02/08/2020

Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

A child is born:

 

The child whose birth was expected last Friday, (see my post a week ago) is born, a healthy girl, the mother is fine, and the father very tired. My first grandchild, born on my birthday, thanks to California's time zone later than the French one. The same trick as Jules Verne in Around the World in Eighty Days. Like the Royals, the parents have not decided yet on her Christian names.

Economics life-changing Covid effect : 

 

I discovered this week in How to spend FT supplement, a HOW TO GIVE IT section, added to the Art and Philanthropy section. Never give up hope. Barclays Private bank has even a " wealth therapist " who says "I probably have got the best job in the world". She was thanked by a world-famous entrepreneur for making him feel " like a human being rather than a money pot". What's disturbing is that she advises clients to "scrutinize the receiver just as carefully as an investment". I can understand that it's better not to subsidize gangsters, but there is something rather odd to me about the whole thing: what about the liberty and creativity of the receiver? It's surely a bit patronizing to people in need to treat them as an investment, rather in the manner of politicians who wants to do good to us without proper knowledge? Does everything have to be efficient and productive?  Is art efficient or productive? - as I discovered from a friend in the business, it is true for modern art that it is efficient and productive when it comes to tax avoidance; Rob always says "nobody ever asks Baudelaire how long it took him to write Les Fleurs du Mal". Is life itself efficient and productive? Is love efficient and productive? Is there a definition of efficient and productive? Can we know what it costs? Is there a right way to measure economically love, charity, art...? I have spent almost fifty years working in Care, and working too much in order to reduce the "cost of care", that being then the slogan. What was the use of it, in the light of we see and experience during this Covid crisis? The cost of care is now so low that there are not enough careers, not enough equipment to answer needs. 

Giving is the new spending. It makes basic needs of others - food, shelter, health, safety - a luxury good for the ultra-rich. I suggest to Bernard Arnault, French emperor of global luxury, (in case he reads Plague20 journal), that he should appoint as his private advisor Esther Duflo, the French Nobel Prize for Economics 2019, MIT expert and researcher in the economics of poverty. I am an admirer of her work, despite the fact that our beliefs in politics are different. I don't think that the policies of the left could resolve the problem any more than capitalism gone mad can. Otherwise France would be the richest country in the world (distributing 33.9% of the national GDP, 15% of the entire world's social help, for 1% of the world population). 

 

Our son, the new father, always says that when he gives 1 $ to a beggar, he is in proportion more of a philanthropist than Jeff Bezos. He says that the word "philanthropist", is just a dignified and politically correct way to generously describe somebody who has immensely too much money, in a historic proportion never seen before. 

 

Trying to be positive for the newborn girl's future, better Jeff Bezos and friends giving something than nothing. May be our online shopkeeper (everybody with a computer has bought something on Amazon) Jeff has realized he too can catch the Covid bug, and if he gives money for a school, the educated child of a very poor Bangladeshi woman may be the one whose team finds the cure for Jeff's disease. Talent and intelligence are born wherever they happen to be, but they need food, safety and a school. Jeff has a good investment in philanthropy. As long as people don't have enough food and security, Jeff too should be worried for his security. Every penny counts, even trillions of them.

02/08/2020

A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

Of Witches and Demons, Dear Leader and Baseball

 

For those of you Gentle Readers who still doubted it, this week brought proof that America is truly an exceptional place. Just when you thought we couldn't get any crazier - I mean, a president who proposes injecting people with bleach? - we go and exceed expectations. Our Crazy-o-Meter hit new highs thanks to a proselytizing preacher who not only revived our enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine (it's been such a long time, I had to look up the spelling again), but informed us that most of our other bodily woes came from demon sperm and dreaming of sex with witches and devils. Come on! That can't be true, or we'd all be sick, right (I mean those of us who don't already have the virus)? Seriously, who among us hasn't dreamt of hot sex with a witch? That's just crazy talk.

 

Fortunately, our Dear Leader showed us the way forward from this confusing conundrum, re-tweeting Dr. Immanuel's video rant. Just to be sure we got the point that Crazy is a family-owned and operated enterprise, Dear Number One Son also got in on the action, dutifully sharing the word as well. The import of Dr. Immanuel's message was understood by the Faithful one and all, as it confirmed their long-held belief that much of the U.S. Government is staffed by reptilians and space aliens. In fact, Your Intrepid Reporter can now reveal for the first time that Stella Immanuel is none other than Q himself. We are seeking additional confirmation in the darkest corners of QAnon sites and the Gentle Readers should stand by for further developments.

