from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Unwinding your Life

September 20, 2021.

The old way of memories

Eighteen months ago, I had a grand plan that during the lockdown for Covid-19, I would sort out our cupboards of photographs, paperwork, unwanted artwork, clothes, books and bric-a-brac that we have accumulated over the years. This was the appropriate activity for a time when we would be confined to quarters – with no fixed end in sight. No more excuses. There loomed in my mind an image of a simpler life, à la elegant Marie Kondo  – she of the calm smile and few possessions.

Long ago, I read one of Marie’s slim books, ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. I loved the idea of working out what gives me ‘joy’ – who does not warm to this simple method? I progressed as far as folding jumpers (sweathers) her way and rolling scarves in the drawer so they could be viewed at a glance. However, when Marie Kondo mentioned that she kept only 30 or so ‘volumes’ (books) at one time and that she emptied out her bag every time she came home, I began to see that the way forward for me working with Marie was fraught with challenges.

The real challenge lay in photographs: I have boxes of papers and photos from my father, who lived to the age of 97. He and his family were keen photographers, and I have more than 20 black albums of his; boxes of colour slides and storage tubs of old super-8 cine reels. My father recorded his family’s life in Nyasaland from the late 1920s onwards, and kept going… I am one of the few remaining family members who know most of the names of the people in these photographs. (Although the stories behind many of the photographs are lost to me).

I have photographs from the First World War of my grandfather when he fought with South African forces against General von Lettow-Vorbeck (the ‘Lion of Africa’) in Germany East Africa. (Now Tanzania). I have photographs of my father travelling north through Africa to fight the Italians advancing through Somalia. My father was with his African askaris battalion (the KAR) recruited in Nyasaland.

Kings African Rifles Battalion from Nyasaland going north to fight in Somalia (against the Italians)

Let me come next to our more recent photographic enterprises, pre-digital. We have perhaps 30 to 40 albums filled with colour photographs: the early ones are fading. Few are digitised. If I go through these books, I will have to travel back in my life, review each page, consider each image, and cherry-pick a few samples. I could capture them with my smartphone, download them onto my computer, name and date them and sort them into various categories, transfer them onto memory sticks and deliver them to the four children. Should I throw away the albums? Do they still give me ‘joy’ or do I feel sad?

This is not an insignificant task, and at my age, you wonder if this is the best use of my time. That might be a selfish attitude. This would be a painful process – images of all that is passed: the friends and family that have died; your parents and happy times with them: all this must be re-visited; all this must be processed.

Is it not easier to ignore these piles of photos? Frankly, what is lost if I did that. The children are making their own memories. The grandchildren will do the same – and when they are grown and middle-aged, they will have their own problems. Why weigh them down with a load of photos? They would like a summary, of course. They would like a sprinkling of the images. If, when we are no longer here, they were faced with these boxes of albums, slides and negatives, it is highly likely that the family (like me) will store them for later decision making. If ever. Why do we burden our children with such a process? It’s not fair to them. These decisions are ours to make, difficult as they might be.

However, I am aware our generation sits in a unique position in regard to the record of our lives and our parents’ lives. Who else will be the record keeper of the previous generations?

Let’s look at how the young deal with photos and memories. Most youngsters use their phones for photographs which then might be posted on Facebook, Instagram and other messaging services. They sent emails and brief messages. Over the ensuing months, years and the acquisition of the latest smartphones, those photographs and personal emails are seldom edited and stored. Even if they are saved to the cloud, that is not failsafe. Are any printed out, stored or correctly filed? Unlikely. The transient nature of social media will be the death of memories and the history of families.

Thinking of memories, I am reminded of children that have lost their parents. During the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa, the University of Natal started a project whose aim was to preserve the memories, the family memories, of a dying generation. The concept was to create a small box (often shoebox size) within which any memorabilia relating to the dying parents could be put. Strange, we do not have the words to adequately describe this process. I remember being told how these boxes might contain a few pathetic items, a couple of photos, maybe a bracelet or a ring, a school book, a toy, a letter – a few things to which the child could attach a loving memory – a tenuous connection to the parent, lost too soon.

‘Memory books or boxes help children build an identity and strengthen emotional capacity, to understand the past and be less afraid of the future.’

