Saturday, 31st December, 2022 [Day 1020]

We wake up today to the last day of the yer of 2022 and I imagine that for many people, it is a year best forgotten. The New Year is always a time of good intentions, wonderfully expressed on some sports gear whch I saw advertised in the Aldi supermarket middle aisle a few years ago. I think that the caption read that ‘Exercise is for all year, not just for January’ and one wonders how many good intentions actually persist beyond the month of January. According to the long range weather forecast, we should prepare ourselves for another spell of freezing cold, Artic air during the month and we could well have several public sector strikes occurring at the same time and reinforcing each other. Many will have credit card bills to pay now that Christmas is almost well and truly over and one would anticipate that the amount of footfall that the average High Street will experience will be radically reduced and quite a few retailers may well go to the wall. Today, Meg and I picked up our copy of the newspaper (about which more later) and then made for Waitrose coffee bar. Here we met up with a couple of our pre-pandemic friends and then our University of Birmingham friend turned up by prior arrangment. Fortunately, I had taken with me some spare bottles of damson gin/vodka and a big slab of Christmas Cake which we had taken with us but which we did not want to have hanging over us indefinitely over the New Year. So we distributed our little presents according to who wanted what and then indulged ourselves in some of the luxurious Waitrose large mince pies which they originally sold at a price I cannot imagine many people paying but they seem to keep halving the price every day until their supply is exhausted so at that greatly reduced price, we thought we would say goodbye to 2022.

The edition of ‘The Times‘ is always particularly interesting at this time of year. They devote a lot of the Saturday supplement (which today conveniently falls on the last day of the year) to some of the outstanding political cartoons of the year, as drawn by Peter Brookes, the cartoonist for ‘The Times‘. Reproduced are the one or two really prescient cartoons that are a commentary upon the political events of that particular month. What makes the cartoons so interesting is that Peter Brookes tries to combine the element of two current stories into one cartoon – if you have followed all of the political events of the year quite closely, then you can discern the connection between the two stories. Fortunately, a little commentary is added below each cartoon to jog our memories and remind ourselves of the events in question. This is a publication not just to be flipped through idly but lingered over with real pleasure because each cartoon always contains some little details to bring a smile to the lips.

We seem to have had quite a few little presents lately. Our Irish friends from down the road gave us some little Christmas treats both to eat and to drink so we have something with which to toast the New Year. And when we eventually returned home, our new neighbours had very kindly donated some of their freshly prepared parsnip soup to us to we will have this when we return from Church this evening. We are not quite sure what to expect in the church service this evening. I am not sure if New Year’s Eve has any real liturgical or religious significance in the church calendar. On the other hand, the death has been announced of the Pope Emeritus Benedict at the age of 95. It had been evident for some days now after the announcements of the present Pope that the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict was slowly slipping away and so I wonder whether any funerial elements will be present in tonight’s service. As it happens, Meg and I were in Spain with a cousin at the death of one of our recent Pontiffs – it may have been Pope Paul II. We heard solemn tolling of church bells at a most unusual time which may have been about 7.40pm in the evening and assumed that it must be an event such as the death of a Pope. The following day, the Spanish seemed to have organised an impromptu procession (a ‘romeria’ it may be called) and the local population had all got dressed up in their national costume and then processed under a succession of banners and candles (which, mysteriously, seemed to be suddenly available for sale) and we all processed from the cathedral church in Santiago to the city boundary (at which point we left so we do not know how it all ended)

New Year’s Eve has a tradition well known amongst the North British known as ‘first footing’ but when we lived in the South of England, people had not heard of it. Just after midnight, a tall dark man is meant to run through the house, entering by the front, bearing a lump of coal and leaving by the back, probably consuming a glass of whisky en-route. As I was part of a single parent household, my mother used to simulate this by tying a lump of coal round the cat’s neck and throwing it out of the front door – through which it would hastily reenter.

Continue Reading

Friday, 30th December, 2022 [Day 1019]

It was a busy day, one way or another. Very early in the morning, I rationalised one of those corners (is there one in every house?) where various things needed sorting out and putting away. I managed to rationalise a whole series of charging cables for mobile phones/iPads as well as a variey of plugs, adapters and other diverse charging cables. By and large, these are not interchangeable with each other so on another day, I will have to work out what cable works with which device. Then as it was a case of throwing our clothes on, collecting our daily newspaper and then heading for a friend of ours who is a French widow who had invited us for a ‘Christmas’ We were equally delighted to discover that our good friends, the Irish couple who happen to be the next door neighbours, had also been invited so we made up a very happy group of six. The conversation, jokes, reminiscencies and discussions about recent TV programs carried on apace for at least a couple of hours and then we popped home at about 1.30 in the afternoon. As we had been comsuming nibbles most of the morning, we did not need nor had we any real desire for much lunch so we did make do with a cup of packet soup before we started to think about the elements of our entertainment in the afernoon. On the spur of the moment, I did a last minute switch of two small occasional tables we have recently purchased to populate our newly commissioned ‘music room’. As a result of these switches, my heritage mini hi-fi system which I have relocated to our dining room to be used when we are entertaining now has its own little specialist table which is exactly the right size, and which occupies an unobtrusive niche and is a much better match with the surrounding furniture. The specialist little tables which I bought from the Oxfam shop in Harrogate now populate the ‘music room’ and the little table lamp which has an ‘autumnal’ look and feel shade now goes perfectly on the little oak tables. So all in all, although I was full of trepidation whether the switch would achieve the desired results, now that it is complete I am delighted I was bold enough to have performed it and I am more than pleased with the overall net gains.

