Friday, 30th June, 2023 [Day 1201]

Today is the day that I have been saving up to talk about for some days now but I wanted to delay until today. My little story started a few days ago when our domestic help sent me a photo of a Technics Electric Organ (c. 1983) which she had spotted in a charity shop in Cannock, Staffs. When I asked her about the selling price, she replied that it was £70 which I could scarcely believe. But then I got bitten by the bug and wondered if any were for sale locally on eBay and, quite by chance, I found one in an auction that had a starting price of £15.99. I wrote off to the seller to make some enquiries about the machine and it transpired that the seller lived in Derby and was willing to transport within reason to addresses in the Midlands. Accordingly, I entered the auction last Saturday about two or three minutes before the auction was due to end and I knew that there no other publically announced bidders – but who knows how many people like myself might be lurking in the wings. To cut a long story story short, having entered the auction and at a price higher than the initial bid price, it turned out that I was the only bidder and so secured the instrument for the bid price of £15.99 (although, I did find out,indirectly, that the seller had tried at a higher price without success the month previously) After some more email consultations and a telephone call, the seller told me that he and his father could deliver the organ in their VW Passat on Sunday morning for a petrol charge of £25.00. So the pair turned up and ‘installed’ the organ and we entertained them with tea, biscuits and a chat. They turned out to be a fascinating and interesting pair – the father played the organ and his father had been a local preacher whilst the son played the guitar. But as well as supplying the organ, they also let me have a whole series of some 17 songbooks designed for young learners to play simplified versions of various tunes (usually only with the right hand). Naturally, I was absolutely delighted with my purchase. Most people would not have the space (floorspace, noise volume) or the time for such an instrument and the organ itself was probably manufactured by Technics some time shortly after 1983, when it would have had a new selling price of about £1450. Now it happens that Meg and I have plenty of space in our new ‘music room’ and the noise would not inconvenience any neighbours. Whether we have the time or not is a moot question but at least we can do things in small snatches rather than hours at a time. So far, about from one hymn tune, I have just about mastered one tune which is the ‘largo’ from the 2nd movement of Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ which is very well known to many listeners. Once I consult my various books, I hope to be able to master about one new tune a week – and then in one year I should have fifty under my belt.

What I had not fully appreciated until the last few days is that I had always thought of the piano and the organ as basically very related instruments with one being very much the younger brother of the other. But I now know that it is not as simple as this. For start, the piano is a percussive instrument in that the key strikes a string and a note is emitted which then dies away. The organ, though, is essentially a woodwind instrument (or electronically simulated) in which air is blown through a pipe. When you press a key, the note is sustained for as long you keep a finger pressed upon it. Also a full scale piano has some 77 keys but the modern keyboard instruments (and the one which Mozart composed upon) only have 61 keys. But organs typically have two or more manuals, each of about 44 keys (three and two-thirds octaves) plus an octave supplied by foot pedals. Hence the Technics instrument I have just acquired has the equivalent of 61 keys or five octaves but the lower octave is supplied by foot pedals and the upper one is supplied by one manual being offset about one octave higher than the other. The reason for this arrangement is that organs have two or more ‘voices’ for example with one manual sounding like a trombone or other wind instruments such as a clarinet whilst the other may well have flutes of various sizes and strings. Typically, the upper manual provides the melody and the lower the accompaniment but this is not invariable. So evidently, I have a lot to learn but tonight I have moved onto a simplified version of ‘La Donna è Mobile’ from Don Giovanni by Mozart.

Today we were pleased to meet with our University of Birmingham friend in Waitrose after he had a bout of illness. Hopefully, we will be sharing a Sunday lunch together and are helping him on the road to recovery but we had rather missed him whilst he was out of action and are especially pleased to be back in contact with him.

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Thursday, 29th June, 2023 [Day 1200]

