DAY 100: Fathers’ Day

Taking it easy on the last diary day; and a bootleg read of Bolton’s White House revelations.

Well here it is, possibly the last diary entry since my lockdown began. Time for a few home truths perhaps. ….

Five eggs for Father’s Day, not to eat you understand but a fitting tribute from the brood for all I have done for them, especially of late! However they will remain in why they consider their dungeon for today. The garden really does need a rest, and I shall be taking today easy too.

Freshly made white bread, honey, a banana and a peach with black coffee for breakfast while Nick Robinson glares at us in his temporary role as Andrew Marr’s replacement. Labour’s Shadow Health Minister Jon Ashworth was not very inspiring. I really do not understand Labour’s current softly, softly strategy. We all know that in times of crisis there is a  ‘work together‘ approach, but Labour are being excluded from decision-making, and Johnson’s government is wide open to criticism for its handling of most aspects of the pandemic. And there is evidence of cronyism if not corruption about the way contacts have been allocated. I suspect the public would welcome some really consistent tough questioning – after all as many as 65,000 have lost their lives, one way or another thanks to this pandemic. And all the signs are that Brexit will have us falling off a cliff by the new year. But Ashworth was largely compliant with government policy, almost as if he were scared to trust the public to go with him were he to be more challenging. Even Robinson tried to tempt him, but only to be critical of Jeremy Corbyn, and he has done that already anyway. Besides it is largely irrelevant now, or is political journalism now about kicking a man when he is down and out?

The Tory Health Secretary was not really put through the wringer by Robinson, who just seemed to accept Hancock’s half hearted attempt to explain away why we are not being given figures for people actually tested, or why the infamous ‘world-beating’ Test, Track and Trace system is such a farce with the centrepiece App now non-existent,

Hancock was even allowed to pass off as having a “perfectly reasonable explanation” Communities Minister Robert Jenrick’s approval of Richard Desmond’s planning application which stood to save the Tory donor substantial tax savings. The stench of corruption clearly doesn’t permeate BBC studios. Meanwhile we ordinary citizens will not only have to risk our lives if Johnson lifts the social distancing rules to pump the economy, but we shall have to surrender all our contact details each time we order a drink in a pub or a meal in a restaurant (why not each time we shop, or catch a bus?). And all because the much-vaunted App is not available. What has Labour got to say about that? Or the fact that Hancck says he is talking to Apple, and Apple says he isn’t?

Out in the real world, my son’s test has come back negative – he had had to visit what he described as a “dystopian world run by rock festival stewards” up at Bristol airport to get tested, because when they sent his test kit it didn’t  include a swab! And my sister, who is undergoing cancer treatment, is still waiting a week after she was told she needed to be tested and it would be sent to her. No wonder Hancock’s figure make no sense, and the scientists no longer appear on government briefings… 

A mid-morning sauna was next required, follow by a shower and shave. I used to look askance at older men who seemed incapable of shaving properly. Having shaved irregularly and at different times of the day during this period, I can now confirm that the reason we can look slightly unkempt on the face-hair front is because we normally shave first thing in the morning without our glasses on, so it is easy to miss little bits. 

Incidentally, even after receiving the odd tube for Christmas or birthdays, I have never used shaving cream, Never understood the need for it. A smear of soap or even a few suds is the most I have ever relied on. The cosmetics industry has a lot to answer for. The constant barrage of adverts stressing the value of its products, often with distinctly dubious pseudo-scientific claims, has conned too many generations to part with hard-earned cash. I remember how we were all once taken in by the seductive Camay adverts. Both sexes are now targeted relentlessly. Even my house-guest, a destitute asylum-seeker, feels obliged to keep up with the latest toiletry fad. He is constantly sculpting his hair, as suppose I once did as a teenager. I used to use some stuff in white pot with a yellow lid, called Bay Rum, because iliekd the smell when it was used at the barber’s. When I attended a junior seminary they insisted we all use a colourless, odourless goo called Trugel. Apparently it did not stain pillow cases.  One of my little victories  was to insist that I had been advised to stick with Bay Rum. I cannot remember what preposterous excuse I came up with, but I stuck with it until I left.

