Sunday, 29 March 2020

British Summer Time arrives! And it's getting less of a problem.

The problem with BST was all the clocks that had to be adjusted.

Years ago this was a proper chore. And you always seemed to forget some clocks, notably the one in the car. And perhaps the one by the bedside, so that there was a risk of your alarm going off one hour later than it should do. (Have I got that right? Switching from GMT to BST - or back - has always needed some clear thinking. Not necessarily my forte. Some concepts elude and confuse me)

That's how it used to be. It's much less trouble now. Most of one's electronic gadgets adjust themselves at 2.00am on the changeover day, with no intervention. Just like magic. Very convenient. So this morning, my phone, Fitbit, DAB radio and laptop were all showing BST.

I don't have a bedside clock now: my phone is my alarm clock, and my always-worn Fitbit gives me the time. My gas cooker in the kitchen doesn't have a timer, so nothing to do there.

Only three battery-powered wall clocks had to be attended to, in hall, lounge and bathroom. I remembered to adjust the central heating control (a little harder that; but I had the instructions handy), and I must deal with the clock in my car later on (Fiona is GPS-connected, and has DAB radio, but the dashboard clock doesn't pick up the correct time from those things).

Nothing to adjust in the caravan.

So that's it. Pretty painless!

Even though the national time went forward overnight, it didn't mean an earlier-than-usual leap out of bed. The current coronavirus lockdown ensures that there is no need to get up until the house is nicely warm (it's been very chilly at nights recently). I drifted back off to sleep, and woke again at '9.00am' - which is 8.00am GMT. For once, the arrival of BST has been a comfortable experience.

I suppose that with more and more gadgets and equipment becoming Internet-connected, there will be less and less to manually adjust. And all will be perfectly synchronised. One day the arrival of BST will be completely chore-free, as will the reversion to GMT in the winter.

Meanwhile, BST has bounced in a lovely spring day outside, marred only by a very keen whistling wind, and the fact that one must stay indoors most of the time, to avoid other people and escape infection.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The call answered. How wonderfully British.

Only a few days ago, the call went out to find 250,000 volunteers to assist the NHS in the anti-virus effort. It was immediately answered by a veritable army of public-spirited people of all ages. In one day. I was so impressed. How marvellously British! Gosh, we'll get through all this yet, if that's how so many people will react. Hats off to them all.

But within hours, there was even better news. Over 400,000 people had volunteered. And within 24 hours, over half a million.

That's astonishing. I suppose that in the main they were people unable to work who were free to pitch in and assist. Some out of undiluted altruism, some just to be active - it didn't matter which. 

Well, talk about 'coming together in adversity'. I think this is remarkable. And it shows that human nature hasn't after all been altering for the worse, sliding into selfishness and cynicism: a lot of people, perhaps most, want to do good - and will do good if the opportunity presents and the need is acute. It will appear false to strike a world-weary pose in the future; and any such attitude will seem very 'pre-virus' and rather passé. The world has changed. And this grand effort won't be forgotten. I hope that the volunteers who stick it out all get a special medal.

Hang on, Lucy, you might be saying. Are you volunteering?

I thought about it, but decided it would be best not to. At nearly sixty-eight I'm not yet within the definition of 'vulnerable', but statistically I'm more likely to get infected and suffer serious symptoms than somebody even ten years younger. I don't want to push my luck. It's not really a personal choice: if I get ill, and it puts me in hospital, I'll have added to the NHS's problems. I don't want to do that. 

A cop-out? Despite the rationalising, it rather feels like it. Oh well; one can't always find a way to feel good about situations. And with so many hands already to the pump, one pair less - my hands -won't hurt the broad picture. 

And I'd hate it much more if I found myself hogging a hospital bed that somebody else in an awful state ought to have. But even that doesn't quite still the nagging voice inside, that tells me I may have found a perfect reason, but it's not a perfect excuse.

Planned routine - no change there!

Has your day fallen apart, because many of the familiar external nudges, needs and necessities have vanished from it? Do you envy people with dogs, who have to stick to a dog-walking routine, as their pet pays no attention to the coronavirus news and restrictions?

This is the era for the well-organised and highly motivated, the people who can plan and get on with things. I'm definitely one of that sort. But I'm no Girl Guide. Nor am I a home-makeover or gardening expert. There's a lot I don't feel confident about tackling, and so I shy away from it, or ask other people to do it for me, or (especially if it will cost a lot of money) just put it off indefinitely.

