Hilary Q, North Norfolk
You remember the wren nest in the porch and the prediction that there may be trouble ahead? Well, it’s started. There is great activity - wren nestlings the size of large bumble bees are being fattened and none too soon... the house martins have returned and for the last two evenings there have been noisy disputes regarding squatters’ rights, dilapidations and timetables. Notice has definitely been served. Lockdown no longer enters into the equation. It’s a mess and there’s pandemonium out there. Mmm...
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
It was drizzly, windy and a bit cold as I walked briskly to the harbour to meet Synnøve. I passed my friend Solveigs’ shop, Sverre Eidsvik, a well-known ship chandler on Kirkegata. The lights were on and I imagined her hard at work with her Irish wolfhound by her side. Few customers in these challenging times but the shop is her passion and she always finds something to do.
The little fishing boats are docked in the harbour and customers waited as the fishermen gutted and filleted the fish. I arrived at the jetty in time to see the fastboat approaching from Hareid, an island 20 minutes away by ferry.
Do you remember the Italian mayor berating women for flouting social distancing in order to have their hair styled? “Do you understand that the coffin will be closed? Who’s going to see you with your hair fixed in the coffin?” I sympathized with the women. It was one of the three major directives Erna Solberg, our Prime Minister, effected the day after WHO declared a pandemic. No tourists, no schools and no hairdressing. The date is seared into my brain as I had just coloured my hair.
Five months ago, as I was having my hair rinsed in the basin, my ears pricked when I heard the woman lying in the next chair discussing, in Norwegian, her childhood in India. I was startled to discover that her father had set up some of the fisheries in Kerala and she had gone to boarding school in Andra Pradesh. I live in the most beautiful town in Norway but hardly expected to meet someone who knew my Kerala from the 60’s. Since then, we meet every six weeks for lunch and a spot of reminiscing. This is stranger than it seems. The Norwegians are a fabulous bunch but are Strong, Silent and Remote. When you board a bus, it is uncommon to sit next to another traveller. Social distancing IS the norm here. They are a tribal bunch and have enough people from their extended families, schoolfriends, choir or sports club to fully occupy their social lives, in addition to cooking, cleaning, long walks, skiing and fishing. There is no space for anybody new. It’s not personal. That’s just the way it is. But when you break in, after years it seems, it’s like being with a gaggle of geese. It’s for life. So I’m thrilled that this lovely woman wants to keep meeting me.
We had lunch at Hotel 1904, named for the year of the great fire that devastated Ålesund (why would you name a hotel after a disaster?). Having said that, the Jugendstil jewel that is Ålesund rose from the ashes.
We spoke Norwegian as my oral exams are in a fortnight and I’m forcing myself to be in the zone. We were both so disappointed that the Swedes had almost thrown their elderly to the wolves with such high death rates. Although we didn’t have lockdown, Norwegians have been extremely cautious and stayed home. A world of difference in the culture of these two countries in the time of Corona, though both are Scandinavian.
I walked with Synnøve to her destination and we touched elbows to say goodbye. ‘Ha det‘ (Goodbye) till the next time.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
I sent this in yesterday I think but have amended the title so if you could use this version and not the previous that would be lovely. I think I sent some accompanying blurb too! All power to you and your team!
“The Island of the Day Before”, hardback,
Hefty in the hand, a proper read I’d brought,
Imported [ousting from the case ‘useful’
Garments specially requested from home.]
Colourful dust cover from ’94,
Just the sort of tome for the siesta
Slot when all you need is comfy chair
A cup of tea and a good plot. Perfect
I thought, anticipating Umberto’s
Craftsmanship, time to dip a toe into
The 17th century. Time travelling
Made easy by the maestro of fiction.
All this overturned by tropical fate,
Sublimely surreal: a gecko on Eco!
From St Just
Jane G, St Just
Smokey, our feline in St Just, writes:
These are things I have noticed:
Jane is here almost all the time.
At the vet's, I go in alone and am held by strangers with gloves.
The sun shines in the bathroom in the morning and the garden room in the afternoon.
Jane's computer has started talking to her. Sometimes I sit on her lap and it talks to me too. Sometimes it stops talking suddenly and she goes to stare at a little box in the corner.
Claude the cat from two doors up often calls by the garden.
Jane stopped me jumping over the wall.
The granite chimney breast is good for sharpening my claws.
There was a mouse here but one of us had to go.
I am eating more and different meat.
I would quite like to go as far as the top gate..
The sun shines in the bathroom in the morning and the garden room in the afternoon.
John Underwood, Norfolk
A typical day
I don’t know about the rest of you, but the weeks seem to fly past. Our Fridays and weekends are marked by having a newspaper delivered, and a long luxurious read in bed with a big mug of tea. It is always a shock when Friday comes around again. Where did that week go? On sunny mornings I will usually open our doors out to the garden, and take out seedlings, tomato and courgette plants that we are protecting from overnight frosts, and have a wander round the vegetable garden to see how things are doing. I’m puzzled that our red onions are hardly out of the ground, whilst the white onions are nine inches tall- all planted on the same day. There are various jobs to do; more pea strings, mashing up the nettle manure, pricking out lettuce seedlings. I’m being very wary about planting out tomatoes because it will be more difficult than usual to replace the plants if they become frosted.
After a quick breakfast, I will usually head upstairs to practice the piano whilst Ally does Yoga , and then we will often have coffee and talk about the day. There might be shopping to get from the local shop in the village or an order to ‘phone through to another local shop who will prepare a box for us to collect. We have managed to avoid visiting a supermarket since lockdown, although our daughter in law has dropped off a few things that the local shops don’t stock. We find that we are wasting less food, and eating more simply. We had olives for the first time for weeks recently, and that was a real treat for the taste buds.
After lunch I might carry on with book binding projects, although today I had to tidy the cupboard where I keep tools and materials, which had become impossible to use. I have managed to clear the decks for a big project, binding a five folio volume set of Blomefield’s Norfolk which at present is hiding beneath a red book cloth library binding. I have already been through the volumes removing about a hundred embossed library stamps, by a process of dampening, flattening, light sand papering and drying. It is a challenging job; the bindings have to be matched carefully which means that each stage of the binding process will be repeated five times, and will have to be uniform across each of the five volumes.
Sometimes we will go for a walk or cycle ride down into the village and back. We might see our grandchildren as we go past their house, and have a chat at the window. We miss taking them to school and spending time with them, and we can’t wait to have a hug. On sunny afternoons we might head for our garden room. We built it ourselves from old pig sheds a few years ago, at the end of our renovation project , and it overlooks the vegetable garden and catches the afternoon sun. We might read, doze, doze, read, chat about the garden jobs, or rail at the huge injustice and inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted. Both of us worked in the public sector for most of our working lives, and have personal experience of what has been done to NHS and local government funding in the past ten years. In the evening we will share the cooking, using up what needs using, and in the evening we might read or watch TV, with further exclamations at the News and the creative use of the truth exhibited almost daily. We know that we are hugely privileged to be living where we do.
Musings from self isolation
Billy Hearld, York
Today, being a bank holiday, no work arrived from school and the prospect of a day entirely empty for the first time since Easter stretched out before us. Yesterday, we had a walk around the lakes of the university again, feeding the geese who hissed and honked when we got too close to their nests.
Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
Here is a small collage impression of a view I see on my dawn hikes.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
In the land of recovery
a man sits in a car
overlooking a lake, sunlight
bouncing through spring leaves.
Hands twitching he digs out
a notepad and pencil
and doodles in the margin,
remembering the riot
between his ears:
a knock down, drag out affair.
In the viral hell the lunatics
had thrown open the gates:
immune from prosecution,
immune from reason,
immune from humanity,
they smirked and plundered,
wrapping their fingers
around the nation’s windpipe,
re-inflating their portfolios
with the last breaths from
the diseased lungs of the sacrificed.
The man looks up and smiles
at an approaching woman
with a resentfully compliant dog.
But she is too distant to see him.
Stowing the pencil and pad
he waits impatient
for the moment of sanity
when the inmates are
rounded up and locked down
behind gates slammed shut.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
It's Friday and a bank holiday. I am slightly unsettled by the VE Day event, its place in bringing the nation together and the running metaphor of the 'war against the virus' and the 'front line heroes'. As a lifelong pacifist, I have always shunned any kind of celebration connected with war. I feel that soldiers who joined up when they were too young to vote or marry were hoodwinked, used and discarded. It's fine to call them heroes, but many of them found themselves in dreadful places, terrified and a long way from home, doing things they could not live with when it was all over. Fine to mourn their loss, their sacrifice, and where indeed would we be today without them. However, rather than glorifying their death, is it not better to ask the question, why did they die?
