Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
I can finally breathe! The election is over and despite anything being said to the contrary, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the next American President and Vice President. We stayed up late to watch them speak and I was so pleased we had.
That the United States has elected as president a man who wants to “unite rather than divide”, who wants to “lower the temperature”, and who openly embraces diversity is such an enormous relief. I was momentarily back at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008.
I was electrified by Kamala Harris who will become the first female, first Black and first Asian American Vice President. As she spoke, the camera moved through the crowd and stopped at a female face; she was Black, beaming and flooded in tears. I shared her tears of joy.
I have three sisters. We are Democrats - FemDems - and as you can see from the photograph we support strong women. Our shirts celebrate the persistence of Senator Elizabeth Warren who was temporarily expelled from the Senate by Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, for continuing to read a letter written by Coretta King which he felt violated Senate rules. His words became a rallying cry. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless she persisted.”
In the week after the election I found a photographic collage posted on Facebook with, on one side, the photographs/portraits of all previous US Vice Presidents - all old, white men. In contrast to these, on the right side was a full length photo of Kamala Harris looking strong, authoritative and almost electric with energy. A poster for all of America’s daughters.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
At rather an advanced age, I’ve just bought my first pair of ‘trainers’. Well, not trainers as such, but a walking shoe very much in that style - and believe I have stumbled across the reason for the universal popularity of a hideous fashion product: once worn in a bit, you can slip them on and off without undoing the laces. What joy! You (ie pretty well the rest of the world) were all right after all, I was wrong, trainers should be the footwear of choice for the lazy, or those whose corporation makes tying shoelaces a challenge. I fall into both camps. Between showers (and frequent snacks) I’m to be seen gambolling on my roof, righting the wrongs of property neglect wearing my trainers, positively flying up and down the ladders and scaffolding.
Covid deaths pass the 50,000 mark - or is it 73,000 - claiming on the way the Yorkshire Ripper, who at last did one decent thing by refusing treatment.
It seems the arrival of a vaccine ‘soon‘ is more of a reality to the point where priority for receiving it is announced - Care Home residents, Care Home staff, NHS in the first wave followed by descending age groups. JvTam says he’s told his mum (78) to be ready for The Call - and he wouldn’t do that to her if it wasn’t true, would he?
Meanwhile, back at No10 the big news is that someone no-one's ever heard of has resigned from a job no-one ever knew existed. We probably still wouldn't know if Chris Mason (BBC) hadn’t sniffed it out... and it gets better: turns out Carrie Symonds, long-suffering, new-mum Partner of Boris, and one time head of Public Relations at No 10, intervened when Lee Cain (for he is the subject of all this) was offered the role of Chief of Staff - she caused the offer to be retracted. So he’s had a hissy fit and resigned. Turns out he was a sort of Cummings #2. Apparently he was already pissed off that Allegra Stratton had been given the job of Downing Street Spokesperson, so it didn’t take much more to convince him his star may have waned. Or maybe he has a problem with powerful, intelligent women. There’s much speculation over the next 48 hours that Cummings #1 will follow in a sort of clear-out of ‘alternative’ influencers - and so it’s fitting that in an era he presided over where we learned much of what is to come in the days prior to it actually coming that sure enough, by Friday he confirms he’ll be off by Xmas. If not before.
It’s also confirmed not a single river in England is free of pollution - sewage, industrial chemical and agricultural pollution.
How did we allow this to happen?
James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Love defined the distance
between stars reflected in our pupils
and the atoms within kisses
breaking on the shoreline of our lips
contravening into an infinity of infinities
larger than a supercluster
smaller than a singularity
coexisting in that moment of fusion
we plunged indivisible into depth
words and cells blending
exploding in the wham bam nebula
emotional universe expanding
breaking the bondage of tolerance
ripping our blended self apart
our star imploding
forming a black hole in the void
light years distant between
the spiraling galaxies of ourselves.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
Today I’m counting my mostly first world trivial losses to covid:
No point ever wearing my slim trousers that tuck into my knee-high black leather boots really only worn for show; they have no traction. No point wearing anything only worn for show. There is no show now. No strangers met, or distant friends or lesser friends, except barely distinguishable over zoom.
There’s the not so trivial loss of not being able to travel to Western Australia for my aunt’s 97th birthday. Since we rediscovered each other five years ago I’ve travelled every November to visit. Two years ago she wanted to celebrate her 95th by going up in a helicopter and I was her lucky companion. (Her daughter was too scared!) I’ve never understood the attraction of those very expensive very short rides but I would go again immediately. It was spectacular. The shapes and coral shadows below the sea, the many blues, even the sharks. A rope of beach and then Perth, the city center with its couple of distinct building shapes. My aunt clutched my hand on her shoulder the whole ride while she, in the front, flirted with the pilot and was stunned by the beauty too. This year she’s planning a party on her patio. Her daughter ordered finger food, and I’m sorry not to be there, sorting out the kettle and the cups for those who want tea.
There are other lesser loses too. Covid closes in and I should get to the art supply shop to buy a sword brush while customers are still allowed. Art shops are not considered essential businesses, though one could argue they should be. And I’ll buy a gift certificate for the California couple who’ve been sheltering in Vermont and have to return home soon. In the meantime, worried about the ability of the Supreme Court (newly transformed into its most retrograde conservative manifestation) to walk back the Equality of Marriage Act, they abruptly got married.
Then B and I can’t drive to Ithaca, in New York State, where we own a house, because the Vermont Governor says undertake only essential travel, and he may be the only Republican politician I trust. He’s guided the state well through the virus crisis, and he admitted he voted for Biden. I wouldn’t vote Republican myself, and I disagree with him about almost everything, but I do what he tells me to do to about the virus. And anyway I wasn’t exactly itching to drive eight hours to Ithaca with no-where safe to stop to pee or buy a sandwich. But I did look forward to seeing our friends even if it meant shivering in the snow in the garden, six feet apart. I am itching to go somewhere and now there is, yet again, no where to go. So damn virus. That’s where I am today. Probably tomorrow will be a better day.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
Hello all! I hope you’re well and life is being as good as it can be in these strange days.
Another week passes and here we are - in lockdown two. This time - lockdown feels very different. With schools, garden centres and hardware stores still open, there’s more traffic on the roads and more people out and about. In this corner of Suffolk we have had some rather nice weather for November - a relief from the utter greyness and rain of October. People seem resigned to mask wearing in shops and social distancing generally and there’s a feeling of resolution. Of course, the news about the development of a vaccine has lifted spirits - even with the very parental “don’t get your hopes up too high” warnings from politicians.
In the garden, our days are taken up with bulb planting and leaf raking and generally tidying up. Our crabapple trees are full of fruits this year. Beautiful reds and orange colours. Coffee outdoors isn’t as comfortable when the weather is cooler and everywhere is damp but I’m still enjoying getting outside as much as possible. Today I’ve yellow trumpet daffodil bulbs to plant and a nameless shrub a neighbour has given me.
We still have our “foster” dog here - it feels like she is like an evacuee - but she has settled in well and seems to be enjoying a very different life. I hope she doesn’t put on too much weight while she’s here with us. Our little Jack Russell looks colossal beside her slim, trim and nimble body. Oh yes. Some more news about dogs. We have the possibility of getting another Jack Russell pup - but it is only a whisper so far - so I mustn’t get ahead of myself!
I read a very interesting online article about President Trump. It tells us we must show compassion to him as his world is now crumbling, his glory gone, his reign complete. Would he do the same I wonder? Would he show compassion and respect for others? The article suggests he would not be capable. What’s the line I keep hearing in my head - “last chance lost in the tyranny of a long goodbye”. Apparently there is a denial rally going on somewhere with some Republicans carrying “We Won” banners and proclaiming victory. It is not over. Where is that fat lady singer when you need her? Unsettling.
At home - I read that there’s more reshuffling among the advisers and Klingons at number 10. Internet news informs me that Cummings will probably be gone by Christmas. Hmmm what a nuisance... I’d already written out his Christmas card. Has anyone seen the new Spitting Image series? I think this time it is only available on subscription channels. All the same, clips keep appearing on my YouTube feed. Priti Patel has been morphed into a vampire queen puppet. Looks like she is fresh from the Addams family show! Perhaps that is what British politics is now - a spin-off from the Addams show!
Anyhow, enough of my ramblings for now. Stay safe and well. Until next time x
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,-
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
Emily Dickinson 1862
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
What joy! Trump ousted by Biden. The world breathes a collective sigh of relief. Then, on Monday, hopes that the end of the pandemic is in sight are boosted when Pfizer announces that their vaccine trials have been successful. By Wednesday I am greedily looking around for a third piece of positive world news.
As a young woman setting up home for the first time, every stick of furniture and many household appliances were second hand. Except the bed. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in someone else’s bed. Odd really as I stay in hotels, at friends or family. When sons, nephews and nieces moved out to university or to live independently, a collection of household bits and pieces was accumulated. Started by the eldest, the assortment was added to and passed down the line as the next one left home. Cutlery, chairs, linen, desk, iron. And a vacuum cleaner that always smelled of Charlie the dog that eldest niece had.
A few weeks ago my aunt asked me to sell her house and its contents. The house sale has (so far) proved relatively trouble free. We have a buyer within ten days. But selling or giving away the contents is another matter. Friends, family, auctioneer and charities offer advice. I try them all. However, much of Barbara’s possessions are just old, and without fire-retardant labels most will have to go to land-fill. I cannot tell Barbara. And then I realise that there has been a third piece of positive news… Biden has pledged to tackle climate change. Even if the President-elect can only start the ball rolling, we can pass on a more sustainable world to our children and grandchildren. I will make a more concerted effort to try and find homes for Barbara’s possessions.
This week has marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Known as the DDA, most will not have heard of it as it was replaced by the Equality Act 2010. But the DDA was the important legislation. The culmination of years of public campaign by disabled people and charities. Brendan was one of those people. Unable to live independently as landlords and local authority could discriminate against him, Brendan chained himself to railings outside the House of Commons. Once the DDA was enacted, Brendan was able to live independently until his death in 2008. My friend T is on local radio this week to talk about the DDA and his experiences since March this year. T says that barriers remain to disabled people’s ability to participate in many areas of life. Steps taken by the government since the end of March have already seen some of our Human Rights revoked. Will our exit from the European Union on December 31 lead to more erosion? Article 14 includes the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of disability. It would be tragic if Brendan’s struggle in the early 1990s has to be fought all over again.
My first visit to my aunt since the government banned all visitors from inside residential homes did not go as planned. Pods are being created in care-home gardens around the country. The pod at Barbara’s home is a two-sided gazebo, showerproof but not rainproof and certainly not windproof. Resident stays inside the building; visitor in the pod outside. Visitors are still asked to wear PPE [plastic gloves, apron and visor]. No warm gloves for me. The only comfort was a table and chair. For covid-safe cleaning, both were metal and freezing cold. At least the thermal gloves come in handy as a cushion. But where is the promised PA system? Seems the equipment has not arrived. A window is left ajar in lieu of a PA system. Swathed in a blanket, Barbara is confused. She keeps asking “Why?” I have no answer. Barbara cannot hear so everything has to be written on a wipe-board. In a hasty performance as a valetudinarian, Barbara worries about draughts and asks for the window to be closed! Now, I can’t hear a word she says. I write on the wipe-board “This is fun!” Barbara shakes her head. What I want to say is “This is inhumane”. Instead I write, “I love you”.
Living next door to a farm gives me a distinctive connection to the seasons that I would never have acquired had I stayed living in cities or towns. Each Autumn, the farm’s barns are transformed into animal hotels. The animals move in for the winter to be waited on hand and hoof. Lobo, the bull, is reunited with his five cows. He is very happy. The calves, now nine months old, move to another farm nearby. Just over my back fence, a sleek thoroughbred whinnies and whickers as he takes up residence in his new stable. The stable is perfect. With a few sprigs of holly and ivy, it would look like something out of a nativity scene. Perhaps he should be a donkey. The sheep are close by too. All are ewes, anticipating the birth of their lambs in early Spring. Something I always look forward to; less so the farmer who knows she will spend weeks being midwife day and night. Having been rudely taken from their lush green pastures, some of my new neighbours are not happy. For a few days there is much noise as they all settle down. A farm dog sniffs around to check all is well. It is. We will all keep each other sane during the strange months ahead as we wait to get back to some sense of normality. It is comforting to have them close by.
