Monday, 28th February, 2022 [Day 714]

Here we are the last day if the month – I have always wondered when those individuals born in a leap year on February 29th actually celebrate their birthday and I suspect March 1st which day it is tomorrow. The day started cloudy and with a band of rain threatened to sweep across the country later in the afternoon which it duly did. Meg and I decided to go down into town by car as we needed to call into Waitrose to collect a few things. Whilst there, we managed to make contact with one of the old established staff and ascertained that the coffee lounge facility will definitely reopen on 30th March which is in just over four weeks time. After this, we made our way by car to the park and chose a carpark near to the park’s café just in case any of our regular friends were lodged in there. As it turned out, there were not, so we made our way to our normal park bench in the upper reaches of the park where we consumed our coffee and were immediately visited by several dogs, liberated from their leads, who bound towards us hopeful that there may be a titbit coming in thir direction, which there never is. We got back home relatively early after all of this as we were quite keen to watch the latest news available from the Ukraine where it does appear that the remaining population in the Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, are being subjected to the most horrendous bombardment. For a start, the Russians appear to be using cluster bombs (which are, incidentally, illegal) and the Ukrainian authorities are admitting that dozens have been killed. The Russians may well utilise what is termed as a ‘Thermobaric‘ bomb, otherwise entitled ‘The Mother of All Bombs‘ This is the largest bomb yet manufactured short of an actual nuclear weapon. It is exploded in mid-air and sucks all of the oxygen out of the air for 300 metres around, as well as having the destructive power of 44 tons of TNT. Thermobaric weapons are considered to be one of the most brutal war weapons that exist and their destructive power, via the shockwave that they create, is immensely destructive both of people (whose internal organs are shredded to pieces) and to buildings. By some accounts, this weapon has been authorised for use in Ukraine but whether it has actually been used has not yet been reported upon.

As I write this blog, I am half-listening the Radio 4’s PM programme in the background. There was an interesting discussion whether the Russian population, subject to the most heavy of censorships, had any idea what was being done in their name. After all, the Russian government has banned the use of words such as ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ but are instead speaking of ‘military operations’ But in the absence of any real information, how do the Russian population react to the fact that all of a sudden interest rates have risen to 20%, the rouble has collapsed, that football matches are being withdrawn as well as cultural events such as Eurovision, that all of. sudden people are abandoning the ‘normal’ ATM’s that only dispense roubles but instead are queing to access any sources of money that are not roubles? The same report which was trying to assess the mood and knowledge of the war in the Ukraine reported the response of one citizen who, years ago, was asked their opinion of the fact that the Crimea had effectively been annexed. The response was ‘Do you want me to answer ‘offically’ or ‘unofficially?’  Meanwhile there were heart- rending scenes of refugees at the Hungarian and other borders. About ½ million refugees have already fled the Ukraine but at the borders, as there queues of people up to 20 miles long, they were letting individuals through about 50 at a time. So when the barriers went up, the women and children were let through but any of their husbands or sons who had helped to flee now had to turn back into the Ukraine, perhaps to their deaths, in order to fight the invaders.

And now for some slightly more cheerful news. I have been gradually getting my MAC computer to run at somewhat like a decent speed instead of an incredibly slow crawl. A major step forward was updating the operating system to the latest version which is called ‘Monterey‘ (a mountain range in California) This has the advantage of clearing out a lot of system junk but the present age of my machine (2015) means that it is only just capable of running the new operating system. I have now adopted the practice of only turning it on/off about once a week or a fortnight, the rest of the time resorting to a ‘Sleep’ mode which keeps all of the programs still in memory with a trickle charge of current. This makes it easy and fast to turn on, with no long waits and the system even updates instead whilst it has having a ‘sleep’ or, as Apple say, a ‘power nap’

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Sunday, 27th February, 2022 [Day 713]

Today being a Sunday was my day to get up early and get to the newsagents in plenty of time to get back for the Sunday morning (politics) programme. I listened to a selection of Bach on my way down but at 8.00am in the morning, I don’t think I passed another soul on my walk there and back. It was quite a fine day but pretty cold at that hour in the morning, as you might imagine. The newsagent and I spent a certain amount of time discussing Putin and how the world had suddenly become somewhat disordered. On the Sunday Morning show, Liz Truss (our Foreign Secretary) was the weekly member of the government to be intereviewed and, for once, I found her fairly forthright and to the point. For example, she acknowledged that the conflict with Russia might last for years, that an attack of Ukrainian democracy was in effect, an attack on all European democracies and that mechanisms should be fast forwarded to allow entry into the UK of any Ukranian passport holder. The Immigration minister, Kevin Foster, has apparently tweeted that any Ukrainians who wish to flee from Putin should apply for a vacancy as a fruit picker and then wait for several months for the application to be processed – and entry into the UK to be granted or denied. To show the dvisions in the Tory Party over this, Fraser Nelson, another guest on the programme who is the editor of the Spectator (right wing weekly periodical) has suggested that any Ukrainian passport holder should be offered immediate and unconditional entry into the UK – along the lines of wht was offered to the Asians who were being thrown out out of Uganda by Idi Amin in the early 1970’s or even the deal currentlly on offer to any of the residents of Hong Kong who wish to relocate here.

