Lucia Leyfield - Stroud, Glos
Note from Sheila:
I connected with Lucia via Instagram where she posted these wonderful images. She has recently broken her dominant hand wrist which makes these images all the more incredible as she has drawn them with her left hand. She has supplied them to me and agreed to let us use them in the journal. Thanks Lucia.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
Had my first vaccine (AstraZeneca) on Tuesday afternoon. Very quick and efficient. Fine for the first few hours after it, but splitting headache and shivers by bedtime, and a sleepless night. It’s taken me a couple of days to recover. Friends who also had it this week experienced exactly the same side effects. A small price to pay if it works, but quite a long gap before the next one.
The next goal is the end of March when some limited outdoor socializing can take place. Such good weather at the moment that it’s tempting to think Spring has come early. The skylarks were singing on Westwood. We’ve just booked six nights (first week in October) at a lovely flat we’ve stayed in several times before in Southwold, Suffolk. It was good to have something to put in the diary. We hope it will be a chance to visit Norfolk friends too!
View from a town formerly known as crazy
Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Seth from Ponca City, OK writes:
Dear VSOP: I really feel an obligation to participate in the ongoing effort to save our country from the Radical Socialist Democrat hellhole that AOC, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and that guy illegally broadcasting from a fake Oval Office have planned for us. What with COVID and all, I wasn’t ready for the fun on January 6 and missed out on storming the Capitol. Now that the COVID numbers are coming down (and that nameless White House guy helped me get my vaccine), I want to be there and be counted among the Faithful who will restore our Constitution on March 4 by making sure our Dear Leader is constitutionally inaugurated. (I’ve done my own research and I know that our Constitution was stolen in 1877 by the Corporation of London, which bought the illegal Corporation of Washington created by a traitorous Congress that year, and that all our leaders since then have been unconstitutional paid employees of London. Q told me so and the scales have fallen from my eyes now that I no longer rely on Lamestream media for my information.*) But here’s my dilemma: what should I wear to the Inauguration and Gala Insurrection? I really liked the look of the QAnon Shaman Guy in the Viking horns and fur, but feel that full, military-grade battle rattle might be more appropriate for the occasion. Please, VSOP, help me sort out this constitutionally critical fashion choice by which our future hangs.
In this pandemic age of stay-at-home Zoom-top outfits paired with PJ bottoms, it is refreshing to meet a cultured individual, such as your good self, who understands the importance of fashion, and how it can be used to send a clear message. Far too many of us are focused only on the backdrop of our Zoom calls and forget what a statement we can make with our apparel. Yes, a well-organized bookcase is important and reveals much about your tastes in literature and conspiracy theories, and, yes, you should always include at least one pineapple in the background if you want to score full points with the newfangled critics of our Zoom mis en scenes, but…sorry, I digress.
Your clothing choice is both more personal and more critical than any Zoom call. You will be “in the arena” as good old Teddy Roosevelt called it, and you want to be able to rely on your ensemble for both performance and messaging. With that in mind, VSOP recommends you consider these factors. Is it your goal to send a shiver down the spine of all those Radical Socialist Democrats with a message of steely-eyed trained-militia determination and commitment to Dear Leader’s Cause, Defending Freedom!, Protecting The American Way of LIfe!, and, The Constitution! (pre-Corp of London)? Or are you looking for something that opens up wider prospects? Do you anticipate assaulting police officers with flagpoles and fire extinguishers, and possibly being the recipient of blows, tear gas, and incoming rounds in return? Or, for example, will your Insurrectional focus be more performative and centered on becoming an influencer on Tik Tok? Finally, there is the question of your personal physique. Would you look good as a bare-chested barbarian, or does middle-aged spread suggest something a bit less revealing (good body armor is always helpful for concealing those stray bulges and sags)? Finally, don’t forget your mother’s advice (she’ll be nagging you about it as you leave the basement anyway)– dress warmly and keep your feet dry. The weather in March is unpredictable. As you see, the decision is complicated, and requires some careful planning.
