Monday, 31st July, 2023 [Day 1232]

You are never quite sure what a day is going to bring and so it proved today. It started off with a very interesting, and supportive, email from one of my University of Winchester colleagues who lives in Oxfordshire and whose email indicated some of the sources of help that might be available to cope with Meg’s failing health. So I replied at length, indicating some of the problems that Meg was experiencing as well as some more positive news. She replied with a very full and informative email, full of helpful suggestions and we engaged in a kind of ping-pong email throughout the day. Today we decided to go and visit the Morrison’s superstore in Redditch which is some distance away but at the end of a very fast dual carriage way. On the way, our tyre pressure started to play up again but fortunately, in the garage part of the supermarket, I managed to get some air put in until I can find the time for a visit to our local Kwikfit. In Morrison’s, we had a bit of a race around and managed to buy some tinned fruit for our teas as well as some innovative knee-highs (sort of tights) for Meg. Then we had a not altogether happy experience as we wanted to avail ourselves of some hot chocolate but having paid for this, it was ‘greyed out’ and presumably unavailable in the automatic dispensing machine. So we bought some not very nice milky coffee, not to our taste and not helped by the fact that Meg spilt hers over the table. We then raced home because time was pressing and we needed to get home before our chiropody appointment at 12 noon. In the event, we did not need to rush because our chiropodist was delayed by a good half hour delayed by horrendous roadworks afflicting the main A38 that runs through the centre of Bromsgrove, causing generalised mayhem everywhere. Then after we had both of our feet ‘done’, Meg and I had a delayed lunch and thought we were going to have a quietish afternoon. But the telephone rang indicating that an occupational therapist was available to give Meg an assessment later on this afternoon, so this we readily accepted.

The occupational therapist was very good and supplemented some of the notes with which she was already equipped with notes and observations of her own. The initial focus was on things that might be causing some of Meg’s falls and slithers to the ground so we discussed some things that might help such as risers’ to the chairs in our sitting room. We then went on to assess how Meg coped with stairs, getting into/out of bed and finally toileting and shower arrangements. Altogether the assessment must have taken well over an hour becaue in the course of investigating things in the bedroom, we discussed such things as ‘slip sheets’ (to ease access into/out of bed) as well as some mechanical aids. We turned our attention to the shower and the OT took some measurements for a potential grab rail to be fitted. In the course of these investigations, the OT took Meg’s blood pressure both lying down and standing up. Finally, we discussed the possibility of having a half bannister fitted to complement the full bannister we have on side of our flight of stairs and again a range of measurements were taken. All of this having been done, we made another appointment with the OT who would come along with a range of aids some of which we could try out and others of which might eventually be fitted by the fitting team (after quite some delay, we were informed) I did feel particuarly pleased that eventually Meg was assessed by a competent professional and not just advised of things over the phone and the OT and myself put our heads together to discuss the things that Meg might need (and might not need for that matter)

As soon as the OT had left, we had to make a lightning visit into Bromsgrove to collect our Monday newspaper. Our normal newsagent was closed yeserday and was going to have a delayed opening today as he and his wife were attending a large Asian wedding – we know that the guest list for this can sometimes run into the hundreds. Then it was a case of getting home and having a bit of afternoon tea and then some relaxation with the aid of ClassicFM before we start this evening’s eventful TV viewing. The most important thing is how England have fared in the fifth day of the final Test Match of the series. England need to take all ten Austrialian wickets in one day and this is quite a tall order against the team currently ranked as No. 1 test match team in the world.

There is some breaking news tonight that all of the teaching unions have recommended acceptance of an offer of 6.5% Every major teaching union has now accepted the government’s offer of a 6.5% pay rise and voted to end strikes. This based upon recommendations made by the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). Probably the membership are quite weary of striking by now as well as having lost a lot of pay so perhaps this unhappy period of strife is drawing to a close.

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Sunday, 30th July, 2023 [Day 1231]

Today was always going to be a slightly different routine. We got up reasonably early and then made sure that we were all ready for the political comment programs starting at 8.30. In the event, though, I tended to doze through both of them so there was evidently not at all that much to sustain our interest. We knew that our normal newsagent was going to be shut this morning as the proprietor was off to a large Asian wedding so we needed to call in at Waitrose to pick up our copy of the Sunday Times together with some extra supplies. This we did and then we set off to rendez-vous with our University of Birmingham friend and another park friend. We received a text that the other park friend could not make our meeting as things had popped up at the last moment so the three of us spent a happy hour chatting before it was time for us to go home for lunch. Once home, I set about cooking the Sunday lunch which was a piece of beef cooking in the slow cooker. Once cooked, we divided it into three parts and one part will be our meals for today and tomoorow – the other two parts, once cooled, will be put in our freezer and used up in the weeks to come.

