Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
Wednesday 26th August
I really enjoy reading everyone’s journal entries, and it’s great to get first hand accounts from other countries. It’s still hard to believe that this virus is global, and affects everything and everyone! New school term starts soon and the government is still dithering as to whether the wearing of face masks is required in the classrooms or not. One of my friends is a teacher so I will report back in due course.
I am writing today because I’m helping in the flower shop for the next two days. We have been busy with small weddings and, dare I say it?, some Christmas stock arrives next month! All ordered pre-Covid of course. I wonder what it will be like this year? No pantos.
I’ve just cleaned out Audrey’s tank. How long do goldfish live for? Grace was given two as a present thirteen years ago. Thirteen years I’ve been cleaning that bowl out! Originally the bright orange duo were christened Fish and Chips, then as she grew up and her interests changed Grace renamed them Audrey and Marilyn! Marilyn started to lose her brassiness and her scales transformed into a silvery shimmer. One day she swam around the bowl a little too energetically and leaped out. (I wonder if they had an argument?) Tragically she lay on the kitchen work top undiscovered for hours. I placed her back in the water when I found her, but she was never the same and died shortly after. I was slightly traumatised on Audrey’s behalf as she’d watched her only companion fade away. That was over two years ago and I swear Audrey knows when I am in the kitchen, she (if she is a she) swims up to the glass and stares at me, as if she wants a chat!
Keep well everyone, my yoga mat is calling! Xxxxxx
James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Tracks of a Troubadour
Summer in the city
The sound of a woken world rides in on sunlight. Ginger haired Beatrice curls up alongside me on a purple rug. Skin itches where the warp and weave has contoured my skin. Forgetting its function material droops down tall windows. The moulded ceiling is cracked; a chandelier covered in dust dangles, a memory of forgotten grandeur.
Beatrice’s arm rests across my chest. I move it without waking her. She is wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt, the provocative red tongue surreal red. All I remember is her arriving beside me on the floor, getting smoochy and falling asleep in a spaced out pile. Beyond our scrape sleeping bulges stir.
Disentangled I search unsuccessfully for my socks and shoes; drink water straight from an encrusted tap dripping into a paint splattered sink. From an ashtray I rescue a joint and smoke myself into orbit. Pennies, a notebook and a baccy tin in my pockets, bare foot I am out on to the high street. Wish of brilliant light. Rush of traffic noise. Barking cloud of pollution. Tsunami of people surging along the sidewalk. Businessmen. Shoppers. Women. Always and forever. Castles and moats, knights and daze. A guy, matted hair, sits on a grubby blanket with his dog and guitar. I drop a coin into his fast food cup.
The sound of It’s a Beautiful Day drifts out of a store. Like a white bird in search of seed I follow it in. Flapping through records. Alighting on artwork. Oh yes, from across the galaxy they flew. Biogenesis. Rock mushrooms seeding distant planets.
Back out into the blinding light.
“Oi. You a girl or a boy?” Menaces a passing skinhead.
Heart pounding I retreat into a shop doorway. My hand seeks out my notebook. It is key. Beatrice’s favor to me.
Coast clear, head and eyes down I walk out onto pavement hot beneath my soles.
“Busie old foole, unruly Sunne/Why dost thou thus,/Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?” I whisper.
John Donne. Main man. Broke on London streets. Early morning. Intoxicated. Swaying from an assignation toward home. Scent memory of a woman. Mind dancing with the compulsive rhythm of debauchery fueling literary aspiration. A humble supplicant in bare feet I follow his footsteps, in awe of someone who can yolk together love and compass feet.
Sitting on a bench, a Crossroads ear worm in my mind, looking out on a galaxy of humanity. No judgment. Just alienation. All this feverish activity for what? Things? Debt? What about living? The simple, loving act of experience for its own precious sake?
Across the High Street a bright blue front door. The intense color ignites imagination. An entrance to another world? A tale of a phantasmagoric universe entered from the everyday world through the glossy panels. Elvish woods. Songs remaining the same. Stairways leading to heaven.
I roll the last shreds of dry Virginia tobacco into half a cigarette paper. The flare of sulphur from a match torn from a crumpled book singes my nose hairs. I inhale the hot dry smoke, drawing it deep into my lungs.
The blue door opens and out steps a man of wealth and taste. Tall, black cape, sword stick, top hat, wanton, decadent face. Handsome as sin Old Nick crosses the road towards me, smiling as I gawp.
Tightly focussed the world around him freezes. The light is cold, unvarying, everything still except him. He approaches me, penetrating space. My limbs refuse to move. He closes in, close enough to touch me. At the last moment he pirouettes, cape swirling against me. Without looking back he walks away, lost to the crowd.
