Hello from Eastbourne
No writer's block here, by Marli Rose Macrae
All I want to do is sleep! Every night I lie in bed, everyone else has gone to sleep. It's torture for me. My head is full of ideas for stories.
During the week we went to Lewes. I had saved up all my pocket money because we've not been able to spend it during lockdown. I had £10 and £20 on a Waterstones voucher. We went to a shop called Wickle first and I got a lamp for my dolls' house and a knitted Chunki Chilli cotton dress for my dolly bunny Betsy. My mummy has to lend me £5. We had a sandwich for lunch and then we went to Waterstones. I really wanted a book about flowers but they didn't have the one I wanted so I bought two novels, 'The Girl Who Stole an Elephant' and 'The Disappearance'. I had enough left over for a magnifying glass and I'm using it to look at insects and butterflies.
On Wednesday we skated along the beach with our rollerblades. I then put my swimming costume on and climbed over the rocks and rock pools. There was a long row of rocks that I wanted to swim to but my mummy said I had to go with an adult and she didn't have her swimming things. I still swam to a nearer rock though and sat on top of it. I found it really scary doing that as I didn't know if I was going to be stung by an anemone or pinched by a crab. Franklin is always worried about being pinched when we are near the rock pools and rocks. I did graze my knee on the rock but I didn't feel it because of the salty water.
Yesterday was Franklin's birthday. He got a Lego dinosaur from mummy and daddy. I made him a tiny felt dragon and a card that looked like a 3d theatre. He got a lot of cash from other people. He is driving me mad because he bought a Rubix Cube on Monday in Lewes and he had tantrums right up until he solved it on Wednesday. Thank goodness he solved it, we were getting fed up with his huffs and frustration. He can do it really quickly now and is bragging but at least he isn't being ghastly. His best friend came round yesterday and I made a party lunch. There was a raspberry and orange jelly, my daddy made it with a stripe in it! We had toasties, crisps, peanuts, fizzy worms and I made a sprinkle cake.
Today I woke up exhausted because I am struggling to sleep. My granny phoned me from Spain to help me sort out my ideas for the stories I want to write. I have so many and I feel panicked that I'll forget them. Later we are going to the beach because it is boiling! I am looking forward to jumping off the groynes into the sea.
Franklin Macrae will not be submitting an entry through the Plague Journals this week. It was his birthday yesterday and he is refusing to budge or participate in family life until he has finished building his Lego dinosaur. He has however mastered the Rubix Cube and informed us that it's extremely simply when you understand the algorithm!
Formerly from St Just
Jane G, North Oxfordshire
In a spirit of perversity, Smokey and I headed north-east when travel was permitted - against what I imagined would be a steady flow of traffic making for the coast, though in fact there was remarkably little of it. We found the house still standing, even if strikingly camouflaged at the back by a field of poor quality hay and what seemed to be acres of goose-grass, some of it head-high. And it felt as if it was a house belonging to someone I knew quite well, rather than my own - possibly my imaginary twin sister's.
Banbury at the moment is fairly close to its normal self, with most shops open, people sitting outside coffee shops, and the market trading effectively enough despite fences making it an IQ test to find the way to the plant stall. In related news, St Just has made international headlines through one of its publicans (at The Star) installing an electric fence to keep customers at a distance from the bar - somehow comic and depressing in equal measure. The Star has always had the Fiddle-Dee-Dees fiddling on Monday nights - I presume not now - sitting in a window embrasure and playing for free drinks, I think, while people come and go and make a shifting semi-circle around them, listening or half-listening. In winter the street is generally empty outside, and the fiddles sound out along Fore Street.
Last week I went into Oxford for the first time since the end of the spring term, and found the calendar in my office turned to March, and invitations for April events on the mantlepiece. And all the gates of the Bodleian padlocked as they never normally are; even the blinds down in the Upper Reading Room. It looked like a monument to a lost civilisation - but then so it always does, in a different way, as readers fight their way through semi-organised tour groups with parasols and selfie sticks. Those were wonderfully absent, of course - this was the first time in decades I've walked unimpeded down Broad Street.
