The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th April 2021

It’s our anniversary: ten years since I brought MasterB, then called Facebook, home. He was young, less than a year at a guess, infested with fleas. He didn’t want to be removed from the students who had rescued him from the mean streets of Brighton, and I didn’t want a timid cat who hid behind the curtain. It wasn’t the most promising start. But against the odds it has been a success. We are a team, cat and human. An already close team which has become closer in lockdown. Not that MasterB knows about the pandemic. But he has become very used to having me around most of the time, has realised that I generally have three meals each day, not the two he was formerly acquainted with, and he now wants three meals a day too. He has given me an emotional support of which he is quite unaware in this time. Watching him has brought me pleasure.

Ten years ago I didn’t really want him. Now I think he’s the best cat in the world.

But for our anniversary we were mainly apart. Gorgeous weather, with blue skies, sunshine and warmth. We have been getting used to blue skies, sunshine and cold cold winds. Celia and I set off to Stratford to walk The Line, a sculpture trail that starts north of the river then ends in Greenwich. The map on the app was rubbish. But the sun shone, we saw two herons in flight, and before we even started our walk Celia got a new strap for her Swatch in the Westfield Shopping Centre. There were serious shoppers. The queue outside Primark was lengthy. Shorter queues, but still impressive, outside shoe shops and mobile phone shops. If I were a shop owner I would be heaving a huge sigh of relief.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 15th April 2021

I may have missed it somewhere, but surely others have been wondering if Derek Chauvin is related in some way to Nicholas Chauvin whose legendary bigotry gave rise to the word chauvinism? I mean, it does seem a bit of a coincidence doesn’t it?

I have been reading James Walvin’s book The Zong, about the massacre that took place on a slaving ship in 1781. I knew quite a bit about it, but this book filled in gaps and joined dots. It is very well written and readable. Maybe it helped already having some knowledge because many of the names were familiar to me: Granville Sharp, Olaudah Equiano, Lord Mansfield, Peter Peckard, Thomas Clarkson. It inspired me to start another book Black England, Life Before Emancipation by Gretchen Gerzina, which I am also finding fascinating.

I was talking with a friend about these books and she assumed they had come out recently. I can’t remember her exact words, but they were on the lines of there have been lots of books published about black history in the last year. I told her the Walvin book came out in 2011 and the Gerzina one in 1996. The most recent book I have on black history is Black and British, a Forgotten History by David Olusoga (another book I highly recommend) and that was published in 2016.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 10th April 2021

Saturday night but I am not at the movies. I have been working at my computer and feeling virtuous. Some more to do on this particular project tomorrow, but then it should be good to go.

After warm days and sitting in the parks, the weather is cold. So cold that I thought for a moment it was snowing today. Not quite true. My thought when I saw white flakes swirling outside my window was it wasn’t cold enough for snow. I was right. The white flakes were petals from the hawthorn trees in the road.

MasterB is on the sofa beside me, curled up with his eyes closed, but there is something about his posture that suggests he is not entirely happy. I may be projecting. He has just had an encounter with Hartley outside. I should say at once that no paws were raised, and Hartley looked quite confused at coming face to face (twice) with His Gingerness. The first time, they were either side of the garden gate. MasterB strolled along the pavement, caught sight of Hartley and shrank back, flattening his ears against his head. But he didn’t run away. I was between the two of them on MasterB’s side of the gate. I made to rub Hartley’s nose through the bars, trying to demonstrate to my boy that Hartley was not being aggressive. Hartley obligingly rolled over on his back at once, then, when I went to open the gate, skipped gaily into the garden; an invitation for me to follow. Against his will, but to keep him safe as a van was coming along the street, I popped MasterB into the garden and followed Hartley round the corner.

He led me to the bench. Of course he did. As I said, it was cold. I had been expecting MasterB to go into the garden and that I would return immediately to the warmth of the flat. I was not wearing a coat. Still, I know where my duty lies. So I sat down and cuddled Hartley for a few minutes to comfort him and give MasterB the opportunity to have an alfresco pee, find himself a concealed spot in the bushes, or head over the wall to neighbouring gardens. But it was cold, so soon I stood up. Hartley reached out a paw and tapped me on the leg; a gentle message that he would like more.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 8th April 2021

I am feeling very proud of myself. Today I went to Tommy’s for my physio appointment. I have had six different exercises to do, twelve repetitions of each, three times daily, since my cast was removed. Two were easy from the word go, the other four have gradually become easier. In the middle of last week I was aware of a sudden improvement in the flexibility of my wrist.

The physio department was quieter than I have ever seen it. Where were all those people I had seen at fracture clinic? I was seen by a physio called Finn who wanted to know how I was getting on. I showed him what I could do and he seemed pleasantly surprised. That’s very good, he said. He said it quite a few more times during the session. I beamed behind my mask. We talked about other things I could do which would also be helpful. I said I had an inflatable beach ball which I had used after breaking my right wrist. He endorsed use of it again. Because he seemed genuinely interested and not likely to refer me to the psychiatric team, I told him that I had been doing the more difficult exercises with both wrists; my theory had been if my body could feel what my right wrist was doing then it might help my left wrist to get the idea. He stared at me and I wondered if he was considering calling someone to restrain me, but no, he said I was right, it did help. How wonderful.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 6th April 2021

The skies are so blue, barely a cloud, but the wind is like a knife and the blue turns to grey in an instant. Romeo and Hartley were soaking up the rays then finding sheltered spots. One moment you are enjoying the sun on your face, the next you are huddling into your coat. It has tried to snow. Temperatures are to drop to freezing tonight. Wow.

