Sunday, 31 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 69

We have completed the obligatory lockdown jigsaw puzzle. It had to be done, even if it is just the one. It had to be done to get the full lockdown experience and quite a challenging puzzle it turned out to be. Usually one piece proves illusive, so much so that you get nearly to the end swearing that a piece is missing. No-one wants to do a jigsaw puzzle that cannot be completed, despondency sets in as things progress and you become more and more convinced that the piece missing is not on the table. Well as ever it was there, about 10 pieces from the end, but in an absolute first for us we had one piece left over! Strange times indeed but here in The Covid life is strange.

It is for example becoming increasingly difficult to fit a little bit of writing in. WE are at least twice as busy as we were before. We have enjoyed a wonderful summer so far and June has not started yet. Apart from seeing, hugging and chatting with our babies, (their babies and their babies), nothing feels too difficult to manage and thanks to online shopping and family support we are eating well, eating better than before in fact especially since we have not been to a restaurant for nearly 10 weeks.  TV programmes, many of which at the best of times are pretty inane, have in some instances been enlivened by being filmed from homes of stars giving us an insight into their homes over their shoulders. Seriously, some of them have weird tastes in knick-knacks and some pretty odd reading material has crossed their intellect judging by the ubiquitous bookcase background now employed by many.

But the underlying feeling of vulnerability continues and it rather looks as though we the shielded are going to need to keep our wits about us. News on social media is that NHS planners have been told to gear up ICU’s for another peak mid july onwards and I heard from a funeral director that their trade body (did you get that?) has been advised to expect a flood of customers in August. This is the strangest thing, the next 3, 4, maybe 5 months it will be more dangerous to go out than it has been at any earlier time. Stranger still, today the government announced that some of the less vulnerable no longer need to shield and we are now allowed to go out! Go out and meet another person from another household even! Yes these are strange times indeed. We have been unlocked at the point of maximum danger. From now on we the shielded are on our own. We shall decide things for ourselves and ignore everything the government tells us. 

Saturday, 30 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 68

Order is restored to our hedges.

Order is the Covid theme today, or perhaps more to the point, the lack of it. An instruction to stay confined to barracks took effect on 23rd March. We, feeling a little more vulnerable than our similarly aged peers, took to the bunkers on March 18th. Our original expectation was 12 weeks, so adding on our three days of premature lockulation, we expected to be out of it in 87 days. Today then should be just over a fortnight to go before “Yippee, we’re outta here”.

In the beginning was order. We knew where we were, what we had to do, keep busy, keep active, stay positive, stay at home and not to under any circumstances covet a cuddle with anyone. Our motivation was both civic and selfish being as much afraid of catching Covid-19 ourselves as we were keen to keep down the risk to others and to avoid ourselves becoming an avoidable burden on the NHS when they might be overwhelmed and needed to save others.

We got it! But it was patently obvious that others, some others, did not see beyond their own needs. True many had inescapable pressures but just as many others did not and who  sought merely to get round the rules just to carry on feeding their hedonistic, social and addictive urges.

All that order has disappeared. We the quarantined have been forgotten, lost in a kind of limbo not knowing what comes next, still afraid of the risk, wearing out, dying out even by getting nearer and nearer to the final curtain with or without any virus danger, our lives on hold and no expectation of freedom anytime soon.

The government itself is in chaos, planning all the while, beneath the radar, to unleash an economic Brexit disaster on top of Covid, robbing us of our income from savings, destroying our pensions and in parallel planning for, probably purposely engineering a second wave which now seems to be the harsh and unsettling future and ever greater disorder.

All the time I am hearing people in similar circumstances asking “what is next for us?” , “what about those who are shielding?” “has anyone heard anything?” and the truth is we are locked down, out of the way, out of sight and out of mind, while the government unleashes the beast of Covid-19 amongst us and the devil take the hindmost!

Order has disappeared and we seem to be entering a vast unknown. We the quarantined are not being directly informed or communicated with and must therefore stay at home, and not go out. We are alert, alert to the government changing the message to be alert when the individual most responsible did not ‘stay at home’ and the message required adjustment to accommodate this fact before it got out. We will roundly curse the government for abandoning us and create our own sense of order and security.

To that end it was cathartic putting some of that order we thirst for into the hedges. It does not need to be pretty, just neat, looked after and not encroaching on the paths. Above all it needs to be straight. Right now the only thing being straight with us is ourselves and the hedges.

But our gender neutral Fu Pigs remain on duty. They guard our demesne, embodying in their concrete stubbornness our determination to enforce order and sense in our lives even if our own government has chosen to rob us of that order and replace it with confusion, risk and danger.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Days 65, 66 and 67.

I think I am a day out. That must be down to all the excitement going on in the news. Or maybe its me and I really am a day out, a state of affairs that portends a greater calamity. It is most definitely the news I think. It leaves so much to think about, never an easy process in these days of social media and information, not to mention fake news, overload. Especially so when you are trying to get beyond the detail and make sense of the bigger picture.

My ever industrious and indefatigable wife and myself made our annual assault on the hedges around our front garden starting yesterday and on into today which left in available time for diaries. After two days of sweaty, unremitting toil on a warm sunny summer’s springtime day we were left fit for nothing and the remainder of today will be reserved for the 6 restorative R’s, rest, relaxation, ruminating, riting, reading and ‘rt.

So here we are arrived here at the fourth restorative, ‘riting, to report on the third, the ruminating.

In nature evolution has secured for each adaptable species willing to take on its own niche a form of security in the lack of that adaptability in others. It works well by and large as long as each species sticks to the niche for which it is adapted. When survival depends on a species encroaching on the niche of others fights inevitably break out and winners and losers result. Disruption, sometimes violent disruption, occurs until a new order is established and species which could not adapt have become extinct.

I can see this at work in the garden from my vantage point where the first two stages, rest and relaxation are conducted, namely my heavy victorian chair by the french doors. Birds jostle for position on the highest branches overhead, hold their fort for a while and are replaced in their turn by the bigger species or the more nimble. There is constant rotation. At ground level live the scurriers, Dunnocks scratch about in the dirt below the bird feeders over their heads scared to venture to those heights and content with the debris raining down with the compliments of other avian species happy to hang precariously from a feeder.

On the feeder the daily battle is going on with the more nervous species making way for the garrulous who seem to stick to a timetable for feeding letting other species fit in their turn in a less intimidating atmosphere.

Some species are happy to feed together but this is rare. Everyone knows their place.

Up at the next strata birds flit and flash in the bushes going about their routines and yet others occupy the niche above and come to earth only on the football pitch in the playing field opposite, a long way from humans where they feed contentedly down the half way line or behind the goalposts.

How nature works has always fascinated me. Looking behind that immediate activity before the eyes there is hierarchy, tribalism, conflict, power, strength, domination and character not just a feathered, breeding, skittish, collection of wild hungry winged animals.

This interest is useful in other areas, for example many, if not most, see the Cummings controversy as an error of judgement and a sackable failing by saying one thing and doing another thereby pissing off those who have done as told and stayed at home regardless of the personal cost. Of course this is true. But understanding both the players, the niches they occupy and survival instincts kicking in on the front line of politics I see this as an opening gambit on the far right of UK politics to at least avoid a no-deal Brexit, possibly Brexit altogether, by cutting off the source of Johnson’s power, Cummings, and neutering Johnson.

Johnson is a mere figurehead and not a fit leader but his job after all was to win an election not lead the country. Cummings job is to drive a Brexit no-deal over the line not to advise Johnson but to get us out of Europe regardless of all else in spite of Johnson. Authority to sack Cummings is not in Johnson’s contract and Cummings will survive in position irrespective because all else besides exiting the EU on a no-deal basis (and in the process losing as many UK lives as it takes) is of no interest to their maniac, ideologically driven alt-right sponsers. These shadowy, secretive vultures sat on the margins of politics euphemistically called influencers are just waiting for those with bit parts to do their stuff and shuffle off.

