Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
Michael and I have been in a semi quarantine thanks to an inadvertent possible exposure. Michael had contact with someone who had contact with someone else who may have had contact... I know... it’s several degrees of separation but everyone was concerned. And all those who came before Michael were tested and came up negative. We were not allowed to have the test because of the degree of separation and due to no symptoms. But just to be sure, we reigned ourselves in this past week. It was odd... brought the worry back closer than it has been for a little while and was a reminder that vigilance is always important. Since New York had improved we relaxed a bit. I guess we need to keep up our ways of safety.
From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
This was one of those weeks that occur once every year, but the first time I have celebrated a birthday in quarantine. The calls and birthday singing began at 7:20 am and continued into the evening with facetime visits, email greetings and phone calls from friends and relatives. Some lovely cards and presents arrived in the mail ~ books, which are my favorite, and a wonderful LED headlamp for close hand-work, a much needed pie tin (my favorite one rusted after I used it under a big house plant). It was awfully hot and humid, so I was quite happy to stay indoors by the fan though I did make a very nice bbq supper and even a fresh fruit pie with a candle in the middle. Some family members offered to drive three hours to visit me, willing to give up their lovely Sunday morning at the ocean and their sailing races in the afternoon, but really, sitting outside in my garden in the heat wasn’t very appealing to any of us ~ though they would have kindly come if I had wanted the company. By the end of the day, my face was almost sore from all the smiling, laughing and talking and I was quite happy for a little p&q and my book and to find I had made it to another year.
One wonders, at least I do, will there be more or is this the last one. My mother died in her early 50’s and my father in his 40’s and one never knows what the gene pool has in store for us. I have gotten used to this quiet way of life and have found so much to enjoy and treasure in these passing days of spring into summer. I wonder will things remain this way into the autumn and winter months ~ from news reports the cities which have opened up are shutting down again with a resurgence of Covid cases and I am in no hurry to get out and about though I do miss so many things ~ going to visit friends who live in other states, restaurants and museums and Tanglewood for picnics and music on the lawn. But I am also very wary and will wait and see what happens.
Plum, my gentle 4 year old Black Labrador, has come down with lymes. How patiently and quietly animals cope with an illness and how frustrating not to be able to tell her not to worry for she will feel better soon. Despite being on very good and supposedly effective oral medication to kill ticks and mosquitos she has gotten it anyway. Our vet said this summer has been particularly bad for lymes and that they are seeing so many cases in the dogs and cats. Well, Plum has been on doxycycline for a week now, and at least she is able to get up again! She (and Dickens, too) have gotten lots of special treats to keep their minds off Plum’s aches and pains ~ lovely marrow bones from the butcher ~ which last for ages, hotdog nibbles and pieces of cheddar cheese ~ and dollops of yogurt in with their meals to help keep healthy bacteria in their intestines.
My heart went out to David H last week when I read about his son’s anniversary and how difficult it is. The days leading up to these anniversaries are the worst, at least for me, and once the day passes, the awful shocking pain of it which one seems to relive subsides somewhat and life continues, as it will do.
Everyone’s journal entry has touched me, amused and interested me ~ Bravo for Marli’s brother for figuring out that tricky puzzle ~ I hope we get to see his lego dinosaur when it is done!
Elspeth’s embroidered short gown is done ~ now what will I make next?
John Underwood, Norfolk
Out and about
We have been out in our boat for a couple of days and nights, and I am writing this in the early morning looking out on a clouded sky and calm water. If the word police twisted my arm behind my back and forced me to describe the surface as glassy, I would say cheap and murky 1970’s bathroom window just about sums it up. We are moored up on a staithe off the river Thurne close to a pub. This is no accident, as we have visited before for food and beer, and the loos are 11 out of 10, which is quite important when you are sharing your accommodation with a porta- potti which nestles, (no, squats would be a better word) in a small cupboard that is almost but not quite tall enough for me to stand up in if I bend myself backwards. I hope that the pictures now in your head are not too distressing. The pub does take away food and drink which you can order online, and collect at a pre-determined time. You arrive, queue in a very English kind of way (“we are standing here but not paying any notice to this distance thing, we just happen to be vaguely six feet apart and not really looking at each other”), sanitise your hands and speak muffled words through your mask in reply to the muffled words of the staff member who is triaging you. I am the only customer wearing a mask and I get a few slightly curious glances but not any hostility to melt my snowflake persona. My muffled words result in two take-away scampi and chips in boxes, and two pints in a plastic milk bottle container which does nothing to spoil the flavour of the beer. Beer. Ahhhh. Aaahhhh.
