The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

Day 21 in the Corona house: It’s the little things you do together.

29/03/2020

Day 21 in the corona house

Day twenty one in the Corona house, three weeks already in self-isolation and normality seems so far away, I can’t quite remember what it was I would have been doing if I had the opportunity to go out. Nor can I really think of things returning to the way they were before this period of turbulance began.

It’s almost like those memories we all carry of holidays we’ve been on in unfamiliar (or semi-familiar) places. In those holiday memories, you recognise the places and yourself in those settings, you have common frames of reference, but somehow there is a sense of it being slightly detached from the normal viciccitudes of life. In that sense, we know those memories exist somewhere else, another country or in kinder times. I find, at least for me, that’s how the normality of just three weeks ago is starting to feel.

In truth, I suspect it’s too cold and windy a day for me to have been doing much outside today so no real loss. That brings me on to the wise words of a friend and part-time usher of mine who was brave enough to verbalise something I’d been thinking in relation to my own period of purdah.
Jo, for that is her name, has just moved to Suffolk (virtually Belgium) and has whilst she settles in been rather more used to her own company than when she lived in London village.

She pointed out that her social life had been relatively quiet since the move so self-isolating wasn’t much of a change.

I laughed like a drain as we often share a similar sense of humour. On one level the sad thing was it applied equally to me – until fairly recently the time between weekends had been mostly solitary. As an only child and living in a rural area you get used to, or at least familiar with your own company. I’ve found the domestic solitary confinement easier to deal with than Vaughan has for example. Indeed in some ways at a time when I found myself in a fairly toxic working environment it was almost a blessing.

Just a moment – no work for twelve weeks, no daily commute or sociopathic boss, Taz is around all the time, I have a chance to rediscover things I enjoy and wine gets delivered to the door. – What were those bad bits again?

A positive to take from the situation, and there aren’t many came from the local news where two elderly ladies were thrilled with the extra calls and welfare checks over the past couple of months. They weren’t fools, they were clearly aware that catching the virus in their early eighties was not something to be risked. However, they were in their words ‘made visible again’.
Those calls from NHS volunteers didn’t result in further medication, treatment or intervention, but it did increase their interaction with another human being to levels they hadn’t experienced for several years. Some food for thought for all of us. It would be sad indeed if once this is over we hadn’t learnt something from this.

Some things we found ourselves doing this week were certainly not on the radar two weeks ago. The idea was it would help us get through our time inside, however, it also appears to be helping some others. I think that surprised both of us, but it’s heartening to know.

In the past, it was suggested that I might get greater readership if I wrote shorter pieces which didn’t ask hard questions. Also, I was told a picture post was always a winner. I didn’t take up the advice mainly because my driver wasn’t numbers of readers, it was a way of reflecting on the world and a means of honing some writing skills. Well, that was the hope. Also, although I thought about their suggestions, I have always preferred to touch on meaningful subjects and others have already cornered the market on fluffy cat pictures.

So you’ll understand how both Vaughan and I were independently pleased and surprised to read some very kind words about the impact of both this blog and Facebook posts that took on some tough issues such as issues surrounding the scope and intent of the current emergency powers being implemented in the UK. A school friend of mine who’s been having a rough time this year said they gave him his morning intellectual challenge. We were both rather flattred and it makes the research and wordsmithing worth the effort.

Grub with V-Dub

Similarly, although Vaughan has always appeared to enjoy cooking, I had no idea he would be live streaming ideas in his Grub with V-Dub videos.

So far we have had Chicken Jalfrezi, Chilli and chicken cacciatore all of which seemed to be well received and Vaughan certainly enjoyed making them. I quite enjoyed filming them although I’ll have to take lessons from Les Colyer on how to manage in cramped conditions (someone seems to have a kitchen wall just where I need to be) with no real way to keep your subject in shot and see the viewscreen at the same time. I have a newfound admiration of his work. However, my prior theatre direction is coming in handy – let’s see how well the talent takes direction.

The encouraging thing is we’ve already had a few messages saying please do some more as they are giving us something interesting to watch in the evening, they allow us to keep in touch with what you’re doing and we’ve had some ideas for next week’s dinners. The good news is we have two more scheduled this week (spoiler alert Spaghetti Vaughnalaise and chicken in pajamas). Again, we’ve had fun making them and it appears others have enjoyed watching them – win, win.

The not so secret cinephile

Lastly, partly as a means of keeping occupied, catching up with friends and developing a means of doing something collective, we will be streaming some classic (and new) films and musicals to a watch party for friends.

What seemed like a good idea that might attract 3-4 friends, we have a group of over 35 friends who will dip in and out of evening streaming parties on Tuesdays (musicals), Friday and even a Sunday afternoon matinee.
Hopefully the tech can cope – we’ll find out with our first attempt on Tuesday. It isn’t the same as seeing friends in the real world, but it does remind you we’re all in the same boat and judging by the facebook group managing the watch parties let’s people chat and stay in touch until such time as we can meet again in person. I’m not sure when that will be, but whenever it is – we’ll be fully brushed up on our film backlog.

It’s also reminded me it really is the little things you do that matter.

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Today’s post took it’s title from one of my favourite musicals, Company. For those who like to hear the tracks it can be replayed on the control below.

Patti Lupone – The little things you do together (Company – Steven Sondheim)

Day 20 in the corona house: Everything’s alright.

28/03/2020

Day 20 in the Corona house

My post today is to say the least brief. It’s approaching the equivalent of the one liner you sometimes see in documents – ‘page left intentionally blank’.

I had thought of missing a day and picking up again tomorrow unnoticed. However, that would have thrown the numbering into what my late aunt would have caused a state of chaso. (sic)

I was also concerned that some might read more into a day off that just a day off. To reassure, everything’s alright. I just need a day to let what passes as the brain regroup and generally to recharge some batteries.

We’ve been busy on social media related activities today. Vaughan’s new Facebook page/group (yet to decide which) for Grub with V-Dub is under construction. I’ve also been working on our first film and musicals watch party. Both have involved a fair amount of screen work today so my blog today is – Everything’s alright. I hope you are all well, safe and not too stressed by the current madness. This too will pass.

Back tomorrow when I shall sally forth and it’ll be on with the motley. Until then …

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The title of this post is taken from Jesus Christ Superstar. For those who enjoy listening to the associated track, it may be played here.

Day 19 in the Corona house: I’ve got a little list

27/03/2020

I’ve got a little list – Opera Australia (The Mikado)

I wouldn’t class myself as a dedicated Gilbert and Sullivan fan. As is often the case with those of us who like words, it’s the lyrics that grab my attention and often admiration. However, I’m far from an officionado of their cannon of work. That said, both yesterday and today, I’ve been unable to better their numbers for summing up the general feel of the blog post.

Day 19 in the Covfefe house

It sounds very strange to say nineteen isn’t a very high profile number. I suppose what I mean is it’s one of those numbers that don’t feature in promotions such as 3 for 2 or multi-buy purchases. It isn’t quantitative such as 12 or 144 (dozen and score) and it didn’t pull the whole goth unlucky stunt like 13 did. You don’t see it marking milestone birthdays or forming natural numerical divisions. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Paul Hardcastle in the 1980’s it could have been almost as low profile as 37. That is until a little virus with a nominal number 19 attached boosted it into our collective consciousness.

The nineteenth day in the Corona house has been one dominated by lists. Vaughan finds them a mechanism to give the day a little structure, gain a sense of having completed something constructive and even finds it eases any background anxiety somewhat. I don’t, however, that didn’t stop him from making me one anyway which I’m pleased to report has been completed, or will be once this post has been completed.

I often raise a wry smile from those who know me well as I do have something of a capability to plan ahead. Vaughan famously quotes a planning spreadsheet for our wedding which had over 350 lines each representing a task. That was a bit of an exception, but you get the idea. I should warn the Royal Mail that I’m going to be calling on their Santa list a little early this year as I’ve been developing a corporate naughty or nice list.

It may be of some use to others to read through mine or even keep there own for those people or organisations we will remember for all the right or wrong reasons after this crisis has passed.

If as a reader of this blog you come across examples of companies or organisations to go on either my list for outstanding contribution or outstanding cockwomblery please feel free to add them with a little detail as comments to this post. If we have sufficient for an update or any amazing examples I’d certainly welcome everyone knowing about it.

Could do better

So a quick run down of what caused some of those listed to land where they have. Let’s start with a few people and organisations from whom I would have expected more.

We all know the hospitality sector is being hit pretty hard. We also know it’s been given a fair bit of support in the last ten days. It’s one thing for the local chippie to shut temporarily, even though most haven’t, but what of millionaire celebrity chefs.
Gordon Ramsey has reportedly laid off around five hundred of his staff from across his Michelin star and fine dining establishments. Multiple press reports indicate this was done with a meeting and confirmation by text reading:

Gordon Ramsey, celebrity chef

I am writing to confirm that you have been given notice that your contract of employment will be terminated and you will be paid four weeks notice.

You will be placed on garden leave for the duration of your notice. Your P45, final holiday pay and any other monies owing will be forwarded to you in due course.

The staff have not had their posts held for them if/when the venues reopen and social media has been replete with staff spilling the proverbial if not literal beans claiming to have been ‘treated like sh*t’ by the celebrity chef. In a climate where businesses are straining to retain jobs these sweeping lay offs are not what I would expect from such a culinary luminary. I don’t think I’ll be going to Petrus any time soon even if I could afford the £300 per head (approx) for 3 courses and some vino.

