Friday, 11th August, 2023 [Day 1243]

Today has been quite a full day even for a Friday. It is the day when our domestic help calls around and there seemed to be lots of things that we wanted to share with her. Firstly, last week she left in my care a rather nicely shaped but rather abandoned cane chair which she was inclined to throw away but which I felt was probably rescuable. I happened to have a spare bottle of Rustin’s stain for light woods and I have given it repeated applications of this to the chair over the last week – until the little bottle was used up in fact. Then I gave it a final polish with furniture polish and decorated it with a little round gold cushion I had located in an old tin trunk we reserve for bedding, pillows cushions and the like. This finishes it off beatutifully and our domestic help was very pleased with it. But it will remain with me for one more week and I will try to enhance the polish a little until such time as she has room in her little car to pick it up. I then showed our domestic help the little group of three ceramic owls I had purchased in the charity shop during the week and again we were commended on our purchase. Then we came to show her the vintage German ‘stein’ mugs we had bought at perhaps one seventh of their actual value and where they have pride of place on a window sill in which the light reflects the colours beautifully. Then when she was sitting down with a cup of tea, I gave her the written version of the blog detailing the passing of Jo and which explains why she was such a significant friend to us. As you can imagine, all of this took a certain amount of time before she could make a start on her cleaning round. In the meantime, I have been assembling together, from my old and current iPad as well as my phone, whatever photos I have of Jo and I will then make them into a little tribute website and, of course, offer them to her son should he wish to use any of them in a photo collage for any ‘celebration of life’ activities which lie ahead of us.

After we had had a minimal breakfast, we made a trip to the Morrison’s superstore in Redditch where our son was getting an irritating little fault fixed on his car before the end of the warranty period. Then he treated us to a breakfast in their cafeteria and this was much appreciated by both of us – me in particular as I normally do not breakfast these days but did not want to turn down the opportunity when it arose. We then returned home and made ourselves a flask of coffee and put together some comestibles before we set off for the park where we were due to meet our University of Birmingham friend by prior arrangement on one of our favourite benches. The weather was beautifully warm and we enjoyed our customary chat in what we must now regard as somewhat transient summer sunshine. I had previously written to our friend explaining what an emotionally troubling week we had had so he was well prepared for all of this. Then we returned home and cooked our traditional fish pie in the oven with some broccoli and tomatoes accompaniment, this being a dinner that we always enjoy. In the afternoon, we spent some time in our music room listening to some quiet but evocative music before in the late afternoon our daughter-in-law called around. We played her one or two pieces that I had learnt on each of the two organs with which the music room (their ex-lounge) was endowed and she thought I made some progress, albeit with one hand. Quite surprisingly, I thought, she had never heard ‘Shenandoah’ before whereas the ‘Barcarolle’ was of course immediately familiar. After the departure of my son and daughter-on-law, I turned my attention to the cane and wicker magazine rack that had been offered to me by our domestic help. I gave this the beeswax treatment and was pleasantly surprised that even on this cane furniture, it gave it a subdued but satisfying lustre. The trick is, I believe, to leave the polish on for a period of som 20-30 minutes so that the bottom layers of the beeswax gradually harden before the very topmost layers are buffed to a sheen.

We have made some social arrangements for the weekend. To complement the Tuesday ‘glee’ club in Waitrose each Tuesday, most of us have a meet up on Saturday wilst we can. I have promised on of our number Michelle Obama’s biography to read as she enjoyed reading that of her husband. Later on in the morning , there will be the England vs. Colombia football match in which I fully expect that we shall finally be beaten – it seems to be the year of the underdogs this year. On Sunday, we are going to meet with our University of Birmingham friend in a local craft centre where no doubt we may find things of interest as well as enjoying our Sunday morning coffee.

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Thursday, 10th August, 2023 [Day 1242]

Well, after yesterday’s outpourings of grief, today seemed to return to a more normal type of existence. Yesterday, though, we had gone to our monthly meeting organised by AgeUK and had a fascinated illustrated talk by one of our number who had decades of experience scuba diving in the Red Sea off the port of Aquaba. The illustrations were mainly of fish and corals and I have to say were a stunning sight for those uninitiated into the joys of snorkelling. There are also a lot of wrecks in the areas and experienced divers, like our club member, were permitted to make a tour of a wreck so long as they were experienced, part of a team and were aware of the risks. So we had a video clip of a tour round one of these wrecks. At the end of the morning, there was a sort of facilitator person whose function was to act as a sort of liaison and trouble shooter to help members negotiate some of the intricacies of the links between NHS on the one hand and social/voluntary services on the other. This contact was absolutely excellent and she was not particularly surprised to learn of the difficulties we had encountered in negotiating this interface. So she took our details and promised to look into things to see what could be done to improve our experience. There are quite a lot of support agencies provided that one knows about them but obtaining access to what is needed can be a very hit-and-miss affair. The best analogy I have is a large hospital with a lot of specialised departments but no signposting anywhere within it – a patient could find out what they needed immediately by chance or they could fumble along finding one piece of needs meet here and another there, all quite fortuitously This is well known by people working in the service who do their best to provide relevant links but the key word here is that one has to navigate the systems, sometimes with help and sometimes quite independently.

