DIARY OF AN OCTOGENARIAN
- John Copeland -
Friday 15th MAY - Thursday 21st MAY, 2015
"The Shoulder of Muttton" at Aldham in Essex, where I had my first date with Mrs. Copeland in 1961. We had a meal there on Wednesday 13th May with Mrs. C's elder brother and his wife, bringing back many memories.
"Come queen of months in company
Wi all thy merry minstrelsy"
John Clare's description of May in his "The Shepherd's Calendar".
FRIDAY 15 MAY
We returned to Lincolnshire at 10 a.m. after a pleasant two-night stay with mother-in-law. The roads were extremely busy, especially with lorries, but once we reached the level of Peterborough the traffic thinned out as we reached the civilisation of Lincolnshire, and how thankful I was to get away from the chaos and awful overpopulation of Essex. I greatly enjoyed seeing Mrs. Copeland's relations, but I am always thankful to return to the peace 'n' quiet of the wonderful backwater of Lincolnshire, an idyllic place for retired folk.
After lunch we called in at a neighbour who had had a cataract operation yesterday, finding that she was quite well after the operation, even offering us a glass of wine. Apparently a cataract operation is now regarded as a major operation. In terms of my own problems with the ruptured supraspinatus on my left shoulder, I was relieved that my sister-in-law, a qualified nurse, whom we saw for supper at "The Shoulder of Mutton" in Aldham yesterday, told me that it was as well to have physiotherapy as a possible initial remedy, principally on account of the healing process taking a long time for the elderly, not always successful.
Maybe it is cowardice on my part, but I am not at all keen on having an operation that will have my left arm in a sling for six weeks, with a six-month recovery period, there always being the fear that the operation at my great age might be a failure. Were I in my 40s, I would not hesitate to have an operation, but twice that age the risks seem rather greater. There is the possibility that if I do not have the operation I could lose the full use of the arm, but at least I am not going to play cricket or tennis, my main physical activity limited to grass cutting. Even so, it is a little bit worrying.
Inside the "Shoulder of Mutton".
The evening was spent reading some more of "Violence" by Richard Bessel. In my opinion, the book seems muddled and repetitive. In the chapter on Revolution, for example, we are told that the populace after 1945 eschewed violence, yet in the next chapter on "War" there are details of the trial of Lt. William Calley for his role in murdering scores of civilians during the Vietnamese War.
The author makes the point that the ratio between death and injuries in wars has lessened, recently being 1:7,4 in Iraq, whereas in the First World War the figure was 1:2.36. Surely, though, this was not true of the recent war in Afghanistan, where so many American and British troops were shot by snipers and killed by roadside IEDs. His main conclusions are that we are now less inclined to go to war, and that we are more concerned these days about the fate of women and children. I find such premises totally unrealistic, and having read about 185 of the 325 pages, I have given up reading the book.
Instead, I made a start on Philip Kerr's latest novel: "The Lady From Zagreb" , which I am enjoying with the author's mordant wit and cynical observations.
SATURDAY 16 MAY
A correspondent from across the Atlantic has sent me an e-mail saying: "If I understand your diary entries of the past week, you are now mourning the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union. If I recall correctly, you have been hoping for this for months: what has changed to alter your opinion?" He is certainly correct in pointing out this sea change, based principally on my belated awareness that the economy of the UK is in a far worse condition that I had earlier believed, the National Debt having doubled during the Cameroon government, while exports and productivity have fallen sharply, most of the additional employment being for part-time, poorly paid, unskilled jobs.
In other words, we are too weak and vulnerable to go it alone, the assessment being that we need the European Union more than the Union needs us, the worry being that within the next two or three years we will be in a similar position to Greece, needing all the help that we can get from the Germans and the IMF. Earlier, I was in favour of coming out, thereby avoiding all the ridiculous social legislation that we have had to endure, especially on health & safety measures. This, however has been overtaken by the UK's continuing economic weakness, every month seeing a lowering of economic growth predictions by the Governor of the Bank of England.
As Lord Keynes once remarked: "When circumstances change I change my mind. What do you do?"
