The Coronavirus Diaries 19th September 2022: Some Photos

I did watch the funeral today, or at least parts of it. I missed the arrival of the heads of state and the ex Prime Ministers, turning on the television as the coffin reached the abbey. MasterB was confused. I never watch television in the daytime and he evidently could not get his head around this strange occurrence. He kept checking in with me, needing reassurance in the form of cuddles and affection, so I missed other bits too. He is now outside which is why I’m at the keyboard.

The music, as you’d expect, was sublime. The shots of the abbey breathtaking. Only rare and narrow glimpses of David Hockney’s window. Why was that? There didn’t seem to be camera shots from that angle. Did someone decide it was too modern? It is the Queen’s window, one celebrating spring, her favourite season. Nearly all the women wore heels of staggering height and slenderness. I cannot imagine how they stood it. They probably have their feet soaking in warm water tonight.

By one o’clock I was funeraled out. there was a lot more to come, but I switched off and had lunch. I did catch some of the Windsor part and can only marvel at Charles’ stamina. Suddenly a half hour slot at the crematorium followed by tea and sandwiches seems a much better deal.

So to photos. Not of the funeral, of yesterday’s walk. I have a lot, so maybe some tonight, some later.

We started at Kelvedon which impressed us. One attractive building after another, though some seemed neglected.

Essex is famously Tory, so I was surprised and pleased to see Kelvedon’s councillors are Greens. The bench was a nice touch too. There were grand houses, not so grand houses and expensive cars. I don’t recall seeing any reference to food banks.

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The Coronavirus Diaries 16th September 2022: Boosted

I had my booster vaccine today. It began with an M but I have forgotten its name already. Funny to think that when the vaccines first came out we learned their names overnight and compared notes on what we knew about them. Now I just want to know if I am going to have an adverse reaction.

The vaccinator – a new word to me today – asked me to expose my arm. That’s the first time I have heard that phrase. It made me laugh. He looked surprised, then laughed too. Apparently he’s been saying it for days and only when I laughed did he think it sounded odd. In future he’s going to ask people to roll up their sleeves.

In the last few days I have decided my sitting room needs redecorating. It’s not a task I relish, and I shall certainly employ someone to do it, so probably not this side of Christmas. after exposing my arm I walked to the Old Kent Road and a branch of B&Q to pick up colour samples. I had been thinking pale grey, but they all seem either too grey or too pale. My thoughts are drifting towards white. The walls are off white now, but quite which off white I don’t recall. I’ve tucked the various cards under picture frames, and lost one behind the sideboard, to stare at over the coming weeks.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th August 2022. Crisis Bullet Points

The trouble with not posting for a while is you – by which of course I mean I – have too much to say so where to start, where to end, which rant to prioritise, which magic moment to celebrate, becomes the barrier to any post at all.

So I thought to try a few bullet points. Here goes, in no particular order:

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th July 2022, Masked Up

It feels as though the net is drawing tighter and it’s only a matter of time until I am caught in it. Almost every day I hear of someone new who I know catching COVID. All have been vaccinated, all have escaped the virus until now. I am in a group of diminishing size. So I’m back in masks, still opening windows and sitting beside them where possible when I am on the bus, restricting my social life, washing my hands, trying to keep my distance and mainly seeing people outside, which is not hard at this time of year.

Next week, should trains and planes allow, I shall be off to NI for a fortnight, and I really don’t COVID to put a stop to that or to strike me down while I am there. Octavia was telling me of her friend Loris who has flown in from Australia, but far from enjoying a holiday she is laid up in bed feeling dreadful. Allegra went to the US to attend a family wedding. A good friend who accompanied her for the relaxing break they intended to enjoy afterwards, has also tested positive and is very unwell. Jimmy returned from a festival in Croatia , and, well you have probably guessed the rest. My neighbours across the landing succumbed last week. Celia tested positive at the weekend. Mary, who I work with tested positive yesterday.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th July 2022: Some Like it Hot

It’s cooler tonight and the breeze, unlike yesterday’s warm winds, is refreshing. I hung out some washing yesterday, went to the shop, came back less than half an hour later and everything, including bath towels, was dry. Still, for some reason I found the very high temperatures easier to deal with than the day before when it was a degree or two less, maybe because I wasn’t working.

We have strange attitudes to sweat. We know we sweat to keep our bodies cool, but the Ring of Shame is something featured in celeb magazines as though those who have achieved fame and success are somehow letting themselves down by perspiring. I am hoping Prince Andrew’s inability to sweat is going to turn sweating, or glowing as us ladies do, into a Ring of Pride.

Anyway I have glowed a fair amount these last few days. The cat’s cool mat and a tiny desk fan that plugs into my power bank via a USB have somewhat remarkably meant I have slept well. There was one night, Sunday, when I had murderous thoughts towards a woman on a roof terrace nearby who I should guess had had a fair amount of alcohol. At regular intervals of around ten minutes she shouted “hello?” and then shouted it again several times. Had I already been asleep I doubt if it would have bothered me. As it was her “hello?”s repeatedly coincided with the moment I was just dropping off. In the end I turned the light back on, opened my book and read until all was quiet. I don’t know why she stopped her shouting. Maybe someone finally answered her call, or perhaps she simply passed put in an alcoholic haze. I admit my concerns were more for myself than for her.