This afternoon was devoted to a Christmas entertainment of our new neighbours who have been in their new house for about a week now. We had already bought a selection of party food when I visited the supermarket on Thursday so preparation was as simple as it could be. Instead, though, of balancing food on our knees, we decided to have our preliminary chats in our dining room and then, at an appropriate juncture, move into the dining room which we have recently tidied up considerably and where we can sit and chat with each other across the table whilst we eat. This revised plan was a great success, enhanced by the fact that I could have our newly music hi-fi playing some quality Christmas music gently in the background. When you meet new neighbours for the first time, there is always quite a lot of background information to impart and some of the questions we can answer whilst some (who is responsible for which fence) we cannot. I gather from the conversation at the end of the afternoon that they might be quite good soup makers as we were promised a sample of some parsnip soup enhanced with a bit of a specialist curry. Stretching back into my memory, I seem to remember that Baxters used to create a parsnip soup enhanced with a curry type spice but I may be mistaken in this. Anyway, I feel we have got off to a good start and I suspect that in the months ahead we may be sharing bits of our culinary tradition and delights with each other.

The media is naturally filled with the news of Pelé’s death who seems, by common acclaim, to have been probably the greatest footballer the planet has ever seen. The pundits are talking of Pelé, Maradonna and Messi but comparisons between them is difficult as they were of such different footballing styles. In 1958, he became the youngest goal scorer in the whole history of the World Cup and then scored twice in the final for the first of the three World Cups in which he played. Although the world’s greatest every player may have died, his legacy lives on. Neymar, the Brazil forward who moved level with Pele’s record of 77 international goals during the last World Cup, said: ‘Before Pele football was just a sport. Pele has changed it all. He turned football into art, into entertainment He gave voice to the poor, to the blacks and especially: He gave visibility to Brazil.’

This year, we have carried on with the tradition, well known in Yorkshire, to serve Christmas cake with a slab of cheese (preferably Wensleydale) on top of it. In my teenage years, in the the pub, the landladies used to serve this regularly to the patrons but I doubt the tradition survives to this day.

Continue Reading

Thursday, 29th December, 2022 [Day 1018]

I got up at an early hour this morning and spent some time getting all of my Christmas card impedimenta (spare cards, envelopes, news labels, address labels, address books and so on) neatly put away for next year. Because getting the Christmas cards is always done in rush, then I find that all of this has to be tidied up at a later date and that later date is today. I need to ensure that everything is ship shape so that when the season comes along next year, I will be ready for the off.
Today was my normal shopping day at Aldi’s but when I got there at one minute to eight, I witnessed an extraordinary sight. There was a queue of about 20 people (mainly young men) and the minute that the store opened, there was a dash for one particular carousel in which a special sports drink, called ‘Prime’ was being made available in a special promotion. The special drink advertised as a ‘hydration drink’, contains mostly water added with vitamins and minerals and has few calories with no added sugar. I was told by a staff member that the drink sold at £10 but was retailed at Aldi for £1.99. This appears to have been a demand completely artifically created by social media (TicToc for example). It seems incredible to report this but according to Google, some people have been queuing since 6.00am this morning at some stores to acquire the drink and the queue has amounted to hundreds in other stores. The regular shoppers and I exchanged some mutters in which the common sentiment was that the world had gone mad, that people had more money than sense and similar sentiments. This should have been a fairly light week after the heavy Christmas shop of last week but as we are having neigbours around we needed to buy some types of party food and some extra alcohol such as a white, a red and a Prosecco to cater for all tastes.

