Archive for April, 2020

Another Life, Another Minute

April 28, 2020


I imagine London falling quiet, quieter, today at eleven for a minute. A minute to remember the fallen of the NHS. Today there would be been almost nobody on the streets, in cabs, on trains, today most of those who stood, hands clasps before them, heads bowed in reverence and thought, would have been in their own homes. Quietly at home.

Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.

I remember another silent minute. I was walking west from Green Park when it fell, this time to honour the lives of those taken during the bombings of the London Underground. My eldest daughter, just twelve then, walked with me, a brilliant summer’s day. Suddenly the city fell pin drop silent. All the black cabs slowed to a stop and stifled the purr of their engines, staff from the hotels that line Piccadilly came out onto the pavement and gathered, an army of mourners in chef’s whites.

There was something so eerie, so beautiful, so profoundly moving in that single minute: that rocking rolling roiling riotous London could be stilled, hushed, an invisible fingers upon unseen lips.

Shhhhhhhh; remember them.

I hope those who sought solace today found some small measure in those still, silent, sixty seconds.




New Mountain Views

April 23, 2020
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We are steeped and soggy on the farm; the rain keeps falling. The cat comes into our bedroom in the small hours, loudly announcing his arrival and complaining bitterly that he is cold and wet and hungry. He won’t shut up until I towel him dry and he begins to purr; his purr is engine like, loud and growing and grumbling. Sometimes I hold him up and press his body to my ear so that my head rings with the sound of his contentment. As I write, he is lying curled by the fireplace where last nights embers still glow faintly. Jipe is curled beneath my desk and I can still hear the drip drip outside.

A friend asks if I can take a photo of the mountain. I would if I could see it – it’s had its head in the clouds for days, a dark grey crown of them. He says he has heard the snow is spectacular. That’s because the world is cooler. And quiet. No planes overhead to melt icecaps away.  My son arrived from London once, his flight late, he explained the delay: “a plane full of climbers; the pilot wanted to show the mountain off, we flew around it twice!”  Small bitter irony: admiring a view that their circumnavigation was eroding before their climb began. Climbers often disembark from those flights bearing new rucksacks and out-of-the-box boots. I imagine sore toes days later. Weeks afterwards their kit is on sale in the second hand markets.

So as the world is poised, populations poisoned, in a what next pose, vistas are clearing, as if an unseen palm has wiped across a fogged up windscreen: the Himalayas are seen for the first time in thirty years. I tell my sister. She laughs.

“And the Eiffel Tower from Nairobi National Park”

Such are the powers of Photoshop and too much time on people’s hands as they languish in lockdown.



When the World stopped Spinning

April 19, 2020


mountain and blue skies

I should have been chronicling all this. All of it. I’ll regret it.

My grandfather survived the 1918 flu. I once read his diary, penned in green ink. I was interested. But not interested enough; I didn’t keep it.  The diary. I regret that too.

If I pin this to the ether then it’s there. There. Safely tacked to an intangible notice board. Glued permanently to ethereal. 

When it first slid over our horizons, this pandemic, I wasn’t alone in not noticing. Not noticing enough.  Again: not enough. My HK based editor asked me to do piece on the lungs, consult a respiratory expert she said, ‘ask them about this pandemic.’  It wasn’t one yet. A pandemic. I asked why. Because the WHO hadn’t called it one. It needs to fit certain criteria. It fit those long before it was lethally baptised; it had slunk across borders, onto planes, into homes and lives long before the WHO copped it’s global grasp. Invisible fingers around the world’s throat. Strangling the life out of it.

Almost four weeks after lockdown came in England, the rest of the world has folded. Here? Here where I live? Not much. Not enough. Pray the illness away our government advocates even as Covid19 gallops in.  I think of horses and apocalypses.  In town, most shops have erected little wash stands outside, fashioned of buckets with taps.  Some people wear masks. Especially the bodaboda riders – the motorbike taxis – facemasks but no helmets, so I must laugh at the irony. Waiters in empty restaurants wear surgical gloves. So do supermarket attendants.

I hunker down at home. This is easy for me. Self isolating. I perfected it back in Outpost days. All that’s different now is that that the rest of the world has joined me. It’s easier to feel less lonely when you know you’re not the only one who’s alone. No FMO when nobody’s socialising because we are all being coldly socially distant. Unless we’re drinking virtually en masse on Zoom. Or enjoying a Sunday afternoon quiz en famille: 14 faces, four teams, five countries.

I fret about my children. All in England. One in hard-hit London. Their youth sustains them, they have such energy and imagination. They write, draw, learn new things. They are too young to hear, really hear, what I have to say: that this thing is, really is, unprecedented. If ever a word was overused it was that one: unprecedented. 

I worry they are able to shop. I worry they remember to wash their hands, twenty seconds, sing happy birthday twice, I worry they will keep jobs. Be able to pay rents.  The world has tilted on its axis and we all need to try to keep our balance. Not eat too much. Not worry too much. Walk enough. Drink less. 

You could be almost anywhere in the world and it would feel the same. As if the world had stopped turning. When I was little we owned one of those blowup globes. I used to like spinning it and then, with eyes closed, arresting the spin by placing a finger blindly to it, to see where I landed. To stop the spinning and be anywhere. That’s what this feels like now: the world has stopped going round and I could be anywhere. Nowhere. Here. There. Who knows. Who cares?

My WhatsApp squeaks and bleeps with Corona memes: silly memes, funny memes, clever memes, memes that make me cry. Captain Tom has marched all the way up iTunes and raised more than 23 million quid in the process. Key workers and especially the NHS are the new Superheros, we clap them at 7pm GMT every Thursday, even me, even on my lonely mountain where nobody but bushbabies and owls can hear my applause. Where a hyena may whoop whoop in reply. Loo paper is viewed in new light. Everybody wants to know what to do with tinned chickpeas. My skies are quiet and still, a canvas of blue naked of their usual scribble as ribbons of jet stream untangled reassuringly upon them. 

I’m waiting. Watching and waiting. To see what the world will do next.

To witness the messages that will be writ across new skies.