Before we walked down to the park today, I had the quickest of scans through the ‘Sunday Times‘ and found some analysis that suggested that Putin was ‘mad’ rather than just being ‘mad’  It is being said by those who have known Putin for a long time that he has undergone quite a personality change in the last year or so (since COVID). He has apparently almost become a social recluse and only surrounds himself by his acquaintances of many years ago when they were both officers in the KGB. The long table that we have seen in recent videoclips of Putin with other world leades urging a diplomatic  solution to the Ukraine ‘problem’  is Putin’s attempt to keep as far away as possible from any potential sources of infection. 

Be this as it may, two amusing stories have arisen from the horror about to be unleashed in Kyif. The first of these relates to a Russian armoured vehicle which had run out of fuel and was surrounded by local Ukrainians. When asked what they thought they doing, the young Russian soldiers admitted that they had no idea where they were i.e. what country they were in nor did they know where they meant to be going. What evetrually happened to them, I know not. The second story I rather like. It has reported that in Kyiv that the local popuation are doing what they can to remove street and direction signs that might be of some use to an invading army. It is said that directions to nearby cities have been replaced with profanities that could be translated as “Go f**k yourself”, “Go f**k yourself again” and “Go f**k yourself back to Russia”. but the story may well emanate fron Ukraine’s road sign agency Ukravtodor which has mocked-up a road sign containing these profanities in Ukrainian.

The more serious story tonight is that, using veiled language, Putin has ordered his miliary chiefs to get ‘readied’ and put into position some nuclear weapons, both tactical and long-range. One has to say that is probably bluff and bluster but, of course, it is very difficult to read Putin’s mind and to know whether he just might launch nuclear weapons. In the case of the American nuclear deterrent, I believe that has to be a ‘dual lock’ policy i.e. a nuclear strike has to be got to be authorised by the President and a senior member of the military. It was rumoured in the dying days of the Trump presidency, the suitcase containing the miliary codes necessary to activate a nuclear strike was kept well away from the President. One presumes that the american military might be composed of Republicans but not deranged Republicans à la Trump. The interesting question is whether the Soviet military planners thought of a similar contingency in case a nuclear war be started ‘by accident’ by a deranged President of Russia. The slightest glimmer of hope tonight is that Russian and Ukrainian negoriators have decided to meet with each in a neutral location in Belarus. Is this a tacit acknowledgement by Putin that things are not going to plan?

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Saturday, 26th February, 2022 [Day 712]

Having woken up quite early this morning, I took the opportunity to pop down into town on my own, before breakfast, to collect our copies of the Saturday newspapers. At this hour on a Saturday morning, I only encountered one jogger and one dog-walker but the weather was quite bright but chilly. Before I set off on my journey, I availed myself of one of those ‘instant’ packets of porridge oats which help to set you up for the day. Then it was a case of getting home, getting a quick update on the Ukrainian situation (about which more later) and our normal ‘cooked’ breakfast which is normally a fry-up of a red onion,  a tomato, some mushrooms, a spoonful of instant garlic and some tomato and onion pasta sauce. This constitutes a filling for an omelette that I make for Meg whilst I have some of the mixture only.

