Week 588

Sunday, 29th March, 2020

Woke early with a head full of jobs to do. It is a beautiful day – bright, sunny, blue sky but chilly and breezy. I am feeling energetic having slept well. The routine starts. I am a person of routine. Regular readers will know the routine so I won’t bore you but, I believe, most lives are lived largely in routine. In the currently uncertain times, routine becomes even more important. 

Over a routine breakfast of juice, tea and coffee, I’ve downloaded the newspapers, checked my Twitter feed, checked my Facebook pages and turned to the political programmes of the morning. No guesses for the main content. What caught my eye in my Twitter feed this morning was a tweet from one person I’m following who was having trouble sleeping. A few days ago, I wrote about exactly that and experiencing and remembering an ‘anxiety’ dream which is totally uncharacteristic and certainly not routine for me. This person on Twitter reported dreaming of people breaking in to her house and it was followed by lots of her followers reporting similar experiences. These are unsettling days.

Revisiting the Past

I am so pleased that I am returning to music. There is real comfort in Beethoven’s Symphony No.6. I haven’t played it for years. I associate it with driving home from work over the Pennine moors from Lancashire to Yorkshire on sunny afternoons with the car windows down and the sheep on either side of the road grazing unflinchingly although I was singing along, hopelessly out of tune. I relived that in my West Sussex office today and then followed it by the movingly beautiful, Violin Concerto in D Major.

I wrote yesterday about the crisis that has hit the tourist industry and how it might be longer term than some think. I think it my spell the end of many small suppliers of travel and accommodation across Europe. Today, I continued to contribute to that decline with cancelling/revoking bookings with several hotel chains, airlines and Channel Tunnel crossings. The money is already coming back in and it is amazing how accommodating companies are being but many say the crisis is stretching their capabilities to the limit. Their normal 5-7 days repayment policy is now likely to be weeks. That’s no problem. I just feel bad about having to do it at all.

It is walk time and beautifully sunny but too cold for shorts today. I go upstairs to change. I put long trousers and a jumper on. As I pulled the jumper over my head …. it began to darken and, by the time I had got down stairs, rain was driving across the front of the house. How could that happen? It certainly wasn’t forecast. Just as suddenly, sun breaks through and skies clear. We go out to walk. Just 5 mins later, we are home to escape torrential hail. In Sussex? What is happening? The start of Summer? I blame Brexit!

Monday, 30th March, 2020

Down here the weather is taunting us mercilessly. We were up early and out to Tesco under blue sky and strong sunshine. Nobody else around here seems capable of early rising. We had the supermarket to ourselves and the shelves had been well stocked. The roads look, feel and sound as if the entire population have been wiped off the face of the earth and left it to us and to the natural world. Never seen so many fat rabbits chomping on kerbside grass without a care in the world and without fear of disturbance.

Usually, around here it is just the seagulls who are that bold. They attack passers-by and steal anything that even begins to look edible. Today, they savaged our black bin bag which I put out for collection this morning. We had to sweep up and re-bag after they had scattered fish bones and used serviettes along the pavement. They even scare next door’s cat!

I’ve read a number of people’s recent comments on suddenly becoming aware of bird song in these peaceful times with few humans and even fewer cars around. Of course, it is nesting/breeding time and everybody is singing at the tops of their voices in the tops of the trees. 

It is strange to think that birds have no conception of what is happening to the human world. It has no sense of import or fear. As one population closes down so another expands and feels free to populate the space.

Tuesday, 31st March, 2020

An early start on a clear, sunny and cool morning. Up at 6.00 am and out at 7.00 am. We shop at Tesco twice a week but some things – especially fat-free milk has been removed from the shelves so we fit one Sainsburys in as well. They open at 8.00 am currently. We were there at 7.15 am and 2nd in the queue this morning. The carpark is underground and that is where the queuing starts. Even so, it was cold.

NHS workers are allowed in 30 mins before us at 7.30 am. I’ve always strongly supported the NHS but feel less supportive at this time in the morning. There is a competitive, hunter-gatherer element to this process and seeing people arrive and breeze past me, after I’ve stood in the cold for 30 mins, raises an unreasonable sense of resentment. 

Entrance to Sainsburys is undercover – ideal for early queuers.

We are extremely lucky. We want for nothing ….. except for SKIMMED MILK and GHERKINS and MEDJOOL DATES!!!! Fortunately, we found them all at Sainsbury’s today. We queued for 45 mins and shopped for about 20 mins. One of the real boons that we bought last time was a box of 100 pairs of latex gloves.

Barriers against the world.

Instead of spending half my time cleaning my hands with sanitiser and wipes, I put on a pair of gloves as I leave home and remove and throw them away as I get in the car to return.

When we got home, I spent the rest of the morning working to get refunds for Easyjet flights to Tenerife that they’ve already announced are cancelled and a Channel Tunnel trip in a couple of weeks time. Actually, we are not particularly bothered about the cash and will happily accept vouchers for future travel because we will certainly make use of them when the coast is clear.

Wednesday, 1st April, 2020

This is the only April Fool’s Day that I have ever known when it was impossible to shock others outside daily reality. One of my ex-pupils wrote yesterday that she was going to wake her kids early this morning and get them dressed in their school uniforms just to shout April Fool at them. In reality, that seems almost normal in the context of the times. If you told someone that they couldn’t go out and live a normal life for months, they would call your bluff. I wish you a happy new month and I wish you survival.

On our walk today, the fat, brown rabbit that we pass on the edge of the wood can hardly be bothered running away any more he/she has become so accustomed to see us walking the perimeter path. The first time we met, fat rabbit shot into the brambles instantly. Today, our footsteps failed to move the rabbit at all as it lay in the long grass munching away. As we came within a few feet, the rabbit slowly stood up and ambled away with utter nonchalance. In these unprecedented times, the natural world is reclaiming its domain.

