Imagine

This evening, women and men all over the United Kingdom will be lighting candles to remember Sarah Everard, a young woman in her thirties who went missing on 3rd March while walking home in London. She had been kidnapped and murdered. Although we were told this sort of crime by a complete stranger was very rare, women of all ages and parts of society spoke up to say fear and harassment on the streets and anywhere in public is all too common. A national dialogue has started and my guest blogger, Fiona Hallsworth, was moved to write this powerful piece.

Don’t think about my gender, don’t think about your gender. Forget “men vs women”. Just read my story. All of these examples really happened to me, they are just a small sample of many.

Imagine you are 11 years old and at a family party. You play with the other children, oblivious to the two grown ups staring at you. Your mother overhears them laughing and referring to you as “jail bait”. She realises that society’s sexualisation of your young body has already begun.

Imagine you are 13 years old. You notice that EVERY time you walk to school, grown ups slow down and stare at you as they drive past.

Imagine you are 14 and on a school trip to a theme park. The older, bigger, stronger person behind you in the queue pinches your bottom.

Imagine you are 15 and waiting at a bus stop with your friends. A grown up stands next to you and repeatedly says “I am going to rape you.”

Over the next few years, you are taught “the rules”. You must wear modest clothes and not get drunk. You must stick to well lit public places and never walk home alone. If you don’t follow the rules, a bigger, stronger person may grope, rape and/or kill you. It would be YOUR FAULT. You NEVER hear the bigger, stronger people being taught that they should not grope, rape or kill you.

Imagine you are 16 and take a job in a corner shop. It is the beginning of your life long lesson in how to look and smile at the older, bigger, stronger people just enough so that they know you are kind, but not so much that they assume you want to have sex with them.  Many customers repeatedly interrogate you about your ethnic origin. The older, bigger, stronger people stand over you, demanding to know where you are “really from”. You start to understand how they fetishise the way you look and see you as an easy target. A friend insists on driving you home after your shifts, because if you walk home, you might get raped and murdered and it would be YOUR FAULT.

Imagine you are 19 and going for a jog. A person who is bigger and stronger than you deliberately jumps in front of you so that you bump into them. You are scared and run home.

Imagine you are 20 and in a nightclub. Bigger, stronger people repeatedly grab your bottom. One person does it FOUR times. You tell the bouncer but they ignore you.

Imagine you are 22 and going for a jog. A bigger, stronger person takes a photo of you as you jog past. You run home and decide you probably shouldn’t jog in public anymore.

Imagine you are 23 and travelling to and from work. EVERY time you get on a bus or train, somebody stares at you. They look at you like they want to kill you or eat you. If you are wearing shorts, they sit opposite you and stare at your legs until you feel so uncomfortable you have to move seats. Sometimes they try to brush past you on a crowded train, sometimes they take your photo when they think you are not looking.

Over time you learn to select the “right” train carriage that has other people like you on it. Then as the train empties at each stop, you worry that you might not make it home alive. You learn to sit on the bottom deck of the bus so that you can’t get cornered by someone who is bigger and stronger than you.

Imagine you are 24. Someone approaches you in the street and asks you out. As soon as the date starts they try to have sex with you and get angry when you say no and leave. The next day they text you “I don’t want to see you again because you are ugly”. You think it was probably YOUR FAULT as you really should not let people approach you in the street.

Imagine you are 25 years old and walking from a pub to a train station. Three bigger and stronger people approach you. One of them follows you a WHOLE MILE down the road. Luckily you reach the train station and merge into the crowd. As you travel the escalator down into the station, people passing on the opposite escalator stare and shout at you. Sometimes its rude comments, sometimes they just grunt weird sex noises at you.

The next time you walk home, you wonder if you should put your headphones in so that no one will talk to you. Then you remember that if someone attacks you when you are wearing headphones, it will be YOUR FAULT.

Sometimes you have to go home earlier or later than you would like so that a friend can walk you home. Sometimes you have to get a cab that you can’t afford. When you do get a cab, you anxiously check that it is a licensed cab. Because if you get raped and murdered by an unlicensed cab driver, it will be YOUR FAULT.

Imagine you are 26, standing in a pub chatting to friends. Bigger and stronger people keep on walking past you, grabbing you round the waist and brushing their crotch against your bottom. When you say “don’t touch me” they reply “I was just walking past there isn’t enough room!” You notice that they don’t grab and brush when they walk past people who are bigger and stronger than them, even if it is very crowded.

Imagine you are 27 and cycling to and from work. People stare and shout at you as you cycle past. Sometimes it’s rude comments, mainly its just the weird sex noises again. A bigger and stronger cyclist repeatedly overtakes you whilst staring at you, then slows down, forcing you to overtake them. Eventually you decide to stop, get off your bike and call someone. That way, if you do get raped and murdered, someone will know when you went missing. You breath a sigh of relief when the other person cycles off into the distance, but decide that you probably shouldn’t cycle in public anymore. You go home, lock your bike away and instead buy a train ticket that you can’t afford.

Imagine you are 28 and on a bus.  Another person on the bus starts chatting to someone smaller and weaker than them. When they realise the other person is not interested they start shouting and swearing at them. You politely suggest that the bigger person should leave the smaller person alone. They start shouting at you instead.

There are about 20 other bigger, stronger people on the bus. They can’t intervene because if they do, they might get stabbed.  You have to get off at your stop, knowing that the victim and the abuser are both still on the bus. You are haunted by this experience for the rest of your life. You will never know if the victim got home safe. If they didn’t, you know it would be YOUR FAULT.

You are 32 and it is your wedding day. You are fortunate to live in a culture where you can get married when and to whom you choose.  You think about how lucky you are to marry someone who loves you, respects you and does not beat you.  One of the best things about having a partner you love, is that when you walk down the road with them, some of the staring and harassment stops.

Imagine you are 34 and at a family wedding with your partner and child. A family friend you have not met before grabs you where they shouldn’t when they hug you. You keep quiet and tell your partner about it on the way home.

You are now 37 and decide to try jogging again. You put on the “right” clothes that won’t attract attention. People who are bigger and stronger than you shout at you as you jog past. Luckily, by this age, you have learnt to wear headphones, sunglasses and a baseball cap to help you pretend that the shouty people don’t exist.

Imagine you have a career that you love and have studied hard for. Over the 14 years that you work in the NHS, various patients make rude comments about your body, try to grope you, stand in doorways to stop you leaving, or threaten to spank you. Sometimes you have to take a bigger, stronger colleague with you so that you can do your job without being harassed or intimidated.

Imagine you are 38 and a parent. You notice that you seem to be invisible to a lot of people. You have to walk in the road with your small children because the younger, fitter, stronger person ignores you and doesn’t let you pass. Whilst this frustrates you, you are glad that you have reached the “invisible” stage of your life, because at least it means that the staring, harassing, groping and intimidation has stopped. You can’t wait until you become a pensioner, because then you will be really invisible.

You listen to the news. Sarah Everard has been murdered, despite following “the rules”. You cry for the victim and family and lay awake at night worrying. People like you are told to curfew in the evening in case you get murdered.

You try to explain to people that the roots of this violence lie in the predatory behaviour and aggression that you have experienced since you were 11 YEARS OLD.

Bigger, stronger people respond by saying “But we are not all like that!” “We get killed more than you!” You look up violent crime statistics and see that they are correct. Then you wonder why you have spent your life under curfew and following “the rules” when the bigger, stronger people are both the majority of perpetrators and the majority of victims.

You try to explain that, although you have a lot to be grateful for, your quality of life has been dimmed by fear EVERY DAY since you were 13 YEARS OLD. This fear was not created by social media. It began before social media existed. Your bigger, stronger partner and your bigger, stronger siblings have grown up free from this fear.

