Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
We have had some exotic visitors. The white peahen arrived first, wandering around outside the French doors and admiring herself in the glass - or maybe thinking it could be a mate. We were very excited and quickly found some birdseed to entice her nearer. She was quite tame. Then the cock arrived and finally another less exotic, normal peahen. We felt very honoured that they had chosen our garden until a neighbour told us that they like having dust baths in newly prepared seed beds. We were then less keen having just planted lots of seeds. We found out that they had come from Haddon Hall. Presumably they were wondering where all of their doting public had disappeared to and decided to set out to find them. They stayed with us for a day without causing any damage to our seed beds, gradually making their way up onto the roof. The next morning they were gone. Maybe they decided home is best.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
Yes, like many another you just want to pop out for the legal shop and the battery is kaput. This one had an interesting growth of acid-induced debris around one terminal. Fortunately having just donated a sour dough loaf to the neighbour they were cheerfully accommodating about providing jump leads. [I suppose a current bun might have been more appropriate]. The date on the battery suggested it was perhaps past its allotted life, but nothing ventured nothing gained it took the charge and we were off, revitalised, and heading for the delights of aisle three and beyond.
Just ticking over? Trickle feeding? Low?
Positive? Negative? Disconnected?
Missing a vital charge? A daily spin?
Inertia leads to a flat, diagnosed
By headlights blank, a bank of warning signs.
Find the catch, hiding in full view, release
The latch and contemplate the beast. Insight!
The neighbour’s cables clamp in place, black, red,
Snake into your bonnet’s lair. Current flows
Like faith, unseen, the resurrection spark
Ignites the patient heart, revolutions
Energise the soul, turning, lifting, whole.
Brushing palms, all done, the expiry date
Seems blurred. Fine-tuning well to contemplate.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany
On Thursday I watched my students taking their written A level exam German hidden behind masks and tried to smile at them as reassuringly as possible in that attire. They have to pass their exams but will not be able to celebrate afterwards and - more important - their plans for the immediate time after their graduation are to be abandoned. Some had plans to work and travel in Australia, others intended to serve as a volunteer in South America.
I am lucky as I am able to work, most of the time from home during the last weeks establishing exchange with my students online in order to prepare them for their exams. My husband can also work from home and on a weekly basis alternates between being at home or in the office. We do know many people who are existentially threatened by the current circumstances. A friend of ours lives on telling fairy tales, normally in nursery schools, primary schools, senior residences, at weddings, funerals, birthday parties etc. He is virtually cut off from earning an income for the foreseeable future. Another friend runs her own hairdressing salon and has not been able to work for the last six weeks but has to pay her employees. At least she can start to work again tomorrow.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
More confusion over what day it is. Dusted off my diary to check important dates in May, saw that it was my daughter's wedding anniversary. Thank goodness, it's today, oh no, it was yesterday. Sent an e-card and immediately received a Facebook notification of all the congratulations she received from her online community, which appeared yesterday.
This is disappointing on many levels. Firstly, I made a point of getting my diary for May up to date, after missing a close friend's birthday in April. I only made two entries as most of the updating involved crossing out cancelled events, appointments and meetings. You would have thought I could have remembered the first of only two significant dates. I suppose the diary has become largely superfluous, as the days are all much the same.
Secondly, my lovely Mum, who passed away in 2004, is still renowned today for her ability to remember each and every birthday and anniversary in the extended family. As my Mum suffered from agoraphobia, Dad was sent down to the paper shop at least once a week to carefully choose appropriate cards for all the upcoming dates. Her trick was the little green notebook, which she always had nearby, constantly updated over the years with new babies and family deaths.
I have often wished that I could come anywhere near Mum's record and I did have a system at one time for remembering. My husband's Auntie Connie used to buy us the WI calendar every year for Christmas and by February I usually got round to writing all the birthdays on it. This meant my friend Chris (birthday 14th January) missed out for many years, but many others felt the benefit. Since Auntie Connie passed away some years ago I have failed to keep the calendar habit going and when we do put one up in the kitchen it is usually filled with football matches and medical appointments. Completely empty now, of course.