This lunch felt like a significant step forward, although you couldn’t describe it as normality. I felt strange about the whole process, but I can see that this might become the way we have to do things in the future for a long while.
Our boat was called “Ishtar” by her previous owner, which sounds like a loud sneeze to us. I want to say “bless you” every time I hear the name. We are too lazy to change it and it seems a leeetle bit churlish to rename the boat, as if it had a sense of its own being. As if SHE had a sense of HER own being I should have said. See what I mean? We do find boat names fascinating and good fun. You have to ask yourself who would call their boat “Fun 4 us 2” “Muddy Puddle” “Barzopn”, “1st Up Makes Tea” - and what exactly is “ Star Wind”? The latter just seems like two words with vaguely romantic connotations picked up as if they were scrabble tiles on the table. Why not “Moonlit Dove” or “Pagan Flight”, “Heron Dream” or “Blue Zephyr”? Which sounds like a 1970’s Ford car to people of my generation. The hire boats have fleet names, so you get dozens of huge white boats with “Light” in their name, “Glow of Light” “Evening Light” “Golden Light” “Sunlight 3” and “Ha’ yer gotta Light Bor?” (not really). There are “Star” names”, “Regal Star ”, “Emperor Star” “Golden Star” (a pub in Norwich). Don’t even go there with all the “Wind” variants. There are puns on watery themes. “Passing Water”, the delightful Spoonerism “Fuzzy Duck” and our how-could-you favourite “Nauti Girl”, which just seems… eeuuurghhh inappropriate. Another sport is to watch people who have been given perhaps fifteen minutes instruction on how to handle their huge boats turn them in narrow rivers or staithes. Bow thrusters growl and groan, shouted instructions are exchanged, countermanded and ignored and the wind catches boats and pushes them inexorably into other boats. Which is why we moor as far away from them as possible, having experienced similar the last time we moored here. It takes all sorts, we conclude, and boats costing a couple of hundred thousand pounds moor next to boats that you couldn’t give away. I would describe it as a democracy on the water if the word and concept hadn’t been so devalued of late. You might as well call your boat “Cummings and Goings” or “Light of Boris”.
John Mole, St Albans
to be put through
to your old world
It will take time
as you are in a queue
so please be patient
or call back later.
If you choose to hold
the four seasons
will recur as usual
on their familiar loop.
Meanwhile be assured
all calls are important to us
since, of course,
we are all in this together.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
I have been quite busy putting the barn together and various other things as well as the shop. The proportions in the barn are so big everything I've put in gets sucked up and looks tiny. Naughty Tim helped me today hanging pictures and getting rid of boxes and I managed to not piss him off which is a miracle. When I left this afternoon the heavens opened and it was just like stage left chuck a bucket of water on the car so I sat there and waited it out. The roads were like rivers in about 20 minutes.
When I got back to my village there were a few tethered skewbald ponies on the grass, under the lime tress and various traps spread around the green. The local gypsies are in the pub.
A few years ago there was an incredible Romany gypsy funeral in the church for the local "King of the Gypsies". I had been somewhere and when I drove back along the main road I passed all the ponies and traps and carts going home for at least a mile and a half with a huge queue of traffic behind them.
There were dozens of them of all shapes and sizes, tiny fat ponies and bigger ones of all colours as well as a selection of trucks and gypsy caravans. For the funeral procession his coffin was in a glass carriage being drawn by several pairs of plumed black horses. It was amazing and featured on the local news.
Recently I seem to have managed to f... off so many people. Not sure if its because I'm being even more annoying than normal or if everyone is just a bit tired and stressed. Probably a bit of both. Everyone seems slightly on the brink all the time. People are really busy again, like my lovely curtain makers and my lovely framer. People seem to be spending money.
I loved lockdown, it was so nice to think no one was going to email or ring up. It was peaceful. I am trying to tread carefully yet it's one disaster after another. The trail of bodies is extensive.
Have felt more stressed out in the last couple of weeks than I have for ages so I am now looking for a nice position as a hermit as long as Earnie and Whitty and the chickens can come too. A hermit with an entourage. Earnie would like a lake and I can build a nice shell grotto (our publishers suggestion) and some one can chuck a lamb chop and some AIP compliant scones at me from time to time. Maybe occasionally a tub of booja booja ice cream.
Boris should have my recipes now he's encouraging every one to lose weight. It has been on the radio all day today how your chances of serious complications and death with Covid 19 increase with your lardiness so he is going to put the Great British Public on a diet. Good luck Boris.
Rubbish food is cheap so they need to do something about that. Cheap calories are usually unhealthy ones.
When I was at school, everyone learnt to cook. When my nieces were young they did things around the subject of food. Anything but cook a stew or a vegan something or other or a cake or in my case a paleo snack. God I sound really old. They showed Boris tucking into a cream tea on the news yesterday. I think he was in the Rodas clotted cream factory. His face had a blissful expression that I remember from a good cream tea.
There are various covid spikes. India and America seem terrible, Spain is getting bad and there are various hot spots in the north of England. They have just announced that from tomorrow any one coming back from Spain will be quarantined for 2 weeks.
Trump has gone completely potty sending out troops on grannies and kids.
The vaccine seems to be coming along.
Masks are mandatory in shops now which I am pleased about.
The shop hasn't been too bad. Have had a few huffy people stomping off if they're asked not to touch things or wait for five minutes but I noticed from last Saturday most people put their masks on and used the hand sanitiser without any prompting from me. It's quite stressful and tiring though being so polite all the time and if you are not really really polite it just sounds so rude.
The skies have been lovely recently. The other day the sky looked like a dapple grey but white and blue and the next day there were layers and layers and layers of flat bottomed clouds like a theatre audience in reverse.
Rufus Wainright is still singing lovely songs on Instagram.
I've sold a few bunches of flowers from the garden and that's about all my news for now.
Love Annabel xxx
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
I love planning trips and after four months of being quite content to stay at home I feel a great need to leave my comfortable and safe cocoon to venture out and reconnect with friends. Zoom just isn’t the same as being physically close. So I spent the whole day yesterday making plans and have so far booked a campsite near Skegness for three nights the week after next so we can catch up with friends in Lincoln on the way and then get some lovely sea air - and hopefully a swim in the sea.
Then I booked a campsite overlooking Beesands in Devon in September so we can catch up with Mary and Simon in Totnes. It won’t be as good as staying with them, doing our planned indigo shibori dyeing and wild swimming walks. That will still have to wait but it will be so good to see them.
After that we go down to Cornwall. I had planned to book Airbnb but our friends in Pendeen want us to stay with them. I am not sure we should although I am more worried about giving the virus to people than about them giving it to us. Our friends in Lincoln also want us to spend the night at their house but as they have a large guest house, which they have almost retired from running, we will probably be the only ones there so that feels safer. They also have a small house nearby.
We have quite a few friends around our age or older and they range from being ultra-careful to 'let’s just get on with our lives, we don’t want to live like this'. I think I am somewhere in the middle and am having to assess what people are happy with when we get together. Friends came for a picnic in our garden and a walk along the river. They brought their own picnic but were happy to accept drinks and cake from us. They weren’t particularly careful about keeping even one metre apart although Keith is in his late seventies and has heart problems. They are being careful with people they don’t know but is that enough?