Some people listen. Some people ignore you. Some people laugh at you and call you rude names. Some people reply “well what do you expect, it’s YOUR FAULT”.

by Fiona Hallsworth

Friday Flash Fiction 727 – Zoom

Susan doubted that the Crafton Castle Crafters were ready for the online world, a year into the pandemic and they were only just having their first Zoom meeting. Jenny had been urging them on and as she was home schooling her six children they all agreed she was best qualified to be host.

The Crafton Castle Crafters didn’t actually meet at the castle, but at the First Crafton Scouts’ hut. They did pay a hefty contribution to be ‘Friends of Crafton Castle’ and on their frequent visits, pre-Covid, they gained inspiration from the famous tapestries, carved wood panelling and beautiful gardens. Susan had been very disappointed that their various gifts of samplers, marquetry and pottery had not featured in the castle’s recent on line exhibition ‘Now and Then’. She was looking forward to hearing what the other members thought.

Susan scrolled down on her ipad to find the email with the link and soon was faced with the message Your host will let you in shortly. 7pm they were meant to start, the minutes ticked by, 7.05, 7.09… Suddenly the screen was filled with the faces of lots of grumpy old people looking confused. Then Jenny appeared in a corner of the screen.

‘Sorry everyone, bedtime stories and I had to reassure Guinevere that the Covid monster could not get in their bedroom. Now have we got everyone? Giles has managed to co opt a couple of his bored sixth formers, Josie chicken wire sculptures and Ben junk statues. Hello Josie and Ben…’

Susan peered closer at the tiny views of living rooms, offices and kitchens; not how she would have imagined Martin’s place. She didn’t recognise Graham at first with that beard and who on earth was Bryony? She was sitting on a floral sofa looking very demure and how had she managed to get her hair done so nicely during lock down, or was it a wig?

Jenny was still talking. ‘…and I’m still trying to negotiate a socially distanced cream tea in the castle gardens. Now who wants to start? I’ve finished another three dozen masks from my fabric scraps and made the curtains for the girls’ bedroom with matching duvet covers. George, we can’t hear what you are saying, you’re still on mute. Phyllis, tell us what you have been up to.’

‘Oh, um yes, can you hear me…’

‘Yes, loud and clear.’

‘I have nearly finished that bookmark knitted with sewing needles and sewing cotton… oh dear, that’s my phone ringing…’

Susan tried to keep a straight face as Phyllis heaved her bulk out of the chair. They all watched as she waddled the two steps to grab the telephone. Her voice was picked up perfectly and broadcast into all their homes.

‘Phyllis, put yourself on mute.’

‘Oh hello dear, oh no, how many bits did they have to take out? Has he got one of those bags? No it’s awful you can’t go and see him.’

‘Phyllis, you have to put yourself on mute, the rest of us can’t hear ourselves.’

‘Well I must go, we’re having a Zoom meeting. You didn’t know I was so tech savvy did you. The crafters, hilarious, they have all aged about ten years in lock down, except for Brian.’

Susan noticed a variety of expressions on the faces of the others as they tried to pretend they weren’t listening. Josie and Ben had broad grins. Phyllis was now laughing and struggling to get out her next words.

‘Yes… six foot four Woodwork Brian has become Bryony during lockdown, well you can tell, but he’s a lot more glamorous than most of our ladies. Jenny took him clothes shopping in between lockdowns.’

Susan peered closer at the top left hand square containing ‘Bryony’ and wondered how Phyllis knew all this gossip. Then she glanced down at Josie and Ben; they were obviously enjoying the meeting far more than they might have expected.

‘Byebye dear, yes and you…

Phyllis put the phone down.

‘Sorry about that everyone.’

‘Well I’m sure we shall gradually get used to Zoom’ said Jenny. ‘I think Phyllis has rather pre-empted the announcement Bryony wanted me to make on hi… her behalf.

Susan felt the gloom of the past few months lift, what a fun evening, she couldn’t resist speaking out.

