Today dawned rain-filled and gloomy in line ith all of the weather forecasts. Meg and I took our time to get ready this morning but were preparing a rendez-vous with our University of Birmingham friend in the park for later on in the morning. However, after we had received a quick telephone call we decided to meet in one of the High Street coffee bars that we have frequented in each other’s company because there was a little anticipated joint project that we wished to discuss. Accordingly, we met for coffee and toasted teacake after which we discussed our business and then treated ourselves to even more coffee and teacakes. Why our friend and I like each other’s company so much is because we are actually very similar in our approaches to academic work and life. We identify ourselves as competent but not ‘top flight’ academics, to which status we do not necessarily aspire. Nonetheless, we both some some regrets (and our friend more so than ourselves) that we had accumulated decades of experience which could then have been utilised to assist in the life work of younger academics but this was not necessarily to be as we both retired before the age of 65. Nonetheless, neither of us would want to belong to the uber-casalised life of the modern university and there are some things (marking masses of student assignments until the wee small hours of the morning) that we positively do not miss. There are some times, though, when Meg and I who truly espoused the polytechnic style of higher education based in no small part around the sandwich based degree have some regrets that this style of education seems to have been abandoned for ever, burnt on the altar of successive economic crises and cuts. We sometimes speculate that if we had been local jobbing builders, we could have driven around an area pointing to examples of edifices that we had help to construct. However, we have little to show by way of academic legacy as even the papers that we had written in the course of our careers may now be out-of-date and mouldering in the recesses of our respective university libraries. After a very pleasant morning, though, we got home and cooked ourselves some sea bass served upon a bed of crispy lettuce – our traditional Friday midday repast and then settled down for a lazy afternoon.
Today, it has been widely reported that the Prime Minister and her Chancellor of the Exchequeur have met with of the Office of Budget Responsibility and it was felt that an earlier forecast and critical review of the government plans would help to allay investor fears. But the government has rejected demands to bring forward publication of assessments of its growth plans and the impact of planned tax cuts and indicated that we would have to wait until late November for this. When the stock market volatility and turbulence is taken into account, this delay seems dangerous in the extreme and it is no wonder that the pound has immediately lost ground. The late Enoch Powell, a classical scholar quoted in his now infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech that ‘those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad’ one can only think that this must apply fully to the present leadership of the Conservative party. Liz Truss’s trip around several local radio stations yesterday was an absolute disaster. Local journalists are not afraid to pull their punches as their Westminster and national counterparts are liable to be in a ‘cosy’ relationships with the political elites and they are muted in their criticisms. Liz Truss was immediately faced with comments such as ‘Where have you been?’ and ‘Are you taking a fire extinguisher to a fire that you yourself started’) and, no doubt, this exercise will not be repeated. To show how out of touch the Tresury is with the lives of ‘ordinary’ people, the Treasury posted a tweet saying in the post that a ‘typical first time buyer in London moving into a representative terraced house’ would save £11,250 on stamp duty, £1,050 on the household’s energy bills, and if they earn £30,000, almost an additional £400 on tax. But various commentators have been pointing out that a person on that salary would not be able to afford a mortgage on such a property in the first place.
The Sky News commentator, Adam Boulton, has posted a fascinating piece in which he argues that the autumn has traditionally been a time for economic crises – which he documents in great detail. He argues that is certainly a time of year for stocktaking in Western market economies after a break or slowdown over the summer holiday period. Autumn, mid-October this year, is when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank hold their annual joint meeting. With the year’s three-quarters done, it is natural to look back and to assess whether things have gone well or badly. If there are problems, governing politicians and markets are likely to take steps to correct them, which sometimes only lead to bigger mistakes. The Tories are in conference next week but as soon as Westminster returns there will be plots galore with some feeling that Truss will be gone by Christmas (to be replaced by Rishi Sunak as a safer pair of hands) We shall see.
Today being Thursday, it is my normal shopping day. I set off five minutes early both to avail myself of an ATM in the wall of a larger supermarket. I also took the opportunity to hunt for some shoe cleaning products and eventually I had to ask for assistance. Going up and down the ‘normal’ shelves proved to be fruitless and eventually I had to ask for assistance because all of these products are stored on a carousel at the end of an aisle. I located what I wanted which was one of those wax-based cleaners that ‘flow’ onto a surface and eventually got I wanted and then managed to find some leather conditioner to go with it. Then I went off to do the normal shopping and bought myself a new pillow that Aldi were offering that I thought I might bring into use immediately. Then it was a case of getting home and doing an unpack before Meg and I had to get ourselves ready to go to the dentist. When we got there, we discovered that we should have filled in two forms on line on our mobiles. However, as we arrived several minutes early, I was quite happy to fill in two sets of forms (one set for each of us) before our treatment. The dentists did not appear to be particularly busy and we were seen promptly. Meg required no further treatment but I am going to require a filling and a crown so that is a pleasure to which to look forward. Then we got home and had some delayed elevenses in our own home. We followed the political news which is rapidly developing and then lunched on haddock fishcakes which is one of our favourites.
