Posts tagged ‘Covid 19’

Apr 22, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 5

Another week gone. Five down and we are now into our sixth week. So how did last week turn out?

Weather has been running hot and cold and very dry. Our last rain consisted of some light showers on 2nd April and we wouldn’t mind a good drenching because we don’t have water to spare for tubs and pots outside which this year will have to be used to grow vegetables and herbs. Bought seeds online and they have now arrived. Didn’t foresee this as after a lifetime of growing fruit and veg we recently got rid of our vegetable plot and this is the year it has become more vital than ever to grow our own this summer so will have to see how that goes. Some vegetable seeds are in as short supply as bread flour and yeast but in a way that’s encouraging because more people appear to be returning to growing plants in their gardens instead of hard-landscaping that has become a widespread phenomenon in recent years.

After deciding to cut down on fresh vegetables because of uncertainty about contamination since so much supermarket produce comes in from abroad, just like PPE, we have refreshed our stocks of gherkins, pickled red cabbage and sauerkraut (I know but it’s pickled) but I did order one or two British-grown apples, red and green cabbage and carrots and tomatoes. The cabbages are tiny wee things hardly worth a damn as my late aunt might have said. The tomato arrived. I stress tomato singular. Described as a British beef tomato it was quite a nice example but a single tomato between two people over a fortnight will take some mathematical calculations over the best way of dividing it up. Cost 85 pence which fairly astonished me. None of the vegetables that arrived I would have selected had I been able to do my own shopping but they are fresh – even having spent their three days in quarantine and undergone a warm soapy bath.

More essential items were sent out by an excellent health store in Aberdeen, although it only posts out a tiny fraction of its food. Our reserves of Vego chocolate and hazelnut spread have been supplemented by two jars. It is the nectar of the gods and just the thing to perk up folk in lockdown who receive a single tomato to last two weeks.

My confidence in the legal profession has taken a dive this week. I’ve had two experiences over recent months – dire and fairly dire but amusing. Dire has descended into dire hell in sheer incompetence. I suppose fairly dire has also but I’m more amenable to that solicitor. I suspect solicitors are finding their proofing skills are sadly lacking without their office staff to check details for them. Latest signed update went into the pillar-box today hot on the heels of another one yesterday. Professionals huh?

Having dipped my toes into the waters of picture communications I set up a WhatsApp account this week to speak with family and friends and have discovered the signal is much better than on our landline.

Still walking locally. Some days it can get a bit too busy for comfort although it’s always good to catch up with neighbours and folk we hardly know who live about the area. This week the cotton mask I ordered arrived. It’s well made and won’t be as hot as wearing a scarf as the temperature increasingly heats up. Lots of unfamiliar faces keep appearing to walk up the hill at the back, most presumably farther away neighbours who’ve always kept their distance till now. Heard from a social media friend that his wife who works in a care home had a run-in with people who had travelled some distance to walk their dogs in our local village park. Some people don’t seem to recognise the devastating impact of possibly carrying infection from one place to another. My friend now has Covid-19 and so his wife is also in quarantine. One of the women who had been delivering groceries and medicines to people in this area is now also self-quarantined.

Still reading Jack London but think I’ve probably reached my limit of stories about dogs and heroic canines taking down other animals. I suspect for many readers times have changed and the thrill of a kill is confined to a blood-thirsty deranged minority. However, London’s To Light a Fire is very fine piece of writing which I urge you to read.

As for our couple of hours of TV in the evenings we gave up on the BFI’s recommended films for a while. Like the parson’s nose, they’re an acquired habit. The final straw was The Long Day Closes by film director Terence Davies. Having spent an inordinate amount of time watching the opening credits scroll down the screen in a font that was all but illegible and around half an hour staring at a bit of a rug I asked my husband if the film was by that bloke that ruined Sunset Song?” It was. I won’t ever forgive him for that. He took one of the best books ever written misunderstood it totally and made a masterpiece into film kitsch. To prove not all directors are self-indulgent bores we watched two super films – The Guilty is a Danish drama largely comprises a single actor in a police control room. Perhaps a little predictable towards the end but enthralling nonetheless. That was on Netflix. On Amazon Prime we watched the Chinese movie The Farewell that explores eastern and western attitudes towards death – charismatic and charming film with the subject ably handled. On a completely different level we’ve started watching Breaking Bad. Yes, I know – so behind the times. But good huh?

And finally – my alter ego Alex Chisholm published the latest magnum opus on Amazon Kindle and paperback due out soon. The Durer Affair is set in the little town of Nuremberg in the year 1504 where the artist, the painter Albrecht Durer, lives in harmony with the world until strangers arrive who turn his world and that of his fellow townsmen and women upside down. It’s comic and it’s tragic – as is life. You can follow the adventures of Durer and his friends Willy and Otto who all have prodigious appetites for pork knuckles washed down by Ana Brauer’s blackest beer and there’s even a doggy aspect to this page-turning thriller in the form of a very un-Jack London little hound called Ulf.

Stay safe.

My blog on Davies’ Sunset Song

Apr 14, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 4

Four weeks have come and gone. So far so good but there’s a long difficult road ahead.

Being even more canny with the anti-bacterial spray this week during the routine morning clean in case no replacement arrives in our latest shopping delivery, again. Still got plenty bleach and as our local GP has posted on the practice website 1% bleach to 99% water is an effective cleaner, if less easy to use.

Optimist that I am I’ve ordered more flour – both bread and self-raising and that rarest of consumables, yeast, with no real expectation of them arriving at the weekend. My son has managed to buy a bag of flour in town and my daughter is now the proud owner of two bags of SR flour. I suggested she places them on her mantlepiece as the rare specimens they are.

In my first plague diary I mentioned we were updating our wills but with self-isolation it is impossible to complete these in the customary way so we set up a video conference with our solicitor – a first for us and her. Had no great faith in managing it but it worked beautifully. Isn’t new technology amazing? So, there we have it our wills are signed off. Might re-visit signatures once out of seclusion and that’s something I look forward to.

In a rush of blood to the head(s) we decided to keep the family amused by videoing the two of us dancing to Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Blimey, does it go on. Seemed to have raised a few laughs from the ‘young ones’ that people so decrepit were capable of embarrassing themselves quite as much. I was even able to get out of bed next morning which was both unexpected and encouraging.

horned sheep and lamb 2

Weather is still very dry and so no excuse for not getting out for some daily exercise. However, I’ve been put off by the increasing numbers of heavy breathing cyclists and runners who haven’t heard of social-distancing and so tend to take my shorter walk along the farm track in preference to the slightly longer ones. The short one is nicer with lots of different bird song along the way, usually the sight of roe deer – three this morning – never close enough to get a good picture or rather I’m too slow to get a decent one – we came round a bend today and surprised a couple of them right in front of us but they fled before I got my camera out. Sheep don’t move as fast. More obliging for a slow-witted photographer.

Still no sign of the birdseed order arriving. Stocks getting low now. So many birds around – blue tits, great tits, blackbirds, chaffinches, sparrows (hedge and house), jackdaws, robins, siskins, woodpeckers, starlings, pheasants, collar doves, wood pigeons – so you see we go through a lot of seed. Off and on activity in the duplex nest across the road – where starlings and jackdaws are hoping to nest.

Finished Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. Definitely recommend it. The final story, of Ella, is a little repetitive but builds up to —I’ll let you discover for yourselves. Started to read Jack London again. Bâtard last night (in which a dog hangs a brute of a man) followed by part of To Build a Fire – man against nature (how apt) before my eyes closed.

Our daily (evening) two hours of television has moved from box sets to films as recommended by the BFI. Adelheid, set in post-war Czechoslovakia was satisfactory in the way a single slice of bread as a sandwich is. Next evening came something very different – Kurt Russell in Breakdown which we remembered having seen previously but it’s a very watchable slickly filmed yarn populated by slow-drawling rednecks up to no good. The fly in the ointment was the lead woman (although she hardly featured) presented as a victim incapable of behaving like an adult – “give her the gun” we kept shouting at the screen but Kurt Russell had to do what a man has to do and held onto it while driving. Last night we watched Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade. A rom-com with lots of very funny one-liners but in the end didn’t hit the spot. Why did Cary Grant have mauve hair? Perhaps there’s no need to ask.

Stay safe.

Apr 8, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 3

Actually into our 4th week of isolation but writing about week 3 and already I’m losing the ability to count as far as the fingers on my hand. Been an up-and-down week which started fine but a few days ago I became suddenly ill including the worst headache I’ve ever experienced, a real sledgehammer job, which has resulted in this blog being a day late. Don’t suppose any of you are counting that accurately either, or caring.

