Thursday, 29th February, 2024 [Day 1445]

This morning started off with two carers plus a ‘shadow’ who turned up fairly promptly and I had just about got Meg up by this time. I always like to try to establish a relationship with all of the carers and this morning, I asked the youngest of them if she had any particular hobbies or interests. It turned out that she had been playing the (baritone) euphonium since the age of eight and was currently a member of a brass band who had performed in several quite prestigious venues. This reminded me that before I went to university, I had a good friend who played the ‘flugel horn’ (a sort of cross between a cornet and a trumpet) in a brass band in Leeds. My friend invited me along to a performance and I was initially reluctant because I did not think it was practically my scene – however, eventually I was persuaded to go. This turned out to be quite an eye-opener for me. Many members of the band seemed to ex miners (hints of the film ‘Brassed Off‘) and they were an incredibly friendly and hospitable crowd as I remember. They seemed to drink like fishes even before a performance and I remember being bought a pint of Tetley’s with the advice ‘Get this down th’ neck, lad!) After having imbibed what seemed quite a quantity of beer quite quickly they went on to perform flawlessly in what seemed to be like a choir of angels and, of course after the performance, there was quite a lot more drinking as well. When I was at my first secondary school at Bolton in Lancashire, the school had a reasonable musical tradition and I was part of the school choir and the school orchestra. But the school was best known for its brass band which regularly took part in the ‘Whit Walks’ processions which were quite a feature of Lancashire life in the mid 1950’s but I think that only remnants of it survive until this day. As it happens, I have a print of an L S Lowry upon my study wall that reminds me of my days spent in Manchester and in the background, there is an illustration of the Whit Walks taking place. A story that I was told about L S Lowry is that he was rather a curmudgeonly old soul and he used to hire a taxi into the Pennine hills overlooking Manchester with only green fields around him. Then he used to paint from memory the industrial scenes with which are typical of Lowry. Today the carer came to look after Meg whilst I went off to my shopping and in the course of getting there almost had a collision in the car. There is a traffic light controlled junction with the A38 dual carriage way and this junction is always difficult to negotiate. You have to get to the centre of the road and then try to peer past any large vehicles that are stuck in the junction and might obscure one’s view but trust there is no oncoming traffic bearing down at a great speed. Of course, the evident thing to do would be to have a filter system but as I know from encounters in the past, the traffic officers attached to the local planning authority will not authorise this because, as they say, ‘we must not do anything to impede the flow of traffic along the A38’ At present in Bromsgrove there appear to be major roadworks on practically every major road system throughout the town and even the main Kidderminster Road is blocked off for about a month whilst the water authority is upgrading something or other. So at the moment, the residents of Bromsgrove seem to be suffering from all of the delay, congestion and inconveniences of the various ‘improvements’ that are taking place, including widening of the A38 at a cost of millions which will have the net effect of moving a traffic jam about one half of a mile along the road. I do not know if the conjunction of the period of austerity following the financial crisis followed by COVID has led to a massive backlog of maintenance that needs to be done. But is all does add up to the impression which is widely shared in the community that the whole of our social and political life is falling apart.

This afternoon, I received a welcome phone call from the Occupational Therapy team after is had contacted them after Meg’s recent falls (on Saturday and yet another today) It is possible that they are able to supply some equipment that may enable me to move Meg from one place to another more quickly than we are managing at the moment and, if they have the piece of equipment in stock, it may arrive as early as tomorrow. On the face of it, this sounds good but is essentially a piece of sticking plaster which cannot address the long term needs that Meg does have. But in general terms, apart from today which is a slight exception to the rule, we get Meg and myself out most days for a coffee and comestibles and to enjoy some social contact as well. The wheelchair that I bought for Meg and which lives in the back of the car has actually proved its weight in gold and after I replaced a nut that fell off, has seen some sterling service.

There is some rather disturbing news from the other side of the Atlantic. It appears that the US Supreme Court have ruled that it will eventually adjudicate upon the claim that Donald Trump was the instigator of insurrection because of the attacks upon the Capital building some three years ago now. The upshot of this is that Trump’s trial will be so delayed that it might not take place until after the next presidential election which means that the American people will be asked to make a president of a man accused of violent insurrection before the presidential election takes place. One can only assume that if Trump wins the presidency again, he will be able to avoid a trial and probable conviction. All of this is incredibly bad news for the normal operation of democratic and legal processes within the US.

