Tuesday, 31st January, 2023 [Day 1051]

Meg and I look forward to Tuesday mornings because we typically meet some of ur pre-pandemic friends in our regular visit to the Waitrose cafe. When we arrived, I saw one of the regular Waitrose staff who is regularly in charge of the flowers and shrubs section and wondered why today they seemed to be overflowing with all kinds of products. She informed me that they were starting to get ready for Valentines day which will be in two weeks time or so. In common with many other outlets, they were getting ready in plenty of time. I suggested to her that we should rename it to ‘hanky panky’ day, which term I gather dates from about 1841 so is nearly two centuries old. I do not think the store will take up my suggesstion but my contact within the store expressed surprise that I had never engaged in sending valentines (apart from to my old friend who has since died when I pretended it came from his very first girlfriend whose name he indisceetly imparted to me. I sent him disguised valentines for several years but he never let on that he knew that I was the sender although the card that I sent him did do the rounds of his family) Once we sat down for our coffee, it was like a gathering of the clans because eventually three of the old regular i.e. pre-pandemic crowd turned up and we had a good laugh and joke with each other. As locals from the same part of town, more or less, we were discussing some of the local issues to do with car parking and the nuisance that it causes. One of our number was highly indignant because she lived in a property at one time under the control of the local authority and for the last fort years there have been large stones situated outide her house which might have been decorative but have the function of stopping casual parking in front of her house. But a van had reversed into one of these stones and then complained to the local authority even though he was technically trespassing onto their property. Some ‘jobs worth’ in the local authority had arranged for the stones to be removed even though they had been there for decades whereupon people now started to park half on the road and half on the grass thus allowing their vehicles to transgress on the area previously occupied by the stones. I suggested that she write to the council suggesting that they restore the site to the ‘status quo ante’ and also try to enlist the help of her local councillor to whom this ought to be a bread and butter issue but I do not hold out much hope. After a jolly hour together, we all went on our way and I prepared for my weekly Pilates class which is a regular fixture on a Tuesday. On the way down into town, I left five minutes early so that I could go to an ATM and also dive into our local Asda from which store I buy one or two items not easily obtainable elsewhere. As I had not visited the store for a few weeks, some of the things I wanted either could not be located without a great deal of searching or were in a different place because they had reorganised where things are on the shelves and therefore they took some searching which took the time I did not have. I located three of the four things I wanted and abandoned the search for the last item – I suppose it is one of the frustrations of life that stores reorganise themselves on a regular basis but I personally do find it frustrating, particularly for items that you buy very infrequently.

There has been an important report by the IMF this morning which has coincided more or less exactly with the third anniversary of Brexit i.e. the date upon we formally left the EU. In the latest update of its economic forecasts, the IMF says it expects the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) to contract by 0.6% in 2023. To add further humiliation for the chancellor and prime minister, most other countries around the world saw their forecasts upgraded. Downing Street has insisted that the UK’s economy is strong despite the International Monetary Fund’s warning that Britain’s economy will go into reverse this year and will fare worse than all other advanced nations – including Russia that is in the middle of a war and subjected to many international sanctions as a consequence. In its latest World Economic Outlook update, the IMF downgraded its UK gross domestic product (GDP) forecast once again, predicting a contraction of 0.6% against the 0.3% growth pencilled in last October. In the media discussion today, the reaction of Tory MPs and others on the extreme right is fascinating. Almost to a man (and a woman) they just refuse to accept the report of the IMF because it does not conform to their world view. An important factor in the IMF downgrade was the damage done to the UK economy by the disastrous premiership of Liz Truss who tanked the economy and had to be ejected after six weeks. Ater journalists put the report to Liz Truss asking for her to comment, she just refused point blank – that is to say, she literally had no answer to the criticisms made of her.

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Monday, 30th January, 2023 [Day 1050]

