The Coronavirus Diaries, 25th March 2022

I am not going to talk about the war, or at least not much. Tonight’s news has awoken a flicker of hope that Ukraine may have withstood its powerful neighbour. Withstood may be too strong a word when you see the scenes of devastation in cities which were, just four short weeks ago, full of people going about their daily lives, returning to their homes each evening, cities which are now just so much rubble.

Rebuilding is going to be a mammoth task, not just the physical rebuilding of all those ruined buildings, but the rebuilding of hopes, of normality, of belief in the ordinary humdrumness of life. But compared to Afghanistan, compared to Syria, or Yemen, Ukraine may have a chance at normality sooner rather than later. Girls in Afghanistan refused the right to education were filmed weeping on a day they hoped to return to school. Their ambitions, their future, our future with them playing an active part in it has been placed on hold.

Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe has at last been freed, is back with her husband and daughter and is no longer wearing a tag. She spoke at a press conference a few days after she got back. Composed, gracious, assured, articulate, she was apparently insufficiently grateful for some, insufficiently grateful that it had taken six years to get her release, insufficiently grateful to a foreign secretary, now prime minister, who had not bothered to read about her case properly and asserted she was teaching journalism when she wasn’t.

Given a choice between that prime minister and Nazanin I know who’d I’d vote for.

Octavia is on the mend, slowly. Reinhild and Mark have tested positive. I had a PCR as part of the ONS survey. I tested negative. I hope it stays that way.

MasterB has decided he wants to be an outdoor cat. Each evening he meows piteously until I accompany him down to the front door. Then he takes flight. The nervous, unsure ginger who peers out into the street and decides discretion is the better part of valour has been replaced by a boy who, if there is no other cat about, and on occasion even if there is, is revelling in the smells and possibilities of the garden. Getting him in again is a problem. He’s outside now. I’m giving him until I have finished this post before I go in search of him. I really hope he’ll come in readily, and that i don have to catch him. It is wonderful to see him enjoying himself so much, and I don’t want to curtail or discourage that.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 11th March 2022, Nuclear Holocaust?

Celia and I are planning to get out of the city and walk tomorrow. We’ve agreed on our destination, our start time, and that we’re taking packed lunches. The news continues to be unremittingly grim, and I am hoping a walk and greenery will be restorative. Will Putin press the button and end all our existences? I find I am making plans, while at the same time wondering if I’ll be alive. The phrase ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die’ makes a lot of sense right now.

Not that refugees are getting much opportunity to do much of that, especially those refugees who are trying too reach friends and family in the UK. Our government continues to plumb new depths. One back bencher claimed Lincolnshire (one of the least populated counties in England) couldn’t take more refugees. Another MP offered the kind suggestion that would be refugees could register to pick our fruit and vegetables. They’re all heart aren’t they? Lose your home, the life you know, trek across Europe bringing what you can carry, fearful, exhausted, heartsore, and be sent from pillar to post by UK representatives who wonder why when you left to escape the bombing you didn’t have all the certificates they ask for with you. After all you might be a terrorist. Terrorised would be the correct word.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th February 2022, War

What do you do when you are on the brink of world war?

How do you react when your prime minister makes a speech with grand sounding phrases which don’t actually say anything?

How do you feel when you see people like yourself making Molotov cocktails to defend their city from an aggressor who wants to change the way they live, the way they think?

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Wear your poppy and remember

I don’t want to see Nigel Farage wearing a poppy, or any of the other people who talk about the wars of the twenty-first century for political gain; the jingoism reignited by men who never had to face themselves and find out what it was to lose everything.
We are told to wear our poppies with pride, but sorrow would be more appropriate. Sorrow for the loss of life, for the devastation caused by ideologues to whom the concept of a shared humanity was an anathema.
Farage is an ideologue. He is not the only one. Here in the U.K. and across the world there are people calling themselves patriots who have confused patriotism with nationalism. Nationalism does not understand shared humanity. Continue reading

Of Trains, Boats, Brexit, Bombing and Neanderthal Attitudes

My short ride to the mainline station turned into a slow crawl across the capital. In theory, taking a train should have meant a fourteen minute journey that circumvented the clogged roads at rush hour. The driver kept as informed with a practised and resigned calm; red lights delaying our arrival at Blackfriars; a train ahead with technical problems preventing us from reaching Farringdon. I had expected to have time to kill at King’s Cross, maybe buy a coffee, admire the roof for the nth time. Instead I raced over the road from St Pancras International, found my train on the departure board, wove through the crowds and made it with just two minutes to spare.