Today has been quite a day as will be evident when this blog develops. But the day started off, as Thursdays always do, with presenting myself at the doors of the supermarket via an ATM so that I could start shopping immediately the shop opened. I managed to get practically everything that I wanted bar some icecream which we have been consuming in quantity as the weather has been so warm. Then it was a case of getting everything home, unpacked, the breakfast prepared and finally elevenses prepared for a walk in the park. So far, so good. But after our visit to the park, we decided to pop by the local store which both receives and resells furniture and household goods which goes by the name of ‘New Start‘ In the past, I have both donated and occasionally bought some goods from there and today, I was particularly in search of a standard lamp which would be consistent with the rest of our decor and which would also act as a source of illumination for my newly acquired keyboard. There was a little cluster of standard lamps and lampshades in one corner of the premises and after consultation of Meg, we decided on one particular unit making sure that we had an appropriate lampshade and fittings. Then I left Meg alone with the standard lamp whilst I did a roam around looking to see if anything would serve as a piano stool. I did need something that was almost exactly 20″-21″ in height so armed with a tape measure I looked high and low to see if I could find anything suitable. In the event, my search was fruitless so I collected Meg complete with standard lamp and then I went to get it priced up and paid for. At this point, my troubles started. I reached into the pocket of my gilet where I have my debit cards stored in one wallet and my money in an improvised note holder – but both were missing. So I did the rounds of looking at every place in the store that I had been, assuming that whilst I was lifting furniture around, the two money holders must have fallen out somewhere. After a fairly thorough search, I left the standard lamp behind in the office and Meg and I made our way home to pick up my wallets which I thought I must have left at home. But when I got into the house, they were nowhere to be found, so I assumed that I really must have lost them both in my exertions in the furniture store. So Meg and I made a journey back to the ‘New Start‘ warehouse here I explained to the manager what I had lost and then I engaged in a really thorough search of anywhere it was at all possible they could have been. They were nowhere to be found, so thoroughly disconsolate and trying hard not to panic, Meg and I made our way home. Then another frantic search ensued and I was so relieved that I had taken my two money wallets and left them by the side of the computer at home i.e. not in their usual place. By this stage, it was practically 2.00pm amd Meg and I had had no lunch. So we threw together some cheese and biscuits which we consumed voraciously together with a smidgeon of our remaining icecream. Then Meg and I made our back to the furniture store for the third occasion both to inform the staff that I had found my wallets and then to pay for and bring home the standard lamp. On the way home, we got a call from our mobile from our chiropodist whose appointment we had forgotten about in the panic but fortunately for us, she was able to phone again and fit us in later in the afternoon.

Now that I got the lamp home, a certain amount of restoration was called for. The stave (vertical) part of the lamp was a kind of fluted deal or mahogany and seemed to be in reasonable condition. But the base part had some surface wear and I thought I would need to do some restoration on it. After a thorough clean, I then applied some of the ‘scratch cover’ stain that I keep in stock for occasions such as these. As I suspected, I managed to make quite an improvement althpugh imperfections still remain. But once the whole standard lamp was in its preferred position, complete with a rather good shade I was pleased with the overall effect.

The Committee of Privileges is now naming those MP’s (including, amongst others, Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg) who publically criticised the committee likening it to a kangaroo court. The House of Commons is now being asked to approve a report in which
it is emphasised that members ‘should not impugn the integrity of that committee or its members or attempt to lobby or intimidate those members or to encourage others to do so’ but it may take a newly reconstituted Committee of Privileges to work out whether the public critics of the Committee should be subject to any sanctions. All of this, of course, shows that the shadow of Boris Johnson still hangs over the Sunak premiership and he is finding it difficult to shake it off.

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Wednesday, 28th June, 2023 [Day 1199]

Today turned out to be quite a full day, what with one thing or another. We had anticipated that our domestic help would call around today but when I consulted my phone, I see that we had a text switching things to Friday for this week. Ths did not matter to us a great deal as I had a scheduled eye appointment today for my annual check. I am always quite pleased when this worked OK which it did. The ‘puffer’ test showed that the pressures in each eyeball were not excessive which is one of the first signs of glaucoma. Also, my vision had hardly altered at all over the past year and, if anything, my presbyopia is increasing which makes it easier and easier to read things at a distance (like car number plates) but at the cost of being a little more short-sighted. All of this is due to the eyeball changing shape gradually as one ages but it is always reassuring that one’e eyes are OK for the next year. I am pretty sure that next Spring, I have to renew my licence and can therefore tick the ‘eye sight’ box with complete confidence. However, my optician tells me that many people do not answer this question truthfully when they have to fill in the licence renewal form and I think that there are no ‘spot checks’ on this to show people are telling the truth – until they have an accident, of course, in which case the police might do an instant eyesight test. We got back from the opticians with whom we have been with for at least ten years now and then, as it is a Wednesday, watched Prime Minister’s Questions which was the usual ‘yah boo’ style of politics. Once this was over, I started to prepare the elements of lunch so that we could eat just after 1.00pm as I needed a somewhat longer afternoon. This all worked out fine and it meant that I could start to cut the lawns (which is now a regular Wednesday job) just after 2.00pm. The sky was cloudy and a little threatening but I was relieved to get all of this before the weather changed.

