DAY 55: Thurs 7 May

Off-milk, the rat patrol, goldfish, leprechauns and East Timor.

Yeuck. 2 day old milk in fridge has gone off, curdling the first tea of the day.

I have hated anything yogurt-like since my childhood – when it did not really exist in Britain. But milk would frequently go off on the doorstep (we had no fridge then) and at primary school (where we got one third of a pint each at break time every day) when the milk crates were sometime stacked agains the radiator (!) It has given me  and other members of my family an aversion to any form of ‘off milk’. 

Strangely enough I don’t object to yoghourt (how DO you spell it?) as an ingredient in curries where its taste tends to disappear, and I tolerate buttermilk when making soda bread (which I do most weeks). Yet I grit my teeth and curdle milk with lemon juice for making soda bread when buttermilk is in short supply. Weird that.

Up very early again thanks to the chickens. (I saw an ad last night which told me to should be getting  lots of sleep at the moment – it was selling beds – but I seem to be getting less sleep than usual, sometimes as little as 4 hours).

Ate my muesli watching the first part of a rerun of another excellent Al Jazeera documentary about the corrupt world of arms dealing.

On Sky News, Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham’s interview with Kay Burley exposed more government incompetence over its purchase of untested sub-standard Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from Turkey, and the lack of a comprehensive testing infrastructure. He expressed his concern about the South-east-centric decision-making of the government, and complained that regional leaders are not being properly consulted. London may have ‘peaked’ but the virus has not yet reached its peak in the north-east, so lifting lockdown restrictions may be dangerously premature, he argued.

Soon after the council’s pest control operative (PCO) arrived at my neighbours, and pretty much straight away said “Get rid of the chickens and you’ll get rid of the rats,” as predicted.  I did point out that rats had been around even before I had chickens, and he was perfectly civil about it. Turns out he was trained by the very ‘ratman’ I had arranged to come this afternoon.  He put poison down on the neighbour’s side of the wall to the chicken coop under which the rats are burrowing – so now they have a choice of poisons. He will return to check progress next week and advised that I cancel, or at least postpone my £200 PCO, which I did at once. No problem.

The One True Goldfish lives! I have a selection of brightly coloured fish in my pond, restocked after herons took the seven mature fish I started with. The next batch including red brocade Shubunkins, Common Goldfish – which look just like they sound – a Golden Orfe, which are white (there were three but two mysteriously died within days of each other, along with one of the 8 known frogs, a few years back), and two Brown Goldfish. There are now at least 12 fish, sometimes 14 have been seen. The one/s you rarely see are the true (brown) goldfish – which make sense. What sensible creature would develop a colour scheme so easily seen, especially from above? Most animals go for camouflage, and fish are no different. The true goldfish has a golden underbelly, but its back is dark brown, making it very difficult to be seen. You only notice when there is a sudden disturbance on the surface but no sign of a fish, or when it silently appears in silhouette as it swims above one of its bright coloured companions. I like to think these originals have a certain distain for the other gaudy inhabitants of the pond who have been bred for their striking colours with little thought for their safety.

At lunchtime we had a fun reading session with my grandsons as Culann suddenly finds himself surrounded by leprechauns in multi-coloured outfits and discovers that his weird dream was a premonition about an attack by Tirgach’s pirates from Scotland, so he has to go to Gaul (France) instead of school in Donegal.

Back out in the garden for much of the rest of the day, although it doesn’t feel as if I am getting much done. It is almost 50C in the greenhouse requiring much watering and a lot of repotting.

A friend comes at tea-time, so I make a pot and serve it in cups and saucers with milk in a jug, along with chocolate biscuits on a plate. We sit at either end of the front garden. Yiu have to make an effort. All very genteel, except that I am in shorts and a tatty top, with dirty knees and filthy feet from hours of gardening. 

On BBC Points West this evening, a besuited Jacob Rees-Mogg MP glowers from his garden as he is grilled about the mess the government is making of the testing regime. His interview comes just after an item showing a local care home matron saying that she had completed tests at the home four days earlier but the kits are still awaiting collection! When asked why the care home testing is such a shambles, Rees-Mogg simply says there is a testing centre at Bristol Airport. He says care staff can go there and then test the residents with ‘mobile kits’. He refuses to apologise to those in care homes now living in anxiety about the situation; instead he congratulates his colleague Health Secretary Matt Hancock for what he has achieved. Arrogance personified.

Then a devastating Channel 4 News item reveals that much of the pandemic stockpile of vital PPE controlled by Public Health England (PHE) was out of date, or had the expiry dates changed when it was needed. It helped to explain the delays in getting PPE to front line staff. And new visors had not been bought on the grounds of cost! C4 has not been granted a question spot at the No, 10 press conference for four days, and no-one was available from PHE or the government to answer questions raised by these revelations. Disgraceful. The powerful, who’s decisions are literally a mater off life or death for the electorate, refusing to be accountable.

As folk assembled on their doorstep for the Thursday Clap, I am reminded that a friend’s daughter-in-law, a doctor in an Intensive Care Unit, had remarked that instead of Saturday nights being the busiest time in Accident and Emergency Units, now its on a Thursday, caused by elderly people have falls when they go out to clap. Must watch how I manoeuvre the front steps this evening!

Ready to eat now. A mild chicken curry for Iftar, with vegetable soup.

I make some sun-dried tomato and herb bread and settle down to watch Bolibo, and Australian film focusing on the killing of five white journalists by the Indonesians at the start of their cruel invasion of East Timor in 1975. A tough film to watch, but the massacres and oppression suffered by the people of East Timor over the following 27 years was even more excruciating. The story is told through the eyes of burnt-out foreign correspondent Roger East inveigled to East Timo by Jose Ramos-Horta foreign affairs spokesperson of Fretilin which fought for East Timor’s independence. Offered the job of running a national news agency, East puts his life on the line in this effort to discover what happened to the ‘Bolibo 5’. Anthony LaPaglia plays East as reluctant, unfit, and bewildered by what he sees, in an award winning performance.

I remember reading and writing about Jose Ramos-Horta while on an assignment for Amnesty back in the early 1990s. The facts and figures I had to absorb were grim indeed. Horta spent many years in exile but would later become President of East Timor, and won the Nobel Peace Prize,


Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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