Saturday, 11th September, 2021 [Day 544]

Today was a typical Saturday morning – we seemed a little delayed as we did not have rush too much as we were not due to meet anyone in particular in the park. I left Meg on our usual bench chatting with a couple of our park regulars whilst I went off into the town to gather our newspapers and collect one or two bits and pieces. At the newsagents, I received a pleasant  and unexpected surprise. Yesterday, I had dropped off a card and a bottle of bubbly to help the newsagent and his wife to properly celebrate their 45 years of successful marriage. Today, Meg and I were the recipients of a very interesting looking bottle of rosė bubbly and card as well (as it was our 54th last Thursday) so we have both helped each other to celebrate our respective good fortunes. En route, I also passed a hardware stall where I bought as a speculative purchase a large adjustable spanner. This was bought as much for the fact that being a tool of not-recent manufacturer, it is quite heavy as it is made from drop-forged steel and consequently is reasonably heavy (and so useful for weighing things down as occasion demands)

When we got home, it was pretty late so we had to ‘make do’ with an instant meal. On occasions like this we tend to make use of a tin of corned beef which can be made into an instant mince when added to some fried onions and a bit of instant gravy. To this we added a baked potato and some petit pois – well, I have tasted better and tasted worse, but at least we rustled a meal together in just over 10 minutes. We treated ourselves, though, to a specially concocted  ‘sweet’ which starts off with a banana and after some ice-cream, yogurt and a Waitrose special choc-ice special topped off with a drizzle of honey. It sounds (and is!) indulgent but has to be tasted to be believed.

This afternoon, we were more than happy to have a lazy afternoon because we knew that we were going to go to church leaving the house at 5.30. When we got to the church car park we ran into one of the friends whose wife is in hospital. We were delighted to get some good news that our friend’s angiogram proved negative and we are hoping to see her home fighting fit as soon as she can be discharged – they are waiting for the artery into which the angiogram is inserted to heal somewhat before she can come home again, hopefully before new Thursday which just happens to be her wedding anniversary. 

Tonight, as I blog, I am half-listening to the ‘Last Night at the Proms‘ as it is that time of year again. I feel deeply ambiguous about this programme now that we are living in a post-Brexit era. I used to enjoy (if that word is not far too strong) the eccentricities of the English letting their hair down once a year in order to be straight-laced for the rest of it. But now in these post-Brexit, English-nationalist type days, I feel deeply unhappy about the rampant xenophobia, flag waving and generally denigration of foreigners (‘Britons never, never will be slaves‘ etc.) I think it would be more appropriate now  to sing not ‘Britain rules the waves’ but rather ‘Britain waives the rules’) I always suspected that all of the xenophobes and English nationalists used ‘Last Night‘ as an excuse  for their posturing  but now it seems to have received official endorsement from the establishment. Incidentally, I think the BBC does a magnificent job not allowing too much attention given to the extremes of flag raising and the hunting  out of spots of rampant xenophobia and they do try hard to focus on a few non-UK type flags being waved to try and present some ‘balance’  The traditional medley of songs etc I shall avoid but I do enjoy listening to how witty the conductor chosen for the last night can prove to be.

Last night, we did listen to the whole of Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion‘  and really enjoyed every minute of it (broadcast from 7.00pm until 10.00pm. I first heard it when I was about 14 and in the school music room in Thornleigh College, Bolton, getting prepared to travel home by train for the Easter vacation. The very last cantata (‘In tears of grief, we leave thee Lord‘) in English translation, held me absolutely transfixed, as it does to this day – if you listen careful to the cadences of the music and it is skilfully interpreted you can almost hear the sobbing of grief played out in long cadences. Incidentally, to any musicologists out there, does the very, very last chord of the cantata end in a deliberate mis-chord (like an ‘E’ and an ‘F’ played next to each other) – written by Bach (who was a deeply religious man but although a Protestant, his music and I think much of his religious work was performed in catholic cathedrals such as Leipzig), I think he may have been a very subtle point in writing the discord right here (but of course, I could be wrong)

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Friday, 10th September, 2021 [Day 543]

After all of the excitement generated by yesterdays’s celebrations of 54 years of married bliss, today rather had the feeling of ‘the morning after the night before‘ about it. After we had got ourselves dragged into bed and seen a little of the late night news, then I got up to write yesterday’s blog which might explain its slightly ‘offbeat’ character. So this morning, we were a little slow in getting up and getting going – and of course our domestic help calls around on a Friday so we always seem to have masses to talk about.  Eventually, though we did get going and had previously arranged to meet with our University of Birmingham friend in the park – as it turned out, we were only half an hour late. There wasn’t time to pick up our newspaper (now confined to ‘The Times‘) and we spent about an hour and a half chatting about all kinds of things. One matter which was absorbing our attention, though, was a problem manifest over practically the whole of the UK. This is how to have an adequate consultation with a GP when it is so difficult to have any face-to-face contact with a GP these days when the default method of consultation is via a telephone appointment. We were reminiscing with each other that an old-fashioned GP in the former pre-COVID days could have gathered all kinds of impressionistic data from the moment you entered the room until you were beckoned to sit down in a chair adjacent to the doctor’s work station. Now, I think it is true to say, that a GP is likely to be staring at his computer screen and wave you towards a chair before entering the opening gambit of ‘what can we do for you today?‘  Just by chance, there is an article in today’s ‘Times‘ which is detailing how the senior coroner for Manchester is highlighting in ‘Prevention of future deaths‘ reports in which five cases of death over the last few months could have been avoided if face-to-face consultation had taken place rather than a telephone consultation. One of these cases involved the case of  a 99-year old resident of a residential home who had a telephone consultation with a doctor who did not diagnose a broken femur from which the patient could well not have died. These cases are no doubt the prominent tip of a vary large iceberg but when you consider that for the past year and half a huge amount of ‘normal’ doctoring has been squeezed out by the impact of the pandemic, it not surprising that mistakes will occur and diagnoses not be made on time.

When we go home (late) it was time for me to prepare what is now fast becoming a Friday lunchtime special i.e. fresh sea-bass bought from Waitrose only the day before. Now that I know exactly how to cook these correctly so that the skin is nicely crispy and, once turned over, the flesh is nicely cooked without being over-cooked, we are really enjoying our mid-day on Friday treat. I serve it with some capers (previously bought in a jar), some fresh lemon juice, garlic butter and purple sprouting broccoli. This is a dish which is both extreme delicious as well as healthy so I am more than happy, having just established a Friday tradition, to carry on with it. To be honest, I used to make a big fish pie about once a month with 4-5 different kinds of fish and then, having cooked it, save several portions for future meals but it does take quite a lot of preparation and I have rather got out of the habit of doing it in the last few months.

Today, after lunch, I went down on my own by car in order to pick up my copy of ‘The Times’ which I now intend to read rather more assiduously now that I am bereft of The Guardian. I did take the opportunity to pop into Waitrose where I bought a bottle of Cava and a card for my friendly Asian newspaper whose shop is just around the corner. When we were discussing our own forthcoming 54th wedding anniversary celebrations,  it emerged that he was due to celebrate 45 years of marriage on that most memorable of dates i.e. 9/11 (as the Americans would put it, 11th September for us in the UK). In the past week, I did watch a documentary of how 9/11 unfolded hour by hour as captured in air traffic control messages (still quite laconic) and a lot of footage shot on people’s cellphones (mobiles to us Europeans) that had never been broadcast before. I have no doubt tomorrow, twenty years after the events of two airliners crashing into the Work Trade Centre in New York, one into the Pentagon and one brought down in a field in Pennsylvania, our airwaves will be filled with all kinds of footage of the attack. One fact that I have just heard on tonight’s news that I did not know was that some 10,000 New Yorkers were directly impacted by the collapse of the twin towers mainly though the release of toxic materials and a number of these developed cancers from which they subsequently died. I have seen one source that indicates that nearly 3,000 people died directly but that over 4,000 survivors and first-aiders may have died since 9/11 itself.

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Thursday, 9th September, 2021 [Day 542]

