Rosemary, Rodborough Common
As I write this we are a couple of days short of beginning the second lockdown, but this time I feel far more wary and less optimistic. I am not thinking about ourselves, but the younger generations, the vulnerable, and the large number of companies that have and are still collapsing with the consequential job losses involved. The virus appears to be virulent all across Europe from Russia to the Americas, and I am left wondering just how the future will pan out with so many people being denied a proper income and no prospects of future employment? The US is now heading towards 250,000 deaths, and Trump is still in denial. I personally do not believe that he has had Covid-19, he is the supremo of ‘fake’ news. How could an overweight man in his mid 70s recover from the virus in just a matter of days?
We hear nothing at all about life and statistics on the other side of the world, and in particular I am thinking about China, the root of this tragic Pandemic. Today I checked on the Covid-19 Worldometer to discover more, and couldn’t believe how few deaths China has had. Only 4,634 deaths have been reported which I imagine has had no impact whatsoever on their economy.
Business for them is thriving, people are in work, and life goes on pretty much as previously, and Hong Kong has had only 105 deaths. I have a friend who lives in Taiwan so I checked out their statistics too, and found that deaths in Taiwan have now almost doubled. At the beginning of our first lockdown they numbered 4 deaths and now they have had 7!!!
The wet and windy weather of the last few days plays havoc with your feelings, but today the sun is brilliant, and the Autumn colours look brilliant even though the leaves will soon be over. Tomorrow, the last day before lockdown starts, is also predicted to be a beautiful day, so we shall pack ourselves a picnic to make the most of our last day of freedom, and endeavour to catch Autumn’s last hurrah.
David Horovitch, Twickenham
Thanks Susan in Victoria. I'm so glad you liked my last piece. And thanks to you Jane for your good wishes. Alan Bennett eh? This is where we came in isn't It? Single Spies all those years ago.
A friend of mine, a thespian himself, is fond of saying that he's never met a happy actor, and it's true that, most of the time we're a pretty disgruntled bunch. We hate being out of work and working never lives up to expectations. The only moments of joy are the ones when the agent calls with the offer; the complaints begin as soon as you hear that the money is Equity minimum, your billing is below that of the 'actress' who doesn't come on till the second act but has just won Celebrity Bake Off, and your wife and children won't speak to you because you're cancelling the holiday to go away on tour. But I've never known a more gruntled cast than the six of us who performed The Lady in the Van at Windsor last week. None of us had worked this year and all of us were wondering if we'd ever work again, so we set about our task with a grateful and determined gaiety. It was the perfect job at the perfect moment. Standing on the stage of a nice little Edwardian jewel box in front of two hundred hungry punters every night and twice on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, I was conscious of the same pleasure, though not the same sickening excitement, as I'd felt all those years ago at St Chris when I'd taken my first little faltering steps into performing Shakespeare in The Outdoor Gym. The announcement of lockdown at the end of the week made us all feel that a window had opened and we had been allowed brief access to a room that glowed with light and pulsed with music and that, even though that window had now closed, the six of us had shared something rare and utterly accidental, the memory of which would stay with us for ever. Now, 4 days later, I rub my eyes in disbelief and wonder if it really happened. I have to admit that, for all my wary ambivalence, I do still love the theatre. As Joni Mitchell says 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone.'
I've said that it was a 'reading' but it was rather more than that. The elegant conceit was that we were recording the play in a radio studio for the World Service in Bush House in the 1990s. We all wore indications of costume and spoke into BBC mikes of that period. We had a foley artist - a sound effects man - and quite a bit of incidental music. It was fun and there's not been a lot of that around recently has there? Bloody hard work though too - I wouldn't be an actor if I didn't do a little whingeing - with all those matinees but it was a real shot in the arm and not at all nerve-wracking as we didn't have to learn the lines.
I'd be feeling really flat now if it wasn't for the fact that, while still in Windsor, I was asked to play Leontes in a zoom reading of The Winter's Tale in a couple of weeks time, Michelle Collins from Eastenders playing Hermione. So I have something, beside the sonnets, to focus on. I read the play a couple of days ago and the last scene brought tears to my eyes as it always does.
Plague Year 2020
K.H.M., an East Kent Village
ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH
It was somewhere between weeks two and three of the first lock-down that I took an executive decision with myself not to use ever again the adjective ‘unprecedented’ in connection with the current pandemic. This was because pandemics in Great Britain clearly weren’t.
Since time immemorial the fourteenth century Black Death led the way in awfulness although I suspect there were always outbreaks of lesser infections before then – if not, where did the Pestilence of member of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come in? I was told that the record of the frequent installation of new clergy was one of the statistical markers of how parishes were affected by the Black Death. This sent me straight to the list of the vicars in our village church only to find that William de Kyngesfield had been in office from 1333 until succeeded by John Kyngesnode in 1361. No problem there, then.
Similarly, in the time of the Plague in 1665 one Thomas Jones was the incumbent from 1661 until succeeded in 1679 by Isaac Gostling. This parish must have been lucky then, too. Cholera cropped up over the years quite a lot though in the parish records – hardly surprising since main drainage did not arrive here until 1950! Memories of the collection of sewage by bucket and ‘honey wagon’ still abound. Smallpox must have been endemic until vaccination was available.
I was told by a neighbour that as a young girl her mother – the daughter of a greengrocer – had to carry a basket of supplies to a nearby isolation hospital each Saturday. This had a little shelter near the road in which she had to leave her basket, ring a bell and withdraw, when one of the nursing sisters would come out and collect the basket. I have heard that it’s now the home of some garden gnomes, but I can’t vouch for this.
I can vouch for being told by a woman who at the age of 18 in 1918 was in service in a vicarage thirty miles away when she was called home to find her Mother dead in one bedroom and a brother dead in a another from the Spanish flu (and another brother missing in Mesopotamia, whose body was never found). The only Great War grave in the churchyard commemorates a soldier who died from it.
We have covid-19 in the village now but so far no fatalities – long may it stay that way.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
Well, that will teach me to ignore the low battery warnings. I just lost my diary entry as everything went black and closed down.
Diary mark 2. COVID news from Australia is great. Most States live in normality in day to day life. Victoria should be in that happy place next Monday. NSW needs to be careful as they have small contained outbreaks but no measures like face masks in use. Metro Melbourne had a week of no cases and no deaths. Of the active cases, none are in aged care. Melbourne’s fourteen day average is 1 ish and in the regions it is zero. Happy days. It will be lovely to catch up with family and friends soon. We have missed birthdays, anniversaries and mid winter feasts, but we are all relieved that no one we know or love has been lost to this virus. My great niece Maggie still has the Covid cough, but hopefully once she holidays with grandparents in the warmer north of the state, that might be seen off. State borders open on 23 November, and I know my sister is counting down those days until she sees grandchildren again.
The weather here has been unseasonably cold, but we have had a pleasant day for Dean (aka The Hedge Barber) to weave his magic on the luma hedges. He doesn’t use string lines, just a well practised eye. The day he comes is usually hot and often windy and the fresh cuts usually end up with burn, but we’ve been lucky this year. A foliage spray with sea weed solution tomorrow should set them on their way through the heat of summer.
The American elections continue to bewilder. To my Northern American chums, I can only say I feel your pain. My Bestie and I have started taking wagers on the day the Melania files for divorce. What will it be, a well remunerated confidentially agreement or a lucrative book deal? Please let it be the book. I am still recovering from the photo Chris posted of the Donald’s hands. He isn’t well. No pun intended.
House flowers this week are sweet peas. The perfume takes me straight to my childhood. We polished off the last of the English spinach today and the brassicas are almost done. I will clear the beds over the weekend and begin to plant the tomatoes and basil that I have been hardening off this week.
I discovered a charming pod cast today from a column in the NY Times called Modern Love. I listened to “Dusty Danger Dog” about the love between a man and his dog. Two columns that were written seven years apart and read aloud with sensitivity and understanding.
Please take care and in so doing stay well.
James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Distant. A mezzo coloratura
voice snakes along corridors
projected from the yoni of song
south of Diva’s diaphragm.
Décolletage nestling behind
an upright Christian piano,
the lid festooned with religious fetishes —
warding off randy pupils
with ambitions outside their range —
teacher and novice faced one another
throats open momentarily closed.
In the duet their skins were inside out,
touch too sensitive, love beyond depth,
voices cut loose from foundations
with a knife she handed him,
educating it through his costume.
There was no joy in the final staged lesson
animal memories submissively
fading off into the wings,
polarized in the dominant night
where the derailed Diva died in the spotlight.
The review was in: “A louche performance
with obvious appeals to baser instincts.
The desire for objectification
distracted from Diva’s act of treachery
so central to the plot, which
her unsophisticated performance,
and voice hampered by bizarre pitches,
combined into an artless portrait,
obscured behind a manufactured mask of beauty.”
Is the divinity of loveliness corrupted
if it is fracked up from twisted strata?
What truth remains of a portrait in the memory
of a canvas when it is painted over and over?
Is a lack of compassion a fair response
to the prompting act?
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
It’s Wednesday morning. I didn’t sleep last night. Keeping track of the United States election on NY Times and CNN. By the time this is published, the outcome will be clearer.
I was married to a narcissist once. First, you need to recognize it and then you need to find the strength to extricate yourself from a dominating, manipulative, controlling partner. Are many leaders narcissists? CEO’s, Deans, one of your parents, your partner, yourself? Power and money certainly corrupt more easily but I’m sure there are a few at home and the workplace.
Terror attacks this past week in Nice and Vienna. In a church where one feels the safest and in the center of a beautiful city. My mother belonged to the generation that did not believe in discussing politics, religion and sex. Perhaps they understood balancing freedom of expression with keeping certain inflammatory opinions to themselves. So moving on briskly...
I had an early Halloween experience. Bought a cat decoration to hang in our entrance. I asked the new blonde sales assistant at the neighboring store to hold it for me till I returned in a few hours, on my way home. Promptly forgot about it and went back two days later and received a loud telling off in front of all the other customers. I’m now reading a book by Sarah Knight called “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F...”. I feel I need this light-hearted advice. I worry too much. The upside of that interaction was that I ordered two very delicious hamburgers for my husband and I for dinner. And ate ALL the chips. Self-harm by food. The restaurant is run by a lovely family that were originally from Kosovo. My BFF told me that the Kosovars and Albanians are really good at cooking meat. I have to agree.
The biryani escapade continues. Marinated the lamb one evening, having roasted and ground all the spices myself. Cooked it the following day and refrigerated it. My husband invited his work colleague and “samboer” (live-in partner) for dinner on Saturday. I spent quite a lot of time preparing the coriander and mint chutney, the biryani rice, assembling all the different layers, drizzling warm milk infused with Persian saffron and rose water over it. And baking it in the oven, the pan sealed with dough. I was exhausted even before they came. And we managed to make two desserts. Nothing by halves in this house. I think they enjoyed themselves so much, they didn’t leave for seven and a half hours. I spent Sunday on the couch.
It’s been a rollercoaster week. I think we all need a group hug.
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Thinking about Pateley Bridge.
Last week's photo from the top of the hill makes me want to go there.
I am very sensitive of the shape of hills.
I am reminded of when I was between six and ten years old - how in July, when I was supposed to be looking after the five cows of my grandparents, I would sit with my older cousin Jacqueline in a meadow at the top of a hill, watching the horizon a few miles away on the other side of the river valley. The line of the horizon, the shape of fields, hedges and woods, will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. I have always kept my taste for looking at the lines in the landscape. That is what makes me like driving so much. It's also why I like the painter Ubac and his "rural abstraction".
Jacqueline and I used to set off at 9 am with the cows, the dog and a basket filled with half a loaf of bread, water, and a "camembert"- Normandy runny cheese- in its wooden box. The dog was doing the job, looking after the cows in the unfenced field. I was very incompetent and not interested at all in being on duty. In fact, I am afraid of cows and of animals generally except for birds (my family name means blackbird). We were mainly occupying ourselves rolling down the hill, then eating the cheese to empty the box for storing the grasshoppers we were hunting - not so easy to do when several are already in the box. In the evening before going home we would watch them jumping away like fireworks when we at last released them. I never got bored, just living and (knowing me) chattering away about God knows what.
The signal for our return to the farm in the evening was the church bell ringing the Angelus (Rob comments that this is turning out like a Francis Jammes poem). When we arrived my cousin and my Granma would milk the cows. I can still see the whole scene in my head (the dark stable, the little stools, the smell, the hay, the rhythmic noise of the milk pressured on the metal of the bucket) better than anything that happened yesterday. Then it was supper, a bowl of "mijet" - a Poitou cold soup made of dry bread, wine and water - then white cheese and some fruit if nature was providing it that day. Every day the same routine, except for Sundays. The cheese, made by my grandmother Madeleine, was kept in a large stoneware jar. We used to eat it with salt - the only sugary thing we had was jam and that was for breakfast.
I never learnt to milk a cow. It could be useful to know, as I discovered in a book, I read last week, the newly published "Espérer pour la France". The author, Hubert Germain, now a hundred years old, is one of the two surviving "Companions de la Libération". Fighting his way through France in 1945 from Italy to Germany, and one day badly in need of a meal, he was able to feed his fellow legionnaires and himself with a bowl of milk by milking cows in a field they happened to be passing by.
Having "watched" the cows in the field has proved useful in another way. In the Orléans hospital where I work, there is still a state of "class warfare". This is no joke. Doctors are considered bourgeois oppressors of the poor nurses. We are reproached mainly because of the difference in salary. The fact of our having studied hard for 12 years, of our working 5 to 10 years more than them before retirement and an at least 10-hour day instead of their 7, does not get mentioned. When "anti-bourgeois" political confrontation threatens, I proudly silence even the communists by telling them the story of a little country girl sitting on the hillside, having just bread and cheese to eat for the day. More oppressed, you die! It's a French expression : "plus..., tu meurs". My little secret devil feels very pleased and laughs a lot silently when I can pull this trick.
We looked at Google maps for Pateley Bridge and found a photo of the "oldest sweet shop in the UK". Rob thought that the oldest sweetshop in England was in Oxford, Alice's shop" in Saint Aldate's. He is probably wrong but doesn't accept it. The building may be older, yes, but the shop? It was where Alice and Rob used to get their sweets, but not at the same time.
Project after Covid
Plague20 contributors make us want to visit all kind of places when Covid will free us. Barbara and Linzy make us want to rush to Yorkshire as soon as we can - I only know York Minster from my tour of English Cathedrals 36 years ago. What's more, Norfolk and Suffolk are, with a small détour, on the way: dear friends, book sellers, Geldeston church yard, Bungay's shops. This is stream of consciousness, I am almost crying thinking of that future trip.
It is clearly getting fashionable. The advertising for them is getting more intense. There are incredibly seductive girls wearing embroidered, designer, even lace face masks. In shops (now lockdowned) there are pretty masks in the same style as the clothes sold there. The makeup on the eyes of the girls on the photos is incredible too, textures and colors skillfully displayed, and the eyes lashes as long as broom bristles.
I always have a look at Belgian and Swiss newspapers. They give another perspective on the news. Just as the Daily Mail gives more information about terrorism in France than French newspapers. The RTBF- national television in Belgium- has decided that everybody appearing on screen should wear a mask to set an example. Bravo.
Phone call oppression
I don't know if you get them in England, we get them about four times a day, advertising something, from the Far East or North Africa - I am guessing from the accents. It's always about insurance, new windows, gas or electricity, hearing aids...
I registered on the "antidisturbance" governmental website called Bloctel, but it doesn't block any call at all, or it lets a lot through. I feel sorry for the people who have to make these calls for a living and I used to try to be polite. Now that I spend more time at home - less work and also lockdown - I can't stand it anymore. I have decided to be more creative than polite: screaming as if somebody was strangling me (that is when I am really annoyed), saying a quotation, singing a song... up to now, nobody has sent an ambulance or the police.
J S Bach
Glen Gould said : "I believe in the God of Bach".
Rob has found and bought the complete Cantatas in a secondhand boxset, the Leonhardt and Harnoncourt version. We are listening to one CD of the sixty a week, in the kitchen while cooking, and after a few days we get to know it quite well. It will take us more than a year. It helps us to live in another world than the one of the Covid and the knife plagues. Rob likes the oboe and the choirs, I like the rhythm of Harnoncourt, and the contrast with that of Leonhardt.
I would have loved to play the continuo bass of the cello in any piece of baroque music. My other dreamed jobs would have been : 1) lorry driver with Peter's friend Norbert Dentressangle, to go to England in an enormous red lorry- a friend who worked for him gave me his autobiography, which is a good read, 2) architect, not too much of a regret, I would never have been as good as Brunelleschi, and I enjoy all kind of architecture indiscriminately, 3) engineer specialized in explosives - blowing a way through mountains to make motorways must be fantastic, and somebody has to do it after all, 4) opera set designer - the newest dreamed job since our first lockdown, when I discovered Wiliam Kentridge, 5) up to the time of Covid, I would have liked to be Health Minister but I changed my mind about this job. Imagining oneself in a new job is a very amusing exercise, I recommend it.
Our 3-month-old little Flora can't walk yet, and locked into the baby car seat, she seems happy and full of energy, maybe because she is American: "I don't have problems, I have projects".
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
Thursday 5th November, the first full day of Lockdown 2.0. And I feeling pretty fed up this week. The community spirit and sense of common cause that characterised the first lockdown has evaporated. There is a lot of dissatisfaction at the government’s decision to shut down vast swathes of social and economic interaction, imposing once again quite staggering restrictions of our fundamental civil liberties. Last week the government appeared committed to the regional tiered system of restrictions, and apparently infection rates were starting to reduce in places like Liverpool where heavy restrictions had been put in place. But then the Prime Minister was bounced into a U-turn last Saturday, announcing a new national lockdown, supported by some very questionable epidemiological projections.
So it was interesting to see at today’s press conference that when the Head of NHS England presented a graph of hospital bed occupancy, he made a very pointed comment that his graph was factual data, not “projections, forecasts, speculation”. And the UK Statistics Authority issued a warning today that the graphs being presented by Messrs Whitty and Vallance had “the potential to confuse the public and undermine confidence in the statistics”. Ouch!
In Parliament Theresa May delivered a very considered critique of the government’s approach, in particular highlighting the lack of any cost/benefit analysis of the lockdown decision. There was no attempt to calculate the balance between the benefits (slowed Covid transmission, infections and potentially deaths) and the costs (failure to diagnose and treat other illnesses, increasing unemployment, the destruction of businesses and livelihoods, the severing of family relations and so on). She also expressed a concern that data was being chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the data.
Meanwhile in the USA, they are still struggling with the fairly basic but essential task of counting votes. And while it is a great relief that Biden seems likely to win, it is disappointing that out of all the potential candidates to stand against Trump the Democratic Party managed to choose a someone who is so obviously “frail and elderly”. And the fact that Trump got maybe 7 or 8 million more votes than he did 4 years ago should give pause for thought!
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
Wednesday 4th November
My week ended in the same way it started with disaster.
Oh dear my luck finally ran out last Sunday. I was doing my usual Covid 19 walk up my lane and tripped up a small step and fell all my length on the pavement with my head in the road fortunately no cars were passing at the time and I managed to shuffle my bum off the road.
