Protective gear and flaming vicars: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

What’s happening with the coronavirus in Britain? Funny you should ask, because I was just about to answer that.

Let’s start with the Church of England, which had a hiccup when it went over to virtual services: A vicar set his arm on fire when he leaned forward at the end of his service and brushed against a candle flame. He had enough of a sense of humor to post the evidence online. It includes him saying, “Oh, dear, I’ve just caught fire.”

Which isn’t what I’d say if I’d just caught fire, but that’s the least of many reasons I’m not a minister.


Semi-relevant photo: What could be cheerier than a bare, windblown tree in the midst of a pandemic? Photo by Ida Swearingen.

Cornwall, where I live, is trying to stop the flow of people from (presumably) London, coming down here on the theory that it’s safer. Or nicer. Or something-er. Or that pandemic is another word for holiday (or vacation, if you speak American). Some of them, inevitably, have brought the virus with them. One Londoner–or so a reasonably reliable rumor has it–was told to self-isolate and decided to do it in his lovely second home, in Cornwall. He proceeded to self-isolate in an assortment of local cafes, spreading the bug all over the town he loved so well.

Thanks, guy. Rest assured that we love you almost as toxically. 

But that’s not the only problem people bring when they come down here to ride this out. Cornwall’s infrastructure is already overstretched during a normal summer, when reasonably healthy visitors pour in. Hell, it’s overstretched during the winter, when they’re nowhere around. Years of tightening the national budget in order to shrink the government have starved local services, which are dependent on central government. That’s a long story and we’ll skip over it. The point is that a tide of people, some percentage of whom about to get seriously sick, is more than it can cope with. 

The county council, Public Health Cornwall, and the tourist board have urged people to stay away. That’s the tourist board telling people to say away.

I doubt anyone’s listening, but they can say they tried.

The manager of a shop in Penzance is worried about incomers buying out her stock. She’s put some toilet paper in the back to sell to local people. If the lack of health services doesn’t scare the tourists off, the lack of toilet paper might.


A man who’d just arrived on the Isle of Man–yes, I do know how that sounds; I didn’t name the place–was arrested because the island had just imposed a two-week self-isolation period on new arrivals, whether or not they showed symptoms of the virus, and he hadn’t self-isolated. 

It turned out he was homeless and–well, yes, this is part of the definition–had no place to self-isolate. Or sleep. He faced a £10,000 fine and a three-month jail sentence. 

In a startling moment of sanity, the government decided not to prosecute. He’s been found some sort of accommodation, although I have no idea what sort.

Britain’s considering legislation that would let immigration officials put new arrivals in “appropriate isolation facilities.” 

Horse, guys. Barn door. 

But just to prove that the country’s taking this seriously, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace has been canceled. It doesn’t get any more serious than that.


Undertakers are so short on protective gear that they’re being told to make masks out of plastic trash bags, towels, and incontinence pads when they deal with suspected coronavirus cases. 


A couple of musicians spent some time playing outside people’s homes in London to cheer them up while they’re stuck there. You’ll find a video here.

You can also find a video of people using a basket and rope to shop from their balcony.


Self-isolation, by the way, is a ridiculous phrase. I apologize for using it, but these things are as contagious as the damn virus that spawned it.


The U.K. chancellor–he’s the guy with the budget–has promised employees who can’t work because of the pandemic 80% of their wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, although I don’t think anyone’s seen any money from it yet. But the self-employed and the mythically self-employed–the gig workers and people on zero-hours contracts–were offered only a fast track to £94.25 a week in what’s called universal credit. Let’s not go into why it’s called that. What you need to know is that it’s a whole shitload less money.

You needed me to point that out, right?

The Independent Workers Union is mounting a lawsuit on the grounds of discrimination. I’m rooting for them.


In the U.S., two senators, Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, attended a briefing about how serious covid-19 was. This was in January–the same day that Trump tweeted, “It will all work out well,” with the it being the virus.

What did they do? Sound the alarm on how unprepared the country was? They’re Republicans. If they’d spoken up it would have had some power. Well, no, they didn’t. In fact, Burr wrote on that the country was well prepared. 

What they did was sell a whole lot of stocks before their prices crashed. 


As for me, the virus has driven to the extreme measure of acknowledging that I am an actual human being, with a life outside this blog. So here’s a personal note, which I wouldn’t usually include: Ida and I are fine. 

Our next-door-neighbor has what they’re pretty sure is just his usual winter flu, but they’re staying in for two weeks (with two small kids; I call that heroic) just to be on the safe side. We’ve done the same, since Ida has something involving a bad cough. No fever on either side of the fence, but we’re all being cautious. It feels a little crazy, but we’re gambling with other people’s lives and that has a way of focusing your attention. 

Or it should, anyway.

All the same, I’m finding it hard, since we’re trying to avoid things we can’t see, hear, or smell, not to either descend into paranoia (ack! I just touched a solid object! I’m gonna die!) or else decide they’re not real anyway and start licking doorknobs. 

As we all would in normal times.

I’m finding it easier to protect other people from whatever the hell Ida has (which for reasons I can’t explain, I don’t seem to have) than I did to protect us from what people around us might have. Maybe protecting other people is more finite. Maybe I’m just more used to it. 

A few days ago, Ida put in an online request for prescription cough syrup and that must’ve sent up a red flag at the doctors’ office, because someone called to ask why she needed it and how she was. The woman who called advised us to stay out of people’s way for two weeks, which we’d already begun to do. The government’s bungled this in more ways that I can count (mind you, it doesn’t take much to go outside of my mathematical range), but the people on the front lines are being amazing. 

Our village has been good about rallying around. It helps to be someplace where the scale is small and so many of us know each other. One of the essential services that threatened to fall apart was the group of volunteers who make sure people are able to pick up their prescriptions. That would normally be handled by a village store, but ours closed some time ago. All the volunteers except one were either over 70 or vulnerable in some other way or else had a partner who was. We put a notice up on the village Facebook site and younger volunteers have come forward, in spite of jobs and kids and all the commitments that go with not being retired. 

We’ve had several offers from friends and neighbors who are going grocery shopping to pick up whatever we need–assuming they can find it. Already, friends have brought groceries–fresh fruit, milk, onions, broccoli, stuff. Apples are hard to find, although a friend left us some yesterday. 

Why apples? 

Why not apples. Sometimes, I’m told, one store will have been emptied out and another will be fairly well stocked. It all leaves me with a sense of limits. Will the stores run out of cat food? Did I get enough peanut butter? Why didn’t I buy more frozen vegetables and potatoes before it all got serious, since we could see it coming? 

Because I didn’t want to hoard, that’s why. But I did want to stock up. Where’s the balancing point between hoarding and stocking up? (Answer: You hoard; I stock up.) 

How often can I cut the spinach I planted last spring, which is still growing, before it decides that I’ve asked too much of it? 

Am I using too much water?

Water isn’t one of the things we’re running short of, but for me, at least, an awareness of limits breeds an awareness of limits. We’re entering a new era here and I suspect I’m feeling its first vibrations. I hope life will go back to normal at some point, but I’m not convinced it will.

But enough about me. Wishing you and yours all the best. Be careful, be lucky, help others, and stay well.

94 thoughts on “Protective gear and flaming vicars: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. Good to hear that everyone is rallying around although worrying about Ida. I wonder if when this is over, people will realise how selfish the ‘rat race’ makes everyone and how unimportant it really is. Probably not, judging by us becoming Home-Counties-on-Sea recently.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. About finding it easier to protect others…I’ve heard it said a few times now that we should stop behaving as if we’re trying to prevent becoming infected, and should work from the assumption that we are infected, and act in a way to prevent spreading it to others. Would that more people start to see it that way.