The reason for going in was that various people had put together a programme of poetry and music to live-stream to benefactors instead of the annual garden party. It seemed surprisingly unsurprising to encounter the Warden and several other Fellows in person in the quad - much less so to go into an almost empty Holywell Music Room and take turns to step up to a taped mark to address the camera high up above the main entrance. Though the musical part was so lovely to hear that by the end I'd forgotten we weren't doing this for our own entertainment, and was startled when the Warden thanked 'you all' for attending: there's something very odd about performing for an invisible audience.
I'm missing St Just very much, fences or no fences. But it has been good to see some new live human beings again - friends as well as colleagues - and to have outdoor lunches and even venture into the Chipping Norton antiques centre. Mostly, though, I've been staying alert at home, turning the former studio into a sitting room - which involved more hard physical labour than I'd intended - and tending my co-correspondent, Our Feline Formerly Also in St Just, who has been really very unwell indeed, though she does now thankfully seem slightly better, eating again and convalescing in one of the rampant flower-beds. Her illness is probably one of the many collateral damages of Covid and lockdown - but that's for another post.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Bristol
Some time ago I was invited to participate in a research programme - the 100,000 Genomes Project. The aim of the project is to map the genetic makeup of a large cohort of NHS patients with rare diseases or cancers in an effort to identify and analyse the gene changes responsible.
I was asked to take part because quite late in life I have developed an unusual eye defect that is not easily detected by normal eye investigation. My consultant cannot see the defect but is aware of my difficulties because of what my eyes cannot do - my depth perception is faulty; I can see nothing when I enter a dark room or walk out into bright sun. I cannot differentiate some colours which, given my interest in textiles and weaving, is a real difficulty.
I suspected there might be a genetic mutation causing my difficulties as my sister and my niece, both in America, have unusual eye problems. My niece trained as a doctor but quite early in her career began to experience abnormal eye problems that have been life changing. She had to give up general practice. About the same time that I joined the 100,000 Genomes Project, my sister decided to independently arrange for a genetic sequencing test. One of the researchers on the Genomes project also decided, after seeing my results in March, to arrange to get a DNA test kit sent to my niece. However the sudden arrival of Covid 19 has delayed that test. So only my sequence and my sister’s have been compared so far and we won’t know for some time whether the genetic sequence for my niece shares any similarities.
Last week I had a three way conversation with two of the researchers - each situated in a different hospital - to discuss the results. Well, actually it was a four way conversation as I put the phone on speaker so Simon could participate. Although It took several goes to get the connections established, I was fascinated that it was even possible to arrange such a conversion. In normal times we would all have needed to travel to either Exeter or Torquay to meet in person.
The results, explained in some detail, were really quite interesting. After I was given a brief reminder of the functions of the Rods and Cones of the eye and an even briefer biology lesson in genetics, I was told that my sister and I share the same genetic mutation in the CRX gene on chromosome 19. I gather that the letter “C” stands for Cones and the letter “R” for Rods. And my understanding is that this genetic change is “autosomal” not “sex linked”. My sons and grandchildren will need to be gene tested individually before we will know whether I have passed on this mutation to them.
The researchers explained that Moorfields Eye Hospital in London keeps a record of rare eye conditions, which because of our national health system is easily and widely available, and so they could see that there are several other people listed who share this eye problem. I agreed to have my details listed there also. As yet, like Covid 19, there does not appear to be a cure for the condition but one of the purposes of the Genomes Project is to identify where and what kinds of cures are needed.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
What is typically Norwegian? Hva er typisk Norsk?
There is an ongoing debate and even a TV program called “Sånn er Norge” (This is Norway) on what is typical for Norwegian culture and “nordmenn.”
It is said that they are born with skiis on their feet. They love nature and going on hikes in the forests, mountains or going on a boat trip and fishing. “Går på tur” is the most often used phrase. They are sun worshippers given they see so little of it. So going on a “sydentur” or tour to the South, to Greece, Spain, and Portugal, to lie on the beaches, is common. Whole colonies of Norwegians own apartments and live clustered together in the Grand Canary Islands, Costa de Sol and Antalya in Turkey. The annual migration south starts after the New Year for the winter months.