Slumping forward, head in my hands, hair tumbling down in a curtain. Breathless. Thoughts race. A starship trooper in search of space. Galavanting at outrageous light speed. Exhilarating. Vertiginous. Stars. Nebulae. Eternal. Internal. No disgrace. Hotter and hotter burns the sun. Tumbling on melting wings I plunge ever closer. Deeper. Into the inferno.
I catch a movement through my fingers. Opening them I am confronted by a succulent red tongue.
“Come on. Let me buy you breakfast.” Beatrice says, handing me shoes, taking my hand, walking me, her side by my side, along the long winding road to a transport café.
Between mouthfuls of sausage, egg and chips I write in my notebook: “Modern day writer at Kings Crossroads? Selling his soul for a voice?”
“You know the story?’ Beatrice reaches across the table, staying my hand. “Robert Johnson disappeared and returned with vastly improved guitar skills. It was rumored he met someone at the crossroads. Gossip has that it was the Devil and that Johnson exchanged his soul for a musical gift. In truth he probably played a lot with Zimmerman in a graveyard where it was quiet.”
Beatrice’s hair traps sunlight in a frizzy halo. No angel. She is so full of knowledge how could I not revere her? Desire rises clean, clear and forceful. Speaking of love gives it life.
“You are just saying that.” She says. “I’m sure you mean it, but…”
Gentle rebuff. Heart so loaded with desire I become mute. I roll a cigarette from her tobacco tin and write.
shivering in the heat
sweat running into the river
kissing my heart away
kissing my heart away.
Three months later Beatrice splits. “You are very nice, but, there is nothing more for me.”
Two years later my first novel, Singing with the Devil’s Voice, is published.
I sign a copy for her at a book signing. She is married to a merchant banker and living in Surrey.
“I sometimes wish I had made a deal with the Devil.” She says, a tad wistfully I like to think.
“I like the thought of the ‘burbs as one huge crossroads,” I say, and, distracted, sign another book.
When I look up she has gone. Her scent, Heaven Withdrawn, enduring in the airspace around me.
Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden
Back in Bollnäs Hospital where the Corona cases in the region has come down so low that our corona ward has been closed. The few patiens are instead to go to the large hospital in the region, in Gävle. Having sadly missed Sheila´s birthday party due to the pandemy, at least there is one good thing to have come out of it: Since my weeks in Bollnäs were changed due to the previous travel plans I get to work next week with a physician who I think is the best clinician that I know of, somthing that has not happened during all the years that I have worked here. He is the best when it comes to mysterious cases, like a doctor House, but also has a sunny disposition and is well liked by everyone.
There is an international symposium on Marfans syndrom and similar vascular diseases this week and it is great to be able to see the lectures without having to travel. None of the lectures are during my working hours at the hospital, luckily, but some are at one o'clock in the middle of the night so I miss those. Also, some lectures are in German, Russian and other languages that I don't know. None are in Greek, which I am studying, but my Greek is not yet and will possibly never be at the level to comprehend a scientific lecture.
View from the Wrong Side of the Pennines
Elle Warsop, Oldham, Greater Manchester
Just a quick update as I suddenly realised it is Friday again and, even though I have been stuck at home with nothing to do much, I have not got round to writing. Where do these endless days of nothing go? I have no idea what I have actually been doing. A bit of writing, lots of emails to my friend - still catching up on nearly 40 years of a life - and some TV watching. I have been re-visiting The Bridge on BBC iplayer. Still not got the watercolour paints out that I mean to keep getting out, or sent off either of the scripts that I keep meaning to send off, or carried on with the other script that I started, or looked for another job that I keep meaning to do, or done my tax return (Sigh! The joys of being a poor self-employed freelancer). The more time I have, it seems, the less I do. Apart from endless rounds of disinfecting.
Which brings me round to other news. Despite advice that you do NOT need to do another test after quarantine, Youngest Son decided to get one done anyway and tested negative. Hurrah! Husband was supposed to be returning to work today, but his company were a bit twitchy so requested another test. It came back… positive still. So where does that leave us? Apparently, although I’m not sure I realised this before, people are still testing positive for months and months. The advice is, though, even if you still have a cough and/or lack of smell and taste (like Husband), if you feel well and no longer have a temperature (again Husband), you can go back to work. Can I put the disinfectant down now then?
