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Wednesday, 3 August 2022

St Christopher Άγιος Χριστόφορος: Γιατί απεικονίζεται με πρόσωπο σκύλου?

A shop on George Theotoki where we discussed the puzzle of a 'dog-headed' St Christopher

Linda and I were window gazing on the south side of George Theotoki Street in town. At a stationer with a stand outside the shop, a postcard of an icon caught my eye. It showed a saint with the head of a dog. Looking closely at it I saw that it was St Christopher, Αγιος Χριστόφορος, Christ-bearer. It was titles as from The Byzantine Museum in Athens - with no date, artist unknown. 
 Γιατί απεικονίζεται με πρόσωπο σκύλου?

Neither the shopkeeper, George nor Maria, the children's shoe shop next door, could explain it. Intrigued I asked at the Icon Gallery on the south side of Plakada t' Agioú of N. Theotoki. The man I spoke to - darn it, forgot to get his name - was familiar with this image. 
"It goes back to very old times, Egyptian" 
"Anubis" I thought
Anubis in the Book of the Dead - a guide to the journey from life to after-life used between 1550-50 BC

"The image was disapproved of by the Orthodox Church" he added "These icons only reappeared in the 17th century when the church became more tolerant. They can be seen in some of the older churches on the island from that time." 
Lin said "You can see this isn't a proper icon. Look at the feet and the head shown sideways." 
It turns out there's a wealth of information and conjecture about the dog-headed St Christopher. (Jim Pott's sends me this Greek link) I'm talking on the phone to my friend Simon Winters in London about another project, and our conversation turns to the strange icon. He'd not come across it. St Christopher is not mentioned in the bible. His story has been passed down through storytelling and tradition. I've noted his image since infancy on medals hung from the mirrors of bus and taxi drivers. How intriguing are such survivals through the ages. Our conversation turned to the mysterious centuries of Christianity before the faith became the one I learned at school - and that but one of so many varieties. 
The name of the shopkeeper where I saw the icon? 
"My name is Christopher"

*** *** ***

The St Christopher Chapel in the coach and car park of the Corfu Town Green Bus Terminal

In the coach park of the Green Bus terminal on the edge of Corfu town there's a chapel to St Christopher, patron saint of travellers. There' no similar chapel at the harbour where the ferries leave for the mainland and the ports of the Adriatic as far as Venice, nor is there so far as I know one at the airport, now managed by a German conglomerate, where contemporary politeness would have made a 'multi-faith room'. The Green bus station is quite new, replacing a friendlier fume-filled space near the sea at the foot of the town. The new terminal appeared in 2016. Richard Pine, who lives in Perithia, furthest village from the city on the north coast of Corfu, was vitriolic about the place - Ο Νέος Σταθμός...

The old Green Bus Station near the sea

Simon. I discovered to my alarm and despair that the bus station moved over the last weekend and one is now deposited in a no-man's-land near the airport. Too too shaming. RP

Dear R. Is that bus station move a permanent one? Coming into town, there must be a point you can get off earlier with a reasonable walk to the city centre. I hope so as I too rely on the bus. S

It has been planned for years - a real, modern, bus station - fully functional, devoid of humanity, androids serving coffee, miles from anywhere because planners do not take people into account. At present there is no stopping point between Lidl and the terminus but they will surely have to invent one, as it goes everywhere except where one needs to. Bring back the old one - at the Spilia - sez I…  

I’m trying to work out how you get from the new and inconvenient (except for airport tourists) Green bus terminus. No problem where it is for me. I just use my folding bicycle which stores in the luggage compartment. I suppose there’s a shuttle into town, but there might be a convenient stop closer to the city centre. It seems rough on the local people who have no interest in being close to the airport and want to get into town. If you find out anything vaguely positive let me know.  

…there is a shuttle but that is presumably not a long-term solution - the bus into town goes up the long hill past all those shops selling electronics etc, down the other side, out onto the roundabout by the 'other' Lidl and there you are. In the middle of no-mans-land. The return is even more stupid as it goes all round the world, including San Rocco, to come out exactly where it should have started from, but doesn't stop!