And so, we return to the Ukrainian situation. I would not have been surprised if the Russians had not taken the opportunity to roll on into the centre of Kyiv under the cover of darkness. Having attacked Ukraine from multiple directions, it appears that one of the war aims of the Russians is to move quickly onto Kyiv to attempt a swift ‘decapitation’ of the Ukrainian government. Western officials estimate that Russia had up to 190,000 troops on Ukraine’s border – far more than Ukraine’s entire regular army of 125,600. Russia also has an overwhelming superiority in terms of control of the air ways. According to military analysis, which is being well explained on the Sky News channel, the Russians are assembling  a range of terrifying armaments including precision fighter bombers, tanks, armed personnel carriers and artillery that can inflict untold damage. The Ukrainians are evidently completely outgunned and no match for the military might of the Russians. However, by all accounts the Ukrainians have so far been putting up a dogged defence of their country against overwhelming odds and have slowed the advance of the Russian army, much to the surprise of the Russians. The Ukrainians, though, have to make some terrible military decisons. They can decide to try and attack the Russians who are are now within 20 km of the city centre and perhaps even closer.  Were they do this, they would certainly be overwhelmed and Kyiv would all to intents and purposes be left undefended. On the other hand, if the Ukrainians stay their hand somewhat and allow the Russian forces to enter the city down the main roads, then the advancing forces are much more vulnerable and susceptible to guerilla style attacks.The latest thinking seems to be that the Russians are assembling their forces today (Saturday) and may make a final concerted push into the city during the hours of daylight tomorrow, Sunday. If this is to be the case, then the onslaught into the Ukrainian capital will be terrible to behold and the civilian population that remains (women and children and the aged) will be subject to the most horrendous slaughter. There is no doubt, of course, that the Russians can and will conquer the Ukraine in that way but the huge question remains that once a city has been ‘captured’ can it actually be held and occupied without a really massive army of occupation? Imagine a tank or a personnel carrier advancing down a modern urban street but subject to attack by AK-47 rifles (Kalashnikovs) which are being handed out to whoever in the civilian population is prepared to handle a weapon. The Russians may have thought that they were going to enter a country where they were greeted by flowers and flag-waving crowds – instead, they may have to engage in hand-to-hand fighting street by street and house by house – for which they are almost certainly not prepared.

The international ramifications are also become interesting. Yesterday, in the Security Council a resultion was passed by 11 votes to 1 (that one being Russia) and three abstentions, the most critical one being China. Although in the Security Council, each of the 5 permanent members has the power of veto, the way might now be open for a general vote of the 192 members of the UN where no power of veto exists. So this will be interesting to watch in the days ahead. There is also talk that both Sweden and Finland, noted for their neutrality (particulaly Finland) may now be prepared to join NATO. Russia is now issuing blood-curdling threats against Sweden and Finland so if these if these two states join Nato then it could be that Putin has completely overreached himself. The Russian propaganda is also interesting and one wonders if they really do believe it themselves. They are arguing that Ukraine has been captured by a cabal of drug-crazed neo—Nazis,hell bent on the genocide (of any Russian speakers in the east, presumably). I would surmise that the rest of Europe will now start to pour weapons of every description into Ukraine so that the remaining citizenry can arm themselves for the conflict to come.

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Friday, 25th February, 2022 [Day 711]

Today the weather looked set fair so after our customary chat with our domestic help whose day it is on Fridays, Meg and I set off for the park. For the past few days what with one thing or another, we have tended to utilise the car but today it was almost a spring-like day – although the sky was blue, the sun was shining and a gentle wind did not make us feel particularly cold.  We occupied our normal bench for about twenty minutes and then chatted with an older couple who recognised us as being members of the same church congregation. Then we walked down to the lake and espied our University of Birmingham friend and Seasoned World Traveller having a coffee in the open air at one of the few tables provided by the owners of the park’s cafe. I bought a round of coffees and left Meg whilst I popped into town to collect our Friday newspaper. In the newsagent, I espied a bowl of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs on the front of the counter. This prompted me to remark that when Meg was pregnant many decades ago now, she had a particular craving for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. When I mentioned this to the newsagent he remarked that if he spotted Meg coming into the shop to buy a supply of the same, he would then draw the appropriate conclusions. I then popped back into the park to sit at a table with Meg and our two park friends and, of course, we spent most of our time discussing whether Putin was ‘mad’ or just ‘bad’. This is quite an interesting debate as it happens because there is a blog which comes my way via my email account where there is quite a long and intelligent discussion whether Putin is displaying rational behaviour or whether what is seen in the Ukraine is an example of the deranged delusions of the Russian leader. I think that it is possible to draw these two threads together, though. It is possible that Putin, acting as a chess player, has a carefully calculated plan which is now being put into effect. On the other hand, even some multiple murderers (for example ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’, the Moors murderers) might exhibit a complete lack of any emotional empathy whilst carefully planning their crimes. So we might label this complete absence of any emotional feeling state as behaviour which is ‘mad’ but this is not to deny that they are rational within their own terms.

