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Pandemic diary 92: Rejection and escape into lockdown books

Dinner alfresco in the garden – making the most of the midsummer heatwave and last night's supermarket shop for freshies.

Rejection

I didn't get the job – a freelance project manager for a local tree charity – despite doing loads of preparation and (I think) doing well at interview. I just didn't have enough experience and, like a teenager looking for their first job, I can't get that experience without getting the job. Career transitions are hard.

I also didn't get a place on a well-known UK publisher's workshop despite working evenings and weekends to get my submission of travel micro-memoirs ready. There's only general feedback for this one, though. Either my application pitch wasn't strong enough, or it was the extract, or perhaps both.

Reflection

There is disappointment and feelings of crapness and failure, of course. But I'm ok. For the job, I've taken it as fate; a sign to focus my efforts elsewhere. And for the book, I only started writing it after I decided I wanted to it to exist regardless of whether it was published. I'm on a journey with it. The real failure is not to have tried at all.

There is also now freedom to follow my own creative path rather than be beholden to others. My book is much further along than before as a result of trying to jump through set-deadline publishing hoops (three of them so far). As the old proverb goes: "Fall down seven times, stand up eight." I still have a few more falls to go.

What has been a comfort each day has been my reading book and that is what I was going to write about.

Submerged

Two nights ago I finished a 500-page Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir by William Finnegan called Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, which I got for my birthday. Now I feel bereft. A bit like when my Mad Men bingewatch came to an end back on Day 61.

Every night, no matter what the stresses and strains of the day, I knew I could slip into a hot bath and be transported out of Birmingham coronavirus lockdown to the Hawaii of the late 60s, the California of the 70s, Fiji, Indonesia, South Africa, Madeira and even coastal New York for some exhilarating waves, each described in surprisingly different detail.

The irony of lying in a contained few inches of hot soap-sudded water while reading about double-overhead barrels at high speed did occur to me.

Now it's over. And I want to escape again.

Resurfacing

I asked for book recos on social media but book tastes are so peculiarly personal that this rarely works. But still it's always a good discussion and I did get Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman out of a past thread. The friend suggestions are ones for when the library reopens, which I think has been pushed back to September.

Very late last night I ended up spending the last of my Glass Room Foyles gift voucher on 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race' by Reni Eddo-Lodge and 'Men Without Women' by Haruki Murakami.

While I wait for them to arrive, I thought I'd list the books I've read so far this year… and my 'best of 2019' book recommendations. And if any surf memoir chums want to borrow 'Barbarian Days', it's waiting here for you.

Reading

This year I've read the following. Five were gifts or bought new, and 10 were borrowed from the Birmingham library system:

  • Fleishman is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner (brilliant)
  • The Rhyming Rabbit – Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (witty kids book)
  • Dementia: Support for Family and Friends – Dave Pulsford and Rachel Thompson (insight for a friend)
  • In Praise of Walking – Shane O'Mara (interesting as it is from a neuroscientist's perspective)
  • Over The Top: My Story – Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye guy memoir)
  • Lowborn – Kerry Hudson (memoir of being working class)
  • Ways to Wander – Clare Qualman, Claire Hind (women art-walking)
  • A Spy Among Friends – Ben Macintyre (about double agent Kim Philby)
  • Why Are Leaves Green? A Tree Miscellany –  J Stokes, J White
  • I'm Just A Person – Tig Notaro (a comedian's cancer memoir)
  • Ghost in the Wires – Kevin Mitnick (hacker memoir)
  • How To Write A Children's Picture Book – Andrea Shavick
  • Dark Matters –Nick Dunn (on walking at night)
  • The Life You Want – Emily Barr (backpacking fiction)
  • Barbarian Days – William Finnegan

I highly recommend rejoining and supporting your local library. I've been surprised how I can get hold of new releases if I'm prepared to wait a few weeks. I also tend to donate my new books to them once I've read them. I did panic borrow 14 books on the day the library closed for lockdown but now I can't wait for Stirchley Library to reopen.