Today being a Thursday, I was off to get some money out of an ATM and then get to the supermarket before the doors opened and everything worked smoothly. Then it was a case of picking up the newspaper, getting home to cook breakfast for Meg and unpacking all of the shopping. We knew that there were various hardware type purchases that we needed to make so we then made our way to Droitwich where, needless to say, we had our cappuchino and teacakes before repairing next door to the Cancer Charity shop. The store seemed exceptionally well stocked with goodies today and we did buy a couple of skirts for Meg as well as a black tie (for obvious reasons) for myself. There was also a ClassicFM quizbook which we thought would be good fun for both of us to have a dabble with when the mood took us but the prime focus of our visit was to get to Wilko, the hardware chain that started life as Wilkinsons as a family firm in Leicester in the 1930’s. We located what we needed, principally a new shower hose to replace the one we have which has finally broken at the point where they always do and some new clothes lines as the one(s) we have in place have unaccountably snapped. There were one or two other items that Wilko stocks and we cannot think of another hardware store that does so we were eager to get round the store before its demise. I spoke with the checkout lady what she knew about the future of the firm and she said that she and her partner (who also worked for Wilko) were being informed on a day-by-day basis but they had had no real news. But on the way home in the car, we heard the sad news that despite the best efforts of the new management team, they had not found a buyer or a ‘white knight’ and the firm was now going to go into liquidation. I find it hard to believe that such an accessible and useful store should bite the dust, like this, but the internet and some cheaper rivals are taking the blame.

When we were in the charity shop, I received a telephone call that an NHS support worker concerned with falls prevention would visit the home to assess Meg’s health status. We had to make a lightning dinner and the person called round at 2.00pm. She was exceptionally sympathetic and had actually grown up in Staffordshie not too far distant from where Meg had her youth. She was incredibly helpful and has promised to activate another couple of links for services that be especially useful and welcome to us. After that, we had to race off to get to a local QuikFit garage to investigate and correct a slow puncture in the front offside wheel. The culprit was identified as a small screw, just over a centimetre in length, which had become embedded in the tyre and was causing the problem. The resultant damage was easily reparable so a brand new tyre was indicated but we were very relieved to get this recurrent and irritating problem resolved for us. I thought I had heard a ‘click-clicking’ sound a few weeks ago and so it proved.

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Wednesday, 9th August, 2023 [Day 1241]

Today was a day that started off in one of the worst possible ways one can imagine. I listened to a voicemail on my iphone which gave me the news that the oldest, and dearest, of my friends had recently died at the age of 96. I suppose one has to say that 96 years olds can be carried away, as my doctor once informed me, by a ‘puff of wind’. But Jo (short for Josephine) was an incredibly significant person in my life and her demise is quite a blow to me. I first met Jo when I was a young civil servant working at the Central Office of Information in London in 1964. My job was part of a team to man an information centre for the rest of Whitehall and I was just the raw office junior whereas Jo was an Assistant Information Officer. Our desks were at right angles to each given the layout of the office and we all worked extremely collaboratively on a whole range of information issues. That particular year – 1964-65 – was an momentous one in information terms as it was the 700th anniversary of the founding of the Simon De Montfort Parliament which is the precursor of our present-day Parliament. It was also the year in which Winston Churchill died and, again, the world’s media were going frantic for every bit of Churchilliana it was possible to find. But the reason why Jo is such a special person for me will now become apparent. She knew that I was attempting to study for some ‘A’-levels completely on my own with no tuition. Jo enquired whether I had a quiet place in which to study, suspecting that a hostal for young male civil servants was not a place in which there was any opportunity for such study. I informed Jo that my principal study time was the 20 minutes of a Tube Journey between Finchley Road and Lambeth North on the Bakerloo line in the morning and again, in the reverse direction in the evening. Jo was a widow with a son who was then aged about 15 but lived with her son in a house adjacent to Heathrow Airport, where her pilot husband had been killed in an air crash. She made me an offer that was hard to refuse which was that I was to accompany her home on Friday evening and then have uninterrupted study time all Friday evening and the following Saturday and Sunday for intensive study for the three weeks just prior to my examinations – she said she would provide me with meals but I could have time for completely uninterrupted study. So this worked out fine but I think her 15 year old son must have wondered what kind of a waif and stray his mother had adopted. Eventually my results came through and as I had had no tuition and not submitted a single assignment, I had absolutely no idea whatsoever what my results were likely to be. In the event, I obtained a Grade A in Economics and a Grade B in Logic and my success in this venture owes a tremendous amount to Jo who had ‘rescued’ me and given me such a wonderful opportunity. On gaining my A-levels, I was off to University but Jo and I have remained life-long friends and she has shared my joys in life such as getting married to Meg, the birth of our son and much more recently a guest of honour at our 50th wedding anniversary nearly six years ago now. Jo was such a talented musician and she had a LRCM qualification in piano regarded as a degree level qualification for the civil service which employed us both. But she also had a strong science background and as well as working in pathology labs was at one stage employed in a facility where she met with, and exchanged some conversations with, Alan Turing, the celebrated mathematician and cryptographer who helped to crack the code of the Enigma machines deployed by the Germans during WWII. This enabled the Allies to have advance knowledge of German war plans and Turing’s work helped to shorten the war effort considerably as well as him being regarded as the ‘father’ of the modern computer. In recent years, Jo and I and our families have been meeting once a year in a little Italian restaurant just around the corner from the British Museum until the pandemic put a stop to all of that. She phoned me up about a month ago and on my Casio keyboard, I played her the Largo from the New World Symphony (which she knew well and sang along to). I had hoped that we might meet up in the next few weeks as soon as we could organise it all but she had felt unwell for a couple of days and then died what I hope was a peaceful and tranquil death. I am not at all ashamed to say that I wept copiously when I got the news this morning and have spent all day trying to cope with my own grief. Goodbye, Jo, and may you rest in peace! How blessed I am to have had a friend like you for the last 59 years and now I have only memories (and some 50th wedding photos, of course)

