Hello from Eastbourne
Plague Journals Marli Rose Macrae
This week's dawn walk was to Seven Sisters Country Park. My mum woke us up at 5am. It was deserted. The only people there were a bird watcher, a dog walker and a friendly man with no teeth. The smell that morning was a sulphurous stench of rotten seaweed. The estuary was still. We saw a midnight black goose skimming the water as it took off.
We climbed the mounds, they are quite high. In amongst the trees on the mounds is an old army shelter with tiny windows and the soldiers used it to point their machine guns to the sky to shoot down German planes during WW2. It smelled of urine so we didn't stay. We found a bench by the water and stopped because mummy had packed hot chocolate and croissants. Franklin ate his at the top of a mound. We carried on to the beach and looked at the lifeguard cottages. They are in danger of falling into the sea now. As we were approaching the beach a large rabbit ran past us into the bushes. I didn't know rabbits would live so close to the sea. We stayed for a while then walked back. We were back in time to see dad. He was taking his bike for an M.O.T.
The government changed the rules this week and my granny can't visit us from Spain anymore.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
A couple of glorious days... sunshine and good skies... think today is meant to be a scorcher too.
Lunch out yesterday did me a power of good. Lots of laughter with friends. We weren’t making light of the situation but compared notes and stories of lockdown experiences and the world of 2020. Being something of a pedant, I spoke of the anomalies that annoy and confuse me... silly things like bank tellers not changing gloves when they handle debit cards or the scramble of people in queues for checkouts in narrow aisles in shops! It’s comforting that others share my feelings. We all reported similar occurrences... similar thoughts, anxieties, concerns. Some serious worries about employment, the economy, the educational and psychological impact on the young and vulnerable and the old. The ridiculous behaviour of some, the noncompliance of others, the risks and the risk-takers, the idea that face masks are just symbols of our new world - oh and all the mindless, irritating stories in the press or on the TV news or wireless or social media... what’s the truth now? What’s the truth and what’s fiction?
Our lunch was in beautiful surroundings. Lime trees nearby. And the sea in the distance. Not in sight but just in the background. Lovely to hear the sea. Wasn’t all crashing waves and screeching gulls. Just the gentle, rhythmic whoosh as the water rolled over the sand and shingle. What are those lovely Joni Mitchell lines? “Something truthful in the sea, your lies will find you”.
Decorating the small bedroom now. Old white. It’s really a sort of murky green. Sludge green. Oh and I found an old (but still working) step counter. A digital “stepometer”. Attaches to my belt. I put it on feeling I would be a shining example of “active and exercising”! However, it tells me that I don’t walk 10,000 steps per day - the recommended minimum for a man of my size and age. I’ve changed the battery not trusting its accuracy. It makes no difference. Still not even managing 5000 steps. It is my challenge for the coming week!
Take care and look after yourselves x
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
It’s been such a busy week with friends from Buskerud visiting for the weekend, otter sightings in the sea in front of our home and... on-going and seemingly never ending spring cleaning.
A friend from Singapore sent me the #womensupportingwomen challenge on Instagram. I didn’t know what that meant so asked for guidance from the Oracle, who advised me against a self absorbed selfie from my better days and suggested a picture of her rather fabulous grandmother instead. It started a chain reaction of memories of some of the wonderful women I know.
Sue is English and was head of Physiotherapy at the hospital I worked in as a young specialist. We were polite but for the most part kept well clear of each other. Later we found out that she thought I was a stuck up doctor and I thought she was a stuck up Brit. She asked me out to drinks one evening and I agreed, having never had a drink in my life. I came from a traditional south Indian background where ‘good’ girls didn’t drink, smoke or have premarital sex. But I didn’t let on. We started at the rooftop bar of the Hilton hotel with two pina colãdas each and continued at the infamous Brannigans in the basement of the Hyatt. It was a whole new world for me. I had never been to a bar before as I had spent most of my time buried in a book. Mama Tequila was a generously proportioned lady in a sombrero who encouraged us to down a couple of tequilas from her broad leather belt. I thought it tasted rather nice and had no idea of its potency. Off we went to Pete’s Place next door for pasta accompanied by red wine. To this day I have no memory of driving her home but she realised I couldn’t drive home and I passed out on her sofa. This was 30 years ago and in the dying days of my first marriage. We became firm friends and she became my support through a very difficult time. We used to occasionally repair to No.5 Emerald Hill, a magical bar filled with antiques in a charming old section of town for long island iced teas. After two of those one day, Sue thought it a good idea to load the boot of my verrry red vintage Mercedes Benz sportscar (side effect of divorce) with a roadworks cone and ‘Danger’ sign and drive across town to verrry carefully place it on the road in front of my mother’s house. My mother was horrified both by the stolen signs (in strict Singapore where you were fined, if not jailed, for misdemeanors like this) and by her ‘good’ girl who was clearly becoming ‘bad’. The Oracle (my daughter) now calls it my late adolescence. Mummy threatened to report us to the Police but the signs stayed on the road for seven years till after mummy died and the house was sold. It’s probably still there.
