Today was always going to be quite an interesting day. It started off by greeting our domestic help who had been incredibly busy organising a large 21st birthday party for one of her sons and she had evidently worked extremely hard to achieve a successul event. Of course, she achieved these aims but was now feeling somewhat tired after all of her efforts and exertions over the past few days. Meg and I know that we were going to make a visit with fellow family members to Worcester later on in the day so we had to organise our day to fit in around this event. Meg and I collected our newspaper and then made a fairly fast and brisk visit to the park to drink our coffee before we set off with son and daughter-in-law to visit Worcester by train. We had decided to go to Worcester by train as parking in central Wprcester is a bit of a nightmare whilst one of the suburban Worcester railway stations lies within easy reach of the High Street, which was our ultimate destination. As we arrived in Worcester in plenty of time, we dived into a little coffee-cum-pancake bar where we had a carbohydrate filled lunch with quite an innovative little menu. We got along to a meeting a few minutes before 2.00pm and then spent an hour discussing some mortgage issues with the Bank. The adviser that we saw was very helpful and we were somewhat early in the application process so we have made an appointment for three months later in the year. The meeting today with all four of us was quite fruitful and now we have a name and a contact number for the person who is going to handle our transaction from this point on, so that was very useful. Also we now have an updated list of the documents we need to supply (and, more importantly, what we do not) so we feel fairly sure that we have had a successful day and we hopeful that future transactions can be completed without a hitch. On our walk back to the station, I made a brief diversion down a little arcade that Meg and I used to visit quite often when we came to Worcester using their Park-and-Ride system (now abandoned by the city council as they say they could not afford the scheme) I ascertained that the excellent little cafe that used to prepare dishes like a lasagne or a fish pie was still in operation as we had not visited it since pre-pandemic days. Now that we have re-discovered it yet again, Meg and I may well have some little days out in Worcester by travelling in by train, enjoy the excellent little café with its excellent home made food and have a toddle about the kinds of shops we hope to visit (which probably included Marks and Spencer).
After we had returned home to the customary cup of tea, we made a telephone call to the very close friend of Meg’s aged uncle in Colwyn, North Wales. Meg’s uncle is very aged and is now refusing food and drink and really wants to be reunited with his maker. The residential home in which he is lodged is run by Methodist Homes for the Aged and we know from our last visit, that there is a semi-resident Methodist pastor who is on hand to give aid and support as required. We know that he is in constant contact with Uncle Ken and are therefore reassured that his spiritual needs are being met. The purpose of our phone call is to work out whether it is sensible to make a lightning visit to North Wales tomorrow as Ken’s days left on earth must surely be numbered. His close friend who sees him every day gave us the good advice that if were to make a journey up to North Wales, we would achieve very little as Uncle Ken’s powers of communication after several days not partaking of all food and drink are severely limited and indeed he may be semi-comatose. After a great deal of thought and taking advice from family and friends we have decided not to make one final visit but to let nature take its course. In any case, we would certainly attend any forthcoming funeral so that we could participate in a celebration of his life and for this we are ready to go at the drop of the proverbial hat. As we were away in Yorkshire last Thursday, we do need to go shopping for a conventional ‘weekly’ shop up and so I intend to do just that at 8.00am tomorrow morning.
The Tory leadership campaign is surely coming to its conclusion this evening with final hustings taking place. The voting in the election will cease on Friday and the final result will be announced on Monday. After that, there will be a break in tradition when the winner (Liz Truss by a huge margin) will travel to Balmoral to see the Queen and accept an offer to form a government. Then it is back to London, the announcement of a new cabinet and Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Ho Hum!
And so Tuesday dawns, the start of a ‘normal’ week given that yesterday was a Bank Holiday and therefore a day when nothing much could get done. Tuesday is the day when we normally go down to Waitrose and see a regular group of our pre-pandemic ‘buddies’. After this, I generally go off to my Pilates class but not today as my teacher is away on an extended weekend break. In Waitrose, we met with four of our little gaggle of friends and I tried to split my time between all of them – we had an stimulating chat and act as a ‘de facto’ support to each other as three of us are acting as carers to husbands/wives with long standing health conditions. After this interesting morning, we got home quite early and had a good read of The Times before striking out again this afternoon. Meg has received a communication from the opticians to make an appointment so we got to the High Street by car in the afernoon to make an appointment in two weeks time. Meanwhile, I got a letter from my own long-term monitoring of eye condition to let me know that all appeared well so this is useful to get behind me for another twelve months or so. Whilst on the High Street, I popped into one of the charity shops and relieved them of a shirt which is just my size and preferred colour and also went to a stationers to get an academic year diary which they were selling off cheaply and which I am intending to use for some little medical notes day by day. At lunchtime, we received a pre-meeting phone call from a representative of the bank to which we are going to pay a visit tomorrow after which I needed to make a call to the solicitors who conveyanced our house some fifteen years ago. It is a long story but the bank should have communicated somewwhat better to me what thing we needed to get our ‘ducks in a row’ before our planned meeting tomorrow. This afternoon, I waited patiently by my phone for a call that came (eventually) but after waiting all afternoon.