This afternoon after we had our post-prandial cup of tea, I resolved to put the ‘beeswax’ experience to the test. I had got the three necessary ingredients in place, namely the beeswax itself, some grade ‘0000’ steel wool with which to apply it and some unbleached cotton cloths for the eventual buffing. I followd the instructions I had seeen on a video explicitly, of which one of the most important is to leave the beeswax for a period of some 20-30 minutes after application and before buffing. When I eventually got round to the buffing process, I was delighted with the results. The piano stool handles looked worn and somewhat dull and tired before the treatment and I had followed the advice to only treat a small piece of the piece of furniture at at a time. Afterwards, the handles were restored to a beautiful lustrous appearance which allowed the natural beauty of the original wood, probably mahogany, to shine through. In particular, there was not that ‘deep glossed’ look that furniture polish manufacturers used to deploy (‘a shine too deep to measure’ as the person doing the cleaning measured it with a tape measure!) Rather, the whole appearance of the piece I think was massively enhanced and gave it a rather subtle and ‘well cared for’ look. If the author of the website that I had originally consulted is to be believed, then this treatment may well last for up to five years which almost sounds too good to be true.

I am making some slow progress on my attempts to learn small, easy classical pieces on our newly acquired organ. So far, I can play the relevant parts of ‘Wachet Auf‘ (‘Sleepers Awake‘ so good for an early morning practice), followed by the ‘Barcarolle‘ from Offenbach’s ‘Tales of Hoffman’ and finally the opening sections of ‘Ode to Joy‘ Incidentally, this last piece is a bit of a cheat,really, as all of the notes are next to each other and no sharps or flats are involved so all one has to learn is the starting note and off we go. To these three, I will add the ‘Largo’ from Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ and then I will be in a position to put on a mini-concert lasting the whole of five minutes. I find, as I suspected, that I have not really got the spare time to practice for sustained periods but I tend to do things in little bursts of a few minutes at at a time. I find the time that it takes a kettle to boil is good for a ‘quick burst’ as it were and I actually find it extremely therapeutic and relaxing to have my little tinkles in this way. In the fullness of time, I should really learn how to deploy the left hand for the supportive chords as well as using all of the fingers of the right hand. It is helpful, though, to know when you have got the melody right before I start to incorporate these refinements.

Meg and I were starting to worry a little, but not unduly, that we had not seen Miggles, the incredibly look looking cat who has adopted us, for a period of about three days now. We wondered if the real owners had gone on holiday and had him put in a cattery for the duration of their vacation. But today when we returned from the park by car, the cat recognised us and immediately bound towards us expecting (and not without good reason) that some tasty morsels were in prospect. The cat really did seem exceptionally pleased to see us and broke into quite an audibly loud purr so evidently, there was nothing for us to be concerned about. I wonder to myself sometimes whether this cat might do the rounds and be fed by several neighbours in the locality. This happened in Leicestershire where we used to live and a Siamese cat by the name of ‘Bimbo’ used to work her down the row of houses being fed in each one (and still keeping as thin as a racing snake)

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Saturday, 29th July, 2023 [Day 1230]

Today dawned as quite a beautiful summer day which makes a change as this July heads for the record books as one of the wettest on record. We had arranged to meet our University of Birmingham friend in our favourite café in Droitwich just down the road and we made a rendez-vous at the just the right time and place. We had a coffee and shared some toasted teacake between us and we discussed some plans for the rest of the summer. Tomorrow morning, I am hoping that the three of us can meet up in the park at our normal bench and, after a quick text, I hope we can be joined by one of our other park friends, together with her trusted little dog. After we parted, Meg and I made for a little carpet shop in the vicinity of the coffee shop where we knew that they had a good range of rugs on sale. When we got there, we found a supply that were too small for our purpose and also some off-cuts that were too large. What we wanted was something in between and the shop proprietor immediately showed us a selection on the other side of the shop which would give us almost exactly what we wanted. So we made a purchase and then headed home for our Saturday midday lunch which today was going to be a steak and kidney pie, done in the oven. We accompanied this with some broccoli and also some carrots, parboiled as batons and then popped onto the floor of the oven with a bit of cooking oil and a drizzle of honey. Then, as it was a fine afternoon, I bit the bullet and decided to get the lawns cut which would normally be done on a Wednesday or a Thursday but which has eluded us so far this week. This having been done, we then had a quiet cup of tea before we head out for church in the late afternoon. Earlier, I experimented a little with putting the new rug into a variety of locations before I settled on a plan where it looked ‘just right’ which is not where I originally intended. Sometimes, a little experimentation with furniture pays off so that things look right in certain combinations but not others.