Thankfully we are not in that situation. We have too much, not too little.

Anyway, today, I did not restart the challenge of photographs. That had been a mistake of process: Marie Kondo says, start with the more manageable categories.  So, I started emptying the drawers in an old filing cabinet I seldom open. However, I found that throwing away the letters, postcards, birthday and wedding cards was slow and emotionally challenging. I had to read each one: they transported me back to old friends and old times; to the person I once was; to the places where I once lived; to the journeys I took; to people I no longer connect with, to friends and family who have died. There were pages in diaries of my journeys: travel diaries written in a younger hand.

Before long, I stopped for tea, feeling older and sadder.

A positive and creative way to chronicle your life is to embark on a year of story writing through a program called Storyworth. The online program works as a relationship between the giver and the (target) writer. For $99 (US), you (the writer) will receive a weekly question. The questions can be designed by the giver or the writer (the author). Each week, the typed answer is submitted (can be with pictures) to Storyworth and saved. (These can be edited later). Gradually, a book of 52 chapters is built up, and at the end, your book is printed by Storyworth (more than one book can be ordered). Hey Presto! You have a story of your life – perhaps including the stories of your parents and grandparents: a gift for the next generation.

I have done this and ordered four books: it was much more entertaining than throwing out photos – and some of them found their way into my stories.

from Nike in Katerini, Greece: No Alarm Clocks …

Albin Hillert/WCC (World Council of Churches)

February 10, 2021.

No one needs an alarm clock in Greece. We have church bells. Every morning at 7:30 am sharp the bells toll for morning service. It’s a cheery burst of eight bouncy peals in bouts of ding, ding, dings. And ends in a burst of dings like a mother clapping her hands in her children’s bedrooms to wake them up and prepare them for the day, ‘Come on guys, up and at ‘em!’ The bells toll again at 8 o’clock, and again at 8:30 in case you missed the first two. At 5:30 pm the bells toll again to raise you from siesta slumber for vespers. You always know what time it is because there are churches, ranging from cathedrals to tiny chapels, everywhere to gladden our hearts.

It’s the sombre single peals in between which pierce them. Each time we hear the mournful tone like a long low groan we all wonder for whom the bell tolls. In our neighbourhood alone nine people have been lost to Covid. (Make that ten, another one died this morning) Beyond our neighbourhood, at the end of my street is a snazzy electrical goods store. It’s owner is a flirty silver fox. I mean, he was. He was taken too. As was the sister of the owner of one of the boutiques in which I shop. As was the real estate agent’s wife and the city’s top lawyer and, and, and. It’s the Grim Reaper. The average age of the victims is dropping. Here in Greece it started at around 78. It’s down to 62. Now, with the mutated strains, there’s a terrifying development. It’s striking children. For that reason, and because our case counts have been steadily rising, Greece just ended its third lockdown.

The pandemic is colour-coded. Red means lockdown. Here in the north we just exited red and have entered Orange. We are doing everything we can to stay out of the red. So, we wear two masks now. Doubling up does help. Also, there are psychological effects in a society like Greece’s of having no physical contact with anyone but your direct family. We’re not used to standing far apart, we’re not used to seeing someone and stepping back. We are all about being up close. In your face, but in the best way. I don’t remember the last time I was hugged, I don’t even remember the last time I’be shaken anyone’s hand. In a society where all people, women, men, other and children greet each other with the traditional double kiss and walk along arm in arm, not being permitted to touch is creating an atmosphere alien to the Hellenic way of life.

It’s been unseasonably warm. We are literally having the famed halcyon days. And they are glorious. It’s a divine feeling walking around in a light shirt in the middle of winter. But in a couple of days it will all be over. The Halcyon phenomenon has passed for this year. The forecast is a severe drop in temperature, to around -10, and snow. At least if we are housebound the pandemic doesn’t seem so bad. A positive can be made from this negative by keeping the home cosy.

