The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd May 2020

Sunday and quiet. I read the Railway Children. I have seen the film countless times, and loved the stage adaptation which I saw at Waterloo Station some years ago, but I don’t think I have ever read the book before. I enjoyed it, though the sexism was a bit much. A lot much in fact. It made me start thinking about how we are divided and ruled in so many silly ways. Pitching girls against boys, women against men, calling it the battle of the sexes; are you a cat person or a dog person? Both. More war analogies. Currently we are being encouraged by some to divide along other lines – ease lockdown soon, keep it in place; blame the Chinese, the scientists; blame is very much a tactic used in the divide and rule handbook. It seldom achieves anything other than mistrust and anger. We point fingers, squabble and fight among ourselves, while the people who run things in governments, in banking, carry on in some stratosphere most of us never see.

I think it says quite a lot about my concentration that the only book that has held my attention for longer than an hour is one written for children. This morning I came across a tweet by the Reader Organisation. Those of you who have followed this blog for years will now I am a fan. I deeply regret that it no longer holds annual conferences in London. Anyway, the organisation is tweeting a video each day of one member of staff reading a poem. Here’s the link. You are invited to recite the poem aloud yourself and give feedback. I read it aloud and felt quite emotional.
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The Coronavirus Diaries, 13th April 2020

There was a man sitting at a table outside a closed pub writing in a notebook. He had a can of beer in front of him. It brought a whole new meaning to BYO.

My bike ride today was to try to gee myself up. Some days I seem very lethargic. The hours pass and I do very little. I was thinking a lot about my friend Vicki in Melbourne. She emailed me to say her father had died. Not of coronavirus, at least she didn’t say so, and she did say the family had been able to spend time with him before he died. It’s so hard when you lose a parent. Given that happens to everybody we are unaccountably bad at looking after others when it happens to them. In many workplaces you are allowed one day off to attend the funeral of a close relative. One day. It’s ridiculous. It’s unkind. It’s dangerous. Would you want to be operated on by a surgeon who had just been bereaved? flown by a pilot who had had one day off when her mother died? I wouldn’t. You are vulnerable when you are bereaved, fragile. It’s like an altered state.

So fresh air on a noticeably cooler day than we have for some time sounded like what I needed. My goal was Westminster. I reckoned it would be quiet, which was what I wanted. The ride to St Thomas’ was uneventful, though one speeding driver of a 4×4 on a narrow road might have ended my existence had I not heard her coming and pulled over. Her shouted “sorry’ out of the window as she sped on did little to appease. I wonder if she observes social distancing. Probably not.

Opposite the hospital and right where I parked my bike was this sign.

Thank-you

I realise I did not include another photo yesterday from outside Guy’s Hospital.

Free to key workers

The windows of the school opposite the hospital were covered with children’s drawings, all of them to thank the NHS.

This outpouring of thanks is wonderful, and I should love to see it translated into greater investment in the NHS, better pay for NHS workers. But I fear that when we are over coronavirus it will be the rich who remain rich and the poor who become poorer. The rich are good at lobbying, and using influence to get what they want. That Philip Green and Richard Branson, neither of whom are UK taxpayers, expect the rest to bail them out while they keep their billions, says it all. Amazon must be making a fortune from coronavirus, all those deliveries. Does it contribute millions to the UK treasury? No. Tesco accepted a government hand out to pay its workers and then paid out more to its shareholders.

Some of my neighbours are saying that when this is over we shall all have learned what really matters and the world will change. I’d love them to be right, but I can’t see it. As China gets over the virus it’s a return to business as usual and the clean air people have enjoyed is already polluted.

I walked to Westminster Bridge and took another picture.

I ❤️ NHS

It was still very quiet, hardly any traffic other than buses and some cyclists. One or two people on foot. I could see hospital staff enjoying their breaks by the fountain where the geese swam. I walked onto the bridge. I was about halfway across when I saw around ten people coming towards me. I was surprised. They filed by. Then a group of cyclists who looked very much as though they were out together. I was more surprised.

But that was nothing. When I reached the far side of the bridge by the Palace of Westminster which I had expected to be deserted there were families and couples evidently doing a bit of serious sightseeing. I revised my plans and returned to my bike. I rode through Archbishop’s Park. I wish these signs were everywhere.

