Pedagogy and Print
Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire
Last Thursday I got home from school to find our youngest daughter, Petra, who told me that Mum had taken herself to bed at lunch time for a nap. This is not usual. The illness had come on very quickly; she had been for a 10 km run earlier. I made us tea and took it upstairs. Tilly was in bed looking terrible. Was this it? Had one of us finally succumbed? She felt extremely tired and nauseous and had an abdominal pain. She had looked up these symptoms and discovered that a small percentage of people who’ve had Covid 19 have had matching ones. She was very upset, but was able to drink her tea!
After a bad night, during which she felt feverish, she felt no better and still extremely fatigued. She filled in an online NHS questionnaire and received a message that a doctor would call her as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile I ordered a home test kit and rang my school to inform them what was happening. The doctor, who called an hour later, thought it could be Covid 19 due to the fever and fatigue.
Another feverish night followed. The test kit arrived by courier the following morning (Saturday). You have to book another courier to pick it up the next day and carry out the test between 9pm and 7am. Tilly was getting up for short periods but going back to bed again and sleeping throughout the day. I was trying to keep her spirits up, keeping her company, reading to her. On Sunday morning Tilly woke me in the spare bedroom, where I had temporarily moved, at 6.30 in an anxious state saying “I need help. I can’t register the test.” You have to register the test before you take it, but when you go to the website address they give you there is no sign of a registration form. Eventually Tilly found it by trying a link, but it wasn’t obvious. The test itself is horrible; you have to stick the swab to the back of your throat which made Tilly gag. The courier came to collect it at 9.15am. It did strike me that this must be costing the government a fortune in courier fees.
Tilly seemed much better that day and hardly spent any of it in bed. She ate a good meal that evening and slept well. Monday, she seemed back to her old self and in the afternoon she got the text saying that her test was negative. Relief, we can all get back to (the new) normal and no immediate risk of me catching it with my asthma; disappointment, Tilly would have liked to get it over and done with; confusion, what has she had and how did she get it.
Anyway, in the meantime I have finished my next linocut. It is called Love Cake and illustrates the story of a woman who transfers the love she feels for one of her customers into the cake he likes to order, and ends up with lots of her customers asking her out on dates.
Clean, sort, tidy
Lily, Camberwell, London
Things are changing here. The youngest will go back to school for a few weeks – so that feels like a landmark. We have been delivering workshops online so have done paid work. And therefore, I feel more confident to work in that way. Which does mean I need to appreciate the relative ease of balancing childcare and work at the moment and prepare for the tricky plate spinning that could start to happen as I need to spend more time in the office. Last week it was 4 days of Zoom meetings and workshops. And since the weather was not great, I did not go outside the boundaries of our house. All of which is what a lot of people have been doing already so I’m not going to moan. But I did feel like I had been sitting still non-stop each day. Which is not something I am used to at all. I had to find movement again at the end of each day by moving at great speed around the house picking up toys and the various flotsam and jetsam of the children’s tide, vacuuming the house and cleaning the kitchen floor. When the eldest son had some occupational therapy to help him function best within his dyspraxia, she encouraged him to do housework as it allows the body to move in a variety of ways that include pushing, pulling, weight baring and movement in all directions. Sometimes I think that therapy was more use to me that my son. Although I will say my children are now very good at emptying and filling the dishwasher, sorting laundry, vacuuming and dusting.
There has been much talk this week about the inequality women are encountering through the lockdown – disproportionally having to do (even more) housework, shopping, cooking and caring while having to work too, that is if they haven’t lost their job, which they will be being paid less to do (either from work or from the various government grants and support). Most of the mum’s I know (and let’s state it: they’re mostly white, middle class, professional, in the creative industries…) who have been furloughed or who have been working from home have all appreciated the extra time they have had to be with their children while having the self-led responsibility to get what needs to be done done for work. And this forced experiment did look like it could have brought about a positive revolution in work life balance and equality but now it looks like it may have to be clearly defined and fought for at work, in society and still in the home. I have been lucky enough to have been able to create a career which I love and where I can choose how and where best to spend my time and I have a partner who respects what I do and (when asked) takes over the children and all the responsibilities around them. So many (women and men) do not have this but should (in whatever constellation works for them).
