We’ve just been watching ‘Quiz’, a drama based on true events – the supposed cheating , mostly in the form of strategically placed coughs, which enabled someone, a Major Ingram, to win a million pounds in a TV quiz show Over three nights the story unfolded of the build-up to the contest appearance of Major Ingram, his win and the subsequent investigation, persecution, trial and conviction of the contestant, his wife and a co-conspirator, ( a man with a tickly throat irritation).
This furore dominated the papers and TV – headlines, gossip and editorial – late in 2001 and beyond. The flames of public interest were fanned further by an ITV documentary about the scandal.
What struck me, and the husband, yesterday evening was that this story wasn’t even glimpsed on our radar at the time. In September 2001 we were staying at the airport in Atlanta when the Twin Towers were hit. There was a brief lockdown and our return to the UK was delayed. In the following weeks and months we were totally focussed on trying to deal with the dramatic downturn in the fortunes of our little airline-related business.
Did they do it, and does it matter were questions we didn’t consider, until last night
I won’t underline any parallels but here is a poem I wrote called “12th September”.
I’m thinking I’ll be scruffier when this is over. Due to Covid-19, perhaps, the hairdressing salon in the village, (let’s call it ‘Scissors’), is closed. For ever. The cutting is not the issue. My daughter-in-law has said she’ll give me a trim, sort out my fringe before it becomes a health and safety issue – I will trade with her so no problem there. But am I going grey? For ever. Will I let myself? Or will I grasp an alternative out of the bag, a hair dye bunny out of the hat? I’d have to order it online and I’d need an accomplice.
Will I embrace purple, or is that too obvious?
I’m thinking I’ll be scruffier when this is over. There’s a suggestion, more than a suggestion of can’t- be-arsed right now. Why file my nails or pluck my brows? Who’s there to see my efforts? Why bother? I shaved my legs for the first time in weeks and thought – what’s the point? We’re banned from beaches and pools are closed. Short, summery skirts are not practical attire for breezy, brambly smallholdings. I’ll leave my lilywhite limbs unexposed. Thighs can be rediscovered another day. Or not.
I’m thinking I’ll be scruffier, contentedly scruffier, when this is over.
Yesterday, mid-afternoon, the incident of note was a minor explosion. It must have been about four p.m., and I didn’t actually hear it. The conservatory where I was sitting, writing lists, is across the other side of the farmyard from our little rustic bar. More of a phut than a bang then.
‘Y Bar Bach’ is of course not currently graced by punters, but the door to the bar also leads to our laundry area, so when I unlocked to take a pile of washing out of one of the two machines, I was met by an unmistakable smell – earthy and sweet. The floor was sticky, in parts treacly; the plug was absent and there was a slight dusting of scum on the top of the last plastic firkin of local beer delivered before lockdown. I wiped it, revealing the label – ‘Amber Ale, 4.0%, duty paid on 39.35 litres.’
My immediate thought was that it was gone, wasted, useless, yet another casualty of the current chaos. And then I wondered if 39 or so litres could be poured onto the compost heap, or could I hive a little off first for some sort of smelly hair treatment? But two of the menfolk appeared and a pint glass was found to test it. ‘Absolutely fine’ said my son-in-law, who knows a thing or two about beer. ‘But it won’t keep. It’ll be spoilt within twenty-four hours.’ What a shame.
I needn’t have concerned myself. The firkin was propped on its side on the wall by the farm gate, next to a charity pot and a packet of disinfectant wipes. One-by-one the husband, son and son-in-law, plus a few locals from the hamlet, (meticulously observing hygiene and social distancing rules), turned up with bottles, jugs, flagons and buckets. Within forty-five minutes, it was emptied.
Not everything that happens in lockdown is grim. There are occasional serendipitous plusses.
Technically, this was before lockdown but Covid-19 was the reason this year’s Cheltenham Festival almost didn’t go ahead. I was asked to write a poem for ITV for the start of the Cheltenham Gold Cup race in 2020. The poem which was broadcast on March 13th was a lot shorter than my original but…
You almost didn’t make it, just out of view
of the humans who sat, chatting, downing
cups of tea, amused by a clowning puddle of pups,
tussling and tumbling on new Spring grass.
You scrambled up a ramshackle pile of bricks,
stacked against a plastic butt, and somehow must
have toppled in.
Alarmed by sounds of splashing, we found you
doggie-paddling in blissful unschooled circles, ears
dipping, skimming then skirting the murky surface.
You learned fast – this first watery mishap
transformed into a story, your story –
the discovery of the aqueous element
you made your own.
Adventures in, on, across, through water
populate our memories of you. Your chest built
for swimming, ears spread wide, steady, bubbly breathing:
your pelt liquified. Sometimes we’d panic, light failing,
scanning the horizon or bank, and no dog visible.
Would you get washed away, tire and drown
or simply carry on,
forget to turn, your easy strokes pulling you
out into the Irish Sea,