Saturday, 30th September, 2023 [Day 1293]

Today we started off quite early as we got up early, had a cup of tea and then went to sleep again for a couple of hours. Last night, after Meg was safely tucked up in bed, I started to watch the New Zealand vs. Italy rugby match but as it was such a one-sided competitiopn, it was no real joy to watch and so I abandoned the effort just before half time when the score was about 45:3. I did, though, succeed in getting the video that our domestic help had taken of a panoramic view of our Music Room with me playing the Casio keyboard to accompany the video subsequently uploaded to one of my websites. I then had to remind myself to get the video to run automatically via the META tag in the header section of an index file and then made sure that this worked successlly as well. Then I explored the browser connectivity of our recently acquired Toshiba TV and although this was the american computing community might describe as a little bit ‘kludgy’ I got the address of my music system stitched into the browser so that I can play the video back at will through the TV. Once I got into bed, though, Meg was having rather a disturbed night which did not help my sleep pattern very much. This morning, after I got myself up and showered and Meg’s ablutions performed, it was a case of getting downstiars a little late and then having some breakfast before we set off to see our friends in Waitrose. We could stay for a strict half hour before we needed to set off knowing that we needed a fillup of petrol en route. After we refuelled, I deployed the post code of Meg’s cousins into the SatNav in order to navigate correctly to our destination. I was a little dismayed when the system could not recognise the postcode so entered the address via the house number and street name and was relieved when the system now recognised the address. We got to our cousin’s house in Cheltenham about fifteen minutes before we were due and Meg’s cousin was out in the street waiting for us. As soon as we got there, I queried the case of the equivocal postcode and it transpired that in a WhatsApp message a ‘fat finger’ had intervened and a digit in the postcode was out by one – explaining its non-discovery.

Once we got inside the house and knowing that these cousins of Meg’s are quite tech savvy, i wondered if their smart TV could access an internet address. They managed this quite carefully and in no time at all, we were displaying the little music video on our cousin’s TV. We also had the opportunity to explain how we had built up the collection of musical pieces bit by bit and why this is now quite an important part of our lifespace. And so we proceeded to lunch which was absolutely delicious. Our cousin had prepared a casserole for us which was basically little squares of pork cooked, I believe, in cider and served with some of those little bijou roast potatoes and some green beans. We had taken along some wine so we had a really enjoyable meal over which we discussed, at great length, the various afflictions which were affecting both Meg and her nearest cousin who is now living with a daughter in Derby. It appeared that some of the interactions we had with social services seemed identical, despite the fact that we were talking about very different local authorities and we discussed lots of practicalities in a frank and informative way in only a way that close family members do. We are resolved, though, to keep in much closer touch with our cousins so that through information sharing, we can be as helpful and supportive to each other as it is possible to be. By the late afternoon, it was evident that Meg was beginning to tire so we started the journey home which was very uneventful. We are are only 39 miles apart and most of that is the M5 motorway, the only more problematic section being a circumnavigation of the Cheltenham one way system to get to our destination in the south of the city. After we had returned home, we watched the second half of the Fiji vs Georgia rugby match over a relaxing cup of tea but we are actually in some anticipation of the Scotland vs. Romania match scheduled to start at 8.00pm this evening. We will have to organise getting Meg ready for bed before the match starts and then Meg and I will probably watch the first half of the match in armchairs in our bedroom before I settle Meg down and I will conclude watching the second half of the match downstairs.

I know that one should not gloat and as Denis Healy, the veteran Labour party politician used to observe that ‘In war, the first casualty is truth’ but some interesting news has emerged this afternoon. It is being reported in Romania that there may have been a violation of its own air space and that a Russian fighter plane might have been shot down by their own side. The full account of all of this might emerge a little later but, as usual, the Sunday newspapers may provide slightly more in-depth detail and analysis.

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Friday, 29th September, 2023 [Day 1292]

