The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th January 2023, Quiet Times

Unplanned, I seem to have started January dry. Octavia does Dry January which is not quite the same thing. The Nozeco opened on Christmas Day morning is still in the fridge. Yes, there’s very little alcohol in Nozeco, very little in Becks Blue, and I have several bottles of that, I just don’t fancy anything alcoholic or even approaching the idea of alcoholic. Benilyn continues to be my tipple of choice, which is odd because it tastes disgusting. I couldn’t get Benilyn original, so have Benilyn Non-Drowsy after the pharmacist assured me it didn’t contain any ingredients which would keep me awake. It’s also red, but a brighter red than Original. Just as unpalatable though.

Still my cough has definitely lessened. It’s not yet gone, but it’s in departure. hanging around the duty free section perhaps, or in the bookshop, flicking through books it has no intention of buying. I hope its flight is called soon. I feel as though I have been coughing for ever. Work continued all last week and then into the weekend. I was up in the morning, out and about, doing my stuff, home and eating good healthy food washed down by water, and then to bed with a Lemsip around half past eight.

I’ve not worked today, and the diary is gloriously empty until next week. That’s how I feel now, but by Saturday I shall probably be fretting and worrying about my income. Well, being freelance and self employed was my choice. It can be precarious, but I don’t have many extravagances, so I get through. Also January and February are always quiet and a chance to recharge batteries, and as I didn’t do a jigsaw over Christmas this may be my chance.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 10th December 2022: Love and Friendship

I stumbled upon a delightful film on Film4 this evening. Finding Your Feet. I missed the first fifteen minutes or so, but the story was fairly undemanding and I think I filled in all the gaps. It’s an unassuming film, probably low budget, featuring places I recognise close to where I live, and with a gentle talented cast including Tim Spall, Celia Imrie, the late John Sessions in a minor part, and Imelda Staunton. I loved it. It was kind. Just what I needed. No car chases, no hugely dramatic showdowns, high body count or spilled blood, and somehow all the more precious and life enhancing for that. Tim Spall at the helm of a narrowboat which I know he has done many many times in his own life, particularly after his recovery from cancer.

I am finding life in this country hard. We seem to have turned into a horrible parody of ourselves; a divided divisive society, people on the edge of destitution because those elected to govern simply don’t seem to count swathes of the population as important. Horrible hateful comments about Harry and Meghan, even from people I usually respect. Maybe it was always like this. That there was a civilised veneer which was ripped away by Brexit to reveal the hideous truth beneath.

I am lucky. I have good friends who are enormously important to me. I have a beautiful, gentle cat who I love and who I dare to say loves me. Though he may love biscuits more. These are the things which make life good.

It’s suddenly Christmas. December has a habit of arriving calmly and then rushing into a mad frenzy. There are increasing numbers of people – men mostly – walking or riding bicycles dressed in Father Christmas hats or even the whole outfit -in central London. Christmas trees have been appearing for several weeks, though bizarrely not in Westminster Abbey, while in St Paul’s both Samuel Johnson and John Howard have had their statues hidden by Sandringham’s best.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th November 2022, Bonfire Night

No, I’m not doing any fireworks tonight. I quite like the colourful displays, but I thoroughly dislike the increasingly loud fireworks. The effect on pets, domestic animals and wildlife is appalling. So tonight I shall be mainly sitting on the sofa, watching television or reading, giving reassurance to MasterB that he is safe. To do this, I shall ignore all bangs and flashes, behave in a way that I hope convinces him there is nothing to be afraid of. It seems to work pretty well. I wish I could say the same technique is effective when it comes to storms, but sadly it’s not. Storms terrify him.

This morning was definitely cooler. Like many, I have not got my heating on. Actually I haven’t needed it, the weather has been so mild, but over breakfast I thought this might be the time when I succumb. However, as the day wore on, I realised I was perfectly warm. Yes I am wearing slippers and a thick jumper (sweater to those of you across the pond) so perhaps I’ll manage a few more days, maybe weeks, before I give in. Some people are saying they are not going have the heating on at all this winter. I don’t think I am hardy enough for that, though my first energy bill may change my mind. I’ll look out the thick socks.

UK politics continue to dismay. We have a Home Secretary and assorted underlings who seem entirely devoid of imagination, compassion or empathy. Anyone seeking asylum here is regarded with extreme hostility, housed in what are effectively internment camps. Chris Philp, a man whose smooth appearance inadequately disguises a soul so callous it seems as though he’s trying to get to the number one position in the list of Most Coldhearted Living People, most of whom are members of his own party and include Jonathan Gullis who really makes you wonder about the selection process for Tory candidates, thinks asylum seekers complaining about the dreadful conditions where they are housed is a bit of a cheek. The Daily Mail, whose long and shameful record of xenophobia is well documented, had a headline this week One in Six of Us Born Abroad. No I didn’t read the piece, but I am pretty confident it was meant to outrage (a favourite Daily Mail word) his readers. Some on Twitter pointed out King Charles III’s father, Rishi Sunak’s father, Winston Churchill’s mother, the captain of the men’s England football team’s father were all born abroad.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th October 2022, in Flight

Up in the air and currently above the clouds, heading home after ten days in NI. In the way of these things, the time seems to have passed in a flash while the day I left home seems long ago. The weather has been kind, Uncle Bill’s birthday tea enjoyed by all but especially the man himself. The autumn colours have been beautiful, the dogs appreciative of their walks, Belfast abuzz.  

On the final walk this morning there was a short shower of very fine rain. We’d left the house in sunshine, so I was doubly grateful it wasn’t a downpour, though a piece in the Guardian yesterday about the benefits of walking in wind and rain, and yesterday was very windy, may make me revise my opinion of wet weather walks (and encourage me to upgrade my waterproofs). Then there was a rainbow, arcing above the house where Poppy Junior lives. We didn’t see her, though we heard her barking in the house on the return leg. She knew we were there.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th October 2022

Uncle Bill had a good birthday do. We were a smallish group. It looked for a while as though it might be smaller as we could not find the rear entrance to Tom and Meta’s house where we had agreed to meet them. It made us late, and Michele, who began to worry, sent me a message to check we had the day right.

Tom has had a couple of strokes, and is not so steady on his feet, but there’s nothing wrong with his memory or his story relating skills. Uncle Bill was soon smiling and chuckling as some of the exploits of his cousins were recounted. Our generation seems a sober, unadventurous lot in comparison.

I gave him a Master Bo’sun calendar as I always do, and a Mr Horace Papers card about Stormont. I thought it would entertain him, but for a few short moments I had misgivings as he wore a very serious expression as he studied it. Then his face broke into a wide smile and he started to laugh. Phew.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2022: Out and About

Celia and I met up after lunch yesterday. She’s been away, visiting family in various parts of the country. We went to Sydenham Woods, enjoying the cool of the shaded paths on yet another warm day.

We weren’t alone. There were families, quite a few with dogs, but it didn’t feel crowded. Partks are all very well, but walking in the woods is better somehow. When we emerged at the top of a hill there was a convenient pub called the Wood House. In we went for some cider. Very nice. We couldn’t decide if this was the same pub where Celia’s cousin Sally had a surprise birthday party some years ago.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th August 2022: Belfast

My friend Fiona who I met through the pages of WordPress has succumbed to COVID. We met in her garden yesterday after she had tested positive. I met one of her daughters which was lovely. I have read about her so often and seen so many photos it was delightful to meet her in person. Also met Harry, the dog. Again lovely, big ears, more bark than bite. We got on. Fiona was feeling perky. Not so today. But perky or not she would not have been able to come with me as planned to the Ulster Museum to see the small but perfectly formed Bloomsbury Group exhibition, or the larger and completely wondrous Light from the West exhibition which had me lusting after a Paul Henry painting of a sunrise. Annoyingly the museum has a very small postcard selection for sale, a selection which does not include this painting. Maybe she’ll get to both before they finish.

