The Coronavirus Diaries, 6th May 2021

My first haircut this year. My first haircut since 8th December 2020. I love it. There are, I realise, advantages in being forced to go through the growing out stages of a haircut. At almost precisely six weeks after my December cut my hair was wild. Then it settled down, seemed to grow into a new style and I was happy with it again. The pattern repeated itself over the five months. My curls grew back and I liked having them. So today although I had a couple of inches cut off my hair it is longer than it was in December, still wavy, and in a bob with graduations and layers. I had it done at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Buckingham Gate, a building that was formerly used by members of the Met Police where they stocked up on bacon butties when demos were on.

Lauren cut my hair. She walked across the foyer in a cardigan decorated with lemons and I watched amused as three women opposite me followed the progress of that cardigan covetously with their eyes. At that point I didn’t know Lauren was going to cut my hair.

I liked her and trusted her immediately. On the way to having my hair washed I told her about the cardigan reaction. “M&S,” she said delphically, “I got it in the sale.” It turned out she had been a wig maker, having got into that from being a costumiere, having got into that through learning how to sew because she did an art foundation course, liked drawing clothes but didn’t know how to make them. She’d spent much of lockdown on the Isle of Wight at her parents’ house going slowly bonkers having got away from New York where she’d been working a day before that would have been impossible. Now she’s escaped to London. You can follow her on instagram @lamacdesign. I am. If she sets up a salon I want to be her client.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd May 2021

I am very much enjoying my birthday weekend. It has been more sedentary than I imagined as I had a procedure on my leg on Friday, and due to the site of the wound, the chances of it breaking open and becoming infected are high if I move around too much. That gave me the perfect excuse to lie on the sofa (leg raised) and watch Local Hero yesterday afternoon. What a lovely film it is.

Plans were so fluid in the morning as to be next to non-existent. We are still limited to meeting outside in groups no larger than six, and after a very dry April, scattered showers were forecast. However, the skies were blue, and on Friday night I had been talking to Celia on the ‘phone. We thought elevenses would work. So I bought croissants, some vegan, and some with butter, then pains au chocolat (butter), orange juice and clementine juice. Cynthia arrived with a bottle of champagne and glasses. So organised. Charlie had gone to Notting Hill to spend the day with his friend Chris watching cricket, so Celia was unaccompanied. Michèle met me at one gate, and B&J arrived at another. It was very jolly and as well as cards I was given perfect presents, including a new doormat with silhouettes of cats on it. It’s very handsome. I am not sure what it says about my stage of life that I can spend so much time admiring my door mat, but there it is. Books, a picture, fudge which I ate watching the film, some hand cream Celia and I had found and tried out a few weeks ago, and that most necessary accessory for summer, a wine cooling sleeve.

Naturally Hartley joined us. J has started giving him treats and has made him a toy. He stayed close to her, rolling over and offering her his tummy. That cat just thrives on love and affection.

That might have been it, but the forecast was showing less chance of rain for the evening, so we decided on a takeaway from the Vietnamese restaurant, to be eaten in Celia’s garden. Mid afternoon I had an invitation from Reinhild and Mark to join them in their garden for drinks and nibbles. I had asked if they wanted to join our al fresco dinner, Michèle and Cynthia having other engagements, but Reinhild was chilled having met friends for lunch outside the café in Russell Square, so they politely declined.

It wasn’t a late evening, and I enjoyed some time at home with MasterB and let him outside for a while before bedtime.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th April 2021

It’s our anniversary: ten years since I brought MasterB, then called Facebook, home. He was young, less than a year at a guess, infested with fleas. He didn’t want to be removed from the students who had rescued him from the mean streets of Brighton, and I didn’t want a timid cat who hid behind the curtain. It wasn’t the most promising start. But against the odds it has been a success. We are a team, cat and human. An already close team which has become closer in lockdown. Not that MasterB knows about the pandemic. But he has become very used to having me around most of the time, has realised that I generally have three meals each day, not the two he was formerly acquainted with, and he now wants three meals a day too. He has given me an emotional support of which he is quite unaware in this time. Watching him has brought me pleasure.

Ten years ago I didn’t really want him. Now I think he’s the best cat in the world.

