23/08/2020

Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

Here we are, nearly at the end of August. Still here just north of New York City. I have just come in from grocery shopping. I still bring the food home and wash and disinfect everything I can. It still takes me about five hand washings to get through unpacking the groceries. I still have a “holding area” like everyone around here… a place where incoming packages can be put for a couple of days to make sure they aren’t infected. I don’t know if I need to continue to do that but so many of us do do that.  

 

Wren, my dog, and I still get up at 5am when it is still dark, to go for our long hikes on the Rockefeller trails. We make an early start to avoid seeing many people. For a long while I did this without a mask because, as I said, there are hardly any people out there and the trails are about 10 feet wide so it has been easy to distance oneself. However most of the people I had been passing were wearing masks, and it began to make me feel guilty for not wearing one. So…. I started to put one on when I would see someone coming and I noticed a much friendlier greeting. I realized it wasn’t just the act of wearing a mask for protection. Mask wearing also stands as a symbol of community compassion and effort. This county - Westchester County - had been so heavily infected and most people have worked so hard following health experts’ advice to make it a safer, more virus free place. The efforts have paid off…we hardly have any infections. I realized that to have a mask is also a show of solidarity and a symbol that I do care. People look at non-mask wearers as followers of our horrific president. 

 

I don’t know anyone over here who has gone on a “normal” holiday. I don’t know anyone who has been on a plane in the last number of months. But yesterday, I spoke with a London friend who had just returned from a holiday in Italy... both in the country and in Rome. She, of course, flew there. She said she felt safe the entire time. There were constant announcements on the flight about how the plane had been cleaned. There were spaces between seats. Italy felt empty, she said. Hardly any tourists. Most of them were Italians. There were NO Americans. She went to galleries and churches and there were no crowds. She saw so much more than she would have seen in “normal” times. She and friends dined out at cafes. Never did she worry. She had a fantastic time. She lived her life. I was envious, and yet, if I think about traveling, I feel such anxiety. 

 

I wonder how and when I will be able to cross the line between being careful and staying as safe as I can, to returning to an outer world life where I take some chances and don’t feel the need to think ahead about safety all the time.

23/08/2020

Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

I watched a video of Mindy Kaling making masala dosas for Kamala Harris on You Tube.

It immediately transported me to the open hearth of our kitchen in my childhood home in Trivandrum. The photo below was taken in a toddy shop outside Cochin, just to give you an idea of what our kitchen looked like sixty years ago.

The urad dal and rice used for the dosas were pounded by a lady who was employed to come and do just that. The picture shows wooden rice pounders found in Chettinad but ours was a shorter version in granite.

I bought my dosa tawa (slightly curved cast iron pan dedicated for dosas only) from a specialist in the Madurai market. Mine weighs three kilos but can't be used in Norway on my induction cooktop as it’s slightly curved. 

Kalyani, our cook would then grind the dal and rice together with water and salt to make a thin batter and leave it to rise overnight. The photo below was taken from Alamy on the net.

We then pour the batter onto it and make a dosa, just like pancakes. Filled with a dry potato curry, it’s eaten with tomato chutney, coconut chutney and a vegetable curry called a sambar. Divine! 

 

When I went back to Singapore at the age of seven, Komala Vilas (KV) on Serangoon road was our go to for our dosa fix. My mother had difficulty boiling an egg, let alone dosas. 

Our Singaporean prime minister took Modi for lunch at KV’s. There are posher places but KV is iconic. They did not eat dosas, sadly. 

Picture taken from the Singapore Straits Times.  

Nobody ate with their hands, a terrible faux pas. Noodles are eaten with chopsticks, steak with a fork and knife, south Indian food with the fingers. Rigorous hand washing before and after, eat with the right hand only, no licking of fingers, only the tips of the fingers and not the palm of your hand. Avoid smearing food on cheek and chin. Burping and slurping is allowed. I adore being contrary and eating curry with my hands in mixed company. It never fails to shock and cause dismay because everyone assumes I’m so Westernised. I’m not. It’s perfectly acceptable for me not to know how to eat an artichoke, butter a roll, turn a soup bowl outwards and not be conversant with fifteen pieces of cutlery and five different wine and liqueur glasses at dinner. I am an Indian villager. I only use my hands. It’s so liberating.  

 

Picture credit: NDTV.com

Do watch Mindy and Kamala. I love Mindy because she is a dark, generously proportioned Indian woman (like moi) who walks to her own drumbeat and has managed a modicum of success in the USA. Ironically, she would have been discriminated against in Bollywood for not being fair enough, tall enough, thin enough or Western enough in her looks.  