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
She was rather bossy and shouty from behind her mask at a two metre distance. “Put it in the clear envelope, take off the foil strip and seal it down.” To be fair, she was probably fed up of repeating the same sentences over and over again. “Now sanitise your hands, put your mask back on and follow me.” She gave very clear instructions and was very efficient. I deposited the package in the plastic box and was told I would have a result within 48 hours.
Surprisingly the result was negative. My boss felt unwell towards the end of last week and at the weekend tested positive for coronavirus. I started to stress about all the people I had come in contact with... customers, my brother, my sister... Would I inadvertently infect the cast of Coronation Street??!
We work closely together in a small space, touching the till, credit card machine, even the same scissors sometimes. I was convinced that I too would test positive. We are currently in a second month long lockdown, having just opened upstairs in the shop to customers only recently. The Wednesday before we had to close to the public on the Thursday was extremely busy in the shop, it was nice to have a bit of a buzz. We are just deciding whether to offer a click and collect service. There’s still so much traffic on the roads, it doesn’t feel like the last time.
Grace is home for a few weeks before starting a new job at the end of the month, so after I got my all clear we went shopping for a Christmas tree! (Garden centres are allowed to stay open). The little fir is now fully illuminated and bedecked with a melange of sparkly baubles and vintage trinkets. We shared a bottle of Prosecco and played Christmas tunes, then watched the film Elf. “There’s nothing else to do” said Grace when I said it may be a tad early.
There’s lots of speculation as to whether the lockdown will lift by the 2nd of December. A family member manages a large pub in York, and her bosses have hinted to her not to expect to open before Christmas! The hospitality industry and small independent shops are missing out on all the pre festive trade. I don’t want Amazon and supermarkets to have all the customers.
I listened to Joe Biden speaking and thought he sounded sincere, inspiring and charismatic. Then I realised that that’s what a president is supposed to sound like!! I hope he brings the American people together, it was wonderful to see Kamala Harris appointed as Vice President. I haven’t watched the news reports recently, so not sure where we’re up to here with Boris and the latest infection rates etc. Just enjoying the ignorance for now.
Keep well everyone xxxxxxxxx
Hello from Eastbourne
Rememberance Day during COVID - Franklin
On Rememberance Day, before COVID, the entire school would go outside to the playground and the prefects would give a speech. We did this regardless of the weather conditions. We would then observe a two minute silence. We couldn't do that this year due to social distancing and the ban on large gatherings. Instead, the teacher paused the lesson at 11am. We stood up and observed the silence.
I preferred going outside with the entire school. It felt more respectful.
Some years ago, there was a national project for Remembrance, it was called 14-18, the Letter to the Unknown Soldier. The Unknown Soldier is a statue at Paddington station. Everyone was invited to write a letter to him and mum got Marli and I to join in. I wrote mine and mum typed it up but Marli couldn't write yet so she told mum what to write. I was six and Marli was three and a half. She was the youngest person in the country to contribute. Mum wrote one and she told my grandma about it so she wrote one too. It's a monument of words rather than a statue and I like the idea because it expresses how people feel.
Armistice Day during COVID 19 - Marli
Before COVID 19, the entire school would observe two minutes of silence on Armistice Day in the playground. We would stand in straight lines next to each other. The British Legion would set up a charity stall and we could buy poppies, poppy key rings and things like that.
We still had the charity stall and we were allowed to buy poppies. I also bought a wrist band and a poppy keyring for my book bag. However, it was a different type of Remembrance service this year. At 11am, the teacher put on the television so we could watch the service with the royal family in London. Everyone was silent for two minutes in the classroom.
Afterwards, we had to draw a picture of what we thought of when we thought of Remembrance. I drew an enormous poppy with graves surrounded by other poppies. It's unfinished.