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Wednesday, 28th February, 2024 [Day 1444]

This turned out to be quite an interesting day but not one with the most promising of starts. Our domestic help had swapped her day to a Wednesday and, as usual, we were always pleased to see her and have a chat. I got Meg ready for the care workers at 8.00am and then two of them turned up but waited outside until a third shadow worker turned up. For some organisational reason, they stayed outside in the car for half an hour leaving Meg in a half state of preparedness waiting for them, which seemed peculiar to me. But when they did turn up, they took care of Meg well and helped to get her downstairs and seated in her customary chair. As it is a Wednesday, Meg and I were resolved to go off to the Methodist centre which is quite routine for us on Wednesday mornings. There we were welcomed at the ‘chatty table’ from someone who recognised us and we had a most fascinating conversation for most of the morning. Somehow we got onto the subject of how we had first our prospective spouses and in both of our cases, it was at university. We had a bit of a giggle about the fact that when Meg and I started to attend the University of Manchester in 1965, the University employed what was coyly termed the Womens’ Moral Tutor. This lady spent her life devising rules how young women were supposed to behave if they invited a male student into their bedroom.The rule which was in place was that young men were not allowed to lie on the bed and could do what they wanted so long as they kept one foot permanently on the floor! Another person at the table joined in the conversation and told us the story of what used to happen in a residential college in Bromsgrove in a similar time period. Here the rule was that all men had to leave by 10.00pm at night and the girl whose room it was and who was entertaining a boyfriend was required to keep the door a few inches ajar whilst a warden vigilantly patrolled the corridors to ensure compliance. Our friend explained to us how she had got ‘A’-levels in Maths and Physics and started to study Maths at university but it was not for her. Eventually she trained in Psychology and then acquired a position in a doctor’s surgery eventually becoming the practice manager of a large group practice. I told her, in turn, how my mother had trained to be a teacher late in life (when she was in her 40’s) and how she had told me a most remarkable story when she was considerably advanced in years. The story that she told me was that she had been employed briefly in her occupational life in a brothel. The whole story is that my mother had received a good training in Pitman shorthand and typing and on the strength of this acquired a position as a dentist’s receptionist. Her duties consisted of greeting the (male) clients, ticking off their names in a ledger and then escorting them to a waiting room. This she did for about 3-4 days before her mother (i.e. my grandmother) stormed into the dentists and dragged my mother out of it. Apparently the whole facade of a ‘dentist’ was just a ruse to design the true activities of the establishment which was actually a brothel and so my mother was technically quite accurate when she confided in me that she had been employed in such an establishment.

We lunched on a lightish lunch of ham, green beans and baked potato and then set forth for our appointment with the optician for Meg at 3.00 this afternoon. We got there only about a minute late and explained the circumstances of Meg’s fall to the optician who has treated us for years. The news after his examination was good in that the back of each eye appeared sound and both eyes passed the ‘pressure’ test. He confirmed that as a result of the fall, no damage had been done to Meg’s eyesight so this was good news to receive. We need to have a slight adjustment to be made to the nose piece on the glasses which had suffered a little from the fall but this was quickly adjusted for us and we were soon on our way. We popped into one or two of the charity shops as we were already on the High Street and they were so nearby and had a stroke of good fortune. Yesterday, I just missed acquiring one of these desktop spotlights that are used for close work and the like as another customer was clutching it in his hand and was about to pay for it. This afternoon, I found exactly the same model that I had seen the day before and it had only just come in the store and had been tested. Nonetheless, I satisfied myself that it was working as it should and I am pleased to say that it fits unobtrusively just where I wanted it to be and it will give me the little bit of extra newspaper reading light that I need. We also acquired a set of coasters, a little dish upon which I can serve up pieces of chocolate for Meg and a shoe horn, as well as accessing an ATM to get out the shopping money for tomorrow. So we both felt that we had a very productive afternoon and particularly enjoyed our afternoon cup of tea once we arrived home. As is customary on a Wednesday afternoon, I remembered to drag the bins out ready for the emptying tomorrow morning and as this is a job which I actively dislike doing in the dark, I was delighted to get it done today before the light faded.

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Tuesday, 27th February, 2024 [Day 1443]

I always look forward to Tuesdays if only because it is the day when the five of us (three of our friends plus Meg and I) meet up in the Waitrose cafeteria for our morning coffee. I think our friends were a little surprised at seeing the bruising around Meg’s eyes caused primarily by her glasses frame when she experienced a fall last Saturday and she does rather look as though she has gone several rounds in a boxing ring but when she wears her glasses the appearance is less dramatic. The bruising discolouration emerged dramatically a day after the fall but in accordance with good practice, this was immediately photographed and put on Meg’s case notes so that when carers who have not visited before are reading their notes (all on their iPhones) they know what to expect. This morning, we had a visit from three carers) a normal two plus one who is shadowing) and they all turned up very promptly at almost exactly 8.00am this morning. They arrived at just the right point where I had got Meg out of bed and into the bathroom and then they were in a good position to take over. After they had departed and we had breakfasted, we made our way to Waitrose and had a jolly chat. The running joke between us all is that I decline the offer of some chocolate to be sprinkled on top of my cappuchino and I explain that I have given up chocolate for Lent, together with gambling, fast cars and loose women. My friends tell me that I had exactly the same list that I gave up for Lent last year and although on Easter Sunday, my consumption of chocolate will resume, the other pleasures of life (vices?) seem to have passed me by throughout the last year. After we all took our leave of each other, I thought that I could squeeze in a quick visit to the AgeUK charity shop which is off the High Street and also chock full of useful things that can be bought as well as being perpetually busy. I wanted to buy just a little desk type spotlamp to assist me in reading the newspaper when Meg is having a rest on our sofa and when I was in the shop, I saw exactly the sort of thing that I was looking forward and would have bought immediately. The only trouble is that it was being clutched in the hands of another customer which was frustration in the extreme as if I had arrived a few minutes earlier, I might have got it to it first. I sighed to myself and tried to be philosophical, consoling myself that in the fullness of time, other offerings will be available for me but I had rather had the same emotions with which car drivers are familiar when you spot an available car parking space as another driver but he/she are a yard ahead of you and therefore have a more legitimate claim to the space. The usual carer, plus her shadow, came along at the appointed time so that I could go off and do my Pilates class. We had a few new exercises this week and I must say that I am feeling a little out of condition. I think I probably need to spend a few minutes every morning doing some Pilates exercises whilst Meg is tucked up in bed and I have got up to make the early morning of cup of tea but I think it is a classic case of ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’. Incidentally, in the early days of computerised automatic translation, this phrase translated into Russian and then back again yielded results such as ‘the vodka is good but the meat is rotten.’

Today was the day when the ex boss of the Post Office, Henry Saunders, was due to give evidence in front of a committee in the House of Commons. Although Sky News is predicting that it will be an explosive session, I have my doubts. This is because in committee with a Tory majority upon it, there will be a natural inclination to side with the Tory minister’s (Kemi Badenoch) version of events rather than the recently sacked chairman and I expect that we shall probably see a series of diversionary tactics designed to denigrate the reputation of the sacked chairman and not to sully the reputation of the aggressive Trade Secretary who is reportedly a front runner to replace Rishi Sunak who is bound to be quickly replaced when the Tories lose the forthcoming general election. The trouble with the political scene these days is that practically every political intervention has got to be seen through the prism of the forthcoming election and the leadership battles that will take place immediately after it. There is a tremendous turmoil in the Tory party at the moment. One strand of thought is that the party needs to drift further and further to the right to avoid an electoral disaster. This rather mirrors what the followers of Jeremy Corbin used to believe that the failure of the Labour Party was that is was insufficiently left wing and the further left the Labour Party party became, the more it would appeal. Of course, it is an acknowledged part of the political consensus that general elections are only won by appealing to the centre ground i.e. the uncommitted, non-ideologically driven sections of the electorate and driving a political party to either of its extreme fringes is probable electoral suicide.

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Monday, 26th February, 2024 [Day 1442]

Today has proved to be an interesting day so far. We actually had three helpers turn up this morning but one of them was a ‘shadowing’ worker whilst she learnt what was involved in the job. Having said that, she had worked in a care setting beforehand and made a useful suggestion to us to help acquire some bathroom cleaning aids that might be useful for Meg. So after we had breakfasted, Meg and I set out on the road calling it first at a large store in Bromsgrove that sells the type of household products that we had just had recommended to us. But we parked extraordinarily easily and found the products for which we were looking, fortunate in that a store assistant was stocking the shelves and knew exactly the product for which we were looking. Then we swung by our newspaper shop but a swift look inside showed that they still had not got a regular supply of newspapers organised so we made straight for Droitwich. Here we had our normal repast of a pot of tea and a bacon butty before we popped into the Droitwich Association of Carers shop, which is one of our frequent haunts. Here I picked up a couple of what I can only describe as wooden framework owls for a song – whether they are designed as bookends or merely as decorative objects, I cannot say. But in any case they complement well our collection of other ‘owls’ that we have in place in our Music lounge and after a moment’s hesitation, I am glad I actually purchased them. Then I espied a fairly large goblet with a design upon it that I recognised as almost certainly a product of the Murano glass factory in Venice. When we visited Venice several decades ago, we made a tourist visit to the world famous Murano glass factory and bought a set of traditionally decorated liqueur glasses and a decanter. I remember well that as a sales ploy no doubt, the guide to the factory took one of these glasses and hurled it to the floor to show that their glass was so tough that it would not break. We have these glasses and decanter in a display cabinet and we would bring them out for special occasions such as Christmas time when entertaining close friends. So I recognised the design on the goblet in the shop but the trouble is that particular goblet was decorated with a ring of what looked like red glass stones, completely out of keeping with the wonderful amethyst style colour of the traditional Murano glass. This made the whole goblet look like a cheap piece of fairground ‘tat’ but was it actually tremendously more valuable than the charity shop selling it recognised? I took the piece over to the manager and he was going to do some checks on its provenance to work out what a correct selling price could be. Whilst this little conversation was taking place, I got into conversation with another lady who had disposed of some of her own pottery of which she was not particularly enamoured only to see it sold an enormous price some time later. In the course of our discussion. she made the telling observation that ‘after all, one person’s fairground tat is another person’s collectable’ but this has set up a dilemma in my mind. Should we return this Droitwich and pick up this piece which to some extent matches the rest of our collection (even though I do not like this particular exemplar) and/or is it too good an opportunity to pass by and displayed in a suitable way, its qualities might be revealed?

