Thursday, 31st March, 2022 [Day 745]

Thursdays are the days when we get up early to go shopping and I was waiting outside the door of the supermarket at a minute or so before 8.00am as planned. Now that I have started (again) to go to this somewhat smaller supermarket, I know where everything is to be found but there are always one or two things we would like to have which are not stocked. One particular ‘treat’ in Aldi once the main food shopping has been done is to wander up and down the cenral aisles which are stocked with a variety of household and gardening type things. Today, I  succumbed to temptation and bought one of those 40 litre garden tubs that are worth their weight in gold when it comes to gardening clearance tasks becasue it minimises the amount of time you are up and down to fill the main gardening compost wheelie bin. When I got home, I checked the price I paid against the price that Amazon is charging and was pleasantly surprised that the Aldi price was about 60% what you pay for an equivalent product from Amazon. What tends to ‘go’ on these tubs are the handles, particularly if you snatch at the handle when full. 

Well, we knew that the weather was going to worsen today and so it did. To be honest, it was not universally bad but one of those days when there is a sharp shower following by an intense burst of sunshine. Knowing how variable the weather is, Meg and I decided to take the option of collecting the newspaper by car, which we did. Then we drove to the top entrance of the park and made our way to our normal bench. Needless to say, the park was bereft of children, dogs, dog walkers and the like and only the most foolhardy of walkers ventured out.  But no sooner had we sat down than we were assailed by an icy blast with a considerable wind chill factor – accordingly, we drank our coffee as quickly as possible and then immediately struck for home. We had a curry meal in the freezer so we supplemented this for our midday meal.

This afternoon, I intended to go out and do a little ‘finishing off’ of the border I had cleared yesterday. No sooner did I look out of the window after lunch, though, but a snow shower hove into view  which was eventually followed by some bright sunshine. So I had to wait until a suitable moment came along when I judged that the showers had now passed us by. What I had in mind to do today was to take yesterday’s border and creae a deep ‘V’-shaped edge to it by taking a spade- full of earth and then throwing it forwards rather than just turning it over. This way, in theory, you  end up with a fairly deep ‘edge’ to the border in which any grass cutting from the lawn shears falls into the ‘base’of the ‘V’ from whence they do not have to be collected but can just be pushed down into the soil by the lawn shears where they will rot. If this sounds complicated, it is because I am always trying to develop techniques which, in the long term will bot save time and does not add unnecessarily to the organic matter to be thrown away. The second little task I did this afternoon was to take a trusted and very light weight push mower and to do the ‘fiddly’ areas around bushes and the border edge itself so that, when I do the main mowing tomorrow, the task will be so much easier. The theory of this is fine if the grass is relatively short (which it is not, just yet) and if the grass is not too wet and ‘clingy’.   As it was, the task proved a little bit harder today than I had bargained for but as a ‘dual-cut’ technique, it seemed to work very well when it was difficult to heave the very heavy battery-driven model of lawn mower I once had through tight and fiddly spaces. I suspect that my task may have been made slightly more difficult becase one of the lightweight mower’s roller adjustment screws seems to have gone AWOL (in other words dropped off) so given a few spare minutes, I shall have to see if this can be fixed somehow.

There is a certain ‘gung-ho!’ atmosphere in the media tonight with reports that the war in the Ukraine may be approaching a turning point as it appears evident that Putin may well have overreached himself. There are multiple stories to the effect that Putin faces a mutinous army and a cadre of officials who dare not speak ‘truth to power’. But I suspect that many of these stories are part of a ‘psychological ops’ campaign by the west. The difficulties in ejecting the Putins of this world from power are immense (think of Robert Mugabwe in Zimbabwe) and I personally think we would all be better off if we were to think of a campaign in the Ukraine which might be a long war of attrition that last months or years rather than weeks.

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Wednesday, 30th March, 2022 [Day 744]

Today was going to be a day of self-imposed deadlines, as we shall see. There were two factors that governed today, the most important being trying to see if I could get a 36′ foot garden border dug over before the rains took over. But a second deadline, very much associated with Wednesdays, was that it was PMQ’s (Prime Minister’s Questions) at 12.00am today.  So I popped down to get the daily newspaper and made a lightning visit to get some of the things I always seem to run out the day before I go shopping first thing on Thursday morning. Meg and I strolled down to the park where we chatted with some of the regulars (mainly dog walkers). One very persistent dog even insisted on dropping a ball at our feet, desperate for it to be thrown in order that it could be retrieved. When at first we didn’t comply, the dog brought  the ball even nearer to us in case we hadn’t got the hint. Eventually, I succumbed and kicked it away to the dog’s evident delight. Meg and I managed to get home in time for the Boris Johnson show but I honestly wondered why I bothered. As the police had handed out at least 20 ‘Fixed Penalty Notices’ to Downing Street staff, subsequent to their evident ‘partifying’, then there appeared to be an open and shut case of Boris Johnson having lied to (or misled) the House of Commons when last December he had repeatedly denied any illegalities. But somehow the opposition and Keir Starmer never manage to land a particularly telling blow and with 79 MP’s behind him cheering his every utterance, one wonders whether Boris Johnson would be equally successful if he just stood up and answered ‘Blah! Blah! Blah!’ . Even when asked a direct question about his own venality, Boris Johnson does seem to have an ability to return to an ‘ad hominem’ (personal attack) to roars of approval from the benches behind him. It is at times like these that I despair for the democratic process.

