We slept in for quite a while this morning – after an early morning cup of tea, we both fell fast asleep and consequently were running to chase our tails for most of the morning. Our domestic help called around today and we always seem to have a lot to chat about. Eventually, Meg and I got ourselves together and breakfasted and then went out on the road to collect our newspaper. This having been done, we then went in search of an out-of-town Age Concern shop which our domestic help told us about as being incredibly friendly as well as reasonable. So we found the shop without very much ado and thought we would see what they had to offer. The shop was absolutely teeming full of people, perhaps because it was such a wet day outside. In any case, although we did not find new clothes of Meg’s size, there were several designs of skirt that we could eaily have bought if they had been of the right size. My eye did alight upon quite a stylish mahogany table lamp which we purchased. When we got it home, our domestic help and I gave it a good polish up and a minor running repair before we installed it on a similarly shaded mahogany table in our newly refurbished music room. It already had a ‘soft light’ very low energy 3W lightbulb and so provided a beautiful occasional lamp source that fitted in well with our existing scheme. I must add that our domestic help and myself share the same weakness if it be such, which is to locate an item in a charity shop which looks a little neglected but is more than rescuable and with only a little tender, loving care can be rapidly turned around. So that was quite a productive morning’s work on a day when it was raining cats and dogs at sporadic intervals and was not the sort of a day where much of a walk was in prospect.
An interesting political development is coming to us from across the Atlantic where Donald Trump has been indicted by a Grand Jury in New York and will probably appear in a court next Tuesday. There are many curious parts of the American legal system which is a bit difficult for this on this side of the pond to get our heads around but here goes. For a start, th exact nature of the charges against Donald Trump will not be revealed until they are ‘unsealed’ by a judge next Tuesday. Negotiations have already taken place so that Donald Trump will not appear in handcuffs when he makes his court appearance next week – the interesting question is whether he will be fingerprinted as well which is part of the normal procedure. One would have thought that it might have been an ‘open and shut case’ given the known mendacity of Donald Trump but the inside story is that it might be quite difficult to get the charges to stick, particularly if the lawyers drag out the proceedings. Even if convicted, there is nothing in the US constitution that would debar Donald Trump frrom making another bid for the presidency. It seems that Donald Trump and his supporters might even be relishing the indictment as it is feeding into a narrative that it is a politically inspired witchhunt typical of the technigues used by authoritarian regimes to hound anybody who dares to oppose them. If America was not divided enough politically, then this case will serve a culture war of the highest intensity between the Trump supporters and his detractors. There does not appear to much of a middle ground in the contemporary USA. The Democrats for their part and the rest of us neutral observers are not really throwing our hats into the air at this stage. Trump has a multitude of legal actions still pending against him, many of which (such as mis-stating his income in order to evade taxes) and there are some of Trump’s prosecutors who are privately worried that if Trump successfuly evades this particular legal action, he may well be able to use it as a precedent to argue that every one of the charges against him is politically motivated and hence it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he may escape legal sanctions. One is tempted to think of other miscreants in high office such as Silvio Berlusconi who managed to somehow come up smelling of roses despite a multiplicity of evidence and legal charges against him. Those on the extreme right of politics (Berlusconi and Trump) with expensive lawyers and a conservative minded judiciary can often evade the justice that one would imagine would be meted rapidly to lesser individuls i.e. the rest of us.
An interesting report into the workloads of teachers has been commissioned by the Department for Education (dfE) but not released – for fairly evident reasons. Almost a quarter of teachers in England are working 12-hour days, according to a leaked government report. Some 22% of teachers said they were working 60 hours a week or more. The research, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), was carried out in Spring 2022 and has not yet been made public. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said a new taskforce will be created to help reduce teachers’ workload by an average five hours a week.
Thursday is my regular supermarket shopping day so I was happy to liberate some money fron an ATM before I go to my regular supermarket before it opened its doors at 8.00am. Today seemed a heavier shop up for one reason or another but then it was a case of picking up our newspaper and trekking home. Here I cooked breakfast for Meg and myself and then started the unpacking process which seemed to go on for ever with five bags of shopping. It always amazes me that two little people can consume so much over the course of a week although we tend on the abstemious side. Meg and I had intended a little trip out today but thought we would wait until we got the shopping unpacked and ourselves all showered for the day before we made a final decision. Eventually, we just had a quiet morning in the house but I did engage in doing a long delayed job which was to gut a pile of newspaprs for some interesting articles so that we could have a throw out of old newspapers and a tidy up before our domestic help arrives in the morning. We lunched on the remainder of the beef left over from the weekend, together with a baked potato and some ‘primo’ cabbage. We thought that the weather looked as though it might improve in the afternoon so we aimed to get our post-prandial tea out of the way before we ventured out this afternoon.