Recommending

I tried to read more books last year and I read 37, so not bad. Having a regular bath book habit has helped. My standout, top picks from last year are:

  • Educated – Tara Westover (astonishing memoir)
  • True Stories – Sophie Calle (art, photography and stories combined)
  • The Salt Path – Raynor Wynn (life crises – simultaneous homelessness and terminal illness – that led to a middle-aged couple walking the 630-mile SW Coast Path)
  • Three Women – Lisa Taddeo (a journalistically reported story of three women's experience of their desire)
  • The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs – Tristan Gooley (the kind of book that wakes you up to a new layer of seeing the world)

I have no idea if you would enjoy these as much as I have but they are each fascinating stories well told in their own way.

Thanks

Today I am thankful for the ability to escape – into books, into music, into nature. A rich inner life is probably own my personal version of God.

A perfect red rose backlit by the sunset tonight – I can't be mad at the world when I see this.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 91: Bubble trouble (guest post)

Clem is currently living alone but will soon be bonded up with a new male bun – only then will we know if she likes being alone or if the isolation has been lonely. Fighting and humping will probably occur either way, as is the hierarchical rabbit way. Sorting animal social bubbles isn't easy either.

A support bubble should be a beautiful thing, shouldn’t it? The chance to finally hang out with people you want to spend time with inside their bubble. It’s all about togetherness and being able to meet 3D-humans in real life, without being wrapped in masks and gloves.

But for a friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, the whole thing became a nightmare of interference and rejection and left her feeling worse than when she was living the single lockdown life. 

This guest post is also a much bigger lesson in listening to others and not assuming that you know what is best for them. 

Oh families, we love you but sometimes you make us mad…

++

Perhaps I've been too smug…

… about how well I've been coping with lockdown. But living alone has had advantages – no kids to deal with; no partner with whom to share my table/broadband/personal space 24/7. No need for 'discussions' about noise during online meetings. I can put the radio on when I want or work in silence when I need to. And I've been very strict with myself about keeping 'home' life separate to 'working at home' life. It's worked. Largely.

But it's not all a bed of roses. The hardest part, which I acknowledged right back at the beginning, is that there is no one I can hug.

Now, after three months plus, that's getting to me. 

My sister…

…who lives with her partner some 100 miles away from me has been 'massaging' the social distancing rules more and more over the past few weeks. When Boris said we could meet people in someone's garden, she quickly grabbed the opportunity… and if there were eight, nine, more people wanting to join the meet-up, that was 'fine'. As was going into their houses when the weather turned chilly; she was in as quickly as a cat appearing at your feet upon hearing the rustle of the Dreamies packet.

It's not easy for me to see my friends while keeping to the rules (and I am one to stick to rules) mainly because of the London effect – living in a flat, friends scattered far and wide, no one is getting on public transport right now, lack of loos…

Meanwhile my sister, having been reinvigorated by seeing her friends again, has been banging on more and more that I should be getting out and doing likewise. She doesn't hear the reasons why that's simply not practical for me. 

Oh and as she also doesn't work, she has all day, every day, to pootle about visiting people. I have a very busy full-time job that I'm just about managing to keep up with at home, so evening social visits are pretty much out and at the weekend I have chores to do – for me and for my 85-year-old dad who lives (also on his own) up the road.

Boris’s bubble…

…means that people living on their own can now form a 'bubble' with another household. Seconds after his announcement, my sister was on the phone, banging on big time about how I should definitely be creating a bubble with someone.

I appreciate she means well. But seriously, butt out of my life, will you?

She was even telling me she had thought about contacting a local friend on my behalf to suggest she invite me into her 'bubble'.

I'm going to swear now.

How bloody dare she!

My (single) life… 

…works because I have wide circle of friends, each of whom enriches my life in a unique way. There isn't one single friend I would choose over the others. And it is absolutely no business of anyone’s to nominate someone on my behalf.

But on and on she went, saying the same thing over and over again. How I needed to get out. I needed to see my friends. I shouldn't be shutting myself away indoors. I shouldn't be afraid to go out…

Before this phone call had started, I was quite happy with my current life. I mean, no one is truthfully enjoying lockdown – are they? – but hey, I can see how life could be a lot worse.

To shut my sister up…

… more than anything, I agreed to text said friend and suggest 'bubbling up' with her. She lives with her husband and two grown-up children, and they have a full complement of parents so (as my sister kept on pointing out) it's not like they had a lone family member they needed to bring into their household. I didn't know of anyone else this friend would be inviting into her bubble (believe me, my sister made me go through every one of this woman's family and friends I knew of to consider it).

