Tag Archives: isolation diary

Isolation diary update: Isolating again

The view across London from Epsom Downs, with quarter of a rainbow

So lockdown comes to England again, but it doesn’t make much of a difference to us.  Ian has received an email from Matt Hancock reminding him that he is “clinically extremely vulnerable” – which is hardly news to him. It advises him to stay at home as much as possible but to go outside for exercise and to attend health appointments.

We have been doing exactly that for the last three weeks, impatient once again with the slow response by the Government to the widespread re-emergence of Covid-19. Back in the summer our local Council and hospital were preparing for a second wave in October, so it was hardly unexpected.

However, there are some crucial differences for us this time. In the first lockdown we literally did not leave our house, apart from a trip to the hospital, from mid-March to the end of June. Looking back that seems an extraordinary thing to have done. Actually, it didn’t feel like a hardship for us at the time – the weather was good and we have a small garden – although I appreciate that it was really tough for many people.

Since then we have been going out for walks almost every day, and, when we were allowed to drive a short distance, we started exploring many places we hadn’t been to before. It has been a revelation – we have found three beautiful lakes, riverside paths, ancient heathland, and many walks through the woods, all within three or four miles of our home.

This time we are being encouraged to go out for exercise, which does make sense as it feels a very safe thing to do. Other walkers are always careful when passing and we never stand within 2 metres of anyone else.

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Isolation diary update: Wondering about what comes next

Don’t kill Granny” – well, thanks, Matt Hancock, I appreciate your concern for me.

When you gave that advice ten days ago, the infection rate stood at around 3000 per day. It is now 4000, and hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 are beginning to follow, with the usual three week time lag. The last time the UK had that rate of infection was at the beginning of April, well into lockdown. So what is your advice today to the grannies (and grandpas) to avoid being killed? Pardon? I can’t hear you…

We all know that the vast majority of deaths are of people who fall into the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories. The latter group, who were advised to shield through lockdown, have been enjoying six weeks of more relaxed living, but are now justifiably pretty anxious again.

Shielding officially ended at the end of July although we were allowed to go out for exercise during the previous month. But life hasn’t changed very much for me and my husband. We enjoy walks out in the countryside, but avoid the town. We have discovered, not that far from our home, several areas of wood and heath, and, amazingly, three lakes (including the one in the photo) which we didn’t know existed.

One day we booked into a National Trust garden near us and sat outside the cafe for tea and cake, unexpectedly qualifying for Eat Out to Help Out.

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Isolation diary update: Thinking about the future

I am very pleased that the Government is finally going to enforce the use of masks in shops. Those of us who are shielding will be in lock down until the end of the month, but we will only emerge cautiously after that. Don’t forget that we are at high risk of dying from Covid-19 if we catch it.

People have been telling us that in the town centres social distancing is not being observed, masks are not being worn and many shoppers are flouting the rules about queuing and following routes. Don’t they realise that they are condemning some of us to permanent lock down?

Having got that off my chest I have been thinking about what needs to change from now on.

But first, this is what has changed, hopefully permanently:

  • Neighbourliness – WhatsApp groups for roads have sprung up; neighbours have got to know each other better and have been helping each other out.
  • Black Lives Matter – the timing of this in the middle of a pandemic has focused our attention.  I have heard this said several times: “I am reading to educate myself on the issue”.  There is a widespread new understanding of privilege and unconscious bias, as well as institutional/structural racism. And people who have responded with “All lives matter” have been gently corrected.
  • Online tools –  we now all recognise the usefulness of Zoom and Microsoft teams and will no doubt continue to use them where they bring added value.
  • Value of care workers – we sort-of knew that they were important; now we really know.
  • How we all love the NHS – I found Danny Boyle’s tribute to the NHS at the 2012 Olympics a bit puzzling. I don’t now.
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Isolation diary: Signing off

This is my last regular diary entry, although I may drop in occasional extra posts when things change for us. I have written every single day since 16th March when we went into voluntary self-isolation to protect my husband.  The rest of the country joined us in lockdown a week later.

Shielding will continue until the end of July at least, so my life is still going to be considerably more restricted than most people as lockdown is eased. From next Monday persons who are shielded like my husband no longer have to socially distance themselves from other members of the household who are not shielding. I have chosen to shield up to now, but in theory I could now drop my shielding precautions and join the rest of you in shops, pubs and restaurants, or even on the beach. However that does add an extra layer of risk so I don’t think I’ll do so for the time being.

