Tuesday, 31st October, 2023 [Day 1324]

It is true to say that Meg and I always look forward to Tuesdays as it the day when several of us meetup in the Waitrose cafeteria for a chat and general support. We picked up our newspaper and commiserated with our newsagent whose health is going through a bad patch at the moment as his wife was telling me that she had make an visit to the doctor to get him some emergency pain relief tablets – he was going to be seen this afternoon in one of the local hospitals so I again gave him my best wishes. When we turned up to the cafeteria, we all seemed to turn up at about the same time and went into our norml routine of pushing tables together to make a large composite table for the six of us (in total) Sitting on one of the benches was a lady who whilst having her coffee was engaged in a little craft activity which was making a sort of joker’s head-dress for her daughter who was in a production somewhere (to be put onto YouTube for those who couldn’t see it live) We admired her craft skills and engaged in a general chat about the skills that our parents (more accurately, our mothers) had either imparted or failed to impart to their offspring. The lady with whom we were chatting indicated that she made all of her own clothes as well as curtains and other domestic fabrics. Whilst this is an admiral skill to have, clothing (and particularly good clothing sold in the charity shops) is now so cheap that it cannot be an economic proposition to ‘sew your own’ any more. I am always a great admirer for those who have developed and maintained their skill set. I remember that when we were on a Saga holiday, there was an elderly lady that we met and every morning she knitted a little bonnet that went on the heads of premature babies and every so often, she donated these to her local maternity unit. I cannot remember how long she took to do it but the bonnets were not very large and knitting one a day I am sure that she could do it in her sleep. Meg and I turned into the Politics Live program which starts transmission at 12.15 each day. But today, they had cut straight to the evidence of Lee Cain, the Downing Street Director of Communications, who was giving his evidence live to the COVID enquiry. After lunch we tuned into Sky News to see Dominic Cummings lobbing hand grenades all over in his own testimony. Although we only saw bits and pieces of these two bits of evidence, that seem to display the same underlying narrative i.e. that whatever his qualitities, Boris Johnson was about the worst politician to have held the office of Prime Minister at a time of grave national crisis. One of the most repeatable things that Dominic Cummings said was that ‘It is only a matter of time before his babbling exposes fact he does not know what to say.’ There was reference also within Downing Street that Boris Johnson was like a supermarket trolley, lurching erratically first one way and then another, often out of control. There was also reference to what were called the ‘poppins’ which terminology was lost on the Enquiry chair. It turned out that Boris Johnson would make a decision and when this was heard about, some stff used to ‘pop in’ to express their dismay/disquiet. It is said that Boris Johnson then frequently changed his mind and this drove the senior civil servants almost mad with distraction as clear policy could not be formulated and followed with decision making that was as volatile as this.

Meg and I had our normal Tuesday lunch of fishcakes and easily microwaved vegetables that we always enjoy and find quite satisfying. After that we regaled ourself with the next episode of ‘Outnumbered’ and observed some of the Dominic Cummings evidence to the COVID enquiry. Whilst this was proceeding, I busied myself with carrying on with the restoration of the ‘Captain’s Chair’ purchased yesterday. I have now had the chance of a minute examination of this and whilst I think I paid a fair price for it (or even better) it is evident that some work has been done on it in the course of its 120 year old history. There is evidence of the odd strategic nail having been discreetly hammered here and there as well as some gluing. In places, there are dribbles of wood glue remaining and I have chipped most of these off. I am not overconcerned to get it absolutely right as a few little age-related imperfections lead to its charm. I did read on the web that if you were trying to restore an ink-stained writing desk, then the presence of old ink stains almost added to its veracity. But by today’s Amazon delivery, I have just received a little tin of woodfiller which I shall apply judiciously in one or two places. Most of the time, though, I just devoted myself to a ‘baby wipe’ cleanup of the chair as the principal ingredients of the baby wipes seem to be water and glycerine and these can do no harm, I say to myself. My main ‘cleaning and restoring’ cream should arrive on Thursday so I am quite happy to just do some preparatory work before then. I think I am making some progress but it is a slow process in which it is hard to gauge the progress to date in my restoration.

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Monday, 30th October, 2023 [Day 1323]

