Category Archives: lockdown

The New Dystopia

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

George Orwell – “1984”

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Here it is, as promised a few days ago.

I am embarrassed to admit that I lived for many years, and )read many dystopian novels, without realising the word existed. However, I’m not so embarrassed that I won’t use the fact to start a blog post. That sort of blind-spot, I’m afraid, is the mark of a self-educated man. Looking on the bright side, though I lack a degree, I also lack the debt that goes with it in the modern world. Given the choice of being debt free or knowing the word ‘dystopian’ I’ll settle for ignorance.

However, after learning about it a few years ago I find it’s a useful word for our current circumstances.

During the recent lockdown we mainly behaved like sheep and obeyed the instructions of the government. It was quite disturbing, but far preferable to the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed.

Once the panic buying had subsided, I felt quite relaxed. The roads, when I had to use them, were empty, and the air quality improved.

Some police forces were, to be fair, a little too keen to use the extra powers that Government gave them, and supermarkets have seemed a little too keen on issuing instructions, particularly as their staff are some of the worst offenders when it comes to ignoring social distancing. Other police forces, such as Durham and Leicestershire, seemed unwilling to use their powers (see remarks on Dominic Cummings and Sir Petrer Soulsby below).

Shops have also used the virus as an excuse for refusing cash. They have wanted to go to a cashless society for a long time now, as cash handling incurs costs and security problems. The Government also wants to move away from cash as it wants to know all about your money so that only rich people with accountants are able to avoid paying tax. The “cash job” of the working man will no longer be an option.

Of course, when restrictions were relaxed, people reacted by flocking to the beach, holding raves and street parties, and even by rioting, in an exhibition of selfishness of staggering proportions.

Even before that, a number of high profile figures had been caught breaching regulations, and though several did the decent thing and resigned, some didn’t. It was a shame to see a number of scientists resigning for giving way to human weakness, particularly at a time when we needed scientific guidance. It was also a shame to see that a number of politicians, when caught out, didn’t resign. I include Dominic Cummings in this, despite him not being elected, and Sir Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester.

As far as my mental journey goes, I have lost the ability to mix with people. Strangers are no longer just friends I haven’t met, they are potential sources of infection. Even friends I have met are a potential source of infection.

The world has been spoilt and I may never feel the same about it again.

Whilst reading for this post (not that you would guess any scholarship actually goes into it), I enjoyed this article immensely. Especially Number 5.

 

 

Pepys, Posterity and Parmesan

Here’s another of those posts I sometimes write so that history will be able to compare my blog with the Diary of Samuel Pepys. It would probably help if I was a senior civil servant but at least I have now lived through some interesting times. He had the Great Fire of London, where he distinguished himself with the efforts he made on behalf of his Parmesan. I have lived through lockdown and I ordered processed cheese slices by accident when shopping online. The horror of processed cheese slices will stay with me for years to come. Whenever I think of the global pandemic I will think of rubbery orange cheese.

In years to come, I wonder if scholars will discuss me alongside Pepys when talk turns to amusing cheese anecdotes in times of National Emergency.

This is assuming that blog posts will still be available in a hundred years from now. The survival of a paper diary for several hundred years is remarkable, but will a random series of pixels, or whatever they are, survive any better? It all seems so fragile when you stop and think about it. While I dream of immortality for my anecdotes of 21st century life, should I actually be printing my blog posts for preservation. Probably, bearing in mind the poor quality of paper, I should be sharpening a quill and writing the whole thing on vellum.

If I did write it on vellum will vegan academics of the 22nd century refuse to acknowledge me, and pull down any statues of me that may have been erected in the meantime? Aiming for posthumous fame has many pitfalls and although you can try to imagine the future, who can really tell.

open pages on brown wooden table

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I really don’t know whether the UK of 2120 will even have vegans. As we move the limits of our diet, will we all have become vegans by default? Or even, as we live on a diet of bugs and Soylent Green will vegans have become irrelevant and be in the waste bin of history alongside farm animals.

Another parallel between our stories is our bladders. Pepys, at the age of 25 had a bladder stone the size of a tennis ball removed without the aid of anaesthetic or antiseptic (which is the reason that if I ever do perfect my Time Machine, I won’t be travelling further back than the late 19th Century. I’d rather not travel back to a time before antibiotics, but that’s within living memory and seems a bit unambitious as time travel goes.

