Heavy Thoughts

Cheltenham Festival 16 March 2020 (Credit Racing Post)

I need to let you know before you read this that it is a bit of a rant. You may wish to leave early. I’m not that keen on a scene either. Normally, if I get the need to shout at people on here, I give it 24 hours and then I feel a bit better. And calmer. And less likely to bore you lot with it. However, if I waited till I felt better about this, I might never post again.

I am angry. Weirdly enough though I have a certain level of peace as well. I have a faith that allows me to believe that good can come out of this horrible situation. I have been a Christian long enough to know that God’s value systems are not the same as mine and I know a God given promise when I hear it. I could probably name 20 blessings that have come to me through all this. But still, I am angry.

Much that is good has already come out of this pandemic. I have been so moved by those who work tirelessly on the front line, walking into danger as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Then there are those who choose to help by volunteering, raising money in a myriad of different ways. To watch Captain Tom Moore at 99 walk up and down his garden because he wanted to say thank you is brilliant. And it is also a tribute to those who have felt so impotent that to give to him and the NHS was the best thing to do. It is right I think. To give in the face of such terrible times is to be the embodiment of good cancelling out evil. On a personal note, I have also watched some great sermons which have really helped me. I have felt the pace of my life slow down and that has been a good thing for me. To step away and reflect is a blessing. I am also aware that the earth has been enjoying lock-down more than many of us have. Pollution has slowed, mindless consumption has been questioned and an air of thoughtfulness has settled on everything. Random acts of kindness are everywhere. Well nearly everywhere. Not so much on the park outside our apartment where arguments break out about people spending too much time sitting on the benches.

“I’m a nurse! I just need a break!”

“Well I work in a care home and I need a break!”

I tell you, it’s like the first Sex Pistols gig, where if everyone who says they were there was there it would have needed to be at Wembley stadium, There are so many nurses on this park, if they were all who they said they were, there would be no crisis. Anyway – I digress. And I am still angry.

Firstly Captain Tom. what a great man. £25 million. The only problem is the NHS isn’t a charity or, at least it shouldn’t be. It has been underfunded for years and years. Nurses – who we now love and adore and promise the earth to – made politicians laugh when they asked for a pay-rise. And, while £25 million is plopping into the NHS budget like a drop in the proverbial ocean, small charities are on their knees. I have to declare an interest here. My charity is tiny. It helps the disabled and elderly get out and about. Now, they are not allowed out and about. We are closed but supported to bump along the bottom by the Council. Without them – we would finish. If people aren’t allowed out for 12 months, I don’t know where it will leave us. I don’t know where it will leave those that we support. Last week I manned phones for a couple of hours. Call after call from older people. Blessedly, they are fine for food and medicines for the most part (the goodness of people again and again) but they are lonely and upset. They miss each other. The bingo, the lunch club, church isn’t starting again anytime soon and they are panicking they they may never leave the house again. Compared to PPE or people dying – I know, I know but this is some people’s entire lives. And this is before we look at Women’s Refuges trying to support those for whom a lock-down could be fatal or those Care Homes dealing with end of life trauma who didn’t even get included in the death figures until last week.

Then I calm a bit and tell myself that I am only this upset because my son and his girlfriend have had their entire wedding plans cancelled, after a year of loving and careful planning. Or maybe I am mad because my daughter, who is about to write her Master’s Dissertation cannot get access to the library or the film museum that would give her the raw materials she needs. And, after all, it can’t be helped can it? It’s a natural disaster. We couldn’t have seen it coming. We have done everything we could. Let’s get together and clap Boris.

Except, it seems that there was plenty that we could have done. Putting to one side for the moment the Medieval markets that sell live animals for slaughter and the myriad warnings about how these markets – as well as calling our humanity into question – were also always going to incubate the next big pandemic. Putting aside also China’s “economy with the truth” about how the disease was progressing. Also putting aside, the rehearsals that there had been here showing massive great holes in our pandemic response. (I know, I am putting a lot of things to one side. I may be feeling more generous than I think I am). It seems that my British Government was slow on the uptake to a criminal degree. I wouldn’t normally recommend you go and buy a newspaper. But today, the Sunday Times is carrying a report on the weeks from mid January to the weeks the lock-down began. It is perhaps the most important piece of journalism you will read on the British Outbreak. It is also online here. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-38-days-when-britain-sleepwalked-into-disaster-hq3b9tlgh It is behind a paywall but I think you can read a couple of pieces if you sign up.

