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

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 6th April 2020

I think today’s post should be about counting blessings. I’ve witnessed a couple of things today which suggest some people are not coping with the situation we are in at all well, are resentful and angry, wanting to blame someone, anyone. It doesn’t help. It won’t make the pandemic come to an end faster, but it may speed your end if you give way to these feelings. I am not saying people don’t have a right to feel the way they do, I am saying they need to find a way of managing this feelings which doesn’t involve dumping on someone else. We are, as David Cameron said once, in it together.

One of my bad habits is keeping magazines and supplements I have not had time to read in the misguided hope I shall one day read them. I seldom do. However the other week I caught up on an a short interview with Adam Kay about his reading habits. You can read the whole thing here. The book that changed his mind? His answer: I thought my opinion of David Cameron was immovable – that he was a terrible prime minister. His autobiography For the Record made me appraise him anew. I can now add “grasping, desperate shell of a human who exists in a moral vacuum”.

That’s pretty savage, but I tend to agree. I was once forced to shake Cameron’s hand. I felt sullied by the experience. Not that our current prime minister is any better. But for tonight, I hope he is comfortable and cared for, having just been transferred to ICU due to the worsening of his symptoms. Much as I loathe Johnson, I wouldn’t wish coronavirus on anyone, so I hope he recovers well and quickly. I just wish he weren’t prime minister. I have to remind myself there are others who would be even worse in the post.

So blessings I can reel off pretty quickly and in no particular order would include:
MasterB, without whom this whole lockdown business would be immeasurably harder. I had a night of broken sleep last night. I woke at four in the morning worrying about money. It was listening to MasterB’s gentle breathing that got me back to sleep.

His Furriness

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th March 2020

To be honest I do not know if I shall keep up daily diary posts if this goes on for six months. It would probably be good for my mental health and to look back at in a couple of years when I hope this all feels even more unreal than it does now.

Just a local walk today. I had already braved Morrison’s. I must take my camera next time so I can show my non-shopping friends the changes made to the inside of the shop to protect shoppers from each other. Ditto that thought for M&S. Loads of food on the shelves, even green veg, hallelujah. Lots and lots of bananas. So not like the war then.

Back home and down to work and then lunch, curried lentil soup if you’re asking, and still curried lentil soup if you’re not. I was down to the last few spoonfuls when the ‘phone rang. Not a number I recognised, but hey ho. It was Uncle Bill. I am so glad I answered. He sounded well, told me about the new wee hen that is in her socially isolated space until she has built up some strength to outrun her two new sisters or stick up for herself. She, like the others is an ex laying hen. That doesn’t mean she won’t lay eggs now, just that she doesn’t lay enough for the farmer who owned her to think her worth keeping alive. Uncle Bill was saying you might have expected some compassion from the other two hens, as they come from a similarly deprived background. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s a dog eat dog world in the hen hierarchy. There had been a previous hen, a very bossy one, who kept these two under the claw, but the fox got her. Uncle Bill hinted that this was karma.
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A Marvel on my Doorstep

OMG as Octavia would say, how did I not know of this amazing Aladdin’s cave in SW8? That’s Vauxhall, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. WTF? as I am more likely to say since Brexit and Johnson have corrupted my language. You may have noticed in photographs of MasterB taken inside my home that I have two dining chairs whose seats I habitually with thick cloth. There are two reasons for this. One: to protect them from Himself; two: because the covers are in a fragile state and need to be replaced. The chairs are worth little if anything, certainly nothing like the amount I paid to have the joists fixed after I inherited them from Mother and realised they were in grave danger of falling apart altogether. My friend, carpenter and restorer Andrea, did the work and explained the joists had been forced apart by the covers my father had put over the originals. Basically there wasn’t enough room, and although they had been snug to start with, time and use had had an inevitable effect. Now a sensible woman, a woman not prone to wasting cash on useless items, such a woman as myself, would at that point have consigned the chairs to a skip and headed for IKEA or more likely a second hand shop. But these are the dining chairs I have lived with my whole life, and I am nothing if not sentimental about these things as some of you may have realised when I expressed my sadness at having to consign my kettle to the electrical recycling. The chairs are UtilityUtility, designed to save on materials in the 40s. You can see chairs like mine in the Geffrye Museum. My parents presumably acquired them early in married life. I have two, one of my nephews is looking after the other two, or at least I hope he is, should the day ever dawn when I move to somewhere where I have room for two extra chairs.

In the spirit of a new year and trying to keep my mental health healthy as we hurtle to the self inflicted catastrophe that is Brexit (no reciprocal health care across the EU for us in ten days. WTF?) I have looked about my home and decided the day has come to get some things fixed. First off the stereo which was making strange crackly noises, and sometimes channels were going silent, rather destroying the stereophonic experience. I went to MCQ. Of course I did. I live in Walworth. Clyde’s emporium, a shop that would cause Mary Portas severe pain, but is a complete treasure trove of almost everything musically electronic/telephonic and whatever else has caught Clyde’e eye down the decades, is up the road. Moreover my speakers, cassette deck and CD deck have all been nursed back to health thanks to Clyde. Could he, I asked, recommend someone who could come and diagnose the problem. He could. Enter David, a softly spoken, modest, gentle giant who lives down the road. The amp needed cleaning and the arm on the record deck needed attention. Off they went to Uncle Clyde and his nephew Gary. After forty years in Walworth we are almost family. They came back yesterday. I am listening to Bob Dylan who is moving at 33rpm as I type. Continue reading

Quantifiable

I set off on a damp morning to the V&A. My friend Patou and I had arranged to meet there to visit the Mary Quant exhibition, of which we have heard good things. Mary Quant came to prominence in the early 60s as a designer and entrepreneur, and name and her face were familiar to me throughout my childhood when the mini skirt was de rigueur.