So the day has finally dawned to which I had been looking forward for some time now. It is the day of our 54th wedding anniversary and the day seemed very similar in temperament to the way it was in 1967. One thing I particularly remember about that particular day is the fact that one of Meg’s cousins and the parents of Meg’s bridesmaid were both coming from afar to Manchester – one from South Wales and the other from Solihull. These two sets of guests both had particular and distinctive sports cars. From my memory (which may well be faulty) one of these was a Daimler Dart and the other may well have been one of the more distinctive Triumphs. Anyway, the owners of these cars had each taken note of the other whilst they were proceeding along the motorway (the M6) into Manchester and were regularly overtaking each other turn and turn about (as sometimes cars do, travelling at about the same speed). Imagine the astonishment when one followed the other through the suburbs of Manchester and they eventually landed up outside the same church (i.e. Church of the Holy Name, opposite the main entrance to the University of Manchester) when they discovered that they were each coming to the same event i.e. our wedding, Naturally, there was mutual amazement when they finally met having chased each other for miles. We have a series of the original wedding photos on my iPhone, scanned from the original photos at the time of our 50th 4 years ago and the photos, with the passage of time, are quite revealing (black and white, of course) In one photo, six male friends of Mike’s are shown all in the prime of their lives. Who would have thought that over 50 years later, three of these would be dead (one of them my own best man), a fourth suffering from prostate cancer and a fifth with dementia. There appears to be one member of the six apparently unscathed but it does tend to show dramatically the frailty of the male members of the species. Another fact revealed in the photos is Meg’s wedding dress, which is actually a Mary Quant copy. (Mary Quant was said by some to be the inventor of the miniskirt and was was certainly an icon of women’s fashions in the 1960’s) If Meg’s wedding dress had been a May Quant original it would have cost £1,000’s but what happened is that Meg sketched out some of the designs she liked which epitomised the Mary Quant ‘look’ and Meg’s mother, whom was an excellent couturier, bought the materials and made the dress, When, in occasions like this, we show the wedding photographs to people that we meet, practically ever female of the older generation will have heard of Mary Quant and can therefore relate to the design.  As well as being above the knee (just), the outfit also sported a wonderful lace bonnet which was very much ‘a la mode‘ in 1967.  We have one more fairly remarkable fact about our wedding photos. When I was getting them out of their retaining album for our 50th, a piece of lined paper fell out which was actually the organist’s original notes of everything that we had played at out wedding. From this list, I have managed to scour the internet and get practically identical facsimiles so we now have the facility to run a slide show and play the wedding tracts which is almost as good as a video might have been (or a cine film, I suppose, in 1967). This all comes to mind because Meg and I went went to Waitrose by car, discovering some champagne and cards left by a friend when we were on our way out. Once we go into Waitrose, we showed the photos on my phone to a few of the regular staff who know us very well and were rewarded by a bunch of flowers as well.

Knowing that we were going out in the evening, we had a light lunch and I spent one time getting my building society accounts all made accessible through an app I have installed on my phone. Then we got our ‘glad rags’ on and went out for a meal to our favourite hotel/restaurant, starting at 6.30 and carrying on until 10.00pm. We had a really marvellous dinner with lots of good food and scintillating conversation with laughter and merriment very much in evidence. Our friends had also bought us some birthday wine and cards to help us make our day really memorable. As another sort of coincidence, my local friendly newsagent is going to celebrate 45 years of marriage in two days time – his wedding anniversary can never be forgotten as it is the by now ‘infamous’ 9/11 (i.e. 11th September) in which the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were attacked and destroyed some 20 years ago now.

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Wednesday, 8th September, 2021 [Day 541]

Today may well have been the hottest day of the year so far. It looked as though temperatures around the whole of the UK were about 30° which is in the mid 80’s. However, the weather forecasters had warned us that this was going to be a short-lived heatwave as the whole weather system is due to break down tomorrow and it looks as though cooler and stormier weather will spread over the whole of the country spreading from the south west. First thing this morning, I spent some time getting my accounts up to date and then I texted one of my friends to get the telephone details of another – Meg and I were anxious to know how our friend who had been hospitalised after heart problems was doing. I managed to make contact and got some up-to-date news (and quite by accident ran into him in the paper shop as well) They are transferring his wife to a more specialised coronary care unit in Worcester and to be in the hands of specialists and with better equipment must be a good thing. They have diagnosed some problems with her heart valves  and I just hope that with some modern treatments and drugs our friend will be able to get a new lease on life. She is a really avid gardener and organised a lot of the flower decorations within our local church so she is bound to be missed for a little while now. When I bumped into her husband, I told him to forget about the normal clothing things that you take into hospital but just take along some perfume to wear. In the park, we had quite a long conversation with one of regular park regulars. Knowing that we meet several times a week, he had asked me to get a specialised product from Amazon which I was happy to oblige. The package arrived yesterday so it got handed over (and I was repaid) so that worked out well. We were joined by Gloria, our wheelchair friend, and spent some time chatting but to be honest, whilst there was a pleasant breeze, the temperature was steadily arising as the day wore on. We walked home fairly slowly as we did not want to ‘push it’ in the extreme heat. Once we got home, our house was delightfully cool after the heat of the midday sun outside and we adapted the quiche we were due to eat to make it into  a salad-type meal.

