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, 26th December 2020

I hope you are all having a lovely Christmas. I am. There is something rather nice about pared down festivities, though I was amazed at how many shops were open on the Walworth Road and Bermondsey Street today. My home twinkles with fairy lights, and glows with candles. The candles are all white, but the fairy lights in the sitting room comprise pink flamingos, blue stars, and green Christmas trees. The fairy lights in the hall are white and cream. The wine in the glass is red.

I still have three presents to unwrap. When I was little the excitement was all about the actual presents, now it is the fun of anticipation. Deferred gratification has something to be said for it. That is snot to say that the presents so far divested of their paper have disappointed, far from it. Lovely books, a scarf, a t-shirt (striped), chutney (I broke the accompanying jam when I dropped the present), Booja Booja chocolates, a gift voucher for a fabulous sum. We didn’t win the lottery yesterday but it almost seems churlish to mention that.

Christmas Day was bright and very cold. As my sitting room was flooded with sunshine the low temperatures outside were something of a shock. The park was full of dogs and their people. It was good. Today looked cold; grey and dull bit was actually mild. I had a late start, enjoying a grass matinée reading my book, while MasterB slept on my leg under the quilt. Hartley and Romeo had a late breakfast.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 24th December 2020

It’s already nearly ten at night, so although I had meant to upload some photos to this post, with the new set up on WordPress I think it would take too long. It’s been a lovely day. The sun has shone, it’s been cold and bright, there was enough wind to dry the washing I put on the line, always a plus. Maybe that’s an age thing.

I did the last of the Christmas card and gift deliveries bar Celia and Charlie’s which is in the diary for midday tomorrow. One really bad point though, I dropped a gift to me, and although I haven’t unwrapped it, there is broken glass. Sorry B&J. And I know I shall be more sorry when I know what I have destroyed. Thanks B&J.

Lovely lunch with lots of greens and vegan gravy made me think of my grandmother who loved a gravy dinner. She also loved raw mushrooms, a taste she quietly introduced to me as my grandfather disapproved and was scathing of such habits. I still love raw mushrooms.With hummus. Yum.

Having surveyed my cupboards I decided I needed to top up my bean supplies, so off to Fare Shares for cannellini beans, black beans and chickpeas. Sorted then a quick minute or five punching holes in a tin can ready for my candle to take to the neighbourly carol singing. Next a walk with Celia and a magnificent sunset.

A cuddle with MasterB when I got in, then back out for some last minute veg, only to discover the guys at the market stall are not taking a break until New Year as they often do but will back on Sunday. Ah well.

Back on the street for carol singing. Our section of the square led by Bridget and helped by the sloe gin H made from the sloes I picked for her in the autumn. MasterB was ready for his dinner then I deserted him again for a Christmas Eve service at St Bartholomew the Great. It turns out there are several recorded carol services available online. take your pick of these. The choir was sublime, the deacon was theatrical, had a lovely voice, and was very high church. They did not stint on the incense. All this sign of the cross and incense is a long way from my church going when I was growing up. The creed had also changed. There were some combinations of words I recognised, but not many. I was glad I went.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th December 2020

As I don’t think Celia’s son or daughter-in-law read this page, it’s probably safe to tell the story of how we almost lost a painting yesterday. If you are here in London you’ll know that unlike today which has been wet and windy, Thursday was one of those unseasonably mild days with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. I was very happy to accompany Celia over to Bermondsey where she was picking up a painting her son had bought. We strolled along, met another neighbour pushing her baby grand daughter in a push chair. The granddaughter was dressed in a red suit, and burst into tears when I spoke to her. Thank goodness I used to teach adolescents if that’s my effect on the very young. We admired buildings, the tiling on a pub:

We wondered about the Bermondsey Medical Mission and how Lena Fox was connected to it.

We collected the painting and then set off for a snack by the river, and shared a slab of banana bread. Back through the narrow streets and some enjoyable browsing in Bermondsey Street. We lusted after glass at the London Glassblowers where there was a table of items which will be in their January sale, seconds, as are all the pieces I have acquired from the London Glassblowers, but beautiful none the less.

There was a new charity shop raising money for Save the Children; food shops; puppies on the pavement. I even went to look at Christmas trees, but they were all enormous. We found a shop selling beer and books, a winning combination. More puppies. more meandering. In a park a bench dedicated to the memory of a young man killed violently drew our attention. It is beautifully done, full of personal touches, and I hope the making of it brought some healing for his grieving family and friends.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 16th December 2020

Having suddenly woken up to the fact that Christmas is at the end of next week, and not still some time off, I have put up the fairy lights, lit the candles, and hung a couple of ornaments. I may add the bells and more ornaments later.

