Wednesday, 31st January, 2024 [Day 1416]

So today we enter our Wednesday routine. We had a fairly early start to the day as Meg got up and had a little wander about whilst I was fast asleep but I got her back into bed for another hour’s kip before the arrival of the caring duo who arrive promptly at 8.00am. After we had breakfasted, we watched a little of the day’s news before setting forth for the Methodist Coffee Bar, knowing that it does not open until 10.30. We bumped into one of our Waitrose friends but not the other one that we were expecting. But Meg and I sat on the ‘chatty’ table and got into conversation with 2-3 people that we have come to know. The married couple to whom we were talking had spent some of their lives in Harrogate in North Yorkshire which was the town in which I was raised and where I lived until the age of 17. They had also lived in the Catterick Camp army barracks in North Yorkshire so there were some places that were familiar to both of us. We then got into conversations (all five of us) about aspects of our family history and this is always quite fascinating. I told them the story about my grandmother and the circumstances of my mother’s birth, which happened to be in Droitwich just down the road. They in turn told me what some of their researches had revealed about their own ancestry so we all felt we had a very interesting morning of shared reminiscences before it was time for us all to leave. We knew that we had to leave after a reasonable space of time because I had an appointment in the local hospital for some of the early afternoon and this necessitated an early lunch. I threw together a meal of scrambled eggs with some grated cheese on slices of toast augmented with ham slices. All in all, it was more than adequate given that we had prepared it in ten minutes and then ate it in five.I had a carer come in to sit with Meg whilst I went off to attend my meeting. This was organised for the benefit of carers themselves and there are to be two sessions. The first of them today focused on the needs of the patients for whom the carer was caring whereas the session for next week was going to look at more practical support for the carers themselves. There were about six of us altogether and a couple of occupational therapists and we were well supplied with tea and biscuits to make the proceedings whizz along. Actually, I needed to leave just before the end and, as is often the case, it is the practical advice and support of other attenders that may well prove to be the most beneficial in the long run.

The government is today publishing the details of the deal which has been struck which has led to the resumption after a gap of two years of the power-sharing executive in the Northern Ireland government. I must admit I have not the time or the patience to unravel what has been ceded or negotiated away but I feel that the overriding emotion of all of the parties, including the EU, is to be glad that a solution to the seemingly intractable solution of where to place the boundaries of the EU (down the Irish sea cutting off Northern Ireland, or down the Irish border making Northern Ireland ‘leave’ together with the rest of the UK) has been fudged. I suspect that the truth is that there are various forms of words, and indeed trade practices where each side seeks to save face but different things are said to different people to get a deal done. The former permanent secretary for the Department for Exiting the EU has given his opinion as follows: ‘Mr Johnsons Brexit was “a lot of smoke and mirrors. He left it to subsequent prime ministers to sort things out.’ At the same time he praised Rishi Sunak for having ‘rolled up his sleeves’, negotiated with all the various parties, and resolved some of the problems’ of Brexit. So whilst we have had the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’ ringing through our ears, it seems that only now is Brexit actually being done after so many years. What the opinion of the EU is about all of this I do not know but after any problem has dragged on for years, I suspect that they are not unhappy to get a solution of sorts agreed by all of the parties. No doubt, there is a lot of devil in the detail and many members of the Westminster political parties are probably holding their breath until a Speaker is eventually elected and the Stormont (NI assembly) resumes its work. Mind you, I was a little staggered to learn that a population of 1.86 million has had a bounty of £3.3 billion showered on them which according to my calculations is about £1770 for every man, woman and child (approx £5,000 for every family) in the province. Some of this will be for pay increases enjoyed by the rest of the country but not as yet in Northern Ireland but given the mantra that ‘you do not solve a problem by throwing money at it’ I suppose the response of the rest of us might well be ‘Oh yes, you do, provided that the amount of money is large enough’ If I can stay awake and ‘compus mentis’, it will be interesting to see what NewsNight on BBC2 and ‘The Politics Hub’ on Sky News make of all of this, once they have a chance to read through the fine print.

Most of us have almost forgotten about COVID these days but we are now being told that the virus is evolving at an incredible rate. More disturbing is the fact that the damage to the cardiovascular and immune system might be much more long term than we had ever thought and COVID may well develop into a time bomb, particular for those of us who have been unlucky enough to have been infected on several occasions.

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Tuesday, 30th January, 2024 [Day 1415]