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Tuesday, 8th August, 2023 [Day 1240]

Today has seen a return of the dreary wet drizzle which we have had with us for most of the day. Once we had got ourselves together, Meg and I had our normal breakfast which is a cooked one for Meg and then looked forward to meeting with some of our ‘gang’ in Waitrose. Once we had braved the drizzle, we were delighted to meet up with our other three Tuesday morning regulars and exchanged our gossip with each other. As I had got some pictures of my newly acquired pottery on my phone, I explained to our friends how I had gone about establishing its provenance. Evidently, I had to photograph them both carefully and get the images in an accessible place on my computer. Then, I now know after advice from my son, that you use Google Images and, if you have photographs of your items, then Google will attempt to find a match for you (I gather this works with people as well) This worked like a dream for me when I tried it last night. Basically, I now know that I have a couple of German made ‘stein’ mugs made by a well known manufacturer (Marzo and Remy), the slightly smaller one dating from the 1950’s and the slightly larger and more ornate one dating from the 1880s. I see from the internet what one firm (‘Etsy’)advertises is that these pair of steins have a market value of up to seven times what I actually paid for them. Although one would be tempted to sell them on at an enhanced price, personally I feel happy with them as an ornament and certainly want to hang onto them, particularly as I now know something of their providence. So this was quite a pleasant and unexpected bonus arriving in the middle of the night. So my account of these little ventures led me onto a discussion of Meg’s engagement ring which we bought way back in 1967 in a little antique shop quite near to Manchester Cathedral, as I remember. The ring is all we could afford at the time between us and the cost was £8.00. It is quite an unusual design and is basically a sapphire surrounded by two small diamonds and then mounted in (rather than ‘on’) the gold band. Several decades later and whilst we were living here in Bromsgrove, the saphire dropped out somewhere and was lost forever. One of our local jewellers was having a huge discount offer on repairs and purchases so I took in Meg’s engagement ring, explaining to the staff that I thought the ring was probably Victorian as we knew that it certainly was not modern. Now the jewellers around here are usually exceptionally knowledgeable as they have probably had their apprenticeship in what is still known as the ‘Jewellery quarter’ in Birmingham. Upon hearing my story, our ring was repaired but the staff explained to us that the ring was older than Victorian. Their best guess according to the kind of mounting that was used was that the ring could well be Georgian. This was probably not recognised in the antique shop where it was bought as they were not specialist jewellers. Naturally, we were delighted with these news and we would never dream of selling it but it gives us quite a warm glow that a thing of such sentimental value might now be even more precious.

