Monday 30 November 2020

As we enter the last month of the year

As we enter the last month of the year I am more keen than usual to mark Advent. Not with a sticky, chocolately calendar but with holly, flowers and colour.

This is the last month of an extremely difficult year. 58,000 UK dead since March, in a mere eight months. To put that in perspective 70,000 UK civilians died in the whole six years of WW2. 

In that war people could still go out and enjoy a film or newsreel at The Regal or The Odeon. They could go to work, travel on buses, visit friends, go to dances. Yes they had to endure the blackout and bombs but thankfully life, as they knew it, was still there for the taking. They didn’t have to stay home-save lives.

But for us, two generations after WW2,  the last week of March began badly. I remember queuing for groceries, watching empty buses sail by and, hearing from others, that supermarkets were stripped of nutritious foods. Who could fail to be moved by the tv interview of the absolutely knackered nurse crying into the camera as her supermarket had no food left and she had nothing to eat. 

By April I couldn’t get a delivery slot with Sainsburys and relied on a farm shop, local butcher and great friends and neighbours to provide me with groceries. 

Come May we were all used to face masks, zoom, home baking, hand sanitiser, leaving goodies on each others’ doorsteps and hot weather. It was a beautiful spring with very little traffic. And there had been a debate about whether face mask wearing would help stop the spread of coronavirus. It seems astonishing now.

In May we had our regular grocery deliveries back again and I began to venture out much more. I also spent a lot of time in the garden, improving it, along with a friend. But by July I began to get tired. I’d done charity sales and grown a lot of vegetables. I needed to do so much cutting back in the garden and I felt in great need of a holiday. But travel was verboten.

And, in September, to add to the weariness, our breakfast room ceiling fell in. That created even more toil. It had been a hard  year and once that was finished off and painted Richard and I finally went on holiday.

After that I began to pick up. There was far less to do in the garden and the trip to Devon revived us. In October we travelled there again. But we had to rush home ahead of lockdown#2.

This last month has been a duller than usual November. Grey skies have made an uninspiring backdrop to leafless trees. But we are still here. We haven’t had covid_19. We haven’t been laid off and we aren’t looking at a lonely Christmas nor a cold, hungry one.

In a couple of weeks I shall start making my Christmas charity donations. This year the need seems greater than ever. We can only pray that the vaccine roll out will be earlier rather than later. 

We all need more colour in our lives. 

Wednesday 18 November 2020

‘The Crown’ ain’t fun anymore


This time last year I took it upon myself to do something everyone else seems to glory in: binge watch. In the dull, dark mornings of November 2019 I clicked on Netflix. I enjoyed the physically and authoritatively big screen characters of ‘The Crown’ on the substantially larger and smarter tv than we were used to. 

It seemed the need for protocol and putting on an act far outweighed their fusty but glamorous palaces in the royals’ lives. But I was fascinated by the concerns these wealthy, regal, real-life people had. I was even moved to pity when I watched the episodes of deep unhappiness suffered by Prince Charles at school and beyond. I bought it.

But this time around I feel like not pursuing the latest series at all. At best tv is much-needed escapism at this time of lockdown. But ‘The Crown’ is not providing that. I find the depiction of Princess Margaret, especially, to be snarling, pompous and cruel. Whether she was really like that hardly matters, now. Entertainment it ain’t.

I was astonished that in 1979 the Queen or one of her staff would not alert her guest, the newly appointed Margaret Thatcher, to the correct dress codes for pre-dinner drinks and hiking in soggy fields around Balmoral. In this series the royals appear hell bent on laughing at their guests. How rude and unkind. I didn’t buy it.

In a later episode the newly introduced Diana is made to face all the royals who stand in a ring around her while she has  to be told off - in front of everyone - about her lack of understanding of whom she should curtsey to and in what order. This smacked of abusive rudeness. I could not believe the royals would, again, openly laugh at their guests. But what do I know, actually?

I am a very unlikely reader of ‘The Daily Mail’ but on the BBC’s ‘The Papers’ I spotted the Mail’s headline ‘How The Crown lost the plot.’

I read on and could only concur with Richard Kay that the plot is indeed lost. This new series is so far removed from the truth that it’s hardly worth watching. If it’s untruthful it can’t be insightful.

And this morning Simon Jenkins, writing in The Guardian, my usual read, made the following points, inter alia, which are, according to the historian Hugo Vickers, fabrications:

1. Lord Mountbatten wrote to Prince Charles the day before his death.

2. The royals laid traps to humiliate Mrs Thatcher on a visit to Balmoral.

3. Princess Margaret ridiculed Diana for not being able to curtsey.

4. Prince Charles daily called Camilla Parker Bowles in the first five years of his marriage to Diana.

Jenkins says the current storyline ‘...caricatures the royals in the worst possible light.’  Entertainment should be fun and yield a sense of escapism. But this November I and many others have a greater need than usual to enjoy tv output. Not to be disappointed by it.

I don’t need to see constant unpleasantness on the tv. Life in lockdown in a dull, damp November is difficult enough. Back to binge watching comfortable episodes of Jeremy Brett as ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or his nephew Martin Clunes in ‘Doc Martin’. At least there’s intrigue in the former and beauty and humour in the latter. That’s escapism. That’s entertainment. Not vicarious humiliation. 

‘The Crown’ ain’t fun anymore. 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Bring on the women!

 After lockdown#2 was announced, and we rushed back from our shortened holiday in Devon, I’ve tried to stay fit by going for walks. However my preferred fitness fun is swimming - if the water’s warm. But, as in the words of Basil Fawlty, that avenue has been closed off to me, and I’ll settle for walks around the outskirts of the city of Bath.

I’ve come to appreciate what a gender split there appears to be on our streets. Something in my sixty years I’d never much noticed. The walkers were, in the main, middle-aged women like me, or others of various ages and stages of motherhood, or even young couples. But everywhere I went I could not escape white-van-man.

I was using the walks as an opportunity to take photographs of our city in lockdown. But everywhere I went - it seemed - there was a parked white van populated by one or two men reading their papers or checking their phones. And there were others:- it appeared that every few yards a workman would jump out of his van carrying something heavy or another might merely pull up and park all the while blocking the pavement. If I tried to take a photograph of Prior Park or Bath Abbey from my preferred spot another white van would pull up and hamper my view.

All the evidence from my sojourns into the city make me feel there is plenty of work out there, for some. Whether it’s telecommunications, building repairs, house movings and exchanges or deliveries the work of the man-and-his van seems plentiful. But I felt surrounded by men in vans! 

I mention this as it’s so unlike lockdown#1 when the streets were empty. In those hot early days of April lockdown the tarmac was noticeable for its grey crumbliness or perfect smooth blackness - depending on how worn it was - and all the more noticeable as it was suddenly so underused by cars, vans and trucks.

This time the roads still seem busy. Not everyone can work from home. A builder can hardly fix a roof remotely from his MacBook. 

My next walks will be on quieter streets, I think, so that I can enjoy taking photographs without feeling surrounded by busy men or white-van-man reading the sports pages. And I won’t have to dance around these vans that necessarily, in our narrow streets, have to park on pavements.

But where are the women? Bring them on! It feels a bit one-sided out there.