DAY 57: Sat 9 May

The calm before the storm? Making the most of the sun.

Not a lot to say today. Knowing that the good weather is about to end I decided to allow myself to sit in the garden and read a book. Having got up at 7 again and had my fill of muesli and the news I thought it was was justified to send the rest of the morning finishing off The Burning Land by George Alagiah, whom I worked with on the East End News back in 1981.

In many ways it is a sad book, examining the failures of the more recent post-apartheid regime in South Africa. It also bemoans the risks of idealism and the corruption of human relations when people don’t talk to each other. It feels to me as if there is another story behind the one we are told. George has said its gestation came when he lived and worked in South Africa, and we have a mutual friend who also worked there for the BBC who tells me she recognises some of the people he is writing about. As a political thriller it is a little thin, but it works as a neutral eye on the collapse of idealism. Even as a novelist – this is his first – he maintains a journalistic stance, never drawing you so close to the characters that you want to identify with them, and he leaves the reader to piece together what might become of them all.

Unfortunately the chickens were none too impressed with my lounging around in what they regard as their territory, and Harridan Hen gave me a nasty peck on the the toe, which quickly had me on my feet (expletive deleted).

Not willing to risk a sandwich lunch with the uppity brood, I retired to the front garden to make a start on finishing Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go Went Gone, Before I had finished eating I was back on my feet, shaken rigid by a rat, which suddenly ran from one end of the garden to the other racing right under my seat. I was indoors quick as a flash wondering whether Mother Nature was trying to tell me something. I have no idea where the rat went, but I suspect it was down the soakaway drain.

Some honest toil was in order and I spent most of the afternoon painstakingly unpicking some heavy duty lorry ratchet straps I have had kicking around for years, and then threading them around the frame of a garden swing seat the material on which had rotted over the winter. I had it back in use by teatime, but did not allow myself the luxury of lounging again as the chickens were keeping a watchful eye. Actually they weren’t watching me, they had their eye more on our local squirrel who had come looking for nuts on the bird tables. He has competition from the pair of pigeons who have set up home in the apple tree; they are partial to the nuts too. Having cleared the table they sat rather haughtily on the roof watching their rival. 

The peace of the afternoon was ruined on several occasions by a helicopter – we assume the police –  circling low over Fishponds. No immediate explanation, but if they were looking for street parties they were a bit behind the times – they all happened yesterday. The local paper did run a story later saying that people had gathered in a beer garden on the other side of the city so maybe the cops were trying to find more gatherings of people defying social distancing.

After watching C4’s early evening news I prepared to install some hanging baskets at the front of the house. As I did so one fell from my hand. “You  stupid fucking thing!” I exclaimed, unaware that just out of sight, but not earshot, was a young couple reading material on the Back Lane Community Notice Board. The guy looked visibly shocked. I apologised at once and he said, “I just wondered what I’d done to deserve that.”

Off they set in the direction of Lidl. When they returned with their shopping, I was watering the flower bed in the Lane, and apologised again, and this time it was the young woman who spoke. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “It made my day!”

My houseguest prepared a spicy halal sausage in a rich hot sauce, with eggs broken into it for iftar, and announced, that he had got some beef belly – or tripe as we aptly name it – for tomorrow’s meal. I have politely declined the pleasure, and will make my own supper.

My daughter called during the day to say that muslim neighbours in her street, also a cul-de-sac, had supplied everyone with iftar last evening, and transformed the atmosphere in the street.     

She also said that her school head had been getting lots of calls from parents anxious about how the lockdown is affecting their children’s mental health. She cannot let them back to school yet but clearly there are problems brewing. One of my grandsons became very shy when he saw his best friend for the first time in two months. My nephew tells me his two teenage boys have shut themselves in their rooms and spent all their time with computer games. However Channel 4 news ended with a neat package in which children spoke about their attitude to the lockdown. Most were remarkably relaxed about it and very aware of the reasons why.

My evening ended with an ice-cream and some chocolate watching the next two episodes of the Norwegian State of Happiness. It is a little difficult to know what we it is supposed to be. Is it a soap, an eco-thriller, love stories, or just something different. Ending one episode with Roger Whittaker and another with The Supremes was something of a surprise. The diving accident wasn’t. I’ve been expecting it since the moment a rusting oil rig appeared. Poor old Damon, but someone had to die. I am not sold on Anna; she seems too conniving by half. 

There is something odd about the timing too, we have to add our own months to each scene change. Ah well, time for bed.

It’s gone 1 in the morning and the noisy helicopter is up again. They can’t have found what they’re looking for. Won’t be very popular with those trying to get to sleep.

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