Tuesday, 21st September, 2021 [Day 554]

Meg and I spent a good night in our temporary abode last night. The TV and its reception quality in the hotel bedroom are of excellent quality which is also a bonus. In a wakeful period in the middle of the night, I used our iPad to listen to a recording of Brahm’s A German Requiem which I always enjoy hearing but I hadn’t played it to myself for some time. The breakfast arrangements in the Boarding House have been refined to a fine art in the light of the COVID regulations. The proprietor has guests organised into an earlier and a later time so that the breakfast room is not crowded out with individuals and we can keep our social distancing. Meg and I enjoyed a ‘Full Welsh Breakfast’ which was the traditional B&B/boarding house standard and all of the ingredients were locally bought (common for Wales) and beautifully cooked. We will probably have a lighter breakfast in the days ahead but it is now nice to enjoy the full fare on our first day. We remembered the following little story that we recounted to our host after breakfast. The proprietor of the B&B in which we always stayed when we visited family in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, has written a book about amusing incidents tht happened in the course of his catering career. Meg and I figure in one of these incidents and it goes as follows. Meg decided to have some boiled eggs for breakfast and enjoyed dipping slices of toast, cut into thin strips, into each soft boiled egg after which they are known as soldiers. As the propreioetor was clearing away the breakfast dishes and asked Meg if she had enjoyed her breakfast, there was a natural lull in the conversation over which Meg’s clarion like voice could be heard exclaiming ‘It’s a long time since I enjoyed having so many soldiers for breakfast‘ (after which the whole restaurant guffawed with laughter).

After breakfast, we knew we would have a gentle toddle around the sunny streets of Brecon which we did, making the highlight of our visit a trip to a ‘Savers‘ as we knew that we needed a good few toiletries for our story. For a start, the room is not serviced as part of the COVID regime so we knw we needed some shower gel and hair shampoo, not to mention the toothbrushes which, believe it or not, we had actually forgotten to bring with us (we did find one, extremely low quality NHS toothbrush which we carry round as an emergency in our toilet bag) Still, Meg managed to buy other things such as hair grips and lipstick, without which, of course all modern women would look like Gorgons (dictionary definition: A fierce, frightening, or repulsive woman. …)

I had consulted the internet last night to work out a good eating place for our meal in the middle of the day. We located where this was (at one end of the one of the principal streets) and then went off for a coffee and tea cake for our mid-morning prandials. As we were a little laden up with shopping, we walked back to the car, Sat-Nav’d the restaurant and then let it take us there. I had a magificent glass of local beer (starting with a half and quickly translated to a pint) followed by a chicken, leek and ham pie with mediterranean vegetables whilst Meg had a similarly good lasagne. We felt as though we had dined extremely well, as well as reasonably – on another occasion, we might go back and have a starter and a sweet foregoing the main course.

After lunch, we visited Brecon Cathedral which was a real treat. When we first arrived the Cathedral was unfortunately closed but we ran into a couple of the local cathedral volunteers who opened it up for us. The cathedral started life as a Benedictine Priory and is now regarded as one of the arhictectural masterpieces of mid Wales. The chancel is a superb example of Early English architecture, while the later nave is primarily Decorated Gothic in style. One gets the overall impression of beautifully uncluttered early gothic and we may well go back to enjoy some of the extensive walks around the grounds (about two miles altogether through beautiful woods but a bit much for the late afternoon) and now we know what we are looking at, a second visit to the cathedral and its shop and its tea-rooms might be very much worth while. We could always save it for a rainy day, if we have one.


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Monday, 20th September, 2021 [Day 553]

Well, the day has finally arrived when Meg and I are off on our jolly hols. I got up reasonably early and then did last minute packing, including the MacBook Pro I generally keep in the lounge to blog away quietly in the corner whilst listening to the TV on the one hand and, occasionally, having a conversation with Meg on the other. I made sure last might that I had all of the software I needed properly installed and, more importantly, all of the file structures in the right place. Then we had a quick breakfast and I popped into town as I needed to collect our newspaper, take out an extra supply of cash and replenish our milk supplies. As I was packing the car, our domstic help called by to give Meg’s hair a final tweak before we set off and we finally got underway at about 11.0am. The journey down the M5 and M50 was generally unproblematic and then we had quite a pleasant meander, minly using the A40 which was quite fast in places, until we finally arrined in Brecon just after 1.00pm. We decided to let the SatNav take us on a drive past the guest house with whom we have a booking and then we turned the car around and headed off into Brecon itself so that we could find somewhere to eat. We got the car parked in quite a tight parking space – as you can imagine a historic market town like Brecon built on a hillside does not have great areas of space available for car parking. Nonetheless, we did get parked and in town found a Wetherspoons where we had a lunch of ‘mini’ fish and chips with included drink which served the purpose. Then we had a gentle stroll through the town and visited one or two of the local (charity) shops where Meg bought some necklaces from a ‘hospice’ type shop. Then about 3.30 we ready to head for the guest house.

