Sunday, 30th April, 2023 [Day 1140]

Today marks the start of what is going to be quite a busy week. Tomorrow is the Bank Holiday where we intend to do absolutely nothing and to go nowhere unless the weather turns unexpectedly mild in which case I will get myself outside and finish off the weeding job I started the other day. But being a Sunday, we watched the Politics program at 9.00am which is really just a ‘holding’ program until the results and the implications of Thursday’s local elections can be well and truly chewed over. But we were very pleased to get ourselves installed in Waitrose and in no time at all, our University of Birmingham friend turned up. I managed to surprise him because I took with me a copy of one of the local ‘free’ newspapers that we do not usually see. In this, there was a match report followed by a quote on a noteworthy retirement from Bromsgrove Rugby Club. We asked our friend about this and he was a little intrigued as he had written a match report and included the quote at the end of it on the Club’s website. The local newspaper had evidently visited the website and extracted the quote which was properly attributed but our friend had never actually seen any of what he had posted on the website appear in print in the local newspaper. After this, we amused ourselves by remembering the list of famous adverts that we could remember over the years. I am sure I have seen a programme in the past which has shown the most famous adverts in reverse order (to build the excitement) I think I can remember the top two but I have forgotten the order. One of them is the Guinness advert which is a video ‘tour de force’ in which huge waves are turned into race horses (which sounds odd but is actually very impressive) The second memorable advert is ‘For Mash, get Smash’ which shows little extra-terrestial creatures laughing that anyone would eat actual potatoes rather than buying the product. (Incidentally, I buy cheap packets of mashed potato in Asda when I can see it to act as an instant gravy thickener but being a low cost item it is not always in stock or easy to find) Another memorable advert was the National Coal Board’s ‘Come home to a real fire’ showing a dog, a cat and a mouse lying peacably side by side in front of a fire. Incidentally, I remember the artistic director of this advert explaining how the making the animals cooperate was a piece of cake compared with the squabbles and arguments that arose between the various pet owners as to whose contribution was the greatest. The advert that the Marketing textbooks quote as one of the greatest flops of all time was the ‘You are never alond with a Strand’ cigarette advert. This was shot by Carol Reed, who directed The Third Man and is regarded as technically brilliant. But the image of a man, alone on a rain-filled street, lighting up his cigarette, made viewers think that the cigarette was aimed at lonely, isolated men and sales actually plummeted – hence, the advert had a marked effect but in the wrong direction.

So we got home and had our Sunday lunch of ‘spatch-cocked’ chicken which was actually delicious and not especially overcooked. I made some onion gravy to help make the meat a little less dry and served it with a baked potato and some broccoli. We have a lot of it left over for later on in the week as we only consumed one breast (incidentally, the Americans with a degree of uncharacteristic prudishness call this ‘white meat’) leaving the other and the two legs for later meals during the week. This evening there is going to be a ‘serious’ program on King Charles III which is promising as some never before seen footage is to be shown which might be worth a brief watch. But we are actually more looking forward to two hours of a more irreverent look at the coronation to be broadcast on Channel 4, catering no doubt, to minority views within the viewing public as a whole. I think it is interesting that it is rather an endearing feature of British life that we have an ability to laugh at ourselves and hence a spew of comedy programms which other nations would find offensive. One thinks of ‘Spitting Image’ as the best example of this genre and, sometimes, although they say they do not mind being lampooned, some politicians never actually recover. For example, the example the way in which David Steel was portrayed as a little manikin who fitted in the top pocket of David Owen in the ill-fated alliance of the Liberals and the SDP dealt a blow to his reputation from which it was hard to recover. I can also remember the point at which Margaret Thatcher was portrayed on Spitting Image as absolutely mad (‘staring eyeballs, odd gesticulations’) and which marked the point, to the second, where Tory MP’s started to panic and realised that Margaret Thatcher could not lead them into another election victory and hence her de-fenestration when she failed to secure enough votes to secure an outright victory in a ballot for the Tory Party leadership all of those years ago.

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Saturday, 29th April, 2023 [Day 1139]

Today was a beautiful and bright spring day but Meg and I nonetheless had a little lie-in this morning. Then it was a case of showering, breakfasting and getting ourselves down to the park. We picked up our copies of the Saturday newspapers and I ascertained what time our local newsagent would be open tomorrow and Monday as opening times can be very variable when Bank Holidays are around. We lunched on some tuna salad which was easy to prepare and just as well because the real ‘shoot-out’ match between the English and French Rugby teams was scheduled to start at 1.00pm. There has been a big build up to this match as Engand and France completely dominate the rest of this year’s opposition. The match started with the French holding a lot of possession, awarded several penalties and hardly let the English team have sight of the ball for the first quarter of an hour. But then the England team ‘clicked’ and suddenly discovered their game plan and natural form and ran in about five tries before half time so that when the interval came, they were beating the French 33:0. But in the second half, the French became a lot more fluent and inventive and also there is a sporting cliché that it was a game of two halves, this was particularly true today. England scored one try but the French scored 33 points (which equalled the England half time score) by running in try after try. But the clock was against the French women and they ran out of time before they could have overhauled the English. One did get the impression that if another 20 minutes was played, the French could well have won this match. But as it stands, the English team were the Grand Slam champions this year which they deserve when putting all of their performances together.

