The Lockdown Diaries 10: The Most Intriguing Paradoxes


The UK government’s hilarious mail-out warning the nation’s at-risk population to shield – ie. lock themselves in an oubliette and throw away the key, is doubtless falling on deaf ears. It’s the latest ‘most intriguing paradox’ worthy of WS Gilbert; you’re at risk if you have an underlying condition. If the condition requires you to attend hospital every day you cannot shield. You are vulnerable if you live alone. If you live alone you cannot shield.

It doesn’t end there. You can go to work in London, but you’re advised against traveling to your office. You can buy a kebab in a takeaway but you can’t socially distance in a coffee shop. Supermarkets have dinky little plastic shielding panels installed, most of which I’m taller than. We want the clean air and wildlife back, but we want commerce to send it all away again. Paradox ad infinitum.

Speaking of wildlife the canal outside my window is finally clear to the bottom. It’s not a pretty sight. Although it is full of carp, which I’m told by a Polish friend you can eat after flushing with fresh water for 24 hours. Today there are half a dozen geese, moorhens, herons, ducks and something that looks like a knackered cormorant yelling at each other, although the ducks may just be laughing.

The good news is that locally, a great many independent stores have adapted smoothly and seem to be doing a roaring trade, while all the monolithic chains have failed to reopen. Sadly the local McDonalds is due back soon, heralding the return of litter and hovering drug addicts. The photo at the top says it all. In Belfast, McDonalds got the Mayor to re-open its junk food chain after they built a walkway over two streets to reach it. Like Subway, KFC and Burger King, they bring nothing but toxicity as they hollow out city centres, but it’s just another paradox; councils promote healthy lifestyles while actively courting junk food dispensaries.

We want the world to be better, and help to make the world worse. I have too many friends conflicted by the need to earn a living and the desire to do something worthwhile. Perhaps – hope against hope – the new upside-down landscape will remove some of the these paradoxes, restore a modicum of common sense and redress the balance.

But of course we need paradoxes to survive. I think of this every time I see someone with a low-fat yoghurt pot and a cigarette. A human being is a collection of opposite energies bundled into an engine that just about runs. Perhaps we’ll learn that there are better ways to keep things running smoothly. Now I’m going back to the two books on my pile; ‘The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons’ and ‘Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon’.

21 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 10: The Most Intriguing Paradoxes”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    Could we have a picture of the canal? I’m sure the people at the end of our road have all sorts of wild life through their yard as there is a gully there covered with trees and other vegetation and forming a route down to the Fraser River but not so much here (except the mice which seem to have tried migrating into the house). Have only heard the usual crows. robins and chickadees, even the woodpecker has gone somewhere else this spring. Definitely would like to see the canal with its bird life. The cormorant will go after the carp and not look so knackered, although they seem to look that way all the time,.

  2. snowy says:

    It’s gosling a-gp-go round here, lots of very hissy mummy geese frightening the wits out of children that get too close.

    [The cormorant might be a shag, smaller, adults have a Kermodean quiff. Cormorants have white face and thigh markings and more yellow in the face.]

  3. admin says:

    There you go Helen – this is before the canal went clear.

  4. Andrew Holme says:

    ” Perhaps we’ll learn that there are better ways…”
    Perhaps not. Our journey as a species is towards more choice. More slightly different variations of the same things to eat and drink. More slightly different variations of the same teflon coated superhero fighting Norse gods. Do we need 22 types of coffee at Starbucks? Do we need a phone with its 49 supply chains to construct? Do we need nail bars? Do we need hairdressers? Do we need fashion? Who’s going to tell people what they can and cannot have? Not me, I’m a socialist. I fight so that ‘the little people’ can have what the rich and famous assume is theirs by right. However, I’m surprised that no-one’s considered the Golgafrincham solution to this pandemic. Let’s start building that Ark B!

  5. John Williams says:

    Talking of nail bars, interestingly, I’ve noticed less use of ladies cosmetics since the lockdown. Maybe because wearers are at home? A good percentage of it gets binned anyway.

    I watched The Real Marigold Hotel 2020 last night. I just couldn’t help noticing Britt Ekland’s layers of make up and Duncan Bannatyne’s coif. Not a grey hair in sight.

    I just ordered a men’s hair trimmer. Having to resort to cutting my own hair, with a positive end result, I thought a trimmer would be no worse.

  6. Fast food junkies should read ‘Fast Food Nation’ by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser published in 2001 but still relevant – his chapters on the chemicals used in food and the way TV adverts deliberately target children are as sickening as the food.

