I always suspected that today might be a fraught day and so it proved. First of all, I got onto my internet provider to ask why my BT line had been disconnected after the super fibre cable was installed yesterday, Ominously, I had received a terse one line email which I read on my iphone to tell me my BT service had been cancelled. My internet provider said it was nothing to do with them so contact BT. This I did on about three or four separate occasions because each time I was out on hold the line seemed to go dead. To add to my frustrations, every time I was handed from one department to another (which happened frequently) I had to go through the procedures of validating who I was with a clutch of security questions. Eventually, I was told that the number I have had for nearly 15 years has been cancelled as of yesterday and cannot be retrieved. Eventually, I asked to speak to the operative’s manager who happened to be a lot more sympathetic. She indicated that something had gone badly wrong in the whole transaction beween the internet provider and BT and she would attempt to sort it out for me but it should take some time. She arranged to phone back at 3.00pm but no call came but eventually it transpired she was in a meeting so her manager had tried to take over the case. In the meantime, BT asked me to get onto my internet provider to find out what had happened. It seems that the information I was given – that I could take out a fibre plus contract and keep my BT landline was incorrect and I should never have been told this in the first place. Eventually, I landed up speaking to someone in the Contracts department who confirmed that I had been given the wrong information and I could therefore leave the contract with no penalty (or so they are saying at the moment) Eventually, I put to the manager’s manager in BT that the situation could be resolved if both broadband and the phone line could be moved onto in its entirety to BT. We are working on this as a viable option, we think, but BT are having to check whether the number taken away from me can be retrieved (even though I was told that it could not be) and for a contract price which is in the same ballpark as I am paying at the moment. We are having to wait until tomorrow to see what the final situation might be but there is an acknowledgement that the whole thing has been handled badly with mis-communication and wrong information supplied. In the next day or so a router will arrive from my present internet supplier which will have to be sent back and I will then have to wait for a BT router to be delivered and then installed. I have a feeling that this whole episode might go on for days yet but there is a glimmer of resolution – tomorrow we shall see. Altogether I was on the phone for about 2 and a half hours, constantly kept on hold, tarnsferred from department to department, told that it was a complicated case and so on and so forth. My feeling is that if everything in with one supplier (BT) this might be avoided in the future – but there is still an element of doubt whether my discontinued number can be retrieved. As is happens, there is a programme on Channel 5 tonight detailing how terrible cutomer service is in the UK these days with massive ‘holding’ waits whilst a few over-whelmed staff try to deal with thousands of disgruntled customers – but I cannot bring myslf to watch it, being right in the middle of it so to speak.
After lunch we had our hairdresser turn up to give Meg a perm and a regular haircut for myself.I was telling our hairdresser my tale of woe and she told me of a similar one where she is trying to open a bank account for her mother but is having to turn up (early in her own business hours) only to make an appointment for another time in the working day (when she will lose income if she attends) I wonder how businesses are going practically bankrupt because the companies with which they have to deal (banks, utility companies) are giving them such a run around and not solving problems when the businesses themselves are trying to make a living. We might see, of course, say welcome to post-pandemic UK where I am sure these sorts of sorry stories can be multiplied.
More sequelae from the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US Supreme Court last week. In Kentucky and in Florida, judges have been petitioned and have at least temporarily put a halt to the automatic ban on abortions that Kentucky and Florida were due to impose. This may well happen across the country as many civil rights groups are petitioning their own state legislatures across the country. What an unholy mess!
If this blog has been delayed, it is because we had our super fibre cable installed this afternoon and, guess what, but I am now left without internet access. The installer told me to get onto my Internet provider to supply a router and when I got through to them, I was told that we were scheduled for delivery of a router but it might take anything up to five working days to arrive through the post. In the meanwhile, we were told that our ‘normal’ broadband would function as normal but of course it does not. Hence I am writing a text version of this blog which will be transferred into WordPress as soon as (or if) I get internet access back again. Thinking that the installer was due this morning, Meg and I delayed our walk down into the park but when I checked my notes, I discovered that the installation was scheduled for between 1.00pm and 6.00pm and in the event, the installer turned up just after 1.00pm and was with us for about an an hour and a half. The new cable had to be dragged from the GPO access point near the street and then we needed a hole drilling in the wall so that the necessary gubbins could be fixed internally and externally. Quite a neat and tidy job was done and now we await our router. I begged the long length of thick string that had been used to drag the cable from its access point and as this would just have been thrown away anyway, I thought I could make use of it to tie up some errant rose bushes.