This afternoon, Meg and I spent a certain amount of time watching some of the debates in the House of Commons over the Health and Social Care proposals. The Labour Party MP’s were generally arguing that the government proposals to spend over £12 billion supporting the NHS and finally addressing the funding problems was little better than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Also, there was very much a feeling that ‘ordinary workers’ would bear the brunt of the cost through National Insurance contribution increases but the very wealthy (and their houses) would emerge almost unscathed. The reaction of many Tory MPs was fascinating. They absolutely loathed the concept of spending a lot more money on the NHS (needed to address the backlog after the treatments cancelled to cope with the COVID crisis). Also, as one or two them argued with a degree of passion that once you had a temporary ‘NHS’ tax it would become permanent as to go to the electorate saying ‘let’s get rid of the NHS tax‘ would be electoral suicide. So they felt that they were being asked to support and to vote for the kind of proposals that might well have been advocated by a Labour government – if there was no difference between themselves and a socialist government, why would any one vote Tory ever again particularly in view of the manifesto pledges (at least two that had been broken) But despite all of the ‘chuntering’ and grumbling, the Tory MP’s voted en masse for this huge extension of the role of the state and the highest taxation levels seen for 70 years whilst the Labour Party actually voted against. I have a feeling that there may well be quite a cleavage in the Tory party which is difficult to resolve. It is being said, though, that these spending increases sets the tone and the terms for the next general election and signals what type of prime minister Johnson he wants to be. The wager is clear as  he believes voters will grudgingly forgive him for breaking not one, but two manifesto commitments if it means a huge increase in spending on the NHS and social care.

In the later part of the afternoon, I spent some time preparing some of the documentation (largely form-filling) before we go off to see the building society which is hosting our savings accounts. Although the branch is closed to the public from about 2.30 we have been told to turn up at about 3.00 next Monday so that our documents can be processed – naturally, we are having to take along lots of ID at the same time.  


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Tuesday, 7th September, 2021 [Day 540]

In the middle of the night (when else?) I was reading my emails and got some rather disturbing news from our closest friends in Spain. We had not heard from them for a week or so which is quite unusual and we hoped that nothing was amiss. Their daughter was due to come to the University of Gloucester as an ERASMUS student – the acronym ERASMUS stands for European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. Our close friend had been one of our earliest Erasmus students at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University, Leicester) and now about thirty years later, it was the turn of her daughter (who we know very well, having watched her grow up since she was a baby) to undertake a year’s Erasmus experience in an English university. Naturally, I was distraught to discover that the daughter would not now be coming to England as we were expecting her shortly. So what to do? I sent off an email in the middle of the night to the University of Worcester, one of our nearest universities, to see if there was anything that could be done. Then I got onto the international pages of the university in Madrid where the daughter is studying and sent these pages off to our friends in La Coruña, suggesting that they might contact the international office of the university themselves to see if they had any other contacts with UK universities which could take over the contract reneged upon by the University of Gloucester. Then I did some internet searches  and discovered that whilst Boris Johnson and his Brexit mates had withdrawn the UK from the Erasmus scheme (on the grounds that ‘they could not afford it’), this did not apply in Northern Ireland. Apparently, the universities in the Republic of Ireland (Eire) had stretched out a hand to their ‘cousins’ in the north and whilst the UK universities were withdrawing from the Erasmus scheme, the Irish had extended a massive hand of friendship to their colleagues in Northern Ireland offering them the opportunity to continue participating in the Brexit scheme. So this is a bit of a lifeline – but it all depends whether the university in Madrid has any contracts with any universities in Northern Ireland which might not be the case. Anyway, I must communicate all of this to our friends in la Coruña but I haven’t had the opportunity yet. Then, of course, the evident idea occurred to me (a little late) that I could contact the international department of De Montfort University to at least speak to an informed academic from within the UK system – this is a prime task for tomorrow. 

I am just in the process of transferring my fuel accounts from my old supplier to me new one. My new supplier sent me some helpful emails (and a very clear website) which just says ‘Enter your existing Gas and Electricity meter readings‘ So I went outside to my external meters which I have not at looked at for a long, time long time and was faced with a blank screen on the gas meter and a blank screen with three buttons to activate the blank screen on the electricity meter (which gave unhelpful options such ‘Consult’ ‘Engineer’ which was not particularly helpful) I then pressed several buttons several times on the ‘gizmo’ which we have in our kitchen and, fortunately, the meter reading numbers of the gizmo and on the meters seems to agree. Now to enter them into the system – easier said then done. The Gas reading went in fine but the Electricity one needed the correct number of zeros before the digits before it would enter correctly but at least the deed was done.

This task having completed, we got some very bad news by phone. We had planned to go out with our two closest friends whose wedding anniversaries are very similar to ours for a joint meal on Thursday next. But the phone call revealed that the wife of one of our friends had had a heart attack yesterday (and perhaps two smaller ones) but at least she had been got into hospital within an hour or so of it happening. Evidently, she would have had some clot-busting drugs or similar but we know she is more comfortable than she was and had a good night in hospital last night. We have no more news than that but, evidently, we are very anxious that one of our closest and dearest friends makes her a speedy recovery. We bought a card from Waitrose which we popped through the door on the way to Pilates.  To save a bit of  time, we had  earlier gone down to town by car and picked up our newspapers (and much needed ice-cream for this hot weather) It looks as though tomorrow we should have a really hot day (28° to 30°) before the weather breaks down completely on Thursday. Of course, we may have spectacular thunderstorms and/or rain but I hope our damsons remain undamaged (as I due to pick them this weekend)