This morning as I was shopping, I bought a greetings card with no message inside with the intention of writing a ‘welcome home’ message inside which would then be dropped into our new Asian neighbours who have spent the last couple of months back in India. The minute they had returned, they were having heir inherited kitchen ripped out and a new one installed. Meg and I thought we would try and undertake a riverside walk at the Webbs garden centre just down the road and would drop the card off at our neighbours on the way out. After we had rung the doorbell we were warmly invited inside so we quickly abandoned our initial plans and accepted the offer of a cup of tea and a biscuit and a chat. They told us of some of their interesting visits within India – the knowledge that we have of India is confined to what we have gleaned from various novels like Passage to India and Midnight’s Children as well as films and TV series such as Gandhi and Jewel in the Crown. Of course, our knowledge base is likely to be incredibly fragmentary based upon our reading and viewing history plus litle fragments of what we may have learned at school. In primary school in the 1950’s we were told about the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ which must have been an incredibly partial and one-sided account of history. The English are not very good at revealing past atrocities (the Amritsar massacre come to mind) and when we taught about the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ we were not informed of the antecedents for which the ‘Black Hole’ was a reprisal. I wonder if modern curricula are much better at explaining these darker periods of our colonial history but I have my doubts. In my teaching days, when the opportunity arose, I asked students if they had ever heard of the (now infamous) Triangular Trade. I don’t think that any of the students that I taught had ever heard of this so I explained how the British used to export manufactured goods even including railways to the West coast of Africa, then of slaves from here to the West Indies and finally sugar and molasses back to Britain. This, of course, is why sweet making manufacture was located in Liverpool as supplies of raw sugar were transported across the Atlantic. It goes without saying, of course, that the British made a profit on every leg of the triangular trade. However, it is true to say that towns such as Bristol in particular as well as Liverpool are coming to terms with the uncomfortable fact that a lot of the prosperity that they had once enjoyed were a direct consequence of the slave trade.
Meg and I received our notification the other day that we had postal votes for use in the forthcoming local elections. Normally, it is said that performance in local elections is no real guide to what would happen in a general elction. But this time around, it is a little different as we know that a general election has to be fought by the end of 2023. There is plenty at stake for both sides. For the Labour party, the local elections may well be a big springboard for an eventual push towards a general election campaign. For the Tories, it will be an opportunity to judge whether Rishi Sunak is actually turning the Conservative vote around after the traumas of the Johnson and Truss regimes. The interesting question here is one of momentum and the ability of local elections to motivate one side towards further campaigns or to dishearten the other side to campaign in a general election. It can be difficult to campaign wholeheartedly for a party if the local party has just been trashed in the local polls.
This was one of those days with its fair degree of frustrations but everything worked out OK in the end. When I got up this morning, I knew that I needed to make a doctor’s appointment to review medications for myself and also for Meg. I really wanted a face-to-face appointment and remonstrated with the receptionist who would only offer me a telephone consultation and, only then, at the doctor’s discretion, could I have a face-to-face consultation. I was unhappy about this and went on the net to see if I could demand a face-to-face consultation. I found out that when Matt Hancock was Health Secretary at the height of the pandemic, he had ordered all doctors’ surgeries to only offer telephone consultations and this practice has continued after the pandemic. Apparently the government and the healh service chiefs are reported to be ‘very worried’ about the difficulty of not getting face-to-face consultations and not without cause as there have been one or two celebrated cases of misdiagnosis over the phone. Having accepted a telephone conversation, the phone rang when I had just got into the shower but as I emerged and got to the phone before the ring tone had ceased and I was still too late. I suspected that this would really mess up my morning because Meg and I would probably have to stay near a phone all the morning and I suspected that we had gone from the front of the queue to the back. In the event, the phone rang again after about half an hour and we got one of the doctors from the practice that I did not know and I could not remember whether a fellow patient at the practice had not had a good experience with her. However the consultation went pretty well. Meg is going to be put on to two types of medication that may suit her a lot better – the doctor indicated that she thought the existing medication prescribed by one of her fellow GPs was not very suitable. Then having got Meg sorted out it was my turn and I managed to get some reassurances after my routine investigation last Thursday. So at the end of the morning, we felt not displeased with the outcome. As the morning had advanced somewhat by now and weather outside was raining fairly hard, we decided to cut our losses and pay a quick visit to Droitwich which is only eight miles down the road. This was fine and we enjoyed our usual coffee and toasted teacake before visitng the charity shop next door. The only thing that attracted our attention was their collection of CDs which were being sold off for 50p apiece. I had a spare £2 coin so I selected four classical CDs that were all recorded by very good artists and I looked forward to playing them later. The only thing to mar my enjoyment was that I was looking forward to playing a world class rendition of a Chopin piano concerto only to discover that there was no CD inside the case. I often find that a CD case has gone missing somewhere so I am not unhappy about now having an extra one. We then turned our attention to the Wilko hardware store where I can be relied upon to buy something I did not know I needed until I saw it in the store. Then it was a case of getting home and having a delayed lunch of beef, carrots and sprouts.
