Week Two of UK Lockdown

And it continues. We listen to the wireless almost hourly for news and watch the BBC ten p.m. evening broadcasts each night for updates on the UK Corona virus figures. And with such intense scrutiny it is clear that something is happening at ‘Auntie’. Over the last two years the BBC has seen budget cuts of up to 80 million pounds. This has caused the loss of 450 jobs from its news and story departments. Those BBC executives who still have their jobs warn that the corporation is facing an unprecedented threat to its future. The National Union of Journalists has said the BBC was facing an “existential threat”, while the sharing of radio bulletins across the BBC will result in further job losses. Newsnight, a nightly, popular political program will lose a dozen personal, production of its in-depth films will be halved, and its investigative journalism diminished.

There is also an effort to reduce the number of on-screen news presenters, which brings up the question of where is Huw Edwards, the main BBC News anchor? Even beloved Clive Myrie is rarely seen. The news presentation team is now almost entirely women and that raises another question of pay scale equality.  Commenting on changes due to the Corona Virus situation a memo reads… “We’ve tightened hygiene and safety measures. Our presenters are now doing their own make-up.” And it shows.

On Friday Sir Keir Starmer was elected the new Labour Party leader. He gives his speech trying to be as passionate as he can, (not his strongest suit) and with the transmission through one microphone to another and then to the airwaves his words loose a certain panache. Thankfully his somewhat swept hair will be a change for the cartoonists who are getting a little bored by Boris’s haystack haircut. But we wish Starmer luck with uniting the Labour party and in the parliamentary collaboration with the conservatives that must come at this time. 

For my allotted daily exercise I alternate between riding a rental bike and walking in Regent’s Park. A four mile cycle around the outer circle is pretty good. I am alone and not so nervous as there is less traffic and the car drivers and fast bikers now travel with a little more consideration. At the North West corner of the park sits Grove House, the first of the six gated, fenced and locked villas built by Quinlan Terry between 1988 and 2004. All of them are owned by one Sultan or another to be close to the mosque, while in town. Before Grove House there is a small stretch of parkland. The daffodils have begun to fade here and an old elm tree lies fallen on its side. A pair of lovers, wrapped in their winter scarves are standing close. She is hesitant but he pulls her towards him. He wants to feel her body through the rough wool of their heavy coats. I can’t help but smile as I see them. He, ever watchful, catches my eye and with an almost apologetic grin asks that I understand. And I do.   

It is a sunny Saturday morning but I am missing lemons and cumin. Risking the disapproval of our neighbors, I walk to Shepherd’s Market in the village. Regent’s Park Road would normally be bustling with activity but this Saturday is different. There are only a few people out on the street and those that are zig-zag across the road to keep at a distance. Two young people almost take themselves off of the pavement as they pass close to me and we smile. I can’t tell if they are being considerate of me or careful of themselves. At the market, a notice reads that only one customer is allowed to enter the shop as another one leaves. I stand behind a middle-aged man who is struggling to be patient with the older gentleman balancing a cane and two bags of groceries while climbing into his motor buggy. There is another queue outside of the butcher’s shop with people standing a discrete distance from each other. They are silent. There is no chatting for that would necessitate people leaning closer to each other.

It has been over a week since I was in the chemist’s shop. Another older man is standing outside the door, gathering himself as he slowly leans on his cane to walk home. Inside the chemist’s there is now a big wood framed plastic partition across the counter which it is clear will stay long after the virus leaves. I wonder about these solitary men, for now that the pubs are closed they have no place to belong, alone within the company of others. In London it is easy to half-close your eyes and see Hogarth’s England with all of humanities foibles etched on our faces. The experts say we are still two to three weeks from the peak of this virus. Tonight on the television and radios around the country the Queen will speak to the nation, gathering us all to a greater unity of purpose. And within the silence of the street maybe there is hope as we listen to the robin calling out for love once more.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad written and read for you by Muriel Murch. 

