The Coronavirus survival campaign has been developing day-by-day and enough changes have been made to offer a meaningful update to the original non-template; indeed there have been some encouraging moves very few of which have made a jot of difference to my self-isolation routine. Against a background of daily Text messages offering axiomatic and oft repeated guidance on how to survive, the only really positive development has been the delivery of a Government Food Parcel – a timely event since stocks of everything had become severely depleted (just in time logistics will ner apply again in this household).
Of course nothing – well almost nothing – seems to go according to plan which proved to be the case with the Food Parcel. Yesterday I received a phone call from a delivery driver who said she could not find my house; after a brief discussion it turned out that her version of my Post Code had little to do with reality and she was in fact some 9 miles away. On its arrival the said Parcel proved to be a lot bigger than I imagined – certainly more voluminous that 7 x 24 hours Ration Pack (these Government Parcels are replenished weekly – thank heavens). Much imagination has clearly been applied to the contents of the delivery so full marks to the menu overseer.
Last week excitement reached a fever pitch when a Text message informed me that I was “at high risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus…….remain at home for 12 weeks”; while I was broadly aware of the threat, the really important development in my mind was that at last I could benefit from Priority Access to Home Food Delivery from Sainsburys. Leaping onto the Internet to order some grub, I discovered the need for an authorisation Code before advantage could be taken of being such a Priority. Six days later a letter arrived authorising me to register as a Priority Access sickly oldie.
Once authorisation had been effected, based on the earlier frustrations, I took a more measured approach to leaping onto the Sainsburys web site – in fact much time was devoted to developing a shopping list that might, in part, compensate for the many dietary lacunas of the past month. The Registration went well and, armed with my proven new status of Priority Access I headed for the Delivery Bookings section of their Website…………..totally populated as far as the eye can see by Unavailable. As suggested above, thank heavens for the Government Food Parcel since I have now decided to abandon all hope of ever securing a delivery from a Supermarket.
Self-isolation has been around for some time perhaps confirming Jean-Baptiste AlphonseKarrit’s suggestion that plus ça change plus c’est la même chose. in 1665, during the Great Plague, the Lord Mayor of London decreed that: “All plays, bear-baitings, games, singing of ballads, or suchlike assemblies of people be utterly prohibited….and all public feasting be forborne till further order, and the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection”.
It is interesting to note that the 1665/66 Great Plague was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to take place in Britain and occurred within the Second Pandemic that lasted for centuries manifesting as a period of intermittent bubonic plague epidemics [OMG]. It may be of particular interest to observe that……….wait for it…….the bubonic plague originated in China in 1331 – plus ça change that one eh!
At the time Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary: “On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by His Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings[i] making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had those rogues for the health of their elders”.
There is a widely held belief that Army folk possess a natural aptitude for developing routines; in my case such thinking is very wide of the mark. As an indolent cove I have always relied on others not only to construct a routine for my compliance but also to keep me informed. With regard to the latter I rarely read Part 1 Orders and certainly never took note of Part 2 Orders since I was never quite sure of their purpose. In any group there exists the well informed who wish to be ‘first with the news’ and it was on them I relied to keep me informed about parade timings and the host of minor activities that interrupted the more pleasurable military activities of sport, coffee breaks and utilising the Mess Bar – keeping out the Warsaw Pact was hell. So, learning via osmosis has always had huge appeal.
Others, such as our Provost Sergeant at Junior Leaders Regiment who could not read, were also given to such exploitation – his modus operandi was to stand behind a group of soldiers and state that he had forgotten his spectacles so ‘could somebody please read the Orders out loud’. It seems incredible that in the 1970s a Senior Non Commissioned Officer could neither read nor write. But the Regiment’s dentist at that time offered an even more astonishing revelation.
Those Young Officers (YOs) who took pride in being first to the Bar at close of play became increasingly miffed to discover the Regimental Dentist already ensconced with drink number two in hand. Bearing in mind he was a Lieutenant Colonel, YOs were circumspect about challenging the Dentist but eventually, collectively, they felt brave enough to raise the issue. In broad terms the resulting conversation unfolded thus:
YO: “Colonel, How come you are always in the bar first?”
Dentist: “Simple, I do not have enough work to do. I am established to treat 600 Junior Soldiers which means there are two dentists, a hygienist, a nurse etc. The breakdown of the 600 is roughly: One third has perfectly good teeth that require no treatment, one third whose teeth are so rotten that they are beyond local repair while the remaining third we treat.”
YO: “What happens to those with rotten teeth?
Dentist: “My admin Sergeant issues them with a Rail Warrant to Woolwich where the hospital dentist pulls out all their teeth.”
Wow! What a way to care for 15[ii] year old boys; indeed, on the face of it, a heartless cynical modus operandi although the justification that Army operations cannot be inhibited by Lines of Communication that are gummed [not a pun] up with dental problems has some fighting efficiency merit. However, I digress for no good reason and need to return to the topic in hand – the daily self-isolating routine.