Also in the ‘could do better corner’ are Rick Stein who has informed the staff in his chain of restaurants that they won’t be paid for the time the restaurant is closed although he has pulled up short of terminating their contracts. I must remember this the next time either of them praise their staff and say how endebted they are to them on their websites for example.

A similar criticism is levelled at Weatherspoons who won’t be paying their staff anything while they are closed and a particular mention in despatches for Mike Ashley of Sport Direct. He tried to stay open and keep the money rolling in – claimed his trading was vital to the welfare of the nation. Nice try Mike but no cigar this time.

Better examples

So much for the wander down crass and clumsy crescent, what about a tour along quality street. Whatever you think of his vaccums or their big wagons, special mention should go to JCB and Dyson Plc for rising to the governments challenge and re-tooling some of their engineering lines to produce ventilators.

In a move which is either superb marketing or schere bravado – or possibly both, the Government asked Dyson to manufacture a few thousand ventilators to their specification. Dyson (in terms) said well we could, but why would we?

The Dyson factory in Wiltshire looked at the spec and the response was – well they’re just not very good are they. We can do better than that, which it appears they then set about doing.

Some criticise Dyson for moving some of their production offshore and I don’t seek to defend that. However, the first 10,000 ventilators redesigned, patented and in production in Wiltshire should be arriving with the NHS in mid to late April. I for one was impressed with not only the willingness to take on the task at all, but to do so in the same timescale whilst improving the end product. Dyson Plc is on this years nice list.

As time is pressing this evening, (I must shortly be a combination of barmand and cameraman – a combination not known for … well anything really). Vaughan is about to tackle chicken cacchiatori on Grub with V-Dub so I must get him wired for sound. For that reason only glowing mentions in passing for both Brewdolph Brewery in Oxforshire who have turned their brewing process into one producing hand sanitisers and their first 10,000 gallons will be ready later this week. Once the current madness is over I trust they have a nice side line in the making for their pubs – can’t think of a better way of cleaning those pipes out.

In contrast to Weatherspoon and those celebrity chefs, it’s worth singing the praises of a local brewery and pub chain. East Anglian Greene King brewers have told their tennants to stay in their pubs, keep their homes (most live on the premises) no need to pay rent consider it a fee for providing security to the premises – oh and by the way we’ll still pay your wages for as long as we can. – Odd how the multi million pound chains can’t manage it but a medium sized local business can. – Discuss.

Those of you who know me well will know I can have an inappropriate sense of humour at times, earlier this afternoon was one such time.

Masks by Ralph Lauren

It may be wrong of me but I was both impressed and secretly amused to hear that the design and fashion chain Ralph Lauren have also joined the list of unexpected suppliers to the NHS. In what is a natural if unexpected fit, they will provide hospitals with surgical and protective masks. I have nothing but praise and thanks for them but couldn’t help but think – I bet they’ll leave the label on.

I could imagine disucssions between nursing staff. Dior? – No sweetie Ralph Lauren. I’m just waiting to hear that L’oreal are joinng the production efforts churning out masks emblasoned with ‘because I’m worth it’ Highly inappropriate possibly, but I’ve been isolating for nineteen days, you get your laughs where you can.

I hope we remember the relative actions and approaches of these organisations in our buying and patronage once we emerge from this rather bleak period. I will certainly try to.

Hoping to redeem myself however latterly, here are this evening’s Grub with V-Dub productions. Easy to follow and I can vouch for how tasty it is .. The chicken cacciatori isn’t bad either.

Now to look at some IT for watch parties. I don’t know how people manage this self- isolation …. there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Day 18 in the corona house: All I ask of you.

26/03/2020

Day 18 in the Corona houseDay

Day eighteen and Vaughan and I have realised that we’ve fallen into a Borg transwarp conduit. It’s the only rational explanation.

Time seems to be travelling at a different rate to normal, we’re unsure if it’s quicker or slower, it’s become a bit of a blur. Of course it could be the fuzzy duck cider but all things considered it’s looking like Borg territory to me.

I noticed an emerging trend among friends yesterday. Many of them noted an increase in their levels of non-specific anxiety. Some people expressed this as a wish to see something positive on Facebook, others just said they were feeling stressed or taking a break from all the doom and gloom.

Last night, Vaughan mentioned the current circumstances are making him feel a bit edgy and he asked me how I was coping. I explained I was the child of war parents, I had lived through flares, space hoppers, deedly-boppers, tamagochi, the Bay City Rollers, seaside special and three seasons of Tenko. I’m pretty much bomb proof.

However, I did suggest that having the humerously named news channel on as constant background might be a contributory factor and maybe we should try something else. Vaughan took me up on my suggestion today and I have to say so far I’ve had better ideas. A little news this morning then cold turkey with a range of customs programmes, the point of which seems to be how much food you can smuggle into Australia, it was fascinating.

The collision of man made fabrics that is ‘Doctors’

A short interlude at one o’clock wbere we caught up with the news headlines and swiftly onwards and downwards to something called Doctors. I have to say this was sixty minutes of back to back disasters, nothing medical as you might expect given the name, these were all wardrobe malfunctions of the highest order. Do the BBC not employ costume designers anymore? I for one thought Sirdar went out of business years ago, but it appears they are alive and well and shipping to Sandwell. If this is the future post redundancy, tomorrows episode will be brought to you by Morrisey and a bottle of voddy.

Could we suspend party politics (by the neck)

I did notice a style of commentary yesterday and again into this morning that I can understand but which is probably entirely unhelpful.

I get that lots of people don’t like Boris and didn’t want him in office. But could we put the sterile party politics to one side for just long enough to get through this shit storm? Some politicians from Conservative, Labour and SNP (Lib Dems have been silent it appears) are working across party boundaries and working in good faith. They are trying to hold the government to account for some areas where in my view, they rightly deserve criticism. Some however still can’t see beyond the tired blue, red debate. I for one think we can do better than that and intend to try.

I’ve been impressed with Jess Phillips as a powerfully motivated constituency MP though I disagree with many of her views. I’m even forming a view that I may have been wrong about Jeremy Hunt – but again that’s probably either the fuzzy duck or the transwarp conduits playing havoc with my reasoning.

We can all judge the government by our own criteria but is it too unrealistic to ask that party aliegence shouldn’t be one of them at this time. Three things I will judge this government and its response by follow – though I realise other people will have their own priorities. These are the three immediate things I would ask of Government.

  1. Personal Protective Equipment for front line medical personnel.
    This is the type of protection an A&E doctor in South Korea is issued with and uses when dealing with Coronavirus cases.
    Protective splash undersuit, paper suit sealed over that, double gloved a viral protection mask (higher filtering capabilities), face and eye screen protection in the form of a headguard. In contrast, most of our doctors have a plastic gown some gloves and a far inferior face mask.

If we are to make it though this crisis without significant losses among those seeking to look after us we have to ensure all front line staff are properly protected. MP’s on all sides have pressed NHS managers to guarantee PPE has been delievered by the end of this week. Of course supply isn’t enough, it needs to maintain replenishment supply lines.

I would also move to provide police with much stronger protective gear. They deal with a high volume of interactions with the public each day. They run the risk of being high profile super spreaders if they are not protected from the public and we are not protected from them and by extension their last dozen contacts. If PPE cannot be provided then I believe we should be looking for a different type of interaction with routine policing during this time.

Priority testing for NHS personnel: The Government has been promising to ramp up testing from roughly five thousand per week to approaching 20,000 per week.

It is fair to say we’re one of the better examples of countries testing (around sixth in the list) but are still dramatically behind those states that have mass testing. The UK had carried out around 64,000 tests by 20th of this month. In contrast, South Korea had exceeeded 317,000

Most importantly, linked to PPE, we don’t know how many of those treating us on the front line are already infected but asymptomatic. Promises to ramp up are fine but they are only that – we need to be testing much more than we are, even now.

The third and last element is food delivery. I and many others have been told we should consider ourselves in at risk groups and remain inside. We should order our food online and take home delivery.

I would love to as I know would others. Sainsbury (as a case in point) doesn’t know I’m at risk but offers to allow me to register as a vulnerable customer, let joy be unconstrained. Though don’t bother trying to register. In a catch 22 style roundabout the website sends you to the help centre, which in turn sends you to the call centre.

After over 60 calls to the call centre, each with 3 minutes of guff before telling you they are too busy to help you, it refers you where? You’ve got it back to the start of the spin cycle by referring you to the website.

I do appreciate the pressure businesses are under but a simple self reporting webform with an auto-responder to confirm receipt would have stopped 59+ of my calls and presumably the same for the other thousands trying to get through. If you can’t support a process you’re better off not offering it at all. A constructive note to the CEO of Sainsbury has been acknowledged but no substantive reply has been received.

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Today’s post title comes from Phantom of the Opera (at last). For those wishing to hear the track in question, it can be played by using the control below.

All I ask of you – Michael Ball (From Phantom of the Opera)

Day 17 in the Corona house: When the foeman bares his steel

25/03/2020

Today’s title comes from the Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. For those who enjoy listening to the tracks it can be played on the control at the bottom of this post. Best known for the number about a certain major general, it also touches on how people deal with a crisis, how they tackle a dangerous enemy and the frustration of not knowing quite what to do for the best.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan (no he didn’t sing Clair) let me introduce you to the Pirates of Penzance. It seems somehow appropriate in summing up day seventeen in the Corona house.

In 1878 Gilbert and Sullivan introduced us to a leader, the very model of a Major General who wasn’t the brightest, had been promoted far beyond his capabilities but completely unaware of the fact. In unrelated news, I was drawn to comments made by President Donald Trump in which he questioned whether the cure for Corona virus might be worse than the condition itself.

President Trump continued to state that the Country should be open by Easter. This is despite the fact that the line showing new cases in the US is tracking exponential growth with a need for 30,000 ventilators in the five boroughs of New York City alone.

The current world statistics show the US has over 61,000 cases of confirmed coronavirus, the vast majority being in New York, followed by Washington State (Seattle) and California (Los Angeles). In light of this his claim seems far beyond optimistic, it’s just detached from the reality of the situation. In a particularly crass comparison, he said:

And you look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers [of potential COVID-19 deaths] we’re talking about, that doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars. We have to do things to get our country open.

So much for the major general. It did start me thinking though. Very often in a crisis, there is a sense of having to do something. It helps us with a sense of control, however false and gives the impression of activity. But does it help to rush to action? To return to the song inspiring this post, as you would see in a stage setting, it refers to the police being tasked to deal with something (the eponymous pirates) before they were ready and with no leadership.

Police move in to Shepherds Bush Green

Those of you who know me will know I’m usually a natural supporter of those who try to protect us. The thin blue line is thin enough and having done the job I know how challenging and thankless it can be. However, now more than ever, those exercising that power must remember than policing is by consent. I entirely support the breaking up of groups and enforcing the new public health restrictions on assembly. However, three examples gave me pause for thought today.

The first incident relates to the movement of around 12-15 people from Shepherds Bush green by the police. I wasn’t there so can only recount events second hand, but the photographs of the incident do seem to support the numbers and groupings.

Shepherds Bush Green is just under 8 acres in size. The 12-15 people were made up of groups of 2-3 people who claim to be household or family members. Each person or group were apparently well over the minimum distance for social gathering and it was not an event merely people taking some exercise and stopping in the nearest thing they have to a local park. I would have hoped that some discretion might have been exercised. If an example needs to be made (and it may) there would be better ones that this.

Are the homeless the policing priority?

The second related to a group of four homeless men and women gathering outside Tesco on the Old Kent Road. They weren’t causing any issue and contact could easily be avoided. We observed three officers none of whom had PPE and none of whom were practicing social distancing attempt to move them on. Put aside the fact that apparently experienced officers were trying to have a detailed conversation (an animated one, with copious exchange of droplets inevitable) about public health with an audience who were under the influence (though in no way disorderly), had nowhere to move on to and were less of a virus shedding risk where they were.
Also discount the fact that although keen to enforce the new policy it hasn’t yet become law so they are relying on what would previously have been called ‘hat and chat’ – reasoned persuasion. Put all that aside and I still have three questions for the MPS. Firstly given all ongoing calls at the time were four homeless people gathering in a group really the priority? Tesco confirmed they had not reported the incident taking the stance that they were static some distance from the store and were causing no problem.

For my money, if you are seeking to move people on in these circumstances you need to recognise they have nowhere to move to. Perhaps the focus should be getting those on the streets off them even if just for this crisis. You should also consider if they are gathering together sleeping rough in London, it’s probably as much for their personal safety as anything else. Finally, let’s assume they are carrying the virus – well now it’s likely so are three police officers and just for good measure they’ve dispersed those carriers to the four winds. Being seen to do something isn’t what we need. Doing the right thing is.

Ready for a walk

The third instance was when I was stopped while walking Taz this morning. The fact of the stop I didn’t mind, the way it was carried out I did.
Three community support officers none wearing PPE and each no further than two feet from the others told me ‘I needed to stop and account’.
I declined to go over to them and comply with their request (and pointed out it was a request). I asked if stopping me and trying to increase my contacts by three today was really necessary? Response came there none.
I pointed out there was no requirement for me to stop and account, nor were the powers they purported to have law (they genuinely believed they were).

My point in both cases is not to second guess the police or community support officers. But I would hope that they exercise their powers appropriately and where necessary, not merely to be seen to be doing something. Presence is important but if it causes further unnecessary contact it’s entirely counter productive.

