David Horovitch, Twickenham
It's difficult to keep your hands off Cumminsgate isn't it? It's scabrous and pustular and I keep picking away at it.
I missed the beginning. Is it really true that was he was half an hour late as I read in The Guardian? Odd that something so repetitive and boring could also be such riveting television. Its weird circularity was only a short step away from Lewis Carrol or, for those who remember him, N.F. Simpson.
JOURNALIST: Why did you drive six hours to Durham when your own Government's guidelines unequivocally and, in a slogan of such stupefying banality that it can only have come from yourself, the author of Get Brexit Done, instructed people to Stay At Home?
CUMMINGS: Because we thought we had coronavirus and we were anxious that we would be too unwell to look after our four year old son. We had two very kind nieces up there who volunteered to look after him.
JOURNALIST: That makes it worse. To travel when you had the virus meant you took the risk of infecting others and taking it from a highly infected area to one where there very few reported cases?
CUMMINGS: But we didn't have coronavirus.
JOURNALIST: I thought you said you did.
CUMMINGS: No I said we thought we might have it.
JOURNALIST: And did you?
CUMMINGS; Did I what?
JOURNALIST: Did you have coronavirus?
JOURNALIST: But you said you didn't.
CUMMINGS: We had it when we got to Durham
JOURNALIST: So your nieces, whose kindness you proposed to repay by exposing them to a potentially fatal disease, looked after your son?
CUMMINGS: No, they didn't.
JOURNALIST: Why not?
CUMMINGS: My wife was well enough to look after him.
JOURNALIST; So was your journey really necessary Mr Cummings?
CUMMINGS: I acted reasonably. I can understand though why some people might think I didn't.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
Okay - I'm still mad over entitled attitudes in our government, but I tell myself not to write of it today.
The morning started early for me today and I enjoyed a cup of tea and sat in what I call the garden room - a sort of conservatory with a lid. Not a squirrel to be seen, but instead bird family life. A pair of great tits were trying to glean food whilst beset constantly by two or three very demanding fledglings. They provided me with enjoyment, whilst for them this was a matter of life and death. Similarly, and ranging over a larger area, a family of starlings was engaged in a similar striving to bring on and protect their next generation. I have to say it sent me into reflection on the issue of risk that cannot be removed from life, and also risk that may be mediated. Nothing they do or fail to do is without risk of disaster. That's how they live, something that in a time of gross arrogance had gone from the mindset of we humans. We thought we were different until a few weeks ago. We thought there was virtually no hazard involved in meeting together in sometimes very large groups. I am acutely conscious that about a week before lock-down I joined with a group of fellow old car enthusiasts for a pub lunch. As far as I know none of those people have contracted the plague, but that meeting could have engendered quite dire results. None of us as far as I know was truly in possession of knowledge about the situation. The reality was so far from our experience.
The Today programme on Radio 4 featured a very moving testimony by Dominic Minghella. He spoke of the fact that even nearer to lock-dawn than when I was enjoying my pub lunch, he was shopping without using hand protection, notably with some fear of becoming infected, but with no knowledge that he already was carrying, and probably shedding virus. He spoke of the position we were all in then, with contact tracing having been abandoned. The lock-dawn sorted that problem to an extent, although it didn't help him very much, because he went down with illness and was hospitalised within a day or two. Clearly and understandably he feels deeply for anyone to whom he may have passed infection, because they would not have been traced at all. Unavoidable you might say, but it needn't have been so if tracing had been properly implemented early on. Finally, Dominic's fear is that, with an opening of lock-down we will find ourselves back in the immediately preceding lock-down situation. Trace and track isn't here now it seems. The much vaunted app is still here on the Island, but seems to have faded in the news lately. I suspect it's not achieving very much. Many volunteers have supposedly been recruited to track and trace in the old-fashioned way. I know one of them slightly who says the training was rudimentary at best and she hasn't really a clue about what she's supposed to be doing. It seems, and I think Dominic correct, that we are shortly very likely to lose any control over the virus that might have been possible. The powers that be can do nothing to stop that it seems if lock-down is opened up. The answer really is for lock-down to be retained until the infrastructure and processes are fully in place. Anything else is recklessness of a kind that seems to beset our country and one or two others at the moment. Of course none of us can predict the future, but a genuine understanding and response to perceived risks is needed, leaving the political issues behind for now.
I hope I picked up on Dominic's position with reasonable accuracy. It seems important to me...
