The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th January 2023, Quiet Times

Unplanned, I seem to have started January dry. Octavia does Dry January which is not quite the same thing. The Nozeco opened on Christmas Day morning is still in the fridge. Yes, there’s very little alcohol in Nozeco, very little in Becks Blue, and I have several bottles of that, I just don’t fancy anything alcoholic or even approaching the idea of alcoholic. Benilyn continues to be my tipple of choice, which is odd because it tastes disgusting. I couldn’t get Benilyn original, so have Benilyn Non-Drowsy after the pharmacist assured me it didn’t contain any ingredients which would keep me awake. It’s also red, but a brighter red than Original. Just as unpalatable though.

Still my cough has definitely lessened. It’s not yet gone, but it’s in departure. hanging around the duty free section perhaps, or in the bookshop, flicking through books it has no intention of buying. I hope its flight is called soon. I feel as though I have been coughing for ever. Work continued all last week and then into the weekend. I was up in the morning, out and about, doing my stuff, home and eating good healthy food washed down by water, and then to bed with a Lemsip around half past eight.

I’ve not worked today, and the diary is gloriously empty until next week. That’s how I feel now, but by Saturday I shall probably be fretting and worrying about my income. Well, being freelance and self employed was my choice. It can be precarious, but I don’t have many extravagances, so I get through. Also January and February are always quiet and a chance to recharge batteries, and as I didn’t do a jigsaw over Christmas this may be my chance.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 10th December 2022: Love and Friendship

I stumbled upon a delightful film on Film4 this evening. Finding Your Feet. I missed the first fifteen minutes or so, but the story was fairly undemanding and I think I filled in all the gaps. It’s an unassuming film, probably low budget, featuring places I recognise close to where I live, and with a gentle talented cast including Tim Spall, Celia Imrie, the late John Sessions in a minor part, and Imelda Staunton. I loved it. It was kind. Just what I needed. No car chases, no hugely dramatic showdowns, high body count or spilled blood, and somehow all the more precious and life enhancing for that. Tim Spall at the helm of a narrowboat which I know he has done many many times in his own life, particularly after his recovery from cancer.

I am finding life in this country hard. We seem to have turned into a horrible parody of ourselves; a divided divisive society, people on the edge of destitution because those elected to govern simply don’t seem to count swathes of the population as important. Horrible hateful comments about Harry and Meghan, even from people I usually respect. Maybe it was always like this. That there was a civilised veneer which was ripped away by Brexit to reveal the hideous truth beneath.

I am lucky. I have good friends who are enormously important to me. I have a beautiful, gentle cat who I love and who I dare to say loves me. Though he may love biscuits more. These are the things which make life good.

It’s suddenly Christmas. December has a habit of arriving calmly and then rushing into a mad frenzy. There are increasing numbers of people – men mostly – walking or riding bicycles dressed in Father Christmas hats or even the whole outfit -in central London. Christmas trees have been appearing for several weeks, though bizarrely not in Westminster Abbey, while in St Paul’s both Samuel Johnson and John Howard have had their statues hidden by Sandringham’s best.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th November 2022, Brunch, Board Games, and Big Houses

But I don’t think I can bear to do any politics, it’s too darned depressing.

Today Celia and I returned to Pipoca for lunch, the menu calls what we ate brunch, but we’d both had breakfast. I opted for the Mexican Brunch, apparently their best seller, Celia went for the Brixton Brunch. Next time I’ll follow her example unless I have the spinach and mushroom galette again. The Mexican Brunch was fine, but the Brixton one looked better: more greens, black beans rather than red kidney ones, mushrooms. Mine included tofu scramble which I often make at home. My tofu scramble is better.

We were both quite full by the time we left, so a wander about the back streets between the Brixton and Clapham Roads helped our digestion. From the Brixton Road you can see a park, and a church spire framed by trees. We started with the park. More street art. Or should that be park art?

There were people playing football, a young dog racing around the dog exercise area with a toy in its mouth while another dog sat sedately watching it. There were lovely trees, a children’s play area with an attractive train, an adventure playground, and sunshine.

Across the road the exit stood the church. A service was going on onside. The congregation was sparse. A small group of people engaged in a private ritual which meant something to them. We walked quietly away. Opposite the church there was an amazing house. It made us look at the other houses, some divided into flats, some still apparently single family dwellings. They were evidently built for the well to do. Tradespeople rather than gentry. The rising middle classes of the nineteenth century. Servants must have lived in.

We turned onto Stockwell Park Road. A blue plaque. Lilian Baylis! if you live in south London and love theatre Baylis, manager of the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells. is a legend. She was also a character. There are lots of stories about her. One of the best known is when staff asked for a pay rise they were told that Baylis would have to ask God. God’s response was always the same: ‘Sorry, dear, God says No.’ And her favourite prayer was said to be ‘Dear God, send me good actors but send them cheap.’