‘Well, we’re really members of the BLTGCHQ Community now.’

Beautiful Bird

Concorde was like a beautiful bird when she took off… and noisy, but that was part of the thrill. If there had been frequent flights taking off I’m sure the novelty would have worn off and there would have been plenty of complaints about the noise. Teachers in local schools automatically stopped talking at 11am when the morning flight left for New York. Once, I was taking the children to the police Christmas party being held at the BAA club on the airport side of the Bath Road. As we got off the bus Concorde landed on the northern runway and my youngest burst into tears. That close the noise made your breast bone vibrate.

Our last home at Heathrow was the nearest to Heathrow and on the edge of Harlington Village with fields and skylarks on the other side of the hedge. Our daughter had the end bedroom and her wardrobe vibrated when Concorde took off. On winter evenings at 7pm I would abandon the cooking and dash outside to see her afterburners, bright in the night sky.

Concorde was the future.

A Puffin children’s book!

Air France Flight 4590 was an international charter flight, from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, flown by an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. On the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 July 2000 at 16:44:31 local time, the aircraft ran over debris on the runway during take off, blowing a tyre, and sending debris flying into the underside of the left wing, and into the landing gear bay.  A terrible omen perhaps that the 21st century was not going to be what we hoped for.

Following the accident, all Concordes were grounded for almost a year with the introduction of new safety improvements such as Kevlar-lined fuel tanks and better electrical controls. But spiralling maintenance costs for the 30-year-old aircraft, led to British Airways and Air France’s joint announcement on 10 April 2003 that the planes would be retired that year.

The last French plane touched down in Toulouse on 27 June, while BA’s fleet left service on 24 October, with three aircraft landing in sequence at London Heathrow.

Concorde was about to become history and we remembered the proud and happy times.  My younger son says there was a lot of pride in having your windows rattling and everything falling off the shelves when Concorde took off.

Cyberspouse spent his entire thirty years with the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport. One time when he was on the Airside Traffic Unit they visited Concorde in her hangar and he asked the pilot if he could take  pictures of the cockpit. He was invited to take a seat.

In 1996 Heathrow Airport celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a flypast that included Concorde. The planes had to take off from Stansted Airport and children from local schools were invited to have a ride on Concorde to Stansted, but home by coach, they were not allowed to stay on board for the flypast. One child from each year at each school was chosen and our older son got the lucky ticket. Parents were told they were not going supersonic, but they did. These are his impressions of the flight.

I remember it being a lot smaller on the inside than you would think. The windows were tiny. And when it takes off, it goes really steep and then they cut the afterburners and it feels like your belly drops about 100 ft. Apart from that it was very smooth and pleasant. Going supersonic was not like anything really, it was just a number going up. The only jumpy bit was the take-off.

One time Cyberspouse and I decided to cycle to Windsor and we were just cycling through Colnbrook Village when Concorde took off right over our heads – that was the closest I ever got.

In Concorde’s last years I was working in a British Airways Business lounge with a perfect picture window view of the southern runway and the highlight of the morning was of course the 11am take off. Raymond the cleaner, our resident grumpy old chap, loved Concorde, said she was his baby and the only time he came to life was at 11am. As soon as he heard her he would race across the lounge to the window, sending passengers flying… But we never tired of seeing her take off.

Heathrow Airport 50th Anniversary Flypast 1996 (Full programme) – Pt 4 of 5 – YouTube

Friday Flash Fiction – 700 – Solo

Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…

Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…

Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.

Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.

Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself.  Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on  a different circuit.

Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?