    Sadly they made a real dog’s breakfast of the film which if popular might have done some good.

  7. patrick kilgallon says:

    I have an underlying health condition and so have been self isolation since the first week in March as (unlike the Government) I could clearly see the direction of travel of the virus. Over that time I’ve been bouncing between moments of sheer rage that would have seen me introduce Dominic C to my shovel, to a fear that I will never again be able to do the things I’ve loved like going to the pub with mates, playing in the band, seeing bands, going to the pictures, using my season ticket at St James’ Park, etc. Having said all that, I found your analysis here genuinely uplifting. I’m not confident that the world will change, but I’m not losing hope.

  8. Brian Evans says:

    Andrew, the late, great actor Robert Morley once said on a chat show that he was a socialist and would always remain so, provided they let him keep his race horses. Just to twist that a little, to fit my sentiments: I am a socialist and will remain so, proving I don’t actually have to like people.

  9. eggsy says:

    Thanks for giving oubliette an outing, Mr Fowler. I often think its a word that needs to get out more.

    One of the down sides to working at home is not seeing how the moorchicks and ducklings are doing on the ponds near work. Or conversely, how the fox is doing.

    Now, assistance please all you lot!
    Who is responsible for the following?

    The common cormorant or shag
    Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
    The reason you will see no doubt
    Is to keep the lightning out;
    But what these unobservent birds
    Have not noticed is that herds
    Of wandering bears may come with buns
    And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

    Every time cormorants or shags (stop tittering at the back) come into view, out of the depths comes that doggerel. I want to know who to blame.

  10. snowy says:

    The poet also wrote a book about pre-war Germany that was turned into a musical, enough of a clue?

  11. eggsy says:

    Thankyou, snowy, efficient as ever.
    Not who I expected, but nonetheless quoted in parliament by the honourable member for Darlington in 1963. As you can tell, I’ve given in to search engines now that I’ve been told the answer.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Those are fish, Chris, lots of fish. My goodness. If that is before it cleared I can only imagine what all there is down there.
    That wasn’t the author I expected either, eggsy, and I have known that rhyme for ages, too.

  13. Ben M says:

    For me the lockdown has taken away the ‘background white noise’ of modern life.
    I’m lucky enough that during lockdown I am able to work from a home which has a garden and sits in a little village. The local shop is doing a good trade, everyone says hello and thank you. Whilst my work has actually got busier in lockdown the simpler life without the need for commuting and other work related travelling has created a better quality of life.
    My wife and I have found complete new areas to walk in that are only an hour away by foot from our home.
    Everyone I talk to likes the life style that has been forced upon us. Nature seems to like it. Businesses have been able to function with staff working from home where previously it was perceived as impossible to do. Now big business such as Barclays and Lloyds now recognise that having 7000 staff in one building in an expensive part of the country is possibly a bad idea and they can function in other ways.
    It’s just a shame that I expect in a while we’ll be back to as we were before the COVID-19 crisis happened. Nature will have retreated and we’ll be pummeling ourselves with that white noise of modern life again in order to let those with lots of money create even more.
    I’ll appreciate these halcyon days now whilst they last, and reminisce on them later.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    Didn’t the moat (the last true remnant of the watery Thorney island) of the Jewel Tower, near the houses of Parliament, use to be full of beautiful old Carp, which were surreptitiously caught and consumed by various eastern Europeans? I have tried Carp – even ‘cleaned’, I would not recommend it. Nowhere near as foul as Tench, though.

  15. Jan says:

    I thought you had this well wrong about the moat Ian I thought it had been refilled in the 17C. But you were pretty much correct. Dunno that it was actually a remnant of the original Thorney Island waters though….

    I went over to see what Google and some old reference books of mine had to say about the Jewel tower moat. They refilled the moat in the early 1960s after excavating the site. I have been to this site a few times since the 1990s and it is gravel lined now and the waters gone.There is actually an old quay/small landing dock about 20 foot E of the jewel Tower building which was discovered during the sixties excavations. Still visible now by the dry moat.

    Apparently the water quality was really poor after the refilling of the moat and by the 1990s had become pretty stagnant although there were fish still living in there which had come from the restocking after the water was reintroduced. From its first 13C creation it had been used as a fish pond providing food for King Edwards table. So the Eastern European newcomers to the UK in the late ’80s and early ’90s probably did give it their very best attentions before the waters and fish finally dissapeared! So many of the homeless living rough in and around Victoria were and still are probably Eastern European guys local carp would have probably been irresistible. A taste of home.

