from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: the time has come …

7 November, 2021.

… to take a break.

We started this blog in March 2020 with the bold plan to record stories from connected friends and colleagues across the world. There was hope that we would all find the strength to adapt to Covid-19. There was a certain sense of excitement: a challenge, something that would cause our communities to work together to survive. Our diary was an ambitious plan to chronicle the events of our far-flung lives during Covid-19. We were energised; we were going to be proactive.  

However, I don’t think any of us imagined that the pandemic would last as long as it has, nor that it would change the world in the ways that it has. The numbers are staggering – between 10.5 and 19.7 million people have died. The story of Covid-19 will take years to process.

Here below are the November 2021 numbers of people who have died: on the left are the official statistics, on the right the excess deaths calculated by the Economist using a statistical model. It is more likely to be the true story of the devastation of Covid-19.

November 2021. Twenty months later. Slowly, our writers have stopped writing for this blog: for many reasons. As any writer will tell you, it is hard keeping up the energy and enthusiasm month after month. The pandemic has been exhausting. We all hoped for more out of life; our world has been squeezed shut. Being of an age, we did not have the sense of having a wealth of years left in which to travel, to feel free, to have options. Health issues are getting more stark for all of us. (For example, I asked a provider if I could get travel insurance that covered the possibility of getting Covid-19 while overseas. I found out that some insurance providers will comply – but at a price, and the cover is limited. Can I travel to the USA without Covid-19 cover? Not advisable.)

https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/our-services/resources/choice-travel-insurance-guide-covid-19

Recently, there were two of us still submitting entries to this blog: David Maughan-Brown and me. Gradually we have become more and more intermittent. For me, it is becoming harder to write. Do we want to spend our hours staring at a computer screen?

However, there are reasons to celebrate. The original team of writers have all survived Covid-19. Maybe we are coming to the beginning of the end of the pandemic. We are getting on with the minutiae of our private lives. My USA friends are visiting Greece, and our Australian borders have started the process of opening. Already our local skies have contrails: dissolving white lines across the blue.

The devastating effects of Covid-19 are known to all of us. The onslaught of news might be one of the reasons for our exhaustion.

In what ways has Covid-19 had a positive influence on our lives and the broader world? At first, I struggled to find any good news, but there is some.

  • A great value has been placed on medical research and innovation.
  • We have become closer to friends and family.
  • We are encouraged to be more aware of our health challenges: we appreciate good health. We have enjoyed meals at home more often, and we have tried to be more careful with our food choices.
  • More social services are available: many countries have rolled our financial support during Covid-19.
  • Working from home became a new normal for many people and will influence work routines of the future.
  • Online events posted by museums and art institutions became available.
  • The environment has had a breather. Emissions are down; biodiversity improved in many places as tourists were grounded.
  • Online learning techniques were improved: the classroom was digitised.
  • Where possible, we have exercised more!

So it’s goodbye!

Thank you to all who have taken part: the writers for their commitment to write and the readers who have taken the time to be with us. Take care of yourselves.

As Lewis Carroll said, so well, the time comes … but remember to avoid suspicious invitations!

O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,

      You’ve had a pleasant run!

Shall we be trotting home again?’      

But answer came there none —

From David Maughan Brown in York: “V Day”

December 9th                                                                                                                                  

‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’, as Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock might say, chortling in his joy.  Never was there such a glorious day.  VE Day, and VJ Day both marked a triumph, but the V in both of those had to be qualified by the E and J respectively, and the British triumph had, however grudgingly in retrospect, to be shared with allies.  Now V Day stands tall, sovereign and unqualified on top of the world – finally, an unquestionable world-beater.  People say the V stands for Vaccination, but we know that that is just natural British deference and that V stands, as ever, for Victory.  Britannia rules the air-waves (and the print media.)  We were the first to run the four-minute mile; now we have proved ourselves the fastest in the world to approve a vaccine developed in another country, and produced in a different other country, and to inject it into the arm of a 90-year-old British citizen.  During an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, Matt Hancock, our more or less grown-up looking Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, was moved to tears in his excitement at this unwonted triumph.  But then being in the presence of Piers Morgan must, in itself, be enough to reduce many a fully grown-up man to tears. 

The unlikely 90 year-old celebrity who was the heroic recipient of the first approved vaccination, and whose photograph has appeared on the front pages of most UK newspapers, was one Margaret Keenan whose not particularly distinguished biography is now known to everyone in UK who reads the front pages of newspapers.  Demonstrating that, in true Christmas spirit, it is almost as good to give as to receive, the nurse who administered the epoch-making vaccination, May Parsons, is allowed her share of the glory by appearing in many of the photographs at the very moment of the impact of that first needle on that first flesh.   Only almost as good to give, though, as the file photograph of May in the act shows her uniform-clad left thigh and buttock looming very large, but her face not featuring at all.  

In the photographs and news-clips Margaret Keenan looks somewhat bemused by all the fuss, as well she might, (insofar, that is, as one can tell how anyone looks behind a face-mask.)   But so, for that matter, does the wide-eyed penguin on her Christmas jumper, who is breaking hospital rules by not wearing a mask. Given her new-found and obviously wholly unexpected celebrity status, the look of bemusement may have had something to do with wondering how she should respond when the invitations to “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here” and “Strictly Come Dancing” start rolling in.  From what one can see of her above the mask, she looks unlikely to relish the idea of eating tropical creepy-crawlies, so those invitations should be relatively easy to turn down, but she could hardly be worse dancing-wise than Ann Widdicombe, so she might have been taking the idea of Strictly somewhat more seriously.

The media missed a trick in their coverage of the very first triumphal vaccination, as the very second person in the entire world to receive the vaccination was a certain Mr William Shakespeare who hails from Warwick.   If Newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun can persuade a gullible British public to believe that Brexit heralds a glorious future in which a ‘sovereign’ UK will ‘prosper mightily’, in the imperishable words of our esteemed Prime Minister, they could surely have made an equally persuasive claim that V Day was so unique and glorious a day in our history that the Bard had felt compelled to rise from the dead to share it with us.  Instead, they had to make do with photographs of Margaret Keenan being wheeled out of the hospital along a  corridor lined with a guard of honour of clapping hospital staff, as though she had just survived 70 days in intensive care on a respirator rather than having had to endure a needle being stuck in her arm by a nurse in exactly the same way as she will have had a needle stuck in her arm at least once every year for the past ninety years.    I couldn’t help feeling that the 40 thousand volunteers who had come forward to be injected with the vaccine before it was shown to be safe were more deserving of the clapping.

When a media campaign is so obviously being carefully orchestrated to hype-up the good news, long experience has taught me to wonder precisely what it is that the hype is designed to distract our attention from.  In this instance I suspect we are being inoculated with the good news as insurance against the likelihood that our portly superman of a Prime Minister, who has flown to Brussels to the rescue of a Brexit deal that will allow him both to have his cake and eat it, will come back empty-handed and hungry.   Nobody but the sovereignty-fetishist loons on his back benches will regard that as good news, so Margaret Keenan’s vaccination will have to do.