More disturbing were yesterday’s wild fires. The worst fires the fire service has had to deal with since the Second World War. Johnson tweeted his thanks to the fire service, conveniently ignoring the fact that he closed fire stations and reduced the number of firefighters during his time as a memorably lamentable Mayor of London.

He continued today at his last PMQs to crow about achievements which are about as real as the Emperor’s New Clothes. Like Trump, he operates on the premise that a lie repeated endlessly acquires the patina of truth. This works in part because there are so many lies that are repeated so often, serious journalists ignore them to deal with the day’s lies. It’s a case of volume: screen time and column inches are not infinite. It also works because people who should know better but either have no shame, no conscience or no backbone and those who own right wing papers repeat the same lies.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 17th July 2022, Heatwave

The UK Health Security Agency has increased its heat health warning from three to four, a level described as a national emergency. So what do you do when the country is put on amber alert, rising in the next days to red for the first time as temperatures continue to pass what we think of as normal? Obviously we will all have different priorities and strategies. Imagine you are Prime Minster and there’s a Cobra meeting to discuss this emergency but you have already planned a party at the grace and favour home you are still entitled to use for the next couple of months. What choice do you make as leader? I hope most Prime Ministers would issue apologies to the guests, and do what they are paid to do. This is not the choice the Liar in Chief has opted for. Not surprising, but still somehow shocking.

Meanwhile some of the hopefuls, or probably more accurately hopeless, in the contest to be the new leader of the Conservatives are prevaricating about the commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. I suspect they will not be prevaricating about their commitment to curb immigration, somehow conveniently ignoring the fact that as parts of the world become unsustainable due to climate crisis a surge in immigration is inevitable. If they really wanted to curb immigration and not just pander to the Little Englanders they would be ardently committed to net zero before 2050, and looking at ways to alleviate climate crisis globally. We are all linked, all equally responsible, equally damned.

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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, 4th May 2022, a Birthday Weekend

Celia wanted to post her brother’s birthday card. No sign of a post box, but there was a postman in a stationary van. Celia waved to him and walked over as he started move. Is it just the one thing you want to post? he asked. Yes, she said. He reached out a hand. I’ll take it, he said.

In my head I could hear my mother’s voice. They’d only do that in Ireland, she was saying, probably correctly, proudly pointing out yet again how the country of her birth was far superior to anywhere else.

We were in Belfast. The centre, not the suburbs, a stone’s throw from City Hall. It was the end of the weekend we spent in Northern Ireland celebrating both our birthdays. Working backwards, yesterday we had been in the centre, meeting Fiona for coffee at the Linen Hall Library, a favourite venue of mine, then staying chatting for so long we decided to have lunch there and forgo our other plans. We had already had coffee at the Two Sisters coffee shop off the Cregagh Road. I also had a vegan brownie there and Celia had resisted a bag she would have liked to buy. If you are near this coffee shop I recommend you pop in. It’s lovely. The coffee is lovely, the goods on display available to buy are lovely, the staff are even lovelier. It’s spotlessly clean, welcoming and probably saved our lives on Monday when we first visited it bleary eyed after a bad night’s sleep in a cold Airbnb with inadequate bedding. We compared notes in the morning, discovering we had each struggled to get warm. each been convinced in the small hours we had Covid. There were no extra blankets, no hot water bottles. The heating system resisted our efforts to spring into action despite our following the instructions to the letter. Via email I requested help, blankets and hot water bottles. Someone would come to sort the heating later I was told. Twice more I requested blankets and hot water bottles, requests which bore some fruit as we found blankets on our return.

Not the best start to our only full day in Belfast. Still, we managed a good walk through a bluebell clad Cregagh Glen to the rath at the top, then back on the Cregagh Road we enjoyed a tomato and chilli soup at the café attached to the Museum of Orange History, and where my cousin Kathryn collected us for a drive round south and east Belfast which included visiting a property she intends to renovate. She suggested we spend the evening in the buzzy cathedral quarter. All we could think of was bed and an early night, both duly achieved. Thank goodness we both slept well.

We’d arrived in Belfast by bus from Castledawson at lunchtime on Sunday. Our very lovely B&B landlady having left us at the stop after also coming for a walk with us around Church Island in Bellaghy, a walk we had hoped to do on Saturday but it had rained most of the day, and was raining particularly hard at the time we thought we might walk. We caught another bus out to our airbnb, dropped our bags and headed straight out again to the Titanic Quarter and exhibition. I think it was only when we came outside again that Celia believed my assurances that I was more than happy to go the exhibition again. Since I visited it a few years ago I’ve wanted to return. Celia is now where I was then. I am now ready for visit number three. The exhibition does everything only the best exhibitions achieve. It informs, awes, makes you think, has an emotional impact.

