from Shannon in Seattle: A vet visit

Beezle is a daschund. He needs to visit the vet this week so we signed up for an appointment.

We received a text reminder to text from outside and be prepared to check in at the door. Owners cannot come in with the pet. They take credit card at dropoff to limit contacts.

The vet will zoom or phone when s/he is examining your pet.

Beezle hates this idea. He wants to leave now.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Waiting for the Second Wave – and a journey North.

The Australian. August 14.

August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections.  On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.

The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.

Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.

From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.

Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.

Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.

In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.

Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.

Western side of the ancient Flinders Ranges

We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.

I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.

https://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs/case-studies/sa/witchelina#:~:text=At%20just%20over%204%2C200%20square,by%20the%20Nature%20Foundation%20SA%20.

We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.

from SA State Library: a camel train near Farina, South Australia

https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/farina.htm

Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).

I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.

From David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Fixed Point

Matt Hancock: ‘You seem a little confused’

We travel across the country, our first weekend away since Christmas.  The trip was planned as a celebration of the ending of lockdown for the shielded, officially dated from August 1st.  But as we drive, announcements are being made on the radio about the re-imposition of restrictions across a swathe of northern England. 

On Radio Manchester, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock conducts a car-crash interview.  The presenter, who seems not to be point-scoring, just puzzled, asks him: 

‘You said that people could go out of Greater Manchester to another area if they followed social distancing but, the government guidance online says you must not visit someone else at home or garden even if they live outside the infected areas, so can you clarify that for us?’

Hancock: ‘Yes, I’ll make it absolutely clear, which is that there’s a distinction between the guidance and the law, I will absolutely get back to you with exact chapter and verse.’

Presenter (after two more minutes of further incoherence): ‘Forgive me, but you seem a little confused.’

Had we set off on our journey from about thirty miles further north, we would, at this point, have had to turn around and go home.  Hancock does at least seem clear that whilst the new rules / guidance / law means that people can meet outdoors, this does not include gardens, where, on a warm weekend, we did in fact spend most of the time with our friends.  Later a newspaper reports that the Government is considering not only locking down the shielded again, but extending the category to include a larger section of the population.  This is officially denied but that does not mean it will not happen within days.

So what is fixed in the fifth month?  As we once more conduct a risk assessment about whether it is safe to go out, perhaps just this one point.  The factor analysis which various bodies have been undertaking since the pandemic took hold, has produced a picture which is at once complex and very simple in terms of our household.*  There are range of indicators which make it more likely that infection will lead to hospitalisation and death.  These include medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, obesity, recent organ transplant, some forms of cancer, together with deprivation, gender and race (particularly black and Asian).  But standing out above all others is age, particularly from sixty onwards.

The chef Rick Stein was interviewed last week.  He is seventy-four but said he still felt no more than forty, perhaps just a little stiffer.  We all do this, taking decades off our birth years in terms of our physical or mental capacity. 

We can still, within limits, choose the age of our state of mind.  We can still, within limits, choose the age of our fitness.  But when it comes to our body’s resistance to infection, there is no gaming Bergman’s chess player.  It is the lesson we have been forced to learn in this pandemic.

Seventy, alas, is the new seventy.

* See, for instance, OpenSAFELY Collaborative, ‘factors associated with COVID-19-related hospital death in the linked electronic health records of 17 million adult NHS patients’ (May 7, 2020), p. 11. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.06.20092999v1.full.pdf

From David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: The Wisdom of Aznavour

Charles Aznavour

The lyricist Don Black (Born Free, Diamonds are Forever and an awful lot else), now a cheery eighty-two-year-old Covid-19 survivor, is interviewed in my paper.  He has a memoir coming out.  The journalist is anxious to discover the secret of his continuing good spirits.  Black explains: “Something Charles Aznavour once said always stayed with me: ‘A man will never grow old if he knows what he’s doing tomorrow.’ I think that’s true.”

That, in a nutshell, is the problem in this lockdown for those of us who are fighting to resist the advance of age.  The first thing we all had to do in March was to erase every planned event from our diaries for what looked like a few weeks and now appears, like diamonds, almost forever.  My daughters have rebooked their flights to France so we can have the family holiday next July that should be happening now.  It seemed a sensible thing to do, until this week when ministers started talking about second waves and re-imposing travel restrictions from the continent.   Most days all that we can say about what we are doing tomorrow is that it is likely to be very similar to what we did yesterday.   

So we go about inventing small tasks whose content has some purpose and whose completion we can control.  Yesterday, on what was falsely promised to be twenty-four hours without rain, I finished varnishing the oak window frames on our extension.  Today, as part of a research project on the history of silence, I will immerse myself in the recordings of the sounds of the same London streets in 1928 and this May which the enterprising Museum of London has just placed online.   And I will write a diary entry, a task set and finished around breakfast time.

I don’t doubt that Aznavour, who died recently at the age of ninety-four after a singing career which spanned seventy years, had plans for the morrow which embraced more than home improvements and long-distance research projects.   As it happens, on Friday we are finally getting away from the house to visit locked-down friends in Suffolk for the weekend.  Aznavour would have gone further.  According to his Wikipedia entry, in the last two years of his life he performed in: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Vienna, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Haiti, Tokyo,, Osaka, Madrid, Milan, Rome, Saint Petersburg, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Monaco. 

Eight of those cities I have lectured in and recall visiting.  Perhaps Aznavour’s dictum should be reversed.  A man will never grow old if he can remember what he did yesterday.      

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 David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: On Happiness

July 24  On happiness

Four months pass.  We remain fit and well-fed.  But do we know we are happy? 

Few ask that question unless the answer is likely to be a negative.  And those that do find it difficult to consult any objective evidence.

However the pandemic has provoked a wide range of studies in the social sciences as well as medicine.  The largest of these, the Covid-19 Social Study run by a team at University College London, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has been addressing the question of happiness in a series of reports.

The latest of these, published on 16th July, provides further evidence on the incidence of happiness across British society.  The study deploys the methodology of the government’s official body, the Office for National Statistics which regularly measures personal well-being under four headings: Life satisfaction; Feeling the things done in life are Worthwhile; Happiness; and Anxiety.  Like Spinal Tap’s amplifiers, total well-being scores 11 on a 1-11 point scale.

The Covid-19 study, which is concentrating on the experience of the lockdown, finds that overall happiness, though starting at a lower base than pre-lockdown, has been slowly but consistently rising over the period between 21 April and 14 July.*

More interesting are the variations by condition.  You are more likely to be happy if you are:

Older:  we struggle against the label, but have had to wear it through the crisis

Live with company:  we have each other and we know we are not amongst the one in four couples reported in another study whose relationships have come under pressure in the crisis.**

Have higher than average household income:  there is much to be said for receiving a public sector, final salary pension on retirement; one of the last such pensions ever likely to be paid in this stressed economy.

Have no underlying mental health conditions: which is our good fortune.

Live in a rural area: as we do.

The only qualification is that the Welsh and Scottish are slightly happier than the English.  But Wales is in view from the bottom of the garden, and my wife considers herself entirely Scottish, so we can work around that disability.

Still I wonder if I know what it is that I have.

And then, just after breakfast this morning, the phone rang.  My younger daughter was in a car with her husband and two children on their way from London to Holyhead to catch the ferry to Ireland where her mother-in-law has a house by the sea in Cork.  They were ahead of time, had changed their route, and would be calling on us within the hour (we live a couple of miles from the old Holyhead Road).

And so, for the first time since Christmas, we saw them in the flesh.  The children, escaped from the car, played in the garden.  If we could not embrace, we could at least talk face to face as we sat around a table in a rare burst of sunshine. 

That was happiness.

* Covid-19 Social Study Results Release 16  15th July 2020

**Source: 1,241 people with a partner were surveyed by Censuswide on behalf of Relate between 9 and 14 April 2020.

From David Vincent in Shropshire, UK: Home Restaurant

Yorkshire parkin, salted butterscotch sauce and clotted cream

july 20. We always knew that this would be the hard stretch.

When everything was shut and no-one was going anywhere, there was little sense of frustrated opportunity.  But now shops and restaurants are beginning to open, and the young and fit are getting out of the house.  Lockdown becomes daily less amusing.

So we consider food.  One discovery of this event has been the interplay of pleasure and spontaneity.  The best meals you cook for yourself are those for which you conceive an appetite one morning, go out and buy the ingredients and cook them in the evening.  When you are confined to an intermittent home delivery, each night you are faced with a vague intention conceived a week earlier when the order was compiled.  All invention is lost, except in so far as there have to be unexpected workarounds because some essential ingredient has been left off the list.

Out in the country there is a trade between clean air, fine views, quiet roads on the one hand, and an absolute absence of takeaway services on the other.  But then we read, in a restaurant column in one of the weeklies, that proper restaurants are delivering proper meals irrespective of distance and at a reasonable price.  One of these is the chain of six up-market bistros run by Gary Usher in Manchester and Liverpool.  Usher has gained a reputation not only for the quality of his meals but for his approach to the business, launching ventures in unfashionable areas using crowdfunding and adopting an ethical approach to employing his staff.

