The Coronavirus Diaries 26th September 2022, What Now?

My nose has, thank goodness stopped running like a tap, but as of yesterday evening I am very tired. I slept for ten hours last night. This is a worry as I have a ticket for Outspoken on Thursday evening and I want to be there. I shall test on Thursday morning and hope for no second thin pink line.

The weather, suddenly autumnal, has been achingly perfect for long country walks which of course I can’t take. Celia has brought me my shopping, Octavia called round with a risotto and side salad yesterday. I can’t say I am struggling. Both cats have been perfect companions. A&M return on Thursday, so my duties will end after breakfast. I shall miss the ever demanding Lola. MasterB is a pushover in comparison.

A short time ago I went out to break up a four way cat fight. Stumpy, Hartley, Romeo and Smudge were all embroiled in fisticuffs. My guess is that Stumpy picked on Hartley, who is in general fight averse, Hartley’s brother Smudge and Romeo both piled in. It made quite a noise. MasterB watched from the bedroom window and seems to have decided on an evening indoors.

I finished selecting photos for MasterB’s 2023 calendar today and have despatched them to the printer. There’s a limited print run, and I hope to keep the price to £8.50 again, plus postage and packing which I need to check out. Let me know if you are interested. Some will go to Belfast, some to Melbourne Australia, at least two to the US, one to Italy, one to France. It’s an international though exclusive club!

The news from Italy is not great. A neo fascist set to be prime minister. People here on twitter saying they agree with her views. Our new Prime Minister probably does too. As neither she nor the chancellor are stupid, I am struggling to understand why they are acting as they are. Simple greed? Have they decided the best thing to do is to milk this country for all it has, sharing the spoils with their pals while the rest of us starve, before rushing off somewhere else on the planet with their cash? If they intend to remain here, trashing the country doesn’t seem a great approach. Or maybe they like raw sewage in the waterways, people living in tents on any stretch of land, overburdened hospitals and collapsing infrastructure.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 7th August 2022. Take me to the Sperrins!

My short stay in Belfast comes to an end in around three hours. It’s been great. I have walked and walked. Mostly I have walked alone, but yesterday I spent with Petra who I met through my work, which happens to be the same line as hers, when she was visiting London. I felt quite proud to introduce her to a neighbourhood she didn’t know, and to Falafel, my favourite restaurant which I had thought had closed permanently due to the pandemic.

There are several Lebanese restaurants on Botanic Avenue. Before we got there, Petra asked if I really wanted to eat at the particular restaurant. I did. I wanted to make sure it was under the same management and the food was as good as in 2019. The answer to both concerns is yes.

When our food arrived Petra needed no further encouragement, and by the time we had finished eating she had noted the meals being served to other diners and announced her intention to return. If you like the look of it too, the address is 9 Botanic Avenue.

Lunch at Falafel

From the bus I kept seeing an intriguing sculpture. Petra told me it is of the Blackbird of Belfast Lough, and took me to see it. Did you see the one outside the library? she asked. I hadn’t noticed it tucked under the tree, so two refs to the blackbird just yards apart, and both lovely.

We strolled around, admiring the details on modest Victorian houses, watching dogs at play and cats on doorsteps. And talking.

We had met up at Two Sisters, the very lovely coffee shop Celia and I had stumbled upon in the spring.Petra had a coffee. I had a cake. We both bought bread.

All around the centre there are currently decorated elephants raising awareness and funds for hospices. I live close to the Elephant and Castle in London and we have the same style elephants, also decorated around the regenerated area. Whoever came up with the original design has found a goldmine. This one appealed more than most.

Flax flower elephant

The political murals of Belfast are famous, but there is also a tremendous amount of street art. Perhaps I’m squeamish, but the murals with their uncompromising messages to anyone who disagrees with them disturb me. Give me the street art any day. Strictly speaking the Monopoly board is advertising for Douglas Huston’s estate agency, but it’s so cleverly done I had to admire it. References in others go over my head, but I can still enjoy them.

Then there’s this one close by the main library which was the police station in Line of Duty:

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th August 2022: Belfast

My friend Fiona who I met through the pages of WordPress has succumbed to COVID. We met in her garden yesterday after she had tested positive. I met one of her daughters which was lovely. I have read about her so often and seen so many photos it was delightful to meet her in person. Also met Harry, the dog. Again lovely, big ears, more bark than bite. We got on. Fiona was feeling perky. Not so today. But perky or not she would not have been able to come with me as planned to the Ulster Museum to see the small but perfectly formed Bloomsbury Group exhibition, or the larger and completely wondrous Light from the West exhibition which had me lusting after a Paul Henry painting of a sunrise. Annoyingly the museum has a very small postcard selection for sale, a selection which does not include this painting. Maybe she’ll get to both before they finish.

In 2019 Fiona and I had lunch at a place called Falafel at 9 Botanic Avenue. It was great. Last year, my first time back since the pandemic I took myself there anticipating a good lunch, only to find it very closed. I assumed it was a victim of COVID and lunched at a good, but not as good as Falafel, place a few doors up the road. Going along Botanic Avenue today on the bus I nearly had whiplash when I realised the restaurant was open. I am meeting Petra for lunch tomorrow, and suggested this is where we could eat. She’s agreed, so I am hoping it’s the same management and as good as before.

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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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10th July 2022, My Diary, Still Not Got Covid, (But I Still Might)

And hoping to stay that way. Not that I am wearing a mask these days, though my hand washing is still in the Lady Macbeth league. Buses are a problem, crowded, poorly ventilated but a necessary form of transport. I travelled on rather more than anticipated today. I actually anticipated not travelling on buses at all.

I had chosen a new (for me) Too Good To Go option. Bear in my mind that my three Too Good To Go interactions have been with the very wonderful Pipoca. I saw there was a fruit and veg option at a local Turkish shop. I gave it a go. It was only a slight detour from John’s workshop where I had arranged to meet him to collect the second of the two seagrass stools he has restored.

The walk was local, and I spent most of it dodging sunny pavements and main roads. I had two bags. A big one for the stool, a smaller one for the fruit and veg. I should have taken two big bags. I was presented with a plastic bag tied at the top full of ripe and very ripe fruit, three huge potatoes, some onions, aubergines, chillis and carrots. I was a bit taken aback. The bag was heavy and far bigger than I anticipated for my £2.50 outlay. Then I was given a second, mercifully much lighter bag with four bags of crisps just past their sell by date.

The walk to John’s workshop was only around twenty minutes, but after five I opted for the bus. Not the day for a heavy bag, said John, obviously somewhat surprised to see me so laden. We opened the bag of fruit and veg and he took some of the tomatoes and aubergines. But that was after he had given me water to drink and a chair to sit on. His workshop was a delight, it conjured images of my father, though his workshop was more ordered. He has finished restoring the blue harp, and has a second blue harp he’s working on. I took some bad pictures I have not yet downloaded. We talked. Finally I spotted my stool upside down in the corner. I had been distracted by the frame of a green harp hanging on a dowel, by the champagne box repurposed to hold tools. John said the box had an invoice which was dated during the Second World War. Were people really importing champagne from France to London at that time? Extraordinary.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 7th June 2022

It might be time to drop the coronavirus bit from the titles of these posts. Fewer people wearing masks, and that includes me, less fear of being with people indoors or on public transport. I hope it’s not all a false dawn.

Toady was one of those fairly dull days. I don’t mean the weather, it was sunny with blue skies, windows open, bare feet warm. I had tasks to complete, none particularly thrilling, and I was looking for some notes I know I made about a decade ago. I couldn’t find them. But after breakfast I had decided to have my first interaction with Too Good to Go, an app that aims to reduce food waste. I had a look at what was available in my area, and plumped for a vegan magic bag form an outlet on the Brixton Road I didn’t know. I paid my £3.59 online and wondered what I’d get.

The walk there in the early evening through Kennington Park before I reached the busy Brixton Road was an antidote to my day. It was dog walking time. I watched a young golden retriever enjoying a walk with her owner, bounding towards a canine friend for some racing and tumbling. Tails waving and ears cocked, they played on the grass. I had hoped I might see Tracey with her ageing Staff cross, but there was no sign of them.

