Friday, 31st December, 2021 [Day 655]

Today dawned as the last day of the year of 2021 and I an sure that quite a few of the population will be saying ‘Good riddance’ and will be looking forwrd to the New Year. Meg and I were a little delayed in our walk this morning because we got to bed a little late last night and allowed ourselves  a little lie-in this morning. But upon reading my emails, the bank that looks after our community affairs told me that my new password had been approved. But I still needed to make a voice contact with the Bank so that they could send me a special onetime password with which to activate the little ID device that the Bank supplies for us. This had to be set up with its own pin and was then operated to provide a special code which then had to be fed into the Bank’s website. Eventually, though, I was successful but the palaver in getting access to one’s own account has to be seen to be believed. The weather was continuing its mild spell but we took the car down to the newsagents where we shared thoughts about the forthcoming New Year. I am reminded what was said to one of our neighbours as we were walking down for our Pilates session. She met some old friends who she had not seen for several months and when the ritual enquiries were made of each other’s health, they replied ‘We’re still above the ground‘ – and I think this is quite a good motto to adopt. So the newsagent and I congratulated each other with the sentiment that we were at least ‘still above the ground’ as we looked forward to 2022. Once we had picked up our newspaper, we made our way to the park where our University of Birmingham friend happened to be waiting for us. Then the sun broke through and we had several moments of glorious sunshine as the clouds had rolled away. In time, nearly all of the regulars turned up including our veteran octogenerian trekker, a lady in a wheelchair who often joins us and several other of the faithful regulars. There is a particular feeling about both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve when most of the people one meets seem to be full of bonhomie and there is a general feeling that everyone wishes to be friendly. So we had several entertaining chats and wished each well for the New Year with the indication that we might just meet each other in the park tomorrow anyway. After we had returned home, we made ourselves a quick meal of risotto. We then started to watch some Christmas Eve daytime films but the promised comedy did not live up to expectations so we settled down to a quiet read. Then I did a flick up the TV channels to see if I could discover anything and ineed, on the Drama channel, we discovered that they were broadcasting the whole ‘box set’ (series of episodes strung together) of Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”. This was half way through by the time we discovered it but nonetheless, although we had seen this particular film version before, the whole film was well worth watching through to its conclusion. In the novel itself which I just happened to re-read only a few years ago, the principal male character and husband of Tess walks up ‘West Hill’ outside Winchester and has a view overlooking the prison where his wife has just been hanged. The final scene of the novel is set in a location in which King Alfred’s College, Winchester is only a stone throw’s away so upon reading the novel, one is left with a real sense of a link with the novel as Hardy incorporated many geographical elements of the Wessex countryside into his novels. 

A little bit of COVID news has been released to puncture any updue optimisnm that we may feel. A study by the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed the reduced effect of vaccines as Omicron spreads – with even a double-dose of AstraZeneca providing no effect against symptomatic infection from the variant from 20 weeks after the second jab. This means that without the booster jab, people may feel that have been protected but they may be living in a fool’s paradise. Even after a booster jab, natural immunity may decline over the weeks so although the population might thnk of itself as well protected by vaccines, this is only true if they are fairly recent. Perhaps we might start to get some news of a 4th jab (second booster?) some time in the next few weeks but in the meantime a certain complacency night have crept in. On a slightly more positive note, boosters did all still offer good protection against hospitalisation, according to the UKHSA analysis, rising to an 81% reduction in risk after a third jab. The study also showed that the risk of hospitalisation from the now-dominant Omicron variant was about one-third of that of Delta.


Continue Reading

Thursday, 30 December, 2021 [Day 654]

Today is our ‘shopping’ day so I made sure that I could leap out of bed in plenty of time to get washed, tea made for both of us and then I could set forth in plenty of time to arrive in Droitwich about five minutes before the store opened its doors. All of this worked well but I must say that I was surprised to be about No. 4 or No. 5 in the queue. After last week’s heavy expenditure, I decided I was ging to be much more circumspect about my purchases and only buy an item if I thought it was absolutely necessary. All of this having been done, I got home at about 9.30 having spent an hour shopping and then did a slow unpack. As we were going to bed last night, the guilty verdict in the Ghislaine Maxwell case had been announced and there was a rapidly increasing throng of the asoociated media assembled at the front of the courtroom. No doubt reporters and photographers were waiting for members of the Maxwell defence team to appear. Certainly, some members of the family of Maxwell had seemed to escape from the back of the courtroom and the lawyers did not make an appearance for a couple of hours. At this stage, I had gone to bed so I don’t know if the lawyers actually did appear but I did fancy a bit of bloodsport if the lawyers had to run the gantlet of the press. Ome of the commentators on the case opined that the Maxwell family was shocked and disappointed by the verdict and they had expected that they could destroy the integrity of the witnesses.  They had hoped to convince the jury that Epstein was the main culprit in the case and as he had committed suicide in prison, then Maxwell was being pursued by the authorities in lieu of Epsten himself. But the jury returnd a unanimous guilty verdict on five of the six charges.