When we got back home, we enjoyed watching the summary of the Test Match in ‘Today at the Test’ England had a very good day batting and most batsmen scored a significant amount of runs leaving England at the end of the day with one wicket to fall and a lead of about 367. If England manage to get near to a total of 400, then this total will be almost unassailable by the Australian team batting last – but anything can happen in a Test Match. If England win the match, and they are in a good position to do so as things stand at the moment, then the series will be levelled at 2.5 wins each. Australia, though, will retain the Ashes but a win for England will a fitting and just end since the rain prevented England for winning the Old Trafford Test match after two days were wiped out by rain.

The Ukrainian situation is proving to be interesting. Ukraine’s offensive is proving a harder slog than even their most optimistic supporters would acknowledge because the Russians had used the winter to provide defenses in real depth and the disputed area is very heavily mined. So the Ukranian forces are having to advance at a snail’s pace whilst they dispose of mines as they go. On the other hand, there is a new report tonight that Ukraine may have the taking of the peninsula of the Crimeria within their sights and one would imagine that this would prove to be an immense psychological boost if the reports are to be believed. Also Zelenskyy is appearing on the front line and allowing ‘selfies’ to be taken of himself with front line fighters and this must be a morale boost. One cannot imagine any Russian leader anywhere near the font line (hints of the first World War here?) Also, some military analysts are arguing that Putin must be doomed and the more that there are no evident signs of success in the military field, the more that pressures will grow within Russia for his removal.

I now have all of the materials assembled for Meg and I to attempt a beeswax application to some of our new acquisitions, particularly the piano stool. This involves applying the beeswax with the grade ‘0000’ steel wool, leaving for some 20-30 minutes and then a really light buffing with an open-weave unbleached cotton cloth. The buffing has to be light so that most of the beeswax remains as a sort of sacrificial level of protection and the lightest of buffing ensures that the topmost cells of the wax are flattened and made transparent so that the natural character of the wood used in the manufacture of the furniture shines through. This is the theory at any rate. What I am looking forward to is that if I manage to get this right, then another polishing is not needed for a period of up to five years.

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Friday, 28th July, 2023 [Day 1229]

This has been an interesting Friday, to date. Today is the day when our domestic help calls around and I was keen to show her my new purchases to adorn our ‘music room’ being the appliquéd owl cushion I bought the other day as well as the piano stool that just happened to be bought from her next door neighbour. We both agreed it was a good acquisition and I told our help (who is excellent at restoring things) what I had discovered recently about the treatment of vintage/antique items with beeswax. I wondered whether beeswax is suitable for veneered as well as original, unveneered woods and various websites have assured me that beeswax works equally well on these surfaces – but then they would, wouldn’t they? I am expecting a tin of polish/paste to arrive shortly so then I can out the claims made on the websites to a practical test.

This morning, Meg and I picked up our Friday newspaper and we made for Waitrose – but none of our regulars was there this morning. I contacted our University of Birmingham friend who, as it happened, was sitting in the local park so he made his way over and we joined together in our friendly discourse. Today we had been expecting a call around at midday expecting to receive a home visit to determine whether there was any technology that would assist Meg were she to have a fall in the house on the (rare) occasions that I leave her unattended. But we received a telephone call indicating that the person who was due to call around wondered aloud whether the technology would be suitable for us and decided to refer us on to a colleague, thus obviating the need for her to call around and make a more comprehensive assessment. I must say I am getting philosophical about referred on from person to person because this seems to be the way in which assistance services are provided by the relevant local authority so I am getting on with organising things for myself which seems to have served me in good stead so far. Nonetheless, we agreed to meet with our friend tomorrow in another location which is our favourite coffee bar in Droitwich.

There has been a very well publicised case of the person convicted of rape some seventeen years ago who has ultimately been found by more recent DNA evidence not to have committed the crime of which he was convicted. The interesting thing about this case is that the various ‘safeguarding’ mechanisms, designed to prevent miscarriages of justice, have all signally failed. Not only did the Court of Appeal not reverse the conviction but, even more shocking, is that the Criminal Cases Review Commission have twice turned down the appeal. The CCRC was supposed to prevent miscarriages of justice after infamous cases such the the ‘Birmingham Four’ and the ‘Guildford Six’ case but a fascinating interview with an expert interviewed by Sky News revealed that the CCRC has now borne the brunt of the austerity cuts imposed by the Osborne regime and its budget has been reduced from about £9 million to £6 million. Paradoxically, the cuts in the budget were started by the Labour government when Charles Clark was in charge of the Justice system and have been carried on even more savagely by successive Tory administrations. But the real scandal which is just emerging is that any claims to compensation for 17 years in gaol may well be subject to huge reductions by the state for ‘board and lodging’ charges over the past 17 years. Apoparently, this is quite a well-known scandal about which nothing has been done and all that it does is to reveal how vindictive the state can be even when it has been demonstrated that an unsafe conviction has left individuals in gail for nearly two decades. So the person wrongly convicted of rape and spending seventeen years of his life in gaol now has another massive problem in trying to claim legitimate compensation but without a counter-claim for board and lodging.

