The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd May 2020

A day of domestic successes and failures, a day of acceptance and and adjustment, a day of conversations with neighbours.

Had you told me two months ago that I should be happily engaged sewing seams on aged pillow slips and a small back pack on my old Singer sewing machine I should have stared at you in disbelief. But that’s what I was doing in the early afternoon. I almost wanted to find pillow slips in need of new seams. YouTube came up trumps with a couple of videos by showing how to fill a long bobbin, load it, thread the machine, and another with a tip for using a piece of white paper or card behind the needle you are threading to help see the eye. It was all very satisfying.

The failures were with washing. after dinner last night I realised I had an oil mark on my dress. This was odd on two counts. I had been wearing an apron while I cooked, and my meal had contained very little oil. I examined the apron, and realised it has an oily patch on the bib. So I soaked the dress overnight and today put it, the apron and some other clothes in the machine together with a product that promises to remove oil stains. I can tell you now that it doesn’t. Fortuitously my neighbour Carol called me as I was finishing the last pillow slip. She wanted to know if I’d like to go for a walk. We arranged to meet in ten minutes. Carol’s elderly dog, a miniature pinscher called Rosie, who is now deaf and blind, sniffed my hand and wagged her tail. In her day she was a demon for games and I used to make toys for her and play with her. It was nice to be recognised and even nicer that she was pleased to sniff me. Coronavirus and the lockdown has made Carol decide she is going to move out of London to the Sussex coast. She wanted to tell me of her plans. It’s all very exciting and I shall miss her if she moves, but she sounds pretty determined. Now you’ll have noticed I used the word fortuitously and so far nothing I have written seems to warrant that word. But Carol is immensely knowledgeable about fabrics. She deals in lace and linen, her laundry skills are second to none, so I was glad to ask her advice. I have yet to put it into practice, so I can’t say if it has worked or not. I know my rhubarb and apple cakes have worked, and the smell is curling deliciously around my home. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st May 2020

I am wearing a sticker that says I gave blood today and asks people to be kind to me. So far so good. No one has been in the slightest bit unkind. I made the appointment before lockdown and received my reminder last week. I rather assumed I’d be swabbed to check if I was ill, and my blood tested for anti-bodies. Actually neither of those things are part of the donor service plan. I arrived hot and red faced having marched from home on a day that was considerably warmer than the forecast had led me to expect. I had to rush because I had cut things a bit fine. I had been doing housework and not wearing my watch. I’d also had a long ‘phone call with a friend, and of course I needed to eat before making my donation.

We donors were invited on chairs spaced two metres apart while our personal details were checked and we answered the health questions before we went on for the blood test (for iron) and then the needle in the arm bit. The venue was the William Booth Memorial College at Denmark Hill where there is a lot of space and beautiful grounds.

William Booth Memorial College

Tower, William Booth Memorial College

Accommodation William Booth Memorial College

I’m not ready to sign up for the Salvation Army, a lack of religious faith would seem to preclude my membership anyway, but they are good lot, and their brand of practical Christianity appeals. There was a half finished jigsaw in one of the communal areas I had to ask through. How I should have loved to have sat down and fitted a few pieces in. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 24th April 2020

I spent much of today on the ‘phone, not chats with friends, though all the calls were amicable, chats about car insurance. Mine expires next Saturday. My current insurers sent a renewal notice. The cost had risen by £70 from last year for no discernable reason. I rang, it was reduced by £20. I rang other insurers. The cost was more or less the same. If I had to choose just one word to describe it, that word would be high. Two words – too high. I’ll mull it over this weekend and decide if it is worth switching to save £12.

I don’t use my car much. I keep it mainly so I can get to das Boot. But my boat, has not been relaunched because of coronavirus, after being out of the water for its/her insurance valuation inspection all winter. Lockdown looks set to continue. I have already paid for my river licence, for my mooring fees, the boat insurance is due in July, the car tax, now the car insurance, all for something I can’t access, let alone enjoy. It’s a bit surreal. Or maddening. Choose your own adjective. Actually expensive would probably be the most accurate.

So. Is this going to be the moment I decide to sell das Boot, to give up the car? Maybe the moment, but those two things will have to wait until a) I can get to das Boot and remove her to a mooring where boats are sold b) a prospective buyer can take it/her for a water trial. Until the boat is no longer mine, I need the car. Do you see a circularity? a roundabout with no current exit?

One of the insurers I called, once he had my address, said I didn’t sound like a south Londoner. I wasn’t sure if it was a judgement or what. I said, “Don’t I? I have lived in Se17 most of my life.” This is true. It turned out theta he had lived in Greenwich, though his accent suggested his origins were a couple of hundred miles north of the Thames. I resisted saying it isn’t where you are born that matters, it where you make your home. My friend Patou was born in Argenteuil. Sh has lived longer in London than anywhere. London, she used to say proudly, is my city. Then Brexit. She won’t be here much longer. I have promised to call her this evening. Time is getting on. This post will have to be curtailed.

So, briefly: Celia and I walked over to Vauxhall. I took some photos. Celia announced a) she wanted to have a drink of cider in a pub and b) as the pubs were closed she wanted cake at the Vauxhall Tea House Theatre – which is also closed. We compromised by going to the latter and staring in through the windows. I took some photos.

Maggie the Cat

Muddy Boots and Dogs Welcome

I am a bit concerned about Maggie and the dogs. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 9th April 2020

We were out again tonight clapping our NHS workers, delivery drivers, shop workers, carers, all those who are making our isolation possible at no little risk to themselves. It’s a social occasion, we wave and smile at each other, call greetings across the street, listen to the tremendous noise they make in the square our two parallel streets lead into, whoop at the fireworks. It is uplifting, it is also surreal. I live in a perfect triangle for hospitals. Guys, Tommy’s and Kings are all close. It’s hard to think that while we clap people are dying in those hospitals from coronavirus, yet the number of deaths climbs steadily. A friend has been feeling unwell for several days. Yesterday she had a telephone consultation with her GP who said it is probably coronavirus. Hopefully she won’t get worse before she gets better, but for anyone thinking this is a breeze the example of Boris Johnson is salutary, and scary.

I had a long conversation with my friend Sue in Texas last night. She used to live here, surprised me by saying she wishes she had stayed. We talked about lockdown, how it’s going for each of us. I said it made me think I could live outside London, somewhere quieter, but with a cultural buzz, and good neighbours. I mentioned a place I have been thinking about. This morning I had three emails of properties she had found online. This is the same friend who helped me find MasterB when I was looking at cat rescue sites after Cat died nine years ago.

With the weather continuing warm and sunny windows are open, and the new quiet is particularly welcome. When it is broken as it was this afternoon by a van driver who was parked in the street with his music on, I am quite irritated, and because I know how dependent we are on the drivers, I feel guilty too. The music was loud, and assumed he had his windows open which is why it was so intrusive, Suddenly the music was much louder, he had opened the door of his van and got back inside. Maybe it busts his stress, but it must be damaging his hearing.

The garden is coming into bloom and so are my amaryllis. It looks as though as one peaks the next is going to bloom. I have four plants, three of them are flowering this year.

Amaryllis days

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The Coronavirus Diaries 24th March 2020

Another glorious spring day, blue skies, sunshine. Warm too. No need of a coat or even a cardigan when I took my exercise allowance late afternoon. I reckoned the later I took it the better, so that I had that break outside my home to look forward to. It seemed to work.

Blossom

I pegged out my washing this morning, put the recycling in the correct bin, emptied the coffee grounds into the compost. Celia and I arranged a swap, I took a jigsaw for Charlie, some lavender oil for Celia and the current copy of the New European for both of them, and my hula hoop for Celia to try. Celia had dug wild garlic plants out of the garden, put some disposable gloves out for me and an empty jar which had had sage pesto in it I given her.

Looking out of my window when Celia called me I was surprised to see Javier coming into the garden. I assumed the garage was now closed, and my car keys locked up in it. As I keep MasterB’s basket in the car I was thinking it was going to be a problem if he needed the vet’s attention. It turned out Javier had decided to come in and complete all the work on cars in the garage and return the vehicles, and in my case keys, to their owners and then shut.

Yesterday Celia thought it was Sunday, and that was how it felt today too. Very quiet. Some people walking along the main road I could see from my street. Actually, when I did go for my walk there were more people about than I expected. There was a queue outside Oli’s, so it seemed the number of customers allowed in was being restricted. The trouble with the queue was the people in it were too close together. I swerved in the opposite direction and saw a similar too close queue outside the post office.

I quickly left the main road and returned to side streets where there was almost no one about, and when I did meet anyone, we all made efforts to keep apart. Admittedly it’s safer to step off the pavement into the road when you are in a back street. To do so on a main road could mean death from something other than coronavirus.

I have heard this evening that one of my relatives is recovering from the virus. She hopes she did not spread it far, had not been out for several days when the symptoms showed themselves, and is now hoping she is immune. Continue reading

Bring Out Another Thousand

“Weather permitting,” said the email, “the boats will go back in the water 28th March”. Fortunately I am not working that day, neither is Older Nephew, so we should be water borne again – weather permitting. But getting the date meant checking Stuart is free to apply the anti fouling in advance of the relaunch (should I take champagne?) and in advance of the antifouling the boat needs to be cleaned from stem to stern. Not a job I fancied doing alone. Fortunately Older Nephew was again free and having looked at the forecast we agreed on Thursday. Except the forecast changed to heavy snow. Nooooo. Yesterday’s forecast was for strong winds, showers and sunshine. I bought my train ticket and left London in a heavy downpour.

You’d have to be living in the Big Brother House not to know of the widespread, heartbreaking flooding that has afflicted much of middle England. Any climate deniers reading this, get a grip. We need to act and act fast. This is the End if we don’t. But not having been out of London in the last few weeks I was unaware just how close to the capital the fields were flooded. From the elevated safety of the railway line I looked at submerged field upon field, at broken bridges, and bizarrely a rabbit sitting looking relaxed on what was now an island. Had it been forced above ground from a flooded burrow? Human beings can do amazing things, but I am fast coming to the conclusion the planet would have been better off without us. As an aside, can anyone here understand why Greta Thunberg attracts such anger from (mainly) white middle aged men, often with money? Do they think we can save the planet by ignoring the scale of the disaster we have created? Ostriches look intellectually superior in comparison.

It was dry when Older Nephew and I were reunited at Cambridge. Windy, but dry. After a brief detour to his house to collect a ladder, we headed for the marina. The sun shone. The single track road was more undulating than ever. I wondered if I was wearing too many layers. When I got out of the car and the wind sliced through my clothing I knew I wasn’t. Sections of the fencing at the marina were missing. The grass was blown into horizontal postures.

Wind flattened


The field next door was soggy.

Soggy field

Teased teasels


I pulled on my waterproof trousers and rubber gloves, filled buckets of water to which we added the environmentally friendly boat cleaner, and we set to work. Continue reading

Lifted

It was a bit of a saga, and I have already told Celia, but it worked out in the end and das Boot was successfully lifted out of the water, raised into blocks and now I just have to book the inspection so I can renew the insurance at the end of November.

The train journey to Ely usually takes just over an hour from London, so when I was looking at what time train I needed to get to meet Stuart the Boat Man I was puzzled that the journey time had almost doubled in length. Further clicking revealed there were engineering works and after Cambridge a replacement bus service would operate. Oh joy.

For those of you not familiar with replacement bus services, thank your lucky stars. I reckoned with the longer journey time I needed to be out of the house by 6.20am. So I set the alarm and retired to bed betimes. I had my clothes ready, sandwiches and a bottle of water in my bag, my phone charged and my train tickets bought. Continue reading

Journey to das Boot

On a glorious autumn morning I am on the train to meet Older Nephew to take das Boot to the pump out at Ely and begin the process of winterising her. I have conflicting feelings about das Boot. I want to make improvements, I have ideas to make life aboard more comfortable, but I am also thinking the time is approaching to give up my car, and therefore das Boot. Older Nephew’s girlfriend is in London, and although he will still be based in the East, I wonder if his personal centre of gravity is shifting, and how often he will want or be able to join me when I am at the marina.
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Under Fen Skies

Another lovely day at das Boot. And not at it. MasterB went back to bed straight after breakfast. 41C78D41-7634-4E54-BEFC-526D138054EBFor bed, read under the rug in the fore cabin. I had a couple of things to do at Burwell, filling the car with petrol the most important. So post shower off I went, returning via Reach and picking more blackberries for the crumble that is ready to go in the oven shortly. That’ll be pudding after I have eaten the lentil shepherd’s pie that’s also ready to go in the oven. There’ll be holey spinach as an accompanying vegetable.ED2E81A0-D01A-47D2-AAA7-7B73F2A45E33

I’m getting good at do the washing up in cold water. It’s not that there’s no hot water in the tank, it’s that the taps are sucking in air rather than water when the pump is on, and so they splutter and spit, sometimes sneeze, instead of flow.

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September in the fens and democracy up against the wall

When the big lorry passed me the fenland shuddered under my feet. Just a little reminder of how this is borrowed land. The soil is thick, dark, fertile. Whenever I look at now I think of Celia and how she wanted to bag it up and take it home. Autumn is all around. Once the baling starts in August, you know summer is nearly over. There are berries everywhere, sloes, hawthorn, acorns, some I cannot name. I picked a bowl of blackberries today. Two weeks ago I managed to pick a small bowlful to give to my downstairs’ neighbours. Returning to the same spot this afternoon, I had to remind myself to take only what I can eat between today and tomorrow.

