David Horovitch, Twickenham
No sooner had I texted to a friend that I thought I had to reconcile myself to never working again, than my agent called with an offer of a week at The Theatre Royal Windsor next week. I'm to play Alan Bennett in a rehearsed reading of The Lady in The Van. We 'rehearse' for a day or two and then throw it in front of a paying audience for eight performances. Jobs always come at the least expected time and from the least expected quarter. That's show business.
SO -all week I've been watching our Alan on YouTube and trying to get that fluting Yorkshire accent. I've practised till I'm a bit bored to be honest but I can't pretend not to be thrilled to be stepping onto a stage again and it won't be too nerve-wracking as we don't have to learn the lines. And Windsor's just down the road.
Still deeply immersed in the sonnets - I've done 108 so far but next week I'll have to give them a rest while I'm doing the play.
Life goes on though. My flat roof has sprung a leak for the third time since I moved here 18 months ago. It's ok now and only seems to be troublesome when we have a real deluge as we did a couple of weeks ago. Might be caused by a massive terracotta pot which houses an olive tree. Or it might not. It's a pain and an anxiety.
I have my bubble support Sue coming round for dinner and a dvd tonight. I'm making kedgeree and baked apples, dvd undecided. Must get cooking soon.
We all have our own version of covid don't we? As Tolstoy didn't say -' Every coronavirus family is unhappy in its own way.' Some are lonely, some are cold, some are broke, some cannot endure their partner's company all day and night, some cannot endure the endless silence of their utter isolation. It's a beastly time for all of us. And I feel incredibly lucky to have a weeks respite onstage.
Just hope I get a few laughs.
Must get cooking now.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
As an undergrad, I studied another sort of PPE – politics, philosophy and economics. Economics felt too much smoke and mirrors so that was quickly dropped. Politics was different. I enjoyed all the new experiences and political debate. Even went to some of debating societies, Conservatives and Marxists alike. It provided an insight into how governments, policies and internal relations work. A PhD followed in an entirely different field but a political perspective was built in. That was some decades ago and today, as they say, is another world. After the dithering start to the pandemic during February and March, for a while, it felt, as if we were all in this together. Support for the NHS and, long overdue, support for the care sector. Communities looking out for each other. Volunteering increased. All that was compassionate and altruistic in the country came to the fore. For a time, even opposition politicians in the UK were, generally, supportive of the government. But now all that public-spiritedness has been squandered. Government action (or inaction) has resulted in division in almost every aspect of daily life. Depending on your viewpoint, governmental policies have imploded. COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly and threatening to overwhelm the NHS in some areas; a twelve billion super smart Test and Trace package is anything but. Those in a position of power have adopted a new policy of picking fights on all fronts causing disagreements between people who were once united. The country has been divvied up into zones. Things move so fast in and out of the new tiers that life is beginning to resemble a macabre version of the Hokey-Cokey. Folk in tiers 2 and 3, who find themselves unable to work, may have to manage on two thirds of their salaries. Two thirds of minimum or low wage means that many will go hungry as families struggle to pay their bills. Will landlords, transport, mortgage, gas and electricity companies accept two thirds? Of course not. They too have to survive. It has felt that we are up against a ruling elite that follows few rules of a civil society. The only comfort is that the architect of the divide and rule strategy, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated by one of his own protectors. If only our decision makers had studied politics and history.
When I stopped work in July, I’d had notions that this next chapter in life would involve working on my father’s wartime memoirs, doing some writing and some research. Three months in, I still live in hope. Between my aunts and my mother, I appear to have a full time job; it’s just like working life - even the car needs filling every week. Instead of a salary, there is heaps of love. Over the last week my aunt has needed some financial and legal business carried out. Oh yes and would I sell her house and personal effects. Mum broke her hearing aid (twice) and spectacles (once). At 7am on Monday, my sister and I were called by the personal alarm company as mum had another fall; fortunately she was unhurt but couldn’t get up. One joyful, albeit brief, moment came when sister and I lifted mum from the floor and were both able to touch mum for the first time since lockdown. Wearing face masks of course. But actual human contact nonetheless.
My eight year old grandson visited on Saturday. “I’ve been reading about reproduction nana” and with an enormous shudder he went on “I’ve decided, I’m going to adopt”. I am so looking forward to half term next week. Spending more time with my bubble family and some online time with my other grandchildren.