My friend and I always meet up on a Thursday. Obviously for the past three months (actually, more), we've met via Zoom. That week I texted my friend. 

'Hey!' I said, breezily. 'Here's a thought: As you're the friend who lives closest and whom I see the most, would you wanna be my 'bubble mate' – you could come to mine tonight?!'

The great thing about WhatsApp…

…is you can see when someone has read your message.

The worst thing about WhatsApp is you can see when someone has read your message. And hasn't replied immediately.

Which means she's going to say no.

know she's going to say no. 

If it were a yes, she'd have replied by now.

Twenty minutes later, her reply came through. She'd clearly spent some time composing it.

'I'm very flattered that you have asked but I will decline as I really want to keep all avenues open to be able to go into Mum and Dad's asap. Isn't your dad going to be your bubble buddy? Hope you're not offended and I'll certainly be up for the garden meeting as soon as the weather improves. Is Zoom OK later and you're not upset? xx'

My bubble burst

Truth is, I was upset. Very upset. Disproportionately upset. And what was worse was that I knew I couldn't blame my friend for that. Her decision had been in no way a reflection on our friendship.

Indeed, I felt awful to have put her in that position. I had made her think about me being lonely, and forced her to say to me 'sorry, I can't help you'.

It wasn't her who made me cry. It was a week's worth of pressure building up at work; the fact I'm tired; the fact I am missing all my friends (and their hugs). And the fact my sister just keeps on reminding me about all these things.

I did have the Zoom call with my friend. We talked about bubbles. 'I'd have thought you'd be forming a bubble with your dad, anyway,' she said. We chewed that over a bit – but I concluded it would make more sense for my sister to be in his bubble so she can get to see him properly when she visits and could stay for a couple of days – or even pick him up and take him home with her for a bit. I see my Dad twice a week anyway and we have a nice socially-distanced chat as I drop off his shopping. He doesn't ask for more. Knowing him, he doesn't want more.

And the other thing is… Boris's bubble is to extend a support network to someone who has been on their own for 12 weeks. Someone like Dad. But equally, someone like me. Someone who perhaps needs support herself.

Three days later…

…and I'm still dealing with the fallout. I had a garden meet-up with my local friend this afternoon and it was glorious. My sister is still seething. She'd read on my blog that I'd been upset and had confided in a couple of friends. She was incandescent with rage, demanding to know why I hadn't called her when I'd needed a pick-me-up (she has no clue that she is a large part of the reason behind my mini meltdown). Who had I called? What had they said that had been 'just right'? Why hadn't I called her?

As tactfully and patiently as I could, I explained that I was perfectly within my rights to speak to whatever friend I wanted to about whatever I wanted. And she had no right to know who I'd spoken to, much less what had been said.

She's still not happy. She's 'hugely hurt and offended'. And while I'm sad to hear that, I can't help how she has reacted. I don't believe I did anything wrong.

But it does mean I probably won't hear from her for a good few days. In her own way, she sees this as some kind of punishment to me.

If only she knew how treasured that break is…

Thanks siblings!

Thanks to my friend for the guest post. Hopefully it’ll sort itself out in the end. I’ve had run-ins with my dear siblings in the past and the longer-term benefit has been that we are all much more careful now about what we land on each other, when, and what topics we talk about – because at the end of the day, we'd rather get on despite our differences.

So today I’ll give a shout out to my own lovely brother and sister, and all extended family. We may not always agree but we’d be there for each other if the proverbial hit the fan. I love you, man!

Peace and love, fellow hippies. x

Here they are, the eejits. (I can insult them because I like them – we even went on holiday together, can you believe.)

Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 90: I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of Stirchley

Last night's solstice tour of Stirchley was momentous, not only for the various mapped oddities observed in lockdown and now pinned on a community map, and not only for the epic skyscapes that greeted us, but for the sense of returning to the world of people and celebrating together.

After all, this was a planned Saturday night event, with a group of friends, meeting in real life, with drinking and banter that was kind of like going to the pub again. It felt wonderful. At one scenic viewpoint, looking over the rooftops of Little London (Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets), I sounded my barbaric yawp at the last scud of the day, as per Walt Whitman's poem, which we later read.

