Mass Observation

My Virtual School – social media

8 April 2020. Too much time frittered on social media. So much of it so full of bigotry and ignorance. Conspiracy theories everywhere. I saw one sad comment from the US that because all the media is polarised she doesn’t know whether to believe the virus exists or not. And then doesn’t know how to respond to it because all the advice is politicised. Sadly even news about the hunt for a vaccine has been corrupted by conspiracy theorists claiming nanotechnology will be introduced into humans – because Bill Gates is funding research. Then there’s a major row about racism and genocide: because European doctors have suggested that the vaccine be used first in Africa. Great protests about ‘guinea pigs’ – nothing about the appalling conditions in townships and refugee camps without running water or sanitation, thousands of people crammed together.

Too much time on social media and dodgy news-feeds. By the end of the day I was totally depressed about the future of employment, whether the banks could survive, inflation, deflation, pensions lost, facing an old age in poverty after a life-time of work. All unthinkable just three weeks ago. Difficulty sleeping.

All over the country there are people facing the same uncertainties – most of them with much more reason to be worried than me. Sitting at my open window I heard a conversation in the street outside. Four of my neighbours had each come out into the sunshine and were chatting – all standing more than two meters apart so they spoke quite loudly. One woman’s chief sorrow was that she could not hug her son when he came to deliver a parcel. Another pointed out that the air is clearer and fresher without cars, and that you can hear the birds singing. All agreed. Then all agreed that the main thing they had noticed was that everyone was kinder. People smile in the street. People are patient. People are helping each other.

Maybe the new world order won’t be so bad, but I can’t help hoping it will also be financially stable.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – a tale of two cities

7 April 2020. A long phone call from brother in France. Paris has just banned all outdoor exercise during the day. The police presence on the streets is fairly grim. Bro was being harangued by the old lady in the flat below his: would he pop out and buy her a newspaper? Answer: no way! it’s not on the essentials list of permitted activities and he has just watched two gendarmes checking all permits outside the building. Old lady tries the next resident. Flat refusal again. Old lady becoming very annoyed by her wimpish neighbours. This is not the spirit of La République! She will write to the newspaper and order it to be posted. Will bro pop out to the Post Office? Refusal again. Essential activities are very clearly defined. Fine is €135. Everyone must carry their papers with them to explain their activity, and now they must include the time the activity started. His town also has a curfew, the first of three towns to have it imposed as an experiment before it is introduced across France. Bro didn’t realise for 3 days then saw it on the national news.

Bro is staying home. It’s serious out there. Was a bit concerned about supplies but thought he could manage. Offered to post him toilet paper if needed – not necessarily a sheet at a time. Our own status as tp plutocrats is the result of our black market connections. The dog’s dog-walker works part-time for a supermarket and knows when supplies are due. A delivery left at our door (along with the dog) on the last day she could walk him before not-quite-lock-down.

Had our own run-in with the gendarmerie. Sneaked out of the house at 11pm for the dog’s essential late night comfort walk. There is no curfew but we still feel that we are rehearsing for the get-away in The Sound of Music, pushing the car silently, slipping through the local graveyard, before heading over the mountains into Switzerland. I’ve no idea when we became so adept at flitting furtively through the shadows. Dog is useless at it. Stops to sniff every damn tree, lamp-post and tussock with no sense of urgency at all. Have told him he might have to be abandoned for the greater good if he doesn’t buck his ideas up. Walked out of our front door straight into the arms of two community police: ‘You all right there? Nice evening.’

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – bluebells and apple blossom

6 April 2020. Just finished G&T with friends in Cambridge. Zoom is great fun. Now working through our address book to select tomorrow’s victims.

Walking through Little Wood with the dog today. Cowslips just beginning to flower on the banks near the astro. Anemones sparkling across the woodland floor like stars, with a scatter of violets among them. Primroses nestling against tree roots. A bank leading to the stream covered in yellow celandine and bluebells.

The bluebells have been coming into flower for the last two weeks. I saw my first of this year on the day not-quite-lock-down started. Today there was just the hint of that delicious hyacinth scent hanging in the air. Another week and they will be spectacular.

Noticed today how lovely ash flowers are. A crazy fringe of deep purple stems. Near the car park a female conifer covered in minute red flowers. And all along the path by Smithsons’ the apple trees are coming into bloom, a haze of pink and white blossom. The dog had a good time chasing scents as well. Found where the fox had been – bath time when we got home.

This evening news that the Prime Minister is in intensive care. I read up on the symptoms. There is no cure. Good nursing can only help the body’s own immune system to battle the virus. Each patient is on their own. I saw a comment that COVID-19 is nature’s revenge for climate change and exploitation. I saw nature today. It doesn’t look very vengeful.

The moon is nearly full tonight and so bright that it was casting shadows on the ground. The air is certainly much clearer. Is the sky really a deeper blue?

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – frustrations

4 April 2020. First frustration is realising that somewhere I’ve slipped on the dates and most of this diary is one day behind itself. But not all of it. So for 4 read 5 April today. Do I skip to the right date leaving some future historian to ponder the missing (destroyed? censored? page fell out?) day? And which one was it? Every historian needs a pedantry quiz.

Second frustration was the verdammnit iPad. RC has claimed the domain name. You must change you Apple ID to access the Cloud. Yes, I know. You must do it before tomorrow. Yes, I know. You should have done this 60 days ago. Yes, I know. I did try 60 days ago but it wouldn’t accept my alternate email address – because it is already your alternate email address, pick another one. I don’t have another one you …  machine. And I don’t have time (60 days ago) to fuss with this just now. You didn’t do this 30 days ago – so we have changed your log-in for now, please change your email address. OK. Enter your new email. OK. Enter the password for your existing email. Forgot it, please send set up for a new password. Verification failure. You must change your access before tomorrow. Verification failure. Ad infinitum. Eventually resort to setting up an entirely new gmail account to start again. Please verify your security questions. No, there hasn’t been any request to set any up but here are a selection of possible questions. Try giving existing answers. Verification failure. 90 minutes later and still no idea whether or not I can access any of my work-based Cloud items via my work-supplied iPad via my no longer valid work-based email address which I shouldn’t be accessing anyway because I am furloughed but which needs to be sorted out because it is all time sensitive. Just hope the book I’ve ordered for my Kindle app actually turns up when it is published on Monday. Which is all I’m really interested in today.

Apparently some idiots who lacked an education in critical thinking and basic biology have been attacking G5 mobile masts believing there is a link to COVID-19. I can empathise.

Silver linings. The Queen spoke to the UK and Commonwealth this evening. A polished performance delivering an excellent speech without any hesitation or political posturing. And hunting for jigsaws yesterday we came across half a bottle of Carex hand-wash. Treasure!

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – board games

3 April 2020. A face-to-face conversation today. My second in 10 days. Maybe third if you count exchanging quick info at the self-service check-out at Waitrose. And not counting husband. Made me realise that said husband hasn’t spoken face-to-face with anyone but me and the dog for the best part of a month. Interested to find out where he’s getting his information from. Pretty sure the dog is discreet. But apparently a lot of people have quite loud conversations on their phones just below our first floor sitting-room window. So he knew more about the Virtual Grand National than I did, except he thought that Red Rum won it. I was surprised that Red Rum didn’t. Not as up to date with horse-racing as I could be.

An SOS from a friend. He and his daughter have been enjoying 1000-piece jigsaws. But have run out! Anyone up for swopsies if a suitable decontamination method and person-free collection point can be organised? It seems a lot of work for a jigsaw puzzle but this is a long haul and anything to foster and maintain family harmony. So we had a rummage through storage boxes and the old toy chest. Found some wonderful toys and spent a happy afternoon trying them all out. The dog now loves yo-yos. Also that dangerous cup and ball game that Victorian children apparently rated above X-Box (according to the packaging). Sore knuckles for me and a narrowly avoided black eye for the dog. Score zero. Constructing Stonehenge out of steel blocks using just a magnetic wand must be fairly close to how Merlin achieved the original.

Trying to decide what could be donated to a communal bring and share board game collection, all neatly wrapped in plastic with clear labels for age and suitability and possible small sanitiser spray. Only to be collected or exchanged after 3-4 days in quarantine for each item. Quite a lot didn’t make the cut because we won’t have any adult friends left after their children have bashed and flicked and shot and bounced all of them off the walls. And nobody is getting my light saber or my fully working model of Thunderbird Two (with the Mole). So it will be a small donation. The 1000-piece jigsaws may be shared – after we have done them ourselves.

And at the end of the day, brought up sharp against reality with the news that Gof, formerly a first responder in Faringdon, has lost his battle against COVID-19. A small community now mourning one of its key members. RIP Gof.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

Virtual School – boundaries

2 April 2020. An email this morning. Subject ‘Employee retention scheme.’ Please accept furlough. A shock. Wasn’t expecting that. A long phone call to the Bursar to find out exactly how to proceed. How long? Unclear. Projects moth-balled, and will have a knock-on effect later in the year. But for now, it is the way forward for so many businesses.

A strange sense of alienation. Emails still come through from work. Am I supposed to read them or is that ‘work’? As an archivist my job is to keep records. That doesn’t just mean musty, old ones. It means to discern what to keep as a record of our own time. And this moment in time is the most significant most of us have lived through. So a tricky balance between work life and personal life. A long chat with the Bursar defining boundaries for now.

An odd sense of the break-down of those boundaries. The Bursar phoned while I was cooking. So the whole conversation is now fixed in my memory with the scent of herbs. Boeuf bourguignon. Reducing the sauce, deglazing the pan, all while chatting about projects.

Later in the evening another phone call. To some of our oldest friends. Chris is a nurse specialising in research into pain relief at a teaching hospital. Very anxious to know that she and the family are safe. Fortunately, her work continues via phone calls. But she is worried about sharing a head set. Her husband has ordered the last two available from Amazon. More boundaries broken between work and personal life.

We are godparents to all three of their sons so checking up on all of them. One is stuck on the other side of the country where he was visiting friends. One was already at home. But the youngest was at university in Norwich. As BoJo was announcing the not-quite-lock-down his father was in the car to collect him and he was packing.  On arrival, discovered he was not alone. Ben was pet-sitting his room mate’s hamster; room mate now stuck in Ireland. At least the hamster has a roof over his head for he duration.

This is an important time in our history as we become a virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will probably never operate in quite the same way again. The Archive is about us now.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone in the Radley College community to join in to create a group record for our Archive.

© Clare Sargent

Virtual School – volunteers

1 April 2020. No one is much inclined to April Fool’s jokes today.  Winner was a great Twitter feed called @thoughtofdog. I love him, so does the dog. Posted ‘I wasn’t a good dog today.’ Shock horror. ‘April Fool! Yes I was’. Dog is trying so hard to understand and so hard to be good but just doesn’t know why he can’t play with other dogs or say hello when he meets human friends that he loves. Yesterday he cried and cried when a friend exchanged greetings from several meters away and he had to sit by me, with his lead at its shortest.

Husband has just finished a zoom conference with the other committee members of the group of the Motor Neurone Disease Association that he volunteers for. Great trouble throughout the MND community because it is not included on the government’s list of extreme at risk groups, despite many members relying on respirators in their daily lives. A hideous, cruel disease. Turns out it is included under ‘respiratory illnesses’ – which baffled everybody since it is neurological and the respiratory bit is a side effect. So difficult to think in categories instead of in specifics. Much discussion on how to support and communicate with such seriously ill people.

Last year, husband’s particular team was given The Queen’s Award for Volunteers in the Birthday Honours – the highest award for voluntary work. Now we are all volunteers.  More than 750,000 nationally have come forward to support the NHS. Every town and village seems to have organised its own community support group and is checking on the elderly and vulnerable. At school, more than 100 colleagues have joined the team to help in Radley village and the boys are being urged to do their bit wherever they are. Very grateful to receive a card through our door in Abingdon with times and phone numbers if we have to go into total lock-down. And friends from various parts of our lives have extended their support networks to include us, with regular phone calls and emails. Society may come out of this with a greater sense of community.

And at the end of the day one of those friends messaged with good news. Faringdon, the small market town where we lived for 25 years, is too far from the local hospitals so maintains a team of first responder volunteers for medical emergencies. One of them is the first person I know personally who has been in ITU with COVID-19. A man now well into his 70s. He became infected when he helped a patient. Tonight, news that he is recovering. We don’t hear enough about the survivors, especially the elderly. Congratulations, Gof!

This is an important time in our history as we become a virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will probably never operate in quite the same way again. The Archive is about us now.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone in the Radley College community to join in to create a group record for our Archive.

© Clare Sargent

Virtual School – work and play

31 March 2020. Impressive photos today of the Design Engineering Dept hard at work using the 3D printer to make masks for local GP practices. Even their children have been drafted in to help.

Very good to see that the new image for #VirtualRadley is based on our four founding principles: Christianity, Collegiality, Privacy, Aesthetics translated into their modern equivalents – Spiritual, Academic, Pastoral, Co-Curricular. Happy to say that this is also reflected in the structure and content of our 175th anniversary book, due out in 2022. Must get on with that, by the way.

I did receive an excellent piece for my research into the book today from Rev Dave, former chaplain, on the role of Chapel. One of a number of truly moving and revealing responses from Old Radleians who went into full-time ministry.

Helping with other people’s research still goes on, although without access to the archive itself I can’t easily answer all questions. One request for help came from a postdoc in Germany researching networks and looking into the influence of Old Radleian Jonathan Griffin. During World War Two Griffin was Director of BBC European Intelligence – a man with interesting networks! I look forward to reading the work.

Conducted a little data-gathering of my own whilst walking the dog. Someone has been putting little fairy doors on the trees in Little Wood. I found seven today. Believe G Social is involved.

This is an important time in our history as we become a virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will probably never operate in quite the same way again. The Archive is about us now.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone in the Radley College community to join in to create a group record for our Archive.

© Clare Sargent

Virtual School – world enough, and time

30 March 2020. Difficult to distinguish between work and non-work at the moment. Technically it is the school’s Easter holiday. A time for teaching staff to rest, relax and recover from a grueling term and then start planning again. But all departments have been working desperately hard for weeks. Teachers preparing material for digital teaching in the new term. An entirely new way of interacting with a class, particularly across time zones. The operational teams making sure that all their work is up to date and can be picked up again should they have to work from home or accept a furlough. The only ones who would normally be working really hard in this particular week, the two external exam years, are the only ones who aren’t. Probably. They have been told there is no need to revise for exams which will not happen in the summer. Even more frantic sorting out to help them and put a new programme in place for next term. And all of it this last week done from everybody’s living room. Dozens of zoom conferences and regular updates from the Warden. Even the way our management structures work have been revised for this emergency.

Just one week. It all seems so much longer. I’m not alone in having difficulty remembering what day of the week it is. One little boy was hailed as a Twitter hero because he was wearing day-of-the-week socks. It was Thursday – good to know. Usually this complete breakdown of time happens for a glorious few days in the middle of August. But now there are none of our regular time -keepers. No daily shop for fresh bread with that Friday morning supermarket sweep. No dog-walker ringing the doorbell on Wednesday and Friday mornings to be greeted by an ecstatic dog. No MOTD for husband on Saturday night (although he wasn’t happy about Liverpool’s progress at all). No Sunday morning meeting up with friends for brunch, lunch or church.

Routine is vital for health and sanity. But it is now daily instead of weekly. Long days which seem to fritter away too quickly, broken up by an hour’s exercise walking the dog. He doesn’t know what day it is but he usually knows when it’s time for his walk or supper. Clocks changed on Sunday. Now even the dog is baffled.

This is an important time in our history as we become a virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will probably never operate in quite the same way again. The Archive is about us now.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone in the Radley College community to join in to create a group record for our Archive.

© Clare Sargent

Virtual School – interpreting ‘The Rules’

29 March 2020. The fake news vendors claim Northamptonshire police have received more than 300 calls from neighbours snitching on neighbours. And requested that they do not. Interesting that they use the word ‘snitching’. somehow so 1930s public school. Not at all a word for a police state.

Lots of discussion among online groups about how exactly to interpret The Rules. And a lot of demands to ‘make them clearer.’ I like the public school type response from the government saying ‘use commonsense.’ Reminds me of the final (apocryphal) clause in our own school rules: if it is contrary to common courtesy or commonsense then it is against the school rules. It leaves a lot of wiggle room for the discerning pupil or teacher; especially leaves room for context. Not much room for context when the rules are crystal clear.

So to context. Essential shopping has been the subject of a row about rules and interpretation. Is an Easter egg essential? Or is essential shopping only the absolute basic ingredients needed for a sustaining broth or light gruel? I did this week’s essential shop this morning. I popped in an Easter egg (not without a little guilt), then added chocolate mousse, avocados, hummus and other unmentionables. But I was in Waitrose – are ‘essentials’ different there? And I confess I put the egg at the bottom of my shopping bag, just in case the neighbours felt like snitching. Shouldn’t have put the potatoes on top.

Language has been getting polysyllabic all week. BoJo came out with ‘sedulous’ much to everyone’s consternation as they rushed for a dictionary. I can just imagine the Eton school report which complained that he needed ‘to be a bit more sedulous’. And in a row in a Cambridge supermarket over whether a man could buy two types of milk (green and red top) the shop assistant resorted to ‘ontological.’

This is an important time in our history as we become a virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will probably never operate in quite the same way again. The Archive is about us now.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone in the Radley College community to join in to create a group record for our Archive.

© Clare Sargent