Once you’ve thought about this and made your basic decisions, it’s time to source your outfit. As it happens, just today a wonderful font of military paraphernalia arrived in VSOP’s mailbox. A splendid little catalog titled, of all things, “Deutsche Optik.” Helmets galore, ranging from British colonial pith helmets to a Soviet parachute jumper’s head gear. An inspired selection of backpacks, medic kits and every other tool a budding insurrectionist could require, including night vision devices in case your rioting stretches into the evening news hour. You can even buy genuine British ex-services body armor carriers (sadly, sans armor, which we’re informed, it is illegal to sell), “entirely clad with Molle[tt?] straps, to accommodate virtually unlimited number of pouches and attachments.” This last is critically important because Deutsche Optik also purveys little mock-ups of genuine U.S. military “pineapple” fragmentation grenades! With a suitable number of these dangling from your virtually limitless Molle[tt?] straps, you'll win eternal glory from the critics and break the Internet with a fashion statement that combines the best of Zoom décor with the frisson of violent insurrection. Your choice of looks stretches from DDR tanker to NVA guerrilla (although these particular examples skirt dangerously close to the edge of Radical Socialism and may be best avoided so you stay on message). If you opt for something more Viking, or perhaps imaginary medieval kingdom-ish-with-just-a-hint-of-unexpected-violence, may I kindly ask you to direct your inquires to my fellow Plague Journalist, David H.? VSOP is given to understand that David has access to a vast wardrobe of only slightly soiled costumes from “The Game of Thrones” prequel. He should be able to fix you up with something that will permanently shade poor QAnon Shaman Guy’s rather predictable, and let’s just say it, pedestrian Viking get up. That was just so last regime.
*VSOP hastens to assure you, Gentle Reader, that he is not making this shit up. Rather it is the latest iteration of QAnon’s explanation to the Faithful of why there is still hope – nay, Certainty! - for the Triumphant Return of our Dear Departed Leader next week. You can be certain that my colleague, Your Intrepid Reporter, will be on the case and ready to provide exhaustive coverage of said Triumphant Return (and the parallel Restoration of Crazy Town) in time to meet the Dear Editor’s exigent timeline for next week’s PJ21 (the Journal, not the Zoom-wear).
Tropical thoughts Part 2
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
How well they know water, its musicality.
Bubbling exuberantly from
Crystalled subterranean depths
To a foaming Eastern fountain
It overflows the intricate rim
To ripple the skin of stone
Until it meets the pool
Gathers itself in and then
Down the incline
Ceramic tiles, liquidly blue
Over the tiny waterfall’s lip
Where it divides, respectful,
Round the colonnaded walk
Reflecting interlocking geometric
Rippled wonders before uniting
Once more in languid rectangular
Style; dipping it tumbles over
To a giant bowl, bubbles, rises and
Spreads across to plunge in unison
To its eight-sided petalled destination.
Piercing the sky the mu’addin’s
Call across the soaring desert
Dips, shimmers, re-forms
Swells again, blinding white
Above the hovering air
Echoing below the faithful
Call of the water’s prayer.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Radio 4 touched on Happiness this week. I listened with half an ear and recognised myself as being one of those never happy because of an overdeveloped obsession with perfection. As I banged and crashed about the house because Weekly Angel has not yet returned and then stormed and cursed about the garden because nothing was in the right place and necessitated a long march every time I needed something, I compounded my frustration by observing the calm, gentle and helpful ways in which husband and parent constantly work to make my life easier.
One of the contributors to the programme concluded that happiness is doing things for other people. Later that evening, bathed and fed with deliciousness, the nightly nine spot domino tournament with my mother underway, I asked her how happy she felt on a scale of one to ten low to high. “Oh ten” she said... “Well maybe nine when you shout!”
Jane, just south of Norwich
I wasn’t going to submit an entry this week as I didn’t feel I had anything interesting to say but Margaret’s email has spurred me on to write a few lines. I too feel that this Friday has crept up on me very quickly. We should have been in Wells-next-the-Sea this week, in a cottage, postponed from last November. What a glorious week we would have had, dry and bright with the bonus of a couple of sunny days too. Perhaps today (Friday) we would have walked to Stiffkey and had lunch in The Red Lion – never mind those days will come again!
If we had gone to Wells, I wouldn’t have been able to have my vaccination which I had at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Tuesday. All went very smoothly, no queues at all and lots of friendly staff. I was given the Pfizer vaccine, a plaster on my arm, the offer of a cup of tea and a rest for 15 minutes. A good experience. A sore arm the following day and feeling a little weary so a good excuse to put my feet up and read Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road. I love the way she writes and the only drawback of this book was that it was too short! I hope at this very moment she is busy writing another one.
So more local walks this week instead of seaside ones. We have noticed on our walks the many discarded face masks. There was an item on BBC Look East this week about an artist who was making huge pictures laid out in his garden all from discarded face masks he had collected. I often take a bag on walks to collect bits of discarded plastic but have been wary of picking up face masks. This artist used gloves and a long handled picker and disposed of the masks once he had taken a picture of his artwork. Very commendable, but sad that being able to pick up so many masks to make these artworks is even a possibility.
Like Michael on the Isle of Wight and his Irish lessons, I have been keeping up with my thirty minutes of Welsh a day. Monday is St David’s Day or Ddydd Gwyl Dewi Sant. As a nod to my Welsh ancestry I am going to make a Bara brith (speckled bread) this weekend. I use an excellent Felicity Cloake recipe and a slice, warmed and buttered is delicious.