    Thinking of you both – hope Ida recovers soon.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Also, thanks for sharing how the community is coming together around this. Hearing stories like you shared here gives me hope that this experience will have us come out better people on the other end.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Today is a quiet day unlike last week when hoards of men were coming and going because of a construction project in my loo. However, the word hoarding may produce visuals of stacking men in the warming cupboard…next to the four rolls of toilet paper which I must dispell straight away. Waving magic wand. Right you are! All dispelled. Well and good. Have I digressed? Any road back to my quiet day with no hoarding men….I’ve baked us an apple and wild blackberry pie. It’s almost time to pull it out of the oven to cool and set. Give me a tic to whip up some full cream, make a fresh pot of tea, and will all sit down and have a gab fest about what else? The weather!!! There’s always time for tea, fresh baked pie, weather-talk, and friends who think about us from far away places…and who wish us well. Raye in Oregon

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I normally really enjoy your emails and the ensuing laughs, and then I move on. This one I REALLY REALLY REALLY LOVE, probably because it reflects much of my own experience right now except I don’t live with anybody which is an overall good thing for my picky, somewhat intolerant self. You can just substitute San Luis Obispo County for Cornwall and California San Joaquin Valley for London. They’ve come in hordes for their covid-19 beach vacation and I’m worried about their unthinking presence here. It is as though they see the virus as a thing that is coming from over the hill but isn’t quite here yet so might as well act like some Parisian sitting outside at a Rue de Seine cafe enjoying a last coffee before Hitler rolls into town. Hoarding vs stocking up. A dilemma but at least we are not the Texas woman I saw on TV with a store’s entire supply of tp stacked around her, waiting for her hubby to get the vehicle. Astounding, awful but somehow funny. I always have a big supply of the stuff so today I texted my 47-year old son with 2-month old baby who lives 250 miles away just over the Golden Gate from SF to ask if I should send his family a pack or two of my usual big Costco stash. I could hear the chuckle in his decline—we got this, mom and stay inside! My best wishes to you, Ida and lovely Cornwall. At my age this might just dash any chance I have to visit again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know when anyone will ever travel again. We’re deep into the unknown here. Your image of the Parisians is very much to the point. I keep thinking about the tales I read as a kid about people fleeing the plague. It all seemed so unthinkable in my world.

      We never do worry about the right things, do we? Glad you’re well stocked. All the best to you.


  6. You pretty much summarized what’s going on all around. There are the good people out there (self quarantining themselves if they think they have a cold, not hoarding, being mindful of neighbors and so on) and then you have the assholes, going everywhere even though they obviously have a cold, not caring that when they buy all the soap to stay clean, other’s won’t have that option – and sneeze and pass the virus all over… and yeah, the governments are failing everyone because they don’t want to lose. Sigh.
    Stay safe, take natural vitamin c, rest…. wash your hands…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sadly, I have to toss a lot of governments onto the asshole side of the scales, refusing to take action even though they know people will die, looking to see who can make money out of the crisis and how. Et cetera.

      Stay well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We don’t share your incomers in Columbia, SC because well, as Pretty was fond of saying when she was in the residential real estate business for 17 years here, “Columbia is a great place to live – but not much of a town to visit.” Enough said.
    But, as fate or not fate would have it, we do have our share of carriers and people who are sick with the coronavirus according to our republican governor who is more than slightly reminiscent of our president. Our governor is mulling over an order to shelter in place but can’t quite figure out how to phrase it evidently.
    I have been self isolated by Pretty for the past 15 days because of my acute bronchitis which is much better now.
    We hope you, Ida, your family and friends stay healthy and safe during this medical horror.
    Finally, the rich will get richer and the rest of us will struggle financially.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m pretty sure your last sentence is right. Somehow it always works out that way.

      I have no quarrel with outsiders, but the endless sense of privilege–the idea that they can just go where they want and the world will accommodate them, regardless of the problems they cause just by appearing. They make me crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been following the journalist and writer of The Family (basis of the Netflix series) on Twitter. He’s a Dartmouth professor in isolation because family members have symptoms and he had a heart attack at a young age. He is tweeting about the Vermont governor who refuses to order Stay at Home because he thinks Vermonters need to learn self-discipline. Vermont’s death rate may be the highest in the US—6.7%. Stay safe and self-amused. I’ve got today’s attention monopolizing daily missive from the White House, muted, of course, with, as far as I can tell, no sign of Dr Fauci. Hmm. Cheers, Diane from SLO, CA

      Liked by 3 people

  8. People are no better over here in the Emreald Isle. First sunny weekend and all the beaches and beauty spots are crowded with city dwellers. At least they are not cleaning the supermarket shelves! Which leads me to something else – supermarket home delivery srvices. Tesco do it free for over 65s. Problem is that the first avaiable delivery slot is 2-3 weeks away. Advice from the nice man in their call centre: set up an order for a few odds and ends, book your slot then complete the order nearer the time. Meanwhile I can still walk to our nearest small store for essentials. And must remember to repeat the small on-line order at Tesco next week to be sure of getting a delivery a week after the first!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I set up an order with Morrison’s a week ago and the first slot was April 3, but I haven’t set up a second delivery. I’m hoping I can go shop myself, even if it’s with my trademark turtleneck pulled up over my nose–not to protect me from breathing in germs but to remind me not to stick my finger in my nose. Seriously, I find it nearly impossible to keep from touching my face (although I have been socialized just enough not to stick fingers in my nose–thanks, Mom). Going in person feels risky, but also completely normal. It really is hard to get my head around hiding from invisible things.

      Stay well, Frank.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Victoria. The signs are all good–on the small scale. On the large scale, I think you’re right: Normal isn’t going to look like what we’re used to. It would be really nice if we did learn from it. Occasionally we do manage to.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Unless one of the many efforts to create a vaccine pans out, I’m not sure how and when this will end. and even then, they’ve still got to make enough of the stuff–it’s not like on Star Trek, where they just have a word with the replicator. I think we’re in this for the long haul and I have no idea how that’s going to work.


    • Sorry if I seemed to ignore you. Your comment went into the spam folder and I only just dug it out. It does seem like the most desperate will be the people who are the most easily overlooked. Conditions in the refugee camps are beyond desperate.

      Liked by 1 person

          • In India, people have a lot of anger towards the Chinese government. Because of their delays and denials, it has become a pandemic. After making the world sick, they have opened up their factories and doing brisk business. The Trust level for China is all-time lowest at this juncture.

            Liked by 1 person

            • When this first started, a lot of people on this side of the planet were smugly critical of a system that punishes people for passing bad news up the ladder and said that a more open system would have responded faster. Since then, we took the warning time we had and did absolutely nothing with it–didn’t prepare the medical system, didn’t get supplies, didn’t create a plan. And when it did–predictably–hit, not all but most countries bungled their response. We’d do better, I think, to save our anger for our own governments, where it’s likely to effect some change.

              Liked by 2 people

  9. Like you, this experience is changing the way I look at things. I’m much more aware of limits and quantities. Not that I’m being stingy exactly. Just more careful. There’s no shortage of food or anything in our stores and I’m still able to do the shopping, but I want to make what we have last as long as possible so that I don’t take more than my share and leave the rest for others. I find myself channeling my depression-era Grandma now. And I’m sure she’s looking down on me and laughing her butt off. This situation is teaching us a lot about ourselves. I’m glad you and Ida are doing well. Do please keep us posted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Eleanor. I keep thinking back to a book I read a couple of years back, Housewife, 42, which was part of a British project that asked people to keep journals during WWII. This one was written by a housewife who was 42 (if I haven’t scrambled the number) when she started it. It’s very ordinary and surprisingly riveting–and you just have to read around the sprinklings of thoughtless (as opposed to hateful, if you can accept that difference, which not everyone will, understandably) racism. They were a part of her world and its presence is part of documenting that world.

