Monday, 27 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary, Conclusion

We had our first family dinner at home for 126 days last night. This is our son and his two beautiful youngsters, our littlest grandchildren, relaxing after dinner and planning to play ‘Happy Families’.

We are intending to stay safe, take precautions and live a little while we can before the second wave starts again.

This postscript was written on Day 46. I planned to either post it unchanged, or post it unchanged with a PPS to follow it if my thoughts later proved to have been wide of the mark. Unfortunately and as I concluded at the time our government has not lead us through this crisis well and have lied continuously to present a better picture of events than was the case. They have been charged with confusing messages, delays, no specific policy aim, lies, data misrepresentation, mismanagement and corruption. Even this old cynic could not have predicted the extent to which this conclusion would be proved right. 

I could see that the truth was being literally mangled to the point of irrelevance just as it was in the arguments that won the Brexit referendum and so The Covid may not turn out to be the only or even the most important generational event after all. The Covid is happening at a turning point in global politics in an existential battle between the forces of a neo-feudal, nationalistic and authoritarian class of the rich, powerful and dictatorial on one side and the forces of progressive values, human rights, international cooperation and social justice on the other. I have not found it necessary to alter my original postscript or add to it.


Today’s is the final entry and I am writing this in advance on day 46. There is more of The Covid to come but this diary must eventually finished and be allowed to lapse with the ending of lockdown. My record of these strange times, written in forced confinement, beset by uncontrolled change and experienced in the later stages of my life will have run its course as surely as I am running mine but at this stage, again like mine, I have as yet no real feeling for how long that will be. Yesterday was another day in history and tomorrow will be another and the day this diary ends will be of tiny import and significance in the great and mysterious overall  scheme of things. 

It seems to me that the biggest casualty of modern times, grossly and obscenely mangled by the Covid into a monstrous, injured, blotched and bloody corpse, is the truth. The way to wealth and power is now seen to be the denial of truth and rule through lies, disinformation and the avoidance of scrutiny. Not just to promote untruth but to disguise truth, enhance confusion, discredit expertise, engender distrust and to divide the peoples of our shared humanity from each other. Our privileged, feudal and religious classes have always sought to keep knowledge, communication, education and therefore truth as their own in order to contain the threat that truth presents to power. I believe we are witnessing an existential moment, the last stand of the remaining shreds of feudal power and the rise of a more civilised and progressive society. Optimism being the partisan of truth flourishes underground and in the minds and hearts of our young people. We live in an age of unprecedented and global communications freedom. The printing press, photography, radio, television and now the Internet and social media when freed from their bottles have caused revolutions in learning, knowledge and truth. In a time when an out of control executive is attacking the three other pillars of state the press has become largely the government’s microphone but Social media and the internet is becoming our new Fourth Estate. This is a genie that will not be re-corked. Our challenge for the next few decades at least is to ensure that it too is not corrupted or controlled.

Others will come after me. Their history too will be written or they might write it themselves. I encourage them to do so but their contribution to history will only be as rich and rewarding as their willingness to be sceptical and their reverence for the truth allows. I encourage people to be passionate about truth; evidence, science, data, fairness and analysis; truth in all its manifestations. Truth matters but there are too few truth tellers and too many lazy, superstitious sheep out there ready to be herded and farmed; there are too many bigots willing to believe whatever confirms their bias as long as they are not denied the basics of an existence and access to mindless pleasure and hedonistic pursuits; there are too many unscrupulous, power hungry rich elites who believe they were born to rule and are always ready to exploit them.

I encourage younger people to work for truth, seek the truth, worship the truth and speak the truth. I do so in the hope that a similar crisis is not allowed to happen to them or their children, sentiments that might have been expressed by our parents at the end of World War 2 and theirs after World War 1 fighting an enemy with frightening similarity to today’s. People my age went into the Covid with little time left. Many will not emerge at the end having died from the Covid unprotected by their own government and needless casualties of an amoral and disinterested ruling class who have pursued their personal ambitions, power and greed at the expense of the lives of our most loved and most precious grannies and granddads. 

As I write there have been, in excess of normal levels, 75000+ deaths in The Covid so far. I sincerely hope that at some future time and not too far away, the perpetrators of this monstrous and needless loss of life will be called to account for their actions.

I have taken the liberty to include as my final reflection on The Covid in lockdown, a quotation which I make on behalf of my children, their children and their children’s children. These words are spoken by Edgar, the son of the Duke of Gloucester at the conclusion of Shakespeare’s greatest work, King Lear.

