt the warm rays of the sun upon our cheeks – perhaps the last for several weeks or months as the weather is predicted to go several degrees colder in the next few days. We then started watching the England vs. New Zealand womens rugby match which was reasonably entertaining – particularly as England were 17 points up at half time. We had one of those ‘chicken-in-its-own-tinfoil-tray meals’ cooking away in the oven which we ate at half time before we saw the English women complete their biggest victory over the New Zealand team (called the ‘Black Ferns’ no doubt to distinguish them from the ‘English Roses’ )

Today is the first day of the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow which is opening today. Actually, nothing that much appears to be happening as various world leaders are still making their way from various parts of the world,including the G20 meeting in Italy. Perhaps later on tonight, there will be a formal welcome and procedural opening but the full work of the conference does not start in earnest until tomorrow morning. I must admit that I have a certain sense of foreboding that as China, Russia and probably India and Brazil will absent themselves from the conference (and Jo Biden from the USA may well arrive empty handed) then the prospects cannot be very good at all. As the conference will proceed for the best part of a fortnight, then some minor areas of progress might present themselves but whether the magic target of reducing the increase in global temperatures to 1.5% is problematic in the extreme.To achieve this result, one would have hoped for a lot of quiet diplomacy in the background over the months – instead the English and French are tearing chunks out of each other Brexit (and the row may rumbleon right throughout the conference)

The same sorry Brexit story is unfolding in quite a predictable way. The Sunday Times reoprts today the astonishment of other members of the European ‘family’ who are watching the UK  as its infection rates soar to several multiples of theirs whilst the school children remain unvaccinated and there are images of semi-clad tennagers cavorting in the pubs and clubs with no social distancing, masks or anything that would remotely help to avoid the spread of the virus. I must admit that my sentiments are very much attuned to the words of Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, who says that the disappointing booster uptake is unsurprising given the hesitancy from the government about vaccinating children. But he adds that this decision has made the booster programme increasingly important.We are indeed in dire need of this booster programme, but it is at least partly of our own making as a result of policy. Yet again, it may become a case of too little, too late, despite the availability of fantastic vaccines to help steer the ship.’


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Saturday, 30th October, 2021 [Day 593]

Today has been one of those days when, fortunately, everything turned our right rather than wrong – to be honest, I am so used to little things going wrong that I am quite surprised when lots of things in a row go right. I have two iPads, one bought at least 6-7 years ago and which I had almost written off when it got clattered onto a hospital floor over three years ago now and the display went horribly wrong. ‘That’s it‘ I thought to myself at the time – I had better get myself a new and more up-to-date version when I get out of hospital, which I did. But then the old one ‘repaired’ itself – I had assumed that a clatter on the floor had misaligned some of the screen technology and once broken, it would stay that way. Anyway, as if by magic, it repaired itself so I regard this very old and original iPad for one thing only and that is to act as a source of music to get me quickly off to sleep. Since coming back from Wales, I had ‘mislaid’ my old iPad but suddenly I stared at at a blue cover sitting on a chair in my study and realised that it was hiding ‘in plain sight’ as it were. The whole point of this story is that I decided to restore it to its bedtime-sleep-inducing function. After a recharge of its batteries and location on a tiny little bedside table I had acquired which was exactly the same height of the bed (to avoid another clatter on the floor), I had a yearning to hear a particular piece of music which I very much enjoy and that is Brahms’s ‘A German Requiem‘ . I have to say this worked like a charm as I was off to sleep in about two minutes. Even when I got up in the middle of the night to attend to the call of nature and put on my especial favourite which is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. This time I was off back to sleep before about 10 bars had been played, so another astounding success. I struggled a bit with a pair of Apple earphones which had the unforunate tendency, shared my many of its species, to drop out of one’s ears on the turn of a head. Then I remembered that I had about two years ago, bought some absolutely excellent Panasonic earphones which were carefully and skilfully designed so that they did not drop out of ear (and hence were much appreciated by the jogging community) So another set get ordered via Amazon at the very reasonable price of £6.00 or so so I shall certainly manage until they arrive.