After a cup of tea and a bit of a well-earned rest, I needed to put out our bins abd it is the week for both the green one (paper) and the brown one (garden waste), I also have a little arrangement with my next door neighbour that each week I make myself responsible for taking the bins to the end of the road (kerbside) ready for emptying. Tomorrow morning, once emptied, my neighbour pulls them back again for us. We have a line of holly trees along one side of the house and during the hot weather, holly leaves have been dropped in profusion so the path had got quite messy. So I used a combination of a blower and a shovel to dispose of a lot of the excess leaves as the garden waste bin was being emptied tomorrow. As I was taking our bins out, my new neighbour from across the green was also processing his bins and he had been busy putting his garage to rights. He had some cupboard carcases which he wondered that I might make use of but these I did not need. At the same time, there were one or two little things about the house which he wondered I might know. On spotting a big, heavy safe in the garage, my neighbour told me that there was also one in the loft but he did not know the key combination. I wondered whether 0000 or 1234 might be the default so he was going to have a little play. Also outside the house and on a surface near to their garage door, there was a fairly ancient ‘key safe’ receptable which was locked and, of course, we did not know the combination to open it. It did have a telephone number on the case, though, so if the manufacturers are still in existence, they might be able to help. As it happened, it was our neighbour’s birthday earlier in the week and a family member had bought for him a nice bottle of rioja. Our neighbour very kindly made me a present of it which was very gratefully received. The rioja happened to be one of our favourites as well so this doubles the pleasure for us. As both of us bobbled about inside the garage, some gentle rain started to fall so this vindicates the decision for me to get my outdoor jobs done in good time.

An interesting political scandal has blown up this afternoon. A candidate to be the Tory Mayor of London, Daniel Korski, has quit the race after an allegation was made in The Times, earlier on in the week, that she had been very evidently groped whilst trying to give a presentation in Downing Street. The incident was written up in graphic detail and no details were spared by the woman, Daisy Goodwin, making the complaint. But she says that she had tried to file a formal complaint in the Cabinet Office but this had been made difficult. More the the point, the Tories knew of the allegations as part of their vetting process but still allowed the candidature to progress. Needless to say, the Labour Party are saying that this shows exactly what are the values of the current Conservative party and are milking the embarrassment for all it is worth.

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Tuesday, 27th June, 2023 [Day 1198]

Meg and I always look forward to Tuesdays because it is the day when we usually meet friends in the Waitrose café. Having picked up our newspaper, we braved the rain and the car park was absolutely teeming for no apparent reason. But later on, we noticed part of a funeral party so we wondered if the local undertakers had advised members of the funeral party to park at Waitrose becaue once we set foot inside the store, things were pretty quiet. We met up with our practically 90 year old chorister and, as we had not met for about three weeks with holiday and other commitments, needed some updating with my various keyboarding activities. She was very supportive and encouraging even though she herself cannot play as well as formerly as an arthritic finger is getting in the way. Another regular friend brought along more than the normal punnet load of strawberries to share between us. We gave these a rinse, de-stalked them and then put on a light scattering of sugar and had them with vanilla icecream for our tea this evening- and they were delicious. I said I would bring along some of my own gooseberries that I picked and topped and tailed the other day so that the pleasures of our own produce can be shared around a little. When we departed, I needed to buy a few provisions in the store and then we repaired to home so that I could get ready for my Pilates class later on in the day. This class went as normal with the regular four of us (this particular class is quite small and select) and then I got home to prepare our meal of fishcakes. Apart from a smattering of rain between 9am and 10am this morning, it has been cloudy and hence gloomy practically every hour of the day. Sometimes days start off like this and there there is a burst of late afternoon sunshine but not today where we experienced unremitting gloom.

Today, it has been Matt Hancock’s turn to give evidence to the COVID enqiry. As he was Health Secretary during the most critical parts of the pandemic, his evidence was more than especially important. According to Sky News, families who lost loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic have turned their backs on Matt Hancock as he tried to apologise to them at the COVID inquiry. In fact, the cry of ‘Murderer’ rang out when he tried to approach bereaved families. The former health secretary approached the public gallery after giving evidence, and admitting that the UK’s approach to planning for pandemics was ‘completely wrong’. Matt Hancock was forced to resign when he was shown in a clinch with a lover (for whom he had wangled some employment) in complete contravention of the COVID lockdown rules. Some of the soundbites from the Hancock evidence is notworthy. He admitted it was a ‘colossal’ failure to assume the virus spreading could not be stopped. Under questioning from Covid Inquiry counsel member KC Hugo Keith, Mr Hancock stressed that the ‘attitude, the doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster’. He said the government was focused on different questions, such as whether they could buy enough body bags and where the dead were to be buried.