There are a couple of interesting stories about the Royal Family whose affairs, I must admit, I do not follow at all. But apparently on a recent walkabout when asked whether Harry would attend the coronation of Charles III, he is heard to reply that ‘it would be nice’ At the same time, some new stamps are being released with the King’s portrait and this breaks with tradition by showing the monarch uncrowned. These are just two tiny little straws in the wind, but perhaps they are an indication that the King wants to start his reign by having a coronation that unites rather than divides the family. The portrait on the stamp reflects the fact that Charles had expressed a desire that any portrait should be ‘simple’ i.e. without the evident symbols and trappings of monarchy.
This afternoon, Meg and I were enjoying listening to the CDs which we had just purchased when into our lounge sauntered Miggles, our local adopted cat. She wandered across the room to greet us as though this was the most natural thing in the world. I then realised that we had opened the kitchen window a little as we were cooking sprouts for lunch and although I take some culinary precautions to ensure that a ‘sprouty’ smell does not invade the house, I had evidently not closed the window. Miggles, who is however the optimist as far as titbits are concerned as well as opportunistic, had evidently jumped up though the slightly open kitchen window and then made himself at home. Naturally, the cat was soon shooed outside but when I had to venture out of the house to drag the dustbins to the end of our little private road (a weekly chore), the cat observed my moves and followed me back to the house, no doubt hoping to repeat the past little adventure.
I do not know whether it makes one feel better or worse that the wet, windy and blustery weather is being experienced over the whole of the rest of the country. But Meg and I did not mind too much because on Tuesday morning, we always treat ourselves to a visit to the Waitrose café where we hope to meet up with people. We met with one of our pre-pandemic friends and exchanged news about our various comings and goings since the last time we met. An interesting little incident occurred when a women who had been occupying a seat in the café and was working on her laptop was eventually challenged by the store manager and was politely asked to move on as she had not purchased a coffee to ‘justify’ her existence. Her excuse was the lamest I have ever heard and was to the effect that she could not find anything that she wanted to buy. As she left, one of the other customers exclaimed with an audible ‘Well Done’ to the manager as he walked past. There was no rancour or raised voices in this particular exchange but I wonder if the woman will bother to return to Waitrose again after this little incident. When we got home, I got my Pilates gear together and then walked down without getting wet, I am pleased to say. Our Pilates teacher always asks us how we are feeling at the start of every class (the benefit of having a small group) and then if necessary she can amend the exercises for any one of us if we happen to have a little niggle. I observed that I ached a little after the exertions of the lawnmowing yesterday and two of my fellow classmates had also taken advantage of the fine weather yeserday afternoon to start their lawnmowing as well. The class proceeded at its normal pace and then it was home for a fairly delayed lunch of quiche complemented by some plum tomatoes.
Rishi Sunak is appearing before the Liasion Committee of the House of Commons this afternoon. This committee is composed of the chairs of all of the other select committees so the Prime Minister can expect to be questiond in detail and at length about any aspect of government policy. To say that one has to be at the top of one’s game must be an understatement because to be grilled by this committee must be a daunting prospct. Boris Johnson was badly mauled by this committee but then Johnson’s lack of attention to detail was well known. Rishi Sunak, by contrast, has the reputation of being a master of detail but he did not exactly cover himself in glory in his showing before the committee today. During questioning on migration, Mr Sunak also rowed back from suggestions that flights carrying migrants to Rwanda will take off this summer. He intimated that flights to Rwanda will take place as soon the legal proceedings have been completed. This seems to be a watering down by the commitment made by Suella Braveran, the Home Secretary, that flights to Rwanda would commence by the summer. On other subjects despite intense questionning, Sunak seemed to revert to a broad statement of government policy whereas the committee wanted some more meat on the bones.
We have seen quite a lot of bare politics ‘in the street’ in the past few days. In particular, the sights of violent confrontations in Paris reminds us that the French seem able to turn up on the streets once in every generation or so. I think this was first very evident in 1968 when students were the leaders of insurrectionary politics in France. But today, I must say that I cannot quite remember what was the actual reason for the riot. I needed to consult the web to remind myselfof the traumatic events of 1968 which, incidentally, was the year in which we graduated. In the decade preceding May 1968, the French student population had nearly trebled, from about 175,000 to more than 500,000. It was an era of international ‘youth culture,’ yet French society remained autocratic, hierarchical, and tradition-bound, especially in the eyes of French youth. What is perhaps surprising to us these days is that it was the French Communist party who organised the transition off the streets and back into the factories. No doubt, the French Communists felt that they were losing their position as the party that spoke for the organised working class in France and were thoroughly upstaged by the students. Of course, the French authorities at the time made matters worse by sending police into the Sorbonne whist the rest of Europe watched at the time in a kind of fascinated horror. But over the years, we have seen French farmers often taking militant action in support of their demands – the nearest equivalent that we have ever seen have been the demonstrations against the poll tax which helped to bring down the then Conservative government. There were enormous demonstrations in the UK against the invasion of Iraq under the premiership of Tony Blair but somehow the French seem to have a lot more flair to living their politics on the streets, approximately once in each generation or so.
So Monday morning dawned nice and bright after what would have been quite a frosty night, I imagine, as the skies were so clear. After Meg and I got ourselves showered and breakfasted at a fairly leisurely pace, it was time to venture forth. We had to get our logistics right this morning for reasons that I shall explain. After we had picked up the newspaper, we went straight to the park where we enjoyed a pleasant little sit in the sunshine. Some of the flowering trees in the park are already in full bloom whereas others will achieve that happy state in only a day or so now. We have a flowering cherry in our back garden which we planted about 12 years ago now and which has matured nicely. When viewed from our bedroom window it looks so magnificent that I made a mental note to myself to go and get a photo of it on my iphone in the next day or so whilst it is at its best. In the park, we exchanged greetings with Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker who was now nearly completing his (simulated) walk across the Rockies and we also had a quick chat with some old Irish friends of ours. We also bumped into the couple we know who live in the Lickeys but they/we did not stop for a chat as we were already deep in conversation with our Irish friends. Then we set forth to buy some coffee of which commodity we are nearly out and finally called in at the garage to get 5 litres of the highest quality petrol for the lawnmower. I finished up buying ‘E5’ which 5% ethanol rather than the cheaper ‘E10’ which is 10% ethanol. As I suspected, and a quick search on the web confirmed, it is always a good idea to get fuel with the lowest possible ethanol rating and the highest possible octane rating for the lawnmower. Ethanol can attract water vapour making the engine difficult to start or to run erratically. I bought my fuel as the last call in the morning because I thought that there was a fair possibility that I might give the lawns their first cut of the season this afternoon and I wanted to get the fuel home as soon as I could so that I did not want to smell the car out. As soon as we got home, I started preparing the midday meal and I started off by making an onion gravy (as per usual) But when I went to the slow cooker with the joint of beef inside, I had set the timer but in my haste this morning neglected to actually start it. Hence when it came to dishing up the meat, I found myself staring at an uncooked joint. Fortunately, I had something in the freezer which is helpful in the case of emergencies like this. A few weeks ago, I had bought from my local Aldi supermarket some cooked sliced chicken and so I liberated some ‘fingers’ of these to add to my onion gravy and this saved the day.
This afternoon, the weather was set fair and it seemed a glorious spring day so it was a great opportunity to give the lawn its first cut of the season. At the start of the season, the mower needs to have its quotient of oil of which I nearly had enough but I can top it up if ncessary in a week or so. I ensured that the air filter had been soaked in oil as per the insruction manual then fueled it up with the good petrol bought this morning. Then there is always the moment of trepidation whether or not the mower will start after a four month sabbatical. To my delight, it started on the first pull of the starter cord and then proceeded to run sweetly for the rest of the afternoon. I set the mower on its highest setting and then reduced it by one notch for the second cut (which I perform at right angles to the first one) and both the front and back lawns were done in the normal time. I do give myself a little break in between the mowing of the communal area front lawn and our own individual back lawn but I know that once you start the mowing pocess, the act of cutting releases a hormone in the grass shoots which encourages them to grow again. So once the cutting season starts, it will be a weekly job between now and the first week of November when the season finishes.
The political news has been dominated by the news that the vacant leadership of the SNP has been won by Humza Yousaf who was the ‘continuity’ candidate but is the first ethnic Asian (and Muslim) candidate to occupy that role. I suppose that the rest of Europe may be a little surprised that we have a Hindu PM of Indian extraction resident in Downing Street whereas in Scotland we have a Muslim First Minister of Pakistani heritage. As Yousaf gained about 53% of the vote and some of these were second preference votes, then he may have quite a hard job in front of him to unify the SNP after a fairly rancorous election campaign.
