Corona Diaries – day 10

Dear readers, 

Since we have been confined to our homes, I thought that it would be a nice idea to give you a treat and take you all for a day out with me. 

I think you could all do with a change of scenery by now.

I’m not suggesting that we break any of the emergency legislation or self-isolation and social distancing rules, not at all. 

This will be a different sort of trip and one that we can all take, regardless of our state of health, fitness or ability. For this will be an outing of the imagination. 

And the better you can use your imagination, to see the sights and hear the sounds and use all your senses, the better the day will be. You can even add some of your own experiences too.

We will also need to travel back in time to a beautiful summer’s day, last year..

All of us have memorable days. They are days that, in some way, were unexpected or fun. Or simply days that we enjoyed so much that they live on in our memories and we can re-live them at will, like a family photograph album.

I’m talking about a day just like that.

My South African friend, Jean and I had arranged to meet on the slipway of the river Dart in Totnes, next to the rowing club.

The Dart, begins its journey on the high moors of Dartmoor, where it twists and roars and foams over granite boulders and fallen moss-green logs, down and down through ice-age valleys of ancient woodland.

Rushing, at first like a torrent, it slows as the river broadens where the tidal estuary comes up to meet it twice a day at Totnes and take it out to sea at Dartmouth.

We both had a Kayak and a paddle and a dry-bag containing lunch. You will just need your imagination to join us. I expect your kayak will be a newer model than mine.

Taking advantage of the turning tide, we launched together into the hardly moving water, feeling our weight settle into the kayaks for the next few hours.

It was already warm and I needed only a pair of shorts, a cap and my wayfarers. I like to feel the sun.

The water was like glass and slightly salty to taste. With barely a breath of wind, the conditions were perfect.

Dipping my paddle into the water ahead and pulling it behind the kayak glided effortlessly forward. First right then left, getting into a steady rhythm.

It’s a perfect day, we agree as we set off into the unknown.

I’d always wanted to paddle here but somehow had never got round to it. 

We quickly left behind the boatyards and signs of human activity into to the wilds of the south Devon Amazon.

Parts of the river here are actually used as a low budget alternative to filming in the real Amazon and it’s easy to imagine. We could be on another planet, in a land that time forgot.

The river bends and coils like a giant Anaconda, only revealing her thick dark body, one section at a time as she folds, expertly camouflaged into the steep, heavily-wooded hills on either side. These are some of the last truly ancient forests of English oak.

A prehistoric Heron stands motionless, staring into the dark water. A picture of deadly concentration.

Twisted oaks spread their monstrous claws into the thick slimy mud of the riverbank. Whilst others lurk with patient menace, their long dark bodies covered in shaggy seaweed coats.

Suddenly, a great rush of air overhead, like the loosing of so many arrows, that makes us duck for cover.

“Wow,” we shout in unison.

A flock of thirty or more Canada geese, twisting and turning, performing acrobatics and victory rolls as they come into land on the grassy mud behind us.

To see and hear this marvel of nature up close and personal is something to behold.

It is a phenomena of onomatopoeic splendour called whiffling. A large bodied goose, flying at forty miles per hour, needs to slow itself down to avoid crash landing and does so by these amazing ariel manoeuvres.

Jean and I congratulated God and one another on being present to witness this miracle of aeronautical genius.

What makes this moment special is that we each had someone to share it with. As CS Lewis has expertly observed, ‘praise completes the joy.’

If I had no one to share the moment, it would lose some of its shine. But now, we can recall it together and smile at the memory.

I hope you can too.

We continue on down the river, one bend at a time, past the perfectly situated Sharpham House and vineyard and on and on. I stare thoughtlessly into the miniature swirls and eddy’s left behind by each paddle stroke that stir the mirrored clouds.

Each new scene around each virgin bend did not satisfy my curiosity for long. I always want to go that one bend further down the river. Isn’t that just typical of our explorer spirits, to seek new lands and find the next new thing. I wonder what it is we are really seeking?

Surely the trick is to enjoy each river-bend as it comes and rejoice that we are alive; to share in the sheer joy of it.

A snowy Egret patrolled the far bank and took flight as we neared. Brilliant white when distant, then dark against the brighter sun.

It brought to mind something else, my hero, CS Lewis said:

‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’

Jean and I paddled our silent prayers on down the river as we forgot ourselves in the beauty of it.

Soon we were joined by a seal. Can you see it? There, bobbing in the water, watching us.

His large brown eyes study us with inquisitive dog-like intelligence, wondering what manner of creature we might be. “Have you got any fish?”

Then he dives again and is gone. We wait patiently but he’s gone. Still there somewhere in the water, but we cant see. 

We’re moving faster now with the tide and hardly need to paddle, just to steer.

Our voices echo across the water to one another as we chat. 

We’ll stop for lunch soon.

Eventually finding a floating pontoon, to which an old, shabby boat was attached, we came alongside and began to eat our sandwiches.

I noticed traces of white chalky matter on the end of the pontoon and realised that this is where our friend the seal likes to sun himself after lunch.

Sure enough he reappeared, lifting his body high out of the water to see who had taken his sunbed. This matinee performance, the crowning glory of our day.

It was among the best meals I have ever eaten. 

The freshness of the bread, the pungent cheese and the vinegar bite of piccalilli as the seal amused us.

Some days just have the perfect ingredients and their rarity makes them all the more precious.

Soon the tide was turning again and we made the long, slow paddle home. Although retracing our steps we were presented with a new perspective, and just as lovely. Like excited schoolboys, we chatted all the way.

We had travelled unchartered waters, seen strange new lands and we had encountered the monsters of the Amazon.

I hope you enjoyed it too.

Corona Diaries – day 9

It’s April fool’s day. 

Looking at the lack of social distancing in parts of London, there are plenty about. To quote William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, 

“Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.”

I just hope and pray these variously talented folks don’t force others to pay for it with their lives.

With military assistance an incredible new 4,000 bed Nightingale hospital has been erected within just two weeks on the site of the Excel convention centre in east London. It is a feat to match anything China can do and I think it is worthy of much praise. 

Up and down the country, parents have taken over the important job of educating their little ones. 

I have no doubt that as the days of confinement roll on, this will involve getting their children to do educational activities that can be done quietly and alone so that mum or dad can get on with other things, like wine-tasting.

Playing alone, without the aid of a phone, x-box or other device is an important part of development and I’m sure that those sponge-like minds will create all manner imaginary worlds and means to keep themselves occupied, as we all did before the dawn of the new century. Who knows what hidden talents and innovations will come of this time.

For older teenagers, I hope that parents will teach them how to think.

I don’t mean swallowing a dictionary of logical fallacies, then popping up everywhere on social media saying , “that’s a Straw man,” (an intentionally misrepresented proposition, because it is easier to defeat than the real argument). Or 

media favourite, ad hominem (attacking an argument by attacking the character of the person making it). Or husband’s favourite, Tu quoque (answering criticism with criticism) and politicians favourite – ambiguity (using double meaning or ambiguous language to avoid later accusations that you lied or deliberately mislead) 

The reason there’s a whole lexicon of these things is that we all employ them and are rarely conscious of it when doing so. 

I suppose I mean, critical thinking – that is, the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. The key critical thinking skills are: analysis, interpretation, inference, explanation, self-regulation, open-mindedness, and problem-solving.

You also need wisdom and experience to work out who is telling the truth and to allow for error.

So for example, in deciding whether the Chinese communist government were in any way culpable for the spread of the coronavirus, by concealing information, one might look at the following evidence:

  1. The fact that the novel virus originated from the horseshoe bat.
  2. The fact that it originated in Wuhan where they have wet food markets and two viral research centres, near to the wet food market that carry out live testing on horseshoe bats.
  3. The fact that some doctors who tried to warn the world were silenced 
  4. The fact that the WHO tweeted on 14/01/20 saying, ‘Preliminary investigations by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) when we know this wasn’t true.
  5. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Zhao LIjian put the blame on the USA saying “it might be the US army.”

It’s puzzling then that the media seem willing to accept China’s word for it on the number of deaths without caveat. Enough said.

Debating is another skill that helps us to form our arguments. 

The ancient Persians used to debate everything twice, once sober and once once when drunk. I suppose, that way you teased out what someone really thought, without the filter of good manners. 

Often we say the things we think we ought to say, not what we really think. 

It is perhaps a terrible fault of mine that if you ask me a straight question, you will invariably get a straight and honest answer, no matter how it may offend your senses. 

Yep, honestly, for me, is always the best policy, except perhaps to the question “does my bum look big in this?” 

I’d probably make a terrible politician. 

I read a very long article today about case fatality rates and various attempts to model the data to inform our national response.

After hearing of a lot of inconsistencies and variations and whataboutery it concluded…

‘be forgiving of the modellers who are desperately trying to make life-changing, history-changing decisions at high speed and with bad data.’ 

And quoting, Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, it says,

‘Many experts have come to believe that mathematical calculations and computer modelling provide us with an authoritative representation of reality.’ 

Experience tells us that any model can be spectacularly wrong and that we need to discern who are the ‘experts’ that can be trusted and who cannot.

In a move likely to demoralise an already exhausted NHS, Rick Astley has announced his intention to play a free gig for NHS and emergency workers at the end of the pandemic. I’m never going to give you up, Rick x

On another subject altogether, I was reading about a 16th Century Spanish Nun, named Teresa of Ávila, who, talking on the subject of contemplative prayer, described it as ‘the prayer of quiet and intimate sharing between friends’ 

I like the sound of that. A sort of conversation of being together that requires no speech. With two ladies in my house this is tricky. 

At that very moment, Michelle, who has been like a cat on a hot tin roof, burst into my vision – again – to update me on the biggest daily rise of Coronavirus deaths, so far, at 563. 

My moment of contemplation, like so many others of late, evaporated.

Attaining anything like the peace that passeth understanding is simply beyond all comprehension at the moment. 

My desire to be alone with my thoughts has been frustrated again and again. 

Every time I try to read or begin to listen to something, there are interruptions. 

The coffee machine is switched on making that irritating chugging noise. Or someone rustles in the cupboard for another packet of crisps to relieve the boredom. Or Frank is on the phone again, to tell me what he told me yesterday and the day before. 

I usually spend at least a small portion of my day in quiet contemplation. I’ve always done it. Michelle has often mistaken it for rudeness or me deliberately ignoring her, but it was always that. 

It’s not like thinking about anything in particular but simply listening to the birdsong, watching the clouds or gazing up at the night sky in awe. Until I was permanently under house-arrest with my family, I hadn’t quite appreciated how valuable this time is to my daily routine and my sanity. 

It’s cold and overcast today and I can’t even retreat into the back garden. 

Corona Diaries day 8

D-day war veteran, Harry Billinge was on local TV last night. He’s the sort of chap we all need to listen to and he is a tireless charity campaigner, even at the ripe age of 94.

Asked about the trials of self-isolation he replied simply, 

“If you can’t live with yourself, you can’t live with anybody.“ 

He is someone who knows what it’s like to live through a real war and to see your friends senselessly killed. It’s always worth listening to his interviews. What a guy! 

The news also also told us that the NHS has only 8,000 ventilators and could need up to 30,000 to cope with peak demand. However, the Formula One engine manufacturer, Mercedes, has teamed up with UCL engineers in London to design a breathing aid for Coronavirus patients, a development that could dramatically reduce the need for ventilators. Apparently they can produce the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, which was re-engineered from an existing machine in fewer than 100 hours, at a rate of one thousand a day. Good news indeed. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, I always say. Like the course of a river or blood-rich capillaries, we always find a way. 

I’m sure the economy will be a much leaner version of itself than it was before and I hope we come to see that doing  business with or being dependent on rogue states is not such a good idea after all. We should
clean up our own house too. 

I had terrible nightmares last night. In one, Jeremy Corbyn, wearing that narrow eyed look of sincerity that he never quite pulls off, was addressing us from the TV screen, in front of a pair of heavy red curtains. To my mind he just looks like someone suffering with a strangulated testicle or a touch of gout. 

“As your Tsar,” he began. 

I sat bolt upright, entangled  in a sweat-drenched duvet, relieved not to hear what horrors he was about to inflict on the nation. 

A nationalised system of public toilets perhaps, with a cubicle for each of the 250 new genders, and one more for the ‘don’t know’s.’

Or even the indoctrination of all schools and universities about the evils of western colonialism and white privilege and the removal of William Shakespeare from the curriculum? Actually- scrub that – I think they’ve already done that one. 

The BBC will now sing The Red Flag at the commencement of every programme, backed by the twin smiling images of our own Tsar Jeremy and Xi Jinping.  The immaculate Gary Lineker will read the quarter-hourly propaganda bulletins, between re-runs of Match of the Day, to pacify the masses.

Anyway, there are already some, on the left, in the land of daydream, who are suggesting a rerun of the December election, due to these ‘unprecedented times.’  

I have two intelligent young people in my own family who have recently been through the British education system. Whilst it is indeed, stuffed to the gunnels with left leaning idealists, who have never had a job in the real world, my two do at least have the nouse to see the flaws and question what they are taught. 

I would never force my own views or beliefs on them and we often have some good discussions and debate. My only advice would be to read as widely as possible, think it through and make up your own mind. 

You may, by now, have some inkling of my own political views. I’m not sure that they have as much to do with politics as they do with my understanding of human nature. 

And, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m acutely aware of the imperfections of our democracy and in our nation. I’m as angry as the next man about corporate and individual greed and injustice.  By injustice, I mean the real stuff, not that someone refused to call you by your chosen pronouns and it hurt your feelings, or they refused to celebrate your sexuality by painting their nails with rainbows and baking you a cake. I wouldn’t dream of forcing you to worship at my altar so kindly respect my choice not to worship at yours.
I suspect there are many more interesting things that define you than your sexuality or pronouns. I’m certain there will be a character in there too. Perhaps a shared sense of humour or a passion for reading. A love of dogs or the sea. It would be nice to get to know one another from a different standpoint. 

But even these things pale into insignificance against the prospect of giving free reign to a system of Marxism that denies the rights, value and dignity of the individual and that ‘justified’ the murder of 100 million people in the last century. 

I know people and what they’re like with a little bit of power in their hands. 

And the most powerful seem to be the ones who wield their perceived states of victimhood like a sledge hammer to deny the rights of others to disagree with you or even ignore you. 

There is much talk in the media of overzealous policing and the gross affront to our rights of the new emergency legislation. There are calls to save our economy, lest even more lives are lost in the long run. These things are up for debate in our free society and rightly so. 

We must understand though, that in policing terms, the protection of life overrides all other rights. This legislation is temporary and the police must, as always, use their powers sparingly and in the spirit of the law. 

Every police officer I know, will be only too glad when these measures are no longer necessary and they can return to  policing by consent, with the support of the public of whom they are a part. The police are the public and the public are the police. It’s a principle Sir Robert Peel recognised as an important one and it has served us pretty well so far. 

So, everyone who is concerned about a police state, fear not. They haven’t got the will or the numbers anyway. 

In some other good news, my son, after being sacked from his temporary job, before the chancellor announced financial support measures, has been told he will receive 80% of his pay from the agency. 

My nephew and his wife are in receipt of full pay, whilst in lockdown at home. 

My daughter’s boyfriend is self-employed and will have to wait until June for the income support scheme to kick in, but has already applied for a mortgage break. 

I don’t think the government could have done much more. Corbyn is saying “I told you so,” without admitting that it might not do our economy much good in the process and would probably not be a good peace-time policy. I do wonder about the quality of some of our politicians and their ability to think things through sometimes. 

A friend rang Michelle to see how we are doing. She knows I have cancer and asked after me. 

She’s a cleaner at the local hospital and came out of retirement to help the NHS through the crisis. She’s completely exhausted and one of the unsung heroines in my book. I hope she does get a medal and a bonus when the dust settles on this pandemic. She thoroughly deserves it. 

Another friend is a Doctor at the same hospital. I pray that God will give her the strength to get through it too. You all have my unwavering admiration. 

Our neighbourhood What’sApp group is now in full swing. Whenever a neighbour goes shopping they ask if anyone needs anything. Food parcels are left in the road for collection and bills settled promptly. The local vicar is doing similar collections for the local food bank and all of us, bar none, have signed up to share what we have with those who have not.  It brings a lump to the throat. I didn’t think we had much of a community before but everyone seems to be pulling together at last in the hour of need. 

Marxist regimes deliberately destroy a sense of belonging and community and thrive on division and suspicion. It might benefit globalisation but does nothing for quality of life and the truly important things in life that bind us together and make it a world worth living in. We’ve already agreed that we’re going to have a great big street party when all this is over. 

Corona Diaries -day 7

Corona Diaries -day 7

Lots of people commented on the number of satellites they could see tracking across the skies last night.  

It was lovely and clear. A waxing crescent moon hung heavy, with brightest star Venus on a diagonal line beneath it and the seven sisters of the Pleiades between them.

Now, by day, the vapour trails of aircraft no longer make their familiar patterns.  The few remaining flights are bringing people home. 

Our world is changing. 

It’s a grey sort of day today. I’ve been watching a pair of blue tits, nibbling at the entrance to a nesting box I made that doubles as an insect hotel

They did the same last year but failed to take up the spring/summer let on offer. 

Frank rang last night to give us a preview of his shopping list. Get this: He doesn’t like to own more than one of anything and he’s managed to break his only mug.  

He thinks he’ll take my advice and get two next time, he says. 

I tell you, if there IS a zombie Coronavirus apocalypse and we run out of everything, don’t waste your time going to Frank’s house for emergency supplies. You’re likely to find only a mouldy peppered salad and some stale croutons and nothing to eat them with.

He rang twice again today. I told him he could have one of our mugs as we have plenty.  We synchronised watches and in a military style operation (Frank is an ex Royal Marine PTI) I placed the mug, with blue-gloved hands into a carrier bag and left it at the bottom of our drive and Frank collected it moments later. 

The second call was to confirm that the mission had been completed. Frank had to go before government officials traced the call and came for him.

I’m sure this will be the experience for many of us who have offered help to those living alone. They might seem self-sufficient and content with their own company in normal times, but really they crave human contact just like the rest of us. 

And I think I’m starting to realise that loving my neighbour is not just about helping out our mates, but also the people who we might otherwise keep at arms-length. (Currently 2 metres)

Mind you, I’m getting a bit tetchy with Michelle today and could do with a bit of time alone. 

I’d like to think that I’m a fairly sociable sort, but only up to a point. If I don’t get some quiet time alone each day, without interruption, I can get a bit grumpy.  But if I take myself off somewhere quiet, it’s not long before I like to hear another voice, even if it is Michelle’s. 

I’ve noticed, a week into lockdown, that the conspiracy theories are starting to do the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. 

This must be because people have now got far too much time on their hands and are trying to find a scapegoat in tune with their politics and worldview. 

I prefer to go with my intuition on these matters, to listen carefully to what is said and who is saying it and treat with suspicion any confirmation of my own biases. It is a fact of nature that none of us are very good at detecting our own bias but we seem to be adept at detecting it in others. 

Even before the pandemic there seemed to be a mass of information and comment telling us that there is no such thing as truth. That the things we all knew to be true until yesterday, were all wrong and that we needed to check our thinking or be condemned by the new self-righteous order as bigots and ‘phobes’ of one prefix or another.

 It is certainly much harder to find the truth, given all the disinformation and doublethink doing the rounds. Some people will tell us “there’s no such thing as truth” and they tell us this as an absolute truth without seeing the contradiction. That is, if the statement is true, it must be false. 

Think about that one for a minute. 

Anyway, we can always keep off social media and rely on our own experience to know what’s real. That never fails. I say never, but It is interesting that during the Stalinist trials of the 1930’s, one man, in defending himself, was so brainwashed by the whole thing that he denied his own experience and lack of mens rea and confessed “the party is always right and if it says I’m a saboteur I must be one.” 

Such is the power of Totalitarianism to colonise the mind and deny people the right to experience their own experiences. Readers beware. 

I noticed a lot more people out during my daily dog walk and it was hard to avoid them at times. A pair of elderly ladies with a small dog, recoiled in horror as I passed, wrapping their scarves around their faces as if I were a hideously deformed Leper (or Jeremy Corbyn, campaigning for a new election).  I decided not to take it personally though, or indeed as a sign of some awful prejudice. “Bigots!”

The sun briefly emerged to throw my shadow in front of me and show me that I really do need a haircut. 

An ambulance roared up the road on blue lights and sobered my thoughts. 

I must say, now that I’ve got most of the big jobs done, the novelty of staying at home is beginning to wear off.  I hadn’t really appreciated my freedom before in the way that I long for it now. To be on Dartmoor, alone with my dogs and the wild ponies.

We’re hearing of friends now who have actually lost their loved ones to this virus and that is all the incentive we need to keep to the new rules and stick it out. 

We’re told that the restrictions are beginning to take effect, so there’s some encouragement too. 

Corona Diaries – day 6

It’s Sunday, and on direct orders from the good Lord, I’m taking a break. 

Unfortunately for some, they still have to turn up for work, less one hour of sleep due to the clocks going forward last night. 

Our friend, Sandra, is one of them. 

Sandra works in the Police control room where they take thousands of emergency and non-emergency calls every day and dispatch a police officer or two, when they can find them. It’s always busy: Just plain busy, stupid-busy or crazy. 

I asked if it was quiet now, in lockdown.

 “Completely dead,” said a smiling Sandra, on the other end of our video call. 

“The only calls we’re getting is to grass people up for going out as groups of 3 in contravention of the new lockdown measures.” 

I do wonder, if we started up Stalin’s Gulags again, how long it would be before the self-righteous started to stitch-up their neighbours for breaching Article 58 in blind obedience to the regime. (Article 58 was all-encompassing. No human act under the heavens was not covered by it.) 

I noticed that the Metropolitan Police put out a silly warning about ‘hate crime’ yesterday, when everyone else is simply terrified out of their wits about matters of life and death. You’d think they’d give it a rest for five minutes. 

The twin terrors of ‘equality and diversity’( which actually mean nothing of the sort) are the only subject on which I take great issue with my former employers. 

It was the former Gulag inmate and writer of The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn who wisely noted, “Liberty and equality are mutually exclusive, even hostile concepts.  Liberty, by its very nature, undermines social equality, and equality suppresses liberty – for how else could it be attained?

If you’re among those cultural Marxists at the BBC and the Guardian who are always banging on about equality, please don’t start whingeing when, all-of-a-sudden, your rights and freedoms are taken away and you find yourself in a cell wondering what crime you’ve committed.

I don’t want equality, thank you very much. And I certainly don’t want it at the expense of common sense, reason and sanity, which appears to be the recent choice proffered by our educated masters. 

On a different tack, I know there’s a lot of people out there who are struggling with depression and the lockdown will make matters worse. We won’t always know who those people are, so we should reach out to everyone and check they’re okay. 

To anyone who is suffering in isolation, I would say only this:

Please ask for help. There’s no shame in doing so and you might encourage others to do the same. You might realise that there are many people who have similar thoughts and feelings to yours.

 But these feelings are temporary. They can and will pass. Rather than looking inward, we need to look outside ourselves. We need to forgive others, to release those feelings of hurt and anger and resentment that destroy us. We need to think of others, to break the chains of our petty grudges, self-pity and wallowing victimhood. And we need to count our blessings and give thanks and do it every single day.  Start practicing that and you’ll begin to feel better, I promise. 

It was Saint Paul who advised the new church to ‘take captive every thought’. It takes some discipline and practice to do so, but it’s worth the effort. 

He said, in his letter to the people of Phillipi, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Why not give it a go? 

I took the dogs for a walk from the house. Usually I would meet no one, but today the foot traffic was heavy. At one narrow section of footpath I was turned back four times by separate groups of walkers, so that we could all keep our distance. 

I’m sure that some people, not formerly given to exercise, have taken Boris’ allowance of one hour of daily exercise, as an instruction. 

It was nice to the see the Ewes calling their lambs on the steep, green Devon fields and the yellowing flowers of rape crops. From the top, I could look down the estuary to the sea, where my little boat lays out of reach, for now. 

They say we might have to live like this until June, and I was so looking forward to taking her out. 

Walking back into town, folks cleaned cars and chatted across the street. 

Lone, lean and deadly-serious, Lycra-clad cyclists buzzed past. 