The ramifications of the attempted rebellion in Russia are gradually come to light. In the midst of several claims and counterclaims, it does appear that the Russian military suffered losses of aircraft at the hand of the rebels. One large military plane and about six helicopters had been downed by the rebels which is quite a feat considering that the Ukrainian forces could not inflict similar damage upon the Russian miliary machine. Meanwhile, the Wagner group, with their leader, seem to have relocated to an abandoned military base in Belarus and one can only wonder how two authoritarian leaders and their respective armies will co-exist. We have seen in Sudan what happens when groups of armed militia roam the streets whilst the warlords fight it out for some kind of supremacy. Whether Putin feels safer than he was, now that potentially rebellious forces happen not to be in Russia itself but in a client state such as Belarus, is an interesting question. It could be that if Putin is overthrown, then the consequences for the Ukraine and other states such as Moldova and Latvia are not particularly good. In this very volatile situation, almost anything can happen and all that the West can do is to sit back and watch with a kind of fascinated horror.

The NHS disputes are rumbling on. The latest ballot of nurses failed to produce the majority required by law for further rounds of strikes. On the other hand, it looks as hospital consultants themselves are shortly to take strike action arguing that even with their relatively high level of pay, the erosion to their salaries in real terms over the past few years is even more severe than that of the nurses. It might well be that those medics who are on the verge of consultancy status may themselves feel very tempted to emigrate to the old ‘white’ commonwealth countries where rewards for their efforts seem so much higher (and probably work less stressful as well)

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Monday, 26th June, 2023 [Day 1197]

Today turned out to be quite a full day, what with one thing or another. This morning after Meg and I had breakfasted and then picked up our newspaper, we made our way to a local centre called ‘New Start‘ whose niche in the market is to recycle furniture and white goods. We have in the past donated excess household goods to this project and have occasionally found the right small piece for which we have a need. Today we were on the lookout for something that would serve as a piano stool but we knew that the height was a critical value because to play a keyboard one needs to be absolutely at the right height. We did find one piece that was delightful but too small and another piece of furniture that would serve but was just slightly too large. We received some useful advice from one of the volunteers who works there that they have a huge turnover of stock and that Monday mornings are quite a good time as the delivery vans that they have have not been loaded up and sent on their way, so the choice is good and things are generally quiet. We made a mental note of all of this and may well return next Monday to see if we can find something to fit our needs and decor. On our way home, we decided on the spur of the moment to see if some of our church friends were at home. In practice, the husband was in and his wife turned up a few minutes later. We did see them at church and at the concert last Saturday but only had time for some brief snatches of conversation. But we took the opportunity this morning to catch up on a lot of our news as we had quite a lot to impart what with one thing or another. Naturally, we told them about our keyboard experiences and they were telling us about an instrument they had had for years and eventually passed it to their son. We also got some news about a local gym which had just been sold for some millions and I think it had been bought by Bromsgrove School (a large private school) as the gym was fairly adjacent to one the school’s campuses. It looks as though some of the long serving staff had been kept in the dark until the very last moment but it all seemed a very tangled tale to those of us on the outside. When we got home, we had a ham joint cooking in the slow cooker, held over from the weekend as we have been having salads whilst the weather has been so warm. But today was a fairly conventional meal in which the ham was served with a baked potato, some broccoli and a cooked tomato.

After lunch, there was a little gardening job that badly needed doing. Just around the corner of the house and a little hidden from us was a little area in which the weeds had gone absolutely mad with some tall thistles amongst other weeds. Fortunately, these weeds were of the kind that are quite tall and discrete and easily removed so I spent a half hour getting this corner of the garden tidied up. Then it was a sunnny afternoon but a littl blowy so Meg and I thought we would have a quick spin in the park, having missed out this morning. Fortunately, we had taken along some snack bars and a bottle of water and located ourselves on our normal bench for a little repast. The clientele of the park changes quite a lot in the afternoon compared with the morning. The very young and pre-school children are probably at home and the dog walkers have usually done their turn as well. But the park has got a lot of school girls in it after school and there are normally mothers with babes in prams who often form a twosome and are chattering as they go. We bumped into one of our ‘park friends’ who we have not seem for some time and she seemed to be suffering quite a lot with her legs that seemed to be heavily bandaged and evidently causing her some grief. We enquired about past acquaintances who we used to see regularly but who well now be moving in a different orbit as we do not seem to coincide as much as we used to.

The aftermath of the rebellion in Russia is playing out in the media. The general consensus seems to be that Putin has been weakened by the whole episode. But what is delighting commentators in the West is that Putin’s whole narrative as to why the Ukraine war was necessary and how it is actually being prosecuted has been shot to pieces by the Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin who in theory has been banished to Belarus but who has not actually been seen recently. One can imagine that quite a lot of double crosses are being played out at the moment. In the midst of all of the speculation, it may be that this is the beginning of the end for Putin and the military equivalent of the ‘men in grey suits’ may be deciding in Russia that Putin is becoming more of a liability to them than an asset.

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Sunday, 25th June, 2023 [Day 1196]

Today proved to be an interesting day. As is the norm for a Sunday morning, Meg and I got ourselves and breakfasted and then settled down to watch the Politics programs on a Sunday morning. We have grown to appreciate the Sky News more than the BBC contribution over the months but generally government ministers flit from one channel to the next. The talking point today was a Government Treasury minister who would not now commit himself to honouring the findings of the pay review boards for public sector workers.It is being put about that many of these pay review Boards are suggesting a pay increase of about 6% (when past inflation has headed north of 10%) and in the past, ministers have always replied that we should wait until we get the report from the Pay Review Boards but now that they are recommending answers that they do not like, they are trying to wriggle out of the implications. This seems to be a recipe for more discontent over the months ahead and one wonders if some disputes will be settled before the next election takes place. Meg and I went for a brief walk in the park but it was even too hot and sticky for some dog owners. Instead, the park seemed to be filled with pre-school kids on their scooters and joggers. On the subject of children’s scooters, there is a very simple design that seems to be popular with children aged about 3-4 years old. Basically, it is a two wheeled bicycle but with no particular pedals or means of propulsion as such. I decided to go on the web to see how these are described and I now find that they are called ‘Balance Bikes’ They did not exist in my day but I think they are a great way for very young children to get used to the feel of a bike. Basically, one sits on the seat and propels the bike using your own feet. Nonetheless, the children that we have seen seem to be very proficient and I would imagine that it makes the transition to a normal ‘pedalled’ bike so much easier. I suppose the bike is then handed on to the next in the family or one’s extended family. As a day, though, it was not particularly conducive to too much sitting in the hot sun so Meg and I made our way home because we were expecting some visitors just after midday. When I got home, I got the ingredients for a salad all organised such that we could get quickly get our lunch together when needed. Our visitors duly arrived and we were delighted that they had brought along a little present for us – or rather quite a big present. These were people whose acquaintance we have just made and I had told them the story of how they I was learning simple tunes on the keyboard that I had just acquired. Our visitors very kindly donated a whole series of what you might call ‘piano tune books’ with a whole range of popular tunes and some classical pieces as well.These booklets are evidently designed to help youngsters (and the not so young like myself) acquire some simple keyboard skills in which just the tunes (i.e. right hand only) are supplied in suitable little fragments such that they fit easily onto a double sided page and are of the order of only a few bars long. But for the likes of myself, these are fantastic learning aids and we were absolutely delighted to be made a gift of these piano tune books by our acquaintances who were evidently having a clearout and wanted them to go to a good home. All in all, we were made a gift of some seventeen of these booklets and we were both delighted and very grateful to receive them. We gave our visitors refreshments of tea and biscuits which is all they wanted before they were on their way. So Meg and I had a little delayed lunch after which, after all of the excitement, Meg needed to go to bed for a couple of hours which probably did her some good. We have resorted today to drinking lots of cold drinks, opening windows where necessary and generally trying to keep both hydrated and comfortable. It may well be that we have a thunderstorm soon which will help to clear the air. In anticipation of this, I tied up our ‘Lavatera’ (also known as ‘Mallow’) so that it does not get battered down by a heavy rain storm which is quite likely in the days ahead.

I got a little absorbed in the early evening by a Channel 4 film basically tracking down the documentary evidence that shows that the Duke of Windsor (the last Queen’s uncle who abdicated) was at least a Nazi sympathiser and perhaps even worse. Some evidence has been found in the archives in the form of a letter which found its way into Nazi hands that the Duke of Windsor thought that a bombing campaign was the best way to subjugate the English. There is quite an evidence trail that were the Nazis to have been successful, then Duke of Windsor would be installed as a ‘puppet king’ and this was his secret desire.

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Saturday, 24th June, 2023 [Day 1195]