This morning, Meg and I went by car to the park. It was a beautiful day and well worthy of a walk but we had been a bit delayed waiting around for the BT installer to call around this morning before we realised it was actually this afternoon. In the park, we met with our Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker who was making progress, according to the ‘app’ on this phone, somewhere in Japan. He had managed about 8,000 of the 12,000 steps he had scheduled for the day and after a chat with us was soon on his way for another circuit of the park. So we progressed back home, knowing that we would have to have a fairly early lunch so we could devote some time if needed to the installer this afternoon. After he had left, we decided that it would be quite a good idea to immediately make use of some of the thick string we had been given and the first priority was to get it around a tall and straggling standard rose. This was not an easy job as the branches were somewhat straggly and the thorns incredibly sharp but I got several lengths wrapped around its torso so that when the high winds and rain come along, its overall shape will be preserved. Thursday is the day when each fortnight our paper bin and our garden waste get emptied. Accordingly, every other Wednesday is a good opportunity to get rid of some of the holly leaves that get swept off the path each day into an adjacent gully. Once this was done, I pulled our own bins into their collection point and then did the same for our immediate neighbours and also for the vacant bungalow across the communal green area.
When our friend came to stay last week, she gave us a pot of winter flowering jasmine which ought to give is a splash of colour in the autumn and early winter when the rest of the garden might be looking a little bare. So I managed to replant this plant in a pot with some good compost and then put it into position at the edge of a bed such that it can use a drainpipe for some support although I do not know if it is a very ‘clingy’ plant. But it was good to see that the mature sweet pea plant that I planted the other day and kept well watered was now starting to flower so I hope that if we keep this well tended, it will keep on flowering right throughout the summer.
A day or so ago, I FaceTimed my sister in Yorkshire and had a chat with her and with one of my nieces who happened to be calling by. I established a time in late July when we might make a flying visit up to Yorkshire and the last week in July seems to be quite a good time for all of us. So later, I had a trawl through the internet and the hotel in the centre of Harrogate in which we stayed last autumn was offering quite a decent rate. I made sure that the room offer included breakfast and then got an even better rate by aceepting the offer to book in through an agency I have used before. So we have booked into this hotel for three nights in late July and are looking forward tremendously to our visit in about a month’s time.
Today we enjoyed our Tuesday morning routine which is to make a journey to the Waitrose coffee bar, knowing that some familar old faces will be in evidence. As we suspected, three or four of our ‘pre-pandemic’ regulars were taking their coffee as usual as well as Seasoned World Traveller who seems to make a point of coming to Waitrose on a Tuesday. I wouldn’t say that we were a noisy crowd but we are a little on the excitable side. During the morning, several of the regular staff popped their heads around the corner to say ‘Hello’ to us all and I am now wondering if they rather like the whole of the previous gang coming back as it helps to justify and sustain the coffee bar enterprise as a whole. As it is getting towards the end of my normal ‘shopping’ week, I rather welcome the opportunity of popping round the shelves to pick up some things of which I know we are short. In common with other supermarkets, Waitrose is having to reorganise itself to comply with the new HFSS regulations (‘High in Fats, Sugar and Salt’). These regulations are designed to ensure that HFSS goods receive less prominence and should be denoted from positions at the end of aisles and near to the checkouts. For smaller stores, like our Waitrose, this means considerable reorganisation throughout most of the store, and the practical consequence of this is that many familiar items now have to be hunted for and the overhead aisle signs are no longer accurate. So this meant that I needed to hunt considerably for a few staple items such as tea which is no longer where I thought it was. After our jolly discussions, it was time to get home and start preparing for my Pilates session in the middle of the day, As rain still threatened, I thought it wiser to walk down into town wearing a waterproof in case the heavans opened.
In my Pilates class, our instructor kept us amused as we all tried to balance on one leg for a minimum of 10 seconds. A very important study had been published in ‘The Times‘ which shows that if you cannot sustain a flamingo type pose on either of your feet for 10 seconds, then you are at almost twice the risk of dying within the next ten years. Even more dramatically, those who could stand on one leg with their eyes closed were most likely to be well in 13 years time (the study being performed upon people in their 50s). Those who managed only about 2 seconds were three times more likely to die before the age of 66. Now none of this is absolutely ‘new’ knowledge in that the relationship between balance and the aging process has been used by physicians for a long time. For example, it is well known to GPs that an 18-year can stand on one leg with their eyes close for at least 30 seconds whereas for a 90 year old it is likely to be 2 seconds. The point about eyes being closed is that one’s balance without input from the eyes to adjust the balance means that one had to rely upon very primitive parts of the brain’s structure to maintain balance and this ability deteriorates wiith age, even amongst athletes. Having recovered the article from our vertical filing system (the ‘green’ waste bin for papers and plastics that we keep outside out back door), the article is well worth a detailed study. But there is some room for hope because there is evidence that balance work for just a few seconds a day can bring health dividends for us all.