Today dawned a little gloomy but the cloud was somewhat higher than yesterday so it lifted the spirits a little to know that we had a slightly brighter day in store for us. We got ourselves up and breakfasted knowing that today was our Waitrose cafeteria day as well as being the day of my weekly Pilates session. We got down to Waitrose just before 10.30 and it is at this time that we generally meet up with our friends which has become part of our weekly traditions these days. After we had spent a pleasant amount of time together it was time to go but before we left the cafeteria itself, we met up again with some acquaintances across whom we had run both in the park when we used to frequent it frequently as well as in the cafeteria itself. They reminded me that they observed me pushing Meg around in the wheelchair and as it is a fairly portable version (the makers call in a ‘transit’ wheelchair, presumably because it is designed to get you from one location to another without being a bit more permanent), they had requested some details. So I had given them details of the website where they could order this type of chair if they needed one and I think they might actually have gone ahead and ordered one. We chatted for a few minutes about this and that and then it was time to get home before we start our preparations for my Pilates class. The same carer comes at the same time on a Tuesday, ready for me to attend my Pilates class and as this carer hails originally from Peru, there is a certain degree of fellow feeling between us (as our son had spent a year in Mexico immediately prior to his university course in the 1980’s) I managed to attend my Pilates class today with no real stress involved. There are only four of us in this particular class but we have been together for years now, one of the group and I going back at least 7-8 years altogether. We had a collective moan about the state of the roadworks around the town which seem to be blighting practically every journey that we make and the benefits of which may not be appreciated by us for years yet. When I eventually returned home, I prepared our usual meal for a Tuesday which is fishcakes with some microwaved vegetables (for speed) and then we settled down for a quiet afternoon.

It is now starting to look as though a government is going to return to Northern Ireland. But it will be quite a significant return to ‘normal’ politics because the first minister will be the leader of Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party for whom the majority of Catholics have voted. Although there has been a Protestant majority for decades (engineered like this at the time of the creation of the province), it always looked likely that simple demographic forces would prevail. Put simply, the Catholic population has been increasing at a faster rate than the Protestant population (by having more children per partnership) and so, in the long run, this was bound to effect the composition of the electorate. In addition, the Protestant vote in Northern ireland is split between 2-3 political parties whereas the Catholic vote is somewhat more unified. So it is possible that we could see a Sinn Fein party in power in both parts of a divided Ireland. One can only speculate at this stage that in the decades to come we shall see a united Ireland again. This must have seemed impossible at the time of ‘The Troubles’ and there are still active remnants of both republican and protestant groups intent on violence, even today. The news tonight reveals that civil servants have not had a pay rise for 2-3 years, teachers not for 3-4 years and childcare arrangements are lagging way behind that avaulable in the rest of the UK – all as a result of there not being a functioning government at Stormont (the Northern Ireland assembly) for the last two years, since the DUP walked out of the power-sharing agreement.

There was a story in our regional news this afternoon which gives pause for thought. The centre of Birmingam is ‘under serveillance’ by a network of CCTC cameras, operating remotely but the provider of vital evidence to the police in the case of criminal activity. Apparently, a lot of the network of cameras ,if not all of it, has been put out of action with what was termed a computer fault but which was actually a computer upgrade. Now as many of us know from our personal lives, computer problems are quite likely to occur after an ‘update’ and some people shudder at the thought of Windows operating systems ‘updating’ themselves which means that critical interfacing software such as device drivers no longer work as they did. It is an interesting thought how much mayhem and/or productive time lost is due to a combination of operating systems updates, virus and other ‘malware’ and password problems. There can hardly be a computer user in the population who has not been affected in their working lives by one or more of these downsides. This is what led several users to migrate to Apple systems which seem to be more (but not completely) immune to virus type problems and where problems are likely to be lessened by the fact that both the hardware and the software are under the control of Apple itself.

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Monday, 29th January, 2024 [Day 1414]

The week started off with an exceptionally overcast and gloomy sky, in stark contrast to some of the clearer weather we have been experiencing in the last few weeks. Meg’s carers arrived extremely promptly this morning and I am always amazed how cheerful they seem to keep when they have such a busy workload. They were explaining to me how they do not really get paid when they go from one job to another or else they have a very small time allocation and, of course, in rush hour it is always problematic getting from one job to the next in a reasonable time. I have done a little investigation of this issue and I think that care workers in the public sector may receive some minimal protection via their UNISON trade union. But I suspect that the private sector is much worse – in fact, in recent years, HMRC reckoned that 43% of workers in the private care sector were paid less than the minimum wage once travelling time between appointments was factored into the equation. I feel that I have to tread carefully in our personal situation here but I would have thought this is one area in which an incoming Labour government could legislate, if it had a mind to do so. This morning after we had breakfasted, we set forth on the road, first calling by our newspaper shop that used to be our daily supplier. Although it is a week since I last called in, they still do not appear to have their supply of newspapers organised – a newsagent that does not sell newwspapers is a little like a pub that serves no beer. Then we called in at a local supermarket to get some supplies for Meg and then finally hit the road for Droitwich. Here we got our daily copy of ‘The Times‘ and then went to our regular coffee shop where they know us well and treated ourselves to our regular pot of tea and bacon butty. Afterwards, we called in at a local charity shop where I bought myself a shirt in my regular size and colour and some new tea towels of which we seemed to be running short.

Earlier this morning, I had received both an email and a text message from my former colleague from the University of Winchester whose wife is very ill and who has been having a bit of a hard time recently. So I decided that a phone call might help to lighten his mood so we had a good telephone conversation for well over half an hour. As our respective wives are exhibiting some similarities in their symptoms and the ways in which we are both managing to care for them, so we keep in contact to provide each other with some mutual support. By the time we had concluded our conversation, it was our tea time after which we hunted the air waves on the TV channels to see if there was anything that grabbed our attention (but in the event, there was not) So we resorted to the old standby of some music and found a programme devoted to the works of Handel on YouTube. Sometimes, this helps to provide Meg with a source of entertainment and diversion but, sadly, today was not one of those days.

There now seems to be a consensus that the international world is becoming a very unstable place. In the first place, the Israel-Gaza conflict is threatening to spill out into a regional conflict involving Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iran and Iraq. The international shipping that is using the Red Sea is being attacked by Houthi rebels, emanating from Yemen, and the response by the US and the UK to these attacks, whilst understandable, may well be providing fuel for further conflicts. The war in Ukraine in some respects is starting to have some resemblance to the first World War in which both sides are dug in and not much progress is being made on either side. From what one can glean and decode from a variety of military sources, it may well be that the Russians are having slightly better of the fighting than the Ukranians but it may well be that both sides are not preparing any major moves until the European winter is over and in the spring, offensive actions can recommence. Common to both of these arenas of conflict, we have the situation in the US where it looks as though Donald Trump may reassume the presidency and he is uttering some bizarre and contradictory soundbites. According to the Trump view of the world, by appeasing Russia and engaging in renewed hostilities against Iran, peace will break out all over. There are some reports that indicate that Trump may be seriously unbalanced as he confuses various things happening around him. For example, he confused one of his Republican rivals, an ex-ambassador to the United Nations, with Nancy Pelosi who is the recently retired Democrat speaker of the House of Representatives. But even amidst these tales of doom and gloom, there are some glimmers of hope. Talks are taking place for a series of ceasefires and hostage release in the Israel/Gaza conflict and it appears that the players in brokering the deal are the US, Saudi Arabia, Quatar and perhaps other players as well. We are not quite in sight of an agreement as things stand at the moment but the reports indicate that some progress is being made and so after further negotiations, we may get some rather more positive news within a week or so.

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Sunday, 28th January, 2024 [Day 1413]

So today we enter our Sunday morning routines and had got ourselves all up and ready to watch the Lorna Kuenssberg program starting at 9.00am on BBC1. We were due to meet with our University of Birmingham friend later on in Waitrose but we received a call indicating that his plans had to change (as did ours yesterday) so we needed to move onto Plan B. We decided to go to the park which we have not visited for some time now so after we had picked up our copy of the ‘Sunday Times‘ from Waitrose we made for the park. Things seemed to be a little colder when we first arrived in the park which seemed to be teeming with both dogs and children on their bikes. We made for our usual bench, drank our coffee and ate our comestibles which warmed us up a little. Then we made for home, still having a bit of the morning left to us. Putting on the TV, we stumbled into the second half of a program called ‘Pilgrimage’ and we thought, at first, that this was one of the many programs illustrating a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Actually, it turned out to be an Italian pilgrimage with Rome as its destination but quite interesting for all that. The pilgrims turned out to be all faiths and none and, en route, they received a blessing at the hands of a local priest which even for the non-religious the pilgrims found quite inspiring. I suppose this type of program is best broadcast on a Sunday morning when people turn to this type of uplifting TV but we left this before the end because, just after midday, BBC2 was broadcasting a 1940’s version of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ We had lunch in the middle of this transmission but it was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the party of Mr Darcy was played by Lawrence Olivier and I must say that he made a rather dashing Darcy. But also the producers had introduced various parts of dialogue which I am sure faithfully have their origins in the original but with which I was completely unfamiliar. At the same time, various scenes with which we are familiar from more modern productions were omitted completely so it made viewing an interesting but different experience from what we might be led to expect. After we concluded the film, we decided to eschew the TV for a bit and to listen to some music so whilst Meg dozed and I started to blog, we listened to a production of J S Bach’s ‘Matthew Passion‘ playing pleasantly in the background.

The ‘Sunday Times’ today is devoting quite a lot of space to the machinations on the Tory Right wing which is comprised of a variety of groups all of whom seem to dislike each other heartily. What has prompted this soul searching is a mysterious but comprehensive poll which seems to indicate that at the general election, whenever it comes, the Tories faces annihilation. The only thing that seems to unite these warring factions is an intense dislike of the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and there is talk of replacing him before any election. One is reminded of the expression ‘rats fighting in a sack’ when faced with all of these machinations but the truth may well lay in a focus group discussion that was featured on the Lorna Kuenssberg program this morning. This is that the Tories are becoming almost universally disliked whoever happens to be the leader (with the possible exception of Boris Johnson, for whom a minority still yearn) The constant attacks on each other and internecine warfare seem so far removed from the concerns that people have about food prices, mortgages, jobs, energy bills and the like. In other words, there is a massive disconnect between what appears to be happening at Westminster and the issues that the average voter feels are affecting people in the round. This rubs off onto the Labour Party which does not seem to be seen as a saviour of the nation – rather, the electorate seems desperate to have a change of government but with no clear consensus as to what should take its place. My very first boss in the civil service when I was aged about 17 and seemed to be completely non partisan rather observing political parties as though they were football teams. His view, expressed in the rather pithy manner, was that ‘one lot have had a go so let the other lot now have a go now’

This is the time of year when, with the days startling to lengthen somewhat, thoughts turn perhaps to the Spring. In our little walk in the park today, all the vegetation had that somewhat bleak, mid-winter feel about it because we still have the month of February to live through. But it is always encouraging to see some of the first hints of better things to come when one espies first the snow drops, then the crocuses and perhaps the first shoots of the very earliest daffodils. When Meg and I used to walk down to the park every day, which we did at the height of the pandemic, these were the little things that one noticed that used to gladden the heart a little but we tend to whizz past in the car these days as the walk all the way down the park is beyond Meg these days. But at least, we have a wheelchair which has proved to be an absolute boon to us and we use it constantly, keeping it permanently in the boot of the car. I find, though, that being the person who pushes the wheelchair, one looks at pavements in a slightly different light, always on the look out for example for a dropped kerb to cross the road, for example, and rough patches of pavement to avoid. I have been very impressed over the last few weeks when I have been helping Meg into and out of the car and into her wheelchair, how kindly members of the public have proved to be, often enquiring if they can offer us some assistance (which, at time, I am always happy to accept)

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Saturday, 27th January, 2024 [Day 1412]

Meg and I really slept in this morning and woke up quite a lot later than normal. Whether this was because we were up quite early yesterday morning, I cannot say but we really had to get our skates on to get ourselves up, washed and dressed and then a minimum of breakfast before we set forth for Waitrose. There we made contact with our three Saturday morning regulars where our conversation ranged over some of the most unlikely topics. I thought I would amuse our reminiscencies this morning by wondering aloud what were our earliest memories of the kinds of machines used to issue bus tickets when we first used buses as children. When I lived in Harrogate, the bus company was known by the rather quaint name of the ‘West Yorkshire Road Car Company’ and the bus conductors wore a box type arrangement in which you pressed one of a series of horizontally mounted levers to issue a pre-printed ticket. But when I went to school in Bolton in Lancashire, I was intrigued by the arrangements that they had in place there. Here the machines were essentially a series of horizontally mounted disks atop a little box with a handle. When one was paying one’s fare, the dial was moved to the correct position, the handle was rotated on a couple of turns and a freshly printed ticket was issued. I believe that there are some avid collectors who like to collect machines of this type if only for old time’s sake.

After we got home, we prepared a Saturday midday meal of quiche, complemented with some sprouts and chestnuts. Then Whilst Meg had a little doze, I started a little play around on my newly acquired ThinkPad for which I suspect there is going to be quite a steep learning curve. This machine is quite well supplied with ports and after a little bit of experimentation with an SD card, I learnt that this machine has an SD cards slot so I thought I would order myself a brand new one to use as my regular storage (although I will take backups of it onto the hard disk every now and again) I didn’t want to spend too much on an SD card that did not work but I have used SanDisk cards before and found them to be very reliable, so I ordered a 32GB card for the princely sum of £8.00 from Amazon. This card came preformatted and pops into a little slot on the side of the machine where it is completely invisible in normal use. Then I transferred all of my blog files over onto it (all 1400+ of them) from my website and this was completed in just a few minutes. So now I have used up less than 4% of the available disk space and as a back of an envelope calculation, it will take me about a century for me to populate the rest of the disk space so somehow I think that 32GB is way enough for my present needs. As things stand at the moment, the total of all of the data files that I need to back up on my main computer system are about 17GB so I am sure that I do not need more storage soon. I did wonder how reliable this form of storage was and most of the information on the web reveals that a flash disk is good for about 10,000 writes before the disk starts to degrade. Also, this kind of storage uses some technology to spread the data over the disk to minimise the wear on any individual cells and SanDisk themselves have a little symbol on the back of their packaging that indicates a life of 10 years. I think that one can register a card with SanDisk to activate a warranty claim in the fullness of time so I will investigate this a little later.

There has been quite an extraordinary court judgement in the US where Donald Trump has been ordered by a court to pay over $80 million to a woman whom he sexually abused in decades gone by. Actually, Trump was convicted in an earlier court hearing and the latest was just to assess the amount of damages that should be awarded. The lawyers for the woman in question had only asked for $10 million but the jury had taken the view that far more needed to be awarded as Trump had deliberately and on several occasions kept on trying the trash the reputation of the woman who had sued him. The bulk of the $83.3m comes from the jury’s conclusion that, in defaming her, Mr Trump acted ‘maliciously, out of hatred, ill will, spite, vindictively, in wanton, reckless or wilful disregard of Ms Carroll’s rights’. Of course, Trump is fulminating on his own social media sites and will be appealing the judgement. But he will have to pay a bond into the court which he will forfeit if the appeal is lost. There is an extraordinary part of the American political scene at the moment where the more Trump is pursued through the courts, the more it feeds into his diatribe that the liberal establishment, and particularly the Democrats, are just out to stop his candidacy for the American presidency. His avid supporters happily make contributions to support Trump’s endeavours but I wonder what kind of accountability follows this donated money. Although Trump consistently argues that the Democrats are chasing them through the courts, nothing could be further from the truth. This prosecution was a private, civil prosecution and nothing to do with legal moves that the Democrats may have initiated after the riotous assembly which forced their way into the Capitol building some two years ago. Although nothing will persuade the avid Trump supporters that their man has committed any crimes, the judgments of middle America of uncommitted voters will prove to be critical.