This morning, as forecast, we had a tremendous band of heavy rain sweeping across the country. After it, though, we had a wonderful burst of sunshine and when Meg and I went on our walk, we even felt the warmth of the sun’s rays as a bonus. We popped into Waitrose to purchase one item of which we were running short and I treated myself to a round of brown toast and Marmite. Then we made our way to the park, knowing that we would not see our University of Birmingham friend who had texted us to say that he was suffering from a very heavy cold and even though he might come to the park he did not want to make contact with us and possibly  infect us (very thoughtful of him) Just then, our Italian lady friend turned out and we always have time for a good chat – we were wondering whether it would be safe for us to go and watch a performance of ‘The Nutcracker‘ at the Birmingham Hippodrome (postponed from last year). As we were talking, we had another conversation with our avid walking octogenarian acquaintance before we were joined on the adjacent park bench by our Seasoned World Traveller friend. We introduced our two friends to each other and in no time at all they were arging the toss over something or other (in agreement, actually, whether we should treat the perpetrators of violent crimes as ill rather than bad). Then we set off for home, knowing that lunch was quite delayed. On our way home, though, we bumped into our Italian friend again (she had gone home by car!) and this occasioned a further chat. 

Tomorrow is the coincidence of both Halloween and the end of British Summer Time (when the clocks go back) I cannot remember when there was last a coincidence like this but it must have occurred before today. Most of the paraphernalia surrounding Halloween such as ‘Trick-or- Treating‘  seems to have originated in 1930’s America, although Europe does have Halloween traditions of its own. To commemorate the end of Summer and the beginning of winter, the Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.


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Friday, 29th October, 2021 [Day 592]

Another Friday dawns but today we had a huge band of rain sweeping across the whole of the country. This being the case, we did not rush to get ready too early – and in any case, it is the day when our domestic help calls round so we always have a lot to communicate with each other, one way or another. By the time we were ready for our walk, it looked as though most of the rain had passed over us and was well on its way but we thought we would not coincide with any of our regulars which was, indeed, the case. Probably because of the rain, the park had very few visitors and we saw none of our regulars today. When we got back, we knew we had to prepare some lunch – whilst our domestic help was titivating Meg’s hair a little, I got to preparing the lunch. I had bought some sea-bass from Waitrose earlier on this morning. Normally, Thursday is my normal shopping day but we had to make a delay of one day as our car was being serviced yesterday and we were ‘carless’ in the morning. I got to the store at 2 minutes after opening time which always makes shopping quite a pleasant experience although I did notice that Friday mornings are quite a lot busier than Thursdays, for understandable reasons. We invited our domestic help to help us consume the sea-bass (after all, she had taught me how to cook it only a few weeks previously)  and again, this was delicious. Mind you, I think the remains of a bottle of Pinot Grigio helped to really enhance the meal so a weekly treat became even more of a treat when we could share it with friends. Next week, our domestic help is coming a little later so will definitely stay and share a meal with us. She has put in an order for a risotto which I used to make regularly but I have got out of the habit of doing recently, probably in my desire to cut down on too many carbohydrates. If I want to have a ‘rice’ type meal, I tend to indulge myself in a cauliflower rice which is now available in packet form from Waitrose and is almost indistinguishable from the main thing. I must admit that I tend to sometimes guage the risotto I make myself against risottos made ‘professionally’ in an Italian restuarant and, so far, I am quite happy with the results I have achieved on my own. One always has a choice whether to make the main ingredient fish salmon or mackerel (which gives a much more powerful taste) but next week it is going to be salmon.

It seems as today all that I am doing is talking about food but it has been one of those days. On looking at my fridge, I had various bits of soup making ingredients left over from carror and coriander, potato and leek and some raw parsnip. So I thought I would add all of these ingredients together to make a type of root vegetable soup. Last night’s leek and potato soup  seemed fine but a little on the bland side, so I decided that tonight I would be a little more adventurous and make my own croutons. This was not as fiddly as I thought it might be. I cut a couple of slices of brown bread into squares which I then fried off with some rape seed oil. Our domestic help suggested throwing in whatever herbs I fancied – in the absence of any oregano, I threw in sprinklings of garlic and marjoram until the mixture was a little crisp – I then transferred it to a dish in the oven to bake off for a few minutes. I have to say that the croutons made this way gave the soup a dramatic lift – is that why they are so often offered as an option when you have soup in a restaurant, I ask myself?

The COVID news is anything but reassuring this evening. According to the latest SAGE projections,  future COVID-19 waves cannot be ruled out. Experts from Imperial College London project a substantial wave of total infections, hospitalisations and deaths, totalling 9,900 deaths by the end of March next year. Meanwhile the sitrauions in schools remains a source of concern. Current high numbers of coronavirus cases in schools where only some teenagers have been vaccinated “provide the ideal conditions” for a new variant to emerge, government scientists have warned. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies says that “very high prevalence in schools combined with partly-vaccinated 12 to 16-year-olds in a highly mixing population” makes a vaccine-resistant mutation of the virus more likely. The thing I find surprising is how little public outcry there has been about the situation our schools. We are gradually getting round to vaccinating the school population but other societies (including the USA) did it months ago.


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Thursday, 28th October, 2021 [Day 591]

Well, it was of those ‘chewy’ type days, not getting off to a particularly good start. Thursday is the day when our bins get emptied – grey bins once a fortnight and green bins in the intervening weeks. We always have to remember to put the bins out for collection as it goes dusk on Wednesday evening  and every so often, as last night, we forget. In the case of green bins (paper waste) this not matter so much but in the case of grey bins, that may well contain food waste, this is a bit more problematic. So we knew that we would probably have to head for the tip to dispose of our ‘grey bin’ household rubbish bevause even in the winter, I do not wish to food waste hanging about for the best part of a month. But first, we had to wait until we had the car returned from the garage after its annual service. The rather nice thing about modern technology is the way in which the quality garages inform you about the progress of the service on one’s car. We received a ‘video clip’ showing us the amount of tread marked in chalk on each tyre (in our case more than 4x the legal minimum) plus the condition of the brake shoes, the suspension and the ‘floor’ of the car indicating any possible oil leaks. So this was all very reassuring and the car was returned to us in the late morning. Then we set off for the trip and evidently, today of all days, then ‘Sod’s law’ swung into operation as the road to the tip via one of our neighbouring villages was completely closed. This meant that we had to make quite a lengthy detour but at least we remembered how to do this and got our household rubbish safely and legally disposed of. Afterwards, we got back into Bromsgrove and treated ourselves to a coffee and cookies in Waitrose – whilst Meg was safely esconced with her coffee, I went off to get our newspaper. I then went to get some monety out of an ATM and, once again, mine seems not to be accepted (even though it is only about 2 months old – so I perceive more hassles ahead with my bank as I want to retain the same number which may not be possible) Then, I decided to make a lightning tour through Poundland but of course they would have to be altering the layout of items in the store that they have had for the last ten years. This means that the simplest thing has to be hunted for – and one or two of the little items I wanted/needed no longer seem to be stocked. On the other hand, I did acquire some ‘branded’ 10″ scissors which I intend to use as general purpose scissors in my study. When I checked these out on the web, ebay were selling them for about twice the price that I paid in Poundland so I did feel  that I had at least got a ‘good buy’ if not a bargain. I spent a bit of time in the afternoon making a little cardboard sheaf for them so that after a trace of machine oil they should keep themselves in good condition for as long as I need them. 

So I set myself a couple of ourtside jobs just before our afternoon cup of tea, one of which involved the sweeping up of holly berries which tend to arrive in profusion at this time of year and can easily mess up one’s shoes. The other was to take the contents of our two shredders. and dispose of the shreddings in our compost bin at the bottom of the garden. ‘Sod’s Law’ immediately swung into operation once again as the heavans opened the minute I got outside to do my outside jobs (and, of course, ceased as soon as I go inside again) I suppose that every so often one gets days like today.

With yesterday’s Budget subjected to more intense media scrutiny, it is now starting to dawn on people that the budget is not as rosy as the government is trying to pretend. With inflation heading for 4%-5% and big tax rises due next April then living standards will be very much under threat in the forthcoming financial year. The fact that Universal Credit will now be ever so slightly eased by the taper being reduced somewhat will do nothing who through no fault of their own are receiving Universal Credit but are not in work.

The latest COVID study reveals that the tranmissability of the Delta version of the virus remains high even though one has been vaccinated. This might help to explain why rates of infection, particularly of the Delta variant  remain high (and very much higher than the rest of Europe) even though the proportion of those vaccinated is slowly creeping up (but still behind the European average)

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Wednesday, 27th October, 2021 [Day 590]

Today was another of those indeterminate type days in which it appeared to be uniformly cloudy but not actually raining or drizzling, although the threat was there. Meg and I walked down to collect our newspaper, as per usual, and then made our way to our normal bench overlooking the rest of the park. Whilst we were sitting there, we seemed to be passed by all kinds of people, including a near neighbour and had chats with four sets of friends and acquaintances overall. Some of our friends were off to watch the World Cup cricket on Sky TV and we talked cricket with another of our acquaintances as well. I told them the story that I had few regrets in life but one of them was as follows. If I had stayed on for one more year at Thornleigh College, Bolton (in which I was a boarder whilst my mother trained to be a teacher in Newcastle upon Tyne) then it was more than likely  that I would have received some coaching from an up and coming West Indian cricketer who was coming over to play in what was called the ‘Lancashire Combination’ and who had secured a coaching contract with the school. The name of this West Indian cricketer was – Garfield (Gary) Sobers. We are taking about 1958 here so it was long before Gary Sobers reached his full potential (and greatness) as a cricketer.  When Meg and I walked home, we felt quite enervated by the conversations we had had – of course, it is very much ‘luck of the draw’ and we could have ended up talking to nobody. After lunch, we finished up with a bit of a look-in to the Budget speech being given today but a lot of it has been pre-announced this year, to the great ire of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Then I got back onto BT to clarify the terms of the new (reduced) contract that I thought I had negotiated with BT about a fortnight ago. The trouble is the what I was I told at the time, the documents I received subsequently from BT and my account on the BT website all show different and to some extent contradictory things so this needed some resolution. The car is due in for service tomorrow but fortunately, I am on one of those schemes where the garage picks up the car to be serviced and then delivers it back either that day or the following day. So this makes life (in this respect) extraordinary easy for us. 

The next experimental day along and today it was the turn of ‘Leek and Potato soup’ The result was fine, if a little bland, althpugh it was delightfully creamy as the result of some coconut milk in the mixture and a large dollop of yogurt when it was served (and helps to cool it down as well) I still have half of the ingredients left for another day so I think that as this preparation is done I may experiment with some home-made croutons and perhaps a sprinkling of some fresh herbs. Looking at some cooking websites, it looks as though some fresh rosemary, thyme or even, for an exotic touch, chopped hazel nuts might do the trick so perhaps we might experiment a little next time.

It was budget day today and we get the usual smoke-and-mirrors performance from a chancellor (of either party) Sometimes, the full implications of a budget are not felt for a day or so until analysts have had a chance to dissect the ‘Red Book’ which is the huge folio published at the time of the budget containing a lot of data, statistics and graphs. Some commentators are calling this budget the end of Osbornomics (= austerity). Some are even calling it a ‘Labour’ budget given that this Conservative chancellor has raised taxes by a record amount, with the tax burden now at a level not seen since 1949, and increased spending to an extent that the state is bigger than ever before. But the acid test for this budget isn’t how it lands in the next few days but how this lands in the coming months against a backdrop of inflation, predicted to hit 4% next year, and continued cost of living pressures in the form of energy bills and rising prices, which the chancellor himself warned would take months to unwind. We have to take today’s measures in conjunction with the tax rises that will come into effect next April (National Insurance increases) and with the prospect of inflation rising to as much as 4%

As the political commentator Beth Rigby obsserved : ‘And in the meantime, there is a real risk that the gap between the optimism and the lived experience of people is going to grate and this budget and government could soon look very out of touch with the people they lead’.

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Tuesday, 26th October, 2021 [Day589]

Today would normally have been my Pilates day – but as it is half-term, I have the ‘day off’ today. This means that I don’t have to rush back to get changed into my tracksuit bottoms and walk down to the studio. It was a kind of day today when it really was a ‘toss up’ whether we made a journey by car or whether we went on a walk as normal. Surveying the sky, we felt it was probably safe to go for a walk and so we collected our newspapers and called in at Waitrose for some more milk (we always seem to run short at this time of the week). And so we made our way to the park, wondering who we might run across on an indeterminate kind of day like today. We were were well into our flask of coffee and biscuits when our incredible octogenarian walker friend hove into view. He seemed hale and hearty which was incredible news to us. We knew that last Tuesday, he had needed to go into hospital for a prostate operation but of course we don’t want or need to know any of the gory details of this. Our friend referred to his procedure as a ‘rebore’ which one can sort of understand but I am not sure to what procedure he was absolutely subjected. He was in hospital a couple of days and then seemed to have resumed his normal round walk of some 7-8 kilometers per day. According to the app he had on his Apple Watch, he was supposed to be walking a route somewhere in the north of Scotland which sounds a lot more exotic than Bromsgrove. He never tarries for long because he doesn’t want his muscles to get cold but he kindly relieves us of our little plastic bag of rubbish (banana peel and tissues) in a proximate bin. We also chatted to some other park regulars that we know by sight. At this time of year, we take pains not to slip on the large forest type leaves which can go slimy and slippery when wet at this of year and before a frost shrivels them up and a wind blows them away. The colours of the trees are just about starting to turn. Meg and I admired on acer-type tree that was starting to turn a flame red and it reminded us of a novel, set in Kenya, which was called ‘The Flame Trees of Thika’ as fas as we can remember. When we eventually made it home, it was lunchtime so we popped some fishcakes into the oven and cooked some broccoli as a green vegetable. As a second veg. I decided to innovate and cooked an onion and some green peppers which I then made a bit more exciting with some tomato passata and brown sauce (quite a change)

After lunch, we had intended to do various jobs but finished off with a good read of both yesterday’s newspapers. Yesterday’s Times contained a fascinating article by an immunologist who was suggesting the practical ways in which we can keep our immune systems fine-tuned in the face of COVID vaccines, flu jabs and the particularly vicious cold circulating around the country this year. But then I read a sentence that almost made the eyes pop out of my head. The immunologist explains: ‘If you are mixing with people, you might get sick but you can reduce the odds by eating healthily, staying active and getting outside as often as you can. It is not just the activity elementof being outdoors that’s beneficial. Plants and trees release compounds that boost our natural killer cells, the body’s first line of defence against infection making a walk in the  park one of the best things you can do’ (It was the bit about the ‘walk in the park‘ which I found amazing)

And so on to today’s Times which, being a Tuesday, is the usual medical and life-style day. here again, I discovered something very much in my own self-interest. One of the by-lines in the article in the T2 section of the Times was the view of some experts  ‘cutting carbs to lose weight could be a mistake‘ The argument here is pushing up the amount of fibre is particularly beneficial and top of the list comes All bran cereal followed by porridge oats, wholegrain bread, pears, avocados, baked beans and chia seeds. As I have been trying to cut down on the carbs but am very partial to All-Bran and porridge oats, this is music to my ears. The advice that is given, which sounds very sensible is that ‘consuming food as close to its natural state is the best way to get more fibre. In general, that means minimally processed food and whole fruit and vegetables’ Knowing all of this, I can see that at my next visit to the supermarket on Thursday, I shall be reordering some of my food priorities.

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Monday, 25th October, 2021 [Day 588]

Here we are at the start of another week. Our son and daughter-in-law are going to be away for a break for a day or so so we are a little bit left to our own devices. Meg and I are somewhat toddling along in second gear today after our car journey to Hampshire yesterday but still full of the glow of a wonderful shared experience seeing our friends. Today, the weather is certainly drifting down to some degrees colder and although we have had some blue skies, we have also had a few periods of an incredibly fiine drizzle – but nothing to deter us from our normal activities. We collected our newspaper and then popped into Waitrose where we met with our friendly staff who know us well. We exchanged experiences about the wine that we had both been recommended (by another staff member) and had both, by pure chance, sampled yesterday. Our shared experiences were so positive that we are are resolved to buy one or two bottles of this marvellous vintage, particularly whilst it is on special offer in Waitrose. But we did have a very pleasant surprise this morning. Meg had lost her handbag (one recently purchased and just the right size and colour which we found in a ‘hospice shop’ whilst we in Brecon recently) Thinking about where it might be, we speculated to ourselves that that she might have left it behind in the toilet within the Waitrose store as we could not  think where else it might be. As it turned out, our hunch was correct so Meg and handbag are now reunited. The only question that remains is how to keep things that way. What with one thing or another, we had a very late lunch today – I think it was nearly 3.00pm in the afternoon until we eventually got round to it. In the late afternoon, I phoned my sister and brother-in-law to catch up on their news. In the past few days, they have both been in hospital – my brother-in-law as part of his recurrent condition and my sister who was worn out looking after him. Meg and I feel a little powerless in this situation as the last thing that we should do is to pay a visit to them which would only add to their problems. So we are in the situation when all we can do is to watch and pray until the situation improves sufficiently for us to make a journey to Yorkshire.

