Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Isolation update + food for thought!

When we started this isolation business the weather seemed set on keeping us cheerful with more than our usual share of blue sky and sunshine. Now we are back to a more normal ration of bits of brightness between longer periods of cloud and gloom. Perhaps someone told the weather that all that sun was making people flock to beauty spots and fail to keep their social distance!! The law of unforeseen consequences!

More unforeseen consequences abound. I mentioned the changes to refuse collection around here with everything going into one bin and recycling disappearing. Now I read that the UK could be hit by a national cardboard shortage as more and more local councils suspend their regular recycling collections. In fact the problem could well be Europe-wide or even worldwide and since cardboard boxes are essential for distributing food and medical supplies this could turn out to be a big problem. 

There are fewer people out and about to give food and money to the homeless, who are going hungry as a result. Not only that but rough sleepers are being fined for failing to comply with lockdown regulations: basically being fined for being outside when they have nowhere else to go. Crazy! More details here. It’s not just other countries doing this; my daughter told me about a homeless man in nearby Stalybridge being fined £600 for failing to maintain social distance!

It’s not all bad for everyone. There has been a Zoom boom. I had never heard of Zoom until this week. It turns out to be yet another way of video-conferencing. The app tracking firm Apptopia said Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23 March, the day the lockdown was announced in the UK– up from 56,000 a day two months earlier. Wow!

Ways to stay fit and motivated are being recommended all over the place. Here is one example.  I particularly like this bit from Mr Motivator, someone I had not heard about for years and years:-

“During the coronavirus crisis, we have all got to stay motivated to work out. One way to do this is to focus on your blessings. Every day when you wake up, think of five reasons to be grateful.

Then put your trainers on. Not your slippers. Walk around your house and put music on. Headbanging music, funky music – whatever gets you going. Now you’ve got your trainers on and your music pumping, you can have some fun.”

You have to love his cheerfulness. And I have long been a fan of putting on some lively music while working in the kitchen, for example. There is nothing quite like a bit of dancing while you cook!

On the subject of cooking, yesterday I made a huge batch of vegetable soup. A good half of it has gone into the freezer but today’s menu is sorted: vegetable soup, some nice bread, a bit of hummus and some olives, maybe poached eggs, and certainly some salad. A bit of fruit for dessert.

Also I invented a dessert last week with ingredients from my freezer. I had a slightly overcooked sponge cake (not burnt but too dry to serve as the birthday cake it was intended for and therefore put in the freezer until inspiration struck) and some rather tart stewed plums. I defrosted both and put the cake in a dish, pierced it a few times to provide easy access for the plum juice, and then poured the stewed plums on top. The juice softened the dry cake and the slight sweetness of the cake took the edge off the tartness of the fruit. Served up with ice-cream it was fine. I shall do it again, on purpose next time!

This next link, about Leonard Cohen living on Hydra, was not really recommending ways to stay sane and reasonably cheerful. I have at least one friend who finds him quite depressing but personally I find his dry wit rather uplifting. What’s more, the article included mention of Leonard Cohen’s own way of keeping the depression at bay: writing or, as he put it, “blackening pages”. “Religion, teachers, women, drugs, the road, fame, money, nothing gets me high and offers relief from the suffering like blackening pages, writing.” It has always worked for me.

And finally, here’s a link to an idea from New Zealand.  Of course, going on a hunt for teddy bears in windows can only work in places where parents can still take children for walks, which I know is not the case in Spain.

And we are keeping our fingers crossed the writer of “We’re going on a bear hunt”, Michael Rosen, who has been in intensive care suffering from Covid-19.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Starting week two of shutdown!

Another day, another runaround for exercise. Yesterday’s wind has dropped and the icy cold has disappeared - not exactly warm but less cold!

We muddle along, we being the country, not just Phil and me, and yet it seems that Mr Johnson’s ratings have been improving. According to Andrew Rawnsley in this article it is a natural phenomenon for leaders’ ratings to go up in times of crisis. It makes people feel better about things generally! Does this explain why a cousin of mine, a recently acquired “friend” on Facebook, has posted that BJ is doing a really good job in difficult circumstances: first he had to deal with Brexit and now he has coronavirus to cope with, both personally and professionally? Or is it just that my cousin is a deluded Daily Mail-reading tory?

And now it seems we are due to receive a letter from our prime minister and I am not sure why? Yes, we all need to be reminded about what to do in this time of crisis but really, is a letter to every household needed? That’s 30,000 households, with each letter costing at least £1 and probably more, which seems like an awful lot of money which could be used for something more useful.

Recycling has gone by the board for the time being; our local council will now only empty general rubbish bins into which everything must go! I suppose that is a logical state of affairs at the moment. I have duly put everything in the big grey bin.

Some odd things result from the current crisis.

In Derbyshire there is a disused quarry near Buxton where the water is of such a beautiful colour (due perhaps to it’s rather toxic high pH level of 11.3, rather like bleach) that it is known as the “Blue Lagoon”. Derbyshire Police decided to dye the water black to dissuade people from visiting. They do this occasionally to dissuade people from wild swimming there!

I read that the participants of Big Brother Germany, isolated from the world, for a while had no idea of what was going on in the outside world. The footage of them finding out about coronavirus apparently went viral. Rather like an episode of Black Mirror!

Toads and turtles are benefitting from humans not being around. Lots of toads are crushed on the Yorkshire fells every year by fell racers but this year they are free to roam without peril as the races are cancelled. And an endangered species of sea turtles have been able to hatch almost unobserved on a Brazil beach. Only government observers were there as the local people have been told to stay home and self-isolate.

Despite the Pope delivering a blessing to an empty St Peter’s Square and despite many religious leaders advising their people to stay and pray at home or to tune in to online church services, some people have kept their trust that their god will protect them. Dozens of parishioners, many of them elderly, crowded into Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg to receive communion. And in virus-hit Louisiana, hundreds of worshippers attended services on Sunday, flouting a ban on large gatherings. An estimated 500 people of all ages filed inside the Life Tabernacle church in Central, a city of nearly 29,000 outside Baton Rouge. Mind you, that last one does not surprise me given the mixed messages they must be receiving from POTUS.

Others are adapting to isolation in better ways.

Last night we saw Richard Thompson streaming live on Facebook. Quite a lot of artists are doing this kind of thing, Richard Thompson appealed to us to contribute to any younger artists who, unlike him, cannot afford to simply stop for a year.

Sometimes people ask why ageing artists him continue performing when they can clearly afford to stop and just take life easy. Richard Thompson said though how strange it felt not to be doing gigs. After all he has been doing gigs for more than fifty years. It felt equally strange, he told us, to be performing in his living room to his computer and not having audience feedback. The thing is performing is not really a job, it’s more of an addiction and it’s probably hard to give up that buzz.

It was a good performance. I missed James Taylor doing the same thing last week. We look forward to more of the same.

On the menu here today is a chicken dish, chicken in a Moroccan sauce. This is another variation on what-to-do-with-your-left-over-roast-chicken: chop up an onion and a bit of garlic and stir fry in the wok, strip the roast chicken of remaining meat and add to the pan, throw in any leftover cooked veg, and finally pour over it all the tagine apricot sauce you bought from the fancy deli!

There will be one of our remaining oranges for dessert.

Tomorrow I may need to think of replenishing supplies!

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Summertime? Coping (or not) with the crisis!

It may well be officially British Summertime but nobody has told the weather about this and it feels rather more like the deep midwinter. Out and about earlier this morning I was almost blown away by the strong wind, which is bringing the temperature down even further. According to the weather app on my phone it is currently 5 degrees but the wind chill factor makes it feel like 1 degree. That sounds about right. The spits and spots of rain that were around yesterday seem to have changed into flakes and flurries of snow but mostly the wind is keeping the clouds moving so that we have intermittent sunshine.

Yesterday we had a group video chat again: us, our daughter and household and our oldest granddaughter and household. As often happens on such occasions, the three year old decided it was all about her. Taking control of her mother’s iPhone she invited us to look at her bedroom, her toys, her dolls’ house and then parked us in an empty room in the dolls’ house so that all we saw was a corner between tiny ceiling and walls. She then proceeded to play with the house and ignore us, protesting however when her mother took back control of the phone and we resumed a normal conversation. Wonderful!

Fortunately, everyone seems to be staying safe and well.

I quoted this from the Ocado man yesterday:- “There is no shortage of food. Nobody will starve. There is a £1bn more food in people’s larders than there was a couple of weeks ago. What are they doing with it? How much do you need to eat? How much do you need to store away?” I have also seen pictures of food thrown away, presumably bought fresh and then going past its use-by date. I predicted that there would be some of that going on.

Incidentally, we had turkey and vegetable soup yesterday evening, soup made as per the Ocado man’s advice but back in December and stored in the freezer. This was followed by a mushroom tart and salad. On the menu today is a leftover bit of mushroom tart, and bean and vegetable stew with baked potatoes. No take-aways or wasted food here!

I have just heard on the radio how they plan to keep the BBC Radio soap “The Archers” going through this time of social distancing. Fewer episodes and recordings done from actors’ homes are planned but there is no explanation of why Ambridge is about the only place in the world that has not heard of Coronavirus!

And here’s another time-of-crisis feel-good story:-

“A man in south-east London ran a marathon in his garden to raise money for a cancer charity after the government said people should stay local for exercise.
James Page, 36, from Sidcup, had been in training for an ultra-marathon in the Sahara desert, along with the London Marathon, but both were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than letting his months of training go to waste, the pipe fitter did 873 laps of about 50 metres in his garden – clocking up more than 26 miles – in a gargantuan effort on Friday which has helped him beat his fundraising target for Children With Cancer UK.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” he told the Guardian. “In a weird way it was quite enjoyable. It was nice weather and the kids were out there watching me with my wife.”
The government has advised people to stay local for exercise and not to travel unnecessarily, and Page took this guidance literally. During the 4 hour and 57 minute marathon, he regularly refuelled with water, electrolytes, nuts, gels and sweets, while switching direction every 20 minutes to protect his knees. “I wanted to go a bit quicker and get a personal best, but it’s hard to pick up speed as you’re running in such a small circle,” he said. “I’m not the fastest runner, but I had to keep it at a nice comfortable speed otherwise it would be tricky at the corners.”
Page’s son created a toilet-roll finish line for his father, which has been the source of some jovial criticism online due to shortages, while his wife is not pleased about the damage to the lawn.”

Not all the time-of-crisis stories are so heartwarming. South African police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown fired rubber bullets towards hundreds of shoppers queueing outside a supermarket in Johannesburg. We should be grateful that such things don’t happen here. And according to this article there is an ongoing rise in domestic violence everywhere. Being “trapped” at home with a ciolent partner must be horrific.  

Then there are always those who benefit from almost any situation. Jeff Bezos, apparently the world’s wealthiest person, sold a load of bis shares in Amazon just before everywhere began to close down and consequently is $5.5bn (£4.3bn) richer today than he was at the start of the year. There’s always one!

The independent newspaper informs us that the world faces a shortage of condoms. A factory in Malaysia which produces one-fifth of condoms globally had to close its three factories because of a government enforced lockdown. During the time their factories were closed they would normally have made 100 million condoms. The factories are now open again but only producing at half capacity. Another factor in the predicted rise in the birthrate and the jokes about a host little girls called Quarantina!

More seriously, Malaysia, with 2,320 infections and 27 deaths, is southeast Asia’s worst-affected country. The country’s lockdown, which is scheduled to last until 14 April, has also affected the makers of critical items such as medical gloves. Hmmm!

 And we might be living with this for a while yet!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Ongoing isolation commentary.

As the weathermen predicted, the cloud has moved in, the wind has arrived and the temperatures have gone down. Maybe this will prevent people going out and having barbecues in moorland beauty spots and starting accidental fires, as happened on a hilltop near Bolton the other day.

It’s a shame to see the back of the sunshine though, as it has brightened everyone’s mood.

Advice to us ordinary folk comes from curious sources, such as this from the Ocado delivery service boss about hoarding food:

“Stuart Rose, the former Marks & Spencer boss who now chairs Ocado, has urged Britons to stop stockpiling groceries, saying “nobody will starve” during the coronavirus outbreak. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Rose said: “There is no shortage of food. Nobody will starve. There is a £1bn more food in people’s larders than there was a couple of weeks ago. What are they doing with it? How much do you need to eat? How much do you need to store away?
Rose, who has just recovered from coronavirus, channelled his inner chef as he urged people to plan their meals and show some frugality. “If you buy a chicken, roast the chicken, have the roast chicken dinner, the following day turn it into a stir fry, the following day make it into soup,” he said. “We live in a very profligate society: we buy too much, we eat too much, we consume too much, and we have to learn new ways.””

I thought that’s what you automatically did with a roast chicken but it must just be the way I was brought up.

As well as suggesting strange quack cures for the virus, it seems that YouTube bloggers are also sharing theories that China created the virus as a bio-weapon to attack the US economy and comments are being spread online about the 5G network being able to control the oxygen supply of coronavirus patients. Oh, boy!

They are going to convert the conference centre in what used to be Manchester’s Central Station into a ‘Nightingale’ hospital for coronavirus patients. It’s a huge floor space, probably ideal for such a use, especially as it’s not being used for anything else at the moment.

“It is understood Manchester’s version of the Nightingale hospital already announced for London’s ExCel centre is likely to be up and running within a week - but will take between 750 and 1,000 patients, compared to the ExCel’s 4,000.
That does not mean the city region’s hospital system is expected to require that many additional beds by this time next week, however, as the centre is anticipated to function as a field hospital for the entirety of the north west.”

It seems that our prime minister might have been telling porky pies about not receiving information about the european joint procurement of ventilators. “On Thursday, a UK government spokesman blamed the situation on a misunderstanding with Brussels, saying that Britain “did not receive an invitation in time to join in”. But Brussels rubbished that claim on Friday, saying the plans — which were publicly announced weeks ago — had been clearly set out to Britain avnd other governments.”

I suppose all this might have been avoided if we had not left the EU.

A friend of mine has suggested that Mr J might also be making up the story that he has contracted the virus, presumably to make us feel sorry for him. He didn’t cough once while making his announcement that he had a persistent cough, she maintained. Maybe he should have asked Theresa May about the persist coughing. My friend is not alone in this belief. Maybe this is the latest version of hiding in a fridge, but deep down I don’t think even he would make this up.

Professor Neil Ferguson, the scientist whose research at London’s Imperial College led to the government’s dramatic pivot in its handling of the outbreak, is not at all surprised at Mr Johnson’s state of health. He pointed out that in the early stages, when we were all being advised to touch elbows, the prime minister had declared that he was still shaking hands with loads of people, including some coronavirus victims. (I remember that!) Then there were those press conferences where they all stood too close together and initially the press were all seated far too close to each other. Westminster was a hotspot for the virus! It’s a wonder they don’t all have it; maybe they do! Professor Ferguson has also had symptoms and has been self-isolating.

I rather get the impression that nobody quite believed quite what was happening. And here is an article about how the USA messed up.

In an article about how different countries are coping with isolation, I read that in Spain, where so many people live in blocks of flats, roof terraces and communal staircases have become running tracks. Surely this is a perfect way to share the germs from one family to another! But somehow this seems such a Spanish reaction to things, akin to having babyseats in cars but not strapping the children into them, something I have seen on more than one occasion. Of course, running in the communal staircase area avoids the problem of the police stopping you and slapping on a fine. My Spanish sister tells me thatcher son-in-law runs round and round his flat, which must be pleasant for my niece and her relatively new baby!

It’s another reason for feeling fortunate to live on the edge of town here with open countryside more or less on our doorstep. This is especially so when I read accounts like this one from an inner city head teacher stressing about her pupils.

Meanwhile, that couple is back in the news:-

 “The Duchess of Sussex is to narrate a Disney film which documents the journey of a family of elephants across the Kalahari desert in southern Africa, which will launch three days after she and Prince Harry “step back” from being senior royals. Meghan will voice the Disneynature documentary Elephant, which will be available on Disney+ from 3 April, and is her first major acting role since becoming a royal. A trailer explains that the film will follow “one family’s extraordinary 1,000-mile journey across Africa on an adventure that will change their lives”.

That was fairly predictable but at least it will give those who have access to Disney+ something to look forward to!

Friday, 27 March 2020

Continuing coronavirus!

At 8 o’clock last night people were on their doorsteps clapping for the NHS. Our street was clapping too. We might not sing but we do clap. Inevitably there have been lots of social media reminders that the NHS needs more than mere applause: better pay and conditions; recognition that they are not unskilled workers; most importantly at the moment, better provision of protective equipment. But a bit of applause will do no harm.

And now comes the news that Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus, showing mild symptoms and planning to remain in charge but working from home - distance governing! The churlish bit of me wants to grumble that HE managed to be tested when many others are not. But, not really wanting to be a churl, I suppose I have to recognise that it is only reasonable to expect that the prime minister, like the heir to the throne, would be tested. I may not like the man, I certainly did not vote for him, but the fact remains that he IS the prime minister.

Coronavirus consequences:-

Health workers are being infected. Doctors are dying, in quite large numbers in Spain and Italy, but also at least one here in the UK. Some of them will have had underlying health problems but the fact remains that they are dying because of repeated exposure to the virus.

There are apparently some 10,000 people stuck on cruise ships, some of them showing symptoms of the virus. Ports are turning the boats away. Some passengers are confined to their cabins, having meals delivered outside their doors three times a day. A modern circle of hell.

In the United States, as businesses close their doors and lay off workers, many of those workers find that their work-related health insurance disappears, leaving them without cover at entirely the wrong time. “According to one recent report, the cost of treatment for Covid-19 can run around $35,000. As the patient in the report exclaimed: “I was pretty sticker-shocked. I personally don’t know anybody who has that kind of money.”” Another reason to fight for our NHS.

There is a should they / shouldn’t they? will they /won’t they? debate going on about shutting Piccadilly Gardens in central Manchester. Police are still having to arrest people for gathering there in grouos of more than two. Maybe those who gather there should be fenced in (rather than being fenced out) and delivered food parcels for the duration.

The Candidates Tournament to decide who will be the next top player to challenge the world chess champion has been cancelled because of travel problems as Russia has suspended air traffic.

It’s not all bad:-

Air quality has already improved in big cities because there are fewer cars around. The nationwide shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak has led to big drops in air pollution across the UK’s major cities, new data analysis shows. The data shows drops in tiny particle pollution of a third to a half in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff, falls of about quarter in Manchester, York and Belfast, with smaller declines in Glasgow and Newcastle.

There is an uncanny Sunday-morning peaceful feel to every morning round here. The only clue to it being a weekday is the noise of the continued work on the water drainage system a little further up the road. This has made our stretch of the road largely car-free for several months but now the traffic-quiet extends beyond the roadworks.

They have taken advantage of the quieter roads to repaint the iconic Abbey Road zebra crossing made famous by the 1969 Beatles album of the same name.

Some of it is predictably crazy:-

There has been a rash of what they describe as “dngerous quack cures” for the coronavirus being shared online.Lemon juice, liquid silver and hot water are among the remedies being suggested in anti-vaccination Facebook groups that have hundreds of thousands of followers. Amazing!

And within my family there is the following:-

My Spanish sister has longer hair than I have seen on her for years. She failed to get it cut before lockdown. She now regrets having got rid of her hairdrier!

Our middle granddaughter, Sophie, partially celebrated her 17th birthday yesterday by opening presents on the street outside our house. (I hasten to add that this only happened because our daughter was delivering some stuff she had picked up at the supermarket for us. No sneaky, quarantine-breaking visits for us!) We stood in our doorway, while Sophie stood outside the garden gate with her mother and her small siblings keeping her company.

Not quite the birthday celebration she planned but such are the times we live in. There will be chocolate cake, with candles, and proper birthday hugs, some time in the future!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Lockdown report - is it still only the first week?

As if to demonstrate to us that the virus is no respecter of wealth and privilege, we get the news that Prince Charles has the coronavirus. Of course, he has been tested while masses of front line workers have not but there have to be limits to the limits on wealth and privilege! The royal-reporters have been quick to reassure us that he only has mild symptoms and is able to continue “working” from home. That’s a relief! They also worked out when they thought he began to be contagious and decided that it was at least a day after he last had contact with his aged mother. Well, that’s also good. I will sleep easier in my bed now. But just imagine having to try to arrange a state funeral at the moment!!

Various Radio 4 news and comment programmes appear to be being broadcast from the presenters’ homes but the television news programmes still come from the studio, albeit without guests except via video contact. Will that have to stop at some point soon? Surely all the technicians and support staff are being exposed to potential hazards. Just a thought that crossed my mind as I watched Emily Maitlis on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night.

The various TV and Radio news programmes and the online newspapers keep having features on how-to-entertain-yourself-during-the-lockdown. And this is not just how to keep the children busy but how to stop the adults getting bored. Lots of people have taken up knitting - or in some cases would like to do so but, while they know how to actually knit, they don’t know how to cast on and cast off - singing in an online choir - really good for the lungs I would have thought - and a whole host of crafty things. As for me, I am doing pretty much what I always do but with rather less in the way of outdoor activities.

I was talking to my Spanish sister, who is even more locked down than I am, and we both expressed our relief that we are readers and always have a stack of books waiting to be read or re-read. Our elder sister apparently phones my Spanish sister at least twice a day as she is growing very bored. She must not regard me as such a sympathetic listener as she only called me yesterday for the first time in ages!

As I stood in the perfectly spaced queue outside the greengrocer’s yesterday, I got involved in an exchange of jokes with a chap a couple of places ahead of me, mostly to entertain the small girl ahead of me growing increasingly fed up of waiting with her father. I contributed my limited range of elephant jokes (How do you fit 4 elephants in a Mini (or 2CV, Seat or Fiat 600 if telling the joke in France/Spain/Italy)? Answer: 2 in the front and 2 in the back. And others of the same kind.) but the principle joker had a vast collection of bubble-related jokes (What sort of music do bubble like? Answer: Pop music!) and I wondered why. And then the father of the bored child commented that he usually sees this chap blowing giant bubbles, with one of those bubble wands, in the local park - a bubble-beggar, in other words. I didn’t recognise him without his jester’s hat!

Phil and I are fortunate not to have to worry too much about our financial situation - lucky us! I read that the benefits system is being inundated with applications for Universal Credit as people find themselves without an income during the current crisis. As if the constant awareness that you need to be careful where you breathe was not enough!

I also read that in the USA singer-sing writer James Taylor and his wife have donated $1million dollars to Massachusetts General Hospital to help cope with the emergency. My Spanish sister tells me that Pep Guardiola has donated money to the Barcelona health service. Manchester City and Manchester United have combines to make a donation to the NHS. It strikes me that if all the really rich donated a fraction of their income/stored wealth we could go a long way towards providing adequate care. Am I too idealistic?

Here’s an odd industry to suffer from the pandemic. Apparently the US had 845,000 weddings planned for March through May but the pandemic has prompted disappointment, delays and postponements. “The near-instant loss or postponement of an entire busy season of weddings is proving disastrous for the 1.2 million people and the nearly 400,000 business that owe at least part of their incomes to the industry of matrimony. Everyone from wedding planners and caterers to florists and furniture rental companies have been blindsided.”

Curious! No doubt the same is true in the UK, if perhaps to a lesser extent.

Here is a link to a set of pictures of places in Spain before and after the declaration of a state of emergency.

And now, a completely different problem. In recent years we have had huge fires in moorland areas, some very close to our home. Although we have had a lot of rain earlier this year, the last week has seen fine and sunny weather, even warm enough to encourage some of our neighbours to sunbathe. So now the Moorland Association, an industry body for landowners, said this week landowners must stop any controlled burning. The instruction came after a managed fire in West Yorkshire got out of control and spread into a mile-long fire front. The fire brigade said: “We are currently trying to focus our resources on supporting the national effort to respond to coronavirus and this is unhelpful to us. We will be making every effort to contact landowners over the forthcoming days and to reiterate this message. “It is not where we want to be focusing our energies at this time.”

Just what we need at the moment!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Getting supplies. Good news stories and bad news stories.

So, it’s Wednesday again when usually I run to Uppermill market and then catch the bus back. But I am avoiding public transport and today I decided to get up and walk there so that I could carry my small rucksack. I am afraid I really hate to run with a rucksack joggling ablut on my back. And I needed my rucksack rather than a couple of cloth bags if I was planning to walk home as well.

The market was sparse: no fishman, just the veg man and the cheese and biscuit lady. The market stalls and all the shops in Uppermill were well organised. The co-op was working on a one-out-one-in system, limiting the numbers of people in the shop at any one time and making it more possible for the queue at the till to be properly spaced out. The small Italian greengrocery was only taking one customer at a time, the well spaced queue trailing up the road and round the corner. It was worth the wait though as they had tomatoes, which the co-op had a complete lack of, and decent oranges. Between there and the veg stall, also with a well-spaced queue, I now have supplies to last me for a good while.

There is still a dearth of loo roll around here, however. Why is this still happening? I have just spoken on vide-chat to my sister, the English one, and she tells me that they do not have this problem in Southport. Her local Aldi has plenty. She is unable to comment on the state of her local Tesco as the queue to get into the store was so long this morning that she gave up on it altogether.

I have just heard Ian McEwan talking on the radio - his wife is reading Defoe’s Plagues Journals and he is reading The Plague by Albert Camus. Okay! I hear a lot of people are reading literature related to plague and disaster situations. Personally I am choosing other stuff. I am 80% of the way through Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad, still not a bundle of laughs but it does not involve illnesses, just other kinds of fatalities! I have Hilary Mantel’s latest oeuvre lined up as well, bought just before everything closed down. Now that is a huge read and I may well need to reread the previous two books as well.

