The Coronavirus Diaries, 10th November 2021

Big news: I am plaster cast free. Oh the joy. My wrist is stiff and a bit sore, I have to make sure I don’t lift heavy objects, I have a splint to wear when I am not exercising or engaged in an undemanding activity, and my sling is still a good idea when I am out and about.

I had been trying not have my hopes too high before attending fracture clinic this morning. Obviously I wanted the X-rays to show everything was healing well, but I didn’t want to pre-empt anything and come crashing down in disappointment. The waiting area is airy and light. We are all spaced out, or rather the seats are. Some patients might have been actually spaced out, I shouldn’t like to say. Michèle had been there yesterday. I don’t think there’s a way we can make our appointments chime, though it would be nice. Instead I wondered if I were sitting where she had sat yesterday (no, she was in the area reserved for wheelchair users), and that made me wonder about a series of narratives, tales of different people sitting in the same spot throughout the day.

I settled down to read more of The Sun is Open by Gail McConnell. Two weeks ago I became suddenly a fan, having previously been entirely ignorant of her work. It was while I was in Northern Ireland. Two days after Uncle Bill’s 100th, there were the annual John Hewitt Birthday Readings. For a while I have thought I’d like to attend, and that thought was cemented last year when Roger Robinson and Sinead Morrissey did the readings and had a discussion online. So Fiona and I had tickets. Only Fiona was not well, so I attended alone.

What a friendly welcoming bunch the John Hewitt lot are. A lovely man, very dapper and with silver hair took my name and made me welcome. I didn’t recognise his name, but it turns out he’s a literary agent and an actor. We were chatting, and he told me Tome French, one of the poets, was already inside ( I was the first member of the audience to arrive having allowed myself lots of time as I didn’t know where the venue was and thought it more than likely I should get lost). I picked up a book of poems by another of the poets Siobhan Campbell and was immediately taken by her work. Lucky perhaps, as she arrived while I was reading it. I bought two books of her poems as gifts, and decided to leave it there. The third poet arrived, Gail McConnell, dressed in black but with a bright yellow checked jacket.

I recognised some members of the audience from other literary events I have enjoyed down the years. People were talking to each other and it would have been easy to have felt excluded, but somehow I didn’t. It was as though I was included, though silently in the warm embrace of the John Hewitt Society.

It was a small audience, an intimate audience. I settled down in my seat. As it was in a lecture theatre at the university there was a comfortable ledge to rest my beslinged arm and throw my coat. I didn’t take notes. The lights dimmed. The evening began. The poets read in alphabetical order, so Siobhan was up first, then Tom, then Gail. I am not actually on first name terms with the poets, but I think if I were to move to Belfast I might be soon.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th January 2021

Trump has gone. I am sure I wasn’t the only one who had one eye on the clock during Biden’s inauguration and breathing a huge sigh of relief once I knew Trump was now ex President. I watched parts of Obama’s inauguration, and of course I have seen pictures, but today was the first time I have watched everyone assemble and then the whole thing unfolding. The flags which replaced the usual crowds were great. Whoever thought that one up deserves recognition. Perhaps it was because it felt as though the flag had been reclaimed by people who don’t want to use it to divide but to unite.

I found the inauguration moving, emotional, and above all hopeful. Biden seems a calm person, a thoughtful person, and I felt by the end of his speech a glimmer of hope for the future, not just for the US but for the rest of us. He doesn’t seem like someone who is going to set on the world on fire, but frankly a world on fire is not what we need. He’s going to be the fireman, not the arsonist. Trump stoked flames, Biden is going to use the embers for a community barbecue.

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th August 2020

Tonight the rain came down. It was pretty dramatic. I was glad I was indoors. I was also glad I had achieved my three outdoor tasks before the (much lighter) rain this afternoon. The forecast said rain would start at 2pm and it did, but in a lazy desultory sort of way. So my car has been vacuumed, it’s not sparkling inside, but a serious amount of dust and cat fur has gone. I no longer feel ashamed of my car’s interior.

I swept out the parking space. This is going to be a weekly task for the foreseeable future as the roots of creeper on the wall have been removed by the neighbour in whose garden it was planted but the dead creeper is still hanging on the wall. It sheds leaves by the thousand every week. There’s going to be some serious mulching on the flowerbeds this winter. I hope by the spring it will all have fallen down, and maybe I shall have moved.

My third outdoor task was to wash one of the garden mosaics. Another tick, but now I have a fourth task for another day as I realise the second mosaic could also do with a good clean. There is something so satisfying about working through a list.I still haven’t lined the great niece’s pencil box, but I have the materials lined up and that should be done in the next day or so. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th July 2020

It’s been a day of small but necessary actions and intermittent rain. I downloaded the snaps I took yesterday afternoon.

This is what I saw as I reached the community garden.