 

When he wasn't busy fulfilling his Constitutional duty to protect us from our unnatural desire to consort with Incubi and Succubi (or is it Incubuses and Succubuses? I confess the latter sounds off, more like what you might yell at the public transport that's just pulling away from the stop as you arrive breathless, pounding on its door), Dear Leader was overseeing the deployment of his little green men in Portland. As previously reported, the Mom Mob and Leaf Blowin' Dads were out in force all week, latterly joined by Grantifas (that's granny antifas) and healthcare workers. But things finally took a serious turn when besuited and be-tied lawyers joined their ranks. Everyone in America knows it's game over once the suits show up, and Dear Leader, gracefully acknowledging the inevitable, announced the green men were leaving. Hah! They know when they're not wanted. Take that Portland! See if you get any more love from Dear Leader.

 

In a long awaited moment of Normal, America welcomed back its national pastime this week. Major League Baseball started a delayed and shortened season, to stadiums filled with the roar of canned crowds and enthusiastic cardboard cutouts. In a gesture of appreciation for all he'd done for a sorely tested nation, the reigning champion Washington Nationals (GoNats!) invited Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the traditional first pitch. Dear Leader was so moved by this that he immediately announced he'd been invited by the New York Yankees to throw out the first pitch at their opening home game. Your Intrepid Reporter, a long time Yankees fan, must confess his world was shaken by this momentous development. Thankfully, as with all things Dear Leader-ish, Crazy soon reasserted itself. Seems that neither the White House staff nor the Yankees themselves had been consulted prior to Dear Leader's announcement. Some in the Fake News/Hoax profession even had the audacity to claim it was a move motivated by the rumor that the cool kids liked Tony better. Proving them all wrong, Dear Leader quickly announced He was taking His marbles and going home. He was too busy to throw any stupid first pitch, and besides, had more important things to do anyway, like saving the nation from demon sperm, reptilians and Grantifa.

02/08/2020

Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

I have spent four days this week over at the factory, the longest time I have spent here since mid-March. The business continues to perform well, and we are gradually seeing more office staff returning to their desks, if only for a day or two a week. We have decided to hold a board strategy day in August, with all six directors physically together for the first time since lockdown. We have reserved a room with a capacity for 30 people at our local hotel, so we should be able to maintain a respectable degree of social distancing. Early in the year we had started to develop a new five-year plan, encompassing our ambitions for new markets and new products, with appropriate staff, systems and facilities to support our objectives. All this was put on hold in March, but even though there is still a great deal of uncertainty, we are determined to restart the project, and lift our eyes from the here and now to more distant, exciting and challenging horizons. 

 

Our visit last Saturday to see my mother in law in person at her dementia care home in Hampshire was disappointing, to say the least. The plan had been for Sarah to sit outside the external door to the dining room, whilst Nora was brought to us in a wheelchair, sitting just inside. This might have worked if it hadn’t been pouring with rain and blowing a gale. Nora was very pleased to see us, but she was visibly shivering from the cold, and very confused as to why we couldn’t come inside to sit with her in her own room. A different nurse, who we know well, turned up and expressed surprise at the set-up, because that very day the home had apparently changed its rules and now allowed a visitor to sit inside the dining room with their relative. So Sarah moved inside and closed the door. Shortly afterwards, however, Nora decided she need to visit the bathroom, and our visiting time was up. Most unsatisfactory.  

 

My wife’s frustration was somewhat alleviated by going on to visit friends locally afterwards, where six of us, three couples, sat at an appropriate distance from each other to chat face to face about lockdown, Covid experiences, work, families, wildlife (alive and dead), and this blog.

02/08/2020

Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Nearly at the end of the second week of house arrest. Tomorrow (Friday), the last day of July, is our wedding anniversary. It is also the day that D has to go to hospital for his pre-op Covid test, so we’ll both go, and I’ll sit in the car. Any excuse for an outing. Apparently it is going to be very hot, unlike earlier in the week, or even today. Strange weather, even stranger times. We are really missing our daily walks on Westwood Common. I haven’t got very far with those little jobs I thought I might get round to doing instead.

