Tuesday, 28th February, 2023 [Day 1079]

Today was both wet and gloomy so we were quite pleased that today is the morning when we traditionally meet in Waitrose to have a coffee with friends and acquaintances. We were joined, as we usually are on a Tuesday, with one of our pre-pandemic friends whose musical career we are following with interest. This lady of quite advanced years has taken up again one of her past-times which is singing in a choir. Every week they are rehearsing Braham’s Requiem in its totality which must be quite demanding as the whole performance must be about an hour in length. Mind you, our friend started singing this piece back in 1961 so I should imagine that about sixty years of singing the piece, she ought to know it by now. But of course, the pandemic meant that all choir-type activities had to be set aside for a few years and of course one’s voice ages and changes with time. Whilst on the subject of singing, we tend to sing about three or four hymns at the service on Saturday evening. Typically, we would have an organist and sometimes we evidently have a chorister who knows the hymns well and sings them with a quite a degree of gusto so that the rest of the congregation who typically do not know the tunes can start to contribute more from the second verse onwards and any refrains of course. Last week, I found myself having to sing higher and higher and I am sure I was attempting to sing in a counter tenor range. Perhaps the organist starts off in a key that she thinks is within the range of the female members of the congregation but I was finding the range far beyond me. Eventually I had the courage? temerity? to start singing at least one octave lower and possibly two octaves lower in the equivalent of a bass voice and this I found I could manage a lot more comfortably so once I get settled on the correct starting notes an octive lower, perhaps I shall make this my default mode from now on. We chatted on with our friend for about half an hour, mainly about musical topics such as the instruments upon which we had been encouraged to play as youngsters. I suspect that most young girls of a particular age and generation tend to have a combination of piano lessons and/or ballet lessons to see if they have any natural talents. I suppose boys are pushed in the direction of football teams each Saturday morning but of course many school playing pitches have been sold off over the decades which cannot help youngsters develop any of the skills they may have. When we visted small Spanish towns in the decades when we wished to visit Spain regularly, it was quite common for each smallish town to have a football pitch arond which there was a running track which always seemed an excellent idea. But athletics and football because of their different historical roots have scarcely ever shared faciliies in this way which I have always felt was a geat shame. When you listen to young athletes in competitions, it is interesting how many of them start in one discipline and decide to have a dabble in another at which they find they are very much better. Do most long jumpers always start their athletics careers as sprinters I ask myself? And when it comes to rugby, the young men (and women) who start off in Rugby League and then change codes to Rugby Union nearly always seem to be excellent sprinters and show the opposition (and their team mates)) a clean pair of heels.

I walked down to my Pilates class in the middle of the day and by chance bumped into one of our Irish friends who invited us round for coffee and a chat next Sunday, to which we shall look forward. We had a few snatched words as our friend was enquiring about Meg’s health these days and gave us some useful advice. Then it was my Pilates class as usual but there were only three of us today so we were a little bit dowwn on our more normal four – which is still quite a small class. On my way home at this time of year, I like to spot in people’s gardens what appears to be budding. There are daffodils bursting out all over, as you might expect and a goodly number of snowdrops often found in clusters underneath some trees. But I was particularly looking out for crocuses which I think are quite sparse at this time of year. I know that certain birds play havoc with young crocus flowers but one expects to see a real abundance of both the orange and also the purple varieties at about this time but perhaps I am not looking at a very representative sample of gardens.

Today, it is interesting to see what the reaction of the Tory party is going to be to Rishi Sunak’s New Windsor Framework to deal with the Northern Irish border problems post Brexit. The reaction so far has either been positive or neutral and the Tory MPs on the extreme right of the party are merely putting it about that they are studying the text of the agreement and the deal before they are coming to a judgement on the deal as whole.

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Monday, 27th February, 2023 [Day 1078]

Today is one of those rain besmattered days throughout most of the country. As we know that we will be going to Waitrose tomorrow, we decided on a different course of action for this morning. I needed to access an ATM before tomorrow and so we decided to visit our local Morrisons which is quite a large store and has a range of goods within it. So this was our little venture out for this morning and once we had got hold of our cash we wandered around some of the shelves to see if anything caught our fancy. We did end up buying some ‘knee highs’ for Meg which she can always make use of and, whilst we were in browsing mood, I bought myself some good quality black duct tape of which I can never have too much. We availed ourselves of some pharmaceuticals and then made or home where we enjoyed our normal cup of coffee. We know that today is going to be quite a big day, politically, so we were not sorry to get ourselves parked in front of the Daily Politics program at 12.00pm on BBC2.

After lunch, I did a little sort of repair job using a wonderful little product called ‘Scratch Cover’. This is basically a wood stain, sold normally in three shades (light oak, mid oak and dark oak) and although scratches on furniture are rare, they do occasionally happen. But the product also helps to cover up other slight imperfections and helps to rejuvenate anything which is basically looking a little tired and in need of a face lift. I apply this product very carefully and so far, I am pleased with the results I have achieved.