So, as if in a restaurant, we read the online menu and order the following meal:  Starter: Burrata with charred spring onion dressing, fennel and chilli crisps; Main: Confit duck leg, red cabbage, mango and macadamia salad, tarragon bbq sauce; Braised featherblade of beef, truffle creamed potato, glazed carrot, red wine sauce; Desert: Yorkshire parkin, salted butterscotch sauce and clotted cream; dark chocolate and seal salted fudge.

Looks promising.  An insulated, chilled box arrives exactly on time containing a host of labelled polythene bags.

Then the problem.  The food has been half-prepared.  There is not much that can go completely wrong.  On the other hand, this is absolutely not a Marks and Spenser microwave job.  Everything has to be separately reheated in different ways for different times, or unpacked and reassembled.  If you have a basic kitchen competence, each activity is not so difficult.  But, like a real restaurant, there is the question of timing.  When you go out for a meal, the company usually makes a point of ordering different items from the menu, to compare and contrast, to enjoy your own choices and everyone else’s.  In this game, such behaviour is a fundamental mistake.  Like the professional chef I find myself having to prepare two multi-layered dishes for completion at exactly the same time, whilst my wife is busy with two other sections of the menu.  At one point I am boiling bags on the stove, roasting in the oven, and grilling a duck leg, whilst at the same time preparing a salad and heating a sauce. All to a deadline.  I have always regarded the new verb ‘to plate’ as an affectation used only by wannabe tv chefs, but on this occasion when I got to the last line in each of the extensive instruction sheets, plate is what I did.

And of course, when the meal was finished, no-one came to clear the dishes, or deal with the pots and pans and a small mountain of discarded food bags.  We have a rule in my household, as in most, that we wash up before the day ends.  Not this time.

It was an event (with candles and a good bottle of wine).  Not to be missed.  Or repeated, at least for a while.  

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: A down-under political story of our time…

July 15. Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of our time: of quarantine, of pride coming before a fall, of stupidity and of obfuscation. It’s a story also of political intrigue. This is all alleged, of course. Hopefully, in time, all will be revealed (but not if some politicians can stop it). Here it is.

All overseas passengers have to go into quarantine for 14 days upon entry into Australia. This is done at the port of their arrival and they are allocated accommodation in certain designated hotels.

Recently, Australia started accepting more international travellers. They were arriving into Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. In most cases, there has not been a problem. In most states, the police have been involved in making sure that the rules are observed by patrolling the hotels. In Victoria, the government initially requested assistance from the police but within a few hours changed their minds and cancelled the request.

Instead, it is alledged, a Victorian minister decided to give contracts, without tender, to 3 security firms using private contractors. It is alleged that the minister in charge had some sort of ‘relationship’ or knowledge of the industry. Very soon it became apparent that the security guards were not doing their jobs. They were not trained. Some said they had had 3 minutes training. Taxpayers were often charged for ‘ghost’ shifts.

A review of the security guard industry revealed: ‘lowly paid (workers), regularly lacked English-language skills, and are often so poorly trained they do not perform the basic functions of their job’.

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/security-industry-review-exposes-little-training-sham-contracting-20200704-p5590f.html

What we do know is that within a very short time a cluster of COVID-19 cases popped up related to those supposedly quarantine individuals. The guards got infected and took the virus home to their multi-generational households.

Journalists started investigating and found out that the security guards were ineffective. An understatement. It is alleged that they let the passengers go shopping, go out for meals (using Ubers) and go into one another’s rooms. Most salacious of all there is the allegation that some of the guards had intimate relations with those quarantined. I am not sure where lack of training overlaps with lack of common sense. Anyway, by the time action was taken, it was too late. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Community infection was rife. From having almost no active cases, Victoria jumped to 70 and then almost 300 per day.

Then on July 13, the Age newspaper released the information from leaked emails showing that the government was aware of the problem within 24 hours of the launch of the quarantine program: ‘Top bureaucrats warned senior health officials at the beginning of the Andrews government’s botched hotel quarantine scheme that security guards were ill-equipped for the work and demanded police be called in to take control. Needless to say, nothing was done.

Oh, another thing. The Victorian State government used the numbers of these private contractors (1,300) to bolster their ‘Working for Victoria’ program of getting people (in theory unemployed) back into jobs …EXCEPT these contactors already had jobs – “The office of the responsible minister, Martin Pakula, confirmed on Wednesday that any worker employed in a government-funded job as a result of the pandemic could be classified as being placed under the Working for Victoria scheme.”