The Ukraine invasion is now being reported upon and analysed by all of the world’s media. Channel 4 news, for example, is showing some incredibly compelling footage from inside the Ukraine and some of their focus has been upon the refugee crisis that we are witnessing in the heart of Europe. I suppose there could just about be some 95 year olds in Poland and France who can recall what it was like when Warsaw and Paris fell in WWII. I hasten to add that I think it is common knowledge that the French did not really much to defend Paris putting a lot of their resources into the Maginot line which the Nazis just walked around. However, I know that military history is a lot more complicated than this but the ‘decapitation’ of the Ukraine now looks a distinct possibility. Although the fall of the Ukraine is now almost certain, I do not think this is by any means the end to the story. I think it is true that whilst an army of ‘x’ thousands might conquer a territory, one has to multiply that by several times (3-5 times) to install an army of occupation. In the Ukraine, the authorities have been handing out Kalashnikovs to a goodly proportion of the population as well as encouraging the population to prepare Molotov cocktails. Whilst many if not most of the women and children are sheltering or fleeing, there is conscription in place for all adult males aged 18-65. So we may see the prospect of hand-to-hand fighting through the streets of the Ukrainian capital. The Russians, of course, might just try to utilise missiles against what they can but already some blocks of flats in the capital have been destroyed by missiles. Were these random attacks or a mal-functioning missile? As the veteran Labour politician (and doughty fighter as a tank commander in WWII) Denis Healy pronounced: ‘ In war, the first casualty is truth‘ No doubt, within the next day or so, we shall start to see some terrible events unfold before our eyes and the journalists can rely upon quite a lot of video-footage captured on mobile phones. 

Tomorrow, we have some more ‘6 Nations’ rugby matches to keep us entertained but the match I really want to watch (Wales v. England) clashes with our  our regular church attendance so I will have to try and time-shift it, if the BBC allows this (I was unsuccessful the last time I tried this as there may be ‘copyright’ issues)

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Thursday, 24th February, 2022 [Day 710]

Today did not start well – which is rather an understatement. I had set my alarm to 6.15 in order to go shopping early and when the 6.30 news came on, I found that Russia had launched a full scale invasion on the Ukraine. I say full scale but in the first few hours it seemed that a two pronged attack was in place from Crimea in the south (what a surprise) and from the Russia-friendly Belarus in the North, supplemented by some missile strikes on military facilities in the vicinity of Kiev. As the day progressed, it started to become evident that Russia intended to take over not only the two self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk but probably were intent on a decapitation of the Ukraine and were prepared to install a puppet government in Kiev. But more of this later.

When I got to the larger Aldi supermarket in Bromsgrove, I realised that to my dismay I did not have a £1 coin or a trolley token to release the shopping trolley. A queue of about 10 had already formed and although I went down the queue, nobody was prepared to exchange my two 50p pieces for a £1 coin (which, I must say, I found rather incredible) So I had no alternative but to go back home, avail myself of a couple of £1 coins (one to use, one to keep permnently in the car) and then went off to the smaller Aldi that I used to frequent some three years ago now. I spent quite some time looking for items which were not where I expected them to be but one of the delights of Aldi’s is the ‘middle aisle’  where hardware and household goods (often high quality but remaindered) are sold off. I actually bought Meg a pair of pyjamas which she needed and also an extending bamboo cutlery drawer which is a bit more useful than the one we have in use at the moment.

After we had got unpacked and breakfasted, Meg and I went by car to pick up our newspaper and then we decided to go to Aldi’s to pick up a second pair of pyjamas as useful things tend to go extremely quickly – as Aldi say ‘Once it’s gone, it’s gone‘. We managed to locate the pile buried amongst other items and bought a second pair, albeit a size smaller but we trust that this will do. I also bought some leather gloves which happened to be in the vicinity, and not to be outdone Meg bought herself a pair of knee-length socks as well.  Afterwards,  we went to the park but it was bitterly cold and we did not want to linger. Nonetheless, our park friend Seasoned World Travller spotted us from afar so we had a brief chat about our reactions to the Ukraine invasion. But neither of us wanted to hang about chatting for too long as we were assailed by an icy wind, with lots of sleet and/or snow inside it. Then we came home and had ourselves a quick curry, necessary in view of the weather.

Needless to say the airways were dominated by the Ukraine invasion and we followed this quite intently, as well as viewing the feeds of the reaction of the PM and the Leader of the Opposition from Parliament, which was interesting to see. One the one hand, the channels are eager to report what is actually happening as it is the first time that a European country has invaded another neighbour since 1939 – 83 years go. And secondly, when I consulted the web, I found the following Question and Answer. Question – Why did Germany invade Poland? Answer – Germany invaded Poland to regain lost territory and ultimately rule their neighbor to the east. The interesting thing about this pithy piece of history is that you could just substitute the countries ‘Russia‘ and ‘Ukraine‘ and the sentence would still hold good. I am sure that when we get as far as Newsnight tonight, some of the military analysts will be available to air their opinion. Thinking through some of the longer term possibilities, then if the Ukraine does manage to hold off Russia, then they will surely want to join Nato as soon as they can. On the other hand (and more likely), if Putin gets away with Ukraine, he may well go after some of the much smaller Baltic states such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These three are members of NATO and the EU since 2004 and wish to be even more integrated into the NATO alliance. There are reports that the populations in these three countries are almost literally ‘trembling in their boots’ because they used to be under Soviet rule for decades and if Putin manages to regain Ukraine for Russia, then he will almost certainly go after them. So whichever way one plays out the scenario, it looks as though Russia and NATO are going to square up to each other for another version of the ‘Cold War’ The first one lasted from 1947 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 which is some 44 years.