The rest of the day has been rather punctuated by long, and important, phone calls. I had made a call to a nurse who specialises in Meg’s health conditions to ask for some advice and when her return call came, I was actually in the middle of my Pilates session. My tutor and fellow class members did not mind when I shot outside the studio to take the call but the reception was not good inside the building so we made an arrangement to phone back on the landline after I had returned home. Now sooner had I returned home when the telephone call came which was very welcome but must have taken the best part of about 40 minutes. My contact had access to files of information on both of us and helped us to acually make contact with the social worker in adult social services for whom we form part of a caseload. She had been trying to make contact with us but this was another long but relatively fruitful phone call from which some positive consequences may flow. Eventually, Meg and I took our dinners which had been served up but not eaten and got to eat them at about 4.40 in the afternoon. So it was a strange afternoon but one where the possibility is opening up of some more proactive help with Meg’s health. I must say that once you do get through the phone/website interface to talk to an actual human, the level of professional concern and sympathy is generally commendable but getting through to have these conversations is quite an achievement in itself.

If any of us were not worried about data breaches, we ought to be so now. Details of tens of millions of voters could have been accessed by hackers who targeted the elections watchdog. The Electoral Commission revealed on Tuesday it was targeted by a cyber attack which allowed ‘hostile actors’ to access electoral registers. No votes may have been tampered with but the database can now be cross-referenced with goodness-know-what so we need to be afraid, if not very afraid.

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Monday, 7th August, 2023 [Day 1239]

Meg and I know that we had to make an early start this morning, which we did for a couple of reasons. The most important of these was an an occupational therapist was due to call around with a supply of aids that would help Meg’s mobility and related health issues around the house. We got ourselves breakfasted and then settled down to watch the England vs. Nigeria football match in the Women’s World Cup. This started at 8.30 and we watched most of the first half until the occupational therapist arrived with her gear. We then went around the house, trying out a variety of aids – some we thought might well be useful and we are going to retain whilst others did not look as though they were going to work so we passed them over. The occupational therapist was very conscientious and diligent in her approach and the three of us worked collectively to identify those practical aids that would work and those which would not. So it was quite a satisfying morning and then we settled down to watch the last 15 minutes of the England-Nigeria match. It seemed to us (and, eventually, to the commentators in the TV studios) that the English team were outplayed in nearly every department of the game – the Nigerians just appeared sharper, created more opportunities and looked dangerous near goal although their finishing was not of the highest. Then towards the end of the match, one of the hitherto English stars – Lauren James – got into a tangle with her Nigerian opponent and whilst she was on the ground, trod on her back. Initially a yellow card was issued but after a video review, this was upgraded to a red card which meant instantly leaving the field and missing the next match. There is also the possibility that in a further review, Lauren James may be found guilty of ‘violent conduct’ which, if proved, will be a three-match ban and exclusion from the rest of the competition. Eventually, after extra time, the English team limped through to penalties and promptly missed the first one. But the Nigerians missed their first two and, after that, the English women all put their penalties away with aplomb and hence England were through, not really deservedly, to the quarter-finals on Saturday. I rather felt for the Nigerians who played really well and did have a shove in the back of one of their players in the penalty area not even considered for a penalty, so I think the Nigerians could feel aggrieved about all of this. I suppose they could return home wih their heads held high and reflect that the better team on the day does not always win.

In the odd few minutes I have had in the day, I have consulted the web to see if I can discover anything about the provenance of the two richly decorated ceramic jugs we bought from Age Concern the other day. So far, I have consulted all 124 pages of an online guide to pottery ‘marks’ without any success. I have also trawled through about 20-25 eBay pages of decorated jugs to see if I can find anything even vaguely similar and the answer is that I did not find a single item that even came close to the specimens we have. I have a slight clue in the little monkey heads with a lion type full mane which is a repeated motif on one of the vases might tend to suggest something of an Asian extraction. Another clue is that I think on the reverse is an ankh symbol atop something that might be a chemical balance but it is all a bit difficult to say. I have discovered a Nottingham-based form of auctioneers who say that they will give you a free valuation on the basis of a photograph although you are asked to supply as much provenance as you can which would be difficult in my case. But when I have a chance I will take some photos of the two pieces and see what they have to say about things.

After a period of several wet days, I did feel I must seize the opportunity to get the lawns cut and this I did, successfully, this afternoon. It always amazes me that for every day I leave the grass longer than a week, the grass seems to grow disproportionately so today’s cut was timely. If we have a ‘normal’ rather than a very wet July weather, you can rely upon the rate of growth moderating somewhat but not this year.

The big political issue today has been the way in which asylum seekers are being relocated onto the floating barge, Bibby Stockholm at Portland Port, Dorset. The first 15 asylum seekers are now on board the controversial barge, according to the Home Office – although the government was unable to put another 20 on the vessel. And, contrary to earlier reports that the stay in this ‘barge’ which really resembles a floating prison, would be limited to a few days, the latest news this evening is that the stay may be between six to nine months. How ‘free’ the asylum seekers will actually be is an interesting question and I wonder how many will try to abscond and what will happen to them once they get caught?

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Sunday, 6th August, 2023 [Day 1238]

At last, the run of rainy weather seems to be coming to an end and so we look forward to a brighter day. I must confess that when I got up this morning, I felt like death warmed up and so went in search of some Cold and Flue Relief sachets as I felt both cold and shivery. This did alleviate the worst of my symptoms but not having had a good night’s sleep last night, I seemed to doze during the political programs broadcast on Sunday morning. I made Meg her breakfast and she had it on her knees in front of the TV whilst I sipped my ‘Cold’ preparation. This morning, we had an assignation to see our University of Birmingham friend in Webbs, the large store down the road which defies categorisation. As part of my membership fee which I renewed a couple of weeks ago, we have a card entitling us to a dozen free hot drinks which again I utilised. As I was still feeling a little fragile, I decided to treat myself to a round of toast thus breaking my ‘no carbohydate before 1:30’ rule but they say that one should ‘Feed a cold, starve a fever’ which I did. Meg, for her part, indulged in a huge slice of chocolate cake and as usual, we spent a very happy three quarters of an hour chatting away. When we eventually got home, neither Meg and I felt particularly hungry so we used a pork pie which we had been gifted by our next door neighbours and complemented it with some salad trimmings. To our surprise, we both ate most of our dinner and then we settled down to a range of Sunday afternoon activities. After I had given the newspaper a good read, I gave the bamboo chair I am restoring another coat of Scratch cover. When I have exhausted this little bottle, I will have given the chair multiple treatments and then we have two or three options which I shall discuss with our domestic help when she calls around on Friday. One option is to leave things as they are whilst another is to give a coating of a gloss laqueur which will add a shine to the whole. But a third option might present itself after I bought the set of four cushion covers with an autumn leaf design. I raided an old tin tunk that we have in our bedroom in which we have stored assorted cushions and pillows and discovered a circular cushion which we have evidently not used in decades but can be well and truly pressed into service at the moment. This sits nicely on the seat and the other cushion covers can be utilised to cover the chair back. I think the overall effect is very pleasing but the ultimate arbiter of all of this is our domestic help, whose chair it actually is.

This afternoon, we enjoyed a spell in our music room listening to a CD which I had bought on the internet the other day – this was ‘Renaissance music for inner peace’ and as such it will be complement the other CD of a similar nature that we very often play. So this was a relaxing hour in our newly equipped music room. Whilst sitting quietly, I gave the two decorated jugs that I bought the other day a really minute exmination to attempt to establish some degree of provenance. The bottom of the jugs just indicate ‘1 Litre’ and ‘Foreign’ so this gives no clue. I very rapidly flipped through 25 pages of decorated ceramic jugs advertised on eBay and cannot see anything even remotely similar to the two I have just purchased. If I had to make a wild guess, it would be that the jugs might be of Germanic origin as the style of decoration, although an intricate abstract design, is not dissimilar to the kinds of decoration I have seen on Beer jugs. A very slight clue might be a small decorated motif whih when examined under a magnifying glass could either be a lions head/a gorilla head/a neantherdal head. It would be fascinating to have them examined by a pottery expert who may be able to give an opinion but in the meantime, we are more than happy just to enjoy them for what they are.

Meg and I watched the final between England and Australia women’s netball. As non-expert viewers, it seemed evident that the Australians were never going to get caught and were always 2-3 points ahead in the first quarter (although that finished as a draw) and thereafter gradually pulled away before winning by 16 points with is a huge margin under the circumstances. The whole commentary team on the TV would never admit that the English team were just not good enough and no match for the Australians – it was full of pseudo-technical analysis but nobody seemed to state the obvious.

As a follow up to the story of the prisoner realsed after 17 years in gaol for a rape that DNA analysis shows he did not commit, the powers that be have relented and it is now agreed that the released prisoner will not be charged for board and lodgings for the past few years. But he still has a big fight on his hand to claim compensation which is by no means certain and will probably take years.

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Saturday, 5th August, 2023 [Day 1237]

