Thursday, 30th November, 2023 [Day 1354]

So the regular Thursday routines have popped round again. Today I made sure that Meg and I had all of our ablutions done after which Meg stayed in bed (as is usual on a Thursday) whilst I go off to do the weekly shopping. Under the regime that started last week, a care assistant comes around on a Thursday morning primarily so that I can complete my shopping activities. The assistant who called around this morning is the fourth different person we have had but she seems a jolly little soul and quickly struck up a rapport with Meg and myself. I had a feeling that this particular relationship was going to turn out quite well and, indeed, after I had returned from my venture up and down Bromsgrove High Street,it seemed that the last couple of hours had proceeded satisfactorily from everyone’s point of view. I took the opportunity to visit our local Poundland store where I purchased a couple of rubber, but not particularly heavy, carmats. I have an intended use for these not inside the car but to provide a little bit of weight to hold the anti-frost screen securely on the windscreen on the car if the weather forecast indicates that it is going to be a cold night. Last night, I think it was near freezing or just below but tonight is going to be even colder and so before it got really dark, I popped out to get the protection in place. I am trying to get this done in just a minute or so because if the routine is rapid you feel more inclined not to neglect it.

This morning, after we had listened to the news, we turned the radio onto ClassicFM where they have started playing some Christmas music. Personally, I feel that they should have held off until Sunday which is the start of Advent and, I suppose, can be said to be the starting gun for the commencement of Christmas. We are still November until tomorrow and I do not like these celebrations to start too early. On the radio, they played the Christmas carol ‘Away in a manger’ and this reminded me of a comedy sketch some time in the 1970’s.The sketch reminded people that at about this time really wide-screen cinema was starting to make its presence felt (was it called Todd-AO or something similar?) but many cinemas had to cope with chopping off a bit of the left hand side and the right hand side of the transmission. So, chopping off the first and the last letters of some well known Christmas carols we have things like ‘Way in a mange’ and also ‘hen shepherds watched their flocks by nigh’ and so on and so forth. This has become a little of a family joke over the years as we sing ‘Way in a mange’ when called for.

After we had lunched, we enter our normal TV routine. It looks as though as ‘Outnumbered‘ has now run its course so Meg and I watched an old episode of ‘BlackAdder‘ which I must say neither of us found particularly funny. But after this, we tuned in to some of the COVID-19 investigations being broadcast live and this afternoon were treated to Matt Hancock, who as Health Secretary was a crucial player at the start of the pandemic. Various accusations of ‘lying’ have been thrown backwards and forwards with nothing definitive being as yet proved. The leading counsel for the enquiry keeps issuing what in boxing terms might be a probing ‘jab’ but so so far has failed to deliver anything like a knock out blow. The enquiry as a whole, though, is meant to learn the lessons for the future and a discovery that politicians may be lying to each other as well as to the public is hardly a revelation. In fact, I have often wondered about politician’s relationships with ‘the truth’ – as they have dissembled for years and years and will never give anything other than an evasive answer to any question, then perhaps none of these revelations in the enquiry will come as a great surprise.

Tomorrow will thankfully be 1st December and I shall be glad to have got the month of November out of the way (I feel the same about February) I am always happy to get 21st December out of the way because at the very least it should then start to get lighter by 1-2 minutes a day. I find that once we get into the run up to Christmas, all of the glitter and trash associated with Christmas not particularly heartwarming. There was a campaign in the 1950’s as I remember to ‘put Christ back into Christmas’ which rather ignores the fact that early Christianity actually appropriated Christmas for their own purposes. But of course, apart from Christian traditions there are similar mid-winter festivals (Hannukah, Eid, Divali and so on) and most of them have the theme of light fighting against the darkness. Yuletide and similar mid-winter festivals all pre-date Christianity and I always marvel at the ways in which our earliest ancestors managed to get the timing of their mid-winter festivities as accurate as they are. There may have been ‘naturally occurring’ clocks such as the sun appearing in the centre of two erected stones but I am sure archeologists and pre-historians have a much more sophisticated explanation.

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Wednesday, 29th November, 2023 [Day 1353]

We knew that we had no particular commitments on today so Meg were I looking forward to our visit to the Methodist coffee bar centre on which I think we missed out last week. As this centre does not open until 10.30, we decided to go out on the road before we had our morning coffee and parked the car at the top end of the High Street. Then we got Meg into her wheelchair and trundled around a few of the three or four charity shops that cluster around that end of the High Street. We were on the lookout for some cushion covers and after a fruitless search of the first few were eventually successful in obtaining half a dozen and also half a dozen fabric placemats that are sufficently large that they will serve as a small table cloth which is also what we wanted. Eventually, we got to the Methodist Centre where we bumped into two or three people that we already knew, two of them being part of our normal Tuesday crowd in Waitrose and the other a parisioner from our local church. We were greeted very warmly when we made our way through the double doors into the centre and although the ‘chatty’ table was already full, the other patrons of the coffee centre made room for us on the large table so that we could join them. We treated ourselves to some teacakes as well as our customary tea/coffee and had some jolly chats with some of the people around the table. One of them had actually worked in Harrogate for a couple of years as a civil servant so we had some topics of mutual interest to commence our chats before we moved on to other issues. Meg and I stayed for about an hour and Meg remarked how much she had enjoyed our social encounters in the morning (as indeed had I) so we journeyed back home in good heart. We had a fairly conventional lunch of ham, fine beans and baked potato but for one reason or another, it seemed particularly tasty today (perhaps because of the onion gravy I had prepared) so we were pleased to have dined well, in our opinion.

After we had had our lunch, I discussed with Meg the various little furnishing projects with which we have engaged whilst populating our Music Room with some appropriate furniture. In the main, we want our furniture to be both aesthetically pleasing but also functionally useful so sometimes, we feel the need, for example, to complement some of the items with seat pads in the case of wooden furniture. I hane not actually seem any seatpads in evidence at any of the charity shops but cushion covers seem to be fairly well represented in some of the shops. I then have to deplay a little ingenuity to make sure that I have a filling for the seatpad which is not too plump and ‘bouncy’ which can occur if you choose only a cushion for the purpose but I am quite pleased by the improvisations I have made on the past. In particular, I am very pleased with the items I have managed to adapt both our captain’s chair, our carver chair and now our recently acquired dining chair.

Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ for short) are generally very knockabout affairs which has become almost farcical recently as the anticipated questions, answers and jokes all seem to bear the hallmark of being well rehearsed beforehand. I only caught some of the résumés of todays PMQ as reported on Sky News but it did appear that Keir Starmer was using humour to devastating effect and, if I can read body language correctly, Richi Sunak seemed wounded by it. Keir Starmer was making the valid points that on immigration, NHS waiting times and the overall level of taxation, Rishi Sunak had promised to bear down on each of these but in each case the figures had gone up rather than down. In a thinly veiled reference to derogatory language used by James Cleverly, Keir Starmer jibed ‘It is ironic that he has suddenly taken such a keen interest in Greek culture. But he is clearly become the man with the reverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to… maybe the Home Secretary can help me out with this?’ This last reference was not lost on MPs as the Home Secretary was recently heard to mutter that the constituency of Stockton North was a ‘sh*thole’ although a sort of semi-apology has already been made concerning this. The select committee hearings are generally quite good to watch when civil servants as well as politicians are held to account. The red-wall Conservative MP Lee Anderson asked Home Office bosses about the number of failed asylum seekers that had been deported. What followed was excruciating because it was completely evident that they had no idea. At first there was a mumbled ‘We will have to write to you about this’ but when Lee Anderson persisted with the question asking for any kind of estimate e.g. in the last month or last year, then there was an embarrassed silence and shuffling of papers and answer came there none. There are two possible explanations here, one of which the officials had no idea at all whilst another is that they did not dare admit that the answer was zero i.e. that none one had actually been deported.

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Tuesday, 28th November, 2023 [Day 1352]

Regular readers of this blog will need no reminder that today being Tuesday, it is the day for our regular ‘get together’ with our little glee club in the Waitrose cafeteria. After we had got ourselves up and breakfasted, we swung by our local newsagent, only to discover that the shop is still closed, which does not bode very well. The five of us, including Meg and myself, all arrived at about the same time and in no time at all were deep in recollections of one sort or another. For those who are a little bit older, I was quite interested in seeing what they could remember of WWII as I was born two days after the war ended. The eldest of us who was 5 in 1939 had fairly clear memories of how the whole family used to decamp to a special little building which might have initially been an outside toilet but was now cleaned out, whitewashed probably with distemper and equipped with a bed for when the bombing raids were on. One little snippet that came out of all of this was how Birmingham city centre as well as Coventry, were attacked and bombed during the war but the scale of any destruction was kept well hidden from everybody both not to dishearten the civilian population but also to not allow any information to seep back to the Germans lest they be encouraged to think that their bombing raids were more successful than they were. As the veteran Labour politican, Denis Healy, used to say ‘In war, the first casualty is truth’ I also recall talking to an old lady in the park when we used to visit the park regularly and she used to tell us that her family nearly had a direct hit from German bombers deep in rural Wocestershire. The full story was that when the English fighter planes attacked the slower German bombers, the latter used to jettison their bombs anywhere in order to make good their escape and hence the bombs falling in rural Worcestershire. Before we headed for home, we called in at our local AgeUK charity shop which has a little local branch not on the High Street. I was on the lookout for cushions and/or cushion covers but did a quick reconnaisance inside and emerged with one cushion with a fox motive, a second bigger and fluffier cushion and a little ceramic owl to accompany the others that we have of a similar ilk.

Today is my Pilates day and under a new arrangement about which we still have to give a final judgement, a carer called to sit with Meg for a couple of hours whilst I went off to undertake my Pilates session. My back feels as though it needs some Pilates type stretches and this was evident to my teacher the minute I walked into the studio door. When I got home, the carer looked fairly exausted and I am not sure that she had an easy time supervising Meg in my absence. I received a telephone call from one of the managers of the care agency who insisted that all of his staff had received training what course of action to take when someone under their supervision falls whereas each of the three separatae carers that we have experienced to date denied that they had any training at all. I have a feeling that this story is going to run and run as people with Meg’s state of healh fall regularly whereas the care agency say they are not competent to deal with these situations. Of course, this is an incredibly grey area not susceptible to any easy solution. After we had our delayed lunch, I tuned into a concert upon which I had stumbled last night. It started out with a YouTube search for Faure: Cantique de Jean Racine and then proceeded with a couple of renditions of this, followed by several other choral works of a similar nature and Meg and I enjoyed this concert tremendously. I have made myself a sort of cushion pad for my newly restored dining chair, assisted by the fact that I had some cushion covers with an autumnal woodland scene already in stock. This morning, before Meg made her entrance into our Music Room, I gave the dining chair a quick burst of polish on the original leather hoping that the shine will build up. This is so fast and easy because you spray from a distance of 6″ away and immediately polish off and buff with a clean cloth.

The COVID-19 enquiry is providing some interesting moments today. Michael Gove, a senior minister at the heart of the government at the start of the pandemic has revealed his innermost thoughts, via a WhatsApp exchange with Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser. Gove has admitted in a WhatsApp messages, dating from 4 March 2020, that: ‘We are f up as a government and missing golden opportunities….I will carry on doing what I can but the whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we will regret it for a long time.’ Gove even offered a formal apolgy indicating that the lockdown was delayed too long and that initial decisions about a testing regime were not thought through. Some of us did think this at the time, of course.

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Monday, 27th November, 2023 [Day 1351]

It was a very dull and gloomy day and when it was not actually raining, it was threatening to rain. So Meg and I did not get up particularly early and it took us a certain amount of time to get ourselves going. We knew that we had a ‘luncheon’ date with our Irish friends down the road at midday so we did not rush about unduly but after we had our post breakfast cup of tea, we decided to go out onto the road somewhat early to do a little shopping before alighting on our friends. We set off about 45 minutes early and first sailed by our local newsagents thinking that they might not be open and they were, indeed, closed. We then made our way to the furniture store called ‘New Start‘ where there is always a collection of furniture and household items, either donated (as we have done in the past) or available for sale. Now that I have brought my IBM ThinkPad into commission in our Music Room, I felt the need for a more substantial dining-room type chair which I could use to seat me at my new little workstation. When I got to the store, my eye alighted on a couple of ‘bowed’ chairs a little similar but of inferior quality to the captain’s chair I restored recently. Buut I did not need two chairs but only one so I rejected this option and was on the point of leaving when I espied a single dining room chair with what seemed to be a leather seat and back which I thought would suit. But the chair looked superficially in poor condition because the leather on the seat seemed to be full of heavy boot print marks where staff in the store had evidently stood upon it to pile up other furniture on top of each other (it is that kind of store) Nonetheless, I asked a price and was offered it for a tenner and the staff very kindly took it out and put it in the car for me. They had no change for a £20 note in the store so I consulted the contents of my little purse in which I store loose change and discovered that I actually actually had the tenner in loose change which somehow made it appear more affordable for me but more of that later.

We got to our friends just about on time and were especially pleased to be joined by another near neighbour who is a French widow but extraordinarily lively. For example she is still driving everywhere and even had to leave our little impromptu meal in order to go off and do a bit of teaching in Spanish for an old friend of some 20 years duration who she does not even bother to charge for her time. Our friends thought that in view of the abysmal weather, it was not appropriate to give us sandwhiches for lunch so she had cooked a cottage pie for us which was both wonderful and welcome. This was finished off with cheese and then a delicious homemade desert and coffee so we felt that we had a really wonderful time with our friends. Meg was starting to feel the strain a little although our friends are incredibly thoughtful and kind so we returned home in the mid afternoon knowing that we would all be inviting each other into our respective homes in the course of the forthcoming festive season.

Upon our return home, I got Meg settled and then gingerly removed the dining chair from the back of the car. In the course of removing it, I noticed a label which indicated it was of Italian manufacture but also the seat and front/back were 100% leather materials. On getting the chair inside the house and subjecting it to a more minute examination, I noticed that there was a slight smattering of minute paint drops on the seat and back, of the sort that might happen if you were painting the ceiling and had not adequately covered up the furniture beforehand. I did a query on the web with the search term of ‘removing paint spots from leather seats’ and discovered that this is by no means a rare phenomenon. The advice ranged from how to cope with water-based paint drops (just washing up liquid in solution),to a vinegar treatment and finally what the Americans called rubbing alcohol for more severe oil-based paint droplets. I tried the simplest solution first of a bowl of hot water with a good squirt of washing up liquid applied using a spontex type sponge and was delighted that this simple approach seemed to do the trick for me. Later on tonight, I might give it a further treatment and then having exploited the contents of our cupboards, a treatment with some leather preservative which I was fortunate enough to have in stock. After I had got Meg to bed, I could not resist the temptation to utilise the specialist leather spray I had found (going by the name of ‘Leather Silk‘). I have got to to say that the results were absolutely stunning and it is hard to believe the transformation that has been wrought. I wish now that I had taken a ‘before’ photograph so that I could take an ‘after’ photo to show how dramatically the chair has been improved. A quick search on eBay shows me that similar items in ‘faux’ or PU-leather(i.e. leather substitutes and not genuine leather like this one) would sell for about 5-7 times the price that I actually paid for it. This brings the total of items I have restored and/or given a new lease of life to 6 in the last few months.

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Sunday, 26th November, 2023 [Day 1350]

The day started off somewhat better than yesterday as we both had a relatively undisturbed night last night. A quick look out of the window revealed that there had not been a frost to speak of overnight so the car would not need any special remedial attention this morning. We got ourselves up and just about ready for breakfast in time to watch the Lorna Kuenssberg politics program but I don’t recall much of it since I was busy doing a range of household tasks. Once breakfast was well and truly over, we received a phone call from our trusty University of Birmingham friend and we arranged to meet at 11.30, together with his new lady friend with whom things seem to be going along quite nicely. Meg was not getting along particularly well this morning so some extra medication was called for but eventually, we got ourselves to the Waitrose cafeteria and awaited our friend and his newly acquired friend who arrived some minutes later. As our friend had visited La Coruna in the last week and he had travelled there via Barcelona, he had plenty of photographs to show us both of the hotel in which he stayed in Barcelona and also of La Coruña itself. He seemed to have seen a lot of the worthwhile sights when he was there and the hotel, by the side of the sea, was absolutely to his liking. When our friend showed the photograph of Meg and myself to the reception staff, they exclaimed ‘Ah! Los senores Hart’ recognising us within the instant and even went back through their records to determine the last time we were there, which was four years ago now. This must have been the autumn immediately before the pandemic but it seems like five or six ago to me rather than four. Our friend had enjoyed the various Spanish meals he had consumed and practiced quite a lot of his intermediate Spanish at which he felt he did quite well. Mind you, it is always a good idea to travel on one’s own because if you are travelling as a couple and one is more proficient in the language than the other then the less proficient tends to duck out of conversations and this does not help the learning process. Altogether, we spent a couple of hours in the cafeteria and it was practically 2.00 pm when we returned home. We had a gammon joint slowing cooking in the slow cooker and in order not to delay lunch by quite some time, I hit upon the expedient of carving two large slices of the cooked ham joint and eating them between two quite large slices of toasted crusty bread. This way round, we both had a fairly instant and filling meal and and we recouped some of the time. Whilst we having our coffee, I received a phone call from our Irish friends to confirm our arrival time for the meal with them tomorrow, which is to be 12.00pm midday. We have got quite a lot of news to impart, probably in both directions, as we have not seen them for some time and I know that have been back in Ireland, organising funerals apart from other things. When the weather was finer and Meg had more mobility, we used them to see them regularly when we used to walk up and down daily to the park but now, times have changed!

It is rather a relief to see that the Israel/Hamas exchange of hostages/prisoners is continuing into its second day. There are last minute hitches, of course, where Hamas thought that the Israelis are reneging on the agreement on the number of trucks of aid that can enter Gaza. There is so little trust between the two sides but both Egypt and Qatar are acting as honest brokers to keep both sides on track, as it were. The agreement to exchange prisoners is meant to run for four days but there are a few hints that this might extend to a fifth day. If it carries on like this, it is just possible that we might stumble into a quasi-ceasefire which both sides say they do not want but perhaps, secretly, they do. Whilst there appears to be overwhelming support for Israel externally, there may well be all kinds of internal pressures to which it is subject. Netanyahu is largely perceived as having taken his eye off the ball and thereby allowed the Hamas attack to happen under his nose, as it were. A recent opinion poll put support for the present Netanhayu led government at only about 20% and whereas most Israelis support the ground invasion of Gaza, there is a feeling that Netanjahu is not the premier to be in charge of this operation. Also, there is a massive pressure to release the hostages at almost any cost and this may mean that Israeli public opinion are prepared to tolerate something less than a fight to the death with Hamas as a price worth paying for getting many of the hostages returned. Also, the suffering on the Palestinian side is almost unimaginable with operations having to be performed, in some casers, without anaesthetic. This was revealed recently by the chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) who also revealed that half of the Gaza Strip’s 36 hospitals and two-thirds of its primary health care centers are not functioning at all, says the WHO chief, adding that four hospitals had been shut down in the last 48 hours alone.

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Saturday, 25th November, 2023 [Day 1349]

I thought that today was going to be a cold and bright day and so put a little bit of protection on the car windscreen last night. But actually, it was not really needed as although the day was bright and clear, there had not actually been a heavy frost last night. I have one of those screen protector thingies which only takes a few seconds to put into place and certainly helped to take the sharp edges of whatever frost there was last night. We got up a little late this morning because Meg had a rather disturbed night last night but after we had breakfasted and watched a modicum of the news about the release of hostages in the Gaza/Israel conflict, we made our way via the newspaper shop to Waitrose. The newspaper shopped was closed which did not surprise us a great as the newsagent himself is in a local hospital and his wife has got him and her own aged mother to deal with, apart from trying to run a business which means getting up incredibly early as it opens at about 7.30am. We met up with two of our regular friends and we had quite a good laugh with quite a lot of black humour in evidence. After we had taken leave of our friends, we parked in the top half of the town because I thought I had seen some rather good, collectable china that matched up with a piece we already own. I have one small side plate of this design which I think, technically, is called Roslyn china vintage victorian Imari style and dates from about the 1900’s. In a local charity shop, I saw three larger side plates, a soup tureen and a serving platter and I think that on the web, these would each sell in outlets such as Etsy for anything between £5-£10.00 apiece. I paid £10.00 for these all five quite large pieces and I had taken along my own small side plate to ensure that the designs matched up and my memory was not playing false tricks upon me. So now we have in stock a set of rather good pieces which will be excellent for the occasions when we entertain and wish to serve up mince pies, Christmas cakes and other nibbles that will benefit from a nice display. A quick consultation on the web revealed the following: ‘Imari porcelain is a term for a colored style of antique Japanese porcelain, named after the seaport Imari on the island Kyushu, Saga, in Japan, from where the porcelain first was shipped to the West starting at the beginning of the 17th century. Exquisite, elegant, and of the highest quality, Imari porcelain is highly respected in Japanese culture and is one of the pride and hallmark of Japan. The two true masters in the antique Imari trade are the Japanese and the Chinese artisans’ To be fair, I do not think I have purchased any genuine Japanese or Chinese pottery as the illustrations on the web indicated that it is ‘Imari stye made by Reid for Roslyn China’in the potteries and seems to date from the 1920’s or 1930’s. It does seem to be the case from the illustrations that these fall into the categories of ‘collectables’ or very probably, as in our case, fine bone china that is not used every day but is brought out just for special occasions.

After we had lunched on quiche and sprouts (supplemented by some chestnuts as I noticed a pouch in our local supermarket) we settled down to watch the film again of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ We have seen this about twice before but is a compelling story. We were about 30 minutes into it when the the YouTube ‘froze’ and I wonder if this because so much is being downlaoded on a Saturday afternoon. We listened to a Mozart Piana Sonato (No.16 – probably the most famous) and then resumed the YouTube to see if the transmission had ‘unstuck’ itself. Fortunately it had and we watched the film right through to the end with fascinating moments occurring towards the end of the film when the Italians occupying a Greek island surrended and their erstwhile German allies turned on then amd massacred most the of the Italian garrison. This is a part of history which I suspect is largely unknown and untold in the English history books.

The Tories are tearing themselves apart over the vexed issue of migration and the ‘stop the boats’ campaign with which they are becoming fixated. Now in an interview with The Times, Home Secretary James Cleverly warned people not to ‘fixate’ on the Rwanda migration scheme, adding that he has become frustrated with the heavy focus on the issue, and that it should not be seen as the ‘be all and end all’. Probably what Cleverly says is quite sensible and certainly when the Sky News data analyst looked at all of the data concerned with migration then the scale of those arriving by small boats is a very small proportion of those who are arriving, post Brexit, quite legally. Most of the migration is fuelled either by students or by people entering the labour force, particularly with in the health and social care sector. It is a little publicised fact that migrants because of their age profile (i.e. not in receipt of old age pensions or expensive healthcare provision) tend to contribute proportionately more in taxes and to receive proportionately less in benefits than the indigenous population – in other words the migrants once they enter the workforce subsidise the rest of us rather more than the other way around.

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Friday, 24th November, 2023 [Day 1348]

