16/08/2020

A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

"Summertime and the livin' is easy"

 

Your Intrepid Reporter offers his sincere apologies to the Gentle Readers for failing to provide an update last week. His only excuse is that it's summer and even Crazy takes a holiday every now and then.

And such was the case as Dear Leader relaxed in the bosom of his family at his simple 18-hole private golf club in New Jersey. After a full season of work leading the Crazy Parade reality show, our Fearless Peerless took a well-deserved break to contemplate all he had wrought. And it was good. The only notable loss from His Tulsa Rally was Herman Cain, a former rival candidate for president.

The waves of approval from His July 4th event at Mt. Rushmore continued to pour in, convincing Dear Leader that this was the moment to have His staff make discreet inquiries into what it would take to get His Own Visage carved into the granite mountainside (the only minor blip resulting from this was a hurried trip to Washington by the governor of South Dakota to reassure Vice Dear Leader that she wasn't plotting to replace Him Minor on the ticket). Crazy in South Dakota was doing so well without His help, that the leaders of the hamlet of Sturgis overrode their own constituents' objections and decided to go ahead with the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, at which a quarter million non-mask wearing Patriots show up on their Harley Hoggs to wave the flag, waste fuel, make noise, look silly, and infect each other.  But they are the most faithful of The Faithful.  

There were, of course, the usual annoying efforts by the Lame Stream Media (whose ranks have recently been strengthened by the addition of Fox News, formerly the preferred source of news and intelligence for Dear Leader, but increasingly given to Unfair! reality-based journalism) to stir the pot. Sweeping all before Him, however, Dear Leader replied to a Horrible! Question from a Nasty! Journalist, with admirable equanimity, noting that only 1000 fellow Americans were succumbing to the pandemic every day. He quite reasonably added that as Dear Leader He'd done what He could and "it is what it is."  

The howls of protest from He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and other unPatriots were Bigly Unfair. So, in a brilliant ploy to shut them up for good, Dear Leader decided the only proper response was to silence His own medical experts and prove the critics wrong. Amazing us all yet again with His Ability to See Further than the Rest of Us, Dear Leader hit upon the stroke of hiring one Dr. Scott Atlas as His in-house medical advisor. Dr. Atlas (don't worry, there'll be no obvious jokes about shrugging off the virus - this is serious journalism, people) not only agrees with Dear Leader on how little there is to fear from the pandemic, but for extra points he's a dead-ringer for Dr. Anthony (Loser) Fauci himself. Now this was going to confound the critics! Dear Leader could put Dr. (Not) Fauci up there every day to tell the Faithful that all was well and the Bigly Unfair Critics would have to quietly agree since Dr. (Not) Fauci said so. Finally, we're all on message and the virus is vanquished! Even better, Dr. (Not) Fauci’s silver fox good looks are sure to appeal to all the Suburban Housewives who have not yet succumbed to Dear Leader’s own charms nor His messages of blatantly racist intent about keeping their ‘hoods white.

 

So, on the Seventh Day, He rested (between rounds of golf, of course) and saw that all was good. Why, even Dear Number Last Son (preparing not to go back to school despite Dear Leader's insistence that schools everywhere should open) was admitted into the Presence for a change. A relaxed, confident Dear Leader could be heard softly singing to Himself "Summertime... Your daddy's rich and your ma is good lookin," and all was right in this Crazy Ole' World.

16/08/2020

From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Today is Wednesday, so I’m beginning this journal entry a little earlier in the week than recently. So far it’s been generally pretty good with lots of tasks either completed or underway and opportunities to enjoy being outside, often in the company of best beloved. We have been really happy together and are working on painting the inside as well as completely replacing the rotten back wall of the beach hut.

