Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
Earlier this week we ventured into the city, for the first time in months. I had an appointment at the Apple store in Manchester. They were on it with regard to the Covid-19 health and safety guidelines. Face masks were mandatory. The man on the door held a temperature ‘gun’ to our foreheads and made sure we used the hand sanitizer. I don’t know about you, but I find when I’m wearing a face mask I seem to go a bit deaf! Is it because we can’t see people’s mouths moving?
Afterwards we mooched round a few other shops, I was glad to see Waterstones was still trading, I can happily spend half a day in there. There were arrows all over the place trying to keep shoppers on a vague one way system, I felt like we were following some kind of treasure hunt. As all this ‘new normal’ is not yet second nature it was exhausting. Feeling the need to treat ourselves we ended the day with a drink at 20 Stories, which is a rooftop bar with panoramic views across the city, a perfect location to watch the sun set. The waiters wore visors, other than that we pretended, just for while, that we were not living in the midst of a global pandemic!
A few months ago I might have been slightly self conscious that I don’t possess the fashionable clothes or the designer handbag like the other ladies sipping their cocktails. Not any more, I am grateful to be healthy and to be able to pay for a round of drinks! Glancing around, I am astonished at how many young girls have artificially enhanced facial features! Don’t we live in a strange world?
My sister had her first day on set last week. Apparently they are super strict about the two metre distance between actors. The camera can be positioned to make it appear like they are stood next to each other. She had to do her own hair and makeup (she took some of her own clothes too, as the wardrobe staff are not doing any shopping!) The hardest thing must have been NOT hugging and kissing her fellow thespians, after not seeing them for so long! No green room facilities any more. She took her own lunch.
As I am writing this, it’s announced on the news that as from tomorrow we are required to wear a face mask in all shops, including supermarkets. I am working in the flower shop tomorrow...
Keep well everyone xxxxx
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
A very short message for a very special day
No time for any development of my themes today:
morning spent preparing a 125 pages folder for my lawyer to get my pension (the hospital's administration had been very vague about doing their job properly).
my birthday lunch on the shadowy terrasse of a nearby cafe,
the 1835 Bellini opera I Puritani by Oper Stuttgart, improbable love story with a happy end, England 1649, involving the Queen Henriette Marie de France. Every aria is a master piece. Bossuet wrote for her daughter Henriette Anne the most beautiful "oraison funèbre", a master piece that I like and admire a lot - Vanitas vanitatum...
and our son just now sent a message : "Justine's water just broke". Our first grandchild on the way to the world.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Bristol
For four and a half months, we have not been in a shop. We have not seen anyone outside the house, except for the occasional delivery driver. This week I suddenly realised how virtual my life has become and how far away my family and friends - many of whom you will know from these pages.
Last week we played the boardgame, Articulate, for the second time on zoom with Dianne and Jeremy in Derbyshire. It is more difficult as a virtual game as there is often a time lag between speakers and you only have 45 - 60 seconds to get your partner to say the words on your cards. Nevertheless, Dianne and I won this time, having lost narrowly last time.
In Quarantine Book Club on Sunday night we began a new book, “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens, and my youngest sister, Beth, decided to join us. She is in Washington state. So, four sisters and two nieces plus friends in different parts of the world. On Tuesday a zoom play reading of “Dangerous Corners” by J. B. Priestly with Margaret and Peter in Norfolk and Stephen and Stephanie in Sussex.
There was no zoom Pilates class on Wednesday as the instructor took a real, actual, physical holiday in Cornwall. But that morning I had a three way zoom conversation with Jean in Melbourne and Terry in Jerusalem - both friends from my time, fifty odd years ago at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That Wednesday evening Simon and I attended a virtual talk arranged through the Guardian newspaper. The speakers were Carole Cadwalladr, who broke the Cambridge Analytica story, and Luke Harding, who has been investigating Russian infiltration of UK and US politics. Interestingly, the long-awaited report on Russian meddling in UK elections and the Brexit vote had finally been published the day before which added a real immediacy to the discussion.
Several times during the week, Margaret and Peter and I have enjoyed morning coffee, Face Time, conversations. Margaret and I had been scheduled to do a craft course at Charleston in October. That now is cancelled so we have decided to book a similar course on line. Yes, another virtual event.
I have just finished Friday’s zoom yoga class in time to write this piece. I am not very good at meditation and instead, this morning, lingering in my mind as I attempted to meditate, was a zoom conversation I had with my three year old grandson this week. His mother put the iPad screen on the table in front of him and slowly as he coloured he got used to my just being there and he began to chatter. I just watched him and chatted away. He talked about the colours he was using . He did some sticker dinosaurs. He showed me some stuffed toys. He has a stuffed toy chicken that records what you say and then repeats it back in a chicken voice. So he would say, ”Talk to the chicken, Granny” and I would say “What did you have for breakfast?” or some silly thing and the chicken would squawk it back and we would laugh and laugh. My virtual grandson! It’s all I am going to get of him for now but it was lovely.
Hello from Eastbourne
A fantastic week by Franklin Lewis Macrae
Over the week we have done a variety of fun things!
On Monday morning my mum woke us at 5.30am and took us to Beastie Cove. It was awesome, everything was so quiet and soaked in dew. When we reached the cove we had biscuits and orange juice and swam in the sea. We forgot to bring the swimming costumes so we just swam in our pants. We saw two crabs on the rocks, some anemones and even some seals. We were extremely tired in the afternoon but we've asked mum if we can go out at dawn again.
I went to my best friend's house. We played football in the park and then his mum made an enormous Hungarian lunch. In Hungary, lunch is the most impressive meal of the day. It is just great to be able to hang out again.
I have also learned to solve Rubik's Cubes! I enjoyed it so much I ordered a Megaminx (a 12 sided one) and a Pyraminx (a pyramid). They were both such fun and challenging to solve.
School has ended so I don't have to do lots of work now but my mum is still making us do some work.
Wildflowers, blankets, wigwams and granny by Marli Rose Macrae
This week, on Monday, my mummy got us up at 5.30am and told us that we were going to the Downs. We packed Oaties and orange juice and headed to Beastie Cove. It felt like a morning in Spain only without the scent of the pepper trees, warm, sunny, peaceful. The hills are covered in wildflowers at the moment daisies, cow parsley, teasels, thistles, red dead nettles, dandelions, meadow buttercups, Dutch Clover, cowslips and long grass. Strangely though, no poppies. My book says that field poppies are slowly disappearing from the fields due to farming even though one plant can produce 50, 000 seeds. The petals are used as medicine. Anyway, there were lots of butterflies and bunnies. We saw a bunny run down a cliff! The earth was damp with dew with no wind, it was still. I brought my magnifying glass so that I could look at insects and flowers. I've been looking for a book on wildflowers for ages and then mummy found one on the bookshelf that had been there all along!
When we arrived at Beastie Cove we had our snacks and sat on the rocks. The tide was out and there was a beautiful pattern on the sand where the waves had rolled. Franklin climbed a hill for his snack and mummy and I removed or shoes to dangle our feet in the water. It was cold to begin with but then it felt refreshing. The water was crystal clear. We carried on walking up the beach near the lighthouse. There are giant rocks heading out to sea and we jumped over them. We found a massive crab, it was barely alive so we put it back into the water. We saw some seals bobbing around and playing. They were watching us!
We were so hot as the day came. We hadn't brought our swimming costumes but as it was just us and the seals, we swam in our pants, even mummy. It was wonderful to feel so free. Afterwards, we headed home, back up the hills and home for showers. Mummy made bacon sandwiches and it was the best thing in the world.
Franklin went to his friend's house this week and I stayed home with my mummy and daddy. My daddy and I made a wigwam in the garden from old sheets. I have been reading in it all week. My daddy said this weekend I can sleep in the wigwam and my parents and Franklin can sleep in a tiny tent.
My mummy bought me a new blanket for my bed. I choose it myself. It's beautiful, soft, faced, coral pink with flowers. It's made from old saris with millions of tiny stitches, all done by hand. I can't stop looking at the stitches.