I had fallen on my wrist grazed my knee and banged my head, my wrist took the full force of my overweight body.
Too shook up to move. After a short while two cars came along and both stopped and out of each one a woman came to give me assistance and after giving me time to recover they helped me up.
The first lady had three children and a dog in her car so she said she couldn't give me a lift. The other lady said she will drive me home. When I got out of her car she offered to make me a cup of tea. I told her I would be OK and that I would phone my daughter.
What lovely people they were. How lucky I was and so grateful to them both for for their care and attention and I thanked them profusely. After phoning all my daughters Karen being in my support bubble came to stay the night to take care of me with her dog Darcy. He is a bundle of joy.
I didn't think I had broken my wrist as it didn't swell up but it is very painful.
I was so shook up at 82 years of age and walking alone
Monday I informed all my friends and also my lovely new journal friend Shirin Jacob who gave me her expert advice. She also told me that I am a good model for staying positive.
Tuesday 3rd November was my physiotherapy phone appointment for my shoulder and I asked him for advice on my wrist which I may have broken but didn't go for an Xray re Covid as i have already got a strap for it when I broke it in 2019. The advice I received was to keep the strap on it to rest it and take Ibuprofen.
My daughter worked from my home on Monday and went home in the evening.
Tuesday I got up early after a bad night. I put the TV on and it was all about the USA election. the news was that Trump and Biden are running neck and neck, with only 7 states between them. Here`s hoping they have got rid of Terrible Trump. Perish the thought that we all have to put up with him for another 4 years.
So I turn the TV off quickly.
I am miserable enough today with the pain in my knee and wrist, also my physiotherapist has given me painful exercises for my shoulder. I would just love all my girls to come and give me a much needed hug. I haven't had a hug since March. At 82 and at the end of my life time a hug has been some thing I have thrived on all my life. To end with Covid 19, and it looks like its here to stay for a long while yet. I have learned what it must be like to suffer and die alone.
Staying Positive at the age of 82.
I walk alone most days and pass on my way the little grave yard founded in 1652, and Chapel founded 1743. It's beautiful and well maintained and wonderful in all seasons with bird song in spring and the wonderful trees in their autumn colour. I have enjoyed it during all this lock down.
My sayings during stress and upset has always been (It's only temporary) or (It's just another day).
My other positive thing to do is to tell all my friends and laugh about it. A trouble shared is a trouble halved.
Thank goodness I took the trouble to learn how to use the internet.
I thank goodness also for my grandchildren who pass onto me their old mobile iPhones and I can now do face time and snap chat with all the funny faces and sound you can get on that. If I send snap chat to all my girls they all know where I am at the same time and straight away.
I had to inform my physiotherapist that I am good with the new technology he thought that I could only speak to him on the land line phone. I told him it would be better if I could see him on face time and he agreed with me. So he now sends me a code for us to do face time and its so much better.
So many old people can't use the internet. They are missing out on so much.
The other positive thing I have been from childhood is I have always been a gregarious person.
Being an only child I had to go out and find friends to play with. Friends my own age. As a child I would go out and knock on doors of children's homes and ask if they wanted to come out to play. This has been my life line of communication all my life. A get up and go happy person. People are not interested in you if you're always miserable.
I think children in some ways have it harder now. With too much traffic on the roads they can't play out like we did in the 1940`s. Or they spend time communicating on the internet at home indoors, not as healthy as playing outside. We played games across the street as there were no cars about during the 1940`s. We had the whole village to roam about having fun and only went home if we felt hungry. No health and safety playing on bombed out buildings and houses and on the recreation grounds. We would all drink from the same water font.
This Covid has now curbed even more activity for children.
I feel for the poor of our society. The ones on zero contract hours and minimum wages who cant afford all this modern technology in their homes. There are people now who cant even afford to eat well. Boris and this government have a lot to answer for. With no light at the end of the tunnel, I must stay positive and safe.
Stay safe everyone.