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st September 2022: the Rest of the Walk in Pictures

To continue. From Feering we walked on. The directions we had printed off were somewhat scant, and we quickly realised that it would have been helpful had distances been mentioned. There was also an instruction that told us to do something just before reaching somewhere. As the notes said, this is a walk popular with local walking groups, and it seemed local knowledge was required too.

As usual Celia was in charge of the notes while my job was to take photographs. There were several moments where we were not sure if we were in the right place, so to find the Plank Bridge and cross it was a relief. Fortunately the terrain was mainly easy and pleasant. The sun came and went. Likewise a stiff breeze. At one point it looked like it might rain. We were fairly sure we had missed a turning to Skye Green only to find a rather overgrown sign announcing it just after this finger post.

We never did find Lees farm, but emerged in more or less the right place opposite a thatched house. It had a bench in the garden where we were tempted to eat our packed lunches, but the plastic flowers put us off, though I liked the thatcher’s sign of ducks and ducklings on the roof. Soon we were walking into Coggeshall town and getting our first sights of solid, attractive houses.

I think I may have mentioned it already, but Coggeshall has, we learned, some three hundred listed buildings. We must have walked by most of them as we eventually found our way to the centre of town after the longest 0.7km ever recorded. There were very few indications of distance in the instructions and it would have been helpful if this one had been accurate. Once again we assumed we had missed our turning, or that it had been built over. But no, suddenly there was the Recreation Ground and a walled passage on the other side we walked through to the town centre.

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The Coronavirus Diaries 19th September 2022: Some Photos

I did watch the funeral today, or at least parts of it. I missed the arrival of the heads of state and the ex Prime Ministers, turning on the television as the coffin reached the abbey. MasterB was confused. I never watch television in the daytime and he evidently could not get his head around this strange occurrence. He kept checking in with me, needing reassurance in the form of cuddles and affection, so I missed other bits too. He is now outside which is why I’m at the keyboard.

The music, as you’d expect, was sublime. The shots of the abbey breathtaking. Only rare and narrow glimpses of David Hockney’s window. Why was that? There didn’t seem to be camera shots from that angle. Did someone decide it was too modern? It is the Queen’s window, one celebrating spring, her favourite season. Nearly all the women wore heels of staggering height and slenderness. I cannot imagine how they stood it. They probably have their feet soaking in warm water tonight.

By one o’clock I was funeraled out. there was a lot more to come, but I switched off and had lunch. I did catch some of the Windsor part and can only marvel at Charles’ stamina. Suddenly a half hour slot at the crematorium followed by tea and sandwiches seems a much better deal.

So to photos. Not of the funeral, of yesterday’s walk. I have a lot, so maybe some tonight, some later.

We started at Kelvedon which impressed us. One attractive building after another, though some seemed neglected.

Essex is famously Tory, so I was surprised and pleased to see Kelvedon’s councillors are Greens. The bench was a nice touch too. There were grand houses, not so grand houses and expensive cars. I don’t recall seeing any reference to food banks.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th September 2022: Walking, Not Queueing

While some chose to spend the day queueing along the Thames to pay their respects at Westminster Hall where the Queen in her coffin lies in state, Celia and I headed to Essex. We took the train to from Liverpool Street which meant first taking a bus which crossed London Bridge where we saw the queue snaking along. We also saw it when we returned this evening, just before eight, when an announcement on the bus reminded us that we were due to observe a one minute’s silence.

Ironically much of our day had been pretty silent as we walked paths and met very few other walkers. Liverpool Street Station this evening was a bit of a culture shock, with hoards of people milling around and the usual crowds at the bus stops, noise and a very lovely young dog with his homeless owner. He doesn’t like big bags and barked loudly each time someone passed with one. I went to speak to his owner, a young woman and give her some money. The barking dog turned into a love hound, just wanting to make friends with me and have a cuddle. Still, if I were living on the streets I’d want a dog with a loud bark like his too.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2022: Out and About

Celia and I met up after lunch yesterday. She’s been away, visiting family in various parts of the country. We went to Sydenham Woods, enjoying the cool of the shaded paths on yet another warm day.

We weren’t alone. There were families, quite a few with dogs, but it didn’t feel crowded. Partks are all very well, but walking in the woods is better somehow. When we emerged at the top of a hill there was a convenient pub called the Wood House. In we went for some cider. Very nice. We couldn’t decide if this was the same pub where Celia’s cousin Sally had a surprise birthday party some years ago.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 7th August 2022. Take me to the Sperrins!