The full walk report over on Walkspace – A tour of Stirchley's delights for the Summer Solstice – but in short this is what happened…

Five of us toured various points of interest, from natural phenomena (inosculated tree trunks, gingko biloba trees, a rogue poplar, a curtain of bindweed in bloom) to human infrastructure (hall of mirrors, a caged garden, a BMX track). At 9.30ish, we gathered on high ground to toast the sun's disappearance with weird beers and frivolous prosecco. We stopped to mark the precise moment of the Solstice at 10.43pm and then talked and laughed some more.

It was bloody great. Some kind of rejuvenation of the soul after weeks of semi-isolation.

I woke at 4am with some kind of hay fever attack so I also saw the Solstice 'sunrise' – a miserable, drizzly, grey affair.

This afternoon I joined Sustainable Life for an hour-long online foraging course around Ten Acres in Stirchley. They also run bushcraft and tree ident courses. I harvested some hogweed seeds, thanks to the course. They smell of oranges!

In the early evening I planted some lettuces, black tomatoes, dill and coriander at the allotment, before bumping into a few more friends, some of whom I haven't seen for months.

It's been a good weekend. I'm tired in a good way and ready for another full week.

Thanks

It's Father's Day today in the UK. There have been some lovely photos and tributes being shared by friends and family. I can't believe I haven't seen my Dad for 24 years since he passed away. But he's always there and I'll never forget his face, which is often reflected in the mirror when I pin my hair back. It's also in my sense of humour, and in my love of literature and music, and in the moments of staring out the window at the sky.

Here he is smiling and dancing with my Mum. I'm thankful for both of them even if they are no longer here.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 89: Happy Summer Solstice

Sunset/sky pano at the allotment.

Today is the day when the sun reaches its highest point and when daylight is longest. I celebrated the winter solstice with other women who walk. Now midsummer is here and I'll be out tonight with another small crew of five or six fellow travellers.

We're walking based on a select tour of nominated oddities from the Stirchley mapping project. Maybe we'll end up at the 'entrance to hell' pin. Maybe not. But as the sun sets there shall be rituals – the popping of a Prosecco cork, maybe a live-stream of the Solstice at Stonehenge, a poetic prompt perhaps or the gathering of herbs, but certainly midsummer merriments.

Originally the plan was to get on a train to Milton Keynes – where the streets align with the sunrise on the summer solstice – and walk from sunset to sunrise. Coronavirus killed that plan. But I hear my neighbour is cycling through the night. And we shall try to find our own alignment of Stirchley streets with the sun.

Happy Summer Solstice to all those who celebrate it.

Here is my 100 sunrises and sunsets post for more chunky reading tonight – written back in February when Covid-19 was a distant nightmare. And here is the slideshow:

Today I am thankful for doing absolutely nothing and having a much-needed lie-in and also an afternoon nap.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 88: UK alert level lowered

Home gym shot: have even used it occasionally. You only gym twice…

Lowering the alert level from 4 to 3 means the virus is in the general population and that restrictions can therefore ease further, though it's not a given.

Here is a variety of opinions nicked from BBC comments:

This is Outrageous! Relaxing the lockdown like this is Totally Irresponsible!

Good news, but the damage has already been done.

Free the under 45s. Get rid of social distancing. Support and protect the over 45s, at home. Why penalise those not at significant risk?

Maybe now all the germphobes and hypochondriacs might want to reduce their hysteria level accordingly. It's a glorified cold virus and is likely here to stay. Time to get a grip and get on with things again. 

Very handy that the announcement confirming the reduction in the alert level came out just after the announcement that the world beating and very expensive track and trace app is not fit for purpose.

The government are in a great hurry to ease the lockdown for political rather than medical reasons.

Completely forgot about these alert levels 

Everyone's opinion on this is going to be different according to their own perceptions and attitude to risk. Personally, I'd be more confident with this lowering of the threat level if I trusted that the decision was made first and foremost on the basis of risk to health rather than political/economic drivers. And if 'stay alert' worked as a message – it plainly doesn't. And if contact tracing was, well, better. Yesterday the government's contact tracing app was jettisoned in favour of one based on Apple and Google technology. Not that the apps seem to work that well anyway due to the wonky nature of Bluetooth and not every individual having a smartphone. I'm sure contact tracing will improve in time. But that takes… time. Local hotspots need to be spotted and shut down quickly. I'm not sure we're there yet. And until we are, I remain mostly risk-averse.

Jenny , who wrote a guest diary this week, tested positive for the Covid-19 antibodies. So she is now on the other side of the virus, thankfully. But she was very ill at the start of lockdown. This is a nasty virus and not to be under-estimated because we want to go to the shops, cafés and pubs again.

I haven't focused on the numbers too much in this diary but I think it's about time for a numbers check again.

  • 42k UK deaths directly from Covid-19, up 135 from the previous day
  • 52k deaths, ie, where Covid is mentioned on death cert (includes undiagnosed or related deaths)
  • 65k deaths over and above the usual at this time of year
  • 300.5k confirmed cases, up 1,218 from previous day
  • Birmingham : 1,131 coronavirus-related deaths to 5 June; 3,327 confirmed cases out of a local population of 1,141,816
  • Birmingham had the sixth highest mortality rate outside London at 139.9 coronavirus-related deaths per 100,000 people (March-May) according to the ONS
  • New stats for local areas: in my area of Kings Heath Park & Stirchley East there have been 7 deaths
  • The UK currently has the highest official death toll in Europe and the third highest in the world, after the US and Brazil
  • Daily deaths are on a downward trend but new cases seem to levelling off in the 1000-1500 range
  • The UK 'R' number (the average number of people an infected person will pass the disease on to and a key measure for easing restrictions) is 0.7-0.9. If R is below one, then the number of people contracting the disease will fall; if it is above one, the number will grow.

Thanks

Today I am thankful for a lovely distance walk with my great nephew around the block and to the park. He seems to be over his running off randomly phase.

We walked in all sort of ways (sideways, backwards, forwards, fast, slow) and said hello to everything as we went:

Hello lavender! Hello sunflower! Hello gate! Hello number 23, 25, 27… Hello great big bush! Hello bins! Hello birds! Hello everyone! Hello whole world!

Actually that's quite a nice message as we come further out of lockdown.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 87: Socially distanced job interview

A relaxing OM from my Hazelwell walk yesterday – I seem to be collecting and editing road typography.

It feels like I applied for a proper job today but really it's freelance, part-time, remote WFH work on top of my current workload. (Not like that time I applied for a full-time job with an NGO in Berlin and was going to potentially uproot my whole life – would have been fun, though).

So what does a socially distanced job interview look like?

Well, it was going to be outdoors rather than on Zoom, maybe under a gazebo in case of sudden showers. It was 'bring your own chair' and water. I wondered if chair choice might be part of the test.

Unfortunately, today was a classic British summer drenchfest. So the interview was held in a garage instead. The four-person interview panel was spread around the edges and deep into the storage depths to try to maintain distance. Eye contact was hard although it was probably less intimidating than facing a panel across a desk.

I brought a folding garden armchair in '90s pattern orange. It was alarming but I hoped it would brighten up my grey/white interview outfit. Not that they could see my interview outfit since it was also quite cold and we were all wearing Gore-Tex waterproofs or similar.

There were no handshakes, obviously. I did a sort of weird salute at the end as a thank you but I guess people are now used to the informal dissipations of online meetings as we log off one by one so it wasn't needed.

Being freelance, I haven't had an interview nearly 20 years, although I've been on the other side of it as an interviewer. I'm not sure how it went. I'll find out next week I guess.

I wonder how other recruiters and hirers are managing this?

PS. We had two young lads working our street today, knocking on doors wearing big plastic visors, selling something, or as they put it "we're not selling anything, we're saving you money". The 'new normal' wears a mask but I'm still not buying at the door. Does anyone?

Thanks

Today I spotted that the new Morrisons in Stirchley was putting up its signage on the old Coop building. The store is now due to open next month – a two-month delay due to lockdown and so I (and everyone else I suspect) is looking forward to it more than we normally would a shop. The Coop closed for good in January to prescient post-apocalyptic scenes of empty shelves, long before the Toilet Roll Panic Buying era. Doing without a larger supermarket in the area during lockdown has been challenging.

I'm very thankful for a day off tomorrow – it's been a long week of work and interview preparation.