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Friday, 26th January, 2024 [Day 1411]

Today started off bright and early as Meg’s carers turned up an hour earlier than we had anticipated so we had rather a rush around to get ourselves up and ready. Today is the day when our domestic help calls around and it is always nice to see her. But the weather today is bright and clear today so a trip to Droitwich sounded like a good idea. But then the parishioner from our local church called around as she often does on a weekly basis so we decided to change our plans. On the recommendation of our domestic help, we set off for a large pub with lots of parking that does some magnificent coffees and midday meals but although we got fairly near to the outside of it, it did not seem like the pub she had recommended so we abandoned it and came home. Nonetheless, the journey was not entirely fruitless as we managed to get a copy of our daily newspaper from a local Spar shop and also picked up a couple of nice cushions from our off-centre Age Concern shop which is always stuffed full of bargains. Then we progressed home to enjoy the fish meal that we usually cook on a Friday and prepared ourselves for a quiet afternoon. We filled our afternoon with a certain amount of TV (watching a wildlife program), some music courtesy of YouTube and, to round off the afternoon, we accessed some of ‘Yes, Minister‘ which is still vailable as a download on the BBC i-player. It is said that this program and its successor, ‘Yes, Prime Minister‘ was always a favourite of Margaret Thatcher whilst she was our Prime Minister. There is quite a back story to this TV series which I believe to be fundamentally true. This is that most of the episodes depicted had more than a kernel of truth about them i.e. they were not constructed out of thin air, as it were. Rather, Marcia Williams (very close confidante of Harold Wilson who became Lady Falkender once enobled) and a policy wonk whose name I have forgotten, used to meet with the script writers each week. They would then ‘spill the beans’ or in other words recount the essence of the story of a particular escapade which the scriptwriters then used to form the basis of their script. Two episodes spring to mind, one being when Sir Humphrey has to cede his (privleged) office to the prime Minister’s senior political adviser. The other episode was the story of a visit to an Arab capital where the consumption of alcohol was outlawed- the British, though, had a secret stash hidden away in an adjacent tent and would burst in upon the minister indicating that there was an urgent message from the likes of ‘Mr Johnnie Walker‘ who had to be seen immediately and so on and so forth.

The airwaves have been dominated today by the judgement of the International Court of Justice where the South African government had laid a charge of genocide against Israel. The full case may take some years to actually hear and for a definitive judgement to be announced. But today’s ruling is fundamentally to decide whether there is a case to answer. The South African government were not successful in their plea for an immediate ceasefire but most of the judgement of the Court was to enjoin upon Israel that it had to take immediate steps to ensure that a genocide could not actually take place and to make a report back on the progress made within one month. This is quite a stern ruling and the judgements were generally of the order of 15 cases to 2 (including an Israeli judge) against the Israel government. The Israelis are saying that this judgement is absolutely outrageous and are arguing that Israel has been subject to discriminatory treatment at the hands of the Court. But it is going to be interesting to see how this plays politically because the pressure to achieve a ceasefire must surely increase. It could be that the case that only Israeli public opinion could be the final factor in this conflict as Netanhahu is massively unpopular with all shades of Israeli opinion except the extreme/hard and religious right.

Sky News is reporting tonight on the latest Brexit story. This is that ‘new Brexit border controls will leave British consumers and businesses facing more than £500m in increased costs and possible delays – as well as shortages of food and fresh flowers imported from the European Union. The new rules are intended to protect biosecurity by imposing controls on plant and animal products considered a medium risk. These include five categories of cut flowers, cheese and dairy produce, chilled and frozen meat, and fish.’ I heard a representative of the flower industry saying this morning that these new controls could be exceptionally arduous for their business and it is just one more twist to the Brexit saga. There was another story today that the Canadians were playing ‘hardball’ in a trade negotiation with the UK and, of course, these agreements can often take months if not years to negotiate and to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. In fact, leaving the European Union (EU) added an average of £210 to household food bills over the two years to the end of 2021, costing UK consumers a total of £5.8 billion. And to make matters worse, this impacts much worse on low income rather than high income households as food costs are a higher proportion of the budget of the poor.

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Thursday, 25th January, 2024 [Day 1410]

