Edward Explores: London in the time of Covid

edward london pic1

As mentioned in the last post in this occasional series for fellow teddy bear appreciators, Edward was very excited to be taken on an adventure that required a train journey earlier this month. He travelled to London where he hoped to visit several of his favourite attractions. Sadly, some were either closed to visitors or had restrictions in place that prevented entry. Nevertheless, Edward had an enjoyable couple of days away with his bearers and returned home with tales to tell his friends.

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On disembarking the train, Edward took pleasure in a lengthy walk across the city, through several Royal Parks and along the river. He passed Buckingham Palace where his good friend Elizabeth sometimes works. Men with guns stood outside so he decided not to get any closer. The place was notably quieter than the last time he was there.

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After such a long walk it was good to arrive at the hotel where Edward would be staying. It had a big bed and a view of passing trains and tall buildings. Our intrepid bear decided that a nap was in order and settled down to rest with the complementary cookies to help keep him going until dinner.

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Edward had hoped to visit St Paul’s Cathedral but it was closed. This seemed strange given it is supposed to be a place for worship and quiet contemplation. He perched on a sign that seemed appropriate. Why it was there remained a mystery.

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Shops were open so a few important purchases were made, selected after careful consideration and tastings. Edward likes Whittard, although was sure on his last visit he was also provided with biscuits.

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Edward understands how important it is to take time to refuel when on an adventure. The Ivy at Tower Bridge provided a delicious chocolate bombe that was much appreciated.

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Edward regretted that he could not gain access to the Tate Modern as it is such an interesting building to explore. Instead, he observed Extinction Rebellion protestors gathered on the lawn as they prepared to cross Millennium Bridge. The surrounding streets were clogged with a great number of police vehicles, one of which had been given a parking ticket. Edward did not appreciate their noisy helicopter overhead but enjoyed the protestors’ musical offerings.

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Before returning home, Edward had a chance to chat to his good friend Paddington who told him the return of visitors has been most welcome, although his station remains quieter than it used to be. Edward then enjoyed a small snack before boarding his train.

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Edward was sad to say goodbye to London but concluded it is probably not worth visiting again until everywhere reopens with a full welcome. He was pleased that the fine weather enabled the outdoors to be enjoyed – especially along the lively South Bank – when so many indoor venues proved uninviting.

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Elizabeth enjoyed catching up with all the news of her capital city. Even with limited access, Edward agreed it was good to go adventuring again.

Book Review: Spring Journal

“there is no joie de vivre,
None at all. It is absolutely banned.”

Spring Journal, by Jonathan Gibbs, was inspired by Louis MacNeice’s long poem, Autumn Journal, which he wrote in late 1938 in response to the impending world war. I am not familiar with this earlier work. Gibbs’ offering is divided into twenty-four cantos, written between March and August 2020. It provides a response to Covid 19, England’s first lockdown, and the summer release that was not the hoped for return to freedom.

I was eager to get hold of a copy of this book as a sort of memento of a time I felt would be a significant life event, however the future pans out. On reading I realised it offered even more than expected, mainly because it highlighted to me how all appeared to enter that first lockdown as a country united to fight an unknown threat, but quickly divided into angry, polarised units of righteously indignant opinion on how others should behave.

“And its March coming in as the last daffs are fading
And the first nasturtiums coming, blithely ignorant of the farce”

The early cantos beautifully capture the early weeks of lockdown – the strange silence of streets devoid of people and traffic; the pause that felt as though the world held its breath, even as nature continued to bring forth new life, as it has always done.

When the impact of both the pandemic and the country’s response became better understood, sides were quickly taken. Focus shifted to anger, with many blaming politicians, as happens when it is not ‘their’ people in charge.

The author acknowledges his privilege. He remained healthy, not alone, able to exercise outdoors.

There is a reminder of the protests that happened about non-Covid related issues (how quickly we forget that which does not directly affect us).

“And if the pubs and restaurants go under, what about the theatres
And galleries and concert halls?
Will we stay at home and mutter nostrums
For the benefit of our four bare walls?”

As I read this I pondered the plight of those who would never use such facilities, through lack of means or desire. A journal will obviously be deeply personal – a strength in the window it offers. The author’s response, at first so familiar, was diverging from my own.

My reaction to this divergence slammed home when Gibbs wrote of a holiday in Greece, taken when released from the first lockdown. I was reminded of the angry tweets at the time from those who still never left their homes and expected others to do the same. Even when laws are not broken there can be a form of moral outrage honing in on what matters most to each individual. I remembered those who attended raves regardless, and those who have chosen to remain under personal lockdown throughout.

“don’t ask why our spending’s more vital than our earning
Or why the economy depends
On us giving out more than we can gather back”

The underlying concern, the gnawing anxiety over future impact, comes through strongly. As summer progressed the author wrote of the young people whose future prospects became ever more uncertain. There were musings on who will bear the brunt of what will be lost.

“everything we’ve grown up to take for granted
And are losing now to toffs and spivs
Who dress like lawyers and act like thieves
And know not to waste a good crisis.”

The final canto reeled me back in as the author reflects on the future, that man’s concerns are insular, that climate continues to change.

The journal is elegantly written and offers much to reminisce over and reflect upon. I shall now put it aside to read in future months and years when what has happened may be put into context of fallout, when we have moved on to whatever must be dealt with beyond.

“it seems we have forgotten how to shout,
Or have lost our voices;
Will we get to forgive ourselves our weakness,
Our failure to act on our justified doubts?”

We are living through ever increasing state intervention on day to day behaviour. This long poem offers a reminder of how it started, how as a country we acquiesced. Worth reading for the literary quality. Recommended as an encouragement towards greater critical thinking.

Spring Journal is published by CB editions.

Random Musings: A year ago this weekend

A year ago this weekend husband and I travelled to Cardiff on a planned city break. Our younger son was at university there and we looked forward to spending time with him and continuing our exploration of the city. We had booked tables at restaurants to take him out for good feeds. We also packed running gear to enable us to take part in the Bute Parkrun on Saturday morning. For reasons financially careful husband would justify, we went by train rather than driving.

Rumours were circulating in the media of some sort of proposed lockdown – whatever that meant – in response to a virus spreading from China. When our son told us a day or so before the weekend that he was feeling under the weather we decided to bring mostly empty suitcases that he could pack what he needed for exam preparation, returning home with us for an extended Easter break. I did not like the thought of him struck down in his halls of residence, alone and unwell. Husband and I had both recently suffered a particularly nasty flu that left a lingering cough it took weeks to shake. We didn’t want our son suffering as we had without support.

The weekend did not go as planned.

Eating out on the Friday night we learned that all restaurants in the city were being closed down, effective immediately. Staff at the Bella Italia we had booked – mostly empty which was highly unusual – had been invited to help themselves to perishables from the kitchen, that would otherwise go to waste. Already the impact of fearmongering could be felt in the emptying streets that were usually thronging with loudly partying tourists.

We learned the next morning that all Parkruns had been cancelled. We ran in Bute Park anyway and were amazed by how empty everywhere felt. Streets were devoid of people. There was little sign of traffic. Our hotel was the only place that would feed us on the Saturday. Our son walked back to his halls that night through a city that had unexpectedly grown feral. For the first time he reported feeling unsafe, the homeless the only others around and they actively shouting abuse as he passed by.

It was a sunny weekend so we had walked down to the harbour area where families were enjoying the spring air. It was the city centre that felt eerie, the few people around scurrying from proximity.

We packed our son’s essentials on the Sunday, leaving his room ready for his return. Since then he has been back to Cardiff just for an afternoon, last September, to move his remaining belongings to the room booked for the next academic year. Foolishly, we believed the assurances that teaching would be happening in person rather than remotely. It didn’t happen and his rented room has served only as an expensive storage facility. Nevertheless, when the media reports of students confined to halls aired, we were grateful he remained here with us.

On the weekend of our escape – for that was how it felt at the time – we boarded a mostly empty train to Bristol encumbered by our many bags and suitcases. From there we learned that trains were being cancelled without notice, including our connection. We watched the ever changing departure boards carefully and decided to catch a train to Swindon from where we could get a bus home if necessary – assuming they were still running. In the event our daughter, who had travelled from London the day before, was able to come rescue us in my car.

And lockdown began. The reports from around the country made me thankful my little family had made it home where we could be together. I felt comforted that we had each other and lived in a rural location.

There were initial benefits. The roads emptied. The skies cleared of contrails. The weather stayed mostly fine. I own a bike and was able to enjoy long cycle rides along routes normally besieged by fast moving motor traffic. I ran regularly and built up my stamina to tackle lonely half marathons. We have long had our grocery shopping delivered and this continued, albeit with regular replacements of certain staple goods that caused more amusement than hardship. We were lucky.