Today turned out to be quite a full day. As it is a Friday, it is the day when our domestic help calls round but she was feeling a little under the weather so we offered her one of our various preparations to have along with her customary cup of tea, hoping that this might sustain her. We started off on a trip to Droitwich which we often make on a Friday but having started out on the right road, soon realised that we would not have time for a visit if we wished to return home by 12.00pm midday. Our Eucharistic minister from the local church had arranged to visit us just after she had playing at a funeral and we realised that we had better move on to ‘Plan B’ Accordingly, we went to our local Waitrose which was quite full of ‘oldies’ for a Friday morning and thought it best to do things this way so that we could arrange to be at home when the minister called around. Whilst in the cafe we received some not very pleasant news from some of our Catholic friends who live just down thw road. The husband already had one suspect eye and the other was running into severe problems so several visits had to be paid to the local specialist hospital to ‘patch him up’ It looks as things are slightly improving but he had to exercise a condiderable degree of caution to ensure that he lay on the ‘correct’ side for so many minutes an hour which is more easily said than done. Just before we went out onto the road, I thought I would study the configuration of my newly commissioned IBM Thinkpad and, in particular, ascertained the number of USB ports which it sported. This proved to be two which is quite a small number and one is located immediately over the other making it quite difficult to use two devices as frankly, they might not fit. In the past I had bought a little USB port extender which was only a few pounds years ago and this little device plugs into one of the ports but effectively extends the number of ports from one to three. Now one of these was used so that I could utilise a cordless mouse, whilst another provided a home to one the small, less than thumb-nail size flash drives that you can buy this very cheaply these days. This provided me with another 114 GB of storage which is not that much these days but I also had in stock a 500GB Samsung credit card sized flash drive which I had intended to use as a backup at one time or another but other solutions had been found. I thought this was an excellent time to bring this into use as the original hard size of the IBM being so dated was incredibly small and the new drive would multiply the existing hard disk by a factor of 12.5 times. This fitted very neatly behind the open lid of the ThinkPad that I was kicking myself that I had not thought of it before but there we are. When I left my employment at Leicester Polytechnic, we had a computing laboratory filled full of Olivetti M24s (an IBM clone) with admittedly dated hard disks of some 20MB each. When I calculated the number of machines by the number of laboratories by the number of universities, I calculated that the little credit card flash disk I had brought into use would have supplied one half of all the laboratory based computers in all of the universities and institutions of higher education throughout the UK in 1997. Of course, we are now a quarter of a century later on but it still quite a thought that the storage space I had brought into use this morning was some 25,000 times greater than the typical computer memory size in 1997.

Just before lunch, the Eucharistic minister called around and we had another very satisfying little meeting and mini-service. Afterwards we lunched on a bought haddock pie and then got ready for our little venture out this afternoon. Some of Meg’s medication was proving problematic to source as the Lloyds Echo service which delivers to the door had indicated that we needed to contact our doctor to see if alternate medication could be prescribed. I phoned through these supply difficulties to the surgery who passed a message on to the community pharamcist. I got a telephone call late in the morning from this person who said that a new prescription had been issued and I could go to my local pharmacy who could then supply. This sounded suspiciously too simple and so it proved.When Meg and I got to the pharmacist, they could not find us anywhere on the system. So I was directed to go next door to our own doctor’s reception areas who eventually gave me a piece of paper with three sets of six digit numbers on it which I should then take back the pharmacy. They informed that that the request had been placed ‘on the spine’ and could I give them Meg’s NHS number to get access to the system. Eventually, after a wait of some 40 minutes and having incurred a car parking charge of £1.80 we got the medication that we wanted/needed but at the cost of considerable frustration. This well exemplifies that when you have a failure in quality of a transaction, it is nearly always at the point when systems interface (or fail to properly interface) with each other.

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Thursday, 23rd November, 2023 [Day 1347]

Last night was an interesting ‘first’ for Meg and myself. Our very good University of Birmingham friend was travelling to Coruña in Northern Spain via Barcelona and then was due to meet our best Spanish friend in a large cafe near to the hotel which everybody knows, called ‘Manhatten’ I made a WhatsApp call at 6.30 which would have been 7.30 in Spain so it was long enough for our two friends to establish contact with each other and to chat for half an hour before I called. This WhatsApp video seemed as satisfactory as it could be under the circumstances but the cafe was somewhat noisy and it was difficult for our friends to hear us although we could hear them quite clearly. The WhatsApp contact did not last too long because of these communication difficulties but at least I now had proof that they had actually met up as they intended. We shall have to wait until Sunday for a full debrief to see how things went but I University of Birmingham friend had lost no time in seeing some of the sights of Coruña and seemed to be enjoying the city (and the hotel, next to the sea) Our Spanish friend send me a text apologising for not speaking for too long but I said we would correspond longer by email, which we generally do in any case.

So my normal shopping day has dawned yet again and I ensured that I got to the ATM outside a nearby supermarket, dashed into the supermarket itself for one or two things that I can only get there and finally did my shopping getting home before 9.00am. The second tranche of help is scheduled to come today so that I can get out on the shop and do the shopping that I need to do for things I cannot get as part of my routine shopping. So far, so good – the care assistant came on time and I got out on the road but most of the things for which I was looking I could not actually find so the whole shopping trip was a little frustrating. So then I got home rather late, unpacked the shopping eventually and then set about preparing a vegetable curry for lunch. This turned out to be bigger than I expected and although I cook a little pasta for Meg, I avoid this and just use a couple of broken up water biscuits to provide me with the little bit of carbohydrate that I need. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that Meg managed to eat up all of her dinner because I felt that I had probably prepared too much. It started off with a couple of onions to which I added some fragments of beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, frozen peas, an apple, some sultanas and some left-over gravy and the trouble is that whilst each ingredient is not that much, they too tend to cumulatively add up to quite a large meal.