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Monday, 6th September, 2021 [Day 539]

According to the newspapers, we are due to have a mini heatwave over the next day or so and today the weather was certainly even warmer than yesterday. Tomorrow is going to be a really hot day with a temperature of 28º which is 82ºF in the ‘old’ system. Then, on Wednesday, the weather is due to break probably with thunderstorms and some much needed rain. Meg and I were a little delayed because we were in telephone conversation with our building society getting  some details of our accounts regularised. As you might expect, this is still a complicated business as it involves going through a series of apps to get at your accounts online, then we have to send them a secure message (presumably to prove who we are), then they are going to send us some forms  which we have to fill in and finally we have to go in person, together with two kinds of ID to see them in person (which we will do next Monday) to get the account details altered to our satisfaction. I suppose one can see the point of all this to overcome potential fraud but you still have the feeling that a genuine fraudster might be able to circumvent the system a little more easily. Eventually, and a little later than planned, Meg and I wandered down to the park which, as you might expect, was particularly quiet as it was both Monday morning and also  it was the day when all of the schools returned after their long summer break. One did wonder, though, why the occasional young adolescent was to be seen on the skateboard board and even on the swings for the younger children.  We had an enjoyable time and I left Meg to enjoy the late summer sunshine whilst I went to pick up the newspapers.

When we returned home, it was fairly easy to prepare our lunch as we had cooked our ‘main’ joint yesterday. Today, we had pork, Cavolo Nero (kale) and a smidgeon of baked potato and it was delicious. After we had our post-prandial nap, we decided not to avail ourselves of one of the rolling news programmes that we generally watch at about this time of day but throughout we take the feed live from Parliament to see what Boris Johnson had to say for himself. The session started at 3.30 and carried on until 4.45 so the Commons organised itself in such a way that a greater number of MPs then usual could question the PM about Afghanistan. Boris Johnson put on a fairly typical performance for him. Most of questions from MPs (on both sides of the house) put fairly direct and pointed question, mainly entering upon the plight of those still trapped in Afghanistan or their relatives. Boris Johnson’s replies were a typical mixture of bluster, political point scoring, evading the question and often avoiding the main point of the question altogether. Of course, all politicians do this particularly on the media – to the frustration of many, including myself, the interviewers often do not pursue the point that the question has not been answered and move onto the next question in their schedule. The politicians know this and often fill up the available space by always starting an answer with a preamble that is only generally loosely related to the question and then going on to answer half the question or quoting a statistic in their favour that does not really answer the question that was asked. Because all politicians do this (I make an exception for Nigel Farage whose politics I detest but who generally did answer the question that he was actually asked) I wonder whether they engage in this evasive mode almost by force of habit. So I found the questions asked by the MP’s generally hit the point but the answers do not. So, for example, many MP’s asked why so many emails remained unanswered in the Foreign Office system. The response was that all emails would be ‘attended to’ by the end of this evening – which in practice meant that they might have been opened and then immediately ‘filed’ in a kind of pending folder without the substantive point ever being addressed. Another case in point was a very intelligent question asked why there was no coordination or cross-referencing between the various schemes of headings under which people could apply for admission to the UK – the reply from Boris Johnson just stressed how many people had been aided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the last few days which, of course does not answer the question.

In the late afternoon, I undertook a task I had been meant to do for days. I had an old adjustable spanner  soaking in a tub of white vinegar for several days to loosen/get rid of the rust. Then it had a good hard scrubbing with a wire brush, several rinses with cold water and finally a drying off and a good treatment of WD-40 before it will get put carefully away.

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Sunday, 5th September, 2021 [Day 538]