Older Nephew is meeting me I hope at Cambridge station. We’re off to winterise das Boot, which means going to the pump out at Ely and probably lunching in a pub there, returning to the marina, emptying the water tank and adding anti-freeze to the engine. I’m hoping it’s more relaxing than the first part of the journey.

We shall doubtless talk Brexit and Trump. Now, most of you will be aware that there was a referendum in June over whether to stay in or leave the EU. I, like 48% of those who voted, wanted to remain. The question was a simple stay or leave. But somehow the government led by the redoubtable Theresa May, has decided that parliament should have no say in the niceties of how we leave the EU, what our leavetaking should be. No, she says, there will not be a discussion along the way, The Country Has Spoken and we must respect that decision. OK, fair enough, it was a slender majority, but it was a majority and much as I should prefer to remain an EU citizen to the end of my days, I reluctantly accept that is not to be. But people did not vote on immigration. Or if they did, they were answering a different question to the one asked. They did not vote on remaining in or out if the single market; on freedom of movement or pan-European health care. Some people will have voted so the 350 million pounds claimed by the leave campaign could go to our beleaguered and beloved NHS. Funny how that money does not seem to play any part in the post Brexit world. Instead leading Conservatives are talking about stopping foreigners taking ‘our’ jobs. The proposal by Amber Rudd that businesses should report on how many foreign passport holders work for them was roundly denounced and dropped amid assurances that we had misunderstood. The fact that this was background to my reading of The Hare With Amber Eyes made it all the more sinister for me. If you don’t know the book I urge you to read it. Aunt Nessa, who died nearly two years ago, sent it to me and it has sat on my shelves until now, a little bit of unsuspected golden treasure. It’s a memoir by Edmund de Waal, a ceramicist based in London. He is descended from a banking family. A Jewish banking family. The hare in the title is a netsuke, one of a collection made by his ancestor Charles Ephrussi in the nineteenth century. Continue reading

Here Be Dragons

Poetry group tonight. Our once a month sit round a round table with books and wine and nibbles, reading and listening, and exchanging our thoughts. Mainly sombre thoughts tonight as it turned out. The theme, chosen by Sandra, was dragons and mythical creatures. It turns out there are an awful lot of very bad poems about dragons, many of them for children.

I like Sandra a lot; she’s a good egg, but this theme had me thinking of her less than charitably. Fortunately, among the dross there are some shining wonderful gems. Celia read a stirring extract from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, the bit when the warrior is dying. It happens that Sandra studied Beowulf for A level and didn’t enjoy it one bit. We talked about how poetry was killed dead by the way we were taught it; each line gone through, dissected, the images pinned down on the page by our pencilled notes: alliteration, personification, extended simile. Shorter poems might survive as they would be read aloud, but the thunderous rolling words of Beowulf and other epics were too many, and so they were stretched, as on a mortuary slab for our scalpel pens and indifferent eyes.

I had a bit of rolling thunderous poetry myself, an extract from Paradise Lost, Book One, also studied at A level. I probably haven’t opened it for decades, but one remembered phrase sent me back to the text:

so stretcht out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay

Chain’d on the burning Lake

Now I am glad I kept my copy, rereading it opened my eyes to why someone had thought it good thing for a bunch of seventeen-year-olds to read in the first place. It has the wow factor on every page I looked at, and there are volumes of it.

Anyway.

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A River of Stones, Day Thirty: Cold War

They have been quietly assembling all weekend; bringing in forces; readying themselves for today’s blitzkrieg. Action all areas. I knew something was up on Saturday. A tickle; a sniff. Then calm. The Phoney War. They were biding their tme; lying up; waiting for the right moment. Now they are everywhere; driving on caterpillar tracks down my throat; crossing the Maginot Line of my vitamins and garlic without breaking stride; billeted in the front of my head; artillery leaning heavy on my eyebrows. Bayonets fixed, they are swarming through the canals of my ears; taking up position in my nose, each rifle round fired, a ricocheting sneeze.

Silence

Ian McMillan started it. He was on Desert Island Discs on Sunday, and he chose Stockhausen’s four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence as one of his tracks, though for obvious reasons they couldn’t play the whole thing on Radio 4. But it got me thinking. And listening. So all week, on and off, I’ve been tuning out and tuning in.

Yesterday I was at Westminster Abbey for the opening of The Field of Remembrance. Continue reading