After Mum died, my Dad, left to his own devices, limited his card output to close family. He was sad that people's 'death days' weren't celebrated. He could tell you what date it was when anyone had died. Nowadays I like to get some white lilies to mark his 'death day' on 16th February. He was 99 and all year had been telling everyone he was in his 100th year, but he didn't quite get there. No fly past, no card from the Queen, no number one hit. Just a quiet slipping away in the next room, but always remembered.
I think I will spend the evening putting birthdays (and anniversaries) on the kitchen calendar, assuming there will continue to be 'many happy returns' for all the people I love, while I think of all the people whose lonely 'death days' this spring will be remembered in the years ahead.
Post script. Thirdly, my daughter always remembers birthdays and has no need of a calendar.
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
Life is moving slowly now as mounting frustration of being parted physically from the family grows, even Skyping or Zooming fail to satisfy me anymore, indeed the virtual meetings are making it harder. There they are on the screen looking well and beautiful but at more than an arms’ length; it could be a whole ocean between us or a mountain range. I am a person who enjoys a cuddle so this is torture. I long for this time to end.
In times such as this pandemic it is natural to think a lot. The situation of being tied to the house, not being allowed to go on long unnecessary journeys leads me to reflect on my childhood voyages across the world between Asia and the UK in the 1950’s. I was on a P&O liner five times between 1951 and 1959. The voyages took three weeks roughly. I can remember it seeming a very long long time. I love the lyric by Irving Berlin, sung by Fred Astaire in ‘Follow the Fleet’ (1936)
We joined the navy to see the world
And what did we see? We saw the sea
We saw the Pacific and the Atlantic
But the Atlantic isn’t romantic
The Pacific isn’t what it’s cracked up to be!
The end of the lyric goes:
We joined the navy to see the world
And what did we see? We saw the sea
We never get seasick sailing the ocean
We don't object to feeling the motion
We're never seasick but we are awful sick of sea
Going through the Bay of Biscay was terrible. It is renowned for violent storms and shipwrecks. During a particularly stormy passage in the two days it takes to cross the bay I was lying in my cabin bed suffering sea sickness. A flying fish sailed through the porthole and flapped around on the floor until a steward came to remove it. There is not much you can do when you are feeling sick as a dog but it remains a strong image combined with the feeling of helplessness about the dying fish.
Thereafter the voyage was uneventful with day upon day walking around the deck for exercise (a bit like here in Wymondham, the choice of walks have become limited) and a few organised events to keep us children occupied. If animals were on board ship we never saw them. They were in the hold and when we reached our destination they had to face a month’s quarantine, stuck in a small cage no doubt. We had to leave our beloved Siamese cat Su Su behind on one trip back to the UK from Malaysia as we would be returning within two years. We left her with a neighbour but later we heard she had been viciously attacked by an Alsatian ( German Shepherd) and sadly she died.
‘ Mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun’ (Noel Coward)
Su Su was a gift to my father from a grateful friend and as I later found out she was irreplaceable.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Safe in Sound
Rustic rickety footbridge, gapped planks
narrow spanning a hushing brook.
Standing. Eyes closed.
Music of molecules tumbling
fresh, fulsome, flowing beneath my feet:
rustle of leaves added to the liquid soundscape -
audio frequencies mixing on May Day morning.
Flurry of moving air
rain water bubbling
wavelets slip slapping against
fallen, tumbled trees.
Clarity of ebb and flow
and stirring of green above.
Water, air, wood for earth, fire smoldering
in a slow peaty burn, crackling, spitting,
flared by the breeze, hushed by rain.
Close your eyes. Take a beat. Listen.
The auditory canal flows to your heart.
The elemental force of sound
by the scourge that plunders us.
From St Just
Jane G, St Just
Yesterday, or possibly the day before, I went to Penzance twice: once for the first food shop in very nearly a fortnight, and once to take Smokey to the vet. I'm beginning to feel I should have one of those clip-on blue light and siren kits that unmarked police cars have to signal that yes, my journey is absolutely necessary. It seemed extraordinarily daring to drive so much (28 miles in total) in a single day, & I realised I'm becoming very reluctant to leave St Just at all. Possibly one side-effect of lockdown will be that the entire population turns into either space travellers or agoraphobics, depending on temperament.
I've also been thinking about statistics. I was impatient when someone said on the radio the other day that anyone who hasn't lost a friend or family member to the virus is very lucky; since the death rate is apparently between 22 and 55 people per 100,000 (depending on area), it seemed to me that the opposite was the case: that anyone who *has lost someone is very unlucky, unless they have an unusually large number of friends and relations. But then The Guardian yesterday reported on the way some areas, especially in London, have been disproportionately affected, and that 22 people had died on two adjacent streets in Newham - so what the woman on the radio said is both statistical nonsense and, locally, horribly true.
The same Guardian article had a map showing total numbers of deaths across the country - which seemed to suggest that no one at all has died west of Truro. Technically that also may be true... but then there's no serious hospital west of Truro, so it probably doesn't mean that the inhabitants of West Penwith hold the key to beating the virus, but just that they have to travel a long way when they're ill. That said, the numbers even for Truro were low.
Walking Chalk - April diary
So here I am. Walking the spine of the field I call the ‘Book-Field’ on week five of lockdown. This repeat and return is my saviour. It’s true what they say about fresh air blowing away the cobwebs. Spun layers that build up in dark corners. Thin filaments that although silky and light begin to build and block the view. Sometimes I am overwhelmed in my own mind and that is when standing up straight and stepping out calls. And then I’m quietened and can enter the space where I draw, carve or write. The whippets are always with me seeking, in the periphery. I am usually looking at the plants, stones and birds, all of which take me further away from myself.
Walking in the book-field today feeling bruised by the separation of my elderly father and I. He is usually resilient and someone who thrives on a degree of solitude. However, today he was asked over the phone to decide whether to sign his own DNR order. He is not alone and is loved but the idea that someone can be asked to decide on their own fate when they are well but elderly is without precedent. It haunted me on my walk. Rain blew in and scoured the field and soaked me to the skin. Cold and unwelcome. Welcomed by the field of course which has been dry for weeks. All around were dashed dandelion clocks and smashed daisies. Their petals stuck to my boots. It felt sad but right that I should walk in these conditions. Many would feel elated to be outside I realise. I am lucky. I am not an NHS worker surrounded by vulnerable people on wards, nor a key worker. I am in awe of them. I am so grateful for all who work to help us but I am harrowed by the reality of this virus and its menacing presence today.
Each individual reliant on the previous and the next in line. Paying forward. Giving. With intent to support and give their own unique gift. A group of mutual attendance bringing meaning to the whole. A cynic says no gift is given without the hope of receiving in return but I see so much generosity and kindness moving as ripples through our communities in this time. A tide, lit with individual acts of love. There is much hope here. Up in the ‘Book-Field’ the individual blades unite as tide. A susurration of sound and movement flowing across the field, following the high winds rhythm.
These Sussex chalk coach roads and hollow ways have been walked for millennia. Deepening and settling. Bones for chalk. Our walking disrupting strata and sending dust clouds upwards. Light falling from sky to ground and back. The clarity and safety lying ahead on a well trodden path. Walked alone or in groups. In silence or filling the fields with our words out loud. We will walk the land again. In light and hope I wish it.
Whilst talk of reducing the ‘curve’ and progress of the virus continues to consume and confine us the land and nature strides forward. Out on the hills the air is clear, the road noise is barely audible. Birdsong is loud and large bumblebees work the fields and dandelions. Buzzards are mobbed by crow. Hawks stoop and gulls tilt. Skylarks flit, as teleprinter across the fields page. All is well without our presence. Some would say rightly, better for our absence.