If you’ve been following my diary you will know that I have been enjoying my time at home. I have had a rich cultural life during lockdown. I have enjoyed recordings of world class live theatre productions – drama, ballet and opera –  via National Theatre at Home and The Royal Opera. Highlights have included One Man, Two Guvnors (NT), The Magic Flute (ROH), La Fille mal Gardee (ROH), A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bridge Theatre (NT), and Frankenstein (NT).

I have watched several box sets, often following recommendations by friends  – Normal People (i-Player), Devs (i-Player), The Kominsky Method (Netflix), Unorthodox (Netflix), The Capture (i-Player).  And I have discovered some lockdown gems  – the W1A Zoom meeting, David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Staged (i-Player), Alan Ayckbourn’s audio play Anno Domino, plus the current series of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (i-Player). My drama group at the Rose Kingston has continued with a weekly online meeting where we have been swapping recommendations and reading scenes.

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Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012 – cycling around

A few seconds after I took this photo of Bradley Wiggins, from a vantage point in the Rose Theatre, a thousand people surged into the building to watch the rest of the race on a giant screen. Huge cheers erupted as Wiggins turned into Kingston’s Ancient Market, crossed the bridge to Hampton Wick and then on to the finish line outside Hampton Court Palace. It won him a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic time trials.

He endeared himself to local residents for ever when he said this about the roaring from the spectators:

But the point where I was most aware of it was coming around the roundabout in Kingston – the noise was incredible.

I’m never, ever going to experience anything like that again in my sporting career. That’s it. That experience topped everything off right there. It was phenomenal.

The Olympic road races had also passed through Kingston a few days before. There was a massive amount of organisation – and disruption – around all the road cycling events. In fact, a year before, there had been a trial event for the road races, which required rolling road closures from central London and out into the Surrey Hills. Box Hill featured prominently and if you have ever driven up the Zig Zag Road you will know how challenging that is for cyclists. Although we don’t live directly on the route, we were quite limited in where we could go throughout the whole day when there was a road race on.

The annual RideLondon festival was born out of those exciting times. Every year in August some 30,000 riders do a 100 mile ride on roughly the same route as the one used in the Olympics. It is the cycling equivalent of the London Marathon, with a mixture of club and fun riders, the latter often collecting sponsorship for a charity. Alongside this there is a longer run for elite riders which usually takes them up and down Box Hill several times.

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Isolation diary: Remembering London 2012

A huge gap has opened up in the TV schedules for this summer, because of the cancellation of so many major sporting events. And the biggest of them all will be when the Olympics and Paralympics would have taken place.

I hear they are planning to replay much of the action from 2012, and I am looking forward to watching Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir, Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott, Andy Murray, Nicola Adams and many other heroes relive their moments of glory, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Great Britain won 65 medals in the Olympics, and 120 in the Paralympics. It was also the first time that the Olympics and Paralympics were given equal parity and run by the same organisers.

As a Gamesmaker I was invited to attend the dress rehearsal of Danny Boyle’s extraordinary Olympics Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium. We watched in genuine jaw-dropping astonishment as England’s green and pleasant land, complete with cattle and cricket, was transformed into the dark, satanic mills. The section honouring the NHS, with performers dancing around hospital beds, did seem a bit strange at the time, but will be utterly appropriate this year. After that we celebrated British pop culture from the 1960s to the present day, followed by a rare appearance of Tim Berners Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, who tweeted “This is for everyone”.

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Isolation diary: Being an ally

A year ago Kingston’s Guildhall flew the Pride flag for the first time. This was an initiative of one of our councillors, Sam Foulder-Hughes. We attended a short ceremony to mark the occasion, and I was struck by the way Sam thanked allies like us – straight people who support LGBT+ equality.

I hadn’t heard the term ally used in that context before, but I have also been hearing it recently in relation to Black Lives Matter. Yes, those of us who have no living experience of belonging to a specific identity can still empathise and campaign with those who do.

Today would have seen the Pride in London parade. The flag is flying this week again in Kingston, though sadly I can’t go in to see it, and there are numerous online events, including some Lib Dem ones, to mark the day. Google London Pride and the search engine throws up a rainbow border.

My active support for the LGBT+ community goes back to the 1970s, long before the time when that shorthand was commonly used. It was only a few years earlier that the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 had made homosexual acts between consenting men legal – acts between women had never been illegal.