After the shopping had been put away, it was time for me to make a visit to my bank to try to get to the bottom of the debite cards which cannot be read by ATMs. I must say that I was very well and sympathetically treated by the bank staff which took me into a back office and tried to get to the bottom of my problems. The upshot of all of this is that two new cards have been ordered for Meg and myself. When they turn up, I think I am going to store them very carefully because I suspect that in case the magnetic strip has been compromised so I evidently want to avoid all of these issues arising again when the new cards appear. 

After lunch, we were engaged in more Christmas entertaining with some of our closest friends who had spent time away over Christmas so it was delightful to see them and to share a lot of our family and other kinds of news. So we had a very jolly time for most of the afternoon but we had some more close friends calling around in the early evening so it was case of saying a hurried set of goodbyes to our departing friends and a quick whiz around until our other friends turned up. This is really quite a frantic time of year because we are popping into yet more friends for a Christmas drink on Sunday morning  and our Italian friend from down the road is also organising a little rendezvous-vous for us as well. No doubt, we will get down to earth early on next week but then, of course, it will be at the start of a New Year.

Tmorrow we will be seeing our domestic help and we always look forward to our lively chats. Moreover, we anticipate seeing more of our acquaintances in the park tomorrow  so we need to make the most of the mild weather spell we are experiencing at the moment. New Year’s Eve is often the time when people go out to celebrate the New Year but Meg and myself are more than content to see the New Year in with a quiet drink on the stroke of midnight.

The COVID news at the end of the year is that the number of new infections continue to soar (to over 180,000) Meanwhile sites are being prepared all over the country to help the NHS cope with th surge of cases that are bound to hit within the next week or so. Even though the hospitalisation rate is not increasing at the same rate  as infections then the basic mathematics remains of great concern. Even if only a few very percent become seriously ill, then a small percentage of a very large number of infections could still mean 5,000-10,000 additional cases a day hitting our NHS hospitals, Do we have the staff to cope with all of this?

Continue Reading

Wednesday, 29th December, 2021 [Day 653]

Today has turned out to be another day with some frustrations built in but life must go on. The weather is unseasonably mild at the moment – this time last year, I am pretty sure that we were shivering in the snow as soon as Christmas was over. Today, though, Meg and I went off  by car to collect our newspaper and then we made a brief excursion into the park where we sat and drank our coffee as per usual.The I dropped Meg back at home and I went on my way do visit a few places on the Bromsgrove High Street. I started my series of errands by calling in at our local pharmacy to pick up a lateral flow test. Admittedly, the Government’s own website indicated that there are no kits available for distribution from the centre – but nonetheless encouraged visitors to the site to visit their local pharmacy. So I got my special authorisation code sent to me and also available on the phone but when I arrived at the pharmacy, despite my code, they had no supplies and did not know when they get future supplies. Apparently, a lack of lateral flow tests (LFTs) in UK pharmacies is a ‘huge’ problem as people have been requesting them every five minutes over the Christmas period, providers have warned. ‘What our members are telling us is that demand for the lateral flow tests is very high at the moment due to the current guidelines around self-isolation. Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy asking for a test,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme’  So this looks like a case of non-joined up government with the official advice being to test yourself before going to meet relatives or other crowded spaces, without making sure that adequate supplies of the test kits were available. The more responsible that people try to be, the more the government has not made it possible for people to act responsibly. So this was frustration ‘Numero Uno’ this morning. The next one was to follow shortly. I walked along to my local bank as I had done yesterday only to find them shut. Today, having arrived there to get our debit cards sorted out (as the ATM’s will not recognise them), I found the branch shut again. Apparently, all of the available staff have COVID so there was nobody to open up the branch. Having negotiated my way up the queue of frustrated clients, the bank had a couple of people outside the bank saying to come back tomorrow. I explained my dilemma to these staff  who advised me to ring the number on the back of the cards. So that was Frustation No. 2. But I did manage to pick up a supply of perfume which had come through to Boots after a delay of some days – a belated Christmas present for Meg. So I got home and threw lunch together before I tackled the  issue of contacting my bank. After a wait of some 40 minutes (and having been made to supply voice recognition samples in the meanwhile) I did speak to a human employee, I was informed that a new card could be supplied but it would take some 4-5 working days and even then it would have a new expiry date and 3-digit security code. So when this new card arrives, I will still  be put to the trouble of going to various websites where my credit card details are lodged and getting these updated which is always a pain. So that was Frustation No. 3 for the day.