Here’s a bit of good international news I came across:-

“In one of Italy’s darkest hours, they find they are not alone. Cuban doctors arrive in Italy with one mission, to save as many lives as they can.”

It’s nice to see some good cooperation going on. And that despite sanctions from hee and there.

Here in the UK on the other hand, I have found this bit of nastiness:-

“Hundreds of residents of the budget hotel chain Travelodge, including homeless families housed there by local councils, have been turned out on to the street after it closed its premises. The chain issued letters to all residents on Tuesday asking them to leave as soon as possible as they were “temporarily closing the hotels until further notice” in the light of the UK government’s extended coronavirus physical distancing guidelines issued on Monday.
This appeared to be in defiance of government guidance issued the same day that said that hotels looking after homeless families who had been placed in temporary accommodation at in hotels should not close.
The closure led to chaos and dismay among families and local authority homelessness workers.”

I had wondered about people who live in hotels, especially as I read about Spanish hotels being obliged to close. But somehow I was not aware of a problem like this one.

I can’t imagine being in an already desperate situation and then finding that they pull from under you the bit of support you have managed to find.

 Our society needs something of a rethink once this is all over and done with!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Closing time!

First came the announcement that they are closing the local reservoir my son and I used to walk around on stress-reducing walks - indeed still do walk around on a fairly regular basis when he is in this part of the country.

“Reservoirs across the area including Dovestones and Audenshaw are to close to the public to reduce social contact. The move follows scenes from the weekend which were widely criticised on social media of people flouting the governments advice to stay at home.

Dovestone reservoir in particular saw huge numbers of visitors during the weekend’s good weather. United Utilities, which manage the sites, announced they will be closing toilets, car parks and gated entrances from midnight tonight [Monday 23 March].

Paula Steer is United Utilities’ director responsible for health and safety and estate management and she explained the reason for the move: “We’re sorry to be doing this as we know these sites are enjoyed by so many and it’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly.  We really need to think about the well-being of everyone in our communities at the moment, and that means avoiding unnecessary travel or close contact with those outside your household.”

Then came this announcement:-

“Prime minister Boris Johnson has imposed an unprecedented three-week nationwide lockdown across the UK in an attempt to bring a halt to the coronavirus outbreak. All British households have been told to stay at home except for a strictly limited set of purposes - with police having powers to enforce the instructions with fines.

Shops selling non-essential goods have been ordered to close, along with libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.”

So there it is, just what we expected eventually. The country is closing down. Eastenders has stopped filming. So, I think, has Coronation Street. Even The Archers, on Radio 4, an alternative UK where Coronavirus seems not to have made its presence felt yet, is reducing its output. Even Sports Direct have finally had to accept that they do not provide essential goods and services!

It seems that disregard for advice from the powers that be is as old as the hills. This is from the Diaries of Samuel Pepys - London 1664:-

“On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the streets to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague about. Not a care has the rogues for the health of their elders!”

So, little has changed!

In Texas it is not just the young who have no care for their elders; the elders themselves are apparently declaring the selves ready to die to prevent the economy going bust. I wonder if the governor has asked all the oldies in the state about this! Mind you, the USA, still haggling state by state over the price of ventilators, is not so far down the Coronavirus route as we are. Maybe they still think a wall will keep the virus out. In the light of the latest instructions,

Phil and I will need to plan our daily routine to be sure to get the maximum exercise from one daily outing. Yesterday took us on a nostalgia walk down the valley from our village to the little hamlet of Slackcote, the location of the first house we bought. We stood outside the house and reminisced - “That’s our bedroom window. That’s where our daughter was born.” - all at a good safe distance from the house, even though we saw nobody.

Here are some more photos.

A nice display of croci to set us on our way.

The valley path.

A bit of old industrial ruins

The place where they aways used to refurbish classic cars - one rather fine but dusty example remaining.

 Views of the stream, eventually joining the river Tame.

 What we always called "The Four Row" with the actual "Slackcote Cottages" at the back of the photo.

 And now, news of a completely unrelated death, nothing to do with the pandemic:

“Asterix illustrator Albert Uderzo has died at the age of 92, his family has announced. The French comic book artist, who created the beloved Asterix comics in 1959 with the writer René Goscinny, died on Tuesday. He “died in his sleep at his home in Neuilly from a heart attack unrelated to the coronavirus. He had been very tired for several weeks,” his son-in-law Bernard de Choisy said”. 

That’s another bit of nostalgia, going right back to our university days! So it goes.

Monday, 23 March 2020

The stress of isolation.

Yesterday I had a long telephone conversation with my son who was out on a social distancing walk to relieve his stress. Boy! Did he sound stressed out! There’s the generally dire situation of the world but also he is trying to help his wife not fall apart as she finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her mother is very ill, not from the virus but with an ongoing condition. Really she should be in hospital but there is no chance of her getting any kind of priority admission and, besides, hospital is probably the last place you want to be at present. Added to this, their small daughter has been running a temperature and been showing at the least cold symptoms. While this might be just one of these childhood ailments, my daughter-in-law feels she cannot go and visit her mother just in case she takes with her coronavirus, something her mother’s desperately poor immune system would not cope with at all.

This is, no doubt, a typical story of the time we are living through. I can totally understand my daughter-in-law’s feeling of helplessness. My own feeling at the moment is that, like a mother hen with her chicks, I want to gather all my people together and personally check that all are safe. Not possible, of course.

This morning, my boy woke me at 7.45 (okay, I know some people have already been up and about for ages by that time but I was still snug in my bed) with a photo message: a beautiful morning view of the hills behind his house where he was out on an early morning stress-relieving walk. We have a tradition of doing this kind of thing. When he was a teenager and the family was going through a stressful time, he and I used to get up early and walk round a local reservoir before many other folk got there. It helps!

We are, I suppose, fortunate to live in places where we can get out for such walks in places where we will meet, and therefore need to circumvent, very few people. Photos in the news indicate that parks in big cities are simply not coping with keeping the crowds of people 2 metres apart. Meanwhile in Spain and Italy, and perhaps France, the authorities are going slightly bonkers as they challenge people in the streets and have them lie through their teeth about why they are out and about: walking clearly exhausted dogs; going to take shopping to aged aunts who turn out to be friends they are meeting for a card game, and so on.

The selfishness pandemic is making itself felt as well. Supermarkets are apparently still crazy places. And here is the news report of a paramedic being given notice to quit his rented accommodation ... in case he brings home the virus to his landlady! The mind boggles.

According to this article the reports of dolphins in the canals of Venice are untrue. The pictures must have been photoshopped. However, it does confirm that wildlife is venturing into empty cities. A kind of extended version of the urban foxes we see all the time, it’s rather like something from a science fiction story. How long before nature reclaims the spaces we so confidently occupied until a only few weeks ago?

And here’s the story of one man’s response to being confined to his flat in France:-

“In the age of Covid-19 confinement, Elisha Nochomovitz has figured out a way to keep occupied by running a marathon on his balcony. Nochomovitz ran 42.2km (26.2 miles) back and forth, never leaving his 7 metre-long (23 feet) balcony. He saw it as a physical and mental challenge, and also shared images of the feat online as a way to extend his support to medical personnel who were doing an “exceptional job”, he told Associated Press from his apartment in Balma, a suburb of the southern French city of Toulouse.

Like athletes who ran around their Wuhan apartments or cyclists who found ways to train in their locked-down Abu Dhabi hotel rooms, Nochomovitz wanted to show that it’s possible to stay fit as virus containment measures tighten around the world. He also wanted to lighten the mood. “It was about launching a bit of a crazy challenge and bringing a bit of humour, to de-dramatise the confinement situation,” he said.

He didn’t exactly make record time. It took him six hours and 48 minutes. He got nauseous and worried the neighbours would complain about the pounding of his footsteps. But he did it.

Technically, the French authorities are still allowing people to go outside for exercise such as running, if they fill out and sign a form explaining their reasons for leaving their homes. The number of joggers on French streets has multiplied in recent days, amid exceptionally balmy weather. And that has authorities worried that too many people are still out on the streets, threatening efforts to contain the virus. “If everyone thinks the same way and does the same thing, we will all find ourselves outside and that won’t help anything, and the message that we need to stay confined at home will have had no impact,” said Nochomovitz.