    A couple of things that are really interesting about this is that it reveals how much wider this section of the Thames around Palace gardens must have been in the 13C. The books reckon when the building and moat were created the the moat was filled with waters from the Thames it took 23 navvies (Lay brothers from Bermondsey Abbey were particular experts in this type of work.) 10 days digging to create the moat. The Thames is still tidal @ this section and the moat most probably was fitted with some sort of fish trap plus further devices for retention of At least some of the waters @low tide whilst retaining it’s inmatest + to allow replenishment of fresh water. Something they worked out a lot better than the 20C academic numpties who created a stagnant pond basically. Plus there is a stream which contributed to a branch of the Tyburn which runs not far from the church of St Margarets which is by Westminster Abbey this stream (which has probably been contained by now ) was a feeder stream to the Tyburn which had itself been diverted by the 13C to power a waterwheel in order to grind flour for the baking of bread by monks @ the abbey. It’s fairly obvious when your examine this stretch of the Tyburns together modification has taken place. St Margarets feeder stream might well have emptied directly into the wider early Thames in the Medieval period rather than feeding the tributary Tyburn. St Margarets a precursor of the more modern church has existed at this site since the 12C is just around the corner from the Jewel Tower. In fact this stream most likely could have been used to create the moat not just using Thames water but a better quality sourced from a bit further inland..

    The diverted Tyburns route and the waterwheel are thought to have been near Great College street. It’s so weird round there difficult to believe you are in Central London at all.

    Interestingly nearly everyone will be familiar with the site of the Jewel Tower as it’s right next door to College green which was frequently (until v. Recently!!) Used by tv reporters conducting interviews of parliamentarians.

    I promise to shut up in a mo just one last bit….Thorney Island originally a large Thames eyot was the only really usable bit of land in the area the surrounding lands being pretty much marshland where it was impossible to sink foundations for buildings of any size.

  16. snowy says:

    The moat has been filled and emptied more times than a condom machine during Freshers’ Week.

    The Tower Moat, long an offensive and useless nuisance, was finally drained in 1843, and then filled up and turfed as a small campus martius for the garrison. Evergreens are planted on the banks, and on the north-east is a shrubbery garden.

    In draining the moat the workmen found several stone shot, supposed to be missiles directed at the fortress during the siege of 1460, when Lord Scales held the Tower for Henry VI., and the Yorkists cannonaded the fortress from a battery in Southwark. Our readers will remember two occasions when the Tower fired on the City: first, when the Bastard Falconbridge attacked the bridge under pretense of aiding the king; and again on Evil May Day, in the reign of Henry VIII., when the Constable of the Tower, enraged at the tumult, discharged his cannon on Cheapside way.

    In 1792, when there was much popular discontent, several hundred men were employed to repair the Tower fortifications, opening the embrasures, and mounting cannon; and on the west side of the fortress, a strong barricade was formed of old casks, filled with earth and rubble. The gates were closed at an early hour, and no one but soldiers allowed upon the ramparts. In 1830, when the Duke of Wellington, the Constable, filled the Tower Ditch with water, and cleansed and deepened it, the Radicals declared he was putting the fortress into order in case of the Reform agitation, as very likely he was.

    LO&N 1878.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    There was water there in the early 1980’s when I last went anywhere ‘touristy’ in London. It’s quite startling – like a wee castle surrounded by modern buildings. I’m surprised that our favourite typist, hasn’t discovered it, and decided it’s a lost Cathar outlier, or some such tosh… Pity about the moat, though.

  18. Jan says:

    funnily enough I actually worked @ the Houses of Parliament for a short time in 1984 I think it was. Don’t remember the mister Jewel Tower at all. Really took a good look at Westminster which is fascinating place didn’t go to the Jewel Tower though. Duh!

  19. Jan says:

    Don’t even know how’d it became the mister Jewel Tower
    Double Duh

  20. Helen Martin says:

    Had to go look at this tower. Now in how many places would people be sensible enough to go on using a solid building as long as it was still there? Modern thinking is to tear it down and build something more suitable for purpose.

  21. Jan says:

    Helen I think in the 19C it was designated HQ for the newly minted weights and measures division.

    Which isn’t a bad repurposing of part of a medieval Royal castle. This thing is like so high on the buildings to be preserved at all costs list it would take an act of terrorism to get shot of it. Then they’d rebuild something in its image.I

    I still can’t get over neglecting to given the place (and it’s moat) a once over back in the 1980s
    Like how dopey am i?

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