Sky News is reporting yet more potential indictments of Donald Trump which may be forthcoming. He has been accused of asking an employee to delete footage in classified documents as new charges are announced. Prosecutors accuse Mr Trump of scheming with his valet and a Mar-a-Lago manager to conceal the footage from investigators. Video from the property would play a key role in the investigation, as prosecutors said it captured boxes of documents being moved in and out of a storage room. This evidence, which may have been captured and requisitioned on CCTV, plays out in different ways in the American political system. Whereas the Democrats and the American electorate who are not die-hard Trump supporters take in the latest revelations, this adds to the picture of Trump as a serial offender. But to those Republicans who support Trump, whenever new evidence is revealed, this is always interpreted as a witchhunt against Donald Trump and his political standing always seem to increase, rather than diminish, with each new revelation. And there is still the prospect that Trump may be charged with aiding and abetting the abortive storming of the Capital building by his supporters immediately after the last presidential election.

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Thursday, 27th July, 2023 [Day 1228]

Today is our shopping day so I set the alarm to ensure I was up early and shopped by 9.00am which all went very smoothly. Last night, having just acquired and given a treatment of furniture polish to my newly acquired piano stool, I decided to Google to discover what was the best treatment might be for vintage and antique furniture. ‘En passant’ I have discovered that the term ‘vintage’ is applied to furniture which is at least 40 years old whilst ‘antique’ referes to furniture at least a century old. But the two terms are often loosely applied and used interchangeably. I did run across one website, admittedly written by a professional who had a vested interested in selling his own brand of superior beeswax, which was extremely informative. This expert argued that application of oil-based furniture sprays was nearly always a waste of time and could make matters worse rather than better in the long run. The solution to renovation was in three steps as follows. The first of these steps is to wash the piece with some drops of washing up liquid in a pail of warm water and to immediately dry off with a towel. The second stage seems counter-intutive but goes as follows. One needs a supply of grade ‘0000’ steel wool which is actually incredibly fine and this is then ‘charged’ i.e. loaded with some beeswax preparation. The polish-laden steel wool is then carefully applied to the surface to be treated and then left for about 20-25 minutes. The theory behind all of tbis is that practically all of the polish is applied to the wooden surface – any other system would have the polish soaking into the surface of the cloth if you were choosing to use a cloth in this way. It is then particularly important that about 20-25 minutes is left for the beeswax to harden and to soak in. The expert comments that most people get things wrong at this stage by putting on a cheap oil-based furniture polish and then immediately wiping it off before the polish has had a chance to do its work. The third and final stage requires a buffing with a cotton-rich fine weave cloth applying the minimum of pressure. The idea here is to minimise any heat and to ‘polish’ the very top layer of the beeswax polish deployed leaving the reminder of the applied polish to penetrate the wood, preferable in the direction of the grain. If all of these procedures are performed as detailed, then according to the expert the piece of furniture so polished should be good for up the next five years. Certainly the demonstration on the video clip looked extremely convincing but the author suggests that only the best quality of beeswax should be used and here the prices are generally beyond the point at which people feel it is worth buying the product. I recounted this story at length to our friends wondering if had any similar experience with older furniture. He, in turn, recounted to me how his experience as an electrical engineer had helped him to repair an induction hob that had suddenly gone ‘bang’ He also told us about the ‘Men in Sheds’ venues in the locality which encourages men of a certain age to join with others to repair and create as the spirit moves them.

This afternoon, Meg and I had a scheduled lunch date in deepest Worcestershire at a farm shop and restaurant neat Evesham. The SatNav did an excellent job in guiding us to the spot and we arrived there two minutes before the appointed time. We sat outside with our friends who had brought their dog along on the understanding that he would be allowed to accompany us. Meg and I had a wonderful beef stew which was incredibly tender and tasty and although served with some crusty bread, we minimised our consumption of this to keep our carbohydrate count down. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours or more with plenty of free-flowing conversation and one of our friends went up to purchase some coffee but surprised and delighted us all by arriving with portions of cake that doubled up as sweet. We could well have lingered for a long time in the farm shop as they had a magnificent collection of spices and delicattessen type goods, all of which looked very tempting particularly is one was tempted to buy as a treat for a special occasion. We had a very pleasant drive home but the temperature had climbed quite a lot since this morning so we treated ourselves to a bowl of vanilla icecream. Later on we shall treat ourselves to ‘Today at the Test’ hoping that the traditional mid-order English batting collapse does not occur.

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Wednesday, 26th July, 2023 [Day 1227]

Today was always going to be quite an attenuated day because we knew that our hairdresser was due to call around at 12.00pm so we needed to ensure that we were ready and waiting for when she came. Early this morning, I idly perused ebay which will often list things based upon your past searches for anything that might interest you. I have been on the lookout for a week or so for a piano stool to accompany the other stool I purchased the other day so that, in the fullness of time, Meg and I may be able to sit side by side and pick out tunes together on the organ. I was amazed to discover that quite a nice piece was on offer and in Bromsgrove as well, starting at a very reasonable £5.00. I worked out the maximum that I was prepared to pay for this piece and noticed that there were two other bids. I waited until about 90 seconds before the auction was due to end and then put in my bid in which I was eventually successful with a winning bid of £7.50. Upon sending a message to the seller, I was amazed to discover that not only could I pick up the piece later on this afternoon but it also just happened to be sold by the next door neighbour of one of our friends. Our hairdresser turned up rather late because she had been delayed by horrendous traffic jams all over Bromsgrove. Actually, we are being very badly effected by this because the whole of the road to which our drive gives access is closed off to practically all traffic whilst it looks as though a new gas main is being installed. Just outside our drive, we have a deep hole dug with the gas main exposed but with the workers nowhere in sight. So it takes some manouvering out of one’s own drive just to go anywhere at the moment and to make matters worse, having dug the holes the company responsible for the work seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth – I wonder if they are off digging holes in front of other people’s driveways as I blog. I waited at the end of the drive to guide our hairdresser in after which we both had our monthly shearing. After we had lunched a little late, it started to rain a little so I did not start to cut the lawns but Meg and I had a wonderfully quiet early afternoon listening to Fauré and the Brahm’s requiem in our newly equipped music room amd this had the desired effect in making Meg feel calmer about the world. In the late afternoon, we set off to collect the piano stool and although it was spotting with rain, we managed to get it into the car without it being rained on. Then my ‘low type pressure’ symbol came again which necessitated a trip to the garage and an inflation of all of the tyres. I have a supicion of a slow puncture in one of the tyres so I must go and get it resolved in the next day or so.

Having got the piano stool home, now is the time for a good examination. I gave it a good clean with washing-up liquid and a sponge type cloth and then applied some furniture polish to it, before a final buffing with kitchen paper. On a complete examination of it, it is a nice, without being an excellent, piece of furniture. It complements the standard lamp besides which it sits as they seem to be made of a very similar wood and certainly is a useful addition to the other furniture in the ‘music room’. Now that this piece is in place, I have almost completed the total complement of furniture which I intended for the room.

On the regional news tonight, pride of place is being given to ‘Ozzie the Bull’ This large, mechanical bull was originally constructed for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham a year ago. The original intention was to have a completely temporary arrtifact which, in theory, should have been dismantled after the games were over. The 10-metre creation, which was designed as a homage to the city’s contribution to the Industrial Revolution, has been rebuilt by a specialist team of designers and engineers and is now on display at Birmingham New Street station. But ‘Ozzie’ (named by the public after the local Black Sabbath singer, Ozzie Osborne) has found its way into the affections of the people of Birmingham and it was decided to replace some of the ‘temporary’ parts with more permanent ones and to find a permanent home for it. Today that home is the concourse of Birmingham New Street station. Ozzy’s eyes will light up, his head will move and his tail will swish as he roars to commuters. His performance is set to last for several minutes and will be repeated hourly between 10am and 8pm for the first ten days. The whole I think as well he may breathe some smoke at the same time. After the Commonwealth Games, Ozzie had some months in a car park but there is some useful affection for this permanent reminder of the very successful Commonwealth Games. The whole artifact is a great reminder to the Birmingham metal-bashing and engineering industries and is already attracting large crowds to witness the offical unveiling which has taken place today.

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Tuesday, 25th July, 2023 [Day 1226]

So Tuesday has come around but with a slight difference to our normal routine. I have no Pilates class today as the school holidays have started and consequently my Pilates teacher is away for a few days with her family but normal classes resume next week. In the meantime, we have our usual meeting-up with friends in the Waitrose café and a good laugh was had by all – at one stage, we were (mock) threatened with being thrown out for riotous behaviour. (In actuality, we know that the staff enjoy us coming in because it makes then feel that the old pre-pandemic atmosphere is returning) When we got home, I finished off a little craft activity in which I have been engaged and then we had our normal lunch of fishcakes, to which we always look forward. This afternoon was a quiet affair in which I eventually made contact with Amazon over an item for which I thought I had been charged the wrong price. In practice, although there had been a reduction in the current price rather than the one I actually paid, the difference was a source of confusion because I thought I was being inappropriately charged. But in the end, my attempts at a telephone call proved abortive but I managed to get through to one of those ‘virtual assistants’ where the matter was cleared up for me. Although part of me wishes that I did not rely upon Amazon so much, I must say that once you have got plugged into their ‘Prime’ membership and get deliveries gratis, then their service and their returns policy are generally excellent.