So, I will shop this week for more groceries than usual just in case the streets become snowbound. Something will always be simmering on the stove. The home will always have the aroma of freshly baked bread, pies, cakes and cookies and I shall keep doing my 7 minute high intensity workouts to compensate. I find I’m watching television a lot more, and videos online. It’s my version of conversation. I watched the famous interview of Cormack McCarthy with Oprah on YouTube. In it McCarthy says he was never bothered by anything as long as he had food and shoes. He says you can get by without lots of things but without food and shoes you can’t do much.

We are all spending a lot more time in our slippers seeing as we are indoors most of the time so the shoes are not a problem. And I’ll just keep the food coming. I cook every day for my mother and her sister who lives on the fifth floor of our building. They love traditional Greek food as well as the old byzantine recipes. So today I’m making them Imam Bayeldi the sumptuous eggplant dish that was so delicious the imam for whom it was cooked fainted, either from the intense flavour or from the amount of olive oil it takes to cook it in. That’s what Imam Bayeldi means, the imam fainted. To go with it I made them one of their favourite comfort foods, Atzem Pilaf. It’s a divinely fragrant pilaf, cinnamon scented and studded with slivers of toasted almonds. April, they say. It will take until April to bring the situation under control. That’s what the modelling is telling the health experts. Until April we must remain on full alert and in some form of lockdown. Until April.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Another ‘Blursday’

Prof. Brenda Gourley

‘Blursday’, ‘covidiot’ and ‘doomscroll’ are in Times Magazine’s collection depicting the year ‘2020 in Language. I relate to these three particularly. In the UK we are now in the third strict lockdown in a year – but, given the risks for our age group, my husband and I have effectively been in strict lockdown since last March.

You will understand my recognition of ‘blursday’ as an excellent way of describing my life at the moment, a life where one day is so very like another that it is difficult to know which day of the week it is.   

You will pardon my exasperation at Covidiots who include the members of government here who thought letting people celebrate Christmas with their families a good idea. With family in America you can well imagine that ‘exasperation’ hardly covers my feelings towards an administration that largely ignored the Covid reality – and encouraged that same attitude in its millions of supporters. It is , however, no longer useful to merely describe them and the many millions of Americans who clearly think the same way as ‘idiots’. There are deep underlying issues here.

That brings me to ‘Doomscrolling’. Watching the news began to feel like ‘doomscrolling’ some time ago and we decided to limit the number of broadcasts we watch every day. There is just too much bad news out there. And then came the events at the Capitol in Washington last week. I was back to ‘doomscrolling’. I would think impeachment is the least of the consequences in store for Trump. We will see. One is not filled with confidence. And, given the number of his supporters and their deep and strongly held sense of grievance, Biden will have a difficult job restoring trust in the system. And it is not just the US system where trust has been eroded. The whole Brexit debate was fuelled by the many who no longer believed the establishment in power was working for them.

But exasperation, and doomscrolling and the blurred focus of the days do not cover the one overriding feeling I have at this time – and that is a sense of grief.

The grief is prompted by my concern for what young people make of all this, and what it all means for the lives of our children and grandchildren. It is not just the pandemic – although that has certainly highlighted many of the fault-lines in our society and I suspect that life will never be the same for many of us. It is that – but so much more. We are seeing almost in real time major geographic and political shifts which are already reformulating many of the premises on which so many of us in the West have built our relatively comfortable lives.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on many lives and yet we don’t see urgency in the kind of responses that such catastrophe should elicit. Governments that have been unable to come to grips with a pandemic do not fill us with confidence that they are equal to this larger and more threatening challenge. No wonder the Greta Thunbergs of the world feel they have to act. They do.

The changes wrought by technology and all that it has enabled have made the world better in so many ways with amazing innovations being announced all the time (not the least of which is the new vaccine). But it has also exposed a deep digital divide and made many jobs redundant. New kinds of jobs are being invented and yet education systems have been slow to change accordingly – and it is young people who are feeling the burden of this, their schooling interrupted and even cut short, they are to be thrust into a cruel and ridiculous ‘gig’ economy (if they find a job at all) and equipped only with the education of yesteryear. They are the future architects of a new world and the support they are given wholly inadequate.