This afternoon, though, we did manage a Zoom session with Meg’s cousins and this all worked very well. We managed to get an up-to-date address for a relative whose most recent address details we had lost. We had quite a jolly time chatting with the cousins and have arranged a date in about 10 days time when we get ourselves to Derby and we can all go out for a meal together – or some oher kind of face-to-face interaction. We are all looking forward to this as we have not seen this particular branch of the family for some two years now.

The Omicron variant continues its macabre progress. We have learnt today tht up to 90% of people in intensive care had not had the booster jab. Pharmacies have reported that they are asked for lateral flow tests every 5 minutes but adequate supplies have been promised in time for New Year’s Eve – which is only just over a day away. In France, it looks as though the number of new infections may top 200,000 new cases compared with 183,000 in the UK. But the situation in French hospitals as here in the UK  is that whilst hospitalisations are rising, the rate of increase of new COVID cases is not yet overwhelming. Even so, in the UK,  the number of COVID hospitalisations in the UK jumped by 900 in the past 24 hours.



Continue Reading

Tuesday, 28th December, 2021

Today has turned out to be one of those frustrating days when nothing seems to go quite right. As it seemed a tad cooler than of late, we decided to treat ourselves to  steaming bowl of porridge and this bit of the day turned out OK. We knew that we needed to get back into the house by 12.00pm as we had an arrangement to Zoom with some of Meg’s cousins so we had to ‘cut our coat according to our cloth” I texted our University of Birmingham friend to indicate that we would go down to the park by car and then have our coffee and biscuits in the bandstand where at least we would be shielded from the worst of the showers. Then we phoned or friend to tell him where we were and the rest of the park was deserted. He was busy visiting a relative so we made a rendez-vous for next Friday and then shot back home in the car ready for our ‘Zoom’ meeting. This was when our frustrations really started. Meg’s cousin generally sets up the Zoom and we link into it just by clicking a link on an email which has been sent to us – but no email was forthcoming. So I tried setting up a call myself which only had one participant (myself) and although I emailed Meg’s cousin several times nothing seems to have happened. When playing about with the settings, though, I did manage to get a view of myself  (courtesy of Zoom) as though I was a larger-than-life spaceman floating over the earth which looked rather grand. After getting nowhere, I emailed my son who was busy at work to see if he could link into my conference call but this drew a blank as well, despite my sending him (and our daughter-in-law) a link to click. Having drawn a blank and been on the internet for the best part of an hour, we abandoned it and cooked myself some lunch.  After lunch, I checked ny email and Meg’s cousin who should have been at the other end of the Zoom call who was full of apologies. Her mother had taken a tumble and although no bones were broken she was somewhat bruised and certainly shaken up. So evidently, this had absorbed all of the cousin’s attention and energies and she had completely forgotten about the Zoom call.

After lunch, I knew I wanted to dash into town to get some things from Asda which are unobtainable elsewhere. But first I needed to get some money out of an ATM but the ATM I chose (and a few others) all refused to accept my card saying it was ‘invalid’. So then I popped into the store (not my favourite) and spent several fruitless minutes searching for some thin-style calendars of which they had a good display this last year. I cannot find what I was looking for but an assistant pointed to me to a temporary display (not on the normal shelves) so it was no wonder I could not find what I was looking forward. But eventually, I found a calendar more or less to our taste and then proceeded to try and find some packet potato which I use constantly as a gravy thickener. Needless to say, I couldn’t find what I was looking for but eventually I found some where the contents had increased by 50%  but the price had gone up from 30p to £1.00. At least the card worked at the paypoint so I could pay for my purchases.