My own bladder stones were discovered during one of the several camera insertions performed a few years ago. As a twentieth century man I actually had anaesthetic just for that, without any cutting. They were going to remove the bladder stones as part of the second part of the procedure but in the months between the two procedures (supposedly seven weeks but after two cancellations it took eleven weeks) I self-medicated with lots of drinking and a large amount of lemon juice. There were no stones by the time they went back to look for them.

My current challenge is pollen. Levels are high and my eyes have been watery and itching for two weeks now, accompanied by random attacks of runny nose. Fortunately I haven’t been sneezing much as this is currently frowned on, being a well-publicised way of spreading disease. It does mean that I am rubbing my eyes more than I should be, as that is also a way of spreading the virus. However, it’s only  away of spreading it to me, rather than other people so that isn’t so bad.

We went for a drive in the country yesterday as our personal way of marking the start of a less rigorous phase of lockdown. It looks like everyone else had decided the same thing as it seemed to be as busy as it was before lockdown. How soon we forget…

That will be the subject of the next post.

close up of open book

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The Curmudgeon Chronicles (Pick a Number)

I had a text from the pharmacy ate 12.25 pm. I had tried to ring them in the morning but they were permanently engaged.

By 2.00 there was a queue of about twenty people. Or maybe ten, on reflection, but it felt like twenty. So I went to TESCO to use the cash machine. Two have been shut down due to social distancing, and the third wasn’t working. Next I tried Sainsbury’s, again the only working machine wasn’t working. If that makes sense you have, like me, been in lockdown too long.

Back to the pharmacy…

The queue was down to one person, with two in the shop. They only allow two in the shop at one time, presumably because the previous restriction of three was too efficient. At that time it was actually three in the queue and two sitting waiting, Today they actually had two sitting waiting and nobody being served. Not the best use of the four staff they had in the shop.

I waited outside for 25 minutes. I timed it especially for this post. The lady in front of me was finally admitted. I waited another ten minutes. They allowed me in. Then they made me wait again. The lady in front of me was told she would have to wait ten minutes for her prescription. Mine, when I was served, was ready for me as arranged. I heard the sound of celestial trumpets and felt warm rays of light fall upon my head.

Because I have learned from experience I checked the bag.

My Warfarin were missing. Another five minutes passed before they waved a slip of paper to prove I didn’t have a prescription for it. If only they’d been as keen to contact the doctor and sort it.

I had to walk five yards and press doorbell to contact reception. I did this and waited. They were busy and it took a few minutes. They refused to discuss it with me as there were “people about” and they didn’t want me to have to discuss it with people listening. I don’t actually feel the need to hide the fact I have atrial fibrillation. If I’d contracted it in a brothel, or had to take my trousers off to explain it, I might feel a bit embarrassed, but I didn’t, and I don’t. I could actually have sorted it in five minutes but no, I had to ring.

So they sent me away with instructions to sort it out by ringing them.

After sorting a number of other things out, and calming myself down, I was able to ring the surgery and establish that they had missed the Warfarin off the prescription. As usual there is no explanation, no apology and, seemingly, no concern that they have cocked up yet again.

As a result, my careful planning has come to nothing. My exposure to the virus has been doubled by the need for a second visit. My attempt to avoid exposing pharmacy workers to the virus has been negated. Sometimes I wonder why I bother trying.

Other, more interesting things also happened, but they would merely cloud the issue.

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Ten Best Things About Lockdown

It’s not been all bad, by any means. I don’t know how it’s been for everyone else, but I’ve quite enjoyed some of the time.

One – being paid not to work. As far as I can see, there is no downside to this. I like my work, but I prefer being paid for nothing. This is different from my normal occupation where I have to go to the shop for six hours a day, where I am paid for doing very little work.

Two – spending more time with my wife. Again, what’s not to like? I know not everybody is as lucky as me in their choice of partner.  Julia, for instance, doesn’t seem as keen on this aspect of the lockdown.

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Bee in Cranesbill

Three – clean air. I have to take the Government’s word for this, but, unusually, they seem to be telling the truth. This has to be good.

Four – less traffic. I’ve been able to drive to hospital for blood tests and get a parking space. Luxury.

Five – free parking. I won’t lie to you, I am extremely mean and if I can save a couple of quid I will do. The hospital car park is free for the moment as they don’t want to handle all that dirty cash.