My correspondent also went on to say that "As for austerity, your country has been spending more than they have to spend: how else are they to balance the budget but to reduce spending? I, personally, think that reducing welfare benefits is a good place to start, as continued subsidizing of the lumpen proletariat can only lead to the increase of this class, and what reasonable person wants that? Better to let them get a taste of hunger, in the hopes that it will motivate them to find a job and start pulling their own weight. Working with the poor has convinced me that the majority of them are poor through choice: it is easier to live on the dole than it is to work their way off it."
I can understand a good deal of logic in this, for why should it be more financially beneficial to live on the dole rather than work for a living? On the other hand, I feel that it will be wrong to continue hammering the sick and the poor when the allowance is raised on the 40% tax threshold. Here in the UK we are in this acute financial muddle, and there has to be a degree of fairness in climbing out of the deep and darkening pit.
Today's "Daily Mail" had a front-page story today about a woman who had committed suicide as a result of being continually harassed by charities who always wanted more. I can understand how she feels, for every week we have about eight charity appeals in the post, all of which go straight into the recycling bin. It is surely time that the Government had a massive cull of these charities, for there are far too many of them, and those sending money abroad are sometimes very dubious, the money probably ending up in the pockets of corrupt politicians and bandits
The "i" had an item in the Business section saying that an electricity company was cheating its customers on direct debits, increasing the amounts to be paid, whereas there should have been a lowering of the payments. Time and time again in this diary I warn about the awfulness of direct debits, and this is a further example of the problems they cause. I will not have a direct debit so long as I live, even if it means giving up a service.
There was also a report in the "i" that the ban on hinting may be repealed by the new Government within the next twelve months, the Conservative former Environment Secretary having proclaimed that "The hunting ban is bad legislation and bad for the liberty of people in the countryside". Presumably he means the liberty to be cruel to defenceless animals, thoroughly enjoying the brutal spectacle of a fox, persecuted for hours, being torn apart by hounds.
It has to be admitted, of course, that the opposition to the barbaric bloodsport of hunting with hounds is really a class issue, rather than any real concern for the welfare of Reynard. Those of us who oppose hunting, said to be 75% of people, loathe an arrogant bunch of sadistic men and women, rural thugs and remnants of feudal England in which we had to bless the squire and be kept in our proper stations. Now, in what the Nasty Party call a desire to have a united nation, they are about to bring back the cruelty of hunting. The hypocrisy of it all is mind boggling.
I cut the grass during the morning after going in to town to withdraw money from the bank, having to do the cutting in three separate stages because of the arthritic pain in my knees. Later this month I am hoping to employ somebody to do the cutting, beginning to find that it is too much for me.
The family at "Ole Ole", a tapas bar in Lincoln, celebrating daughter Kate's birthday.
Mrs. Copeland spent much of the morning helping granddaughter Chloe tidy up her garden, and I joined them at 1 p.m. for a light meal and a bottle of wine, sitting in the garden, though it was not all that warm.
Disappointingly, only about 3 of the 30 or so runner bean seeds I set have come up, so today I had to purchase another packet. I begin to think that growing vegetables is an expensive waste of time, though the produce tastes so much better than the offerings in the shops.
Daughter Kate's birthday today, and by way of the family celebrating the event we went to a tapas bar in Lincoln in the evening - "Ole Ole". As always with these family gatherings, it was a most enjoyable evening, and I was able to drink as we had a lift to the bar by Caroline and her husband, and a taxi home.
Before going to bed I read a few more chapters of "The Lady from Zagreb". In one of the chapters the author has the storyteller referring to Rex Harrison, saying: "A man who represented everything I hate most about the English - smug, self-satisfied, snobbish , only vaguely heterosexual".
SUNDAY 17 MAY
I am currently having all manner of problems with my computer, finding it difficult to get online onto the Internet. Alas, it could be the end of the line, for at my great age I do not want to buy a new computer. The thought of having to set up all the programmes again is just too much for me. "To all things there is a season......."
Having given up on trying to access the Internet, Mrs. Copeland and I went to a birthday party celebration of a female neighbour at 11.30 a.m., having some excellent wine. It was yet another reminder of the incredibly pleasant environment in which I live.
