Friday, 17th February, 2023

[Day 1068]

Today was a beautiful fine day and the kind of day that made you want to get up and get outside to enjoy the almost spring-like sunshine. Meg and I were just having breakfast when we received a telephone call from our University of Birmingham friend, enquiring whether we might meet for cofffee in Waitrose, which invitation we readily accepted. Once there, I had brought along with me my trusty battery charge indicator which I find a most useful bit of kit. There we tested out a range of batteries that our friend had brought with him and then divided the batteries into left and right coat pockets to distinguish the good from the dud. I then attempted to show our friend the bouncing battery test (it seems fanciful but dead batteries bounce quite a lot, charged batteries only a little – it is all a matter of the chemical composition of the ingredients and how they change during the act of being discharged.) Our friend was completely sceptical but a chap on the next door table was quite intrigued so I resolved that when got home I would ‘Google’ this strange effect to email onto our friend. This I did and indeed, it is all a matter of chemistry and the bounceability of zinc oxide as well as the distribution of fluid throughout the battery. When we next see our friend on Sunday, I will claim a free cup of coffee as recompense for his sceptism. Mind you, as a born empiricist and experimentalist, I did tell him about various experiments I had conducted as a teenager – this involved electrolyis (a total failure), the action of concentrated nitric acid on an old ‘penny’ (a total success) and an attempt to dissect a one-legged frog which had been chloroformed by a science teacher at school and which I had assumed was dead. It was only when I saw a beating heart I nearly dropped my rusty old scalpel whilst the rest of my classmates looked on, munching their sandwiches. There is an explanation attached to all of this. Immediately after our GCE ‘O’-levels, there was no point teaching us anything until the term ended so we were allowed to do almost anything that took our fancy. One master encouraged us to give a lecture on any of our pet interests and as I intended to follow a career in surgery (thwarted by an initial failure in ‘O’-level physics) I gave a ‘state-of-the-art’ lecture in the plastic surgery of the human female breast. How I researched this at the age of sixteen and without the benefit of modern technology or any books published within the previous twenty years I do not know. I think the lecture went down fairly well with my contemporaries (it was an all-boys direct grant grammar school) but certainly more succesfull than my rejected offer to perform an ovarectomy (spaying) on my next door neighbour’s cat. As it was such a beautiful day, I persuaded Meg to walk with me down the Bromsgrove High Street where we popped into Poundland to buy a piece of electrical equipment and some little plastic storage containers of which I have a need.

I had a bit of a lunchtime dilemmma because on the spur of the moment, the last time I went shopping I had bought some smoked haddock for our Friday meal. Althoough I enjoy the taste of smoked fish, it is always a bit of a dilemma how to cook it without smelling the whole of the house out. Today, I decided on a strategy of poaching it gently in some hot milk, supplemented with some dried potato and a leek and potato packed soup to act as thickening agents. I made sure I had the over the hob fan working as well as the window wide open and this combination of strategies had the desired effect. We really enjoyed our meal which we ate with a baked potato and some green beans and marked this down mentally as a ‘success’ story for the next time.

Sky News has an interesting little story about Vladimir Putin – but it may just be Western propaganda. It is reported that Putin will ony travel around the country in an armoured train, fearing an assassination attempt as Nato may try to bring down any jet plane in which is is travelling. It is said the Russian president believes the armoured train is a more secure way to travel and that nobody will know where he’s going. The train is so heavy that it needs three locomotives to pull it, and it has special equipment for secure communications. In the same post, it is said that of the convicts released from Russian gaols to man up the Russian front line in the war in Ukraine, approximately one half have already died or been injured – in other words, put out of action. We know already that convicts have been seen as expendable in this conflict but it does reveal a cynicism and lack of respect for human life that does leave one practically speechless. Nonetheless, what we know about the biography of Putin would indicate that this lack of concern for fellow humans is a consistent trait of his personality.