At first sight, we thought we were going to have another parking hell as there seemed to be little ot no space. Eventually, when the door was answered, we directed down to the traffic lights, then left, left and left again until we finally ended up in a sort of back street with the proprietor waiting for us where he had a huge block of parking spaces for his guests which gained access to the Guest house through hsi back garden. We had requested a downstairs room and, so far, everything seems to have worked out OK. We got connected through the WiFi very quickly and fairly soon got ourselves unpacked, sorted out and eventually treated ourself to tea and biscuits. I am trying to get this blog written and ‘put to bed’ quite early so that we can have a good night watching the telly and then straight off to sleep.

I have just about got my head around the causes and consequences in the price of gas – 250% since the start of the year and 50% since last month alone and four times the price of a year ago. For causes you can take your pick from the following clusters of factors operating together – a cold winter last year, supply problems in the USA following hurricanes, Russia using a bit of muscle to get its pipeline deal approved by withholding gas supplies, a broken connector in the North Sea, poor reserve controls by the UK compared with other societies such as Germany and so on. Now for the consequences. The UK government (or rather the regulator) has allowed a lot of ‘small players’ into the market’ to encourage competition. But unlike the ‘big boys’ they had not learnt how to ‘hedge’ their supplies and with a regulated price, the cost of newly purchased gas is exceeding the price at which it can be sold – and hence they are collapsing like snowballs in June. The regulator moves their customers from a big supplier to aanother but the big boys do not want new customers as they tend to be a bit fickle (not having chosen them) and hence the market ‘churns’ and they switch again. If you had to point the finger at anybody you would say that the UK government has been lax in encouraging competition over continuity of supply,  the regulator has not enforced proper standards of probity on newcomers to the market (did they ‘stress test’ them) and the UK strategic reserves are dire compared to, for example, Germany. No doubt we thought – why build up a reserve when we can always go ‘to the market’ but of coure markets can, and do, go wild on occasion. At the risk if being a little smug, we have just (in the last 2 weeks) arranged a fixed price for our fuel which is both a fixed price for the next two years and saves us   £75 a month.

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Sunday, 19th September, 2021 [Day 552]

Today, according to the weather forecasters, it should have been a rainy day in which waves of showers swept cross the country. Instead, we had a  glorious autumn morning although it turned a little cloudy in the afternoon – not that that bothered us a great deal. I leapt out of bed at a fairly early hour this morning in order  to pop down to pick up our copy of the ‘Sunday Times’ (our regular newspaper now on a Sunday morning) Then it was back in time to watch the Andrew Marr show – another fixed feature of our Sunday mornings. After this was over, Meg and I had a pleasnt walk down to the park where the local branch of the Bromsgrove Literary and Philosophical Society were soon quorate with their four members (others get membership by invitation) To be fair, there was a lot of joshing today and not a lot of discussions of things cosmological or political – but we did try and remember who was starring in what film of yesteryear. We announced to the group that they would not see us around around for a few days as we would going on our jolly holidays to the Brecon Beacons in mid-South Wales. So then we returned home to a quick lunch of quiche and the kind of ‘day-before-you-go-holiday’ raid on the fridge where you try and eat everything up and ensure that you have nothing left in the fridge to go off over the next few days.  Meg and I are looking forward to our holidays starting tomorrow and if we have no traffic jams, or parking difficulties we should have a restful time – but there is always a potential for things to go wrong even when holidaying in England. Also, after our last experioence of AirBnB in North Wales, we trust that this experience should turn out OK as it is a conventional guest house attached to a farm but we shall seen find out. The owners have been in touch with us which is always a bit reassuring and, in addition, we now the app installed from Booking.com so that all of the details of the booking are actually stored on our phone which is useful to have. Our domestic help has very kindly said she would pop in just before our departure tomorrow to give Meg’s hair a ‘tweak’ before we set off so that she looks her best for the journey. We engaged in a new style of packing today in which we put everything that we intended to pack into neat piles on the double bed before eventually packing them away into the suitcase.

I know  that almost anything can be reported in a survey but one was reported on Sky News with the following findings. This is that 20% of the adult population would be prepared to participate in the pornographic industry if the price was high enough – this figure increased to a third of the 18-34 year olds if they were paid enough. All I can say about this is that I think that I have ‘lived too long’ but then there are apps which almost facilitate our engagement in the porn industry if that is what you  ‘want’ to do.

A big story is brewing politically on the subject of cuts to Universal Credit. The government at the start of the pandemic had given a £20 a week rise in the UC rate to help people cope with the worst ravages of the pandemic. Anyway, this was always meant to be a tempory measure and the time has now come for its removal. The sum of £20 a week might not sound that much but it could be half a week’s food shopping for some people – and there are fuel rises and the end of the furlough scheme to cope with as well. It looks as though some 800,000 people may be affected of whom 320,000 (40%) are in work and another 30,000 in a mixture of full-time and part-time work. A coalition of senior Tories are planning a Commons motion tomorrow which is only advisory but which could reverse the cut. My guess is that the Governmemnt will press ahead with the cut but ‘stage’ it in such a way that there will be a cut of £10 a week this year and other further £10 next year. The big problem, politically, for the Tories is that some of the voters worst affected witll be the ex-Labour voters in the so-called Red Wall seats who abandoned Labour and voted Conservative to help give Boris Johnson his 80 seat majority. But the whole of the ‘levelling up’ agenda might be put at risk because of the numbers involved. The extra benefit has been claimed by 800,000 people of whom 320,000 (40% are in work) and a further 300,000 in a mixture of full-time and part-time work. These voters could abandon the Tories very rapidly if the UC credit cut affects them very badly.

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Saturday, 18th September, 2021 [Day 551]

We had a beautiful fine day today and although a litle cloudy, nonetheless it was a real pleasure to walk out in the autumn sunshine. We struck off for the park where our two regular friends were busy putting the world to rights. Today we were reminding ourselves how the Tom Sharpe (humourous) novels were widely read in the past. It was not an unusal sight in the late 1970’s to be on a train and see an elderly gentlemen quietly reading whilst sitting in the corner of a railway carriage – suddenly,he would be convulsed with laughter  and the rest of the ‘normal’ population had no idea what was going on until they realisd that the elderly gentleman was reading a Tom Sharpe novel. I can’t remember which novel it was – it could be the first named Wilt – in which a colleague murders a rival and disposes of his body in a meat canning factoy in which the body is minced up and sold in sausages and meat pies over the whole of East Anglia.

Having collected our newspaper and then taken out a wad of cash to utilise in our forthcoming holiday we made for home. Today it was a case of liver and onions that we had been promising ourselves for some time now. In the late afternoon, I thought I would consult my computer system as I thought that I might have an old NS&I (National Savings and Investments) number. that I might utilise again in the future. The trouble was that I had forgotten my password and the system that they had was to generate not an OTP but  a recorded voicemail when, if you expecting the call, you pressed the # sign to acknowledge it – but often your phone was not in the number pad screen and by the time you got there it was too late. Even when I set the keypad stage to the default, the # sign only repeated itself and did not work. After three unsuccessful attempts, the system then shut you down and the only alternative was to fill in an online form with questions that I had to guess at the nswer ( e.g. What type of account did you hold?) and then I might, after a wait of several days, be sent to a sceeen where I could generate a temporary password. I even tried a helpline where I was directed to the same online form I had already filled in so if that draws a blank I see some fraught telephone calls ahead when we return from holiday.

We went to church in the late afternoon (part of our normal Saturday routine) and were delighted to see both of our sets of local Catholic friends, including the one recently discharged from hospital following a ‘heart’ scare. Naturally, we were absoliutely delighted to see her in our midst once again but no doubt she is going to take life a little easier in the foreseeable future. We chatted for a while and finally departed after our stand-in priest was regaling us with an account of a particularly difficult baptism in which the 20-month infant was in the most belligerent of moods and managed to take evasive action against the baptismal water which is really the ‘sine qua non’ of the whole exercise.

Tonight the fragility and interdependence of our industrial system is being exposed for all to see. There has been a massive rise of gas prices for a variety of reasons – but Russia is one of them. The price of gas is so high that two fertiliser factories in the North East have ceased production in the short term which also implies a reduction in one of the most impiotant side products which is carbon dioxide. In the absence of this, then pigs cannot be stunned befor slaughter (by lowering them into a ‘sea’ of carbon dioxide) and something similar may happen wih poultry. Food shortages on our supermarket shelves has been predicted in the next week or so ahead as a direct result of all of this. In addition to all of this, we might add into the mixture some recent pandemic effects on the labour market and, of course,  there are also the Brexit effects in the background whose effects are real but difficult to distentangle. I am not sure what the British government can do about all of this but most ‘normal’ goernments would make a release of the strategic stockpile which the government holds against emergencies (such as a really hard winter) Most European countries keep sensible reserves of strategic raw materials but I have an idea that after Brexit the government felt released from these ‘onerous’ regulations and so it is quite possible that the UK stocks of both oil and gas had been really been cut back to the bone. The Sunday newspapers might provide a more in-depth analysis of some of these problems, however.  

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Friday, 17th September, 2021 [Day 550]

The day started well for us when we got a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend who was enquiring whether we were going to be in the park later on today. Indeed we were but after a delayed start (chatting with our domestic help whose day it was today on a Friday) we finally made it to the park. After a lovely chat, we bumped into the husband of our friend who had just recently been discharged from hospital and whose wedding anniversary it was yesterday. We were delighted to get the news that our friend is recovering from her little ‘heart incident’  and was discharged last Sunday. Now, though, she is taking it easy and having to adapt to a slightly lighter routine – I fear that her days of shovelling a ton of topsoil into place before breakfast are probably now over. And so we progressed home for lunch where we were due to try some of the ‘giant’ fish fingers (made of cod)  that Waitrose sell on their fish counter. This turned out fine, particularly when accomapnied by some tenderstem broccoli.

After lunch, I knew that it was time for our damson gin preparation to commence. I have a little record book in which I have recorded my yields from one year to another plus details of the recipes which have proved their worth over the years. In particular, I need to know the correct proportions of damsons, sugar and gin and the quantitites appropriate for each size of kilner jar that I possess.  I have calculated that this year, I m going to purchase three litres of gin and three litres of vodka – naturally, I buy the very cheapest I can find . Having done a tour of supermrkets to assess what prices and quantities were available, I finished off in my local Aldi where I purchased my three litres of gin and three litres of vodka for this year’s manufacture.  I always feel a bit guilty when I take this volume of alcohol through out supermarket tills but it always amazes me when the checkout operators process this lot without so much as a smile or a comment – I wonder of there are lots of people buying this quantity of booze and how they consume it if they are not also in the business of making home made gin-based products.

In the late afternion, I started this year’s preparation of the damson gin (and damson vodka, which I am making for the first time this year.) The fruit has to be prepard by making gashes in each fruit so that the gin/vodka can penetrate the flesh and extract its essences. For this, I use an old-fashioned tin opener which has the kind of blade which might be likened to a chick’s egg tooth but much sharper.I  hold the fruit in the left hand and rotate it whilst making gashes with the implement held in my right hand – if this sounds complicated, it is actuually incredibly efficient and I managed to get all 550 fruits gashed withoin an hour and a half. Then I have to sterilise my kilner jars and I use Boots baby sterlising fluid for this – one bottle lasts me for years and you fill the jars with cold water, add the sterilising fluid and leave it dor 20-30 minutes followd by a quick rinse. Now for the filling itself I use an old yoghurt pot which, if filled to the absolute brim, brings you very close to the 450 grams needed per jar. Naturally, my kitchen scales are heavilg involved in all of this. Then in goes 350 grams of white granulated sugar followed by three quarters of a litre of either gin or vodka. Each jar requires a vigorous shake (to dissolve the sugar) and basically that is all there is to it. I inspect the stock once a week and give each a quick shake but I didn’t do it last year and it didn’t seem to make any difference. All in all, I filled 9 kilner jars with three-quarters litre of spirit which is obviously nearly 7 litres (or practically a gallon and a half if that i what you prefer)   Straining and bottling can be a bit fiddly but that is three months away yet – hopefully, I will have a supply ready for the Christmas festivities. I am about a week later this year than normal – on the other hand, the fruit seemed bigger, riper and with a skin that was less fibrous than past years so perhaps the week or so delay in the preparation will not matter so much. Now I have to make sure that I have an adequate supply of those little wine bottles (and if you go out for the day then things like elderflower pressé get served out of themI.These are about 20cl and like gold dust andI hoard them whenever I see them – I should have prepared enough for about 30 little presents this year.

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Thursday, 16th September, 2021 [Day 549]

Today has been a generally fine day – although a little cloudy and overcast this morning,we knew that we would be in for quite a long fine afternoon. This morning, I engaged in my new routine which is to leap out of bed, get dressed in a hurry and than wait, panting, for the Droitwich Waitrose to open at 8.0 in the morning.  I must admit I was about  five minutes late this morning but the store was practically deserted when I got there. As we are going away on Monday, I needed to shop for what is only half a week. I had not made a list but relied upon memory to buy only what was needed as there is no point buying stuff only for it to go ‘off’ and then have to be thrown away later. The Waitrose staff are always very friendly and as my checkout operator came from Monmouth, so we were soon reminiscing about wet Wales could be and generally was. This morning, we were a little delayed by some routine jobs but eventually made it to the park where we met with two of our park regulars. I’m not sure how we got onto the object but we ended with a long and intense discussion of our experience of working in organisations and the qualities that people bring with them which makes them successful (or not) in an organisational world.The discussion might not be everybody’s cup of tea but half way through, we were regaled by a round of chocololates which one of our regulars had brought along – I can’t quite remember the occasion they were meant to celebrate. Eventually, though, we were so late that we had to send a litle text to our chiropodist who was due along at 2.00pm to say that we might be delayed by five minutes  (even though it was two or three) After we had our feet done, I set to stripping the carcass of a chicken of the fragments of meat which we were going to make into a curry. We do not seem to have done this for ages as we seem to have got out of the habit of having a weekly curry – a tradition that dates back  to our student days which is, of course, more than half a century ago.

After lunch and the invitable post-prandial snooze, I knew that I needed to do about three things which was to go by car and collect a copy of the newspaper, do a tour of the local supermarkets to find the cheapest price for 6 litres of gin (or 3 of gin and 3 of vodka, in readiness for my damson gin preparation) and finally mow the lawns which seem to have put on a sudden growth spurt in the last few days. Something had to go and it was the gin-seeking ventures was abandoned – I started to get the lawns done and finished them all off by about 6.30 (in other words, our teatime) We treated ourselves to half a punnet of strawberries just bought this morning and settled down to watch a pretty naff night on th television this evening.

Now that the cabinet reshuffle is into its second day (and into the ranks of more junior ministers), several commentators have put their minds to the task of working what what the sackings and new appointments  mean for the current government. One can quite understand why rank incompetents like the ex-Education secretary, Gavin Wliiamson, were removed without ceremony. According to all accounts he started saying his ‘goodbyes’ before he was actually sacked so that must have taken all of 30 seconds to do. But some sackings today have raised eyebrows – Nick Gibb and John Whittingdale were two competent, middle-ranking ministers who had peformed competently but still got the push.  The analysts are starting to put forward the following scenario. It is looking as though Johnson is getting rid of anyone at least vaguely allied to the chancellor – Rishi Sunak, who may be a challenger to Johnson’s own position. Also, it is now increasingly clear that anyone towards the top the the Conservative Home website ‘popularity of ministers’ poll has either been promoted or retained (such as Priti Patel) whilst anybody towards the bottom has been sacked. It look as though Johnson has his eyes very much on the next election and wants to surround himself with ministers who look as though they might be effective but will constitute no leadership threat to him. It has been noted that Liz Truss, appointed Foreign Secretary on the strengths of negotiating several trade deals  has actually just done a ‘cut-and-paste job on the deals that were originally negotiated with the EU – in others, with no net effect but good ‘optics’ as regards the Tory grass roots. Another analysis is showing that the proportion of the Cabinet who have attended public schools (two thirds) is twice the proportion (one third) in Teresa May’s cabinet – interesting but predictable? 

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Wednesday, 15th September, 2021 [Day 548]

Today has been an interesting day in all kinds of ways – but first things first. We knew that it was to be a little cloudy this morning but the weather forecast indicated that we might have quite a bright and sunny afternoon which was just as well given what I had in prospect for later on today. Meg and I walked down into the park  and I left Meg, as now is customary, on our favourite bench with a copy of yesterday’s Times.  I knew that I had several errands to perform on the road and the first of these was to replenish our cash supplies with an all too rare visit to an ATM. This having been done, I then popped along to pick up our copy of today’s newspaper and then doubled back to visit our local Waitrose. Here I bought a bottle of Prosecco and also a nice bowl of something akin to succulents which I thought might make a particularly good wedding anniversary plant as our friend had just been discharged from hospital and might need to take it easy for a few days. I thought this little pot would grace a window sill or a place in the greenhouse but would not have to be replanted if bending was out of the question. Whilst in Waitrose, I was greeted by one of our favourite store staff who was not on duty when it was the day of our own wedding anniversary last Thursday. To cut a long story short, we were the grateful recipients of a whole bunch of red roses (in addition to the flowers we were already given last week) and a wonderful box of chocolates as well. As you can imagine, none of this was expected but when I met up with Meg in the park I was burdened with plant, wine, chocolates and newspapers. Meg was chatting with an old lady we know well and who often comes into the park – her husband, whilst alive, was a local authority gardener and the family donated a bench in his honour (upon which we used to sit  upon occasions). So Meg and set off for our journey home but we decided to unburden ourselves en route. I popped round to the back garden of our friend’s house (as they were not in) and left the present of the wine and the plant outside their back door. Then I knocked on the door of our other Irish friends a couple of doors up and presented the lady of the house with the bunch of red roses saying they were from a ‘secret admirer’ (which fooled no-one) We still have a card to hand deliver tomorrow but at least the heavy lifting has already been done.