It had been overcast when we went into the exhibition so to emerge to bright sunshine was an added bonus. Fortunately I checked my phone as we sat looking at the water. Petra had sent a message saying she could after all join us for dinner. However, she thought we were still in Bellaghy, and was intending to travel down to Co Derry. I called her to say we were in Belfast and Home was the restaurant, not a reference to our Airbnb. Disaster averted. Home is a great place. My friend Jo, who we were also meeting there, introduced me to it last summer. The food is excellent and the service friendly and professional. Celia was impressed by the level of customer service she was experiencing. We had a great evening. Lots of chat, lots of laughter. The craic, as they say, was good.

Jo and I have known each other most of our lives. By one of those freak coincidences she was buying vegetables in the supermarket near the airport at the same time we were shopping for provisions after Cecilia (our landlady) had picked us up on Friday. That woman looks like Jo, I thought. Then, that woman is Jo! She had been at a flower show in Antrim, and had left her car at a park and ride by the supermarket.

Friday the weather was amazing. Blue skies, warm sunshine. A contrast with the grey skies and low temperatures we had left behind in London. Saturday not so much. It started with drizzle and became rain. But we spent most of the day at the Heaney Homeplace, first at the exhibition and enjoying the new digital archive in the renovated library, having a snack lunch in the café so we weren’t exactly inconvenienced.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th March 2022

I am not going to talk about the war, or at least not much. Tonight’s news has awoken a flicker of hope that Ukraine may have withstood its powerful neighbour. Withstood may be too strong a word when you see the scenes of devastation in cities which were, just four short weeks ago, full of people going about their daily lives, returning to their homes each evening, cities which are now just so much rubble.

Rebuilding is going to be a mammoth task, not just the physical rebuilding of all those ruined buildings, but the rebuilding of hopes, of normality, of belief in the ordinary humdrumness of life. But compared to Afghanistan, compared to Syria, or Yemen, Ukraine may have a chance at normality sooner rather than later. Girls in Afghanistan refused the right to education were filmed weeping on a day they hoped to return to school. Their ambitions, their future, our future with them playing an active part in it has been placed on hold.

Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe has at last been freed, is back with her husband and daughter and is no longer wearing a tag. She spoke at a press conference a few days after she got back. Composed, gracious, assured, articulate, she was apparently insufficiently grateful for some, insufficiently grateful that it had taken six years to get her release, insufficiently grateful to a foreign secretary, now prime minister, who had not bothered to read about her case properly and asserted she was teaching journalism when she wasn’t.

Given a choice between that prime minister and Nazanin I know who’d I’d vote for.

Octavia is on the mend, slowly. Reinhild and Mark have tested positive. I had a PCR as part of the ONS survey. I tested negative. I hope it stays that way.

MasterB has decided he wants to be an outdoor cat. Each evening he meows piteously until I accompany him down to the front door. Then he takes flight. The nervous, unsure ginger who peers out into the street and decides discretion is the better part of valour has been replaced by a boy who, if there is no other cat about, and on occasion even if there is, is revelling in the smells and possibilities of the garden. Getting him in again is a problem. He’s outside now. I’m giving him until I have finished this post before I go in search of him. I really hope he’ll come in readily, and that i don have to catch him. It is wonderful to see him enjoying himself so much, and I don’t want to curtail or discourage that.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th March 2022

Octavia has got Covid. Triple vaccinated, she started feeling unwell on Friday, tested positive yesterday morning. We spoke last night and she was croaky. Today in a text message she says she’s feeling awful. Cases are rising again, yet all around precautionary measures are being cast aside. Fewer people are wearing masks on public transport. At the theatre last week the audience was asked to wear face coverings, but many people did not comply with the request. At the interval the foyer the jammed with people jostling for space. The safest place was undoubtedly behind the bar where perspex screens protected staff from contact with customers.

I sent Octavia a link to this piece by David Baddiel about cats. Cats are on my mind today. Not all cats, but MasterB who is currently outside in the garden, Hartley and Romeo the two garden cats, and the new cat on the block, named Treacle by Helena, who has joined the feeding regime, and has so far not been claimed by any neighbour. Also Freddy, aka Cat.

It’s eleven years ago tonight since he died. Reading David Baddiel’s piece moved me. Unlike Baddiel I came late to being owned by a cat. Freddy, a cat of Opinions, marched into my life, took over my home, ambushed my affections, stole Mother’s heart, and had Aunt wrapped round his paw. He was a joy, a tie, a distraction, a comfort, a worry. How I had lived so long without him became a mystery. He was macho, affectionate, demanding, imperious and a great companion. He loved eating or sniffing my cut flowers – carnations were his favourite – adored broccoli and would beg for noodles. He changed my life.

When I took him with me when I visited Mother she loved it. He knew the way from the car to the cat flap in her front door. He would announce our arrival by walking in and rolling on his back beside her. As her dementia increased he could calm her and bring her peace. She remembered his name when she forgot mine, though she often called him a little dog. She loved the way he knew her and showed her he loved her. He didn’t ask her awkward, difficult questions. He was beautiful. She loved watching him, admiring him. When others admired him she basked in reflected pride. So many of my good memories of Mother from that very difficult time are of her interactions with Freddy.

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