From Brenda in Hove: A Walk in the Park – and the new “Rule of Six”

12 September

I went for a walk in the park today. I haven’t ventured there very often in the last two months and I was fascinated to see the differences since early July. They were quite dramatic.

The whole park was a buzz of cheerful activity. All the things that had been halted when we went into lock-down were back in full swing. The children’s playground was full of happy youngsters doing their thing. The tennis courts were full (I do like the royal blue courts are painted nowadays). The café was open (although only one person at a time can make an order) and, while are no longer tables inside, there are more outside (all occupied). Football markings were back on the grass and there was one kids’ game in full swing (with shouting parents on the side) and further on, there were about 50 children, in groups, getting soccer training. The climbing wall was full and the basketball court had lots of people playing. There were numerous people walking on the paths, alone, in twos and threes, and no ducking off the path to maintain distance.

There were some things that one didn’t see much before. Firstly, there were a lots of people having picnics – in groups ranging from eight and upwards. Secondly, there was a large children’s party with decorations hanging in the trees and around the tables. Thirdly, there were at least four traders setting up shop along the road abutting the park: a large van with several tables in the park selling farm produce, a van selling coffee (big queue there),  a pizza van (who knew?) and an ice cream van (not new but doing a cracking trade). And finally, there was a book club meeting.

I didn’t see one single mask (fair enough, you might say because we were all outside) – but I also saw little evidence of ‘social distancing’ in any of the activities I have described.

Most of this is about to come to an abrupt end. The government has just announced new rules for England. They come into effect the day after tomorrow – and they limit gatherings to six people both indoors and outdoors, and apply to all ages. There are some exemptions such as gatherings for work – whatever that means. A new report this morning quotes a police union as saying that the public must not treat this weekend as a “party” before the rules apply. The fines for disregarding the rules are quite steep – £100 for first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £3200.  

This all means that the number of cases in the last couple of weeks has been steadily rising and there are several local outbreaks necessitating localised lock downs. It is also a reaction to the fact that the R number has been raised to between 1 and 1.2 for the first time since March. The signs of a second wave, long expected, are there. Clearly strict measures are appropriate.

Which puts me in mind of one unusual thing that happened on my walk: a child of no more than 6 years old with his younger sister in tow has lost his father and as I walked past him was shouting “Daddy, f……. hell, where are you?” I looked at him. He looked at me. “F …….hell”, he said. Little did he know he had come to the right place for support. I couldn’t agree more.              

From Brenda in Hove: It’s a small world

29 August

My son, Ian, in South Africa was attending a virtual conference recently and one of the speakers was Shaun Tomson. For those of you who weren’t paying attention to surfing competitions, Shaun was the World Surfing Champion in 1977 and since then has received many accolades. He is regarded as one of the 16 greatest surfers of all time (Surfing, 2004) and is listed as one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century. (Surfer, 1999) He was also one of my students at the university in Durban where I was teaching at that time. He was, and still is, a legend.

Ian sent him a note saying how much he had enjoyed his presentation and signed it off as ‘Ian, from Durban’. Much to his surprise, Shaun responded – and then they spoke on the phone for nearly two hours and found they have many shared passions, including school education. Shaun spends a lot of his time talking in schools, not only where he lives in California but also in Durban, where he grew up, and elsewhere in South Africa. As they talked, Shaun was amazed to hear that I was Ian’s mother and remembers going to my lectures, sometimes right off the beach and still in a damp wet-suit.

The surf was very good along the coast of Natal where we lived and lots of students (including my sons) were keen surfers. I remember going to beach once with my children and group of hunky, glamorous surfers called out to me “hello, Mrs Gourley” – and , as I waved back, I realised my children were looking at me with an awe I was not usually accorded.