We walked in the wonderfully strong sunshine. I was in tee shirt and shorts. These are delightful times for vibrant colours to walk in. The exercise is so different compared to our gym workouts. The fresh air is incredibly tiring. When we got home after about an hour and a half’s walk, I was absolutely shattered. I was going to sow some seeds but just couldn’t face it. I elected to read instead.

We’re going to be eating a lot of salad this summer …

Just before shops were forced to close and with no clear inkling that they would close, I went to the garden centre and bought grass seed to reseed a bit that had suffered over the winter, lots of bags of soil, Lawn Weed & Feed and a few packets of salad seeds. I wanted to grow some peppers but the new season seeds weren’t in so I thought I’d wait. Little did I know that the next day all non-essential outlets closed down.

I wanted to grow some peppers but the new season seeds weren’t in so I thought I’d wait. Little did I know that the next day all non-essential outlets closed down. Today, I’ve found I can get them delivered by Amazon so normal life can be restored. We’re certainly going to eat a lot of salad this summer.

It’s beginning to look as if this is the first time I won’t need my automatic watering system because I’ll be at home to do it myself. If we survive this pandemic, we’re going to spend years criss crossing the globe while we can!

Thursday, 2nd April, 2020

Up early in a fairly mild morning and out to Tesco. We were there by just after 7.00 am for an 8.00 am opening. By the time the store opened, people were queueing (socially-spaced) round the carpark perimeter. We weren’t. We were second in the queue. It is lucky, however, that the weather has been so benign because queueing outside would certainly hit many of us. 

New Trends in Shopping

The shelves were well stocked and we could get what we wanted including skimmed milk which delighted me. The latest innovation was arrows stuck on the floors everywhere illustrating the direction of travel to maintain safe spacing.

Keep Everyone Safe. Wear a Mask.

Since this crisis started, I’ve been genuinely puzzled why NHS staff have been desperate to obtain face masks but the general population have been told that they are pointless or positively dangerous. Immediately the virus was announced, I ordered facemasks online and received them from China. It took strength of self belief to wear them when we go out near people but we did when few around us followed suit. Today, we are told that this policy is being reviewed in the light of research in other countries which have always found them more culturally acceptable and where the virus appears more contained. It seems essentially sensible to construct a barrier against air-borne-virus spores however imperfect. Received wisdom seems to be catching up with me.

The Greeks have been scrabbling to avoid Covid-19 insinuating itself on to the islands. Today we learnt that 6 refugees on Lesvos have tested positive and, on Mykonos, a 69 year old Greek woman who has not been abroad nor know anyone recently who has been abroad. That is really serious because it means that a secret spreader lives on the island. It means that this is not going to be contained at the moment. It is very hard to see Greek islands open themselves to international tourism safely within the next 4 months. If they manage to keep an island Covid-9 free at the moment, they will have built up no immunity to survive the tourist onslaught.

Thessalonika Today

To add to their problems, snow has fallen heavily in Thessalonika. You can certainly say that Greek Easter is cancelled this year and Greek Summer is likely to go the same way.

Friday, 3rd April, 2020

I know you will find this weird but I check two, financial apps every morning. Actually, I check the £/€ rate a number of times a day. It is a carry over from buying/selling property in Greece. These were crucial times and made a big difference in getting it right. We also check our bank account/credit card statement every morning. Pauline updates her ‘Money Program‘ records. We are always up to date and have been for the past 40 years. This morning, HomeAway had paid our deposit for a property in Tenerife back into our account because we can’t complete the transaction. This is a company who deserve to be recognised for their integrity. We will certainly book with them again as soon as this pandemic is over.

These are difficult times for everyone We went out in mid morning to Worthing town to Wilko’s to purchase some garden products. I managed to get seeds, lawn food and plant food to tide me over. Even here, there was a measured, queueing process but we soon worked through the store and were on our way home. We stopped at the seaside for a few minutes fresh air and a walk. It was delightful and enjoyable.

Back home, we sat in the peaceful sunshine with a glass of wine to celebrate some anniversaries. It is exactly 11 years ago today since we last went to work. On this day in 2009, we drove away from our school for the last time, reached home and felt the extreme anti-climax of retirement. This is what I wrote:

We have retired! Pauline & I left our School at 1.00 pm today after 37 years of loyal service. We cleared our desks and the Office we shared, gave our kettle and fridge away, left our keys in the draw and walked out. It was a very strange experience and soon became totally anticlimactic. We left a couple of years early without loss of pay which suits us fine. Now on with our lives…

Kitchen 4 years apart

Exactly 11 years ago and via Yorkshire and Surrey, almost 4 years ago today, we moved into our new home in Sussex. The kitchen was furnished with old, garden dining furniture which now has disappeared to the junk yard in the sky. It seems so long ago. If we have to be in relative ‘lock down’, we couldn’t ask for a nicer prison.

Saturday, 4th April, 2020

Up early on what is forecast to be a lovely weekend. For us, it is going to be a gardening weekend. Jobs include:

  • Final pruning of hydrangeas;
  • Tidying and weeding of side beds;
  • Cutting the lawns plus feeding them;
  • Tidying up and feeding herb pots;
  • Opening up the fig trees;
  • Sowing salad seeds – various lettuce leaves outside and tomatoes started off inside;
  • Cleaning the patio flags.

Of course, we will be still going out for our walk in the sunshine. It is amazing how civil and friendly a pandemic can make strangers. When we walk on narrow village paths, people coming the other way stand back to let us through while keeping a safe distance. Even driving in the car, it is noticeable hat others are far more charitable than normal. Of course, part of it is because the stress of work and time-pressure has been removed.

How times have moved on. Exactly 11 years ago today, we woke up early on our first day of Retirement, went out to buy Euros, put the house to bed and set off for Manchester airport. We had hand luggage only because we were going to our house on Sifnos. We were catching an Olympic Airlines flight which left at 10.30 pm.

Olympic Airlines closed 2009

Olympic, famously once owned by Onassis and the national carrier of Greece, was a really good service to Athens. Unfortunately, we caught one of its last flights. It ceased trading 6 months later. Actually, this was our last flight to Greece for another 5 years as we drove there and back until we sold our property.

Week 587

Sunday, 22nd March, 2020

These are (almost) unprecedented times. It is hard to understate the position. The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe in recent history. It spread worldwide during 1918-1919. Although it is not certain where the virus originated and it was commonly known as Spanish Flu, it is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide. My mother-in-law (b. 1914) and my Dad (b. 1915) lived through it. We hope we have inherited their strength.

Spanish Flu Factory – 1918

It feels as if life is changing swiftly and radically and in a way that we may take a long time to turn back.

It was hard to compute the immediacy of this beautiful day with the ongoing climate of fear as the pandemic takes hold. We walked down to the beach at East Preston in sheer, opulent sunshine, delighting in the moment while holding the future in our heads.

East Preston Beach today

Pauline had slow-cooked the most wonderful garlic chicken with root vegetables and sage & onion stuffing for our meal. After staggering home from a 2 hour walk, it tasted like nectar. We are so lucky and we can’t bear to think that our fortune will be threatened by this virus.

Monday, 23rd March, 2020

What bitter/sweet irony these days are portraying. These are days in which oxymoron is exteriorised. Indoors the radio and television news, the newspapers, websites and social media all scream: Virus, Pandemic, Isolate … Outside, the world purrs: Beauty, Freedom, Blue Sky Purity and Strong, Warm, Health-giving Sunshine. We thank our lucky stars that we are in such a lovely, uncrowded place with such good medical support. We are so lucky not to be in Greece on an island with no hospital and hardly any doctors. We are so lucky to have moved from Surrey in an area dense with people many of whom travel in and out of central London daily.

Tesco Carpark – 6.00 am.

We were out at Tesco at 6.00 am today. The carpark was fairly quiet. The store was reasonably quiet and everything was available. They actually had milk, sides of fresh salmon, fresh sweet corn, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, coffee, tea, all the staples of our life. Consequently, there was no panic buying. It felt very normal.

Our Garden Centre

Last Saturday, Pauline went out to have her hair cut and, this morning, she has received a text to say the salon was now closed indefinitely. Today, I thought I would occupy my enforced home stay with some gardening so I went to the garden centre round the corner from my home to buy, seeds, soil, plant food, lawn reviver and broad leaf weed killer. That should keep me busy for a while which s fortunate because we later saw this header on their website. The world is closing down….. Hello World.

Tuesday, 24th March, 2020

The weather outside continues to taunt us. It is glorious outside. Clear, blue sky, strong sunshine, no breeze, warm – only 11C/52F but feels really comfortable in shorts and tee-shirt. Exercise today will include lawn mowing, patio sweeping, garden furniture uncovering and cleaning as well as a long walk in the sunshine.

I am not naturally an especially panicky person so you can imagine that I was absolutely alarmed this morning when I opened the bedroom door. I challenge anyone to be anything otherwise. As I opened the bedroom door I found a strange man sitting on a chair with another standing at his side waiting for me. They had come to take me away. How did they get in to my house?

Through the power of dreams. I was having a dream. I never dream or never remember dreaming. Clearly, I had gone to bed feeling under threat and insecure. These are uncertain times for all of us. Clearly, I have internalised this anxiety and it has sought an outlet and resolution. The dream was so vivid that hours later I could paint the scene that faced me on the other side of the bedroom door. I have surprised even myself.

More serious than Pandemic!

When I opened my bedroom door in real time, I faced an emergency far more serious and immediate than any pandemic. Every television Sky Q Box in the house bar one had lost its internet connection. What a time to lose our window on the world. I wish I could said it was a dream but no. My first thought was that the mooted drop in web bandwidth that the crisis might engender as more home working was adopted may have been the cause. However, my internet connection still gave me 350 mbs download. 

I rushed around the house reconnecting everything. Thank goodness for the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button. Unfortunately, by the time they were all connected to the web, the handsets had lost their settings. It took me 20 mins to realise that. I had to check Google to be reminded how to reset them and, at last I could relax and just panic about the news of the virus pandemic.

Wednesday, 25th March, 2020

The beautiful, pandemic days go on. We opened the conservatory doors to the sunshine and I had my hair cut in the kitchen. My head feels great now. We went out to Littlehampton to buy fresh fish from the fisherman’s shed. The roads were very quiet and we were lulled in to a false sense of security. We called in at Asda en route. People were queuing around the car park at 2m intervals to get in and shop. We drove on. We came so Sainsbury’s and thought we’d try our luck. People were queuing around the car park at 2m intervals to get in and shop. We drove on. 

When we got to the pier at Littlehampton, it was clear that the fisherman was not open. 

Littlehampton working today.

Although there was plenty of traffic up and down the water, the blackboard outside the shed announced: Sold Out of Fish. So, all in all, not a very profitable trip other than a delightful walk.

Littlehampton Pier

As we drove home, we spotted a Tesco Express which had no admission policy but had a new delivery of bananas and milk which were on our ‘To Find’ list.

Back home, we enjoyed the weather in our back garden, sunbathing, gardening and relaxing. We went out for an hour’s walk in the locality. Later, we griddled chicken in the garden and DRANK WINE. Joy of joys! If I’m going to die, I’m not going to do it abstemiously.

Thursday, 26th March, 2020

You can’t maintain a Blog and ignore a pandemic at the moment. It is at the forefront of most of our minds. As the media constantly updates the number of people infected and the number who have died, as people roam the supermarkets manically hunting for food stuffs, as fellow humans cross the road to avoid those they once spoke to happily, I have been wracking my mind or an echo that has been chiming there. Last night, it suddenly dawned on me. 

