Lockdown Log, Day 100

We are now in week fifteen of lockdown in the UK and with the arrival of the 100-day mark at least one of my friends, who has been posting daily ‘thankfulness’ updates on her Facebook page, has decided that this is a good point at which to complete her particular project. She has encouraged and uplifted a lot of people with her wonderful pictures of life in rural County Durham and her appreciation of the beauty and variety of all that surrounds her and I have found her daily reminders to be grateful for all the good things really helpful. They have also prompted me to be more aware of my surroundings and today I particularly noticed the colourful roadsides. On the whole, though, my own, much more occasional postings here have been rather different in nature: more of a sporadic diary to remind me at some future date about some of what was going on during the course of this pandemic, both globally and personally.

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At this point the total number of reported deaths from Covid-19 has reached half a million, from a total of over ten million reported cases of the disease. Rather surprisingly, according to figures produced by the World Health Organization, the UK figures are disproportionately bad compared to the global figures, which include all reporting countries, in that the UK death rate is running at 14% of reported cases while globally the figure is 5%. This fact does not appear to be getting a great deal of publicity, which is probably a good thing because alarmist reporting is never helpful. It seems most likely that this situation has occurred because of the lower levels of testing, and the differences in the way in which cases in the UK are reported.

This coming Saturday, lockdown measures in England will ease further, and people will be able to buy a drink in a pub, go to the hairdresser and see another household indoors. As has been pointed out in the press, this feels like something of a ‘watershed moment’ but although it might feel as if the worst is behind us many are pointing out that there is still a great deal of suffering, there will be ongoing fallout for a long time to come, and there is the very real threat of a second wave, so ‘stamina and resolve’ are more vital than ever. Indeed, one city has already been placed in a local lockdown for the coming two weeks, because of a rise in infections there.

Along with hundreds of thousands of others, I signed up as an NHS Volunteer Responder early on in the pandemic. Because of the overwhelming response – and my app tells me that there are many other responders living within a hundred yards of me – very little has been asked of me: supply exceeds demand in my area apparently. My first call, received while out and about, was to visit a lady who was presumably isolating; she didn’t want anything at all. The second call was received while I was on a train travelling into London at the end of April. I had forgotten to log off and the only way I could have responded to a need in Harlesden was to leap off a moving train, so I had to reject the call so that it could be passed to someone else. There followed complete silence from the app for quite some time. However, a few weeks ago volunteers were emailed about whether they would also like to volunteer for the ‘check in and chat’ function, and I signed up. My phone’s siren has since blared out a couple of times and I have found myself having conversations with someone in another part of the country. It has been a reminder, if any were needed, of just how isolated some people have been over recent months but also of how grateful they are that someone has picked up a phone to ask how they are. It was very humbling indeed to realise what a difference such a small thing can make. Although finding it tough during lockdown, and with circumstances that meant they could not take advantage of the easing of rules, neither of my contacts were in dire need or depressed. They were in regular touch with family members and were being supported adequately but they were nevertheless very pleased to hear from a stranger. It is really good to know that after almost four months these initiatives are continuing to make a difference and that there are things that absolutely anyone can do to help, no matter what their own situation might be.

Today I was also back in the Cathedral again for the second time since lockdown was imposed. If all goes well then the café will be open when I am next on duty in mid-July and I will be able to enjoy my volunteer’s lunch. That will be a real treat – my goodness, a meal out after four months! And to think that I took it completely for granted last year.

Lockdown Log, Day 85

Today is the first day of week thirteen of lockdown in the UK but some significant changes were introduced yesterday, with a whole range of ‘non-essential’ shops being able to open to customers for the first time in months. This was excellent news for bookshops and although the lockdown had done nothing to lessen my purchasing of books, it will be really good at some point to take advantage of the opportunity to browse once more. It still won’t be quite the same, however: with restrictions on the number of customers who can be accommodated at any time, a long leisurely scan of the shelves is not going to make you popular with fellow readers queuing outside.

Another change since yesterday is that, with appropriate social distancing measures in place, places of worship can again open their doors to allow members of the public inside for prayer or services. There will still be no unrestricted gatherings and many churches will need some time yet to make arrangements for how and when they can open safely and how they can combine this with catering for the needs of those still unable or unwilling to venture into public buildings.

Significantly for me, however, this lifting of restrictions means that tomorrow I can physically go to church for the first time since mid-March. As a lay person who is a voluntary day chaplain at our local cathedral, I will be on duty there tomorrow. And with quite a number of the other voluntary chaplains not able, for reasons of age or health, to return to volunteering yet it looks as if I may well be there significantly more often than usual. It will not be possible to shake hands with visitors who greet me, or to sit right next to someone who wishes to talk. The two-metre rule will still be in place but being able to spend time in a building that has, in its very long history, seen plagues come and go before – a building where the prayers, hopes, fears, tears and joys of many generations of people have been expressed – will be a privilege.

