DAY 98: Friday 19 June

A walk on the wild side and a fish and chip supper.

Worked up a sweat for 40 minutes on the walking/cycling machine this morning, first time for some weeks, listening to Joe Wicks on Desert Island Discs. How appropriate was that?

Have been girding my loins for a trip round to the plumbers’ yard to get the cap I need to deal with the leak in the kitchen. My daughter, who rings to propose an alfresco fish and chip supper in the front garden this evening, offers cautious approval so long as I am properly booted and suited and masked. It is not far and I can go on my bike to minimise the risk of bumping into anyone en route.  

The news from my son is good; he is feeling much better this morning. Fingers crossed that is the end of the matter, but we must still wait for the test to be done. My youngest son, who has been out and about throughout the crisis, has been trying to persuade me at for weeks to go out for walks and is puzzled by the fact that his globe-trotting dad suddenly feels the need to be so cautious and housebound. I am not sure how public health messages are getting through to younger people (who tend not to watch terrestrial TV); he seemed unaware that he could be refused entry to public transport without a mask, and risk a fine.

Having written about the Kurds on Wednesday I was amazed to find they are the central focus of the latest edition of New Internationalist which dropped through the letterbox this morning, along with Private Eye. The Eye is full of facts and figures which would leave the public gob-smacked and unlikely ever to vote Tory again (I hope). How good it would be if everyone had them at their fingertips come election time. Here is one little gem. ’50,000 new (UK) customs agents required to deal with additional bureaucracy after the end of the (Brexit) transition period; 32,000 – total number of staff employed by the ’bureaucratic’ European Commission.

The chickens asked to be let out into the sodded garden today, and I compiled with their wishes, but only after reminding them I expected greater productivity. There were only two eggs waiting for me when let them out; two more appeared later in the day.

For some reason an ancient big band tune, Big Noise from Winnetka was my earworm today, though I have not heard it for years. Spotify appeared not to have heard of it, but I have found quite a few versions on YouTube. They accompanied me all morning. Great drum solo from John Sutton with the Big Chris Barber Band in Germany (2005); amazing Gene Krupa drum and bass solo with Benny Moten (1967). In the 1940s were was the Bob Crosby Orchestra version, and his stars, the Bobcats, doing their ‘solo’ thing. There was Cozy Cole’s 1950s version, and Nicolas Dubouchet’s slap bass version (2010); Kyle Eastwood  giving it an off-the-wall treatment at a French jazz festival in 2012, and Professors Booker and Koshinski knocking it out in 2013. And a joyous Swingfield Big band account in 2014.

After all that it was time to don a mask and gloves and set off to the Plumbers on my bike. It was weird sensation. I have not been beyond the end of the road for more than three months, and here I was about to interact with strangers for the first time. At the mobile cafe along the road towards the plumbing suppliers, a hosts of Virgin workers had parked up their vans and were chatting amicably on the pavement – no masks, or social distancing. It felt disturbing for some reason. I cycled past looking very odd as my mask had clouded up my glasses. The plumbing suppliers had cordoned off the way in to the sales counter, with a one way system and no queue, so I was quickly in, served and followed the alternative route out through the warehouse. The guy who served me had only been out of lockdown or two weeks, and the gathering of guys loading and unloading trucks were also chatting about their lockdown experiences. I felt as if I were in some strange other world, a film set from Contagion perhaps! It took little physical effort but it was strangely draining emotionally. I was glad to get back home.  

Then it was an NUJ Ethics Council meeting on Team, a new programme to me. Among the participants colleagues from France, Belgium, France, Ireland, Scotland. We discussed the problems journalists have been having in covering the coronavirus pandemic, and the increasing number of threats to and attacks on journalists. Not to mention the threat to the entire news industry as advertising flags and more and more people in the media are laid off or furloughed. Grim picture. Will we recover and get back to pre-Covid19 levels? And how will we cope with falling levels of trust. not just in politician but in journalism as social media fogs people’s perceptions of the world

By the end I had a stinking headache, but there was enough time to make a huge mug of tea, and watch the tall figure of Gavin Williamson fail miserable at the task of communicating clearly during the No 10 Briefing. Whoever gave him media training must believe that waffle is newsworthy. Not so, especially when it is the prelude to admitting that you cannot answer questions. His boss Johnson may be having a day off as it’s his birthday, but he really has turned his ministers into sacrificial lambs. Today the Prime Minister mouthed off about cutting the social distancing limit from 2 metres (to what?) and insisted that he wants all children back at school full-time by September. But he gave his Secretary of State no inkling of how all this is to happen.

It was relief to set up some parasols and chairs in the front garden for a fish and chip supper with my daughter and her two young sons. And just to celebrate I let my grandsons carefully into the back garden to see the chickens’ new home. We all kept our distance, but the boys were excited to be back on familiar territory and it was GREAT to see them all in the lush back garden, even if only briefly. 

Then I happily wrote up this diary entry, poured myself a beer and switched on the TV. I really look forward to giving up on this diary when I reach day 100. I need to be doing something else with my time. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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