The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd May 2020

A day of domestic successes and failures, a day of acceptance and and adjustment, a day of conversations with neighbours.

Had you told me two months ago that I should be happily engaged sewing seams on aged pillow slips and a small back pack on my old Singer sewing machine I should have stared at you in disbelief. But that’s what I was doing in the early afternoon. I almost wanted to find pillow slips in need of new seams. YouTube came up trumps with a couple of videos by showing how to fill a long bobbin, load it, thread the machine, and another with a tip for using a piece of white paper or card behind the needle you are threading to help see the eye. It was all very satisfying.

The failures were with washing. after dinner last night I realised I had an oil mark on my dress. This was odd on two counts. I had been wearing an apron while I cooked, and my meal had contained very little oil. I examined the apron, and realised it has an oily patch on the bib. So I soaked the dress overnight and today put it, the apron and some other clothes in the machine together with a product that promises to remove oil stains. I can tell you now that it doesn’t. Fortuitously my neighbour Carol called me as I was finishing the last pillow slip. She wanted to know if I’d like to go for a walk. We arranged to meet in ten minutes. Carol’s elderly dog, a miniature pinscher called Rosie, who is now deaf and blind, sniffed my hand and wagged her tail. In her day she was a demon for games and I used to make toys for her and play with her. It was nice to be recognised and even nicer that she was pleased to sniff me. Coronavirus and the lockdown has made Carol decide she is going to move out of London to the Sussex coast. She wanted to tell me of her plans. It’s all very exciting and I shall miss her if she moves, but she sounds pretty determined. Now you’ll have noticed I used the word fortuitously and so far nothing I have written seems to warrant that word. But Carol is immensely knowledgeable about fabrics. She deals in lace and linen, her laundry skills are second to none, so I was glad to ask her advice. I have yet to put it into practice, so I can’t say if it has worked or not. I know my rhubarb and apple cakes have worked, and the smell is curling deliciously around my home. Continue reading

The Coronavirus Diaries, 9th April 2020

We were out again tonight clapping our NHS workers, delivery drivers, shop workers, carers, all those who are making our isolation possible at no little risk to themselves. It’s a social occasion, we wave and smile at each other, call greetings across the street, listen to the tremendous noise they make in the square our two parallel streets lead into, whoop at the fireworks. It is uplifting, it is also surreal. I live in a perfect triangle for hospitals. Guys, Tommy’s and Kings are all close. It’s hard to think that while we clap people are dying in those hospitals from coronavirus, yet the number of deaths climbs steadily. A friend has been feeling unwell for several days. Yesterday she had a telephone consultation with her GP who said it is probably coronavirus. Hopefully she won’t get worse before she gets better, but for anyone thinking this is a breeze the example of Boris Johnson is salutary, and scary.

I had a long conversation with my friend Sue in Texas last night. She used to live here, surprised me by saying she wishes she had stayed. We talked about lockdown, how it’s going for each of us. I said it made me think I could live outside London, somewhere quieter, but with a cultural buzz, and good neighbours. I mentioned a place I have been thinking about. This morning I had three emails of properties she had found online. This is the same friend who helped me find MasterB when I was looking at cat rescue sites after Cat died nine years ago.

With the weather continuing warm and sunny windows are open, and the new quiet is particularly welcome. When it is broken as it was this afternoon by a van driver who was parked in the street with his music on, I am quite irritated, and because I know how dependent we are on the drivers, I feel guilty too. The music was loud, and assumed he had his windows open which is why it was so intrusive, Suddenly the music was much louder, he had opened the door of his van and got back inside. Maybe it busts his stress, but it must be damaging his hearing.

The garden is coming into bloom and so are my amaryllis. It looks as though as one peaks the next is going to bloom. I have four plants, three of them are flowering this year.

Amaryllis days

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Parasite

I went to see Parasite on Sunday. For those of you not in the know, it’s a film and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Given the title, you could be forgiven for thinking it is about a group of shameless politicians sucking the lifeblood out of a nameless country for their own financial gain, but actually B Johnson, J Rees-Mogg and M Francois didn’t feature at all.

I used to go to the cinema all the time. I was an active member of the National Film Theatre, now the BFI, on the South Bank. Autumn and the LFF (London Film Festival) was the highlight of my year. Oh the films I saw, sitting captivated in the dark, in a cinema where no one ate popcorn or hotdogs, where there were no adverts for ice team or Waitrose before the film began, and the audience watched in respectful silence without needing recourse to mobile ‘phones.

The curse of the addicted. We saw Parasite in a very nice cinema indeed and the seats weren’t cheap. There was even a reminder about turning our ‘phones off. But the people to my left were busy communicating with someone and the light from the screen was an irritant and a distraction. The film was gripping nonetheless, though I should have preferred to watch without my left hand shielding my face. One of the twists was predictable, but not the rest. Beautifully shot, well acted, it deserves the prize. The points it makes about wealth and privilege are thought provoking. I went with three neighbours. I have said before that we are neighbourly in this patch of south London. we are also ethnically, educationally, and most otherly diverse. Or vibrant as the estate agents like to say.

I mention this because prior to going to see Parasite I joined two neighbours in a local café. Café might seem a fairly neutral word, but in this part of SE17 it is loaded. Cafés are a recent phenomonen. We have been an area of caffs. Full English breakfasts fried to within an inch of your life; mugs of builders’ tea. Cheap, cheerful with condensation running down the windows in winter thrown in for free. Uncouth and proud. This café is expensive, cool, and unashamedly middle class. I had a glass of tap water. I ate there once and I still tying to work out why and how my meal cost so much. Continue reading

Catkin Days

The light is reclaiming the days by stealth. The night’s tenure is shortened by a minute at either end of its lease and suddenly early evening, late afternoon, breakfast time reveal the onward move towards spring. In the garden narcissi, snowdrops, crocii, anenomes are blooming. Next it will be the hyacinths, already pushing knobbly green buds through the middle of the protective sheath of their leaves. Birds are bulking up for parenthood, eating the seed from the feeders greedily. Another year turns.
Jeeves, our neighbourhood semi feral intact Tom cat has gone walkabout. Presumably there will be a kitten explosion in late March and early April. Much as I love kittens, I wish people would neuter their cats. There are too many abandoned cats needing homes, as well as the ones people have to give up when they move to accommodation where pets aren’t allowed. Such bans exacerbate the problem, make pets homeless and deny people the proven benefits of living with a companion animal. Continue reading

Gold Stars

A wonderful thing happened on Saturday. I was clearing up after our revels celebrating the EU the night before – excellent company, good chat, a sociable cat, lots and lots of food, several bottles of wine and champagne – when I found little gold stars on the carpet. I hadn’t bought gold stars, had someone else? had they been wrapped in the EU flag which arrived in the morning and served as a tablecloth? were they an endorsement from the universe/almighty of our toasts to the EU and declared allegiance? I looked up at the ceiling and wondered about revising my atheism. Continue reading

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

Love London

The new layout at the airport confused me. I could see the shuttle bus I needed to take to the railway station, but not how to get to it. So I wasted several minutes going in the wrong direction and the bus I had seen departed. Fortunately another arrived almost immediately. It was nearly empty, as was the train to London. Until we reached St Pancras. I looked up from my book and saw a sea of faces on the platform. Not all those people boarded the train, but as travelled through Farringdon and City Thameslink stations the train filled up. I got off at Blackfriars and made it to the bus stop just in time to see my bus pull away. Joggers dodged the pedestrians; commuters talked earnestly into mobile phones; the Thames flowed sweetly under the bridge. It was a beautiful evening.
After being the countryside I was struck, as I always am when I return home from less populated areas, by the hustle; the sheer number of people; the energy. I couldn’t decide whether I was pleased to be there or not, though I was increasingly impatient to see MasterB.
He was more interested in going into the garden. Within seconds I realised his pleasure at seeing me was more that I could let him out of the flat and into the big wide world than in an emotional reunion. Ah well, he made up for it later, and this evening. Continue reading

Quite the Party Animal

New Year’s Eve, and all is quiet chez Isobel and Cat. The party goers are either in a different neighbourhood, or haven’t got started yet. I’m not sorry to miss them. It’s been a few years now since I have seen the New Year in. Friends have given up inviting me to join them watching fireworks. I used to like small supper parties that ended shortly after we drained the obligatory glasses of champagne as Big Ben tolled the end of the old year. But even that palled. Maybe one of these years I shall be seized with a longing to be in the midst of a crowd of revellers singing Auld Langs Syne, but not tonight. It’s questionable whether I shall still be awake at midnight, let alone revelling. No, I’m perfectly happy sitting here with the boy, writing a post, and with the promise of the new Kate Atkinson novel to read later.

I was out working today and tonight made a mean bowl of fresh tomato soup, then settled down to catch up with episode one of Les Misérables as adapted by Andrew Davies, the man who put Darcy into a pond and turned Colin Firth into an unlikely sex symbol. Tonight I got a view of Dominic West’s buttocks. Others will have enjoyed that view last night, but I was watching on catch up. I’d read a review in the Guardian online over breakfast. You can read it too if you like, just click here for the link.

The opening shot featured no buttocks at all, but instead Adeel Akthar cheerfully robbing the dead bodies on the battlefield the day after Waterloo.I felt a vicarious thrill of fame, Akthar’s parents-in-law are in our book group. One of the bodies wasn’t dead, he introduced himself as Colonel Pontmercy before once more losing consciousness, and although I have never read Les Mis, seen the film or the musical, I’m willing to bet a fairly hefty sum that the two will meet up again.
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Neighbours and Outsiders

It is often said that London is a series of villages. I’m not sure I buy that, but I would say it’s a series of neighbourhoods. Most people are very aware of and loyal to their neighbourhood. When I came to live in London people would talk about their manor. It’s not a term I’ve heard for a while, so I suspect that those a generation behind me would find it as quaint as I did expressions from the 1950s.

Celia, Octavia and I all live in the same neighbourhood. I couldn’t tell you exactly where our patch begins and ends, but two or three years ago Celia and I were walking in an adjoining neighbourhood when we spotted a notice for a book group. It was behind glass and the worse for wear from condensation. We peered at it, trying to decipher date, location and book. As we did so, a woman approached with a wide, friendly smile. Do join us, she said. We don’t live here, we answered, wary of trespassing on alien territory. We live up the road; we belong to a different tribe. Alright, we didn’t say the last bit, at least I don’t think we did, but I certainly thought it, despite knowing people from this other tribe. That doesn’t matter, said the woman, smile enhanced by a halo of blond curls. You’d be very welcome. Continue reading

Domestic Drama

If my toe continues to change colour I may photograph it. For a horrible couple of hours this morning I thought it was broken. Yesterday afternoon I tripped on a paving stone and stubbed my toe. It was painful, but the pain seemed to subside. When I went to bed I saw it had turned purple. A night’s sleep, and it hurt going up and down the stairs. The whole toe is rather red and the purple patch means I shan’t be carrying out my plan to get my toenails painted after all, but the pain is minimal and I have no problem walking.

Such drama.

More drama over the fruit flies in the compost. There aren’t a huge number and they disperse pretty quickly, but they have become the new pawn in the continuing exertion of control by one of my neighbours who thinks the compost bin should be removed. If anyone reading this has any hot tips on products that discourage the fruit flies, do let me know. The only ones I have seen promise mass extermination. No wonder that I am thinking of braving the rain tomorrow and taking MasterB up to das Boot until Thursday. Wednesday’s forecast is for for a dry day, with rain returning on Thursday. I have work on Friday and over the weekend, so I can’t stay longer.
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