The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th June 2020

Just a few photos tonight from the boat. I have not been in great spirits today, and I’m going to have an early night and hope that dos the trick. Michèle thinks the period we are now is putting us all under great strain, with lockdown easing but not over, the prospect of an imminent recession of biblical proportions, a future which seems precarious. She’s right I think. Lockdown is ending not with a bang but a whimper and the messages are very confused. I can hope that it’s this strain which is making my bossy neighbour behave as she does, it is probably what is amplifying my anxieties in response; feeling trapped, not sure in which direction we are headed. I shall be glad to get back to the boat next week to take delivery of my repaired seating cushion and find a balm in nature.

MasterB will be able to renew his acquaintance with the ducks.

Who’s that on the gunwale?

Listening to ducks above his head

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 11th June 2020

A very short post tonight, but even so I am over the midnight hour and therefore into 12th June.

I have come back to London. I love the space I have in my flat after the very restricted space on das Boot, but am already thinking about when I shall return to the space of the fens. MasterB may think otherwise. He was delighted to be in the garden, even though both Romeo and Hartley were there. 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, 9th May 2020

Saturday but less shopping than usual. Rather nice actually, especially as there is definitely a more relaxed attitude to social distancing, so keeping away from the main road and the shops made sense. Last night I was kept awake but a thumping bass somewhere near. A party I reckon. Also much more noise from the streets, people talking, some shouting, police helicopters. I love that people are feeling safer, but I fear it’s all too premature. The weather is fabulous and of course people want to be out and enjoying themselves. Tomorrow the temperature is due to drop, so I hope that makes people stay indoors, stop and think a minute.

The other day I started wondering where my bus pass was. I haven’t used it for more than a month. I found it in my duffel coat pocket. It was like a trip down memory lane. When we were out yesterday, had there not been an open loo at Westminster I thought I might rush home by bus. Bizarrely although we are told avoid public transport it looks safe because we are avoiding it so buses are empty, rarely do you see more than two or three people on one. I couldn’t see a single passenger on a train that hurtled past us yesterday. It’s oxymoronic. If we started using them because they are empty and therefore safe, they become unsafe. But oh the temptation to take a train to the Surrey Hills and walk. Boots and backpack might be a bit of a give-away that travel was not essential. And then there would be the guilt.

Returning via parks and back streets from Elephant Sainsbury’s the only people I spoke to had dogs. I have noticed that if you smile at someone’s pet, that person smiles at you. Nice. Continue reading

Farewell Terry, Farewell Miles

Supper with Octavia tonight for the first time in a while, so some catching up on how the Grey Ninja coped, first with a house full of people at Octavia’s mother’s over Christmas, then the return home to the smells of three Labrador retrievers who had been there in her absence. Fine. She has come a long long way from the cat who needed to urinate over anything and everything to mark her presence and assert her right to be. For which Octavia must take the credit. The best thing you can give an animal is the feeling of safety, to establish trust which then, if you are lucky, leads too love. The Grey Ninja, and her ginger counterpart MasterB, have decided they are safe, they trust they love. Yes, I am blowing my own trumpet too, because I know Himself has confidence in me which I have earned. It’s not that different with humans.

Last week I clicked on an Instagram picture posted by Steve of https://outwardhounds.wordpress.com. It was of Miles, one of The Pack. The photo was in black and white, which was probably a clue. A clue I missed. Miles has died. Like Terry Jones, he has gone to meet his maker and join the choir invisible. I never met Miles, or Terry Jones, although for many years the latter lived not far from me, and I learned this week went to the boy’ grammar school in the town where later I went to the girls’, but I shed a tear for both dog and man. Both have enriched my life. Continue reading

Looking Back at My Holiday

I have been working pretty solidly since getting home, the weekend no exception. I got back tonight and, having fussed MasterB, fed him, cleared the poo from the litter tray, I made my own evening meal. I lingered over it, knowing that when I put my fork down I needed to read some notes for work tomorrow morning when the alarm will be set for six thirty. So a few minutes ago, when i looked at some pictures from my recent holiday they were a welcome reminder of rest and relaxation.

A man came to the house with a book that belonged to his family. Generations past they kept a shop, and it seems my family were among the customers. Cousin and I scanned pages from the 1840s, worried perhaps we were going to find unpaid bills that would by now have accrued considerable interest. There were lots of sundries, quantities of leather, salt, tobacco and bread, but fortunately no outstanding debts. Phew.

Groceries and Sundries

Visiting Uncle Bill, now resident with his son, another of my cousins, we again admired the temperament of the two dogs, brother and sister, found with their mother abandoned by the side of the road in a ditch. They seem to have suffered no lasting trauma.

