Locked Down in London, Day 15: The Holiday We Could Have Had
Today is the first day of the Easter holidays; today is the day when I would have jetted off on our family holiday. I know this claims to be a book blog; but today I’m taking you on a virtual holiday; the holiday that I would have had, but for the coronavirus…
To the Canary Islands. My first time out of Europe!
All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go…
(John Denver: Leaving on a Jet Plane)
Virtual Escape: La Isla Bonita
So pack your bags. If you’re flying with me, you have to manage on cabin bag only; preferably a backpack, but bring that pull suitcase if you have to…
Liquids in a clear plastic bag? Check.
Kindle easily accessible for security? Check.
Hiking boots – check.
Passport, boarding pass, credit card, lifesaving medications – check. Anything else we can manage without… or we can buy once we’ve arrived!
Our island from the air:
Our destination: Santa Cruz de la Palma, on the island of La Palma, “la isla bonita” (=the beautiful island). The town is known for its old world charm: centuries-old buildings, cobbled streets… sea front – but we won’t have much time left to walk about today. We’ve got to get the keys to our flat – a nice duplex apartment with a huge terrace overlooking the beach.
The island of La Palma has everything you could wish for (we’ll do this in emoji speak because in theory I’m typing this up on my phone!):
If the government has any, it’s not very forthcoming.
According to the press there are four ways we could be done with this:
Intermittent Social Distancing: in other words, we go into lockdown, the case numbers go down, we come out of lockdown, the case numbers go up, we go into lockdown… This merry-go-round can go on and on… and on.
Hurray for the Healthy & the Immune: test everybody, let out those who are not likely to keel over if catching the virus and those who already had it. The elderly and the ill can live their lives in self-isolation until they commit suicide out of sheer boredom.
Search & Destroy: wait until the virus nearly died out, then let everybody out and catch those who still managed to catch it. And then catch their contacts. And so on.
Vaccine or Treatment: wait until somebody managed to make one. Well, let’s hope it doesn’t take 50 years.
It might be just me but – is this a tad depressing?
Virtual Escape: The World’s Shortest Poem
I got absolutely buried in work today (even had to do unpaid overtime – shocking), so that was my escape today. I also doubt very much that anybody is so lonely and bored as to read blog posts on Friday night – but I want to keep up the series (this is my contribution to the fight against the coronavirus) – so I’ll keep this short:
Already this is too long.
(Gareth Owen: An Attempt at the Shortest Poem in the World)
Locked Down in London, Day 13: The Year of the Genius Generation
Since the government cancelled all exams this summer (A-levels and GCSEs both), the young and a bright are set to get predicted grades instead.
Wow! This will be the only year ever in which no student fails his exam; the only year when all departments in all schools meet their targets; the year when academic achievement across the country soars to unimagined heights… the year of the Genius Generation!
There’s only one small problem: How will the universities and sixth form centres accommodate all this talent?
Virtual Escape: On Homer’s Beaches
Today we’re escaping to Greece, with a Nobel-prize winning poet. But no picture – this is for seeing in your mind’s eye!
I was given the Greek language; a poor house on Homer’s beaches. My only care my language on Homer’s beaches. Seabream there and perch windbeaten verbs green sea-currents amid the azure currents which I felt light up in my viscera sponges, medusae with the first words of the Sirens pink shells with their first black shivers. My only care my language with the first black shivers. Pomegranates there, quinces swarthy gods, uncles and cousins pouring oil in huge jars; and breaths from the ravines smelling of chaste-tree and lentisk broom and ginger root with the first cheeps of the finches, sweet psalmodies with the very first Glory to Thee. My only care my language with the very first Glory to Thee! Laurel there and palm fronds censer and censings blessing the sabres and flintlocks. On the ground spread with vineleaves odours of grilled meat, eggs cracking and Christ is Risen with the first gunshots of the Greeks. Secret loves with the first words of the Hymn¹. My only care my language, with the first words of the Hymn!
(Odysseas Elytis: Psalm II, aka The Poet and His Language)
(Translated by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris)
As you’re not here to answer, we’ll have to go with my preference:
Bad news: the council now closed the park around the local boating lake (a couple of days ago it was still open and I sent some glorious sunny pictures – ignore effing cold Arctic wind – to my family via Facebook).
Good news: I survived a visit to the fishmonger and bought two slices of salmon, 200 g each, for my daughters’ dinner tomorrow because it will be our wedding anniversary and we’re excluding them from our peppered fillet steak with dauphinoise potatoes and cheese and port to be consumed at candlelight – we were going to celebrate in the local French restaurant but… coronavirus! (Perhaps I should also explain that when it comes to food I hate all animals that came out of water with a passion.)
Virtual Escape: Historic Greenwich
Although we’re forbidden to take the tube and we can’t now pretend to drive the DLR, nor take the timetabled riverboat on the way back, we can still roam freely in historic Greenwich thanks to the photos I’ve taken over the years. It’s my favourite place in London – the Queen’s House, the buildings of the Old Naval College, the Cutty Sark, the Meridian Line and the Royal Observatory, the Park, the Planetarium, the river bank, not to mention the National Maritime Museum… the shop selling nauticalia and the market with is quirky wares. 🙂
So much to see, so much to do, so wonderful at any time of the year. Don’t miss it when you next come to London.
Happy roaming! 🙂
Royal Naval College behind the colonnade of the Queen’s House, Greenwich
Tulip Staircase, Queen’s House, Greenwich
The rigging of the Cutty Sark, Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich
View from the window, Queen’s House, Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich
The Old Royal Naval College with the Docklands in the background, Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich
Greenwich from the river
Queen’s House, Greenwich
Nelson’s apotheosis, Greenwich
View of Docklands from on board the Cutty Sark, Greenwich
View from on board the Cutty Sark, Greenwich
Cutty Sark figurehead, Greenwich
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
View from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Below the Cutty Sark, Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich
The uniform Nelson wore at Trafalgar, complete with bullet hole, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The Cutty Sark at Christmas, Greenwich
No book accompanies today’s wanderings in Greenwich, because, frankly, I don’t know any! But if you have a good book to recommend, please do so below!
Locked Down in London, Day 11: Hungary Loses the Plot
While here all I have to moan about is the Derbyshire police’s dislike of people in scenic spots, in Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, better known by the ordinary citizen as Viktátor, or sometimes as King Viktor, has decided that he can’t have too much emergency powers and he can’t have it too long: he’s pushing through a new bill on the extension of the already existing emergency powers – without a sunset clause.
Meanwhile Hungary’s Chief Medical Officer for Public Health advocates that people soak eggs in bleach before eating them (!) – it’s lucky that apparently you can’t get bleach at the moment.
Virtual Escape: A Martian’s Guide to Budapest
Since we were talking about Hungary, today we’ll escape the coronavirus misery by taking a city break in Central Europe’s most beautiful capital, Budapest. I dare you to disagree. 🙂
(Click on the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)
Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda Castle. Photo by Bergadder via Pixabay.
Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle. Photo by ArvidO via Pixabay.
Sunset views: Buda Castle from Gellért Hill. Photo by Vined via Pixabay.
Sunset views: the Danube from Gellért Hill. Photo by Vined via Pixabay.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge spanning the Danube, Budapest. Photo by Anon. via Pixabay.
View from Gellért Hill. Photo by Moyan Brenn via Wikipedia [CC-BY-2.0]
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest in winter fog. Photo by Noval Goya via Flickr.
Budapest, Royal Palace [Photo by hpgruesen via Pixabay]
The book that accompanies us has not been translated into English (or any other language) to the best of my knowledge, so you’ll have to make to do with my makeshift translation:
The Martian arrived safely in Pest on a sunny day, took a room in the Bristol, brushed the star dust from his clothes and phoned me to show him the City as previously agreed.
Sir, much respected Alien, first of all I have to ask you emphatically: do not to listen to journalists and eminent observers who tell you that the people of Pest are like this and like that. The people of Pest of whom they are talking about are exactly like merchants everywhere, if you have no money. What does it matter for a Martian? In fact, people in general, are people actually important in a city? In Paris it’s only the people who are disagreeable and boring.
I want to introduce you to the city; I think the houses are really important. Or maybe not the houses: the eroticism of the streets curving into each other, which sometimes expresses strength, on occasion grace; the traffic’s degree of heat perhaps; the climatic conditions of the squares and statues; the literary associations relating to bus numbers, or something like that. You know what I mean.
(Antal Szerb: Budapest Guidebook for Martians)
Although the Budapest Guidebook for Martians is not available to read in English, Antal Szerb is a very highly regarded author and one of the few Hungarian authors whose books have been widely translated. Try any (or all) of the following:
Journey by Moonlight
The Queen’s Necklace
The Pendragon Legend
Love in a Bottle
And then let me know how you liked them!
