Wednesday, 7th April, 2021 [Day 387]

Today it was evident that we were going to get some cooler days – but not the biting artic winds of a few days ago. We collected our newspapers and popped into Waitrose for the odd one or two things we needed before our on-line order arrives tomorrow. As the weather conditions were quite cool, attendance at the park was down this morning but we fortunate just to have a brief respite from the winds whilst we drank our coffee. So it was no great surprise that none of our normal friends would made an appearance today although we did bump into some friends of friends just outside the park gates. So we made our way home in plenty of time for a much anticipated  lunch of fish cakes (which we tend to have about once a week) In order to give our fish cakes a bit of a boost in flavour, I have developed a quick little sauce which just provides a piquant touch (equal quantities of mayonnaise and ‘1000 Island’  dressing with a good squirt of tomato ketchup) then heated up for about a minute in a little glass tumbler in the microwave. This afternoon, we devoted ourselves to glancing through a pile of newspapers and then throwing all of them away as there was nothing of worth to note – this is done at quite a timely time as our ‘green’ recycling bin ia due for emptying tomorrow on a 2-weekly schedule.

The news this afternoon has been dominated by the view of the regulators that there may be an incredibly small risk of a blood clot (approximate risk of 1 in a million resulting in death) with the AstraZeneca virus. There will be a lot of ‘I told you so!’  from some of our continental rivals who always seem to have had their doubts about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The UK advice is now to offer an alternative vaccine to those under 30, probably the Moderna variant. However, the regulators are trying to reassure the population that a vaccine preventing COVID-19 still outweighs the risks of side effects for the vast majority of people. One is left with the thought that it will not take much to deter some people from receiving their jab and they may well be putting themselves at risk. When we were nearly home, we passed one of our near neighbours who told us that the local vaccination centre, a re-purposed Arts Centre, was practically closed as they had run out of vaccine. As Meg and I are due to receive our second jab next Monday, we hope that the authorities know about us and that they have some supplies of vaccine held by for us. Apparently, this lull was known about but supplies should increase in a week or so. We know that supplies of the AstraZeneca virus have been impacted with supply problems at the manufacturing centre in India (who probably need every dose they can possible lay their hands on).

The trial the police officer accused of the murder of George Floyd in the USA is still receiving a lot of media exposure with live testimony streamed from the courtroom. The fact that the prosecution is bringing along witnesses such as the policeman’s own Chief of Police (as well as an army of training instructors) to say that kneeling on a suspect’s neck for 9 minutes whilst they lay prone on the ground was not a legitimate use of force. Conviction would now appear to be a certainty but after the conviction that there may be some weeks before sentencing is passed. It may be the first time in American history that a white policeman is judged to be guilty of a black suspect and hence the massive amount of interest in the case. I have a feeling that there will be a lot more to this case as the days unfold.

When this pandemic started, Meg and I said to each other that this would present us with an ideal opportunity to go through lots of things and ‘declutter’ the house (or the parts of us that we live in). Now that we have been over a year since the start of the pandemic, we might reflect how much progress we have actually made, The answer is ‘ Zilch’ i.e. nothing. One way or another, we seem to be busy as our walks to the park and chatting with friends and acquaintances has assumed a higher priority (as it should, of course) rather than tidying up old cupboards. When I used to speak with people who had to move house for occupational reasons (in the 70’s-90’s), they used to argue that moving house proved to be the best way of not accumulating too much. We have now lived in this house for 13½ years which is quite long enough to accumulate more than we should. There must be a moral in that somewhere.

 

 

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Tuesday, 6th April, 2021 [Day 386]

Today our weather had evidently moderated somewhat – the very clear skies of yesterday had given way to some interesting clouds (some white and fluffy, some evidently moisture-bearing) and whilst there was a coolish breeze, it did not have the severity that we experienced yesterday. So our walk to gather our newspapers was quite pleasant and then we made our way into the park where we thought we would coincide (as we did) with our University of Birmingham friend. After quite a chat and joined by one or two others of our acquaintances (including some who have actually read this blog), the weather suddenly seemed to take a turn for the worse so we willingly decided it was time to return home. On our way home, though, we paused outside the house of one of our oldest friends down the street. We discussed the likely date of  the funeral arrangements for a near neighbour whose husband had died and we speculated that, as soon as the weather improves, we would be in a position to drink tea (or champagne!) in the gardens of each other’s houses. I must say that with the plethora of spring flowers and with all of the flowering trees and shrubs in profusion then all of the gardens down to road are looking a treat. However, there were certainly flurries of snow in the wee small hours of the morning as well as another flurry of snow in the late afternoon. I suppose that it is quite within the bounds of possibility that in a few day’s time we have ‘snowstorms’ which are a strange mixture of actual snow flakes mingling with the blossom from the various trees that are swept off by a gusts of wind.

After we got home, we had one of those rare moments when all of the family members were starting to think about their prospects in the year or so ahead. I suppose there is something about both the time of year and also the start of the end of the lockdown that encourages one to start to raise one’s eyes slightly towards the horizon and wonder what our various prospects for the year or so ahead. Meg and I know that in the fullness of time we will eventually move into our very last house where all the relevant goods and services (not to mention friends) are well within walking distance. This is assuming, of course, that one no longer uses a car (the occasional taxi can be cheap enough) and that you have a house that is perfectly adapted to one’s needs. Why some English people think that retiring to a little village which I could call ‘Little-Puddleton-by the-water’ with one bus a week and no village shop or other services is beyond me. I suppose that the ‘rural’  ideology is strongly implanted in the minds of the populace by estate agents amongst others. I am always amused by the fact that when a new bit of ‘infill’ occurs, there is a desire to advertise it with the symbolism of oak trees and squirrels and exotically sounding names, preferably with the name ‘Orchard’ in it – and this evocation of a rural idyll will sell the houses. I am not sure that other countries romanticise the countryside to quite the same extent that the English do, but I may be wrong in all of this.

Last night, I was playing about with my IBM ThinkPad and wondering if I could get some virus protection on it. Having trawled the web I downloaded an apparently ‘free’ antivirus program with excellent reviews and decided to try it out. It turned out that the ‘free’ bit was only the ability to use it ‘free’ for about three days of evaluation built into it before some money was demanded of you. However, it did have within the suite various functional bits that removed some redundant programs and ‘clutter’ from the computer (which seemed to work very well), as well as removing some ‘start up’ programs which one did not need but which slow the whole start up time. I vaguely wondered if I might happen to have an installation disk for Windows 7 which, indeed, I did locate. However, if you try to install this over XP you have to physically remove all of the XP first and then install Windows 7 in the empty space. I contemplated this for a moment and decided it was better not to upgrade but to be happy with a limited system which I knew did work rather than one which aborted, leaving you with nothing. I also found a legitimate copy of a Norton Internet Security 2011 (complete with its cellophane wrapping) and gleefully installed it – only to discover that the Norton system refused to accept its own Product Key (indicating its authenticity) Nonetheless, some of this suite works as intended and when I have time I will take a camera shot of the product key, send it off to Norton, and ask them to supply me with a code that works (or an updated product).

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Monday, 5th April, 2021 [Day 385]

Today has been a kind of day to defy all expectations. According to the weather forecasts, we should have had an incredibly stormy day with a blast of Artic air to boot. We certainly got the blast of Artic air all right but the skies were blue and clear. The wind was bitingly cold and our hats were anything but secure – but we obtained our newspapers and then went on our way to shiver in the park. We met up briefly with out 10-mile-a-day walking octogenarian but as it was so cold, none of us wanted to stand around for too long chatting. In fact, there had been flurries of snow earlier on this morning and some is still possible in the hillier regions of the country. It was still quite late when we got home and we had to throw together a quick kind of lunch (thank goodness for some Quorn which appears as type of simulated mince – tasty enough with a few spices and brown sauce!)

This afternoon, I spent a certain amount of time trying to configure the versions of Outlook which I have found on my ThinkPad to work with an email account I already with Outlook.com. This ought to be straightforward and despite a plethora of advice on the web I haven’t yet succeeded. I know it is possible to have a web-based email client but I am trying to avoid the web on the XP to avoid the ‘virus storm’ which is out there. I have one or two more options yet to try before I give up entirely.

We have had a further announcement from Boris to the effect that the Roadmap to the gradual end to the lockdown is still on schedule. This means that as from next Monday, shops, hairdressers and pub beer gardens will all be allowed to open. Mind you, Boris is urging a degree of caution and I suspect that as well as socially distancing, we shall all be wearing masks and providing contact details when we enter any establishment. We still have still to make contact with our visiting hairdresser to make sure that we are booked into her schedules. Together with most of the population, I am sure we cannot wait until we get ourselves well and truly shorn. It also appears that gyms will be allowed to re-open so I imagine that means that my Pilates class will resume – I must remind myself to get in touch with my teacher to see if she is going to get us all organised.