Having consulted the weather app on my iPhone, I know that there was a 30% chance of rain by 3.00pm so at about 1.45 I set about my digging task with a vengeance. What was to slow me down somewhat was the fact that I had to contend with several underground tree roots from the hawthorn and the field maple (‘acer campestre‘) so these had to be navigated with a degree of care, just turning over an inch or so of soil when the roots impeded. Needless to say, my work was well supervised by Miggles the cat who first climbed half way up a tree to impress me and then sat impassively at the start of the border just to check that I was doing a good job. I was planning to get finished by 3.00pm this afternoon but the smattering of rain arrived about 15 minutes too early and I had to rather hurry my last 20-30 spadefuls. Nonethess, I was very satisfied to have got the job finished and I am going to wait until we get a burst of late afternoon sunshine (which is not uncommon) to administer a dressing of lime to help to ‘sweeten’ the soil before I contemplate what to do with the border. The way I feel at the moment is that I will let the earth and lime settle a little and will then rake it to a fine tilth. Then I think it is a case of a row of leafbeet, a row of beetroot and a row of leeks, all of which should be quite easy to tend in the weeks ahead.

There is a report circulating this evening, albeit from an American political source with a commensurate ‘spin’ , that ‘ Putin’s military chiefs are too afraid to tell him the truth’. However, it is reported that the Russian leader feels he has been ‘misled’ about the country’s failures on the battlefield in Ukraine. According to the official, information on those losses and the impact of sanctions is not being fed to Mr Putin ‘because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth. We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth‘  the official said on condition of anonymity. Before we triumphically crow about the superiority of western liberal values, practically the same comments could have been made about ex-President Trump i.e. that none of the Republican Party would tell him to his face that he had substantially lost (rather than won) the presidential election. Perhaps, in bygone days in the USSR when there was a more collectivist rather than individualistic style of leadership, members of the PolitBureau might have been a restraining influence upon Putin. But once a leader in any political system acquires and weilds a tremendous amount of centralised power, it is almost inevitable that alternative and more cautious voices are not heard.

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Tuesday, 29th March, 2022 [Day 743]

It was another fine day today so I am keen to make progress with the gardening as soon as it can be fitted in. I went off into town to collect the newspaper, which once accomplished, meant that Meg and I could just walk to the park without the additional journey to the newspaper shop for Meg. It was certainly a cooler and more overcast day and we can feel that a change in the weather system is underway. It started to brighten a little half way through the morning so we were pleased to get home in good time so that I could get an hour’s border clearance in before lunch. We had our traditional Tuesday afternoon lunch of fishcakes which were as satisfying as usual and then, after a swift coffee, I was off out again to complete the gardening. I just managed to catch a little snatch of the memorial service for Prince Philip, and although it seemed ‘touch and go’ whether the Queen could make it on this occasion, I was very pleased for her that she managed to do so. The service was cut down to size to make it not too overlong for the monarch and some sensible corners were cut e.g. she entered Westminster Abby through a side door to cut down on the amount of walking and she leant on the arm of one of her grandsons (Andrew?)  to take her seat and upon leaving. Ever since Prince Philip awarded me my MSc at the back end of 1969, I have always had a soft-ish spot for Prince Philip if not other members of the Royal Family. I suspect that Prince Philip’s gaffes, non-PC utterances and other sayings could well fill quite a voluminous book. One of the more polite ones was his exhortation to British industry to ‘get your finger out’ – this in response to an appeal to raise British productivity which always seems to have been lagging behind the economies of our competitors.