 

I’ve just finished reading a new book by Catherine Bailey (author of Black Diamonds) called The Lost Boys, a meticulously researched and true wartime story highlighting the brutality of the Nazi regime. It was a thankyou present from a friend during lockdown, who then worried when I told her how harrowing it was in parts, with graphic firsthand accounts of events witnessed in concentration camps. It wasn’t what either of us had expected, having read Bailey’s previous two books. Nevertheless it was a compulsive read, and in the words of Kate Atkinson ‘contained more tension, more plot in fact, than any thriller’. Something gentler is now needed. Apparently the library has reopened (for those allowed out) but I think it is only on a ‘Click and Collect’ basis at the moment, and returned books are dropped in a sack then quarantined for 3 days before going back into circulation. I’m looking forward to getting out and about again next week, to see what has changed in the town. Apparently Carluccio has opened its doors again (by contrast York has lost both its branches of the restaurant), and Joules is busy fitting out much bigger premises. Wonder what the high streets will look like this time next year.

02/08/2020

A Coronavirus Chronicle

James Hayes, Twickenham

A HISTORY OF THE CORONAVIRUS IN TEN OBJECTS (with apologies to Neil MacGregor)

To see a World in a Grain of Sand - William Blake

With the vast world now reduced to my second floor flat, I have decided to explore its contents,  to discover and laud the particular objects that are currently crucial to my everyday equilibrium.

 

1 The Toast Tongs

A week after my 79th birthday the ‘Coronavirus Lockdown’ began. A few days previous to this horrendous event I was given a small, stylish and very welcome gift. A Toast Tongs. It is made of two thin 20cm long pieces of pale blonde bamboo, glued together at one end. At the base, on one side, it has a small circular stainless steel disc. This is a magnet and allows the tongs to be  attached to the toaster when not in use.

Why was it such a welcome addition to my kitchen utensils? Well, the toaster, which had been purchased in the 1950s and which I inherited from my ex mother-in-law some decades ago, still works surprisingly well. There was just one small fault. (I should now point out that I use the machine exclusively to toast bagels). The spring which releases the bagel upwards, does not make the full journey, and until the arrival of the Toast Tongs I invariably scorched my fingertips most mornings when delving into the slots.

So, in the midst of these turbulent times the wielding of the tongs brightens the beginning of my every day¦

 

2 Portrait of Count Felix Sumarokov-Elston

For my 60th birthday, and by way of a surprise party, my daughter Abigail organised a visit for me to go to Russia. I had long wanted to see the paintings in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Abi, very kindly, came with me and we spent three full days in the vast, beautiful dusty green and white palace with its magnificent halls, staircases and galleries. I overdosed on the great works - Da Vinci, Fra Angelica Caravaggio, Rembrandt - all the big hitters, all there, and all these paintings new to me. To then move on to the late 19th and early 20th century greats - Monet, Cezanne, Gaugin, Picasso and especially some dozens of Matisse paintings was overwhelming. The whole experience was deeply moving and unforgettable.

On the third day, having exited the Hermitage, we came upon a young Russian girl, an art student, displaying some of her work, three or four of which were copies of paintings in the Hermitage collection. She seemed to me to be very talented and I bought a picture, the original of which I had not noticed in the galleries. It was beautifully painted on a piece of board and was very modestly priced. 

The original was painted by a hugely successful portrait artist Valentin Serov in 1903 and the subject is Count Felix Sumarokov-Elston (later Prince Yusupov). The Count later planned and participated in the assassination of Rasputin in 1916 in the Yusupov Palace in St Petersburg.

Nineteen years later, and during this interminable confinement, the painting continues to give me great pleasure. 

 

Two small notes. 

I am often, when looking at the picture, strangely reminded of my father - he looked nothing like the Count, except they both had a centre hair parting. 

When my children were teenagers I confess I overdid their Art education by dragging them reluctantly around various museums and galleries. In later years, whenever I proposed a day up in London, I was greeted by the threatening cry ˜No art galleries, Dad!'. How Abi put up with me on those three days in The Hermitage I still haven't fathomed.

 

3 The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

Sometime in the late 1960s I was given this massive dictionary by my then mother-in-law - yes, the same woman whose toaster I inherited. It is nearly 10 cm thick and stretches to 2515 pages. It was prepared by Little, Fowler and Coulson and later revised and edited by C. T. Onions in 1932. Know your Onions. This is the cat's pajamas of dictionaries.

It is not only invaluable, but also great fun when exploring Shakespeare texts because ‘every independent word and meaning is attested by an indication of its earliest known occurrence’. 

One of my favourite words is gallivanting. ‘Gallivant, v. 1823 (? a jocose perversion of GALLANT v.) intr. To gad about, esp. with persons of the other sex. Also =Flirt'

Now, we lads growing up in 1950s Ireland took the word to mean ‘wandering about’ But of course in that priest-ridden island any intimation re ‘gallavanting’ with the opposite sex would have been heavily frowned upon.

This weighty tome has proved extremely useful in recent days. While playing the eponymous character some weeks back in Samuel Beckett's one man play ‘Krapp's Last Tape’ in London, one of the vital props required was a very large dictionary, and it gave me great pleasure to use my own SOED.

Now in ‘lockdown’ and working my way through Mr. Henry James’ very long but wonderful novel The Portrait of a Lady, my dictionary has proved invaluable. The man's vocabulary is beyond extensive. Last night I reached page 575 and came across the word ‘immitigably’ - ‘He continued immitigably grave,’  and on the following page  ‘avocations’.

Immitigable 1576 ‘that cannot be mitigated, softened or appeased’.

Right!

Avocation 1529 1. The calling away (of a person) from an employment.

‘Heaven is his vocation, and therefore he counts earthly employments avocations’ Fuller.

Got it!

Just six pages to go, Henry!

Judy Holliday in the film ‘The Solid Gold Cadillac’ learned and used a new word every day. I might start doing that tomorrow. I've got the time.

‘Despiteous’ 1510 (cruel, malevolent, merciless). A bit like this virus.

 

4 Two Chinese Cloisonne Balls

When Humphry Bogart, playing the paranoid Captain Queeg, in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny got extremely tense, his face twitched and he involuntarily brought two shiny metal balls from his pocket and kneaded them in his right hand. In occasional moments of Corona Stress I revert to the same tactic.

In 1998 I did a world tour of ‘Othello’ with the National Theatre. In Beijing we were taken on a day trip to the Great Wall. Mid-journey our bus stopped at a large cloisonne factory. Cloisonne is the ancient technique of decorating metalwork objects using vitreous enamel - but you already knew that. We were led into a huge shop where many of the products were on display. It was all very impressive and tended by smiling girls at long counters. There were no other customers. I bought a pair of rich blue enamelled balls, decorated with bright red Chinese calligraphy, each symbol highlighted with inlaid gold wire. When rattled they give out the sweet sound of a small metal bell. They are very beautiful, comforting to handle and came in a lovely red silk box with two thin bone slides that lock into little cloth sockets.

Manipulating these two orbs and listening to the sound they emit, not only reminds me of that glorious tour, but gives me a real sense of calm in these stressful times. 

 

5 The Metro Crossword

Most days now when I go out for my daily walk I stop at the local railway station which is very close. The trains, two an hour, which I can see from my home, pass on a loop line served by South Western Trains. They come and go to Waterloo. They are ten carriages long and now rarely  carry more than two or three passengers. A strange and eerie sight, especially at night.

At the station I pick up a copy of the free newspaper the Metro. You wouldn't read this paper if you wanted in-depth reporting, but crucially, it's cryptic crossword is very important for my mental wellbeing. Though in no way on a par with The Guardian crossword, which I find difficult and sometimes madly frustrating, the Metro perfectly serves my needs. I can usually complete it in half an hour. If I can't, it sends a small dark cloud to hover over me for a considerable time. For some unfathomable reason, when unable to finish it, it invariably comes down to just ONE final clue! 