Poole sailor Pip Hare delighted with Vendee Globe finish | Swanage and Wareham Voice

Wednesday Wonderings

Have you had the jab yet – whoops sorry, those who have a phobia about needles do not like to hear that word and certainly do not like seeing the constant images on the news of smiling pensioners being vaccinated against Covid. But this is the biggest programme of vaccination in The World ever, so there is plenty to talk about; have you had it, why hasn’t my ninety year old aunt had it yet, which one did you have, should I have it…

I had the phone call on Friday to turn up at 4.30pm on Sunday for AstraZeneca; all weekend  the news was about the effectiveness of AstraZenica, would it resist the South African variant etc.   Who do you trust? There is a sizeable group of people, in every country, who do not trust any Covid vaccination, ranging from those who have a genuine medical reason and have been told not to have it, those worrying if animal products or alcohol are used to make it, through to CIA involvement. I don’t know if those with a needle phobia will also be avoiding vaccination.

This is another issue to divide people, as if we hadn’t enough already. It’s not compulsory in the United Kingdom, but the big picture is to get as many people as quickly as possible vaccinated for any chance of life returning to normal and to save as many lives as possible. Anthony Fauci is one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases and now chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, who no doubt listens to him more carefully than his predecessor. I heard him on the radio saying if people ask which vaccine they should have he tells them to have whatever is offered as soon as possible, because we can get vaccinated again. Other experts say similar things; my lay reading of all this information flooding into our brains is This is just the Start. Most of us have absolutely no idea what goes on in laboratories, except it involves microscopes and tiny glass droppers. Viruses mutate and in the same way that different flu vaccines are offered each winter, Covid vaccination could need to be updated and offered every year.

Meanwhile back in Southbourne-on-Sea, the fact I was called so soon, when I am not vulnerable, is nothing to do with my age, but the rattling rate at which the NHS are getting the vaccines done! Procuring vaccines in the first place involved a huge operation and cooperation between government and private concerns. This was followed by a great deal of organisation and commandeering of buildings from leisure centres to fire stations.  Regular NHS staff have been joined by retired doctors and nurses and army medics, plus an army of volunteers to herd people safely.

But I did not have to go anywhere adventurous or blogworthy, our local GP surgery was doing jabs with seven rooms open. We all lined up safely spaced and after a couple of minutes outside, it was only ten minutes from going in the front door to going out the back door. As there was a bitter easterly wind, the ten minutes included divesting several layers of clothes and scarves to have an arm ready and putting it all back on again. We filed to desks to get a sticky label with name, date of birth and a mystery number, which was stuck to our information sheet. The advantage of having the NHS is we’re all on the computer; all that has to be done is print out millions upon millions of sticky labels… When I arrived at the needle point there was a doctor to jab and a person tapping into the computer. We get a tiny card to bring back for the second jab, no date, but in 10 to 12 weeks. Of course I am bound to forget where I put the card, so remind me it’s in the top drawer left hand side…

Friday Flash Fiction – Digital Dialogue – Gone

Gone, what do you mean, Gone?

As in lost.

As in Can’t Be Found?

As in Not Found Yet.

Considering you were not to let him out of your sight, let us clarify how long you think he has been missing.

I’m not exactly sure.

And are you sure he is definitely missing, hasn’t just wandered into the garden or gone after the cat?

I… we’ve checked everywhere, not in the flat or the offices.

Not popped next door?

No they have not seen him, we have double checked everywhere.

What about the dog?

He’s not missing, he’s gone with her and the baby to her mother’s.

I’m not worried about that mongrel; so we know he hasn’t gone out with the dog… Bicycle still there?

Where?

Where he keeps it locked up of course, I know it’s your first day on the job, but you did do the induction and familiarisation, Sergeant?

Of course Sir and now you come to mention it, his bike has gone …and his rucksack and the keys to the cabinet…

WHAT! We now have only thirty minutes till the press briefing and we don’t want to call a major security alert.

I don’t think the press conference is our main worry Sir, they can delay it, won’t be the first time, or get that expert chap or one of the ministers? Not really our problem is it Sir, we’re just pro..

Precisely… remind me why you wanted to be a protection officer?

I wanted to do Royal protection duties, but they wouldn’t have me.

