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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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st December 2022, Lutz

There are good and bad things about staying at the same address for a long time. One of the good things is that friends with whom you have lost touch for one reason or another can, should they wish, still find you.

Several years ago my friend Sue who had disappeared from my life sent me a long letter explaining the ups and downs she had gone through, and hoping I was still where she could reach me. We have been in touch ever since. Yesterday evening the ‘phone rang and a voice announced itself as Sophie, daughter of Krystyna and Lutz. I was/am an honorary aunt to Sophie and her younger sister Nadine. When both Krystyna’s parents died and the girls had grown up, Lutz and Krystyna left London and moved to Poland which Krystyna’s parents had left in the Second World War, one as a refugee, the other as a member of the Polish Air Force. I received cards from them saying they would love to hear from me. The problem was they didn’t give their address and I didn’t have either Sophie or Nadine’s contact details. So the years passed, and I always thought they must have felt I had abandoned them. I did not know they had returned to the UK at the start of the pandemic.

Then the ‘phone call. I’d love to say it was a happy reunion, but Sophie, presumably trawling through old address books, had found my number and called to say Lutz died last week. It was sudden after an illness which had caused him a lot of pain. He had been hospitalised, survived, against the odds, an operation, and was to be discharged from hospital. He was looking forward to Christmas. His first free from pain for several years. So on the morning of his discharge, he was in good spirits and cleaning his teeth when he collapsed. He did not get home.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 1st June 2020, the Bridlington Connection

A chance encounter with a memorial tablet while we waited for Ray’s coiffeuse to complete her magic led us to learn about a more than local hero. Ray is Octavia’s 99 year-old mother, and I am visiting her at her house in Bridlington for the first time. Octavia met me at the station yesterday. I have seen so many pictures of Ray in her kitchen, or sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and the view across the fields, that some parts of the house feel very familiar. Not so others.

Her five children, all adult, left home decades ago. It’s a big house, and a big garden. The garden was always Ray’s love, and it shows. It is gorgeous. Allegra, Octavia’s sister, has undertaken the herculean task of restoring it to glory. A restorative project in every sense. She is doing an excellent job.

The other day I was having a conversation about how changing technology affects the verbal expressions we use. I observed I hadn’t pulled a chain in decades. For years now I have flushed the loo. Within hours of arriving at the house I had pulled a chain. In the back kitchen are not one but two meat safes. There are people alive today in their late middle age who have never heard of, let alone seen, a meat safe, never mind two. This is a house where technology of the past is preserved and used alongside the technology of today.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 26th April 2022, Birthday Surprise

Celia’s birthday today and the countdown to our trip to Bellaghy and Belfast via the glamour that is Luton Airport begins. Celia is out tonight with her husband and daughter but we met up this afternoon. Not perhaps the most obvious birthday celebratory gig, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

I have two small stools with seagrass woven seats. They were gifts from my godparents to my sister and myself back when the world and we were young. I presume my sister didn’t want hers and so it was left with my parents who handed it, along with the one that was mine, to me when I moved to this flat. The years have left their mark. The seagrass is broken in parts, the legs are looking scruffy. I thought I should like to get them repaired and spruced up, maybe to pass to the great nieces. The first price I was quoted was exorbitant, but the second was more reasonable.

A deal was agreed, and today it was time to hand over the first of the stools to John at his allotment which just happens to be at a site both Celia and I have peered at through the wire fence. We walked the short route in April sunshine and began a half hour of magic.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th April 2021

With the situation in India worsening by the hour, the title of these posts is not changing yet awhile. I watched the news tonight and Matt Hancock’s response seemed repulsive. He showed no evidence of empathy or understanding that while Covid is actively killing people anywhere in the world we are all at risk. He didn’t sound interested or concerned.

I don’t mean to suggest that Hancock is a colder fish than other members of this government. Boris Johnson’s dismissal of concerns about who paid for the redecoration of the Downing Street flat with an airy comment that the public isn’t interested illustrates how out of touch he is. The cost of the redecoration has also raised eyebrows and dropped jaws. Yet another example of how the poor are expected to exist on very little but someone who is already very entitled feels he should have more.

I happened to be Westminster at lunchtime today and saw these banners. They pack quite a punch. There were more police officers about than usual.

Seeing me looking and taking photos, one of them spoke to me, and smiled. Is there a demo? I asked. No, he replied, PMQs, these are here every week. Now I live not far from Parliament Square but I am not generally there on a Wednesday lunchtime, so I had never seen these before. But isn’t it the role of the press to show us things like this? Or is this just another example of how these events are excluded so that we don’t get to see the peaceful protests about the state of our democracy?

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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, 28th August 2020

It’s my parents’ wedding anniversary today. As both have died they aren’t, at least to my knowledge, celebrating. Though maybe on some other plane they are toasting their years together with champagne or, most likely in my father’s case, tea. I’ll do my bit with a glass of wine.

Some of their anniversaries stand out in my memory; the one when the woman for whom my mother worked as her private nurse died. That meant immediate loss of income, so not a great day. Another was when I gave them a small table that had been restored and which they admired. But it’s funny how many I have forgotten. Memory is a strange thing. How is it we remember some things so clearly and yet the days months, years before and after those events have been erased from our minds? It’s not as though everything we remember is, or appears at a distance, to be highly significant, or is that just me? Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th June 2020

I am still disturbed by the conversation I had with with the man about George Floyd. He dismissed the killing saying it was no worse than any other murder, so why were people so upset. He said Floyd had been a criminal, that black men are killed by other black men and no one starts marching. The idea that a policeman, a white policeman, murdering a black man while his colleagues looked on and did nothing, did not seem to him to make the murder more significant. The fact that black men and women in both the US and the UK are more likely to be stopped by the police when going about their business did not trouble him. It reminded me of a sketch on Not the Nine O’Clock News. But it also made me wonder if this man has formed these views on his own, or if they have been shaped by what he is read or heard. On my visits to the Co-op I didn’t look at the newspapers’ front pages. Is this the line some editorials are taking? If so, it is deeply irresponsible, deeply divisive. We live in societies that value white lives over black ones, where we have a Prime Minister in this country who talks about picaninnies and watermelon smiles, then wonders why people of all colours take offence. The pandemic has shown how black and minority ethic groups have suffered most, not because they have less immunity, but because they are more exposed, are more often to live in poorer housing. The pandemic has laid bare the inequalities of our society we have been ignoring for years.

Is it any wonder a moment comes that ignites all the frustration? When people take to the streets to protest? The vast majority of the protests are peaceful. The bursts of violence and looting are the ones that get the most coverage. Easier to condemn such behaviour than look at the fundamental injustices in our democracy that have led to it.

During our constitutional walks in London Celia and I have spent time enjoying and admiring the new estate in Myatts Fields. The old estate was a warren, and a place dominated by gangs and violence. The new one is human scale, the design has been carefully thought out to encourage openness and interaction. Our neighbour Cynthia describes it as a piece of Scandinavia in south London. It’s all the more impressive as it was built after austerity began. The council must have taken the decision to pursue its plans despite budget cuts. Yet in the short term, building high rises would have seemed the sensible financial solution. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd May 2020

A Saturday evening, and I have done a pretty good job of reading the paper from cover to cover. I woke to blue skies and sunshine, but the temperature was in the low teens, so I dressed accordingly and set off to buy and deliver the newspapers. Outside, I realised it was actually pretty warm, and I rather regretted my warm top. Never mind. It was a nice walk and I achieved my purchases without hindrance or fear at Sainsbury’s. I delivered the first of the papers, dropped mine off at home, and then set off to deliver the third. All done before lunch, and my step count already nudging 10k. The Fitbit is still going, it has its moments of hibernation, but it’s not destined for the electrical recycling facility just yet.

At home I opened the windows and settled to read some of the paper before preparing my meal. The something strange happened. I began to feel very cold. I was shivering. I got up to close the windows and saw people outside in shirtsleeves, even some in shorts. I seemed to be in my own cold micro climate. A quick inventory established nothing else amiss but I reached for the blanket that lives on an arm of the sofa and snuggled under it. Danny rang. I kept expecting him to say something along the lines of “I’m calling you because..” but he didn’t. I think he just wanted to talk. So I stayed snuggled and listened. Naturally part of the talking was about coronavirus. One of these days it will drop from our conversations, but now you can be pretty sure it crops up in any and all in some shape or another. He wanted to know how I was coping. I told him about my obsessive jigsaw habit. I have been feeling a bit sheepish about all the jigsaws I have been doing since lockdown, but the book I mentioned yesterday has helped me understand why I am finding them so compelling. I believe they represent the restoration of order from chaos; a metaphor for the confusion of these times and the promise that things will be resolved. Danny is a trained counsellor, and this idea interested him.

By the time the conversation ended, I was feeling warmer, and hungry. Whatever had made me feel cold certainly hadn’t affected my appetite. But I thought I’d probably stay home quietly for the rest of the day, which is what I have done.

I have some pictures from yesterday’s walk to share. This shared garden is in front of a block of flats on s street I have walked down many times. Until yesterday I had never noticed the garden, screened from general view by a hedge. I think it’s rather fine.

Shared garden space

The MI6 building is famous around the world due to the James Bond films. It has various nicknames, Legoland and Ziggurat on Thames being the most popular.

MI6

Battersea Power Station, now being transformed into luxury flats, is another iconic London building recognised by people around the globe, particularly Pink Floyd fans.

Battersea Power Station

This is where Vauxhall becomes Battersea, run by two local councils, Lambeth and Wandsworth. It’s also an area where there is a huge amount of building going on, most of it tall and expensive.

Cranes and tall buildings

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