The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th December 2021 Boxing Day Plus One

I thought today was Boxing Day as it’s a Bank Holiday and the day after Christmas Day is called Boxing Day and is usually a Bank Holiday but this year it was a Sunday, so the Bank Holiday is today, but Boxing Day was still yesterday. Confused? Join the club.

I was working yesterday. It was outside and first thing in the morning the rain was pelting down. I was wondering how my clients would react if I turned up in waterproof over trousers but fortunately, as promised by the weather forecast, the rain eased off.

Some people are lucky and they love their work. On days like yesterday I am one of those people. I just enjoyed the whole day. Then at home I read the paper. Finally it appears people are waking up to the reality of Boris Johnson, liar in chief and total disaster for this country. Maybe I should be happier that the truth is dawning on so many who have chosen to follow his lies, but the fact that they have so eagerly believed his nonsense makes me wonder what sort of country I am living in. And heaven help us, there are still some who think he’s doing a good job and that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a gentleman. The future does not look good. Also if BJ goes, who is in line for the job? Liz Truss perhaps, Dominic Raab, Rishi Sunak, or maybe Michael Gove who has recently been very silent, suspiciously silent in my opinion. None are examples of politicians who put country ahead of personal ambition.

I strongly believe no one should be able to be a representative, elected to the Commons, or nominated as in the Lords, who does not pay their full share of taxes to the treasury, has offshore investments, hedge funds, owns or has shares in companies who practise tax avoidance, has money left in trust funds to make sure their funds remain intact, or at least very lightly taxed, for future generations of their family while the playing field for others becomes less and less level. If you are in position to make decisions on how taxes are spent you need to pay them. Actually, even if you aren’t in that position you need to pay them. We need our roads, our hospitals, our schools.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, Christmas Eve 2021

I can hear rain against the windows, but the shutters are closed, candles lit, MasterB asleep on the chair, his nose tucked into his tail. We are cosy and warm. I am listening to A Mediaeval Carol Service from St Bartholomew the Great. It took place a few days ago, but is available to listen to and watch online courtesy of YouTube. I recommend it. Earlier I went for a walk before seeing Michèle for a glass of wine in her flat. She’s been home for over a week now, her ankle getting stronger daily, and she’s obviously loving being back in her own territory.

While I walked I was thinking about Christmas, this year and last, both shadowed by COVID but feeling very different. In 2020 we were making the best of things, not allowed to travel, so nearly all the neighbours were around. We were in it together. It was cold but dry and bright. We could meet outside, observe social distancing, exchange cards and gifts over a glass of something bubbly. But COVID has become a virus of attrition and it feels this year we are wearier, less inclined to find ways to be imaginative in our celebrations, more inward looking.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th December 2021, Omicron Christmas

Today has had all the grey tones of a wartime film. Brief Encounter perhaps. We have just over twenty four hours to go before the days creepingly get longer again. In the meantime I would welcome some blue skies, even if it means colder weather. I have candles and fairy lights in self-defence. Or maybe that should be protection. Those cards I send are all written and posted, the ones delivered by hand all pushed through letterboxes; a rare few parcels to addresses beyond walking or meeting distance went weeks ago, and the others have been wrapped, all with MasterB’s help – unroll wrapping paper and he sits on it – and passed into others’ hands. All except the one for my six-year-old neighbour who I shall see on Christmas Day morning. The flat has suddenly started to look festive. The sideboard is covered with cards and gifts. It’s weird how one moment it seems too early to be thinking about Christmas, the next a mad dash to get everything done.

Omicron has slimmed down the actual festivities. Drinks and nibbles are off again for the second Christmas running. I did a jigsaw at the weekend instead. I expect to do another, maybe a third. I bought a Radio Times, but the Christmas television schedules fail to inspire so far. We have lots of channels now, some of which I can access, but lots of channels seems to mean lots of dross. Why people want to sit and watch a bunch of celebs doing everything from building snowmen to buying antiques mystifies me. There must be the odd nugget in there somewhere, indeed I know there is as I have started watching Outlaws which is streamed on BBC i-player, but I am hardly spoiled for choice.

