Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
“A murdered lover in the park?... Who insults me by inviting this brazen strumpet into my home?”
This week I have mostly been binge watching Harlots on BBC iPlayer. It’s deeply disturbing and totally fabulous in equal measure. Lesley Manville as Lady Quigley is magnificent. Set in Georgian Soho it tells the story of two rival bawdy houses vying for business under the constant scrutiny of London’s gossips and scandalmongers. I have always been drawn to this particular time in history, especially the opulent fashionable clothes and wigs. At school I entered a drawing competition - the brief was to depict a Georgian street scene. I can’t remember the picture, but I can recall it featured a sedan chair and a chamber pot being emptied out of a high window. I was inspired by Hogarth’s detailed style! I was in direct competition with my then best friend Dana, who’s artistic skills I envied. Much to my surprise my picture was declared the winning entry and I won a bumper box of Windsor and Newton paints.
The more episodes I watched I got to thinking that the world hasn’t changed that much. Privileged, rich, powerful men can still ‘buy’ young girls and use their bodies. Underprivileged, poor, desperate, powerless young women (and men) are lured by expensive trappings. Beneath that veneer of glamour and luxury lies a web of exploitation and bribery. People can be paid to keep secrets. Is Ghislaine Maxwell a modern day Lady Quigley?
Also this week I have been aghast at Donald Trump’s comments on the wild fires in America, blaming forestry mismanagement for the destruction they caused. Demonstrating zero empathy for the people whose homes have been reduced to rubble and ash.
We’ve got new rules to follow. Even Mary Nightingale sounded slightly weary and deflated trying to explain them to us on the news the other night! I got the train the other day to work, after rush hour. Only a few other passengers on board, but very loud and bossy instructions over the tannoy demanding the use of face coverings. I think they need a much softer, kinder voice to gently remind us of the new rules. I keep seeing disposable masks disposed of in the streets, and it riles me! In all the big shops have shelves and shelves crammed with plastic bottles of hand sanitiser, single use masks and latex gloves, do we really need all this stuff?
Grace finishes on the Netflix job this week, obviously there will be no wrap party, no big hugs all round. It will be so weird for them all.
Keep well everyone xxxxxxxx
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
He has the power to make a disturbing new kind of constellation. There are so many things which are possible and which one should also hold back from doing. No protests, so far, from the environmentalists. Nobody can stop him. In this area nothing seems to be forbidden, space is the new lawless Far West. I am sure there is a use for this constellation. Will that justify it ? Can we do as well or better without it ? That is a big new challenge.
Around 1960, on holiday at my grandmother's, Marguerite, we used to go after dawn, in summer, to sit on a bench on the village square and look at the sky to see the "Sputnik" ( it might have been an American satellite but the name Sputnik sounds so good). I remember seeing a small shiny spot in the sky, returning regularly on the same course. At that time there must had been no more than thirty satellites in orbit. We would go every evening when the night was full of stars, and sometimes other ladies would come with us. It was a memorable occasion.
Maybe that was why I never got very interested in television, except for rugby matches, the Tour de France, and Zorro. The screen was so small, the image so blurred, and we were obliged to look at people we did not know talking about things we were not interested in. Once grown up I never liked it either ( and I never possessed one).
When our children discovered TV, they were allowed it on holiday at their grandma's. During the school year, if they really wanted it, we would go to a hotel somewhere and spend the night in a family room just to watch TV - it was a real occasion. I remember a cartoon showing a very traditional aristocratic family, the father telling his numerous children: " My parents, my grandparents, and many generations before them, we never had television".
British fishes want to be eaten by British people
It is my favorite Brexit slogan. Can you imagine a protest, on Trafalgar Square or in front of the Parliament, with all sort of fishes, and fishermen (the fountain being too small for the boats)? Beautifully surrealist! Even the cows in French pastures don't have much idea by whom they want to be eaten.
It's like saying Volkswagens want to be built and driven only by Germans, whisky only drunk by the Scots, or Guiness only by the Irish.
Back to the fish: when they are still in the sea, the problem is legally not so simple. The fish are British for sure even if they have not been informed of the fact, in the 11 miles from the shore. Any further, and it's another matter - international regulations are far more complicated than political slogans, and those who repeat them without thinking, allow for.