I have been trying to put the huge political row going on about the recent mini-budget which has handled out shed loads of money to those who already have quite enough of it. To try and simplify the essential elements of the mini-budget, I imagined the following scenario. Let us say that I approached my local bank manager and asked for a loan of, say, £1000. The inevitable question would be ‘what do you want the money for?’ to which I reply that I wanted the money to give as a birthday present to an extremely rich uncle who did not need it. On the other hand, there was a possibility that when he died, he might remember me in his will and I might receive a small inheritance. To the question ‘How do you intend to repay the loan’ I would reply that no doubt something might turn up and perhaps in the future I might have a better job to that would help with any repayments but I could not be sure. The bank manager would no doubt give me short shrift and refuse the loan within the space of seconds. It is not fanciful to suggest that this is a microcosm of what is happening in the wider financial markets. When the government have requested loans of £45 billion and then asked ‘for what use?’ and the answer becomes ‘to provide more money for the very rich in order to reduce the top of tax from 45% to 40%’, then it is no wonder that international investors have in effect said ‘Well, we will give you money but at a price’ which equates to much higher rates of interest. It is for this reason that even loyal Tory MPs have started to say ‘this inept madness hss got to stop’ and this is the more printable of what they are prepared to say in private but not on the record. In the meanwhile, the Government has a defence of its budget and are adamant that the turmoil in the financial markets is anything to do with them. Instead, Putin is often cited as the most immediate cause followed by the rider that most major western industrial economies are experiencing some jolts to their financial and monetary systems. But tbis very denial is lowering the credibility of the government in the eyes of international investors. Some defenders of the government, of whom thre are very few, are blaming ‘left-wing hedge fund managers determined to do the government down’ or even erstwhile ‘Leavers’ who are intent on destabilisation. The right wing ideologues, in whose eyes Liz Truss is a hero for breaking the financial orthodoxy, in the person of John Redwood, have even suggested that the Bank of England was the architect of its own misfortunes and unintentionally ‘started’ the run on the pension funds. In the meanwhile, the ordinary ‘man in the street’ particularly if employed in the public sector has endured a decade of less than inflation wage settlements. Moreover, he/she is faced with a further wage cut when inflation is of the order of 10% but wages do not keep up- and the government has decreed that every government department is faced with an inflation rate of 10% with no increase in budgets and is being forced to make efficiency savings that translates into loss of jobs and/or services or both. And, of course, a mortgage taken out at 2% will now be 6% when replaced by a variable rate mortgage and this is unaffordable.
This was a type of ‘recovery’ day after the early starts of the past couple of days so Meg and I allowed ourselves a smidgeon of a lie-in and determined that we would have an easier day. By the time we had our got volumes of washing sorted out, dried and put away and had a chat with our domestic help, we were fairly late in the morning. So we decided to forego our walk in the park but after we had collected our newspaper, we decided to treat ourselves to a coffee in Waitrose. Whilst we were on the road, I called in at a big store nearby that sells not only food but also a range of toiletries and domestic cleaning products. All I wanted was something really simple which was an old-fashioned tin of black shoe polish but this now seems as rare as hen’s teeth. I manage to locate one of those ‘roll-on’ shoe wax type of products which I dare say are easier and cleaner to apply but needless to say they only had brown in stock. So I came home fulminating about the types of esteric crap it was now possible to be in shops like this whilst good, old fashioned products just seems to be asking for the moon. Once we got home, we made ourelves a pasta/curry as we often do on a Wednesday. As we go shopping first thing on a Thursday morning, we tend to use up the onions/tomatoes/peppers bought last week to form the ingredients of today’s meal. Having fried up this combination, I threw in the bits of cubed meat left over from last weekend’s joint and then made a pasta for Meg and a curry for Mike. In my own case, I wanted to avoid the carbohydrates associated with rice and so I tried a bit of an innovation which was to crumble a cream cracker into squares and ditto with a couple of rice cakes and the curried vegetables were then poured over the top. This proved to be eminently successful so I certainly do this again.
This afternoon, I set myself the task of putting some black shoe polish on my leather hats – current and reserves. When I explored the inner recesses of a cupboard, I found that I actually did have some black boot polish in stock which I was delighted to find. Having carefully applied the polish, I have then put the hats into a warmish place (underneath our central heating boiler) where I will let them stay until tomorrow morning. Then, after the polish has had a chance to soak well into the leather, I will polish off using soft cloths and kitchen paper and might give a slight veneer of black liquid wax polissh if I can acquire some tomorrow morning. In the late afternoon, as it is the evening to put our refuse bins ready for emptying in the morning, I noticed my neighbour’s car was on her drive so I rang the doorbell to enquire afer my neighbour’s heart procedure which was undertaken yesterday. A previous attempt to insert stents had proved unsuccessful but an eminent Japanese heart surgeon was visiting the UK and my neighbour was scheduled for the procedure yesterday morning. This took several hours during which he was conscious all the time which sounds quite an ordeal. However, the procedure had proved to be a complete success and our neighbour now had four stents inserted into his corony arteries which ought to keep his blood supply flowing. Although he was still in some discomfort after yesterday, he felt ‘over the moon’ that the procedure had achieved such success and,for our part, we were absolutely delighted for him.
The financial crisis has come to a sort of crisis point today when the Bank of England has been forced to intervene to prevent some of the major pension funds investments (which rely heavly upon the 20-30 year old gilt markets to function correctly) from going belly up – and possibly even insolvent half way through the afternoon. The government are denying that this ‘market dysfunction’ is anything to do with them and is claiming that the Bank of England intervention is just part of a general turmoil affecting all major economies. In practice, Liz Truss and her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng are nowhere to be seen (but reported to have had a massive row in the meantime) and junior ministers have been sent out onto the airways to blame Putin, the rest of the world economy and anybody but themselves. In private (but not on the record) many Tory MP’s are incandescent:inept, humiliating, naive, reckless are just some of the words that have cropped up. What is so irritating to many of them is that this financial instability was predicted – by none other than former chancellor and leadership candidate Rishi Sunak. If Parliament were not to be in recess, it is an interesting question whether this ‘mini-budget’ would even pass through the House of Commons without some significant climbdowns and amendments – and perhaps not even then which would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence.
Last night, I had a rather disturbed night as I suspect that I was a little ‘over-tired’ after the long drives of yesterday. Nonetheless, I had my little alarm on and got up at at about 6.45 ready to make preparations for my day-out in South Oxfordshire. Today, I was going to make a journey by train and on occasions like this, I find it sensible to go from Birmingham International (which seves both the airport and the National Exhibitions Centre) This means that instead of a journey to a nearby local station and then a journey into Birmingham New Street and then the ride out to Birmingham International, I save about an hour and a half of journey time at each end of the day if I go direct to Birmingham International. The only snag is that access via the M40 can be a bit problematic if the traffic is incredibly busy and the traffic can be stopped on the mototway several times which can be a bit scary if you are trying to get to the train station on time. But today, everything worked perfectly and I got to the station 20 minutes before my train departure which was on time. As I got an ‘el cheapo’ ticket, I had no seat reservation but this was not a problem and I got to Reading station about three minutes late. I was meeting my friend outside a local Aldi store which I accessed by going out of the back of the station and this rendez-vous arrangement worked out well. We went for a gentle stroll alongside the river (Thames) and admired a huge flock of swans, geese and other water fowl. We then repaired to a local pub which was pleasant enough for our needs and did good pub group but there was quite a noisy group of young women already in situ so we had to train ourselves to ‘tune them out’ so we could carry on with our own discussions. Eventually a young mother and colleague turned up complete with fairly small baby so this was passed from hand to hand and ‘gooed’ over. This calls to mind an experience we had in Spain where in the small market town of Almnuñécar, Meg and I discovered a little coffee shop off the beaten track which served some of the best hot chocolate we have ever tasted. The last occasion we were there, there was a group of locals sitting around in a circle and being passed round them from bosom to bosom was a young male child with a beatific smile on this face (I wonder why) I espied an elderly gentleman propping up the bat so I asked him in Spanish if the child was his (I knew it wasn’t) He replied to me that the child ‘belonged to all the world’ which to all intents and purposes was absolutely true on that particular occasion. My friend and I treated ourselves to some good pub food and whilst my friend had a tasty oriental dish, I indulged in some Lincolnshire sausages, onions and mash. After we had put the world to rights, we went to our friends’ farmhouse and enjoyed an after-dinner coffee. By way of a very slight little token, I had taken along a largish bottle of my recently bottled damson vodka. As I had not tasted this prior to the bottling, we all had the smallest snifter in the name of quality control and I am pleased to say that it did not disappoint. Soon it was time to get dropped at the station hoping that the Reading rush hour would not detain us and the train journey was very punctual and I only about 3-4 minutes late on arriving back at Birmingham International. I was pleased to say that the day’s daylight had not completely faded by 7.00 pm when I got clear of the carpark -given the complex of motorways near to this station, I am always anxious to pick the correct one when the rest of the traffic seems to be racing past you.
I am looking forward to a bit of rest after two fairly full days and tomorrow morning, we will have our domestic help to chat with. Thursday is a visit to the dentist for both Meg and myself and we also have our COVID booste jabs lined up for this Saturday so it will turn out to be quite a busy week. Tonight, there are signals coming from the Bank of England, via its economist, that signicant rate increases are probably quite imminent. This will effect not only those who probably thought that a low interest rate such as we have experienced over the past few years was here to stay. In the meanwhile,there are landlords who have bought houses when interest rates were low. As the interest rates rise, so will the mortgage repayments rise which means that rents may rise sharply as well. So many families who cannot afford a mortgage may find that the next few weeks brings the possibility of eviction if they cannot pay the increased rents, which is a direct result now in prospect.
Today is the day of the funeral of Meg’s Uncle Ken and we had made good plans to get there and back in one day and forgo a night’s stay in a hotel which was our initial intention. We set off at 8.30 in the morning and decided to go by a slightly shorter and more direct route but avoiding some of the other routes which seem to bend round and curve a lot. The route that we decided upon was to cut north from the A5 on the A41 that headed directly for Chester. We got to just over the half way point and Meg was indicating that she could do with a loo visit. Just south of Whitchurch, we came across a huge old hotel that looked as though as it had seen better days and which advertisd all day coffees. However, the hotel was undoubtedly shut and looked as though it might have been for some time. But we espied nex door. a homely looking cafe called ‘Ma Bakers’ or something similar. They were open and gave us a steaming hot mug of tea and some toasted fruitcake at a very good price. It looked and felt very much like a biker’s café judging by the photographs around the walls and, just as we were finishing, a couple of bikers walked in. What was extraordinary about our little rest stop was that we indicated as could be seen by our apparel that we were on our way to a funeral whereupon the proprietor and his wife informed us that we were the third funeral party he had seen this morning – and it was only about 10.30am as well. We made our way to the Country Club off the Chester Expressway that we know well but as we had made good time and had no significant delays, we thought it be OK for us to turn up somewhat early. We got there about 40 minutes before our booked restaurant slot and were a little dismayed to find the whole establishment closed. Anyway, after we had tried the door a kindly member of staff let us in, for which we were grateful, and we indicated we just wanted to sit quietly in a corner until they were ready for us. However their coffee machine had broken down but the member of staff made us both a cup of tea for which we were grateful and we drank this whilst reading our copy of The Times purchased earlier in the day. Then a good hour before the crematorium slot allocated to us we set off and the SatNav got us practically to the door of the crematorium but was defeated by a series of roadworks in the vicinity. Eventually, we drove away and then reprogrammed the SatNav having dome some hairy U-turns to get ourselves back into the traffic flow. When we did arrive at the crem some other mourners were amazed that we had managed to get there having performed some near miraculous manouvres to get there but arrive we did. The crematorium committal service was fairly brief but dignified – we had expected that the crematorium chapel would be full but in actually the congregation was only about 15-20, being mainly family and relatives. Then we needed to SatNav our way to the Methodist chapel but there were some horrendous traffic jams and when we arrived in the vicinity of the chapel, the SatNav did not locate it correctly for us, as we could not specify a house number. After several attempts to find the chapel and asking some passersby we did manage to locate the chapel. One of Ken’s close friends who we knew well was waiting for us outside attempting to locate us and when we did arrive, the congregation was half way through the first hymn but fortunately, we had not missed too much. Again, the chapel was not as full as we thought it might be but of course at the age of 96 most of Uncle Ken’s family and closest friends were dead. Again, the service was quite short and dignified and practically all of the obituary speeches mentioned Ken’s incessant good humour when, in all honesty towards the end of his life, he must have been in terrible pain from a knee that really needed an amputation. After the service, fortunately we repaired to the adjacent hall for cups of tea and a spread of sandwiches and funeral fare. We managed to have words with all of the relatives that we knew who were welcoming and very supportive of Meg who was feeling a little doddery by this time.
We left at about 5.40 and thought we would get a fair bit of the journey home underway before the evening light faded. But there were some extremely heavy showers following us nearly all of the way. I had intended to come back by a different route but which had more dual carriageways and stretches of motorway in it. Instead, we had about fifty miles of quite slow roads to cope with, including at one point a tractor pulling a heavy load that progressed at 30mph and behind which a most enormous queue built up. Some took their lives in their hands and attempted a risky overtaking manouvre but there were no straight stretches of road to help us, the white line was generally against us and the rain was tremendous, so we took no risks but I thought to myself that I would never take that route again in a hurry. Eventually, we got home at about 8.30 which was not too bad, all things considered.