Anyway, Shaun got in touch with me to say hello – and send me a link to one of his talks: https://bit.ly/3akAgbx:). He has written a book called The Code – The Power of ‘I will’, an inspirational book that tells of how he developed a personal code for living – and hopes to persuade all young people to do the same. I hastened to read the book. When it was published in 2013, one of the reviewers, Steven Hawk (former Editor of Surfer Magazine) wrote “ although The Code sells itself as a self-help book for teens, it is a much richer mix than that. It’s part memoir, part surf rap, part homage. Above all, it’s a gut-punching journey of emotional resurrection. Shaun Tomson confronts the darkest tragedy – the death of his own son – with grace, intelligence, and a historic kind of hopefulness. The lessons herein penetrate in unexpected ways.”

I am part of a Commonwealth of Learning mentoring programme and I immediately realized that this was a book and a message to be shared with not just the young people I mentor but all the people in the programme. I told Shaun about the programme and I didn’t even have to ask.  He promptly offered to give one of his talks, pro bono, to all the people on the programme, mentors and mentees alike.  

I still can’t believe the timing and coincidence in us coming together. I had been giving a lot of thought as to how to inject more focus into the mentoring journey. All the young people I mentor (and this must go for millions more) are finding life very difficult with this Covid menace. It is taking its toll wherever you are in the world and whatever your circumstance – and mentoring takes on a different complexion.  The advice and inspiration and motivation that Shaun shares so selflessly has never been more needed.

Another reviewer emphasises this and I think is worth quoting: “ The world today is very much like a wave: it’s shifting and changing virtually every second. Like surfers, we are defined by the decisions we make in this dynamic environment. Shaun draws on a life of learning, both on waves and off, and offers some sage advice for drawing the best line through life.” Jim Moriarty, CEO “Surfrider Foundation”, 2013

From Brenda in Hove: Goodbye Persona

9 August

I had occasion to check myself into an Accident and Emergency department recently. It was a sobering eight hour experience.

Once one gets through the Covid screening – and you haven’t got an axe in your head (so to speak) – there is a quick triage exercise: blood pressure, blood sample, urine sample and a list of questions.  A male nurse asks me how much pain I was suffering, on a 10 point scale with 10 being child birth. Naturally I answered “one or two” and thus sealed my fate.     

The department was really busy. Part of their problem is that doctors are only giving telephone appointments and if they can’t fix a problem are recommending the patient to Accident and Emergency, a department already over-burdened without the now standard Covid arrangements being added to its load.

The waiting area was adjacent to the area where paramedics bring in those needing attention. Even though I wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been rather desperate, I felt my problem diminishing with every arrival.  

The first thing one notices is how calm and focused the staff are – and how kind. It was truly impressive. And they have to demonstrate such perseverance. One man was being questioned right next to me. “Do you know where you are?” (Not really) “Do you know what day of the week it is?” (Not really). “Are you married?” (Yes) “Do you know the date you got married?” “C’mon, mate, your missus will be really cross if you don’t remember that one!” It turned out he had had a fall at work and been brought in by someone he works with. He was carted off somewhere.

The system is also impressive in the way it orders you through the various possibilities. It would normally take you weeks to get examined by three different specialists, get a scan, and a lab test – and there it takes hours (somewhat spread out, but nevertheless).

The second thing one noticed is how stoic the patients seemed to be. I wouldn’t know if this is generally true but the ones around me were. One elderly woman with a face covered in blood after a fall insisted that she really didn’t need to be there and had been brought in under protest. She found herself on a trolley fairly smartly. Stoic they may be, but they are also so vulnerable – probably a lasting condition for some of them.     

Behind a curtain somewhere a woman with a posh accent was saying “Stop that. Don’t do that. Leave me alone.” I was told later she has dementia. A significant proportion of Accident and Emergency patients have dementia, I am told. Imagine their disorientation magnified by all these people in masks. Jesus wept.  