After breakfast, Meg and I went on the road to a furniture warehouse which both receives and sells second hand furniture. We need a small occasional table for a particular use but when we got to the warehouse, it was evidently closed. It looks as though they may not start normal business for a few days so shall have to keep my desires in check for a few days yet. Then we returned home to have our elevenses at home. This afternoon, our son and daughter-in-law are due to call around so we did a bit of a tidy up before they arrived. Then we had an interesting afternoon, consuming some of a special sweet they had brought with them whilst we showed them some of the ways in which we had equipped and now use the room which we have now christened as ‘the music room’ My daughter-in-law and I spent some time discussing two outstanding documentaries that we just happened to see on the same channel last night. The first of these was an examination of the Bayeux tapestry in the light of modern knowledge and scientific research. By examining the tools of the craftsmen, for example, one can learn by what methods their long boats were constructed. The second program was fronted by Chris Packham (the naturalist) on the subject of Tyrannosaurus Rex. We now have the accumulation of much more scientific research that argues that this dinosaur’s history needs to be re-thought. For example, the absolute crushing force of the dinasaurs jaws has now been convincingly calculated. It is also probable that the dinosaur’s gait owes more to birds than to mammals and the huge tail was probably used as a counter-weight to the enormous head whilst it was running.

We have a situation in which travellers coming from China are not, as yet, tested when they enter the UK. It is now known that the main airport in the Italian city of Milan started testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on 26 December and discovered that almost half of them were infected. So are we risking missing new variants by not testing people from COVID hotspots? The UK, which was led by PM Boris Johnson when the pandemic took hold in 2020, has been criticised for its handling of the public health crisis, having been slow to spot the infections arriving and late with a lockdown compared to other major countries. The big worry for scientists and officials is new variants entering the UK which could be more virulent and more contagious than the ones already circulating. My own guess on all of this, and it is only a guess, is that the UK will impose restrictions but maybe it is a case of ‘too little – too late’

Tomorrow will be quite a full day for us as we have accepted an invitation for coffee in the morning with our French friend down the road. We have a slight clash of engagements as we also got an invite to visit our Irish friends who happen to live next door but we will have to seize another opportunity whilst we can. We are then entertaining our new neightbours from across the green who only moved in a week ago so this will prove to be a useful ‘getting to know each other’ afternoon tea.

Continue Reading

Wednesday, 28th December, 2022 [Day 1017]

The weather today has been wet and windy all day, but not particularly cold although unpleasant enough. After Meg and I had breakfasted, we made a little excursion along Bromsgrove High Street to buy a few things not available in the supermarket. We made a trip to the Age Concern furniture shop wondering if they have a small occasional table for which we have a need. As is often the case, the only thing we really fancied was already sold (and at a very good price just to rub salt into the wound) Undeterred, we pressed onto the well known Cobblers shop which had sold me a replacement watch strap a week or so ago. This had never functioned exactly as it should have done as the central spigot was just a tad too short which meant that it would not engage properly in its intended ‘hole’ thus popping out and rendering the watch strap (and hence the watch) unusuable. In the shop, the assistant confirmed our diagnosis that there was probably a manufacturing fault but rather than suppling us with a new watch strap just replaced the buckle at the end (which I did not know you could do). This now works perfectly and the shop replaced the buckle free of charge to us (they have an excellent reputation for quality service – I use them to glue back the leather band which runs around the rim of my leather hat when it works its way loose after a year or so) We then proceeded on our way and bought some cosmetics from one of the stores we use regularly in the High Street. So we proceeded back home to warm ourselves up with a packet soup in a cup before we started to prepare lunch. On our way into our house, we noticed that our new neighbour was bobbling about doing some outside work and so we seized the opportunity to ask him amd his wife around for the traditional Christms tea-with-neighbours (mince pies and sherry?) and they confirmed later in a phone call that they can pop around on Friday, to which we can look forward.

This afernoon, there was broadcast the full length feature film of ‘Dad’s Army’ with the original cast and although we had seen this several times before, it was the kind of film in which you can read in the background or what have you if you did not want to give the film your undivided attention. The scene in which two German airmen parachuted out of their stricken plane reminds me of story that I was told whilst I was resident in Hampshire in the South of England. The story was told that in the Battle of Britain a young German airman was shot down and the location of the parachute was located on neighbouring moorland by the local group of fierce women who provided a type of territorial defence source. These doughty women made their way rapidly to the location of the young airman who who was obviously terrified and knowing that he could not evade capture, he put up his hands as the universal signature of surrender and cried out ‘Don’t shoot’ The reply from the monstrous regiment of women was quintessentially English and was to the effect ‘We do not do that kind of thing – we are British. Would you like a cup of tea?’