Keep safe, keep sane – keep holding on to your democracy.
Locked Down in London, Day 10: My Hospital Loses the Plot
Today I got a phone call from my hospital. They said they wanted to change my phone consultation from tomorrow to next week, was that all right? No, I will be attending a family funeral on that date. Then how about in two weeks’ time? In two weeks’ time I would have run out of the medication that keeps me alive! Well, in that case, can we have the consultation during the funeral? No, you can’t!
I’m afraid on this occasion my hospital will just have to keep to their original schedule – I recognise this would be unprecedented…
Virtual Escape: An Evening with Omar Khayyam
After the insanity of the above, what we need is a tranquil evening out under the stars. So wrap yourselves up (should you be in the northern hemisphere), take a candle and a glass of wine, and sit outside to commune with the stars. (Venus was visible till after 11 o’clock in the west last night – well, from where I was sitting!)
And between sips of wine, read the Rubaiyát in the dancing candle light:
Oh, come with old Khayyám, and leave the Wise To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies; One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies; The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
There are no sorrows wine cannot allay, There are no sins wine cannot wash away, There are no riddles wine knows not to read, There are no debts wine is too poor to pay.
A book, a woman, and a flask of wine: The three make heaven for me; it may be thine Is some sour place of singing cold and bare – But then, I never said thy heaven was mine.
Would you forget a woman, drink red wine: Would you remember her, then drink red wine! Is your heart breaking just to see her face? Gaze deep within this mirror of red wine.
Lost to a world in which I crave no part, I sit alone and listen to my heart, Pleased with my little corner of the earth, Glad that I came – not sorry depart.
Set not thy heart on any good or gain, Life means but pleasure, or it means but pain; When Time lets slip a little perfect hour, O take it – for it will not come again.
Braving the freezing wind and the sudden scattering of hail, gone for a walk with Young Friend of the Elephants. To celebrate the Sunday, we walked to our local beauty spot, from where you can get great views of the centre of London in the distance. It was cordoned off. Why, I’m not sure, because it’s such a spacious area that it was never crowded even in the best of weather. The walk that was meant to raise spirits merely succeeded to reinforce my sense of loss: we can’t even enjoy the views now.
How I miss the great outdoors!
Virtual Escape: The Land of the North-West Wind
(Click the gallery to enlarge the pictures.)
Photo by tpsdave via Pixabay
Photo by jr_jurassic via Pixabay
Photo by caroderso via Pixabay
Photo by steveowst via Pixabay
Photo by AlanAudet via Pixabay
Photo by AlanAudet via Pixabay
The great outdoors… Today, we’re escaping to the Canadian wilderness with the help of an enchanting, heartwarming children’s story about two Ojibwe children and their beaver kittens. It’s a story about nature, animals, good-will and courage in the face of adversity; a story of the great outdoors, its beauty and its dangers. I recommend it to all children – and all adults young at heart!
I will tell you about an Indian hunter and his young son and daughter, and of two small kitten beavers that were their friends. And you shall hear of their adventures in the great forests of the North, and in the city too; of what good chums they were, and how one of them was lost and found again, and about the dangers they were in and all the fun they had, and what came of it all.
And now we will clean forget the motor-cars, the radio and the movies and all the things we thought we could not do without, and we’ll think instead of dog-teams, of canoes and tents and snow-shoes, and we’ll journey to that far-off, magic land.
And there you’ll see great rivers, and lakes and whispering forests, and strange animals that talk and work, and live in towns; where the tall trees seem to nod to you and beckon as you pass them, and you hear soft singing voices in the streams.
And we’ll sit beside a flickering camp-fire in a smoky, dark-brown wigwam, while you listen to this tale of Long Ago.
(Grey Owl: The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People)
In the preface to the book, Grey Owl claims that the story of Sajo and her beavers is true and in telling it he only made minor changes. Perhaps. 🙂 He was a bit of an impostor. Nor would he be the first author who claimed a fictitious story was real, in order to enhance its appeal!
Grey Owl (1888-1938)
“…he had insight, he had vision. This man had a message. Everybody’s green now. He was green when there was nothing to it. His message was ‘you belong to nature, it does not belong to you’.”