Cummings and Johnson will be shuffled off in their good time alone unless another species after their niche can play a more adaptive game. Cummings is the opening move in a game being played in the tree tops way above our heads.

In my humble parlour, from my victorian chair I shall watch their strategy with interest. I think that more against Cummings will emerge this week or next, fires will be stoked, an enraged public will be brought to the boil, the privileged classes will be rightly vilified, one rule for them one for us, populism will be wound back and the Cummings goose will be cooked.

The game is on.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 64

In a contemplative mood today. I should not be because we have decided that our hedges will be cut today, a job which requires motivation and a not inconsiderable amount of determination there being a good number of them mostly requiring a straightness and steadiness of aim on the hedge trimmer and therefore some stamina. Stamina is not in plentiful supply at the moment.

Why the contemplative mood? I am naturally contemplative, it is actually central to my way of being but that is not generally the mood on me ahead of so much practical work and  pre-planned work at that.

Grayson Perry’s art club on the TV last night had me thinking. Art Club is the best of the lockdown programmes so far in my view. I am a fan of Grayson. Who wants perfect when you can have Grayson Perry flaunting his own failings as well as anyone and who does so with such intimate, scruffy sincerity. As an artist he stands above most all other contemporary practitioners being without, it seems to me,  false pretencion or artifice and living in his art. By which I mean that his art is a manifestation of his self. As much, for example as his cross dressing lifestyle. So many contemporary artists invent themselves after they have sold and this assumed projected self then becomes a commercial necessity. Grayson Perry will always be Grayson Perry, always an artist, unlike for example Hurst and Emin, charlatans in my view, who have long since fallen over the cliff edge of artistic oblivion and will be known in the future not so much for their art but for the ‘artist’ they invented.

Grayson’s theme this week, he has been inviting the public to send in artworks on a different theme each week, was the home. Much of the content struck deep chords with me, all of it especially relevant in lockdown. The feeling of security, belonging, safety, protection and especially how much it becomes a part of your everyday self made concrete in familiar objects, treasured possessions, reflections of taste and the focal point of your expression of love for your partner. Our house, our home is exactly where I need to be right now in the Covid. My home, together with my wife, has made the lockdown experience not just bearable but positively uplifting.

Lifting the blind, as I do first thing on mornings when I make the tea in bed, hedges really were uppermost in my mind, honestly, when this glorious, illuminated example of nature’s artistry presented me with it’s unique rendering of morning sunlight and raised in me just that feeling of joy that magnifies the value in everything that surrounds me at home. Hence the contemplative mood.

And so to the hedges.

Monday, 25 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 63

In a way I hope that the Scummings clings on. There can be no more potent symbol of how Tories look down on ordinary folk and that message needs to be carried on. Many people have heeded the call to sacrifice for the good of the nation as a whole. Tories however, as they have done for hundreds of years, make the rules then do exactly what they like whilst fining, imprisoning or just heavily policing the common people. I have a feeling of hope today that the eyes of honest, respectable, decent, caring citizens of this sick nation might at last be opening. Whether Scummings goes or stays something has changed for the good.

"But for the Lovers" a new oil painting is now done. A quiet feeling of relief and hiatus. I have come to be very fond of my lovers.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 62

A news catchup.

Hedgehog shit remains illusive. Snoring in the daytime has stopped. We believe he/she has moved. Apparently hedgehogs can move nest up to four times over a winter.

What appeared to be a female Yellowhammer took off from the very top branch of our neighbour’s tree two doors up and flew due east which means that she added herself to our bird list. Male Yellowhammer has been singing his little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese cheeriness from the Lime trees round the playing field opposite for some time but to count for the ‘Natural History Of Our Place’ it must have been recorded within our boundaries. This is, if you can imagine it, a tube disappearing off into outer space to infinity at an angle normal to the surface of Earth on a line passing through it’s centre.

Dominic Cummings has broken lockdown law but, since we now live in a dictatorship, will not lose his job. Many who have been fined for the same offence will probably seek the return of their money or at the very least remember their financial loss at the next election in 2024. That is if we ever have another election. The Lockdown is effectively over for that half of the population who care only for themselves. For the rest of us nothing will change we wait in some trepidation for the second wave which is now all but guaranteed to be even worse than the worst already anticipated.

Trump has been taking an unapproved medicine to protect himself against Covid-19 which has been proven to increase the chances of death if you have Covid-19. It is a curious habit of nature that it ensures idiots generally harm themselves more than sensible folk in what seems to me to be a natural reinforcement process to lower the workload on the mechanisms of evolution. I am just floating this out there but I have a theory that since goodness in the societal or human sense contributes to the survival of a species over the long evolutionary term so the bad guys will eventually die out. Incorrigible and perennial optimists enjoy a most comforting state of mind. It keeps hope out of intensive care and us hanging in there for better days ahead. At the time of writing there were 241 days, 15 hours and 41 minutes left for Trump in office. Not long to go.

The new garden productive area is looking productive. It needs weeding now, pretty badly, but the regimented rows of beans, spinach and shard make that a task which can be performed without mistakenly pulling the wrong thing up. I could get ‘er indoors on it but she’s busy pro tempore on the fence painting. We are severely short staffed. Credit where credit is due though, fences look great and she can do it again in the future.

I am forecast to complete the last painting in my ‘allegorical figurative’ style today entitled “But for the Lovers”. I just need to add the rainbow and a very small white square.

Friday, 22 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 61

Emma Thomson appeared on Mary Beard’s TV show yesterday. Mary Beard is certainly a queer old dear in many ways but I find her willingness to press the question that no-one wants to give a straight answer to without giving ground is intellectually quite refreshing. Emma Thomson, more well known for appearing before the camera but also a script writer, gave a little lockdown rendition, aided by her husband, of a part of her setting, as yet still in the pipeline, of the screenplay Harrow Alley originally by Walter Brown Newman. This is set in the year of the Great Plague and the whole point of her piece was to highlight parallels with The Covid which we are living through today.

It was remarked that Newman must have found his inspiration in part from Defoe’s work ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ and since I have a comprehensive library of literature from the 18th/19th century I could immediately lay my hands on a copy, did so last night, and have not been able to put it down since.

Defoe’s book is disarmingly written in a straightforward, matter of fact style, which gives it an atmosphere of realism  greatly adding to its power. It was so widely regarded in its day (it was published in 1722, The Great Plague year was 1665) that later professionals in diseases used it as a reference and it is still today a primary source of how life was conducted in London during that dreadful tragedy.

As a little diversion, my reading has been enhanced a little (as I see it) by the fact that this late 19th century edition has never been read by anyone in the past. There is always something slightly thrilling about opening an old book that has never been opened in earnest before. As I go along I am obliged to set the words free as it were by slicing the uncut edges apart with a sharp knife before I can continue.

Our Covid lockdown has recently been relaxed a little but has encouraged those whose motivation is purely self-interested and hedonistic to get round rules rather than act in the interests of society as a whole and accordingly to descend in vast numbers on holiday resorts for days out. In the process they have put local inhabitants at great risk and greatly increased both the potential and size of a second wave.

The first few pages of Defoe’s work struck me immediately when I read this:

“Had most of the people that travelled not done so, the plague had not been carried into so many country towns and houses as it was, to the great damage, and indeed to the ruin, of [an] abundance of people.”

Lives, living standards, housing, education, technology, health and health care, so many things change and improve as time goes on but human nature it seems is stubbornly unwilling to understand the importance of also improving our underlying values when it comes to caring for the rest of humanity even when that equates to saving our own species from harm.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 60

Mental Health Awareness week. 18th  - 24th May.

I awoke last Monday completely clueless as to what day of the week it was. For a few moments I was confused and I guess a little alarmed until I realised that it cannot be at all surprising when every day has become indistinguishable from any other. This clever little clock was acquired to help Dad, who suffered with Altzheimers and dementia in the last years before he died in 2015. Problem solved.

