Monday 30 March 2020

More dispatches from the home front

Looking back over a few old blog posts, whilst trying to find inspiration, reminded me how normal it was, until just a few short weeks ago, to be able to jump on a train for a visit to the coast, or an unfamiliar town, and similarly being able to jet off somewhere in search of good beer.

Admittedly the latter takes a lot more planning and organisation, but such a trip was in the offing for this coming May. That’s obviously gone out the window now, but the trip in question was a short, three-day stopover in the Czech city of Pilsen (Plzeň). Pilsen is famous the world over for being the home of Pilsner-style beers, as it is the city where this golden style of lager was first developed.

Son Matthew and I were flying out to join a group of fellow beer enthusiasts, most of whom have present, or past connections with Maidstone CAMRA. Three years we accompanied the group to the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf, whilst two years ago Bamberg was our destination. I had also joined the group, on my own in 2015, for a visit to the Czech town of Jihlava on the border between Bohemia and Moravia.

These trips have always been good fun, well-organised and have normally included a few brewery tours. You can imagine then the sense of disappointment that has pervaded the Bailey household, as we watched with horror, as the insidious Corona virus spread itself around the globe.

Then in mid-March, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, advised against all travel to the Czech Republic, as the Czech authorities had closed the country’s borders, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. The closure extended through into April, but whilst the tour organiser suggested waiting, realistically I can’t see the UK’s own lockdown being lifted for at least another six weeks, and it is likely to take much longer before restrictions on international travel are lifted.

None of this matters in the general scheme of things, especially when we are facing a crisis the likes of which we have never encountered before. My grandparents, who would have just about remembered the Spanish Flu pandemic which followed the end of the Great War, are long departed, and with them and their generation, the experiences of that particular scourge has vanished from living memory.

It’s a case now of bunkering down and isolating ourselves from contact with our fellow citizens by staying indoors as much as possible. I am switching to working from home as much as possible, although most of the workforce at my company has been instructed not to come in next week. This will make things easier and safer for those occasions where I do have to go into the office to deal with things that can't be managed remotely, or electronically.

For some reason I was incredibly organised towards the end of last year, so instead of leaving things until later, I booked a second holiday, also for May. This was a short cruise for Mrs PBT’s and I to Hamburg, on the Queen Mary 2.  The voyage hasn’t officially been cancelled, but it will be, and given the experience of passengers quarantined on cruise ships, for weeks on end, because of Corona virus, being confined to quarters is something neither of us wish to experience.

As with the Czech trip, cancelling or postponing the cruise is not a problem, particularly if all these small actions help speed up the end of the crisis, and anyway, even if it was to end tomorrow, there would still be a mountain of work waiting in order to put things right and restore a semblance of normality.

These then are my thoughts on a very cold and blustery Sunday evening, as we enter week two of the lock-down. I’ll sign off for now, but not before saying,  keep well and stay safe.

Sunday 29 March 2020

The Fantastic Mr Fox

My exercise today has been in the garden and consisted of chopping up a large pile of cuttings from an out of control shrub that I cut down a few weeks ago. I also mowed the grass – its first cut this year, but even with the blades on the highest setting the mower kept clogging up. The reality is I should have performed this task a couple of weeks ago, but wait, didn’t we have all that rain back then?

Grass clippings, and chopped up shrub cuttings, mean my “brown” bin is now three-quarters full. This is the bin I bought specially from the council for disposing of garden waste that is difficult to compost, only to discover that just when this service is coming into its own, the local authority has suspended it.

Understandable under the circumstances, as I’m sure there are far more pressing matters for our local council to deal with during this crisis, but rather frustrating all the same. As far as my step count is concerned, I’ve only just hit the 2,750 mark, but steps aren’t everything, and despite the chill wind that was blowing, (it’s going to get even colder tomorrow), it was good to be out in the fresh air.

However, this post isn’t one about how virtuous, or otherwise I’ve been, instead it’s about a little visitor who appeared just as I was tidying things away. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a small and quite skinny looking fox slowly creeping into view.

The sight of a fox is not that uncommon, as our garden backs on to a small wooded area that acts as a “nature area” for the local primary school, but normally we only see them from the kitchen window, and not whilst we actually out in the garden ourselves.

My first instinct was to reach into my coat pocket and grab my phone, as I wanted to photograph the little fella, but as I snapped away with the odd zoom shot, it became obvious that this fox was no shy and retiring violet, but rather a bold one. He, and here I’m assuming it was a male, continued his approach to within a few feet of me.

