Week 734

Sunday, 15th January, 2023

Beautiful, sunny and bright morning spoiled by a phone call to say my MRI scan is cancelled because the equipment has broken down. I will be sent a new appointment as soon as possible.  Real sense of anti-climax. Still, at least any bad news is delayed.

In November 2021, we were in New York and flew back to Tampa just hours after Frank & Diane, friends from Oldham who we hadn’t seen for years, flew in and stayed just a block away from our hotel. They were en route to visiting their son and his wife just outside NY city. Frank & Diane had bought and run a  private school in Oldham for about 30 years and had just retired. Lovely times lay ahead of them.

Frank’s hobbies were fitness and, in particular, cycling but also music and playing one of his numerous guitars. While in New York, he was desperate to visit Woodstock which is where this happy photo was taken. Just 9 months later, at the age of 70, Frank was dead from an inoperable brain tumour and the dreams of a happy, adventurous retirement were over.

Now alone, Diane has returned to New York to spend Christmas with her son but also to revisit Woodstock and to scatter Frank’s ashes. It is hard to accept that this is how all lives end but accept it we must.

This is one reason why I love to travel. The sense of movement and exploration obscures and distracts me from the reality of what is to come. But it is also why reaching out to friends has become so important and largely so rewarding. Who knows when we will need them even more?

One of those who rivals me for travel, Dave Roberts from Rochdale, really seems to be constantly globe trotting. Currently, he is in New Zealand. Only 3 months ago, he was on a boating trip down Le Canal du Midi and visiting Narbonne, Beziers and Carcassonne.

In July, he was on a cruise visiting Athens from where he contacted me for advice on places to see and then Napoli on the south west coast of Italy. That is definitely the way to keep the looming terminator at bay. Keep fit. Keep moving. Keep looking for new experiences without ditching your past.

Just had a phone call from the hospital to say my scan will now be on Tuesday afternoon. I’m really pleased, very grateful and just a little bit apprehensive.

Monday, 16th January, 2023

The morning opened at quite a cold 5C/41F and didn’t get much higher all day. Kevin said he’d had his coldest bike ride of the year. Mind you, it is only half way through January. We left the house shortly after 9.00 am to drive to Surrey. We had to leave the burglar alarm off because we had set Little John and Little John’s Mate to vacuum the house while we were out. As we drove up the M25, we received messages on our phones to tell us that they had completed their jobs.

M is in Surrey having returned from Florida. It was lovely to see her. She is so caring. She had returned to spend time with her elderly parents. She has the age-old problem of parents who need care and a family in a different part of the world who need her too. In the end, she has to lead her own life. She can’t sacrifice it for her parents but it is hard. They will have to go into supported accommodation or have social support in their own home but it is always difficult making that choice when you are elderly and frail.

In the end, M has to live her own life and her parents have to live theirs but getting there is not easy. Sometimes, P&C don’t realise when they are well off. I didn’t give up so much of my life for my Mother nor would I. She didn’t expect it. She had her life and wanted me to have mine. The same with Pauline’s lovely Mum. We went to our Greek home with her blessing but we came home immediately she needed us.

This is what I went for really. Pauline makes Christmas cakes every year for other people and we never get to taste any. Well, today we did and they were wonderful. Apparently, K’s eaten most of his. I had a huge piece and it was WONDERFUL.

Tuesday, 17th January, 2023

Quite a cool start to the morning. There was even a slight trace of frost on the roofs around. I have my scan this afternoon and Kevin messaged me this morning to wish me good luck. In fact, I think he’s going sloppy in his old age. He wrote, When they examine the film, they will find a heart of gold. I’m sure some of my old friends wouldn’t say that but it was nice of him anyway. 

Before that, what I experienced yesterday made such an impression on me that I had to do something. My little sister is Head of Adult Social Care Services for Surrey County Council. I saw M coping with two elderly people who are rapidly moving towards the point when they are going to need just such services. In her Guardian article, Liz makes a lot of her desire to deliver integrated health and social care services to the adult population of Surrey. M has two adults with multiple health and welfare requirements so I thought I would go to the top and seek Skinny Lizzie’s advice. The photo on the left is how I remember her.

From the sublime to the trivial. My new Xerox printer came with a £40.00 cash back offer. I had to apply with copies of my invoice and printer setup page. I sent off what I thought was sufficient but they rejected it for lack of evidence. It’s only £40.00 but rejection is a red rag to a bull with me. I phoned my supplier, got all of the information required, submitted it to Xerox. A £40.00 cash back is winging its way to my account.

Worthing Pier this evening.

That done, I turned my thoughts to my existence. My longevity. Is prostate cancer going to get me? Someone told me the other day that most men of my age were living with it. Actually, it is only one in eight and I don’t intend to be one of them. If they find a problem, I will opt for surgery whatever the risks. I intend to live to 100 and to meet my destiny whatever it takes.

Got to live to share this.

The MRI scanner was very noisy and incredibly long. I was in it for just under an hour. As soon as they moved me down the tunnel and said, Now don’t move, I got a terrible itch on my cheek. I zoned out and fell asleep. I awoke to find my leg trembling. Nobody complained. The person administering the injection into my arm was called Fabio. He was from Milan. I love Milan and have driven through it many times. We had a lot to talk about. It is hard to believe my fate has been decided today in this place.

We drove home down the coast which was looking illuminated by sky and by man. I find this sort of thing quite threatening but everything is threatening at times. I maybe in my death throes but that will make me even more reckless. Beware!

Wednesday, 18th January, 2023

Up early this morning to a clear sky of stars and this beautiful little chap in the lightening sky. Just took it with my phone camera in the garden. Another hint of frost and certainly feeling cold.

Up early because we’ve got a person from our Developers coming with a thermal imaging camera to test heat loss. We have been saying for a while that one bedroom was significantly colder than all the others and that maybe the insulation was defective there or the window was badly fitted.

Our house is almost 7 years old and almost 2 years out of warranty but our Developers – David Wilson Homes – are a class act. They take customer satisfaction very seriously and immediately offered to investigate our problem.

The representatives of the company are lovely, friendly and helpful people and so it was this morning. Within minutes of inspecting the problem, Steve said there was clearly an insulation problem – either missing or slipped insulation boards – and he would bring someone else from the company to assess how to rectify it. Can’t quite see how they will do that retrospectively but that’s why they are the experts.

A very kind Blog Reader has done me the honour of official recognition and sent me a card of greeting. My friends tell me I have earned it although I’m not sure my wife would agree.

We retired in April 2009. We took lovely, big redundancy packages as the school prepared to combine with another and move into a £25 million, new Academy building. In our last decade, we had bumped along the Ofsted ratings of ‘Satisfactory’ (Damned with feint praise.) to ‘In Need of Improvement’ to ‘Special Measures’ twice when the Headteachers were expected to resign/sacked.

The new Academy was ostensibly an answer to the Oldham race riots of a decade before. One, mainly Asian school was being integrated with another, mainly white school. Neither school had good reputations and the strange belief was that a swan would arise out of the mating of two, ugly ducklings. Old timers like us were scorned for our scepticism. The BBC featured the school as a brave new dawn in race relations. £ millions more were poured into extra staff and facilities. Everyone interviewed spoke highly of the changes. Within 3 years, they were ‘In Need of Improvement’. By 2016, they were in ‘Special Measures’. In 2019, they were ‘In Need of Improvement’ and this week, they are back in ‘Special Measures’

The big thrust of the Academy raison d’etre was to demonstrate that race relations across the divide in Oldham could be healed. Huge, social integration programmes were foisted on the kids and their families to that end. The Ofsted report this week strongly criticises discipline and behaviour with particular note of use of racist language and abuse. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Thursday, 19th January, 2023

We dropped to -1C overnight and we have a frost this morning. I am considering submitting an official complaint. I didn’t move to the South Coast to see cold weather. It’s costing me a fortune keeping the central heating on in the Gym to protect all the sensitive computer elements of the exercise equipment. It’s intolerable.

If you live in the North – Yorkshire/Greater Manchester – you expect harsh conditions at this time of the year but on the South Coast??? We had enough of it while we were there. The photo from the Huddersfield Examiner above is of Castle Hill in Huddersfield this morning. It brought it all back to me particularly the trials of driving across the Pennines every day to work.

Our school was old and the campus was hard to make safe in these Winter conditions. For that reason, we were often one of the first to close. Certainly wouldn’t miss Greater Manchester now. I pledged to avoid snow for the rest of my life if I could. The photo above from the MEN is of Manchester Airport which had to close two runways this morning.

This is the colour I want – Modern Steel Metallic.

Honda contacted us this morning. They said they were contacting long standing customers. We always treat all such approaches with huge scepticism. We have driven Hondas since 1984 and have bought more than 20 new vehicles from them including 11 or 12 CRVs. I am a sucker for new cars although the current one is only 18 months old and has only done 7,500 miles. Honda are, ostensibly offering lots of discounts on new cars plus ‘special’ values on used ones. We will talk to them next week but they will have to beg hard and very nicely.

Friday, 20th January, 2023

Beautiful day of Mediterranean sunshine and blue sky. Not exactly Mediterranean temperatures but not bad. It is a day to celebrate being alive. I am doing it with a full, exercise program. Yesterday, I did 1.5 hrs on the treadmill and really enjoyed it so my fitness is coming back although it is amazing how quickly one can lose it by taking a break from making the effort.