Looking forward to next week, it is going to be quite an eventful week one way or another. After we have the Bank Holiday over on Monday, I have a Committee meeting at the church committee on Tuesday. This meets about once every two or three months and we hope to get all of or business transacted by 9.00pm in the evening which is late enough. On Wednesday, we have a physiotherapist calling round to the house to give Meg an assessment – this had to be ‘pushed for’ through our doctor so it will be interesting to see what he has to offer. Thursday is election day and, of course, nothing happens until the election results start to pour in in the wee small hours of the morning. These are actually local elections upon which the conventional wisdom is that one cannot read too much into the results. But on this occasion, the contests and the results are almost being treated as a ‘dry run’ for the general election which wil be held probably next year. The next United Kingdom general election is scheduled to be held no later than 28 January 2025 but winter elections are never favoured because of the difficulties of campaigning in the winter months, and there is Christmas to contend with. So the political parties may decide that it is better to hold the next General Election in the late autumn of 2024 so the local elections held this year may well be the last big test for all the political parties before the next General Election.I will probably stay up until about 2.00am by which time the general trends should be clear. Of course, some authorities may not start counting until the next morning which means that a lot of the results trickle through on Friday morning. Saturday, of course, is the day of the Coronation so these junketings will take place all day long. The ceremonial parts of these displays of pagentry leave me a little cold but I always look forward to the musical contributions which promises to be a blend of the ancient, the traditional and several new pieces composed for the equation. This coronation is going to be quite scaled down in comparison with 1953 but I think this is quite a sensible policy. For a start, we are living through a period in which living standards are severely depressed and over-ostentation does not seem to be a sensible policy. Also, of course, the degree of monarchial sentiment amongst the young is fast diminishing so that is probably another good reason to keep things within reasonable bounds. On Sunday, Meg and I hope to attend a Coronation party with our friends down the Kidderminster Road – I imagine there will be abot a dozen of us altogether.

This afternoon, as the weather was so fine and the rugby match over by 3.00pm, I thought I would make a start on a little bit of outside gardening. My maim object of interest was to attack the overhanging grass and the weeds in the kerbing which separates our communal green area from the roadway – as this is what visitors to the house might notice when visiting the house, I do have a vested interest in making it look at least tidy. I managed about half of the long length abutting the roadway which is a little more progress than I thought.The other half can be finished off tomorrow if the gods of the weather smile upon me.

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Friday, 28th April, 2023 [Day 1138]

Today dawned quite bright and clear and there were several things to which to look forward. Of course, the weather being quite bright although slightly on the chilly side always helps to improve the mood. Friday is the day when our domestic help calls around and we were particularly looking forward to a chat this morning as last week, it was a quick ‘Hello and Goodbye’ to her before we set off for Cheltenham to see Meg’s cousins. After exchanging our news, we made for Waitrose as we knew we would have a meeting with our University of Birmingham friend which is rapidly becoming the norm for our Friday mornings. This was a jolly occasion as always and we chatted about our various comings and goings during the past few days. We needed to buy some bread and was delighted when the Waitrose staff took several high quality loaves and marked them down to 50p – they are going straight into the freezer in any case and we extract one slice at a time when we need it which stops the rest of the bread going mouldy and having to be thrown away. When we got home, we discovered that it was our domestic help’s wedding anniversary the following day. By good fortune we had one or two little items some of which we had just bought on a whim, others of which we had in stock so she had a little bundle of things with which to go home and to contribute just a few rays of sunshine to her wedding anniversary celebrations. This afternoon, I completed putting some refining touches to the configuration of audio that we have in our various living rooms and have now reached the stage where no further improvements can be made. Of course, Monday is a Bank Holday but we have no plans to go anywhere or do anything except that we may take the opportunity to get some gardening done, if the weather improves and we have a nice warm spell. I think that if you can have a good go at any perennial weeds before May appears, then it saves an enormous amount of remedial work later in the season, and vice versa.

Of course, next weekend is the day of the Coronation followed by another Bank Holiday. Our University of Bormingham friend pointed out to us the official ’emblem’ I suppose you could say of the Coronation and we spent one or two minutes decoding rhe elements of it. The first thing to be noticed in the emblem are Scottish thistles at the two ends of a diagonal. Using this as a cue, it becomes evident that the other diagonal has a daffoldil at each end (for Wales) Along the bottom are a row of Irish shamrock and then, you might say, is the Tudor Rose which is placed atop all of the other elements. The Tudor rose (sometimes called the Union rose) is the traditional floral heraldic emblem of England and takes its name and origins from the House of Tudor, which united the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The Tudor rose consists of five white inner petals, representing the House of York, and five red outer petals to represent the House of Lancaster.

There are two big political stories today. The first of these occurred this morning as soon as the report was published on the conduct of the BBC Chairman, Richard Sharp, who subsequently resigned. An independent report found he broke the rules on two occasions by failing to disclose the role he played in helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan. Adam Heppinstall KC’s review found the former Conservative donor twice breached the code governing public appointments, risking the perception he was not independent from the then-prime minister. Most informed commentators thought that Sharp was almost bound to resign as soon as the report was published. The interesting thing about this case is that Sharp himself was adjudged to be ‘guilty’ and had fallen on his swords as the ancient Romans used to do. However, it was Boris Johnson’s government that engineered and recommended to the Selection Board that Sharp be appointed in the first place, so should the government not itself be censored for trying to ‘nobble’ the impartiaity of the BBC? It seems a strange quirk of the British constitution that the Chairman of the BBC whose role it is to maintain the independence of the BBC should be appointed by the Prime Minister of the day who has an evident interest in making sure that the BBC is at least ‘on side’ and does not overtly criticise the Government of the day.

The second big news story is that a policy of ‘divide and rule’ is seen as paying dividends for the government in their dealings with the Health unions in their dispute over pay. Members of the GMB unions have voted narrowly to accept the Government’s pay offer whilst members of the other two unions, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have voted equally narrowly to reject the offered deal. What happens now is slightly unclear but it may be that the GMB ‘vote’ outweighs the other two and the pay deal is enforced upon the whole of the NHS striking workers. The situation may clarify in a few days time but ‘divide and rule’ seems to be the order of the day.

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Thursday, 27th April, 2023 [Day 1137]

Our routine is nothing if not predictable so being a Thursday, it is our supermarket shopping day. I get some money out of the ATM in a nearby supermarket and then proceeded to my normal haunt. This week, it is a ‘chicken week’ and I was briefly tempted by one of those little ‘poulet’ that you can buy – but opted instead for a spatchcocked chicken with rosemary and thyme already in its tin tray so that all you have to do is to bang it into the oven and forget about it for an hour and a half. I tend to overcook chicken in any case becase I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be a fair degree of salmonella around in half-cooked chicken so I prefer to be safe rather than sorry. Then it is a case of getting home and getting the shopping unpacked and Meg washed and dressed. I must confess that I really wanted yesterday to be a quiet day after the long drive to Winchester on Tuesday. But that was not to be as the weather was so fine that I took the opportunity to get the lawns all mowed. But in consequence, I have felt a little tired all day so decided to have a nice quiet day at home. One little thing that I did get done, though, was to consult Google to discover how to turn off the ‘Tyre Pressure Warning’ light on my Honda. It seems that the pressure indicator is very sensitive and quite easily tripped ‘on’ but then it stays on because the system assumes that you have done something to fix the low tyre pressure and then also assumes that you ‘reset’ this warning signal by reinitialising it. Judged by the queries on the internet, it seems that a lot of Honda customers are caught out by this and need to know how to fix it. Anyway, after consulting one or two little video clips, I wrote down the instructions and went out to the car where I got the warning light fixed. I did take the precautions, though, of writing a little email to myself with these instructions written out and I can then run them off on the printer and keep a copy in the glove compartment for next time – assuming there is a next time.

Last night, and completely fortuitously, I switched onto ClassicFM and heard the theme tune from ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin‘ – a film I think I have seen twice before. On the spur of the moment, we decided to access Youtube on our Amazon Firestick and got the film in its entirety and without any buffering problems moreover. There were quite a few scenes in the film that I honestly could not remember from a previous viewing and so either my memory is failing or I wonder if previously broadcast versions of the film had been edited a little to fit in to the broadcasting schedules. The film does not receive a very good rating from experienced film critics but I must say that I enjoyed every minute of it and thought the performances of Penelope Cruz, John Hurt and Nicholas Cage were outstanding (but only in my view – the professional critics panned it and thought some of the acting was awful) The interesting historical event portrayed in the film is what happened at the end of the last war. Briefly, the Italians who had occupied parts of Greece surrended and gave their weapons to the local Greek fighters. This was perceived as an act of treachery by the Germans who promptly massacred the Italians. A total of 1,315 Italians were killed in the battle, 5,155 were executed by 26 September, and 3,000 drowned when the German ships taking the survivors to concentration camps were sunk by the Allies. I do not suppose that many people in the UK are cognizant of these happenings but the endgames to wars are always messy.