Six – I’m still on the same tank of fuel I had in March. I haven’t been able to go anywhere, but the money in the bank is handy. (See Five)

Seven – relaxation. The first couple of months made me feel years younger. After that, I have to admit, it began getting more stressful.

Eight – I did get some useful work done, though not enough. However, the bit that I did has been worth doing.

Pie, gravy and roasted veg

Pie, gravy and roasted veg

Nine – we ate lots of healthy vegetables and are feeling better as a result. Apart from one disastrous KFC we haven’t had a takeaway delivery all lockdown. We have been having fish and chips on Fridays since the shop reopened, but fish is good for you and I’ve been leaving half the batter and some of the chips, They give you too many chips. I’m pretty sure that complaining about having too many chips is a sign of age…

Ten – I haven’t needed to speak to anyone. Social interaction is, in my opinion, over-rated. I’ve texted a few people and been on WordPress to exchange a few views. That’s enough. Within that circle I have enough people and they are all sensible people. Mainly. One has been making films with Sooty, but there is always one. Talking to more people just involves me with being tactful to idiots. This isn’t at the top of my list of skills. That’s why I’m not often called to deal with customers these days.

That’s it. I’ve been lucky in lockdown and I intend to stay lucky by remaining in isolation for a while longer.

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The End of the Beginning…

I was encouraging my dining room computer to greater efforts last night, because I felt it was deliberately slowing down and refusing to obey commands just to wind me up. Shouting isn’t a long term answer, we really need a new computer, but it provides some short-term relief. In this, a computer resembles a teenager, though teenagers do eventually improve. On the other hand, you can switch a computer off and it never empties your fridge.

As I paused for breath I heard Julia say: “Simon, can you stop swearing please?”

This led to our usual discussion about me and my right to freedom of speech and how it was hardly even swearing compared to some of the things I could have said and how…

“Will you **** shut up, you foul-mouthed ****!”

I’ll leave you fill in the gaps. Unlike the tabloid press I have deliberately left the words unidentifiable. If you are going to blank out the bad language I’ve never seen the point of adding the initial letter and the exact number of asterisks. You may as well just print the word. As I know my readership contains churchgoers and grandmothers I tend to be honest in admitting that my language is not good, but refrain from exposing the true depravity of my language. Too many years spent working in the company of rough men. I really should stop it, but like vegetarianism and exercise, I seldom persist in my improvements for long. Te only two things I have really ever given up have been smoking and hard work. I have not done either for over 20 years.

It seems that Julia had just been adding sound to a video she had done for work and my advice to the computer meant she was going to have to do it all again. There really are times when I realise I’ve been a bad influence on her.

Chastened, I carried on typing, but when the computer seized up again I made my displeasure obvious with the use of hand signals.

It’s a good thing that we are doing more days at work in the coming week, as lockdown is beginning to change me. First I started eating too many biscuits, then I pretended to be a bear and now I’m making offensive hand gestures at a computer.

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Salon closed

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Salon closed

We’ve each been in twice a week for the last two weeks to do the eBay work and answer the phone. From this week we are going in four days a week and there will be two of us in the shop each day. I will be at work tomorrow, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In two weeks time we will start letting customers in by appointment. I spoke to someone by telephone today – he has had a queue outside all day wanting new watch batteries. A lot of watches ran out of power over the last few months.

It’s going to be a long slow recovery from lockdown.

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Winston Churchill

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Picture of Desertion and Dejection

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Oh dear…

Irony

Places of worship in England will be able to open from Saturday 13th June for acts of private prayer. People can pray in household groups as long as they distance themselves from other praying groups. However, acts of organised worship are still not allowed. I am, I admit, mystified by the difference between a room of socially-distanced people engaged in individual prayer and the same people, in the same room, at the same distance, engaging in an act of worship. Apart from a priest and a little more exhalation I don’t see any difference.

My Dad’s funeral took place on the 12th June. He had worshipped on and off for 50 years in the village church (admittedly more off than on – like Churchill he was more a flying buttress than a pillar of the church, supporting it from the outside), but he could not have his funeral service in the church. If he’d died a few weeks later this would have been OK. That’s irksome, but not ironic. The irony is that they announced the reopening on the day of his funeral.

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Stained Glass – Ely

A Funeral in the Time of Lockdown

“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”

Wordsworth

It was my father’s funeral today. I haven’t mentioned it before because everyone has their own challenges at the moment and many of you have your own parents to worry about.