Finally at home, frustration number 3 of the day. The treasurer and myself are still struggling through the safeguarding procedures of the bank which supplies banking services to our Resident’s Association. Their ‘safeguarding procedures’ means that we have to jump through multiple hoops to carry on what we have been doing for the last ten tears or so. After a great deal of searching and an abortive telephone call to the bank, I managed to locate our user name but not the password set up ten years ago. So I went through the password reset routine but this required a form to be downloaded, then signed by all of the relevant people (i.e. the Treasurer and mysellf) and then had to be submitted to be ‘considered’ by the relevent part of the bank before they would allow me to change my password for one I can remember. I also submitted even more details to the ‘SafeGuarding’ unit of the bank who again are ‘considering’ the information so in some ways, I have got nowhere. On the other hand, I have done as much as I can do and then I shall wait for my email inbox to fill up wih even more requests for information. The whole of this ‘safeguarding’ is being enjoined on the banks by the Financial Conduct Authority – I am sure that thousands of us are being put through the mill but the genuine money launderers (much of the London property market in big houses) will no doubt have found a way round all this.

Continue Reading

Monday, 27th December, 2021 [Day 651]

We were up fairly late this morning because we watched the broadcast of La Bohème on BBC4 last night. Meg and I quite enjoyed this production but we have seen better. The singing was of a generally high order but I was not completely convinced by some of the staging. The trouble with La Bohème is that we have seen so many productions of this, both live and on video, when one automatically makes comparisons in one’s mind with past productions. I felt this was a ‘curate’s egg’ i.e. it worked well in parts and at other times, I was not so sure. But the death of Mimi in the final moments of the opera is always a totally compelling emotional experience which is, after all, what opera is all about. We had earlier watched young ballerinas and the youngsters from White Lodge (the Royal Ballet training school for 11-16 year olds) going through a fairly gruelling training procedure. When you watched the ultimate performance, one’s heart was in one’s mouth that nobody made a mistake – I suppose they would have edited out anything that was a disaster. But the physical and emotional demands on trainee dancers has got to be seen to be believed. If you do a Google search for ‘ballet mistakes’ you will see what happens and how quickly some of the dancers recover from a terrible mistake. Sometimes, I wonder if some members of the audience even notice.

Being a little delayed this morning, I walked down to collect the newspaper and do a little bit of shopping for supplies that had run short – Meg and I decided to forgo our normal walk so went down to the park by car. En route, we stopped off with our Irish friends down the road in order to invite them around for a Christmas drink and they were busy with their two grandchildren keeping them suitably entertained no doubt. When we got to the park, it was raining with a stinging type of drizzle despite the weather being on the mild side. The park was deserted – so we walked a circular walk avoiding our normal stay on a park bench (which would have been both wet and cold) and decided to come home and have our prepared elevenses at home. This we did and then pressed on with lunch, eating some more of our Christmas beef. Both Meg and I felt that our ‘leftovers’ tasted particularly tasty this morning. This sometimes happens with a joint which tastes better the day after rather than the day of cooking and our broccoli had benefitted for being the fridge for several days. Even the glass of wine we had tasted a little better than on the day of opening itself.

This afternoon was devoted to some little tidying and mending jobs – the kind of jobs that you always say you are going to get round to eventually and then the hour of reckoning comes. I also tried some experimentation with Meg’s iPhone to see if I can temporarily switch the passcode off (I can!) The idea behind this is to get something approximating to a ‘one touch’ system so that when I am out of the house, Meg can use my iPhone to contact me almost instantly should the need arise.

I came across a nice little expression in the last day or so, namely ‘Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.‘ There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ’emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning. The details of a plan which was designed years in advance are often incorrect, but the planning process demands the thorough exploration of options and contingences. The knowledge gained during this probing is crucial to the selection of appropriate actions as future events unfold. So there we are.

I was disappointed to learn that our Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced that there will be no further restrictions before the New Year – this on the day that we had the highest number of infections ever at 113,628. I dare say that the government are gambling upon the fact that there has been a degree of ‘semi-lockdown’ as people have withdrawn from various activities, such as shopping, over the recent period. Also the apparent ‘mildness’ of the Omicron variant means that hospital admissions have not risen at the same rate as the infection rate. On the other hand, on the ‘supply; rather than the ‘demand’ side of the equation the hospitals are under the most extreme pressure because so many NHS staff are ill with COVID are self isolating. The absenteeism rate due to COVID has risen by 40% since last year. Covid staff sickness rose by 122% in a week at hospital trusts in London, which has had more Omicron cases than anywhere else in England. 