Keep Your Distance

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th April 2020

Up betimes, and the plants watered before the day warmed up. According to Celia this si the end of pur sunny spell, and having reached 26C the temperature is due to drop to 12C. Presumably that means there will be fewer people in the parks. After my experience yesterday I decided to return to the City for my constitutional today. I rode my bike as far as Guy’s Hospital, then left it to walk over London Bridge and up to Leadenhall Market. You never see Leadenhall Market like this. It’s busy during the week with City workers, busy at the weekend with visitors.

Empty Leadenhall

Equally empty Leadenhall

This shop window felt quite poignant. They must had had the Easter display up weeks ago.

Easter display

All Hallows Barking by the Tower looked very fine. It’s a church that survived the Great Fire, and Pepys knew it. The year before the Great Fire there was the Great Plague. People have drawn parallels between then and our current situation. We owe much of our understanding of those events to Pepys and his fellow diarist Evelyn. If WordPress is still going in for hundred years time, maybe scholars will be picking over this and other online diaries.

All Hallows Barking by the Tower

The Tower itself was quiet.

Quiet Tower

Obviously it’s closed to visitors. When Celia and I ventured into the City two weeks ago there was hardly anyone about. There were more today, mainly cyclists, perhaps like myself opting to take their exercise somewhere other than a crowded park. Strangely I met one of my regular clients there. We chatted and I told her about my podcasts. I hope she’s going to listen. I was surprised to see two Yeoman Warders in their work uniforms by the closed gate. I had a chat with one of them. It turns out he’d love to visit the Titanic Quarter in Belfast. Do it, I advised, it’s excellent.

Yeoman Warder

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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, 1st April 2020

It’s been a grey day. Celia tells me it was sunny mid morning but I must have missed that. It felt like one of those days that doesn’t ever get going. Or maybe that was just me. I slept badly last night, mainly I think due to my neighbour TW who is being particularly tiresome. In itself, the isn’t unfortunately unusual, but it is an added stress I could do without. Probably though not as bad as the stress of my neighbour Pam is enduring. Her daughter is a nurse. Every time the daughter goes to work Pam worries about her life.

I read this morning that the low wage increase might have to wait. I should have felt this was a bit more reasonable had it been accompanied by a message saying those in high earning tax brackets should expect to be paying substantially more. It wasn’t. Unbelievable as it seems, there are people (I don’t mean Farage, that man is so far beyond the pale that were he not to say something bigoted and ignorant it would be news) busy trying to blame the NHS for the lack of PPE. Excuse me? Is this just spin or does Laura Kuenssberg not read the news? Jeremy Hunt turned down requests to stockpile equipment for a pandemic when he was Minister for Health. Now his is one of the loudest voices saying how dreadful it is the NHS lacks the equipment it needs. It is Jeremy. It is. Feel any shame? Thought not.

I am equally shocked, or stunned might be a better word, to read that Johnson has a 72% approval rating for his handling of the crisis. Did they only poll Express, Mail and Sun readers? The bit that made me have to lie down under a damp tea towel How? why?was that Trump has a 90% approval rating among Republican voters. WTF? We really are doomed.

Fortunately this stuff was balanced by a video of nuns miming to We Will Rock You The one playing air guitar gets my vote. I don’t watch any of the Britain’s Got talent ilk of programmes but if I heard these nuns were going to be on I’d be tuning in and voting. Actually I’d probably vote for them to be the government.

The number of silly and funny videos being shared at the moment is astronomical.
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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.

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C is for Coventry

Regular readers of this page will know that I love Coventry. Celia and I visited on Friday. She hasn’t been there since her teens, so her memories were hazy. My enthusiasm for the place had, I hope, inspired her, but it was mainly because we had seen and enjoyed Where Light Falls, in London, and knew there was a sister event in Coventry,  that we got our acts together and bought train tickets.

I am evangelical about Coventry since it entered my consciousness a a few short years ago, thanks to Sarah Moss’ wonderful novel, The Tidal Zone. Why the city isn’t more widely celebrated I don’t know. I somehow doubt it is in the top ten places visitors to the UK have on their Must See lists. That may of course change in 2021 when it becomes the City of Culture.

Power Up Coventry

The light show was not due to start until five in the evening, but we arrived shortly after eleven in the morning. Somehow, I imagined we’d have loads of the to explore.

Our first goal was the Pod Café which I had read about in a magazine called Be Kind I picked up at VegFest in September. We strode through the town, knowing that on Fridays the Pod closed early. I fully expected that we would be back, meandering and wandering the area near the station before we went home. But the day flew by.