You have to suspend any sense of normality in these situations and you have to also abandon your persona and identity at the door. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to strip and don a robe with an opening at the back! You might be the CEO of your company, mate, but lying on a trolley clinging to the back of your robe and flat on your back, you are nobody in particular! You are in no position whatsoever to call the shots. You are definitely not in charge here. Nobody (apart from the immediate staff) even ‘see’ you. We naturally avert our eyes from people at their most vulnerable lest we invade their privacy but perhaps that also makes them feel invisible and even more disoriented than they already are?  A lonely business.

Eight hours might seem a very long time but I was not complaining and I went home much chastened.        

From Brenda in Hove: It’s only a matter of time

27 July

Our valiant cleaner phoned the other morning to ask me to open the door to the building for her. “Oh!” I said, “I thought you were coming on Wednesday.” There was a slight pause. “It is Wednesday,” she said.

Losing track of time is supposed to be something that indicates how engaged or happy you are doing whatever it is you are doing but in my case I rather think it’s because I am beginning to lose the plot! It’s all become a bit of a blur, one day very much like another and none of them particularly memorable.

I realise that virtually all my life until March this year, time was something to be checked and measured. I was in good company. After all, as Simon Garfield reminds us in his book Timekeepers,  “time is the most precious thing we have.” His book is about “our attempts to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it , and make it meaningful. ” And here I am, wishing it away.

 I recently read a couple of books by Alexandra Fuller and she describes growing up on a series of farms in Zambia and other African countries. You can well imagine that time on a farm revolves around seasons (one of the books is called “Leaving before the Rains Come”) and time, for a lot of people at least, revolves around the planting and harvesting of crops – as, indeed, it used to be long ago in much of the world, and still is. It wasn’t necessary to synchronize clocks in the UK, for example, until people started using trains to get to work etc. Greenwich Mean Time was introduced – and all that. School holidays to this day in the UK are timed to coincide with the harvesting of crops. Fuller describes the first thing that she noticed about the United States (to where she emigrated) was the attitude to time. “They believed time belonged to an individual. “Don’t waste my time,“ they said.”  She realized that on the farm they didn’t bother trying to “hoard what could not be safeguarded, restrained, and stored.”   

I am afraid I cannot change everything about my attitude to time. In March I finally gave up on paid employment – and then lockdown happened. That was a double whammy for me. I was so used to being busy and focussed on completing one task or another that I have found the last few months very trying. The worst part is that I know I could be “busy” reading great tomes that I have neglected until now, doing virtual tours of all the important museums, listening to opera and other concerts online – but a curious ennui overtook me. I am ‘waiting’ – and waiting is not something I am good at, that is for long periods of time. Added to that is the knowledge that waiting, in this case at least, is a futile pursuit anyway. I am far away from getting a vaccine. My bucket list looks increasingly fanciful and I am extremely limited in the places I can visit. Two holidays have been cancelled so far and I have no taste under present circumstances to embark on train or air travel.  There is a limit to William Davies’ warning about “a life where there is no time to stand and stare”. I need to make another plan.    

And I have: another job – and the bonus is it is a job worth doing.

From Brenda in Hove: The Rich get Richer, the Poor get Poorer

19 July

Twice a year the ‘wealth management’ firm that looks after our modest savings usually invite their small clients to London for a talk on how it sees the markets and what position it is taking on various sectors. This is accompanied by a extravagant lunch and a choice of afternoon activities: tickets to a play or private tour of an historic building. It is meant to convey that all is well with our little world as long as we stay in their hands. This year such an occasion was clearly not possible so we were invited to a Zoom meeting.

I settled down, filled with apprehension, expecting to hear that our savings had plummeted and we were not in as good shape as we had hoped for our retirement. I listened in sheer astonishment at the smooth, assuring and assured presentation telling us all that we were doing rather well, actually. Really?

