My dad, brother and me


A lot of my friends and colleagues have lost access to the things that mentally help charge their batteries – Neill can’t go swimming (he who swam the channel!), so I’m feeling enormously grateful for having the ranch.

Nothing has changed except the emphasis. I still have that naive schoolboy notion of a bit of land to grow food on and run away to. It’s a notion shared by many many, perhaps more so in other countries. It just became more starkly and viscerally relevant, that’s all – decades of intuitive preparation somehow coming smack-bang up to date.

A run of warm sunny days when I’m off are a gift from god. I feel guilty, but know I’ll be needed later. I’m a passionate believer in the protective value of vitamin D, so I do my best to catch the sun. I plant trays of warmer growing stuff – tomatoes, peppers, chillies, beans –  in the raised green-housy/gentleman’s-hideout bit at the back of the big lean-to. I might have been premature, as another cold snap is here and they need 20 degrees or so to germinate – hope it warms up again.

I install some netting over the greenhouse roof to stop the pesky crows pecking holes in the plastic and do a bit more on filling the front and back with poly-carbonate. There’s a prescient absorption in the jobs, which apart from the bigger picture of growing food for us all, has its own intrinsic value in helping to become mentally stronger. Mindfulness innit. 

Sam helps me clear the weeds and turf that have grown over the paving outside the gates in anticipation of getting the van on (full social distancing – I decided to self-isolate two weeks ago). I sort out more infra-structure: power, water and so on.

Entire nations are digging up lawns and flower beds and starting to grow veg which can only be a good thing. There’s been an upturn in chicken sales. Pollution is down. There are positives.

Netting on greenhouse roof
gentleman's hidey-hole in greenhouse mode

I made the harrowing decision to send Louise up to her sister’s nearly two weeks ago. She’s safe there. It’s very sad when we meet from a distance. Front-line NHS staff, despite the best of all efforts are super-carriers. Life turns topsy-turvy as for many, work is the only social contact. Fuck, there’s a lot of love hidden under all that military-style planning and preparation at the aspirational hospital where I work – all hospitals for that matter. 

At first, being on my own was fun – getting into an efficient spartan routine: cooking; washing; cleaning; meditation; exercise and so on, but then, earlier in the week, I got hit by another burst of fear as more and more grim reminders mercilessly rise – particularly young, fit healthcare workers dying.

This is going to go on for weeks, so I’d better get used to it. I’ve fallen into a pattern of going to bed early – 8.30/9ish then waking up in the middle of the night and being awake for hours, contemplating and planning. Maybe I just don’t need as much sleep, now that I’ve ditched some of the crap? The weekly written observations are all part of it – an important head-leveller.

Emergency departments have changed massively in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated even a few weeks ago. We all have ‘hot’ zones for seeing Covid patients. Thankfully, we’re now wearing full PPE in ours. There are fewer people out and about, so there are less accidents and traumas. The worried-well, with chronic problems, that should be nowhere near an emergency department, are staying away and there’s a national appreciation of what the NHS is having to cope with. The patients who do come, tend to be more sick.

I did my first overnight shift in years last night as resident Trauma Team Leader. Neill was on call and I was ever so pleased to spend a few minutes chatting and get a dose of his insightful upbeat matter-of-fact wisdom. I really needed it to cure my despondency. 

There hasn’t been as much trauma recently but there were a couple last night and I was glad to be kept busy tbh and get the chance to catch up. When I went to medical school, fourteen years older than my peers, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. It turned out that I could piss all over them when it came to drinking, dancing, staying up all night and so on. I never failed an exam either.

We had a chap found wandering in the street with facial injuries. He arrived conscious, then deteriorated rapidly to the extent that he needed intubation. This constitutes an  Aerosol generating procedure which is high-risk, requiring full PPE so we had to transfer into the hot zone – we knew nothing about this chap. This requires much more time and effort to try and keep safe. Wearing full PPE is a sobering experience – hot and sweaty – struggling to hear each other – masks; hoods; gowns; gloves and so on. A fly-on-the-wall photo would look distinctly science-fiction. A doctor WHO episode maybe?

Stray cat in his box in back yard

Of the broad hunter-gatherer definition of our ancestors, my family are probably more from the hunter side. My 6 foot bruiser dad broke the mould of squat round podgy Hartleys. He was a bit of a ruffian, but very clever with a soft poetic heart. He was such a brilliant story-teller – there are so many – bawdy tales from his caving club days – refreshingly outrageous compared to today’s snivelling sanitised world.

He lived on the edge of a farming world where fishing and shooting game to supplement diet was just part of a way of life. He loved the countryside and as kids, we had lots of picnics to local beauty spots that not many people knew about.

In the photo, taken by my mum, we’re somewhere local. I’m not sure where – my brother will know. My dad is wearing his favourite anorak. She made it for him. He wore it throughout our childhood. I think that she (or maybe my auntie Grace) knitted the jumper that’s he’s wearing. Michael and I are wearing matching little quilted coats – is my memory playing tricks, or did she make those too? I’m holding a stick and a plastic bag with something that I’ve gathered looking quite smug. Michael has a wry wise smile.

My mum died of breast cancer when I was 24 and had a pretty tragic life. She was a very clever woman and had her own house, car and career when she met my dad. A close family friend criticised me for not writing about her in the book – too painful, but maybe in the next one.

The photo comes up on Facebook – one of those reminder things. I’d put it there a year after my dad died. I look at it for ages and it somehow crystallises an aching harrowing grief and a feeling of utter aloneness. Fuck, I miss my dad. He would have twatted the cunt who broke my colleagues jaw.

I have moments of rage too. Particularly at PHE for fraudulently telling front-line healthcare workers that a flimsy plastic apron, gloves and a surgical face-mask are adequate – they’re not! Likewise with testing.

I went outside when they clapped. That made me sad and alone too. A least some of them know who and where I am. I’d like to say to them all: ‘Please please put some of your kind energy into research – find out who Matthew and Sarah Elliot are for example and the massive insidious influence they have on our lives via their puppet Cummings. And when this shit show is over, please DO SOMETHING.’

Speaking of which, when this shit show is over we’ll be kicking out the jams motherfucker – the next Sagefest will piss all over corporate cuntfests like Dicktonbury .

My body clock is all over the place and I’m still up and wide awake at 2am the day after my night shift. I have a sudden and desperate urge to read Winnie-the-Pooh – maybe it’s because its tender gentleness reminds me of my childhood? I find my faded 1938 Twentieth Edition. The typography and illustrations are exquisite. They’re love stories aren’t they, for his wife and little boy?


               SAY YOU’RE SURPRISED ?
                                     SAY IT’S JUST WHAT YOU WANTED ?
                          BECAUSE IT’S YOURS–
                               BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU.