06/06/2020

A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

Well, Dear Reader, it seems we've survived! The pandemic is officially over in the U.S. No longer does it dominate (or even appear in) the news. Amateur epidemiologists by the score have stopped quoting statistics, cherry-picked to support their preconceived political notions, at each other on Facebook. And face masks are being recycled by the thousand.

 

A relieved America has returned to its oldest form of entertainment, the national pastime. No, not baseball (there the owners and the players are still squabbling over how many games they won't play in view of the non-existent pandemic), but race. Tens of thousands of Americans of every color, ethnic origin and creed have poured onto the streets to protest the slow-motion murder on camera of a black man by a white man in uniform on the streets of Minneapolis. Facebook outrage is now overwhelmingly focused on why they're wrong to be upset, and why the police are doing a magnificent job in defending themselves against the racist hordes. Nothing gets America all buzzed up like a good black uprising scare, especially when accompanied by a titillating frisson of fear for the virtue of our fair Maidens and an attack on the Sacred Rights of Private Property. The horror, the horror!

 

Meanwhile, our Dear Leader, fearing that he might be upstaged by such a gripping moment of reality TV, has stepped in to pour soothing balm on the national wounds and express his compassion for the death of a citizen and the pain felt in communities of color. He has urged calm and dialogue and promised a good hard look at brutal policing tactics. Nah, just kidding. Of course, he's seized the opportunity to make this all about himself, inflame hatred and division, and - first, foremost and always - to make himself look tough. This reached the very heights of Mt. Crazy itself on Monday evening when he and his side-kick Billy "the Ball-buster-Barricade-Builder" Barr unleashed the full might and fury of the forces of law and order on peaceful protesters so that Dear Leader could enjoy a stroll in the evening air whilst thumbing a copy of his Favorite Book for all to see before a local House of Worship. It was a beautiful scene carefully staged by the ever gruesome Ivanka - Our Hero striding purposefully between two lines of police in riot gear, while Ivanka herself (in 4" stiletto heels and $1540 Max Mara handbag), Jared the Puppy, the aforementioned Billy Barr, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff bobbed along in his wake. This was truly a moment to make every American heart glad as a swelling chorus of ethereal voices hummed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and our Dear Leader declared victory at the Battle of Bunker Baby.

 

Of course, every once in a while reality has a way of upstaging reality TV. (Don't you just HATE that?!) As part of our never ending quest to bring you news from the source, your Intrepid Reporter and Mrs. Intrepid visited the scene of battle last evening. To our surprise we found the street full of people (still they persist) while the present occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is forced to live behind an ever thickening line of barricades and fences. It must be galling for Dear Leader that the scene reminded one of nothing so much as a visit to the National Zoo and peering through the bars at the strange life form on the other side. Worse still, the Holy Spot where Dear Leader had waved his Favorite Book for all to admire, had been taken over by a bunch of black protesters having a barbecue. The nerve! The Battle of Bunker Baby was suddenly recast as Trumpster's Last Stand by the will of the People, although in fairness no one claimed his mangy orange scalp as a war prize. So, perhaps he escaped to inflict Crazy on us yet another day. While His Dear Image has been tarnished by this little spasm of public outrage, we live in confidence that Dear Leader will refocus our energy and the nation's attention by declaring that the pandemic is back on! Be sure to take your bleach every night before bed and you too will survive to be crazy another day.

06/06/2020

From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

More visitors

Many of us seem to be more aware of our surroundings and paying special attention to the natural world. We've listened to the morning chorus more attentively, we've watched the pond residents come and go and we've monitored the daily growth of beans, courgettes, sweet peas and the rest. 

I have particularly been noting the range of bee species, there seem to be more than ever. As well as honey bees, fat bumble bees and mortar bees there are several other species I can't identify. One band of middle sized bees has taken up residence in the pantry roof. I see where they go in and out and I'm waiting for a trickle of honey to come running down the wall inside! A bumble bee has decided that the outlet from the tumble dryer is a good spot. I could hear it from inside the house before I worked out where it was. It's been working away in there for a couple of weeks and doesn't seem to mind a breeze of warm air every few days. 

While we are still dealing with the consequences of the arrival of coronavirus from China the bee keepers are on the alert for another arrival from China, the Asian hornet. This nasty beast managed to hitch a lift to Europe in 2004 or thereabouts and has been creating havoc in France, Spain and Portugal ever since. There have been sightings in this country on several occasions and nests have had to be destroyed. Apparently one shouldn't try to destroy a nest on one's own as the hornets can engage in a mass attack with severe consequences. They are active from now to October, usually in the daytime but they go to bed early unlike our domestic hornet. The problem with these blighters is that they seek out honey bees, pull them apart, extract the wing muscles and feed them to their larvae. Who could make up such a habit? The way to identify these invaders is to look for their bright yellow legs. They are also a bit smaller than our usual hornet. If seen they should be reported to DEFRA and of course there's an app to help.

Not much nature watching today- it's cold and wet in Norfolk!

06/06/2020

Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Sunshine after the rain. A much brighter view from the window today... 