This is a most important press briefing, have you seen how many are outside? All we can do now is make sure this doesn’t get out, so before I suspend you from your duties as second in command of the Prime Minister’s protection team, could you contrive to leak some kind of cover up story to Laura Kuenssberg and the BBC.

Covid?

No, we’ve already done that story, think of something else credible that she wont see through…

Wednesday When, Why, What???

…and Which, Wonder, Winter, Widowhood, Worries, Will???

In French the Questions will be  Quand, Quoi, pourQuoi…

Most of the world is asking when the pandemic will end and a further multitude of questions about variants and mutations, with no straightforward answers. Ironically, while England is still deciding whether to quarantine people in hotels, Perth, Western Australia detected its first case of coronavirus in almost 10 months; a quarantine hotel security guard. Nearly two million residents were placed into a five day lockdown on Sunday.

One thing most of us in lockdown don’t have to worry about is summer bushfires. Thousands were told yesterday and today to ignore the Covid stay-home order and evacuate their homes, as a bushfire in the hills on Perth’s outskirts gained pace. But the most chilling warning is  It’s now too late to leave, you must stay in your home. The blaze, which is the largest the Western Australian city has seen in years, has already burnt through more than 9,000 hectares, destroying at least 71 homes.

Perth spotted one little weak spot in its robust Covid protection status, while many of us see great gaping holes in our countries’ defences. Hindsight is a great thing, but I think medical experts and even ordinary folk had enough foresight to see more should have been done earlier. There are people who have isolated completely for nearly a year, but most of us, every time government advice eased off, have had visitors or been on a little outing; some people have been jetting all round the world.

 If you listen to the news too often you will drown in numbers and go round in circles. But one positive thing is the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom, which is rattling along at a great pace. With little new to talk about in lockdown, the gossip is who has been immunised lately.

What is everyday life like now after months of Tier systems, November Lockdown 2 and a month in Lockdown 3? Grandparents have been unable to see new grandchildren; weddings, moving home and plans to have babies have been put on hold all round the country.  I have been widowed for five months now and half of me is still happy for normal life to be suspended, but the other half is missing family and friends and being able to visit and get out and about. Then there are the not so regular events that can’t take place; luckily Cyberspouse said he didn’t care what we did with his ashes, so he wouldn’t mind that they are still in the cupboard with all his camera equipment…  

Going for walks is now the national occupation. I don’t drive, so I am used to walking to get places. Then there is the traditional going for a walk with your partner, family, friends or by yourself to recover from a stressful week at work. Whether locally or on a day out, The Walk used to involve stopping for coffee at a beach front café, lunch in ‘The Stables’ at a National Trust property or popping into interesting shops in that nice town by the river…

In lockdown you may get a takeaway coffee when you meet up with the one person from another household for exercise if you are living on your own. I am too dyspraxic to walk, talk, avoid tripping over dogs and drink out of a hot cardboard cup at the same time. But it is good to be out seeing  people. The cliff tops and promenades are full of folk and plenty of those are also taking brisk walks by themselves, though I am the only one in a bright pink coat. Most of us are managing to adhere to social distancing and I think it is safe out in the fresh air or gale force winds.

A walk around residential streets as it’s getting dark is also quite fun; lights are on but curtains and blinds are still open. I have always enjoyed looking in people’s windows, all the different decors and cosy interiors and life going on. Some people still have Christmas lights in the front garden or Christmas trees indoors, it all helps brighten up this strange winter.

When we are not out, many of us are on line. Those of you working from home or trying to teach home schooled pupils are probably heartily sick of Zoom, but it’s still a novelty for me. We could all be in space ships or in a space colony. Is this the future?  At the weekly Saturday evening quiz I see people I would never meet in real life. I have started going to our camera club Zoom meetings and members can put their pictures on the screen  – not me obviously, my technical skills only stretch as far as typing in the meeting code – but it is nice to chat and see both familiar and new faces. Lounging on the sofa with my ipad instead of sitting on a plastic chair in the church hall, what’s not to like? Will people want to go out on dark winter evenings when they could just stay home? Those who are not on the internet or are nervous of technology could miss out, but the disabled, those who can’t leave children and those without easy transport would all be on an equal footing in Zoomland. Will this be what we wish for?

