Sunday, 31st December, 2023 [Day 1385]

Meg and I slept in for a little while this morning which is surely a good thing. By the time we had got ourselves up and ready for breakfast, it was time for the Lorna Kuennsberg show except that in this holiday season, it was not being aired. So we made do with the Sky News rolling news program until our Eucharistic Minister called round at 9.45. We were delighted to see her and thanked her very much for the Christmas present which was the book of ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ upon which the delightful cartoon (shown again on Christmas day) was based. We exchanged news of each other’s Christmas activities and I also took the opportunities to discover what she knew about the various happenings in our local church. During the course of her visit, we received a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend and we agreed to meet in the Waitrose cafeteria later on that morning. As we entered the store, we bumped into our Irish friend and our Italian friend – so big hugs all round with two of my favourite female friends. We had our coffee and a nice chat with our University of Birmingham friend and then the time came for us to part but we took the opportunity to buy some provisions in the store before we left. Then it was a case of getting home and cooking our Sunday lunch which was mainly a case of using up provisions that we already had in stock. But whilst in the store this morning, I took the opportunity to buy some reduced chorizo flavoured sausages which will provide quite a treat for us tomorrow. We have contemplating how best we might spend the morning tomorrow as it is New Year’s Day and the majority of shops, as it is a Bank Holiday, will probably be closed. I consulted the web to explore whether the Touchwood Centre in Solihull might be open tomorrow as we know there is a John Lewis store within it. We discovered that the John Lewis store and other shops would be open today but not tomorrow which is not exactly the sort of news that we wanted to receive. On the other hand, the Merry Hill Centre down the motorway is open tomorrow but does not contain any of the shops that we are minded to visit. So we are still contemplating the nature of our little trip out tomorrow, not knowing what is open and what is not.

No doubt, each family in the land has its own little rituals associated with New Year’s Eve which, of course, is today. Some couples would always make it a priority to either throw or to attend a New Year’s Eve party with family and close friends, the idea being of course to stay up until midnight to see the New Year in. Meg and I have never gone in for that sort of thing but there are various things that I like to have done on New Year’s Eve. This is to ensure that in our principal living rooms, we have a copy of the appropriate calendar so that tomorrow maorning (or even later on this evening) we all have 1st January ready to display. Of course, the Scots make a big thing of Hogmanay which is more important to them than Christmas Day and they have the tradition of ‘first footing’ in which a tall dark stranger is meant to enter the house by the front door, consume some whisky and perhaps some other comestibles on the way through the house and then leave through the back door. This is meant to symbolise the spirit of the New Year entering the house and chasing the remnants of the old year out of the back door. I also seem to remember that the stranger should be bearing a piece of coal (as the provider of light and warmth?) in their hand and perhaps some other artefacts as well. My mother, although not Scottish, used to engage in a scaled down vesrion of this ritual. Being a one parent household, there was rather a dearth of tall dark (male) male strangers so my mother had to improvise. This usually consisted of typing a small lump of coal around the neck of our our typically bewildered cat, which did have the virtue of being practically black all over. The cat was then thrown out of the back door just before midnight, being left along for a crucial minute or so and then being called back in in the New Year bearing the coal round its neck. What the cat thought of this charade I am afraid I never knew. But we did introduce the practice to our next door neighbours in Hampshire (as the husband was naturally dark in complexion) and they participated in the suitably pagan rite just for the fun of it. When we meet with our group of friends at our little gathering next Saturday night, I must remember to ask them if there are any similar traditions here in the Midlands. As it is, we are looking forward to next Saturday where we will consume, by courtesy of our French friend, a specialised confection which she will bake called ‘galette des rois’ and the recipient of the lucky token hidden inside the cake can be King or Queen for the night.

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Saturday, 30th December, 2023 [Day 1384]