When we got home, I consulted my emails. After Meg had a fall last Saturday, I had communicated the event to the specialist nurse who looks after Meg’s condition in the hope that she could put my observations into Meg’s medical file lodged with the GP practice. As always, the nurse was extraordinarily helpful and had passed my email onto the GP, spoken with them to request a domiciary visit so that Meg could have any further assessment (for example a head injury assessment). She has also made an onward reference to the Occupational Therapy team because both the carers and myself are of the mind that Meg may be in need of some extra mobility aids to help her to get to the bathroom, around the house and so on. So it will be interesting to see how long it will take the OT team to respond and whether there are some additional mobility aids to assist in Meg’s painfully slow progress around the house. We lunched on ham, broccoli and baked potato and immediately afterwards, I was delighted to see that Meg availed herself of a little post-prandial sleep on our two-person settee which I am sure will do her some good, particularly after we had an interrupted night’s sleep.

The political row over the effect of the utterances of Lee Anderson (red-wall ex-miner MP who, until his resignation, was a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party) rumbles on. The media circus are now going after Rishi Sunak who as Prime Minister must take some responsibility for the effect of the words of an outspoken ex-minister. So far, Rishi Sunak as admitted that the words used were ‘wrong’ but cannot bring himself to admit publically that the sentiments were anti-Islamic. In this respect, there seems to be a divide between Labour and the Conservatives because the former have admitted to anti-Semitism and have taken steps to do something about it but the Conservatives are not admitting to any Islamophobia within their own party. But Baroness Warsi (the female, ex-Conservative minister who is a Muslim of Pakistani heritage, hailing from Bradford) is scathing in her public comments about the extent of Islamophobia in the modern Tory party and reckons that the Tory party just ‘look over their shoulders’ when she has raised the issue with them.

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Sunday, 25th February, 2024 [Day 1441]

Between us, we had rather a disturbed night last night which may have been a delayed consequence to the fall that Meg had in the mid-afternoon of yesterday. Meg had a restless period but eventually I got back back to sleep having lost a valuable hour or so of sleep time which both of us will find it hard to replace. Two carers turned up this morning on cue and although Meg was rather on the wobbly side, we got her up and dressed and ready to face the world. As is usual on a Sunday morning, we had the Lorna Kuenssberg program remarkable if only because of the presence on the show of Oliver Dowden, the deputy Prime Minister. He said the outspoken MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, used the ‘wrong words’ to hit out at the mayor of London, and that ‘words matter’. However, Mr Dowden refused to condemn recent remarks by former home secretary Suella Braverman, who said the ‘Islamist mob’ had now ‘taken over’ communities in Britain. In trying to defend the indefensible, we have our deputy Prime Minister refusing to disown former colleagues and resorting to a formula such as ‘they used the wrong words’ This sort of denial is implying that the words used may have been Islamophobic and the sentiments almost certainly were but refusing to endorse the exact form of words used. One is driven to conclude that if the Labour Party had issues with anti-Semitism – which it undoubtedly had – then the present Conservative party has similar issues with regard to Islamophobia which they refuse to acknowledge. After the show had finished, Meg and I made our down to Waitrose for a Sunday morning coffee and pastry but without meeting anybody in particular. When we got home, we indulged in a bit more coffee and once I had got Meg settled, engaged in the preparations for Sunday lunch (ham, baked potato and some sprouts) Today I am preparing lunch a little earlier than usual and we are even forgoing the Six Nations rugby match between France and Italy for a particular reason. This is because there is going to be a showing of ‘Doctor Zhivago‘ which is one of the favourite films of which we never tire which is to be shown between 2.00pm and 5.00pm this afternoon. For the same reason, I am writing the bulk of this blog somewhat earlier than would normally be the case so that we have an uninterrupted afternoon of pleasure (so to speak). Meg and I watched the whole film (of over three hours) and reminded ourselves that we the first time we saw it was in Leicester Square in London in about 1966 or 1967. The film has always been one of our favourites and in common with other David Lean films, the cinematography is superb. Of course, many people will know the theme tune ‘Lara’s theme’ which has part of popular culture for the last half century. The film has an incredibly poignant ending. Torn between the two loves of his life, Tonia and Lara, Zhivago was separated from both by the cataclysmic events of the Russian revolution. Eventually, Zhivago finds himself on a Moscow tram and thinks that he sees one of the loves of his life, Lara who has borne him a child, walking along the pavement. He desperately scrambles off the tram and desperately tries to run after her again after a forced separation of several years. But he does not quite reach her as a few metres short of catching up with her again he suffers a fatal heart attack before he can catch up with her again. Sorry if I have spoiled the ending for any reader who has not seen the film. I think that film ranks alongside ‘Amadeus’ (the life of Mozart) as one of my two most favourite films of all time.

There are reports this evening that a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas might be forthcoming in the next few days. Israel’s war cabinet has been briefed on a potential ceasefire deal with Hamas following negotiations in Paris. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered ministers late on Saturday night after Israeli envoys returned from meeting US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.The Americans are cautiously optimistic that some kind of deal might be attainable. Of course the critical thing for the Israelis is to work out how many Israeli hostages will lose their lives if a further Israeli push is made deep into the territory of Gaza. The Israelis must know that many of the hostages would be abandoned to their fate if the Israeli push went too far and, of course, by attacking the tunnels that the inhabitants of Gaza have dug for themselves and in which many of the hostages are being held, then the Israeli defence forces might be responsible for the death of their own citizens held hostage. In addition, the public opinion in Israel is strongly in favour of ending the conflict now and saving the lives of as many of the hostages as they can. I find it noteworthy that the phrase ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ which one associates with some of the bloodier passages in the Bible is meant to refer to a proportionate response. Latest figures show a Palestinian death toll of 30,000 in retaliation for the 1400 Israelis killed in the initial attack (a ratio of 25:1). In addition, practically 90 journalists have lost their lives as well.