Until we get a ‘new’ government in place, the media is full of stories indicating what the consequences are going to be of energy prices that by next spring could be three and a half times what they are today. In particular, it is gradually dawning that many small businesses in the entire country will almost be completely wiped out by the dual effect of the fuel increases for themselves (and there are no announced plans to alleviate these measures for them) and the absence of purchasing power in the population at large to buy the goods and services that they offer. An observation heard more and more over the airways that the damages caused by the lockdown to counteract the pandemic may be like a ‘walk in the park’ compared with the enormity of the economic crisis that is due to hit them. More and more correspondents are indicating that we need a government of some talent and intelligence and not one that panders to all of the prejudices of the extreme right wing which is what the present conservative party has been driven to. There is also some talk of reving a ‘Goat’ government (‘government of all the talents’) and of course in days of supreme national danger, such as WWII we even had coalition governments where normal ‘opoosition’ politics are abandoned. I cannot think of a similar situation when an incoming government has been faced with so many diverse problems and of such a magnitude that simple ideological slogans (such as Liz Truss’s ‘cutting taxes’) will not solve. Talking of Liz Truss, she is advised by an eccentric, not to say wacky, right wing economist called Patrick Minford who is an advocate of ‘supply side economics’ in which it is believed that economic growth will only follow tax cuts to release the potential of enterpreneurs who can kick-start an economy. Most economists believe that this is sometimes the case but not invariably the case and certainly not in present conditions. Even Patrick Minford argues that interest rates may well rise to over 7% in his modelling – but Liz Truss has indicated that she believes all the rest of his economic analysis but not this bit (a bit like believing in God but not in Heavan). In the meanwhile, Liz Truss was lined up for a half hour examination of her economic policies by Nick Robinson on BBC1 tonight where she probably would have been crucified and exposed as a total economic illierate – so Rishi Sunak has undergone such an examination but not Liz Truss. This is incredibly dangerous for our political system in which politicans of extreme views are not challenged. Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, has written in The Times that: ‘You clearly can’t do all of this without completely crashing the public finances. This simplistic mantra that you cut taxes and the economy grows more, that you cut taxes when you have a big deficit and high inflation, and you don’t do it with any other part of the plan, is quite worrying‘. What could be more damning than that?
Today is August Bank Holiday and I always find these days are a little strange as some shops are open and some are not, most assuming a Sunday pattern in any case. As we did not do a normal shopping last Thursday, we were running short of one or two things so Meg and I went to collect our newspaper by car and then popped into Waitrose to top up our supplies somewhat. Last night our next door neighbour had popped round with some recently warmed apple pie and custard (this, by the way, is not an unusual occurrence) but also gave us the sad news that a sister who had been ill for many years has died. So whilst I was at the newsagent, I bought a ‘Sympathy’ card and then we popped that in to our next door complete with a tray upon which she had brought us our sweet last night. Our trip to the park today was unremarkable as being a Bank Holiday, none of the regulars with whom we generally have little chats were present. The park seemed to lack its normal complement of dogs and toddlers on their scooters so we struck off for home without any of our normal connversations. When we got home, we prepared a fairly conventional midday meal before wondering entertainments we might fancy on a Bank Holiday afternoon. We could not bring ourselves to watch ‘Murder on the Orient Express‘ for the umpteenth time and instead tried to discern whatch we could on Prime TV as we have a Firestick that is plugged in to the back of our TV. I did not know any of the film titles but eventually did a search for ‘Warhorse‘ which indeed they had. We watched this for about an hour and then the programme packed up wih an internet buffering error, about which we seemed to be able to do nothing. We watched the news channel for a certain length of time and then I tried Prime again, but this time managing somehow to get onto our latest network connection from BT. We managed to pick up the film from just about the point at which it had stopped about which we were mightily pleased. Meg and I have seen ‘Warhorse‘ once before several years ago but I was quite happy to give it a second watch. I must say that I found it a very compelling film to watch emotionally and the emotional high spots came quite fast and furious throughout the film and not just in the later stages. Having successfully used Prime for the first time, I must see that if there are any more ‘must see’ films for later occasions when we run into a dead patch on the TV.
