Author Archives: Mary Reid

Isolation diary: Loving June

June is my favourite month. English asparagus, Jersey Royal potatoes waiting to be scrubbed, local strawberries, roses, Wimbledon and cricket – what not to love? – not to mention my birthday later in the month.

As a child I thought my parents had been very clever in arranging my birthday almost exactly halfway between two Christmasses. It spread the presents out very neatly. My memories are of sunny days, sometimes on the beach if the date fell at a weekend. And icecream.

We lived on the Isle of Wight until I was nine. Again I thought my parents had been brilliant in locating our family in the middle of an island so that, whichever direction we went, we would always end up on a beach. Although we didn’t have a car, steam trains were still running all over the island and there was a small halt just 10 minutes walk away.

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Isolation diary: Avoiding track and trace scammers

I have been writing about scams for many years.

In fact, the blog I used to write was targeted for a massive Denial of Service attack years ago, which managed to bring down the websites of several MPs who were hosted on the same server. I had been exposing an outfit that kept on being shut down by the courts then re-opening under a new name. I was sent threatening letters before my website was attacked. This incident was investigated by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and we tracked the technical source of the attack to Romania.

I have to admit that it did shake me a bit. I was advised to never use public wi-fi, and I am still very cautious about doing that even today. However I still post information about new scams on Facebook, so far with no adverse effects.

Last month I wrote a diary entry “Avoiding scams“, about the genuine texts we had all received from the Government and the fake ones that looked very similar. Ironically some people thought the Government messages were fraudulent, including important texts telling them to shield.

Given the number of dodgy cold calls we all get, even with Telephone Preference Service in place, how are we going to be able to tell whether a test and trace call is genuine?

Yesterday Sarah Olney asked Matt Hancock that question in the House, and actually received a helpful answer.

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Isolation diary: Calling out racism

After Happy Monday, today is Blackout Tuesday.

I have mentioned before that I have been attending the Great British Home Chorus during lockdown. Every weekday at 5.30pm Gareth Malone leads a 30 minute rehearsal from his garden shed – the broadcasts are usually live, with all the risks that entails.

Yesterday, he didn’t start with a warm-up as expected but spoke from the heart about racism and the fallout from George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. It was a very powerful statement, and you can watch it here:

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Isolation diary: Going out again?

It’s Happy Monday. Lockdown is, apparently, over – at least that seems to be the way many people have interpreted a gentle easing in the restrictions.

There is even some good news for those of us practising shielding. We are now allowed to go outside the home once a day, either with a housemate or for a socially distanced walk with someone else if we live alone. We can’t go to the shops, or go to work or visit others in their homes. I was quite excited when this was first flagged up on Saturday, but am now having second thoughts.

Up until now we have followed the government’s guidelines for self-isolation scrupulously for 11 weeks. We were expecting to stay at home until the end of June, and were not too dismayed at the prospect. As I’ve said before, our house and garden feel very safe, and we are content with that. We have great online conversations with the various members of our family, and although we miss being close to them we can live with that.

But this week trust in the government’s plans has plummeted, post Durham-gate. It’s not just that I don’t trust the advice we are being given, it’s also the fact that many other people are ignoring even the most basic social distancing rules.

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Isolation diary: Blessing

This is really rather special.

There have been lots of collaborative music projects during lockdown, with varying degrees of success, but the story behind this one is rather different. Churches in many countries around the world have stitched together their version of The Blessing by Elevation Music including The UK Blessing.

In Ireland three weeks ago a group of friends conceived the idea of producing a Blessing with a distinctive Irish flavour. But importantly it was to bring together churches and Christian organisations from right across the island, from across all the Christian traditions and incorporating all styles of music used in worship.

The old Celtic song “Be Thou My Vision” was adopted as The Irish Blessing, the music was arranged, a website was set up and a call went out for musicians to play or sing.  They received 420 responses, representing all 32 counties in Northern Ireland and the Republic. You can see the breadth of the vision in the video – monks, drummers, orchestral players, Irish dancers, singers in every style, even a piper and a church bell, and The Priests put in an appearance too. Contributions came in from churches of all denominations including those serving immigrant communities.

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Isolation diary: Finding lost stock

Another rose in my garden – Nostalgia, this time

I haven’t bought any clothes at all since going into isolation. Our (albeit temporary) change in shopping habits is having a huge impact on people in the garment trade, which these days are spread around the world, often in the countries least able to support the workers.

So I was intrigued to read about Lost Stock, an initiative of Mallzee, an online shopping app developed by a company based in Edinburgh. They explain:

During lockdown, we learned of the situation in Bangladesh as retailers were rejecting or cancelling the stock they’d ordered from factories abroad. This is catastrophic for workers on the ground in developing countries. They’re being left with no income, and there’s no safety net in place for them. We’re used to solving big problems, and we’re experts in personalisation which makes us uniquely positioned to do something about this awful situation. That’s why we came up with the idea for Lost Stock.

The concept is simple. We use our data wrangling powers, our logistics partners and our network of awesome influencers to create Lost Stock. We match up clothes that retailers are no longer taking with consumers who are looking for a great deal but also want to do something positive to help factory workers and avoid clothes going to landfill.

The concept is simple – customers in the UK order a mystery box for £35 (plus £3.99 delivery) which will contain three tops or shirts. The contents will be worth, in total, at least double that amount.

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Isolation diary: Supporting charity shops

The best way to support charity shops at the moment is to store your donations at home. Many of us have been using this time to sort out our cupboards and wardrobes, putting together bags of clothes and other items to go to a local charity shop.

I have been hearing that thoughtless people have been leaving lots of binbags outside charity shops during lockdown. The grim truth is that most of those ‘donations’ will end up in landfill, at the charities’ expense. The shop volunteers haven’t been able to handle, clean or store the items, which will now be contaminated by rats and other animals. The charities will have to pay to have the items removed.

There are over 11,000 charity shops in the UK and they make such an important contribution to the community and to the environment. Charity shops reduce the overall consumption of goods by giving them a longer life, they offer low-cost items to those who can’t afford much, and they raise funds for good causes. They are an important element in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle chain – it’s a win-win-win situation.

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Isolation diary: Editing during lockdown

One of my colleagues here on Lib Dem Voice has suggested, somewhat tongue in cheek, that I should write about editing the blog in lockdown. That could be as self-referential as an Escher drawing, but I have risen to the challenge.

At one level, very little has changed. We are sent posts by email, we edit and publish them, sometimes after a correspondence with the contributor about length, or content, or style. Sometimes we turn posts down because they aren’t really relevant or of interest to our readers. Sometimes posts are simply badly written – we try to help if we think they could be polished up. We particularly try to encourage posts from young and/or new contributors.

At another level, everything has changed. It seems that lockdown has thrown people into two camps. In one group are those who are incredibly busy and rather stressed because they are trying to work from home in less than ideal circumstances, while simultaneously attempting to home educate restless children. In another group are those who have far more time on their hands than usual.

Our team on Lib Dem Voice is split in the same way. I fall into the latter camp so have taken on a larger editorial role at the moment, and am trying to support colleagues who are councillors, or working for MPs, or volunteering, who are all spending huge amounts of time dealing with the fallout from lockdown where they live.

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Isolation diary: Prescribing social activities

Social prescribing is a relatively new concept within health care. It means that health professionals can refer a patient towards non-clinical activities that will improve their health, in many cases for free.

I first came aware of social prescription in Kingston when our GP referred us both to the Get Active programme, which is a 12 week course under the supervision of a trainer in a local gym.  It was free when we did it, but they now charge a small amount per session.

GPs in my NHS area can also refer a patient to one of several local slimming clubs, entitling them to 12 weeks free membership. It makes so much sense – the patient has the benefit of expert advice and a support group, and the cost to the NHS is much less than through their own programmes. To qualify you have to live in the Borough, have a BMI greater than 28 and be over 16.

These activities, and very many others, were all pulled together about 6 months ago in Connected Kingston. This is a joint project run by Kingston Council, the NHS and Kingston Voluntary Action, our umbrella organisation for the voluntary sector. Local residents can search for advice and activities on just about anything that is provided by local voluntary or public services, and health providers can prescribe quite a number of them.

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Isolation diary: Listening to The Archers

So lockdown has reached Ambridge at last, just as the rest of the country is beginning to ease itself back to normality.

The Archers is the only soap I follow these days, and I only got sucked in properly during the Rob and Helen coercive control storyline over four years ago. Before that I had dropped in from time to time, often listening in the car as I was driving to evening meetings. In fact, “Dum di dum di dim di dum” had echoed throughout my adult life.

I can actually remember the shock that reverberated through the village when the unmarried Jennifer got pregnant and refused to say who the father was (although it was later revealed to be the result of a fling with the cowman).  Adam, her son, is now over 50. He is married to Ian, the chef at Grey Gables, and has recently become a father, through surrogacy, to young Xander – which demonstrates neatly how things have changed in 50 years.

Episodes of the soap are written and recorded in six week cycles, some time ahead of the broadcast date. The actual recordings take place over the course of one week, which is why, if an actor is unavailable for that week they have to be written out of the show for six weeks. Tamsin Grieg, who is much in demand for stage and TV work, still pops back occasionally, but her character Debbie now conveniently lives in Hungary (I can’t remember why).

When lockdown was imposed on the rest of the country on 23rd March there were still five weeks’ worth of broadcasts in the can. The producers decided to cut down from six episodes per week to five, which gave them an extra week’s grace. However, this had the odd effect of getting The Archers even more out of sync with the rest of the world, and they appeared to be celebrating Easter (with the church still open) on a Wednesday.

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Isolation diary: Enjoying the sunshine

It’s a Bank Holiday – and, miraculously, the sun is shining! That’s not very British, is it?  It’s also quite ironic, given that many of us can’t get out and about to enjoy the day. The Government is, apparently, considering an extra Bank Holiday in October, but we can be pretty sure that the weather won’t be like today.

The UK tourism industry is really suffering this year. Already several hotel groups have collapsed or are struggling, and here and here. The coach industry is ‘decimated’.

Travelling abroad is a non-starter for most people because they will have to go into self-isolation for two weeks on their return. Hotels and other holiday accommodation will have to remain closed at least until 4th July, but even then will only be able to open if they can show that they are sticking to the guidelines.

In practice a number of hotels have remained open through lockdown, but not to their usual guests. Some are providing accommodation for rough sleepers through their local Councils, or to key workers who can’t return home, or are acting as refuges for people escaping domestic violence. Others are providing meals for key workers or for people in need, while some are housing food banks.

Coach tour operators are in a particularly difficult position, because for some reason they are not classified as being part of the leisure industry so can’t claim rates relief. Understandably, they think they should be treated at this time in the same way as hotels.

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Isolation diary: Ordering a takeaway?

I haven’t ordered a takeaway since going into isolation, hence the query in the headline. Should I?

I am scrupulously careful with anything that comes into our home. Anything that can wait is left in the hall for a couple of days before I open it. That can’t be done with any food deliveries that need to go into the fridge or freezer, so I wipe bags and packages with antiseptic wipes and wash my hands after handling them. In any case, I am pretty confident that the major supermarkets are taking protective measures, so am not too worried by the things I order from them.

Takeaways are another matter. Many local restaurants that were already providing takeaways have had to focus on the delivery side to keep their businesses going. Others have ventured into deliveries for the first time, including some high end restaurants. It is really important to support these businesses, but are we taking any risks in doing so?

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Isolation diary: Cracking the Miracle Sudoku

This morning I discovered the Miracle Sudoku – so the chances of my getting anything else done today went out of the window.

I’m fairly obsessive about sudoku, my current favourites being the killer variety. I usually do one in the newspaper over lunch, plus another couple on an app in the evening before going to bed.

But the Miracle Sudoku is something else, as you can see from the image. It contains exactly two numbers, so is unsolvable as it stands, of course. The point is that three extra rules are introduced to the normal sudoku rules. These are:

  1. Anti-knight rule: No two squares that are a knight’s move apart may contain the same number.
  2. Anti-king rule: No two touching squares (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) may contain the same number.
  3. Non-consecutive rule: No two squares that are horizontally or vertically adjacent may have consecutive numbers.

If you want to have a go you can download a printable version of the Miracle Sudoku above, together with a couple of practice ones. Be warned – you will need to print several copies!

In the process I have come across Cracking the Cryptic – a YouTube channel devoted to solving the Times cryptic crossword and sudoku.  It is run by two experts: Mark Goodliffe and Simon Anthony, who have both represented the UK in the World Puzzle and World Sudoku Championships – no, I didn’t know either.

On 10th May Simon Anthony was presented with the Miracle Sudoku for the first time and solved it live in around 20 minutes. (Spoiler alert: demonstrates the solution!)

As I write, at around 12 midday, I have managed to fill in all the 1s, 2s and 3s, and I promise I haven’t watched the video yet. I really must get dressed and clean the bathroom. Updates to follow.

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Isolation diary: Preparing for a pandemic

I haven’t been commenting much on the news of the day in my diary – which is rather odd, given the way I usually closely follow political comings and goings.

Whilst living in this bubble of safety in my home, I have been very carefully controlling the impact of external information on my equilibrium. I do read a newspaper very day – we still have one delivered – I watch the BBC news throughout the day and usually catch up on the No 10 briefing, so I’m not missing out on much. But the unending tales of death and suffering are sometimes too much to bear, especially when there is little I can do to help, so I do ration them.

In the same way, I avoid joining in the blame game. People are understandably angry, and looking for someone to blame, hence those mad conspiracy theories. But what matters to me, here and now, is to keep us safe, both physically and mentally. I can do nothing about the causes of the situation that we are in, but I can make our enforced isolation work for us.

Eventually, with hindsight, as a nation we will get a better handle on how, when and why the decisions were made to combat the pandemic. But a couple of articles in the Guardian this week have raised some interesting points about the way the UK has dealt with the crisis.

On Tuesday George Monbiot pointed out:

We have been told repeatedly that the UK was unprepared for this pandemic. This is untrue. The UK was prepared, but then it de-prepared. Last year, the Global Health Security Index ranked this nation second in the world for pandemic readiness, while the US was first.

Today David Pegg follows that thread to suggest that although the UK was ready for a pandemic, it was ready for the wrong disease. He summarises how, under Tony Blair, the Government identified and prepared for a number of different potential civil emergencies.

Within its first year the unit drew up the national risk register, a comprehensive catalogue of all the civil emergencies that could conceivably strike the UK, which continues to be updated annually. At the top of the list – then and now – was an influenza pandemic.

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Isolation diary: Doing the ironing

A few weeks ago I was standing at the ironing board thinking “Why?”

Yes, why do we iron things? According to this history of ironing, the Chinese were doing it over 2000 years ago, using pans filled with hot water. Proper irons – made of the metal – were first use in the 17th century. The electric iron was invented in the 1880s and the steam iron in the 1920s. According to Wikipedia:

In the case of cotton fibres, which are derivatives of cellulose, the hydroxyl groups that crosslink the cellulose polymer chains are reformed at high temperatures, and become somewhat “locked in place” upon cooling the item.

So that is when and how, but it still doesn’t explain why.

I do remember once calling in on a neighbour and finding her busy ironing underpants and J-cloths. My little quirk is to iron pillowcases. I don’t bother with sheets and duvet covers, but I rather like the sensation of lying down on a newly washed and ironed pillowcase. I also iron some of my smarter tops and trousers. Maybe between us we have found the reasons. Ironing gives a sense of control over a chaotic world, it makes some items feel better against the skin, and it gives the impression that we care about our appearance. And that’s about it.

After that epiphany, I decided that I would do no more ironing while in isolation. Of course, I have been slobbing around for most of the time in casual things, most of which I don’t usually iron anyway.

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Isolation diary: Cutting it short

I was finally brave enough to cut my husband’s hair. My first attempt was not good – clumpy might be a good word for it. So I looked up some how-to videos made by bored (but very helpful) hairdressers during lockdown. I then wielded comb and clippers with some confidence, with the result above. He seems happy with it.

I won’t let anyone have a go at my hair though. My hairdresser is hoping to open again on 4th July, but I don’t imagine that shielding will be over by then, so I won’t be getting an appointment for quite a while.

I last reported on my hair just a month ago, so here is an update, 11 weeks since I last had it cut. As predicted the fringe has now reached my eyes. It will be interesting to see how it falls in future.

What a gorgeous day today! I know I should be turning my attention to the General Election Review, the leadership timetable, and the general despair at the way Johnson and Trump have handled things – but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

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Isolation diary: Dancing again

I haven’t attended a ballet class since I was 12 years old – until yesterday, that is.

I have discovered (via another Lib Dem in isolation) that, in normal times, the Royal Academy of Dance runs classes across the country for ‘Silver Swans’, that is, people over the age of 55. They have been posting weekly online Silver Swan ballet lessons during lockdown that are suitable for complete beginners. There are seven sessions available now, so I tried the first one yesterday, and repeated it today, and I am planning to revisit it several times before moving on to the next one.

I have to admit that my legs are aching a bit. They do warn you not to do anything that causes pain, but some muscle ache is almost inevitable as I try movements that I have not practiced for most of my life.

And, it seems, I am in good company, because the Duchess of Cornwall joined the Silver Swans 18 months ago. Here she is discussing how much she values it, especially during lockdown, with Angela Rippon and Darcey Bussell. Put simply, “Dancing makes you happy,” she says.

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Isolation diary: Shredding my life

We have been working through boxes and filing cabinets full of old documents – some going back 50 years or more – and shredding them. Do we really need life insurance reminders from 1988, or pay slips from 1971?

Years ago we bought the cheapest shredder we could find, but we spent more time detangling it than actually shredding paper. We replaced it by a larger one, until that caught fire. Finally we purchased our current more robust shredder, which works for about 10 minutes before the red light comes on. During lockdown it has taken up permanent residence in the living room, with a bin bag underneath, and we feed it as often as we remember.

Of course, what I am shredding are memories.

This morning I was feeding in insurance papers that related to when our Cortina was stolen from our front garden in 1993. The car was recovered about a week later near Littlehampton, because – bless it – the engine had seized up and it was stuck on a hard shoulder. Two men were desperately trying to hitch a lift, and pretending the car was nothing to do with them, when the police appeared. The police couldn’t believe their luck because attached to the back of the car was a brand new stolen caravan that they had been looking out for.

The police arrested the men for the theft of the caravan, then noticed one small detail about the car – we had engraved the original registration on the headlight. When the thieves fitted a new number plate they replaced the window glass, which also had the registration engraved on it, but had missed the headlight.

So we got a phone call from Littlehampton Police asking us to retrieve our car. They forgot to tell us that it was undrivable and a write off. It took ages to get it home with the help of the AA and it then stood outside our house, ugly and unloved, for weeks before the insurance company finally decided what to do with it.

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Isolation diary: Making music together

There have been a number of reports of coronavirus spreading rapidly through choirs and other musical groups before lockdown.

On March 10th – during that period when no-one was quite sure how serious the threat was – one choir met for a rehearsal in Washington state. They used hand sanitizer when they arrived and avoided handshakes and hugs. In spite of the precautions 45 of the 60 people who attended developed the virus and two died.

The choir I sing with, Kingston Choral Society, was rehearsing as late as 12th March and, at that time, was still planning to go ahead with a concert on 21st March. I had already dropped out a week or two before, concerned about my vulnerability. By the weekend of 15th March there was enough concern to cancel the final rehearsal and postpone the concert until June. That, of course, was over optimistic and a June concert is not now going to happen. Fortunately my choir does not seem to have been a hotbed of infection.

I had also spotted a curious story on the BBC about two choirs in Yorkshire that, in retrospect, may have suffered from coronavirus back in January, long before the first recorded case in the UK. The two choirs had members in common, and the partner of one member had recently returned from Wuhan, with a hacking cough.

So does that mean that people project droplets more widely when they are singing?

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Isolation diary: Using the box room

My home was built in the 1930s, along with thousands, if not millions, of others. The standard three bed semi has become an icon of suburban life, and can be found outside the town centres of most UK cities.

When new, the homes offered comfortable living within easy reach of countryside and town, and indeed nearly a century later they are still much loved. They were built to high standards and often survived much better than the skimpily built post war housing. Most of them have two double bedrooms and a small room, often referred to as a box room, though commonly used as a single bedroom.

In my case, my house is still just 200 metres inside the Greater London boundary, and beyond that is protected Green Belt, which in my case means farmland, riding stables, travellers sites and a golf course. And yet we can get into London in just 15 minutes from Surbiton Station, which is a couple of miles away.

Did I mention Surbiton? Before we go any further I need to make it clear that although The Good Life was set in Surbiton it wasn’t actually filmed here. But it has cemented the idea that Surbiton – once known as the Queen of the Suburbs – is very upmarket. In fact, Surbiton, and its poorer relation Chessington (where I live), are fairly typical of the outer London commuter belt. These areas are socio-economically and ethnically mixed, with some parts that score quite highly in deprivation indexes.

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Isolation diary: Identifying those to be shielded

It seems there are now 2.5 million people in the UK on the Government’s list of those who are extremely vulnerable, all of whom will have received the letter above. When you add in people like me who are not on the list but are living with and shielding someone else, that must mean that well over 3, if not 4, million of us are staying at home for the long term.

On Monday I wrote that at least 1.5 million people were being shielded. The first tranche of about 900,000 were sent letters from the Government soon after lockdown was imposed on 23rd March. They had been identified from NHS records because they were receiving chemotherapy or dialysis, were transplant recipients or had a limited number of other specific conditions.

Over the next couple of weeks, GPs were invited to identify others who had conditions that were not on that limited list but who would be seriously at risk if they were to catch the virus. This process added a further 600,000, hence the figure of 1.5 million.

But it seems it didn’t stop there, and GPs have been gradually adding others with complex conditions.

It has not been a simple process. For one thing we don’t yet have a unified medical records system in the UK. Consultants still send letters by post (or even by fax – remember that?) to fellow consultants or GPs. On top of that, people often have several medical conditions which impact on each other.

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Isolation diary: Opening the garden centres

My favourite Gertrude Jekyll rose has just come into bloom again in my garden

Garden Centres opened again yesterday. I was pleased to spot my much-loved local one, Chessington Garden Centre, in news reports. Photos of the coronavirus testing centre next door to it at Chessington World of Adventures keep cropping up in the media, so I guess one or other is putting Chessington firmly on the Covid-19 map.

As soon as lockdown was imposed Chessington Garden Centre started online sales for the first time. Last month the BBC noted that it was livestreaming gardening advice on Facebook. In fact, it is an independent family run business that has always been innovative, experimental and deeply wedded to the local community throughout its 60 year history. It has a laudable environmental policy, which includes an onsite reed bed system for re-using water, a green roof, and an 81% waste recycling rate. As local councillors committed to sustainable working we held them up as an example to other local businesses. What is more, each year they run the best Santa’s grotto for miles around.

Now I’m quite happy to confirm that I am not a gardener. In some ways I wish I did enjoy weeding and seeding, because I can see what pleasure it brings to people. Gentle exercise in the open air, surrounded by beautiful blossoms and scents, not to mention the pleasure of eating food you have nurtured from seed – what’s not to like?

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Isolation diary: Wearing fancy dress

Today is our younger grandson’s 11th birthday and we have been invited to his Zoom party – in fancy dress. I have been challenged to go dressed as my son, his father.

Luckily, I still seem to have a lot of things in the house that belong to my two sons, even though they both moved out over 20 years ago, and I have managed to unearth an old school tie and blazer. The blazer is rather small and would fit my grandson now, so I will have to sling it across my shoulder instead of wearing it. But a white shirt and tie will help me to look the part. My hair will be the big giveaway, of course, but I’m not going to dye it.

I have also discovered how to do backgrounds for a Zoom call. And the BBC has been enormously helpful in releasing some wonderful photos of empty sets that you can download and use. And joy! – I have found one of a classroom at Grange Hill, which will provide a suitable backdrop to my schoolboy efforts. It also brings back happy memories of the days when my sons were young and deeply in awe of a member of the wider family who played one of the teachers in Grange Hill.

You can brighten up your Zoom meetings by relocating to the Strictly ballroom, the Queen Vic, Fawlty Towers or the Ab Fab champagne fridge.  And – for Lib Dems everywhere – there are six, yes six, different Tardis interiors.

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Isolation diary: Collecting the bins

Amazingly, our bin collections have continued as normal during lockdown. I can remember what happens when they are not collected over a long period of time, so am really grateful that the service has not been curtailed.

During the Winter of Discontent (1978-79) waste was not picked up for around 4 weeks. Piles of smelly rubbish appeared on the streets and rats were seen. There was no recycling in those days, so food waste was mixed in with plastic and paper. We were encouraged to “Burn or bury all you can” – a rather unfortunate public message to appear on the gates of the local cemetery and crematorium.

