The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th April 2020

The blue skies are back, not a cloud in the sky. I needed to sort out money; to check that I had enough in my PayPal account to cover the cost of MasterB’s tins of Applaws I was reordering, to look at the state of my current account and see if I needed to transfer some of my savings so as not to dip into the red. What i didn’t do was check the dates of direct debits and standing orders so I shall do that tomorrow. I am doing bits of shopping for three households, using my debit card. I have never had so many receipts in my life. Keeping a tally is alright so long as I do it daily, but with Celia I managed to get a bit lost, and it’s been worrying me. So I sat down with all the receipts the morning and worked out what I had spent on each household’s behalf. Two have paid money into my account so are in credit, that needs attention too. It was all sorted out much more quickly and easily than I had been expecting, but I have a new respect for businesses who allow customers to run up accounts.

I broke up the Palace of Westminster jigsaw. I found the sky the hardest part, but Charlie said he had struggled most with the building. Of course I did have feline help completing it. There’s another jigsaw waiting, I may start it tomorrow. During lockdown I have had a jigsaw on the go almost constantly. It’s therapeutic.

Sorted

Walking is also therapeutic. It’s quite easy to rack up 10k steps doing shopping and making deliveries, but that’s different to walking and looking. Michèle had said she thought Sophocles, a Greek bakery and grocer’s at Camberwell, had closed down. I thought I had seen it open a few weeks ago. Thus Camberwell became the goal on this afternoon’s walk. I was with Celia. We have resumed our socially distant walks. We looped through to Camberwell New Road, over and into Myatts Fields.

Discreet enjoyment of the weather

There were quite a few people in the park, but all observing the rules. One father was leading his children through a demanding exercise class. I imagine the aim was to get that as tired as possible. Then on through side streets to Loughborough Junction, over Coldharbour Lane, up Cambria Road and through the streets of pretty houses to the western entrance to Ruskin Park. If it hadn’t been for the closed paddling pool, the taped off benches, the signs telling us to keep two metres apart, it could have been a regular sunny Sunday afternoon. Families, couples, individuals, dogs with their owners, all enjoying the spring day. Of the three large parks in easy walking distance of home, Ruskin Park is my favourite.

Ruskin Park

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 13th April 2020

There was a man sitting at a table outside a closed pub writing in a notebook. He had a can of beer in front of him. It brought a whole new meaning to BYO.

My bike ride today was to try to gee myself up. Some days I seem very lethargic. The hours pass and I do very little. I was thinking a lot about my friend Vicki in Melbourne. She emailed me to say her father had died. Not of coronavirus, at least she didn’t say so, and she did say the family had been able to spend time with him before he died. It’s so hard when you lose a parent. Given that happens to everybody we are unaccountably bad at looking after others when it happens to them. In many workplaces you are allowed one day off to attend the funeral of a close relative. One day. It’s ridiculous. It’s unkind. It’s dangerous. Would you want to be operated on by a surgeon who had just been bereaved? flown by a pilot who had had one day off when her mother died? I wouldn’t. You are vulnerable when you are bereaved, fragile. It’s like an altered state.

So fresh air on a noticeably cooler day than we have for some time sounded like what I needed. My goal was Westminster. I reckoned it would be quiet, which was what I wanted. The ride to St Thomas’ was uneventful, though one speeding driver of a 4×4 on a narrow road might have ended my existence had I not heard her coming and pulled over. Her shouted “sorry’ out of the window as she sped on did little to appease. I wonder if she observes social distancing. Probably not.

Opposite the hospital and right where I parked my bike was this sign.

Thank-you

I realise I did not include another photo yesterday from outside Guy’s Hospital.

Free to key workers

The windows of the school opposite the hospital were covered with children’s drawings, all of them to thank the NHS.

This outpouring of thanks is wonderful, and I should love to see it translated into greater investment in the NHS, better pay for NHS workers. But I fear that when we are over coronavirus it will be the rich who remain rich and the poor who become poorer. The rich are good at lobbying, and using influence to get what they want. That Philip Green and Richard Branson, neither of whom are UK taxpayers, expect the rest to bail them out while they keep their billions, says it all. Amazon must be making a fortune from coronavirus, all those deliveries. Does it contribute millions to the UK treasury? No. Tesco accepted a government hand out to pay its workers and then paid out more to its shareholders.

Some of my neighbours are saying that when this is over we shall all have learned what really matters and the world will change. I’d love them to be right, but I can’t see it. As China gets over the virus it’s a return to business as usual and the clean air people have enjoyed is already polluted.