I am not usually a big fan of candles. They look nice but I worry about fire, so the electric candles Sue gave me some years ago are generally enough. However, this year I want light, I want something that somehow means hope, and candles are the quickest, most satisfying solution. I made an unplanned visit to IKEA today and came home with a box of candles and then some. I had to go to Greenwich to get my new towel radiator which will be installed on Friday. Hurrah, warm bathroom, warm towels. I din’t even realise there was an IKEA there. When I went in I meant to buy a new door mat. I completely forgot to look for one. The candles caught my attention and held it.

I’m glad I got them as on the way home I got caught in a traffic jam. It added considerably to my journey time. Watching four wheel drives and lorries driving over the reserve between the two directions of traffic entertained me a little. Radio 4 and then Paul Simon did the rest. There was a lot in the news about covid and Christmas. I have more or less accepted that I shall not be sharing my Christmas lunch with friends as planned. However, I shall spend the time inside with MasterB and I hope to be able to meet friends outside, as indeed I did last night, our last Prosecco and chips for a while as from midnight we moved into tier three and the rule of six is suspended to a rule of none. Actually I had cava, and I think Celia had red wine, while B&J had white, and I think Octavia had champagne.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 12th December 2020

In the 2020 Christmas card writing challenge, Celia scooped gold in the local heat. I am claiming silver, and Helen downstairs was hoping for bronze, but she may have lost to Viv as there was a delivered-by-hand card from her when I got home. Maybe there’s another few categories; not only written but posted or popped through the recipients’ letterboxes. I have posted all those requiring stamps, sent or scheduled the ecards, but I thought I’d wait a week before delivering the ones by hand.

Also underway is the present wrapping. MasterB enjoys this. He particularly enjoys sitting on the wrapping paper and customising it with his claws. I see he has customised Charlie’s wrapped present too. I am learning to be sneaky, to wait until he is asleep under the bed, for a more productive wrapping session. I think I have bought all the gifts I need to buy. Gradually the list has got shorter as mutual agreements are made with friends that we shall bypass this particular ritual. These are mainly friends who live at a distance requiring trips to the post office for the dispatch of parcels. As the price of postage has gone up and up it was becoming as expensive as some of the gifts. The gifts have also gradually become more modest. At one point we seemed to be exchanging higher and higher costing presents. Nothing was said, but by some silent accord we have drawn back. Now it’s a book, a bar of good soap, a scented candle, a pretty notebook. Something on those lines.

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Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife

Night fell a couple of hours ago. The shops are closing. Celia and Charlie have left for Brighton. Octavia is in Yorkshire. In the block of flats where I live, only a handful of residents are at home, and in the section where my flat is, only my lovely neighbours opposite and I are here for Christmas. We’ve decorated our shared landing and exchanged gifts.
Inside, I have candles and fairy lights, tinsel that has so far survived MasterB’s interest, clean sheets, and parcels piled up on the table. Nanci Griffith’s voice fills the air from an old cassette tape.
I am feeling Christmassy, but not Christmassy enough to play CDS of carols. Anyway, I have managed to miswire the CD player of the stereo and sorting it out is beyond me right now. Continue reading

Beyond rubies

Suddenly it’s almost upon us. The surfaces in the sitting room are filling up with cards, not as many as a few years ago as so many of us have switched to ecards or no cards at all, but enough for MasterB to sweep onto the floor with some regularity.
I have a table covered with presents, mostly ones I have to give, but some exciting packages to open and one for MasterB. A heated blanket, it’s from me, but he doesn’t know about it yet, so don’t say anything.
There’s a lot of talk about Christmas being a time of family togetherness, but I have not had a family Christmas in some years. No, that’s not a cry for sympathy. For all the blood is thicker than water stuff, I am happy, happier actually, spending the Day with friends. Yes, it is sad that my nearest in blood are not my dearest, but that’s the way it works sometimes, and I am fortunate, very fortunate with my friends. You can choose your friends they also say. Do we choose our friends? There seems to me to be some almost magical alchemy that brings us in contact with the people who become our friends. Continue reading

Cooking for the Fritterati?

I’ve got so many ex-hummus pots in the fridge harbouring fritters, left-overs, fritters, baked beans, fritters, cold potatoes, fritters again that finding the one that has hummus in it is like Edgar Allen Poe’s Purloined Letter.

The builders were supposed to be coming tomorrow to do the tiling in my kitchen. Back in 2016 I had a new kitchen fitted and the guy who did a great job on the floor tiles was not around to do the ones on the walls. The result was amateur, so they’re going to be redone. One day. I think I have had four dates so far for this work. To be fair, I dodged out of one of them, the builder had the ‘flu for another, but it is beginning to feel like the cleaning of the Augean stables, a job that’s never finished. But until it is I can’t contact Tony the painter to begin the other less well known Herculean task of repainting the flat. Continue reading