Tuesday, 8th September, 2020 [Day 176]

We were a little late in walking down to the park this morning and thus missed some of our ex-Waitrose friends who had made a journey to the park in order that we have a surprise meeting – but it was not to be. When we set off the weather was quite cloudy and overcast so we wrapped up fairly warm but then the clouds rolled away and it got really quite warm and almost summer-like. Whilst in the park we noticed several other groupings where up to fifteen people had brought along their own chairs and were having a social (and legal) gathering but we were a little intrigued how the groupings had formed and been organised for their trip to the park in the first place. We had to hurry back up the hill because today was Mike’s Pilates day – classes resumed last Tuesday and we are re-establishing the pattern of several years duration except our numbers are now confined to four (one of us in each corner of the studio, plus one regular member of our group participating the class via ‘Zoom‘) Today we were put through our paces a little – last week we all had a gentle reintroduction but this week we are almost getting back to normal again. No doubt, I might feel a little stiff tomorrow but this must be for the best.

After the exertions of the morning, we had a fairly gentle afternoon but there was some interesting political news developing during the day. It appeared that Boris Johnson’s reported bid to override parts of his Brexit deal “does break international law”, a minister has admitted – as the head of the government’s legal department quit over his concerns about the move. The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, announced in the House of Commons conceded that the legislation to be published tomorrow it would go against the treaty in a “specific and limited way” and needless to say, this is causing many more traditional Tories to have severe worries about the damage about to be done to the UK’s international reputation (In the meanwhile, of course, the Brexiteers are absolutely delighted because they felt that the Withdrawal Agreement had ‘given away’ far too much already)

In the meanwhile, the COVID-19 infection rate is rising at an alarming speed, particularly amongst the young. The latest data reveals that the fast rate of increase is amongst the 17-21 age group whilst the 20-29-year olds have the highest rate of infection. The number of deaths has risen from 3 to 30. Public health officials are particularly worried that these younger people will soon infect their more frail relatives and we will see a spike in cases amongst the more elderly age groups in about 4 weeks time.  What seems particularly distressing is that there appears to be little attempt amongst the young to social distance – lots of hugging and kissing particularly after a certain amount of alcohol has been consumed. Without sounding unduly authoritarian, I am amazed that the police do not move into certain pubs and in the absence of social distancing and the maintenance of adequate records (required by the law) to immediately close them down – for a month at least.  One suggestion is that the more vulnerable age groups socially shield themselves – so the youngsters can go out and enjoy themselves! Surely the wrong way round.

Late on tonight has come the dramatic news that ALL social gatherings, whether indoors or outdoors, will be reduced from 30 to 6 as from next Monday. Nor is this guidance but will actually be the law – there are going to be a list of exemptions (churches for example?) but these will be published over the next few days. You can either say that the government is panicking or that it is acting with complete responsibility. [I must add a personal opinion that I am absolutely delighted because there were very clear signs that the COVID crisis was getting completely out of hand and the country as a whole needed (a) clear and unequivocal guidance (b) an indication of the seriousness of the situation]. In effect, we are almost going for a semi-lockdown – although places of work are to be exempt, pubs and restaurants will not be and I wonder whether this will prove to be the death knell for many of them?

 

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Monday, 7th September, 2020 [Day 175]

Meg and I both slept in a bit this morning, for reasons which we cannot quite discern. In any case, it was not a particularly bright and cheerful day so I went and collected the newspapers on my own whilst Meg stayed within the house. Today, we missed out on our normal walk through the park but yesterday, an incident occurred which, in retrospect, I find amazing. The mother (or it might have been another female relative for all I know) of two little boys who I estimated to be about three years old encouraged them to go and ‘spend a penny’ by pulling down their  trousers and relieving themselves against the trunk of one of the nearby trees. Then she thought it would be a good idea to record a clip of their bare bottoms on her mobile phone, to her great amusement. I thought I had seen lots of things in the course of my life, but nothing quite like this.