There is an interesting headline in The Times this morning which I did not think that I would ever see. A recent poll has found that half of the people who voted Conservative at the last election would support the public ownership of the energy utilities. When you see how the French government exerts control over Electricite de France (EDF) this is hardly a surprise but presumably support throughout the whole of the voting population will greatly exceed 50%. At the same, the water companies are increasingly subject to consumer dissatisfaction as the water companies have continued to make discharges of raw sewage into our seas and rivers. Water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters in England more than 400,000 times in the past year or so, Environment Agency (EA) data has revealed. Untreated human effluent poured into rivers and seas for a total of 3.1m hours via storm overflow pipes that are supposed to be used only in extreme weather to relieve pressure in the sewage system. So whilst the rationale for privatisation the water industry was to secure sufficient investment in a largely Victorian sewage system, this has taken place but dividends to share holders has also been enormous. Our railway system is in a sort of semi-public ownership as the government have taken back various rail franchises which have not performed as well as anticipated. So the fact that there is public appetite, and even enthusiasm, for public ownership of some of our core utilities is a source of some surprise, particularly as the Labour party seems to be very lukewarm to public ownership in their most recent policy announcements. Of course the language used in these debates evokes quite strong passions as surveys in the past have revealed a strong public antipathy to ‘nationalisation’ but much more supportive attitudes to ‘public ownership’. In the 1950’s, if my memory serves me correctly, Conservative governments deployed a policy of buying 51% of the shares of BP and perhaps other large compaies as well. In fact, the British government’s stake in BP has been gradually reduced since 1977 to just under a third from 68.4% through four prior stock offerings, three by Thatcher’s Conservative government. A policy of aiming to own 51% of the shares of a company, particularly if one has a large stockholding already, is fairly easy to achive if shares are bought up gradually whenever they become available. I am looking to see why such an approach to public ownership might not be tried again in the years ahead?
I won’t bore you with the details of how the folder containing all of nearly 900 text files which constitute the text version of this blog seemed to disappear from my laptop on which I typically type whilst Meg is watching TV. I used some backup files and a bit of native cunning to get everything back the way that it ought to have been but it took me until 3.00am in the morning. However, I have ensured that I have backed up my files on two different types of flash memory so if disaster should strike again in the same place, I can get things restored fairly quickly. The only thing that I can think of is that I accidentally deleted the whole folder in a moment of lack of concentration but all is well that ends well. After too little sleep, I got up and collected our Sunday morning newspapers and then Meg and I had a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. Then it was down to the park on a really beautiful day – it was pleasantly warm but just with a degree of freshness that made the whole day delightful. In the park we met up with Seasoned World Traveller who we have evidently not seen for several days. We updated him about our various comings and goings in Yorkshire and eventually turned our attention to more serious philosophical topics. What excited us this morning was the observation that many Asian societies seem to massively outperform their UK counterparts particularly in the fields of mathematics and many of the technologies. We were thinking aloud how many of these differences are cultural (avoiding the idea that they are genetic difference) but we evidently did not come to any particular conclusions. We do know in the field of mathematics, according to an OECD analysis conducted some years ago that Singapore is the smartest country in the world, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, Netherlands and Canada rounding out the top 10. A more dated research study though is interesting – Ken Todd of York University’s electronics department analysed the performance of hundreds of first year students over 15 years, and found a ‘severe decline’ over time in the proficiency in mathematics of undergraduates who had the same grades of A-level pass. Writing in the magazine Mathematics Today, he reports a collapse in scores on the 50-question multiple choice maths test students sit on their second day at university. In 1985, the average score was 39, well above the ‘worry line’ of 30. Today, the average is 19. ‘It is deeply worrying that an average student with grade B maths is only able to obtain a score marginally better than could be obtained by random guessing,’ said Dr Todd. ‘Algebraic skills are generally poor. The manipulation of powers and logarithms is a dark mystery to many.’