      Sorry–I got lost there. The point is, it gave me a vivid picture of rationing and what it was like to keep food on the table, and how much of life centered on that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks! I’ll look into that book, and perhaps add it to my ever-increasing reading list. A small part of me hopes that this lockdown lasts a good long time because I’ve got a lot to read and do!! The more compassionate part of me of course hopes for a speedy recovery and health–for you and Ida, Cornwall, Britain (and your Prince) and the whole world.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I can’t say I’m emotionally invested in any of our princes, but we’ve got–as of a day or three ago–a couple of presumed cases in the village. Of course, not being princes, they haven’t been tested and won’t be unless they’re hospitalized. I’m mad enough to spit tacks.

          You take care. Read lots. Write even more.

          Liked by 2 people

  10. As always, I enjoy your newsy stories. Good to hear you and yours are safe and no symptoms. Parts of the US (guess which ones) are ghost towns, with only essential workers. The other parts don’t take COVID seriously. The government stimulus bill passed a 2 Trillion bill. Many workers will get less than UK workers. We’ll ride this out as best we can.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad people who can’t work will get anything at all. How pitiful is that? I thought it was going to be another case of socialism for the corporations and everyone else can just go sing on the street corner.

      Sorry–I’m getting ranty. I am, really, just furious.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Understandable. The haggling for these past 6 days was over increasing workers direct payment, bump in unemployment insurance payments and a codicil to prohibit businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress, and heads of executive branch departments from receiving loans or investments from the Treasury programs. Their children, spouses and in-laws also cannot benefit.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Ellen, Have you seen the Italian mayors telling residents to go home, etc? This evoked a lot of different, simultaneous reactions for me, the most overt being unstoppable laughing. What a tough job mayors everywhere have right now. There’s also a story about a Kentucky mayor who lost his cool and posted a profanity-laced Facebook post to his town in the same vein as the Italian mayors. Laughter, empathy, sense of relief at truth telling, togetherness worldwide in our isolation and more. Made me feel better just like the NY Cuomos and California’s Governor Newsom do. Here you go (hoping this link works):

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. I hadn’t heard or heard of either, but Ida did tell me about—oh, I forget which Texas politician who thinks that since grandparents would willingly die for their grandkids they should just go ahead and do that. Ida says she’ll line up just behind him.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes. I lost a night’s sleep over that Texas nitwit (have many other names for him not appropriate here). I think he only said out loud what Bone Spurs and cronies have been thinking. I suspect that when you think your own dear self and your buddies are exceptional beings favored by your personal god that you are not included here. This is for others, especially the inconvenient elderly. But in their hubris, they failed to consider that a lot of my fellow elderly are their biggest red hat supporters. Makes me shake my head. It felt weird to be in that target group. I sent Mr Texas a message similar to Ida’s. So glad my son and family ended their 5-year really strange experience in Houston and returned to SoCal. On we go. It is cold here—my excuse to make Nigella’s Lemon Polenta Cake. Warm my little home and have some yummy excess calories and occupy my time. I bought Entitled by Chris Bryant you mentioned in Alfriston last October. Making my way through it very slowly.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. The same the world over.
    I just read the following article about the Hamptons, echoing your observations about Londoners retreating to Cornwall to avoid contracting COVID19.

    Meanwhile, year-round residents in Northern Minnesota, where confirmed COVID19 cases are few, are upset that folks from the greater-affected Twin Cities are going back and forth to their vacation homes.

