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Saturday 21st March 2020

Day one of unemployment

I must be in the denial phase because rather than freaking out about my loss of income and all the dire consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m actually a bit excited about the possibilities opening up ahead of me.

Maybe it’s Spring Fever. I’ve just been out for a long bike ride and spring is bursting out all over. The songline, ‘It’s all too beautiful’, from ‘Itchycoo Park’ by the Small Faces suddenly started playing in my head. It was the first record I ever owned and I still love it. And today, along the Thames, it was the right song for the natural high I was experiencing simply from riding my bike, breathing the air, listening to the birds, and observing the glowing new growth. It was the kind of perfect, sunny, breezy, fresh spring day that sweeps out the cobwebs in my mind and leaves me refreshed.

As well as being filled up with beauty – the weeping willows were particularly magical and I can’t believe they could possibly look any more amazing than they did today – as I rode, I was considering my new circumstances.

I realise that for a while I am still going to be quite occupied in various ways, but then the days might get emptier and I want to be prepared for that, and have a strategy to keep up my momentum and make the most of being ‘time-rich’ for a change.

I think it will be important to maintain a rhythm to my life, getting up and going to sleep at fairly regular times. I will try and make a plan for each day, so that I have things to accomplish each morning, afternoon and evening, to prevent myself from drifting into stagnation. I’ve been thinking about the things that I’ve often wished I had more time for during all these busy years of my life. The first three that come to mind are:

Spending more time outdoors in Nature every day and observing the seasonal changes.

Foraging. At the moment for nettles and hawthorn leaves and wild garlic.

Dancing. I can put music on in my bedroom and dance like noone’s watching. And when it’s warmer I can put music on in the garden and dance barefoot on the grass and close my eyes and pretend I’m at a festival.

 

Sunday  22nd March 2020

Day two of the coronapocalypse

I awoke at 5.30 to the sound of glorious birdsong and remembered a book I read recently, ‘The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence’ by Neil Ansell. It’s an account of hiking and wild camping in the Scottish Highlands. The author loves birds and knows a great deal about them and their songs and calls and cries, but he is ‘journeying into silence’ and losing the ability to hear them. I listened to the dawn chorus, feeling gratitude, and got up and made a cup of tea.

I’m not running my yoga classes online as I don’t have the tech, but I am continuing to plan them just as if I were going to turn up and teach as usual. It’s another way of keeping some structure and rhythm in this new life. I take great pleasure in preparing my classes, and it has a very positive effect on my own daily yoga practice. I will type up and send these lesson plans to anyone who is interested and ok to work from a printed sheet rather than video or audio.

I’m so glad the Archers is a corona-virus-free zone and hope that continues to be the case. It’s comforting to know there is one safe place where I can get away from it. But wow, I’m intrigued about the developing new story line, and I don’t mean the controversy about when to sow spring barley!

I went for another bike ride along the Thames, but in a different direction. The water shimmered and dazzled in the sunlight. I found myself taking little detours, and even explored an industrial estate! I’ve taken a shortcut through it from time to time, but today I cycled right round it, reading the names of all the different small businesses based there. It occurred to me that normally when I’m riding my bike I’m always going somewhere. But this new situation is a game-changer. Yesterday and today my motivation for going out on the bike was purely to exercise a freedom that may soon be taken away. I had no destination. Up in one corner of the industrial estate there was a stile giving onto a muddy path and I decided to park my bike and follow it. As I am not blessed with a good sense of direction, despite living in this town for so many years I had no idea where it might lead and that was quite intriguing. After a few minutes I came to a village and, thanks to a blue plaque on a house with a connection to John Ruskin, was able to work out my location. I retraced my steps to my bike as the temperature was starting to drop, and decided to return soon and explore the other paths I’d seen leading off from the one I’d taken today. Travel on public transport is out of the question and I don’t drive, so I want to explore more deeply the places that are accessible on foot or by bike.

 

Monday 23rd March 2020

Day 3

I’m waiting to hear whether I am covered by my professional insurance to teach yoga classes outdoors. However it seems that we will soon go into lockdown, making my question irrelevant.

I really don’t want to go into lockdown. It will be horrendous. But if that’s what it takes to halt the spread of Covid 19, then bring it on soon, because too many people have not yet grasped the gravity of the pandemic. The longer it keeps on spreading and the greater number of people who become infectious, the more we are delaying the time when we will be safely able to see each other again and get back to work and rebuilding our lives.

Today I was quite shaken after a difficult conversation with a member of the older generation who continues to go out and about, even while their partner, who has a severe respiratory condition, is staying home. It’s hard (if you’re me) to tell someone in no uncertain terms, ‘If (your spouse) gets coronavirus they are 100% definitely going to die. And if they get it, they will definitely 100% have caught it from you, because you are the only person they’ve been in contact with. And you will die too!’

And then I went for a bike ride. The last one for a while? And met, separately, a couple of people I know who were doing exactly the same as me, simply riding their bikes around because they still can. And we stood in the sunshine, at a safe distance from each other, beside the River Thames, and spoke of the things we appreciate about the new circumstances we find ourselves in. Not because any of it is easy for us, but because we were of the same mind, to focus on the silver linings.

I’m looking forward to the distraction of listening to the Archers this evening! This new storyline is moving quite fast and I certainly didn’t see it coming!

 

Tuesday 24th March 2020

Day 4

Another gorgeous spring day to be grateful for! It’s a bit warmer today too.

Unlike most of my yoga teacher colleagues I am unable to give online classes, as I don’t have the tech, no webcam or microphone. Neither am I on any form of social media. This means I can only reach out to my students via email.

I’ve been asking myself whether I’m OK with this situation. There are implications, such as people might forget about me and it might be harder to re-establish my classes when this is all over. Also, running online classes would generate some income. At present the self-employed are not entitled to much in the way of state benefits. I think almost all of us ask ourselves sometimes, ‘Am I being lazy? Should I be doing more?’

Often when I ask questions of myself I ask my body rather than my mind, because it gives more reliable answers. There’s a simple exercise where you tune inwards and tell yourself something that is positive and true, e.g. ‘I love flowers.’ And you focus on how that makes you feel. Then you tell yourself an untruth, e.g. ‘I hate nature.’ And notice how that feels. The body knows what’s true and what isn’t, and responds accordingly. It’s a matter of learning to listen.

I don’t know (anything really!) but I get the sense from my body to trust, not to worry what anybody else is doing, to follow my own path in life, to do what makes me feel peaceful and makes my heart smile.

Last night, like the rest of the country, I was waiting at 8.30pm for the Prime Minister’s announcement about the latest measures to tackle Public Enemy Number 1. I was prepared to be told we were going straight into lockdown and had to stay at home for the foreseeable future. Maybe that would have been the wisest and most effective policy. But in the event it was an anti-climax and won’t affect my current life-style at all. We are not permitted to gather in groups, which means I won’t be able to teach yoga outdoors, but I’d pretty much assumed that would be the case.

We can still go out for food shopping and exercise, which is much more freedom than I expected to still have today. I celebrated by riding up to Shotover Hill and walking through the woods. I felt exultant just to be out and about. The fast-growing busy-ness of Spring was in the air and it was energising to be immersed in it. I thought I heard a jay in the trees above me. I looked up and couldn’t see it, but there was a red kite circling gracefully overhead.

A tree called out to me to come over for a hug, so I did. I wrapped my arms around it and rested my cheek on the mossy bark. Trees are such wise beings. I’ve been missing hugs! I reckon I’d be able to recognise most of my friends by their hugs even if I couldn’t see or smell them. It’s going to be a long, long time before I can give and receive human hugs, but that tree showed me the way forward. Tree hugging!

Today it was announced that the Archers is going to be rationed, in order to eke out the programmes that are already recorded.

 

Wednesday 25th March 2020

Day 5

Another gorgeous sunny day – it really helps!

This morning I did my first 30 minute phone session with a client who comes to me for regular acupuncture treatment. It went really well. I was able to provide her with a confidential space to discuss anything that was bothering her, and to support her in finding ways to take care of herself during this time. We will speak again next week. I hope more people will take up this option.

I ate lunch out in the garden again, oh bliss. I’ve been decorating my meals with a few primrose flowers. They don’t add much in the way of flavour, but they enhance the appearance no end. Just gorgeous. I only discovered last year that primrose flowers are edible so it’s still quite a novelty.

In the afternoon I set off for another bike ride. When I left the house I thought I was headed for Shotover again but ended up somewhere else completely. Early on in the ride I chose to take a left instead of a right and then continued to randomly turn left or right as the mood took me.

Once again I found myself in unfamiliar parts of town. I turned into Cuckoo Lane, a quiet path where I stopped to pick nettles, undisturbed by passersby. When I got home I discovered that it’s an ancient footpath, possibly over a thousand years old. It seems it was quite busy back in the 1700’s. I roamed quite widely, discovering more unfamiliar green bits of Oxford and gathering nettles on my way.

I plan to pick more nettles tomorrow and then make a batch of my favourite nettle dish, which is a bit like a spinach bhaji, and freezes well. I fry a load of garlic, ginger, fresh chilli, and cumin seeds and then chuck in a large amount of nettles (just like spinach they cook down to a fraction of the amount you started with). I give it a stir and put the lid on the pan and leave them to cook for a long time. I only used to cook it until the leaves were well softened. But one time a friend phoned while I was making it. We ended up chatting for ages and I completely forgot I had a pan on the stove. It must have been cooking for about 45 minutes. When I remembered I ran back into the kitchen expecting to find the food ruined, but it tasted better than ever before!

 

Thursday 26th March

Day 6

It’s another gorgeous sunny spring day. I feel so blessed!

One of the bonuses of this fine weather is being able to hang the washing out to dry in the sun and wind, instead of having a kitchen full of damp laundry on clotheshorses.

Where does the time go? I wasn’t expecting to be asking myself that question during a spell of ‘unemployment’. I got up at 5.30am, but still found myself needing to crack on and do stuff efficiently (mostly admin) in order to go for a bike ride in the afternoons. It does take me quite a lot of time to prepare, type up and send out the yoga lesson plans, but it definitely feels worth it when I receive feedback like this, which made my day:

‘I must thank you for all your fantastic yoga which is a great resource to me now. I was amazed to discover the amount of tension caused by this situation that the yoga was able to release.’

Today, thanks to the help of a dear friend ‘stranded’ in India, this blog has gone up on my website. Up till now it’s only been seen by myself and a few friends. It’s an odd feeling to have ‘gone public’ and I’m well out of my comfort zone. I’ve always preferred to keep a low profile and have never participated in social media. I used to neglect my site for months on end, but suddenly the last few days, because of coronavirus, it’s been necessary to make regular updates. Another slightly scary innovation is that from today there is now a photo of me on my home page!

The times they are a changin’.

 

Friday 27th March

Day 7

Viva the NHS!

Last night at 8pm there was a big, heart-warming, national round of applause for the NHS staff working so hard to save lives, as they always do, but who are under such extreme pressure during this pandemic. Round my way it was fantastic. Loud, enthusiastic, lots of whooping! It sounded like everyone had heeded the call, and during these days of isolation for those few minutes it felt like our neighbourhood was united.

I hope our appreciation gave a boost to those it was intended for. It certainly lifted my spirits. And I even dared to hope for once, that when this is finally over, instead of continuing to dismantle our precious NHS and introduce creeping privatisation and profiteering, whoever is in government will rebuild our health service. We already had a staffing crisis, even before the pandemic, because since the Brexit referendum there has been an exodus of E.U. staff, and it’s also been very difficult to recruit new people from the continent.

Better news last night for the self-employed. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced parity for the self-employed with the employed, meaning we are also entitled to receive 80% of what we would have earned if we’d been able to continue to work. The sting in the tail – we won’t get paid till June! I don’t think there’s any cause for celebration yet as we don’t know the details.

I would have gone to Birmingham this afternoon to stay overnight with friends, and meet their little boy for the first time, before attending a conference there the following day. We were excited about meeting up after a long gap but our reunion, like so many things, will have to be postponed indefinitely. The title of the conference, which has of course been cancelled, was, ‘Supervision on the Edge: World in Crisis, World in Trauma’. Unfortunately the world is in too much of a crisis for me to leave home!

I went to the supermarket instead. There was a long queue stretching up the road. I waited in the sunshine for 25 minutes, exchanging the odd word with the guy next to me. A friend of his went by, brandishing a can of beer. He said, “I ‘ad to fuckin’ walk all the way into town to get this, and I fuckin’ nicked it”. Then a lovely ex-neighbour stopped for a chat. I haven’t seen him for ages but I’d suddenly thought about him this morning,  It’s funny how that happens. When he used to live next door he endeared himself to us by bringing round yummy cakes he’d baked. Shame he moved!

It’s a new experience for us westerners to queue outside the shops. It reminded me of the tales I’ve heard from people who lived in the old Soviet Union. Except there’s a huge difference as they’d sometimes queue for hours for a loaf of bread, with no guarantee there’d be any left when they reached the counter. Whereas when I got inside Tesco there was a vast range of goods on the shelves, and I found everything I was looking for. Toilet roll and eggs had sold out, but luckily I didn’t need either. I do wonder though, how long before the supply chains start to break down?