He said he had been training for a marathon, adding: “I needed to assure myself that I could still run 40km.” He lost track of how many laps he did, but his pedometer kept track while his mind wandered. “I thought about many things, what’s going to happen, when I see that the world has stopped, sports, economy, finance,” he said. “We learned in history about wars between nations, men and weapons, but this is something that is beyond us.”

He especially thought about medics, which he described as the real everyday heroes”. He had crucial support in his challenge. “I had my girlfriend here who was giving me drinks and M&Ms.”

Outside, some onlookers stared in confusion. And his neighbours? “They were very understanding.””

On reflection, maybe the people who have connected their static bicycles to Peleton, the online exercise programme with the extremely annoying television advertisements, might feel they have done the right thing. They can just get on their static bikes and pedal their stress away.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Still social distancing.

On Friday I posted a picture of our social distancing walk on Facebook and my Spanish sister had a little moan about the fact that she is not even allowed to do that. Mind you, yesterday morning she sent me a good morning photo of her smallest grandson, only weeks old, and I know full well he does not live with her. So some sneaky visiting must be going on.

I wondered if the situation was different in rural Spain from urban Spain as regards going out for solitary walks. Then I read this bit of a blog, accessed via my friend Colin’s blog:

Extract from Chronicles of the Virus Day 6,Spanish views from a small town

Thoughts from a transplanted American on life in rural Spain.

By Maria, who was writing about having been out for a walk.

“When I came back and resumed reading the online news, I discovered that the fire brigades will be deployed on lanes in the woods and on the hills to make sure that no one breaks quarantine. In other words, no one is allowed to go for walks in the woods to take a breather, even if no one else is going for walks in the woods to take a breather. We are confined to our properties. My problem? That the winter was so wet that our field will still pull me down and try to swallow me if I should venture out to cross it from one end to the other to get some exercise. Parts of it are firmer, such as where we want to put in the potatoes, but others feel like a swamp creature is awaiting beneath the surface. Sigh. At least I can still take the trash.”


Our family at this end of the country is split into three groups: Phil and me in one house, our daughter, her partner and most of her offspring in another, only fifteen minutes but a whole quarantine away, and the oldest granddaughter and her partner and the daft dog in yet another, some 40 minutes away. So far we have been quite assiduous in our observance of social distancing. Yesterday we had a first go at doing a bit of video conferencing via Messenger. No doubt we will refine our technique as time goes by. Quite what we will do about celebrating the second granddaughter’s 17th birthday towards the end of the week is a different problem.

It’s not all gloom and doom. The environmental uptick is that not only shoals of fish but swans and dolphins have been seen on the canals of Venice. It’s an ill wind and all that!!

Jokes are abounding as well, in typical British fashion. Here is a link to a story about lasagne the size of Wembley stadium.  My favourite so far is the one where people post a note saying:

 “They said a mask and gloves were enough to go to the grocery store. They lied; everybody else had clothes on.”

So today I have done yet another social distancing run along one of our bridle paths, passing two dog walkers and nobody else out and about.

But will even this have to be curtailed? I have not been into the local co-op to buy a paper but I did read this online:

“The police could use emergency powers to enforce rules on social distancing and reduce the further spread of coronavirus, the London mayor has said, amid concerns about mixed messages from central government on the issue.”

It seems people have been leaving London for supposedly safer places:

“Following scenes of packed beaches and parks over the weekend, and worries that people fleeing cities for more remote parts of the UK could overwhelm less well-resourced local health services, Sadiq Khan urged people to stay at home if at all possible.”

 “London is considered to be several weeks ahead of the rest of the UK in the spread of coronavirus, and while public transport use has fallen sharply and pubs, clubs, restaurants and other venues were closed on Friday, this weekend people in the capital have flocked to parks, markets and other destinations.”

 “There are also concerns about the virus being spread by people fleeing from London and other cities to the coast or other destinations. On Sunday the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, wrote to the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, demanding that people be prevented from travelling to second homes or tourist accommodation such as caravan parks, lest they overwhelm local health services.” 

Before Spain exploded into huge numbers of cases, my Spanish sister reported the arrival in her town in Andalucia of folk from Madrid who have summer residences there.

 So it goes - on and on!

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Coronavirus chronicle continued,

I got up this morning and ran round the village, as I usually do, and popped into the co-op newspaper, again as I usually do on a Saturday.

Our co-op is quite small, basically two aisles. Fresh fruit and veg as you go in, an aisle ahead with bread and various tinned and packet groceries on one side and freezers on the other. At the end is the fridge with milk and other dairy produce, next to shelves of breakfast cereals as you turn the corner. Heading down the second aisle there are more frozen goods and then shelves of alcohol on one side and household stuff - loo roll, kitchen roll, cleaning products, etc - toothpaste and then sweets (ironically enough!) on the other, until you get to the three-till checkout and newspapers and magazines.

This morning at, what?, about 9.20? there was very little bread to speak of, still no sugar, and a significantly huge empty space where loo roll, kitchen roll and tissues should be. More significantly, the second aisle, heading down to the tills, was full of a not very well spaced put queue. I kept my distance as I waited for at least twenty minutes to shuffle down to pay for my bottle of milk and my newspaper. I felt rather sorry for the poor girl in front of me who had just one item in her basket. Oh boy!

I have not been anywhere near the larger supermarkets around here. The nearest is a small Tesco at Greenfield, which I am told had been pretty much emptied of goods earlier in the week. So I have no idea what state they are all in now.

I always run before breakfast, then come home and shower and then have a civilised latish breakfast with Phil. This morning’s was obviously delayed by my standing in the queue at the co-op for so long. Then almost as I arrived home my son rang, delaying things even further. For several years now, pretty much ever since his small daughter was old enough to enjoy doing this trip with her daddy, he has been walking down to the centre of the small town where he lives and having breakfast in a local cafe with the small girl. This gives his wife a peaceful Saturday morning lie-in and has established a nice family tradition, which I join in with when I go to visit. Coffee and croissants for the adults and a babycino (ie a small cup of frothed milk) for the small person, and usually an extra treat of a pain au chocolat if there is still a space to fill. The adults read the paper and the small girl obligingly does some colouring. This is followed by a stroll through the market, a trip to the park and playground and then a walk back up the hill to home.

Well, none of that was going on this morning with all cafes closed for the duration!

And we commented that the “duration” is really unknown. My small granddaughter, my son told me, gave them a fright last night by running a high temperature for a few hours and complaining of a sore throat. This morning, however, she seems to be as right as rain. Is this what coronavirus is like in its mildest form for a six-year-old? Or was it just a run of the mill small child fever, the kind they do from time to time. To be on the safe side, my son and family are self isolating. This means no visit to the other grandparents, just around the corner from them, especially as my fellow-mother-in-law (why do we have no word like the Spanish “consuegra”?) has undergone serious surgery not very long ago and is really not well at the moment. Another stress point for my daughter-in-law, who wants to go and help out as much as possible!

So, between one thing and another, breakfast almost became an early lunch. So much for keeping to a sensible routine during social distancing! But the day is fine, once again, and I expect we shall head out for another social distancing stroll before long!

Friday, 20 March 2020

Considering the continuing chaos!

Despite the continuing chaos of coronavirus, or perhaps as a kind of compensation for it all, we have a beautifully sunny day today. There was an icy wind when I went out running earlier but out of the wind the sun was wonderful.

I popped into the local coop for a couple of things and to go to the cash machine. Certain shelves were bare as bare could be. I expected that to be the case with loo rolls and tissues and hand-wash but bread and sugar?! Really! Either they had not had today’s delivery yet or the panic buyers had been out before 9.00am to strip the shelves.

My Italian friend has posted on social media a letter from a doctor working in Bergamo, near Milan. Now, my friend is excitable - she is Sicilian, after all - but as a rule deep down she is quite pragmatic about things. However, the news of over 4,000 deaths in Italy seems to have tipped her into panic mode. Here is the letter from the Bergamo doctor:

“Here’s the viewpoint of a senior doctor from Italy... where hindsight is 20-20.

I'm a doctor in a major hospital in Italy. Watching Americans and Brits in these still-early days of the coronavirus pandemic is like watching a familiar horror movie. The real-life versions of this behavior are pretending this is just a flu; keeping schools open; following through with your holiday travel plans, and going into the office daily. This is what we did in Italy. We were so complacent that even when people with coronavirus symptoms started turning up, we wrote each off as a nasty case of the flu.

We kept the economy going, pointed fingers at China and urged tourists to keep traveling. And the majority of us told ourselves and each other: this isn't so bad. We're young, we're fit, we'll be fine even if we catch it. Fast-forward two months, and we are drowning. Statistically speaking—judging by the curve in China—we are not even at the peak yet, but our fatality rate is at over 6 percent, double the known global average.