The months dragged on. The lifting of the first lockdown was not a return to freedoms we had never before considered at risk. We ate out twice before deciding being treated as a biohazard spoiled the experience. I discovered that wearing a mask brought on panic attacks. I carry a lanyard announcing my exemption but being unable to read others’ expressions upsets me. The only place I felt welcome – until it was closed again – was the town gym I joined when my local facility introduced measures that made attendance unappealing.

I look back on how life has changed. With travel curtailed it feels as though we have gone back a century. It seems only the very wealthy leave their home environs – that they may still travel abroad with impunity. Meanwhile husband’s car is taken out only occasionally to ensure it still functions. We venture as far as leg power can take us.

I worry at the legal powers given to the police to ensure compliance. I wonder if these measures will be revoked when – if – we are allowed to roam free again. The latest pressures coming from on high revolve around the new vaccines. With threats of travel bans for the non compliant, and eternal mask wearing, I harbour a fear that last year’s trip to Cardiff may have been my last holiday, my last enjoyable visit to a restaurant.

The death toll has, of course, been high. On a personal level this plague brought forward the deaths of my elderly parents. What cannot yet be enumerated is the ongoing cost to the many who, for now, remain alive.

Jobs have been lost and others created – not necessarily in chosen specialisms. Fear has polarised opinion, at times dividing family and friends. Unable to get together as previously, mental health issues are exacerbated. With healthcare focusing on Covid, other potential illnesses – some of which will bring forward deaths – have gone untreated.

Husband works from home now, something he railed against at first, missing the office camaraderie. We get used to so much when choice is removed. We adapt as best we can.

I read of rats invading empty office spaces. I read of scams being run by those eager to profit from others’ fear. I hunker down and nurse the injuries my body suffers, probably from over exercise – my way of coping with anxiety induced by so many changes. I watch more TV now than I could ever have imagined – a way to fill a dark evening. As one who lived by the mantra of making the most of every day as it could be my last, this past year feels a waste of what is limited time alive.

Only hindsight will tell if the reaction to Covid has been as cataclysmic as it sometimes feels.

I wanted a memento of the year. To forget is to lose the chance to learn. I chose a book – no surprise there – and was also gifted a furry companion. My cuddly plague nurse, pictured below, never fails to make me smile.

My review of the book, Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, will be posted tomorrow. For now we continue this stymied existence through strange and concerning times.

Random Musings: On not wearing a face mask

Masks are now mandatory in many more places than previously, a ruling backed by legislation and enforced by fines. This is just a short post to request, once again, that people be kind to those who appear to be ignoring the requirement to cover their nose and mouth. Failure to comply may not be selfishness as some commentators are implying.

I read the following article this morning: Deafblind woman and sister verbally abused for lifting mask on train. The reaction reported added to my concerns about venturing into shops or using public transport. It is not the plague I fear but rather a public willing to loudly condemn those who do not act as they desire. It looks like bullying to me and can be just as damaging.

To be clear, I have no plans to put myself – masked or not – into enclosed public spaces. If I am considered a danger to others then I will keep away as much as I can. I do not wish to add to discomfort felt in these already difficult times.

I have my grocery slots for home deliveries booked and can manage a while longer without other purchases. Travel by bus or train will only occur in an emergency.

It is the potential for such an emergency that led to me adding a possible face covering to the grab bag I carry when out on my walks or bike rides. The thought of wearing it, however, fills me with a dread I find hard to define. I will keep my exemption card to hand but still fear its dismissal. I do, after all, mostly look and act fine.

It is not just wearing a mask that would be hard for me personally, it is the thought of encountering a mass of others with their faces covered, and being punished by them for not doing likewise.

 

As I have said before, the long term damage to health and wellbeing from this pandemic goes much further and deeper than the risk posed by a coronavirus.

Random Musings: Mask wearing and other plague related issues

A personal post today, giving voice to thoughts on which you are free to disagree.

Mask wearing is to become mandatory in the UK when inside a shop as well as on public transport. I read this news and suffered my first panic attack of the current lockdown. As may be expected, my anxiety levels have spiked since March. Finally this floored me, perhaps because the news came just as levels of isolation were being eased. Hope was offered that soon we would be able to move around freely again, and then it was taken away.