After lunch, we had a nice relaxing time enjoying the in-depth news from the Sunday newspapers. In the ‘Sunday Times‘ apart from the discussion of the cost-of-living crisis which is dominating the news bulletins whilst we await the probable election of Liz Truss as the new Tory Prime Minister, there were two particularly interesting stories. The first of these is the agenda facing Liz Truss the moment she is elected as two thirds of the parliamentary party have never supported her and there is some evidence, even now, of seller’s remorse as Boris Johnson is still preferred by many out in the country. There is a small but not to be discounted possibility, that Liz Truss may even face a leadership crisis the minute she is elected as some may try to win back ‘Boris’ as a likely vote winner. The second story which is of some interest is an analysis of why voters in general have lost so much faith in their politicians. Of course, Brexit is a part of this but it is not the whole story and there is very little confidence that any of our political leaders have the answers to the problems facing the nation. As expected, though, the Liz Truss ‘line’ has changed from ‘no handouts’ to a considerable package of (unspecified) support once she is elected. The full consequences of these astronomical rises in fuel costs is gradually dawning. The proportion of the population living in ‘fuel poverty’ (more than 10% of one’s income spent on fuel) is likely to rise to 50% of the population and perhaps most of the populaation if bills rise to as much as £7,000+ a year which is one current prediction. At the same time, many people’s entire savings will be wiped out. Hardly receiving any analysis until now is the survival of many small businesses particularly in drinks, hospitality and catering – as businesses, they themselves will be faced with massively increasing costs whilst at the same time, many of their potential clients will not have the disposable income to afford what the firms have to offer.
Today is the day when we are due to depart – unfortunately. We got up at 7.30am and finished off most of our packing fairly quickly. We had packed the wardrobe and ‘main’ suitcase the evening before and I always find packing to go home so much easier than the other way round. After all, everything in the room has to be either thrown away or packed but we took several of the smaller packages into the car when we went down for breakfast and that made the final exit from the hotel bedroom so much the easier. We paid our bill and were ready to set off at 9.45. It was the most glorious of days and the motoring was really pleasant. We stopped at the normal service station on the way back which we know is exactly half of the distance between Bromsgrove and Yorkshire and then proceeded on our way. Half way through this second half of the journey, we were nearly involved in a really nasty accident on the motorway. We were motoring at a straight 70mph in the ‘slow’ i.e. inside lane when suddenly a car seemed to slide sideways almost into us. For our part I veered leftwards so that I was half on the hard shoulder and this avoided any contact between us. What had happened was that an aggressive driver behind us had hassled the car in front who had evidently drifted left to get out of the aggressive driver’s way but without checking his mirror and hence nearly collided with us. Fortunately, no harm came to any of us but the aggressive driver shot off into the distance never to be seen again. We celebrated our good fortune by treating ourselves to a boiled sweet and continued with the rest of the journy being just a little more alert than normal.
We received some rather bad news from a close friends of Meg’s Uncle Ken late last night. He is very elderly (about 93 I think) but has suddenly seemed to have lost the will to live and is refusing any food and drink in his residential home in Colwyn, North Wales. How long an elderly frail person can survive without sustenance is very hard to say but we fear that Uncle Ken may not have many more days left to live. Meg and I have tried to work out our options are and we think that a flying visit is not really possible tomorrow (Sunday) and we would not want to be on a motorway on Bank Holiday Monday. Because of other commitments we have during the week, we think that Thursday may be the first day that we can actually motor up to see Uncle Ken (if he is well enough to see us, in any case). We are keeping in close touch with other relatives and friends although Meg is Uncle Ken’s closest living relative and will have to resolve what we are going to do when we get some firmer news. So as things stand we shall see if get an update sometime tomorrow morning and on Monday and then we can make plans accordingly. I got into contact with my daughter-in-law who promptly came round so that we could discuss our best course of action face-to-face and, as always, she was a fund of useful and practical advice. She herself has had to cope with the deaths of some of her own close relatives and so is in a good position to help us to work out our options. In the late afternoon, we went to church as we normally do on Saturday afternoons and then settled down for a leisurely evening once we have consumed a bit of supper.
The current chancellor of the Exhequeur, Nadhim Zahawi, is in a massive dilemma today. Firstly, he may not still be in his current post in about 8 days time as the new Prime Minister is elected and a new ministerial team subsequently appointed. But he has now admitted that in the current ‘cost of living’ crisis, Britons on £45,000 (50% more than the average wage) will probably need help in paying for energy bills as experts warn that the price cap could rise to £7,700. Meanwhile, he has also told the Daily Telegraph that households must try and reduce their energy consumption, and that he fears gas prices could remain elevated for another two years. The ‘official line’ coming from the government is that options for a variety of support packages is being prepared in the background but nothing can actually happen until a new ministerial team is actually in place. In the meantime, the amount of stress in the general population that the rising fuel crisis is generating cannot be underestimated but nothing seems to be happening as the whole governmental machine is effectively in suspension. I am still trying to comprehend the actually reasons why British fuel dprices should have to rise to such an extraordinary extent. For example, EDF energy prices rise by 4% in France compared to 54% in UK but EDF (Electricitie de France) is a State-owned firm was was forced to take a £7 billion pound hit to protect French households.
Today was the day when we were due to hold our little tea party for my sister’s 80th birthday in the hotel this afternoon. We started off by having a leisurely breakfast and then went for a little tour of the Valley Gardens which are a magnificent and much appreciated part of the Harrogate scene. On my way into the Valley Gardens, I remembered a memorial plaque to a US hospital unit that was stationed in Harrogate and whose leaving date happened to be the absolute day on which I was born in 1945. Then we made a leisurely stroll through some of the familiar Harrogate streets, hoping to end up at the little unpretentious little restaurant that we used frequently when in Harrogate. But this desire was thwarted when we found that the cafe was closed for their annual holidays so we made our way to the Italian style cafe bar (run by a variety of nationalities but mainly Greek) which we visited yesterday. We thought we would try an iced coffee for a change but were not overly impressed. Then we made our way slowly back to the hotel to dump some of our stuff and then sauntered out to another cafe near to the hotel that we used to visit quite freqently but which has now changed hands. We ordered two soups which were all we needed at this hour in the day and also begged a couple of elderflower cordial bottles which will be tremendously useful when we eventually get round to bottling last year’s damson gin. Then we repaired back to the hotel and enjoyed a bit of quiet time before our celebrations were due to start this afternoon.
The hotel had done us proud and set out a nice little area to seat the seven of us and included a cake stand. At the suggestion of the staff who had organised the event for us this afternoon, we did indulge in one bottle of prosecco between the six adults of us. For their part, the hotel had also presented my sister with a signed card of the hotel and a little key ring token of the hotel. We set in the middle of the table the vase which we had lovingly transported from Bromsgrove. Whilst we were in Wetherby the other day, we had bought a small collection of wild dried flowers which complemented the vase well and we had this displayed as a centrepiece of our tea table. Then after the prosecco, I gave my sister the vouchers that we had bought in the special Wetherby flower shop as well as two birthday cards, one from Meg and myself and the other from Martin and Mandy. The card from Martin and Mandy was particularly interesting as it featured 1942 (the year in which my sister was born as she is 80 this year) The card contains a host of interesting little ‘facts’ which illustrated the year of 1942 and really made for the most interesting of cards – one that you would not want to throw away when the celebrations are over. Once the prosecco was drunk, tea was served to us consisting of a variety of daintily cut sandwiches and some little cakes in great variety. Finally, we came to the cutting of the cake and sharing it round us and it was delicious and sufficient for the seven of us. The hotel kindly wrapped up the remainder for us and so we all made for for our way home. My sister messaged me with some heartfelt thanks and we exchanged messages, pleased with the way that the whole afternoon had gone and that a wonderful and memorable afternoon had been enjoyed by all. I was so pleased that everything had worked as intended and, in truth, it was very easy to organise and the hotel played their part magnificiently. Given that ‘formal’ afternoon teas are not the kind of thing that you do every day, I think that a warm glow of satisfaction was enjoyed by all and the afternoon had just flown by.
The news about the rising of the fuel cap to an astounding £3,549 from its previous approx. £2k is generally frightening, particularly as there are more projections of even more horrendous increases in the spring months. The media is full of news indicating that so many people are already finding it increasingly difficult to survive on their present resources and where are the extra £1,000s going to come from? Many people are cutting heating down to the minimum including, of course, any heating for food and it looks as though millions of us are going to grow not only cold but also hungry. The politicians are making vague promises that when the Tory election campaign is over, many more resources will be made available but this is rather a case of ‘jam tomorrow – perhaps’. The difficulty is that people’s bills are going up now but any action is promised weeks later and this will almost certainly be too little, too late. As we have a ‘zombie government’ active at the moment,no political spokesmen are available from any of the relevant government departments. Will the population eventually take to the streets, I ask myself?
Today was a day which was long planned for and anticipated and we hoped that all would turn out for the best. We slept a little later than we had anticipated but nonetheless we got up at 7.30 and I had a wonderfully refreshing shower whilst getting Meg organised with various creams and lotions that she still needs after her little episode of prickly heat. We went down into the breakfast room which is magnificently large and ornate that may well seat hundreds if one were to be having a full scale formal dinner. But breakfast is always quite a relaxed occasion and there were only two or three couples in the dining room when we entered. This hotel used to house the Air Ministry during WWII and they kept it on for several years after the war ended until the early 1950’s. When my mother was alive, I am sure that she had mentioned to me that she worked in this building, requisitioned by the military and one could imagine that the dining room could have been a high operations centre, such as one sometimes sees in black and white films illustrating the second World War. So I started to think to myself that there was a fair probability that my mother had actually worked in the very room where I was having breakfast, probably some eighty years previously. This was quite a thought, actually, and I did feel a slight link between the point where biography and history intersect. I got into conversation with one of the hotel staff about the little tea party we are to hold for my sister tomorrow afternoon and was actually offered a choice of venues. We had a look at several alternatives and it looks as though tomorrow we can have our little tea party in rather an individualised location.