We have a proper drama workshop in our garden next week. It will be so good to see everyone.
Holidays planned - so exciting.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
I can’t remember ever being so anxious. I usually council myself, and the irrationality of worrying about what I cannot control stops me in my tracks. So much of the harmony and contentment in a community comes from a sense of trust. For the last twenty years I have watched that steadily erode. Parliamentarians in this country were once drawn from a very broad cross section of the community (albeit a white male cross section). What they weren’t though was the factory farm of brash young wannabes who moved from school to university, to parliamentary advisor, to pre selection to career politicians. People who have absolutely no life experience and who fail to see the value of... anything much at all. No maturity.
I watch the distress of my family as my niece swings from very sick, to unwell and back again. The nagging voice in the back of my head asks, can I really trust they are getting the very best advice from a hospital that, like all our other great public hospitals, has been underfunded? We have made it to the end of two weeks of illness, and finally Maggie’s up and downs seem to have evened out. She has now become of interest to clinicians because her illness has not followed the pattern of other children. She suffered a resurgence in the virus that is more characteristic of adults. Today she was going in to have bloods taken to check on immune response. Everyone in the family being retested, with the suggestion their negative results could be a product of inappropriate timing in the tests. It is exhausting watching. I can only imagine how they must be feeling. Two children, one ill, one lively and two full time jobs. The messages I receive from them are late in the evening, so I’m guessing there’s a lot of work being done after bedtime.
Melbourne is pretty battered and bruised. An alarming reality was revealed in one of the daily updates. 90% of people did not isolate from the point at which they felt unwell to presenting to test; then having presented to test, 53% went about their business as usual while waiting for their results. I’m back to trust again. Those statistics mean we are in for another rough week.
I can’t help but feel that if the age cohort dying from this illness was a different one, most people would be more thoughtful and more caring. That saddens me. In a survey on Australian health outcomes released a day or so ago it was revealed that men dying from the virus are having 11 years taken off their life expectancy and for women 14 years. What a terrible waste.
The garden, music and exercise help me live in the moment. I listen to Australia’s musical gift to the world as I walk today. The oboeist Diana Doherty playing Graeme Kohner and Ross Edwards. The day is cold but the sunshine is just a delight and the music takes me away.
From the South Downs
Early on in the journal’s life, MFS wrote about last things. Since lockdown eased, some formerly ordinary activities have felt like first things. We went away for a week (thank you so much, J). On the journey, I had a flat white coffee. I’d vowed to buy no takeaway food, but after an early start and three hours of driving, the need was too great. My last flat white was on the Southampton campus, where I’d been freaked by drinking from a canteen cup and tipped the coffee into my own mug. Those were the days of fearful travelling just before lockdown. A week in Cornwall felt like a first thing, though we’ve been there so often. Walking coastal paths, seeing seals, choughs and rock pipits felt liberating. A pasty on the beach - vowed not to do it but did. An ice cream out - the delicious Moomaid of Zennor - vowed not to do it but did. We met our friends and first of all picknicked separately at a distance but then they asked us to their house, and we sat in their back courtyard having a meal together - so lovely and felt both new and old. But what I realised from all this, apart from remembering that I love to talk, eat and drink with friends, is that my resolve to stick to rules quickly melts once I’m with others. On the coastal paths, children found it impossible to distance. We pulled in, but many don’t bother. Once you loosen the strings, the strings keep loosening - and in many ways, that feels good. However, I’m relieved that the Royal Literary Fund are setting up the means for online writing consultations next term - so I won’t have the train journey to Southampton and can work from home.
A few PJ20 delights and connections, I’ve been listening to David reciting the sonnets - thank you, David, so moving and powerful. At J’s, we noticed a tea towel designed by Annabel Grey. I think that’s you, Annabel? I shall be ordering some and so visited your website. I was fascinated to see your mosaic designs for the underground - I must have seen them in real life without knowing. Sophie of the Runaway Diaries turns out to live just two doors away from my daughter, and they met when she visited Francesca’s Situationist RCA show where she was exhibiting as Alba, a collaboration of textile and painting. If anyone would like to look at Francesca’s final MA Painting show, it’s on the RCA website (put Francesca Mollett into search for Show 2020) until July 30th. It’s the first time in the RCA’s history that the show is online, another effect of lockdown and tough on the artists who were forced to produce their work in bedsits, gardens, bedrooms and streets, with only virtual support. And a self-advertisement (sorry), my online article called ‘The Place That Is and Isn’t’ is out on Monday 27th July on the RLF’s Collected Showcase. The RLF ask us to publicise - so that’s my excuse for mentioning it.
Talking of online stuff, I’m suffering from internet addiction, a sure sign of anxiety, and it’s an anxiety that feeds itself and grows like an ogre, as I learn more about the virus and terrible governments. So good news, Oxford University are doing well with the vaccine trials, plays can happen outdoors, and my son can meet his band again. The internet has advantages - for instance, a very enjoyable play-reading of Dangerous Corner with M & P and M & S (not the store), shades of The Inspector Calls before he actually called.
I attach a photo from Cornwall of a funky garden with constructions made of reclaimed materials. ‘I’m staying a-lert’ was one, ‘Black lives matter’ another. A brilliant garden, with some lovely plants, ingeniously ecological, witty and political - thank you, unknown gardener of Mousehole.
Robjn Cantus, Cambridge
I love discovering interesting artists, the research and uncovering details of their life and then buying works to sell, but before the lock down, little did I know that I would buy a painting stolen from the Victoria and Albert Museum. I want to give it back to them but their staff are all furloughed until August.
The painting was a watercolour by Vincent Lines, an artist with an interesting past. Lines education started at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, then in 1931 he was admitted into the Royal College of Art. He was influenced by A.S.Hartrick and Thomas Hennell. He worked as a watercolour artist and an illustrator. He became Principal of Horsham art school in 1935. He was one of the artists chosen to work on the Recording Britain project, and that is one of the things that attracted me to him.
During the Great Depression in America artists were employed by the state to make works for the public. It was called the Federal Art Project and from 1935 the project was mostly famous for many murals in post offices and public buildings across America, but it also covered sculpture and graphic design work. The project is said to have made 200,000 works from 1935 to 1943.
The director of the National Gallery, Sir Kenneth Clark was inspired by the Federal Art Project in the run-up to the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime (part of the British Ministry of Labour and National Service) launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Rosemary Ellis, Rowland Hilder, and Barbara Jones were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns, villages, churches, country estates, rural landscapes; industries, rivers, monuments and ruins. They were documenting characteristic scenes in a way never undertaken before.
So how did I discover my purchase was stolen? I bought the painting at auction over the internet and had it posted to me, when it arrived the glass was broken, so I took it apart. Unusually it had no tape on the back and it was in a cheap clip frame giving easy access to the back; I thought this was odd as the auction house could see it was titled but they had called it “landscape with farm worker” and I assumed when buying it, that was the title. On the back of the painting it had the full details, Vincent Lines, and the name "Vale of Shalbourne". Did they Google the real title “Vale of Shalbourne” and found the same listing on the V&A website? Who knows but it feels unusual for an auction house not to research a painting they are consigning.
Further-more, I had taken the back off the picture and at first I found a stamp for Recording Britain, then the allocation number. The code when typed into the V&A website comes up with a listing for “The Vale of Shalbourne” by Vincent Lines, is is listed as “In Storage”. Being listed with the code it couldn’t have been a rejected work by Lines for the project. The Recording Britain board chose what they bought, leaving more prolific artists some works to sell, but these were not stamped. Though the Pilgrim Trust funded the scheme they gave all the works, over 1500, to the Victoria and Albert Museum to document and keep. Due to the large number of works created, many works were given to regional collections and it is likely this painting was either stolen or wrongly disposed off by one of these regional collections or a council disposing of work. From the frame the watercolour came in, the style of mount and the amount of dirt on the glass I would guess this was framed in the early 1990s. When it was stolen I couldn’t guess, nor why.
I have emailed the V&A but had nothing back due to Covid Lockdown, but I will wait and see what they say. It would be curious to know if it was loaned out to regional collection or if it was stolen from London. The plot thickens. It is my intention to return it to them. Though technically I lost money from this there is a satisfaction of having done the right thing and returning a work to it’s home. Other collectors of Vincent Line’s work were the King, the Government Art Collection, Hertfordshire Pictures for Schools and the Royal Library. Thankfully I legitimately own the Hertfordshire Pictures for Schools painting as they were all sold off when the council wanted to make some money, but that is another story.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
We have tickets to visit the Anish Kapoor exhibition at Houghton Hall. This will be a treat after a week of obsessive gardening not matched since the first week of Lockdown. The garden is now looking very lovely again but I can’t wait to revisit the walled garden at Houghton and especially James Turrell’s Skyspace in the Park.
Martin was alerted to the presence of two gigantic puffball mushrooms in a friend’s garden which he collected this morning after queuing for 45 minutes in Holt for fish. Deliciousness to follow!
Two beautiful books arrived this week. ‘John Nash Artist and Countryman’ by Andrew Lambirth and ‘Scene through Wood, A Century of Modern Wood Engraving’ by Anne Desmet accompanying this summer’s Ashmolean exhibition. So, what with the Anish Kapoor visit next week, we are once again allowing art to enhance our lives!
David Horovitch, Twickenham
I have had several anonymous donations to Amnesty via my sonnets website. If any of them are from you, heartfelt thanks. And thanks to you, Susan for your very generous donation.
Not many people on Waterloo Station when I went down to Dorset on Monday. The two M&S branches were closed as were most of the numerous coffee outlets. I was rather confounded by this as I'd planned to buy the friends I was visiting a bottle and maybe some chocolates. Everyone wore masks except most of the staff. Are people still afraid to go on public transport? Those people can't be the same as celebrated in their thousands in Liverpool last night or thronged the Bournemouth beaches on Bank Holiday. A Divided Nation. So what's new?
My Dorset friends were Alison Steadman and her partner, Michael Elwyn, both of whom I have worked with many years ago and who were very supportive when my son died. I couldn't have wished to be with better pals on his fiftieth birthday. They have recently bought a second home in a smart, modern gated development near Dorchester. It overlooks a lake and Hardyesque heathland and, from the decking outside my bedroom I stepped out in the early morning and saw two swans gliding past with their four cygnets, wild ponies, deer, 2 herons, an egret and swallows banking and diving over the water. The night before, we'd toasted Tom and played his favourite music on our iPhones.
He died in Bombay 13 years ago. He was going round the world on a motor-bike with a friend and they were pausing in India. Three months before he died, he wrote this in his blog:
'I was in a place called Sarey Tash which is a remote settlement in Kyrgyzstan near the borders with China and Tajikistan. It was a very clear night and you could see the constellations clearly (although I didn't really know what I was looking at). I saw a very bright streak of light heading towards the earth at great speed. As it got closer (I imagine as it hit the earth's atmosphere) it died out.'
When he was seven he wrote a poem called 'What is Green?'
Green is you
Green is me.
Green is the trees.
high up, high up in the sky
What is green?
How do I know?
April. I think
No, wait Green
Frances, his then girlfriend, and I went to visit him in Goa in the New Year of 2007. The day we left to return to London we had to get up at 5am to take a taxi to the airport. Tom was neither demonstrative nor an early riser and we were surprised that he got up to see us off and even more surprised when he clasped us both in his arms. We have often talked about this since.
This was the last we saw of him. Two weeks later, a young policeman and policewoman rang my doorbell at 3.30 am to tell me he was dead. He died in his sleep of 'natural causes'.
Not a day goes by without me thinking of him.