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
No fun at all these days. I feel gloomy, don't read if you feel down.
All except for the starlings flying in wonderful dancing clouds.
Personal life is always echoing the general circumstances.
A very special consultation
Everything true and minimized as much as possible.
I gave my first terrorist consultation.
Nothing like the "normal" consultation with a prisoner, three police, and that's it. Even if there is some nervousness on my part when the police manager says the person is dangerous, I usually volunteer for it, being the oldest. I've already had a big chunk of my life.
But on this occasion, everything was different. Two unknown, quick, almost invisible men came looking around every room asking if anybody needed a room unoccupied and locking the ones we didn't need. Also asking where each of us would be posted.
The manager in charge of security came and told us everything we needed to know. None of us had known until then that somebody in the team had special training in the matter. I was not surprised it was L. She is a courageous person, at forty still competing in her sport at national level. She told us that there is one consultation of that type every week in the larger department. She explained - I am not talking of ill persons - that we can't refuse such patients even if they don't really need the care they ask for, otherwise they go to court, and the judges will give them enormous financial compensation which will cost far more than any standard care.
We had to hide the ID on our white gowns, thank Covid everybody had a mask.
Then about five persons, in a kind of special-forces uniform with incredible protection equipment entered. We could just see their eyes. They had machine guns you only see in films - loaded, as they took care to specify - no sudden movement to be made, and the rule being to tell them before we moved. Accompanied by the same number of more "normal" police, women and men. There were two improbable but possible risks, either "friends" of the lady might want to "see" her again, or some others might want to take revenge on her. Uncomfortable. The security men and the firemen of the hospital were patrolling outside the unit.
The other patients there were locked down in an unused waiting room and told not to move away - as if they would want to do so.
As soon as our special patient was in, the four doors accessing our unit were locked, each one guarded by the armed Robocops, who were at the same time watching and protecting the secretaries.
The consultation itself was quick and simple. Our Robocop was a nice man, he repeated twice "She is not the angel she looks", (age 50+), "she has done terrible things, I can't tell you, professional secret. She is not good". But Google knows everything...
After she had gone, we thought it was over. No. Robocop told us "Stay where you are for 20 minutes, don't move for the moment, if we are attacked before we get to our vehicles, the meeting point is here, we will come back". The enemy didn't come, so that was the last we saw of our Robocops.
It is going to be my last consultation of that kind; I am happy to retire finally. For my junior doctor, it will be the first of many, but I never thought to see it.
A day later, a history teacher was decapitated near Paris. That too. I have not yet recovered from these terribly sad circumstances. As with Covid, where it is interesting to look at the history of plagues, the history of decapitation is linked to revolution, in France or in England (political or/and religious). What I can't understand is the newspapers' minimizing of the facts in calling the crime an assassination, let's say, like gangsters killing each other with guns. In my job, when people are fatally ill, we have to tell them. On the same principle, journalists should find a way not to reduce or cosmetically disguise the truth. It's not assassination. It's Terror - not terrorism.
"Dans ce moment de panique, je n'ai peur que de ceux qui ont peur"
Victor Hugo wrote during the Revolution of 1848.
He was a brave man, and as a consequence he lived then in exile for twenty years. By the way, he wrote two "English" plays, "Cromwell" and "Marie Stuart". I mention that as a small indication among innumerable others that France and England, as Churchill knew, are actually one country. Let the Brexiteers put that in their pipes and smoke it.
My translation : "In this moment of panic, I am only afraid of those who are afraid". A demanding guideline.
When I recover, I will tell you about our trip to Lille, Lens and the Baie de Somme.
Rob would have preferred those stories.
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Not many images supplied this week so I thought it might be nice to lighten the mood a little with a couple of photos from here taken in the last few days.
The return of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers who come here each year to breed, and a friendly tree surgeon lightening the load within the Wellingtonia.
Sincerely hope they do the trick.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
Good morning! I'm sending you a virtual smile.
Is it just me or are smiles becoming scarce? A side effect of this global gloom? I miss seeing people smiling.
In the lane where I live, dog walkers rarely wave now and instead seem to hurry along, looking down at the ground or away at the hedge. In the towns and villages, people cross the street to avoid others. Masked in shops or enclosed spaces, the presence of other people feels unwelcome.