So this is the start of the weekend and we know that no carers will call until Monday or Tuesday. After quite a good night’s sleep, Meg and I get ourselves and breakfasted and then set off for the Waitrose cafeteria where we were due to meet, but only briefly, with our Saturday crowd friends. Lasy Wednesday, after we had arrived home, I discovered that Meg was wearing a pair of gloves that she had absentmindly donned before leaving the cafeteria – but these were not hers but they belonged to one of our friends. So I was determined that they be put back into the hands of their rightful owners so we secured a parking place close to the store and then ordered one cup of coffee which Meg and I drank between us. Then our friends turned up and we returned the gloves but said a quick ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ because we were due to pop around to some of of our oldest friends along the Kidderminster Road for a morning coffee. Once we were safely esconced with our friends we had quite a lot of news to catch up on and we participated in some nice Christmas nibbles. Although the invitation was for coffee we were actually with our friends for a good two and a half hours and chatted about all kinds of issues that affect us both. Not least of these matters were some of the goings-on in our local church where we received all kinds of news, some of which did not make very pleasant listening. Nonetheless, we had spent a most delightful time in the company of our friends who we do not actually get to see as often as we would like. During the summer months, our friends were often out doing their magnificent garden and some months ago, Meg was sufficiently well for us to walk down to our local park on an almost daily basis. but now, we tend to whizz past in our car and, of course, the winter months means that we are not bobbling about in the garden to anything like the same extent and so the opportunities are not many for the casual chats that we used to have whenever we met. And, of course, we are all getting that little bit older and the ravages of time are taking their toll. Once we got home, it was too late for us to start preparing a midday meal so we have had a tin of a chunky lamb soup followed by remnants of Christmas cake and cheese. This was more than satisfying for us and then we settled down to watch ‘Mary – Queen of Scots’ during a lot of which I dozed but seemed to be summarised as a gaggle of Scottish noblemen arguing with and occasionally stabbing each other, with sometimes intervention from Queen Elizabeth I of England (this, I admit, is only a crude summary of the plot but you get the gist) Later on this evening is Paddington 2 which I do not think is as good as the first of the Paddington films but I may not be able to resist watching some of it.

In the late afternoon, we received a very welcome telephone call from our French friend who lives down the road for a little gathering of seven of us in total to celebrate January 6th. In Spain, this is called ‘Reyes’ (Kings) and used to be the time when most children received their principal Christmas presents (some token presents being given on Christmas Day as Anglo Saxon traditions come to predominate) In Spain, this feast day is celebrated with great processionns – to add a real feeling of verisimiltude, in some of the smaller coastal communities young children can actually witness the ‘Three Kings’ arriving in all of their regalia at the prow of a local fishing vessel. In some of the more southerly regions and the islands, particularly Tenerife as I remember, the Kings actually arrive on camels which again lends credence to their exotic nature. Obviously we have nothing like this in the UK but our French friend wants us to participate in a European tradition where the seven us stand around a specially baked cake and whoever is the recipent of a hidden token becomes the King or Queen of the gathering for the day. This tradition is new to me but of course Meg and I will be delighted to play our part.

The political shenanigans happenings on the other side of the Atlantic continue to provide us with a spectacle of fascinating horror as thw Trump march towards what may be a second presidency seems to be almost unstoppable. But today on Sky News there was a fascinating article which was entitled ‘All you need to know about the legal labryinth facing the former president’ and I have actually run this off as a printed copy so that Meg can read it (and re-read it) at her leisure. The legal problems facing Trump seem to fall into one of three major categories, some of which overlap. The most important constitutionally is the extent to which Trump either tacitly or explicitly gave encouragement to the rioters to invade the Capitol building just after the last presidential election. To this we add civil law suits some of which relate to alleged sexual assaults and some of which are just plain financial fraud. After all, Al Capone was eventually convicted of income tax evasion.

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Friday, 29th December, 2023 [Day 1383]

Friday is the one of the days in which carer(s) have been allocated to us and so we got up in plenty of time and got everything prepared ready for a start at 7.00am. But by about 7.40 nobody had turned up so we assumed that we had better get on and do things ourselves which we did. Then the two carers turned up and they were a good team as they were the same pair that we had seen on Wednesday. They wondered what else was to be done and I suggested that Meg’s hair could perhaps do with a wash. As it turned out, one of the carers had been practising hairdressing for over twenty years and she was quite happy to do this act of personal care for Meg. After a washing, we used one of our hair dryers so that at the end of the day Meg had a little styling thrown in as well. This put us both in a good mood and we are pleased when this particular pair of helpers turn up so we are considering whether to write a note to the agency that employs them requesting that some continuity of service might be a good idea and requesting that we get this pair on a regular basis. After Meg and I had breakfasted, we got ourselves ready to make a little trip to Droitwich, just down the road. Having parked the car relatively easily, we popped down the road to get a copy of our newspaper from W H Smiths and then progressed on to our favourite charity shop just around the corner. We had quite a good morning’s shop because they just happened to have some new, but heavily discounted, jogging trousers which we could do with for Meg and where, quite by coincidence, I had ordered a pair over the internet during the night. We also bought some ladies socks and a nice looking top for Meg so we have some nice new kit to try out on Meg in the morning. Then we make progress to our cafe of choice which was teeming but where they know us well so a table was magicked up for us and we indulged in a pot of tea and a large bacon butty between us. On the way home, we called in at one of our friends down the Kidderminster Road to invite them around for a cup of tea some time in the next few days. Instead, they invited us around for coffee tomorrow morning which invitation we readily accepted as we have not had the opportunity to have a good Christmas-style chat. When we got home, we needed to prepare some lunch and I made a rather novel (for us) lunch. I had taken a fillet of white fish (Basa) out of the freezer and although we thought this could be rather tasteless, we had some tartare sauce that would perhaps add a bit more flavour. To this we added some beetroot salad left over from the weekend and some celeriac coleslaw and together this provided a very tasty and different kind of meal for us.