 

Speaking of the beach hut, I find that I thoroughly enjoy the community aspect of sharing this piece of ancient timber construction by the sea. Owners and their families and friends gather outside their doors, in our case on a grassy patch next to a low wall. The situation really is beautiful and there is plenty of space for social distancing. People sit and talk about many things - not just Covid - and when the weather and tide are right some may sally forth into the ocean for swimming or paddle boarding. The latter sport has become really popular lately, a craze that I quite fancy joining. One of our beach hut neighbours, Tony, has a paddle board which he uses almost every day. Just for fun I have written a poem about his exploits:

 

Tony Paddleboard doing nothing untoward

As he sails upon the sea off Puckpool Park

 

He muses on his life and his lonely darling wife

Who waits upon the shore at Puckpool Park

 

He sails for many a day, drifting far, far away

Until he sights a coast forbidding, strange, dark and full of threat 

Not in the least like Puckpool Park 

 

“What land is this?”, he wonders

“Do people live here?”

“What language do they speak

- not caulkhead I’ll be bound!”

 

So Tony turns around in haste

- and sets his sights on Ryde’s twin spires

Alongside Puckpool Park 

 

Days pass and he persists -

Slowly parts familiar heave in sight

Appley Tower, the beach huts

- Puckpool Park 

 

He lands upon the sand and greets his darling, missed

Vows he will return to her each day

At Puckpool Park 

By word of explanation, Caulkhead refers to native Islanders who once spoke a distinctive rather Dorset-like dialect. The mainland, or ‘North Island’, is sometimes considered a very forbidding place for caulkheads. Puckpool Park is an area where there are many beach huts, including our own.

 

This poem has a plague connection, because my writing any sort of verse, doggerel, or whatever, is a rare event. My last poem was written in 1988! Lock down I think has triggered things creative in me, and not just music. I still think I can detect smoke coming from the direction of Italy...

 

P.S.  Much squirrel activity on Thursday afternoon!

16/08/2020

Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Writing this at 03.45 am. Awake for an hour or so. Drinking tea and listening to the thunder as an early morning summer storm plays out. The dogs are restless. Our Jack Russell has jumped on to the bed and is nudging me to be stroked. At last there is rain... but the heat persists. And hasn’t it been hot in East Anglia this summer? The ground is so baked dry; there are cracks in the lawn and some of the trees have started to shed their leaves. Autumn in August. 

 

The news yesterday was full of stories of recent examination results for secondary school children. Lots of anger as some pupils did not achieve the results that had been predicted. Young people and families distressed by grades that do not meet expectations. Boris Johnson appeared at one point to say that pupils could appeal the decisions of the exam boards. And then a young and very charming TV presenter with an almost orange glow reassured viewers of the 10.30 pm news last night that it is possible to recover from results less favourable, revealing that she is living proof of “moving on”. 

 

We all continue to “move on”. We’re moving on from lockdown. Slowly I guess. The Suffolk coast has seen a huge number of holidaymakers this year. More than usual? We always avoid the beach and seaside towns during summer holiday period so it is difficult to judge. I’ve a friend living in Walberswick who tells me that people are arriving as early 06.00 am each day - beach umbrellas and brightly coloured towels appearing earlier and earlier, and the sea front car parks full by 08.00 am. A masked man in a striped blue and white van is probably already setting up to sell ice creams. Gosh. I wonder if I could have a “99” cone, please?! Or an “Oyster” - you know - one of those scallop-shaped cones with gooey marshmallow and ice cream and chocolate sauce and chopped nuts... 

 

The storm has receded. Jack Russell is much calmer. He is a darling little dog. Must be terrifying - the noise of the thunder and the sky lighting up in crashing flashes. I wonder what dogs and cats think is happening. Inexplicable world. Everything around them in what must seem like chaos and turmoil. But it passes. Normality resumes. We move on.

 

I’m going to see if I can get back to sleep now. A couple more hours before Friday begins... so I’ll close now - sending best wishes to you all x

16/08/2020

Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Random weekly thoughts:

 

H. and M. Sussex: $ 15M for a house in Santa Barbara, with a library, good to know they are reading. An estate agent said they "will fit straight into the community" - at least one of the neighbors, Gwyneth Paltrow, is the author of several books. The late (and very fine) poet Edgar Bowers, who was also living in Santa Barbara and had a strong sense of irony, would have been amused. 

 

Superyachts : they use more than 500 pounds' worth an hour of fuel. It reassured me to use, to go to work, only one full petrol tank a week. I also calculated that I had driven less miles in 48 years that my son and his wife had flown in the last 12 years.

"Useful idiot" theory: who does not feel like a "useful idiot" sometimes and try not to be one ? I read something about it this week (I can't remember where). The concept may have been invented by Lenin, or first by Marx and Engels. I notice that the French and the English versions of Wikipedia on the subject are quite different. 

The "useful idiot" is a naive person of good faith, who denies reality because of fidelity to his or her belief. Traditionally used by the communists as a tactic to manipulate and at the same time disqualify the extreme left, as for example Sartre in France. But now it means any person manipulated by any political party or hostile power group. It makes me feel retrospectively that I too had been an idiot at the beginning of the Covid crisis (believing at first the information given by the health authorities), and now knowing that I will try hard not to be useful anymore and less of an idiot too. 

 

We had blessedly real rain today, a sense of relief, and probably the first sign of the end of summer. A regret: I will miss my feeling of justified laziness.

16/08/2020

Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

News of an unexpected bonus for some in these stricken times: HMRC admits it made overgenerous and in some cases unwarranted grants to self-employed ‘Covid-19’ claimants to the astonishing extent of £millions, perhaps 47 of them. It won’t be asking for the money back. That’s our money, of course...

And talking of things fiscal, this week saw the UK officially declared to be in recession, the downturn calculations from two quarters earlier in the year coming onstream and amounting to nearly 21%. Compare that with the 2.8% at the worst of the banking crisis a few years ago. With nothing much left to ‘unlock’ and thus boost Boris’s “mighty engines of the UK Economy” and furlough chickens shortly coming home to roost, coupled with increasing unemployment/business failures and an oncoming Winter, we are warned to not expect much joy soon - it could be the end of next year before things are restored to pre-Covid levels. My recollection is that things weren’t exactly fabulous then, so we’re aspiring to regain the mediocre. But it doesn’t do to be too gloomy, we must remain positive - National Prosperity is linked to National Confidence. Confidence may be illustrated by greater than ever new domain name registrations, online selling and ‘virtual shops’ being an affordable way to start a new business.

 

As expected, France has joined the list of holiday venues requiring 14 days self isolation on return, together with Holland, Malta and Monaco. I don’t imagine many returning from a holiday in Monaco will find quarantine too tiresome.

 

Just finished re-reading Clive James’ engaging account of his bad behaviour in 60’s London, ”Falling Towards England“ which has a fragment of memory re a bloke in a pub whose idea of entertainment was to bash himself over the head with a tin tray. I know this man! He featured on ‘Opportunity Knocks’ singing a rousing film tune “Mule Train” hitting himself around the nut enthusiastically on the whiplash beat as in ‘muletraiiiin - Hah!’. You need just the right lightweight tray... 

Maybe nothing much illustrates just how easy we were to please 60 years ago than this slim ‘act’. I have reenacted it on occasions, only to receive pity rather than acclaim, or in the case of small children, wide-eyed horror. Maybe my audience didn’t know the tune.

Caught extended sightings of the excellent David H in an episode of Holby City. See, there’s the difference: I bet he’d only frighten children if the script required.

16/08/2020

Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans

CONTACTLESS

 

Pay by card if possible

instead of with cash

 

and make it contactless

to keep things simple.

 

Face to face

says not to set foot

 

across the ubiquitous

yellow line.

 

Accept that acquaintance

is a casual elbow bump

 

and social distancing

an oxymoron.

 

Absence of contact

plans to keep us safe

 

but weighs its authority

against our loss.

16/08/2020

Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

Simon arrived in Bristol in mid-March expecting to stay a week. The pandemic hit and he stayed five months. This week we packed up, left the Bristol flat and returned to Simon’s home in Totnes, Devon. It was a journey we have probably made hundreds of times and was only varied in that we avoided the service station at Taunton Dean for lunch and instead ate our picnic off a side road on the picnic chairs we packed.

