DAY 18: Tues 31 Mar

Slightly underwhelming day – is it getting to me?

Feeling rather useless today. The more I hear about the good things people are doing to help, the more frustrated I get about being stuck at home. I would normally be ‘out there’ doing something. I am well aware that my self-isolation is keeping me safe while others risk suffering by being out and about, whether working or volunteering. 

I could offer to do phone arounds as an NHS volunteer, but much of my day is spent anyway keeping in touch with friends and family around the world, some of whom are vulnerable and/or alone. I am part of several WhatsApp groups – members of which may get fed up with being sent silly/clever/witty videos to keep them smiling. 

[One of my particular favourites is]

I try to add useful bits and pieces to our news aggregation site which now has a regular daily newsletter. Nevertheless it feels like I am enjoying the luxury of my circumstances which seems rather unfair.

I know some self-isolated people have been talking about guilt as an underlying feeling when there is so much tragedy and good works going on elsewhere, but I don’t feel that. As a cradle Catholic I know all about GULLT with a vengeance. No, its more a slightly unsettling sensation as if I’m supposed to be somewhere else but I’ve forgotten where and when and there is no-one to ask, so I just try to act as if it doesn’t matter.

Each morning I watch Al Jazeera (English) which provides the most comprehensive international news, nowadays of course, mostly about the pandemic. It is helpful to know what is going on elsewhere but it is also a reminder about how privileged we are in the West, however incompetent or venal our political leaders.

And I cannot stop myself from following the bizarre behaviour and pronouncements of the ‘orange toad-wart’ now allegedly running the United States of America. Trump’s lies, dissembling, and about turns are a thing to behold, Does he even listen to himself? Does he believe everything he says? Does anybody else? His is truly an incredible presidency with which I have become morbidly fascinated.

Having begun the day with good intentions – exercise being one of them – once again I bottled out of that option Checking on the chickens I realised that this had the makings of another good day for gardening. But first a text from a neighbour offers to do some shopping for me. Reminds me how useless I feel, but it is an opportunity to stock up on some staples – flour, green vegetables, some cash, oh, and CHOCOLATE.

It is very kind of her and I am able to show some gratitude by supplying her with some ‘home grown’ eggs. While she shops I bake a loaf of bread. It turns out there is no flour in any of the local shops. That has echoes of many past political crises – shortages of bread, hoarding of grain, and extortionate prices. have led to riots and radical changes in so many different countries in so many centuries. Is that where we will end up? If the boorish behaviour of some characters, especially the racists, is anything to go by, and this government continues to demonstrate its ineptitude, we could be in for a rough ride further down the line.

In the greenhouse the mange tout are ready for transplanting. Some of the seeds I put in two weeks ago have not sprouted but lots of self-sown mustard seeds have come up everywhere. Even the young leaves are too hot/ bitter to be eaten in quantities but they add a sharp kick in any salad. I spent a pleasant hour or two clearing beds, sieving earth, and weeding plant pots. 

The government seems insensitive to the fact that their policies have left destitute thousands of people who came to the UK seeking sanctuary. Several charities have taken up the challenge of looking after asylum-seekers. I am involved with Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN) which has just launched its Coronavirus appeal

Like another excellent local project Borderlands they have had to suspend their drop-in services but both are making sure no-one goes hungry or friendless during this difficult time. You can support Borderlands here

Now I’ve done my good deed for the day; that makes me feel a bit better. But my mood is not improved by the teatime government press conference. As ever they are trying to blind us with figures, and now with largely meaningless charts, while deliberately avoiding answering all the important questions. Why haven’t NHS staff got the protective gear they desperately need? With the roads clear of traffic and the army involved, why are the supply chains not functioning efficiently? if they had all the much needed materials stockpiled why were they not being distributed back in January instead of still only being dispatched at the end of March? Why is the promised testing still being ‘ramped up’ rather than actually conducted? We all want answers to these questions, nit the blather we’re given by Raab and Gove. We need more assertive journalism too.

Luckily I have my bedtime WhatsApp chat with grandchildren 3 and 4 t calm me down and cheer me up.

It seems very strange how little reading I have done in the last two weeks – in circumstances that are made for it. What can that mean? The one book I have read most of is the one I am reading to grandchildren 1 and 2. They assure me that Salman Rushdie’s ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is building to an exciting climax. It is better than I had anticipated, not being a Rushdie fan. I have to acknowledge that it is clever and quite witty, if a little complicated for younger children.

Stuffed peppers for supper. May need ice-cream or chocolate to finish as I suddenly realise I had eaten nothing since breakfast. I went  to bed too late for a final film last night so I shall make up for that tonight. I could watch Bergman’s ‘The Silence’ on MUBI but it’s probably too grim a drama for my current mood. I’ll probably go for ‘The Red Circle’, Jean-Pierre Melville’s  celebrated film noir with Alain Delon and Yves Montand. What’s not to like?

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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