Thursday, 9 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 108

Lockdown has it’s downside. Seriously, what must it be like to wake up with this in the morning!



I confess that I am no longer sure what to do about it. She says, much to my surprise, that she’s okay with it, that it reminds her of times past. Ah! La Cherche du Temps Perdu! Not always a sound plan when nature has been at work doing her own thinning, when luxuriance is no longer in evidence and the old wood is sadly diseased beyond redemption.

As is my way, not giving in to the challenge has so far had the upper hand but I felt a sad dose of giving-in-shortly coming on when this smiled back at me this morning from the shaving mirror.
Our locked down home hairdresser might be required to unlock herself soon so that we can all call it a day and move on.

The trouble is that moving on is at present a totally unknown risk. Anecdotal reports of rising cases are everywhere and there have been cases locally in our central shopping area. Only 2 but it is coincident with reports of a hospital A&E department shutting up shop with more than 70 staff positive with the virus, the lockdown of Leicester and serious new outbreaks being reported all over Europe.

As a result we are not dying for a pint any time soon and will not be using the Chancellor’s buy-one-get-one-free meal deal on a potentially infected repast in any restaurant. To be honest it sounds like an introductory mobile phone sales gimmick and as is usual with those things all the danger is in the small print. In this case the very, very small print in an 80 microns font.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 107 (106)

Most of yesterday was spent exclusively in the garden, most being that part of the day between rising from my bed and settling down to our evening meal, not a very early start but taking advantage of a considerably improved sleep pattern in the last six or seven days. With little time left for writing I fell to thinking that one useful aspect of The Covid is that deadlines, habits and duties are no longer as relevant and this, if nothing else, is liberating for those of us constantly driven by feelings of guilt when nothing has been achieved. I no longer reflect on a lazy day and think  of it as wasted time. The creative mind needs the luxury to waste it’s time. I have found in those rare moments that two important things happen. Firstly wonderful, beautiful new ideas can arise, sometimes with astonishing, instant impact. Life happens in those moments when time stops as it seems to do when lingering over an upland farmers gate gazing beyond his herd of cows munching their dewy summer meadow grasses and absorbing  the details dotted along distant hills. Secondly, it is in those moments of almost absent minded reflection that the most reliable decisions are made. By me at least.

I finished knitting the clematis yesterday. It takes three days at least, and pruned and shaped the new English oak tree while Mrs Gardener dead headed and planted a few shrubby perennials which were long overdue. All very quiet and restful and as it should be. Here is the whole thing in a view looking back towards the house this time.



This clematis plant grows from the ground in the corner behind the deck (watered by the overflow from a rain collection system) and as can be seen not only extends across the full width of the garden but is now being trained to adorn the two sides of the deck.

Today has been dull and overcast hence the extra luminous greenness. I had popped out between showers to pick dinner from the now verdant veg patch which apart from bolting spinach (the heat!) and lettuce which did not thrive and a 50% pea failure is proving to be The Covid’s finest reward so far. A benefit which might soon come into its own when the ultimate disaster of leaving the EU without a deal transpires at the turn of the year. Dinner is in the foreground. As I remarked a few days ago survival is the name of the game, which reminds me to start the next stockpile of toilet rolls soon.




It seems as though our wannabe PM’s, the johnson’s, propensity for being absent, mindless and lying without compunction knows no limits. Surely the decision (because it must have been deliberate) to make a statement which at least appeared to backdate blame for care home deaths to the care homes themselves is not one of his best. The facts present a picture so incontrovertibly opposite to this that to even appear to imply care homes were responsible, even in a small degree seems almost suicidal. I think it is arrogantly deliberate. In fact I think all the lies, obfuscation, lack of transparency and apparent oblivion to public opinion is all deliberate and pre-arranged arrogance. The calculus I believe is that winning the next election is a given irrespective of the drop in the johnson’s popularity and that The Covid is merely a useful vehicle for distractive controversies which are being generated and exploited to misdirect public perception. Underneath the radar the government is planning a no-deal Brexit, as they have been from the referendum on whilst claiming the opposite, in spite of Parliament and public fears and are consolidating their grip on power in whatever way the can by, for example, political appointees in the civil service. Scrapping food standards, employee protection legislation and their commitment to human rights and equality is all to do with a US free trade dealnalso planned from the referendum. Constituency boundary changes are in their favour but their greatest advantage is an almost unlimited executive power to cherry pick or alter law needed to replace European regulations on exit which they acquired under Brexit legislation.

This authoritarian, arrogant government is creating an entirely new Britain with a new future and a great deal of interim upheaval. Those who voted for them are, in my view, going to rue the day they did that.

Monday, 6 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 105

Passer domesticus, commonly called the House Sparrow, is so called because this ubiquitous creature has found its niche with us. Evolution is both constructive for the individual species but risky at times. That this little creature’s relationship with us is entirely symbiotic (in the sense that if the human race had destroyed itself would the House Sparrow struggle to survive?) I find hard to believe. But such is the risk for organisms symbiotic with another thanks to the natural process of evolution.

Not long ago another common species occupying a different niche had the name Hedge Sparrow. Nowadays this bird is called by an even older name, the Dunnock. Back in the day (way, way back in the day) all Sparrows were referred to as Dunnocks. Dun from the Germanic/Old English for greyish-brown and -ock, also Old English, a suffix for a diminutive form of something as in the word hillock. In other words Dunnock was a generic term for all small brown birds.

Luckily we have a pair of Dunnocks resident ‘chez nous’ which have entertained us frequently during The Covid and for a ‘small brown bird’ are far from dull. They play chase-me-charlie round the garden occasionally with Robins and House Sparrows joining in the fun.

Our Dunnocks feed, as do all their kind, on the ground and have learnt to exploit the more acrobatic birds which cling and hang on as they ravage the fat feeder and shower bits everywhere below. Interestingly, back in March when the Actinidium was still without leaves, one of them regularly attempted to scale the branches just like the Robins do with fearless facility but his little heart always ran out of courage above a certain height. Dunnocks inhabit the lower zones amongst shrubs, leaf litter and bare ground round the margins and were clearly nervous of exposure at higher levels.

Today however Mr. Dunnock has surprised us. The question ‘how I could tell it was Mr. and not Mrs. Dunnock?’ is perfectly reasonable. I assume that the one doing the chasing is Mr. Dunnock and this is not an anthropocentric fancy. I have been awestruck by how Mr. Woodpigeon keeps up his pursuit of Mrs. Woodpigeon on numerous occasions all day long and also Mr. Crow has been observed sidling up to Mrs. Crow and trying his moves out up in the neighbours tree.

Today Mr. Dunnock surprised us by launching himself from his usual vantage point on the head of a garden ornament, flew straight at the fat feeder, and flapping and gripping for dear life pecked off a morsel and flew back. Here is a hazy picture of him quickly captured just before his next attempt.



Mr. Dunnock has been practising! Taking his cue from more expert birds Mr. Dunnock has made a gallant excursion out of his evolutionary niche and out of his comfort zone. If his pursuit of Mrs. D has been successful he will no doubt teach this newly acquired survival technique to his kids after also showing an inevitably greatly impressed Mrs. D how it’s done.

I fell to wondering if, in perhaps a few thousand years or so, there will have evolved an entirely new species of small brown bird who are dependent on this skill and living exclusively in this area if we keep up a supplies of hanging fat feeders.

There is a small ginger man living locally who has similarly adapted quite readily to life in The Covid and that is how it should be. Whatever it takes, survival is the name of the game.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 104

Time passes. Ubiquitous Tilia X europa border our side of a school playing field opposite and run the length of our road. They drive us crazy with their natural processes dropping masses of  golden dust followed by masses of nectar and in turn by masses of seeds which can helicopter for some distance and then later a glorious but messy gold and russet fall. To admire them through their moods and changes every day of the year gives me profound joy and as you do with messy children I deal with their natural processes which in the autumn includes collecting their leaves,  masses of them in cubic-metre builder’s bags, up and down the road and turning them into a light and friable leaf mold for my own garden. Here they are just before the virus came to our shores.



Here they are again in The Covid, in early July. Same trees taken from the same spot on our drive just in front of the gate.



Time passes but these denizens and companions of the natural community in our street will begin their return to winter lockdown when this autumn’s fall commences to take their long, well deserved rest after replenishing my leaf mold bin handsomely.

That is how I am taking The Covid. One day we shall all emerge into the spring sunshine of a brand new season and bud up anew. In the meantime we can take a rest, well deserved for many of us, and recharge the batteries.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 103

It almost felt painful to return to the news outside of our survival bubble and last night’s commentary on the announced extended shut down in Leicester. I felt very sorry for all those small businesses who had been busily restocking for lockdown to be eased this weekend, this will take several of them over the edge. The area is poor, full of sweat shop style businesses closely packed many of whom have been forced by their circumstances to ignore social distancing rules. 

The worst aspect of Leicester’s tragedy is that their plight and possibly future local death rate could have been mitigated by responsible, timely government action. The government knew that cases were rising long before they did anything about it. If Public Health had been on the ball they should already have been monitoring community spread throughout the nation. The implication is that any decision taken to ease lockdown was taken without systems in place to impose local local downs in time to do anything meaningful.

Perhaps the most damning issue is that the government has not allowed the data out to local authorities so that they can look after themselves. The results of so-called Pillar 2 tests, I.e. those made at test stations have been hidden or not available. It is not difficult to see why this deliberate act of concealment has been perpetrated. With the clinically vulnerable, the elderly and care homes safely indoors they are out of danger and death rates are falling. Similarly hospital lab tests are fewer and also falling so this is the only data published. Actual infections are not falling and in the case of Leicester have risen rapidly since the beginning of May as you can see from this data but only made available to Leicester Council late last Thursday. Pillar 2 Cases have been rising over time, it can be argued from the beginning of May.



You have to question the motives of a government that eases its pandemic lockdown and allows all of us vulnerable folks to begin venturing out while publicly implying that cases are reducing when they most emphatically are not! This is worse than lying, this is deliberate, national deception in the knowledge that avoidable death will result.

This morning when challenged the johnson lied to Parliament again. The truth is above compliments of the Leicester Mercury. 

