Category: Covid-19

The year of living dismally

The year of living dismally

We’ve never lived a year like it. Just over twelve months ago the Prime Minister told us to go home and that’s pretty much what we did albeit with a slight hiatus over the summer. We’ve mostly been home, cooped up and closeted.

Life has been directly informed by whether you like your home and the people in it. We were told we were ‘all in it together’, but that ‘it’ varied wildly from those with a large house and garden surrounded by a loving family to those closeted in abusive relationships or living alone twenty stories up in a tiny apartment with no access to a garden. It’s been a series of very different journeys which have determined how tolerable or otherwise our lockdown has been.

Pernicious disease

Then of course you may have caught Covid, a most pernicious and almost incomprehensible illness. Some caught it, displayed no symptoms and are still unaware they ever had it. More than a hundred and twenty thousand got sick and never recovered. For others still hanging on after being ill for weeks or months it continues to be a long brutal battle.

And what about babies and very young children, usually the most vulnerable to disease? It seems to have had little or no impact on their young lives. How can that be? Slightly older kids may not have been physically affected by the disease, but many have been hurt badly by the psychological fall out.

Our house

Days seem to pursue a relentless course of not very much. In this house we all work or are trying to navigate ‘A’ levels. We moan when the broadband is as bad as dial-up and our super important call disintegrates into digital dust.

In the evening we watch Netflix or a BBC iPlayer boxed set. We’re currently on the wonderful French farce ‘Call my agent!’ and then settle down for the 10 o’clock BBC News, unless the news is too dreadful to watch. I’m now fully acquainted with all Sophie Raworth’s broadcast outfits and frankly Soph it’s time to go online and select a couple of new ‘fits as I gather, they are now called. (Thanks to daughter for that). I really need to get out more, but then again so do you.

If you’re a keen reader of A little London Life, you’ll know that over the summer we moved to Essex for three months while our kitchen was given a complete makeover. Builders seemed to have worked right through the pandemic.

And there in the Essex house that we rented from friends was a small upright piano. I was determined to do something during lockdown that would mark some kind of growth and started hammering out gibberish on the piano. Well, that hasn’t stopped as a lovely friend from my days at ABC News gave me a digital upright which now gets beaten into submission on a nightly basis. I’m still an astonishingly bad player but having played guitar for almost 50 years I do understand music’s basic wiring. I know what’s going on under the hood, which I’m now struggling to translate on to the keyboard. It’s a battle but I’m in it for the long haul. Sorry neighbours.

Suddenly, nothing happened

So how has it been for you? Still struggling to coming to terms with it all? Doing OK? Coming up for air?

It’s odd to try to recall what happened when almost nothing happened.  The major events that typically bookmark our personal orbit round the sun were in short supply from March of last year. No holidays, no going out, no meeting with friends, no journeys, no business meetings. Social interaction reduced to a Zoom call. Work seems like a series of tasks rather than a collaborative experience.

What do I miss most? Is it gigs, theatre, art galleries, cinema, having pleasant things in my diary to look forward to? Yes, all of that but not really that either. What I really miss is just being in the presence of my fellow humans. Hugging, kissing hanging out, drinking, chatting. Life with a forward trajectory built into it. How do we know we’ve achieved anything if we keep busy but are often busy doing nothing?

Vaccination action station

It’s certainly not over yet, but the various vaccines are a beacon of hope. I remember talking with someone at the start of it all saying I thought the chance of getting a vaccine quickly was slight at best and there was a good chance there would be no vaccine at all. Science has come to our rescue, we have vaccines, there is a way out. Let’s have no mealy-mouthed anxiety. Roll up your sleeve.

As the little bumper on the BBC says: The future isn’t cancelled. See you on the other side.

Jabbed

Jabbed

Last Wednesday Mrs Preen and I were talking idly about when I might get a Covid vaccine. I’m 66 and in Group 5 and the general consensus was, with a bit of luck, I should get a jab around the end of February. Next morning, I turned on my phone (28th January) and a text was waiting saying today was jab day for Jim. There were various vaccination stations on offer but a nearby community hall was offering a tempting 14.40 slot. Reader, I booked it.

I seem to be one of the first in my age group to be offered the vaccine. I wonder if I was seen as vulnerable having contracted prostate cancer a few years ago. My cancer treatment has now finished but I guess I was still seen as having ‘underlying health issues’.

At 14.30 I wandered round to the vaccination centre to find the place buzzing with anti-Covid activity.

An electronic temperature gauge was aimed at my forehead and in I went. A young man, armed with a clipboard, approached and asked me if I needed help filling out the form he was proffering. It was name, address, email address and date of birth. I said I was probably OK with that and I must have passed as I was led into the next room where a nurse was waiting, needle in hand. My vaccine of choice was the Pfizer/BioNTech model and bang, in it went. I was given a leaflet about possible side effects and, more importantly, a sticker.

I then had to wait ten minutes in another room. I guess this was to see whether I was going to faint, develop a desperate need to buy Microsoft products or fall under the spell of 5G telephone masts. Having apparently dodged those bullets I was released back into the wild. The whole thing took around 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The common side effects are:

  • pain at injection site
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • joint pain
  • fever

I have a very small amount pain where I was jabbed, but it’s really nothing. Now I have to wait for a week or two for the vaccine to build up protection. It’s unclear when I get the second, booster dose, but it should be in about 12 weeks.

Thanks to all the NHS staff who were without exception friendly, efficient and lovely. Hope it’s your turn soon.

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

A bunch of musicians, not sure if that’s the right collective noun, who are also mates of mine have released a song called ‘Holy Joe’ to raise money for the homeless.