I walked to Westminster Bridge and took another picture.

I ❤️ NHS

It was still very quiet, hardly any traffic other than buses and some cyclists. One or two people on foot. I could see hospital staff enjoying their breaks by the fountain where the geese swam. I walked onto the bridge. I was about halfway across when I saw around ten people coming towards me. I was surprised. They filed by. Then a group of cyclists who looked very much as though they were out together. I was more surprised.

But that was nothing. When I reached the far side of the bridge by the Palace of Westminster which I had expected to be deserted there were families and couples evidently doing a bit of serious sightseeing. I revised my plans and returned to my bike. I rode through Archbishop’s Park. I wish these signs were everywhere.

Keep Your Distance

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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

In Which Celia and Isobel Go for a Walk in Search of Bluebells

I have so many posts half composed in my head, but unwritten and unposted: stray cats, blogging v WhatsApp, Brexit (again), amazing books, homelessness, climate crisis, MasterB. You get the picture. Maybe in time. But tonight, as we come to the end of Easter weekend, and the sun is shining, the blossom is still blossoming, the air has a gentle, mellow air, quite at odds with the political climate, I want to write about yesterday’s walk in Surrey.

Above the town

Above the town

Farm building

Farm building

Lush

Lush

I was born in Surrey and grew up there. I took its hills, its green fields, its bluebell woods for granted. You still get to enjoy these things in Surrey when your parents aren’t stockbrokers.

Bluebells

Bluebells

In leaf

In leaf

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Hold the old photos, we went to Devonport today

Spring weather today, sunshine and warmth, alternating with heavy showers. We took a bus into town and headed for the harbour to catch the ferry to Devonport. It had been on my to see list, but I thought the weather was going to rule it out. Although we travelled there by water, it is attached to the mainland,
Before I came to New Zealand, people told me it was like Tasmania, but until today I hadn’t felt that was true.
But there was something about Devonport that did remind me of Tasmania. I couldn’t tell you what though.
The ferry ride lasts just twelve minutes, so you just have time to enjoy the view before you disembark. A gentle walk along by the sea was a nice introduction. With the sun out, the sea was restored to a blue-turquoise. Dogs were swimming, people too.

Swimming retriever

A walk by the sea, with driftwood

There were benches to sit on to admire the view.

Bench with a view

There were also reminders that things had not always been so tranquil.

Execution site

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Captain’s Log: Tuesday’s Child

I am so happy. I thought this a moment ago, and it felt so good I decided to make it the first sentence of tonight’s post. It’s not the wine talking, though I have just poured a glass of Frascati as an aperitif.

I don’t think the way I have chosen to spend my birthday matches many people’s idea of a celebratory day, but it has worked for me. I woke early, got a good morning cuddle from MasterB and then I drifted off to sleep again. The sun was up, the skies were blue, the wind was cold. I headed for the shower and towelled myself briskly to Ward of hypothermia. Then to the car and a trip down the road to Janet Eggs who I had texted last night. No eggs. I considered, then sent her a text saying I was outside. She appeared, still in her pyjamas and invited me into her kitchen. She was sent home from work yesterday after being sick, and has to stay at home today. It was lovely. We stood and talked, looking out at her garden. I showed her the WhatsApp messages Older Nephew and Octavia had exchanged regarding wine for Sunday and she approved, one of these days she’ll come to das Boot. Whether she’ll bring Squidge, her standard poodle, depends on whether MasterB is aboard or not. And the likelihood is, he will be. I returned to das Boot with a box of the freshest laid and had my second egg of 2018. Delicious.yes, I would give them up if no happy pet hens were in my life, indeed I have, hence this being only the second egg of 2018.

Day three, and MasterB’s at home. I don’t think he’d necessarily need a cushion citadel were we to go out on the river tonight. He’s not keen on the engine noise, so reading about hybrid electric/diesel boats made my heart beat faster. Maybe I have won the lottery. Maybe Older Nephew will have an Aston Martin for his 40th birthday. Maybe the moon is made of green cheese.

Then I headed for MIldenhall, but obviously I had to go to the farm at Reach where I bought two tomato plants and a kale plant, some fresh salad and some organic rhubarb. Next stop, Freckenham. It is the asparagus season. I bought two bunches, one for me, one for Octavia. Finally Mildenhall where I took the wrong turning for the cemetery and was on my way to Thetford. Fortunately there was a place to turn, so I turned. The chrysanthemum I had planted on the stone marking where Dad’s ashes were buried has gone. Aunt’s grave had a good smattering of healthy plants and a stretch of bald earth. I went back to the town and bought petunias and French marigolds which I duly planted and watered. Older Nephew is going to water them in a week or so, so for once, I am not praying for fine weather. Continue reading

Just One Picture

Could there be a more perfect view?

