Tuesdays come around like the proverbial clockwork and we always look forward to our Tuesday mornings. Meg and I were a little delayed this morning but nonetheless we had our breakfast, picked up our newspaper and then got ourselves into Waitrose at our usual time. There we met up with two of our Tuesday morning regulars and quickly engaged in our normal chat. One of our friends has a Dutch sister-in-law. We asked if she would ask her sister-in-law about ‘Black Peter’ who is a traditional companion to St. Nicholas, but the Dutch feel a little ambiguous about him these days. According to Wikipedia ‘The Zwarte Piet character is part of the annual Feast of St. Nicholas that is celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaasavond, which is known as St. Nicholas Eve in English) in the Netherlands and elsewhere. This is when presents and sweets are traditionally distributed to children. The holiday is celebrated on 6 December in Belgium. The Zwarte Piet characters appear only in the weeks before the Feast of Saint Nicholas, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, having travelled from Madrid, Spain).‘ In the past, characters used to dress up as ‘Black Peter’ donning medieval garb and blacking their faces but, as with the Black and White Minstrels show in the UK, probably the Dutch feel that this tradition has had its day in these times when we celebrate diversity and is best forgotten. After our normal jolly chat, though, we went on our way around the store, each of having little bits of shopping to get done. Then it was a case of getting home and, in our case, getting prepared for my Pilates class which takes place at midday on Tuesdays. As I walked down into town, it was a delightful, almost spring-like day and I noticed that several of the flowering cherry trees were just on the point of bursting into bloom. I suppose that in biological terms, when there is a mild spell following a much colder and frostier period, this stimulates part of the plant to start the blooming process. The most likely time to reach peak bloom is between the last week of March and the first week of April so I suppose the second week of March for flowering cherries to start to bloom is about right. In any case, it is a real harbinger of spring. Being interested in the origins of words, I wondered about the origins of ‘harbinger’ and I discovered that ‘harbinger’ has been used in English since at least the 1100s. It comes from Middle English, from a variant of the Old French herberg(i)ere, which meant ‘host’ and was equivalent to the verb herberg(ier), ‘to shelter.’ Harbinger was originally used in English to refer to a host or someone who provides lodgings.
We are due for a couple of interesting Wednesdays. Firstly, we have the budget tomorrow in which it has been trailed that the pension pot limit of £1 million may be raised to £1.8 million. If this pre-release of information is correct, then it may have a considerable impact upon the relatively well-paid consultants within the NHS. These may be persuaded not to take a premature retirement from the NHS as,if they were not to retire early, they may well have been adversely impacted by the pension cap limit of £1 million (reduced in a George Osborne budget from £1.25 million in 2015). But the following Wednesday may be the real date in our calendar. Boris Johnson is due to appear in person before the Privileges Committee at 2.0pm in the afternoon and the committee hearings will be broadcast live. The Committee already has sufficiently documentary, witness and photographic evidence to come to a conclusion that Boris Johnson probably misled the House of Commons but it may be a fight for his political life. The Committee have to decide, though, whether Johnson ‘knowingly’ misled the Commons and this is a very hard thing to prove. Even if the decision goes against him, the MPs will to have to decide on the penalty. In most cases this would be an apology to the whole House of Commons, held in silence and with no interruptions. But in severe cases, the committee can decide an expulsion for a number of days from the Commons. If the days are 10 or more, then the electors in a constituency will have the right to demand a ‘recall’ elction, and given his smallish majority, he is likely to lose this in the present climate. If I had to make a prediction at this point of time, it would be that the Privileges Committee find him ‘guilty’ but pull their punches somewhat by suspending him from the Commons but for a number of days less than ten when a recall might be triggered. There are some further technicalities in that the Privileges Committee will have to report back to the whole House of Commons for ratification. All MPs will then vote to ratify or disagree with their conclusions and any recommended sanctions. Now this might be gripping television in just a week’s time but the Committee itself may take some to argue amongst themselves before a conclusion is reached.