The Runaway Diaries
Yesterday marked 75 years since Victory in Europe day. It feels strange to give it its full title when so much of our recent narrative has been about being ‘out’ of Europe.
But what an important day to be reminded of.
On our morning walk atop the Black Mountains we read from your great granddad’s diary. He was a RAF pilot and at the age of 22 was posted in Italy where he was a test pilot flying patched up planes. On VE Day, after a haircut and a shave he hooked up with an Italian, Canadian and fellow Brit and “spent the evening drinking with them – 3 bottles of beer apiece, the most I’ve had for a long time, then after dinner we set to work on the whiskey, still in the bar on the 5th floor, the Canadian navi was on 614, so we refought our battles until about midnight…”
It was somehow comforting to read about this young man celebrating victory in such simple fashion. The following day he’s a bit worse for wear so sleeps off his hangover before heading to the cinema in the afternoon.
“And that was our two days of victory celebration – I felt homesick listening on the wireless to how the celebrations went in England.”
Papa’s sense of isolation at such an important time felt particularly poignant along with his low key tone. He didn’t return home until October; there was still a lot of work to do.
Being less than two, you weren’t particularly interested in your great grandpa’s victory day exploits, but it was good to be in his company in diary form at least and made me grateful to be recording your exploits here. Perhaps when you are 22 you will read it and think about the low key way we managed the drama of this pandemic. I am hoping that the war analogies stop now. This is a very different sort of fight and one, I fear, is just a precursor to a longer battle that you and your generation will be forced to tackle as environmental disasters increase in scale and impact.
Not a happy thought, so I shall finish by imagining you at 22. Hopefully you return often to our Welsh hideaway and look out at the surrounding hills, the same view that your dad, his dad and his dad have enjoyed.
Time is elastic, whatever happens in the world, it will carry us forward, but we take with us the experiences of those who have gone before. Today I try and stay focused on the present but raise a glass of beer to my brilliant papa and, of course, to you and your future self.
John Mole, St.Albans
SOME SUNNY DAY
Bunting and flags
on porch and doorstep,
gathering in the street.
An elderly neighbour
singing from her garden
We’ll meet again
some sunny day.
In the meantime
soldier on together,
prepare for a safe
and happy landing
just as the promise
of that sentimental song
still lifts the spirit
for an hour or two.
Counting my blessings
This was a very unusual Friday and lovely for me. My friends tease me saying I live in a 'gated community' but in reality there are five dwellings admittedly entered through wrought iron gates but when approached - the gates open all by themselves! No codes, no zappers, no gadgets - just discreet sensors. My lovely neighbours are all in their fifties and I am not. In a previous life they all went out to work, I didn't and don't. The little tots next door went to school - now they are laughing and screeching in their garden over my fence having a super time being entertained by their Mum and Dad. This morning at 11 o'clock we were all outside with our garden chairs, flags, some with coffee, some with something a little stronger. One of us had set an alarm to ring out at 11 a.m. and we held two minutes silence, all with our own thoughts, then the alarm went again. It was grand. I was, naturally, the one who WAS THERE so I desperately tried to remember the day 75 years ago. I told them what I remembered - could be true - may be not, who is going to argue?
Today was a blessing in more ways than one. VE Day 2020 - everyone here at home.
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Is the Covid-19 a communist plot?
My father Roger is in a care home, in his 90's, a devoted catholic.
In France, in the care homes, visits had been forbidden. The pray room closed since begining of April. The priest can not come for the sunday evening for mass, and even the other catholics in the home can't meet together for pray. One of 8 gran-children call him everyday, each of them have his day to call.
Our daughter told me the story.
My father understood that there is a deadly virus which is the cause of it, and that is very dangerous for elderly people. Even if some younger people may think that he had his life, he does not feel ready to pass away. He heard on the television that the Covid-19 comes from communist China (we can discuss the style of Communism it is but anyway, the Communist Party still head of the country and the end of it does not seem close). In 1973, in France, a book had been very popular: " when China will wake up" by Alain Peyrefitte and in 1996 "China is awake".