 

The journey, although blisteringly hot, actually felt quite normal but our arrival here had such impact - a house and a garden just out of town and all to ourselves. Suddenly I realised how “cribbed, cabined and confined” we had been in the flat. Just out of the car, we had to wade through blackberries to the door and then inside through cobwebs to cupboards with stale cereal and sprouted onions so there is much to be done. But we have a whole house in which to lose ourselves and a garden full of greenery to enjoy. We can now play the telly as loud as we need and we can laugh all night in the garden.

16/08/2020

Grounded

 Jo Sweeting

Love and healing in the time of CoronaVirus

(July 2020)

 

I am a walker, wild swimmer and a sculptor. I pride myself on being strong and fit. At 54 years old I have been lucky enough to have little need for hospitals and the NHS. I have an excellent GP who has known me for 25 years and who I can talk openly to. He treats me as a whole person. 

I can’t always be seen quickly but that is the system failing and the sad outcome of consistently poor funding. A lack of respect for our glorious NHS. 

 

Four weeks ago after a days swimming and a walk I came home feeling unusually exhausted. This feeling persisted and gradually I began to feel weaker, a temperature of 40 degrees that knocked me flat. I called 111 who blue lighted an ambulance. I am terrified of needles and of hospitals but was so grateful for the immediate treatment I received.

 

Jaz and Ruth the paramedics were first in  the long line of compassionate and skilled medical staff I encountered .They were kind. I say this first because it seemed the most important of their first responses. They were also highly efficient. They made me feel calm and reassured. I gladly left my home and went into hospital during a pandemic with all its additional fears and complications was not a step I took lightly.

I was assessed immediately by a nurse called Mary but faced a four hour wait in a side room. This was difficult. I felt very poorly. The staff were immersed in a very busy evening and were clearly under pressure. Several patients were challenging but I knew I was in good hands. I was uncomfortable but I was not afraid. I was monitored and eventually moved to the emergency unit for treatment.

 

It was decided that I had pneumonia, a kidney infection and a possible appendix issue. Over the next night and day I was weighed, monitored, had bloods taken, was x-rayed, given IV antibiotics and painkillers.

I was treated with care and respect. Many people were awaiting treatment and few beds were available. I was tested for Covid19 but tested negative. All patients had swabs and an x-ray on admission.

 

I am in awe of the ‘team’ environment I found myself in. The porters, cleaners, administration staff, nurses, consultants, doctors, pharmacists, health care assistants, bookings staff and paramedics. 

I’m sorry if I missed anyone in the long list of people I encountered in two days! 

I met people from all over the world who showed me care and respect. Their team work was executed with tremendous fluidity. I saw several patients being abusive to staff and even so they were dealt with in a firm but respectful and ultimately compassionate way. 

 

I was in a bed near the nurses station and so could not help but overhear conversations through that long night and day spent on the ward. What I heard was a series of ‘No, you sort out her bloods and I’ll check the results’ or ‘Go for your break and I will cover you’. The selfless support and team work that makes the world go round, especially when under pressure. I watched a cleaner go round and round several wards running his gloved hands along the curtain rails, sweeping under beds and checking for anything that had been left behind. Then a couple of hours later he would return and re- do all his tasks. 

Nurses went to see their patients in masks, gowns and gloves and then removed them, wiped down, re-gowned and returned over and over. Walking miles. Having few breaks or rest.

I had a mask. We all slept in masks in this strange time. No one made a fuss but we knew as patients that we were being looked after by people who were hot and tired and still made no complaints.

I just can’t believe how lucky we are to have our NHS. 

 

I am deeply saddened by the governments ‘line of thought that we only want ‘skilled’ people to enter this country or worst of all the forced removal of  unskilled people. Anyone who believes we only need the high flyers is so misguided. Every person working at all ‘supposed levels’ are needed. They should be valued for the work they do and paid properly for it. I saw people working for the minimum wage who were certainly not ‘unskilled' in the tasks they undertook despite their (supposed) low status and pay. Without the cleaner and the porters attention to detail we would not have safe, clean spaces, nor beds available.