 

Here are two recent clues which give a flavour of the work:

The actors played first and made a move on the chess-board (7)

Very angrily took food to excess (11) 

 

6 My iPad

Luxuries were few in 1950s Limerick. I grew up in a small house with my parents and two brothers. Our ‘luxuries’ amounted to one item. We didn't have a car. We didn't have a telephone. We didn't have a refrigerator. We didn't have central heating. We were not poor. Everybody we knew lived like this. Television didn't come to Ireland until 1961. Our luxury item was a big bulky wooden radio, which when turned on emitted a rich green glow. Along the glass fascia above the dials were listed the supposedly available stations. Hilversum, Vienna, Brussels, Budapest, Monte Carlo, mysterious exotic places. When tuned to these, distant foreign voices and music, accompanied with heavy static, seeped out. Useless. Apart from Radio Eireann - Athlone on the dial - the machine provided two BBC stations from England, The Third Programme and the Light Programme. We listened to ‘Workers Playtime’, ‘Family Favourites’, ‘Ray's a Laugh’. During comedy programmes any hint of foreign ‘smut’ or double-entendre was instantly switched off by my father.

Now in 2020, and helping to cope with this long confinement, my days are infinitely enriched by my iPad. Bought in a 24-hour Apple Store in 2013 when working in New York, it has now become my most important possession. Although I live alone, I can instantly reach out to my children, my grandchildren and my friends. I can see their faces, hear their voices. I can read The Guardian, I can Spotify, I can do puzzles, use WhatsApp, watch films and television and delve into Safari. I can Google, email my brothers abroad, send and receive a plethora of funny, touching pictures and short videos relating to our current crisis etc... I am even writing this piece on it.

I realise that my grandsons, aged 11 and 9, will find this paean in praise of the iPad more than a little OTT, but at my age, and in these times, this small gadget is a mighty miracle.    

 

7 Paracetamol

I have been very fortunate to live for many years in ‘rude health’. I have worked at it. I have run, and later jogged around local parks and streets for decades. In the early days there were very few of us. People gawped and probably wondered if these strange individuals needed psychiatric help. In 1975 with a few hundred others, way before the advent of the London event, I ran the Guildford Marathon. The final stretch up the Hog's Back was memorably difficult. I now go to the gym (well I did). I am fit and well.

So, in this lockdown I obey all the rules. I wash my hands. I observe social distancing.

Then, a few nights ago, at about 1.00am, I went to bed. I opened Mr. James' novel. Then I gave a little cough. Soon this is followed by another little cough, and another. I drank some water. This helped. I read some more, put down the book, put out the light and went to sleep. Two hours later I woke up. I needed to pee. As I got out of bed the coughing returned, this time more strongly. It was dry, harsh and continuous. Bloody hell! Churchill called this late dark hour The Black Dog. One's blood sugar is low. Being awake at this time never, ever brings forth bright, happy thoughts. I drank more water and lay down again. The coughing continued. Jiminy Cricket, is this it? Is this the big CV? Is it my turn?

I get up, go to the kitchen and find the paracetamol. I swallow two. More water. I wobble my way in the dark back to bed. I lie there. The thoughts are chasing each other round my head. What can I do? Calm yourself, man! Eventually I manage to get back to sleep. 

I awake, sunlight streaming through the curtains. Birds are singing. I reached over and turned on the radio. People are talking about the virus. Months of non-stop Brexit and now twenty four hours of non-stop Virus. Hey... I'm not coughing. I've had a good night's sleep. I feel like a million dollars. What was I worried about? The magic of paracetamol. Late, recounting this incident to a friend, he told me paracetamol would be of no help whatsoever for a cough. 

 

8 A Great Park

(I know, It's not an object, but ..)

On Monday the 23rd of March, the day the lockdown began, I decided that I would go out every afternoon, hail, rain or shine for a long walk. On each of the following days I have diligently stuck to the plan, only getting soaked once. I love walking. There are various routes I take. The least interesting, twists and turns around many suburban streets and leafy avenues. Then there are two, where I walk along the banks and paths by the river Thames. These are fine, but can sometimes be a little crowded. Another walk I title the ‘Three Golf Courses’. Two of these I skirt around and the third, a scruffy nine-hole which is closed and easily accessible, I traverse over its fairways and around its neglected ‘greens'.