We have heard much of front line medical staff having no personal protective equipment (PPE) which is of course unacceptable. However, have we thought that police officers with no protective equipment are high risk of being superspreaders? I would be concerned both for the safety of those officers but also for that of the people with whom they come into contact. It was clear police officers were in enforce mode. In fairness, when it was pointed out they were not social distancing and were creating an unecessary contact they adapted. However, it simply hadn’t occurred to them this could be the case. I for one think it should. Perhaps food for thought.

Turning to more positive news, the sense of community in our particular part of Peckerwell has ramped up a notch. A Whatsapp group for the street has been the catalyst for kicking off some community action, but more of that tomorrow.

Given that we’re going to be inside for a good few weeks, we are looking at some ways to stay in touch with our friends, maybe make some new ones and break up what could be very flat weeks. Watch out for a regular watch party among other ideas, further news to follow.

One new development was the second episode of Grub with V-Dub, this time a Chilli con carne. Some better tech and a little rehearsal (I’m now mentally doing the told you so dance) resulted in a more polished output which Vaughan seemed to enjoy making. I helped out with the camera work and certainly enjoyed eating the chilli.

Grub with V-Dub: Chilli con carne

Perhaps what was more surprising was that our neighbour in the basement flat came up with the same idea. Perhaps it isn’t surprising given that he has previously made his living as a chef. However, it was an odd coincidence that two kitchens, one above the other were both recording meals cooked for social media at pretty much the same time.
Tom’s video is available on youtube and I suspect there may be more than the one. Here is the most recent edition.

Plenty to keep you occupied until tomorrow’s installment which (spoiler alert) gives me another 24 hours to try and get through to one/any of the help centres supposedly in place to help us through the current epidemic.

Today’s post title took inspiration from the Pirates of Penzance. For those who enjoy hearing the track it is available on the control below.

When the foeman bears his steel – Pirates of Penzance

Day 16 in the Corona house: It ain't necessarily so

24/03/2020

Day 16 in the Corona house.

Day sixteen has mainly been about contingency planning and learning to work with uncertainty. We are well and have only been out for our single walk. When I took Taz for his walk this morning, it struck me for the first time ever, that I could hear birdsong along the length of my walk. The occasional bird breaks through even in London but today was something much more sustained. If ever there was a day that any stray nightingales might be heard were they in Berkely Square, today would have been it.

In addition to the increased birdlife, Taz was kept occupied with a couple of skwirrels, two very large and well fed rats and three urban fokzes. These were all in places usually far to busy to be visited by them during the day. We often imagine our urban cities to be devoid of wildlife and that it would take some time for them to be reclaimed by nature. Based on my experience today, it’s clear that any lull in human occupation would very quickly be filled with the enquisitive rodents and mammals that live mainly unseen in our cities.

Lost a spanner?

Regrettably, it’s been mixed and as yet tentative information about our return to the Shire. Pexit minus three was based on us being able to leave on Friday and that by that time we would have water, limited heating and perhaps a week or ten days to rough it before the kitchen became useable. However, with the closure of all bar essential retail and wholesale, building supplies are already in short supply. So though we have a willing workforce, they have very little in the way of materials with which to work.

At the time of writing, it looks unlikely we’ll be in a position to return for at least a couple of weeks although a discussion with our builder may provide a way forward – just wait and see I suppose.

You might think the blog post in named to reflect the change of plans and indeed, in part, it is. But it’s also describing an underlying theme we’ve spotted today and to a lesser extent last week. We’re all programmed to look for the common sense approach, the actions that seem right, that fit with our natural intuition. However, at present, this seems to be a time where we need to consider the counter intuitive.

Time to challenge default thinking?

An example is the advice to isolate. If you have symptoms, then the currrent advice is to self-isolate for seven days whereas if you don’t have symptoms the duration is longer at fourteen days. Of course, when you understand the reasoning, to allow for an incubation period post infection it makes more sense. But it’s an example of where the intuitive response might give the wrong result.

Contentiously, the increasingly public spat between the government and the London Mayor (Sadiq Khan) may point at another. Transport for London indicate that tube usage is down by 80 percent on normal figures. Yet today, photographs were published showing the usually ram-packed tube trains operating with nobody maintaining the 2m distancing required under current public health policy.

The mayor disagrees with current advice claiming that only key workers should be travelling and went so far today as saying public transport isn’t for everyone just key workers. It’s certainly true that the number of tube trains running at present has reduced. Whether that’s soley down to non-attendance of drivers or a policy decision by TFL/the mayor, is unclear and I make no judgement either way. However, it’s a further example of the counter intuitive move to retain tube services at or near full capacity may well be the appropriate route to reducing futher the spread of infection.

While on the subject of challenging thinking, if you’re hearing news of people ignoring government advice is large numbers, I can only say this hasn’t been my experience today. An 80 percent reduction in tube traffic and approaching 70% of bus traffic, indicates that the contrary is the case. The vast majority of people are complying. My guess is those who are not have little alternative as not to work would curtail their incomes. The pictures below show Peckham Rye at 10am this morning. As you can see a ghost town.