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Isolation diary: Exploring my family history again

My grandmother was a Hooker. I’m afraid she never really understood why we all fell about laughing when she told us that. As it happens there is a distant family connection with the slang term for a prostitute – but more of that later.

Which reminds me of something one of my sons told me this week. When he was young he learned the words prostitute and protestant at around the same time, and managed to confuse them for a while. It’s a good thing he worked out the difference before he went to live in Northern Ireland.

To return to the Hookers in my family. Last week I wrote about my father’s side of the family and the story of my great great grandmother who, in a remarkable echo of Downton Abbey, was disinherited after running off with the coachman.

This time I am thinking about my mother’s ancestors, and one illustrious one in particular. My grandmother was always proud of the fact that her nine times great uncle was Richard Hooker. She came from Exmouth and would often tell me about the statue that stood in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral. He is recognised by the Church of England as a Teacher of the Faith and remembered on the anniversary of his death, 3rd November 1600.

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Isolation diary: Feeling the sun on my skin

On a hot day like today, the one thing you would love to see is a photo of naked cyclists, right?

I had been trying to find this photo amongst the many thousands of pictures on my laptop, but I couldn’t remember when it was taken. Then yesterday it popped up on Facebook under the ‘See your memories’ feature. It was taken nine years ago in Bristol.

We were driving down to visit our son and his family and were stopped at the end of the M32 by around 100 cyclists circling the roundabout. And none of them had any clothes on. It was a joyful sight and made me smile. I managed to get a quick snap through the car window as we waited for them to go past.

Now I’m not a naturist, but, being a good liberal, I have no problem with people who are. In fact, the quantity of clothes that people wear on our favourite beach on Fuerteventura decreases to zero the further you get away from the hotel. Whilst staying there we discovered that the chaplain of the Anglican church in Correlejo was a leading light in the Christian Naturist Fellowship.

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Isolation diary: Sharing a birthday with Alan Turing

A photo of this sculpture hangs in my study

Alan Turing was born on 23rd June 1912. I wasn’t aware that I shared a birthday with one of my heroes until the 1990s, long after his untimely death. In fact, the world knew very little about him until government papers were released in the 1970s under the 30 year rule. And yet he is now going to be memorialised on the next £50 note.

Actually I did become aware of some of his work at University, because I read his seminal pre-War paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” as part of a Philosophy of Maths module. Neither I, nor my tutor, knew that this was to become the foundation for computer science, via his work on the theoretical constructs he called ‘universal machines’ – now referred to as ‘Turing machines’. His work was influenced by all the key figures in the field, Kurt Gödel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alonzo Church, David Hilbert and John von Neumann – all of whom I had read.

Later, of course, he was able to convert his imaginary machines into physical reality. After the War he built some of the earliest computers, first at the National Physical Laboratory and then at Manchester University.

Alan Turing wasn’t directly involved in building the Colossus – the world’s first electronic programmable computer – at Bletchley Park, although his theoretical ideas underpinned it. In the early days of the War he had developed another machine called the Bombe which was designed specifically to decrypt messages generated by the German Enigma machines.

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Isolation diary: Celebrating 100!

Yes, it is my birthday. No, I am not 100, although three quarters of the way there.

What I am celebrating, to my surprise, is this, my 100th Isolation Diary. Back in March I tentatively approached my colleagues on the editorial team of Lib Dem Voice to see if they thought it would be a good idea to have some daily musings on life in self-isolation. They have encouraged me even though the posts often have little direct political relevance.

So I have now managed to impose some 50,000 words on you, my readers. Most entries are introspective, exploring the inner life of lockdown, the limitations of shielding, and daily practicalities. Some have been commentaries on the wider political scene, such as the Black Lives Matter campaign, and the rewriting of history. Others have allowed me to examine my own values and relate them to my upbringing, to my faith, or even, in one case, my ancestry. I have explored some of my favourite places. There is probably too much about singing and the theatre, and the risks in belonging to a choir, and you have seen too many photos of the results of my cooking experiments.

Yesterday – too late for my diary – the Government announced new guidance for people who are shielding, like us. The scheme as a whole will finish at the end of July, although I’m pleased to hear that we will still be able to get priority slots for online supermarket deliveries.  From July 6th we can meet outside in a group of up to six people. Single shielders can now form a bubble.

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Isolation diary: Looking forward to Autumn Conference

As Caron has explained, Autumn Conference will take place online from 25th to 28th September. I have been watching the developments with a lot of interest, because I was a member of the Federal Conference Committee for five years until I stood down at the end of last year.