I was hoping to see my best friend but by she's gone to Hungary for the summer to stay with her grandparents. I was surprised and disappointed that she didn't tell me because we have been writing letters to each other during lockdown. However, my granny is coming to see us in a few weeks and I can't wait for a knitting lesson and some stories.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Up betimes, and after a poor, unrewarding breakfast of oatmeal with thin milk off to a far corner of the garden where Rich. had told me of mowles appearing from the Woods. So, fetching him from the Potting Shed (wherein he does mysteriously find much to do about nothing discernible) and with divers engines for the trapping and all manner of other tools we to the site. His report true, there being above a score of goodly hills among the grass, we set to work, he diligently digging and I handing him the trapps, among them one new to me and of French design called ‘Putange’. Watching him at work I was moved to set one of these, a form of mighty tongs and spring, but very simple, and hand it to him thus. Unfortunately the movement did trigger it and, my thumb being between I was held in a grip most paneful which I urged him to release me from. He not so quick as I would have liked and, I thought, close to merriment. I did box his ears and away, flinging the trapp from me whereupon it flew thro’ the glass of my carriage stood nearby. Will deduct cost of glass from R’s wages as it was his provokation that led to my intemperance, though Lord knows it may take months to recover the capital with the price of glass high and his wages modest. My thumbnail now largely blue, my thumb throbbing, my mood dark.
Away to the walled garden where I did recover somewhat planting in large earthenware pots my Lemon Trees newly arrived. Please that no-one discovers that they are from H.....d it being close to treachery to get them thence but I being well served by a sea-captain who brings gin from the same place through meetings with other captains, all of them rogues.
After lunch - venison pasty, a fine roste fowl, apple puddings and sweet cream - I took a stroll with my Dear Wife to view my lemon trees and, as we turned the corner, did disturb a fat squirrel eating of the bark from one. Wife quickly with surprising force and a shriek did threw a large stone which missed squiril but found the pot, removing a piece the size of my hand. Will have to engage boy with clapps to watch over trees until another deterrant solution found. Will have to buy new pot. Am plagued by these creatures. Mowles, squirrils, boys, saucy servants. Not sure about Wives, but in truth am much pleased to find she has a hitherto unknown skill which may come of use among any unruly throng in the City. Will keep store of stones for her in the carriage and have form of trapdore cut in the roof thro’ which she may rise safely for the throwing.
Away to my office for some peace only to find the Dutch have broken the great chain at the Medway again, setting fire to some of our shipps within. Messenger arrives with note tied to linck of chain viz: Enjoy Hollander Lemon.
On my way home in the evening visit notable bawdy house at the sign of Two Mermaids for an hour or so, hoping for distraction and find much of that as usual within, tho Lord! the expence. I find on examining my purse I have laid out above one and sixpence on pleasure and a similar sum on my supper - difficult to say which the better bargain.
Home, and confess I took some further pleasure in waking Rich to ask if moles caught.
And so to bed.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
Our friends Rasna, Eric and their eight year old son Micah visited to see the caravan. Micah had been excited since first hearing about it and had called several times to ask when they could come over. While Rasna and Eric hung out with us on our front porch Micah lay in the caravan on the bed that folds down to a few inches below the ceiling and read Wind in the Willows, though he also entertained himself by going up and down a lot, climbing up on the counter over the ice box, a sort of refrigerator cooled by a block of ice instead of by electricity, or climbing up the really very elegant ladder.
The family stayed for a while, and suddenly we had a torrential downpour. That was when Eric discovered the leak from the ceiling fan, or what I thought was the ceiling fan. Before they departed he left the upper bed down with a small saucepan under the leak. It isn’t a very large leak, perhaps half a cup of water after the torrential downpour. I ignored the situation for a few days, then I called Sam for help, but Sam was busy. I thought I’d at least check and see if I could figure out how much it was leaking. Inside I realized I wanted to raise the bunk which is when I discovered just how heavy the wood of the fold down bed is. I lay on my back and tried to lift it with my legs. I could budge it but of course I couldn’t lift it. I did manage to get the table under the bed on the two posts so that was satisfying. We could sit and play cards if we wanted, only in danger of bumping our heads if we stood up too quickly. Sam’s brother and sister in law came over to see the caravan, and I asked them to help with lifting the folded down bed back into place. They are both very active and fit… and together they could lift it but we couldn’t figure out how to get it to fold. It seemed to get caught on the ceiling.