After Meg and I had got ourselves up and breakfasted, we knew that we were going to have a little trip to a suburb of Birmingham called Moseley. Late yesterday, I had entered an eBay auction for a Captain’s Chair and in this I was successful in placing a winning bid with, as it happens, only 4 seconds to spare. I did go £1.30 over the limit I had made for myself but the pleasure of winning this bid against ten other bidders made this a small price to pay. I had arranged to get to the house in Moseley at 11.00 and the whole journey worked out incredibly smoothly until about 2 miles short of my destination when the entire route was blocked off due to tree felling. After a diversion, I ran into more tree-felling inspired road closures but got to the appointed address about 5 minutes before the agreed time. The seller was a really interesting guy and I could have tarried at his house a lot longer were it not for the fact that I had rather abandoned Meg in the front seat of the car and I did want to leave her too long. I enquired about the provenance of the chair and sellers had bought it some decades ago but understood it was made by one of the many furniture makers in High Wycombe. However, it did not have a maker’s name attached to it which would have pushed up the price I paid for it about 10 times. The seller very kindly helped me to get the chair into the boot of the car (useful as it happens as my back is still playing up a little) As soon as I got home, Meg and I enjoyed our delayed elevenses and I took some pleasure in giving the chair, constructed from both elmwood and beechwood, a once over. I have ordered some very specialised furniture reviving cream as sold to the antiques trade but this will take a day or so to arrive. In the meanwhile, I had downloaded some web-based materials provided by the cream manufacturers who indicated that very often in the case of furniture that needs to be revived, one has to remove some layers of dirt. The so called dirt is really just layers of dust accumulated over the decades and once this has been removed, the restoration process proper can start. In this I still have my supply of grade 0000 wire wool and beeswax and this will eventually be brought into use. What I have bought is technically called an ‘Edwardian smokers bow or captain’s chair’ so last night, I did some researches on the net to find out why this furniture is so called. It seems that the whole design of the chair is such that when is resting in the chair, the arms are such a convenient height to facilitate the smoking of one’s pipe! The ‘Captain’s chair’ bit is derived from the fact that these were generally better pieces of furniture designed for the captain or senior officers of a ship but the stout design and somewhat splayed legs helped to keep the whole chair stable when on a pitching or rolling ship. In my eagerness to get started, I did use some wet wipes advertised as being suitable for the most delicate skin of a baby and so I reasoned it should be fine for an initial treatment of the chair. I used several of these wipes and was quite surprised at the amount of surface ‘dirt’ that I did manage to remove. But this is a job that can only be done in hours of daylight as I don’t think you can fully appreciates the efforts of one’s labours except with the benefit of the best daylight illumination. All together, I intend to complete my restoration of this over several days and already have a couple of matching emerald green cushions that will fit its shape perfectly once the restoration is complete.

Meg and I had a wonderfully quiet afternoon, spending it all in the Music Room enjoying first our daily ration of ‘Outnumbered’, then a spell of the evidence being given to the COVID enquiry shown live on Sky News, then a David Attenborough,Planet Earth program with the afternoon ending with a rendition of Handel’s Messiah which is still playing as I blog. It used to be the case that there was a tradition in various Northern towns and cities that you turn up if you could vaguely sing and then a score of the Messiah was put in one’s hand. Having been allocated to the appropriate section of the mass choir, then off you went singing the Messiah with an assembly of hundreds if not thousands. I have never actually done this but I would love to have it done it at least once to savour the experience. Tomorrow, I will ask the most musical of the ‘old ladies gang’ when we meet in Waitrose cafeteria tomorrow if she has ever done anything like this and if, indeed, there is a tradition of doing this in the Midlands as well as in the North of England. Any rendition of The Messiah always makes me think of the Huddersfield Choral Society whose reputation was made on the back of their superb rendition of the oratorio. Being the first day after the clocks have gone back, it is a bit of a shock getting used to how quickly it appears to be getting dark as 5.00pm today is what was 6.00pm a day or so ago. We shall shall shortly be November which, for me, is a month with nothing to commend it at all but is just a month to be lived through (a characteristic shared with February in my estimation)

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Sunday, 29th October, 2023 [Day 1322]

Today has turned out to be one of the most interesting of days. We knew that we were going to see our University of Birmingham friend later in the afternoon but in the meanwhile, this meant that we were free for our own devices in the morning. This was the weekend upon which the clocks get turned back by one hour and given that I have lost some sleep over the last few nights, this was truly appreciated. This morning we decided after we had breakfasted and seen some of the Lorna Kuennsberg show that we would make a trip to the park which I must admit we have not visited in the last week or so. During the pandemic and when Meg’s mobility was so much better, we did visit the park practically every day and it was an absolute lifeline to us, as well as to regular dogwalkers who seem to be legion in Bromsgrove. Accordingly, we made up a flask of coffee and took along some nibbles, occupying our normal park bench which did require a little drying off with the requisite sponges but we always carry these in the supplies bag in any case. In the last week or so, we have not visited the park much as we tend to see groups of friends in cafeterias of various descriptions but today was a lovely bright day with interesting autumnal colours so it seemed to be a shame not to make another visit to our old favourite. We had not been sitting down for very long before Inveterate Octogenerian Hiker strode into view -or rather flopped onto an adjacent bench, which is quite understandable as he tends to walk anything between 7-9 kilometers a day, even at his advanced years. Whilst engaged in this conversation, another couple that we know quite well and who are regular park visitors stopped by for a chat. Then we were joined by a magnificent labradoodle named Alfred hove into view together with his owner so that was the third acquaintance we had met within only a few minutes. Finally, we decided to return home as Meg was getting a little chilly (I must remember to take out a little blanket for when to take the wheelchair into the park) and on the way back to the car were hailed by yet another couple with whom we have been out for meals in the past. So I must say that Meg and I felt that slightly guilty as we had neglected the park somewhat and it was enervating to meet four lots of our park friends within the space of less than half an hour. When we did get home, it was all a bit of a race around because we had some beef cooking in the slow cooker and on occasions such as this, there is always the onion gravy to prepare and the slow cooker dish itself needs a certain dgree of cleaning out. Nonetheless, the dinner turned out to be prepared relatively swiftly under the circumstances before it could be eaten and everything washed up and put away before our friend was due to call around at 2.15 in the afternoon.

The afternoon did not quite turn out as planned – but that was not necessarily a bad thing. We had intended to go along to visit the Webbs Garden Centre cafeteria thinking that it might be less busy in the afternoon rather than Sunday mornings. This turned out not to be the case and we turned up rather anticipating tht we could utilise one of the wheelchairs that they make available for the use of patrons. But when we got there, all of the wheelchairs were in use (i.e. none available) so we had to swing onto ‘Plan B’ We decided to return to our house where we entertained our friend to tea and biscuits in our Music Room. We were intrigued to learn of some new friends that our friend had made recently and who we may meet ourselves in the weeks ahead. But we spent a good time chatting about some TV programmes that we had both seen and thoroughly enjoyed – our friend was intrigued by the ‘Birth of Israel’ documentary which we had viewed recently and which was so informative. I was also explaining to our friend why we found ‘Outnumbered’ so enthralling so we played our friend a ten minute segment of this so that he could get a flavour of it. After our friend had left, we knew that we were keeping an eye on a piece of furniture that was being sold locally and which we hope to collect in the next day or so. This was a ‘captain’s chair’ and what we found so enthralling and intriguing was what the eventual selling price would turn out to be. The bidding process started out at £10.00 but in the eBay recently viewed section, there was an identical one that had evidently been professionally restored but was selling for practically £1,000. Intrigued by all of this we entered the auction with about 40 seconds to spare and did, in fact, secure the item at £1.30 more than our initial top limit but about a 20th of the antique dealers price we saw adjacent to it. I am just waiting for the seller to get back to me with details of the collection address and a convenient time for us to call around to collect said item. Once we get it home, it will require a certain amout of TLC to expended upon it to bring it into a nice looking condition but it seems basically sound and a wonderful shape which will complement our existing chair perfectly.

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Saturday, 28th October, 2023 [Day 1321]

Dawn came as a blessed relief after a night with hardly any sleep, the reasons for which upon which I shall not elaborate. But Meg and I were buoyed up by the knowledge that we would meet up with some friends in the Waitrose cafeteria this morning so we progressed with our morning ablutions and a light breakfast. We had got ourselves geared up for our little venture out this morning when disaster appeared to strike. On attempting to start the car engine, the motor resolutely failed to start and I was left with a strange symbol of what appeared to be a cirle of gears and what may have been a representation of fuses. In some desperation, I decided to phone the specialist RAC line for help and the telephone number directed me to a website from which I had to supply details in order to receive some assistance. Fortunately, the first option was to tick a box saying ‘at home’ and then we got prepared for a wait of anything up to an hour and a half. I needed to go back into the house for something, felt in my pocket and then realised that I have left my remote car key inside the house. So it was no wonder it would not start and I now understand that the symbol I thought was a string of fuses was meant to be a keyboard. I might add that the graphics on the model of HR-V that we have has a remarkably clunky 1970’s feel to them and I am fairly hopeful that when we pick up a new car in some week’s time that the graphics and explanations will have been radically improved. I think my absence of sleep had contributed to my memory lapse this morning as it is the first time I hve ever attempted to drive the car without the keyfob and I had evidently left the car unlocked anyway to gain access to it. So we arrived to see the Saturday gang about 20 minutes late but were immediately rewarded with some little chocolate slices to accompany our coffee, this being a delayed birthday cake from one of our number who celebrated a birthday in her 80’s last Sunday. We have made an arrangement to meet up with our University of Birmingham friend tomorrow afernoon rather than tomorrow morning, and of course the places to have coffee on a Sunday are a little limited. Our friend is going to call around for us in the early afternoon tomorrow and so we shall ensure that we shall lunch a little earlier. This should not be at all problematic because this weekend the hour goes back (‘Spring forward, Fall back’) so apart from the hassle of altering all the appliances (including the ones that I sometimes struggle to rmember how the time setting mechanism works), we should be in plenty of time. We lunched today on the risotto that I would normally have prepared yesterday had we not eaten our fill of bacon butties yesterday morning.

I try to make sure that the afternoons when we are resting have a degree of predictability about them – this is particularly, because I am encouraging Meg to have a really good rest in the afternoons because I am sure that her body needs it even if her mind (apparently) does not. So after we had cleared up after lunch, we have our daily ‘fix’ of ‘Outnumbered’ after which I had got something lined up to watch in the mid afternoon. I had previously noticed on the BBC iPlayer tht there was a documentary by Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, on ‘The Birth of Israel’ I had started to watch this the other night and it looked fascinating so we saved it for a viewing this afternoon. You might have thought that we would have had a surfeit of news about the Israeli-Arab conflict in Gaza but this program was fascinating in the historical archive and interviews that were deployed. The most fascinating part was the way in which during the ‘war of independence’ the Jewish settlers had been populating Palestine from the 1920’s onwards (at first, peacefully) Eventually, under Israel’s first premier, David Ben Gurion, it was documented how the Jewish settlers (not yet Israelis until 1948) had fought both their Arab neighbours and the British who held a United Nations Mandate to govern the territory. Just prior to 1948, there were groups of Jewish settlers who rampaged through some Palestinian villages bombing them and shooting man, women and children on sight (e.g. the ‘Stern’ Gang, as well as Irgun) forcing thousands of Palestinians to flee their native villages and to make for territories such as Gaza. Naturally, the British labelled these fighters for independence as ‘terrorists’ and when you come to think about it, the British have often subjugated a people and independence has been forced through the barrel of a gun (MauMu in Kenya, Eoka in Cyprus/Greece and so on) What is remarkable is that the pattern of violence exhibited by Hamas today echos that of the Jewish settlers prior independence in 1948.