This has been a very interesting couple of days for a variety of reasons but first things first. Whilst we were in Worcester yesterday, we took the opportunity to pick up another late Victorian captain’s chair, very similar but not identical in style to the one we picked up in Birmingham just before Christmas. This latest chair will complememt beautifully the one bought earlier and although evidently not from the same ‘stable’, the two of them form an interesting pair in our hall. I had negotiated a special price about three quarters of the price I paid for the first one as this exemplar had a little flaw in a decorative band that runs around under the main back of the chair and has straight, rather than turned legs. Nonetheless, the seller (who was raising funds for his ‘Men in their Sheds’ project) accepted my offer and his address was very easy to find but it was just around the corner from an acupuncturist that Meg used to frequent in Worcester whn we first moved here sixteen years ago. Once I got it home, I gave the chair the ‘grade 0000 steel wool and beeswax’ treatment which should gave the chair a patina that lasts for several years. I have put a couple of matching cushions on it that I just happened to buy the other day and they make the whole ensemble in our hallway very attractive in my opinion) But as well as this purchase, another parcel arrived to which I had been looking forward for several days. I am evidently on the email list of a firm that specialises in reconditioned laptops and, several days ago, I received an offer which I felt I could not resist as it was a ThinkPad machine with a pretty modern processor, a 500GB hard disk and 8MB of ram, complete with Windows 11. Last night, after Meg was in bed, I decided to just open up the parcel I had received during the day with the intention of just unpacking it and then plugging it in to make sure it was not DOA (dead on arrival) Upon unpacking it, I thought that the model and screen size was larger than the one I had ordered and indeed, I had been supplied with a different but markedly superior model to the one that I ordered and paid for. (I wonder of the supplier had run out of the model which he had advertised and had one of these machines available and thought that his customer would not object to a superior model) So I have finished up with a laptop built by Lenova to IBM standatds and officially classed as a ‘workstation’, which I can well understand as it was pretty heavy and I would not like to lug it around very much on a train or what have you. The new model has a superior processor clocked at a higher speed (an ‘i7’ rather than an ‘i5’ for the cognoscenti), Windows 11 Professional and the MicroSoft 365 suite of applications. As you might imagine, one thing led to another – after switching it on, the first thing that Windows 11 demanded was the password to link in with our router and I managed to get this installed at the second attempt. You then needed to uilise a MicroSoft account but I had a copy of Outlook credentials installed on my main system so these had to be resurrected, complete with passwords. Then, of course, I had a mouse to install instead of using the inbuilt trackpad but this proved to be relativey simple. So what started off as a simple little session ended up as being up for about an hour and half later than I would have normally have gone to bed whilst I played about with a new toy. I had already got the two utilities I am using the most (a text editor for which I had paid a subscription years ago and which the Swiss form involved supplied me with a brand new and up-to-date copy once I had interrogated my email program and found an order number from years ago, and also my favourite FTP transfer program.) So there is quite a big learning curve for me as Windows 11 has an entirely different interface and user experience from the Windows 7 on my previous ThinkPad and I suspect that I am going to need the faster processor and CPU power given the increased functionality bundled within Windows 11)

Today, we decided to do our weekly shopping when the Thursday carer had called around so I did a lightning tour around the big Aldi store in the centre of town, thinking it was going to be quite a light week but nonetheless doing something like a normal week’s shop. After we had got this unpacked, it was getting quite late so we made do with a light lunch of mushromms and ham on toast (which we found delicious and enjoyed greatly). In the afternoon, Meg and I decided to watch ‘Schindler’s List‘ which was first broadcast on BBC2 a couple of nights ago and was transmitted in anticipation of World Holocaust day which is tomorrow, Friday. Meg and I watched this with a combination of fascination and horror and whilst we were both generally broadly aware of the Schindler’s List story line, there were nonetheless some dramatic scenes to add twists to the story. Meg was able to concentrate upon this for the whole of the afternoon and it was one of those films where it was difficult to tear oneself away.

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Wednesday, 24th January, 2024 [Day 1409]

Today the pair of carers turned up for Meg very promptly and we had scarcely woken up before it was time for their ministrations. They are always so cheerful despite having to dash from pillar to post every morning and we were commiserating over a colleague who had just crashed and written off her car which she was going to have to replace. Carers are probaly only paid the minimum wage so to have one’s car written off when it is essentiual for you to get from job to job must be a trouble indeed. After we had breakfasted and digested some of the day’s news, we set out on the road both to collect our newspaper (our regular newsagent not quite having got his act together with the new owners taking over) and to fill the car up with petrol. You would have thought this was easy but most of the pumps that allowed easy access to the fuel tank opening on the passenger’s side seemed unaccountably to be out of action. But we got filled up after a certain amount of waiting around and then made for the Methodist Centre for our mid morning cup of coffee and teacakes. Once inside, we were greeted warmly by someone we know well from our own church and for whom it just happened to be their rostered day serving the tea and coffee. Then we saw our 90-year old friend that we helped in a minor way to celebrate her birthday on Friday last and another opportunity for a good chat. We also got into conversations with a gentleman who had been recruited into the Army Apprentices Corps which was based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. As residents of Harrogate, we got used to seeing waves of young 16-17 year recruits turn up at the railway sation and then be whipped away to their barracks elsewhere in the town. We wondered whether we might have passed each other in the street before we ever knew each other. The Methodist cafe was particularly full today because in an adjacent hall there is a type of ‘Balance and Keep Fit’ session organised in several classes on a Wednesday morning and we just happened to coincide with a period where one class ended and the other was about to start, so this always ceates a crowd at change-over time. Meg and I left before 12.00pm which meant that we get home in time for ‘Questions to the Prime Minister’, which is, of course, the usual knockabout and over-rehearsed stuff. But a senior Conservative has come out into the open and publically criticised Rishi Sunak’s leadership, arguing that the Conservative party is facing a meltdown in the general election which surely must come some time this year. The Conservative party really is in panic mode right now and althouugh no other MPs were ready to thrust their heads above the parapet and argue that Rishi Sunak should be replaced, it is rumoured that quite a lot of Tory MPs privately feel that both they and the party as a whole are doomed.

This afternoon, we made a lighning visit into Worcester to pick up a parcel and found the distance both closer than we thought and the whole journey comparatively easy. But we had to endure roadworks at both end of our journey in both Worcester and Bromsgrove which adds to the length of the journey. But having made our trip it was good to get back in plenty of time for the wheely bins to be wheeled to the end of our drive. This is a weekly job which I must prefer doing in the daylight whilst I can. This afternoon, we accessed YouTube and watched a concert put on initially by a Dutch group called ‘Voces8’ They specialise in baroque choral pieces but they also are strong on modern master pieces by Faure, which tends to start off the concert. When we access YouTube, we tend to start off with Faure’s ‘Cantiques de Jean Racine’ but the YouTube algorithm chooses a slightly different selection of works each day, which suits us greatly. This afternoon, for example, we found ourselves listening to some of the choruses from J S Bach’s Matthew Passion, which we greatly enjoyed.

The news has come through today that the Royal Mail service is under investigation to determine its future role and funding. The backdrop to this story is that the Royal Mail is losing money and the number of letters has dropped significantly from about 14 million items a day to about 7 million. Evidently, people are using email and a variety of social media so it is not surprising that with its business halving, the letters part of Royal Mail is now in a dire state. One suggestion is that to balance the books, it may be necessary to move to three deliveries a week. But nothing much is likely to happen in the very short term because the major recipient of postal services are the elderly and the thought of offending this key part of the electorate before an election in the UK is anathema. But any new government will have to take some very unpalatable decisions – as first class stamps now cost about £1.25 the scope for further price rises may well be limited. Meg and I are both part of the generation where we worked on the Christmas post in a variety of locations – Meg in Staffordshire and I worked in Harrogate, Leeds and also Manchester delivering the post. I have vivid memories of bacon butties being cooked on a shiny steel shovel over a brazier in a sorting office in Leeds in 1966. But these opportunities were denied to students when preference was given to the unemployed and now the number of extra staff taken on by the Post Office at Christmas time must be very small.

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Tuesday, 23rd January, 2024 [Day 1408]

Today being a Tuesday, it is my Pilates day if everything works out all right. So Meg and I got upselves up, washed, and breakfasted catching up with some of the news on the Sky News channel. We left in plenty of time for our Waitrose visit but first made a trip to an ATM to get out some weekly cash. Visits to an ATM are a bit more problematic these days because there is no free parking immediately adjacent to one unless we make a trip to the Morrison’s supermarket on the far side of the town. But we collected our money and then treated ourselves to coffee and a snack in the Waitrose cafeteria, meeting one of our usual number who has recently been bereaved. We swapped stories about the sequelae that follows the death of a near relative such as getting multiple copies of a death certificate and then engaging with the various agencies such as banks, building societies and government ministries to get everything regularised. I can remember on the death of Meg’s father, I went along to register the death and got into the office of the local registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Having run off a death certificate, she asked me if I would like more some more and I blithely replied about six which the registrar than ran these off at a touch of a button and asked for for £7.00 for each one. I gather the death certificate is a lot more than this now but it seemed to be a very easy way for the registrar to make some money for a cash-strapped local authority. My only other details of a dealing with a registrar was when Meg and I were Census enumerators for the 1971 census. As social science students, we had knowledge of the census as well as research methods and we were briefed by Manchester’s chief registrar. We asked him if he had ever recognised anybody coming before him as having been married before. He was certain he had recognised the person in front of him on a few occasions but in the absence of any definite proof of bigamy, he just had to go ahead with the proceedings with the people in front of him. The 1971 Census was interesting to administer because in my patch, I got both the retired professor of surgery who had performed a minor operation on my neck in 1967 (but missed the lump he should have been taking out by at least an inch and told me to ignore it for the rest of my life – which I did.) I also enumerated a mosque which had taken over an old Anglican church and I didn’t know that the inhabitants were there then until the last moment and then they invited me in for a meal. I also had in my patch a hippie commune who were very reluctant to put down all of these ‘Head of Household’ nonsense (as they saw it) but instead I successfully negotiated with them that the members of the commune all put themselves on the census form describing each other as ‘co-spouse’ of each other. What the census coding authorities made of all of this, I will never know but in our briefing, it was acknowledged that at times we would run into tricky situations and under these circumstances, we were enjoined to get as much useful data as we possibly could on the grounds that some information from an address would be better than none at all. Meg and I quite enjoyed our period as Census enumerators and with the proceeds bought a souped up Ford Anglia, painted in BRG (British racing green) and with wide wheels/types. This vehicle cost us £150.00 and after we had successfully house hunted in Leicester (at quite a distance from Manchester), we sold it about six to nine months later for £125.00. It really was the most enjoyable little car and Meg and I have very fond memories of it.