Today being a Monday and a day when we did not anticipate much social contact, Meg and I decided that we would try a walk in the park as we do not seem to have done this for several days. Whilst we have taken the opportunity to meet up with friends and acquaintances in the Waitrose cafe we have done so but today seemed as good a day as any to resume what has been our normal pattern of activity over the past year or so. Today beckoned fair and the weather seemed to be a lot milder than of late. However, by the time we were installed upon our customary park bench, an especially icy wind seemed to spring up from somewhere so we drank a hasty coffee and then beat a hasty retreat home. We were not particularly sorry to do this as I could get Meg warmed up with a bit of buttered toast and apricot jam and we were just in time for the daily Politics show at 12.15. As might be surmised, the analysis was very much upon the sequelae of the sacking of Nadhim Zahawi and the response of the PM, Rishi Sunak, who seems to acted decisively. By all accounts, the report landed in the PM’s inbox by 7.00am and within the hour Zahawi had been sacked for multiple breaches of the Ministerial Code. When you read the account of the Prime Minister’s advisor on ethics, Sir Laurie Magnus, (his letter/report printed in full in ‘The Times’) then seven breaches of the Ministerial code were detailed and they are nearly all repetitions of the same principle i.e. the failure to inform either the Cabinet Office or the Permanent Secretaries of various ministries in which he had held office of the fact that his tax affairs were under active investigation by HMRC. Zahawi’s defense is that he thought that he was just having ‘discussions’ with the Inland revenue but not being ‘investigated’ – but this defence has cut no ice with the independent investigator or with media commentators. It is a strange feature of modern politics that the offense of actually hiding £27 million in an offshore account and then failing to declare it to the Inland Revenue was not in itself the sacking offence but it was the cover-up or the failure to come clean about these investigations. So like the Watergate enquiry that was to prove the downfall of Richard Nixon, it was not so much the original offence but its cover up which was to prove the decisive offence. Students of British political history may well remember the Profumo affair in about 1962 when Jack (John) Profumo was having relationships with two ‘good time girls’ Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, whose favours were also being shared with a Russian spy. These relationships were not to prove the decisive events that led to Profumo’s downfall and subsequent resignation – the actual offence was the fact of lying to the House of Commons about it.

This afternoon we are having a quiet afternoon, playing some of our favourite music. We have just listened to Mozart’s ‘Grand Mass in C minor’ This was written for his newly-wedded wife, Constanze, but Mozart never wrote all the sections needed for a mass, and the first performance—with Constanze as soloist at the Abbey of St. Peter’s back in Salzburg— may have used supplemental music. Yet even in its unfinished form, says Zohn, ‘The music is Mozart at his most dazzling. You get Mozart the opera composer, Mozart the composer of sacred vocal music, and Mozart the explorer of Baroque counterpoint…all wrapped into one.’ Tomorrow is going to be quite a busy day for us one way or another and I am spending some time running off and reading some documents for a meeting that I have at our church tomorrow evening.

Some recent research has just revealed how people are coping with the cost of living crisis as inflation has exceeded 10% although it may now be down very slightly. The very first economy to make has been streaming services and Britons cancelled £2 million of streaming services last year in order to make ends meet. It is also reported that young people are struggling more with the cost of living crisis than the COVID pandemic and the younger generation are anxious in particular about the costs of having children. But we are living in times when people have grown up to accept a certain standard of living and may not be very knowledgeable about the ways in which one might economise. As a university student, we all know that the secret to live economically was to invest in things like a bag of rice or a sack of potatoes to keep you going for weeks and we all knew how to prepare a cauliflower cheese for one meal a week. A small joint of meat would be cooked for the Sunday joint and then quite a lot was reserved for meals for two more days in the week. The remaining small fragments of meat (or bits of a chicken carcass) would be thrown into a curry much later in the week. In fact, having prepared curries in our student days, we are still in the habit (half a century later) of preparing one each week using the small amounts of protein provided by the meat or chicken fragments.

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Sunday, 29th January, 2023 [Day 1049]

Today being a Sunday my normal habit is to get up quite early and go down to collect the Sunday newspaper before settling down to watch the politics programme on BBC1. However, we knew that later on today we were going to meet our University of Birmingham friend in Waitrose (as we had arranged yesterday) so this morning I allowed myself the luxury of an extra couple of hours in bed. Then we collected our newspaper just before popping into Waitrose where there appeared to be lots of families enjoying a Sunday morning treat. Our University of Birmingham friend always has lots of topics of conversation to discuss and today we settled upon sporting issues. As he is a keen supporter of our local rugby team here in Bromsgrove, we were discussing the likely impact of the rule changes in rugby that we may see come into effect in the Six Nations competition which starts on Saturday. The new rule, which has been introduced for the best of reasons to reduce or minimise the chances of head injury, is not to allow any tackles above the waist. How this is going to be interpreted and put into effect by referees might actually prove enormously difficult, with the best will in the world. On a rugby field, opposing players are likely to be running at speed and/or be in a semi crouched or a bent forward position so the new rule change might be very difficult both for players, coaches and referees alike. So after this, we both discovered in the past that we had been followers of Leeds United football club which is not a much followed team outside Leeds these days. But back in the 1960’s the half-back line was Jack Charlton (Bobby Charlton’s brother), Billy Bremmer and Johnny Giles. In addition, Paul Reaney played at full back as well as Bell (first name forgotten) and Norman Hunter whilst Peter Lorimer often took penalties as it was reckoned that he had the hardest (and therefore fastest) shots in football and penalties were almost completely unsaveable, even if the goalie dived in the right direction. The legendary half back line and defence were so good as it was said by some of the Leeds supporters that Gary Sprake (the Leeds goalkeeper) was regarded as somewhat fallible even though he was good enough to play for Wales and therefore the half backs ensured that the ball never got anyhere near him. The legendary nature of this defence (and Leeds were not a pretty team to watch) is that occasional supporters such as myself and our University of Birmingham friend can still remember the names of the players some half a century later.