We always look forward to Fridays not only because it is the end of the week but we also have the chance for a long chat our domestic help who is also so useful to us on a Friday. We were not sure what our plans were going to be this morning because normally we see our University of Birmingham friend on Friday mornings but we did not have anything specifically planned for this morning. After a quick telephone call, we established that he had another commitment this morning but we would meet for afternoon tea this afternoon. On the recommendation of our domestic help, we decided to make for Barnt Green which is a suburb of Bromsgrove with a range of good coffee shops, charity shops and independent stores (including one of those old fashioned ironmongers where you go inside and wonder how you had ever managed for so long without this gadget or that piece of pottery) We found a parking place which was quite unusual because parking is always at a great premium along this particular High Sytreet and then got Meg safely bundled into a wheelchair, which we tend to use quite a lot these days. The pavements were at a bit of a camber and not particularly well maintained so pushing the wheelchair was not the easiest of jobs. Nonetheless, we found a coffee shop where people were enjoying the weather outside the shop whilst they drank their coffee and we found one unoccupied table at which we ordered a cappuchino coffee and a toasted teacake. We spent a pleasant few minutes here and then made our way along the High Street, in search of charity shops. But we were fortunate to find a Tesco Express where I could dive in and get my daily copy of ‘The Times‘ and next door to it there was an ATM and for both of these faciliuties I was well and truly grateful as it saved a lot of searching around. We did locate one charity shop which had quite a small frontage and I doubted tht I could Meg over the threshhold. So whilst Meg stayed outside, I shot inside and located quite a very tasteful ‘per una’ top which Meg can wear tomorrow when we visit cousins and I also took the opportunity to buy a birthday card in anticipation of next Tuesday. Then Meg and I had a bit of a rest before I persuaded our domestic help who was a photographer in an earlier life to take a little video of us on her iphone. I wanted the video to show the various pieces of kit which now populated our music room whilst I was playing a piece (the ‘Barcarolle’ from ‘Tales of Hoffman’ on my Casio keyboard) and this all worked more or less perfectly apart from the fact that my fingers hit a couple of adjacent keys at the end causing a discord. But by an extraordinary piece of good luck, our photographer had just managed the sequence of shots I had wanted her to video when I finished my piece so we established a perfectly synchronised ending to both of our activities. I wanted this to show to Meg’s cousins tomorrow when we visit them on the presumption that a picture, and even better a video, is worth a thousand words.

We had our normal fish pie lunch for a Friday and then we allowed ourselves a burst of the ‘James Martin’ cookery programme which tends to show interesting shots of Spain en route. We had to leave this early because we had planned to meet for our afternoon tea in Waitrose at 3.00pm but were a little dismayed when we found the cafeteria had closed up for the day when we arrived. So we trecked over to another coffee shop which was quite pleasant and where we indulged in tea and some cakes. We got into converation with a couple we have often met in Waitrose before but typically on a Sunday. They regaled us with a long and involved story concerning their beloved little dog who had some very neurological condition and upon whom they had spent what to me appeared to be a small fortune. We had an interesting afternoon out and then returned home where I played some relaxing music and videos for Meg’s benefit. Tonight is going to be the New Zealand vs. Italy rugby match and although this ought to be a walkover for the All Blacks, unpredictable things can happen in this World Cup.

Meanwhile, the waves from the Braverman speech rumble on. Around a dozen Tory MPs, including ministers, have complained to the chief whip about Suella Braverman’s recent speech on immigration and refugees. Some have told the BBC her remarks were offensive, divisive and inaccurate. It is not the first time, MPs say, that there have been concerns about the home secretary’s tone. It is unclear exactly what will happen as a result of the complaints but it is expected government Chief Whip Simon Hart – who is in charge of party discipline – will relay the concerns to the prime minister. This is always going to be a dilemma for the Prime Minister as he is loathe to do anything that might offend the right wingers within the modern Conservative party. This was the wing of the Conserbative party that John Major called ‘bastards’ and eventually made them back down with a pledge to ‘back me or sack me’

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Thursday, 28th September, 2023 [Day 1291]

We have to treat each day as it comes these days. Yesterday afternoon, as Meg had not been out for all of the day, we went for a little trip out in the car to see if our newsagent was still closed (he was!) and also to pay a flying visit to our friends down the road. We had surmised that they may have delayed in Ireland somewhat when they paid a recent visit and indeed, such was the case. Amongst other things, they had a bereavement in the family with which to cope and had stayed on for the funeral, which explains why our paths had not crossed for several days. I gave them a quick update on my news (explaining my non-attendance at the recent church committee meeting) and we agreed that we would have a get-together as soon as we could see our way clear. I explained that on Saturday, they would not see us at church because we would visiting Meg’s cousins in Cheltenham. I have been in contact with Meg’s cousins by text today to update them on Meg’s frailties and to make final arrangements for Saturday.

Last night, and as a consequence of our YouTube membership, we decided to play for ourselves one of our favourite operas which is the Glyndebourne production of Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro‘ This is a 4 Act opera and is all a bit much, however enjoyable, for a single viewing. So we decided to watch the first two Acts yesterday and then get Meg ready for bed and this all worked out, as planned I am pleased to see. We reserved the final two Acts of the opera for a showing this afternoon and we still haven’t come to the end of it.
The plot is convoluted but has some hilarious moments. One of them comes in Act III when Dr Bartolo and his old housemaid Marcellina arrive looking for the Count as they they want to stop the wedding of Figaro and Suzanna. Marcellina has a contract which states that Figaro must repay money that he owes her or marry her himself. But after his protestations it emerges that Figaro is actually the long lost son of Marcellina and also of Dr. Bartolo and the hilarity of the scene comes about when members of the assembled cast sing in amazement upon the discovery ‘Su madre’ (your mother) and eventually ‘Su padre’ (your father) all of which has to be explained to Susanna and this gives the opportunity for a repeat of the ‘joke’ If this sounds convoluted, it is, but adds to the pleasure of it all once you have your mind around the plot and the glorious harmonies which build up from a duet to a trio to a quartet to a sextet of voices, all with thir private thoughts and emotions which none the less blend into the whole. Hence the magic of Mozart (for some of is, that is, but I recognise it is not to everyone’s taste)