Today if there hadn’t been wars and Royal events to divert the public, we know that 20 letters were to be received about by about 20 members of the Downing Street staff and although the identity of the recipients has not been revealed, it seems as though Boris Johnson is not among them. One has to say ‘yet’ because all of the indications are that Scotland Yard is going to be concentrating upon the ‘low hanging fruit’ i.e. the apparently ‘open and shut cases’ where there is no real dispute and, having submitted questionnaires to the police, the recipients must have been expecting them.  Receiving a ‘fixed penalty notice’ in this way in not a criminal offence but could become one if you were to refuse to pay the fine. I suspect that the decision to send Boris Johnson a fixed penalty notice or not will be taken at the highest possible level in view of the political sensitivities involved. Would it go as high as the Commissioner of Police who is currently serving out her notice or her acting deputy one wonders?

And so for the final tranche of gardening that I had set for myself this afternoon. I intended to set myself a couple of hours with a tea break in the middle – as it happened, I achieved my objective with two minutes to spare. Needless to say, I was ably assisted by Miggles the cat, who at one point sat about two feet in front of the patch upon which I was working but with a tail in the way of my trowel. Needless to say, I had to move the cat’s tail out of my working area at which the animal took the point and found something else to do. The weeding having been done, I have two options open to me. The first which I was a little tempted by, was to purchase some forest bark and spread over the border which would look tremendous. However, how successul it would be at weed suppression is another question. I will probably go for the second alternative which i have tried before and has worked well in the past. This is to dig the whole with the aid of a particular type of spade with a pointed blade which I have found particularly useful in the past for accessing tricky areas beween shrubs and trees. I must say that I am rather fond of digging and find it so much easier than hand weeding. In addition, I absolutely love the appearance of newly dug soil. I tend to keep the spade-fulls of soil fairly intact and chunky as experience has told me over the years that weed seeds find it more difficult in this type of terrain. Besides, if you have done the digging effectively, then many of the weed seeds at or near the surface get buried a good 6″-9″ under.

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Monday, 28th March, 2022 [Day 742]

A nice fine day today, but I wonder how long it is going to last.  Last week, it was being indicated in the longer range weather forecasts that today the high pressure system which we have been fortunate enough to experience for the last few days is going to break down under the influence of a mass of arctic air moving its way south. So it appears that we may be subject to a bout of rain and perhaps even snow slowly sinking  from the north towards the end of the week. This has quite a practical implication for me as I want to get as much of the routine gardening (mainly edging, gully and border clearing) done whilst the weather is fine.  Meg and I were a lttle delayed this morning but eventually we got our act into gear and got into town by car, where we picked up the newspaper. Afterwards, we pereginated to our ‘normal’ park bench where e chatted with a couple of regulars, all of us enjoying the sunshine whilst we can, but conscious of the fact that some unpleasant weather is on the way. Then we popped home and finished off the other half of the beef joint that we cooked in the slow cooker yesterday.

As the weather was set fair, I thought I would make a start on the garden tidy-up. As I was assembling my garden tools I was visited by a little furry friend (the local cat who has adopted us – Miggles) so evidently the cat had to have some of its treats. Then I had to look out for the set of handtools which I particularly use in clearing my borders and gullies. The biggest of these is evidently some edge clippers whch I try to keep sharp and in good condition – I tend to put WD-40 or its equivalent on the blades both before and after use. Then I have two or three particular tools without which I would be lost. The most important of these is a weeding tool which has a bit of a swan-neck and then a deep V-shaped notch in its working end. I also have a dandelion rooter which has a long shaft, much needed as dandelion roots can be very long and persistent. Finally, I have a really stout stainless steel trowel. I find I use these three tools constantly and I take care to look after them before I put them away for the night. I ought to mention last but not least are those kinds of gardening gloves that have a fairly ‘grippy’ coating on the front – this enables one to get hold of a weed and give it a long, slow tug in order to clear the roots from the soil. Once I started on my task, I never cease to marvel at the versatility of the human hand which I use to sieve the surface of the soil as well as removing weeds by their roots. I have deliberately set myself rather limited objectives so that I do not absolutely exhaust myself on ‘Day One‘ and I managed to achieve a clearance of one third of the long border by the side of our green communal areas at the front of the house.

Perhaps I do not need to mention that in all of my gardening activities this afternoon, my efforts were supervised at all times by Miggles the cat. After leaping about in the sunshine as though to capture imaginary beasts, the cat decided to show off by climbing as far as it could up the ‘acer campestre‘ (field maple) I planted some years back. When the cat got to the stage where each branch swayed perilously and was in danger of shedding the cat back to earth, Miggles turned around and decided it was time to beat a retreat before a bout of lying around in the sun. Then it was obvious that it needed to sit on a patch of cleared earth about 9″ in advance of where I was working. I rather think the cat thinks that some strange beastie is going to appear from the earth and weeds as the border gets cleared and is getting itself in a good position to leap on it. After an hour, I packed up my tools, had a nice cip of tea and left the cat to walk up and down the patch of fresh earth I had just cleared ( a pettern of behaviour I have witnessed before. More of these activites tomorrow, I am sure, if the weather holds up.