Today being a  Sunday, I got up earlier than normal and set off for my Sunday morning walk to the newsagents, wearing my trusty old iPhone which I use on these occasions as an MP3 player. The first track I played was actually the ‘Hallelujah‘ chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Whenever, I hear this chorus, it always sets me in mind of the Huddersfield Chorus Society whose rendition of the Messiah is well known.  This reminded me of our neighbour whose funeral we attended the other day as she came from Huddersfield – as I was born and bred in Yorkshire and there was only a sixteen month gap between our birthdates we felt very mcuh part of the same generation. Indeed, we seem to have many values and attitudes towards life from having been reared in similar ‘soil’  so to speak. Our neighbour and I used to chat about all kinds of things when we went down to our Pilates class each week, and so I had one of those strange feelings that you sometimes have when someone ‘s death has been recent that you cannot believe that they have actually ‘gone’ and may not suddenly reappear. In the case of ‘the Messiah‘ it used to be the case that if you were reasonably musically competent and could read a score you could go down to the Town Hall Qquare in front of Leeds Town Hall and you could actually sing in the chorus of the society (tenor, bass etc.) I think that this tradition is actually carried on in other northern and midland towns and cities but I haven’t heard of any performances recently. After this track, there was a track from Mozart’s opera ‘Don Giovanni’ entitled ‘Il mio Tesoro‘ which our son played on his clarinet for one of his music exams when he was aged about 10 – certainly at primary school. He carried on playing the clarinet and actually won the school music prize for playing the second movement (slow) of the Mozart clarinet concerto when he was about 13. Shortly afterwards, a combination of locomotives , photography and young women became his abiding life interest and the clarinet was abandoned. In fact, to this day, I am not even sure what happened to it. Anyway, we were extraordinarily proud of our son having won the music competition when he did but then he musical tastes changed to Marillion and the like (late 1970’s and early 1980’s)

We had a lunch of pork which had been cooking in the slow cooker all morning whilst we had been out in the park. Then it was a typical lazy Sunday afternoon whilst we slowly digested the newspapers. Then we treated ourselves to watching the progress of the English cricket team in ‘Today at the Test‘ where the Indian batsmen built up quite an impressive lead, leaving England a total of over 350 to reach in their final innings which has hardly ever been done before. However, the English batsmen managed to make a  score of about 70 without loss, setting the scene for an incredibly exciting run chase tomorrow. We will resist the temptation to listen to it on the radio but will wait until we know the best (or the worst) when we tune in tomorrow.

In the early evening, I gave my sister a FaceTime call to see if there was any more news about her husband (my brother-in-law) who is currently in hospital. We know that they are going to try a shot of radiotherapy to alleviate some of his symptoms but this might take several days  to organise.   The only bright spot about all of this is that he is hospital in Harrogate, Yorkshire which was a very good reputation. We were FaceTiming for quite a long time with my sister because she is alone in the house and I felt that she needs as much moral support as we can give her – particularly as the immediate future is somewhat uncertain. When I get some time, I thought I would write my brother-in-law a long letter to give him some diversion. My sister informed me that they have taken away all of the TV’s normally over each patient’s bed as an infection risk. One of his sons has managed to get his a little radio upon which he may be able to follow the Test Match (as an ardent cricket fan) but he of the generation that finds even using a mobile phone phone problematic, let alone an iPad so he can FaceTime. I imagine the next few days in hospital are going to be rather a miserable time for him (particularly as he quite deaf so communication with hospital staff may be problematic).

The newspapers are full of the dilemma facing the government as they intend to make a long-delayed announcement about the funding of long term social care – a ball which had been ‘kicked into the long grass’ for about a decade now but decisions do have to be made. I gather the preferred option seems to be a rise in National Insurance contributions but  large part of the Tory Party are up in arms about that (as the burden falls upon those who are younger and in work but most of the recipients are the older generation who have been quite well provided for over the years) This autumn is going to see quite a lot of fireworks politically – watch this space!


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Saturday, 4th September, 2021 [Day 537]

Today was one of those ‘nothing’ like days – there was some autumnal sunshine and a few clouds but it felt neither warm nor cold. Having said that, I was very pleased that we got the lawns cut yesterday evening because my neighbour and I concurred that when the weather is a little muggy then the grass seems to grow much faster. So it always a source of satisfaction to look over our communal green area  between our houses (sometimes nicknamed ‘Meg’s Meadow‘) and see that is always has a particularly tidy appearance the day after mowing. We walked down to the park as normal and I left Meg in the company of the Bromsgrove Literary and Philosophical Society (aka known as our University of Birmingham friend and a mutual friend with whom we tend to discuss geopolitics at the drop of a hat). After we had set the world to rights (I think we were looking at the world from the perspective of a Russian submarine captain who surfaced near the Arctic Circle and for whom the actual map -and mental map- would have been a Russia surrounded by hostile forces – America, China. Europe.) You really need to look at a globe looking down on it to fully appreciate the point we were trying to argue. Anyway, having discussed our little geopolitical problem for today, I went off to collect our newspapers. There I handed in a little bit of card to exactly tell the newsagent when our subscription to The Guardian runs out and I have to remember to destroy my remaining vouchers and not to use them. So it will be ‘The Times‘ during the weekdays, the Sunday Times on Sundays from now on and I will read the Guardian /Observer online. On our way home, we bumped into one of our Catholic friends whose wedding anniversary is practically on the same date as ours and we discussed some of the transport arrangements for the joint dinner which we are going to enjoy together with even more friends whose wedding anniversary is also proximate. Then it was home for a somewhat delayed lunch nd we had a generally quiet Saturday afternoon.   

