DAY 21: Fri 3 April

A birthday chat, news from afar and more chicken action

I’ve done it again, woke before 7, turned over, woke again to listen to the news at 8, turned over and the next thing I knew it was Brian Cox on Desert Island Discs. But I did go to bed late, it’s true. My house guest was experimenting with making a North African street food. It looked suspiciously like a square pizza to me but it was tasty enough, even though we were tasting at almost 2am!

Bran Cox was chatting about getting what we called batter scraps from the chip shop during his impoverished childhood in Scotland. We used to scoff them on the way home when we were sent out to get fish and chips on a Friday night – in the days when battered cod cost 1s 6d (7p, in ‘new money’) and chips came in 4 penn’orth packets (less than 1.5p).

The real evidence we had no money was being sent out for stale cakes at close of business, or getting a bag of broken biscuits at the grocers. I can remember one Mars bar being cut into 7 pieces as a family treat.

When Brian Cox chose Joni Mitchell I was reminded of three more women for my playlist – the others being Annie Lennox and Cleo Laine (see yesterday for details). How will I ever slim them down to 10? It was great to hear Jacques Brel (though not his best number) – he gets far too little airtime these days so he will be in my Round the World playlist.

It is one of my younger sisters’ (is that apostrophe in the right place?) birthday, so we spend an hour chewing the fat fat and having a laugh.  Friends of hers have boarded a cruise ship on their way back from a holiday in Latin America. Now they learn it has a ‘stowaway’ on board – the dread virus – and they have no idea if and how they will get home to England. 

I was still not dressed or breakfasted when we finished, by which time there were enough emails, texts, tweets and the like to keep me busy until the lunchtime news. And talking about tweets, whatever happened to the two I addressed the Bristol’s Mayor suggesting that the auxiliary hospital being prepared in the exhibition centre at the University of the West of England be named after the legendary Mary Seacole rather than Florence Nightingale. They both disappeared into oblivion. Nothing showed up on either. Very odd.

Meanwhile the postman had delivered three items, a bill, a pizza company advert, and a sealed envelope warning me about issues concerning my conservatory (what conservatory?) Why, oh why are posties still required to carry all this marketing crap around with them? I imagine (hope) it goes straight into the recycling in most homes. At times like these posties need to lighten their load, and ours.

Among the message coming in today was one from a Spanish photographer renowned for her global projects, now holed up in an apartment in Madrid, and another from a jet-lagged Indian friend describing her bizarre trip back from London to Perth. Everything was shut at the empty shell that was Heathrow, she said, including the lounge she had paid to use during her 4 hour stopover. Then it was on to Doha where the Harrod’s Tea Room had only a takeaway service, but she was able to use the lounge facilities for the 13 hour she had to spend there. The airport too was like ghost town with occasional visitations as passengers arrived at the hub and were quickly shepherd onto their next flights by the “beautifully turned out and efficient” Qatari staff. When her turn came on April 1 she finally arrived in Perth only to be whisked away for a 14-day quarantine in a Novotel, forbidden to leave her room and banned from access to alcohol! How the other half lives!

Speaking of alcohol, I had a gin and tonic tryst with a neighbour in the front garden as the sun went down. We kept our distance, and were also able speak to passers-by. It was a welcome break from the enforced isolation we have both endured for more than three weeks. We discussed the idea of sharing any spare seedlings among neighbours in the street to encourage others to grow their own. 

My daughter and Grandson No. 1 had cycled over this afternoon so he could deliver the bird box he had been making for me. I cleared a way for them to use the passageway for a look-see at the new chickens for the first time.

More gardening during the day. Tomatoes needed repotting and I installed another batch of bulbs in the front garden. The chickens were out and about in the back garden and I noticed that Mother ‘Harridan’ Hen and her Light Sussex contender seem to have reached an amicable arrangement, the final pecking order to be established at a later date. Light Sussex seems determined to come into the house, running in at every opportunity and pecking at the windows to be let in!

Meanwhile the slim little Mottled Leghorn is getting squeezed out of access to the feeder. She is quite a speedy character, wont to fly as much as run, but cuts a forlorn figure when the others have their heads in the trough. Today I set aside a separate dish for her and, lo and behold, all the others immediately descended upon it and she was left to pick up the pieces they spilled. She is being treated as the runt of a litter. Nature can be so unkind.

By the way, the new chickens have begun to lay though their combs and wattles are not yet very pronounced – usually the signal that they are ready to produce eggs. I found one small brown egg and one broken ‘soft’ white egg in their hutch today. Mother Hen lays very large cream eggs with thin shells, and the Devon Blue lays blue eggs, so these are from the new batch. Sometime soon we shall be getting 4-5 eggs a day which we can share with family and neighbours.

At tea time the latest government PR stunt (pardon the cynicism) is to bring on Chief Nurse Ruth May in uniform. Health Secretary Hancock tries to make up for his faux pas of the previous evening on BBC Question Time when he was specific about the death of doctors but merely referred to “some nurses” who had lost their lives. Ms May pays tribute to her deceased colleagues, but her presence appears to go unnoticed by ITN’s Robert Preston who begins his question with :”Good evening, gents”.

But at least there is more appearance of sincerity at these press conferences than in those of Trump on the other side of the Atlantic, where the coronavirus is running rampant. The orange toad-wart is at his least sincere when reading from carefully prepared statements written for him, but he cannot resist riffing off them with his own very peculiar brand of hyperbole and ignorance. In circumstances like this he is a menace to Americans, and I hope they will not forgive him as the death toll rises. The same should apply here in the UK – but how are we going to rid ourselves of Johnson and his odious crew given his majority.

At reading time this evening we began to discuss what to read next. I introduced the idea of T.H. White’s ‘The Master’ and having outlined the opening chapter got the thumbs up. The book is out of print but the full text is available online.

I really fancied fish and chip this evening, but that is no longe available, so I made do with a baked potato with baked beans, cheddar cheese and a rather splendid red wine (it is the weekend after all).

My best intentions about going to bed early were thwarted when my houseguest suggested we should get into Money Heist (La casa de papel) a Spanish crime series taken up by Netflix and now one of the most watched ‘box sets’. I can’t say it has grabbed me yet (after two episodes) and the dubbing into English is disconcerting, but it did significantly delay my trip up the wooden hill. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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