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Wednesday, 23rd February, 2022 [Day 709]

As I was getting up this morning, I listened to some fragments of the excellent Radio 4 statistics programme ‘More or Less‘ I must say at the outset that I only caught some of this debate and may be mis-representing it entirely. But the debate went something like this – in assessing the impact and incidence of the COVID pandemic across most countries do we place more faith in (a) statistical modelling or (b) detailed inter-country comparisons, insofar as they are valid, to try to evaluate the effect of any one policy (e,g, wearing vs. non-wearing of face masks). I think I am right in saying that approach (b) was adjudged to be more fruitful but even here there are pronounced political and social differences between societies. Authoritarian compared with more ‘laissez-faire’ societies (who are inclined to punish infractions immediately) may well generate ‘better’ results even though both types of society have the same policy on mask-wearing. I am sure these statistical arguments and approaches will go on for years but if there is any consensus, it is that early and decisive action at the intimation of a pandemic generates better societal results in the long run.

Last night, as the newsreader was going through various items in the bulletin, there seemed (at first sight) to be an odd pause nwhen it was announced ‘Let us just have a quick time check‘ The time check was scheuled (to the second) to be on 22:22:22:22:22 i.e. the 22nd second of the 22nd minute of the 22nd hour (i.e. 10pm ) of the 22nd day of the 22nd year. To students of numerology, no doubt this was a second to savour but I suspect that it passed most of us by without a second glance.

When Meg and I gazed out of our window this morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining so we thought this would be a good day to make an impromptu visit to Droitwich just down the road. This seemed to be a good idea at the time but after we had collected our newspaper and then motored to Droitwich the skies had clouded over and the whole environment semed a lot less pleasant. Nonetheless, we trundled off to our favourite coffee bar but a couple of things conspired againt us. Not only was it half term (lots of screaming kids looked after by fraught grandmothers) but we got there at just about the minute late morning when the whole world suddenly determined they were in desperate need of a coffee and more. Nonetheless, we felt disinclined to go roaming much further afield so eventually we acquired a table and after a period of queuing ordered our favourite cappuchuno and teacakes. After this we had a long way to travel  (next door) to the Oxfam charity shop which is always stuffed full of high quality goodies, Most of the china goods were things that we would not want or need but the quality was universally high. We did, though, purchase a good handbag and bought some Easter cards which are occasionally hard to find. We had spent so much on this that we went straight to our cafe-cum-bistro where we knew we could get some high quality comestibles and we had not booked thinking, quite rightly, that the venue would be pretty quiet. The café had an interesting menu in that for its ‘specials’ board it was displaying some soup (lightest of meals), pasta with meatballs (a light meal) and finally salmon with new potatoes (a full meal) We opted for the pasta which was delicious and eventually I got into conversation with the chef to see if we could reproduce the same result at home. To drink with our meal, we also ordered some elderflower pressé and this was delivered in two stout bottles. When the waitress told me they would only throw the bottles away, I ‘begged’ them so that I could utilise them for my damson gin, cheekily asking her if she could possibly retrieve the screw-on caps for me (which she did).

About the Ukraine crisis, I have only thing to say at this point in time. Our government have been extremely forthright in indicating that sanctions would be applied against Russia to counter their incurson into the Ulkraine. However, the actual sanctions imposed amount only to the slightest slap on the wrist as it is said that the government is now going to pursue three Russian oligarchs and two minor Russian banks (which the americans had sanctioned months ago on any case) Even some Conservatives in the House of Commons think that the UK response is weak in the extreme. The Germans, for their part, with practically no fanfare, have suddenly halted the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project which is designed to double the flow of Russian gas directly to Germany. This must have quite an impact on the German economy but it looks as though they are prepared to put principles before money (whereas the UK approach is the reverse i.e.  to put money before principles)



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Tuesday, 22nd February, 2022 [Day 708]

Well, this has been a bit of a strange day – or should I say a day that follows a long night. In the wee small hours of the morning, I got up and spent a bit of time on my desktop computer and wondered if it was eligible for an upgrade of the operating system. The latest version of the Mac operating sysytem is now Monterey and it was released at the end of October last year. Knowing that installing a new version of the operating system is a good way of getting rid of the ‘junk’ files which tends to accumulate over the life cycle of an operating system, I thought I would go ahead. The new operating system took over an hour to download but I thought this was probably just about acceptable as I pop into bed at about 3.00am in the morning. The download seemed to proceed to plan but what I had not realised that it took another hour to install the operating system. This is because the system has to reconfigure and update parts of itself, rebuild fle indexes and goodness knows what else – the system had to restart itself about five times altogether as various components got installed. Eventually everything seemed to be installed and I had to have a minimal ‘play’ with things to ensure that the new system was actually working as it should do – it is not unknown for a new operating system to completely fall over and, in that instance, one has to somehow revert to the old system if that is possible.  After a minimal ‘play’ the critical things (email!) seem to be working OK but I haven’t had chance for an extended investigation until later on. At first glance, the system seems just about as slow as the old system was so that the theory that an upgrade of the system should have cleared out an aberrant file that was slowing down my old system seems to have misplaced. Having said that, systems speed up over time as commonly used software gets prioritised – at least it does on the modern Windows system so I sure the Mac software engineers would have done the same. I crept into bed at about 4.40 not intending to spend half the night supervising the installation of an operating system but I have been there before and therefore should not express any degree of surprise. So after all of this, I slept in a bit this morning and generally felt like ‘death warmed up’ until I had got some breakfast inside me.

In view of all of this, Meg and I did not have time for a walk this morning but time is always a bit limited on a Tuesday morning when I have to prepare for my Pilates session later on. So I shot down to town by car to pick up our Tuesday newspaper and then got changed into my tracksuit bottoms which is my ‘de rigeur’ outfit for my Pilates session. Then it was a brisk walk down and I passed our Italian friend but had to rush past her saying there was no stop to stop for a chat. After my class, I bumped into my park friend, Seasoned World Traveller, and we had a few words about the situation in the Ukraine  and then a little later on my Irish friend who was busy transporting a bag of things for the charity shop so I assume she had been doing some ‘spring’ cleaning – or at least cupboard clearing out time. After I got home, I prepared our traditional ‘fish cakes’ meal that I have upon my return from Pilates and then it was into a spot of dozing and newspaper reading before we get to FaceTime our old Waitrose friends which we do regularly each Tuesday evening. As Tuesday night has a couple of old fashioned comedy programs (one of them Yes Minister!) we tend to always watch these and it means that we have to get ourselves organised in time for these.

As you might imagine, the Ukraine crisis has dominated the airwaves today. The situation is not quite as clearcut as a starightforward invasion of one (small) country but another,much bigger neighbour would suggest. I refreshed my memory about the Russian ‘takeover’ of the Crimea and discovered that Russia formally annexed Crimea on 18 March 2014, incorporating the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol as the 84th and 85th federal subjects of Russia. Despite its annexation, Crimea was considered by most countries of the world in a UN resolution of March 2014 to remain part of Ukraine. I did not know, though, that the USSR formally transferred the Crimea from Russia to the Ukraine as late as 1954 for reasons which are too tortuous to begin to explain. I suppose that it was about the time of the repossession of the Crimea that the two Ukrainian provinces of  Luhansk and Donetsk, the two provinces of the eastern Donbas region, are only about one-third controlled by the separatists now recognised by Russia. But separatist officials in Luhansk demanded on Tuesday that Ukraine removed its troops from the Kyiv-controlled parts of the province and threatened they would ‘take measures to restore the territorial integrity of the republic‘ if ignored.

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Monday, 21st February, 2022 [Day 707]

Today opened as a very windy day as the succession of storms proceed across the country. If anything, I think the intensity of the wind might have been worse than we experienced with the Storm Eunice a day or so ago and last night we certainly seemed to have a lot of intense rainfall. These weather conditions put our walk this morning in some jeopardy so we did not rush to get ready this morning, hoping that the storms would rapidly traverse the country. When we did venture out as far as the park, we had decided to go by car and went on a small perambulation intending to stop on a bench to drink our usual coffee. However, the conditions were so unpleasant that we decided to cut our losses, come back home in the car once we had had a walk of several hundred metres and have the coffee from our flask in the comfort of our own home. Lunch was easy to prepare as we still had a good portion of our turkey-and-root-vegetables stew left from yesterday so we heated this in the oven and served it with a baked potato and some green beans.

During some spare time I had this morning, I continued with my decluttering of my Apple Mac and am pleased with the progress that I have made. Basically, I have taken all of the items off the desktop apart from an icon showing the system’s hard disk and put them away in a folder I called XS-Files which is itself subdivided into video, images, apps and so on. The huge download file has now been copied in its entirety to a secondary storage (a 1TB external pocket drive) where it can be pruned at my leisure at the same time releasing space on the main hard disk.