Today dawned as a thoroughly wet and miserable day and it threatened to rain all day – and certainly did this morning. We thought we pop into Waitrose for a coffee this morning and bumped into one of our regulars but another two of our Saturday morning regulars may have been deterred by the rain. We spent a pleasant half hour or so, chatting about this and that and the subject of reading matter came up. I promised to let our friend have our copy of Michelle Obama’s biography to read because she had already read Barack Obama’s biography and enjoyed that so I thought she would probably enjoy that of his wife as well. Whenever Michelle Obama used to visit London, she often visited the poorer (and black) areas of East London where she must have been an amazing inspiration for some of those childdren, coming from similar roots herself. After we had done a bit of shopping we decided to go home but via our favourite little charity shop which is ‘suburban’ rather than High Street and where the staff are always incredibly friendly. Moreover, the shop is always crammed full of really interesting stuff as well. I popped into to see if tbey did have some cushion covers and picked up four for less than £2.00. But I must say I was tempted by some ceramic owls that I think could be lit internally with little tree lights but looked quite presentable in themselves. Whilst these were being packed for me, the assistant pointed out two stunning vases that had just been dropped into the shop that morning and as an impulse buy, I bought both of them because I think they will be a very useful addition to an otherwise bare window sill so these were added to the collection as well. When I got Meg home and sitting down with a cup of tea and some biscuits, I gave my new purchases a wash and got them located just where I wanted within a few minutes. Throughout the course of this morning, I have given the bamboo chair I am restoring for our domestic help another quick treatment of Scratch cover remover (used as a restoring agent in this case) When this preparation is first applied, it gives the bamboo a fairly lustrous appearance but it then fades after an hour to a more muted look. I am assuming that after a few more coats, the waxes in the preparation might have built up somewhat but when the improvements have come to a halt, as it were, I shall attempt an actual bit of beeswax on an unconspicuous part of the frame to see if I dare extend this treatment to the whole of it.

Last night in the course of the evening, I heard a rendition of the American song ‘Shenandoah‘ broadcast on Classic FM. For reasons, I cannot fully explain, I have always enjoyed the slow but evocative rhythms of this piece (not too different to the ‘Barcarolle‘ when you think about it). I have a vague recollection of singing this in a public concert put on for/by primary school children as part of some local festival – this may be a part of a false memory syndrome but I have always enjoyed the piece. During the night, in a wakeful session, I managed to locate and download a simplified version of ‘Shenandoah‘ and then practiced it for a few times (evidently very softly on my instruments) I have not got it absolutely right just yet but with a bit more practice, I will probably be able to get the whole thing more or less correct. This afternoon, I have interspersed bits of reading with bits of music pracice and bits of furniture restoration before we went to the station at 4.00pm in order to collect my son from his jolly dog-sitting duties. I got to the station two minutes late and collected my son before delivering him to his own house. My all too frequent slow puncture symbol started to appear in the car so on the way homne, I needed to go and get the tyre inflated and if I drive carefully, it should be OK until Monday when I will go and get it fixed.

There was a story in ‘The Times’ today which warmed the heart. The Fringe events in the Edinburgh festival often attact very small audiences but the other night, one performer put on her act/play to the one person who had bought a ticket and turned up to constitute the audience. The performer tweeted her distress in social media but the following night had a complete surprise. So many of her fellow performers had taken pity on her and had bought up tickets so that on the following day, there was a sell-out and the performance went ahead to a full house. Many of the artist’s fellow performers indicated that performing to an incredibly small audience was the stuff of their private nightmares so collectively, they had taken pity on her and given her the surprise of her life. So I found this story to be quite a heart-warming one when you consider the rest of the dismal news to which we are subject daily.

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Friday, 4th August, 2023 [Day 1236]

Today, we had our domestic help to look forward to but so as not to disturb us, she had not rung the front door bell but crept in quietly at about 7.30 in the morning. So when we emerged from our ablutions at 8.30am and ready for our breakfast, our domestic help was already busying herself in her tasks. Needless to say, various cups of tea always help to keep us going in the morning and, as usual, we had quite a lot to talk about. I gave her her a burst of two of three of my favourite organ pieces with which to start off the day – needless to day, the first of these has got to be the opening bars of the J S Bach cantata, ‘Wachet Auf‘ or ‘Sleepers, Awake’ (as it is known in English translation). Then she admired the work of my beeswax restoration of the piano stool which I purchased from her next door neighbour and then we exchanged little gifts of cleaning equipment with each other. We knew that we had an assignation in the park with our University of Birmingham friend and we had hoped that our another park friend would pass by but it was not to be. Instead, we were the attention of several friendly dogs who assumed that we would be sources of food or titbits but we tended to know all of their owners, at least by sight even if not more intimately, so that it did not look as though we were kidnapping their animals. Eventually, though, we struck out for home but our neighbours were having builders in to get a porch built as well as their routine gardeners so there were vehicles everywhere and we found it difficult to access our own house. But at least one of the annoyances that has made our life troublesome over the past few days has disappeared as the gas utility company have finally filled and tarmacked the hole which was occluding our driveway – or at least making life difficult – so we appreciate being able to drive in and out of our own driveway without the need for complicated manouvres.