But the walks I am happiest on, I take in a very large Royal Park. I have been lucky enough to have lived near it for most of the past fifty years. It offers endless perambulating pleasures - apologies, Henry James is affecting my vocabulary. There are long avenues of chestnut trees, enclosed woodland gardens with ponds and streams and exotic shrubs. There are rich red, pink, golden and white flowered bushes, none of which I can name. I have seen great swathes of daffodils and bluebells come and go over the past weeks. Outside these enclosed gardens are many acres of rich green grassland, numerous groves and spinnies of majestic trees. There are deer, squirrels, rabbits, crows, woodpeckers, skylarks, parakeets. There is a big circular pond with swans and a large fountain with a bright golden statue of Diana the huntress, on top. When the sun shines, which has thankfully happened a lot over recent weeks, this great park becomes  a kind of Paradise.

Over the years I have run miles in it, played games with my children in it and now kick a football with my grandchildren in it.

On my walk in the park yesterday, the skies were all over grey, and a fierce gale blew the trees and crows about. Slowly I realised it was quite cold. I noticed the other walkers were wrapped in hoodies and padded jackets which sported names like North Face, Mountain Warehouse and Jack Wolfskin. One woman in a large fur-cowled garment looked like a sherpa. I trudged on in my Mickey Mouse tee shirt and light sweater. Me against nature. Exhilarating.

I eventually found that if I backed my tingling hands up into my sleeves it helped a lot. Three horseback riders passed nearby, one on a brown and white piebald, its mane flying in the wind. No deer appeared. I stuck with the plan, striding forward. For some unknown reason I really enjoy these conditions. With about 25 minutes to go I turned into the wind and flushed a small herd of deer up and out of the long grass. As they sauntered away, one of them looked back at me. Probably wondering what this underdressed nutter was doing out today.

 

9 The Ghetto Blaster

The JVC CD Portable System RC-QW33 with Multi Bass Horn (whatever that is) I purchased in, I think, 1994. It comprises a radio, a CD player and two cassette decks. It still works pretty well.

When, over the past year, the constant, interminable Brexit outpourings on the BBC and other radio stations were superseded by the constant outpourings on the Coronavirus, and I couldn't take another second of it, I turned for succour to this machine.

I gathered and trawled through the natty plastic CD cases, surprised at what a diverse collection they made. There were recordings of classical music and pop. There were various Singles and EPs of my son Seamus' various bands  - ‘Shuffle’, ‘The New Infection (strangely) and ‘Oscar Mic’ with songs titled ‘Headspace’, ‘Needles’, ‘Ragged Serenade’ and ‘Too Much Fun’ - I really like that one. 

The classical lot ranged from performances by Glenn Gould and Alfred Brendel, to orchestral recordings of Mozart, Schumann, Handel and so on. There was an 8 CD collection of 111 tracks to celebrate the 111 years of Deutsche Grammophon.

My  pop collection ranged from Randy Newman to Chuck Berry, from Everything But The Girl to Vampire Weekend, plus Elvis Costello, Pink, Pulp, Paul Simon, Joe Jackson and Sheryl Crow.

Then there were a number of African bands - Orchestra Baobab, Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra and the wonderful Malawi Mouse Boys, whose daytime occupation in that desperately poor country, was working on a tiny stretch of road where the tradition continues of selling barbecued mice-on-a-stick as snacks for passing travellers. Check them out... the band, not the snacks. Their plaintive harmonised songs accompanied on scrappy old guitars and racketty drums is remarkable.

As the days rolled on I dug out my old cassettes. There were sixty four of them that I'd  kept in a plywood box for many years. There was Level 42, the great Squeeze, Lisa Stansfield, Tom Petty, Ry Cooder, Swing Out Sister and Blondie. I hadn't touched this box for decades. I chose The Pretenders, slid the cassette into the slot and pressed play. It was strangely exciting. The first song was Stop Your Sobbing. Chrissy Hinde's rich sexy voice blasted out. Recorded in 1979. That's a long time ago.

       

10 Photograph Album

With the addition of the camera to our mobile phones (2002) we have seen the swift demise of the physical photograph. When I searched out my photo album a few days back to pass the time and do a little reminiscing I found it covered in dust on a high shelf. All it contained was a dozen pictures bunched inside the cover, two of which were of my son Seamus, on the roof of the Twin Towers. I had been working in New York, staying in a hotel down near The Battery and he flew over for a visit. I took this photo of him on a sunny morning. He is smiling. He is wearing a bright orange hooded jacket with the skyscrapers of Manhattan spread out  behind him. It was April 1998.

