The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th March 2021

Toady I was glum. Not entirely sure why. I can point the finger at one or two things, but these days of lows have been a feature of the last year and, I imagine, a natural side effect of lockdown. Not that lockdown has left me lonely. I have great friends, some of whom are my neighbours. This has been enormously important over the last year.

We approach the anniversary of the start of our first lockdown. Innocent times. Although the government was talking about weeks, more cautious voices were suggesting months. I am rather glad I didn’t read anything about a year. I really hope it’s not going to be years. But who knows?

We have also been warned that the recurrence of pandemics is likely to be more frequent, a consequence of human activity and disregard for the natural world and its balanced ecology. We have, through advanced technology, brain power, ingenuity, achieved amazing things. Things that come at a cost, a very high one, to the planet and to ourselves. While we have known for years about the effects of climate change, how we are destroying habitats, rendering the lives of animals impossible to the point of extinction, most human beings have been able to ignore what we have been doing.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 14th April 2020

I delivered some groceries to Celia this morning and we had our separated conversation. I was Romeo to her Juliet on the stairs above me. She had tried to comment on yesterday’s and Sunday’s posts but for some reason her comments are lost in cyberspace. She told me she was glad to hear of my lethargy because she too has days like this. I tried and almost succeeded (I think) to articulate some of the feelings I have at the moment. I am impressed, wowed even, by the response of theatres, museums, galleries to lockdown. You can see anything and everything free and online. If you want to learn accountancy, astrophysics, tai chi or tap-dancing there will be an online class, though your neighbours may not be happy if you choose the last. That makes me think of a wonderful television play I saw decades ago where Maureen Lipman, playing a bored housewife, takes up flamenco.

I am getting inspirational emails from my professional organisations and colleagues about virtual work, about CPD, lectures and all manner of wonderful, imaginative, innovative responses to lockdown. Does my heart sing when I see them? No it does not. I have the equivalent mental reaction to turning my face into the pillow. I don’t know why, so I have been trying to unravel my response. It is not yet clear to me, so forgive me the clumsy attempts I am about to make. Continue reading

What’s the beef?

That was a long post last night, so I am aiming for something shorter tonight, if only so that I have some time to read my book, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, before I go to sleep.

Despite the dangers to my mental health when politicians totally lacking in probity repeat nonsense like a religious mantra, I continue, most days, to watch Channel 4 News. I missed the start of the piece about climate crisis and a new report that urges us to move to a plant based diet and away from meat. I joined in as Cathy Newman interviewed George Monbiot and a beef farmer called Stuart. I didn’t get his last name. Stauart was big and smiled a lot. He smiled most when George spoke and shook his head a lot as he smiled. It’s a way of dismissing someone else’s cogent arguments by suggesting they are talking nonsense without actually having the means to refute them.

Stuart said if we in the UK stopped producing beef we would be simply exporting the problem as we would import it from elsewhere with lower standards. That is about all he said, but he said it over and over again, as though it was such a self evident fact that nothing else needed to be said. I got frustrated with George and Cathy for failing to point out to him that the idea is we all reduce our meat intake, and that should mean not importing meat. Maybe I had missed a vital exchange at the start of the interview that might have explained the lack of this point being made.

George remained remarkably calm and polite as he explained the impact of beef farming on the environment and Stuart continued smiling and shaking his head, and then repeating what he had said earlier. I had to admire George’s good humour and patience. In his place I should have wanted to slap Stuart. I suppose George has been banging the environmental drum for long enough to realise that the drip drip effect may work better than violence.

Why flavour a condom?

Having a bit of a sofa slump this evening after a good, but long, day at work, and catching up on last night’s tv. First up, Gogglebox which had me corpsing with the reviewers as they watched Fizz, three of the four person line up which was the eminently forgettable Bucks Fizz., then gasping with shock and shame at the terrible crisis walruses are in thanks to man made climate change. Of course of not just walruses, and it was a very sobering moment at the end of a programme which had been light and frothy. Then on to Let’s talk about sex, a programme about sex education down the years, with excerpts of past sex ed films being shown to parents and adolescent and pre adolescent children. Danny Dyer and his eleven-year-old daughter Sunnie, are for me the stars of the show. When Sunnie learns her father and her mother were having sex at fourteen, her face is an oh of shock, swiftly followed by asking him if they used protection. He looks at his hand and rubs his nails against his trouser leg as he affirms. You just know he’s lying. Here’s the clip.This is followed by a discussion on how old she should be before she has sex for the first time. Thirty, says Danny. She bargains, beating him down to twenty-two, he’s ready to get her sign the contract. Another glorious moment is when they see an info film about condoms, and different flavours are mentioned. Again her eyes widen; flavoured? Why would you flavour a condom? Her father’s discomfiture should be bottled. Continue reading

Living in Pre-Apocalyptic Times

In films, when things are going badly wrong, you see the characters consumed by events; they are intense, focussed, driven.

In reality, in between throwing your hands up in horror, you spend much of your time doing the usual things as though the world might not come to a premature end. You get up, eat breakfast, chat with friends, watch Gogglebox and Graham Norton.