They love farikal (lamb cooked in layers with cabbage leaves, whole peppercorns and salt. And nothing else), waffles with cream and jam, potetball (mashed potato balls filled with bacon bits), geitost (a heavy, sweet, brown goat cheese) and kransekake (super sweet circles of dough dripping with iced sugar). Regarding Norsk cuisine, they discovered garlic in the sixties; love whipped cream with dessert or sour cream with savoury food and their food does not rank in the top twenty of world cuisine. They have adopted international cuisine so far as “Fredags taco” (the Norwegian version of Mexican tacos) on Friday nights. And pizza, pasta and hamburgers. Be confident that you will find either a Burger King or McDonald’s in the most remote coastal towns. Together with the ubiquitous hairdresser (frisør). Cooked prawns in their shells are easily available in all supermarkets or directly from the fishermen in the harbour. The most prized are the Greenland prawns fished in January, February and March. Insider knowledge.
When I first moved here, we ordered a dryer from a well-known store. Two young, unsmiling Vikings delivered it, whilst my husband was working, and as they were about to leave, I offered them coffee and biscuits, as I normally do, and wondered if they could lift the dryer on top of the washing machine. Please and thank you. I explained that we both have different medical problems which preclude very heavy lifting.
The answer was a blunt “No” and they walked out. I cried. It was my first of many experiences.
We then ordered a large sofa for the house on the island from another well-known furniture company in town. It was dumped unceremoniously on the main road, some distance from our house. Male cousins carried it down the long path and up the stairs to our sitting room. We didn’t learn our lesson and ordered the identical sofa for our home in Ålesund. This time, I was very specific and left nothing to the imagination. I requested that the sofa be carried up the stairs and placed in the living room; packing material to be removed. We found out a few days before delivery (and only because we rang and reconfirmed all delivery details) that they had failed to inform us that due to Covid, the sofa would be left on the road, in the driving rain. Business is back to normal so Covid could not be blamed for poor service. We demurred, to put it politely. Sofa was delivered. The velour on the top and sides of the sofa was scratched badly in several places and we await the assessor’s visit, after his summer break, to see if we get a refund or it will be repaired.
Our cousins ordered a top of the range Danish kitchen for their home on the island. It was delivered to another town altogether and they had to rent a trailer to pick it up. No apology.
My best friend ordered a surprise cake and flowers for my birthday yesterday. The orchids that arrived were on their last legs. The flower shop was confident that they would not be held accountable by a foreigner. They cancelled the cake delivery on my birthday for no reason at all, without even a “Sorry.” I was so relieved that it was for I discovered that she had paid a ridiculous sum, even for Norway. Sånn er Norge.
David Foster Wallace, told this parable in 2005:
“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
This beautiful parable addresses our unconsciousness. Our acceptance of the “normal.” The familiar may possibly not be the correct default setting. It behoves us to look at ‘our water’.
I had a wonderful birthday. Lots of kind, thoughtful messages. It's much better to wish friends and family with love whilst they are alive rather than expound at their memorial, methinks. My husband had also bought a cake. Pink and delicious. And I had breakfast in bed with a candle on my tray. It was fantastic weather. 18 degrees, sunny, and we sat by the pier eating softice and admiring the beautiful boats moored in the harbour. My husband cooked a fabulous dinner and we ate to the accompaniment of the screeching kittiwakes that live on the balconies. They arrive in February and leave in the start of August. They are called krykkje (like “creature”), which I think is apt. We are kept awake by their blood curdling cries during the night and wafts of the pong from their nests. They are endangered so we continue to indulge them.
Ha det!!! Norwegian for “See you.”
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
At 80years of age in May 2019 I lost my husband of 55years to Mesothelioma (asbestos ), another chest infected disease, still rife all over the world. I was just about coming to terms with that loss when we got covid 19 lock down and I am now in self isolation. Still grieving I now have to grieve alone.
I try to walk alone for one hour a day up the country lane near my home. On a sunny day it's beautiful passing a chapel and cemetery which is wonderfully kept. The bird song is lovely. I hear a black cap, linnets. blackbirds and finches. A kestrel hovers above. Further on there are two little owl sitting on the walls in the field, they are nesting there and this makes my day and I come back home refreshed. But I am still alone.
My daughters bring my food and ring my bell and step back while I collect it. It's hard as I just need a hug. It's hard for them also as they don`t want to lose me having just lost their dad. Normally I would cook their dinner and now I have to cook for one. I don`t know what to eat now and I have started comfort eating. I eat chocolate and too much bread. My weight is going up and then I have trouble breathing on my walk. I am getting more and more miserable as time goes on. On nice days my family and I can sit apart in the garden. All too soon I am on my own again.