Slieve Gallion (1,737ft)

In the past I’ve walked up it when I used to take part in the Sperrins hillwalking festival. Nowadays I look at it when I do the regular walk with Westie Boy when I stay at Cousin’s. Aunt Ella’s funeral was two weeks ago and I spent two more days in NI, enjoying beautiful spring weather in the countryside. Tonight I booked flights for ten days in NI in August. Continue reading

April Days

Last year's hanging basket has kindly come to life again with no effort from me other than irregular watering. Despite it being April, which you'll remember in the rhyme is the month associated with showers, and we're not talking personal hygiene here, this April rain in any form has been notably absent. Which makes me nervous for May, associated with flowers and my birthday. I am wondering if some new intern at heaven's weather station has seen the flow part of flowers and mistaken it for a month of gross inundation. The forecast is for frost next week, maybe even snow. I may have a stay at home birthday, and the mice will get a temporary reprieve on das Boot.

So make the most of these pix of the season while you can.

Pest Laid Plans

Twilight falling and I am on a fast train back to London. We pass fields of flowering rapeseed, the acidic yellow of the blooms a sharp contrast with the deep greens and mid browns of the neighbouring fields. There are well-tended allotments with scarecrows, strips of coloured plastic, and old CDs twirling in the wind; rows of terraced houses, semi-detached houses, large villas with surround sound gardens. There are sheep in the fields, some with lambs, some without. The flat landscape is occasionally interrupted by a slight rise, topped with a small copse of trees. The sky is blue with soft looking clouds the colour of the cherry blossom so prevalent just now. There’s a farmhouse, with collie dog lying at the door, then a man circling a field on a tractor. A benign version of England spreads out as far as my eyes can see.

 

I have been at das Boot with Older Nephew. He met me outside the station at Cambridge, and dropped me back there in time for this train. We spent the day afloat de winterising, cleaning, checking the bilges and running the engine. There had been visitors over the winter: mice, evidenced by numerous droppings. They had nibbled my J cloths, shredded newspaper left ready to line the litter tray, chewed through plastic bin liners and attacked the foil around the neck of a bottle of cava. Before we could eat I had to boil water and wash plates, knives, forks and saucepans. There was poo in the cutlery drawer, in an empty vase, in the sink, in one cupboard under the sink, but not the other.

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Under the Same Sun

Westie Puppy is back in her Belfast home and thriving. MasterB has not been outside for two days. The birds are emptying one of the four feeders in the garden and ignoring the others.

Half past five tonight and it was still light. It is spring. The evidence is all around us in the shape of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses. New shoots pierce the earth. Trees are in blossom. Neighbours are turning the earth in their gardens and planting small purchases made at flower nurseries. I went out without my gloves.

Today is St David’s Day, 1st March, just over two weeks to go before Ersatz Paddies take to the streets wearing dubious hats and swearing allegiance to Guinness. When I was a child being Irish was unfashionable. Actually, it was more than unfashionable, it was social leprosy. I remained largely ignorant of this due to Mother’s relentless programming. My sister and I were brought up to believe our half-Irishness was a miraculous bonus, something of pride and joy. Similarly being the daughters of a working mother when girls we knew at school had mothers who mainly stayed at home. How I looked down on them. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

I was around twelve when the penny finally dropped that I was doubly socially inferior as far as many of my classmates and their parents were concerned. At Mother’s funeral one of my cousins, the one who the rest of us see as being fantastically and unaccountably right wing, queried my description of Mother as Irish. It’s how she described herself, I replied. Another cousin said Mother would have called Derry Londonderry. No she didn’t, I said, hearing Mother’s voice in my head saying she came from Co Derry.

A few years ago Cousin and I deposited our grandmother’s autograph book at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Much as we valued it, it seemed to have a significance beyond our family. It’s clear that my grandmother and her friends all considered themselves uncomplicatedly and proudly Irish. There are many patriotic entries for St Patrick’s Day; verses, pressed shamrocks, pen and ink drawings of harps. My grandmother signed the Ulster Covenant. Look online and you can find her name. I am guessing that post Partition she may have called herself British, but I don’t know. By then she was married and trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and increasing hardship, leading to her premature death in 1927. Continue reading