Children had placed the bright coloured pictures they had drawn in windows facing the street to keep up our spirits. ‘Be Happy – Stay Safe,’ read one. 

As I hung the leads on their hooks in the hall, I wondered, how long will this last?

It would find it a lot easier to love my neighbour if he took down those bloody wind chimes.

Corona Diaries – day 5

Apparently it is the last of the sunshine today as a bitter north wind moves in with the cloud. 

Michelle has just informed me it is the weekend, which has come as something of a surprise. I seem to have lost track of the days. 

I think it was Greta Garbot who famously said, “I want to be a lawn.”

All around me, I can hear the distant hum of lawnmowers as the menfolk devote loving attention to their gardens. 

Up and down the country, lawns will be manicured, striped, edged and seeded. 

I’ve made sure to leave a fallow patch of grass for the wildlife though. The bees and butterflies need a helping hand too. 

Today I whitewashed the grubby retaining walls housing the flowerbeds. 

It’s quite a long and laborious job, as the dirty is made clean, but it gives a certain, simple satisfaction. It also provides we men with the rare opportunity to do two things at once: painting and thinking.  I also listened to a very good Audiobook as I worked; Dominion by Tom Holland.  It’s worth a read if you like history and have an interest in the foundations and thought that made our western societies. 

I think we could be in our confinement for longer than the initial 3 weeks so it’s as well to do a bit of mind- improvement too. 

Family games are also making a comeback. Scrabble last night (did I mention that I won?) and Monopoly planned for tonight. 

We’ll be playing by the new rules though: Everyone will be in jail and the Railway stations will operate only a packed skeleton service because the berk-of-a-mayor, Sadiq Khan has shut them down against government . advice. 

If you land on Community Chest, the tax man will give you a dividend of £150 (except the recently self-employed). You can apply for a mortgage break if you can’t pay the rent.  If you own property in Mayfair and Park Lane with hotels on, you can only claim rent if you haven’t already buggered off to your holiday cottage in Devon,  a’ La Kirsty Allsop. She is the TV presenter and host of  the aptly named house moving programme, Relocation, Relocation who was criticised by Piers Morgan on social media today. 

I read on the local news that the police had stopped a man in a Camper-van on the Devon border, who had traveled all the way from Birmingham in contravention of the lock-down. He was promptly turned around and sent home again. Unless you’ve done the job yourself, it’s difficult to appreciate the levels if stupidity that our Police have to deal with every day.

My son, Josh, is doing a psychology degree so we have recently enjoyed some meatier conversation than is the usual fare in our living room.

It’s fair to say, that I don’t share Michelle’s interest in the permanently combative and make-believe lives of the characters of Eastenders. I also resent the thinly veiled attempts by the elite BBC editorial staff to correct my attitudes to certain topical issues.  Ditto, the hospital soaps, Casualty and Holby City, though I suspect that, with the prioritisation of life over politically correct clap-trap to deal with Coronavirus, they too will be forced to confront what really matters to ordinary people.

Josh and I discussed everything from Galton’s personality traits and Freud’s protégée Carl Jung, to Nietzsche and God. 

I’m certainly in agreement with Bertie Wooster’s manservant, Jeeves when he gave the following wise advice:

“You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”

It was Nietzsche who considered the burnout of Western, Christian civilisation and coined the much misused phrase “God is dead.” His words were misused, for example, by Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini to justify awful acts of evil through the devaluation of human life.

I’m not sure what the good Lord himself thought of this pronouncement, but poor Friedrich spent the last 13 years of his life in a fog of insanity, only able to speak aloud to recite the verses from the Bible that he had learned as a boy. 

Nietche had recognised the importance of hope as an essential ingredient of life. I would add here a key piece of information. The success of this hope  very much depends on what, or in whom you base it. There’s an excellent BBC programme, In Our Time which explores hope and is linked below if you’re interested.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00017vl

Wherever we are at the moment and whatever our worries or circumstances,  we must keep up our spirits and fill our lives with hope.  

Finally, a very happy birthday to the world’s oldest man, Bob Weighton, from Alton, Hampshire, who has been forced to cancel his 112th birthday celebrations because of the coronavirus outbreak. He has already lived through the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.

Corona Diaries- day 4

I listened to a beautiful dawn chorus this morning. What a start to the day. And the sun is still shining. 

Frank’s cover has been blown by our friend Julie. It turns out she’s his neighbour. She put two and two together when he presented a weekly shopping list comprising of 2 peppery salads and a packet of anti-bacterial wipes.  He rang again for a chat and has been enjoying long country walks and listening to the birds. I think he might be ready to compromise on the fresh salmon.

Last night I watched the highly prophetic 2011 film, Contagion. It’s about a pandemic virus started in China from bats 

In a flashback at the end of the film, a bulldozer knocks down a tree in a rainforest in China, disturbing some bats. One finds shelter in a pig farm and drops a piece of banana, which is eaten by a pig. The pig is slaughtered and prepared by a chef in a Macau casino, who shakes hands with Beth, transmitting the virus to her. The only bit they got wrong is that it is more likely Coronavirus was transmitted through eating the bats themselves. They did find a vaccine though. 

My mother in law, Liz, told us about a great new app called Houseparty.com that enables multiple people to call in at once via video link (and play a quiz together if so desired). Before we knew it, several friends were all on the line and in view. Charlotte told us about our mutual friend George, which raised a few laughs. 

George is one of life’s characters.  Being somewhat eccentric and outgoing, he always fills a room with joyful exuberance. He’s a human version of a leggy Springer Spaniel puppy. 

It was amusing to learn, that on his recent retirement from the police force, he had promptly taken himself down to the Barber shop and had evidently shown them a photograph of Huron Chief, Magua -also known by the French alias “Le Renard Subtil” (“The Wily Fox”) – from the film, The Last of the Mohicans, and said, “exactly like this, please.”

Amusingly for us, he had also completed the purchase of a new house as a renovation project, which happens to be the gate-lodge to a large cemetery. Apparently there’s a few large holes that need filling in the back garden and someone has pinched all the copper piping but it’s otherwise in good nick.