This afternoon, I started to make arrangements so that I could start to write this blog in one room but finish it off in an other, including the bits where I transfer it to its WordPress site and also a text version to my own personal website. For a reason I cannot explain, the normal FTP process did not work (either of the two FTP clients that I have) in our main lounge although the FTP worked flawlessly using a much older FTP transfer program that has been around literally for decades and which works fine on the re-commissioned IBM TbinkPad. I was trying to think of ways around this glitch and got the laptop to rest itself on a couple of occasions when suddenly the problems that I had disappeared. As I have been transferring programs over by FTP literally for years, why the glitch should have happened and then cleared itself, I shall never know. In the meantime, I am rather enjoing a YouTube rendition of most of the major Mozart pinao concertos (Nos 20-27 inclusive I think) which for me is always a pleasant way to sepnd an afternoon. Late in the afternoon, Meg’s social worker made a call to ascertain how the new care arrangements were working out. I gave what I thought was an honest response which was mixed – some overall satisfaction but a bit of dismay that the first care worker would not have known (or have the physical strength) to cope with Meg if she had staggered and fallen which is an almost daily occurrence. Today, though, I particularly wanted to watch the ‘Politics Live’ program which starts after midday on BBC but was so tired that I fell asleep right at the start of it and probably only saw about a minute or so before my need for sleep overwhelmed me.

There is quite an interesting political row going on at the moment because a Labour MP, representing Stockton on Tees, asked the Prime Minister why 30% of the children in his constituency lived in poverty. The new Home Secreatry was heard by many to say quite audibly ‘Because it is a sh*thole’ The Times, to its credit, prints out the offending word in full and the Home Secretary is having to climb down and to make a semi-apology – but it is indicative of the mindset of prominent Cabinet members in today’s Britain.

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Wednesday, 22nd November, 2023 [Day 1346]

Last night, I spent a certain amount of time (probably too much) getting my IBM ThinkPad up to scratch and managed to solve the lack of access to emails problem (the date had been set a week too late and this causes a certificate to indicate invalidity) But then I encountered some frustration installing some antivirus which would not work on this old version of Windows before a certain of ‘chat’ argument with a script monkey eventually involved me being promised a refund and a cancellation of the subscription. So I could do with a bit more sleep tonight. On the more positive side, I have the feeling that my session at Pilates was beneficial as my back seems a little less ‘locked’ and a tad more mobile so perhaps a regime of some stretching and some gentle exercise is just what is required. Today we decided that we go out for the morning to the quaint little market town of Alcester and I had made a booking yesterday in our favourite hotel on the high street which offers an incredible value pensioner’s lunch and where the staff know us well. Our venture up and down the High Street with Meg in a wheelchair was interesting. I must say I had not noticed the number of high kerbs, difficult entrances to shops and, in one case, an entrance that was practically too narrow for us to get in. Still, I managed using the little ‘tip’ levers on the back of the wheelchair which will raise the front wheels a few inches to help you get the front wheels on the kerb. After that, there is a degree of brute force required to get the whole wheelchair and its occupant on to the pavement. I have also learnt that it is often advisable to tackle things backwards rather than forwards – this way, the occupant of the wheelchair can only fall backwards into the chair and not forwards (and potentially out of it) Having said that, I found passers-by to be immensely helpful if they sensed that I needed some assistance. But just to show how unexpected things can occur, we made our way to our favourite coffee bar only to discover that the entrance step was so high and steep there was no way we could use this favourite haunt. So we patronised another one that we have used before and this had the advantage of a huge loo for such a small cafe which was a bonus for us. Then we came to my favourite hardware store but the entrance to this was so restricted and the passage ways so narrow that I had to leave Meg outside whilst I made a quick dash inside to get the black tape I wished to purchase. So our experience of the charity shops was somewhat mixed today although I did find that shoppers inside seemed incredibly accommodating and did not seem to exhibit any annoyance when Meg had to be circumnavigated past them. And so we made our way to the hotel where we knew there was a small flight of stairs but we left the wheelchair at the bottom and navigated the way to our table on foot. Meg had some haddock fishcakes and I had a beef lasgne, both served with salad and they were as delicious as always. The lady who is the regular waitress in there knows us well by now and offered some assistance with doors and the like whilst we getting in and out. So although I was not counting on receiving such help, it was very welcome when it was provided and was always gratefully received.