The balance of world power from West to East, long foretold, is happening at a much greater pace than predicted and helped along by weak leadership in the West and the rise of populist cultures fed on the thin gruel of conspiracy theories, ‘alternative facts’, the importance of ‘celebrity’ and social media untethered by the laws of libel, incitement and hate speech. Some call this ‘the age of impunity’ where all sorts of behaviours including egregious human rights abuses are tolerated. Young, impressionable minds need to be strong to resist the siren calls.  It is hard.

It is true that from great upheavals there often comes great change. I do hope that the Black Lives Matter movement prompted by the death of George Floyd and others will take hold and fuel change. I am only cautiously optimistic. If those storming the Capitol last week had been black or Muslim I can’t help believing that the police response would have been a whole lot more violent. So we are not there yet. But I do believe there has been at least some change – but can young people rely on this?

The success of populist cultures has exposed the inadequacy of so-called ‘democratic’ systems of government and with the inequalities between rich and poor are more stark than ever before, no wonder there are so many angry people. Again too many people, young and older, do not have the opportunities to fulfil their potential. 

No young people are sheltered from these realities. Social media ensures that. No place for innocence now. My heart grieves.  

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Dusty and Dry and a Yellow-tailed Black cockatoo

January 8, 2021

Struggling eucalyptus tree-seedling

It’s been hot and dry and rain-less for weeks. Not ultra-hot – which is defined as a series of days over 40C but oscillating around 30 degrees C. The soil is hard and even if you dig a foot down, there is no moisture. We are watering daily: sprinklers and drippers in a series of timings around the house. When I go out, I fill six 2litre old milk bottles with water and take them in my car to water the smaller trees along our driveway.

Note the liklihood of rain: On Tuesday, 5% chance of less than 1 mm … so it goes.

We fill our bird baths twice a day for the bees that gather around the edges and for the birds that congregate early and late. No koalas have yet come down to drink in the daytime this summer.

La Niña is indeed bringing cooler weather and rain, but not to us in South Australia. It is raining almost everywhere else. The map of Australia is no longer filled with emergency red coloured areas of desperation. Drought remains only in isolated unlucky spots.

The presence of La Niña increases the chance of widespread flooding. Of the 18 La Niña events since 1900 (including multi-year events ) 12 have resulted in floodsfor some parts of Australia, with the east coast experiencing twice as many severe floods during La Niña years than El Niño years. Typically, some areas of northern Australia will experience flooding during La Niña because of the increase in tropical cyclone numbers. The relationship between La Niña strength and rainfall is closely linked.’

Sadly, this rainfall is not reaching us, but at least we have not had the fiercest of summers, nor a winter without rain. However, we are all very conscious of water availability and usage. Metered water is not cheap in Adelaide.

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo (male has the pink around the eye)

All evening, a single yellow-tailed black cockatoo has been flying around our house and the valley calling and wailing. It sounds desperate. These cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are monogamous and mate for life. For sure this cockatoo had lost its mate. We often see flocks of them in summer. They are most elegant flyers with a taste for the nuts inside the cones of radiata pines. In the past, fishermen used to shoot these magnificent birds to get the grubs from their gizzards – grubs that the birds had extracted from eucalypts. Our bird cried mournfully. I hope the mate has not met some misadventure.

A Painting of the Outback

Yesterday, I went to the cinema to see a film called ‘The Dry’ based on the eponymous book by Jane Harper. It is a murder mystery set during drought times in a small town in the desolate wheatlands of NW Victoria –  the Mallee Wimmera. For anyone who has no concept of how drought affects Australian farming communities, watch this film and you will get an idea of this country of extreme weather.

There is no problem with going to the cinema at the moment. We all checked in at the cinema entrance with our phones against the QR code reader, we sanitised our hands and we were allocated seats according to some social distancing formula.  No one was wearing a mask.

This all might change. This long weekend, greater Brisbane is in total lockdown. 2 million people. It’s all because one worker, a cleaner in a medi-hotel, contracted the new UK strain of the virus from a quarantined UK traveller. During the time before the cleaner become ill and was tested, she wandered around and they say up to 800 people might have been in contact. So, everyone is holding thumbs.

How can we seal our borders to this virulent mutated virus (501 and 117)? We are told sad stories of Australian families desperate to return home. Yet already we are in catchup with the virus escaping in NSW from an international traveller and the same happened in South Australia 2 months ago.

Today PM, Scott Morrison announced measures that they hope will reduce the odds of this happening. Masks on international and domestic flights are now mandatory (that does not seem to be much help for an 8-12 hr flight). Flight numbers will be reduced; testing pre- and post-flight are required. Pre-boarding rapid tests will be required for UK travellers to Australia. Surely this will make it harder for the virus to find its way in.
Once more, I am not hopeful!

From David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Time Divides

Boris Johnson in his days as Mayor of London

January 5, 2021. At first it was a calculation of infection scores. My son and his wife and four-month-old baby had found a loophole in the Tier 4 regulations and driven up to spend Christmas with us. As the year ended, it seemed prudent to delay the return to London.

In Shropshire, in common with other counties on the western fringe of England, the infection rate is still relatively low. In the last week of 2020 it stood at 150 per hundred thousand, half the national average. In Waltham Forest, my son’s borough in East London, the rate was six times higher at 913. Safer to stay here, with the clean winds blowing in from the Welsh hills.

Then two further developments. A neighbour rings. A couple in a house at the bottom of our lane are in hospital with Covid. Both are in the middle years of life, but are seriously unwell, one is receiving oxygen. On the other side of the lane, a woman whose land abuts our garden is also stricken, though still at home. That’s three cases in twenty nearby villagers, the equivalent of 15,000 per 100,000. So much for aggregate statistics.

Later in the day, Boris Johnson is back on our television. There is to be a complete lockdown in England and the vulnerable must once more shield themselves. No one should travel except for limited and necessary purposes. No end date is given. My granddaughter and her parents who came for a fortnight will be here until Spring.

Thus time divides. At one level, it crawls to a standstill. It has always been difficult to detect the diurnal pulse in January and February, and now there will be nothing to separate one day from the next, one week from another. In sympathy with the state’s prohibitions, even the weather is at a halt, the thermometer travelling between minus and plus two from a late dawn to an early dusk. In my post-employment life I have no deadlines to structure my labours; even zoom-world seems asleep. There is no timetable to manage or anticipate. My wife and I are in the fourth category of vaccination. To reach us by mid-February according to Johnson’s vague ‘given a fair wind’ strategy, 13.2 million procedures will have to be carried out at a rate of two million a week. History, it has to be said, offers no comfort.

At another level time is changing almost minute by minute. When she finally goes home, our granddaughter will have spent around half her life with us. We visited and were visited by our other London-based grandchildren and took immense interest and pleasure in their company, but such encounters amounted to little more than snapshots of their growth. Not since our own children were born have we had a ringside view of the minute but fundamental developments that continually take place. And on this occasion we don’t have to deal with nappies or lose acres of unrecoverable sleep.

So for instance I watch her hands, waving about almost uncontrollably when she arrived, now increasingly precise instruments for manipulating objects. Toys, which on Christmas day were beyond her reach and comprehension, are now being incorporated into her daily activities.

Keep her safe, keep us all safe, and the next months are going to be nothing but a drama.

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Level 3 Lockdown

December 29.

author: Louis van der Merwe. PhD, Strategy process consultant and executive educator

An emotional President Ramaphosa last night announced a return to level three lockdown to combat the second wave Covid-19 currently raging uncontrolled through SA. Hotspots isolate cities and specific communities while super-spreader events, mainly teen music-driven rage events, act as incubators and catalysts for infection of families and communities by returning teens. A further surge is expected when holiday-makers return to their city and town communities. A general disregard of mask-wearing other than to gain entry after which masks are discarded. Other safety measures such as sanitisation and self-distancing have with a few exceptions fallen by the wayside.

President Ramaphosa announced last night that we had passed the 1 million confirmed Coronavirus cases.

“Nearly 27,000 South African are known to have died from Covid-19. The number of new coronavirus infection is climbing at an unprecedented rate. More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.” He announced. The Covid-19 variant called 501.V2 appears to be spreading faster than the first wave of infections. Excessive alcohol consumption is driving up the trauma cases, including a spike in gender-based violence, in hospitals, putting an unnecessary strain on the already stretched public health facilities. During the month of December 4,630 public sector health employees contracted COVID19 bringing the total number infected since the start of the pandemic to 41,000.