The morning clean continues apace with a well-established routine set using diluted bleach for bits and anti-bacterial spray (I know Covid isn’t bacterial) for other parts. Being very canny with the spray as last time I ordered it from my online supermarket I was sent floor wipes (which I haven’t used.)

On Saturday, gloved up, I moved the supermarket groceries and foods received from an online health food store out of quarantine bag and carton by bag and carton and gave all a good wash down in warm, soapy water – dried them off and put them away. Yeast and flour – self-raising and bread are in short supply and prunes, sadly, but we’ve now got lots of dates, sunflower seeds and even a bag of sour cherries to add to our daily porridge. The bag of linseed had a tiny hole in it. Couldn’t see it but seeds were dropping out so it couldn’t be given a bath and instead the seed was poured into a baking tray and given the heat treatment for around 30 mins. Lovely smell, if you like painters’ studio type aromas.

On the issue of flour and yeast shortages – there are unscrupulous people out there, one I noticed lives in Barrow-in-Furness selling flour and yeast at exorbitant amounts on Ebay. Presume they’re organised going in and out of shops buying it up and selling on. This crisis has brought out the best in people but it has also brought out the worst. Those Ebay types are despicable human beings. Expect they wouldn’t know what to do with a bag of flour if it hit them in the face, which might be a good idea.

Bag of peanuts arrived for the birds. It was so heavy my husband’s legs almost gave way. Should have used the sack barrow. Very grateful to delivery drivers who are dropping off our orders in the porch so allowing us all to keep our distance. I put up a thank you/appreciation notice in the porch for them and our lovely posties, men and woman, who we can’t stand and chatter to as we did in the good ol’ pre-coronavirus days. Husband did have a shouty conversation with one a couple of days ago. He’s become adept at shouting to neighbours across a road. Roadside shouting matches aside we’ve been in telephone conversation with neighbours as well as friends, and emails – messages flying around so much this past week with friends as far afield as New Zealand.

The New Zealand connection is tenuous as these friends were there on holiday when coronavirus hit. NZ closed down and they were forced to move out of their accommodation. They found a self-catering motel where other Europeans were staying while trying to get home. The British Foreign Office and British Commission did not want to know and offered no assistance so our friends were left to negotiate multiple-million-pound airfares with companies taking advantage of peoples’ desperation. They’ve sorted something out but I think they’d be better-off staying put in New Zealand. They were very impressed by its PM’s response to the deadly virus.

Able to get out for short walks most days. Weather still very good. In fact it’s been so dry in my part of West Aberdeenshire the burns (streams) are very low. That might not appear to be a problem but we have a private water supply. If that sounds high faluting it isn’t – just means water running down the hillside is collected in a gathering tank and piped to our homes. When there’s no rain (or snow in winter – and there hasn’t been) then our water tends to dry up. Then we have a problem. Along the banks of the burns the primroses are looking very beautiful with their creamy yellow petals, the darker yellow of whin blossom, stunning white wood anemones flower in abundance round here, goat’s beard glow in the sun and the marshmallow leaves are well-formed. Lots of ladybirds in the garden. Having been such a mild winter they’ve survived in big numbers.

In the tree hollow I mentioned last time starlings are visiting it often but so too, bizarrely, are jackdaws who also appear to be trying to nest in it. I don’t think the two species will make for the best of neighbours.

My bedtime reading has picked up from the last book. Currently enjoying Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, a trilogy of stories relating to London’s seedy pub culture in the 1920s. The descriptions are masterful and the dialogue fairly zings along from this accomplished novelist and playwright who wrote Gaslight and Rope, both made into popular films. Our two hours of television daily means we’re still ploughing on with Better Call Saul, nearing the end and series five has I’m pleased to report picked up from the dreary series four. Squeezed in a couple of episodes of Outlander, too, Sam Heughan should be placed on prescription at times such as these.

Stay safe.

Mar 31, 2020

Year of the Plague – Self-isolation week 2

Another week of self-isolation and it’s beginning to feel normal. Odd that instead of lying in bed planning the next day’s activities there’s a feeling it doesn’t really matter because what’s not done tomorrow can be done the day after, the week after or the month after – all being well. All being well is the qualification of everything said and planned at present. All being well. The great unknown has taken on far greater resonance of late. About the only thing that has become regular and a priority is the daily assiduous bathroom clean followed by door handles including the front door, inside and out, the letterbox, doorbell and computer keyboards.

But, anyway, one or two events shook up the monotony of last week. My new spectacles arrived. As all deliveries are placed in quarantine for three days before moving into their permanent positions it took a few days to check them, usually done at the opticians. Two pairs, both varifocals – one normal and the other sunglasses. The sunglasses are fine although their designer case is way too over-engineered but the ordinary pair made me feel I was walking through syrup. Phoned the optician who were very good about it – clearly I couldn’t take them back or post them and anyway they were about to close down until – well, until whenever so I’m back to wearing my old pair.

Lots of deliveries this week from online shopping to join the specs in quarantine. Notice now up in porch for packages to be left there, quite safe as we’re always in except when out for a short walk and anyway all the criminals are in lockdown, too.

Mild panic when we couldn’t get access to our usual supermarket home delivery. Gave up after 30 mins on phone but days later persevered, waited over 50 mins and someone picked up. This someone was a young woman with young children who could be heard crying in the background. Felt for the poor woman. She sorted out our problem and a delivery is due next week – a moderate-no-panic-buying-type delivery. I’d highlighted an issue for people like me in Scotland on Twitter and it was taken up by an MSP who was straight onto the supermarket concerned and so now, hopefully, the difficulty is sorted for others in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s one of the advantages of living in a small country, sense of collectivism. Also on Twitter had a bit of a run-in with someone from BBC Scotland over its haphazard broadcasting of daily updates on coronavirus from the First Minister, Medical Officer of Health for Scotland and a Scottish government minister. Radio listeners in Scotland have got used to second best but is it too much to ask for them to take Covid-19 more seriously than sport or local news bulletins? Evidently it is.

Been having usual sort of printer problems which involved having to order a supply of paper. It arrived about two weeks before the date given – that is blooming fast. So many jobs to do on the computer it was almost like being back at work but with the weather being generally good am still getting out most days for a walk on what has become far busier roads and even the farm track where it’s always been just me, my shadow and I is attracting neighbours in their multitudes (relatively speaking) entailing a good bit of nipping onto verges and general awkwardness. First primroses flowering, lambs appearing and dippers darting up the burn. Talking of birds the little hollow in a tree opposite the house where various birds have nested over the years is been investigated by a couple of jackdaws, one sticking its head right into the hole and another pecking down from the top. Today starlings looked like they were thinking of moving in. That’s not going to end well.

Eventually got around to running off the FT weekend crossword. It’s almost completed. As another week’s gone by there’s another one waiting to be run off. Rushed through His Bloody Project I mentioned last time. It’s set around Applecross but could as easily be set in Devon for as a Highlander I don’t recognise it as in any way Highland through description or language. Different setup for a novel. Just not to my taste. Still not finished watching Better Call Saul. We’re on season 4 and frankly it’s a bit dull, not as good as the first three. Began an occasional blog of quirky recipes for the self-isolating (nearly the whole of the world) but don’t think many are impressed with my selections so far.

Our household has had one birthday and one anniversary this week – with all the fizz of flat Champagne. There are far worse things to contend with. And finally, we updated our wills by speaker phone. Desperate times.

Stay safe.

Mar 19, 2020

Covid-19 – Coronavirus and the Libertarian

Guest blog by Textor

Things, as they say, are sometimes liable to come back to bite you.

That is if you let your guard down.

And let’s face it many of us have in one way or another let our guards down.

Coronavirus aka Covid-19 has bought home to us that as content as we are in our privileged advanced (there’s a cultural joke) economies the world is other than it seems. Assuming we are not in the gig economy, not queuing at a food bank then things can only get better. We who have access to a fair number of the good things of life; we who thought the real world was little more than novelties in the digital market place – including the delights of Amazon Prime or Netflix – or ever more commodities; we have been brought up short in little over three months by the brute fact of Nature.  Bang! Nature has reared up and taken an almighty bite out of this hubris.

Yes, we are all more or less aware, all more or less concerned/unconcerned about climate change and the impact of the Anthropocene (the Age deemed to be when humankind’s effect upon the planet Earth has been sufficient to cause global, catastrophic change.) Regardless of the evident societal alterations required to alleviate a “far off” doom we – those lucky enough to avoid floods, devastating fires etc.- could in the short term just get on with it; recycle as if there were no tomorrow you might say. Waiting for the end of climate change.

But sometimes Nature does not allow us the luxury of waiting for the apocalypse: coronavirus is just such a time. For decades microbiologists have been predicting the coming of a pandemic. The so-called Spanish Flu provided a model of how devastating a modern microbiological disaster could be. Wikipedia gives figures as high as 100 million dying in the influenza pandemic of 1918-20; more than the man-made slaughter on the battlefields of the Great War. Science had the capacity to devise the most wonderful weapons of death but could not stop the ‘flu.

Evolution has “designed” a human organism capable of sophisticated speech with the capacity to adapt itself to wide variations of environmental conditions. At the same time, and perhaps a necessary part of being human, it put its stamp on Nature. Beavers might dam rivers and create lakes but humans could build the Grand Coulee Dam, produce electricity to power a so-called Second Industrial Revolution. Clever, even ambitious. But no matter how sophisticated is the vast commodity producing system that is industrial capitalism it is no match for the potential speed at which a micro-organism might evolve. Humans have brains big enough to predict outcomes and have the technical knowhow (probably) to design and manufacture anti-virals capable of slowing and even halting the spread of Covid-19 – yes humans could in the next few months do this. But for all this Nature remains unconquered. Natural selection continues without any mastermind operating behind the scenes. And we know, or should know, that this process of selection can be good for some species and bad for others.

And so, the long-predicted crisis has arrived. The pandemic is here and the search goes on for a solution. As with previous modern national and global health events the pharmaceutical industry play a crucial role. However, historically necessary component solutions come under the direction and control of local or national state apparatuses. In other words, individuals/institutions are first advised and then told what to do. Sanctions are threatened and sanctions are imposed.

Nothing new in this. Here in northeast Scotland as far back as the 15th century Aberdeen’s magistrates fearful of plague had the bell rung through the medieval town proclaiming the city’s ports (gates) close, lokit with lokis and keis, at night to prevent strangers entering unobserved. A compact medieval town could very swiftly succumb to viral and bacterial threats. Medieval doctors and apothecaries knew little of the causes of infectious diseases but empirically they were aware that for all claims of God expending his wrath on a sinful community, contagion could be slowed by isolating infected families and potential carriers. Whether this would thwart Divine justice was maybe a theological point not to be dwelt upon. And, it’s worth noting that certainly by the 17th century Aberdeen’s magistrates were also attempting to clean the city of middens, street filth and asking that households be kept clean. This lesson on the need for cleanliness was largely lost by the early 19th century when poorer parts of Aberdeen where people living cheek-by-jowl and in slum conditions were condemned to the horrors of cholera and dysentery. This was industrialising capitalism; the poor were there to be exploited and maybe pitied.

As the centuries progressed even more controls were imposed. Vessels were prevented from entering the harbour, merchandise was left in ship holds. On the other hand, when the threat was seen to be coming from internal migration strangers were banned from entering the town. Town ports were watched and at one stage in 1606 dealers in timber were told to stay away under paine of death. Trade suffered as commodities ceased to flow between manufacturers, tradesmen and consumers. In 1647, again in the midst of plague, draconian measures were introduced with, for example, all ydle stranger beggars . . .  forthwith removed and banished. Any who returned were to be scourged, branded and driven out.

Authoritarian management is a basic mechanism for control of epidemic-pandemic events. Our current crisis has stark contrasts. On the one hand the relatively fast and severe imposition of lock-down in parts of China. With over seventy years of state control the Chinese Communist Party has an apparatus better adapted to widespread controls than liberal democracies. Compare the Chinese response to the bumbling worlds of the UK and USA brought stumbling towards closing doors and mass quarantine.

These manoeuvres will probably bring howls of anger from libertarians both right and left – those who don’t want to be told what to do by the state. Their individual rights, some might say entitlement, trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) all else. Allowing for the nastiness of all three states mentioned (China, US and UK) this form of libertarianism smacks of, at best, infantile petulance and at worst disintegrative individualism which fails to recognise a larger vision of human community even one within a capitalist formation. Remember the outcry about seat belts and crash helmets – with cries of freedom from state tyranny? Of course the consequences of a libertarian freedom to roam in a time of a modern plague threatens not only the lives of the defence of freedom lobby but ultimately the well-being of global communities. 

And the bite of Nature? As much as humankind imagines itself master/mistress of the world the reality is otherwise. From small nibbles such as occasional volcanic eruption to the all-encompassing bite of climate change Nature exists, not dependent on human imagination, not caring one way or another what happens to humans or any other species. It, if that’s the correct word, does what it does.Humans although in Nature and of Nature are different insofar as this species can make choices. It can gather knowledge, can know history and can act. There lies the rub.