There used to be a time when Budget secrets were closely guarded and prior disclosure resulted in huge penalties (including one famous case in the 1950’s when on the golf course a budget secret was revealed as part of an imprecation to ‘tea (tee) up’). But the situation today is one where budget anouncements are being made on a daily basis before the budget is actually held on Wednesday next. So we are being fed announcements on the minimum wage, NHS capital funding, infrastructure money and God knows what else. I am pretty sure that the Speaker of the House of Commons will take a pretty dim view of budget announcements being made like this rather than to the House of Commons – I suppose the Government takes the cynical view that announcing something a day or so before hand, getting the newspapers to publish it the following day and then ‘officially’ announcing it on Budget day is a good way to let the ‘good’ news spin out (literally) over three days rather than one. 

Tonight, as it was a little chilly outside, we decided to have the other half of the soup that I made in the SoupMaker some two or theee days ago. This was basically a curried parsnip soup but about a third of it was carrot and coriander from the day before. Today, it was a little thick and gloopy so I supplemented it with a third of its volume with whole milk and the result was – delicious! I am not sure if soup can actually improve having been stored for a day or so but I served it up with a rice cake (to add a bit of crunch) and some grated cheese on top. These results were so good I am going to try and replicate them in the future.

Some of the latest COVID news where I just quote the bald statistics. If you remember, Italy was the first country to feel the full force of the pandemic (particularly in the city of Bergamo) but the latest comparisons show us the degree of complacency from the present governmemnt. By the way, Italy has a population of nearly 61 million and the UK 65 million so the two countries are roughly comparable.

New cases: UK (35, 567) Italy (2,535). UK rate is 14 times the Italy rate. Deaths in the last 24 hours: UK 38 Italy 30. UK rate is 26% higher No further comment at this stage!


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Sunday, 24th October, 2021 [Day 587]

Today was the day which we had planned a few days ago to see our some of our good old Winchester University friends so we knew that we needed to make a fairly early start. Instead of going down on foot to collect our newspapers, we decided to collect them ‘en route’ as we set off on our journey. We allowed ourselves plenty of time and only had a brief stop in a layby where we could drink our coffee. This we did as the traffic thundered by within feet but at least this section of the M34 (between Oxford and Newbury) is quite well supplied with laybys which are OK for a snack or an occasional drink of coffee – not so good for answering the calls of nature. We made good time and got to the vicinity of our friend’s house about 20 minutes or so before the allotted time so thou ght we had better give them a ring so that we did not arrive before our time. When we got there we handed over some of our gifts that we used to appease the household gods (one of the things that I learned from my early years in Latin, which also incorporated parts of Roman history is that the Roman hearth/home was protected by the household gods Lares and Penates). So whenever, we visit friends we try to ensure that the housegold gods are well and truly appeased. Today, some of the oblations were our own produce (damson gin, cooking apples, eating apples) and a few opera CDs. After that, we had the most magnificent meal with our friends and the time actually flew by. The thing that sometimes emerges from these occasions (sharing a meal together) is that as your friendship lengthens and deepens, you find out parallels in your own lives. Foer example, my friend and l had worked in the same area of Manchester separated by only about a mile in distance (but about 4-5 years in time) We had a pretty simple journey home, punctuated only by a brief visit to a service station about two thirds of the way home for a loo visit which we thought might be prudent for the both of us. Our visit to that part of Hampshire proved interesting for us, not least we left fourteen years ago but, almost inevitably, new blocks of housing seem to be springing up all over the place.

Tomorrow being Monday morning, I must get to making a lst of all the things that need to be done during the week. Having said all that, I not really a ‘making-a-list’ type of person. In a job that i held in the Reference Division of the Central Office of Information (a Government department in London, now dissolved) I had a fair amount of discretion in my own workflow. I started making lists and generally had about 7 items on the list of which I managed about 2½. The reason for my apparent tardiness was that the telehone would ring with a query to which an answer had to be given as quickly as possible (many of the staff of COI were journalists, TV producers, exhibition specialists and the like and that needed the answer to questions as quickly as possible – in those pre-Google days. Absolute priority had to be given to these telephone queries and hence progress on my own list was slow. So I would add my 4½ items on the list left over from yesterday onto todays list which was now a dozen items. And so on and so on. By the end of the week, I had an incredibly long list with items of a different priority and through the dint of bitter experience, I learnt that not making a list was quite a sensible policy. Of course, you always keep a list in your head where you can reorder priorities more easily.