Now that the summer holidays are about to start, thousands of British holiday makers are caught in a dilemma. Do you head into an area where there is the strong possibility, if not probability, of a raging fire in your holiday destination or abandon the idea of the family holiday? Some tour operators are still flying holiday makers out to Rhodes whereas others have cancelled their flights. As you might imagine the insurance situation is somewhat tangled – if you have booked a complete package of flight plus accommodation, then refunds are more possible but the situation alters if you book a flight and then arrange accommodation separately. The weather has been so miserable in July and some families have been deprived of holidays for so long that you can well imagine the attractions of a holiday in continental Europe. On the other hand, it is possible, as some tourists found the other day, their airline has flown them into the airport and then they have to go straight into an evacuation centre if their hotel has shut up shop. The British do seem rather addicted to their holidays whatever the circumstances but I can imagine that many will now decide to holiday in the UK if there is a glimmer of better weather to come.

Although electric vehicles seem to be the future, there is a major problem with the charging infrastructure. The problem is not that there are not enough charging points across the country, which is bad enough. The Faraday Institution, a battery science research group, says that the UK is going to need at least five gigafactories by 2030 to meet domestic demand, and twice that number by 2040. So, even though electric vehicles represent the future of the car, the UK has a long way to go before the revolution happens here. But a more significant problem is that the national grid has to be able to deliver electricty to these charging points. There are stories that in some parts of the country, the charging points are in place but not yet connected to the grid, the infrastructure of which has to be upgraded. One can quite see how the hybrid models are achieving the popularity that they are because the small engine is designed primarily to charge the battery whilst one is on the go – the next time we change our family car, then the hybrid route is the one that we shall travel. One factor that may help to mitigate the availability of charging points is that with smart technology, it is quite possible that the nearest charging points are shown to you over the car’s display systems and perhaps in a year or so, you may be able to book your ‘slot’ automatically at a charger so as not to be left with the nightmare of several cars wanting to access a limited number of charging points and huge waits within one’s journey as a consequence.

On the TV the other night, they showed again the first two episodes from Jacob Bronowski’s ‘The Ascent of Man‘ which was first broadcast some 40 years ago. I started to watch this with a degree of sceptism as I felt that more recent anthropological fossil finds would render the whole work obsolete. But I was incredibly impressed with the erudition and clarity with which the introductory programs were written and a quick search on the web revealed the expressed view that this series was perhaps one of the finest documentary series ever broadcast. I now look forward with interest to watching the rest of the series unfold, dated though it might be, as Bronowski was such a charismatic writer and presenter.

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Monday, 24th July, 2023 [Day 1225]

Today dawned in the by now traditionally gloomy fashion. Both Meg and I myself feel a little ‘knocked out’ this morning and we are wondering whether we might be suffering from a cold virus. Why I mention this is because both my son and his wife are suffering from very bad colds at the moment and, as the doctors like to say, ‘there is a lot of it about’ Certainly, last night I felt very snuffly not having had a cold as such for months or years but these symptoms have abated somewhat for me this morning. But Meg felt a little poorly, so I encouraged her to stay in bed awhile whilst I got myself up and showered. Then after I had my, by now minimal, breakfast, I shot out of the house to collect our newspaper and to collect an item from Poundland of which I had need. When I got home, I made Meg some tea and I had my mid-morning coffee and then I showed Meg my latest acquisition. After visiting Poundland, I had made a lightning visit into the Salvation Army shop just next door to it and my eye fell upon a range of cushions which were on sale. But I immediately spotted a ‘stand out’ item which was a cushion complete with cushion cover and a very original design on it as it has a an owl applique-ed (if this is the correct term)onto it and complemented with a series of little owlets on the rear of the cushion. I gave it a spongeover and then discovered that the cover was removable and had been used to cover a complete smaller cushion in a quite high quality red fabric. So into the washing machine it went together with some other items all being washed on a cool wash with some extra spin so as soon as it is finished in the dryer, it can take its pride of place in our music room, where there is a location just tailor made for it. To help Meg come round a little, I sat Meg in one of the armchairs and then put on some incredibly soothing choral pieces (a lot of Fauré). To complete the aura of relaxation, I retrieved a little lavender aromatic candle which I lit and then Meg and I had the most a most wonderful, and soothing, half hour. Even so I say it myself, I am very pleased with the vareity of pieces with which I have furnished our music room. On one side, there is a ‘black and white complemented with blue’ theme, as we have our Panasonic music centre as well as our Casio keyboard and the various covers which I purchased recently complement the black and white of the instruments perfectly. On the other side of the room, the pride of place is taken with the double manual organ which is my pride and joy. Next to that I have a tall wooden standard light which casts just the necessary degree of light on the various instrument keys that is a feature of this type of organ whilst on the other side is the little mahogany table which I spent some time restoring. All of the furniture on this side of the room tends to be darker shade quality woods which form an incredibly harmonious blend with each other. Then, in a moment of inspiration, I popped into our lounge and ‘liberated’ the little plaster/plastic bust of Mozart that has been in my possession for years and which I probably purchased in Salzburg when we visted it decades ago. This little bust of Mozart, some 11cm in height, now sits on the corner of the organ and I hope that he approves of my efforts to master the instrument. Incidentally, Mozart labelled one of his most famous piano concertos (either 20 or 21) as ‘just for beginners’ which rather points to his own supreme master of the piano from a very early age.