A fairly extraordinary event is unfolding within the confines of China, with the rest of the world looking on in a kind of fascinated horror. With China’s strict zero-Covid policy scrapped, the virus has swept through the country, leaving over 50% of the population of Beijing thought to have been infected – and the city’s hospitals are feeling the strain. There are a few videoclips of patiets lying on the floors of hospital wards as there are insufficient beds and there is an assumption that 50% of the patients will die of COVID. The root of the problem lies in the fact that the Chinese relied upon an exceptionally strict lockdown policy in order to contain the virus, trying to stamp out transmission by effectively confining people to their houses for weeks at a time. As this was the major thrust of policy, comparatively little effort was paid to vaccinating the population – the elderly were left very unvaccinnated compared with us in the West and the Chinese elderly population were in any case a little suspicious of Western technology, favouring of course traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese authorities are now reaping the whirldwind and one wonders whether they import much superior vaccines developed in the West at the risk of losing considerable face or whether they are prepared to watch their population die in hundreds of thousands. Presumably, this is quite a risk to the rest of the world as well and several countries are already insisting on a COVID free certificate before it will admit visitors from China. The Chinese, paradoxically, are soon to relax all of the controls upon their citizens travelling abroad so we have the possibility of a significant source of infection to the rest of the world. The attitude of the World Health Organisation seems unclear and I have not heard of any announcements from them to date.

Continue Reading

Tuesday, 27th December, 2022 [Day 1016]

Today being a Tuesday, we normally have two regular commitments but I have no Pilates class today, as my Pilates teacher is having a well-deserved break with her family. Instead, we knew that we would probably bump into old friends in our local Waitrose coffee bar, which indeed we did. First, though, we took the opportunity to pop the car into an adjacent car washing lot run by a group of Kurds and, anticipating that they might be very busy, we did not mind leaving the car with them for an hour whilst we had our coffee. In the event, the car wash was practically empty so we made our way into Waitrose where we met two of pur pre-pandemic friends, to be joined a little later by our University of Birmingham friend. At this time of year, many people were in a relaxed state and our friends were no exception so we spent a very jolly hour laughing and joking over goodness knows what. Some of our collective memories go back to the 1960s so we regaled each other with stories of some of the exploits of ourselves and our friends when we were young and fancy free. Eventually, we made for home and a rustled together lunch, some of which was the final consumption of the vegetables excess to Christmas Day and just requiring a quick heat up in the oven.

The quality television viewing for today starts at about 5.00pm with a filmed Jane Austin (‘Persuasion‘)which has good reviews in ‘The Times‘. This afternoon there seems a diet of ‘Carry On’ films in which innuendo is displayed to excess and which one does not particularly watch as such but have on in the background whilst one engages in reading or other activities. As I write, there is a transmission of what can only be ‘Carry On Up the Jungle‘ ridiculous in the extreme. For example, out of the corner of my eye, I can see a nubile young woman divesting herself of her clothes in order to go for a swim whereas they are are appropriately appropriated and then worn by a passing gorilla. On wonders what the audience figures might be but I suppose they were relatively cheap to make even half a century ago and there must be some people who have never seen them before and find them even faintly amusing. Incidentally, a very quick Google search did reveal that Barbara Windsor and Sid James had an affair that started off with ‘Carry On’ films that lasted for about ten years altogether. In her autobiography, Barbara Windsor confesses to quickies with a string of men including gangsters Reggie and Charlie Kray, Ronnie Scott of jazz club fame), entertainer Anthony Newley and Bing Crosby’s son Gary. She also had a one night stand with George Best about which she kept silent for at least ten years.

I have got to say that I rather like this time of year when Christmas Day has both come and gone and one is free to relax from the pressures of having to prepare for Christmas but before ‘normal’ life returns just after New Year’s day. I know that our University of Birmingham friend feels just about the same and Christmas has no particular attractions for him. I can well understand how he feels and I promised to buy him a ‘Bah! Humbug’ Christmas hat if I happen to see one. I only mention this because when we were up in Yorkshire recently, a photo was being passed around of my brother-in-law who died just over a year ago wearing a cap, complete with slogan, so I suppose he felt the same way. I seem to remember a few years ago, Channel 4 which is meant to provide a more alternative form of TV, provided an alternative form of Christmas entertainment for those for whom Christmas is a period of the year to be got over with as quickly as possible. This seems to have been a very good idea and I wonder why the idea did not achieve a bit more permanence.

There are some traditions, though, that persist over the course of time. One of the most famous is a short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s that has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although ‘The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One’ is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace. This has become so much of German culture that it is shown every single year without fail but the interesting thing is that hardly anybody in the UK knows about it. No doubt a Google search will reveal it and a link to it. In the meanwhile, we have traditions of our own such as Boxing Day sales, not to mention the Boxing Day meets of ‘the hunt’ One observation that I read on this was words to the effect that if members of deprived, working class communities went rampaging through the streets hunting ‘vermin’ such as ‘foxes’ then the full force of the law would be brought against them. But somehow, the norms are different when it is the British upper middle classes, mounted on horseback and doing essentially the same thing.