In 2019 Fiona and I had lunch at a place called Falafel at 9 Botanic Avenue. It was great. Last year, my first time back since the pandemic I took myself there anticipating a good lunch, only to find it very closed. I assumed it was a victim of COVID and lunched at a good, but not as good as Falafel, place a few doors up the road. Going along Botanic Avenue today on the bus I nearly had whiplash when I realised the restaurant was open. I am meeting Petra for lunch tomorrow, and suggested this is where we could eat. She’s agreed, so I am hoping it’s the same management and as good as before.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 15th July 2022, How Low (or High) Can You Go?

Yup, back to the Coronavirus Diaries again, as numbers are again rising here in the UK, and quite how high they may go before there’s any reaction from government remains to be seen. Personally I’m not betting on any reaction at all. As far as this lot is concerned the pandemic is over. People falling sick, people being admitted to hospital, people dying but politically this is yesterday’s news. The current focus is on who will be the new leader of the Conservative party, and, heaven help us, our new Prime Minister. So you might think the how low can you go part of the title of this blog refers to the less than inspiring, and actually frankly terrifying possibilities. There was a televised debate between the prospective candidates following the news on Channel 4 tonight. For a few minutes I thought I might watch.

From the kitchen I heard Krishnan Guru Murthy giving a brief run down of each of the candidates. I walked back into the living room as the first question was asked and managed a whole half minute of Liz Truss’ garbled opening sentence before reaching for the off button. We are doomed. When people said there was no one better in the Tory party to take over from the Liar in Chief I didn’t believe them. Sadly it seems they are right. Read Marina Hyde and John Crace in the Guardian for an idea, or if you have the stomach, watch the candidates’ videos as they pitch for the job. In other fields employers would readvertise, hoping for a better response. Maybe in the Conservative party they know that would be futile.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th June 2022

I got home late on Friday night. The train was delayed because of a trespasser on the line. At first we were told there were trespassers, and I imagined it was some kids who’d got onto or near the track. Later we learned it was a man with mental health issues. He had a razor, so it sounds as though he was threatening to kill himself. It took a while for the emergency services to do whatever they had to do, talking and listening I imagine, before he was taken away in an ambulance. I hope he is receiving the help and support he needs now. Our health service, run down by a cynical government who would like to see it in private hands, is on its knees. Make it fail, then open the door to the highest bidder and say goodbye to arguably this country’s greatest ever achievement.

I was very tired, and though I slept well, yesterday I felt jet lagged. Still, I got the washing done, stocked up on groceries and caught up with Celia. Today I feel more like myself. I have my barometer back. It’s shiny and beautiful, but it doesn’t work. Gareth, the man repairing it, could not find anyone who could supply the needed mercury. In fact neither of us could find anyone who is licensed to have mercury. There’s a list apparently of people who are so licensed, but finding this list is a something both Gareth and I failed at. If you know, please do tell.

Gareth left with the station clock from the sitting room which needs cleaning and some minor attention. It will be good to hear its sombre tick again. I have dead headed the roses, repotted the basil, collected up the stray bits of litter that were scattered about the garden, washed out the cutlery drawer (a much overdue chore), done some accounts, and prepped supper. So a day of small, necessary tasks.

The last view I had before leaving Ray’s house was of cow so close to the haha that separates field from garden she looked like she was in the garden.

Cow by the haha.

It felt a suitably bucolic image to end my stay. In the afternoon, Ray had chosen to remain at the house while Octavia and I went to Burton Agnes Hall. The hall is beautiful, but it is the art collection it houses which is jaw dropping. Marcus Wickham-Boynton, a younger son, inherited the estate last century. He restored the house and hung its walls with an astonishingly varied, superb array of paintings: Corot, Utrillo, Lely, Kneller and many many more. There are also modern sculptures, including one of Marcus, tapestries, including one by Kaffe Fassett, and the gardens are as lovely as the house. Here’s a glimpse.

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