In 1975 I was a young teacher working hard during the day and doing a distance learning degree at night. I had little time for television but one thing really gripped me. It was a post-apocalyptic, serial drama created by a man called Terry Nation who was also famous for creating the Daleks in Dr Who and a space drama called Blake’s 7. Fiction does little for me. Science Fiction leaves me cold. I have absolutely no interest at all. Genuine ‘scoping’ of can grip me and one burned into my imagination. 

In 1975, Terry Nation’s drama, Survivors, was broadcast on BBC1. It concerns the plight of a group of people who have survived an apocalyptic plague pandemic, which was accidentally released by a Chinese scientist and quickly spread across the world via air travel. Referred to as “The Death”, the plague kills approximately 4,999 out of every 5,000 human beings on the planet within a matter of weeks of being released. Total anarchy reigned. Small pockets of survivors roamed the streets searching for food and water with no services being run no electricity, no fresh water, etc. Armed vigilantes were the biggest threat, ransacking deserted supermarkets and terrorising others who challenged them. If you thought the current situation was bad, it could all get a great deal worse.

You can’t beat home baking.

Of course, in a crisis, it’s wonderful to have a wife who can bake. This happens every week in our household and has done for the past 40 years. The smell pervades the whole kitchen and gives a confident, relaxing feeling.

Friday, 27th March, 2020

A beautiful, sun-filled day but cooled by an edgy sea breeze. I have spent a large chunk of the day organising and collecting in payments for travel over the coming year that we are now unlikely to enjoy. Already, the IHG Hotel group has refunded bookings for two weeks in Yorkshire and France. Today, I have been addressing two separate months stays through HomeAway in Tenerife. The first is in May and the second in November. It looks as if May is definitely out of the question. Spain currently has a complete lock-down and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against it. If that advice remains for a couple more weeks, we can cancel with full refund. 

Essential Travel Advice

Our November trip can be cancelled with full refund of our deposit at this early stage and that’s what we have done. If the situation clears up by then, we will consider rebooking.  We still have a week in Athens in late August booked. Greece is also in total lockdown currently and we may have to rethink our plans. However, I have not failed to touch Greek soil in any year since 1981 and I will fight hard to keep that link going. It will have to be really serious to make me miss this year.

Our bank balance is beginning to look swollen but our hopes for the year are diminishing. Who knows, good things may come out of all this but first we have to stay alive.

Saturday, 28th March, 2020

The world is quiet – almost in a coma.  In our area, at least, people are respecting the request to stay at home and, largely, stay indoors. It has been made really ironic as the weather is quite delightful This has been beach weather, near a beach but one which is quiet and largely deserted.

Yesterday Angmering, West Sussex / Monastiraki, Athens

It is hard to see tourist areas recovering in time for this year’s summer season. It is hard to see many airlines, hotels and restaurants surviving this trauma.

Week 586

Sunday, 15th March, 2020

Half way through March and all is not well with the world. Pandemic is a scary word and it coincides with a year when we have been voraciously booking trips away. We are now, cautiously retracting our reach in the attempt to recoup as much of our financial commitment as we can. Goodness knows how the tourist industry will survive this carnage. 

For many years, I have been observing the precariousness of a country’s GDP relying so heavily on their tourist industry with specific reference to Greece. Stavros always shrugged such views off and believed that it was the eternal gift that kept on giving. Certainly, in spite of lean and fat years, people like him could always expect to make a good living out of it. The apocalyptic events of this year might just give him pause for thought. Italy is in lock-down. Spain is in lock-down, Greece is almost there with cafes and restaurants and bars closed until after the (income generating) Easter period. 

Borders are closing across Europe and we are being told that this extreme position could last until the end of the year. All cruise ships are banned from Greece as are ferries from Italy which bring the largest part of pan-European traffic. Americans are banned from flying to Europe and flights are stopped to and from Spain. The Greek Tourism Federation is warning that Most tourism companies will fold without support. Where will that support come from? Germany is on the brink of recession as it is. Greece can’t afford to save itself. The apocalypse may not only be medical. It may be economic as well.

Much of the current received wisdom is that this virus will be with us until the end of the year and is likely to mutate and revisit next year. Restrictions being put in place at the moment may stay in place for two years. Island businesses are unlikely to stay afloat in those conditions and will retreat to subsistence living.

Luscious Tarragon

On a much more serious note, my tarragon looks as if we haven’t had a Winter season at all. Come to think of it, we haven’t. Last March, it looked like a pile of dry, old sticks. This year it is green, vibrant and ready to flavour my chicken. I may be about to die an untimely death but I will certainly smell delightfully of a hint of aniseed!

Monday, 16th March, 2020

Beautiful day of blue sky and warm sunshine. We have spent it planning our near future in the light of developments. We have cancelled our trips to Yorkshire, France, Tenerife. We still have Athens on the books. It is a bit depressing but necessary. We are going to freeze our Health Club membership for …. 9 months although we can unfreeze it at any time. This is a major change to our way of life.

We have done a good workout by walking in the local area today. Actually, I was shattered after a couple of hours of rigorous effort. This virus pandemic looks likely to last well in to this year and, maybe, in to next. It will certainly curtail our way of life. The only remaining trip we have on the books at the moment is one to Greece and that is currently in serious doubt. The Greeks have seen a large rise in confirmed cases of infection and anyone entering the Country is to be put in two weeks’ quarantine. It makes any sense of a week’s holiday impossible.

Two weeks quarantine for travellers to Greece.

Actually, I’ve found a positive to this virulent lock down. The Metropolitan Opera, New York is in isolation but is committed to providing entertainment for those of us at home. 

Bizet’s Carmen from the Met.

Bizet’s Carmen on Monday, Puccini’s La Boheme on Tuesday, followed by Il Travatore, La Traviata, Lucia de Lammermoor and so on, night after night of free streaming. I am going to be in heaven. I don’t want isolation to stop.

Tuesday, 17th March, 2020

Is it only Tuesday? It’s seemed such a long week already. Today has been spent disentangling ourselves from commitments over the year. We’ve already received reimbursements from 2  hotels. We’ve cancelled one other in Tenerife. We are hoping a Greek one can be held on to for late in the summer. We have been to the Health Club and suspended our membership for 9 months. It has really hurt us to do it but we can go back at any time. When we went in today to sign the suspension forms, we found the carpark nearly empty which confirmed our decision. The whole process is fraught with risk as we exercise.

As we withdraw from travel abroad, we have also cancelled trips to friends across UK as well. It is sad that life should come to this but needs must. In response, we have decided to invest our cash at home. We had intended to do this in later age when our travelling times were much reduced but now seems as good a time as ever. We have been talking about establishing a more formal, garden kitchen. Currently, we store our cooking equipment in the garage – Griddle, Hob and Deep fat Fryer – and move it in to the garden when we need it. Now, we will explore the idea of expanding the patio paving, putting a cook house at the back of the garage and running power and lighting to it so that we can establish a permanently set up kitchen.

This project will mean adding a paved area, extending a power feed with lighting and extending Wi-Fi reach to the furthest point of the garden.

En route to the ‘Shed Place’, we visited Sainsburys and Asda. It was a strange, strange experience rather akin to Christmas without the excitement. We were there about 8.00 am but already the shelves were bare. People – mainly older – were limping around the aisles, using their shopping trolleys as warlike missiles and with manically glazed over eyes. Anybody would think we were in the grip of a pandemic. We wanted to buy tinned stuff for our local food bank but there was hardly any available. I don’t blame anybody for this. If you are told to isolate yourself for months on end, why wouldn’t you try to buy up the world’s stock of tinned food? We did that two weeks ago!

Wednesday, 18th March, 2020

Quite a grey, overcast day today although not cold. We are busily doing paperwork which we’ve been putting off. I’m also going to do some garden tidying to breathe some fresh air in to my lungs and raise the heart rate a bit. 

Sainsburys, Rustington last night.

We have a Sainsbury’s superstore in Rustington. It looked far less than ‘super’ last night according to our local media. If a major concern like this cannot keep up with demand then who can?

Sainsbury’s, Sifnos

Greeks have a centralised control in these circumstances although they are not always peripherally observed. Supermarkets are being handed strict opening times by government. The aim is a laudable one. Mandatory extension of supermarket opening hours discourages panic shopping and aids shops to encourage shoppers to maintain the advisory 2 metres between each other. 

Of course, what makes sense in Athens, doesn’t quite do it on Sifnos. What is a large supermarket in the capital is a very small, corner shop on the islands. Not only do islanders regard Athens with sceptical disdain but the are inclined to follow tradition over central government diktat. However, the island has published Athens guidelines for all supermarket/corner shops to follow.

Tesco, Kamares Sifnos

This has included opening times a social distancing. If you shopped in one of these places, you know that the crowds would have to be restricted to 2 shoppers at one time because of the restricted space.

Kathimerini reports fears that Greece will miss out on the tourist season completely this year as major international tour operators such as Tui, AG and the FTI Group suspend operations and payments. The Americans have already isolated Europe and now added UK. Airlines are collapsing their schedules because of lack of takers. This summer is going to be a wasteland for islands like Sifnos.

Thursday, 19th March, 2020

Out early on a grey day with fine, wetting rain. We were on our way to do our regular, weekly shop. Interestingly, there was nothing regular about this. Although the carpark was fairly quiet and it was reasonably early in the morning, the shelves in this superstore were very empty. It was a good job we didn’t want any potatoes because there was not a single one for sale. We didn’t need fresh fish and there was not fresh fish at all. We did want a fresh chicken but there was nothing available.

Pauline was keen to get a couple of packets of paracetamol but none was there. So, we moved on to staples like porridge oats for Pauline’s breakfast. Usually, there are about 8 different brands. Today, not a single bag/packet of any brand could be found on the shelves. We actually will need fresh milk soon. Long ago, we bought in packets of dried milk for just this eventuality. Just as well because Tesco had no milk at all. We decided to go on to Sainsbury’s. No milk. On to Morrisons. No milk. What is going on?

What’s wrong with those cows?

We even went back to Tesco later in the hope that they had restocked. We are being told there is plenty of supply, supermarkets are constantly restocking but these are soothing words to dampen down panic demand. The evidence behind them is not there. 

We suspended our Health Club membership yesterday. It was costing us £150.00/€161.00 per month. We were told by our contract that we could freeze up to 9 month but it would cost us 25% of our charges each month – £37.50/€40.25. Today, all members received an email saying that all conditions were being waived. We can freeze for as long as is necessary at no cost at all. Later, we heard that Health Clubs and Gyms were closing entirely across the country. We feel justified in our actions.

Friday, 20th March, 2020

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The Second Coming – W.B.Yeats 1919

The clown that is our prime minister has had to face the fact the country will need strategies that would look very much more at home on the shoulders of the Labour leadership. Centralised salaries have been announced today that will cost the country £Billions and will saddle the young with debts that will long outlast my lifetime. Bailing out businesses and citizens, ordering the closure of huge swathes of the country’s commercial activity is not natural, Tory activity. Much of this was in Labour’s last manifesto. As so many are pointing out, it will be hard to retreat from this if it remains in place for a couple of years as is likely.

Our Health Club is now compulsorily closed and so are bars, restaurants and other mass gatherings. Sport has gone. Most airlines are virtually gone. Most European destinations are locked down. The command economy is suddenly in vogue.

Don’t bother going to Greece for a quick break. Anyone entering the country has to go into compulsory quarantine for 14 days. Not very conducive to a short break! Ferries are confined to carrying freight. Strict rules about supermarket shopping

Greek Farmers’ Market

The Greek government today stressed the perils of leaving cities for the islands and countryside ostensibly to escape the spreading of the coronavirus epidemic, with the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, warning Greeks to stay put. Whether the Greek state have the financial strength to support its huge pool of poor and unemployed remains to be seen.

Saturday, 21st March, 2020

A glorious but cold day with a sharp, sea breeze. Pauline knew she was taking a risk but decided it was worth it to have a last haircut before the complete ‘lockdown’. We had to go in to Worthing for that. The appointment was at 9.00 am. It was very quiet. I usually sit in the coffee shop while Pauline is busy. Today, all coffee shops were dark and empty. I walked the chilly streets looking for toilet rolls.

Struggled for a parking space today.

Pauline came back looking lovely and 10 years younger – so money well spent. At the butchers in the precinct, a queue had formed and snaked about 100 metres across the concourse. It was orderly and quiet even though the ones at the back were likely to end up with very little.

Although the day continued to look gorgeous, it remained cold. However, come rain or shine, it is now our new gym. We put our jumpers on and set out for a long walk around our local area. Actually, the village and its surrounding area is quite delightful. It is good to be forced to explore it.

In spite of the temperature, we griddled tuna steaks outside and ate them with salad as the sun streamed in through the conservatory doors. Virus or no virus, we have a modus vivendi to maintain!

Week 585

Sunday, 8th March, 2020

The world is full of virus. It is on the streets, in the newspapers, on the broadcast media and the digital media. It is talked about everywhere. I found this statistical probabilities table published yesterday and breathed a sigh of relief that I was not yet 70. Could have been a death sentence.….

We’re All Doomed.

We are determined to follow our travel plans until something else stops us. Really only cancellation of flights will do that.

Glorious Helleborous

Outside, Spring is getting on with its job in spite of the weather rather than because of it. The plants around the front of the house know they only get one chance each year to impress and have gone for it.

Vivacious Skimmias

Who knows what the year will bring. We need to make the best of it and that means going away and exploring the world in all its glories.

Monday, 9th March, 2020

The Dark Ages

Catherine is 65 today! Can you believe it? Mum gave many members of our huge family affectionate nick names. Liz was temporarily Lizzy Dripping, Michael was Mynel (presumably because he couldn’t pronounce his own name.) Bob was Boggart (Boggart is one of numerous related terms used in English folklore for either a household spirit or goblin aka bogeyman.) Catherine was known, amongst other things and only temporarily, as Katy-Cush. I thought it was just a lightly alliterative term of endearment. 

I’ve done some research and I think I know where this came from. Our family were avid listeners to The Home Service on the BBC in the 1950s -1960s. The Archers, of course, was essential listening for some. Sing Something Simple with Cliff Adams and the Adams Singers on The Light Programme was a weekly source of group singing. As Mum had so many young children on the production line of that era, Listen with Mother was a favourite.

This was too late for Catherine to be listening but Mum was probably dealing with child No 7 – Caroline – by then and been attracted by the name. I can’t remember if I had a nickname but it certainly wouldn’t have been complimentary.

Tuesday, 10th March, 2020

Although I think this is generally true of me, it is a reaction heightened by Retirement. I am talking about the patterns of life we fall in to. I remember driving the 15 miles to work across the Pennines each day and, after a while of that action, arriving at School without much memory of the drive. The 30 mins had been spent in my head, planning the day, anticipating the evening, dreaming of the future and ignoring the present.

In retirement and without the varying demands of the day, we get drawn in to patterns of activity which occupy the space of the day normally filled by employment. We wake up at 6.00 am with the Today programme.. We get up at 7.00 am. We have out tea and orange juice with the Today programme. We discuss the jobs/activities we hope to accomplish in the following few hours. We leave for the Health Club at 11.45 am and exercise for 80 mins with Politics Live. Maybe 30 mins swimming outside followed by 30 mins in the Spa and we are driving home about 2.45 pm where we cook our meal. This is our modus vivendi.

Although we are aware of this narrowing regimen, generally, it pleases us. We do sometimes feel embarrassed about it. However, we break out by travelling for a good proportion of the year However, the reassuring warmth of our routine means that any spanner in the works can be really annoying. This morning I got up to find all the mini-Sky Q boxes had lost connection with the hub. I could get no reception at all. I had to charge round the house disconnecting all the boxes, powering them all back up and then getting them to talk to the main box. Fortunately, this is now much easier through the WPS (wireless protected setup) button. Even so, the gentle, morning routine was destroyed. 

The Two Ages of Young Man.

The thing is, we all (or many of us) go through these stages. I particularly like this development of David as he transitioned from ‘bearded like the pard‘ student to young, worker starting out on the next 40-50 years of his life in employment. The other thing is, it makes me feel so old and left behind.

Wednesday, 11th March, 2020

Out early this morning. Pauline has a appointment at the Beauty Clinic. I am reduced to walking the streets. Rustington is a lovely but retiring town of gardens, colourful planters, old fashioned shops and banks and lots of old people. It is rather a ‘chintzy’ little place. It is within walking distance of the beach that so many of the old people retired to. Quite a few shops that have disappeared from very modern High Streets still feature here. Going in to Boots, W.H.Smith’s, etc. feels a bit like the old days. 

Locally caught fish ready for despatch.

Anyway, after Pauline reappeared, we went on to Littlehampton Pier which runs along the junction between the River Arun and the sea. The Riverside Fish cabin had been recently stocked up with fresh and locally caught fish and so had the delivery lorries going off to the Surrey markets.

You can promenade along the Arun to the sea.