Mental health has already and quite rightly had some attention during the Covid. Not enough in my opinion. The emphasis seems to be on the effects of isolation on an otherwise healthy (mentally that is) population. Of course this matters but when it comes to mental health care we are starting from a tragically low point. Mental health care in the UK is simply appalling and to focus on just the isolation effects is to considerably underplay the impact that the Covid will have on the health of our society.

The ever present threat of loss or even death is highly stressful; bank balances are stretched; relationships are under strain with kids and partners under each others feet and all escape routes might be cut off. But above all is the uncertainty. So much uncertainty, so much lack of security, so much vulnerability is harmful to the nations health and will take many years, probably a whole generation to repair.

In addition I would say that not enough thought is being given to those who already suffer from a mental condition. There are many sufferers in our society, diagnosed and undiagnosed who are under all those same strains but lack the healthy coping mechanisms that most people have. I really feel for them. I have a mental illness (PTSD) and have suffered a few unpleasant setbacks during these last 60 days. Fortunately I have learned to recognise symptoms and deal with them but many people will break.

One of the defining features of mental illness is the amount of secrecy and dishonesty surrounding both the condition and the sufferer. My own grand father was labelled a lunatic, was regarded as such by his own family, and conveniently forgotten about once he was committed to an asylum. We can openly discuss how a person is affected by a broken limb but not how the same person is affected by depression. There is a very long way to go before mental health care is up to a decent civilised and humane standard. When it is possible to walk into a psychiatric equivalent of A&E we would at last have got somewhere.

Openness and honesty is critical and so too is empathy but above all, in my view society needs a sea change in its attitudes to what even now, in 2020, seems to be regarded as  health dust under the carpet. Society needs to cultivate a genuine desire to understand how it feels for a sufferer and engage with mental health on a non-judgemental basis.

I have certainly changed my outlook on mental health issues since I became a victim of excess stress and got to understand mental illness more. Existing services, already over stretched, will have the after effects of The Covid to deal with and society must begin to prepare for that now. Everyone has a part to play.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 59

Today I once again lingered with my coffee at my accustomed station on the woodland path perched on repurposed Eucalyptus logs. These are some views that I have enjoyed from here today.

I am also testing myself and before I explain that remark, a little diversion. Whenever I am dressing, so I mean sockless, fresh from the shower (or not so fresh from my bed) I test myself. I test myself by putting on my socks standing up, everytime. This has been going on for some years. It amounts to a personal daily affirmation that things are still good with my balance, flexibility and dexterity. Try it!

I am similarly testing myself sat in my spot but testing, in this case, the state of my mental faculties.

I recalled some time after his death that my Dad had shown signs of mental decline, a combination of Altzheimer’s and dementia, perhaps as long as 8 years before it was properly diagnosed. I should have realised what was happening. We were both of us fond of Latin binomial plant names. In both cases a genuine fondness for the way they trip off the tongue but also in both cases a tendency to show off.

Around about the age of 86 or 87 Dad began getting them wrong. Not just forgetting but actually making up his own versions. Like many sufferers of age related mental decline Dad was confabulating. It became more obvious as time went on and affected other areas. People fill in gaps in their familiar knowledge by bridging reality and their cognition of it with stuff they make up often without actually being aware of their inventions themselves. Dad became an expert, even having some fun with it at our expense and it has left us with some wonderful stories to treasure.

I now test myself on a regular basis. I have presented the second of these views above at an approximately 45 deg. angle to capture as many different plants as possible so it might surprise you to know that in this small part of our not overly large garden in front of me (there are other trees and shrubs behind me) are the following:-

I am seated under Acer grosserii var. Herzii, Hers’s acer or snakebark maple (with the fabulous bark pattern in the first image)
Quercus rubra, the Red Oak (just a little ‘un!)
Acer platenoides var. Drumondii
Quercus robur, the English or pendunculate oak
Acer palmatum var. Owasaki
Pinus sylvestris fastigiata
Cornus alternefolia argentatus
Ginko biloba
Chusque culeou ‘Chile Bamboo’
Mahonia aquilfolia
Fraxinius excelsior  (but that is next door in the background)

Today I managed to recall 8 out of these 11 but at least had the family name right in 10 even if the species or variety name escaped me. Not bad and I gave myself 8 out of 10.

So to recap, today I successfully donned a pair of socks standing up. I completed two hard Sudoku in 16 minutes and got 8 out of 10 in my name-that-plant memory test. Life is good in lockdown mostly but it started me off thinking about mental health and the effects of this lockdown. I feel quite differently now after 8 weeks, something has changed and I shall explore that tomorrow.

In the meantime here is an image of my latest horticultural project, my attempt to cultivate an herbaceous rainbow. What do you think? It lifts my spirits no end. And before anyone says the obvious, it is a genuine photograph of a real genuine rainbow there in our front garden. Marvellous!

Monday, 18 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 58

This is a favourite little spot in the garden where I sit on a few upright eucalyptus logs in the morning with a first fresh coffee of the day listening to the busy birds about their work nesting, fighting, mating, scoffing, bragging their prowess from the high perches with the loudest more raucous species shouting down the other birds. Almost you might say, an avian version of our houses of parliament, but still in operation unlike its human counterpart now silenced effectively by a virus.

We are fortunate to have this garden and are acutely aware of how lucky we are compared to flat dwellers confined to small high-rise living conditions in this lockdown but it is actually a pretty small garden. Our total plot is only 1/6 th of an acre nearly half of which is occupied by a house and smaller front garden but feels much larger thanks to the internal views and paths. There is quite a lot crammed in here too but I will say a little more about that later with a few extra views.

Covid - 19 continues to rage, ravage and divide us. The data would seem to suggest that new cases and new deaths are declining but apart from this being at a cripplingly slow rate all trust in data seems to have evaporated along with our governments credibility.

As usual emotions and feelings are opposing decisive action and there is a more or less comprehensive lack of leadership. Great leadership is the only thing which has ever resolved these polar extremes of human nature and a lack of it is allowing an atmosphere to develop full of fear, apprehension  and insecurity in a situation already frightening enough. Johnson has been found out to be the useless media creation he is and is floundering out of control. Covid - 19 is not an enemy which can be blustered,  blubbered and lied out of existence and is, it seems to me, destroying the credibility of extremist right wing governments in its path. Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro, national leaders with the top three Covid - 19 death figures in the world are all of them losing credibility and have been found wanting. They are also, interestingly enough, most likely to risk losing supporters to Covid - 19.

Meanwhile the loony left wing of UK politics appears to have been dealt with for good and will, hopefully, expire gracefully along with the urban, middle class, leftover 1970’s, lefties that gave it succour. In what could almost be the beginnings of a conspiracy theory this is also the demographic most at risk of being picked off by the virus.

The working man has a chance again, slim I know, but a glimmer of hope now exists that a moderate liberal future for our great grandchildren freely living and working in peaceful cooperation with other nations is now a dreamable dream again and one day history might record that it all began in The Covid.

In the meantime another raucous species, desperate to return, in the flesh, to the Houses of Parliament is screeching from the rooftops. A new mild mannered but incisive crow, aloof in his black gown far out-shines the flashy, star spangled starling on the opposite bough which shrinks into the bushes cowering in the absence of his rowdy mates; a newly exposed, over rated, pumped up bully boy soon perhaps to find himself stranded and flailing on the wrong side of history.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 57

I have today started to publish this lockdown diary via a blog.

Spindrift Pages, has been around for a while and was planned for a launch during this my 71st year. I am creating a largely autobiographical website, or more accurately, a personal “write up” which will by definition always be unfinished. (Until my annihilation of course!) Such content never makes good browsing material but at least I can announce any significant updates via a blog. There is in this endeavour a slow but grand working up to a finale or coda to a period I am calling my “allegorical”. I am moving on to new things in a number of areas of interest.

My dear wife Sharon and I are tired, very tired after travelling a long weary road together but we can at last look forward to a munch or two on the fragrant grass of the sunlit uplands of our lives. Together we will be just as busy probably but peaceful at least and doing some of the things we love most more often. The Covid, when it has finally fizzled out will have been quite an effective albeit undesirable full stop and has put so much more into perspective. Okay it has also made those sunlit uplands a little more difficult to enjoy thanks to social distancing but we can now drive there and in principle we are on a roll and hope to kick our futures off with a holiday in October virus willing.

This was a not insignificant step to move to blogging. I work from the cloud synced with a local copy on a tablet PC that had run out of space. All files needed to be transferred to a new additional memory which meant reworking all the defaults in every application which uses these files. Web design and management, FTP, editing, word processing, graphics systems, document handling the list is endless.

It is done. This is the first of my diary blog entries and also the latest addition to my Lockdown diary which normally lives in the autobiographical section of my “write up” which is, funnily enough, entitled 71.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 56

There will not be an entry today apart from this little rant. Technical updates are afoot. All will become clear in the foulness of time hopeful no more foul than this time tomorrow but it could be the day after.
In the meantime, stay safe. Stay alert. Me? I'm staying home until I decide its safe. I trust no-one but myself. The disadvantage of having a lying bunch of amoral incompetents in power is the complete loss of trust in what they say to ever be true. I do not want to hear that idiot Hancock say once more we "pledge" , we "promise", we "target". I think that the people of this nation want reality and they want it to have happened before their press conference and not hear yet more promises and more pledges at these press conferences. I trust only myself.
And another thing. I do not clap the NHS in a self congratulatory virtue signalling extravaganza every Thursday. I show my support for the NHS by not voting Tory, the party that voted down their pay rise in 2017, the party that has destroyed them over 12 years and is now rumoured to be planning to freeze their pay. Angry does not come anywhere near it!

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 55

Our great grand daughter Grace had her 1st birthday today and we have great grandson no. 4 on the way for an autumn arrival. Not being able to be with Grace at some time on her birthday was upsetting. Our pregnant grand daughter is not able to enjoy the business of being a mum to be and all that entails amongst her peers and family and that too is upsetting. This is day to day stuff but that is how it is. Short term we focus on the tragedy of so many deaths, many that could have been avoided if timely action had been taken and professional advice followed, but longer term the costs in human mental suffering will be immense.

My feelings are particularly exercised by the proposal to re-open schools which I am adamantly against. I shudder to think how deep and long lasting will be the mental scarring in small children attending school and forced to sit on their own, isolated but within sight of their little mates that they are yearning to play with. Anyone who knows anything about child development knows that at the nursery stage it is all about physical and relational play. Whatever a child that age ‘learns’ has always been turned into learning masquerading as play. Parents and teachers would worry about a child’s wellbeing if the child chose to be on his own and could not or would not interrelate in play so why is there any rush to force them into just that situation.

So the lie is exposed again, the government’s argument that children’s education must not be allowed to suffer is yet another lie to cover up their real intention, at the expense of our little ones’ mental health, to free up parents so that they can go to work.

There should be absolutely no misunderstanding about what government policy is and has been all along. Herd Immunity. Government was knocked back a bit by size of the deaths estimate, hence the lockdown, but never altered their basic premise. The UK must, at whatever expense in death, be first out of the starting blocks ahead of the world and will not wait for a vaccine solution.

So the government have not been planning for the first wave of this pandemic at all. Their intention was to prevent the NHS from being overloaded in the short term but longer term to plan for and actively initiate the second wave. Second wave planning has been underway for some time. Three Nightingale hospitals took in only 50 patients. Huge warehouse morgues were built and not used. PPE equipment has been stocked and not fully distributed.

The second wave has been initiated. Now all governments actions are aimed at getting people back to work. Or expressed another way, now we have all the elderly folks and care homes locked up and the NHS able to cope, and PPE supplies ready and huge hospitals and morgues ready to switch on and possibly most important have established the ‘stay alert’ message so we can blame the public, LET THE VIRUS RIP!

Government knows, and have cynically exploited, the fact that many people must go to work, must use public transport, will not assiduously follow social distancing guidelines and that employers, many of them, will pay only lip service to those rules. Government knows that people will visit each other under some excuse or other and some will sneak off from a virus infected city to spread it about in Devon and Cornwall and the Lake District from their second homes. Government knows that children will infect each other at school, that tennis players will forget that the ball will carry the virus nicely from one hand to another. Government knows without a shadow of doubt that the public if going to work will see no issue with visiting each other out of work rules or no rules. They will, and policy has been carefully calibrated to exploit this natural human urge. By these and many other blindingly obvious routes Covid 19 will spread rapidly.

And just as certainly we can also deduce that in two weeks from today, Day 69, for this dairy the death rate will have gone up not down, the NHS will be under extreme strain and the government will be blaming the public because they did not ‘stay alert’ and at the same time will be crowing about how well prepared the government was.

For the sake of all those that might suffer a family tragedy as a result I hope I am wrong and that I am back here on day 69, contrite and admitting my poor analysis. For once I will be happy to be in the wrong.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 54

Well that was exciting! Today I ventured over the boundary and protectively be-gloved took our car off to our GP’s surgery for a vitamin B12 injection.

I must have an injection of this essential vitamin every 12 weeks. That bit of one’s anatomical plumbing which magically extracts this vitamin from one’s medium rare sirloin is my case sadly long gone up in smoke up the hospitals incinerator chimney. 

It was all rather nerve racking having not driven a car for 53 days being allowed out on my own wandering around in the minefield that is Swindon right now but I was brave, and very, very alert. These virus particles at 0.08 of a micron on average are crafty little buggers. Even though it is said they are an omnipresent danger I personally found none of them, not one and I was very, very alert!

I fell to thinking on the way how short a time it takes to become used to safety and being protected and how easily it must be to become institutionalised and even downright scared of what used to be normal. Never has the cliché ‘must get out more’ made as much sense as it does now.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 53

I have a little confession to make today. Day 51 was spent a smidge worried. Just a smidge. On retiring to bed I felt decidedly unwell the previous night. Dizzy, head swimming quite a bit and the following morning even more so with a decidedly vicious and unwelcome headache and feeling nauseous enough to put off the breakfast I usually enjoy with some relish.
Naturally my first thought was along the lines of “oh well, its got me, might as well brace for it” and whilst wondering how this was possible and being aware that I needed to remove hearing aids before  inserting the thermometer on account of not wanting to unnecessarily add to my distress waited for the fever.
My little confession is that I was somewhat distressed for most of the day. None of the reports of the nature of Covid 19 symptoms are at all reassuring. Thanks to suffering from hypertension and having an immunity system knocked about by extensive surgery, peritonitis and a near death event I have every right. Distressed and unsettled I was bound to be.
The headache lasted and lasted and did not respond to painkillers. I ate but in desultory mood, out of necessity and without pleasure. After a day of doing little and feeling like doing less I headed off for an early shower concerned that I might fall in the shower but motivated by the idea that I would on any account be clean and tidy and in my jimjams when the paramedics arrive later.
I always shower tops down, ritualistic behaviour I think, shampoo the hair first, conditioner next and leave that to soak in while finishing off everything else then a final rinse. It took the first few seconds of shampooing to feel both the lump and the bruise on my head and for the penny to drop. The day before a wooden garden broom had fallen upon the unhatted bonce of yours truly from a height of some 2 metres as I unhooked a ladder from storage. I had concussion! Yeah!
I am fine today. Here I am in the shedio working on the last figurative painting I plan to do, it is time to move along, back to my normal irascible self and crack on!

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 52

Stay alert! STAY ALERT!