Meg and I did not feel particularly hungry so we made ourselves a simple rice meal to finish off our ham from the weekend. No sooner had we finished our meal but I got a telephone call that turned out to be quite long and complex. After my making touch with Worcestershire Association of Carers, there had evidently been an onward referral to an Occupational Therapist who was doing what she could to make an assessment over the telephone. After all of this, she concluded and with some justification, that Meg probably needed a home visit so that she could be seen in the flesh, as it were. I am afraid I could have told them this in the first place but the experience of the past two or three weeks or so is that encounters with social service departments generally start off, and sometimes completely end with, a telephone call but in the end, people have to be seen to be properly assessed and there is a limit to what can be done by phone.

To further bring our politics into disrepute, two recent nominations by Boris Johnson have taken their seats in the House of Lords. One wonders what advice (or services) was offered by Charlotte Owen, the 30 year female recipient of a perage to deserve such an honour, because the vast majority of the political elite have never heard of her – and she can stay as a legislator in the upper chamber for the next half century.

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Sunday, 23rd July, 2023 [Day 1224]

Today being a Sunday, Meg and I usually get up and watch the political programs whilst having our breakfast on our knees. But we both overslept a little this morning, so the politics programs got a miss. Instead, we breakfasted in the kitchen and then prepared to go out for our morning assignation. We picked up the newspaper and then headed for Webbs which is a large garden and I suppose what you might call a domestic furnishings centre. We always used to have a Webbs member’s card and this we used to use typically at Christmas time when Webbs run a scheme to offer members a Christmas tree at a heavily discounted rate. The scheme is that you pay the ‘full’ price of the tree but are then refunded with the cost of the tree in Webb’s vouchers. On addition, Webbs run a recycling scheme once the Christmas tree is ready for disposal. I hunted around for my card which I had not used in ages but eventually found it. When we got to Webbs, I approached the Customer Services Desk to work out whether my card was still current. As it happened, it had expired last Autumn but I quickly got it renewed with the bonus that a Member’s coffee card is offered to you with a dozen free drinks available on it. We met up with our University of Birmingham friend, exactly as planned and had a very pleasant coffee and chat. Neither of us had been to Webbs for quite some time but we have to say that the service we received was excellent. For a start, our next door neighbour was on duty on the Customers Services Desk and promptly got my card renewed for us. The restaurant staff were very welcoming and attentive so we felt that we had a good customer experience and will probably return on other Sundays. We discussed when we might meet for a luncheon date with each other and then departed for our respective Sunday lunches. After we got home, I made some onion gravy in which I heated some of the slices of a ham joint I had cooked last month and saved half of it after cooking. This we had with some green beans, tomatoes and baked potato before we settle down to a conventional Sundy afternoon of newspaper reading and occasional sessions watching athletics on the TV.

The fallout from the surprise victory when the Tories retained the Uxbridge and South Ruislip parliamentary seat last Thursday continues. It now seems that the Labour party high command have met with Sadiq Kahn the mayor of London and architect of the now infamous ULEZ (Ultra Law Emissions Zone) and a policy rethink is underway. The next few days will reveal whether the policy is to be completely abandoned (unlikely) or radically refined (more likely) but this, by itself, is not the particular source of worry to the Labour Party. But what is concerning them is the fact that the Tories successfully focused on one key issue to the exclusion of everything else (the so called ‘wedge’ theory defined as a political or social issue, often of a controversial or divisive nature, which splits apart a demographic or population group.) The Labour Party fears that despite all of the concerns about the cost of living, mortgage increases, the fragile state of the NHS and so on can effectively be sidelined if a political party finds one particular issue in a particular constituency which really manages to divide and confuse the opposition. The feeling is that this may be unlikely across the whole country but if sufficient ‘wedge’ issues are found on a constituency by constituency basis then this may be sufficient to deny the Labour Party victory at the general election whenever it comes.

Meg and I had been looking forward to watching the final day of the Test Match at Old Trafford where England were in an extremely dominant position but needed some time to complete the job – which was almost a foregone certainty. We are now left in a situation where the rain-affected match is technically regarded as a draw which means that England cannot now win the series and thus the Aussies have won the Ashes. Even at this stage, there are mutterings that this is the most unsatisfactory to end a match. In County Cricket, where the rain in England can affect many county matches there is a complex method known as the ‘Duckworth-Lewis’ method for determing who the winner ‘ought’ to be in the event that a match has to be abandoned. Named after the pair of statisticians who came up with it—Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis—the system is a formula designed to calculate corrected totals after an interruption. I am wondering whether this – or a variant of it – might be used to determine the outcome of Test matches when so much time is lost because of weather or other conditions. Tonight, Meg and I will no doubt watch ‘Today at the Test’ with a heavy heart knowing that there is no exciting cricket, or indeed an England win, in prospect. On the other hand, there may be some very informed discussions with commentators and ex-captains (such as Michael Vaughan) whose discussions tonight might set a climate of opinion as to what might happen in the future.

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Saturday, 22nd July, 2023 [Date 1223]

Today dawned as a miserable, wet and drippy day which threatened to last all day long. After we had got ourselves up and breakfasted, Meg and I made tracks for Waitrose, via our customary newspaper shop. I joked with the proprietor that the wet weather was probably the result of a malign influence of some ancient Australian deitities who were were conspiring to ensure that no play was possible in the Test Match, thus forcing a draw and giving the Australians the series (as this is a ‘must win’ match for England) Meg and I sat in the café having our coffee in isolation because none of our usual friends turned up. We were not totally surprised by this as one of our friends only tends to venture out when the weather is not inclement and another is having a bout of rheumatism to contend with. Nonetheless, we gave everybody a good half hour or so and then decided to call it a day. No sooner had we reached our car, then we got a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend wondering if we were available for coffee. Naturally we were, so we trundled back inside for our second drink of the morning and then had a wonderful pleasant chat with our friend when he turned up a few minutes later. We had quite a deep conversation when we were speculating whether some of the phrases that had been adopted some years back such as ‘post modernism’, a social ‘narrative’ and so on had the same meaning for all of the people who adopted the phrase. We shared the view that often people might use a phrase but not be entirely sure how it should be used or even what it means. A case in point is the word ‘decimate’ which had the specific meaning, in ancient Rome, of killing one of every ten soldiers, as a form of military punishment. There are, it must be said, some problems with the argument that this is the only correct meaning today. A problem is that even if decimate did refer to the practice of killing one of every ten soldiers in Roman times, it did so in the service of Latin, not English. We have many words in English that are descended from Latin but which have changed their meaning in their travels. We no longer think of sinister as meaning ‘on the left side’ even though that was one of the word’s meanings when it existed in Latin. So when our friend and I were in agreement that the word ‘decimate’ had strayed from its original meaning, it has to be argued that often words do travel away from their original meaning to their current one. So ‘decimate’ is very often used today to indicate that a large proportion of a population may have been been destroyed such as ‘the epidemic of avian flue decimated the tern population of the island’ (not actually true, but that is not the point) Eventually, the hour had come for us to depart but we agreed to meet tomorrow in a different venue just down the road to give is a bit of change where no doubt we will find an equally esoteric topic of conversation with which to amuse ourselves. Meg and I made tracks for home and cooked ourselves a steak and kidney pie for our Saturday lunch. We always tend to have a quiet afternoon on Saturdays as we go to church in the late afternoon.

Meg and I are quite glad that the Proms have resumed since this gives uf some relaxing listening in the evenings when we can either pay attention to the concert and/or read at the same time. There seems to be a bit of a Beethoven ‘fest’ at the moment because last night they played Beethoven’s 5th symphony. When I was the unofficial ‘leader’ of the second violins in the school orchestra we seemed to constantly to be playing the finale to Beethoven’s 5th. We must have sounded terrible becaude when I hear a proper recording it is played so much faster than ever we achieved in our school performances. I must at the age of 13 been able to play and read the music perfectly adequately but I had completely forgotten all of this. In my present organ-practising mode, I am still trying to ‘lock’ into position the notes that I see on the score in front of me with the actual keyboard keys. But I do have something to assist me. Immediately after I had acquired the organ I did scour the web and managed to secure a cut price complete set of organ tutors. The first of these had complete inside the front cover a set of cardboard templates that one could cut out and carefully place into position at the back of the two manuals so that each note was actually labelled. These days you can get buy as a tutorial sticker for learners little stickers to label each note but these run the risk of messing up one’s keyboard so this little cardboard template (think of a small size toblerone triangle with appropriate notches for the black keys) are an absolute bonus for me at the moment. I have now got fixed in my memory the opening sequence of the Bach cantata ‘Wachet Auf‘ but still have to learn the trickier sections that follow.

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