25 December 2016

What a great week we’ve had. Well, I’ve a great week anyway! Our annual pre-Christmas outing up to town, a myriad of pre-Christmas drinks and other social occasions in the village, a birthday meal out with some very lovely people and now, here we are – Christmas! What could be better?

We went off on Saturday (last week) for our annual pre-Christmas outing to London where we met up with our friends Sue & Stuart and Dave & Sue (aka the Usual Suspects). Lunch and a quick meander around the National Portrait Gallery and then it was off up the road to the Garrick Theatre and the matinee performance of “This House”.

Set between the fateful years of 1974 and 1979, which saw huge economic crisis and a hung parliament, This House takes place in the engine rooms of Westminster, where fist fights took place and votes were lost or won by one. Following turbulent times as Labour faced a vote of no confidence in James Callaghan’s government, Graham’s play delves behind the scenes of Parliament, studying the archaic traditions of previous politics. At a time when the country is beginning to question the current political system, This House strikes a relevant chord.

I’m not sure it warrants the five-star review the Guardian gave it but it was a lot of fun – there were certainly plenty of parallels between the situation in the late 1970s and our current political circumstances and lots of ironic sighs and groans from the audience. The play ends with Thatcher’s election victory which played out much the same way as Brexit – no one expected her to win the Conservative Party leadership and the result of her premiership was an unmitigated disaster for everyone bar the moneyed elite. Brexit looks to be turning out the same way, I’m afraid, especially as there are such incompetents allegedly running the show.

We have enjoyed watching the birds at our feeders once again now that Penelope has re-opened her Avian Café for the winter. (She reckons the birds can fend for themselves during the summer and autumn when there is plenty of food around so we’ve been feeder-free for the past few months). Since the re-opening of the café it has once again become the place to grab a quick bite and, at many times during the day, it’s standing room only!

This year, in an effort to avoid some of the mess the little darlings create when they congregate for a snack, she spread some dark tarpaulin-type fabric over the ground beneath the bird feeders. This way, everything can be easily cleaned up when the feeding season has passed (i.e., next summer) and this patch of the garden is due for redevelopment in any case. As it turns out, she needn’t have worried about clearing up the mess – as a consequence of the mess on the ground we’ve had considerably more ground feeders so far this year which hoover up the detritus, including a male pheasant who visits most afternoons and stops off for about an hour before shuffling off up the garden.

We had lunch at the Kitchen in Farnborough on Thursday in celebration of my birthday. Lady Penelope and I met Nick, Lucy and Annabelle there and we had a wonderful, relaxed and delicious meal. We’ve been there many times before under its previous guise as the Inn at Farnborough and it’s long been one of our favourite local restaurants. I think it was the last time we visited however, probably about a year or so ago, I commented that I thought they needed to give their menu an overhaul. The menu had been static for a number of years and, although it was always delicious, when you’ve had everything on the menu you tend to fancy something else, I think.

I guess someone was reading my mind as it changed hands in March and is now known as the Kitchen. Still, it was every bit as delicious at it previously was but with a reformed menu with a lot of tasty items. Those of you who know me will not be the least bit surprised to learn that I had the Essence of Shellfish (prawns and scallops in a fabulously decadent rich bisque), which was stunningly good. The 24 Hour Cooked Ox Cheek with a luxuriously thick and delicious sauce that was, again, absolutely lovely. Everyone enjoyed their various choices and the meals were so deliciously splendid that no one had room for dessert! I heartily recommend it!

And, before I forget, thank you to all of you who posted good wishes on Facebook, posted cards, telephoned, Facetimed, whatever. My favourite birthday card was given to me by one of my favourite grandchildren – Annabelle’s portrait of me and Penelope dressed as Christmas Elves. I am sure you will agree that the likeness is extraordinary!

I’ve written many times in the past about the propensity of our current and former government to pursue policies base on prejudice and bias rather than considering doing something (anything) based on evidence instead. This is, unfortunately, an evidence-free government. Regrettably, this seems to be increasingly common – if the evidence and impact of your initiatives doesn’t suit your narrative, ignore them.

Finally catching up with the Moreton Pinkney Picayune, the Public Accounts Committee recently released a scathing report on one of Cameron’s “flagship” policies, to intervene in the lives of hundreds of thousands of families to turn troubled families around. The Government claimed that the initiative had a positive impact in 99% of cases and to have saved £1.2bn. (How can you tell a politician is lying? His/her lips are moving.) In fact, research carried out for the report concluded that the program had “no significant impact” and, in measuring the amount of cash allegedly saved the Government decided not to include any of the costs of running the programme. What was it that Iain Duncan Smith once said – it doesn’t matter if it isn’t true as long as I believe it to be true.

There was a splendid article in the Guardian the other day about the Worst Customer Service examples of the year. If you suffered from some incompetent or uncaring customer service this year, consider this:

Take, for instance, the data back-up website which told a customer that her backed-up data was irretrievably lost because of moves to “enhance customer experience”, or the mobile phone firm that was unable to help customers whose phone numbers it had given away because they no longer had, well, a phone number. The really cunning ones delay complainants for so long that they can then declare that too much time has elapsed for them to be entitled to a resolution. Or, in the case of one travel firm, they acknowledge a complaint with an automated message stating it has been deleted unread.


And, speaking as we were of poor customer service, I have to give a “shout out” to Chris Davies Appliance Repair in Banbury. Lady Penelope has had a few issues lately with our oven – a pecan pie she was baking for a dinner party the other evening took “forever.” On Friday she was baking a cheesecake and some Christmas biscuits/cookies and the oven just never got hot – after an hour of baking the cheesecake was lukewarm, at best, and the oven simply was not getting up to temperature. Oh F**k! It’s the day before Christmas Eve – what are the chances of getting anyone out to look at it before the world shuts down for four or five days? 

I can’t remember when we first ran across Chris Davies but he visited us a few times in Byfield to repair a faulty oven or dishwasher or washing machine or something so we gave him a call. He was out and about but said that he could get here Saturday, if that was convenient, for which we were thrilled. Ten minutes later he phoned back to say that he could come in ten minutes! He had telephoned his next appointment for which he more or less had to pass by our front door and asked if they would mind if he was a half hour or so later than anticipated. They didn’t mind so he popped in on his way, diagnosed the problem – a dead element – replaced it with one he had in the van (what are the chances of that?) and was on his way. All done and dusted from first call to fix in about an hour. We must have led a very good life!

Finally, we had to say good-bye to a dear, dear friend this week – our former neighbour in Byfield, Paul Avison, passed away on Sunday night after a struggle with colon cancer complicated by his long-term issues with emphysema. He had just finished his last batch of chemo when he collapsed at home and was rushed into hospital where he died just a few days later.

For those who remember, Paul was the brother my sister Sallie was trying to contact to let him know that her mother-in-law died. Sallie had contact details for Paul’s brother Chris in Ireland and he supplied Paul’s address. When she received it she sent me the details asking if 16 Banbury Road, Byfield was anywhere near us. I replied in the affirmative – it was literally across the street from our former home. Although we had met Paul and his wife Mary before this remarkable coincidence, it was after that point that we became very good friends. Although we knew his time with us would be limited, we all hoped that the chemotherapy might give him a bit more time with a tolerable quality of life. Alas, it was not to be. He was kind and generous and, perhaps most importantly, he was a kindred political spirit and Guardian reader – there aren’t many of us left! We shall miss him terribly.

Love to you all,




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