No Archers tonight!

Well, that’s the end of my first week off work.

 

Blog Week Two

Saturday 28th March

Day 8

Last night I introduced my housemate to eating stinging nettles for the first time. Like many people he was a bit trepidatious till he’d chewed his first mouthful without being stung.

I am very sensitive to others’ dietary choices, allergies, intolerances, or hang-ups about food. But I did once feed nettles to some friends and omitted to tell them until afterwards, but only because I thought it would put them off unnecessarily.

I was living in Cornwall at the time, in a house with quite a big living room, and I’d invited a few people over for dinner. I produced an enormous lasagne, substituting cooked nettles for spinach on the bottom layer. The middle layer consisted of aubergines cooked in a tomato sauce, and it was all topped off with a cheesy béchamel.

It came out of the oven looking and smelling good. Everyone tucked in heartily and praised the food. They were very surprised to learn they’d been eating nettles! But everybody was totally fine with it.

I’m surprised at how pleased I am that it’s the weekend! But I am. And I’m giving myself permission to ease back, slow down and mostly just do what I feel like. So far that’s meant an extra long yoga session which involved staying in poses longer than usual.

Today I have also watched a video of a fabulous and entertaining talk by Leah Penniman entitled, ‘Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice’. It’s from the 2020 Oxford Real Farming Conference archive. I usually volunteer at this amazing event, but missed it this year. One of my lockdown projects is to work my way through the videos.

I am absolutely blown away by the lovely people who have been in touch to say they are thinking of me and hope I’m getting by because of being self-employed. I’m deeply grateful and also a bit embarrassed by the offers and even gifts of money, because I know I’ll be fine and so many others won’t.

And I’m even prouder than usual of my brother. He works at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and was already up to his eyes in caseloads and tribunals since the rollout of the big mess that is Universal Credit, but now he’s also having to deal with the fallout from Covid 19 on top of everything else, whilst working from home.

If anyone is reading this and you agree with his petition please sign and share!

https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-student-nurses-graduate-with-54k-of-debt-shouldn-t-we-pay-them-a-wage-instead?recruiter=30800338&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_petition&utm_term=Search%3ESAP%3EUS%3ENonBrand%3EExact&recruited_by_id=95b916b0-f2e4-012f-78f9-4040ea65fa16&utm_content=starter_fb_share_content_en-us%3Av1

 

Sunday 29th March

Day 9

In a parallel, coronavirus-free, universe I’d be spending today at a yoga teacher training day run by the marvellous Prison Phoenix Trust, a charity who do sterling work taking yoga and meditation into prisons, secure hospitals and bail hostels throughout the UK and Ireland. Part of the workshop is being conducted this morning on zoom, for those who have access, which is probably everyone except me! I’m optimistic though that the full day will be rescheduled at some point

Today’s theme, ‘Race and Prison’, was about deepening our understanding of race and prison and exploring questions like: What is it about our society and criminal justice systems that means a disproportionate number of people of colour wind up in prison? What kinds of issues around ethnicity do we need to be aware of so we are most effective in our teaching?

I love attending these training days for lots of reasons; meeting great people, learning interesting and useful stuff, but also – the food! For lunch everyone brings a vegetarian dish to share and a veritable feast is always guaranteed. A lot of yoga teachers are also great cooks!

Monday 30th

Day 10

The clocks went forward over the weekend; meaning that from yesterday evening it stays light later. Usually that feels like a big cause for celebration, and admittedly it was nice, but under lockdown it didn’t feel as momentous as all the other years.

A couple of days or so ago I looked at the application forms for Universal Credit. That’s as far as I got, looking at them. They were scary. I have an education, a lot of patience and a good broadband connection, but I was seriously daunted and closed the window, intending to try another time.

An ex called me yesterday. I’m very fond of him, but we’re rarely in touch these days. Well, it’s been over two decades since we split up. I always remember the date, because it was my fortieth birthday!

He was checking if I was OK, bless him, and it was great to have a proper long catch-up, especially as he had his brother with him and put me on speakerphone so we could also interact. The last time I’d spoken to them both was a few months ago when they were devastated by their dad dying. I was pleased to hear they were doing better.

We got onto the subject of U.C. Danny, who is also self-employed, had sweated a long, long time over the forms, only to find himself in an impasse. Of course you can’t get through to speak to anyone. I was thoroughly discouraged!

But then I went onto the British Acupuncture Council website where of course all this stuff is now the hot topic on the forum, especially as none of us are treating patients anymore. From what I read there it looked like we don’t need to apply for Universal Credit after all, but will be hearing in due course from HRMC. Coincidentally I then switched on Radio 4 just in time to hear Moneybox Live and learn that yes, if you are self-employed and have been submitting self-assessment tax returns it’s a case of ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’, or rather write to you. My initial relief was quickly followed by the realisation that it would probably still involve onerous form-filling. And will we even have a functioning mail delivery service for much longer?

I guess ‘social-distancing’ will be a contender for ‘word of the year 2020′. A friend wrote, ‘I read somewhere that what we are doing is not social distancing but physical distancing.’ It makes sense to me. We are distancing ourselves physically, but in some ways becoming more social. My phone has never rung so much! Even people who I thought didn’t realise you could actually use a phone to speak to people are discovering that function.

 

Tuesday 31st March

Day 11

It occurs to me that we are one quarter of the way through the year.

Someone shared this poem with me and it resonated deeply.

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

She’s also written another very zeitgeisty poem called , ‘Toilet Paper’.

Wednesday 1st April

Day 12

September 15th 1990. I was living in Antigua, Guatemala. It was my birthday and the whole country was out celebrating! Not because I’d attained ‘la edad de Cristo’ (‘the age of Christ’), which were the first words on everyone’s lips when they heard that I’d turned thirty-three, but because it was Guatemala’s Independence Day.

Attaining Christ’s age and being present at the festivities held to mark liberation from Spain are not the only reasons that day is so memorable to me.

On my birthdays I like to take the opportunity to pause and reflect and ask myself what I want to carry forward with me into the coming year, and what I wish to leave behind.

I’d already been meditating fairly regularly for quite a few years, but on that day I decided to commit to meditating every day for a whole year. When the year was up, after experiencing the benefits of sustained practice, there was no question of me ever stopping!

Thursday 2nd April

Day 13

Over the years I have tried various ways of meditating. It is always interesting when I attend classes or retreats to be introduced to different practices.

So far though I have always returned to that most simple form that I used during my first year of daily practice, i.e. just sitting with attention focussed on the breath.

I prefer to meditate in the early morning. For me it’s the very best form of preparation for the day ahead. I light a candle and sit, usually in half lotus, sometimes kneeling, and close my eyes.

First I check in with myself, observing how I’m feeling. This is important because in the busyness of life I may have overridden feelings that are arising and need to be recognised. I mentally run through my day ahead and make sure I know what I’m doing and in what in order. There’s pen and paper by my side so that if needs be I can make a quick note of anything that comes up that I want to remember, and then safely let go of those thoughts. And then I just sit and wait for my mind to settle. With varying degrees of success. Although now that I actually think about it there has definitely been a lot of progress over the years and it’s been a long, long time since I didn’t settle pretty soon, regardless of whatever concerns I have going on. Even in the past when my mind would continue to chew things over, or a particular thought would keep returning I always, without exception, felt better for having done my ‘sitting practice’ whether or not I’d attained a state of meditation. This poem sums up how I feel about my spiritual practices.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

Friday April 3rd

Day 14

Heraclitus said, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.” And so it is with meditation. You may be sitting in exactly the same place at the same time every day for years but each experience of meditation is unique.

Usually, when my mind settles I become aware of my heart and a sensation within it like a warm glow of calm ‘aliveness’. This is what Chinese medicine refers to as the Shen. Much could be said about something as important as the Shen, but suffice to say it’s an aspect of our eternal soul which connects us into the flow of all life in the whole Universe.

Lately, in these times of physical distancing and isolation, I have found myself spontaneously entering into a visualisation I call ‘Nourishing the Heart’. It’s a practice I came up with years ago to help prepare and fortify participants in some of my workshops before they embarked on intense work around scary emotional stuff like fear or forgiveness.

Essentially, it involves becoming aware of your heart and then entering it to experience and absorb and be nourished by all the love that has flowed through you over the years, all the love you have both given and received. Just the love itself, no stories attached.

At this time of keeping physical distance from other humans, meaning no ‘proper’ socialising, no parties, no gigs, no hugs etc, I find it’s giving me a boost similar to what I usually get from the company of delightful people.

If you are interested in trying the ‘Nourishing the Heart’ visualisation I can email you the script. I also have some spare C.D.s, which I don’t charge for.

Blog week 3

Saturday 4th April

Day 15

This last week went by pretty fast! Suddenly it’s the weekend again.

This morning I was preparing for my first ever yoga video, something which is way out of my comfort zone. But my housemate has kindly offered to set me up tomorrow with his laptop out in the garden. When he suggested we do this my first thought was that I’d like to make the video for a really great group of young people I’ve been teaching at City of Oxford College since November 2018. They attend the Lifeskills course, run by lovely teachers and teaching assistants who are also willing participants and supporters of the yoga.

I do feel utterly unqualified for this though! Teaching, for me, is very much about interacting and responding to what I am picking up from the other people in the room. The thought of talking to a screen feels inhibiting and I suspect I will be self-conscious and awkward. But hey, if it turns out to be watchable and not too cringey I’ll have that high you get when you’re relieved after getting through something you dreaded! And the students will have a resource to use at home. If it’s really terrible I can always get him to delete it.

Sunday 5th April

Day 16

I started the day with a mild sense of dread. This was partly because I’d committed to making the yoga video this afternoon, but mostly because the Health Secretary had warned that outdoor exercise could be banned if people continue to “flout” the Government’s social distancing rules.

I was doing OK, but definitely feeling less motivated than I wanted to be feeling on such a fine morning when there was so much I could be enjoying. But then I remembered that it often happens at this time of year. After the initial elation of emerging from winter and the joy of seeing everything greening up, as spring progresses I can go into a bit of a slump, accompanied by the skin on my hands getting a bit rough, which they have been the last few days. It was a relief to remember it’s just part of my annual cycle and nothing to worry about.

Making the video was actually fine! To my surprise I even quite enjoyed it. I just imagined that I was talking to the Lifeskills students, trying to make everything really clear so they could follow at home, and that made it easier. Also, I was in out in the garden and there were loads of birds singing, which made me joyful. I didn’t even cringe when I watched it back.

In the late afternoon I visited Shotover with a friend. We were in a completely different part from where I walked the other day, which was right up on the top. Today we were down at the bottom of the hill, in Brasenose Wood. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and abundantly carpeted in wood anemones. Seeing so very many of them I was surprised to learn, ‘as a species it’s surprisingly slow to spread (six feet in a hundred years!), relying on the growth of its root structure rather than the spread of its seed. As such, it is a good indicator of ancient woodland’.

We also saw deer. They were large, with big ears and looked a bit like donkeys, or mule deer (which I’ve come across in the U.S.) rather than the roe deer which are meant to inhabit those woods.

Monday 6th April

Day 17

Boring fact: As I typed the date I realised it’s the start of the new tax year, which is significant to us self-employed people who do our own accounts.

There’s lots of celeriac at my local farmers’ market at the moment, (I’m not sure if it’s sold in supermarkets). Because it’s in season during the cooler months I usually cook it but the weather was quite warm yesterday so I made salad with it instead. I thought it was really tasty so I’ll share the recipe.

The basic ingredients are celeriac, carrots, lemon, Dijon mustard and something to stir the mustard into for a dressing, e.g. yoghurt, oil, mayonnaise.

I suggest about 3 parts grated celeriac to 4 parts grated carrot. (If I’d had an apple I might have grated in a bit of that too).

Quickly stir in some lemon juice to stop the veg from browning.

Then I chucked in some cranberries, hazelnuts and sprouted sunflower seeds, but anything you fancy would do, e.g. dried fruits, toasted or raw nuts and seeds.

I mixed together a generous amount of Dijon mustard with plain, unsweetened, soya yoghurt and stirred that into the salad, but an alternative such as oil, another kind of yoghurt, or mayo would have worked too.

Season to taste, e.g. with salt, pepper, fresh herbs.

Tuesday 7th April

Day 18

I woke at around 3.30am this morning and didn’t manage to get back to sleep. I put it down to the Pink Supermoon, although it doesn’t peak till 3.35am tomorrow morning. There were animal sounds coming from the neighbouring allotments which I couldn’t identify. They sounded vaguely owlish, but when I googled owl calls none of them were similar enough for me to be convinced. I’d love to know what it was.

I don’t have much to say today. All talked out after 3 long phone calls probably. I did make a yummy thick nettle and potato soup for dinner though, from a recipe in Daverick Leggett’s excellent book ‘Recipes for Self-Healing’. I’m happy to share the recipe if anyone wants it.

I’m off now to curl up with my book, ‘Mad about the Mekong’. I picked it out in the library because I have a bit of a thing about the Mekong River, which passes through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and China. It already cast a bit of a spell on me when I first encountered it years ago in Cambodia, but after spending more time on and beside it during my recent travels in Vietnam and Laos I’ve become quite fascinated.

Lastly today I’d like to share a tune recorded at home under lockdown by the Lovely Louisa Lyne (from Brickwork Lizards).

https://youtu.be/Dxy6BnIle80

Wednesday 8th April

Day 19

Hurray! Today was the first time this year that I was able to do my morning meditation outside in the garden. The birdsong was loud, and an occasional bee was buzzing. It was a bit chilly, so I was well wrapped up. I came back indoors for asana and pranayama. I’ll be really happy when it’s warm enough to do my whole practice outdoors.

I trimmed my nails this morning, something I’m doing less frequently since I stopped giving massages and no longer need to have very short nails. It got me thinking I’m glad I don’t have a ‘beauty regime’ to maintain, especially now everything’s closed down. It’s so common these days for people to have regular appointments for all sorts of things, nails, unwanted body hair, botox, sticking their feet in a fish tank to get dead skin nibbled off, etc. Actually I had the opportunity to get that last ‘treatment’ for free in February when I was visiting some waterfalls in Laos, without the need for the fish to be kidnapped, trafficked, starved and held in a small glass tank. An Australian woman was sitting on a swing over a pool and feeding the fish by dangling her feet in the water. She asked if I wanted a go, but I didn’t fancy it. Actually I find the idea a bit scary, but I could say the same about most so-called beauty treatments.

I did have to trim my own fringe recently though, which I haven’t done for years. I thought about getting it done before I left Laos, but Lao women don’t have fringes, so it didn’t seem that good an idea, although I do generally like visiting hairdressers in other countries. Here’s an excerpt from Part 2 of ‘Walking with Spirit’, my series of accounts of walking a Spanish pilgrimage route.

“Once I had booked in and was informed of the house rules, curfews etc, I hung out for a bit with the other guests and then walked into the village to purchase food for the next day and get my fringe trimmed, so there’d be less of it sticking to my sweaty forehead. I enjoy going to the hairdresser’s in other countries, especially in small towns and villages. It’s different from just wandering around and buying food. You step off the street and you’re in a more intimate space than a shop, the transaction is more personal, and the hairdressers and their other clients are surprised and curious to see you.

When I walked into the village salon I immediately got the impression it was a place for the hairdressers’ friends to hang out and enjoy the aircon. I don’t think all the women and children in there were waiting for haircuts or beauty treatments. There was quite a hubbub of conversation, but as soon as they saw me they all stopped talking at once. So I felt a bit self-conscious as I asked the price of a fringe trim. Things felt momentarily even weirder when for a moment, because of the way the hairdresser ran her words together, it sounded like she was saying 13 euros, instead of 3! I looked at her astonished, and then she repeated 3 euros more clearly and I accepted her price and sat down. Everyone was still looking at me and not talking, and I began to think maybe I shouldn’t have stayed. Perhaps they were hostile to strangers? Having grown up in rural Cornwall, I know people in out-of-the-way places can be suspicious of outsiders. But once I started chatting to the hairdresser and they realised I spoke Spanish everyone relaxed and included me in the conversation.”

I never used to go to a proper hairdresser until a few years ago. My hair used to be longer and if I noticed I was getting split ends I’d just ask a friend with a steady hand to cut a bit off. For a while one particular friend who was pretty good with scissors, despite having no training, used to come and cut my hair in the garden. At the time she was a maroon-robed Buddhist nun and I was living next door to Catholic friars wearing brown or grey habits. It was an interesting contrast!

I would be thinking about getting a haircut around now if it wasn’t for the lockdown. Sadly, my adorable hairdresser Susi returned to Romania just before Christmas. She was too polite to spell it out that she was leaving because of Brexit! – Now there’s a word that’s suddenly disappeared from our vocabulary.

Thursday 9th April

Day 20

Today my heart particularly goes out to all who are bereaved at this time. Someone very dear to me lost two close friends at the weekend. This is just the worst time to lose loved ones, with isolation adding a strange new dimension to the experience of loss and grief.

To be denied the comfort that might otherwise have been found in being with the dying person near the end or at least knowing others were there and they weren’t alone, or in sharing tearful hugs with people who also knew and loved them, or any of the ways that human contact might make the situation more bearable sounds very hard.

This afternoon I cycled across town and went for a walk on Port Meadow, “an ancient area of grazing land, still used for horses and cattle, which according to legend has never been ploughed, at least for around 4,000 years.” I have always cycled there along the river, but in such fine weather I knew it would be busy on the river path so today I went by road, because it was quieter. How bizarre is that?

Friday 10th April

Day 21

It’s been a warm sunny day and mercifully the building work next door was on pause and we could enjoy the garden all day without the noise of power tools.

I made a salad with sprouted brown lentils, which was pretty yummy. And I added some lemon balm to my nettle tea and discovered it’s a great combination.

Me and my housemate had been commenting about how unusual it is not to see planes and their contrails in the sky. A few hours later he called out excitedly, ‘Look, there’s a plane!’ and I got out from under the bush I was weeding and stood up to see it. And then we fell about laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Saturday 11th April

Day 22

It’s been over three weeks and I’m curious how lockdown is affecting people’s eating habits. Sadly, for many, just getting enough to eat is a problem, never mind caring about whether you can source your favourite brand of something.

But for those of us who are fortunate to have access to plenty of food, we may notice that the changes in our lifestyle and that of those we live with is having an impact on how, what, and when we eat.

Over recent years I’ve noticed the aisles just inside the entrances to supermarkets stocking an ever-expanding range of sandwiches, wraps, salads and other ‘grab and eat’ items, usually with some kind of ‘meal-deal’ offer to encourage you to buy crisps and a drink as well. Recently, when I’ve plucked up the courage to enter a supermarket I’ve seen a lot of them remaining on the shelves and being discounted. I guess most of those sandwich purchasers were workers who are now staying at home. I wonder what they are eating instead? Maybe that’s where all the pasta went?

I went for a short walk to put a birthday card through someone’s letterbox. Instead of writing their name on the envelope I wrote, ‘only touched by freshly washed hands’. It used to be the only people who were cautious about touching mail were potential recipients of letter-bombs, now it’s all of us.

On the way home I picked some hawthorn leaves which I enjoyed in the green side-salad I ate with my dinner.

Sunday 12th April

Day 23

It’s a daily re-calibration trying to steer a path between not having my head in the sand, but at the same time not having it full of the pandemic. I may already have mentioned this but I’m rationing my daily news consumption.

One of the things I personally find comforting and heartening are the emails I receive from an international group of medics. They are pooling their knowledge by putting out questions to colleagues, e.g. have others come across a particular symptom and do they think it’s Covid 19 related, or a red herring? And mentioning things they’ve tried with C19 patients which seem to have helped. It reminds me that despite the lack of available knowledge and research, all around the world doctors and nurses are really thinking on their feet and coming at this problem from many different angles to try and stem the tide, well tsunami, of infections.

As a clinician, albeit of a different kind of medicine who only has a rudimentary grasp of how western medicine works, it’s genuinely very interesting to read about the ‘workings out’, or thought processes, that lead them to come to the conclusion that it might be worth trying a particular drug because of the way e.g. it inhibits a particular response, or affects a particular kind of cell. It’s a creative process, but firmly rooted in the goal of saving lives.

One of my hopes and dreams is that one day medical staff will have a lot more input into how the NHS is run and funded! It seems crazy to entrust it to politicians who may have little or no relevant expertise.

In his book, ‘Do No Harm’ Henry Marsh, a brain surgeon, writes about his experiences of doing his job. It’s a fascinating and very human account. But it’s depressing to read about the non-surgical and often petty and ridiculous obstacles he increasingly encounters within the NHS, dreamed up by a top-down bureaucracy which appears to be less and less interested in the informed opinions of experienced clinicians.

Monday 13th April

Day 24

Brrrr. After the mini-heatwave of the last couple of days it’s turned very chilly. Because of that I thought there’d be fewer people out and about so I went nettle-picking and got a nice big bagful. I’ll try and collect some more this week because they’ll soon be flowering and once they flower they go from being very nutritious to being a bit toxic. I want to try a new recipe I’ve seen for nettle pesto – you do have to steam or wilt the nettles though to get rid of the sting before making it!

Tuesday 14th April

Day 25

Today I can’t resist having a rant! Grrrr! I visit the supermarket as infrequently as I can manage, but given that there’s only so much weight I feel safe to carry on my bike it ends up being slightly more than once a week. Luckily I can get much of my shopping elsewhere, because every time I go to my local Tesco Metro I get annoyed!

It starts in the queue outside, with people getting too close, to me or to others. But that‘s nothing to what I encounter inside! There I was today, mask on, clean hands, and a basket with freshly sanitized handles, proceeding slowly, so’s not to move into anyone’s 2 metre ‘personal safe space’. Twice I was waiting patiently for someone in front of me to make their selection and move on round, so that I could step forward and get what I wanted from that shelf, when ignorant people just blithely walked right past getting way too close to both me and the person in front. Why? Haven’t they heard that around a thousand people a day are dying of coronavirus in this country? Really the very least we can all do is maintain social distancing!

I felt much better after writing down my rant and went on to do something else which is affected by Covid 19. Usually my non-compostable garden waste goes into a bin and is conveniently removed by council workers every fortnight. Not at the moment though, so I decided to burn it. I didn’t want to do it during the nice warm weather when neighbours were out enjoying the sunshine. Yesterday was chilly, but too windy. Today was cool and still and I thought I’d better get on and do it while people were indoors. I sometimes have a fire for special occasions, but I’ve never lit one to dispose of garden waste before. And come to think of it I’ve never had a fire all to myself before. I absolutely loved it! Just me and the fire. It gave me so much joy to feed the flames and feel the warmth and even to get smoke in my eyes. And I love that my clothes smell all smoky now. I keep sniffing my sleeves. It makes me quite euphoric, but it also makes me want to be at a festival or a shamanic camp!

Wednesday 15th April

Day 26

Just back from spreading my wings a bit further than of late. It’s a warm, sunny afternoon and I’ve been over to Iffley Meadows to see the snake’s head fritillaries, Oxfordshire’s official county flower. Paul Simons in the Guardian once described them as looking, “like a Tiffany lampshade, with translucent chequered purple or white bells that hang down from a stalk. And the likeness to Tiffany stained glass may be no coincidence, because the flower influenced art nouveau designers – William Morris used the fritillary in some of his fabrics, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh made a painting of it in 1915.”

Today they didn’t disappoint! Although numerous and splendiferous at that location they are a rare sight in the rest of the country because most of their habitat, ancient wet meadows, have disappeared, drained for agriculture.

Thursday 16th April

Day 27

Dominic Raab, deputising for the Prime Minister who’s still recovering from Coronavirus, announced that lockdown will continue for at least a further three weeks. It was a foregone conclusion.

At the moment I try not to think too much about the government’s flakey handling of the crisis. It could be even worse, I suppose, like in the U.S., but let’s not even go there! Well, except to say that I wasn’t surprised, but I was shocked to see a bunch of well-armed Trump supporters in Michigan holding a rally to protest the lockdown and completely ignoring social distancing. 2,000 have died so far of Covid 19 in their state, so it’s not like there isn’t good cause for the lockdown. Of course I sympathise with anyone who’s feeling desperate because they’ve lost their job, but they’ve still got their lives at least. As for the woman who said she wanted the lockdown lifted so she could buy whatever she wanted and go to the hairdresser’s I’d like to tell her to grow up!

There was a great turn out on my street for ‘Clap for Carers’. Lovely to see everyone and chat to the nearer neighbours and wave to the ones further down. Emma, a carer herself, was using a wooden football rattle made in the 80’s by her granddad Tim, a great friend of mine who died in January. It made me feel like he was there with us in spirit!

Friday 17th April

Day 28

I find it hard to believe it’s been four weeks. After typing ‘Day 28’ I checked in case I’d made an error, but no. There’s something slightly unsettling about acknowledging how long it’s been. Certainly, we’re going to be in lockdown officially for at least another three weeks, and in reality for probably quite a while longer, and Covid 19 is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. But we’re not at the beginning any longer. Neither are we even in the middle yet. But whereas in the first days I felt I just had to make sure I kept going, one day at a time and not think too much about the future because the end was so far in sight, and really there wasn’t much I could do except keep myself well and offer support to others who are having a difficult time, now I feel I should be doing something. Because at this point, especially with other countries beginning to cautiously ease lockdown measures, something is beginning to stir inside me which is hard to articulate. It’s to do with knowing that even if we wanted to (and I don’t) we can’t go back to exactly how things were before. Well, I say that but actually I would love my own little life to go back to how it was before because I was very content with the situation I’d created for myself, fulfilling work, fabulous friends. But the bigger picture was always disturbing, and much more so now.

This could be an opportunity for the human race to reflect on what a mess we’ve made of things and try to do things better. And I feel I should be reading and discussing and putting some energy into discovering possible ways forward, but right now it all seems very daunting indeed and I’m really quite disillusioned and feeling a bit helpless, especially after the last election result. I’m beginning, I think, to understand why some people just ignore politics. Not that I have any intention of just giving up, there’s too much at stake!

One thing that really helps me is that it’s spring; everything is still growing and blooming, birds are singing and gathering material in their beaks to make nests. Whenever I’m working in the garden I’m kept company by a robin, who is often gathering up bits of moss to line her nest in the honeysuckle. Although we’re in competition for the worms, which I want to do their magic in the soil but she relies on for food, I’m happy to share with the robins because they provide their beautiful song all year round.

Here’s a short clip of a robin singing:

https://youtu.be/Qfln7hgqMoU

Saturday 18th April

Day 29

Mmmm, yum. I had a simple and delicious lunch of my favourite kind of pasta, M & S Spelt Rigatini, with nettle pesto. It’s the first time I’ve had nettle pesto. I saw a recipe the other day, which gave me the idea, but in the end I just improvised because I’m quite used to making pesto, more often than not with carrot tops. Of course I had to cook the nettles briefly to get rid of their sting. I put them in the pan I was going to use for the pasta, poured boiling water from the kettle over them and brought the water back to the boil on the stove. Then I re-used the nutrient-rich nettle water to cook the pasta in whilst I whizzed together the nettles, toasted pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, a few chilli flakes and a bit of salt. For the umami flavour that parmesan or pecorino would have provided in a more traditional version I sprinkled yeast flakes onto my lunch. It was so enjoyable!

This weekend it’s the Oxford Folk Festival, an annual event which for the first time is being held online. I’m on their mailing list and it sounds like they’re doing a great job, at very short notice, on behalf of the musicians and fans. I won’t be participating; in fact I’ve only ever gone to one of their paying gigs in a venue. It was years ago when an old schoolfriend was visiting and he wanted to go and see this weird band from Dartmoor. They were in the Holywell Music Room playing 14th century music on ancient instruments whilst wearing animal masks. It was a brilliant and atmospheric gig and I’ve never seen anything quite like it since.

Folk’s not really my genre but I do always go into the city centre when the festival is on because I love the atmosphere. In addition to ticketed concerts there is so much else happening for free on the streets. As well as a great variety of music there’s also dancing, including Morris and clog dancing, which of course means lots of people brightening the place up in colourful and unusual attire. It’s great fun and I hope it will survive financially and be back on the streets next spring.

Sunday 19th April

Day 30

Last night I was listening to Craig Charles’ funk and soul radio show and it occurred to me for the first time that there are similarities between putting together a DJ set and planning or ‘choreographing’ a yoga class. Not that I’ve ever DJed myself, but music is very important to me. In both cases you’ve got to make the right choices for your particular audience or students and things need to flow, so transitions are important. You also need to gauge people’s energy levels and mix things up a bit.

Today I listened to another talk from the Oxford Real Farming Conference Archive: The Value of Tree Fodder in Silvopasture Systems. It was really interesting! As a vegetarian I’m not a supporter of meat production, but since it’s going to happen anyway I’d rather it was done in a way where the animals have decent lives and it’s not horrendously bad for the environment. We know that the right trees in the right place are good for the environment in terms of releasing oxygen, storing carbon and preventing erosion and of course it’s nice for the animals to be able to take shade under trees when it’s hot. But I didn’t know anything about the various advantages of supplementing their diet with tree leaves. Here’s the first paragraph of an interesting article on the subject with the link at the end:

 The collection of tree leaves for feeding stock, usually from pollards, is now generally confined to poorer and least inhabited areas where subsistence farming and traditional herding still exists, but is believed to have been widespread across Europe until recent times. There is evidence that the practice pre-dates the making of hay from herb rich meadows and has been a farming practice for at least three millennia. The leaf fodder or “tree hay” was stored for feeding to stock during the winter, especially in mountain areas, but was also a vital source of animal feed in periods of drought especially in free draining soils. It was also an insurance against failure of the hay crop due to cold, wet summers. Trees with deeper root systems and mycorrhizal fungal associations can access moisture and nutrients and produce green leaves when other plants have dried up. The leaves may also be richer in nutrients because of this. Some tree leaves are known to have medicinal benefits and stock will self-medicate where they have the opportunity. As such there is a recent resurgence of interest in tree fodder, a valuable and untapped resource. https://www.agricology.co.uk/field/blog/tree-hay-forgotten-fodder

Monday 20th April

Day 31

Yesterday I finished reading a very informative 112 page article about psychiatric drugs. It was created by key professional bodies representing psychological therapists in the UK, with relevant subject matter experts, and facilitated by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence. It was produced as guidance for therapists working with people who are either: considering starting to take psychiatric drugs; already taking them; considering withdrawing from them;  in the process of withdrawing; or post-withdrawal. The purpose of this resource being to inform us about the different categories of drugs and enable us to better support clients whilst firmly keeping any personal opinions to ourselves.

I learnt two things in particular that I wasn’t aware of before:

 (i) Most trials of long-term treatment, and many trials of short-term treatment too, involve people who are already taking the drug that is being tested, or something similar. The people who are randomized to placebo are then taken off their existing treatment and may therefore be vulnerable to adverse effects related to the withdrawal of the prior treatment. This is especially problematic because the withdrawal and transfer to placebo is usually done abruptly. Therefore, many studies, particularly those assessing long-term treatment, may assess the effects of withdrawing from prescribed drugs rather than the impact of starting on it in the first place. This array of potential problems suggests that care must be taken when interpreting research on psychiatric drugs, and the clinical guidelines based upon them.” Indeed!

(ii) How ignorance of withdrawal reactions can lead to a variety of misinterpretations or misdiagnoses of the client’s experience. Amongst other things, withdrawal could be mistaken for relapse. For example, anti-depressants are widely prescribed for anxiety-related problems, but anxiety is a common symptom of drug withdrawal and if this isn’t taken into account drugs may be reinstated and a person may end up in a vicious cycle instead of getting the support necessary to help them through the withdrawal phase.

Tuesday 21st April

Day 32

It’s been a busy day and I don’t feel like writing much, or I don’t much feel like writing.

Wednesday 22nd April

Day 33

Oh dear, I wrote a lot for today’s entry and it was personal and heartfelt and then my computer crashed and I lost it all and don’t have time to start again. I am baffled though, my computer crashes at least once a day so I am constantly clicking on ‘save’. It wouldn’t have been surprising if I’d lost the last couple of sentences, but not the whole entry. I can’t help thinking that it still exists somewhere if only I knew where to look!

Thursday 23rd April

Day 34

I love my street! People are so friendly. On Thursdays after we’ve clapped for the NHS, or in my case banged my drum, we stand around and have a chat. It’s lovely to see everyone, and especially to have a catch up with the older people who are isolating. And the street has a new resident! Emma introduced us to her really cute new puppy. It was a lot of excitement for an evening under lockdown!

I got a lovely surprise in the post today. Jane, the very creative woman who my dad is lucky to be married to, crocheted me a rainbow to put in the front window. I was particularly pleased that it arrived today, in time for the evening’s public show of gratitude.

I’m mainly focusing on the positives, because I’m under no illusions about being on a sinking ship with a load of dishonest, blundering incompetents supposedly ‘in charge’.

Also, Ramadan’s starting. It’s going to be tough for Muslims, to spend it isolated and socially distanced under lockdown instead of coming together with their communities. I’ve taught yoga twice a week for 29 years at our local Asian cultural centre, which is next door to the central mosque. During all the previous Ramadans people were moving back and forth between the two, and communal meals were eaten in the cultural centre after evening prayers. There’s quite a buzz in our locality during Ramadan and outside the shops tempting foods are piled higher than usual, including boxes of juicy dates for breaking the fast at sunset.

Fri 24th April

Day 35

Today, in a corona-virus free universe, I would have been boarding a coach with a motley bunch of musicians and music fans and heading off to Paignton in Devon. Every April for a very long time Phil and Sue, of Mighty Redox and Klub Kakofanney fame, have organized a fun-filled weekend musical extravaganza trip to the seaside. The knackered old coach, due to be replaced this year, had a cassette player and Richard, our driver, would play a non-stop selection of well-known rock albums. As you can imagine there was quite a lot of singing along.

On arrival we’d pile into the Marine Hotel on the seafront, where Nicola, the manager, would get us organized, check special diets etc. The first time I went I wasn’t expecting the vegan food to be anything special in a hotel which mainly caters for coach trips of older adults, but I was very pleasantly surprised! So, in addition to being by the sea, in excellent company, and enjoying great music, I also look forward to the food!

Although Paignton itself is a bit rundown there are fabulous walks you can do in the area, including the coastal path to Brixham. On the Saturdays I would always lace up my walking boots and head off for a proper long hike after breakfast to enjoy some quiet nature-time between all the socializing and dancing of Friday and Saturday nights.

Sunday lunchtime there’s an open mic before we board the coach around 3pm. I don’t get on stage, perish the thought! But there are some really original acts within our group. One year, a couple of friends got on stage and asked us to delve into our handbags and bring something to the stage for them to construct an improvisation from. Some curious and dubious items emerged from the depths, raising a lot of laughs. My offering was a bag of sea spinach which I’d foraged that morning.

I do hope we’ll be able to return one day, and I very much hope the hotel will survive. The same people work there year after year and they’re really good to us. I hate to think of them losing their jobs.

My pre-corona-virus life was rich with regular social and musical events and I miss that. I’m having great one-to-ones with friends, today I went for a walk with someone I first got to know through the Paignton trips. But I really miss the buzz, the energy, of being part of a large group!

Saturday 25th April

Day 36

Wow, I’m entering the sixth week of ‘unemployment’ already. In some ways I’m as busy as ever, just got different things to show for it.

Today, finally, I did a stint volunteering at my wonderful local farmer’s market. I’ve been shopping there for years but never got round to lending a hand. The weekends when I’m home and not teaching, attending a course, or have guests staying, are precious and I try not to fill them up with other commitments. But now none of the aforementioned are happening, and the market needs extra volunteers because of the new measures in place to keep us all safe. It was time to contribute a few hours to one of the things I most value about living where I do.

It’s important to me to be able to buy local, seasonal, organic veg directly from the growers. It’s nice to meet the people who produce the food that keeps me healthy, and I like to eat in tune with the yearly cycles. Some of the veg I was intending to buy, like celeriac, was at the end of its season and looking a bit jaded this week, all right for cooking, but not for salads. So I made some different choices, including fennel, which was looking fresh and vibrant. For the first time in my life I bought wild garlic. I’ve not found any this year and didn’t want to miss out. The woods near Paignton, where I would have been if it weren’t for Covid, are full of the stuff!

It was a good day to be hanging around out of doors, dry and sunny. I had a seat by the entrance gate, letting people in when others came out. Of course a fair few were friends and acquaintances so it was also a chance to socialize! And at the end, after we’d packed up the tables, chairs, gazebos, signage etc we were told we could help ourselves to the chard in the school garden, which is starting to bolt, so I grabbed a few leaves. I can’t resist a green vegetable!

Sunday 26th April

Day 37

Good old Craig Charles and his funk and soul show on Radio Two. Yesterday evening I danced in my bedroom to some great tunes – well it was Saturday night!

Ew! I came back from a walk in the woods and realised I was covered in tiny caterpillars. That wood, which three weeks ago was carpeted in wood anemones, “blooming like a galaxy of stars across the forest floor”, is now a gorgeous bluebell wood.

Monday 27th April

Day 38

Boris ‘Spaffer’ Johnson is back at work. I find him objectionable at the best of times, which this isn’t, and I wasn’t reassured by his speech this morning. I’d feel a lot happier too if his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, wasn’t attending meetings of the supposedly independent scientific advisory group Sage.

Admittedly, it could be worse, but then again it could be a lot better, like in New Zealand, where coronavirus is currently eliminated. Their PM Jacinda Ardern didn’t hang about! They brought in some of the toughest restrictions in the world very early on, and have only had nineteen recorded deaths so far. Nineteen! I know they have a small population, but still that’s an awful lot fewer people per thousand grieving for loved ones!

On a lighter note, I received an email informing me that our garden waste collection service is being reinstated next week. This made me inexplicably cheerful. I mean, sure, in practical terms it will be a relief because my home compost bin isn’t suitable for weeds, or stuff that takes a long time to break down. But the reason it cheered me up is much more symbolic than practical because it’s the first sign that the tide is turning and restrictions are being eased. Not that I want restrictions eased too soon. Definitely not!

My cheerfulness was a bit deflated though when I went out shopping. There were definitely a lot more people and cars out and about than I’ve seen in the last few weeks, which is a real shame. And the staff I observed today in Tesco seemed to have zero awareness of social distancing.

Tuesday 28th April

Day 39

A very wet day. Good for the garden though to get a proper soaking. And I was content to stay home as I had plenty of admin to do later, after spending the morning typing up today’s yoga class and emailing it out to my Tuesday students.