Tomorrow all being well we should have our super fast fibre broadband installed. This should have been done about ten days ago but tomorrow is the day of reckoning. I am just hoping that once we have a new router installed, that access to the internet is trouble free for us because over the years – from email to banking – we have all become accustomed to life with the net for all of our daily living activities.
Today is the day when Gislaine Maxwell is to be sentenced after her conviction but there seems to be quite a lot of courtroom darama to be played out so I imagine that the sentencing process will take hours. It is always a rather gruesome part of American style court proceedings that prisoners appear shackled in chains – as though escape were at all likely. I am sure that this is a part of the humiliation process and although I am not a lover of things American, I would surely like to see some of our bankers and other high profile criminals to appear at the Old Bailey chained around their hands and feet. In the case of Ghislaine Maxwell, the sentencing may well appear to be academic. Maxwell’s lawyers are suggesting a 4-5 year sentence whilst Government prosecutors are pushing for Maxwell to be sentenced to anything between 30-55 years. In the event, she was sentenced to twenty years.
Today we knew that we needed to make a trip along Bromsgrove High Street because we knew that we had to visit an ATM and we also needed to visit a local stationers where I had an item on order. Having picked up our newspaper, we then treked along the High Street and picked up some cash. Then we picked up the blank ledger book I had pre-ordered from Rymans and also bought some cosmetic items of which we were running short. We took the opportunity to dive into a charity shop and I treated myself to a brand new long sheeved shirt of quite a subtle blue shade (and a very good make). I am finding that my supply of pre-Covid long sheeved shirts are now getting frayed around the collar and cuffs so I find I am needing to renew my supply. The we went off to the park and drank our much delayed coffee for which we were gasping by the time we were installed upon our bench. In the park, we met some of our regulars – Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker for a start and Seasond World Traveller just as we were leaving. In between, we also exchanged news with a couple we meet quite regularly in the park but we have only just around to exchanging names so that we can be on first name terms with them in the future. It was getting towards 2.00pm when we got home so we needed to make a super prompt lunch, which we did. I steamed some Hispi cabbge in the microwave and in order to save some time, we made some instant mashed potato with ‘Smash’ to which we added a smidgeon of boiling water, some butter and an egg.This actually makes for a very tasy mixture to complement the remains of the beef which we slow-cooked yesterday.
After lunch there were a couple of outside jobs which went quite smoothly. The first of these was our outside washing line that had drooped over the years but when I investigated one end of it, it passed through a type of ‘O’ ring and then secured by a cleat. Fortunately, it proved to be very easy to adjust to the right height afer which the washing line was cleaned down and we got a supply of towels pegged out onto it. In my travels up an down to the paper shop there is a little patch of waste ground and I had noticed for some weeks past that there seemed to be a capping stone lying around with no evident owner. Whn I collected my Sunday newspapers, I liberated this and brought it home in a plastic bag but I must say it was tremendously heavy. I suspect on closer examination that it may have been made with vibrated granite but it was certainly not simple cement. This afternoon, I gave it up a good scrub in a bucket of soapy water and it is now several shades lighter and of quite presentable appearance. I have pressed it into service to act as a weight so that the green plastic table cover we have on our patio table does not take off in the wind and I think it will serve this purpose very well. I estimate that it must be about 3kg in weight so I am sure it is not going to displaced very easily.
In the late afernoon, I FaceTimed my sister in Yorkshire and was fortunate to have a few snatches of conversation with my niece who just happened to be calling upon her mother. My sister is taking the death of her husband quite hard and I offered what words of consolation I could. The purpose of my video-call was to see if we could establish the most suitable time in the next few weeks for us to pay a visit to Yorkshire, now that we have seen Meg’s Uncle Ken in North Wales. We have agreed a timeslot some time in late July which is a period of time after my niece has broken up from school and before she goes off on holiday to Portugal. There are a range of hotels that we can think sbout – we used to enjoy B&B’s in Harrogate but parking in Harrogate is a bit of a nightmare and so hotels do have the advantages of generally having some car parking space available.