In the meantime though, I knew I wasn’t able to get on the roof and caulk around the fan, but we have a bright blue plastic pool for small kids to splash around it. I use it for the dog on hot days, except that the dog despises it, perhaps because the water that comes out of our hose comes from between the rock shelves very deep under the ground and is always very cold. I got out our tall step ladder and climbed as high as I dared, three rungs from the top, and flung the wading pool over the fan. But I had already had to rescue the wading pool from the woods so I knew a good wind would blow the wading pool off the caravan roof. Then I remembered I had an outside sofa cushion that I’d bought because I loved the greens and blues. I dragged that up the step ladder and managed to situate it over a third of the wading pool. Leak situation solved.
Then another friend came over, and he was able to figure out the problem of closing the bed (the wood was getting caught on a window latch that didn’t fold flush to the window) and fold it up. I was very impressed with his strength.
I described my genius of a leak solution to Sam and he was amused, and inspired to come over and try to figure out what the actual water problem is. Down came the sofa cushion. Down came the blue plastic wading pool. He discovered that it isn’t just a fan but also a vent with a little lid that you can wind up and down from the inside. His theory is possibly the leak was the result of the vent not being closed tightly enough, but he isn’t sure. We have left it tightly closed with no wading pool over it in hopes of another downpour so we can see whether or not his theory is true. But in the meantime he was able to see various places where there could be other leaks, so he declared that we need to caulk around the edges of the roof, and, if necessary around the fan/vent. So today I’m off to buy a caulking gun. The woman who sold us the caravan had very kindly thrown in a couple of tubes of caravan caulk, so we just need the gun.
In the meantime Micah is about to have his ninth birthday, and for his birthday he wants his whole family to come and sleep in the caravan. On Sunday we’ll have a fire in the fire pit, toast marshmallows, have dinner, stay awake to view the comet through our binoculars, and then they’ll have breakfast in the morning. And it isn’t supposed to rain so they won’t get dripped on and we won’t find out any thing more about the leak. But I’ll have the caulk gun at the ready.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
Back in Ålesund. It’s teeming with Norwegian tourists.
My Polish friend from school and I are in the midst of revision for her exams in September. We’ve finished Immigration and Working Life. And started on Bringing Up Children in Norway. The textbook has helpful suggestions and presents various perspectives. In addition, there is a Mamagruppe and Papagruppe organised in school to gently guide and inspire us immigrants to the Norwegian way of childrearing. I wish I had had this sort of guidance 34 years ago.
The Health and Education of all children in Norway is paramount. Pregnancy care, delivery, the immunisation program, routine health checks, medical care and hospital admissions are free till they are 16 years old. There is free dental care till the age of eighteen and a payment of only 25 per cent of dental bills for a couple of years after. The entire education system including University is free. The only exceptions are “Barnehage,” a mix of childcare and kindergarten from age 1 till they enter school at age 6; and pre- and after-school care for children whose parents work. This is offered till they are 10 years old. The children are helped with homework or take part in games and activities. Both of these services are heavily subsidised by the local commune.
Some of the suggestions in the book were:
1. “Spend time with your children.” Work life balance is important here and most people finish work at 4 pm. Lunch is a sharp, short half hour and relaxed coffee breaks or long conversations with friends and family whilst “working” is not done. One generally takes a ‘matpakke’ or packed lunch to work. A sandwich and fruit. Eating out is expensive and canteens are available only in bigger companies. Work hard, Play even harder.
2. Tons of love and encouragement. “Du er god nok” – “You are good enough” is the mantra. Resist being critical. It’s not the Norwegian way. The standard answer to “How are you?” is “Det går bra.” “Its good!!!” There are many synonyms to “Good” in Norwegian. Very few for “Bad.” People don’t discuss their difficulties at length here.
3. “Set boundaries for children.” Be concordant. Don’t say one thing and be seen to do another. Don’t tell your children not to drink and drive whilst being regularly drunk yourself.
4. Absolutely zero tolerance to violence against children. The Child Protection service here is strict and vigilant. Vulnerable children are protected. I found it interesting that there are no orphanages here.