The Film.

One of the things that helped me through the exercise yesterday was watching an absolutely wonderful film – Bank of Dave – which I urge you to see. It is based on a true story about a man called Dave Fishwick from Burnley who owned a number of outlets selling Vans across Lancashire. He made a lot of money but loved his community and was determined to help the members of it.

Dave, who is brilliantly played by Rory Kinnear, Roy Kinnear’s son, wanted to open a community bank which took deposits and lent out just to the people of Burnley. He wanted to lend to people who were commonly rejected by the national banks. All profits he made were to be given directly to Burnley charities.

He applied for Bank status giving him the right to take deposits and lend money. The major banks saw this as a threat to their old boys’ club and tried to put things in his way including having him arrested.

The real Bank of Dave in Burnley.

Needless to say, Dave won the day and opened his bank. I knew quite a lot of this background before I watched the film and it didn’t spoil it one bit. There is also a delightful, romantic sub plot running through the film which builds to a climax. A must watch!

Our lovely next door neighbour, Dee, has just called round with her face full of fear and trepidation. She lectures in English at the local College and last night, coming home from work, she misjudged her reversing in her BMW and WENT OVER THE GRASS! I can’t be angry with someone so beautiful but I did my best. I thought you were going to confess to something trivial, I said with a stern face. She quavered and then realised I was joking. It’s lovely to have nice neighbours.

I’m cooking tonight giving Pauline a night off. I’m doing Chicken thighs with onion, garlic and parsley and a medley of diced celery, carrot and mushroom. It maybe a disaster but Pauline will still say it’s a triumph so I’ve got nothing to lose.

I’ve just been seeking an online valuation of our car and I think a new one will only cost us £8,000.00 on £42,000.00. Could be a possibility. I’m not terribly bothered but it would save cleaning this one.

Saturday, 21st January, 2023

Another gorgeous morning. Might go mad this morning and clean the car. Well, I might be trading it in soon. There again, I may not. My phone buzzed at Midnight. It was Kevin from North Yorkshire. He had got my recommendation of the film – Bank of Dave – and he and Christine had just finished watching it. They really enjoyed it and were thanking me for the recommendation … at midnight.

Housekeeping today includes having my haircut, valeting the car in case I trade it in and watching Liverpool v Chelsea while doing a couple of hours on the treadmill. You see what you’re missing, Dear Reader? I’ve also got to look at best Easy Access Savings AccountsYorkshire Building Society has just increased our rate to 2.95% yesterday but I will keep searching.

It looks like High Street Bank branches will just about have gone in the next 5 years. Another great swathe of closures was announced yesterday. There is a widespread expectation that cash payment will largely have gone in the same timeframe. This has been hastened by Covid. The old, infirm and IT illiterate may be restricted to Post Office accounts.

None of this particularly worries me because I never use cash. I don’t even know what some coins are worth. I was shown a £2.00 coin the other day and it could have been 2p for all I knew and, did you know that there is a 20p coin? I’m more at home with Euros than these things. I have a Charge Card which is badged Mastercard, A Mastercard Credit Card and a Visa Debit Card none of which I use directly at all. They are all stored electronically in my Google Wallet app on my phone. I also have Airport Lounge cards, Foreign Exchange cards, Hotel Reward Cards and Supermarket Club Cards all of which can be stored there too.

So, I only use my phone to access these cards and my face/fingerprint gives me controlled access. All of this is great … until something goes wrong. This week, our Credit Cards were renewed and I had to delete the old and establish the new on my app. Simple task. I did it on Pauline’s phone but my app wouldn’t let me do mine. I phoned the bank. A recorded message told me they didn’t deal with it over the phone anymore but I had to go through the app. I am not given to tantrums but I had one then. The app told me I had to go through the online chat engine – Cora.

Cora‘ usually turns out to be a young man from the Asian sub-continent who is very polite but absolutely useless. This afternoon, I have been sent round and round in ever decreasing circles trying to deal with a problem which could have been solved in 5 minutes on the phone. Tomorrow, we will contact our Personal Banking Manager and tell her what we think of the service but this is likely to become an increasingly common concern as those who are not comfortable with smartphones – and I can think of a few – begin to grapple with these problems. Forget the Industrial Revolution, the Financial Revolution is changing / will change the whole way society interacts.

Who would have predicted that I would be paying my window cleaner by Bank Transfer or my Electrician using the app on my phone. Who would think that the Greengrocer would need wifi to allow online payments or the carwash would need a card machine? These are big steps forward but, just like the electric car market, the infrastructure can’t afford to lag behind. The one, underlying theme here is that the ‘official’, tax collecting authorities can monitor these digital interactions which makes their life much easier. When cash disappears, the Black Economy is dead.

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