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However, whatever the delights of some of our ancient church buildings, what the lockdown has reminded the Christian community more than anything is that the church is not the building; the church, as has always been the case, is the people. As such, the church has never been closed, whatever the circumstances, and in recent months it has been far more open than ever in many new and exciting ways. Alongside this, many people have been appreciating the wonder of creation, with the opportunity to spend time outdoors. Just last weekend we were able to enjoy walks in the nearby woods with family members and one place in particular had the feel of an outdoor cathedral. Such places, as mountain-tops and coastlines, often inspire awe and in this example – where the scenery has also been shaped by human hands – the comparison with the cathedral seems particularly fitting.

Ashridge avenue print

 

Lockdown Log, Day 60

It is just over halfway through the ninth week of lockdown here in the UK, Friday before the late May Bank Holiday weekend and the sixtieth day of restrictions on all sorts of social and other everyday activities. Following the easing of travel limits almost two weeks ago, there have already been pictures in the media of south coast beaches – none of them currently overseen by lifeguards – with hundreds if not thousands of sunbathers and swimmers enjoying the unusually high temperatures and clear skies, not having to wait for a holiday weekend as schools are still out because of the pandemic. Such sights make it difficult to believe we are still in the midst of a global crisis, and who would want to deny those who are anyway currently unable to work the chance to spend time out of doors in the fresh air with their families. But the virus is still an ever-present threat and with the number of confirmed cases worldwide having passed five million, and the greatest number of daily new cases around the globe recorded just this week, there is certainly no cause for complacency.

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It seems that many people who have otherwise coped well with the situation since March hit something like a wall at around four to six weeks into lockdown, and in many ways this is hardly surprising. The school summer holidays are around six weeks long, and four weeks is about the longest stretch that anyone could take off work in a single go – so these represent the usual limits to the time that families might possibly spend almost exclusively in each other’s company. Beyond that point, every passing day reinforces the abnormality of life under Covid-19 conditions.

Even without being subject to a nine-to-five work schedule or school-day routine, I have also found a shift occurring in the past few weeks. Back in the first couple of lockdown weeks I had been crossing out all the events and meetings that were in my diary for the months from mid-March to around mid-June – and with little or nothing yet in place beyond then it was left virtually empty except for birthday reminders. Now, following what must have been a hectic period of restructuring and planning for events’ organisers, my diary is fuller than ever with online engagements and I have already used Zoom, BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams and Crowdcast as well as Skype. In the coming week alone – thanks largely to the Hay Festival, which I had never managed to get to before – there are fourteen things to look forward to. None of this can replace the real human contact of being able to meet up with people but it is good, nevertheless, and a reminder of how much worse it could have been if this pandemic had happened before we had the technology that allows us to connect online.

I have also been using my time in front of the computer to produce photo books of some of our travels. Having had to postpone what promised to be a particularly exciting trip this spring it was great to look back again at the journey we were able to make this time last year and that in turn prompted some digging through not only digital photos but also prints from earlier holidays stored in albums. Scanning pictures and reading through holiday diaries to identify dates, places and events has been hugely enjoyable and the task is not yet complete but it is certainly great fun to hit the ‘order’ button and then a week or so later to have another volume drop through the letterbox. I appreciate how extremely fortunate I am to be able to take advantage of these opportunities and also to be able to keep in touch with family and friends, and to be living in the countryside.

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A focus of recent online campaigning has been on petitioning our politicians to ‘Build Back Better’ as and when the pandemic is genuinely receding, and such a restructuring needs to ensure that all those groups who have been seen to be especially disadvantaged under crisis conditions are better supported and better provided for. This will be particularly important given the warnings continuing to come from experts in the fields of medicine and epidemiology that novel diseases sweeping around the world are likely to be a feature of life from now on, and that only with global cooperation on preventative measures and responses can we hope to avoid something even worse than the current pandemic. Big changes to how the world works will not be at all easy but are probably the only way in which both of the greatest threats facing all life on earth – climate change and novel diseases – can be tackled.

As a reminder of the environment local to me – and just one of the reasons I spend time on climate change campaigning – I took some pictures while out and about today (and pinched some that my husband took of our garden).

Lockdown Log, Day 43

Today is the first day of week 7 in the UK’s coronavirus lockdown and there is a growing realisation that it will be a long time before life returns to anything like a sort of normality, where normal includes being able to go out and about whenever you like, travel by train and other public transport freely and generally not have to think about whether it is safe to have real-life contact with other people. If anything, this serves to reinforce how we in the affluent nations of the global north have all taken such freedoms for granted. However, they have always been denied to certain groups of people – the severely disabled, the shut-in elderly, the poor, the long-term hospitalised, the imprisoned, or dissidents living under repressive regimes, for example. What study of the data concerning Covid-19 is already teaching us is that those who are disadvantaged in any way are also most vulnerable to something like a pandemic – and, of course, it is also the disadvantaged who will be most vulnerable to all the worst effects of climate change unless world leaders and heads of major multinational corporations can find the will to tackle that emergency with anything like the same effort and funding that is being deployed in the face of the virus. It is also becoming apparent that when such major and radical changes are imposed upon populations, albeit for their own protection, it creates a space – as if a worldwide pause button had been hit – in which people can more easily envisage just how much better the world could be in future than it was before. It is good to know that there are many people – politicians, campaigners, activists and others – all working hard to make the case for a brighter, cleaner and more equitable and sustainable future when the current restrictions ease.

I was fascinated to read recently that although the global and rapid spread of this disease is almost certainly unprecedented, the reactions to it and some of the outcomes are far from unusual. It seems that ‘over millennia, there has been a consistent pattern to behaviour during epidemics: the hoarding, the panicking, the fear, the blaming, the superstition, the selfishness, the surprising heroism, the fixation with the numbers of the reported dead, the boredom during quarantine’. This goes right back to the time of Thucydides, who wrote about a plague in fifth-century-BC Athens, and then in the early eighteenth century Daniel Defoe wrote about the events of fifty years earlier when plague killed almost a quarter of London’s population in eighteen months. He recorded how the death toll might perhaps have been lower if the authorities had heeded warnings and put measures in place sooner, a criticism being voiced very loudly by some now, even as the current crisis rumbles on. It does seem that a knowledge of the classics and of history is very far from useless even when it comes to modern scientific and medical challenges.

Meanwhile, the heroic fundraising efforts of centenarian Captain Tom Moore have justifiably made headlines, and many others have followed his example to raise funds for charities in need of support at this difficult time. However, it is a great shame – and a sad reflection on our media – that the very similar efforts of a fellow centenarian, the Londoner, Dabirul Islam Choudhury, had received no coverage outside social media and the Islamic and Middle-eastern press until today, when one major UK newspaper reported on the story. He has also been walking a hundred laps around his garden, but doing so while observing the Ramadan fast and in order to raise money for a range of charities, some supporting Covid-19 sufferers in the UK and others sending aid to Gaza, Syria and Yemen. He at least has not forgotten that while the world battles a hidden enemy, innocent people are still falling victim to violent conflicts that are no longer making it into the main news reports. He will have missed out on a fly-past, on the hundreds of thousands of birthday cards that Tom received last week, and on the banners that adorn local buildings but he is just as much of a hero and when people are out clapping on their doorsteps tomorrow I do hope that some of them are thinking of and applauding him as well as all the key workers.

Lockdown Log, Day 32

We are now well into the fifth week of lockdown in the UK and all the signs are that it will continue for some time to come, with social distancing possibly being a feature of life for the remainder of the year. The global death toll now stands at more than 190,000 and it is the uncertainty about when things might begin to change for the better that is beginning to take its toll on even the most positive and hopeful people. That and the lack of physical contact – especially the inter-generational contact of parents with their children and grandchildren. Online meetings are all very well but, as a friend said just yesterday: ‘It is great to see a screen full of the smiling faces of friends but then after a while someone has to hit the button, you all disappear and I am on my own again.’ And for the families of those who have died during this period – whether as a result of Covid-19 or for any other reason – there is the awfulness of not being able to mark the death of a loved one with a shared commemoration. My church family is mourning the death of a dearly loved 93-year-old who had been poorly for a few months and died a week ago. The matriarch of a vast extended family as well as a pillar of the local community, she deserved to have a really great send-off and for her family to know how appreciated and valued she was; the thought of that memorial service being postponed for many months, which will leave her closest relatives in a state of suspended grief, is very hard indeed.

Back in March – which seems in some respects so long ago and yet, because so little of note has happened in our enclosed worlds, it could almost be yesterday – we could cheerfully postpone travel plans for a year and could look forward to getting together with family and friends in the coming months if not at the weekend. But now it is beginning to sink in that such optimism may have been misplaced and that we may be waiting, together with people all around the world, for a tried and tested vaccine to be widely available before it is possible to travel safely abroad or have proper gatherings again.

