Her indoors 3

Boris Johnson has caught the virus. I’m not surprised, really. I can’t see him sanitising carefully before and after each contact with other people.

I found out yesterday that I don’t need to self-isolate for 12 weeks, which is fantastic. Less fantastic though, is that a lot of the people on the street haven’t got the message about keeping their distance. I had a go today at one woman who was wandering along, yacking into her phone and pushing a buggy. ‘Two metres, you’re supposed to stay away from other people!’ I shouted. She looked blank. She couldn’t hear me properly because she had buds in her ears.

The virus is making progress; the human race is not, really. The situation in the UK will be awful. People on Twitter are already calling the new hospitals in London, Birmingham and Manchester ‘morgues’. There seems to be an assumption that people will go there to die out of the way. A lot of them will be health care professionals who do not have the correct equipment to avoid the disease. This may all be social media exaggeration, but I doubt it. So far, the government seems to have pretended there was no impending crisis. Now it’s here, there is no way out. Might there have been alternatives? Who knows? Now there’s just very very bad and cataclysm, which is what they’re heading for in the States. I can hardly imagine how bad it will be there: Wyndham might have been able to write it.

As an individual, I am pretty powerless. I have put my teddy and a stuffed toy toucan in the window for #weregoingonabearhunt, and I try to keep my distance from other people in the park. Impossible with 20-something joggers who feel they’re invincible (oh, I remember that feeling! I do! The world was at my feet!) and don’t care who they breathe on. Go out, and sit in the park in the sun, and the world feels so normal, and you pinch yourself and think ‘Can I wake up from this nightmare? Is it really happening?’ and then you go home and the news sites are full of the latest death count.

 

Her indoors 2

So. It’s been a few days. I have not stayed entirely indoors, partly because I needed things, partly because I wanted exercise. I feel increasingly as though I have to. The situation is clearly getting a lot lot worse in London. Not just the disruption, although there is that, but also the number of people who are ill.

A week ago yesterday, I told the charity shop where I’ve been volunteering that I would not be in for the foreseeable future because I needed to be careful of my health. At the time, this felt like an extreme measure to take. Now I’m just relieved I did. The shop in question, like all the charity shops I’m aware of, closed today and will be shut for the time being. My former colleagues (paid job) are all working from home and have been for a couple of weeks now – theirs is an open plan office in central London and one person with COVID-19 could easily infect a lot of people.

Here we are, then. I’ve got plenty of food, a cat for company, stuff to do indoors, and a garden. That’s more than a lot of people. Interestingly, I am getting around to things that I’ve been putting off. I’ve sanded down a bookshelf and waxed it, I’ve dug out my bread maker, and I’ve spring cleaned the bathroom. More spring cleaning to come, and when the weather warms up, I’ll be out in the garden.

All other plans are on hold, for now. The government seems to have taken action, finally. The action that it should have taken a month ago.

Future uncertain.

Her indoors 1

I’m reading a lot on Twitter about the COVID-19, and one thing that has come up a couple of times is ‘Journal it. Write down your experiences for posterity.’ So that is what I’m doing here. At the moment, my experiences are mostly my own thoughts on what’s happening to other people.

I’ve decided to stay at home as much as I can. That has meant telling the charity shop I volunteer with that I won’t be in for the foreseeable future. I’m 58 and have asthma which – under normal circumstances – is kept under control by steroids. What we’ve got here are not normal circumstances. Given that I spent a month off work three years ago because of a chest infection that triggered the asthma, I am trying to be careful about having contact with other people. Relatively easy if you live on your own. However, since I live on my own, I have to choose when to spend time with other people. Not volunteering twice a week cuts down on that. So does not seeing friends. Staying at home finishes it off.

My human contact is social media, and phone calls.

That’s it. I’m glad I’ve got the cat for company, particularly at three in the morning when the worst thoughts crowd in.

The UK government doesn’t really seem to have a grasp of the situation, or rather it has looked at its options and chosen the cheapest, which is ‘do nothing’. What is clear is that many people don’t consider doing nothing to be a choice, and they’re quite right in that. What people decide to do, however, ranges from panic-buying bog-roll to cancelling enormous sporting events. There is a lack of leadership. There are signs that individuals and communities will organise themselves far better than the government has.

I’ve just read an article, translated from Italian, that sets out the stark choices facing the medical profession already: given that there are more people needing intensive care than there is intensive care to go round, how do you choose who gets the care they need? The answer is, you look after those most likely to survive. This is a frightful situation. I don’t know if it’s happening in the UK yet.

I haven’t got elderly relatives to worry about, thank goodness. Just myself. Realistically, when I catch COVID-19 – it’s not an if, it’s a when – my prognosis won’t be great because of existing health conditions. I just hope that if I need hospital treatment, there’s space for me.

 

On not doing housework

I hate housework. Really, I do. I don’t find it relaxing, or satisfying or any of the other things people swear they get out of it. I like the end result, all right: everything clean and in its place. But the doing of it? Nope.

What’s the solution then?

My solution is pottering. This is the means by which you can do a lot of housework while telling yourself you aren’t doing it at all. ‘I’ll just tidy that sock drawer,’ you say to yourself, and half an hour later the sock drawer is pristine because to tidy it you tipped it out and then you dusted the corners. Without really seeming to do very much, you can do rather a lot.

Take today, for example. In theory, I am taking it easy because I’ve got a bit of a cold. I went for a walk in the park this morning, and came home for lunch. While cooking lunch (putting leftover lasagne in the microwave and filling the coffee machine with water) I  tidied away last night’s washing up, washed up breakfast and in a radical move, hung out a load of washing that I did last night, instead of leaving it to fester for three days.

lasagne

By this time, the lasagne which had been hotter than Vesuvius, had cooled down a bit so I pressed ‘go’ on the coffee machine and went and ate the lasagne, nipping back to the kitchen for the coffee which was at the correct temperature for drinking, less five degrees.

You’re thinking Pooter had nothing on me, right? I see myself more as the Provincial Lady in her London era. New York yet to come.

I’ve spent the afternoon going through my week’s ‘to do’ list, written on Sunday night. You see? I get around to things, but eventually. The list includes a look at the Sneezy Towers finances and oh dear. I have concluded that Netflix and BT are on their way out, while we are likely to break our Rupert Murdoch duck. With regret, of course, but needs must and this will save me £30 a month, which is £360 a year. I don’t calculate savings in pounds, mind you. £360 savings is a long weekend somewhere in France, Brexit permitting.

Having taken the decision, I’ll now sit on it for a month or two before doing anything. It’s pottering, see?

One for the women

B_lprr-WcAA-0sO[1]

Today is International Women’s Day. You know, we’re always having a day for this and a day for that and a day for a bit of the other . . . It get a bit tedious. So I celebrated International Women’s Day in a low-key kind of way. I got up at the time I usually get up at, made my breakfast, fed the cat and took myself out on a hike. Packed the bare minimum: bottle of water, phone, enough money to buy a sarnie, book for the train journey out to Chingford.

B_lp1zRWcAADhLD[1]

I hiked about nine miles through Epping Forest without a map and didn’t get lost (always a source of satisfaction). It was busy today, being the first sunny Sunday of spring. I saw loads of people, riding horses, bikes, walking dogs, walking children, walking themselves. I saw at least two dozen groups of people hiking together, including some groups of schoolchildren with maps who were clearly trying orienteering.

B_lp5iDWwAEtQfy[1]

I stopped at the tea hut at High Beach and had tea and a sarnie and cake. I admired the view. The tea hut is popular with cyclists and there were loads of them, also walkers like me, people who’d driven up to park their car and look at the view, people of all ages. Families with toddlers in buggies, small fry on pink scooters, hardened hikers with sticks and gear . . .

Then I came home and had a hot bath and fed the cat again.

So you think this isn’t about International Women’s Day? You’re wrong.

I woke up this morning in my flat, in my bed, bought with my money from my job. I decided what I wanted to do today and did it. I took the tube/train journey on my own and read a book of my choosing, and got off at Chingford and walked nine miles on my own. I didn’t feel unsafe at any point. I said hello to people and felt safe doing so. I encountered groups of people of all types. I gave directions to a group of girls of about 14 or 15 out on their own orienteering. I gave directions to two women with dogs, who wanted the pub. I saw single women out running, walking or cycling.