Despite his name, Grey Owl was not an Indian; he was born in England as Archibald Stansfeld Belaney and emigrated to Canada in 1906, when he was 18. He was fascinated by the Indians and soon created for himself an Indian identity; learned woodcraft and worked as a fur trapper before becoming a conservationist, working for two Canadian national parks: Riding Mountain and Prince Albert. He’s credited with saving the Canadian beavers from extinction and is the author of several books, most of which he wrote while staying in Beaver Lodge in Prince Albert National Park.
In the video the police makes it clear that driving to a remote location and taking a solitary walk there, not to mention daring to take a photo of yourself while there, is not essential, therefore a contravention of the lockdown rules.
I get the point about not essential – although I’d argue that preserving your health and sanity is essential and there is only that many times you can go round the block before you go mental. What I totally fail to understand is how can you be possibly considered to be flouting the rules when you’re miles away from everybody else and therefore you’re observing social distancing. Which is, after all, the point of the whole bloody lockdown?!
the Peak District visitors did not take the public transport; they travelled in their own cars
they visited no rural communities; they were on the hillside
they did not gather together; they kept hundreds of metres or more apart…
Of course, I’m not medically trained. The trouble is that I suspect the author of the police video isn’t either. A jobsworth in Derbyshire is trying to inflict his personal interpretation of the lockdown rules on the rest of the country. Is this all it takes to undermine the traditional British liberties?
Locked Down in London, Day 7: The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…
The online delivery services now appear to be completely collapsing and there are long – socially distanced – queues outside the supermarkets. But our local tradesmen are bearing up heroically – the little corner shops are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, while our local butcher happily supplied us with 2 pounds of Cote de Boeuf for our Sunday roast after our online shop failed to deliver the topside… (And well he might have been happy, given what Cote de Boeuf costs!)
In any case: we’re having our traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday.
Locked Down in London, Day 5: Is Bread Now Rationed?
Yesterday the kids finally began to realise the seriousness of the situation!
Young Friend of the Elephants – who was practically bouncing off the walls in delight on Friday afternoon after her school closed indefinitely – commented that all other things being equal, she actually prefers GOING to school to online school – and it was only the second day.
And after lunch, Sophisticated Young Lady (who is actually a grown up now) asked if she could have another slice of bread or are we now rationing bread at home? (No, I was just trying not to become fat pig!)
And this was in the news:
Can’t wait for a handsome para to turn up on the door step with my shopping!
Locked Down in London, Day 4: Stay at Home, Leper!
The health service sent me an even longer text today which requires me to put myself into solitary confinement for a minimum of 12 weeks. You couldn’t do this to an inmate in a prison; it would be illegal. If I was HM the Queen of England, I could perhaps comply with their instructions but unfortunately…
Sleep separately if you can. Stay 3 steps away from others at home. Keep away from children … Eat separately, using your own cutlery, dishcloths and towels. Clean and wipe down surfaces in the kitchen, bathroom and door handles before use. If you can, use separate bathrooms. If you share a bathroom, use it first and clean it between uses…
Thank you, I was not aware that I was a leper.
Within the hour, the patronising text from the NHS was followed by a bullyish one from the UK government:
New rules in force now: stay at home… Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.
What happened to English politeness? I mean not a single please.
Finally, the Transport of London chimed in with more of the same:
Non-essential journeys risk lives. Stay at home!
This latter came decorated with a nice big red exclamation mark, just in case I’m particularly slow-witted.
I think I got the point now: I should stay at home.
Today the health service sent me a text message, saying that as I’m one of the 1.5 million people in Britain who are at high-risk from the coronavirus, I should stay at home for a minimum of 12 weeks, keeping at least 3 steps distance from my husband and daughters at all times. (Where do they think my husband will sleep? In the doghouse?)
I know the health service means well but the text freaked me out. Do they really think I will lock myself into our bedroom (thank you for allowing me to open the window, by the way) and won’t hug and kiss my family for 12 weeks (minimum)? Frankly, I’d sooner die of the coronavirus.
So, a big breath… rant over. Let’s try to hold it together – by going for a walk in Madeira!
No, I haven’t gone insane (yet) due to having to stay at home: the above gem in the title comes from Google Translate. It’s a paragraph from a tarta di Santiago recipe, which I was sharing with family & friends on Facebook, as part of my Lockdown Diaries. (I have to post bilingual on Facebook for everybody to be able to understand and I was too lazy to translate an entire recipe. 🙂 )
As I mentioned when compiling last year’s top ten, the list made me realise that what is wanted is actually a top ten that was published in 2019 – otherwise it is dominated by well established posts from earlier years. None of the post that I actually wrote in 2019 made it to the overall top ten.