Today was a slightly blustery day with a fairly cold wind and did not really invite a walk in the park. But we had always intended to meet with our University of Birmingham friend in the Waitrose café which we did and enjoyed a really pleasant hour and a half in each other’s company. We agreed with each other that we had been meeting quite a lot whilst the weather was inclement but as the weather improves (hopefully soon!) we shall resume our normal rendez-vous in the park. A lot of time we were with each other, we told each other jokes and amusing stories – once we both get ‘on a roll’ then one story leads to the next. Eventually, the time came for home and after we had arrived home, we regaled ouselves with soup-in-a-cup which we often do when the weather is a bit chilly outside. We decided to postpone our normal Sunday lunch and thought we would use up the meatballs of which we cooked half yesterday and we had some of the onion gravy left over for today. In our kitchen, we have a planning whiteboard upon which we write our appointments so that we can see the whole week, or month for that matter, at a glance. We have nothing at all in prospect by way of formal appointments this week but tomorrow we will go out on the road and pick up some petrol (and perhaps mower oil) so that I can make a flying start on the lawns as soon as the weather improves. I have been paying careful attention to the weather forecasts for the next few days and it may well start off frosty and with temperatures below average for the time of year. As soon as we have a hint of dryish and reasonably mild weather, I will get the trusty old mower into operation and get the first cut of the season performed. The grass is always a little high and the mower needs to be on its highest setting for this very first cut but afer that, we tend to cut at weekly intervals and any stray bits of grass get well and truly mulched in after the first week.
I absolutely love it when a ‘sting’ operation is performed upon MPs to expose their greed and venality. What has happened recently is that the anti-Brexit campaign group, ‘Led By Donkeys’, had created a sham company before approaching 20 MPs from different parties asking if they would join the phoney firm’s international advisory board. Former Conservative cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng were told that a fake overseas company was looking for MP advisers. Mr Hancock and Mr Kwarteng both set out five-figure sums for what they would expect to be paid to advise a non-existent firm in South Korea. There is no accusation of wrongdoing, with MPs permitted to seek employment outside of parliament. But when asked whether he had a daily rate during an online ‘interview’, Matt Hancock indicated that his daily rate would be £10,000 sterling. The amazing thing about this story is that Parliament only has the weakest of controls over this kind of behaviour. We have seen something a little similar to this when Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister because a Conservative minister, Owen Patterson, was forced to resign after he broke the rules on lobbying for a client. MPs often attempt to justify their taking of outside employment whilst also being in receipt of a parliamentary salary. This argument would have a lot more moral force if MPs provded their services for nothing or ‘pro bono publico’ (for the public good) On the other hand, they could charge an appropriate fee and then immediately donate it to a worthy charity. But somehow, these ‘pure’ motives never seem to be very much in evidence. In practice, the defense that MPs deploy when they say that they need to keep in contact with erstwhile trades and professions in order to make them better parliamentarians is actually so much hypocrisy because all of the large payments made always seem to end up in the back pockets of the MPs themselves. Some give a certain amount of cash to their own constituency association but this itself could be seen seen as a type of corruption in that constituency associations may feel disinclined to deselect a sitting MP who happens to supply them with oodles of cash. So any payments could be seen as a sort of ‘insurance policy’ to keep an MP sweet with his own constituency association.
To show that spring is here, it was Boat Race day today that I did not watch as I was watching the Italy-France Womens Six-Nations rugby. But I have a ‘thing’ about the Boat Race because I have never seen one yet in which the eventual winner is not clear after about the first ten seconds. There must have been instances of how one team pulls ahead and is then overhauled by the other – but it is just I have never actually seen it. The Grand National will be in three weeks time, though, which is still quite a long way off because occasionally the Boat Race and the Grand National happen to be on the same day – this occurred in 1981, 1992 and again in 2015.
Today was my son’s birthday which is not a date which is easily forgotten. When I woke up this morning I sent him a text wishing him Happy Birthday and suggesting that I call around with some birthday cards that he could do with today. I got a reply that he and his wife could call around after breakfast which they did. We had an impromptu and celebratory cup of tea and some little fancy cakes that they had brought around and then they departed to go off and do some shopping and then have a birthday meal in what I suppose you could describe as a gastropub. We used to frequent this often but had a terrible experience some years back, pre the pandemic where our order was mixed up with some one elses and they were served with our meal as they had ordered the same. We waited for about 40 minutes and the manager was nowhere to be seen during the whole of our dining stay. But we have never been back but there is now a new chef, and possibly new management as well, and we have heard good recent reports of dining there. However, a bad experience lingers in the mind sonewhat but no doubt we can find an occasion in the future when we can frequent it again. By this stage it was getting to late morning so we collected our newspaper and felt disinclined to walk in the park, even though it was a fairly warm day. After we had dined on meatballs baked in the oven, we thought we would look forward to the Six Nations Womens’ teams as the competition starts today. The first match was Wales vs. Ireland but it was only broadcast ‘live’ in Wales – nonetheless, it was available on the iPlayer so we enjoyed watching a very convincing Wales victory. At one stage it looked as though the Irish team would not get any points in the match at all but they redeemed themselves with a try late on in the second half.
