Monday, 27 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary, Conclusion

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 126

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

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

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

What has happened? Well this for a start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 125

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our handwriting is almost identical.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 124

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 123

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

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

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

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

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

You can have too much excitement!

Sunday, 19 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 122

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 121

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

There were 40 new deaths.

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

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

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

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

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

The Covid has dealt me that awful injury.

Friday, 17 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 120 (119)

So there they hung, shrivelled up, scrotally as it were, from the Euonymus beside our patio, glaring back defiantly at me as I opened the French door blinds this morning.

Yesterday was a busy day, hence the missing entry in this journal. To return to the day before, day 119 in the year 1AC (Anno Covidii), the dreaded wavering mentioned earlier took a more literal turn when the head painter fell over backwards, bounced on her ribs and started swearing at the ground in a manner worthy of the flag draped, drunken, nationalist thugs we see too often mouthing off on the TV. In this case though, as always with this well brought up lady, articulated in a forceful but demur tone and pronounced with precision.

Badly shaken and feeling bruised the aforementioned tradeswoman, with help from some strong painkillers spent the rest of the day and much of the following morning half asleep and uncomfortable but resting up. Fortunately she was not up the ladders wavering but down on the ground and thus, luckily, a visit to the hospital did not seem to be necessary but the poor dear was very shaken. So shaken in fact that I could not avoid volunteering to prepare all the vegetables for an evening social dinner planned at ours.

Instead of writing yesterday I sat quietly in the garden and spent a contemplative few hours unhurriedly preparing dinner to a magnificent work of timeless art that is Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, my only desert island choice if I needed to pick just one to be marooned with.

As the day progressed our injured chief painter morphed into the head cook, magically conjured up the best chicken, bacon and leak pie anyone had ever tasted and our evening celebration dinner for Jonny’s birthday, went ahead as planned. Jonny is the latest edition to our extended family and very welcome he is too.

Here we are, wavering in respect of social distancing rules somewhat in evidence, but under the prescribed number. We have, between the six of us, one pregnant, one diabetic, one near diabetic, two with compromised immunity systems, two over 70’s but nothing to stop us enjoying each other’s company.

Raucous laughter, good food and fine people. Simple pleasures in a supportive, unselfish, close and open hearted family.

And just for those few precious hours it was virus? What virus?

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 118

Wavering is definitely taking hold. In the meantime improvement work continues on the Warwick estate as the new painter in chief gets to work on the front gate and fence.

Painting is a calm, meditative occupation and always brings other rewards aside from how good it looks at the finish and this is indeed a great job, well done Mrs. W!

I guess dealing with The Covid is a bit like climbing up a ladder. On the lower rungs there is little feeling of any danger but the higher up you are there more wobbly it gets until eventually you run out of courage all together but still cling on to get the job done. The leg muscles being over tensed start to ache, the feet begin to hurt and trembling can set in as you tire. The work however is somehow finished, a rest, a little diversion a change of height, whatever it takes, the job gets done.

We reached the trembling stage I think maybe three weeks ago and the wavering has commenced. Half a dozen family members descended on our garden for father’s day and since then there have been incursions through the French doors for Nan’s dinners in the old familiar manner whilst we have sat at the regulation distance away on a small table to ourselves. On at least three occasions our inside loo has been called into service and dinner invitations are increasing.

The subtlest influences undermining any determination to remain safe are on the one hand the behaviour of others regularly in the news and on the other the complete absence of either an adequate policing policy or clear and effective government advice. There is widespread public disregard and a government whose own members flagrantly flout its own rules.

We continue to monitor the level of risk as we see it, we have purchased our masks and I am sure that the day is quite near when we will venture out.

Be careful up there Mrs. W. The ladder is wobbling.

Monday, 13 July 2020

BACK IN THE COVID - The Lockdown Diary Day 117

The old war wound is now more or less under control apart from a lack of motivation but the healing balm of better sleep, or I should say, the improvements that that brings about, were best consolidated by a few days holding back the grey matter which is, thankfully, still straining at the leash to go out walkies. I won the day and took a few days off.

There have been other battles raging out there in the garden however. For starters I am not winning with the green veggies, the gastropods are, and the small greenhouse has become the favoured domicile of small brown ants and contains a nest of the pesky critters, a nest which is approximately 1200mm long by  400mm wide. I do not have the upper hand with those either.

These are the ants. The same yellow ants that occasionally infest lawns and create piles of unsightly fine earth debris.

I am now trying out bio controls. For slugs and snails that means parasitic worms (nematodes) which arrive in a kind of suspended animation and having the appearance of fluffy yeast which is first dissolved into a worm slurry and then diluted before being sprayed onto the surrounding soil. These clever little microscopic beasts parasitise their slimy prey which hurry off and die below soil level. In theory, while spraying it all over the place I started to wonder if I hadn’t been conned. If they die underground how am I to know that my investment has yielded a result?

There is only one bio control available for ants, also a nematode that goes by the scientific name Steinernema feltiae. Ants are not parasitised by these worms but they will not, apparently, tolerate living near them. I am not at all certain how this works, perhaps they smell badly or shout abuse at the ants and play loud music day and night. I wondered also how results with these nematodes were to be monitored. In my perhaps naive expectations I imagined an interminably  long line of ants, some carrying their eggs or pupae marching out of the greenhouse by the nearest exit but there is no sign of that.

The Covid is far from over but without major incident. At least not enough to reach the main stream news outlets. These are unreliable in any case since they have either become microphones for an untrustworthy government or have their own political agenda to advance according to whatever their readership and circulation factors demand. Confusion and insecurity is therefore on the increase especially amongst the long forgotten about locked down community. Most humans, primarily due to what is now known as confirmation bias, will quite readily believe that previously held convictions, however strong and decisive, can now be doubted simply because of the counter intuitive behaviour of others. This is especially so if those others are off out carelessly enjoying themselves with their love ones and friends in all the ways you are badly missing. This is probably our most dangerous time. The incidence of infection is higher now than when lockdown was first imposed. It is still out there, infection rates are rising. Deaths it is true are falling but this is due to, and relies on, the fact that those who have been shielding remain shielded and that new infections remain mainly amongst a younger, healthier demographic. Until there is a clear sign that infection rates are reducing we remain vulnerable.

My working life was spent in an industrial engineering environment in which health and safety rules and regulations carried great weight. Lowering our guard now would be like operating a press machine with its guard disabled for convenience. Everything is fine until you lose your concentration and chop your fingers off!

Those who have been shielding must continue to shield until infection rates are shown to be reducing and clearly under control. The risk right now is much too high and for the time being at least, worsening.

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.