Open

it was half past four. M&S had closed at four, so the idea was to give people a few minutes to change and come down to the garden. They were escorted by Kenon and Jane. The rest of us had been gradually assembling, chatting, peering down the street, waiting for the signal they were on their way. Some had dressed for the occasion. I admit the thought of so doing had not crossed my mind.

The neighbours assemble

Reception committee

Once we could see them we cheered and clapped. As they arrived, some looking rather sheepish, they recognised us as the customers they see daily and there were smiles, waves and hellos as well as looks of relief.

The staff arrive

There were speeches and presentations. Some went on for a while, and a parakeet made several unscheduled contributions, but the mood was good.

Enjoying ‘tea’

Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 24th July 2020

Celia says I don’t need to keep calling these posts The Coronavirus Diaries. I need to ask her for more detail. But I was hungry and we were on our way to our separate homes after a jolly evening reading poetry outside in a socially distanced circle. I still am hungry. The Thai Green Curry I prepped earlier is still cooking. It’s going to be a late night.

To my mind these posts are still very much Coronavirus Diary entries. Life is still very Covid 19 influenced and directed. The CPD I did this week came about entirely due to the situation the pandemic has put us into; our outdoor poetry reading similarly a result of the virus. It is the new normal, but it is a normal underpinned by Covid 19 and how we respond to it. What we do, how we do it, if we do it, is dictated by our response to the virus. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st June 2020

So we have reached the longest day. It doesn’t seem quite possible. Celia and I were talking about this yesterday: how can we be in mid summer when the usual rituals, the usual events that are our landmarks as we move through the months simply haven’t happened? I realise I am somehow waiting for them. So it’s surprising to see tomatoes and cucumbers forming on plants, surprising to find we have moved from the daffodils and bluebells to the hydrangeas and hollyhocks, surprising the days are going to start getting shorter from tomorrow.

The billboards thanking our key workers which we saw everywhere have changed too. There’s a really striking one about domestic violence saying abusers always work from home. Along the SouthBank there are pleas for cash as well alongside the poems to remind us of the poetry library and all the other wonders we cannot currently access, and which are now in jeopardy.

Support the SouthBank

Poetry diversion

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Books, glorious books

I am supposed to be reading Under the Wire by Iris Murdoch, and in fits and starts I am. It’s our book group choice for this month, and we meet again next week. I am just under halfway through and it’s a slim volume, so in theory there wouldn’t be any difficulty.

However, this week sees publication of Hilary Mantel’s new novel, the third and final part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. It began with Wolf Hall, continued with Bring up the Bodies, and concludes with The Mirror and the Light. The excerpts and reviews I have read confirm that this is going to be wonderful. Not even knowing how it all ends badly for Cromwell, a man who prior to reading Wolf Hall I thought of with an inward shudder, but who now, thanks to Mantel’s sympathetic, human portrayal, I feel a great sympathy, even affection for, will stop me from reading it.

I preordered my copy last May, but now it turns out I shall have two, as Celia and I have booked seats to hear Mantel on Friday at the RFH and our expensive tickets include a copy of the novel. In Under the Wire‘s favour, The Mirror and the Light is not a slim volume, and so I shall be unlikely to be tempted to carry it with me to and from work. But then Coronavirus is affecting my work. I haven’t caught it, but I am freelance and much of my work is with people from abroad. The cancellations are rolling in.

I returned another wonderful book to the library on Tuesday – Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegan. I have renewed it five times, but now finally ordered my own copy. I didn’t intend to borrow anything, but these two books caught my eye. I borrowed them both.

Front covers

Continue reading

Art and the Future

Some Sundays are magical. I’ve just had two in a row. Last night we went, as has become the tradition, to hear the ten shortlisted poets for the TS Eliot Prize. Every single poet deserved the prize. I haven’t looked to see who has been awarded it, but my 50p would be on Sharon Olds.

Another prize in the arts took me to Margate the Sunday before last with Celia: The Turner Prize. I realised the day the winner of the prize was to be announced that I know one of those shortlisted, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, with whom I did some work a decade ago. What I did not know was that the four short-listed artists, when they met, had realised their art all came from the same place, and asked the judges to allow them to share the prize. The judges agreed.

Human rights, racism, the rich legacy of immigration, sexual repression, ecological crisis, are themes common in the work of both groups of short listed artists. To say the last night’s readings and last week’s trip to Margate to Turner Contemporary were inspiring is an understatement. Like many, I am saddened and depressed by what is happening in my country and elsewhere. Narrow minds, racists, white supremacists, revisionist historians, warmongers, nationalists are in the ascent. I have been low in spirits, appalled by events and attitudes, extremely worried about the future. Evidence that there are many people out there still working for good, for human rights, for justice, for truth, the NHS, for victims of indifference, lifted my spirits, despite the sober art. Continue reading