There are hints tonight in advance of further peace talks tomorrow in Turkey and Russia and the Ukraine are edging towards each other. Each side has conceded an ‘easy’concession – the Ukrainians are indicaing that a ‘neutral’ i.e. non-NATO Ukraine could be on the cards whilst the Russians have claims to take over the wjole of the country. The really difficult bit to negotiate is how much of the east of the country to cede in exchange for peace. As it is now, Zelenskyy has said he was seeking a ‘compromise’ with Moscow over Donbas, the region which has been partly controlled by Russian-backed separatist groups since 2014. 

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Sunday, 27th March, 2022 [Day 741]

So British Summer Time (BST) officially started at 1.00am this morning and we are now entering the period known officially as ‘Daylight Savings Time’. All of this means that we now have lighter evenings to which to look forward but at the (slight) cost of slightly darker mornings. The principal task this morning is also to adjust various clocks throughout the house. Fortunately, our computers and radios automatically adjust themselves but I have to remember to adjust the central heating clock (our previous controller used to do this automatically but our current model does not). There is always one device which I can never quite remember how to adjust and in my case, its the oven clock but everything else, as far as I remember, has been adjusted. I seem to think that there was a movement some time ago to go onto what is called ‘Double Summer Time’ i.e. putting the clocks forward by two hours which incidentally aligns us with continental Europe.  Actually, in 1968, a three-year experiment was conducted with British Standard Time, keeping the clocks fixed throughout the year on GMT+1. However, the dark winter mornings were unpopular, particularly in Scotland. In 1971, MPs voted to return to the system that endures today. Yet the debate continues about transferring to Single/Double Summertime (SDST) – the current convoluted buzzword. Research showed an 11.7% reduction in road casualties between 1968 and 1971. An extra hour’s light in the evening is thought to offer savings of up to £35m in fuel costs. Crime rates also drop with longer evenings. What is interesting, in these post-Brexit days, is that the idea has never sprung to the fore again but as the energy crisis hits us it may force its way up the agenda in the foreseeable future. Having got up early, amended our clocks and fuelled myself with some instant porridge, I set off for our Sunday newspaper and there was not a soul around (just after 8.00am) as I set off – I suppose all sensible people were busy trying to recoup their extra hour in bed and even the usual accompaniment of joggers and dog-walkers seemed to be absent. On returning home. we watched the ‘Sunday Morning’ show which is a regular Sunday morning fixture and I prepared our elevenses for later on in the morning. I then received a text from my son who was returning from a rail trip and with whom I had an arrangement to pick him up from the station. This Meg and I did but all not gone particularly well on this particular rail trip (booking offices not open when they should be, scheduled trains not running and similar kinds of misfortunes) so our son was not a particularly happy bunny when we picked him up. Then Meg and I went for our ‘normal’ Sunday morning walk to the park and ran across a few of our ‘park regulars’ this morning before we returned home to cook Sunday lunch.

The Ukrainian war is not often a source of amusement but one particular series of incidents is hitting the newspaper columns of papers such as the Sunday Times. At the airport serving Kerson, Moscow first ordered Russian troops, armour, attack helicopters and logistical support vehicles to occupy the airport on February 27. A Ukrainian drone filmed them as they moved in and then opened fire, damaging several helicopters. Undeterred, Russian commanders moved in more helicopters and scores more vehicles. Ukrainian artillery answered with a massive, concentrated bombardment against the airfield on March 7. Footage released by the Ukrainian military shows dozens of flashes lighting up whole sectors of the airfield in rapid succession, with rockets blowing apart the vehicles stationed there. The attack wiped out at least 30 helicopters and dozens more armoured vehicles To cut a very long story short, the Russians have reinforced the airport on ten occasions. Each time, there has been an Ukrainian air strike destroying helicopters and other military equipment. A Russian commander, Lieutenant General Yakov Rezantsev, promptly put himself in the front line to work out was happening – and was promptly taken out by Ukrainian attacks. The Ukrainians themselves cannot believe just how unbelievably stupid the Russian tactics have been. This may be the result of a cultural trait in which the Russian military blindly follow orders and there is little room for any independent ‘thinking’. By contrast, the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be flexible, adaptive and fast-learning and hence the successes that they are enjoying against vastly superior Russian fire power.

Last night, Meg and I attempted to watch some opera videos on ‘YouTube‘ and each of these attempts resulted in disaster (some 5 seconds of video followed by two minutes of ‘buffering’) As my son called round today, we thought we would investigate what was going wrong, as I suspected that resetting the router during the week had not helped matters. But this afternoon, everything worked as one would have expected so I suppose I was just unlucky to have hit a patch of very low connection speeds last night.


