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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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th May 2022, Photos from the Weekend

Unfortunately I had accidentally switched my new pocket camera into video mode. I thought I had fixed that, but evidently I hadn’t so most of my photos from the first evening and Saturday are extremely short films. So we start with Sunday, my birthday as it goes, and our BnB, then our walk around Church Island and the bluebells with Cecilia. I don’t know if there’s an annual vote for most hospitable landlady, but my vote would be for her.

Then onto Belfast and the new bnb, where my favourite item was the coffee table made from a painted pallet set on casters.

Having not airbnbed before, I am unfamiliar with the styling guidance. We were surprised at the proliferation of fake flowers. Also signs with inspirational messages. Is this a thing? Cool table though. I want one.

The Titanic Quarter is photogenic, the wonderful exhibition is housed in a wonderful building. I use the word wonderful deliberately. A building and an exhibition which evoke wonder. So many of our words are overused and undervalued, it’s hard to find one that doesn’t sound stale or everyday. I think Belfast City Council was both brave and far sighted to approve the plans for this building. It could have been safe (no bad taste joke intended); it could have been demure; it could have been a host of things it isn’t. What it is is bold, beautiful, and defiantly representational. That prow. That iceberg. The magnificent ship meeting its match. Like a tragic hero. To my shame I should have to look up the architects. Surely we should all know who they are?

I am giving this a bigger space because it says so much. In the distance we can see the building I have just raved about. Belfast Marina is to the left. Celia is on the right walking past the saddest exhibit: that long sculpture, looking like a fish someone has caught, represents the Titanic going down prow first. That perpendicular position tells you all you need about the horror. There’s another picture of the sculpture in the next gallery. You’ll see it was quite dull and overcast when we went into the exhibition.

When we came out, it was a different story. The day had morphed into a bright, warm, sunny afternoon. We wandered. We looked. We sat. We contemplated.

The walk to the centre took us by Big Fish. I am fond of Big Fish as you’ll see. I also love the 1950s Unite Building close by.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th May 2022, a Birthday Weekend

Celia wanted to post her brother’s birthday card. No sign of a post box, but there was a postman in a stationary van. Celia waved to him and walked over as he started move. Is it just the one thing you want to post? he asked. Yes, she said. He reached out a hand. I’ll take it, he said.

In my head I could hear my mother’s voice. They’d only do that in Ireland, she was saying, probably correctly, proudly pointing out yet again how the country of her birth was far superior to anywhere else.

We were in Belfast. The centre, not the suburbs, a stone’s throw from City Hall. It was the end of the weekend we spent in Northern Ireland celebrating both our birthdays. Working backwards, yesterday we had been in the centre, meeting Fiona for coffee at the Linen Hall Library, a favourite venue of mine, then staying chatting for so long we decided to have lunch there and forgo our other plans. We had already had coffee at the Two Sisters coffee shop off the Cregagh Road. I also had a vegan brownie there and Celia had resisted a bag she would have liked to buy. If you are near this coffee shop I recommend you pop in. It’s lovely. The coffee is lovely, the goods on display available to buy are lovely, the staff are even lovelier. It’s spotlessly clean, welcoming and probably saved our lives on Monday when we first visited it bleary eyed after a bad night’s sleep in a cold Airbnb with inadequate bedding. We compared notes in the morning, discovering we had each struggled to get warm. each been convinced in the small hours we had Covid. There were no extra blankets, no hot water bottles. The heating system resisted our efforts to spring into action despite our following the instructions to the letter. Via email I requested help, blankets and hot water bottles. Someone would come to sort the heating later I was told. Twice more I requested blankets and hot water bottles, requests which bore some fruit as we found blankets on our return.

Not the best start to our only full day in Belfast. Still, we managed a good walk through a bluebell clad Cregagh Glen to the rath at the top, then back on the Cregagh Road we enjoyed a tomato and chilli soup at the café attached to the Museum of Orange History, and where my cousin Kathryn collected us for a drive round south and east Belfast which included visiting a property she intends to renovate. She suggested we spend the evening in the buzzy cathedral quarter. All we could think of was bed and an early night, both duly achieved. Thank goodness we both slept well.

We’d arrived in Belfast by bus from Castledawson at lunchtime on Sunday. Our very lovely B&B landlady having left us at the stop after also coming for a walk with us around Church Island in Bellaghy, a walk we had hoped to do on Saturday but it had rained most of the day, and was raining particularly hard at the time we thought we might walk. We caught another bus out to our airbnb, dropped our bags and headed straight out again to the Titanic Quarter and exhibition. I think it was only when we came outside again that Celia believed my assurances that I was more than happy to go the exhibition again. Since I visited it a few years ago I’ve wanted to return. Celia is now where I was then. I am now ready for visit number three. The exhibition does everything only the best exhibitions achieve. It informs, awes, makes you think, has an emotional impact.

It had been overcast when we went into the exhibition so to emerge to bright sunshine was an added bonus. Fortunately I checked my phone as we sat looking at the water. Petra had sent a message saying she could after all join us for dinner. However, she thought we were still in Bellaghy, and was intending to travel down to Co Derry. I called her to say we were in Belfast and Home was the restaurant, not a reference to our Airbnb. Disaster averted. Home is a great place. My friend Jo, who we were also meeting there, introduced me to it last summer. The food is excellent and the service friendly and professional. Celia was impressed by the level of customer service she was experiencing. We had a great evening. Lots of chat, lots of laughter. The craic, as they say, was good.

Jo and I have known each other most of our lives. By one of those freak coincidences she was buying vegetables in the supermarket near the airport at the same time we were shopping for provisions after Cecilia (our landlady) had picked us up on Friday. That woman looks like Jo, I thought. Then, that woman is Jo! She had been at a flower show in Antrim, and had left her car at a park and ride by the supermarket.

Friday the weather was amazing. Blue skies, warm sunshine. A contrast with the grey skies and low temperatures we had left behind in London. Saturday not so much. It started with drizzle and became rain. But we spent most of the day at the Heaney Homeplace, first at the exhibition and enjoying the new digital archive in the renovated library, having a snack lunch in the café so we weren’t exactly inconvenienced.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd April 2022, An Away Day to Essex

I like Wivenhoe. I like Wivenhoe a lot. Today isn’t the first time I have swapped the grime and pollution of my beloved Walworth for the fresh air and calm of this Essex town. I never seem to visit it in bad weather. Someone did once tell me it’s the place that gets the most sun in the UK but I don’t know if that’s true.

It’s certainly friendly and there are a wonderful lot of dogs to greet and pat as you walk about. The Norwegian Baker isn’t open on a Friday but I found an excellent alternative with the Bolivian Baker. No photographs I’m afraid, everything has been consumed.

Today I went for a walk outside Wivenhoe, heading to Arlesford where B&J have some very lovely friends. No I didn’t visit them. For starters I don’t know their address. If I had I might have been tempted. I don’t think I saw the bit of Arlesford where they live. I did see a lot of houses, a lot of bungalows, one pub, a handful of shops. I was impressed by the railway station garden, and surprised by the safari, and Shaun the sheep, in the front garden of an ordinary house.

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