Tonight news has come through of the shelling of a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. The shopping centre probably had about one thousand people within it and the dead and injured must be numbered in scores. Western analysts are saying that the Russians were probably using out-of-date artillery designed to combat ships rather than being ‘precision guided’ to a military target on land and these 1960’s artillery shells are notoriously unreliable. Nonetheless, one has to ask whether hitting a civilian shopping centre, even if aiming for the industrial centre beyond it, must surely constitute a war crime.
Today being a Sunday, I got up a tad early and had a quick breakfast of one those little porridge packets that gives you an instant breakfast of porridge in about 2 minutes. Then it was back in time to give Meg and I a little more cereal whilst we were watching the Sunday Morning (politics) programme. I do not know if the Sky News and BBC studios are very close to each other but they have Brandon Lewis as a government spokesman on one channel with a plethora of bland excuses for the present government’s performance only to see him a few minutes later on the other channel. Meg and I took the car down to the park and soon made contact with two of our regular park ‘mates’ – Seasoned World Traveller to be followed shortly by our friend from the University of Birmingham. We entered into a long and detailed discussion as to what chain of events would lead to the resignation of the Prime Minister and what actual mechanisms would be used if he literally refused to leave office (there are hints here, of course, of Donald Trump and the White House). Then we started to discuss the Roe v Wade reversal in the US Supreme Court and this led to a much more detailed discussion of the rights of women, of unborn children, where the line should be drawn between abortion and the preservation of life and so on. Evidently, there was no fixed or final conclusion to all of this but the discussion was intense and non-acrimonious.
After we had got home, we lunched on some beef that had been cooking in the slow cooker in our absence and then settled down to a nice long read of the Sunday newspapers. Knowing that we were going to be out this evening, listened to the Test Match on Radio 5 Live Special and England were making a good fist of chasing a total of nearly 300 runs. They finished off the day with 113 runs yet to score and 8 wickets in hand so that ought to be a straighforward task tomorrow, provided they keep their heads. At 7.00pm we set off in the car for the concert which is going to be held in St. John’s Anglican Church, one of the largest performance spaces in Bromsgrove. Most of the programme is of particular significance, one way or another. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto was one item which was particularly well played and it always scores highly in our list of emotionallly memorable pieces because our son won his school’s music prize when playing the second movement of this piece. I first heard it when I was in bed suffering from ‘Asian ‘flu’ in 1957 and, at one stage, I think about 60% of the class were ill with it. My dormitory master who was also my art and music teacher smuggled a record player into our bedroom so that we could listen to it for the first time. Another piece was Beethoven’s 6th (the Pastoral Symphony) which again I remember well because it helped to get me through a dark patch when I was a teenager and suffering an illness. The concert was provided ‘free’ but of course most people dropped some money into a collection as you would have paid for a concert performance anyway. After a break for a glass of wine half way through the performance, there was quite a novel ending. The final piece was to be the the Halleluja chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Almost as a piece of fun to round off the evening, copies of the score were handed round and then you had to self-allocate yourself to one of the four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and sing along accordingly. Those who knew the score were encouraged to stand up and to ‘belt it out’ – fortunately for me, there were some very powerful singers who had evidently sung the score several times before standing in the row behind us, so it was quite easy to follow their cue and thus to participate. For a scratch orchestra, the standard of playing was surprising high and the clarinetist was very accomplished. It reminded Meg and I of the famous Jack Brymar who we heard play this concerto in the little jewel of a Georgian theatre in Bath probably some 35 years ago now.
The political fallout from Roe v Wade is still continuing in the USA. I heard one pro-life activist justifying the use of guns as instruments that save lives in the same way tht banning abortion saves the lives of unborn children. One could argue that more lives are lost than saved in the American love affair with the gun and that botched abortions kill people also but these inconsistencies are lost on the absolutely committed. Jo Biden and the rest of his administration are seeking ways in the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision may be minimised – we may yet see federal administrators attempting to cock a snook at the ban on abortions but this culture war may continue for decades.