Other than picking blackberries I didn’t have any plans for today. The forecast was for rain until mid morning. I heard the rain in the night. On the boat there is less between me and the weather than at home. I thought it would provide a nice reason to lie in bed, but when I woke properly, the rain had stopped. It was windy and rather grey. It still is windy, in that brisk business-like way that wind can have at this time of year; not cold, but as though it has things to do, and no dilly dallying will occur. But now the skies are blue and it was a pleasure to walk down the lane to deliver a letter and look more closely at the fields and the hedgerows.

There seems to be an awful lot of maize being grown this year. Usually the air around here is heavy with the scent of leeks, and I associate late August and early September with the voices of migrant workers in the fields, and in the evening the sound of music coming from the nest of caravans where they stay. There were fewer last year, apparently none this year. Better to earn money in a country where the currency will convert to a better amount of cash when they get home.

On a whim, coming back from my blackberry picking, my fingers stained, my nails rimed in purple, and bloody scratches on the back of my right hand, I turned down a lane I have passed many times but never used. It’s six years since Mother’s death, and three since Aunt’s, but I am mainly travelling the same routes.

The lane stopped near a bridge. A bridge I recognised from the walk Celia and I did a few years ago on my birthday. The weather was kinder today. I was excited to see the sculptures again, and to know how easily they can be reached from the marina. If Older Nephew doesn’t come for lunch tomorrow I may drive back to the same spot, park the car and walk the three miles to Wicken Fen, and the three miles back. I wish I had a bicycle here.

At the marina a swan was in the middle of a patch of pennywort. It stopped what it was doing to watch me, so I couldn’t tell if it was the pennywort it was eating or something else. The former I hope.

When I arrived yesterday afternoon MasterB made his way confidently down to the boat. He hid under the rug when Stuart, who has been doing some necessary work on das Boot, arrived. It was a glorious evening. I’d been filling the water tank, laboriously carrying five litre containers backwards and forwards, filling them at the tap on the other side of the marina. Some people turned up in a car, and stood about with bags of food and drink, like characters in search of a picnic. They told me they were waiting for a friend and were going out on his boat. I’m glad they didn’t stay at the marina. Boy they were loud. It was just after they left I realised I couldn’t see MasterB. He wasn’t under the rug, wasn’t on the bed, wasn’t using the litter tray.

I had left the boat open while collecting water. The pennywort by the boat looks like solid ground and for several heart pounding minutes I thought my boy had leapt onto it, fallen through it and was drowned. Willing myself to be calm, I searched the boat again and at last thought to check under the rear cover which was partly folded away. He was there. The relief I felt was overwhelming.

We did our old couple act in the evening. The sunset was around eight, and I closed the curtains against the insects once the lights were on. I watched Bake Off as MasterB purred under my hand. He is the perfect companion. I had watched much of the news, seen Rees-Mogg lounging, and on his feet, speaking in his most languid, would-be patrician tones, still saying the same old lies, still talking about Project Fear, or Project Reality as it is rightly called, while keeping silent about the lack of benefits Project Unicorn has brought us. I agreed with him about one thing, I should not like to see Corbyn as Prime Minister, and I believe there are many of the same mind as myself. However, if it came to it, I’d probably go for Corbyn and his church of Momentum groupies than Johnson and his inner circle of hell liars. We are, as the popular saying goes, between a rock and a hard place. I reckon Johnson wants a general election. I don’t. I think it would just muddle things even more. If the electorate does get asked to vote again in the next few weeks it should be for a People’s Vote, and any and all campaigning by both sides must be subject to scrutiny, with campaigners understanding that telling lies will render votes for their side null and void.

I noted that Rees-Mogg selectedly referenced Speaker Lenthall last week when he was rebuking Speaker Bercow. He said the Speaker should have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak. I’m guessing most people don’t know the end of the quote and that it was said by Lenthall when Charles I wanted to know where the five MPs he had come to arrest had gone. Charles I was behaving scandalously. Lenthall was quick witted and diplomatic. He said he had “neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak save as the House (of Commons) direct me, whose servant I am here”. In other words, he was defending and protecting Parliament from an assault on its powers and independence, just as Bercow was against an assault by Johnson.

The game playing has to stop. This is a fragile and precious democracy that is at stake.