The political news today has been dominated by the fact that the Government took the Royal College of Nursing to the High Court, arguing that their mandate for a strike runs out half way through the next planned days of strike. The High Court agreed completely with the government and even ordered the RCN to pay the Government costs, which strikes me as being vindictive. It seems to me that this a classic case of winning the battle but losing the war. Winning a court case against the RCN and forcing members to forego going on strike is not going to calm tempers before the dispute gets resolved, the Union will have saved a day’s strike pay and the risk of patients will be mitigated somewhat. Another big story today has been the publication of proposed legislation to update Gambling and Gaming – the last Act was passed before smart phones and online betting beamse prevalent. The Bill has been long delayed and its provisions are generally seen as being weaker tham some MPs anticipated. The gambling industry has spent £200,000 on lobbying Tory MPs to water down the new legislation and it seems as though this money has not been wasted. This is almost as clear a case of corruption as it is possible to see and perhaps is one of the reasons why so many are disillusioned with the curent state of politics in the UK.

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Wednesday, 26th April, 2023 [Day 1136]

Today was evidently the ‘day afer the day before’ so Meg and I resolved to have a fairly quiet day after the long drive of yesterday. This morning, we picked up our newspaper, popped into Waitrose for a few items and then made a journey into the park which we have not visited for a few days. In our trip towards the bench upon which we normally sit, we were greeted by two separate couples who had enquired about our whereabouts. During the height of the pandemic, of course, we tended to come to the park every single day come rain or shine but with the onset of inclement winter weather and the call of acquaintances from Waitrose, we have tended to congregate there several times a week to have our coffee. The two couples who greeted us in the park today were used to seeing us, if only from a distance, on a daily basis but as we have not made our presence felt quite so much in the park of late, they hoped that nothing had befallen us. It is really quite heartwarming that others that you scarcely know should look out for you but we were at pains to reassure them that apart from the ravages of time that slows all of us up, no particular misfortune had befallen us. Then we met with a very interesting chap who observing Meg’s mobility difficulties showed us a very special type of elbow crutch which he was using obtained from Amazon. This chap had been a very keen walker as the local leading light of the Ramblers Association but had suffered some health problems which involved a lot of pain walking as his sciatic nerve was badly affected. But he argued that this particular piece of apparatus had made a dramatic difference to him and he could now walk pain-free for much longer distances. I have found the particular unit to which he was referring on Amazon and it was not inordinately expensive and as it had received such a glowing endorsement, I will have a dicsussion with Meg about it. We anticipate having an in-house visit from a physiotherapist so we can have a discussion about this particular piece of equipment once he has observed Meg in action, as it were.

We had a fishcake lunch and by the time that lunch was over, the cloudy skies had cleared and we started to get some much more evident springtime sunshine.So this was a heavan sent opportunity to get the lawns cut so I seized the moment. Miggles, the local tabby cat, who has adopted us made his presence felt and as we have not seen him for a couple of days I gave him a little treat. The cat tolerated the mowing and then trotted round the back asking for more which is a bit like Oliver Twist personified. The weather is still quite cool for late April but the weather forecasters tell us that a blast of Saharan air is due over the next few days. I am just getting my head around the fact that we are to have three Bank Holidays in May: Early May bank holiday on 1 May, Bank holiday for the coronation of King Charles III on 8 May, Spring bank holiday on 29 May. I find that Bank Holidays tend to play havoc with one’s prescriptions and the like so this year, I shall try to make sure that I am well organised.

There are enormous rows going in Parliament this evening. The immediate sources of conflict are the final stages of the Illegal Migration Bill which will pass through the Commons this evening but in all probability will receive the rockiest of rides in its passage through the House of Lords. Today, in an interview with Sky News this morning, Suella Braverman said there was no good reason for someone to leave Sudan and claim asylum in the UK after travelling on a small boat across the Channel. She said the UNHCR was operating in the region and ‘they are the right mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the United Kingdom’. The UNHCR has immiately hit back and has issued a statement about claims that refugees can apply for asylum in the UK through the UNHCR. The agency said it ‘wishes to clarify that there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the UK.’ So there is a direct conflict of evidence here. Meanwhile, in the debate itself figures such as Teresa May and Ian Duncan-Smith have given Suella Braverman what is claimed to be a ‘torrid time’ on the floor of the house. The most immediate concern is that Suella Braverman is absolutely ruling out a ‘safe and legal route’ out of Sudan (and just a reminder that the UK was an ex-colonial power in this area) This means that any child or victim of modern slavery who manages to escape from the conflict in Sudan will be deported to Rwanda if not immediately then the minute they are judged to be 18 years old. Although Rishi Sunak is said to have made a series of compromises to help to buy some of the rebels, the stark fact is that refugees from the Sudan face a most unwelcome time if they attempt to enter the UK.