I caught most of ‘The Life Scientific’ this morning on Radio 4. It was fascinating hearing Brian Greene talk about string theory in really simple terms, and I enjoyed trying to imagine ‘tiny strings vibrating in multiple dimensions’.

I opened yesterday’s post. These days when mail arrives I place it on the stairs, go and wash my hands and wait till the next day to open it, just to be on the safe side.

Today I saw the most extraordinary sight! Early evening I was in the kitchen making a veggie crumble when I happened to glance out the window. I was greeted by the strangest sight, an odd-looking, small bedraggled mammal. I stared at it and it took me a moment to recognise it as a fox cub, especially with its fur all wet and spiky from the rain. I’ve never seen such a young fox close up like that. It was really amazing. It appeared unsure of itself and I looked around for an accompanying adult and then spotted hindquarters poking out from under some foliage. The adult fox re-emerged and the pair of them nuzzled each other affectionately right there in front of me before mum led baby up the garden and they disappeared into the bushes. I was really excited, happy, and moved by the sight of the pair of them.

Wednesday 29th April

Day 40

Corona virus is really holding countries’ leaders up to the light. More than 5,000 Brazilians have lost their lives to the coronavirus – but on Tuesday night Brazil’s president shrugged off the news. “So what?” Jair Bolsonaro told reporters when asked about the record 474 deaths that day. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?” He has previously suggested that the crisis is a fantasy and a ‘media trick’ and that Brazilians ‘never catch anything’.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, there’s still a massive discrepancy between what the government is telling us about availability and distribution of PPE, and what the people who need it are saying. What makes that even more unpalatable is hearing of individuals and companies who are able and willing to supply it but claim the government is ignoring their offers. Here’s an open letter to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Dear Matt Hancock,

We are a group of businesses and individual suppliers from around the UK who are desperate to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS. Between us, we can produce masses of pieces of PPE.

Together, we can help save lives. But you’re making this impossible.

We’ve done what you asked us to do: we’ve contacted the Government through the official procurement process you set out. None of us has had a definitive response. We don’t know when we can expect one.

With every passing day that you don’t respond, people are dying. Every day that we are left waiting, there are health workers, care workers, cleaners, supermarket staff, volunteers and delivery staff left exposed to coronavirus. Our PPE can help protect them.

We can’t keep waiting. So if you don’t want our PPE, you need to tell us now.

Tell us you want us, so that we can spring into action and help get millions of pieces of PPE into the NHS. Or tell us you don’t, so we can organise ourselves to deliver our PPE directly to the thousands of people across the UK who are pleading with us for it.

We have the support of 800,000 people who have signed a petition for the Government to act faster in providing PPE to the NHS. Do we have your support too?

Signatories

Flavio Amorelli, Livoos ltd — London
1 to 8 million masks and other PPE material

Lisa ONeill, Chloe Lily Ltd — Essex
Surgical masks , stock and can produce 50k per day
KN95 masks, stock and can produce 50k per day
Isolation gowns, stock and can produce 50k per day
Surgical gowns, stock and can produce 20k per day
Coveralls, can produce 20k per day
Overboots, can produce 30k per day

Safepol Workwear — London
Could supply 10,000 disposable gowns per week /100,000 surgical masks

Oya Mutlu, Mumotex International Limited- Bradford-On-Avon/Wiltshire
Face Masks Making Machines, Face Mask Materials
CE marked, FDA approved

Andrew Gaule, RufusMasks.com- Buckingham
7,000 -10,000 face masks per week.

Khalid Khames, Arming Limited — Scotland
Full face respirators — 48 available immediately, custom quantities 2–3 weeks

Gemma Campbell, Dynasty Laser Designs — Willenhall
Able to produce face shields with prior notice

Jane Gibbons, Ultimaker — Chorley
Can supply 3D printers and 3D printed parts directly to hospitals or via a network of our customers

Abiola Dawodu, Scissorhands Couture — Essex
Visor face shield with attached Fabric mask; 5000 pieces a week
Fabric washable face mask: 5000 Pieces a week

Craig Morris, Liquid retail Nottinghamshire
All items government approved export grade medical supplies with full CE certification and documentation:
IIR face masks — circa 1million pieces per day per one facility. Multiple facilities.
N95 FFP2 face masks — 500k-1 million per week per one facility. Multiple facilities.
FFP3 — very limited volume
FFP3 — Millions. Volume non-medical certification but FFP3 tested. Need checks and certification assistance from the government.
Gowns — one factory 500k per week. Multiple facilities.
Gloves — millions per week.
Visors — hundreds of thousands.
Goggles — tens of thousand.
Aprons — millions.

Ian Jamie, Staeger Clear Packaging Limited — Coventry
Visors (standard and deluxe — all made from recycled water bottles). Currently 200,000 a week, could produce 750,000 to 1,000,000 week

Georgina Ayoola, Wavelength Consultancy Solution Grays — United Kingdom
Can produce more than 5,000 Face Masks a week
1000 Face shields a week.

Nick Flynn, Highbury Design — Nottingham
Face masks: initially 5,000. Could produce tens of thousands if ordered, within 2 months approx 1 million.

Bella Gonshorovitz — London
Initially 1000 gowns per week then could scale up.

Jatin Patel, Kalikas Armour — Kent
Minimum capabilities 1000+ Face masks

Ben Roots, Surrey Site Supplies Ltd — Surrey & London
Can supply wide range of PPE inc. disposable gloves, disposable gowns, N95 face masks, all items have certs, data sheets and test reports

Thursday 30th April

Day 41

This morning, before 9am, there was an unfamiliar knock at the front door. It wasn’t the urgent knock of a zero-hours-contract delivery driver in a hurry to meet their quota. I was curious as I went to open, because these days a knock on the door is pretty rare. It was the window cleaners. It’s so nice to look out of clean windows again! They’ve been coated in dust from the building work next door.

That knock on the door set me thinking that since lockdown I haven’t taken in a single delivery for any of the neighbours. Usually, because I work at home a lot, I’m a repository for the neighbours’ parcels while they’re out at work. On one occasion I ended up with parcels for three different households in a single day.

Friday 1st May

Day 42

May Day. I love May Morning celebrations in Oxford! We usually go as a household and I like to initiate my housemates into the Oxford May morning experience. I think my sheer enthusiasm convinces them of the need to set their alarms and join me. If they were here the previous year they’re already converted, but if they’ve never been they simply cannot imagine what a big deal it is, or how many people join in the festivities, which start at 6am. (Of course many haven’t been to bed in the first place having partied through the night!) Attendance has been as high as 27,000. After the Magdalen College Choir gets things started by singing from the top of Magdalen College Tower the May Morning party begins! Great live music of all kinds is played around the city centre, which is closed to traffic, and people wander around, many dressed in green, with flowers and foliage in their hair. Most pubs and cafes are open and the atmosphere is joyful! I love a good dance almost anytime, but it’s not often I get to dance with lots of other happy, smiling people at that time of the morning. The last few years it’s been my household’s tradition, when things start to quieten down and most of the revellers head off to work or sleep, to go and have breakfast together at Leon’s on Cornmarket.

This year of course was very different. The wonderful community band, Horns of Plenty, a mainstay of May morning, came up with the great idea of getting people all over town to join in with singing and playing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ from their windows or front gardens at 8am. It was such a lovely idea. I was just going to go out into my street and join in with one of the rattles I use in my shamanic work, but at the last minute my housemate suggested going for a ride round and see what’s happening in our neighbourhood. I quickly pulled on some warm clothes, and we set off. We were a bit late to hear most streets’ renditions but caught a fair few people still hanging out with their neighbours and were able to greet them and wish each other a ‘Happy May Morning’. It was lovely to cycle round the almost empty streets, which at that time of the morning would usually be choked up with cars and buses and people in a hurry.

On a less cheerful note, the open letter I pasted on my blog entry 2 days ago was covered on Sky News, who spoke to a couple of the signatories, one of whom said, referring to the government.

“This is a problem entirely of their own making and could have been solved. There needs to be an accounting because the lack of PPE and response is shameful and instead of telling lies they should admit the failure and replace those responsible.”

Here’s the link to the whole article:

https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-firms-ask-government-do-you-want-our-ppe-or-not-11981025

Saturday 2nd May

Day 43

We’re entering the 7th week already. The time has gone really quickly. So far, lockdown has not been hard. But now, my poor dad’s in hospital (not with covid, thank goodness). He can’t have visitors, and his wife, whose health isn’t great, is home alone and can’t have visitors either. It’s hard thinking of their situation and vulnerability.

Sunday 3rd May

Day 44

Another article about the scandalous shortage of PPE in the UK, this time in the Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/9680c20f-7b71-4f65-9bec-0e9554a8e0a7

A friend wrote from Laos on 30th April, “Today is the 20th day that we don’t find any cases more (of coronavirus) in Laos.” According to Wikipedia there are no known deaths from Covid 19 in the country. I am very relieved to hear that, as they have a low number of ICU beds. Yet another example of a country whose government acted faster and more decisively than ours, preventing a lot of death and heartache.

When I look around the world and hear what’s happening elsewhere, I find it hard to comprehend why some people in this country think the UK government is doing a good job.

Monday 4th May

Day 45

In an email from the Satipanya Buddhist Trust this line leapt out at me, “There does not seem to be a dream to replace this neo-liberal mindset, causing such damage to community cohesion and the environment.”

It made me reflect on how much I have suspended my own dreaming during lockdown. Maybe it’s because I like my dreams to be at least potentially realisable and based on some form of reality. I don’t want to look ahead and dream of things, both personal and global, which are too far out of reach and unpredictable at the moment. We’re in a dark place with the pandemic and I don’t think anybody can accurately predict how bad it’s going to be, or how long before it will be safe to gather with loved ones and have a hug, never mind all the much, much bigger stuff to do with the future of the planet and all the beings that live on her. And in this country, we also have Brexit to contend with, as if things weren’t bad enough already.

To a certain extent I’ve furloughed that dreaming function and feel like I’m living in a kind of limbo. My mental health, which so far seems excellent, feels like a huge priority, second only to avoiding contagion from coronavirus, and one of the ways I’m trying to protect it is by taking things a day at a time and focussing on what I have rather than what I don’t. I’m very fortunate to have a lot. Enough food, a comfortable home, a garden, great company – I really appreciate my housemate at this time! But dreaming beyond today’s dinnertime is mostly off my agenda. Of course I hope that this crisis will have long-lasting silver linings for the environment and the way we live, but looking at this country and what we’ve signed up to, and beyond our shores to certain other countries, it’s hard to have much faith in our species as a whole. At the same time though, I love humans and indeed am fascinated by them and very rarely meet someone who I dislike or can’t find any redeeming features in. Even most people who do terrible things I can feel compassion for, knowing that they are acting from a fearful, damaged, traumatised place. What really, really baffles me though is why we elect some of the most psychopathic, narcissistic examples of the species to lead us and make major decisions with long term consequences on our behalf? Especially as when most of us apply for a job we go through quite a rigorous selection process, even for roles where we might not exercise much influence on decision-making, and yet someone can become president of what is currently the most powerful nation in the world without even any relevant experience. Go figure, as they say over there.

A friend in Germany called a few weeks ago, very concerned for me because of what they hear on the news about the situation in the UK. And another wrote today, “So sorry that you have ended up in such a mess. I do though blame the voting system: the majority voting system prefers extremism as we can see in the US as well. Although the proportional representation might be a little slower it creates a more stable and middle ground, and of course having a physicist as Bundeskanzlerin makes it easier in crises situation than a elite young brat who has never seen real life.”

Tuesday 5th May

Day 46

Yesterday, after my morning musings, I also went for a bike ride. I really wanted to go somewhere! It’s unusual for me not to go anywhere for a whole two months, which has been the case since I returned from Vietnam and Laos at the beginning of March. My bike is a regular old cycle for getting around town, not suited for very long journeys, so I’m limited as to how far I can travel. But Abingdon’s only 7.2 miles away by National Cycle Network Route 5 and I decided to go there. Although it wasn’t very warm, the flowers and their fragrances were announcing the commencement of summer! I came across honeysuckle in bloom; a field thickly scattered with buttercups; may blossom everywhere. It was all so gloriously lush and abundant, increasing my own sense of aliveness.

And to top it all, when I reached my destination I discovered there was only a short queue outside Waitrose and decided to go in. What a treat that was! Many tempting items not available at my local supermarket had yellow labels indicating they’d been reduced in price as they’d reached their sell by date. I didn’t want to load up my bike basket too much for the ride back, but scooped up Jerusalem artichokes, pomegranates, a fiery red pesto with pine nuts, a jar of olives marinating in herbs. I also found Darjeeling tea, which I love but can’t find in the shops near me. It was the icing on the cake of a very enjoyable ride.

Funnily enough, when I was sat in the riverside gardens afterwards, eating the packed lunch I’d brought with me, I saw someone I know from Oxford who’d had the same idea of combining their daily exercise with a trip to the food mecca that is a large Waitrose.