  • Huw Edwards surfaced again via Twitter on Monday. Thanking the National Health Staff for all of their care while he was ill with pneumonia.
  • And as of this posting Boris Johnson is stable with oxygen in St. Thomas’s Hospital, London.

Week One of London Lockdown

March 29th 2020 (Updated on April 1 2020) — Week One of Lock Down in London

A week ago on Friday, when my husband walked into Camden for some printer ink and returned with 5 Kilos of rice, I smiled. But now more than a week later I’m grateful to have that not so little bag of rice tucked away behind a chair in the living room. In the United Kingdom the death toll is over over 2200 and in London will be 700 plus by the time this reaches you. We are all finding different ways of being prepared for this new reality and the challenges and solutions of city living are different from life in the country.

Government Alert sent to ‘almost’ everyone

Being of a certain age we have been told – in no uncertain terms – to stay indoors except for one daily exercise adventure. This could be going to the grocery store, the pharmacy or, if really necessary, the doctor or hospital. In an effort to keep one’s sanity, the dog happy, blood circulating and bowels open we are all encouraged to take a daily constitutional in whatever way suits our fancy. There are signs posted in Regent’s Park reminding us to keep our social distance from each other.

We walk carefully, mindful of others on the pathway, staying at that social distance from each other with a grateful nod of thanks. And it is spring and we can all be grateful for that. But I can’t help wondering if someone were to fall, or become ill on the path would anyone stop to help them? Some areas are closed. Understandably the Zoo is closed. But then, also understandably, are the public toilets. The notice, posted by the label for the ‘Golden Showers’ Roses reads ‘Due to the present day crisis these facilities are closed.’ Which, due to the present moment crisis, could provide another critical moment.

A serious crisis moment

But we are taking it all seriously and are tremendously grateful for our neighbors with their offers to help and the shops with delivery services that are working to full capacity. On Monday Vinnie, our milkman, said that he ran out of cheese. At first I thought he had just forgotten the order and put it down to typical milkman behavior. But then my little carrier had only one slab of cheese besides the two pints of milk so maybe his supplies are getting low.

Necdet from Parkway Greens has been busy beyond belief sending out daily delivery vans with boxes of fruit and vegetables. Delivery is free for house-bound seniors giving us another reason to be grateful.

Our little corner of London is quiet. Occasionally we see a neighbor and wave from a scarfed or masked distance while still asking “Are you OK? Do you need anything?” Every weekday morning Bob from Manley Street strides out of his cottage early, not for a walk but off to work. I wonder what is essential about his job and my imagination leads me to him working for MI5 in one of the discreet building along the 274 bus route.

From 8 a.m onwards throughout the day solitary delivery trucks come up and down the street. Masked young men bang on doors to drop off a package and then flee the doorsteps, behaving, though not yet looking, like one of Santa’s elves. No one stops for a signature any more. I’m grateful when our tea order from Fortnum and Mason’s arrives and smile at my last extravagance. If we do get sick at least we can still be drinking good tea.

Another van drops off builders next door. Essential work ? Well that depends who you are asking. It’s a balancing act between abandoning or completing a job, leaving a client in disarray and – or the workmen left with no income.

No longer able to walk to the Camden Bakery I turn to my old farm recipes and begin to bake. But it seems that the whole country is baking and the shortage of flour on the shop shelves this week made news headlines. I suspect this is more than a necessity for food, it is a need for the giving and receiving of comfort within our families and for each other.

First loaves I learnt to bake in 1969?

And who would have thought it possible that the English could garden even more than they do. But on the kitchen windowsill my chard seeds have sprouted and already have four leaves. Soon they will be ready to go out into the little garden patch that I work. But not today because March is going out like a lion. The wind is blowing and we wrap warmly up to take our walk. The door blows shut as we turn to face the empty street and the tiny snow flakes falling on our faces. 

First aired on KWMR.org Swimming Upstream with host Amanda Eichstaedt – April 1 2020

You’ve Got Mail

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 10.28.40 AM Earlier this year a report came out of Brigham Young University stating that ‘Loneliness and social isolation are just as much a threat to longevity as obesity.’ Republished in Science Daily it was then picked up by The Week on April 3. Thus is university research trickled into public consciousness. This ancient universal truth helps account for the modern obsession that we hold to e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These are all ways of staying connected within a real or virtual community that sometimes feels far way and out of reach.

In the days of long hospital stays, back in the early 1960’s, before rehabilitation centers and convalescent homes were big business, patients stayed in hospital until they were deemed ‘All right to go home.’ The tasks of daily living, such as being able eat, toilet, and digest alone and finally, in the last few days of ambulation, prepare and serve from the drinks trolley through the ward. In those years visiting hours were quite restricted. Patients and families could see each other only as the hospital hours, the family work schedules and public transportation allowed. It was often difficult to be at the bedside of a loved one through the days of a long illness. Cards and letters from the outside were very important.

Like other hospitals up and down the country, the post was delivered twice a day to The Royal Surrey County Hospital. It arrived at the front desk and was handed to the hospital porter on duty. Our head porter was named Frank and each morning Frank took the post and sort it into departments; Patients, Clinics, Matron and finally Nurses. Frank would put the different piles in his bag and, leaving the front desk in the hands of the lady telephone operator, set out on his rounds.

I suspect that this walk-about for Frank was as important to him as Matron’s morning rounds were to her, and, in their way, an essential part of the hospital running smoothly. Everyone looked forward to Frank’s arrival, a signal that maybe ‘you’ve got mail.’ Frank’s cheery face would be welcomed with a reciprocal smile everywhere he went. Frank went from Matron’s office to the Bursar’s, the departments, the nurses’ dining room, and then to each of the wards in turn, bearing cards and letters for the patients. In the wards, Frank would hand the post over to the Ward Sister who, depending on how busy she was, would begin to sort and give them out as soon as she could.

But Frank also had a fatherly interest in us nurses and, once we were no longer students but black-belted, silver-buckled Staff Nurses, he watched the patterns that formed in the letters we received. He seemed to know which letters bore serious intent, what passion was in the strong hand writing on the envelope. We would watch him too when he came to the wards. Sometimes he would pretend not to see us but he noticed weight loss and dark, hungry eyes. After he had handed over the patients’ letters to Sister on Victoria Ward he would look for me. If I was with a patient, he found a reason to wait. If I was by the morning coffee trolley he could come to me.

“Good Morning Frank. How are you today?”
“Well. Thank you Staff.”

My eyes would ask the question and his eyes would twinkle a response as, almost every day, he would pull his right hand slowly from his overall pocket and hand me a square white envelope, covered in airmail stamps. He never left these letters in the dinning room for other nurses to find and tease me with. The Royal Mail was then as fast as our young heart beats.

A Letter from abroad “Thank you Frank.” Did I blush? Maybe so, as I took the envelope from his hand into my deep uniform pocket. It rested patiently, beside scissors and tape, until I found a quiet moment to read alone.

I should have known then it was hopeless. I was supposed to be booking a flight to Malaya to work in the Leprosy Hospital of my friend Bushba’s uncle. Instead I was looking into Flights to North America.

Five months later I joined nurses from all over Ireland, England, Scotland and Scandinavia. We were that generation’s import of cheap labour. The next wave of immigrants from the old world to the new. That was fifty years ago.
This pattern of writing has stood us in good stead. Often we have been apart and whenever that happens we write to each other every day. Over the years The Royal Mail gave way to faxes and eventually to e-mails. There are bundles of letters in old boxes in the barn, files of faxes in trunks in the attic and years of emails stored on computer drives.

This week he flew away again as I stay behind to do what needs to be done. God willing I can join him before summer settles in. But until then we will take time to give and receive each other’s hearts and minds, sharing words together.