The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th September 2021

I woke up with a sore throat. It didn’t go away. I took two paracetamol and considered my slightly stuffed nose. Cold? Covid 19? A couple of hours later my nose was clear and my sore throat was sore no more. A slight cold maybe. Nothing more serious. On the bus the other day there were five of us on the upper deck. I was the only one masked. On the lower deck all five had masks, but two were wearing theirs under their chins. There are lots of tweets about Covid 19 being over. But the evidence says otherwise. I don’t want us to return to lockdowns, I don’t want us to live sequestered lives, but it does seem we can learn to socialise safely, with masks, and some people don’t want to do that. I don’t have a solution, but I think I shall probably be steering clear of crowded venues for some time to come. Maybe for ever.

Tonight we enjoyed a neighbourly game of Cluedo. Last Sunday four of us convened to play Equaliteas, a game devised to raise awareness about women’s enfranchisement in the UK. We enjoyed it so much we made another date for tonight. So six of us sat down around Celia’s table. It was my game in the sense that I brought the board and pieces. There are new versions of Cluedo. Mine dates from the 1960s. We began by rubbing out the pencil marks on our Detective Notes. Quite a few bore my childish handwriting. It was fun. Usually Michele and I are otherwise engaged on Sunday evenings, and we are already wondering which night of the week can be our games night this winter. Cluedo is a less chatty game than Equaliteas. I have never played it with the full complement of six players before. It was a novel and interesting experience. When I was a child I usually played it with my friend Marion. Charlie struggled with the idea that his character could be the murderer yet he would not know until the crime was solved. Reinhild got a pad of paper and a pen and worked at the solution. Next time we may have to go the whole Line of Duty hog and have a whiteboard, photos and coloured markers.

I have Scrabble, Ludo, Monopoly as well as Cluedo. Celia has Carcassonne which I have never played. I saw a game called Shakespeare the Bard in a charity shop. I may need to return and buy it. I also have decks of cards, and Lexicon which I haven’t played in decades. My father and I used to play cribbage, but I have forgotten how to play. The winter is suddenly full of possibilities.

So now for the first walk of Celia and my series of three. No walk this weekend as Celia was away until last night and I have been working.

This walk was the one we have done before. Several times. It’s a good one. Guildford circular via Compton. Last autumn I did it with Nicola. Here are some pictures.

There were blackberries as we had hoped. But we didn’t want to pick in the morning and carry all day, so we picked and ate. Had I been living in Guildford or anywhere along this circular route during lockdown it would have been. walk I should have been happy to do every day.

We met the man with the aged Labrador as we left. Coco was back in the boot of the car and raised her head when she heard her master speaking to us.

I had been hoping for apples for sale at the farm table, but it was bare. At the fingerpost I wasn’t’t sure if this was a lost boot or a memorial. As a teenager, The Withies Inn was considered quite classy. I don’t even know if it still exists.

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The Coronavirus Diaries 16th September 2021

So onto, or I think that should be back to, the walk Celia and I took 4th September. It was a shorter walk, closer to home. Celia’s daughter and her family were staying. We had a window of five hours. I found a choice of walks locally. Celia picked the one which included One Tree Hill. After taking the bus, we started at Nunhead Cemetery which was enjoying an open day.

The cemetery was humming. The dead may have been pretty quiet, but there were stalls, animals from Surrey Docks City Farm, alternative Morris dancers who brought a goth vibe to the usual bell ringing and handkerchief waving. We walked by the memorial to the boys from our neighbourhood who drowned when they had been anticipating a holiday in Leysdown. There’s a not very good novel about it by Stella Duffy who also lives or lived locally.

It appeared Peckham Rye was also having a Day. Their’s featured dogs and a rather snazzy poster. As I have mentioned the Stella Duffy I’m going to remind you that there is a very good novel by Muriel Spark called The Ballad of Peckham Rye. It even mentions the Walworth Road, and has one of my all time favourite lines: There are classes within classes in Peckham. I read it years before I came to live in sunny south London. Does that mean anything? Probably not, though that sentence has stayed with me since I was a teenager.

Out of the cemetery and a tiny detour to stare at the house where my great grandmother lived with one of her married daughters. My father loathed his grandmother. He had to kiss her through her veil. She loved cats, so my father loathed them too.

We met a man walking a very pretty miniature Pinscher. the dog was called Moses, he was a rescue and came with a basket. I don’t know the man’s name. He told us he understood how the Duke of Edinburgh felt. I don’t know about Celia, but I felt I had missed something. Fortunately the man explained. If he draws level with Moses, the little dog is not amused. The man has to remain several steps behind. I have a not very good picture of Moses. We were on a very shady path. As you’ll see, One Tree Hill is a misleading name.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2021

Days have passed, maybe a week, maybe more, since I posted. I have not been ill, not been lying in a darkened room. I have been stressed, but I have still been active. There’s been work for starters, so no staring at a blank wall emptying my mind.

And Celia and I have resumed our out of town walking. So three Saturdays, three walks. The middle walk was fairly close to home, but one I will gladly do again. I had thought I might write and post photos of all three tonight. Then I downloaded thirty-one pictures from yesterday’s walk. The other two will either have to wait or not get written about. That would be a pity as this blog is essentially my diary, albeit with bits of my life expurgated to protect myself and others.

The first thing to say is that we didn’t get lost. Celia and I have such a track record of getting lost (and thus finding unexpected delights before we find our way again) I feel that needs to be said. The second is this not the first walk, or even the second we planned to do yesterday morning. The first was discarded because of transport problems. The second I printed out and helpfully left on the window sill at home. It started from Otford and finished at Eynsford. Celia was keen to see Shoreham. On the train we found an Otford circular via Shoreham. Bingo.

The forecast said it would be cloudy all day, and that is how it started. having climbed a steepish hill we looked at the view and saw a white cross on the opposite hillside at Shoreham.

But soon we were shading our eyes and grateful to walk through woods filled with filtered sunlight. Celia is a bit of fungi fan, so this specimen, glowing in isolation caught and held our attention for several minutes. What is is it?

We walked across fields, past barns, were warned, were objects of curiosity, saw views down valleys. I think my favourite bit, and there were so many good bits it’s hard to choose, was when we entered a wooded paddock where a notice warned of us of hardy animals kept there to help with the bio culture. I was expecting sheep, maybe ponies, perhaps highland cattle or llamas. But we had barely walked a few yards into the paddock when there was the noise of hooves and animals coming down the path and three very healthy looking bullocks came to check us out. They were curious, not aggressive, but I wondered if their curiosity might put us in danger. We stopped. They stopped. Hello, I said, we’ve come in friendship. We don’t want to harm you. I’m vegan. Celia isn’t.

Celia may hold that against me to the end of my days.

One of the bullocks mooed. It was like a summons. More crashing through the greenery and a lot more cattle appeared. They stared at us then made up the hill. It seemed for a while they were tracking us along a higher path that ran parallel to ours. I’d love to be one of the volunteers who checks on them. What fun, what a privilege, to get to know them as individuals. Just before we left the paddock there was another long loud moo. It sounded like the all clear.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd September 2021

Friday again already. Unbelievable. The week has flown by. The opera was great last Saturday, both music and venue, both of which got good reviews in The Guardian. And that’s not even starting on the good company. Celia and I hatched a last minute plan to go walking on Sunday. We plumped for a walk we have done several times which takes in the cemetery where my great grandmother and Lewis Carol are buried, views across to Guildford cathedral, farmland, woodland, Watts Gallery, uphills and downhills, horses in fields, a country pile, a lake, the river Wey, and, most importantly for this time of year, blackberries.

