Rosemary, Rodborough Common
Packing the boot of the car with a picnic, drinks, factor 50+ sunscreen, straw hats, and something to sit on made us both feel as if we had thrown ourselves a lucky dice and been rewarded with a couple of “get out of jail” cards each. This was our very first day out for well over three months but the day was hot, very hot.
The National Trust have opened up their parklands and gardens, however, it is not possible to just to turn up. Tickets for each week are released the previous Friday for all the properties across the country that are open. It is, therefore, necessary to go online first thing on a Friday morning if you are to secure yourselves a timed slot. Should you leave it until later in the day then you will probably be too late, they are all snapped up very quickly.
Although we have visited Croome Court in Worcestershire before, and previously walked the newly restored Capability Brown landscape, we both felt a sudden sense of liberation to be out of doors, and pleasing ourselves. Everyone appeared to enjoy being in the beautiful surroundings whilst walking along in the same direction, but with plenty of safe distance around us all. People smiled and acknowledged one another, it was all very civilised.
However, when we returned home and saw the mayhem on TV of hundreds of people crammed together on Bournemouth beach and the terrible mess and unmentionable detritus left behind, our thoughts were very quickly turned upside-down. We had enjoyed a civilised walk in beautiful surroundings, but thinking about the scenes at Bournemouth beach a dreadful thought came to me “are we beginning to turn into a third-world country?” Huge enterprises collapsing weekly, thousands of jobs lost, street parties out of control, litter being discarded willy nilly. Thinking back over world history - what happened to the Egyptian civilisation, the Greeks, the Romans, ultimately they all failed!!!
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Trinity of hills
For P R-P
the gift is in seeing
the sly line of hills
revelation in green
majesty in silence
three hillocked humps rearing,
tumescent rocky waves rising
streaming aquamarine behind,
breaking with the arc
of glacial, geologic time,
once ragged grey peaked
they sliced up into the icy blue
towering over a Tyrannosaurus
looking up to the peaks
fate exploding through new sky
stone memories now of a soaring
empire, worn stumps of mountains
capped by trees, vertical reach
eroded by the rain that falls and falls
visible universe flooding from a valley
hidden in the fluid ivory of mist,
a trio of muted thought-lines emerging
curving on the razor’s edge of being,
implies: first wakefulness,
just remembered dream,
triple flicks, umbilical hills
birthing beyond the boughs and crowns
swishing over the ridge-line tumble
wisps of cloud entangled in the tops of pines
green cutting clear across the valley,
consciousness into a white silence borne
a world tangible reborn
where fireflies and stars vie
for transcendence in the night sky
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
Clarification. Everybody wants some. It’s the word I’ve heard said the most recently, on the radio, on the tv. I listen to the news reports hoping for reassurance and optimism, but just end up at best confused, at worst downright appalled. I’m totally confused about the latest rules and guidelines with regard to gatherings, mingling, bubbles etc etc, and completely appalled by the huge numbers of people on the beaches and at the amount of rubbish they leave behind! Job losses just keep rising, especially in retail and entertainment industries. Leicester has gone back into full lockdown after a rise in infections caused concern.
It’s Thursday today, I went into work last week. The flower shop is tentatively opening for a few hours. Influenced by the greengrocers where we do our shopping, I have moved the front desk towards the entrance, only allowing for one customer at a time to stand in the space between the doorway and the serving area (approximately 6ft). Upstairs will remain closed for now. Despite feeling slightly inept and at times inefficient, it was wonderful to see some familiar faces and converse with folk. So much concentration is required to mindfully ‘keep your distance’. It is against all natural instincts, God only knows how they manage it in schools.
Grace was selected at random to do an at-home antibody test for coronavirus. Has anyone else had one? Anyway turns out she tested negative so according to the pamphlet it’s unlikely that she’s been infected, but the results themselves are not 100% accurate.
Netflix is a great resource for documentaries, and we’ve been educating ourselves with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement. So many injustices!!! And not just way back in history! Notably the dramatisation of true events surrounding the Windrush scandal. “Sitting in Limbo” was beautifully acted, but the story makes for uncomfortable viewing. I was completely shocked at all the trauma that the family was forced to endure. You must watch it, it is in fact a BBC production, but was not widely advertised.
Later, as an antidote, I watched “Million Dollar Wedding Planner”. A young Asian couple with phenomenal wealth were manifesting the celebration of their dreams in Bali. Money no object, but for the planner, the stress must have been off the scale! She serenely oversaw all the details. Master florist Andy Lim from Singapore brought 35 florists with him to decorate the venue. 35!! Antique crystal chandeliers were brought from Italy. A young girl painstakingly steamed 600 blush pink napkins, saying to the camera “It doesn’t make sense to come up with an idea and not execute it perfectly”
My allotment continues to be my anchor, providing an escape from the house and a purpose. After the recent rain it’s looking slightly bedraggled. The verbascum, which blew over, is doing an impression of Medusa’s venomous hair. The roses are finally coming through and the sweet peas are sharing their scent of summertime. Who knows what the next few weeks will bring? Keep well everyone xxxxxx
John Underwood, Norfolk
All at sea
My father taught me to row when I was big enough to handle oars, and before my legs were long enough to brace myself against the bottom of the boat. I remember a holiday cottage on the coast at Plockton in Scotland which had a clinker-built rowing dinghy that we had the use of (except on Sundays we were sternly told), and we would row out to the island in the Loch. Dad would light his pipe and let me row, and he would correct my technique and give encouragement. I have no idea where he learnt to row - there was no family history of sailing or boats - and his father and elder brother were gardeners rather than sailors. We took out motor boats on occasion, I think on the Thames, and I was allowed to steer. On one occasion on board a cross channel ferry, he took me through one of the doors that said “crew only” and down into the engine room where we chatted to one of the engineers and saw the huge engines. This seems extraordinary now, not something that you would dream of doing today, but this was in the 1960’s and things were different then. On reflection, I think that my father must have learned to row as a Scout, and after the war he and my mother did their courting alongside the Thames at Sonning, walking, cycling, and probably taking the odd boat out. In 1940 he had been plucked off the beach at Dunkirk in one of the flotilla of “small boats”, the gorgeously named “Dorian Rose”. It might have been that experience that encouraged a liking for boats, although you might equally suppose that it might have discouraged him from ever going near water again in his life. Somehow then, a love of boats became imprinted in me as a child. First rowing (often on Lakeland holidays on Derwent and Windermere) and then canoeing when our own children were little. We took the boys on holidays in France and paddled down the Dordogne, and had canoes on local rivers. When I retired from teaching, I bought a Canadian canoe, (an open two-seater) and Ally and I splashed about the Broads and rivers in Norfolk. Friends of ours bought a river bungalow on the River Thurne on the Broads, fairly close to Hickling Broad, and it must have been seeing all the cabin cruisers that tempted me to buy something with a motor. We are now on our third boat in two years, gradually upsizing, and for the last few weeks we have been able to go out for a day on the Rivers Ant, Thurne and Bure, and on the Northern Broads. This has been a salvation. We pootle about, moor up in quiet spots, read, watch out for Kingfishers and generally mess about in boats. We are going again tomorrow.
In the last few weeks I have felt all at sea. I can’t settle to anything. I have realised how much writing this Journal had meant, in providing a stimulus for each day. I have some mundane bookbinding tasks but they are tedious and I can easily put them off until another week. The garden is not needing too much attention, and the weather has meant that we don’t have to water the vegetables.
The days that we have on the water lift us out of one element, grounded, solid, stultifying, and slosh us down into another, full of light, reflection, movement and constantly changing vistas. A place where you are keenly aware of the wind direction - even in a motor cruiser. In a few days we will be able to sleep on the boat again, which will add sunsets and sunrises over water, misty mornings, and a profound sense of “otherness”. After a few days, walking on land becomes a little weird momentarily. I’d swap it for the weirdness of my life on land in lockdown, in the blink of a Marsh Harrier’s eye.