Last night, I watched England secure a narrow victory to snatch the ‘Bronze’ i.e. 3rd place in the Rugby World Cup. But it was very close fought and the Argentinians would have drawn level, had they not missed a crucial penalty – and they could well have won on extra time. Tonight, of course, is the almighty class between New Zealand and the South Africans which will be a mighty tussle and decided by the finest of margins, one suspects.

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Friday, 27th October, 2023 [Day 1320]

We got going eventually this morning after a somewhat delayed start but are always pleased to see our domestic help arrive on Friday mornings but we suspected that we might well be out later in the morning. Once we had got breakfast out of the way, we set forth to pick up our daily newspaper and then to make for Droitwich some miles away. The normal route was blocked by roadworks – whether routine or a consequence of the latest bout of bad weather I cannot say – but eventually we got there. However, we made a stop en-route to our local Age Concern charity shop because our domestic help had tipped us off that they had a practically new light wheelchair available for sale at a very reasonable price. Thinking about my back and whatever I can do, both now and in the future, to minimise the strain upon it and thinking that there may well be occasions when Meg will need to resort to a wheelchair around the house, we decided to make a phone call to see if it was still available. It was, and I promised to get round there by 11.00am this morning to pick it up. Naturally, these light wheelchairs are designd to fold almost flat to get them into the boot of a car. Talk about the kindness of strangers – someone I did not know wandered over from his car and, observing me struggling a little with the newly purchased appliance, showed me how the handles came off and how it folded flat to get it into the boot. Naturally, I thanked him profusely but did not want to bring the chair into commission in Droitwich if I could help it as I felt I needed to get it home first and give it a good examination and ‘once over’ before bringing it into regular use. We were very fortunate in finding a parking space quite near to our favourite cafe and this meant that I could walk Meg into the cafe with the minimum of effort. Once inside, I enquired whether that actually did any bacon butties (which I quite fancied) On being told that they did I ordered two, on for Meg and one for myself but this turned out to be somewat optimistic as they were enormous and came on great chunks of brown bread. In practice, and we shall know next time, one of these would have been quite sufficient but we consumed these with gusto and a huge pot of tea to go with it. After we had left, I was keeping an eye out for Worcestershire Association of Carers charity shop just down the road because I have always been impressed by the quality of their offerings. I did not leave empty handed either as I came away with a pair of boots with a kind of furry top of a kind I had years ago and these were just my size. I also picked upm a smart leather/leatherette type briefcase (always useful if you have to take a bundle of documents along to a hospital or a solicitor) and finally a cushion for which I think I can find an immediate use. So all in all, it was a very productive morning.

The latest Middle East conflict is causing all kinds of tensions in the body politic. For a start, the United States looks as though it is trying to restrain the Israelis from all out ground offensive into the Gaza strip. If such an full-bloodied offensive takes place, it is going to be bloody in the extreme on both sides. The Hamas fighting units have a whole series of tunnels in which the Israelis will have to engage and fighting may well be hand to hand. Every mission is fraught with danger. If the Israelis attempt such an assault then some of the 200-odd Israeli captives may well have been placed in the tunnels to prevent an incursion. And, of course, there may well be booby traps everywhere. The Americans will be equally anxious to not ignite a wider regional conflict but they have already bombed positions in Syria so one can imagine that not only Israel but Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq could be drawn into a regional conflict. So far, the Israelis have confined themselves to a couple of deep incursions into Gaza rather than a full scale incursion but the world is watching and waiting and one feels that it can only a question of time. Meanwhile back in domestic politics, the Labour party leadership is getting itself impaled upon a terrible hook. By defending to the right of the Israelis to defend themselves, does this give a green light to the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population in Gaza of whom some 40% are estimated to be children? It is quite possible to endorse Israel’s right to self defence but at the same time to condemn a bombing of the Gaza population which looks as though it is an act of collective punishment even if this not the intention of the Israelis. But the UN Secretary General and other influential actors regard the actions of Israel as a war crime. Meanwhile, the initial assault by Hamas is also a war crime but where do we go from here? The Qataris are trying to broker some kind of hostage release in return for a moderation of the ground offensive into Gaza but the negotiations are tortuous (and may not get anywhere)

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Thursday, 26th October, 2023 [Day 1319]