After lunch, we had decided on a film that we would watch this afternoon. When I had taken out a subscripion to Amazon Prime, I had noticed that one of the films provided that we could watch was ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ Normally, I do not comment much in this blog on TV programmes or films that I have watched but this was bit of an exception. The writers had taken the basic plot of the novel by Fowles and had then intercut, at some relevant points, a sub-plot of some of the actors playing the principal roles (Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons) who were having an extra-marital liaison that some to extent mirrored the main plot of the film. This made the denouement of the film more and more interesting because one was not absolutely sure how it was going to all work out in the end. In the ‘modern’ sub-plot it was revealed that the film crew were probably going to film two endings, one a happy one and one an unhappy one but the actors involved did not know which of these endings was to make it into the final version. And so the main film ended, with appropriate inter-cutting of the more modern sub-plot, and so the viewer was left guessing as to which ‘ending’ was to end either the main plot or the subplot. I am sure that this device has probably been used before and it may well be that the film as a whole made for some unhappy viewing amongst the acting fraternity where there may well be cases of ‘life imitating art’

Asa we are approaching the end of 2023, scientists are reporting that the globe may well have had its warmest year for 125,000 years. There are still some climate change deniers around but one wonders how they continue to argue their case in the face of this overwheming evidence. Of course, if all else fails, they will argue that the world’s media has been taken over by a left-wing cabal who are spreading myths about climate change in order to disrupt capitalist systems or similar types of nonsense that climate change deniers are wont to spout.

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Thursday, 28th December, 2023 [Day 1382]

Yesterday afternoon, we were happy to entertain our next door neighbours and exchange some stories of our youth. Afterwards, we watched a little bit of TV and then after Meg was in bed, I watched some of the Royal Institution Christmas lectures which are nearly always scientific subjects put into a digestible form so that a young audience can follow the plot. The theme of this years was Artifical Intelligence which I suppose is an issue confronting us all in its many guises- I found last night to be moderately interesting but not enthralling and some treatments, such as the role of AI in Art left me rather cold. Today being a Thursday is normally the day when I get to the supermarket to do some shopping early in the day whilst Meg is still in bed. But today was a slightly different pattern as we did not need a great deal of extra shopping and only needed to do what you might term a ‘half shop’ So I waited until the carer arrived for her stint and it proved to be the Peruvian carer whom we have seen at least once before. As our son had spent a year in Mexico before going to university and Meg and I are moderately good Spanish speakers, we have quite a lot on common. So I shot off to the bigger Aldi in the centre of town and finished off doing an intermediate volume of shopping which took me about half an hour. Then, having arrived home, I cooked the dinner which consisted of jacket potatoes, some beef left over from Christmas day but added to an onion gravy/sauce and some stick beans. We were just about finished the washing up when our chiropodist called around and although she was on our planning board, I had momentarily forgotten just when she was due to arrive. Our feet having been done, my son and his wife arrived as we had planned to have a little Christmas afteroon tea. As with all such family occasions, we just sat around the kitchen table and tucked into some roulade which our family had brought with them. So we ate this up, supplemented by some of the little cakes which we had left over from yesterday’s entertaining of the neighbours and a jolly time was had by all.

There is a lot of speculation today that we could have a general election as early as May. The reason for this speculation is because Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequeur has announced the government would hold an earlier than anticipated budget, with a date set for 6 March, 2024. The Labour party also seems to be gearing itself up for a general election in May. Asked if the budget date signals an early election, Ms Thornberry said: ‘Yeah, it is the worst kept secret in parliament that we are likely to be heading for a May election and this budget date seems to confirm that’. We know that a general election has to be held by January, 2025 at the very, very latest and the temptation for many governments and Prime Ministers is generally to hold on if at all possible. If it looks as though all of the economic indicators are showing that the economy is scheduled for a downturn, then it might be logical to go for an early general election. The Labour party has been ahead in the polls for a long time now and all of the indicators are that the Conservatives are likely to lose the next election. This being the case, one line of thought is that going for an early general election will minimise the anticipated scale of the losses of seats. An early budget may be able to put some money into the pockets of the electorate and thus encourage the view that the ‘Conservatives are not so bad after all’ But we are constantly being told that economy is about to improve and, of course, a few more months may help the government to pass some more legislation which is ‘voter friendly’ and this might point to a general election in the autumn. Of course, there is a certain amount of gamemanship in all of tbis and it may well be that the Conservatives are trailing the prospects of an earlier general election to see if there degree of ‘bounce’ in the polls in their direction and then to act accordingly.

One way or another, it looks as though we are in for a year of intense political activity on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump seems destined to become the Republican party nominee and could well win an election if his opponent is the aging Joe Biden. But there are storm clouds on the horizon for Donald Trump. There are some reports that he is getting increasingly tetchy and indeed troubled in his recent appearances in the many court cases that are being held over him. The Supreme Court, stuffed full of Trump nominees, may well overturn the ruling in the State of Colorado that Trump be not allowed to stand as a candidate because of his past encouragement for the storming of the Capitol building some two years ago. But will they overturn ruling after ruling as many other states are due to follow the example of the state of Colorado and declare that Trump cannot be a candidate in their state? So it may well be that the US judicial system comes to the rescue of the Democrats by making it impossible for Donald Trump to stand again as a candidate or, at the very least, to lose some of the states he will need to retain.

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Wednesday, 27th December, 2023 [Day 1381]

Today being a Wednesday was the day when some carers were due to call around to give me some assistance with getting Meg up, washed and dressed. Sure enough, at about 7.10 or thereabouts, the doorbell rang and it was two carers from the agency, one of whom I have seen on two previous occasions and the other new to me. The older carer is a cheery little soul and I was very pleased to see her. Between the two of them, they made light work of getting Meg sorted out with a very cheerful disposition and so I am hoping against hope that I can have at least this one carer on a more consistent basis so that we can have some much needed continuity. After we had breakfasted, we knew that today, Wednesday, was going to be this week’s Tuesday as the usual Waitrose gang had intimated their intentions to be here. Meg and I were there for about half an hour and were just on the point of departure when one of our number turned up. On the off-chance, I had taken along a small bottle of my own damson gin and 2-3 very small little glasses so I gave our friend an illegitmate little snifter to enjoy after her normal coffee – and she enjoyed it tremendously. After this, I went shopping and bought some extra milk as I think that with the big shop up of last week, I have enough provisions to keep me going for the next week. We also took the opportunity to buy some party type nibbles and cakes as we are entertaining our next door neighbours this afternoon. Lunch was a fairly simple affair as I utilised the roasted vegetables left over from last Monday and I needed to prepare was some broccoli and onion gravy. I am delighted to be able to say that this meal was as good as Monday’s meal was poor and Meg and I enjoyed it tremendously. Then, after lunch I got some things ready for our guests this afternoon and this was simply a case of opening some packets of ‘goodies’ bought from Waitrose. It also gave me the opportunity to display the party food on the good crockery set which I espied in a charity shop the other day and which made a fuller complement of this particular design whioch just about comes in the category of collectables.

Our neighbours are very good company and we started off in our Music Lounge explaining how and why we had bought the various pieces that we had and then explaining our interactions with the social care agencies. My neighbour and I shared some boyhood experiences with each other and we discovered that we shared a common past-time in our youth. This was the construction of what I think in Yorkshire we called ‘go-carts’, in Leicester were called ‘trollies’ and in South Wales had the popular name of a ‘gambo’ (I think). The basic mechanics of construction were always similar. First, and most importantly, one had to get access to a local municipal tip where one could liberate the wheels from old pram. Prising the wheels away from the main body of the pram took some brute force and native cunning, but eventually one would emerge with a prize of two sets of axles with two wheels on each. Then one needed to have access to some wood from which one constructed a platform – the back wheeles were fixed but the front axle was attached to an essentially moveable cross member to provide an element of steering. Now one had to secure quite a large hole in both the framework of the go-cart and also the cross member, sufficiently large to accept a large bolt through the two of them. In the absence of a drill the older boys in the village taught me how to make a hole – first lightly tapping a nail and then extracting it, then making a hole with a small screw, slightly enlarging it with a larger screw and finishing off with a red hot poker, taking red hot from the midst of a coal fire and plunged into the small screw hole to make a larger bolt hole. Finally, one persuaded one’s mother to liberate a bit of old carpet to decorate the surface of the go-cart, some string (generally baling twine of which there was lots in the country side) strung across the cross members to provide steerage. If you had a spare wheel, you could make a ‘real’ steering wheel whilst the final refinement was some beer crown cork tops hammered into the surrounds to add a touch of glamour. We used to run it down the hill and into the into the gap of the Methodist Chapel front yard to complete our run. This was my own experience but when my son was about 6-7, I built him a go-cart. The other local lads, or rather their dads, were not to be outdone so my son’s go-cart was soon joined by about two others and then raced down the pavement of the street where we lived (which was also on quite a steep little hill, but there were too many cars on the roads in the 1970s to repeat exactly what we used to do in the 1950’s). So – simple pleasures!