Walkers to the city centre making their way carefully from the new Green Bus Terminal

I have just been at the new Green Bus Station. It’s as miserable as you’ve observed. But the staff are proud of the place. I strolled in wheeling my little Brompton bike and was ordered out again. I folded it up and was forgiven. But at once two cleaners arrived to wipe the floor where my bicycle wheels, leaving no marks, had passed. I gather there’s a stop on the way out of town by the Old Port – Café Sette Vente - which may make things a little better, but as I cycled into town from the new station up that brief stretch of firmly divided dual carriageway - Ethniki Odos Lefkimis - I passed a single file of tourists negotiating the narrow rough path (I wouldn’t call it a pavement)... ...that runs up Dinatou Dimolitsa, leading to a longish stroll up Mitropolitou Methodiou into San Rocco Square. A mess! I admit the old bus station was probably not so good on health and safety with people and buses and diesel fumes mixing it in that little space, but it was agreeably located. Like most things people will get used to it, but I cannot say or think anything good about this non-place, its access so unfriendly to anyone on foot.  

Someone must have ensured this little church to St Christopher was included in the new building's plans, yet when I asked around this July no-one I asked upstairs in the office, nor at the enquiry desk knew anything about it or could answer my question about the superb icons being painted on its interior walls. The chapel is hardly larger than a wardrobe, perhaps an allotment shed - no stasidia nor lectern and the stand for candles, once lit, sits, on the pavement outside. 

My ebike outside the St Christopher chapel at Corfu's Green Bus Terminal

There's a collection box and case for beeswax candles inside. I'm used to myriad sizes of Greek churches from spacious cathedrals, the barn sized churches - all 36 of them - that are dotted around Ano Korakiana, attached in many cases to families, some locked and unused or even, like the distant Church of the Prophet Elias that marks our southern parish boundary ruined, but for a protective roof, to the small roadside Kandilakia marking the place of an accident - fatal and survived - and others that look similar but are markers reminding of a church some yards from the road. There are even shrines hardly larger than a sun dial or an elaborate garden bird feeder, with room for a small icon, and a candle, imitating the doors, windows, dome and cross of a larger church. 

So here they were. These finely painted works inside this little bus station chapel. Who was painting them? I dropped in on successive days over a fortnight - to admire their craftsmanship, hoping to catch the mysterious unknown icon painter at work. No luck. 
I remembered that a while ago my friend Mark had answered a question about a strange unfinished three floored house beside the road from Tzolou into Ano Korakiana whose ground floor has been incomplete these last 12 years at least. Two attractive terriers bark enthusiastically at me as I cycle by. I've not seen anyone there. 
"Who lives there, Mark?"
"An icon painter"
So returning from town I stopped my bicycle on the wild flowered verge before the house and called out.
A lady came to the balcony. She helped me - awkward in my 80th year - up flights of unbannisterd concrete stairs to the fine door of a studio. Over the next hour I learned she had painted the icons - and indeed, with her husband, many more all over Greece; that she had not yet been paid for the Green Bus contract; that I must not even think of intervening on her behalf - a typically unwise impulse of mine. Her name is Irene Vitouladitou. I felt honoured but also delighted at having begun to sate my curiosity.
I asked about the dog-headed St Christopher. 
"God knew he wanted to be a holy man. But Agios Christopher was a beautiful man. Women threw themselves at him. God in mercy gave him the head of a dog."
"I have heard and read many other explanations, but not that one. Did you make that up for me?"
A reference in a Greek Orthodox compendium: 

Thou who wast terrifying both in strength and in countenance ... didst surrender thyself willingly to them that sought thee; for thou didst persuade both them and the women that sought to arouse in thee the fire of lust, and they followed thee in the path of martyrdom...

The story I learned, perhaps at a Sunday school, in childhood: 

Hieronymus Bosch's 1490 painting of the legend replete with symbols

... a child asked Christopher to take him across the river. As they crossed the river the child grew heavier and heavier so that Christopher could hardly hold him up. Struggling to the other side, Christopher said to the child: "You put me in danger. The whole world could not have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were." The child replied: "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." The child vanished 

Irene Vitouladitou's unfinished work in the St Christopher Chapel at the Green Bus Terminus in Corfu


Wednesday, 1 December 2021

At 208 Democracy Street until winter

Looking over the Sea of Kerkyra towards Epirus in Mother Greece. The small island is Vido

Having been away – because of travel restrictions - since last December there have been more than a few gardening jobs to do. A spreading squash has climbed the fence into our garden from Vasilikki’s. Its broad palmate leaves and hairy stems, hanging by tendrils, spread to the ground. Most of its yellow flowers are male. 

