Wednesday, 31st May, 2023

[Day 1171]

We had nothing in prospect this morning so Meg and I collected the newspaper, after which we went to a local garage to get six litres of the highest grade petrol we can find to appease the mower. I paid a tenner for six litres of fuel and it still contains 5% ethanol rather than the 10% you find in the more regular E10 fuel. But at least I have some Briggs and Stratton fuel stabiliser which is meant to stop the ethanol from oxidising to form water which degrades the fuel and can cause problems in some petrol mowers. There was a bit of a chill wind blowing today and Meg and did not fancy sitting on a windy and cold park bench. But we compromised by driving to the park and then having a walk as far as our favourite bench whereupon, after a two minute rest, we set off for the car again. In the car park I happened to see a Honda Civic which I think is more or less the colour of the car that we may get around to ordering next Monday when we are due to pay a visit to the dealers. Cutting short our walk in the park meant that we could have some decent elevenses at home whilst also watching the Politics programme shown from midday onwards. After lunch, the weather was still fairly bright so I seized the opportunity to get our lawns cut. I used to do this regular mowing job on Fridays but have swopped to Wednesdays which tends to a better day, free of other commitments.

After I had cut the lawns and dragged our dustbins to their collection point by the side of the road, I sat down to a well-earned cup of tea and started passively watching what was on the TV which was still tuned to BBC2. The programme transmitted was one of the history of the corner shop and this turned out to be quite a fascinating watch. At the point at which I started to watch, the programme was focussing on the ‘hula hoop’ which hit the market in about 1958 and most corner shops obtained a supply of them, as the hula hoop must have been one of the first mass crazes in modern history. If my memory serves me correctly, even the PE teachers caught the bug and bought a supply so that schoolchildren could either start, or finish, a PE lesson with a hoola hoop session. From 1958, the programme then moved onto another landmark which was the introduction of the concept of ‘self service’ even from a corner shop. The first self-service supermarkets had actually hit the UK in the late 1940s but by 1961, the corner shops were forced to follow the concept of self service once firmly established. At that time, a system was in place named ‘Resale Price Maintenance’ in which manufacturers tried to dictate the selling price of their goods whether it be in the supermarket or the corner shop. This system eventually broke down as the supermarkets with bulk buying and a mass of customers could allow the kind of aggressive price-cutting that drove many corner shops out of business.

The latest sleaze revelation comes with the news that four Tory MPs have recently been ‘caught’ passing off their speeding fines as expenses thus getting the general public, or at least the taxpayer, to pay for their transgressions. But they have now been found out and are being forced to pay the fines themselves. Some of them had pleaded that this was an ‘inadvertent error’ which surely is an excuse that no-one can believe. The stand off between the Hallett (COVID-19 enquiry) and Downing Street should end tomorrow as this is the renegotiated timetable for the handover of all unredacted diaries, notebooks and WhatsApp messages. There are some fascinating nuances to this story. It is (ahem) difficult to understand how the Cabinet Office could be so strident in its Application in saying that the WhatsApp messages and notebooks contained ‘unambiguously irrelevant’ material and then to admit that, well, the Cabinet Office did not actually possess those messages and notebooks. So there is evidently someone being economical with the truth in these two statements. But the chair of the Inquiry is no fool, and her notice first thing on Tuesday in response is a fascinating exercise in procedural power. Firstly, she granted an extension – not the extension which was being sought, but one just long enough to serve what follows. The extension was of two days, until Thursday, 1 June 2023. Secondly, she says she will accept that the Cabinet Office does not have under its custody or control the requested materials- only there is a full detailed explanation for why this is so – and that this explanation will need to be attested to by officials with a signed statement of truth, that is, under pain of perjury. There is a wider point here, of course. Evidently government must be continued with all kinds of discussions between politicians and civil servants but should these not be on officially approved, and secure handsets with their own software and protocols, so that the information is secure and protected – and retrievable if necessary? For government to proceed using WhatsApp as a principal mode of communication semms sloppy at least if not downright irreponsible.