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Surely Dominic Cummings must have shaken his head in despair when Prince Andrew attempted his own defence and made such a Horlicks of it. Presumably though he thought himself beyond royalty and could show them and us how it should be done.
Shortly thereafter, the increasingly befuddled cogs of his stout protector’s brain could almost be seen shifting gear as he repeatedly remembered he was supposed to keep bringing the subject back to business. Hanging on desperately to his ‘wash your hands’ mantra he still seemed distracted. I suspect the image of Pontius Pilate may have sidled in... forthwith he kept looking down and shuffling his papers and telling us we must make up our own minds!
Anyway, that’s my last word on the matter.
My husband has gone fishing. And after a morning of housekeeping I have settled under the jolly brolly with Penelope Fitzgerald and a mug of chamomile tea.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Well, that was a cool-as-cucumber performance by Dom, wasn’t it? Sitting in the No10 Rose Garden, as close to defiant as he dare, producing a pragmatic, honed and rehearsed account - which the assembled Hacks largely ignored as, one after the other, they produced in their turn their usual pointless ‘questions’ eg “What do you say to those who’ve lost loved ones and weren’t able to visit them before The End because they obeyed the rules?” What can you say? “Sorry for your loss” over and over again?
Miffed by his plausibility and still confused as to whether a Law has been broken or it was just bad form, this morning critics are looking for other ways to discredit and bring him down. Someone has already ’found’ - how do you do that overnight? - that a Cummings blog entry from 2019 talking of Ebola has been edited to add Sars and Covid-19 to the threats we face, as if to show sham prescience. Maybe he was just bringing it up to date... A Junior Minister, never heard of before, Douglas Ross, seizes the moment for 10 seconds of fame and very publicly resigns citing his inability to explain wtf is going on to “those who’ve lost loved ones etc etc” back home in Scotland. It’ll be an interesting test of resolve among other Scotch MP’s - anyone taking the job might be accused of caring less...
I’m going to admit, since this Journal entry is partly an account of what goes on in my life as well as Times themselves, that if I lived in London in something like siege conditions, had reason to believe we were on the verge of ‘getting it’, a transportable family unit and a sanitary, fully serviced bolt-hole elsewhere, I’d consider going elsewhere too. Options are what make life bearable.
In the full Briefing that followed (taken by BJ) we learned that we’re to relax a bit with Car Showrooms and outdoor Markets allowed to open from 1st June, and other, ‘non-essential’ retail from the 15th, due notice being given so correctly distanced strategy can be worked out. This is good news, bringing more - if constrained - life back to streets and squares. Boris was a bit grumpy though, and gave short shrift to Hacks trying to engage re Cummings and ignoring his announcements, before stalking off into the mysterious inner recesses. We’re to be fed more crumbs of relaxing comfort in the week ahead, apparently.
Here, we have a couple of Biological oddities in our midst, a sighting of the Scarce Chaser dragonfly over the farm ponds, and a colony of Shed Bumblebees has taken over a disused bird nesting box. It seems odd that these two have missed the boat when it comes to names. I mean, you see a Chaser dragonfly, one never recorded before, and you say to your Royal Entomological Society chums “I saw a Chaser the other day, really unusual - in fact I’ve never seen one like it before” and it’s not distinguished as the Four Spotted Chaser or somesuch (I rather like the Ruddy Darter. Just won’t settle for a minute so we can get a really good look) No, just ‘Scarce’. Similarly the Shed Bumblebee seems a charming little fellow, distinguished by a rather gay orange backpack. Is it the Hiker Bumblebee or Cummings Bumblebee? No, ‘Shed’ - because sometimes you find them in, well, sheds. Unfortunately and unlike most other bumbles, it is a bit ready to take offence and sting. On that basis and no matter where encountered, I would think the name most commonly applied would be something else entirely.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Catherine, Sussex, UK
Dear Virginian James, I loved your poetic response to my sartorial question. I wonder whether, in view of silence from other journalers, it is representative of most? A group photo (Zoom screenshot?) to accompany the journal might provide years of curious interest and perhaps some hilarity for our descendents, who will wonder at these strange people.
Plenty of us have commented on our Dear Leader’s Best Friend and his extraordinary (in all senses) voyage north and outwards from there, and my feelings don’t differ at all from others’. I would only add that I had a little ‘aha’ moment when I heard that the son in question is autistic (which led to another aha moment about the dad himself): this throws up challenges which those who have not faced them can’t be expected to know. For that reason, I have a nano-strand of understanding as to possibly why he thought he could take the decision he did, even though it was 100% wrong and immoral. I was interested that he didn’t mention this fact in his Rose Garden appearance (posher-than-usual-clad, theatrically hesitant - even though everyone has seen other moments when he is breathtakingly arrogant, aggressive and Right about Everything). Does this mean there is a strand of decency (though only re his own family) buried in there somewhere?
All the same, I repeat, please send us Jacinda, who remains calm and rational (and what a fabulous smile) no matter what (‘We’re just having a bit of an earthquake here… ) and simply carries on quietly doing the exactly the right thing. Meanwhile, I am watching Sir Kier with interest.
Otherwise, here in Sussex since Friday, the last day about which I wrote, life has pottered on. The errant gazebo has been replaced, by a ‘pop-up’ one - though we found that description a tad ambitious - which can be lowered at windy times, and a tester pot of fence aquired (to cover the dog-t**d brown), both bought on a brave outing to a retail park. Naturally, me swathed in mask and visor (though I forgot my gloves: blood-run-cold panic!!), Junior 1 swathed in - t-shirt and shorts. (A relative abroad, newly returning to work via the tram, reports that it is the young there, too, who are maskless and terrifying nonchalant). I found it odd that at the first store the trolley handle was only disinfected after one had fetched it from outside, where it had been abandoned by the last pair of hands. As on my last (and only other) big store shopping expedition (for such it is, these days: like the gazebo, no more ‘popping’ anywhere), the meticulous queues and door security came to nought inside the stores, as people got muddled up about the one-way systems (in theory, no backtracking for missed purchases) and inadvertently formed huddles when stopping at the right spot. Plus shelf-stackers trundling around and parking their big wheeled cages in the aisles.
The fence colour is not right, so I might have to repeat part of the process.
The Juniors are now actively house-hunting; I went with J1 to look at a couple and afterwards we celebrated the mere fact of having got out and about somewhere marginally beyond the immediately local vicinity or office by treating ourselves to - icecreams from Fusciardi’s. An orgy of fabulousness: the cognoscenti amongst you will just have to eat your hearts out.
Yesterday morning the plumber returned, with his chippie mate, for the latter to have a look at his side of the kitchen work (he was keen on a £5k restyle but all I want is a couple of new worktops…). Masks and gloves on them, and of course gloves and my trusty mask and visor on me. I think we managed all right, what with all that and keeping our distance, although of course once they’d gone I deep cleaned the kitchen. Never have I had such a sterile kitchen as during these days. You wouldn’t know what a relaxed person I am normally (even if still not a slut).
Meanwhile, the Juniors had, after a furious row (between themselves this time, which afforded me a little shadenfreude after my being first in the firing line last time), made it to their chosen beach. They were disappointed by it, after all that fuss, but I had a fine time sorting out boring but necessary admin. I adore being at home on my own.
I had a plaintive email from a friend who a few years back made an ill-advised marriage: she was recently on the point of leaving him when they discovered he had cancer. After his operation she is now trapped, as his carer (being singularly ill-suited to the role), and having to make even more radical mental as well as physical adjustments than any of us. Caring can be hard, which kind of brings me back to The Leader’s bestie.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Read all about it
It is now - when a day passes quickly,
a week slowly, a month at a glacial
pace - when the rubber hits the lockdown
road that we expand to cover
the growing distance between us.
Forgotten days of the week, yet
our place in space constant; dreams
vivid, varying, vengeful, but the sun
rises and sets, it rains and it doesn’t;
the mad political circus cavorts in the
big top: clown cars, elephants and donkeys,
toothless lions and tumbling myopic turtles.
It all happens out there, in a remote world,
beyond my time and spacial reference points.
I am surrendering, point by point,
disengaging from this or that scandal.
Do I really care if an unknown influencer
flaunts her baby bump? If the President
is a fool? The Prime Minister a nincompoop?
Does it affect anything if I fold the paper,
switch off the TV? Does it achieve
anything but liberation?
It will be an age before I can fly,
hug my loves living across the ocean,
walk heedless of my health
through city squares, greet new
places like unexpected friends.
So I shall let the waters of time
fold around me. Detached I shall
float through these days, pet
the dog, walk into the woods,
listen to music, write, wait,
hug the one I can, talk on screens,
be warmed by Zoomed smiles
on a patchwork of familiar faces,
bend my head in acceptance
and gratitude, and close those
windows that lead me into storms
I can no longer navigate with impunity.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Monday 25th may 2020
The Cummings and goings of Dominic Cummings were put under the spotlight and picked over by the press like the Salem witch trials as he sat on the naughty step of shame in the Downing Street garden. (Sorry, I’ve gone tabloid). He was wearing a very nice slightly off white shirt and was scrubbed up and polite and looked the hacks in the eye and answered all their questions in minute detail. It was a bit like he had been told to sit there (though it was probably his idea) and be slapped about for an hour or two, little contrition shown but he did seem a bit nervous to start with and then a little tiny bit of smug came through.
Basically, these are the facts as I see it so take it or leave it. No regrets and not resigning. A lot of BS really. Anyway it would have been better if he had come out and spoken earlier. Robert Peston is in desperate need of a haircut.
On the news they announced that shops can open soon. Little shops can open on 15th June providing they observe social distancing and other safety measures including not allowing customers to touch things when browsing. Thats us. I may have mentioned this before but we had one lady in the shop who picked absolutely everything up and put it down again. After about 20 minutes of this as she got nearer me I had that knot in my stomach and I wanted to shout “Stop touching everything, leave it alone”. She literally picked things up and banged them down, pick up bang down. I am not a natural shop assistant and find it very difficult to keep my mouth shut.
I’m always hearing that I’ve been rude to so and so but I don’t think customers realise how rude they are to us. Hello I say and quite often get ignored or they mumble hello not looking at me. Then they complain at the price or they say take a picture, you can make that yourself to their friend or I could have done much better than that myself. Honestly, you’ve no idea! Another thing, if I say "do you need any help?" that’s what I mean, you don’t have to buy anything, I am just being helpful and it’s boring standing their all day in the cold not doing anything. I really try and be well behaved but I react to the customers behaviour.
A few times I have been treated like the lowly shop assistant and then they talk about me beside me not knowing it is me they are talking about. That can be quite funny. Anyway if it wasn’t our shop I’d have been sacked long ago. When I go into a little shop I always say hello and thank you and goodbye and at least spend a couple of quid on a card if nothing else.
Tuesday 26 May 2020
The Boris and Dominic show runs on. He’s not going so everyone should move on now but there is fury.
One junior cabinet minister has resigned.
Nicola Sturgeon has just announced test trace and isolate in Scotland. I think she is doing better than this lot here.
Lovely Grayson was on the telly last night. Phillippa seems to still have a very crisp haircut and Grayson said he had touched up her roots that morning.
Love Annabel xxx
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
The Cummings affair rumbles on with great hilarity about his assertion that he drove 30 miles to Barnard Castle to make sure his eyesight was working. Happily, he was identified by an eyewitness due to his scruffy appearance. Apparently it was his wife's birthday but that was not the reason for the family trip. Michael Gove says it was within the guidelines to drive somewhere for exercise. Actually Mr Gove, no, it wasn't within the guidelines at that time. It was also not allowed to sit on a bench, even if you were tired, old, sick or alone.
I'm sure everyone agrees that this should not be the focus of so much attention when we are in the middle of a pandemic. However, that's exactly why it is so important. Public confidence was already being eroded by the government's failures and will only decline further, the longer they make these ridiculous statements of support which belittle the efforts of the rest of us.
Thank goodness a Tory junior minister has had the integrity to resign, the rest are toadying up to the PM, fearful for their jobs. We are supposed to be shielding the vulnerable, not political advisers. Meanwhile attention is being diverted from important issues such as tracking and tracing, children returning to school and lifting the lockdown (can we call this unlockdowning?) in town centres.
Talking of schools, my other half came up with a scenario the other day. Imagine a lab technician saying, "we'll take one little rat out of the group in each cage, put fifteen of the little rats all in one cage together and see what happens. We can test them if they show any symptoms of disease". We'd probably call the RSPCA. Actually, this is probably what they are doing to the ferrets being used in the experiments to find a vaccine, so not very funny.
We're attacking the ivy covering the garden wall today. It provided berries for the blackbirds through the spring but the fruit has finished and the baby bird has left the nest, so the tenacious plants have to go. I have just realised that I can now have an uninterrupted view of the hillside opposite from my favourite place at the kitchen table. Wonderful!