The Diaries, 20th May 2023, Faces from the Past

No walks in the countryside around Guildford to report tonight, but memories do seem a recurrent theme in my life recently. Someone from my undergraduate days found me on the internet and contacted me. We have been enjoying an online correspondence now for several weeks. After our first year, I remember very little of him, and absolutely nothing from our final year, yet I have an address for him for after graduation so we must have had some contact. The prospect of us meeting is remote, but it is quite nice to have a connection with whom I have a shared past even if I recall little about it.

Meeting up with Russell always means some sharing of childhood, adolescent, and early adulthood memories. Then there’s Graham, who I am now absolutely sure I would have known by sight back in the day. Then yesterday evening I had a chance conversation with a neighbour I barely know. We were talking about how much the neighbourhood has changed. She hasn’t lived here as long as I have and was asking me about what the Walworth Road had been like. I found myself dredging up images of long gone shops, then suddenly remembered a second hand shop I had all but forgotten where there was a restaurant. It turned out she knew it, not only knew the shop and the restaurant but was friends with the people who owned and ran it. The conversation ran on.

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Coronation Diary 6th May 2023

I find it ironic that as WHO announced that coronavirus is no longer a global emergency crisis we have the coronation of Charles III. Given that the virus and the event have an etymological link. If you are wondering what I am on about, here’s why: The characteristic surface of a coronavirus virion has a crown-like appearance that can be seen under the electron microscope, which is why the viruses are named after the Latin word corona, meaning crown or halo.

I watched the coronation with Celia. Charlie joined us midway. I ate a lot of olives. We had lunch after the balcony bit. The king was wearing a purple outfit which did not look great quality. Both Celia and I thought it looked as though it was cheap polyester.

I went home after we’d eaten and we met up later for a walk. We met Michèle who is definitely not a monarchist. I think she said she was having a republican day. Celia may correct me. I’m not sure how representative our neighbourhood is but we counted three flats, one car, one pub and one church sporting union flags. Oh and a house which had plastic bunting and two flags, both with portraits of the king. That is a house which is always decorated to the max at Christmas, and for hallowe’en, so it wasn’t exactly out of character.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th May 2023, Guildford for Graham

Graham and I have never met, but we both used to live in Guildford, he used to visit my aunt’s pub and he follows this blog. So this post is dedicated to him.

It was a perfect day. Celia and I, suitably booted, with our lunches in our back packs along with waterproofs – just in case, and in the event totally unnecessary – took the train from Waterloo at 10.00, reaching Guildford just over half an hour later. The day was mild, the sky blue.

Up the Mount to the cemetery, along the path and onto the Downs, and greenery. We hoped for bluebells and we found them. Lots of them. Lots of other flowers too, not all of which we could identify. Down the hill which leads a sandy track and the main wooded part of the walk where there were bluebells galore.

We heard birds. Again we could not identify them, part from the woodpecker. We reached my favourite crossroads of paths and continued towards Compton. There were only four horses in the fields either side of the track when we came out of the woods. Usually we see many at this point, but there was some construction going on and maybe the horses had been moved further away. The chickweed looked wonderful. Could you eat it I wondered. Apparently you can, but frustratingly after this part of the walk we barely saw any more. We watched a bumble bee disappear into a bee hole in the bank beside the path. Lunch was in the picnic in the area of Watts Gallery, our vittles supplemented by cake from the café. A robin joined us at our table. It has obviously worked out lunchtime is a great opportunity for extra snacks.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th April 2023, Bridlington

When I met up with friends Humph and Jane for breakfast yesterday morning at the Wish Cat Café it turned out we had all seen the land train in which would take us to the party venue and thought it would be a good way to travel. So it proved. We trundled along the esplanade, out towards and along the cliffs to Sewerby. Children waved to us. Whoever had the idea of introducing this service to Bridlington deserves recognition.

The party was lovely. Why I didn’t take a photo of the cake I have no idea. It was wonderful, and as well as featuring a photo of Ray on the top, included a model of her beloved piano and some paintbrushes and a palette on a lower tier.

There were speeches, music, the fizz flowed. The room buzzed with conversation. No one in my hearing mentioned the coronation. I realise I am becoming a tad obsessed by the disconnect between the gushing pieces in some sections of the press and my own experience and feelings. Today I read how we are being invited to stand (in front of televisions, in parks, wherever) and swear an oath of allegiance to the king during the ceremony. I seriously thought I was reading a satirical piece at first, but alas not. Bonkers does not really cover it.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th April 2023, On the Beach

I keep thinking I should drop the coronavirus bit from these posts, but on the train to Doncaster today two women sitting behind me were talking about how they had both recently had the virus, and mentioning friends and acquaintances who are ill with it now. I thought of the man beside me on the tube this morning who sneezed, and hopes I have not been infected.

Maybe the sea air this evening will have banished any germs. I am in Bridlington in advance of Ray’s birthday celebrations tomorrow. She turned 100 a month ago, but the tea party is tomorrow. I’m staying by the seafront, and I love the view. Bridlington has evidently seen better days, and is now starting to reinvent itself, to look to a future, rather than past glories. As a result it’s a mix of run down, tired and very dilapidated buildings, and joyously restored ones, as well as a modern, confident leisure centre. The library building is an example of decayed civic pride and I rather love it. I’ll post a photo at some point. Local cuisine appears dominated by fish and chips. I was starting to wonder if anyone actually ate vegetables at all.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th April 2023, Going Places

I’m a bit of a home body. Celia is always whisking off to stay with children and grandchildren, meeting up with her brother for a holiday; Octavia goes backwards and forwards to Yorkshire to stay with her mum, nips to Menton for weekends, has regular holidays in Croatia, the US and I imagine will any day soon be off to Australia again. The last time I left the UK was before the start of the pandemic. I was supposed to be going to Marseille in April 2020, but of course that didn’t happen. I rebooked flights a couple of times and then got a refund. Since then all my trips have been in the UK.

This weekend I am going to Yorkshire for Octavia’s mother’s 100th birthday bash. She actually turned 100 a month ago, but this weekend end has been fixed for the gathering. I’ll only be away a couple of nights, but it’ll be good to be out of London in the spring. In June I am going to visit my friend Patou in Brittany whose husband suddenly a few weeks ago. The flights are booked, I hope I have cat cover for the incomparable MasterB. This is going to be my first use of two passports on one trip. I understand I use the UK one leaving and arriving in London, my Irish one arriving and leaving Rennes. I have a qualm though. I had to register my passport in the advanced passenger information section for my booking. I could only register one. I’m hoping, if I show the other, alarms are not going to ring, uniformed officers descend and drag me off somewhere intimidating for questioning. I tried Easyjet’s customer service number hoping for clarification, enlightenment even. No joy. It has a limited menu and that menu does not include anything relating to my question in options one, two to three. There was no option four for other as I had hoped. Any insight one or more of you can offer gratefully received.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th April 2023, Anniversaries

Twelve years is quite a time. I was thinking of when I was twelve years old, one year into secondary school, six years away from university. Thinking about twelve years ago, a year before the Olympics and Paralympics in London, a year after David Cameron became Prime Minister, five years before the referendum on the EU that has blighted us ever since. And more happily, yesterday marked twelve years since MasterB came home as my cat.

We didn’t have an evening at home together though. I went out to celebrate another anniversary. It’s twenty -five years since a group of us obtained the qualifications which bring me my income today. Itv was hard work, and we bonded. On the whole, we don’t meet each other very often in the course of our work, and if we do, there’s seldom the opportunity to exchange more than a couple of sentences. Sit us down in a restaurant off Oxford Street with good food, wine circulating freely, and there’s no lag in the conversation.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th March 2023, of Cat, Talks, and Inhumanity

First of all Cat. The title of this blog is a give away, although I didn’t consciously realise that Cat, real name Freddy (the Gorgeous Boy) would play such a large part in it when I began. But he had a large personality and a way of being centre stage most of the time. As some of you know, I never intended to have a cat, but Freddy decided I had a vacancy I knew nothing about and moved in. He saw me through some very difficult times as well as good ones. He kept me company while I studied for new qualifications, made freelance journalism from home something of a challenge as he regarded the phone as love rival and would steal my pen as I tried to take notes, cost me a small fortune in vet bills as a result of his territorial fights. Tomorrow it will be twelve years since he died.