On a whim I decide to have a go at doing work that’s better done by bees. I pull up a chair to get a closer view of the vine, looking to take the stamen of a male flower and touch it to the stigma of a female. I’d found find several squashes forming – kolokithakia Κολοκυθάκια – but could find no more female flowers on which to experiment. There’s a crack of thunder. The sky goes grey, rain descends, and the washing I’ve hung out gets a further rinse. As the days pass the lower squash has grown to a satisfied potentate, nestling among its decaying leaves, yellowing, a smaller satrap hanging six feet above. We on high ground only heard of the consequences of several days of rain in the south of the island.

Flooding in Moraitika

Our Bougainvillea, plant of a thousand hybrids even within a square mile, flourishes as it hasn’t for years, in some cases surging through the planks of the balcony. Work above and below with the loppers sorts that, with the help of a hammer and chisel where a stem has hardened, wedged itself between decking. 

The Wisteria, about 12 years old, had invaded our already enfeebled orange tree, the wooden balcony, the down pipe of the roof gutter, reaching into the upper branches of our neighbour's walnut tree. I tame it with an hour's discipline of shears, long reach loppers and secateurs, until it hangs meekly along the metal railings of our side balcony. One of Amy’s presents for her mum’s 70th birthday included a string of solar lights. Lin’s wound them along the railings amid the wisteria and with many hours of sunshine they shine out from dusk to dawn like a distant city street 

The trumpet vine leans nonchalantly over the front of the balcony, less invasive than last year but full of flowers. I’ve cut back the top growth of the lemon tree in front of the balcony. For its safety, I’ve applied more of the anti-scale insect spray used last October and earlier. These insects seem, at last, to have given up, after blighting our citrus trees. Can this infestation really be over? There are many lemons on the larger tree, but none on the smaller. Our blood orange tree, once so fecund, hasn’t fruited for five years. Though still leaved, its periphery branches end in dried and blackened twigs. In the lower garden Lin’s cut back ‘what needed it’, including Yucca tops. She’s combed out dead growth, potted up cuttings, moved many of our plant pots on the steps and swept up accumulations of fallen leaves and petals, and watered widely. Things are, and therefore life, is tidier. Dimitri, a neighbour, has strimmed the path that goes below our house from Democracy Street down to ‘our’ bus stop on National Opposition Street

Above us from before dawn well into the night the short holiday harvest planes grumble to and fro above the mountain ridge behind us, often half full, we’re told, of travellers in masks who, like us, have completed or booked Covid immunity tests, shown their vaccine certificate and other proofs of immunity, filed their PLFs and prepared for self-isolation on arrival. 

We are almost always without a car. Hirers may have none available, or they're too expensive. We rely on the daily bus at 7.45am and early afternoon back from the city. There’s my bicycles. But for the local bakery – OK for wine and bread – our grocery is 8 kilometres away.  A grocer in a truck visits us Tuesday and Saturday, crying his wares as he drives back and forth through ours and the lower roads.

I'm beginning to find the uphill pedal to the village, with kilos of shopping in the rear basket, and especially the ascent by the last four hairpin bends, more of an ordeal than an achievement, especially in the heat of August. On impulse I did what I had told myself I wouldn’t do.  I cycled on the bike I'd bought from them 10 years ago, to Rolando’s and Elena’s shop opposite the hospital in Kontokali, and bought an eBike with a Bosch crank-driven motor. 

Other electric bicycles have a battery drive on the hub of the wheel. My drive sits between the pedals - Active Line Plus offering increasing levels of power to support my pedalling with increments of back-up power that proceed from normal cycling without the battery rising to 40% (Eco) to 100% (Tour), to 180% (Sport) to 270% (Turbo) support - 

... all shown on a little screen beside an up-down button on the handlebars controlled by my left hand index finger. That's helped by seven derailleur gears on my rear chain drive controlled by a right hand twist grip - allowing me to decide how hard I want to work and how much I want to delegate to my battery, while still pedalling. Stop pedalling or reach a speed over 25kph and the edrive cuts out. Friends noting my occasional grumbles about the effort of cycling up the hills into Ano Korakiana had said “just get an e-bike, Simon”

“Spawn of the devil!” I retorted “They erode the moral compass of cycling – no pain no gain and vice versa.” 