Almost inevitably, with the end of lock-down in sight and spring just about upon us, our thoughts are beginning to turn to the next few months ahead. Many of us would have organised holidays, preferably in warmer climes for our major summer break. But the difficulty here is that foreign holidays now seem quite a distant prospect. Even if we had been vaccinated with a couple of jabs and the rate of infection was reassuringly low, what would be the situation in whatever countries we intended to visit? Even for an ardent Francophile, France seems to be absolutely not the European destination of choice. On a similar vain, we cannot start to think about when we can see our closest Spanish friends again. Meg and I have an option for 10 days in Rome (a pilgrimage, no less) in late September but we are putting the possibilities of this coming off as well below 50:50. So forgetting our foreign holidays for a moment, the word of the moment is a ‘staycation’ in which many will stay at home and have lots of trips out. Many of the holiday destinations in England and Wales that have been abandoned in an era of cheap flights are now almost full to overflowing with bookings (so we are given to understand) and I am not sure I particularly want to holiday in over-crowded resorts with lots of my fellow countrymen. Apart from holidays, though, we will probably take the opportunity to visit various parts of the country to visit relatives who got missed out last Christmas. We have at least four trips that we need to make in the next few months ahead but one is wary of booking them at this stage. Meg has three cousins/uncles that we need to see and I have my family in Yorkshire to see but planning is somewhat difficult, in view of the fact that a ‘third wave’ could suddenly rear its ugly head and put all of our plans into the melting plot again. Turning to the world of work again, one wonders how after a year may people will retain a pattern of working for at least one if not two days at home and office attendance will be as valued as ‘gatherings around the water cooler’ i.e. social gossip as well as the work for which one is ultimately attending the office. And if we wanted to really depress ourselves, there is a hidden tide of undiagnosed but developing cancers that might be afflicting some of the population as well as the thousands of children who will be attending secondary schools with depressingly diminished standards of literacy (and numeracy).

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Sunday, 4th April, 2021 [Day 384]

A few days ago, we thought that today, Easter Sunday, would be gloomy and overcast. In practice, today had clear blue skies and there had evidently been an overnight frost. I made my way down into town fairly early to pick op our newspapers – the streets were deserted at about 8.00am apart from the very occasional dog-walker and the even more occasional jogger. Meg remained in bed as it was possible that staying out late last night was a bit too much for her system to bear, so whilst she slept, I breakfasted on cereals on my own. Then Martin and Mandy delayed their walk into town whilst I went down to see if I could rendezvous with our University of Birmingham friend. As it turned out, he did not ‘swing by’ so I spent about an hour in the sunshine waiting for him and tidying up my bag at the same time. I spent quite a lot of time hunting for a writing implement  and then some scraps of paper – once I had located these writing materials I reminded myself of the procedures I have developed to get any files I might need from the internet onto my IBM ThinkPad (via my computer and the judicious use of thumb drives) I am discovering that my new found little friendly ThinkPad is a little picky over the ways in which various USB peripherals are brought into play. I turn it on with one USB permanently populated with a thumb-sized pen drive which is about 26GB and effectively doubles my memory. Then I attach the hub extender and switch on the nano-receiver for the mouse (next) and finally the second flash memory disk I use as a transfer disk from my main iMAC computer for material I may have downloaded for it from the web. To the uninitiated, Windows XP is amazingly insecure and virus writers, knowing that MicroSoft has ended all support for XP, can target it in the hope of rich pickings or random damage. When I eventually did get home, I finished off the Waitrose pie which we started yesterday – I somehow couldn’t bear the thought of too much cooking so this was a way of getting a lunch fairly quickly.

This afternoon, Meg and I ‘stumbled’ into watching two University boat races. Because of the insecure nature of Hammersmith bridge, the Boat Races have had to be routed away from the Thames and the chosen location was north Great Ouse river in Cambriedgeshire where the course was long and straight which, in the absence of bends, made the races much closer than normal. As it turned out, Cambridge won both the Women’s race and then the Men’s race in each case by a similar margin (just a bit short of a boat length). In races this close, it was always possible that Oxford could ‘catch’ Cambridge but their tacticians (and home river advantage?) won the day, despite the Oxford teams being the favourites before the race was actually run.

Tonight, I have just had my usual struggle trying to get a reply of Handel’s Messiah from last night (for Meg’s benefit). Faced with the ‘Black Screen of Death’ I had to take out the Firestick, reinsert it, get some new batteries inside it and then fumble about to get what I wanted. I cannot work out why but the technology seems to work fine on my son’s and daughter-in-law’s TV but ours always seems to take an enormous amount of fiddling about with all kinds of hit-and-miss before I get anywhere. They used to day ‘A child of five can operate this technology – send for a child of five‘ so I had better try and kidnap one from somewhere.