The quarterly news letters continued along similar lines. Take this extract: “The possibility of a second wave in America has shaken US markets, which have had an astonishing quarter. The S&P 500 gained significant traction between the end of March and the start of June, posting the greatest 50-day rally in the history of the index.1 The Federal Reserve has played a key role in boosting US markets, and the gradual recovery of cyclical stocks since May suggests that investors are adopting an increasingly ‘risk-on’ approach as lockdown measures are progressively eased. Oil has made a swift recovery over the quarter after the price of a barrel turned negative for a brief period in April: prices are currently their highest since early March.2   

The contrast between markets and economies, however, is striking. Unemployment in the United States remains at a historical high, and the GDP of the world’s advanced economies is expected to tumble by over 6% this year, surpassing the fallout from the global financial crisis.3 Global output has been badly damaged; world trade fell by 12.1% in April, by far the largest drop ever recorded.4 While the optimism in global markets is encouraging, the risk of permanent scarring on the global economy should not be overlooked.” Really?

https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/record-stock-rally-big-companies-edge-coronavirus-pandemic-jim-cramer-2020-6-1029284194

You can guess that wealth management institutions stick to the big companies – especially with people our age who have a low risk profile.

I asked for a private meeting with the person who manages our small portfolio in early March when it was clear there was stormy weather ahead. I was told by this very assured young man that our portfolios were very well placed for what was unfolding. I said that was some kind of minor miracle. The biggest collapse in economic fortunes for many, many decades – and we just happened to have the ideal portfolios! He stuck to his guns and sent me the latest quarterly report and the company news letters to back him up. And events so far have proved him right. I am under no illusion that this state of affairs will continue but in the meantime, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It was ever thus.  

I can see no defense at all for not increasing taxes for the rich. It seems not just a practical necessity in these difficult times, but a moral imperative.

From Brenda in Hove: It’s Part of my curriculum

the Toulouse-blue crepe van

11 July. I have been feeling a bit poorly for a few weeks and haven’t been out much. Truth be told, life felt somewhat joyless. Covid and attendant restrictions are getting to me. Today I felt a bit better and went to the park to find out if my legs still worked (they did). I trod my usual paths and looked out for anything different since I was last there. Same old thing: lots of men with very shaggy beards; lots of men who haven’t heard of clippers; lots of women with weird hairdos who clearly haven’t made it onto the appointment lists; boisterous teenagers being the only people who at least don’t seem as subdued as the rest of us but behaving rather recklessly nonetheless. No joy there.

I noticed that there are now well trodden, clearly discernible paths alongside the main paved paths around the park – made by people like me trying to keep an acceptable distance from the people on the paths – lots of them. I read somewhere (The Observer, 14 June) that these are called “desire paths” (can you believe it?) – paths trodden by people who are usually intent on a shortcuts but are now intent on keeping to social distancing measures. It struck me how furtive and suspicious we all seem now – avoiding each other as if our lives depended on it (and they may). If an alien landed from another planet, it would think we were a very unsociable species. And that is before we don our masks. No joy there either.

The children’s play area was open. Now there is a joyful thing! I love children and I love watching children play. They have been kept away from the playground for so many months that they were relishing being back. Children walking with their parents on the path and spotting the playground just took off, faster than they have ever run before. Amusing. And joyful.

And then I caught sight of a dear little Toulouse-blue van advertising French crepes (gluten free, by some miracle). I felt genuine joy! I love crepes and haven’t had a single one since I went on a gluten free (dreary) diet. The brand name was “Oui!” I leapt to it – even though I had to go back to the apartment for my card. It was delicious. It reminded me of what I already knew: joy can be found in small things. It doesn’t do to be too ambitious.

I read a book some time ago called The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams in conversation with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. There was much to be learnt from it. One story stuck with me and comes to mind as I try to come to terms with a life after Covid (challenged as I am by my advanced age). The author’s father had fallen down some stairs and suffered a traumatic brain injury – with no guarantees that he would ever return to his former self. As it happens, he did, eventually. When one of his sons said that he was sorry he had had this terrible experience, the father replied, “Oh no, not at all. It’s all part of my curriculum.” (page 157)    

I think it is very much like this with Covid. We have to learn to find joy in new ways. It’s part of our curricula.     