For some reason that I cannot quite put my finger on, I have been incredibly tired all of today – in fact, so much so, that I actually took the car down to the paper shop breaking my normal Sunday morning habit. I think that perhaps Meg and I had got a little chilled because we have tried to delay putting on the central heating until the very last moment. But today, as the temperature was dropping quite markedly, I thought that the hour and the day had actually come. As soon as I got up this morning, I heard the familiar ‘squawk’ emitted by the smoke alarm and this is the signal to renew the battery. However, the battery was one of those rectangular types so I decided that before we paid our visit to the park, it would be a good idea to pay a flying visit to Asda but this proved quite beneficial because I bought few extra things that I know that I can only get in Asda and that we actually needed. Once we got into the park, having put on some extra clothing against the cold, we sat on our normal park bench and wondered if we might meet with our regular park friends. As it turned out, we did not meet with either of them but we were joined on the park bench by ‘Alfie’, quite a good looking labradoodle (if that is the correct term) and his father. This is a gentleman of about my own age and in no time we were swapping stories about the kinds of tricks that we played upon apprentices when we were both working in an industrial context. Apart from having worked in a nightclub, my own industrial experience is limited to working in a cardboard box factory and in the following summer in a rubber company (not that kind of rubber – we mainly put the rubber around huge industrial cables that were destined to go under a second tunnel under the Mersey, then just being built). Whilst I worked in the cardboard box factory, Meg was working in a factory next door which was the McVities biscuit factory and to this day, she still has a slight aversion to the chocolate coated ‘Home Wheat’ biscuit line. Meg used to come home to tell me that many of her fellow workers on the production line really wanted to marry a ‘chcolate man’ if they could. This occupation was confined to men because it involved the quite dangerous manipulation of huge vats of hot chocolate. The process of my getting a job at the cardboard factory was interesting because it involved turning up at the office of the Personnel Manager and saying ‘Are there any jobs going – I am a friend of Jimmy Nolan who can recommend me’. The response was ‘Oh, we know Jimmy and he is a good worker so that is good enough for us’ When we eventually got home, I had a quick read of the newspaper and then a bit of a doze before I cooked a very simple dinner which was the remains of the pork slow cooked yesterday, some broccoli and a baked potato. That was quite enough for Meg and myself but straight after dinner, I treated myself to yet another long snooze.
This afternoon, after our mid-afternoon cup of tea, I spent some time getting all of the postcodes ready for our long journey to the funeral of Meg’s Uncle Ken tomorrow. We are journeying first to a Country Club just off the A55 (otherwise known as the ‘Chester expressway’ as it supplies access to many of the small towns and villages that lie along the North Wales coast). After a good meal and a rest it is then another thirty miles to the crematorium and from this point on, the Methodist church to which we will repair after the crem is only about seven miles away. I have a slight ‘thing’ about turning up to a funeral in a dirty car and although our car is not very dirty, I nonetheless gave it a quick splash so that it will look respectable. In any case, it will get a little dirty on the journey tomorrow in any case. Tonight, we are looking forward to a restful evening so we first have a dose of Andrew Neil whose show on a Sunday evening is always worth a watch. Then we have two hours of classical music on BBC4, first of cello music and then a programme devoted to Yehudi Menuhin which fortunately will be finished at 9.00 this evening. As we are going to make a fairly early start to a long day tomorrow, we are going to take the opportunity of a nice early night. To finish of with some foreign news, in the flight of young men from Russia eager to avoid any kind of conscription to a war against Ukraine which they regard as illegitimate, it is reported tonight that Russia is going to stop the exit of any men whatsoever of fighting age from next Wednesday onwards. It is an open question how many can escape in the two days remaining to them as the queues at some of the border is reported as 18 miles long.
This was a fairly normal Saturday for us. I ws pleased to have given the lawns their routine haircut yesterday because today it was certainly gloomier and chillier. By prior arrangement, I took along a pile of old nespapers which an acquaintance of mine needed for a decorating job in he was about to engage. Then we were joined by our University of Birmingham friend and we reminisced a little about the days when we were employed and when, at our level of seniority, we actually had a room to ourselves. Our friend had paid a visit to see some of his former colleagues and discovered that they had been relocated into a new building. However they now had to share three colleagues to a room to which the majority of staff had responded by promptly working as much a they could at home. The few who did not work at home often enjoyed the facilities affored by a whole room if colleagues were absent for a lot of the time. However my friend felt that in modern patterns of working, quite a lot had been lost. In the University in which I worked, there was a staff common room which was a tremendously useful facility for bumping into colleagues from other departments that you might not normally see but with whom you may have shared some common interests. In the fullness of time, then then management decided that this staff common room was a ‘waste of valuable space’ and commandeered it for their own purposes thus, at a stroke, reducing the benefits to the college as a whole that came from these type of social interactions. Of course this was not measurable as such and it reminded me very much of the dictum associated with Albert Einstein,I think, to the effect that ‘Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.’ I personally think that this is a brilliant quotation and alerts us to the fact when measurement and performance indicators abound, one has to be aware not to be absolutely overtaken by the metrics of the situation, I used to feel this particularly when students were choosing subjects for their Final Year Projects. Some choices were relatively safe asuch as ‘Green Business’ but other subjects were inherently much less researchable, despite being of great interest. Together with a few colleagues, we felt that we ought to reward intellectual bravery for those few students who chose intrinsically more challenging topics but, needless to day, ‘intellectual bravery’ does not figure in the normal rubric associated with marking schemes and degree classifications.
As we were in the car for our visit to the park, we took the opportunity to call at our local BP garage in order to utilise their tyre testing facilities. Before today, I have generally concentrated upon the ‘beep’ to tell you that the air pressures were equalised between the machine and your own tyre but glancing at the monitor on the machine, I realised for the first time that you could actually measure your progress in getting the correct type pressure by observing the gauge on the machine as well as waiting for the auditory signal. This afternoon, as autumn is approaching, I decided it was time to prepare a root vegetables soup. I prepared far too many vegetables and therefore saved two thirds of them but tonight’s soup is based on fried onions and a parboiled mixture of parsnips, carrots, swede and celery. This lot gets thrown into the soupmaker to finish off but I add half a jar of tomato or balti sauce,half a tin of coconut milk and a dash of some sauce which glories in the name of chip shop curry I had bought quite some time ago. When we return from church this evening, which is our regular early commitment on Saturday evenings, the soup will just have a quick heat up served with some toast as croutons and a dollop of plain yogurt. As I was preparing the vegetables for the soup, I listened to ‘Any Questions‘ on Radio 4 which I always like to think of the voice of middle England. This program is followed by a companion program known as ‘Any Answers‘ and I know that the BBC tries very hard to ensure that that which is broadcast is a fair representation of the views that have been received. The interesting thing is following yesterday’s ‘mini-budget’ which turned out to be the greatest dash for growth since the infamous Barber budget of 1972 (in which a boom was followed by a resounding crash, the budget stimulated a series of responses in which listeners seem to be incandescent with rage about the inequities it contained. I do not think that a single opinion in support of the budget was received by the BBC and one wonders what the opinion of the world-wide institutional investors will be once the stock exchanges open again next Monday morning and whether the pound will continue to fall against the dollar.
Today dawned quite bright so after our showers, Meg and I were keen to get into the park for our daily walk. We went by car to pick up our copy of The Times and then made our way to our usual park bench. We were joined by Seasoned World Traveller and then a few minutes later by an elderly Irish couple who we know through being the friends of our other Irish friends. After all of our chats we returned home to view what has been happening with the Chancellor’s mini-budget about which more later. When I go out in the open, I have taken to wearing an Australian style black leather hat. This hat has been my constant companion for some years now and in the past, people have stopped me in the street to mention that ‘I don’t recognise you but I recognise the hat’ Actually, this hat was the second of its genre that I have owned – the first in the series was actually bought in a charity shop for about £4 whereas the second was actually replaced, after I left the first in a pub in Winchester. As part of the ordering process, I actually spoke with the suppliers who informed me that when this style of hat is inadvertently left behind somewhere it is never, never handed in – an action I can understand, even though I do not sympathise with it. To keep these hats in good condition, I give them a fairly generous polishing with black boot polish which, after it is polished up, certainly both repels and sheds the rain after a brief shower. Now to get to the point- I have actually lost my hat somewhere. Family and friends have kept infuriately saying to me ‘Where have you lost it?’ which, if I knew, would mean that the hat was no longer lost or was in a general location where I could look for it. Needless to say, I have looked at every likely place in the house where it is liable to be and even looked around our regular park bench and also in the clinic where I do my Pilates at midday every Tuesday. Yesterday afternoon as the hat was well and truly lost, I had to put into operation ‘Plan B’ which is to start to wear the identical hat which I had previously bought and placed into reserve, knowing that it could only be a matter of time before its predecessor was lost, abandoned or stolen. The replaced hat I do admit although it is the same colour, size and style of the previous one does looks newer and dare I say, somewhat smarter as well. When my son called round and remarked that I had evidently found my hat, I confessed and told him it was a brand new one. He wryly remarked that no doubt I would get round to ordering a duplicate so when my new hat was lost (hopefully many years into the future), I would still have a replacement in store. However, he knows me too well as I was able to inform him that a replacement, reserve hat was already on order (courtesy of a quick search on the internet where I found a quality replacement at what I thought was a very reasonable price).
The ‘mini-budget’ (so called rather than an ‘actual’ budget in order to avoid any scrutiny by the Office for Budget Responsibility – interesting!) has actually turned out to be anything but ‘mini’. The Chancellor has announced the biggest tax cuts for about half a century, the effect being to shovel enormous amounts of money towards the already wealthy whilst the poor who pay practically no income tax, or none, will not benefit at all. This is financed by absolutely enormous borrowing estimated to be some £45 billion. This is pure ‘supply side’ economics in which economic growth is prioritised over every other economic aim. The government argues the action being taken will help bolster economic growth and increase the tax to fund public services. But critics argue the measures are a risk when public debt is already high and the cost of borrowing is rising. What the public reaction is going to be to such an unprecedented redistribution of wealth towards the already wealthy is going to be fascinating. When commentators have remarked to government ministers that these tax reforms are not ‘fair’ then a response has already been agreed. This is to argue that as the wealthy already pay more than their fair share of taxes then it is not unfair to hand some money back to them. The consensus view appears to be that the government has engaged upon the most enormous gamble – it is not impossible that ‘trickle down’ from the very wealthy might occur but it is extremely unlikely. The reactions of the stock markets i.e. those who actually lend us the money is interesting. The pound has fallen below $1.09 for the first time in 37 years. It was down by more than 3 cents on the day after US bank Citi declared the currency was facing the prospect of a confidence crisis. Even some Tory MP’s are unhappy as the Tory’s reputation for financial prudence is called into question. One cynical view is that the Tories know they are going to lose the next election so they are enriching themselves and their rich friends whilst they can and before they may be out of power for a generation.
Today dawned somewhat duller and certainly cooler so we must get gradually used to the colder days of autumn. As we have now passed the date of September 21st yesterday, we are just more than half way between the longest day and the shortest day. In general, I quite like the autumn probably because it was always the start of something new such as a new university term or the start of a new job. October, which is nearly upon us, I quite enjoy but November is just a month that has to be ‘lived through’ before we start to think about the celebrations of Christmastime. However, we group of ‘old fogies’ who were due to meet for a get together in Winchester chose a date which unfortunately for us the railway unions did as well as they announced a strike on Otober 5th. So we have postponed our get-together until November which does have the bonus of alleviating what would otherwise be quite a dull month. Meg and I popped into the park not expecting to see anybody in particular but we did commune a little with Inveterate Octogenerian Hiker and then a few minutes later with Seasoned World Traveller. We put the world to rights, as we normally do, and then discussed the geopolitics of the moment which inevitably means Putin. We had both seen on the news that up to 1,300 Muscovites had come out onto the streets to protest against Putin mobilising anybody who had some military training in his war on the Ukraine. Considering that this might result in a severe beating following by up to 5 years in gaol in the most squalid of conditions, these protesters must be brave indeed. Waves of young men, often strongly encouraged by their parents have headed out of Russia as fast they can with Georgia being a particular favourite as there is no need (yet) to secure a visa. I think that many politically informed young men are calculating that the reservists might be called up first and they will almost certainly follow and they have no desire to be used as cannon fodder in Putin’s war. I heard a military analyst on Radio 4 this morning as I was getting ready to go shopping who was saying that the extremely low rate of morale in the current Russian front line in the Ukraine was all pervasive. This being the case, Putin’s hold on the areas that he has invaded must be a little tenuous to put it mildly. Perhaps, and this is being optimistic, things might come to such a pitch that the Russian soldiers might capitulate quite easily and the army collapse rather like a dam being breachd. Most predictions, though, are for a long slog in which it takes months, if not years, for the conflict to be resolved.
This afternoon was rather dominated by the fact that I walked down into town to fulfil a doctor’s appointment arranged a week or so ago. I joked with the doctor that whatever symptoms you have seem to diminish once you were actually sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. Actually, I was not unpleased to be making a visit down into the town because I needed to pick up some of the labels that I use to label my damson gin bottles. I had ordered some of my favourite design that I had used for years and they had been delivered to the Ryman’s store in Bromsgrove. Having picked up my ordered labels, I paid a visit to the carousel where the labels are usually stored and Sod’s Law sprung into operation as the store happened to have plenty in stock. Nonetheless, I bought several extra packets of labels so I now have sufficient not only for this year but for some years ahead. I also took the opportunity to get an important letter posted – it is quite rare for me to commit anything to the post these days. Then it was a walk home thrugh some gentle rain – Meg and I treated ourselves to an an ‘autumn’ type tea in which we make a thick mushroom soup combining the remainder of last week’s mushrooms with a tin of mushroom soup.