I then searched the flat and found a large red shopping bag with the name Philip Jones, Shoes on it. Inside were over a dozen shiny colourful envelopes from Truprint, Boots, Doubleprint. Other plain envelopes had scrawled dates written on them. You will deduce from this that looking back is not something I do a lot.

Some of the photographs were black and white, but most were in colour. On a long afternoon my whole life slowly presented itself on the table in front of me, eventually fanning out on the floor below. The B&W ones, ‘snaps' (as we called them) were mostly of my early childhood in Ireland - pictures of my parents, my First Communion in a nice suit with short trousers, on a bench outside our house in Mitchelstown with my brothers, a school hurling team, a bunch of young blades on the rocks by the sea in Kilkee, with quiffs and lovely girls in summer dresses, someone is playing a guitar. There are drama school pictures of my  girlfriend Jackie, pictures of our wedding, our honeymoon - all these in B&W. Then in, now-faded colour, pictures of the children that bring tears to my eyes. And on the images go, the kids growing up, Their birthdays, family holidays. Then the photographs end. Recent events are captured on the mobile phones.

My iPad screen saver is a beautiful, tender picture of my grandsons Stanley and Eddie, aged about 5 and 3, arms around each other, looking over a blue garden bench into the camera.

 

 

I've just heard on the radio that today is the fifty-ninth day of the lockdown. I'm not sure what day it is - I think it's either Wednesday or Thursday, but it is definitely May 2020.

Things are looking up. The R number is going down. The restrictions are being very slowly, very carefully, lifted. Plans are afoot. Stan and Eddie can soon go back to school. Soon we can all get back together. Our family can have the long-planned Japanese Evening. I've got the sake, Abi and her partner Ross have the Japanese whiskey, Jackie, brilliant on the food front can recommend an Eastern menu and Seamus and his partner Dovile can travel across London to be with us. And then Life can continue.

02/08/2020

Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans

CAUTION

 

Throw it to the wind

and prepare for a cry

 

of Help me. Help me

as it’s finally caught.

 

On your own now

you can do nothing

 

but accept the risk

that became your choice.

 

The wind is familiar

with the sudden impulse

 

to seek its embrace

as a last resort

 

so though at first

you proceeded with caution

 

it wasn’t surprised

by your change of heart.

02/08/2020

From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Heaven forfend - I nearly forgot - or rather I became sidetracked by bread-making! Only a very short time ago I was speaking with best beloved on the phone and she asked me what I planned for the afternoon. Well, I answered that my first priority was the journal - of course! Then I ate some lunch and decided to bake an onion and sage loaf - consequence no journal writing. I now have less than an hour until the deadline, so had better get on with the task.

 

Firstly the past week has more or less continued the pattern of the past few. I still find myself surprisingly content whilst the flames rise in the distance. There have been some small developments on the old car front, because the fuel tank from the American Austin is now on the mend. I have obtained some shiplap timber to repair the back wall of the beach hut, so that's all good. Best beloved and I have had some really enjoyable times together, mainly walking, talking and lazing beside the sea. Music in the double garage continues happily.

Best beloved and I, also my youngest daughter, have noticed some disquieting behaviour amongst fellow humans that we find hard to fathom. There seems to be some some tendency towards abuse of those trying to maintain social distancing and mask wearing. I have been shouted at when avoiding encroaching within 2 metres of someone. Something similar has happened to best beloved. My youngest made a hair appointment for the first time since lock down and was quite excited at the prospect. She has underlying conditions and is at risk, even though we all think she has had the virus (untested). Anyway she went to the salon wearing a mask, to be greeted at the door by someone who quite brusquely remarked that she wouldn't need the mask inside. Youngest stood her ground, saying she wished to wear the mask, whereon she was verbally abused by this rather strange greeter. I'm glad to say daughter, very disappointed, walked away. What is going on? I wonder whether other journalistas have experienced anything similar.

 

There are some delightful butterflies in the garden at the moment. Managed to get a good photo of a female Common Blue. Sometimes I think the female is the best looking...

02/08/2020

Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

This will be a very short post as I am working in the flower shop today. I haven’t finished reading last weeks journal yet, but am thinking of you all. I was going to change the running title for my posts this week, but don’t want to tempt fate after last night’s news!

