The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th September 2020

It’s been a busy day and I have read snatches of a newspaper and seen a bit of tonight’s news, but if I have followed what I read and heard correctly Donald Trump’s tax returns have been causing a bit of a stir, mainly because he has paid so little tax, and in some years none at all.

Tax avoidance and tax evasion are different things, and tax avoidance costs the UK more money than I could ever dream of, and it’s all legal. I am in favour of people paying taxes. Avoiding paying taxes is to my mind immoral, just as tax evasion is. Taxes pay for the things that benefit us as a society. Schools, roads, hospitals, social services, the armed services are all paid for by taxes. Avoid paying and you put yourself outside society. Yet many people seem to feel fiddling their taxes is justifiable, even clever, and those who can afford the services of tax havens and offshore bank accounts appear to believe it is their right to do so while all too often berating and criminalising those who commit minor infringements of the benefit system.

So I shouldn’t really have been surprised to learn that in the US some of Trump’s supporters are gleeful that he has avoided paying tax, and just wish they could do the same. They admire him for withholding money from the treasury that could enrich the public purse. Quite how Trump squares his love of big public projects like wall building or increasing the military with not paying tax is something his therapist might be able to untangle. I cannot.

It’s only recently that the history of taxation has started to interest me. I wrongly assumed that it was something rich and poor alike had had to pay for a long time. Not so. Much of the money raised in taxes was through indirect taxation, and continues to be so. Things like food, which meant that the lower your income the higher proportion of it you paid in tax. It strikes me that the whole anti tax narrative that I have heard all my life has been driven by those who have money and want to hold onto it while being quite happy for those with less to pay more than their share. A narrative written and broadcast by those in power, as they have had the wealth, but one to which we are all susceptible. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th September 2020

It’s hard to think of the current incumbent of Number 10 and his coterie of chancers and liars as governing. Self-interest, self-aggrandisement, and a bloated sense of entitlement are their chief characteristics, while scapegoating, gaslighting and bullying are their chief tactics.

It is doubtless to draw attention away from their sorry record that they have decided to start EU bashing again. Johnson’s reaction to a well-briefed, well-prepared Starmer at PMQs has been to thrash around, dish out lies and insults and then tell his circle he wants them to dig for any dirt that can be found in Starmer’s record. Not exactly statesmanlike conduct. You don’t have to dig for dirt on Johnson. It clings to him, like layers of clothing. Digging for veracity and honour would be the hard task.

So today in Parliament a Tory MP, one Brandon Lewis, said that the government will break international law on the EU Withdrawal Deal but “only in a very specific and limited way”. Which however you read it still means breaking the law. Is this going to be the new formula for appeal for all those currently locked up in our over-crowded jails? “Yes, we have broken the law, but only in limited and specific ways, so therefore it doesn’t count”? Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd September 2020

For a few happily ignorant hours, I thought I had found a wonderful way to keep my London flat yet live elsewhere. I could let it for a fabulous sum quoted to me by the estate agent. Then I looked at the prices of rentals in Wivenhoe and was swiftly disabused. There was just one house which looked lovely and would be within budget but it said NO PETS.

So I am back to Moving – The Board Game. Throw a six to start. I don’t know know if I shall emerge a winner. I suspect not. It seems a case of two squares forward, one square back. Tomorrow I am back to Essex to see if Wivenhoe holds its charms on a grey day. Even if it does, do I want to live there, ore rather do I want to live there enough to risk selling my home in London and then realising I can never move back? Inertia seems very attractive right now. I have bought a lottery ticket for the weekend, but as my friend Chris kindly (?) pointed out, it’d need to be a fairly big win. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th August 2020

It’s not so much autumnal as wintry. I have just closed my bedroom windows tight shut. Last night I was very aware of the chill wind blowing around my ears where I had left the windows slightly open. I’m in long sleeves, long trousers, socks and slippers. Goodness me. Well it is a bank holiday weekend which is often interpreted by the rain gods as a summons.

I have been thinking about education for several reasons. One, the most important, being the death of Ken Robinson. During my time as a teacher (actually does one ever stop being a teacher even when not working as one?) there were two giant thinkers in education. The first was Ted Wragg, and like many I cried when he died, too young. He was sharply intelligent, funny, supportive of teachers and passionate about education. He got me and many other educators through some very bad government initiatives through the clarity of his thoughts and by making us laugh. Then he died, and overnight it seemed Ken Robinson appeared. Like Ted he was wry, witty, and passionate about education. I don’t know if the two ever met, but if not there’s a play to be written where we imagine the intellectual and intelligent conversation that would have been free of pomposity and self-indulgence. Who will be next? It would be good to see a woman educator, a black educator coming to the fore.

Ken Robinson’s talk about schools and creativity has been widely viewed. But those of you who have missed it or want to see it again, here it is.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd August 2020

I started the day with a list of things I wanted to get done. I’m finishing it with half those things still on my list. So mixed feelings about my progress. Considering whether to try to sell my flat, I’m reading advice pages about what I need to do so that I can get my ducks in a row as the saying goes. I had a valuation today, it was higher than I expected and I feel a bit cynical about it, but thank goodness the tidy-everything-out-of-sight-and-make-it-look-as-though-no-one-lives-here fad seems to have passed. Or passed in London. Celia’s daughter, selling her house in Wales, was advised not to have so much as a toilet brush in evidence. I shall contact another agent for another valuation, and for my own satisfaction have the hall repainted if I can find someone to do it. The paint on the woodwork is chipped and flaking. I’ve been meaning to get it done for a while.

My greatest worry in the whole thing is MasterB. By chance I found a Cats Protection leaflet advising how to move with a cat. It did not reassure. It spoke of quiet spaces for the cat to be out of the way of the bustle and upheaval. How one is supposed to magic such a space was not made clear. When I had the kitchen done, MasterB went to cat daycare with some neighbours. I took him round each morning and collected him in the evening. Unfortunately those neighbours have gone, but maybe a similar arrangement might work. Anyway, I have started a new list of things I need to do or have at my fingertips – heating costs, the rates, find a solicitor, get an EPC, have a life. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th July 2020

Back home now and the wifi is on the blink, so I am back to hot spotting from my ‘phone. Fortunately the signal is rather better here than at the marina. I packed up my stuff slowly, cleaning the interior of the boat as I went along. The industry of spiders never ceases to amaze me. Older Nephew and his partner will probably be there before I return unless I have a very quick turn around here. The wifi is worrying as my CPD on Monday is all online. The prep I need to do tomorrow likewise, so I hope this is just a Saturday night blip.

When I got back MasterB was eager to get out of the car, but as Stumpy was intimidating Hartley to my right, I let him out of the passenger door, and then chased Stumpy away. Hartley and Romeo hung about me as I unpacked the car, doing very good impressions of Oliver needing more food at the workhouse. I fed them once I’d finished. You’d have thought they hadn’t eaten in days.

It’s already after ten, and I want to get to bed before midnight, so as Celia left a very nice comment about the photos of Soham, I am going to share some more, and then do the washing up and retrieve MasterB from the Great Outdoors.

Tonight’s selection is of gracious houses and an ambulance station I should like to know more of.

A gracious house

There were so many lovely houses in a small area. I can see I am going to have to read up Soham’s history. The Nissan hut hints at a wartime connection. This part of England was home to many airfields, so maybe there was one at Soham, though next to the church seems an odd location.

That looks like a Nissan hut in the background

A quick look on Rightmove found this. That wouldn’t even get you a bedsit where I live, and this is considered a cheap part of London.

Another gracious house

Did I start to have property envy? Well, what do you think? The town has a lot going for it. It may have lost its bakers and greengrocers, but there are other services, which many small towns have lost. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 6th July 2020

I think I have sorted the sound issue with Zoom on my laptop. The next online meeting will tell. However a new problem has reared its head – I can’t access my photos from my camera. The Photos app does not seem to be working at all. Tomorrow will see me returning to the shop to try to get things sorted out. At least the shop is literally just round the corner and not a bus or train ride away.

So no photos with this post. Which is a shame, as I took a couple today I’d like to share from where Celia and I walked this afternoon. We went over to Vauxhall via Kennington. It was strange to see people sitting in pubs. Not every pub has reopened. Our own local looks very closed, though we have heard it should open in ten days. But we did enjoy a cider on the way home from the Prince of Wales in Kennington which we drank in the square. It was all very civilised. Tomorrow we are going to an exhibition at the Museum of Garden History. Imagine that, an exhibition! It’s about Derek Jarman’s garden, a place I should love to visit.

I’ve finished watching Black and British – a Forgotten History. I am so glad I saw it. It has been a thought provoking and informative series. We still have a long way to go, but I am proud of living in a multi racial society, a society enriched by people from all around the world. Part of that journey must be the inclusion of black history in school curriculums, so that as children grow up they understand the long history of black people in the British Isles, and how so many of us unknowingly have black ancestry. Black history is not a niche area, it is our shared history as people on these islands, just as women’s history is. Some people would just like us to learn the dates of kings and queens, wars and battles, and say that is history. Which of course it is, but it is only a tiny part of our history and for so long it has been taught as though it is the only history that matters.

How will people learn about coronavirus in fifty, a hundred years time? The experience of lockdown, the ongoing threat has made me more curious about the flu epidemic of a hundred years ago. I think it merited a paragraph in one history book I had at school.

MasterB is making it clear he wants my attention now, so I shall stop here.

Stay safe. Keep well.

The Coronavirus diaries, 4th July 2020

A very grey day, but dry and with a brisk wind, so having changed the bed linen and washed it it all dried on the line, and I was able to iron it and leave it to air. Always feels good. The dusting and vacuuming got done too, a bit of shopping, newspaper reading, a crossword. All very Saturday. All very local. More shops reopened today. Some pubs are back in business. Boris Johnson is calling it Super Saturday. Super Saturday was the day back in 2012 when team GB and NI won a clutch of gold medals at the Olympics. The country was united, the sun shone, we waved a flag that belonged to all of us. One of our most loved athletes was mixed race, another was born in Somalia. Our country is now fractured, the union is brittle, the far right has hijacked the flag, and nationalism not patriotism is in the ascent. Some of the media crowing Super Saturday because we can go to the pub when there have been thousands of unnecessary deaths, government ineptitude on a mind boggling scale, a prime minister whose casual approach to truth and responsibility has been glaringly on show with prevarications and lies a regular occurrence, and now the revelation of a trail of contracts to pay millions of pounds to buy PPE from companies with no apparent connection to the products required, but plenty of connections to key government figures, strikes a very sour note.

When we had our Zoom dinner date we discussed who might be Prime Minister when the Tories ditch Johnson, as they surely will before long. Neither of the names we came up with, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, would make me sleep better at night. Like so many others here I wonder how we came from where we were in 2012 to where we are now so quickly. I can only hope that somehow we find our way back to a being a country I can be proud of again. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st July 2020

It was good to sleep on a good mattress. The one on das Boot is not the most comfortable. It’s ok for a few nights, but much longer and my back starts to complain. I have had a busy day doing various tasks that individually aren’t much, but together make me feel I have achieved quite a lot. So another batch of washing went on the line, dried and was ironed before the rain came. It seems that we are in for a few days of grey skies and scattered showers. Better than the 40C days we are told will soon be part of the British summers.

I looked at a flat today, one that’s for sale locally. The location is great but it’s out of my price range by quite a bit and needs work. It was worth looking at though as it confirmed my my belief that I shall not be able to buy what I should like in my neighbourhood. So it’s back to thinking about my mental health day destination. I think another excursion there very soon is called for. A conversation with a work colleague about when and if our work will ever return underlined the thought. But she also told me about some steps she has taken to keep an online presence, sent me a taster and I think I may have to experiment. It was quite exciting.

I had a brief trip to a shop and came back with a new face mask. I’m getting quite a collection. I met Celia in the street and showed it to her. I think she may get one like it too, although yesterday she bought a box of disposable ones. I am still tempted by a linen top I have seen online, o maybe mask buying will be a distraction. It’ll certainly be cheaper. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th June 2020

I’m still filtering and percolating (yes, I do like coffee, how did you guess?) my thoughts about Coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, plus there’s more than a soupçon of anxiety, more like a ruddy great tureen, about Brexit. Celia passed me Charlie’s copy of The Economist as she does most weeks. I have surprised myself by finding it, at least in parts, very readable. Also some starkly shocking stories.

I had never before heard of 1488 as a white supremicist reference. But there was a short piece about an app developed in the US which you can use to identify symbols and insignia and discover if they are to do with the Antifa or Aryan Nations. The 14 refers to the number of words in the slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”. That is blood chilling enough, but 88 refers to the letter H, the eighth in the alphabet, so 88 translates as HH meaning Heil Hitler. Meaning there are still people about who would happily commit genocide and replicate the worst aspects of the Third Reich. There was a little light relief in the piece when it was explained that the app, VizPol, when tested in London, identified the writers’ children as white supremicists after confusing Peppa Pig, “a cartoon character of unknown political leanings”, with Pepe the Frog, an alt right mascot.

Another piece about the death of Burundi despot Pierre Nkurunziza, possibly from coronavirus, though the official version says heart attack, says few are likely to mourn him. He became president in 2005, but when his term of office came to an end he refused to go. I had a sudden horrible vision of Boris Johnson remaining Prime Minister for the rest of my life. There are so many things, self inflicted disasters, that have occurred in the UK over the past few years which in the sunny days of my youth I would have said could never happen here, that the prospect of Johnson going on and on, blustering and bluffing, lying and obfuscating, siring more and more children, no longer seems completely impossible. Continue reading