I concentrate on the smaller things one can set up as part of a regular routine, ensuring that tasks are done with the right frequency and in the right order. I use an app on my phone called Tasks To Do Pro. These were the tasks listed for today (Saturday). I'd just finished breakfast and was ready to tick some off.

So now you know what I do at home on Saturdays, at least down to watering my house plants. The things listed below that are the optional extras. I might do just a couple of them, and carry the rest forward, accomplished by selecting the tasks to be put off and altering their to-do date to 'tomorrow' or whenever the next opportunity will arise. Mañana has never been so easy. And I'm no toiling saint.

As you can see, priorities - or best order of performance - can be indicated by the colour of the bar on the left-hand edge. Tasks that have been started but not yet finished can be indicated with various symbols. For instance, I've still got to finish off some dusting and vacuuming. Many tasks are set up to repeat at regular intervals. Some are occasional one-offs, and rather than mark them 'done' I recycle them by resetting the date for the next time, or just setting no date. That saves typing in the task next time. I also set up task categories, to keep similar types of task together, and these follow the same category organisation I use for my documents and spreadsheets, and events in my calendar. 

With all this set up, I get a buzz as I whittle down my list for the day until all tasks are ticked off, or taken to a new date. 

This app-based approach is just the electronic version of a paper list, except that you control it with a finger-tap on the phone screen. And it remains clear and tidy, no matter how you switch tasks around to suit conditions and your other commitments. Psychologically, I find it gets me up and doing rather better than a tatty sheet of paper ever did. 

I can't help feeling that the routine I self-impose with this app gives strong structure to my day, despite all the changes in these abnormal times. Nothing gets forgotten. Everything still gets done. The outdoor tasks depend on the weather, but it's still dry and sunny, and so the gardening jobs will probably get done today. I'm guiltless if they don't, though. The app doesn't care if I say mañana yet again! But I won't lose sight of what will eventually have to be done. 

I've used electronic to-do lists since acquiring my first Palm organizer in 2000. So for the last twenty years, fifteen of those in retirement. The version on my phone is essentially the same as Palm's original To-Do app. All those apps have served me very well, and kicked me into getting on with things, and not to be so lazy.

And I can't help feeling that they will continue to serve me in years to come, and probably become vital as my memory for what comes next gets more dodgy than now. Unless some robot (like Kryten in Red Dwarf) is there to remind me, and make me laugh.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Widows and orphans

It's all about coronavirus at the moment! So I'm going to touch on a different subject, still in this country, but in a different time. A short while back I did a post on the medical advertisements in the now-defunct but once-famous Ward Lock Red Guides. Tonight it's the ads for orphanages and deprived children.

Before me is a book written by Richard Du Cann, first published in 1964, though my revised edition dates from 1980. It's called The Art of the Advocate, and it's about all the courtroom skills a barrister needs when presenting a client's case before a jury. It's very interesting! With reference to a handful of cases in particular - but mentioning many others too - the author dissects the approach, language and courtroom impact of famous barristers of the past, such as Marshall Hall and Patrick Hastings. How they won their cases, and what sometimes went wrong. A way with words is of course a basic requirement. And sometimes a barrister can formulate sentences of exceptional clarity and beauty. For instance, this, from a 1956 speech made in court by W A Fearnley Wittingstall, in a fraud case:

When one thinks of trust funds one thinks of widows and orphans and the wistful savings of a vanished hand.

The perfect intro to my topic. Widows and orphans were always commonplace, but became more numerous during and after the slaughter of the First World War. Working-class women with young children who had lost their husbands, and of course unmarried women with babies, were especially vulnerable and might find themselves in dire straits. But there was no Welfare State then. No onus on local councils to find them accommodation, no benefits system as we have now, no NHS. The old workhouse still existed, but that was the last resort of the totally destitute. What could the ordinary widow or unmarried mum do? Menial work for a pittance? Unhealthy work? And what if the mother died, perhaps of influenza or tuberculosis, both of them killers in the 1920s?

The children had to go into a home. And there were many such homes, all seeking money and support from the general public. The need was great, and urgent. So perhaps it's not so surprising as it might seem, that children's homes and allied organisations made appeals in any publication that middle-class people (with money to spare) might read. Even in a Ward Lock holiday guide.