Pitiful cries for help from doctors in the front line. They cry out; “Our hospitals are FULL, No oxygen points. Private hospitals are full. No beds anywhere. And we have not yet reached the peak. Unless we act now and act decisively the number of new infections will far exceed the number of infections in the first wave and thousands more will lose their lives.”

The National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to put the country into Level 3 from Level 1 with immediate effect. Several of the level 3 regulations have been strengthened while trying at the same time to keep the economy open.

  • All indoor and outdoor gatherings are prohibited except for funerals and other limited exceptions such as restaurants, museums, gyms and casinos
  • Funerals no more than 50 people with social distancing
  • Every business premises must determine maximum number of staff and customers permitted at any one time
  • Nationwide curfew extended from 09:00 pm to 06;00 am
  • Non-essential establishments must close at 08:00 pm

In an open letter to President Ramaphosa, Prof Thuli Madonsela reminds him and his cabinet that “People’s resistance to colonial and apartheid laws has taught her that when a law is unjust, violating it is not only justified but legitimate-it is exalted as heroic.” She goes on to state that any regulations must withstand the test of social justice and reasonableness, both protected in our constitution. Public policies must not only pass the test of reasonableness in a court of law but also in the court of public opinion. She warns that more people will push back against perceived excesses since parliament has been missing in action during the pandemic.

Food parcels are delivered randomly in a process tainted by corruption. As the ANC loses its moral authority as a result of duplicity, factional friction and lack of unity its ability to lead and demand compliance also declines. Modern government is built on the rule of law, accountability and capability. The leadership of President Nelson Mandela provided a  glimpse these foundations, not to be seen again since those heady days and the promise of a rainbow nation. President Ramaphosa must feel like the captain of a ship in stormy waters where the helm has become disconnected from the rudder, as the ship of state drifts inexorably towards menacing, submerged rocks.

The best he can do is light a candle at midnight and pray for the best outcome. May God bless him and his cabinet.

From John in Brighton: Only Turkeys vote for Christmas relaxation

21 December

My Christmas plans are hardly affected by the announcement forty eight hours ago. After much mulling (no wine involved) I’d decided a walk was on but indoor contact better avoided.  In fact I’d pretty much concluded that a month ago before the recent surge in cases. And what is more I felt back then that the Government policy of five days relaxation was both illogical and dangerous. And it was compounded by BJ refusing to change tack until the last minute and talking with a forked tongue exhorting extreme caution and having a “jolly careful Christmas”. For one day of relaxation we’d need five of further lockdown was the previous message. To my mind that’s facile and I’d like to know the evidence base seeing as we “follow the science” (except when it doesn’t suit). I visualise a spiky haired BJ negotiating with spiky coated virus for a bit of yuletide leniency but with about as little success as the Brexit talks. That’s not the viral modus operandi – leave a window just slightly ajar and it’ll be in, thank you very much. Would you leave the door unlocked with a mass murderer on the prowl? The banality could be demonstrated by an analogy – I really want to get from A to B quicker over Christmas so Boris could we please add 10mph to all speed limits for five days? Only if it keeps the people happy, boosts the economy and shuts up 70 of his restless back-benchers so I can’t see that happening. Call me cynical if you like but I think one new mutation has enabled another – in his policy. With the flaws exposed he’s offered a  “get out of jail free” card as this could be blamed as the trigger for the change. Yes it’s true that numbers have escalated but they were still high before with the R only just below 1. And for all the talk of following the science he ignored SAGE advice at the end of November advising that relaxation could lead to a surge in cases and a third lockdown. Perhaps another 5:1 ratio might help and tho’ I say it myself I think my science trumps Boris’.  Supposing the payback for a lockdown Christmas was surviving to see at least another five in the years to come then I’d go with those odds. 

As inferred in previous blogs my personal view has always been that the priority should have been control of the virus. First and foremost this protected the NHS and minimised death rates.  Restrictions needed to be tougher and sustained until there was a definite decline and / or vaccination became available. Business and economy, eat out to help out and relaxation could follow as and when. After all the second world war lasted over five years and we eventually recovered to the golden age of the 60’s. But BJ is a libertarian and is seeking public adulation and endearment so he prioritises the popular policies. Counter-intuitively in the cold light of day he may actually have lost a lot of public backing as people realise we have the worst outcomes for both health and economy compared to most other countries.

Maybe I am in a position to see things differently to most people. I’ve been shielding and very cautious since the outbreak started so will be minimally affected by tighter restrictions. Secondly I spent nearly forty years confronting so-called NHS “winter pressures” when the beds run out, difficult and potentially risky decisions are needed and staff burn out. Historically the NHS is at its busiest in January and February which is when a post-Christmas surge would hit – Covid will exacerbate this perennial problem. Instead of just clapping we should institute policies that genuinely minimise extra workload and risk. Churches can stay open even in Tier 4 but containing viral spread should not be sacrificed on the altar of a day or two of fun and festivity.
Then add to that the Government pledge to address the huge backlog of just under 4.5 million people awaiting hospital treatment including a 123 times increase in those waiting for over a year. The greater the Covid numbers the less will be the capacity to do that. And of course our yuletide saviour alias the vaccination programme is going to need significant input from NHS staff. The ultimate tragic irony would be if that was stalled as all hands were needed to care for Covid cases.

Yes every individual has a responsibility to act in both their own and society’s best interests by adopting all the safety measures. Despite reports of breechers I believe that the vast majority do and perhaps an undercurrent of fear of infection is more helpful than threats of fines. But equally important are the government setting appropriate rules that are proportionate, logical, clear and consistent and strictly adhering themselves. I’m not convinced that has always been the case.

I have no doubt that many will disagree with me and will see me as some miserable old Grinch….but nevertheless I could live with that. I certainly don’t want to catch the virus…I could die with that. Only a right turkey would take unnecessary risk however appealing in the short term.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Let’s Dance…

December 13.

My friend, Ingrid, lives in a retirement village outside Durban, South Africa. a few months ago, she had had enough of doing do very little so she and a few friends decided to put a video together with some help from a couple of techno-capable younsters with a drone. They persuade many residents to leave their lonely units and started teaching them a dance routine.  They would meet on certain days in different locations/villages. She said it was wonderful seeing the reaction from many who had never met their neighbours before or had not left their units for months due to their strict lockdown regulations.  Hence all of the scenes were in the open air with the participants wearing masks.

So, there are little ways to change the world and make it a better place during these difficult days! Enjoy!

From David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Panels

Consider these panels.

I have just painted them. Together with more than fifty other panels in several rooms in my house.

They stand for virtue postponed. It is a decade or so since last I carried out interior decoration on any scale. After the beginning of the first lockdown their neglect has been a continuing reproach. The pandemic, if ever, is the time to set about such a task. But the months have passed without activity, only partly excused by the need to attend to the garden as spring gave way to summer and what has been a long-flowering autumn. Finally, as Christmas approaches, I have run out of excuses not to clear the rooms, buy supplies of sail white emulsion and assemble my collection of brushes and rollers.

They stand for absorbed attention. All of us locked in our houses have been seeking occupations that will take our minds away from looming dangers and postponed pleasures. Hobbies and handicrafts have been embraced not so much for the outcome as for the distraction of their practice. One of the consequences of living in one end of a cruck-framed medieval house is that routine maintenance demands serious concentration. Over time, the oak moves fractionally one way with variations in heat and moisture, and the plaster in another. Minor cracks open up which have to be meticulously repaired (hence the pollyfilla delivery in my last entry) and then the edges of each panel have to be slowly painted, keeping clean the surrounding oak beams. There is no particular skill, just great care and patience as the brush is drawn down the edge of the plaster. The hours pass, amounting to almost a week for our bedroom alone and its thirty-odd rectangles. Radio 4 reminds me how often its programmes are repeated.

They stand for the domestic climate-heating disaster. The exterior panels consist of a single layer of brick, plastered on either side. Heat passes readily through them. Only some new panels in the gable wall are filled with a modern take on an ancient practice – chopped French hemp, a light, warm equivalent of wattle and daub. Most of the current housing stock is of course better constructed, but almost none of it has been designed to be carbon neutral any more than it was in the fifteenth century. Johnson’s new green strategy will fall at this hurdle. It is just too late and too expensive seriously to reduce the energy footprint of every residence from the latest Barratt estate box to the remnants of much older domestic accommodation.

