David Horovitch, Twickenham
Four of us at dinner last night in one of their gardens, all carefully distanced from each other and, between courses, handing round the sanitiser. Lovely simple cuisine, laughter and the love of friends, but there's an anxiety in the air. We're all actors and the question we're all asking is 'When, if ever, will the theatres re-open?' I'd spoken the day before, with Greg Hersov, the director of the production of Hamlet that would have opened a week or two ago at The Young Vic. Our Hamlet, Cush Jumbo, is being offered a lot of other work and can't keep herself free indefinitely for a job that may never happen. The last time we spoke Greg was suggesting that we could be rehearsing in February 2021; now it certainly won't be before May, if at all. Actors over 70 are not being employed at all by the television companies, at least for the foreseeable future, as we are uninsurable. In my more pessimistic moments, I can't see any reason why the same shouldn't apply to the theatre and I feel the chances narrowing that I will ever work again. All the other friends last night are younger but the problem is worse for them as they have mortgages to pay, children to put through university. One of the quartet actually has a job in a TV series shooting in Spain. It's a few days filming here and there spread over a few months, so there's the question of quarantine to be dealt with every time she returns. Nothing is simple, everything uncertain. And, acting being so much a matter of the confidence that can only be engendered by practise, one wonders if, when the opportunity arises to step out under the lights again, whether it really will it be like riding a bike, something one never forgets how to do. This matter of the fragility of confidence, the fluctuations of moods, is extraordinary.
Sonnet 55 -'Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.'
Sonnet 72 - 'For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.'
Am I just extrapolating from last night's conversation when I say that I think this anxiety is all-pervasive and a new phase of the zeitgeist? It would be surprising if it wasn't. Are schools re-opening fully in the autumn? And, if they are, is there to be a trade-off with pubs and restaurants closing again? It's hard to live with these uncertainties and, somehow, I think, a few weeks ago, when the phrase 'easing of the lockdown' was on everyone's lips, we may have believed (because we wanted to) that we were moving slowly but inexorably forward; now we are thrown into confusion and flux again. In Tesco's the other day, I momentarily forget social distancing and move to within a foot or two of the woman who is being served by the cashier.
'Excuse me,' says the cashier, 'I have a customer.'
I proffer profuse apologies and move back a couple of yards, still apologising to both customer and cashier.
'No need to apologise,' says the customer who I would estimate to have been over 80, 'It's called being normal.'
The simple pleasures remain - the sound of cricket on the radio which has been the accompaniment to my summers since the age of eight is constantly there and I have really enjoyed blu-tacking postcards, which have been languishing in a drawer for many years, to my dull white kitchen cupboards and fridge. I'm not much of a gardener having only a small courtyard, but my potted olive tree is doing well and my canna lily, given to me by a friend from his garden in France last year, unfurls again and again like a series of umbrellas.
From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
The quietest week here and even stretching my imagination to its limits I cannot think of anything interesting to report ~ that is how it was. I could share the most mundane happenings but it seems a shame to inflict that on anyone, so I won’t. Last Sunday’s journal was such a delight to read and I especially enjoyed the 10 most important things during Covid shared by one of our contributors. If I were clever, I might try something like that, but, alas, I am not!
I finished two good books I received for my birthday and will probably start the third one. Have been working on my submissions for the Society of Wood Engravers Exhibition and it is getting close to the wire ~ time to start printing, but I still haven’t received the beautiful German Zerkall papers I like to print on yet.
The hurricane swept up through New England, cutting out electricity for many and downing trees, but here thankfully, we just got tons of rain which was lovely for the grass and the gardens.
I did see on facebook or instagram a mask which made me think of a few of our contributors ~ so I took a picture with my iPhone and share it here ~ Hope everyone is doing well as the weeks turn into another month and so on.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
According to Chaos Theory things can, without warning, turn inside out.
“You’re a writer, Ian?” asks Wendy, mother of my friend and neighbor, Sonia.
“Indeed I am.”
A territorial cardinal chirrups red feathered from the top of a fence pole in my backyard.
“You mean you make up stories while the rest of the world does something useful?” Wendy unleashed.
I looked across the garden table at her face buried in the shadow cast by the sun umbrella. Could she once have been a vital, orgasmic woman? Or has she always been a vituperative prune, her voice a viper’s hiss?
“Do you consider yourself an artist?”
“Yes.” I replied.
“Are you successful?”
“On my terms. Mostly I believe so.”
“You don’t sound it. Are you on the NYT best seller list?”
“No. Not really my goal.”
“Stuff and nonsense. Do you make any money at it?”
“Sometimes. Writing keeps me sane.”
“Artists are lazy. You have damnation in your future.”
“I hardly think…”
“...You think too much, stuck in your own thoughts, nor caring about the suffering and lives of others. It’s pure indulgence.”
“As the man at home, raising the children, I find that an impossible statement to accept.”
“Oh do you?”
“Are you enjoying your stay?’ I try to deflect Wendy Wraith’s penetration of my shields. “I know Sonia was very much looking forward to you coming.”
“My daughters feelings are none of your business.”
“I was just making…"
“...Small talk. Exactly. Pathetic little ungodly scribblings, no use to man nor beast.”
I let the comment scuttle away like a cockroach.
Sonia is down my garden, picking herbs.
Wendy catches me looking.
“Why don’t you do something useful rather than hanging about at home all day? Why is your wife out working while you sit here absorbing sunlight like a plant? You waste the life God gave you writing. Get a real job. Leave the children alone. You are a sinner. Are you homosexual? Do you have some kind of hold on Sonia. Well? Or are children more to your taste?”
Malevolence whispers from her dry mouth, stunning my ability to reply.
With the flames of perdition licking at my feet I stand as Sonia returns. A spring maiden, she carries greenery arcing out into space, falling back, covering her hands in a green curtsy. We exchange a fond smile. I wonder, do women really turn out like their mothers?
The soup is simmering on the range, a leg of pork crisping and crackling in the oven, vegetables prepared awaiting last minute steaming. I come from the dining room and find Wendy Wraith with her fingers in a pan, tampering with my sauce.
“It needs salt. You people are afraid of butter, salt and cigarettes. Where do you keep the mustard?”
“Wendy, please allow me to finish what I started.”
“You shouldn’t be cooking. It’s a job for women and not real men.”
Her doctored effort is a putrid tidal pool. Ruined. I pour it away. Down the sink. In full view of her. There is just time to make a new one. Gathering together the ingredients I start on the replacement. I am miles away, deep space, chopping an onion, then this.
“I know what you are doing.”
“Yes I am remaking the sauce.”
“No not that.”
“What then,” I swipe the neatly sectioned, succulent white squares off the board and into the scalding butter in the frying pan.
“I know what you are doing with my daughter…”
I love the clack of a cast iron skillet on a range, the flash of flame, the swoosh, the sharp spitting.
“…I heard you Wendy. I am sorry you are unable to get past your puerile read of our friendship.”
“You speak nonsense. Dissembler.”
“I beg your pardon. One moment you are telling me I am a gay man, then you imply I am involved with your daughter. Or most offensively of all that I am a pederast. Hate men much?”
“You said you were a writer. I imagined you could see below the surface. I thought you people liked conflict.”
I accept the challenge, take a deep swig of red wine and wipe my hands on my apron.
“So come clean, Wendy. What am I doing with Sonia? Come on. Let’s have it.”
“You have both sent your children away to their other grandparents this weekend. Clearing the decks so you can indulge yourselves. It’s disgusting. Thank goodness I am here to stop you. You have driven her husband away.”
“He’s on tour. Anyway you think we would stoop to grubby subterfuge just to fool you? Believe me we get quite enough freedom during term time. We are at it like rabbits.”
“Disgusting. I don’t have to listen to this filth.”
She rises from the kitchen table. I see a revelation of vulnerability. cruelty etched into the skin around her defeated, passionless lips. Sensing weakness and without compunction I strike back.
“Actually, your daughter is as horny as Miley Cyrus. I knock D.H. Lawrence into a cocked hat. Between the two of us we copulate day in, day out. We can’t get enough of each other. We are decadent and deviant. There. Is the what you wanted to hear? Does that satisfy your vile curiosity?”
I look up and see Sonia standing at the open backdoor, a bottle of wine hanging on the end of a drooping arm, eyes wide open in surprise, her broad smile lighting up the room.
Two months later and Sonia is round for coffee and hands me some pages.
“Mum’s taking a creative writing course. This is her first effort. She wanted you to see them.”
“Excuse me? She’s what?”
“She enjoyed your chat. Thought it was funny. It inspired her.”
I read: “You produce ungodly little scribblings,’ said Rebecca, leaning forward, exposing her cleavage to Fernando.”
I look out into the garden. A sodden cardinal perches under the table, his red feathered throat throttled into silence by the rain.
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
It’s that sort of weather today that makes you feel as if something is sat on your eyelids. So warm and muggy, but cloudy. It’s Thursday. I have adopted Scarlett O’Hara’s mantra from Gone With The Wind. “I shan’t think about that now, I shall think about that tomorrow”. I’m sure she said something like that. I am in danger of overthinking and worrying too much if I don’t intentionally reach for the “off” switch in my head! As we all know, worrying never helps any situation. The recent increase of Covid infection rates is a cause for concern, but is that just because more people are now being tested? The news doesn’t mention death rates anymore, just spikes and clusters of infection. No matter, I shan’t think about that now!
Totally missing live performances now, there is something magical about a live audience and the atmosphere of a packed theatre. Craving a musical show or concert we watched the film “Mamma Mia 2” last night, the one with Cher playing Meryl Streep’s mother!! Total feel good film, and of course Cher is phenomenal!
I am about to lose my lockdown buddy, she’s going back to work next week, on the Netflix film that she was on in March. She had to do a Covid test yesterday and is under strict instructions not to go anywhere outside her household bubble, and not to visit any pubs or restaurants. She’s a makeup artist, so her job involves close contact with others, and I guess if there is an outbreak on set, they will have to shut down the production.
I’ve treated myself to some yoga equipment in an attempt to encourage myself to get doing some yoga! I often get my mat out, and sometimes I even get on it! But it’s just not the same as going to a class and dedicating that time to ‘being in the zone’. So I’ve told myself to create the right space and give myself what I need. In yoga, we are taught when your head has gone into ‘monkey mind’ (jumping about all over the place) always come back to your breath. Just concentrate on your breathing. That’s what I’ll be doing this afternoon.
The clouds are now breaking and blue sky is visible, so time to see what new dahlias have bloomed on the allotment. (then I’ll do some yoga!)
Big hugs to all, keep well everyone xxxxx
A Coronavirus Chronicle
James Hayes, Twickenham
THE WRITINGS OF STANLEY AND EDDIE MONAGHAN
My grandsons Stanley and Eddie have been homeschooling with their Mum and Dad and with their teachers for a number of weeks via Zoom. They were asked to do some creative writing. Here are three of their pieces.
THE CASTLE IN THE ICE by Stanley (aged 11)
Around 3 o'clock this morning I finished my treacherous voyage. I felt bewildered and weak from lack of sleep, food and water. The huge castle was my destination. My jaw dropped as I gazed frantically up at the giant towers looming over me and their malicious flags swaying evilly in the wind. The castle was tucked away secretly in the depths of a frost-bitingly cold forest, ridden with spruce trees spying on me sneakily as I strode past. I made stilts out of fallen trees so that I could walk above the snow and eagerly found my way through the frosty blizzard.
As I walked gingerly through the humongous double doors I realised a suit of armour was arrogantly standing there. I grimaced as it stared at me. Curiously I looked up to see paintings of angels helping the poor and the sick. Suddenly, there was a crash coming from the other room. I ran towards the noise and noticed a giant unhinged green door hanging there. I strode on through. CRASH!!! There was that noise again, but louder and closer. Anxiously I looked round. There was something squatting in the corner. It stood up and I saw its skinny wrinkly fingers reach out to grab me.
(I should point out, that in this piece, Stanley was asked to go big on the adverbs)
ODE TO ERIK by Eddie (aged 9)
Erik, oh Erik you are so fluffy!
I have so much love for you, Nana's puppy
Your face is so cute, but
You're not so mute!
Your eyes are like polished conkers,
When you haven't had a walk you go bonkers!
My footballs you nip and deflate,
with your tongue you lick and annihilate
Your fur is like new fallen snow
You were so small long ago
Why did you grow?
THE HIGHWAYMAN (an adaptation for the screen by Stanley)
IT IS NIGHT TIME. WE ARE OUTSIDE THE WHITE HART INN. THE HIGHWAYMAN ARRIVES ON HORSEBACK. HE IS WEARING A FRENCH COCKED HAT, A VELVET COAT AND BOOTS THAT WERE UP TO THE THIGH. HE IS COLD AND TIRED. SOME OF HIS ACCESSORIES ARE JEWELLED OR SILVER OR GOLD. HE RAPS ON THE SHUTTERS WITH HIS WHIP.
HIGHWAYMAN: Hear me!
GETTING NO ANSWER HE WHISTLES AT THE WINDOWS. AFTER A MOMENT BESS, THE LANDLORD'S DAUGHTER COMES TO THE WINDOW AND PUTS HER HEAD OUT. SHE HAS A RED LOVE KNOT IN HER HAIR.IN THE BACKGROUND THE STABLE DOOR CREAKS. THE HIGHWAYMAN DOESN'T HEAR IT. WE SEE TIM, THE OSTLER, EAVESDROPPING AND LOOKING SURPRISED, SHAGGY AND RAGGED.
HIGHWAYMAN: One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize tonight. But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light. Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, then look for me by moonlight. Watch for me by moonlight, though hell shall bar the way.
BESS: I won't kiss you, you dirty dog. Bring me gold first and then I might.
TIM REACTS WITH RAGE BEHIND THE STABLE DOOR AND STAMPS HIS FOOT. HE SCREAMS INTO THE HAY TO MUFFLE THE SOUND.
HIGHWAYMAN: I'm no dirty dog. Kiss me and the gold will be yours.
HE STANDS UP IN HIS STIRRUPS BUT CAN''T REACH HER HAND. BESS LOOSENS HER HAIR AND HE KISSES THAT INSTEAD.
HIGHWAYMAN: Goodnight, sweet Bess, I shall return.
BESS: Oh yes you will, and don't forget the gold. Now get out of my sight.
THE HIGHWAYMAN PULLS AT HIS REINS AND GALLOPS OFF.
WE ARE NOW INSIDE THE WHITE HART INN.IT IS NEXT DAY. THE LANDLORD IS IN THE BAR AND BESS IS CLEANING DISHES. WE HEAR IN THE BACKGROUND THE SOUND OF STOMPING, MARCHING. IT GETS LOUDER AND LOUDER.
BESS: Oi, Dad, what's all that racket?
BEFORE HER FATHER CAN ANSWER, KING GEORGE'S SOLDIERS ARRIVE, KICK THE DOOR DOWN AND ENTER THE INN.
CAPTAIN: Right, lads, what do you want to drink?
ALL THE SOLDIERS ASK FOR A LAGER.
CAPTAIN: Alright then, ten lagers please.
LANDLORD: (nervously) Okay boys, it's on the house.
LANDLORD: You're my favourite soldiers.
CAPTAIN: We are the only soldiers.
LANDLORD: Oh.... right.
CAPTAIN: We would like a little private word with your lovely daughter.
SOLDIERS: (all whisper) Not!
TWO SOLDIERS GRAB HOLD OF BESS. SHE STRUGGLES.
BESS: Oi, get your filthy goody two shoe hands off me, you dirty dogs!
SOLDIERS TAKE BESS UP TO HER ROOM, GAG HER AND TIE HER TO THE BEDPOST WITH A GUN POINTING AT HER BREAST FACING THE WINDOW. BESS STRUGGLES.
BESS: (through muffled screams) Who do you think you are, treating me like this? Do you know who I am?
SOLDIERS KNEEL AT THE CASEMENT WITH MUSKETS AT THEIR SIDE.
SOLDIERS: Keep good watch, little princess.
BESS' SHOUTS ARE MUFFLED. HER FACE GOES A VIBRANT RED WITH RAGE AND ANNOYANCE. SHE STRUGGLES, HER HANDS WRITHING, BUT THE KNOTS HELD TIGHT. HER FINGERS WET WITH SWEAT AND BLOOD.SUDDENLY A CLOCK STRIKES FOR MIDNIGHT AND AT LAST SHE FINDS THE TRIGGER WITH HER PINKIE AND WAITS FOR THE HIGHWAYMAN TO ARRIVE.
HORSE: Tlot Tlot Tlot!!!
AS QUICK AS A FLASH BESS JOLTS FORWARD AIMING THE GUN AT THE SOLDIERS AND SHOOTS THEM ALL ONE BY ONE.
BESS: I knew those kung fu lessons would be worth it!!!
THE YARD. BUT COMING FROM THE YARD BESS HEARS A GUN BEING LOADED AND THE HIGHWAYMAN, WITH A GUN IN HIS HAND POINTING AT TIM THE OSTLER.
TIM: You should have died tonight, highwayman.
HIGHWAYMAN: Yes, and you will.
THE HIGHWAYMAN TAKES A SHOT AT TIM, BUT HE BLOCKS IT WITH HIS PITCHFORK. MEANWHILE THROUGH THE WINDOW WE SEE BESS GRAB A MUSKET FROM A SOLDIERS CORPSE.
BESS: (shouting through the window) Look, both of you don't need to fight over me. Because... you will be dead. HaHaHaHaHa!!!!
BLAM BLAM. THE HIGHWAYMAN AND TIM THE OSTLER DROP TO THE GROUND.
BESS: (Arriving in the courtyard) I only loved him for his money.
BESS GOES OVER TO THE HIGHWAYMAN'S SATCHEL AND TAKES OUT ALL THE GOLD.
NARRATOR: To this day Bess and her father run an inn in the Carribean island of Jamaica, and spend their days drinking rum and lounging on the golden beach.
Stanley and Eddie are marvels. Over the past five months, in truly difficult circumstances, they have worked and coped with great good humour and made all their family very proud of them. I think their writing is talented, charming and funny.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
I decided to ring my GP yesterday to see if I had an ear infection, re. my dizzy spell. If he thinks you need a visit he will advise as instructed. He thinks not and will send a prescription to the chemist for me. I didn’t need tablets just advise. Also my shoulder is getting worse more painful and less movement. But all I get is, it’s wearing out. Just like I am I think. So he is to fill in a form for me to get some phisio. Haha. It will probably be much better before I hear anything from that.
Today I wearily walked up the lane. A very sultry day humid. But I carried on but didn’t see my little Owl very disappointing. I have picked 6 1/2 pounds Of plums off my tree so pies and crumble coming up. Also I have a few kidney beans. So not bad. Chicken leg new potatoes and kidney beans for tea today.
Woodturning bowl my husband made for me six months before he passed away.
My steep garden
View from the Wrong Side of the Pennines
Elle Warsop, Oldham, Greater Manchester
I am struggling today. Since last Friday it seems we really do have the plague in Oldham. Unclean! Unclean! Don’t go to the North West and, you people of the North West? Stay away. I know that may be unfair - obviously the plague was far worse and there was no NHS, let alone ICU wards and fantastic health care workers… and people are dying now too. But I’m struggling today.
The days yawn ahead of me and I have no work and no real prospect of paid employment, no purpose, nothing to do and the year or even years appear to stretch ahead and I don’t know what to do with myself. I had two weeks in Scotland booked - I was going by myself, to get away and regain a bit of sanity, read… write… but… Scotland doesn’t want us. No one wants us.
I can’t even go and sit in mum’s garden at ‘home’ in Sheffield again now. Sheffield is still home (even though I’ve lived in Oldham for over twenty five years). We lost Dad last year and are all, my two sisters, Mum and me, still struggling with that one. Mum is now totally on her own. A little bit of light in the dark was, after months of lockdown, finally being allowed to go and sit with her in her beautiful garden and keep her company for an hour or two if it was fine (which, let's face it, is never a given whichever side of the Pennines you live). Before leaving her alone again. I hate not being able to go in my childhood home anymore. It is still my home. I miss its smells. I miss sitting on the settee and picturing Dad in his armchair. I miss still talking to him there. I miss making Mum a cup of tea and watching her rock in her rocking chair. Most of all I miss her hugs. I miss it. Sitting in the garden, two metres away from her, was a poor second but at least it was something. I even got used to having to wee in a bucket in the basement - yes, you did read that right. I am 55 years old and was having to pee in a bucket so as not to risk taking the virus in my 82 year old mother’s house. I was being good. Being sensible. It was just what we had to do. But now… Sheffield don’t want us either, whether we wee in a bucket or not.
I am a freelance drama practitioner. I have no work now. To be fair I don’t normally have a lot of paid employment during the summer - sadly the joys of being self-employed and working in education! I deliver a drama programme to six and seven year olds in schools and also drama workshops at Oldham Theatre Workshop (OTW), and everything would normally stop for the summer holidays. And so does my pay. But I love it and we manage for money. Oldham is a wonderful place for festivals too. We have an amazing Arts Development Department who book festivals galore all year round with street entertainers and art installations that I normally get to ‘work’ on. And I love it all. I love my work with OTW - I am proud and honoured to work for them. But now it’s all stopped. Who knows now when my work will start again and never did we need the joy of theatre and festivals more.
It’s ironic that Oldham is always in the news for such negativity and never for the wonderful things that the town offers its people, some totally free of charge. Hopefully, at some point in the not-too-distant future, OTW will be able to re-open its doors and, come September, schools really will re-open and allow ‘Outsiders’ in, but I’m not holding my breath.
But, let’s end on a positive; despite not being able to visit Scotland where I'll practically be self-isolating in a cottage on my own or sit in my Mum’s garden in Sheffield, apparently what I can do is go and sit in a pub, cafe or restaurant here, so that’s something isn’t it? Oh the irony.