Halfway down the Brixton Road, I felt a sharp pain in my right ankle. Strange. I hadn’t done anything. I walked on and the pain reoccurred. I stopped, flexed my foot a few times. That seemed to fix it. Good. At Pipoca people were enjoying coffees and eating snacks. I approached the counter, unsure of the protocol. I had Brough containers as instructed, but as I had no idea what I was going to get, I wasn’t sure if they were suitable. A friendly member of staff took me through the ropes and took my containers. I looked about me. What a nice place. The soup looked great, so I was really pleased when that turned out to be one of the things in my magic bag. That’ll do nicely for lunch tomorrow. I also got a wholemeal chocolate muffin which I ate for pudding, a pain au chocolat which I’ll have for breakfast, and little carton of milk alternative, a make I don’t know. All of it vegan. What an adventure!

Nice though the food is, the thrill was discovering Pipoca. Next to the café is a shop. a great shop. You can refill your bottles, buy food, ethical cleaning products, great soap. I found a soap bag. I only learned of them the other day, and the only place I saw them for sale was online where the postage and packing costs were more than double the price of the bag. I’ll definitely return, and I suspect Celia will be coming too.

Pipoca

On the way home I chose a different route. The sharp pain returned to my ankle. I loosened my shoelaces. Perhaps I had tied them too tightly. I limped for a bit, and suddenly the distance home seemed a very long way. More ankle flexing, more ankle rotation, more putting my foot gingerly to the ground. Gradually I was able to walk almost normally. I could still feel discomfort, but the sharp pain had eased. I enjoyed my walk home. I went by the end of the street where Celia and I met a woman called Michelle who gave us a bag of cherries in exchange for deadheading our roses. Her roses are blooming beautifully again. That was in 2020, during one of the lockdowns. Today I met a man with a beautiful Pomeranian who made friends with me through the fence. A pug being walked by a woman a little further along the path showed no desire to get to know me, and the woman didn’t smile or say hello. Oh well, not everyone is friendly, even when they have a dog.

Closer to home I admired Kenon’s garden. He has turned a limited space at the front of the house into a delight.

Kenon’s patch

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, 22nd April 2022, An Away Day to Essex

I like Wivenhoe. I like Wivenhoe a lot. Today isn’t the first time I have swapped the grime and pollution of my beloved Walworth for the fresh air and calm of this Essex town. I never seem to visit it in bad weather. Someone did once tell me it’s the place that gets the most sun in the UK but I don’t know if that’s true.

It’s certainly friendly and there are a wonderful lot of dogs to greet and pat as you walk about. The Norwegian Baker isn’t open on a Friday but I found an excellent alternative with the Bolivian Baker. No photographs I’m afraid, everything has been consumed.

Today I went for a walk outside Wivenhoe, heading to Arlesford where B&J have some very lovely friends. No I didn’t visit them. For starters I don’t know their address. If I had I might have been tempted. I don’t think I saw the bit of Arlesford where they live. I did see a lot of houses, a lot of bungalows, one pub, a handful of shops. I was impressed by the railway station garden, and surprised by the safari, and Shaun the sheep, in the front garden of an ordinary house.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 15th April 2022: In Which a Sachet of Cat Food saves MasterB’s Dignity

Actually, dignity is probably not the right word. Anyone acquainted with the Boy knows that dignity is not one of his attributes. Saved him from being stuck under a car with Floyd for hours would be more accurate.

Floyd is a cat, as indeed is MasterB. Floyd, and he may go by other names, this is what I call him, has been an occasional visitor to our garden over the last few weeks. I suspect he is a street cat. He was in the garden when I went out to collect the cat dishes. MasterB accompanied me. I knew Romeo and Hartley were also outside, so drew them off to the end of the garden to allow MasterB some mooching time. I hadn’t counted on Floyd. I saw he was there, but I carefully ignored him. Hartley sat on my lap and I began the work of teasing out a new clump of knotted fur on his neck. I could see Floyd out of the corner of my eye. I could also see Romeo under a car watching Floyd. Floyd wandered off.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th February 2022, Stormy Weather

Shutters closed, candles lit, MasterB asleep on the chair across from me after cleaning his plate and playing with his biscuit ball. I too have eaten. Raging winds, heavy rain equal comfort food, aka risotto. Or curry. Tonight it was risotto. I don’t know what tomorrow night will be because Octavia is cooking, but the lentils are soaking ready to be part of a curry to enjoy in the week.

Back to the risotto. It was leek and butter bean. Had I been served it in a restaurant with any number of stars I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. It’s good. I had it with added green beans and broccoli on the side.

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