Friday, 17th March, 2023

[Day 1096]

Today we leapt up relatively bright and early even though we still felt a little tired after the journey of yesterday, but it was not a stressful one. As we had not done our normal weekly shopping yesterday, I went off and did it this morning. After this was unpacked, we cooked our breakfast and then received a mobile call confirming that we were due to meet our University of Birmingham friend in Waitrose at the usual time this morning. So we made our way there and sent a very happy hour or so, discussing amongst other things the contribution that radio has made to popular culture. There was a reason for this because our friend goes off to a French discussion class once a week and this week he had been designated to lead a discussion group, in French naturally, on this topic. Of course, it is difficult to disentangle the effects of any one medium historically but in discussion we did the best that we could. I suggested that one might start to address this topic by looking at the continuum that can be observed when we had a monolithic broadcaster and only a few channels to listen to (the early days of the BBC) whereas today we have a multiplicity of stations, methods of listening to them and massively divergent messages emanating from each. Then when we returned home, we cooked a bought fish pie complemented by some vegetables and cooked in the oven.

This morning as I did my weekly shop I bought some plums, shipped from I know not where, but evidently what the supermarkets tend to somewhat coyly declaim ‘Ripen in bowl’ which means that the fruit was picked unripe and they hope that within the passage of time and the absence of a cold store that they may, with a bit of luck, ripen sufficiently to be edible. To be honest, the plums were reasonably edible of the one we tested so the rest might turn out OK. When we were students, we rented a maisonnette on top of a row of modern shops, one of which was a Spa supermarket. Evidently, we did not have to go far to do our shopping but in those days, in the mid 1960’s, one used to await the very earliest potatoes of early spring which I think were sourced from Egypt. Then we progressed as the crops came to fruition first from the Canary Islands (off the coast of Africa) and then I think to Cornwall and the Scilly Isles and eventually these would give place to our own ‘First Earlies’. Of course, nowadays the potatoes are kept in a cold store, sprayed with a chemical to inhibit early sprouting (or ‘chitting’ if you were a gardener) before they are released on an all the year round basis. So being nostalgic, I did prefer the days when fruits and vegetables were only available in their own season and not all of the year round.

Some interesting news about the settlement of the NHS unions and the government have emerged today. Yesterday, the story was being put about that the whole deal would cost £2.5bn. But today Downing Street has admitted that the one-off payment offered to frontline workers on Thursday will cost £2.7bn, while the 5% pay rise will cost £1.3bn. It is also being said that a 3.5% pay increase had already been factored into the existing budget before a new deal was put to health unions, leaving ministers scrambling to find the rest. When asked where the money will come from, the PM’s spokesperson said ‘areas of underspending’ had been identified but I would expect that the NHS will squeezed to fund some of the settlement via so-called efficiency savings. As a result of the talks yesterday, the same model is being used in the teachers’ pay negotiations so it looks as though after weeks of refusing to come to the negotiating table, the government have already concluded that inflation is on the way down and therefore they can afford to actually start talking to the unions after some weeks of delay.

There is also news this afternoon that the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Vladimir Putin on the grounds of the illegal transportation of Ukrainian children into Russia itself. It may be years, if at all, that Putin is ever brought to trial but there are some practical implications. The most important impact of the warrant is that Putin could, in theory, be arrested as soon as he leaves Russia, although countrries to which he travels may be reluctant to actually hand him over. No doubt, the ICC is hopeful that the issue of a warrant and therefore the labelling of Putin as an international criminal may be a litte lever to assist the Russian people in ejecting him as President. But given the hold of the media and the absence of meaningful ‘normal’ opposition to Putin, such a hope may be a vain one. The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, is to visit Moscow shortly but as China does not recognise the ICC, then this warrant will not trouble the Chinese in any negotiations they have with the Russians. So far the Chinese have supported the Russians but it is possible that their support may wear a little thin.