“The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

You that are young should take this on board, some of us might not survive to advise you. You have lived to see so much, possibly lost so much and you have seen the truth under threat like never before. It is up to you to put that right before the defining event of your generation occurs or you will lose the fight. Teach them to trust science, revere the truth and to never, ever believe either priests or politicians.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 126

Lockdown, our lockdown that is, ends today at 2pm on 24th July. I took a mugshot for the record and you are indeed perfectly correct, I am exceedingly tatty.

By way of a reiteration I have been turning over in my mind what has happened in the last 126 days.

What has not happened is easily summarised. We have not been out except for exercise and a change of scenery and then only half a dozen times. We have not been to any shops for any thing. My wife had a relapse and nipped into the Coop when she once escaped out on her own but otherwise none. I have not eaten any beefsteak. We have not hugged anyone (apart from each other). I confess that we both had a relapse on our grandsons birthday earlier this week but until then total abstinence. We have not eaten out or ordered a takeaway. We have not driven anywhere by car apart from one visit to the GPs and our ride to the grandson's birthday event mention earlier. We have not been in a confined space with any other person apart from the same trip to the birthday meet up. Apart from the lack of hugs we have not been bovvered. Not a bit.

What has happened? Well this for a start.

For four years I have invested time and hard cash into the cultivation of one of my favourite perennials but each year the gastropods have beaten me to it and scoffed all the new shoots in one overnight binge leaving nothing behind. In The Covid, eyes were peeled, tactics were improved and here we are, Helenium autumnale - Moerheim Beauty in all its glory.

The pond project was cancelled and in its place we have created a productive garden. Spinach has been moderately successful but due to dry weather it bolted early. Peas were very tasty, all 24 pods of them, light problems with those possibly and the lettuce did not work at all, again too dry but also in the wrong place. Chard is still going strong, rhubard is proliferating, climbing French beans are yet to produce but we have a very promising and attractive row of runner beans. We have perpetual spinach, Mizuma and a few other ideas for winter veggies but in the meantime cabbages, kale and cauliflower are all growing so there is much to anticipate with a good crop of chives and parsley coming along vigorously behind. I sent in an army of nematodes after the slugs and today it looks like this

We created a rose garden at the front of the house. We have three different yellow floribunda roses that in our dry, calcareous, impoverished soil have spent a few precarious years struggling against the odds. I dug out a massive trench at least 400mm deep and back filled it with a mixture of our soil, garden compost, John Innes No. 3 and added additional organic and slow release fertiliser. The plants breathed a long sigh of relief, I swear I could hear them, and they appear to have settled down, two have flowered once and a third late flowerer has at last begun to bud up. The prospects of a proper rose display next year are promising.

Before my dear wife fell over backwards wildly gesticulating with a loaded paintbrush, speckling the yard and putting herself out of action for a few days she had made an absolutely magnificent job of repainting nearly all the fencework and my workshed. Our woodwork has never looked so good.

An enormous nest of yellow ants appeared in our small greenhouse. I sent an army of nematodes in after those too and I can confirm that said busy pests have buggered off I know not where. They must have packed up, shouldered their eggs, pupae and household belongings and trailed off in the middle of the night, a long line of, I would say roughly 123,435, dejected, homeless ants who could not tolerate my alien host of foreign invaders. I am much in favour of hard working immigrants.

We are 11 to 8 down on the Friday night cribbage! Our game has proved to be a weekly treat that we have come to anticipate with great pleasure, an evening of catching up with the young folks and checking the progress of our next great grandson. Getting beaten fair and square is a small price to pay. Interestingly we have achieved such fluency with our invented rules for remote working that the real thing is bound to be confusing when we next play face to face.

We have discovered a new relationship with our garden and home. Re-learning how to appreciate the little details and feeling extremely thankful for the space we have to breathe in, work, do our separate things and relax together. Perhaps most importantly we have rekindled our love for this home with a new understanding of its worth as a home and the focal point of our lives. The memories, history and personalities contained in the things we hold dear, the places we have enjoyed and the loved ones we have lost have taken on a new significance. They have been the stable, familiar backdrop of our lockdown, secure, grounded and unchanging.

My wife has completed at least a quarter of a book of Telegraph cryptic crosswords and although it took me all of 126 days I managed a whole little book of 250 Sudoku puzzles ranging from moderately difficulty to your ‘aving a giraffe! Our conclusion is that Altzheimer’s has not crept up on us in The Covid so far.

Our diet has improved, probably more in my case than my wife’s, for a range of reasons not the least being that we have been less active outside of the house which has given us more time for cooking at home. Being highly gluten sensitive, (though tested negative I am as sensitive as any ceoliac disease sufferer), my go-to meals when eating out are either large lumps of meat and chips or all day fried breakfasts and we did eat out a great deal. Our digestive systems are now thoroughly re-acquainted with regular vegetables and as a consequence are behaving much better. I have lost 3kg in weight.

Online grocery shopping happened. At least it did after Tesco finally achieved capacity to meet demand. Unfortunately this took them most of our lockdown but it works pretty well now and especially so since they started to prioritise slot bookings for the over 70’s. Online shopping is now our thing and will be continued.

There was an unwelcome re-occurrence of PTSD symptoms, nothing I can blame on The Covid because it had been building up for some months ahead of the lockdown. I should say effective yet again, because this was the third time. After recovering from a second breakdown I tried to avoid a longer term of treatment being acutely aware that it affected those creative processes which my life and my way of life depends upon. Continuous mental war with panic attacks, palpitations, tremors and racing thoughts eventually wears you down not to mention the regular traumatic dreams reliving the stuff that caused PTSD in the first place and also the constant pressure to maintain a pretence of normality. I gave in, I surrendered to treatment and am now much improved.

We had a rest. A long unhurried step back from a frenetic world that no matter how “retired” you might be sweeps you along in a society that works more like a machine operating 24 hours a day, delivering an unending supply of hedonistic temptations, diversions and entertainment  and consuming all the life it can digest in its one soulless objective of wealth creation. We have experienced both the effect of that devilish enginery and then a life affirming relief when the world took an unscheduled break in The Covid. We have been in respite. Taking a break, reflecting on our world, our society and our nearest and dearest. This has been the most profoundly rewarding aspect of the forced privations of this lockdown experience. Our lives have breathed a long sigh of relief just as our dear planet has with this sudden drop in environmental toxicity.

As a family we have grown together. We have always been close and supportive which is due mostly to my Mum and Dad’s example, a legacy to be remembered and honoured for its importance to us all, but now I feel we are closer, tighter and much deeper in terms of our shared experiences. We have been unselfishly supported by them all which has not been easy for them with two stubbornly  independent, self sufficient people like us. We have learnt a little humility and to be dependent on them, our children and our grandchildren which has been a good thing and a thing to cling on to. We are naturally relieved that the virus has not settled on any of them so far and so, so grateful to them all that it is impossible to convincingly express that in words.

My wife and I have become much closer during our lockdown, much more integrated and settled after what seems to have been a lifetime, for each of us, fulfilling our caring responsibilities which took us in other directions and left little time over for each other. Here we are locked down together in The Covid with only each other for entertainment, friendship, conversation, reassurance, love and human contact at what surely was the perfect time in our lives to remember and celebrate our marriage while looking after each other. Here we are looking out for each other as usual in our first skirmish with that invisible enemy out there beyond our front door

Of course we are fortunate enough to be independent of the need to work and the pressure of paying bills although our pension savings have taken a serious hammering. We know that, but we worked hard for that too and in so doing prepared for an unknown future disaster which turned out to be The Covid. Little did we know though that a future voracious disaster would target mainly us, the over 70’s, as it’s preferred victims.

Sharon wears a mask, 
Sharon cares for other people like she cares for me. 
Don’t be a selfish dick head,
Be like Sharon,
Wear a mask. 

The virus is still out there folks and at the time of writing new cases are heading back up again. The Covid is not over yet so wear a mask, stay safe, take no risks and watch this space, lockdown might return before The Covid is done with us.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 125

Today my Dad would have been 100. This picture of him holding me was taken in 1949 at their first home in Westcott Place, Swindon.

By the time of my first memories of the tiny garden behind our home, the brick wall had been rendered and painted but the old green door to our outside lavatory was as you see it here. Cold, dark, damp and unlit other than by torchlight, but at least a torch could be shone into each of the four plainly white painted corners and then around the underside of the rough wooden toilet seat checking for slugs, snails and toads sheltering from the elements. 

Dad is 28 here. Family history does not record how my Dad, a humble tobacco worker at the local Wills factory, could, unlike all of his fellow workers, afford even the deposit to buy his own house which he had acquired in 1946 the year after their wedding in 1945. He also found enough cash to buy Mum’s wedding ring on the London blackmarket at a time when gold rings where both unaffordable and unobtainable. He later admitted the ring was bought with “gifts” from Nazi officers he had helped to round up in an SAS clear up/liberation operation in Norway. It is likely that the his house deposit came by the same route.

We will never know for sure but if their “gifts” were the key they not only paid for the foundation of a warm and welcoming family home but laid the groundwork for the home owning ethic he handed down to all of us. 

In time, from memory around 1960, our outside lavvy was replaced by an internal bathroom and kitchen conversion with the help of a modernisation grant from the council and my parents were then to remain in this house until it was subjected to a compulsory purchase order in 1970. It was  then demolished to improve the road arrangement at the junction of Wootten Basset Road, Westcott Place and KIngshill Road.

I have often, over the years and to this day, reflected on what made my Dad so unique. All Dad’s are special, or they should be, but Percival Warwick was of a higher, nobler, heroic order  altogether. 

I could say that I think of him everyday. I do but not in a conscious way. He lives on in me because much of the way I think and feel I have from him but also in little details of fatherly instruction and guidance, taken for granted at the time but which have become a part of daily life. 

I gathered seed today from a garden plant and folded them into a packet with a plain sheet of paper just as my Dad showed me in his garden at Westcott Place. I folded, gathered, folded over again on a very, very deliberate, slight angle, then folded each end back and tucked the one into the other to make a sealed envelope. I wrote a name and date on the front just as he would have done.

Our handwriting is almost identical.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 124

If this row all come to fully mature runner beans there will be a bumper crop in The Covid.

They make such a decorative addition to the garden too, their name, Scarlet Emporer, is apt. My Dad swore by this old and well established variety.

The Russia report has been published and it was after all a smoking gun. There has not been any evidence exposed for direct Russian meddling in UK elections, particularly the referendum, but it is none the less a damning indictment of the government. The ICS committee reports, robustly, that the johnson lied in every respect and detail regarding his reason for the delay to publication, that the government engineered that delay and that the government has neglected its prime duty to protect UK citizens from such external threats. No evidence was found because no government agency looked even though Russian meddling was widely claimed!

The obvious but important question is why? Both individual MPs and the Tory party benefit from close contact and funding from prominent Russian Oligarchs, some with close Kremlin connections so no doubt financial motives can be suspected.

Of greater importance is that their democratic mandate for Brexit could without foundation if any Russian involvement were found so they didn’t look!

They did nothing even though only 35% of the public actually voted for Brexit: though the margin of win was just a few percent: that those most effected, i.e. young people and expats, were excluded: that the demographic who would reap the consequences, the 18 to 40 year olds voted in great numbers against it: that Vote.Leave committed proven election offences: that it was largely won by lies, lies and more lies and by a direct and divisive appeal to anti-race sentiments common amongst older voters. The latest polls show that nearly 60% of UK voters would now vote to rejoin.

They looked the other way using the Trumpian excuse of “if we don’t test, the Covid numbers would be lower”. In this case “if we don’t look, there was no interference and we can deny it with impunity”.

And then the delays. Their attempt to discredit the process and delay the publication is tantamount to an admission that although Russian Interference cannot be proved it did happen and would be a further condemnation of the Brexit referendum result which has already been invalidated by the Electoral Commission.

How will history see this? History will record that a small group of self interested rich elite forced through and imposed their ideological agenda on the UK, devastating its economy, causing division and hatred within its population, enabling and legitimising far right extremist thugs by lying, whipping up racial hatred, committing election fraud and with the help of foreign funds and active interference. All of this against the democratic choice of the devolved nations and the underlying wishes of a blinded and duped English electorate who have now, now the facts are known, naturally changed their minds.

The johnson is an amoral, despicable and mendacious charlatan but If he had an ounce of political nous to save himself from the condemnation of a future recorded history he would hold another referendum and reverse Brexit altogether.

You reap what you cultivate, sow, water and fertilise, unlike my beans this crop is deadly toxic and should be destroyed before it kills the UK.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 123

5 days and counting down. Political excitement seems to be headed for some kind of crescendo although that pales into insignificance against my excitement to be going out with the family for the afternoon to celebrate our grandson’s birthday. Here we are, for the first time in 122 days back in our car with another person and all suitably masked up behind which we are excited and grinning from hearing aid to hearing aid on our way to a local beauty spot high up on the Wiltshire Downs at Barbary Castle.

Wearing a mask is not a problem with regards to comfort however spectacles steam up in an enclosed space and the gap behind my ear is already over burdened with spectacle frames and the aforementioned hearing aids making an additional piece of elastic there rather problematic.

My wife and I arrived an hour ahead of the first contingent who had booked a clay pigeon shooting session just down the hill a bit and we took this opportunity to walk around the site together and take in views back over Swindon and to become reconnected with a heightened sense of wonder to the little details around our feet that always attract our interest. Colourful busy insects on wild flowers and grasses in their various stages of late summer development to fullness, seed heads and a gradual dessication in the high downland wind and warm sunshine. It would not be over stating the feeling of this experience one iota to describe it as ecstatic.

Our little get together lasted several hours. Interestingly the photos show me to be somewhat defensive in an arms crossed attitude, always a dead giveaway, and I admit to that. Conscientious distancing inculcates an ever present fearfulness around others however close those others are in normal times but I was also conscious of smiling my way through an exquisitely pleasant warm afternoon with a comparably sunny heart.

The Russia report will be published tomorrow. I believe the deliberate delaying of it’s publication is distraction politics and I am not therefore expecting much in the way of revelations.

You can have too much excitement!

Sunday, 19 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 122

New lab confirmed cases today were 726 and there were 27 new deaths. For those of an analytical turn of mind although actual data, on the face of it, shows an upturn in cases the range of uncertainty associated with the trend, i.e. its ability to predict the future is too wide to confirm that the trend is up. There is still some hope of at least a short term respite from our confinement and that is how we plan to play it. There is no expectation or confidence as yet that a second wave in the winter months can be avoided. There are too many factors at work against the avoidability of that not the least being that this virus is known to thrive and be more virulent at colder temperatures like the annual coronavirus that proliferates during the winter months already that we call the common cold.

So the game plan is to sally forth bemasked on the 24th July with due caution because if we stay shielding we might not get out again until late next spring and something must surely be done soon about this

Tentatively it is our dear Grandson Zack’s birthday and we are joining our family at a local beauty spot to meet up and will be sharing our car for the first time in 122 days with one of them.

Odd sort of day in my head today. I am used to endless random thoughts, they have been chasing me to distraction, often right through the night, for much of the last 7 or 8 years. The amount of information sorting, news, checking of news and tracking progress particularly with ‘thing’ out there being new to the world and still largely unknown with certainty, and absolutely zero confidence in a totally untrustworthy government that lies with impunity, feeling confident with any decision or plan is sheer hard graft. Information can fill the mind and chase around the field of one’s intellectual farm like demented sheep before an untrained dog with spirited but misdirected intent.

Today I took as much of a break from over thinking as I could revelling in the luxury of doing nothing because doing nothing was the objective. Nothing was done except for the harmless semi-automatic activity of cooking up a new batch of home made pease pudding taking advantage of the left over liquor from pot roasting a gammon joint which we usually cook on its own for that purpose. Gratifyingly it was the best result ever achieved, too late for dinner but which we still enjoyed looking out onto the relaxed greenery of a peaceful garden at roughly two thirds through the Chopin edition box set.

There remains a gluten free scone, jam and cream to be dealt with. Some days only barely fall short of perfectly satisfying and there is after all a freezer full of pease pudding cold, very cold but not very old.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 121

July 18th Covid data, today the government announced that it would not be publishing Covid cases and death data because of an error in the preparation of death data. So here it is anyway.

There were 40 new deaths.

At the same time as major easing of lockdown rules were announced and shortly before the clinically vulnerable (and those of us vulnerable because we are septuagenarians) are at last released in a pent-up tsunami of spending power the government have stopped publishing the very data we need to judge of the advisability of that before getting  out there to put our meagre pensions back into the government's coffers in taxes.

Their excuse is specious to say the least and it relates to the death data not the case data. As you can see from the PHE’s data  the number of cases today is 827 and there is now a clear indication that cases are on the way up. It is therefore daily more dangerous to relax our guard. This is the important number for us. Death rate will be lower because those of us not dead yet are still mostly indoors. The death rate will continue to decline but by the look of the case data only if we stay indoors. It is worth noting from the chart that 847 is a higher death rate than that published the day we went into lockdown.

On the 24th of July the wearing of masks in shops will become mandatory. Most shops that is but not Michael Gove’s favourite sandwich takeaway because otherwise he could also be accused of flouting the governments own advice. The law was changed to accommodate his hypocrisy and lack of responsibility for others.

We have talked, my wife and I, about making the 24th day the official end of lockdown for us and to adventure out with our new masks for maybe a little supermarket shopping. That is just one week hence. If the case trend continues that might decision might need to be revisited.

I am taking a breath at this point because for someone who has prided himself his whole adult life on his steady avoidance of anger as both an undesirable and destructive reaction is finding within himself an alien anger which is both vehement and justified.

The Covid has dealt me that awful injury.