Today we knew was going to be a huge day, politically, for Rishi Sunak. As I write, Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission President, have agreed a new deal which is to be known as the ‘New Windsor Framework’. We know that the EU and the Sunak regime have been working quietly on this behind the scene for some weeks now. So the first part of this process has been ‘hard pounding’ but fairly straight forward as these things go. However, there are two critical hurdles to be faced in the days ahead. First of all is the reaction of the hardline Brexiteers in the present day Tory party who are probaby quite desperate for the deal to fail so that Boris Johnson may return in triumph as their leader once they have helped to organise the defenestration (literally ‘throwing out of the window’) of Rishi Sunak who they hate and despise. The other signiicant player is the reaction of the Northern Irish DUP themseleves who may not be satisfied with anything less than the complete capitulation of the EU to their agenda – which is not going to happen. The Brexiteers on the Tory party, in the shape of the European Reform Group, will probably take a cue from the DUP. If the DUP completely rejects the new agreement, then the ERG will probably follow suit and there will be a massive rebellion within the Tory party. But it must be said that the Tory party has been at war with itself for decades over the whole European issue. The reaction to the agreement is developing as I write. Firstly, Steve Baker, an ex-Chairman of the ERG but now a junior government minister has given the deal the thumbs up. On Sky News he was reporting that Rishi Sunak as well as securing a Green lane for goods destined only for Northern Ireland and a Red lane for goods destined for Eire has also secured a democratic ‘lock’ for Northern Irish politicians. Once a new Northern Ireland power-sharing executive is in place, then any new European legislation to which the Northern Irish took exception would have to go through a process of litigation in the Northern Irish courts and then the UK courts before it got anywhere near the ECJ (European Couurt of Justice). This democratic lock, though, could only be triggered in the most exceptional of circumstances. This is almost like a judgement of Soloman. It means that the EU can claim that the ECJ will ultimately have primacy – on the other hand, there are so many trip wires that have been put in place then it is doubtful whether any cases would ultimately get that far. So this is a situation in which each side can claim a type of victory. The DUP themselves have not as yet rejected the deal but given a ‘holding’ statement in which they say they accept that progress has been made but significant issues remain. No doubt the DUP and ERG lawyers will be going through the text of the new agreement line by line. What the reaction of the Tory party in the House of Commons may well emerge later on today. It does seem, though, that Rishi Sunak has secured an agreement that eluded both Theresa May and also Boris Johnson. Basically,Rishi Sunak has generated a degree of trust not accorded to other UK Prime Ministers. The UK may well have taken the view that Theresa May was too weak politically to make a deal hold whereas Boris Johnson was outright duplicitous and could not be trusted to break his word.

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Sunday, 26th February, 2023 [Day 1077]

This has been an interesting day for Meg and I. It turned out to be quite a nice bright day with a modicum of wind. We received a telephone call from our University of Birmingham friend to say he was going out for the day (quite understandable when the weather was so fine) so we would not have an assignation in Waitrose as we sometimes do on Sundays. Accordingly, I made up a flask and some comestibles and we set off for the park anticipating a little walk although Meg was a little unsteady on her feet this morning. Although it seemed fine when we set off from home, we picked up our copy of the Sunday newspapers and then made our way to the park. When we got to our ‘normal’ bench, the icy wind seemed to have intensified somewhat so we did not anticipate too long a sit down. So we drank our coffee in a hurry and had a bite to eat but decided to cut our losses and get home where we could have a warming drink of some packet soup we reserve for occasions such as this. Upon sitting down to read the newspapers, the Sports supplement fell out of the pile where the sports writers were celebrating a good victory of England versus Wales last night. This put me in a state of absolute confusion because when we got home from church last nigt and had a little bit of supper upon our return, we settled down to watch the second half of the England-Wales match. The Welsh ground out a good and deserved victory against England, or so we thought. But when I saw the result in today’s newspaper, evidently something had gone amiss. I turned to our PVR upon which I had recorded the Wales-England match and then by closely consulting the date realised that we had actually watched last year’s match – which happened to have the same refeee and the same score after about 35 minutes. I had set the PVR to ‘series record’ all of this year’s matches so it was a sort of understandable mistake. What has happened to this year’s recorded match is still a bit of mystery to me but as I do not record much these days, I am never very confident about the procedure working as it should or myself being able to retrieve what I want. So late on this morning, I turned to the iPlayer instead of the PVR and did get yesterday’s match and so we could enjoy today the second half that we had missed yesterday. After that, it was a case of preparing a Sunday lunch of smoked gammon, broccoli and baked potato and then a fairly quick turn around to watch the France-Scotland match. This turned out to be entertaining in the extreme. Before the match was 11 minutes old, both teams had lost a player as a result of a red card issued after a head collision. This is the new rugby protocol to try to avoid the damage that can be done to players as a result of head injuries. After the referee, linesman and third match official had consulted with each other and looked at video replays of the two incidents, a red card and a sending off seemed to be the correct decisions. The head collisions were probably a result of over enthusiasm and micro-second misjudgements rather than foul play with intent. Nonetheless, the Scots found themselves 19 points down quite early on in the game. You would imagine that many teams would have thought that the game was lost at this point. But the Scots, to do them credit, played adventurous and sustained rugby and clawed themselves back into the match. They tended to dominate the second half in terms of possession and about five minutes before the end of the match, were only a converted try away from overhauling their French opponents and winning the match. Bt the French managed to score a try of their own and this put the whole game beyond doubt. However, the commitment shown and the skills deployed on each side really made this rugby at its best and a delight to watch.

