Coronavirus diary

This is Francis's diary, most recent entry first, written while under coronavirus restrictions for the over-70s. It is a rudimentary blog, but if you want to comment on anything you can't do it here; send me an email.

Day 71 27/5/20
I was late uploading yesterday's diary entry. Today I was contacted by a friend in Germany to ask if I was OK. I am fine, folks, and I had no idea that anyone was following my diary day by day. If at all. I am writing it as much for my own sanity as anything else. I'm OK, but the country that I live in is far from OK. I wonder if the Germans could be persuaded to swap Angela Merkel for our idiot. No, they don't deserve that!

Day 70 26/5/20
Will there be enough Tories with consciences to bring this man down? It's possble that if they do oust him that Johnson will go with him. Then what? An improvement? Or out of the frying pan? What is clear is that the new Rasputin is undermining democracy itself.

Day 69 25/5/20
It appears that thousands have signed up for a virtual visit to Durham on 31st May. I wasn't expecting quite so much fuss over my birthday, but I'll be there!

Day 68 24/5/20
Can history itself repeat?
Yes, spirits from the past can be
Amongst us yet; as we may see,
Rasputin lives in Downing Street!

Day 67 23/5/20
Today, proudly wearing my new fashion accessory (see day 65), I ventured forth to a pharmacy. There was an array of notices on the window. One asked for only two customers at a time. Another, bearing the NHS logo, recommended social distancing and handwashing, and then said "Do not enter this building". Which left me wondering if mixed messaging is now official government policy.

Day 66 22/5/20
Today, as a result of taking a wrong turning, we discovered that the Conservators of Epping Forest have unlocked the gates of the many small car parks. These were locked just before the last public holiday. And have been unlocked just before the next one! The logs preventing roadside parking are still in place, and I daresay will remain there. But once again, mixed messages and muddle.

Day 65 21/5/20
Today we welcomed our first visitor of the lockdown. And she kindly brought a hostess gift. No, not wine, chocolates or flowers. She is a brilliant sempstress and embroiderer, and she had made us some pleated face masks, the sort you can put a piece of kitchen paper into for extra protection. And of course they had attractive floral designs. I shall feel quite stylish wearing one of those!

Day 64 20/5/20
Today we watched Prime Minister's Questions on the BBC Parliament Channel, or the Keir Starmer Show, as we prefer to call it. A friend of ours, who is a retired consultant neurologist, thinks it possible that Johnson may have suffered slight brain damage as a result of his severe illness with Covid. But how would you tell?

Day 63 19/5/20
Today I finished another project; updating and tidying up my website. What next? Tidying up my toolshed. Mmm, perhaps when it's not quite so hot outside. I'm going to make a list of all my West Gallery compositions, 55 at the last count, and make a booklet out of it, together with a few samples. That'll keep me busy for a bit.

Day 62 18/5/20
I am gradually getting bolder. We have been observing the lockdown pretty strictly, as we are both in our 70s. But the scientists are telling us (not the government ones) that actually it is quite difficult to contract the virus in the open air. Yesterday I bought some fruit in a shop, the sort that has all its fresh stuff ouside. And on Sunday I sat in their garden with not one but two friends for a chat and a cuppa. If I go down with this virus, I really doubt if it will be because of either of those contacts.

Day 61 17/5/20
Today Zoom went down on a national scale. As well as closing a meeting that we were attending somewhat early, it also affected the government's daily excuses statements. By relying on Zoom, the government is effectively contracting out its communication. Should they be so reliant on a private organisation? The present custom of contracting out as much as possible means that when things go wrong, it's usually somebody else's fault.

Day 60 16/5/20
A newspaper report tells me that approval of the government is actually rising! We currently have the least competent goverment, of left or right, that I can remember in my 76 years. Brexit, the last election, and now this. My confidence in British democracy is at an all time low. If that makes me a grumpy old man, so be it.

Day 58 15/5/20
Today we went to Sewardstone, for a walk in Lea Valley Park, which is quite extensive. No sign there of closed car parks, or any other restriction. It does make all those huge concrete blocks and logs in the Epping Forest car parks seem officious and heavy handed. Later we went on a garden centre, and I spent my first cash for two months. Their card machine was kaputt.

Day 57 14/5/20
I wonder how we would have coped with lockdown during the pre-computer age, in which I grew up. I think the "I don't need a computer" brigade (yes, there are still some around) are currently learning their lesson. Since we are so computer-dependent, I spent some of today rehabilitating an old laptop, just in case my lovely Asus ZenBook were to go on strike. It swore at me for not downloading updates, but now it's functioning. As Milton wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait." And it has a CD drive!

Day 56 13/5/20
As we begin week 9, I notice that during the lockdown I am not getting as tired as I did in "normal" life. I suppose it is the feeling that there is plenty of time, and no deadlines; nobody depending upon what I am doing being done by a certain time. There is a lesson here which I hope I can carry forward into post-lockdown. If it ever comes.

Day 55 12/5/20
I feel really sorry for English workers if they are pressurised to return to possibly unsafe workplaces. Of course I am missing the choir and the go club and talking to friends face to face. So I decided to count my own blessings. I am not alone; I am in good health; I have a generous pension; I have plenty to do; kind neighbours do our shopping; and Epping Forest is in nearby walking distance. I have much to be thankful for.

Day 54 11/5/20
To start with it was loo rolls and pasta that were unobtainable. Now you can find most things that you need, but there are national shortages of, wait for it, flour and elastic, which tells you something about what people are up to. We have made our own supply of face masks, which apparently protect others rather than the wearer. If only we all had the posh ones which let the virus neither in nor out, the epidemic could surely be controlled. But once again, there is a shortage ...

Day 53 10/5/20
So now we have seen the Prime Minister trying to look statesmanlike. This is not the place to pick holes in his speech; plenty of other better qualified people are doing that; but what intrigues me is that he has indirectly made a case for an English Parliament, as we see the UK government making rules which apply only to England. At the moment I wish I were living in Scotland!

Day 52 9/5/20
I watched a play by Fletcher on Youtube this evning; Two Noble Kinsmen. Shakespeare is supposed to have had a hand in it, but that wasn't apparent. Good acting from The Globe company, but I don't warm to a play with a ridiculous plot. Two bosom friends come to blows over a woman. She's gay and doesn't really want either.

Day 51 8/5/20
I went for a long walk around streets today. In most the idea of socially distanced street parties seems to have been something of a damp squib, with just the occasional group sitting outside and having cups of tea etc. In just one street, where some organiser must have lived, the majority of residents seemed to be outside, still observing the rules, more or less, but chatting with neighbours over boundaries. It looked harmless and sociable, though I could have done without There'll always be an England blaring out from a loudspeaker.

Day 50 7/5/20
Surprise surprise! Mixed messages! Tomorrow is VE day, a public holiday, and with sunny weather forecast. "No, I didn't say anything about easing the restrictions. Or if I did, I didn't really mean it". What a shower we have in the government, with all the experienced ministers replaced by inexperienced right wing liberterian leavers.

Day 49 6/5/20
As Michael Heseltine so wisely remarked, Johnson waits to see which way people are going, goes to the front and says he's leader; witness Brexit. The lockdown rules are fraying, so he talks of some relaxation. Tails don't wag dogs.

Day 48 5/5/20
It depends what you want, of course, but I have the impression that there is actually an improvement in the fare available on TV. Far less football and sport generally, except the snooker repeats which I have been watching avidly. Fewer unreality shows and similar rubbish, and Question Time without a studio audience can be quite civilised.

Day 47 4/5/20
So the government has at last given a vague idea about easing lockdown. And as expected, it is all about restarting the economy, i.e. making money. I wonder when the social consequences of lockdown will receive attention. I think there could become a point where mental health problems (I will not misuse that term "issues") overtake physical ones.

Day 46 3/5/20
We are told that German churches are reopening, but not allowing singing, which tends to project the virus. This bodes ill for an early return to rehearsing for the choir that I conduct. Unless of course I tell them to just hum? Then I wouldn't be able to bitch at them for poor diction. Hmm.

Day 45 2/5/20
At first it looks as if I have to eat my words of 30th April. The government claims to have reached its 100,000 tests a day target. Until you note that 40,000 of them are in the post, and may or may not have arrived and been applied. And then what happens to the results? All contacts traced? "The target has been reached" reminds me of "The battle for production has been won", in Orwell's 1984.

Day 44 1/5/20
Heavy handed or what! In Epping Forest there are heavy concrete blocks and large logs blocking off most possible parking places. I suppose this is in anticipation of the bank holiday this weekend. But it would have needed a crane to put all those blocks in place, and I wonder how long it will be before they are removed.

Day 43 30/4/20
I suppose we should have known that the "government's" target for testing would be missed. The trouble is that after so many broken promises and downright lies, from Brexit onwards, I am disinclined to trust anything that they say.

Day 42 29/4/20
I have now more or less finished a task I set myself on Day 2; revising all my West Gallery music files. And I have been for a walk each day. The other tasks haven't fared so well, but the one thing that we're not short of at present is time. I am finding a life without deadlines has taken a bit of getting used to. Next major task: updating my website.