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Tuesday, 26th December, 2023 [Day 1380]

Well, with Christmas Day well and truly out of the way, it is now time to enjoy the rest of the holiday. Last night, though, when Meg was safely in bed, it allowed me to enjoy a couple of episodes of ‘Father Ted’ which, in its eccentricity, is always so enjoyable. Actually, the secretary to the chaplain of the Catholic Society when we were students in Manchester was not a million miles away from the character of ‘Mrs Doyle’. But I did read an interesting, and most touching, email from one of my former Erasmus students with whom we have been in close contact over the years. She had recently just lost her husband who, as her PhD Supervisor, was probably several years older than her but with whose loss she was still coming to terms. But she seemed to have promoted to a senior position in her University in Madrid for which I was enormously pleased. Last night, I sent her a fairly long email detailing how Meg and I spend our days and adding a few words of my recollections of her husband and the kindnesses he had shown towards me when I doing my term of teaching in Spain. This morning after I discussed the original email and my reply with Meg, we thought it would be a marvellous idea to invite our long lasting friend to come over to England to visit us if she has the inclination and can afford the time in her next vacation which will be at Easter. I pointed out how she could meet with our friends, visit some interesting places and then have a generally relaxing time. The only thing is that I would prefer to have a week in Spain next Easter rather than the other way around so I await her reply with interest. Today, we had a luncheon date with our University of Birmingham friend but first we called in at a local garage to collect our copy of ‘The Times’ (Waitrose being closed). Then we went for a little spin in the park which we have not visited for quite some time now. No sooner had we parked, than we ran into of our ‘park friends’ who has a magnificent labradoodle and who spotted us in our new car. As it happened, he had a slightly different model of Honda which he had changed quite recently and so we spent a few minutes extolling the virtues of Honda technology to each other and indicating our loyalty to the brand.

In order to get to our friend, we needed to program the SatNav which we did sort of by accident, not having programmed an address into it before. Having entered the address, there seemed to be no way of pressing ‘Return’ or otherwise entering the information supplied into the system. I have noticed with some other forms of electronic entry, particularly on the TV, that it sometimes seems difficult to find a ‘Return’ or a ‘Enter’ key so had to try almost a random combination of keys with symbols on to get the information entered. Anyway, we got to our friends on time and then had a wonderful meal that he had prepared for us of a Hungarian Goulish. I am pleased to say that the ‘Beronia’ rioja that we had taken along really lived up to expectations and was streets ahead of the wine that we had for our Christmas lunch yesterday. We agreed that we would find an opportunity to reciprocate our friend’s hospitality by inviting him and his new found friend along as soon as we could arrange something and I shall enjoy cooking another special type meal when I am given the opportunity. Before we went out on the road today, I called on our next door neighbour to see if they would be available tomorrow afternoon. As it happens they were free (quite unusually as they have lots of family and always seem very occupied over the Christmas period) So we made an appointment for our neighbours to call round tomorrow afternoon and they promised to bring some supplies of Christmas cake with them. I joked that we had run out of mince pies which was just as well as our neighbour confessed to not really liking them.

I heard on the news this afternoon that big retailers like John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer had decided not to open today despite Boxing Day being the day when frantic sales used to start. It was not unusual in the 1970’s for people to queue in the cold all Christmas Day to get the bargains on offer in the big department stores but those have gone. Firstly, we seem to be living in an era of perpetual sales and discounts. But secondly, retailers have worked out that with severely cut living standards and a lot of money already spent on Christmas food there is precious little left in the collective buying population for much sales-related purchasing so they are adopting a strategy to conserve their resources and maximise their returns. Their dilemma is that further discounting will only reduce their already strained profit margins even further. I think that quite a lot of families have got a little savvy and used the January period to buy things that they needed to replace sometime but discounted prices were always available in January and perhps February as well.

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Monday, 25th December, 2023 [Day 1379]

Last night, I got Meg to bed and then I started on my Christmas Eve vegetable preparation, postponed from earlier in the day. I prepared the sprouts and saved them in a little plastic bag well laced with lemon juice and then broke off to see a repeat of ‘Yes, Minister‘ on BBC4. Towards the end of this, I got a phone call from my University of Winchester friend whose wife has been discharged from hospital but is still quite seriously ill. Despite an army of carers, she still suffered an incident which meant she had to be readmitted only a few days after discharge (I suspect this is not an uncommon occurrence these days) So my friend and I had a long telephone conversation where we offer each other a listening ear, some emotional support and perhaps some practical tips and suggestions as our two spouses seem to parallel each other in some respects. After this, it was case of preparing the parsnips and then to bed for a fairly early night. Meg and I got up at more or less the usual time and got ourselves breakfasted before we received a videocall from my son and his wife in their Christmas hotel but who had themselves overslept. After this, we had four bags of presents to unwrap and, of course, this is always a source of delight and much pleasure. By an extraordinary coincidence, we had just watched the repeat of the cartoon film ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse‘ when one of the first presents that we opened from was from our Eucharistic minister parishioner who had bought us the actual book from which the cartoon is derived. And so we proceed to our Christmas lunch for which many preparations had been made in advance. Apart from the starter, it is not false modesty to indicate that this the worst Christmas lunch that I had ever prepared – and I have cooked lots in my time. I think that I probably prepared too much but by the time we came to eat it, it was certainly overcooked. So the sprouts, par-boiled and then out in the oven were scarcely recognisable, the gravy condensed down to practically nothing and even the rioja proved to be a little less than inspiring. I think probably the worst Christmas meal of all time was one my mother was preparing it whist using a tiny little oven that she deployed on her kitchen table. She handed me a dish which she had just taken out of the oven which burnt all of my fingers on both hands and I cannot remember that we had any Acriflavine on hand at the time. When fingers have been burnt like this, even afer the application of some cold water, the heat (and hurt) seems to build and intensify and this is what happened for the meal in question. The only saving grace to today’s meal is what looked like a huge volume of washing up was actually dispensed with quite swiftly and the judicious use of tinfoil meant that no dishes were left with food that resisted the washing up brush.