After lunch this afternoon, I have acquired a little restoration project at which I am trying my hand. Our domestic help had a bamboo stype chair, of quite good construction that had seen better days and she was going to dispose of in the domestic tip. But I thought this was rescuable, given my recent attempts at furniture restoration, so I persuaded her to let me have it for the week to see what I could do with it. It just so happens that I have some Rustins ‘Scratch Cover’ for light woods and reading the list of ingredients (beeswax, carnauba wax as well as a stain) I thought this was well worth a go. So far, I think I have effected some improvements but I will persist with a few more treatments before our domestic help and I will give the whole little project an assessment to work out where we go from here. One idea that I have is that stretch-style chair covers are available at a very reasonable cost so this might be one way in which we can make this piece serviceable once again. I should have taken a photo so that I can assess the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects so I shall rely upon our domestic help’s memory of how it was before I started work on it.

We have plans to visit our local ‘Wilko‘ store next Monday afternoon as there are rumours that the whole chain, which started life in Leicester, is about to hit the buffers. It has always been one of my favourite hardware stores although I do admit that in the stationery department the shelves seem to have been left understocked on the last few occasions when I have visited the store. But I have always found their kitchen and gardening equipment to be reasonable quality at a fair price so I will be very sorry to see its demise. I am hoping to pick up a few things that we need that can only be bought reasonably there and I am hoping that it does not go belly up within the next day or so.

There is another political scandal which is brewing. Apparently, one in five Afghan refugees being evicted from their hotel accommodation will be homeless and we be presenting themselves as such to the local authorities. The UK promised a safe haven for thousands of people who had to flee their home country as the Taliban swept back into power in August 2021. The majority of those who came over worked for the British government and armed forces in Afghanistan as translators or similar aides and have been living in hotels since arriving. It has hard to see how the government can get any sympathy for denying accommodation to these Afghan refugees, particularly as their lives were under a direct threat when the Taliban came to power and we offered a legal route of immigration to them.

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Thursday, 3rd August, 2023 [Day 1235]

Today turned out to be quite a busy day. It started off with a quick burst on the website of our GP practice to request a telephone consultation which now requires the completion of a form as soon as the system ‘opens’ 30 minutes before the time when telephone queries are accepted. This all worked out well and after giving lots of details, the system appeared to work because the GP most cognizant of Meg’s profile phoned me back just after 9.00pm when I had returned from the shopping. This proved to be a little more problematic than usual because although I had my weekly shopping bags by the front door, I forgot to load them into the car. But when I went the supermarket, I raided the containers of empty boxes and made do with these rather than my shopping bags. Actually, I found that my purchases of milk fitted very snugly into one of these boxes so I shall retain it to make life easier in the future as it releases space in the bags themselves. I picked up the newspapers in plenty of time, got the shopping unpacked, the breakfast all cooked and washed up and then Meg got ready so that we could leave the house just after 11.00 which was our intention. We had decided to pay a visit to our favourite little market town of Alcester some 15 miles or so distant – all seemed to go well until the preferred route was blocked off so we had to be diverted but this did not prove to be too problematic under the circumstances. So we arrived in Alcester to weather that was gloomy but not actually raining and made for our favourite coffee shop. This just happens to be across the road from our favourite little hardware store – called I believe ‘This and That’ This is one of those precious little stores which seem to stock a myriad of things that you have not seen for years and evoked feelings of ‘That would be useful’. We finished up buying £20.00 worth of all kinds of bits and pieces, nearly all of which we actually needed and could very shortly find a use for. I was even tempted to buy a little block of beeswax for which I have no immediate use (apart from furniture?) but the next time I have a ‘screwing’ job, I will certainly aid its ingress with a little bit of beeswax – an old joiners trick. Then we visited a really old fashioned little carpet shop for whom the person in charge looked as though as he was least 85 years of age. In response to our queries about a little piece of carpeting, he shuffled off into the back to emerge quite a long time later with an old sample book from which we extracted one of the samples that I quite liked and which I purchased for the princely sum of £1.00

Then Meg and I got to the hotel on the High Street where we had pre-booked our pensioner’s meal for £8.50. They had a range of about half a dozen ciders so Meg had one of these and I was tempted by half a pint of John Smiths, although there were some local ales as well. We had a mixed economy of meals between us so that we could eat-and-share between the two of us and ensuring that Meg was not overwhelmed by too generous a portion. This meal strategy worked out fine as well – Meg’s should have been scampi and chips but we substituted salad for the chips which is always a good idea. After lunch, it was time to hit the charity shops with a vengeance. In the end we bought Meg four tops all of which we think will suit her down to the ground. We were amazed when we came to pay for them that as the shop in question was having a ‘sale’ the tops were priced at £1 each whatever the original price. I bought a rather smart looking and heavy jerkin which will serve me well in the cold weather but it feels a bit hot in today’s more humid conditions. As is often the case in charity shops, there is a shelf full of CDs selling for 50p each. In the last shop we visited, I scanned the CDs on the shelf and just bought one which was ‘Great Operatic Love Duets’ and I am playing it as I blog. However, I have to say that the recordings are generally the most execrable I have ever heard. One has in mind a soprano of an uncertain age with a red gash of lipstick and wrinkly stockings falling about her ankles whilst the tenor probably has a cumberband that has to be worn below the prominent tummy he now possesses. In fact, listeners to the 1960’s Radio 4 program ‘Round the Horne’ will remember the dialogues between two aging actors (‘Pinky Huckerback‘ and ‘Dame Cecilia Mole-Strangler‘ as I remember) and this recording of worthy of them at their worst. In fact, the 50p I spent is ridiculously good value when I consider the laughs we are getting from such a performance- the Radio Bratislava Symphony Orchestra under the direction of AT&T should have alerted us to the fact that we were not going to get the Vienna Philharmonic. The program notes even go as far as to claim that this compilation is ‘just in time for that intimate Valentines Day occasion’ If I were approached with a proposition from any of the recorded artists, I think I would run a mile in the opposite direction.