After we returned from church, we tried to watch the Scotland vs England women’s match on iPlayer just to be met with the label ‘not available’. This all seemed a little strange as we were able to watch the Wales vs. Ireland only half an hour after kick-off whilst we were trying to watch the Scotland vs. England game some four hours after the kickoff. Bit I tried accessing this match via the iPlayer on my laptop and it seemed to work fine and I turned again to the TV and now everything worked as I expected. The England vs. Scotland match is being played in Newcastle at a much faster pace than the match during the afternoon so that makes it even more enjoyable to watch. The women’s game seems to involve much more running through the centre rather than using the long kick or even as much of the wingers but tbis is only an impression on my part and I may be mistaken. The game concluded with a massive England win who generally mauled their way for a total of ten tries, demonstrating massive power.
The political news this weekend concerns the discussions that are taking place regarding the ‘resignation honours’ lists which have been submitted by both Boris Johnson and also by Liz Truss. Each is controversial in its own way. Johnson’s list contains his own father so this is an unusual nomination to put it mildly. The extraordinary thing about the Liz Truss nomination list is that it has been submitted at all. The Liz Truss premiership lasted for about seven weeks and she was the shortest serving prime minister of all time. Althpugh she is stricly speaking, entitled to submit a list, it does rather have quite a nasty smell about it all. There is an obscure committee which has oversight of the honours system and I believe that the final decision lies with the Prime Minister of the day. If Rishi Sunak wanted to demonstrate that he was a man of integrity, then using his prerogative to not approve or to massively restrict the numbers of those expecting some retirement ‘goodies’ might prove to be a sensible policy.
This morning, as I was waiting for Meg to get ready for our little venture out to collect the newspapers, I popped into our newly commissioned little music room and tuned into my favourite radio stations which are, in order, Classic FM, Radio 4 and then Radio 3.
From the little system that I have in that room, I always get excellent reception for Classic FM whilst Radio 4 is almost as good but Radion 3 is a little ‘iffy’ with what I suppose you might call stereo hiss. I have my FM aerial hooked vertically up the wall because practically every source (on the internet) indicates that a vertical orientation is always the preferred alternative. But as a tiny little experiment, I unhooked the FM aerial and laid it out in a horizontal orientation. This improved my Radio 3 reception enormously and the other two stations still had eception that was just as good. So quite by accident and without any theoretical understanding as to why this should have occurred, I now have a situation in which my FM reception is all I could hope that it could be. Perhaps that is why the FM aerials that are sold in electrical retailers often have a ‘T’ configuration and you are advised to install both the vertical and the horizontal arms. So you live and learn.
Meg and I were looking forward to today for several reasons. Our domestic help was due to call around today instead of last Wednesday which was her usual day – she had swopped in order to keep a doctor’s appointment which is quite difficult to arrange these days. As I was preoccupied with a hospital visit yesterday morning, today I did my delayed weekly shopping,managing to get to the store just before the appointed opening hour of 8.00am. It was then when I studied the ‘Easter Opening Hours’ (much the same as every other day apart from being closed on Easter Day) I realised that Easter Day was only two weeks away this Sunday. Easter seems to have crept up on us somehow this year, even though it is not particularly early. We were pleased to have a chat with our domestic help but then our University of Birmingham friend phoned up to arrange a coffee date in Waitrose. As soon as we got there, we bumped into one of our pre-pandemic friend who is now in her 80’s but still going strong. She has been rehearsing, as part of a 60-70 strong choir, to sing Brahms ‘A German Requiem’ which is a particular favourite of hers as well as ours. We wished her well for the performance which is due to take place tomorrow afternoon – I wonder if the choir will have a big celebratory ‘afternoon tea’ after the weeks and week of rehearsal which they had been undertaking. We were both appalled by the fact that the BBC Singers who seem to have going since the word ‘dot’ are threatened with being disbanded as part of a BBC economy drive. We both agreed that this must be an act of cultural vandalism. The latest news this afternoon, though, is less gloomy as it appears that the BBC has paused its decision to close the BBC Singers, after ‘a number of organisations’ came forward to offer alternative funding. The group, which is the UK’s only full-time professional chamber choir, was targeted by budget cuts shortly before celebrating its 100th anniversary. We chatted awhile with our University of Birmingham friend before he, too, had to dash off for a lunch engagement in central Birmingham. As the showers were coming along as though on a conveyor belt (a phrase actually deployed by the weather forecasters) we had to judge when each of us needed to make a dash for the car to avoid being rained upon. When we got home, I realised with some dismay that I had forgotten to buy my usual fish pie for our Friday midday meal. Nonetheless, I raided the freezer and liberated some smoked haddock fillets which were delicious (when carefully wrapped in foil and then baked in the oven) and served with a baked potato and some mange-touts.