This afternoon was a fairly typical Christmas afternoon where we doze in front of the TV, this being ‘Death on the Nile‘ which we must have seen umpteen times before but as a ‘whodunnit’ has all kinds of twists and turns in one of the most incredible of plots. Of course, the author was Agatha Christie who was married to an archaeologist and who used to remark that the most interesting thing about being married to an archaeologist,the older one got, the more interested one’s husband became in one. In the course of her career, Agatha Christie disappeared for several days (or even longer) into a hotel in Harrogate which was actually ‘The Old Swan’ in which I worked regularly from about 1961 to 1965. There was quite a strict stratification structure in the hotel and as well as washing dishes, I also washed silverware (which for odd reason, paid slightly more), then in the still room which serves teas and coffees, then washing glasses for the bar and finally working on the bar itself (whilst actually being underage) I also did a certain amount of portering, particularly when coach loads of American tourists arrived (sometimes as many 4 x. 40 seaters in one night) and the guests required their luggage as soon as possible. One of my duties as a night porter was to vacuum the huge ballroom which had to be done at night as the room was in use during the day but occasionally the management, when our jobs were done, allowed us to curl up on some of the comfortable settees and go to sleep for the rest of the night. Incidentally, in a hotel of this size being of the order of nearly 400 bedrooms, it was inevitable that every so often a guest would die in their hotel bed. We had a well established routine for getting a body out of the hotel so as not to attract attention from guests or passers-by. This was to roll the body up in a carpet and then take the carpet down in the service lift. After all, nobody raises a second glance at two porters handling a carpet between them and this happened about once a year, in my recollection. I quite often worked on Christmas day but the generous management did not pay us ny extra wages but did concede that we might be treated to a glass of sherry. Incidentally, this must have cost the management hardly any expense at all as they imported amontillado sherry by the cask from southern Spain and then bottled it themselves in their own ‘Old Swan’ labelled bottles. Christmas time was always special for us because about two dozen young female trainee waitresses were imported from a catering college in South Yorkshire and to us local lads, this seemed like manna from heavan.

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Sunday, 24th December, 2023 [Day 1378]

Last night, after Meg had finally ‘hit the hay’ and gone to bed, I started to complete some little jobs that needed doing before the next day. First I located the little crib which we bring in once a year and is made of very simple and stylised figures of a very light wood which I suspect is balsawood. Once this had been put in place, I put another piece of ornamention in place which is a stylised crib in a rather tasteful wood surround. We saw this in the crypt of Chester Cathedral when we were visiting Meg’s Uncle Ken whilst he was still alive and were immediately taken by it. We put a bit of lighting on one side and the shadow cast on the wall behind is somewhat reminiscient of a palm tree. Several years ago, I bought a copy of the Koran from a remainder shop on Bromsgrove High Street and read up on the Koranic version of the Nativity. In this, Mary goes and out and gives birth under a palm tree so perhaps our stylised crib is quite multicultural. Finally, I addressed the Christmas cards for the immediate neighbours – these I always leave to the end as there are no postal deadlines that require to be met. We knew that when breakfast was over, the Eucharistic minister was going to call around from our local church and we had our normal little service inside the house. We exchanged Christmas cards and I was fortunate to find just one, religiously themed, card to give to our fellow parishioner because I particularly wanted to give her an appropriate card as I had tried (and failed) to find some more religiously themed Christmas cards this year. She had brought a little gift along with her which went into the bag waiting until tomorrow. Fortunately, she confessed to a liking for damson gin so I was delighted to give her in return the last remaining bottle of the batch of 2-year old damson gin which I had bottled last Monday.

After that, we posted the Christmas cards for our immediate neighbours through their front door and then we sped in our car to the home of our domestic help to help put her Christmas card through her front door as we were all in a bit of a rush when she left us last Friday and her own card had been overlooked. Then we needed to make one more call which was to the Waitrose supermarket to buy some gravy granules which is a vital ingredient for me when preparing the Christmas dinner tomorrow. Almost inevitably, as happens under these circumstances, I saw one or two extra things that I thought would help to enhance the meal tomorrow when one of the staff in the store, who I know pretty well, informed me that Meg was sitting in the cafe. Although I had left her in the car she was now translocated into the Waitrose store and given a cup of coffee on the house. So after a little but unexpected sojourn here, we made for home and then I cooked a lunch largely of vegetables (onions, peppers, petit pois, some ham ends, tomatoes, mushrooms and a handful of sultanas and a touch of demerara sugar with a modicum of home-made gravy thrown in.) This was served on some pasta and actually we both enjoyed it very much.