The Runaway Diaries
This week we’ve had some small people round to our garden. You’ve been lucky enough to see your cousins a couple of times a week for the past month as we’ve joined them on dog walks through parks and woods, but other friends with toddlers are not so lucky and their kids have been isolated with only their parents for company since March. Three months is a long time for anyone, but your development over the last three months has really shown me how much growing kids do in such a short space of time.
You are currently such a generous, kind and considerate person; you have been pleased to share your toys with the others and have been patient when toys have been taken from your hands or shoved in your face. You like to offer up your favourites for others to play with and you didn’t make a fuss when your tractor was returned to you without its front wheels.
Your wariness of touching other children manifests in you asking me if you can hug the other child and we ask them together before you take tentative steps to embrace. But you run a mile if another child comes at you, uninvited, for hugs, or another adult for that matter and I wonder if this is pandemic related or if you are just a stickler for consent.
It has been a joy to watch you play, run and babble with other kids, it is essential for shaping who you are. You have inspired me to go out and spend some time with my own friends so I can play, run and babble with them too before I forget who I am in all this chaos. I’m going to stick some wine and a picnic rug in my bag and will head out to the park tonight for a long overdue playdate of my own.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
We’ve been a week on the island.
My main learning was - desist staying with anyone beyond two nights and three days. My mother used to travel with her favourite pillow and sheets. I used to think she was odd. Don’t make fun of your mother because you morph into her without realising it. My brother-in-law arrives with his own sheets and cleans his room before he leaves. He told me it’s a habit learnt from his Swedish wife. My best friend, a Bulgarian, serves me ‘bed coffee’ but she spoils one in general. It’s a very Indian habit to serve bed tea with some biscuits before your guest comes down to breakfast. One of my nicest guests is my lovely English friend who descends for long stays. She is very entertaining, we agree to disagree on most things; drives me crazy and makes me laugh in equal measure; grates lemon rind/ginger or sprinkles roasted coriander seeds or cumin (depending on the trend she’s following at the moment) over our food, whether we like it or not. I look forward to her return.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best house guests last week. They were invited to stay two days but extended it to five and used us like a B&B, except it included all meals and laundry service. Clearly we find it difficult to draw boundaries. The inability to use the monosyllable ‘NO’ with a gentle smile but without justification, guilt or excuses still eludes us. My husband only had a ten-day break this year so as I was in mid-moan, a social call from my husband’s cousin made me rethink my un-Christian attitude.
The cousin leads a very private life as they are recovering from the tragic death of their nineteen-year old son from brain cancer. And if that wasn’t quite enough, his wife was diagnosed with cancer just before Covid and suffered dreadful side effects from chemotherapy. He spends many hours in his little open boat out in the north Atlantic, fishing alone. His cousins feel that it’s a risky undertaking but I think it’s his healing time. He turned up unannounced with the biggest container of freshly caught and cooked crabs as a welcome for us. As we relaxed over coffee and ice cream, he regaled us with stories of being shipwrecked in his twenties off the coast of West Africa, in the Atlantic filled with sharks and sea snakes. Years later he was Captain of large supply vessels to oil platforms both in the north Atlantic and off the coast of Brazil. One needs to be precise and technically adept to manage that but he is very right brained as well. He is both a gifted musician on drums and guitar and an accomplished artist and photographer. His broad smile and obvious grace under pressure are inspiring. He admitted that not being able to visit his two other children during our period of ‘lockdown’ was very disheartening but he lost himself in his art, gardening and going out to sea.
It’s been hectic today. We took a twenty-minute ferry ride to the mainland and an hour’s drive back into town. I had to go to the hospital to get my CPAP machine. The nurse explained carefully in Norwegian how to use it. Tonight will be a test as to whether I understood her. She was brilliant and I was impressed with how smooth the whole process was. My husband had hurt his back carrying furniture so there was the quick stop at the chiropractor; watered my dying plants at home before heading back to the island and our waiting cats. On the way, we stopped to see a friend who is the David Mellor of this area. Covid has completely killed his business. I think he was ahead of the curve and his things were just too sophisticated to survive in a shopping center environment with chain stores selling cheap copies. I feel so sad for him and am at a bit of a loss as to what to do.
