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Jun. 2, 2020 | Tuesday
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COVID-19: Letter from U.K.: Tea time in lockdown. A cuppa on the doorstep
Oh, so British – socially distant tea time with Anna, the volunteer student visitor. (Susan Hall photo)

Longtime NOTL resident Susan Hall, a warden at St. Mark's Anglican Church, has been unexpectedly caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic while visiting family in Brighton, England. This is her fifth letter home to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Susan Hall

Special to The Lake Report

Well! What now? To listen to the radio in the last few days one would be forgiven for thinking the lockdown was going to be over on Monday.

However, Boris Johnson allegedly has developed a new respect for COVID-19, since his near-death experience and is rumoured to be in favour of caution. Without an effective vaccine each business that opens up increases the risk of infection taking hold again in society, in turn exacerbating the health risk for those of us over sixty.

Last night (Sunday) we watched Boris’ much-anticipated announcement. The new slogan for the nation is no longer the definitive, understandable “Stay At Home, Save Lives and Protect the NHS” but “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives,” which does not have the same cachet somehow and certainly lacks clarity.

For this reason Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decided to stay with the original version, for the time being. People are supposed to go back to work if they cannot work from home but should avoid public transport. That makes commuting to cities, while staying safe, a huge challenge.

This morning people, are worried, wondering, "Should I have gone to work or should I stay at home?" The question facing parents is, "How can we go back to work when the schools are not open."

There is no, or little, information about the protection provided in the workplace to keep people safe when they return. One positive measure that was announced is the plan to publish the location of “hot spots” of viral activity so people can govern themselves accordingly. But so far this potentially useful information is not available. More information is promised soon.

One interesting question that came up this week was what do all the countries that have handled the COVID crisis well, namely New Zealand, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, have in common. The answer is they are all run by women. Ponder on that at home, a topic that should generate some lively debate. I have several theories as to why that may be but I don’t think it’s a meaningless coincidence.

Last week was all talk of V.E. Day. Boris is being challenged to channel his inner Churchill, to guide the nation in navigating its way out of lockdown. In view of that ideal, his recent announcement was a bit of an anticlimax..

Our friendly street was considering holding a street party. However, we are still being strongly cautioned to stay at home and have tea instead. Nevertheless some streets, like ours, held parties on their doorsteps, some draped in patriotic bunting, and keeping within the distancing rules.

One family happening I enjoyed: My 12-year-old grandson, in his online math lesson was told the best way to make sure he understood a new concept was to be able to explain it to someone else – a good principle. Then, next lesson, the teacher would check up on how that had worked out.

His first attempt at explanation was to his elder sister’s boyfriend. Not a good choice because he is taking A level maths and did not need or welcome any explanation. The next person suggested to him was grandma! I was duly presented with 5X-6 = 0.

Anyway, he showed me step by step how to rearrange it and we even got onto harder levels with square roots. These advances were sprinkled with rather sweet comments like, “Don’t worry if you don’t understand it, Grandma. I didn’t either until my teacher taught me.”

All I could think of was "Why are we doing this. Were we supposed to find a value for X, for instance?" His 14-year-old sister dismissed my experience with an airy wave of the hand. “Oh, we did rearranging equations last year."

However, when asked what she thought the purpose was she replied, “So they have questions to put in the GCSEs.” I was very pleased to hear my question had sparked a lively dinner table discussion to determine exactly what the purpose of rearranging equations was. As far as I can tell they are a fundamental of maths that remain rather arcane.

My birthday, about which I was feeling somewhat morose because I couldn’t celebrate it with my family, was last week. Through the long weeks of lockdown my faithful student visitor Anna has become a valued friend, despite our considerable difference in age.

One morning we’d enjoyed having tea together, her on the doorstep, me down the hall so she suggested that we could celebrate my birthday by having afternoon tea on the doorstep for my birthday.

On the day, I made jam tarts and a few sandwiches, then, unexpectedly, my daughter and son-in-law did a drive-by bringing beautifully decorated chocolate cup cakes, as only my 14-year-old granddaughter Martha can make, and also some of my daughter’s signature dish – cheese scones. All of a sudden there was a feast.

Just as our tea was about to start I was surprised and delighted to find my son at the front door with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. While we were chatting on the doorstep I noticed my neighbours, who I had got to know through our Thursday evening clapping for the NHS, were all outdoors, enjoying the hot, glorious, sunny weather we have got used to over the last few weeks.

They were in their gardens or just out on the street. Suddenly they all burst into song, singing “Happy Birthday.” I was absolutely overwhelmed. How did they know?

At that point Anna arrived a bit later than planned, wearing her party dress. She was accompanied by her three, equally young housemates, bearing more beautiful flowers and Anna’s homemade chocolate cake, complete with candles. When they arrived everyone sang “Happy Birthday” all over again. What a joy!

The mystery was solved later. Of course, the wonderful Anna had put a note through everyone’s door a day or so before.

There was more to come. My family and I had a Zoom party in the early evening and all nine of us played Boggle for an hour or so. That’s a fun game for all ages to play and it made a great end to what unexpectedly turned into a lovely and truly memorable birthday.

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