Day 41 28/4/20
Most people indicate whether they are going left or right as you pass in the street or in Epping Forest. Often you get a smile, a "Good morning" or a thumbs up. Some are not so considerate, just walking, or often running, straight ahead. But there was no problem yesterday, now that the weather has turned cold. I met only two people on my 40-minute walk.

Day 40 27/4/20
Would you believe it; this evening the internet goes down (Virgin Media)! At a time like this! And it concentrates the mind on how much we need it. If this lockdown had happened in the pre-internet age, which we oldies remember so well, no Zoom, no working from home, no online communities, I wonder if the telephone network could have coped.

Day 39 26/4/20
The lockdown rules are getting sillier by the week. A notice outside Highfields Gardens, a small local park, forbade football and cricket. So hockey or rounders would be OK? An encouraging sign was another person sitting alone on a taped off park bench. Cometh the revolution!

Day 38 25/4/20
The press reports an increase in speeding, and that I have noticed, especially on the Woodford High Road. I have seen cars speeding at 40 or 50 mph past a very visible speedcam. I suppose the boy racers are taking advantage of the sparse traffic, but also, I suspect, because they think the police won't have time to follow up the offences. As they probably won't.

Day 37 24/4/20
So the government is coming under pressure from its own backbenchers to reveal its doubtless carefully planned exit strategy. From what I see on my daily walks many people are gradually relaxing the restrictions anyway. How sensible it would be for the government to oversee this in an orderly manner. But ...

Day 36 23/4/20
Since the local authority stopped collecting recyclables, it has brought it home to me how much reusable stuff we used to chuck. Paper and glassware, tins, etc. are piling up in our shed, and larger items in the front room. At least we have the wormery for kitchen waste. There will be have to be several car trips to the dump when it reopens.

Day 35 22/4/20
While the Asses self-distance in Commons and Lords,
The Lions risk daily their lives on the wards.
When this World War is won, and the death rate is zero
Our queen should bemedal each NHS hero.
For the Asses, who gave them too little, too late?
Ignominious discharge, their only just fate!

Day 34 21/4/20
That psychiatrist (Day 7) warned us to expect "wobbles". Well I think I've had one. I strive to keep my resolution to keep cheerful, but the wobble made its presence felt with a couple of sleepless nights. In normal circumstances we could at least show our anger with the government on a demo, but ...

Day 33 20/4/20
Some of my recent entries look like the rants of a grumpy old man. OK, I am a GOM. But I have decided to count the good things that are happening; the fantastic NHS; the kindness of neighbours; people learning use the internet in new ways; uncrowded and unpolluted London roads. Let's hope that some of these positives will continue when this situation finally ends.

Day 32 19/4/20
I have taken my weekly day off from computer work, but this has left space in my mind for me to feel inexpressibly angry at the way that the government is treating our NHS staff. And there's not a thing I can do about it. I can only hope that this gross incompetence will be remembered by the electorate, and that the next election will give this "government" the kicking that it deserves.

Day 31 18/4/20
It's very strange, this business of the authorities not wanting you to sit alone on a park bench. Walking around Wanstead Flats (part of Epping Forest) I saw plenty of people sitting alone on the ground. Some were family groups, one even committing the mortal sin of having a picnic! What harm were they doing? And anyway, the police wouldn't have the staff to prevent such activities. Yet in a park it's naughty. Very strange.

Day 30 17/4/20
It is heartening to see new delivery services springing up to fill a need. Marrfish were formerly a wholesale firm, but since the restaurants have closed they have kept their staff employed by delivering to individual customers, and a good service it is too. Likewise Osolocal2u have sprung up out of nowhere; they are just four weeks old, but deliver good value and good quality produce. Above all, they are reliable, and come when they promise. It is good to see enterprise and initiative when our news bulletins are full of incompetence and stupidity.

Day 29 16/4/20
So Captain Moore's fundraising effort for the NHS has reached £17,000,000. Well done Captain Moore. That is about 3/4 of a day's contribution from HM Government, if they had not forgotten about the £160,000,000 of new money per week for the NHS that the Brexiters were promising if the vote went their way. Well it did. So where's the cash, Brexiters?

Day 28 15/4/20
I walked through Elmhurst Gardens today, a local park, and saw that some jobsworth has officiously tied red tape round all the benches since yesterday. Presumably someone doesn't want us to sit down, though you still can do so quite easily, as I discovered. Why does a person sitting down on a bench represent more of a danger than someone standing up? Is that the London Borough of Redbridge's best idea for stopping the virus spreading? And there are plenty of other benches elsewhere where you can sit, take a rest, and enjoy the sun.

Day 27 14/4/20
Today I have assembled a folder entitled legacy. In it are copies of all my West Gallery Sibelius files, together with a spreadsheet giving details of each one, and a hyperlink to each file. I hope that it will not be needed for many a year. But to put off making it is about as sensible as putting off making a will. There is a link to it on the desktop of my laptop, and it is also on a memory stick. I hope that no one reading this will need to know it!

Day 26 13/4/20
Today I finished the first part of one of the tasks I have set myself. I have examined all 1136 of my West Gallery files, found some misplaced and some missing, made minor repairs to others, hyperlinked all of them to my database, and noted those that need major revision. In the evening J. and I watched a memorable slow TV programme about a shepherd gathering sheep from Scafell for shearing. Very scenic, relaxing, and totally free from background music! Wonderful!

Day 25 12/4/20
We are trying to give both each day and each week some structure. As last Sunday, after doing emails I turned off this computer for the rest of the day, and did domestic tasks, just for a change. And we have our weekly takeaway meal on Sunday evening. Not much, but it makes the day just that little bit different.

Day 24 11/4/20
Today we took delivery of four plastic buckets from, I regret to say, Amazon. We needed one for garden use. But you could only order them in fours; only £2 each, which means that slave labour is going on somewhere. And would you believe that although these four stack neatly inside each other, they came in four separate half-metre cube sized cardboard parcels, with much needless paper packing inside. At least all this packaging is recyclable. Oh Amazon!

Day 23 10/4/20
It seems to me that there is a chain of cause and effect between David Cameron's running scared of UKIP in 2016 and our election of this spectacularly incompetent government. A wave of anger sweeps over me each time that I contemplate those dedicated health workers without proper protective equipment. And what happened to the £1,600,000 per week for the NHS that the Brexiters promised us?

Day 22 09/4/20
Today Judith and I walked through the forest down to Highams Park lake. We sat on a bench, enjoyed the sun, watched the waterfowl (I've never seen so many coots together), had our thermos of coffee, and walked back home. According to some police, we shouldn't have sat on that bench. We should have kept moving. Why? "All right then, officer. Arrest me. Charge me with sitting on a park bench, and see what the magistrate says." Fortunately police were conspicuous by their absence from Highams Park.

Day 21 08/4/20
Today we enter week 4 of our self-isolation. I am heartened by the way we have both found plenty to do. Time is not hanging heavy; indeed I am delighted to have had time to catch up on so much which has been on the back burner. But I do feel frustrated by my inability to influence events. Write to my MP? Iain Duncan Smith; don't make me laugh. I can send money to some charities, and join the national hand-clap at 8 this evening. Drops in the ocean, but at least I feel I've done something.

Day 20 07/4/20
The Prime Minister's letter, received today, tells me that I may go out once a day for exercise. Only once? Some dogs will take a dim view. And how will it be policed? "Hello, hello, hello! Didn't I see you taking your exercise walk this morning, sir?" "Oh, this one isn't for exercise, officer, I'm on my way to the supermarket to buy ... erm ... a box of matches".

Day 19 6/4/20
So farmers and market gardeners are concerned about finding labour to gather harvest. Let us hope that Britons willing to work for the minimum wage will come forward. But might the eventual outcome be to concentrate some minds on the thought that maybe Brexit wasn't such a bright idea?

Day 18 5/4/20
Today I attended a Quaker Meeting for Worship on line. This worked well, as most of the meeting is silent, with only the occasional brief spoken ministry. Then this afternoon I played bridge on line for the first time in my life. I suppose we are all learning to use the internet in unfamiliar ways, and will probably carry on doing so after the crisis passes.

Day 17 4/4/20
There has been a scary lack of leadership talent in all our political parties. In recent years, the only leader for whom I felt any personal respect was Sturgeon, though I am not particulaly an SNP supporter. But now we have Starmer. I have met him and heard him speak. He seemed to me to possess that quality so spectacularly lacking in Corbyn, Johnson, May and Swinson: common sense.

Day 16 3/4/20
Government "thinking" in February:
"We don't need investment in breathing machines,
Nor in test kits, in masks, in research for vaccines.
This problem's Chinese, and it won't travel west,
So let's just cross our fingers and hope for the best."

Day 15 1/4/20
As we enter week three of our isolation, I am still not clear just how vulnerable we are. We are well into our 70s, but have no lung-affecting "underlying health conditions". All our shopping is done by kind friends and neighbours, and we do go out for a walk once a day. We give people a wide berth when we pass in the street. Are we being over- or under-cautious? Government advice continues to be unclear, and who trusts the government? At least the police have made it clear that as far as they are concerned it's OK to drive to where you want to take your walk.

