The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th July 2022, Masked Up

It feels as though the net is drawing tighter and it’s only a matter of time until I am caught in it. Almost every day I hear of someone new who I know catching COVID. All have been vaccinated, all have escaped the virus until now. I am in a group of diminishing size. So I’m back in masks, still opening windows and sitting beside them where possible when I am on the bus, restricting my social life, washing my hands, trying to keep my distance and mainly seeing people outside, which is not hard at this time of year.

Next week, should trains and planes allow, I shall be off to NI for a fortnight, and I really don’t COVID to put a stop to that or to strike me down while I am there. Octavia was telling me of her friend Loris who has flown in from Australia, but far from enjoying a holiday she is laid up in bed feeling dreadful. Allegra went to the US to attend a family wedding. A good friend who accompanied her for the relaxing break they intended to enjoy afterwards, has also tested positive and is very unwell. Jimmy returned from a festival in Croatia , and, well you have probably guessed the rest. My neighbours across the landing succumbed last week. Celia tested positive at the weekend. Mary, who I work with tested positive yesterday.

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Jeremy Hardy RIP

Shocked tonight to learn that Jeremy Hardy has died from cancer. For those of you outside the UK his name probably means nothing, but he was a stalwart of Radio 4’s News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. A truly funny man who was intelligent, left wing, compassionate. His politics didn’t always agree with mine, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. Here he is on the News Quiz several years ago talking about gay marriage: Continue reading

Friday 13th

I have been out and about a good deal this year, mainly work, but some treats including last night’s trip to the pantomime at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and, at the other end of theatrical experience, to see Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams in Mary Stuart at the Almeida Islington. But more about them perhaps in another post.

Now I have a free day, am at home and the evidence of my comings and goings is all around me in unfolded clothes and unread newspapers. Of course I could put those unread papers straight into the recycling, but I have missed quite a lot of the news this week. Octavia filled my astonished ears last night with the Donald Trump/Meryl Streep story as we travelled home from the panto. So actually reading some of the papers this morning seemed a good reason to gather my strength and make a plan.

So I am a bit more up to date with what goodies are on the way in the arts, though I realise I have already missed some. I am hoping SSGB which I saw being filmed in Greenwich at the end of 2015 will be on when I am in Northern Ireland next month and I get to watch it with Cousin. I have flicked through the cookery supplements and consigned them to the scrap heap. The recipes look delicious, but the long list of ingredients for each one makes me tired before I start. In last Saturday’s Guardian magazine I found several gems. Clive James very much on form, quite like the old days; a restaurant review containing the words ‘the food is to subtlety what Trump is to interior decoration, but the effect is blinding’.

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December Days

It was the arrival of the parcel that jolted me today. My friemd in Skye is obviously a great deal more organised with her preparations for Christmas than I am. Though given the havoc the Desmond has been wreaking, I am quite surprised she’s been able to make it out of the door. Skye is a windy place at the best of times. And if it’s not a wind that stops you standing upright, it often still has a knife like power, meaning you can forget about elegance and instead dress for survival. This little video from my YouTube channel, a channel now strangely inaccessible for me to post, may give you some idea,

December is a week old. Cards have begun to arrive. I’ve not written one or wrapped a present yet. Despite all the festive decorations, the gorgeous trees and the plans for meals with friends, the sitting down with the address book, a book of stamps and a box of cards has not thus far featured in my plans. Maybe it’s because the pictures of robins perched on snowy branches, the icicle decorations in shop windows are in stark contrast with the mild weather we are having, which feels more like late October or March than December.

Howver, I feel I need to get those first cards into the post box to get me in the swing, so tomorrow I shall settle to the task, if not with zeal, at least with purpose.

Despite our increasing secularism, and determination to turn Christmas into something that is primarily a celebration of consumerism and over-indulgence, many cards will carry messages of peace on earth, goodwill to all men; will remind us that the Christmas story is about the birth of a child, a vulnerable and helpless child who will grow up to preach a message of love.

This is a story that runs entirely counter to the narrative being offered by our government. To the established targets of the sick, the poor, the unemployed has been added that of External Threat.

Our newspapers are full of stories about the likelihood and reality of terror attacks in the four corners of the globe, and the idiotic responses of people who should really know better. This story in today’s Independent is both striking and frightening. Continue reading

Cheap Flights

My one misgiving about posting this is that it might cause a stampede for tickets for the forthcoming Fascinating Aida tour and we haven’t got ours yet. Celia, are you interested? January at the QEH, I think. Octavia will book.

It’s a while since I’ve heard anything of Fascinating Aida; so it was treat when, during a pause between our main and our pud and we were discussing the horrors of a certain airline (which if you are the other side of the pond you have probably been spared), Octavia asked me if I knew it. I didn’t. She fetched her iPad. Continue reading


Until Friday, I was a WOW virgin. Now I am already blocking out dates in next year’s diary to make sure I don’t miss it. The Women of the World Festival has been running since Wednesday and ends today. So if you’ve not been to anything at WOW (which I keep mistyping as WOE, rather worryingly) and you can push aside other demands and commitments, make a dash for the Southbank as this will be your last chance until 2015. I am shocked that this is WOW’s fourth year, yet the first time I have attended any part of it.
Five of us had a Girls’ Night Out on Friday attending the WOW Laureates’ Night.
Did you know that for the first time in history, all five poet laureates in the UK and the Republic of Ireland are women? Isn’t that amazing? The event was sold out. The QEH was packed. We cheered, we clapped, we sat in awed and appreciative silence. I cried. I suspect others did too. Poetry is the new rock ‘n’roll. There were too many stand out moments to list. Carol Ann Duffy’s two tributes to her mother hit personal nerves, especially as the Londonderry Air/Danny Boy was played in accompaniment to one. It was one of the pieces of music we chose for Mother’s funeral. She was a girl from Co Derry. Another that made me tingle was Sinéad Morrissey’s Genetics, and after the performances had ended it was her book with that poem that I bought. The personal made the first great impression, but by yesterday morning I was ready for a wider appreciation, and the poem that was sounding in my head, and is sounding again today, was Gillian Clarke’s Six Bells, commemorating the 1960 mining disaster. I had read it before, and found it beautiful, now its full strength became apparent, and I love the way it captures the ordinariness of life that goes on when something major happens, and those ordinary things embody the significance of the moment and acquire significance themselves.
Six Bells
28 June 1960

Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash
paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
a pulse inside the earth like a blow to the heart,
holding in her arms the wet weight
of her wedding sheets, his shirts. Perhaps
heads lifted from the work of scrubbing steps,
hands stilled from wringing rainbows onto slate,
while below the town, deep in the pit
a rock-fall struck a spark from steel, and fired
the void, punched through the mine a fist
of blazing firedamp. As they died,
perhaps a silence, before sirens cried,
before the people gathered in the street,
before she’d finished hanging out her sheets.

Gillian Clarke

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In Praise of The Grauniad

There are lots of good reasons for reading The Guardian newspaper. The typos are legendary, earning it the nickname of The Grauniad, and I was quite disappointed not to bag any in yesterday’s edition. Still, I have the notice I read in an estate agent’s window in Castlewellan advertising a property for sale with ‘oil fried central heating’ to keep me going.
It’s a serious paper with a light touch, and today I snorted and chortled through the bits of yesterday’s news I hadn’t got around to by bedtime last night. If you had told me at breakfast that a story about debt collectors would have made me smile, I’d have shaken my head, but this firm is far away from the heavies with baseball bats intimidating people who have nothing and no means of repayment. I like their style. Click here and see for yourself.
I don’t know if Simon Hoggart is on twitter, but he sounds as though he’d love hashtagging. Here are some ideas from his readers for place names in songs: I’m in the Mood for Danzig, Sexual Ealing, Clissold Park of Mine. I love Simon Hoggart and hope he goes on writing into his nineties. Like some other good people he has appeared on, and also for a while chaired, The News Quiz. Sandi Toksvig, the current chair, was telling a story about the late Alan Coren, one time editor of Punch and a News Quiz regular. For his birthday she paid for him to have golf lessons. The gift wasn’t a success. “Those bunkers,” he said, “no wonder Hitler died in one.” Continue reading