Vaughan focused his walk towards the Camberwell green area which means we’ve checked most of the main route. It was similarly deserted. However, a new cluster of signage appeared in many of the retail premises. Of the forty retail premises in that area four were open (a bakery, hardware store, kebab shop and chip shop). A handful more were providing take away service via uber or similar collection schemes although the premises were not open to the public. The rest were closed until further notice.

However, there is some good news among the more generally depressing backdrop. As large supermarkets struggle to expand delivery and collection capacity, people have turned increasingly to the smaller independent suppliers to fill the gap.

Local veg boxes surge in demand

In Wiltshire (the county I know best), there are hundreds of niche suppliers, farm shops, and food producers. It also has four major providers of fruit and vegetable boxes delivered in the local area.

All four businesses have currently suspended accepting new customers and indeed new orders. However, not for want of supply, merely because they can’t bag, pack, box and deliver at the same speed as the orders are arriving. They are giving themselves the breathing space to cope at the new levels of demand.
The news from all four is that they intend to be open for orders again over the weekend with increased capacity. I’m sure that could be repeated for similar suppliers across the country.

In the short term, they at least will be benefitting from the uptake in orders. It struck me that if only ten percent of those people ordering from them over this period stay with them, that will be a huge boost to smaller and independent businesses. It may also represent a not insignificant shift in future buying habits. I’m sure there will be many changes that persist after the crisis has passed. The good news is not all of them have to be for the worse.

A shorter than usual update this evening as during the last two hours we’ve clarified the position re the move back to the Shire. The premises have been secured and neighbours are keeping an eye too, but it now looks like we’re at Gumnut for at least the next three weeks. No building supplies being delivered for at least three weeks. Neither of us mind roughing it for a few days but three weeks with hot water but no heating, no sink and no laundry facilities isn’t a great move when we can just lock the doors at Gumnut and stay put.

Taz niffin the flora

Taz has adapted well to the longer period at Gumnut and has picked up on the fact that things are not following the usual routine.

I have to say he’s a total star and is a welcome member of the street to many of the residents who smile and wave at the extended visitor. He’s even learned to take himself from the house the 15m or so to some rough grass if there is a need to practice standing on three legs, then bring himself back in and look and me lamenting the drop in service standards. However, he’s happy with us here and is gradually clearing the neighbourhood of fokses and skwirrels. It’s as if it was a personal doggy project.

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The title from today’s post is taken from Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin. For those who like to hear the track relating to this post, it can be played here, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

Day 15 in the Corona house: Children will listen

24/03/2020

Day 15 in the Corona house

Day fifteen in the Corona house sees a change of emphasis rather than a change of scenery. A number of people have asked for more information on the songs related to each entry in this series. The eagle eyed among you will notice that there is a track play control at the bottom of this post and in due course on the earlier items. That will allow you to hear the track in question and tell you where it’s from if you wish to investigate further.

As I start to compile my update news is starting to detail Boris Johnston’s speech to the nation tonight. This follows a COBRA meeting earlier today without the usual afternoon press conference. What that means is unclear to both Vaughan and I but it’s caused an axiety spike at Gumnut Towers.

We would like to be able to get back to the Acreage, however, it appears the screws may be tightening so that’s by no means certain. We have to be here until Friday so it’s Pexit-day (Peckham Exit) minus four. Perhaps by the time I finish this post, it will be a little more clear as to when or whether that can be possible.

Other than the open question as to whether/if we can get back to the Shire, today has been a day of re-evaluation both on a personal and wider level. My last day of work is this Thursday at which point my role becomes redundant and a twenty three year chapter comes to an end. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not as downbeat about it as you might expect. I don’t recognise the workplace I joined and its values have changed. So, for those of you old enough to remember Rhoda, in the words of her mother, the wonderful Nancy Walker, it’s time to roll up your tent and move to another village.

I can’t have been too concerned about the state of affairs as I was able to notice the absence of a handful of friends from Facebook. Some tactful enquiries all came back with variations on the same theme. In simple terms, people were saying they were stepping back from the fever-pitch of lunacy, selfishness and doom goblins that social media was presenting to them at present.
I do hope I wasn’t one of the doom goblin in relation to Covid-19 (or as my new bff Randy Rainbow referred to it, causing me to spit tea over the floor, Covfefe 19. But more of that later).

