Friday, April 3

Wellies


One of the nice things about living here is how you can wander around without having to talk to people but, if you do happen to come across someone they are nearly always pleasant and have a smile and a greeting. 

On my travels today I can across some very cheerful people gathered around the small bridge where my children used to play Poohsticks, since modernised with variations on themes to prevent sheep crossing. Substantial dredging and bank clearance work in recent months has helped the stream to develop quite nicely and it flows much faster than it used to. The rains, though, swelled it for several weeks and the newly cleared banks are now just mud. Sticky mud. The sort of mud that you really can't stop young lads wanting to walk into, if only to see how far up their wellies it will go.

One lad had done just that!


Prior to this posed picture, he and the wellington boot were at some distance from each other. What made me laugh, though, was his mother attempting to extract the barely visible boot with a stick!


It was a brave effort and might have worked if she had had a couple of hours spare. She was standing on a dry part of the bank, leaning forward and jiggling the stick around and I could see her slipping and falling in the stream with her enthusiastic but sadly slightly misguided plan. I reassured her that her wellies would allow her to go into the stream, from where it would be an awful lot easier to reach the boot with her hands and rescue it.

Now, I didn't actually know whether her boot wouldn't leak and fill up while she was at it but I took a chance on that one. A few minutes later and the boot was rescued and the young lad could stop hopping around.

As I said, there are nice people around. I felt slightly useful and was surprised to learn that one of the ladies knew about this blog. So I really do have to feature them in today's rambling.

In other news we have to figure out some new etiquette for passing people on footpaths. You're approaching someone on a narrow path by the side of a road. Who moves first? So far I have had some amusing near dances as I've waited until almost the last moment and then we've both moved, moved back again and, eventually, one or other has stayed in the road! One lady went to the opposite side of the road almost as soon as she saw me and stayed there until she had passed, unable to get any further away short of clambering over a hedge and I'm not sure she hadn't even though of doing that. She looked pretty terrified and was quite grey and not one of the happy people here.

I have always thought that it was for a gentleman to move onto the road and my inclination is to do so, whether the approaching human obstacle is a group, has a dog or children or a pram or all three. I will stay put for a bike, even a lady on a bike and most certainly for anyone in lycra on a bike. For another bloke then there has to be some sort of visual assessment of their age and condition. I'll move off the path if I think they look a bit old and doddery. If they then do the same I just have to accept that I am not young any more.

Something else I have noticed that has nothing to do with wellington boots or path etiquette is the way the landscape is changing. The slopes and hills are generally much as they always have been but there are definitely new bumps and mini-valleys appearing. I also find new places where a stream is starting to run or where you tread in trainers at your peril. There is one part of my normal walk where in the last few weeks I have had to make quite a significant detour to keep my shoes dry. I usually follow the well-trod paths left by the sheep but these are not as reliable as they used to be.

I have managed to avoid shops for most of the week but will need to visit Tesco tomorrow. I expect the experience will be noteworthy. We'll see.




Thursday, March 26

A day of colour and accounts.


Dawn was pretty this morning. One of the advantages of sleeping with the curtains open. Later, the sun came out and it has been a beautiful day. This was my permitted walk, of course.



On the way back I spotted Graeme's bonfire which is building up nicely. Can't wait to see that go up in flames!


Nothing else much happened. apart from some extraordinarily generous support for self-employed people! Whilst they do have to wait until the beginning of June for money, it will be a sizeable chunk for everyone, representing 80% of the average of their last three years' declared profits, divided by twelve to get a monthly figure (maximum £2500) and backdated to 1 March.

Quite a few people may now be wishing that they hadn't reduced their profits quite as markedly in previous years!

The Chancellor did, however, make a curious and further unexplained remark about the 'difference' between taxation for employed and unemployed. Could there be trouble ahead, I wonder?



Wednesday, March 25

Spaced out.