Late on this afternoon and by prior arrangement, I was delighted to be able to Skype on my ex-University of Winchester friend. We seem to have kept missing each other for the last few days what with one thing or another but we certainly made up for it today with a good old hour and half long natter about things. We are both getting a little frustrated about the weather which is curtailing our normal walking activities but as restrictions are easing, we are cautiously looking forward to being able to resume some more of our social contacts. Boris Johnson made an announcement in the House of Commons this afternoon announcing the legal end to all pandemic restrictions from next Thursday onwards. This was followed up by a news conference from 10 Downing Street announcing the same end  of restrictions, including the necessity for self-isolation, to members of the public at large. There was some speculation that the two scientific advisors would not appear along Boris Johnson but nonetheless they did do so and dutily went through their graphs but one certainly did not sense any degree of enthusiam for their task. As well as an ending of legal requirements, there was also an announcement that free testing was due to end and people would have to pay for this in future. After the news conference was over, I heard an excellent contribution on the BBC rolling news programme from a professor at the University of St. Andrews. He was making the point with a great deal of force and cogency that those who had the resources to afford lateral flow tests for themselves would indeed have more ‘freedom’ how to conduct their affairs. However, a low paid worker who had not seen, for example, an aged relative and who also needed to go back to work to put food on the table has his ‘freedoms’ restricted if they have to make a choice whether to visit their relative or not and cannot afford the cost of a test. The Professor also made the excellent point that the during the pandemic the motivation of the public to comply with restrictions on their liberty was pretty uniformly high – but the ability to comply with legislation was very much governed by the economic ability of the individual. A previous social theorist, R H Tawney, expressed this dilemma extremely pithly when he pronounced that ‘freedom for the pike was death for the minnow‘. The wider point here is that one person’s freedom is often at the expense of another. All ‘freedoms’ (how I dislike this term) have to be exercised in the context of obligations to others and therefore one is not ‘free’ to show ‘Fire‘ in a crowded theatre or cinema.

In the last hour, Putin has just announced that he will recognise the ‘independence’ of the two provinces of eastern Ukraine that have large Russian-speaking populations. Is this going to be the green light for him to roll in his tanks in support of their ‘independence’? I actually think not but it enormously ratcheted up the pressures that Nato now faces as well as being contrary to the Minsk agreements as as well as international law.

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Sunday, 20th February, 2022 [Day 706]

Today was almost a typical Sunday but not quite. I got up relatively early, as is my wont on a Sunday morning, and strolled down to get the Sunday newspapers whilst listening to a diet of Mozart which is my weekly treat. Then it was time to have a bit of breakfast on our knees whilst watching the Sunday morning politics show. As most of us are suspecting these days, Boris Johnson is absolutely loving the Ukrainian crisis because it is making him look like an important statesman rather than a rather grubby politician. The more the Ukrainian crisis drags on, the more Boris feels that he is putting ‘partygate’ behind him and that the public attention is being devoted onto other matters. As ‘partygate’ fades for the time being,  so the postbags of MPs are not being filled wih indignant letters from the electorate and therefore, of course, the pressure to remove him lessens – at least for the time being. I think it was at university that I read (and was very impressed) by a book by Lewis Coser called ‘The Functions of Soial Conflict‘ and it was from this source that I first learnt that all right wing politicians typically engage in aggressive relations with ‘foreigners’. This is because, by so doing, attention is diverted from what might be massive sources of conflict at home whilst the political benefits will accrue from what might be termed the ‘rally round the flag’ sentiment in the population as a whole.  So the whole sabre-rattling continues on both sides – but I find it intriguing that the Ukrainians themselves are getting irritated by the increasing bellicose noises coming out of Washington and the NATO alliance. At the end of the day, I suspect that a ‘diplomatic’ solution will emerge in which, in the short term, Putin emerges as a stronger figure than before. Incidentally, the Lewis Coser observation on right wing leaders applies equally to figures such as Putin who has every interest in diverting attention from domestic difficulties within Russia. Meg decided not to walk down to the park this morning as the weather did not bode too well and she was feeling a little on the chilly and fragile side. So I made myself some coffee and made for the park but I did not tarry on our usual benches but instead carried on walking around the lake to look in on the small cafe which is normally open at the weekends. As it happens, as I suspected, both my University of Birmingham friend and Seasoned World Traveller were there so I joined them for about half an hour. We swapped some funny (medical) stories wih each other as well as discussing the fact that in many societies, one goes directly to a specialist to get one’s problems attended to whereas in our NHS one is used to the GP acting as a ‘gatekeeper’ to the specialist who is not approachable directly in the UK system. Obviously, on can approach the specialist directly in societies where there is a cash nexus up front ie one pays directly (even if some costs may be reimbursed later by the state). Before I had walked down to the park, I had prepared some ‘chunky’ root vegetables which were parboiled and then thrown together with some turkey thigh meat to make a huge casserole dish that could cook slowly in the oven whilst I was on my walk. All of this worked out very well and, when I returned, I just need to steam some green vegetables to have a complete meal.

This afternoon, I devoted myself to a leisurely reading of the ‘Sunday Times‘ before I started to tackle getting my computer gradually de-cluttered. I have come to the decision to replace my aging machine but if I do not get the existing machine de-cluttered, I will end up transferring clutter from one machine to another which is not exactly what I want. I suppose it is like having one cluttered desk and a brand new clean disk beside it. If you were to merely transfer all of the clutter from one desk to the other, then you would be no better off. This analogy is not completely sound, though, because as computer systems age there is a lot of junk left around from incomplete installations which can be difficult to locate and delete.

The weather today has seen the aftermath of the Storm Eunice as it has moved on from our shores. The weaher this morning was a bit of a lull but it was then followed by a very windy period and then torrential rain later on in the afternoon. We now learn that another storm, codenamed Franklin, is on its way and I think that succession of these storms are on their way. And to finish off today, we learn that the Queen has been declared positive for COVID and although the symptoms are declared to be ‘mild’ and the Queen will be undertaking ‘light duties’, nontheless there is a degree of concern as the monarch will shortly by 96 years old. 


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Saturday, 19th February, 2022 [Day 705]

Today is the day after the ‘big storm’ that was Eunice and I must say that here in the Midlands, we have got off fairly lightly.  On the other hand, when I was FaceTiming one of my colleagues from the University of Winchester who lives in rural Hampshire, he seemed to have a bit of a torrid time with sheds being moved off their bases and trees shedding some of their branches. The possibility of severe tidal flooding along the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary did not materialise, but the severity of the winds caused significant damage and loss of life across the South of England and London where red warnings were issued by the Met Office.

Meg and I were not quite sure how the day was going to pan out, weatherwise, so we decided to play safe and we went down into town by car. Having collected our newspaper, we popped into the park and did a circular walk for about 15 minutes or so but we broke with tradition by not bothering to sit on a bench and consume any of of our own coffee. Having completed our walk, we were both feeling a little chilled so we were pleased to get home and enjoy our coffee and biscuits when we got home. Lunch was fairly easy to prepare as we had some venison meatballs in their own onion gravy which we complemented with some green veg and prepared fairly quickly.

After lunch, we were excited to discover that there was a film of ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ on BBC2. This was a 1940 production in black and white and starring Lawrence Olivier as Darcy. But somehow we felt that it did not capture our imaginations in any way and seemed to pale into comparison with modern productions that we have seen. There was quite a lot of flouncy 1940’s style versions of 18th century costumes and a declarative style of acting which seemed to us to miss the subtleties and the nuances of more more recent productions so we turned it off and devoted ourelves to an afternoon of reading before we leave for church in the late afternoon.

I am in now in the research phase of what model of MAC I shall use to replace my aging and slowing desktop machine.  The basic version will give you the astounding new MI chip in which Apple have integrated memory onto the chip but seems a little compromised in terms of the size of the solid state disk that they supply and particurlarly the number of ports. So I am leaning towards the next model upwards in the range and getting my finances arranged accordingly. Even here there are several options. I could go to the Apple Shop which never discounts and always charges the full ‘official’ price. On the other hand, I have in the past received an education discount but this has to be organised through a third-party firm and the procedures are a little tortuous, although I am in email communication with them. On the other hand, John Lewis seems to offer what I want with the equivalent of a 10% discount and an automatic two year warranty plus an interest free finance deal over three years all of which sounds sufficiently attractive for me to consider this as well.

Team GB has sceured its first medal in the Winter Olympics but Silver rather than Gold. The men’s team were playing Sweden and although they were behind for most of the match they drew level with the Swedes but were eventually were defeated by one of the last ‘stones’ launched by the Swedish team. Meanwhile the Women’s team are due to play the Japanese in the wee small hours of the morning tomorrow and, lik the men, they are guaranteed a silver but a gold may be within their grasp. No doubt, win or lose, the TV programmes will be full of the repeats of this match tomorrow.

The news headlines are also dominated by the stand-off in the Ukraine at the moment. I cannot but help feel that there is an awful lot of posturing going on here and if an actual conflict does occur, it is because either side has stumbled into it by accident rather than design. Yet one does get the impression that whatever happens, Putin will emerge as the happier party when all is said and done.   After all, he has a succession of world leaders calling on him to enhance his international standing and they are being subject to a sort of ritualised humiliation as they are forced to sit at end of  very long table with Putin at one end and themselves at the other. Despite all of the threatening noises being made about sanctions that NATO might try to impose, I am not sure how you disentangle the ‘clean’ from the ‘dirty’ Russian money that has flooded into London and then into property – if this were easy, would it not have been done by now?

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