Now my cavilling is dismissed. I love this machine. 

My e-bike on a hill looking south across the island of Corfu

Naturally disinclined to effort for its own sake, I rejoice in journeys back from Kaizani’s at Tzavros, with a good 10 kilos of shopping secured by bungies in a plastic crate cable-tied to my rear rack – a journey of over an hour now less than 40 minutes with a triumphant ascent into Democracy Street in lowest gear and ‘turbo’. There’s also a ‘walk’ function that, without having to be mounted and pedalling, helps me wheel the ebike up the 13 steps from home to the road. I’ve now cycled up the 29 hairpin ascent to Sokraki – the village on the watershed above us. I have done this twice on my ordinary bike but it’s a route that now tests my 79 years. I’ve been into the city – 22 miles return journey, made several journeys to Doukades using the main road, country roads and gravel tracks. I’ve cycled effortlessly home at night from eating with friends a mile below the village. For that I’ve strolled beside Lin on a gravel track, then, arriving at the metalled road, headed off by unlit hilly roads while Lin walks the stepped short-cut to Democracy Street. I’ve cycled from Sokraki to Trompeta in gentle drizzle then down through the woods to Doukades and home via Skripero – the dial shows I’ve already covered over 420 kilometres. In mid November I cycled to the top of Mount Pantokrator - a round journey of 54 kilometres nursing the battery by pedalling most of the ascent on 'eco'. 

Some years ago we had a family picnic close to the top of Mount Pantokrator

Route: Up the steep winding ascent to Sokraki; take the short bypass round the village centre down to meet the steep descent to the river valley, then up a hundred metres to Zygos, up up to Sgourades, on the Spartillas-Acharavi road, along a kilometer of level; then the turn up to Strinilas - the longest haul part of the ascent; from Strinilas, tavernas closed for winter and latest Covid restrictions, down briefly to the right turn up again to the gently rolling road to the foot of the steep mound that leads to the summit of the mountain, up which I walked, as, even on 'turbo', the kilometre of mostly concrete road is too steep for me and my ebike. I trudge - assisted by the bike's 'walk' function. Lingering on the roof of the island gazing round the compass - the peaks of Albania and Epirus across the Corfu Channel, the Adriatic stretching beyond the north coast settlements - Roda, Acharavi, and inland Old Perithia and south to two little peaks of the old fort and the city and much in between, I watch the cats and chat to Sotiris the gardener and a candle lit in the monastery church, much silence but for the wind in the aerials, then down down down down again to Sgourades and then return via a different road, to Spartilas with two clicks left on the five click battery. I stop at a taverna in Spartillas for a diplo skerto and cheese and ham toastie, my vaccination covid certificate sought. Can I make it home on what's left in the battery? I freewheel down the long descent, nearly to the sea at Pyrgi, then up again through Agios Markos and another mile into Democracy Street, Ano Korakiana. I did this journey first by traditional bicycle in 2012. 

I was back early afternoon, having the summit almost to myself via almost car less roads, proving to myself there are few places on the island I can't reach and return. Our friend Jenny, who has the same bike, says that relying on the lowest charge I should be able to cycle 60 kilometres. I've now satisfied myself of that, having power to spare on returning from Pantokrator. I’m almost back to the moral compass I’ve abandoned. 50 kilometres from Ano Korakiana can take me almost anywhere on this beautiful island. I could if concerned about remaining power ask a friendly taverna at the end of an outward journey to plug in my charger while I have a meal. 

A folding bicycle invented by Andrew Ritchie over 30 years ago called a Brompton is the best product in a niche market. It’s not just a bike that can be taken apart easily. It folds in less than 30 seconds into a 12 kilo portable machine that can be carried on cars and public transport.  I use the Brompton with public transport; best for negotiating traffic congested streets and the public spaces where I can mingle with walkers and other cyclists.

Awaiting the morning bus from the village into town at 07.45

I have owned several of these since the early 1990s. In February 2007 I was using a Brompton folding bike to travel by bike, rail and ferry with my friend John Richfield from the UK to Corfu via Paris and Venice to buy our home in Ano Korakiana. 

Just off the ferry from Venice in 2010

We returned the same route. 