There was an interesting letter in ‘The Times‘ the other day which was a practical joke played at a funeral. The man who had died, and with his wife’s full knowledge and consent, arranged for a very elegant and tastefully dressed young woman, dressed in a stunning hat and dark glasses to attend the funeral but to sit somewhat apart from the other mourners. The young woman (actually an actress) played her part and much of the discussion after the funeral was the identity of the young woman and whether she was actually a mistress of the deceased. Most of his work colleagues were taken in by this deception, so no doubt the deceased person had a good giggle from whatever vantage point he was now observing the proceedings. But this reminds me of the occasion when I was employed at De Montfort University in Leicester. One of our lecturers died, I believe of liver cancer which I think can take people away quite quickly in their middle age. In the church service, though, there were four women who were crying their eyes out, one of whom was his wife and the other three of whom were women with whom he had significant affairs – some of us (myself included) could not work out who was who.

The debate over immigration is raging just before the Conservative party conference. Our Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has appeared before a very small right wing think tank in the United States arguing that the United Nations convention on refugees was no longer ‘fit for purpose’ Quite apart from her leadership ambitions, this whole venture is designed to fire a warning shot across the bows of the International Court before whom the legality of the ‘Removal to Rwanda’ policy is to be tested, with the implicit threat that the UK will leave the Convention unless it gets the result that it wants. Braverman claimed that’many’ would be migrants were claiming asylum on the grounds of persecution of their sexual orientation (although this is only mentioned in about 1.5% of cases) When rebuffed by the evidence, Braverman and her supporters claim that ‘many’ others use the ruse of persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation but when challened on actual numbers, answer comes there none but the argument shifts to a claim the import of which is that migrants will do anything to lie and cheat their way thrpough the system. All of this is of taken for granted by members of the Tory right, who may well push for her to become PM after Rishi Sunak’s almost inevitable defeat.

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Wednesday, 27th September, 2023 [Day 1290]

Today is a day that I like to describe as ‘chewy’ because we had nothing much on and the day seemed to be a little indeterminate as regards the weather. We had made a provisional plan to go to one of our favourite cafes in Droitwich just down the road but I judged that Meg seemed a little too wobbly when she got up this morning so it was probably better for us than we spent a quietish day at home. After we had got ourselves up and breakfasted, I made a lightning visit to Waitrose for some supplies and to to pick up my copy of ‘The Times’ I am a little distressed to learn from a sign on my usual newsagent’s door that they would be ‘closed for the time being because of a domestic emergency’ or similar so I wonder what has happened. I do hope that neither the newsagent nor his wife have been taken ill but I shall just have to keep the shop door under surveillance until such time as they can re-open. In the meanwhile, we amused ourselves this morning, if that is the right phrase, with a variety of TV presentations. For lunch, I raided our fridge as it is the day before our shopping day on a Thursday and made a lunch of parsnips, leeks in an onion sauce and some tomatoes cooked and flavoured with basil. What with on thing or another, I finished up with five saucepans on the go this morning which I can scarcely ever remember doing before so I must remember to do what I can on the microwave on another occasion. The meal was very tasty but I had prepared somewhat too much for Meg so I must train myself to give her two-thirds portions from now on as her energy needs are so much less than mine.

The big political news reported today is that the regulator has approved (and presumably the government concurs) with the RoseBank Ool and Gas field off the Shetland Isles. Sky News reports that the timing could hardly be any more provocative. Barely 24 hours after the International Energy Agency (IEA) reiterated in a new piece of analysis that there was no need for new oil or gas projects if the world is to get to net zero, Britain has approved the biggest new oilfield in more than a decade. Rosebank is not massive by global standards. It is expected to produce roughly 300 million barrels of oil, which makes it a relative minnow compared with some of the giant fields previously discovered and exploited in the North Sea (to put it into context, Brent produced about three billion barrels, so 10 times more). It will do little to change the overarching trend – that the UK is becoming more and more reliant on imported oil to power its economy. Indeed, it is quite likely that most of the oil produced at Rosebank will end up being exported to refineries overseas rather than processed in this country. Even so, it is the first major new field to be approved since the UK committed to hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And it is symbolic in other senses too: it marks the opening of a new frontier in the North Sea. The question that I ask myself is whether this oil has to be burnt as a fuel, adding to the carbon emissions. A quick search of Google indicates that there are 6,000 products made from oil including solvents, ink, floor wax, ballpoint pens, upholstery, sweaters, boats, bicycle tyres, sports car bodies, nail polish, dresses, golf bags just to show some of the diversity of products involved. I do not know whether in the pursuit of a green economy, the petrochemical industry will need to evolve or completely transform itself. The growth in demand for petrochemical products means that petrochemicals are set to account for over a third of the growth in oil demand to 2030, and nearly half to 2050, ahead of trucks, aviation and shipping. This subject has hardly received any attention or political debate and parhaps because of the diversity of products manufactured from oil there is no simple solution. But you might have thought that the subject was worthy of some sort of analysis. But what I have learnt from some quick researches is the following.