Each Saturday, we attend our local church for the 6.00pm service and tonight was no exception. We chatted for a little while outside the church and informed our priest that on Thursday we would have been married for 54 years and that we were married by a member of Jesuit religious order in the Church of the Holy Name just besides the Catholic chaplaincy in Manchester. Our new priest has quite a sense of humour which can occasionally be liberating when he quipped that ‘None of the marriages conducted by the Jesuits are now regarded as valid‘. So we got home and treated ourselves to a meal of strawberries and ice-cream which was bought on Thursday but we had been saving until tonight. Meg and I made ourselves made ourselves a little miserable by looking at ‘Today at the Test‘ (which just coincides with the time we are ready to eat) only to see the English bowling put to the slaughter by the Indian batsmen who seemed to have found just the form they needed when it was needed to win the match (probably) and the series (probably)

As I was getting up this morning, I heard a report from America which almost made my blood run cold. One of the enduring legacies of the Trump administration was to ‘pack’ the Supreme Court with (really) conservative judges and I think the present balance is about 6 conservative to about 3 liberal. As Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, then a 40-year old could serve for about 40 years until they die  and so the balance of the Supreme Court far outweighs a presidential term of office (4 years in the case of Trump) Now that a really conservative Supreme Court is in place the Pro-Life ,anti-abortion Christian Right can try and get passed the most draconian legislation that they can rely upon not being overturned. A new law has been passed in Texas which allows anyone anywhere to sue anyone connected to an abortion in which cardiac activity was detected in the embryo as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women even realise they are pregnant. This means that any ‘bounty hunter’ can sue anyone connected with an abortion (e.g. a texi-driver taking a pregnant women to a clinic) for about $10,000 which they can then keep. This has the effect of almost, at a stroke, abolishing any abortion (even for victims of rape or incest). Normally legislation as draconian as this would be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court – by not intervening when they could and before the law comes in force, the Supreme Court has effectively condoned the type of legislation, which then be  ‘cut-and-pasted’ into laws anywhere where the Republicans/fundamentalist Christian Right have a majority (many of the states in the whole of the USA)


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Friday, 3rd September, 2021 [Day 536]

Today seemed as though it was going to be a tad less gloomy than we have been used to over the days so Meg and I made our way to the park after our usual ‘chat’ with our domestic help who makes a visit to us every Friday. We exchanged news (gloomily, about family illnesses) before we set off for the park but once there, we were delighted to meet up with our University of Birmingham friend who we had not expected to meet in the park on a Friday as his tennis commitment had been postponed until the afternoon. I collected our newspapers and then popped into town to access an ATM  – we don’t tend to use these very often as we now get out a block of money which lasts us for several weeks. Then we got home and eventually after our domestic help and I had a joint effort to give Meg’s hair a bit of a tweak with a special hair curling implement that our domestic help uses on Meg. Our domestic help tried to teach me how to use it but I think I can say that Mr. Teazy-Weazy (hair dresser star of yesteryear) does not have a rival in this house. After lunch and a bit of rest, I decide that the lawns badly needed a cut. The sun came out to give us a gloriously fine afternoon, so it seemed a shame not to avail myself of the opportunity to make hay whilst the sun shines. Half way through the lawn mowing  our neighbour came out and seeing me had a chat – both Meg and our son joined is so we had a jolly few minutes as neighbours do when they are in a relaxed frame of mind. Our neighbour had just bought some large original whisky half barrels (still smelling of of whisky) so I went round and admire the trees he had planted in them – bamboo in one and fir trees in the other. I must say our neighbour has put a lot of investment of thought, design, materials and not to mention money transforming the back garden of his house which is now a sheer delight to visit. Before our new neighbours moved in, I did my best to keep the garden of our former neighbours ‘ticking over’ as I cut their grass once a week and tried to keep the borders weed-free whenever I could spare the time. However, the garden is now transformed with several new raised beds, new fences and  a variety of additions  so, subject to invitation, it would be delightful to pass an afternoon drinking either tea or beer as the inclination takes us.

There is quite a debate going on between the the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI) and the government at the moment. The decision of the JCVI is not to vaccinate the 12-15 year school population unless there are underlying health conditions but the decision is evidently quite a balanced one as the committee are saying that they will keep their decision under constant review. One suspects that the government may want to over-rule the committee as there are reports from other parts of the scientific community that the COVID rate may well surge enormously once the schools return next Monday.

Each Friday night, we are in the habit of FaceTiming one of our erstwhile University of Winchester colleagues and we always seem to have a fund of stories with which to regale each other. Some of these relate to incidents that we found amusing whilst we were both employed at the University of Winchester but many of them relate to our student days that we seem to remember with an alarming clarity as the years proceed. We reminded ourselves that in those days, the mid-1960’s before the sexual revolution had really swept over even the universities there were a variety of institutions and rules to keep the female of the species in a degree of obeisance. For example, at Manchester University they had a ‘Women’s Moral Tutor’ but what she actually did in her day to day work was rather hidden from the rest of us. Meanwhile, at the University of Oxford, our colleague informed us that some of the women’s colleges had a rule that no men were to be allowed in a female student’s room after 7.0pm – for which one could infer that if two young people were very much in lust with each other, then anything they did before 7 in the evening was regarded as quite ‘legal’. 

Next week, if the weather remains fair, we shall to think picking some of our soft fruit. We have a plum tree which has some clusters of plums but very high up so we may have to adapt a long handled pruner to reach these. Similarly, we need to think about collecting our damson plums (from old trees at the bottom of the garden) and the new season of making damson gin will start all over again (but we still have some of last season’s gin in stock to give to unsuspecting recipients)

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Thursday, 2nd September, 2021 [Day 535]

We knew that today was going to be quite a day out of the ordinary, what with one thing or another, and so it proved to be. It started off well at 1 minute past midnight when my son and I turned to our National Savings Premium Bonds app to see if we had won any ‘prizes’ (in lieu of interest) this month. We were delighted to have won three prizes totally £75.00 which was particularly welcome as it has come at the end of what seems to have been quite a lean period for us. Some years ago, my son and I decided to pool some of our savings and buy Premium Bonds and if we win anything, then we share the proceedings between us. I think the ‘lean’ period we have had can be explained by the absolute collapse of interest rates in the last year. The current rate for some of my savings accounts seems to be 0.5% and I suspect that people all over the country have been coming to the same decision, reasoning that as interests are negligible, they might as well pile their savings into NS&I where you get no interest but there is always the (remote) possibility of winning quite a big prize. As the pool of National Savings has got so much bigger, so one’s chance of getting a prize had diminished.  In fact £8 billion has been piled into National Savings in the last 5 months, £1.8 billion in July alone. Meanwhile, the Government is quite happy to act as home to a mountain of people’s savings (no foreign holidays to go on – do you need a new car when you are working from home so much?) The second bit of good financial news came when I checked my account details of my new  energy supplier which will become active in 11 days time. My new combined fuel bills are going to be £75.00 a month cheaper than my existing supplier – I get a £25.00 bonus for switching and a two-week cooling period should I wish to return to my old supplier and pay £75.00 a month more. Thursday is the day when I started to shop in person at Waitrose in Droitwich but I was 15 minutes later this morning and the store was starting to fill up.   Nonetheless, I got everything on my list (and a few extras that I really had forgotten about) Then Meg and I put on our ‘funeral going’ clothes for which we were going to attend our neighbour’s funeral today and had already agreed to take along our Italian friend who knew  our neighbour as well. The funeral service was fine with long recollections of our neighbour’s life and then some photographs of various stages of her life. As the head of midwifery,  she had a lot of professional colleagues and I suspect that as many 50-60 people turned up for the committal.

Afterwards, we had been invited to attend a local golf club with large catering facilities. But this is the point where things started to go a little wrong. We had a little fishing about to do even with our SatNav to get to the venue in plenty of time. When we got there, all of the tables were full up (after all, the locals knew how to get there quickly and bag the available spaces) – or worse, empty seats whilst friends were queuing for food. As there was nowhere to sit and we knew no-one in the reception, we decided to cut our losses and strike straight for home.  We dropped off our friend and got home to a treat ourselves to some good homemade soup that we already in stock. Then the rest of the family came home and as we had variously had a rather trying day, we treated ourselves to a family meal of fish and chips (which we do occasionally)

Throughout the course of the day, Meg and I have been thinking about our brother-in-law in Yorkshire who has just been diagnosed with prostate cancer that has now spread to his spine. We will understand a bit more tomorrow when I am in touch with my sister again because her husband is going to be the subject of a case conference where his various specialists will discuss his conditions and treatment options. My brother-in-law will remain in hospital for about another week and, I suppose, that gives the family just a bit of time where they can work out collectively what degree of support they are able to give to their parents. All that I can offer at this stage is a degree of emotional support but I have in mind to write my brother-on-law a long letter (as he is profoundly deaf and a letter might be a different kind of reading matter for him).

The international news apart from Afghanistan is rather dominated by the the various floods and fires which are raging across different parts of the USA. If there can be a brighter side to all of this, it might be that American society finally wakes up to the challenge of climate change and puts in place some policies which help to avert, or at least postpone, the impending crisis.

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