After lunch, I had prepared myself for a cutting of the communal lawns but a sudden shower put paid to the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ Accordingly, I thought I would delay things for an hour or so because often the clouds roll away in the late afternoon, giving a window of opportunity if the grass is not too wet to be cut at this stage. I am reminded that sometimes the gardening books would say  ‘If you intend to do such-and-such, then choose a nice day…‘ but chance would be a fine thing.  As it was a bit of a messed up afternoon, I amused myself with a detailed reading of the newspapers and a comparison of the various engine characteristics of our present car, previous car and next intended car – actually, they are all much of a muchness, so that I doubt that in practice I will witness very much change at all. I did manage to get the lawns cut in the late afternoon, after all (and just before another shower intervened).

Apart from the constantly worrying COVID-19 infection rate (practically unchanged since yesterday at just a shade under 3.000 new infections), there is only one big political story in town tonight. That is the suggestion that the UK may unilaterally rip up the Withdrawal Agreement (which has the status of a treaty in both national and international law) The government is claiming to be just doing little ‘tidying up’ but the EU and the Irish are deeply concerned. Not to put too fine a point on it, if the UK rips up an international agreement and refuses to abide by it, then the UK become a ‘rogue’ or a ‘parish’ state whose word will be trusted by no-one. Whether this is meant to be the ultimate in a negotiation tactic remains unclear as I write –  but the consequences of it, as many commentators are saying, are dynamite.

The Northern Ireland SDLP leader is quoted as saying “How could any country come to an agreement with Britain if they’re prepared to rip up an international treaty? Could Britain really be prepared to sacrifice its credibility on the international negotiating stage in exchange for a more politically acceptable outcome to NI-GB trade?

By way of a change from British politics, I decided to have a quick look at the current American political scene. On the one hand, the polls look very stable and with a consistent lead for Joe Biden over Donald Trump (50% to 42%) and ahead in 11 of the 14 ‘battle ground’ states. So on the face of it, it might look like an easy rise for the Democratic contender. On the other hand, there is an acknowledgement that the polls will tighten before November 3rd (polling day) and some informed commentators are arguing that there might be a massive ‘submerged’ but silent body of voters who will actually vote for Trump but not admit it to the pollsters ( bit like the ‘silent conservatives’ in the UK). In addition, Trump has been saying that he will probably challenge the result if he loses by claiming that the postal votes in the US are fraudulent (although this has never proved to be the case before) And who knows what dirty tricks will be unleashed on social media as polling day approaches? There has already been a ‘doctored’ photo of Biden making him look much older than he already is – this was taken down fairly rapidly on social media but not before it had been viewed by millions of voters (and the damage potentially done)!

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Sunday, 6th September, 2020 [Day 174]

This morning was one of those beautiful, bright crisp days (although it was not to last) and  I had decided to take the opportunity to walk down early to my regular newspaper shop in order to secure a supply of my normal Sunday newspapers and then get back in time for the Andrew Marr show starting at 9.0  When I got to the newsagents, I asked the elderly Asian proprietor if he had watched the recent transmission in the BBC Proms series of the concert by Anoushka Shankar (Ravi Shankar’s daughter) – as it happened, he had and we exchanged thoughts as to how enthralled we both were by the performance. I happened to mention that my wife had seen Ravi Shankar play in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in about 1966, whereupon the shopkeeper told me that he and his family had served Ravi Shankar a meal when he was playing in a refurbished concert hall in Coventry in 1966.  They say that there are ‘six degrees of separation’ which is the idea that all people in the world are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other – by this theory, assuming that Ravi Shankar had met Indira Ghandi on several occasions then we are only about 4 jumps away from Indira Ghandi if you follow my drift. After we had watched the Andrew Marr show, Meg and I walked down to the park and, upon leaving the house, had a chat with our next-door neighbour who like us is shortly to celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the like (we made a mental note of when these are!). On our way down the hill, we saw the grandchild of one of our sets of friends (we knew it she had been born last December) that we had heard a lot about but not actually seen until today. Then, on the way home, we had a long, long chat with some other friends. In particular, we wanted to know how their grandson had fared after the ‘A’-levels debacle. It so happened that he was more than happy to accept and keep with his second choice of university (even though his first had come back to him, offering to honour their promise of a place) and was already making active preparations to start his new university term. In the course of our extended conversation, we covered various childhood traumas that had afflicted on of our friends and then ranged several other things, including how our friend Alistair had returned to Ceylon (as it was then called) for a family vacation, missed our wedding but their family showed us with gifts when we got married on September 9th, 1967. 