Continue Reading

Sunday, 26th December, 2021 [Day 650]

Today being Boxing Day makes tomorrow Bank Holiday Monday, I suppose, as the Bank Holiday gets transferred from a Sunday (i.e. today) until the following day. So this morning, I decided to pop down early for our Sunday newspapers on my own so that would liberate a bit of time later on in the day. The weather has been incredibly wet for the last few days but at least the rain had eased off for my walk down into town today and it seemed as though the rain would hold off for the rest of the morning. Meg and I walked down and had coffee on our ‘normal bench’ and thought we would not bump into any of our regulars but no sooner had we consumed our coffee then our University of Birmingham friend turned up with a couple of other mutual friends that we had not seen for a couple of weeks. So it was good to bump into friends and we exchanged news about the kind of Christmas Day we had had. To some extent, we were not unhappy to get Christmas Day itself over and done and now we were ready for a more relaxing time on Boxing Day. When we got to the park, I substituted my normal leather Australian style hat for a Santa hat. The Australian hats are occasionally known as ‘Bush’ hats and sometimes as ‘Cowboy’ hats but I have learnt, to my cost, not to leave them behind in a railway carriage or a pub because they never, ever get handed in as lost but are claimed under the principle of ‘Finders-Keepers, Losers-Weepers). After we had our chat the drizzle started to come down so we started to make for home. As we had plenty of food and drink back in the house, we invited our University of Birmingham friend back into the house where we had a quick drink followed by an instant Boxing-day style meal. We had got plenty of cooked vegetables left over from yesterday  so we cut ourselves some slices of ham and quickly microwaved up the vegetables so we had a meal in an instant. Whilst we were at it, we decided to have a go at the Christmas pudding that we had in stock and was far too much just for the two of us. So we had some enjoyable food and drink and even more enjoyable conversation as we recounted some of our university experiences. We expressed to each other the feelings that we had of quiet satisfaction that we were not part of present day employment conditions in the higher education sector. This is so highly casualised these days and the students having to pay up to £9,000 a year (and take out loans to cover the costs of maintenance) and are starting to express their discontent. Some university staff have taken strike action in recent months as plans are in place to fund the Universities pension schemes with cuts to benefits. The employers claim the cuts will amount to something between 10%-18%  whilst the college unions claim that the cuts amount to  35%. I cannot start to arbitrate between these conflicting estimates but it does seem that conditions have changed considerably since I was in employment in a university. For decades we contributed about 7% of our salary towards our final pensions and the employers contributed a more than equal amount. Trying to understand why and how the deficit has arisen is contentious. However, from what I can glean, it appears that deficits in defined-benefit pension schemes have been made worse by central bank action to deal with the coronavirus. By pushing down interest rates in the hope of stimulating an economic recovery, they have made long-term pension promises much more expensive. Retired workers are also living longer, adding to the increase in expected future costs.

The COVID situation is currently exposing divisions in the approach taken to the Omicron variant of the COVID virus in the various constituent nations of the UK (although it doesn’t feel very united) The Celtic fringes of Wales, Scotland Northern Ireland are generally re-imposing conditions on meetings of large numbers of people and nightclubs are generally being closed – but not in England. It appears that England is still taking a more ‘libertarian’ approach with looser restrictions on the use of face-masks and the like than other countries. However the situation is being kept ‘under review’ and it is possible that England might eventually come into line with all of our immediate neighbours. Also, there is a firm commitment that schools will reopen as usual in about a week’s time and I wonder what the effects of this are going to be. I suspect that we may see the worst of the Omicron variant towards the middle of January and whilst government policy is to give a booster dose to as many as possible, it may be that the protection ‘enjoyed’ by many members of the population may be fast waning. So some societies (like Israel) are already considering a fourth vaccination (a second booster dose) and it could be that this will become necessary in the UK as well if the infection rate soars.


Continue Reading

Saturday, 25th December, 2021 [Day 649]