Fortunately, Sue had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment, became a teetotaller and heavily involved in the field of alternative therapies, which she dragged me into. I credit her for completely changing the person I was pre 35-years-old to the person I am today. From a traditional middle-of-the road physician to one that opened a clinic with a naturopath, yoga therapist, counsellor and chiropractor five years later. It’s been some time since we’ve met but the last time we were together, we did an evening with Sarah Raven and Adam Nicholson at Sissinghurst and my birthday touring the garden at Highgrove. Sober.
It is a beautiful warm day here and Sølvi and I walked in the forest 20 minutes from home, followed by coffee and solskinnsboller, a cinnamon pastry with a vanillacreme center. God helg min venn.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, North Yorkshire
It's been a week of sudden announcements from the government, largely unwelcome. First the introduction of quarantine measures for travellers returning from Spain, catching many travellers, including the Transport Secretary, by surprise. Last night came the introduction of new and onerous restrictions in many areas of Northern England, announced on Twitter and effective at midnight, and today there is going to be an announcement that the easing of other restrictions, due to happen tomorrow, has been delayed.
The new measures will apply in Bradford, where my family lives, and in Manchester, where our very own Jane the florist resides. Obviously a worry that these rules are needed, let's hope it's not for too long. I read with interest, Jane, your comment about not being able to hear properly while wearing a mask. I have heard this from a few people lately and I think you're right about the lip-reading, we probably don't realise how much we rely on visual cues to hear clearly. Apart from the difficulty in hearing, the worst things for me about wearing a mask are the itching and the fact that it slides into my eyes. Maybe I will go the whole hog and get some that really fit. Actually, Nicky, if you read this, you could send me some of yours, which I am sure will be excellent. I have just sent some Leeds United masks to my son in Australia, a belated present for his birthday, which is on Sunday. I hope he doesn't read this, as it will spoil the surprise. What a weird present, a sign of the times, face masks flying around the world while people can't.
It's also been a week of interaction between myself and the National Health Service and other government bodies. Firstly, I was contacted by Imperial College, inviting me to take part in 'an important study to measure the prevalence of COVID-19'. In other words, to take a test. Totally optional, you could change your mind at any time. I took the bull by the horns and agreed to do it. Millions of people have done this, so how hard can it be? The test duly arrived, telling me to do it as soon as possible, so I put off doing it for a few days, then booked the courier for two days later, giving me even more time to worry about it. The courier would come between 8am and 6pm on Wednesday and the test had to be done on that day, before the courier arrived as HE CANNOT WAIT WHILE YOU DO THE TEST. This was emphasised. So naturally I couldn't sleep the night before, as I can never sleep if I have to get up early. I nearly got up at 3am to do the test. Finally did it at 7.30am. Well I say I did it but this is a bit of an exaggeration.
I laid all the components of the test out on the kitchen table and made a pretty good job of assembling the box to send the sample back in its little tube. After several inspections using the mirror from the downstairs loo, I found what may have been my tonsils and attempted to roll the swab backwards and forwards over them per the instructions. After about two goes on each side my throat decided enough was enough and would not allow any further invasions. My nose had similar ideas and poking up each nostril in turn set off a spasm of itching which was intolerable. I did my best and packaged the dismal effort into its tube and box. The courier then texted me to give a collection time between 12.35 and 2.35. What a pity this couldn't have been done the night before, in which case I might have got some sleep.
I had been encouraged to take part in the online survey afterwards, EVEN IF YOU WERE NOT ABLE TO TAKE THE TEST OR THINK THE TEST HAS NOT WORKED. (Their emphasis). It must be very common for people not to be able to perform this simple but invasive task on themselves. I can't imagine how they test children or people with dementia. They can approach me to take another test when they have a pinprick blood test or something which involves spitting into a tube. I'll agree to that. How have millions of people done this?
My next interaction with the Health Service began on the day after the abortive test, when I discovered an ominous looking lump on my leg, about the size of half a golfball and quite painful. I waited a few days to see if it would go away and it didn't so I decided to get an appointment with the doctor. Naively, I just thought I would phone the surgery, maybe have to wait a couple of days . No. Got a recorded message telling me to use the 'online consultation service'. I thought, how are they going to examine my lump online? I couldn't actually find the online consultation so phoned again, was second in the queue for ten minutes and hung up. Phoned again, first in queue for ten minutes, hung up. Finally discovered the online consultation and spent ten minutes filling in a form which seemed to have the purpose of deciding whether you had the virus. Spent ages describing my symptoms, only for it to ask me later in the form to describe my symptoms. Started getting twitchy. Completed the form and it told me a doctor would call me by 6pm the following day. Fair enough.
The following afternoon I received an email instructing me to take a photo of the lump and phone the surgery to find out how to upload the photo from my phone. You couldn't reply to the email. I don't have a smartphone. Lost the plot. However, the lump was starting to recede, still painful and moving around somewhat alarmingly, but not worthy of a photograph. Richard phoned the surgery (he's more patient than I am but only waited five minutes in the queue). Eventually a lovely doctor phoned, we had a really good chat and decided to wait and see what happened overnight. At 8am this morning, I was woken by the same doctor (a miracle!) and had another lovely chat and decided to leave it until after the weekend, but I could contact them at any time if things deteriorated. This was very reassuring, as I had been suffering from visions of leg amputations for a week. Once you get past the machines (once known as The Receptionist) the NHS is lovely. The doctor explained that the occasional patients who attend the surgery are 'brought in one at a time and quickly sent out again so it is very safe'.
Matt Hancock made a statement yesterday that doctors' appointments should be online as much as possible and that this was an excellent model for the future, as it makes the NHS more efficient. The Royal College of Surgeons replied with the hope that this will not be the case for long, as it is much easier to diagnose a patient's ailment if you can actually see it in the flesh, as it were. I quite agree. After all, how could the doctor detect the heat in my lump from a photo?
Oh yes, and on Monday I have an appointment to do a phone survey for the Office of National Statistics. Can't wait.
Also, I'm awaiting my test result with low expectations.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
‘Autumn!’ I thought, as I stepped out into my lovely early morning garden on Tuesday and Wednesday. Every year, at the turn of winter into spring and summer into autumn, I puzzle over how it is that I can suddenly sense it. Friends have no answers, either, even though they also feel it. And of course each year it’s coming a little earlier.
I have been busy finishing off my welsh dresser and painting complicated walls. Peppermint green just wasn’t my thing. However, darting efficiently between the dresser’s layers of high voc paint and the carpet cleaner infused me with a horrible cocktail of toxins, which is taking time to fade. I should have gone for kinder paint; belatedly, I googled the carpet cleaning solution ingredients, which made my hair stand on end. A much nicer solution is: one part white vinegar, two parts water, a dollop of salt and a liberal addition of lavender oil. Does just as good a job. When I had a small child I was scrupulous in only surrounding us with benign materials, worshipping at the altar of Gaia, but now I have become lazy. Lesson learned.
I went with the Js to the tip: my first time at this one. As I wasn’t in charge of the timing we didn’t get there until mid-morning, so even though access was controlled there were too many people for my liking. It’s a big airy outdoor space but we were corralled into small spaces, and the unmasked staff breathed up close, in my imagination assuming fire-breathing dragon proportions. Because I didn’t know the layout I couldn’t dart quickly to the right containers and be off. Not a nice experience, but at least there’s more space in the garage now.
Over-full charity shops have been refusing donations, so I continued my self-modernising and took to Facebook marketplace, which is surprisingly easy and effective. I made enough with two sales to pay the window cleaner yesterday - I feel the stirrings of an inner capitalist.
On the subject of which, in between jobs I am still reading about Stalin’s later years, currently the Great Terror, 1936-8. This makes me think of two things: firstly, that if the Soviets had not, when they invaded in 1940, killed my grandfather indirectly through overwork and deprivation, they might well have shot him, along with wife and son (my mother being safely out of the country), as he was a chief accountant and so, probably, a petit bourgeois, even though they lived pretty much hand to mouth. Secondly, I feel the suspicion that everyone was a spy and that one was never safe reflected in today’s fear of the virus, not knowing who has it and could be passing it on. Is it you? Or is it you? The resulting early hours knock at the door translates pretty smoothly into fever and cough.
The local Covid figures seem to be dropping again, against the national rise, but our council is nonetheless sending out warnings via Facebook against complacency.
Also in between labours, I have rediscovered my stash of jigsaws. I have started a 1000-piecer of butterflies; it seemed appropriate.
The Rather Awful People have suddenly gone quiet. But it seems to me that in good weather many people feel compelled to shout: outdoor conversations could perfectly well be conducted in a sotto-er voce, with less energy expended, it seems to me.
Route to maternity unit sorted (checked for bumps as well as speed), tank filled, ready to go as and when.
Yesterday was J2’s birthday so I made him a bespoke mask (better than socks, n’est-ce pas?), with a top layer of manly denim and appropriately embroidered. I haven’t heard a dickybird from him so don’t know how it was received. But I was proud of it, so there.
I was delighted to see Mr Mowle making another appearance. He made my day. Catherine.
Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, New York
Over the past months, I have worked hard to create a fantasy bubble for myself in which I can think and live as free from daily virus worries as is possible while still trying to remain mentally aware of the outer world and what is happening. When something forces me out of my little world and physically the outer world it is is a big jolt.
I had that experience two days ago. I went to get a shingles shot (I have been waiting for nearly a year for the new improved wonder vaccine which had run out shortly after it had come out to rave reviews). I finally received a call that more of the vaccine was again available and that I could come in and have a shot... so I did… I went to a local branch of huge nationwide chemist where I had not been in a very long time. It felt so ominous and glum with all the partitions and caution signs and the guy who came out to give me my shot looked like he could have survived a nuclear explosion with all the protective gear he was wearing from head to toe. And there I was, with my lovely liberty print (reversible I might add) mask and bare arm and jangled nerves. I was told it was likely that I would develop flu like side effects for 2-3 days afterwards... side effects which are very much like COVID symptoms. That worried me. And sure enough, when I woke up the next morning I felt unwell. I told Wren, my dog, that we would have to skip our morning hike and I felt guilty. Of course once I got out of bed, had coffee and some toast I felt perfectly fine so I am sure I am a hypochondriac.
Jean, Melbourne Australia
This week the numbers of new cases have climbed alarmingly in Victoria with 278 cases on the 29th, 721 on the 30th, 627 on the 31st and 397 as of today. The roll out of testing and tracing programs has identified outbreaks in age care facilities, a college, meat packing firms, and a hospital amongst others. Further restrictions are being considered. As of midweek elective surgeries were cancelled in order to free up hospital staff to deal with the surge in infections, and to make space in hospitals for sick age care residents.
From this weekend, face coverings are mandatory for all Victorians, not only those of us in Melbourne, whenever you leave your house. The pandemic has shone a bright light on many weaknesses and failures in our society which end up affecting all of us. For one, the privatisation of age care homes with inadequate numbers of nursing staff and insufficient oversight, and two, an insecure and casualised workforce. With no sick pay, those who are unwell have continued to go to work. The government is scrambling to address this - in the short term - with a $300 payment so casual workers can get tested and stay home until they get the results and know if they are safe to return to work.
This week was dominated by the funeral of civil rights giant, John Lewis, a much loved and respected member of the US Congress for more than 30 years. John Lewis wasn't a large man but he seemed to loom larger than life, unflinchingly brave, a true believer in non-violent political action, and ever hopeful that justice could be achieved. In an essay written just before his death on July 17 and published on the day of his funeral, he wrote "Democracy is not a state. It is an act...," telling words in light of the imposition of federal troops in Portland, and the President's threat to send them to other major (and Democrat-run) cities like Chicago and Detroit.
