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Chronicle for 2020

Here's a summary of my reaction to the strange events of 2020.

As usual I'm confirming my continued existence by reporting on the last year. If you ever doubt my existence between anual letters, check my blog and website. I blog every week or two and edit my website from time to time. There's usually a note on the home page of the web site pointing to the most recent material. See the links at the end of this message. If I haven't heard from you for a long time, please confirm your existence.

This letter is rather long, so I hope I'm not boring you.

For me Christmas itself will be quite normal. Jon and I will share a duck, as we have done for every year since 2010. I got very wet collecting the duck on Wed 23. Having walked nearly a mile in heavy rain I had to wait outside the butchers' for over ten minutes, but I felt quite virtuous when I got home and felt I'd earned my crumpets and tea cake.

After a period of mild disorientation I've adjusted quite well to the various closures and lock downs. An advantage of a multigenerational household is that young Liam can be dispatched to run urgent errands and neither Jon nor I strayed far from the house for the first few weeks of the original lock down. Jon qualified as a sheltered person and was actually sent free weekly food deliveries for several months. He also obtained a weekly slot for online deliveries from one of the supermarkets so we could make a joint order for most of our needs. We also have a milkman who delivers milk, eggs and various other things three times per week. Boots delivered my medicines free of charge for the first three months.

The first time I ventured out to the shops there were very few cars on the road and only about half a dozen other people about in the town centre - there were of course rather more in the supermarkets. I revelled in the peace and quiet and enjoyed being able to cross the almost empty roads without waiting for traffic lights. For the rest of the year I've restricted myself to two outings per week, to the shops. The last time I used public transport or left Market Harborough was on 27 february when I attended a U3A meeting. That was also the last time I ate or drank anything anywhere outside my house - several of us had tea and a cake in the Marks and Spencer cafe in Leicester. I've been careful and had no difficuty resisting the dubious temptation of the Government's absurd 'Eat out to help out'campaign in the Summer.

There has been a bonus. I haven't had a cold this year. Usually I have four or five. Although they don't incapacitate, colds are distinctly disagreeable and leave me below par for a week or so, and sometimes longer when the cough lingers for several weeks, so avoidance of covid-19 has not been the only benefit of reduced exposure to the infected droplets generated by the enthusiastic conversation of other people. Even when the current epidemic is over I'll try to avoid crowded places as far as possible.

Once I came to terms with Zoom I found that the restrictions on physical meetings, far from restricting my social life actually expanded it. Since Cliff died my social life has been almost entirely restricted to U3A meetings of which I usually attended two every month. The moving of much U3A activity online enabled me to join the Philosophy group which had previously been inaccessible to me because it met in Leicester at 10 am. I now have three U3A meetings every month. I shall be rather sad if, when virus related restrictions end, the Philosphy group resumes 10 am meetings in Leicester as I should then no longer be able to attend.

In the Philosophy group we work through a book, chapter by chapter and that has stimulated a lot of reading - not just of our book of the moment, but of related material. I still try to read some Mathematics and Science as well, I also potter around the Internat and watch Science Fiction and Murder on the television, so I am hardly ever at loss for something to do. I usually try to read something challenging each morning so that I have something to meditate on during the rest of the day. It is as well that I now I now shop only twice weekly, instead of five or six times per week as I did before the virus struck. If I still followed my former schedule I'd find it hard to fit my life into a 24 hour day!

Over the years my circle of friends has gradually come to include quite a few people I've met in various places on the Internet. Some people deprecate virtual meetings suggesting that one hasn't 'really' (note the metaphysical overtones) met someone unles one's body has been in the same room as their body. I wonder why we attach so much importance to physical proximity. Perhaps there is some primitive human instinct for us to cluster together. Perhaps we produce pheromones and don't feel entirely at ease unless we can unconsciouly smell each other. If so Internet interactions might usefully be spiced up by pheromone dispensers, similar to the devices that are supposed to emit fragrances to soothe our cats.

We lost our remaining cat on 4 July, a few weeks after her 20th birthday. Her ashes are now buried in the garden next to her mother's and near to her old den. Shortly afterwards we were adopted by one of the two cats who live with the other Richard next door. Sox had shown considerable interest in our activities for a while, watching us from the garden wall, but did not venture into our garden while our own cat was in possession. Now Sox seem to regard our house and garden as part of her territory, chasing other cats away and hunting down any mice she can find. She comes into the house almost every day and checks on us all, before retiring to one of her favourite places to doze.

I still potter around the garden, and once again grew three varieties of heritage tomatoes some lettuce and some sorrel. I was still eating home grown tomatoes in early December.

Ever since I moved to Market Harborough these letters have included tales of house improvements. This year we had the annex roof repaired - I think that was the last of the problems identified in the survey we commissioned before buying the house. We've also had a new roof on the garage. While I've been writing this letter the central heating boiler failed. Fortunately our regular gas plumber was able to perform first aid that should keep it working until the new year, when we plam to get a new boiler - the present one was installed in 2006, so it is rather old. Fortunately we had several electric heaters and a backup electric immersion heater to fall back on during the 36 hours we were waiting for the plumber.

The recent discussion of the possible risks to health of over enthusiastic Christmas celebrations reminded me of Christmas 1945. I was 7 and a bit at the time, and was convinced that my maternal grandmother died because of Christmas dinner. She'd been diagnosed with high blood pressure and spent most of her time in bed. I susoect that doctors didn't know how to treat the condition in those days. I couldn't understand why high blood pressure was a bad thing - it sounded to me rather a good thing but I had enough sense even at that age not to voice that opinion. Grandmother was on a strict diet, but had not been told what was wrong with her, though all the rest of the family knew - even seven year old Richard knew, and I also knew that grandmother did not know and was not to be told.

The family Christmas dinner was held at my grandparents house and I recall that Grandmother's Christmas dinner was taken up to her bedroom by Auntie Sophie, who returned with a request that grandmother have some stuffing - apparently that was not on the diet. After a short conference, in the course of which people said things like 'well, after all it is Christmas' some stuffing was dispatched upstairs. It struck me as slightly odd that Auntie carried it in a basin, not on a plate. It is strange how such minor details stick in one's mind. I remember being a little surprised that doctor's orders were so easily disregarded.

Two days later, the day after Boxing day, Sophie appeared at our house with the news that Grandmother had had a stroke. We had, of course, no telephone in those days so Auntie had to walk. Grandmother died at home the following day. In those days people who had strokes were not admitted to hospital as there was little anyone could do for them there. The doctor recommended moistening Grandmother's lips with a mixture of brandy and water. I felt sure that Grandmother died as a result of her daughters' weakness in allowing her stuffing, but until this moment I've never mentioned the apparent connection. Even as a child one sometimes senses that there are truths that would overtax the fragile sensitivities of adults. I'm now inclined to think I may have judged the stuffing rather hastily, suspecting that Grandmother would have had a stroke fairly soon whatever she'd eaten on Christmas day, but the sequence of events made a great impression on me at the time, and has left me with an inclination to mistrust claims that something that's dangerous ceases to be so on what is deemed to be a 'special day'.