 

Felt grumpy yesterday. Achieved too little. The morning was taken up with trying to remove the bulb from the oven. The problem was the light had gone - so it was (or should have been) just a case of replacement. A 10 minute job. Not so. When trying to remove the old light, the glass part detached itself from the metal section - the screw thread contact part. So only half the bulb had come out. What to do? Spent ages looking for something to grip the thin metal to allow me to turn it and get it undone. Conventional pliers too large. And have you noticed how everything that you need seems to magically disappear when you’re stressed and getting frustrated and irritated?! Especially when you have your head in the oven!

 

Walked away. Had coffee. Rang the Company. The usual press 1 to pay a bill, press 2 to arrange a delivery, press 3 to leave praise for our award winning company... it’s ‘press 12’ before there’s any mention of actually talking to another human being... but press 12 I did  - to get through to customer services. And then endless music. Melodic trance music I think. It doesn’t soothe. Every few minutes a robotic female voice announces “we are grateful for your patience but are experiencing higher than usual call volumes due to the corona virus pandemic”. That old chestnut. Finally a human voice. Very friendly. Very calming. Well, calming until she explains that “our minimum call out charge is £99 exclusive of parts, labour,  VAT etc”. Eeeeek! Over a hundred pounds just to change a light bulb?! No way! 

 

Anyhow, after lunch, found a pair of thin gripper tweezer things and managed to turn the metal until lo and behold - the bulb is completely out. Achievement. Well, sort of. 

 

Rewarded myself with a run out to the garden centre (which was closed as it only opens until 1pm because of corona virus restrictions). So, not to be disappointed, had a walk on the beach. Grey sky and some rain but a nice walk. 

 

No plans for today. Garden looks better for the heavy rain. A bit breezy out there. Stay safe, folks x

Fremontodendron in my garden - looking the best ever this year

Poppies in Aldeburgh on Thursday

06/06/2020

Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Astronauting in Cloud Forest

 

Space is closer than you think

And if you take the direct route

As those two chaps did the other day

It doesn’t take too long. Strap in,

Check you’ve shut the doors and away you go.

Similarly trekking on a designated track

Should be the most attractive option

And by a curious twist of fate the distances

To the troposphere and to our summit 

Were about the same; we could be astronauts

For the day heading sub-sonically up Mt Pulai.

The spaceguide, had we read it, would have said

“Strenuous” or words to that effect;

 Undeterred by instrumentation [or lack of], some basic kit

[old trainers, chinos in NASA lilac for him, 

Sports leggings and real boots for her]

We blasted off for a new atmosphere. 

 

The Elon Musketeers had an easy ride

In comparison to our space walking.

The jungle trail lift off was unpromisingly

Vertical, slippery and accompanied by

Drenching showers and interesting humidity 

That reduced crew-uniform to a sweaty stain.

After two hours uphill we had still

Not left the terrain and so Houston

We have a problem as in where are we?

Back at base we reconsidered options

Retro-fitted some peanuts and set off again

Up a curiously easy road, signed “The Top”

Or “This way” or “Next stop space.”

Eight kilometres later, the blink of an eye,

We summitted or would have done

If cloud forest had not lived up to its name.

 

Descending we were eyed up by suspicious

And vicious monkeys, an enormous scorpion

From Jurassic Park and taunted by a chorus

Of tree frogs.

I tell you, those space boys and girls 

Have it easy, floating around all day

In air-conned luxury. Beam me up Scotty!

06/06/2020

From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

Yesterday we had an enjoyable walk with our friend Chloe Salaman and kept a good distance from each other, of course. The dry weather means there is an irrigator casting its veils over a field of potatoes. I love watching these big irrigators, with all their spectra and changes of light. Stephen noticed that the giant reel of hose feeding the irrigator moves slightly all the time and that the irrigator is gradually pulled down the hill throughout the day. Sure enough, when we had our evening drink in the corner of the garden, we could see the water shooting up from lower down the hill.     

 

When we reached the river on our walk, a blue pump was fiercely pumping water from the river bed to feed the irrigator. And when we walked on to the weir by a large manor house, the water which usually rushes thickly down, was thin, the stones in the weir pool all visible and seemingly close. 

 

Yellow irises are out on the shingle islands. My grandmother always called them ‘flags’ and loved seeing them at this time of year. We hung around chatting under some ancient plane trees that send their knobbly elbows and stretching branches down to the river. Further along this path, at the beginning of lockdown in March, I saw three cormorants (even though we are inland) drying their wings at the top of an oak. They looked like omens or perhaps a blazon of arms, cormorants rampant.

 

When she arrived in our garden (now allowed – hurray!), Chloe told us a story of what had happened on her way to see us, and, with her permission, I reproduce it here as a lockdown anecdote.

A woman passes within millimetres of Chloe on the pavement.

Chloe: Excuse me!

Woman: nasty look and muttering.

Chloe: I’m just trying to stay safe.

Woman: Don’t be ridiculous.

Chloe: It’s six feet apart or six feet under!

Woman: You know what? People like you shouldn’t go out at all.

 

Chloe has a lovely clear actor’s voice, and she enacted the exchange in our garden like a small play, including the mean expression of the passing woman and her voice.  She made fun of the occasion, but all along our walk, she said, I’m still rattled by that exchange.  Which goes to show how negative remarks can go on niggling and hurting. However, I do recommend hearing Chloe declaim, ‘Six feet apart or six feet under!’ It’s till resonating through my head. And maybe the only piece of live theatre I see for quite awhile.

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