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Saturday, 26th March, 2022 [Day 740]

The start of another beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. It is a wonderful sight to look out of our upper storey windows and to behold a vista of beautifully cut lawns – but, of course, they are a reminder that they have to be kept that way with a weekly mow. I am also reminding myself that now some of the hard work of spring cleaning the garden actually starts. The basic mowing having been done, the next major task is to edge the lawn and to clear the gullies. I have found over the years that using the edging tool to cut off overhanging grass strands is one thing but the way that our garden is, there are quite a few neighbouring areas and gullies that also have to be cleared. I have found over the years that the best way to do this is by adopting a semi-prone position i.e. lying on one’s side and then utilising a lot of handwork by pulling our perennial weeds by the roots. In the worst affected areas of the garden, this can be a combination of nettles, bamboo and even ivy not to mention varieties of other creeping weeds. When I used to weed my next door neighbour’s garden on a ‘grace and favour’ basis, I once heard a narvellous piece of advice how to get rid of ‘gound elder’, a particularly pernicious type of weed introduced by the Romans I believe and with a habit of reproducing itself from a fragment about as small as half a thumbnail and with a habit of insinutaing itself round the roots of legitimate plants like roses. The advice I had heard was ‘move house’ – in the absence of this, one had to persist for about five years or even more in order to eradicate this pestilent weed from your beloved borders. I am telling myself that I need to do about 20-30 minutes day regularly each day but I evidently need to be self-disciplined about this. As is so often the case with these projects, I intend to start on this ‘tomorrow’. Meg and I walked down to the park today and we occupied our normal bench, admiring the flowering blossom unfolding on the trees in front of us. I left Meg on the bench to save Meg’s legs somewhat whilst I collected the newspaper and then we slowly walked home, enjoying the sunshine whilst it lasts but conscious of the fact that in a few days time, the warm spell will end and we shall have to get used to some icy arctic blasts early on next week. When we we were in the park and knowing that following the ‘Six Nations’ we were going to have women’s international rugby, we thought that a treat was to follow. However, the first scheduled match was between England and Sotland and started at 12.00 midday so we realised that we should just about be in time to watch the second half. As the half time score was someting like 38-5 in the favour of England, it was hardly going to be a competitive second half- or a particularly absorbing one.  The Scots made a few bold approaches but seemed to lack the killer punch to make it across the try line at all in the second half.

Some particularly poignant news is emerging in the aftermath of the bombing of the theatre in Maiupol where about a thousand refugees were sheltering (incuding some transported there from a local hospital). A woman who survived the bombing of a theatre in Mariupol has said she believes the panic of the crowd rushing to escape killed more people than the strike itself. The building sheltering more than a thousand civilians in the besieged southern Ukrainian city was bombed by Russia on 16 March. The blast killed around 300 people, authorities in the country have said – which would make it the war’s deadliest attack on civilians. Mariupol resident Maria Radionova, 27, who was among those who made it out alive, has told of the chaos as the bomb hit. Today, President Biden has been in Poland, pledging more support to the Ukraine and also positioning more American troops in the Nato territories that border Russia. He has been making the quite legitimate point that whilst Putin actually wanted and tried to engineer a weakened and divided NATO, he now has the absolute reverse on his door step.  Although there is a certain amount of rhetoric in all of this, what divisions may have existed in NATO now appear minimal. The ‘volte-face’ by the German government when they decided on a much energetic and funded defence strategy is of enormous significance and the Japanese are also considering changing their traditional defence policies in the light of Putin’s aggression. Signals from the Russian Government is that they may attempt to concentrate their energies on the eastern Donbas region where Russia has been supporting secessionist Russian-speaking militia since the detachment of Crimea. Western analysts are thinking, in effect, ‘words are cheap’ and let us see what, if anything, happens on the ground.