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Tuesday, 25th April, 2023 [Day 1135]

Today has been one those really life-affirming days, as I shall shortly recount. Last night, fairly late in the evening and with a very heavy heart, I emailed the members of the ‘Old Fogies’ dining club (ex-University of Winchester colleagues) with the news that I would not be able to make our planned reunion in Winchester the next day (being today, Tuesday) But Meg and I felt really buoyed up by meeting for afternoon tea with our new-found friends yesterday and Meg felt that she was quite up to making the trip today. We decided to see how Meg felt in the morning after a night’s sleep whilst I did some research on nearby car parks nearby to the restaurant. The restaurant was more than helpful as its website had a clickable link with the location of nearby car parks. There was one about half a kilmetre away with space for over 400 cars so I suspect there would always be some spaces available in this. The car park itself was probably built to serve the needs of the County Council Offices which used, when I worked in Winchester, to have premises almost adjacent to this multistorey. Much later in the night, I accessed my emails and was incredibly touched by the very heartwarming emails I received in response to my earlier email notifying colleagues of my non-attendance. So encouraged by this, Meg and I were quite keen to make the journey by car and it was a beautiful fine spring day which ought to make motoring easy. The journey itself was uneventful apart from a section where they were renewing the central reservation barrier and had squeezed the other lanes so that the presence of large lorries adjacent to one encouraged a degree of nervousness. When we got to half way point we stopped and had our elevenses in one of the numerous parking areas which are quite common along the dual carriage way of the A34. The only slightly unfortunate blip on this journey was trying to make a toilet visit at one of those service areas where you actually have to leave your the carriageway to access a service area which is off a roundabout off another roundabout i.e. not properly contiguous to the carriage way as is the case with ‘proper’ service stations along the course of a motorway. I must say I have a particular dislike of wat I might call these indirect service areas. My dislike was intensified when the one that Meg and I decided to access seemed completely closed with cones across the access roads, yellow stickers over the doors and occasional personnel calling out to the odd intrepid souls like ourselves that the whole site was closed. But the car park for which we were destined had a post code which meant that our SatNav could locate it easily which it did. When we got to the carpark, we found one space available on the ground floor which I seized but then quickly worked out why the space had been left vacant as once you were in the space, its proximity to a pillar meant you could not actually get out of the car. But I looked across one of the roadways and noticed someone who looked as though they were just about to leave as they seemed to be fiddling about in the space. Eventually, though, it transpired that it was one of our University of Wichester friends, parking his car for the same lunch appointment. Needless to say we were both delighted, and amazed, to see each other as of all of the people you might meet in the carpark, we were not expecting to see each other. Then we made our way as a trio to the restaurant which was very helpful as Meg had two males to support her over any tricky kerbs.

When we got to the restaurant, we were greeted with mutual delight by one of our number who was there early and, of course, having received and replied to my email of last might was not expecting to see us there. I think we were a group of 8-9 altogether and I thnk it is fait to say that a marvellous time was had by all as we enjoy each other’s company so much. Incidentally, this little dining club started off as a joint birthday meal some twenty years ago as by coincidence there were about 5 of us who all had birthdays in May and pretty close to each other. Of course, over the years we have all gradually relinquished our links with the University of Winchester but, as a matter of interest, I wonder how many groups of ex-colleagues are still in regular contact on a twice yearly basis after so many years? I am sure that it must happen but I do not suppose it is a very common event. We finished off the meal at about 3.00 having started at 12.15 and we made our way home in glorious sunshine. The only thing to mar my journey home was a warning light indicating a low trye pressure. I called in at a garage attached to a service area and ensured that all of the tyres were correctly inflated. But the warning light did not go out on the dashboard – I have a vague memory of this having happened before but I think the not very intelligent sensor system does not reset itself once a warning light as been triggered even though the type pressures have been checked. I think a quick visit to QuickFit might ensue tomorrow morning.

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Monday, 24th April, 2023 [Day 1134]

Today dawned somewhat wet and gloomy but it could be that some better weather will be with us in a few days. After we had breakfasted, Meg and I made a journey along the High Street because we needed to pay a brief visit to the bank and we also, en route, collected one or two stationery items that I need. Then we popped into Waitrose to buy some provisions for our little tea party this afternoon. After we had bought a basket of goodies one of the shop assistants well-known to us pressed a bunch of roses into our hands to help to make the party go well (if there is any doubt why we continue to shop in Waitrose, perhaps all is now explained). When Meg and I got home, we treated ourselves to a big bowl of tomato soup, anticipating that we might be chomping on some tea-time goodies half way through the afternoon. I spent the latter part of the morning preparing some dainty little sandwiches (beef, tuna, cheese) that I made the centrepiece of our tea-time offerings, supplemented by some cake, biscuits and other treats. Then our friends arrived just after 3.00pm as arranged. We had a very interesting afternoon, as it turned out. The daughter of our friends had lived both in Spain and also in Mexico – as our son had spent a year’s scholarship in Mexico before he went to university in the UK, we had a lot to chat about. We explained how a series of accidents had, in essence, led to the interests that Meg and I have in all things Hispanic and a couple of hours seemed to speed by so rapidly. It may well be that we will have further meetings in our garden if and when the weather improves.

