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)…

Feel free to continue the lunacy...

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