For the past two months I have not written my usual personal blog for my website. There is a reason for this, the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 is the greatest global challenge I have seen. It could be outstripped by a climate catastrophe, but for now it is all consuming. Given the work I have done on HIV and AIDS I am supposed to know a bit about pandemic diseases. It is worth remembering that like AIDS, Covid-19 is a retrovirus that transferred across the species barrier into humans. AIDS was recognised as a new disease in 1981. There were scares with SARS, Ebola, Zika and MERS, but none developed into a major pandemic.
In four short months Covid-19 has claimed over 250,000 lives and infected more than 3,500,000 million people. I began posting a weekly communique on Covid-19 to share what we know and need to know. This replaced the personal monthly blog I have written for more than 10 years. You have, along with several other hundred people, signed up for the communique and now you are getting this additional piece, so please feel free to delete it.
I originally wrote the monthly offering because I had something to say and share. It was just two sides of an A4 sheet when printed, and the reason was to keep the price of postage down.
“Ah ha”, I hear, “But it is on the website and sent electronically, so what is this postage business?”
Well, several of my elderly relatives are either self-confessed luddites or just lack technological skills, and don’t have email, so it was printed and posted to them. Yes, in an envelope with stamps on.
Covid-19 has taken over our lives, and since this is a blog about my life, Covid-19 comes to the fore. The context is that we have been in lockdown in the UK for over five weeks now. This has totally changed the way we live. So, although this blog is not about Covid, it is! I am grateful for a sabbatical year and being with the family in Norwich. It would be horrible to be on my own in South Africa or Canada.
Ailsa and I have been good about daily walks. I would ideally like to do eight km (5 miles) per day. My phone has an amazing tracking app so I can see how far we walked, how many steps, how fast and the number of ‘points’ I have accumulated. The last sadly does not mean anything to me. According to regulations, we are meant to exercise in our neighbourhoods, for no longer than an hour, and are not supposed to drive to walking locations. This is ridiculously constraining.
My favourite walks are to, or at, Mousehold Health and Sloughbottom (what wonderful names). Mousehold is an area of woods and gorse bushes on a hill to the east of Norwich. It is a wild area and overlooks the city with the cathedral, castle and city hall all standing out. It has an important place in the history of England, linked to Kett’s Rebellion in 1549. Robert Kett was a local landowner and tanner. It began as a protest about the enclosures and the rebels captured the city basing themselves at a camp on the heath. It is quite a long walk to get there through some rather pleasant suburbs. Over the weeks we have seen the trees come into leaf. One house we pass regularly has a rather large gentleman living there. He can often be seen, sitting in the front seat of a derelict car, keeping an eye on his three ducks. Normal for Norfolk?
The good citizens of Norwich have taken this lockdown very seriously. So much so that people who break the rules are reported to the police. They will come and instruct the ‘criminals’ to disperse and return home. It strikes me as being one of the less appealing aspects of our behaviour, ‘grassing’ on your neighbours. But the truth is that people are really scared and unquestioningly law-abiding.
I finally took two bicycles from the shed down to a local repair shop. I won’t mention where since he was working in lockdown. He was however incredibly careful. I dropped the bikes but had to leave them some distance from him, and he was masked and gloved. When I picked them up, I left the money on a chair. One of the bikes is an ancient three speed Hercules ladies’ bike. This is my favourite, although I find my muscle memory is such that I swing my leg over the saddle rather than stepping over the crossbar. I can’t claim to ride fast. Indeed, I am so unskilled as a cyclist I had to push the bike over a hump backed bridge, I’m not yet capable of riding up the slight incline.
This weekend I rode over to have a socially distanced cup of coffee with my daughter across the city. It was a quick ride to get there so I meandered back through the Earlham Cemetery and along the river. Apart from having a bird defecate on me in the woods it was great fun and a 22 km round trip.
Spring has come over the past eight weeks. Many of the trees and bushes are in flower, the birds are having a joyful time, and to my surprise and delight I discovered that we have hedgehogs in our garden. I saw a large one and then, a few nights later, a juvenile hedgehog. We are experimenting with planting wildflowers in parts of the lawn. The seeds are coming up. I wonder what we will get. Hopefully, next year they will self-seed.
There are some who argue that this situation is temporary. People will be able to return to work and ‘normal’ life when the lockdown is over. I don’t agree. This is a crisis of confidence. The airline industry, for example, probably won’t be flying for some time, and when it does there will be fewer passengers. Missing from the wishful thinking is clear evidence consumers are less willing to spend, even if they have the resources, and are considering carefully about how to spend. I have mentioned previously that my spending patterns will change. I will travel less by air and seek to purchase more locally sourced goods. I believe my behaviours will be replicated by many of my peer group.
As I post this, we are approaching a lockdown review. The new rules will be shared soon. There will be little change. Decision makers are walking a tightrope between keeping people alive and getting the economy going again. There can be no doubt that many people have been suffering and will suffer greatly. They may be protected from the virus, only to die of hunger or other diseases. They are scared (in England, at least) of going to hospital for any treatment. I believe there is a real chance that we will come out of this a better society.
Finally, a word about one of my favourite causes. Tujatane, Tongabezi Trust School was established in 1996 in a rural village in Southern Zambia, ‘Tujatane’ means ‘let us all hold hands together’ in the local language, Chitonga. Tujatane currently has over 280 pupils in the school, supports 65 pupils at secondary school, and over 25 at universities and colleges. Alumni are now accountants, engineers and teachers. The Tujatane pupils live within walking distance of the school, most in houses of mud and poles, with iron roofs with no running water or electricity.
Tujatane aims to develop the whole child to gain greater knowledge and understanding of educational and social issues, to make informed choices and have bright, promising futures. It is run entirely from donations. It costs US$1,250 to sponsor a child for a year which contributes to the running costs of the school, focusing on education resources and teachers’ salaries. An extra US$120, covers the cost of our food programme which provides two hearty meals a day for the students. Find out more at www.tujatane.com, and if you are looking for other places to tithe please consider this great initiative.
The Highwaymen is the story of two Texas Rangers’ hunt for the notorious 1930s outlaws, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. Part showed camps of impoverished Americans desperately a living. It brought to mind John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Today, 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
Laundromat is the story of the Panama papers. It is a rather odd and disjointed story, but was deeply interesting, and if true gives some insight into the deep corruption of capitalism.