After we had breakfasted on boiled eggs this morning, Meg and I spent a certain amount of time on the net thinking in the broadest of terms about what type of late summer holiday we might like to think about. Some parktime acquaintances of ours had just returned from a holiday down the Rhine and they explained to us that they loaded their suitcases onto a coach in Bromsgrove and the next time they saw them they were on board their cruise ship. So we investigated one of the best companies who specialise in this type of business (‘Shearings’) as the thought of avoiding all of the hassle of security checks in crowded airports seems quite attractive to us, not least as we would not have the trouble of hoisting suitcases all over the place. There were several options of tours of classical Spain that we thought sounded quite attractive until I realised that the tours on offer were for 2023 not this year. So we abandoned that idea temporarily. Then we started to think whether we could visit our familiar old haunts in La Coruña, Northern Spain but even here things have changed. For a start, our preferred airline that flies direct to Coruna only now seems to fly out of Gatwick and not Heathrow. Nonetheless, we could get our preferred hotel at a ‘normal’ price and the flights are more expensive than they were but not massively so, so we are still considering this as an option. I investigated getting to Gatwick by train and I think I can do this in a couple of hops if I can get to Reading and then a direct train to Gatwick. But when I thought of a train jouney with two or three changes, perhaps I just might be better just taking the car to Gatwick where I think the journey is only about 25 miles longer than Heathrow. So this is another possibility. I then went back onto the Shearings websites and there are some possibilities of touring the Pyrenees by a succession of ‘Little Trains’ this September. So we are in the position where we might assemble several of our options together and then try and choose the least stressful looking at the journey as a whole. It might well be that we go to La Coruna for the last time under our own steam this year and then rely upon coach tours (avoiding airports) for holidays from 2023 onwards.
All of this investigation delayed us somewhat so we went down to collect our newspaper by car and then took the car to the park in case we caught in a sudden downpour. Whilst in the newsagents, I saw a flyer advertising a free concert tomorrow night in the local Anglican Church and would enjoy all of the items on the programme. So if we manage to get along to this, I popped in to see our Irish friends to see if tomorrow night we could park our car on their driveway and then we only have a walk for about 200-300 years to the church. They agreed to our request so we got home and cooked ourselves a Saturday lunch of quiche. To make our vegetables a little more interesting, I had parboiled some little sticks of carrots before we went to the park and then I popped these and some petit pois into a little saucepan which I quickly tossed in oil and I added a spoonful to syrup which makes this mixture somewhat exotic. After lunch which we had taken quite early, I thought that I would seize the opportunity to get the lawns cut today. This was quite a bonus as I imagined that after the showers orf rain we had had today then the lawns may have been too wet. But I did manage to get the lawns cut with only a little smatter of rain two thirds of the way through to impede my progress. Then in the late afternoon we went to church as we always do on a Saturday and returned home to watch a summary of the cricket Test Match whilst we ate a ‘nursery tea’ of rhubarb, yogurt and Neapolitan icecream. No sooner had we finished this but our next door nigbour knocked at the door with two little bowls of stewed fruit and cream which were absolutely delicious. Our neighbour does this for us on quite a regular basis and we are always delighted to receive her offerings which are always welcome.
The sequelae of the reversal of Roe v. Wade (legalising abortion in the USA) are still playing out today. The Supreme Court was thought of as a body helping to keep other arms of government in check or balance with each other but in recent times it has become massively politicised. The Republican controlled Senate refused to conduct any hearings into Supreme Court nominees made by Barak Obama if these were of a ‘liberal’ disposition. This paved the way for Donald Trump to propose and have accepted three conservative justices and the Supreme Court is now acting as practically another agency of government. Having overturned Roe v Wade, they now have their sights on abolishing free advice on contraception, single sex marriages and gay rights in their desire to turn the clock back some 50 years. Nedless to say, the whole of American society is deeply polarised by these culture wars that could go on for decades.
Although it was predicted that the by-election results would not be available until 4.00pm in the morning, I thought I would stay up for a bit. Then Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader tweeted at about 3.00am that they were on the verge of a historic victory so I dozed in the chair until the two results came through. As we suspected, Boris Johnson got a kicking, the bottom line being in both of the by-elections that either Labour or Lib Dem are quite willing to set aside their usual loyalties in order to register an anti-Conservative vote. If this pattern persists and Boris Johnson is not replaced, then there is no way that the Conservatives can form a majority government next time around. Also, no party at all will enter into an alliance with them so the longer term future of a Conservative government must look grim after they have been in power for twelve years. So eventually, I crawled into bed and got up an hour later than I normally would and then our University of Winchester friend, Meg and I had boiled eggs for breakfast – a pattern we have got out of over the years. After breakfast, I showed our guest the video clip that I had of Clive playing J. S.Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring‘ on his trumpet at our 50th wedding anniversary celebrations. Whilst I had got our personal wedding website open at the appropriate page, we also played the audio clips of the anecdote-laden speeches that both Meg and I gave separately at the celebration that was held in Yorkshire for our Yorkshire relatives as they could not necessarily travel for the celebrations we held in the Midlands. After that with may hugs, kisses and photographs taken for the records, our friend got on her way and Meg and I looked at the weather to determine whether we were going to brave a walk or not. It looked pretty threatening so we went down into town by car, picked up our newspaper and then treated ourselves to a coffee in Waitrose. Inside the store, we bumped into our Irish friend who had not seen us for a few days but knew we were still alive because she reads this blog quite regularly to ascertain that nothing dramatic has happened to us. Then it was home to have a lunch of sea-bass on a bed of lettuce which is a lightish but healthy lunch we often have on a Friday lunchtime.