The Pod was great. There was only one choice for lunch so we had that; a vegan pancake stuffed with a variety of vegetables and spices. delicious. I had a hot chocolate made with almond milk and Celia had a latte made with another milk alternative. We browsed the bookshelves; admired the pottery; agreed with the board that talked about the importance of mothers.

The Pod Shelves

The Pod Bookshelf

The Pod – Lunch

Mothering

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Fun with fungi

Looking for fungi is a bit like beachcombing; you have to take it slowly, stop, look round you, look again. Celia has started attending Monday fungi identification sessions at the South London Botanical Institute. It means the weekends are now prime specimen collection time. I went along for the walk on a very mild afternoon. The hunting ground was Ruskin Park.
At first it seemed the park was a fungi free zone, and I suspect Celia was regretting agreeing to go there rather than one of our other local large green spaces. Then we found this:

First find


After that most of our finds were tiny, but Celia’s paper bag started to fill up. Some fungi is amazingly tough and will not be removed from its site by fingers alone. Celia forgot to bring a knife, though on reflection that was possibly just as well. Being arrested on a sunny afternoon in South London for possession of an offensive weapon would not have been high on either of our agendas.
I’m going to just give the other photos numbers and hope that Celia, who should be now be long home from her class, will enlighten us.

Two

Three

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Cemetery Days

Imposing


London is almost fifty per cent green, an astounding statistic for a city that is home to some nine million people (or the metropolitan élite if you prefer). we have an abundance of parks, small public gardens, private gardens, churchyards and cemeteries. The cemetery Celia and I visited on Sunday was not one of the Magnificent Seven. It was Camberwell New Cemetery. Situated next door to Camberwell Old Cemetery. Since generations of my father’s side of the family lived in Camberwell, I half expected to spot the name of one of my ancestors on a grave stone.

I didn’t.

But I did see a lot of graves. Hardly surprising. There are obviously fashions in monumental masonry as in everything else. When I was making arrangements for Aunt’s headstone I wanted something made from local stone. I was thrilled to find the monumental mason was of the same mind, and we spent a happy quarter of an hour agreeing that black marble headstones are an abomination in this country. Evidently not everyone shares our sensibilities. But despite the fact that I was supposed to be looking at plants, I couldn’t help but wonder what the story was behind this grave with its VW ornament.

Camper Van Grave

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A Walk in the Cemetery

I like a cemetery, so when Celia provided me with the excuse to leave my chores and go out to one on a beautiful autumn afternoon I wasn’t going to say no.

We were headed for a plant identification walk. Admittedly I thought it was going to be fungi, and planned to photograph it, leaving the identification to others. Most of the plants held up to the surprisingly large group were tiny, and my attention and photography soon turned in other directions. Celia remained at the front, looking keen. I hoped she’d enlighten me later.

It was warm and sunny when the walk began. Walk is rather an overblown word for the gentle stroll, though the uneven terrain at times could have turned an ankle, and long wet grass played havoc with my less than waterproof shoes.

However, it was the trees and the graves that really got my attention. Actually not just the graves, but people’s names. I have never heard of anyone called Nind before. It could make a rather nice gender neutral first name. Better, in my view, than Farqueson which one person had been saddled with. Imagine trying to get your tongue round that as a toddler. I called myself Ogg. Most small children call me a variation of Lisobel.

I spotted this grave from a distance and broke ranks to take a closer look.

Clifford

Poor Clifford. I hope his parents’ derived some comfort from this sculpture, though it doesn’t look a lot like his photo.

We veered off into a strange little area almost, it seemed, devoid of graves. I happened to be beside one of the cemetery’s Friends, and she explained this was for public graves. I raised my eyebrows in enquiry. Graves where you can have only a very small marker stone, or none at all; cheaper. Like a green burial! I exclaimed, that’s what I want. Untended graves and gravestones get cleared aside, and after one hundred years the grave is reused. Discarded marker stones made a strange sight.

Mary

Jumbled

Another Mary

This grave dates from 1934, but the inked details suggest someone is still remembering.

Remembered

I found these more poignant than some Celia and I saw when we explored further after the plant identification had come to an end. We wondered at first if this was a famous boxer of whom we had never heard,

The Boxer


But when we found this one, we concluded it was a way of recording something the departed was fond of.

Footballer

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