After lunch, Meg and I had a quiet read and a sort of some old newspapers which we gut for really interesting articles we wish to retain. Then as the clouds had rolled away this afternoon, we made a lightning visit into town to see if we could purchase a nice looking little corner occasional table which I had spotted in the Age Concern furniture shop the other day. Fortunately, it was unsold so we were pleased to get it into the car which was parked not a great distance away. After our, by now, well-deserved afternoon cup of tea, I set to work giving the newly acquired piece of furniture a clean and polish up. Fortunately, for us this was quite easy as it was only slightly dusty and we now have it installed in our ‘music room’ alongside the other pieces of renovated furniture.
We have by now got used to the lighter evenings which is so welcome to us in the spring. This is the weekend when the clocks go forward so we have to look forward to it being temporarily a little darker in the early evenings although this will soon not be that noticeable. In the pre-Brexit days, there was a proposal to adopt ‘double’ Summer Time in which we put our clocks forward two hours and are then in step with the rest of Continental Europe. The argument at the time was very much related to the extra trade opportunities afforded by being in step with our continental neighbours but in the present political climate, one would imagine that a similar idea would be sunk with trace within minutes. Nonetheless we are certainly into grass-mowing season by now which I will attempt the minute the weather gets just a tad warmer and less showery.
In the United States, the Manhatten District Attorney is on the brink of bringing charges against Donald Trump. He is responding with blood curdling threats and practical appeals to a violent resistance. Trump has said of his potential arrest ‘Why & who would do such a thing? Only a degenerate psychopath that truely [sic] hates the USA!’ This may be an interesting test of the American concept that they are have a ‘government of laws not of men’ because what we have in prospect is the possibility that an arrest warrant is not capable of being served if the recipient is rich, powerful and an ex-President of the USA.
Well today has turned out to be an interesting day. It was the day when I was scheduled to have a routine checkup at the hospital after the surgery I had nearly five years ago and I don’t intend to bore anyone with the details of all of this apart from the fact that it was necessary for our son to stay with me and bring me home after the sedation I received. Everything went well and we were home soon after 10.00am after a very early start. But it was a day when I needed to keep fairly quiet for the rest of the day and fortunately, I had a treat planned for the afternoon. We made a lunch of rice and some of the left over chicken stew from yesterday and then we settled down for our treat. This was a delayed viewing of Dr Zhivago, first seen by Meg and I in Leicester Square some 55 years ago and watched regularly about once a decade over the years. Almost the last scene of the film is incredibly poignant as the aging and sick Zhivago thinks he espires Lara (one of the two loves of his life) when aboard a Moscow tram. Zhivago struggles to get off and runs to catch up with Lara but he dies of a heart attack in the street before he can get reunited with her. So what with ‘Brief Encounter‘ the other day and ‘Dr Zhivago‘ today, I have had a full ration of poignant film endings for quite some time.
Now that all of the shenanigans of yesterday’s political events are over, it is a possible to have a degree of reflection on the two events together. One view if that the respective bandwagons of both Brexit on the one hand and the Johnson era on the other hand are disappearing over the horizon. This is not to say that there will not be the occasional squirmish and last-ditch stand within Parliament in the months and years ahead but there is now a feeling that we are moving on towards a new era in politics. One factor is undoubtedly the fact that there will be a general election in the not too distant future and both parties are trying to make sure that they look forward to a period when internecine debates have to be a thing of the past and policies are adopted that may appeal to the wider electorate. Attention may well shift to the American political scene because Donald Trump is facing multiple legal challenges of various kinds – these generally started off some months ago but some may be coming to fruition. In the next few days, it could well be that Donald Trump is arrested for making illicit campign contributions to buy the silence of a pornstar with whom he may (or may not) have had a relationship just before he started to run for office. Some of his madder supporters are even arming themselves with rifles so that if the police come to try and arrest him, they will attempt to shoot police helicopters out of the sky.
Now that spring is practically upon us, we have the ritual of putting the clocks forward one hour this weekend. As usual, one hour less in bed is not a great tribulation but we seem to have a fair number of clocks to adjust which is a job for Sunday morning. Normally, on the weekend around the last week of March, my thoughts turn to grasscutting and related activities. But the weather forecasts are indicating that we might have a run of cooler and windier weather which does not sound ideal for grass-cutting, particularly as the first cut of the season is a bit longer and more troublesome than subsequent cuts. I may well get the petrol and oil all in place but delay the actual cutting for a day or so until the weather warms up. Over the weekend, though, we now have the women’s 6-Nations Rugby competition to which to look forward, so now doubt this will occupy Meg and I for Saturday afternoons for a week or so.