By breaking the hydrocarbons in oil and natural gas into simpler compounds and then assembling those building blocks, scientists long ago learned to construct molecules of exquisite complexity. Fossil fuels are not just the feedstock for those reactions; they also provide the heat and pressure that drive them. As a result, industrial chemistry’s use of petroleum accounts for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Now, growing numbers of scientists and, more important, companies think the same final compounds could be made by harnessing renewable energy instead of digging up and rearranging hydrocarbons and spewing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. First, renewable electricity would split abundant molecules such as CO2, water, oxygen (O2), and nitrogen into reactive fragments. Then, more renewable electricity would help stitch those chemical pieces together to create the products that modern society relies on and is unlikely to give up. Chemists in academia, at startups, and even at industrial giants are testing processes—even prototype plants—that use solar and wind energy, plus air and water, as feedstocks. One company, in Berkeley, has designed a washing machine–size device that uses electricity to convert water and CO2 from the air into fuels and other molecules, with no need for oil. At the other end of the commercial scale is Siemens, the manufacturing conglomerate based in Munich, Germany. That company is selling large-scale electrolyzers that use electricity to split water into O2 and hydrogen (H2), which can serve as a fuel or chemical feedstock. Even petroleum companies such as Shell and Chevron are looking for ways to turn renewable power into fuels.

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Tuesday, 26th September, 2023 [Day 1289]

Today being a Tuesday, Meg and I were looking forward to the little chats we have with the Tuesday morning in the Waitrose cafeteria. One of our number was there and we were joined a bit later by one of other friends but a third friend was off doing her bowling and hence couldn’t meet us this morning. It was fortunate that I had my mobile with me because I got a telephone call halfway through our coffee from Social Services with whom we are organising some support for Meg. Today is the day in which I normally attend a Pilates session but I judged that I could not make the session this week. Also, every so often we have a committee meeting in our local church which I am required to attend but I sent an ‘Apologies for absence’ and an email of explanation for the fact that I was not able to attend this evening. On consulting my emails this afternoon, I have have received a very sympathetic and heart warming response from the chairman to whom I sent my apologies and it is always a little reassuring to know that you are in other people’s thoughts.

We normally like to tune in to the daily Politics programme each day on BBC2 and today was an examination of some of the issues facing the Liberal Democrats who are in conference this week and also the Conservatives who are in conference next week. The interesting thing about the whole HS2 cancellation row, which is rumbling on, is that it might not be possible to announce any cutback in the programme just yet as the Conference is going to be held in Manchester which is not the best of venues in which to announce that the Manchester to Birmingham leg was about to be cancelled. It used to be said that ‘middle of the road’ Tory MPs hated going to the annual conference because they needed to rub shoulders with members of constituencies whose political stance is always far to the right of their own. They had to ostensibly pay obeisance to overtly right wing viewpoints with which they were not naturally in sympathy but they did not dare not attend in case they were sanctioned by their own local constituency association. The fringe meetings outside the main conference used to see dominated by the those of the likes of Boris Johnson at the time he was garnering support from those interested delegates before he eventually became the Prime Minister. So the Tory party conference is always reasonably interesting for those interested in the political process and whilst one is well used to the Labour Party having lots of internal splits and divisions, the same is also true of divisions in the modern Tory party particularly over Europe and Brexit and is not supposed to be true of the party who like to think that they are singing from the same hymn sheet. In practice, the divisions in the Tory party were bitter and deep but Boris Johnson tried to put an end to all of that by withdrawing the whip (ie throwing out of the party) all of the moderate and Remain minded MPs.

After lunch this afternoon, Meg and I thought we would catch up on one of the most interesting Prom concerts which was a rendition of Mozart’s Requiem but with a ballet accompaniments. I am not sure that this really came off because whilst the choreography and individual performances seemed well enough, the various balletic movements seemed somehow to jar with the essential spirit of the Requiem. One has to experiment in the Arts, I suppose, but sometimes it doesn’t really quite work. But afterwards, there was a follow-on programme on the BBC’s iPlayer called Making Music English. In this, historian Amanda Vickery and broadcaster Tom Service unearthed the fascinating story of the lifelong friendship between composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. A lot of the music was familiar to Meg and myself but having it contextualised in the time period of just pre-WWI to the 1920s was absolutely fascinating. The programme documented the forging of a distinctive musical genre that was both backward looking and evocative – probably the best known piece from this time period is the Vaughan Wlliams composition of ‘The Lark Ascending‘ which practically always topped the ClassicFM charts when listeners were allowed to vote for their favourites.

