By chance and completely at random, we were invited to participate in a national COVID-19 research study being run jointly by the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University. The aim is to track a large cohort of people from different ages, backgrounds and regions for a year to follow the progress of the virus. The results will influence public health policy going forward.
We agreed to take part and this involves regular self-testing – once a week for the first five weeks followed by monthly tests thereafter. The tests themselves are unpleasant – a swab wiggled around the back of the throat that makes you gag and then jammed up a nostril that tickles painfully and makes you sneeze. I squeeze my thumb hard to create a sensory diversion. It works – kind of. The news about vaccines is looking increasingly positive but we’re not out of the woods yet and so we’re pleased to be lab rats for the common good. And we get shopping vouchers for our trouble too. ‘Every little helps’ as they say at Tesco’s.
The wettest October since the Great Flood finally gave way to crisp brightness, and so to prevent the second lockdown becoming more of a lock-in, Liam pushed me out of the front door for a Sunday morning constitutional. We ventured along the Wherryman’s Way to the River Chet, past booted dog-walkers, a catch of socially distanced anglers waving their tackle about and one or two boaters disturbing the still waters.
Under the current lockdown restrictions recreational fishing is okay as it’s reckoned to be good for mental health – though the hapless fish might not agree – but taking a boat out for a spin is a bit of a grey area. It could be classed as non-essential travel but the guidance is none too clear.
We made it as far as Hardley Flood (which hardly floods, as a bit of a wit wrote on Faceache), a tidal lagoon and nature reserve which, on the day, was home to a regatta of swans. By then, though, our passage was thwarted by ever-deepening muddy puddles and we could go no further. In more normal times, we might then have headed to the local for a few sherries and a Sunday roast. Sadly, that honourable tradition has been postponed until our next independence day.
In 2016, I wrote a little piece about my semi-colonial life as a forces child in Malaysia back in the swinging sixties. The post – Reflections of an Army Brat – featured a blurry old black and white image I found online of Mountbatten Primary School, the school I attended. It started quite a conversation between ex-pupils, a conversation which continues to this day.
The post from way back also took me to a Facebook group called ‘We are Terendakians’ – Terendak being the name of the army camp originally built for the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade which consisted of soldiers from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The Facebook group is a place to reminisce and interact. And reminisce and interact they do with some wonderfully evocative pictures of a bygone era. Sometimes it even gets up close and personal.
This might be me aged around 7:
And this is almost certainly my mother on the ladies badminton team:
I’m a dedicated and sometimes not very subtle eavesdropper. When we were travelling on the London Tube a few weeks back, two hipster types were sitting opposite chatting away. Naturally, I listened in.
‘Called the doctor today to get my hands on some Champix. I really need to quit the fags. He asked me if I felt suicidal which I thought was a bit odd. I said no. I’d already had a G and T so I was feeling prettygood. Then he asked me if I felt positive about the future. I laughed. I said as we’re in the middle of a pandemic, with Brexit, more austerity and mass unemployment ahead, I found it hard to be positive. Fair enough, he replied.
I should be getting my pills soon. So, depending on how well I cope with the pandemic, Brexit, more austerity and mass unemployment, I should be smoke-free by 30!’
Edinburgh, Scotland’s elegant capital, was on the agenda for my sixtieth birthday. Alas, with the latest lockdown it wasn’t to be. That particular jolly has been postponed until 2021 – a bit like life really. But Liam wasn’t going to let the most important celebration since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pass without marking the occasion. Oh no. A veritable festival of delights came a-knocking.
A concert production of Hair, The Musical in a big tent in the grounds of the University of East Anglia featuring an ensemble of rising West End stars. Great show but no nudity. Just as well really. The COVID-secure tent was open to the elements so any dangly bits would have shrivelled up in the cold anyway. Not a good look.
Afternoon tea in the garden of Rosy Lee’s, Loddon’s famous bijou café. Or at least that was the plan. Mother Nature had other ideas so our hosts packed the goodies into takeaway boxes and we scoffed the lot at home instead.
A trip to the local leisure centre to sign me up for a fitness programme to work off Act One. There wasn’t a bar so I took a rain check on that one and headed into town where there was a bar.
The actual day was a deliciously indulgent whirlwind – so many messages, cards, calls, gifts and flowers from family and friends, including a portrait courtesy of our niece. I also received enough wine to sink the Queen Mary. The day continued with posh nosh in Norwich and a mini-tour of our favourite city watering holes. I laughed, I cried, I drank, I took calls. My head spun. I felt rather humbled, not something I experience every day.
Lunch at our local to receive the warmest of welcomes on a cold autumnal day. Hearty fare was topped off with cake, candles, a rousing rendition of that song and the scariest face mask ever. I even got a hanging basket of pansies. Now there’s a first.
I was exhausted with all the excitement but what a gig. Now I’ve come up for air, it’s a huge thank you to all those who made it so memorable. You know who you are. Extra special thanks have to go to Liam. Who knew he could be so devious?
Finally, I got to pick up my first free prescription, making my status as a senior citizen – and grumpy old fart – official.