Thursday, 30 April 2020

Coronavirus consequences - some serious, some not. Dandelions. Stuff children say.

Among the odd consequences of the coronavirus crisis is a drainage problem. Drains in some cities have reportedly been blocked with stuff people have used as alternatives to looroll - wipes, tissues, kitchen roll! This is what happens when some people stockpile more than they need and others have none. Ant and grasshopper syndrome!!

Here’s another. Tonight is Walpurgis Night, a night when people in Sweden , some of them anyway, traditionally gather in parks for big celebrations. The university town of Lund has taken measures to prevent this happening this year, thus hoping to avoid becoming a coronavirus hotspot. They plan to dump a tonne of chicken manure in their central park, the smell of which should deter up to 30,000 residents from gathering there. “We get the opportunity to fertilise the lawns, and at the same time it will stink and so it may not be so nice to sit and drink beer in the park,” said the appropriately named Gustav Lundblad, chairman of the town’s environment committee, adding that the only potential drawback was that the smell may not be confined to the park.

A less smelly consequence is a reported 400% increase in the number of chess games played online. More information here. Parents are making use of it to help with home schooling and some people are simply getting back into the habit of playing as a way of keeping busy. Our 15 year old grandson is a case in point. He used to play in primary school, on the school team and all that sort of thing, but his interests moved on to basketball, which he cannot really play at the moment. He and his friends have been playing chess online. Offline he has taught his small sister the names of all the pieces and how to set up the chess board.

And then there is Dr Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus taskforce coordinator, and her scarves. Apparently she has created a stir, not just with her appearances at White House press briefings, but with the scarves she wears. There is even a @deborahbirxscarves Instagram page, created by Texas resident Victoria Strout, which now has more than 31,000 followers. Curious! Some of her scarves are very expensive silk affairs, costing hundreds of dollars. I too have a nice collection of scarves, the costliest of which run to about £20!

As our leaders start to talk about a possible phased return to school for the nation’s children, it crosses my mind that one consequence of this virus might be reduced class sizes. Forty years ago we were campaigning for smaller class sizes and the campaign has continued over the years, with unspectacular results. It would be quite ironic if classes now became smaller in order to make social distancing in the classroom possible.

Congratulations flew around yesterday for Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds on the birth of their as far as I know unnamed child. One report told me that some of Mr Johnson’s older children are called Lara Lettice, Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches, and Theodore Apollo. An interesting collection of names! So, as happens with royal births, we now wait to hear what this latest will be called ... but not really with bated breath!

My daughter-in-law sent me some “words of the week”, produced by her six year old daughter. Here we go:- mergency, as in “come quickly, its a mergency!”; larmi, as in “please may I have some more larmi (i.e. salami)?”; fish Philip for fish fillet - clearly named after her grandfather, my husband Phil! My daughter added her small girl’s contribution: having fed out of date granola to the ducks on a windy day, the small girl told her, “Mummy, I’ve got finola in my hair!”

Well, summer appears to be over for the time being. We have a mix of blustery sunshine and occasional showers. Nothing too drastic so far. No doubt the grass - I hesitate to call it a lawn - will need cutting again soon now that it has been rained on. Looking at the grass in the back garden I am amazed once again at the resilience of dandelions. You mow the grass, chopping the heads off all the dandelions along the way and by the next morning they have popped up a new collection of little golden suns! I quite like them but I am aware that purists object to having them in their gardens.

However, here are some curious facts about dandelions.

  • Dandelions are not in fact weeds but are in the same family as sunflowers. 
  • Up until the 1880 dandelions were regarded as extremely beneficial. People would remove grass in order to plant dandelions. 
  • Dandelion seeds can travel up to 5 miles before they land. 
  • Every part of the dandelion is edible. 
  • 1 cup of dandelion greens = 535% of your daily recommended vitamin K and 112% of your daily recommended vitamin A. 
How true it is that picking dandelions makes you wet the bed, as my mother always told us, I really do not know but the fact that the french call them “pissenlit” suggests that they also believe it. I do know that the juice from the stalks (the sap??) leave brown splodges on your hands.

Yesterday I roasted cauliflower florets to accompany our leftovers. Very tasty, but even the addition of garlic and thyme could not totally disguise the school-dinnerish flatulence aroma of the cauliflower lingering in the kitchen for some time afterwards!

On the menu today we have rice and prawns.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Coronavirus cover-ups!

Yesterday came the alarming news that one third of coronavirus deaths in the UK take place in care homes! Today I read that more than 4,300 people in care homes across England and Wales died from Covid-19 in the last fortnight. Imagine having found a place in a decent care home for your elderly relative (not an easy thing to do by all accounts), having to sell said elderly relative’s house to fund that stay, and then discovering that it is not at all a place of safety after all.

Surely it’s obvious, even to the totally non-scientifically-minded, that a place with lots of vulnerable elderly folk and with workers who come and go, bringing who knows what germs from the outside world, was almost bound to turn into a hotbed of disease.

Then there are the people in those homes who have died from non-Covid-related illnesses because they were not taken to hospital to be treated as hospitals were full of Covid-19. It beggars belief!

At the other end of the age range vulnerable young people, socially vulnerable rather than necessarily physically vulnerable, are suffering as youth clubs they attended close, counselling services turn into telephone consultations, and support networks disappear.

And now comes news of Kawasaki syndrome, an illness affecting children, possibly related to Covid-19. Sixteen years ago, I read in an article from Italy, Kawasaki syndrome was recognised as another coronavirus and given the label NL63. The Bergamo district in Italy usually has a handful of cases every year, with maybe 2 or 3 being really serious. In the last month they have had about 20, all of them serious, most occurring when the district was at the peak of its Covid-19 outbreak. Fortunately all the children have recovered well. Cases have also occurred in other notable Covid-19 hotspots such as London, Madrid and Lisbon. Doctors and scientists are investigating a link. In the midst of this we are all anxious about the nation’s children returning to school.

Yesterday I also watched this very worrying BBC panorama documentary about our government’s handling of the pandemic. Quite shocking are not only the actions taken or not taken once the pandemic was upon us but the lack of preparation for a situation that was foreseen and known for years to be not just likely but pretty well inevitable.
  • Checks on supposed stockpiling revealed no gowns bought, no visors bought, no swabs, no bodybags!! 
  • And there were unbelievable semi-lies about how much PPE was available. 
  • Counted as PPE were items such as paper towels, standard cleaning products, and detergent.
  • Pairs of gloves were counted as two items, giving the impression of better provision. 
You really could not make it up.

And consequently NHS centres used home-made equipment, took donations from schools and laboratories, bought their own equipment privately, and in some cases used inadequate plastic aprons and gowns made from bin-bags. Factories in the UK say they were not approached by the government to make PPE.

This article tells of a Derbyshire women’s clothing manufacturer which is going to make 12,500 surgical gowns for local hospitals after they worked together to develop a reusable version of the vital protective equipment. Apparently these gowns can be washed up to 100 times and still retain their protective barrier qualities. Christopher Nieper, the manufacturer’s chief executive, said: “We have enough fabric to make 12,500 gowns. If these are washed 100 times they could potentially save the NHS buying 1.25m disposable gowns. We offered our suggestion of a reusable gown in this exact fabric four weeks ago. It’s a great pity the Deloitte team, responsible for procurement of gowns [across the NHS] didn’t grasp the potential of reusable equipment and has shown no interest in our British manufacturing capacity.”

Why have things like this been happening?

And yet, according to the journalist Gaby Hinsliff, some 60% of Britons think that the government has handled the epidemic well. Conservative voters might not want to admit that they made a mistake but what about those who did not vote for this government. One explanation Ms Hinsliff offers is that many of us, those of us not trapped in small flats with a bunch of hard to occupy children and a possibly abusive partner, those of us with the financial means to get by, have not really been touched by the economic meltdown and so are coping better than expected. Maybe so. But quite a lot of us who fall into that group are not taken in by it all.

In the meantime as a nation we go out and clap for the NHS and praise their efforts. But as one NHS worker said in the Panorama documentary:

 “calling us heroes just makes it okay when we die.”

Quite so!

But up at the top of the news headlines today is the news that Carrie Symonds has given birth to Boris Johnson’s son. Well, congratulations to them. Does that make everything right with the world? The cynics among us wonder of the PM will take paternity leave!

That’s all. Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Change or no-change? Easing of lockdown? Hmmm!

The change the weathermen have been going on about for best part of a week seems finally to have arrived. It’s noticeably chillier + not mid-winter cold but still decidedly cooler than we have grown used to. It’s not actually raining yet but my weather app promises me a 30% chance of precipitation later today.

There won’t be much sunbathing going on in the neighbouring garden today. I wonder what they will do. It’s one thing to sit doing nothing in the sunshine but quite another to sit indoors doing nothing but stare at the wall.

If the change continues it also puts a stop to the occasional “visit” from the family, where we stand in the doorway and our daughter and the children stand in the garden and the three year old keeps up a running commentary as she collects twigs and pretends to build a fire. How does a three year old know about rubbing sticks together to make fire though? Children’s TV, of course!

Our house is next door to a pub, usually bustlingly busy but currently closed. I reckon the landlord must have lost thousands of pounds over the last few weeks of fine and sunny weather. In the interim they have been doing a lot of renovation work on their “garden terrace”, in other words the sectioned-off bit of the carpark where there are tables and chairs and, oh yes, a tree! Repairs of various kinds have taken place. All the garden furniture has been cleaned and in some cases repainted. The pavement area has been power-hose cleaned, getting rid of any of that sticky residue that comes from being under a large tree.

I overheard two of the workmen talking yesterday about the possibility of a staged reopening. One had heard that pubs with beer gardens (does a “garden terrace” count as a beer garden?) would be able to reopen the outdoor areas. Social distancing would have to be maintained and it would be waiter service only and people would only be allowed inside the pub one at a time to go to the loo. How likely such a reopening is remains to be seen.

All over the world people are getting itchy and impatient to end the shutdown. Some states of America have decided to open up anyway. I suppose there are some parts of the USA which have hardly seen a case of the virus at all as there are still so many wide open places with small towns. Indeed, it sometimes seems that there are two separate USAs: big city USA and rural, small town USA. Mind you, even the states which are reopening are divided about it. On the news last night Georgia was one such place. Most of the state wants to go ahead but the city of Atlanta is more wary. 

The whole business needs to be treated with great caution. We still know remarkably little about the nature of the disease. And now there is talk of a sickness affecting children, attacking their immune system, a new illness, possibly connected with Coronavirus. This is not a good time.

The Guardian newspaper does a sort of feature where they ask readers’ opinions about things and suggest that readers send in accounts of their experience of events. The latest is an appeal for the over-70s to send in details of their experience of lockdown. This was accompanied by a photo of an aged pair of hands clutching a walking stick handle. So there it is: over-70 = old and decrepit. I object to being pigeon-holed and am tempted to write in and tell them so.

I may be in the over-70 bracket and therefore unlikely to be allowed out freely and extensively for a good while yet, but shops like Gap and Fatface and Accessorise still bombard me with adverts and emails about their special offers. (What was I saying about advertising yesterday?) Somehow I don’t think I am going to need new outfits for a while yet, even at the bargain price of 50% off. I have not reached the point of wearing pyjamas all day but it’s unlikely that I will be getting dressed up to go out to lunch in the immediate future.

On the menu today we have some chicken casserole to finish off, with some spicy potato wedges (a fancy name for oven chips but made by me, not ready prepared in a packet) and green beans. There is also rhubarb crumble for dessert. Not bad at all. Who needs to go out to eat?

Life goes on! Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 27 April 2020

Not feeling uplifted. Some feel-good stuff. Advertisers’ problems.

Our Prime Minister has gone back to work today. At least one sycophantic news item suggested that this will be an uplifting moment for the nation. As if Mr Johnson were a much-loved, much-revered old public figure. He’s not the Queen Mother, for goodness sake. And I never really bought into the whole what-a-sweet-old-lady business anyway. Just because someone lives a long time doesn’t necessarily make them automatically lovable. In the radio soap “The Archers” they seem to do that with the old besom Peggy Woolley, not a sweet and lovable old lady in my opinion but a bossy old former pub landlady! The same applies to having survived an illness, admittedly a rather nasty one! It doesn’t really mean you are a hero. And there are at least two other MPs I know of who have survived it, one being Angela Rayner, now deputy leader of the Labour Party, but there doesn’t seem to have been a great fanfare about their getting back to work.

That’s enough ranting about that. I am not feeling especially uplifted!

A friend drew my attention to something from The New European that said that Downing Street has prevented certain reporters from asking questions at the latest daily coronavirus briefings because of their critical stance on how the government has handled the current epidemic. Oops! One Twitter user commented, “At this rate, it’s only going to be Nuts magazine, the Isle of Arran Shoemaker’s Gazette and Laura Kuennsberg allowed to ask questions at the 5pm Party Political Broadcasts.”

This is rather like reports that POTUS has reduced the number his press conferences because they are no longer useful.

So much for freedom of the press!

However, here is a feel-good story:-

“Tour buses used as NHS accommodation.

Tour buses that would usually ferry music stars to venues across the country have been handed over for use as “hotels on wheels” for NHS workers. Tarrant Anderson, who runs the touring company Vans For Bands, told the BBC that the industry was “on its knees” during the lockdown, but he had moved to help after seeing pictures of exhausted doctors and nurses on social media. After being checked over to make sure the buses met lockdown guidelines and NHS health and safety standards, they were stationed in hospital car parks to offer respite to staff.”

There you go!

It seems that advertisers are struggling at the moment. They are finding it difficult to promote their goods without seeming insensitive to the current situation. “Already there are a few basic rules of thumb that are changing how advertising looks. Footage of people socialising outside the home is out, as it may look jarring to audiences in lockdown; adverts that resemble Zoom calls are in, but may already be a cliche; and everyone’s trying to work out how to create new promotions without being allowed outside.”

I have a friend who says she is already finding it odd when she watches films or TV series and sees people sitting close to each other, hugging and kissing and shaking hands. Considering that I know she has been no further than the end of her garden since the lockdown started, I am not sure how she has grown accustomed to seeing people six feet apart. Perhaps she is overreacting!
Our daughter brought us a delivery of fruit and vegetables yesterday. She had ordered a box of fruit from an online service. When it arrived it was not just fruit but a mixed box of fruit and vegetables. Had she opened the door herself to take delivery she would have remonstrated, at a distance, with the delivery driver and would probably have sorted the error on the spot. However, it was her teenage daughter who blithely took the mistaken delivery. When my daughter contacted the company to sort things out, they apologised and promised delivery of a box of fruit free of charge the following day. Such customer service is quite impressive!

It meant though that she had rather a lot if fruit and veg and so decided to share it with us. This delivery provided the opportunity to do a sort of family visit at a distance - us at the front door and the small grandchildren in the garden at a safe distance. Goodness knows when we will be able to visit properly once again!

As I type I am listening to Mr Johnson on the radio news telling us how well we have done so far and how we must continue and how the government decisions will be taken “with maximum transparency”. I quite look forward to that! But I am still not uplifted, even after hearing Mr Johnson’s Downing Street speech.

Here the weather is changing but not drastically as yet. We still have some sunshine.

On the menu today is a mix of vegetables with noodles and ham. Plenty of fruit for afters, courtesy of our daughter!

Life goes on! Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Coping with lockdown.

As we go into another week of being under house arrest, more or less, I keep finding reports of the different ways people are dealing with it. And one opinion is that those of us who are comfortably retired, not rich but with enough to live on and maybe a little bit to spare, are probably coping best. Our routine has often not changed fundamentally. We continue to do much the same as ever, but without socialising as much as we might like.

Out on a run this morning, I overheard a snippet of conversation between two men on bikes, possibly in their forties. One asked the other how he was occupying his time. Cycling and DIY was the answer. The other agreed that there is not a lot to do. “I’m bored s***less!” was the last bit of their chat that I heard before they went out of hearing range. Well, they don’t seem to be coping well.

As exercise is supposed to be for about an hour a day, that chap who does only cycling and DIY must have done a prodigious amount of DIY by now. I wonder where he gets his supplies. I heard another man, walking his dog this time, talking loudly into his phone about DIY that needed doing. The gist was that he needed some cement but was not happy with the idea of standing in a queue outside B&Q for about three hours. So that particular task was being put off for a while. That answers my query about where people are getting their DIY supplies. Slowly and patiently, it seems!

Personally I have not been in a big store, supermarket or DIY or any other kind of store, since before the lockdown started. I have been relying on an occasional visit to our small local coop store and a weekly walk to the market. So far so good! By the time I ever get back into our nearest they will have moved everything around so much I will have no idea where to find anything.

That’s assuming I ever do get back into the supermarket. There is every possibility that draconian measures will come into force and, as an old person (official designation!), I will obliged to give in to online food shopping. Bang goes the spontaneity of seeing something on the shelf and making an on the spot decision to change the menu so that the unexpected ingredient can be incorporated.

As regards the boredom aspect, that is not a feature in our house. My daughter and I have long agreed that we are fortunate in that we have always enjoyed reading and so can always occupy ourselves. Books and music and a certain amount of television and we are fine. I have, however, heard a number of commentators on radio programmes saying although they are regular readers bthey are finding it hard to concentrate to read at the moment. They are too anxious, surrounded by too many people, or at the other extreme too alone. Strange times. Most of us are in contact distant friends and family by digital means of one kind and another. I have so far not used Zoom, which I had never heard of until this crisis came along. But lots of people are Zooming for all sorts of reasons. One solution to feeling too alone to concentrate on reading, writing or whatever is apparently to have a "silent Zoom". You and a friend, or several friends, linkt up via Zoom and then just get on with whatever you need to concentrate on, knowing that the others are there but not actually talking to them, a bit like sitting in a room reading together. In this case, together but apart.

Maybe this is what the world after lockdown will be like. More distance all rpumd. More working from home, fewer big musical events - if indeed there are any - more streaming of films and shows, fewer visits to cinemas and theatres. How will musicians and actors make a living? Will there still be office gossip and works’ Christmas dos? How will young people ever meet their life partners? And how will social distancing be maintained in already crowded classrooms?

I seem to be writing myself into a gloom and doom scenario. It’s not really that bad. But I am still quite glad not to be a young person trying to make a go of things at the moment.

But then, the sun is managing to keep shining, even if with a little more cloud today than yesterday. The flowers still bloom in my garden.

We’ll get by.

On the menu today is a chicken casserole, accompanied by roasted vegetables of one kind and another.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well everyone!

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Sunbathers. Contact clusters. Snake oil salesmen. Scientist (or not) and their advice.

On Thursday evening there was a rather fine sunset. Usually a good omen for weather to come.

And Friday proved to be a warm and sunny day. Positively summery. Our sunbathing neighbours have continued to work on their tan. They now look as though they have been away on holiday somewhere exotic. All they seem to do is sit in the sun all day.

I could sit in the sun all day like that and would still not be that kind of tanned. I would only be burnt pink! That’s what comes of being born a redhead. I heard on a programme about genetics that redheads are programmed to absorb vitamin D easily, even under cloudy skies. This is why there are more redheads in northern places where the sun shines less often. However, as the climate changes it is likely that redheads, or at least the redhead gene, will diminish and ultimately disappear. Rather a sad loss in my humble opinion!

Another sign of the balmy, summery weather we have been having is the emergence of the little pipistrelle bat who flits around our back garden in the evening in the summer time. How long will this mild weather last? If it turns colder will the little bat go and hide away again?

Yesterday I mentioned Gaby Hinsliff’s article about “contact clustering. Today somebody drew my attention to this from The Metro:-

“Brits could be allowed to meet up with 10 of their closest family or friends under one idea to relax the coronavirus lockdown. It is understood that the UK government is considering letting people socialise outside of their households in small "bubbles" as it plans an exit strategy.
The move would widen the current "stay at home" advice to include meals and other social activities with close relatives and friends. It would also mean couples who do not live together can spend time together.
However, people would only be able to nominate one or two households to be part of their "cluster", and would not be able to mingle with anyone else.”

Of course, I could see this causing conflict within households as every member might want a different set of permitted contacts.

The latest POTUS thing about disinfectants reminds me of the old snake oil sellers that used to figure in cowboy stories:-

“The leader of the most prominent group in the US peddling potentially lethal industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump at the White House this week. In his letter, Mark Grenon told Trump that chlorine dioxide – a powerful bleach used in industrial processes such as textile manufacturing that can have fatal side-effects when drunk – is “a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body”. He added that it “can rid the body of Covid-19”.
A few days after Grenon dispatched his letter, Trump went on national TV at his daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on Thursday and promoted the idea that disinfectant could be used as a treatment for the virus. To the astonishment of medical experts, the US president said that disinfectant “knocks it out in a minute. One minute!”
He went on to say: “Is there a way we can do something, by an injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that.””

And clearly the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing! There’s this:-
“Paradoxically, Trump’s outburst about the possible value of an “injection” of disinfectant into the lungs of Covid-19 sufferers came just days after a leading agency within the president’s own administration took action to shut down the peddling of bleach as a coronavirus cure around the US.” 

Then came the inevitable denial with the suggestion that Mr Trump was being sarcastic or making a joke when he recommended ingesting disinfectant. Even if that were true, is it really appropriate for the President of the USA to make light of the crisis situation? The mind boggles!

Mind you, we have odd things going on here as well. To whit:-

“The prime minister’s chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings, and a data scientist he worked with on the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit are on the secret scientific group advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic, according to a list leaked to the Guardian.
It reveals that both Cummings and Ben Warner were among 23 attendees present at a crucial convening of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on 23 March, the day Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown in a televised address.
Multiple attendees of Sage told the Guardian that both Cummings and Warner had been taking part in meetings of the group as far back as February. The inclusion of Downing Street advisers on Sage will raise questions about the independence of its scientific advice.”

Does Cummings have a scientific background? No. Clever bloke though. First class degree in Ancient and modern history from Oxford. But not a scientist!

It seems that everywhere political leaders have scientific advisers and choose what they want to believe from what the advisers say.

I also read somewhere that in France they have banned the sale of nicotine patches as people were stockpiling them in the belief that nicotine helped protect against the virus. More snake oil? As a smoking friend of mine commented, smoking might just possibly reduce your chances of catching the virus but if you do catch it smoking means that you are more likely to have a bad dose! Almost a catch 22 situation!

Today is another sunny day. I wonder how we would all be coping if we had had a month of rain.

On the menu today is tomato and lentil soup, scrambled eggs with ham and a nice salad. The remaining tagliatelle and tomato sauce, which is a bit like the magic porridge pot in its ability keep going, has gone into the freezer for another occasion. And we have apple and rhubarb pie for afters. All good.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Birthdays. Celebrations. Getting together at some point.

Today is our daughter’s 40th birthday. It might be what people often call a “significant” birthday but I don’t think she’s having any spectacular party, although with a three year old in the house there will have to be a cake. Maybe her teenage daughter, who enjoys baking, can provide one. It was also my father’s birthday. He would have been 102 today. He is supposed to have said that our daughter was the best birthday present he ever received. There you go. Nostalgic family photos and comments from family members are flying around Facebook.

As politicians, scientists and epidemiologists warn that the lockdown, or at least social distancing, could have to continue into an indefinite future we all wonder about social gatherings and family gatherings. In this article Gaby Hinsliff writes about the ideas of “quarantine buddies”, which Professor Stefan Flasche, epidemiologist and mathematical modeller at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, calls “contact clustering”. This seems to mean a group people, in different households but geographically close enough to avoid the need for length travelling, agreeing to be a kind of exclusive regular social contact. Because they would only see each other they would avoid “contamination” from other sources, although they would of course still need to go shopping and the like. Each member’s safety would rely on the others not sneakily seeing other friends on the side, and taking sensible precautions if they did need to go out.

Some of this idea is to help parents pool home schooling and to give children contact with friends but I find myself thinking of family. We could “contact cluster” our household (Phil and me), our daughter’s household (our daughter, her partner and four of her children) and our eldest granddaughter’s household (that’s our daughter’s oldest child and her best friend who lives with her). Of course, that excludes our daughter’s partner’s parents, who might also like to see their grandchildren, our son and family, and our eldest granddaughter’s friend’s family. All those households are geographically too far distant to be included though. Could such an idea become a reality?

On the radio I have just heard the Transport for London in planning to furlough a percentage of their workers. Fewer people are using the transport system of course but our son, who works for TfL, tells me that he is still working very hard from home. Interestingly and coincidentally, our daughter has just told us that her partner who works for Transport for Greater Manchester, has just been furloughed for three weeks. At the end of those three weeks he will be rotated back into work and another worker will be furloughed. It’s one way of working it.

The world is beginning to look very different and there seems to be an increasingly small likelihood of our returning to the previous “normal”. Here is an interesting account of one Englishman’s experience of lockdown in Italy with his Italian wife and three half Italian children. The Italian education system, he tells, will perhaps have to change considerably when children get back into school. So no doubt will most education systems.

And most ways of working.

Not to mention our travel possibilities. As I watched Gabriel Gatehouse reporting from Sweden on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night I found myself wondering if he is staying in Sweden for the duration or if he travelled there to make his report. If the latter, did he fly? And just who is flying at the moment? Interesting!

On the menu here today we have more tagliatelle and tomato sauce. When I buy packs of fresh pasta I note that it says “serves two people” and each time I wonder how many meals for two people is this pasta meant to serve. If it is just one meal, then some people eat an awesome amount of pasta in any one meal. We just might still be eating tagliatelle and tomato sauce tomorrow at this rate!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Some Saint George’s Day thoughts!

Today is Saint George’s Day. He’s about the only Saint whose day I remember and that is only because 40 years ago when I was very pregnant someone said to me, “Get that baby born today and you can call him George!” That baby was born the next day and we did not call her George ... or even Georgina for that matter!

Today is also the Day of Sant Jordi, patron saint of Catalonia. I think the tradition is to give roses and books.

It’s also the day of San Giorgio in Sicily. But he is properly celebrated during the last week of May. We saw his celebrations in Ragusa Ibla last year. We should have been going again this year but a certain virus has rather kiboshed our travel plan!

Saint George of course never actually came to slay dragons in England. He was almost certainly born in Turkey. Here is an article all about him.

I love the footnote to the article, which reads: “This article was amended on 23 April 2020. The past tense of slay is slew, not slayed as we originally had.” A linguistic nicety.

Here is a little cartoon about George.

Today is also Shakespeare’s birthday - he’s quite old now!

Some of the newspapers have been making much of the fact that it is also the second birthday of Prince Louis of Cambridge (is he fourth in line for the throne?) but I am not posting any photos. It’s rather a pity Kate and William already had a child called George or they could have given that name to this one, born on the correct day, unlike his older brother! Maybe they should have swopped the names around. After all the royal family seems to do that with surnames quite often.

While I have children on my mind, here is something about the surprisingly titled “Lego Professor of Play” at the University of Cambridge:-

“He warns that formalised education appears to be creeping down the age range, and he is not convinced that didactic learning environments for young children offer long-term benefits. “I don’t think there’s any evidence it does anybody any great good. I think we ought to be stopping and potentially reversing it.” Opportunities for unstructured play in the early years are really important and expecting young children to sit and learn in structured environments for long periods does not fit with their developmental needs, he adds. “I haven’t yet seen any evidence that kids in systems that formalise education later do any worse. So I lean towards thinking we should formalise education a little later.””

At the other end of the educational scale there is apparently a bit of a row going on in the UK between examination boards, schools, the government and anyone else interested, all about whether pupils who are unhappy with their assessed grades for GCSE and A-Levels should have the chance to sit the exams in the autumn. This was seemingly promised to them but now the exam boards are not happy with the idea of paying for exam papers to be set when only a handful of pupils might sit them. Now, as a retired teacher, I was under the impression that the exams for this year would already have been set, and possibly even the actual papers printed. So why can those not be used?

I wonder what the Spanish are doing about the “oposiciones” exams.

Still on children, over in Spain restrictions on children going out to play have been lifted. Well, a little bit lifted. There was a fair bit of protest at the first idea that children could accompany a parent to buy food or medicine. The latest ruling seems to be this:-

“From Sunday, children who are 14 or under will be allowed out to walk and play in the streets for an hour a day between 9am and 9pm. They will need to stay within one kilometre of their homes and be accompanied at all times by an adult, who will be permitted to take a maximum of three children out at a time. Parks and communal play areas will remain out of bounds because of the risk of infection, but children will be allowed to take toys, balls and scooters with them.”

And children who live in rural areas will be able to go for walks in the countryside and in the woods ... maintaining social distancing, of course!

“Children will be allowed to run and jump and do exercise, but social distancing must always be observed.” So said the deputy PM. Hey ho! The sun is still shining here, not quite so brightly and the sky is not so uniformly blue but it’s still cheerful.

On the menu today we have tagliatelle with a homemade tomato sauce, now that I have tinned tomatoes once more!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Politicians on politicians. Some thoughts about this being Earth Day. And it’s Wednesday.

Politician Ken Clarke has been on the radio commenting that from his great age (?!) of 79 he looks at the current government who all, he says, look very young and inexperienced, plunged into crisis management at an early stage in their political careers. He agrees that the prime minister cannot be said to be at an early stage of his political career, but most of the rest of them are very new to the business. It must have been a steep learning curve; okay I can accept that but it doesn’t explain or excuse the ignoring of advice from experts or slowness in taking up offers of help from companies that could produce PPE or offer help of one kind or another.

We seem to be hearing a lot more every day about the exit strategy. We shall see how that goes. In the meantime there are apparently homeless people camping out at Heathrow airport because accommodation has not been found for them by their local councils. “I first started sleeping at the airport last October when I lost my accommodation,” said one of them. “There were 10-15 of us then. Now we have grown to about 30. We try to support each other by sharing food and things. We have approached different councils asking them to give us accommodation, just until the pandemic is over, but they have refused so we’re still sleeping at the airport.”

Here in our area, the local council is slowly getting back to a mode of rubbish collection which incorporates recycling. So I was right to continue to put my glass and plastic waste in my brown recycling bin instead of the grey general rubbish bin. It’s almost full and I was beginning to resign myself to putting all my empty bottles of one kind and another into the grey bin. But from next week they will be back to something like the old pattern of collection. Quite an appropriate bit of news for me to get today, as it is World Earth Day!

According to their website:

“Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers so polluted they literally caught fire. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet.
The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement, and is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event.”

This year’s theme, which presumably was decided on quite some time ago, is climate action. The website tells us that “Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.” Maybe we have gone someway to helping by simply being at home in the pandemic. The air in big cities has improved considerably as we use our cars and are not whizzing around the globe by plane - unless we are very rich!

I’m listening on the radio to an item about Frank Mills, a small boy with spina bifida, seven years old I think, who has been inspired by Captain Tom’s marathon walk to raise money for the NHS. The little boy has decided to have a go himself at raising money by walking about and has so far raised a large amount of money. Hooray! say I.

On the other hand, I have heard that the organisation Just Giving, used by people like Captain Tom to collect contributions from the public, is claiming a £2,000,000 cut from the money raised. I imagine they usually take a percentage of whatever money is raised by contributions in this way but it’s not usually a percentage of such a large amount. Of course Just Giving has come in for a lot of criticism. Yes, the company is in this business to make money but under the present circumstances you might think they would at least reduce the fee, just as a gesture to let the public know that they are not completely selfish and that maybe after all we are all in this together! Just an idea!

But maybe that is too naively optimistic, in light of the fact that people with lots of money, such as Richard Branson, are applying for government grants to help keep their companies afloat. The excuse they give is that their much talked about great wealth is not immediately available in cash form but is tied up in other companies. Oh, my heart bleeds for them!

Anyway, it’s Wednesday again. Another bright and sunny day. So I have once again tramped to the market, which is still operating in its reduced form. Shopping is a slow business when you need to stand in a social distancing queue and enter a shop or approach a market stall one person at a time. So it goes.

I mentioned having bought tinned tomatoes yesterday. The shortage continues it seems. So here is a link to recipes for pasta sauces that don’t need tinned tomatoes.

On the menu here today is a ham and mushroom omelette with a a mix of recycled stir-fried veg, with some salad, of course, and possibly a lemon yoghurt cake for dessert - assuming I get around to making it.

My oldest granddaughter has been phoning me for recipes and advice on how to cook various things. I have suddenly become the family elder!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Life after lockdown questions.

I’ve been listening to Call You and Yours on Radio 4. They are asking the question “how are you preparing for life after lockdown”. Lots of talk about changing priorities - not so much travel and adventures and more getting a house with a garden so that you can have a good place to escape to. A dance teacher, whose income has disappeared for the time being, talked about the possibility of running his classes online. This is a problem though for his older customers, many of whom don’t have computers. One lady, approaching 70 this year, comments that she has heard that she may be on a “red list” of people who might not be able to travel until autumn 2021!! We over-70s might have to hunker down until a vaccine is found! Ye gods!

I also read that the coronavirus is possibly changing the attitude of some anti-vaxxers, who may be finally accepting that vaccination might not be the evil they think it is. Not all of them are thinking that way, of course. Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 tennis player, suggested on Facebook that his opposition to vaccines might prevent his return to the sport, saying he “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine” to travel.

I find myself angered by high-profile cranks. I read that Novak Djokovic’s wife is one of the people who spread the myth that 5G is one of the causes of the pandemic. We are all entitled to our views and opinions but not all of us can become dangerous influencers!! In fact there are people who question the importance, indeed the credibility, or otherwise of famous people such as actors becoming pundits on anything and everything. In an interview for the Guardian, the actor Rafe Spall railed against the reverence some people have for the opinions of well known actors. “I get dressed up, wear foundation and pretend to be other people,” he says. “That’s a lovely thing and people enjoy it, but I’m not a political commentator, I’m not a sage. I mess about and get paid for it.” Asked if we should take all actors on “Question Time” with a pinch of salt, he responded, “Put it this way, I think there’s an inelegance when people from any walk of life go shouting from the rooftops about something when they’re not equipped to. It’s like, ‘Babe, you’re wearing base.’”

Getting back to Novak Djokovic, here’s an excerpt from another Guardian article:-

“After a cool hour of discussion on Instagram live, as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic reminisced on their rapport of 22 years, the most revelatory moment came right at the end and in the form of a seemingly mundane question delivered by a fan: What are the first three things you do after you wake up? Djokovic spoke slowly and deliberately in response: “Gratitude and prayer, a couple of long, deep breaths, hugging my wife and running to my children.”
Murray nodded limply, he successfully kept a straight face and at some point he even awkwardly uttered: “Nice!” Then he gave his own answer: “For me, too much information, but I go for a pee.””

Who knew that Andy Murray was such a down to earth, sensible person?

Before I started to listen to the radio, I caught the end of an interview on television about music with Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. He commented that the whole music scene is being affected by the current crisis. Even after lockdown there is no knowing what will happen to live music. After all, large gatherings have almost certainly contributed to spread of the virus. Established artists like himself, he said, have a backlog of material and a pretty much guaranteed income. Younger up-and-coming artists rely on live performance to establish themselves and to make any money from their music. Richard Thompson made the same point in his streamed performances.

Life could be very different after lockdown. But we are not there yet and in the meantime it’s another sunny, blue sky day here. This morning I ventured into the local co-op store as we needed milk for our breakfast cereal and coffee. Of course, I picked up other items at the same time. Our small store is now able to provide items that were not available at the large supermarket where my daughter did our online shop at the end of last week: eggs, Yakult, tinned tomatoes, loo roll. So it goes.

On the menu today is leftover chicken and veg pie, a bit of salad, some fresh fruit.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Monday. More thoughts on nostalgia. Omens? Lockdown frustration. And children.

Another Monday. Much like the last one. And the one before that. And another wide blue sky. You could almost get used to it, except that here in the Northwest of England it is unusual to get such a run of sunny days, even if the temperature fluctuates.

Just before I went to bed last night I looked out on a clear sky, stars all over the place but no meteorites. Someone had told me that we are due a meteorite shower and another big moon. The best time to see the meteorites was supposedly between midnight and dawn, so I was almost certainly a bit too early in my looking out. I woke in the middle of the night, in the wee small hours, and had another look. By then the cloud had moved in, as often happens here when something interesting is going on in the sky. So if there were meteorites showering up there I didn’t get to see them. Mind you, there is time yet as I am informed that this will go on for another two or three nights yet.

So in the last few months we have had floods, fire - on the moors near us - and an ongoing pandemic. And now we have meteorites. All we need is for it to rain frogs and maybe a plague of locusts to arrive and we might start talking about “omens” and the “end of days”. Ah, but, we don’t need locusts to eat our crops; we just need to continue being unable or unwilling to harvest them. Oh, boy!

In this article about nostalgia, the writer finished like this:

“One site for downloading 1990s computer games was upfront about the demand it was currently seeing: “Due to the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19), we are under a heavy load of retrogamers wanting to travel back to those old and safe times,” a large sign on its homepage read.
One of those games, Civilisation II, tasks the player with building a civilisation from the dawn of time into the modern age.
It ends in the year 2020.”

Is that date significant?

Enough of that nonsense.

Yesterday evening we avoided the One World: Together at Home concert on the television, just as long ago we didn’t watch the LiveAid concert. We did, however, watch most of Richard Thompson’s second concert streamed from his living room wherever he is currently in lockdown in the USA. I say we watched most of it as we had some difficulty getting it started. Looking back, it must have been quite funny to see two adults, usually more than averagely competent at dealing with technology, having difficulty accessing a bit of live streaming through Facebook. We got there in the end but the sound was not as good as in the first concert we watched a couple of weeks ago, despite our (unsuccessful) attempts to play it through the speakers of our music system. I suspect there were technical hitches at Richard Thompson’s end too. Another competent adult struggling with technology?

I received an email from an old friend who tells me she is growing weary of all the “idiot people with qualifications in b****r all, going on about it and giving us all motivational clap trap. How difficult it is in lockdown etc etc, here’s a picture of a tree, don’t waste your time, do something positive. learn something new. We are going through a collective trauma, loss of jobs, loved ones, poverty, mental health issues, terrified it might be you next, etc etc etc.”

She went on: “I’m therefore only listening to professionals and making a list of all the people I’m going to kill when this is over, top of my list at the moment are several joggers.”

Like us she is fortunate enough to have a big enough house and a bit of garden and therefore does not feel too cooped up. Also, like us, she is a retired lady, used to occupying her time at home. However, I appreciate and sympathise with the sentiments expressed.

I am particularly irritated by the urgency many people, even those who have no children at home to annoy them, feel to get the nation’s children back to school. If they really worry about children getting poor results they should read this article  about places where children have missed significant chunks of schooling and did not suffer especially but on the whole achieved better results in public exams and standard tests. A number of friends and former students of mine now working in schools have all expressed their feelings that we should wait until we know it’s safe before we get the children back together.

And many of those teachers are still in schools looking after the children of key workers and finding time to send reassuring emails to parents such as the one my son and daughter-in-law received from their little girl’s school. It ended like this: “Please look after yourselves and reflect on the fact that the children won’t remember whether they spent hours online trying to keep up with their learning or whether you baked constantly with them or made your own playdough. What they will remember is how they felt, whether they felt safe and loved, whether there was still laughter and most importantly LOVE.”

There you go.

On the menu today is leftover pasta and salmon and veg.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Sunday sunshine. Crisis criticism. Crisis nostalgia. Soaps.

As forecast, the sunshine is back today but the wind is cold. Not much sunbathing going on then, but a good day to hang the washing on the line.

There is something odd going on with the right wing press: some of them are busily telling us all the ways in which Mr Johnson has mishandled the crisis. What is the hidden agenda? Do they want to replace him? Who do they fancy replacing him with? Michael Gove? Goodness me!

Meanwhile, the lockdown has provoked an odd attack of nostalgia. There’s the queen making her broadcast to the nation and assuring us that “we’ll meet again”. Trigger lots of old songs and much Vera Lynn, now an amazing 103! And then a rash of programmes on the radio about the blitz spirit reminds us that we have been through this sort of thing before and come through it all successfully and bravely. So today’s children can’t have play dates with their friends and won’t see their grandparents for a while but think of the children who were evacuated in the early days of the Second World War!! And let us not forget the old chap, 99 years young, walking up and down his garden raising money for charity. Good old Major Tom - oops, Captain Tom! No, I am not denigrating his marathon walk in any way. I am just amazed at the wave of nostalgia, promoted by the media, clearly aimed at making us all feel better!

Nostalgia is about to hit that oldest of soap operas The Archers. So far the broadcasters have been relying on already recorded episodes, reducing output somewhat, so that the world of Ambridge is no longer in synch with the real world. Some people have apparently been confused to find Easter Sunday moved to Tuesday. These must be the people who think that Ambridge is a real place. Quite how they can think that when Ambridge is the only place in the UK not in lockdown is one of life’s mysteries. But when they run out of pre-recorded material the BBC plans to give us bits of vintage Archers - weddings and funerals and bits of high drama. Will Nigel have to fall off the roof again? Will Helen be provoked to stab her abusive husband again? And will any of the soaps ever be able to return to normal output again?

The Tour de France has been postponed but the cyclists can still become our heroes. Here is a story about Geraint Thomas from yesterday’s news:-

“He has conquered some of Europe’s most challenging mountain climbs on his bike and is a former Tour de France champion. Now Geraint Thomas has completed a feat of a different kind, finishing a 36-hour indoor cycling stint to raise more than £300,000 for the UK’s National Health Service as it continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The Welshman rode three 12-hour sessions, each designed to emulate the length of a NHS worker’s shift, in the garage of his Cardiff home to raise funds finishing his last yesterday. “No exaggeration, the last two hours were the hardest I have ever had on the bike,” he told the BBC on Saturday. “I could barely sit down,” he added. As of writing, the sportsman has raised nearly £334,000.””

Eat your heart out, Peloton!

There you go! Not quite as spectacular as Captain Tom but pretty good.

In my grocery delivery the other day was a bag of chopped mixed vegetables. I wanted mixed veg but not ready chopped. Such is the problem of online shopping. I am afraid I much prefer to select my own fruit and veg. Anyway, this chopped veg needs using sooner than unchopped stuff would . So on today’s menu is a chicken and vegetable pie.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Deliveries. Phones. Haircuts. Children in lockdown. Shortages.

The weather has changed. It rained in the night and this morning was noticeably cooler than it has been of late. More rain is forecast for later today. But tomorrow is another day and the sun is supposed to come back. We shall see.

Phil’s mobile phone died on him. It just went blank, still receiving calls but giving no means of actually answering them. So he spent a good part of yesterday trying to fix things. Our daughter brought an old phone from her house - this is how we always get our iPhones as she and her offspring update at fairly regular intervals as younger people than us all seem to do - with the idea that Phil could transfer his sim card and stuff from one phone to another. We shall see!

She brought the phone round when she brought some groceries from the Click and Collect supermarket slot she had managed to obtain. Everything was handed over at a safe distance: parcel of groceries on the doorstep, phone on the garden wall, while she stood well back as we collected. The shopping, by the way, was missing tinned tomatoes, as I expected from what I heard yesterday, but also eggs, tins of chick peas, mixed nuts, grapefruit juice and loo roll - a curious mix of shortages!

She also brought some of the offspring (the 14 year old was too busy with his computer games, as ever) to stand in the garden and wave to us, a poor substitute for actually all going to the park together or coming in for a cup of tea and a chat but better than nothing.

Our second granddaughter (age 17) had cut her own hair, following the YouTube instructions sent to her by her older sister. It seemed to have worked very well. Maybe it’s easier if you have reasonably straight hair. I would imagine cropping curls might be more of a problem.

On the subject of haircuts, I found this:-

“Denmark moved into lockdown a couple of weeks before the UK and is now enjoying the benefits of its swift reaction to the coronavirus crisis. The country has announced that it will reopen hairdressing salons on Monday – a full week before its courts – giving Danes a chance to have a proper haircut. As soon as the news broke, the country’s biggest online haircut booking system crashed.”

We wondered about the possibility of the little kids coming and playing, at a safe distance, in our back garden but in the end decided it might be bending the distancing rules a little too much. At least in the UK parents can still take their children for walk and a bit of a run around. According to this article parents in Spain are growing increasingly anxious about the fact that their children have not been allowed out for over a month.

“In France and Belgium children are allowed out of their homes for one hour each day within a limited distance. After weeks of total confinement, Italian authorities now allow minors out for a walk close to home, accompanied by one parent. Last week, Denmark reopened its primary schools and kindergartens, while Norway plans to follow suit later this month.
 Campaigners argue that the situation is particularly acute in Spain, where the dense layers of apartment buildings that sprawl across cities have left many of the country’s nearly seven million children without direct access to fresh air or sunlight. “Approximately 70% of Spanish families with children live in apartments, many of them 50- to 70-metres square and without balconies,” said one expert.”

For those of us lucky enough to have a garden or at least easy access to the countryside, here is a link to an article about birds you can spot while you are out and about.

The NHS is reported to be hitting another crisis point, this time on the provision of PPE. It is being suggested that may need to use plastic aprons instead of fully protective gowns. What I don’t understand is why, in this age of recycling and conservation, nobody has invented a form of PPE that can be disinfected and reused. Is suppose that under normal circumstances there has been no urgency to produce such a thing but now we really could do with it. There must be a mountain of used PPE just being disposed of at the end of every shift.

The writer Margaret Atwood in her Lockdown Diary  writes about her mother knitting wash cloths for the troops in World War II, albeit rather inefficiently. Margaret Atwood ends her article like this:-

“Meanwhile, my sister and her sewing machine are hurtling down the highway towards me at the speed of light; well, not exactly, but faster than usual due to the scarcity of cars on the road. I have dug out my own ancient sewing machine, and after I’ve oiled it and figured out how to work it again, we are going to sew face masks for health workers. I’ve even found some elastic, in short supply on the ground these days: there must be a lot of face mask sewing going on. The result may be like my grandmother’s washcloths – not perfect, lopsided, but well meant. And, with hope, they will also be functional. Fingers crossed.”

On the menu here today is pasta with salmon in a creamy sauce. So I didn’t need the missing items from my shopping list today at any rate.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 17 April 2020

Extended lockdown. Rules and regulations. Shopping and shortages. Hairdressing!

So lockdown has been extended by another three weeks.

There seems to have been some relaxation of rules about things like driving somewhere to go for a long walk - now permissible so long as the walk will be longer than the drive. In fact, you can even stop for a picnic lunch on your walk, but not just a picnic in the local park.

And the guidelines now talk about going shopping for essential food items AND luxuries. So there is no need to fear a busybody, official or otherwise, looking in your shopping trolley and criticising your purchase of chocolate, wine, cakes and biscuits. After all, going on lockdown doesn’t have to mean that we all live like abstemious hermits.

Airlines are talking about maybe not using the middle seats on rows, so that social distancing can continue in the planes when, or if, flights resume. Apparently, however, flights are still arriving into the UK at the moment and few if any checks of the disembarking travellers are taking place. How is that happening?!

Goodness knows when ordinary travel will be resumed. Pessimists say that we can all give up the idea of foreign summer holidays this year.

President Trump, by the way, does not seem to be a pessimist. He is talking as if the whole coronavirus crisis is now dealt with and he appears to expect America to be back to normal in a matter of weeks. We shall see!

Meanwhile steps are being taken to adjust to life under lockdown. According to this article Transport for London is looking at ways to make streets more accessible and safer for pedestrians and cyclists - people having to go to work are opting to use cycles to avoid using public transport. Other cities are considering following suit.

On the Radio 4 programme “You and Yours” just now they have been talking about the crisis-driven increase in the number of people buying tinned tomatoes here in the UK. We have been buying more than other countries, causing a bit of a problem for tomato tinners in places like Italy, who are having to go into overdrive. There is a serious shortage in UK supermarkets and the Italian producer interviewed on the radio says prices will have to go up.

Now, our daughter has managed to get a Click and Collect spot at one of the big supermarkets and included my shopping list in hers. Both of us wanted to buy tinned tomatoes, not a massive amount, just a couple of tins apiece. The supermarket has told her that there are none available. You see, we have not been hoarding or panic-buying tomatoes. So who has been buying them all? My daughter and I have decided, perhaps rather condescendingly, that masses of people are surviving on home-made spaghetti bolognese (spag bol) as it’s the only thing they know how to cook. 

Strange times!

Another oddment of information from the same radio programme is an increase in “boredom shopping”. People are buying stuff they don't need because they are spending/killing time surfing the net and being tempted by stuff on sale. The appropriately named Wendy Driver who works as a delivery driver reported on odd things that she had delivered from online shopping orders: from new mini-headphones to gardening equipment. Another commentator told of someone almost impulse-ordering a white grand piano, of another person who actually did order a cello, despite having no knowledge of how to play it.

Once again I say, strange times!

Cutting your own or family members’ hair is another crisis-driven thing. There are YouTube tutorials available, telling you how to cut your fringe, and even more daring stuff. It doesn’t always work. Here is a link to the BBC’s Emily Maitlis unsuccessfully cutting her husband’s hair. Our eldest granddaughter cut her own quite successfully. Or at any rate it looks okay for a video chat. We haven’t been able to see her in the flesh of course. She has also successfully coloured her hair, something that hairdressers interviewed on the radio advise approaching with caution. But she is colouring her hair a bright shade of pink, probably less easy to make a desperate mess of. Many of us will, of course, be watching our roots start to show over the coming weeks. I managed a trip to my hairdressing salon just before lockdown started and so far all is well. My eyebrows are a different story though!

On the menu today is a homemade vegetable soup, leftover garlic and mushroom tart from yesterday and some salad. For dessert we have a rhubarb, apple and pear pie. None of this is dependent on supplies being brought by my daughter from her supermarket Click and Collect visit.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 16 April 2020

When will it end?

I have been re-reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”. This started with my having bought and read her latest book, “The Mirror and the Light”, prompting me to go back and re-read the previous two. In the book there is talk of the regular “sweating fever”, which carries numbers of people away each summer, including Thomas Cromwell’s wife and daughters. Back in old Henry VIII’s time they also seemed to know when to expect plague, rather like we know when the flu “season” is. And now I wonder, as scientists and medical experts talk about the possibility of the coronavirus coming in waves, if we will have to grow accustomed to a Covid-19 season. Not a happy prospect!

Meanwhile, we are now hearing a lot of talk about the “exit strategy”. Now, I know that we need to work out how life is going to get back to something like “normal” but as we really understand so little about this disease, we need to take it carefully step by step. But there is this sort of thing going on already:

“Three UK takeaway chains have launched limited reopenings, with staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and practicing physical distancing.
Burger King and KFC have reopened some sites for delivery only, while Pret a Manger is doing deliveries and takeaways. The three firms argued that reopening would help NHS staff and other key workers, and promised stringent safety measures for their employees were in place.
Burger King was operating at four sites from Thursday in Bristol, Swindon and Coventry as part of a phased reopening of more restaurants in the coming weeks.”

No doubt we shall see how this pans out eventually.

There’s a lot of gardening going on. We smell a lot of garden-waste fires when we go out for walks. It’s not just small stuff either; trees are being cut down. Our eldest granddaughter has been angry and upset about one of her neighbours cutting down a tree in the garden behind hers. It’s not just the fact that this neighbour will now be able to look more or less straight into her living room but more the fact that the tree was full of birds and their nests. Her garden is now a quieter place.

I read that our sleep is being affected by lockdown stress. People are having coronavirus anxiety dreams. Some of this apparently is because a lot of people are actually sleeping more. It may be a sort of chicken and egg thing: people are having more stress dreams because they are sleeping more as an escape from stress. I am reminded of a friend from my sixth form study days. Her parents were going through a very messy divorce and my friend’s way of escape from it all was to sleep. We would find her curled up in an armchair in the sixth form common room. When she realised that we knew where she was likely to be, she took to hiding in the Spanish stock cupboard and sleeping there. Back then nobody talked so much about stress and depression but that is clearly what was going on.

Here’s a link to something to cheer us all up in the middle of all the madness.

The weather remains cheerfully sunny around here. No doubt, this will all change when lockdown eventually ends. 

On the menu today is a garlic and mushroom tart with accompanying veg and salad.

Life goes on. Stay safe, everyone.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Breakdown! A general slowing down! And drying up!

There has been quite a lot in the news about the toll the lockdown, and indeed the whole crisis, is taking on people’s mental health. This morning, walking to the market in Uppermill, I saw an example. As I walked down a slope from one bridle path to another, a cycle came zooming down. I dodged to one side, as did a dog walker a few yards ahead of me. At the bottom of the slope another dog walker, who had just let her little dog off his lead, held up her hand to the cyclist and screamed at him to stop. He slowed, clearly puzzled, as she yelled at him, “Stop! You might run over my f*****g dog! He’s all I’ve got. My f*****g mother is dying. Don’t run over my f*****g dog!” The cyclist replied in kind, “I’m not running over your f*****g dog!”, and went on his way. The dog walker turned off onto another path. About half way down the slope she sat down on the step and wailed and sobbed, absolutely distraught. Under more normal circumstances I would have followed her down the slope and maybe put an arm round her shoulder to reassure her that she was not alone. All I could do today was call down to ask if she was all right. A more subdued bit of swearing ensued as she told me she would be fine and I went on my way.

Uppermill was moderately quiet, with short, orderly queues outside the few shops that remain open. Maybe it’s grinding to a halt. I had planned to buy oranges from the Italian greengrocery but there was a notice on the door saying that they would not open until 11.00. Last week they opened at 10.00. So no oranges today, despite the fact that their oranges have been by far superior to those available elsewhere, but I had no intention of hanging around for the better part of an hour on the off-chance that they would still have those good oranges. Perhaps I will walk in again another day.

The market continues in its diminished state but I don’t know for how long it will continue. The fruit and veg man seems to be reduced to potatoes, carrots, cabbage, leeks and tomatoes. Oh, and eggs. And I bought the last of his rhubarb - champagne rhubarb, he told me it was. And he still had a whole lot of bedding plants. People stood in the queue with little boxes of spring flower plants in their hands, so gardens are obviously being cared for.