Before we even got as visitng the Waitrose cafe the news had broken, two minutes into the Lorna Kuennsberg program, that Nadhim Zahawi had been sacked earlier that morning. The report from the Prime Minister’s adviser on ministerial ethics had reported to Rishi Sunak that Zahawi had committed several severe breaches of the ministerial code and therefore Rishi Sunak found it easy to dismiss him immediately. Perhaps conscious of the fact that he has been judged as weak and indecisive, Rishi Sunak did not give the minister the chance to resign but there was an immediate and decisive sacking. Most of the commentators and members of the politicl elite thought that this should have happened days, if not weeks, ago, The interesting question now is where Zahawi will resign as an MP or be deselected by his Stratford consistuency – in ‘vox pop’ interviews aired over the last few days, he has little to no support locally so I should not be surprised if he stands at the next election and then leaves politics altogether.

This afternoon, Meg and I watched Jane Austin’s ‘Emma‘. The only reason that I mention this is because it was the book that I studied for my GCSE ‘O’-level in English Language. The opening sentence of ‘Emma‘ and I quote, runs as follows: ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her’ I remember at the time going through an ‘angry young man’ time in my adolescence and upon reading this first sentence my lip curled and I wondered how on earth I could find anything remotely interesting given this start to the novel. In particular, I could think of nothing in the ‘handsome, clever, rich with a comfortable home’ with which I could possible identify. I think when you study a book for ‘O’ level, you have read the text minutely several times and then built up a mental image of the characters in your mind. So it is especially interesting to see how all of this is portrayed on film because, in my day, you never had the opportunity to see a film of the classic novel chosen for you. In retrospect, I still sometimes wonder whether Jane Austin can be fully appreciated by 15 year old male students of whatever ethnicity and I am unsure whether Jane Austin is still on the curriculum for school pupils of this age.

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Saturday, 28th January, 2023 [Day 1048]

Once we had got ourselves up and breakfasted and enjoyed our weekly diet of Alan Titchmarsh on ClassicFM, we make our way down to Waitrose and met up with the same pre-pandemic friend with whom we had had a chat yesterday. She was telling us of the frustrations that she was havng with the ‘Power of Attorney’ document which she was trying to register with some of he appropriate financial institutions. In one of them, which I shall not name, the institution should have taken a photocopy for their records but only succeeded in losing one of the pages of the original document (which required another visit to the solicitor to replace the missing page) after which the financial institution in question did not succeed in making a legible copy of the document in question and our friend had to be called back again with her document for fresh photocopies to be made. Whether the whole of this transaction has ended with a happy resolution I am unable to say but the root of the problem always seem to be that personnel do not pay sufficient atention to detail and hence errors occur and accumulate. Certainly, if one were to take a survey of the transactions that ‘ordinary’ people have with the financial entities with which they have dealings, I am pretty sure that most of us would have some tales of woe to recount. I would surnmise that with the prevalence of financial fraud not to mention outright money-laundering that quite obsessive bureaucratic procedures have been put in place which are onerous in the extreme for us, the law-abiding, whilst probably not deterring the professional money launderers that the procedures are designed to prevent. That London is at the centre of dirty money is quite widely accepted, but the crisis in Ukraine has once again put the issue in the spotlight according to Thomas Mayne, visiting fellow at Chatham House, an independent think tank that focuses on international affairs. Transparency International UK recently reported that such ‘questionable funds’ could be to the value of GBP 6.7 billion. Properties in the central London areas like the City of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea form a huge part of this value. After listening to our friend and her travails, our University of Birmingham friend turned up by prior arrangement. We are swapping little bits of electrical equipment with each other but nothing extremely exciting (a battery tester and a little transformer power supply) There are several little technical questions I wanted to ask my friend as his technical engineerng knowledge is evidently far superior to mine. We will probably meet again tomorrow in Waitrose and start off here we left off today. We both share an interest in rugby (football) and as the Six Nations will start off next weekend, no doubt we will have a lot to discuss.

There are several stories doing the rounds at the moment about some of the turmoils happening within the BBC. In both TV and radio, the story is more or the less the same. Under the pressure of rampant inflation, the license fee model under threat and a feeling that the BBC is top heavy, then a series of reorganisations seem to be taking place. This is having the effect that even seasoned and well-respected journalists and presenters are having to reapply for their own jobs. It will come as no surprise that any presenters that come into the categories of being white, male and middle aged do not fare well in these interviews even though their careers have been exemplary. I share some feeling for these personnel because even in my last post I was constantly being told how expensive I was with the implicit message that two junior and inexperienced saff could be appointed at the bottom of the respective salary scales for the same amount of money as my salary. If this is happening all over the country, it may help to explain why there seems to be an exodus of staff aged in thir fifties who have either been given the ‘heave-ho’ by their employing organsations or decided that there is a better life out there once one reaches the stage where the mortgage has been paid off and children have passed through university.

