DAY 20: Thurs 2 Apr

A wasting time sort of day

I really overslept today (is that possible when you have nothing else to do?) I woke to the dulcet tones of Melvyn Bragg on the bedside radio chatting about gin with two women. It was way after 9 am. I’ve not woken at such an hour for many a year. Mind you I am going to bed late – last night it was again around 2 am. The tinnitus has been more pronounced the last couple of days, I wonder if these things are connected. It

I have a little thing on my phone that tells me to go to bed by 11:30pm, and attempts to wake me at 7:30am with a dawn chorus. But I often don’t hear that (especially if I have left the phone downstairs!) It is clear I need to get some order back into my life – or it is too late for that?

It looks like another lovely day, so the garden will get more attention than the house I suspect. That should help to keep down anxiety levels over my sister’s op. She is a very active 70, and full of good works and good spirits, but intrusive surgery can be a risky business. I know the whole family is praying for her. Checking my phone discover she went into hospital at 7am and her op was scheduled for 9!

After watching news on Al Jazeera I am trapped by a People & Power documentary about Orban’s Hungary. Many of the images remind me of my visit there with a group of young anti-racist activists from around Europe last year. It was as part of a project trying to find new ways of telling the migrant story. We held a press conference and a ‘Human Library’ in the Central European University that Orban hates so much because it was funded by George Soros. And we held a ‘happening’ outside the Cathedral (the Parliament precincts and Freedom Square were considered problematic venues by our Hungarian hosts who had a healthy distrust of the authorities.) After making our presence felt with rhythmic clapping and chants we invited the Saturday afternoon crowds to chalk messages to migrant and refugees on the large blackboards we carried with us. Many of those who contributed were tourists, and we got messages in 11 different languages.

The only challenge we had was from a tall Hungarian woman who thought we might be opposed to refugees. “Why are you doing this?” she wanted to know. “In 1956 we were the refugees and everyone looked after us. We should be looking after refugees” She was pleasantly surprised to discover we shared her views.

For some reason watching the programme prompted a reminder that I had left a country off my yesterday’s list. I also worked in Lebanon last year; a short visit to Beirut, my first, helping to develop a module on reporting children’s rights to Lebanese universities. It was strange time to be there. Hotels were empty; the streets were full of road blocks and security forces; and each night demonstrations against the failing government blocked the city centre.

That recollection set me to contacting colleagues across Europe and the Middle East to see how they were getting on under the shadow of coronavirus. Somehow I found myself moving between emails, WhatsApp groups, Twitter and news feeds for most of the morning, so house and garden were neglected – until suddenly the internet cut out. Bloody BT. All my patient efforts to reboot it for half an hour came to nothing. I spent the next 30 minutes waiting to speak to someone at BT without success. Then just as suddenly it comes back on again. For that hour I really felt cut off.

To gather myself I went out to have a chat to the chicken and collect eggs. By now the day had turned cold so I settled for a late lunch – a double-yolk poached egg on homemade bread with a salad from the garden.

Then I sorted the dry clothes but couldn’t be bothered to iron those that needed it; sorted out some bulbs for my son who should be delivering some shopping sometime this afternoon.

For expressing an interest n the Twitter-based #BristolDJsUnite scheme, I have been allocated a slot and must produce 3 sets of 10 tracks for my playlist on Sunday 26 April. I think I shall have a jazz & blues session (obs), plus a Round the World set, but I shall start with The Women in My Life. I have to whittle down a long list which currently includes Bettina Jonic, Billie Holiday, Blossom Dearie, Brenda Lee, Carole King, Dusty Springfield, Francoise Hardy, Heather Small, Joan Armatrading, Keely Smith, Marianne Faithfull, Mary Coughlan, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Queen Ida. Help!

General time wasting until the news came in that my sister was safely back at home, suitably upbeat if still a little woozy. I helpfully suggested she keep off the gin for a while.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is back from his sickbed and rehearses all the rhetoric we have come to expect from the teatime press conference in No.10. (I am convinced they leave the crib notes on the lecturn for the next poor sap who has to face the nation.) But what is this? Has he broken the mould? Hancock announces that more than £13 billion of NHS Trust debts have been written off. Great news – better still if it means the Tories have realised they have been underfunding the NHS for years.

And he’s set himself some fresh targets (by the end of the April!) for testing. Who knows what the death rate will be by then. Am I too much of a cynic to think that the government has been stung by criticism of their tardiness even from their traditional supporters in the mainstream media, or that they need a headline to eclipse the mounting tally of deaths, higher than ever in the last 24 hours. The coverage is abruptly curtailed by the BBC for some reason, just as Hancock is asked under what criteria he had been selected for testing when the vast majority of heath service workers are still untested.

By the end I had a stinking headache, soothed by a paracetamol and another exciting instalment of ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ with grandson 1. His younger brother (who has just mastered riding his bike unaided) wanted to read to me. Then it’s out on the doorstep to clap for the nurses and doctors, and porters and ambulance crews, and care workers – this time along with a substantial number of neighbours. Much waving from the edges of our jails.

A stuffed aubergine and bowl of ice cream for supper. A slug of rum and I’m ready for bed, again.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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