During the day I had an e-mail scam purporting to come from my bank, saying that the conditions of my account had been changed, asking me to log in with my details. I immediately deleted it, but it made me wonder whether any people had fallen from this very unpleasant scam. The bank always insists that they would never contact me by e-mail relating to anything to do with my account. The same is true of my first-rate Internet Service Provider - Claranet, with whom I have been for the past 20 years or so.
A new stone wall in the village, showing that there is still craftsmanship in the country.
Back home after the neighbouring party, we went to the local Club at 3.30 p.m. I gather that there was a very successful, well attended "School Disco" event last night, which we were unable to attend because of the family gathering. It is good to see the Club going from strength to strength, making for some very enjoyable sessions, especially as the beer is kept in tip-top condition by our first-rate stewardess. We have an excellent, decisive chairman who leads, which is vitally important when trying to control a committee, few of them being any good. As J.K. Galbraith remarked: "Meetings are indispensable when you do not want to do anything."
Presumably a committee is all very democratic, but the older I become the more I dislike democracy, though I am aware that without it we end up with the awful Government we have now elected, the most right-wing Government this nation has ever seen. On the other hand, I am aware of Churchill's comment that "Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
After a siesta, the remaining part of the evening was spent reading some more of "The Lady from Zagreb", which I am thoroughly enjoying after having put aside that unbelievably awful book "Violence". I greatly enjoy the modern novel, no longer being restrained by the Victorian prudishness and hypocrisy that Thomas Hardy had to endure with his last novel, "Jude the Obscure".
MONDAY 18 MAY
We woke up to yet more rain in this thoroughly miserable and depressing climate of ours. Already there have been 37.5 mm of rain, presumably explaining why only a few of my runner bean seeds have germinated in the cold and wet weather. I have put the seed tray with a new planting in a sheltered position, hoping they will successfully germinate.
I saw in today's "i" that there is a possibility of nurses going on strike as a result of changes the Cameroons are planning to make to the NHS, no doubt making the service worse. This is in addition to a national rail strike scheduled for the next Bank Holiday at the end of this month, and the threat by the National Union of Teachers that they will take industrial action if spending is not increased on education.
With the very real prospect of widespread civil unrest, possibly seeing fighting in the streets, it is going to be an interesting time as the country continues to fall apart, now at a faster rate as the economy goes further down the drain in our credit-fuelled consumer boom, credit already having risen by 6% in the first three months of this year. May you live in interesting times, says an old Chinese curse, and we are certainly in for some interest.
I was reading today that in the new Parliament 29% of the Members are women, and 6% from ethnic minorities. Yet as several commentators have pointed out, we are now a more deeply divided nation than ever, Ukip having gained 4 million votes but only one seat, representing the travesty and unfairness of our electoral system.
Rhododendron in the garden.
There is a new series of books on the Second World War, published by Osprey . I could not resist buying the first issue of two books dealing with the invasion of Poland and France, though whether it will be desirable to purchase the entire series is open to question as I am buying far too many books this year. Anyway, I went in to town in the morning to purchase the first issue from W.H.Smith. At least buying these books rather than aeroplane and train models will not upset Mrs. Copeland who regards my enthusiasm for such models as a version of my second childhood.
As mentioned earlier, as the weeks go by I am finding it increasingly difficult to write this diary, especially the typing and the troubles with the slowness of the computer. I also seem to be making more and more careless mistakes that I would never have made in earlier days. For example I spelt Goebells instead of Goebbels in last week's diary, so very careless. My aim is to reach the 1,000th mark, now on 901, but I begin to fear I am not going to be able to make that date. Oh, the agonies of old age!
Meanwhile, the pain in my left arm, where I have ruptured the supraspinatus muscle/tendon, seems to be getting worse. I am having the first of a series of session of physiotherapy on Thursday afternoon, and I am hoping that this will obviate the need to have an operation, but I feel it may be a triumph of hope over experience. There are times when I feel that I am falling apart quicker than the UK economy.