On Via Garibaldi - the only filled-in canal in Venice, one of the few places anyone can cycle

A few years later I shipped the same bike – a deep green T6 – from Birmingham to Corfu with furniture. Bought in June 2001, it’s quite old. I rode it downhill to the sea at Ipsos this August. It scared me - clunking and clicking like a straining bulkhead. The original Sachs hub was telling me noisily that it was shot. I phoned Mike at Phoenix Cycles in Battersea. The cost of a replacement wheel with a Sturmey hub gear, new sprockets, chain and chain tensioner was over £400, before adding 50% post-Brexit customs charges . It says something for the resale value of used second hand Bromptons that I was prepared to even think of spending what would be needed – over half its cost in 2001. The carriage was made suddenly reasonable when a friend offered to put wheel and trappings in her hand baggage from London and drop them off to me in the village. I was anxious – cack-handed as I am – about the reassembling work. 
Guided by Youtube tutorials on several tasks I secured the new sprockets to the new hub with a holding circlip, threaded a new gear cable and handlebar controller, replaced the derailleur for the other two gears. Adjusting the chain guide that switches the chain from one sprocket to another was tricky - for me. A small washer on which the guide swivels kept slipping from my fingers and hiding on the veranda floor. With help from Lin and my cyclist friend Gerard (who’d never seen a Brompton), the work was done. 
I reduced the new chain to 95 links using a chain breaker to force out the link rivet. I threaded it round the rear wheel sprockets, the chain tensioner jockeys and front chain-wheel, joining with a ‘quick link’ - an innovation that allows the chain to be joined and unjoined without the removal of a rivet. New to me. Repairs completed my folding bike performs better than new. 

New hub gears, rear wheel, and chain tensioner - my old folding bicycle better than new

The three Sturmey hub gears are superior to the Sachs they’ve replaced. Testing the restored Brompton I cycled slowly but steadily up to the small chapel of Agios Isadoras – five hairpin bends above the village. 

Agios Isodoros on the winding road between Sokraki and Ano Korakiana

So satisfying that the bottom of my 6 gears made that possible. I’ve since taken the folder into town to cycle happily through its maze of streets amid the walkers. I returned our hired car. Lifting the folded Brompton from its boot, I headed into the city centre for various errands - paperwork, especially for our Biometric Residency Cards interview with the Immigration department in the police station off Solari. Being Monday morning the town was near gridlocked, which made pedalling smoothly past a kilometre of fuming semi-stationary traffic queues, on Heptanisou and Lefkimmi Streets into Mitropoliti Methodiou and San Rocco Square, especially satisfying. To go home I caught the bus to Sokraki, Brompton in its luggage hold, and for €3 was driven, via Tzavros, Dassia, Ipsos and up the winding road to Spartillas, along to Sgourades – a wonderful bus route for seeing Corfu’s changes of scenery from city, seashores to forested mountains – then down to Zigos and up to Sokraki, 29 hair pin bends above Ano Korakiana. 

The road from Sokraki to Ano Korakiana - 29 hairpin bends

I sat outside Emily’s Taverna for snacks and conversation with their Polish waitress, Milena, and various customers, German and English. One couple from Manchester, arriving quietly in an electric car. They were living in Corfu - a man and his sister living in Karousades. As we chatted convivially about the comparative merits of marriage for men and women, the man – middle aged - told us he’d lost his wife to Covid. In the last two years I’ve known very few who’ve caught this much talked about condition – Lin suffering it for an uncomfortable fortnight in January 2020 before lay-people even had a name for SARS-CoV-2.  
On November 10th Lin and I decided depart from beloved Greece. We flew back to England - Corfu Kapodistria, Athens Venizelos, London Heathrow and National Express coach back to Birmingham and Handsworth.  Goodbye for a while. PLF and tests and 10 days self-isolation back in the UK except to buy food.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Marshall Law

One of my regular conversations with Angel, a trim lady finely dressed, elegantly trailing a wheelie case, bringing from her church in Highgate food for the poor to the city markets below St Martin’s in the Bullring

“I see you wear no mask. Have you been vaccinated?” I know her well enough to risk curiosity. She, as versed as I, converses in words from King James Bible. 

“None o’ that. Do you not know, now is the Latter Days when Christ will come in his great glory to redeem us - to judge the quick and the dead”  (“the” pronounced “thee”)

“I know that my redeemer liveth”

“Allelulia. Praise the Lord. Would you like a sandwich?”