My husbands remains are still in a box on the shelf as we haven't got around to scattering them yet. They sit among all the wonderful wood turning items he was so good at, bringing back all the wonderful times we had together along with his photograph. Its all too painful for me alone with my memories. So I cry a lot. Loud.
So during this time I take to writing poetry, getting my feelings out on paper seems to do the trick.
I am such a crying wreck
What can I do to find a way to make it go away?
Groggy again what the heck
Old age and I feel such a wreck
My shoulder pain is such a worry
Oh dear I am in no hurry
To shake myself out of this flurry
I rock in my chair and mull things over
Covid 19 is still going strong
what else can possibly go wrong
A shower may just do the trick
but I am feeling the weight of a brick
I must make the effort, shake myself up
Its a nice sunny day, musn`t give up
Car needs its MOT and tax
Free TV licence is going to be relaxed
So quiet in the house on my own
I have to get used to living alone
My husband`s remains in a box on the shelf
Will I ever get used to living by myself?
Crying all day does you no good
Must get out of this mood for good
I suppose it's normal of course
But how to when life was so good
with the person you loved
I should think myself lucky
I have children who care
But during this lock down visits are rare
My shopping is left on the steps at the door
We're all missing the hugs I adore
That would have been such a comfort for me
But its just not to be during covid 19
Writing poetry gets it out of my system you see
By Barbara Warsop
The Runaway Diaries
This time last year I was planning a big party. It was to be my leaving bash, a coming together of friends and colleagues to wave me off as I left the theatre company I set up and led for the last fifteen years. This company was akin to my first child, I loved and nurtured it and learnt so much from it as it grew and developed. I brought theatre to public spaces; an Odyssey down Deptford high street, The Tempest in parks across London, Mother Courage at Woolwich Arsenal. It was hard work and harder to live on, but I loved it. And then I didn’t.
When you came along, my real first child, I was worn out. Funding opportunities were disappearing, the weight of expectation and responsibility felt suffocating and mixed up with lack of sleep and a post natal sinking feeling, it was all too much. I asked my colleagues if they wanted to fill my shoes and run off in a new direction, they said yes.
It all happened very quickly, the closing of that particular door.
After the party we went straight to Wales and hid out in the mountains. I didn’t want to think about what I’d just let go of. The following months I busied myself with a new play and started thinking about writing projects. I had time for once, to dream again. I tentatively started talking to theatres and new collaborators about ideas and then corona drifted in on the breeze, then theatres shut, then lockdown, then projects disappeared and I found myself adrift in a vast sea of other unemployed freelance artists.
It comes in waves, the weird melancholy of this particular time, and writing this journal is the only space I have had to myself and my own thoughts. I’ve never been great at self-care and realise now that in the last four months I’ve completely neglected to look out for myself or allow myself a little alone time to feel the loss of my company. My focus has been on my family together navigating this crisis, and lucky me, to have such company.
Your dad was working late last night and you were fast asleep and I suddenly had a moment to myself, I could do yoga, I could have a bath, I could read a book. Instead I had a good old cry.
Today I had an excellent meeting about a new play that I’m developing on the streets of Peckham. It might just happen, with at least a test run in September. It was exciting and reminded me that I do have something to offer, that my experience does count for something. A wave of relief washes over me and it feels so very refreshing.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Norman has arrived. Norman is my mother who will be 90 next May. Her real name is Georgina but when Prince George was born and I remarked ‘if you had been a boy you would have been George,’ she replied, ‘No, I would have been Norman.’ Since then we have called her Norman.
This morning she and I beetled off to Bert the Barber at Walsingham and because I was not allowed in with her I sauntered into the newly reopened antique shop next door. Immediately I beheld something I have ALWAYS wanted... a church hymn board with a box of numbers! Heaven!
We came home and reached for Hymns Ancient and Modern to rediscover the numbers of the four hymns with which Martin and I celebrated our wedding nearly 40 years ago. Norman was tasked with the research and then, with her pianist’s fingers inserted the numbers for all to see and... of course, sing at the top of our voices.
We have attached it to the wall leading to the kitchen and on feast days I will attempt Bawdenesque menus and other such rules of the house! I am thrilled with it and the antique shop owner was delighted to make his first sale since the commencement of Lockdown. Maybe I should have picked hymns with hallelujah in the first lines.
For those interested, the numbers correspond to the following:
Glorious things of Thee are spoken
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
Lead us Heavenly Father lead us
Now Thank we all Our God
And indeed, we do!
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
Just lately I have had a strange feeling in my stomach and today I identified it as the sensation I have had when a horse has run away with me. You might think this is an unusual situation but it has happened to me several times, so I know the feeling well. I have never been a particularly accomplished horsewoman and have had more than my share of scary experiences in and out of the saddle.
The first time was when I was about twelve and out on a quiet organised ride with the riding school, on the back of an innocent-looking tiny roan pony called Timmy, who abruptly decided he would prefer to leave his friends and go straight home now, thank you, and set off down the road at full tilt. We galloped down a busy road and round the roundabout which crosses the A40 by the Polish war memorial at South Ruislip, with me hanging on and feebly shouting 'Whoa!', at last arriving back in the stable yard, miraculously unharmed. I dismounted with legs like jelly. The feeling in my stomach was indescribable - I imagine it's how it feels to be disembowelled. Shortly afterwards, at a gymkhana, I was carted out of the ring by a spirited thoroughbred called Katy, in full view of my poor terrified mother, and again ended up back in the yard. I won't bore you with events involving Polly, Bandit and Mischief.
After a long break from horses I achieved my childhood dream of owning a pony. Crispin was a cute, reliable child's pet when we got him but we discovered he liked to find the quickest way home and one day he carried me across the local golf course, with me shrieking at alarmed golfers 'Sorry, can't stop!' as we stampeded back to his stable. Again, that numbing feeling of having no control.
The last in my chain of misadventures was with another Katie, a tall chestnut ex-racehorse belonging to a friend. Out on a ride, when I was safely mounted on his smaller, more reliable pony, he suggested we swap horses. Up for the challenge, I climbed on board and almost instantly Katie remembered her racing pedigree and set off across the fields. Nothing I could do would convince her to slow down and at the end of the field she jumped a six foot hedge. Having assumed she would stop, I fell off, hurting my shoulder as I landed on the hard ground on the far side. My friend was amazed as he couldn't believe she had jumped such a large obstacle but as it was happening all I could feel was the horrible churning of fear in my stomach and my face, frozen with the premonition of events unravelling over which I had no control.
I don't ride any more, but life at the moment feels a lot like that.
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Now very nearly back to normal - and thanks to all for the kind wishes for my recovery.
Yesterday Chris and I had a complete day of relaxation and took the short drive to Winterton for a walk on my favourite beach. Though it was more crowded than I've ever seen (we tend to avoid the Summer months) the crowds were very well behaved, staying the required distance apart whilst seemingly having the best time in the warm sunshine with just the slightest gentle breeze.
An off shore sand bank, that I've never seen there before, provided the perfect spot for families and dogs to frolic joyfully - and then we were treated to a rare sight, a couple of horse riders treating their steeds to a quick dip. The white one couldn't get enough of it but the other was less sure of the water. What a completely idyllic scene it was and after a short walk we sat down on a shingly part of the beach to let it all wash over us. There were even a couple of curious seals bobbing up and down just beyond the frolicking.
When I was young, my older sister and I spent many Summers away from our home in North London staying with our Grandma in Whitstable, Kent - with so many of our days spent messing about in the water, followed by a quick game of tennis and an ice cream on the way home. Grandma had a beach hut so we would punctuate the day drinking cups of warm tea and eating sandwiches and fresh strawberries shrouded in home made towelling 'tubes' before dashing back into the sea to swim a few more 'breakwaters'. Sitting on the beach again took me right back to those days and made me realise that life is still wonderful and we can enjoy it if we just de-tune our expectations and do the simplest of things.
The remainder of our day was spent in our garden with drinks and nibbles listening to music in the warmth of the evening sun. Just perfect! Our ginger coloured chicken was particularly attentive urging us to share some crumbs - she's such a 'sociable' hen.
The weather looks set to improve a little for most of us in the coming week, so more happy days like this one will certainly be appreciated.