We ended at a pub which used to be called the Jolly Farmer and is now I think called The Weyside, drank our half pints of cider, shared a packet of crisps, and got the train back to London. It was good. Monday, being a bank holiday, was grey and dull. I felt no regrets about getting on with paperwork. Work on Tuesday, and suddenly it’s Friday again. Michèle lent me a book called The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell. It was published in 1938 and has been republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. After Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, the change of style took a few chapters for me to find the rhythm. There was quite a lot of ‘ere, and, laarst, to conjure the accents of the Rotherhithe community. At first this grated, but I got over it and would happily read more by her. However, although Michèle lent me two further books from the series they are both by different writers, both new to me. I am just embarking on Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert. For fans of detective fiction, this series is a goldmine.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 6th August 2021

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, which is a reminder that there are worse things than Covid 19. I remember the date as it was also our wire haired dachshund’s birthday. Obviously she was born much later. The fact that we continue to manufacture and stockpile nuclear weapons, and some regimes have made it clear they are happy to deploy them, is also a reminder how callous and cruel human beings can be. Much of the time animals are much better company. Not that our dachshund was angelic. Like most of her breed she was stubborn and opinionated. A big dog in a small disguise.

Yesterday I rang the vet practice to make an appointment for MasterB’s boosters and annual check up. The receptionist exclaimed that she loved his name, and then referred to him as an older animal. Older? MasterB? No one has told him. He may be in his eleventh year but he still thinks he’s a youngster, a rather large kitten. But her words made me blink and wonder how many more years I have with him. Last year the vet pronounced him to be in perfect shape, perfect health, to have a perfect coat, to be simply perfect in every way. I had to agree. Now I just want him to stay that way.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th August 2021

There’s something about dusting and vacuuming up two weeks worth of shed cat fur that is grounding. I’d say I am more or less back home mentally tonight as well as physically, though there is still a slight sense of dislocation. Maybe a trip to an exhibition, a play, something of that sort will reconnect me properly with London.

My dreams on Monday night were very muddled, switching between Ireland and home. MasterB was asleep at my feet, a comforting, constant presence. He has been very cuddly, very purry, very affectionate. I’m hoping Cousin is walking Westie Boy and Poppy now I have left. If she is, perhaps she has met Poppy Junior, the gorgeous young retriever at the bottom of the first hill. She, Poppy and Westie Boy have made overtures of friendship, mostly through the fence.

Poppy Junior
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The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st August 2021

One more breakfast in Northern Ireland before I go home. Today was beautiful, bright sunshine and cool winds. Pretty perfect. We walked around Lough Beg this afternoon, admired the carvings of fox, badger and stoat, watched a calf digging in a sandpit – a first for all of us – gazed at the view of Church Island, and read the extracts from Seamus Heaney’s poems.

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Mary’s son Richard was doing the same walk with his wife. They saw two women who they took to be mother and daughter taking picnic of each other in front of the view. Richard asked if they would like him to take a picture of both them. They did. Afterwards the four chatted. The older woman was Marie Heaney, Seamus’ widow, and the younger their daughter Catherine.

This evening’s walk was also lovely, though for half of it I had the company of Joshua, Cousin’s twelve-year-old grandson, or the Incredible Whinge, as I was calling him by the time Cousin came to take him away from me and leave me and the dogs to enjoy our walk without constant complaints about how far we were walking and how long it was taking. I hadn’t made him come, and when we were barely out of sight of the house and he talked of turning back I should willingly have accompanied him and then resumed the walk on my own. I’ll know next time he says he’ll walk with me to run out of the house before he has his shoes on.

We met Poppy Junior, the gorgeous young retriever, on the way back. All dogs were excited. Westie Boy so far forgot his manners he tried to mount her. Fortunately he is neutered and she seemed to have no idea what he was attempting. Poppy the Labrador wagged her tail, greeted Poppy Junior’s young mistress. If we had had somewhere we could have let all three dogs off the lead to play it could have been wonderful. As it was there were a series of frustrated play bows.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th July 2021

I can’t say I am comforted by the news about the numbers of people contracting Covid in the U.K.. Right now it seems Northern Ireland has the highest number of cases per capita. That said, I feel very safe here in the country. The rain came as promised today. My shoes are not waterproof, so the dogs had to make do with a game of football in the garden. They are keener on possession than passing, so we had two footballs, two games really. Westie Boy became rather excited, maybe it was the joy of having had his stitches removed. He grabbed my jeans when I moved to play with Poppy, something he has never done before. We played until the next shower and then came in. The vet was impressed with the striped pyjamas Westie Boy is wearing to keep his healing wounds clean. She said he should continue wearing them. Right now he is asleep on a cushion beside me. I am not keen on dressing up cats and dogs, but I have to admit he looks very sweet, and he certainly isn’t bothered by them. Nor does he look like a dog who would actively ran after a bigger dog to pick a fight. Appearances can be deceptive.

Cousin decided I should have a fire, so she lit the wood burning stove, and for much of today I have been feeding it, then retreating to the sofa to watch yet another episode of Baptiste, a series Cousin has got me hooked on. I have the window open, but it’s all rather a contrast with the hot weather of just two days ago. Poppy’s walks have been going well, and Westie Boy has now been given leave to join us. But it was when I was with Poppy alone a few nights ago that I saw the badgers. There were three of them, playing in the driveway leading up to a neighbours house. I think they were probably young. I have looked for them each time I have passed the house since, but no sign.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th July 2021

One of the dogs has lots of stitches, the other has put on so much weight since I was here two years ago she looks like a sideboard. You could lay an array of dishes on her back, it’s now so broad.

It’s Westie Boy who has been in the wars. He feels very sorry for himself, but before you start feeling sorry for him too, it was all his fault. He rushed out of the garden a week ago to assault a large dog he has taken a dislike to and came off worst. Apparently the two dogs have been eyeing each other with some hostility for some time, but usually there’s a barrier between them. Westie Boy can’t currently wear a harness or a collar so no walking for him for the moment.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th July 2021

Some pictures from last week at the das Boot.

I love the cows. Some are very friendly, others are shy. One young bullock couldn’t get enough of me. He licked my arm, nuzzled my shirt, wanted head scratches, raised his nose to my face. If we had been on the same side of the fence I reckon he’d have sat on my lap.

When the bull approached I thought he was going to tell me to keep away from his herd, but no, he wanted head scratches too. No sign of Mr Handsome from last year. I fear he has been slaughtered, butchered and eaten. A sad end for any animal, but especially for one who loved humans as much as Mr Handsome did.

The cows in the field next to the marina. This bullock would like some attention
This younger chap was up for a face rub and chat

The ducks turned up and stayed around. One has very orange feet, one has muddy orange feet. They work singly as and as a pair. They woke me early on Thursday morning doing some sort of duck flamenco outside the window. My neighbours across the pontoon feed them, so I am guessing the ducks thought the café was open. they were remarkably persistent. One even flew onto the roof of the boot and peered over the edge to watch me. They quack softly and plaintively, tap imperiously on the windows with their beaks, march up and down the gunwale (they are surprisingly heavy footed) and do a good job of staring at me beadily eyed.

The one with muddy orange feet

The one with orange feet

The swans also turned up. One young swan, last year’s cygnet by his feathers, was alone and so excited when I came out of the door on das Boot I thought he was going to climb aboard. This pair, swimming off the Portside, were more self-contained.

On Friday morning I was about to open the door at the back of das Boot when something caught my eye. I paused. A kingfisher. I took a picture with my little camera through the glass. Obligingly the kingfisher then flew to another boat to prt of my galley window, which I opened very gently and slowly. My little camera does not have a strong zoom, so I ma quite pleased I can see the bird at all in these pictures. I was feeling a bit blue, and this encounter, followed by the ducks visiting while I had breakfast, and then some affectionate bullocks, did a lot to lift my mood.

Swans off the portside
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