“No thanks, Angel. I am a rich man. God bless you”

Sometime in early 2020 when governments were fumbling with policies about it, someone in the WHO pronounced that "this is perhaps the first pandemic that humans can manage”. Where humans, faced with previous epidemics, could only accept, adapt and react to such catastrophes, SARS-CoV-2 was going to be managed

By late 2021 governments across the world appear to have accorded sovereignty to managerialism – a 20th century invention, relentlessly optimistic in offering the prospect of salvation where there might otherwise be despair and chaos. Where mere politics and the expertise of professionals falter, here is a faith that claims nothing cannot ultimately be managed – money, time, personal relations, and this pandemic. Management theory excludes ‘fate’; views doubt as irregular; sees qualms and reservations as faint motivation. Management side-steps ‘fortuna’ – the element of luck on which Machiavelli placed much weight in human affairs. The manager estimates ‘probabilities’, relies on extrapolation, simulation, graphics and models. Those with faith in management claim to operate outside politics, asserting loyalty to no ‘ism’, yet are ever theorising about values, leadership, motives, organisational behaviour, personality and governance. As with all faiths, as with politics and professionalism, those who trust in managing the pandemic can deploy secure logic, evidence and language, to demonstrate achievements and justify failures - though under pressure their language can turn florid, theatrical and, in dealing with scepticism, abrasive. Though he’s modified his opinion, our son-in-law attributed incidences of the latter – the reported persistence of the virus in the population despite restrictions, distancing, ubiquitous signage, masking, tracking and tracing, mass vaccination, and fear focused advertising, to people’s stubborn and feckless failure to comply with sensible precautions and restrictions.

I see no light at the end of the lock-down tunnel. We are enmeshed in, indeed captured by, a system of thought, of common sense and science as widely trusted as was once the omnipresence of witches and devils, the ultimate success of the 'War on Drugs', the sky-high market value of tulip bulbs in 17th century Holland, Marxist-Leninism as a basis for fatal collectivised agriculture in the 1930s or the Tayloresque intensification of farming that made a ‘dust-bowl’ of the American southern plains those same years. 

Power, profit, censorship of debate, besmirching of dissent, pervasive advertising in every medium, signage on walls, windows pavements, platforms, shops, and banners, conscientious belief among political leaders, advised by their scientists, that suppression, even elimination, of the CD-19 virus is practical - can be managed - have locked national populations, willing and unwilling, into uneven and unpredictable degrees of lock down. 

Faith, ever couched in the language, but not the behaviour, of science, holds that this global catastrophe can and will  and must be managed. I say ‘language’, since unlike true science, the theories on which government’s rely in combating the pandemic is impervious to refutation - the opposite of theorising in science. Debate is censored, rebuttal - even scepticism - slandered. Possessed by this grand illusion, whose internal symmetry gives it, in some minds, the character of a conspiracy, political leaders – ever relying on the authority of science – have decreed - with rare exceptions such as Sweden and perhaps Denmark - via emergency powers, policies that become ever more difficult to enforce, the more they are characterised by capricious inconsistency; the more they breach the rule of law, due process and decency; the more they invoke covert evasion of laws no longer respected.

I was on a bus sometime in 2020 as lockdown eased. I’m wearing a face mask. I catch the eye of a man across the aisle without a mask and was perhaps perceived as slightly quizzical, even judgemental.

“It’s not worth it. Did you know this virus can penetrate 9 feet of reinforced concrete?”

“I didn’t. That’s interesting. Blimey! Nine feet!”

“5G. It comes from 5G”

“Oh! Right. So nothing can be done?” He nodded, resigned.

In recent months governments have employed door-to-door canvassers and phone pitchers. Unknown callers have drawn on medical records to ask personal questions about ‘immunity status'. Striving to suppress the elusive shape-shifting virus, they’ve mustered squads of police, masked-up but not socially distanced, lined public spaces in brigade force, deployed batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, and fire hoses to disperse public gatherings. Police and other services ‘with the best intentions’ have been filmed trying to separate parents from their children. Public servants have entered private houses to make arrests and impose fines after being alerted by neighbours observing alleged breaches of lock down, on the basis of anonymous denunciation encouraged by governments. One government in Australia has spoken of enforcing compliance with self-isolation using a citizen's geo-location and facial profiling, starting with aggregated measures of population movement, but refining the process to specific addresses. There’s domestic and civil strife, amplified by the social web, between the fearful and the furious; true believers and true unbelievers. I have noticed men wandering in central Birmingham with hi-vis tabards bearing the title ‘Covid Marshall’. Job descriptions during their recruitment focused on their role as ‘helpers’ and ‘guides’.  