The message is - quite rightly for now anyway - continue to stay away from people: treat everyone as if they are carriers of the deadly virus. The trouble is - people aren’t the enemy but we cannot trust anyone - not even ourselves. Whatever the covid alert level, whichever tier our locality, we must protect each other through separation, distancing, avoidance, space. It still feels peculiar, uncomfortable, alien.
I must look like an alien in my visor. That or as if I’m about to do a spot of welding! Not that I’ve worn it too much this week. Actually, I’ve had a very unproductive week; not achieved a lot. A little pottering about in the garden, a few walks, some supermarket shopping. Had a letter from my aunt - concerned about the rising price of food, falling standards in public office, oh yes and the bad temper of her chiropodist!
On Tuesday I took a lovely walk through Dunwich and around the coastal heathland near Minsmere. Another day - I drove over to the pretty little town of Bungay with its fine Georgian buildings and then onto Beccles to buy corn plasters. (Yes, I am trying very hard to avoid grumpy podiatrists)!
Today there is some faltering and rather watery sunshine. I hope to get out in the garden. Maybe a walk again later. The beach at Covehithe is beautiful at this time of year...
Stay safe and well. Any smiles will be returned x
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more
Lord George Byron
View from the wrong side of the Pennines
Elle Warsop, Oldham
It was World Menopause Day on Sunday 18th October - I am struggling to make myself understood and wonder if the two are connected. Me being ‘menopausal’ not it being World Menopause Day. I make no apology to male readers about talking about the menopause. They need to know how it might affect half of the population. So yes, not just struggling with the Covid situation, although that feels like the crux of everything at the minute for me. I am struggling to express myself clearly. The written word is not my friend. I fear I am coming across as a shouty person in messages and emails. I don’t think I am normally a shouty person but now I worry that perhaps I am and I’m deluding myself. I have been told by one person that I am over-sensitive and another, uptight. I am struggling with it and wondering if indeed I am. Perhaps I am deluded? I know I am terribly terribly hormonal at the minute. It is hard to maintain perspective on even normal life when your brain has shut off. It is hard to explain just how I feel: apart from anxious, upset, depressed one minute and kind of ok and on an even keel (given the current climate) the next, but mainly, this week, really shaky (I am actually physically shaking) and angry the whole time, like I am going to explode. So maybe I am a shouty person after all. Maybe I should start using Youngest Son’s punch ball. It can’t be good for you can it? All this anger and anxiety? I really do need to get hold of some marijuana I think. I might even contemplate HRT. Whisky? A single malt will do nicely thanks.
And then… then there is Covid. Ahhh the lovely tiers we find ourselves in. For Oldham, although we move into tier three and are on red alert again, it is a bit, “plus ça change, plus ça change.” And, as I mentioned last week, I can at least meet my friend for a socially distanced walk on the moors perhaps. I'll look forward to that.
I have resigned myself to living this isolated life. Most of the week I am in the house totally alone with no one to talk to except the wall. It doesn’t usually answer back. I am tempted every now and then to throw egg and chips at it, in a Shirley Valentine-esque moment but I’d have to make the egg and chips and then I’d only have to clean it up afterwards and I hate housework.
I am let out once a week to go and do my Speech Bubbles sessions at a local school. I do love it. After only five, forty minute, sessions with the children (who are in Year One and all only five or six years old) it is already having a wonderful effect. You can already see a difference in the whole group's confidence. We act out a story in the session - told to me the week before by one of the group. This week’s story had a spider, so before we got to the acting we had a chat about what they would do if they really saw a spider. The Teaching Assistant who works with me said she had never heard them chat before. She was nearly crying. However, I cannot help thinking every week as I leave after the session that it will be a miracle if I don’t get the virus at some point very very soon. There is no social distancing really, no mask wearing and it is pretty much life as usual there. Having spent most of the last six months at home shielded from life, I am quite anxious when I am there. The little ones do not know what two metres is and I cannot push them away - nor would I want to. But it is a risk I am having to take along with the staff who mostly seem ok with it. There are cases of the virus in school and if someone is CONFIRMED as having it then that class and people that have ‘definitely’ been in contact are all self-isolating. But this seems to be reliant on parents etc being honest and getting their child tested (or indeed themselves). No one is under any illusions about what is happening and how honest some people are being. It is a deprived area, they still need to work and cannot afford to take 14 days off. This is the grim reality. Hospitality all but shut up but the harsh reality is it is schools and colleges that are the reason for the increase in the numbers not pubs and restaurants. And not many seem to be saying it.