Yesterday on my walk, I visited a near-ish neighbour and long-time family friend. Mary is someone in 'young old age' without infirmity and still doing loads of community help stuff, picking up the societal pieces that fall between the cracks. It was great to see her for the first time in months. And I'm thankful that she is now able to bubble with her family.

Less than two more weeks of this diary by the way: 100 days of lockdown so only 13 more entries to go. Will you miss me, those who read to the bitter end?

Morri & Sons – a quirky new Stirchley independent (joke borrowed from Tom Cullen of I Choose Birmingham)

Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 86: Hindsight is 20-20 on safe working conditions (guest post)

Luscious lettuces at the allotment – sadly not from my plot. Do slugs not like little gems?

As the shops reopen this week, some health and safety set-ups will be better than others. We are highly reliant on people following the rules and, ahem, 'staying alert' to the endless signs and instructions if we are to avoid a second wave.

I'm dubious how compliant people will be. Years of in-your-face adverts have trained us to switch off from the endless signage, while the sense of a lower threat level and inability to maintain an ongoing high threat level is making many blasé and forgetful.

Enforcement of the safeguards will be key. That's why I asked a local friend who works in mental health for the NHS if I could publish her response to the death of hundreds of construction workers when the issue was raised on my Facebook. She and I were due to do a walk together but then she got ill pre-lockdown and it was cancelled. This week she took an antibodies test to see if it was coronavirus.

Heeeere's Jenny!

++

This emphasis on safe working conditions can't be emphasised enough. 

I have an NHS worker antibody test booked for just over a week's time to I hope confirm that Nick and I and maybe our child C had Covid-19.

In the five days before I got ill, I was asymptomatic and I sat in the quietest corner I could find of our crammed hot desking office (imagine three people sitting in single desk space and you're close to how little back office space there is despite being in a new building). There are shared landline phones – one between four people – and just one multifunctional device. 

There are also only three loos, pretty much in a cupboard, for 70+ women staff, which we have to share with children and families with often multiple and complex health needs. Loo roll typically runs out before 4pm most days 🙁

I went to university on Tuesday 10th of that week to take a clinical exam based around a role play. One of my marker comments was that I could've sat closer to the student actor in my role play assessment even though pre-exam conversation was mostly about Covid. Handryers weren't working in the loos nearest my exam room and there were no handtowels. 

Thankfully I didn't see any families for face-to-face appointments that week because of a university requirement that I shouldn't see any of my caseload until I'd passed my exam.

But I was gearing up to see families the following week in a separate therapeutic space (a summerhouse-style wooden shed) on a school site. I managed to persuade the office infection control lead to give me a packet of wipes and a bottle of hand sanitiser from her limited stash for basic infection control there.

I washed my hands more than I've ever washed them before. I wiped phones, my limited desk space, keyboard, etc, with antiseptic wipes. Meanwhile a couple of colleagues insisted Covid-19 was a conspiracy theory.

On the Thursday I winced as a colleague insisted on hugging me while merrily telling me throughout she didn't feel well.

On the Thursday and Friday we were being told we should still expect to have to go in to the office the following week, even if we weren't seeing families. Another colleague was told to continue a face-to-face session when a family coughed and spluttered repeatedly throughout it because "they were acting out". Two school nurses, postgrad-qualified in public health, told me it was wrong to look to close schools because Cobra hadn't said they should – apparently unaware that, locally, all secondary schools are academies so can do pretty much whatever their academy trust says to do. 

And then from the evening of Sat 14th I was very ill.

The following week (w/c 16th) colleagues were only advised they *could* work from home after a workmate got a union rep to contact a senior manager to query why staff were still being forced to go in. Face-to-face interviews with external candidates were being held in a tiny office.

And, as much as that might read as a dull version of 'Contagion', what I've recounted is all in one part of a highly regulated Trust service that had been gearing up for CQC inspection. Of course we'd all been briefed we'd be asked about infection control 🤷🏻‍♀️.

I can only imagine what it's been like for labourers with no sick pay, etc.

Jenny received her antibodies test results today. It was Covid-19. Antibodies are no guarantee of immunity so she still has to follow the health and safety guidance but she says she still feels relieved.

