Veil of Tiers

As we stand on the cusp of 2021, I like to imagine that even our government may come to accept that feeding the population on a constant diet of lies and (being generous) half-truths does not appear to confer any viral immunity nor to slow its spread. Indeed, one could make a strong argument that it has made the impact on sickness, death and the economy much, much worse.

In related news, throwing hundreds of millions of pounds of public money at their friends to provide equipment to aid in the fight against COVID, despite the recipients having no visible capabilities in the relevant fields and without putting in place even the most basic of protections in the purchasing contracts, again seems to be playing into the virus’ hands (or spike proteins). I had thought no-one could make Chris Grayling appears relatively competent after the imaginary ferry debacle but how wrong I was: the bar can always sink lower!

When the government, as it regularly does, describes itself as “following the science” I tend to assume this is in much the way that Jack the Ripper followed various of the women of the East End of London. It is, technically, following but as a prelude to appalling abuse prior to leaving their bloody corpses for others to find.

As the country of my birth and home stands as a dire warning to others, and with the only other country accessible to most of us the one from whose bourn no traveller returns, I am oft reminded of the ominous words of Long John Silver, “Them that die’ll be the lucky ones“.

It is against this substrate of every changing, confusing and delayed, to long beyond the 11th hour, restrictions and uncontrolled viral transmission that a chap must make his life as best he can.

As the last bells of Christmas Day faded, I found myself moving into Tier IV: this is basically full lockdown without being called lockdown and with additional movement restrictions as I live quite close to the border of two regions in lower tiers. I suspect this will last months rather than weeks and fully anticipate the next time that I am indoors with another human (other than a supermarket) will be on 22 February when I am scheduled to give blood. Excitingly, there will also be physical contact with another human: albeit via a rather hefty needle but at this stage I’ll take what I can get!

This move to effective (more than) lockdown came as rather less of a shock to me that it did to our lords and masters and so I have done what I can to gird my loins, both physical and mental, for the challenges ahead.

Earlier in the month, two of my three bikes were stolen – despite very serious protection – and I needed to source at least one replacement: something of a challenge in the current environment. Nevertheless, I have succeeded thanks, in no small measure, to the sterling work of Halfords in Fareham. My new bike is my first belt drive bike and technically doesn’t exist: it was merely a glitch in the stock control system of Halfords brought about by a rather complex set of circumstances involving a repair of a bike, responsibility for which was inherited from the now defunct Cycle Republic in Southampton. Despite the fact that my bike never existed, it was very much the Lieutenant Kijé of the life a-wheel (which has provided it with its name), somehow the chaps at Halfords managed to source one: how is unclear given that there was no stock anywhere in the country. So, on the Sunday before Christmas, I boarded a bus – my first use of public transport since March – and headed out to the borders of Fareham to collect my new steed. The bus was almost as empty as it could be, comprising for most of its journey me and the driver – for two very brief periods, one other passenger joined to go about 400 yards (one can but wonder why they bothered) – and so despite fears that I was indulging in an extreme sport, my journey felt very safe. The new bike is really rather splendid and eerily quiet as there is neither chain nor derailleur to clatter or clank as I trundle along.

One the days with generally viable weather, I am now out on the Lieutenant introducing him to the roads and countryside of the Southampton area and getting the poor lad rather wet and muddy. The degree of semi-permanent flooding is reasonably impressive, though readily trumped by other parts of the country. Much of Hampshire does look rather stunning in the low slanting light of winter and it does my soul (or what passes for it) good to be out of the flat and in the fresh air. The pictures I take on these excursions are often used on the dreich days when I am stuck in the flat (it’s a lovely flat but I am spending too much time within its rather modest walls) to lift my spirits and help me though some of the more difficult days of this bleak midwinter.

On the Wednesday before Christmas, the weather forecast did not look great but did hold out the tiniest glint of hope, and I rightly guessed it was my last chance to travel into or through the New Forest, so I took myself and my car out to Keyhaven to recharge both of our batteries. The weather was wonderful: blowing a hooley with dramatic skies and mostly sunshine. I, or at least my windward side, did get a little wet for a short period but, to be honest, that only added to the fun. I saw so many birds, had a grand walk along a shingle spit to a fort and lighthouse (which I had for my own exclusive use) and played chicken with the sea: making and then watching the erasure of my footsteps in the sands of time. I had forgotten how much I love walking along the coast in really strong wind: it is so bracing! As I mostly cycle these days, I tend to view the wind as my mortal foe but on foot it just adds spice to a stroll. I could not wipe the smile off my face for hours after a finished my walk (and the weather deteriorated more seriously) and sang very lustily along to Voices at the Door on my drive home.

Christmas itself was spent, as it was for so many, home alone: without even the serious prospect of some comedy burglars against whom to pit my wits. This was the first of my 55 Christmases spent away from my, diminished, family and we did our best with Zoom. Luckily, I had predicted that I would not be with my family back in November and so we were well prepared, presents having been exchanged via the post in plenty of time (and using just the one box and set of packing material: I come of thrifty stock!). I have to say that Zoom Christmas worked very well – if we ignore Windows 10 deciding it absolutely had to install an update as lunch was due to start – and we were able to have most of the normal festive fun with me 100 miles from everyone else. The traditional board game was replaced by the Zoom-friendly computer game Keep Talking and No-one Explodes, which I can heartily recommend despite being blown to kingdom come on three occasions by my own flesh and blood. I was even allowed, requested in fact, to murder some traditional carols on the accordion!

In some ways, I preferred Zoom Christmas as I could choose my own food without inconveniencing others: seared venison on a red wine and bramble jus, mustard mash and espinacas con piñones followed by homemade Xmas puddings (from an original concept by Delia Smith which I mostly followed). I could also drink freely and got to bed pleasingly early, leading to an unusually productive Boxing Day. Such a success was my first attempt at a steamed pudding that I plan on getting my mouth round my own spotted dick later today!

Well, I can’t dilly-dally here, I have a satirical Mummers Play to write. At present, this has rather too many ideas and dramatis personae stuffed into it to entirely fit within the genre but I am hoping it may grow leaner as I draft the text. There is a first time for everything (though hopes in the readership of GofaDM cannot be running high)…

Hitting the wall…

I believe this a phrase used by marathon runners around the 20 mile mark when they reach the end of their resources (especially their glycogen resources, I’m not sure anyone has been hit by the sudden loss of HR mid-run). At this stage I should make clear that I have not taken up the running of marathons, indeed my running has dramatically declined since the pandemic struck. The pandemic and its consequences may lie at the root of this post but it has not yet affected my sanity that badly (or at least not in that way). My only reason to run, given the sterling work our ancestors did on the wheel, is to catch an almost missed train or bus and I have not used public transport since mid March. Cyclists also experience a similar phenomena but they, more entertainingly, call it the ‘bonk’.

As I am more of a cyclist than a runner, and more of a reader than either, I will state that the bonk (or a form, thereof) struck last night, from around 19:30. In fact it also struck on Sunday afternoon around three o’clock. I don’t think I can claim depletion of my glycogen stockpile on either occasion as I had taken in more than enough of the necessary raw materials and expended very few of them in the form physical exertion: I feel my body had a lot more phosphorylation to give.

No, I feel the issues lie in my head, as so many of my issues do: without being tethered to the deadweight of my brain, and its associated ‘personality’, I feel my body would have an absolute ball. I feel my approach to COVID, developed without access to a Defence Against the Dark Arts Master (which, to be honest, was probably an advantage based on the written evidence of the recruitment policies pursued by Hogwarts) has been to throw myself with ever more vigour into an ever expanding range of activities while achieving ever declining quantities of recuperative sleep. I think I may well have exhausted the ability, and indeed desire, of my body to grant yet further extensions to the overdraft my brain has been running up.

The last week or so has been more than usually trying as well, which may not have helped. During the week, it moved from a likely outcome to a dead cert that, for the first time since birth, I will not be spending Christmas with what remains of my family. While for me this represents the loss of a familiar ritual, important in the ordering of any human’s mental health, it is not in itself that great a loss for me. To some extent, at the age of almost fifty-five, I’d been looking to start a new ritual: though this was absolutely not the year to do so. However, I feel really bad that I can’t (safely, though at the time of writing I could legally) spend time with my Dad who has had a really tough past 18 months and lost his partner of 60 years back in September.

Then on both Sunday and Monday mornings last week, I woke to discover that one of my bikes had been stolen from a locked bike shed, despite being protected by the most solid Sold Secure Gold locks that money could buy: locks of different types in an attempt to defeat even the fairly serious well-tooled felon . Not a sign of bike or lock remained: to such a degree, that I began to doubt my own memory of cycling home on them from their last excursions. I then spent the first half of the week desperately searching though old receipts and photographs trying to find the necessary proof that I owned both the bicycles, their accessories and the locks. Somewhat miraculously, by Friday my claims had not only been processed but approved and the money is already in my bank account. Truly astounding performance by ETA (the insurers, rather than the Basque terrorists – so far as I know). Nevertheless, not a series of events which were conducive to quality time in the embrace of Morpheus.