250ml strong hot tea (I use Earl Grey and use 2 tea bags)
450g dried fruit (I use 75g each of sultanas, raisins, currants, chopped apricots, chopped dates, sour cherries)
Zest of one lemon
200g dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
200g plain wholemeal flour
Make the tea nice and strong and brew for a few minutes longer than you would a cup of tea. Put dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the tea and leave to soak (I leave overnight but an hour should be enough). Mix the egg into the soaked fruit (reserving any remaining soaking liquid for later) and add the lemon zest. If you have soaked the fruit overnight, the liquid should be soaked up so just add the zest. Mix sugar, baking powder and flour in a bowl with a whisk to break up any clumps, then mix this into the fruit and egg. If you haven’t soaked the fruit overnight, add two tablespoons of the reserved liquid and stir through. Grease a 2lb/900g loaf tin. Bake for 90 minutes. Ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean.
View from the top of the hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
What a difference some sunshine makes to our mood. We have had a few lovely days (with windy interruptions) and I have managed a couple of walks up the hill, highlighting how very unfit I am. The news has been more optimistic, too, with lots of talk of the ending of lockdown and children going back to school. My inner self is saying “Careful, now, careful” but rejoicing nonetheless.
In the new spirit of looking forward I attended an online auction and was delighted to win two lots. One was a couple of boxes of histories and the other a set of silk-bound Bronte novels in a matching box and two sets of the Oxford Library of English Poetry, also in boxes. There was no viewing prior to the sale, so apart from anxious moments scrutinising the photos beforehand it was a bit of a lucky dip. Collection was outside by appointment, so I set off for Ilkley yesterday morning bright and early to make sure I was on time.
It was so glorious to be out and about! I have made that twenty mile journey so many times in the past, but it was like the first time, driving over the moor in the sunshine, singing along to Barbra Streisand's “Guilty” and looking out for curlews and red kites. There were also a few Canadian geese in the fields. It's a tricky road and very tempting to go too fast, but I was mindful of the dips and bends as I passed the wall my son-in-law went through once trying to avoid a vehicle which suddenly appeared and further on another wall where my sister-in-law wrote off her Porsche. Maybe it's because they don't use cement in the drystone walls that cars often just go through them and land in the fields? There's a lovely long straight stretch of road alongside the River Wharfe, where you always have to take care passing groups of cyclists, I expect they like riding along there as, unusually, it has no steep hills. Then across a narrow iron bridge which spans the Wharfe just outside Ilkley and gives a close view over the torrential waters pouring down from the hills.
The “contactless collection” went smoothly and I had a quick socially distanced chat with some other customers before setting off for home, mission accomplished. How absolutely lovely to do something so normal and useful and to have some new stock to go through, as well as a scenic drive in the sunshine. I felt so happy I had to quickly remind myself not to be complacent – I remembered having that feeling of total happiness once while going into a field to fetch a horse for a ride and with no warning my friend's mare turned round, kicked out at me and broke my arm. “Think on”, as we say in Yorkshire!
Today is sunny again and quite warm, even up on our hill, and there are signs of spring everywhere. Snowdrops have popped up all along the lane down in the valley and in the garden. We have some lovely irises which our friend Shirley gave us for our garden a couple of years before she died. When the first one comes out, Richard always points out “Shirley's iris”. The wind seems to have got to this one, let's hope the others are luckier. There are also little white blossoms coming through on Richard's “chilli tree” in the kitchen window and the first little green fruit has appeared. This capsicum plant was a great present from our daughter and produced over a dozen plump ripe red chillies last year, which we have only just finished using out of the freezer, so we have great hopes for another bumper crop. It's been well pruned and was looking a little bleak before the buds popped out.
I'm pleased to report that I am enjoying Bill Bryson's “Short History of Nearly Everything” so much that I am having trouble getting up in the morning, as I just want to stay snuggled up with it. He has such an easy style of communicating, I think I may even be taking in the science (!) and he paints such vivid portraits of the historical characters that they become completely real to the reader. I think Ruskin said that if a book's worth reading it's worth buying. I wonder if he would have bought Bryson, an interesting thought, which I will leave with you. (Comments welcome).
Stay safe one and all and enjoy the sun if it's shining where you are. Perhaps it won't be too long before we can all meet our friends and families once more, be of good cheer!
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
The first day when we spent all afternoon with the windows open, 18°C, warmer outside than inside. The surprise is the continuous birdsong. Blackbirds seem to find a city-haven in our garden. This pleases me because my name means blackbird in French, possibly because my ancestors were always whistling!