This is apparently to be the new slogan. “Stay at home, save the NHS, save lives” might remain the rule for some time but not the slogan. The reason for a change of slogan is obvious. Stay alert places all the onus on you the individual. When the predicted and disastrous second wave comes the government will be able to say, “It’s your fault, you didn’t stay alert!" Slogans, just like advertising jingles and the comedian’s catch phrase, are cleverly, subversively designed to get in your head and stick there, a process otherwise known as subliminal brain brainwashing.
The Johnson will make a Churchillian speech today, not on our behalf, not on Parliaments behalf, not even on the governments behalf but on his own, the self styled hero of the hour who will no doubt continue in this way with deliberately mixed messages none of the hard rules or instructions necessary for keeping order and control and will create a confused public who will interpret them inappropriately. The lockdown will have been both lifted and not lifted at the same time, a Schrödinger's lockdown, but importantly it will a) not be the government’s fault but ours for not “staying alert” and b) will allow this duplicitous regime and its media created messianic leader to continue a policy of herd immunity; kill off the old folks; not give a shit because the economy comes first; publicly espouse the opposite.

But slogans can be two edged swords. Being very keen, assiduous even, on recycling I can envisage todays slogans being recycled. For example, this exhortation to Tory voters at the next election:-


BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 51

GCSE 2042


The Covid, 2019 to 2024. 

Using contemporary sources answer the following questions:-

1) Why did the second wave cause many times more deaths than the first?

2) Why did English people seek to evade the rules rather than obey them?

3) Why did so few people alive on VE Day 1945 survive for very long after VE Day 2020?

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 50

Today is VE Day and we are celebrating the parts played by our parents in bringing about Peace in Europe. I will not indulge in jingoistic flag waving of the red, white and blue variety. Britain did not do this on her own. We were aided by many nations and peoples particularly from India, africa, Poland and America and the various resistance movements underground in all Nazi occupied territories. Indeed without them we would have been overwhelmed all to easily. Between them they defeated particularly brutal, nationalist and undemocratic regimes and gave my generation the Europe they enjoyed for the whole of their formative lives and subsequent careers.

Percy Bishop, my wife’s father, was sent to work in the mines and kept the factories powered, the lights on and literally the home fires burning. My father Sam helped at the liberation of the Belsen death camp and worked behind enemy lines destroying supply routes and capturing retreating enemy soldiers. Ellie joined the land army and for three years worked the fields of Essex to feed the nation.

It is impossible to celebrate my parents contribution without at the same time regretting that the Europe they fought for and that I flourished in has of late been sacrificed on the alter of that same nationalistic populism that got the world into so much trouble the last time.

It is equally impossible not to be irked by the hypocrisy of a Prime Minister who has not put protection of care homes at an early stage in his Coronavirus strategy when anyone left who was around when world war 2 played out is very likely to be in one of them!

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 49

Looking for some information amongst a litter of documents, bags, files, envelopes that constitute my as yet unorganised family archive the photograph shown here today surfaced. Immediately my convoluted thinking processes headed straight for connections as they usually do. So much is linked in so many ways close and distant and these connections can often be surprising to say the least.

This photo is of my maternal grandfather William Wicks. I fell to thinking about the differences between a pandemic then and the pandemic we have now and almost as a case in point I heard my neighbours car draw away as he went off to work. My neighbour is an industrial machine service engineer. He is out there ensuring that meat, vegetables and many other essential products continue to be packed by their employer’s workforce, their robot workforce. A robotic, Covid 19 immune workforce is busy keeping society provided with hygienically packed food. Not all food of course but just compare this with 1919/1920 when almost no food was sold prepacked, much of it being bought through local markets then weighed out and served by hand at a shop counter face to face.

The so-called Spanish Flu pandemic by the way was not Spanish at all, the name stuck and government of the day found this convenient rather than admit to the public that the disease was being brought back by returning soldiers from the war front. An estimated 3 to 5 million lost their lives in the first peak and ten times this number in a second wave because there were few restrictions and those that were imposed were relaxed too early. People like myself and my wife now at age 71 plus are watching with some trepidation to see if the economy will be valued more than our lives. We are at significantly greater risk from a second wave than we have been so far.

There are rumblings that schools might be re-opened soon. It would be the height of callous, amoral indifference to pack kids off to school to collect a sample of the virus from their mates and bring it home to infect granny and granddad with it. Anyone who thinks you can socially isolate kids and teenagers at school is lacking in even the basics of intelligence let alone an understanding of children.

William Wicks in the photo was a victim of the Spanish Flu. He went on to develop Encephalitis lethargica, a known condition then but not until the 1980’s was it linked to Spanish Flu survivors. He became disturbed, prone to narcoleptic episodes, developed violent behaviours and made several suicide attempts. On the last attempt (he tried to throw himself into the Hackney Cut on the Lea Navigation dressed only in his nightshirt) he was confined to Banstead Hospital one of the three great London asylums. He remained there more or less until he died there in 1959. This rare family photograph was taken in the grounds of Banstead Hospital, he was trusted enough to maintain the grounds and helped regular staff in other ways.

That is perhaps where the greatest and perhaps most important difference in pandemics then and now lies. We must be thankful that science today is far better equipped to understand and treat what, if any, after effects might follow if someone contracts and recovers from Covid 19 today.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 48

Backgrounds of finely loaded bookcases seems to be de rigour for talking heads on our tellyboxes and has raised some dispute as to whether or not the books contained therein say much regarding the character of the individual doing the talking. The caption for today’s image, myself adorning our library steps, is therefore “Bookcase, call that a bookcase! LOL!”. Work me out if you can!

I am surprised at how entertaining some of the ‘lockdown’ TV programs have turned out. The Mash Report, HIGNIFY, Grayson Perry’s Art Club, Matt Lucas, Gardener’s World, seem to me to have not only made successful television within the restrictions but have greatly enhanced our sense of community and shared troubles. One that struck me as particularly poignant, even uplifting, was Janina Ramirez’ issue of ‘Museums in Quarantine’. They have all been good but hers had an extra resonance for me. Her voiced over film from inside a shuttered and silent British Museum and concentrating on her favourite pieces somehow managed to counter balance the crisis which locked it’s doors against a considerable weight of history comfortingly turning these times into a mere event in the passing of centuries.

There is good news and bad news. Bad news is the complete absence of hedgehog poo! In other bad news I am out and about at 5:50 am scouring the garden for them. The good news is that this ridiculously uncivilised time of day turns out to be the best time to book on online grocery deliveries from our local superstore and I have one. Our chief warder will be pleased. Not news as such but Day 50 coming up is a significant day not just because it is VE day but for another reason which I hope can be revealed later.

It is particularly irritating to find that at least one newspaper has headlined 8th May as Victory over Europe day! A particularly vicious, and I would say, deliberately provocative piece of blatant racism specifically intended to keep anti-european sentiment on the boil. It is my view that the parties and individuals to whom this attitude appeals are in for an unwelcome reversal of their fortunes. In my life time? I believe so, I hope and believe that I will be restored to my European Citizenship and my European heritage and be allowed to feel at home again where I belong.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 47

Please do what you can to get one of these in your garden. You will not be disappointed. Today’s image is the archway in the structure that divides across our garden. This structure, It is neither fence nor trellis, acts as a support for Clematis montana ‘Mayleen’. Mayleen is as fragrant and as vibrant as her name suggests and is vigorous to boot! She grows a total length of 20 metres, has been there for many years and has even been fully removed and laid across the grass while the ‘structure’ was repaired and repainted. Twice! As worthy as she is, Mayleen is not the plant I have chosen to extol today. That honour goes to the plant on the left of the archway. Actinidium kolomitka or ornamental kiwi is not an easy plant to grow in our climate being only marginally hardy. Actinidium kolomitka can suffer badly from late frosts and look a bit tatty as a result but when the weather and conditions suit it this is the truly splendid result. Light green leaves are followed by white tips and pink flushes giving this spectacular tricolor effect. This one is trained and tied to self support and has taken 12 years at least to get like this. It is best grown on soil that is not too wet but does not dry out and against a warm west facing brick wall.

A slight negative is that it exudes something which attracts cats. It sends them wild. They are intoxicated by it, literally and have been known to lie beneath it flat out on their backs dreamily looking up at the clouds and to all intents and purposes under the influence.