We had such a good dinner that night, enhanced by most of the spoils from my trip ‘away’. I roasted the Jerusalem artichokes in rapeseed oil with garlic cloves, fresh rosemary from the garden, and lemon juice. To the dish I’d originally planned to make, squash roasted in olive oil with fennel, celery, hazelnuts, and fresh sage from the garden, I added pomegranate seeds before serving. There was quinoa and steamed chard, and the chilli pesto added a kick to the meal.

Wednesday 6th May

Day 47

Uggh. 30,000 now dead in this country from coronavirus, a figure which is almost certainly an under-estimate. Government ministers make a show of clapping for key workers on Thursday evenings and praising the NHS, whilst, according to this article, continuing their policy of privatisation of the health service.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/may/04/uk-government-using-crisis-to-transfer-nhs-duties-to-private-sector

Meanwhile, over in Ambridge, (tum tee tum tee tum tee tum etc…) Now that The Archers has run out of pre-recorded episodes we’re getting some vintage Archers in the regular slots instead. This week’s theme is ‘Four weddings and a funeral’. Yesterday I finally got to hear poor old Kirsty being jilted in the vestry on what she thought was going to be ‘the happiest day of her life.’ Mind you, that pales into comparison with what she’s going to suffer if she marries Philip. Don’t do it Kirsty!!!

And this evening snobby Jennifer uttered the immortal words, “I’m related to a Horrobin!” Classic.

Thursday 7th May

Day 48

Full moon.

I was listening to another session from the Oxford Real Farming Conference Archive, entitled ‘Fixing the Benefits of Pulses in Crop Rotations’, and the expression zero-till came up, which I assumed is the same as ‘no-till’ which I hear mentioned on the Archers in the context of improving soil quality. I was curious to know more, so I looked it up. First of all, I discovered tilling is different from ploughing. The latter goes much deeper into the soil and flips it over, whereas the former is more like raking the surface. I also learnt that, “One of the biggest contributors to soil degradation is the common practice of soil tilling. Tillage loosens and removes any plant matter covering the soil, leaving it bare. Bare soil, especially soil that is deficient in rich organic matter, is more likely to be eroded by wind and water. Tilling also displaces and/or kills off the millions of microbes and insects that form healthy soil biology. The long-term use of deep tillage can convert healthy soil into a lifeless growing medium dependent on chemical inputs for productivity.”

Ah, that’s why we’re always hearing that our food doesn’t contain as many nutrients as in times past and we’re advised to take supplements.

“When soil is left undisturbed, beneficial soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off of the soil’s organic matter. A healthy soil biome is important for nutrient cycling and suppressing plant diseases. As soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.” Here’s the whole article:

https://regenerationinternational.org/2018/06/24/no-till-farming/#top

Friday 8th May

Day 49

Flora day in Helston, where I lived as a child and went to school. Biggest and best day of the year. The town must seem eerily quiet, in contrast to the usual excitement which starts to build the previous evening with a traditional wander round town to see the streets being beautifully decorated with bluebells and greenery, before ending up in the pubs. Crowds gather from far and wide, many making the journey back from far-flung places. On the day itself folk are already lining the streets early in the morning to catch the first of the dances, at 7am. I took part in the 10am children’s dance a few times when I was little. Each school has a flower, which the girls wear in their hair and the boys as a buttonhole. Ours was lily of the valley and I remember one flora day morning in the 60’s having to go to the hairdressers to get my long hair put up into a beehive encircled with flowers.

Meanwhile back in Oxford I was struck today by how exquisitely beautiful raspberry flowers are, which I’d never realised until this afternoon even though I’ve been growing them for years. I was weeding between the canes and it was as if I was really seeing them for the first time.

Saturday 9th May

Day 50

Start of the 8th week of lockdown.

Hurray, today was the first week there were fresh local strawberries at the farmers’ market. They smell divine and taste even better. The ones in my garden are still only in flower, so it’s going to be a while before I can ‘pick-my-own’.

I spoke to my auntie who lives in Northern Cyprus. She told me there haven’t been any new cases of coronavirus there since 20th April. Their government introduced measures early on, learning lessons from what was happening in Italy and Spain. They already started ending their lockdown on 4th May! She said when she goes to the shop she has to write down her name and contact details, a basic form of track and trace, without the security concerns.

I’m relieved she made it home before things got out of hand; over the winter she’d been visiting relatives in a part of London that’s suffered a high death toll from Covid 19. She was staying in a block of flats with communal corridors where lots of people have to touch the same door handles, so I would have been seriously worried about her safety, and besides it would have been miserable to be stranded so far from home.

I’m really pleased for her to be in a relatively good and relaxed situation, and I’m quite envious too. In so many countries a point has been reached where it’s safe to begin to ease restrictions, and there’s a sense that the worst is truly over, whereas in this country it still seems a long way off and the government is showing a real lack of clarity or transparency.

A report by government scientific advisers containing criticisms they had made of potential government policies, which they had been formally asked to consider, was heavily redacted, leading one of the scientists to state, “The greatest asset we have in this crisis is the trust and adherence of the public. You want trust? You need to be open with people. This isn’t open. It is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia. Not a good look.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/08/revealed-uk-scientists-fury-over-attempt-to-censor-covid-19-advice

Sunday 10th May

Day 51

It’s an extremely difficult time to be trying to raise funds, and there are so many requests for donations from worthy causes when many of us just don’t have money to spare. One that’s really caught my imagination this week is a crowdfunder for Oxford City Farm. I think it’s partly because we all know things can’t go on as they were before. On the one hand it’s impossible anyway, but on the other hand very many of us simply don’t want things to go back to how they were. We want positive, sustainable shifts in the way we inhabit the planet that is our home, and better relationships with the other species we share it with, and each other.

Oxford City Farm does fantastic work here in the heart of our community and right now they have the opportunity to vastly increase the scope of what they do. They have been offered a classroom/teaching kitchen by a local school. The catch is they need to find £40,000 to cover the cost of dismantling, relocating and rebuilding the classroom at the farm. They are over a quarter of the way there, but only have till the end of May to raise the rest; otherwise it will be sent to landfill, which would be heartbreaking, and extremely wasteful. I want to support them because they are a ray of hope towards a better future for humankind. Here’s the link to their website. Do take a look!

Home

Monday 11th May

Day 52

Yesterday evening I switched on the radio at 7pm to listen to The Archers, but got the Prime Minister instead. I was in a good mood until I heard him waffling on about changing the message from ’Stay Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’.

To my ears it was a disastrous speech which will most likely have disastrous consequences in the form of a surge in cases of Covid 19. Talk about mixed messages! He was urging people to return to work immediately if they couldn’t work at home, but at the same time telling them not to use public transport if possible. We’re now allowed to drive to other destinations, whatever that means. We can exercise outside more than once a day and now have permission to hang out in public spaces, although fines will be heavier for those breaking the rules. He wasn’t at all clear on what the rules now are.

The police aren’t happy about it, they’ve already been complaining about ‘fighting a losing battle’ with people flouting social distancing. Doctors and scientists have responded by saying, ‘Strap in for the second wave.’

England is going it alone as the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are, quite rightly in my opinion, sticking with the sensible and clear ‘Stay at home’ advice’.

It was really cold today, quite a shock to the system! I made soup, which I haven’t done for ages. Just simple celery and potato, but it was delicious.

Very dramatic episode from the Archers archive this evening. It brought back memories of listening to it together with my friend in her cosy living room in Porthleven, sitting by the wood-burning stove, back in December 2002.

Tuesday May 12th

Day 53

Brrr, woke up to a light frost.

I’ve learnt a couple of new words recently.

The first is anthesis, which means the period during which a flower is fully open and functional. I came across it whilst listening to more of the Oxford Real Farming Conference Archive. It’s essential for anthesis to occur in synch with the emergence of the insects which pollinate that particular plant, but climate change is messing up that relationship. The consequences are serious, as three quarters of all food crops are reliant on pollination.

My other new word is xenial. I encountered it because some people in my writing group have been attempting the challenge of writing a mini-story using all the letters of the alphabet in order. Our teacher came up with this:

And Boris couldn’t decide:-

Either 1. Free general households into jeopardy knowing lockdown means no over-running pandemic

  1. Quite recklessly start to unleash valiant workers xenial (look it up!) yielding zest

I did look it up and found this definition, ‘Hospitable, especially to visiting strangers or foreigners. Of the relation between a host and guest; friendly.’ That would be such a useful word if anyone else understood what it means!

Wednesday 13th May

Day 54

I heard on the radio that during this lockdown noise complaints to local authorities have increased in many parts of the country. It made me feel very grateful that I’m not having to contend with inconsiderate neighbours on top of everything else. There is the noise from the building work next door, but even when it becomes intrusive I know it’s temporary, just till the work is completed, and is going to stop by a certain time each day. It doesn’t do my head in because it’s just builders doing what they need to do and they are friendly and polite towards me. I know people who’ve suffered from noisy neighbours, particularly in flats, who would play loud thumping music late at night, preventing them from sleeping and causing a great deal of ongoing distress.

Hmmm, yesterday I received the promised letter from HMRC about the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. So today I sat down with a cup of coffee, took a deep breath, logged on and began the process. First I had to check my eligibility. I filled in my details and was informed pretty quickly that I was eligible for the scheme. Hurray! The initial hurdle was overcome and I was relieved because I’ve heard on the radio of people going to the website and being informed they weren’t eligible, even though they knew they definitely were. Next I had to go through a series of checks and set up a password and recovery word. That was all going smoothly until we came to the access code, which I elected to have sent to my landline. My phone rang straightaway, I noted the code, typed it into the box and clicked on ‘continue’. And that’s where it all went wrong! Instead of being able to continue I was told I needed help and support. I was invited to fill in my name, email and problem. Apparently someone will get back to me within 2 working days. Much as I’m tempted to have another go I think I’ll wait in case it makes things worse!

This brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my heart. ‘Setting an example for countries everywhere, Portugal has given all refugees and migrants with pending applications full citizenship during the crisis, granting them access to free health care, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and rental contracts.’ It’s not all bad news at the moment; even some governments are showing their humanity!

Thursday 14th May

Day 55

I wonder if I’ll be typing ‘Day 100’? It’s hard to see an end to this coming anytime soon. I’m not feeling particularly miserable in myself, just convinced that this early easing of the lockdown will send infection and death rates up again. We don’t have nearly enough tests or PPE and the latest recorded figure for daily deaths was 494 on Tuesday.

Friday 15th May

Day 56

Benjamin Zephaniah, poet and national treasure, was interviewed last night by Samira Ahmed on a special edition of Front Row, Radio 4’s arts programme. If you haven’t heard it and have half an hour to spare it’s well worth a listen. I could listen to him for hours. He’s a brilliant poet, a wise man of principle with very interesting ideas, and his voice melts my heart. It’s soothing and reassuring and goodness knows, we need all the soothing and reassuring we can get at the moment. I love that he was offered an OBE, because he deserves that recognition, but I am happy that he politely turned it down. In his words, ‘I don’t write to impress monarchy or government. I’m quite anti them, and so I would just feel slightly dirty if I took something from them. It’s not a personal attack on any politician or any member of the royal family, right? But the idea of me, somebody who’s fought against empire all my life and wrote against it, who’s suffered under it and has tangible connections in the Caribbean, shackles that my family were chained with right now in my family’s houses in Jamaica. For me to go and put the word ‘empire’, attach that to my name, I just couldn’t live with myself.’

When Samira asked him, ‘You’re kind of proud to represent the UK, aren’t you?’ he replied, ‘Yes, because I think there are some things we do brilliantly. I mean, we do multi-culturalism better than almost any country in the world. There’s more intermarriage here, there’s more intermingling generally. Our music is so creative because, you know, the black kids hang out with the Asian kids who hang out with the white kids and when we start playing our music together we have all the different flavours. When it happens really naturally from the ground upwards it’s a beautiful thing. I mean, look how small we are but how much influence we have culturally and it’s because we are multi-cultural. And a lot of people tend to think of multi-culturalism today as kind of blacks and Asians, but actually the Picts, the Celts, the Jutes, the Angles, the Saxons, all these tribes that came to Britain brought their own culture to make us who we are and that’s something I’m extremely proud of. But that has nothing to do with the government.’

His words last night gave me a bit more hope for the future of this country, which, let’s face it, isn’t looking particularly bright at the moment. He also read his new poem for the NHS. Give it a listen! https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000j1k9

Saturday 16th May

Day 57

It’s been 8 weeks now, two months in lockdown due to coronavirus! I’ve been reflecting on what has kept me going and kept my spirits up. That list includes:

Daily yoga and meditation practice

Friendship

My housemate

Work, in its new forms

Support, both from my spirit guides and humans, including financial support from students and clients who have been donating for the limited services I am currently able to offer

Nature; including my garden, birdsong, and everything unfolding, blooming, and fading, day by day

Seeing my lovely neighbours on a Thursday evening

Being able to access wholesome tasty food

The radio

Learning new stuff all the time

Humour, from lots of different sources. Last night my housemate showed me this clip, which made me laugh out loud. https://youtu.be/yOvO4wIBXS0 Like a lot of humour, the subject itself is not at all funny. It’s desperately awful to have a prime minister who gives such muddled and nonsensical advice, but given the choice between laughing or crying…………

Oh yippee! It looks like I’m going to get an injection of money from the government self-employment income support scheme. After initially not getting very far with the application process I received an automated email that was 100% irrelevant and unhelpful. But today I sat down after lunch to have another go at claiming and it all went incredibly smoothly and quickly. I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was. I thought I’d have to fill in a complicated form about what I’ve been earning in the meantime. But no, I simply have to include my earnings and the grant together with the rest of the year’s income when I do my accounts and it’ll all be taxed accordingly. It’s great news!