On Twitter this morning there was a kerfuffle about pebbledash! Evidently some people regard it as an abhorrence. Ian Waites put up a passage from his book describing how children once responded to it. No doubt it does cover up unsightly or problematic brick work, but as a child I found it fascinating. The first floor of my grandparent’s council house in Herne Bay had all these tiny little stones embedded in the wall. I did not know what it was called  but I wanted to know how the stones got there. The only way I could ask about it on the way home was to try and describe it. The term I came up with was  ‘speckled ochre’, a reference to the browny-yellow colour in our paintbox. It was a term which stuck (sic) in my mind and I used to think that one day I would live in a pebble-dashed house called ‘Speckled Ochre’. And now I do. My kids warned me against calling my old cottage so odd  name, but I ignored them. It has raised the occasional eyebrow and people do ask if it refers to a bird perhaps or some sort of lizard. It took me 55 years to get here and those who ask are quite taken with my explanation.

Two of my kids turned with their kids for an unplanned Fathers’ Day visit in the Back Lane today, at almost the same time. My son, now cleared of his Covid-19 fears, came by bike with his 3-year-old son, who was Wall-E when enclosed in a cardboard box costume, and Superman when he revealed his T-shirt. It was both sweet and sad to see the cousins together as they have had to stay apart for so many months. They would normally be together at least once very week. I had some Green Gecko IPA and Guinness from my son, and posh ice-cream and a special cushion from my daughter.

When they had gone I prepared a beef casserole for the evening meal, then settled down to read Clement Atlee’s biography in the garden, but not for too long as the wind and heavy clouds made less comfortable than the sun suggested it might be.

Later I came across John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened online. (I wonder if he stole the title from my hero Randy Rainbow?) Someone has kindly uploaded all 570 pages of his egotistical tirade.? It couldn’t happen to a nastier person. I have no time for the repulsive Bolton but his book is quite a compulsive read. I have been glued to my screen. 

A pleasingly rich but dry Italian red (15%) to accompany my slow-cooked beef casserole served with basmati rice, and followed by honeycomb ice-cream consumed while watching the rather mysterious Luminaries on BBC1. Set in New Zealand at the end of the 19th century its flash backs and forwards are all very confusing  especially when you haven’t quite got your head around the plethora of characters. Makes a change from foggy London mysteries of the same period. 

And so entry 100 comes to an end. What will happen next? This has been an unusual pursuit for me, never have sustained a diary before. I am intrigued to know what voice has emerged. I think it would make an interesting publication, for later if not for now (any offers out there?). It is a far cry from Defoe’s Journal of the a Plague Year, but at least this has been a genuine piece of journalism, and free of the constraints that I might normally apply to my writing. I shall offer it to Mass Observation and to the Bristol Archives. 

But will I be able to give up? It has kept me away from two other writing projects. I have to finish my history of the private madhouses of Fishponds, and translating the memories of an Armenian in the French Resistance. I also have to prepare some online talks on ethical journalism for colleagues in Belarus, and dig out boxes of papers about the origins of Stephen and Matilda Tenants’ Co-oo for my former neighbours in Wapping. So I shall not be short of other things to do. 

Then there is the garden, which will need tending now that a summer heatwave is forecast. And last but not least there are my five chickens who have been with me throughout this journey, as they moved from Guantanamo on one side of the garden to The Gulch on the other, and kept me in eggs, and on my toes. I hope they have provided some of the lighter moments.They have been more fun than predictive text which has been the bane of my life, and made the final edit a nightmare.

Time for a goodnight Fathers’Day uisce beatha (whiskey). If you have been, thanks for reading My Self-Isolation Diary.

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