I heard this morning, on the economic program of Radio-Classique, that Dutch companies are buying up at top speed all the UK fishing boats for sale - business a bit quicker than usual.
Fires in California and cultural habits around birth
I discovered reading about it that in the USA, they hold "sex reveal" firework parties. Some local Covidiots hold these celebrations in the woods, when no rain has touched the ground for months. The ceremony happens few months after birth, you have a party to launch rockets, pink for a girl and blue for a boy. I don't know what to say or think about that - it confirms what I think more and more about US culture, it seems strange and alien, despite our familiarity with their language, their film industry, MacDonald's, sciences, arts ...
Like the "sex reveal party", the "baby shower" is something new to me. A "baby-shower", by the way, (but perhaps England, unlike France, has become so Americanized that there is no need to explain) is a party before birth to give presents to the mother and baby to be. According to Wikipedia, it started in the late fifties in the US. It also exists in the Hindu tradition - I suppose Donald Trump won't like that.
No column from me next week. I'm off on holiday.
James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Fragile June morning. Launching from Cape Farewell. Escape velocity. Breaking orbit. Our home world diminishing into Sagan’s blue dot. I blinked and my planet vanished from sight. We entered our stasis pods, plunging into suspended animation. In dead silence the good ship Savior accelerated, powering out from our solar system into the void.
No dreams for the living dead. No dreams for uncounted years. Under deceleration from twenty five percent of light speed. Resurrection was pain, paying dues to momentum. Slithering from stasis pod onto a surface. Floor, ceiling, wall? I didn’t know. A wraith born into artificial half-light. Lungs flooded like loaded sponges. Heart flopping, trying to find a rhythm. Lack of coordination like a newborn without the charm. Vocal cords pieces of biltong. Crawling, staggering, relearning walking. Thoughts unravelling like strands of limp noodles.
I was the first out of suspended animation. I volunteered — I’m an in for a penny kind of gal — and it was chaos. The mission clock had stopped. We had overslept and overshot our destination. Systems were sputtering or down. It was dark outside. No stars, nebulae, galaxies. No way of knowing the state of key resources. Survival. Where were we? Survival was primo.
Seated on the bridge. Functioning. Driven. Adrenaline coursing through my veins.
“Mount Quantum Entrechat Drives,” I commanded.
“QEDs are off-line,” Answered my biomechanical helpmeet.
“What is your prime function?” I asked.
“To care for you.
“Given the circumstances how best to care for me now?”
“Mount the drives.”
“Very good. Please do so.”
A degree of self awareness restored, my helpers fulfilled their prime function, to care for me. The elegance of drives dancing the grand jeté of light, our craft, and the crew, began their journey back to sentience.
Green across the board. First time to reflect. So much for the PR, Eve in Eden, BS. “You will wake, brave voyager, in orbit around Kathréftis. First woman on a new world. You carry the hopes and dreams of humanity within you.”
I’m an astronaut. I don’t produce babies. I birth and manage missions. I have a brain, an unslakable thirst for problem solving. I’ve focused and trained my multiple skills for years. I’m single minded. I wasn’t going to be a wet nurse for humanity. Yet I fell for the Space/Earth Mother malarky. Save us!
Sure. Things were dire. Earth a hollowed out shell riven by pandemics, famine and tortured weather. Plants commit their last resources to producing flowers and seeds. That was us: Earth’s final flowering of hope.
Worth all the pain if we woke up. And if we didn’t? On Earth, or light years away, the concluding aria of mortality invariably ends on the same note.
Finally Nav woke up. “Address?” I asked.
“The middle of nowhere, the Universe,” she replied in her lyrical voice.
Not even a passing ephemera of space dust.
Nav and I set a course using an equivalent of a wet finger in the wind. I listened to Cole Porter while our initial burn was taking place, “the dead desire I only remember,” marked the point of drive cut-off.
The reconstituted crew gathered in the mess. We were alive, with not very compelling alternatives: return to stasis, set a course back to Earth, or Kathréftis?
