The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2020

A chipless evening last night, but one spent outside in the garden in a social gathering. Two social gatherings actually, each of three people, but from time to time we linked up and even shared olives. The curious fox came back. We decided collectively it’s a female. I still didn’t have my camera with me, but B took some photos which she may share. It was all very jolly, though as the light went it was a lot cooler.

For most of lockdown I found it impossible to concentrate well enough to sustain reading what I would classify as a good book. My attention kept wandering. I was ok with light reading, undemanding stuff, but something stopped me from losing myself in a book the way I usually do. So it’s good to be reading again. I attended my first book group by Zoom to discuss our summer long read, Homeland by Fernando Aramburu. I enjoyed the novel, but my reservations about Zoom as a medium for book group continue. Michèle wasn’t there, her computer won’t do Zoom, so it may have been that which left me feeling less than satisfied with the whole thing. I always enjoy book group more when she is there with her extensive knowledge of literature and her insights.

The next book is Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I’ve only read ten pages and my first impression wasn’t favourable, not because of the quality of the writing, but she opens with an all too accurate description of a smear test, which is something most women do not anticipate with any enthusiasm. So that’s my fictional for the next while. I am reading another memoir, this one by Margaret Drabble, and my respect for her grows with every chapter. I read her novels a long time ago, and although I enjoyed them, I don’t remember anything about them other than the titles. This memoir has made me warm to Drabble. It is scholarly and never pompous. She comes across as an interested and interesting person, a kind person who is unshowy and reflective. Michèle, who knows her, says I should write to her to tell her I am enjoying the book. Maybe I shall. I also have Diary of a Teenage Naturalist which I bagged at the library the other day. I am guessing others will reserve it, so I should get a move on and read it. There was an extract in the Guardian some months ago and the writing was extraordinary. Luminous, and lyrical while also scientific. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th September 2020

I had a lovely day in Wivenhoe yesterday. I was almost disappointed. In some ways it would have been easier to have gone and wondered why on earth I had ever thought I might move there. At first under grey skies I thought it wasn’t going to exercise its charms on me. I had a few goals, to visit streets further up the hill, to check out the Co-op, the bookshops and any other shop, to visit the library. All of which I achieved. In so doing I ruled out the up the hill options as feeling too suburban. I want to be in the thick of things, even if the thick of things Wivenhoe style is a very different affair to London’s thick of things. The Co-op didn’t exactly make my heart go faster, but it’s adequate. The Syrian shop sells tahini in plastic containers like the tahini I buy here, just at a much higher price. There’s a Norwegian bakery I didn’t manage to visit before it closed. Up the hill and down the hill people had left garden produce for passersby to take. I am a sucker for that sort of thing.

For a change the tide was in, so I ate my packed lunch looking at working vessels, then made my way along the river to where the pleasure craft are moored.

Harbour

Fishing boats

Cruiser

Rowing boat

I had some time to kill before I was due to meet the estate agent. I went into the Wivenhoe Boutique. I explained I wasn’t a real customer, just someone scoping out the town with the idea of moving there. Natalie was more than willing to give me advice, but three more people turned up, and under the current rules Natalie is only allowed to have three customers in the shop at a time. I excused myself and said I’d come back later. She advised me to speak to Sarah in the Wivenhoe Bookshop, but the shop was closed for lunch. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 13th August 2020

Hot again. The promised rain did come but just not in the quantities expected, I woke to the welcome sound of it at seven, but by eight it had stopped and the ground was dry. The forecast said it would start again at eleven. It didn’t. I carried on taking books of the shelves and was rewarded by finding I still have my copy of Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs. Hallelujah!

I’ve started sorting my books into categories with the idea that I may that way decide to streamline them. I am astonished how many copies of plays I have. Mainly Shakespeare, but still. I had a quick flick through some history books to see how well slavery was covered. Badly. Like women’s history it barely gets a page, if that. Yet trade, empire, industrial revolution all get covered. As though these things didn’t happen without the profits in trading slaves and slave labour. L’Oréal (because I’m worth it) claims it does not soil its hands with animal testing, yet it sells its products to China in the full knowledge they will be tested in animals there. That is rather like British history’s attitude to slavery.

I truly hope the BLM movement will lead to a more informed understanding of history. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th August 2020

Still hot, but there were rumbles of thunder this afternoon, the sky has clouded over and rain is forecast tomorrow. Hurrah! Or it would be hurrah, except that this is unusual weather and the rain is probably not going to be the usual light rain we are used to, but a downpour with the risk of flooded drains and worse. Today three people were killed when a train was derailed in Aberdeenshire due to a terrain rendered dangerous by heavy rain. Climate crisis is with us, and not getting the attention it deserves. There are still countries intent on extracting and using fossil fuels. I don’t get it. I am increasingly in sympathy of the group whose aim for humans to die out. I think the planet would probably be much better without us. Clever we may be, but boy are we destructive.

The main things on the list today got done, though slowly, including making an appointment for a haircut. Outrageously expensive as instead of having it done at the training school I’m going to the salon. Hopefully this cut will last as long as the last one has. The big task was to begin lifting books down from the shelves in the hall which is going to be painted on Friday. The plan was to sort books out for the charity shop and pack the rest in bags. The discarding didn’t go too well, and gradually I realised it was probably better to pile the books on the floor where I could see them and sort them into categories. I was thrilled to find despite my cull last year I still have a copy of Clive James’ Visions Before Midnight. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find more treasures. I still have the greater part of a long shelf to go. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 23rd July 2020

So from tomorrow we have to wear face masks in shops. Celia and I practised this morning. She successfully tempted me away from the computer to the Barbican Library which has reopened. Glorious.

No so busy at the Barbican

I returned a book I’d borrowed in early March. It all felt very odd, and we were only allowed half an hour. Celia had a pile of books in her arms as I struggled to dredge names and titles from my reluctant memory. When I finally managed to I was out of luck, but I did borrow a reference book so I’ll be back there before long.

In St Giles Church there was a book sale. What a treat. A great selection of books too. For five pounds I got two Len Deighton novels I have read before, and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien.

Hurrah for book fairs

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th July 2020

For nearly a week Celia has been in a state of suppressed, and sometimes not so suppressed excitement at the prospect of a haircut this coming Friday. So she is having to be very grown up at the moment as the appointment hangs in the balance. This morning her husband Charlie was told to go to A&E at St Thomas’ after Celia had called 111 on his behalf at breakfast time. He was allowed to come home, but there is talk of a follow up appointment at Guy’s hospital for investigations. So I imagine that tomorrow Celia will be on tenterhooks hoping that appointment will not be on Friday while at the same time hoping it is if the need is urgent. She’ll be torn.

Last night I had an email from City of London libraries to say they will reopen under certain conditions shortly. There were reassurances about books borrowed before lockdown, and advice to renew loans online if we didn’t feel ready to enter a library building. I have one book borrowed from CoL, another from the London Borough of Southwark. I live in Southwark. I have walked by some of Southwark’s libraries over the last few months, and, crucially, over the last couple of weeks. I have looked at notices, hoping for information about plans to reopen. Nothing. Nor have I received any email message. Fired up by the message from CoL, today I had a look at the LBS site. There was a notice about libraries closing due to Covid 19, nothing about reopening. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th June 2020

It’s due to get hot this coming week, so the boat it shall be. Today Celia and I walked up to the river to the Southbank. Celia wanted to buy a book for herself and one to read to her pre-school grandchildren. There were lots more cars, I mean really lots of cars. I suppose because people are avoiding using public transport. Walking through empty streets as we neared the river did not prepare us for the festival atmosphere around Gabriel’s Wharf.

Busy

We didn’t have to look far to see the source of the beer.

Beer for sale

The section of the foreshore at this point has a covering of sand. There are often people making sand sculptures there, so when I looked over the wall, that was what I expected to see. Not this.

Unexpected swimmers

By the looks of this chap, intently taking photos, I shouldn’t be surprised if his pictures are in a newspaper tomorrow.

This looks professional

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Books, glorious books

I am supposed to be reading Under the Wire by Iris Murdoch, and in fits and starts I am. It’s our book group choice for this month, and we meet again next week. I am just under halfway through and it’s a slim volume, so in theory there wouldn’t be any difficulty.

However, this week sees publication of Hilary Mantel’s new novel, the third and final part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. It began with Wolf Hall, continued with Bring up the Bodies, and concludes with The Mirror and the Light. The excerpts and reviews I have read confirm that this is going to be wonderful. Not even knowing how it all ends badly for Cromwell, a man who prior to reading Wolf Hall I thought of with an inward shudder, but who now, thanks to Mantel’s sympathetic, human portrayal, I feel a great sympathy, even affection for, will stop me from reading it.

I preordered my copy last May, but now it turns out I shall have two, as Celia and I have booked seats to hear Mantel on Friday at the RFH and our expensive tickets include a copy of the novel. In Under the Wire‘s favour, The Mirror and the Light is not a slim volume, and so I shall be unlikely to be tempted to carry it with me to and from work. But then Coronavirus is affecting my work. I haven’t caught it, but I am freelance and much of my work is with people from abroad. The cancellations are rolling in.

I returned another wonderful book to the library on Tuesday – Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan. I have renewed it five times, but now finally ordered my own copy. I didn’t intend to borrow anything, but these two books caught my eye. I borrowed them both.

Front covers

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Wear your poppy and remember

I don’t want to see Nigel Farage wearing a poppy, or any of the other people who talk about the wars of the twenty-first century for political gain; the jingoism reignited by men who never had to face themselves and find out what it was to lose everything.
We are told to wear our poppies with pride, but sorrow would be more appropriate. Sorrow for the loss of life, for the devastation caused by ideologues to whom the concept of a shared humanity was an anathema.
Farage is an ideologue. He is not the only one. Here in the U.K. and across the world there are people calling themselves patriots who have confused patriotism with nationalism. Nationalism does not understand shared humanity. 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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