Put aside statistics. Here is how it looks in practice. Most of my childhood friends are now doctors working in north Italy. In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua, they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don't have enough beds. In the hallway, meanwhile, there are another 15 people waiting who are already hardly breathing and need oxygen. The army is trying to bring some of them to other regions with helicopters but it's not enough: the flow is just too much, too many people are getting sick at the same time.

We are still awaiting the peak of the epidemic in Europe: probably early April for Italy, mid-April for Germany and Switzerland, somewhere around that time for the UK. In the U.S., the infection has only just begun. But until we're past the peak, the only solution is to impose social restrictions. And if your government is hesitating, these restrictions are up to you.

Stay put. Do not travel. Cancel that family reunion, the promotion party and the big night out. This really sucks, but these are special times. Don't take risks. Do not go to places where you are more than 20 people in the same room. It's not safe and it's not worth it.

But why the urgency, if most people survive? Here's why: Fatality is the wrong yardstick. Catching the virus can mess up your life in many, many more ways than just straight-up killing you. "We are all young"—okay. "Even if we get the bug, we will survive"—fantastic. How about needing four months of physical therapy before you even feel human again. Or getting scar tissue in your lungs and having your activity level restricted for the rest of your life. Not to mention having every chance of catching another bug in hospital, while you're being treated or waiting to get checked with an immune system distracted even by the false alarm of an ordinary flu. No travel for leisure or business is worth this risk.

Now, odds are, you might catch coronavirus and might not even get symptoms. Great. Good for you. Very bad for everyone else, from your own grandparents to the random older person who got on the subway train a stop or two after you got off. You're fine, you're barely even sneezing or coughing, but you're walking around and you kill a couple of old ladies without even knowing it. Is that fair? You tell me.

My personal as well as professional view: we all have a duty to stay put, except for very special reasons, like, you go to work because you work in healthcare, or you have to save a life and bring someone to hospital, or go out to shop for food so you can survive. But when we get to this stage of a pandemic, it's really important not to spread the bug. The only thing that helps is social restriction. Ideally, the government should issue that instruction and provide a financial fallback—compensate business owners, ease the financial load on everyone as much as possible and reduce the incentive of risking your life or the lives of others just to make ends meet.

But if your government or company is slow on the uptake, don't be that person. Take responsibility. For all but essential movement, restrict yourself. This is epidemiology 101. It really sucks. It is extreme—but luckily, we don't have pandemics of this violence every year. So sit it out. Stay put. Don't travel. It is absolutely not worth it. It's the civic and moral duty of every person, everywhere, to take part in the global effort to reduce this threat to humanity. To postpone any movement or travel that are not vitally essential, and to spread the disease as little as possible.

Have your fun in June, July and August when this—hopefully—is over. Stay safe..”

There you go.  In the meantime, here is a collection of pictures of people clapping, singing, playing musical instruments from their balconies in various pandemic-stricken countries. Will we soon see pictures of people doing the same from their back gardens in the UK? Hmm! I doubt it!

And now a reminder from the estimable John Pilger that other, and possibly worse, things are going on in the world:-

 “A pandemic has been declared, but not for the 24,600 who die every day from unnecessary starvation, and not for 3,000 children who die every day from preventable malaria, and not for the 10,000 people who die every day because they are denied publicly-funded healthcare, and not for the hundreds of Venezuelans and Iranians who die every day because America's blockade denies them life-saving medicines, and not for the hundreds of mostly children bombed or starved to death every day in Yemen, in a war supplied and kept going, profitably, by America and Britain. Before you panic, consider them.”

 With that, I now plan to get Phil and me organised to go for a socially distancing walk up the hill!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Thinking about some possible consequences of the crisis.

My son sent me this text message yesterday:

“In the bath a small child uses an upside-down funnel to fire bubbles in the air and make it snow. Around her the world is crumbling and she has only the vaguest notion.”

Better perhaps that she should have only the vaguest notion. She’s only six after all. Some children are reported to be suffering real anxiety attacks about the modern world. I doubt that she can remain unaware for long as schools close tomorrow until some indefinite time in the future. Already she has her daddy working from home, which no doubt pleases her as she likes having him around but it’s not the norm in their household. As a rule Daddy goes off on the train into London in the morning and comes back for bedtime. Now he’s working from home, as is my daughter’s partner. This has only been going on for a few days but my daughter and my daughter-in-law agreed that it seems like longer.

I wonder if anyone has thought if studying the relationship consequences of working from home. Some couples might not stand the strain of spending all day together and not all have big enough houses for both halves of a couple to work in different rooms. I can remember from when I was working in adult education one lady in particular getting very stressed as her husband’s retirement loomed near. What was she going to do with him under her feet all day? Already he “interfered” with her routines for getting the housework done. And worst of all, he was proposing joining her jn the Spanish language class I taught!!

Of course, this increase in working from home may alter the whole work scene. Some places may decide to make it the norm, with reduced office space and employees hot-desking. There will be reduced gossip at the watercooler. And the younger generation who are reported to have difficulty meeting potential life-partners in the work situation will see their social interaction reduced even further.

One odd consequence of the epidemic/pandemic is a change in who is regarded as an essential worker. I keep coming across posts redefining that list:

Care workers
Shelf stackers
Check out staff
Delivery drivers
Refuse collectors
Street sweepers
Transport workers

Not the highest earners by any means!

Meanwhile I am receiving emails from my bank, from the Cooperative Society, even from Waterstone’s bookshop, among others, telling that they are doing their best to keep things running properly during the crisis and will try to serve their customers well. Of these emails perhaps the most important is the Coop reassuring me that they will try to keep their shelves stacked, especially considering that even our little Coop in Delph has significant gaps on the shelves. This is despite reminders that there is, and that there will continue to be, plenty for everyone provided we are all sensible in what we buy, people are being greedy. There you go! An appeal to our better nature.

I spoke to our post lady (essential worker) this morning, maintaining a sensible safe distance of course, about the state of the world. She wondered if the reduced road traffic and especially the reduced air traffic might give the world a bit of a chance to recover from all the mistreatment we have given it. I don’t know whether a few months reduction in emissions will make a radical difference but maybe it will be a start.

I came across this on the same vein:-

 “a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.”

Basically it’s our own fault. Now, if and when this crisis is all over, will we rethink the way we do things or just go back to what we did before? We shall see!

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Serious stuff. Difficult decisions. And a plea for tolerance.

Well, it’s getting serious. The BBC is stopping filming Eastenders. The queen is leaving Buck House and cancelling events. Glastonbury has been postponed. Whatever next!?

Our daughter has taken the decision to keep her teenager off school. His school sent out an email to parents letting them know that the school was partially closing. Year 7 pupils, the youngest, would still be expected to attend, perhaps because they are considered to be of an age still to need childcare, although the reasoning is not clear. Years 8 and 9 were to stay at home but years 10 and 11, building up to GCSE should continue to go to school. Our grandson, a disgruntled year 10, says that a large number of his class were not attending anyway. So my daughter, concerned about the possibility of the virus being brought hime to her asthmatic partner, has given in to pressure to keep the teenager at home.

Meanwhile I just read this about the situation in France:-

“France’s cafés, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops were ordered to close their doors at midnight on Saturday. On Monday night, Macron decreed the new measures, repeating six times during a sombre address – watched by a record 35 million people – that the country was “at war”. 

Anyone flouting the restrictions, in place for at least the next two weeks, risks a fine of €38 to €135. “I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented, but the circumstances demand it,” Macron said. “The enemy is there: it is invisible, it is elusive, but it is making progress.”
The interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said 100,000 police officers would be deployed to enforce the lockdown, with checkpoints to be set up nationwide and anyone stopped outside their home asked to justify the reason why on a form downloaded from the interior ministry website.

The form, a legal document that can also be copied out by hand, requires any French resident who goes outside to declare, on their honour, that they have done so for one of a handful of permissible reasons - which also include walking the dog and “brief individual exercise, excluding team sports”.” 

Trust the French to be super-efficient!

So let’s talk about something else for a change. I came across this article about Goths, not teenage Goths but people now heading towards their 40s and still being determinedly Goth. It’s interesting that the women interviewed gave us extra details about their houses. Here are a couple of examples:- 

“My house is entirely black and white. I have too many skulls to count. I’m really proud of the downstairs toilet – I call it my little catacomb. It’s painted black, even the ceiling, and I have a customised loo-roll holder in the shape of a coffin. I’m currently waiting for a customised four-poster bed with a built-in spiderweb to arrive.”