My Twitter feed filled with pictures of healthcare workers pointing out that they wear masks for long periods during their standard working day. ‘If I can, so can you’ appeared to be the mantra. My reaction was one of admiration (for the important job they do) and despondency (at my own deficiencies). And then the thought fluttered in that if I were to die it would bring relief. Such is the way my mind works when I am struggling. I quash such thinking, aware it is a reaction to panic that will eventually ease. I’ve been here before, although not under such widely polarising circumstances.

I claim no rational reasoning in my response to mask wearing, other than the message it sends that sections of society – perhaps stoked by a relentless media – have grown fearful in a way previously unimaginable. Fear is contagious, and always we are expected to conform quietly.

This latest ruling adds a further restriction that will be punishable by the police who, since the first lockdown rules were imposed, I encounter with trepidation. How will they interpret my rights? When I dared share this particular concern with others I was met with examples of those who, perhaps by dint of their skin colour, have long struggled to trust the police. I observed my feelings being invalidated – shut down and made shameful because others have it worse.

Do not voice dissent. Do not attempt debate. Stay alert to the words and behaviours that will see you condemned.

There is talk of a need to get the economy working again, of job losses and resultant hardship. I wonder how the numbers will stack up – if more will go into shops because masks are being worn or if, like me, people will stay away until we are freed from all recent constraints. Not entering a shop remains a choice.

Fewer customers may please supporters of mask wearing but will not help the retail trade. Businesses need clients and customers if they are to survive.

There will be exceptions written into the rules on mask wearing. Those with valid reasons will be exempt. This will not stop certain people judging and shaming.

‘Just wear a mask’ many are saying. I question the wider cost.

Please try to be kind, even to those who do not sing from your song sheet. All actions have consequences. Lives will be lost due to measures taken as well as from the virus.

A tribute to my parents (from the Belfast Telegraph)

Those who follow me on social media may be aware that my parents both died at the end of last month within a few days of each other. Soon after, I agreed to be interviewed by a journalist from the newspaper Mum read for many years – the Belfast Telegraph – as part of a series they are running paying tribute to local people whose deaths were attributed to Covid 19. I would like to thank Claire McNeilly for her respectful handling of this interview at a time when I was still processing what had happened. I reproduce below the article she wrote – in case it is taken down, as I wish to keep it. A link to the original on-line version may be found here.

(It did feel a little strange to discover we had made the front page of the print edition, pictured above)

 

Coronavirus: ‘Mum and dad were old but stayed home and didn’t go out… we never expected this to happen’

Daughter of Belfast couple who died within days of each other tells of her deep shock


Jackie Law on her wedding day with husband Rick and her parents Norman and Winnie Wilkinson

By Claire McNeilly

May 04 2020 09:30 PM

 

When Jackie Law visited her parents in January, she could not have imagined it would be the last time she would see them.

Norman Wilkinson (91) and his 92-year-old wife Winnie, who lived in the Four Winds area of Belfast, died within a few days of each other after contracting Covid-19.

Norman passed away on April 25 just hours after being admitted to hospital.

His wife of nearly 69 years clung to life for another five days but died last Thursday, April 30.

Both were cremated, with Winnie’s service taking place yesterday morning.

And heartbroken daughter Jackie (55), who lives in Wiltshire, was left to grieve at home.

“We couldn’t get over [to Belfast] because no one could travel so there was no funeral service as such,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“My dad was cremated on Thursday, while my mum’s cremation was yesterday morning.”

Mrs Law, a book reviewer, told how her older sister Elaine Stead (58), who lives in Belfast, broke the news about her dad’s death before she even knew that he had fallen ill.

“Obviously they were both quite old and they had underlying health issues but it all happened so quickly,” she said.

“They were in their house, they didn’t go out. We certainly didn’t expect this to happen.”


Norman and Winnie as a young couple

Jackie, who has three children – Robyn (23), Ben (21) and Patrick (19) – with her IT consultant husband Rick (57), said her elderly parents were respecting the lockdown restrictions and “had carers going in regularly”.

She also reflected on how the speed of their demise shocked both her and her siblings – Andrew (67), who is retired and lives in Australia with his wife Colleen, and mum-of-three Elaine, who has twin sons Gavin and Jonny (29) and a daughter Nikki (23), with husband Gary.

“They took ill suddenly at home; they became very, very sleepy,” she said.

“My sister went up the weekend before my dad died. She was very concerned.

“But, of course, with the lockdown you’re not allowed to spend time with people so it was the carers who were going in and looking after them.

“And once they realised dad wasn’t well, they called the ambulance.”