This aftenoon, as I had had so little sleep last night, I allowed myself the luxury of an extended doze on the living room floor. Then, through the ether as it were, came the news from the US Supreme Court of the reversal of the classic Roe v. Wade which was the judgement in 1973 that legalised abortion across the whole of the United States. Ever since Donald Trump had appointed conservative justices to the Supreme Court ensuring a 6:3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, then it was only a matter of time before Roe v. Wade was reversed as the American right had had this in their sights for the last fifty years. Nonetheless, like the death of an aged relative, when the nws actually came though it was not unexpected but quite a shock all the same. A fair number of states had passed legislation through their Republican controlled legislatures wich was so-called ‘trigger’ legislation in that as soon as they received the green light from the Supreme Court, their own anti-abortion legislation would be immediately enacted. Jo Biden made quite a powerful speech pointing out that the national consensus that had prevailed through 50 years of both Republican and Democrat congresses and presidents was now broken. However, America is now almost completely polarised and the judgement in the Suprme Court having made may last for decades (as justices are appointed for life and you have to wait until several die before it is possible that they may be replaced by more liberal members to revert the balance).
As you might imagine, the domestic political news is dominated by the Conservative losses in the by-elections, the Liberal Democrats having got the biggest swing against the governing power ever recorded. There was a swing of 29.9% to the Liberal Democrats and as the Conservatives had a majority of more than 24,000 and the new Liberal Democrat majority is now over 5,000 then any Conservative MP with a majority of less than 30,000 might be vulnerable in a general election. On the one hand, governments always have swings against them in their mid-term. On the other hand, there now seems to be a determined mood in the electorate to try and get rid of Boris Johnson by any means possible. One scenario is that the 1922 back bench committee change their rules so that the PM can have a challenge against him within a year of the last vote and there are now a sufficient number of Tory MPs frightened of losing their own seats that they are willing to get rid of Johnson as an electoral liability (as they did with Margaret Thatcher, of course).
Today has been the most interesting of days as we suspected that it would. I awoke our University of Winchester guest, who has been staying with us, with a very welcome cup of tea at 7.00am and Miggles, the cat, dropped by for a fishy breakfast. Then I set to work on cooking a couple of monster omelettes of red onion, tomato and mushroom upon which we all dined well. Then our son dropped by and it was not too long before he established with our guest that they were both rail enthusiasts and, in no time at all, they were swapping stories of railway memorabilia, locations of interest to rail enthusiasts and some interesting stories about our guest’s grandfather who was commemorated for his railway work in the station at Okehampton. This was quite amazing becuse we had no idea that this was a shared enthusiasm. The conversation then progressed to shared interests in natural history and in no time at all, we were into the various images of moths, butterflies and caterpillers that had been captured in the past on mobile phones and then put onto websites. So it was a long time since we have had such a detailed and intimate sharing of subjects across the breakfast table. As soon as we felt able, we went by car as far as the local park and I showed our guest the vistas that Meg and myself are used to appreciating every morning. Then, and particularly pertinent in view of our long conversations across the breakfast table, we took our guest to view a special type of memorial which is situated in the churchyard-cum-park of the large Anglican church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. This particular mounument consists of a a large and moving tribute paid to the driver of a locomotive who was killed when his locomtive engine boiler exploded in about 1842. I suppose that might have been a fairly common occurrence in these early days of steam locomotives. There was a long and poignant poem engraved into the monument and it looked as the fireman died the day after his companion and workmate. It is only when you reach the very end of the inscription on the monument that it was revealed that the monies provided for the erection of the monument was provided by the locomotive crew’s workmates (and interesting that any management contributuon to the cost of erecting this monument is conspicuous by its absence) Our friend took a photo of the monument to share with a cousin who was also an avid rail enthusiast. I first spotted this monument which was in rather a run down condition when I first moved to Bromsgrove some fifteen years ago but in the last few years the monument has been removed and restored off-site before being reinstalled. It is perhaps interesting to note how few people in the town seem to know of this monument and traversing the park several times each week, I suspect that the memorial does not receive very many visitors.
