DAY 12: Wed 25 Mar

News from Freetown, Istanbul, and closer to home

Another lovely day. What has come over the weather? It is almost as though the absence of airplanes in the sky, cars on the roads and cruise ships on the oceans as has brought a smile to Mother Nature’s face. Blossoms are out on cherry trees and the plum tree, and the fig plant, the apple tree and the pear tree are bursting into life. If this keeps up I shall have to water the garden.

Before I set to work outside, and before I even release the chickens to wreak havoc on the garden, a call come through – from Sierra Leone.  Friends were there recently, and I have journalist colleagues from there who had to get out during the civil war. But this is none of those. A colleague from the European Journalism Centre wants to conduct an interview about the trials and tribulations of international media trainers. I had been expecting him to call from Maastricht but he has decanted to Freetown, where is doctor wife is working at the hospital. With flight’s halted he is now stranded there, where a year-long State of Emergency has been declared, although few coronavirus infections have yet been identified. My friends described life in Sierra Leone as chaotic, my interviewer agrees “But that’s on a good day!”.

A voicemail from Snuffy Jack’s, the nearby mini-pub, thanks me for my earlier message and assures me there will be good beer to be had once they can reopen. An email informs me that another local brewery is doing home runs. I resist the temptation to put in an order.

My house guest shows me live Facebook footage of the children, women and men, including invalids, from Algeria stranded in Istanbul airport. They have been there for more than a week, apparently, and while they are being fed they have no access to medical care and have had to sleep on benches and the floor. Unable to get flights home, the Turkish authorities have refused to let them leave the terminal even after representations from the Algerian consulate. Now they are threatening to refuse food. 

I had tried to get some media interest, without evident success. However later in the evening we learn that agreement has been reached to transfer families with children and the vulnerable to hotels until flights can be arranged. One of so many predicaments brought on by the pandemic. 

Today I leave the chickens to their own devices and make a start on the front garden which has been left to its own devices for too long. 

The great thing about the front garden, which sits above the Back Lane and its partially obscured by mature shrubs, is that if I choose to I cannot be seen, but I can hear what people say as they pass. It adds a certain something to taking breakfast in the early morning sun. One day I heard two boys talking on their way to school. “That’s the murderer’s house,” one assured his mate with great confidence. I was tempted to make my presence felt but realised it might be too creepy so early in the morning. 

Funnily enough as a child I would probably have described my quirky old cottage as ‘The Witches House’ on account of the fact that at night, with the lights off, it completely disappears.

If you make yourself ‘present’ in the front of the house, you can be pretty sure to be engaged in conversation more than once. Today it started with a former neighbour from the nearby allotments. I have not seen her for sometime; she had been seriously unwell but is now taking her exercise by tending her plot. It turns out not many other people are, which is strange given the weather and current circumstances, especially as there are 35 people on the waiting list. Sadly the allotment’s longest plot holder has hung up his tools after 35 years, his sturdy weathered frame has succumbed to the ravages of age. 

Neighbours out for their constitutional, carefully keeping two metres apart, come by next and stop for a chat. They are enjoying a rerun of the complete series of ‘The X Files’ during their enforced incarceration.

I slip inside for a coffee and to check on the chooks, and in my absence another neighbour has dropped by and left a tray of young plants on the doorstep. They are surplus to her requirements and I add them gratefully to the burgeoning contents of the greenhouse. I will drop off some of my ‘extras’ to her in good time.

I watch as at least one of the inhabitants of the ’student house’ opposite loads up a van to head home. Everyone is wearing masks. Glad to be going home it would seem, now that lectures are cancelled.

A superior type of mask adorns the face of another passer-by who explains that he got them for £5.99 from Amazon, but thinks the price has done up (I check – it has, and delivery is not guaranteed before May!)

The remaining students are enjoying their freedom with some very loud music which they are sharing with the street through wide open windows. Not good when so many people are at home trying to cope with difficult times. I see one neighbour heading for and hammering on their door. As she leaves my next door neighbour heads over to add his five penn’orth. There is a brief respite but then we’re back to full volume. Two of us head over to remonstrate, and abject apologies are followed by windows being closed. Peace at last,

Another neighbour whom I do not know stops to say the pub she works in has closed and she’s been given all the eggs left in the kitchen. She’s put a tray on her gateposts for people to take.

And soon afterwards another neighbour turns up with two packets of runner bean seeds. When she had offered to do shopping for me last week it was the only thing I was short of. So sweet of her, and she wouldn’t take any money.

Needless to say I got very little done, other than some weeding and planting a few bulbs. There are plenty more to plant down the Lane – I thought I had bought a pack of 50 variegated bulbs, but it turns out there are 150!

And finally this outbreak of neighbourliness came to a close with beers shared over the garden wall. The patio happens to be almost level with the next door’s study flat roof. Being able to socialise as the sun went down while keeping a safe distance made for a pleasing end to the pleasantest of days. 

Once inside there was more joy to come. Chats and story time with the grandchildren, a tasty supper and ‘The Trouble with Maggie Cole’ to take my mind off the grim news the just keeps coming.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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