I always have the same feeling on Saturdays that big political ‘exposés’ are often revealed in the Sunday newspapers and evidently Saturday is the day when the political journalists are sharpening their quills, as it were. Sometimes it happens that the revelations are such that the politician feeling the heat feels that that they have no option but to resign sooner rather than later. Evidently Nadhim Zahawi is awaiting the results of the investigation into his tax affairs which may well take a fortnight to conduct, but I have a feeling in my bones that he will be gone long before then. Apart from his tax affairs, there is information that his wife received a £30 million unsecured loan (from whom?) which was not declared in the Register of Members Interests The loans were made to a business called Zahawi and Zahawi, and reportedly used to fund part of a large property portfolio including commercial and retail units in Birmingham, Brighton, London and Walton-on-Thames in Surrey.

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Friday, 27th January, 2023 [Day 1047]

So the end of another week and we were looking forward to see which, if any, of our acquaintances would turn up to Waitrose for a morning coffee. We did coincide with one of our pre-pandemic friends and as we did the last time we met, we exchanged some words of mutual support for how to care for ailing spouses. Our friend seems to be having a particularly hard time at the moment as she herself has health problems of her own and the assistance that she often needs to give to her husband does not fall within the window of time slots afforded by the care slots allocated to her. I told her the story of my mother who, when she was recovering from a broken hip and needed a care package at home, often had some difficulties with the care assistants who had been allocated to her. Her increasing deafness undoubtedly made for all kinds of communication difficulties. The thing that she found distressing (and I suspect that this is a very widely shared feeling) is that she was never quite sure when the care workers would make an appearance. There never seemed to be a regular care worker and therefore it was difficult to establish any kind of social relationship. I suspect that my mother had great difficulties in making her needs felt and from what we know of accounts of care workers themselves, they only have small increments of time in which to perform whatever duties thay have been allocated in the care plan. The question always remains, of course, whether we walk exactly in the footsteps of our parents when we approach their age. It does seem, though, as though we come to inherit the worst rather than the best of the characteristics of our parents but hopefully we can all learn from their example either positively or negatively. When we got home, we cooked a very nice dinner of smoked haddock with mangetouts and a baked potato and, as an experiment, tried a small smidgeon of sweet chilli sauce to see how it would work out (which, in the vent, was very well indeed).

This afternoon, we had a quiet afternoon as we were were expecting the visit of our chiropodist with whom we have a monthly appointment to help to keep us both super mobile. Before she was due in the late afternoon, though, we did enjoy a little concert of some Palestrina of which we just happened to have a CD. We both find this baroque music extremely relaxing. Primarily known for his masses and motets, which number over 105 and 250 respectively, Palestrina had a long-lasting influence on the development of church and secular music in Europe, especially on the development of counterpoint. This may well not be everybody’s ‘cup of tea’ but once in a while, it is an extremely good listen. I am still experimenting with all of the facilities on my Polaroid BoomBox and one which is extremely useful is the Bluetooth option. This means that I can play any of the hundred or so tracks that I have (somewhow) stored on my very much outdated iPhone selectable from anywhere in the room. The actual range of Bluetooth is some 10 metres or 33′ but I have never experimented with anything other than a few metres.

I follow Beth Rigby, the Sky News interviewer and analyst quite closely because she often seems to get to the heart of a story way before the BBC or other channels. She is now saying (as are many other commentators) that Rishi Sunak’s integrity is taking a hit as he prolongs the pain over the Tory party chairman. As one minister pointed out to her on Wednesday, what really mattered here was not the conflict of interest of Mr Zahawi being the chancellor while he was in dispute with the HMRC or what the PM knew when. What matters here is the naked optics of a cabinet minister receiving around £27m that he did not initially pay tax on when people were struggling to make ends meet. It is always interesting when fellow Cabinet ministers do not rush to the support of any of their colleagues when it evident to practically everybody that there is no long term future in the government. Meg and I tuned in to ‘Question Time‘ on BBC1 last night to get the view of ‘the man in the street’ (which happened to come from Scunthorpe on this occasion) and all of the panelists and the vast majority of the audience wanted Nadhim Zahawi to go now – one or two audience members thought we should wait until the results of the enquiry are known (like Rishi Sunak’s desperate effforts to play for time) but the general mood of the public is clear by now. Sir Rod Stewart, a prominent Conservative party supporter until hitherto, has now had enouh and has got into contact with Sky News to indicate (yesterday) that he had changed his allegiance as he said: ‘Change the bloody government.’ Naturally, this is like manna from heavan for the Labour Party and for us most of us observers the question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ the resignation and ultimate fall from grace will happen.