Let's have a look at ads of this type in my 1917 guide for Worthing, my my 1937 guide for Hastings, and my 1939 guide for Scarborough.

1917 first. Just the one.

This organisation, formed to look after the orphans of Church of England clergymen, claimed to originate in 1749, and ran two schools, one for boys and one for girls. Lay orphans were also admitted. The appeal for funding is rather low-key.  

There's no ad in that 1917 guide to back up my words above concerning war widows. So I'll skip forward to 1937 and 1939, which seem much closer to our own era. After all, TV was just starting (for a few, anyway). And anyone born in 1937 would be only 83 if still alive today. 

And yet the 1937 Ward Lock Red Guide still contained a lot of 'orphan' ads. The tone is not so staid now. These ads might well have brought in donations from conscience-pricked holidaymakers.

The Salvation Army was as ever fighting its corner against indifference: and there were indeed some very squalid slums. 

The Church Army was also promoting the idea that seaside air would reinvigorate the poor in its care. Undeniably, sandy beaches would have been a revelation to many kids from the slums. 

Broken homes and child abuse are nothing new.

A ragged school. Basic learning for kids living in real poverty.

Forward to 1939, just before the Second World War. Two ads.

That's a slightly more compelling version of their 1937 ad above. I'd say 'necessitous' means 'needy', but I don't know for sure. I doubt if the average holidaymaker knew either. 

Ah, they must - at last - have consulted an agency who knew their business! That's an appealing, effective ad. With a good slogan ('One Million Half Crowns needed every year'). There were eight half-crowns to the pound, so one million of them would be £125,000 - a really big sum then; worth about £8,250,000 now. 

Remember that these ads were in a holiday guide, which to modern eyes seems an incongruous place for them to appear. But there were a lot of children living in deprived conditions, or orphaned and needing care. It was very much a national problem. 

Should I argue that these unfortunate pre-war kids were in more dreadful distress than modern children? I'm not qualified to make that judgement. But there certainly weren't the safety nets that there are nowadays, and fewer people looking critically at what these organisations and institutions were up to. I'd put it his way: if I were a young kid, and an orphan, I'd rather be one in 2020 than in 1920.

Latest police guidance on 'driving to walk'

This addresses the hot topic of whether it's OK to get in the car and drive to some suitable spot for a walk - or just to stay in the car and admire the view.

I was discussing it with my friend Emma on Google Hangouts. I thought, rather glumly, that the new emergency law on this might ban all such trips. But not so - provided one adheres strictly to the 'social distancing' rules, and does nothing to place a strain on the emergency services. The destination mustn't be too distant, either. So day trips are out. How long to be away from home isn't stated, but I'm guessing that a two-hour 'exercise absence' would be the limit.

Anyway, I sent Emma this summary of what I'd heard:

Ah, I now have better clarity on whether it's all right to drive somewhere to sit in your car and munch sandwiches, or get out and walk. This is after listening to today's BBC Radio 4 One O'Clock News. The police are saying it's absolutely fine to drive somewhere (nearby, that's not a 'honeypot destination') and stay in your car - just admiring the view so to speak. But anywhere that's distant from home - an hour's drive away for instance - would be too far. I get the feeling that most quiet places within half an hour of home, certainly fifteen minutes, would be OK. And it's fine to get out of your car, and take a walk there, with or without a dog, provided you can avoid others. Crowded car parks are a no-no. Encountering other people on narrow footpaths is also a no-no. The police are primarily bothered about people getting too close to each other. Groups (three or more people, even if adequately spaced) will be approached and broken up, with fines issued if people won't co-operate. Wherever you go, it mustn't be for high-risk exercise, such as scrambling up steep hills, so that calls on the emergency services can be avoided too. So, I don't have to abandon driving at all, just keep it fairly local, and make sure that I stay away from other people if l venture out. So far the most risky thing I've done is go shopping at Waitrose and my favourite farm shop. A sunset drive, when most people are shut indoors for the evening, to some place known only to locals and a few others like me, for a very wary walk, must surely be very low-risk indeed, and not illegal in any way. Lucy XX

Responding, Emma pointed me to the actual legislation which the police have to apply. It's at

Restrictions on movement
6. (1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need—