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Friday, 25th March, 2022 [Day 739]

Well, you never know what a day is going to bring, as we shall see. Today is my son’s birthday and he was going to call round and do a little bit of work in his office here before catching the train to London via Birmingham New Street and he was teaming up with a long standing friend before they went off on a rail tour together. I have had a sniffle for a day or so but I was reminded that so did my friend down the road before he tested positive for Covid. I had intended to give my son a big hug on his birthday (what else?) but a little voice inside me  said that I ought to test myself first in case the sniffle was more than that. So I tested myself for COVID  and was dismayed to test positive. My wife tested herself and she was negative. My son also tested himself and he was positive. According to the natrional data (a random sample conducted across the UK) the number of infections in the UK has risen by 1 million in the last week and is now 1 in 16 (and as high as 1 in 9 in Scotland) I know that this is a virus that we have to learn to love with from this point on – nonetheless, I cannot suppress a rumbling anger at the government who, utterly beholden to a libertarian right ideology are dismantling controls, testing and testing as rapidly as they can whilst infection rates are soaring. Hopefully, many of the cases will turn out to be mild and transient but I have seen estimates that ‘long covid’ type symptoms can persist in anything from 10%-50% of cases, which to my mind is unacceptably high. So now I am having to change some of my plans for the weekend. Tomorrow night, after church, we intended to go to a concert in our local Anglican Church, St. Johns,  at which domations were to be sought to help victims of the aggression in Ukraine. After that, we had been invited to go the house of a mutual friend for a little bit of supper. So I had to write a quick note to my friend saying that Meg and I would not be attending church, or the concert or her little ‘soirée’ all of which is a disappointment to us. But I think it would be massively irresponsible to go ahead with our social engagements as though nothing had happened.

This afternoon was the planned afternoon for the start of the ‘big mow’ of the communal green area in between our houses which is about 500 square yards followed by our own individual lawn. At the start of the season, the mower evidently has to be ‘oiled up’, followed by a check of the air filter and a filling with high-quality petrol well-primed with fuel stabiliser to prevent any ethanol attracting water from the air to contaminate the fuel. After all of this preparation,the mower started at the very first pull of the starting handle which is not bad when it has been idle for about 150 days. I started today’s session with the blades set on the highest of the five ‘notched ‘ settings, but as as I tend to mow the large area twice (once in one direction and then another at right angles to it), I notched the height down a position after the initial run. The mower ran very sweetly, both for the communal area in the front of the house and then for our own lawns which are about 50% of the size of the former. I am pleased to have made a start as all of my neighbours seem to have been mowing for a week or so now.

The Russians will focus on the ‘liberation’ of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region after mostly completing the first phase of its military operation, Moscow’s defence ministry has said. It claimed that Russian-backed separatists are controlling 93% of Luhansk and 54% of Donetsk – the two areas that make up the Donbass. This will eventually be an extremly hard decision for the Ukrainian government to have to take i.e. wheher to cede some of the country to protect the integrity of the rest of it. One thing that is certain is that when the immediate conflict is over, the rest of the Ukraine will be so well armed that Russia might never be tempted to try and enlarge what gains it manages to make in the present conflict. In a kind of thought experiment, if the Russins were to ‘control’ the whole of the Ukraine, they would have to have some kind of miliary vehicles (tanks, armoured personnel carriers) patrolling the streets. But if every single Ukrainian house were to have an anti-tank missile ready to be fired, then do the Russians have any hope whatsover of actually holding the Ukraine? There are also some reports tonight that a Russian general may have been killed (or possibly just injured) by his own troops. Even if this is ‘untrue’ I am sure that many Ukrainians will believe it to be true and will take heart from it.


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Thursday, 24th March, 2022 [Day 738]

I had set my alarm to be awakened at 6.30 so that I could have a leisurely breakfast and get to my supermarket of choice by 8.00 in the morning. This worked out very well and I managed to access an ATM for some cash and arrive at the supermarket some 30 seconds after opening time. I think I was about the second or third person in the store but shopping is an almost pleasant experience when you are not having to dodge other shoppers. The shopping have been done, Meg were all set for a little day out to Pershore which is even signposted as a ‘historic Georgian town’. The ‘Visit Worcestershire‘ website indicates that Pershore is an unspoilt, picturesqe market town. The website continues and is fulsome in its praise by declaring that ‘Pershore is famed for its elegant Georgian architecture, magnificent Abbey and the charming River Avon flowing parallel to the High Street.’ We had not read the website before we went and I think we were assuming that it was a bit like Alcester, the town we visited last Thursday but on a larger scale. I must say that our first impressions did not really match up to the hype. Perhaps we got off to a bad start by following the signs to a local carpark which also served an Asda supermarket and although we availed ourselves of a coffee and toasted teacakes in the vicinity of the carpark we really should not have bothered. ‘Ye Olde Worlde Teashoppe” it was not and, I suppose we should not jumped at the first watering hole that we found but taken the time to make a more discerning choice. We wandered up and down the High Street but somehow it failed to make any kind of favourable impression on us. I think that next time we visit (if we do) we should set out to visit the mediaeval abbey and then attempt to walk down by the River Avon, both of which I suppose we should have done today. Not immediately finding anywhere that would offer us the kind of light lunch we would want in the middle of the day, we decided to cut our losses and have lunch at home. On our way home, I stopped off at a garage to get a six-litre plastic can filled with fuel for the lawnmower. As the lawnmower is very frugal, I do not mind buying it the best quality fuel but as it was, then  6.5 litres of the highest quality fuel cost over £11.00 but at least this is only twice a season. Tomorrow is the day for the first mow of the season which is always rather hard work and of course one always the psychological fear once the mower has been dormant for the past six months then will it start and keep running. My next door neighbour who is generally a day or so later than I am to mow has beaten me to it this year but I am hopeful that by tomoroow afternoon, all of the hard work has been done. 