I liked an excellent letter in today's "i" under the heading of "The right to kill", saying; "It hasn't taken long for the Tories to reveal their true colours. Of all the policy areas desperate for attention, a top priority is the 'right to get your kicks out of killing furry creatures (Hunting ban to be repealed within 12 months, 16 May). What next in turning the clock back: badger baiting? Cock fighting? Or how about hanging poachers and burning witches? Inflicting hideous suffering solely for enjoyment has no place in a civilised society. Truly the Nasty Party". Amen to those wise and sensible sentiments.
What seems so surprising is that the redcoated rascals, backed up by the feudal and excessively right-wing pressure group that might be regarded as the Landowners' Charter, is utterly demented in its enthusiasm for watching a fox being torn apart by hounds. Not surprisingly in this weird country of ours, the debate in the House of Commons on foxhunting took up more time than a discussion about the National Health Service.
Significantly, there was a report in the "i" that "Cameron's blue-sky guru rails against the ruling classes", the point being made by Steve Hilton, the former chief strategist for the Conservatives, that "too many of the people who make decisions go to the same dinner parties and sent their children to the same schools", resulting in the Government acting for the rich rather than the poor. Our democracy is increasingly captured by a ruling class that seeks to perpetuate its privileges".
What is so interesting is why the British people, despite being repeatedly humiliated and hurt, their rights taken away, have nearly always valued being ruled by the Establishment, bowing and scraping to their right-wing rulers, almost as a form of masochism. Is it because we have the divisive snobbery of a monarchy, or could be it because we have never had a revolution in this country, unlike France? Maybe one is on the way: something that would not surprise me in the least.
I greatly enjoy the "i", now taking it Mondays-Fridays in stead of "The Times". I like its middle-of-the-road politics that reflect my own political views that dislike the extremes of Conservatives and Labour. At least in buying the "i" I am not supporting the Murdoch press that seems to have done so much to harm the good name of British journalism, not that "The Daily Mail" has done much better to improve standards with its excessive and extremist rants.
For her birthday, we bought daughter Kate a folding metal seat, which Mrs. Copeland ordered from a mail-order catalogue. Unfortunately, the seat was badly damaged during transit, part of a bracket having snapped off as a result of the totally inadequate packaging. Today Mrs. C had to telephone the company to make arrangements for it to be collected on Wednesday, and for a replacement to be delivered later. Fortunately the item is in stock. Even so, it is all very annoying and disappointing, one of the many hazards of ordering by mail-order - "Please allow 28 days for delivery".
I received a copy of the agenda for tomorrow's meeting of the Parish Council, seeing that there were 21 items on the agenda, possibly far more than on the agenda for a meeting of the Security Council. It is going to be a long meeting.
At the end of June we are going to have a celebration of the Magna Carta 800th anniversary in our community, and this evening we had a meeting of the neighbours - ten in all - to make arrangements for the event. We have to assume that it will be pouring down with rain, obviously having to ensure that there is adequate cover. "Hopefully" the fire from a barbecue could help to keep us warm in this miserable rain-soaked climate. This evening's gathering, which went on for 2-and-a-half hours, even longer than a Parish Council meeting, was most enjoyable, especially with good quantities of alcohol.
TUESDAY 19 MAY
To town in the morning to purchase an "i" and to buy 2 reams of A4 100 g/m2 paper, costing £10 a ream Not so long ago it was £5 a ream. I seem to spend a fortune on paper and print cartridges. I have to order the paper from a firm of printers in Lincoln as the 100 g/m2 paper is not available at Staples or at any other store in town.
The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent at home, seeing in one news report that a Judge is to rule on a Christian-run bakery's refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting homosexual marriage. As the case is still under review, there must be no comment, but we can still have our thoughts, even at the risk of a visitation from the Thought Police.
There was also a report in today's "i" that J D Wetherspoon, the excellent pub chain that mercifully does not allow music as a background in its establishments, had been fined £24,000 for a "Seminal racial discrimination case" in which the firm had refused to allow a group of Gypsies and Travellers into a branch in north London. Not so long ago, a couple who kept a boarding house were fined, subsequently going bankrupt, for refusing to allow two homosexual men to share a bed in the lodgings.
I suppose these prosecutions help to ensure that we all live in a happy and harmonious multicultural society, yet it seems to be a strange turn of events, everything seeming so topsy-turvy today. No matter that no action is taken against Muslims who parade in London carrying banners "Death to the Infidel". One rule for them, another quite different one for us.
