DAY 14: Fri 27 Mar

A happy birthday, as the coronavirus reaches the top

Woken by the chickens this morning. I have rarely heard them so insistent other than upon visitation from the neighbourhood foxes. They often remind me of the characters from Aardman Animation’s fabulous ‘Chicken Run’, but in truth they are not stupid. Turns out I had failed to put the feeder back in their coop last night and they wanted their breakfast. Nothing is more important than FOOD for chickens, as they were in haste to remind me. Even Mother Hen allowed the others to join her at the trough without demur when at last it was restored. 

As my son keeps reminding me, chickens are the surviving remnants of the days of the dinosaurs – look closely at their heads and you will see he is right.

Talking of nightmares, I dreampt last night it was all over. In a good way. This was no nightmare. Somehow it seemed to be linked to the really defiant messages in defence of democracy that came from the European Parliament President David Sassoli at the emergency plenary session yesterday.

“The European Parliament is doing its duty and will continue to do so. Parliament must remain open, because a virus cannot bring down democracy. We are the only European institution voted in by its citizens and we want to continue representing and defending them”.

So unlike British parliamentarians who accepted a pay rise and then shut down parliament in the midst of the country’s biggest ever crisis, leaving us in the hands of an administration which earned its majority by telling lies and decrying the European Union as ‘undemocratic’. Indeed the British Prime Minister, in his career as a journalist, took great pleasure in generating myths about the EU which paved the way for the debacle which is Brexit.

But I digress. Counter intuitively the overnight euphoria may well be a consequence of consuming a roasted Camembert last night.  It make a delicious fondue eaten with chunks of home made wholemeal bread. For some time it had been slowly overpowering everything else in the fridge, its fragrance leaping out at you each time the door was opened. Its time had come, and it got its own back by inducing an illusion that COVID19 was a thing of the past and we were all free and happy once more.

As Irish epidemiologist Dr Michael J Ryan of the WHO has said, we humans have created the systems which have allowed animal viruses like COVID19 to succeed by leapfrogging across to the human chain. It is one of the consequences of our current life styles, connectedness and globalisation making the spread inevitable. We have to find ways of breaking the chain, not just now through contact tracing and  ‘social distancing’, but for the future. But will we all be willing to radically alter our lifestyles after this almighty scare?

For the most part this has been a listless, unproductive sort of a day.  Having grown a little weary of gardening, and aching from the efforts of recent days, I had hoped to ease myself into the sauna and read a book this morning. But this was not to be. A phone call at 9 informed me that roofers would be with me at 10 to check out the storm damage which has dislodged and broken tiles on my roof.

I moved my bike from the passageway to allow access to the back garden without human contact and to avoid the need to go through the house. And then I waited. At gone 11, I made a call and was warned that the family were having a virtual party to celebrate grandson No. 2’s 7th birthday at midday, so could they come now after 1pm? Then nothing until 3:30, when a cheery knock came at the door. The roofer’s practised eye saw rather more dislodged tiles than I had noticed, but said he could oblige tomorrow or Monday for a most reasonable sum. 

All this hanging about meant the chickens had had to go back into their coop early, and I felt unable to get down to anything substantial. Pottering about in the study I came across a sheaf of yellowing papers containing some long forgotten and rather painful poems about unrequited love from almost 50 years ago!

My day was brightened up by a fun gathering of the clan on ZOOM. We all wore masks as part for the surprise for the 7 year old who thoroughly enjoyed the online event. He proudly showed off the remote controlled Lego kit he had completed that very morning. 

His gran had made up for lack of physical contact by compiling a lovely online album of photos tracing his life from babe-in-arms right up to date. I too could not deliver my gift to him, a Danish card game called ‘Copy the Monkey’ I had come across in a Vilnius gift shop on my last trip to Lithuania. We were able to have a quick virtual round. Each person has to copy the monkey antics depicted on each card AND the antics on the previous card, AND the one before that etc. until someone gets the sequence wrong. The one who does is out of the game. I can see adults getting into this game in a big way if isolation continues for much longer.

More cheer came with the arrival of a late Christmas present from one of my (5) godchildren. Helen’s first book, a hefty RIBA volume on Urban Schools: Designing for high density’ (she being an architect!) To my amazement I  learned that one of her projects had been at one of my old schools – the one I hated.

Good news too from my aged Irish godmother to whom I was at last able to speak over the phone. She is a long way away but sounded in fine form

“I’m still able to shout at you,” she chuckled. Bridie is aware of what is happening in the outside world though she stopped listening to the news long ago. She feels happy and safe where she is, and is well looked after. My April visit will have to wait a goodly while, but it is reassuring to hear her voice, even through she is now very frail. Please God the lockdown arrangements that have been put in place at the home will keep all the residents safe until visitors are allowed in again.

Next came the bitter sweet news that Prime Minister Alexander Boris Johnson and his Health Minister Matt Hancock have gone down with the coronavirus. We must wish them a safe and speedy recovery, but there is a splendid irony that men who many have felt initially played fast and loose with the nation’s wellbeing should now fall foul of the coronavirus pandemic.

I tried sitting in the garden with a coffee and Private Eye in late afternoon. The sun was still bright but the wind was very nippy, so that didn’t last long.

Story-reading was been set back half-an-hour as the birthday boy and his brother were watching a film, so I got on with making a fish pie to be eaten later.  While putting the finishing touches to the pie (which is actually covered in mashed potato), a large glass jar of tarragon tumbled from the kitchen cupboard and shattered on the sideboard. A minute sliver inserted itself in the flesh at the side of my thumbnail and drew blood. It was almost impossible to see but stung like billy-oh. Having successfully extracted it with tweezers I felt the shock to my system would best be assuaged with a beaker of Venetian Pinot Grigio. I was right. It went well with the fish pie too.

Then I settled down to find a good movie to watch on MUBI.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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