A couple of weekends ago we had another cathartic weekend for my mother. A positive by-product of this was driving through Vauxhall and up towards Victoria through one of the Black Lives Matter marches. Mum has been in her flat in west London through Lockdown and has often said she wanted to go back to her house in the county just north of London. However - since she either hasn't felt strong enough to drive, and we don't think she should drive for her own safety and that of others, or the weather was bad, or maybe someone will stop us on the way there and send us back - there have been several unsuccessful attempts to get there. Mum’s friend very sweetly said she would fetch mum and take her there. They stopped to buy food at an Italian deli in Westbourne Grove. But Mum wandered off leaving her friend, her bag and her shopping behind. And it was raining. The friend searched for an hour, we called her phone (no answer), she wasn't back at her flat. Inevitably we called the police. After lots of telephone conversations with the police, they said they were looking out for her. Although, based on what I saw as I drove through Vauxhall on the way to look for Mum with my sister, and home again later, past the new American Embassy, I’m not sure there could have been any police in West London, they all seemed to be around the river and the march route.
On our way in the car to Westbourne Grove we called Mum’s phone again. She answered. She was in her flat – 4 hours after disappearing. She seemed oblivious to the worry and searching taking place. And eventually she explained that her friend is mad. (Later her friend told me that Mum had called her that evening and said that she had to rush off because my sister had a problem with the baby.) When we got to her flat to make sure she was ok she kept changing the story. Somewhere along the course of the day she had been drinking. She became very emotional about her friend who had a stroke at the beginning of Lockdown. And this sounds so callous, but it was as if she could explain, excuse, justify her walking off as a result of being so upset about her friend. She couldn’t really explain what had happened or how she had got home to us or herself so created a story to make some sort of sense.
Driving over Vauxhall Bridge to Mum, we met most of the Black Lives Matter marchers heading home. The feeling was strong but positive. It was a happy occasion. Mostly people in their 20’s. The placards had a particular uniform aesthetic – made from brown box cardboard. Smaller than usual. Written with marker pen. Many had been slotted, curated into the railings of Bessborough Gardens, just over the bridge on the way to Victoria. Most people were walking along the pavement but many were in the road still. In pairs or small groups and flocks of red Santander bikes. Cars would hoot their horns to join in. We did too. And there were cheers of solidarity. As Mum often says "Up the revolution".
John Mole, St.Albans
Take your ease now
and be grateful for it.
So says Circumstance,
holding the key.
Doors open again
on nervous hinges,
faces are released
from isolation’s grip
with bright eyes smiling
above their masks
and muffled laughter
while Circumstance still
sounds its note of warning
Don’t get too excited
as if speaking to a child
but thank you for your patience
Have a good day.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Sunday morning. I am waiting for Siobhan (God is gracious, indeed) in the church of caffeine. A queue of addicts jitter at the altar, eyes jumping between the chalice of their phones and the barista dispensing her blessings.
I navigate to a blog, Love Bites, that I had recently stumbled on in the Blogosphere. The author, Darkheart, was jilted by her partner, BLT: “Blunt Little Todger, or a sandwich. You choose.” She uses her blog to record her episodic revenge bender via a series of app driven hook-ups. Hairy chested, check-shirted Captain Mediocre is up next. Darkheart zeroed in on him at a rave. She thinks he has nice shoulders. The last post ended with them snogging outside her apartment. Poor guy doesn’t stand a chance. Once the deed is done he'll be handed his hat.
Sprinkling white grounds of sweetener onto the love hearted froth of schadenfreude latte I read on.
