Sunday, 21st May, 2023 [Day 1161]

The spell of bright weather continues and Meg and I got ourselves going, breakfasted and ready for the spate of politics programmes which are the staple for a Sunday morning. Last night, though, after we had been to church in the late afternoon, we had our light tea whilst listening to the second of the Joan Baez CDs that arrived the other day. We knew even more of the tracks on this CD than on the first one and still have the third yet to enjoy. I have done a quick exploration of eBay to see if I can get any of tracks she recorded in Spanish but no luck so far. After we had had our share of politics, we went down into car to collect our Sunday newspaper and then made for the park which we have not visited for a few days now. The weather was really beautiful and the park was reasonably busy, so much so that we had to make a detour to find a bench upon which to sit to have our elevenses. Then it was a case of getting home and preparing the Sunday lunch which always takes a bit of extra time when we are slow cooking a joint as we were this morning. But we made a tasty meal and read the Sunday newspapers getting ready to indulge ourselves this afternoon with a viewing of ‘The Railway Children’ with Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins. The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway where the film was shot have been living of the fame of this film since 1970 when the film was made and the tunnel and one of the stations on the line feature heavily. A sequel and updating was actually released in 2022 but one really has to view the two films in the sequence in which they were made to appreciate the updated version.

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is in the news again but for all of the wrong reasons. She was caught speeding when she was Justice Secretary and before she was appointed Home Secretary. Under these circumstances, she was given the choice to either accept the three penalty points on her licence or to avail herself of the alternative which is to undertake a ‘Driver Awareness course’ This is standard practice for all of the ‘normal’ motoring population and many motorists decide to accept the option of attendance at a Driver Awareness course. So far, so good. But Suella Braverman actually asked her civil servants if they would organise a ‘special’ driver awareness course for her on a 1:1 basis so that she should not have to show her face and participate in a group of fellow speeding motorists. The civil servants in question refused as they were being asked to intervene in what is essentially a private matter. Eventually, Suella Braverman accepted the points on her licence and paid the fine and this is what the Home Office and supportive MPs have been saying since the story broke on the front covers of the Sunday Times. But the fact remains that a senior member of the government attempted to use the civil service in an entirely illegitimate way. Opposition MPs have been been clamouring that this displays the mindset, not unknown in this Conservative administration, that there is ‘one rule for us, another rule for the rest of us’ The Opposition are demanding that Rishi Sunak refers this conduct to the recently appointed
ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, the City grandee appointed as his adviser on the ministerial code. At first blush , this would seem to be an open and shut case of breaching the ministerial code but of course Rishi Sunak may decide not to refer the case to his ethics adviser. However, Suella Braverman is going to be in for a hot time in the next few days. Tomorrow, it just happens to the ‘Questions to the Home Secretary’ in the Commons and one can imagine a long queue of Labour MP’s all demanding that more transparency is required. On Thursday, the latest figures for legal migration are due to be issued and the word on the street is that these figures will prove highly embarrassing to the government as they may well top 700,000. It used to be Conservative party policy to attempt to reduce legal immigration to tens of thousands per year but the Thursday figures may a total seven times as high. The government will argue that offering entrance to the UK to the citizens of Hong Kong and the Ukraine account for some of he increase. But there is a particular irony that the government’s argument in the Brexit debate that they were going to ‘take back control’ (with the implicit asumption that this was meant to radically reduce immigration) is not borne out by the figures. This is likely to infuriate the Tory right wing and probably all of those who thought that Brexit was all about reducing immigration. So far, Rishi Sunak has not risen to a public defence of his Home Secretary and one can only imagine that, in private, he is getting irritated by her being constantly in the news for the wrong reasons but has not committed a transgression severe enough that means that he could sack her on the spot, which he probably would feel inclined to do.

Continue Reading

Saturday, 20th May, 2023 [Day 1160]

Today was a beautiful day when Meg and I awoke so we are certainly looking forward to the rest of the day. After showering and breakfasting, we got ourselves down to Waitrose via the newspaper shop to meet up with some regular friends. The coffee shop always seems to be popular on a Saturday morning as I suspect that parents and grandparents offer to treat their offspring at the weekend. The downside of all of this is that there seemed to be a proliferation of shrieking and wailing young voices from the 2-3 year olds – as soon as one voice abated, another seemed to arise to take its place. Nonetheless, we were pleased to see two of our regulars including our University of Birmingham friend who was feeling a little under the weather. We exchanged ‘hospital’ stories with each other as two of the three of us had been afflicted during the week but having got the moans out of the way, we turned the conversation around to happier subjects. After we had left, there were a few items that I needed to buy from the local Asda supermarket that do not seem to be readily available elsewhere so we went to the vicinity of the supermarket and I left Meg in the car whilst I went in search of items. Some I found eaily enough whilst others I could not find – even some of the supermarket’s own staff did not know where ‘Bovril’ can be found (which I have been taking to drinking as a tea substitute) Our University of Birmingham friend accepted our invitation to come home to lunch which was easily extendable from two into three. We were having some chicken, ham and leek pies bought about a week ago and complemented with a large leek, left over from last week and enhanced by an onion-type sauce and some broccoli.