(a) to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons and supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household, or the household of a vulnerable person, or to obtain money, including from any business listed in Part 3 of Schedule 2;

(b) to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;

(c) to seek medical assistance, including to access any of the services referred to in paragraph 37 or 38 of Schedule 2;

(d) to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(1), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;

(e) to donate blood;

(f) to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

(g) to attend a funeral of—
(i) a member of the person’s household,
(ii) a close family member, or
(iii) if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;

(h) to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;

(i) to access critical public services, including—
(i) childcare or educational facilities (where these are still available to a child in relation to whom that person is the parent, or has parental responsibility for, or care of the child);
(ii) social services;
(iii) services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;
(iv) services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);

(j) in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, “parent” includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;

(k) in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;

(l) to move house where reasonably necessary;

(m) to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

(3) For the purposes of paragraph (1), the place where a person is living includes the premises where they live together with any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse or other appurtenance of such premises.

(4) Paragraph (1) does not apply to any person who is homeless.

I hope all this helps anyone who had been wondering what best to do.

I know some pleasant spots within a fifteen-minute drive, and many within half an hour. Mostly in open countryside and along wide riverbanks. Although they are close by, the South Downs themselves will probably be out of bounds, as the car parks have been closed. They would be a 'honeypot destination' anyway, meaning one where you almost certainly would come too close to a lot of people. I would expect the police to be active there. And their drones. Indeed, I hope they are.

But obviously the spirit of the law, and common sense, as well as whatever the police say about their practical approach, are the things to guide one's actions. So I won't be playing games with the police, and doing things I know they would want to stop me doing, even if I can dodge them. And I won't be playing ducks and drakes with my own health, nor anyone else's, by going for a sunset stroll in a place - or in a way - that is dangerous, irresponsible, and clearly illegal, whether locally or not so locally.

Some will say that country dwellers (and I'm one) can more easily escape the full rigour of city-type lockdowns; and that it's unfair. There's truth in that. In fact it's almost a moral question: shouldn't people in locations like mine support the populous cities by not seeking out beautiful viewpoints and serene riverbanks, even they are close by? That's a hard one.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Pleasant and sociable shopping

Yesterday I went shopping for the first time in eight days. My fridge was almost empty. Mind you, this was a great moment to give it a good clean, which I did.  But it had to be refilled without further delay. And I was slightly concerned - I won't say worried or anxious, but definitely concerned - that Waitrose in Burgess Hill wouldn't have all I needed. On the other hand, I'd had an email from them, telling me that they were now limiting the number of customers allowed inside their stores at any one time; and certain restrictions on how much one could buy of some products were in force. Which should add up to a serene in-store experience, and some rationing to make things fairer.

Yes, I had my favourite farm shop to fall back on, but really I was hoping to get most of what I'd need at Waitrose.

So that was my first destination - rather than the old way, which had been to go to the filling station first, the farm shop second, and Waitrose third.

It was no good going too early. Waitrose opened at 7.30am, but the first hour was for elderly shoppers only. So I got there just before 8.30am, expecting something like the usual amount of traffic on the roads, a full car park outside Waitrose, and massive queues to get in. But no. The road into Burgess Hill was very quiet. And the car park had very few cars in it. A good sign. I got a shopping trolley and headed for the entrance.

There a young man was acting as doorkeeper. I was third in line to go in. 'One out, one in' was being operated, and we all had to stand two metres apart. Quite right. As I stood there, others arrived and joined the queue. One or two of them seemed surprised to find this spaced-out queue, which was already snaking into the interior of the shopping centre. But nobody made a fuss, and we were a good-humoured and compliant snake.

Soon enough, I was let in. The place was almost empty. Perhaps no more than a dozen shoppers were inside. And about the same number of staff in the aisles - partly to supervise any customer encounters, I imagined. But it should be easy to avoid close contact.

What a pleasure to see well-stocked shelves, at least in the fruit and vegetable section! And to feel no pressure, because so few others were around.

Of course this completely idyllic mood didn't last. I was selecting some green veg for my trolley, and nearly done (just green beans to reach for), when I noticed that another woman was edging closer and closer, evidently after the same kind of beans. Why didn't she wait until I had completely finished, then make her own choice? But no, closer she came. I sprang away, giving her a look. She wasn't in the least apologetic, even though she was physically forcing me away from the green veg section. All she did was give me a dark look and mutter. 

Well, really. What can you do with people like that? She was older than me, but not by much. I felt she should have had a better understanding of the two-metre rule, more patience, and certainly better manners. With a mental shrug, I moved off to the fish counter. (I returned later, when the coast was clear, and got my beans) 

The rest of my shopping at Waitrose was not quite as mellow as the first few minutes had been, and it became slightly more difficult to avoid coming too close to other customers. (Were they letting in more people now?)  But it remained remarkably relaxed, compared to how busy it normally is.  

My trolley was filling up. I was partly restocking, partly buying a bit more for the week ahead. In order to lessen my exposure to other shoppers, or their exposure to me, I planned henceforth to shop only once a week rather than twice. So I needed roughly double the usual quantity. Hence the extra stuff in the trolley. And I couldn't get everything; the shelves were still empty in some areas; although the only items I wanted, but couldn't have, were Jordans muesli, Branston pickle, and gherkins. It wasn't a crisis.

Waitrose had made room for some Easter stuff, but it wasn't selling. 

That Peter Rabbit looked a bit anxious, suspecting that nobody would give him a home!

Out in the sunshine again, it was impossible not to feel good. I'd spent £125, but then my fridge would be full, my freezer better-stocked, and I wouldn't need to do another big shop until the following week. And what else would I spend my money on meanwhile? (I did very little online shopping, and wasn't going to change that anytime soon)

Closing Fiona's hatch, I went back into the shopping centre - one or two things to get from Boots. They weren't open yet, so I had a quick wander around the centre. Most shops were closed because of the coronavirus regulations. A few people were around, but it was a startling change from the usual scene, although the sunshine made the mood upbeat. It would come to life again, sometime.

Bonmarché had died well before the virus had struck. A High Street casualty for a different reason, a reason to do with falling footfall and large debts. More well-known names were bound to go under now, their slow decline fiercely accelerated. And yet, arguably, there had been way too much choice for shoppers; too many very similar shops. Would it really do great harm if there was a thinning out? If the very cheap fashion shops, reliant on low-wage foreign sweat-factories, all disappeared?

I went back to Boots. A patient queue was forming. Everyone was observing the two-metre rule as if it had been part of their lives for a very long time. How quiet and civilised, the situation accepted and adapted to. 

Until a grumpy woman came along. 'Oh, what's this? We're having to line up, are we? Keeping our distance, is that it? Huh!'  I thought she was going to add 'A fine state of affairs! What stupid rules!' but she didn't. Perhaps (I couldn't see, she was somewhere behind me) she got looks from the other queuers, and had decided to shut up. Once again, a woman probably older than me, but not by much. My generation anyway. What a poor ambassador for senior people. 'Where's your Blitz spirit?' I thought. 

How silly of me. Anyone old enough to have experienced the air-raids of 1940-41 as a young child must now be in their late eighties at least, and probably in some kind of care home.

Boots was also operating a 'one out, one in' policy, this time with a lady on the door. It was strict. Inside, it was once again a pleasure to shop without people under your feet all the time. As in Waitrose, I managed to greet staff I knew in passing. Having paid - contactlessly, of course - I overheard two staff members commenting on the futility of one poster sent to them. An offer on paracetamol, when they had no stock of it, because of panic buying only days earlier.

After going home to put my purchases away in fridge, freezer and medicine cabinet, I got fuel for Fiona and then drove to the farm shop. Here they were operating a 'two out, two in' policy, but the spaced-out queue was longer. We had to stand in line, but we were sun-kissed. It was so pleasant. Time passed, but it didn't matter. And we fell to chatting very easily. Eventually I was inside, and made a beeline for the butchery counter, getting a very cheerful greeting from Peter and Eddie. I only wanted meat, and they had most types on offer, but no chicken. Presumably the panic buyers had come here too. That, and suddenly unreliable deliveries. But I still got most of what I wanted: bacon, pork, gammon, lamb, liver, kidneys. I resisted the impulse to buy artisan bread, cheese and other yummy goodies to keep it company.

I'd spent over three hours shopping. Quite enough. I had some sushi for lunch, then plonked myself on the recliner in my lounge, the one that gets all the sun through the garden window. I soon had to take my leggings off. That sun was quite hot.

So easy to close one's eyes and nod off...