The news is still dominated by the terrible conflict in the Sudan which seems to be being torn apart. It appears that the French, Germans, Italians and Spanish have all managed to evacuate all of of their citizens but there are many, many British citizens in the Sudan and they number about 4,000. The official government advice is for them to ‘stay indoors’ as the streets are so unsafe which is understandable but the government is tight-lipped about whether there are plans afoot to try a mass evacuation. One can see a disaster of Afghanistan type proportions starting to build up here. If the government do attempt a mass evacuation, it will logistically be incredibly difficult and no doubt many will be left behind to fend for themselves. On the other hand, to do nothing would appear to be the most enormous dereliction of duty by a state towards its own citizens and one is left with a feeling that not for the first time, the Foreign Office will be shown to be completely negligent.

The Coronation of King Charles III is to take place on Saturday, May 6th and there is an increasing momentum of interest in this event. It looks as though much of the population will follow the events of the day in TV but there are some parties and communal events planned around the day of the Coronation itself. Speaking for ourselves, some of our close friends who live down the Kidderminster Road are planning a Coronation party for friends and neighbours, probably out in their garden if the weather is as fine as the weather forecasters seem to think that it might well be. To some extent, this is quite a communal event because we are sharing the costs of all of the food and will be responsible for bringing along some of our favourite tipples. Today, I called in at our neighbour’s house to the way back from town to make sure I was up-to-date on some of the final arrangements for this get together. Almost inevitably, my mind goes back to the events surrounding the coronation of the late Queen in 1953 when I was only eight years old. In those days, only 14% of the population had a TV set in 1952 and this proportion increased very rapidly to 21% in 1953. But as these bald statistics show, four out of every five people did not have a TV but I imagine that lots of family, friends and neigbours invited others inside their houses to watch on little 14″ black and white sets. My own family circumstances were such, at that time, that I think I probably listened to the Coronation service on our family radio. My memories at the time were that at school we seemed to spend an awful lot of our time colouring in cardboard cutouts of the coronation coaches and the uniforms of some of the various ceremonial guards in the procession. But about a week or so afterwards, all of the schools were taken to the cinema so that we could then see all of the glories of the coronation in full colour. Also announced on Coronation Day was the news that Everest had been climbed for the first time by Tensing and Hillary. A film was also shown called ‘the Conquest of Everest’ so this made our cinema visit doubly exciting. Each child was also given a special Coronation Mug and we used ours as a daily piece of crockery for years into the future. I am sure that many of these coronation mugs, of which there must have been millions, are lingering at the back of some kitchen cupboards but I must admit that I have not actually seen one for a long time.

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Sunday, 23rd April, 2023 [Day 1133]

This morning was a fairly normal Sunday morning for us as we got up, breakfasted on cereal and then watched the Lorna Kuenssberg Politics program, which turned out to be rather unremarkable. After this, though, we made our way down to Waitrose where we met again with our friend from the University of Birmingham. Here our conversation ranged over the humourous to the serious which is about par for the course and then we made for home so that we could cook Sunday lunch. Before we went out this morning, we had a quick glance to see if there were any films that we might want to watch this afternoon. Channel 5 was showing ‘Ladies in Lavender‘ of which the theme tune receives a fair number of plays on ClassicFM. What particularly intrigued us was the reviewers spoke of two stunning performances by Judy Dench and by Maggie Smith and although the story line was said to be a bit thin, the performances by the UK’s leading ‘grand dames’ of theatre and film was not to be missed. In the event, the story was a poignant one (as you might almost have inferred from the theme music) and Meg and I felt it well worth a watch.

Late last night, I consulted the web to see if any train journeys to Winchester were remotely viable. In particular, I wanted to see if going via Warwick Parkway rather than Birmingham International gave me any more options. But there were no viable trains available to me which did not involve 2 changes (including traversing London by tube) or three changes to get to Winchester by a circuitous route. Although I now have got a refund from the fact that Cross Country trains have decided to miss out Birmingham International, it now looks as though to get a train from the Midlands to Winchester in one hop is going to require booking about a month ahead which is not an option for me. So we are still considering whether to both go by car which would be a journey of 123 miles each way be car and may be somewhat wearing. If we were to go down this route, I think car parking in central Winchester might prove to be a bit of a nightmare but I haven’t completely made up my mind as yet. Tomorrow afternoon, we are having some acquaintances that we met through the club activities that we met about ten days ago,to pop round for some afternoon tea so we are thinking through some of the little ingredients to have. If the weather is fine (which I doubt) we can always have tea in the garden but April is such a variable month so we may have to retreat to the dining room.

