Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Week 7: Your diaries of life in lockdown

Week 7: Your diaries of life in lockdown

CARON LIGHT has lived and worked in and around Henley for the last 25 years. For the last three years she has lived in the town centre in a rustic flat with her dogs Winnie and Lillie.

I’M quite well known in the area because people love my two little pups, but also because I have worked in both the Anchor and Angel pubs, which I continue to socialise in.

My work, until recently, was predominately driving people to and from the airport for taxi firm County Cars and so, as you might imagine, my workload started slowing right down about six weeks before the lockdown and, of course, has gone to zero hours since it was introduced.

All our lives have been dramatically affected and I have gone from being Miss Social in the pub to Miss Social-Media overnight. What would we do without our phones and the occasional glass of Chardonnay?

I for one have found solace in the hundreds of funny messages people have sent me and the love and kindness people have shown on Facebook.

Anyone who knows me, knows I have to keep my mind stimulated and, being fairly arty, I offered to do an A-board for the Anchor pub in Friday Street as Jeremy the landlord was opening to do takeaways over the weekend. It took rather longer than I expected but I did enjoy being creative again.

Then my mum sent me a picture she had painted of my dogs to cheer me up, saying she wished I’d use this time to get back into painting.

You see, prior to my divorce about 17 years ago, I used to paint a great deal and even had my own website for commissions. When I received the painting off mum through the post, it filled me with joy and I immediately felt inspired to get out a beginner’s paint set, including watercolours, that I was given for Christmas and haven’t touched for more than 20 years.

I started straight away. The days flew by interrupted only for food and walks with my dogs. As my flat is dark with no outside space, my first painting took me a few days to finish.

I was nervous about this first attempt so I shared it with only my sister but she was so proud of my finished work that she posted it immediately on Facebook and the response has been overwhelming. I’ve never felt so happy. I now have a lot of requests to paint my friends’ furry friends.

So I have now ordered canvases and oils and I am feeling energised and excited. Who could have imagined that lockdown could have brought me back to something I love so much?

Now I really do believe that something good can come out of something so bleak.

SUTHERLAND has lived in Henley for most of his life. He is married to Nicola with three
children. He enjoys sport and is chairman of Upper Thames Rowing Club.

April 16 — Repair

THE river is so clear. There’s not that much water traffic in spring so I don’t really understand why, but the lockdown has made a big difference to the countryside, roads and sky. This is an unscheduled glimpse of what’s possible, so maybe there are grounds for hope after all. The stats will be revealing.

A few weeks ago I would have guessed there were about 10,000 global flights a day. Wrong! Apparently it’s nearer 200,000 — that’s 200,000 flights every day. That’s the thick end of 1.5 million flights each week. And cow-farts dwarf the CO output from planes. No wonder the glaciers are melting.

April 24 — The arsonist’s thrill of seeing things burn

ANYONE who tries to win an argument with a teenage girl must, by definition, be an idiot — but it appears that Trump’s attacks on Greta in December were just a warm-up.

The Orange One’s stunning claims regarding bleach and UV light have left the “experts” staring at the floor as their credibility drains before them. In his briefings Trump looks like the chief of the fire brigade tasked with searching for an elusive arsonist that he secretly knows to be himself.

It’s compelling to watch and I wonder what comes next. If Biden goes into total media lockdown (blaming coronavirus, of course) I reckon he’s got a chance. Perhaps future elections will be won by the candidate who says the least. Perhaps Biden’s best strategy is complete silence.

April 30 — Marginal forces

CONTRARY to received wisdom, inside every fat man there’s an even fatter man trying to get out. The trend is unmistakable and I blame coronavirus — it’s fortunate to have a scapegoat so close to hand for this and all other deficiencies.

A year ago the blue team, of which I was a member, took a drubbing in the town council polls. The commitment and warmth of Henley Residents Group was impressive but a key issue on the doorstep was the death of the high street. The rise of the internet is the obvious cause but its acceleration will be blamed, no doubt, on coronavirus. To the extent that change happens on the margin maybe that’s okay

My father once stumbled into a Japanese jungle encampment by mistake during the Second World War. “What happened?” I asked, wondering how anyone could possibly retain their composure in such circumstances. “Well, it was terribly awkward,” he conceded. “I had to tell them they were surrounded, which they weren’t. It was a close-run thing and if I hadn’t had my officer’s gloves and cane I’d never have got away with it.”

He understood marginal forces, they saved his life.

May 6 — What’s essential?

IT’S not easy to understand what constitutes “essential” these days. It appears that my daughter’s lip gloss and summer dress are critical but my lawn mower is a self-indulgent plaything. The grass is a foot long. Who’s making the rules? Why is it okay to queue with strangers at B&Q but not okay for Nan to sit in the garden? It’s the death of common sense, I say.

Hang on, what’s this? Ah, the death of tourism. The locals who exhorted second home owners to “Go home” and “Stay Aaway” on placards in March are noow changing their minds. Signs for “cream teas” are being made and new ones saying “Responsible people welcome” and “Come back”...

AUTHOR Carolyn Kirby, 56, has just launched her second novel while staying at home in Ipsden with her husband. She has two grown-up daughters.

IN 2019, the publication of my debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was the social highlight of my year. Guests crammed into a museum in central London for a sparkling launch party, I was interviewed for BBC Radio WM at their swish offices in Birmingham (where that book is set) and then gave various talks to live audiences.

I had a similarly packed schedule ready for the launch of my new novel When We Fall until the lockdown was announced and the party and author talks were all cancelled. I was crest-fallen but, as it turns out, my 2020 book launch has been both exciting and a little humbling.

