11 July 2021

It’s been one of those weeks, hasn’t it? Rain, wind and the occasional drop of sunshine. The wind was so brisk the other day that it snapped off several of Ms Playchute’s French bean plants. Quelle merde! It seems we had the wettest May on record which was followed by the wettest June on record and those folks who claim to “know” about such things predict that July will also be amongst the wettest on record. On the other hand, some weather pundits are predicting a scorching end of July so who knows? Not us, for sure.

Lady Penelope had an e-mail drop into her inbox the other day alerting her to the fact that Sulgrave Manor just down the road would be opening on Sunday 4 July for the first time since the pandemic struck. How appropriate!

Those of you who have visited will know that Sulgrave Manor is the ancestral home of George Washington, first President of the United States. It was built in 1539 for the Tudor wool merchant Lawrence Washington, the 4x great-grandfather of the president and was owned by the Washington family for a couple of generations. It was rescued from dereliction in 1914 and is now run by the Sulgrave Manor Trust.

So, in between the showers, we popped in the car and made our way to Sulgrave. As we had toured the manor house several times in the past, we decided just to have a wander round the garden and grab a bite to eat in the “new” café/restaurant operated by Danny Webster, the supplier of our various Garden Club inspired lockdown dinners.

The gardens were nice enough but certainly were showing signs of neglect from the many months of the absence of volunteer gardeners – many of the flower beds and borders looked decidedly underappreciated and the roses were very sad indeed. I’m not quite sure why volunteer gardeners were banned from the premises during lockdown – they’re working outdoors and generally in a socially-distanced if not solitary manner. But nope, gardeners were not allowed during lockdown – the same happened up at Canons Ashby. Now that “Freedom Day” is nearly upon us however, hopefully the gardeners will be able to restore the beds, borders and roses to their former glory.

Sadly, lunch was similarly a bit disappointing. Pen had avocado on toasted sourdough which consisted of the merest smear of avocado and a “salad” (not sure that “salad” is the appropriate description for a handful of random leaves) with no dressing. I had a Bakewell Cherry Blondie which was “OK” but nothing to write a Tripadviser review about. For the first time in a very long time, when the waiter asked us if everything was to our satisfaction I did say that we were a bit disappointed, especially with the underwhelming avocado on toast. Always keen to end on a positive, however, I did say that the coffee was excellent.

Penelope’s Avian Diner has been taken over by a gang of ruffians it seems – a bad crowd. The neighbourhood jackdaws have decided that her feeder is the best one in the neighbourhood and they’re now bringing all their juveniles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s beginning to resemble a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds as twenty or more will swoop down and take over the entire dining area. No one bothers them when they decide its feeding time, not even the wood pigeons who are easily their size – not such a long and menacing beak, I suppose. They strut around like teenage wanna-be-hoodlums in leather jackets trying to intimidate everyone.

Jackdaws (crows in general, I guess) are very clever and have been known to employ tools in the wild. No need for tools in this case but the feeders are designed for smaller birds – the jackdaws cannot comfortably perch on the feeder and scoff the seed within. So, they employ an alternative technique – one of the jackdaws will fly up to the feeder and grab hold while flapping his/her wings and shaking the feeder vigorously. The result is a shower of seed onto the path below where the rest of the crew is waiting. Very clever indeed but the vigour of the shaking and their general presence does mean that the smaller birds only get to feed when the jackdaws have had their fill. Still, if the jackdaws are all at our feeders, the smaller birds can always go to any of the other neighbourhood cafés.

Sorry this photo is so poor – I only had my phone to hand. If you look closely you may be able to see one of the jackdaws shaking the feeder.

Having finished my virtual bike ride down the Pacific Coast, I would like to thank everyone for the many suggestions I received concerning where I might go next. I will file the alternatives away for a future excursion (although the suggestion that I should take a long ride off a short pier did not make the final cut.)

After considerable contemplation, I’ve decided to “ride” the length of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, partly because it is littered with wacky things to see and do and also because it goes through my home town of Arcadia, California.

And, I am already making good progress! I started at the Cloud Gate which is at the AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park. From there it is a ride of about half a mile or so to the first Route 66 sign in Chicago on Adams Street, Chicago. Then on to Lou Mitchell’s Diner, near the intersection of Jackson and Jefferson which is almost the exact spot where the original Route 66 started. Why they moved it I don’t know but I’ve always been a fan of great diners so a little breakfast before we hit the road sounds like a great idea.

A little further down the road and I cycled through Joliet, Illinois and by the Rialto Square Theatre, a favourite haunt, apparently, of Al Capone.

Joliet was worth a visit in any case. In the 1973 Academy Award-winning film, The Sting, the protagonist Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) is from Joliet and the film begins with a title card reading “Joliet, Illinois / September 1936.” In The Blues Brothers, John Belushi’s Jake Blues is nicknamed “Joliet Jake” as he was imprisoned at the now closed Joliet Correctional Center. As if that weren’t enough, Joliet was also the site of the very first Dairy Queen opened in June 1940.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Gemini Giant in the next few days!

You Could Not Make It Up!
The latest government strategy for dealing with the Covid pandemic is now clear. Essentially, the PM has given up. Having promised that his unlocking of the country would be “irreversible” he is sticking to his arbitrary timetable. Dates, not data. Hey Presto!

Apparently, there will be no need for any Covid restrictions whatsoever after Monday 19 July.

Not for the first time, the PM seems to be making things up as he goes along. His decision to proceed with the irreversible unlockdown flies in the face of all the medical and scientific advice as well as simple common sense. The number of cases is rising exponentially thanks to his allowing the Delta variant to waltz through without any hindrance – more than 30,000 new cases daily where a couple of weeks ago the number was below 1,000. Even the new Health Secretary has conceded that cases could rise above 100,000 a day. But, since the unlocking is irreversible, that’s OK.

The vaccination programme has significantly reduced the number of Covid patients becoming seriously ill, being admitted to hospital and dying. But those numbers are also rising. Scientists are also suggesting that if the UK removes all restrictions with only about half of the population fully vaccinated, it will create ideal conditions for the development of new, vaccine-resistant variants. Sounds good to me! Hurray!

Ministers accept a rise in cases is inevitable as the country unlocks but argue the pace of vaccination means it will not be accompanied by significant hospitalisations or deaths. The latest official data however, shows the number of people who are in hospital with Covid has increased by 38% in the past week to 1,988 – the fastest rate of increase since last October.

One of the easiest mitigating steps which could be taken would be at the very least to retain the requirement to wear masks in confined spaces. By ditching masks, throwing open nightclubs and giving the green light to standing six deep in crowded bars, some more cautious Tories believe the government is setting itself up for yet another embarrassing U-turn.

And now, even the international community is urging Boris to not be a complete twat:

Lifting the remaining Covid restrictions in England this month is “dangerous and premature”, according to international scientists and doctors, who have called on the UK government to pause reopening until more people are vaccinated.

The Lancet

Another Brexit success story:
Out! How Brexit sent one UK tennis kit firm to Romania

As mentioned last week, Penelope’s front “garden” won the prestigious Front Garden Flower Cup for her “charming” and “lovely perfumed roses” in the Garden Club competition. Here are a few photos of the award-winning front garden, as well as one of the woodland garden and some developing pears.

The good news this week – a Welsh Pinot Noir has won a gold medal in a blind tasting at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

A couple of “amusing” Far Side cartoons to share this week. Both gave me a chuckle.

Meanwhile, keep happy, keep smiling, keep isolating as much as you can, wear a facemask when you go out and keep your distance. And keep safe.

Lots of love to you all,

Greg

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