I have now acquired the most solid motorbike chain that I could find which is proof against any commercially available bolt cutters, the use of liquid nitrogen and lump hammer and will even hold off an angle grinder for a significant number of minutes. On the downside, it does weigh more than any bike I have every owned (in fact, roughly as much as two bikes) and so is only practical to use when at home or by a fitter chap – but this does seem to be the main area of weakness in my current security arrangements. Acquiring replacement bikes at this time of year is a more time consuming process…

Then, of course, we have the ongoing substrate of anxiety that is the never-ending, clown-car crash of our current government. Not just the ever growing pile of corpses that may be laid at its kakistocratic door, the steady destruction of most of what I hold dear and continuing impoverishment of many of my friends but, despite four years to plan, we can look forward to further accelerant being added to the insordescent, nefandous conflagration in a fortnight.

I feel the combined effect of these events, coupled with the more general diminution of my usual coping strategies and the short dreich days of December has somewhat overwhelmed mind, body and joie de vivre. Last night, despite 11 hours of lying down in darkness, coupled with total exhaustion and a sleeping tablet, I struggled to obtain even one cycle of REM sleep. In consequence, the author is even more of a gibbering wreck than usual (and will be blaming all and any errors in this post on this circumstance).

Despite these rather trying recent events, life is full of joys. Last Saturday, in particular, was unusually full of treats. In the afternoon, I took my surviving bike up to Romsey and the the nature reserve at Fishlake Meadows. (The surviving bike is being held in a top secret, secure facility and, at the risk of tempting Fate, seems to be fine). The weather was not too bad for December and, unlike my last visit, no insect life choose to feast on my blood. The low slanting light of winter looked glorious and the nature reserve was a haven of peace and birdsong. More excitingly, it was also a haven for at least one kingfisher which I saw not once but thrice. This was my first (and second and third) ever sighting of a kingfisher in the flesh (both mine and its) and it was quite magical: it was unbelievably colourful in real life, despite the number of times I have seen them captured on film. I was also granted my closest every encounter with a flock of long-tailed tits: always bringers of joy to my life.

After a Thai curry at the Guide Dog, by chance cotemporaneous with a number of friends who were doing the same, I walked up onto the Common to take advantage of the clear skies for some star watching. Despite my total failure to see any of the Geminids (I really must carry my distance glasses more often), the skies were a riot of stars and my constellation and star spotting is definitely improving. I have to say that some of our ancestors had quite the active imaginations when it came to naming apparently entirely amorphous collections of stars. At least insofar as their work has been passed down to me, the astronomers from the golden age of the Islamic Golden Age seem, more wisely and scientifically, to have stuck to naming individual stars – and certainly seem to have kept themselves busy!

The pandemic and its associated vicissitudes have given me a wonderful opportunity, when the weather permits, to indulge my real – but previously largely ignored – love of birds and astronomy. A few weeks ago, when an unsuccessful attempt to break into the bike store rendered my bikes safe but inaccessible, I gave my car a treat and/or coated it in some fresh mud and drove down to Keyhaven. The weather was not the best and I was the only person out who had chosen to wear shorts, but there were so many birds. I was particularly taken by the dark-bellied brent geese who looked quite stunningly dapper in flight, landing, swimming and take-off. A relatively short walk took the full two hours of parking I’d acquired (eventually, I have had no change since March and paying via an App is all well and good, unless your car park is in an area with no viable internet or even mobile phone signal) as I kept being distracted by fresh feathered wonders. My walk also revealed an enormous cache of sloe bushes still bedizened with sloes but, like the fool I am, I had no suitable vessel in which to gather them.

As the above suggests, I am really rather lucky in my place of residence: even if it is infested with rather too effective bike thieves. Still, a bicycle has been my primary mode of transport for approaching 15 years and these are my first losses – so I suppose I haven’t done too bad and the bikes were both well depreciated and successfully insured.

As I’ve just seen the word count, I probably ought to bring this post in to land. My hurt mind is in need of sore labour’s bath and perhaps the successful achievement of the death of at least one day’s life. So, the plan is a very early night – frankly I’m planning to take advantage to the early sunset and aim for a late afternoon. I shall couple this with a stronger sleeping draft: perhaps some dwale if I can source the necessary porcine bile, herbs and opium in the next couple of hours. I’m just off to Waitrose, I’m sure they should be able to sort me out…