It is now being widely reported that tomorrow may be ‘make or break’ day for Rishi Sunak and his attempts to find a solution to the problems created by Brexit and the Northern Ireland border problems. It is said that the government is ‘on the cusp’ of a deal with the EU on post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland. Sam Coates, the Sky News political correspondent has been told that an announcement over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland could come within hours. Whitehall sources have suggested Rishi Sunak is set to ‘put his deal on the runway’.Coates is reported ministers as saying that ‘We could get some form of statement. We could get some form of telephone cabinet meeting so they get updated on the content of the deal then it will be rolled out to parliament tomorrow’. What is critical is the reaction of the Ulster Unionists, the DUP and the members of the hard-right Brexit faction known as the European Research Group. I suspect that within a day we may have some high level resignations from the cabinet but that Rishi Sunak will get his deal done and members of the ERG will have been ‘seen off’. Or it is quite possible that there will be a massive revolt within the Conservative party but Rishi Sunak can always put it to the Tory MPs that they vote for any renegotiated settlement which will be regarded a vote of confidence. Should the Brexiteers revolt ‘en masse’, Sunak could threaten a general election which would wipe out most of the present Tory party (which may help to concentrate minds)

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Saturday, 25th February, 2023 [Day 1076]

Today after a leisurely start, Meg and I decided that we would go for a walk in the park, given that we are tending to use the Waitrose coffee bar somewhat more these days (if only to meet up with friends and acquaintances) But when we got to the park, although the weather seemed bright enough, there was a particularly icy wind blowing and whilst we had our flask of coffee in our rucksack, we decided that the last thing that we wanted to do was to sit down on a park bench and get thoroughly chilled by a cold wind. So we decided to do a circuit of the park round the lake and we thought we then make for home and enjoy our coffee at home. This we did and then we had a leisurely look at all of the supplements in the Saturday edition of ‘The Times‘ For lunch, we cooked ourselves some chicken mince which I found in the recesses of the freezer and then cooked some Primo style cabbage and a baked potato to accompany the meal. We knew that today was going to be another Rugby weekend and so we made sure that we had got all lunched up and then washed up before the Ireland-Italy match. One might have thought that this was going to be one of the most one-sided matches of the series, as Ireland are probably the stand-out team and the team most likely to win the tournemant whilst the Italians will probably not win a single game and finish up at the bottom of the table. But whereas a few years ago, one wondered whether the Italians could field a sufficiently good team to participate in the competition, today was entirely different. The Italians have a young and very fit team and they now play with a free running adventureness which makes for a thoroughly entertaining match. The Irish won the match now having an unbroken run of success so far in the competition but the Italians made them work really hard for their success. At one point, three quarters of the way through the match, the Italians were only four points adrift from the Irish so the game actually turned out to be a fairly tight one. The Irish did get the ball over the line on two other occasions, one in each half, where the TMO ruled (in the event, quite correctly) that that the ball was not properly grounded and therefore a try was not to be awarded. The other match this afternoon is the England-Wales match but we shall be able to watch about the first 35 minutes of the first half before we go off to church. Hopefully, we will pick up the second half when we return from church provided that our PVR has recorded the series correctly or, failing that, we hope that we can get it on i-player.

This morning, whilst browsing on the web, I happened to see a spare remote for one of our little micro HiFi systems that I have acquired through eBay recently. Remotes, particularly for older systems, are evidently lost quite easily and it can be quite hard to match up the original. It is possible to buy other remotes that advertise themselves as ‘compatible with’ but there is always an element of doubt whether although these will work with the full functionality of the original. So seeing a remote that was an authentic duplicate of the original, I successfully submitted a lower bid than the asking price on eBay. I know from a study of the relevant manual that there are certain things for which the remote is essential. For example, on my existing remote I can press the ‘FM’ button for a second occasion and this switched from stereo mode into mono which as it happens is an excellent way to almost completely eliminate the FM hiss if this should prove to be troublesome. But having ordered this remote, I then studied the details more assiduously and it became evident why my lower offer had been accepted as the vendor did state that the battery compartment cover was missing. I was a bit dismayed by this but decided to improvise a battery cover for the remote when it arrives. I was using a metal ruler to precisely fashion my duplicate cover when I had a stroke of luck in that the width of the ruler was the exact width of the missing cover. So after successfully cutting a bit of the ruler off, I successfully made a metal replacement cover the correct size for the remote. The original cover I will then use in the duplicate copy when it arrives. So all in all, I was very pleased with my little bit of handiwork which worked far better than I could possibly have envisaged and in which I admit I had a little bit of good fortune to assist me.