So my only contact with actual civilisation in the outside world this week has been going to school for two hours. I do get out into the beautiful autumnal world for a walk five days out of seven but generally I am here, alone with my wall. The way I am feeling at the minute though, I am mostly glad it doesn’t answer back.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
My (probably illegal) trip up to North Lancashire last weekend was a great success. As well as eating and drinking lots, and helping my friend clear out a derelict barn in the farmyard of the house he is renovating, I was greatly entertained by his two month old Airedale puppy. It spent most of Saturday and Sunday morning chewing my shoe laces, but also enjoyed simply chasing me round and round in circles in the garden.
On my return journey I called in to see my mother and step father near Manchester. I was very conscious of how much she had aged in the last six months. She was much less mobile than when I had last seen her, and looked quite unsteady on her feet. Spending nearly all your time sheltering at home is clearly bad for both physical and mental health. Their house was unusually busy as two of my sisters were also there, doing a thorough spring clean with mop and bucket and vacuum cleaner, activities which are now beyond my mother. My step father’s various medical issues seemed to be stable, but then on Thursday morning he was rushed to hospital in incredible pain. He was dosed up with morphine, and spent a stable night, but we don’t know if he will be released in for the weekend. And every hour he spends in hospital he is at significantly increased risk of exposure to Covid.
But looking for something positive to report on, I enjoyed the item on the TV news during the week, where an old lady in Barnsley said we needed to get on with living our lives. She didn’t “give a sod” about all the restrictions, we were going to have millions unemployed by Christmas, and the young would end up having to pay for it all. I’m not sure how this got past the BBC’s careful censorship of any suggestions that the government’s lockdown policy might be wrong, (apart from voices suggesting that it is not harsh enough!) You can google “Maureen in Barnsley” if you haven’t seen it.
And on Wednesday night we attended our first live music concert since January. In a theatre workshop space, with 90 seats carefully placed around a central performance area (with named seating, spacing out the groups and individuals) we enjoyed a performance by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet of pieces by Schubert and Haydn. It was a special event to celebrate the 80th birthday of Leamington Music’s concert promoter, and whoever had done the seating allocations placed us at the front, just two meters behind the cellist. All apart from the musicians were wearing masks, of course; there was no interval, to eliminate the risk of mingling; and at the end of the concert we were instructed to leave by the nearest fire exit, to avoid any crush. But for an hour and a quarter we were transported back to the Vienna of over 200 years ago. Delightful.
John Mole, St Albans
and Far Away
is the song that chooses me
crossing the horizon
between then and now.
Such titles summon up
a distant landscape
then mark the heart’s arrival
close to home
as do the lyrics of another song
we used to smile along with;
Such Foolish Things
Remind Me of You.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Bristol
In our Summer walks in Bristol we were surprised to find so many green spaces. In addition to the Downs, Ashton Court and Leigh Woods - all almost on our doorstep - we discovered dozens of parks new to us. Now we are doing Autumn into Winter walks and trying to get out earlier in the day for the good light when possible. So we are investigating Bristol’s open markets, planning to arrive about 1 pm in time for lunch. Again we are finding there are more markets than we knew of - the Thursday Market at Temple Quay for instance. According to Google this market is one of the ten best in Europe. Hmmmm, this must be pre-Covid as when we arrived there were only five stalls and three of those were closing shop. So we were left with pizza or “The Spanish Brothers - one a genius, one a fantastic cook”. We could only see one brother so we asked which was he. “No genius would stand here cooking in the cold” he replied. He definitely was the fantastic cook: delicious, overflowing sandwiches.
We are saving St Nicholas Market for a future Wednesday but on Sunday we walked to Southville to the Tobacco Factory Market. In addition to fresh, ready to eat, food stalls, there were artisanal cheeses and breads for sale, marmalades and chutneys plus Italian pastries. It was busy, we wore masks. But, we had lunch, ordered from a stall and then taken to an eating area where a rather officious, but very efficient, a woman thoroughly cleaned every table that emptied with sanitizer. She asked everyone eating there to write their name and mobile number on a clipboard for “track and trace”. The lunch was warm and tasty and the cappuccino was the best I have had since February.