It was then that I realised the poor creature was hungry, so without making my movements too obvious, I made my way back to the house and tapped on the window to attract Mrs PBT’s attention. She opened the back door, whilst I explained what I’d seen, and hurriedly found a metal pet food bowl, kept from our dog-sitting days.

She grabbed a couple of Weetabix and crumbled them up in the bowl with some water, for me to take back up the garden for our little visitor. I thought Mr Fox might like something extra to go with his cereal, so I added the remains of my Cuppa Soup to the dish, placed it on the ground, before retreating back towards the house.

Sure enough our foxy friend approached the dish, and after a cautious sniff or two, got stuck in. Later, we found a tin of dog food, again a hangover from looking after my sister-in-law’s dog, so we gave the little chap, a helping of that, and I’m sure he found it a better choice than the Weetabix.

Mrs PBT’s was keen to share my photos of our visitor, on social media, particularly as she wanted to alert occupants of neighbouring properties that there was a hungry fox on the prowl. I agreed to post them on my Facebook page, even though I’ve been ignoring social media as much as possible these past few weeks.

The response was quite surprising, as apart from those liking the cute photos of our furry friend, there were quite a few from people we know in the immediate vicinity. One, from a neighbour down the road, informed us that he had been feeding the fox for the past several nights, but hadn’t seen it for a few days.

It would appear that the Fantastic Mr Fox, likes to do the rounds and pick and choose which locations he dines at. Now that is a little light-hearted story to help cheer us through these dark days, and one to restore one’s faith in the kindliness of others.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Dispatches from the home front

Well it’s day two of working from home, as thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can connect straight into my company and am now spending time re-writing various technical documents and procedures.

There have been a few glitches, which haven’t been completely sorted yet, and these meant having to rely on an old-fashioned memory stick, but I can at least write and receive company emails and keep in touch with other members of the management team.

Now I can just hear the sighs of , “Surely you had that capability before,” and yes, I did, but apart from occasions where I was away on business, I avoided picking up company email in order to maintain the correct work-life balance. The company has also been a little slow in embracing new technology and newer ways of working - until now, that is!  Needs must and with the time rapidly approaching 8am, I’ll be pressing the “save” button on this article, and logging into work.

Back now for a short break and a welcome cup of coffee. Mrs PBT’s working out a routine for us all, to give a bit of structure to our day. That way we won’t end up going stir-crazy and start killing each other. She can do most of her work from home, but it’s son Matthew we need to keep an eye on. He works in retail, and the hardware chain he works for announced they were closing last Friday, slightly ahead of the PM’s announcement. His company will pay the staff for a month, and it will then be over to the government.

Apart from his car-loan, plus what he pays his mother for housekeeping (not as much as he should, according to Mrs PBT's), he doesn’t have much to worry about financially, but we need to try and keep him focused. There’s plenty he can be doing out in the garden, and I did say he can come out for the prescribed, one-hour walk with me later.

I’ve made good progress so far this morning and am rather pleased with what I’ve accomplished so far. Being able to take a few steps back and to use that time wisely is something of benefit to the company that will help move things forward, once things start getting back to normal. It also stops me from getting bored. So staying busy is the key, as not only does it make the day go quicker, it helps keep one’s mind away from the media frenzy, with its constant updates, speculation and horror stories.

I am under no illusions that we are in for a long haul before any semblance of normality returns, although I would not attempt to put a timescale on this. The President of the United States claims his country will be back open for business just after Easter, which shows just how little the orange one understands such matters.

For my part, I’ve plenty of company work to keep me occupied for a few weeks, and I can intersperse this with all the jobs that Mrs PBT’s has lined up for me. There’s also the clearing up of the garden, although replacing the two fence panels which blew down during the winter storms, is obviously on hold.

Keeping one’s mind active is also important, and I’ve got plenty of reading material, some of which I might share with you in a later post. I’ve also an extended Special Edition of the Two Towers, from Lord of the Rings to watch, should I really want to practise some escapism.

I am also scheduling in regular exercise, as there’s no point in ending up as a couch potato, especially now that spring is in the air. If the lockdown is tightened though, and we’re only allowed out for tasks such as shopping, the garden will have to become my exercise yard. Fortunately, we’ve got quite a large back garden, with plenty of room to move about in, but that would soon become very monotonous.  

Talking of exercise, it’s time to head out into the great wide yonder or, more to the point, go for my government prescribed, one hour’s worth of walking. I might even find something interesting to write about whilst I’m out.

Footnote: this article was written yesterday.