 

I have never before called an ambulance or felt so ill and terrified. I would no longer be fearful to be admitted to hospital.

I am now on the mend and I will never forget the love I was shown. I call it love because no one could do what was done for me and the many others I saw purely for money. And on that note most people I met were on about £11 per hour (I asked!). That needs to change. I am appalled that our NHS staff are so badly paid. How can we justify a wage of £8 to £11 per hour? 

 

I am lucky and young enough to not remember a time prior to the NHS but I remember hearing the haunting words of the war veteran Harry Leslie Smith talking about how his family had to let his sister leave the family home and die in care as there was no money to treat her. She died alone without her family, as have so many during this pandemic. What I  know from what I saw is that if someone you know and love has been admitted to a hospital during this time, that they would not have died alone. They may have died without you or a family member there but they will not have been alone. A member of the NHS team will have been with them; reassuring them, gently holding their hand. Comforting them. Paying full attention as they slipped away. Easing their journey towards death. 

I read about a woman whose Grandmother had died without a family member in hospital. Later the following week she received a tiny pillow stitched with her grandmothers’ name onto a piece of her nightdress, made by the health care worker who sat beside her as she passed away. 

 

I will never forget how well I was treated. 

 

I would like to thank every person who helped me recover. 

I am now in my bed at home on the mend. Pillows supporting my head and whippets sleeping on my feet!

 

With support from my lovely GP I know I will be fine.

16/08/2020

Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Rather than talk about work, which is chugging along quite nicely, can I have a moan about other matters that have been in the news this week?

 

Firstly, death statistics. It always seemed bizarre that the different nations of the UK calculated and reported COVID deaths in different ways. And just how nonsensical this all is was demonstrated by Public Health England suddenly knocking 5,000 deaths off its cumulative COVID death toll this week. Unreliable and inconsistent data is a serious issue because the dodgy numbers that PHE have been reporting influence government policy and the public mood - not least because of the BBC’s nightly fanfare announcement of the number of people “who have died with COVID in the last 24 hours”. On 12th August the old basis gave us 72 deaths, the new basis only 15. At this time of year it is normal for around 1,500 people to die every day in the UK from one cause or another: why are we so worried about a virus which caused 15 deaths on Wednesday of this week? And for the last seven weeks the number of people dying from any cause is running below the 5 year average: it is all on the ONS website. But the BBC and the government are coy about reporting anything that might be perceived as good news, presumably for fear that it might lead us to relax our guard against the “deadly virus”. It was an absolutely deadly virus in March and April - it is nowhere near as deadly now.

 

At least we have had the distraction this week of the A Level results fiasco to divert us from COVID. The trade unions that are criticising the results process should perhaps have campaigned to keep years 11 and 13 open throughout the pandemic, so that GCSEs and A Levels could still have been taken in the normal way. And primary schools also should have been kept open, but hindsight is wonderful thing! It has been entertaining but frustrating to hear the education secretaries of the four nations struggle to explain exactly how the results were estimated, moderated, weighted, adjusted and finally (presumably) fudged. But these are real children’s lives that we are talking about, not a game of statistics. My take on it is that it is better to have a few over-estimated grades than a few underestimated ones. The former will do little long term harm, but the latter could ruin children’s life chances. 

 

And as for the catastrophic collapse of the UK economy in Q2, what do you expect if vast swathes of activity are closed down by government edict? The government needs now to focus on deregulating the economy and rebuilding confidence, so that businesses and individuals will feel emboldened to invest and create jobs, wealth and tax revenues!