My initial approach was to let the day unfold in an unstructured way, save the one immovable element of lying in bed for as long as possible in order to shorten the day thereby reducing my food intake. The remaining daylight hours were occupied by: The Daily Telegraph (DT) Crossword with an occasional reading nod to the paper’s contents such as the Obituaries, the letters page and the Matt cartoon; stirring up frivolous debate on Twitter; responding to E-Mails; and reading. Superimposed on those activities recent sunny weather allowed for sitting outside securing a much needed intake of Vitamin D; now that the Coronavirus safety distance has seemingly been extended to 27 ft that particular activity must cease since the only outside sitting area is some 10 ft from a public footpath.
There is some merit in such a haphazard approach since it allows space for an instant change in direction should, for example, an inspirational thought come to mind necessitating a move to some other activity; notwithstanding such thinking, after the thick end of a fortnight, boredom set in which I took to mean there was a need for some structure to the day.
The current daily regime now comprises:
1. Abed until 1000 or 1100 hours. If there is nothing of interest on Radio 4 or Radio 4 Extra getting up at the earlier time is the norm.
2. Don gloves collect the newspaper and mail from the door mat and place them in the fan heated oven for an indeterminate period (a Microwave is apparently a better medium for destroying viruses).
3. During 2. Prepare breakfast (simultaneous activity is always a sensible notion). When the re-supply is working well breakfast is normally Fat Free Greek Yoghurt made palatable with the addition of banana and/or Easy Peel (allegedly) Clementines. Now that it is impossible to order food Home Delivery from Sainsburys or Waitrose or Morrisons the breakfast menu is likely to change for favour of baked beans. Why should supermarkets worry – us oldies are not likely to be customers for long and they have to consider future long-term income flow.
4. Physical Education. The two elements at the moment are: 120 arm exercises increasing by 10 per day followed by riding a go nowhere bicycle on a low setting (ie, not an uphill one) 470 revolutions per day @6th April rising by 10 per day. There will need to be a cut off point but that has yet to be determined.
5. First attempt at the DT Crossword.
6. Internet activity: Predominately E-Mails, Will writing and Twitter.
7. Lunch – light and dry.
8. Second attempt at the Crossword.
9. Reading – currently Kill The Messenger – Sir Bernard Ingham’s autobiography which, judging by the pencil notes in the margins, I have read before – shocking to admit that I do not remember any of it.
10. 1800 hours the Bar opens (drinking on alternate days only is the aim but that is already proving tricky).
11. 1900 – 2000 hours Radio 4 Extra – hopefully Hancock’s Half Hour and Round The Horne but I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again will do. Humour then was less acid and unpleasant than today’s offerings.
12. 2000 hours until late: TV, supper accompanied, on alternate days, with a calorie supplement of red wine which some may suggest is merely the recrudescence to drinking regimes in happier days. The TV Channel of choice is invariably Talking Pictures that excels in bringing back memories of what seemed to be more tranquil days of tolerance and simple pleasures.
If my willpower allows for this semi-disciplined regime to continue the only fundamental foreseen change will be to introduce the dumbbells into the PE element of the day. For sure underwriting any future developments is the requirement to avoid the return to an earlier alcohol-based routine. One activity that is superimposed throughout is hand washing which I guess will need to continue for some while yet.
Relieving the tedium of being home alone for so long might have been to experiment in the kitchen – the trial and error cooking of hitherto untried dishes. Of course the combination of panic buying that has used up many food options, including tinned Corned Beef, and the inability to secure a home delivery, means that any dreams of learning how to cook flamboyant dishes are not an option. Courtesy of a kind friend who has delivered mountains of tinned food there is the possibility of some experimentation; indeed, I have been introduced to such exotic tinned food as Root Vegetable & Turmeric (yummy). Cannellini Beans (not yet tried) and Spiced Parsnips (I am nervous of these since parsnips seemed to be the only vegetable on offer during post War rationing and they were: yuck).
As for drink there is currently no inclination to pursue the exotic and, where possible, I shall stick to Coop Fair Trade Malbec and any brand of blended whisky (except for Haig – assuming it’s still available). On the dry days coffee and tea consumption increases exponentially although I have discovered an Almond drink (unsweetened) which, despite offering the initial look of light battleship grey paint is absolutely delicious; I am now wondering whether it would work with Gin or Vodka but that’s for another day.
So there you have it. Per ardua the plan is likely to change. One pleasant, perhaps temporary, change is the arrival of a spell of glorious weather which can be savoured even without a garden.
[i] My Dictionary offers no definition of a ‘strippling’ whereas the Urban Dictionary does: “An exotic dancer who hasn’t been around that long”. Too much to hope for today.
[ii] This was pre Raising of School Leaving Age (ROSLA) which sadly condemned youths to another year in school which was a prospect they broadly abhorred. ROSLA unfortunately reduced the training and education time of Junior Soldiers and Junior Leaders from 2 years to one.