The best news today was that I had passed my oral exams. No more exams! Studying will continue forever but not exams. Finito.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
What to report this week? Well the resilience of our direct sales business model has shone through. Our June sales beat June last year! So we have delivered our own little V shaped recovery: a terrible April performance, followed by partial recovery in May and back to normal by June. I chatted the other evening to our office cleaner Geraldine, who had been furloughed but was delighted to be back at work again. The thing she was missing most was bingo, but I don’t hold out much hope for the government re-opening bingo halls any time soon. I also got suitably kitted out in food-safe and Covid-safe gear to go downstairs and visit the factory and warehouse, where I had not been since mid-March, because we are segregating office staff from factory staff. The place was a hive of activity and all those I spoke to were excited about the speed of our recovery, and reassured about what it meant for the future security of their jobs.
Unfortunately in many areas of the wider economy, such as transport, or hospitality, or traditional retail or the arts, the situation looks truly dire. The media tend to refer to the economic collapse as “caused by the pandemic”.
But how much is caused by the pandemic and how much caused by the lockdown: they are not the same thing. However, despite my enthusiasm for getting the economy moving again, I will not be rushing to the pub or the barbers this weekend.
At a sub-committee of the school governors this week we were discussing staffing arrangements for September. The Head talked to us about a webinar she had attended which categorised the negative impacts children will have suffered as a result of the decision to close schools. The presenter had summarised these as “the five losses”, being the loss of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom. The challenge for schools is to create a welcoming, reassuring and familiar setting for children in September so that they can begin to recover from the harm done to them as a result of school closures. The head was also pretty scathing about suggestions of a “narrowed down” curriculum, focusing exclusively on English and maths: after all it is the breadth of a curriculum that makes it engaging for children!
We have had a rethink about the collared doves and decided, given the presence of a couple of young doves (squabs?) perched on top of the swing in the garden, that the parents must by now be incubating their second brood of the summer. Mr Google tells me it is not unknown for them to lay a second batch of eggs whilst the young fledglings are still in the nest.
Early in the year we had booked a short holiday in Suffolk for mid-July. We are increasingly optimistic that this will actually go ahead. It is timed for my late father-in-law’s 100th birthday and will enable us to visit places associated with his childhood and see some of his relations, including a distant cousin who still lives in the house where Arthur was born in Capel St Mary. We will be in the heart of Constable country, a part of the England I have never visited before. I think it unlikely that East Bergholt will be the subject of a Leicester-style local lockdown. Fingers crossed.
Jean, Melbourne Australia
On Wednesday my friend Katrina came over to my place for a walk and a coffee. It was SO good to see her in person - rather than just talking on the phone or on Zoom which we do regularly too. There's a lot of shared history from working together at the library for 30 years.
I mentioned how much I loved looking at the sky and clouds throughout the day, and as part of a visual diary take a photo each morning - as a way of separating one day from another. We've have had such a beautiful autumn with gloriously sunny days and billowy white clouds it's been hard NOT to keep looking at what's happening up there! Alas, winter has brought grey rather turbulent clouds, rain and a resulting slump in mood. The decision to lockdown a number of Melbourne suburbs this week, after a rise in infections, is also part of the slump I think.
We couldn't decide though if it had been unusually beautiful in the previous months or that we have had time to really look - Katrina working from home and me in retirement.
Katrina - who is a passionate gardener - said by contrast that she always looks down because she is always looking at plants. She's also now got an app on her phone that identifies any mysterious insects you may find. Hence I discovered that the insects feasting on the plants in front of my apartment block are native Australian bees. Tiny, energetic and with beautifully distinctive markings!