Sunday 17th May

Day 58

After yesterday’s relief and excitement about the money from the government I realised that although I may not be able to get back to work properly for quite a while the scheme probably isn’t going to be extended. Oh well, let’s see what happens. I certainly shan’t be blowing any of it on extravagances.

Speaking of which, my housemate made an ‘impulse buy’ in Sainsbury on Friday! A jar of chipotle chilli flakes, which I spotted on the spice shelf yesterday morning. I immediately took off the lid and sniffed them. They smelt so good and earthy and smoky I wanted to add them then and there to my fruity breakfast, but held off till lunch and dinner. I’ve not seen them in the shops before but I think they’re going to become a bit of a staple now in our household.

Today the clematis on the side of the house began to open its flowers, big purple starry blooms, and on the patio one creamy rose appeared on the bush of a thousand buds, which will flower now for months. Those roses refuse to be picked and brought inside. If you so much as touch them they instantly release all their petals, which fall to the ground in a soft little shower.

There’s a poem I like about a Rose and the Wind. https://www.bartleby.com/246/800.html

Monday 18th May

Day 59

I awoke this morning refreshed by a dream about facilitating a shamanic teaching circle in which I had to do a lot of improvising and adapting to circumstances. It left me feeling very positive and energised, which was great because I was booked to do a shamanic distance healing a few hours later and the dream made me feel like I had a lot of support from my spirit guides.

In the afternoon I set off for a ride but quickly realised there was something wrong with my bike, so I changed direction and went to see my lovely friend at his bike shop instead. He offered to fix it after work. He’s an angel. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick it up tomorrow afternoon.

I’m fretting though about how to repay his kindness. Normally I’d cook him dinner. I suppose I could still do that and deliver it to him in Tupperware. It’s not quite the same though!

As I walked home the song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was playing in my head, and it took me back to a Joe Cocker outdoor concert I attended in Bologna in 1979. The gig didn’t start well. He was pretty out of it and slurring his words. People were getting up and starting to walk out. Soon there was a steady flow towards the exit. I’d already noticed in my short time living in Italy that cinemas sold extra tickets because after a few minutes some people would walk out because they didn’t like the film, and then those sat in the aisles could occupy their seats. Not like the British who’d hang in there hoping that things would improve! Anyway the exodus focused Joe Cocker and he began to sing ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ like he really meant it. The tide instantly reversed, everyone sat back down on the grass again and it turned into a great and memorable event.

Tuesday 19th May

Day 60

I was feeling a bit fed up, worried about the poor health of older relatives, so my housemate sent me this hilarious video to cheer me up. https://youtu.be/faRDvZAeVJg

My bike wasn’t ready today, after all. I miss it.

Wednesday 20th May

Day 61

Hurray, hurray, it’s a sunny day! I was able to do my yoga practice in the garden, which is one of the best things for my mind, body and soul. And my bike is fixed. Yay!

I’m researching veggie korma recipes, my friend who fixed the bike is a vegetarian who is partial to a korma, but I’ve never made one before as I prefer a bit more spice in my curries.

Thursday 21st May

Day 62

Most of the time these days I’m just getting on with life and focussing on being practical; keeping mind, body and spirit together, trying to earn a living, keeping a sense of humour, and not thinking too much about the future. But every so often, like this morning when I sat for meditation, I am struck by the utter bizarreness and enormity of the predictable yet unexpected situation we find ourselves in. Each time that happens, I feel a surge of gratitude and relief that I have meditation and yoga in my life. I don’t know what I’d do without my daily practice and I know others who feel similarly about their daily wild swim, or run, or whatever.

It’s world meditation day, a fact I wasn’t aware of till nearly five o’clock in the afternoon. Five in the afternoon reminds me of a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish poet. Years ago I watched an excellent film of the same name, about a young woman in Kabul covertly attending school against her father’s wishes, and was amazed to learn afterwards that the title was inspired by Lorca’s poem!

There was some good news today. The government backed down over charging overseas NHS and care workers a visa surcharge, which currently stands at £400 but is due to rise to £624 in October. Just 24 hours earlier, when Keir Starmer had raised the issue at prime minister’s questions, Boris Johnson had tried to justify the charge, but eventually bowed to pressure not only from opposition parties and the public, but also from Tory MP’s and peers.

Friday 22nd May

Day 63

Since I haven’t been meeting clients or students face to face I’ve been including much more garlic in my lunches. Yesterday I added two nice fat, juicy cloves. Yum! But then I went to Cowley Centre and ended up wearing a face mask for longer than usual and had to breathe my own ‘garlic breath’ for an extended period of time. On top of the discomfort of a sweaty lower face (it was a very hot day) and my glasses steaming up (quite difficult to avoid when wearing a facemask) it wasn’t very pleasant! And it was a disappointing shopping trip too as I didn’t find any peat-free potting compost, which was the main reason I went up there.

Today I picked the first ripe strawberry from my garden. Just the one, but it was super-intense-sweet.

Saturday 23rd May

Day 64

9 weeks of lockdown have passed already. And what do we have to show for it? The introduction of effective test, track and trace measures still seems a long way off in this country. The latest daily death toll from Covid 19 is 351, bringing the total, according to the Office for National Statistics, to at least 45,000.

It’s Eid this weekend, the end of Ramadan, but the streets round here are quiet this year. Instead of seeing lots of happy people and excited children dressed up in colourful new clothes going off to visit family and friends it just looks like a regular day under lockdown.

Today was also to have been the wedding day of two friends. I was so looking forward to attending; it was going to be such a special event and lots of fun! They are both very creative souls. The groom, who I’ve known for much longer, has done a fantastic job as the celebrant at the marriage of mutual friends and the funeral of another friend, amongst many other wonderful ceremonies. He also holds great parties, including his 50th, for which he hired an entire youth hostel in lovely countryside for a weekend and filled it with friends. We cooked communal meals, played games, went for walks, and had a lot of laughs. His partner’s lovely too, and is an amazing art therapist. Their wedding was to take place at the Rollright Stones, an ancient stone circle. Advance preparations included soul/funk dance workshops, which I was particularly looking forward to, drama and music, costume and mask making. And of course we were encouraged to wear funky, colourful clothes. Hopefully their vision will become reality next year, but none of us have any idea what the future holds, apart from a lot of uncertainty.

Sunday 24th May

Day 65

Unbelievable! While most of the rest of us have been observing the government guidelines, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has been blatantly flouting the rules he was involved in drawing up! It appears he drove not just once, but twice, from London to Durham and whilst there even had a day out in a town 30 miles away. Not only that but his wife definitely had Covid 19 during the first journey north, and he later came down with it too. They should have been self-isolating!! I seriously hope they didn’t stop for petrol or to use the toilets or any other facilities, but it’s a 260 mile trip each way and they had a 4 year old child on board, so the chances of that are pretty slim. And then there was the day out in Barnard Castle. The fact is it looks very likely that he has put others at risk of infection.

To heap insult onto injury Boris Johnson is defending him.

The UK Civil Service tweeted: UK Civil Service (@UKCivilService) Arrogant and offensive.
Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?

By obeying the rules many people have missed out on being with their loved ones. Here’s just one example:

“My mother died of Covid-19, alone in a care home in Sussex on 18 April 2020. I was unable to visit her during the last few weeks and days of her life because of the lockdown measures imposed by your government, advised by Dominic Cummings. It now appears that Cummings not only broke the lockdown rules himself, he did so flagrantly. His response today has been arrogance personified.

“When I did, finally, make a 520-mile round trip from York to Sussex and back to see my mother, it was to bury her body. I completed the 520-mile round trip in a single day because I thought staying at my sister’s house in Sussex contravened the lockdown rules. I am sure you can appreciate why I am appalled at Cummings’s disregard for the lockdown rules he had a hand in making. Please make my story known to No 10; there are thousands of similar stories across the land.” – John Tomsett, head teacher of Huntingdon School, York in a letter to his Conservative MP.

I hope there will be a police investigation. Sadly though, I fear that even if there is one, he’ll probably still get away with it and keep his job.

Monday 25th May

Day 66

Yesterday I listened to a couple more talks from the Oxford Real Farming Conference Archive. The Farmers’ Rebellion (XR) talk was very interesting, but the one that really got me thinking was the fascinating presentation, ‘An Introduction To Shumei Natural Agriculture’.

It says on the Shumei website: ‘Natural Agriculture is a means of cultivating wholesome food with pure seeds and without the use of any fertilizers, chemicals or additives. It emphasizes the use of indigenous, natural seeds, encourages seed-saving, and stresses the cultivation of soil in its natural state – without additional elements. More than an approach to agriculture, it is a way of living mindfully and in harmony with nature.’

I was slightly blown away to hear they don’t rotate crops, or use fertilizer, or see insects as pests.

They keep growing the same crop in the same field, saving the seed each year to plant back where its parent grew. The idea is that soil and seed adapt and improve with each harvest. They say that crops develop deeper root systems naturally to access nutrients and water needed, and saving seeds increases resilience, self-sufficiency and food security for future generations.

For me the most surprising part of their philosophy is not feeding the soil. I thought that each crop takes from the soil and we need to put something back. Surely that’s why the soil is poor and our food is lacking in nutrients and we need to take supplements? But they talk about ‘trusting in the soil –soil has all the nutrients needed’.

And their attitude to insects, ‘Insects are not seen as pests and infestations are a sign of imbalance.’

This is all quite revolutionary, but seems to be working well and feeding people all over the world!

Here’s a link to the slideshow from the talk:

https://orfc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/FINAL-2020-Oxford-Real-Farming-Conference.pdf

If you would like to listen to the presentation here’s the link to the ORFC archive:

https://orfc.org.uk/archive-2020/

I’m so envious, my auntie ‘phoned from northern Cyprus where lockdown is over. She was telling me an anecdote about a young man trying to pick her up in the hairdresser’s, ‘You were at the hairdresser’s!’ I said, ignoring the bit about the wannabe toyboy. What wouldn’t I give for a haircut right now!

Dominic Cummings has spoken. Basically, he has refused to resign or apologise. No surprises there. Even the Daily Mail, who backed Boris Johnson in the last election, is furious, writing, “Neither man has displayed a scintilla of contrition for this breach of trust. Do they think we are fools? For the good of the government and the nation, Mr Cummings must resign. Or the prime minister must sack him. No ifs, no buts.”

It’s been a gorgeous hot day. I was doing yoga in the garden this morning and popped back inside for a few minutes. When I returned to the garden, my neighbour told me that as I’d walked across the patio to the back door a fox had followed me and then gone down the side of the house. I wonder if it was the same one we saw yesterday. It was cooler and I was doing my yoga indoors when my housemate came running up the stairs and told me to quickly look out the back window. A fox was sat on the lawn having a good long scratch behind her ear. After we’d been watching for a couple of minutes she got up and nonchalantly walked across the patio and down the side of the house.

The new ‘locked-down Archers’ has started. I’ve been asked not to give away any ‘spoilers’ for those who only listen to the Sunday omnibus. What did I think of it? Hmmm, well, it’s better than no Archers!

Tuesday 26th May

Day 67

This morning I was doing yoga on the patio in my usual spot next to the rosebush and in front of the day lilies and peonies. Coming up from a forward bend I found a fox gazing straight at me from the grass on the other side of the flowerbed. I wanted to see her in better focus so I slowly reached down for my glasses, which were on the ground beside my yoga mat. She didn’t flinch, just kept looking at me with her intelligent face. I felt affection towards her, but then my rational mind reminded me to be just a little bit careful because she is a wild animal after all. She edged a little bit closer and I realised she wanted to get across the patio. She was going to pass through the narrow gap of lawn between the high-growing flowerbeds, but then hesitated, probably because it would have brought her very close to me. Her other option was to walk through the bed on the other side; she took a couple of steps towards it but rejected that option and returned to the narrow strip of grass. I noticed when she moved that she had an injured front paw or leg. It seemed the best thing to do was to get out of her way so I retreated towards the back door and she followed me, walking over my yoga mat and giving it a sniff. I was still in the way though, if she wanted to go down the side path without getting close to me, so I stepped just inside, but then she decided instead to slip under the fence into next door’s garden. Poor little thing with her injured limb, I hope she’s going to be OK.

The second of the new locked-down Archers programmes was just silly really. I know we all have to improvise these days, but it’s not quite working for me.