And on top of that, the hearse traffic seems to be substantially heavier than normal and he’s forced to stand to attention out of respect, whenever one passes the kitchen window. We could just picture it; lanky George standing to attention with his funny haircut and size 15 winkle picker shoes. 

Everyone, apart from me, seems to have been moved by the 8pm doorstep round of applause that took place in households up and down the country in support of the NHS. I think they’re doing a fantastic job though and it’s pleasing to see that the country can unite behind something wholesome and good like the skill, hard work and dedication of the NHS and other frontline care workers in the service of others. 

In stark contrast, ex-Royal, Meghan Markle, has taken the opportunity to announce her narration of a new Disney film called Elephants, in her first role since leaving Her Majesty, the Queen, in the lurch. One not to watch. 

I suspect the plot involves several trans elephant babies who save the environment by refusing to fly (unless it’s in a privately owned  jet) and who offset their carbon footprint by refusing to produce any more Elephant babies by taking hormone  blockers – or something like that. 

I also heard that a number of celebrities have decided to make the great sacrifice of going without makeup. The value we place on celebrity culture and the abject nonsense of identity politics are certainly two things on my list to die out with the virus. What on Earth are we doing to our children? As if growing up wasn’t hard enough in the modern world. 

It must be that we’ve grown so used to our comfortable lifestyles that we’ve run out of sensible causes to champion or battles to fight, so we invent new ones. 

If we get to the level of real hardship after this, it will certainly bring society to its senses again.

PM Boris Johnson has now tested positive for the virus after showing mild symptoms. I’m not at all surprised as he has been burning the candle at both ends and has looked tired as he tries to implement the best medical advice whilst not ruining the economy. I’ve been surprised at the very negative questioning he’s received at the hands of the press and think he’s done a very good job so far. Give the fella a chance, I say. 

All my former police officer colleagues, will be familiar with the term, nine o’clock jury, which describes how those, who have rarely made critical operational decisions during a busy night shift, and who then go on to provide an unhelpful critique, after a good night sleep, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight.

For the first time since the Police-wrecking, austerity-loving, David Cameron coined the phrase, “we’re all in it together,” I now believe we are. 

Michelle and our son, Josh,  painted the garden shed today under close supervision. I’m not sure they appreciated the tips on preparation and brush technique. 

We’ve got a family date with the Scrabble board tonight, so I’ll let you know who wins (but only if it’s me).

Corona Diaries – day 3

It’s another beautifully sunny day. That’s three in a row and an unexpected bonus for the  time of year. 

Greta Thumberg, who must be suffering desperately from the lack of global attention, has taken to Twitter to let us know she has a slight sniffle, ‘probably coronavirus.’

I’m sure she’ll be delighted at all the deaths of the elderly who have ‘stolen’ her future because of their wastefulness of the world’s resources.

Perhaps she might also be grateful for the sacrifice that many have made too. Those who fought wars  for the freedom she enjoys, or who have worked to eliminate world poverty and disease, giving her and children like her, greater than ever life-expectancy.

I’d like us to treat the planet much better, of course, but let’s  not make it a generational thing, please. And it’s not all about ‘carbon credits’ either, so the wealthy can continue to fly with a clear conscience and the ‘great unwashed‘ can pay for it.

Some of the more extreme whackos on social media have been suggesting how much better off the planet would be without us humans on it. That we should stop having children. That’s the sort of talk that lead to gas chambers and euthanasia.  It’s not a road we should go down. 

I happen to think that human life is indeed the most precious thing on this beautiful planet. And there’s nothing like the prospect of an early death to force us to appreciate it.

When I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, it forced me to think about what really matters in life. I rediscovered my faith, for one thing. And that, in a way, is what the coronavirus has now presented to all of us.

I started to think more of others and less of myself and my own wants and desires. And I also began to really live in the here and now. The colours of nature all became imbued with a glowing light and I noticed everything around me, even the little things. I was more sociable on dog walks and took more interest in other people’s lives.

My thoughts were no longer cluttered with the usual trivial and irrelevant things, but sharply focused on what really matters. It was so liberating and I didn’t want to waste a single minute. From majestic sunsets and the starry night skies, to the intricate habits of bees on the lavender in my garden – all grabbed my attention in a new and exciting way.

It is the precarious and temporal nature of life that adds infinitely to its beauty and value and we are the only creatures on Earth with a mind capable of comprehending this. 

We are capable of so much, yet we often settle for so little. 

Amidst the daily reminders of our mortality, we can discover together the great secrets of life:  That full life does not depend on what we get, but what we give, making full use of our God given talents and resources in the service of others and speaking the truth in love. I’m sure those qualities will be needed soon with all the bereavement and financial hardship to come. 

We all have an innate sense of right and wrong, of justice and fairness, yet we often choose to ignore them in favour of our more animal instincts. And the more we choose to ignore these internal warning lights, the less our conscience speaks to us and the more base we become. 

I’ve observed this many times over 30 years of policing. 

It’s not that some people are inherently bad or less good than others, it’s that some pay less and less attention to their conscience until it becomes somehow numbed and leads to all sorts of unsavoury habits and acts. But it’s never too late to change.

Now that Coronavirus is temporarily battling Cancer for the title of ‘the big C’ it’s interesting to see the parallel and It certainly evokes similar thoughts and feelings about life and meaning.

I had a great sleep last night, by the way. It works wonders for the soul. What’s more there was not a breath of wind to agitate those damnable wind-chimes.

I tried to paint the decking this afternoon but the decking oil had solidified, so I ended up getting the chainsaw out again. The garden is looking pretty good, I think and I’m enjoying soaking up the rays on the swinging seat.

It was nice to relax and drink it all in. A comma butterfly sunned itself on a wooden sleeper next to the pond and a pair of Peacock butterflies danced in upward spiralling flight. 

A well upholstered wood pigeon sat hunched in the still bare branches of the Ash tree and a Great Spotted Woodpecker payed a fleeting visit, giving a brief drum roll, then flashing his scarlet undercarriage as he took flight. 

Large bumble bees explored the fresh woodpile and the emerging blossom. 

A pair of blue-tits investigated the nesting box. Nature was readying herself once more. 

Our friend Trina has the virus so she won’t be helping husband Paul strip his bicycle for a few days. Thankfully the symptoms are normal flu but get well soon Trina!

I read some encouraging news: Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College scientist who gave us the 250,000 deaths prediction and on whose advice lockdown was commenced, has now said that the final death toll could be “substantially lower than 20,000.” He also said that that up to two thirds of those deaths were people who would have died within the next six months anyway due to underlying health conditions. We must still continue with our lockdown and sanitary measures to achieve this but it’s very good news if he’s right.

New legislation has been announced today. We can’t drive to the river to walk the dogs now and have to walk from home. Anyone caught by police breaking this rule or driving anywhere without good reason will get a £60 fine. Yesterday was our last such journey. I still think that I’m more likely to bump into someone walking from home but some people were driving to different towns to walk their dogs, so I can see the rationale.

 I’ve had no calls from Frank yet but there’s still time. I think, although he’s used to living alone, he just wants someone to talk to, so I suppose it’s no great hardship to do that. 

It’s the time of Lent in the Christian church. It’s a time that we Christians prepare to die to our old lives, with all our false gods and misguided goals, so that we might fully live.  Something for us to think on, perhaps. 

As I type these words, I’m staring at the most beautiful sunset over Haytor Rocks, Dartmoor this evening. Awesome!

Corona Diaries – day 2

Corona Diaries day 2 

The Jet-lag is still playing havoc with my sleep patterns. That and the neighbour’s bloody wind chimes. In the wee small hours of the night, I fantasised about inserting the tubes into my neighbour and playing him like a set of bagpipes. 

I am feeling less malevolent this morning though. The sun is shining on a new day. I do regret binge eating all those Pringles last night before bed. 

I saw that one of our knitting friends had made a rather nice children’s cardigan as her first self isolation project and posted a picture on Facebook. I wondered if I could commission a wind chime muffler,  which would surely only be the work of minutes for such a skilled craftswoman.  And certainly a more legal solution to the wind chime situation. 

Michelle suggested I ask him nicely to take them down – pah! 

Frank rang again and is predictably running a bit low on ancient grain rolls and peppered croutons. 

I suggested he might like to purchase some tinned produce and modify his diet for the time being, but we’re not going shopping again for at least a week. 

Paul’s bicycle stripping and rebuilding project is going well, though he did find a couple of nuts and washers mixed with his peas over last night’s dinner. 

Michael’s garden bench has turned into a wood store as the legs went a bit wrong. The edges are beautifully chamfered though.  

My other mate Paul (W) has fixed my blog as it had 20,000 spam emails, mostly offering viagra and hot sexy ladies, and the site had shut down to protect itself from the onslaught. I do hope that’s one aspect of life that disappears with the Coronavirus. 

Paul’s wife, Charlotte, is a dog groomer and has been thinking of turning family hairdresser. 

Ever since I saw the funny poodle haircut picture she posted , I’ve been dying to cut my own hair. How hard can it be? 

I’ve got the dog clippers and scissors, which I’m sure would do the job. And if it all goes wrong I’ll just isolate for a bit longer. 

I suggested that I practice on Michelle first but she wasn’t keen- spoilsport. 

They haven’t yet said how many people died from Coronavirus today but thankfully there are also no reports of fatalities from wind chimes, which is a relief. 

The NHS wanted to sign up 250,000 volunteers. They got 405,000 in twenty four hours. I think I’ll sign up if the Police don’t want me back. As it happens they’re looking for help too. Then again, that decking isn’t going to power-wash itself. 

I hope the idiots are starting to heed the advice to stay at home as it will take at least two weeks to begin to have an impact on the numbers. Of course they are not ‘numbers’ to their families but loved-ones.  

As someone who has faced his own mortality on many occasions since a cancer diagnosis, it is strange to see the reaction of people who seem to think it’ll never happen to them. 

Christians around the world were asked to join Pope Francis and the Archbishop Canterbury in saying the Lord’s Prayer at 12 noon today.  I confess that I was among that number.  

Aside from all the bad behaviour that we’re seeing in the news and on social media, my experience has, so far, only been one of kindness and a willingness to help others. We’ve had numerous offers of help from all sorts of people. Accordingly, I’m finding it rather difficult to find anyone who actually wants any help at the moment. I reckon that’s a good thing.

Today we received a hand posted note from a young man up the road (don’t  touch the paper and if you do, wash your hands).

He explained that he is a Royal Marine and has been sent home with five days notice to move. He is fit and healthy, he says, and is willing to help out in any way he can. 

“Isn’t that lovely,” said Michelle. 

“I may need to borrow his SA80 rifle in a few weeks time,” I added. “when all the looting starts.”

About half the people in our cul-de-sac joined his What’s App group. 

I’m wary of belonging to too many of these due to all the notifications. Still, there’s a war on, I suppose. 

Italian priest, Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died on March 15th at a hospital in Lovere, Italy after declining to use medical equipment in order that it could be used by a younger patient. That is truly loving ones neighbour. 

Meanwhile, the NHS is sending out letters to the most vulnerable patients, advising that they will not be offered treatment should they contract the Coronavirus. It’s a stark message. 

At the workplaces that are still in operation,  the usual patterns are emerging. The workers are working hard as ever and those who wanted a new excuse not to do their work have found the perfect one. I read somewhere that in any area of work,  20% of employees do 80% of the work. A small proportion spend more time complaining and trying to avoid work than doing what they’re well paid to do. 

I bet you can all think of one. 

Is it only day two? Michelle is a bit fractious so I’m self-distancing this evening and we haven’t even got the board games out yet! She hates to lose at Scrabble.

Corona Diaries- day 1

Lockdown

We had just returned from a ten day holiday in St Lucia, to celebrate our 25th Wedding anniversary.

Although the Coronavirus had not yet taken a grip in the Uk when we left, it seemed to have accelerated more rapidly than we, or the British government, had anticipated.

Michelle had spent most of the last week worrying whether our return flights would be cancelled or brought forward. Concrete information was elusive.

The women gathered around the WiFi hotspot, contacting family at home and searching for snippets of news, whilst the men mainly shrugged their shoulders and made light of it all.

I did, however, listen to the informative daily updates from Boris and his medical advisers to ensure I had a grip on things.

Therein lies the difference between the sexes.

