Monday, 31st January, 2022 [Day 686]

Today it was announced fairly on that Sue Gray had delivered her interim ‘update’ (rather than a report) to the Prime Minister. So to a large extent, the rest of the day was a holding operation until the heavily redacted summary of the report is published, Boris Johnson has appeared in Parliament and the reaction of the Tory MPs in Westminster can be gauged. Meg and I took a hard look at the weather forecast and decided that we would walk down to collect our newspaper and then to pop into Waitrose to get some supplies. This we did and then we made our way to our normal bench  in the park where the weather was generally fine but it was somewhat on the cold side. We were just preparing to leave when we were recognised by a member of the congregation at our local church so we lingered for quite a lengthy chat about her dog which seemed incredibly enthusiastic and friendly not to only to us but to every similar dog of a similar heritage (broadly  a variety of poodle cross) We walked home and realised that we did not enough time to have a proper cooked lunch in view of the fact that we knew that Boris Johnson was about to make a statement to the House of Commons at 3.30. Whilst we having our ‘quickie’ lunch (a microwaveable beetroot risotto supplented by a tin of tuna and some petit pois), the Sue Gray interim report was published and we had a quick journalistic summary of some of its findings. From what we could tell, there were some pretty damning things even in the interim report whilst we must still await for the 12 most serious incidents of parties which were investigated for criminality by the Met investigation.

After we had lunched, we prepared to go down the road for a little ‘tea party’ in the house of our French friend where we were also to be joined by some of our Catholic friends who are near neighbours. We spent over two and a half hours of really interesting chat  whilst we consumed our tea and biscuits. All in all, we spent a wonderful afternoon and then raced home to be seated before the TV in order to get the full political news. It seems that Boris Johnson is under serious political threat even though the available published evidence is lightweight in volume. But what is published is damning in the extreme and tonight Boris Johnson is to have a meeting with all of his MPs and it will be fascinating to see what some members are prepared to reveal of this meeting once it has concluded.

Some of the key findings even in the abridged Gray  report are show below:

– 16 events in 2020 and 2021 were investigated – the Met Police are looking into 12 of them
– Some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify
– A number of the gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did
– At least some gatherings represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards – expected of government but also of the standards expected of the entire population
– There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office
– The garden at 10 Downing Street was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate
– Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so
– Steps must be taken to ensure every government department has a “clear and robust” policy over excessive alcohol consumption in the workplace – which is ‘not appropriate’

Of these observations, possibly the most damning of all is the statement concerning ‘failures of leadership and government’, whilst a close second is ‘a number of gatherings should not have been allowed to take place’ In the House of Commons, Teresa May asked some devastating questions saying “So either my right honourable friend had not read the rules or didn’t understand what they meant and others around him, or they didn’t think the rules applied to Number 10. Which was it?” This drew only a fluffed reply from Boris Johnson. Some more revelations from the report are that Sue Gray has several more (damning) findings that have to be kept under locak and key until after the Met investigation is completed. In addition some 500 pieces of paper and 300 photographs have been handed over in evidence. One view that is emerging in a fast moving situation is that there may be enough MPs to send in letters demanding confidence vote in the PM but there is a serious division about tactics. There are two schools of thought one of which is to strike now before the issue ‘fades’ whilst the other is to wait for an event such as the May elections which may ultimately prove to provide the fatal blow.

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Sunday, 30th January, 2022 [Day 685]

As I walked down for my newspaper this morning, the sky was clear and bright blue but it was still quite chilly without some rainwear. I collected our newspaper, checking that it contained the ‘Culture’ section which details all of the TV and radio programmes for the week ahead. Then it was a quick breakfast whilst watching the new ‘Sunday Morning‘ hosted now by Sophie Raworth who has replaced Andrew Marr since the latter’s retirement. I must confess that after getting up and then two vigorous walks (there and back) I sometimes tend to doze – but knowing that it Liz Truss being interviewed, there was nothing much to keep me awake. On the subject of Sunday politics shows, Channel 4 are hosting a new evening show by Andrew Neil who could only stand GB News for a fortnight before falling out with them. On his new show, he is expected to reflect on the day’s news, interview heavyweight guests and look ahead to the coming week. Neil has agreed to present a Channel 4 documentary examining the prime minister’s leadership crisis: Boris Johnson: Has He Run Out of Road? is to be screened tonight. It will explore a string of scandals on the leader’s watch, including the Owen Paterson lobbying row and the continuing Downing Street party saga. Meg and I walked down to the park where we met (by prior arrangement) our University of Birmingham friend and then we were, in fact, joined by some other mutual friends who, like us, are regular park walkers. We discussed politics (of course) and eventually finished up talking about the causes and consequences of the 1958 Munich air disaster in which 50% of the aircraft’s passengers, including members of the Manchester United football  team, perished. It was later established that the crash was caused by the slush on the runway, which slowed the plane too much to enable take-off. The pilot was initially blamed for which he was very bitter (I knew his brother) He was cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident. Then it was a walk home before a somewhat delayed Sunday lunch (chicken thighs)

I have been feeling moderately pleased with myself, having got a file manager to work which had suddenly stopped working. On occasions, you may want  web page which is nothing more than a vehicle for a lot of clickable links. Although this can be done in HTML, if you have a file manager (with clickable links) then all you have to do is to put a .php program in each folder. I have had one such directory lister as they are called but for some reason it has suddenly just ceased working, presenting the user with just a blank page. I do not have the technical skills to wade through 400 lines of PHP code to discover what is the source of the problem – it might be quite a simple thing but the best thing to do is to abandon that directory lister and to find another. After a few judicious searchings on the web, I found a script which works quite well but does not quite give the neat, compact tabled results that my old program gave me. Anyway, I managed to ‘tweak’ the script so that each link became a clickable rather than a downloadable link and also got rid of a huge chunk of code whose function was obscure but not essential. I managed to get the program down to one quarter of its original length and it works fine for the purposes for which I want it. When I look at the ‘permissions’ associated with the script, provided one keeps the copyright notice in place, one is given the legal right to alter, modify and even sell the program as the spirit takes you. It is always very satisfying to find a computing solution that works, once you have run into a roadblock.

The COVID news is somewhat more positive this morning. The number of new infections has dropped to the lowest since 14th December (six weeks ago) and this appears to show that the fight against the Omicron variant is starting to show some positive results. To counter this, though, the infection rate in schools is increasing so rapidly that some staff are not implementing the latest ‘liberalisation’ rules announced in the middle of last week. My own observations are that individuals are still observing mask-wearing and hand-sanitising procedures both in the shops that still request these and even when walking in the open street where presumably, the virus is less extant. However, I still feel that an undue complacency may set in and I would not be surprised if another variant or even a sub-variant were to arise and bite us when we are least expecting it. The scientists seem to be uncovering the explanation of why lung function is affected in Long-Covid cases. Whether this lung damage is permanent or not, I do not know but if recovery is possible, it is likely to be very slow.


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Saturday, 29th January, 2022 [Day 684]

Today was always going to be a quiet day and so it proved. Meg and I got up a little late and by the time we had done a few jobs, we were a little delayed.  I had busied myself this morning making a little wallet for the business cards of which I have just received a new supply. Fortunately, I have a supply of postcards and when I take one and fold it in half it is the perfect size. All I have to do then is to apply some coloured tape (of which I happen to have a good quantity) and now I have a supply of cards ready for use. One wallet I am going to keep permanently in my rucksack so that if all else fails, I always have a supply. We took the car down to town to save time and then called in to collect our newspaper and some milk from Waitrose. Then we progressed to our favourite bench in the park and were soon observed by our Seasoned World Traveller friend who had availed himself of a coffee, spotted us and then proceeded up the hill for a chat. We had little fragments of conversation with several other of the park regulars – their dogs tend to bound over to us thinking there might be some food in the offing and their owners trail behind, always apologetically. When I reflect upon the dogs I see in the park, many are yoiung and chase enthusiastically after balls thrown for them with the aid of a ‘ball launcher’ but others are much more sedate whilst yet. others (according to their owners) are affflicted with the diseases of old age such as diabetes, osteo-orthritis, obesity and in one sad case dementia.We discussed the latest political situation with our friend (what else) and were trying to discern what combination of conspiracy theories, Machiavellian doings and incompetence on behalf of the Met we chose to believe. Last night, I saw an extraordinary little interview on ‘Newsnight’ when Dawn Abbott (leftward leaning from the Labour Party), a right wing Tory MP and Lord Sumner (ex High Court) were all in total agreement that there was no legal impediment why the Gray rwport should not be published in its entirety – in their consensus view, the Met was really ‘trying it on’ where  according to Lord Sumner it was quite common for fact-finding enquiries to be conducted first and more serious criminal charges pursued later. He cited Hillsborough as the prime example where this had happened. Of course playing for time always works to the advantage of the power centres in society – a fairly common view is that Cressida Dick (head of the Met) has practically handed Boris a ‘get out of gaol’ card for free. It is very interesting that both political left and right are asking for the Gray report to be published in full. The verdict of the Sunday newspapers tomorrow morning is going to be interesting. I suspect that the report will hit us some time on Monday morning. I have just read a rather disturbing account from a journalistic expedition to Grimsby, which is a former Labour seat (‘red wall’) which turned Tory in the last election. There it was reported that he sense of expectation exuded by Westminster ahead of the Sue Gray report is hard to find in Lincolnshire – where one voter said the outcome wouldn’t affect their business, and another said ‘keeping the country running’ is more important than ‘what slice of cake’ the prime minister had. I also listened to the Radio 4 programme, Any Answers in which listeners phone to air their opinions after the Any Questions panel discussion that precedes it. I must say that an overwhelming view of those who phoned in (Conservative as well as Labour) was that the Gray report should be published in full and unredacted. But, perhaps as an indication of the views of a silent majority, was the view that Boris Johnson and the Downing Street crew were only doing what the rest of us(!) had been doing all along by bending or not observing the law. In a garden not an incredibly long way from our house in which a bar had built in the corner of the erstwhile garden, a party was held in which some 16 adults and children were drinking and cavorting at the height of the pandemic. These parties stopped very abruptly and I suspect that a neighbour (not me!) had complained to the police who probably came along and felt a few collars.

When we got home, it was time to prepare lunch – in this case a curry. I put together the normal ingredients (onion, peppers, left-over cubes of meat, sultanas, some peas and gravy) before adding the Chinese curry paste, serving on a bed of  sweet potato rice  and topping off with some yogurt. Then we had a fairly lazy afternoon, not doing anything very much knowing that we would leave the house to go to church in the late afternoon. 

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Friday, 28th January, 2022 [Day 683]

So another week is drawing to a close and, with it, the month of January is nearly over as well. After our normal catching up on the week’s news with our domestic help, Meg and I made our way, somewhat belatedly, down to the park. The weather was bright but a little on the chilly side but we reached our normal bench without much ado. No sooner had  we finished supping our coffee but our University of Birmingham friend spotted us from afar and came to join us, cup of coffee in his hand. As we didn’t see him (much) last weekend, we had quite a lot to catch up on and after we had chatted for a bit, I made my rapidly to the newsagent to pick up our daily ration and then on to Waitrose which is almost like a corner shop for us now. Then I made my way back to the park and we carried on with our chat. But by now, it was getting a little on the cool side so our friend very kindly gave us both a lift back which was especially welcome as it saved us some time and we needed to cook some lunch for Meg and I and our domestic help who was joining us. Lunch today was going to be some pollock, made a bit more flavoursome with a sweet chilli and garlic sauce which I had seen on a YouTube video was a good way to enhance this fish which,whilst being nutritious, is somewhat bland in flavour.  I approached my cooking venture with a degree of trepidation as I cooking with some fish that was not completely thawed so I had to pre-cook a little before applying the marinade. However, all worked well and I served the fish on a bed of lettuce and a glass of really dry white South African wine. I am pleased to say that all of these ingredients blended really well with each other and feel quite confident about repeating this on further Fridays. On my son’s advice, I was pretty sparing in the use of the sauce/marinade so as not to overdo the amount of salt to which I might otherwise be exposed but it is always good to prepare a meal which is nutritious as well as being low in calories, salt and the ubiquitous sugar.

There is quite some turmoil going on behind the scenes which seems to delay the publication of the Sue Gray report – originally thought to be last Wednesday/Thursday. It looks as though the Metropolitan police have asked that the Gray report not reveal any information which might prejudice their own enquiry – which itself might take weeks or even months. The Met’s request indicates Ms Gray will either have to make significant changes to her report before publication or delay it until after the force’s inquiry. This places a tremendous burden upon Sue Gray. She has the option of delaying her report until the police investigation is complete (which may be months) or publishing an incomplete/severely redacted version in the next few days which has all of the appearance of a ‘cover up’. Indeed, some lawyers are even now starting to wonder out loud whether the police have the legal right to request that the internal Gray report be amended or delayed. In the meanwhile, Boris Johnson must be laughing his socks off as with each day that passes, he has the ability through the power of delay to minimise its impact. It is already being said that various ‘trade-offs’ are being negotiated as I write to the effect that backbencher support might be sought for the proce of delaying the much disliked National Insurance rate increases due shortly. In practice, Boris Johnson through the delay and whilst playing for time may emerge not badly damaged from all of this but only time will tell. Some late breaking news on Sky is to the effect that the Met are denying that they are delaying the report and Commander Catherine Roper (in charge of the investigation) has indicated that ‘We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team.’