However, it’s a significant day in my life, and part of  my record of lockdown.

He died after a short illness, having tested positive for Covid 19 several weeks ago. He was moved from the care home to the hospital as he became weaker and, after a brief rally, died peacefully, without experiencing any of the breathing difficulties reported in the press.

Last time we visited he beat us all at dominoes. He may have lost his ability to remember people, but he still retained his facility with numbers. He was still competitive, too, and retained the will to win that had led my mother to hide the Monopoly board each Christmas was still there.

I will remember that visit, with the sound of a distant TV and the click of dominoes, and my sister telling me it was only a game.

It is a matter of great sadness, but he was ninety one and you cannot complain at that.

The funeral was a strange affair. We could not use the village church because it is closed during lockdown, and simply met at the crematorium for a short service. Numbers were limited to ten, and we had to tell many friends and family members they must not travel, as we want them all to stay safe. There was, of course, no gathering afterwards, which made the whole thing seem incomplete.

There was a list of people who were allowed to attend posted near the entrance. This includes partners, children and grandchildren but excludes friends. If you aren’t on the list, you aren’t even allowed in the grounds.

Our group included three family members and five friends.

In doing this we weren’t actually breaking government guidelines, as close friends are allowed if family members do not attend. Most of the friends attending had known him for between twenty and fifty years and seen him more often than most family members.

It seems that the crematorium is making up rules to suit itself.

Having checked the regulations to ensure I am accurate in reporting, I can also add that the figure of ten people seems to be an arbitrary figure decided by the crematorium, rather than a government figure.

My father loved singing and, in his youth, he had been asked to join a professional singing group but my grandmother had been unwilling to let him go. Sadly, we are not allowed to sing tomorrow as excessive exhalation is considered a health hazard.

The service was available on webcast and a number of people have already been in contact to thank my sister for her efforts in organising a meaningful and dignified service in the face of several difficulties.

It was an uplifting service, celebrating  a life, without being boastful. This summed my father up. He achieved many things in life. Starting from a position of disadvantage, he educated himself in the Royal Navy, worked hard, and won several prestigious awards. He also found time to work for charity, serve in a soup kitchen for the homeless, and stay married for 60 years. My mother, it has to be said, played a large part in his success.

He was known for being blunt, being good company and working hard. Mainly, it has to be said, for being blunt.

As we left the crematorium a large group of socially distancing mourners we lined up outside the gateway to pay respect to another funeral. This is how we mourn in times of lockdown.

 

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Flowers

 

 

Out and About

We went to the gardens today to do some watering and check that everything was secured against the wind. It was 2.40 when we turned onto the Ring Road, We noted a short queue at Sainsbury’s (four people) but the Ring Road seemed to have plenty of traffic on it. As we passed the local McDonald’s we noted that the Drive Through was crowded, having now been open for two days. Forty-eight hours and the rush for junk food is already gripping the nation.

The verges and central reservations on the Ring Road are now being left longer as part of the new city bee initiative. having read it I see a lot of words, a lot of signs and a lot of onus being shifted to other people. What I don’t see is much action – unless you count saving money by mowing less. Pardon my cynicism, but I’ve seen this sort of thing before, and though I welcome it, I’m not sure how committed they really are. However, I’m glad to see them making the effort.

bee-friendly-logo

We saw two different sorts of sin and there is, I see from the website, for parks. Councils love signs.

We went past the roadworks near the shop and saw nobody working, before crossing the bridge and seeing nobody working there either. To be fair they may be underground, or under the bridge. Or they may not.

The Co-op on Wilford Lane had a queue of two. At the school they are putting signs up for the return next week. The yellow lines are for social distancing as they queue to get into school. The nation really loves a queue. If we defeat corona virus it will be because of queues and fines for petty offences.

 

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Social Distancing

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Return to School

We left at 4pm and noticed the queue at the Co-op had grown to 12 while we’d been away.

The queue at Sainsbury’s now stretched the length of the shop front.

I managed a shot of an unkempt central reservation on the way back, and the queue at McDonald’s. Unfortunately we didn’t stop in the right place to photograph the signs.

Bee Friendly Central Reservation

Bee Friendly Central Reservation

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Stampede for Junk Food

Stampede for Junk Food

After fish and chips from Captain Cod (support your local shop) we went to TESCO to pick up this week’s order. Apart from the large white cobs I’d ordered. There will be no classic bacon cobs for breakfast tomorrow. There were no substitutes. I am not happy.