I spoke to my boss, as it were, at Oldham Theatre Workshop today (It was lovely hearing Jane mention OTW in her piece - small world!). We are to carry on delivering our workshops online in September, for the time being, this being Oldham and apparently the absolute epicentre of Covid19. To be honest I was glad of just that small ribbon of light amongst the clouds. The weekly online meetings with colleagues last term were at least something different and helped to relieve this dreadful monotony. The workshop sessions themselves, once I had got used to delivering them online, were a delight. My lovely 6 and 7 year olds were an absolute joy to work with and made me laugh every week. I am sure their grown-ups found it hard work though, forgetting at times that they were live streaming into my conservatory and everyone else’s houses!
So, a small ray of light shines. My best wishes to all my fellow journal writers. Thanks to Catherine for her words of solidarity and I hope Sheila had a lovely birthday. Sending love.
John Mole, St Albans
BACK TO SCHOOL
While Covid is playing
Blind Man’s Buff
we must all avoid
its searching arms
as it feels its way
around the classroom
whispering ‘Where are you?’
behind our backs.
If it follows us out
into the playground
we shall make sure
that it doesn’t join us
so it might just as well
take off that blindfold,
leaving us all
to our former games.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
On Wednesday we met up with younger stepdaughter and grandchildren near Lincoln for a lovely walk and picnic lunch, the first time we have seen them for 188 days. Lucky with the weather, unlike today which is cool and wet. Back to school for them at the end of next week – they seem quite happy at the prospect, if only to meet up with friends again.
I’ve been trying to complete a tax return as power of attorney for my elderly aunt. One of her accounts is with Nationwide, who normally send me a paper copy of her interest statement, but have stopped doing that automatically. There is no simple way of registering for internet banking for her, as power of attorney (they might do this after discussion – if only there was someone I could discuss this with!) and I’m not prepared to drive to a city and queue at a branch. I thought it would be a simple matter of phoning to request a paper statement, but the system is automated with no option to speak to an adviser, and I just get told to do it via the internet or visit a branch. In desperation I filled in an email complaints form, and have been going round in circles ever since. They obviously don’t bother to read my emails properly as they tell me to log into my internet account – I explain again that I don’t have one – they then tell me that if I do web chat the person there will take security details and arrange for the statements to be posted. (There is actually no security issue as all I want them to do is the same as they have done in previous years.) Result! Apparently not. The web chat person tells me they that cannot take security details and I must speak to an adviser. I tell them the automated service doesn’t allow this, so they tell me to press hash or asterisk after the number, which will bypass the automated system and put me straight through to a person. Ha ha.
This doesn’t work. It might have done before Covid but it doesn’t now. I reply to the last email from the complaints team telling them their advice about web chat hasn’t worked, and get no reply. I email again, presenting a clear summary of the problem. I get a reply telling me to log on to internet banking and is there anything else they can ‘help’ me with. I start banging my head again the wall. The tax return will go off with an estimated figure. I’ve sent one final email, and if I don’t get a response I’m resorting to their ‘snail mail’ address for complaints. I have no energy left to write a sensible journal entry. Sorry.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
A busy week in which Martin drove to London where the whole of Westminster now has a 20mph speed limit. He parked without any trouble in St James’s. Most of the shops, galleries and offices remain closed. Before he left he did scoot along to our favourite Italian deli, Lena Stores on Brewer Street, but disaster... NO fresh pasta! All foods prepackaged and none of the beautifully wrapped and displayed goodies which usually hang from the ceiling were in evidence. Nevertheless, on his return to Norfolk an iconic green and white striped bag was hauled into the kitchen and after several days of deliciousness we feel as though we have had our very own Roman Holiday!
Meanwhile I continued to wreak havoc in the garden. Kenny who mows our grass arrived on Monday and Charlie on Thursday. Kenny, carefully harnessed by me, was let loose with his strimmer... a machine I usually ban... and Charlie who delivers our firewood fulfilled my request for twelve oak logs to create a fairy ring in that part of the garden I am now calling the Mystic Circle. Charlie is a big chap and brought logs big enough to accommodate sumo wrestlers! Positioning them has been no mean feat but I am charmed!
During the week I delved into some of my favourite tree books including those of Andy Goldsworthy and Giuseppe Penone. Immediately I saw the opportunity to place a couple of treasured stones in the natural forks of the tree at the centre of the Mystic Circle. They are not quite witch stones which was my initial vision, but naturally hollowed out nest shaped stones from Cley beach. They will collect rain water and could not be more perfect as a gift to the small garden birds which have shown such interest in my recent activities. Placing two of these stones as an homage to Penone has given me enormous pleasure.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
Following several very localised outbreaks of Covid19, the Northamptonshire County Council public healthy team have issued new guidance for businesses, reinforcing the “work from home if you can” message. So for the time being we are reversing our gradual encouragement to office staff to attend the office, and reverting to a policy of all staff working from home where possible.