From Brenda in Hove: Another Thing for the Chop!

4 July

I saw a poster recently to the effect that the rush on toilet paper a few months ago wasn’t a patch on 25 million women trying to get a haircut this week when hairdressers opened. I wasn’t desperate but I was on the hairdresser’s list and he emailed me some time ago asking if I wanted an appointment – in the manner of bestowing a favour. I did.

What a performance! Before you cross the threshold your temperature is taken – after being asked to lift your hair from your forehead (fair enough). Through his spectacles, the visor and over the mask the man is not sure what he is seeing. I sympathize. I assure him I do not have a temperature. He takes it again to be sure (so far, so good). Nobody is allowed in without a face mask and at the door I am asked to put on surgical gloves and a plastic gown. All these had arrived from China only the day before (I would have thought the UK could extend itself to manufacturing such simple gear).

The staff are wearing face masks as well as plastic visors and surgical gloves. If I didn’t already know them, I would never be in a position to recognize them again. I have been going to the same place for years and get on very well with the owners. We usually have spirited conversations about politics – although we vote very differently. This time I don’t have on my hearing aids (they quarrel with my mask) and he is incapacitated by all the gear he has on. It is uncomfortable for him and he is still getting used to the whole thing. Very little conversation. He did manage to say he didn’t think much of Joe Biden. What did I think? “He is not Donald Trump,” I say. “He will do.” “Oh!” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.” My heart sinks (for  reasons unrelated to him)  – and so does the conversation. Too difficult through all the masks and whatnot. It is a pity. I used to enjoy our conversations.

The whole salon has had to be reconfigured to accommodate the distancing measures. Much carpentry, electricals, plumbing and paint work. Expensive – and done before the government changed its mind about the distance to be observed (from two metres down to one metre). Really.

Colour applied, hair washed (holding face mask over my mouth and nose), much desired cut done. He makes a remark about the cuts my husband has done. “He won’t get a job here.”  “He neither trained for it, applied for it or wants it,” I say (the cut was rather good in the circumstances I thought). He was amused. Before I paid, my contact details had to be recorded for tracing purposes (yeh, right!).

I  realise that face masks make human interaction minimal – only doing what need be to get the transaction done. Quite apart from not being able to recognise each, no smiles, no frowns, no facial expression at all registered. It completely changes the small pleasures that social interactions provide in the normal course of events. The hairdressing salon was one of those places where people chatted – with the person cutting their hair, with the people in other chairs, people waiting, people providing tea and magazines (the latter two a thing of the past). It wasn’t high society but it was pleasant. That is no more. Sad.

My hair can go grey again, my husband can cut it in future and I can get used to both very easily. One more thing I really don’t need.  

From John in Brighton: Even a Haircut’s a Dilemma

28 June

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” wrote LP Hartley. In “normal times” I’d muster up a bit of small talk and visit the barber every six to eight weeks. My last haircut was 28 February and on a personal level I recall it as the weekend of visiting Bletchley Park and you may remember it as a very rare occasion – Liverpool lost (to Watford in case you’re interested). That weekend was very chilly and now we’re in a heatwave which means an expanding thatch is the last thing you want. Human hair grows about half an inch in a month and my couple of inches is clearly apparent. In fact if I were blonde then I could be mistaken for BJ…..from the eyebrows upwards; yes, it really is that bad. 
Which begs a question – if all the barbers and hairdressers have been closed, presumably furloughed and thus banned from any work then how come so many of the politicians and footballers look like they had a haircut just last week? And Pritti Patel living up to her homophone with not a hair out of place. Are they all that skilled with the DIY clippers or married to frustrated tonsorial wizards? In the absence of Wimbledon we could perhaps ask a past master of the shaggy barnet and headband what he thinks.  “You cannot be serious!”. Credit where it’s due though –  this could be a dictum that Dominic Cummings hasn’t breached – either thro’ lack of need or his impaired vision giving false reassurance. 
But the good news is that relief is on the horizon and for this year only July 4 has been called UK Independence Day and amongst the “freedom package” on that day will be reopening of the hair salons. But another question occurs to me is the rather illogical way in which aspects of the lockdown have been relaxed. Why have we had to wait so long especially as dentists resumed action in early June.  The hairdresser mostly stands behind you or at the side unlike a dentist peering directly into the potentially virus-ridden oral cavity. And if hairdressers are opening then why not nail bars or massage parlours (not that I’m rushing to patronise either)? But there’s a silver lining to most things and it’s back to the weather – not the heatwave but I’ve watched with a blend of amusement and fascination as to how weatherman Tomas Schaffenaker looks as his bouffant evolves. 
I’ve just watched Marr interview Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, and what a breath of fresh air after listening to politicians because he clearly knows what he is talking about and is definitive in what needs to happen. Based on the timing of relaxation he predicts a second wave of infection starting late June  / early July and if we don’t act swiftly and proactively then this could get worse as the winter progresses. This of course coincides with the multitude of winter viruses and ubiquitous coughs and colds which may be difficult to differentiate in the early stages of infection. Three key things he advocates are that we trust the Government (the track record doesn’t inspire confidence – my words not his), availability and reliability of testing and protecting the vulnerable especially the elderly and BAME. He stresses that particular caution is needed indoors and especially when mixing with a lot of people. So that  underscores my dilemma – I really feel the need for a haircut….. but despite the relaxation of lockdown and initial tentative casting aside of our shields old habits die hard and rightly so in the light of Sir Jeremy’s comments. Anxt and alertness underlie my every move and decision despite the false sense of security engendered by some government policies and observing public behaviour. We children of the 60’s can vouch for a haircut being non-essential as I wistfully recall Beatlemania and Woodstock. Enclosed space, high rate of throughput, close contact with the hairdresser – is that a risk worth taking? Prima facie it seemed like an easy decision, now I’m not so sure. Like it or not for the foreseeable future our every action, previously taken for granted, needs a risk assessment both to ourselves but also to society in general.

From Brenda in Hove: Grit your Teeth and Carry On!

The Challenge for the NHS

26 June

Spare a thought for the millions of people who have had various treatments and operations suspended or postponed for as long as it takes to bring this Covid virus under some sort of control. And another thought for all those people with symptoms who are not getting tested.  I had a taste this week of what it is like to not be able to see a doctor about a health issue I was struggling with.  

Unlike pre-Covid days, I simply could not get through to anybody – except Emergency Services and I couldn’t in all conscience bring myself to phone them. On our practice website the first telephone-only appointment you could book was a couple of days ahead with a doctor you had never heard of . Waiting for even a couple of days was unthinkable. Lucky for me I have a daughter-in-law who is an Accident and Emergency consultant and she prescribed the antibiotic. Enormous relief – and then the antibiotic didn’t work. That meant I would need further tests before the right antibiotic could be found. After trying (many times, over two days, and increasingly desperate) each of the phone numbers listed for the practice, including the ones that were described for other purposes, I finally got through to somebody and managed to get a nurse to agree to do the test. It came back negative and the secretary told me to go away and finish the course I was on. I refused to budge until I saw the nurse. I had to wait, of course, but when I finally saw her she was terrific – and phoned a doctor herself and described my problem and she prescribed another antibiotic. All this took four days and lots and lots of paracetamol.

Several things were noticeable. You are not allowed into the medical practice building without an appointment (good luck to you). Even if you had an appointment you were required to wait in the carpark if the doctor or nurse was not yet ready for you (not great for elderly or frail people). You were definitely on no account to even think about going inside if you had any covid symptoms (fair enough). I was asked on the phone, on the intercom and by the receptionist, if I had symptoms. I hope everyone knows what all the symptoms are because the list gets longer every day. You are required to wear a mask (fair enough). With a mask on my face and a Perspex screen between the receptionist and myself, I had to repeat myself several times (too bad). The building seems deserted but there are obviously people lurking somewhere – although the voicemail had informed me most people were working from home (fine for some). The waiting room had all of the chairs bar three stacked up and facing the wall and no magazines (I was tired of reading about the Titanic anyway). The whole experience was very alienating and uncomfortable. Eerie. But credit where credit is due: there was a good outcome.