I am looking forward to the next few days in the political sphere to see whether Rishi Sunak successfully sees off the Brexit ‘rebels’. Matthew Paris in ‘The Times‘ was urging Rishi Sunak to be bold and isolate the rebels by making a vote for the revised Northern Ireland a vote of confidence in the government and see if the Brexit rebels dare to bring down the government and precipitate a general election.

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Friday, 24th February, 2023 [Day 1075]

Here we are at the end of another week. When I announced to the wife of the newsagent that for the Lenten period, I was abstaining from fast cars, loose women, gambling, alcohol (and chocolate for good measure) she laughed and told me that she would believe it when she saw it. Bearing this insult with good grace, Meg and I progressed to Waitrose where by appointment, we met with our University of Birmingham friend. For whatever reason, we chatted and chatted and when it was time for us to go realised that we had spent the best part of two hours in conversation. I must say it is more pleasant than sitting on a windy park bench and our topics of conversation ranged over science, family matters, our educational experiences and goodness knows what else. We were both speculating that having got to a certain stage in the life cycle, we are both relieved that we do not have to shepherd adolescent children through the times of tribulations of the modern world. At least when we were young, we participated in the sorts of activities, hobbies and past-times typical of the day. One that I remember was a firm called ‘Keil Kraft’ and when I went onto the internet to ensure that I was not suffering from false memory syndrome, there is a fascinating film on YouTube largely shot in the 1950’s and early 1960’s of the Keil Kraft factory. The video is about 15 minutes long but I only indulged in watching the first few minutes of it and if time permits I may indulge in the rest a little later. One of the more amusing bits of commentary that accommpanies the film announces that ‘no fingers were lost in the making of this documentary’ and when you saw the chunks of balsa wood fed into a circular saw with unprotected fingers only inches away from a fast revolving circular blade, you get a real feeling for how things were then. The models were just printed designs on sheets of balsa wood which you then cut out with a craft knife and glued together before covering in tissue paper, ‘doping’ it to shrink the tissue paper and finally painting it. The first one I made of these was the ‘Hurricane’ WW2 fighter aircraft and there was a brief glimpse on the video of the kit I purchased in about 1960. The firm did diversify into plastic models but it never quite captured the imagination in the same way.

Once home, we cooked ourselves a lunch of a pre-bought fish pie which I supplemented with carrots and sprouts, par-boiled and then fished off in the oven glazed with a little honey (a trick to stop sprouts smelling out the whole house) This was delicious and although I had bought some white wine to accompany the meal, I did not serve any of it up because I had forgotten when I bought it that I was going to give alcohol a miss for the next six weeks. This intention may not survive any social engagements that we have from now until Easter but at least I will have made a little bit of effort.

Today the media has been dominated by the news that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is one year old. The staff in Waitrose had put up notices asking for a miniute’s silence at 11.00am which we observed whilst having our coffee this morning but how widely observed it was in the store, it was not easy to tell. At the United Nations, there was an effort to get all of the delegates to observe one minute’s silence to honour the dead in the Ukraine but the Russian delegate interrupted the one minute to argue that all of the dead, i.e. including the Russians, should be honoured by the one minute silence. Whoever comes out with most credit from these parlour games, it is hard to day but Russian support throughout the world is limited to a handful of nations. The Chinese may be about to announce some peace proposals that may just amount to a ceasefire which would leave the Russans ‘in situ’ as occupiers and this would be rejected out of hand by the Ukrainians. Which way the Chinese jump may be critical but of course one never knows in the world of high-level diplomacy that there might be a position taken in public whereas behind the scenes other factors might be in play. If the Chinese were to supply the Russians with significant miliary aid, this might prove to be a serious escalation. It is rumoured that the Chinese may be about to supply a new generation of drones to the Russians but again it is possible that like governments in the West, the Chinese might be saying that will supply military assistance but without doing anything very much. Some other political developments are brewing as Tory MPs are being put on alert to expect an announcement over the Northern Ireland Brexit renegotiations early on next week. So the next few days might prove to be a critical test of the Rishi Sunak premiership and thus it may be ‘make or break’ time for the Brexit rebels in the European Research Group.