Day 14 31/3/20
I have been wondering what the upshot of this crisis will be. Things certainly won’t be the same. After WW II public sentiment swung to the left. Could this happen again, now that the disastrous results of the chronic underfunding of the NHS and other public services have been brought into such sharp focus?

Day 13 30/3/20
Yeaterday we ordered a consignment of frozen fish from Marrfish. It came today! I recommend them. If you want a lot of fish, that is. On the other hand, the local dairy that claimed to be delivering milk and many other products, has run out of, er, milk. But we can get that from the local filling station. So, be inventive, if you can't find what you want.

Day 12 29/3/20
Another Sunday, when I rested from computer work. In any case, the clock-jump always hits my body-rhythms hard. Waitrose emailed to offer us, as over-70 regular customers, one of their 400 newly released delivery slots. Four minutes later we found we were too late; all gone. But what we have found are some lesser known food outlets who are responding to the new situation by introducing deliveries, and we actually booked one, even though we have to wait a week!

Day 11 28/3/20
Today I saw a 100-yard queue of self-distancers waiting their turn to enter Waitrose, in the chilly wind. And yet within short walking distance we have half a dozen well stocked convenience stores with no queues. OK, not so strong on the fresh meat, fish or bread, but you could get most of what you need to keep alive.

Day 10 27/3/20
A correspondent suggested that we should not have made our car trip yesterday, on the way to our exercise walk. Government instructions are silent as to whether this is permissible. A police spokesman has condemned such trips as an unnecessary journey, but one from a different force pointed out that in a car you are less likely to be a danger to yourself and others than walking along the street. Mixed messages, as we have come to expect from this irresolute government.

Day 9 26/3/20
We are apparently allowed one exercise excursion per day. Today we drove to Theydon Garnon church for a short walk and rest in the sun. It was deserted and peaceful, apart from the distant M11 traffic. So in theory I shouldn't now go out again for a second walk, but who's checking?

Day 8 25/3/20
The second of our twelve weeks starts, and we are doing pretty well. The sunny weather helps me to keep my resolution to remain cheerful. I walked down to Highams Park for my daily exercise, and saw a woman with two dogs, that had been taught to pick up litter and put it in a nearby bin. It took one of them five attempts to get a discarded bag into the fairly narrow slot. I gave them a round of applause.

Day 7 24/3/20
A psychiatrist on Sky TV gave advice on keeping sane while self-isolating.

  • Create daily and weekly routines;
  • Give yourself goals;
  • Get out when you can;
  • Expect wobbles;
  • Be kind.
We think we had already worked all that out for ourselves! Gratifying.

Day 6 23/3/20
The PM has advised people like us to have our supplies delivered. We discovered today that our three local stores, Waitrose, Sainsburys and M & S, are all refusing to accept new delivery customers, as is Ocado. What a nincompoop that man is! At present we are dependent on friends and neighbours for supplies.

Day 5 22/3/20
We have decided to keep Sunday as different from other days as possible, just to give our lives some structure. I didn't turn on my computer; Judith attended an online Quaker meeting; we both went out for lengthy excursions, and we had a celebratory Indian takeaway.

Day 4 21/3/20
Judith drove to part of Epping Forest today, and said she had never seen so many parked cars and so many people of all ages in all the years (49) that we have lived here. Why? Where else is there to go now, on a sunny day?

Day 3 20/3/20
I've seen both selfish- and selflessness in S. Woodford today. Selfish are the shelf strippers; selfless are the volunteers of "Triangle support" (we live in the Church End triangle.) They are folks who have organised themselves into a support team for people like us who are heeding the request for over 70s to stay at home. Shopping, advice, and companionship are available on WhatsApp. I hope we all know how to use that. And fortunately we have other friends lining up to do shopping for us as well.

Day 2 19/3/20
The 12 week house arrest period hasn't officially begun yet, but Judith and I are taking no chances. I am relieved to find that we may go out for exercise, so long as we don't interact with anyone. I intend to spend my 12 weeks as follows:

  • Go for a walk each day.
  • Study Japanese for an hour; as much as my brain can take.
  • Learn to use KGS, and play some go on line for the first time in my life.
  • Declutter the house.
  • Check and revise where necessary all my music files. There are thousands of them.

I've started on three of these.

Day 1 18/3/20
Home from the go tournament in Portree, which looks like being the last for some time. Came home pretty tired, and with a slight cold; no, not CV, but other viruses are available. I caught up with emails in the morning, then watched bad TV programmes for the rest of the day.