Today was the day when we had organised to see some old friends that we have not seen in the flesh for several years now, although we have been in contact by message and email. We decided to walk up through the town and to have a coffee in a rather specialised little coffee house quite near to the station. This we did and the station proved to be pretty close by. So we organised the purchase of a copy of a newspaper and made it to the station in plenty of time – so much so, that we actually caught a train half an hour earlier than we had intended. The QR codes that had been generated for us when we bought the tickets a few days earlier worked unproblematially. So we arrived in York station with plenty of time to spare but this we did not mind as it gave us plenty of time to find our chosen luncheon venue. We did not know precisely where this was but we knew if was very near the station on one of the approach roads to the station. We consulted a street guide at the entrance to the station concourse and found our chosen lunch venue incredibly easily. We arrived there way before the time we had agreed with our friends but they too arrived early so we were delighted to make contact with each other well before midday. After we had had a wonderful natter, we ordered a light lunch which proved to be excellent under the circumstances – Meg and I ordered a roasted tenderstem broccoli and edamame bean risotto which turned out to be absolutely delicious. But we hardly had any time to contemplate the food as we were excitedly catching up on all of the family news and other domestic news since we last met. Our friends are avid Europeans (having worked in both Germany and Holland and the wife of the couple is actually Dutch in any case) so we spent a certain amount of time discussing politics, national and international. The time actually flew by and soon it was time for us to part. However, we intend to keep on meeting at least once a year. There is going to be the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s 87th new play (‘Family album‘) during the month of September in Scarborough so this might be the occasion of another visit ‘up north’ if we and our friends can coordinate our diaries. We walked back to the station and caught a train that was waiting for us in the station. Then, arriving back in Harrogate, we had a very pleasant walk back through the town (largely downhill) and got back to the hotel where evidently we regaled ourselves wih a cup of tea. Then I made a quick call to my sister who had just returned from a little break in the Lake District and we checked out all of our arrangements for our little birthday tea tomorrow afternoon. We will also meet with our niece and her family who are taking tea with us and we trust that the arrangements that we have put in place for tomorrow will work out as smoothly as everything has done today.
So the day of travelling has arrived but I never sleep at all well if I know that I have a long journey the following day. We had an alarm set for 6.15 so we got up, had a cup of tea and then got going with the final bits of packing, a few items of food for the hotel bedroom and some bits and pieces that make life in a hotel bedroom a little less like indoor camping. We managed to set off at just a few minutes after 900 am and then hit our morotorway service station which is almost exactly half way at just before the projected time. Then it was off for Wetherby at which we hoped to arrive at just about midday. We were slightly thwarted in our efforts because having travelled 150 miles trouble free we then ran into a massive traffic jam just north of Leeds. There is a place called Bramham tht was having a ‘horsy’ kind of event, I think, and there were a lot of temporary traffic signs routing the traffic for the Leeds International Musical festival and I think that this might have added to the overall slowdown. We eventually got to Wetherby just after 12.00pm and after a little bit of lurking managed to get a convenient parking spot Then it was inside the ‘Wetherby Whaler’ for our senior’s three course meal which, as always, was delicious and satisfying. After lunch, we sought out a florist that we had spotted when we were here about one month ago and bought something that we had our eye upon. Just round the crner was a coffee and cake shop, independently owned, where we had a cappuchio and a mocha of the highest quality. We got into conversation with a couple from outside Lancaster who were treating themselves to a little visit to Yorkshire. In the past, they had taken some of their dogs along to dog shows, including Crufts on one or two occasions, so we exchanged notes about what we know about dog breeding (which is practically zilch), but since my sister and my mother had both shown dogs in the past, we could make some sort of connection. To be honest, we spent more time talking about how we had coped with the pandemic in our various ways rather than dog breeding as such.