I replenished my supply of nice bread from the bakery and from the delicatessen, where I also picked up semi-dried tomatoes and a mix of olives. After getting a few more essentials from the co-op, I set off for home with my rucksack and a cloth bag over my shoulder. We continue to manage to get our supplies! Some of the bread has gone straight into the freezer, from which some of the ingredients for this evening’s meal have been taken out.

En route for home, I had a socially distanced chat with a lady who was looking disconsolately at the mud-patch which until recently was a busy waterway. She, like me, had watched the frogs busily procreating and had admired the vast amount of frogspawn produced. What, we both wondered, had happened to those tadpoles now that the waterway was a just a soggy mud-patch? On the radio weather forecast I have just heard a weather lady talking about April having been a quiet month so far! I think that is supposed to mean that it has been mostly dry and often mild and sunny. Hence the mud-patch!

I also just heard a quite surprising piece of news. Charter flights, I heard, are bringing farm workers in from Rumania tomorrow to prevent crops from rotting in our farmers’ fields. So the idea of employing students and workers on furlough has not totally worked, it seems. The workers will undergo health checks before setting off. I bet Priti Patel is squirming at having to allow that to happen!

The other day I read about Chicago, which has been in lockdown, with restaurants, bars, stores and its celebrated lakefront closed down. What has not closed down, apparently, is the rate of violence. Crime overall has gone down but shootings and murders have remained consistently high, March 2020 figures even exceeding numbers for the same period last year.

Now, our granddaughter, who works for the Crown Prosecution Service, tells us that here in Greater Manchester burglaries carry on apace, despite the lockdown. Houses are being broken into even though the occupants are presumably in the house somewhere.

It would seem that thieves and villains are not respecting social distancing!! How odd!!

On the menu today is a some hummus and olives (from the deli mentioned above), quiche lorraine and some spicy potatoes, with the inevitable salad.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Day by unchanging day, life goes on the same. Coronavirus stories.

There’s an odd kind of “Groundhog Day” feel to life at the moment, especially as we continue to have a run of mostly sunny mornings. The alarm rings, you hit snooze a couple of times because there is no real hurry to get the day started as you aren’t going anywhere, you get up and organise some breakfast, checking the news which continues as gloomy as ever, with more deaths, more accounts of how the government messed up, and no suggestion of an imminent end to the whole business. 

Some of the news reports are particularly depressing, such as this report of people in the UK living whole families to a room and sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities with other similar but unrelated families or groups of strangers in the same house.

Also there are reports like this one about southern states of America where the African-American communities are being hit disproportionally hard by the virus.

How is it that in the 21st century people are still living this way in two wealthy countries.

Then there are the stories of fear and ignorance. Apparently in Egypt the residents of a village in he Nile Delta tried to prevent the burial of a physician who had died from the Covid-19. They were afraid that burying him in their village might spread the contagion. Security and health officials tried to persuade the villagers to allow it to go ahead but in the end they had to call the police in and the crowd was dispersed using tear gas.

We have our own local stories of people doing silly things like going out hiking on potentially difficult or dangerous terrain. A woman went walking on Blackstone Edge, near Littleborough, ostensibly a good way of getting her daily exercise while avoiding meeting other people. She injured her leg and ended up needing to be rescued by the Oldham Mountain Rescue Team and the Northwest Ambulance Service, all needing to observe special safety protocol in the current circumstances. Oh, boy!

Some stories are more uplifting, like this one about “pop-up bike lanes” in Germany, making the bike lanes wider so that more people still able to go to work could do so by bike. I love the German efficiency in this story. “The council said it had used removable tape and mobile signs to mark out the expanded lanes, which can be removed when the current restrictions on movement are lifted.” Apologies to any Germans for the stereotyping.

I am not really as despondent as I might sound. In fact, Phil and I continue doing much of the stuff we usually do, just without the things that involve going out and about and interacting with others.

We still manage to go out for long walks in the continuing sunshine, even though the temperatures vary from pleasantly warm to rather chilly.

We keep in virtual touch with friends and family and so far all seem to be well.

And we continue to enjoy our food. On the menu today is a small serving of a rice and prawns dish taken from the freezer, some salmon slices marinated in herbs, some roasted vegetables and, as usual, some salad. All good.

 Life does go on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 13 April 2020

Easter Monday. A bit of nostalgia. Some birdwatching observations.

The year we spent the Easter weekend in Salamanca we left the city on Easter Monday, which is, of course, just Monday in Spain. Our pensión did not serve breakfast and so we stopped in a cafe en route for the railway station. There we took a look at the local newspaper, with a big photo of the “re-encuentro” on the front page.

I had watched this re-encounter from our balcony. From one side of the square a “paso” brought in the statue of Christ resurrected. From the other came his mother Mary. As the two came close to each other, the front men carrying the “pasos” crouched down, while those at the back remained upright, and so Jesus and Mary bowed to each other. Very cleverly done and probably requiring a fair bit of practice to prevent the statues from sliding off. After all, the statues are usually rather old and rather valuable.

And there it was, in the photo on the front page of the newspaper. And there, behind it, was our balcony. And there I was, on the balcony! How we laughed! How my A-Level Spanish students laughed when the new term started and I told them about it. My only regret was not getting hold of a copy of the paper. And this predated the era of all the papers being available online. So it goes.

We were heading for the railway station to catch a train south. Mérida was our next destination. The museum at Mérida, built of small Roman-style red bricks, impressed us. As we wandered around the museum I happily snapped pictures of various exhibits, not with my phone, my mobile phone at that time being far too basic to incorporate a camera, but with my then favourite toy, my small digital camera. After about half an hour, maybe more, a museum employee tapped me on the shoulder to tell me, “Está prohibido sacar fotos”. Oops! So sorry! But it was too late. Most of the photos I wanted to take were already in my camera.

From Mérida we went on to visit my sister and her Spanish family in El Puerto de Santa Maria, across the bay from Cádiz. As I remember, this involved a bus ride across Seville from one railway station to another. In El Puerto we stayed in a small, family run hotel, where they served us toasted bread with olive oil for breakfast. We asked for butter or margarine and they scratched their heads in bewilderment, emerging a little later with an industrial-sized tub of margarine. Clearly they were not used to catering for the likes of us! But that was a while ago and no doubt now they are more cosmopolitan.

Right now, of course, they will be in lockdown and their business will be suffering. Hopefully we will all emerge from this nightmare and resume something like business as usual.

One of the lasting memories of that visit to Spain is the storks. We seemed to see them everywhere, nesting at the top of buildings all over the place. We even saw one feeding its young. Impressive!

Around here we regularly see a heron. I swear there used to be two but nowadays I only ever see the one, usually on the other side of the millpond on my morning run, and occasionally frightened into flight if he is on my side of the water. Last week, my daughter told me she had seen herons nesting in a tree in the park near her house in Ashton. Do herons nest in trees? Somehow I had imagined them nesting closer to the water. Phil suggested they might be storks. Do we even have storks around here? Well, I suppose there must be some or we might not have the stories of storks bringing babies. Anyway, we looked it all up in our trusty Book of British Birds.

Storks do indeed count as British Birds. And herons do indeed nest in trees close to water. We decided that the nests our daughter saw were most likely herons’ nests, and the large birds she saw flying around more likely herons than storks. But anything is possible.

There you go, a whole post with barely a mention of coronavirus or lockdown.

On the menu today we have leftovers: leftover noodles, leftover tortilla and, of course, some salad. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

April weather. Chocolate as an essential item. Kindness to animals but maybe not to children.

Yesterday was one of those perfect April days that the NorthWest of England sometimes offers. A bit of wind to stir things around. A nice bit of sunshine. I hung washing on the line mid morning. By mid afternoon it was bone dry, rather like hanging the washing out in  Spain in the summer. Not only just dry. Not making you feel that it needs to hang on a clothes airer for a while to finish off. No, dry enough to be folded up and put away with no worries.

We have neighbours who sunbathe. The garden chairs have come out and, if last year is anything to go by, they will stay out now until late September, no matter what the weather does in between times. Mid morning, as I hung out the washing, I noticed that one of the sunbathers was installed already but she still had her socks on. The wind must have been making her feet feel cold. Later in the day, the socks had disappeared. By about one o’clock she was drinking beer in the sunshine. I suppose that in different times she might have been sitting on the terrace of some pub, maybe even the one next door to us which is firmly locked up. Even the carpark has keep-out cones across it, to dissuade any of the locals from thinking they can now park there with impunity.

We did a bit more garden work: cutting the grass and pulling up weeds. I have been careful not to pull up the dandelions yet as the ecologists say we should leave them for the bees until there are more flowers in bloom. Okay, I can live with that. Even though dandelions seem to spread like wildfire, I rather like them.

