The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th May 2020

Today was a Shopping Day. I went to the big Sainsbury’s at Nine Elms by car with shopping lists for four households. Thats sounds more impressive than it was, as one of the households was mine, and the other three didn’t give me long long lists of things to get. But all together it made for a pretty full trolley. As usual I did a fair amount of muttering as I searched for unfamiliar items, and had to send messages asking about alternatives to specific things requested. Some got the thumbs up, some didn’t. There is still a total absence of Pears soap. They don’t even have the new fangled green one now. looking for a certain brand and flavour of rice cakes for a neighbour I found Sainsbury’s does corn cakes covered in dark chocolate. Straight into the trolley for me.

This shop has become my favourite during lockdown. It’s spacious, the staff are helpful, most customers observe the two mettre rule and I can get a a pack of fifteen bottles of Becks Blue, my low alcohol lager of choice, and carry it home in the car. Once the shopping is done the deliveries begin. I have become quite good at packing items for different households in separate bags as they sweep before me at the checkout. I arrange them by household on the belt, and it’s only if the assistant reaches for something that belongs in another group that it may go wrong.

B&J had the heaviest bag, but fortunately live just over the road, so I staggered across the street with that delivery straight away. Celia is down the road, so I put her shopping on top of Michèle’s in the bag on wheels and kept the whole thing cool while I stowed my own shopping, which included ice lollies, and ate a quick lunch.

All deliveries were complete by two. Then it was time to go through the bill and tell each household how much they owed me. You wouldn’t think doing the shopping could take up so much of the day, but it can, at least the way I do it. And ten thousand steps walked. I had a short to do list after that. All done. Tomorrow There’s more urgent things to see to. But tonight I want to watch the second half of Farnkenstein which is this week’s National Theatre free screening on YouTube. I don’t know if Jonny Lee Miller won awards for his portrayal of the monster, but he deserves to.

I didn’t go for a proper walk today, so these photos are from yesterday. It doesn’t matter how many times you pass the same house, walk the same street, visit the same park, there are always things you haven’t noticed before. Maybe you’ll enjoy one or two of these.

This bright door with matching nasturtiums made me smile.

Bright door

With matching nasturtiums

Nearby, this little train balanced on some railings.

Train on the railings

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th April 2020

When Celia and I were walking in a rainy Burgess Park this afternoon, a man walking towards us said, “Hello, my name is Corona Virus”. He was smiling, as if it were a joke, he didn’t stop, he just walked on. Celia and I looked at each other. I said something like “unfortunate name” and then, “why would anyone say that?” Under her umbrella, Celia shrugged.

Rain was forecast for today so it was hardly a surprise. It hadn’t started when I woke up, but the temperature had definitely dropped and the skies were that exhausted greyish white. Rather like someone who has been badly ill now I think of it. When the rain came it was serious. Your average London rain is a desultory drizzle or an intense shower that drenches you immediately and then stops. This was the real deal. I found it rather exotic after days and days of blue skies and sunshine.

My intention was start my tax return several months earlier than usual. I opened up a file, sorted out headings and stopped. You’d have thought a rainy day ideal for starting a tax return, but something in me was refusing. I read some of The Mirror and the Light, stripped the bed ready for when the rain stops and I do the weekly linen wash, finished Saturday’s Guardian. I bought a hard copy for the first time in weeks. The thin Guide was a startling reminder of how all entertainment venues are closed.

At eleven, I joined Celia and Charlie at the end of the square where we observed a minute’s silence for the key workers who have died in the UK so far during this pandemic. Celia had directed me while I was still drinking my morning coffee to John Crace’s piece in ten Guardian. She is kinder to/about Johnson than I am, and felt Crace had made the point while still respecting Johnson is recovering. Make up your own minds. You can read it herehere.

I used to merely despise Johnson. As Mayor of London he was a disaster. Now I loathe him. I didn’t want him to die when he fell ill, but I should like to see him retire and do something harmless. However his return to work, or rather the office, since work and Johnson are not well acquainted, was apparently desired by senior Tories who felt his charm was needed to get us, or at least the government, through this crisis. Johnson’s charm eludes me. He must have it or why would people vote for him? They certainly don’t vote for his coherent policies and strategic planning because he doesn’t have any. I suppose it’s like fox pee. Some people can smell it. Some people can’t. I can, and I infinitely prefer it to Johnson. I do however feel if he needs to convalesce he should be allowed to do so.

Anyway, that’s enough about him for the moment, or possibly for ever. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 10th April 2020

My cunning plan to get my loose covers washed and on the line and get a stock of fresh vegetables before the breakfast washing up was done was only partially successful. I can’t say how many others thought the fine weather a perfect opportunity to to freshen up the upholstery, but I can say an awful lot had decide to shop early. There were queues outside shops that aren’t opening until nine at half past eight. So I did the washing up and got the second batch of loose covers on the line.

Then I joined the queue outside M&S. My top requirements were baby spinach and daffodils. It is easter weekend. Any weekend where a bank holiday is attached always makes people react by buying enough to see out a siege. Coronavirus has intensified that to the power of n. I called B&J and celia from the queue. If this was how the weekend was going to play out I wanted this morning to be my only contact with shops. Unfortunately at that point I hadn’t taken stock of how little tonic water I have left to add to my real or non-alcoholic gin. That was a discovery I only made this evening. Ho hum.

The shop was fairly successful in that I got everything on their very short lists, and my daffodils. No spinach. Try at ten or ten thirty the nice man filling shelves suggested. He had already fetched daffodils from the store room for me. Somehow the idea of rejoining the queue mid-morning didn’t have a great appeal. Deliveries made, home again, daffs in the vase, I considered my option and decided to go to Sainsbury’s at the Elephant. I could avoid the main roads, cross through some green spaces, and if the queues were dire there I would at have least been for a walk.

I walked past what used to be a old boozer and which is n ow a self-consciously hip pub. A closed pub, as all our pubs are. And as with many of closed food and drink outlets now offering alternative services.

Proper wine

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th April 2020

Beautiful weather today, and the barbecues have been going since lunchtime. Not chez IsobelandCat you understand. The one who does the cooking being vegan and not wild about barbecued veg, and the other, being a cat, has his own tinned food and weighed biscuits. It’s also been a lot louder. I am guessing some people are going to have bad headaches tomorrow.

Mind, having written that I realise it is not quite ten thirty and the music seems to be turned dow. There was disco coming from one address at half past one.

So maybe people have stayed home and been sensible. It’s so hard when the temperature rises and we throw open our windows properly for the first time this year to think there is a virus that can kill under our sunny skies. How do you explain to children that they have to stay in? Every muscle, every nerve, every instinct is telling us to get outside after a winter spent mainly indoors. My get of jail free card came in the shape of shopping for neighbours. It unfortunately does not also come with guaranteed immunity, and for the first time in days I had to ask someone to move away from me.

I queued outside M&S, all very orderly, then forgot to buy the milk B&J wanted, and managed to pay for the tomatoes twice on the self serve. I am hoping I can get a refund tomorrow. Celia wanted broccoli and there wasn’t any. I reminded her that Louisa who runs a local café which she has turned into afresh food shop for the duration had tweeted to say she had broccoli. Celia rang and placed an order. I thought I’d also check out what was available at the Farmer’s Market at Kennington Oval, behind St Mark’s church, so I took my bike and a rucksack. What I didn’t realise was that Celia had ordered more than broccoli. Louisa presented me with a crate. I didn’t have any bungees, but Lousia kindly offered to cycle with me to Celia’s with the crate on the capacious carrier she has on the front of her bike. My half kilo of new potatoes went into the rucksack.

I ditched the Kennington market plan and headed for Borough Market. Since breaking my wrist badly in a cycling accident six years ago i have become a nervous cyclist, and therefore a less than occasional one. Also my work often starts in one place and ends in another, cycling to work is no longer practical. But the roads are so much quieter have been itching to cycle, and my neighbourhood ride yesterday only whetted my appetite.
It was wonderful, liberating, to able to get so much further so much more quickly. It was like having wings.

My first impression was that the market was very quiet. There were the notices we have quickly become used to telling us to stay at home, to wash our hands, to keep our distance. Part of me longs to explore empty streets and take pictures, to witness and document. Another part of me hugs the safety of my home. That part wins.