Caesar’s Wife and the Special Advisor

Sorry, I’m being political and I’m writing about Dominic Cummings today. He is a special advisor to the Prime Minister and was recently accused of breaking the lockdown guidance. People have resigned, or been forced to resign, over this several times and in several countries. Some useful scientists have been discarded as a result, at a time when we need scientists. Now Dominic Cummings has been accused of breaking the rules. He is not a scientist and, to my mind, is not useful. Political advisors fill the same niche in politics as catfish do in the world’s rivers – they lurk in murky places and feed from the bottom.

If he was sacked tomorrow I really don’t think the world would notice.

However, Boris Johnson won’t sack him. He has, according to Boris, ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’.

First, may I say that Boris, with his expensive classical education, should be the first to know that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. It is not good enough for someone in that position to be squeaky clean: they must give absolutely no room for suspicion.

And when they are tackled by the press they should remember, that, as the Bible tells usA soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. A soft answer does not seem to be the favoured response of either Mr Cummings or the Tory Party. Their responses to the press are verging on arrogant.

As for ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’, I don’t know the exact definition of what was legal. Discussing things like this is what keeps the legal profession in wigs and holiday homes. The ex-Chief Constable of Durham seems to believe there was a crime.(that is the same link as the previous one).

Responsible? I’m not sure that travelling the length of the country with a child and an infected person in the car to stay with family is responsible.

Integrity? I’ll let you make your own mind up.

All over the country people are making sacrifices. Even some politicians are making sacrifices. Sadly, it seems that some of them aren’t.

I photographed the crow in the picture 18 times before I got that shot, which makes the title of that shot corvid19.

I’ve been waiting to use that joke for months…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Meal in a Box

We dined on one of the meals from the birthday present box last night. It contained potatoes, shredded greens, garlic, pork steaks, squares of strong Cheddar and a pot of onion marmalade made by Tracklements, the top notch pickle company. All the ingredients were good and the recipe sheet had a colour picture and clear instructions.

To be honest, I could have sourced the ingredients and made pork steaks with cheese and onion topping with potato wedges and garlic greens without the instructions. However, after weeks of lockdown it’s comforting to be given a meal that hasn’t taken a lot of thought. More to the point, it’s nice to have something different too. We have been getting very dull with our menu. It’s also nice to have something a bit more tasty than usual – I wouldn’t have added the onion marmalade and cheese if I’d been left to my own devices.

Tomorrow we will be having the meatballs with roast broccoli and cheesy mash. The same comments apply. I’d have used ready-made meatballs if left to my own devices, and I’d just have used beef with bread crumbs made from leftover crusts. The kit includes beef and pork mince (in two different packs) and a pack of panko breadcrumbs. It’s a much more elegant way to live.

If I was younger, and had a proper job, I would seriously consider buying a box every week. The quality of ingredients is good, the presentation is good and the result was good. However, I’m one of those old dogs that can’t learn new tricks. Apart from the question of buying a food kit that includes bits I don’t want (like all the cheese) there is the question of ordering things over a week in advance and having to be around to accept a delivery. They had some good ice packs in the box but minced meat and summer heat can be tricky.

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It’s meant to be meatballs – I really must work on my presentation.

Tonight we had the meatballs. It’s the first time I’ve used panko breadcrumbs and they were (a) dry and (b) pointless. I can’t see that they were any better than ordinary breadcrumbs for making meatballs. I have no doubt they are better for some things, but I’m not sure you need them in meatballs.

I just looked them up, and added the link, and see that they absorb less fat when being fried. If that’s a concern, I would have thought the easiest way to cut the fat would be to stop adding cheese to everything.

Tonight’s meal – meatballs with cheese mash and roasted broccoli was very nice but, to be honest, making meatballs does involve a bit more standing than I would have liked. The meal was, I think, tastier than last night’s meal, but the instruction sheet was less clear.

Having said that, they have both been excellent.

The only drawback is the aggressive marketing campaign of the company, which made me sign up for regular deliveries just to redeem the gift voucher, and which made it difficult to cancel. They have already invited me to give them another chance three times.

It has, however, persuaded me that I must start making my own meatballs again. They are so much better than the bought ones, though the bought ones are good because they keep well, which is important in lockdown.