DAY 68: Wed 20 May

Coming soon Animal Farm the book, rather than the menagerie that is my garden.

Today must needs be short. I seem to have done little despite my best efforts.

Up early to let the chickens out, I prepare muesli with a compote of blackberry and apple from the garden last year, and a big mug of tea, then settle down for my news fix.

The front doorbell rings. There is a man backing away from the front door as I appear in my dressing gown, unshaven, hair unbrushed. “Are you Mike Jempson?” he asks, looking slightly anxious. “Yes,” says I, looking rather puzzled. He points downwards towards the milk box. “Your prescription,” he says, and leaves hurriedly. 

As I open the door and retrieve the little package I am thinking ‘This is not something I was expecting. It is true my next batch of statins and blood pressure tablets are due about now, but I had no idea the pharmacy was now delivering them. He must think I am a really sick old man looking the way I do, and still not properly up yet at gone 10am.’

I feel like a real invalid now, so I hurriedly change into proper day clothes and make myself look reasonably respectable before joining the WhatsApp chorus of birthday wishes to one of my younger sisters. I discover that an even younger sister has just taken part in the 24 hour Rock Choir spectacular I had seen on BBC’s Breakfast programme. I feel useless, so I make some phone calls…

One friend, similarly quarantined, is dealing with family tragedies a long way from home, but seems pleased to hear from me. She admits to some binge watching in between the scholastic work she also has to contend with, and suggests I try the controversial Netflix series Shtisel. She thinks that as I am what we call a ‘cradle Catholic’ I might be able to identify with an ultra-orthodox Jewish household! We shall see. Having tried to binge watch nothing more taxing than The Thick of It, I respectfully suggest she unwind by getting into Richard Osman’s House of Games each weekday evening.

I am determined to start back on the editing job that GoogleDocs has been messing up, and almost immediately it is time to read to my grandsons. We get through the next chapter of Culann as he takes on the rather sad three-legged Giant Murgan to prove his worthiness for the beautiful Celliach, whom we all (rightly) suspect is none other than the youthful reincarnation of the old hag Caillech he had encountered earlier in his travels. Then no sooner are they wed than the fearsome Connaught men attack. Culann is injured and his bride abducted. “That is good place to stop,’ says grandson No.1 who has really got the hang of the cliff-hanger. There are two chapters left and he suggests we string them out over the next couple of days. 

We begin to discuss what to read next. He wonders if Gulliver’s Travels might be good, He has only got into the Lilliputian adventure so far. This leads us into a discussion about satire, and I read them the opening paragraphs of Animal Farm. The choice is made. It will be very interesting to see what two young boys make of Orwell’s classic.

The afternoon goes by quickly, with some necessary gardening and watering and a vain attempt to do some editing out in the shade of the plum tree. However the chickens seem to think l am there to feed them just because I had the temerity to take my lunchtime sandwich out with me. 

The next thing I know the council’s chief pest controller is looking over my fence at the chicken run. He is very understanding and suggests a moratorium on feeding the wild birds for a fortnight while I train my chickens to use a treadle feeder. This is a metal contraption which requires the chickens to stand on a little platform to activate access to their feed. All very Pavlovian, but he assures me they will quickly master the technique by which time the rats will have realised this is no longer the place for them.

It costs me more that £100 to order Granpa’s Treadle Feeder from a Gloucestershire firm but such is the demand given the plethora of rats during the pandemic that mine won’t arrive until sometime in June. Cheaper versions from Amazon, I am warned, have design faults and will not last long.

Prime Minister Johnson disgraced himself in the Commons by acknowledging that migrant NHS workers had saved his life, but they must still pay for use of NHS services themselves to help to pay for the cost of the NHS (which they do through their taxes, anyway)!

An NHS cleaner uses social media to sends a heartfelt message to Johnson and his Home Secretary PrIti Patel. He queries why the compensation scheme for families of NHS workers who die at their post during the pandemic has not been extended too cover migrant staff. And he respectfully requests that bereaved family members be granted indefinite leave to remain rather than risk being deported.

The rather pathetic figure of Oliver Dowden, a rookie Culture, Media and Sport Minister, is put up for the daily No. 10 briefing and inspires as much confidence as a wet rag. He looks like a lanky schoolboy torn between enthusiasm and terror on his first outing as head prefect. He rejects any thought that the government might be to blame for anything, and even claims that the government never wanted the BBC to end free TV licences for the over-75s (all now ultra reliant on TV while in compulsory lockdown). But of course it was his Tory government that shifted the burden of paying for them onto the BBC, along with other effective budget cuts which are paving the way for an end to public service broadcasting.

Later I learn that another rat has been found dead on the neighbour’s side of the fence, and when I collect eggs from the chicken hutch I find another dead inside, its paws still stained with the poison that killed it. I inform my neighbour of the latest steps I am taking and he agrees that we are now making progress. I present him with the cadaver for the ratman to take away when he pays his next visit on the morrow. That is total of five dead rats over 24 hours. And the cat that helped has taken up a sentry post on the roof in case others need catching,

My son drops by with some veg, and later my daughter brings back my power hose along with a cup cake grandson No. 2 has made for me, and a bag of rat poison from an earlier infestation at her house. But she also brings news that she had contacted her doctor as she was is not feeling well and he has sent round a Covid-19 test. She must take it this evening and they will collected it in the morning. Distinctly sobering news and we shall all be on tenterhooks until the results are known.

A neighbour looks in with some sweeties for the children and posh chocolates for me, and we have a very civilised pot of tea together, but at safe distance around the pond. Later another friend takes her place for a glass of Retsina, on account of because and in view of the fact that I am making moussaka for Iftar. We catch up on local gossip and share gardening stories (or rathe I recount my rat tales, until my house guest appears to show off his new ‘hippie’ trousers as a gentle hint that it is time I started cooking).

The meal over I search out Shtisel on Netflix and suddenly find I am already watching episode 2. This ultra-orthodox lifestyle is nothing like Irish Catholicism. It is so stultifying and inward-looking but at least it is the men who have to wear rather complex garb which looks really uncomfortable – and everyone’s a rabbi, it seems – while the women appear to dress as they please. 

I abandon it to finish my diary entry and head for bed. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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