My Pilates session session went OK and I left Meg in the care of a Peruvian care assistant whilst I attended my session. Upon my return, we made our normal Tuesday lunch of fish cakes and microwaved vegetables and then settled down to watch a D H Lawrence film of ‘The Virgin and the Gypsy‘ This moved at the most glacial pace and had themes that can be found in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Women in Love and Sons and Mothers. We broke off before seeing the film to its conclusion to have out afternoon repast and whether she shall resume it tomorrow or not is an open question.

The Post Office scandal investigation rumbles on. Tody, there was further examination of the investigators who were charged with examining the deficits that appeared in the sub postmaster’s account with the Post Office. It looked as though at least some of these investigators looked in various parts of the house to try to find the ‘missng’ money and, needless to say, in no case were they successful. One investigator was a witness today and when asked whether or not they had found any of the money would not answer the question. Several of the sub postmasters have died with the presumption of guilt still hanging over them. The general response of the investigators is that they were just ‘following orders’ but one has to ask why the middle managers in the Post Office never asked their investigators to track down what had happened to the so-called stolen money.

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Monday, 22nd January, 2024 [Day 1407]

This morning we were expecting our normal couple of carers just after 8.00am but only one turned up and the other, probably delayed by horrendous traffic jams, we did not see at all. So I got Meg ready practically single handed and then we went to have breakfast. We knew that we had a few things to sort out on the Bromsgrove High Street, the principal of which was to hand in a bundle of clothes for which Meg no longer has a use and was going to find its way into the Cancer Research charity shop. We popped into a few of the charity shops that are adjacent to each other at that end of the High Street and finished off buying some cushions, a pair of which are almost an exact match for the new leather armchair I had acquired just before Christmas and were too good to miss. As we popped into and out of various shops with Meg in her wheelchair, we found that people were incredibly friendly and accommodating, holding doors open for us and generally being as helpful as they could be. I reflected upon the ‘kindness of strangers’ upon which I do not rely but always fully appreciate when it occurs. I also bought a couple of little brass owls which, after a Brasso treatment, now sit alongside the brass owl which sit on our front shelf and could almost be her chicks – the styles happen to be incredibly similar. We are always pleased to get back in time to watch the ‘Politics Today‘ program on BBC2 at midday and were interested in seeing a journalist, I think from ‘Private Eye‘, absolutely making mincemeat of his opponents. I cooked a dinner in which I was augmenting some sprouts (laced with a little syrup in the cooking water to reduce/eliminate a sprouty smell around the kitchen) with some packet chestnuts I happened to see in the supermarket the other day which went with yesterday’s mince and onions and a baked potato. Meg often says that I make her portions too large, which I probably do, but then she promptly eats it all up which must be a good thing. Last night, I made Meg and I a Spanish omelette with onions, peppers and a little garlic served on slices of butttered toast and it was delicious. It was a dish simple enough to prepare but I have not done it for quite some time and I might try it as a main course midday meal sometime, served with a baked potato and perhaps a little salad.

This afternoon, we finished off watching the final part of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles‘ which was poignant, but also a little disappointing. This is because the film ended rather abruptly with the arrest of Tess at Stonehenge and did not include some of the final scenes which I remember well from the novel I read a few years ago. We had just about got ourselves ready, after our afternoon cup of tea and biscuits, to watch a D H Lawrence film on Prime video when our chiropodist called around, as planned. Although I had got the appointment on our planning board, I had momentarily forgotten she was due to call around this afternoon but, of course, she is always welome. This week we have hardly any appointments on our weekly schedule so nothing to disturb our equilibrium. Last night, though, we could hear the winds and the storms raging over most of the country and the winds actually reached 99mph in a Scottish location. Although there are no power cuts in our part of the world, I am sure that falling trees and garage roofs that are blown away may well be resenting all kinds of hazard in various parts of the county. No sooner do we get over the aftermath of one of these storms but another seems to be hard on its heels, all propelled across the Atlantic by a jet stream in the high atmosphere which seems to be the source of these succession of storms.

After Donald Trump’s success in Iowa,many political pundits are trying to understand his appeal, despite the numerous potential convictions hanging over him. Much of the analysis revolves around the nation that ‘Trump is a businessman who puts America first and will make America ‘great again’ So the belief in a ‘strong man’ is not too far away from the motivations that lead people to adore fascist leadets such as Hitler and Mussolini and makes one wonder whether the roots of democracy in the US are exceptionally shallow. Many liberals are of the view that having got the Supreme Court packed with his own nominees, a newly elected President Trump may bypass Congress and rule by presidential order (or ‘presidential decree’). All of this is going to prove extremely problematic for democratic leaders in Europe of whatever political party. One cannot ignore the fact that Trump may well have been re-elected but there are a host of practical problems, not least in the operation of Nato and the war in Ukraine which is going to make complete cooperation with the US very difficult. But those with long political memories may recall that Harold Wilson maintained reasonable relationships with the Americans whilst not getting involved in any show of support for the Vietnam war, which proved to be a quagmire for the Americans in the long run. And there are some analysts that are saying that ‘sensible’ Americans will still collaborate in matters such as security and intelligence sharing whatever the inclinations of the actual president in office.

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