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Saturday, 24th February, 2024 [Day 1440]

Well it has been an interesting day so far. Last night, after Meg had been put to bed, I received a couple of emails both from friends and not very welcome news from either. My friend from Hampshire is having a very stressful time with his wife requiring yet another emergency admission to the local hospital and it appears that her symptoms are getting worse rather than better. I sent off a quick reply indicating I would respond further to his news but that may well have to wait until later on tonight. Then another friend from our De Montfort university days wrote to us to give us a lot of her family news and that relating to her husband was not particularly good. So I have written to them both suggesting that we might set up a lunch date some time quite soon. As our friends are in London and we are evidently here in the Midlands, the logistics of setting up a lunch date might prove slightly difficult. But after conversation with some of our coffee bar friends from Waitrose I have made the following suggestions to our friends. Rather than catching a local train to Birmingham New Street (BNS) then, on occasions, we have gone to Birmingham International which cuts quite a lot of time off the journey. But our friend suggested that instead of bending ‘left’ at the end of the M42 we bend ‘right’ and go to Warwick Parkway. Although this is a little further, 5-10 miles is not much on a motorway and we get free parking as well. I have suggested to our friends that we make our way to Marylebone Station on the very picturesque Marylebone line and then I wondered if, between us, we could find a restaurant within suitable walking (wheelchair-pushing) distance of the station. I am sure this might be possible so I am relying that between us, our friends and I can organise something with our two somewhat disabled partners so that we can exchange all of our news with each other over a lengthy lunch. This morning, though, we only had one carer instead of the anticipated two. I always try to establish a relationship with the carers and generally find a topic of conversation in which we can both contribute. Asking about families is a good opening gambit but I was somewhat amazed when the carer I got this morning said that she had 11 children in total. Five were from a previous relationship, four came along with the new partner and the other two that had produced as a couple. That makes for a football team of children, the vast majority of whom turned out to be girls. The carer and I got things sorted out between us and then Meg and I breakfasted and prepared to see our usual Saturday morning friends. We saw our regular two, the one-time chorister and the ex-hiker and we enjoyed our normal chatter with each other. Then it was a case of getting home and making sure that we had our lunch fully prepared and eaten before the first of the Rugby matches this afternoon. We made a sort of chicken-with-roasted-vegetables type of lunch which proved to be both tasty and satisfying. Then we watched the Ireland vs. Wales match which proved to be as one sided a match as everybody had anticipated that it could be. Then just before the big match of the afternoon, which was Scotland vs. England at Murrayfield, whilst my back was turned for an instant, Meg had a fall which occasioned a cut to her nose, a nosebleed and a carpet which required to be cleaned. But I think there was no lasting damage as I made Meg comfortable and encouraged her to have a rest so that her body could recover from the inevitable discomfort following a fall. I am pretty sure that there is no longer term damage but if Meg has any symptoms following a good night’s sleep then I will have to take her down to the local hospital for a check over. I am fairly confident that after some medication and a good night’s sleep in a warm bed that Meg will be OK in the morning. Nonetheless, I wrote to the specialist nurse detailing the incident as she seems to have the facility to get incidents like this recorded on Meg’s medical notes which is something I have not managed to do for myself. In the second match of the afternoon,Scotland got the batter of the contest but the game as a whole seemed to be error prone on both sides. But I must say that what I saw of the match with the other traumas of the afternoon, Scotland were worthy winners of the match.

The scandal to hit the Sunday newspapers tomorrow is the suspension of the Conservative whip from Lee Anderson, a bully boy (ex miner, representing a red wall seat) who at one time was one of the deputy chairman of the Tory party. he had accused the mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, of being beholden to the Muslim community and actually gave vent to the opinion that ‘He has actually given our capital city away to his mates.’ The Conservative chief whip told him to apologise for such blatantly anti-Islamic sentiments and Lee Anderson refused – whereupon, the whip was suspended from him which means that he de facto no longer a ‘Tory’ MP but will be faced to sit on the cross benches, or well away from other Tories.

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Friday, 23rd February, 2024 [Day 1439]