We purred through uncharted space. The debate concluded with a consensus. We would convert Savior to the generation ship Usiku. We had time. Technological control. We were explorers, we would explore. Move ever forward. We wanted to remain conscious, wherever the journey took us. We would cannibalize the stasis pods and repurpose the space for recreation. A place to float playfully in peace. We would grow plants and greenery, up the walls that were ceilings, transforming the Savior into a self sustaining vessel of true purpose, traveling ever further from our home, carrying human DNA into the vastness.
Before I burst into a recitation of Kumbaya I should say humanity takes all of itself into space: the bad, duplicitous and evil. As well as the good stuff. It was the duplicitous that finally caught up with me.
I went for my regular check-up with the neural nurses in MedBay. I thought the needle into my vein was to draw blood. I watched it slide into my skin, felt woozy and passed out. Not like me. Revived and healthy I thought nothing of it. Until the morning I vomited.
The readouts didn’t lie. The truth we found in the programming was for the MedBay to find the optimum time to impregnate me. Now was that time. The hidden mission plan had been to dump me on a new world, pregnant. I was nothing more than a convenient means of transport. An interstellar brood mare.
I face problems. Work the issues. Find solutions. I don’t fall to pieces, sobbing like a mewling infant, hormonal tears globing in space.
I’m over the worst of it now: violation, betrayal — you can imagine — grief, anger, acceptance.
I float alone on the observation deck, star watching, a whole universe of virgin light before me. Growing a life, far, far away from its cradle of origin.
There is a star system, a year away, there, just to the left of midnight, for us to explore. Us. Fifty, soon to be fifty one, souls, powering into the unknown. The umbilical to Earth severed. We are truly free within the infinite conceptacle of space, a tiny point of light fading into the womb of unobservable mystery.
Clean, sort, tidy
Lily, Camberwell, London
Tuesday 15 September 2020
We have been busy in August with “summer holidays” and birthdays. With school on its way back it felt important to make the last few weeks of the months off school feel a bit different, or more normal and like a regular summer holiday. So no more home school and I took a week at the start and end of August off work properly – Do NOT think about work. Which to be honest left me feeling more anxious.
The weeks off were in parallel with the boys’ birthdays. The weather was perfect for the youngest to meet up with a dozen friends in the park for a birthday party. They had just finished their 2 weeks of school (since they are in reception) so enjoyed the chance to be with each other again. While the mothers stood in a large circle to talk. I had a couple of games and activities for them to start with but then hiding in the tree and hedge tunnels only big enough for children not parents, random games you can’t make head nor tail of and beautifully self-initiated and self-organised rounds of Duck Duck Goose in the band stand took over.
We have filled the more regular days ticking off our items on our Post-it note “What to do in the holidays”. Swimming outdoors in a Lido in 38 degree heat, picnics, adventure play-ground, the woods, various playgrounds, Tate, Down House to say hello to Darwin, Tennis club, Minecraft club… Sadly not seeing Mum. That’s all I’m going to say.
The eldest’s birthday took place in Hastings at the end of August. My Friend, who lives opposite and whose daughter is in the same class as the eldest, had decided flamboyantly to rent her boss’s holiday house. Where my family, her family – including her father, step mum, half-sister and friend and half-brother and friend would all stay for 4 days. The eldest was very excited by this and appreciates luxury so was thrilled to go to such a beautiful house and hang out with his friend too. As soon as it was booked they set about organising who was going to stay in what room and what they each needed to pack.
The weather of course was not consistent – it was a English seaside town holiday. Beautiful and warm for a sea swim for those who got there on time on the first day, wind (!!!!) and rain on the second, wind (!!) and sun on the third, the eldest’s birthday and I’m too tired to notice the weather on the fourth day. (Should you be in Hastings and need a birthday cake please be aware it is hard to find one in the old town. There is also the need for a good greengrocers in the area. At least we could not find them). Please be warned – do not walk back to the beach with an ice-cream cone for your eldest son (on his birthday). It will disappear from your hand. And reappear in a sea-gull’s beak several metres away.
We cooked and ate so much (my friend’s family love to cook) and being with such a group of so many ages was exhausting in a wonderful way.
I’m clear we may have broken some Covid19 restrictions and cautions. And now that cases are rising again feel we (in an indirect way) were part of the general wave of population that contributed to the data that shows the increase in cases.
The children went back to school very happily. And it is good to have 6 hours each day to focus on work. However I am finding it hard staying in one place – at my desk in front of the computer. I have become so used to moving about. Even before the lock down I was not so desk bound and often on my feet for the best part of the day leading training. So I suggested to my business partner that (while possible) we should each take a day off at least every other week. Just to do what we want or need. It helps to break the week up, I can get the random tasks done, I can clean/tidy and think without being interrupted or annoyed, I can write here, I can go out to a museum (while it’s allowed), or just take a train in to the centre of London to walk around. It has been busier again in the last few weeks. The main roads around the Green in Camberwell felt too loud and busy and fast the other day. “The rule of 6” and the rising cases (there is at least one case in a family from my son’s year and I think my neighbours are in quarantine) make me nervous after feeling more hopeful. I think the number of deaths are still low, by comparison. But I think it will be harder to cope with the cause of the current restrictions and any more to come as we go into winter. These last few months will be remembered for good (but not right/normal) weather as much as anything else.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
We have had a brief Indian summer in the East of the UK. Strawberries and raspberries are not only in flower but are also producing small fruits. Enough for a summer pudding (with cream of course) and a few raspberries left over for my gin. Sister sends photo of Spring bulbs coming up in her garden; hyacinths, dwarf irises and chionodoxa. Selfishly, I inwardly groan at the prospect of mowing the lawn into November. ‘Lawn’ is a rather grand term for the weed-cum-molehill grassy patches dotted around the garden. But there is a more disturbing side to this continuing abundance: the current warming of the climate. Along with global temperature rises comes melting ice shelves, particularly off Greenland, extreme weather conditions and rises in sea levels. In spite of many eminent world speakers continuing to warn us of humankind’s impact on the environment, the pandemic has driven a coach and horses through their exertions. Collectively we continue to release unnecessary carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Each time I visit my aunt, the care home staff provide me with plastic gown, gloves, mask and visor; all must be thrown away at the end of each visit. Most worrying is that the United Nations climate change conference, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November, has been postponed due to the pandemic. For a year. We must do more. Today the Dalai Lama implores us to remember that “this beautiful blue planet is our only home”. Why do we continue to wreck it?
The house continues to fall apart. Maybe it misses R. I miss him too. I had gone to R’s old workshop to find some lubricant for a ceased up lock and found myself paddling in water. Tap had leaked and finally a joint had given way. One of the things of living alone that I am rapidly learning is the need to source reliable tradespeople. R just sorted stuff when things happened. I swanned off to work and, by the time I came home, all the problems had magically been waved away. By good fortune, I managed to find a plumber very quickly. Alas when plumber went to turn the water off he discovered an even bigger problem. The stop cock, the control tap for the mains water, has a leak. And having not noticed it, the plaster is peeling and the inside of the kitchen cupboard has warped and distorted so that in turn will need to be replaced. Now I also need a carpenter and probably a plasterer too. What was that song? Ah yes. Flanders and Swann ‘‘Twas on a Monday morning the gas man came to call…”.
Quick update on Moley. He (it turns out it is a chap mole) is doing well minus one of his front paws and is venturing around Jane’s garden. As he can no longer do any tunnelling, he spends a lot of time above ground. Jane has added to her menagerie and has acquired three new hens. Jane has asked each hen what they want to be called. How do you speak chicken Jane? She explains that she puts the chicken on her lap and runs down a list of possible names. When the chicken responds to a name, that’s the name the hen will be given. So, welcome to Molly, Penny and Mattie.
I am worried about my aunt and all those who live in a care home. It seems that care home residents are facing fresh distress as providers, including some in Norfolk, enforce tighter visitor restrictions and lock down homes as Covid-19 infections rise. Heavens above - many of the homes have only just been opened. Providers say that it’s not only about concern for the health of residents but it is being exacerbated by insurers who are withdrawing cover for Covid-related risks. When I visit Barbara on Thursday I express my concern to the manager. Manager has spent weeks trying in vain to persuade the provider to let her bring the hairdressing service back in. What hope will we have fighting the providers and the insurance companies? Barbara is unconcerned. She thinks the pandemic is all over. What is she reading in her daily newspaper? On her to do list for me today are buying toiletries and sweets. I am happy to do whatever she needs so long as I am allowed to visit.
