The Coronavirus Diaries, 23rd July 2021

I think the weather is going to break tomorrow or Sunday. Yesterday I did virtually nothing other than sit in the shade drinking mint tea or water, read and just enjoy being. Today seems to hold much of the same. Last night Poppy the overweight Labrador decided it was still too hot at 8.30 to walk, so after just a few hundred yards we turned back. I thought I’d walk her this morning, but by 9.00 the sun was already beating down. There’s little shelter from the sun for much of our walk, so exercise is again deferred.

Next week I’m hoping to see Uncle Bill on Monday, meet up with Fiona one day and see my friend Jo on Friday. Rain is forecast for the latter part of the week, but only light rain, so I think we’ll cope. I’m sure to be back in Belfast anyway.

ideally I’d like to revisit the exhibition on La Belle Époque with Charlotte McReynolds, it’s curator, but
as the pandemic rolls on, and numbers continue to rise while our freedom to spread and contract it remains uncurtailed, curators tours are unlikely to happen. In place of government leadership requiring us to exercise caution, individual businesses and venues are having to step up to the plate.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st July 2021

I have just read that Led by Donkeys is responsible for the very moving Covid memorial beside the Thames and next to St Thomas’ Hospital. Well done them. I hope it remains.

Today I have been in Belfast. It was hot, and by the time I arrived at the bus station to come back here I was weary. Belfast, I realised today, is a city not designed to give shelter to pedestrians. In warm weather you bake, in wet weather you get soaked.

After a brief visit to the Linen Hall Library – no visit to Belfast is complete unless this is on the itinerary – where I enjoyed two exhibitions, I dropped into tourist information for a free street map. Then across the road to City Hall and beyond, heading for the university quarter, where the Ulster Museum sits in the Botanic Gardens.

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Looking Back at My Holiday

I have been working pretty solidly since getting home, the weekend no exception. I got back tonight and, having fussed MasterB, fed him, cleared the poo from the litter tray, I made my own evening meal. I lingered over it, knowing that when I put my fork down I needed to read some notes for work tomorrow morning when the alarm will be set for six thirty. So a few minutes ago, when i looked at some pictures from my recent holiday they were a welcome reminder of rest and relaxation.

A man came to the house with a book that belonged to his family. Generations past they kept a shop, and it seems my family were among the customers. Cousin and I scanned pages from the 1840s, worried perhaps we were going to find unpaid bills that would by now have accrued considerable interest. There were lots of sundries, quantities of leather, salt, tobacco and bread, but fortunately no outstanding debts. Phew.

Groceries and Sundries

Visiting Uncle Bill, now resident with his son, another of my cousins, we again admired the temperament of the two dogs, brother and sister, found with their mother abandoned by the side of the road in a ditch. They seem to have suffered no lasting trauma.

Bookend Dogs

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The week so far

Monday
Already a day behind. I am reassured to read that 59% of people polled in a survey wouldn’t trust Boris Johnson enough to buy a second hand car from him. However as a significant number of members of the Tory party have chosen to elect him to a post which is somewhat more important than selling second hand cars, that reassurance is tempered with fear.
Some of the red tops are printing headlines suggesting Johnson is a champion, a knight in shining armour who is going to tilt with the EU and get an advantageous Brexit deal. This is disingenuous. For one, there is no deal that would make leaving the EU a better option than staying in. Secondly, the EU has made it clear there is no better deal than the one secured under Theresa May for Brexit. Johnson et al are engaged in window dressing, preparing to blame the EU for intransigence, when the ones being intransigent are Johnson et al. These same Merry band of cynics will then turn to the electorate, claiming to be patriots, and call a election. It feels like a runaway train. What we need is someone who can apply the brake.
Anyway enough of such things today.
The promised rain came at breakfast time yesterday, so we had a slow start, but by midday Cousin and I were on the bus to Belfast. We had been expecting to go out to meet her daughter K and go on to Downpatrick, but Cousin’s ‘phone rang once we were on the road to say the plans had changed. So instead we spent a few pleasant hours in the city, and I acquired a Van Morrison self-guided walking tour manual. I didn’t manage to get a collapsible lunch box for Celia as they were out of stock, but
I did make the decision to purchase a reversible dress for my second great niece. I had seen them when I was with Fiona, but was hesitant. Second great niece has a big sister and bigger girl cousins, so has an inherited wardrobe. I decided to Ask Her Mother. She gave the purchase the thumbs up, so in a few days the postman should be delivering one of these.
Tuesday:
A two walk day, the first with one dog, the second, appropriately, with two. Westie Boy went well ff to the beautician with Toots this morning, so Poppy and I had a walk on our own. She is very interested in the cows, not in a bad way. She wags her tail, and her body language is entirely friendly. Some of the cows seem to reciprocate her interest, leaning over the hedges and sniffing the air. I was back in Belfast, back at the falafel place, back at the Ulster Museum. I could spend a lot of time there very happily. I loved the Cornelia Parker Left Right and Centre film. Also the exhibition of woodcuts by women artists. Inevitably I didn’t have enough time, and I don’t know if I’ll get the opportunity to get back before my return home. Suddenly the days are speeding by. We are hoping to see Uncle Bill on Thursday, it’s Van Morrison on Friday, Alan Johnson on Sunday, and I still haven’t quite finished my book An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris which I am finding gripping.