My Seasoned Word Traveller friend in the park asked me the other day why I was so disputatatious – or least inclined to argue the toss about almost anything. I think it all starts from the first few seconds I experienced in my very first University tutorial where a general question was put to the group. Racing through my head for a few seconds was the fact that I had left school 4 years ago and worked for most of that time, suffered a life-threatening illness and done all of my ‘A-levels on my own with no tutorial assistance at all( I didn’t write a single essay) I thought to myself ‘I have struggled this hard to get to University so I am not going to just sit there but I want to learn (preferably through argument – a lesson I gleaned for the preparations I made in my A-level Logic course). So I opened my mouth, gave my opinion and a fellow student took issue with me – and we argued our way through the subject for the whole of the year (everyone else kept quiet!)

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Saturday, 23rd October, 2021 [Day 586]

The weather today had gone decidedly cooler so Meg and I needed to wrap up a little more warmly than we have been accustomed. We took our time getting ready and then sauntered down, fairly late, into the town. On the way down, we were delighted to see two of our Catholic friends from down the road that we do not seem to have seen for a couple of weeks. We were delighted that the friend who had some heart problems now seemed incredibly well on the road to recovery and was busy gardening away to her heart’s content. We exchanged family news and our various comings and goings and indicated how pleased we were to see each other again – but, in truth, it was a little bit chilly for us to stand motionless so we resumed our walk and our friend her gardening activities. When we got to the newsagents, I was persuaded by the owner to purchase some pink Himalyan sea salt. This is claimed to have  all kinds of benefits not bestowed by other kinds of sea salt. The benefits appear to come from about 80 minerals, some iodine and oxides of iron which gives it the pink appearance. Tomorrow we will be having a ‘quickie’ i.e. not a normal cooked breakfast but I will try and give it a good trial on Monday morning when I will prepare a cooked breakfast of red onion, tomatoes and mushrooms made into an omelette for Meg and left as cooked vegetables for Mike.  We needed to pop into Waitrose which we did in order to buy some things that we had run out of and eventually got tho the park very late. We bumped into our friend Seasoned World Traveller as he was leaving the park and we were entering it. As time was pressing a little, we went onto one of the benches adjacent to the lake that we used frequent in the past and ate our comestibles before heading off for home. By this time, it was about 2.00pm but we had a quiche ready and waiting in the oven just to be heated so we managed to make ourselves a ‘quickie’ lunch (thank goodness, for frozen ‘petit pois’ and a tin of plum tomatoes). Then the afternoon, or what remained of it, was a somewhat lazy affair reading newspapers and generally crashing out before we go to church later in the afternoon.

Our next door neighbour (in the newly built mini-estate of some 18 houses) is doing some building work at the side of his house, the details of which I cannot discern as there is our own fence and his own fence in the way.  I assumed, in my naivety that he was probablt finishing off the side to his entesnion that he built about three or four years ago and has remained uncompleted for some 2-3 years now. One of the workmen constructing the ‘new’ edifice came round to ask permission to jump into our back garden (Mog’s Den actually) to finish off some pointing. I agreed readily and was pleased that they had bothered to ask permission (they have never communicated with us before).  Later on in the afternoon, I went down into Meg’s Den to discover that our neighbour seems to be building ‘something’ which can only be a metre wide and the wall is about 1″ at the very most from our boundary line. What the new construction (which needless to say is only about one third built) is going to be I can only guess. One possible use might be secure enclosed space that might accommodate overflow things from the garden (kid’s toys, his own Harley Davidson) that would release some space in the garage so that things can be put away at night. We shall just have to wairt the ‘thing’ is finished and then try to infer what is going on. My only real concern at the moment is that there is no space for any rainware goods so I am trusting that we won’t have cascades of water coming into our garden from next door. Under recent planning permission regulations,  people can do all sorts of things without even informing the planning committee so we shall just have to wait and see before passing any judgement on this.

As we suspected, some of the medical experts are giving much more explicit warnings about the COVID infection rate. Sky News is reporting that:

The nation is “dilly-dallying into lockdown” and action should be taken now to avoid much tougher COVID restrictions later, a government scientific adviser has warned. Professor Stephen Reicher told Sky News that vaccines are “not quite enough” on their own and “other protections” are needed now to tackle coronavirus

Of course, this is evident to most of us (as recent editions of this blog will testify) but, once again, the government looks as though they are trying to ‘tough it out’ as they are frightened to death about anything which even remotely looks like another lockdown


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Friday, 22nd October, 2021 [Day 585]

Today turned out to be a beautiful day as the sun was shining, the sky was blue and there was still a modicum of sunshine to enjoy. We were a little late down into town today as our domestic help gives Meg’s hair a specialist ‘twirl’ after we had showered and this, plus other general chats, ensured that we were a little tardy. When we got down to our favourite bench, none of our friends were there so we drank our coffee and ate our biscuits (Meg) or oranges (Mike) before we set off in the general direction of the newsagent. On our way down through the park, we bumped into our University of Birmingham friend and Seasoned World Traveller friend who were having a coffee together in the sunshine and near the café which was the source of their coffee. After a chat about films (particularly what the Americans had detailed in the film ‘Pearl Harbour‘) I went off to collect our copy of the Times. It is often said that war is the American’s way of teaching themselves geography – so I wondered by extension whether Hollywood movies are the American’s way of teaching themselves history and so on. Whilst on the subject of American history, I was exploring the two channels to which I now have access once I have retuned the TV. I stumbled into a documentary about Annie Oakley, the great American wild west hero (either on the Sky Arts channel or the PBS America channel – probably the latter). Annie Oakley regularly took part in ‘Wild West’ type shows, involving her shooting and horseriding skills. On one occasion, she was subjected to a hoax by an imposter who suggested that Annie Oakley herself had committed several dastardly crimes and was having to spent some time in a penitentiary. The ‘true’ Annie Oakley reckoned that the ‘imposter’ story had to be denied and rebutted at every single opportunity so she spent years suing every newspaper (including those in the Randolph Hearst stable) to restore her reputation. Although she won every one of her cases against the newspapers (bar one) she hardly made any money out of all of this, most of her ‘winnings’ that were small spent on the lawyers engaged to defend her. I am reminded of the expression, though, that ‘A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on?‘ Some version of this saying has existed since Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) and probably well before him. This particular phrasing is usually attributed to the American writer Mark Twain (1835–1910) or to the former Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill (1874–1965). It should be attributed to a British preacher named C.H Spurgeon (1834–1892) whose 1859 book has it as: “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” The interesting thing about all of this is that the expression has been coined, and quoted several times, before anything approaching the era of mass communications has dawned. This raises the interesting question of why lies are often believed but the original (true) story is disbelieved?

After I returned home, it was time to start cooking in earnest. I had promised our domestic help that I would cook some sea-bass for her (as she had originally taught me how to do it in the first place) So this only took five minutes (three minutes on the skin side, two minutes on the other) served on a bed of salad leaves and served with some tenderstem broccoli. This was washed down with some glasses of Pinot Grigio (I had a bottle in the fridge and thank goodness for screw tops as it only took a few seconds to serve) We all really enjoyed the meal and I promised that next week, I would treat us all to some home-made soup. Whilst on a culinary theme, I was a little bolder in my soup-making activities this evening. I decided to use up the coriander-flavoured carrots left over from last night’s soup and then added to it a fried onion, some parboiled parsnip (half of a huge one), a third of a tin of coconut milk and a smidgeon of curry powder. The result was pretty good (even though I say it myself) but again I prepared too much and saved half of it for a future occasion. I am still a learning curve here but so far so good. I think next time I will avoid any parsnip or carrot based mixture and try a leek and potato instead.   

The COVID story rumbles on with results as predictable as a Greek drama. On the one hand, we have an almost united medical profession saying ‘Start Plan B immediately‘ (i.e. compulsory facemarks, work from home). They also make the point that it is better to act now rather than later when the virus is even more rampant. On the other hand,  Boris is terrified of his own right wing and the Daily Telegraph  and will only act when forced (but too little and too late – have we been here before?)


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