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Wednesday, 2nd August, 2023 [Day 1234]

Today was an entertaining day. We knew that we had an appointment later on the morning so that Meg could have her eyes checked over and, after breakfast, we picked up our newspaper and headed for the Kidderminster Intermediate Treatment Centre as it is known. We were fearful when we arrived because all of the car parking spaces appeared to have been taken and there were cars parked on yellow lines, squeezed onto grass spaces and, evidently, people in desperation had parked whereever they could, legal or not. This was no real surprise to us and I wonder if the private company that owns the car parking land actually does prosecute patients for non compliance when the available parking is evidently under all kinds of stress. Nonetheless, we managed to find one space and arrived at the clinic five minutes before our appointed time. We had taken the precautions of taking along a flask of coffee and some biscuits because, in the past, we have experienced a total hospital stay of some two and a half hours. Today, though, it did look as though we were going to see the consultant himself which we eventually did after some initial tests on Meg’s vision. We discussed the options for two different procedures, one on each eye and decided to go for the simpler laser treatment that would probably help the condition in one eye and would consider options for the other eye at a later date. As we were not in the hospital for a very long period of time, on the way home we called in our Irish friends wo we knew had been away for a long weekend in Munich. We joked about seeing a video with our friends quaffing beer served by long-haired Germanic maidens with their hair in plats whilst listening to an ‘umpah’ band with much thigh slapping from the leder-hosen clad musicians. This video was in my imagingtaion but our friends did show us another video, complete with music soundtrack, poduced on their iphone so I must find out how to do it sometime.

After a lunch of quiche, I telephoned the dotor’s surgery to attempt to make an appointment to discuss Meg’s medication. I was offered an appointment in a week’s time which I felt was too long to wait under the circumstances. When I wanted a faster appointment than this, I was directed to a website which was inoperative – but only designed to be functional between 7.30 and 8.30 tomorrow morning in which to log requests. Whether this will result in obtaining a doctor’s telephone consultation which is all I require in the first instance, I am at a loss to say but I will try at 7.30 in the morning just before I go shopping and hope for the best. I suspect that this difficulty in getting through to a doctor’s appointment system is the same all over the country and not just in our locality but the difficulty in getting access seems to have intensified since the pandemic. I have a terrible foreboding that leaving aside the ‘worried well’ we are storing up masses of problems for ourselves when those with symptoms cannot get the required access to their GP. On the medical and social care theme, I received a phone call from the technology company to whom our reference was passed recently but we were left with a rather indeterminate outcome with a possible referral to another link in the chain.

This afternoon, Meg rather fancied a walk in the park. This we did and bumped into some people from our church who we certainly not expect to see. We exchanged some pleasantries and then sat on our usual bench for a few minutes until it was time to come home – we just about avoided a rain shower and so home to a welcome cup of tea.

News from the other side of ‘the pond’ is that Donald Trump has finally been the recipient of a further four indictments. Now, the former president,who is seeking re-election in 2024,has been charged with what amounts to an attempted coup. In addition to his other legal woes, he faces four criminal charges relating to attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to President Joe Biden. The indictment outlines how Trump and his co-conspirators allegedly sought to misuse their authority to subvert the transfer of power and keep him in the White House for another four years. Altogether, the indictments amount to a document some 45 pages long and contains some quite explosive detail. Commentators are of the view that this is the most serious of all the various legal challenges that Donald Trump is facing. Of course, to the avid Trump supporters all of this is just evidence of a witchhunt and are keen to pursue challenges to Hunter Biden – the wayward son of Joe Biden – trying to establish some kind of moral equivalence to the two types of transgressions. The indictment against Donald Trump states :’These claims were false and the defendant knew that they were false. As violence ensued, the Defendant and co-conspirators exploited the disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims.’ Furthermore there is a further possible indictment coming from the state of Georgia that Trump tried to interfere in the electoral process.

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