DAY 79: Sun 31 May

What can you do but chat on a sunny Sunday in May ?

Easy morning silence from the chickens. I rushed down wondering if a fox had got in (how?); or the rats had returned and got nasty (what?); or if the neighbour had acted on the poison threat (I cannot believe that). And it was no to all of those anxieties, There are the five of them, looking duly unconcerned but waiting patiently by their door to be opened. They had water but no food overnight and usually  they would be bawling their heads off. Maybe they had been, and had given up on trying to attract my attention. Clearly they now just want to get out and defecate all over the lawn. Anyway their silence had me up and alert before 8, with another of nature’s many mysteries to ponder.

It gave me an early chance to edit yesterday’s entry, but it also meant I could hear Dominic Raaaab on The Maaaarr Show. Raab has gained personal confidence over this period but still inspires no confidence in me. Especially when he says things like “It’s not really my job to comment on what Trump or other world leaders say.” He is the UK’s Foreign Minister, for god’s sake. 

Marr challenged him about Prime Minster Johnson’s claim that a ‘world beating’ test and trace scheme would be up and running by 1 June, when it is clearly not going to be. Raab tried to avoid this embarrassing question but went on to claim that the British system was one ”best suited to the UK’s needs”, and to suggest that other countries may do things better because they are not constrained by (inconvenient human rights?) laws. So UK system will not world beating after all.

When asked about how many people had been traced under the government’s much vaunted scheme, Raab said he didn’t have the figures. Who briefed him for this appearance? Don’t send out government ministers who cannot even answer the simplest and most obvious questions. I suppose we are just expected to be grateful the government are bothering to field spokespeople at this time. Before the pandemic it had been difficult for any news or current affairs programme to get a minister to answer questions. Under Cummings’ baleful influence the BBC and C4 were being boycotted and Johnson had taken to Facebook to ape his American counterpart and speak directly to his ‘base’. Luckily some of us still refuse to use Facebook with its dodgy privacy system, its requirement of users that all their online and off line habits may be harvested, and its commitment to furnish American security services with anything they want. 

Mind you Marr was not at his best form. Commenting that coronavirus was on the ascendent in the North East he then asked if the lockdown would be reimposed on Manchester!  I had not realised it had relocated.

Asked about the wisdom of letting people out of lockdown (when COVID19  cases and deaths are still higher than when lockdown was introduced) Raab swiftly switched the responsibility onto Joe and Mary Soap – basically it is down to us if we are to survive by emerging but sticking ‘the rules’ – while quick to avoid the implied criticism of Cummings.

Cummings is alleged to have said he would quit if he was still news by this Sunday, and stories have appeared indicating that the ‘concrete cottage’ he holed up in on his family farm in Durham has no planning consent and on which no council tax is paid. I added my contribution with a witty little tweet. ‘Cummings second home – a gaff/e too far?’ I quipped. (I thought it was witty anyway.) 

A German friend is looking in (to the front garden) for a kaffee this morning, before she drives back to Germany on Tuesday. I ask her to bring some kuchen as all I have is leftover Eid sweetmeats. She arrives much later than original planned – everyone’s sense of time has gone out the window of late, even a normally punctual German.

It is blisteringly hot and I realise half way through our rambling conversation, and probably too late, that I should apply sun tan lotion to my legs. I am wearing shorts and my knees hurt. It brings back memories of securing an ideal sunbathing position on the top deck of a Greek ferry forty years ago. It was my 30th birthday on 30 July 1977, and one I shall never forget. What I was not to know was that we would be becalmed in Piraeus harbour for 30 hours because of storms in the Aegean. I had no suntan lotion and by the time it was safe to set sail for the Islands, the tops of my knees were almost bleeding.

My visitor and I retire to the more shadier part of the front garden beneath apple tree, which is smothered with ivy and wisteria and now houses the cheeping offspring of there next generation of pigeons. We continue our chat about different attitudes towards inheritance, and how demographic shifts in German villages have led to re-assessments of their histories, with liberal incomers helping people to face up to their Nazi past, while those from East Germany harden conservative traditions and squeeze out progressive forces. We bemoan the creeping fascism around the world.

Suddenly I realise I am late for a promised phone session about my colleague’s website – but there is no sign of her call when I get inside. By now the folk further down the street are gathering for the Sunday socially distant drinks session. I had promised myself I would join in properly this time instead of just ambling around. I pour myself an ice-cold Guinness, grab a fold-up chair and join the gathering halfway down the road. 

It is a very jolly affair with great generosity of spirit. I learn that one of my neighbours, an invalid but still a key worker, has been made three batches of curry to share with neighbours and work mates, each with a different  level of ‘hotness’ to respects people’s different tastes. She regularly cooks for others. There is also a level of barter going on, and much sharing.

Pink gins, cider, ale, white white, prosecco and cola are all in evidence, and the banter shows how much people have got know each other over the last couple of months. There is barter going on too, and much sharing. There is also stated scepticism about the ending of lockdown, and while some have never stopped working no-one feels the time is right to end the lockdown or send children back to school. This is very much the working class end of Brook Road but I suspect very similar attitudes reign in the ’posh’ end too. We share a street name, but not a postcode. 

The high point, or perhaps that should be the low point, of the session is a series of ‘toilet accident’ anecdotes leading on to sociological analysis as to  why men are prepared to spend so long in the loo (equipped with with books or newspapers) while women are more concerned with the cleanliness of the bathroom. We shall have social scientists visiting next!

Back inside for a WhatsApp quiz linking Canterbury, Bristol and Newcastle. The quizmaster is half the age of the participants and has worked hard at devising question he thinks we should all be able to manage. There are 70 in all (questions that is)! with a maximum score of 74!  Despite being penalised for making cynical comments, I managed to win a quiz for the first time ever. But the scores still showed how out of touch we oldies are with ‘popular culture’. 

I put on a individual steak pie for supper and slumped down in front of the TV for the rest of the evening, over come by the heat and a couple of pints. I watched The Last Witness, a ‘political thriller’ set in Bristol about the cover-up of the notorious Katyn massacre, where Stalin’s troops killed thousands of Polish prisoners of war. The killings and the cover-up by Britain, Russia and the USA, were scandals that deserved a far better film than this. It was a relief to lose myself in two episode of Shtisel, before heading for bed.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

1 Comment

  1. WELL your day sounded exhausting! And in the North East (well NOrth Tyneside and Newcastle)there has been another spike after the unusually hot and sunny weekend with crowded beaches, proms full of walkers, joggers, cyclists, long queues for ice creams and fish n chips. Also groups of teenagers running riot,drunk =, high, police around the streets till late.

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