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Thursday, 23d February, 2023 [Day 1074]

Thursday being my normal shopping day, I arrived at my local (Aldi) supermarket expecting to see the shelves denuded of tomatoes, peppers and the like. To my amazement, the supermarket was better stocked with these products than normal and there were no signs informing custmers that they should limit themselves to only two of the shortage items per customer. The supermarket appeared to me to be better stocked than usual, which is amazing under the cirumstances. One does not think of Morocco as having early falls of snow at this time of year so the TV images are quite dramatic. There was a discussion of the reason for the present shortages of certain food stuffs on Radio 4 this morning and I was surprised that the correspondent who was discussing the supply chains that were under pressure mentioned of course the adverse conditions affecting Northern Africa and Southern Spain but also mentioned the contribution of Brexit to collapsing supply chains. I heard one government minister when asked to comment upon the shortages of foods in British supermarkets argue that this was a great opportunity for British suppliers to step in. One can only imagine the world on which certain government ministers must live of they imagine that there is a ready supplier of English tomoto growers who can step in (with sufficienty large and ripened tomatoes) within days. Then it was a case of collecting the daily newspaper, getting home to cook the breakfast and finally unpack all of the shopping.

We had decided yesterday that as today might be a bit of a wet and windy day that we make a small excursion to Droitwich as we quite often do as it is just down the road from us. We frequented our favourite coffee bar and indulged in one of their enormous teacakes which we evidently shared between us. Then we paid a visit to the charity shop which is just next door and we were quite fortunate on this occasion. We found a very elegant lined skirt for Meg which she is yet to try on but is the right size and tomorrow morning will be soon enough. I was also fortunate in acquiring a shirt in my size and favourite colour. Finally, by way of a bonus for both of us I perused the supply of CDs and acquired a double album collection of Maria Callas which cost me the princely sum of 50p. This has 2 x. 12 tracks on each of the two compact disks and we happen to know practically every piece. They were recorded between 1953-1956 when Callas was probably in her prime and aged in her early 30’s. After lunch, we played the first of these disks to ourselves and really enjoyed the clarity of the performance. We had a lunch of quiche, leeks and tomatoes and then settled down to a little cleaning and restoration job that I had scheduled for myself. In the late afternoon, we entered into a Skype video discussion with one of our former University of Winchester friends and, as we had not chatted for a bit, we had quite a lot to share with each other. Our friend’s wife is due to undergo surgery in about ten days time so the couple are making sure thay are not exposed to any COVID which would delay the operation. All in all, we chatted for about an hour and a half altogether, some being political discussion and wth the recounting of amusing incidents that we had both experienced in the course of our teaching careers. Naturally, we are full of hope that the surgery will assist my friend’s wife to get back more to a degree of normality and we are keeping our fingers crossed that none of the disputes affecting the NHS will cause the operation to be cancelled or delayed.

There is news this evening emerging from the Tory party which may well be a sign of the times. Senior Tory MP Damian Green has been rejected as the candidate for the newly created Weald of Kent constituency. The move has fuelled speculation that grassroots Tory campaigners are targeting parliamentarians seen as responsible for Boris Johnson’s departure from No 10. Mr Green was effectively deputy prime minister under Theresa May until she sacked him in 2017 after an investigation into claims that pornographic material was found on his Commons computer. An MP for Ashford since 1997, he currently chairs the One Nation caucus of centrist Conservative MPs and has been critical of Mr Johnson. If this tendency is repeated across the country, it means that any moderate or Centrist MP may find it difficult to retain their seat. Constituency associations are always on the extreme wing of their respective parties – the left in the case of the Labour Party and to the right in the Conservative Party. Eventually, the Tory party will become a more and more anti-European, Brexit inclined party and the ultimate outcome of all of this might either be the re-instatement of Boris Johnson as the Tory Party leader and another period of sleaze-ridden and incompetent government (as ministers will be chosen for their ideological purity rather than native ability). Evidently, the lesson of the Liz Truss experiment for which we are still paying has not cut much ice with the Tory party faithful.

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Wednesday, 22nd February, 2023 [Day 1073]

Our plans for the day had to alter somewhat after we received a text from our Italian friend down the road who was due to come around mid-morning for a long-delayed coffee. But our friend had got a very bad cold and (thoughtfully) did not want to come into the house and infect us so we had to devise a Plan ‘B’. The weather was rather inclement today with rain and a blustery wind and we did not really fancy a walk in the park. So on the recommendation of our domestic help, we sought out a new hardware store on the outskirts of Droitwich some seven or so miles distant where we thought we might be able to purchase the items that I was unsuccessfully looking for the other day. As this store was bigger than its sister store in Bromsgrove, we assumed that it might have in stock what we were looking for. But Sod’s Law seemed to be in operation as they were restocking parts of the store and what we were were looking for, they did not appear to have in stock anyway. So it turned into one of those shopping expeditions in which one says to oneself that it may be useful whilst we were there to buy x,y, and z so our trip out was not entirely wasted but not particularly successful either. I busied myself sorting out some audio when I got home and then we made ourselves a curry from leftovers. Neither of us was particularly hungry but we had a satisfying meal of some chicken in its sauce prepared the other day and served on a bed of rice with some petit pois.