Thanks

It's been a busy week, full of work and research and thunder and lightning. I'm thankful to my guest poster Jenny for giving me a rest tonight and for her insights. I'm meeting four people tomorrow for an interview – outdoors if the weather allows – so I'll be spritzing on the old disinfectant perfume willy nilly.

Stay safe!


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 85: To bun or not to bun? That is the question

Bunminster and Clem – and our previous bunny pack can be found on bunminster.uk

When we lost our long time bunny overlord, Bunminster, just after Easter, we decided to have a break from getting another rabbit straight away. The animal sanctuaries were closed for adoptions during lockdown, anyway.

We knew our remaining bun, Clem Bundango, would need company at some point but it's been a difficult decision whether to hand her back to Fat Fluffs to find a new home – or to get more rabbits for us.

The reason is, I really needed a break from the endless routine of meds and older bunny care, and maybe from the general rabbit cleaning daily grind in general. It's been seven years. I was also pondering getting a dog, despite my allergies.

Finally the decision has been made…

And it's more rabbits.

Pete took over rabbit care so I could have a break and, though we still both want a dog, I need to test whether I'd be allergic to them in the house first. (I may be open to dog-sitting as a tester… if anyone is prepared to let their dog stay with us?) Or at some point I hope to have a more outdoors lifestyle where we wouldn't be shut in with dog dander and smells for most of the year. That's quite a few years away I'm sure unless I win the Lottery.

So Pete is back weekly volunteering at Fat Fluffs and keeping an eye out for potential husbuns for Clem, or maybe a pair to make a pack. My one condition is that they are friendly and can be handled. (Clem isn't – it's the lot of prey animals and rescue bunnies that haven't perhaps been handled or treated well.)

Today we sent our photos in to evidence our rabbit-friendly set-up. Fat Fluffs make sure their rescue buns go to homes with suitable environments for their welfare.

Next step is finding some friendly rabbits and starting the bonding process so they don't kill each other, Bigwig-Woundwort style, over Clem's home territory.

Pete took the panos, with me working away in the garden… Spot his lockdown response of a 2.5m high square window turned into a sunscreen.

So, yay, new lagomorphs soon!

Thanks

To the family member who sent a Neal's Yard gift card in the email this morning. Very unexpected and much appreciated! Lemon and coriander deo, here I come.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 84: The shops reopen

The Clem zone – her social distancing is measured in 'just out of arm's reach'.

The shops reopened today. I couldn't care less but the media seemed to be in a frenzy about it. I do need some sun cream but I think I sated my retail thirst by buying a bushcraft knife, folding saw and survival fire starter last week. I am a survival capitalist.

Going to cut today's diary short because it's been a strange day overall. Just let it be known that if you're going through hard times, and I can help in any way, please get in touch. (Don't worry, I'm fine.)

Today I am thankful for… hmm, tough one. Being a woman maybe? Let's just say I appreciate the female culture of gathering people to talk to and share problems with when they come. We all need a release valve at some point in our lives. And this has been an extra crazy time for everyone.

Thanks also to Nick B for lending an ear to me when I needed advice today.

It's good to talk, as Bob Hoskins said 25 years ago.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com


Pandemic diary 83: Covid-19 – our teensy tiny part in its hopeful downfall

Bunnies by day, big data by night.

Tonight I thought I'd rope Pete in and jointly write about two technology-based efforts to help with coronavirus study and research that we've been involved with.

We each sat on our sofas and typed… to music by a band called Felt (an indie pop band, formed in 1979 in Water Orton, Warwickshire). In case you wanted to picture the scene.

Pete – scientific protein modelling via Folding@Home

About three years ago, when I was exploring the artistic potential of AI systems, I bought a computer with a fairly powerful graphics processor, or GPU. These are designed to render those detailed 3D games the kids play these days, and they do this by doing lots and lots of simple maths at an incredible speed. So if you need to do lots and lots of simple maths for some other reason they can be repurposed for that, too. I no longer do anything with AI systems, because the artistic potential never really emerged for me, but I still have this computer with its fairly powerful GPU, just sitting there. 

Mid-April, and while doomscrolling through the coronavirus news, something catches my eye. It's a project called Folding@Home where people run calculations on their home or business computers during idle periods (like when you go for lunch or are just typing text and all that processing potential is just sitting there) on behalf of scientific researchers attempting to cure diseases. They do this by building models of the the proteins that make up viruses and the like so they can test potential cures. Specifically they need to model how the proteins "fold", hence Folding@Home. 