Last night was live music. Octavia and I went to St Bart the Great’s for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which was sublime. Again I wished I had belief. The Christmas story is heartbreaking in its simplicity, in its promise of a better world, of redemption, a world saved by the innocence of a baby born in a stable. Peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 2nd December 2021

My work took me out into the cold of the day. I didn’t make any money, today was prep, taking photographs, making the most of the blue skies. Rain is forecast tomorrow. I walked between Park Lane and Bayswater, traversing Hyde Park. London is rich in parks, and although I have visited Hyde Park many times, I can’t truly say I know it. It is vast. I walked through bits I knew, then bits I didn’t recognise to more bits I knew. It was lovely.

After Bayswater it was back through the park to Belgravia, a part of London I don’t like much. It’s all big white houses which look alike to me. A bit of luck as I left the park, the Horseguards, Lifeguards in their red, were making their way back to their barracks and stables. These are sights I missed during lockdown. The daily panoply of pomp with beautiful beautiful horses.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th November 2021: Omicron Days

The woman intent on her ‘phone did not deserve the black Labrador politely nudging her leg to ask her to throw his ball. A less polite dog would have looked around the circle of grass and seen there were other humans paying attention to their dogs, throwing things for their dogs, talking to them, patting them, and left her to her little screen in search of a new significant person. Me perhaps.

Celia and I had finally found a spot to eat our respective lunches. She had a neat plastic box with sandwiches and bits and bobs, I had a falafel wrap I bought in a branch of Sainsbury’s just after we left Wandsworth Cemetery. We’d walked some way since then, following the Wandle Trail which is bizarrely almost devoid of anywhere to sit. There was one bench and it had a nice view, but it was in the shade and yesterday was cold. Just how cold I think we both realised when we stopped moving and sat down to eat our lunch. I’d vetoed a couple of places Celia had suggested. Somehow lunching with a view of a depot of refuse trucks on the opposite bank did not meet any of my criteria for fine dining. Then there was a depot of builders’ lorries. Fortunately Celia spotted the bench in sunshine just away from the path and we settled there. While we ate, a man, a woman and a child turned up and started planting bulbs beside us. This being Wandsworth not Walworth they did not speak to us, nor we to them. I was in Battersea today, also part of Wandsworth, and only one person responded to my smiled hello. A young couple with a baby and another black Labrador – black Labrador ownership seems very high in Wandsworth which has to be an indication of at least some good qualities – looked at me as though I might be an axe murderer disguised as a woman at the edge of her prime having a very bad hair day. The one person who spoke to me had two dachshunds. Wandsworth is also rich in this breed of dog.

The forecast for the weekend had not been promising. If you only had one word to describe it that word would be cold. Add sleet to Saturday’s forecast, and you’ll understand why we thought Sunday the better day for our excursion. The cold combined with increasingly short days steered our attention to a shorter walk closer to home. The Ramblers’ website turned up quite a few self guided routes, and we plumped for one between Balham to Wimbledon just over five miles long.

Balham has gone upmarket in recent decades. It’s a place of coffee shops, shops selling expensive baby clothes, a branch of Planet Organic. There is a branch of Aldi, another of Lidl, so not everyone can be well heeled, but it certainly gives off an air of comfortable middle classness nowadays. The charity shops are excellent.

We turned away from the tube station and into a network of roads I have never visited. Some very grand houses. We looked. I stared. Then in minutes we were down a track and walking parallel to the railway on a part of Wandsworth Common entirely new to me. The skies were blue, the dog walkers were out, we were wrapped up. All was well.

Celia got a cup of coffee and I used the loo at a café we both agreed we would not be visiting again. Then more Wandsworth Common, more blue skies, more dogs, and a bench to sit where Celia finished her coffee and we both watched a group (a flock? how many birds does it need to be a flock?) of pigeons having a communal bath, a tern watching them and looking bemused.

From the walk notes we learned the common was despoiled by Spencer family, as in the Earls Spencer, the current one being the brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they set out to exploit the common as thoroughly as they could, cutting down trees, extracting gravel, creating illegal enclosures. One oft repeated claim made by the landed gentry is that they protect and preserve the land. Wandsworth Common may be the exception which proves the rule, but somehow I rather doubt it.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th November 2021

Brrr. We have had such a mild autumn the sudden drop in temperature which makes it clear Winter has arrived is an unwelcome shock. Cold weather is seldom something I enjoy, but this year with hikes in fuel prices it is even less welcome. I don’t like a hot home. I prefer to add layers rather than strip off in overheated rooms, and the climate crisis makes such choices greater than wondering if I can pay the bills.

The very idea of climbing into a fragile, overcrowded boat and crossing even a narrow river in this weather would terrify me, and I don’t think I’d be alone. So what horrors are people who are prepared to try to cross the English Channel in such conditions fleeing? It really doesn’t take much imagination to understand that if you are ready to take such risks, you don’t have a comfortable safe home to return to. Yet our government and many people in these islands talk of migrants and refugees as though they are heading for the UK attracted by the idea of a welfare state that will care for them, that it’s a considered choice and one that is casually taken. Refugees are fleeing situations where they face torture and death. Norman Tebbitt MP famously told people in this country to get on their bikes and look for work outside their home area. It’s a refrain reworked with similar words by politicians today. Unless of course your search for work and a living wage means you come to the UK from elsewhere. Then you are an economic migrant, a phrase loaded with disdain. Nobody climbs into an overcrowded boat to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in winter to come to the UK if they have positive choices at home.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th September 2021

I had my winter ‘flu vaccination yesterday. I went to the local pharmacy to book an appointment and was fitted in then and there. By late evening my arm was sore and by this morning most of my upper arm was covered in an angry red rash. I felt, still feel, somewhat under the weather though probably by tomorrow I’ll be fine. Why my body should react so strongly to vaccinations I do not know.

Consequently it has been a rather lazy day. I have read a book, made some notes for a job I am doing in ten days, read emails and replied to them. I could quite happily go to bed now, but as it’s not yet five o’clock, I shall stay up a while longer. The day has been grey, windy, not cold enough to put the heating on, but cold enough to close windows and wear socks and a jumper. It’s soup weather. Soup and crusty bread, except I am deliberately buying boring bread as when I have good bread I keep eating it. Boring bread does not exercise the same appeal.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th September 2021

And suddenly it’s autumn. Mask wearing is increasingly erratic. Even I have forgotten to mask up on a couple of occasions. I am hoping this new feeling of relaxation is not heading for trouble. I have been comforting myself seeing figures locally dropping, the warm weather meaning we are outside a good deal and on the buses the windows are generally open. So the sudden drop in temperature is a bit worrying.

Sunday was lovely, which was great as Celia and headed off, booted and with packed lunches for Haslemere on the Surrey Sussex borders. We had each bought our tickets on Saturday though at different London stations. I had the better deal at Charing Cross with my ticket for some reason being £2 less. However, a couple of hours later the likelihood of my going anywhere was remote. I had sat down on the floor to do something necessary at the computer. When I finished and stood up my left ankle felt as though it had gone to sleep. I expected it to wear off in a few minutes, but instead it became increasingly sore and I hobbled painfully down to the neighbourhood gathering that was the annual Sausage Sizzle. Unsurprisingly I didn’t have sausages. I took a butterbean and pesto salad.

After breakfast I had managed to drop my ‘phone on my foot and it seems this ankle pain was a delayed reaction to the trauma. Anyway, after sitting for a while on the sofa with bag of frozen peas wrapped round my ankle I had an early night, swapping the peas for Ibuprofen gel. It worked. In the morning my walking skills were restored. Hurrah!

The walk instructions warned at places it could be muddy, but we hadn’t had rain for weeks (a situation that has changed this week with a dramatic downpour yesterday morning that included bouncing hail, and several heavy showers today) so we were quietly confident.

When we left London, the only hint that it was autumn was the mist. With sunrise now happening just before seven, it takes a while for the day to wake up. I have done several walks around Haslemere, it’s a lovely town surrounded by great countryside; the perfect combination. You may well recognise the first place if you have followed this page for some years as I am pretty sure I have posted a very similar picture, with a robin in it, or maybe just a reference to a robin. Obviously any walk with Celia at this time of year is going to feature fungi.

The trees were still green. We actually got almost excited when we saw a few brown leaves. Blackberries worth picking were in short supply, but I got enough to add to the crumble I shared with Octavia later. There was a fair amount of up. The walk notes used the word steep more often than I like, but it was nice steep, through woodland and on paths that twisted rather than heading up in an unrelenting slog. I kept checking the treeline to see how much further we had to climb.

I do love a fingerpost, and there were quite a few. The first three quarters of the walk were well way marked, so combined with the instructions we had no problems finding our route.

Why this footpath over a stream is described as shuttered I do not know. Can anyone explain please?

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th September 2021

Days have passed, maybe a week, maybe more, since I posted. I have not been ill, not been lying in a darkened room. I have been stressed, but I have still been active. There’s been work for starters, so no staring at a blank wall emptying my mind.

And Celia and I have resumed our out of town walking. So three Saturdays, three walks. The middle walk was fairly close to home, but one I will gladly do again. I had thought I might write and post photos of all three tonight. Then I downloaded thirty-one pictures from yesterday’s walk. The other two will either have to wait or not get written about. That would be a pity as this blog is essentially my diary, albeit with bits of my life expurgated to protect myself and others.

The first thing to say is that we didn’t get lost. Celia and I have such a track record of getting lost (and thus finding unexpected delights before we find our way again) I feel that needs to be said. The second is this not the first walk, or even the second we planned to do yesterday morning. The first was discarded because of transport problems. The second I printed out and helpfully left on the window sill at home. It started from Otford and finished at Eynsford. Celia was keen to see Shoreham. On the train we found an Otford circular via Shoreham. Bingo.

The forecast said it would be cloudy all day, and that is how it started. having climbed a steepish hill we looked at the view and saw a white cross on the opposite hillside at Shoreham.

But soon we were shading our eyes and grateful to walk through woods filled with filtered sunlight. Celia is a bit of fungi fan, so this specimen, glowing in isolation caught and held our attention for several minutes. What is is it?

We walked across fields, past barns, were warned, were objects of curiosity, saw views down valleys. I think my favourite bit, and there were so many good bits it’s hard to choose, was when we entered a wooded paddock where a notice warned of us of hardy animals kept there to help with the bio culture. I was expecting sheep, maybe ponies, perhaps highland cattle or llamas. But we had barely walked a few yards into the paddock when there was the noise of hooves and animals coming down the path and three very healthy looking bullocks came to check us out. They were curious, not aggressive, but I wondered if their curiosity might put us in danger. We stopped. They stopped. Hello, I said, we’ve come in friendship. We don’t want to harm you. I’m vegan. Celia isn’t.

Celia may hold that against me to the end of my days.

One of the bullocks mooed. It was like a summons. More crashing through the greenery and a lot more cattle appeared. They stared at us then made up the hill. It seemed for a while they were tracking us along a higher path that ran parallel to ours. I’d love to be one of the volunteers who checks on them. What fun, what a privilege, to get to know them as individuals. Just before we left the paddock there was another long loud moo. It sounded like the all clear.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 3rd September 2021

Friday again already. Unbelievable. The week has flown by. The opera was great last Saturday, both music and venue, both of which got good reviews in The Guardian. And that’s not even starting on the good company. Celia and I hatched a last minute plan to go walking on Sunday. We plumped for a walk we have done several times which takes in the cemetery where my great grandmother and Lewis Carol are buried, views across to Guildford cathedral, farmland, woodland, Watts Gallery, uphills and downhills, horses in fields, a country pile, a lake, the river Wey, and, most importantly for this time of year, blackberries.

We ended at a pub which used to be called the Jolly Farmer and is now I think called The Weyside, drank our half pints of cider, shared a packet of crisps, and got the train back to London. It was good. Monday, being a bank holiday, was grey and dull. I felt no regrets about getting on with paperwork. Work on Tuesday, and suddenly it’s Friday again. Michèle lent me a book called The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell. It was published in 1938 and has been republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. After Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, the change of style took a few chapters for me to find the rhythm. There was quite a lot of ‘ere, and, laarst, to conjure the accents of the Rotherhithe community. At first this grated, but I got over it and would happily read more by her. However, although Michèle lent me two further books from the series they are both by different writers, both new to me. I am just embarking on Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert. For fans of detective fiction, this series is a goldmine.

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