The world right now is in a bigger mess than I have ever known. Maybe the Cold War days were just as apocryphal, only I was too young to understand the threat hanging over us. Krushchev banging his shoe on a table was something I learned about in history lessons. The holocaust has continued to have repercussions, but its power to appall and shock seemed to be nudging us into greater awareness that, as Jo Cox said, we have more in common that we have that divides us. Out of that terrible evil it seemed we might finally understand the importance of interfaith dialogue, human rights legislation and anti-racist education.

Then along came Brexit, and the realisation that there were an astounding number of people about who wanted to blame someone, something, anyone, anything for the things that weren’t working. Not unfortunately the actual people who were to blame, politicians who have dealt a toxic cocktail of short termism, and fake successes, financial deals which are supposed to help the country but where the cash ends up in the bank accounts of a privileged few. Meanwhile papers like the Mail and the Sun ramp up the fear factor about ‘benefits cheats’, ‘health tourists’, illegal immigrants’. Continue reading

Ninety Per Cent Vegan

“So what’s the other ten per cent?” asked Cousin’s Husband, “Do you eat sausages?”
I don’t think it was a serious question, and certainly he was quickly shushed by others in the room, but given the attitudes of some vegans, my other ten per cent might just as well be a love of rare steak.
It’s not though, it’s vegetarian. The odd bit of dairy, usually in the form of a hidden ingredient, still creeps into my meals. Then there are the eggs from hens kept as pets. I don’t have them very often, but they are there. A lot of my food is made from the same ingredients it always was, but used in different ways. I never used to eat butter beans in salads, or tofu in sandwiches. I didn’t have tahini spread on toast in the morning topped with fresh fruit, or with tomatoes, capers and olives. But the tahini, the tomatoes, the olives, the fresh fruit, the tofu, the butter beans were all staples.
The capers? I used to love capers, then suddenly, inexplicably, went off them. I haven’t eaten them in years. Then a neighbour brought some to our Equaliteas event, and since then I have eaten loads of them.
As I have said before, I don’t know that I shall ever be fully vegan. It is more of a lifestyle than vegetarianism. To reach nirvana all animal products including wool, leather and honey need to be excised. I still have quite a bit of honey inherited from Aunt. As I don’t eat it often, that statement will probably be true for some time to come. Equally most of my footwear is leather and unlikely to wear out overnight. Despite the best efforts of the moths (London has suffered a moth invasion this year) I still have some woollen jumpers. Now I am wondering about silk. I guess that might be on the forbidden list too. Maybe I am only eighty or eighty-five per cent vegan. Continue reading

A Few Pictures from das Boot

Summer is having a late flowering here in the UK with sunny warm days, even today, a Bank Holiday, normally an appeal the heavy rain gods can’t resist. Across the pond, Hurricane Harvey, who sounds suspiciously like a particularly driven snooker champion, has brought heavy rain to Houston. It’s all very alliterative. The electricity is still working, as is the internet. I know this as I have been exchanging emails with my friend Sue who loves in Houston. I gather she is holed up with dog, cat and a load of junk food she bought for a poker game that had to be cancelled. I have just finished rereading Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, so these indications of climate crisis and how determined some of us are to ignore or dismiss how our behaviours are contributing to extremes of weather feels very pertinent.

Yesterday Celia and I met up for a walk around a near neighbourhood we don’t know followed by lunch at Dulwich Picture Gallery and a visit to the exhibition of watercolours by John Singer Sargent. They are amazing. I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. Go if you can. My work today took me to Greenwich. On the bus back there people on their way to carnival at Notting Hill. There was a strong feeling of London being on holiday, but of course Notting Hill Carnival is in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, and the survivors and victims of that horror have been remembered and respected in this year’s carnival. Joy and sorrow coexist. Human beings are remarkable in being able to feel more than one emotion at a time.

I’m wondering if I can get back to das Boot on Sunday. If the warm weather persists I shall certainly try. On Wednesday I am heading for chatham for the day, so before I fill my camera with pictures of dockyards and Dickens memorabilia, i think I should share some of the photographs i took when I was last east.

Pontoon and mat

At the window

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Sunday Stroll

I had lots of work to do today, by I had a Mole moment, said ‘hang’ to it and set off with my camera. It was just too nice a day to spend hunched over a keyboard checking facts. I was doubtful at first, because there was a nip in the air when I let MasterB outside to perform his ablutions. But mid-morning I went for a teeny bike ride, part of my ongoing programme to get my confidence back, and it was gorgeous; one of those days when the light seems to expand, when neighbours stop and chat in sunshine, when it feels good to be alive.

My ‘phone had bizarrely moved me into a different time zone, and I was startled to find the day so apparently advanced when I had thought I was having an early lunch. It probably helped to push me out of the door the more quickly, I just completed a few quick chores, then got organised.

It seems an age since I strolled with my camera in the streets near my home. This squirrel was making a real racket. Several people stopped to stare at her. I am guessing she was calling her babies, and when they didn’t show, was getting more distressed.

Noisy Squirrel

Noisy Squirrel

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