He’s back! Yes, having just realised lockdowns are over Baz wants to reconnect with other bloggers and hopes to get more than one follower this time. In a series of exclusive interviews and blog shares I find out, or try to find out, what Baz has been doing since 2020.
‘Hello Baz, the last time I spoke to you we heard you were working on your second novel Panzombic.’
‘Yes I have just finished it so I thought I better do some blogs to publicise it. You can buy it on Amazon for £25.’
‘Is that the hardback?’
‘No, the Kindle version, paperback £50, hardback £100. It does have 853, 231 words, so you will get your money’s worth.’
‘In 2020 you were hoping to start a new series of blogs about your garden, Baz’s Blooms.’
‘Yes, that is the blog I am sharing today, I have done a lot of work on my garden during lockdown.’
‘Thanks Baz, I’m sure many gardeners will be inspired by your garden and we can also see you have plenty of leisure interests.’ Enjoy further blogs from Baz soon including his good food guide, shopping hints and his take on Thursday Doors.
Charlotte was beginning to regret joining the new Hambourne Happy Creatives group. As a newcomer to the pretty town it had seemed the obvious group to join to keep her energised in her rocky writing career. She was eager to write a more cheery novel than her last and hoped Hambourne would inspire her to write about her new heroine, a recently widowed writer who moves to a country town for peace and quiet, but finds herself investigating a murder.
If she had been a local she would have known to keep Robert Falstaff at arm’s length. To Charlotte, at first, he was a charming man who had advice to freely offer, from dealing with computer problems to publishing and promotion. His apparent connections to television had her fantasising about a Sunday evening cosy drama.
Now, at this evening’s meeting, she found herself at the centre of attention, with her languishing novel ‘2053’ the topic of a discussion led by Robert. The other members were kindly in their questions, but she felt herself and the novel horribly exposed.
‘What made you choose the title, or that year Charlotte?’
‘I wanted it to be in the future, but still in a time frame when I could conceivably still be alive. How was I to know when I was writing it that all the events would come true by 2022!’
‘You could change the year, or perhaps call it The Covid Chronicles.’
‘Oh dear no, does anyone want to read novels about Covid?’
‘Hmm, I am writing a novel about Covid and the horror it brought to a town like Hambourne’ said a tight lipped woman.
‘Well, the novel is out there, published on Amazon,’ said Robert with an expression of disdain ‘so let’s concentrate on how Charlotte could do much better with promotion.’
‘Um, I was hoping to have a stall at your arts festival…’
‘Internationally I mean.’
‘I do have my blog and quite a few followers from every continent, except Antarctica.’
Robert scrolled down his iPad, Charlotte shuddered to see the familiar sky blue background of Thinking Through. Was her poor little blog to be exposed to ridicule?
‘Oh yes, I am thinking of starting a blog’ said a timid lady Charlotte immediately warmed to.
‘Silly Saturday, Silly Sunday, Monday Madness, Tuesday Tiny Tales, Wordless Wednesday, Thursday Trifles and Fun Friday’ sneered Robert. ‘Charlotte dear, you are not exactly coming across as a serious author.’
It’s a long time since I visited Hambourne and I wondered what had been going on there since 2013. You can read the Hambourne Chronicles in Hallows and Heretics.
Is getting back to normal life post Covid realistic? Are we Post, what is reality and what is normal life? No, don’t know and goodness knows…
Pandemics, epidemics and natural disasters have been normal for humans since we started wandering around, or at least wandering around in large numbers. Natural disasters were not disastrous before there were human settlements to destroy. Unless you were a dinosaur; even for them, getting back to normal life after a meteorite collision was never going to happen. Even Gaia was probably upset with giant meteors, just when she thought she controlled everything.
But for those of us who thought we were leading a privileged, or at least comfortable safe life before Covid, getting back to normal is what we both crave and fear. Some of us cannot have our old life back, while others are glad of the opportunity to start a new normal. Few of us believe our leaders have handled the crisis well all the way along. Every nation and state seems to have had different rules and while England is rapidly dispensing with restrictions ( I think, unless it’s all changed again ), on the other side of the world ‘Saint Mark’, Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan, continues to try to protect the citizens of the Hermit Kingdom from Covid and the outside world.
‘In Western Australia, where there has never been a major Covid outbreak, Mr McGowan warned WA residents more restrictions could be implemented as new infections rise. With the state’s grand February 5 reopening now shelved indefinitely, tourism companies on the west coast will be unable to benefit when the rest of Australia flings open their doors to foreign tourists on February 21.’
Of course it helps when your state is bordered by ocean and desert with only two roads in. Life has carried on more or less as normal. I don’t think people have been prevented from leaving, but they might not be able to get back in.
So where is normal life happening? The fewer restrictions the more worried are the hierarchy of the vulnerable. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable at the top perhaps, CEV a term to distinguish from those merely immunocompromised? However people are classified and however many jabs they have had – we’re up to four now – those worried about their health or their loved one’s health are still sticking to Zoom meetings, shopping on line and isolating.
But going back to normal is not good for the planet. However heart breaking this pandemic has been, Covid will not reduce the population enough to save Gaia, or rather keep her safe for us to live on. Have most of us forgotten we are meant to be saving the planet, have we forgotten how sweet the air was during that first world lock down, when streets were empty of polluting vehicles and people saw mountains from their city windows for the first time?
The new normal is unlikely to be a return to the simple life, or a rapid scientific breakthrough to heal Gaia while keeping our lifestyles. So it’s back to reality, unless you want to hide from reality with all the new skills you learnt during lockdowns. Have a pyjama day and hide under your duvet watching Netflix and ordering delicious meals from Deliveroo.
Monday is England’s next step on the ‘roadmap’ to normality. Wherever you are you may be closing down or opening up or more likely your leaders are doing another u-turn. Normality is a long way off and though you might read messages on line from your favourite places – ‘Welcome Back’ – do they really mean it? Here are some nice places you probably won’t be able to go to…
Bridges open, but one way only, bad luck if you’re on the wrong side of the river.
Dreaming about eating out? Stick to dreamland, everywhere else is fully booked.
Must have beach app on phone to check if you are allowed to visit.
Lighthouses – good for social distancing, but only one visitor at a time.
Someone else got their first, closed until further notice.
Cruises currently limited to passengers who have been vaccinated and are good at rowing.
Wales, different rules to England, you may not be allowed to cross the border.
Cathedrals are always interesting to visit, but this may be as near as you can get. Enter only if you are fully masked and have had a negative Covid test.
Museums are popular outings, especially if it’s raining, but book in advance for your thirty minute slot, book separately in advance for a cafe fifteen minute slot.
Scottish holy island – ferry only goes once a day. Scotland has different rules to England and Wales so you may not be allowed across the border… what a shame, you would really have loved Iona…
National Trust houses always popular for an outing; they are opening up again – of course you have to book in advance and once inside will have to walk round in single file, one way only, no stopping or turning back…
Chances of getting inside here for a look round? Very unlikely…. unless you live there.
If you have any sense you will probably have used the world wide pandemic to avoid socialising at all, thankful to avoid seeing your partner’s friends, your in-laws or your children and grandchildren. If you had any friends of your own, you probably have none left by now.
However, if you still feel the need for the occasional human company how do you work out who you can see and under what conditions? Government advice changes twice daily, whichever country you are living in, so the best policy is to not let anyone inside your house, this has the advantage of not having to do any cleaning or tidying up.
A picnic in the garden is ideal, especially if they bring their own food and drink. The thoughtful host provides welcoming signs, you can probably nick one from somewhere.
Don’t worry if it rains, you can use all those large Amazon boxes left over from your Compulsive Covid Comfort buying, ideal for making Wendy houses, though perhaps the over twelves might not be so enthusiastic.
Before you phone or message your visitors remember to keep up the pretence that you still cannot leave home, at all, for the rest of the year, despite what Boris may have said about August 1st. Your visitors are sure to ask if they can bring anything, take full advantage of this; today’s newspaper, your favourite chocolate you couldn’t get in your Tesco shop, the milk you forgot to put on your Tesco order and yes a bottle of wine would be much appreciated. Every guest is bound to say, when you ask how much you owe them, ‘Oh don’t worry.’ Added to the money you have saved by not going out, eating out etc, you should be making a profit by now.
What if the biggest computer ever designed was switched off, could it be rebooted? Earlier this year the human world was switched off for a short time and ever since, people have been trying to reboot it, while others think we should just leave it switched off.
Can we talk about Covid 19 or pandemics without mentioning countries or politics? Yes. Good things, bad things and ugly scenes have happened this year all over the world, but we might not all agree on what is good or bad, right or wrong.
Good things happened for Gaia and for a lot of people. With everything at a standstill the air was fresher, the skies bluer, people in cities could breathe and see mountains on the horizon for the first time. Wildlife thrived and found new playgrounds. If any proof was needed, this was what climate change protestors had been pleading for; why was it okay to switch everything off to save a few people, but not to save the whole planet? The harsh truth is that Covid 19 may be terrible, but it is not a threat to the human race or the planet, while accelerated climate change affects us all, including our unborn descendants. Those of us whose lives and homes remain unscathed by fire, flood and famine cannot be complacent. Covid 19 won’t destroy the human race, but it is another symptom of the way we treat the planet and other creatures and we have all been affected by it.
Can we halt rebooting and unplug our giant computer at the mains? The beginning of pandemic panic is already taking on a rosy hue in our memories. Silent roads and empty skies, no road carnage or plane crashes. Spending more time with your family, discovering you can work from home, no commuter traffic, empty office buildings with the potential to house the homeless and key workers. The Pope calls for ceasefires and peace all over the world, people are nice to each other and appreciate the forgotten workforce, the cleaners, delivers and carers. Volunteers make an unprecedented effort to help their local communities. Governments and councils, in days, bring all homeless people off the streets. There is a splurge of on line creativity, people across the globe connected.
There was also a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses, the world of live arts and entertainment devastated. Hunger, loneliness, domestic violence and mental health problems for those isolated in cramped places. We weren’t all in it together, those who had the least had even less. Big cracks appeared to divide people over long standing issues, people started arguing over new issues such as facemasks and there were vitriolic on line comments by those certain they alone knew how to deal with a pandemic. And nobody took any notice of the Pope’s plea.
Is there any chance our world leaders know what to do next, how to organise societies that must live with a virus that will not go away, create a new fair normal. Perhaps someone will come up with new software to change how the Big Computer runs everything. The newly unemployed will be trained to build solar powered airships and homes, grow environmentally friendly food for the whole world and boost the care sector into a respected well paid profession. Maybe this software will conveniently delete any powers that threaten the new compassionate, sustainable world norm…
I keep listening out for the doorbell, I keep looking out of the window, but the street is empty. The postman, greengrocer, Amazon delivery and Co Op groceries have all been, but They never come. Another day when a long pole, with a microphone on one end and a television interviewer at the other end, has not appeared at my front door.
How do they choose all these citizens who keep showing up on the news and breakfast television? I am not talking about science experts, political commentators, journalists and doctors, but ordinary people who sit in their living rooms unashamed of their ghastly wallpaper and awful fashion sense. Out of millions and millions of us how do they get chosen to be interviewed for several minutes in a segment that will be repeated endlessly on the main news and on News 24.
If they happen to have recovered from Covid they obviously have a head start over the rest of us, but it’s not just people pondering on pandemics, I have always been ignored. Every general election, the long years of Brexit, no one knocks on my door or stops me while I’m out shopping for my opinion. Though I would flee in the opposite direction if I did see cameras; too windswept, wrong clothes for television…
But if a reporter did call on me at home they might not get away; all those years of stored up opinions.
‘Yes we need more lockdown not less, gatherings of more than two people forbidden, identity cards, everyone to stay inside their own postcodes, disposable BBQs should be banned, litter bugs should be tasered on the spot, private motor vehicles confiscated, air travel banned… it was so nice during the first few weeks of lockdown…. Perhaps you and the cameraman would like to buy one of my books, I just happen to have a box full… or buy all my books…
Maybe a little bribery would secure their release…
Everyone is filmed at home now so if you haven’t had the chance to appear on television you can always pretend. Facetime with your boring family could become one of Alan Bennet’s brilliant Talking Heads – which are perfect for isolated actors and have just been remade.
Or dust off your bookshelves and pontificate late at night on tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.
In the kitchen you can have your own masterchef celebrity banquet bake off.
‘What are you making?’
‘Bangers and Mash, it could all go horribly wrong… I’m just going to test the potatoes, okay, this is the moment when it could really go wrong, I could end up with third degree burns, I need to strain the potatoes now… make sure the camera lens doesn’t steam up… yes the sausages all free range, they were running around in a Hampshire field yesterday… oh oh is that the smoke alarm, I forgot to check the sausages…
Perhaps it would be better to stay in the garden. Gardening programmes are so popular now for peaceful healthy escapism and you can even send in videos of yourself and your delightful children giving a guided tour of your fantastic / unusual / beautiful / bountiful garden. Gardener’s World receives thousands of them, so you might not get chosen unless you have turned your bathroom into a tropical paradise, installed a waterfall in your living room, or turned a six foot sunless concrete square by your back door into the Garden of Eden.
Perhaps it’s best if I don’t film my garden; putting carefully cropped selected flowers on Instagram is my limit. Though if the people with poles do turn up tomorrow I could give them my views on new major projects injecting money into the economy; have all the motorways turned into cycle routes and gardens…
Have you ever invited television cameras into your home?
The opening of pubs in England on the fourth of July might be welcomed by many, including characters in books and television dramas, but characters and their writers might be in for a shock. Pubs in fiction are where people meet, either by arrangement or propped at the bar chatting to a stranger. Large and busy pubs are also where characters good and bad like to lurk anonymously, looking out in case they are being followed or following someone. In the best stories our heroes and lead characters inevitably have secrets they must keep from family and friends; in dark corners of noisy pubs they meet up to exchange important information unnoticed.
Roving campervan detective, Tobias Channing, in my latest novel, regularly sought out popular chain Wetherspoons for a cheap meal where he would be unnoticed as the stranger in town. Fortunately his story is set firmly in 2014, pandemics are one of the few things he doesn’t have to cope with.
What of novels and dramas of the future? No one will be slipping anonymously into any establishment. At the pub you will have to give your name and contact details at the door, perhaps needing your passport to prove who you are. Inside you must sit down and wait to be served and you had better take a book to read or your phone to play with as you won’t get chatting to strangers. There will only be two or three other customers, all spaced well away.
And if you want to pop to the toilets to do a drug deal, sniff a line of cocaine or squeeze through a tiny window to escape the enemy you have just spotted, you are out of luck. You have to ask the bar staff for permission to visit the Ladies or Gents and they will be buzzing in one person at a time.
If this idea from Paris catches on it won’t do much for the street cred of a crime boss or super spy to sit with Big Ted.
It was the dog she recognised first and even then she wasn’t sure it was him, without his red vest and his hair much longer. Vivienne was busy with the secateurs in the front garden, glad of the breeze and cooling of the weather. If she didn’t call out he would cross over to the corner and the moment would be lost.
He turned and looked, would he even recognise her out of context?
‘Wednesdays, noon, I always bought my Big Issue when I came out of the library after my class.’
‘Of course, how are you, fine by the look of it, me too.’
Vivienne was relieved, she had always felt slightly guilty at not offering him a home, a room at least, not that he was homeless exactly, but it sounded pretty grim the room he had in some place where you might get your stuff stolen and they were always being threatened with eviction. She could imagine James and Julia’s reaction if she had taken in a complete stranger and one wouldn’t know for sure if they were honest and then they might never leave. That was one good thing about the pandemic. All In, councils had to get everyone off the street, so she didn’t need to feel guilty about any homeless people, especially when she discovered she could subscribe to the Big Issue, get it through the post. The money still to go to Big Issue sellers who now needed help with mental health issues and loneliness and boredom, stuck in hotel rooms…. What would she say to Sam… thank goodness for dogs, always a conversation starter, Sheba, a shaggy friendly rescued dog.
‘She’s got a foster family, couldn’t have her in that hotel they put me up in. Now I’m allowed out I take her for a walk every day, access visit’ he laughed.
‘Sheba probably gets out more than me, I’ve got my divorced son living with me, polices my every move, though I guess he was right, the virus is so scary.’
Vivienne felt she had provided an explanation why the spare room could not be offered to Sam; even though there was now the worry about the homeless being put back out when hotels were back in business. The mention of divorce also made her feel more comfortable, her family, her life, was not cosily perfect; James could very well have ended up in the same position as Sam, they were much the same age, though it was hard to tell. She had no idea what Sam’s circumstances were, she didn’t like to intrude, he had his dignity and she could look up to him standing as a working person, not like walking past and trying not to look down at a bundle in the doorway.
‘What’s it like, the hotel?’
‘My own television, comfortable bed, three meals a day, some of the other guests though… I’m glad to get out and about, bit too hot the past few days…’
Vivienne looked at the over insulated dog, panting even in the cool breeze.
‘Would she like a drink?’
‘No, we’re right, Sheba’s been kitted out by the RSPCA’ he rummaged in his bag, produced a bottle of water and unfolded a dish. ‘New lead as well.’
She looked up the road, conscious that James was likely to come bowling down the road on his bike, back from his work break and daily exercise.
‘Well I must be going, I hope the library opens soon, maybe I’ll be back on my patch in July, before Sheba gets too soft and used to her foster home.’
He stepped out and crossed the road, narrowly missing James on his bike.
‘Who on earth was that Mother?’
‘My Big Issue man, you remember, I told you about him.’
‘Wednesdays, near the library, anyway at least he’s okay, for the moment, staying in a hotel.’
‘Nice to be some, you’re as bad as Cassie, she’s worried about her Big Issue girl, but you should be careful, how did he know where you lived?’
‘He didn’t, just coincidence, the dog’s foster home must be near here. It would be a shame if the poor dog didn’t want to go out on the streets, now she has enjoyed home comforts.’
‘Never mind the dog, the point is it could be dodgy, you don’t know him…’
‘I’m sure he’s not a burglar and he knows I’m not living alone,’ she decided to change the subject ‘anyway, talking of living alone, how’s Cassie, you haven’t said how the bubble idea is going.’
‘She’s not sure, thought she ought to ask that old lady next door to her if she wanted to be in her bubble, have her in for meals, make her feel less isolated.’
‘Oh that’s kind of her.’
‘Cassie already does enough, getting her shopping and stuff, anyway I shall find out this afternoon. I have to go in to the office again, all my plans up in the air now two metres distance has suddenly changed to one metre. Cassie has a few ideas, suggested chatting over the coffee machine. I can sign her in for half an hour.’
‘Well I suppose that will make a change from talking on line.’
Vivienne thought Cassie sounded like someone she would like and certainly an improvement on her first daughter-in-law, but what Cassie thought of James was another matter.
Like Japanese soldiers found hiding on remote Pacific islands decades after the Second World War, unaware the hostilities had ended, I fear I may emerge from isolation months in the future to discover everyone else has been out and about, holidaying and having fun. Scenes on the news of crowded beaches and beauty spots and anti racism protests, leave many of us wondering if we have missed a miraculous and sudden end to the pandemic.
One of my earliest memories is looking out of our upstairs window at sunshine and blue skies and feeling shut in. Until I was nearly seven, by which time my parents had a toddler and baby to cope with as well, Mum and Dad rented what they called a flat, but was really the spacious two top floors of a large Victorian terraced house. A quick glance on Zoopla reveals you would pay over a million and a quarter for such a house in that road today. But Mum had to lean out the kitchen window to hang the washing on a pulley line, suspended high above the back garden of the ‘wicked old lady’ ( mum’s words ) who lived on the ground floor. She never offered to let me play in her garden. But I certainly wasn’t a prisoner; my parents were always taking me down by the river or to Kew Gardens, Marble Hill Park and Richmond Park for fresh air and exercise. I feel so sorry for children literally locked into cramped flats because of the virus. Most children in England will not now return to school till after the summer holidays. While many are having fun and never had so many walks and bike rides with their parents, some children are isolated indoors because of their health or underlying health conditions of someone in their family.
We adults may grumble and some people have found themselves in dire situations, but we are not sheltering in a basement in a war shattered city. For writers, bloggers, artists and gardeners it’s just another day at home, an endless succession of days at home, but it’s okay. Obviously I could not survive without BBC Radio, books, music, the internet, television and of course chocolate.
When we were having our medical dramas just before lockdown, there was another patient who seemed to be following Cyberspouse from ward to ward. He had no visitors because he had a frail wife at home and no family near. I knew this because I heard all his conversations to medical staff and on his mobile, but his greatest upset was not having anything to read and nobody seemed able to get him a newspaper. When any medical staff asked how he was he told them he was soo bored. He was reduced to doing origami with the paperwork they left behind. By the third ward I made sure I brought him a newspaper and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. Boredom can be a worse threat than a pandemic.
What things have been essential for your survival in isolation?