Lily Wonham, Bristol
This last Thursday, I had a lockdown birthday (my 27th). Certainly a birthday I will remember and tell my grandchildren about one day. My housemate got up before I woke and decorated our flat with Happy Birthday banners and streamers, and balloons. Opening my bedroom door in the morning I walked right into one particularly sparkly one taped across my doorway at head height. Our two lockdown buddies, a giant stuffed shark and panda who normally wave at children from our windowsill, were sat at the dining table wearing tiaras. I had multiple video calls - at lunchtime, our Bristol friends called and admired the house decorations. And I was moved almost to tears by their thoughtful present - they had commissioned my sister, a wonderful illustrator (Petra Wonham, who has contributed a few posts to this Journal), to do a drawing of the group of us. Later in the afternoon, my friends from home had written a quiz including a 'Lily round' for us all to do, and had made the effort to dress up as if it were a real party. In the evening, I had my family on video call. With them, I lit some candles in the cake I had made for myself (peanut, chocolate and caramel - sadly all eaten now), and they sung Happy Birthday to me and I opened their presents and cards.
Despite not leaving the house all day, and only interacting face to face with my housemate, I felt happy. Perhaps it takes less and less to satisfy us in these times, or perhaps the kindness demonstrated in the effort my loved ones took to make sure I had a good day shone through more beautifully against the current backdrop. It was a birthday that I will remember and tell my grandchildren about, but for the right reasons. I felt lifted up by kindness and care. It was a birthday with perhaps more chance to reflect on where I'm at in life than a birthday would normally afford; but if I find myself at 27 with such solid friendships and a wonderful family, then I cannot end any such reflection but with the conviction of how lucky I am. I wish everyone who has a birthday or any sort of celebration during lockdown a happy, happy day.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Cut of the Lump
Today is four years to the day since I did present myself to Surgeons at the “House of Body Shaping and Beauty for You” for the removal of a most unsightly lump formed in the middle of my fore head. I had for some time been obliged to wear my wig a little forward to conceal it, but, I growing increasingly uneasy was resolved to have it removed, my Wife on occasion calling after me “KnobHead” and thinking it only a matter of time before others may feel emboldened enough to do likewise.
While sitting in the chair blindfolded was not amused to hear reference to ‘fatty lump’ as Surgeon to Nurses: “let us approach the fatty lump”, “is the fatty lump prepared” accompanied by much sniggering, but did resist complaint, he having the knife and me not. He nevertheless most dextrous and removed the b’fold to reveal small scar neatly stitched and little loss of blood.
There is much talk still of Plague in Towne, and some now wear masks. Shops will allow but few into them according to size - some smallest but one customer at a time or maybe none at all, business being done on the doorstepp. Others of greater size maybe will admit 10 or more employing rowdy types to guard the door and regulate, viz: as one leaves, another may enter. I hear that in France, the drinking of lemon juice is held accountable for warding-off of the Plague, there being street vendors there, but having none such here am resolved to grow my own.
So it was that I did take my turn awaiting entry to ‘Homebase’, a fine large shop of divers stock where I did hope to find large pottes wherein to plant lemon trees wanted for my display garden and for the juice we may, to our advantage, harvest.
For conversation asked the guard as I neared the door after above half an hour’s queuing if such pottes were indeed within, only to rec. news that he should not be expected to know everything. Persevered, and once inside found much to distract me including 4 fine pottes of heavy rough Artisan clay, but frostproofe, heavy and above two feet tall and to my joy displayed at half price. Sadly, half price when found was more than I am comfortable with, but, having invested much time (though Lord knows I have plenty of that at the moment) and more particularly Patience (of which I have little) did buy them and carry them home with me. Removed ‘half price’ notices.
Returned home by carriage to a fine lunch of new sparrow-grass and poached pheasant egg, then had my pottes brought to their station by Rich. the Gardener and very fine they look too, though wanting for lemon trees, of which there is some shortage.