Nevertheless, it is important to pair that realistic assessment with a good helping of gratitude and thankfulness: we are well; our family is all well; we have space, sunshine, food, shelter, glorious views over the local countryside and some of the most wonderful spring weather. What is more, we have the luxury of time to devote to a whole range of activities. There is useful work to be done for charities and community groups who are busier than ever in the current situation; the climate crisis is ever-present, and keeping abreast of how the two global emergencies are overlapping and affecting each other is an interesting challenge; and there are opportunities to make progress on projects that had been postponed, and to catch up on missed films and the reading pile – which seems to be growing ever higher thanks to the local bookshop’s deliveries.

Whether an easing of isolation is weeks, or more likely many months, away, let’s continue to make the very best of whatever our present circumstances are, cherish the new appreciation we have of those who work in key sectors – health, social care and food provision and the emergency services – and not forget that when the threat of the virus has passed we should keep hold of and build on the good things it has brought about. There will doubtless be a need to learn from mistakes that will have been made in tackling Covid-19, but also to try and understand what aspects of life pre-virus need to change for good in order to make further such pandemics less likely.

In trivial domestic news, I have managed to use a very old set of hair clippers – repaired by my handyman husband – to cut his hair without inflicting serious injury (which my sons may say, with a good deal of exaggeration, is better than I ever managed with them!) but I am not risking a return of that particular ‘favour’, despite what is happening to my own neglected head of hair. We have continued to explore and exploit the far reaches of our food cupboards and, with the ongoing scarcity of bread flour in the shops, some rather old flour and seeds have today been used to produce some excellent bread. Rather less tasty, but perfectly edible, a chunk of black pudding that had been lurking in the freezer for probably a little over four years was recently disguised among other ingredients to add to a mixed grill – a rare departure from our largely vegetarian diet. In attempting to restrict food shopping to once a week, we are more often being inventive with what is already available at home and, when the time comes and restrictions are eased, not only will we enjoy being able to eat out or with others, we will also have a much more streamlined stock of things in our cupboards and freezer. However, it seems that no amount of extra time makes it more likely that I will actually get housework done!

 

Lockdown Log, Day 23

From everything I am seeing from friends who are posting via WhatsApp or Facebook it seems that one of the blessings that people are finding during this unusual period is a heightening of the senses as well as a greater appreciation of the day-to-day things we generally take for granted. We are enjoying our food even more, now that we have to think about planning meals around a weekly shop or, as we have enjoyed doing, being creative with things discovered at the back of the store cupboard and the bottom of the freezer. We are valuing both the entertainment and the information brought to our screens or radios, and the sound of birdsong. We are noticing the gradual changing of the season from winter into spring, and enjoying the glorious scent of the first lilac blossom or the mown grass. It is a colourful time of year and I am much more aware of that this year.

Personally, I am not very good when it comes to wearing colour, despite a very enjoyable ‘colour session’ a few years ago with my girls when we were each advised on exactly which shades we could or should wear. Although I occasionally venture outside it, my comfort zone has always been in the school uniform palette: black, maroon, navy and all blues. I even managed to pack for a four-week trip a while back and realised that it was entirely monochrome or blue. But I have plenty of friends who can happily sport bright purple, even orange, and are comfortable wearing large or small florals, stripes or even – a pet dislike of mine, I confess – animal prints, some of them in the most unlikely colours. I admire them and I do own up to some nostalgia for the days when I was more adventurous – and realise that of the items of clothing I particularly remember from my teenage years many were considerably brighter than anything now in my wardrobe. There was an electric orange corduroy shirtwaist dress I made myself – although orange is apparently not a colour I ought to wear unless I want to look unwell – and a trouser suit with candy stripes in fuschia pink.

In the natural world, however, I love the colourful: the bullfinch, jay or robin are all somehow more cheerful and striking than the humble blackbird or sparrow. We are very fortunate to have a large garden bordering fields and only four weeks ago I drew back the bedroom curtain one morning to see a large male pheasant, in full iridescent mating plumage, perched not three feet away on the flat roof immediately outside the window – a wonderful surprise. And a few years ago we were regularly visited by peacocks out wandering free from the gardens of a nearby hotel; to see a male peacock displaying in the back garden is a real privilege – although it wasn’t viewed too kindly by the female pheasant that happened to have also  been wandering across the lawn and had apparently prompted the amorous show.

Alongside the appreciation of what can so easily pass as ordinary, something else that has struck me, during what is now our fourth week in lockdown, is the complete absence of ‘news’ about anything unrelated to Covid-19. While I continue to want to hear and learn about the situation around the world and all the efforts being made to treat people effectively, distribute appropriate protective gear and testing kits, and develop a vaccine, there must surely be things happening elsewhere that are also very important. And indeed there are: climate change should not drop off the radar just because we are all preoccupied with coronavirus because when this pandemic is over that other crisis will still be ongoing and despite the recent falls in greenhouse gas emissions I was horrified to discover that the weekly average level of atmospheric carbon dioxide just last week was at 416 parts per million, as against a safe level of 350 and a level at the same time last year of 413. There are other stories that a bit of research brings to light. In the olive-growing countries of Europe – among them Italy and Spain, so badly affected by Covid-19 – trees are being ravaged by a bacterial infection that could result in huge economic losses; the reports describing possible measures to try and tackle the spread are strikingly similar in many respects to those being applied to try and halt the spread of the coronavirus. And how can it be that while we are all understandably preoccupied with what is happening close to home, there has been no mention on any news programme I have seen of the fact that forest wildfires in the Ukraine have been edging perilously close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a disposal site for radioactive waste and the location of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. More than three hundred firefighters were reported to be fighting the blaze earlier this week. Any of these things could have made the headlines had they been happening back at the start of this year. We may feel that the last thing we need at present is more ‘bad news’, but while the daily death toll from the virus is the dominant story perhaps the addition of some other world events might serve to remind us not only that life is going on elsewhere but that these other issues deserve our attention too.

 

 

Lockdown Log, Day 20

Easter Sunday 2020, and the past few days have been quite unlike the way they might otherwise have been. On Good Friday morning the streets of Tring were silent and deserted instead of thronging with people; members of the congregations from all of the town’s churches would usually have joined together in the annual Walk of Witness, the high street closed to traffic while hundreds paced in silence to the beating of a lone drum and followed a large wooden cross carried by five or six volunteers. We would have gathered, first in the small shopping precinct for a hymn and then on into the churchyard in front of the parish church for a service of readings, songs and drama. This act of remembrance and thanksgiving would have been book-ended by hot cross buns – served first after a short service for some in the intimate setting of the Methodist chapel and then at the close of proceedings for all the walkers in the parish church at the opposite end of the town.

We had our hot cross buns this year – but they were nearly an afterthought, an addition to our supper almost at the end of the day. There was a gathering of church, however: a Zoom time of Good Friday reflection and prayer. Those of us taking part were encouraged, as often happens at this time of year, to use our imaginations and to try and put ourselves back two thousand years to look through the eyes of people gathered in the crowd in Jerusalem. Were we among those who had cheered Jesus at his entry into the city on a donkey’s colt and, if so, were we now calling instead for his death? Why had we changed? What decision might we have made if we had been put in Pilate’s place? It was useful to think about these things, and for reasons completely unconnected to the current unprecedented circumstances they had a special resonance for me this year. We had recently finished watching a ten-part drama series on Netflix – OK, so that might not have been the case had we not been confined to home in the evenings – and had viewed it as being about the possible return of the Messiah: was this the second coming happening in the twenty-first century? From that perspective, it had an inconclusive ending and left a lot of loose ends; we immediately checked to see if a second series was available, but not yet apparently. However, after reflecting on Good Friday I was suddenly convinced that this was not what the drama was about at all and I can now see all the parallels with the life of Christ as depicted in the Gospels. There are the doubters; those who follow because they want to be released from subjugation by a foreign power; those who do not realise their own need for forgiveness, and those who do; and those who want to take advantage of the new, charismatic leader’s popularity for their own gain. I am left thinking that Messiah was in fact a modern-day interpretation of what took place two thousand years ago and that its ending was not inconclusive at all but was the beginning of the future that we celebrate on Easter morning. I may yet, of course, be proved wrong about the television drama, but I don’t think that will matter now that I have seen in it what perhaps I was meant to see.

Easter Saturday is a strange day in the church calendar, a pause between grief and joy, between pain and celebration, a day when we can get a sense of what I have heard referred to as ‘the unholy silence of God’. This Easter Saturday we could not escape the news of the increasing toll that Covid-19 is taking. In the UK alone the number of deaths is approaching ten thousand and worldwide it is well over a hundred thousand. Outside Asia many affected countries seem not yet to have reached the peak of a first wave of cases and it is increasingly apparent that while the virus knows no national borders and can affect anyone, when it comes to fatalities it does discriminate. The poorest, those with inadequate housing or with limited access to healthcare are all more vulnerable. And in both the UK and the US the death rates among non-white communities are considerably higher than those among the population as a whole. Here in the UK this is at least in part explained by the fact that NHS staff, who are particularly exposed to coronavirus, are disproportionately drawn from ethnic minorities and also that in London more than a quarter of the transport workers operating tubes and buses, which have continued to run during the lockdown, are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. But nevertheless, the pandemic has served to highlight social inequalities in a particularly stark and disturbing way.

Easter Sunday morning marks a new dawn, a time of wonder and awe. The first witnesses to the resurrection were women and as a result their testimony was initially disbelieved – the most important moment in history shared first with those who were regarded as second-class citizens. But so much of the gospel message is counter-cultural, whether that is love for enemies, thinking of others more than of ourselves or simply being prepared to have hope in the face of disaster. In her first ever Easter message the Queen eloquently reminded everyone – those of any faith or of none – that for all of us Easter is about having the light of hope with us in these unusual and dark times.

This year, when necessary social isolation has coincided with some of the most wonderful spring weather, the linkage of the Easter season with new life and growth has been more apparent than ever. It has not always been so – some years we have gathered in the early morning on a nearby hilltop and have had to wrap up against cold wind, rain or even snow. But in the south of England this year we have enjoyed sunshine and warmth and on our Easter weekend walks we have seen a kingfisher flying along the nearby canal, our garden pond filled with a throng of newly hatched tadpoles and the population in a nearby field of sheep multiplied by the birth of many lambs. The wonders of creation – and of new life – are all around us and that is something to be extremely thankful for.

Lockdown Log, Day 15

As we embark on the third week of lockdown, there have been significant developments in the UK, with a rare televised address from Her Majesty the Queen on Sunday evening, followed shortly afterwards by the news that the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had been admitted to hospital after suffering from coronavirus symptoms for over a week. Then, just yesterday, it was announced that he was now in intensive care. After a decidedly unedifying few years of British politics, with all the rancour and divisions over Brexit, it has been heartening to see in recent days that people from across the political spectrum have united in wishing the Prime Minister a speedy recovery and acknowledging that in circumstances like this we can all sympathise with his family and friends in their anxiety.

Alongside a greater appreciation of the privileges we enjoy in the wealthier countries of the world, this global pandemic has been able to highlight in a new way the many things that as the human race we all share together. Now, for a change, it is not the minority with xenophobic and extreme views whose voice is being heard most loudly but the moderate majority who instead are being seen on televised video clips, who are shouting from their doorsteps on Thursday evenings, who are applauding the essential staff in health care, food distribution and other sectors and who are rallying behind those in power who could never have expected to be dealing with a crisis of this magnitude.

There is a growing realisation that while we all look forward to the lifting of restrictions on our freedom of movement – and to being reunited with loved ones again – life will almost certainly not return to what we so recently regarded as ‘normal’. It will be some time yet before the scientists are able to establish whether disease outbreaks like that of Covid-19 are likely to become more common in the future, but this appears to be a distinct possibility and may be a dangerous result of the increasing pressure that humankind has put on the non-human animal kingdom with which we share the planet. And even if, when the present crisis is past, there is a lengthy respite it will take a long time for the full impact of the worldwide restrictions to play out, as many aspects of industry and commerce have ground almost to a halt where lockdown conditions have been imposed.

For those of us whose focus is normally at least partly on the climate emergency, it has been important to recognise that alongside the encouraging reports of lives saved because of lower levels of pollution, the fall in greenhouse-gas emissions and the probable reductions in energy consumption, there are some very negative aspects to the contraction of the world’s economies. There are the sudden job losses, particularly those occurring in places where there are no safety nets and where families will be plunged into great need. Like many others in recent years, I have been appalled at the growth of the fast-fashion business and the huge levels of waste and pollution associated with clothing that is marketed almost specifically for only a season’s use, or even less. But as this industry has virtually vanished over recent weeks with the closing of high streets and shopping malls – and perhaps as consumers realise at last just how unnecessary it is – the flip side of the coin is that thousands of low-paid workers in places like Bangladesh will be out of work and may face starvation. So whatever the coming months bring, the rapid changes that have occurred over the last couple of months should almost certainly not be seen as a blueprint for how to move away from the unsustainable lifestyles and economic systems of the global north; we appear to have built systems and supply chains that have created a huge level of dependency and vulnerability in other parts of the world and somehow we need to support those other nations so that in due course they no longer depend for the wellbeing of their populations on being able to produce and sell to us things that we could and should do without, such as fruits and vegetables that could be grown here or cut-price clothing. I believe that we will need to try and find a way to a new normal, a more equitable and sustainable way of doing things that treats all life on the planet with the respect and care that God’s good creation deserves.