I am not a great fan of the BBC TV programme ‘Question Time‘ these days and nor have I been since the Brexit debates. However, it can still be an interesting spectator sport to see a government minister occasionally howled down or jeered by a Question Time audience. I think that tonight’s broadcast might prove to be partiularly interesting because those who lost relatives and could not be present at the death of a parent or other relative may feel particularly anguished and may well vent their anger when a ‘Johnson’ type question appears at the top of the agenda this evening. As these events are live, there is alwaays an unpredictability about how a live audience is actually going to react, so I think I shall look forward to tonight’s broadcast with a fair degree of anticipation. Public opinion can be fickle and difficult to guage at times. It could be that the public have generally made up their minds about Boris Johnson and want to move one and find other things to concern them. On the other hand, the recent well publiicised committee proceedings may be igniting a slow burn of resentment against the evident breaking of the rules whilst the rest of us were observing them.
Today was an interesting day, dominated as it was by the committee appearance of Boris Johnson about which much more later. Knowing that the afternoon might be quite engaging, Meg and I seized the opportunity to have an excursion into the park after which we had picked up our newspaper. It was a fairly fine day and we made our way to our normal bench to have our coffee and elevenses. It is true to say that our ventures to the park are somewhat less these days because we tend to frequent the Waitrose coffee bar on about three occasions per week, once on our regular Tuesday meeting with friends and on two further occasions over the weekends when we met up with our University of Birmingham friend. Today, though, in the space of about twenty minutes we actually had conversations with four acquaintances that we have come to know over the past few years when we have made regular walks in the park. The first person that we came as was Intrepid Octogenerian Hiker who we do not seem to have met for some weeks now. The latter has a special app on his watch which takes the steps that he is undertaking and maps these over onto a simulated walk somewhere in the world. Today, our friend was two thirds of a trip through The Rockies in the USA, after which he could no doubt claim a medal to add to his extensive collection. Then we met one half of a couple who we know live in The Lickies and quite regularly come for a walk in the park. Then we met up with a man who regularly walks his Labrapoodle dog who, we know, comes to the park most days of the week and is always a fund of good stories. Finally, we were joined by a Police Community Support Officer who knows us all quite well from the days when she used to semi-patrol the park at the height of the Covid pandemic. So what is remarkable about this morning was that in quite a sporadic appearance in the park, we should bump across so many acquaintances.
And so we came to the main entertainment of the day which was the Boris Johnson appearance before the Committee on Privileges of the House of Commons. I think that a fair summary of the whole afternoon is that Boris Johnson gave quite a feisty and combative performnce, maintainly doggedly to the line that he thought that all of the ‘parties’ held in Downing Street were within the guidance and the rules as they were ‘workplace events’ in which, on more than occasion, he was giving thanks to staff on what was a ‘leaving do’. But although there were three places in which Boris Johnson might be said to have really difficult time. Firstly,trying to maintain consistently that every single party was an absolutely necessary in order to maintin morale and to give thanks to staff who were leaving strained credibility to the utmost. There as no reason why staff could not be bid farewell in a ‘Zoom’ call or with a personal letter. A second, but related point, is that according to the guidance in force at the time, all work colleagues should maintain a distance of two metres from each other – however, this distance of two metres could be reduced to one metre if there is ‘mitigation’ e.g. a perspex screen. Johnson maintained that staff tried to keep within the guidelines at all times but the distances that were kept were approximate at times. A more ludicrous point was that mitigation measures such as perspex screens were deployed but not actually in the rooms where the social events took place but ‘in the rooms next door’ A third point, when Johnson was pressed on who proferred the assurances that the guidelines were kept at all times, the sources of advice seemed not be civil servants or lawyers but party political appointees such as a communications director. The committee will now take weeks to make up its mind and I do not expect a result until mid-April i.e. way after the Easter recess. To the principl charges, Johnson may well get away with the charge that he ‘knowingly’ misled Parliament as proving Johnson’s state of knowledge must be almost impossible. But on the charge of being ‘reckless’ then the committee would be on much stronger ground on the basis of written evidence already received and some of the revelations that came out of the committee hearings this afternoon.
Half way through the committee hearings and as expected, MPs needed to take a vote on the ‘Windsor’ agreement (a new protocol for Northern Ireland trade, post-Brexit) Labour voted with the government and there was a rebellion of 29 MPs, 22 Tories, all of the six Democratic Unionists MPs and one independent. So this was quite a small rebellion as the total number who support the ERG is about 34 MPs so it looks as though one third of them did not follow the ERG line to vote against the government but followed a fairly large number of MPs who abstained. Incidentally, as the attention of the political class was focused upon Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak chose today to release the details of his tax returns when the hope was that nobody would be watching i.e. a good day to bury bad news.