Today, Easter Sunday, is less spectacular. Still warm, but the cloud has moved in and the weather app on my phone offers us a 10% chance of rain. I have bought no Easter eggs for anyone this Easter. We came back from Galicia just as Spain went into lockdown and before we knew it we too were in a lockdown of our own. So there was no time for Easter egg shopping and suddenly the supermarkets were stripped bare! Did anyone stockpile chocolate eggs, I wonder? When people talk about “essential shopping” I ask myself who decides what constitutes essential. For a friend of mine it is long-life milk, something I would never buy under normal circumstances anyway. And I know quite a few people for whom chocolate really is one of life’s essentials.

For some people it seems to be pets. Well, not everyone, as I have heard stories of animals being abandoned for fear that they might bring the virus into the home. But then I read that France has decided to allow people outside to adopt a pet from animal shelters, despite strict home confinement measures. Maybe it’s something to do with people’s mental health but I suspect it’s more likely the SPA, the French RSPCA, has warned that their centres, shut down several weeks ago in line with limiting contact, are getting dangerously overcrowded.

Here in the UK, with the shortage of protective clothing for health workers reaching crisis point, Home Secretary Priti Patel says she is “sorry if people feel there have been failings” over the provision of PPE. Wow! When is an apology not an apology? I’m not apologising for the failings, just sorry you feel that way. A bit like saying you’re sorry that someone was insulted by what you said but you stand by saying it anyway!!! Or perhaps more like a cross parent telling a child, I’m sorry you don’t like it but that’s how it is!

So this report of the same Home Secretary’s refusal to accept refugee children from overcrowded Greek camps is hardly surprising. Surely these children, who have family waiting for them in the Uk could be put into quarantine on arrival. But apparently not!

On a more cheerful note, and to add a touch of colour, here are pictures of yesterday’s garlic, onion, tomato and green bean mix before and after the addition of noodles.

On the menu today: Spanish potato and onion tortilla, roasted peppers, a bit of ham and some salad. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Inequality. Failed bids for freedom. Occupying your time.

On the one hand, hedge-fund managers are apparently making money out of the crisis!! On the other, a lot of people are losing their jobs!!

On the one hand, some folk are moaning about having to cook three meals a day for their stay-at-home family!! On the other, huge numbers of people are going a whole day without eating because they have no money to buy food and no access to food banks!!

Such is the inequality of it all!

But who really needs three cooked meals a day? Or even three full meals a day? No wonder some people are understandably complaining about putting on weight. Maybe the rule about only one lot of outdoor exercise per day should be changed to obligatory once a day outdoor exercise for everyone!

I am, however, growing weary of reports of police making solitary sunbathers get up and move along, tales of families being told, again by over-zealous police, not to play in their front garden (?!), and photos of park benches police-taped so that nobody can stop and sit there!

Meanwhile, even the rich have to obey some of the rules.

Here’s a story I came across yesterday:-

“Fri 10 Apr 2020

“A group of would-be holidaymakers who flew in a private jet from London to the Côte d’Azur in France have been turned back by police. Seven men and three women arrived on the chartered aircraft to Marseille-Provence airport, where helicopters were waiting to fly them on to Cannes, where they had rented a luxury villa.
The men, aged 40-50, and women, aged 23-25, were refused permission to enter France and ordered by police to fly back to the UK. “They were coming for a holiday in Cannes and three helicopters were waiting on the tarmac,” a border police spokesperson told Agence France-Presse. “We notified them they were not allowed to enter the national territory and they left four hours later.”
A police source told BFMTV the pilot had been advised not to land the Embraer Legacy jet at Marseille-Provence, but did so anyway.
On landing, the group, made up of several nationalities including Croatian, German, French, Romanian and Ukrainian, reportedly tried to get help from contacts to continue their journey. “They tried to make use of their connections and made a few phone calls,” the source said. The helicopter pilots were told to return to their base and were fined for breaking the French lockdown rules.
The jet, chartered by a Croatian businessman reportedly in “finance and property”, arrived last Saturday, but details were only released on Thursday.
French police said they would be carrying out strict checks on private aircraft arriving in France over the Easter period. All non-essential travel inside France has been banned since 17 March and a recent tightening of the restrictions means anyone entering the country should hold an international travel certificate showing the journey is essential.
The authorities in France and Britain have made it clear that travelling to a second home in either country does not qualify as essential. “Crossing borders needs a legitimate or urgent reason,” a police spokesperson said. BFMTV reported that nine of the jet passengers returned to the UK and the 10th chartered a private jet to Berlin.”

And here’s a story of the not quite so rich trying a similar thing, from closer to home, from the Oldham Times:

“POLICE officers in Cumbria have sent out a strong message to anyone thinking about visiting the Lake District during the Easter bank holiday while we are on lockdown. Despite the country repeatedly being told to stay at home to save lives, officers stopped a family of six heading for the area. The car was told to turn around and was even followed by police officers back to the M6 this afternoon, Wednesday.
And motorists thinking about attempting similar journeys this Easter are being warned the roads into the holiday hotspot are being policed. Cumbria Roads Police said the family car was filled with two adults and four children and had come from Leigh for a 'trip out to the Lake District'.
A spokesman added: "It was stopped at Windermere and advised to return. "We are policing all routes into the lakes and escorted the car back to the motorway."
The journey from Leigh to the edge of the Lake District is nearly 80 miles and would have taken the family around an hour and 20 minutes to drive countering government advice to stay local.”

I once read something about the mafia having begun as a way of helping the less well off to find employment and generally be supported. Hard to believe when you read the stories of what the organisation became but that’s what I read. And now here is a news report of the mafia helping out people who have difficulty surviving the crisis.  

As well as making occasional deliveries to us of essential items such as milk, my daughter also sends me crochet patterns for making cute animals. Clearly she thinks I need occupying. Or maybe it’s a hint that her small children need yet more soft toys!

We continue to survive the crisis, doing what we usually do - just seeing fewer people!

On the menu today is hummus and olives for starters, another pasta in a tomato and onion sauce dish, plus some salad and fruit and cake for afters.

 Life goes on! Stay safe everyone!

Friday, 10 April 2020

A rather different Good Friday. Escaping. Masks. Reading matter.

Good Friday!

Some thirteen, maybe fourteen, years ago we were in Salamanca, Spain, for Easter. Our pensión looked out onto the main square, a typically beautiful Spanish square. We were woken very early on the morning of good Friday to the sound of a funeral march as a procession carrying the statue of Christ Crucified through the square. Impressive!

It won’t be happening this year!

Usually there are three crosses on the top of the hill overlooking our village, erected I always assume by the local church. They stay up there until Ascension Day.

None of that is happening this year either.

It’s highly likely we won’t have the Whit Walks or the Whit Friday Band Contest either judging by the way things are going.

The year that we went to Salamanca for Easter we had flown to Madrid for a few day first and travelled to Salamanca by train. That train journey was more problematical than expected. The tourist office in Madrid had assured us that there was no need to book in advance. Well, they were mistaken! The early train we planned to catch was fully booked and we just about managed to get tickets for a later one. We arrived at Salamanca in the late evening on Maundy Thursday so an early morning dirge-call on Good Friday was not really welcome.

The full train was, of course, really to be expected as Madrileños like to escape from their city for the Easter weekend. I hear that many have had a good try to do so this year, despite the restrictions. Too many on the move for the police checks to stop them all. Crazy people!

And I suppose many are trying it here too.

As a result the powers that be want to bring in measures to check up on people’s movement. One report I heard had a high-ranking police chappie declaring that they were not planning to check people’s supermarket shopping to ensure that they had only bought “essentials”. Not yet, anyway! But apparently 26 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have launched dedicated online forms allowing people to report suspected breaches of the lockdown, such as large gatherings in parks. Oh, boy!

Debate continues about the advisability and usefulness of wearing masks, the general public wearing masks that is, not medical staff. My homemade masks have seen quite a lot of use, not that I am in shops very often. We don’t see many people wearing them when we are out and about, rather more in Uppermill, which is bigger than Delph, though.

I am not sure of the situation in Spain and Italy but I have read that officials in some French cities are making it mandatory for people to wear masks when they leave their homes. The mayor of Nice has said that all inhabitants will be sent a mask within the next 8-10 days that they can reuse for a month, and other cities have promised to do the same. It’s one way to help people deal with the problem. 

Radio news and commentary programmes continue to offer advice on how to occupy your time during lockdown. Yesterday they discussed reading, asking “experts” for advice on what to read and how to obtain reading matter as bookshops and libraries are closed. (In fact, libraries are offering on-line services, at least around here.) Somebody mentioned re-reading. I think it was Marielle Frostrup who declared that nobody wants to re-read a book. What’s the point, she pondered, when you already know what happens? I beg to differ. A good book is always worth reading again. Perhaps not too soon after the first reading though. But there are some books that I go back back to again and again. After all, we all listen to pieces if music over and over again. What would become of our collection of CDs if we only ever listened to them once? Perhaps Ms Frostrup was never the sort of teenager who drove her parents mad by playing the same current favourite record again and again and obsessively again! 

The fine weather continues. It’s positively balmy out there today. Maybe this is the day we cut the lawn. Or rather, Phil cuts the lawn and I look on, maybe pulling up the odd weed or trimming back the bushes.

On the menu today is tomato and basil soup followed by some kind of egg dish and the inevitable salad. Life goes on.

Stay safe and well, everyone!