I wrote the lyrics and I’m hoping with a little arm twisting on my part you might be persuaded to open your purses and wallets and direct a bit of your hard earned in Joe’s direction. If you’d like to cut to the chase, skip the rest of the story, and hear the song just click here. That’s fine with me.

Just before coronavirus hit, I’d started writing songs with an old chum of mine. His name is Simon Webb. He’s conducted the Cats orchestra, was the musical director for The Who’s Tommy when it appeared in the West End, and scored and played the music for Sir Nicholas Hytner’s celebrated Royal National Theatre production of Henry V. On occasions he can be found playing keyboards in deafening rock bands.

For reasons best known to himself he said he fancied writing some songs with me. I sent him some lyrics which by my own admission were mostly terrible, but Holy Joe had something about it. It’s a simple song about a homeless man I’d seen drifting around the streets near where I live in London.

Here’s a snippet:

My name is Joe, Little Joe Monroe

No one asks, no one says hello

I’m just another drifter, just another drifter in the snow.

Simon wrote some beautiful music that perfectly complements the words and there we were with a lovely song, unsure what the hell to do with it.

It was staring us in the face for weeks, before we finally realised it would make a perfect Christmas song and a fine way to raise money for the Joes and Janes of this world who are destitute.

Time and talent

Because of the pandemic, musicians, actors, bar staff, waiters and in fact everybody involved in the night-time economy have had a dreadful year. Many are suffering right now, but only in extreme cases does their suffering match the suffering of those who live on the street.

Simon started putting together a pretty sophisticated demo of the song and sent it to the musicians he regularly uses for his projects. Despite some of them having a tough year, they all agreed to give their time and talent for free.

Lockdown meant they couldn’t all get together in a room to record the song, so they recorded their individual parts at home and sent their musical brilliance to Simon who wove the whole thing together like a wonderful musical tapestry.

It sounds like making the record that way is incredibly easy, but trust me it’s not. I got Simon to explain how it all works but he started talking about musical stems, digital audio workstations, deverb, gating and logic and frankly I got a little lost.

Donate and share

To finish, if you like the song please donate what you can and share the link with your friends on social media. Every penny will go to a homeless charity. Early in the new year we will divvy up and let everyone know where the money has been placed.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe

You can also listen on Spotify.

Want to know more about the band?

 The Spiderhawks

Robert Hart is the singer. He is currently fronting Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and has toured with Bad Company and The Jones Gang, the group run by Faces tub thumper Kenney Jones.

Guitar player Jay Stapley’s credits include Roger Waters, Mike Oldfield, Scott Walker and Shakin’ Stevens, but I like him best because he played guitar on perhaps the finest British film: Withnail and I.

Drummer John Trotter sent his drum part all the way from Australia where he now lives. John has worked with Robbie Williams, Hot Chocolate, Cliff Richard, The Corrs, Georgie Fame, Ruby Turner, The Three Degrees, Boney M and The Platters.

Sax player Al Stewart has worked with Tom Robinson, Cliff Richard, George Michael and Bert Weedon (Google that name kids).

Pete Jagger played the harmonica. He’s a singer and guitar player who tours extensively playing his own brand of folk, blues and ragtime.

Steve Stapley and Lynda Hayes provided the backing vocals. Lynda has sung with Barry Manilow, Nik Kershaw, George Michael, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Meatloaf and many others. Steve is a gifted singer songwriter. He sang in the rock choir on Evita for the film and soundtrack album and has worked with Sir Tim Rice.

John Gordon played bass, is one of the funniest people on the planet, and has worked with Alan Price and Wanda Jackson among many others.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe

A testing experience

A testing experience

The teenager and several hundred (honestly, I’ve no idea) of her closest friends are due to meet up in Devon later this week and as you can imagine the Devon Parents WhatsApp group is in meltdown. There’s only one topic of conversation and that’s making sure the little darlings are tested for Covid before setting off. We don’t want a bunch of mini-adult super-spreaders infecting the delights of the English Riviera.

Well, her result is in and so is mine.

Yesterday she signed-up online, admitted she had no Covid symptoms, but found they were happy to test her anyway. For reasons I won’t trouble you with we are currently living in Essex and the walk-in testing station is located at a car park in Newham. Mrs Preen was having a troublesome day at work so I volunteered to accompany the teenager. This seemed like a job for Uber and moments later Karmin appeared in his beaten-up Prius, said he knew exactly where the testing station was, and off we went.

On arrival, the teenager bolted in. Not normal behaviour.  She may not have liked the idea of having a giant Q-tip rammed down her throat but the thought of spending any more time with her parents when there were hi-jinks to be had in Devon made it a pretty compelling assignment.

Waiting outside I started chatting with the bloke on the gate and asked, fully expecting the answer no, whether I could get a test. Sure jump right in, knock yourself out he said, or words to that effect. I had no symptoms but wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I’d just eaten a pork sausage sandwich for lunch.

So, I too bolt into the testing station in search of the teenager who is currently self-administrating her test. She shows me how to do it and jams the giant Q-tip right down my throat, this has me gagging and heaving up some of my delicious lunch. This she finds entirely hilarious. We put our swabs into a red solution, seal up the vials and hand them in. All done and dusted in just ten minutes.

Karmin is still waiting outside and he takes up back to the leafy ‘burbs of South Woodford.

This morning the teenager and I both got the good news, we are neg.

As I speak the Devon Parents WhatsApp Group is once again pinging into action. Other results are in and it looks like the teens are good to go. Good luck Devon, you’re going to need it.