 

Finally, during my lunchbreak on Thursday I read a newspaper article headlined “Care Homes are like Prisons, with Residents Losing the Will to Live”. It was commenting on a newly published report lamenting the impact of visiting restrictions on care home residents. These restrictions were particularly damaging for those with dementia, who, it reported were suffering a marked decline in both physical and mental health, were losing weight and generally "losing the will to live". When I returned home that evening my wife reported that her mother’s dementia care home had telephoned that morning to report their concerns that Nora (who we have been able to visit only once in five months) was refusing to eat. They were concerned that she might have to be admitted to hospital. I fear a difficult argument developing with my wife and her brother on one side, asking for their mother to be cared for with respect, in the familiar surroundings of her care home, and made comfortable as she perhaps approaches the end of her life; and on the other side the ranks of medical professionals who sometimes have a tendency to see every death as a defeat to be valiantly resisted, and will want to whisk her into hospital to be put on a drip. We have a visit booked for this Saturday morning.

16/08/2020

Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

Astute readers will have noticed how last week I got in a muddle while captioning the paintings of David Hockney and Alan Davie. For anyone who is interested, both paintings in the left-hand photograph are by Davie, while Hockney’s two boys are indeed on the right. Davie was initially something of a mentor to Hockney, which is why they were being exhibited together. (From Sheila: I have now altered the caption to reflect this).

 

Anyway. It has been very hot here, so that between early morning and late evening I have simply given up, and stayed indoors with the curtains closed, indulging in part in lots of reading, sprawled on the sofa. We’re now in 1941: Stalin has gone almost completely potty and his army (that which he hasn’t already shot for no particular reason) is in disarray in the face of relentlessly advancing German forces. His underlings are behaving like a bunch of hysterical schoolboys, running about in all directions, and civilian lives, according to his scorched earth policy, are being sacrificed on an unimaginable scale. (Do you know, as I read this back I see flashing before me the faces of the Dear Leaders of our own country and that across the pond.) Here in Sussex we have in some areas run out of water. People are rather cross about having to go and collect bottles, and not being able to flush their loos. It’s all relative.

 

I heard on Monday that there were five Covid patients in intensive care here. The bearer of this news felt it was positive; I thought it still terrible for those affected, however low the numbers might be, and still highlighting the general risk. Our recovery has been spikier than the national average, but numbers continue to fall, and are now slightly below it.

 

All the same, nice things happen too. Yesterday evening, on a whim, I did at last sally forth with bikini and towel – and how glad I was: as I crested the cliff I had an ‘Oh bliss!!’ moment. There are some things which Man still hasn’t managed to take away or ruin, and one is that sudden unanticipated flash of beauty, simple, timeless and, even now, greater than we. Beyond the trees which descend steeply to the strand lay a perfectly still, milky turquoise sea, far away merging mistily with the sky; nearer, a yacht lay motionless at anchor. Less an Icarus moment this time, more an impressionist painting, full of warm, embracing, end-of-day light. A burst of late sun having followed an earlier deluge (another, cooling, bliss), my hope that there would not be too many people was fulfilled, and I had a choice of spots for my first swim of the year. Words are not enough to describe the utter joy of it. There is something about warm evening, sometimes sunset, swimming: a calm, all’s-well rounding-off of the day which sends me floating off to my night’s sleep.

 

And no one was aggressive. I even exchanged pleasantries with another later-life lady, off for her own swim. How easy it is to be nice, and receive niceness, and feel happier for it.

The rest of my week has been more prosaic, with lots of jobs being completed despite the restrictions of the hot weather. However, one job, painting the fence (I know I said no more high-voc paint, but I had already bought it), provided a more inspired moment. Curiously, using toxic materials seems to prompt me into profound musings, and this time a momentary insight arrived, unheralded: I realised that during the last few months I had rather forgotten about self-love. In my last job I worked with carers in crisis, and often found myself guiding them to think of themselves more, so that they might preserve themselves and, ultimately, be of better service to those whom they looked after. But we staff (nearly all carers too) did sometimes have to remind ourselves to apply the same principles to our own lives - and that’s what I found myself doing, staring at the fence.

 

Dear readers, be gentle and kind with yourselves, listen to your inner self, and bloom.

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