We had just about completed our washing up after our lunch when the front doorbell rang and it was our newish Asian neighbours of whom we have not seen a great deal because this year because a voyage they had undertaken in the Caribbean had been followed up by a lengthy trip back to India. They had brought round some Christmas gifts for ‘looking after their house’ whilst they had been away but, in truth, we had done very little. Naturally, we invited our neighbour in so that we could catch up on news of comings-and-goings and spent a wonderfully intimate twenty minutes telling each other some stories about our past lives and the houses we have lived in. Our neighbours are going to invite us round for samosas and perhaps other delicacies so we shall really look forward to this in a few days time. But we noticed that our Irish friends from down the road had also left a carrier bag of Christmas goodies for us on our doorstep so now we have quite a lot of Christmas gifts to unwrap.

Christmas Eve entertainment is generally of a pretty high order but tonight we are anticipating viewing ‘Mog’s Christmas’ which is going to be shown later on this evening. Generally, I devote Christmas Eve afternoon to the preparation of vegetables for tomorrow but I suspect that this is going have to wait, as with many other routine jobs, until Meg is safely tucked up in bed. I always think that Christmas starts at about 3.00pm in the afternoon when the light is fading and I am starting to prepare the sprouts and parsnips for tomorrow’s lunch. We have a bottle of Rioja freshly bought from Waitrose yesterday and we trust that this will complement the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner to which Meg and I treat ourselves each Christmas day.

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Saturday, 23rd December, 2023 [Day 1377]

Today being a Saturday, we were quite looking forward to meeting up again with our friends. After one or two days of early starts, Meg and I were more than pleased to have a little lie-in this morning but, nonetheless we got ourselves up, breakfasted and then located in the Waitrose cafeteria by just after 10.30. We were about the first to arrive but pushed some tables together and were soon joined by our three regular friends plus our University of Birmingham friend who had phoned us yesterday. There was much exchanging of Christmas cards and a little last minute Christmas shopping as we, individually, discovered things that absolutely had to be bought just before Christmas. We are a jolly little bunch and I helped the jollities along by showing our friends an illustration of the children’s character, Mog. This is because within the family I have the soubriquet of Mog (the initials of which stand, incidentally, for Miserable Old Git) Everytime our daughter-in-law went into her primary chool and mentioned ‘Meg and Mike’ her collegues would exclaim ‘Don’t you mean Meg and Mog?’ and so the name has stuck with me for years, even being used on one famous occasion in a hospital ward where there was confusion over the multiple ‘Mike’s’ as patients and so I volunteered to be known in the hospital thereafter as Mog. Now the Sunday Times made a feature of Mog on the front page of their Culture magazine last weekend and so I was flattered to have made it to the front pages of the High Street Media at last. This illustration was cut out and pasted onto some card and passed around the table so that my friends could appreciate how Mog was making an appearance. I had also been sent an extremely amusing Christmas card so this was taken along to help with the general jollities. So after all of this, we made for home and started to think about a simple lunch. But the doorbell rang and it was our next door neighbour who had popped around with one or little Christmas delicacies for us to enjoy. As his wife was at work for the rest of the day, he was inclined to tarry and we invited him along to our Music Lounge where we explained some of the musical offerings that we now access via YouTube. Our neighbour has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music from about about the 1940’s to the 1980’s at a guess and, as a hobby, has installed several of the old style juke boxes in his converted garage. By the way, these have the most wonderful and vibrant rich sound on the occasions I have been played one or two records in our neighbour’s system. So although our musical tastes differ wildly grom each other, we have enough in common to remember together some of the tracks that we remember fom our youth. For example, I have quite vivid memories of my sister and I buying an EP (= ‘Extended Play’) 45rpm record on which recording there was Harry Belafonte singing ‘Mary’s Boy Child‘ I am pretty sure that Harry Belafonte is in his mid 90’s and still alive but I have not heard it played over the airwaves for many a long time now. After all of this, our normal lunchtime was so delayed that we thought we woukd improvise a quick as lightning lunch. We had a bowl of soup, followed by some tea loaf augmented by a slab of cheese and this was easily enough for our lunch.

After lunch was over, we received a telephone call from the daughter of a niece who had texted us yesterday, suggesting that we have a Christmas style chat. As it happens, Meg and I were able to view, over a YouTube link, the Sunday morning service in a church in Gateshead in which there two children were christened.So this turned out to be quite a joyous occasion and I doubt that Meg and I would have managed a journey to Gateshead in the first place. Our phone call lasted about 50 minutes and we had a lot of family news to catch up on both sides. I intimated that I hope that Meg and I might travel to York by train and have a family meal at a bistro that we know which is immediately adjacent to the station and thus easy both to find and to access. We will probably make some arrangements to see if we can organise a family get together like this, probably in the Easter vacation. Later on tonight, Meg and I feel that will indulge ourselves in yet another viewing of ‘Paddington‘ which we have seen so many times that we have probably have forgotten some of the words. I remain of the view that this is much an ‘adult’ as a ‘children’s film’ because there are quite deep matters of identity, attachment to UK culture and the way that, as a society, we treat strangers to our shores, which actually chimes today with current matters of political debate over migration. There are also some fabulous little ‘in jokes’ as when Paddington seized a dog to carry down the escalator in response to the notice that ‘Dogs must be carried’

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Friday, 22nd December, 2023 [Day 1376]

Late yesterday afternoon, we received the most wonderful surprise. One of my Yorkshire nieces and her husband had sent Meg and myself a wonderful bouquet of flowers, through the post. According to the instructions, these will be at their best within 48 hours after they after they have been revived with some water and specialist plant food. So I emailed my especial thanks to my niece immediately with the promise that when the flowers were fully open and at their best, then I would send on a photo so that they could see how they turned out. This morning is the start of the shortest day of the year – the exact turning point being 3.27 in the morning. So from now on, the days should be gettung a smidgeon longer but generally we have to wait until after the Christmas festivities are well and truly over before any difference in the daylight is at all discernible. This morning is the day when our domestic help calls around and she was intrigued and then agreeably surprised with our new settee. Actually, yesterday, I did pop into the AgeUK store when I was on Bromsgrove High Street and was glad that I did not buy the other settee on offer which looked somewhat tired and pedestrian. The one I did purchase was actually a very marked improvement over the one in the store and last night, I put the finishing touches to a freshening up of the fabric as a whole – not that it really needed it but I felt it ought to be done. I thought I had noticed the slightest hint of a grubby patch on the front panel and gave this some remedial treatment so now all looks restored. I now have the settee in its final location so that the standard lamp which we purchased some time ago actually sheds light on some of the organ controls on the one hand whilst also affording some extremely good reading light for the settee on the other.

This morning after we had exchanged all kinds of chat and Christmas cards/gifts with our domestic help, we set off for Droitwich expecting to find the town pretty busy, which it was. We needed to get some cash out of the ATM and also acquire a copy of ‘The Times‘ but Santander and W H Smiths are next door to each other so this made life quite easy. Then we progressed on towards the cafe and were slightly dismayed when, upon reaching it, a crucial nut fell off Meg’s wheelchair meaning that one of the arms had detached itself. We had our normal ‘bacon butty’ and then progressed slowly back to the car, keeping my eyes peeled in case the errant nut would manifest itself (it did not) As I was getting Meg into the car with a little difficulty, a passerby helped me to get Meg into her seat. I explained the nature of Meg’s illness and was amazed to receive a hug from a complete stranger. On our way home, I popped into our local hardware store and managed to buy several nuts of th appropriate size (only 8p each) so that I can quickly do some running repairs to the wheelchair before I use it next. When we got home, I decided to use some of the haddock pieces that I had purchased yesterday to make a risotto. Although I only made sufficient for Meg and myself, our domestic help cannot resist a portion of my risotto and so I found a container for some so that she can have some for her tea when she gets home. I inadvertently then dished some up into a bowl which still had its boiling water in it to heat it up and when I realised my mistake, this evidently had to be jettisoned. The point of this story was that it seemed to be one of the nicest risottos I have ever made even though the quantities had been diminished somewhat but I may repeat this dish next Sunday which, being Christmas Eve, is obviously the day before the big culinary onslaught which is Christmas Day. Meg and I generally have on Christmas Day that which we really like which is a nice piece of beef and Yorkshire pudding. I discovered in Aldi when I went shopping some Winter Roasted vegetables which are carrots, parsnips and onions with a thyme and rosemary glaze so this will be a wonderful accompaniment to our beef when we cook it. Incidentally, I remember several decades ago that I used to grow parsnips in the long garden attached to our house in Wigston, near Leicester. I always reckoned that these were much tastier when we had a hard frost beforehand (and in purely chemical terms, some starches are converted into natural sugars) and I can remember the delight in digging up some nice huge parsnips ready for preparation the following day. In practice, I still do this preparation on Christmas Eve and make sure that the pasrnips have a good squirt of lemon juice to stop them discolouring overnight. Parsnips with my roast Christmas Day beef is one of the delights of life and I am afraid that I do still prepare and cook many more vegetables for the Christmas Day lunch than is strictly necessary.

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