    A friend of mine in god-awful eastern Washington State, from which I recently moved, has had a micro version of the same scenario play out in her own capacious home. Her 36-year-old daughter and son-in-law, corporate execs in NYC, decided a week ago that Manhattan was not the place to be, rented a car, and drove 2600 miles to her parents literal Green Acres. There they moved into my friend’s very nicely appointed lower level, and set up workspaces from which to tele-commute. Trouble began when my friend’s youngest child and his girlfriend (ages 26) decided to leave their Seattle home and join the family. As they drove the 330 miles east from Seattle, the girlfriend developed a fever. Much ado between the siblings; the New Yorkers did NOT travel completely across the country to share a home with the sibling who came from the US Ground Zero. After heated debate, it was decided that the Seattle-ites would be quarantined in the lower level which includes a full kitchen and, quite incidentally, a fully stocked sixties era bomb shelter. In quarantine, the young brother and his girlfriend were delivered groceries at the back sliding patio door, and occasionally a supply is simply dropped over the railing to the base of the stairs. The finer evening meal is delivered to the same patio door, on paper plates with plastic cutlery, which is easily disposed of without exposing the rest of the family to any potential virus. The middle child and her husband (ages 35-ish), also Seattle residents, were simply told that there was no more room at the inn, so they moved to their new Denver home a couple of months ahead of schedule. Lucky for all of them, this friend is an award-winning vintner, and part of that bomb-shelter (which had been built and stocked by the original owners) has been converted to an Indiana Jones-ish wine cellar, so they are anxiously awaiting the end of the son’s quarantine early next week so they can all get sloshed.

    And finally, within my own family, a few weeks ago Connie spoke with Peter, and upon hearing that he and Suzanne were not really planning for any self-isolation, gave him a few straight facts, and admonished him to shape up. Peter urged her to call all of we siblings with the same message, which she refused to do. “I’m not going to be that bitchy sister,” says she. “But your our DOCTOR bitchy sister,” he replied, which gained him nothing, of course.

    Thank you for your post. So very interesting to read how similarly the fallout from the pandemic plays out, isn’t it?
    Good health to you and yours

    Liked by 2 people

    • Holy fucking shit. What a tale (and you do tell it well). I don’t think I’d want to be around when they finally all get drunk enough to tell each other how they’re really feeling.

      Humans are a difficult species. Have you noticed that?

      Ida and I are arm-wrestling over what constitutes isolation and I’ve hit a wall. So although we won’t be going into stores, we are going to pick up orders from local stores, which are taking orders and handing them out to people. (They’re too small for people to keep any distance, so they’re just putting tape across the doors, I’m told.) It’s not no-risk, but it does minimize it. At a certain point, I begin to get crazy. Who’s touched what and did I just touch it? Before I take our emphysemic neighbor’s paper to her, I wash my hands. Then I have to get out the door. When did I last touch the doorknob? Can I boil the door? It’s hard to know where to draw the line.

      Love to your family.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh! I go through those same gyrations trying not to touch anything that may be contaminated. It reminds me of the red spot in Dr Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat.” In the end, there is always yet a bit of a spot, and unless you have got a Thing One and Thing Two under your hat, you just has to remember, as you say, not to pick your nose.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yeah. That last part’s particularly hard. I’ve been trying to convince Fast Eddie to ride under my hat to protect me, but he’s too spooky–not about germs, just, you know, everything. Plus my hat’s too small.

          Stay well.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. I hope Ida is doing better and that you’re both staying safe. Your comments about grocery stores is spot on with what happened here in Vancouver last week. One store would have an okay selection of meat, another almost nothing. A couple stores had no mushrooms or garlic while a third had plenty. Tomorrow is my first venture out of the house in a week to grocery shop. It should be interesting to see what’s available. Whatever normalcy we return to, hopefully in a couple months, will feel different and maybe it should, because if we don’t learn from this lesson, the next might be that much tougher.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. My best to Ida; hope she feels better soon. I read that social media is urging “brave” people to lick toilet seats. And they’re doing it. That’s a disgusting idea in normal times. I work at Walmart (which is rather peculiar in general). We had a massive rush on banana and ran out. Totally nuts – bananas usually don’t even last a week.

    Liked by 1 person

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