Today dawned as a gloomy day and, indeed, it was gloomy all day but not actually raining. Meg and I got ourselves going by degrees and eventually got to the park, but a little later than we had planned. However, we were fortunate to bump into our University of Birmingham friend and Seasoned World Traveller who were just on the point of departing just as we were arriving. Nonetheless, we took the opportunity to sit down on a bench and have a natter, not talking about politics for a change. Then it was a case of getting home and cooking our normal (for us) lunch on a Friday which is sea-bass pan fried and then served on a bed of lettuce. This afternoon was quiet and I spent some time reading The Times in some depth, allowing myself a quick burst of Sudoku ( a ‘difficult’ one which proved rather too easy) and finally a computer session in which I get all of my financial accounts up-to-date.
Most of the media this afternoon has been dominated by news of the Russian withdrawal from the Ukrainian city of Kherson. Whilst there have been scenes of locals ‘liberated’ and celebrating by allowing the Ukrainian flag to fly again, the actual military are being a lot more cautious. On the one hand, they fear that the Russian withdrawal might be designed to lure them into a trap. On the other hand, there will almost certainly be mines and booby traps all over the place making the city itself quite a dangerous place to enter. Some of the journalistic accounts from the moving front line are quite illuminating but not surprising. The Russian soldiers by all accounts were tired and hungry and looted almost at will from Ukrainian households. There are accounts of Russian soldiers begging for food from the locals and indicating that were it not for their commanders they would have deserted by now. There are also reports of ‘many’ Russian soldiers drowning whilst they were attempting to retreat across the River Dnipro (the river can be as much as 1km wide in places) Meanwhile, Kherson might be quite a dangerous place in the days and weeks ahead. Firstly, Russian saboteurs trained to work behind enemy lines may be doing their worst to disrupt the life of the city getting back to normal. But now the Russians are no longer a military presence in the city, there will be a certain amount of reprisals in prospect where some of the citizenry who collaborated with the Russians meet some rough justice handed out by loyal Ukrainians. Once the Russians have retreated to the east of the River Dnipro, they will be well dug in and reasonably secure but they have the armaments to shell the parts of Kherson at will, knowing all of the coordinates of critical locations within the city. It is rumoured that Putin may be unwilling to make any foreign trips abroad lest a putsch is organised against him whilst he is out of the way.
At home, the news is that we are about to enter a recession that will last about 8 quarters (two full years) and we are being told it may be the longest recession since records began. The population as a whole are being ‘softened up’ for the budget announcements next week in which there is the prospect of tax increases for almost everybody, a massive cut back in public services (which were already cut to the bone) and general misery all round. The country as a whole is suffering from the cumulative effects of Brexit, the pandemic and paying for the furlough scheme which cost £69 billion, the energy crisis and the tremendous rises in the costs of fuel after Europe disengages from dependence on Russian oil supplies. Any one of these would be a significant cost in itself but in the case of the UK economy these various factors are almost reinforcing each other. After some years of recession it is almost possible that we become similar to the Japanese economy where the GNP has been stuck at the same level since the 1990’s. I heard a statistic this morning that the UK alone amongst the G7 nations is the only country where economic activity has failed to return to pre-pandemic levels.
There is a big sporting weekend to which to look forward. The England women’s rugby team are in a final against New Zealand and I believe that it might start at 6.00am in the morning if one wants to watch it live. This is going to be shown on ITV so I may wake up to watch the 2nd half of it. On Sunday, there will be a final of the the cricket T20 match in which England are taking on Pakistan. This too may prove to quite an exciting contest as the Pakistan bowlers (best in the world) take on the English batsmen (best in the world?) I believe this is scheduled to start at 8.00am on Sunday morning (better than 6.00am the day before) but two finals within 24 hours is quite unusual.