Then we struck off for Harrogate to the hotel in which we were booked. True to their word, they had reserved a space for us (which we had requested in advance) and we were pleased to have this at our disposal. The only downside to our room is that although on the last two occasions the internet connected instantly and flawlessly, this was not true today. I followed the instructions but got an obscure message to the effect that I had joined the network but the network could not access the internet. After several fruitless efforts in which I tried everything I could think off, eventually I started to ‘hotspot’ using my iPhone and this seems to work OK so I will put up with that during the length of our stay. Most of the afternoon was involved in unpacking and getting out little ‘hotel systems’ in place which we deploy to make life more comfortable.
The political news today is almost predicatble. As the Ukraine is trying not to over-celebrate fify years of independence from Russia, Boris Johnson could not resist anoher ‘surprise’ visit to the Ukraine where (surprise! surprise!) he was given an award by the Ukrainian leader. The Tory election campaign is now in its last two year and, enboldened by a thirty point lead over her rival, is now uttering warnings of the type of Prime Minister she is likely to be. In the past few days, she has indicated that she would not appoint an ethics advisor, has indicated that the Environment agency wastes money, that OFWAT over-regulates and so she tacitly suppots the dumping of untreated sewage straight in the seas around the UK and that NKS doctors are overpaid. Of course this is Daily Mail pandering to the right and the extreme right of the conservative party. It is no forgotten that the Conservative party effectively swallowed up UKIP and followed their policies and has become a de facto ‘English National’ party. But there are now indications that a new Truss cabinet will be exclusively drawn from the right of the party whereas, with the exception of Boris Johnson, post war prime ministers, both Labour and Conservative, have tried to ensure that a cabinet does reflect the various ‘wings’ within the party. With an extreme right wing cabinet, the stage is set for confrontations or at least a rumbling war in the majority of the conservative party who did not vote for Liz Truss (the critical figure being that only 32% MPs voted for Truss in the last round of voting by MPs). So upon election, Liz Truss will be faced with the dilemma of instant policy ‘U’-turns or grumbling resentment from the two thirds of the party that did not vote for her.
Today was always going to be a full day as there is quite a lot to pack in before we set off for Yorkshire tomorrow. We knew that as Tuesday is my ‘Pilates’ day, that we first make a preliminary visit to the Waitrose café so that we can meet up with the usual Tuesday crowd. Today, though, was a little out of the ordinary because of the mis-directed birthday cake which arrived yesterday. The firm who supplied it in error said I could either eat it up or throw it away so I chopped it into several rectangular slices and then wrapped each in some greaseproof paper so that I could make a present of this ‘free’ cake to each of the Waitrose regulars. This is the first time I have tried to use greaseproof paper and seal it up with sellotape but it is not an easy task as the sellotape does not easily bind onto greaseproof paper. Still this was highly appeciated and then we set off for the major task of the morning which was to get the car filled with fuel and have the tyre pressure checked over. I had already topped up the washer bottle at home so this was one job less. Then the frustrations started. In the very centre of Bromsgrove, they are engaging in some major road widening schemes and there is almost total gridlock, or at least exceptionally long traffic queues, right through the centre of the town. As soon as I got to my preferred garage, the air machine was announced as being ‘out of order’ so we had to navigate backwards through the town and its traffic jams and then onwards to a supermarket which does have air facilities. This was done more or less but I must confess I am not overfond of the modern air pressure guages where you dial in your preferred air pressure and wait for the device to ‘ding’ once the pressures have equalised. If there is a lot of ambient noise (as there was today) and you are on the ‘car’ side of the machine, the ‘dings’ can prove to be quite difficult to discern. Anyway, I got this done and as the bill came to 1p short of a round total, I asked the personnel manning the till to donate the change to Battersea Dogs’ Home. Then it was a case of getting home and I had about 15 minutes left to get myself organised for my Pilates class. I walked down and had my normal class before I popped into an adjacent Asda store where I needed to buy some long life milk, sandwiches for elevenses for the journey and a bit of fruit to keep us going over the next few days. The it was a case of geting home, having a delayed lunch and then starting the packing for tomorrow. As our little vacation is almost exactly the same in duration as the one we undertook a month ago, I have a pretty clear idea of what clothes to pack and in which order to do it. Apart from a few last minute changes of mind about what outfits to wear, this process ran relatively smoothly leaving only nightclothes and toilet bags to be packed first thing in the morning.