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Thursday, 26th January, 2023 [Day 1046]

Thursday is my shopping day and I was pleased to get going well before 8.00am without having to defrost the car’s windscreen – I think that the temperature overnight was exactly 0 degrees so not cold enough for a heavy frost to form. After I got the shopping home and unpacked, Meg and I breakfasted whilst listening to Hayden’s ‘Creation’ which disks arrived this morning. The version I got must have been the fullest version as it came on 2 CDs and I felt that I was supporting home industries as a (very youthful looking) Simon Rattle was conducting the Birmingham Philharmonic. I found the program booklet extremely informative as Hayden wrote it intending it to be sung in eiher English or German. I think it might have been first performed in Vienna (to rapturous acclaim,evidently in German) but apparently the Englist text was not so easy to adapt to the natural phrasing of the musical score and the first attempt tranlating from the German was a rather botched affair – subsequently, this has been worked upon and the English text now seems to sit nicely within the musical parameters. By the time we had breakfasted, the morning was progressing somewhat so we decided just to have a wander up and down the High Street in Bromsgrove instead of doing a circuit of the park. When we go to the end of the High Street, I looked inside the Age Concern furniture shop as I am on the lookout for a little occasional table and have, in the past, been extremely successful in a delightful CD cabinet/display case which they had on offer and is now sitting in our ‘music room’. After that, it was a case of getting home, having a cup of warming soup and then progressing on with our quite simple lunch of quiche. I prepared some cavolo nero and I had some tomatoes spare which, after a quick microwave, I dressed with a little mayonnaise (on one) and spicy chile sauce on the other. I only mention this because the results of what might be quite a banal lunch turned out to be exceptionally tasty so I must have done something right.

This afternoon as been a ‘musical concert’ afternoon which drags us away from the TV for an hour or so. In the spirit of experimentation, I have now relocated my (not so little) Polaroid Boombox on a chessboard (made, I believe by my father) and this sits on one of those fabric storage units bought with our suite decades ago. I am not sure if these are properly called a ‘pouffe’ or not but they are relatively large and contain things such as CDs and DVDs. I think they were manufactured to be exactly the same height as the sitting position of the settee and the chairs so that they form a natural extension to the furniture if you want to use it in that particular way. We have two of these which sit snugly on either side of the fireplace and fortunately, they are both on castors the more easily to be wheeled about. My point here is that I can pull out the unit for want of a better term with the CD player on the top of it and thus gaining a metre and angling the CD player somewhat means that we can have the volume of sound we would get from a full scale HiFi. It must be a tribute to the quality of the electronics design and/or the speakers that even at maximum volume (which is not needed) I cannot discern any distortion of the sound even when the volume is turned up to a maximum. I have been enjoying Cecilia Bartoli singing Mozart arias and as well as being a source of great pleasure, her incredible phrasing and high notes helps to test out the capabilities of the Polaroid to its maximum.

The Zahawi affair is rumbling on and is likely to do so for another ten days or so. It is reported that Rishi Sunak wants the whole enquiry process (‘to establish the facts’) to be cleared up as quickly as possible but this affair is not going to go away. The media and the news bulletins are running the story constantly and occasionally there are some contradictory accounts- so there must be some ‘porky pies’ (= lies) going on somewhere. The Times reported that the PM was ‘livid’ that he not been properly informed of Zahawi’s tax affairs when appointing him as Conservative party chairman but this has just been flatly denied by No. 10. However, in a meeting with MPs on a select committee, the chief of HMRC has stated that ‘there are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs’ But the concept of ‘carelessness’ in tax law is equivalent to that of ‘negligence’ in other spheres of life and from this we can conclude that Nadhim Zahawi has not just made a simple mistake but committed a transgression for which a penalty is payable and which he has, in fact, paid. So this would appear on the face of it to be an admission of guilt even before any enquiries are actually concluded.

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Wednesday, 25th January, 2023 [Day 1045]

Today is the day when our domestic help calls around so, as always, we have a good chat and a cup of tea before she starts on her weekly round. This morning I showed her the little German weather station which I purchased when we were in Droitwich last Thursday. The weather station deploys a thermometer, the barometer which is the largest dial in the centre and finally a hygrometer and my researches on the web show that it is a fairly well known make of West German manufacture and identical versions are still on sale via eBay. We were quite keen to watch Prime Ministers Questions today at 12.00pm so we had a brief walk in the park, once we had picked up our daily newspaper. We bumped into two people in the park who we know quite well by sight. As they were regular dog walkers they were having a chat whilst their respective dogs had a romp around. Eventually, though, we got home and we were wondering whether the Prime Minister had forced the resigation of Nadhim Zahawi after the tax avoidance scandal where he paid nearly £5 million to HMRC in past taxes including a 30% penalty. The attack on the PM by Keir Starmer was fairly effective but there was no knockout blow and, as we suspected, the PM by instituting an enquiry into the tax affairs of the Conservative Party chairman, was either buying himself some time or kicking the ball into the long grass (possibly both). There was no rush to defend Nadhim Zahawi and it is reported that Conservative MPs may be losing some faith with their parliamentary colleague but as often happens in politics, a certain amount of playing for time may work to the advantage of the government. A new development has been added to the story this afternoon as No.10 has refused to say whether Rishi Sunak has ever had to pay a tax penalty arguing that an individual’s tax affairs should remain confidential. But the same question has also been asked of Keir Starmer the Labour Party Opposition Leader, and the reply has been received that this is not known but the spokesmen would get back to the enquirer in due course.

The foreign news is dominated by the decision of West Germany to let Ukraine have some Leopard 2 tanks. This policy shift has occurred after a great deal of soul searching and some understandable ‘angst’ in view of their past history. However, it may well be that a certain log jam may well now be released. There are rumours that if the US contributes some of its Abrams tanks after the West German decision as now the Poles may commit some of their Leopard 2 tanks (as the manufacturers and the West German government have to give permission) and other European governments may well follow suit – and a number as much as 100 has been mooted but this may be optimistic. The Ukrainians are saying that they need 300 tanks altogether but once they have a goodly number, then the Leopard tanks can probably outrun, outgun and prove to be generally superior to their Soviet counterparts. So if we have an old fashioned tank battle (like the North African theatre in the Second World War) then the Leopard tank is likely to prevail. The military implications of all of this is that the Ukrainians can move from defense to a more aggressive strategy which can gradually push the Soviets out of Ukraine altogether. But all of his will not happen immediately as the critical element is the training of the tank crews and this takes a certain amount of time. In fact, it is said that the American Abrams tanks are so bristling with technology that the training times are likely to take perhaps months rather than weeks before they cen be deployed. So committing American Abrams tanks may be more of a political support move as Joe Biden has just announced that training troops to use this complex technology may well take a long time.

A new report released today has documented the stark differences between North and South in our country – and why levelling up may never be achieved. The North of England receives one of the lowest levels of investment among advanced economies, a think tank (Institute for Public Policy Research) has said. Greece would be the only OECD nation to see less public and private investment, if the region was a country, according to a new IPPR North report. Researchers found the UK as a whole ranks 35th out of the 38 OECD countries in terms of receiving the least investment. Slovakia, Poland and Hungary all enjoy more investment than the UK. If the OECD average was applied to the UK for 2017 to 2020, £397bn more would have been invested. Meanwhile, the exisiting ‘levelling up’ shows all of the examples of what the Americans term ‘pork barrel’ politics. Pork barrel, or simply pork, is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to an MP’s constituency (e.g. Richmond in North Yorkshire which has received funding and which just happens to be the constituency of the Prime Minister himself)

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Tuesday, 24th January, 2023 [Day 1044]

So Tuesday has dawned which is the day for our regular weekly visit to the Waitrose coffee bar, where we hope to bump into some of our regulars. No sooner had we got ourselves in place and enjoying a repast of muffins and coffee, one of our pre-pandemic Waitrose friends turned up and we started chatting again about musical topics as in a previous conversation, she had revealed to us that she used to sing regularly in a choir and that her son had been a music editor with Decca records. I know from another friend, not with us today, that our friend actually had her 89th birthday last week so I am going to note down the actual date of her birthday so that hopefully, I can remember it next year and, as it a ‘big’ birthday, reward her with a cake or something similar. Our friend indicated to us that she had been invited back to sing in the choir now that the Covid restrictions are no longer in force. When I asked her if she knew what the choir was going to practice in their next session and did you need any sheet music to participate, she informed me that she knew the piece already as it was Brahm’s requiem. It also emerged in the conversation that she had sung Mozart’s Requiem and was very familiar with Handel’s Messiah having, in the past, sung some of the solo mezzo/contralto cantatas. We must have known our friend for some three years now and she has the demeanour of a quiet and unassuming person, so I was amazed to discover that she was so talented. The popular expresson, not much heard these days, is not to ‘hide ones light under a bushel’ which seems rather a strange expression until you go back to its origins in the New Testament (Matthew 5:15): ‘Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick.’ which is drawn, I suspect from the King James Bible.

After the experiment of last night in which some sections of the population were attempting to save all available power between 5.00pm and 6.00pm, I got onto my account with my energy supplier to see if, in these days of SmartMeters and accounts that can be calculated by the minute, I could tell how much energy I had saved (or points accumulated). I was a bit disappointed to be thanked for my participation and then informed that it would take them ‘some days’ to calculate the actual contribution I had made, which was disappointing. Then came the news that the National Grid was going to repeat the experiment his evening but over a longer period of time – not an hour this time but an hour and a half from 4.30pm until 6.00pm. I decided to try a somewhat different strategy this evening, in view of the longer time period. So I decided to turn off all of our major consumers of which the greatest at this time is a Baxi electric fire which supplements the central heating on really cold days. But I did leave on a really low energy lamp in our living room and the TV itself and I did dig out a blanket which I threw over Meg and for myself, I put on a extra thick jumper. Apart from the electric fire, it is actually quite difficult to save energy whereas for other people, it just a case of rescheduling activities. For example, in the TV reports of how this experiment was proceeding, the case was given of a nurse who typically came home and threw her uniform (and other family washing) into the washing machine when she got home at 5.00pm and I would imagine that this particular family could save quite a lot of energy in the relevant time slot by just using the washing machine an hour later than was her custom. It will be interesting to see if the experiment will run for several more days and whether, in fact, the combined efforts of many of us will have succeeded in averting the use of either or both of the two coal-fired power stations that are standby in case they are needed. Perhaps a large advertising campaign that just encourages people to move activities away from the pressured 5.00pm-6.00pm slot would be a good way forward.

In my walk back from my Pilates session, I took particular care to look at some of the trees and shrubs in the gardens that I pass on my walk back home. I noticed about three trees/shrubs where, if you looked carefully, you could just about discern some buds that are waiting for the advent of spring. Although no biologist, I get the impression that some plants do an initial budding from deep within their stems and then put the process into abeyance once the cold weather starts. But then, when we get some spring like weather, the trees and shrubs can get off to a flying start. It is also possible that we shall have another high pressure/cold weather snap in February which is not unusual in the winter months. Meanwhile the temperature had been up to 16 degrees in some parts of Scotland whereas the cold artic air means that Oxfordshire has experienced -9 degrees last night.

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Monday, 23rd January, 2023 [Day 1043]

Today dawned a little less cold although the high pressure/cold snap is persisting a little longer than the weather forecasters initially predicted. This morning, though, we treated ourselves to a good bowl of porridge which, as all of the health experts tell us, is full of good, slow release carbohydrates and sets one up for the day. This morning, after we had breakfasted we had picked up our copy of the newspaper and we trundled along the High Street making our way towards a card shop. There we located the section for ‘In sympathy’ cards but, as I suspected, they were both hard to find and stuck at the end of a carousel and very few in number compared with the yards of space devoted to birthday cards suitable for practically any age. This task having been completed, we made our way past our local Poundland where we popped in to see whether any of our favourite little plastic containers (that are exactly the right size for storing 20+ CDs) were in stock – and they had a goodly number in stock. We purchased three of them which ought to be enough for our needs and also bought the little felt ‘feet’ that we stick on the bottom so that they do not scratch surfaces. Finally, we visited our local Waitrose where I wanted to buy a little something as a little bereavement present for our next door neighbour who has just lost her brother. Our neighbours are now in that twilight period where they are waiting for the funeral in about 10-12 days time after which, no doubt, they can start to adjust to life without their relative. As I write, we are playing a CD of a compilation of Mozart tracks and the one playing at the moment is the aria ‘Soave sia il vento’ (‘Softly blows the wind’) which I always associate with my mother’s funeral. This is because on the night before the funeral when the coffin was present in the church all night and we had just arrived in the church car park, this aria was playing -it represesents a sort of ‘goodbye’ when the two young girls in the opera are waving goodbye to their lovers. As a sort of spooky coincidence, when we were visiting Harrogate about a year later and went past the road leading to the cemetory where my mother was buried, this track was being played on ClassicFM.

This afternooon, after we had our post-prandial cup of tea, we popped around to our neighbours with the little gift and the condolence card. She was bearing up quite well but I am sure must be feeling the loss of her brother quite keenly. I busied myself in the afternoon looking up at the stocks of CDs that we have in various places to try to pull together the various bits of both Hayden and Handel that we have as I think I will now keep them altogether and much more accessible. I rediscovered part of Hayden’s ‘The Creation’ which I had in for some time and was particularly delighted that my favourite cantata (‘The heavans are teling the glory of the Lord’) was on this particular CD but as the various parts were given their German titles, I had not immediately recognised it. By today’s post came the John Eliot Gardiner rendition of arias and choruses from Bach’s ‘St John Passion’ which we particularly enjoyed playing whilst we are having a relaxing read during the afternoon. I have relocated the Panasonic ‘BoomBox’ which I purchased incredibly cheaply a few weeks ago in a more proximate location in our living room so that we can enjoy afternoon concerts whenever we want. As I am writing this, Meg and I are engaging in an interesting type of social experiment which I think is being tried across the country. If you have signed up for this experiment as Meg and I have through our utility supplier, then you are encouraged to turn off as much power as is possible to save a certain degree of energy during a period of what may well be maximum demand. With the introduction of smart meters, it is possible to calculate exactly how much less than normal your power consumption is for this particular hour (from 5pm-6pm) and then your utility company will reimburse you some money (of the order of £2-£3). In this way, the National Grid (who may well be the ultimate funder of the scheme) may be able to tunnel through this period of maximum demand without having to rely upon some coal-fired power stations that are being kept on standby in case power supplies dip below the normally accepted safe levels. Although we can import power from continental Europe, they may not be able to supply it as their own domestic customers will evidently take some priority. A few hours later when all of the sums have been computed, I am hoping that my utility provider (‘Octopus’) will manage to compute for me how much power I have actually saved and how much money I have ‘earned’ It does feel quite exciting to engage in a national project like this, the first of its kind I think, and I will report in future how successful it has been.