Sometimes, I take the long range weather forecasts with a pinch of salt but this year, things may be a little different. A mini heatwave is being predicted for us in mid-October so it might just be that after a truly terrible summer, we are getting something that compensates us a little. It is making me wonder whether it is worth contemplating a few extra long days out somewhere before the clocks change and whilst we have the promise of some warm, autumn sunshine. I have always quite enjoyed the autumnal period because in the course of my life, I have always started either a new job or a new venture in September/October. As the year progresses, though, I do count off the days until the shortest day in December 21st because I feel happier when I know that the days are getting longer rather than shorter. One has to live through ‘Trick and Treat’ first, though, which to my mind I rather deplore as a quasi-American import.

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Monday, 25th September, 2023 [Day 1288]

So Monday morning morning has dawned again and we had several little shopping type trips planned for this morning. The day did not start off particularly well, though, as we went to collect our newspaper only to be greeted by a little note on the door that the newsagent would not be available until 11.15. So we went on our way, picking up some supplies from Waitrose and then reparking the car at the other end of the High Street to see what the AgeUk furniture shop had to offer. There I did see a type of walker technically called, I believe, a rollator with two wheels at the front and two feet at the rear and as this was only £5,I hoped it might help Meg’s mobility issues. So this I acquired and then went on to a further suburban shop run by AgeUk where I picked up a large face wall clock that I needed (also for Meg) We called in at the newsagent on the way home but he was still closed. Upon my return home, I needed to do a little clean up job on my two purchases. The clock worked out fine after a new battery was fitted but the rollator was a bit of a disaster because Meg could not quite get the knack of how to use it. Then I made a further trip to the newsagent (but to no avail) and then got on with lunch. After lunch and another fruitless visit to pick up my newspaper, which was my fourth visit of the day, I bowed to the inevitable and bought my newspaper from Waitrose. After that, we knew that our chiropodist was due to call and so our feet have been seen to for another month. She did tell me about a local yoga teacher whose classes she has been attending for years and who also has an online presence so having got the details, I may do a bit of investigation as it is getting so problematic to attend my Pilates classes these days. After lunch, I wanted to watch again the whole of the second half of the Wales vs. Australia game, if only because Wales scored a stunning victory of 40:6, effectively knocking Australia out of the World Cup and inflicting the largest defeat against a northern hemisphere club, surpassing the 53-24 loss to Scotland in 2017. The BBC website wonders whether Wales were that good as they beat the previous best 25-point margin of victory against Australia? Or were the Wallabies that woeful, with former England boss Jones left to face the music as Australia lurch towards World Cup oblivion? It was probably both of these factors but given the pre-emince of Australia in years gone by, this defeat must be very hard to bear.

The Liberal Democrats are in conference this week – and although normally ignored by much of the Main Street Media, this year it is somewhat different because in the event of a tight election, their role could be piviotal. Sir Ed Davey has hinted his party would be prepared to do a post-election deal with Labour to prevent the Conservatives from forming a government. Speaking to Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby at the Liberal Democrats annual conference, the leader categorically ruled out any agreement with the Tories, saying his party could ‘play a critical role’ in removing them from power. But pushed over whether he would consider some form of deal with Labour, Sir Ed appeared to be keeping his options more open, saying instead he would not ‘speculate what else may happen after polling day’. It could be that the Liberal Democrats pose a severe threat to the Tories in the (prosperous) South of England that would never normally consider voting Labour whilst the Labour Party may be able to recapture some of its traditional heartlands in the Midlands and the North of England. We are definitely in a pre-election mode at the moment and one feels that every move that the government makes is calibrated upon how it will play with the electorate particularly in marginal and the ‘red wall’ seats. As regards the HS2 imbroglio, it is now being argued that at the very least Manchester and Leeds (only 40 miles apart but with the Pennines in the way) would have benefitted from a really fast rail link and then HS2 should have started from the North and then pressed southwards instead of the other way around. I seem to recall that in Spain, the Socialist government in office at the time pressed ahead with a really fast rail link between Madrid and Seville and with a non standard guage as well. But most commentators have argued that at the end of the day when the financial costs and benefits are evaluated that the capital city, Madrid, benefitted far more from the high speed link than vice versa. What I suspect really ‘did for’ HS2 was the fact that opeople living in the Chilterns and other desirable places en route exacted such a heavy price in the demand for tunnelling, compensation, landscaping and goodness knows what else that the costs escalated to the extent that they have. But ex-ministers like Anna Soubry have argued that even since Victorian times there have been cost overruns on infrastructure projects but the country has always benefitted in the long run. But a high-speed link between London and Birmingham only is either a bad joke, a white elephant or the desire to make the UK the laughing stock of the world.

