Here’s a middle-class, 21st-century question. Where do you get your olive oil from? I am more than old enough to remember when the answer was almost invariably “Boot’s”. Olive oil in tiny Crosse & Blackwell bottles were sold in pharmacies for unblocking your ears. That was the only place I encountered olive oil until I went to Greece in 1971. Lard was king back then, though the sophisticated sometimes used corn oil.

These days, with olive oil no longer considered exotic, the answer might be Sainsbury’s or Tesco, or even Aldi. Not that I’m boasting, but ours comes by sailing ship from Portugal. Last Saturday being a fine day with a slight breeze, we cycled to St Katharine’s Dock (where Anne has her office, not that you’d know these days) to pick up our latest delivery. It’s less than five miles and downhill/flat the whole way. Of course that means it’s flat/uphill on the way back but such is life.

Just got to get over to the other side now

As we crossed Tower Bridge I shared my plan. After collecting our five-litre box of oil we would cycle on as far as Wapping, enjoy our first pub pint since mid-March, and take our folding bikes on the Overground back to Denmark Hill.

De Gallant is a century-old Dutch schooner

Raybel Charters uses the schooner De Gallant to pick up oil, olives and almonds from Porto and other Portuguese coastal towns, then salt from Noirmoutier in western France. Her route then takes her to Bristol, along the English Channel, then past Margate and Southend up the Thames Estuary to St Katharine’s Dock opposite the Tower.

Today four-fifths of the world’s traded goods are transported by sea. The winds can be harnessed to cut back on carbon emissions. De Gallant is a historic ship but there is nothing quaint or outmoded about the idea of using sail power. This is not a vanity project.

Gareth preparing our order, very slowly

There was a small queue at the quayside. Nearly everything had been sold in advance.

Then it was off to the Captain Kidd on the river at Wapping to splice the mainbrace. A pint of Sam Smith’s Tadcaster lager is not, in my opinion, the ideal way to quench a thirst but one must take what is available. Pub staff were well briefed and organised, and it wasn’t too busy. Of course you can’t wear a mask when drinking a pint, but we certainly were wearing one when we went in. There is a lot of outside space and ordering was straightforward.

Last outing for lockdown beard before it gets the chop

Unfortunately our plan to take a train home was scuppered, to continue the nautical clichés, by the cancellation of all services from Wapping. So it was back on the bikes. We had to take on the fearsome Denmark Hill after all.


However we did take a train journey the following day: the one-stop trip from Tulse Hill to North Dulwich (which lasts all of three minutes). Was everyone wearing a mask? Like hell they were. I estimate 20% were not, even though it’s now mandatory on all forms of public transport.

Surely the message should have sunk in by now?

Even if you don’t show any symptoms, you might have the virus and be infecting others without knowing. You could catch it on a bus or in a shop and pass it on to vulnerable members of your family. I read the following statement on the BBC website: “Recent findings from the polling company YouGov suggest 36% of people in the UK wear face coverings in public places, compared with 86% in Spain, 83% in Italy and 82% in China.” With nearly 50,000 deaths in the UK alone, not wearing a mask makes as much sense as driving with your eyes shut.

Headline that says it all

A couple of weeks ago I took a train from Herne Hill to St Pancras. Again, about one in five passengers were not wearing masks; they were of all ages, colours and sexes, but – from what I saw – disproportionally more “ethnic minority” people were represented. No effort was made to enforce the rule at the station and no inspectors got on. I walked from St Pancras to Euston, where station staff and British Transport Police were amongst the worst offenders.

That’s clear enough but it seems to fall on deaf ears

A saw a large man with “here to help” on his uniform. Was I supposed to feel comfortable asking him a question, even though he was not wearing a mask? He was talking to people from all over the country, many of whom had just been on a bus or the Tube. People were allowed to enter the stations and even go down to the platforms without a face covering, but were expected to put them on once they were on the train (where, especially on commuter services they will rarely encounter a member of staff to make sure they do so).

A fine example you are setting, sir

Clearly all that government twaddle about trusting in the common sense of the Great British public is misplaced, to put it mildly. If you make a rule you must enforce it as quickly and vigorously as possible. Belatedly, as always it seems, that is what is now being promised. Just like dear old British Rail in the 70s: slow, bad and late.

Here endeth the lesson

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