Manufacturers of black and yellow tape are doing good business. It was all over the entrance floor at Tesco this morning and also at the Greens Norton Medical Centre where I had to go to collect a prescription. I spent quite a while standing in one of those strange queues at Tesco. We were all spaced out, not on psychedelic drugs, just doing the 2 metre apart thing. It was a warm sunny morning so standing around looking slightly vacant wasn't that bad a thing to do. After a while, though, I began to wonder just how long we would stand there for. Several people had emerged and I had assumed that as one person left one would go in but that wasn't happening. The two people in front of me were youngsters, both engaged deeply in whatever was on their phones and it occurred to me that they may not have noticed the people coming out. Then I watched an old person just walk straight in, missing the queue completely! I decided to follow her.

Inside it all became clear. I had, by chance, arrived in a special period reserved for old people and it was about 15 minutes from ending. There was a lady dishing out sanitiser, wiping our baskets and giving us all gloves which seemed a bit over the top as I only wanted some flour but I went along with the procedure cheerfully. The staff recognised me and didn't seem to query that I might not have been 'old' which was quite disappointing but did have the advantage that I didn't have to go back and queue for another 15 minutes.

There wasn't any flour but I did find some bananas.

My final part of the journey out today was to the Post Office in Greens Norton where they didn't have any black and yellow tape. They didn't have any flour either but I did get a Corgi Toy on its way to a collector in The Netherlands and had a laugh with the chap behind the counter about the length of parts of many Dutch street addresses.

I seem to have made it back safely and think I have managed to avoid anything that might have wanted to attack me. I am particularly glad that I don't need to return to the Medical Centre for a month. I feel a lot safer with the sheep.



Tuesday, March 24

Early morning, exercise books, rood pole or perch.

I had a call at 7am this morning. Calls at that time tend to make me think it's bad news or, as I made my way downstairs to try and find the phone before my odd answerphone message would trip in, the sobering thought that it might be the NHS or some local authority telling me that I should go to bed immediately, not pass Go and definitely not collect £200.

I had recently ignored some eye test that I am recommended to do as I was 0.001% over whatever random line is placed in the book for being diabetic and, despite since being a rather larger percentage under that same random line, I still get all the bumph from clinics and people that tends to do more to worry than cure me. As none of the locations were particularly local, unlike the last one that I did attend a year or so ago, and I am not supposed to drive myself back and the whole thing was worded as a recommendation rather than an instruction, I decided to give it a miss this year and maybe I'll do it next year if they come up with a more convenient venue too. So I had visions that it might be a reminder about that and I was preparing excuses as I went. Or maybe they were having another go at getting me to have a 'flu jab which I had also put off this year. Or, and this was the scary, one, was I actually in this group of people to be locked away for 12 weeks and provided with food and stuff?

It was none of these at all. In fact it was a Corgi collector who presumably had nothing better to do at this time of the morning. I can only guess that he had got used to getting up regularly get up for work at 6am or something and catch a train or bus at this kind of hour and so it seemed totally normal to speak to people at 7am. He just ploughed in with some questions about gold-plated Rover 2000s. I didn't mind too much as it was a relief that it wasn't someone in uniform about to curtail my freedom.

I did remind him that it was, er, quite early and wasn't he surprised to find me 'open' at this time and I think it did begin to dawn upon him that I might not have had breakfast, let alone find some clothes to wear. It was clear that he had seen Boris's announcement last night and simply felt that he needed to occupy himself with something as an alternative to the commute to which his brain and body seemed to have become accustomed. I can imagine that there will be many people waking up this morning and wondering just what the hell they will do and all the autopilot things that their brain is attempting to suggest to their arms and legs are being interrupted by the new input.

So that was a strange start to the day but I was quite impressed by my ability to string the words together in approximately the correct order to make complete sentences in answering the caller's questions. I could make a massive profit on a gold-plated Rover 2000 if I were able to find one for him but they are really few and far between so it's unlikely but nice to be asked.


It seems to be a morning for people getting up very early, or, at least early by my standards. My friend Adrian had been having trouble with his email but announced at sometime around 6:30am that all was well after all. The earliest, though, was Charlie Clarricoates who runs Charlie's Dog Training Centre in Soham. He was up  when the time began with a 5! Charlie has trouble with some technology but finds text easy and there was a long message about putting some videos on his web site. It seems that, whilst I don't have to fix Adrian's email today, I will have quite a bit to keep me occupied with Charlie's videos.

Although sales are not exactly in the same league as that of the £1500+ Rover 2000, I have had a steady flow over the last week or two and no obvious signs of marked change yet. My last two sales, in fact, were to two of the most badly affected towns, Bergamo and Madrid. I was a little concerned that the new rules to keep us in our homes might not permit trips to the Post Office but I believe I will be able to do that and, as it happens, the Greens Norton Post Office is also a food store so I could buy some essentials too.

On my visit to the Post Office yesterday the lady behind me was standing so far away I was having serious doubts about my appearance or maybe I had been wearing the same jumper for too long. I mean, she was at the opposite end of one of the aisles which was more like 20 metres than 2. She was, however, of a certain vintage and may well never had had to deal with such things as metres before. She probably thought it was something like a rod or furlong, one of those measurement units that were always printed on the back page of exercise books.



It is now 10am. I need to get on with work.








Sunday, March 22

Signs of life







This time next year?


It's a lovely sunny Sunday morning and you see these guys in the field next door and, of course, their world has not changed at all. In terms of my day-to-day existence here, I suppose my immediate, local world has not changed either. I like to think that if I can stay here, undisturbed and uninfected, I can just get on with all the things that I do that people often smile at - the photos, the Corgi Toys, the stamp collection, the crosswords and diabolical sudoku puzzles, but not the Eurovision and X Factor articles or predictions as neither are happening. For the most part, I can and do with the days actually passing quite rapidly before I have done much of what I had proposed that I do when I woke up. 

The evenings are readily consumed with TV programmes, live, a mass of recorded stuff and, when that's finished I have Netflix and Amazon Prime, of which I have barely scratched the surface. I have Le Carré's Agent Running In The Field to read too. I can definitely keep myself occupied, go for a walk, a drive, chat to friends and family on the phone or some app or other; I can do these things but for most of the time I am mostly trying not to answer the question as to when will this all end? When can I give my daughters a big hug, put my arm around my sons? How much longer will it be after that when I can walk out in the Arrivals section of Zhuliany Airport and fall into the welcoming arms of a partner?

We hear news that people in China are now starting to return to 'normal' and that the only new cases being discovered are those arriving from outside the country. So, without a vaccine, those people who have survived appear to have waited only about three months before they can start to circulate locally, although clearly they cannot travel to other countries. This seems most encouraging but almost too good to believe. Could we here in Britain be similarly free to associate, wander around, shop and work in June? 

At the moment I am trying to come to terms with the more likely scenario that, whilst the village here will remain much as it always has been and the only people getting ill or dying will be those whose time had come anyway, in cities and other vast swathes of the more populated areas there will be terrifyingly large numbers of people who become badly affected and it will only be in the autumn or even this time next year that the virus may have finally run its course, killed as many as it can and will either be killed itself by vaccines that we all receive or will simply run out of people to infect and cease to reproduce to the point where we can celebrate its demise.

By that time I would hope that other countries, either by luck or better defence activity, will have also bade farewell to the damn pestilence and planes will be taking off once more and, sometime in April 2021 I will walk into that Arrivals area, a year older, deeper in debt but still welcome.

Saturday, March 21

Potatoes. I have potatoes.

I now have potatoes. I did have to get up at 6:30am to get them but, with Tony Blackburn's Sounds Of The Sixties on the radio and the sun shining in a pretty blue sky, it was a good time to be up and about. Even at sometime before 7am Tescos was quite busy and I recognised another chap hovering round the melons, someone who would very seldom be awake at this hour, never mind actively moving around in a co-ordinated manner. We smiled at each other from the proscribed two metres.

Staff said that there had been a big rush of people when they had opened at 6am but they hadn't completely cleared the shelves, thank goodness. The freezer cabinets were mostly empty, though, and what was left was expensive. There were a couple of those interesting fish fillets in breadcrumbs or light batter that used almost always reduced to £2.50 were back up at £4. I can only imagine that people's freezers must be absolutely bursting with lazy food in the kitchens of the generation that never learned how to cook. I bet there will stuff at the bottom that will finish up in landfill in a year's time or, preferably in some ways, contribute to an early demise of some annoying people. My fridge is full with one packet of spinach, a couple of small baguettes, some fish fingers and two Häagen-Dazs tubs.

I did get some potatoes, though, and that made the early morning trip worthwhile. I am determined to make some leek and potato soup. I have no idea how to start but the internet is a wonderful thing and I know there'll be a simple recipe I can follow. The other food I crave is cake. I have eggs, flour and sugar. I am hoping that will be enough for some sort of sponge if I can get the proportions right. If not then I like biscuits too.

Someone on Facebook had shared some announcement yesterday by a local-ish farmer who had big sacks of potatoes for sale. I did think about driving across to Litchborough but then I had this vision of a queue of cars along the lane and, to be honest, much as I like potatoes, a sack of the things is a bit more than even I need! I also have no idea where the farm is and couldn't find the post again which is probably just as well. However, if a few people in the village do genuinely need them (and know where to go!) but have no transport then just ask and I'll help.

My cousin Gary is getting married today. As far as I can tell, he will be permitted two guests, making a total of five people at the ceremony. He did say that they wanted a quiet affair. Maybe not that quiet. I shall raise a glass of something alcoholic to the pair later today.




Friday, March 20

The trouble with people

I really did think that Towcester would not present the ugly face of stockpiling and grab-as-much-as-you-can-and-sod-everyone-else that we have all seen on TV and social media videos. This was the sort of behaviour you might find in poor places like the grottier parts of Hackney, Harlow or Hemel Hempstead. Maybe parts of Milton Keynes too. But not Towcester, the sleepy little market town where most people pass through because they have to and don't stop. I was wrong.

I think it may have been because so many people are not at work any more. So people I never realised even existed are now all over the place. And mostly they are not very nice people. Before I got to Tescos they had cleared the shelves of pasta and, of all things, loo rolls. Loo rolls?! I mean, why loo rolls? As I walked in, men were pushing trolleys loaded high with stuff they really did not need. Their wives or partners followed along looking fierce and if you caught their eye they had that expression that says that they are fully aware that they need absolutely none of what is in the trolley but if you dare to challenge them they'll give you a mouthful.

I don't remember seeing so many ugly and unpleasant people in the same place. These were not the regular Tesco customers at all. They were probably people who do a massive monthly shop every Friday night before EastEnders except this was a Tuesday afternoon. I very seldom get angry but as I walked around the store to try and pick up a few things that I genuinely did need - like food for that evening - I kept seeing huge packs of loo rolls in almost everyone's ruddy trolley. I started swearing as I passed people and realised that I would soon be in trouble so I got out as quickly as I could.

With people having to stay at home I can appreciate that there will be some extra requirements with more people eating at home as opposed to work or restaurants or pubs and so, yes, some extra supplies in stock are perfectly understandable. But these are the sort of people who will be back next week, if not, indeed, before, and pile up even more. They'll be really proud of themselves, the bloke purring to his kids how he's protecting his family and how they'll be able to survive longer than their neighbours. Except their neighbours may well have done the same thing.

The stupidity of these people is amazing. Supermarkets run out like they have done because they don't keep massive stocks in store. They predict what will sell each week and get that delivered. OK, now they'll have to adjust those predictions and get some more in to make up for this week's raids but, unless the idiots continue building up walls of loo rolls and tinned tomatoes and pasta, the stores will have adjusted and caught up by next week and, if they have got their predictions right there should be enough for everyone. Eventually even the most lardy idiots will have stocked his garage up with enough and so no-one will be stockpiling any more and, as the stores will still have all the same stuff they always have had, they will begin to look like idiots too. If the stores are running empty next week, however, then their managers will need sacking. In the meantime, ration what people can buy. Please.

A very, very telling video was circulating last night and this morning of a nice lady in her 40s who had tried to buy some essential items at a supermarket after a long shift at a hospital. It was heart-breaking to watch as she broke into tears and was so sad and angry at the same time about all the people who had needlessly cleared the shelves earlier. There was something about her appearance and voice which made her emotional appeal extremely powerful and it certainly got to me in a way that surprised me. I hope that video is repeated every day and shown in the ad breaks for the daytime game shows and soaps that these idiots will be watching, sat with their feet up on their pay next year sofas and vaping or scrolling through Facebook on their mobile phone.

I shall have to get a few items tomorrow so atrip to Tescos is necessary. I really do hope I don't see any more aliens and just the nice people of Towcester once again.

The link to that video is here:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1240687667265843202

Holiday plans and the trouble with refunds

As it happens, it would seem that I am not going to be leaving the car on Jason & Steve’s drive for some considerable time anyway. No-one can travel anywhere by plane at the moment, as of this week. Even if, by some good fortune, flights do resume in a month or two, I am expecting to find that I still won’t be able to land in Ukraine without being put in quarantine for a couple of weeks. Ukraine is where Olga lives and I’ve been going there every other month for a while now. They’ve now started to see numbers of people with the virus increase and people have started to die there. It seems that Ukraine is about two or three weeks behind the UK and I have a feeling that we will be more efficient in getting things under control. Over there I rather suspect that it will be free to circulate very rapidly as few seem to be taking much notice of any distancing policy and many, many people live in quite close proximity in the huge apartment blocks. Generally, Olga is very self-sufficient and can create wonderful food that could last a good length of time. So she shouldn’t need to go out as often as I do but when she does she will, I feel, be more exposed than I am to getting it from someone.

Olga is comparatively young at 51 and seems strong and fairly fit so I am somewhat less fearful about the outcome if she does catch it than I am for myself. I haven’t had any ‘flu or even much of a cold for many years now and I worry that a bad dose of something like this virus could hit me hard. I also do my very best to avoid hospitals and, even if I do get it, I am unlikely to tell anyone for as long as I possibly can in the hope that I can get through and out the other side of it. Obviously, if I find myself in real trouble I will go wherever I have to but that will be a distinctly last, although hopefully not final, resort.

I had spent quite some time and money arranging a holiday for Olga and myself in late April, early May. I’d booked a smart-looking apartment in Qala on Gozo. It was all looking pretty good. My friend Derek lives nearby and he went to check out the place. He reported that there was some building work going on to the rear of the place which could be nuisance. I had hoped we would have a nice quiet place and could spend time on a balcony but this might result in one of the balconies being less than ideal. Having said that, the work may be intermittent and the lady owning the place said they had only just started that week and had actually only been working noisily for a day or two. She reckoned they might be finished anyway by the time we got there but, nevertheless, she had offered us a refund if we decided to cancel. I didn’t think we would find a better place in the short time available so I left it and reckoned we’d be fine. If it were noisy then we’d pop off t a nearby field or beach instead.

One of the nice things about Gozo is that you are never far away from anything. And you can park easily in most places. Just avoid Victoria. I have spent three holidays now driving around the island and not once have I had trouble. We see a beach or a nice view and stop. Just not in Victoria. I do remember the last time I parked in Victoria and needed to use Google Maps to find my way back on foot to the town centre! On another occasion I actually took the TomTom navigation device with me!

We will still get back to Gozo but the question on my mind, and most people’s minds too at this time, is when? Just how long will this go on for and when will we be free to travel again? I heard reports today that the ‘distancing policy’ could remain in force for the rest of the year. The rest of the year?! I understand that the virus may remain in and around so that if we do start meeting and greeting people again as we used to then it could have a revival and there will be another burst of infections. Quite what that means for my prospects of getting a plane to Kiev this year means, I don’t know. I had assumed and kept at the back of my mind the hope that I would go back in late summer and we’d get to Gozo in the autumn, maybe going somewhere else first as Gozo can be way too hot for me in summer. I am beginning to have doubts now. That’s quite heavy.

When trying to get some money back for the apartment reservation I had made I did think that, if the worst came to the worst, I could ask that it be re-used for an autumn period and I had even started to consider which dates might be good, like the second part of October, maybe. Now I’m quite glad I didn’t! Although getting anything back from AirBnB is not simple. My first effort, with total backing from the very understanding host, produced no response at all, despite my stating that the coronavirus affecting travel permissions was the reason for cancellation. My second attempt produced a zero refund! My third, and I think I’ll have to settle for this, produced a £70 credit against a future booking and a request to the owner for the balance of what I’d paid. I am hoping that AirBnB will either pay the owner the money she is due and that will come to me from her or that they will simply pay me with her agreement.

The refund thing is further complicated by the fact that ArBnB don’t give the owner the money until the reservation starts! So the lady won’t get it until the end of April and I have a feeling that I won’t see it before then even if they are supposed to pay me. It must be tough on people who rely on these bookings to get by. I don’t think that Chelsi, the lady owning the apartment in Qala is in that category will be OK, albeit a lot worse off in terms of extra income this year. I do appreciate that it’s not her fault and so I would have accepted some reduction but, hopefully, if I do use AirBnB next time, then the cancellation will not, in the end have cost me anything.

Flights should be OK too. Air Malta may well take a while to get round to making a refund but they have promised that I can have one. I’ll live with that and have a lot more confidence than I have with the AirBnB thing. Even better, however, have been good old WizzAir. They propose to refund my fares plus 20% to my account with them if the travel restrictions are still in place. At the moment the restrictions are stated as applying only up to 3 April but I cannot imagine them not being extended. It would be odd if I can travel to Ukraine after all on 22 April. Surely that is not going to be possible? All will be revealed soon enough, I guess.


Risk

Well that has been quite a week. The postman knocks and then scampers half-way down the driveway before I open the door, leaving my post and parcels in a little pile on the gravel. We shout our news and greetings and I can’t help but smile at how ridiculous this all seems. Coming indoors I then have a dilemma: should I wash the outside of the envelopes and parcels? I decide instead to open them there, throw the unwanted wrapping in the bin and then wash my hands for the approved twenty seconds or so.

I wake each morning really pleased that I have no signs of the virus and say to myself that, provided I keep away from people and possibly infected things, I should make it through the day. That’s all very well but then someone buys one of my Corgi Toys and I need to go to the Post Office. Greens Norton Post Office doesn’t seem too much of a risk to me. As long as my card works on the contactless point, I have noted that my fingers don’t touch anything throughout the whole visit, but I still wash them vigorously when I get home.

The other risk I have to take is a trip to the supermarket to buy food and whatever else I need. I don’t do the monthly shop with a massive trolley. I don’t even do the weekly shop. Until now, I have tended to go in two or three times a week and that has led to my waste being almost zero. Before, I found myself throwing away quite a few items that had passed their ‘Eat by’ dates so my simple get what I need when I need it system was eminently suitable and worked. OK, so I use more fuel but it’s only a few miles to Towcester and I like to keep the car well-used. It always seems happier than being left for ages.

On the occasions that I have had trips abroad I leave my car at Jason’s house and either he or Steve take me to Luton Airport. It saves me a fortune and it’s nice to catch up with the lads from time to time too. When I return, however, every time my car spews petrol on to their drive and I can see the river flowing down to where I had parked as I reverse up and stop to drive off. It used to scare me but now I know that, after a few minutes, it will stop and, provided that I don’t leave the car for another long period, it won’t happen again. It seems to be a problem with some seals around my fuel injectors - they don’t expand at the same rate as some other parts and that allows the fuel to escape until they have, eventually, expanded to the size they’re supposed to be and thus block the flow in the wrong direction. Even when stopped overnight, the metal still doesn’t seem to cool to the extent for a leak to develop or, if it does, it is minimal. But leave it for several days and the gap gets bigger.

Yes, I know, I’ll have to get it fixed one day before I disappear in a puff of smoke but I have yet to find any helpful reference online to tell me or my mechanic friend exactly what needs to be done. Every time I take the car to him it is behaving itself perfectly in that respect and he sees no sign of a leak either. He knows what he’s doing with the old BMWs that I have too and is reasonable enough to tell me that he could replace part X and then find that we need to change Y and Z too and still have the problem. To replace any more could cost more than the car is worth so I’ll carry on taking the risk for a while longer yet.