After the saga of the mis-delivered birthday cake for my sister, my heart was beginning to sink when no delivery had turned up by half way through the afternoon. I was reconciled to tramping around Harrogate on Friday morning to see if I could organise something (but without a personalised message) at very short notice. Towards the end of the afternoon, I took a despairing look outside the front door and there it was (albeit put on its side) However, the cake was extremely well packed and I unpacked it with trembling fingers to make sure it was correct this time. It certainly was – and judging by external appearances, just what I ordered. Meg and I had a bit of a taste of the mis-delivered cake for a spot of afternoon tea this afternoon and that tasted fine so I have every expectations of things being OK for Friday next. I have sent off a couple of texts to my sister and my niece to make some last minute arrangements. As I was writing, the doorbell rang and it was some of our friends from down the road with whom we are sharing our wedding anniversary celebrations on Friday, 9th September. They were returning a book (Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnights Children’, actually) and we also had a little ‘prezzie’ of some chocolates to speed us on our way tomorrow. The timing of our friend’s call at the house could not have been better timed as we are due off at the crack of dawn in the morning and we are always pleased to see them. We had a quick update on our friend’s health who has been at the ‘wrong end’ of courses of antibiotics that did not agree with her but we trust that these unfortunate little episodes are coming to their natural conclusion.
As we are due to travel north to Yorkshire on Wednesday, my activities in these two days before we travel are devoted to making sure that ‘all of my ducks are in a row’ before we set off. I have three tasks which I need to perform in the next few days of which one is getting my financial statements prepared and uploaded before we meet the Bank representative on 31st August. Next, the car badly needs an outside and inside valeting so I think I need to get that pulled in today if I can. Finally, I need to make sure that tyre pressure and washer bottle supplies are adequate before we start a long journey. I have an empty cupboard at home and am utilising this to drop into it things that I know I need to make our hotel stay a little more domesticated. After Meg and I had picked up our copy of The Times, we made our way to the park where we had quite a pleasant sojourn. We did not encounter any of our regular park friends but Mondays are always traditionally very quiet days in the park anyway. When we got home, I made sure Meg was well supplied with food and drink before I made a journey down to see our firm of Romanian/Iraqi/Kurdish car washers. I got there seconds after another client so I was given a wait of an hour and a half before it would be ready for me. However, this turned out almost like like ‘manna from heavan’ as it meant that I was free to explore some of the charity shops along the High Street in Bromsgrove. First, I popped into a shop where I could buy some cosmetics for Meg and some toiletries that would be useful for our hotel bedroom. But I was fundamentally focused upon one item of purchase upon which I was intent and that was some extra skirts for Meg. Generally speaking, Meg and I preder to shop for clothes in the charity shops of Alcester, a pretty little Georgian town some miles distant but has a reputation for an excellent range of shops. So my expectations of fine quality clothing in Bromsgrove were not high, but I had plenty of time on my side. I have noticed that the shops seem to be replete with tops of every shape and size but skirts seem to be in short supply, particularly if you avoid the trousers and the discarded mini-skirts that are are generally housed on the same rails. A slightly complicating factor is that my wife used to be a standard 12 but with the ravages of time and the pandemic, the default size for which I now search is a size 14. In my searches through several charity shops, though, I did snap up two items, one of which is a ‘John Lewis’ marque and the other highly original design of multicoloured butterflies of which the label seems to have got detached. I was relieved that when I did transport them home Meg liked the design of both so that will help to extend her range of outfits somewhat.
We had a bit of uncalled for drama in the middle of the day which we could have well done without. I had previously ordered over the ‘net’ a birthday cake for my sister so this had arrived just as I was leaving to go down into town and now was the time to unpack it and inspect that all was as it should be. Imagine my horror when the cake’s icing said ‘Happy Birthday to Pauline and Alex’ with a design that was not the one I had chosen. The packing note with the cake had a photo of the design and text that I had chosen for my sister so in the midst of preparing a delayed lunch (hastily) I made several attempts to make contact with the firm supplying the cake. They are horrified at what had happened and promised to put it right by despatching the correct version of the cake, plus text, that should arrive tomorrow (or so they promised) In the meanwhile, the firm would have to try and track down the ‘Pauline and Alex’ from their range of customers to indicate they would not be getting their cake when they thought that they would and presumably another customer has ours. If there has been a more systematic error in which each customer on the list has been displaced by one, as it were, then they could potentially have a queue of dissatisfied customers. As to the cake that that is now in possession we can either throw it away or eat it (we will do the latter!)
In the latest of the series of industrial dusputes that is afflicting the nation, then barristers have voted to go on an indefinite, uninterrupted strike in England and Wales from next month. The walkout by members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) will begin on 5 September. This seems to be the way to go on strike if one intends to do it – no messing about for a day or so but a full-scale, wholehearted, 100% withdrawal of services. One might think of barristers as being well paid but successive cuts have reduced their remuneration to little more than the minimum wage, so they claim.