DAY 60: Tues 12 May

Music, obscurantism, neighbourliness, death, and Scrabble

Woke late to the sound of Matt Hancock stumbling his way through an interview on the Today Programme. The credibility of the Health Secretary is disappearing with this confidence; perhaps he’s just feeling wrong-footed by his boss. The whisper is he may be a sacrificial lamb.

There is utter frustration in the clamour of the chickens who have been denied breakfast for too long. I scuttle down fill their feeder and let them loose. When I return to the bedroom to dress, I consider the disruption which is my duvet. I have often wished I could get one of those cameras that records your movements during sleep.  It would be instructive to know how my duvet becomes so distorted in the night, and how apparently it attempts to escape from the duvet covers. I may not be as active as I should be during the day, but it seems I am vey active at night. I wonder if that counts as exercise.

Switching twixt emails, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Youtube over a mid-morning coffee I come across Via Della Morte by one of my sons.

Not the cheeriest thing to listen to with your mid-morning coffee, but very atmospheric, and it grows on you after several plays (to try and get the lyrics). I’d not seen it before. 

It was not the strangest thing I saw today. I have been asked to check the English on a piece of writing by a colleague whose first language is not English. It was written in the sort of obscurantist language that gives academics a bad name, and explains why some fail to communicate with the wider world. I didn’t understand half the words and was unsure whether that was my ignorance or errors in my friend’s vocabulary. We would have to consult. I dutifully made notes of all the issues I had with this theoretical treatise, only to find when we call to discuss it that my notes had complete disappeared. Luckily my friend is patient and understanding, and tolerates my bewilderment. It will take some time to sort it, but I really think a person of reasonable intelligence (I count myself as such) should be able to grasp concepts without having to have read and understood the high theory on which they are based.     ,

The rest of my day was a doddle compared to this. More rat action – or rather no sign of them in my garden today, but my neighbour tells me he saw four of them in his dog pen last evening, and one of them leapt into and out of the dogs’ water bowl. We are working on their eradication together but, as a council tenant he has the free services of a ratcatcher.We are agreed to approach the Electricity Board as there is evidence, as last time, the rats are coming under the wall of the substation that adjoins our gardens. I was at last able to get through to the Pest Control Unit, only to be told the service had been suspended during the pandemic, and that I should go private (at more than twice the cost).. With cafes, pubs and restaurants closed the rats have turned to domestic premises for food and ours are not the only premises they have openly invaded locally.

The day has been peppered with signs that even government ministers are out of their depth when trying to explain what the new rules for the pandemic mean. They also reveal that they live very different lives to the rest of us. We are told we cannot have family members visiting us at home, but we can let a nanny or a cleaner into our home (so long as we keep a window open!) Adults can meet only one parent at a time in the park so long as they keep two metres away, but they can play games in the oark with the family members they live with, as can their neighbours. Meanwhile we can buy and sell properties, which presumably means entering other people’s homes. So many anomalies.

And so many deaths, The numbers may be slightly down, but they are still high. There are estimates the coronavirus has killed more than 50,000 people, directly or indirectly over the last four months. It is beginning to emerge that deaths in care homes-have been criminally underestimated, Almost 1,000 elderly people in residential homes have died thus far, most without hospital treatment, making up 40% of the total. This is  a scandal which the government will have to answer for.

The bright spot in the day comes at lunchtime, as ever, with a reading session to grandsons 1 & 2. They have finished a morning’s schooling and chomp away at their lunch regardless of my misophonia, while I read (thank goodness for the mute button). Culann is in trouble again. The monstrous headmaster at his school in Gaul is determined to make life difficult or him, and Culann is forced to fight Angus, the son of Tirgach the Pirate. With confidence instilled in him by the les petit gens – rather odd looking one-eyed Gaulish ‘little people’ who have been forewarned of Culann’s arrival by the leprechauns with help of the mermaid’s mirror. We leave the narrative as Culann emerges from the fight, battered but victorious.

Then it’s back to the real world, where plants need some attention and there is plenty of weeding to do in the greenhouse. the first of the artichokes is ready to eat, along with mange tout, rocket salad, kale, and mustard leaves.

I am waiting for the next rain before I cut the grass, which is now enlivened by large patches of buttercups and daisies which do not deserves to be disturbed. It is also dotted with drying chicken poo…

This evening as we all prepared to put a light in the window for the International Nurses Day, a neighbour informs the street’s WhatsApp group that he and his brother are seeking permission to visit their mother who is dying of cancer and dementia in a nursing home. Few people un the street knew each other a couple of weeks ago, but now there is a genuine outpouring of sympathy and support. How many people would have bared their souls to complete strangers in times past?

Meanwhile plans are afoot for an online quiz night for the street – not really my scene, but some are very excited at the prospect. How long will this neighbourliness last, I wonder. We must live in hope.

I must say I miss my bouts of Scrabble with an old friend from university days, We take it in turns to visit each other, staying overnight to partake in wine and tournaments over Giant Scrabble boards (double the normal size and with Quadruple word squares!) We last played on 17 January. She won 3 games out of a scheduled 5, but only by three point in the last one. 

We are fairly evenly matched. She has won 14 of the last 24 games, but is only 332 points ahead of me. Not that I am obsessive about such things. One weekend she won two games out of three but in the sum total of scores there was only one point between us! She tells me she is now playing left hand against right hand in her own splendid isolation.

I got my highest score with a single word, playing with her on a canal boat in Oxford many years ago. It was QUIXOTIC running from one triple word score to another, with the X on a double and getting all my letters out. A total of 254 if my memory serves me well.

And so to bed with a bar of chocolate to watch Clouzot’s Quai des Orfevres, on MUBI, if I can stay awake that long.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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