This morning, after a slow breakfast, Meg and I went on the road and first we collected our Saturday newspaper. After that, we went round to Aldi where I noticed when I did the shopping the other day that they were offering some bags of a decorative garden stone which went by the glamorous name of ‘Cotswold Cream’ The little border that I resurrected the other day could benefit, I feel, from a little beatifying and I had these white/cream stones in mind with our domestic help confirming my view that this would be a good idea. It should take a minute or so to get these little stones into position and when there is a fine spell tomorrow, I will seize the opportunity. When we eventually got home, I purchased a couple of items on eBay and then started to think about an early lunch. In view of the heat, this was a salad with quite a lot of ingredients and we certainly felt more than satisfied after it. We had a reason for an early lunch, because the church we attend each Saturday evening is playing a host this afternoon to what is known as a ‘bite size’ classical concert. This is part of the Bromsgrove festival which started today and carries on for the next month. There are a series of artistic and cultural events but the whole is not particularly well publicised to date. This afternoon’s concert is a repeat of last years in which a local violinist of some repute and her father as accompanist put on a program that lasted for an hour. It started with some Elgar and contained some Stravinsky but practically all the pieces bar one or two were known to us, probably having had a play on ClassicFM. The concert was very much appreciated by the patrons, many of whom were regular attenders at the church in any case. On the way out, a collection was taken for a local project which caters for the needs of young, homeless adolescents and it looked as thougb everyone had been generous in their contributions. After the concert, there was a general invitation to have tea and cakes in the parochial hall. Meg wobbled her way to a table and there we were joined by another couple who also normally attend the Saturday evening service and in the course of the conversation, it transpired that the husband had been a lecturer at Coventry University. We exchanged some pleasant reminisciencies about the kinds of issues we both faced in our times of university employment and then it it was time to go. We had a few spare cakes put in our direction and we went home for about half an hour before returning to the church for our normal Saturday service.

As we watched some of the lunchtime news reports, it appeared that a military coup was taking place in Russia. One of the pecularities of the present conflict in the Uraine is that the Russians have practically subcontracted some of the hardest fighting to a group of mercenaries in a faction known as the Wagner group and led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. The latter commanded a group that was small compared with Russian forces but very much battle hardened. It looked as Prigozhin’s convoy was heading towards Moscow and one could anticipate a coup in progress. But when we got back from the concert, the situation has completely turned around. Prigozhin had reversed his troops’ onwards march towards Moscow on the reasoning that there no reason to shed Russian blood. The mercenaries. and Prigozhin himself are relocating to Belarus. The bloodcurdlng threats or proseuction for treason made by Putin seem to have been dropped and we have now what is a classic stand-off. It also looks as Alexander Lukashenko, often described as Europe’s last dictator, is the disputed president of Belarus. He has led the country as president for nearly 29 years, assuming office in July 1994. But it looks as thougn Putin may have had a narrow escape and we shall just have to wait and see what unfolds over the next few days. Whether the Ukrainians can profit from all of this confusion is hard to say but certainly Putin is starting to look quite vulnerable. As always, tomorrow’s newspapers may be relied upon to give more analysis in depth to this rapidly evolving international scene.

Last night, I received quite an unexpected phone call from my sister who lives in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. We now have a new addition to the family as the daughter of one of my nieces (does that make her a grand-niece?) has given birth to a baby boy and although the baby arrived a few days early, all the indications are that the child is healthy. It could be that in a few week’s time, Meg and I will journey to Yorkshire for a few day’s holiday as we feel in need of a little break and all around us, family and friends, seem to making holiday plans. Whenever we go up to Harrogate where I spent most of my youth until I was about 18 years old, I wonder if I will ever bump into anybody that I ever knew at school but it has not happened yet and perhaps it never will.

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Friday, 23rd June, 2023 [Day 1194]

Today is the day when our domestic help calls around and it is always nice to see her and to have a chat. She had celebrated her birthday recently so we got news of the pleasant day that she had experienced. As it was a Friday, Meg and I hoped that we might bump into some of our regulars in the Waitrose café but it was not to be. But I did take the opportunity to have a quick dash up and down the High Street in Bromsgove to get some much needed supplies. One thing I did need to buy was a new pair of what are called ‘cargo’ trousers – the previous pair were five years old and the zip had finally given up the ghost so it was time to buy a new pair. I was amazed to see that the price had only gone up from I think about £17 to a current £20 so these were snapped up with alacrity and fitted me straighaway without the need for leg shortening which can be a perennial problem with trousers as we get older and shrink somewhat! Then I got some other supplies but was frustrated when a simple item that I wanted and needed – a tape measure – was out of stock with no indication when they would be getting new supplies back in again. I had left Meg in the car whilst I did a quick dash along the street to complete my purchases but the weather was a little hot and humid so I got Meg home, gave her a cooling drink and activated a fan that we acquired last year and this made her a little more comfortable. Then it was a case of cooking lunch which in the case of Meg and myself was very simple because it was a quick pan fry of some sea bass served on a bed of salad. In the meanwhile I had saved one small portion of last weekend’s boeuf bourbignon for our domestic help to sample and for her to give it her seal of approval. In the afternoon, I busied myself with getting some of my finances available to me on a mobile phone app as well as online on my computer, which is the way that things are going these days. As it turned out, neither of the two transactions went entirely trouble free and I finished off with having to wait for bits of paper to be posted to me as the authentification procedures did not go smoothly. But these days, I am amazed when anything goes right first time without an additional bit of hassle so a few extra days is neither here nor there.