One of the harms of ‘house arrest’ has been to miss out on the constant self-correction of any inclination to think that I understand the world.  Deprived of regular and frequent direct conversation with friends and strangers I find my objectivity compromised. Quarantines have perhaps promoted over-confident subjectivity. My ‘normal condition of open-minded curiosity, puzzlement, doubt and confusion, has been sustained by interaction - in the street, the markets of my city, other countries, between neighbours over garden fences, many pubs, on country lanes, river banks and beaches. Linda and I seem to have robust immunity to Covid-19. It’s called T-Cell immunity.  We know no-one - relatives, friends, neighbours - who’ve died or been more than mildly ill over the last 18 months. Anecdotes about others – second hand from the media - for whom this fortunate circumstance is not the case, are a reminder to welcome our particular fortune and to strive to make the best of these bizarre and dismal times. Regular phone calls, and on-line screen meetings with family - including grandchildren, our son in Istanbul, colleagues and friends in many other parts of the world and now an on-line teaching project with fast track civil servants, do not replace insights afforded by the intimacies and intimations of face-to-face conversation.

I remedy my vexation by revisiting the history of eras whose butchers’ bills by way of war, oppression and disease maintain my sense of proportion. 

At the entrance to shops at Newtown Shopping Centre I recognise Mo and asked him if he was well

“I had the covid, you know”

“What happened?”

“On the third day I was feeling so bad I called the ambulance. There’s two Asian blokes and a white lady. She come to the door and whispers 'We can take you to the hospital but I don’t think it’s a good idea.' She’s shaking her head, like very quiet, mouthing ‘not a good idea’. I stay in my house. After two more days I am still feeling bad I call the ambulance again. This time the driver waves to me. ‘We are here. We can take you. Do you really want to go?’ He’s shaking his head. Discouraging me. OK so I go back to bed, taking honey and ginger and feeling real bad. Two days later I’m not getting any better, I phone again for the ambulance. This time I’m lying behind my front door. They ring my bell. Behind the door I am on my knees. I get it open. The lady nurse cry out ‘Close your door! Now! We’ll come back in 10 minutes’ I wait. Then I hear them knock. I open the door. They all kitted up, like three spacemen I tell you, white boots, plastic trousers, jackets and faces all covered in plastic screens. ‘Now we take you to the hospital’ I said ‘F*ck off’’” 


“The next day I’m OK”

“That’s strange, Mo” 

Just before we left for Corfu I took our new puppy, Pip, in the pannier of my bicycle to visit a friend in quarantine. We spoke through the glass of her front window. 

“I’m getting phone calls every day. They deliver steroids. Test kits I have to push back through my letter box. I’ve tested positive three times. Feels like a bad flu. They say it’s Delta. I’ve got to quarantine for 90 days!”  

“But you’re allowed out to shop for food or harvest food from your allotment” I emailed her the legal clauses that would let her out of the house. 

“90 days?”

“Yeah really. Don’t you mean 19, I said? ‘No’ she said ‘it’s 90 days’. Anyway I’m bored of them. I don’t want steroids. I’m not answering the phone any more.” 

We’ve stayed in touch by the social web. 

A friend in academia emails: … you appear to have been listening to the bbc too much.  I "risk curiosity" on just about everyone (except those sad souls one instantly perceives the need to keep clear of). I've already explained in previous emails how the level of distrust has never been higher.  Many of even those wearing masks in the open are just doing so to avoid being accused of being "selfish" "granny-killers".  Most sci/medical people don't believe the lies but they are scared to speak out as they will lose their jobs.  HUGE marches in London and around the world. The Chris Whitty regime are pushing their luck on how much they can take the pisc.  Even Neil Fergustwat is now "predicting" things will have ended by Sept.  People should just display my cut-open masks saying "PSEUDO - SCIENCE" to provoke responses.  One Korean guy in Nyu St even embraced me haha. Very simple.  If there were loads of deaths, urban house prices would have collapsed with capital C.  Instead they have Soared with capital S

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Simon Baddeley