DAY 56: Fri 8 May

75 years since VE day; 71 since my sister was born.

Up at 7 to let the birds out. There is quite an agenda already set for today, so I would have preferred a lie in. We oldies are to be delivered lunch at midday, then there are socially distant drinks at 3 at one end of the street followed by more of the same at the other end at 4. And besides its my sister’s birthday. 

I start off with the best part of an hour of exercising, broken only be a really bad outbreak of hay fever. I decide to take this bank holiday easy, sit in the garden and read a book. A barbecue lunch for the lockdown elders supplied by kindly neighbours obviates the need to cook, then all I have for the rest of the day is drinks at 3 and 4 followed by a family Zoom call for my sister’s 71st birthday at 6.15.

After a shower and shave, I glance out the window and see a little tit has got tangled in the anti-bird netting. It takes a goodly while to disentangle her, mostly by cutting the netting to pieces. At times it felt like touch and go as she stops struggling and lolls back in my hand. I try to be gentle but she won’t unclench her tiny talons. When I first get her free she flutters off then falls to the ground, still caught up around one wing. It takes a while to get hold of her again but eventually I do and snip off the last of the netting. She is freed and flies off without a backward glance. I had hoped the fluttering silver paper would warn birds off. Not sure what to do now.

All the while my landline and mobile phones have been ringing. When I get to them I find my daughter has rung 7 times. And I have missed a call from a neighbour. My mobile and my son-in-law tell me I am supposed to have been on a Zoom call with my siblings – a call I had thought was to be this evening.

After a struggle with the technology I manage to join the merry throng and we chat idly way for another hour or so. There are hysterics when I explain I have been trying to release a little tit. I learn they have all been joshing my sister who has had to have video consultation with her doctor who wanted to examine her breast (she has recently had an operation). Much fun is had at her expense over strange men making improper requests on-line. (“You didn’t fall for that one, did you?”) 

At one point there had been more than 17 people on the call including my kids and grandchildren, but I missed them. I had also missed someone in the street playing The Last Post!

The doorbell rings and there is my neighbour and her little daughter – they have placed my BBQ lunch on the doorstep: – a burger, sausage, sweetcorn, halloumi cheese, roasted veg, and salad. There is also a meringue topped with cream, strawberries and passion fruit for pudding, and a paper cup off Pimms with a slice of cucumber in it. Very pretty, very generous and such a nice gesture – through I must say it also made me feel very old! I am not used to being on the receiving end.

I got my youth back after lunch by calling my aged godmother now in her 99th year. She is still safe and well in her care home which is so far unaffected by the coronavirus. Staff are wearing masks, she assures me.

At 3 it was time to our a beer and visit what I call the Lild end of Brook Lane, Chairs are out but little bunting. A sound system is, if not exactly blasting but certainly filling the air with the sound of popular songs from the wartime years. Soon more than 30 adults plus a few children (and two dogs) are sitting outside their houses and in the road. Prosecco is being passed around (safely) along with bags of crisps and cheese biscuits. Two people have made and prettily wrapped small cakes so they can be picked up with no fear. 

I am invited to have a look round my favourite garden in the street – always make me envious but always a delight – full of vegetables, fruit and flowers, and a much neater greenhouse than mine. I am able to offer a New Zealand Ocas and a Carolina Ruby sweet potato plant by way of recompense for some tomato and cucumber plants they kindly gave me earlier this spring.  In conversation with another neighbour I discover he has an 18th century map of the immediate area which he kindly lends me. 

Now it is time to brave the party on the other end of the street. I am not sure whether I am a stool-pigeon or simply an interloper at either event. This end, to which my house forms the cut-de-sac, has been building excitedly to this all week. It is smothered in bunting from one end to the other. There is a really good vibe. A colourful, chatty, very mixed crowd (well scattering really) with barbecues and picnics taking place on pavements and front gardens. Even those fasting for Ramadan have come out to show solidarity. 

I plant my camping chair in the middle of the road and have a wander, beer in hand. There is a brief outbreak of Vera Lynn – “You’ll have us all in tears soon” – which ends when someone calls for Rod Stewart during her rendition of ‘Sailing’. For the most part the conversation is all banter. Any serious discussion is limited to frustration about government policies, and the problems faced by food banks run through local churches.

It is one person’s birthday and she is inundated with best wishes and even a cake baked by neighbours. In two different locations I come across women busy at their crochet, one making a colourful sponsored quilt.

But it is SOOO hot, especially if you are drinking, and I last less than two hours. I am gad to get back inside for a mug of team and to compose myself for another family Zoom gathering.

This is the one I had been expecting; this morning’s was entirely familial extra. Now my sister in Shoreham is linked up with family and friends Brighton, Bristol, Buckingham, Curry Rivel, Douglas Isle of Man, Hove, Kew, Los Angeles, Teddington and West Byfleet. As ever it feels like half the time is spent dealing with glitches. Another sister from Newton Abbott appears briefly in name only before giving up on trying to join the rest of us. Nonetheless it is a really nice way of completing celebrations for my sister’s 71st birthday.   

My house guest and I share Iftar again with other friends in Bristol via Skype on a mobile phone. This time we have his celebrated burek (spicy minced beef and potato wrapped in puff pastry and fried) with the remains of a chicken soup, and a green salad with tomato and avocado, all swerved wit flat bread and a fruit smoothie.

Reflecting on this VE Day, it would seem that however the authorities may have wanted people to wallow in nostalgia, my neighbours have chosen to enjoy the opportunity to make new friends and share some solidarity at a time of enforced atomisation.  Whatever Johnson has to say on Sunday, I detect no enthusiasm for an end to current lockdown restrictions. Health and safety concerns dominate. It will be interesting to see if people vote with their feet and stay home should the government decide that boosting the economy is more important than saving more lives. 

In America there are signs that those who won’t go back work all be banned from receiving unemployment benefits. The UK Chancellor Richi Sunak may be worried that his financial support system is proving too expensive but I hope the populace will demonstrate that human life as more important. Johnson, of course, is more concerned with boosting his own ego. Formal plans will be announced on Monday we are told, but he will be aiming for a mass TV audience for his ‘Churchillian’ address to the nation. as if it will prove his popularity,

Unsurprisingly I fell asleep watching repeats of The Thick Of It after my weekly dose of Gogglebox. (Hence the belated uploading of this diary entry)  

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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