Having taken a break from much of the social media world myself in recent weeks, I can entirely sympathise with their point of view. Spending time in self-isolation can, in the absence of routine, become a series of duvet days. While that sounds enchanting on day one, it really has a short shelf life. It’s very easy to spend excessive time listening to two entirely uninformed ‘experts’ slugging chunks of the bejeezus out of each other on Facebook, Twitter or similar. Whilst I’ve been as tempted as others to pull up a chair and see if Uber eats are doing popcorn, I’ve avoided the temptation. It’s really pretty unhelpful.

There isn’t enough news.

Similarly, the news channel has been relegated from our usual background chewing gum for the brain. Apart from the fact that the looping news is hardly filling us with confidence, it also steals the day. You start off with what looks like a normal day and bibbady bobbady boo before you know it the content is running through its ninth loop and it’s half eleven at night and I’ve still not finished my blog post.

One of the up-sides of the isolation is you get to find out surprising new bits of information about each other. Today I added to my list of OMG moment and in so doing identified another film to show Vaughan as part of his musical theatre education. I was discussing a particularly dim reporter at one of the morning news conferences who had a particularly squeaky and deeply irritating voice.

The wonderfully awful Lina Lamont.

Without thinking anything about it, I turned to Vaughan and said ‘The last time I heard a voice like that was on Lina Lamont … an’ I can’t stand it.’

Vaughan looked at me blankly, I returned it equally non-plussed but for different reasons. ‘Lena Lomont – you know singing in the rain?’ The look I was receiving didn’t change. At this point I found myself wondering if the Ventolin inhaler left at Gumnut by Vaughan’s mum last Christmas was easily to hand. I had a very sudden feeling I might be needing it.

There are certain things as a gay man that you take for granted. The standard things. Things such as being familiar with the singing greats, Lisa, Barbara, Madge etc. Others might include being able to zhuzh up anything from a present wrapping to a boring party and having a natural ability to accessorise. However, even these are based on some basics like having watched and being able to quote from the Wizard of Oz, Priscilla Queen of the dessert and Singing in the Rain.
“You have seen singing in the rain haven’t you?” I ask
“Nope” comes the answer ….
HOW CAN THIS BE??? I picked my jaw up off the floor, silently sang three verses of I will survive and added it to our viewing list. It’s at times of national crisis you find out the important things.

The last piece of re-evaluation may take me into the realms of the dictator in the eyes of some. However, is it just me who is getting increasingly appalled at the standards of journalism we’re being subjected to currently? As I’m stepping into commentry about the free press, I should clarify where I stand and position my complaint within the context of the accepted wisdom surrounding our press. Churchill set the bar pretty high with:

A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right tbat free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny…The press will continue to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen. – Winston Churchill 1940

I’m fully in support of that position. Nor would I differ with no less a figure than Thomas Jefferson, I always get very wary when I hear people calling for controls on the press. That isn’t what I seek to do, but I am rapidly forming the view that current news reporting is broken and has developed into something I don’t class as responsible journalism.

Today, I heard reporters asking what are technically known as ‘bloody stupid questions’. One asked ‘Do you think the NHS is ready to cope with the coming crisis?’ Where had she been for the past three weeks. It would have been a naive question two weeks ago, but now it’s just bizarre.

I wouldn’t seek to control, limit or censor the free press. I may not like some of what they do either in terms of content or method, but I recognise the truth in Chuchill’s words. We would be far worse off without them. However, I think we deserve better and I wish they’d up their game.

Sometimes, more is most certainly less and there is just not enough news – at least not for 24 hour news. I suspect that we have 4-6 hours of new news on a typical day. However the rolling news cycle means we have to pad the rest with opinion, speculation and dare I say a sprinkling of sensationalism. I for one would be very happy to see the likes of BBC and Sky rolling news channels restructured to provide less but better national coverage and fill the time with important events from elsewhere, truly to educate. However, I suspect that genie is well and truly not being put back in its bottle.

This concludes today’s rant thought for today so I will close with the title that nearly was. Having seen a short clip that activated my chuckle muscles, we nearly paid homage to Dame Elaine who’s laugh is infectious – there’s something I hope you do catch.

In a story I thought was falcified, but does appear to be substantiated in a couple of interviews, it appears Madonna had infact misheard the lyric as ‘don’t cry for me I’m the cleaner’ until the point she had to learn the song for her role in Evita. I do hope it’s true as it’s so delicious I’ve already put on three pounds just by telling you.

It seems that during the time taken to write this piece, the PM has announced the next measures to be taken. Although things have been tightened up it does look as though we will be able to make a one off return journey to the Acreage in due course. So it will be an exit from Peckham (now known as Pexit) in 4 days and counting. Then isolation at the acreage.

As promised something to leave you with a smile, I hope. It seems we are not the only ones isolating.

The title of this post comes from Into the Woods and for those who have expressed an interest in hearing them can be played on the control below.

Children will Listen – Barbra Streisand (from Into the Woods)
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