Although this blog is written and published using WordPress, I also keep a parallel text version of it and I thought that as we were up to day 174, it would be useful to keep up some back-ups. I keep two different backups on two different servers so that if one of them went ‘belly up’ then the other would always be available. Whilst doing this, I worked out how to configure my version of CyberDuck (an FTP client) ensuring that I always start off with the correct local and remote folders ready. This means that a backup will be an easy task to do regularly, particularly if it does not become too complicated or burdensome.

We had hoped to go and visit Meg’s recently bereaved cousin who is in sheltered accommodation in Bolton, Greater Manchester. I suppose it is the operation of ‘Sod’s law‘ that of all the towns and cities where Meg’s cousin might have gone to live to be near her daughter, Bolton is the one town which by a large margin is heading the infection ‘league’ with 99 cases per 100,000 – by way of contrast, Blackburn with Darwen which is just next door has a rate of 48 per 100,000. We shall have to wait and see whether this subsides in time for a planned visit on the occasion of Meg’s birthday in about a month’s time. Today, there is even more grim news that the new infection rate has increased from 1,800 yesterday to 3,000 today (which is a dramatic, not to say concerning, rate of increase) So far as we can tell, the new infection rate seems to predominate in the 18-49 age group and there is a rumour in one of today’s newspapers that the Bolton ‘spike’ originated in one traveller returning from holiday, infected (perhaps by fellow Brits not observing social distancing rules whilst on holiday) and then going on a pub crawl leaving a trail destruction behind him…

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Saturday, 5th September, 2020 [Day 173]

This morning, we attended a church service at St. Mary’s next to Harvington (some 7 miles distant but very easily reached) where we formed part of a small congregation of about 14 people. We missed last week because of our Chester trip but this is now going to become part of our Saturday morning routine. Today, as we walked down into town, it was quite a ‘chatty’ day as it turned out because we met a numberof our friends and acquaintances. First we met our Italian friend with whom we chatted for a few minu tes and then, in two halves, first the husband and then the wife of two of our oldest ‘church’ friends. We felt quite fortunate, actually, to get our full complement of Saturday newspapers this morning because Extinction Rebellion and other groups had demonstrated against elements of the Murdoch process (which include ‘The Times’) thereby stopping quite a lot of today’s production. The Saturday newspapers, particularly The Guardian, typically contain supplements and guides to the TV programmes for the week ahead, so it is quite reassuring to get all of the relevant ‘bits’ (as sometimes parts can detached from each other).

Ever since our student days, we tend to make a curry once a week and as it was a little chillier today than normal, it seemed to be a good excuse to make one. Actually, it is a little uncomplicated (starting off with a little mince in the absence of any other left-overs) and then a melange of onion, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and petit pois to which is added a little gravy made of vegetable stock. But what makes this curry a little more special is that I add some sultanas (and sometimes sliced apple/pear in the summer) together with a little Demerara sugar. I tend to add the curry powder mixed to a paste late on the proceedings so that I can gradate the intensity of the curry according to the tastes of the eventual consumers. Finally when dished up (rice for Meg, low-carb cauliflower rice for me), it gets served with a goodly sloop of plain yogurt which proves a ‘counter-note’ to the hotness of the curry.

There is going to be a story published in tomorrow’s Observer that the COVID-19 virus might be epidemic in areas of the country that combine severe deprivation, poor housing and large BAME communities, according to a highly confidential analysis by Public Health England. The five worst-hit areas are all currently in the north-west. Bolton had 98.1 cases per 100,000 people last week, with 63.2 in Bradford, 56.8 in Blackburn and Darwen, 53.6 in Oldham and 46.7 in Salford. Milton Keynes, by comparison, had 5.9 per 100,000, and it was 5.2 in Kent and 3.2 in Southampton. The article suggests that these parts of the country have never really recovered from the height of the infection. The data on housing is extraordinarily important. Overcrowded households are part of public health history. Housing conditions are so important and always have been, whether it was for cholera or tuberculosis or Covid-19. As one commentator has suggested: “Doing something about housing conditions for someone who has an active infection is extremely important and it is not something that can be handled by a call centre run by a commercial company hundreds of miles away.”

This story is quite an important one as it has all types of implications for the way in which we handle such infections. The current model suggests that we should so develop a local ‘trace-and-test’ regime that any new sources of infection are quickly addressed. But if the virus is indeed, endemic and deeply embedded in our poorest communities, then the policy implications are clear but unpalatable to right wing governments. It implies that only a radical redistribution of income and urgent attention given to the housing conditions of the most deprived parts of the community (massive extension of social housing?) can be the only long term solution, unless of course some protection is afforded by a vaccine which may never appear.

 

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Friday, 4th September, 2020 [Day 172]

The weather has turned colder this morning so we had to wrap up a little warmer as well as ensuring that we were not caught in a shower. In the park, we often have interesting conversations with dog-owners and today was no exception – today, it happened to be the lady owner of a magnificent looking golden retriever. I suspect that by now Meg and I have seen more varieties of dog than we have had hot dinners  – this is largely because, I suspect, the dogs suspect that some little titbits might be on offer and come bounding up to greet us as we drink our coffee on the park benches. Earlier on today, I wondered how I could process the remaining 90 grams of damsons that I had left over from the damson gin/vodka bottling activities. I did a quick bout of research on the web and decided not to bother making jam but just make a compote of fruit. All I had to do was to add three-quarters a cup of graduated white sugar and then let it simmer for a few minutes. Then I emptied the mixture into two spare kilner jars once it had cooled and put a little greaseproof circle of paper in each one (I have seen other people do this in jam but I am not absolutely sure why). I gave one of these jars away to our domestic help who had a little taste of it and declared it to be absolutely delicious. For our evening meal, we decided to have some rice pudding and try out a little of the compote which we had to flavour it and I agree – it really was delicious! I suppose, though, that it will have to be eaten up fairly quickly as there is no preserving agent in it but that is no hardship. As I had explained to our near neighbour how laden the damson trees were this year, we spotted that she had gone ‘the long way round’ and entered the field at the back of our house and using the footpath (and fighting off the sheep) had taken her pick of what must have masses of fruit growing on the other side of the hedge. Food for free – a thought for our times.

As we seem to have been quite busy with damson-related activities, Meg and I were a little tired so allowed ourselves a restful afternoon. I occupies myself with the really exciting activity of removing the labels from some small 20cl bottles which I will eventually fill once the gin has matured. However, I do need to collect about 70-80 of these within the next few months so I am on the scrounge already.

I don’t normally comment on what is going on on the TV but tonight is rather an exception. As I am writing this blog, I am listening to Ravi Shankar’s daughter giving a stunning performance  on the sitar as part of tonight’s promenade concert (but to an empty Albert Hall no doubt) When I was at university and going out with Meg, she and her flatmate had got some tickets to see Ravi Shankar himself and so she actually saw a performance of his ‘in the flesh’ as it were and, in the fullness of time. I wish now that I could have gone along as well. At the time, we were all enamoured with Joan Baez, a Mexican-American folk-singer (and one time ‘amante’ of Bob Dylan, who wrote ‘Diamonds and Rust’ as their relationship was ending) When Joan Baez came to Birmingham about two years ago we went to see her perform in one of her (many) farewell concerts. Whilst there, her road manager was selling off some very early recordings of Joan Baez and I purchased one of these in which, as a 17 year old, she is singing accompanied only by herself on her guitar a version of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ Many people will know the raucous Animals version of this but the Joan Baez rendition is something out of this world. She had the most incredibly clear diction – how many people realise that the whole song is about the song-writer’s sister caught up in prostitution in ‘The House of the Rising Sun‘. Enough reminiscences for one day!