 

Greater Manchester and lots of areas in the north apparently have increased infection rates which means we are at risk of another lockdown. This was announced last night on the ten o’clock news. Today also happens to be Eid-al-Adha, which is a big celebration for the Muslim community involving prayers, feasting and large family gatherings.

 

Once again the government has left everything to the last minute, imagine all that wonderful food that’s already been prepared?? Luckily today is also going to be hot, so hopefully they can all gather outside safely distanced?

 

Elsewhere I have beautiful sweet peas and my sister has been doing what she calls ‘a lot of eye acting’ !! They are wearing face coverings in some scenes on set, keeping it real! More later! Keep well everyone xxxxx

02/08/2020

From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

8.30 am. I'm in my pyjamas on my balcony in the early morning sun. It's a beautiful morning and I'm feeling a bit glum. I thought I was too glum to write in the journal this week but then I thought that the glumness might lift if I did. I seem to remember that that's worked in the past. 

 

No particular reason for it. Just a general feeling of disillusion and disappointment, oh and someone said something ever so slightly disparaging (that's three words beginning with dis in this sentence) about the sonnets and is it all actors or  just me who need constant encouragement and applause? and so the introspective discourse (dis word no.4) spirals down into this dampness which is a waste of a beautiful morning.

 

The problem with the sonnets is,  that if you choose to do them chronologically - as I have done -  because the first seventeen aren't all that good, it's difficult to hit the ground running. And, just as Shakespeare was learning on the job, so am I. In the early ones, I move my head around too much, I blink, I twitch, and do a kind of meaningless 'thinks' acting when I look up at the ceiling. Less is more. I'm gradually learning to keep still, move nothing but my eyes and let the words work their wonder. They are an extraordinary body of work - a mind examining itself and, as a reader, it's a way of getting closer to that mind than one can ever hope to do in the plays when he is concerned with exploring the minds of his creations. It's ultimately rewarding, though, to do them chronologically as a narrative does emerge. Your encouragement was hugely appreciated Stephanie but please believe me when I say the best are yet to come. 

 

I've moved indoors now as it's too hot outside. I've had breakfast. Talking of duplicating words as I was with my 'dis' words, Shakespeare plays extraordinary virtuosic games with repetition. In sonnet 40, a poem of 14 lines, the word 'love' occurs 10 times (8 in the first six lines) and, in 66, the word 'And' begins 10 lines. Those lines incidentally state 10 different reasons for committing suicide. I wonder if writing 66 lifted his glumness. I'm three-quarters of the way through 'Hamnet' by Maggie O'Farrell, a novel about the death of Shakespeare's son. There are some fine things in it but I'm finding it rather exhausting. She doesn't so much repeat as elaborate - of giving birth she says - "It is like trying to stand in a gale, like trying to swim against the tide of a flooded river, like trying to lift a fallen tree.'  Can it really be like doing all those things? All at once? Wouldn't just one of those similes have been more powerful?

 

I'm up to London again this evening, my second foray in two weeks, to attend a cast and crew screening of a film I did nearly three years ago. It's called Summerland and had, as I remember, a very good script by Jessica Swale who also directed. I had a tiny part and was only on it for a day but it was very enjoyable working with Tom Courtenay again - I played Rosencrantz in his Hamlet a million years ago and appeared in a production of Charley's Aunt with him in The West End - and I was lucky enough to play the husband of Sian Phillips. I hope they'll be there but they may well have decided to stay away for sensible covid reasons. Perhaps I shouldn't go but I can't resist it. The evenings are the hardest times if you are alone. 

 

I'm having a little break from the sonnets, just a few days.  I've done 69 now but I'm still not halfway through. As you can tell they've become something of an obsession and I am a little daunted by how many lie ahead of me. Between numbers 60 and 66 I was in a field of four-leaf clovers but in the last two or three I'm in a patch of nettles. Sometimes it feels like trying to stand in a gale, like trying to swim against the tide of a flooded river, like trying to lift a fallen tree. 

 

Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, Sandy. What you say about anniversaries is exactly right. 

 

Just a little correction from last week's entry. I went out to India to visit Tom with my other son Francis and his then girlfriend who was called Carole - not, Frances, Tom's then girlfriend.

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