I loved being on the committee, but it completely took over my time at Conference. Committee members were on a rota to chair and aide motion debates in the hall, to chair speeches and Q&As from the main stage and spokespersons’ sessions elsewhere, and to attend various events for first time attendees and others. For each debate we would usually need the same amount of time in advance to read through the speakers’ cards and construct a balanced discussion. On top of that there was training to remind us of the niceties of the standing orders, and how to deal with requests for counted votes, referrals back etc, plus a daily briefing meeting. It made life busy, and I found I missed some of the other delights of conference, such as sitting around and chatting with old friends, but I did enjoy doing it.

I was really looking forward to York in March and the opportunity to just wander around Conference with no commitments for the first time in six years. When that was cancelled, Brighton was on my radar for the Autumn. That will now be a rather different experience from what I was expecting.

On the committee we were often asked if members could have remote access to Conference and in particular to remote voting on motions. That would make the conference more accessible to people who couldn’t attend in person for employment or financial reasons.

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Isolation diary: Enjoying the summer solstice

Slightly fuzzy photo – we were right at the back

Today is the longest day – it’s downhill all the way from now on…

I’ve often wondered why we don’t have a major festival to celebrate summer. The ancient pagan rituals around the longest day are only practised by a tiny minority, and for most of us it passes as just another day.

In contrast, we all celebrate mid-Winter at Christmas with gifts, rich food and cosy family gatherings, possibly around a fire,  whether or not we observe it as a Christian festival.  Similarly we mark Spring at Easter with symbols of new life – eggs, flowers and bunnies.  These events both have an interesting history, with pagan origins, overlaid with Christian symbolism, and now adopted as secular festivals for all to enjoy, institutionalised through Bank Holidays. The Winter Festival, around the winter solstice, extends into Hogmanay, and the Spring Festival, around the spring equinox, is preceded by Carnival in many parts of the world.

The Autumn celebrations are more complex but we can see the echoes of ancient fire festivals to ward off evil at Hallowe’en and on Nov 5th. I’m always struck by the way Hallowe’en in the US is more of a harvest celebration than the creepier intimations of death associated with All Saint’s Eve, which we honour in the UK.

These days we don’t have a single focal point for the middle of summer, although many other European countries do. In the past we did, and indeed 24th June is still, somewhat puzzlingly, referred to as Midsummer Day. There are references to it in the title of Shakespeare’s play, even though that was, apparently, first performed on New Year’s Day.

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Isolation diary: Singing again

Covid-19 has silenced choirs – we must find a way to restart singing together – that was the headline for a letter in the Guardian this week. It was signed by some very well known names in choral music, people I have admired for a long time. They included Bob Chilcott (composer of some stunningly beautiful songs), John Rutter (another well-known composer, and revered for the Carols for Choirs series which is used by almost every choir in the country), Simon Halsey (Director of the London Symphony Chorus), Harry Christophers (director of The Sixteen – my favourite choir of all time), plus many conductors of choral societies around the UK.

They write:

Up until now we have had one of the most vibrant choral landscapes in the world. Our professional choral life, consisting of world-renowned chamber choirs, vocal ensembles, opera choruses, cathedral choirs and theatre ensembles, faces an uncertain future. The financial picture for such groups has always been challenging, even in the best of times, but the outlook now for such ensembles, mostly made up of freelance musicians, is not an optimistic one.

We have a world-leading cathedral and church choir tradition, largely made up of young boys and girls and paid adult singers who face financial hardship and also serious challenges of continuity. The amateur choir life of this country is huge, from the world-class symphony choruses and university choirs to community and school choirs, and all these groups face a time of great uncertainty.

We need church leaders to have the courage to speak out so that we can make singing together in churches work within certain guidelines. We need the government to show how we can restart singing together on an equal footing with opening theme parks, shopping and kicking a football around. It is imperative that we find a way for choirs in this country to resume as soon and as safely as we can.

Singing in a choir is not only about communality, social cohesion and harmony; for many it is an essential source of emotional wellbeing and positive mental health. Moreover it is a powerful expression of our culture and humanity, and it cannot be allowed to fade away.

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Isolation diary: Feeling cautious

On 1st June people in England who were shielding, like us, were told they could go out for a walk once a day for exercise, but not to the shops. If they lived alone then they could meet one other person outside, but still socially distancing.

Were we excited about our new little bit of freedom? At the time I debated whether I should go out, and did go for a short walk. But I haven’t been out since, apart from going to the dentist and taking my husband for a medical appointment.

I have to explain that I am not shielding because I am vulnerable myself, but to protect my husband who is. We have two options. On the one hand I could behave like the rest of the population – going out, shopping, meeting others safely – but I would then have to socially distance myself from him at home by sleeping in a different room, using a different bathroom (if possible) and being ultra careful about things that we handled such as crockery, cutlery and towels. The other option is to shield myself, which means that within the house we can live normally. Not surprisingly I chose the second option.

My husband hasn’t been out for a walk at all, and has said he won’t do so until the alert level is at 3. He is not alone in feeling cautious about the relaxation of the rules. The good news today is that the alert level has indeed been reduced to 3, so we finally went out together for a short walk this afternoon. It proved to us just how much we needed to do it, as muscles had been seriously underused in the last three months.

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Isolation diary: Rewriting history

Anyone who thinks that removing statues is rewriting history should ask who wrote the history in the first place.

I wrote that sentence on Facebook this morning, having already (editorial privilege) read Paul Reynolds’ excellent article, in which he discusses the very many omissions in the current teaching of history.

My own experience of history in school was dire. I hated it, not least because of the way it was taught. The teacher spent almost every lesson dictating notes which we duly wrote down in our notebooks and attempted to remember for exams. At the end of the third year in secondary school we had to choose between History or Geography, so I chose the latter. As a result I studied no history later than the second Jacobite rebellion in 1745, and because I changed schools I actually studied that twice.

So I left school with huge gaps in my knowledge of 19th and 20th century history. For example, I didn’t know anything about the origins of Liberalism in the UK until I started reading J S Mill and others for my Philosophy degree. I didn’t understand the causes of the two World Wars and hadn’t heard of the Holocaust. I was living through the independence of former British colonies but hadn’t learned the history that would have explained why they had been coloured red on the map. I was denied any understanding of the importance of prime sources, or of historical method, and I didn’t appreciate that records were always created by the literate elite.

Of course, over my life I have gradually pieced together a lot of information about that period but still wish I had had a more formal foundation. I learnt that the history of wars is always written by the victors, so is inevitably skewed. And today’s political interference in the curriculum in the UK has striking parallels with the airbrushing of history practised by autocratic regimes.

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Isolation diary: Musings on The Salisbury Poisonings

Much has already been written about the contemporary relevance of the BBC mini-series The Salisbury Poisonings which ended yesterday and is now available on i-Player. Although written and produced before anyone had ever heard of the coronavirus, the way in which the public emergency in Salisbury was handled two years ago has some uncanny parallels with the events of this year.

I was struck by one simple fact – the operation was headed by the Director of Public Health for Wiltshire, Tracy Daszkiewicz. She, in fact, was the main focus for the dramatic retelling of the story, and it is clear that her timely actions and highly professional approach to the problem prevented many people from dying from Novichok poisoning.

Directors of Public Health are in a unique position to track and trace major health emergencies. But, during this coronavirus emergency their very specific skills and local knowledge were sidelined by the Government.

At one point in the series, Tracy Daszkiewicz is challenged by a civil servant who has been sent down from Whitehall. Tracy had just learnt how Nick Bailey, who was the first police officer to enter the Skripal’s home, had become infected by the nerve agent, in spite of wearing protective clothing.  Spots of Novichok were found throughout the house; it was only when the police viewed bodycam photos of the initial search that they realised that they had been put there by Nick himself, and that he had picked it up from the handle of the front door. They concluded that the Skripals must have got it on their skin from the door handle as well. Tracy’s response to this information was to track Nick’s movements afterwards, and as a result she recommended the immediate closure of the local police station so it could be isolated and examined for contamination.

At that point the Government official intervened and over-ruled her, on the grounds that closing a police station would cause public panic. Parts of the building were then tested whilst normal activity was going on elsewhere, and, as Tracy predicted, traces of Novichok were found. The police station was closed and the Government adviser was sent packing.

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Isolation diary: Living near a theme park

Last week I wrote about the joys of living near a zoo. Over 30 years ago it was transformed in a theme park, Chessington World of Adventures, and became part of The Tussauds Group of tourist attractions (now Merlin Entertainments). The name of the area where I live is now synonymous with thrill rides, an animal park and above all, with clogged roads in the summer. In 2018 it attracted 1.67 million visitors.

Although the park is only a mile or so from the M25, the access roads, whichever route is taken, pass through residential areas. In the summer months local people like us know exactly how to avoid the traffic, but it often involves long detours. And those who live in Malden Rushett (which still lies within Greater London) have a real problem as the cars build up along the only road through their village. After a quiet few months, that disruption will start again this Thursday when the park opens for Zoo Days, and get worse on 4th July when the whole park re-opens.

Right at the beginning, the Council laid down some ground rules, which still apply today.

First, the site is set in the Outer London Green Belt, so the Council identified the build envelope, and no buildings were allowed outside that boundary. The park has got round that a bit by grazing giraffes and oryx on the Green Belt, somewhat to the surprise of the neighbouring horses, and then applying to install buildings to support animal husbandry (and by pure co-incidence, of course, a safari ride).  They have also squeezed in two resort hotels within the envelope, which offer some resources for the local community, such as a gym, indoor pool and function rooms.

Second, substantial planting on site became a requirement, and today visitors are surprised at how green it is.

Third, no construction was allowed to appear above the tree line. As a result, the park is almost invisible from the road and nearby houses, and the trees form a noise barrier as well. I do remember one planning application for a rollercoaster that we turned down. The ride would have risen well above the surrounding trees, and the park tried to justify it on noise grounds – apparently, people only start screaming when they are one third of the way down and behind the trees.

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Isolation diary: Exploring my family history

Am I descended from a slave owner?

That uncomfortable question was prompted by the current debate over Black Lives Matter, and specifically by an article by Catherine Bennett in the Observer yesterday. She has been researching the hereditary peers in the House of Lords and checking the sources of their wealth against the database of slave ownership constructed by University College London.

The database identifies anyone who was connected with the slave trade in Great Britain or the British colonies, and records the amounts given in compensation when slavery ended. The deal which resulted in slave owners receiving eye-wateringly large sums in compensation for the loss of their slaves, while the slaves received nothing, is one of the huge shameful blots on our nation’s conscience.

Catherine Bennett was naming and shaming the descendants of those beneficiaries who still sit in the House of Lords. Now I think she is going down entirely the wrong track here. It is a total anachronism that we still have 92 hereditary peers sitting in a chamber of Government – they should be removed as soon as possible – but attacking them because of their ancestors’ ill-gotten gains is a dubious way to go about it.

One reason for saying that is because many of us could, potentially, track our family tree back to people involved in slavery. Some of us could even today be benefiting from the wealth they accrued through their business ventures and specifically through the compensation. What should we do if we discover such unwelcome roots?

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Isolation diary: Opening the shops

I expect many of you are looking forward to going shopping for something other than food this week. Sadly I won’t be joining you because people who are shielding are not supposed to go into shops at all. We are limited to having a short walk for exercise, or attending a medical appointment, but I have been pondering on what I will do once those restrictions are lifted.

My first priority will be to go back into the supermarkets. Online ordering has been essential, but nothing beats going round and being inspired by products on offer. Although we keep a list of things we need to buy online each week, we always seem to miss something and then have to wait another week before it can be replenished. Last week it was fruit juice, and before that, heaven help us, chocolate.

Apart from food and household items, we have bought very few things in the last three months. I have purchased one item of clothing, and that was because my favourite label was offering a 50% discount – and I couldn’t let that pass, could I? (I am still wait for my Lost Stock parcel). I tend to go barefoot in the house, and just slip into a battered pair of Birkenstocks that I keep by the back door to wear in the garden. I have only worn shoes four times since we went into isolation, so I certainly don’t need new shoes at the moment.

Will my broader shopping habits change? When eventually I do need to buy shoes I will have no choice but to go into town. I have slightly odd shaped feet so I always have to try shoes on and can’t order online. And I normally want to try clothes on as well, although I understand that at the moment changing rooms are shut. Also, there is no way of finding a new perfume that I like without spraying it on my skin.

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Isolation diary: Telling the story of ‘Amazing Grace’

The tune of Amazing Grace has been running through my head all week. We have been singing it with the Great British Home Chorus, along with We Shall Overcome, as a tribute to Black Lives Matter. At least I think that is why Gareth Malone chose the song, assuming that it is a gospel song which can trace its origins back to black churches in the Southern States. Nothing he said suggested that he knew the real story behind the lyrics.

As far as the music is concerned, he referred to “this traditional American melody”, and indeed the beautiful tune we use today is called New Britain and was already in use in churches across America before it was matched with the words in 1835. Its name implies that it may have had origins in Britain, but I can’t find any definitive roots in my exhaustive searches through Wikipedia.

Once the lyric and tune had combined to give the song we all know today, it became very popular across all Christian traditions, although it works particularly well in gospel style. But I wonder how many people who sing it today appreciate the poignancy of the text.

The shocking thing is that John Newton, who wrote the original words, was a slave trader.

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Isolation diary: Going to the dentist

I had a real adventure today – unlikely as it may seem, it was a visit to the dentist.

Back in April a crown dislodged itself, leaving me with a rather poor bite on one side of my mouth. I knew that dental treatment under lockdown was strictly limited to emergencies, so I kept the crown safe and waited. I didn’t attempt a repair myself, as some people have done.

At the time, local dentists were, I think, able to prescribe painkillers and antibiotics remotely but, for understandable reasons, were unable to work on teeth directly. Regional Urgent Dental Care hubs were set up but they could only do extractions. Drilling was considered too dangerous.

My biggest fear over the past few months has been that I would develop the kind of toothache that takes over every thought in my head. The last time it happened was about a year ago when a tooth became infected. I sat up for the whole night, moving from one painful minute to the next, just waiting for the 9am appointment. I had never been so pleased to see my dentist.

I thought it was happening again to me three weeks ago when I developed toothache in a molar on the other side of my mouth. It only hurt after eating, and then only for a few minutes, but it was pretty painful. With both sides of my mouth compromised I found it quite difficult to eat, and the steak I had bought had to be stored in the freezer. Paracetemol before each meal did the trick.

Then we heard – oh joy – that dentists would be re-opening on 8th June. I phoned my dental practice, explaining that it wasn’t an emergency but that I would appreciate an appointment at some point. By this week, somewhat to my embarrassment, the molar had calmed down, but the crown was still, of course, not in place.

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Isolation diary: Missing the grandchildren

Some of the newspapers today are excitedly headlining the news that grandparents in England can hug their grandchildren again this week. It’s not easy for the many grandparents who are still not allowed to do so.

The BBC carries a more nuanced version of the story. From this weekend any adult who lives alone or with children under 18 (but no other adults) can form a support bubble with another household. While continuing to live in two homes they can interact as if they live together and don’t have to observe social distancing (although they must all self-isolate if any one of them develops symptoms). This does make a lot of sense and will help to counteract loneliness suffered by many people who have lived through lockdown on their own, whatever their age.

But crucially many grandparents are excluded from these arrangements. If they live with a partner they cannot form a support bubble unless the other household has just one adult. That would work for some intergenerational families, but not all.

And from my perspective, the sad truth is that no-one who is shielding may join a support bubble.  Many grandparents, like us, are shielding.

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Isolation diary: Living near a zoo

When we first moved to Chessington it was synonymous with the Zoo. Anyone who lived in the area was used to being asked the, supposedly original, question “Do you live in the monkey house?” when we gave our address.

We liked to take the boys during the winter months when it was much less crowded – and free – and the animals looked quite pleased to see visitors. It wasn’t much of a zoo, though, and we weren’t too happy about the way the animals were housed, especially the large mammals – elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers and primates, even polar bears.  But I do have a few tales to tell from those times.

One winter’s day we went to say hello to the tigers. As we stood by the wire fence one male tiger came towards us, turned round, lifted its tail and sprayed me. I think it may have mistaken my striped faux fur coat for a potential mate. It stank! I had an awkward conversation with the dry cleaners the following day, but the smell remained and I had to throw the coat away. Years later the site banned animal print clothing.

I taught for a while in one of the local secondary schools and one year I spotted that a girl in my third year (Year 9) tutor group had an address at the Zoo. I knew there was housing for some of the animal keepers on site so assumed her parents worked there. I discovered my mistake when we went as a family to see the circus that was permanently sited at the zoo. I recognised her as she spun by her teeth from the roof of the big top. Her parents were acrobats not zoo keepers.

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Isolation diary: Running to help

Have you heard of GoodGym?  Put simply, they combine exercise with helping their communities – their motto is “Do Good, Get Fit”. It’s a brilliant idea, and one that is spreading across the UK, with 58 branches and 17,500 members already active and more branches under development. They say:

We are a community of runners that combine getting fit with doing good. We stop off on our runs to do physical tasks for community organisations and to support isolated older people with social visits and one-off tasks they can’t do on their own. It’s a great way to get fit, meet new people and do some good. As long as you’re up for getting sweaty, everyone’s welcome.

I came across the local branch a year or so ago, when they helped the choir I sing with. We hold four concerts each year mainly in two large local churches which have wonderful acoustics. The raked staging has to be built for each concert, the chairs set out, then all has to be dismantled afterwards, and GoodGym members have come along to help.

Afterwards they write a run report and they seem to compete to include the most puns. Here is an extract:

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Isolation diary: Baking brownies

I don’t usually bake; neither does my husband. But we have been trying out a number of recipes during the last three months. He has made lemon drizzle cakes and Victoria sponges, while I have been going for cookies, flapjacks, crumbles and a banana loaf.

Today I made brownies using the simplest possible recipe. Combine 400 g Nutella with 3 beaten eggs until smooth, then stir in 115g flour (it said plain but I only had self-raising in the cupboard). Line a 20cm square cake tin, dollop it all in and smooth the top, then bake at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.

Talking of flour, it has, of course, been a challenge to find some. It seems every time I order it from a supermarket it is magically unavailable on the day the order is delivered. My neighbour kindly found a packet one day for us. The brownies have now used the very last of our supply.

I do want to make some scones this week. We have some clotted cream in the fridge, and strawberry jam, so scones are a must.

It’s rather strange that the flour shortage is still with us. I expected it to settle down after the first chaotic weeks of food shopping. After all, I imagine we are all consuming just as much flour in baked products as we always did – the difference being that we are baking at home rather than buying out. So the flour is out there somewhere.

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Isolation diary: Wearing makeup

I haven’t worn any makeup for three months. Normally I would put on some foundation and mascara whenever I go out, but I’m at home all the time so there is no real incentive.

I never wear lipstick because I react badly to lanolin, which is found in almost all lipsticks as well as other cosmetics and toiletries. Since lanolin is an oil derived from sheep’s wool that also explains why I can’t wear wool next to my skin.

In fact, my problem with lanolin led me to The Body Shop many years ago, at a time when ingredients were not routinely listed on cosmetics. In each of their shops there was a folder containing all the information you might want to know about the products. Although I do use other brands as well now, I still rely on The Body Shop for skin care, including their brilliant Hemp Hand Protector, which is really needed when we are washing our hands so much.

There was a time when some feminists argued strongly against wearing makeup. Although fully involved in the campaign for equal rights and opportunities for women, I didn’t really go along with the bare face argument. I make no apology for the fact that I also enjoy a good haircut and have always used designer fragrance, and indeed I would encourage any man to do the same.

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Isolation diary: Talking trees

These two magnificent trees – a willow and a horse chestnut – stand directly opposite my house and give me a great deal of pleasure. It’s a bit grey and blustery today, so it’s not the best photo.

Years ago someone told me that London is, technically, a forest. That may seem unlikely but there are 8.4 million trees in Greater London to be found in gardens and parks and on streets. According to The Mayor of London, in London’s urban forest around 20% of the land area is covered by trees.

Today I learnt about TreeTalk which has an amazing tree map of London. It has identified over 600 different species of tree in public spaces, but it doesn’t include garden trees.  You can zoom in and click on individual trees to identify them and find out more about them.

As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the site will create a tree walk for you from your home. I checked for my postcode and sadly Kingston has not yet engaged with the project so it has not logged the trees opposite my house. But it did point me to 13 different species within a ten minute walk, all of them on the main road managed by Transport for London.

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Isolation diary: Feeling sad

My mother died from Alzheimer’s. It was some years ago and I don’t find it difficult to write about. In fact she was in her 90s, had lived a good life and had a calm death in a supportive environment. The home where she spent the last 3 years of her life practised the Eden Alternative, which is a holistic approach to caring for people with dementia. She was very contented. So that’s not what is making me sad today.

What is often forgotten is that Alzheimer’s, along with other forms of dementia, is an irreversible terminal illness. However, unlike all other terminal illnesses, it is treated as a social rather than a medical problem, so people with it are cared for in care homes, or in their own homes, rather than hospitals. In practice that can often be a good thing, because care homes that specialise in dementia are often very good at managing people with it. They can support all aspects of that person’s life rather than just focusing on the health issue. For people living at home it can be a very different story.

Which brings me to the news from the Office of National Statistics that has upset me today. 25% of all people who have died from Covid-19 had dementia. In some way that is not surprising, since people with that condition are physically very vulnerable indeed.

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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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