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Thursday, 3rd September, 2020 [Day 171]

It was quite a fine and pleasant day today, so our walk down into the park was even more pleasurable than usual – a pleasure compounded by the fact that we managed to pick up the very last Times and Guardian in the store. We had no particular commitments in the morning and we were pleased to have a chat with our Italian friend on the walk down as well as some of our oldest friends on the way home.  Lunch was an all-vegetarian affair today being a cheese and onion quiche with some Cavolo Nero kale (black cabbage) and a mixture I often do at the end of a week to use up bits and pieces (onions, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms with a shake of fruity brown sauce and a touch of garlic salt). This afternoon, I busied myself with getting the rest of the damson gin prepared and I managed to make rapid progress as I now the proportions of damson, sugar and gin off to a fine art for the 1-litre kilner jars I bought yesterday. I finished off in the late afternoon with the preparation of nearly 3 litres of damson vodka which is a bit of an experiment this year. All in all, I have prepared some 17 litres of damson gin/vodka which, if I can accumulate enough 20 cl bottles, should give me some 80+ little bottles to give away to relatives, friends, and acquaintances particularly over the festive season, if I manage the bottling process for early December. All I have to do is to make sure that the bottles get agitated at least once a week to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved and that the damsons have released all of their precious essences.

I had a bizarre experience in the early evening when I had a physiotherapy appointment timed to start at 7.30. When I got there, the building appeared closed and no-one responded to my ringing of the bell. I assumed that I must have made a mistake and the appointment must have been for 7.30 am! No sooner had I got home but the physiotherapist was on the phone enquiring as to my whereabouts. I raced back down to the centre (only a mile distant) and it seemed that some sort of administrative mix-up had occurred – the front door should not have been locked and the physiotherapist, working late, could not in her treatment room hear the sound of the front doorbell. Anyway, all’s well that end’s well as I was eventually seen and teated by my local physiotherapist who has an excellent local reputation. Our Pilates classes are held in her premises and I have been attending these classes for many years now, so much so that there is great anticipation towards the end of the year of a ritual appearance of Fr. Christmas and his distribution of bottles of damson gin to all and sundry.

One particular opinion piece in tomorrow’s newspapers caught my eye. It came under the headling in The Guardian that ‘Labour’s poll comeback doesn’t yet threaten the Tory brand‘ and it seemed such a persuasive piece that I thought it worth quoting verbatim.


The Conservative brand, relative to Labour, remains remarkably resilient. In a recent poll by JL Partners, taken in the aftermath of the exam results crisis, voters still saw the Tory party as more “competent and capable” than Labour. They also named Labour as the most divided party, by a margin of 15 points. This is important: it does not much matter if voters think the Conservatives are a bit rubbish if they think Labour is even more rubbish. Brands are formed in relative terms rather than absolute terms, and for now, this is an advantage for the Tories.


It is rather parallel to what is happening in the US where the prominent commentator Michael Moore (who correctly and almost single-handedly predicted the Trump victory in the last presidential election) was warning that the bedrock support for Trump is still so fervent that a second Trump victory cannot be ruled out.

I conclude without any further comment except to say that if a Labour government had shown such a lack of direction and incompetence, it would almost certainly have fallen by now…

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Wednesday, 2nd September, 2020 [Day 170]

We knew that today was going to be quite busy and so it proved. We made a reasonably early start to our morning walk but didn’t connect with anybody on the way down to the park or indeed on the way back until we bumped into the daughter of some near neighbours who was busy working on her garden. As we had not spoken for months, we had quite a lot of news to exchange about how we were coping with the COVID situation. Our neighbour explained to us that she was due to return to work in a solicitor’s office in the next day or so and was regarding it with a certain degree of apprehension. I am sure that those feelings are shared right across the country. In fact, I saw a headline from the Financial Times which read : ‘Goodbye to the ‘Pret economy’ and good luck to whatever replaces it’ and that is quite an interesting thought. The article continues:


Britain’s first packaged sandwich was sold by Marks and Spencer in 1980 for 43p, and the first ‘Pret A Manger’ opened six years later. It was a decade of economic transformation: city offices were replacing factories as engines of growth, and sandwiches were the fuel they ran on—


What we are seeing, or rather living through, is a transformation of our economy and it is going to look very different as traditional city centres, bustling with people, become less populated and it is possible that well-paid workers might now be spread more equally throughout the towns of the country. As the FT article indicates, the kind of economy in which a young Romanian worker who got up at 3.0am to commute for an hour and a half into Waterloo for a wage of £16,000 was not really sustainable before the lockdown and is even less so now. Many workers will have discovered that working at home, despite the lack of social contact enjoyed in the workplace, had its advantages when you take away the daily commute, having to buy clothes for work, not to mention the daily sandwiches. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that we would see the rise of a ‘sandwich box’ culture which always had a rather industrial tinge to it but may well enjoy a resurgence if enterprising entrepreneurs can tap into a new social trend.

After lunch, Meg had an appointment with the optician who has seen us for years – according to Meg, her eyes have hardly changed and she and the optician spent some time going up and down memory lane together. In the meanwhile, I had run out of kilner jars to process my damsons into damson gin but I was incredibly fortunate to pop into the nearby Poundland  and alleviate them of their stock of 1 litre Kilner jars (which, to be truthful, I did not expect to find there). Then after I had collected Meg from her optician’s appointment, we made our way to a Home Bargains store nearby where I managed to locate some 1.5 litre kilner jars which I added to my stock. As soon as I got these all home, I gave them a sterilisng rinse ready for more filling activities this evening.

Tonight I decided to install a specialist text editor for the MAC called ‘Atom‘ onto a laplop I keep in the lounge – the purpose of this is that I can blog, keep an eye on the television and keep Meg company at the same time. Having got this installed and configured just about, I had no idea what key strokes were necessary to activate the viewing of the HTML code as it would appear in a browser – I knew from another version of this software installed on my main MAC how this should work. After a frustrating hour I solved the problem – you actually had to install a specialist plug-in to view your code in a browser. Why this shoud be regarded as an add-on and not an integral part of the text editor, I cannot discern but it is always a relief to eventually get a problem solved and working the way you want.

 

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Tuesday, 1st September, 2020 [Day 169]

I am ashamed to say that today of all days (the first of the month) I forget to say ‘White Rabbits! White Rabbits! White Rabbits!’ and to keep my fingers crossed behind my back until we saw a policeman riding on a white horse. That’s what we used to do in Yorkshire when I was pretty young but I gather that younger generations used to say ‘Pinch! Punch! First of the month‘ and then pinch? punch? their siblings accordingly. I must say that if I were to wait until I saw a police person riding any sort of horse, let alone a white one, I would wait for ever. Meg and I had made a much earlier start this morning as I knew that we had a quicker turn around before I went off to my resumed Pilates class at the end of the morning. We had some words with our Italian friend on the way down to the park and then went to collect some newspapers from our little (Asian-owned) newspaper shop. I knew that the elderly Asian proprietor was enjoying watching Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy‘ and there was an expression used of one of the principal characters that she was a ‘lipstick girl’ Although I think I can guess at the meaning (a girl who has adopted western styles of dress. modes and behaviour including the wearing of lipstick?)I thought I would enquire of the Asian shopkeeper if he knew what the expression might mean. This is the point at which one must say – never make assumptions. In reply to my question I got the response ‘I’ve never been to India in my life. I come from California!‘ Later on in the park, we met one of our park friends who had kindly brought along a book of trees for us to borrow so that we could identify all of the trees in the park (when we have time) And finally, on the way home, we bumped into another friend but he was busy doing his constitutional walk in a slightly different direction so we had a rapid conversation and then parted. Quite a busy social morning, actually.

Today my Pilates class was resuming but, of course, it had ro be organised in a completely different way. We had all brought along with us our own gear (principally our Pilates mat) and some of us remembered that we should also have brought our balls along with us. But the class was confined to 4 of us, each in a separate zone of the studio whist our instructor took up her position in the open door but protected by a screen. One of our regulars was also following us on Zoom as some of the other class members had been doing but I had not bothered. We remembered our exercise routines, largely, and although it been the best part of six months since we had held a class together, altogether we performed pretty well as a group. From now one, it will be only upwards and onwards.

This afternoon was the start of the great damson preparation. In theory it is all very simple – add to a sterilised jar the requisite amount of damsons, then the  calculated sugar and then top up with gin (followed by a vigorous shake to dissolve the sugar) The only complication is that as one moves from larger to smaller size of kilner jar, one has to recalibrate by altering the amounts of the ingredients. Gin gets measured out as either 3/4 litre or 1/2 litre by the simple expedient of marking out the relevant portion with a felt tip pen on the side of the bottle. So far, I think I have processed somewhat less than one half of the damsons and will have to press some plastic into service (I only like to use glass kilner jars if I possibly can).

Earlier on today, I had emailed Meg’s cousin’s daughter to see if we could make a lightning visit to pay a visit to Bolton in about a month’s time. Looking at the distance and proximity to the motorways, if looks as though we could there and back in one day quite easily. However, tonight as I write it looks as Bolton is enduring a spike in COVID cases and the council may be asking for an extension of the restrictions that were due to expire tonight. So everything is rather up in the air now and we shall to wait and see how the situation develops to see if our intended trip is still viable or not.

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Monday, 31st August, 2020 [Day 168]

Today, for whatever reason, Meg and I got off to rather a slow start and consequently only started our morning walk to the park at about 11.00. I had wasted quite a lot of time, though, trying to make a doctor’s appointment through one of the new fancy front-ends that no doubt are springing up all over the country. All seemed to be well until I clicked on ‘Make an appointment’ only to get the message to the effect that no online appointments were available for this GP’s practice. Whether this was a system glitch, or a Bank Holiday type hitch, who can say. There was a mass of information about COVID19 and what to do if you suspect you are a victim of the virus. But what you might have called ‘routine’ or ‘conventional’ illnesses seem to have completely disappeared. The GP waiting rooms in our practice used to be full to bursting but I now wonder if (on non-Bank Holiday times) the GP’s are sitting twiddling their fingers because patients cannot be seen ‘in the flesh’ and getting access through online systems seems problematic if my own experience is typical (which, of course, it may not be) When we eventually got to the park today, though, we met one of our ‘park regulars’ who had been looking out for us because she had a booklet which identified all of the trees in the park and she was going to let us have sight of it (As each tree has an ID number attached to its trunk, then the local authority must have a database and I wonder whether anyone has sought to access this in the past.)

I knew that today was going to be a heavy ‘damson processing’ day so the first task was to scour the local supermarkets for the cheapest and largest bottles of gin I could find (preferably 1.5-litre bottles). Fortunately, the three cheap supermarkets of Asda, Lidl and Aldi are all within spitting distance of each other. I started off in Asda where I purchased some 1.5-litre bottles of really cheap vodka, so I am going to experiment this year with a few bottles of damson vodka as well. Whilst there, I bought a catering pack of sugar which is going to be useful, plus a few bottles of Asda’s rock-bottom price gin. Then I made for Lidl but these seemed to be a dead loss for my purposes as they a lot of fancy gins but nothing to suit the likes of me who just want to but cheaply and in bulk. Finally, I went into Aldi where I used to shop regularly where I purchased 10-litre bottles of their cheapest gin. Incidentally, once I got these home my daughter-in-law expressed horror that you cannot go into a pharmacy or supermarket and buy more than two over-the-counter analgesics (for fear they might be used in an overdose situation) but you can buy 10 litres of gin (which would surely kill you) without any let or hindrance. Then I set to work with my preparations. The first task is to sterilise all of the kilner jars with a sterilising fluid (Boots ‘Baby sterilising fluid’) in my case. Then comes the most tedious and time-consuming part of the process. Each damson fruit has to stabbed about five times so that the fruit can release its essences into the gin. This is a very time-consuming process and I was hard at work most of the evening and only finished at about 10.45. The way I perform this task is to count out the fruit in 100’s so that I have a very accurate count of how much fruit I have. Then instead of constant weighing, I will put the correct number of fruits inside each jar and the requisite amount of sugar – these quantities I know from records I have kept in the past. Then it is just a case of topping up the fruit and sugar mixture with gin, giving it a good shake and then leaving it in a darkish place until about December when it will all got bottled into those little wine bottles or cordial bottles you see (which are suddenly worth their weight in gold). Then they just to have been given a shake once or twice a week to encourage the fruit to release its essences into the gin. Having got this task completed, my hands look a complete mess as they are heavily stained from handling so much fruit but no doubt they will improve over time! 