I think I might apply for a job as a leader on the ‘I’ newspaper. My reason for saying this is that yesterday’s blog echoed the ‘I’ front page when I suggested that Rishi Sunak should call the bluff of the hardline Brexiteers in the so-called ‘European Research Group’ and first sack them and then withdraw the whip (in effect, throwing them out of the Conservative party) if they subsequently do not support the government. One or two of the ministers who were threatening rebellion and resignaton might have discerned the way the wind was blowing because although they are fighting their corner hard, they are now starting to intimate that they might not push their opposition to the point of resignation after all. The important thing about such scenarios is that nobody really knows how much ‘power’ they have or do not have until it is put to the test – rather analogous to putting oneself on the labour market and to seeing if you are hired or not. Once the bluff is called of some of the extreme Brexiteers, it may well be that they are only ‘paper tigers’ as they contemplate no ministerial job, losing their MP’s salary and effectively being out of power for many a year once the next election is won and then lost. Although he may not like doing it, Rishi Sunak can always face down the rebels and rely upon the votes of the opposition parties to keep the Northern Ireand protocol more or less intact after the recently negotiated refinement are put into effect.

This year I thought it might be quite useful to announce to the world that I have made several resolutions for the six week period of Lent, when traditionally one does without one or more of life’s comforts. This year, I have decided and announced, that I intend to give up the following things for Lent. The list includes fast cars, loose women, drinking and gambling. To this list I have also added chocolate as well to give my Lenten abstinence a bit more bite, as it were. I have often thought, with a wry inward smile, that if you look at both Islam and Christianity the periods of both Ramadan and of Lent just happens to coincide with the times of year when foodstuffs are at a natural shortage before the newly sown crops of the current year mature. So periods of necessity when food is short are clothed in a religious precept to cut down on one’s normal intake of food and drink – which is very convenient when you come to think of it.

The war in Ukraine is now approaching its first anniversary – hence Joe Biden made his clandestine trip to Kyiv and Putin has been talking to a flag waving Russian audience. Incidentally, some commentators are now saying that Joe Biden the veterate politicin has actually ‘played a blinder’ and is successfully refuting many of the more outlandish claims being made about Nato by the Russian leader. But I must feel that I always feel a shudder whenever I see flagwaving cheering crowds showing their adulation for a ‘strong’ leader. Evidently one is reminded of rallies during the Nazi era but one is also reminde of it during American party conventions when a presidential candidate is chosen. Even ‘Last night at the Proms’ which I used to enjoy leaves me feeling uneasy in these post-Brexit days. The BBC for its part has to be incredibly careful how it manages the filming of such events and tries to dilute the evident nationalism by focussing cameras on flags other than the Union Jack.

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Tuesday, 21st February, 2023 [Day 1072]

Today being a Tuesday is the day to which we look forward because we meet with some of our pre-pandemic friends in the Waitrose coffee bar. As it turned out, there were four of us today and we formed a jolly little group, exchanging all of our gossip of the week. In fact, some of the Waitrose staff came over and had a chat with us as well – I think they rather enjoy seeing some of the old crowd back together again and although we try not to be especially noisy, we do tend to have more than our fair share of laughter. I suspect that one of the reasons why we all look forward to these Tuesday morning gatherings is that three of us are all looking after spouses with similar conditions and needs, so it is a bit of therapy time for us carers so that we can have a bit of a chat and a joke and it helps to get us through the week. Tuesday is also my Pilates day so I have to ensure that after we have got home, I have got my Pilates kit ready and that Meg is well supplied with food, drink, TV, newspapers and music if necessary so that she can look after herself adequately whilst I am out of the house for a couple of hours. All worked well today and I had put some food in the oven so when I return there is a hot meal waiting for us which can be dished up within minutes of my return. The local cat who has adopted us, Miggles, tends to espy me from a great distance and come running towards me when she sees that I have returned from a journey out. I encourage him/her to leap over the (tall) back door gate at the side of the house but being opportunistic, the cat will seize the opportunity to sneak in through the front door and generally make for the kitchen where there is a sachet of cat food to which he/she can look forward. Miggles also takes the opportunity to have a roll around on the ‘runner’ that we have leading to the back door in our utility room outside the main kitchen and has a particular penchant for head rubbing my gardening and other outdoor shoes which are housed there. Miggle never had a very loud or distinctive purr. As purring is such a distinctive thing, I thought I would find what the internet has to say on the subject and discovered that
The purr of the cat originates in the brain. The brain sends neurological messages to the muscles of the larynx (voice box) that causes them to twitch at a rapid rate – 25-150 vibrations per second. Then, as the cat breathes, the vocal cords separate and create the purring noise. Every cat has a unique purr sound – some purrs have a high pitch, while others are just a low rumbling. Some purrs are so very faint you can hardly hear them, while champion purrers sound like miniature engines. The act of purring releases endorphins within the cat’s brain…‘ Well, all I can say is that Miggles did not use to audibly purr and now does quite a lot, so I must be doing something right.