The fact that I’m free to do all this is partly down to me: I’m independent and like doing stuff on my own. It’s also partly down to living in a country and a society where women are educated, where they have choices, where they have careers if they want them. Even in our society some women don’t have those choices and it’s time they did. It’s up to the rest of us to support them in that. Often, we don’t remember how lucky we are. Today’s a good day to remind ourselves.

Forager 1

bramblesCouple of years ago, when people started to feel hard up, journalists (I blame journalists for many of the world’s evils including Marmite and homeless kittens) started writing about food for free, or foraging. ‘Go out into the country,’ they told us, ‘and you can pick yourself a dinner of herbs.’

Top of the list are things like dandelions, bitter but ok if you like bitter salad, and nettle soup, which is fine if you don’t mind the fact that they smell like cat pee. As to the rest, it was mostly mushrooms which a. might poison you b. only grow in the autumn, for the most part, and c. tend to grow in places like Epping Forest, where you are not allowed to pick them.

The exception, of course, is brambles. ‘Blackberries’ if you must be posh. The things on the left.

They grow on waste ground all over northern Europe. If you live in the UK, chances are you’ve eaten one. Quite possibly, one was enough. They don’t taste of that much when raw, and there’s always a danger of Maggots.

Yes, precisely.

Cooked, however is differentnot least because any maggots have merely become extra protein. Cooked, they have a fruity woody taste that is like the essence of autumn. Made into jelly to spread on bread, they become a fond reminder of the day you picked them.

Off I go today, to pick brambles. I’m not saying where, but I live in central London, not the sort of place you’d expect to forage for food unless you were a fox in a dustbin, so it’s safe to say anyone can go brambling. First off, I get on a bus and it’s diverted because of Notting Hill Carnival. Ah, Carnival. I’ve lived near it for more than 25 years and every year when it comes round, I plan my weekend’s activities around avoiding it.

Bah humbug!

So, I’m on the bus and it starts a detour that eventually deposits me about 50 metres from my bramble patch of choice. This is not the buses usual route, but I’m going to make a note of brambling on this day again next year, because it is much more convenient than the usual two buses and a 15-minute walk.

I head for the thickets. The first thicket has no brambles, which is a bit odd and I am momentarily worried. The next one though, is very brambly. Set out brambling equipment:

  • Suede gardening glove for left hand
  • Plastic container for fruit
  • Bottle of water which I always need but have never brought before

Am already wearing thick cotton drill gardening trousers, and hiking boots. Normally I cover up to pick brambles but it’s a very hot humid day so I’ll just have to make do.

Insert myself with care into bush, lift up bramble branch, and start picking. It’s wise to respect bramble bushes. They have thorns like nobody’s business and additionally I seem to be slightly allergic to the leaves. Not, I’m pleased to say, to the fruit.

People who are given to saying ‘nom’ should say ‘nom’ at this point.

Remember how my bestie told me her dad offered her 5p a pound (which was serious money) for brambles when she was in her teens and she picked several stones of them so he had to pay for them all. Reflect on last time I picked brambles when I tripped over a tussock and sprained my ankle and resolve not to do this again. Pick pick pick. My technique is to pick seven brambles at a go then drop them into the container. Pick for about 40 minutes. Drink water. Pick for another 10 minutes. Decide if I am out much longer, I will burn. Also feeling knackered. It’s like a pilates class, this bramble business.

Pack up and head back to bus stop. Bus nearly doesn’t stop for me as this is not its usual route, and they are creatures of habit, buses. However it does and I hop in. Bus deposits me, 20 minutes later, outside my flat, with brambles.

Take them in, wash them, take photo, cook them, put in sieve to drain overnight for jelly. Do not talk to me of Muslin. There’s no need. I am not competing with the WI. I am making something to eat. I don’t care how clear the jelly I get is. I’m not bothered about depth of colour etc. I want something to last me through the grey days of winter.

And dinner tonight. I saved enough for a crumble, natch.

Look to the rose that blows about us

Today I go for a hikette in Epping Forest. Have not been there for a couple of months, owing to sore foot, but I think I’ll give it a try wearing my Birkenstocks.