Tomorrow, Cousin’s daughter K is coming with the lovely Westie Pup, now the sweetest natured little dog you ever could meet, so it could be a three dog walk. The chances of taking pictures with three leads are about nil.

Slievegrine Gallion at sunset

Fungi

At the top of the hill

The Roads Well Travelled

My photographs so far are fairly sparse.

Sunshine

Fungi

In my defence, it is quite tricky to take photographs when you have a Westie at the end of a lead in your left hand, and a yellow Labrador at the end of a lead in your right. And you are making sure each dog stays ‘in lane’ so that you don’t get tripped up, tangled or twisted.

Poppy at the field gate

Other than that, the walks up and down the lane have mainly gone well. I say mainly as both canines disgraced themselves when we met a black Labrador, also on a lead, on the road. Honestly, you’d have thought they had been brought up in the gutter, or had never seen another dog in their lives. Gone were the socially adjusted dogs I know. Poppy and Westie Boy tolerate each other rather than being best mates, but faced with a dog they didn’t know they reacted as one, lunging and barking.

Once was enough, but we met the dog again and the whole performance was repeated. Seeing another dog coming towards us I expected the worst, but apart from suddenly pricked ears and quickened gait, we walked by without incident.

During the day yesterday I took the longer road to Belfast, travelling there and back by bus to meet Fiona. Regular readers of this blog will anticipate an account of shopping, but not this time. On Wednesday afternoon a friend of Cousin’s called at the house. She runs an antique business and I have been a customer of hers in the past. Her daughter Charlotte is a curator at the Ulster Museum, and curated the Fashion and Feminism exhibition Fiona and I visited last year. I said how much we’d enjoyed it, and a few hours later we got a message to say Charlotte would be happy to take us around her new exhibition Vice Versa.

It’s not a large exhibition, one gallery, but fascinating. Charlotte loves her job it’s clear. She talks knowledgeably and entertainingly. It was a lesson in socio-economic history, and much much more. Charlotte will be doing talks and arranging workshops I shan’t be about to attend, but i’ve A feeling Fiona might. Continue reading

Dog Show

It may have been mainly about antiques, but there were an awful lot of dogs.

Some of them looked none too impressed that their walk had turned out to be a lot of standing around. At one point the heavens opened and we made a run for the tea tent. The camera crew carried on filming; dripping marquees, sheltering people, this dog.

 

The setting couldn't have been better. We were at Stormont. The approach is wonderful, and many of the dogs at the Antiques Roadshow yesterday enjoy their exercise in the grounds of the castle. Quite enough to give a dog a sense of grandeur.

 

Interest was fairly intense with knots of people gathered around experts.

These experts seemed to favour bright colours, whether in socks or trousers.

 

And Fiona Bruce's jacket drew admiring glances and comments. We caught up with her in a pre-recording moment talking to a man who had brought a glass inscribed no surrender, which had belonged to his grandfather.

Although all three of us had agreed we did not want to be filmed, we were standing right behind her as the cameras rolled, so if you see a trio of women when this episode is broadcast looking alternately interested and uneasy, that will be us. We stayed as she prepared to talk to a boy and his mother. The boy, or rather young man as it turned out he was 18, Sam won the Norhern Ireland Young Musician of the Year competition, and we were lucky enough to hear him play his violin.

We quickly became paid up Fiona fans. One way or another I have met a few TV celebs. Most have been lovely, but one TV chef was a prat, quite the opposite of his bonhomous TV persona. Fiona Bruce fell firmly in the first category; professional, patient, natural. Unfortunately the black cloud which had been inching closer arrived above us at that point and everything was quickly covered over, the interview took place somewhere else while we sheltered in the tea tent.

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Isobel and Fiona Go Shopping

I live in hope that tonight it will still be today when I go to bed. True, I was between the sheets a whole hour earlier last night than on Sunday, but it was still more than hour after my desired bedtime. So again this morning was a later than anticipated start, and I did not take Westie Boy for the walk I promised him before I left for Belfast.

My intention had been to arrive betimes and spend few hours wandering and looking, maybe stop in one of the many coffee shops for elevenses, and go to the Linen Hall Library café for lunch. As it was I started with the lunch, a very lovely mushroom soup with some wheaten bread. Then I set to wandering, but as I had an engagement to meet Speccy at three o'clock at City Hall I needed to make sure I did not wander too far.

My wanderings found me a branch of Tiger, a much bigger branch than the one I usually patronise at St James Park station, and I duly wandered in and around it, emerging with several purchases, including a new collar for Westie Boy. I doubt if it'll make up for the missed walk, but it is a boyish blue, so when he feels doubts about the floral pink number he currently sports on his perambulations he will have an alternative. I think he's pretty comfortable with his sexuality, or lack of since he has been neutered, but it was an excuse. For myself I could not resist the carrot shaver which looks like a big pencil sharpener. Alas, I forgot to pick up some organic carrots in M&S before getting the bus back to Cousin's.

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Titanic Days

My Cousin Tom comments that the Titanic was fine when it left Belfast. The liner was built in Belfast at the Harland and Wolfe shipyard. Last summer I finally got around to visiting the revamped Titanic Quarter and was very impressed. Well worth a visit. It reminds you of the scale of the project, the pride the city had in its shipbuilding, the number of people involved, as well as the awful loss of life.

This memorial to the disaster stands outside Belfast's City Hall.

 

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Beautiful Belfast

I rarely have the chance to mooch about Belfast alone, and when I do I am struck by the buildings that speak of the city's past wealth and importance. Take this one for example. My little Olympus doesn't have a great zoom, so it's hard to appreciate all the details. It was the Scottish Provident Building, and has any number of references to Belfast and the things that made the city and surroundings: ship building and related industries, spinning, printing.

It overlooks City Hall which is pretty impressive in its own right. Note the statue of Queen Victoria. Surely the most memorialised monarch that ever lived.
 

The Courthouse is also something of a statement.

 
I like the statue of the Speaker.
I was aiming for Big Fish. It's more than a while since I have been up close to it.
When Mother saw the Harland and Wolfe gantries from the window of the 'plane her to excitement was palpable. To her, and to so many returners, they were and remain a powerful symbol of home.
Like London, Belfast grew to importance as a port, so the river plays a central role.
Nearby there are buildings that remind us of past trades.
 
The shopping arcades hint at a time of gracious shopping, when the democracy of pound shops and Lidl was not even dreamed of.
 

 

Sunday Night

Cousin is watching a programme called Suits where the most commonly used line by any character is I don’t give a shit about…. If there were a swear box it would be getting quite full. As dialogue goes, I feel it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Do the script writers have these words on a clipboard and paste them in every few lines or so? I think I’ll stick with Shakespeare.

Night is falling and I plan to head off to bed soon. Tonight we have not been to the hospital so we are at home and the prospect of getting to sleep before midnight is deeply attractive. Westie Boy and I had another walk.

We have a deal: he can stick his head into rabbit holes so long as I can take photos. These are my favourite gate posts along the road. I must have photo graphed them dozens of times.

Quite a few of the pictures of hedgerow flowers I have tried to take have suffered from a sudden impatient tug by Westie Boy at the other end of the lead. Really he is not keeping to his part if the deal very well, maybe he resents the fact that I refuse to let him roll in the cow manure that patterns much of the road.