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Sunday, 24th September, 2033 [Day 1287]

Today after we had got up, it was evident that Meg was in too frail to attend the craft centre nearby to us where we intended to meet up with our University of Birmingham friend for a Sunday morning coffee. But then at just before 10.30 we received a text from one of my nieces who had intended to attend the baptism of two of her grandchildren (one of them delayed because of the COVID pandemic) But fate had intervened in a cruel way because although she had intended to visit the ‘happy, clappy’ Anglican Church in Gateshead where the baptisms were scheduled to take place. But courtesy of the primary school where my niece teaches, she contracted COVID and a journey to the baptism was now out of the question. But the church itself had made available a live feed of its services over YouTube and so it was possible for my niece (and also my sister and Meg and I) to witness the baptisms which, as you might imagine, was quite an emotional experience for us. Afterwards, my sister and I had quite a long FaceTime chat which we will probably do most Sunday’s and exchanged news about the types of services provided by the churches where the church ‘comes to you’ rather than the other way round, as it were, as ministers visit the house every so often to provide a miniaturised service for the sick and housebound.

We had a fairly traditional Sunday lunch of roast beef (cooked in the slow cooker), with the complement of a baked potato and some broccoli. Afterwards, Meg and I knew that we were going to watch the rugby and the evening but we decided to treat ourselves to a film which we pretty sure we had available to us as part of our Amazon ‘Prime’ membership. This film was called ‘The Way’ and it was a story filmed from a book, about the journey made by an American doctor who had lost his son who had met with his death whilst travelling along the Camino de Santiago in the French Pyrenees. His father decided to complete the Camino (and hence the title of the film) on his son’s behalf carrying his son’s ashes with him. On the way, he acquires some travelling companions and whilst these might be slightly larger than life, the things that happen to the travelling companions en route were quite credible. The journey has an incredibly emotional ending which I will not specify for anyone who wants to view the film for themselves and see how it ends but suffice to say that I actually wept buckets at the end. So Meg and I have quite an emptionally charged day what with one thing or another but we are currently enjoying Scotland getting the better of Tonga in the World Cup. But the match to view today is undoubtedly Wales vs. Australia and I would have normally backed Australia but who knows in this particular World Cup. We are now approaching the end of the pool stage and will be moving towards the quarter finals in which every game from now one will be a knockout game. One great source of disappointment for all rugby fans is that the outstanding French fly-half, Dupont, sustained a cheekbone injury in a recent match and has already had some corrective surgery. This will keep Dupont out of the competition for several more rounds and perhaps for the rest of the World Cup.

The big political news today is the story that the Tory government of Rishi Sunak is thinking of abandoning the HS2 High Speed line which means that if the Birmingham to Manchester leg is not completed, then we could have a high speed line that only covers a half of its intended length leaving the North completely adrift. Of course there are cost overruns but there were in the case of Crossrail across London which did not stop the project and there now even talk of a Crossrail2. I heard Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, furious with anger that big infrastructure projects affecting the North are regarded as problematic, so we could end up with a nation with updated rail projects in the South and a basically Victorian railway infrastructure in the North. Whilst all the signs are that HS2 will be ditched by the Tories, the Labour party is being a little coy about whether it still fully supports the project – for example, there is not a commitment from the Labour Party to immediately restore the abandoned Birmingham to Manchester link were they to gain power. There are even hints that a mjor Tory donor is reconsidering his support for the party if a major infrastructure is abandoned, despite the costs.

A NASA capsule carrying the largest sample ever collected from an asteroid has returned to Earth. The capsule, which landed in the Utah desert at 3.52pm, contained around 250g of rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu as part of NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission. The significance of all of this is that materials gathered from the asteroid may give some clues about the formation of our own earth and solar system. If there is any evudence of any organic molecules, this would prove to be tremendously exciting and could point to the fact that the origins of life itself might have been brought to earth by a visiting asteroid – not a scenario out of science fiction but a hypothesis actually entertained by some astronomers and astrophysicists.

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Saturday, 23rd September, 2023 [Day 1286]

Today, being a Saturday and also a fine bright day, now we’re looking forward to our little trip to Waitrose where we hoped to bump into Tuesday crowd that we also tend to meet up with as well as Saturdays. Today we got onto the topic of the kinds of games and pastimes that we remembered as children and I wondered if any of the girls remembered any of the skipping rhymes that they probably used to sing in their junior days. In the days of a rigid division between the sexes, the boys were engaged in a type of football (actually we kicked a square block of wood around the playground) and, if we got bored with that, we boys used to play cigarette cards which involved throwing them down into any convenient corner and then picking up any of those that your own card came into contact with. I seem to remember that there were a couple called Peter and Iona Opie who spent a lifetime collecting rhymes and songs and I the one that I remember, althugh there were several was ‘Children’s Games in Street and Playground’ I think the Opies published several works of a similar nature and wilst the older generation will remember many of them, a lot will have been lost to current generations of children. I wonder, for example, whether the ‘skipping rhymes’ that girls (aged 6-9)used to sing when skipping in a group still persist. So afer these discussions we came home and contemplated the rest of the day. It really was a beautiful day but the grass had grown so exceptionally long not having been cut for a couple of weeks, I decided to give it a go in a series of ‘tranches’ so that Meg could be kept an eye on at the same time, Firstly our large communal grassed area to the front of the house generally takes about 40 minutes to cut and to cross-cut. Today, I divided the task into two and after twenty minutes came indoors to check on Meg. Then making sure she was comfortable, I completed the second 20 minute tranche, mightily pleased that I had managed to get this done at last. There is something about the grass this year which is making it grow at a prodigious rate and the grass today seemed practically as thick as it would be on the occasion of the first cut at the end of March. Then I settled down to watch most of the second half of the Portugal-Georgia match. This proved to be a fascinating contest betweem two equally matched but not particularly good teams. Portugal seemed to have gained the upper hand but in the last five minutes of the game, Georgia drew level on points and if they had completed the conversion for the extra points then they would have won. But with the scores level and literally only a minute or so on the clock, Portugal was awarded a kickable penalty and had they kicked this successfully, they too would have won the match. So the teams ended up with a draw which could well have been a fair result but both left wondering that with a slightly more accurate kick at goal, then both teams could have won the match.

We had a lunch of the other half of a chicken-and-ham pie complemented with some sprouts and baked tomatoes. This was fine but, as you might expect, I was quite keen to get outside and get the back lawn mowed which is only a 20 minute job. I left Meg watching a ‘Nrs Brown’s Boys’ and then raced to get the back lawn cut, which, as it lays within the shade of the house often has even thicker grass than at the front. I got this completed, and Miggles our adopted cat showed up at the end to give a nod of approval (and a little meal of fish that he/she has come to expect). After that we had a quiet afternoon of reading and music listening before we decided to watch the first half of the England-Chile game. We had decided that Meg and I should try to attend church for the first time in three weeks as Meg has felt a bit too wobbly in past weeks but was probably going to be a little OK today. I must say that having attended the church fairly regularly over the past four years, our recent no-shows had been noted and we were treated very solicitously today which was quite heart-warming in its own way. Our regular parish priest is on holiday for five weeks but we have a ‘Rent-a-Priest’ here for the next few weeks, I must say that I rather enjoyed hs rather jolly approach and not particular pious homily which he delivered sitting down rather than standing up.

Upon our return and our customary bowl of soup,it was the Ireland-South Africa rugby match and these two teams are rated as the two best teams in the world at the moment. The level of tackling was ferocious and either team could have won. But the Irish held onto a narrow lead and in the closing minute, the South Africans could well have scored a try from a rolling maul that would have won them the match – but the Irish snaffled the ball and hence emerged as victors. But these two teams might meet again in the final rather than the pool stages, in any case.

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Friday, 22nd September, 2023 [Day 1285]

Well, it was certainly an interesting start to the day. Yesterday, we experienced a slight domestic disaster when Meg had a stumble in our downstairs toilet, the upshot of all of which was that a crucial little plastic bit broke away from the retaining pin making the while caboodle not really functional. It was going a little astray in the first place so I remembered that I probably had the box from a similar replacement toilet lid that we had fitted several years ago now. To my surprise and delight, I found that I had a complete replacement unit which saved me having to go out on the road to source one. Then all we had to do was to remove the old unit and replace it with the new one – easier said than done. I got so far and then got a bit stuck but very fortunately, my son was on hand to complete the job so that we had now a functioning unit again. My role was confined to holding the lid upright so that it did not fall down during the fitting process and to shine our (powerful) torch on the work area so that we could get the job done effectively. As happens in many walks of life, if we had to do it again we could do it in a jiffy but the first time one is working one’s way through a set of instructions and this always a bit iffy but we got there in the end. I suppose that many toilet lids other than the most basic ones contain the following feature, which is that you give them a gentle nudge from the upright position and they qietly and slowly close themselves without clattering or banging. The make was a Croydex which was a well-known brand of seat and I am not sure from where we bought it from in the first place.

After this had been fixed, it was time for us to have a rendez-vous with our University of Birmingham friend in the Waitrose cafeteria and we spent a happy hour chatting and also conversing with some of the regulars who seem to be there on Fridays. Normally, we meet in the park but after the experience of yesterday when Meg and I got thoroughly soaked, it was a case of ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ so the cafeteria was the better option. Friday is the day when our domestic help calls around and we always seem to have a lot of news to impart to each other, today being no exception. Our domestic help is a great source of assistance to us and we try to help each other with all kinds of little domestic things that go way beyond the call of duty. I generally buy one or two things that are easily available in Aldi but not usually else where and vice versa. We tend to have a fish pie lunch on Fridays (born of long tradition of ‘fish on Fridays’ dating back to our schooldays) and we complemented this with some tenderstem broccoli and a quick microwave roast of some plum tomatoes, enhanced with a little garlic mayonnaise. After lunch, we tuned into James Martin and today were entertained to a few stupendous views of Granada (with which we are familar) and then an interesting way of cooking fish (sliced into thin slices) which not have occurred to me in any case. James Martin’s cooking is always interesting but of course all of the outdoor cooking implements are always just to hand. He always seems to utilise a very sharp broad bladed culinary knife to prepare and dice all of his vegetables so I am wondering whether this might be a useful thing to ask Fr. Christmas for a little nearer to the date.