This afternoon, after lunch, I had set myself the task which i perform annually of picking the damsons from the incredibly old hedge which forms the rear boundary to our garden. Having done this over the years, I have got everything off to a fine art and go equipped with some plastic buckets which I reserve just for picked fruit, a long handled rake to pull down some of the upper branches and a couple of old milk crates which I use in the garden as an instant platform if I need a bit more height. I count the damsons making sure that I transfer a penny from my left hand pocket into my right hand pocket so I do not lose track of the 100’s. This year the crop appeared a little disappointing – the damsons were of a good size and inhabited some lower branches for me but the crop seemed a lot thinner than usual. I would regard 300 as a complete minimum and had only picked 115 (about a couple of lbs). But last year, my neighbour had availed herselves of damsons on the field side of the hedge so I decided that I would do the same but would have to negotiate a barbed wire fence at the bottomn of a slope at the end of the garden. Having got my milk crates in place, I tried to negotiate the barbed wire fence only to take a wobble and a tumble – I finished up like a turtle with my feet enmeshed in the fence but I took great care to fall in such a way tht I didn’t leave any dangly bits on the fence. Once over, I managed to collected 550 damsons in total, well supervised by our friendly neighbouhood cat, Miggles, who always wants to acxcompany me whenever I am doing jobs in the garden. I calculate that I will need six litres of alcohol this year (three of gin, three of vodka) and 3kg of sugar so I will get the fruit prepped tomorrow, However, my shoulder aches from much stretching, as does my left knee (old war-wound), the place on my leg where I entangled with the barbed wire, a few scratches and assorted nettle stings. I am going to traeat myself to an early night complete with electric blanket this evening to recover somewhat.

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Tuesday, 15th September,2021 [Day 547]

Today was a gloomy and overcast day with squally rain showers very much in evidence. Because we had a medical appointment in the middle of the day, we always knew we were going to have a rather truncated morning. I spent some time playimg about with a spreadsheet and then we set off for our newspaper on foot, realising that we needed to get a little bit of exercise done. The park was practically deserted this morning and the park benches were still wet after the recent rain showers. But we had been ‘wise virgins’ and had come along prepared with sponge-like cloth and an old tea towel which made the bench habitable for us. Then having left Meg in the park, I strode off quickly to collect the newspaper and upon my return, then Meg and I immediately set off for home. We knew that we had to leave the house shortly after 1.0am so we had a quick ‘put me on’ of rice cakes in lieu of lunch before setting off for the hospital in Redditch (some 14 miles away).  Meg was due to have an X-ray on her neck and this procedure worked liked clockwork, with the added bonus of not needing to pay exorbitant car-parking charages either. When we got home, we had a light lunch of soup, not really wanting to start cooking at that hour. In addition, our hairdresser was due to call and although we can rely upon her running a little late, nonetheless we had a fairly narrow window in which to get ourselves fed and the washing up done.

Today,we have a day long-trailed and filled with some important COVID announcements. The most important weapon in the armoury of the present government is to rely almost excusively upon the efficacy of the present regime of vaccines coupled with some exhortations as to how to keep ourselves safe. All schoolchildren from 12-15 are to be offered one dose of a vaccine – only one dose at the moment because in the very rare event that complications arise, this seems to be after the administration of the second dose. All 50+  in the population will also be offered a ‘booster’ jab (making it their third) together with all health workers and some other key workers. However, it remians the case that daily infections and hospital admissions are running at a rate several times that of last year –  and so, the NHS coping with the backlog of cases over the course of the pandemic, is still under severe pressure. If the pressures on the NHS becomne intense and the infection rate ‘spikes’ (or should we say ‘soars’) then the Government will move to Plan B. A little bit of disturbing news that has only just ‘trickled out’  is that is that the efficacy of the various vaccines seem to decline fairly rapidly and after 20 weeks ( a bare 4 months) the Astra Zeneca vaccine is only 50% and the Pfizer 70% effective. The implication of this is that people vaccinated several months ago might think of themselves are being quite ‘safe’ buit they may be much less protected than they thought. It is true to say, though. that fully vaccinated individuals make up just 1% of coronavirus deaths.

Plan B basically is concerned with powers that the government already has but has now decided that they should bring back into use if absolutely necessary. These include complusory use of face masks, vaccine passports and ‘last resort’ lockdowns.

Various virologists and public health experts are interviewed quite regularly on the media and I think it is fair comment to conclude that there is a degree of worry ‘out there’ in the informed scientific community. In the words of one of them, it really looks as though the politics is driving the government decision making and certainly not the science. Hence Scotland, for example, is going to keep vaccine passports for nightclubs and similar large crowds of people.  I think that one of the sources of concern is that if the infection rate is high, you are always opening the door to a variant that will prove to ‘escape’ all of the current vaccines. Should this occur, no doubt a new vaccine can be formulated but if we lose several months getting production ramped out then new variants might have got a headstart on us and we might be back to the ‘bad old days’ of a year ago. I feel that the whole of the government decision making seems to be dominated by fear of the right wing of the Conservative party – if they are not placated, then Boris might be de-throned and somebody more compliant to their politics might be installed. We seem, not for the first time, to be very much behind the vaccination of our young people compared with the rest of Europe. For example, France has been moving quickly with 66% of those aged 12 to 17 now single jabbed, and 52% fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, we are just starting to rollout our vaccination programme for these youngsters next week.


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13th September, 2021 [Day 546]

The start of another week and the weather is starting to feel a tad autumnal. Meg and I have commitments both today and tomorrow but we are looking to a little spell of fine weather on Wednesday (and no storms before then) so I can have a chance to pick this year’s crop of damsons before a storm comes along and shakes them all of  the branches. After we had got showered and some morning jobs done, Meg and I were wondering whether to  go down to town by car to save some time because we knew that we would have to have a pretty early lunch so that we could set off for our afternoon trip in plenty of time. One of the little jobs I engaged in this morning was a bit of spreadsheet work to get my finances (or rather my record keeping) shipshape. As I was doing this, a thought occurred to me which is hardly original. That is, whenever you are working with a spreadsheet, perhaps you are working with TWO spreadsheets – one on the computer in front of you and the other which is actually in your head. Then when you examine the physical spreadsheet and you see something which is not quite right, unexpected or anomalous you automatically cross check with the spreadsheet ‘in your head’  to reconcile the two. I suspect that accountants (or good ones) always work this way – you don’t just look at a spreadsheet full of figures and say ‘x must be the answer’ but have a fair idea what a value (or a spreadsheet cell) ‘ought’ to say. When I discussed this with my son, he argued that a combination of check sums and pivot tables always made the answer a ‘correct’ one  so it could just be my own ideosyncratic way of working. As we were going into town by car, we spotted our friends whose wedding anniversary it was today just on their way home from a funeral. Anyway, it was good to stop by and give them our congratulations ‘in the flesh’ as it were – in my card to them, I pointed out that the generally speaking, the first fifty years of married life were the worst and all was plain sailing after that.  So we picked up our ‘Times‘ and had quite a pleasant coffee and comestibles in the park before setting off for home and then an early lunch.

Then, at 2.00pm we set off for Solihull where we had an appointment at the building society where we have several savings accounts. All that we intended to do was to make our accounts into joint accounts – I suspect that we hadn’t done this in the first place as it always a bit of ‘pfaff’ having to gets two lots of ID and what have you and, in general, it is easier to set up an account in single rather than in joint names. We needed to fill a four page form for each one of our accounts (serving a different ‘savings pot’) and then in the building society, these had to be checked over and then our four lots of ID neded to be physically examined. It took two of the clerical staff the best part of half an hour to do all of this and we waited patiently. However, the staff did not appear to mind – one wonders if they did not have much work to do if people like us had not turned up  with our demands. They were very gracious and accommodating about all of this but once it had been done, we wandered along the High Street and treated ourselves to a cappucino and ‘tarte de pommes’ in a recently opened and refitted coffee bar cum cocktail bar. Then, as we had not visited this high street for a couple of years, courtesy of the pandemic, we took the opportunity to pop into the Cancer Research charity shop where we bought a Bill Bryson book and an anniversary card, noting that they had a magnificent range of Christmas cards of the type we like (both religious and secular) We made a mental note to come back before Christmas so that we could get a good supply – we always used to get our Christmad cards from  the Oxfam shop in Bromsgrove but this has unforunately closed down.  

Tonight it has been announced that a single shot of vaccine is to be ‘offered’ to all schoolchildren beteen the ages of 12-15. The science and politics behind all of of this is that whilst the risk of infection is low, the  disproportionate effects of school disruption should be minimised if possible. It is also well known that most of the public health scientific community know that schools transmit virus rapidly and the summer holidays acted as a type of firebreak – now that the schools have gone back, it might only be a week or so before rates start to rocket. So are we vaccinating school chidren far too late – most of Europe and the States have been doing it for weeks now and we really ought to have started this in mid-August!

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Sunday, 12th September, 2021 [Day 545]

Another Sunday and the weather dawns as one of those grey and indeterminate days. I get up early-ish and walk down for my copy of ‘The Sunday Times‘ (the pleasure of The Observer now being foregone). On my way down, I left a bottle of wine outside a bush which graces the front of one of our friend’s houses (a present for their wedding anniversary) and, on the accompanying card, reminded them to look behind the bush for their bottle. On the way home, I noticed that the bottle had disappeared which either means that they have taken it safely inside the house or there are a lot of opportunistic thieves roaming the streets of Bromsgove first thing on a Sunday morning. On the Andrew Marr show, we had the Health Secretary Sajid Javid (our local MP) announcing the fact that a health passport, under consideration by the governnment, had now been ruled out. What is significant about this, is that one hour earlier on a rival show, he had intimated that this policy was still under consideration so there was a rapid and dramatic change in public policy in the space of one hour without any evident consultation with colleagues. Strange! But we are unfortunately having to get used to bizarre modes of government and contradictory announcements from this government – as the opposition and the press do not seem able to ‘lay a glove’ on them.

We knew that in the late morning, we were both due to go along and have our routine ‘flu jabs which is part of our normal autumn routine. We texted our University of Birmingham friend to say that we would have to leave him at a precise time – but we chatted with some of our other regulars before we had to announce our departure. As we have come to expect, the whole surgery and vaccination process was like a military operation. We walked in before our annointed slot, booked in, followed the arrows, bared our left arm, received the jab and were then outside of the building by another entrance all within about two minutes or so. I managed a brief chat with the health service professional giving me my dose saying how difficult it was for the vaccine makers to call the correct ‘strain’ of ‘flu which they feel might be prevalent in the autumn as they have to make a judgement call in February and a few years back they didn’t get it quite right. My vaccinator explained to me that to try and minimise the risk of this happening, what was actually administered was a cocktail of about four variants to maximise the chance of success. I must say that today, for about the first time, the injection site in my left arm is a little on the tender side and I can feel that I have been ‘jabbed’. This will settle down in a day or but in the past I have had the vaccine with no ill effects whatsoever so I wonder if COVID-10 antibodies are putting up a fight? Anyway, we returned home to a chicken dinner hoping that one of those whole chickens that you get these days (on its own tray, complete with cooking bag) had not exploded and wrecked the entire oven. I am pleased to say it had not but an awful lot of fluid seemed to come of this partticular fowl which formed the basis of our gravy.

The media today is full of the success of the 18-year old Emma Raducanu who was the first ‘qualifier’ to ever win the American Open. I hadn’t realised that Channel 4 had broadcast the match live last night becase we were busy watching Last Night of the Proms and then went promptly to bed. She seems to be a very level headed young women and, after Wimbledon, has coped with the pressure well – let us hope that she continues to do so and does not ‘crash and burn’ as can happen if success comes too early. I did just wonder by what criteria her parents (father from Romania,her mother fom China) had gained access to the UK but as they were evidently not short of money, perhaps they fulfilled the criteria of ‘high net worth’ individuals when her parents emigrated from Canada when she was two years old.  Their loss is our gain, though.

The Sunday Times is running a story today to the effect that Boris Johnson has surrounded himself by incompetents within his cabinet and hopes that he can remain PM for about 10 years, hoping to rival Margaret Thatcher. Much as I thoroughly disliked  Margaret Thatcher and she had her favourites amongst the ‘Drys’ rather than the ‘Wets’, I think she did not overlook talent. One does get the impression that with the possible exception of the Chancellor, Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with people who cannot challenge his authority. Although the vast majority of the Tory party hate the provisions they have just voted through in the Health and Social Care Bill, if Boris Johnson keeps on winning elections with 80 seat majorities, then do they care? As one prominent politician said (I must look up the source) ‘Look if you don’t like my principles, I have lots of others‘ which sounds like Broris Johnson to a tee.

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