But these outbreaks are outbreaks of positive tests, not outbreaks of people being made ill or even hospitalised by the disease. Virtually all the 300 staff who tested positive at one local food manufacturer, (out of a workforce of around 2,000) were asymptomatic. So whilst the virus is continuing to flare up in certain places, associated with activities like food manufacturing, or with large unregulated social gatherings, the disease itself is largely absent.
Perhaps this bank holiday weekend we should therefore be marking the end of the pandemic in this country. Weekly deaths from Covid19 are now lower than deaths from pneumonia and influenza, and as a country we have now had 8 weeks in succession where the total number of deaths from all causes is below the five year average. Yes we need to maintain good hand hygiene practices and modest social distancing, but if we sit around waiting for a vaccine life won’t be worth living, redundancies will continue to increase and many more businesses eventually go bankrupt.
For a little more jollity perhaps we could play a game of “predict the U-turn”. It is very easy. Nicola Sturgeon will announce some additional (usually unnecessary) anti-Covid measure to be applied in Scotland. Then the UK government will criticise it as being over the top. Next a big social media clamour will develop, accusing the government of being callous. And finally the government will perform an inelegant U-turn and adopt the Scottish measure.
I imagine that Boris Johnson would like to be remembered as a great radical and reforming Prime Minister like Margaret Thatcher – but one of her most memorable quotes (she did employ some very talented speechwriters, though apparently she didn’t always understand the jokes they wrote for her) was “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning”. Well unfortunately Boris and his government are hopelessly pirouetting every day, showing no clear purpose or direction.
On the great face mask question, at the height of the pandemic scientists told us they were ineffective or possibly even harmful outside of hospital settings, and yet now that the lethal pandemic wave has largely passed through the country, leaving behind a few ripples, we are being told we should wear them. Absurd. I comply with the requirement, but I do so as an act of courtesy to shop staff, rather than as a proportionate safety measure.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
Confusing rules on Covid (for me that is)
Thursday 20th August
My daughter delivered my food and saw how unhappy I was. She gave my miserable state of mind some good news. I can now let one person into my house.
More confusion, which one of my family do I choose?
I should be pleased as I can also sit in someones car with masks and windows open.
Joy of Joy.
I get to go with daughter Karen to meet daughter Sarah on Bradfield moors to see and smell the wonderful heather in its full glory with its delicate perfume that lasts such a short time in August. I absorb it gratefully.
There was a possibility of seeing a Bearded Vulture that has strayed off course and has been seen on this moor. My daughter saw it by accident of being in the right place at the right time,
Not sighted today we saw Kestrels and Buzzards and not many people.
We ate our sandwiches and drinks and sat there all afternoon in glory. The wind was strong but it was a lovely sunny day and two of us came home with burnt faces we never noticed how hot the sun was because of the wind. Sarah had put sun cream on so her face wasn't burnt.
Sunday 23rd August
Wortley Hall, Barnsley. The workers stately home opened again for afternoon tea.
social distancing of course. I get another trip out in Karen's car, we don't masks with the windows open. It was going to be outside on the lawn but a change was needed as heavens opened with rain but we enjoyed it just the same. After tea the sun came out and a walk around the grounds was lovely meeting up with friends I have not seen since my husbands funeral last year catching up with their news was good.
Half an hour driving in masks is quite claustrophobic.
So driving to Saltburn by The Sea in October is a no no for me I will have to cancel and wait until next year when I am 83.
The worst thing now is that two of my family in Oldham have tested positive for covid. So while I am gallivanting about for a change they are in lock down again.
With no help from the government. lots of people with no money at all. How can the economy recover with no work to do and lots of unemployment.
There is no answer to that. What hope for the future have we?
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Life after lockdown
The lockdown has shown us how life can be different from the one we had in 2019. The politicians in power tell us that we should go back to our business as usual, just with surgical masks on our faces. On the contrary, ecologists want negative growth (not to say recession). Obviously, politics are not going to help us to find a way of life in two years' time when the present situation will not necessarily be ended but at least more openly livable.
In my medical world, I can't imagine a health minister saying: take off your mask, stop washing your hands every minute, stop the heavy disinfecting after every procedure. So that will probably not change, the responsibility would be dangerous and unbearable. The cost and the time-consuming procedures will be a permanent burden on professions that are already taxing.
When it comes to shopping, as we are encouraged to do by our leaders, I am more careful than ever buying something: I ask myself more than before, do I need it ? I probably don't need anything at all, except for some food, petrol and electricity, and the usual services. So, the economic world we lived in is not going to come back. And that's not to mention people losing their jobs.
No idea at all of what will come out of that, wait and see.
Let's all of us go and have a glass of wine, celebrating today, Plague20 journal readers, Margaret and Sheila.