After we got home, the news channels were devoted to the Chancellor’s Autumn statement, about which there had been quite a degree of speculation. The headline figure was a 2% cut in the National Insurance contribution, in effect a tax cut, to be effective from next January. This seems to point towards an election in May – or at least keeping some options open for a May election. There was some financial support for industrial investment to help to grow the economy but quite unusually these days, this is quite a long term project and the full effects might not be felt for 5-10 years. Actually, the amount taken by the state in taxes is the highest it has been since 1948, which is particularly ironic for a Tory government. The interesting question is whether people will feel better off after a reduction in the National Insurance – afer all, inflation whilst falling is still an indication that prices are still rising. In the late afternoon, it was our day to get our wheelie bin pulled out to the end of our access road ready for emptying first thing in the morning. I have a particular dislike of doing this in the absolute dark and hence like to get it down before nightfall which is about 4.00pm these days. On my way back, I was greeted effusively by Miggles, our adopted cat who followed me down the road and into the back of the house where he can receive his normal treats ouside the back door. If I had been female and the cat hd been an all over black, the mediaeval mind would have cast me as a witch and the cat as her ‘particular’ or a demon in disguise. I am not sure if cats typically trot around after their owners but Miggles cetainly does in my case (even though we are not the owners)

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Tuesday, 21st November, 2023 [Day 1345]

Today was an interesting day in lots of ways with both its successes and also some frustations. But let us start with the success first. When I was up in the middle of the night (not an uncommon occurrence) I looked towards the IBM ThinkPad computer which I had purchased a couple of years ago, primarily to run DOS based and some Windows specific programs but which I have not taken the opportunity to use recently. On the spur of the moment and after a certain amount of fiddling about to get it to start (switching it on in the source plug is quite a good idea) I got it to spring into life again. There was a certain amount of BIOS settings to update as well as supplying a password for the router but fortunately this managed to work out well and I found, with a certain degree of satisfaction, that I could access my usual email and the FTP program that I used to use regularly to upload files into my webspace worked as well. The thing about IBM ThinkPads is that they are built like a tank and are luggable rather than portable, being incredibly well built but heavy to boot. However, I envisaged that I might be able to write text as I wished whilst working in the Music Room as this would be so much easier to use than the iPad which is incredibly ‘iffy’ for writing large volumes of text. But more of this later.

We got ourselves into Waitrose relatively early and waited for some of our friends to appear – and two of the regular three turned up in due course. The thing is that we all enjoy each other’s company tremendously and look forward to our little Tuesday morning cabals and today was no exception. But we needed to be home relatively early for a particular reason. After a protacted series of dicussions with Social services, the first of a 2 x 2 hour tranche of care for Meg looked as though it was going to be supplied. The person who was due to call around today was to be with Meg whilst I go off for a Pilates session and when I actually got down to my session, I was treated almost like the prodigal son. After a gap of several weeks, I am pleased to say that the exercises to which I am well used over the years were not too much for me and, impressionistically, I have the feeling that my back is somewhat the better for it. The acid test will be tomorrow morning, after a good night’s sleep. But for now, I am resolved to try to do about 5-10 minutes a day of stretches and the trick is to try to build them into a regular routine.

This afternoon, after lunch, I got the ThinkPad set up in the Music Room and assumed that everything would work well but was soon to be disabused. For whatever reason, I could not now get through to the web but I have a suspicion that it might be out-of-date free antivirus software that is causing the problem. I have uninstalled what may be the offending program but I shall have to wait until later to conduct some more tests and see if I have been succussful. At least I managed to write some of this blog in the Music Room on the ThinkPad, FTP it to my website (which takes seconds) and then I can carry on in our lounge on my Mac portable. Tomorrow may well prove to be an interesting day for both of us. I have made a booking in our favourite hotel in the quaint little Georgian town of Alcester that we intend to visit tomorrow. Basically this is just one long High Street but stuffed full of really good quality charity shops from which it is almost impossible to emerge empty handed. Another attraction is one of those old fashioned hardware shops that seem to stock every gadget and kitchen utensil you can imagine and tomorrow I will probably stock up on their rolls of strong, black Gorilla tape which is streets ahead of the opposition. We always enjoy the meal out as well as the lasagnes are always baked from homemade ingredients and are both piping hot and delicious – in the middle of the day during weekdays but not weekends, the restaurant puts on a restricted ‘pensioners’ menu which is such good value that I suspect that the proprietors hardly make any profit on it all. And then, to round off the day, we hope to make WhatsApp contact by a videolink to a cafe in Coruña where we hope that our University of Birmingham friend and our oldest and dearest Spanish friend finally meet up with each other. Occasionally today, I have managed to get snatches of the COVID-19 enquiry and this week, it is the turn of the technocrats to amplify their evidence – yesterday it was Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Adviser) and today it was Sir Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) Both of these have given the opinion that Boris Johnson had a fundamantal failure to grasp scientific concepts and were often bemused by the data he was given, even wanting to ‘twist’ the data to his own political preconceptions. It was said yesterday that Johnson, in particular, could not really understand the difference between linear (normal) and exponential growth and if this is true, one despairs at the quality of the current political elite and the type of education to which they have been exposed.

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