Refuse collection is an unpleasant and physically challenging job, and I have huge respect for the people who do it. But I was alarmed this morning to see that our local teams were exposing themselves to high levels of risk. Not only are they handling waste which could well be infected with the virus, but they do not have masks or disposable gloves. Even more worrying is the fact that they are unable to socially distance themselves while working.

Bin collectors have reported that they don’t feel safe when working.

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Isolation diary: Easing lockdown

Whilst any moves towards normality are to be welcomed, I have found all the talk about exiting lockdown rather depressing. Everyone else seems to be demob happy (as well as confused, but that’s another story), but for a couple of million of us in the UK life will not change at all for a very long time.

At least 1.5 million people in the UK have been told to shield themselves, initially for 12 weeks, because they are clinically extremely vulnerable. Someone like me, who does not have health issues but who lives with an extremely vulnerable person, has two options. I can behave like the rest of the UK under lockdown, and go out for exercise, shopping or work. But if I do that then my husband has to self-isolate from me in our own home. We would have to sleep in separate bedrooms and keep 2 metres apart at all times. So it’s not surprising that I have chosen the second option, which is to adopt the same shielding practices as him.

In fact, we had already embarked on strict self-isolation a couple of weeks before the term ‘shielding’ was used in this context.

As a result our home feels very safe.  Any risk to us comes through the front door – post, food deliveries and parcels. As the technically unshielded person I deal with these, bearing in mind how long the virus can remain on surfaces. I can’t be sure that people who pack or deliver anything are coronavirus-free so we have adopted some strategies to minimise the risk.

Non-food parcels are put in quarantine on the doormat for 48 hours, before I open them.

When post arrives I use a grabbing device that we inherited from a relative to turn the post over, and work out who it is from.  Most letters are also left in quarantine by the front door for two days, unless it is something that needs to be read immediately, such as a letter from the hospital.  In those cases I open the envelope and drop the letter to the floor without touching it, then pop the envelope in recycling and wash my hands before picking up the letter. I reckon the letter itself will be clean because it will have been prepared at least 48 hours earlier.

I go through a similar routine with our newspaper which arrives each morning in a potato starch bag. The bag goes straight into the food caddy and I wash my hands. The processes of printing and bundling newspapers are largely automatic so I assume that they are safe.

Food deliveries are another story. Many items have to be put in the fridge or freezer immediately, so quarantining is not an option. I just wipe everything down with antiseptic wipes, even though I know that may not remove all viruses.

The Covid-19 recovery strategy issued today distinguishes between clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable groups. This was not particularly clear in the past.

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Isolation diary: Becoming a local hero

I have just learnt about an excellent initiative set to spread across the country, that was started by some people in my area. (Hat tip to my MP, Ed Davey).

It’s a simple idea – support local independent businesses by paying forward. Buy online vouchers now and redeem them when the businesses are functioning properly again post-lockdown. Vouchers also make great gifts – birthday presents are a bit of a challenge at the moment.

The BE A LOCAL HERO website brings together businesses and customers.  If you have a small business then register on the site and you will be visible to anyone searching in the area. If you want to buy vouchers then you can do a postcode search to see which companies near you are participating.

This project is still very new, and so far around 33 businesses have registered. They include pubs like Tribeca in Manchester, restaurants like Tradizione in Cambridge, cafes like Surbeanton in Surbiton, therapists like Therapy On Performance in Loughborough, attractions like Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, plus all kinds of shops and even a wedding venue – in other words, a wide range of offers.

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Isolation diary: Receiving a food box from the Government

This week we unexpectedly received an emergency food package from the Government.

My husband is on the extremely vulnerable list, which opens up a number of options for help with shopping. When he initially registered on the Government’s website he did not tick the box which asked whether he needed help with shopping. We were managing to access supplies and had friends and neighbours who had offered to help.

But getting a delivery from a supermarket was still a challenge, and I sometimes spent hours refreshing the screen in the hope of spotting a new delivery slot.  The supermarket sites were saying that they would be contacting people on the Government’s list to offer them priority for deliveries, but that never happened to us.