There is a lot of commentary about the failure of the submersible and the loss of the lives of the five on board. A former submarine captain has commented to Sky News upon the failure. When asked if the ‘unusual’ design of the Titan was reckless, Mr Ramsey told the news channel that disregarding standard ways of building these types of submersible in pursuit of innovation has huge elements of risk and in this case that risk has been realised in the loss of people’s lives. The former captain of the nuclear attack submarine HMS Turbulent, said that the industry will likely tighten regulation and close the possible ‘loophole’ that existed in the case of Titan. It has also been revealed that the youngest member of the crew at the end of his first year in University was terrified about the potential dangers of the trip in the submersible but has wished to please his father as a father’s day present. It has also been revealed that the United States Navy probably knew about the fate of the craft just after it occurred as some top secret sonar (listening) devices had recorded the probable implosion but if the US Navy had revealed this earlier, then it would no longer have been top secret. A lot of people are being very wise after the event and it does look as though labelling the craft as ‘experimental’ so as to avoid normal certification procedures seems to have been folly in the extreme. Perhaps it is a trait of very rich men who engage in financing and operating these kinds of venture that they do not think that normal procedures apply to them.

To cope with an imminent mortgage crisis, the Chancellor of the Exchequeur has agreed some measures with the major lenders in the mortgage market. Thee are to delay repossessions for about a year and to offer that those worst affected should be able to have an option for an ‘interest only’ option on their mortgages. These are likely to be the most flimsy of ‘sticking plaster’ solutions and if the higher interest rates persist for a few years will only delay the eventual day of reckoning. We have not seen the end of the interest rate rises yet and it may be that the Bank Rate increases from 5% to 6% and over in order to ‘squeeze inflation out of the system’ But there are some economists who argue that using the crudest of weapons of interest rate rises, which is about the only realistic weapon in the Bank of England armoury, may not by itself achieve the desired result in any case.

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Thursday, 22nd June, 2023 [Day 1193]

Thursdays, of course, mark my shopping day and I was delighted to get to my favourite supermarket when the doors open at 8.00am. Today was a fairly conventional week’s shopping and after I picked up our newspaper, I arrived home by 9.00am. After that, it was a case of cooking breakfast, unpacking the shopping and then getting ready for the day. We could tell that today was going to be a wonderful fine day for a walk in the park and ventured as far as our normal park bench. We go to the park a little less regularly than we did at the height of the pandemic when the park was the only venue available to us. Occasionally it happens that we bump into people that we had not seen for some time and we were told that our absence from regular walks around the park had been missed somewhat. So then we got home and I cooked lunch with a little culinary experiment. I had bought some celery last week but not used it. Today, I wondered about ways in which I could prepare it and make it a little more exciting. So I parboiled the celery with some carrot batons and then tried an experiment with the celery. I popped the drained celery into a vegetable dish, gave it a good serving of butter and finally just a tad of a hot chilli sauce to make it all a little interesting but not to overwhelm it and then microwaved it. This worked out pretty well, really, so I think it is a little culinary experiment that is worth repeating.

This afternoon, I thought I would download and activate a Barclays app for an account we have just opened. I must say that the security provisions to supply credentials to the app were a little daunting. Having entered my account details and chosen a password, I was required to allow the app to take a photo of the critical page of my passport. Then, a special oval appeared where I had to center my own image within it and the app took a snap of me. Then I had to repeat a series of numbers so that the app had recorded a sample my voice. Then when I tried to access app the message came through that the app was still trying to reconcile these series of identity checks with each other and to try again later. So I gave the app about 15 minutes after which I was mightily pleased to say that I had successfully passed all of the required ID checks. When I did get through to my account details, I was both pleased and relieved to see all my account details were properly up to date and accurate. Once these security details have been set up and passed, I am sure that accessing and operating the app is going to be a breeze from now on but certainly the set up details were a little daunting.

This afternoon, starting at 4.00pm, there was going to be a showing of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility‘ with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Hugh Laurie, Robert Hardy, Imogen Stubbs, Imelda Staunton just to name a few. Emma Thompson herself directed the film and I think it made a fine production. This absorbed us until practically 7.00pm in the evening but the production was quite enthralling. As I have seen this production before and quite some time ago and had not read the novel as a teenager, I was unsure how it all ended so it made the whole film very enjoyable to watch. Tonight, although there is still some verification to be done, it looks as though the fate of the missing submersible exploring the site of the wreck of the Titanic is becoming clearer. It looks as though a debris field has been found and two particular items (the sub’s landing frame and the rear cover) had been found. Therefore the craft might have imploded and catastrophically broken up up in the course of the descent. The craft has been dubbed ‘experimental’ so as to avoid the normal stringent certification procedures that apply to crafts of this type. But there are still International Maritime Organisation’s rules that needed to have been followed and one wonders if there will be any any legal sequelae once the fate of the craft has been determined. Stories are now coming to light of others who had provisionally booked a place on the craft at a cost of thousands of pounds but who had then pulled out once the essentially risky nature of the whole enterprise had become more evident. Certainly, the media have been full of the progress of the search for this missing craft but the point is being well made by some in the media that much more attention had been paid to the fate of five, very wealthy men who had perished whilst ignoring the plight of the dozens of indviduals probably dying each day as they attempt to cross the Channel and other European waterways.