So here comes the genuine 2019 Top Ten (based on number of views):
The Moorish king continues to ride up and down through Granada’s royal town – its popularity explained by the fact that it has now been put on the reading list of two universities (one American, one Australian, IIRC). Every September, the views soar. I’ve written more and better informed posts about Spanish historical ballads since; I’m still waiting for the university lecturers to notice them. 🙂
Apart from the very personal thoughts of the Bear with Very Little Brain, the top ten continues to be dominated by Herodotus (numbers 2, 4 and 5) and, increasingly, by poetry (1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). Baffling, because I don’t think I write an awful lot of posts about poetry… but what I do write is evidently popular!
I notice that actually none of the top ten overall have been written this year, which – while perhaps understandable – makes the top ten list a bit repetitive each year. So I think we will actually need a new kind of list. Like :
I’m trying to get my mind round the fact that I’ve just finished a book which mentions Justin Bieber. I mean, Justin Bieber, you know, the pop star (if he’s still a star, that is, because I have to admit I’m not that up-to-date about these matters). The significance of Justin Bieber in this context is that he hasn’t been around for all that long. Not long enough, in my mind, to make it into a book. Hot diggety dog! I actually finished reading a book that’s set, like, now.
The book in question is The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa. I recommend it. 🙂
Suddenly it dawned on me: it’s that time of the year again. Four years ago to the day I wrote my first blog post although I didn’t know it at the time. (I didn’t know what a blog was, either.) Four years and I’m still at it; four years and I’m still full of ideas. The difficulty, in fact, lies in finding the time and energy to turn those ideas into posts. At the moment, I’m in no danger of running out of topics.
In the past four years I came to read a lot of great books and I wrote a lot of posts that were great fun to write. Here comes my entirely self-pleasing highlights for each period of twelve months (excluding books that I was re-reading):
19 July 2015 – 19 July 2016
Best Book: El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel) by Gabriel García Márquez
Runner Up: Moscow Stations by Venedikt Yerofeev
Two very short books about life not being funny at all – full of dark humour. Beg, borrow or steal, but read these two books before you die.
A post that brings together Austrian author Stephan Zweig, the English poet John Keats and a great moment in history. I only wish my writing was up to the quality of the topic.
20 July 2016 – 19 July 2017
Best Book: The Bible in Spain by George Borrow
Runner Up: Anabasis (The Persian Expedition) by Xenophon
Two first hand accounts: two quests for salvation, two journeys full of adventure, landscape and human interaction. Borrow travelled a civil warn torn Spain peddling a forbidden edition of the Bible to the locals; Xenophon led an army of Greek mercenaries across hostile territory from the heart of Mesopotamia back to Greece. Both are unforgettable.
I probably wrote better posts in this twelve month period; I definitely wrote more informative ones. But with this one, I was just having a bit of shameless fun.
20 July 2017-19 July 2018:
Best Book: The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Runner Up: Vida de este capitán (The Life of This Captain) by Alonso de Contreras
Two books treating real events in the beginning of the 17th century. The first one is a novel about a Japanese embassy to Spain and to the Vatican in the 17th century; a wonderful travel story and an amazing culture clash. The second one is autobiography of Spanish desperado, who lived at the turn of the 16th-17th century. You couldn’t make the stories up if you tried.
This period was quite rich in posts that I really enjoyed writing: The Master of Cold Mountain for example, or An Evening with Matsuo Basho are such examples. In the end, Implacabile won it because of the research that went into it and because – believe me – you won’t find a word about this topic in English anywhere else on the web. Unique. 🙂
20 July 2018-19 July 2019:
Best Book: The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam
Runner Up: Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra
I discovered Omar Khayyam, this 11th century Persian fatalist, a lover of wine, women, good books and gardens (probably in that order). And I rediscovered Don Quijote in the recent edition of the Spanish Royal Academy – which I can only recommend, if you can read Spanish.
I didn’t have a particularly difficult time to choose this one: in the last twelve months unfortunately I had struggled to keep the blog going at all and I wrote much fewer posts than previously. It came down to a relatively simple choice, with The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus) being a strong runner up. In the end Burns vs Petőfi won because of the outrageousness of the idea to rubbish two national poets. Boy, did I enjoy slagging them off (well, they deserve it). 🙂