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Poverty at home and abroad:
I bought a very nice summer red rain coat, not of a cheap brand, I paid 200 € (including 40 € of tax to the French government - VAT). Then I discovered it was made in Bangladesh. My first idea was to be upset. Why does this brand make their clothes in Bangladesh, like Primark or H and M and others? I found it hard to accept that I paid that price when the ladies who make it are paid 95 dollars a month. After Covid, I read today, from the pen of a reputable journalist, that in 2020 the recession will contract the economy by 7% in the developed world, in Bangladesh extreme poverty will go up from 12.8% to 21.8% this year. So the ladies who made my raincoat will literally starve and their children too. Child mortality rate is expected to rise sharply. The journalist remarked that this world problem is not talked about. Covid has broken internationally needed solidarity. It is said in France, "your purchases make my job" to encourage people to buy locally, I know now my raincoat gave some food to somebody but hélas, I don't need a second one, this one seems to be well-made and will last. A knot of paradoxes.
People want to go to the beach:
It's the same in England, in France, in the USA... I am really surprised to see the photos of the beaches. In France usually nobody goes to the beach in June. We have spent summers during a quarter of a century in Norfolk and Suffolk, we never experienced such packed beaches even on a sunny Sunday in August, and only the children (and some old men) used to go in the water. Our son Benoît would refuse to sit in the car when we were leaving France unless I promised to bathe in the cold sea. Over the years I never really got used to the North sea's temperature. I remember my brother-in-law (a muscular French farmer, used to being out in any weather) came with us once to bathe in Southwold, seeing Rob and the children running straight and fast into the sea, he did the same, suffocated and became instantly as red as a lobster in boiling water, and never bathed again in England.
What can be the motives of this compulsive need for the sea? I can't understand it, I am keeping away from crowds as much as I can. The only time we have experienced anything like these crowds by the sea was this winter on the first of January on the Mediterranean, but not so crowded, far fewer persons in the water, than we see on today's photos. The 10km long beach was almost packed. I thought it was a ritual for local people to meet their friends and family there to start the new year. Everybody seemed to be happy. It is probably the same human instinct which took us there on that day, as all the people today after lockdown. A bit like Siberian geese flocking to the Atlantic coast.
After the home seclusion of the lockdown, storing flour, loo paper, pasta, cooking, gardening, cleaning, humans want to check that they can still live alongside each other and share the same pleasures...
Let the behavioral experts (sociologists, psychologists and economists) analyze that. There will be papers published soon probably. I love the books and TED talks of Dan Ariely, behavioral economist, specially his first popular book, Predictably Irrational. I just discovered now, checking spelling on internet, that he has something to say on the lockdown losses already, I shall rush to that as soon as I finish writing.
People not wearing face masks:
For young people, I completely understand. If you are less than 30, you don't want to hide your pretty face and you don't want to date somebody without seeing their face. You don't care about many things, even less about a virus which kills the old, meaning the ones you pay for with their pensions, who are ugly, slow, who don't like your music and don't share the same priorities (or Instagram and Tik-Tok...)
Even more serious, as Rob has noticed: how to kiss with a face mask? If you live as a sweet couple for 30 years, you can wait and kiss at home, or show your affection another way. How to wait when you have just met? You can say "come home, I will show you my room", but that's not just for kissing.
For older people, I don't understand their refusal to wear a mask and I shall not be so understanding. Being more than 65, my risk of death by Covid is multiplied by 10, not to mention the handicap which survivors may experience. It might be acceptable if you are looking for a twin soul, beauty or a kiss... Death-defying? Not wanting to seem cowardly? I will not be so generous about that, because then if you get ill without knowing, you risk to contaminate other people older than you or to need care and be then a real burden on the care system. The question I ask people who refuse or want to delay cancer treatments in order to experience "things more naturally" is "if you have a heart attack, would you call the ambulance?" if the answer is yes, then wear a mask (or accept the appropriate treatment proposed to you if it's cancer without delay).
Away from health preoccupations, I feel that if I hide part of my face, it's not a loss for the passer-by and it doesn't subtract any visible beauty. For close encounters with a mask (or medical ones at work), just use a more joyful and positive voice, a choice of words more accurate and considered, make your eyes more caressing with the head slightly on the side, and gestures more expressive. It's theatre of life. Maybe wear a heavier perfume as a pleasant recognisable signature.