“My house is all goth: black flock wallpaper, black settees, black gloss furniture, baroque-style ornaments. I never get bored of wearing black. It’s a godsend, because you never have to separate your clothes when you’re wearing them. I married a goth. We had the wedding in a castle, and I wore a purple corset, with a big flouncy skirt to go with it, and purple and black hair extensions.”

Okay! You would think they might have grown out of it. On reflection, however, I used to know someone who never grew out of being a hippy. Well into her fifties and sixties she still wore her hair in long, now rather faded, plaits, and dressed in long, trailing skirts. She had found her style, her look, and stuck with it. As regards houses, well, my eldest granddaughter has her house decorated with pictures and models of fantasy figures from computer games: superheroes and dragons abound. Mind you, she is only 22.

And on the whole I am prepared to be tolerant of all kinds of styles and try not to judge people by how they look. I just can’t abide those who don’t criticise anyone directly but make a virtue of what they never do, those people who declare proudly “I never dye my hair”, “I don’t know anything about opera”, “I never read romantic fiction”, “I never shop at ...”, all said with an implied sneer!

Let’s take everyone as they come. Just don’t let them get too close. And remember to wash your hands at every possible opportunity!

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Shopping and being out and about in a time of crisis!

In view of the fact that our Prime Minister might put me under house arrest by the weekend - well, insist that all of us 70+ people stay at home - I decided that I had to get out and about somewhat today.

First of all I managed to get myself a hairdresser’s appointment. After all, if I am confined to barracks for a couple of months I might as well start off without my un-tinted roots showing. And then there were various supplies I wanted to pick up from Boots the Chemist. (Inly semi-successful as someone has panic-bought their supplies of soluble vitamin C tablets! How thoughtless!) There are also some family birthdays in the offing and ai wanted to be prepared. Finally, there was my Italian conversation class. I have paid for these, after all, and have already missed a couple by going off on my travels.

At the hairdresser’s my stylist got me involved in a conversation with her and her brother about a wreath they were proposing to buy for their mother. When the brother suggested this, my stylist quipped that their mother is not dead yet. But it turned out not to be that kind of wreath. Like the elaborate concoctions that people buy to put on their doors during the Christmas period, there are wreaths on sale to present to your much appreciated mother for Mother’s Day. Who knew? Anyway, their mother had expressed admiration for one such wreath and they were determined to get one for her.

It’s a far cry from the hand-made cards and scrappy bunch if flowers that always used to be the tradition. Now every shop has suggestions for expensive cosmetics, flower arrangements, even apparently sex-aids, that you can offer to your mother. No! This has gone too far!

My stylist went on to talk about her struggle with chocolate and her technique of eating half a piece at a time instead of a whole bar. She might well return to the bar for another half piece several times during the day but at least she is not bingeing. She applies the same tactic to making chocolate digestives last longer - she eats only half a biscuit at a time. Okay! It’s a plan!

When I arrived home this evening, by the way, and was putting the final touches to a late meal, I happened to spot a chocolate digestive biscuit packet wrapper in the bin. Uh! Oh! I thought, Phil has discovered the hidden packet. (I regularly hide chocolate bars and chocolate biscuits to prevent over-indulgence and rapid consumption of the same.) So where were the biscuits? No sign of them. A little later I asked that question. Answer: eaten! All of them! But over the last few days! Such sneakiness!

Getting back to my day, I travelled carefully on public transport, trying to distance myself from other travellers - some say a metre, others say six feet is the optimum distance between strangers. That’s okay. We can mostly manage that. I find myself reminded if when Joni Mitchell sang this:

“Back in 1957
We had to dance a foot apart
And they hawk-eyed us from the sidelines
Holding their rulers without a heart
And so with just a touch of our fingers
I could make our circuitry explode
All we ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold.”

Fear of contamination or, in the case of Joni and her school friends at high school dances, the teachers’ fear that the youngsters might get too excited.

We were a rather depleted Italian class but we persevered. Our teacher-friend was having something of a rant at what has been going on in supermarkets here. Why, she wondered, have the English suddenly developed such a love of pasta that they have cleared the shelve? English restraint has seemingly gone out of the window. But what enraged her most was the chickpea question. Not finding much of what wanted left on the shelves of her local Tesco she finally bought, among other things, two tins of chickpeas. Arriving at the checkout she was challenged by the cashier: “You are only allowed to buy one tin.” You can imagine the rage of a hot-blooded Sicilian on being told she could only buy one tin of an item that most English people turn their noses up at!

She later picked up ample supplies at Waitrose. Waitrose customers are less likely to ransack the shelves and Waitrose staff less likely to challenge customers!

We are all uncertain whether next week’s class will take place. There is every possibility that this week’s advice could become next week’s absolute directive. We shall see.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Reasons to be cheerful? And other such nonsense.

At present life is full of uncertainties. All sorts of things are being cancelled - sports events, holidays, weddings, family lunches, music concerts. Singer-songwriter James Taylor has reluctantly cancelled his tour of North America. Not that we planned to go to the USA or Canada. However, my sister, my Spanish sister, has plans to come to the UK to see the Eagles in concert in London in August. Will we still be in some kind of shutdown at that point? Will she be allowed to travel from Spain to the UK for such a trivial reason? That remains to be seen.

Having raised the question about my sister being “allowed” to travel, an odd scenario crosses my mind. After a month or two of restricted travel, with people travelling within a country being questioned about the reasons for their journey, might this be seen as a way of reducing air travel? For environmental reasons we should all be flying less, so maybe a system could be introduced where you had to justify your journey at the time of booking your tickets. Actually, no, the airlines would never accept such a restriction. Especially as they are currently losing money hand over fist as flights are cancelled for viral reason!

But in the midst of this uncertainly we have a beautiful march day. The year so far seems to have been overwhelmingly gloomy and it is quite delightful to see blue sky and sunshine again, even if accompanied by a bit of wind. So what does a Northwest of England housewife do with such a day? Well, the answer is obvious: a great pile of washing sorted and hung out on the line to dry! Always a beautiful sight - a reason to be cheerful!

Here’s a bit of virus lunacy: the Devil Is A Socialist: Pastor Perry Stone, a prominent conservative Christian preacher, claims that coronavirus is a Satanic attempt to kill older Christians so socialism can take over in the U.S. It’s one way of looking at things. I am astounded that in the 21st century there are still people out there examining the struggle between God and the Devil. I am astounded also at the fame achieved by some of these preachers / religious fundamentalists in the USA. I was about to say we have no such thing in the UK, no religious leaders influencing politics, and then I remembered the chief Rabbi and his statements about certain politicians during the recent elections.

Moving on to other matters, a day or so ago a couple of tinkers came and knocked on the door offering gardening services - tidy up the front garden, put in a nice selection of plants! Of course, I recognise that I am indulging in a certain amount of socio-racial stereotyping here but after they had gone Phil and I looked at each other and said “I think they were tinkers”, going back to our 1950s childhood when random men turned up at the door offering diverse services. On this occasion I did not even see them but I heard the discussion and listened in something like horror as Phil seemed seriously to be considering it - nodding and asking if they had a leaflet, maybe talking prices. My relief was palpable when he told them he would leave it for now, especially as they did not have a leaflet or business card. My front garden is pretty dormant right now. It looks rather abandoned, it has to be said. In a few weeks though the aquilegia will have sprouted anew, as will the poppies, and the garden will be a wild cornucopia! Another reason to be cheerful!

And now for a bit of language. On social media someone posted a bit of Icelandic, for some reason or other. “Ég tók hann í bakaríid”. The last letter was not actually “d” but some symbol I have not found on my keyboard. It means literally “I took him to the baker’s” but is used to mean “I gave him a good telling off”. The only similar expression I could think of in English was “to take someone to the cleaners” meaning dupe or defraud; to wipe out financially. This term may have been derived, apparently, from the older to be cleaned out, which dates from the early nineteenth century and has precisely the same meaning. The current cliché is American slang dating from the mid-twentieth century, when commercial dry-cleaning establishments became commonplace, but it probably originated, like the older term, among gamblers.

There you go: a bit of inconsequential linguistic stuff to brighten up your day!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Thinking about freedom of movement!

I was in communication yesterday with a young friend, a former student and therefore not so young as he once was as it is almost 12 years since I stopped teaching sixth form. The young man in question is “trapped” in Rome. Well, he is actually working in Rome and usually travels around a lot, particularly between italy, Spain and the UK, but now finds himself stuck in Rome until someone decides the crisis is over and done with. Or at any rate calmed down enough for some of the travel restrictions to be lifted.

I am quite relieved to find that Brexit does not seem yet to have impeded his ability to work in various countries of Europe. However, I can understand his frustration at being stuck in the Italian capital but not being able to go to work, to go to his Italian language class, to visit the tourist sites or just to partake of the Italian city life.