One gets used to a certain degree of political chicanery but the last day or so has seen the evolution of a new policy which seems to break all previous bounds. This week, Rishi Sunak made a surprise speech announcing delays to a number of key Conservative pledges aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But the amazing thing here is that certain items have been delayed or abandoned that were not even policy on the first place. Pride of these must be the pledge not to put a tax upon meat which was never part of a Conservative political agenda in the first place. One wonders where this will end, when politicians promise to put an end to ‘unpopular’ measures that they never intended to introduce in the first place.

Meg and I watched the rugby in the late afternoon, and specifically Argentina vs. Samoa. At the start of the match, it was a bit hard to predict who might turn out to be victorious. In the first half the Argentinians established a 10 point lead but the second half was a dour battle between the two sides with Argentina coming close to, but not actually scoring. But then against the run of play, Samoa scored a late try and if they managed to do this again the last five minutes of the match (not impossible), they might have won the match. So the last five minutes actually turned out to be pulsating and almost nail-biting. Tomorrow, though, will see a clash between Ireland vs South Africa as well as England vs. Chile will be quite a day.

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Thursday, 21st September, 2023 [Day 1284]

Today is my shopping day and I was happy that I managed to get everything done whilst Meg was still in bed. As she was up several times during the night, I was relieved to see that she was staying in bed until I got back and slowly unpacked all of the shopping before cooking the breakfast for her. Whilst yesterday was wet all of the day, today seemed to be a beautiful day but appearances can be deceptive as we shall shortly see. I made up a flask and some things to eat and then progressed through the park, pushing Meg in a wheelchair. On the path, we met up with one of our regular ‘park’ friends that we used to see on an almost daily basis during the COVID days when the park was our lifeline. We had not seen each other for quite some time and we learned that our friend, who is not in good health and a wheelchair user, had been in hospital for a three week period and was still recovering from her hospital stay. We indicated that our trips to the park were less frequent than they used to be for a variety of reasons but it was nice to see her and to have a chat. Our friend went on her way and then we made for our usual bench and started to drink our coffee. Then within seconds, the heavens opened and we started to experience a really sharp and intensive shower of the sort that can wet you really thoroughly within seconds. Just to make matters worse, I was just receiving a telephone call which we had to terminate incredibly quickly and then dive for cover under the branches of the nearest large tree. Meg and I got soaked through but we had to stay there for a good 5-10 minutes until the intensity of the rainstorm had diminished considerably and we could make our way back to the car. This we did but, of course the minute we got home, we needed to strip off all of our outer layers of clothing and more besides, so that we could get ourselves dressed in some dry clothes. Once this was all done, we needed to get warmed up with a hot drink and then it was time for us to cook lunch. This turned out to be the kind of lunch which is quite typical for a Thursday when I made a sort of fry up of vegetables which were then served on some pasta (for Meg) and some cream crackers (for Mike)

After lunch, we received a telephone from one of the volunteers who works for AgeUK. We are trying to find some type of companion for Meg to perhaps sit with her for a little period of time on some afternoons but all of this may prove to be a little problematic and may not be possible. One of the volunteer organisers is going to perhaps pay us a visit and make some kind of assessment whether Meg could benefit from the voluntary services that may be available but we are rather in the lap of the gods until this happens. But we have been in text contact with one of Meg’s cousins with whom we have made an arrangement to visit Cheltenham to have a family meal a week on Saturday and to this, we are looking forward very much (but as we are both fairly ardent fans of Welsh rugby, let us hope this does not coincide with an important World Cup fixture)

So far, I have failed to comment on the Russell Brand affair but the latest revelations tonight have spurred me into comment. In the latest allegation, a woman says Brand exposed himself to her, then laughed about it on Radio 2 show. It strikes me that puffing up the egos of presenters and making them into ‘super stars’ as it were was almost inevitably going to lead to a situation in which some of these individuals (not all) must have felt themselves to be above the law or not subject to any kind of control or restraint. If we were to examine the context of the Brand comment in the latest allegation, Radio 2 was desperate to attract a younger audience and to be appear a bit more ‘edgy’ and ‘cutting edge’ and therefore probably let Brand get away with things which, upon a more sober reflection, should have never seen the light of day. The BBC is conducting its own investigation and it is apparently the case that in any tape of a Radio show which is pre-recorded, this has to be listened to someone in the BBC with editorial responsibilitie and adjudged to be compliant or not. But it is interesting to reflect that in the 1970’s there was an incredibly relaxed ‘zeitgeist’ surrounding some broadcast content. About a year or so back, a series of programmes were broadcast on the theme of ‘What they said in the 1970’s and then showing them to modern audiences – who viewed/listened with their eyes agape. In one infamous example, there was an advert in which a young woman was seen sauntering through a corn field exclaiming ‘I want to be – RAPED!’ One is amazed that anything like this was broadcast but indeed it was, to modern day astonishment.

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