Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Guillaume de Machaut / in the year 1349


Gallimard is publishing daily, on line, a little pamphlet less than 12 pages long, in French (I guess you can translate it automatically with google) it's free. You just need to subscribe on "Tracts de crise" Gallimard. It's a treat every day, and you can print it. Today it is a chinese writer "des rires et des pleurs". Personal emotions are much better express by somebody else, a main function of art.


On the 25 avril 2020 it was "en l'an 1339". Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) was a writer and a musician, still known, read and played - and appreciated. He lived in Reims, through The Black Death (1348-1352), when a third of the European population died (25 millions), Pétrarque's Laura among them. I will give you my unprofessional translation abstract with parallels. 


Guillaume felt melancoly, alone in his bedroom, "justice and truth being dead".

He describes environmental anomalies which announce the Plague (we had our Greta T.), and human cause (in those days it was the jews, today the chinese). 

People invented some fancy remedies (flagellations and crucifixions which had to be banned by the Church), I won't get involved on today's, everybody choosing one's personal practices legal and approved or marginally illegal and creative; mine being opera. 

Every natural event was a sign of the dysfunctioning earth. Today look at the photos of animals in towns; my favorite photo is the savage welsh goats in front of the woolshop. At the present, it will be more a refunctioning earth. 

Social distancing was applied to an extreme, the disease being much more serious than today's.

"any true friend was rejected and was not getting any help if becoming ill". Thanks to skype and telephone, bringing consolation, and PPE, disinsfectant, hygienic food, car to go and get it (for the one who has it all, not every body). 

"from his seat, God saw the corruption of the world... I will not translate more, it is getting really sombre. 

Guillaume wrote also about the consequences: nobody to plough the fields, to cut the vine. Nothing new. 

"the bravest shaking with fear" and he went to confess all his sins. I wrote a love letter to my children, one never knows.

"I stayed a long time without knowing what was happening". Luckily we have news without getting out, even may be too much (lack of mask and protection, exhaustion of the carers, lies, lies...)

"until I heard, to my joy, bagpipes, trumpets and about fifteen other instruments" After four years of isolation I can not even imagine. "It was the musicians for the weddings, people had stopped dying". For the moment, it seems that people are divorcing, wait for conjugal love to come back for every body with reasonable hope.


Thin air

 John Mole, St.Albans


OUT WALKING                


If you see me coming

better step aside.


A lot of men didn’t

and a lot of men died . . .


Out walking now

I remember this song


as I measure my distance

not to avoid death


but to help save lives.

See me perfect my neighbourly


swerve and dip

away from the pavement


or my deft parabola

when exercising in the park,


part virtue, part apology,

and always wth a smile


Love still flows

Jonathan, Toronto

Reports of an alleged alligator in a local storm drainage pond promoted animal control officers, armed with Gator-aid, to join the search with police. After several hours of searching and intense analysis of the initial mobile phone footage the alleged alligator turned out to be a beaver. Easily confused I hear you say, perhaps the iconic Canadian fried pastries known as BeaverTails will soon be replaced with AlligatorTails. Pile on the Nutella and bananas and no one will know the difference. 

As the coronavirus crisis changes the daily rhythms of urban life there have been several reports of emboldened wild animals roaming the streets of locked-down cities. The oil industry and airlines are floundering, and global carbon emissions have fallen sharply but the question remains will Covid-19 have a lasting impact on the environment? 


Daily reports from Canada are optimistic. Social distancing is helping to “plank the curve” and lockdown restrictions will slowly be eased to help stimulate the economy. How will our post-lockdown society change? Are you ready to embrace your daily commute again or have too many video calls fried your brain? Will you source local foods and support your local farmers markets or do you crave sushi and Xiao Long Bao (soup filled dumplings)? Are you itching to jump on a plane to an exotic island? This week my daughter and I enjoyed online close encounters with a prehistoric sea dragon at the natural history museum and gorillas at San Diego zoo. We took virtual trips to the Taj Mahal and Rio de Janeiro but I hope one day she can experience the real thing.


Ex Libris

Vanessa, Gillingham, Kent

I have said it before (many times) and will say it again (definitely) but am so grateful that I am a bookworm. Also, a bibliophile, nay, bibliomaniac, and, even, a bibliopole (though more concerted effort needed here, quite frankly).


To paraphrase somebody else: books will get you through times of no money, better than money will get you through times of no books.


In the spirit of the above, I am grateful to have books available for a re-read and Donna Tartt has proved a worthy comrade in isolation.  I love her writing and the luxury of a re-read has been an absolute pleasure..


The Secret History

The Little Friend

The Goldfinch


Such larks! Am approaching the end of (re-read of) The Goldfinch now and already feel bereft in advance. Am scouting out dog-eared copy of 'Kidnapped' for same purposes and may well go back to Dickens' to trace sources and inspiration.


'Cause books will get you through times of no money...and all...


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

It’s the weekend and I am shutting out the worries of work. 


For a number of years my wife has been Treasurer and Secretary of a music festival in Leamington Spa. Focussed on chamber music, it runs a series of concerts through the autumn and winter, and then has a big “festival weekend” at the May bank holiday. The 2020 festival was scheduled for this weekend, (when it was being programmed, the question of moving next week’s bank holiday from Monday to Friday had not arisen) and it being Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year, the focus was on him, and the concert programme was subtitled “Largely Ludwig”. 


Anyway, we had tickets for the four evening concerts from Friday through to Monday, and were eagerly looking forward to a wonderful weekend of musical delights. But of course the Royal Pump Rooms remain silent, and instead the festival organisers are emailing each day the programme notes and links to performances on YouTube. But it’s not the same as the real thing. 


The one Beethoven concert we have been able to attend in this anniversary year was a performance of his Missa Solemnis at Symphony Hall in Birmingham at the end of January, with the choir Ex Cathedra, the CBSO, and soloists including Roderick Williams. The conductor Jeffery Skidmore spoke to the audience before the performance, regretting how seldom the work is performed, but attributing this to the technical demands the work presents to orchestra, soloists and choir. In Skidmore’s view this work is undoubtedly Beethoven’s greatest creation, containing some of the most sublime music ever composed; not “ever composed by Beethoven”, but “ever composed, full stop”. I have only been to one other performance of this work, in Durham Cathedral in the early 1980s, where I was not in the audience but in the choir, singing bass in the University Choral Society. And it was wonderful this January to close my eyes and travel back in time nearly 40 years, listening intently to the bass line of the choir. I resisted the temptation to join in!


In a newspaper article in January regarding his anniversary year, the proposition the writer was putting forward wasn’t that Beethoven was the greatest composer in the western classical tradition: that was taken as given. Rather, it was that Beethoven was among the greatest people ever to have lived. Now that would be a great starting point for a lively discussion with friends around a dining table, with wine generously lubricating the conversation. Unfortunately the most instinctively libertarian Prime Minister the country has had in over a hundred years has made such gatherings illegal.   


And talking of Boris, I see the baby is to be called Wilfred: a name that has particular resonance in my family. One of my maternal grandfather Hubert’s brothers was called Wilfred: Alderman Wilfred John Pegge, KCSG, MC, born in 1891, veteran of the First World War, a Manchester solicitor, legal advisor to the Diocese of Salford, and active local politician. He was chosen to be Lord Mayor of Manchester (unusual for a Conservative) in 1966, but shortly after his selection had to withdraw on health grounds and was never actually installed in the role. In an interesting complication in drawing our family tree, the brothers Hubert and Wilfred Pegge married two sisters, Monica (my granny) and Maria Bodoano. And that leads to thoughts of my distant and exceedingly eccentric Genoese cousin, Antonio Bodoano, who I finally met for the first time in autumn 2018, but there is not enough time or space to recount that bizarre encounter.


A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

Your Intrepid Reporter, spurred on by Mrs. Intrepid and his sense of duty to you, Gentle Reader, has once again ventured forth to bring you news straight from the Heart of Crazy.


Today the combined might of the United States Navy and Air Force was brought to bear against the coronavirus, right here in the veritable epicenter of Crazy. As part of a series of performances ranging up and down the East Coast, the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatics teams staged a joint fly over of the National Mall on Saturday.  


Our Dear Leader, ever alive to our mood as a nation, saw the need to cheer up our front line care providers and encourage the essential workers to keep the bacon plants running, without actually, you know, giving them any resources. No PPE? No problem! This is war and war-fighting imagery is always a hit. Unlike you fortunate few in that Sceptered Realm, we lack a mythic figure the equal of Winnie the C. to provide fodder for the Best President Ever, but Dear Leader was undeterred. He dug deep into his vast historic knowledge and came up with the Best Slogan. In the immortal words of a long forgotten legislator during an earlier, equally obscure, conflict: "Millions for tribute, not a penny for defense (including, but not limited to face masks, face shields, testing, or a functioning CDC)!"

Prevented by social distancing rules from shopping at the malls of their choice, a goodly number of Fellow Citizens defied common sense to gather at The Mall of Malls and cheer on the thunderous roar of high performance fighter aircraft. Take that you virus! Think you're bad, you gun tottin' protestor in Michigan? We'll show you! This is how the most powerful nation on earth fights a virus! Maybe we're dying by the thousands, but by God we know how to fly an airplane! Yee haw!! Damn, that was good.   


Speaking of the Dear Leader, Gentle Reader, yesterday our own Guiding Light reportedly took a well-deserved break from his near constant, unflinching perusal of television at the White House to escape to the bucolic charms of the presidential retreat at Camp David in nearby Maryland. The first time He's left the White House since March, it is said.


In other news, North Korea's very own Dear Leader yesterday made his first public appearance since March. Mere coincidence you say? I rather think not.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

Changing restrictions have meant that dental surgeries can begin offering more normal services. I head into my dentist in Melbourne by train. I am the only person in the carriage and while there is a conductor onboard, she isn’t allowed to check cards. I am surprised to see how many people are in the city. Building workers have never been subject to restrictions, so I expected to see them. Melbourne is undergoing major infrastructure works and the shutdown must have been a godsend for them. Parking restrictions have been waived in the CBD, so the streets are packed wall to wall with work vehicles. What I didn’t expect were the number of corporates going about their business, and the volume of homeless and mentally vulnerable people. Great show was made a couple of weeks ago of getting homeless people off the streets and into short term and emergency care. There was no evidence of this and while the situation is normally pretty dire I thought it was worse than usual. 


There are three new hotspots for C19 in Melbourne, but it seemed that for most people in the city the crisis is over. No one was practicing social distancing in the street and worse still while I was stuck on quite crowded trams. The city was very clean and I saw people wiping park benches and traffic lights. In the building housing the dentist cleaners were working floor by floor wiping lift buttons and door handles. There were Perspex shields at the reception desk. These were largely ineffective since the same staff welcomed me in and chatted while we waited for the dentist. Then we all chatted sans face masks. 


On the return trip home I am bemused by a fellow passenger rejecting another fifty seats to sit behind me. I catch up on the Plague20 journal entries for the last few days and I laugh out loud and applaud Marli Rose Macrae’s upbraiding of the Donald. Commonsense is a pretty hard thing to find in politics at the present time but it appears to be in a state of rude good health among the young. Of course it would be good if the Donald had a responsible parent to pop him in the naughty corner.


I have to travel in to various parts of Melbourne over the next couple of months as a second opinion with an endodontist the next day confirmed bad and very expensive news. I will be into the city again tomorrow. I wonder if I will see the couple in Collins street in their matching flannelette pyjamas or the woman with very cold and very muddy bare feet who startled me when she suddenly started singing the Village People’s YMCA outside (one of the few open stores) Versace?


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

Comforting voices

I have been listening to some really interesting podcasts, ranging from the story of Apollo 13 to escape from East Berlin. Some are repeat runs from earlier years which I have heard before but happy to repeat the enjoyment. There’s something relaxing about listening to a long episode where you can become totally absorbed in the moment. As well as the content the attraction can be the quality of the voice of the narrator.


Who can fail to be engaged by the voice of Neil MacGregor describing “a history of the world in a hundred objects”, a series first broadcast in 2010? Who cannot be touched by the humility of Michael Palin meeting the poorest in society in remote parts of the world?


“Tunnel 29” has just finished. It was first broadcast last year I think but repeated now because it’s so riveting. It was researched and presented by Helena Merriman whose intonation and expressiveness fixes one with concentration. Worth a listen if you like drama and suspense!

Other favourite voices include Robert Winston, Tim Harford (the undercover economist) and Joan Bakewell.


Perhaps my favourite informative, thought-provoking yet comforting voice is that of Carl Sagan, astronomer and science presenter. Difficult to believe he died over twenty years ago. I think I’ll send one of his memorable quotes to Trump-


“The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking - it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before.”


The Runaway Diaries

The Runaway Diaries - Sophie Austin

Going Back


As our sixth week hiding from the virus comes to an end and talk in the news turns to ‘easing’ and ‘relaxing’ the Lockdown, we’ve started to think about going back to London. We escaped just before the draw bridge was pulled up and now we must think about crossing back to the big smoke or rather, the epicentre of the virus, or, more importantly, going home. 


We’re currently hiding out in a Welsh farmhouse; a rustic lodging shared between members of your dad’s family. We were the lucky ones to be staying when lockdown landed, but as soon as it eases we must leave and give someone else a chance to enjoy the fresh air and the blissful isolation. 


I am ashamed to admit that I am scared about going back home. Ashamed because I know that you will have a chance to see your cousins, your dad will be able to see his parents; even a glimpse from a doorway will be more than we have been able to do from our hiding place, we will be able to reconnect with our neighbours, offer any help to the community. But I’m scared to leave this sanctuary of green, peaceful solitude and be thrust back into the throng of South East London. 


I think I am also ashamed to admit that I am loving the isolation. I have known deep down that I am anti-social and have preferred keeping out of the loop and being disconnected. This crisis is giving me the perfect opportunity to withdraw from the world we knew and create a simpler, quieter existence. 


I think perhaps I’m afraid too of the unknown and how it may impact your little life. Being here, in the wilderness, we haven’t had to duck and dive from the virus too much, but going back to Peckham, will it still be floating in the air? Will you be able to see other children, run and tell your cousins about your quadbike and trailer adventures or will I have to hold you back and will this generate an anti-social outlook in you too?


Of all the fears to have these days, being frightened of the pressure to catch up with everyone, to get back to normal, to pick up where we left off, seems pretty silly and what will ‘normal’ even be? 

I resolve to spend these last days of lockdown (which may last longer than I think) appreciating my current place in the world and mentally preparing for how I can carry this stillness and peace back to London. 


Bunny and me

Henrietta, Leicestershire

Going Back


So... after a very  strange time, Bunny and I are back home. We were delivered back in the early hours of Sunday morning albeit to the wrong village at first ! But to cut a very long story short... we are back. Our sci fi adventures have been few and far between but this one was definitely one to log down, most unusual. 


The weather is not so good this weekend and we are inside by the fire instead of rolling around in the long grass (bunny not me Obviously) !

I’m attending my new sculptures in the studio, a series of flat cutout wooden animals to be hand painted and affixed to a stout wooden base. A freestanding fox is the first design and although the intention was to paint both sides in an identical manner, (a face on each side) I’ve decided that one side should be the the back of the animal so he has a front and a back and not two fronts.. 


The deciding part of making art works is probably the make or break of a successful piece! I include a photo of the finished Mr Fox .

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