After lunch, I was eager to recount to Meg and to our friend a particularly vivid dream which I had last night. I was the guest speaker, or at least asked to give a talk, at a meeting of academics largely, I think, drawn from De Montfort University where Meg and I worked for 26 years. I remember stepping up to the podium without a script or any idea whatsoever I was going to say. I think the talk was given an excessively broad remit such as ‘The role of the academic in the modern world’ which meant I could say anything I liked. I remembered to start by thanking my hosts for issuing me with an invitation and then proceeded with what I could call a ‘stream of consciousness’ in which one theme gradually led onto another. I know that initially, I was speaking about the role of the dialectic in academic life i.e. how through the operation of a thesis (known to one party) and its anithesis (known to another party) one could arrive at a synthesis which is now new knowledge unknown previously to either. The subsequent themes I cannot now remember but I seemed to be speaking in ‘real time’ in my dream and the whole talk was certainly more than 30 minutes – probably 30-40 minutes in total. But everything seemed to flow smoothly and without any arkward pauses, lapses of memory or even jokes and when I finished I had the most enormous sense of self-satisfaction of a job well done. I reflected to myself that if I had written a script or had some prepared notes, then it was possible the speech would not have flowed so smoothly. I then awoke, very abruptly, and seemed to be absolutely wide awake so I got up and prepared for myself a cup of special night time tea before I took to my bed again for the rest of the night.

Some interesting news is occurring on the Ukraine war front. US President Joe Biden told G7 leaders on Friday that the US will back a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots for F-16 fighter jets, and will not oppose any allies that wish to transfer fighter jets. A plan that could take months to realise, it nevertheless fulfils a request President Zelenskyy has long made as part of his war efforts, and reflects a longer-term commitment on the part of allies to make sure Ukraine can better defend itself. This news is quite surprising as the US has resolutely set its face against the provision of F-16 jets until now. One wonders what the military calculations are that may be going in the background. Evidently, the ‘oldest’ generation of F-16 may be released to the Ukrainians and perhaps not directly but via other European societies who possess this fighter, such as Belgium. Meanwhile, Russia’s Wagner group claims full control of Bakhmut whilst the Ukraine says ‘fighting still going on’ Whilst this town may not have much military significance, the Russians appear, if reports are correct, to have lost a great many troops or allies in capturing this town for not a great deal of gain. The Ukrainians are preparing for a major ‘push’ against the Russians and so we may well be entering a decisive, and indeed critical, stage of this particular conflict. Of course, it is always a little difficult to disentangle the ‘hard news’ from the ‘spin’ that is put on the reporting of these developments in the war.

Continue Reading

Friday, 19th May, 2023 [Day 159]

Today has been a bit of a day with one thing or another. A pleasant aspect of the day was our domestic help calling around with whom we always have a good chat and a catch up on family news. We then received a phone call from our University of Birmingham friend who we usually meet each Friday morning with the news that he would probably not be able to make our normal meeting today but tomorrow would prove to be all right. Nonetheless, we made our way down to Waitrose hoping to bump into some of the old faithfuls but it is was not to be and so Meg and I had coffee on our own. We then returned home and busied ourselves for some time before we set off for our lunch date in Droitwich. The venue which we had chosen for our lunch date we have visited before but the owners have changed and whereas we used to get really super food in the middle of the day, the offerings today were a lot more pedestrian. We got the cafe-restaurant just on time and our friends with whom we were going to lunch arrived within a minute or so, so this part of the day was working according to plan. When we got to the restaurant,though, there was a patron there evidently with a severe form of Tourette’s syndrome and she was vocalising all of the time – complete with swear words of course. I have seen instances of Tourette’s syndrome before which has been manifest by some sudden outbursts but not by a constant stream of loud vocalisation. I felt sorry for the cafe owners because at this rate they would have no business left. The patron has been visiting them some two or three times a week but today she had been there for a couple of hours, showed no signs of leaving and was getting constantly noisier and noisier. We ignored all of this at first and tried to let the noise of the disturbance drift over us but it was very wearing and obviously made the communication between us four friends difficult. So we paid up as soon as we possibly could and repaired to our favourite coffee bar which just happens to be around the corner where, fortunately, we could converse in some peaceable surroundings and enjoy some coffee and cake.

