The Coronavirus Diaries 26th September 2022, What Now?

My nose has, thank goodness stopped running like a tap, but as of yesterday evening I am very tired. I slept for ten hours last night. This is a worry as I have a ticket for Outspoken on Thursday evening and I want to be there. I shall test on Thursday morning and hope for no second thin pink line.

The weather, suddenly autumnal, has been achingly perfect for long country walks which of course I can’t take. Celia has brought me my shopping, Octavia called round with a risotto and side salad yesterday. I can’t say I am struggling. Both cats have been perfect companions. A&M return on Thursday, so my duties will end after breakfast. I shall miss the ever demanding Lola. MasterB is a pushover in comparison.

A short time ago I went out to break up a four way cat fight. Stumpy, Hartley, Romeo and Smudge were all embroiled in fisticuffs. My guess is that Stumpy picked on Hartley, who is in general fight averse, Hartley’s brother Smudge and Romeo both piled in. It made quite a noise. MasterB watched from the bedroom window and seems to have decided on an evening indoors.

I finished selecting photos for MasterB’s 2023 calendar today and have despatched them to the printer. There’s a limited print run, and I hope to keep the price to £8.50 again, plus postage and packing which I need to check out. Let me know if you are interested. Some will go to Belfast, some to Melbourne Australia, at least two to the US, one to Italy, one to France. It’s an international though exclusive club!

The news from Italy is not great. A neo fascist set to be prime minister. People here on twitter saying they agree with her views. Our new Prime Minister probably does too. As neither she nor the chancellor are stupid, I am struggling to understand why they are acting as they are. Simple greed? Have they decided the best thing to do is to milk this country for all it has, sharing the spoils with their pals while the rest of us starve, before rushing off somewhere else on the planet with their cash? If they intend to remain here, trashing the country doesn’t seem a great approach. Or maybe they like raw sewage in the waterways, people living in tents on any stretch of land, overburdened hospitals and collapsing infrastructure.

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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, 28th August 2022. Crisis Bullet Points

The trouble with not posting for a while is you – by which of course I mean I – have too much to say so where to start, where to end, which rant to prioritise, which magic moment to celebrate, becomes the barrier to any post at all.

So I thought to try a few bullet points. Here goes, in no particular order:

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th July 2022, Masked Up

It feels as though the net is drawing tighter and it’s only a matter of time until I am caught in it. Almost every day I hear of someone new who I know catching COVID. All have been vaccinated, all have escaped the virus until now. I am in a group of diminishing size. So I’m back in masks, still opening windows and sitting beside them where possible when I am on the bus, restricting my social life, washing my hands, trying to keep my distance and mainly seeing people outside, which is not hard at this time of year.

Next week, should trains and planes allow, I shall be off to NI for a fortnight, and I really don’t COVID to put a stop to that or to strike me down while I am there. Octavia was telling me of her friend Loris who has flown in from Australia, but far from enjoying a holiday she is laid up in bed feeling dreadful. Allegra went to the US to attend a family wedding. A good friend who accompanied her for the relaxing break they intended to enjoy afterwards, has also tested positive and is very unwell. Jimmy returned from a festival in Croatia , and, well you have probably guessed the rest. My neighbours across the landing succumbed last week. Celia tested positive at the weekend. Mary, who I work with tested positive yesterday.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th July 2022: Some Like it Hot

It’s cooler tonight and the breeze, unlike yesterday’s warm winds, is refreshing. I hung out some washing yesterday, went to the shop, came back less than half an hour later and everything, including bath towels, was dry. Still, for some reason I found the very high temperatures easier to deal with than the day before when it was a degree or two less, maybe because I wasn’t working.

We have strange attitudes to sweat. We know we sweat to keep our bodies cool, but the Ring of Shame is something featured in celeb magazines as though those who have achieved fame and success are somehow letting themselves down by perspiring. I am hoping Prince Andrew’s inability to sweat is going to turn sweating, or glowing as us ladies do, into a Ring of Pride.

Anyway I have glowed a fair amount these last few days. The cat’s cool mat and a tiny desk fan that plugs into my power bank via a USB have somewhat remarkably meant I have slept well. There was one night, Sunday, when I had murderous thoughts towards a woman on a roof terrace nearby who I should guess had had a fair amount of alcohol. At regular intervals of around ten minutes she shouted “hello?” and then shouted it again several times. Had I already been asleep I doubt if it would have bothered me. As it was her “hello?”s repeatedly coincided with the moment I was just dropping off. In the end I turned the light back on, opened my book and read until all was quiet. I don’t know why she stopped her shouting. Maybe someone finally answered her call, or perhaps she simply passed put in an alcoholic haze. I admit my concerns were more for myself than for her.

More disturbing were yesterday’s wild fires. The worst fires the fire service has had to deal with since the Second World War. Johnson tweeted his thanks to the fire service, conveniently ignoring the fact that he closed fire stations and reduced the number of firefighters during his time as a memorably lamentable Mayor of London.

He continued today at his last PMQs to crow about achievements which are about as real as the Emperor’s New Clothes. Like Trump, he operates on the premise that a lie repeated endlessly acquires the patina of truth. This works in part because there are so many lies that are repeated so often, serious journalists ignore them to deal with the day’s lies. It’s a case of volume: screen time and column inches are not infinite. It also works because people who should know better but either have no shame, no conscience or no backbone and those who own right wing papers repeat the same lies.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 17th July 2022, Heatwave

The UK Health Security Agency has increased its heat health warning from three to four, a level described as a national emergency. So what do you do when the country is put on amber alert, rising in the next days to red for the first time as temperatures continue to pass what we think of as normal? Obviously we will all have different priorities and strategies. Imagine you are Prime Minster and there’s a Cobra meeting to discuss this emergency but you have already planned a party at the grace and favour home you are still entitled to use for the next couple of months. What choice do you make as leader? I hope most Prime Ministers would issue apologies to the guests, and do what they are paid to do. This is not the choice the Liar in Chief has opted for. Not surprising, but still somehow shocking.

Meanwhile some of the hopefuls, or probably more accurately hopeless, in the contest to be the new leader of the Conservatives are prevaricating about the commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. I suspect they will not be prevaricating about their commitment to curb immigration, somehow conveniently ignoring the fact that as parts of the world become unsustainable due to climate crisis a surge in immigration is inevitable. If they really wanted to curb immigration and not just pander to the Little Englanders they would be ardently committed to net zero before 2050, and looking at ways to alleviate climate crisis globally. We are all linked, all equally responsible, equally damned.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 15th July 2022, How Low (or High) Can You Go?

Yup, back to the Coronavirus Diaries again, as numbers are again rising here in the UK, and quite how high they may go before there’s any reaction from government remains to be seen. Personally I’m not betting on any reaction at all. As far as this lot is concerned the pandemic is over. People falling sick, people being admitted to hospital, people dying but politically this is yesterday’s news. The current focus is on who will be the new leader of the Conservative party, and, heaven help us, our new Prime Minister. So you might think the how low can you go part of the title of this blog refers to the less than inspiring, and actually frankly terrifying possibilities. There was a televised debate between the prospective candidates following the news on Channel 4 tonight. For a few minutes I thought I might watch.

From the kitchen I heard Krishnan Guru Murthy giving a brief run down of each of the candidates. I walked back into the living room as the first question was asked and managed a whole half minute of Liz Truss’ garbled opening sentence before reaching for the off button. We are doomed. When people said there was no one better in the Tory party to take over from the Liar in Chief I didn’t believe them. Sadly it seems they are right. Read Marina Hyde and John Crace in the Guardian for an idea, or if you have the stomach, watch the candidates’ videos as they pitch for the job. In other fields employers would readvertise, hoping for a better response. Maybe in the Conservative party they know that would be futile.

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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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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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