We touched down at Gatwick and collected our cases through a ruck of about sixty Chinese Students, all wearing those silly masks, and standing in a single, impenetrable huddle and who had been returned to the UK from a Caribbean cruise ship.

“Bloody Chinese,” said the Pakistani airport worker. “I can say it,” she said with a wink.

We exchanged smiles.

A Police officer finally arrived and barked at them and they vaguely dispersed into smaller groups.

Only 6 months earlier, whilst at the lighthouse at Cape-Point in South Africa, I had encountered a similarly attired and rudely oblivious group of Chinese tourists and had wondered if they perceived the air safe to breathe anywhere in the world. Surely here the Cape Doctor, as the pristine arctic wind is known, would allow a little relaxation of this strange etiquette?

Now back at home we watched Boris Johnson’s special announcement. Because the idiotically irresponsible and selfish among us were unable to self isolate and had treated the whole thing like an extended Bank Holiday weekend, he had taken the regrettable decision to enforce these measures. In other words, LOCKDOWN!

The female half of my family gasped as they pondered exactly what this meant. The male side positively welcomed it.

Women are certainly more sociable creatures and thrive on human contact. I think men are just a little better equipped for times such as this.

Indeed, as the youngest of my siblings by seven years, I had learned as a boy to occupy myself with solitary pursuits when the need arose.

Patience, building card-Pyramids, Solitaire, making a rabbit-hutch from instructions in a DIY book or imagining myself as the sole survivor of some apocalyptic catastrophe and eating a crust of bread in a home-made den of a sheet over two chairs. Yes, we boys, of my generation at least, have all played such games. Now our time has come.

I would have plenty of time to ration out the tins of sardines and work out portion sizes for the next three weeks (or months).

First things first, there are many jobs to be done. I set about them like a man possessed whilst Michelle tried to figure out what Facebook says about it all.

The pile of wood in the back garden needed cutting into logs and I had a chainsaw primed and ready. What more motivation could a man need?

After cutting the logs I stacked neat piles of kindling on the back wall and filled the log store with the larger ones. That’s next winter taken care of, I thought.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I dragged the petrol mower out of the shed. The next best thing to a chainsaw. It started like a dream as I gave the grass its first cut of the year. I was in seventh heaven. 

When it comes to DIY, I have adopted the motto of Mastermind host, Magnus Magnusson: “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

I’d better save the other jobs for tomorrow though. You know, power -washing and painting the decking and sanding down the window sills. Perhaps I’d better eke it out or Michelle will find me some housework – unless it’s lighting the log fire- I like that.

Feeling that I had not yet engaged my community spirit, I messaged an elderly acquaintance from the Gym who has a heart condition as I thought he might like me to get him some supplies. Let’s call him Frank.

Frank says he’d very much like some supplies but rebuffed my suggestion that he should send a list by text, being something of a technophobe. He would dictate it to me over the phone.

I searched frantically for paper and pen then sat down to take his order with phone tucked between ear and shoulder.

“One ancient grain mini roll,” he began. “They’re thirty pence each.”

“ Just one?” I asked, “You do know I wont be going every day, don’t you?”

Frank thought about it for a minute and said, “make it two then”.

I was tired from Jet lag and my exploits in the garden and sighed heavily. He wasn’t listening.

Eventually, I held the most frugal list of shopping you could imagine:

2x Ancient grain rolls

2x plain brown rolls

A packet of 120g fresh salmon and another 60g packet.

A carton of Soya milk

A carton of peppered salad at £1. (I persuaded him to have two)

2x packets of peppered croutons and a bottle of red wine of my choice.(Rioja)

I scratched my head and showed the paltry list to Michelle. Of all the people I could pick to help out, I had the fussiest eater alive. Did he expect me to do a morning and afternoon shop on those rations? Won’t he eat tinned sardines?

The phone rang again. It was Frank.

“Better add a loo roll to that” he said.

To top it all, the neighbour opposite has set up some bloody wind-chimes at the front door. Now it’s warmer, I have to sleep with the window open and the things jangle all night. I know it’s only a little thing really but I can see it being an issue after three weeks confined to barracks.

The lads have set up a What’s App group. Self-Isolation, for us, means spending more time than usual with our wives. The twin purpose, therefore, is that we can freely discuss any minor irritations before they become major ones and also to keep one another updated on our DIY projects.

Paul has commandeered the kitchen table to strip down and rebuild a bike and Michael is employing his full armoury of power tools to build a garden bench in the garage. 

Self-isolation? Don’t worry, the boys will be just fine.

I’m sure that life will be very different when this is all over, and that’s no bad thing. 

Thankfully the news is no longer all about claims of faux-racism, white privilege and identity politics. It is about the things that really matter. It’s about family, character, community and selfless acts of kindness. It commends the selfless acts of our doctors and nurses and our diminished police service. Perhaps the cultural Marxists will realise that we actually lived in a very free and tolerant society all along and they’ll put their energies elsewhere.

Perhaps we will defeat the monster of Totalitarianism that has again raised its ugly heads; erasing identity, dehumanising and deconstructing truth to feed its greedy mouths. It’s what philosopher, Hannah Arendt called ‘the banality of evil’. A single way to think, a mindless bureaucracy of state to control the people. 

I hope we will rebuild our democracy on a foundation of love and compassion, thriving on our ability to respectfully disagree and dissent and to hold politicians to account.

I hope that we will value people more than possessions. That we will readjust our idea of what is important and what is not. That we will appreciate what it is to live in a free and democratic society, and not one like China, where you can be imprisoned for your religious beliefs. That’s  where all this started – in the wet-food market of Wuhan.

President Trump was criticised for calling it the China virus. He’s right. It’s not racist at all. That’s where it started. And it wouldn’t go amiss if the world media recognised this and asked China if it wouldn’t mind awfully, not selling and eating live bats and pangolins and all manner of other endangered wildlife, creating  these new and deadly viruses. And whilst they’re at it, we won’t be buying any of their goods or telephone networks, whilst they  steal information and put people in internment camps for their religious beliefs. 

Anyway that’s enough of that for one day.

I’m off to spend my single period of permitted exercise outside in the best way I know how; I’m off to walk my three border terriers alone by the river and think my free thoughts, breathe the free air and to pray that God will keep us all safe.