Our afternoon proved to have been disrupted as well. Our son is having some legal work done in parallel with our own but here complications started to raise their ugly head. My son and his wife have to prove their legal identities with recent passport photos and all of the other forms of ID demanded these days. Our joint lawyers suggested that we need to use another firm of lawyers to do this ID confirmatory work. So Meg and I raced into town to see the receptionist in our own solicitors to get a recommendation from someone else who get this work done expeditiously. To cut a long story short, we now have an appointment made to get this done in the foreseeable future at a price which suggests that solicitors are not poor. We hope that in the next day or so of working days (excluding the weekend, evidently) we can get all of this legal work done. I suspect that there is a massive national neuroticism about fraud in all kinds of financial transactions and certainly in the past year, I had been put through the mill to try to demonstrate that for our Residents Association, we were fit and proper persons who were who we said we were even though they have been our bankers for the past 12 years or so.

Of all of the political commentators on the present scene, I rather like Beth Rigby who often asks penetrating questions of our politicians. She asked Rishi Sunak today how did it feel ‘when you lose?’ Sunak appeared to not understand the question and was then flustered but eventually found his feet by repeating the mantra of the five or six bullet points he has been repeating for what seems to be weeks now. But I think the question is quite an interesting one because all of of us have to suffer failure (e.g. not being successful in a job interview) at some point in our lives. I suppose that for some occupations (and those in academic life) the question is particularly hard to answer because they have generally led a life in which they had always been successful. On the other hand, sportsmen of various hues always have to cope with the failure on about a 50% basis so I wonder if they can be more philosophical about the lack of success when it occurs. I think it was Enoch Powell, the eminent (or notorious) maverick right wing Tory politician who is said to have uttered the phrase that ‘All political careers end in failure.’ But what he actually said was somewhat more nuanced than this when he wrote ‘All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.’ But it is interesting to ask the question how any one of us mere mortals copes with failure – after all, success is easy to cope with but failure is another matter.

Continue Reading

Thursday, 18th May, 2023 [Day 1158]

Today has been quite a full day, what with one thing or another. Being a Thursday, I got up early and got to the supermarket to get my shopping done in plenty of time. I must say that I had a rather disturbed night last night, primarily because the latest vaccination has given me quite a sore arm. The vaccine Meg and I both received was the Pfizer vaccine – in the past, I think we have received AstraZeneca (on two occasions), Moderna I think and the remainder are a bit of a blur. But my arm was such that when I turned over, I woke myself up so I got up in the middle of the night and got some financial transactions brought up to date and all of this worked out extremely well. I normally set an alarm for 6.15 on a Thursday morning but this morning I awoke naturally at 6.10 only to immediately fall asleep again for another hour. So when I did wake up again, I had a bit of a rush to get myself going and get to the shops on time but all’s well that ends well. As soon as we had breakfasted, Meg and I got ourselves ready to go with a couple of friends to Spetchley gardens (attached to a 500 year old stately home in Warwickshire). Our friend’s daughter had sent me the right address to go to for her parents complete with a postcode for the SatNav. But quite unusually, the SatNav failed completely and dumped me at an address quite some distance from where we wanted to be. But, quite fortuitously, there was a postman delivering letters nearby and so I asked him where the correct address might be. He racked his memory and gave us some instructions that turned out to be absolutely correct. We got there on time and made for Spetchley gardens which was a trip down the M5 but quite easy to find. Having got ourselves into the system, we made straight for the excellent little coffee shop where we bagged a table in the open air and treated ourselves to coffee and cakes. We must have spent a good half an hour in conversation but then went on a wander of the gardens, not particularly wanting to stretch ourselves. We discovered a little chapel which was evidently used as the family ‘vault’ cum private chapel which we enjoyed giving a little explore. By then the frailer members of ur little foursome felt that they had walked enough so we walked slowly back to the car and thence to home. We have got quite a lot of things in common with our new found friends so it could well be that we plan other little trips out in the vicinity as a foursome. We got home just before 2.00pm and I cooked us a light lunch at lightning speed.

As it was a beautiful afternoon, I determined that I would probably give the lawns a cut this afternoon. It is only eight days since the last cut but every extra day over a week seems to make the grass grow like mad. I was just contemplating this when the doorbell rang and it was our chiropodist on her monthy visit. Although she was on our ‘planning board’ I had forgotten to look at it so it was a complete surprise for us. Her parting shot to to us as she left was that I now had no excuse for not doing the lawns so I started at a time much later than normal but managed to get everything done by 6.00 in time for the 6.00pm news and a little treat of icecream for our tea.