Bookend Dogs

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Homeward bound

We reached the airport betimes, travelling on a section of road that only opened this morning. Maybe someone cut a ribbon in the pre-dawn, maybe there was a fanfare. I don’t know. Cousin thought it might be busy, but the cars were sparse and we had one of those once in a lifetime conversations where we admired the unpitted tarmac and the smoothness of the ride.

The journey was so quick that I was turned away from bag drop and told to come back in half an hour. I sat on a metal seat and ate my lunch. The airport seemed very quiet. Even security, an area I have learned can take a long time to pass through at Belfast International, was nearly empty. However, I set off an alarm when I passed the first scanner and had to remove my shoes, enter the thing that looks like the orgasmatron in that Woody Allen film, and submit to being patted down before I could collect my hand luggage and proceed.  Continue reading

Sunday morning

Celia will recognise the scenario: go for a walk that includes a visit to a place with small, independent shops; stop in those shops and see a dress/shirt/cardigan you like; try it on; buy it; return from your walk with a new addition to your wardrobe. However, I have added a new twist. The shop is in Maghera, a small town not far away, so when we returned there to buy groceries, I went back to the shop, Allie Mae, to take a second look at two more items I had seen, and I bought them too. The shop will soon have a website and be selling via shopify, so if you want to look at the stock, sign up here.
Not all walks end in shops. Walks around Cousin’s are entirely retail free. It was warm and sunny this morning when Westie Boy, Poppy and I followed out usual route to the end of the road and back.

Shaded

Blue skies

Fortunately it had rained in the night so Poppy enjoyed a paddle in the larger puddles while Westie Boy drank. I admired the view.

Interesting

Both dogs are now lying on the floor asleep.I may take them for a shorter walk when we come back from hearing Alan Johnson later today. They only had one good walk yesterday, but Poppy was tired by the late evening. She took to her bed while I read the Guardian and was soon snoring, then dreaming, making little woofing noises and moving her front paws. I must have been very quiet when I came to the kitchen this morning as I surprised her sleeping on the sofa. Continue reading

Friday: At the Helicon

The dogs did not have much walking yesterday; just one, half the length of those they have enjoyed every other day. We were meeting Vola for an early lunch at the Thatch, a pub I had never set foot inside until yesterday. The pub is run by members of Vola’s family, including Michaela, the granddaughter of Cousin’s friend and my partner in literary jaunts Anne who died two years ago. I last saw Michaela about the time she transferred from primary to secondary school, so it took me a few moments to realise who she was.
Vola started talking about the Van Morrison shows in Bellaghy yesterday. She hadn’t been, but she said there was a great buzz and so much traffic that the town came to a standstill. Cousin and I took note and turned up for tonight’s gig an hour and a half early. Even so, most of the parking spaces were full. It was a beautiful evening, the day had been hot and sunny. We sat outside with some drinks; Diet Coke for Cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon for me and watched and talked as the place filled up. Is there anyone you know, I asked her. She looked around her. No, she said but I think that man is Patrick Magee, the Brighton Bomber.
Time passed quickly. We finished our drinks and headed for the Ladies just before the announcement to ask us to take our seats. Very good seats as it turned out. Back row by the aisle, with a perfect view of the stage. We watched as the roadies completed their work.

Set up

Two minutes to seven and the band strode in stage. I have to say the band because I don’t know the musicians’ names, but they were amazing. All played multiple instruments. If Van the Man had had to pull out for any reason they alone would have been worth seeing and hearing. The keyboard player, who we guessed was the band leader, and the percussionist were the first to make my jaw drop. Continue reading

Wednesday

Morning:
The number of dogs to be walked today is growing. Cousin’s Son D and his wife have gone to Liverpool with her brother for the day, leaving their two dogs at home. I shan’t walk them all together, so I shall probably get three walks myself, meaning my step counter should be recording a good number by nightfall. The main road has become so much busier it rules out any walks that take in even a small stretch of it, so the only down side is the repetitive nature of these walks. However, at this time of year there are always new plants coming into flower, calves in the fields, neighbours on the road.

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In a moment we are off to Bellaghy to collect our tickets for Friday (Van Morrison) and Sunday (Alan Johnson). Two very different ‘acts’ at the same venue, the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. In preparation for listening to Alan Johnson, I caught up on his memoirs. He has written four volumes, and until a month or so ago I had only read the first one. The fourth has recently come out in paperback, so I am guessing this round of talks and interviews he is doing is to promote sales. It’s a musical memoir. I was nearly at the end when I realised The was no mention of Van the Man. A quick glance at the index confirmed the Belfast Cowboy’s omission. On the spur of the moment I sent Alan Johnson an email. Somewhat to my surprise I received a reply within forty-eight hours. He explained he loved Astral Weeks, but there were other musicians whose music he preferred to Morrison’s. It was a pleasant friendly email, as one would expect from this Johnson. Continue reading