Today dawned as an indeterminate type of day – one that frequently gives way to showers with intermittent burst of sunshine. As we had a pleasant experience yeserday in the Methodist coffee house, we decided to repeat the experience as the patrons seem quite a friendly crowd. Today is the day when the PCSO (Police Community Support Officers) generally make their presence felt by sitting on the ‘Chatty Table’ and making themselves available to anyone seeking thir advice. I think they have a little bag with ‘goodies’ in it such as the kind of stickers that you can display on or near a front door to deter cold callers. Meg and I are fortunate not to be troubled by these but I feel fairly sure that the main Kidderminster Road is probably fairly well worked over. One of the PCSO’s remembered me and my tall stories from the last time we met which was probably a fortnight ago and I became emboldened to ask her a semi-personal question, namely what it was that she were wearing that accounted for her bulky appearance. The PCSO officer responded by saying that she would show me and promptly took off her outer garment which was protected by the Kevlar material which tends to be stab proof but in its heaviest versions can stop a bullet as well. I must confess that it is the first time that I have ever had a female police officer disrobe in front of me, but I suppose there must be a first time for everything. She handed me the outer garment she was wearing and it was amazingly heavy – it felt as though it had ceramic plates built into it but I surmise that the PCSOs might have have the lighter of the several grades of Kevlar allocated to them. After we had enjoyed some banana cake and teacake for myself, we departed some time after twelve and, of course, ran into huge traffic jams through the centre of Bromgrove so had to make a detour. I paid the briefest of visits to our favourite AgeConcern shop wondering if they had any cushion covers or anything else that took my fancy. However, on my lighning tour of the shop, nothing stood out so we made it home and then got on with cooking the lunch.

After lunch, we indulged in our daily ration of ‘Outnumbered’ after which time our chiropodist called round. She has been coming to us for some years now and can be quite a useful source of health advice. I mentioned my bad back and she promptly suggested a ‘Yoga for sciatica sufferers’ website that I think she has consulted and found useful in the past. In her job she has often to bend at a particular angle whilst ministering to the feet of her clients so I suspect that her advice is well worth taking. Later on today or probably this evening, I shall look at the website that she recommended to see if there are useful exercises and stretches that I might perfom. Normally, of course, I would have my weekly Pilates session each Tuesday to help to keep me in good trim but that has had to be abandoned in the last 3-4 weeks which I regret but I cannot see myself working around at the moment. Later on this afternoon, we stumbled across a wonderful concert filmed in Halle’s Marktkirche in 2009 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the death of Handel. Given that Handel was practically an adopted Englishman, I think that similar concerts were held at about the same time in the UK. I did not have much time to sit down and enjoy this particular concert but it can keep for another day as a telephone call came through as I was sitting down to enjoy it. The telephone call was from one our fellow Catholic parishioners who we know quite well (force of habit means tht we often occupy the same pews from one week to another) and, as we had exchanged Christmas cards with each other in the past she had got our telephone number. Not having seen us last Saturday evening, our Geordie friend was telephoning to ensure that all was well with us. It is rather a wonderful experience to be missed in this particular way and we had a pleasant chat with each other, after which having now got her telephone number, I said I would return the call in a few days time. Our friend had nursed her own husband to his death so is fully ware of the pressures and strains of looking after a partner when their health declines.

After last night’s political news that Peter Bone, a Tory who has held junior ministerial office had a six week suspension from the House of Commons (perhaps followed by a recall election in which he would forfeit his seat), another scandal breaks upon the Tory party. Today it is Crispin Blunt who has revealed that the police have charged him with rape, which charge he vigorously denies. Nonetheless, Rishi Sunal trying to conduct a serious debate about the potential and dangers of AI (Artificial Intelligence) is faced with two distractions from the ranks of his own party. It used to be said that Conservative politicians are prone to sex scandals but Labour MPs to financial ones – however, we seem to have had a real run of sex scandals in the modern Tory party which is not really helpful to them when we are in this critical pre-election period.

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Wednesday, 25th October, 2033 [Day 1318]

As the week progresses, we settle into our routines one of which is to attend the Methodist Centre coffee bar on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. We aimed to get there before 11.00am which we did and found that we could occupy the one disabled parking space that they have allocated. Once we got inside, the ‘chatty table’ was already full up and although people volunteered to make space for us, we did not want them to disturb themselves on our account so settled instead for another table where one of Waitrose friends was keeping a table free for us. We enjoyed the tea and toast but got into conversation with a very interesting patron. In the course of the conversation, it transpired that he was part of that generation of science students for whom it was felt to be a good idea that they learn some German in order, presumably, to read scientific papers in German in the original. The person with whom we were chatting was telling us that this was no real problem for him as he had studied German in school but it did for some of his contemparies. He told us that in one of the examination papers, a compulsory question was set in German – whether you had to reply in German I did not round to asking him. When Meg and I were at university, two of our flatmates, one in the main part of the University and one at ‘the Tech’ (later to become UMIST) were subject to this routine where acquisition of the rudiments of German was a requirement but how this was assessed, I am afraid I cannot now remember. Another lady came to have a word with me because her husband had been a Professor of Statistics and she was intrigued to have learnt from our mutual Waitrose friend that I had taught statistics as well. In the course of conversation, it transpired that this couple had lived in Oadby, a twin town to Wigston in Leicestershire and had actually lived in a road which we knew quite well which was probably less than a mile from the first house that we bought in Wigston. So we could well have passed each other in the street whilst we were both resident in Oadby/Wigston (adjacent suburbs, eventually forced into one borough council) but obviously without knowing each other. So it is a small world, as we remarked to each other.