Earlier in the day and waiting for us when we got back from our morning out was a 3 CD package of Joan Baez CDs’s. These were very reasonably priced for a 3 CD collection so we immediately put on one of them and were suitably transported. Why Meg and I are so enamoured with Joan Baez was that we followed the records we had made whilst we university students in the mid 1960s. Joan Baez has a very distinctive voice and tended to write most of her own material, accompanying herself on a guitar. She also has the amazing diction so you can generally comprehend every word in the song – these are often of a very wistful nature. One particular track is her rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ – forget about the raucous Animals versiom for here we have the pure diction recorded when she was just 18. The background of the song is as follows. The folk music historian Alan Lomax recorded a version in 1937 by a 16-year-old girl named Georgia Turner. In this context, it is sung in the first person, present tense with the singer lamenting how the House of the Rising Sun has ruined her life. In this traditional folk version, the main character is either a prostitute or a prisoner. The Animals changed it to a gambler to make their version more radio-friendly.

The water industry is finally ‘coming clean’ about its intention to spend £10 billion on cleaning up the UK’s water supplies. But then, it has been making about 800 discharges a day into the UK’s rivers and the sea. The bill for the clean up looks as though as though it is going to come from the pockets of the consumers rather than the profits of the shareholders, needless to say.

Continue Reading

Wednesday, 17th May, 2023 [Day 1157]

We always thought that today was going to be a full day for us both and so it proved. As soon as we had got up and got breakfasted,I needed to do do various financial transactionson on our web accounts and all of this seemed to proceed quite satisfactorily. Sometimes, as last night, these transactions do not proceed as smoothly as they ought if you attempt to do something in the middle of the night, assuming that the system as a whole is going to be quiet but you run foul of various updating and maintenance periods that are running during the night. But having got these financial transactions done as far as I can, Meg and I thought we would seize the opportunity to have a little walk in the park. It really was a glorious spring day, very slightly on the cool side but nothing to disturb us. So we had our coffee and comestibles and had chats ‘en passant’ with one or two regular park users with whom we are acquainted by sight. We knew that we had to get home way before midday so we did not tarry in the park for too long. The principal reason for getting home early was that hairdresser was due to call round to give Meg a perm and this procedure generally takes about two and a half hours. Knowing that this would make our norml lunchtime meal impossible, I raided our larder to make us some tuna sandwiches (tuna mashed with a little salad dressing, some butter, a smidgeon of tomato paste in the absence of any 1000 Island sauce, and finally a little tartare sauce and a spoonful of yogurt). If this sound an odd mixture, I can only say that it works just fine and we prepared our sandwiches and then put them in the fridge, assuming that we would have to eat them in snatches whenever we could. In practice, or hairdresser had performed her ministrations by 2.30 in the afternoon so Meg and I had a fairly hurried lunch and then we set about perusing and signing a document for our solicitor. Then we raced down to our local medical centre (actually a group of a couple of large GP practices with some accretions such as a pharmacy, optician, dentist and physiotherapy) We arrived just about on time for our COVID booster appointment but were not late as we joind a queue of two and, in the fullness of time, received a jab of the Pfizer vaccine to go with the AstroZeneca and Moderna with which we had been jabbed before. Then it was case of racing home and finishing off a letter to our solicitor before we popped into our friends down the road where we prevailed upon them to witness our signatures as was required by the solicitor. We only stayed with our friends for some 5-10 minutes because we were anxious to hand the documents in to the solicitor’s office which we managed at five minutes to the hour before they closed promptly at 5.00pm.

Tomorrow is going to be quite a busy day so Meg and I may well have an early night. Our shoulders are starting to feel a smidgeon sore after our COVID jab so an early night but well be indicated. First tbing tomorrow, I need to go shopping and after that we are picking up some friends to go off to a garden centre for a ‘do’ recently advertised by Herefordshire and Worcestershire Age Concern. We have no idea what to expect but I am sure that the social contact is good for all of us.

Now that we have the local elections, coronation and bank holidays out of the way, then normal politics seems to be resuming with a vengeance. Several issues are coming together the net effect of which is to argue the failing of Brexit. The arguments are going a little like this – the Remainers are saying constantly ‘We told you so’ when the UK has the lowest rate of growth of all of the UK economies and Brexit is authoritatively said to cost the UK £40 billion. For the sake of political balance, the Brexiteers themselves are arguing that there were always going to be some short term costs, that Brexit has not been fully implemented yet as so many EU regulations are still in place and that it will take some time for the full benefits of Brexit to be fully felt. But what is extraordinary is that Nigel Farage himself was on Newsnight recently admitting that Brexit had been a failure. His ‘explanation’ was that Tory British politicians had proved to be as incompetent at managing the Brexit process as the EU commissioners were for constraining the UK economy in the first place. The current Tory party seems to be split into a whole series of factions, some actively supporting Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and desperately hoping they could be restored to power whilst others seem to despise Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister. It is said that the current Tory party is undergoing a massive ideological and intellectual crisis at the moment but for many ‘middle of the road’ Conservatives, the next general election is already lost and they are resigned to the fact that they may never again form a majority government.