Now familiar notices (2)

Now familiar notices (1)



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The Coronavirus Diaries 29th March 2020

Coronavirus suddenly seems closer with my friend and neighbour Bridget’s brother hospitalised, and one of he nieces unwell too. Some music just works at these times, and for me Bob Dylan, someone who I like but I wouldn’t say I was his biggest fan, somehow hits the spot. Currently listening to Hard Rain which I have been thinking about since Celia and I were caught in a small hail squall during our constitutional today and Shelter from the Storm from that album began to go round my head. Perhaps a taste of the April showers due to start next week.

Not sure what MasterB was up to while I was out, but he seems unaccountably tired right now. That’s just tired, not knackered. Celia said she was knackered as we neared home. It was a good walk though. I anticipate that we shall shortly be confined much more strictly due to the number of people still behaving as though somehow the current restrictions do not apply to them. With that in mind I suggested a walk to the City so we would see the Thames and St Paul’s. Just typing that makes me realise how much of a Londoner I have become.

We saw both. We also did some shopping. Now for you who don’t know London, the City is the oldest part where the financial centre is, but it has a very small residential population, so at the weekends it is always quiet. Today it was even quieter. We gazed upon empty streets, upon empty buses and buses carrying at most two passengers. Our walk from our homes brought us few sightings of other people. The market at East Lane was closed. Unthinkable for a Sunday.

Empty East Lane

Equally empty in this direction

We crossed an empty London Bridge and looked at a Thames devoid of pleasure craft.

Empty River

I mean, really empty

My friend Nadia, who I visited just over a year ago in Wellington, NZ, used to work in Adelaide House, an office block on the north side of the bridge opposite Fishmongers’ Hall. There’s a little Waitrose next door. No queue. I went in, Celia having said she’d like some milk. I was after bread. We have now perfected our shopping technique. Celia stays outside so as to avoid accidental contact with shoppers who appear suddenly round the corner of an aisle. I collect the things she has asked for plus anything I think she might like and return to the entrance where I hold each one up for inspection. I explain to security staff what I am doing. Celia signals yes or no, and the items either go into the basket or back on the shelves.

I waved some hand sanitising wipes at her. Thumbs up. How many? I asked. Two? Her face was a doubtful question. We are being restricted to buying items in ones or twos. They have loads, I said. She held up four fingers. At the till I asked if they has cleaning products as I hadn’t seen any. I knew Celia was after washing liquid. I was directed to a corner of the shop I had avoided on my first sweep as there were people there. I returned to the window with washing liquid and kitchen rolls. Both went into the basket. Buoyed up we continued our walk.

I wondered aloud if M&S on Cheapside might be open. It’s my favourite to place to shop for food if I am working in the City at the weekend. We walked down Laurence Pountmey Hill and gawped at the house that sold a few years ago for £6 million or so. The lights were on. That was my first Property Envy spot on this walk. Only the cost of curtains and carpets consoles me. Though I suppose if I had £6 million I probably shouldn’t be too worried.
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The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd March 2020: Safely Distant

When I woke up this morning with a mild headache my inner hypochondriac kicked in immediately. Soon I was searching online for the symptoms of coronavirus. I knew they included a raised temperature and a dry cough, neither of which I had, but did they also include a mild headache?

Apparently not. Oh the relief. I think I may have a cold. Less relief. If I have a cold, it means I have been near enough someone with a cold to catch it. And if I have been near enough to catch a cold from someone, then I have been near enough for the coronavirus to have reached and infected me too. We have all been advised to practise social distancing. I am starting to think people have very little idea of measurements. Keeping two metres apart seems to have been scaled down to two inches in the crowds of eager shoppers outside our local supermarkets each morning.

Obviously some of the population does have greater understanding of what two metres means, and the importance of keeping a distance. My observations lead me to suspect Guardian readers fall into this category of aware citizens, while red top readers broadly speaking do not. Yesterday, as the one not living with someone who is immune compromised (I don’t think MasterB’s propensity to gather crystals in his urine counts), I went to buy the newspapers. Since our local newsagents have stopped being newsagents despite our best efforts with Use It or Lose It, this meant a trip to M&S. I was later than usual, wanting to avoid the scrum of would be hoarders waiting for opening, and feared all copies of the Guardian would have gone, as they sell out pretty quickly. But there was a stack, while the red tops seemed to have been selling well. I am guessing Guardian readers may have switched to the online edition, something I am considering doing too.

Today I wanted ginger and spinach, also limes for Celia. The spinach meant going into M&S again, which I did without too much hope. But hurrah, there was spinach and the shop was fairly quiet. When I reached the tills I felt a wave of despair. People, some in masks, stood shoulder to shoulder in the queue. I joined the queue at the end, stood my two metres away from the person in front of me. A man joined the queue behind me. Too close. Could you move back a bit? I asked. You have room in front of you, he said. I’m trying to keep my distance, I said. You know, the safe distance thing? Two metres. I spread out my arms. He looked at me as though I were mad but to my relief moved backwards. Next people kept wanting to step into the space in front of me. Are you in this queue? they asked. Yes, I answered. I am keeping my distance. I don’t want to be sick. More looks which conveyed pity rather than anything else. In neighbouring queues people watched and listened to these conversations and stayed huddled close. We are doomed. What is about social distancing that is so hard to understand?
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No Wiser

It was hot today, with very little breeze. The streets were hot, the air was hot, the buses were baking. I was only working in the morning, and fortunately in a fairly cool (in all senses of the word) building so tucked my little TG3 into my bag and when I finished working trekked off to the West End and the camera shop where I bought it four years ago. I’m not going to name and shame that shop, but after today, it is not likely to receive more custom from me. I shall return to the London Camera Exchange on the Strand.

I’m not being entirely fair I know, but I was disappointed in the whole thing.

So. I trotted into the shop and was met with smiles. I got the camera out of my bag and explained that I was trying to work out what the problem was: a battery that had run its course; a poor connection with the charger; something more serious. I also explained that when plugged into the charger it lit up as though charging but didn’t.

I was therefore somewhat disappointed when the assistant plugged the camera into the charger and turned to me with a slightly triumphant look when the orange light comes on.

I was blunt, there’s no other way to describe it, but it was a long time since breakfast and I was hoping to get this sorted and have some lunch soon. “That proves nothing,” I said, “it’s doing what I told you, but either the battery isn’t charging or the problem lies somewhere else.” He looked more irritated than crestfallen. This continued as he searched for a charger case that the battery would sit in. “I didn’t get one of those with this camera,” I said, channeling Job quite successfully, “there was only the lead.” His irritation was now apparent.

I made an effort. “Do you have a charged battery we can put into the camera to see if it works, as if you do we can isolate that the problem is with the battery or the charger rather than the camera itself.”

He told me he couldn’t unwrap a new battery unless I was going to buy it. My smile became more fixed. “How about taking a charged battery out of the display camera?” I suggested, through not-quite-gritted-teeth. Continue reading

Captain’s Log: Tuesday’s Child

I am so happy. I thought this a moment ago, and it felt so good I decided to make it the first sentence of tonight’s post. It’s not the wine talking, though I have just poured a glass of Frascati as an aperitif.

I don’t think the way I have chosen to spend my birthday matches many people’s idea of a celebratory day, but it has worked for me. I woke early, got a good morning cuddle from MasterB and then I drifted off to sleep again. The sun was up, the skies were blue, the wind was cold. I headed for the shower and towelled myself briskly to Ward of hypothermia. Then to the car and a trip down the road to Janet Eggs who I had texted last night. No eggs. I considered, then sent her a text saying I was outside. She appeared, still in her pyjamas and invited me into her kitchen. She was sent home from work yesterday after being sick, and has to stay at home today. It was lovely. We stood and talked, looking out at her garden. I showed her the WhatsApp messages Older Nephew and Octavia had exchanged regarding wine for Sunday and she approved, one of these days she’ll come to das Boot. Whether she’ll bring Squidge, her standard poodle, depends on whether MasterB is aboard or not. And the likelihood is, he will be. I returned to das Boot with a box of the freshest laid and had my second egg of 2018. Delicious.yes, I would give them up if no happy pet hens were in my life, indeed I have, hence this being only the second egg of 2018.

Day three, and MasterB’s at home. I don’t think he’d necessarily need a cushion citadel were we to go out on the river tonight. He’s not keen on the engine noise, so reading about hybrid electric/diesel boats made my heart beat faster. Maybe I have won the lottery. Maybe Older Nephew will have an Aston Martin for his 40th birthday. Maybe the moon is made of green cheese.