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 102

I spent  the latter part of yesterday, day 101 in The Covid, up the step ladders in my happy place knitting the Clematis montana. Here it is at the peak of its magnificence earlier this year in the middle of May.



Today was overcast, warmish (but only for England!), threatening light rain but the recent April winds had dropped to a friendlier breeze. The garden and it’s wildlife, especially the gastropods, were relieved after rain the day before and it all felt very green. Time was forgotten in a delicious lack of anything else better to do, almost 3 hours of it, while I worked methodically along its 15 metre length picking and unpicking the threads of its new growth. The general ambiance soaking in to my mood worked its wonders until I too had become a soft shade of greenish.

I call it knitting because to get this plant established over that length and looking relatively even without gaps I never prune it but methodically, and this requires some patience, proceed slowly from end to end around early July threading and tying in all the new growth rather than cutting much of it down. I try to cover any gaps and encourage new growth to continue in an east to west direction. By this time new growth has intertwined with itself and such plants can wind around stems and shoots clinging on tenaciously. These need to be cautiously unpicked in order for the whole length to be tied back in. Over time a long tube like structure of mature wood grows along the support and becomes self supporting and with new growth on the outside without loss of next years flowering shoots. 

I marvel that the plant acquires all of its water and minerals for new growth at its most extreme end by capillary action along its vascular sytem a total of 15 metres. Unlike trees there is no massive trunk and all the shoots are surprisingly narrow. Even at its base the woody stems are only a maximum of 5 centimetres tops. 

This plant came from a cutting from my Dad. I am quite unable to remember who was successful  him or me but we were both trying for a few years to get a cutting to strike, clematis are not easy plants to propagate vegetatively. But the effort was absolutely worth it. This one is called Mayleen and in late spring when it flowers it fills all the lower garden with a most exotic scent on mild days. I know of no other Montana variety quite like it.

Off now to finish the other side, meditational mindfulness, and hoping for more of the same result, greenish all through.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 101

July is fast upon us, real time is all at sea and is itself not at all certain where it should anchor  while inside this upside down, lockdown world the weather is decidedly March like. Gales are doing their best to blow down my recently established oak trees. Of course I am well aware that oaks are not usually to be found in the average smallish urban back garden but I have planted three and would rather like them to remain upright. They are there for two reasons. In the case of the Red Oak I just love their handsome leaves in the autumn and I have placed it where it will make the best contrast with an acer which decays beautifully through a soft orange to a buttery yellow. The other two are indigenous English Oaks. I grew them both from acorns from which it is said, as a general rule, great oaks trees grow. Oak trees are hosts to more wildlife than almost any other indigenous species and to encourage those is my reason for planting them. I intend to control, prune, and manage them to a size somewhat less than ‘great’.

The government continues to flail about wildly. Such is the reversal of public opinion that polls of voter intentions for the next general election give the conservatives a lead of an average of only 5% over the last 10 polls compared with an average of 22% over a 10 poll group just after the 2019 election. A private prosecution against the Scumbag has been told that there is a reasonable chance of conviction and the same Scumbag is also likely to be convicted of employment offences for mistreating an adviser he forced out. Neither the johnson or his cabinet of curiosities are able to inspire the kind of trust and gravitas expected of politicians. This is unlikely to change in my view. The costly mistakes of Grayling (remember he bought a ferry company with no ferries!), the lies and false promises of the Leave campaign, especially that ‘no-deal’ was ruled out along with any lowering either our food standards or employment protection laws. All of these promises either have or will be broken and directly impact voters. They are highly negative mistakes which cannot be undone or spun in any better light.  

And then came The Covid. The government’s management of it has been late and disastrous, the treacherous Scumbag has been exposed for the over powerful extremist he is, the johnson for the lazy, incompetent, drama queen he is, 65000 excess deaths above normal averages at the time of writing, and the demise of a ‘world beating’ Coronavirus App at huge expense which will not now even be ready for the widely predicted second wave. The ‘one law for them another for us’ trope has at last settled into the nation’s consciousness. Today the City of Leicester, it has been announced, might be put back into lockdown.

Those of us who support the rule of law and the way our unwritten constitution operates were already concerned at the liberties being taken, corruption being ignored and lying to Parliament  with impunity. We are so concerned that we believe our whole democratic system, hard won over 600 years of Parliamentary history, a beacon to the free world and emulated as a fine working exemplar in many other countries is now under threat. It is not unrealistic to be worried that a kind of dictatorship looms ahead for Britain indeed today the head of our independent Civil Service was forced out and replaced by a political appointee. This is not fanciful scare mongering. The government’s behaviour can only be explained or understood by assuming that they do not expect ever to be held to account for it either in law or at the ballot box.

Can we hope that they have laid the groundwork for and planted the seeds of their own destruction? We can hope but I am far from sure. It might just turn out that those who voted them into office might have planted the seeds of their own destruction and from those seeds a great disaster will emerge. I consider it my job, as a responsible, optimistic gardener, to continue to prune, snip, chop and saw especially at the old diseased wood and if necessary hack away until the thing is under control or dug up altogether.