In other news we have a hedgehog. He or she has not been seen as yet but underneath our bamboo, next to an old decayed stump is a large pile of leaf litter which I did not make and which snores gently during the day time. I am excited by this. Becky, our daughter rescued one that had obviously been used for paintball practice and on account of the colourful splodge still adorning his bristles we named him Bluto as we set him free in our garden. That was three years ago and he/she has not been seen since.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 46

I have very little to offer today. I have not wasted it. Far from it. I have written my final entry for day XXX. In a sense an act of defiance. I have, like everyone else right now, absolutely no idea what number XXX will be but I felt I had enough to know what my concluding entry will look like. Hopefully you will see that published one day. On day XXX in fact.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 45

Air quality has noticeably improved. It struck me today with some force that it reminded me of how it felt when I was a youngster.

“It will be alright in the end” was my father’s favourite saying in response to any of life’s downturns. “It” was anything and everything no matter how insignificant or how momentous. “End” was never quantified or quantifiable being a nebulous state of affairs in some distant future time when everything was indeed “alright”. This is an unassailable, tautological kind of optimism to be recommended and accounted for his indomitable, positive outlook in spite of suffering the mental scars acquired from his part in the liberation of Belsen. Dad’s optimism rewarded him with a never ending supply of futures which were “alright” which is why even at the age of 94 and already quite unwell in many ways, including dementia, he spent his winter months planning next years garden projects and sending off his plant and seed orders.

His own father collapsed with heart failure (thanks to the Kaiser’s mustard gas) whilst working on his allotment and Dad took his father’s allotment on at the age of 11 to keep vegetables on the family table. Naturally feeding his new family in the 1950’s necessitated taking on another allotment which was not far from our house on the other side of the river Ray at the bottom of Westcott  recreation ground. We would go down there together, always Saturday or Sunday afternoons, Dad trundling his homemade wheelbarrow and tools the length of the Wootten Bassett Road to the Running Horse pub, which is quite some distance, and me, knee high to a frog hopper, trotting beside him trying to keep up. Later we would trundle back again with the results of his labours; beans, cabbages, peas and enormous sticks of rhubarb.

His plot ran north-south on an angle in the corner by the river and backed directly onto the steel fence which enclosed the railway embankment. The river always flowed then, its banks lined with trees, cow parsley and tall grasses. Brambles from the embankment encroached from the back of the allotment and crept around a tiny shed tucked up against the steel fence where he stored the essentials, canes and dibbers, string lines, smaller hand tools, watering cans, seeds, plant labels and a primus stove to brew his tea.

Today I planted a row of spinach and erected my climbing-bean frame in the manner I had learnt  more than 60 years ago, slowly, deliberately, tying tight each lashing so as not to come loose in the wind or fall apart under a weight of beans and securing a diagonal cane each side for rigidity just as taught. For those two hours I was a youngster of 8 years old again. I had struggled back from the river bank with a watering can too full to carry and sat a while on the little seat by the loganberries up against the shed now redolent of bonfire smoke, earth, potatoes and dried onions. The bonfire smoldered in front of me consuming couch grass clods which so plagued the area and the thinnest wisps of smoke rose up untroubled by any breeze. I breathed in the fresh, clean air mixed with the aromas of bonfire, old cabbage, shed and river and drank of the kindness, warmth and nourishment that characterised British weather back then.

My Dad was digging his bean trench and whistling.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 44

“Let me tell you how I love you, shall I count the ways …” , famous words which, as those of an in depth interest in literature will know that Elizabeth Barret Browning, that sickly Victorian child destined to be the wife of England’s 19th century version of Shakespeare, were not as it happens, alluding to her beloved Bob but a bacon sandwich. I recalled this curious piece of information whilst indulging in my gluten free version of this great, quintessentially Wiltshire, culinary delicacy and asking myself how I get my R value down to under 1.0. Those who study these things will be aware that if you self isolate, I.e. keep farther than 7 days away from bacon sandwiches R will eventually be driven down. R’s above 1.0 will exponentially increase your weight whilst R’s below 1.0 will cause it to gradually decrease which is obviously the desirable end result. Now isolation from bacon sandwiches is a painful and difficult thing especially for one’s mental well being but I have, in spite of the risks, decided to keep my distance and in future isolate for 7 days rather than the current 2.

Bacon sandwiches to start with and a foot masseuse on hand whilst the brain was given a work over on a few sudoku puzzles has started the day off on a relaxed and luxurious footing. I think that must be the way forward today culminating with tonight’s niggle match replay of cribbage with our grandkids. No doubt some good, old fashioned, sedentary time wasted will prove beneficial but I do not anticipate my R’s getting any smaller as a result.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 43

Week 6 arrives. Data suggests that we are now past the peak of this virus in terms of cases and deaths, unfortunately one man’s data is another man’s rough approximation and yet another’s down right fabrication. However it may be we are hopeful and seem to be settling into a new normal.

I love my dear wife as much as I did when we married 50 years ago (soon to be 51) and that, after we have been been cooped up together for 6 whole weeks without any other human contact, is a minor miracle. Relationships everywhere are under great strain now and we must spare a thought for those struggling to hold it together. Hang on in there is my advice! The disease is your enemy so look after your partners first and foremost, anything and everything else can be repaired with time, love and compassion.

We have been out for our constitutional as permitted under the rules of engagement applicable to this invisible enemy and have discovered more things that were not there before this crisis but which have, for our 43 years at this address, always been there nonetheless. Letter posting was the primary purpose but as you can see from the images we bumped into a tranquil green space with a fragment of quite fragrant woodland, redolent with an earthy aftertaste from today’s light rain. An archetypal, picturesque babbling brook and rustic bridge completed the scene and oxygen everywhere, abounding. This is, I would guess, 1000 metres from our front door!

Unfortunately we did not quite manage to arrive back at home without rain returning with some force.

The government seem to have adopted a much improved tone in their daily briefing. As usual it is all pretty stage managed and contrived so as to avoid the difficult questions but it did at least sound authoritative regarding data and the interpretation of that data. The data itself I am not so sure about. I am not seeing any rush to end lockdown with impunity and that was my biggest concern. I suspect that the more freedom that is given to the under 70’s to run around infecting each other the longer the over 70’s and the more vulnerable will be locked down.

The amount of virtue signalling and self-congratulatory moral indignation that is going on is becoming tedious I am especially unhappy that the government seems to be successfully hijacking public support for the NHS to their advantage. This is after all the party that have underfunded and run down our NHS for 11 years. The idea that Tory voters are outside clapping, shouting and making a noise when they have voted for a government that is ideologically committed to destroying the NHS does not sit comfortably with me. They have also almost to a man voted to alienate a good part of our clinical NHS staff and send them, unwelcome, back to their homes in Europe.

Similarly B&Q opened this week and attracted more than its fair share of criticism. Especially misinformed criticism since it had not been required to close in the first place and competitors had continued to operate. This criticism is entirely misplaced and unwarranted but no doubt gave those who mostly have their heads up in an ideological mist and like to take a superior view an opportunity to wave their red flags of moral indignation, give away their lack of understanding of working people and to exercise their desire to inculcate anachronistic and discredited values on people they in reality look down on. They continue to demonstrate their ideological fixations and hatred of job creators, particularly successful ones. It is no wonder at all that the working man has taken his vote elsewhere.

Thinking about this on our walk out drove me to name the modest little hill in my last image “The Moral High Ground”. It was raised from spoil created by the construction of the nearby housing estate. Spoil, refuse and building rubble covered in topsoil and grass and not so much as the meanest, tiniest-minded bigot on top to spoil it.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 42

Today’s image was captured locally to us. We have walked out for a 5000 step step-about down to the bottom of our road and back home via a modern industrial estate reached via this footpath from Green Road. It is quite incredible how much more we now both notice and value what is about us. Even the industrial estate which felt largely adrift like a Marie Celeste had a quiet, attractive, natural ambience about it which refreshed our hearts as much as the cool evening drizzle refreshed our faces.

I have an analogy for you. We could all live very healthily if we ate porridge at every breakfast, baked beans on toast for lunch and nothing else for months on end. Not the best of diets but good enough to survive on. I love both, in fact the thought of that good old favourite of farty bum beans (a whole tin by the way) on a couple or three of well buttered slices of holy ghost is making me feel a tad peckish already and it’s not long since I had the porridge! I digress. My point is that what we can survive on can become wearisome simply because of its monotony and I am beginning to feel that way. We are quite happy, looked after, supported by wonderful family and neighbours and safe but life is getting a bit monotonous and although this is not getting either of us down as yet we are both finding that the effort to maintain our equilibrium is getting very tiring. Being strong wears you out. I have started to lust after a potter around an antique shop. I need to deal with that but its hard.

Today is the last day of the sixth week. I think we anticipated 12 weeks and so this is the halfway point. Well maybe not. All the signs are that going in to this crisis was like falling over a cliff edge and now we seem to be only fitfully and tentatively crawling our way out. In any case our PM has had his baby today so no doubt he will immediately organise for himself, by executive fiat, a 12 months paternity leave and we will not have the benefit of his presence in our affairs for some time.  A similar act of convenience, if you will, to the government arbitrarily downgrading Covid’s official classification so as to avoid the consequences of litigation when they get sued for not providing PPE at the right standard. I cannot understand why this has not escalated into the national scandal it definitely is. We are becoming scandal punch-drunk and each successive scandal no longer has the impact it should. The Care Home tragedy is more than a scandal it is surely criminal neglect and we shall see what follows when the government, as they have promised in their daily briefings, begin to include Care Home deaths in the figures. It is going to be grim. We already have the worst death rate per thousand of population in the world. People seem to be losing sight of the fact that every death is the death of an individual, an individual suffering, frightened, in pain, without family near by, losing everything, knowing that whatever their condition this should not have been the way for them, alone or at most with a caring nurse’s cold gloved hand to hold. I literally shudder and tremble at the horror of it and for the first time in my life I know that I am experiencing raw anger, anger at those who have abandoned elderly, vulnerable people as worthless and expendable. How did my country get so low?

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 41

Nothing. Working in the studio today because rain. Working on the coda to my Symphony No. 4, “The Allegorical”.

I cooked last night, I often do. My wife does most of the cooking in our household largely because she always has, is a damned good cook and there is generally a greater chance of it being edible if she cooks it. When your victuals are at stake the laws of probability are king. Today however I cooked and that was because for a few weeks now an unused and hot looking bottle of harissa paste kept saying to me every time I investigated the snack cupboard “Cook with me, cook with me, you know you want to!” and I did want to, I did, so here I present my sausage and chicken tray bake with a garnish of herb and garlic chickpeas.

I am not watching any news tonight. It seems that the number of deaths from Covid - 19 are at last reducing but the paucity of human care exhibited by this government is just appalling and I need a break. Fortunately the press or some parts of it have woken up to the idea that they might have been hoodwinked into thinking that Tories can be nice people and to be governed by them is okay. How did we become a country that is prepared to sacrifice our grandparents in care homes to benefit the economy? How do you justify sending kids to school to collect a sample of Covid for them to take home and kill their grannies with? What kind of government has a major dry run for a pandemic (operation Cygnus 2016), finds major shortcomings so knows what to do and does nothing?  What kind of government hails their success in reducing shoplifting at a time when all the shops are in lockdown? What kind of government puts advisers on scientific panels then exploits that knowledge by handing out contracts to their mates? What kind of government needs to hide from scrutiny and exclude some parts of the press for asking awkward questions?

This is not government or leadership as I have known it for all my 71 years, Labour, Conservative or Coalition. It is a travesty and it will hopefully backfire on those responsible. In the meantime however, the deaths are piling up especially in care homes and it is the most vulnerable who will needlessly suffer while those in office of whatever party who hold themselves above the general throng play with their sterile ideologies.

To quote Frankie Boyle “You have got to feel for Tory voters who thought they were only fucking up lives for other people”.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 40

I have trawled social media today for clues but rumours regarding the whereabouts of Kim Jong-un cannot be verified. There are unsubstantiated reports that relatively straightforward heart surgery went wrong because his doctor’s hands were shaking and he has lapsed into a vegetative state. I probably shouldn’t repeat this joke which is in very bad taste but a contact on twitter suggested that we will now need to call him Kim Chi!

In the personality battle between Kim and Trump it is now evident that Trump has managed to enter a vegetative state first. A state which is on going and unusual since the poor afflicted man remains on his feet and apparently responding to ridicule. We wish them both well. I am not at all sure that the world will welcome a takeover in North Korea by Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong whose official position is First Deputy Director of the  Propaganda and Agitation Department. I kid you not!

There are times in our lives when matters seem to be contriving together to mean more than they would as individual concerns or events. This is just such a time for me. I am coming to the end of my latest oil painted work and as always with my paintings progress has been slow and intermittent over a very long time. But this is both the end of a painting and in this case the end of painting in a figurative style. I made that decision last year. I cannot stand for long periods any more and my eyes are simply not up to it. I am devoting what imaginative inclinations left to me on purely abstract work which is more amenable to my physical condition. This is actually a step which excites me greatly. Some months back I formulated the order in which the last components of the painting in progress would be approached and the very last part of the work would be a rainbow in the shape of a question mark.

I seems fitting that this lockdown has gifted me the time, concentration and conditions to complete the job and its most poignant symbol has become the same rainbow motif which will be the last component of my last figurative work.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 39

Yesterday started with an ad hoc link off to “Its a lonesome old town”, a Keith Jarret tune from his Munich concert in 2016. I love this tune for the quirky mood changes buried in its timing, chord and key changes but it is as good as its title in an Edward Hopperesque kind of way and for that reason induces a melancholic mood itself. That is often a trigger for me to spend time in that contemplative, emotionally charged, reflective frame of mind that sets me off on new ideas and creative paths, or as I call it work.

‘Lonesome’ must be a common enough feeling in this lockdown and it is not to be underestimated how common it is and how painful. Life for many is a series of distractions rather than serious endeavour. Parties, bars, clubs, meetings, outings, holidays, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports, shopping trips, travel, the list is endless, and these often have a hedonistic element that can be just as addictive as their social content. Being cut off from all this ‘fun’ for a long period of time is not unlike solitary confinement and the feeling of deprivation must be immense.

Of course towns can seem lonesome in the sense that they are socially inactive because deprived or overly industrial or economically run down but only a human being can feel lonesome. Those who survive this enforced isolation the best will be those who are either not at all or are at least less dependent on social stimuli, have greater self-sufficiency and cope better on their own. Speaking for myself, being an introvert has never been more welcome.

Apart from thinking that Jarrett is the best pianist to have emerged after Bill Evans he resonates for another reason. He was crippled by ME/CFS at the peak of his career and it was only with the support and encouragement of his wife that he returned to playing again and released an album as a tribute to her ‘The Melody In the Night With You’. I have cared for someone close to me with that same illness and I have also survived a serious long term illness myself with the support of my wife.

I disappeared off to the studio in the best possible frame of mind to work on my latest endeavour and played Keith Jarret’s album. For me this album filters out all the best emotions from difficult memories and lifts me up. Musically it is nothing out of the ordinary but the love that pours out of it is palpable in a very down to earth and human way and that makes it remarkable.

And that is where I have been for two days now, apart from our card game last night, in the studio, calm and reflective, working on a painting, happy and feeling the love. I am a very lucky individual indeed.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 38

Paige and Jonny came to call. On my tab. Yet again an evening's entertainment playing cribbage just flew by with loads of chat, banter and hilarity. We have our online version of cribbage off pat now and managed 2 whole games in 2 and a half hours. We lost both games damn it. Technically a best of three but only until next time. For the time being we remain one game behind. I will catch up on earlier events tomorrow. Sleepy tired now. Nite nite.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 37

Another first for the wildlife list today. Our first Orange Tip butterfly ever. Of course, and as usual, my phone was nowhere handy for a photograph but I know it happened and that is enough. Perhaps it is the sword of Damacles overhead but I am not at all as bothered about missing that opportunity to photograph another resident of our home as I would be normally. I count them all as residents even if they only pop in once a year for a few months. There is now quite a collection and it is a revelation how much natural history also makes your own humble patch its home. My rule is simple it must have passed or walked on my airspace, my airspace being defined as a vertical tube the size and position of our boundary extending out radially to infinity on a line normal to the surface of my home planet, Earth.