5. “Encourage critical thinking and independence in school.” Everyone’s opinion counts. Learning is adapted to your needs. No end of year exams or marks are given for the first seven years of school. And one progresses to the next class with your friends even if you’ve been ill or not really doing well in a subject. The focus is on cooperation, not unhealthy competition or feeling... not good enough.
What’s the catch?
Or the downside?
In my opinion, so much only positive feedback and not very much correction has created young people who are unable to take constructive criticism in the workplace. They are unable to separate feedback about work and instead take it personally. It’s a little difficult for the manager.
In schools, the culture is different to what I am used to. We give our teachers a lot of respect and are very polite to them. It’s different here.
On the other hand, I love that they encourage play and social connection from such a young age. I personally would prefer not to have my baby in childcare till they are three. But it’s so very important to develop friendships. I heard in a podcast (I’ve forgotten who it was. So this is not my original idea) that having an early best friend is important. Someone you love and is in a sense more important than you. So you learn to give love and importance to your partner and children in later life. It’s not Just about You, you, you. It’s an early, important learning.
I’ve often thought that it’s so much easier to sit on top of the mountain and meditate or chant “om.” My father went off to Find Himself. A bit easier to only think about your hunger, your discomfort or your problems. It was much harder for the people he left behind. My mother, who had to worry about putting food on the table and bringing up the children. Being in a relationship and giving to another. Now, that’s difficult. And it’s where the personal growth is. My opinion.
As I read your essays, I become so curious. I wish I could reach out to you. I hope one day we will meet in Margaret or Sheila's garden! Till then, I’m sending you all a big hug. You are not alone.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
This has been a quiet week with just a few quick outings to the shop and Post Office. More people are starting to wear masks, in preparation for today's legal requirement. I caught sight of a friend from behind as he browsed the vegetable aisle. I hadn't seen him since before lockdown, when he scoffed that the virus was just flu and a fuss about nothing. When I saw him I felt embarrassed to be wearing a mask and avoided him by going into the Post Office queue. He came and queued behind me and said hello. When I turned around he was wearing a mask and being very cheerful about it and we had a good chat, standing on our two metre spots. We are all adapting. Well, most of us.
Most days Richard and I work quietly in separate rooms, occasionally calling out to one another with some news acquired online, or observations of the wildlife outside. One afternoon I played some music from the 60s, courtesy of my friend Allan, who lives in Mexico and spends his time compiling 'radio shows' of favourite tracks. Richard and I had a great time, singing along with old favourites, Dylan, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel and many more. We sang together in folk clubs back in the 1980s and when a song that we used to sing came on we joined in with even greater enthusiasm. It was 'Pack Up Your Sorrows' by Richard and Mimi Farina, a lovely cheerful song, full of hope.
It was probably listening to the music I loved in my teens that got me thinking about life generally in the 60s, reading Kerouac, Ginsberg, Huxley (Aldous), Orwell and Hemingway. Then 'tune in, turn on, drop out', tripping at festivals, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane at the Roundhouse, Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band. The protests, doing the Aldermaston march with blisters on my feet, briefly 'going on the road' with a guitar on my back, trying our unskilled hands at self-sufficiency in the country and making leather sandals. Underneath it all the excitement of feeling new and different, breaking the rules, being the new world.
While we were busy being the '60s generation' and dropping out, life was changing in other unseen and dark ways. Plastic proliferated, the world was becoming a global community where the seeds of terrorism were germinating, famines came and went, people continued to go to war and make more dreadful weapons and China, the new industrial giant, was flexing its long fingers into the infrastructure of the world.
This week we heard that Russia has been taking some experimental pot-shots at satellites in space (its own, at the moment), that world fertility rates are falling drastically, that polar bears are likely to be extinct by the end of the century and that the Chinese deny suppression of the Uyghur people, despite video evidence to the contrary. The sad thing is that we are not surprised by any of it. In the 60s we were terrified of The Bomb, worried about China's population explosion and derided 'the plastic society'. The shooting of JFK was the mother of all conspiracy theories which has given birth to the divisive 'dark state' politics in America today. The inability of the UK government to give a straightforward answer to the simplest questions has confirmed in the population a deeply held mistrust of politicians. Who will lead us out of the darkness, when we lack belief in political or religious leaders?
I have just been watching a farmer on the hillside across the valley, bringing his sheep down from the hill. His dog runs backwards and forwards, encouraging them downwards. Eventually they form a perfect line and file obediently to their destination. The farmer is probably worrying about the price of lamb when the recession kicks in. The sheep aren't worried at all.
From the Editor
The journal seems to have settled into the rhythm of its weekly format, and we have a core of 30 to 40 writers contributing. The pieces are longer usually, the contributors using the week to perhaps get a more considered viewpoint or describe a series of events.
I haven’t written for the weekly journal till now, but I’ve been sending reminder emails to contributors, receiving comments and correspondence by email, getting to know you all better. I’ve enjoyed that so much.
And in the last five weeks, life has got busier for us here at Old Hall. Lots of garden visitors for tea and coffee, even lunch. Lovely to see real people. We’ve visited a friend’s garden for tea, the Norfolk school of gardening to collect some plants, and the local garden centre for compost and a garden gazebo. Sheila and I have met for the first time in two months face to face (we live a mile or two apart!), and on Wednesday I donned a mask and went to our local Spar and post office to post parcels. Only a few allowed in at a time, a slightly compromised one way system, and only me wearing a mask. I did it, but I felt uneasy. Will these people wear masks by Friday? While I was waiting outside I watched a customer inside coughing... no mask, no hands to shield his mouth.
Yesterday our first house guest for four or so months arrived. The shepherd hut awaited him, a bed made up, flowers on the bedside table, a lamp for light. We’ve a garden gazebo up for socialising and eating. And last night was warm enough to sit there till quite late, eating, drinking, talking. As it got dark, we all retired to the red room inside where there’s plenty of space. He’s been living alone, seeing people sensibly. So have we. It felt lovely to be interacting face to face again. The new normal?
This evening Sheila and Chris joined us for a glass of wine, and, because Peter was feeling an evening chill, Chris and Mark dragged over our old chiminea (last used in our production of Twelfth Night nineteen years ago), and we lit it, (thank you Franklin and Marli for the wonderful firefighters) and we all basked in the warmth enjoying the flames and the red wine. It felt as if sociability was returning.
But we won’t have our annual Poetry Picnic at the end of August. Too difficult. We don’t want to put people at risk, and social distancing would be impossible if it rained and we all (usually 80 people) had to pile into the marquee. And too difficult to crowd the house with guests from afar. Perhaps by next year...
But lockdown has made us inventive in other ways. Playreading with friends on Zoom. FaceTime with friends here and abroad. In fact, I’ve talked more regularly to my close friends who don’t live nearby far more than usual. I’ve done all my own bread making, though I haven’t dared try Sourdough yet. I’ve made lots of cake for the garden visitors. Peter has managed to go on buying and selling books. I haven’t dared to visit a dentist yet, I haven’t had my hair cut, I haven’t bought any new clothes - I often wander round the garden in my nightclothes all morning - I haven’t done any decluttering or much housework, and I haven’t got very far with the decorating.
The rewilding garden will need cutting back soon but it’s been responsible for a wonderful invasion of bees, butterflies and other insects. The car had a full tank of petrol when all this started in March. There are still 250 miles left in the tank after four months. Money saved on petrol has gone on buying from artists online, mainly through Artists Support Pledge. My garden pots don’t have the fizz and excitement of other years, apart from a couple. But the cutting garden is looking good, and we’re on the edge of harvesting our own vegetables.
I have noticed that there’s been a spike of birthdays and anniversaries in the last couple of weeks on the journal. Jane (St Just and Banbury), Sandy(rural New York), Shirin (Norway), Jean (Melbourne), Franklin Macrae (Sussex), Marie Christine (Blois) have all celebrated lockdown birthdays. And I might have left someone out... let me know if I have. And the Wonhams have had a silver wedding anniversary, and Stephanie is about to celebrate one. What a busy July! Greetings to you all.
There’s a big question mark hanging over the outside world. We are all holding our breath while taking these careful steps back into a bigger space. And as ever I am so aware that our continuing existence depends so much on all those who have been and still are taking greater risks to keep things going.
Thanks to all those who continue to write for the journal. Thank you to all our readers. Keep safe and well. Keep writing. Keep reading.