The Coronavirus Diaries, 11th January 2022

I think it was still last year when I put up my last post. Maria very sweetly got in touch to find out if all was well I have been silent for so long. I’m fine.

I have been busy and a deal of that business has meant being in front of the computer, so when I stop there is something very liberating about shutting it down and being screen free for the rest of the day. I have also been out and about, taking pictures, making new contacts, and going to hear the ten shortlisted poets for the TS Eliot Prize on Sunday.

Celia is our convenor. She sends out an email in the autumn asking who wants to come, gets the tickets for all of us in our favourite row at the Royal Festival Hall (AA if you are interested, and actually even f you aren’t). It’s a great start to the new year every time. We lost a few of our number at the last minute. Three couldn’t attend after all due to geographical difficulties or family responsibilities. But last year it was on Zoom, so to be there in the flesh, to hold up the queue finding our COVID passes, well Cynthia and I did that, the others managed just fine, and so be queue jumped because of our incompetence by a COVID-pass p-ready Frank Skinner, meant it was already a red letter day.

Cynthia was back from Canterbury for the event. Nicola arrived with Martin from a different part of London, as did Tony. I haven’t seen Nicola for a year. A woman with long hair, wearing a blue beret above her mask, walked towards me smiling. I didn’t recognise her. “All that hair!” I said. “Your wild hair!” is what she said to me. She teaches voice and Kayo Chingonyi, one of her erstwhile students, was the tenth to read. He was good. Very good. We wondered if he might win. My heart was with Raymond Antrobus whose poetry shows you don’t have to use complicated images or obscure language to have depth. I loved Hannah Lowe and I definitely want to read more by Selima Hill. Joelle Taylor’s high octane performance alone was worth the ticket price. I felt blasted back into my comfortable seat.

Afterwards we headed for the ballroom bar. Viv had to leave as she had someone coming round early in the morning. Not that we were going to be late. The Royal Festival Hall is hardly a lock in venue. Martin had slipped out before the end to get a train which in the event he missed. The poets were at the bar. No book signings this year for COVID reasons, but as Ian MacMillan, who did a grand job of introducing each poet with his usual mix of wit, knowledge and humour, said, it’s the unsigned poetry books which are worth something due to their rarity.

So everyone I was with had received a copy of The Sun is Open by Gail McConnell as a Christmas present. This was my poetry tribe. We talked about the poets, who we liked, how we disliked the poetry voice (Cynthia and me), who we wanted to win. Someone questioned whether Antrobus’ poems were too much in the quotidian to scoop the prize, but Roger Robinson, a worthy winner in 2019 writes so much about his home, his family I didn’t think so. And why should a poem be thought good, or better than another poem simply because you struggle to understand it and sometimes never do? There is nothing wrong with accessibility. A poem’s ability to reach in and express something, a truth perhaps you have never considered, an emotion, a feeling you have never put into words, is powerful. Simple language is often all the more effective for its directness and clarity.

It was Nicola who wasn’t staying, but who in the end stayed as long as the rest of us, who asked what was with all the thank-yous. Yes, we chorused, what was that? The first poet did it – editor, publisher, mother-in-law, flight attendant on the plane from the States, barber, bus driver, Joe Biden, us the audience – yes I do exaggerate, but not by much – then they all did it. As Nicola said, that’s what you do when you have won, not when you have been shortlisted.

Finally we separated, Tony headed off to the North, and Nicola elected to walk along then across the river to her station. Celia, Cynthia and I made for the bus stop.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th December 2021, Omicron Christmas

Today has had all the grey tones of a wartime film. Brief Encounter perhaps. We have just over twenty four hours to go before the days creepingly get longer again. In the meantime I would welcome some blue skies, even if it means colder weather. I have candles and fairy lights in self-defence. Or maybe that should be protection. Those cards I send are all written and posted, the ones delivered by hand all pushed through letterboxes; a rare few parcels to addresses beyond walking or meeting distance went weeks ago, and the others have been wrapped, all with MasterB’s help – unroll wrapping paper and he sits on it – and passed into others’ hands. All except the one for my six-year-old neighbour who I shall see on Christmas Day morning. The flat has suddenly started to look festive. The sideboard is covered with cards and gifts. It’s weird how one moment it seems too early to be thinking about Christmas, the next a mad dash to get everything done.

Omicron has slimmed down the actual festivities. Drinks and nibbles are off again for the second Christmas running. I did a jigsaw at the weekend instead. I expect to do another, maybe a third. I bought a Radio Times, but the Christmas television schedules fail to inspire so far. We have lots of channels now, some of which I can access, but lots of channels seems to mean lots of dross. Why people want to sit and watch a bunch of celebs doing everything from building snowmen to buying antiques mystifies me. There must be the odd nugget in there somewhere, indeed I know there is as I have started watching Outlaws which is streamed on BBC i-player, but I am hardly spoiled for choice.

Last night was live music. Octavia and I went to St Bart the Great’s for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which was sublime. Again I wished I had belief. The Christmas story is heartbreaking in its simplicity, in its promise of a better world, of redemption, a world saved by the innocence of a baby born in a stable. Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th December 2021

We’re getting good at this, and into something of a rhythm. I know it will be broken in a couple of weeks when the whole Christmas thing is at its height, but today Celia and I again headed out with boots, packed lunches, backpacks and waterproofs to a neighbourhood in London unlike our own.

Celia is the Walks Directions Chief, and today we did the walk backwards. I would have struggled with this, so fortunately my part was simply printing the route and putting it inside a plastic folder. While I was breakfasting the rain was hammering against the windows, and the wind was shaking the trees. A walk seemed unlikely. Then miraculously it stopped raining, the wind dropped and I changed my nightwear for leggings, several top layers and two pairs of socks.