Continue Reading

Monday, 26th December, 2022 [Day 1015]

Well, we survived Christmas Day all right. As the results of most of terrestial TV were so poor (and for some indiscernible reason our television refused to let me have access to any programs over the net), we finished off on the Drama Channel watching ‘The 39 steps’ adventure film. Although we had seen this twice before, the plot is full of twists and turns and also worth a look even for the umpteenth time. Today, the sky was beautiful and clear but there was quite a sharp nip in the air. We collected our newspaper and then made for the park. Meg was feeling the cold somewhat so although we had prepared a hot drink for our elevenses, we did one circuit of the park and then retreated home in order to enjoy our comestibles in the comfort of our own home. Lunch today was very easy to prepare as I had a lot of vegetables cooked yesterday that just required a re-heating in the oven and we had the remains of the beef to work our way through. After lunch, I actually quite enjoyed one of the many black and white war films which the channels are wont to show at this time of year. This one was ‘Sink the Bismarck’ and it was quite an interesting watch. Much praised for its historical accuracy when it was made in 1960, it focussed as much on the background planning as it did the actual operations in the theatre of war. Several of the actors who featured in the film had actually seen service during the World War II. One thing, in particular, that struck me about the film was that at the moment of destruction of the Bismarck, there was no overt triumphalism either amongst the crew of the attaching British frigates nor in the backroom planners, directing the operations. The film also portrayed that the conflict was not without loss as HMS Hood, then the biggest British warship, was sunk in the early stages of the conflict. Also, I had not realised that aircraft carriers were deployed during WWII and they carried a big cumbersome biplane called the Swordfish which, nonetheless, proved quite effective in softening up the Bismarck before the warships moved in for the final kill.

Almost inevitably, when the days are short and the nights are still long, the festive period is still quite reliant upon the TV to provide the population with some entertainment. Tonight, though, is is going to be the first of the Royal Institution Christmas lectures aimed at teenagers but still of interest to the adult population. The series of three programmes are to be given by a forensic scientist so these might prove quite interesting given the advances that have taken place particularly in the fields of DNA analysis. The newspapers at this time of year are inevitably a little on the thin side but one particular feature in ‘The Times’ caught my eye. Readers had been asked to send in alternatives to the King’s message and the published contributions were hilarious. The ones that particularly caught my eye were the contributions from Larry T. Cat, the resident Downing Street moggie wth gems such as ‘That man and his dog had to go. They were loud, feckless and sometimes flatulent’ Other contributions were published from Paddington Bear, Dylan the Dog, Meghan Sussex and Vladimir Putin amongst others. There was also a fascinating article which also gave one pause for thought. There was an account of a British biotech firm which is attempting innonative new approaches in modern healthcare. They take as their starting point that often in medical science, one has a person has become sick then there is an attempt to explore what it is that is making them ill in the first place and then search for a cure or a remedy to combat the disease/illness. The approach of the biotech firm was to turn this paradigm on its head,as it were, by posing the question ‘What is it about those are who are long-lived or well into their old age that keeps them so fit?’ They raise the possibility that they are attempting to explore that perhaps some infection that they had acquired earier in their life had so tweaked their immune system that more serious illnesses, even including various cancers, can be repelled or mitigated? This appears to be an extremely interesting and novel approach and I wish the firm every success if it starts to nibble away at what might be said to constitute ‘the elixir of life’ There is also the paradox that some people lead particularly unhealthy life styles instead of diet and exercise and survive into ripe old age whilst yet others try to look after themselves but fall at an early age.

At this time of year, there are often ‘review of the year’ type programmes and Sky News, for one, is attempting this kind of analysis. There used to be a programme broadcast called ‘photograph of the year’ or something similar and month by month the photogapher who had taken a particularly iconic photo explained the circumstances that lay behind their fortune in being at the right place at the right time to capture the mood or story of the moment.

Continue Reading

Sunday, 25th December, 2022 [Day 1014]

Well, Christmas Day has arrived and I must say that it almost seems like reaching an oasis in the desert, once the pre-Christmas rush has completely subsided. We got up at about the normal time and sent text mssages principally to our family to wish them well. Once we had got breakfast out of the way, we spent a certain amount of time FaceTiming first our own son and his wife and then my sister. I must say that in our initial messages, my sister seemed a little down as she is feeling the loss of her husband quite keenly. Although she lost him about 13 months ago, last Christmas felt like a bit of a blur to her but this Christmas, she was feeling her loss so much more keenly. However, I hoped that in the contact with my sister, we managed to cheer ourselves up a bit. In particular, my sister gave me details of an advance copy she has just received of her grand-daughters soon-to-be published novel, which is due for an official launch in late January. I was read some of the acknowledgements and dedications in the book in which various members of the family received copipous mentions. To some extent, this was a source of consolation to my sister and quite an interesting Christmas present in in its own right. After getting detail of it, I got onto Amazon and ordered a pre-publication copy of the book guaranteed delivery and price after the official launch) My sister is going to journey up to Newcastle where there is going to be an official launch by Penguin Books, probably in a bookshop. So it will be an interesting read when it arrives – to what extent is there a bit of autobiography baked into it, I ask myself?