The political agenda is dominated this afternoon by the veteran Labour MP, Diane Abbott, apparently saying that Jewish people do not experience racism in the same that black people do and then having to ride the storm of protest from all sides of the political spectrum tht subsequently arose. She immediately retracted all of her remarks and claimed than an ‘early draft’ of her letter to the Observer had been sent ‘in error’ but it strains credibiity to the utmost that anyone should believe that ‘the dog ate my homework’ type of excuse. One wonders what kind of world Dianne Abbott is living to even contemplate remarks as she originally made which only reignites the idea that the far left of the Labour Party are actually anti-Semitic. Abbott has had the Labour whip removed from her (i.e. de facto suspended from the party) and her status is now one as an ‘Independent’ Labour MP, just like Jeremy Corbin. The maverick Tory MP and classics scolar, Enoch Powell, in his famous ‘rivers of blood’ speeach used the phrase ‘those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first make mad’ and the phrase (but not the context in which it was first uttered) seems quite appropriate to the Abbott case.

The Sudan conflict which has flared up as two military leaders are attempting to fight out it out for supremacy recalls to mind a book that Meg and I were encouraged to read within the first week or so of arriving at University. Manchester University had a Department of Social Anthropology which liked to claim world status for itself. So we were encouraged to buy and to read from cover to cover all 690-700 pages of ‘Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic amongst the Azande of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan’ The pedagogic theory behind all of this was that we needed to be shocked out of our eurocentric and western-rationality mode of consciousness by being exposed to the anthropological studies that revealed how other societies had alternative philosophies of causation and social cohesion – hence witchcraft beliefs were involved to try to discover why one’s crops had failed, illness descended upon the family and similar misfortunes. Whether this theory of exposing undergraduates to this literature within a week or so of arriving at University was valid is an interesting point but I can reveal that Meg and I used this very thick tome in order to prop up the low wooden frame of our bedstead which was in imminent daner of collapse so it proved to be useful after all.

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Saturday, 22nd April, 2023 [Day 1132]

This was another wonderful spring day. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and so it proved today. Due to an oversight, I forgot to buy my eggs that we usually poach and have for a light cooked breakfast each day. So today I compromised by frying together an onion, a few, halved plum tomatoes and one largish mushroom. To this I added just a small tounch of a spicy chilli and tomato sauce that I had in stock. The result was absoutely delicious so I intend to try this recipe out for a few days each week to add a little variety to our diet. We received a telephone call from our University of Birmingham friend to confirm our, by now, traditional meeting in Waitrose coffee bar mid morning. Two hours later we were still chatting so we had to break off rapidly to do a little bit of shopping and to race along the High Street to get to the bank before it closed. As it turned out, we need not have bothered because the bank shut at 12.30pm rather than 1.00pm. Given that Banks have quite restrictive opening hours and some people (not us) can only get to the bank on Saturday mornings so these opening, or should I say,closing hours, shows a complete lack of consumer responsiveness. So, with a sigh, I reckoned that I would have to make my bank visit on Monday, should they deign to open for any of its customers. Our friend had brought along some DVDs and a book in which we might be interested before taking his clear-out items to a charity shop. We gratefully accepted, though, receipt of the book in which Meg might be reasonably interested. As we sitting and having our coffee, one of the staff approached our table and as long standing and loyal customers, we each received a bunch of flowers which otherwise were destined for the disposal bin (but they looked fresh enough for us). So we gave our profound thanks and the Waitrose staff will be rewarded by another visit from the three of us as we have arranged to meet again there in the morning. In the afternoon, we watched the England vs. Ireland Womens rugby match. England were the clear favourites and tacked up a hugh score the last time they met. On this occasion, the English team had racked up about four tries (which they were not very good at converting) at half time but the second half was a different game altogether. The Irish really put their act together and half way through the second half, neither team had scored at all. But then the strength and power of the English pack overcame the Irish who failed to score a single point throughout the match. Worringly, though, the English team picked up a couple of injuries which they could well have done without as next weekend is getting to be the ‘shoot it out’ match as England and France, the two outstanding teams in the tournament, meet each other next weekend.

The Dominic Raab row rambles on, as one might expect. The principal attack dog today, as yesterday, was William Rees-Mogg who accused the civil servants as a ‘blizzard of snowflakes’ He also attacked the British Ambassador to Gibraltar who had crossed swords with Raab in the course of a complaint which the author of the report investigating Raab actually upheld. But Rees-Mogg went on to use inflammatory language by opining that he thought Mr Raab’s resignation was ‘unnecessary’ and took aim at an ambassador reportedly involved in the accusations. He suggested the ambassador in question was too soft and said: ‘Is our ambassador a complete wet wipe? You can not intimidate an ambassador and, if you can, then the ambassador is no good. Ambassadors have to have a backbone to represent the country abroad. The main complaint that was upheld relates to an ambassador, an extraordinarily senior figure who was deliberately going against government policy in Gibraltar, an issue of the highest sensitivity. Civil servants can behave appallingly, whereas ministers do something perfectly normal and have to resign. I think this is quite wrong.’ I think it is difficult for us to arbitrate in this dispute and how far this account is justified or subject to dispute. William Rees-Mogg is noted, however, for always adopting a controversial and inevitably far right commentary upon political events so perhaps his comments should be seen in this light. But what be said, however, is there is a very definite balance in the ecology of the relationships between civil servants and ministers. Harking back to ‘Yes, Minister’ TV series (which was one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite programs, by the way) senior civil servants are likely to have achieved much higher academic sucess and to enjoy much more longevity in post than the politicians they serve. On the other hand, they are appointed whereas politicians can claim legitimacy because they were elected. So to wade into this delicate balance with hob-nailed boots (which what I think Rees-Mogg is doing) is likely to upset this sensitive ecology and that is not in the long term interests of having a stable and well functioning government machine. As always, the view of the Sunday newspapers will be fascinating.

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Friday, 21st April, 2023 [Day 1131]

So the day has finally arrived when we are to make a visit to Meg’s cousins in Cheltenham, which trip has been planned for a week or so now. But the day did not get off to a particularly good start. Meg had a rather disturbed patch during the night which was unusual as she sleeps pretty well on the whole. Anyway we coped with the disturbed patch with some night time tea and some of Meg’s pills, although I cannot vouch for their effectiveness. Then I was awakened at about 7.30 with cries of help coming from the en-suite bathroom floor as Meg had fallen and evidently could not get up. But as it happened, I had done two things in the last day or so which helped me to cope. Firstly, I had consulted some advice on a specialised website which indicated how to cope with falls of the elderly. This all sounds common sense but it was the first time I had to put the advice to practical use. Firstly, the person who has fallen needs to be rolled over onto their stomach. Then from this position, one should attempt to get into a kneeling position and then from this position to actually stand up. When I went shopping at the supermarket the other day, I spotted in the Aldi ‘middle aisle’ a child’s step stool and I purchased one of these because I thoght it might be a useful aid to get Meg dressed in the morning,not to mention picking herself up from the floor. So a combination of following the website advice and then using the step stool to achieve a kneeling position seemed to work OK and the rest followed fairly quickly. After all of this pallaver, I got myself and Meg up and adressed and then got downstairs to cook some breakfast. I had to improvise here as well becaue I had forgotten to buy some eggs but I substituted some cooked plum tomatoes served with some cheese on toast (for Meg) and rice cake (for me). After breakfast, I needed to access the web to organise a refund of some train tickets. I had already organised and paid for a couple of tickets so that Meg and I could go to an ‘Old Fogies’ (ex-University of Winchester) colleagues for a meal on Tuesday next. But the relevant company, Cross Country trains, sent me a message to the effect that the train we were going to pick up at Birmingham International was not going to stop there on this particular train. So I organised a refund for myself and can now work out what options are open to ne. As Meg seems to be in a pattern of having a fall every other day or so, then I think the journey to Winchester is now probably beyond us. We could go by car but this makes it quite a long day without the benefit of any alcohol at lunchtime. As Meg cannot be left unattended, I have to reluctantly conclude that shall have to give the ‘Old Fogies’ a miss on this occasion and will look forward to the next occasion in about six months time.

We set off for Cheltenham in plenty of time and the car almost knew its own way there from past journeys to Meg’s cousin. We had arranged to meet in Meg’s cousin’s daughter’s house where we could leave the car and then proceed to the restaurant in a couple of cars as car parking is at a premium. It was wonderful to see Meg’s cousins again after a gap of some years (in one case) Unfortunately a severe illness seems to be manifesting itself which was distressing to hear but we are convinced that a positive attitude can make a world of difference. We all had a good meal which in our case was Fish and Chips which is quite a treat as we have some so rarely and they were beautifully cooked and presented. We had plenty of time both before and during lunch to get each other up-to-date on family matters and naturally some political discussion ensued. After we had had our lunch, we all repaired to the cousin’s house for a cup of tea and then we struck off for home, which was quite an easy journey home. We are only about 40 miles distant from one of Megs cousins so we are hoping that they can come and spare some time with us in Bromsgrove if time and other commitments allow. At least we have the prospect of summer unfolding before us which makes these family trips much more manageable.

Of course, the major political news today was Dominic Raab’s resignation just before 10.00am this morning. My predictions of last night were quite wrong, by the way. What is so unusual is that Dominic Raab has resigned with all guns blazing calling the whole enquiry process ‘flawed’ and the narrative that he is trying to construct is that a small cadre of ‘passive-aggressve’ civil servants were hell-bent on bringing him down. But significantly, there are no Tory MP’s arguing that his resignation was unnecessary with the exception of Jacob Rees-Mogg in an interview that dripped vitriol (towards civil servants) in every sentence.

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