Then I headed for MIldenhall, but obviously I had to go to the farm at Reach where I bought two tomato plants and a kale plant, some fresh salad and some organic rhubarb. Next stop, Freckenham. It is the asparagus season. I bought two bunches, one for me, one for Octavia. Finally Mildenhall where I took the wrong turning for the cemetery and was on my way to Thetford. Fortunately there was a place to turn, so I turned. The chrysanthemum I had planted on the stone marking where Dad’s ashes were buried has gone. Aunt’s grave had a good smattering of healthy plants and a stretch of bald earth. I went back to the town and bought petunias and French marigolds which I duly planted and watered. Older Nephew is going to water them in a week or so, so for once, I am not praying for fine weather. Continue reading

More or Less Christmas

A few days before I left London for Northern Ireland Celia and I were walking down the road spotting the windows where the early adopters of Christmas 2017 decorations had been at work.

Early adopters for London that is. My first walk with WestieBoy revealed that all of Cousin’s neighbours had already dressed their homes for the festive season. Any idea I might have had that this was a country thing was put to flight when we had a three generations meal just outside Belfast. The bus between the Europa station and Saintfield went past house after house bedecked with fairy lights. My cousin Alex and his daughter Nadine were negotiating about how many trees they needed to get. Last year they had four.

I was invited to a wreath making session on Saturday morning, I declined but there were several other occasions where I found myself completely at sea amid earnest discussions about garlands, table runners and goodness knows what esoteric necessities of which I was completely ignorant.

I realised I have never been in Ireland in early December before, though I have spent Christmas there. I was culturally challenged.

I expect Auntie Anne (my mother) made a lot of Christmas, remarked Cousin. Not really, no, I answered. Mother was an ardent declutterer decades before the term entered popular usage. She tolerated Christmas decorations when we were small, but by my teens insisted that cards from friends and family were the only ornaments that mattered. I don’t remember the last time we had a tree. Cousin was surprised. She questioned me further which made me reflect on how Mother had so wholly abandoned this tradition from her native land. Not that there would have been much jollity in her home when she was growing up, but she must have seen what other families did.

I like a bit of tinsel, I am big on fairy lights at any time of year, I have gold and silver stars and little padded Christmas trees that I scatter on surfaces. Mother would not have approved. But I don’t have a tree, and the mass rush to buy and consume at Christmas leaves me cold. So I was very pleased to read this article in today’s Guardian.

There was a programme on the television earlier this week that I could not watch. It was about the most expensive presents imaginable. People with untold wealth commissioning others to find gifts costing millions of pounds. I found the concept obscene. The idea seemed to be to make the rest of us jealous of the mega rich. It made me feel their lives were very poor if this was their definition of pleasure and success. Ostentatious wealth is somehow very unattractive. That isn’t stopping me from buying a lottery ticket for tonight’s draw but my ambitions are fairly modest;enough to buy a two bedroom property with private garden in the same locality I live in now.

I’m set to enjoy my pared down Christmas. There’ll be parties and socialising, but no diamonds either on display or coveted. You can keep your designer labels and overpriced witnots. The gifts I’m giving are not expensive, but I have thought about the recipients. Prosecco will be drunk, nibbles eaten, carols sung, and far from feeling deprived, I anticipate thoroughly enjoying the jolly season.

Have a good one.

Vegfest 2017: Reality

Interest in fake cheese

I arrived at Olympia around two, and at first sight my worst fears seemed to be realised – long queues of people, many wearing t shirts with vegan slogans, at a food stall selling meals out of mock meat. I had my own lunch with me, and it looked a lot nicer than most of the stuff other people were eating.

Looking at the list of exhibitors I was surprised to see a number of animal charities including Cats’ Protection and Mayhew, and very pleased to see Veggie Pets were there. Ever since I visited Edgar’s Mission in Australia last year I have been keen to find out how possible it is to feed a cat a healthy vegetarian diet. It turns out that taurine, something cats need to be well is now made synthetically and that meat and fish based cat foods use this man made product.

The stall had lots of products for dogs, not so many for cats. Just two types of biscuit. I bought samples for MasterB to try, knowing I would be back again on Sunday and could get a big bag if he liked them. It seems I can buy tinned food online. Well how about that? Continue reading