Warning after warning was given and ignored. PPE was counted and it was obvious there wasn’t enough and we exported some to China. Government emergency meetings – known as Cobra, were called. Prime Minister Johnson was too busy to attend the first five. (and before you say he’s been ill. I’m glad he’ll be ok. This is all before he was ill). Ball after ball was dropped, either through fears for the economy, confused advice or just plain burying heads in the sand.

I watch the Government Briefing every night and do you know, I find myself thinking more and more that they well be barefaced lying down the camera lens. (Also – if I hear the term “ramping up” again. I may well run amok). In Germany they are making plans for a cautious return. In Denmark – the schools are opening. Even in France where they were almost as rubbish as we were, Macron had the guts to apologise. All we seem to get is a lot of people talking about “British Determination” and other people saying – “At least it’s not Trump.”

But the fact is that “British Determination” is more necessary for some than for others. The rich can shelter away from the storm far more easily. The poor are on the front line. They drive buses, they stack shelves, they wipe bottoms. They queue at Foodbanks. They can’t pay the rent. They hope that someone will order a Deliveroo because they only get paid by numbers of deliveries.

Look I told you I was angry. You got plenty of notice to leave. I’m a Christian. I believe in hope. I’ll wave at you cheerily on HouseParty Sunday service and Zoom and agree when you pray and send comfort. But, when something is wrong. It’s wrong. We need faith and positivity, yes but we also need to be thinking about how we put these wrongs right.

Easter

Morten Morland

I hope no-one is offended by this which is a brilliant Easter cartoon from Morland at the Sunday Times. My favourite bit is the megaphone. We live by the sea and the police boat is continually patrolling the lovely coastline to make sure that no-one is sitting down and enjoying the view. Keep moving, if you know what’s good for you.

It goes without saying that Easter has been “different” this year. No church, and it is well known that I get a bit religious at Easter, so I missed that. We have been online which has produced two gaiety inducing bonuses.

Number One – You get to see pastors/vicars in their own homes. I have very much enjoyed people trying to bring high levels of solemnity to Good Friday Communion, only to have their children roar in and move the iPad away mid sermon or ask dad if they can finish that glass of Ribena when he is done with it because they are dead thirsty. Brilliant.

Number Two – You get to sign on to other people’s churches and watch preaching etc without feeling any guilt because you are sort of playing away from home. Over the weekend, I have watched my local pastor but have also had a nosey round international people I like (Rick Warren was appealingly normal for a man with such a mahoosive congregation but – between you and me – there are preachers out there who are believing their own publicity and need to calm down a bit) and also preachers who have gone on. (Not dead – just moved churches) It has been lovely to watch preachers I haven’t seen for years and, as proper Christians say – it has been a blessing as well .

Out of the whole Easter weekend the bit I am most fascinated by is Easter Saturday. Not that I am dismissing Dying, Resurrection and the first post-resurrection commission to preach actually being given to women. No, no certainly not. It’s just Saturday – with its wild uncertainty as far as Jesus’ followers were concerned and a distinct lack of optimism and a clear way forward is ringing a lot of bells at the moment. HOH was saying how long three days must have felt in the lives of a group of people who, despite Jesus and his full-on warnings about where this was all going, were not really where they expected to be after throwing in their lots with him. Some had returned to their own lives, some were hiding because they didn’t really fancy going through what Jesus had gone through and some were resigned to tending a grave and grieving for what they thought that they had lost. No-one was digging people in the ribs shouting – “Don’t worry! He’ll be raising from the dead any minute. You will see some amazing things. Keep the faith. Hurrah!”

I am always very encouraged that Jesus didn’t hold this complete collapse against anyone and carried on regardless with the original plan – i.e. miraculous resurrection, life changing callings, doling out of power and authority, giving the capability to live in peace in all circumstances etc. etc.

I am finding it’s all a bit Saturday morning at the moment. No-one saw this one coming apart from a few epidemiologists who we all ignored and no-one is really sure how it will end. AP has changed from extreme optimism

“Two weeks in lockdown – that’s all.” to extreme pessimism

“Six months before I can leave this flat, I’ve been told.”

“Mum! SIX MONTHS. Wuhan was only 76 days.”

“That’s what Ive been told.”

We cannot find the deliverer of this devastating news but HOH has advanced the theory that someone in the sheltered housing reached the end of their tether about being continually questioned by all the residents about how long this was going on for and just went for it big time in the hope of lowering expectations permanently. And before you feel too sorry for her – she was phoning from the garden.

It’s not just the Covid19 crisis that may be causing Easter Saturdays all over the place at the moment but I have comforted myself (most of the time) with the remembrance that rescue delayed is not rescue forgotten. I know that I have things that I can be doing at this time and I am aware that my life dials needed re-setting but either way, I am thinking that what God can do may not be obvious but that it is no less on its way.

Two Weeks

This is my teddy bear. We have it on the balcony for the local young ‘uns who are doing bear hunts on their exercise walks. Mind you it has been a source of some tension as HOH keeps leaving it outside in the dark and he will be scared. He will see things that a bear his age ain’t supposed to see. Also – he got wet tonight. I thought it was supposed to be unbroken sunshine and the police were going to have to go out yelling at us with megaphones to GET INDOORS!

We miss our kids. We don’t exactly live in each other’s pockets but it’s the knowing you can’t actually get to them. Mind you FOW2 sent me a message today telling me that a spider the size of a car had run out from under her yoga mat and, knowing how I am with spiders, I feel that sometimes it is better for your kids to learn to stand on their own two feet don’t you?

Is it a week or is it two? Lockdown I mean? I think it’s about ten days now. The days are merging into one now, although I am trying hard to get some order into them.

1. Work in the mornings

2. Walk (or route march if HOH is with me – he doesn’t allow slacking) before lunch.

3. Lunch(trying hard not to always add chocolate biscuits to every cup of coffee)

4. Then try and do something a bit extra before tea. Sometimes it’s creative, sometimes it’s gaming, sometimes watching terrible TV.

5. Tea (Trying again not to accompany all meals with chocolate biscuits – I am too close to the kitchen cupboards for too long)

6. Then a new tradition of Lock-down TV. There’s loads of stuff out there – National Theatre online. Disney+, Netflix (Tiger King is the most dysfunctional thing I have ever seen but I felt like I was the only person in the world who hadn’t seen it. Gave it everything I had – wished I hadn’t). Then there’s reading. Am looking for something uplifting but not too taxing after the Mantel. Someone recommended The Shellseekers – has anyone read it? I am developing a bit of a penchant for crime novels. Not too full on – it’s me and I am not going there obviously but wouldn’t mind a change from Agatha Christie. Also – any recommended Christian books? Don’t really know what to ask for. Needs to be downloadable.

Then there’s online church, which we watched this morning. Is it disrespectful to eat egg on toast while you are watching a sermon? Well, we’re all living a new reality now.

This morning, they prayed from 1 Thessalonians 5. (The Message)

Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

I can’t speak for you obviously but this is like a roadmap for me and all the things that I am dealing with now. I am on both sides of this set of instructions. I am a straggler bit also I know that I need to be attentive to others’ needs. I mustn’t be snappy (even if – ooh I don’t know – someone who I might be related to mentions in passing after 6pm that she has run out of tablets after she told me she had three days left and it’s Friday night and the doctors are closed until Monday and you know you are going to spend Saturday morning queuing outside the Asda Pharmacy hoping against hope that they got the emergency prescription. This is just an example of course – can’t see how it would actually happen in real life). I keep reading the Thessalonians passage – it’s like it is written for a time such as this, as they say.

Anyway maybe I have been too pessimistic. Between my phone calls and her daily carers, we have been trying to get over to Aged Parent that this shielding may take a good few weeks but she has pushed us aside.

Me. Well, it could be a while Mum – perhaps even up to seven weeks. You have to be in it for the long haul.

AP. That’s what the carer said and I’m not having it.

Me. How can you be so sure?

AP. Well the same carer said it could be up to seven weeks to repair the lift and that was done in two! See? You never know.

Two weeks then. You heard it here first.

Back

Well, that escalated quickly didn’t it. We came back from London and went back to work and, before we knew it, I was arranging to close our charity down for three months and HOH was wandering the car park at the hospital trying to find someone to put a cotton bud up his nose. (Unfortunately there are no swabbers available at the moment. Apparently, there are key workers and “key workers”). So I have not been around to write this. It has been very full on arranging the closure etc. I’m not sure where people have been finding the time to make yogurt and learn Scottish country dancing etc. I have been rushed off my feet. (BTW can I ask – are you doing jigsaws? I see a lot of people doing jigsaws? I haven’t done one since Mrs Cullen used to help me with them when I was seven – her secret method was colour coding I seem to remember. Anyway. Are they relaxing? What do you do with them when you finish?)

I am sorry that I have not been around to distract you with nonsense. Closing a company – even temporarily – takes a lot out of you. In effect, our transport charity for the elderly and disabled had begun to shut itself down. The places that people like to go to – dinner clubs, Bingo, fellowship groups etc. had begun to close so demand was low. Then relatives and carers began to withdraw their loved ones because they were concerned about what they would catch. In the end, we didn’t think that we were letting too many people down but it was quite upsetting. Only one person rang and snappily asked if we could explain why we were closing. A stressed member of my staff snapped back – “Don’t you watch the news?” which was completely out of character but we all cheered like a scene out of Dead Poets Society when she put the phone down. It has been full on and we are doing our best. So we are all furloughed – although all of us are doing some volunteer work – and the local council have said that they will support us as well as the government’s scheme so, a lot of people are a lot worse than us.

I am also sorry that I have ditched writing about Lent. I could lie to you and write about all my meditating etc but I haven’t done any. I’ve done a bit of staring into the middle distance which might pass as meditating on Lent but – I’ll be honest – it wasn’t really. On top of everything else, our son and his girlfriend have had their wedding cancelled. We are all very upset for them. All that planning and looking forward to having such a lovely day. You know how something can’t be avoided but it still doesn’t seem fair? Well this is that.

I hope that you are well. I would understand if you are not and I don’t just mean if you have a nasty virus. Some people are not doing well in their heads. It really is beyond comprehension for most of us isn’t it? Part of my survival technique is pulling right back on the amount of news I watch. It is possible to watch Coronanews 24/7. I watch the Government briefing (I don’t feel this is the time to be always insisting on fearless investigative journalism. I’ll go with the official line for the moment if that’s ok with you) and a bit of follow on after that and then I leave it alone. I will deal with anything else I need to deal with as and when it happens.

Other than that, I am mainly staying in. Aged Parent isn’t doing terribly well with our lack of visits but I’m not sure how much of that is an increase in Dementia. She has become even more self focused. If I try and explain that no-one can go out because this is a “World-Wide” thing she responds by telling me how much her gums are hurting. Self-protection mechanism? Possibly. Either way – there’s not a lot I can do about it now except phone every day. Also, she is unhappy at limited time with the carers because obviously, they are doing lots of other things now.

AP “Those carers are in and out of here! 15 minutes? 15 seconds more like.”

Me “Mum – there have so much more to do. Serving meals to rooms, fetching drugs, sorting more personal care.”

AP “Money for old rope if you ask me.”

Hmm. My worry is that she will really offend them and they will turf her out. And it’s still quite cold overnight when she is kipping down on the pavement. HOH had a brief word with them and they told him not to worry because they are used this kind of thing. Here’s hoping.

I can’t get my head around churches being closed down – even though it is the obvious and correct thing to do. I heard on a Podcast that the last time this happened was 1208 or something. Lots of stuff is online which is very interesting. I got to see Ang in real life (sort of) which was lovely. We also sought out a preacher that we knew in Essex and watched him preach online. He’s a great preacher and was fantastic (and encouraging) to be able to see him. Is it wrong and sneaky to watch your old pastor?

For ourselves, spiritually, we have joined the people who are lighting a candle every night at 7pm to show that they will be praying around this situation. Actually, after the hour went on last Sunday we pushed it on to 8pm because it was bright sunlight at 7pm when we tried to light it and I felt a bit of a fool.