Wednesday 27th May

Day 68

Yet another absolutely gorgeous sunny day! We have been so blessed with the weather throughout lockdown. We’ve been visited two days running by a damselfly. Yesterday I watched her while eating my lunch in the garden. She was sitting on a leaf of the big, pink, scented peony in the back garden. Her body bluey-green, with bronze wings, she sparkled in the sunlight. Every so often she’d half-heartedly take flight and quickly land back in the same spot again. Today my housemate called me over to look at a dragonfly and I’m pretty certain it was the same one, resting almost in the same place, but on a different leaf. I’m a bit confused because when I looked on the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust website to try and identify her it seemed she was an emerald damselfly, except, according to their information, ‘Flies from late June – early September’. I suppose she could be early because we’ve had such warm weather. If I see her again I’ll take a closer look.

Thursday 28th May

Day 69

Another fox encounter. As it was a lovely warm morning again I did my yoga practice outside. The fox must have got used to me, as today she just calmly walked right past me. I noticed her limp was almost gone. I’ve heard that foxes are a bit pongy but have never got close enough to notice. I can now confirm it’s true, her rank odour hung in the air for a minute or two.

The lockdown is being further eased from Monday, which is very worrying. The latest official daily death toll from Covid 19 was 377, which still seems very high to me, especially as the real number is probably even higher. And, very importantly, the test and trace system which has supposedly been launched today hasn’t got off to a very good start, with reports of crashes. Baroness Dido Harding, who is leading the scheme, told MPs on a conference call the system will not be fully operational until the end of June, which is in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s claims last week when he promised a world-beating test, trace and isolate system would be operational by Monday.

I still fear that easing the restrictions too soon will mean this drags on for much longer in the UK. I really, really want to get back to seeing clients and teaching face to face! But that will only be viable when the ‘R’ number is low. According to the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, the rate of infection is “close to one” – the rate at which the number of new cases can rise rapidly – and “we are still seeing new infections every day at quite a significant rate. That means there is not a lot of room to do things and things need to be done cautiously, step-by-step and monitored and the test and trace system needs to be effective in order to manage that,” he said. His words do not fill me with hope!

For the tenth Thursday evening in a row at 8pm I went out onto the street with my drum for the ‘Clap for Carers’. It was meant to be the last one, but quite a few of us neighbours have really enjoyed the opportunity to socialize together and check that everyone’s OK and we have decided to continue to meet on Thursdays at the same time.

Friday 29th May

Day 70

Ten weeks of lockdown!!

No sign of the fox this morning, despite a long yoga session outside. Mind you, the builders next door got started early and it was very noisy with power tools being used at the front and back of the house simultaneously, so that may have put her off.

I’ve got a new bike saddle! My old one was falling apart and left me a bit sore when I cycled to Abingdon and back. My friend in the bike shop recommended one and I was surprised that it’s quite hard, what I had in mind was something more cushioned to make up for my lack of natural cushioning. But he’s the expert and has shown himself in the past to be of good judgement so I bowed to his bike-seat wisdom. I only rode it home, a journey of less than ten minutes so I don’t know what it will be like on a longer ride, but so far so good.

Saturday 30th May

Day 71

It’s the start of the eleventh week of lockdown, which gives me pause for thought and reflection. When people started using the expression ‘the new normal’ I wasn’t very comfortable with it. Perhaps it was because I’m wary of the word ‘normal’, or because there was nothing remotely ‘normal’ about it, and also back then I was more hopeful that the restrictions were going to be temporary. I envisaged lockdown achieving a sufficient reduction in infections to permit us to gradually start returning to a more familiar way of living. Obviously, I realised things were never going to be quite the same again. I thought full lockdown would last a minimum of 12 weeks, but that it would be worth it to get the pandemic down to a more manageable level.

Maybe I’m being unduly pessimistic, I really hope so, but I can’t see the pandemic in the UK becoming ‘manageable’ anytime soon. Quite the opposite. So I’ve come round to the idea that this state of affairs really is the ‘new normal’ and will be for a long, long time. It’s incredibly frustrating, incomprehensible even, that our government has been so rubbish, given we had ample opportunities to observe what was happening in other countries and be guided by what appeared to be working or not elsewhere. I suspect things are going to get worse again before they get better! Ideology and common sense don’t necessarily go together.

Having said all that I’m determined to do my best not to let it get me down and at least the time has gone very quickly and pleasantly so far.

There was some great news today. Oxford City Farm has raised the £40,000 they need to rehome a kitchen/classroom and office building and transform it into a warm, dry and fully-equipped teaching resource for people of all ages to prepare and cook fresh, healthy food grown and picked on site. They only had 3 weeks to obtain the money; otherwise the building would have gone to landfill. Well done them! I believe this project is really important for physical and mental health and will play a significant role locally when the lockdown is finally over.

Sunday 31st May

Day 72

I’ve always loved books and invariably have at least one on the go. At the start of lockdown I thought I’d be reading even more than usual, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. I am still reading almost every night before going to sleep though and have read some excellent books during these last weeks.

When I realised the public library, my main source of reading material, would be closing I made sure to go and stock up. I’ve long since finished the five books I borrowed. Three were set in south-east Asia, one in China, and the other was about slow travel.

I had returned from a few weeks travelling in Vietnam and Laos in early March with a longing to go back as soon as possible and was devouring any reading material I could find which would help transport me to the region!

One of the library books was a novel by Colin Cotterill. I’d come across his work in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, just before returning to the UK. One of my ‘fears’ is running out of reading material and I wanted to make sure I had plenty for the long journey home. The Book Café was less than ten minutes walk from Memory Hotel, where I was staying. It’s a sweet little place and I had a good browse. There were so many books I would have loved to buy, especially all the ones about the Hmong people and their culture, and about the secret war in Laos that was going on at the same time as the famous war in neighbouring Vietnam.

Most people are unaware of that devastating war and its legacy. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos (a country smaller than the UK) the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. It is reckoned that some 80 million unexploded bombs are still scattered across the country. Almost fifty years later the ‘secret war’ is still mutilating bodies and claiming lives, as well as preventing people from cultivating much of the land.

The books weren’t cheap but there was a special offer if you bought 3 of Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri series, set in Laos. The stories begin in 1976 when ‘Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old medical doctor, has been unwillingly appointed the national coroner of newly-socialist Laos. Though his lab is underfunded, his boss is incompetent, and his support staff is quirky to say the least, Siri’s sense of humor gets him through his often frustrating days.’ Basically, it’s a murder mystery series with a good dose of Lao culture and shamanism.

I had a browse and thought they’d be an entertaining read when I was tired and jet-lagged. But there were a couple of other things that really sold them to me. One was the author’s commitment to the books being produced in Laos, where publishing is still in its infancy as there isn’t a culture of reading, instead of going next door to Thailand. Also, all the royalties go to three local charities, one of which, Big Brother Mouse, is very close indeed to my heart as I’d been volunteering there during most of my time in Laos. In fact that’s where I met a lot of Hmong people and became very interested in their history, culture and shamanic practices.

After I’d hungrily devoured those first three books, I managed to find some more at Oxford Central Library. Luckily there are fifteen in the series so I’ve got a few more to read. I do like it when books are set in familiar places, so that you can picture the places and people and atmosphere.

Monday 1st June

Day 73

A new month!

After the light-hearted tone of the Lao based series, I moved on to ‘The Sympathiser’ a novel by the Vietnamese-American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen.

My one regret about my time in Vietnam was that I hadn’t had any long, interesting conversations with Vietnamese people. Many people had been very friendly and generous, but the language barrier prevented any depth of communication. Funnily enough, the best conversation I had with a Vietnamese was in Laos!

On my first morning at the Nocknoy Lanexang guesthouse in Luang Prabang I sat and ate breakfast with a Vietnamese journalist who was in town to cover the 9th Mekong River Commission Stakeholder Forum http://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/events/the-9th-mrc-regional-stakeholder-forum/ from which China was conspicuously absent! But that’s another story.

The journalist had studied in France and was fluent in French, so finally I was able to have a proper conversation with a Vietnamese person. I told him I’d like to read more literature from his country. The only Vietnamese book I’d read so far was ‘The Sorrow of War’ by Bao Ninh. I’ll leave you to guess what it’s about. He made some recommendations, including Viet Thanh Nguyen. The Sympathiser is a strange book, ‘The narrator, a Vietnamese army captain, is a man of divided loyalties, a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist sleeper agent in America after the end of the Vietnam War.’

This morning I taught my first yoga class for a very long time! From today new guidelines permit up to six people to gather outdoors. I met with five others in a tree circle in Florence Park. I absolutely loved it and hope to do lots more, but it will depend on the British weather!

Tuesday 2nd June

Day 74

According to the weather forecast this is going to be the last hot, sunny day for a while. Tomorrow, rain is forecast. Based on that information I’m going to give watering the garden a miss this evening. Unfortunately, it’s going to be considerably cooler the next few days. Oh well, I’ve got plenty to be getting on with indoors. Still, it’s a bit of a shame the weather’s changing now that we can gather in groups of up to six. I’d love to be running more outdoor yoga classes! I love being outdoors and I love teaching yoga, it’s a winning combination. I did have a 1:1 yoga in the park this afternoon, which was brilliant and I felt very lucky that we managed to squeeze it in just in time. I wasn’t sure how it would work, teaching in such a popular park, but both times we’ve been completely undisturbed and the vibe’s been peaceful, just people chilling and children playing.

I shall make the most of the last summery day for a while by creating a large salad as part of dinner.

Wednesday 3rd June

Day 75

Woke up to find it hadn’t rained in the night and felt a bit bad about not watering the garden as it was quite a hot day yesterday and the plants might be thirsty. As I sat out there yesterday evening eating my dinner and admiring the profusion of flowers and visiting bees I hoped the rain wouldn’t be too heavy. The gorgeous scented pink peonies are in bloom and heavy rain would bedraggle them and turn the petals brown.

I’m still musing on the books I’ve been reading during lockdown. My third library book was ‘Mad About The Mekong’ by John Keay, which I’ve already mentioned in this blog. It’s subtitled ‘Exploration and Empire in South-East Asia’. It’s a fascinating account of this beguiling river, which I first encountered in 2004 when I was staying in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with a friend and his Cambodian wife and her extended family. I have fond memories of sunset drinks at the Foreign Correspondents Club overlooking the Mekong. My friend didn’t approve of the place, but it proved fortuitous for me as I met a nice American yoga teacher there and we decided to travel by boat up to Angkor Wat together and share a room to save money.

More recently I reencountered the Mekong in beautiful Luang Prabang in Laos and developed a bit of a thing about it. It’s hard to put into words, other than to say I felt a real affinity for the river. I was happy to be staying close by and to encounter it daily, whether choosing to walk along it on my way to volunteer at Big Brother Mouse, or to go and sit beside it to write my diary, or to take the ferry across and visit the temples on the other side. After Luang Prabang I travelled to the capital Vientiane, where the Mekong forms the border between Laos and Thailand. I made sure to find a hotel close to the river.

I enjoyed reading more about it and all the places it flows through. According to the book jacket it is the ‘wildest of the world’s rivers’ and ‘flows for nearly 3,000 miles’. The book tells of an ambitious French expedition which set off in 1866 and travelled the course of the river, encountering great difficulties in the inhospitable terrain, through present day Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma and China. It took them more than two years and seven of the original party of twenty perished along the way. Alas, the expedition’s discoveries inspired the carve-up of the region between the French and British colonial powers. It’s hard for me to imagine the arrogance, the sense of entitlement, to just turn up in an already inhabited country, decide it’s yours, maybe after having done a deal with another western power, and ruthlessly exploit both the land and the people without any qualms whatsoever.

Meanwhile back in Coronavirusland, there is a lot of criticism of the government’s latest bizarre policy. At the start of the pandemic it would have made a lot of sense to test and quarantine people arriving in the country, particularly from northern Italy, China and other hotspots, but it didn’t happen and that of course contributed to the spread of the virus. But only now, when most other countries apart from the U.S. and Brazil have a much lower infection rate than the UK, are we about to impose a fourteen day period of quarantine on new arrivals. The expression ‘locking the stable door after the horse has bolted’ comes to mind!

Thursday 4th June

Day 76

Today I decided I wanted to make something a bit different for dinner that I’d never made before, but also fairly quick and simple. I started flicking through the one-pot dishes in my Thai recipe book and found a noodle dish that fitted the bill. My housemate had some noodles in the cupboard which he offered to contribute and I cycled off to the Chinese shop to pick up some tofu and other ingredients. It was closed, ‘Never mind,’ I thought, ‘they’ll probably have all that stuff in the Korean shop’. But they didn’t have a single item on my list, in fact it looked like a lot of their usual stock was missing, including firm tofu. So I went to the nearby Asian shop and bought paneer instead and a few other bits and bobs, none of which figured in the recipe. On arriving home I announced to my housemate that we were having an original ‘fusion’ dish. In the end the only ingredient that was true to the recipe was garlic! They did both contain noodles and peanuts, but the noodles were wholewheat instead of rice and the peanuts were salted instead of merely roasted. Luckily it was quite tasty!