The date must be engraved somewhere in my heart as I have found myself thinking of him a lot in recent days, my eyes filling with tears at inopportune moments. I had absolutely no idea I could love a cat as much. Dogs yes, but I had never lived with a cat. Never truly understood how much they gave, how companionable they could be, how funny, loving, and also demanding. I shall be forever grateful that he lived with me for fourteen years. Mother and Aunt both loved him and he knew it, basking in their admiration.

So tomorrow night I shall light a candle to him when I get home. His ashes are still in the airing cupboard, a place he was not allowed in life, because I couldn’t when it came to it, bear to scatter them.

But the candle lighting will have to wait until after tomorrow evening’s talk, and maybe even after that. Celia has been away at her daughter’s in Wales, helping to pack up for the family’s imminent move to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Tomorrow she returns. We will have catching up to do. Charlie (Mr Celia) and Michèle, are coming to the talk too, so we shall be a little social bunch. Michele and I thoroughly enjoyed Hew Locke’s talk last Wednesday. He come across as a very thoughtful, highly intelligent, perceptive man. So interesting, honest and engaging, which come through in his art. I loved his comment about statues. This was in relation to the pulling down of Colston’s statue, a statue Locke had dressed in fake gold in a photograph back in 2007. There’s a lot more to it than that, but best you read about it here. There has been much talk about removing Cecil Rhodes’ statue from Oxford. Oh no, said Locke, not before I’ve had a go at it. Maybe that is what we should do, not just add explainers but add to statues of people lauded who profited by exploiting others.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th March 2023, Kathy G

It seems we are in for a very cold snap. Not that it’s been exactly balmy recently, but you wouldn’t expect to be going about in shorts and sandals in London in February. Bit the coldest news came on the first of the month, when I learned that Kathy had died. She had contacted me in January to say she had terminal cancer. It could be days, weeks, maybe even years. I rang her. We spoke for around an hour. She sounded so Kathy, it was at times very hard to comprehend what she was saying. She had hoped to return to London (she lived in California) but wasn’t sure how to manage it, she definitely couldn’t cope with a transatlantic flight. We talked about her taking the QE2. ” Believe me I’m thinking about it,” she said. But as our conversation progressed, I began to understand how physically frail she had become. She talked of wheelchairs, carers. Yet her voice was so strong, her humour still so dry.

I wrote to her, as did Celia. Kathy and Donna had got to know many of the SE17 gang. Neither of us heard back, but the post, completely upturned by the pandemic, is not necessarily reliable. But when texts went unanswered, and ones sent by WhatsApp unread, I began to worry. I tried phoning again. It rang and rang, but no one picked up. Donna is not on WhatsApp, but fortunately Kathy had given me her email. I wrote, hoping for the best, fearing the worst. My fears were confirmed. I know there’s a tribute written by her sister, but so far I haven’t read it. It’s been a busy week, and I want to have time to read and think about it. I can hear her voice in my head, see her sitting here in my flat, Donna on the floor fussing MasterB.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st February 2023, Wendy

I did my dusting to the soundtrack to South Pacific today. This was in honour of my neighbour Wendy, a lover of musical theatre, opera, and animals. It was Wendy who named Cat Fred after Fred Astaire, and his brother (yes that’s right) Ginger which I probably, other than the gender bending, don’t have to explain. The two young cats were adopted by her next door neighbour Lisa and she watched them dancing along the wall. She didn’t like the name I chose for MasterB, saying she supposed I could always call him something else. I held my tongue, refrained from pointing out I had chosen it because I liked it. She was appalled when two days into MasterB coming to live with me she visited, thought he was gorgeous and said to me, “Don’t you just love him?” “No,” I answered, “not yet, I’m sure I shall.” Of course I did and do, but I don’t think Wendy ever forgive me for what she saw as my hard heartedness.

Wendy lived in the street parallel to mine. She was shocked the first time she came to my flat, “You can see straight into my living room!” she exclaimed. I agreed I could. One of the things I used to see was Wendy doing her housework. I would know she had one of her favourite musicals playing at full blast as she whirled about with her duster. It used to make me smile. I introduced her to the Dulwich Cattery Christmas Fair and we would go together. The whole cat-ness of it was a delight to her. The bolder resident cats would recognise her as a soft touch, and if she sat there would soon be a cat on her lap. We would browse and buy, but none of our raffle tickets ever yielded the big prize.

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