It seems a bit strange writing a blog when you haven’t really done anything all day, but here goes. Last night, the Christmas Midnight Mass was only broadcast from our local cathedral in central Birmingham. I have not visited St.Chads but it has several associations with the eminent architect Pugin as the Cathedral and Bishop’s House (originally opposite), and their interiors, were designed by him. The cathedral is an internationally significant building, being the first Catholic cathedral to be built in the UK since the Reformation. I also discovered that in 1940 a bomb dropped through the ceiling, burst some central heating pipes and the escape of water from the same put out the fire which would have otherwise ensued (and therefore the fabric of the cathedral was saved). Perhaps it was the TV shots but the cathedral was not, at first glance, a particularly memorable building – I suspect that I need to visit it and have a good wander around to appreciate its undoubted qualities. When the service was over, it was now being well and truly Christmas Day, I sent off a series of tweats to family members and also received an email from an old friend in Spain.  The rest of the day followed a fairly predictable Christmas Day routine. After we had had our breakfast and opened up our Christmas presents, we were entertained by the adventures of ‘Sean the Sheep‘ which brought wry smiles rather than rib-tickling gales of laughter. Then it came to the organisation of Christmas dinner. This is always an exercise in logistical rather then culinary skills but I am pleased to say that I managed to get the beef, gravy, roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, chestnuts and finally Rioja well and truly coordinated and we had a (rather large) dinner at just about the anticipated time. After lunch, I idly flipped through various channels on the telly and settled upon a programme on Channel 5 going through Abba’s greatest hits which I must say I rather enjoyed in a post-prandial haze. Then it was time for the Queen’s broadcast at 3.00pm. I must admit that I have never followed these assiduously over the years but on this occasion, it seemed a little different. For a start, the Queen had decided to stay at Windsor rather than having a traditiuonal ‘family do’ at Sandringham – was this a message to the nation? A lot of the broadcast was then devoted to the fact that the Queen had lost her husband earlier on this year and she was reflecting upon the fact that Christmas time can be a particularly poignant time when loved ones have passed away. I thought the whole broadcast was particularly well crafted (even though much of it is put together by some of her wordsmiths). I rather enjoyed trying to decode the subliminal messages (who is ‘up’ and who is ‘down’ in the modern royal family by the mention or the absence of a mention as well as which video clips are displayed to illustrate the broadcast)

Almost inevitably at this time of year, one reflects on Christmas in the past. One of the earliest recollections that I have must have date back to about 1950 when I was aged five. My mother worked as a clerk/typist in the Education offices in Harrogate. She used to tell the the story that she and her fellow workers used to wait for their boss to do his round of the offices to wish everyone a happy Christmas at about 3.30 or 3.45 on Christmas Eve. This was then a ‘cue’ for everyone to leave and all of the Christmas shopping that needed to be done was left from about 3.45 to 5.30 on that afternoon. The memories that I retain was of my mother coming home on her bicycle, laden up with carrier bags and with a small Christmas tree sticking out of one of them. To be fair, the shops were so short of anything to buy just after the Second World War and people were so short of money in general that this not the privation you might imagine. Of course, times were very much simpler 70 years ago. Even later, as a teenager, when I worked at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate (washing dishes at 12½p an hour) I would start at 6.00pm and would leave home to cycle into work at about 5.30. Our shift would carry on until about 2.00am the following morning and I did this for several years as a teenager. To be honest, you had Christmas Day with your family and then saw work colleagues in the evening. The management was extraordinarily generorous in those days – staff were not offered any extra pay for working on Christmas day but each member of staff was rewarded with one (small) glass of sherry (which the hotel used to buy by the barrel directly from Spain and then bottle themselves with an ‘Old Swan’ label stuck on it).

Continue Reading

Friday, 24th December, 2021 [Day 648]

Christmas Eve has dawned and I leapt out of bed fairly early for me because I thought I would walk down to the paper shop before breakfast to liberate a bit more time during the rest of the day. Walking down to town at about 7.30 in the morning was quite an interesting experience because some people had their lighted decorations on (which they may switch off during the day). I have seen a fibreglass reindeer in one of the front porches down the road but I haven’t realised before that this could be illuminated by flashing LEDs (which sounds tacky in the extreme, but actually it was fairly tasteful). At the newsagents, I picked up my newspaper and I exchanged seasonal greetings with the wife of the newsagent who has lived,with her husband, in California. We were having a chuckle about the fact that the American cricket team had secured a victory over the Irish which was quite notable for them – but the source of amusement to us both was that about 8 of the American cricket team were Asian and another two Afro-Caribbean – I think one solitary white American male had crept into the team somehow.  When I got home, I prepared our normal cooked breakfast and then our domestic help turned up and we always have a lot to natter about, particularly in view of our little Yorkshire venture for my brother-in-law’s funeral. We indicated that all had gone well and the whole proceedings were both dignified and emotionally uplifting. I then had to go ahead and get the cards organised for the neighbours. As it turned out there were about seven of these and again I tried to match the Christmas card to the neighbour. Hence to two of our Asian neighbours, I try not to offend them with overtly Christian type cards but tend to use those which evidently have an international flavour. For one of my park friemds (who as it happens was not there this morning) I chose a vaguely amusing card which had on it a flock of sheep bah-ing ‘Happy Christmas bleatings’ (which, although not rib-tickingly funny might bring a slight smile of amusement when he eventually gets it). So Meg and I set out on our journey to the park, hand delivering the cards as we went. When we got to the park, neither of two regular friends were there but I had a quick telephone call with one of them to arrange a rendez-vous for Sunday. We did, though, meet up quite by chance with an elderly Irish couple who are close friends of our other Irish friends along Kidderminster Road. I reminded them that last year, the six of us had partaken of some of the damson gin which I had taken down for some of friends. Because we were in sort of lockdown conditions last year, we actually sat in the doorway of an open garage so that we could indicate to passing officaldom that we were actually outdoors (which complied with the regulations then in force) I had taken along a largish bottle of the 2020  vintage of our damson gin (I had made six litres last year and hence had some left over before this year’s is bottled) I had brought with me some paper cups so they both imbibed my damson gin and I reminded them that as we had been doing this for two years, we had actually started a tradition. After the Irish couple  proceeded on their way, we encountered anothr couple that we know slightly by sight (or rather their dog bounded over searching out titbits which is quite a common occurrence) We had a very interesting chat for at least 20 minutes or so talking about the houses in which we had lived in the past, both of which happened to have extremely long gardens. So after this chat we had to race home and I cooked some sea-bream which I had promised all of us this Christmas Eve lunch.The point about this particular fresh fish is that it only done for about three minutes on one side and two minutes on the other  and then served on a bed of salad – so the whole meal can literally get thrown together ina few minutes. We then exchanged some Christmas gifts that we had bought for each other but our domestic help ( an excellet cook, by the way) brought along a courgette and ginger soup (which we were to have later on this evening) and some absolutely delicious treacle-type ginger cake ( and in return, she had some of our beer and Cava of which we had a spare bottle) so I am sure we will have a wonderfulChristmas day opening up all of these prezzies.

This evening we went to the Christmads Eve service in which we imagined that the church would be packed full.  It was but we had got there 15 minutes before our normal arrival time. It was raining ‘cats and dogs’ both when we got to the church and when we came out so we were pleased to get home and enjoy some home-made soup.

Continue Reading

Thursday, 23rd December, 2021 [Day 647]

I thought that today was going to be a quieter kind of day but I suppose that for the few days just before Christmas, that has got to be a case of wishful thinking. After our entertaining last night and then sqeezing in writing my blog in the intervals between a repeated showing of ‘Endeavour‘ (i.e. the young Morse), Meg and I allowed ourselves a little bit of a lie-in, given that I was up at 6.30 yesterday morning. However, I have it in mind that in the New Year, I might train myself into a new pattern in which I get up at 6.30, walk down to get the newspapers each morning which will give me an extra bit of exercise and then Meg and I can still walk to the park but the newspapers will have been collected which attenuates the walk somewhat. But that is a New Year resolution which may not survive beyond a day or so. Today, though, as we were having a lesiurely breakfast we had occasion to look outside our front door and we noticed that Santa Claus had made an early visit to our house. Delighted as we were, we realised that a certain amount of present buying needed to be done, not least for our assiduous domestic help who is due round tomorrow morning. So Meg and I revised our plans for the day and decided to collect the newspaper by car and then pop by into Waitrose where some goodies were awaiting us. In Waitrose, as well as getting the things that we wanted, we had both a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise. The unpleasant surprise was one of the regular staff telling us that the coffee bar area which had been requisitioned to act as Christmas fare overflow area was unlikely to reopen as a coffee bar immediately after Christmas. The official word is that they are going to ‘wait and see’ for a bit, but I suspect that they find it more profitable to abandon the coffee bar area altogether and to reopen it as a type of special offers or promotions section. This confirms our belief that once a facility closes, it is so much more difficult to reopen it and the higher management of Waitrose are thinking of redeploying this floor space altogether. But then we had some good news because one of the regular staff made us a present of some hyacinth bulbs which is always a reminder that as it blooms, there will be a Spring upon the way in a few weeks time. So Meg and I went home and had our ‘elevenses’ at home, substituting some of last night’s left-overs for our normal fare and set about wrapping our newly purchased purchases in Christmas paper,labelling them up and writing the Christmas cards to go with them. Then we set out by car on our errand to drop off presents. The first went to our Italian friend down the road and then we popped presents near the front or back doors of our church friends and our Irish friends respectively.

Some interesting analyses on the severity of the Omicron variant have been released today by the UK Health Security Agency. The findings, in brief, are that:

⊕ The People with Omicron are significantly less likely to develop severe symptoms, according to the first analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

⊕ Early results suggest people are 30-45% less likely to go to A&E if they are infected with Omicron rather than Delta.

⊕ They are also 50-70% less likely to need to be admitted to hospital.

⊕ It shows that 10 weeks after the booster the effect in preventing symptomatic disease dropped by 15-25%.

⊕ Independent scientists have warned that even a “milder” virus that causes large numbers of cases could still lead to a surge in hospital admissions.

The broadcaster Jon Snow is hosting his last Channel 4 News this evening having been the anchor of this programme for 32 years. He will continue to work for Channel 4 News on longer term projects but at the age of 73 years old, he may be wanting to take it a little easier. Channel 4 News mounted their own tribute to Jon Snow this evening which ended in a sort of ticker-type walk through the production studio where he embraced (and was embraced) by many of his co-workers. He will be sadly missed (by me, at least)
Continue Reading

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2021 [Day 646]

Today I knew was going to be quite a busy day so I set the alarm to get me up promptly at 6.30am. Then after a wash and a quick bite of cereal, I made my way to Waitrose in Droitwich, anticipating being there about 2-3 minutes before the store opened. When I did get there the store was already open and seemed quite busy so the store must have (quite sensibly) opened an hour early to accommodate the Christmas shopping.  This was always going to be quite a big shop- up and so it proved as we missed out on a shop-up when we went up to Yorkshire last week. Also, there were various things that I knew we had run out of so I needed to bear in mind the extra things that inevitably one buys at Christmas time (Christmas pudding and the like) as well as some extras because I knew that we were entertaining our next door neighbours this evening and a solitary mince pie looks parsimonious in the extreme. The shopping and the extra shopping took a lot of unpacking so we were late getting on our normal excursion to the park. In fact, we were so late that we decided to go by car not least because once we had picked up our newspaper, I needed to buy some more (first class) stamps to ensure that last minute Christmas cards got to their destination on time. Once we had made it to the park, it was so late and a bit cold and damp so we decided to cut our losses and get straight home and have our elevenses at home, which we did. Then we decided to eat our quiche which I  complemented with a tomato/mushroom/garlic sidedish which complemented the quiche very well. 

Before it got well and truly dark this afternoon, I got our dustbins pulled to the front of our access road and then did a quick consultation with my email to see if one of Meg’s cousins had replied to an earlier plea asking for addresses of relatives that had escaped our system. Meg’s cousin had replied so we set up a time when we can ‘Zoom’ each other. Armed with an up-to-date address for another of Meg’s cousins, I thought I would make a lightning visit down into town hoping that the Christmas card for which I now had an address would manage to get to its destination on time. It was raining cat and dogs but I managed to get to a postbox where I think (hope) that I will have caught the last post today so I am hopeful it may arrive tomorrow or Christmas Eve at the very latest. When I got home, I immediately starting to plate up the ‘small-eats’ which we needed to entertain our next door neighbours later on this evening. We had slightly mistaken the time they were due to call round but no problem as we had just about got everything sorted out anyway. I had bought some Rose Prosecco from Waitrose this morning as well as some medium sherry and both of these were pressed into service this evening. Then we had an incredibly enjoyable couple of hours with our neighbours and we have them a blow-by-blow account of how the funeral services had gone (well) and lots of other neighbourly type of things to chat about. I regaled them with some of my civil service escapades which are ‘old hat’ by now but at least they hadn’t the story before, nor of my escapade sailing my boat (upturned kitchen table) when I was aged about 3½ or so.

It is always nice to get this stage before Christmas i.e. shopping done, neighbours entertained, cards delivered – although the immediate neighbour’s cards still have to be done. We are now at the stage when all ought to be plain sailing. I have always thought that Christmas, particularly Christmas Day, has to be carefully planned and I allow myself to relax from Boxing Day onwards. Last night, I suddenly thought about the diary which I need for next year (I tend to buy the same model of Letts so that they form a series over the years) and a large Collins type of wall calendar that I have displayed next to me desk so that I can look at commitments for a week or so ahead. Fortunately,  both of these were in stock and the diary will be arriving tomorrow and the calendar a day or so after that.

Now that another ‘semi-lockdown’ seems to be upon us – I would guess some time immediately after Boxing Day – it may well be time to activate our Zoom, Skype and FaceTime networks. The peak of the Omicron virus is not yet quite in sight but in a few days we might see if the curve is flattening at all.  Getting reliable data over the Christmas and New Year period may be arkward but I suspect that in about a fortnight’s time. the epidemiologists might have enough data to firm up their predictions.


Continue Reading