Continue Reading

Tuesday, 16th May, 2023 [Day 1156]

So Tuesdays have rolled round again. Meg and I did sleep on a little this morning so perhaps the long two and a half session in the hospital yesterday afternoon had taken its toll. Nonetheless, afer we had breakfasted, I telephoned our doctor’s surgery to make appointments for Meg and myself – in my own case, part of a routine monitoring and in Meg’s case to discuss some of yesterday’s results with a ‘quasi’ family doctor. I say a ‘quasi’ family doctor because we seem to have got through to the same doctor several times recently and to this extent this is efficient and saves a lot of time as one does not have to through a lot of back history. Having got this out of the way, we then made our weekly trip down to Waitrose where we met with three of our regular ‘Tuesday gang’. I am afraid that we always make our presence felt because there are generally a few jokes flying back and forth. The one which I dredged up from somewhere this morning was the case of Mrs Jones who, upon seeing her husband laid out in the undertaker’s premises was distressed to discover that he was to be buried in his brown suit rather than his favourite blue suit. On complaining to the undertaker, he told his client not to worry as they had ways of sorting out this kind of problem. But, as she left, she heard the undertaker calling out to his assistant ‘Fred – can you just swap the heads of No. 3 and Number 7’ But who knows what goes in an undertakers anyway? I must say that all of us really enjoy these Tuesday get togethers and actively look forward to them because we know that we are guaranteed an hour of jovial company. As soon as we got home, I received a telephone call from the ‘family’ doctor with whom I had made an appointment earlier on in the day and this helped to clarify a few issues in my mind. And so I then made my way down the hill to my regular Pilates class where, as a treat, because it had my birthday last week, we were allowed to have a few minutes of ‘relaxation’ at the end of the session. This is a little treat awarded to the class members if we have had a birthday in the week when the class takes place.

This week is proving to be quite a busy week, what with one thing or another. I received a text from the daughter of some of our new found acquaintances whether we were going to make a trip to a garden centre that had been advertised recently. Meg and I decided to go on the ‘Nothing venture, nothing gain’ principle so we are making some arrangements to travel together in a little trip out next Thursday. At the same time, I have made a booking at a cafe/restaurant in Droitwich on Friday and it is possible that our University of Birmingham friend may also join us to make up a fivesome. Tomorrow is going to be quite a busy day as well because our hairdresser is calling around in the middle of the day and Meg and I have our scheduled COVID boosters on the calendar for half way through tomorrow afternoon.

Just when you heard another story of the desperate plight of some of our people in our country following the soaring food prices, another thing comes along to shock you. The latest concern is that parents are stealing baby formula, turning to the black market and watering down their babies’ feed as soaring prices drive them to desperation. I have heard a suggestion that perhaps the NHS, cash-starved as it is, might be able to help by offering baby food ‘on prescription’ so that desperate young mothers might not have to pay. It used to said that the wartime hero, Winston Churchill, had said ‘there can be no better investment in life than putting milk into babies’ and, even when our son was born half a century ago there always used to be a supply of (very good) NHS orange juice and perhaps even baby milk as well at a highly subsidised price. But of all course, all of this reeks of the ‘nanny state’ and has part of the Conservative agenda to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state’ such help for young mothers has been discontinued for decades. But we are now living in such desperate times, one wonders the supermarkets themselves should cross-subsidise baby milk to make sure that the youngest members of our society should not have the price of political failure.

By today’s post arrived a CD that I had purchased through eBay. It was a CD of Mercedes Sosa, the celebrated Argentinian folk singer and political activist, who died at the age of 74. Sosa possessed a deep, alto voice and a strong sense of conviction, and had a warm, engaging personality. These qualities helped to make her one of the few Latin American musicians who could, over five decades, command a wide international audience. Described as ‘the voice of Latin America’, she was revered as a commentator on the political and social turmoil that afflicted the region. We came to know her through the works of another of our heros, Joan Baez, but her voice was probably superior to even that of Joan Baez (one time partner of Bob Dylan)

Continue Reading

Monday, 15th May, 2023 [Day 1155]

We always knew that today was going to be dominated by a hospital appointment this afternoon and so it proved. As we knew that Meg’s appointment was scheduled for 2.00pm, we organised it so that we would have to have lunch and the washing up done in plenty of time so we devoted the early part of the morning to the exciting jobs of collecting our newspaper and making a trip to the garage to fill up with fuel. As it turned out this was quie a wise choice because the cheap petrol station on the way to Kidderminster that we might have relied upon had was temporarily closed when we made our outwood trip. So we got to the hospital about 5-10 minutes before our appointment time but the omens were not good as thr car park was full to overflowing. We managed to find a parking space but evidently many other people had not and there were cars illegally parked all over the place so we suspected that the clinics were going to be very busy. We used to go to a specialist Eye Clinic in Worcester Royal and this had its own specialised building and a pleasant atmosphere. I think this is because in the past there was a specialised Eye hospital which decades ago got incorporated into the main Worcester Royal Hospital. But now in the Kidderminster Treatment centre (as the ‘hospital’ is known), things were very different. We waited practically an hour before we were seen and Meg needed to have a series of tests. I must say that the staff were very caring and solicitous but Meg had to have drops in her eyes, followed by another fairly long wait before a more specialised scan (photographs of the back of the eye) Then we had another fairly long wait before we were eventually seen by a doctor who was as brusque and curt as the nurses beforehand had been sympathetic. The whole visit had taken two and a half hours and although cursory apologies were made for the long wait, Meg was not at her best during the tests after waits of this length. We suspect that we may need another one in about a month- as this particular appointment was catching up after COVID delays, we think it was probably the first monitoring of Meg’s eyes for several years.