Maths is FUN!

To get involved you download some lightweight software which in turn downloads a job to process. This can take a few hours or a couple of days and when it's done the results are uploaded for the scientists to play with and you get some points! Other than putting you on a leader board the points mean nothing, but what the hell! Points! On its own your contribution is tiny, but when you combine hundreds or thousands of tiny contributions you get an incredibly powerful computer that would impossible for any one institution to build. 

Folding@Home has been running since 2007 so is pretty vintage and the interfaces can be somewhat dated, but the urgent need to understand how this novel coronavirus works has seen take-up soar to the point where, for a short while, they ran out of jobs, which is a nice problem to have. After reading the article I downloaded it to my MacBook and ran a couple of jobs.

Then I remembered I had this computer with a fairly powerful GPU, just sitting there. I wondered if it would run these jobs any faster, and by golly it could. In fact there were plenty of jobs specifically designed for GPUs and the points you were rewarded with… Let's just say that out of 2,717,135 contributors I'm number 192,903. In other words, in the top 7% with a score of 1,229,401. And if you're reading this in the future you can check my progress on this page

I take no pride in this. All I do is switch the computer on and leave it running all night. It's burning electricity, of course, but my expenses are way down thanks to lockdown and we use an eco supplier. Have I made a difference? I have no bloody idea. But does the humble ant, carrying his piece of leaf, know what difference he makes to the nest? What I do know is the ant doesn't get a gnarley certificate. Sucka! 

Fiona – daily self-reporting via Zoe C-19 app

Every day I get a loud ping from my Zoe C-19 daily reporting app on my phone. I answer two questions: Have you had a Covid-19 test? (yes/no) and How do you feel physically right now? (normal/not quite right). It takes a few seconds and I've been self-reporting since it launched back in March. The aim is to study the symptoms and also track the spread of the virus.

Over 3.8 million others have downloaded the app and are also reporting regularly. It is currently the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world, with the data being analysed in collaboration with King's College London researchers.

As someone with a data privacy interest, especially where health data is concerned, I was particularly impressed with their data policy transparency and upfront ease of deleting your data. And it has medical pedigree.

It is endorsed by the Welsh Government, NHS Wales, the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland. And it is led by Prof Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and director of Twins UK, a registry of 12,000 twins with one of the richest collections of genotypic and phenotypic information on twins worldwide, apparently.

Data is also published daily to its website: https://covid.joinzoe.com/data. You can zoom and pan around a map to see how different regions are affected. Birmingham, for example, has 8,400 contributors with an estimated 0.9% of people with Covid symptoms.

It also gathers other data, which shows 4,900 daily new cases of Covid (from the app + swab tests) across the UK – new daily Covid infections fell by almost a half in a week, although this does exclude care homes.

Following the mass protests in the past fortnight, I wrote about feeling conflicted on the risks so it was interesting when researchers tried to use app data to answer the question: "Should I quarantine after protesting?"

Based on their data they estimate that one in 200 people are affected with Covid in the UK population at this point. Of these, one in 400 people you meet are potentially infectious and with mild or no symptoms. Based on mitigated risks, it does further maths and concludes: protestors have a one in 800 chance of themselves becoming infected with Covid-19, although this is likely to be higher in the north (one in 400) and lower in the south (one in 1600) due to the regional differences in number of cases. Ultimately it concludes it is best to err on the side of caution and ideally stay home for a week and avoid meeting others to help slow any potential spread of the virus.

In summary, I do take some pride in keeping this up. It feels as if it is directly useful and providing near real-time data. I think there is great potential for data gathering, done safely, to provide a way out of ongoing lockdowns and a second wave of this virus.

I'm afraid there is no certificate, though. Helping is its own reward, suckas.

>> You can download the app via the App Store or Google Play. Or via the homepage.

Zoe C-19 symptom study app – https://covid.joinzoe.com

Thanks

I'm grateful today for a visit from my elderly friend and his son. As the sun set, we sat in the garden and sipped tea and reminisced about how my brother blew up his school toilets. But that's another story of scientific exploration and research.


Commission/hire me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com