Lockdown Log, Day 2

56e3a921b7a7f.image25 March 2020 and another lovely, blue-sky day – although the forecast is for things to get decidedly chillier over the next few days. On waking today my first thoughts about gratitude were around the avalanche of news and information that is swamping our screens at present: I feel very privileged and grateful to have had a really good grounding in science at school and to have ended up studying a biological science to postgraduate level. One fortunate result is that I am not phased by the terminology used, but it could have been very different – when it came to what were then O-level options I rather wanted to take needlework and domestic science but I will always be glad that my teachers knew better. However, I can appreciate that for many people the news is currently presenting them with a whole array of stuff that they are unfamiliar with and that it is therefore doubly difficult to feel safe in these uncertain times.

There is information overload – even a whimsical nostalgia for the days not so long ago when all we ever seemed to hear about was Brexit! Reports today from one very reputable newspaper suggest that epidemiological studies at a university research department outside the capital have come up with quite a different view on the likely pattern of the spread of coronavirus in the UK over coming months from that from Imperial College in London – and it is the latter that has been very influential in shaping the government’s approach. So, who are we to believe now that experts are back in vogue? Well, that is where a science background also comes in useful, because I understand that all science is effectively ‘provisional’ – it can be top-notch research data but there may nevertheless be even better theories and answers next week, or tomorrow. It is neither surprising nor disturbing that the experts differ at present, although as time goes on and the models are refined we might expect that the conclusions being drawn would converge.

A question that has occurred to a number of us in the climate movement is whether there is any linkage between climate change and the virus pandemic. At present no one knows for sure, but there are suspicions and an expert on environment and health from Harvard University in the US has said the following: ‘If you wanted to do something to prevent disease emergence, first of all we need to seriously reconsider how we do business with the biosphere. We can’t simply pretend that we can extract things and put species in assortments that they’ve never been in before, and hope that somehow doesn’t lead to disease emergence. And another good thing to do would be to prevent climate change because it changes how we relate to other species.’ (Dr Aaron Bernstein, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11032020/coronavirus-harvard-doctor-climate-change-public-health?fbclid=IwAR1FfVMfQR6Vs00hJZX_VyCDgX604qbzk0GH8LnOfaGxx4Gl3_yq6GDMvWw). The full interview is well worth reading if you are interested in this sort of thing. And if, like me, science fascinates and intrigues you – perhaps if it is something that helps you make sense of the world – then you might also enjoy, as I have done, watching the online YouTube interviews with eminent scientists from a variety of fields whose conversations with Dr Ruth Valerio were carried out in conjunction with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2020, Saying Yes To Life (SPCK). There is much in these that sounds completely up to the minute and yet they were made before we had heard of Covid-19.

There is much to be thankful for in the big picture and also much closer to home: today I saw a pair of beautiful peacock butterflies in the garden – and on my way to do some essential shopping I was able to deliver a jar of frogspawn onto the doorstep of a friend who has just dug a new pond.

Taking to the streets

I am not a natural ‘protester’, although I do have a chunky sheaf of correspondence spanning the last ten years in which I have sought to raise various issues with my local Member of Parliament, so perhaps I have been in a form of low-level training for something rather more ‘activist’. I have also campaigned in fairly quiet ways on issues related to climate change and sustainability both locally and nationally and a few years ago I did join a number of colleagues on a climate march, but I have watched the growing activities of Extinction Rebellion (XR), Christian Climate Action, and the young school strikers from the sidelines, supporting them theoretically but not physically.

However, a month ago we held a Climate Sunday service at my church and as part of an interactive activity everyone was invited to make a pledge of a single new action they would take, write it on a paper leaf and attach it to a ‘tree’. This potted branch, in our church garden for the outdoor Communion at that Sunday service, is now standing at the front of church Sunday by Sunday and although it will probably disappear at some point in the coming weeks it is currently still reminding us of the pledges we each made. Mine was to ‘step outside my comfort zone’ in support of creation care, although I only had a vague suspicion at that point of what that might involve.

During the last two weeks there has been a whole series of actions taking place in London, and elsewhere, with XR seeking to raise awareness about the climate crisis facing the planet if rapid and dramatic action is not taken very soon to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and avert the very real threat of runaway global warming. Although very many members of the public are supportive of these actions, even when they themselves are inconvenienced by them, there has been greater controversy than in the April ‘rebellion’ about some of the disruptive actions that have been taken – and also about the sometimes draconian response of the authorities. Midway through the October ‘Autumn Uprising’, on Monday 14 October, the Metropolitan Police banned all XR gatherings in London and used a revision of Section 14 powers to threaten protesters with arrest. That evening, I was on my way home from a completely unrelated event in London when I picked up news via the facebook feed of our local XR group that on Tuesday there would be an inaugural gathering of ‘XR Grandparents’ at the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. Apparently the police had been made aware that this would take place but anyone intending to be there in support of XR was warned not to wear XR badges or be otherwise easily identifiable, just in case. Tuesday 15 October was exactly a week before the date on which my first grandchild was due to be born and I was already planning to be in London that evening to attend an event at which Naomi Klein – social activist and author, most recently on climate change – was speaking. This, then, was the challenge I needed to step out of my comfort zone.