As I was perusing The Times for the Radio and TV schedules for tonight’s viewing, I kept on noticing that after several programs, the letters [AD] appeared in brackets. I had no idea what this meant but did a quick Google search and found this this stands for Audio Description and it is a feature built into many modern TVs. It is evidently a facility primarily used those with a hearing handicap but perhaps the facility might be useful to the rest of us when the occasion demands. So I found the option in the Settings section of our Panasonic TV and chose the ‘Auto’ option so no doubt it will appear on some occasions but not others. When I observe this little system in action, I may find it a pleasant addition to my normal viewing or a complete distraction – but at least having found out how to turn it on I can always turn if off again. Whilst on the subject of scanning the schedules, I was delighted to see that on Sky Arts this evening they are having an hour and a half devoted to Pavarotti’s most famous duets. I have just got the TV tuned to this and feel that Meg deserves something after the stresses and strains of the afternoon.

Our near neighbours have re-appeared after a magnificent river cruise which took them to Vienna as well as other places. They had had a wonderful time and pressed a little gift ino our hands being a CD of the concert in Vienna. We did not not have much time to chat but said that we would catch up with each other later, to which we will look forward. We have had an intimation that we will be invited for an authentic Indian curry as soon as they get themselves turned around. For my part, I think I need to revive one of my own culinary favourites which is a fish pie with at least four different kinds of fish (a white fish such as cod, a yellow fish such as haddock, a ‘pink fish such as salmon and some prawns). All of this takes a certain amount of planning and preparation but I tend to make a huge quantity of it and then parcel it up into several portions to keep ourselves and friends around us supplied for a few weeks.

There have been at least a couple of conferences organised by Tory right wingers in the last day or so, one of them funded not by the Conservatives themselves but by an American ‘think tank’ The conference today was extraordinary as Suella Braverman, the home secretary, delved into her own backstory and the philosophy of conservatism – topics more commonly addressed in the race to be leader, rather than by a loyal cabinet minister. But Braverman was interrupted in her speech, as was William Rees-Mogg by Extinction Rebellion or a similar protest group who had somehow infiltrated the audience.

Continue Reading

Sunday, 14th May, 2023 [Day 1154]

Sunday morning dawned, being the night after the Eurovision song finals held in Liverpool on behalf of the Ukraine. By all accounts, Liverpool seem to have done a very good job in staging the contest and, from what I could tell, things seemed to go without a hitch, electronic or otherwise. Needless to say, the bookies favourite (Sweden) won by a country mile and the UK entry was humiliatingly badly placed – not quite bottom place which was awarded to Germany but second bottom. Meg and I preferred to watch the Thomas Hardy film on another channel for the first two thirds of the show but what we saw of the last portion of it, each entry seemed a facsimilar of the other. I suppose we cannot put the clock back and put the accompanying video presentations back into the box but these seem and more elaborate on behalf of each of the contestants as the years roll by. So the final result came after a two part voting system which has been refined over the years. The Swedish victory was their seventh in the competition as a whole and the Swedish singer was a previous winner so this, too, made history.

This morning, we met with our University of Birmingham friend and spent a happy hour or so chatting. We were bemoaning the fact that in our professional lives and elsewhere, we seemed beset by procedures in which the process has to be followed (presumability to remove elements of variability) but the concomitant of this is that the area for what used to be the area of professional discretion has been reduced and reduced over the years. We particularly discussed an area common to us both in the discussions that were held by Boards of Examiners to award final degree results. This whole area has been so beset by algorithms of various kinds that the discretion that we used to aply based upon years of experience seemed to reduce year by year. Then our friend received a telephone call which meant that he needed to leave us a little more rapidly than planned so we made some arrangements to meet as usual next week.

This afternoon, Meg and I saw saw quite a heart-warmnig film (‘Tea with Mussolini’) in which Maggie Smith and Judy Dench played principal parts. We quite enjoyed this and then flipped over channels to watch the Womens FA Cup Final in which Chelsea scored the one and only winning goal against Manchester United (this being their third victory in three years). This was all too predictable. The men’s FA Cup Final is delayed from mid-May until the first week of June as the World Cup Final in Qatar in the winter has caused quite a bunching of the rest of the football schedule.

For dedicated followers of politics, civil war has broken out in the Tory party. We had the local election result a week ago which was disastrous for the Tories but then of course, normal politics was suspended whilst we had the Coronation of Charles III, the subsequent partying and concerts and the Bank Holiday. But now we are back to politics with a vengeance and the immediate source of the discontent is that Kemi Badenoch, the Trade Minister, has reneged upon the promise to repeal at least 4,000 pice of legislation before the end of the year. In theory, the civil service should have been combing through all of the legislation seeing what could be safely repealed and that which could not – in practice the enormity of this task was such that vital legislation protecting both workers’ rights and the environment could have been lost as the ‘baby is thrown out with the bathwater’. A little appreciated fact is that as part of our membership of the EU, the UK and the Germans, with the tacit acquiescence of the French effectively ran the EU – if there was legislation to which both Germany and the UK were opposed then the policy would be quietly ditched. So a lot of the 4,000 pieces of legislation we actually had a hand in framing and were not sufficiently unhappy with to occasion a veto. And, of course, the UK had negotiated a whole series of opt-outs across several important policy areas. I heard one Brexiteer infuriated that the UK government was not now going to ditch the 4,000 pieces of legislation claim that a lot of the legislation was ‘benign’ which begs the question whether they actually need to be repealed in the first place.

When I survey the planning board that we use to book forthcoming appointments, I observe that next week is going to be quite a busy week what with routine hospital appointments and visits to the house by our hairdresser and chiropodist. Over the years, we have built up a network of these services which are immensely useful to use but occasionally, as next week, all of these appointments tend to crowd in on top of each other. I am hoping that we have a spell of better weather so that I can get out and start to attack the areas of the garden that are crying out for a weeding and a tidy up but we seem to have had so much wet weather in the last few weeks that has prevented me from getting on top of these gardening activities.

Continue Reading

Saturday, 13th May, 2023 [Day 1153]

When we got up this morning, Meg and I put ourselves in a good mood by listening to some stunning performances on a CD I had liberated from somewhere. These were ‘Best recordings of 2011’ or something similar and some of the artists were incredibly good e.g. Placido Domingo and Thomas Hampton singing the famous duet from Bizet’s ‘The Pearl Fishers’. So after this and breakfasting, we popped down into town a little early because after picking up the (bulky) Saturday newspapers, I needed to make a lightning visit into town to get some money out of an ATM. On the way back to the car, I very quickly scanned the CDs in our local Salvation Army charity shop. They were selling the CDs at 50p each or three for £1 but as one of them was a double CD, I actually got 4 for my £1.00 One of them was a collection of the classic piano recordings of Horowitz which could grace anybody’s collection. The other three were a mixture of classical and some ‘crossover’ artists which made for an interesting ‘light’ listening experience. As I type, I am listening to a hymn by the Benedictine nuns of Notre Dame which is out of my usual listening experience, I must say. Once we actually got as far as Waitrose, two of our regular friends were waiting for us and we were soon joined by our University of Birmingham friend. I had taken along some of the amusing birhday cards I had been sent to share the fun around a little and then then we got onto a variety of ‘Travellers tales'( (on my part) and a bit of ‘Did you know what..’ kind of story telling. I did rabbit on a little too long but it was one of those mornings when one story springs from another. After that it was a case of a bit of shop-up for some of the things that Waitrose sells but Aldi does not. When we got home, we had a special lunch as a treat for ourselves. Our domestic help had initially forgotten it was my birthday last Thursday so she raced around to buy some special boef bourbignone which she knows we particularly like, coupled with a sweet of rapberry panny cotta and a bottle of excellent Rioja. I think the idea was that instead of going out, Meg and I could enjoy a magnificent birthday meal at home – which we did. The meal was so good I immediately texted our friend in gratitude and she sent me back a photo of some double chocolate brownies she was preparing as a family treat whilst they wil be watching the Eurovision song contest this evening.

When I consulted the TV schedules for watching when we return from church this evening, I thought there was going to be a real clash – but one we can resolve. Tonight is the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest and I know that the UK song is to be performed last. This show goes on from 8.00 until midnight but of course the voting is often the most exciting part at the end of the evening. In the early part of the evening there is a showing of Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd‘ which we have seen several times before but can always be watched over and over again. So we can have a bit of high culture in the early part of the evening and then switch over for a bit of the ‘boom-bam-a-bam’ type of stuff which characterises practically every entry these days. I have a particular penchant for the more pensive ‘chanson’ type of contribution which is all too rare these days but which was typified par excellence by a past UK No. 1 in 1968 which was Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those were the Days‘ (but not actually a Eurovision winner).

