DAY 72: Sun 24 May

Eid Mubarak, one and all.

How do people keep up with diaries? This one has become as much an obligation as a joy.

I can only remember once ever trying to keep a diary. I kept it in ‘my’ top drawer of a chest of drawers in the bedroom I shared with my two younger brothers.  No doubt she had good reason to be opening drawers-like putting away fresh iron d clothes – but my mother found it and ridiculed me, reading bits out loud. I think that put me off for life (or at least until 72 days ago). Later she would also ‘come across’ letters from the female ‘pen pals’ in America I had innocently been corresponding with. It did not help that I was also attending a junior seminary at the the time (though I had already secretly resolved to leave).

It was the post-Easter holidays (we seminarians spent the feast days of the liturgical year away from home) and I had a paid job helping to paint the inside of the local Odeon cinema turquoise as it was being converted into a Catholic Church. I remember my sister bringing up my packed lunch and whispering a warning that my mother had found some letters and I was in for it when I got home. When I did there was silence from my mother in the kitchen as I went in through the back door and up a step into the living room. There, stuck on the wall beside the door into the hallway were all the airmail letters. It remains an indelible image almost 60 years later. I was given a roasting then ‘sent to Coventry’ (the silent treatment). I was reminded of Pontius Pilate’s fateful words “Quod scripsi scripsi.” (In effect, “What is written, is written”) and never dared to consign my innermost thoughts to paper from that day almost to this (except my amateurish attempts at poetry in later years, of course).

Speaking of shame and humiliation we have been waiting all day for news of Dominic Cumming’s departure from high office. But it is not to be as we all secretly expected. It is the most disgraceful moment in Johnson’s shoddy premiership. He has lost all credibility, and insulted not only the intelligence of the electorate, but also the memory of all those who died alone – often as a result of the incompetence of his government – and those who have endured the agony of isolation and separation in support of of the nation’s health. The whole rotten shower should resign, but of course they will not. I just hope that, at the first opportunity, the Tory majority is reduced to a more manageable size so that Opposition parties can more effectively hold the government to account. But that would take enough Tory MPs of decency and integrity to defect or at least defy the Party whip, and I do not hold out much hope of that. 

In his weasel words at the No. 10 ‘Briefing’ Johnson was also covering his back should even more teachers and parents now decide that it is not safe to reopen schools next week. He, and that tall stream of piss that is Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, will blame everyone but themselves, of course.

I do hope journalists have taken note of the discourteous, not to say contemptuous, way their former colleague tried to shut them down today, without allowing supplementaries while avoiding direct answers to their questions. They must insist on repeating each other’s questions until they get an proper answer. 

A day of writing and waiting and preparing hummus for Eid celebrations with my house guest. But he is in his room for much of the day, sharing ferreting by phone with family and friends. It has been a particularly tough Ramadan, no less for Eid al Fitr, especially for those a long way from loved ones. We share some sweetmeats made by the wife of one of his friends. with strong coffee for his breakfast, at teatime. Then we go for a stroll up the road for what has become a traditional Sunday afternoon socially distant gathering of local residents. People bring chairs and their favourite tipple and natter across the kerb which serves as the distancing measure outside people’s houses. The talk, when it is not of the disgrace that is the government, is of this week’s street quizoom on Tuesday.

My house guests goes for an evening walk while I have an excellent chicken and tarragon pie with kale and a salad for my  supper, and watch To the Wire (no relation to its American cousin) a rather dire, flawed Hungarian ‘noir’ set in Budapest. Part of it was filmed, I am sure, in the deserted remnants of the industrial district where I worked with young activists last year on a project about rewriting the migration narrative. Yes, that’s right, in Hungary!

I made up for my disappointment by finishing the first season of Shtisel a strangely compulsive soap about an ultra orthodox Jewish family. But it meant a trip up the wooden hill in the early hours of the morning.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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