Youth and after:
Approximative personal definition: young = less than 35, old = more than 65.
As always, the young don't want to conform to old ones' wishes, perfectly normal. A lot of young people don't have an experience of poverty or lack of material goods, much less experience than those born in the ten years post WW2, who know how to tighten their belts. The young think they can make the world better and different, as we thought. They have read Sartre, Rousseau on the curriculum (I am speaking of our son doing A level in England, not France) and also JK Rowling, not on the curriculum, I am not sure it will be easier to make the world better with such references.
For the old ones, we have now experienced the difficulties of life, more or less intensively and unequally, but no real hardship (famine, natural catastrophes or wars) in the developed countries. Our youth had been much poorer financially, but much freer in many aspects. The things I am grateful for in our present society shaped by the abrupt development of the late 60's, are in no special order: deodorant (I remember the armpit smell of the 70's), dentists and the electric toothbrush (the rudimentary dental instruments, no anesthesia!), rubber boots (feet wet after rain, and the leather shoes not drying), inside loos and loo paper (the wooden hut in the garden and cut newspaper, when there was any), fridges (no need to go to the cellar after each meal), central heating (no worry about wood or going to the petrol tank), washing machines (no need to go to the river with the wheelbarrow down and up a steep path to rinse the bed linen as I use to do with maman), modern medical prodigies (I started medical studies in 1972, much more rudimentary radiology and surgery, almost no treatments for anything except aspirin and antibiotics, not everybody vaccinated against polio...).
We older people should be able to carry on after Covid even if it gets rough. For the young ones it will be more difficult, let's be indulgent. As part of the older generation, having been educated and lived in the Christian tradition, if we have something to retain from it, it should be the first letter to Corinthians of St Paul. Even if there is a difficulty to translate Agape, in French translated Charity and in modern English Love (I prefer the French one and the King James version, less ambiguous because you can be charitable without love, a recognition of humanity): And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. It is the only way to show the younger generations, of the same age as our children and grandchildren, the path to recovery. They need our support in the difficult times coming post-Covid, economically at the minimum. After all, in the post-war parts of XX century, we did not have it too bad, studying and housing were cheaper, paid jobs were plenty, "we could walk on our own feet", young people can't do that so easily, and if and when we go to the care home we will need some of them to help us.
Robjn Cantus, Cambridge
When the lockdown started I thought all life would end. I am not a person for introspection. I spend most of my life reading and thinking about people who died long ago in the 1930s and 50s, so to be faced with things right now came as quite a horror to me. I work in an antique shop in Cambridge so the past is always with me.
With few friends to see, and no work to go to with Lockdown, I found myself cycling for my one hour a day, and it came to be a release. Looking at the lonely lanes and fields more like an alien observing the world. Cycling, I managed day by day to get faster and then I discovered places in Cambridgeshire that I didn't know. For a time I cycled to shops to find food for some of my customers who were very paranoid about isolating and would chat to them through their closed, and thankfully thinly glazed bay windows.
Soon my bike and I had mapped out my local car free area and I took to trying to find the curiosities of Cambridgeshire, like the Eric Gill designed war memorial in Trumpington, or the king's head taken from a 1940s renovation of Kings College that was cemented into a 1950s wall on Barton Road in the city. Everything had to be outside as no institutions or galleries were open. I started to live in the now.
I am happy enough not to have any neighbours so unlike many people I didn't discover people around me, but I did learn more about my customers from delivering their food. People talk a lot of loneliness and how some older people don't get to socialise and communicate from day to day, during the Lockdown this was only exacerbated. I might have been the only person they spoke to that week face to face. So I started to loan out books too, so we could have an animated conversation about things.
As the restrictions lifted their shopping was done by themselves or others and they would see their families again. The new familiarities ended. It was rather like having been in a lifeboat together I was needed to row the boat, but now ashore, the companionship wasn't needed. It left me thinking of shared experiences and the books of mine they read. As they start to live in the now again I also fall back into my old habits and surrender myself to the past.