“CM kept saying I was sexy. That much I know. Like BLT originality is not his strong suit. After, I hoped that CM would be a runner. But he wanted to unload his emotional baggage. He left me hours later, a coin-in-the-slot-trolley banged into a vending port at an airport terminal. CM is flying to my morgue of the rejected as I write. Time to move on. I need someone independent, a listener, with nuts of nuance and an incisive intelligence.”
“Reading Love Bites?” Siobhan’s voice whispers in over my shoulder.
I stand to greet her.
“Not embarrassed are you?” She moves a strand of hair behind my ear.
“Love Bites is a guilty pleasure,” I manage to croak. Siobhan and I have only been on a few dates. She disturbs me at a visceral and emotional level, constricting my voice production. I’m an operatic tenor. Emotion can be tough on my instrument.
We sit down, side by side. Siobhan is silent. She twists a wooden stirrer between her fingers, snapping it in half. “Before this goes any further I have something to tell you.”
Oh boy. Here we go again. She is an opera groupie. Do you know Placido? I disguise my concern, stilling her anxious fingers. “Go on then, let’s have it.” My smile conceals a plunge in confidence. I’m not high enough up the talent scale for her.
“It’s OK, Siobhan. What’s up?”
She takes her hands away from mine.
“I like you a lot. Really. But I’m a back-end developer. Coding. You know?”
“No. What is it?”
“I’m the best at what I do. I work all kinds of odd hours. Some men are threatened by competent women.”
“Is that all? I work all sorts of hours with sopranos. They believe they are the most competent beings on the planet. Sensitive little flowers. I see through their web of delusion. So what is a back-end developer?”
“I’m Darkheart. You, my beautiful FrailFox, are next up on Love Bites.”
Bumpy landing on the south coast
The mood is changing at Tranquillity Towers: the Js are moving to their new flat in ten days’ time and so everyone has a focus, and is the better for it. One can sit on minor irritations (not that there have been any lately) for that long. J1 and I went for our charity-shop-crawl on Saturday; we only managed two warehouse ones as smaller ones are still closed; I guess it’s easier for the big ones to work out new layouts etc. Hand sanitiser and gloves at the entrance to the first, just sanitiser - at the checkout! - at the second. I was nervous, but it was fun. Added to the which, I got to use my contactless card for the first time! Excitement comes in small packages these days. Afterwards we went briefly into town and it was quite different: being a Saturday it was crowded and careless, and neither of us felt comfortable, so took solace in a Fusciardi’s on the beach.
One of my purchases was a game of tiddlywinks, which we played, with much hilarity, on Sunday, when it was my turn to cook. It’s slightly unnerving how nice everyone is being.
In contrast, I had a horrible, profound, black and bleak moment of existential angst on Tuesday. I was sorting some of my mother’s later letters to me, and when I got to 1994 I momentarily wondered where 1995’s were. Then it hit me like an express train: there were no more, and never would be. She died in 1994. At that moment, I wanted to die. There is only so much pain any one person can bear. It was tough climbing out of that one.
Still, life goes on, and the summer solstice was on 21 June (Sunday). We did nothing to mark it. In my other country, Midsummer’s Day was celebrated on Wednesday (24th). Because summer there is short it is very precious, and to be celebrated to the full. The country’s tourist website explains: ‘Midsummer's Eve is intertwined with many folk beliefs. Children stay up until dawn, while young lovers wander through the forest looking for a lucky fern flower said to bloom only on this night. If you are lucky enough to spot a glowworm, you may expect a great fortune. Young women looking to take a sneak peek into the future are advised to collect nine different types of flowers and place them under a pillow for the night, resulting in a predictive dream revealing a future spouse. The more adventurous boys and girls are known to take a jump over the bonfire in hopes of achieving prosperity or to swing as high as possible on the village's wooden swing. More moderate traditions include singing, dancing and telling old folk tales. The tradition of village parties featuring bands playing around massive bonfires hasn't gone away, proving to be the highlight event in many rural towns and villages.’
There are more serious sides, too, to the day. ‘Originating in ancient folk traditions, St. John's Day marks the beginning of the season for haymaking. The day was celebrated long before the arrival of Christianity and although the celebration received a Christian name, the pagan tradition is still alive and well today. Since 1919, Midsummer celebrations have coincided with those of Victory Day, when the country’s forces defeated German troops on June 23rd in the War of Independence.’
Bonfires this year will have been small and intimately attended, perhaps no bad thing.
Even more intimately, two summers ago I sat with loved family late at night on the farthest edge of an outermost island there, surrounded by stillness and silver light, watching the sun slowly dip over the sea, momentarily touch the horizon and then bend upwards again. It was, I think, the most magical moment of my life.
Words know no distancing
A B Lindgren, A Swede in Beaconsfield
Today I think of You, Farmor (Father’s Mother)
A Swedish Grandmother of 94 is sitting alone in her semi-detached home in Roma, Gotland, Sweden. She is looking out the window and she is wishing that her latter days would be merrier days filled with laughter and life and grandchildren and their children and… more!
A grandmother looks at the photos that were sent to her and she wishes so that her family could be close.
This is not a way to end your days. This is not the way to end any day.
This is not right by any means, this is just ‘rubbish’ she tells me in her faint yet determined voice over the phone all those miles away. I agree wholeheartedly and I hug her, I hold her so tightly in my thoughts and in my mind as she fades away and we say goodbye, “hej då” yet again.
Her tears make their way to the very innermost chamber of my heart. I share her pain and I feel her sadness. This is not how one of her last summers should look. No this is not what her long life was ever expected to entail. Why endure this now?
This grandmother has known her fair share of pain and heartache and this woman has experienced the ultimate torment of losing a 7-year-old son. This lady deserves better, now, at the brink of her life with a limited time to go. She wants to live and thrive and to have a good time, most of all she wants to be surrounded by her loved ones.
Farmor. I am sorry. I am remorseful that this is what we have to undergo presently. It kills me a little each day to see you in my mind's eye sitting at the window. Your kitchen table filled with photos and memories. Your radio reminding you of a virus that has contributed to this distancing mess. A kitchen where we have all enjoyed endless homemade meals, games, hugs, baking…
I envisage this kitchen with only you in it and saline wetness covers my cornea. This is so not what this summer was going to be like. Everything is dazed and confused by teary eyes and muddled information. All I wish for is a hug. All I want is to give you a hug beloved grandmother of mine.
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Back to "reality"
Give me back my Covid bubble, please. Stress is back full strength.
I watched this morning, on metopera.org, Saint Saëns' Samson et Dalila, beautiful singing by Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca. The famous aria, so beautiful "mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" (my heart is opening to your voice) is, hélas, only the prelude for a bitter treason, very depressing. I had not known what was coming immediately after that tune.
The rest of the day :
preparing the second quarter for my accountant,
ringing Social Security office to see how to get my pension next year, a prelude to endless bureaucratie, has be partly done on line which is not comforting at all,
finishing the summer timetable for my two jobs, 3 more days to fit in to fill the summer gaps in the hospital,
trying to get the plumber to come,
clearing details with an insurance,
and at six, time to prepare a red beans and tomato soup, that will be the pleasant part of the afternoon.
The administrative tasks I was doing before without questioning myself too much about it are now a real burden. I don't believe in it anymore.
A faith lost with the lock down. Yesterday evening, coming back home across the Sologne (50 km through beautiful oak woods and 10 along the Loire, great luck) I was thinking to write about democracy. A bit ambitious may be. I got the idea, listening to the radio, and reading the newspapers this morning: a complicated story of judges intervening , with the amplification of the press, in the presidential elections in 2012 and 2017 (Strauss-Kahn, Sarkozy and Fillon had been accused of different offenses at the "right" moment, when French justice here is usually VERY slow). We have not had a "normal" presidential election in the last 10 years. The implication of the judges in that dirty business is exploding now, one of them letting informations go when she retires. This too, very depressing.
The sun is very hot today, not even weather for consolation, I much prefer the English Norfolk weather, I even enjoy the rain in East Anglia.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
We have reached Midsummer. 21st June is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, but I’m writing this on Midsummer’s Day, 24th June, the feast day of St John the Baptist. On Monday we had a quick trip to the sea again. On the little path between the beach and the cliffs we saw some very handsome Six Spot Burnet moths (identified as such from the internet!). They were clustered together on purple thistles. There was also a stray orchid. As usual I came home with a bag of pebbles etc. Tomorrow we are planning a brief visit to a friend’s large garden for a socially distanced cup of tea. We haven’t met for more than three months.
‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’ So wrote WS in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It seems apt, having read the proposals for the easing down of lockdown on 4 July. I do understand that at some point ‘normal’ life has to begin again, especially as it is going to be at least a year before we have a vaccine. I was delighted to see the Oxfam bookshop has reopened, and quite excited when the hairdresser phoned. What worries me is that the longer the list of what we can and can’t do, the more of a muddle everything seems. People already seem to be forgetting about social distancing. I can’t help feeling that all this change has come just a bit too early. Shouldn’t we wait a bit longer until we see how the easing of lockdown is really working out in other countries? It will be virtually impossible to re-impose strict lockdown once the rules have been relaxed.
Living in a relatively protected bubble, our own little world seems to have taken on a dream-like quality over the past few months, especially now the nights are hot and sleep more difficult. ‘Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream.’
David Horovitch, Twickenham
I crossed the river on the ferry for the first time in three months yesterday. It runs from Marble Hill Park to Ham House, from the residence, that is, of George 11's mistress to an elegant and compact Jacobean pile. The crossing takes a few minutes, costs £1, and is an almost prelapsarian experience. I would describe it as anachronistic were it not that it serves a useful purpose as the same journey would take you twenty minutes by road. Hammerton's they're called, the ferry folk, a father and son. I've never met the father; the son can't be more than 25 and has a little ginger moustache. They've been there many years but have only just reopened a few days ago. They rent out canoes and row boats too. I said yesterday to young master Hammerton (I've slipped with 'ferry folk' as you see, into a sort of generalised period patter) that it must be a lovely occupation and he said that he couldn't imagine a better one and I thought of something in a Dickens ghost story where he says to the signalman 'You almost make me think I have met a contented man.' Theres a whole mythology of ferries and ferrymen isn't there, what with the Stygian boatman and the ferryman in Hesse's Siddharta, which I've just re-read for the umpteenth time, who tells the protagonist that he must listen to the voices of the river.
I was taking the ferry to have coffee with my friend Jill who lives on Ham Common and who I haven't seen since lockdown. We sat in her beautiful garden and ate those little Portugese custard tarts, what are they called? We agreed that the lockdown hadn't been all bad for us by any means, that it had simplified life. She's a wonderful cook and she'd felt it a great release not to have to have lots of people round for elaborate meals. Of course, she never did 'have' to do anything but I knew what she meant. There are things I have done which I would never have done in the normal way: I now have 44 Shakespeare sonnets by heart, am committed to memorising all 154 of them and am currently arranging to put them on YouTube. I've also read two short stories (Poe and Chekhov) online on a website called Once upon a Quarantine.com and I've just recorded a third one, which I wrote myself about 5 years ago. And, of course there's been this journal... It's all been liberating in a way and I'm set to wondering why, with all the time I've had over the years being out of work, I haven't used that time more profitably.
Who knows what the future holds? Will there be another spike? Will the theatres ever re-open? Judi Dench says in The Stage that probably not in her lifetime. Zoom will never replace it, that's for sure. I take it a day at a time, a sonnet at a time, always aware how lucky I am in my little bubble of semi-retirement. A friend who is a social worker says her case load has gone through the roof in the last weeks - she works from home, has hardly been able to go out as she is pregnant with underlying health issues. These are hard times and the future so uncertain for the whole world and it feels solipsistic to speak about my 'liberation' but...
It's 38 degrees in the shade in my courtyard...