The international news is of course dominated by the news from Russia that Putin is going to try and mobilise 300,000 reervists to fight in the Ukraine. Our own Ministry of Defence (MOD) is arguing that the Russian president is likely to struggle with the logistical and administrative challenges of even mustering the 300,000 personnel. They are also saying that it is unlikely to be combat effective for months and the move is effectively an admission that Russia has exhausted its supply of willing volunteers to fight in Ukraine. The MOD continuedby saying that even this limited mobilisation is likely to be highly unpopular with parts of the Russian population and that Putin is accepting considerable political risk in the hope of generating much needed combat power. Although the censorship in Russia is incredibly pervasive, in these internet days many young Russians are undoubtedly discounting whatever Putin has to say and relying upon other news channels to find out what is going in their own country.
Today started of as a fairly gloomy day with a lot of low hanging cloud but rain did not seem to be particularly imminent. By the time we were were ready to collect our newspaper and go for a walk in the park, having exchanged news with our domestic help who calls around on a Wednesday, the sky had turned a brilliant blue and we had an hour or so of very pleasant sunshine. This was not to last and when we eventually returned home, the skies had clouded over again. In the park, we met as we often do with Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker who was still making progress across the Floria Keys, according to the app on his smart phone. We also chatted with several dog owners that we know reasonably well by sight and speculated whether the dogs were even more keen to meet with each other in the park than their human owners were. After we returned home, we raided the fridge to see what kind of a meal we could rustle up and eventually settled upon making a risotto with some low carb rice that we had in stock, some kippers for the protein element and enhanced by vegetable stock, fried onions, petis pois and grated cheese. This all went down very well, I am pleased to say and then I proudly displayed to our domestic help the 42+ bottles of last year’s damson gin that I had recently bottled as well as the 7.35 litres of damson gin that I have just prepared from this year’s harvest. There is no need to panic just yet but I will be eagerly collecting some thirty 220cl bottles which I will need before Christmas for this year’s bottling. I still have a few smaller Kilner jars of damson vodka which I will get round to bottling in the next week or so but in the meanwhile, I thought it might be quite a good idea to sample some of this year’s vintage. So I took a smallish bottle, as yet unlabelled, and we cracked it open to see how it tasted. Meg, our domestic help and I all shared a little tipple and I am delighted that the quality this year is probably as good as ever and may even have exceeded last year. Last year’s preparation had been slowing maturing for a year now, rather than the more conventional fifteen weeks, and this extra maturation time may account for the perceived superior quality. I normally have a bit of a panic on just before Christmas to ensure that I have adequate supplies to provide each of my Pilates class members and some of the staff at the physiotherapy centre a little surprise Chrismas present. This has become a regular event now over the years so I suppose the word ‘surprise’ is a bit of a misnomer. Most of the damson gin is given away to friends anyway, so the amount that I drink myself is fairly minimal but having established a tradition, it is a little hard to break.
This week is a fairly quiet week, socially but next week will be far busier for us. On Monday next, we will be making a one day visit to North Wales for the funeral of Meg’s Uncle Ken. However, we have a good meal booked for us in a country club that we know well from previous visits that will ensure that we arrive at the crematorium reasonably rested and well-fed. Aterwards there is a church service and a post funeral ‘bash’ in the Methodist hall near to the church. Then on Tuesday, I shall be going off (on my own) at the invitation of some friends who live in South Oxfordshire and have invited me down for the day and I will be travelling to them by train. We also have a visit to the dentist next week and also our COVID vaccine booster jab.
Today has been the day when all the businesses in the country have been waiting to see how the government are going to help them with thir escalating fuel bills. Provision has already been made for the ‘capping’ of energy bills for domestic consumers and from 1st October, business customers (including schools, hospitals, voluntary organisations) will have their bills set for 50% of the wholesale price with the government responsible for any further increases. This will hold for six months but a review will be held after three months to see if there are any particular sectors under extreme stress. I think the general view is that we must ‘wait and see’ as it is reported that the energy costs of some businesses has been increasing five-fold. I am not sure why the rates for businesses should have such a dramatic increase compared with domestic consumers but without some financial support from central government, we would have seen business closure on a massive scale. As it is, the costs for supporting the business commnity will run into tens of billions of pounds and may be at least half of the costs of the furlough scheme which paid the wages of workers in the economy during the pandemic. Meanwhile the value of the pound has fallen to a 37-year low which will stack up even more costs for future generations (or ourselves) to bear.