Then the penny dropped – maybe we needed to tick the box to say that we did need help with shopping. So we did that and very soon we got two different emails offering us priority delivery slots. Then a large box arrived – the Government’s supply – which to be honest, we really didn’t need. So we have donated it to the local food bank via a friend.

We are trying to work out how to continue to get supermarket priority delivery slots, but not the emergency food package, which will now be delivered every week, it seems. The best advice I have been given is to ask the driver to take it back next time and cross us off the local list.

I am not exactly sure who puts these packages together, but I believe that Councils are responsible for co-ordinating them through a local hub. Huge thanks go to everyone involved in providing this valuable service, which is, no doubt, really useful to some people, especially to those not online.

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Isolation diary: Marking VE Day

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I was born a few weeks after VE Day, but before VJ Day which marked the end of global warfare in 1945. At the time my father was in India serving as an Army Chaplain with the Gold Coast regiment and he didn’t actually get home to see me until the following summer.

My parents rarely talked about the war, and it was years before I learnt anything at all about my father’s time in India and Ghana. In fact, their generation just wanted to get back to normal life and protect children from information about the atrocities. We weren’t taught anything about the two World Wars in school, either. It was a shock, many years later, to learn about the Holocaust and the Blitz in the Second War, and about the slaughter in the trenches in the First War.

We were to have happy childhoods, unlike the generation just before us. Things didn’t get back to normal straightaway, though. There were still food shortages and ration books.

I used to hate Remembrance Sunday in those days.  I started writing to a German penfriend in my teens (and we are still very much in touch), so I was uncomfortable with its latent anti-German sentiment.  It was left to my generation to build the bridges with our former enemies, and that included the European project.

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Isolation diary: Missing the theatre

Theatre is one of my passions. Last week I wrote about the development of the Rose Theatre in Kingston, and I will return to that subject again, no doubt.

I am no longer on the Board of the theatre, but I am an Ambassador, and I do still get involved in several ways. As a volunteer I turn up at least once a week in my natty uniform for Front of House duties – ushering, looking after the cloakroom or selling programmes. For many years I have also attended one or other of the many drama groups that come under the Rose Participate umbrella, along with over 1000 other people. In fact, we have the biggest Youth Theatre in the country. And, of course, I get to see all our in-house productions, plus many of the visiting companies.

So I am rather missing all that.

My drama group has continued to meet each week via Zoom, mainly to talk about and recommend productions and box sets to view at home. We all make a point of watching the National Theatre at Home offering for the week and review it together. Our tutors have also set us some simple tasks – last week we each selected and read a poem that we loved.

The Rose, like many other theatres, is trying to find ways of creating content, and giving work to actors and other creatives during lockdown – theatres expect to be shut for many months to come. Every day it posts a new contribution to Readings from the Rose, which have so far included poetry readings by Niamh Cusack, Anton Lesser, Arthur Darvill, Christopher Eccleston and others, including my favourite by Paterson Joseph.

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Isolation diary: Watching TV

I don’t usually view TV during the day, apart from the rolling news, and that hasn’t changed since we have been in isolation. We don’t watch any news, on any media, after 7pm and by 8pm we are ready to sit on the sofa and relax with light entertainment.

Having been brought up on the Radio Times I do like the the weekly rhythm of watching my favourite programmes as they are broadcast.

So that means Would I Lie To You on Mondays. I don’t care how many repeats I watch, the inspired combination of Lee Mack, David Mitchell and Rob Brydon is guaranteed to keep me laughing throughout.

Then we always enjoy The Great Celebrity Bake Off on Tuesdays in aid of StandUp4Cancer. Once they had worked though this year’s episodes, Channel 4 started showing repeats. Yesterday’s offering with Lee Mack (again) was priceless.

Wednesdays bring us the The Repair Shop on BBC1. This was a show my husband had spotted when it was in the early evening slot and it well deserved being promoted to prime time. It combines gentle family stories with the real skill and artistry of the craftspeople who repair much loved objects.

On Thursdays we abandon broadcast TV for the weekly National Theatre at Home offering. This week it will be Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in Antony and Cleopatra. These productions were all originally shown live from the National for event cinema, and are now made available for one week only on YouTube.

On Fridays we look forward to BBC1’s Have I Got News For You, which has now found its form again having floundered a bit with the unfamiliar technology during the early weeks of lockdown.

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