A few weeks ago we were surprised to find ourselves watching a German Shepherd having a hydrotherapy session in a building we had thought was selling wine. Today we met a standard poodle called Lily who is having hydrotherapy at another facility following amputation of a hind leg due to cancer.

Lily

She wasn’t the only dog we saw. Along the river path there were lots of mucky, wet dogs. Dogs running with their owners, dogs rushing down to the water to chase the ducks, dogs sniffing at interesting things in the grass. Some of the owners smiled, a couple said hello. Others looked straight ahead as though we didn’t exist. Lily’s owner was the friendliest and chatted for several minutes about her pet’s ordeal, courage and the benefits of hydrotherapy. Her leg was amputated just fourteen short weeks ago. She’s nine, a sweetheart, a hero and her owners obviously love her to bits.

We set off from Hammersmith station, crossed Hammersmith Bridge, and spent a fair few minutes hearing coxes shouting at teams of rowers through loud hailers. Some of the crews were flying along, aided by the flow of the tide. The path was neither one thing nor the other, semi asphalt and quite tiring to walk along. The little fungi we saw was huge, as though to make up for lack of variety. It was a relief to leave it and walk on fallen leaves at the edge of the nature reserve we had managed to largely miss. Swans and geese gathered at the edge of the water. Why there, and in such numbers Celia wondered. Maybe that’s where people feed them. A flat had a model of a cow on the balcony. A goose sat sentinel on a tree.

It began to rain. Rain was not forecast. We grumbled a little, but not much, which was fortunate as it soon stopped, started again later, stopped again. We read plaques on benches, looked at door knockers, read information boards, admired Gustav Holst’s and Ninette De Valois’s houses, recrossed the river at Barnes, and had lunch in a shelter looking at an empty bandstand.

The notes told us to look for a sculpture of storks on a nest. It didn’t say why the sculpture was there. Anyway, we found it; then a sign to a food market where I bought some biscuits, Celia bought some radishes, Celia used the loo and I met Lily. To my mind, this was the point where the walk picked up and became more interesting.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th November 2021

Brrr. We have had such a mild autumn the sudden drop in temperature which makes it clear Winter has arrived is an unwelcome shock. Cold weather is seldom something I enjoy, but this year with hikes in fuel prices it is even less welcome. I don’t like a hot home. I prefer to add layers rather than strip off in overheated rooms, and the climate crisis makes such choices greater than wondering if I can pay the bills.

The very idea of climbing into a fragile, overcrowded boat and crossing even a narrow river in this weather would terrify me, and I don’t think I’d be alone. So what horrors are people who are prepared to try to cross the English Channel in such conditions fleeing? It really doesn’t take much imagination to understand that if you are ready to take such risks, you don’t have a comfortable safe home to return to. Yet our government and many people in these islands talk of migrants and refugees as though they are heading for the UK attracted by the idea of a welfare state that will care for them, that it’s a considered choice and one that is casually taken. Refugees are fleeing situations where they face torture and death. Norman Tebbitt MP famously told people in this country to get on their bikes and look for work outside their home area. It’s a refrain reworked with similar words by politicians today. Unless of course your search for work and a living wage means you come to the UK from elsewhere. Then you are an economic migrant, a phrase loaded with disdain. Nobody climbs into an overcrowded boat to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in winter to come to the UK if they have positive choices at home.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd November 2021

It’s dark by six o’clock, I have seen at least one pub decorated with holly and fake snow, restaurants are taking bookings for office Christmas parties, but most significantly The Ginger Ninja 2022 calendar has arrived. I shall check out the postage costs tomorrow and post them on the Ginger Ninja calendar page here. If you are interested, let me know and I’ll put your name on the list.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 7th October 2021

A grey but warm day today. I finished writing my notes, packed papers and books away, swapped magazines with Celia – my copy of Walk for her husband’s copy of The Economist. Their neighbour’s Jack Russell is no more, having had that last trip to the vet on Monday. He used to be such a cheery soul, but his deterioration this year has been sad to see. I have a candle burning in the window for him tonight.

My RSPCA supporters’ magazine I have passed to Joe. In it there were pictures of pets needing homes. Two cats, aged ten, were said to need a home for their twilight years. MasterB has lived with me for ten years and he was three quarters grown when he arrived, so he is probably nearing his eleventh birthday. He is not nearing his twilight years any time soon. Today he has chased balls around the flat (I have the task of throwing them and retrieving them so they can be thrown again), raced around a racetrack that is invisible to the human eye, woke from apparently deep slumber when he heard me in the kitchen, chased and killed a fly. He’s in great shape. But I still haven’t put the calendar together.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th September 2021

I had my winter ‘flu vaccination yesterday. I went to the local pharmacy to book an appointment and was fitted in then and there. By late evening my arm was sore and by this morning most of my upper arm was covered in an angry red rash. I felt, still feel, somewhat under the weather though probably by tomorrow I’ll be fine. Why my body should react so strongly to vaccinations I do not know.

Consequently it has been a rather lazy day. I have read a book, made some notes for a job I am doing in ten days, read emails and replied to them. I could quite happily go to bed now, but as it’s not yet five o’clock, I shall stay up a while longer. The day has been grey, windy, not cold enough to put the heating on, but cold enough to close windows and wear socks and a jumper. It’s soup weather. Soup and crusty bread, except I am deliberately buying boring bread as when I have good bread I keep eating it. Boring bread does not exercise the same appeal.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading