The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th July, 2022, What Survives of Us is Love

Helena’s mother Sheila died this afternoon. It was expected. Last week Helena was with Sheila at the hospital as end of life plans were agreed. It’s been fast. The projected months turned into weeks then days. Helena and her brother were there when Sheila died.

The death of a parent is hard. It’s disorientating, devastating and it hurts so much it can be a pain so great it goes beyond feeling to numbness. You know it will happen, but nothing can really prepare you for its finality.

Or maybe finality is the wrong word. Helena loved her mother and showed it in so many ways, including supporting her through her cancer diagnosis, treatment, recurrence, as well as humour, company and honesty. I knew Sheila a little. We marched side by side to protest against Brexit. Citizen Sheila, Helena called her. Sheila carried an anti-Brexit banner home after one of those marches. I expect it’s still in her house.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 11th April 2020

Like most people I think, I find some days under lockdown are harder than others. Today was a hard one. I read the news, read about people who have died, brief bios of people who most of us haven’t heard of, but who have lost their lives. A shockingly long list but just a fraction of the current total. Human faces showing the cost of this virus across the country. The Sun newspaper had a headline yesterday about Boris Johnson being out of ICU which ran something like Now That’s a Good Friday!. Yesterday the highest number of deaths from coronavirus in a single day across the UK. I am pleased Johnson is recovering, I want everyone to recover, but the focus over the last few days has been all about him. It’s wrong. we need to be informed, to be told the truth. The press briefings have been shamefully lacking in detail about what is happening, Matt Hancock not having facts and figures ready when questioned, journalists not pushing for answers. Johnson recovering is not going to solve the issue, and not spelling out how bad things are. There are still, heaven help us, people not taking the risk seriously. Don’t sell them some nonsense about herculean efforts by the government, Johnson recovering so all will be well.

I went for a walk in a local park this afternoon. It was after four, and I was hoping most people would have headed out earlier to enjoy the sunshine and gone home. They hadn’t. The park was heaving. Police were patrolling in cars. I saw them approach a family group sitting on the grass. I looked for space and fortunately found some, and beautiful trees in blossom. We need beauty at at all times, and especially at times like these.

Green leaves and blossom

Simply blossom

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Street of Ghosts

After a month of not posting here, I was planning to write about a wonderful day Celia and I spent in Margate last weekend. The prospect of five years of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, the abandonment of safety nets for vulnerable refugees, the exclusion of Parliament from the final Brexit arrangements, all these combined with the worst cold and cough I have had in years meant I was, and to an extent remain, low in spirits.

But the wonderful day will have to wait.

Today we are a neighbourhood in shock and mourning. An elderly, frail neighbour died in a house fire this morning. Two weeks ago, her neighbour who lived in the property across the road died in her sleep. I can’t say I knew either woman well. The one who died today I would nod hello to, she sometimes nodded back. I had noted her decline over the last few years and knew friends of mine who live next door were supporting her. The manner of her death is the stuff of nightmares. Continue reading

Jeremy Hardy RIP

Shocked tonight to learn that Jeremy Hardy has died from cancer. For those of you outside the UK his name probably means nothing, but he was a stalwart of Radio 4’s News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. A truly funny man who was intelligent, left wing, compassionate. His politics didn’t always agree with mine, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. Here he is on the News Quiz several years ago talking about gay marriage: Continue reading

Vale Billie

I wrote quite a lot about Billie when I visited Melbourne nearly two years ago. I told my friend Vicki to warn Billie I’d be relying on her for canine comfort as I’d be missing MasterB. She’s not a cuddlesome dog, said Vicki. But in the wayward manner of pets who like to prove their owners wrong, Billie decided immediately I was someone she’d like to cuddle her, and our bond was established. She was elderly then, her gait a bit wobbly, and made me think of a refined lady who’d had a bit too much Sherry but was still game for a knees up.cropped-photo-201611201341297011.jpg Continue reading

A Different Death

As it turned out, by the end of yesterday evening it wasn’t Cat’s life and death I was thinking about, but my Aunt Ella’s. I got the call around 10.30 to say she had died earlier in the evening. An expected death, but not expected quite this soon. Tonight I spoke to her husband, my Uncle Bill, Mother’s favourite sibling and the last one surviving. He’ll be 97 in the autumn. I don’t know how old Aunt Ella was, but I’m guessing around the same.
We spoke the other night after I had spent some time over the weekend with his daughter-in-law who was in London for a few days. It was she who told me Ella had widespread cancer and the doctors were talking about weeks, at the most, months. Yesterday afternoon I sent this picture to her of her then infant husband with his mother Ella.

Mother and Son

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A Change of Plan

I'm enjoying a cup of coffee in the Linen Hall Library where Fiona and arranged to meet. But I am alone. Moments after leaving Cousin I found a message on my 'phone saying that Jake, the family Westie whose arrival in the McSpec household a few years ago when he was adopted by them brought such joy, is seriously ill and Fiona was dashing to the vet with him. Ominously, she said she did not expect to be bringing him home. I do hope she's wrong, and that Jake, whose health has not been great, can be put on the road to recovery and exerting his grumpy charms again. I have never met him, but he sounds a great wee character, and the Internet has secured him fans beyond his home.


The death of a pet is always hard, the anticipated death equally so. Those awful heart lurching moments of mixed fear, love and anxiety; dreading the vet's verdict even as you hope for a miracle. When we came back from Homeplace last night we watched the second part of The Secret Life of Dogs. For any of you reading this who struggle to understand friends' and neighbours' love and respect for their pets, do watch it, as you may begin to get an inkling of what immensely rich and wonderful relationships you are missing.

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Windows in Heaven

Lovely Linda sent me a link to a song on YouTube that she thought might bring me comfort.

It didn’t. It was a rather syrupy ballad of the type that makes my skin crawl. The lyrics were over sentimental, and to my mind, downright creepy. Check them out for yourselves if you can face it. The song is called Windows in Heaven and is sung by Michael English. I’d never heard of him, but if you like Daniel O’Donnell, as Mother and thousands of others quite unaccountably did and do, you’ll probably like this chap too.

I think Linda thought I’d like it as it has references to Mary, the BVM one presumes rather than my aunt, looking down at us from the aforementioned windows.

Instead it gave me the somewhat unsavoury image of the dead being involved in some mass surveillance scheme of the living on behalf of the Almighty, and, if things in heaven are in any way like here below, and according to the song there are windows so the inference is there, it could even have been outsourced to a private company, or the afterlife’s equivalent of GCHQ. A sort of celestial 1984. Continue reading