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Sunday, 30th August, 2020 [Day 167]

After the journey of yesterday, it seemed to take Meg and I a long time to get going this morning, so much so that we failed to get into newspaper shop before they closed at 11.30 but fortunately managed to get our supplies from Waitrose which is just around the corner. I generally read Meg my blog’s from the night before but today she had three to contend with as she has rather missed out as we were travelling away. Then on the way home we bumped into some of our old church friends who were busy in their front garden (which is often the case) As we had not seen them for several days, it was good to have a chat about life in general – and I was donated a so as a yellow clump of something that will grow ‘anywhere’ so as I always have some odd corners to populate in Mog’s Den, this was gratefully received. By the time we got home, the morning was practically gone so we did not even our normal perusal of the Sunday newspapers but cracked straight on with lunch.

This afternoon was scheduled to be the great ‘damson’ harvest and as I have mentioned before our old trees seemed to be truly laden this year. According to my records, the previous total that I had gathered was 1,300 fruits so I wondered whether that total would be exceeded this year. Believe it or not, sometimes I can lose track of what count I have got up to, so I relied upon an old cricketing umpire’s trick by keeping a supply of old pennies in one pocket and transferring them (not after every ball but after every hundred fruits) to ensure that I could keep an accurate count. I started picking at 3.00 pm and by 5.00 pm the job was done. Evidently, the first bucket (of 1000 fruits) was relatively easy – as they say, ‘picking the low hanging fruit’ From then on, though, it became progressively harder as I have to resort to a rake which pulls down the taller branches with one hand whilst I pick with the other. However, I was delighted to exceed my previous best which was 1,300 fruits 5 years ago. Today, I picked 1,750 fruits which were 35% more than the previous best. My estimate is that I have picked 9.5 kilos which is nearly 21 lbs of fruit. Again, according to my little book, I am going to need approx 16 litres of gin tomorrow, so I anticipate a very busy day as each damson has to be pricked 4-5 times and then the kilner jars have to be loaded up with the right amount of both sugar and gin.

Tonight there seem to be several pressures building upon the government. The first of these is the re-opening of the school allied to thousands of university students arriving in ‘strange’ cities to take up their places in the now bursting universities. Although in the school and the universities sterling efforts have no doubt been made to preserve bubbles, social distancing and the like, I get a terrible feeling that all might go absolutely ‘pear-shaped’ and these two pressures alone will cause quite an increase in the infection rate. Then, of course, the furlough schemes will progressively start to end, with the result that the unemployment rate will soar. Backbench Tory MP’s will be returning to Westminster this week knowing that according to one opinion poll, the Tory lead over Labour has shrunk to zero, a high proportion of the population feel that the government has not acted with any degree of competence in handling the COVID19 crisis and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is planning big tax rises on the rich to help to pay for it all. The next few weeks are going to be both critical and traumatic aa, after all,  handling a lockdown is relatively easy but releasing a lockdown calls for degrees of political sensitivity and skill not yet manifest in the Boris Johnson scheme of things. There is some talk of Johnson stepping down in about six months – and the Tory party did get of Thatcher when it suited them (and for those with long memories Churchill was turfed out by the electorate in 1945)

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