News of the Ukrainian war is still filling the airwaves but one particularly dramatic image is the fact that the Ukrainan navy have managed to destroy a Russian landing craft near the coastal city of Berdyansk, as the country marks one month since the invasion began.  Pictures appear to show fire and huge plumes of smoke rising into the air near the Sea of Azov port, which has been under Russian control since 27 February. In a statement on Facebook the Ukrainian navy said it had destroyed the Orsk landing ship, a loss not confirmed by Russian authorities. There is an amusing twist to this story as apparently the Russian media had filmed the ship off-loading military equipment as part of a propaganda effort. However, in so doing, the propaganda film indicated the exact location of the ship which was then a target for the Ukranian navy. Two other ships were also damaged and were seen ‘slinking away’. This may be a very small incident in the overall course of the war but the boosts to morale amongst the Ukranian fighting forces must be immense. NATO has been meeting today in Brussels and the urgent question is to work out how to get usable weapons into Ukranian hands so that they can defend themselves. Boris Johnson has pledged 6,000 extra missiles and the UK-supplied anti-tank missiles (fired, I believe, from the shoulder of a single soldier) seem to have been used to devasatating effect. The Ukrainians are asking for tanks and for fighter jets but NATO and other European nations seem to be concentrating on getting weapons into the hands of the Ukrainians that they can use with minimal training in order to slow down, or ameliorate, the worst effects of the assault upon their cities. Some really disturbing news is that Mariupol City Council has claimed that 15,000 residents from the Levoberezhny district have been forcibly deported to Russia. 



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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022 [Day 737]

The spell of fine weather continues, so it is a case of enjoying the spring sunshine whilst we can. Although Great Britain generally enjoys a ‘north atlantic’ style of weather system in which storms and weather systems sweep across the country, we seem to be enjoying a high pressure system over most of continental Europe. As we know, high pressure systems tend to persist as other low pressure areas ‘bounce’ off them, so that it seems that we will enjoy this good weather for a good few days yet. This plays into our personal plans quite well as tomorrow we intend to make a trip out to another small market town in Worcestershire (Pershore) to see what delights it has to offer. The big day in my personal calendar is this Friday, March 25th, This is for two reasons, the most important being that it my son’s birthday. We shall see some of him this Friday because he is working a little from his ‘office’ which he has in our house and then from mid-day onwards, I am going to run him to the station so that he can go down to London, staying with a friend overnight, whilst the two of them join another party of ‘rail enthusiasts’ starting from Paddington, I believe, and going off to Paignton. I have another reason to have Friday marked in my personal calendar because it is the date when I traditionally start the grass mowing. As experienced gardeners will know, once one starts the season of grass cutting, a hormone is released from the cut grass which stimulates further growth. I tend to delay this first cut as long as I can because I know  that once I start, I am then on a weekly regime. The first cut of the season is always quite an arduous one because one has to have the blades set as high as possible and the overall effect always looks a little untidy. This is because I do not have a conventional grass collecting mower but a ‘mulching’ mower in which the grass is cut, thrown upwards and then cut a second time on the way down. When the grass is a normal length, the cut pieces are mulched into the surface of the grass. I have to ensure that I start off with a gallon of freshly drawn, high quality petrol (hopefully low in ethanol) whih will see me through for the first half of the season.