Today the Bank of England raise interest rates a full 0.5% to 5% and this will prove a real financial blow to those whose cheap fixed rate mortgages are ending. The rates may well go up another 0.5% and even more before the ‘battle’ against inflation is won and I suspect that they may drift down more slowly than the speed with which they were raised.

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Wednesday, 21st June, 2023 [Day 1192]

Today is the longest day/shortest night and I am quite happy to go around telling everybody that Autumn starts tomorrow! I know this is not climatologically correct but the equinox seems to have crept up on us incredibly quickly this year. It is the birthday of our domestic help today and so Meg and I were happy to hand deliver a couple of birthday cards for her. We knew we were going to have a fairly foreshortened morning because our hairdresser was scheduled to call round at 11.30 so we had our elevenses at home. We just started to watch PMQ (Prime Ministers Questions) but our hairdresser called, a little late, so we missed this. Mind you, so many of the questions are pre-prepared and/or rehearsed that PMQ is only a shadow of its former self.

To assist me in my very slow attempts to improve my keyboarding skills, I have managed to locate and to download a free virtual keyboard for my smart phone. I did install one app until it was evident that ‘free’ meant for a few days before the standing order kicked in so that this got quickly deleted before it could even see the light of day. But the app I have managed to locate is free in the sense that it is advert-supported which I can live it if I never click one of the buttons. The app does have quite a pleasant long lasting piano sound together with a guitar and another strange instrument option. But more to the point, it extends for two and a half octaves from the ‘C’ on the ledger line below the normal treble clef to the ‘G’ which is located four ledger lines above the treble clef. This I think will suit my needs perfectly as I can just whip my phone out and have a quick practice and of course this means that I can translate quickly onto the full keyboard when I am in serious practising mode (generally a few minutes either just before or just afer breakfast) So with one thing or another, I have got nearly note perfect and committed to memory the ‘Largo’ from the Dvorak ‘New World’ Symphony and this is only about 16-20 bars long which is more than enough to convey the essence of the piece. After the hairdresser had turned up and made us both a little more presentable, I threw together the elements of a lunch from the remains of the beef meal from the weekend and then my thoughts started to turn to lawn cutting. My weather app told me that there was a 50% chance of rain in the next hour and a 40% chance in the hour after that so Meg and I decided to have an icecream and eat it on the bench at the front of the house. It was particularly hot and humid this afternoon and no rain was in evidence at all but I did eventually start to cut the lawns at about 4.00pm and got them all done before the end of the afternoon. Then it was the ‘bins’ day when our domestic bins have to be dragged to the kerbside – I tend to take both my own and my neighbours and he reciprocates by delivering them back again.

Tomorrow interest rates are predicted to rise yet again and today’s 8.7% year-on-year inflation rise is a painfully long way from the governor’s 2% target. Core inflation is rising in the UK, but dropping in the US and Germany, making it harder to maintain this is all a global problem. There is no doubt some Tories are looking for a scapegoat in the face of a looming political nightmare. Yet it is also true the charge sheet that many cite against Bailey is long: the Bank starting interest rate rises too late, not raising them fast enough, doing too much unnecessary quantitative easing during the pandemic and for too long, and for not being clear enough in his communications. The anger felt by some Tories towards the governor is palpable. Having said all of this, as a General Election comes into sight, probably at the end of next year then raising interest rates is about the only weapon that the Bank of England and the Government can deploy. Of course, there are at least two if not three or four by-elections to be held in July and a massive rise in mortgages is enough to make many otherwise committed Tory voters stay at home. Part of the problem is that we had low interest for so long that there is a generation of mortgage holders who did not fully appreciate that interest rates could not carry on being low as this for ever.

We got a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend whose company we have missed whilst he has spent some time in hospital. But it now looks as though discharge day may be on Friday so we are making some tentative plans to see if we can see each other over the weekend. On Saturday, as it happens, we are having a concert of ‘bite size’ classics in our church starting at 3.00pm – this is part of the Bromsgrove festival and we enjoyed the contributions made last year. This is to be followed by tea and sandwiches in the parochial hall and then our normal Saturday evening service.

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