Every Thursday I post an excerpt from my wife’s journal written two years earlier. A few people have said how much they like this reminder of what was happening, especially as we are often being presented with official versions that don’t seem to fit our memories of the period.
Saturday 9 May 2020
Spring is merging into summer at an alarming rate. Pollen is strewn in snow drifts over paths. The cow parsley is knee high and roses are opening, suddenly and all together. I spotted red campion among the speedwells on the tow path.
We have discovered Hampton Court Home Park. We always knew it was there, but hadn’t ever gone in. We pushed our bikes through the expanse of grass and deer to find Oak Pond. It was just us, on a bench, staring at a single coot. But as the sun lowered and we merged into the still of the evening, we noticed the swan, sitting on a next of eggs, and ducks, and geese, and a kestrel hovering overhead, and parakeets, preternaturally green. How calm it all was.
Yesterday was a bank holiday to mark VE day. We got on our bikes along the tow path to Kingston Bridge, and it looked surprisingly normal. Lots of people strolling along the river, enjoying the sunshine. Queues for Mr Whippy. Cyclists stopping to admire goslings. I’m now quite brown and ever so slightly burnt.
Mike and G spent the bank holiday more patriotically, in their front garden, with a BBQ and bunting, chatting to neighbours. Mike said that the Army, after weeks of working from home (fortunately Putin had his own problems) is being brought back, though other stuff suggests that the Government is rowing back from ending lockdown. Who knows?
The shock of the week was an article in the Guardian, telling us that an MOJ cleaner had died of covid. Two of the guys who clean our office, F and C, were quoted as saying that they were required to work unnecessarily, not given masks and unable to take sick leave. Because the MOJ contracts with a separate company, we had all forgotten about them and no one cared.
At our Wednesday skype meeting we talked about a whip round for F and C. But we don’t have any contact details. Could we ask the MOJ? And what about the union, quoted in the Guardian? The management line was that the union were unofficial, and trouble-makers, and we shouldn’t contact them. What? The meeting ended rather inconclusively. I immediately emailed the union, though I don’t know if they will reply.
There is something very wrong with the way we have run the world. These attenuated chains of responsibility, where the MOJ no longer employs support staff, but contracts and sub-contracts to God-knows who, have made us forget the people we rely on. If we ever get out this, things are going to have to change.
Monday 11 May 2020
On Saturday I was up early. At 8.45 I walked straight into M&S to buy picnic food. Yep, they still have 3 little tubs for £7. As I walked back out, I found myself in the clothes racks and was hit by sudden nostalgia for clothes shopping. I had to pinch myself to remember that I don’t need any more clothes.
I walked back around the bus station, past the Bethlehem Chapel, which describes itself as “a Bible-Believing Church”. Up until now it has had the standard coronavirus sign outside: closed for the duration, live on in our hearts etc. On Saturday that had gone. Instead, a couple of apparently new signs: Sunday, 11am – Lord’s Prayers; Thursday – bible class, all welcome. Is lockdown falling apart?
It has certainly changed, as Tom and I discovered as we piled our luxury picnic onto our backs and cycled to Richmond Park’s Ham Gate. Outside were a lot of cars, with family groups removing picnic hampers. In a couple of cases, suspiciously large, three-generation family groups.
We left our bikes at the gate, found a shady tree away from the world, and enjoyed our feast. We then wandered very slowly, admiring groups of hinds, who have not yet given birth. We skirted around the closed Isabella Plantation, looking longingly over the fence at the vivid colours of azaleas and rhododendrons. “It would be really east to climb over just here”, Tom pointed out. But we didn’t. We are old and respectable and despite everything, have been pretty much following the rules.
Sunday 7pm was billed as Johnson’s big speech to the nation. “7pm!” I moaned. “I don’t do news after 6pm.” But it was a BIG THING, so Tom and I turned on the radio to hear what our leader had to say to us.
What the hell? What was all that about?
Everyone seems to have heard in their own message in the speech. Mike, who was expecting the Army to open for business noticed all the caution stuff. I was expecting caution, so heard “Get back to work, you lazy sods”. D was also bemused: “We were told to be lerts in the 1970s” she said. “So I’ve become one. And I definitely want to stay a lert now, with all this scary coronavirus around.” D said she definitely heard, “Go back to work on Monday. ” Tom and I went over the text of the speech to find it said “starting this week”. If he meant Wednesday, how hard is it to say Wednesday?
Afterwards, in an attempt to lighten the mood, we watched Nina Conti, the ventriloquist, doing an interactive show by zoom. We both love Nina Conti, but this didn’t work. The audience, at home on the sofa, sounded embarrassed and self-conscious, failing to merge into that single laughing group that comics rely on. And this isn’t the time to laugh at someone for being a “digital media strategist”. Everyone with silly made-up non-jobs is feeling bad enough right now without having a monkey enter their home to tell them how irrelevant they are.
Even the News Quiz didn’t cheer us up. The panel all laughing uproariously is not the same as genuine laughter from a studio audience. When we went to bed, we were still cross, and upset, and anxious, and unready for sleep.