I’ve also just finished reading the Hilary Mantel. I can’t lie – I found this one a bit of a slog. It’s 875 pages and the cast of characters is huge. I lost track quite often – especially as people have two names. They can be The Duke of Such and Such but also be known by their second name. It’s quite a heavy book and I lost patience with having to keep wrestling my way to the front of it to check the list of characters. I think it’s more me than her as she definitely knows how to write. For me, the sense of impending doom was done a bit too well under the current circumstances. Having said that though, Cromwell’s final downfall (sorry – spoiler – it doesn’t end well for him) is just brilliantly done. She spends a really long time laying down different tiny bread-crumb trails and clues with nothing much concrete happening and then suddenly, he’s on a runaway train and there’s nothing he can do.

Right then. Off to watch a Star War or some such nonsense. You need to stay safe and inside etc. etc. Carry on in a calm and orderly fashion.

Lent Inspirations #3

Hello. This is still technically Lent but I think all that blithering on that I did about what I was going to read or do has been a bit overtaken now and all everyone is thinking about is Covid-19. (That is except Aged Parent who still can’t get her Sky box working and is therefore completely cut off from the whole thing. I’ll be honest – I’m not rushing to get it repaired at the moment – ignorance is bliss – for everyone involved).

We have just returned from a disappointing trip from London. We were prepared to risk life and limb to see Steve Martin and Martin Short at the Albert Hall but he was not prepared to return the favour and hot footed it back to America, cancelling the show. Actually, it’s not so much the cancelling that bothered me – at a time like this everyone needs to do what they think is right – it is more the fact that they had actually landed back on American soil before the cancellation announcement was made. Some of us might not have made the trip to London at all if we had known that cancellation was a possibility. Bah! Still we had a nice time. We spent time in galleries (very quiet) and shops (equally quiet). We went to see the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate. My impressions of his work were

a) Everything is a lot bigger that you think it is – the Mao picture is enormous.

b) So many of drawings of men’s dangly bits does pale pretty quickly

c) Everyone who was part of his “Factory” group of people looked to me as if they all smelled. (No proof obviously – never stopped me rushing to judgement before).

We were very careful – hand sanitising all the time and keeping away from crowds wherever possible. We also discovered that we have reached an age that we need to be staying in a slightly nicer hotel when we can. We decided to save a few bob reasoning that we are never in the hotel room much when in London but – I’ll be honest – the place we stayed in was just the right side of grim. And when we walked in and gave our names, the (mask wearing) receptionist opened her file and to everyone’s general dismay we all saw that there were no entries under “H”.

“Er – we don’t seem to have a booking for you” (I slide my email copy of the booking across the Reception Desk.) “Ah yes. I see. Well I will give you our newest room Yes?” Hmm. The newest room was right next to the toilets and far too close to the bar for our general comfort. So, we have just made a decision that, when we go again, we are of an age now that we need a bit more comfort. Not Five Star level just not the sort of place where you are insulted by a mask wearing receptionist because you are checking in to the kind of place where you are a bit worried about what you might catch – never mind her. That’s if anyone ever travels anywhere again.

I wanted to ask about Covid -19 and the praying. I mean obviously churches and everyone are praying but I am hearing and seeing a lot of the “Lord, please give all the relevant skills to the doctors” and “Lord, let us all care for each other even more at this time.” kind of prayers. These, are important ways to pray but (and apologies if you are doing this) I don’t feel that I am seeing a lot of “God – you are God – stop this now.” type of praying. You know – like a sort of War of the Worlds type prayer like approach where everyone looks for a miracle. It feels a bit like we have all accepted this is going to happen and we are just hoping for the best. Is that just me? If I’m not careful I read all the chumps on Twitter and believe every word. There’s a lovely line in the King James version of Isaiah

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear

Which translates in the Living Bible to

Listen now! The Lord isn’t too weak to save you. And he isn’t getting deaf! He can hear you when you call!

Which makes we wonder a bit if we should be upping the ante a bit when it comes to praying round this. Should we be upping our expectations to call on a God that has never played odds and percentages – you don’t need to when you are God. I’m all for skilled doctors and I love the old science (even though I preferred doing Typing at school when we got to choose) but am I setting my sights too low? I love the CS Lewis quote on living in an Atomic Age which is certainly relevant

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

That should certainly deal with feeling the need to snatch the last packet of toilet rolls from an old lady’s trolley but, on top of this, I feel I need to look to a Big God – who is able – not just to calm me down but to bring the whole thing to an unexpected and wholly miraculous end.