Like millions of others around the world, Gulf News Foreign Correspondent Mick O’Reilly is currently under COVID-19 lockdown. This is what life is like in social isolation in Ireland, where there are strict rules about who is allowed out, where, and under limited circumstances.
Thursday 2 April, 9am
11 days, 5 hours and 18 minutes
IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?
“It’s Frank”, Maura said, her oldest brother.
Don’t you hate when the phone rings and it’s a relative who you haven’t spoken to in so long. The news is never going to be good.
It’s Maura, my first cousin. The last time I had textual relations with her, she was stuck in the Canary Islands when this coronavirus pandemic locked down Spain. Some 20,000 Irish holidaymakers were stranded there, and it took almost a week for an emergency airlift to bring them all home.
But there was an air about this phone call that wasn’t about pleasantries and catching up.
“It’s Frank”, Maura said, her oldest brother.
He died on Monday night from Covid 19.
I have spent weeks writing about this pandemic, about life under lockdown, about getting through it all and staying safe.
Frank didn’t get through it, and he is now one of the more than 41,000 people who have succumbed to this virus worldwide.
He was 68, married and left three grown children. He used to work doing something very technical in telephone exchanges. Then, in the early 1980s he upped and went to England, and began working for the UK Government in its secretive listening centre in Cheltenham, England. He was also a horse-racing fanatic, so Cheltenham suited him well, no doubt.
According to Maura, Frank did have an underlying lung condition which meant that he – and so many millions more – was at risk should he contract coronavirus. He did catch it last week, and it was swift in delivering its worst.
Sadly, there will be no funeral service now. His family cannot travel to give him a final farewell now. It is a lonely road for Frank to travel to those great gates. When this pandemic is over, there will be a memorial service. I suspect there will be such memories formalised in the months to come.
We talked for a while more, and I asked about another brother, Paul.
He left Ireland too in the late 1970s and went to New York and worked in bars there. He’s still there to this day, living in the Bronx. Last year, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and mercifully received a liver transplant. Right now, though, New York city is hot spot for coronavirus. And because Paul has a weakened immune system with his new liver, he’s under the strictest of quarantine measures there. I hope he makes it.
Maura, bless her, is battling breast cancer, and coronavirus has meant that an operation on her lymph nodes had been postponed until July.
We all can only do our part in staying safe, following instructions and keeping away from people to make sure the worst of this pandemic passes as quickly as possible.
Frank, Paul and Maura deserve that much.
And I now have to make such phone calls to my brother and sister.
MY ESSENTIAL VIEWING
Have you watched Breaking Bad? It’s a bit of a slow burn to start but it becomes impulsive and gripping viewing. But if you haven’t yet seen Better Call Saul, a spin-off series about the sleezy, scumbag lawyer Saul Goodman – “It’s all good, man” who assists Walter White and Jesse Pinkman to legitimise their vast quantities of profits.
Bob Odenkirk stars as the lawyer who, in Breaking Bad, quits the criminal enterprise just as the net is closing in, and goes into hiding managing a Cinnabon store in North Dakota or some other godforsaken corner of the US mid-west.
Better Call Saul tells the back story of how Goodman – who changed his name from Jimmy McGill – became a lawyer and emerged from under the shadows of his hot-shot attorney brother – a very tragic tale in itself – and developed links with the narco lords who were moving money and needed his particular legal expertise and sleaze.
Goodman is a loveable rogue and I have to admit I’m fascinated by his character and the back story. You’ll need to watch all of Breaking Bad if you haven’t yet to understand the nuances of his character. But Better Call Saul certain merits four stars on my watchlist of essential viewing. Brilliant. Witty. Absolutely fantastic.
If you’re looking for an interesting movie, then watch the Two Popes. It’s an interesting take on Francis I and Benedict XVI, both popes and both coming to terms with their new positions. The dialogue is very poignant and stars Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, who won an Oscar nomination for his portray of Francis I. I couldn’t help thinking of him as High Sparrow from Game of Thrones as it watched the Two Popes, though. Shame. Shame.
THE GOOD NEWS
What’s that old saying that goes old soldiers never die, they only fade away? Now there’s news that a 91-year-old British Army veteran has made a remarkable recovery from coronavirus in hospital after medics told his family he had just hours to live, the Daily Mail reports.
James Burton Wood, of Edenfield, Lancashire, was admitted to hospital two weeks’ ago when his health started to deteriorate after a week of suffering symptoms.
The grandfather-of-two tested positive for the infection soon after arriving at hospital and medics told his family he was seriously ill and to say their goodbyes.
The family were left inconsolable and unable to see Wood on the ward at Fairfield General in Bury, but he battled through and is set to be released back home soon.
Wood was 18 when the Second World War ended but joined in the Army doing National Service in the years after.
His granddaughter Jessica Sharkey said his recovery was a rare story of hope at a time when 1,789 Britons have died from the virus and 25,000 have tested positive.
I couldn’t agree more. Well done! Good news indeed.
MEME OF THE DAY
This meme was shared with my on Facebook by my cousin Gus. He’s a hardy old soul who has worked in the car factories in Windsor, Ontario, for decades after leaving Ireland in the late 1960s. If you know the Paul Simon song ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’, you can sign along.
THE LOCKDOWN DIET
Day 4 of Dr Joshi’s Holistic Detox: “21 days to a healthier slimmer you – for life.”
I thought that this was supposed to be a challenge but so far I have to say that it’s all quite easy – and at this rate I wouldn’t mind carrying it on longer than the 21 days prescribed. Maybe I’m missing something?
Breakfast yesterday was an egg-white omelette. The day before I had made homemade mayonnaise using four egg yolks and kept the egg whites, so used them for breakfast. I sweated off some diced shallot in a frying pan in some olive oil, whisked the egg whites with some fresh diced spinach, salt and pepper, then folded them into the pan. Three minutes late, a good omelette
Lunch was the rest of that chicken salad with the mayonnaise, and I added in some diced spring onion which I ate on two rice crackers. I have to admit, rice crackers taste like cardboard. Those I won’t miss.
Supper was the rest of the chicken curry from the night before, along with some rice pilaf. To stretch the rice out, I grated a courgette and squeezed out what ever water I could using my hand. Then I added in some diced spring onion and two small finely cut green chillies. A quick stir fry, add in the rice and there you have it.
I am still missing coffee in the mornings. Green tea, regardless of whether it has mint or ginger or anything else doesn’t come close to a steaming mug of fresh-brewed coffee. Did I tell you I miss coffee?
THE STOCK SHOCK
Here’s the plan: As part of this exercise in being socially isolated, I am pretending to play the stock market. I’m pretending that I started out with £10,000 – about Dh 45,000 – and seeing if I can turn this into a profit at a time when indices around the world have been on a rollercoaster ride that rolled back the gains since the great financial crash of a decade ago.
The rules are simple. I won’t be calculating in brokerage fees and the deals can only be done when the market is shut. So, I’ll buy at the close of one, sell or not at the close of another. It will be interesting to see how my play portfolio ends up at the end of this lockdown in less than 11 days’ time.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be using those public traded on the FTSE500 – the London stock exchange.
Ok, so If you’ve been following me for the past couple of days, you’ll know that I’ve held onto 3,000 shares in Tesco – one of the UK’s big food chains. My reasoning is that people are spending a lot of time locked in at home. They’re shopping online. They’re buying food. They’re stockpiling. Grocery stores would be a good buy.
On Monday, I bought 3,000 shares, costing me £6978.00. It moved slightly upwards on Tuesday, but only marginally so. Because of a report saying UK shoppers had spent £2 billion on extra supplies while locking down for coronavirus, I decided to hold onto them for Wednesday. Mistake. I bought them at 232.60p (£2.326) and they closed at 223.4p on Wednesday evening. I’m liquidating them, which means that initial £6978.00 is now £6702.00.
I bought 75 shares of Unilever at the close of business on Monday for 3997.50p (£39.975) each. On Tuesday, they were worth £3012.00, but yesterday, they closed at 3988.48. That means they’re now worth £2991.36. I still think I’ll hold them for one more day – but I’m not wedded to them.
So, after cashing in Tesco and with £55.52 cash previously on hand, I have £6757.52 to re-invest.
Anything to do with travel is not worth while looking at right now. I am, however, watching the pharmaceutical sector in case there’s movement or some word that a company is making progress with antibodies or something like that.
Oil and gas are volatile.
But I’m stubborn, and I think that with everyone locked up and not being able to shop freely, there is traction in online shopping.
That’s why I’m using that £6757.52 to buy Ocado, an online grocery delivery company.
They moved up 6 per cent or so on Wednesday. They’re 1329.50p (£13.295), so I’m buying 500, worth £6647.50, leaving me with £110.02 cash in hand.
The danger is that because Ocado did so well on Wednesday, it might face a run on Thursday because of profit taking. That’s a phenomenon where investors look at a stock that is performing well early one morning, then buy in and hope that upward trend continues. And that they sell, believe that the 6 per cent increase is about what it’s worth. But I do believe that locked-up people in the UK means online shopping and groceries will be worthwhile investing in.
TODAY’S NET WORTH: £9,748.88
Ocado: 500 shares, £6647.50
Unilever: 75 shares, £2991.36
Cash on hand: £110.02
% Loss: -2.51%
£ Loss: -£251.12
THE IDIOTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Some people just want a quick cure, but there are limits. In widely shared posts on Facebook, there are claims that doctors in New York have been prescribing critically ill coronavirus patients large doses of vitamin C, and it is also being tested in hard-hit China where Covid 19 originated.
But the results of a study at Wuhan University – where 140 patients are being given big amounts of the antioxidant intravenously to establish if it could improve - will not be completed until September.
At the moment, there is no evidence that taking vitamin C supplements could prevent or cure the respiratory illness.
Posts have also been widely shared online about the supposed wonders of vitamin C, including one of a quote by the late doctor Robert F Cathcart, who said: “I have not seen any flu yet that was not cured or markedly ameliorated by massive doses of vitamin C.”
According to SkyNews, medical health experts say there is limited evidence that vitamin C can even prevent the common cold, let alone fight off the new and unique coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
“Vitamin C does play an important role in immunity,” explains Harriet Smith, a dietician. “A great example of this is in sailors who developed scurvy due to vitamin C deficiencies. However, there’s some very limited evidence that vitamin C supplements may reduce severity and duration of common colds, but only by approximately half a day. Obviously, coronavirus and common colds are very different viruses, so the results don’t apply to coronavirus.”
She debunked the claim that large doses of vitamin C could make a difference, adding: “The RNI [Reference Nutrient Intake] is 40 milligrams a day, which you can easily get from eating one large orange or a kiwi fruit. Vitamin C is water-soluble, so consuming more than the body needs will result in it being excreted in urine.”
But there’s a danger too – too much vitamin C cause digestive issues, such as diarrhoea.
The lesson here is if you’re thinking about upping your dosage of vitamin C, stick to a whole foods, healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables such as citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and even potatoes.
Just what the doctor ordered!
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I’m not an expert, but I might be able to help you make a bit of sense of this. And we can all get through it together. Isn’t this what this is all about.
Send your questions for me to Readers@gulfnews.com.
That’s it for now. Let’s check in with each other tomorrow. And stay safe.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe