Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
“These days the modern young lady must display a miscellany of talents in her quest for a suitor.
She must be a witty conversationalist, an accomplished musician, and an expert in the art of ‘the swoon’. For managing to faint with barely a petticoat out of place is a most coveted talent indeed.”
So says Lady Whistledown in the new series on Netflix - Bridgerton. Have you seen it? It’s fabulous. My new favourite binge watch. The only thing is I’ve watched it now, so might have to start again. Julie Andrews is the voice of Lady Whistledown, whose identity is a mystery until the very last episode, and it doesn’t sound like her at all. Set in England in 1813, it’s a visual delight. Voluptuous flowers tumble from classical urns, ladies in colourful gowns glide across grand ballrooms and down elegant staircases. Satin hats perch jauntily on perfectly outrageous wigs, and the Duke of Hastings is Elvis reincarnated! Thank goodness today’s modern young ladies don’t have to go through all that palaver.
How are you all? A belated Happy new year to you all. It’s Wednesday today, I am writing today as the flower shop is open for business tomorrow and I am working. Only open for online orders unfortunately, due to all the latest government guidelines and rules etc. Honestly I feel like the government have taken that many U turns we are going round in circles! Why are we being bombarded with death tolls again? It’s not helpful. Are the numbers even accurate? Ever since Dom squirmed in the rose garden I have no faith or confidence in what the government has to say. A shake up is needed. Bring in someone dependable, decisive, empathetic.
Don’t even get me started! My next door neighbour thinks I’ve got Tourette’s I swear at the tv news all the time! This morning I had Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on and the wonderful Baroness Betty Boothroyd was on, she’s phenomenal, that’s what we need now, a no nonsense, direct, questioning approach to the ‘current situation’. Dare I even say it? Maybe even a practical woman’s touch???
I hope you are all surviving this latest lockdown, it’s hard to believe we seem back to square one.
This time is different for me, as I am on my own, so it’s not so much fun, and I haven’t got anyone to share the washing up with, and no one to bring me cups of tea! Grace is working in Bristol filming a series about the young Elizabeth the first. Thankfully the production is going ahead, as before Christmas she signed a contract for a flat share. Everyone is tested for Covid twice a week, and the hair and makeup team work in PPE. I miss her and find it impossible to cook for one.
On the subject of Donald Trump I have nothing to say except good riddance.
I wish I had something exciting or inspiring to share, but it seems, for the time being, we are living small and day to day. At least we are moving forward towards Spring and we can look forward to all the new flowers soon to bloom.
Keep well everyone, I am grateful for your presence. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
David Horovitch, Twickenham
A few weeks before Christmas I did a self-tape audition for a good supporting role in 5 episodes of a TV series. As with many of these high-profile things I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement so I wasn't allowed to talk about it, let alone write about it here in the journal. Living on my own it's not that easy to do self-tapes as I need someone to read the other character's lines. Pre-covid I used to go into my agent's office but obviously that's no longer possible. Once, in the permissive autumn of long ago, I went round to the house of a local actor friend; who had some lighting equipment and could read the other lines, but now that we were in tier 3 that option was closed to me as well. If I hadn't bumped into another friend in the street who gave me the number of a chap called Frazer who helped actors with self-tapes for a living, I'm not sure what I would have done. I called Frazer. He turned out to be a young out of work actor whose face I've never seen because he was wearing a mask; he came round the following evening with a neutral grey sheet for background, a couple of lights and a digital camera. There were almost four pages of dialogue, most of it mine, and I had learnt them pretty thoroughly. After we'd done it once, he started packing up his equipment, saying' That's a wrap.' I said 'Oh no, we must do it again.' "No you're not doing it again,' he said, 'You won't do it any better and if you don't get the part, I'll eat my hat.' With that he vanished into the wintry night. Well, his hat remains on his head or on its hook in the hall for, last Thursday I was offered the part of a Grand Master in a prequel to The Game of Thrones called The House of the Dragon. I'm told Game of Thrones is the most watched show on TV. I start filming in June for sixteen weeks and, at a time when I had literally believed my TV career was over, I can still scarcely believe it.
And, I've been jabbed as well as jobbed so it's been an eventful week only marred by the fact that I've had some pretty ugly toothache which necessitated three visits to the dentist. It seems to be sorted now but she thinks I might need a root canal sometime soon. At least I know that The House of the Dragon will pay for it.
I found myself unexpectedly moved by the massive organisational effort that had clearly gone into the rolling-out (odd phrase) of the vaccine, the cheerfulness of the ushers and the good humour of the doctor who jabbed me. He must have been jabbing every two minutes or so but there was no sense of rush and he still found time to answer my questions. When I thanked him for making the experience so human, he turned to his young assistant and said - "Well, I've never heard you called human.' I do hope fellow journalists are getting their jabs - mine was about three weeks earlier than I'd expected - and have had similar experiences.
And there's cricket from Sri Lanka on the TV. Good for early waking insomniacs as it starts at 4.30.
The Runaway Diaries
Sophie Austin, London
It's a grey murky day, but we don our bright yellow wet weathers, pink wellingtons for you, black ones for me, and we head out.
Our mission: to leave no puddle unsplashed.
We achieve our mission after a very wet hour.
When we get back there's a message on my phone - NHStrack&trace.
I have tested positive and must isolate...
Your dad and I had Covid and antibody tests on Monday - we signed up to be part of the ONS study way back in September and a volunteer came round this week to take our blood and swab our faces. We explained that we'd had the virus over Christmas, but were feeling so much better now.
This result has unnerved me - do I have it again? I did have a horrible headache last night, but no other symptoms.
Is it the same virus that I had in December?
Am I infectious?
Have you got it etc etc
Your dad did not receive any message so we assume he tested negative.
So many questions, and wherever I seek advice, I get a different answer.
I booked another test at great expense.
Someone coming over tonight to do more swabs.
In the meantime, you and I shall stay in and watch Frozen.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
Fortunately it wasn’t too cold out yesterday evening, just hovering around freezing, because B. and I were on the couch watching Virgin River, a soap opera with gorgeous Northern California scenery, when I noticed a horrible smell. I have started eating a very low carbohydrate diet to cope with my diabetes, and a key ingredient is bone broth, so I had roasted a chicken, which we ate, and then put the carcass in the handy electronic pressure cooker (no exploding pots for me I hope) with veggies and peppercorns and cooked it for ninety minutes. A very long time in a pressure cooker. Finally the time was up, the pressure dropped and I opened it up to discover that the result was decidedly insipid. So I strained the liquid and put it into a wide saucepan to boil it down. Virgin River may be junky but it is compelling so we were watching episode after episode, driven by the cliff hanger at the end of each episode, until I noticed the horrible smell. I took the saucepan out and threw it in the snow, where it sizzled and smoked. Put a fan in the living room window and opened a window on the opposite side of the house to draw the smokey smelly air out. It took a while of drawing cold air through the house until it was livable again. As I was quickly setting up the fan and opening the window I thought maybe if I get the air moving the fire alarm won’t go off. And it didn’t. But there was a lot of smoke. It should have gone off. So the blessing from this little episode is that we learned our fire alarm isn’t working. Or needs a new battery. Today’s project. And I can buy bone broth from the food co-op and they seem perfectly capable of making it, and quite cheaply too. So much for self-sufficiency.
In other news I signed up for a Sumi-e class. One of the consequences of Covid is the ability to sign up for classes that would have been hard to attend in person. This class is out of Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington D.C. What, you may ask, is Sumi-e? A kind of Japanese version of Chinese painting. Which is to say, I don’t yet know but plan to find out and in the meantime I’m struggling with a fairly expensive brush, black ink and highly absorbent paper trying to paint bamboo and the number 1 in Chinese calligraphy. Fiendishly difficult because of the absorbency of the practice paper, which is made that way deliberately to teach the student about how much water and ink to use or, more to the point, not to use. In the class I painted a series of crows I was pleased with but when it held it up to the camera to show the teachers and other students there was a stunned silence, from which I deduced that one doesn’t show one’s initial attempts, and indeed, my efforts demonstrated a complete lack of refinement. I was pleased they looked vaguely like birds. One of the teachers did finally say that he admired how bold my strokes were. I said that of course they would be with a large brush, black ink, and highly absorbent paper. He admitted the truth of that. Still, the day after the class I set up a practice area and dug out my various books on the subject and I’m having a seriously good time, even though it is frustrating. Yesterday I almost made a thin straight line. Pinnacle of the week, along with the photos of my daughter's two new kittens.
Which is not to talk abut the revelations about the riot, and the progress of impeachment, all of which has been consuming us, and which we were escaping by watching Virgin River. Perhaps if we’d been watching CNN or MSNBC I would have remembered the pot on the stove. Or perhaps not.
James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountain, Virginia
Balance shot, legs damaged, plum belly,
nasal hairs grey, ears singing, the road
that leads me stretching into foggy sight,
no longer immeasurable.
In the long haired shadows
of a recalled timeline I was so thin,
cocky without a clue, head sheathed in clouds,
confident of nothing but the next minute
as I groped, dazed my way into adulthood
following each deviation, flitting light as air
on hot wings laden with impulse.
But what if in those blue Rizla nights
I had veered off the baked path,
surrendered to the suit of conformity,
erased all chapters and verse, exchanged
endeavor for a mortgaged cape?
If, buts and maybes deafen those who
cannot sit in the comfort of songs,
and I would never have sung In Paradisum
to an audience of ruffle-breasted birds
roosting in trees lining the road,
trilling with them as I passed,
slowing my sloth-creaking step
at a distraction attraction
taking a moment to defang
the gravity of a dream,
footsteps seconds to now.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
The storming of the US Capitol on 6th January left me overwhelmed. I found it impossible to contribute anything sensible to the Journal last week. My mind was in chaos. I was shocked and so angry.
Even today I find it difficult to write about any of this week’s activities as if life was as usual. In a normal week I might want to describe my preparations for the weaving course on line this weekend, or Simon’s marmalade making, or my delightful, though chaotic, zoom session of potato printing with my grandsons, or finally getting my tulips planted.
Each of these helped to divert my attention for moments at a time, but... replaying in my head over and over again all week were those scenes of the rushing mob entering the Capitol Building, going through the halls carrying Confederate flags, wearing anti-Semitic shirts or fur pelts, looting the offices of senators and congressmen while those lawmakers were sheltering under desks or being whisked to safety.
And now the Capitol is sealed off - surrounded by fences and guarded by more US service personnel than are presently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. This is present day America.
When Biden and Harris won the election I began to feel that it might be possible that the sharp divisions in the country might in time begin to disappear. I had begun to think that the anxiety and shocks of this four year Trump frenzy might diminish. Instead my bewilderment continues and my anger with those who voted this man into power does not abate.
A View from Crazy Town
Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.
The Sounds of Silence
Crazy took a step back this week. After five years in which He filled our heads with bombast, lies, and all manner of generalized insanity, like the guns on the Western Front at the 11th hour of the 11th day, &etc., Dear Leader's Twitter account fell silent. A vast echoing ringing in our heads took its place, while the ghostly form of Peter Noone and his Hermits could be heard in the distance crooning a few bars of "There's a Kind of Hush." (On the other hand, it’s just possible that this was merely tinnitus and hallucinations, further evidence of a mis-spent youth).
The Liberal Socialists of Cancel Culture Big Tech pulled back the Veil just enough for us to see what a future with a silent Dear Leader might look like. Facebook, Twitter and assorted other Villains of Silicon Valley conspired to deny Our Hero the very oxygen, the veritable life blood which made this whole Crazy trip possible, and on which He has thriven (sic). We refer, of course to the Great De-Platforming which has imperiled His First Amendment Right to Free Speech in The Name of Sedition. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the silence was golden. A recording of the historic moment the Tweets fell silent is appended in a short YouToobin clip: https://youtu.be/jwisj9WqWc0
Various and sundry Clowns of the Vichy Republican party took to the airwaves to decry the Radical Democrat plot to silence the Great One. In a fierce contest to claim the crown of the stupidest whine ever, first Devin Nunes, congressman from California, then Dear Leader Jr., used Fox News ("the world's most watched cable channel") and the latter's Twitter account (six million followers) to rail against the silencing of their voices. Nunes complained that "Republicans have no way to communicate," to which Junior riposted "We're living in Orwell's 1984, free-speech no longer exists in America!" Undaunted, Nunes fired back with a devastatingly silly coda, asking his followers to text him to stay in touch, thereby demonstrating both that The Sounds of Silence are deafening on both sides of The Divide, and that Nunes is truly the most absurd individual ever elected to public office.
The latter claim is, however, in danger of being short-lived. Already new clowns are appearing in the ranks to boldly stake their claim and pick up the fallen banner of Dear Leader (or, speaking of absurd individuals, was that merely the detritus left behind by Viking Guy in last week's assault on the Capitol?). Newly-elected congresswoman Lauren Boebert asserted her right to pack heat on the floor of the House of Representatives in case any real life Radical Socialist Democrats appeared, while QAnon conspiracist Marjorie Greene of Georgia joined her on the Vichy benches. Rep. Boebert, laboring under historical ignorance of which no Gentle Reader of this column would ever be guilty, boldly asserted in that wake of last week’s events “It’s 1776!” She clearly meant “1814,” but as a newcomer to Congress, if not sedition, one must make certain allowances for inexperience.
As the weekend dragged into the week, the Silence from our Dear Leader weighed heavily. Hints began to leak out the He was being driven to distraction by the loss of his ability to Tweet His way into our minds. Just as the cracks began to show, the unkindest cut of all was inflicted by the PGA of America which announced it was withdrawing from its agreement to stage its golfing championship at His beloved course in New Jersey. As if that weren’t enough, in the last week two of His associates, Sheldon “Shelley the Shark” Adelson, a casino owner and deep pocket supporter, as well as Dear Leader’s former personal physician, Dr. Harold “The Healthiest Man Ever to be President” Bornstein have experienced that De-platforming From Which There is No Return. In rage and frustration, alone and friendless in a silent Big House, Dear Leader did the only sensible thing: He turned on His sole remaining ally, Rudy G. Dear Leader belatedly noticed that Rudy had failed to deliver the goods and Dear Leader concluded that Rudy’s legal fees of $20000/day were a tad excessive when weighed against the results. This promises to be a long-running show as writs are filed and counter claims launched. Your Intrepid Reporter is laying in sufficient stocks of microwaveable popcorn to sustain him through several decades of riveting courtroom action.
But, of course, these escapades were mere sideshows to the main event. Yes, Gentle Reader, history was made right here in C. Town this week. Dear Leader found Himself impeached for the second time. This was a first (as well as a second). Better still, He was the first to achieve it in the span of a single year, the first to be cited for promoting insurrection against the government of which He is the nominal head, the first to win the unanimous disapproval of every representative of the opposing party, while also the first to gain so many votes in support of impeachment from members of His own party. Take that, oh Nameless One! That’s how you win. His record shall stand through the Ages, no matter what you do.
Of course, the Clown Corps valiantly rallied to His defense. In bold defiance of the absurd accusation that Dear Leader's words had incited the assault on the Capitol last week, veritable columns of Clowns upbraided their Esteemed Colleagues across the aisle for pursuing accountability instead of UNITY! Unity - the cry (silently) rang throughout the land (since the Clowns had been silenced, of course). We must have UNITY! And it would be so easy - you merely have to agree that Dear Leader won the elections afterall, shake hands, and let Viking Guy out of jail. Then we can get back to screaming about Radical Socialist Democrats on Fox News. (Speaking again of poor Viking Guy, Mommy Viking took to the airwaves [no silence for the fierce lioness defending her cub] to complain that Vike wasn't eating because his warders were not offering him a selection of the organic dishes everyone knows are the only acceptable form of sustenance for cosplay Vikings).
Laying an early claim to front runner status in the 2024 presidential sweeps, Vice Dear Leader stepped up and said nothing. Pivoting on a dime, proving that he hadn’t spent four years in supine silence for nothing, Vice showed that he and he alone was the master of the New Silence. He silently refused to speak out against the mob which had howled for his head the week before. He silently defended Dear Leader by doing nothing, and for this unfailing loyalty he was admitted back into The Presence on Monday. Your I. R. is given to understand it was a quiet conversation punctuated by long silences, as Dear Leader desultorily picked at his Whopper and super-sized fries, his Twitter finger twitching from enforced restraint, occasionally tossing a scrap down to the eagerly panting, silent Vice Dear Leader.
But this jollity aside, all thoughts turned to the planned Inaugural of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (how the fingers ache, Gentle Reader, as Y.I.R. is forced to type these cursed words). The forces of order, having failed spectacularly to prevent Dear Leader’s mob from running amok last week, are taking no chances this time. Rather than risk hundreds of thousands of rioting Biden supporters coming to town and ruining the Faithfuls’ day with the traditional scenes of inaugural celebration, twenty thousand soldiers and thousands of police officers of all description are being brought in to keep The Faithless at bay. No one ever said the forces of order were not capable of learning from their mistakes. Word was received just today at the Intrepid News Desk that the National Mall will be closed and the Faithless kept away from the Inauguration. At the Big House, Dear Leader permitted Himself one final, weary smile. Although denied His Ultimate Apotheosis, He’d at last be able to tell everybody – without crossing his stubby little fingers behind his back - that His was bigger than the other guy’s.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
As a child I definitely lived with delusions of grandeur. Not in a psychiatric sense, but as someone who has an inflated view of her own importance. This stems from childhood. When I was young, our family moved to a village which had a church named St Mary’s and St Margaret’s. My name is Mary and my younger sister is Margaret, so, naturally, I jumped to the conclusion it was our church. Named after my sister and me. It all worked out in my mind. Until my sister, Valerie, entered the scene and no-one changed the church name.
In the mid-1950s, my grandparents became housekeepers in a National Trust property. The National Trust had begun to look after historic places and countryside. The previous owner of the estate had been the driving force behind the National Trust Act of 1937. The Act enabled the first large-scale transfer of mansion houses to the Trust, in lieu of death duties. All of this was unbeknown to me. All I could see was that my grandparents had their own apartment, a whole floor of opulence. There was a cook who made delicious cakes for us when we visited. A library so vast there were ladders to access books on the top shelves. The garden was pure joy. There were no paying visitors, just my sisters and me running around in our best dresses. The garden was filled with a small army of gardeners. They cared for an orangery, parterre, peacocks who left their pretty feathers everywhere, a lake that stretched as far as the eye could see. There was a kitchen garden where a man wheeled produce into the kitchen for the cook to make even more plates of deliciousness. The gardeners always stopped to talk to my sisters and me, taking off their caps. This only served to reinforce my notion that my grandparents must be important people. I wished we could live there so my sisters and I could always play in this garden. I was eight before I found out that the National Trust was custodian of the estate and my grandparents were in service. Oh, the disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to play in the big garden forever. I wonder if Donald Trump is feeling something similar as his world continues to crash around him and his sense of his own importance plummets. Let us hope so.
No indoors visits are allowed at Barbara’s care home. No warm pod. Not even access to the back garden. Relatives and friends are allowed window visits only. The visitor stands at a window at the front of the house. The window remains locked. Faced with sleet and biting winds, for the first time, I cancel my visit this week. I ring Barbara but she can’t hear me. I feel guilty.
It’s Barbara’s 96th birthday on Tuesday. The usual arrangements have been made. Cake will be baked. With candles. People will sing happy birthday. However, unlike previous birthdays, none of this will involve me. I am unbelievably grateful that caring people will be with Barbara. But, oh how I wish it included me.
Most of us know the phrase, “a red sky in the morning, shepherds warning”. Early on Wednesday, the most crimson of colours filled the whole sky as the sun rose (see photograph). I shall remember the intensity forever. It was only there for a few brief minutes. According to the meteorological office, the appearance of a red sky most likely means that wet and windy weather will follow. Indeed it did. By mid-morning it was hailing. Later that day I hear that a raven is missing from the Tower of London. Isn’t this also a portent of disaster? Then again, I guess we don’t need any warning… it’s already happening!
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
Bougainvillea and Lemons
Bougainvillea and lemons both have thorns
And exact a blood sacrifice. Eve, stretching
To retrieve the bitter lemon from just
Beyond her reach felt the sharpness before
The droplet welled from the ball of her thumb;
Perhaps she pondered as she sucked it clean,
On the meaning of such guardianship,
The unnecessary spike hidden in plain sight.
Below, admiring her naked form, Adam plucked
A passing flower and too felt the sudden gasp
Of flesh briefly punctured by the bougainvillea’s
Papery blossom temptation. Determinedly he held
Aloft the blood-stained petals as, reaching back,
Eve’s hand and his briefly interlocked.
The rest they say is history.