Tomorrow it is claimed to be ‘three jumpers a day’ as the long predicted bad weather sweeps over the whole of the country. Arctic winds will cause temperatures to plunge back to winter levels on Easter Monday and bring a ‘significant’ wind chill. Overnight on Sunday, figures could drop as low as -7C (19.4F) in some areas of Scotland, with sub-zero figures also forecast in parts of northern England. A high of 17C (63F) in southern England on Sunday afternoon will drop to just 6C (43F) on Monday morning. I hope that this is just one blast of bad weather and then we can get back to watching a normal springtime return. The weather conditions are a little strange because my car also has a very fine sprinkling of what I think is Saharan sand thrown high into the atmosphere and then deposited on our cars. Well, it needed a wash tomorrow in any case but I think that will have to wait until Tuesday now.

The COVID-19 deaths and cases are now at their lowest since early September – but after the children have been home from school for two weeks and there are going to be a lot of family reunions (in theory in the open air), one wonders what the ‘R-‘ rate is going to be in a fortnight’s time.

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Saturday, 3rd April, 2021 [Day 383]

Well, today has been a most interesting day. We keep on expecting the weather to drift colder and, although it was a little cooler, the skies were clear and the spring sun was shining.  So Meg and I had a very pleasant walk down into town. Having picked up our newspapers, we knew that we were going to make a flying visit into Waitrose, primarily to buy Easter eggs for the kiddywinks (son and daughter-in-law) before tomorrow. Then the bottom dropped out of our worlds when we were told that not only had Waitrose sold out of Easter eggs but so had every other store in Bromsgrove. Some of the assistants who know us well guided us towards a substitute telling us knowingly that we would get a lot more chocolate if we followed their suggestions.  So we bought some miniaturised boxes of Cadbury Creme Eggs but complemented this with a good thick bars of some exotic dark chocolate. This will have to suffice under the circumstances but I never confess that in a month of Sundays I never thought actually that the stores would run out –  normally they are teeming with stock at this time of year. We met with several of our groups of friends and as the spring sunshine was so pleasant, we spent longer than perhaps we should in conversations with each one of them.After all of this chattering it was pretty late when we actually did get back home. Fortunately, I had taken the foresight to buy a Chicken and Leek pie from Waitrose and all that this needed was to be popped into the oven and complemented with some green vegetables.

We knew that later on in the evening, we were booked in to attend an extended church service (an especial liturgy for Easter Saturday) so we had a fairly lazy afternoon and a put-me-on tea knowing that we were going to attend church at 8.0pm and we needed to leave the house at 7.30 to secure a parking place. Bu this afternoon, after an early BBC News, there was a special rendition of Handel’s Messiah (one of our favourites) and this was staged in an most interesting way. Instead of being in a church or the Royal Albert Hall, the performance took place in the London Coliseum. All of the orchestra was ‘socially distanced’ upon the stage and the conductor who was also playing some harpsichord continuo was conducting from the harpsichord standing up (so he could be seen by all of the members of the choir) The choir, meanwhile, were socially distanced across the whole of the normal audience space whilst many of the soloists performed their pieces from within one of the boxes. The way it was filmed made each soloist appear as though they were performing in their own miniaturised theatre and the whole effect was stunning. The choir was the chorus of the English National Opera who also provided the orchestra. I noticed that many of the instruments used were either originals or copies of originals e.g. some of the trumpets were side valve and looked remarkably different from their modern counterparts. The quality of the imported soloists as well as the choirs was superb and whilst it must have taken a certain amount of planning, I did wonder whether the experiment might be repeated (although, of course, they generally need a paying audience to finance the whole lot)

When we got to church, we anticipated rather a long and perhaps drawn-out service. In the event, the service lasted 1¼ hours which was a little shorter than we had been led to expect and there were several special liturgical insertions as well as music to make the whole service seem different. Before the service started, I merged to sneak into the presbytery and have quick chat with the priest as the first bottle of damson gin seemed to have gone missing.Anyway, I had brought along another one but apparently he had taken possession of the first so now he has two bottles to make a merry clergyman of him.The service was conducted briskly but with all of the necessary decorum so we think that the congregation and priest should get along fine together.

Yesterday, the new battery arrived for the IBM ThinkPad and it seems to be working OK. The little instruction sheet indicated that on first use, you shouldn’t charge it up from its semi-charged state but rather run it down to about 2% (but not lower) and then immediately attempt a recharge up to 100%. I wonder if this indicates its is an ‘older’ generation of battery (nickel-based ? and not a modern lithium-ion that should have this kind of memory effect) Last night, getting fed up of the Chrome browser telling me it could not be updated, I went on the web and found a browser specially dedicated to older computers particularly XP which first saw the light of day about 19 years ago. I installed a blindly fast browser called K-Meleon (which I only to use for internal file browsing purposes anyway). Their own blurb maintains:

‘K-Meleon is an extremely fast, customizable, lightweight web browser based on the Gecko layout engine developed by Mozilla which is also used by Firefox. K-Meleon is Free, Open Source software released under the GNU General Public License and is designed specifically for Microsoft Windows (Win32) operating systems

This sounds ideal for my purposes as it is small, fast and functional (for what I want to do)

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Friday, 2nd April, 2021 [Day 382]

The day turned out, weather-wise, not to be the kind of day we were expecting. After the fairly dismal and cool day yesterday, we had a fairly bright and sunny day today with the added bonus that we were not really expecting it.The weather forecasters tend to be full of gloom and doom about the cold weather (including perhaps snow) which is going to sweep over the whole country on Monday next and it might even persist for a few days. The forecasters are indicating that ‘no part of the UK will remain immune from snow showers’ on Monday next. However, I suspect that the powers that be might well be rubbing their hands in glee because the cold weather may well keep people at home and hence not contribute to the large crowds that could well threaten a resurgence of the virus. On the other hand, people who would be meeting with their relatives in the open air in gardens and the like may be tempted to go indoors which would not be a good thing. After collecting our ration of the Saturday newspapers, we made our way to the park in which, although not teeming with people, most of our favourite benches were occupied so we had to seek out alternatives down by the side of the lake. On our way home we had two extensive chats, the first with some of our church friends to whom I had lent a copy of Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children‘ which won the Booker prize at the time. Then, as we progressed up the hill, we had another chat with our Italian friend and informed her of the death of a husband of a mutual acquaintance of ours. We wished each other well for the Easter season – I had previously bought some general purpose cards from Waitrose and sent one of them as a quasi-Easter card to Meg’s uncle in North Wales. However, upon posting it, I discovered it might not be collected until Monday (for which, read Tuesday) because of the Bank Holiday so he might not actually receive it until about next Thursday which is way after the event. However, as they say, it is the thought that counts after all.

The COVID-19 news still seems to be in the balance. Having sunk to a low level of infections, the ‘R’-rate is estimated to be in the range 0.8-1.0 so if it were to be 1.0 then this would imply threat the level of new infections was relatively stable i.e. each person infected would go on and infect exactly one other person (but not more). Boris Johnson is going on record to persuade people not to meet indoors, even if vaccinated (we know from the Christmas period that these ‘family get togethers’ can have very deleterious consequences as young people may infect older people) Although Meg and I will have to wait another 10 days before our second dose of the vaccine, we suppose that some people may imagine that once they have had two injections they are relatively safe. The truth is, of course, that even a doubly vaccinated person is still a risk to others and perhaps even to themselves. The degree of risk has been reduced by vaccinations but is still there.

Tomorrow evening, Meg and I are booked into an ‘Easter vigil in our local church. At this point of time, we do not know exactly what we have let ourselves in for but whereas our normal service starts at 6.00pm this one will start at 8.00pm and may well last for about two hours. We understand that as well as a Mass and benediction, there is likely to be some periods of reflection, some processions around the church and perhaps even some singing of sacred music performed for us. Meg and I have never been to one of these Easter vigils before and hence we can only speculate about its length and contents. This Easter Sunday might be quite a strange, not to mention surreal, experience. One always imagines that Easter  is associated with pale spring sunshine, a proliferation of flowering trees, shrubs and plants and the opportunity to meet particularly with family and friends. This Sunday and Monday, though, may be bitterly cold, snow-swept and generally unpleasant. Family gatherings under these circumstances will be characterised by the chattering teeth because of the cold and a general inclination not to spend more time than is necessary in the cold. Of course there’s always the TV in days like these and, in the absence of anything better, Meg and I may well raid the archives of YouTube to see if there is an opera that will take us out of ourselves. An interesting philosophical conundrum of a familiar nature rears its head at this time of year. The question is ‘At what age do children cease to expect Easter eggs from their parents? ‘ Evidently children in their pre-teen and teen years can expect to have these ritualised presents but does the same apply when you are in your 40’s or 50″s? I just thought I would pose the question without knowing the answer.

 

 

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Thursday, 1st April, 2021 [Day 381]

Well today, 1st April (‘All Fools Day‘) has dawned with no evident April fools in sight. There are two famous ones that I remember particularly well. The first was The Guardian’s special supplement on ‘Sans Serif‘ complete with encouragement for people to invest in the small country – many scurried for their atlases only to discover that San Serife does not exist. The second one, which I actually saw at the time, was the late but famous Richard Dimbleby looking at the start of the spaghetti harvest (they are draped several stringy type things over the branches of low hanging trees and had the native ‘villagers’ going round to ‘cut’ the spaghetti). This fooled an awful lot of people at the time – people remarked to each other ‘Well, I never knew that spaghetti grew on trees!‘ A few days ago, though, it was announced that as VW (Volkswagen) is going to produce only electric cars then an American subsidiary was going to rename itself from Volkswagen to Voltswagen. This is almost believable and fooled a lot of people a few days ago.

Today was always going to be a slightly different kind of day as we knew that some of our friends were going to be off playing tennis and the like. Our Waitrose order was delivered this morning and I realised that there one to two things I had forgotten to put on the list yesterday morning so we popped into Waitrose to collect these.We also bought a couple of cards one of which will serve as an Easter card from a friend from whom we had received one recently and the other will serve as a bereavement card for a friend of a friend whose husband had been very ill following a stroke and for whose family his demise might well have been a blessed release.  We then popped into Poundland to collect one or two cosmetic things for Meg (not out first choice of retail store but any port in a storm) and having got these popped into the park where the coffee was particularly appreciated as it was appreciably colder and windier than yesterday). There we met with one of our regulars who, although in his 80’s, does a round walk of 10 miles a day – tomorrow he is off to play a round of golf. I wonder if I can do that sort of thing in about 10-11 years time – I doubt it somehow.

This afternoon was scheduled to be ‘lawn mowing cutting’ day. After the trials of last week, today was, as they say, a ‘breeze’ and I got the large front lawn cut in two directions (North-South and than East-West) within 40 minutes. Then the back was easily done and I must say that both the lawns are looking so much better now that the grass-cuttings left around from last week’s mowing were now effectively ‘mulched’ (I have a mulching-style mower) and their appearance has improved tremendously.  After a cup of tea, I had a look at a shelf where I keep one or two computer ‘mice’ and was very lucky to marry a Logitech bluetooth mouse up with its nano-receiver (which plugs into the USB port) These small receivers can get separated from their ‘parents’ very easily but now that I have another working Bluetooth mouse I popped it onto the new ThinkPad where it works a treat! Another pleasant bonus for me today which I was not anticipating.

Now for absolutely ridiculous statistics time. Most of the polytechnics at the start of the IT revolution thought that it would be better to invest in small scale laboratories of PC’s rather than mainframe terminals – so in 1997, Leicester Polytecnic had about a dozen of these labs with about 16 machines in each. When I left the Scraptoft campus to take up a new job, each machine was equipped with 20Mb of memory (admittedly, this was on the point of being updated) If every polytechnic was the same, then the memory I purchased recently (128GB flash memory purchased for £15) would have been enough memory for each machine in each lab in each of the 30 polytechnics around the country. Another way of expressing this ‘story’ is that I could have equipped eacb lab throughout the country in each of the 30 polytechnics for about ¼p per laboratory.

If you want something really scary, then consider this quote from Boris Johnson today. Looking at the situation in France which he describes as ‘very, very sad‘ then the following stark comment might make us sit bold upright in our chairs. All the experience of the last year is that, when they get it in France… two or three weeks later it comes to us,‘ says the PM.  Of course, we have a much higher vaccination rate than in France but taking the PM’s at face value, then perhaps we are being forewarned not to be complacent and that a third wave will soon hit us emanating from the near continent.

 

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Wednesday, 31st March, 2021 [Day 380]

After a beautiful day such as we had yesterday, today seemed to be equally as good. We know that this beautiful spell of weather may end fairly soon to give rise to neat Artic conditions if the weather forecasts for the forthcoming Easter weekend are to be believed. But Meg and I are enjoying the sunshine whilst we can and sauntered down to town a little later than usual as we felt some lassitude after the travelling of yesterday. Meg made straight for our usual park bench whilst I popped off to get the newspapers. When I got back, Meg was still alone but we were soon joined by our University of Birmingham friend and other close friends from church. The latter two we were particularly keen to bump into because we are booked in to quite a long Eastertide service on Saturday evening and whilst we received intimations that it would be long we are not quite sure what is the nature of the ceremonies are to be held. We will find out in a day or so in any case. I chatted away to my University of Birmingham friend about my excitement in bringing my newly acquired IBM ThinkPad into use. I have got some of my ‘easier’ statistical programs safely transferred into flash memory from whence they can be run easily (I am trying to keep quite a clear distinction between Windows programs and associated files on the hard disk of the Thinkpad whilst my own programs, Dos utilities and datafilee are kept in a portable flash memory)  As an aside, it is amazing how ridiculously cheap such flash memory is now becoming. Courtesy of Amazon, I have just purchased a little USB thumb-sized SanDisk flash memory drive for which I paid £15.00 for 128GB (actually 125,000 Mb) and, once you have done the maths, this works out at 12p per Mb. I can divulge that in my newly acquired (very old!) ThinkPad, I only have a 40Gb hard disk and about 23Gb was ‘free’ for my own uses. But my recently acquired flash memory  drive increases this memory by nearly 5½ times at what you must say is a minimal cost. SanDisk offers a five year warranty on this flash memory and I suppose you back up somehow on a really old-fashioned Hard Disk Drive (HDD) which might fail over time and not dramatically as is the case with flash memory. Just to conclude my little computing section for today – I was delighted to see that both MicroSoft Word (2007) edition and Excel (2007) edition had been left on the computer. I read in the file of my PhD recently re-discovered and was delighted to see that it read in perfectly with every bit of formatting (including line drawing and box graphics perfectly) In the late afternoon, I showed Meg a slide show of our original wedding photographs (black and white, which retain an original type of crispness as professional photographers know) and she managed to identify everyone on the phots from 52½ years ago which is astounding (not to say gratifying).

Tomorrow,if the weather continues to hold fair, it will be time for the lawns to receive their second ‘hair-cut’ of the season. I am always reminded that the very act of cutting releases a hormone which encourages grass to grow – in other words, once the cutting season starts, one has to carry on assiduously. There is still quite a lot of grass-cuttings lying around from the very first cut of the season last week but once the lawn has been cut (at the correct height this week) the mulching effect of the mower ought to dispose of this quite easily and the lawns will start to look tidy again. We are not the possessor of really fine lawn grasses and the like which can give a striped lawn effect – rather, we have a more ‘meadowy’ look which suits us fine.

The COVID-19 situation in France seems to be very rapidly worsening. President Macron is due to announce a range of sweeping measures including a night-time curfew. Major shops will be closed and the new measures will last for a month. President Macron is saying that ‘we will lose control if we do not act now‘ and France ‘is now facing a race against the clock‘ It looks as though medical facilities are on the brink of being will overwhelmed. Returning to the domestic front, there are several photos of absolutely shocking scenes of parks and public spaces having been extensively littered after the crowds had been out enjoying the sunshine yesterday. There are horrific scenes of parks in our major cities and whilst the British have never been very good on litter, the scenes confronting the authorities are horrifying. I am glad to say I haven’t seen any of that in our own local park but it is evident that the local police, if they had tried to intervene, would have been absolutely overwhelmed.

 

 

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Tuesday, 30th March, 2021 [Day 379]

Today was a day for which we have looked forward for a very long time i.e. the opportunity to see friends once the COVID-19 regulations are starting to ease off. Knowing that we were going to Oxfordshire later on in the morning, we did not rush around too much this morning but did go down in the car to collect our newspapers. We then carried on to Oxfordshire where we arrived within a minute of our appointed time. It turned out to be the most beautiful spring day it was possible to imagine and in fact the news was reported this evening that it had been the warmest March day since 1968 (53 years ago). We ate with our friends outside in their delightful garden and had a magnificent meal of salmon washed down with some excellent beer and wine. We had taken down a collection of wine and plants for our friends and they, in turn, collected some eggs from the hens that they keep so we can look forward to these. As you imagine when we had not seen each other for so long we talked over families, friends, ways of coping with the lockdown, quite a lot of politics and lots of other things that took our fancy. After a fantastic lunch and very happy few hours, we turned the car for home at arrived back at about 6.00pm.

Tonight, we are going to treat ourselves to some classic comedy programs. No doubt, to keep the nation’s spirits high, there is going to be a repeat of ‘Yes, Minister‘ and a classic ‘Fall and Die of Reginald Perrin‘  episode.  I think the Yes, Minister‘ episodes are particularly well crafted and there are some well-founded inside stories that most of these stories are elaborated around episodes that actually occurred. One of the ‘leakers’ was Harold Wilson’s secretary, Marcia Williams (later Lady Falkender) who met with the scriptwriters over a good lunch revealing to them some of the stories that were eventually to find their way into our our television screens.

My exploration of my recently acquired IBM ThinkPad is still proceeding apace. I am setting myself the mini-task to see how much of the accretions that computers appear to naturally acquire  such as log files and out-of-date remnants of installation routines can safely be deleted. There is always a slight reluctance to get rid of a program wholesale in case it takes out a vital component upon which another program relied. It is the case that some programs can be entwined with each ‘like a pig’s entrails’ so one has to proceed with a degreee of caution. However, with a playing-about type of machine like the, it doesn’t matter in the long run if something does go awry occasionally.

Today, whilst reminiscing with friends, we were almost inevitably starting to wonder what the shape of civil society will be once the worst ravages of the pandemic are over. Rather as disclosing agents are used in dentistry to reveal the existence of a film of plaque not immediately discernible to the human eye, so I wonder whether the COVID virus will have cruelly exposed some of the weakest points in our body politic. On the one hand, there will be individuals whose lives have been completely devoted by the virus. They might have lost relatives to it, they themselves might have suffered from the virus and may still be suffering the consequences of ‘long-COVID’ which seems to affect many organs within the body. And of course, the disruption to economic life will have been severe in the extreme for very many families. On the other hand there may be a small but significant part of the population who have quite a ‘good’ COVID. (I am reminded that in World War II there were some individuals who had quite a ‘good’ war if they happened to have a large garden so they could feed themselves, who might have been in a reserved occupation which meant that they didn’t have to join the front line of the armed services and who might have found some opportunities for self-enrichment via the ‘black market’) The argument for a good COVID runs like this. Some people might rather like the idea of only working a 2-3 working week at home (if you work 4 10-hour days you can have three ‘leisure’ days or at least non-working days). These ‘non-work days could be devoted to voluntary work, some opportunities for outdoor exercise for which one barely had the time in a past life – and, of course, some people’s social contacts have expanded enriching the lives of their friends and associates. So it makes one wonder whether in the ‘new’ normality, there might not quite a large percentage of the population who have no real desire to return to the ‘status quo ante‘ but are are actually quite happy with the opportunities that have been afforded to cut up one’s life space in a completely different way. Just a thought for the day?

 

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Monday, 29th March, 2021 [Day 378]

It was a little cloudy and overcast today but there is the promise of warmer weather to come. We had a slightly different routine today because we had decided to do some outline household jobs this morning and then take the car down to town to pick up the newspapers and also also to pop into Waitrose. There I had espied a basket full of spring bulbs and also a nice little container with a young rhubarb plants within it. The latter seems to be an odd present but I am sure that our friend in Oxfordshire can find a good use for it in a small corner of her vegetable garden (but rhubarb is best left for a year before pulling it in its second year) When we got the park, we bumped into several people who we had met in the past and who were vaguely looking out for us – being an hour later than normal might have helped us coincide with these folks in any case.The ‘upper’ seats were occupied so we had to contend with the lower seats that we used to occupy before we decided to migrate. And so, after several chats, we made for home and had a fairly light lunch as neither of us felt particularly hungry.

In the early afternoon, I had a ‘package’ delieverd two days earlier than I had been anticipating. Having dug around in my computer system, I had discovered some statistical software that I had written in my pre-Windows and pre-Mac days – evidently, I had no technology upon this would run but that had not troubled me over the years. However, the thought occurred to me that it might be possible to pick up a rather out-of-date laptop which would be sold ‘for a pittance’ on the grounds that nobody would want one in these internet days. Anyway, I trawled the web and thank that an IBM ThinkPad was on sale – the build quality of these was considered so good that it was rumoured that NASA had forbidden its employees to buy anything else but these. The keyboard alone is reckoned to be one of the finest ever made (by the cognoscenti) To cut a long story I put in a bid for this machine which was said to be in perfect working order save the battery needed replacing but the operating system was Windows XP which I always thought was particularly good and stable. My bid, which was less than 5% of its original selling price was, to my amazement, accepted and the machine loaded with Word and Excel and in in a brand new case arrived today.

Well, I have now had he chance for a little play and how pleased I am! To get me going I had indulged in a very good Windows XP book (subtitled ‘The Missing Manual – the book that should have been in the box‘) which I had possessed and disposed of before but at £3.48 for over 600 pages and incredibly well written, I was happy to replace this. Having had to update some details the BIOS (date and time settings), I fairly soon got going with the XP home page and of course all of the old memories come flooding back. I was delighted to navigate my way to the DOS prompt (which I need to recognise a pen drive and some USB-based flash memory) I had already ordered a 32GB little usb stubby flash memory unit which Amazon sold me for £6.18 which was not going to break the bank and almost acts as a small-scale external drive. Having got used to some basic navigation, I formatted my flash memory as FAT32 so it could be both read and written to in MAC and in IBM-PC machines. Then I located some of my statistical folders which were ridiculously small  by modern standards as the two folders with two quite large statistical programs within them were only about 3.5 Mb. I got these copied over to me flash memory and saw the programs running for the first time in about 20 years which was quite a pleasant surprise. As the programs run within a sort of DOS-box within Windows XP there is no Windows clutter and overload to cope with and they were blindingly fast. So a very pleasant first day of playing in my sand-pit! Whilst I was rummaging in a storage cupboard thinking that I may have some old 3½ floppies, I did discover some more software that I had written as well as several copies of my PhD that I stored on several floppies.When I wrote it in 1996-1997, I must have taken the view that hard disks were relatively unstable and so had stored it on floppy after floppy – that does explain why it does not seem in any places that I might expect in the legacy folders of my hard disk. No doubt, I will bore you with more of this in later blogs…

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