Silly Saturday – Missing News

Bringing you the news you may have missed… today we report on a statement by the Woodland Trust.

‘The Woodland Trust has been the victim of a sophisticated, high level cyber-incident and it is feared confidential information about many of our trees has been accessed. As soon as we became aware of the situation, we took immediate action to mitigate the impact on the trees and notified the relevant woods. We have been working hard alongside experts, including forensic timber specialists, to determine the nature of the attack and assess if any branches may have been compromised. We are sorry for the concern this incident will cause. It is affecting our ability to support certain services for our trees and our woods. We are working hard to resume normal services as soon as possible.’

When asked about the effect on trees a spokeshuman said

 ‘When human beings ‘buy’ a tree or trees to dedicate to a loved one, or as an environmentally friendly birthday present, that tree or trees remain anonymous. Supporters may visit the wood where it is planted, but they must sign an agreement not to contact the tree in any manner.’ 

‘So they cannot carve their initials into the bark?’

‘Certainly not, no contact at all, no photographs may be taken and no hugging.’

‘What will happen now?’

‘This is a terrible situation for which we can only apologise to all trees and their saplings. Their identities could be revealed and lead to great stress, resulting in the postponement or even cancellation of spring.’

Silly Saturday – Covid Community Caring Characters – Interview no. 3

Yes I’m proud to be serving my country, proud of the uniform I wear; keeping everyone safe.

Last week, but already it feels like this is what I was destined to do.

No, we always work in pairs for safety, it can be tough out there and I know I can trust Nat with my life. We also need to show our presence.

The most important aspect of our work is to gather intelligence; does something look not quite right? Is that person a local? What is that chap carrying? Why does that woman keep glancing around nervously.

No I don’t think we’re turning into a police state, most people know why we are doing this.

What do we actually do? Every hour, every day is different, we never know what we’re going to face. But that doesn’t stop us taking risks, talking to strangers…

You have yesterday’s recording from my headcam? No, that’s not allowed. Oh, it’s already gone out on the lunchtime news… No, I have nothing to hide, it will be good for the public to see what we face.

Are you out for exercise… and you ran all that way… well there isn’t going to be an Olympics so you don’t need to run twenty six miles every day.

Is this your car Madame, how far have you driven? Yes we do know where you live – ANPR. Did you drive down the spur road? So your details are already on the PNC. I am using plain language – Automatic Number Plate Recognition, Police National Computer. Well we would all like a walk by the sea, but it’s hardly local. Yes it is actually against the law to go to the seaside.

Is this outing for the purpose of essential shopping. No I don’t think you are carrying four heavy bags just for fun. May I look inside the bags. No you don’t know your rights and you’re wrong. Do you consider chocolate and three bottles of wine to be essential? Home schooling does not make them essential.

I would believe you were out for daily exercise if you were walking a little faster. If you have knee trouble why don’t you stay home?

Sitting on a bench does not constitute exercise Sir. CPD? Why does being obsessive mean you have to sit down? Ah, yes of course that’s OCD, so what made up condition is CPD? We didn’t do that on our one day first aid course. Oh, my colleague here says yes we did, but I was asleep. Anyway, please don’t drop dead on my watch ha ha, we’re not allowed to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation because of Covid.

Isn’t it time for our lunch break Nat, let’s just clobber one more.  Good morning Madame, is this your vehicle. Yes I can see you have a disabled badge, but you don’t look very disabled… so is that your ninety nine year old mother in the passenger seat? Shouldn’t she be at home? A last look at the sea before she dies, we’ve heard that excuse before….

What do I love about my job? Working with people, I’m good with people and I love being a Covid Warden.