We have been discussing it for a few days but finally made a momentous decision today. We are going to keep away from the Health Club for a while. We have noted over the past few days that everything we do brings us close to other members. There are so many surfaces, handles, etc. that we touch that avoiding potential contamination is impossible. While we are not the most susceptible, we are aging primates and need to taken sensible precautions. 

One of our exercise ‘friends’/companions on a regular basis is a BA Air Hostess who specialises in the Heathrow-Hong Kong route. As China’s virus epidemic exploded, we had the difficult problem of how to react to her. Should we stop and talk? Should we keep our distance? The Chinese experience of Coronavirus transmission is that gymnasiums have proved fertile ground for the reasons I’ve suggested. Today, we have walked by the sea in the morning and round the village in the afternoon. We will build that in to our daily routine for a while. Even so, I’ve missed my gym visit today.

Thursday, 12th March, 2020

We were supposed to be going to Yorkshire at the end of March and to France almost immediately afterwards. Both trips were using IHG Group hotels. I have been a Gold Card member for a few years now. Today, they contacted me to say I could cancel unconditionally in the light of the pandemic virus. We are thinking it over this evening. It affects March/April.

Today, we went out to Elmer Beach for a walk. Last time we went, the tide was out and our walk was absolutely wonderful. Today, we hadn’t checked the tide tables. The tide was in and angry. We couldn’t walk much and returned home after a short visit.

Elmer Beach today.

We spent an hour walking round our village. The wind was quite strong and cold today although the temperature reading was 12C/54F. At least we did our target for the day.

Friday, 13th March, 2020

Friday 13th – doesn’t feel auspicious. We have begun to retract from our year of travel. We had a week in Yorkshire in March/April and a week in France at the end of April already booked. Our hotels were through my IHG membership. Yesterday, they wrote to me to say that I was entitled to cancel without penalty because of the pandemic. Having considered it over night and erring on the side of caution, I cancelled both this morning. We will continue with our bookings for Tenerife in May and November as long as government advice doesn’t exclude it. We will probably make a one day shopping trip to France in the next week.

Our alternative to a gym workout today has been walk down to the beach. It takes about 30 mins to walk down to Angmering-on-Sea beach. It is a pleasant walk through the village, past Gladstone Cottages, over  …

Past the Year Gladstone died – 1898
Over the railway.

…  the railway. Next we walk through the Kingston Private Estate and down to the beach.

From Kingston Private Estate to the beach.

When we got to the beach, it was largely isolated. Occasionally, a dog and walker appeared but, mainly, we had it to ourselves. 

Angmering on Sea beach

After 30 mins pavement pounding, I was more tired than 40 mins on a jogging machine. We rested on a beach bench and enjoyed the sea air before setting off for home.

Saturday, 14th March, 2020

Doctors’ surgery phone this morning to tell me not to go in for my annual review. They will phone me instead. Suits me fine. Our exercise today is a walk to East Preston beach. It is beautiful today, sunny and deserted. 

East Preston Beach.
Near the beach.

East Preston thinks of itself as a ‘select’ part of the area. In reality, it is ‘old select’. Faded but with fading money, East Preston is dissolving in to coastal retirement. It features private estates which are not strictly ‘private’ but have struggled to maintain that aura. All the ‘private’ signs sit juxtaposed with ‘public footpath’ signs.

Delightfully deserted ..

I was absolutely shattered when we arrived home and my watch indicated that we had walked 7 miles. We griddled swordfish steaks outside in the warm, sunny garden and sank in to relaxation. Missing the football already.

Week 584

Sunday, 1st March, 2020

Happy new Month

Nice morning. Bright and sunny but cold. Political programmes and newspapers are made more interesting by the floundering of this government largely through lethargy but internal contradictions don’t help. These will become more apparent as Brexit negotiations develop.

We are already seeing fishermen who voted to Leave squealing about loss of their markets and fruit farmers who voted to Leave squealing about loss of their businesses because of stopping free movement of labour. Viral across the web are clips of cabinet ministers speaking before the referendum saying it would be madness to leave the Single Market and, of course, we don’t want any tariffs on trade and who are now gung-ho for a total breaking of all ties. Appointing people who are clearly flaky like Priti useless Patel, who was sacked for illegal and dangerously off-piste meetings in Israel and then bringing her back to the Home Office as if she can be relied on to maintain loranorder, as Denis Healey described it, is obviously going to blow up at some stage. That stage may have arrived already.

To return to something safer. The last month was wet. The Met. Office have released stats saying it has been the wettest February on record which go back 158 years. So, only Ruth will have known a wetter one. That’s why she can swim!

Finished off the arrangements for our French trip by booking the Tunnel crossing. A journey of just 35 mins is so delightfully comfortable that the cost of £74.00/€86.00 each way for the car and 2 people is negligible.

Monday, 2nd March, 2020

A lovely, sunny day thank goodness. Sun changes everything. We had to go down to the surgery to collect a ‘repeat prescription’. The carpark, which must take 100 vehicles, was absolutely packed. I had to drive round while Pauline went in. I hope it’s not a virus epidemic in our village already!

Size is essential.

We drove on to Curry’s to look at televisions. Curry’s wasn’t busy. In fact, at 9.30 am, we were the only takers in this electrical superstore. We have 6 televisions in our house, one is 55″, two are 42″ and three in the bedrooms are just 24″. We are retired. We watch quite a lot of television. We have also caught the ‘Greek’ bug of having the television playing in the background while we are doing something else. It is not a good look but we are old enough not to care what you think.

These things just get cheaper.

We have found that we spend a large part of our day when we are at home, in the Kitchen (42″ tv) and the Office (42″ tv). That has come as quite a surprise to us. The Lounge is used only to watch television and almost exclusively in the evening. It has almost become a television room. Because of that, we have decided to replace our ‘old’ (4 yrs.) television and buy a bigger one. The 55″ LG Smart TV that I bought 4 years ago as we moved in cost about £1,250.00/€1,460.00. It stands on a sideboard. I want a cinema-size television with sound bar wall mounted. To find the price has dropped so far is a joy. We will have to get a little man in!