And they stand for hope deferred. I set out on the task in order somehow to increase the prospect of a family Christmas. What, after all, is the point of such an effort if it is only to be enjoyed by the two of us? But as I put back the furniture and tidy away my paints, the lockdown rules for the festive season are announced. It would be possible for my children and grandchildren to join the Gadarene rush out of London two days before Christmas and back three days later, but the balance of risk is against travel, whatever the regulations. Rates of infection and death show scant sign of declining. School ends too late, the parents cannot fully self-isolate. Our age-group is just as vulnerable as it was, and with the vaccines coming in the New Year, there seems no case for letting our guard drop.

All that can be said is that on Christmas Day we shall have clean walls looking down on our quiet pleasures.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Oops! Sorry, it wasn’t a pizza box!

Our Premier, Steven Marshall looking for explanations

November 22. Well that was a mistake. Our severe lockdown lasted a mere three days. It was announced on Wednesday and by Friday there was a major backtrack.

This weekend the newspapers are full of analysis, recriminations and quite a lot of finger-pointing. What went wrong?

On Monday, our creative writing group had returned from the Flinders Ranges to hear about the ominous virus ooutbreak in our northern suburbs called the ‘Parafield’ cluster. It all seem to be under control until Wednesday when with little notice we were put into severe lockdown.

We were told that this was definitely a more virulent strain of the virus. The only hope for our state was to shutdown at short notice. There was a sense of panic in the community: hour long queues developed outside supermarkets. There was a flurry of emails cancelling appointments, weddings, funerals, travel plans; closing clubs, restaurants etc … think ALL activity outside your home. Borders were closed and incoming flights diverted.

Only one person from each household was to be allowed out once a day to shop. Dogs were not allowed to be exercised.However, people were quite innovative. I noticed walkers with backpacks on the way to shops, sometimes with a large dog in tow which they tied up outside. (For the first time I wore a mask to the supermarket. I found it mildly unpleasant.)

Then on Friday the news came out that the lockdown was unnecessary. There had been a mistake. What went wrong? I suppose we are all in a learning curve and the state government and medical authorities are as well.

Authorities believed that the virus was being transferred into the community on pizza boxes! It seems silly to say this now. But do you remember all that discussion months ago about how the virus could survive on different surfaces?

Contact tracers had interviewed an infected man who said that he had bought a pizza and from a pizza take-away business where another infected person was working. That’s how he had caught the infection. Our authorities jumped to the conclusion that this young man had been infected by merely handling a takeaway pizza. If this was true, then all the people who had collected pizzas during this period needed to be quarantined. Authorities went into overdrive contacting everyone who had been to that pizza parlour. Over 4,000 people were put into quarantine. (I wonder if they all bought pizzas – if so that was one very popular pizza restaurant!)

However, after checking they found out that this individual had lied. He was in fact working shifts at the pizza parlour and had been infected by a colleague working there. Apparently, this makes all the difference. No infected pizza boxes. No hundreds of customers potentially infected.

Our premier Steven Marshall reacted quickly. On Friday he announced the error and declared that on Saturday night the severe lockdown would end. People were allowed out to exercise and take their dogs out walking once more. We are still under restrictions but bearable. We ourselves are going out to lunch at friends shortly – 10 people are allowed to gather. We will be only 8. Outings next week are back on the calendar.

Now people are looking for someone to blame. Why did the authorities not double check when the concept of pizza box transmission seemed a little unlikely?

Why did the young teenager lie? Was he in fact paid cash over-the-counter? That’s avoiding tax. Was he a temporary resident? Perhaps a student struggling? Whatever the story, the poor youngster is in trouble. Apparently, he is being interviewed by the police but it appears there is no real sanction for lie telling. Even the current US president gets away with it daily – on a mighty scale. Why shouldn’t the teenager occasionally protect himself? And perhaps he was frightened and did not realise the enormity of his lie.

Either way, our state has had a shock, emotionally and financially, but we are on the better side of the event: no rampant community transmission.

And most critical, we have no Donald Trump look-alike spinning nonsense to undermine our democracy.