Romeo soaking up the sun
Hartley enjoying the sunshine and hoping I am going to sit down so he can get on my lap

The good thing is that it discourages people from going wild and gathering in big groups, but I am guessing it is also leading to more people disregarding the rules and meeting indoors. Celia and I enjoyed a walk in Nunhead Cemetery yesterday afternoon. We were wrapped up in winter coats, scarves, gloves. Celia wore a hat. I wish I had worn one.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th March 2021

Glorious glorious weather for the first days of this week, though apparently on Friday it’s all change. We are now allowed to meet outside in groups of two households or up to eight people. When I was out and about today I’d say no one needed to be told twice.

However, thanks the marvel of Zoom, this evening I was chatting with people in Berlin, Vancouver and Berkeley, California, and was reminded that some people are heading into a stronger lockdown as we start thinking we’re free. It could all start up again. So I am not counting on being able to do anything yet.

A year on we know the ropes. What was strange last year is now familiar. It’s also different. In those heady days of the first lockdown we did not understand it would last so long. Like now, spring sprung and held us in a blossomed embrace. People rediscovered the joys of cycling as the streets emptied of cars. It was in some ways an adventure. If we were going to live a curtailed existence for a limited period of time we were going to find ways to enjoy it.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th March 2021

What a lovely day: sunshine; surprising encounters with interesting, friendly people; scrambled tofu with lots of veg and sourdough toast for lunch; Thai green curry for dinner. Does that sound as though food is a high priority? Well, yeah, that would be about right. But the other things are also important. It’s not an either or.

I am moving slowly from sceptical about the end of lockdown and a gradual move to more freedom to feeling contained excitement. The idea that as the days warm up we will be able to meet outside in groups of up to six people seems wonderful. I already have pencilled in my diary an apératif with Michèle and a Sunday evening meal with Octavia. In fact April looks surprisingly busy after weeks and months of blank pages, I have all sorts of engagements. Admittedly these include visits to the hospital to check on my wrist and to see the physiotherapist, but still. It’s good practice for my later years when hospital appointments are likely to make up a good percentage of my social life.

Having decided the autumn was not after all the right time to move, I am back to thinking about it again. annoyingly our little syndicate has not yet won the lottery allowing me to keep a flat in London and buy a house in the Home Counties.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 24th March 2021

I have spent much of today at the computer, so in a way it’s a surprise I am willing to be here again. But for a variety of reasons I have been thinking about cats. MasterB is the feline recipient of my love and affection today, a worthy successor to my first cat, Freddy. Ten years ago on 20th March, Freddy, known on these pages as Cat, and the original cat of the title of this blog, died suddenly and in my arms.

Some of you I know were following my posts then, so you knew it was a very difficult time. My mother was in and out of hospital. Two weeks before Cat’s death we were preparing for Mother’s death. Miraculously she rallied. I had stayed with Cat at the sheltered housing scheme where she had her flat. Cat had slept beside her as first she clung to life, then surprised the doctor, the carers, everyone by leaving her bed. Cat loved being there. He found his way into the airing cupboard, a place that was out of bounds at home.

Naturally very sociable, he schmoozed the carers, explored the garden, surprised and entertained the other residents as he made the scheme his territory. He brought me comfort, and gave us all reasons to smile. One of the carers, who was not a fan of cats, became one of his greatest admirers. She saw how Mother responded to him, how when he walked the corridors residents would watch him, start to look out for him, find pleasure and interest just from seeing him. She saw how he improved life at the scheme and announced that she thought there should be a resident cat.

He died just three days after we got home, and then three days later, Mother went back into hospital having had a bad fall. She never returned to her flat. Her last two years were spent in a nursing home. Whether the scheme did acquire a cat or not, I don’t know. But Cat’s ashes are still in my airing cupboard, a place he was not allowed in life.

In lockdown many of us who live with pets have learned a new respect for what those pets do for us, for our mental health, for our wellbeing. Cat was with me through Mother’s last years, as dementia took its relentless toll on her faculties, turned her from a competent capable woman into a frail, anxious and scared one. I say Cat was with me, but he also supported Mother. When I visited her he demonstrated his affection for her and she would beam. She remembered his name when she forgot mine. He didn’t care that she said the same thing over and over again. He would look at her, blink at her, let her fuss him. He loved her and she loved him. It was enough. It was wonderful.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 21st March 2021

Census Day. I completed mine online, though now I rather regret not asking for a paper form. I have looked at old census returns in the course of research for my work, and also when digging into family history. There is something of a thrill at seeing a handwritten form, even if at times I have struggled to read it.

I waited until today to fill in my form. I understood that was the idea: a snapshot of the country on a particular day. But towards the end of last week I heard a number of people saying they had completed theirs already. I reread the letter today. It states that ‘all households should complete the census on Sunday 21 March 2021 or as soon as possible after.’ Nothing about completing it in advance, yet as people have completed it online on the government site that has evidently been permissible. It feels like cheating to me and quite takes away some of the romance, if I dare call it that, and the excitement. I know civil servants, functionaries will be able to read the census returns, but for the rest of us they are like burying a time capsule. They are only open to public readership after a hundred years.

I am fairly sure this is the first online one I have completed. Maybe even the ones completed by hand will simply be copied onto some form and the original destroyed. No signatures, no misspellings.

I am strangely tired, and I don’t think that has anything to do with the demands of the census. Maybe fresh air. I had a short walk with Michèle this morning when we caught up, and scoped out the availability of geranium plants for B&J. At the Nunhead Gardener (the branch we visited was at the upper end of the Walworth Road, very near the Elephant, though M had initially demurred thinking I was suggesting we walked to Nunhead), I bought some lemon thyme, and M treated herself to a couple of plants and fell in love with green candles. Green is her colour. I have always thought of blue and green as being mine, but I realise I am green amateur compared to M. It was sunny, though there was a cool wind, and in the shade slightly chilly. I was glad I had my warm scarf.

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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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