Tuesday, 3rd March, 2020

The advice to combat COVID-19 infection is to wash hands thoroughly after contact with people and surfaces outside the home. One trip to the supermarket this morning illustrated the problem with that. As we walk into the supermarket, we pick up a trolley which has been used by scores of people recently and they pushed it with the HANDLE. 

Contact – trolley Handle

Then we go to sign in for a scan-as-you-shop HANDSET which has to be released by tapping a screen with your fingers where hundreds of fingers have already been.

Contact – Sign-in screens

Pushing the infected trolley around while scanning in the goods chosen with the infected handset sometimes means weighing, printing a barcode and scanning in loose goods like fruit & veg. Those weighing scales and attached screens will also have been touched by countless people.

Contact – Checkout screens

Finally, the Check-out process is fraught with infected contact points which are unavoidable. Because of this, we thought we would buy antibacterial wipes to wipe all the surfaces as we went. “We found that, not only is that almost totally impractical as we tried it with tissues, it is almost impossible to buy them anyway. Supermarkets told us that their shelves had been empty of these products for almost a month.

Wednesday, 4th March, 2020

A grey day. We went out to Asda and Sainsbury’s to stock up on staples for all eventualities. Toilet rolls, toothpaste, sanitising soap, sanitising wipes, packs of tins of beans, tomatoes, fish, and packs of dried milk, dried fruit, frozen fish, etc.. 

Be prepared …

Today, Italy announced that all its schools and universities and our Chief medical Officer suggested it was quite possible that UK would have to follow suit. We are continuing our life as normal although we are being much more careful in the public places we visit/human interfaces that we make. Particularly, our daily trips to the Health Club could prove very …. unhealthy. Every door, every locker, every exercise machine, every television screen on every exercise machine now needs to be wiped clean before and after use. 

Interesting article in The Times this morning about the wealth divide illustrated in its response to a potential pandemic. Home isolation is fine if you can afford to stockpile, get home-deliveries, afford Satellite TV entertainment/information dissemination, home heating and all the other things involved in shutting oneself from the world. Miserable if your isolation is like imprisonment without the comforts. It will certainly take a lot to stop us travelling this Summer.

Thursday, 5th March, 2020

When will it stop raining. It is belting down again this morning and we have to go out. I am having a blood test and then we are going to Tesco. One of the roads we have to drive on to get there is significantly called Water Lane. This lane feeds down to the village square. At the side of the lane runs a brook/stream/river. The actual description depends on the weather.

Angmering village square – 2013

There has been a fabled flood 3 years before we moved here. The square flooded and those lads who thought it would be fun to pose on the village memorial seat are probably married with kids by now. Since then, our local authority, West Sussex County Council, has spent a large amount of cash to increase flood resilience. The village hasn’t suffered since. However, the brook/stream has turned in to a river today as it struggles to channel the heavy rain. It is down here that I spotted a heron the other day fishing in the water.

Friday, 6th March, 2020

Wow! Lovely, sunny morning. We made the most of it. I took a urine sample down to the surgery prior to my annual review next week. (Fantastic sample, by the way. Definitely a winner!) 

You can’t beat a trip to Wickes on a sunny day.

With that success still in my head, we drove on to Wickes which is in  … Wick just over the river Adur. I was buying presents for Pauline – a pot of paint and a paint stirrer. She loves these sorts of thing. Well, they had the paint but no stirrer. 

We’re going to need a bigger tin …or a smaller stick!

As we walked out of the shop, I tripped over a piece of wood. Prescience is all. Here, the store is giving out ‘free’ paint stirrers with every purchase. Well it worked for me.

Good workout at the gym this afternoon. It is looking just as popular as normal currently. We came home and cooked outside in the sunshine of the back garden. It felt warm and Spring-like after yesterday. Unfortunately, it is not forecast to last.

Saturday, 7th March, 2020

One of my readers wrote to me today to say that he hadn’t read the Blog for a while because the he was sleeping quite well at the moment and had not needed it. I am not at all surprised nor do I blame him. Sometimes writing it is the only thing that keeps me awake and it can be a struggle to make the content interesting when it is fashioned from a quiet life of monotonous retirement. However, I will make a mental note to do more interesting things to keep my readership entertained to the degree they expect. 

I’m trying to write my Blog each day to the accompaniment of a piece of music from my past. Tonight it is Chopin’s Nocturne, Op.9:No 1, Larghetto in B-Flat Minor. I am barely able to see the keys to type as the tears flow from my eyes. This piece I associate with one of the saddest, most despairing times of my life.

I can see myself now, confined to a grubby little flat, sitting by an old, gas fire, writing notes for a University essay in the early hours of a work day morning. I would snatch 2-3 hours of sleep and then set off for another day at the chalk face. I was miserable and metaphorically self flagellating in acknowledgement of past failings. This piece I strongly associate with Descartes. It was early 1975 and I was reading Descartes: Philosophical Writings. It is on the shelves of my office now. Some things will never leave me.

As I grappled with Cartesian theory and the mind-body problem, I realised that I loved the philosophical process and I was relatively good at following it. I was fascinated by the clash of concepts of Idealism and Materialism which Cartesian metaphysics generated. It sowed the seeds of  my exploring Determinism and Marxism in future years. These were heady days for a 24 year old youth who believed anything was possible and yet worried that nothing was likely. Because it is so engrained on my memory, I can tell you that the Chopin Nocturne was followed on my cassette by the Étude in E Major, Tristesse which, as you will know, means sadness and completely reflected my mood. I am playing it now…..

As I finish writing, my Chopin Collection moves on to Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op.35 which the cognoscenti will know is the celebrated Marche Funèbre. It shocked me the first time I realised that I was enjoying the Funeral March