In the early evening, a friend of mine from down the road phoned me to see if I could help with her energy supplier. The energy supplier he was with had just gone bust in common with many others of the new, small entrants to the market and the Regulator had allocated him to British Gas. They, in turn were proving very difficult to contact so my friend was in a certain amount of turmoil because the existing company had gone bust and therefore couldn’t be contacted and the new one (British Gas) was not keen to talk to customers. As I had just changed to a new supplier which I will not now name but have had excellent service at a reasonable price, I managed to dig out a telephone number to see if they could be of any assistance. 


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Thursday, 27th January, 2022 [Day 682]

Today is the day when I generally get up early and get off to Waitrose in Droitwich to do my shopping, aiming to get there the minute that the store opens its doors to minimise my exposure to other shoppers. But today, I am due to revert to my erstwhile shopping habits by frequenting Aldi but availing myself this time of their ‘Click and Collect’ facilities. The ordering procedure and updating it seemed pretty straightforward and the instructions then told me to get to the Aldi car park, park in a ‘Click and Collect’ zone and then reply to the text that they had previously sent me including my name and the number of the bay where I was parked. I waited about 5 minutes and then my order arrived, loaded into large plastic bags just about strong enough to get the load they contained into the boot of the car. I thought that the load seemed a little on the ‘concise’ side but I didn’t give it much of a second thought until I got it home and started to unpack it. Then I realised  that several critical items (e.g. milk and yogurt supplies for the week) as well as half a dozen other items were missing. It seemed to me as though the whole of a plastic container load had not been loaded onto the trolley ready for lifting into the car. So I immediately shot back to Aldi where I explained (eventually) to a young manager that I had been a regular customer of Aldi, was now returning and this was my first experience of ‘Click and Collect’ The young manager apologised and set about picking up the deficit items himself, making a mistake in the process. He explained that an inexperienced young worker had been charged with compiling the load and, not to put too fine a point on it, he had absolutely made a ‘pig’s ear’ of the whole thing. But the young manager rewarded me with a bottle of Prosecco for my patience and forbearance, so this was gratefully accepted. But then we realised that the young packer had not made some crucial substitutions e.g. by substituting smaller cartons of yogurt when the jumbo sized ones were unavailable. So I needed to get back inside the store and buy these items afresh as they would have been marked as unavailable previously and therefore I wouldn’t be charged for them. Eventually, I got home and unpacked the shopping and all I can say at this point is that it was considerably cheaper but quite a palaver. I think that next week, I shall probably forego the ‘Click and Collect’ option and get straight to the store at opening time as I used to do at Waitrose.

When we went to Droitwich, we went to our favourite coffee bar which serves a nice hot cappuchino and an enormous teacake which, once toasted, is easily enough for the two of us. Then we had a turn around ‘Wilko’ our favourite hardware store. Whilst Meg peruses the cosmetics, toiletries and household cleaning, I make a beeline for the stationery section followed by kitchen implements. Between us, we bought a staisfying array of things and then made our way to our favourite little ‘non-nonsense’ cafe which does a magnificent roast each Thursday (lamb today) at a ridiculously cheap price of £8. This little cafe and coffee shop has a very loyal following for its roasts which it puts on once a week and for which you have to book up a couple of days in advance to get a seat. Whilst there, we got into conversation with a fellow diner who turned out to be a local councillor. She overheard the conversation I had with the waitress which was to ask her whether she knew why mint sauce was typically served with lamb. The answer goes back to Elizabethan times in which once it was recognised that sheep could provide mutton as well as really valuable wool which then was the source of England’s prosperity. As the wool trade was threatened, Elisabeth 1 passed a decree that sheep meat could only be eating if eaten with a ‘bitter herb’  In those days, mint was plentiful but sugar had not made it across from the New World and the rest is history. Anyway, we had a really pleasant conversation and our our whole meal and conversation lasted for an hour and a half.

The Sue Gray report being temporarily parked, the media attention has turned to the fact that Boris Johnson appears to have authorised, or at least sanctioned, a mercy flight for animals rather than for people when Kabul, Afghanistan was abandoned when the Taliban took over. Boris appears to have been caught lying again even though there is an email trail which appears to show an authorisation of this private animal rescue flight. Boris Johnson is calling the ensuing row  ‘rhubarb’ (but is meant to be a denial or not?)

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Wednesday, 26th January, 2022 [Day 681]

Today was going to be the day when the long awaited Sue Gray report could perhaps be published but more of that later. As it was, Meg felt a little poorly this morning so decided to stay for an extra hour or so in bed to recover (which she did). In the meantime, I went into town on my own to collect the newspaper and to pop into our local Waitrose which I now use as though it were a corner shop. Then it was a question of rapidly rapidly home in order to be parked in front of the TV for Prime Minister’s Questions which normally starts promptly on Wednesdays at 12.00 midday. The burning question today is to whether the Sue Gray report will be handed to Parliament (and the world) in its entirety or will it be delayed, redacted, edited, provided in only summary form of the findings alone or whatever permutation. Boris Johnson under intense questionning from Keir Starmer agreed that the report said ‘Of course, I will do what I said‘. This rather Delphic reply has left many of us scratching our heads and thinking  what it is said that he has said on this subject to which he was referring. There is a view that the PM has left himself a bit of ‘wriggle room’ in case he wants to let out a version of the report that just happens to be the least damaging to him.  The whole of PMQ was a fairly typical scenario in which the lawyer-like approach of direct questions from Keir Starmer was met with bluster and half evasions by Boris Johnson who, needless to say, would not directly answer any of the questions put to him. In the meantime, the whole country is awaiting for publication of the Sue Gray report which seems to be held up by being passed through the hands of government lawyers. GIven that Friday is the day when many MP’s leave Westminster in order to devote themselves to constituency business, it could well be that the whole report will be delayed now until next Monday.

This afternoon, I had just settled down to reply yet again to the bank who looks after our communal affairs with yet another request to fill in parts of a doument which I have submitted to them four times already. I have the feeling that there is a computer algorithm rather than a ‘human’ assessing the form because every time I speak to a member of the safeguarding team, they can never tell me what information the system requires that they do not already have. But just before this task, I consulted my emails and one of my University of Winchester ‘buddies’ had suggested that we have a Skype session at 4.00pm this afternoon.  So faced with a bank session or a videochat with old friends, it was no contest really and I readily succumbed to the pleasure of chatting, albeit at long range. Time flew by and we spent an hour and a half before we realised that we did need to prepare tea and get other things done this afternoon.

Another scandal has emerged today and, interestingly enough, nothing to do with parties held in Downing Street in contravention of the COVID-19 regulations. This was a story in which the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, may well now have a measure of responsibility. The story relates to the rapid evacuation of the embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in which there were heart-rending pictures of people who helped the British (interpreters and the like) and their families not being able to get on an evacuation flight. All of this was redolent of the images we remember of the fall of Saigon when the Americans withdrew ignominiously from Vietnam. There was a charity, run by somebody with evident connections with the military, concerned with the evacuation of sick and wounded animals from Afghanistan. Of course, this was being done as a ‘private’ operation and the UK government have consistently maintained that it had no part in the evacuation operation. However, a Foreign Office memo has now arisen in which Boris Johnson is said to have ‘authorised’ the flight which evacuated the sick animals. So the fundamental political question which arises is this: did the authorisation and emergency evacuation of sick animals take priority over the evacuation of human personnel? This is quite a murky story, as one might imagine, compounded by the fact that the Foreign Office have always denied that evacuation of animals impeded the evacuation of humans. But a memo has now emerged in which the PM did authorise such a flight – and it quite easy to construct a narrative, all too believable in the case of the British, in which animal life took precedence over, or least impeded, the evacuation of human life. The fact that the story has emerged today only adds to the picture of a government mired in duplicity and evasion.

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Tuesday, 25th January, 2022 [Day 680]

Today is my Pilates day so we always need to have a fairly quick turn around on days like these. However, in the wee small hours of the morning, I decided to access the Aldi website to discern their opening hours because I am minded to revert to my previous shopping haunts at least for an experimental period. It may well be that I get ino a pattern of alternating Aldi with Waitrose and that way I can get the cheapness of Aldi with the quality associated with Waitrose. I was quite pleased, though, to be offered the option of a ‘Click and Collect’ option at my local Aldi store and so, almost on the spur of the moment, I decided to give it a go. Although it was the middle of the night, I imagined in my mind that I was traversing the aisles of Waitrose so that I could compile my shopping list for Aldi. When it came to the checkout, I was amazed to discover that despite the levy of £4.95 for the Aldi ‘Click and Collect’ services (lessened by savings on petrol and car parking charges), my entire shopping bill came to less than half the price I have been paying these last few weeks in Waitrose. So this Thursday, if all works well, all I do is turn up with my receipt between 8.00 and 9.00, and presumably some shopping bags and everything will have been done for me. During the course of the day, I have remembered some things which I had forgotten in the middle of the night but I can make adjustments to the list right up to the night before.

We knew that we had to have a quick turn around today but we collected the newspaper and then into Waitrose to pick up some supplies. There we heard the incredibly good news that the coffee bar in Waitrose, despite being closed in several Waitrose stores, is definitely to be reprieved in ours – and the newly appointed manager may even be thinking of a little party-cum-celebrations on the opening day which is in about a month’s time towards the end of February. We bumped into our Irish friend on the way down, met with a Waitrose regular who told us the good news about the coffee bar reopening and thence to our normal seat. There we gulped down some hot coffee, had a brief chat with Veteran Octogenarian Hiker who was busy trying to get 10k of kilometres under his belt for today and then shot home where I had about a five minute turn around time. I needed to depart for my class so that I could pop along the High Street and get the battery replaced in my watch which has just stopped working. As it has not replaced at all during pandemic days, then it is probably about 2½ years since I had the previous battery installed. I was promised that the new battery would proibably have a life of some 2-3 years which suits me just fine – the battery cost me £5.00 to replace but I could have bought a whole new watch for either £5 or a better design for £7.

Some quite dramatic political developments were evident this morning when the Metropolitan Police announced that there was to be a formal investigation of some of the ‘gatherings’ in 10 Downing Street. Later in the day, it emerged that the police were going to investigate some 7-8 of the approx. 17 happenings that had been reported to them. It seems as though Sue Gray herself  had passed evidence of possible breach of the COVID regulations to the Met. For its part, the Met indicated that some of these incidents passed their own criteria for police investigation – that personnel had knowingly organised illegal parties, that there was no apparent defence to these allegations and that public trust and confidence in the judicial process would be undermined if further investigations were not pursued. At first, it seemed that the Sue Gray report might have to be put on hold before it was announced that the ‘findings’ would be published immediately. The question remains swirling around Westminster whether the report will be published in full or whether there will be some redactions so that junior civil servants, for example, are not named and shamed. In Parliament, Boris Johnson announced his satisfaction that a police investigation was underway. I am starting to wonder whether despite the close association with criminality, Boris Johnson might be gaming the fact that he himself would not be unduly ‘fingered’ (as this might smack of interference with the governance of the country) and he could point to the ‘criminality’ of others in order to deflect criticism of himself. Meanwhile, the phrase has been used this evening that Johnson could be accused of ‘misconduct in public office’ for which the penalty could well be a gaol sentence. It is possible that the Sue Gray report may be published tomorrow, Wednesday but I suspect that Thursday might be a better bet. 

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Monday, 24th January, 2022 [Day 679]

Meg and I woke up feeling tired this morning – perhaps the overcast and gloomy skies have got something to do with it. We knew we were going to have a slightly different routine this morning as we had scheduled dental appointments right in the middle of the day and there would not have been time to get our walk in and still get to the dentist on time.  We have in our bathroom two of those ‘disposable’ electric toothbrushes that we find less aggressive than the expensive ones on the market. Both of these toothbrushes had tiny AAA batteries in them that had died so we set about to change them. Is it just me or is it made extraordinarily difficult to change the batteries in the disposable variety? One of them involved the most minute of grub screws that people of poor eyeseight might not even notice whilst the other required the combination of a thin-bladed screwdriver and a rubbery ‘cap remover’ (used to enhance one’s grip) to reveal its guts inside. Anyway I managed to get that done and then we thought we had better get a lateral flow test done on ourselves. Even though the modern versions of the test seem to miss out the throat swab before the nostril swab, I have read (somewhere) that you enhance the reliability of the test if you continue to perform the test on both throat and nose. This is what Meg and I did and it is always reassuring to find out that we are both negative. We both have the slightest of winter sniffles at the moment and it is possible that we could have tested positive but we live to fight another day. Then it was off to the dentist where each of us had to fill in three forms – one a patient information form, one a health questionnaire and the final one bing a COVID specific form. Anyway we both got seen with the minimum of fuss – although I have a slight cracking of the enamel around an old filling that will  need to be put right in a week or so. As we were in the car, we picked up the newspaper and got straight home, not unhappy that we had missed out a walk as the weather is not too pleasant.

In the afternoon, I thought I spend another plesant hour communicating with the bank that looks after our communal facilities in order to navigate thir safeguarding procedures. All of this is because in the last few days I received one of their ‘We require more information..‘ type emails. I got through relatively quickly, passed their security but had the misfortune of getting a heavily accented voice at the other end who was difficult to understand. The upshot of all of this is that I have to wait and ignore the request in the last email because they are still in the process of evaluating the latest provided information. I am almost certain what the next step in the procedure is going to be and it won’t be a ‘we are pleased to inform you that you have complied with all our safeguarding procedures‘ type of letter but I suppose I have developed a lot of patience in all of this saga.

Whilst on the computer, I saw a clip on Sky News that I have never seen before. This was Lord Agnew, a government junior Treasury minister (in the Lords) with responsibility for combatting fraud resigning whilst actually at the dispatch box. He has resigned because the peer told the chamber that the Treasury ‘appears to have no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or our society‘, adding that a mix of ‘arrogance, indolence and ignorance freezes the government machine.’ Under these circumstances and with millions of pounds being handed to companies some of whom were not even trading, the peer felt it would be immoral to continue in post. The astonished lords even gave him a round of applause as he swept out of the chamber. Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings has announced that he will only give evidence to the Sue Gray enquiry into ‘partygate’ in writing rather than verbally (for somewhat obscure reasons) but he is also intimating that there is a lot more incriminating material out there in the form of emails or even photographs but that individuals are not releasing this just yet as they are being threatened by Boris Johnson’s coterie – however, Dominc Cummings has hinted that this may be released after the Sue Gray report sees the light of day. The Prime Minister has committed a ‘U’ turn by ordering a Cabinet office enquiry into the fate of the woman Muslim MP, Nusrat Ghani.  She has claimed that a government whip has said to her that ‘her Muslimness was raised as an issue’ when she asked why she had lost her job as a junior Transport Minister.

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Sunday, 23rd January, 2022 [Day 678]

You never know what a day will bring and so it proved today. We did not get to a particularly brilliant start today because no sooner had I arrived at the newsagent than I realised that I forgotten to bring my pre-paid token along with me. I know I could have asked to get the newspaper ‘on tick’ until I could go down and supply my token but I thought I could probably collect the newspaper later in the day so I turned on my heel and walked straight back home. After Meg and I had watched the ‘Sunday‘ (politics programme) we made our way down to the park hoping to see our University of Birmingham friend today. However he texted us to say that he had to help out a friend in distress who had just experienced a flood so he was going to go over with some heating devices and help to dry him out. Instead, we had our coffee and were than approached by a chap who seemed rather garrulous. It transpired that he had a brain haemorrhage a few years ago and was under the surgeon’s knife for hours and could well have died. Anyway, it appears that by perseverance, he had managed a fair degree of rehabilitation and although he still had some balance, coordination and concentration difficulties, his speech was totally regained. We complemented him on the remarkable revovery that he had shown – and hope we could do the same if a similar event occurred to us. Just then, our friend the Seasoned World Traveller hove into sight and, despite the cold, we stood and chatted for a bit about politics, recent TV viewing and the like.Then we started back home, not least to rescue some vegetables that I had roasting in the oven and were pleased to meet up (by accident) with our Irish friends who are off on holiday to Tenerife in a few days time so we were pleased to have a chat before their departure. 

This afternoon, I set myself the task of going through a pile of newspapers which I have kept in case there was anything of interest I wished to retain. Most of this pile eventually got junked but I did find something quite useful which I had overlooked. Each year, towards the end of the year, The Times publishes in its colour magazine a series of cartoons generally picking out the newsworthy highlights of the year. The Times cartoonist does tend to tie two current events into a single cartoon so sometimes the actual cartoon fails to amuse as much as was intended until it is decoded by the background knowledge of the year’s events. This particular edition of the colour magazine is well worth keeping for the brilliance of the cartoons and the acerbity of the political comment. Having got this quite onerous task disposed of, I then started on the more pleasant tak of soup making. I am used the Waitrose ‘Soffrito’ mixture but I complement it with a lightly fried onion and 2-3 desert spoonfuls of a Balti sauce to add a little, but not too much, piquancy. On this occasion, I am going to split the soup into two halves so that we are not overwhelmed today and have some left for later on in the week.

The political news today is dominated by the claim by the UK’s first female Muslim minister (Nusrat Ghani) that she was not reappointed to her ministerial job (sacked?) because ‘her Muslimness made colleagues uncomfortable’ After her sacking, she apparently had an unpleasant meeting with the Chief Whip and subsequently with Boris Johnson, both of whom indicated that she should take matters of concern like this  to the Tory party’s own complaint procedures. Her counter-argument is that this is a Government matter, not just a matter for the Conservative party – but you can see here where both sides are coming from. The interesting thing about this is that some fellow Asian (and Muslim?) ministers like Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi have spoken generously in her support whilst the Chief Whip has implied that her account is a fabrication. Not attempting to arbitrate in this tangled story, it does appear that Boris Johnson has not demonstrated a firm and decisive hand in this story and current fractures within the existing cabinet must be the last thing that Boris Johnson needs at the moment. Dominic Cummings is to be interviewed by Sue Gray tomorrow before the compilation and presentation of her report on or about Thursday. Cummings has argued that he will swear on oath  that his account is true – would Boris Johnson do the same? Certainly his evidence looks damning but is it just words – or is there anything approaching proof that his account (that he informed Boris Johnson of the illegality of drinks parties) is to be believed? There may be a straight conflict of evidence here (Cummings said one thing whilst Johnson says another) Will Sue Gray be able or willing to adjudicate between two conflicting accounts? We shall see in a few days time.

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Saturday, 22nd January, 2022 [Day 677]

So Saturday has dawned with a cold but not that cold feeling compared with some days recently. These days, I seem to be counting off the days until the publication of the Sue Gray report into ‘partygate’ for which the latest best guess seems to be Thursday so not too long to go now. Once Meg and I got our act together, we wandered down into town under no real political pressure and I dropped Meg on the bench outside Waitrose whilst I went off to collect the Saturday edition of the newspaper. Whilst inside Waitrose, I looked at their extensive sauces section and discovered some sachets of Sweet Chilli and Garlic cooking sauce. Why I am delighted to have found this sauce is because when I consulted the web, I discovered an excellent YouTube video in which an (English) chef demonstrated exactly how pollock could be cooked using the chilli and garlic sauce as a type of marinade. This looked so easy to prepare and so good to eat, I am looking forward to my next culinary adventure. The interesting thing about all of this is that when you look at the completed meal, the cost of the sauce is probably equal to the cost of the fish in the first place. But given that pollock is such a mild-flavoured fish, it is necessary to add some flavour to it and this recipe has obviously been tried and tested before the video was made.

Tonight is the night when we attend church for a 6.00-7.00 service and it will be the third week that we have experienced with our new priest. Attendance is always a little down when the weather is poor and the cold strikes but we expect to see many of the regular ‘old faithfuls’ this evening.   I am always quite interested in the sermon as this part of the service is completely unpredictable and I am always interested to see what messages can be crammed into a five-minute slot. On Radio 4, there used to be a regular slot called ‘Thought for the Day‘ and this was generally given over to a variety of denominations and religious speakers – the contributions of the speakers from the Jewish, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu callings was always quite interesting, given that in the normal course of events one would not often hear what these religious persuasions had to offer. However, I was always incredibly impressed by what various speakers could cram into a 5-minute slot. I particularly remember Rabbi Lionel Blue (the first Jewish Rabbi to acknowledge the fact that he was gay) and he contributed to ‘Thought for the Day‘ for a period of 25 years. His Wikipedia entry is particularly interesting and his contribution was nearly always a comic and often self-deprecating story or extended joke with a little moral twist at the end.Given what could be said in 5 minutes, I often used to wonder in my lecturing days how good a lecture I could deliver if it turned out to be the equivalent of 12 times a five minutes ‘Thought for the Day‘ slot.

When the TV is poor on a Saturday evening, Meg and I often turn to YouTube for an opera performance. The only slight snag about this is that unless you know the opera particularly well, you are never quite sure how long the performance is going to be and we don’t particularly fancy making a late night of it, even though tomorrow is a Sunday. If we try that this evening, we must remind ourselves to get our viewing started quite early. We tend to stick to our favourites drawn from Mozart, Puccini and Verdi so we might just might have a go at ‘Madame Butterfly’ (Puccini) this evening. The fascinating thing about this opera is that the theme (an American fathering a child in an oriental coutry and then coming along to claim the child as their own and taking them back to America) is exactly what happened when American GI’s fathered children in Vietnam. Some 26,000 children were brought back to the USA. They grew up as the leftovers of an unpopular war, straddling two worlds but belonging to neither. Most never knew their fathers. Many were abandoned by their mothers at the gates of orphanages. Some were discarded in rubbish bins. 

The big political story today is whether the over-zealous behaviour of the Tory party whips has led to consequences which might have crossed over illegality. One particular charge is that the whips had threatened to deny the constituents of a particular Tory MP a new school if the MP rebelled (paradoxically, over the withdrawal of the provisions for free school meals). Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, said alleged threats to pull public funding from members’ constituencies amounted to ‘misconduct in public office’ and should be reported to the police.

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