I cried a little when I watched the video. Communing over dosas.  

 

I’ve decided to look for a flat thirteen-centimeter dosa pan and a reputable ready made dosa mix. My inner sloth has decided against doing it from scratch. There are no dosas available in my neck of the woods so I’m going to improvise. In my impoverished youth, I used to repair occasionally to Ragam’s in Fitzrovia for the best Kerala food. It was a hole in the wall and very authentic. I looked it up today and it’s looking very swish. I hope the quality hasn’t changed. Nowadays, when I visit London, I eat dosas at Ganapati’s in Peckham. What a dosa journey it’s been. Trivandrum to Peckham!!!

Picture taken from Ganapati Pecham IG page

23/08/2020

My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Oh dear what a time to be old

The weather`s depressing 

And the governments getting more bold

At treating bad the young and the old

 

I never heard of algorithms

When I was at school

The youth of today are strong

And the fight back has started quite bold

Good for them I behold

 

Working class children are better educated today

This government does`t like it I say

So their trying another tactic for sure

At dismissing their knowledge thats good

For they know that the youth of today 

Can see through all what they do and say

 

Covid 19 has seen to all that

Perhaps some good has come out of all that.

So rise up you children a fightback is needed

Corona virus has taught us a lot

Of the incompetence of the wealthy lot

Who are  only interested in their own greedy gain

 

A fairer society is whats needed now

As the young have had their eyes opened wide

No more will they believe this government lies

They will remember this for the rest of their lives

Rise up you kids its a wonderful time  

To fight for whats yours by right.

 

I am still in my own isolation and it's getting me down. My children come and do me wonderful things. But soon I am on my own again. 21 weeks and counting more. I keep wondering how much more can this go on for.

I suppose it's got nothing to do with corona 19 at all for me. It's normal when you've just lost your beloved one. I've just memories to look back on thats good. And mull over the good times and bad. Photos around that bring a tear.

 

The TV gives us news good and bad. with some wonderful nature program's the best of the rest. I am getting so depressed and fat, so I reach out for some sweets to combat that. Obese my health has become. Oh dear, so I eat some more chocolate and Ice cream, that saves the day once more. Then I rock in my chair and mull over that.

I don't want to clean the house, whats' the point, no one's around to see all the untidy mess and dust. So I make a space on the table to eat tea instead of eating it on my knee.

 

Oh good, things are looking up today.

A got a call from a friend, a commission I got for a painting of mine. So must shake myself and clear all the mess. To make more mess with paints and brushes. A fun watercolor she wants. Don't forget she says I am not a millionaire. Bold colours she wants, well I do like her choice. So I sit in my chair and do a quick sketch something like she wanted me to do and I mull over that. With my pyjamas still on. Oh dear I have to get out of this scene. I don't even want to walk up the lane anymore and see my little owl and the wonderful green.

 

My garden is getting so overgrow and wild like my hair thats been cut by me. Well I do keep myself clean I wash my clothes and pots after tea. That's a job I never had to do before, My husband always did that little chore. I think I will tell him off as he sits in his box on the shelf. Why didn't I go first and leave him by himself. My daughters say he wouldn't have coped by himself, but am I coping without him yet? The nights are drawing in now and I don't look forward to winter alone. Even today the mist obscures my view. Good job it rained heavy yesterday as I have too many pots to water outside and I dont even want to do that.

 

Yesterday I got a terrible shock.  

My lovely daughter's new dog got attacked when she had him on the lead by an American bull dog whose owner couldn't control it all, and although this person had his dog on a lead it pulled free and went into attack aggressively. My daughter was pulled to the ground in the rain and mud. All the chap did was say sorry a lot it was a rescue dog that he was trying to train. She asked him for his details or phone number to no avail. So she went home stressed for the rest of the day. Had to bath her dog with all the mud and spit and clean the wound on his leg that will need a vet. 

We informed the police but I dont know what they can do with no detail of the owners at all.

We thought it best in case it bites someone else. It could be a child. Lets hope not.

23/08/2020

Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Note To A Friend

 

Yo!

 

Laid out on a grid a hundred million skyscrapers lockstep toward the silicon horizon. Back aching I break my bond with the nanoscale and stand, stretching out my back.

    Mess and order exist in approximate balance in my lab. Black equations on electronic whiteboards settle on walls, each storing googleplexes of data held weightless in acres of memory farms.

    My old pal, Fred Nietzsche, wrote: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” When I first read this I must admit to crying. It is so poignant and redolent with truth, an image so condensed I imagine it must make poets want to give up. 

    Imagination launches me, breaking the planetary hold, taking me to Luminous Blue Variables (LBVs) burning in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Have I told you about them? I was talking to an astrophysicist over tea some years ago and I mentioned LBVs. He asked me to describe them. I protested: “What me? A mere coder? You must be joking!” Anyway, he liked what I said. An LBV is a very ancient, rare, variable star. A variable star is one whose brightness and physical make-up changes, often explosively. In the final phase of life the massive evolved star can appear 2.5 million times brighter than the sun. Without warning LBVs chuck out inordinate amounts of matter and light into the universe. During their death throes in periods sometimes as short as 10-20 years - the blink of a cosmic thought — an LBV will go from quiescent to as bright as a supernova, shedding mass at astonishing rates. These ancient stars die when they blow apart with unimaginable force. There is now a glimpse of possible evidence that at the very end they might collapse in on themselves and form a black hole.

    I like that cosmic chaos, a violent, tortured explosive nature that churns out the building blocks of stars, galaxies, is necessary for the creation of beauty, consciousness, us. Nature produces its own dancing stars in the massive disruptions evolving in its cosmic womb.

    It’s all out there seen in my radio telescope and in my electron microscope. It is in here in neurons and intricate mechanical structures: code and effect, proteins and electrons, out there in solar systems and galaxies all acting in unison. But then we share all this, my friend, the revelation that we are indivisible from the universe that created us, and the minuscule atoms of stardust that build us. I like to believe that our matter will one day be ejected from a Luminous Blue Variable to begin the journey again.

    Anyway, I go on, stating the obvious with inadequate language. But shortly what is in my mind will be transferred to yours, invisibly, without touch or sound, arriving in your mind at the speed of light, plugged into your dynamic memories. The everyday is such a miracle, isn’t it?

    I write this to you, sitting in the lap of the universe, looking out at a curtain of stars falling to the horizon. We seek and admire and strive for order, but it’s the zygote of chaos that births tranquility.

    Anyway, forgive my ramblings. I wish you could be here with me, looking out over the stark beauty into the ocean of the universe breaking on the shores at my feet, twinkling with the blue of creation.

    At the moment there is nothing much else to report from the checkerboard of Noctis Labyrinthus, and my home in Mars Research Outstation Zeta.

    Trust all is well with you, dear Earthling.

    Miss you in the silence and stillness.

    Signing off with enduring love.

Image: Luminous blue variable AG Carinae as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Processing by Judy Schmidt.

23/08/2020

Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

Bumbling Boris has got the nation’s back up again, this time with the fiasco regarding A level results which saw thousands of students marked down when a computer algorithm estimated their grades. The government has since apologised and reverted back to teachers assessments. No sign of Boris on any news coverage, apparently he’s on holiday camping in Scotland, according to Janet and Coleen on Loose Women.

I completely missed the deadline for the journal entries last week, I got all my days mixed up. We had two weddings to do the flowers for at the shop, so we were quite busy. It would also have been my mum’s 75th birthday. (She died 15 years ago of cancer). So as is tradition, we raised a glass to her memory and legacy. My mum didn’t live what you would call ‘a big life’. She didn’t win any awards, wasn’t famous for anything. She was a people person with a kind heart. She loved poetry, ancient history and the arts. So, my fellow journalists, I will tell you a little bit about her here so that when our writings are archived she will be immortalised.

My mum’s dad wouldn’t let her go to art college. He insisted she ‘get a trade’, so she went to catering college instead and became a hospital cook before she was married. That’s probably why we children were encouraged by her to ‘follow our dreams’ and to ‘give things a go’. I went to art college and studied fashion. My sister (who always wanted to be an actress) went to Oldham Theatre Workshop, and had her first professional job alongside Thora Hird in In Loving Memory when she was 14.

My mum was the least judgmental person I’ve ever known, sometimes annoyingly so. Welcoming and feeding all our creative, expressively dressed friends. You can imagine the eclectic mix of hairstyles and outfits worn by fellow students gathered around the kitchen table for potato pie!! It was the early 80’s and Boy George was all the rage. I left home at 18 to live in London and work as a fashion designer. I looked about 12 and was totally naive. Although my mum was a cook, she never taught us to cook. There were no mobile phones then, long chatty letters were the main source of communication, and I still have some of the letters my mum wrote relaying all the mundane goings on of every day family life. I treasure these hand written gossipy notes. Her voice jumps from the pages reading her words as she would have said them “Oh, Jane did I tell you who I saw on the bus the other day?” and “Well, you’ll never guess what... don’t let on I’ve told you, she will think I’m a right blabber mouth!”

She believed in the power of prayer and loved a good hymn sing. I was moved to see so many people at her funeral, some I’d never even met. “I didn’t know you knew my mum” I said to the market greengrocer, outside the church. “Oh, she’s been coming to our stall to get college supplies for years” (she worked at a catering college) “She always had a laugh and a chat, such a lovely lady, I’ll miss seeing her”.

I remembered that conversation as we raised our glasses in memory and also later when I read this:

Your impact may never be known to you.

It may sit in the hearts of those who wouldn’t be the same without you.

Someone is truly thankful for you,

They say it in their prayers, in their affirmations,

They write you down in their gratitude journals...

 

By Adrian Michael Green. 

How beautiful is that? His poetry speaks to the soul, I discovered him on Instagram and am sure my mum would have loved his words as much as I do.

Hope you’ve all had a good week, keep well, and a very happy birthday to Sheila, (who totally coincidentally has the same name as my mum!) 
Enjoy your celebrations! Xxxx

23/08/2020

Mary's Musings

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

In 1993 in a small garage in the heart of Lyon France, an old-style wardrobe was renovated by its owner by gluing on bits of coloured paper. A new idea had been conceived. The gluing even has a name: Décopatch or Decoupatch.  

 

No matter how it is spelled, I have spent almost two hours gluing bits of paper onto a tray. A friend has set up online décopatch craft sessions. These have been incredibly popular, especially for people shielding, people with dementia and for people living with depression or stress. Then there’s folk who just want to relax and switch off for a while. Friend has been contacted by carers and other support groups and, this week, a TV producer has shown interest. I have neither dementia nor a mental health need. My attempt at décopatch was purely time to catch-up with my friend who lives some distance away. However, I confess that the craft work has been completely and utterly relaxing.

 

Friend’s craft sessions are likely to get even more popular as, according to a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics, nearly one in five adults experienced depression in June. This was double those with symptoms in the nine months up to March. What about students and younger children, whose education has been interrupted since March? What about GCSE and A level students who have had needless stress imposed upon them? What a fiasco the education secretary has made of exam results... although he, in turn, is blaming the exam boards. Take your pick who you believe. Our collective sympathy must go to the hundreds of thousands of GCSE and A level students who have been reduced to political pawns throughout this debacle. Forty percent of A Level students had results downgraded due to an algorithm developed by the Government’s examination regulator OFQUAL Students then spent a week trying to navigate through universities clearing system or appealing their grades before the government finally capitulated. 

 

Financially, it’s been a triple whammy this week. With incredible precision I pinged a stone with a strimmer straight through a window; changing a light bulb disclosed some dodgy wiring and; my front door fell to pieces – well in fairness it has been heading that way for a couple of years. So, a variety of trades-people have been invited round. All have been experienced and professional; all have required access to my home. Not one has arrived with a face mask or showed any indication of being able to socially distance. Hey ho...

 

On a lighter note, since early summer, dusk has been a time to look forward to, a time when two pipistrelle bats swoop and dive in the garden catching moths and gnats and other flying insects. I shall miss them more than ever this winter. Next year, even more insect-friendly plants and flowers will be added to the garden; the pipistrelles will need lots of food after their winter hibernation. Lockdown has made many of us so much more aware of our surroundings; for that I am forever grateful.

23/08/2020

Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

It's Thursday and the weather has changed in time for our eagerly awaited outdoor meeting this afternoon with our local Amnesty group, the first since February. We may have to wrap up warm, however, as the sunshine is accompanied by a stiff breeze. 

 

It's been an interesting week. Happily, the government performed a U-turn over the exam results because they hardly had a choice in the face of huge pressure from all quarters. Grades have been put back in the hands of teachers, the obvious solution. B-Tec results still aren't out but will be released sometime next week. Unsurprisingly, the Minister hasn't resigned and is no doubt passing the blame on to Ofqual. The Health Minister has also managed to stay in his job and has scrapped Public Health England, presumably they will be blamed for the poor handling of the coronavirus crisis. This is still apparently the wrong time for an independent public enquiry. The Home Secretary is still missing the point about migrants crossing the Channel and promises to get the French to handle the problem, while mouthing platitudes about the poor Sudanese boy who drowned yesterday, so she still has a job. However, many thousands of people in the country now don't have a job and this can only deteriorate, which is a very sad situation for all. Boris is on holiday.

 

We continue to watch events in the USA with incredulity. While the Democrats are having virtual rallies and trying to rouse the population remotely, the President continues to hold unmasked mass gatherings, while attempting to disrupt the electoral process by removing post boxes and cutting overtime for postal workers. You couldn't make it up. 

 

Our stray homing pigeon continues to give us pleasure. We have also had parades of partridges going by the front of the house, which is always entertaining. A group of partridges is called a covey, new word learnt! We didn't see any at our old house, it was a revelation to see all these funny little birds with their red legs running around. Yesterday a red kite flew very low right outside the house, they are amazing creatures. It's lovely when you're out driving and you see one flying alongside the car.

 

This is a quick entry as we have a busy day. Many happy returns to Sheila and thanks again for this lovely journal. I hope the Macrae children will write for us this week, I missed them last time, such energy and lovely writing! Health, hope and happiness to all our readers and writers.

23/08/2020

Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans

EN ROUTE

 

Time has entered

the inside lane,

 

its rear-view mirror

a cracked glass.

 

Moving ahead

at a steady pace

 

it trusts in our patience

as we follow on.

 

Whether we share

a common destination

 

or are planning to take

a different route

 

becomes one and the same

when it turns around

 

to steal a quick glance

over its shoulder.

23/08/2020

Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

The week starts with some good news in these Coronavirus Journal days: for the third week running, new daily cases reported via the C-19 Covid Symptom Study website - 4 million contributing - have decreased, down through 1800’s to 1600’s and now 1434. And this despite increased testing. Despite crazy crowding too at beaches and other natural gathering places. At one of our local pubs, the Maltsters at Ranworth, next to the Broad and a popular staithe it was crammed with boats, cars, outside eaters and drinkers, family picnics on the green and if possible, busier than I have seen it in 14 years. We collected an unadventurous icecream from the little cafe nearby and selected an unfashionable single bench in the shade away from everyone then slipped away trying not to inhale on the 50m walk back to the car.

Actually, “despite increased testing” has to be qualified: it emerged from the ONS that 1.3 million tests have had to be dropped from quoted figures as they were double counted - postal tests counted when sent out and again when received at a lab. 

 

The weekend furore over ‘flawed’ computer generated ‘A’ level results and the contradictory advice given by the Minister and OfQual (the body responsible) regarding appeal - which resulted in their website being ‘pulled’ - is aggravated ahead of this week’s GCSE results by Northern Ireland joining Scotland in allowing teacher review. At this moment (Monday) it is expected the algorithm employed will be ‘recalibrated’ to mark more generously for both sets. I believe Thursday is official results day for GCSE’s but results will be in at the schools Wednesday with a 24hour embargo. They’ll have to move pretty smartly...

 

Later the same day... well, smartly indeed: first the Welsh education lot caved and joined Scotland and Ireland, then by 4.30 an announcement from Govt - all A level and GCSE results will be school-assessed. Previously, it had been conceded that no-one would find their results lowered as a result of resubmission to the mighty computer if that were to happen. It’s confirmed grades will only go up (or, presumably stay the same) following Teacher/School assessment. Unfortunately, in the meantime places at Unis have largely been filled by those with acceptable results (the majority, it turns out, maybe as many as 75%) so those relying on a ‘second chance‘ may have missed their chosen boat. 

In some ways it quite makes you wonder why the centuries-old exam approach is still the norm. Why put kids through it? Just because we had to? If an algorithm/school assessment is good enough this year, ffs keep it in place, save the anguish.

Wednesday: some Unis are apparently considering following Durham’s approach: offer a cash incentive to those without places but acceptable regrades if they’ll wait a year. What a shambles.

 

A shambles is what we’re hoping to avoid for this weekend’s barely-legal gathering for Sheila’s Birthday celebration. My timetabled list of things to do is getting checked off nicely and includes some installations that will have a useful life afterwards. Something more ephemeral is the 36 pints of Woodford’s Wherry I picked up from the brewery today (Thursday) with the reassurance that the shop is open over the weekend for fresh supplies during pub hours. Sheila has her case of Malbec. The rain is set to stop and the sun set to shine. Game on!

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