Train to Chingford, out of the bus station and 100m up the road you’re at the start of Epping Forest. It’s actually not forest, this bit, it’s meadow and in June after a wet winter and spring, it’s in all its glory. The sky is grey but bright and it’s very warm and humid.

IMG_3830 IMG_3833

There’s a warning sign about cattle, but no warning about being careful not to get a slug under your big toe if you’re wearing sandals. I say yuck a few times and shake it out.

Well I wasn’t going to use my fingers, was I?

IMG_3827

There are myriad paths crisscrossing the meadow and I am navigating by radar diagonally across, aiming for the edge of the woodland. Quite a few people are about, mostly exercising dogs. I’m looking to pick up the nice clear trail that will take me to the tea ‘ut at High Beech. The meadow is a haze of buttercups. This bit is nice and grassy (ref slug) and so there is no problem with gravel under my toes. There is what looks to be a cricket pitch right in the middle. It’s about the right size, but there are a couple of rabbit holes in it, so not too sure.

IMG_3836 IMG_3834 IMG_3837

Stomp along, counting the flowers. Come to a dog rose bush in flower. Gorgeous. Keep going and there’s enormous amounts of honeysuckle just about to burst into flower. Then I’m on the main path and coming to bits I recognise, always a good thing. I’ve been lost in Epping Forest half a dozen times and that’s six times more than I want to be, especially at this time of year.

Why this time of year? Because there is NO visibility through the trees. The undergrowth has grown up and it’s what you might call verdant.

IMG_3860

There’s bracken taller than I am (average height for women in the UK in case you are wondering) and the trees are at their prime. There are nettles smelling of cat pee, as they do. Apparently you can eat nettles but I can’t say I would fancy them.

IMG_3843 IMG_3842IMG_3838 IMG_3867  IMG_3847

IMG_3849

I get to a place on the path that I know to be a sandy quagmire and it’s dry. A tiny stream runs under it, and there is a clump of water speedwell so blue the eyes can’t process that much colour. Just beyond it is a tangle of red campion, and a bit further along the path, a large patch of yellow pimpernel.

IMG_3848 IMG_3854 IMG_3853

There are grassy paths everywhere, and they’ve clearly been mowed to make it clear where they are. I’d love to explore some of them, but I didn’t bring a map today so I don’t. Get to an enormous mass of dog roses, so lovely I name this blog after them (it’s a line from Omar Khayyam and if you think you don’t know who he is, dear reader, I bet you do, he’s full of quotations you’ll know). Then a patch of comfrey in flower, absolutely full of bumblebees. I do not like insects but they are so happing zzzing about their buzzness that I take some photos of them too.

It’s odd how many flowers I see just the one patch of today. Comfrey in particular is very common in this part of the world. Pass a sea of bracken and some that looks very architectural and come out on the road, cross it and go into the bit that leads up to the tea ‘ut.

I first walked this route in autumn after the leaves had fallen and think of it as being light and open. Now it’s summer and the trees are in leaf and it has simply closed in, a green and mysterious world again. There are some rhododendrons growing wild (yes I know they are a pest plant) and when I take a pic, the automatic flash on my camera comes on. That’s how dark it is.

IMG_3866

Arrive at the tea ‘ut and the dragonfly pond is still dragonless, but there are flag irises, which I love.

IMG_3873 IMG_3872

Sit down with a ham salad sandwich and a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It starts to rain.

Review my options and decide to press on. The nearest bus stop that I know of is 20 minutes’ walk away and in fact I have to pass it anyway. There’s a chance that the rain will stop before then. Keep on, get to the fabulous view, which is looking . . . er . . . misty and just beyond it the road and the bus stop, passing a beech tree that must be hundreds of years old.

IMG_3878 IMG_3875

I don’t know when the bus is due and I’m in Essex not London so the app on my phone can’t tell me so I choose which side of the road to wait (it doesn’t matter which direction I go, as buses in either direction go past a station) according to which is most sheltered by trees. After just 10 minutes, a bus comes and I hop on.

And that, darlings, is the beauty of hiking in the Home Counties. There’s nearly always a bus.

There’s nearly always rain too, of course.