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/working-for-victoria-quarantine-hotel-guards-pumped-up-job-scheme-numbers-20200708-p55aa3.html

Now, Victoria has gone into crisis mode: total lockdown in many suburbs around Melbourne. In particular, some high-rises have positive cases. Tonight’s news is that there are 108 cases in 32 residential care homes. The defence force has been called in to help.

Not long ago, Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, had made a fly-away comment that he wondered why Victorians would want to visit South Australia when they could stay in Victoria. Well, Victorians began to leave as fast as they could: to escape Victoria before the borders were closed. Yesterday, four young stowaways were discovered on a Victorian freight train trying to escape into South Australia.

On July 2nd, Daniel Andrews announced a judicial inquiry into this mess up, which he called a “public health bushfire”. (We are very aware of the dangers of bushfires this year…). Those who are sceptical will say this is a perfect way to refuse to discuss the failures until the report is tabled in September – maybe it will be forgotten by then – perhaps overwhelmed by further acts of stupidity. Meanwhile, no one will take responsibility, except the Premier, who is looking very rattled.

What we all know is that this virus does not observe closed borders and it’s extremely virulent. Now it is making its way into New South Wales. So far, we in South Australia, have not had any new cases, but watch this space.

Last comment: Daniel Andrews is the bright-spark Premier who has decided to sign a Belt and Road agreement with China against all advice from the Federal Government and against all common sense!

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/andrew-flags-fresh-bri-deal-vows-to-stay-the-course-on-china-ties-20200609-p550y2.html

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 David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: On Isolation and Hunger

July 2. Those of us in lockdown feel, of course, isolated from our friends and family.  We count the days, which in the present uncertainty stretch before us without limit, until we can share our lives with them.

This fragmentation of the population is reflected in other dimensions.  Sitting inside our houses, patrolling our weedless gardens, we don‘t see, literally don’t see, anything of how the rest of the country is experiencing the pandemic. Amongst the consequences of confining to their homes the fit and active of seventy and over is depriving the community of a host of active volunteers who could  both witness and respon to cases of need.

It is very easy to turn off our sensors and concentrate solely on our own misfortunes.  One effect of the lockdown is to throw attention onto the most trivial grievances.  The major event last Saturday in my household was the failure of Sainsburys to deliver the supplements in the weekend papers we had ordered.  No book reviews, no television guides.  It quite spoilt the day.

If you look for it, however, there is evidence that out there people are going without more than just newsprint.  There are those deprived of their income because they don’t qualify for the furlough payments.  There are the daily increasing numbers who are being fired in anticipation of the closure of that scheme.  There are those who legally have ‘no recourse to public funds’ because they have a right to live here but not to benefit from the welfare state.  There are those who had been barely getting by in the gig economy who are now wrestling with intricacies and inadequacies of universal credit.  There is the group described by the money expert Martin Lewis as experiencing a ‘financial catastrophe’ as their businesses have failed leaving them with no safety net of any kind.

The consequence is not just some kind of social poverty, but basic physical deprivation.  The Food Standards Agency has just published a report showing that since the pandemic began between 6.3 and 7.7 million adults had reduced their meals or missed them altogether because of lack of money, and that between 2.7 and 3.7 adults sought charity food or used food banks.*   The food banks themselves have found it difficult to meet the increased demand, despite a ‘Food Charities Grant’ the government has established to provide them with short-term assistance.

Just now, my wife and I are living in a two-person fenced community.  We must be grateful, I guess, that so far the material sufferings of so large a minority seem not to be reflected in the crime figures.

Add Mss 4.  OU brings down French Presidential candidate.  Further to yesterday’s discussion of the work of the Open University, the verdict has just been reported in the trial for embezzlement of the former French prime minister and presidential candidate, François Fillon, and his Welsh-born wife Penelope.  Up to a million euros were paid to Penelope over a number of years for office support that she never undertook.  The offence first came to light in a newspaper interview with Penelope back in 2007, when she admitted in passing that she was too busy to work for her husband.  The reason she gave for her lack of time was that she had just started an OU course in English literature.  She told the journalist that she was studying for a second degree because ‘her five children viewed her as “just a mother.”  She wanted to show them she was “not that stupid”’ (my own mother, in her time, took an OU degree in her sixties for much the same reason).  Both action and motive seem more than sufficient to acquit Penelope Fillon of the charge she faced.  As it is, she has been given a suspended sentence of three years.

*https://www.food.gov.uk/research/research-projects/the-covid-19-consumer-tracker