In the lead up to November, listening to John Lewis' speeches and reading his words is immensely consoling and uplifting.
Then and Now
Who is it mooning about in his half-lit room,
Sharing my name, the set of my bones: a boy
Hung in my chains of words, puzzling it out
Under suspended judgements, gagged and blind
While Time poisons him cloudily under the door.
What are these thoughts I badger him into thinking,
These possible routes I map for him, joining the dots,
Holding his secret writing up to my fire ?
Lockdown, constriction. For a kind of intensity, a kind of threadbare and local happiness, I can pace again those cold boundaries of the 1940s. School? Almost totally forgotten - the masters, the classmates have become shreds and patches of nothing. But I always had a friend, and one good friend was perfect for the non-tribal animal I was and am. Toys? Nothing much. We fought the war through in windy back gardens, penning our lead soldiers into rough stick palisades, tramped the woods, the ploughland, the quarries in all weathers, found bones, feathers, ploughshares, stuck folds of paper in our bike-spokes and whirred along roads bare except for an occasional army lorry or jeep, cut sticks, made whistles, catapulted stones into nowhere. The adult world took no part in any of our activities, or showed any interest in them. We played with clouds, with rain, with snow. Because this was what we had, how could we want more ?
What did you do?
Went out, looked at the days, clocks handing us on,
And blowing about our heads that grey and blue
Turning to cold, biting through worn gloves.
Kicked at hushes of leaves by a long wall,
Picked up bits of the world, and put them down...
We all have our images: Virginia Woolf’s little beaded acorn on the end of the blind which means more than the grandest of cathedrals. Simplicities which bring tears and longing. Give me the smell of molten tarmac on an empty roadside, long pale grass bending this way, that way with its Burnet moth cocoons, a tin candlestick carried carefully up a dark stair...
Am I telling lies? How do I know. All I do know is that if I let my mind drift into those years, their limitations seem now and were then more to do with fullness than deprivation. No family car, no seaside holiday - beaches were palisaded, wired or mined, a sameness and simplicity of food, no treats except on a birthday or Christmas day, no real understanding between generations: a world circumscribed by where an eleven year-old could cycle to and be back for tea.
And what did you say? Nothing, nothing at all.
The wind and the rain have scrambled our words deep
Into a huge silence. Our mouths opened;
Secrets were exchanged. They are kept, and keep
For ever, ever.
And here I am, seventy-five years later, watching clouds flow from west to east,
listening to the wind in the high trees, watching dragon-flies cruising the nutritious air and Peacock butterflies lurching on the Buddleia spikes. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. And then as now, the simplicities I respond to come at a price, the incorrigible price of death and misery just beyond the horizon.
As Auden put it, in The Two:
The bolt is sliding in its groove,
Outside the window is the black removers' van.
And now with sudden swift emergence
Come the woman in dark glasses, the humpbacked surgeon
And the scissor man.
And yet, and yet - a cinnamon cat rolling in the sunlight, two boys munching blackberies, a first glimpse of Orion, the starlit hunter, a smile over a garden coffee are not invalidated by the steady drumming of that danse macabre.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Its been quite a stressful week. Not really enjoying this job and have never felt less appreciated. Not like the normal bantering fun there usually is. I honestly think life would be easier stacking shelves in Tesco’s and I would probably earn more money but would get sacked when trying to make a shelfie out of the beans and fiddling around trying to make a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement. Don’t think they would put up with that.
This kind of stress reminds me of decades ago when I used to do the flowers for a celebrity chef (with a fellow esteemed pandemic journalist) and he would take against daffodils or decide he wanted mini roses in baskets or just throw an almighty wobbler at 11.00am for lunchtime service at 1.00 pm when the market was shut.
Anyway, there we are.
I think everyone is very on edge. Most people I upset last week are speaking to me again so thats a relief. I really don’t like conflict. Would just like a nice peaceful life with a nice man, pottering about in the garden, painting flowers and walking the dog etc. There is someone who looks nice who has a dog and I asked him if he had had any ticks and that I had pulled two out of my leg. I think this really confirms my single status for good.
I was in a queue at the post office in a village a couple of miles away and there was nearly a fight between the men in front of me. Maybe there was but I left. People think its an excuse to be short and offhand with you. All these rules and queuing and masks gives people in shops etc an authority and power over you and it comes over as very bossy, rude and offhand. I try desperately hard not to be like that in the shop but its not easy.
Wearing masks and no hugs and kisses puts people at a remove from each other and it doesn’t help friendships. I think it is much harder now than lockdown which a lot of people quite enjoyed. Obviously I mean the people who weren’t affected and had nice gardens and furlough money and didn’t lose anybody.
The sweetest thing that has happened this week was a purchase of bits and bobs for a job. They are an elderly couple who deal in stuff. She is a stickler for the correct amount and he thinks I should get a better price as a good customer. The deal was done and he carried my box to the car. She’s running you up he said and handed me some cash. Thats your discount. So sweet of him. She had trousered the change as well so he kept putting more bits into my box which I paid for and then he gave it back to me on the second run to the car park! Very Norfolk.
The other sweet thing was Bridget, Earnies Auntie Doggy Day Care sent me pictures today of Earnie playing Rubble in Paw Patrol (which I have never heard of) with her grandson and they had dressed him up in a big yellow sweatshirt. Very funny and he seemed quite happy as did the toddler until Earnie nicked his hat.
There seems to be a spike coming imminently. Today they said the pubs would have to shut in a month or so they can open schools. I have to say I would be delighted as the decibel level coming through the hedge is deafening.
Why do people have to shout?
Chris Whitty is very worried. According to the COVID 19 symptom study app, 29% of people who did the survey have gained several pounds due to the lockdown from snacking etc and not getting enough exercise. Boris is putting England on a diet.
Areas up North have had a ban on going into other peoples houses as the virus is being passed in peoples homes. They brought it in very last minute and just before the Eid celebrations were about to start. One person said on the news it was like Christmas was cancelled with three hours notice. Bigger gatherings have been banned.
The garden is full of baby birds tweeting loudly and learning to fly. Flocks of sparrows and blackbird families move the air. A lady blackbird pulled the biggest worm you have ever seen out of the ground in the chicken pen the other day.
Another baby called Evie was born in the village last week.
The swifts are screeching around preparing to leave. Suddenly it will go silent and in fact I can’t hear them now. There was a thrush in the drive which is nice to see. The poppies in the garden are a constant joy and surprise. I find picking flowers, deadheading, watering and walking Earnie very calming. Wish me luck to get through this week which is going to be a nightmare. Hope you are all well.
To DH, I send you a big pandemic hug.
Love Annabel xxx
PS My mum is 89 tomorrow. She is amazing.
I can hear the swifts.
From the Editor
Thanks to everyone for continuing to contribute to the weekly journal. I have lots of feedback from readers saying how much they look forward to reading it each week.
So - long may you all continue to keep it going.
But can I ask all of you to be careful about HOW you submit your pieces. Sheila, putting the edition together and then online, often spends hours checking and changing pieces that have been sent to us in different formats. Plain text is fine. It’s always best to contribute via the link on the contact page of the journal. You can type directly into the box, or write it, for example, as an email and then copy and paste it into that link. Avoid using Word and Notes. I know several people email me their pieces, but using the contribution page is much simpler for Sheila. And no double spacing! I’m trying to make Sheila’s job on a Saturday easier.
I’ll start by doing it the right way myself. (normally I email her something I’ve written in Notes)
The heat of the day has sent me indoors. I’m sitting by a cold aga in a cool kitchen sipping water. I’m about to go to another cool place and, rather late, plant my wallflower seeds into trays. But first I’m copying and pasting this into the contact page box... hope it works...
...from Sheila: Thank you Margaret, it worked perfectly - I just copied and pasted with no adjustment required. Wow! Just that phrase takes me back to the old days - cutting up galley pulls and sticking them on to my printed grid layouts with cow gum. I wonder if they still make that stuff.
Thanks for all your contributions - I read them all as I lay out these pages and they bring a real depth to my life.