When We Fall is a wartime thriller published to coincide with VE Day 75 last Friday.

Although coronavirus stopped the traditional street parties that should have marked this anniversary, the lockdown seems to have raised public awareness of Britain’s sacrifices during the war.

The song We’ll Meet Again has become the lockdown anthem, after all.

Launch week got off to a great start with a glowing Sunday Times review. Orders for the book began to flow in. Wallingford Bookshop, which has valiantly kept trading using a delivery service, made an eye-catching VE Day window display with the yellow covers of my book and Union flag bunting.

Then, Friday’s bank holiday brought a great Daily Mail review of When We Fall and, by phone, I joined Phil Kennedy’s VE Day show on BBC Radio Berkshire to talk about the wartime women pilots who feature in the book.

Instead of an evening launch party, my publisher organised a virtual book club, which turned out to be brilliant.

Barry Forshaw, the Financial Times fiction critic, interviewed me online with a watching audience of nearly 100 friends and fiction fans from around the world. Many of them chipped into the lively chat with on-screen comments and questions.

At the end of the broadcast I was on a high, as if I had hosted a real party! You can still watch the recording at

Once social distancing ends, it will be great to get back to meeting readers in person and signing their books.

But new online formats for literary events are so accessible and popular that I’m sure they are here to stay.

My thanks go to readers and local booksellers for supporting authors and publishers during these unprecedented weeks.

IT’S the week of VE Day and Lis Ransom’s seventh diary sees parallels between wartime and the current invisible enemy as we enter the end of phase one.

Monday, May 4

SEVENTH birthday heaven for Midlands grandson. Noisy family Zoom.

We are passing the peak, new infections and deaths down, steady improvement. London Nightingale hospital to stand down — only 20 patients.

Prime Minister leads world (almost, not USA) conference about “pulling together” to produce vaccine.

Messiah coming on well in study.

Tuesday, May 5

EXCITEMENT: pilot for NHS smartphone app to test, track and trace starts on Isle of Wight. “Where the Isle of Wight leads, the rest of the UK will follow”. Hope they know where it’s going.

Clarity at last from Secretary of State for Health. Over-70s not automatically in shielded group, only if they have underlying conditions. But obviously age increases risk.

Italian mafia make millions “helping out” desperate businesses in south. Spanish allowed outside for first time in eight weeks.

Doctor reveals earliest French covid patients showed in Paris in December.

First tiny fruits set on my mango plant.

Garden burgeoning. Some of the old seeds have come up. Lots we didn’t plant are emerging in new vegetable patch, not sure which is what.

Hilary Mantel proving hard going. Lockdown may not prove long enough.

Wednesday, May 6

GUERNSEY in the headlines: 252 cases, 13 deaths, most in care homes. Island almost clear and they want to keep it that way, so no visitors or tourists yet. Pity.

UK records 649 deaths. Now more than 30,000 and highest number quoted in Europe, but comparisons difficult with different ways of counting. Tiny Belgium has high deaths per million of population ratio.

Germany re-opens shops and restarts football.

Thursday, May 7

GOVERNMENT to review lockdown. Treasury warns of 30 per cent recession in economy, at least, in short term, biggest in 300 years. UK has 539 deaths, slow but steady downward trend in infections.

Ill-fated personal protective equipment sourced from Turkey and collected by RAF found to be useless. Phyllis Court Club turns pavilion into factory for volunteers making 3,500 reusable gowns for Royal Berkshire Hospital.

New data protection law to cover NHS app, being trialled widely from today on Isle of Wight.

France and Spain start
re-opening, schools back, families meet up, people can drive 100km from home. No cafes yet.

Friday, May 8

VE Day 75th anniversary and spring bank holiday. Iron the flag and hang it up. Lovely sunny weather, but “stay at home to celebrate” message. Two minutes’ silence at 11am led by Prince Charles at Balmoral; Churchill’s VE speech replayed at 3pm; 9pm, Queen addresses nation, Royal British Legion joins national sing-a-long “We’ll Meet Again”.

Discover mother-in-law’s diary entry for the first VE Day in Lincoln. Simply states: “VE Day. Churchill speaks at 3pm. Everyone very joyful. Thunder flashes let off by people in Castle Square at night. Cathedral lit by searchlights.”

Much ingenious remembering here. Neighbours have tea parties in front gardens — socialising at a distance is better than none at all. Our group of houses uses back gardens for evening toast. We were born post-war but grew up in its shadow. This remembrance does matter.

Saturday, May 9

VE Day for Channel Islands and mainland Europe. Haven’t seen C.I. grandchildren since Christmas and there’s a way to go yet. Wartime island children were sent away for five years, with just 24 hours’ notice. Puts our temporary separation into perspective.

Cornish tourist industry down 70 per cent on sunny bank holiday. Not much virus there, people are hit economically but, ironically, discouraging visitors.

UK death toll reaches 31,855 including hospitals, care homes and community — rise of 269 in 24 hours. Global infections pass four million.

Sunday, May 10

PRIME Minister addresses nation. End of phase one brings first changes for two months — roadmap to re-opening society after nearly two months. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the covid numbers are coming down. Construction and manufacturing encouraged back to work this week. Son expects to return.

“Stay at home” message replaced with “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” in England only. Unlimited outdoor exercise allowed in parks and open spaces. Youngest classes in primary schools to open in June — mixed news for our families with some grandchildren going back, others still needing childcare. Some hospitality venues may open in July, but only if we all obey social distancing meanwhile. We may now meet up with one friend out of doors.

We are taking the first careful steps back to normal life. Village recreation ground opens this week. Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?

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