The list of doctors with whom one could make an appointment (they were not the practice doctors) seemed to have surnames from everywhere in the world. Somebody needs to tell all these Brexiteers. Where would the health services be without them? All appointments have to be made online and there are precious few fifteen minute slots for a medical practice that boasts 10,500 people. This cannot be much fun for the doctors and it certainly is difficult for the patients. Physical examinations are clearly out of the question. Where do we begin? Temperatures? Even the nurse who saw me couldn’t stick to the 2 metre rule and take my temperature. Blood pressure? No chance.

There have been several articles in the papers about the fact that doctors are worried about the backlog of cases building up and the many people whose health is almost certainly being compromised. It is all very well saying that most of the population must resume their normal activities (and I agree that this is necessary and reasonable) but for health workers it seems to me that nothing will return to normal for a very long time.

I found the past week and its relatively minor travails very chastening. I have been railing at the humdrum nature of my new life but just take away good health and the humdrum becomes something much to be coveted.

I am also conscious of the fact that my situation was relatively minor and my heart goes out to all those (some of whom I know personally) who endure serious conditions and painful symptoms – while they wait for our heroic nurses and doctors to be able to attend to them. Nothing normal about that either.       

Guest Post from Jonathan Merrett in Sallèles d’Aude, France: three activities …

In February I had three activities lined up:

our house was already rented out for six weeks over the summer holidays, and we expected the gaps would be filled in;

I had six weddings booked over the same period (I officiate at weddings at a local chateau); and

I was due to go and inspect schools in Nepal for a week in May.

By the end of March, the Nepal trip had been cancelled and so had the house bookings. As I write this, one wedding has moved to October, one has cancelled, and the remainder are waiting to see what happens.

Looking at the house bookings, since the French government has loosened the travel restrictions, we have had a number of French families and groups book the house (about five weeks’ worth currently). This reflects the government’s move to encourage French families to take holidays within the country. They have not gone as far as the Polish government, for instance, which has given out financial incentives to people to holiday in their home country, but the message in France has been to encourage people to stay within the country and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities here for rest and relaxation. With beaches now open and restaurants and bars being able to serve food and drink (with a one metre distancing rule and clear instructions about table service) the local tourist industry can operate, partially, and hopefully survive.

The wedding situation is much less clear as all of the couples and their families are UK-based. Will borders be open or not for what might be classed as non-essential travel? The bizarre introduction of a 14-day quarantine by the UK government has made things even more complicated – families don’t know whether to book their travel or not and don’t know whether they will have to fulfil quarantine rules or not on their return home. I say bizarre as so many of the rules in the UK at present seem to be not rules as we know them but sort of ‘indicators to follow if you feel like it’ – thank goodness most people are sensible and follow the rules and resist driving to Barnard Castle.

Over the past nine years I have travelled to southern Africa, South America, Nepal and various bits of Europe inspecting international examination centres for Cambridge Assessment. What will be the future of international exams now, or even exams in general, now we have had a summer without them? Students have graduated and will pass on to universities (though what are they going to look like in September?) without having sat or passed exams – perhaps this already suspect way of assessing students will change?

And what about international air travel? When will we feel safe to travel inside that oversized sardine tin again, breathing each other’s air for hours at a time? Will countries that have reduced the effects of Covid welcome guests from countries where it is still rampant (the UK, for example) and will we want to visit countries where the virus is still active in the population?

All three of the above are income streams which the virus has affected. None is our sole income, all are significant; but what of the future?