Cooking of the Christmas dinner is always a question of logistics. Fortunately, the veg had been prepared yesterday afternoon and the beef (our preferred choice on Christmas day) was started in the slow cooker at 7.30am this morning. After that, it just a question of when to start off what. Meg and I finished off our last little drop of genuine Manzanilla (type of Fino sherry) and then I started food preparation at about 11.30. I was assisted by recently discovering a CD of ‘good’ Christmas music by which I mean music especially composed for or relevant at Christmas time but not carols as such. I particularly enjoyed some Bach, Handel, Palestrina and a Berlioz favourite, often played on ClassicFM, which is ‘The shepherds farewell’. On the spur of the moment, I decided that we would eat in our dining room instead of the kitchen where we often eat when there are only the two of us. So I set the table with our special cutlery and lit some little electronic type candles to add to the atmosphere. My recently liberated little inherited Sony music centre sits nicely on a black plastic tray and is such is highly transportable. So I popped this into the dining room and we had some of our favourite music playing to accompany the meal. Christmas dinner worked out absolutely fine with nothing either under or over-cooked and no culinary disasters. However, I do have a failing to which I freely admit and that is that I tend to prepare Christmas dinners that are just a tad too large. To complement the beef, Yorkshire pudding, parsnips, carrorts and sprouts with chestnuts I did have some ‘herby’ type pre-cooked potatoes that just need a quick microwaving. But in the event, there was not space enough on the plate so this will will have to wait until dinner tomorrow (ingredients of which are all already prepared)

Later on this afternoon, I fitted out a spare wire aerial I had to the Sony system (having ‘liberated’ its own aerial to make the Panasonic system usable) and it worked very well. I then spent a certain amount of time getting the presets the way that I wanted – this required a quick consultation with the manual but in the event I got it working just fine. To be honest, I tend only to listen to three stations regularly so I am pleased to have this system working the way I want. I am now in two minds whether to keep the system transportable as it were or make a more permanent location in our lounge but I will have a think about this. I have to say that the fare on the TV today has been particularly dire – many of the comedy programms are half a century old and whereas in the past there was often an opera or a ballet on the TV at this time, it looks as though this year is going to be a disappointment.

I have not seen the new King’s Christmas message to the nation but only excerpts of it on the news. But already there is talk that praising the role of the public services at this particular time is straying into the ‘political’ I always thought that subtle political messages were conveyed by the monarch’s broadcast although not party political. It may be that the new King had decided to be somewhat less anodyne but a pity if the powers that be get offended at this stage.

Continue Reading

Saturday, 24th December, 2022 [Day 1013]

Well, Christmas Eve has arrived and in some ways this is a day of blessed release in that what has not been done will remain undone for the time being. The only remaining task today was to post various Christmas cards through the letter boxes of friends who live down the road. The card should, in all honesty, have accompanied the bottles of damson gin distributed yesterday but they had been ‘forgotten’ in the rush. Halfway through the morning, we got a telephone call from our domestic help who indicated that one of her senior elves (aka her husband) was on his way round to deliver a Christmas present to us, some of which consist of some of home baking for us to enjoy. At the same time, I managed to share some of the supplies of vermouth with her which was desperately needed for some cocktails but could not be got for love nor money at short notice. I also let her have some of the special biscuits which our new neighbours kindly gave us us a present. I trust her judgement in helping to decode the interesting flavour but I have a feeling is probably a combination of both ginger and cinnamon. After this visit, Meg and I made our towards town, delivering the last of the Christmas cards and picking up our daily newspaper. Of course, tomorrow being Christmas day it is a non-publishing day but I always think it slightly strange that the production staff on newspapers have to work on Christmas Day to produce a newspaper for Boxing Day. We had not visited the park and sat on the park bench for what must a couple of weeks but as it was a fine day, but cold, we prepared some elevenses and sat in the park to consume them. On our way out of the park, we met up again with a lady who we know by sight but whose name I did not know until I enquired further. She said that she hd not seen us in the park for some time but we pointed out that with the spell of cold weather, we had tended to avoid the park and to drink coffee in the warmth of the Waitrose cafe as well as having been away for a few days. We exchanged some gossip about the huge new housing development which is now taking place on a bare hillside not far from her house – why this area was never designated as ‘Green belt’ in the past I do not know. We were both wondering whether when hundreds of new houses are built but the road network remains substantially the same, whether an additional 2.5 cars per household (both parents and eventually teenagers when they acquire a licence) might mean that Bromsgrove becomes one of the first towns in the country to be absolutely gridlocked in the rush hours with nobody going anywhere.

We had a simple lunch this lunchtime and then at 3.00pm I engaged in the traditional task of preparing the vegetables for the Christmas meal tomorrow, accompanied by the annual service of carols and readings from King’s College, Cambridge which is always broadcast at 3.00pm on Christmas Eve. My mother, whem she was alive, used to say that Christmas started at this point of time and on this occasion, I agree with her. The preparation seemed to be be concluded quite quickly and I do not think I have forgotten anything vital. I have tried to make the Christmas dinner not too big this year which is a constant fault of mine to which I admit being prone. We are going to leave a quarter of an hour earlier to attend the church service this evening as I suspect a full house for a change. The church was eventually filled to the rafters, as you would expect at Christmas and Easter. But we had a duo (guitar + vocalist) who were playing/singing Christmas carols. As you might expect, the service was longer than usual with several of the usual Christmas additions. Most Christian services at this time are heavy on symbolism and even to the convinced atheist or agnostic one can always appreciate the symbolism of the transition from darkness into light. In our church, this is evidenced by the church in semi-darkness until such time as the child Christ is taken from the crib at the back of the church and brought up to the altar (symbolising birth)and the lights are gradually restored. We were delighted to see two old friends who used to attend the Saturday evening service but have now transferred their allegiances elsewhere. One is a Geordie and the other a Liverpudlian and they are both great chatter boxes. I had the forethought to take some Christmas cards with me (signed inside but not addressed to anyone) and I was pleased I could pass them onto old friends. We returned home to a really nice soup I had found in the supermarket (chicken and smoked bacon) and then we finished off with ardennes pate and roquefort cheese so we felt we had had a rather superior homecoming to our normal fare on a Saturday evening.

Continue Reading

Friday, 23rd December, 2022 [Day 1012]

Today has been quite an interesting day. We allowed ourselves a little bit of a lie-in this morning and then realised that we were probably going to meet up with friends in Waitrose cafe so decided to get our skates on. It was raining this morning and not the best morning for delivering Christmas presents – nonetheless as we made our progress down the road, we delivered two lots of damson vodka and damson gin to some of our nearest neighbours and another three lots of the same spirit to some of our more distant frinds before making for our newsagent. I had written a Christmas card for him but although I remember writing it, I do not remember actually delivering it. The message that I put inside was something like ‘Thank you for all of your magnificant service during every day of last year’ and suddenly I got smitten with a degree of self-doubt.If I had actually written this, to whom had I actually delivered it? I just hope it wasn’t one of my female friends or acquaintances who was the recipient of the message. To show I am not the only one going a little ga-ga during this Christmas season, we actually received two Christmas cards from our Italian friend down the road. One was a huge and magnificent card received about ten days ago whilst the other was a more conventional card popped through the letter box just today so our friend, too, was getting confused about whether we had been the recipient of a card or not. I was pleased to be lightened of the delivery of my bottles of cheer even through the pouring rain and then Meg and I made for Waitrose cafe where we were soon joined by our University of Birmingham friend. We had an interesting chat about some films and other programs we had seen on PBS America. This is broadcast on Channel 84 Freeview and, according to Google, ‘PBS America showcases the best of Americas Public Broadcasting Service, with a rich factual schedule including landmark history series by Ken Burns (Vietnam War, Jazz, The Civil War), FRONTLINEs in-depth current affairs investigations and NOVAs science documentaries.’ When we have tuned into it for the sake of anything better, there seems to be a preponderance of material relating to past world conflicts and I do not recall any science documentaries but perhaps better luck in the future. After our friend departed, we took the opportunity to buy some extra Christmassy type things like extra supplies of sherry in case any of the neighbours pop around, some French vermouth which I needed to make myself a good dry martini on Christmas day morning and I found some chestnuts as well.

Meg and I had a fish-based ready meal which we enjoyed with ‘cavolo nero’ kale which seems to go particularly well with fish and then we settled down to watch some afternoon Christmas TV, We had just started watching a modern day version of ‘Call of the Wild’. I had not realised before that this book is one of quite deep meaning. It is a story of transformation in which the old Buck— the civilized, moral Buck— must adjust to the harsher realities of life in the frosty North, where survival is the only imperative. Although not a true story, Jack London’s novel is a fictional adventure novel. However, London did spend time in the Yukon area before writing this novel, so his descriptions of the area are accurate and realistic. The novel is now 117 years old but a cuddly, animal story it is not, nor is it meant to be. The novel is quite a savage commentary on modern life but we did not have time to digest any of the deeper significance of the story because after about ten minutes or so, the doorbell rang and it was one of our new (Asian) neighbours coming to introduce herself. Yesterday afternoon, we had bumped into her husband and givem him a bottle of wine and a Christmas card. Today, she was reciprocating but with a wonderful box of biscuits which we enjoyed over a cup of tea. When time permits after Christmas we promised ourselves a more intimate sherry-and-mince pies type of get together where we can get to know each other better. I think we are going to have an enjoyable set of new neighbours. They have three grown up sons all working in the area but spend a certain amount of time back in India where they spend some 2-3 months a year. In the meantime, when we intimated that we had aways enjoyed a good curry once a week when Alastair, one of university friends and flatmates, had shown us how to prepare a ‘proper’ curry, the offer was made to come round and enjoy a good authentic curry which they will make for us so we are looking forward to this. The biscuits which were the gift were a most interesting flavour – at first taste, I thought they were just ginger but they have another spice and I think that they actually might be a ginger plus cinnamon mixture. Later on this afternoon, I got our little cribs put into operation – one is modern, Indonesian made balsa wood whilst the second is a beautiful creation in a curved wooden design (vaguely like the palm tree in the Koranic version of the Nativity) which we bought in Chester cathedral a year or so back.