This morning was always going to be a slightly ‘chewy’ morning as we have two appointments in the middle of the day and we had to hold ourselves in readiness for a telecommunications engineer who was coming to check our internet connections/router/ASDL box and he was due any time between 8.00am and 1.00pm. Meg and I made a lightning visit by car  to get out our newspapers collected on time and the engineer called us, when we were on the way home (and fortunately could pull in at the side of the road to receive the call) and we were to expect him in 10-15 minutes time. When he arrived he gave our system a good check over and fortunately it was in the best of heart even though router is a little ‘old’ by today’s standards. As our internet provider, PlusNet,  had ordered the inspection they were going to pick up the bill. We received some good advice as to whether or not we could convert our existing landline to an add-on with our existing PlusNet package- but this is a duscussion for another day. We started to watch the Chancellors ‘Spring Statement’ in which there is particular interest this year as inflation is rapidly rising and the OBR is forecasting the greatest reduction in living standards since modern records began. More of this later, no doubt  At about 1.15 I took the car into town as I had a routine optician’s appointment. We always greet each other in the same way which is ‘I cannot believe that it a whole year since our last appointment‘ and then spent a certain amount of time, before we got down to the serious business of an optician’s appointment of discussing our university experiences. I was pleased to learn that my eyes have shown no signficant changes in the last year so as my mother had a history of glaucoma at my age, this is good news. As I was in town already, I popped into the Asda supermarket to buy a few things that I know I can only get in that store so this was a good opportunity. By the time I got home, I was in no mood to cook a conventional lunch so we treated ourselves to a hefty cheese and pickle sandwich as by this time, it was late in the afternoon.

A senior Putin advisor has reportedly resigned from his post and fled Russia. Whether this is an isolated event or the start of a steady stream of ‘rats leaving the sinking ship’ we shall just have to be patient and see.

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Tuesday, 22nd March, 2022 [Day 736]

Well, today was the not best of days  as we shall discover. At various times last night, I was testing our computer systems to see if internet access had been restored- at my sons suggestion, I turned the router off and then back on again but all of this was to no avail. Via 4-G on our phones, we got onto PlusNet to see what could be done. This included a HELP! call to PlusNet who informed us that the connection down as far as our socket seemed to be OK. My son nd I started work on this lot at 6.15 this morning and we managed to ascertain (lthough my son is much technical than I) that the problem lay in our router. As a complicating factor, as I am taking over this account I ha out in a new email contact and password so we were wondering whether some kind of conflict had been set up and hence we kept on getting ‘failure to authorise’ messages. My son got onto PlusNet and they tried to guide him through what we could possibly do – we had to resort to a bent paper clip and a reset back to factory settings on a number of occasions. At the other end, they thought that we would have to gave recourse to a BT engineer to sort us out. Then between us, my son and I (more him than me) decided to access the router diretly though its own IP address which is a set of four numbers. Eventually, after quite a long wait  we had to go through the procedure of an admin password and then my son remembered (or had got written down somewhere) the routers own password that we had used when we set up the sysem about 8 years ago. After a wait of about a minute or so we found that our internet access had been restored. In the meanwhile, we still have an engineer booked between 8.00am and 1.00pm tomorrow so we decided not to cancel this particular call.This is becaise we think that we can probably port our landline number across to PlusNet which, if it works OK, will save us about £25.00 a month. The person at the other end of the phone (the PlusNet employee)  thought we could ‘probably’ port our number over but we thought it would still be worthwhole to talk with an actual telecoms engineer before we take a decision. So all of these shenanigans took us the best part of four hours but we felt a little exhausted, but relieved, one we had got things fixed. Last night’s blog had already been written ain a text editor so it was a simple job to cut a cut-and-paste  followed by a ‘publish’ button.

Meg and I decided decided that we should still have some to get into the park so we went and occupied our normal bench. Then we met up with out University of Birmingham friend as well as Seasoned World Travellor but we had a little chat before all going on our various ways, as we all had other things to do this morning. I then walked down to my weekly Plates session but we were a little light today with only three of us. The after an hours stretches, it was a stroll up the hill and a lunch of fish cakes. This afternoon, I felt pretty exhausted what wih the potential after-effects of vaccination jab No. 4 and all of the turmoils of this morning. It was a pretty warm day when I walked down for my Pilates, so in retrospect I could have dispensed wit a jumper.

Some news coming out of Kyiv, which is probably just propaganda, is that some 220 Russian troops are refusing to take part in the invasion (presumably, further pushes into the cities which may involve fighting almost hand-to-hand and street by street.)  We know that the morale of the Russian conscript forces is quite low in various places. Another argument that is being used to buttress the first argument is that the Ukranians are putting it about that the  whole invasion can almost be over in some 2-3 weeks. Evidently, there are some major towns such Mariupol that may be considered a lost cause. But In Kyiv and Lviv which are incredibly stoutly defended, the amount of resistance is inspiring. There have been one or two video clips of the population coming out ‘en masse’ to confront the invading tanks which rather than advancing just retreat. An American tank commander has expressed the view “That’s a lack of training. You’ve got to get off the roads to maneuver. The roads are death traps, particularly for armored vehicles, particularly when you’re fighting people that have good anti-tank systems, and the Ukrainians do have good anti-tank systems.” Moreover, I suspect that the British and others have been piling in shoulder-held anti-tank missiles into the Ukraine in in great volumes and this has helped to even up the score somewhat.

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