Friday, 18th March, 2022

[Day 732]

It was another fine day today and Meg and were looking forward to our walk into town. First, though, as is customary on a Friday we had to catch up on the week’s news by chatting with our domestic help, whose day it is on a Friday. In particular, after our day out to Alcester yeserday, we were pleased to show her Meg’s super new three-quarter length coat which we bought from a charity outlet yesterday. Meg’s new coat is made of a material which will certainly make it windproof and we suspect it is showeproof as we. The label inside says ‘Betsey Johnson’ who is a quite a famous American designer of high quality and fashionable clothing and I must say that with a slightly flared line from the waist, it certainly does seem to be a cut above the ordinary. We had a slightly fuller morning than is customary. We decided to inhabit our normal higher seat in the park and saw one of our ex-Waitrose who had just returned from a few days holiday in Wales. The next time we see her will probably be in the Waitrose café when it reopens a week on Wednesday. Having had our coffee, we walked down the hill and saw our friend ‘Seasoned World Traveller’ who was entertaining as ever. Then we left him and went to collect our newspaper, after which we called in at Waitrose to collect some more cordial which only Waitrose seems to stock. Then we thought we would make our way to a large insurance company that occupies a large and prominent site in Bromsgrove. We knew from a poster in our newsagent’s window that a ‘Bake a cake’ sale was being organised, with all of the proceeds donated to assist people in need in the Ukraine. We picked up a couple of cakes (we are not big cake eaters, but that is not the point) and then made a donation to the appeal funds. The system was wonderfully unbureaucratic in that you took whatever cake you wanted and donated whatever money you could afford to the appeal fund. There was also an appeal for non-food donations (in the main cosmetics, nappies, blankets) and this afternoon we will load up some carrier bags with some surplus stuff we are bound to have in our bathroom cabinets and this we can add to the pile of donations in the morning.

This afternoon we had been looking forward to a bit of a rest but it proved not to be. As our domestic help was leaving, she informed us that the toilet in the family bathroom was not draining as it should and evidently needed some attention. My son was working in what had been his office in the house today and between us we tried to investigate and cure whatever was the blockage. First we had a go with a really super plunger which I had bought last time we had a loo problem but initially this only seemed to make the problem worse. Then my son tackled it with a tiny little sink plunger which seemed to be effective, particularly with an arm half way round the S-bend. We went to investigate the rodding eye outside and nothing seemed afoot. But after our latest plunge we heard the most enormous gurgling sound from outside (this is the polite way of expressing it) and this seemed to cure the problem. We put a load of bleach down the toilet and we are going to leave everything until tomorrow morning to see if the loo is still free running.

The big news from yesterday with a lot of repercussions today was the shocking news that the P&O shipping line (itself the subsidiary of a company based in Dubai) had dismissed 800 employees on the spot and immediately replaced them all, all the way from captains down to booking clerks, with cheaper labour force supplied by a ‘third party’. There were some accounts that security staff in balaclavas were putting existing staff in handcuffs and escorting them off vessels before the new (and considerably cheaper) labour force could take over. There is a huge debate going on whether all of this is legal or not, including whether the necessary statutory notices and consultations had been undertaken. This does not appear to be a case of using Brexit-related absence of regulation as British employment law is still largely within the remit of EU legislation. The wider point is that P&O ferries is a subsidiary of DP World P&O Ferries and is losing money – £105m in 2020, according to the accounts for the relevant local holding company However, DP World itself is one of the world’s biggest logistics firms and recorded top-line earnings of $3.8bn (£2.9bn) last year. It ought to be able to handle a £100m crisis in a minor subsidiary in a calm manner and without resorting to such extreme tactics.