A question which is troubling me
Many English on their island say to English on the continent: you should become French, Spanish, German... This is disturbing, since the same people make such a fuss about sovereignty and English exceptionalism. Then they turn round and tell their fellow-English on the continent in effect to betray their own nationality. As if one's own country and culture were simply an administrative convenience. Do they mean what they say or not ? What indeed do they mean? Nationality and culture are not something you choose. They are something you inherit and pass on, if you care about them at all. Something else is being said, something unadmitted, possibly inadmissible, hidden in the head of the person who is speaking. It's like saying, if you are black you should become white, or the reverse. Why should one ask the other person to change their identity against their will, just because one feels embarrassed that this person is who he or she is?
My Christmas tree
I usually keep it until the end of January - I love Christmas trees. This year I have decided that I will dismantle it a week after Rob will have had his first and second vaccine. It will be our best delayed Christmas present - delayed until... when? We don't know. Each month it's promised for the following month (or two).
Changes of fashion
Even Victoria Beckham has been changed by Covid, now she is feeling “optimistic but realistic” about the future of fashion, and focusing on comfort and longevity rather than glamour. So if you keep your old trousers and a shabby husband's teeshirt (both the tee-shirt and the husband), it's going to be in fashion. Almost a year ago, I offered a copy of a book by her to Plague20 readers, if anybody should want it, since I had done with it. No response! The book is all about glamour, high heel shoes etc..., so now it's completely out of date. Maybe I should keep it for my grand-daughter Flora. By the year 2040 glamour might be back in fashion.
Alone in Covid-time
The UK Office of National Statistics found evidence of acute loneliness in the population. 8% of adults feel "always or often lonely", and 16-29 year-olds are twice as likely as over-70 year-olds to experience loneliness during lockdown. I must say, I have never really experienced loneliness. I have almost never been in a bedroom at night on my own (N.B. I don't say in the bed, I say in the bedroom). First of all, in the same bedroom as my sisters, then in a dormitory in boarding school, then in a student hall of residence in a shared bedroom, then married or boyfriended or married again. Now that everybody has or expects to have their own place, at least in our Western countries, the Covid crisis is showing that after all it may not be the best way to live. As with glamour, Covid loneliness had shown that independent solitude is not so good for you. A post-Covid way of living is going to emerge. We will not have the same aspirations and desires after Covid has left us (so far as it does leave us). There are communities of tiny-houses taking shape, with communal ground and facilities outside, recreating a new style of traditional village life. (Rob demands at least five tiny houses just for himself, his pillows, and his books and CDs).
We are spending much less every month, not that we ever overspent. I can't even imagine that I shall want to spend as much as I was doing before March 2020. Except on restaurants, cafés and concerts - we really miss these. On our small level, it shows that governments will find it difficult to have money coming in from VAT. Even with regard to income tax, if you want to consume less, then you will think, do I need to work for the money I am not spending? Indirectly, that means less spending on healthcare, security, and other state responsibilities... Yes, that will be a change, and will probably shake the economics of the world we lived in previously.
The runaway diaries
Sophie Austin, London
I've not been able to write for the last couple of weeks. I'm in the final stages of post production on the five films I shot before Christmas. Lockdown has made this process painfully long. Usually I’d be in a room with the editor and the grader, I’d sit and listen with the composer and we’d both meet with the sound engineer to finesse the finer details. Instead, we are all working remotely which has involved every evening, when you’ve gone to bed, listening, watching and writing up notes so that my team can carry on working in the morning. The notes take so long especially when describing sounds, emotions and colours – one wrong word or poorly constructed sentence could lead one of my collaborators down the wrong path and we’d have to start again.
We now have a hard deadline as the schools will start going back and these teaching resources will need to get disseminated. One of the films will be featured in Fairtrade UK’s Choose the World You Want festival, next week too. It’s exciting to start sharing these films, the feedback from our test audience has been so positive so fingers crossed the online edit goes smoothly this weekend and I can start sharing them far and wide.
The news of lockdown easing has brought a bit of hope. Your dad and I not been so affected because we’ve been so busy with work, but the lack of things to do is beginning to take its toll on you. We went for an adventure to the Southbank yesterday, rode the trains and sought out some boats, but you started getting sad as we walked past the huge Tate Modern building – we used to go at least once a week and you wanted to know why we couldn’t go in. Then it started to rain and you sat down and refused to walk any further. I sat down too - walking is all very well, but why can’t we look at any art?!
The rain continued in the afternoon and when I got you up from your nap you ran to the cupboard under the stairs, went in, shut the door and shouted ‘leave me alone!’. I left you for a little bit and the knocked on the door, ‘can I get you anything?’. The muttered reply ‘my record player please’.
At two and a half you are learning to deal with your emotions and your capacity to know what you need amazes me. After 20 minutes of listening to nursery rhymes on your (fisher price) record player, you emerged, jolly and keen for a wrestle.
As usual I am learning so much from you and make a mental note to listen to some music next time it all gets a bit too much.