Continue Reading

Thursday, 22nd December, 2022 [Day 1011]

Today was a day for getting up early and getting all of the Christmas shopping done. So I arrived at the supermarket door at 7.55 only to discover that the supermarket doors had already been open for an hour to accommodate the Christmas shoppers. Nonetheless, the store was not particularly busy and so the shopping was relatively straightforward, apart from the fact that the extra Christms stock tends to mean that some regular items get displaced. Nonetheless, I got almost everything I wanted save for the fact that chestnuts were nowhere to be found and the store had completely sold out of its excellent and award winning mince pies. Tomorrow, Meg and I are probably going to pop into Waitrose in any event to have a rendez-vous with some of the cafe regulars, so that will be the opportunity to buy any last minute ‘forgotten’ items. Needless to say, the shopping always takes a certain amount of time to unpack and one has to hunt the space for the ‘Christmas overflow’ but I suspect that Christmas Day being on a Sunday this year somehow makes the food buying less of a deviation from one’s normal pattern. What struck me this year was the fact that some of the veg prices seemed ridiculously cheap – for example, a swede, parsnips and a cabbage were all being sold for the price of 19p. I seem to remember a few years ago that one of the local supermarkets had evidently massively over-ordered some of their Christmas stock and were actually giving away free pre-packed bags of parnsips as you entered the store. I must say tht I have known some horrendously crowded supermarkets stores in the day or so before Christmas probably in the 1980’s and I happy that those days have gone.

This afternoon was the type of afternoon when all of the normal TV schedules have been abandoned and the Christmas season is well and truly kicking in. This afternoon, for example, we were offered a choice between ‘Casablanca’ on one channel and ‘Paddington’ on another. We chose ‘Paddington’ which we have seen several times before but I love the jokes contained within it. I have always thought that ‘Paddington’ was not just for children but can be enjoyed by adults at another level. In the late afternoon we watched a ‘spoof’ Nativity play (in which everythng was designed to go horribly wrong and it did not disappoint) I just wonder of any fervent Christians will send in letters of complaint, though. Whilst watching the TV, I wrote up some of damson vodka/gin labels and later on tonight, they can be affixed to the bottle which can themselves be wrapped up. Wrapping up bottles is not a favourite activity of mine but you get better at it once you perform it multiple times. Tomorrow will be the day when all of these bits of Christmas spirit get distributed to friends up and down the road and after that I may be able to relax just a little as all of my Christmas preparation will have been done.

Yesterday , we witnessed the first of a series of strikes by ambulance men. There were indications that the government were secretly very worried about this particular strike (people dying is never good publicity) but it looked as though members of the public thought long and hard before calling an ambulance and hence demand in the system was down yesterday. However, today we have seen some of this pent up demand pushing up calls to the ambulance service and the next few days will be critical as well. The volume of rhetoric is increasing as well – the government (or rather Barclay, the Health Secretary, was particularly trenchant in his criticisms of the ambulance men in effect accusing them of allowing people to die to make a political point. Needless to say, the unions involved have hit back equally hard arguing that the government has allowed this situation to develop by refusing to discuss pay, indirecly therefore cutting the real wages of ambulance staff. So far, public opinion has been supportive of paramedics, ambulance staff and nurses but the government may be waiting until they feel that the public has had enough and the pressure of public opinion forces a change in the union’s stance. This is not at all likely and two further and more intensive strikes have been called for January so the New Year may well start off in an even more hostile industrial environment than we have at the moment.

I have just a final note on my newly installed audio system where I am getting really good reception on ClassicFM (to which I listen a lot) but some interference on Radio 4 and occasionally Radio 3. Last night, I conducted a little experiment and managed to improve the FM reception on Radio 4 to quite a large extent (i.e. elimination of FM hiss in the background) by the simple expedient of moving the aerial to a new position some 6″ to the left of where it was (and held in place by a map pin) Why this should be so I do not know and do not really care so long as I get reception within acceptable limits.

Continue Reading