So now we are in this new 'war', where we are told we are 'over the peak' and must pull together in true British fashion, Dunkirk spirit and all that. Those in charge require us to be compliant so that they can lead us all out of battle as victorious Brits, honouring our fallen NHS heroes. I am fine with this if it is successful. However, while our elected leaders are busily preparing Churchillian speeches for the new 'Victory Againt Covid Day' (VAC Day), which I expect will be announced in due course, we should perhaps take a few moments to ask some difficult questions.
For example, was this war necessary? Could this virus, which was predicted, have been nipped in the bud before it began to spread 'in the community'? Could Britain have done more to prevent the virus entering the country by testing and isolating people coming in? Are we yet again sacrificing our front line 'heroes', underpaid and lacking essential equipment? Apparently we are now thinking about temperature testing at airports. We are now considering advising the use of masks. We are increasing our testing capacity, while not actually using it all. We have spent a fortune on Nightingale hospitals that stand empty, while the elderly die in care homes looked after by staff who cannot get a test or proper equipment. In the words of the Health Secretary regarding another matter, I am speechless. 'Dither and delay' doesn't even begin to describe the extent of incompetence displayed by this government, hiding behind the bluster of 'straining every sinew, working round the clock, doing the right thing at the right time and being led by the science'.
The Prime Minister announced at a briefing this week that he would be making a statement to the nation on Sunday evening regarding plans for the release from lockdown which could be implemented on Monday. This while deaths in care homes are still high and there is some debate about the all important 'R' number. There is criticism that this announcement is not being made to Parliament first. Well, someone who thinks it's fine to prorogue Parliament as an election strategy doesn't bother with inconvenient details like this, you could almost think it was part of a plan. The press of course, eager for some fresh and optimistic headlines, latched on to this hint of freedom for the masses and promoted 'Happy Monday'. No surprise there, it's a vote-winner and I expect there will be a surge in people going out and about over the Bank Holiday weekend as a result.
Now the Prime Minister's planned announcement about tiny steps toward releasing lockdown, has been pre-empted by the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers announcing a possible relaxation of rules regarding outdoor exercise and the re-opening of garden centres, so what is left for him to say? Will we be glued to our TV sets on Sunday evening? Probably.
Also, will we all be on our doorsteps joining in with 'We'll Meet Again' this evening? Probably.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
VE Day today
Just been to Holt. Flags outside various houses along the way.
Friday is my best meal day every week as I get a crab or something nice. Today I got a real treat of a dover sole that had been put by for my neighbours but they didn't want it.
Eating out of the freezer by the end of the week apart from the lovely bags of greens that arrive on Thursday and yesterday Kate delivered asparagus.
My friend texted to say she wanted to do a bit of shopping so she had a whats app video tour in the shop and bought a jug and some cups.
I locked up and as I stepped out a fast car with the roof down driven by a late middle aged man came by so close to the left I nearly got run over. I swore "For F.....Sake" he didn't care, no reaction at all.
A man on a bicycle queuing out side the health food shop said. " That was a bit close."
My second near miss.
Went for a lovely walk last night in the bluebells up the road. Gorgeous light. Bumped into a couple of friends and had a socially distanced chat in a magical fairy circle of bluebells.
I had to pick up some nuts from Bridget's house and was waiting down the drive a bit shouting over the hedge. Twenty feet or so behind Earnie was a little muntjac deer so I was calling him to keep his attention on me and not the dear. A woodpecker was pecking and then the cuckoo started cuckooing in the tree very near me. The first one I've heard this year but Bridget said he arrived on the 11th April.
On the news last night awful poverty in America. Huge job losses, over 30 million now unemployed. The homeless people who have taken to living in the subway many of whom are ill with Covid 19 got moved on by the police. Dreadfully sad site.
I've run out of time to tell you what Boris is doing.
Bye for now.
Cat is sitting in the back door having a face off with several blackbirds.
Love Annabel xxx