Wishing you all well.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
Monday 14th September
What wonderful memories Marie Christine, Blois brought back to me. In the 1980s my eldest daughter did a french degree at Birmingham University and spent her year out in Orleans, France.
We collected her from there and toured the Loire valley for a week visiting the beautiful Chateau including Chambord and Chaumont and many more.
We took our own tent and camped in the Loire valley taking our car with everything in it. Needing extra space my husband built a box for the top of the car. It was shaped with a pointed front aero dynamic he called it and painted it white to match the car, ha ha. It caused many a stare and laughter.
We brought home some wonderful pottery from GiAN.
Then James Oglethorpe’s angel contribution had me sobbing remembering my husbands last few weeks on this earth. With all the drugs he was taking to kill the pain he kept seeing children by his chair or hiding behind the settee. Some visitors were spooked by it but we just laughed it seemed to keep our spirits up. In the end only one lung worked for him. He died May 2019 of mesothelioma (asbestosis)
I too like Mary in Norfolk miss discussing the situation we’re in with him and the pain we have to live with in our bereavement especially during lock-down alone.
But time is a healer and I think I have turned a corner this week.
Fruit in my garden and blackberries picked I set about making Bramble Jelly making my usual mess pouring it into jars and splashing it all over in the kitchen. My husband’s comments came to mind. How do you manage to make such a mess he would say.
I also froze some apples from my tree for making pies or crumble later. So no time for feeling sorry for myself.
It’s beautiful sunny and warm again so I sat in my garden enjoying a few butterflies and birds.
Then made some mint sauce to have with my lamb chop.
This year one of my Orchids has produced 22 flowers, I have never seen so many on one plant.
Looking back at photos on my mobile I see one of my husband taken on holiday in Gooderstone Garden, Norfolk in April 2018. He is pretending to fish with a fallen cane he found growing there to make me laugh. It was a beautiful sunny day with a lovely cafe that sold wonderful cakes. At least I have this memory to treasure.
My invite to Parkwood Springs with ITV filming there was very short lived, cancelled for the over 70’s so yet again Covid interferes with enjoyment. I suppose they are being responsible for our safety. They say they are moving around a lot and would hate to pass the virus on to the vulnerable.
Anyway things change so quickly as there is a restriction now of only gathering of six people allowed.
Oh the joy of 2020.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
Phone call on Sunday evening to say that grandson had a post-cold cough, and wouldn’t be allowed to go to school unless he was tested negative for Covid. As a consequence the whole family had self-isolate. They eventually managed to get tests at 6pm on Monday at a centre about 25 miles away from where they live, after much persistence. As expected they all tested negative, but it took a couple of days to get the results. In our area a local secondary school has just sent home a whole year group as one student has tested positive.
On Thursday morning my Silver Swans ballet class started again. Not quite ‘normal’ as the class has been split into two, meeting on alternate weeks. No barre – instead we used the backs of an allocated and pre-sanitised chair. It’s so long since we met that it was more or less back to basics. I followed some online sessions for a few weeks at the beginning of lockdown, but my split-sole pink leather ballet pumps and floaty grey chiffon dance skirt (part of the attraction) have been languishing in the cupboard over the summer. It was good to be back.
In the afternoon I went to visit my 97-year old aunt in a care home for the first time since February. Wearing a mask and maintaining a social distance when meeting up with someone who is extremely deaf makes communication virtually impossible. There were stringent checks in place including temperature check. As the weather was fine she sat by an open door and I sat outside. I began the visit by writing messages in a large notebook and holding it up for her to read, but one of the senior carers then produced a new gadget with microphone and hearing disc which meant she could just about hear me. I don’t think she was aware that it was several months since she last saw me.
Finally had a very apologetic phone call from Nationwide after putting a complaint in writing. The interest certificates are now being sent by post, and a small compensation payment made for the inconvenience. Too late really, as I’d just posted off my aunt’s tax return with an estimated figure, but at least I was able to talk to a human being who had taken the trouble to work out what the problem was!
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
This Friday morning I am waking up at my little house near the factory over in Corby, where today we will have our first physical board meeting since February. The six executive directors and our non-executive chairman will sit down together around a very large table, and conduct a good old-fashioned face-to-face board meeting. We are following a more open agenda than a normal meeting – reflecting on what we have learned as individuals and as a business since the start of the pandemic, discussing plans and contingencies for the winter months and finally, and most importantly raising our sights to the future: how ambitious are we? can we plot a realistic route to become a £100m company? and what resources will we need (people, systems, finance) to achieve that aim?
Our Edinburgh holiday over last weekend was a great success, despite the Scottish weather, and we enjoyed meeting up with my brother and his family and with former colleagues.
We received a letter from my mother-in-law’s dementia care home saying that because they had two coronavirus cases (not specified as to whether these were staff or residents) all family visits would cease until further notice. So Nora’s sad and confusing solitary confinement will continue.
View from the Wrong Side of the Pennines
Elle Warsop, Oldham, Greater Manchester
I’m not going to talk about the News this week… let’s not dwell.
It is Tuesday and all is calm in our household on this side of the Pennines for the time being. The sun has been shining for the last two days and Daughter is back from that London for a week. Youngest son went back to Uni only to return the following day because all his mates were coming back again. I shall be suffering from whiplash at this rate.
Like a lot of the writers on here, I keep myself sane by trying to get out for walks most days. Being in my mid-50s and suffering from all the classic symptoms of the menopause… sigh - including stiff joints (and possible arthritis), I notice if I don’t get out at least every other day my symptoms are worse. Especially the stiffness in my pelvis and hips. The joys of growing old! I have taken to renaming the woods where I walk. It keeps my mind occupied and this side of insanity, as does sending photos of them to my soul-mate in South Africa. How strange to find someone again after thirty eight years. How totally lovely. So together he and I go walking, first picking our way through The Wily Old Wood of Wistful Wondering which has the most beautiful tall, old trees providing dappled light and shade. Then we climb the hill to The Wood of Wayless Wandering where the paths meander aimlessly, doing their own thing. Today a herd of cattle had managed to wander waylessly amongst the trees and then invade the football pitch at the far side of the wood! I avoided being impaled on the enormous horns of a rather irate cow. Scary! On our return, we head down through The Whispering Wood of the Wild Ones, a wood of tall, silently swaying pines, where badgers and deer live. Then through The Gnarly Wood of Hoots - possibly my favourite - where at least one tawny owl lives. We pick a skinny path through the overhanging branches of The Fleeting Forest of the Fae - a young forest with a definite air of fairy ring magic and often full of fungi and mushrooms at this time of year. We finally head back home via The Wily Old Wood again where there is a particularly beautiful, huge, gnarly old oak tree that, if I am unobserved, I like to hug. I miss hugs and it is always obliging.
I had my monthly fix of Writers’ Group on Sunday. I had written a couple of pieces to share. It seems I always need a deadline to galvanise me. I am terrible if left to my own schedule and devices. One piece I am currently working on is about a middle-aged woman who finds herself inexplicably in the story of Wuthering Heights. It is very much in the vein of Lost in Austen (for those who might have seen it on ITV back in 2008!). I’m having a lot of fun with it. Emily Brontë herself makes an appearance which may upset some Brontë enthusiasts of which I am very much one. I have missed my fix of going in the Brontë parsonage this year so far - very sad. But news is that it is open to visitors again which is great to hear. I shall be setting off for Top Withens at some point in the not too distant future I hope. There’s nowt quite like the Yorkshire moors for a bracingly wonderful, wild walk.
In other news I have now been told one of my schools wants to start Speech Bubbles next week and the other will begin after the Christmas break. Hurrah! I cried when I heard. I didn’t realise just how much I had missed it! I obviously need it almost as much as the children.
I had my hair cut yesterday. That was interesting. The first time I have been since last November. I admit that I don’t go that often anyway but that was an absolute age even by my standards. I must have looked a total scarecrow to Michael, my hairdresser. His parting quip was, “It looks like hair again.” Hmmm. I had the whole salon to myself. Very quiet, apart from Michael’s incessant chatter. I love the way he cuts my hair but he does talk complete and utter nonsense at times!
It is now Thursday 17th September and the News is looking grim - I am trying desperately hard not to look at it. So I won’t. So there.
Courages mes braves!