After this interesting little venture we repaired to the solace of the coffee bar in Waitrose which we know so well. Our friend is a real Waitrose devotee so this was much appreciated and we just missed seeing Seasoned World Traveller who was on his way to the park. Then after a brief pit stop at home, we journeyed on to Droitwich where we all intended to lunch at one of our favourite eating places in the town. We experienced a certain amount of disappointment, though, as the establsihment that we know well seems to have changed ownership and the menu is somewhat more restricted than we have been used to over the years. Nonetheless, the meal was adequate enough for us in the middle of the day so we returned home after a very hot morning in the sun. We were quite content to rest in the cool of our lounge at home and chat before we ventured out into the garden. Here we refreshed ourselves by drinking either cordial or tea – in my own case, I was delighted to try a beer local to Berkshire whih our friend had thoughtfully brought along for our enjoyment. Then we had a simple ‘nursery’ style tea of bananas and custard before we went indoors to catch up on the Channel 4 news programme.
There is depressingly disturbing news emerging from the USA this evening. After the latest recent episodes of mass shootings with a school and calls for some degree of gun control, then the US Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution gives people the right to carry a gun outside their home, in a significant new ruling for gun rights. The decision is expected to allow more people to legally carry firearms in some of America’s biggest cities – such as LA, New York and Boston – and is the court’s first major decision on gun rights in more than a decade.
We are all eagerly awaiting the results of the two by-elections held today but it may be 2.00am before we get a glimmer of either of the two contests. The Main Street Media is full of speculation but we will just have to be patient to see what the electorate thinks in these two critical by-elections.
Today, I felt that I needed to do some of my weekly shopping as last week we had missed out on shopping by going on our trip to Chester. I was a little short of ready cash but thought I would go to the ATM in the walls of an adjacent supermarket. Here I discovered that both of the ATMs were either empty or malfunctioning so I did a little tour of two local places where I might access an ATM but with no success. So I went around my regular supermaret only buying the bare essentials to make sure that I had the cash reserves to cover the bill. Later on today, our University of Winchester friend was coming to see us and stay for a couple of nights. It was also the day when our domestic help comes to give our house the ‘once over’ so we were looking forward with some anticipation to the hours ahead. The day was delightfully warm and Meg and strolled down to the park knowing that time was a little limited but aiming to be back before our friend was scheduled to arrive just after 12.00pm midday. We had had a really good laugh earlier in the day when I was explaining to our domestic help the incident that occurred to me when I was a university student. I had discovered a small lump in my neck which was probably a little blocked cyst or something similar. I explained that I had somehow got myself into the office of the Professor of Surgery at the University and he agreed to operate on me in a few days time. This he did but as I recovered from the minor operation it became evident that he had ‘missed’ whatever it was he was meant to be removing. When I presented myself again in his office to show that the operation site had missed the cyst by over an inch, he just stared me in the eyes and told me just to forget all about it – which I did. After all, he was the Professor of Surgery but seemed to me to be in his 80’s although according to the web, he was only 61 at the time. He retired from his post some five years after I saw him. I next bumped into him when I was a Census enumerator for the 1971 Census and he was on my patch. I subsequently learnt that he as a lifelong bachelor, he had a reputation for lively dinner parties, made even more so by a pet monkey in his possession which used to swing from the chandelier in his dining room urinating across the table as his guests were eating their dinner. When his guests remonstrated, he used to argue that the urine was biologically pure and they shouldn’t make such a fuss. I was trying to convey the kernel of these two stories to our domestic help who had got elements of the two stories intertwined and she was amazed, so she thought, that the monkey was allowed to perform the operation on me in the first place. We laughed so much at all of this that our sides ached.
Our friend arrived very promptly just after twelve and after we had exchanged some news, I got down to cooking a risotto for Meg and myself, our friend and our domestic help. This turned out to be quite a success and we helped it down with one half of a glass of white wine. Then we set off for Harvingtom Hall which is some seven miles down the road. We have been here several times before and always had a good tour but today was exceptionally good. Our guide was ‘togged up’ in full Tudor dress but was exceptionally knowledgeable and we discovered all kinds of things that we did not know before. The house is famous for being full of priest holes, none of which were actually discovered. One of the most concealed of these (behind a beam which swung on a swivel) I had previously been allowed to get inside but all of this activity is now banned as ‘Health and Safety’ regimes have swung into play. After an incredibly interesting tour, our friend treated us to some afternoon tea in the garden which wounded off a perfect afternoon. When we got home, we treated ourselves to a cold drink of cordial and eventually some strawberries, yogurt and icecream by way of tea. Then we spent a very pleasant evening talking over aspects of our two family histories which at one stage might even have coincided. I knew that my father had trained to be a pilot out in Rhodesia during the war years and our friend told us that her grandfather was an instructor of British pilots in Rhodesia. Although it is conjecture, it is quite possible that these two individuls might have known each other or even that my father was instructed in flying by my friend’s grandfather. All we can say at this stage is ‘Who knows’ as both are long since dead.
Today started off with what is becoming a regular pattern. When I get up in the morning and before I start to shower and to breakfast, I have started a little routine whereby I use a soft brush to sweep the newly restored path by the side of the house free from holly leaves and holly seeds which fall constantly. Making this into a daily routine is a nice way to get a breath of fresh air and is not at all onerous if done on a daily basis. However, our adopted cat Miggles who evidently has the most acute of hearing will respond to the sound of a soft sweeping brush ‘shwooshing’ along our paving slabs by leaping over our six feet high garden gate knowing that a little tasty treat of a fish breakfast awaits him/her. The cat, like myself, has routines in that it as some breakfast, comes for a limited amount of fondle and then seeks out a space in the sun where a spot of sun bathing can be indulged in. The same pattern will repeat itself in the afternoon particularly if we have been out in the car. The cat will respond to the car’s arrival by coming to greet us and, when I indicate to the cat that it should stand by the (locked) back gate, it takes the cue that the gate is to be jumped over as food treats await shortly. Today being a Tuesday, it is my Pilates day so we went by car to pick up our newspaper and thence to repair to the Waitrose café to meet some of our regulars. We met with some of our pre-pandemic regulars and we got joined eventually by our University of Birmingham friend and Seasoned World Traveller. I rather indulged myself by telling some traveller’s tales centering around my month long stay in Jakarta, Indonesia when I was teaching a module on De Montfort University’s out-distanced MBA. This was an interesting arrangement as each teacher was ‘the University’ as they taught their module and I was the second person along in the queue. Once we had several conversations with different groups of friends, we bought a birthday present for our domestic help but as it was her birthday today we took a card and a bottle of wine around today to deposit on her doorstep but her ‘proper’ present will wait until tomorrow which is now her regular day.
A lot of today is devoted to some preparations for the visit of our University of Winchester friend who should be arriving, motorways permitting, at some after 12.00 tomorrow. I have some plans afoot for us to share in one of my more special risottos which I am going to make with mackerel and some of that ‘low calorie’ rice occasionally to be found in Waitrose. After. that, we are booked to Harvington Hall, a local Elisabethan Manor House just down the road from us which we have visited several times before but is fascinating for some of its features, more of which tomorrow. I managed to negotiate the website and got three tickets for the last of the ‘timed’ tours of the house which starts at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon. Hence the lunchtime meal of risotto which can be prepared quickly, consumed quickly and we can be on way for our afternoon visit. On my way back from my Pilates class, I popped into Asda to get a few things that I know we need and I may well get up early in the morning to do a more regular weekly shop up before our guest arrives. After a delayed lunch and a quick doze, it was time to get some jobs done before tomorrow. The first of these was to get our gooseberries picked before they dropped off the bush. Our gooseberry bushes were quite prolific at one time but their productivity has dropped off a bit and I suspect that the long straggly branches could do with a dramatic pruning which I shall do shortly now that the fruit has been picked. Altogether, I picked 145 gooseberries which gave me about 650 (two thirds of a kilo) of fruit. Tomorrow, I will stew some of them in a little sugar and although they may be a little tart, the taste of freshly picked gooseberrries is always superb. We will eat them with a dollop of raspberry icecream and some plain yogurt. Then there was dead shrub which needed removing and cutting up for disposal into our garden waste bin. Then I needed to tie up a large branch of one of our very old damson trees which is laden with fruit and well worth preserving but the branch still needed hoisting back into position where it does not block one of our paths. Finally, I chopped a large chunk out of my neighnours Alchemilla which had started off in our garden but an offshoot of which had been donated to my neighbour’s garden whilst its parent in our garden (donated by our University of Winchester friend on a previous visit) had died.