Sassoon and Quant


However, fate intervened, and when I reached South Kensington, it was to find a message on my ‘phone to say Patou could not join me. It might have been more fun going round the exhibition with her, but I had a wonderful time on my own all the same.

Although Quant’s fashions would have been splashed across magazines, those magazines would generally have been of the glossier kind that rarely came my mother’s way. So it was with something of a shock that I realised how much Quant had influenced the clothing I wore or saw older cousins and neighbours wearing as I was growing up. Apart from mini skirts, there were shift dresses, pinafore dresses, boxy suits, and pin striped materials previously the province of men’s suits.

Unfussy

When I was at the Vice Versa exhibition in the Ulster Museum last summer, fortunate enough to have a tour with the exhibition’s curator, Charlotte McReynolds, it was clear fashion is very much part of social history. So it proved again at the V&A. At McReynolds 2018 exhibition Fashion & Feminism she included a quote by Quant: “Clothes always say it first, you know, then comes the effect.” That desire to get away from restrictive clothing, to be comfortable, to be gleeful, was all part of the emerging sixties youth culture. Quant does not claim to have invented the mini skirt, she says it was a street fashion, invented by the girls on the Kings’ road where she had her shop Bazaar. Continue reading

Mother, born a hundred years ago today

My little mum was born a hundred years ago today in Larne Co Antrim. None of her siblings was born there, but my grandfather, not the most pleasant or successful person in our family’s history, had lost his farm and was working as a carter, probably in the docks. Mother didn’t like the fact she was born in Larne. It doesn’t have a great reputation. It does have the most hideous roundabout ornament I have ever seen, though it’s fairly new, and Mother never saw it.
The street she was born in has gone. Cousin and I visited a few years ago. In a shop, we found a painting of a hare that Cousin fell in love with. If you ever visit her home you’ll see a print of it on the wall.
I left my details with someone at the museum who told me that the person I needed to speak to to see if there were records of our family time in Larne extant was Marion. Unfortunately Marion was on holiday. More unfortunately Marion has never got in touch with me.
So Mother’s early circumstances remain unclear, though they were obviously pretty tough. I know she was baptised at home because she was sickly and thought unlikely to survive. But survive she did.
There are no pictures of her as a child. I think this one is the earliest one I have of her. She looks like a young teenager. She probably was.

You may recognise it. I posted it in 2013 after she died. Continue reading

Of ashes, memories, fresh food and boat cleaning

If there was ever an argument that might persuade me to move to the vicinity of Newmarket, it would be Southgate’s. I went there this morning to discuss Mother’s ashes. She died six years ago, and after the funeral, which we arranged with Southgate’s, she was cremated. The plan was to have my father’s ashes disinterred from the spot where they are buried, and which I think he would have thoroughly disliked, and mix and scatter his and Mother’s remains together.

In sitcoms, until the advent of Six Feet Under, undertakers were generally depicted as gloomy souls. At Albin’s, South London’s leading undertakers, the mood is upbeat, and when a colleague and I visited (for reasons I shan’t go into here) we had a wonderful time. We also learned that they watched Six Feet Under. I forgot to ask Luke at Southgate’s about the television programme, and I think now I should have asked him if he knew Albin’s, which like Southgate’s is a family firm.

He remembered Mother’s funeral, and Aunt’s; remembered that they came from Northern Ireland and we established that he has friends who live near to their birthplaces. But I was there to talk about the ashes. Or rather to collect them. Continue reading

To Blog or to WhatsApp?

My friend Octavia has been away for five weeks and is due back tonight. I’m hoping to see her tomorrow if jet lag doesn’t claim her. It was Celia’s birthday on Friday, mine tomorrow, and we are meeting up with a small group of mutual friends to have lunch in a local, unpretentious gaff at Borough. Yes, there are unpretentious places at Borough if you know where to look. I took my cousin-in-law to the same place for lunch when she was over with Food NI last month, and she loved it.
While Octavia was away, she sent me WhatsApp messages with photographs of stunning views. I suggested she start a blog. After a few days she said that it took her minutes to WhatsApp some photos, whereas it must take me much longer to write a blog post, (I assume she meant the type of post I am writing now), and when she had time to spare, she wanted to relax, not write.
Fair enough.
It did get me thinking though. I use WhatsApp sometimes to send photos too. I think it’s a great medium for quick communication. But as a record keeping app, it’s lacking. It became quite frustrating getting tiny photos to see on my ‘phone when I should much rather look at larger ones on my laptop screen. Continue reading