The war in Ukraine may (or may not) be entering a critical phase. Perhaps as part of a general offensive, Ukraine has forced Russian troops to withdraw from the southern flank of the Bakhmut operation ‘in bad order’, highlighting a ‘severe shortage of credible combat units’, according to British military intelligence. Of course, all of this might just be positive Western military spin and the whole of this phase of the war does rather call into mind WW1 in which battles and enormous loss of life were fought over a few hundred yards of terrain. But if the accounts are more correct than incorrect, then the Ukrainians may well take heart from any recent advances, however small, and the stories of low morale amongst the Russian military personnel are neither new or surprising. Very strange things are happening in this war as the Russians seem to have ‘outsourced’ some of the conflict to a group of mercenaries known as the Wagner group which has recently been openly critical of both Putin and the Kremlin. The Wagner group seem to be demanding extra ammunitions or else threatening to withdraw from the immediate conflict zones but one cannot imagine divisions within the ‘enemy’ ranks bodes well for their eventual success. On the other hand, the Russians have had a long time during the winter to prepare defences like trenches in depth – again, very redolent of WWI but the irony of all of this is that the city at the centre of the hostilities (Bakhmut) does not seem to be of much strategic significance in any case.

Continue Reading

Friday, 12th May, 2023 [Day 1152]

Today is the day when our domestic help calls round and we are always pleased to see her. This was so particularly so today as she had come along bearing gifts, namely some goodies for us to make a meal inside the house as a birthday treat. Needless to say, this was a wonderful gift and we will look forward to preparing these ingredients for our Saturday lunchtime meal. After we had chatted for a little, we got ourselves ready to trot down to Waitrose where we generally have a coffee with our University of Birmingham friend. But we got a telephone call from him to say he was delayed within the house awaiting a parcel that was due to be delivered later on that morning. Working out the logistics, we decided it would be a better plan to meet tomorrow and that is what we are going to do. We then prepared a flask of coffee and decided we would make a venture into the park – a little walk we have not done for several days now as little things like local elections, coronations and Bank Holidays have intervened. We had our normal elevenses whilst admiring the flowering trees from our normal park bench but then had a pleasant surprise as we were leaving. One of our ‘park friends’ with whom we did get on particularly well particularly during our COVID days espied us from a distance and popped quickly over the grass to make contact with us. We had a very pleasant ‘catch-up’ but we all thought it would be a great idea if we could meet for a longer chat over lunch rather than just a fleeting few moments in the park. So we have agreed a date for a week today in a cafe-bar that we used to frequent in Droitwich and used to serve some very good lunch meals – at least under previous ownership. Anyway, we are going to give it a go again in a week’s time and, even if the food is a little indifferent, I am sure that we will enjoy sitting down to have an extended chat and catch up on the lots of news that we have to exchange with other.

This afternoon, for the sake of anything else, we tuned into the ‘Parliament’ channel on the TV and caught some of the Lords debate on the Illegal Migration Bill. Practically every contribution that we heard was opposed to the Bill and I think that about 80 peers have indicated that they intended to speak. I do not think that speeches in the Lords are time limited and whilst I am sure that nothing as crude as a filibister will be attempted, the contributions of those wishing to speak will take some time. The Lords will no doubt pass several amendments to the legislation which will then return to the Commons. Then the government will have to decide whether to accept any of these amendments or to reject them all out of hand. Then the bill will return to the Lords and we may well have a ‘ping pong’ where the Bill bounces backwards and forwards between the Lords and the Commons. In the last analysis, the Commons will always (and perhaps should) have its way but the whole point of a Second or revising chamber is to get the Commons to think again if the proposed legislation is particularly contentious. As the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke early on on the debate labelling the proposed legislation as ‘immoral’ it is rather strange to hear right wing Tories in the present government claiming that their version of morality has so much more force than that advocated by tthe Archbishop of Canterbury. This one will run and run, I predict.

Our next door neighbour called round this afternoon to let us know that he and his wife will be away for the next eleven days whilst they go on holiday to one of the Spanish islands. At the same time, our newest neighbour from across our communal green area should be returning from a two week cruise of the Mediterranean so we seem to be an island surrounded by holiday makers at the moment. I must admit that there is a chance that we might make a trip to see our friends in Spain in September but at the moment the thought of airports and the hassle associated with them makes the whole concept of holidaying less attractive than it was. We normally head for Coruña in Norhern Spain where our closest Spanish friends live but the flights to Coruña are provided by a small airline called Vueing which only has slots from Heathrow. If we were to fly from Birmingham, we would have to change in Madrid or Barcelona which adds to the length and the ‘hassle’ factor so we will make up our minds a bit later on. If we feel the need for a break, we can alway go and spend a few days in Yorkshire where we can see my sister and other family members. My niece sent me a quick text yesterday wishing me a Happy Birthday and that reminds me that there are other friends that I need to text and see if we can meet up for a lunchtime rendez-vous.

Continue Reading