I found myself missing live music today along with one of my favourite places to eat anywhere. The Indian Streatery in Birmingham is second to none for simple but wholesome, authentic food and is not a chain but a one-off family run enterprise. Inside the restaurant there is a trading cart typical of those you find on the streets in Indian cities and they serve their food from there in the same manner as a street food stall in cardboard tubs with a wooden spoon. You can eat in or walkout. When the trays run out, Mum emerges from the kitchen with a fresh batch of Chicken Hotpot, Chickpea Chat or whatever has run out which regularly happens with lunch time queues stretching out of the shop. I am not an expert in Indian cooking but to me it is homely, inexpensive, no frills and genuine, perfectly counter balancing the exquisite, refined, exciting and precise ensemble which comes courtesy of the City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra up the road in Symphony hall about an hour later. Eight concerts a year is the usual programme, two have been attended, three have now been cancelled and there is very little expectation that the remaining three will go ahead. I go with my brother who I rarely see otherwise and missing these concerts, the food and my brother for our day out together is a very big deal indeed.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 36

I believe I must be getting a bit slack and things are slipping somewhat. This morning I found myself in a debate with myself about why I should bother to shave myself since I am not required by anyone else other than my wife to be presentable. I must attend to this unwarranted relapse in my personal care regime.

I have never needed to shave much as it happens. Nothing much grows there. The MK1 marker gene seems to have expressed its gingery and magnificent curliness more assertively elsewhere which never gets even a glimpse of a razor blade. On the chin, pickings are sparse. My dear father, never one to be direct and rarely subtle if believed that obtuse could be deployed more effectively, exclaimed once, on the occasion at age 17 when I announced my springtime intention to add ‘bearded’ to my hippy credentials, (along with yellow suede shoes, tartan trousers and a Bob Dylan style corduroy cap) “if you tried to grow a beard by Christmas there would be more hairs on the roast pork!”

A memory which has interesting social history aspects to it. In those days we could be sure that the meat at our festive board was probably alive and grubbing around in it’s filthy sty snuffling for carrot peelings amongst bedding and it’s own excrement not far from where we lived on the edge of town just a few days before. It would have been acquired as a lump wrapped in white paper from our butcher Mr. Nichols completely unshaven. It was not at all uncommon to get a piece of crackling with both hairs and a nipple! Those were the days.

In other updates for today, Alexa had a funny turn. I asked her where my stuff was and with no response, flashing lights or anything, I said to my wife “Alexa has the virus and is dead I think” to which my ever ready with a witty repost bosom buddy replied “coughed it 19 then”.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 35

It is the end of week 5. Today’s date is 20th May 2020. Today I managed to fit in some sun-bathing, had an hour in the wholesome, vitamin D stimulating, rays that emanate from from our star along with many other significantly dangerous electro-magnetic forms of radiation all of them more deadly than the from 5G radio masts and not one of them making Covid-19 more likely or more serious. I do wonder at both the gullibility of people and their ignorance but perhaps more at their lazy willingness to be so susceptible to mendacious charlatans. I wonder that but I am also reminded that mendacious politicians are elected to responsible office presumably by the same people.

I record this image today deliberately, it is of such importance. No diary of these times should miss out today’s big event on the financial markets and yet for most people it will be a small piece of the history of these times that rush on by without notice. The spot price of oil for June deliveries went down to -$40 per barrel. Minus is a big deal. This means that traders were giving buyers $40 dollars a barrel to take away oil they could not get shot of any other way. It is the first time ever that the price has gone negative. The chart shows the point at which the price had recovered to more or less zero $. Free oil! Some of this is technical. Today was the day when contract completions fell due but there is nowhere left in the world to store the stuff so if you are forced to sell it and cannot find a buyer your only option is to give some free dollars with every barrel, $40 in this case, find a buyer to take the risk of having actual barrels on his hands and take the loss. A corollary of this state of affairs is that the shale oil industry which produces a barrel for costs in excess of $30 will effectively shut down, fracking is at an end, and Donald Trumps flagship policy of US self sufficiency in oil is in tatters. The price of oil will stay down, in my view for more than another 12 months at least. June contracts are being sold for around $12 as I write. It is a seismic change. The Russian economy depends on oil and prefers at least $70 a barrel, Saudi Arabia is much the same. The economic effects will be profound.

In other news today, the Blue Tits abandoned their nesting attempts, a Garden Warbler was spotted in the bushes, Kim Jong Un is rumoured to be gravely ill, the government lied again, my latest painting is coming along nicely and I hope to exhibit the other side of my body to lap up some rays tomorrow just as you do when you are holiday.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 34

The “Guess my cup size” competition announced on day 17 has now closed. I measure 45 inches, old money around the pointy things which is where these measurements are usually taken I think. My dear lady wife has brought to bear on the matter her considerable experience in bosoms of all shapes and sizes (she has after all been cultivating many varieties herself over the years) and has determined in her expert capacity that I am a B cup. Actually she said that I look very much like a flat chested fat bird at the best of times which was a bit harsh. Nevertheless she is the expert. So with no entry on the money at 45B there are no winners. There were however two very sweet compliments, sent by private message as required, both without any trace of rudery or profanity, and these will be accepted as runners up. They will both receive a limerick based on their name in the foulness of time via private message which they may publish at their leisure if they so choose.

We have had a few very peaceful days and very welcome they were. I think like many people we went straight into lockdown aiming to survive the experience and to make the best of it with perhaps a little flavour of fatalism and a tinge of not-giving-a-shit-we’re-up-for-it-just-watch-this. As a result we have worked with a great deal more vigour and determination than was strictly necessary. To an extent we might have fizzled out early (my back certainly says so) but I think we learnt a valuable lesson. As a result there has been much more coffee and cake in the sunshine and a great deal less urgency for the last few days. Consequently I am reliably informed by our resident ladies upholstery professional that I might even be a 47B by now. Watch this space.

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 33

Rain. Quite gentle and refreshing rain. This time of year our garden is always at it’s best. We have very difficult soil, calcareous, gritty, infertile and unforgiving. We have nourished it as best we can with our own compost and leafmold for many years but this is more an act of horticultural good faith  than realism with any practical long term expectations on our part. That is why my gardening style is essentially naturalistic and slow. The only force that can conquer a garden like ours is the force of nature and over many years of trying things out on a what-lives-stays basis mother nature has rewarded us with a calm and peaceful place to enjoy but likes to be left alone with only sympathetic and respectful tinkering and assistance. Other than in pots our garden cannot make a floriferous summer display but in spring, especially in a gentle drizzle with a greyish sky for a background, it comes into its own. It will not last. Spring can be short and unforgiving, Hot and dry conditions  can  at any time even overnight. Indeed this year was forecast to be the driest on record. I wonder if coronavirus is our planet’s way of forcing a break for itself from the pain that humans engender by their greedy and wasteful habits.  Our garden today in these most perfect of spring conditions looked like this.

I wonder if any lessons will be learnt. I wonder too if the idiot climate deniers who are preventing repairs and remedial changes to our badly broken ecosystem are going to change their tunes and accept the scientific facts. There is, as many scientists, organisations and countries have now reported, a direct and massive correlation between pollution levels, the lockdown of industries and  the grounding of transport systems due to the virus. The relationship between human activity and climate change cannot be denied any longer.

I might be clutching at straws. Bigotry, ignorance and superstitious or self-interested denial is a powerful and destructive evil in the world but as I revel in the spring rain on our little piece of the Earth I cannot but hope that the virus has helped in part to defeat them and that there might be, because of it, a better world for our great grandchildren than there might otherwise have been.