But for our anniversary we were mainly apart. Gorgeous weather, with blue skies, sunshine and warmth. We have been getting used to blue skies, sunshine and cold cold winds. Celia and I set off to Stratford to walk The Line, a sculpture trail that starts north of the river then ends in Greenwich. The map on the app was rubbish. But the sun shone, we saw two herons in flight, and before we even started our walk Celia got a new strap for her Swatch in the Westfield Shopping Centre. There were serious shoppers. The queue outside Primark was lengthy. Shorter queues, but still impressive, outside shoe shops and mobile phone shops. If I were a shop owner I would be heaving a huge sigh of relief.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd April 2021

Easter weekend which means it’s two years since Celia and I did the Guildford circular walk via Watts gallery. I am cold. I have been sitting outside with B&J having an al fresco meal. I didn’t feel cold then, but coming in I suddenly want to wrap a blanket around myself, convince MasterB he wants to sit on my lap (he doesn’t, he’s sitting across from me, on the chair, having a wash), snuggle into the sofa cushions.

The meal was delicious, from a Vietnamese takeaway close to the Elephant which I have known was there for years, but never tried. The exterior does not invite. The interior is plain, there are no takeaway menus to take away. J had heard about it, then read reviews, all of which were full of praise to the point of ecstasy. There is no website, it’s cash only in these cash less times; it’s very much old Elephant rather than the new shiny, sanitised, any place model being promoted by the developers. I’d say its days are numbered.

There are plans to put a penthouse storey on top of the council flats where I used to live. I am affronted. We called our flat the penthouse suite as it was on the top (seventh) floor with views to die for. We also called it Seventh Heaven, though that was usually ironic and when the lift wasn’t working; or the Centipede With a Wooden Leg, because of the joke and we lived at number 99. Now it seems the joke was on us.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th March 2021

What a lovely day: sunshine; surprising encounters with interesting, friendly people; scrambled tofu with lots of veg and sourdough toast for lunch; Thai green curry for dinner. Does that sound as though food is a high priority? Well, yeah, that would be about right. But the other things are also important. It’s not an either or.

I am moving slowly from sceptical about the end of lockdown and a gradual move to more freedom to feeling contained excitement. The idea that as the days warm up we will be able to meet outside in groups of up to six people seems wonderful. I already have pencilled in my diary an apératif with Michèle and a Sunday evening meal with Octavia. In fact April looks surprisingly busy after weeks and months of blank pages, I have all sorts of engagements. Admittedly these include visits to the hospital to check on my wrist and to see the physiotherapist, but still. It’s good practice for my later years when hospital appointments are likely to make up a good percentage of my social life.

Having decided the autumn was not after all the right time to move, I am back to thinking about it again. annoyingly our little syndicate has not yet won the lottery allowing me to keep a flat in London and buy a house in the Home Counties.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 24th March 2021

I have spent much of today at the computer, so in a way it’s a surprise I am willing to be here again. But for a variety of reasons I have been thinking about cats. MasterB is the feline recipient of my love and affection today, a worthy successor to my first cat, Freddy. Ten years ago on 20th March, Freddy, known on these pages as Cat, and the original cat of the title of this blog, died suddenly and in my arms.

Some of you I know were following my posts then, so you knew it was a very difficult time. My mother was in and out of hospital. Two weeks before Cat’s death we were preparing for Mother’s death. Miraculously she rallied. I had stayed with Cat at the sheltered housing scheme where she had her flat. Cat had slept beside her as first she clung to life, then surprised the doctor, the carers, everyone by leaving her bed. Cat loved being there. He found his way into the airing cupboard, a place that was out of bounds at home.

Naturally very sociable, he schmoozed the carers, explored the garden, surprised and entertained the other residents as he made the scheme his territory. He brought me comfort, and gave us all reasons to smile. One of the carers, who was not a fan of cats, became one of his greatest admirers. She saw how Mother responded to him, how when he walked the corridors residents would watch him, start to look out for him, find pleasure and interest just from seeing him. She saw how he improved life at the scheme and announced that she thought there should be a resident cat.

He died just three days after we got home, and then three days later, Mother went back into hospital having had a bad fall. She never returned to her flat. Her last two years were spent in a nursing home. Whether the scheme did acquire a cat or not, I don’t know. But Cat’s ashes are still in my airing cupboard, a place he was not allowed in life.

In lockdown many of us who live with pets have learned a new respect for what those pets do for us, for our mental health, for our wellbeing. Cat was with me through Mother’s last years, as dementia took its relentless toll on her faculties, turned her from a competent capable woman into a frail, anxious and scared one. I say Cat was with me, but he also supported Mother. When I visited her he demonstrated his affection for her and she would beam. She remembered his name when she forgot mine. He didn’t care that she said the same thing over and over again. He would look at her, blink at her, let her fuss him. He loved her and she loved him. It was enough. It was wonderful.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st March 2021

Census Day. I completed mine online, though now I rather regret not asking for a paper form. I have looked at old census returns in the course of research for my work, and also when digging into family history. There is something of a thrill at seeing a handwritten form, even if at times I have struggled to read it.

I waited until today to fill in my form. I understood that was the idea: a snapshot of the country on a particular day. But towards the end of last week I heard a number of people saying they had completed theirs already. I reread the letter today. It states that ‘all households should complete the census on Sunday 21 March 2021 or as soon as possible after.’ Nothing about completing it in advance, yet as people have completed it online on the government site that has evidently been permissible. It feels like cheating to me and quite takes away some of the romance, if I dare call it that, and the excitement. I know civil servants, functionaries will be able to read the census returns, but for the rest of us they are like burying a time capsule. They are only open to public readership after a hundred years.

I am fairly sure this is the first online one I have completed. Maybe even the ones completed by hand will simply be copied onto some form and the original destroyed. No signatures, no misspellings.

I am strangely tired, and I don’t think that has anything to do with the demands of the census. Maybe fresh air. I had a short walk with Michèle this morning when we caught up, and scoped out the availability of geranium plants for B&J. At the Nunhead Gardener (the branch we visited was at the upper end of the Walworth Road, very near the Elephant, though M had initially demurred thinking I was suggesting we walked to Nunhead), I bought some lemon thyme, and M treated herself to a couple of plants and fell in love with green candles. Green is her colour. I have always thought of blue and green as being mine, but I realise I am green amateur compared to M. It was sunny, though there was a cool wind, and in the shade slightly chilly. I was glad I had my warm scarf.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th March 2021

Toady I was glum. Not entirely sure why. I can point the finger at one or two things, but these days of lows have been a feature of the last year and, I imagine, a natural side effect of lockdown. Not that lockdown has left me lonely. I have great friends, some of whom are my neighbours. This has been enormously important over the last year.

We approach the anniversary of the start of our first lockdown. Innocent times. Although the government was talking about weeks, more cautious voices were suggesting months. I am rather glad I didn’t read anything about a year. I really hope it’s not going to be years. But who knows?

We have also been warned that the recurrence of pandemics is likely to be more frequent, a consequence of human activity and disregard for the natural world and its balanced ecology. We have, through advanced technology, brain power, ingenuity, achieved amazing things. Things that come at a cost, a very high one, to the planet and to ourselves. While we have known for years about the effects of climate change, how we are destroying habitats, rendering the lives of animals impossible to the point of extinction, most human beings have been able to ignore what we have been doing.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st March 2021

St David’s day. Appropriately I have daffodils, two bunches, two different varieties, in two separate vases. One vase is in the bedroom, the other in the living room. There may be more daffodils in the garden but I’ve not been out much since Friday.

Friday was glorious, warm and sunny as early April, and the weekend and today have continued in the same vein. B and I strolled down to Loughborough Junction admiring this and that on the way, until I realised our admiring, look-at-that-ing risked my late arrival for the appointment with my Covid vaccination, so the last few minutes were more a brisk walk.

It was all very streamlined. I was back outside in the sunshine with B in a few minutes. I had the Astra Zeneca vaccine. B was there in case I had a bad reaction. I so didn’t have a bad reaction we almost forgot that I might have done until we were nearly back.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th February 2021

Tonight the wind is biting. I popped down the road to deposit something in Celia’s brown bin as we no longer have one. I had intended to ring her doorbell and have a chat, but it was so cold all I wanted to do was get home again. It’s been cold all day, but also sunny which did much to mitigate it, so long as you were on the sunny side of the street, which by and large B and I were. I was her escort or minder for the walk to and from the venue where she had the first of her Covid jabs. Pfizer for those of you who like to know these things. For once I hardly took any photographs, although there were a number of things which caught my eye. It was all too much of a faff as I am again one handed having fallen the other day and put out my hands to save myself.

My accident was like a study in the effect of falling on different surfaces, one kind, the other unyielding. One hand landed on grass and I got a muddy glove but no injury. The other landed on the pavement and the pain had me wincing all the way home and especially when I tried to take off my glove. I thought, I hoped, it was just a bruise, maybe a sprain, and wrapped an ice pack round it, covered it in arnica, put it in a sling, took paracetamol. In the morning it still hurt, but one bit where I could see a large bruise blooming, hurt more, hurt a lot more. I went to A&E at Tommy’s.

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