I find it very upsetting that the State can overrule firmly held Christian beliefs, a reminder that we are increasingly venturing towards conditions in Germany in the 1930s. It is therefore possibly significant that I am about to start reading a biography of Goebbels - offering an insight to events coming shortly in this country, you might say, freedom of speech being a thing of the past.
Inflation as measured by the CPI fell to -0.1%, meaning that the country is now officially in deflation, thereby making it even more difficult and expensive for the Government to pay back our enormous debts. It might be seen that, with falling prices, deflation is a splendid thing, but as John Lanchester points out in his recently published "How to Speak Money", that with deflation "Our debts grow in value. The economy slows and then stops. A pall of gloom and stasis settles over the entire economy."
It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the chaos and confusion of the UK economy, certainly to explain the mess to anybody with no understanding of economics. On the one hand we have this deflation, prices going down, while on the other we have a high-wage structure, wages and salaries rising quit quickly. It might therefore seem to be a consumers' paradise, giving the impression of a tremendous rise in the standard of living. Yet it is nothing like that, for firms cannot continue to exist when the prices of their goods are falling, and costs rising. Before Christmas, we are therefore likely to see an extensive rise in unemployment, and not just from the austerity public service job cuts.
Not surprisingly, sterling fell sharply against all major currencies on the depressing news, but this is no bad thing as our currency is grossly overvalued, harming exports, not that we have much to export these days, making hardly anything. To make matters even worse, house prices rose by 9.6% in the year ending last March, indicating that we are on a further recessionary path, the next one likely to be far worse than the recent "credit crunch".
What an incredible muddle. I remain convinced, as I frequently indicate in this diary, that within two years from now, possibly three, this country will be in as big a financial mess as Greece. Indeed, if we come out of the European Union, the consequences could be even worse. Meanwhile, it seems that the Chancellor's instructions are: "Steady as we go as we head towards the rocks."
Cow parsley in the garden - a magnificent showing this year, but Mrs. Copeland is not all that keen on the plant,
After a fairly relaxed morning, my productivity almost as low as that of a British worker, I spent the afternoon in the conservatory reading some more of the novel "The Lady from Zagreb" as the rain beat down on the perspex roof, while "The Red Arrows", going round and round the village for hour after hour, skimmed over our chimney pots in close formation, an accident waiting to happen in a populated area. At a time when thousands of military personnel have been made redundant as the country becomes more vulnerable to an outside attack, I will never understand why this aerial acrobatic team was not disbanded.
In the evening, at 7.30 p.m., I went to the first meeting of the newly elected Parish Council, having to complete a form headed "Declaration of Acceptance of Office of Councillor"; a "Register of Members' Interests" form, in which I made no entries, having nothing to declare; and a signed form saying that I was in receipt of the Parish Council's "Code of Conduct for Elected Members," that insists that I must respect others at all times.
The meeting began at 7.30 p.m. and ended at 9.05 p.m. The first item was the election of chairman, and I nominated a male councillor who was on the previous Council, a good man who has had a great deal of experience in local government before his retirement. However, this was not accepted, a woman instead being elected to the office, the first time a female has been at the helm. Only a young couple who had recently had a business planning application approved were present as members of the public, so there were no questions asked during the first 15 minutes for questions from the public. Sadly, the apathetic view of the Council in the village is that it is an airy-fairy talking shop with no powers and precious little influence.
Just to add to my ailment woes, I have had an awful drumming noise in my right ear that started after lunch, and was still with me for much of the evening. From what I could gather from an article on the Internet, it could be something to do with a blood vessel. Oh, the miseries of being old, but as somebody once told me, it is probably better than the alternative.
WEDNESDAY 20 MAY
With the Village Ladies Luncheon Club, Mrs. Copeland had a meal at a village pub, whose menu was certainly very exotic Among the starters there was a "Carpaccio of farm beef", and mains included "Cauliflower, goats curd and almond"; "Lop pork belly"; and for afters "Forced rhubarb" and "Peppers Lane rapeseed oil cake." Yum, yum.
Unfortunately, there were no offerings of rump steak, and no fish 'n' chips that are my delight, but then I have a very limited taste, not liking anything made from a recipe. It makes me wonder what has happened to good old English food, but then I suppose a lot of people go abroad these days, sampling food they want to have back home, and there are a lot of immigrants here who will obviously prefer their foreign food, seeing English food as being rather bland and unexciting. I blame the sad decline of English food on those dreadful cookery programmes on the idiot's lantern, not that I ever watch them.
I visited a friend who used to live in the village, having wine and a baguette, making for a most pleasant occasion. Back home I sat outside in the sunshine with a neighbour, having a full bottle of wine, which meant an early bath in the evening. No doubt I drink too much, but what the hell. With only a few years to live, I might as well make some hay while the sun shines, especially if the sun shines. In the unlikely event that I live to my father's age of 95 (he died after dancing and breaking a hip, not recovering from the subsequent operation), people will no doubt say: "I kept telling John that all that drink would kill him."
A horribly dirty 'bus seen from mother-in-law's apartment. How can any company allow such shoddy standards?
I saw in a communication I had from TV Licensing that my three-year free television licence (being over 75 years of age) ends on the 30th June, 2015. It is going to be interesting to see if it will be renewed. The Government has promised to retain the winter heating allowance and the free television licence, but then we all know that a politician's promise is about as reliable as a backstreet second-hand car dealer. It would not surprise me if there is a compromise, whereby those already having the benefits will be allowed to retain them, but not any newcomers. That is the shabby manner in which politicians operate.
One thing is certain: As I remarked earlier, I am never going to pay £145 for a service that I never use, the television set not going on from one week to another, only being used for showing DVD films. If I have the benefit taken away, I shall throw out the television set and buy a home cinema set-up in its place.
THURSDAY 21 MAY
Before getting up this morning I finished reading "The Lady from Zagreb", a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have now started on a 710-page biography of Goebbels, which will probably take me at least three weeks to read. I still find it incredible that so many books continue to be published on the Second World War and its characters, presumably meaning that many other people share my fascination for a period that I lived through as a child. I can still remember the sound of German bombers passing over my hometown of Colchester, and I actually saw a low-flying Doodlebug, which landed with a tremendous explosion about two miles away.
This morning I paid the £14.57 monthly payment for my mobile telephone. The 2-year contract with O2 ends on the 24th May, and I am not yet sure what I will do about renewing it. I hardly ever use the appliance, so there is the possibility of going onto a Pay-as-you-go arrangement that would be cheaper. On the other hand, I would not miss it in the slightest if I gave up the telephone. I certainly do not want to renew a 2-year contract with O2, so I could be forced into a pay-as-you-go arrangement.
Honeysuckle in the garden. The garden is at its best at this time of year.
I was hearing today that one of my sons-in-law, a keen fishermen, had been badly bitten by a caught fish, subsequently having to have three stitches in a finger. I had not realised that fishing was such a dangerous sport, though it has always seemed to me to be a strange pastime, sitting for hour after hour beside a lake, eventually catching a fish, and then throwing it back. Still, fishing is not as bad as hunting. What a shame it is that the pursued fox cannot give the fat and ugly Master of Hounds a very nasty bite. That would balance up the forces a bit.
During the morning I put up a bracket for a hanging basket at granddaughter Chloe's house. Then, at 2.30 p.m. I attended the first of several physiotherapy sessions at the Physiotherapy Department of the Lincoln County Hospital, the aim being to strengthen the remaining 3 muscles following the rupture of the supraspinatus. The physiotherapist was a most pleasant and helpful fellow, telling me that I needed to do an exercise with weights for 20-30 minutes every two days, the aim being to strengthen the remaining muscles. He told me that a lot of people can live with a ruptured supraspinatus, which was a relief. I have booked another session in a month's time to review how I am progressing. I just hope that I can complete the sessions before the Government attacks the National Health Service, the NHS in the hands of the Cameroons being about as safe as a hedgehog on a motorway.
This evening I will be watching some more episodes of the "Game of Thrones" with an elderly neighbour. We are thoroughly enjoying the series.
Lincolnshire 21st May, 2015
Diary of an Octogenarian
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