Friday is the day when our domestic help calls around and she arrived bright and early today as she had to dash off for another domestic commitment in the middle of the day. We had one of Meg’s regular carers rather than the two which is customary as the agency’s short term staffing crisis is still working its way through their system but the single carer and myself got Meg up and ready to face the world. We then made our way to Waitrose hoping that we might bump into someone we knew but perhaps we have to wait until tomorrow morning for that to happen. We got a communication during the week that Meg’s eye-test was now due so we made a trip along the High Street to call in at the opticians to ensure that we could have an eye test with the optician who has been seeing us for years. Whilst we were on the High Street, we took the opportunity to visit a cut-price cosmetics store where we bought a few useful items. Then we could resist popping into one or two of the adjacent charity shops and I bought some books and other items that I hoped would help to provide Meg with some diversions this afternoon. Once we arrived home, we tuned into the Politics programme which, on a Friday, is a resume of the political events of the past week – normally, they would have one or two MPs airing their views but Friday is typically a day when they are in their constituencies where the conscientious MPs will give ‘surgeries’ (the analogy being with a doctor’s waiting room)so that their constituents can bring problems to them or make other representations. We had our traditional Friday afternoon lunch which was a bought haddock pie and very nice it was too, supplemented by a few fine beans and some microwaved tomatoes. After lunch, we thought we would avail ourselves of the episodes of ‘Breathless‘ which was a hard-hitting docu-drama broadcast on three consecutive nights last week (but which I missed) The book on which the programmes were based and the programmes themselves show, in graphic and harrowing details, the working life and dilemmas of a palliative care doctor who was working in Oxfordshire when patients with Covid started arriving at her hospital. What followed was catastrophic she says: ‘a lack of beds, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), colleagues working under hideous pressure, colleagues dying.’ Just to make matters worse, the first episode looked at official government statements in the days immediately preceding the first lockdown in March 2021 when the government and the health authorities appeared to be in a state of denial or to be arguing that the problem of COVID was being ‘contained’ when it is was plainly obvious to those working on the front line that it was not and that came to be termed ‘community transmission’ was rampant. Included in the first episode was the now famous (or should one say infamous) clip of Boris Johnson claiming that he had been in a hospital ward with other COVID patients and had shaken the hand of all of them. This bizarre episode rather reminded one of the incident in which at the height of the BSE crisis, the then Minister of Agriculture, one John Selwyn Gummer was show to be practically ‘force feeding’ a beef burger down the throat on one of his grandchildren in a desperate (and ultimately misguided) attempt to show that the eating of beef was absolutely safe.

I find it interesting, or should one say depressing, that innovative and hard-hitting programmes such as ‘Breathless‘ and the dramatic series on ‘Mr Bates vs. the Post Office‘ should have emerged out of the ITV stable. One could not imagine in a month of Sundays that the BBC would have dared to have made and broadcast so hard-hitting and indirectly critical of the government as these two series. One is forced to conclude that the BBC has been absolutely emasculated by the constant attacks upon it that have been made by the present government, not to mention most of the right-wing press. If the BBC had commissioned such programmes, there would have been, no doubt, howls of protest and accusations that the BBC was pursuing a radical left (or perhaps just an anti-Conservative) agenda. This is a sorry state of affairs when it is felt that only the commercial sector can supply any critical programmes. On a similar theme, it is quite instructive to follow up what the news media has been saying about Henry Staunton, ex-chief of the Post Office recently sacked and accused of lying by the Business Secretary, Kemi Badenoch. It appears that Staunton has had an impeccable business career and has always manifested the utmost integrity whereas Kemi Badenoch has only in the last day or so been accused of lying by the Canadian government. Kemi Badenoch has said publicly that we are pursuing a trade deal with the Canadians who have flatly denied that this is, in fact, the case. So who does one believe in these circumstances? I am looking forward to the evidence that Staunton gives when he appears before a Select Committee of the House of Commons as early, I believe, as next week. The trouble is that politicians are used to giving equivocal and evasive answers as this is their stock-in-trade but businessman have less skills in this regard as they are not so often in the public eye and hence subject to media scrutiny.

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Thursday, 22nd February, 2024 [Day 1438]

We got ourselves up, washed and breakfasted although we had only one of the usual pair of carers to cope with Meg this morning. Nonetheless, I and the carer did things OK between us and I do appreciate that the care agency is under some stress at the moment as they have several members of staff out of action. Thursday is generally my shopping day and we another carer that turns up in the morning so that I can shoot off and do some shopping. I decided to go to the bigger Aldi store this morning because I thought this might save me a few minutes but some of the things I normally buy were either not stocked or had run out, which I found a little frustrating. But I managed to get the shopping done and be back inside the house within about 45-50 minutes which is fine. After watching some of the political news, I then set preparing a simple lunch (quiche and a few diced vegetables) but rather unusually, I ate it on my own. Meg felt quite tired at the end of the morning so I set her down on the settee in our Music Lounge together with a weighty blanket and she feel into quite a deep sleep rather than a doze. Rather than wake her up, I decided to let ‘sleeping dogs lie’ and I concentrated upon some editing work on my laptop. The task I set myself was essentially quite a simple one and involved getting all of my website and domain names in good order. As well as having an alphabetical list, I spent some time creating another but this time sorted by renewal date rather than alphabetically. This sounds a simple enough job and, in theory, all I needed to do was to cut and paste the name and its associated renewal date into a document and take things from there. But the cut-and-paste technique did not work very well on the supplier’s website so what should have been essentially quite a simple job finished up with complexities which I did not anticipate.

As we suspected, the political airwaves have been filled all day with the consequences of the dramatic scenes in the House of Commons last night. The Speaker of the House of Commons decided last night to allow three amendments to be debated in the Gaza debate with the intention, so he said, of allowing expression across all shades of opinions in the Commons. But had he followed the strict precedents, then the Scottish Nationalist party (whose ‘day’ is it was) should have been allowed to debate and vote upon their own motion and when this fell, which it undoubtedly would, then the government amendment would be accepted. But this put the Labour Party in an acute dilemma because MP’s would either have to vote for the SNP motion (which made reference to ‘collective punishment’ in Gaza and thereby accused Israel of a war crime) or for the Conservative motion which suggested a ‘pause’ in the hostilities. Many Labour MP’s, mindful of the heightened tension in their home constituencies, might have been tempted to vote for the SNP amendment as the alternatives were pretty dire i.e. to vote against it, to abstain or even to vote for the Tory motion. This would have split the Labour party down the middle but, in effect, the Speaker saved the Labour Party from massive embarrassment. The scenes in the House of Commons last night were dire as first the Scot Nats walked out of the Chamber (as the Speaker was in effect denying a vote on their own amendment) whilst the Tories were equally indignant that a major opportunity to embarrass the Labour party had been denied to them. Today, there have been discussions and recriminations all day long and the position of the Speaker is looking extremely tenuous. But there is quite a consensus view building throughout the day that we have seen quite a lot of low politics, masquerading as principle. Practically every party has a vested interest in the shenanigans in the Commons last night and at the end of the day it is a very sad conclusion that the reputation of the UK as the Mother of Parliaments is now sadly tarnished and the UK’s influence upon global politics which is never great these days has diminshed almost to the vanishing point.

I must say that now that the weekend is practically upon us, we can look forward to another round in the Six Nations rugby competition. It has now been a fortnight since the first matches took place and I have always imagined that the rugby authorities put in a two week pause at this point so that battered bodies have a chance to recover. The scene was stolen a fortnight ago not by any players but by a young Irish eight-year old singer who belted out the National Anthem with much gusto and self confidence. I am not sure how this young lad made it to the top of the pile but I was quite looking forward to seeing a repeat performance. Having said that, he probably only sung as Ireland were playing at home. It never ceases to amaze me how tuneless rugby players happen to be when it comes to their singing of the national anthem but I would except the Welsh from this stricture where the players always sing their hearts out.

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Wednesday, 21st February, 2024 [Day 1437]

Today turned out to be one of those days which I term ‘chewy’ because niggly little things happen all day long. Yesterday afternoon, I had received a telephone call from the agency that supplies carers for Meg to inform us that one of our regular carers had been involved in a car crash and, although not hurt, had been pretty shaken up by the episode. I hope that she does not suffer from delayed shock but I do know that this is a logical possibility in circumstances like this. So I said that I could easily cope with the other companion carer who was scheduled to turn up. But yesterday evening, I had just got Meg into bed when I received another telephone call from the care agency explaining that the second care worker’s car was ‘on the blink’ so she was unavailable for work as well. As the agency were having quite a staffing problem, I said that we would not mind if they gave us a miss for the next day I could get Meg ready by myself leaving the available care workers to cater for those needs must be greater than ours. Knowing that no care workers would arrive this morning, we allowed ourselves a ‘mini lie-in’ this morning. As soon as breakfast was over, Meg and I went to a local garage to collect our copy of ‘The Times’ before making our way, as we normally do on a Wednesday, to the Methodist Centre. The centre was actually quite full today but we did make contact with our Waitrose ex-chorister friend who we saw yesterday, who had turned up to the centre with a neighbour. We spent a good half hour or so here before we went home wanting to watch ‘Prime Minister’s Questions‘ which takes place shortly after 12.00pm each Thursday. Keir Starmer led his attack on the government over the Post Office scandal and perhaps what was most remarkable today was that Rishi Sunak did not echo the voice of Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, who had accused the ex-boss of the Post Office (who she had sacked) of lying. So we have the interesting questions of two protagonists – one being a belligerent Tory Business Secretary and other being an aggrieved and probably quite bitter sacked chairman of the Post Office facing each other down. Now one of these must be lying through their teeth and one is forced to wonder which one it is? This afternoon, an email has seen the light of day which comes some substance to the complaint of the sacked Post Office chairman without being quite as explicit as a ‘smoking gun’. I really do not know who is going to get the better of this very public spat but in the meanwhile one suspects that the public could not care less and the payments to the maligned Post Office sub postmasters seem to be painfully slow in their progress through the system.

We lunched on the last of the beef with broccoli and a baked potato and then I hoped that I would Meg down for a rest in the afternoon but this was not really successful. Whilst Meg was dozing, though, I started to do some work on updating and maintaining the list of websites and domains the details of which were restored to me yesterday. There are quite a number of these and some of these are probably out-of-date, some are waiting to be populated and some will serve as a reminder to me of what items I have got lurking away in various websites. I am working towards an up-to-date list so that I have a fully accurate record of what domain name points where and when the renewal dates will happen to fall. This afternoon, an important debate is taking place in the House of Commons and the eventual motion, if passed, will call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The Labour Party, probably in lock-step with the Americans, have refined their position on their support for an immediate ceasefire and it does appear that the United States, in particular, is letting it be known that whilst supporting Israel to the hilt, not least financially and through the provision of military hardware, is nonetheless losing patience with the present Israeli government. Joe Biden has voiced the view that the Israeli response to the attacks made upon it are excessive and I think that the ratio of Palestinians killed (many of them innocent children) to Israelis massacred in the initial attacks is now of the order of 25:1. There have been various shenanigans in the House of Commons this afternoon where the Speaker has broken with precedent and allowed both the government and the Labour amendments to be selected for debate and vote. This has the effect of actually helping the Labour Party and the Tories are furious with the Speaker whom, as an ex-Labour MP, they suspect of allowing his erstwhile political affiliations to show. I have been listening to the debate in the House of Commons passively in the background and every single contribution of which I have been aware is speaking in favour of an immediate ceasefire. The Tories, who one suspects would follow the line that Israel should be allowed to defend itself and an immediate ceasefire would play into the hands of Hamas, seem strangely silent in today’s debate but they will no doubt vote for whatever government amendment is tabled, whatever it says.