My Spanish sister tells me that they are being advised to stay at home as much as possible. And she is not even in one of the biggest cities of the country. It must be odd to be told to stay at home in places like Spain where a largish part of social life has always been sitting out in squares and on streets chatting to neighbours or popping into the cafe for a quick coffee and to read the papers. No wonder they end up singing from their balconies. Somehow standing in the back garden and bursting into song, which presumably would be the equivalent here in the UK as we don’t usually have balconies, does not sound quite so likely.

And now rumours are flying around about the over-70s being put under house arrest for four months. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there are suggestions that we will be told to stay at home, perhaps venturing out, like timid mice, to the corner shop for supplies. Well, that would truly make a mess of the summer for us all! We shall see!

The current situation underlines the madness of leaving the European Medicines Agency, the body responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines. We haven’t quite left yet but we’ll be gone by the end of our transition period. In the meantime, will we still be considered part of it as regards finding a vaccine against Covid-19? Once again, we shall see!

Are we not also leaving the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) which is responsible for ensuring safety and environmental protection in air transport in Europe? Is there no value in staying in?

Ah, well, at least we will have taken back control! 

I seem to have got back into lets-moan-about-Brexit mode. So here is something Jay Rayner wrote about waiters in the Observer Food Magazine this morning:

“Have you ever watched a waiter take a dover sole off the bone? It requires an extremely steady hand and ocean-like depths of confidence to slip the knife along the back of a hyper-expensive fish and slip the fillets away from each other while being watched by the person who paid for it. Have you seen a waiter taken the orders of a table of eight and then make sure, without asking again, that everybody is served the dishes they ordered across multiple courses? And then deal with the obstreperous, foul-mouthed drunk in the corner without disturbing anyone else? Have you watched a restaurant cook fulfil a dozen grill orders at the same time, without losing track of any individual preferences, while their colleague whips up soufflé after soufflé?” 

The point he went on to make was that the points-based immigration rules system dismisses jobs like those as being unskilled!!

Also in the food magazine, there was an article about recipes and techniques chefs inherited from their mothers. One interviewee was Ravneet Gill, a pastry chef. She was interviewed with her mother Jaswinder and her grandmother Jit Aktar. Asked who was the best cook of the three, Ravneet said unhesitatingly that her mother is the best, hands down, no question! “All my dad’s brother’s’ wives are from India, but Mum is from Kenya, so she’s got more of an edge when it comes to spicing,” she said. Jaswinder herself explained that Indians will often only cook the food of the region they are from, but growing up in Nairobi exposed her to different ingredients and cuisines.

This got me thinking about people I know in Galicia who are reluctant to try unfamiliar kinds of food. Come to that, one of my granddaughters should be an honorary Gallega as she is not just reluctant but a total refuse-nik when it comes to trying new types of food. We live in hopes that one day she will grow out it and suddenly discover the delights she has been missing!

But the Kenyan-Indian Jit Aktar and her belief that being exposed to a variety of cuisines made her a better cook brought to mind something I have often thought about English cuisine. We are often described as being boring from a culinary point of view, traditionally relying on the quality of our ingredients to make up for a lack of imagination in cooking. And yet I have long argued that because we have had immigrants from so many different parts of the world we have absorbed their cooking habits into ours and consequently have a much greater variety pf food - maybe not British as such but definitely very tasty.

Another argument for keeping our borders open if we can.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Coping with the modern world.

Unlike many other European countries, we have decided to keep our schools open for the time being. So many factors come into play:-
childcare and the knock-on effect of health and care workers not being able to get to work because their offspring are not in school;
children who currently receive free dinners and are known to go hungry during long school holidays;
public exams, of which we have rather a lot - youngsters apparently cannot revise at home as we did when we were young!

On the television news last night they showed footage of people in Italy cheering each other up by standing on their balconies and singing the national anthem. Did they all know all the words? I expect they sang other songs as well. Would a similar thing happen here?

Here’s a little story from Sicily:

“Legend has it that in 1625, as a plague swept Palermo and killed dozens of people each day, Saint Rosalia appeared before a man. Rosalia, a young Sicilian hermit who died 500 years earlier, told him that if the people of Palermo walked in procession while carrying her relics, to be found in a grotto on Monte Pellegrino, then the “evil fever” would disappear.
After months of debate over the authenticity of that apparition, Saint Rosalia’s remains – among them a piece of her jaw and three fingers – were paraded through the city at an event attended by thousands of devotees. When the plague began to ebb, she was proclaimed the holy protector of the city.”

Okay, that was 400 years ago. I suspect that if someone claimed to meet Saint Rosalia in the street today people might think he/she had been indulging in some mind of illicit substances. Mind you, with Sicilians you never know! However, prayers to Saint Rosalia are seemingly travelling around in chain messages on WhatsApp. Palermitanos are asking for another miracle, please! Ancient superstition meets the modern media world. I suppose it does no harm to hedge your bets.

So far there are relatively few identified cases of coronavirus in Sicily but the island is rather poor and resources for dealing with a big outbreak are limited. Let’s hope Saint Rosalia is listening. We have a vested interest in this as we have plans to visit Sicily at the end of May.

At my most pessimistic, I wonder if all our summer plans will be put on hold until this crisis has worked itself out.

I feel quite sorry for anyone who has planned a big fancy wedding, not even in Italy or some other, more exotic place, because there must be worries about gathering so many people together in a potentially hug-and-kiss-filled atmosphere!

Meanwhile the silliness of the modern world continues in other aspects. I read this article about how the wealthy can spend silly amounts of money on handbags which have stitched into their fabric bits of letters or documents or autographs written by famous folk from the past. It lumps together Brigitte Bardot, Queen Victoria and Napoleon Bonaparte, among many others, a curious selection, whose writing are bought at auction by the handbag manufacturers. Naturally antiquarians are up in arms about ancient documents being chopped up, thus losing their integral value. Not to mention actually being lost to researchers, although the handbag manufacturers promise to photocopy material for research purposes.

I like this justification by the handbag mogul:

“He argued that “most autographs are locked away in the safes and private collections of a few wealthy people, which means they are not accessible to the general public”, while the handbags bring “original handwritings to a broader audience”. He added that customers have given feedback that their bag “has motivated them to buy literature on the related historical person/time or to visit libraries and museums for more detailed information”.

 I wonder how many of the general public get to see these handbags. I have my doubts.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Out and about on a Friday!

Today I went to the dentist for a check-up. As I needed to be there by 10.20 I had to catch a bus before the watershed that allows me to travel free on my old biddy’s bus pass. It cost me an astounding £4.50 to travel to the town centre. This is why I am grateful to have my bus pass. How do people pay those fares on a daily basis? This is presumably why so many people still use their cars. 

On the bus a young mother struggled with a little chap who cried on and off throughout the journey, arching his back and flapping his arms around. Teething on the bus, the young mother apologetically told us. Further down the line a bunch of older ladies got on, commenting on the fact that they just manage to use their bus passes but also that the bus is rather empty today. Presumably they go shopping most days. Some discussion went on about people staying at home because of the you-know-what!

I walked from the town centre to my dentist’s in the rather chilly sunshine.

When I arrived there I was interrogated - had I been put of the country in the last two weeks? Yes. Had I been to any of the countries on list on their noticeboard (which did not include Italy)? No. Had I been to Italy? No. Okay, I was good to go? This was more questioning than we underwent going through security at Liverpool airport!

The sun was still shining as I strolled back into town and went to the fruit stall at the market and then picked up a couple of things at Sainsbury’s supermarket. Considering that this was Friday lunchtime, the supermarket was quite busy. But their shelves were still well-stocked. Appeals have been going out around the country for people to remember those who need to use food-banks. Their stocks are depleted as people busily stock up their own supplies. According to my daughter one of the Lidl stores in our area had run out of sugar! Why are people stocking up on sugar? A form of madness!

When I got home the sun was still shining and the temperature had gone up somewhat. So we went out for a walk, spotting signs of spring as we went along.

Gardener’s Question Time was on the radio when we returned home. We just caught the end of it as we were checking to see what was on Radio 4. One of the questioners described how she talks to her plants when she is doing the garden. She tells the chickens to get out of the way, warns the cat not to stalk the chickens and then asks the tree what its roots is doing right there! She talks to other plants too but not all. What do the experts think about this?

Members of the panel confess, some of them, that they too talk to plants. One said he sings to his. Research, he explained, has shown that plants respond to music. He joked that they did not respond well to Cliff Richard. Beethoven works well.

This too is a kind of madness.

I do not talk to my plants. Nor do I stockpile sugar, pasta and loo-roll!