Jackie said that after the carers informed her sister “that my dad and my mum had been taken to hospital” Elaine contacted her as soon as possible to let her know what was happening.

“Dad went into hospital around 5pm on Saturday and he was dead three hours later so by the time my sister got in touch with me he had already passed away,” she said.

“She told me at that time that mum was also ill so from then onwards we were in touch regularly but there was nothing anybody could do.”

Jackie told how her parents came to be taken to hospital on the same day.

“My dad started having trouble breathing on Saturday April 25 – the day he died – and the ambulance was called,” she said.

“But after the paramedics examined dad they were concerned for mum as well so they both went in at that time.”

She added: “My dad lost consciousness in the ambulance and he died a few hours later, whereas my mum was in hospital for a few days and was being treated before she passed away.”


From right, Jackie and Rick with sons Ben and Patrick and daughter Robyn

Unfortunately, Jackie’s Belfast-based sister did not see their mother in hospital either because she was never well enough to receive visitors.

“Mum was unconscious for most of the time, even though she was in hospital getting treatment,” she said.

“My sister was talking to the doctors regularly over the telephone.

“Mum came round a couple of times but never enough to be coherent and never long enough for my sister to be called to go in and see her.”

Speaking to this newspaper just hours after her mother’s cremation, an emotional Jackie said she was “still in shock”.

“We’re in limbo; everything has sort of stopped,” she said.

“I don’t know how long the grieving process is going to take.

“With not being able to go over and not being able to hold any sort of memorial for them at this stage, it’s all a bit surreal.”

Jackie, who has lived in England since 1988, revealed that she used to write letters to her parents and she said it would be difficult not being able to continue that ritual.

“I used to write to my parents a lot,” she said.

“They didn’t have a computer; they weren’t comfortable with technology, so ever since I left Northern Ireland I’ve written them letters.”

She added: “When little things happen I’m still storing them in my head, thinking that ‘I must put that in a letter because mum will be interested’ and it’s strange to think that those letters will never get written now.”

At least, as she revealed, she still has a collection of all the letters they sent her.

“I’ve got a drawer of bits and pieces that they’ve sent me over the years,” she said.

Her last visit to Belfast in January with husband Rick will always remain a source of great comfort for Jackie.

“We spent mum’s birthday with her on January 26,” she said.

“We bought her flowers and helped celebrate with her. We all sat around and chatted as that was what she wanted to do.

“I’m just so glad we went over, given the lockdown and everything, it was probably very well timed.

“I would’ve felt terrible if I hadn’t seen them so recently.”

She also revealed how her children paid their grandparents a visit the month before, in December 2019, because “they knew they were going to be tied up with exams in January”.

When it comes to memories of her beloved mother, Jackie, a short story writer, said that she will always think about her green fingers.

“She loved her garden,” she said.

“When I think back to what she was like, I think about her in the garden.

“She loved to bring colours to her garden with flowers and she liked to keep it tidy.”

Jackie also told how her parents enjoyed their walks and she said that they “kept doing that even when they could only walk up the road and down again”.

“She loved to visit Botanic Gardens in Belfast,” she added.

“In their younger years, once my dad retired, they loved their holidays and they always spoke fondly of them.”

She added that her mum, who trained as a seamstress, “had to leave school at 14 but when she had her children she was able to work as a dressmaker from home”.

Jackie said her father worked for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service from “after he left school until he retired”.

Describing him as a “quiet man” she said he “enjoyed classical music, reading books and the theatre”, adding that he had a great fondness for chess.

“He played a lot of chess and he played the piano,” she said.

“The soundtrack to my childhood is my dad playing classical music on the piano.

“One thing I find… whenever I hear classical music I know the piece because I’ve heard my dad play it but I don’t know what it is. The house was always full of his music.”

Even in sadness, Jackie, who has been a stay-at-home mum since the birth of her first child, said her parents’ pride in their grandchildren will endure.

“They lived long lives and they took great pride in their six grandchildren,” she said.

“Mum was always talking about how pleased she was that they all got to university.

“She was one of nine children and most of them went to work in factories as soon as they left school.

“They’ve done more with their lives but that’s initially where they started out.”

Jackie added: “Mum was so proud that all six of her grandchildren got to university.”

 

Belfast Telegraph

 

 

Following the publication of this tribute I was approached by local television (UTV) and radio (The Nolan Show) requesting interviews. I chose to decline these invitations.