Tomorrow is going to be an interesting and intensely ‘social’ day for us. For a start, our domestic help calls around and this is always the occasion for the exchange of much chat, often involving family members. Then in in the morning, our Italian friend is going to call around for a coffee and this will be a great time for all of us. Then in the late afternoon, after an email this morning, I am going to videochat with a University of Winchester friend with whom I have not been in contact for some time and we have a lot of news to exchange with each other (principally about family members that we are helping to cope with various afflictions).

The political news today is rather dominated by the efforts of Rishi Sunak to come to a final resolution of the ‘Northern Ireland’ Brexit problem in which the hardliners of the DUP and in the UK, the hardline Brexiteers organised into the ‘European Research group’, seem determined to try to wreck any deal in which they perceive that UK sovereignty is not paramount. To my (simplistic) mind, once any group or government engages in any collaborative activity, one’s freedom of manouvre is always ceded somewhat in order to achieve the common good. In the Brexit case, though, one gets the impression that hatred of anything ‘European’ is so visceral and deep-rooted that no compromise or deal will ever be sufficient. The Times this morning is reporting that several Ministers are threatening to resign if they do not get their way over the Northern Ireland protocol and this ‘threat’ is making negotiations more and more difficult, although it is reported that a deal is very near but not quite achieved. Rishi Sunak could always say ‘Good – I will accept your resigation’ and then if they vote against the Government, the whip is withdrawn and they are effectively thrown out of the Conservative party. This is exactly what Boris Johnson did to the likes of Anna Soubry, David Gauke, Dominic Grieve and several others so why not use exactly the same tactic against the extreme Brexiteers?

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Monday, 20th February, 2023 [Day 1071]

Today dawned as a beautiful bright and clear day. Meg and I enjoyed very much the production of ‘La Bohème‘ which was shown on BBC4 last night. This was an English National Opera production and the quality of the acting was absolutely superlative – probably the best we have seen and the singing was of a very high order as well. We shall have to wait until Friday to see what our University of Birmingham friend makes of it all, as we had encouraged him to watch particular the scene in Act 1 where Rudolfo and Mimi ‘become an item’ in popular parlance. Today, I wanted to go to a local hardware store to pick up some little storage containers but the kinds I wanted and had purchased only about about a couple of weeks ago had totally vanished. The store had also been reorganised to make way for an influx of gardening gear so after a fruitless search, I left empty handed. So we made our way to the park which was absolutely teeming with cars by the time we got there. A combination of fine weather and the arrival of half term meant that the park was full of grandparents with their grandchildren in tow. For the first time in three years, we found it very difficult to park and had to make several turns around before we could find a parking space of our own. We had not taken any elevenses with us so we had a brief sojourn on our normal park bench before turning for home and enjoying a cup of coffee in our own home. I know it sounds a bit curmudgeonly to say this but half-terms seem to cause quite a large amount of disruption to the ‘normal’ rhythms of life. We knew that our chiropodist was due to call at some time today but I pressed on making a type of ‘Spanish chicken’ for our mid-day lunch (seared chicken added to a mixture of fried onions, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms) to which we add a white sauce and baked in the oven for an hour and a half. I always tend to overcook chicken on the basis that raw chicken may be contaminated with salmonella and rather a somewhat overcooked chicken meal than a stomach upset – or worse. The cooking turned out to be nice and tasty and we even had some of the cooked ingredients left over to form the basis of a curry later in the week.

The news has been rather dominated in the early afternoon by the news of Joe Biden’s surprise and previously unannounced visit to Ukraine to demonstrate American soldarity after practically a year of war. By appearing in Kyiv and filmed within the city, Joe Biden has scored quite a propaganda visit over the Russians. They, in turn, are no doubt arguing that Ukraine is only a kind of ‘Trojan horse’ for America’s imperialist ambitions and are spreading their own messages around some their own friends in Africa and Asia (but not Europe, needless to say). As the war grinds on, it is becoming quite evident that we might be in for a long haul. Russia seems to have vast supplies of (rather ageing) military equipment and, via conscription, of manpower as well. The story is told and probably with a high degree of accuracy, that when raw recruits from Russia were captured in the early days of the war, their Ukrainian captors would sit them down with a cup of tea and a mobile phone and tell them to phone their mothers to inform them what was happening. Although it has to operate clandestinely, we do know that groups of Russian mothers form a source of quiet opposition to the Putin regime. It is also evident that their sons have no idea what the war in the Ukraine is all about.