I arrived at the Victoria Memorial at 4.15pm on the Tuesday, fifteen minutes before the official start of the gathering, and slipped into a back row among those already assembled on the steps. Most, but by no means all, of the people there did resemble older-generation ‘hippie types’ and I could well imagine that these same individuals had been at CND marches or had camped out at Greenham Common in days gone by. They also all seemed to be fairly seasoned XR protesters and initially I felt rather out of place. But the atmosphere was completely peaceful, and conversations were being had quite calmly with the police officers who were reading out Section 14 statements but only when a couple of people climbed too high up the memorial – to take pictures – was anyone asked to move. For just under an hour the crowd sang protest songs, chanted that they would – in a direct response to a comment made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – ‘rather be a crusty than extinct’, and handed out stickers and fabric ‘XR Grandparent’ badges. Group photographs were taken – some of which appeared in the next day’s newspapers – and then we all moved down to the railings of the palace. The police were patient and for quite a while they left the two protesters who had got round behind them and were lying down immediately in front of the railings alone; they were later arrested, I believe. I spent just over an hour at this XR protest and was struck by how good-natured it was, by the huge flag proclaiming that ‘Our Rebellion is an Act of Love’ and by the very obvious and genuine fear that these grandparents – a number of them accompanied by their young grandchildren – have for the future.

My week on the streets of London did not end there, as I had already signed up to attend the People’s Vote March on Saturday 19 October. In common with so many others I have found the last three years of uncertainty, anxiety and lack of real information in the wake of the EU referendum pretty unsettling. I recognise that there are genuine concerns about the way in which the EU is being run and the direction in which it seemed to be heading but nevertheless firmly believe that it was better to stay involved and help to effect reform from within, rather than to opt out. I am saddened at the divisions that the close vote has caused within communities and even within families and at the sometimes vitriolic and abusive exchanges that have marked the ongoing debates around what should happen now. I also understand that after such a protracted process there are many people – whichever way they voted back in 2016 – who just want to see an end to it all and would now support our exit at almost any cost because they want to get it over with; however, I suspect they may not fully realise that this will not be ‘over with’ for many years to come, as the repercussions ripple on down into the future for individuals, businesses and communities. Nevertheless, what the People’s Vote campaign has shown in a wonderfully reassuring and encouraging way, is the ability of people to set aside party politics and champion democracy together.

This was reinforced for me as I joined an estimated one million people to march through London and call for the British people to be allowed to vote on whether or not a majority do still want to quit the European Union, now that some of the implications of such a move have become more apparent. This is democracy at its best and it was really good to stand and walk alongside people from all over the country, from every political persuasion, of all ages and abilities. There were drums, whistles, flags, banners, stickers and placards galore – heartfelt sentiments sometimes expressed very cleverly, with wit and humour, and occasionally rather more rudely in the style of political cartoonists. There were families, wheelchairs, dogs and the odd cyclist and despite the crush in places everyone was patient and good-tempered.

I had travelled to London on my own and, unlike many marchers, was not wearing an EU beret or flag, and was not sporting a badge or carrying a placard but there was an instant camaraderie with people on the train who were clearly heading in the same direction. On Park Lane I fell into step with another lady on her own, who had travelled down from Rugby, and for the next five hours we chatted, got to know each other a little and kept together through the crowds. We had both been given and had carried ‘Yes to Europe. No to Climate Chaos’ placards early in the day and we laughed together later in the crowded Tube train as I lent mine for use as a temporary fan to an overheated young lady desperately trying to cool down. Only as we were making our way back towards Euston Station, weary and thirsty, had we realised that we had not introduced ourselves, but as we exchanged names we each thanked the other for their company during our day on the street.

Am I now a ‘protester’? I don’t think there is any specific type of person who falls into that category and perhaps there is a capacity for protest of one sort or another in each of us; it just depends on what matters to you most. There will be many people for whom taking to the streets will never be an option, but if you are able to do it and you feel strongly about an issue then I recommend it: it is a good way to be reminded that there are lots of people out there who feel just the same.