This afternoon after catching up with the latest Sky News headlines, we treated ourself to a Christmas edition of ‘Outnumbered’, which we enjoyed enormously. After this, we followed up with a concert of Mozart and Bach playd by the Netherlands orchestra which we have accessed before and which always seem to produce performances that are both stunning and moving at the same time. We were so absorbed by this that we did not hear the doorbell ring but we did discern a shape and a noise outside the front door. We had been expecting a visit from Severn Water to replace our water meter at some time in the afternoon beween 1.00pm and 6.00pm which was the time period given. All of our houses tend to have a little rubber ‘reading point’ outide the house so that the water meter readers can get a reading without going inside a property but we were told these tend to fail over time. So we have a new meter fitted inside the garage and I think this is constructed in such a way that a signal is sent that can be read externally from this point on, making the little rubber reading socket now redundant.

Later on this afternoon, our hairdresser called around as she does every 4-5 weeks and made sure that we were both duly shorn. Our hairdresser has been coming to us for years and knows exactly how we like our hair to be done. The only very slight downside of this arrangement is that as we have our hair cut in the kitchen, we have to immediately use the vacuum cleaner to clear away the clippings. We always discuss matters of local interest with our hairdresser as she always seem incredibly well informed with new housing developments, road works and the like. Before she arrived, I completed the restoration job that I started yesterday on our captain’s chair. This is fairly simple as it involves rubbing the legs over with beeswax loaded onto a 0000 steel wool carrier, then left 20-25 minutes and finally polished off. The whole chair is now complete and I suspect has not had a good polish for about half a century as I think we have had it for about 55 years as far as I can remember. Like yesterdy, I am quite pleased with the results which are best viewed in daylight rather than an artificial light. I suspect that for the next day or so, I shall continue giving the spindles in the back as well as the legs the ocasional little tweak before I present the results to our domestic help on Friday to guage her opinion on it.

The former Conservative minister Peter Bone has been suspended from the Commons for six weeks. This follows a long investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying after a long investigation by the Commons authorities. These events have taken place at least five years ago and it is an interesting question why the allegtions have taken so long both to surface and also to be resolved. Another by-election may well be the outcome if the local electorate so decides.

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Tuesday, 24th October, 2023 [Day 1317]

Tuesday is the day when, traditionally, we turn up to the Waitrose cafeteria to have coffee with the regulars. These days, I park in our usual spot and transport Meg into the cafeteria on her wheelchair, coinciding with three sets of friends at the same time – in other words, the regular Tuesday crowd. We had a jolly time and I dredged up a couple of amusing operatic anecdotes the most famous of which happened, I think, to Dame Nelly Melba. In the final scene of Tosca, Floria Tosca having killed the villanous chief of police, Scarpia, in order to evade capture flings herself over the battlements. In real life, of course, singers do throw themselves over the scenic representation of a battlement but in the case of Dame Nelly, a whole series of extra bouncy foam was put into position to soften her fall whereafter, having thrown herself over the battlements, she kept bouncing up and down to the general amusement of the audience. After our little session, I felt so much better than I did before I entered the store and wondered how much weight to give to the argument that laughter releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and whether this is ultimately better for you than all manner of pills. We returned home in time to watch the daily Politics Live program which gives airtime to the issues of the day. Top of the agenda today was whether the shouting of ‘Jihad’ constitutes an offence as, according to the government, the police ought to ‘do their job’ and arrest and charge the offender. Meanwhile, the Met. are advised in real time by the Crown Prosecution Service that no arrestable or chargeable offence has been committed and therefore refrain from action. One has to feel for the police under such circumstances because the politicians have one agenda, appealing to what they believe to be public clamour and sentiment whilst the real professionals (the CPS in this case) are advising against. We then had our conventional haddock fishcakes and microwaved vegetables which we really enjoyed. The fishcakes have a quick ‘zing’ of Thousand Island dressing and some sweet chilli sauce to add a bit of zest. After lunch, we watched a bit of the latest news headlines, treated ourselves to the latest outrageous episode of ‘Outnumbered’ in which Pete is castigated by his head and the Chair of Governers for massaging the statistical data of the exam results (as he was encouraged to do in the last episode) One of the killer lines is the swarmy head declaimimg ‘That I take full and complete responsbility for a transgression such as this, performed by my incompetent staff’ We then followed this up with a Youtube video of the Bach B-Minor Mass which was a sort of follow on from yesterday’s programme of Bach works.

I had a little project in mind for this afternoon. When Meg and I were students and sort of setting up house together, we needed to furnish the whole of our maisonette (two of the rooms being ‘paid for’ by rent from our two former erstwhile flatmates) We were considerably aided in the task of furnishing a house on a student income by making extensive use of the Richard Law auction rooms, located about a mile away from the maisonnette. Richard Law himself was a kindly older gentleman ably assisted by his daughter and, of course, we wused to pay visits to the auction rooms to see what was on offer before the weekly auction night itself. Mr Law looked after his customers and made sure that one way or another, his gavel would come down so that customers could generally get a piece that they had set their hearts upon. This is how we acquired the ‘Captain’s Chair’ which, if it were made with leather upholstery, would sell on eBay for anything between £100-£200 but the wood only version is probably only a third of that. I seem to remember that I paid 25 shillings for this (£1.25) and I did a sort of re-upholstery, not very expertly, in some red velvet type material. So this has been part of our household since it was purchased in about 1967 and has not really had much attention, apart from my own reupholstery, since then. Today I decided to give the top half of the chair the Grade0000 steel wool plus beeswax treatment, which is probably the first polish it has received for over half a century. I am quite pleased with the results I have achieved today and tomorrow I will finish if off by doing the legs of the chair. The spindles, in particular, have polished up to a beautiful lustre and the back and the arms look more than presentable which is more than can be said for the back of the chair (not really noticeable in any event)

We have been anticipating a ground assault on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force almost every day now. But the Israelis face a massive dilemma because any such venture is fraught with risks. One of these is that there are still something like 200 plus hostages held throughout Gaza and their lives would be put at risk by an Isreli assault. In adition, there are likely to be booby traps and hidden dangers all over the place. Hamas are arguing that they will release hostages if the Israelis, for their part, agree to cease their bombardment of Gaza. But, all in all, an attack at some point of time is more likely than not, whereupon a bloodbath will ensue (with blood spilled on all sides)

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Monday, 23rd October, 2023 [Day 1316]

Today did not did not bring the start of a new week that one would have either liked or hoped for. Not to put too fine a point on it, weeks of caring for Meg including raising her from prone positions when she has slithered to the floor on numerous occasions has finally wrought a toll upon my back and hip. I awoke in severe pain at about 3.00am in the morning and did what I could to alleviate it without any pain relief that I had available to me in the house having much effect. Our son who had called around to do some work from our house shot off to the pharmacy to get me some additional pain relief. Meanwhile, a call to the GP practice elicited a telephone call back from the doctor who recommended more powerful painkillers and these will take a day or so to work their way through the system. In the meanwhile, I am being incredibly careful not to do anything that might exercerbate the condition of my back/hip and this has meant that it has been enjoined upon Meg that she must do everything possible to help herself because my ability to assist her in the ways in which I have been doing over the last few weeks is now severely compromised. But now for some more positive news – the over-the-counter painkillers my son managed to obtain have kicked in to moderate the worst excesses of what I have been suffering earlier this morning and I have tried, with some success, to undertake a regime of very light and moderate walking around which seems to be having the desired effect. I managed to get myself turned around sufficiently to get into the car and obtain a copy of the daily newspaper but any further ventures, particularly those that involve hauling a wheelchair in/out of the boot of the car, are clearly out of the question for the next few days. Having picked up the newspaper, Meg and I had some ‘quiet’ elevenses at home and then having watched some of the political news on Sky News, started to turn our thoughts towards lunch. This turned out to be a very simple affair of baked potato, some fine beans, microwaved tomatoes and slices of the ham in onion gravy that were prepared yesterday. This turned out to be an incredibly tasty meal and we enjoyed it immensely.

After lunch, Meg fall into a little routine as follows. Firstly, we looked at the news headlines on Sky News (rather more ‘on the ball’ I feel rather than the BBC thse days) and then treated ourselves to the next episode in the ‘Outnunbered’ series. This was the episode in which the rather glib-talking headmaster asked, Pete (the husband in the family) who is a history teacher being interviewed for a possible promotion at school and being asked to take the dossier of the schools results and to ‘process’ the data to ‘remove anomalies’ In other words, Pete was asked to either fiddle the figures or put a gloss on them by removing those data sets that did not present the school in the best light. All of this reminded me of an episode that did occur when I was undertaking the fieldwork in preparation for my PhD in the general field of ‘Quality Improvement in NHS Outpatint Clinics’ I was a lone researcher but there was a hospital team of which I read that was doing similar work to myself. We got into contact with each and agreed to share our data sets with each on a reciprocal basis as researchers often do. A few months later, I noticed that the hospital in question had received a European Gold Award for their quality improvement regime and some of the data upon which the award was granted was published. As I had access to the same data, I noticed that the quality improvement quoted for each year was actually the best quarter for that year – in other words, the award was to some extent based upon ‘massaged’ statistics. I made sure that this incident eventually found its way into the PhD suitably anonymised and desguised such that the hospital in question could not be identified. Of course, playing fast and loose with data sets still goes on in the world around us. Only this weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that the costs of HS2 were consistently reported on the low side in order to enable the flow of billions into the project (and the rewards for those managing it) to continue.

This afternoon, Rishi Sunak made a statement to the House of Commons concerning diplomatic efforts to secure an aid corridor into Gaza. It struck me that the Prime Minister made a more nunanced statement than complete support for the Israeli side of the conflict. On the strength of this, Meg and I continued watching the debate on the Prime Minister’s statement on the Parliament channel where, as you might expect, MPs were engaging in the kind of rhetoric that would go down in their respective constitutencies. Nonetheless, the tone of the House of Commons was quite restrained, not to say sombre, because I think there is a realisation on all sides that the Middle East is a tinderbox in which a spark could very easily ignite the whole region. There are some indications that the powerful and well-armed position of Hezbollah in the North are causing the Israelis to pause lest they face a situation in which they are in conflict on three fronts (Gaza, Iranian-backed Hezbollah based on Israel’s northern border in Lebanon as well as the occupied West Bank itself)

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Sunday, 22nd October, 2023 [Day 1315]

Today being a Sunday, Meg and I switched into a slightly lower gear and took our time to get up, dressed and breakfasted. Then we texted our University of Birmingham friend to arrange a rendez-vous for later in the morning. Earlier this the morning, I tumbled across a cultural phenomenon of which I was ignorant. After undertaking a quick perusal of the various scatter cushions that we had lying on chairs and settees in our lounge, I discovered that we had four cushions which one way or another incorporated elephants into the design – from where we had acquired them, I cannot now remember but it was certainly not an Asian source as such. I can remember quite vividly that when you enter the mediaeval style market immediately adjacent to the cathedral in Granada in Southern Spain, there are several sellers of stunningly designed tapestries and cushion covers which we have often bought as occasional presents and then given away. These are probably made in Morocco or the Spanish ‘possessions’ on the North African coast but that is by the by. I went onto the web and with a search term of ‘cushion covers-elephants’ discovered that there seems to be a huge and thriving market in cushion covers with an elephant motif. There was even a website advertising that one could purchase cut-price elephant design cushion covers from them. All of this was absolute news to me as I evidently had not realised that these items were so popular in a certain section of the public. Now elephant bookends I can well understand because they convey elements of strength and solidity and are liable to be made out of more substantial material sufficient to hold back the weight of a row of books but cushion covers are another thing. After we had breakfasted, we met with our University of Birmingham friend in the Waitrose cafeteria and, as usual, spent an interesting hour talking about this and that. We had both been in the East Midlands yesterday as our friend was accompanying his local rugby team and the coach driver had to detour around floods.

We lunched today on some on some gammon, cooking in the slow cooker whilst we were out. After lunch, we accessed the full i.e. paid for version of Amazon music and came across (or had selected for us by the Amazon algorithm) an absolutely magnificent concert of mainly Bach pieces played by Dutch musicians. What was so wonderful about the performances, which were all superb, was that the Dutch musicians had evidently just come along in their own casual clothing i.e. not in formal concert attire and in some ways this enhanced the quality of the music they were performing. The camera focussed on the faces of the performers who seemed to be singing with the utmost concentration and dedication to the import of the music. In many ways, that is a very ‘Dutch’ way of doing things as we know from Dutch friends and our trips to the Netherlands. A quick reference to Wikipedia about the performances on Amazon music revealed following. The Netherlands Bach Society is the oldest ensemble for Baroque music in the Netherlands, and possibly in the world. The ensemble was founded in 1921 in Naarden to perform Bach’s St Matthew Passion on Good Friday and has performed the work annually since then in the Grote of Sint-Vituskerk (Great Church or St Vitus Church). The ensemble is now 100 years old. Due to the 100 year landmark, the Society is publishing a new and freely accessible recording every two weeks, including HD video of all 1080 works of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by members of the ensemble and guest musicians under the title ‘All of Bach’. Meg and I found the performances absolutely absorbing and there were several things that were completely new to me. One of these was a performance of a concerto for four harpischords (and orchestra) which is a piece of Bach absolutely new to me. The harpischords seemed to have two manuals (keyboards) and this, too, is new in my experience. Many of the instruments played appeared to be baroque e.g. wooden rather than metallic flutes which give a much more mellow rather than glittering sound. It also struck me that many of the performances in the YouTube video were evidently taken place in churches with the audience in (hard) wooden benches and, typically, with the minimum of clutter around the walls. It struck me that this is an ideal environment in which to play Bach and other early baroque such as Vivaldi as the reverberations of the sound were much more likely to add tone and colour to the performance whereas in a modern (spacious) concert hall, a lot of this would be lost. Every year, we attend concerts organised by the Bromsgove society in our own church and the local Anglican church (the largest in Bromsgrove) and here again I am convinced that the performances, often just a solo violinist with keyboard accompanent, will give a higher quality of emotional and acoustic pleasure than would be the case in a modern concert hall.

Yesterday came the sad news of the death of Sir Bobby Charlton. Both he and his brother Jack died of dementia (too much heading of the leather ball?) and Sir Bobby survived the Munich Air disaster in 1958. There were 23 fatalities and 21 survivors – eight of the Manchester United team died including Duncan Edwards regarded as the finest player of his generation. Bobby Charlton survived (found trapped in his seat some distance from the wreckage) and he helped to pull two other surviers from the wreckage. I was at school in Bolton, Lancashire (just north of Manchester) at the time and the whole school ws left in profound shock.

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