This afternoon, Meg had a rather restless period so we popped out in order to access an ATM to get out next week’s living money. Our weekly shop is being delayed tomorrow morning until Meg’s carer calls round for a sitting service and I am hopeful that I can make this trip as short and as focussed as possible by getting my money out in advance. This all worked out very well so on the way home I called in at some of our friends down the road as we do not seem to have seen them for some time. I gave our Irish friends a quick update on how Meg is being cared for these days and we will probably meet up for longer chat in the next few days.

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Tuesday, 20th February, 2024 [Day 1436]

Tuesdays are the days when we meet with our friends in Waitrose so after the carers and myself had seen to Meg, we breakfasted and then hastened down the road to see who we would see today. We did meet up immediately with the ex-hiker friend of ours (so-called perhaps in her youth she had probably climbed every Lake District mountain that was worth climbing, as well as staying in the majority of the youth hostels) We were shortly joined by another friend (the chorister) who we had not seen for a week or so and about whom we were starting to get a little concerned as we knew that she had to spend some days in bed with a chest infection. Anyway, whatever it was the doctor had zapped it with some antibiotics and then she had a bout of arthritis to contend with.But although she is 90 years old, this particular friend is very doughty and will struggle through all kinds of adversities. I think that all three of us (four including Meg) feel a little the same way and Tuesday mornings are quite important to us and we value each other’s company. This morning, each of the ladies got presented with a bunch of tulips, no doubt left over from Valentine’s day last week, so this will help to complement the large bunch of roses that were donated to us recently. Then it was a case of buying one or two items that we know that Waitrose sells and then making for home. As Tuesday is my Pilates day, a carer arrives to look after Meg whilst I am out of the house and so I attended my session, having missed last week. I find that even after a gap of a week, I feel it a little so I am sure that the various stretches that we do must have some kind of alleviating effect. Then as soon as I get home, I put on a ‘quick’ lunch which is nearly always fish cakes and some quickly microwaved vegetables which means that lunch can be cooked as quickly as practicable.

In the early afternoon, I received some welcome news in the form of an email from the company which I use to purchase webspace and domain names. After I had supplied photographic and up-to-date address information (I believe called Type A and Type B identification) the company had reinstated my access to my various records. I had first to supply a variant on my usual email address which was no real problem and then go on and reset my password but all of this worked. Then, as I had come to suspect, the whole of the website that the company uses for its products has been redesigned and things that used to be easy are now somewhat hard to find. For example, many users will want to get access to the ‘Control Panels’ which they used to control aspects of their domains and/or websites but I had to hunt round and click on a little homunculus symbol to (eventually) give me access to what I wanted and needed. The company itself admits that its site is still being ‘migrated’ and some features such as sorting on a column by clicking its name do not seem to be properly implemented as yet. But I have got to the stage where I can find the domain names that I want and then edit the re-direction details. All of this used to be second nature to me and I have done it constantly over the years but now I am faced with quite a learning curve and re-familiarisation. But my irritation at having to jump through all of these hoops again is alleviated by the pleasure of getting things back which I thought at been at risk. I must say that the redesign of the website seems to have motivated by the possibility of selling you add-ons and services that you do not really want whereas the more essential maintenance functions see to be much less transparent than they were before. So ‘upgrades’ to portals such as this sometimes turn out to be bad news for those of used to a certain way of doing things. I always suspected that my logon details that failed to work a few days ago were more due to the changes at the company end rather than anything I had done – and, indeed, even the words ‘log on’, which seem rather fundamental, seems to have been relegated to some obscure initials. Having got my head around the bare essentials, I am going to need to do a certain amount of playing about so that I can maintain my websites in the ways to which I have become accustomed over the years.

In the late afternoon, I received a couple of phone calls. The first was from the widow of our newsagent who had died as I particularly did not want her to feel neglected and forgotten by former customers. I really wanted her to accept an invitation to come around for a meal but do not feel she is really ready for this just yet but I have hopes for the future. The second phone call was from the care agency looking after Meg with the news that our favourite carer had had a car crash and would be out of action for several days even though she was unhurt. I explained that I was quite happy to assist the other carer scheduled to see us tomorrow morning and am sure that we can make a good ‘2 person team’ until our other carer is in a position to return to work (hopefully, without any delayed shock reactions)

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