Roger's conclusion is that the Communist Party, all is life his political enemy, have won. The Communists with the virus prevent him to have mass and sacrement on Sunday, above all at Easter. Atheism prevails, that he finds even more dangerous than Communism.
Not completely silly, we have the feeling of the end of war. An economic one, our governments told us it was a war, and used martial words. They could have chosen different ones. The western countries are not in a such good economic conditions to think they are on the winning side.
From the black shed
David E, East Norfolk
Saved from Ash Die Back?
At the end of the covid news yesterday was a little snippet suggesting that the fate of our ash trees is not as bad as once feared and that trees in mixed woodland or solitary trees might survive. Woodlands with predominantly ash trees seem to do badly. This information came from Benoit Marcais, director of the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment who observed the trees and studied the presence of the fungus in leaf litter among the trees.
Norfolk is where it all started in this country in 2012 and we have seen many young saplings die. In the garden we have a large solitary ash tree which is very healthy and every year we have many ash seedlings appearing all over the place! I have been in the habit of pulling them up and sometimes transplanting them into more suitable places. Now I don’t know what to do for the best. Do I destroy any offspring from our tree to ensure that it remains solitary? Seems unkind somehow. Do I transplant seedlings into nearby hedgerows where there is space? Do I encourage as many new trees as possible in the hope that some are resistant? Decisions decisions. Maybe I’ll ask Professeur Marcais.
The French study showed that some trees in open settings can harbour the fungus without much effect, others which are exposed to a high dose do badly. Looks like social distancing is the answer for ash trees too.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
I have lost an entry aimed at this illustrious journal! Yesterday I wrote something, but somehow must have failed to send it in Margaret’s direction, though in my mind it had gone off successfully. Not so it seems. The odd thing is that I can almost not remember what I was writing about. Oh yes, I had more or less changed my mind on the NHS app and something else - my ancient memory fails me. All very ephemeral!
Yesterday the enormity of all that is happening in the world hit me for a time and I confess to feeling really low. All the suffering and all the incompetence. To more or less quote Kier, “How has it come to this?”. I wonder, I really do. I suppose the theologian in me looks towards the Tower of Babel and human pride, but that may not be an answer. I don’t think I know anything about anything really. Anyway, the negative feelings passed somehow and today I got down to some really serious house cleaning. Strange what solace the apparently banal activities of life can bring. Best to stay in that place I suppose.
This evening I have spoken over the phone with my best beloved, whom I can’t easily wait to see and, even better, cuddle. I think we both are feeling bereft of physical contact - a basic human need. Love is a good subject for contemplation as the cock blackbird sings atop the ash tree in next door’s garden....
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
“What news on the Rialto?” Pigeons
Clatter into the unhindered air,
Rise into an azure blue basilica.
Sentinel, the campanile once again
Chimes over its citizens. Fish witness
The gondola’s idle hull rocking to
Waves naturally born, not torn from cruise ship
Bows, souping the sediment below.
Lion-mouthed fountains refresh stone troughs
While lounging cats mock their compatriots,
Slink down echoing alleyways where water
Slaps at palace gates. Plaster peels artists’
Terracotta, sienna, umber, bone
Life in Venice, a palette when alone.
Choose Something Like a Star
I can't understand the logic behind tracking and testing, now? Surely if it was going to be done, it's way too late? I'm not sure I get the whole point, especially as I was walking (at a distance of course!) with a friend and her saluki dogs last night, her daughter is a doctor working hard, and has been tested as she felt really ill and had all the virus symptoms - but the test was negative. She was told this is common, the tests are not failsafe. So... ?
Also why are they bringing out quararantine regulations for incoming flight passengers now, which will apparently be in place by the end of the month? So just as the tourists consider coming from Scandinavia and such like to Cornwall and so on, they'll have to self isolate for two weeks!? Well, there goes the livelihoods of thousands. It just feels crazy.