My short stay in Belfast comes to an end in around three hours. It’s been great. I have walked and walked. Mostly I have walked alone, but yesterday I spent with Petra who I met through my work, which happens to be the same line as hers, when she was visiting London. I felt quite proud to introduce her to a neighbourhood she didn’t know, and to Falafel, my favourite restaurant which I had thought had closed permanently due to the pandemic.

There are several Lebanese restaurants on Botanic Avenue. Before we got there, Petra asked if I really wanted to eat at the particular restaurant. I did. I wanted to make sure it was under the same management and the food was as good as in 2019. The answer to both concerns is yes.

When our food arrived Petra needed no further encouragement, and by the time we had finished eating she had noted the meals being served to other diners and announced her intention to return. If you like the look of it too, the address is 9 Botanic Avenue.

Lunch at Falafel

From the bus I kept seeing an intriguing sculpture. Petra told me it is of the Blackbird of Belfast Lough, and took me to see it. Did you see the one outside the library? she asked. I hadn’t noticed it tucked under the tree, so two refs to the blackbird just yards apart, and both lovely.

We strolled around, admiring the details on modest Victorian houses, watching dogs at play and cats on doorsteps. And talking.

We had met up at Two Sisters, the very lovely coffee shop Celia and I had stumbled upon in the spring.Petra had a coffee. I had a cake. We both bought bread.

All around the centre there are currently decorated elephants raising awareness and funds for hospices. I live close to the Elephant and Castle in London and we have the same style elephants, also decorated around the regenerated area. Whoever came up with the original design has found a goldmine. This one appealed more than most.

Flax flower elephant

The political murals of Belfast are famous, but there is also a tremendous amount of street art. Perhaps I’m squeamish, but the murals with their uncompromising messages to anyone who disagrees with them disturb me. Give me the street art any day. Strictly speaking the Monopoly board is advertising for Douglas Huston’s estate agency, but it’s so cleverly done I had to admire it. References in others go over my head, but I can still enjoy them.

Then there’s this one close by the main library which was the police station in Line of Duty:

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10th July 2022, My Diary, Still Not Got Covid, (But I Still Might)

And hoping to stay that way. Not that I am wearing a mask these days, though my hand washing is still in the Lady Macbeth league. Buses are a problem, crowded, poorly ventilated but a necessary form of transport. I travelled on rather more than anticipated today. I actually anticipated not travelling on buses at all.

I had chosen a new (for me) Too Good To Go option. Bear in my mind that my three Too Good To Go interactions have been with the very wonderful Pipoca. I saw there was a fruit and veg option at a local Turkish shop. I gave it a go. It was only a slight detour from John’s workshop where I had arranged to meet him to collect the second of the two seagrass stools he has restored.

The walk was local, and I spent most of it dodging sunny pavements and main roads. I had two bags. A big one for the stool, a smaller one for the fruit and veg. I should have taken two big bags. I was presented with a plastic bag tied at the top full of ripe and very ripe fruit, three huge potatoes, some onions, aubergines, chillis and carrots. I was a bit taken aback. The bag was heavy and far bigger than I anticipated for my £2.50 outlay. Then I was given a second, mercifully much lighter bag with four bags of crisps just past their sell by date.

The walk to John’s workshop was only around twenty minutes, but after five I opted for the bus. Not the day for a heavy bag, said John, obviously somewhat surprised to see me so laden. We opened the bag of fruit and veg and he took some of the tomatoes and aubergines. But that was after he had given me water to drink and a chair to sit on. His workshop was a delight, it conjured images of my father, though his workshop was more ordered. He has finished restoring the blue harp, and has a second blue harp he’s working on. I took some bad pictures I have not yet downloaded. We talked. Finally I spotted my stool upside down in the corner. I had been distracted by the frame of a green harp hanging on a dowel, by the champagne box repurposed to hold tools. John said the box had an invoice which was dated during the Second World War. Were people really importing champagne from France to London at that time? Extraordinary.

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Back in Essex

Another day in Wivenhoe. It has a draw for me. Today I wanted to walk to Arlesford Creek. There’s a circular walk. I did it. It was lovely.

Wivenhoe was also holding an art trail. It does this a couple or three times each year. I have always missed it. Because of the art trail the Norwegian baker was open and doing a good trade. She closed her shop over an hour earlier than advertised, presumably having sold out of her wares.

The church extension in Wivenhoe is complete and the stained glass window is superb.

It turns out Arlesford Creek was where they filmed the Essex Serpent. It’s on Apple TV which I don’t have.

Walking the path beside the River Colne I could smell the sea. Then the path led up through the woods above the fields before dropping again to the creek.

I met two cats called Ronnie and Reggie, and the dachshunds were at the window again.

It was a good day.

Here are some pictures.

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