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Sunday, 22nd January, 2023 [Day 1042]

The weather was supposed to be getting a trifle less cold this morning but it seemed to maintain the pattern of the past few days. I got up early as I typically do on a Sunday and then walked down into town. I was greeted by the most magnificent of layered sunrises, so much so that I succumbed to the temptation to take a photo and a video of the panoramic sky. But whether the full beauty of the different layers of colour can be appreciated in a photo, I cannot tell. The cold morning was punctuated by four ambulances, one jogger and one intrepid dogwalker, after which I was glad to get home to watch the Laura Kuennsberg (Politics) programme. For once, I thought that Laura Kuennsberg was relatively penetrating and persistent in her questionning of James Cleverley, the Foreign Secretary, who had been despatched across the airwaves knowing that much of the questionning was going to be on the subject of Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative party chairman. The story of Zahawi’s tax affairs goes back quite a long way and there have long been persistent rumours that he was under investagtion by HMRC for a large underpayment of tax. The latest facts, insofar as they can be ascertained, is that Zahawi owed a tax bill of £3 million and paid a penalty of over 30% making a total payment to HMRC of practically £5 million. The story of this tax avoidance (which is what it appears to be) is tangled but it involves the distribution of shares between Nadhim Zahawi and his father, the subsequent appearance of £99,000 and and an off-shore account in Gibraltar. The MSM (Main Street Media) have restricted themselves to the reporting of facts as admitted by Zahawi himself but the contributors to Twitter have no such inhibitions and several other facets of the affair have received a good airing. According to these accounts, Zahawi should have paid tax on a total of £17 million. When other journalists and commentators have tried to pursue this story, Zahawi’s lawyers have threatened them by the issue of a libel writ (a favourite device used by the rich and powerful when they are trying to prevent full disclosure of their affairs) Another rumour is that Zahawi was on line for a knighthood but the Cabinet Office advised against this because of the ongoing rumours about his tax affairs. From the viewpoint of the members of the public, we have a situation in which the Chancellor of the Exchequeur, ‘de facto’ head of HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) is investigating a department of which he is the titular head. But another financial type scandal has also broken in the last day. It appears that the person appointed as head of the BBC also acted as a ‘contact’ person to help arrange of loan to Boris Johnson of some £800,000 when Johnson was running into financial difficulties. Although it is being mooted that the Chairman of the BBC was the best applicant for the job at the time, the proximity of helping to arrange a huge financial loan to the Prime Minister and shortly afterwards being appointed Chairman of the BBC is noteworthy. The shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, has written to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, William Shawcross CVO, asking him to investigate the appointment process. Meanwhile for us bystanders there is an enormous air of sleaze hanging over the present Conservative party and one wonders whether Zahawi, for one, will survive as long as Wednesday which is the day for Prime Minister’s Questions. Of course, the whole premiership of Rishi Sunak himself which pledged high ethical standards and a professional deportment from his ministers is seen to be so much empty rhetoric as these scandals swirl around him.

Today has been a quiet day for Meg and I. We were not particularly tempted to go for a constitutional walk today as a freezing fog was still in some evidence. In addition, our University of Birmingham friend sent me a message to the effect that he had a heavy cold and did not want to inflict it upon us. So we stayed in and had a leisurely lunch of some unsmoked gammon which had cooked for several hours in the slow cooker this morning. The afternoon was devoted to a leisurely reading of the Sunday newspapers and a viewing of ‘Endeavour’ on ITVX (the new name for the ITV hub). Tomorrow morning, I suspect that Meg and I need to make a little foray along the High Street in search of a condolence card for our next door neighbours. They have recently had a bereavement of a brother and this comes hard on the heels of another family member who died about a fortnight ago. This remnded me of a terrible year which we had some years ago in which there were about eight bereavements in almost a few months but these were people unrelated to each other and in various parts of the country. Our close friends from down the Kidderminster Road were also setting forth today for a funeral tomorrow down in London so it is one just wishes that all of these individuals has a relatively peaceful end (and for which in my teenage years we used to pray for a ‘good end’ without fully appeciating what was meant by the phrase).

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