Meanwhile... more heat, more May blossom, more beauty. A hare, rabbits, deer, kites, I may never want to go back to my full on work which also entailed a lot of driving... hmm. Like many, I'm re-evaluating... I mean I love all my jobs, as self employed you can create your own world, but I never had evenings like this to treasure.
Let's enjoy today before the arctic storms appear!
View from a balcony
Constance, Southern France
Or rather, for today: view into my craftroom.
This time at home has allowed me to sew. Crafting is an escape, the joy of making beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) things, seeing people's expression when you give them a homemade present, transforming material, thread, paint, graphite into complex finished creations out of the infinite possibilities.
I am currently making curtains, a project I have wanted to tackle for six months. I got down my crafting project list (yes, I do have one), trying to keep it down to two or three in each category and not starting one before finishing another one. Very organised of myself, some would say impressive. However, if I don't follow it, a lot gets started and not much finished. In my embroidery category (don't worry I won't detail all the categories), I have two several-years-in-the-making embroideries which need backstitching to be finished. I must say, like most people, I don't get excited about backstitching. I would be happy to finish them though, mainly to allow myself to start another one.
Back to my curtains! Lockdown has made me use what I had. Very surprisingly craftshops are not considered essential. So I am using my Grandmother's snap fasterners. I inherited the fasterners as no one wanted them when we cleared out her house. I have had them for nine years now. The paper packaging has a very fashionable vintage look. I have found that the paper smells of her. It is a rare occasion to smell someone who has died nearly a decade ago. I feel lucky to experience it. The smell reminded me of her, her house and joyful summer holidays. The paper has her perfume. I think actually the smell is from the dusty boxes and cupboards they were kept in for years. Does it mean that we all smell of dust? Isn't it fitting? Aren't we all made of dust and eventually going back to dust?
Who knew I would get excited, emotional and philosophical about snap fasterners? I mean, how could one not get excited about the rolled edges, the rustlessness and most of all the guide hole for correct location?
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
I watched the news first thing, particularly struck by reports of very different 75th anniversary celebrations in Belarus, for their VE Day. Crowds of people, including many veterans, lined the streets to watch the soldiers and tanks parading by, with a complete lack of social distancing. Apparently students were bribed to attend, with promises of higher grades for those who turned up. Some were wearing masks. Perhaps I should reconsider my attitude to our Government and count my blessings. At least they admit there's a problem.
The rest of the morning I spent happily in the garden, reading in the sunshine. A large number of yellow poppies have self-seeded and glow against the stone walls. The view over the valley is stunning and peaceful. The only sounds are the chirping of swallows, the cooing of doves and the occasional call of a curlew overhead.
I don't know what I would do without books. I was always a reader, often with a torch under the bedclothes. The first thing on my Christmas list was always a forlorn wish for a pony, but next came books. My Mum would say "Books? You've got books!" There would still be a pile of new books on Christmas morning.
My favourite book in those days, however, was one I borrowed from the library. It was a fantasy about a herd of wild horses which existed in the imagination of the heroine, called Lindsey. It was called 'Horse of Air' and it was written and illustrated by a schoolgirl called Lindsey Campbell. I felt I lived in that book, I knew every horse by name, they galloped alongside our car when we went on holiday, they inspired a lifelong love of everything equine and of course I identified strongly with the writer because of our shared name. I used to take the book back to the library and get it renewed every fortnight for months, maybe years! Then one day, the librarian took the book from me, ripped off the cover and threw it in the bin, telling me it was not fit to be lent any more. I was heartbroken.
I can't remember why I didn't have my own copy, but for years I kept an eye open for it, always wondering if I would read it again. I told someone at a writers' circle about this and by an amazing coincidence she had gone to school with Lindsey Campbell, who had died at the age of sixteen, never having written another book. I went on a mission to find it and tracked down a copy in an online bookshop. I have it here, still in great condition and still enjoyable.
That, in a nutshell, is why I became a bookseller - to reunite people with their lost books.