From John in Brighton: My Brave New World

26 May

The World will never be the same again after corona. We must all have hopes for potential benefits that could result from this dreadful pandemic – community spirit, working from home, less pollution …. On a personal level I may emerge a bit more wired – currently in both senses but hopefully just the techno will persist. In a Q&A a few weeks back actor Michael Frayn described the iPhone as “surely one of the greatest peaks of human achievement”. Praise indeed! I’ve never owned one so I cannot confirm or refute his view. Indeed I’ve always had a slight resistance to technology compounded when I read of its addictive potential, cyber crime, concern over data privacy (maybe the denouement of Brexit would have been different if Smartphones didn’t exist) and reports that counter-intuitively the World of the techno age is in some ways more disconnected than ever. And my let-out clause was age, technology is a young person’s game – but Frayn is 86. In fact above all I think I still hanker for the halcyon days of writing a letter, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Instamatic cameras and the trusty old red phone box or if it’s urgent sending a telegram. What do you get from the Queen nowadays when you clock up your century? An e-mail maybe, yuck!
Last week when out on a cycle I read a bit of graffiti  –  “Open Your Mind” and someone had added “But Not So Far That Your Brain Falls Out”. The vision, reminiscent of Monty Python,  amused me which is perhaps a bit of a worry but I’ll put it down to the current circumstances and pressures. Anyway my mind is ajar and my techno pendulum is swinging.  I marvel at how technology is increasingly entering the medical world. AI is beginning to read MRI brain scans and Moorfields Eye Hospital is using it to detect some retinal conditions. Mind-blowing. Antibiotic resistance is becoming a real worry and a  Harvard team have recently used AI to create a new antibiotic named Halicin which is effective against some highly resistant E coli bacteria. Apparently AI is currently pursuing anti-Covid drugs and perhaps they could turn their attention to a corona vaccine if the Oxford prototype is unsuccessful. I’m sure there will be an abundance of further developments. A little over 200 years ago the Luddites’ concern was that machines would threaten jobs so perhaps that’s my new counter argument – dole queues of highly trained docs. But Kenan Malik has blown that one making the case that machines will never (can you ever say never?) offer the ethical and humane aspect of care when their key skill is pattern recognition.
But returning to what is commonly called general-purpose technology and a more personal level last Friday there were a couple of baby steps on my road to Damascus. An hour and a half on Zoom connected to siblings as far afield as Brisbane and with crystal clear images and audio – thro’ gritted teeth I have to acknowledge that as extraordinary, unthinkable even a decade ago. Then in the afternoon online bridge – and as good as if we were physically in the same room. ….which we all but could be I am advised by the fellow players. All I need to do is buy a Smartphone and load WhatsApp – what’s not to like? And there’s my problem – it’s getting easier to maintain lock-down especially with BJ’s relaxation and Dominic Cumming’s amendments than it is to live without a Smartphone. I lack DC’s ability to create fairy tales and fibs and so……
I haven’t quite crossed the Rubicon yet but as I metaphorically trudge across Gaul I’ve got Italy in my sights. If I were a gambling man I’d anticipate being a fully fledged techno proselyte before we emerge from the black clouds of corona. Maybe even the darkest nimbostratus has a silver lining or will I be doubling down on my hankering? …

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: pickled eggs

May 19.  Last week the invaluable Office for National Statistics published a survey of gardens in the UK.  The headline news was that one in eight homes lacked a garden, another measure of the wide-ranging inequality of experience in this crisis.

It is possible, however, to take a glass half-full, or seven-eighths-full, view of this finding.  It seems to me astonishing that on this over-crowded island, so long after the invention of high-rise living, the great majority of people in Britain want to live in property with a fenced fragment of nature attached to it, and are able to do so.  For the locked-in elderly the proportion of those with access to private outdoor space is even higher at 92%.

The size of the patch of land is not really the point.  Obviously, half an acre is a luxury to be enjoyed if it can be afforded.  But each of my children, living in their first houses in London, take immense pleasure in the small rectangles of grass and surrounding borders beyond their back doors.  The two that have young offspring have room for a sandpit, a paddling pool on hot days, a portable wigwam to play in.  It’s been kind of rite of passage for them to start acquiring the horticultural knowledge and skills that they saw their parents possess and practice when they were themselves growing up.

Possession and use of a garden are matters of private choice.  It is a measure of the relative transience of the coronavirus pandemic is that we have not been instructed to ‘dig for victory’ as was the case in the Second World War (although today Prince Charles has launched a ‘pick for victory’ campaign to help the commercial fruit growers).  Despite occasional gloomy forecasts, we have not been told to grow our own food to survive.  In the First World War the pressures of urban slums were relieved by the provision of over half a million allotments following the Smallholdings and Allotment Act of 1908, which required local authorities to purchase or lease land upon which their communities could grow flowers and food.

Gardening is a necessary pleasure.  As we begin to reduce the lockdown, garden centres have been amongst the first to be allowed to re-open, albeit with appropriate distancing measures.  That much of their retail space is out of doors makes them a safer proposition than, say, clothing shops, but the queues that immediately formed once the relaxation was announced were testament to the pent-up demand.  As I noted in a previous entry, the fact that in the northern hemisphere the pandemic has coincided with Spring not Autumn has helped to make the crisis bearable, but it has also created a lively market for plants, fertilizer and other sundries.

As with any recreation, gardening also performs the function of providing substitute dramas and anxieties, to distract from the larger problems.  Last week the major misfortune in my life was not some coronavirus-related event, but a sharp May frost which decimated fifty cosmos plants that I had grown in my greenhouse and just planted out in the garden.  Then there is the mole which has started digging up a lately sown patch of grass.  In a Zoom session with my home-schooling seven-year old granddaughter, I asked her to research humane remedies for moles.  She came back later in the day with information that putting pickled eggs down their holes should keep them at bay.

But where, in the midst of a lock-down, am I going to obtain pickled eggs?

https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/oneineightbritishhouseholdshasnogarden/2020-05-14

from Shannon in Florida, USA: life seems relatively normal …

April 28. I must say given how crazy the things have been and how cumbersome (putting it mildly) all restrictions have been for most people around the world, my life seems relatively normal. 

I am lucky to be working as a consultant, which means working from home is not new or far fetched. Yes, you are in meetings starting at 8 and ending around 18, and you are lucky if you can close your computer and enjoy dinner before 20, but still this is better than most. Usually for work I am traveling Monday – Thursday to be on client site,  which means I don’t get to spend as much time with family, or pets, but now things are different. My schedule has adapted, and I am not complaining in the slightest. I get to take my pets on a long walk on the morning and the evening, see my mom and dad, and workout from home. I don’t have to think about missing a flight, or what I am ordering for room service because I can’t be bothered to leave the hotel after a long day at work.

I am in Florida where people seem to care more about their tan, beer, and “freedom” than anyone else, which may play a part. Beaches are open, people have quarantine parties, and everyone seems to think this is all just a big vacation. I would normally be frustrated that peoples ignorance will just prolong the situation, but I would just be in a bad mood all day if I thought that way. SO instead of being upset that my travels are cancelled, that my boyfriend is on the other side of the world, and that people seem to not care about anyone but themselves I am choosing to see positives. 

I am spending more time with my parents than I have since I was about 8, I get to walk outside on an empty golf course with two extremely happy dogs, the sun is shining, I have a job, and I know eventually things will go back to normal. 

from Rajan in Mumbai, India: apple chapati for my mother-in-law

apple chapati

Apple Chapati. My mother in law is 91 years old. She has stayed with me since 2010. After my daughter got married recently only two(oldies) of us are at home. She did not move out of the house except twice. Once when I moved to another city for a job and once when my daughter got married. Otherwise she is confined to her room. Past ten years she is following a fixed time table: have morning tea and breakfast, then read newspapers/books/magazine, followed by lunch, again read, have a nap, have evening coffee & snacks followed by dinner and then sleep. She manages on her own except taking bath on her own.

She is very much missing newspapers due to lockdown. The only question she asks is when this lockdown will get over. Even though she is almost in a quarantine situation since  more than 9 years as she can’t really move out, even then she is living her life as per her wish. Whoever comes to meet me, she meets and greets them enthusiastically, shares some stories with them and laugh with them. I am astonished and surprised over her approach towards life, her attitude with which she is living. Not complaining about getting bored. On the other hand I recieved many telephone calls from young and adults including some teachers that they are getting bored because of Lockdown. There is so much to learn from these kinds of old people. At least I am learning something.

She is very fond of eating tasty Indian food, especially sweets. Every alternate day we give her some sweets to eat. But yesterday there was no sweet at home. I was thinking what to do. Suddenly  I saw an apple lying in the fruit bowl, inviting me to eat it. An idea came to my mind – to use it to make Apple Chapati out of it and I made it. She liked it.

I used an apple, sugar, cardamom, ghee( butter), whole wheat flour, very little salt and milk. First I made a dough out of wheat flour, milk and a pinch of salt then made a filling(paste like) out of ghee, apple, sugar by heating it till you get a paste. Then follow the procedure as we follow to make a stuffed paratha. You may try one. Taste depends on the skills. I am sharing a picture of the final product with you.

My experiment was successful!

from Steph in London, UK: a shrinking world …

April 24 I haven’t worn a watch since we went into splendid isolation. I’m not sure why I decided not to wear one but I suppose as I don’t have to be anywhere it doesn’t really matter what time it is.

I am reminded of a book – Station 11 by Emily St John Mendel. A fictional account of a world pandemic – will re-read it to see if it’s still as good and what with Bill Gates Ted talk in 2015, we may have an insight into our future …

 Everybody’s world is shrinking so much and that’s the thing that is so frustrating. So the irritation stakes are getting higher … immediately the thought of home schooling my boys whilst holding down a job kicks me out of it. I’m reminded of when I was doing an MA. I worked full time, had 3 teenagers and was a single mother. Assignment time was a nightmare and often I’d work til 4 or 5 in the morning trying to get it all done.

I must remind son number 2 of his comments then—- “Mum, you’re a lousy role model working all night to get your essays done” wonder what he thinks now as he juggles his job and 2 teenagers , who would be quite happy being glued to their devices til the end of lockdown…

Rumours abound about the over 70 being kept in lockdown for the foreseeable future– that’s the end of the House of Lords then- in one swoop …the House of Commons being left for the boys (and too few girls)

Getting exercised about being locked down, semi-locked down or isolated for the foreseeable future. Does it come from an underlying cynicism about the government’s ability to sensibly sort this out, get testing both before and after the norm or just being news weary?

 The complexities of getting the economy up and running must have a quid pro quo element – will Boris be his usual gung-ho self or be more circumspect when deciding what to do when? Will the economists and scientists be able to reach a compromise?

In our new reality world, we took delivery of 3 tons of top soil for the garden, which caused so much excitement … I’d better go and put it into the raised beds.

And my daughter-in-law hits 50 this week. A House Party instead of a real party and real celebrations when we can. We sent a video of us washing our hands to Happy Birthday to you!

From Susan D. in Ottawa, Canada: Aging in place

a piece of Paris

22 April

 Snow still

The wind is howling and the snow is descending in gusts and blowing from the rooftops. Perhaps this wild April inclemency has been sent not from cruelty but rather from compassion, to divert us, to ensure a topic for conversation, to make us happy to huddle together in the warmth of our homes.

Ontario modelling

The grim modelling released earlier in the month was replaced on Monday by new data indicating that Ontario has appeared to have peaked ahead of the forecasts. The earlier projections had called for 1,600 deaths by April 30, and 80,000 cases. On Monday, there were 11,184 confirmed cases, 802 people in hospital and 584 reported deaths. Hospital resources have not been overwhelmed. People without COVID-19 related symptoms have even been urged by the hospitals to “visit us”, and not stay at home until they are desperately ill.

Nonetheless, we older souls must heed the advice of the Ontario Premier: “Until a vaccine is found, the best way to protect those over the age of 70 and those with complex medical conditions is to ask them to self-isolate at home.” And that will be for some time as experts constantly reiterate.

Our old age home

We remind ourselves daily how fortunate we are to have our lovely spacious home in which to self-isolate. When we returned to Canada in 2010, we were both very unhappy about leaving Paris and found it very difficult to appreciate either Ottawa or the house we had kept for our almost 20 year absence. We needed a new adventure. When the house across the street came up for sale we launched ourselves – me with a little trepidation, Drew with none – into a project that would consume us for three years, to create a house that would allow us to age in place.

The renovation saga that followed is banal: the foundation was rotten, there was fire damage on the first floor ceiling that compromised the entire four-floor staircase, there was asbestos in the attic along with some water damage, and on and on, mostly unidentified in the inspection. We engaged an excellent architect, and I researched universal design to make sure we chose items like door handles that are easy for arthritic hands, a shower accessible to a wheel chair. But we failed in our choice of a contractor who bolted for Portugal before the work was fully completed, another banal renovation experience. Our neighbour and former friend sued us to keep land he had encroached upon. We won the legal battle, but it was extremely unpleasant and detracted for some time from the pleasure of being in our new home.

We had very few bits of furniture from our years of living in tiny Paris apartments when we moved in. Furnishing the house to overcome the extreme minimalist effect took us some time, and all the while the architect who wanted to put his work in the annual Ottawa award ceremony was nipping at our heels. When he finally decided that our furnishing efforts would not disgrace his design and that he could Photoshop the limited landscaping efforts, he submitted his work on “A Piece of Paris” (his submission photo above). To our amazement he won the awards for both best renovation and best kitchen and one of the little plexiglass awards now sits in a bookcase along with a couple of folded up newspaper articles.

It has been only recently that we have felt truly happy and pleasantly comfortable in our old-age-home-to-be, having found our own favourite places in it and having space for our family when they come to stay. Our enforced isolation, which is unlikely to end for some time yet, has proved a very good test of the design. We could not have known how soon we would need it.