The breaking news this afternoon is that the junior doctors have voted to take strike action at a date in March and for a full 72 hours as well. Some 77.5% of those eligible to vote had in fact done so and an astounding 98% had voted in favour of strike action. Unlike the ambulance drivers and nurses, it does not appear at this moment that the junior doctors are making provision for any emergency cover – no doubt, the junior doctors feel as though the full consultants can provide the necessary cover. A full 72 hour strike might be an immense blow to NHS management and given the amount of work that junior doctors perform, the impact of this strike might be immense. The junior doctors have long felt they they have had a grievance as workload and waiting lists are at record highs whilst junior doctors’ pay has been cut by more than a quarter since 2008. There has been a scurrilous book written by a junior hospital doctor named Adam Kay a few years ago (‘This is going to hurt’) but the book leaves one in no doubt about the stress involved in being a junior hospital doctor nowadays. The book was made into a TV series which somehow did not convey the full picture of the stresses involved revealed in the wards and I believe that Adam Kay himself has subsequently left the medical profession.

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Sunday, 19th February, 2023 [Day 1070]

Today being a Sunday, we enter into our Sunday morning routine which is to get ourselves up and showered and sitting in front of the Lorna Kuenssberg program by 9.00am. Today’s program revealed nothing particularly startling and Penny Mordant was evidently the face to go round the TV studios this mornimg. I do not know whether the Sky News and BBC studios are adjacent to each other but whoever is designated to speak for the Government, or the Conservative party, seems to pop up on one channel and then the other at lightning speed. Last night, Meg and I had an entertaining evening as after the church service we trooped into the Parish Hall to chat with other members of the congregation that we knew and also to have a word with the bishop who was visiting the parish. I was not at all sure what topic of conversation I could enter into with the bishop but in a moment of inspiration I told him that we had one son whose patron saint was St. Martin de Porres who was one of the first Latin American saints (although he was actually of mixed race being the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a woman of mixed African and Native descent.) Our son spent a year in a Mexican University, having been awarded an international scholarship before he attended his university course in this country. He informed us that the mothers of girls to whom he was particularly well disposed were always incredibly pleased that their daughters were friendly with our son because they assumed that someone whose patron saint was St Martin de Porres could only have the best of intentions towards their daughters. In any case, our Spanish friends used to inform us with a wry smile that illustrations of this saint who had to accept a lowly position as a cleaner in a monastery before he was accepted into the Dominican order in Lima, Peru always showed him with a sweeping brush in his hand. From this, there was always an assumption that any house with a devotional aid to St Martin who be kept free of mice. Whilst we were at the reception in the parish hall having a cup of afernoon tea with the bishop, Meg and were cajoled into being part of a rota (one week in four) to act as ‘meeters and greeters’ for the evening service on a Saturday, which we attend regularly. Evidently, we shall have to see how this works out.

This evening there is going to be a broadcast of ‘La Bohème‘ which is one of our favourite operas. We met up with our University of Birmingham friend in Waitrose coffee bar as we had agreed and then gave him a brief synopsis of the plot of the opera, as well as locating and playing a rendition of ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’ on our iPhone so that our friend could recognise it. Althpugh not a fan of opera, we told him at which point in the first Act this aria is likely to be sung so that he could tune into it and see if he enjoyed the rendition. We also got into an extended discussion of some classic films that our friend had seen (one about Saladin and story of the Crusades) as well as aspects of French culture. Our friend has a French conversation class once per week and I suggested several topics that might prove interesting, one being the term given to those who supported the Vichy government during WWII and also the famous film about Martin Guerre. He was a French peasant of the 16th century who was at the centre of a famous case of imposture. Several years after Martin Guerre had left his wife, child and village, a man claiming to be him appeared. He lived with Guerre’s wife and son for three years.The false Martin Guerre was eventually suspected of the impersonation. I thought that this might be an interesting film to attempt to track down and see as being a topic of conversation in the French class.

This afternoon, the media has been dominated by the discovery of a body in the River Wyre in Lancashire and there is a very high probability that it is the body of the missing woman, Nicola Bulley, which has attracted so much media attention since she seemed to have vanished without trace some three weeks ago. No formal identification has yet taken place but no doubt the story will drag on for several more days whilst formal procedures (identification, followed by a post-mortem) will have to be undertaken. When all of the media interest had subsided, which it surely will, Lancashire Police will still have some difficult questions to answer to a variety of bodies why they decided to release quite sensitive medical details into the public domain when such details did not seem to be relevant to any further searches. Many commentators are saying, and with justification, that analagous medical details would not be released if the missing person were to be a male rather than a female. Given that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have all jumped in to comment on the police procedures in this case, I would not be surprised if resignations or ‘early retirements’ will not ensue quite shortly.

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