Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

9 May 2020: Today would have been my mother’s 99th birthday. She died nearly 5 years ago. We (my brother, sister and myself as well as my nieces and nephews) are all in agreement that, while a bit selfish, we are relieved that she is no longer alive to be participating in this pandemic. Her last years were difficult… both for her and for us. We all lived hours and hours away from my mother and we were constantly worried about her. My mother’s mental decline was great and yet, physically, she remained strong. She lived on her own and ran rampant through the small village in which she lived. No one could stop her. At 93 my mother was driving, cross country skiing, jogging and dancing. She also considered herself to be a VERY IMPORTANT health expert (this stemmed from her years as a nurse, from her experiences as a tuberculosis patient and from her long standing interest in a strange sort of icy-cold-water health “cure” she was obsessed with). She spent much of her time giving very long lectures on her eccentric good-health methods to anyone who happened to cross paths with her. A related saga was when she put on her nurse’s uniform from the early 1940s and went up to the local hospital in the middle of the night to try to nurse a man back from a serious heart attack. She was told very sternly that she had to leave. She tried again the next morning before finally giving up.


I think that my mother was able to maintain her independence partly because she had so many kind, understanding and patient neighbors who watched out for her. However we can’t help but imagine what our mother might be doing now to “cure” her community of Covid 19.  


Happy Birthday, Mom. We miss you.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

It's Sunday! Amazing to relate I know the day of the week, however I have to admit it was only the 'Sunday' programme on Radio 4 that gave me the hint. These strange and awful days seem quite without any form of identity for the most part. Does that matter? As usual I write that I don't know, because I feel that knowing is mostly a very dodgy pastime. Better to remain in ignorance - anyway I find I am happy and content with that state.


So, what am I about this Sunday? Shall I do lots, or shall I just be? At the moment I think I will choose to be. No pressure - hey it's becoming a real Sunday! A day of rest maybe unless you are a priest for whom it can often be frantic - yes I've heard the jibes about it being the only day we work, and that is emphatically not true. Well, it's not true unless you are in a state of genuine retirement as I seem to be at present.


One thing I will do this morning is join the Austin club meeting at virtual Godshill. That will be fun and it's a chance to meet friends who share interests. Later, I shall head for a walk as my exercise. Incidentally, my lonely pier is becoming popular. Many people were there yesterday.


Must go and make breakfast - porridge I think - yum!


For Catherine and Nicki, egarding the UaSC, I don't think I can join, because I was happy at St Chris. In fact, those were my happiest schooldays. My parents removed me after about 3 years and I didn't really want to leave. I have many happy memories and remember David H and his sister - Gillian? She was more or less my age.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

I'm tired this morning as I woke at about 3 and couldn't get back to sleep, not quite sure why. I'd had a few good, productive, days with quite a bit of socialising thrown in. Maybe I'm feeling guilty about that as I'm bending the rules a little. I've been banned from driving for six months, four speeding offences over the last two years. In my defence, m'lud, I was exceeding the limit by a mere couple of mph - 23 in a 20 area, that sort of thing, too boring to go into the details - anyway, it couldn't come at a better time really as I'm hardly likely to be going anywhere between now and October am I? Anyway, I'm mentioning it here because yesterday, please don't tell anybody, I travelled on a 33 bus. My oldest friend, we go back to St Chris days, lives about 4 miles away. He'd come round here the previous week and sat with a cuppa outside my front door and now it was my turn. Five bus drivers have died of coronavirus in London and, in order to protect them and the passengers, bus travel is now free in the capital so that the driver and passengers don't have to have any contact with one another; the front entrance to the bus is closed and the driver is at least 4 metres away from the passengers. As there are never more than three or four passengers on the bus - three on my outward journey, none coming back - social distancing is easy to maintain. A female voice plays on a loop  enjoining you only to travel if your journey is really necessary, stay at home, be safe. In spite of its motherly tone the repetition felt to me very un English, caressingly totalitarian, Orwellian. There has been a lot of none too subtle repetition from this lot - 'Stay at Home' and, before that, 'Get Brexit Done.' We're being conditioned, though in a good cause. I think my journey was really necessary. I'd go crackers if I didn't see my friends but St Margaret's to Teddington did feel like an odyssey. A tiny holiday.


In the evening I did a FaceTime with some friends in North London who haven't been out, apart from their daily exercise in Highgate Woods, since lockdown. All their food is delivered and they do a lot of FaceTime stuff. They are both actors and they have, however worked, playing a married couple in a ten minute TV film which, as I understand it, is a series of FaceTime conversations with their daughter. They provided their own costumes and make-up and, of course set which was their flat, and never met the director or the other actress.


It's cloudier this morning. 9am, still in my dressing gown. I'm not going anywhere today. Reading a little-known Elizabeth Bowen novel called 'A World of Love'. 


Wonder if that really was why I couldn't get back to sleep or whether it was something deeper? Or something shallower? I do of course still have problems that relate to David, rather than Covid.


Midwife 42

Emma, NZ

It's been a while since my last journal entry (long enough for a gentle nudge from Margaret). The last few weeks have seen assignments, marking, work, housekeeping and all manner of jobs stack up as I attempt to cram everything into my week. 


A beautiful, if full, diary planned with strategic cunning at the beginning of the year has been quite thoroughly derailed. I had every day carefully timetabled to allow for night shifts, classes in town, study blocks in Christchurch (which meant 4 days in a lovely air BnB, all on my own!), a bit of Midwifery skill teaching for the 1st yr undergrads (who doesn't want to practice suturing on a cow tongue??) and a full day and a half to allow for the writing of essays, PowerPoint creations and literature searches... there were even audio textbooks for the 40 min drive into town. I had 2 months of organised bliss before the schools closed and the wheels came off!


Best-laid plans and all that... 


I like to work at the kitchen table. The sun shines in at just the right angle, its also perfectly placed for the heating should the weather be a bit grimmer - as it is starting to be more frequently. The distance to the kettle is minimal. I can spread out my papers and notes. Plenty of room for a cat or two, and the view of the ocean allows me to ponder Kleinian theories of Object Relation - or what might look nice over in that shady bit of the garden... hmm a little look online for a bit of inspiration and oh whoops!... I'm watching old episodes of Gardeners World, maybe its time for morning tea... 


We are now at Level 3 with the country is preparing to drop to Level 2 on the 18th May and back to school for us all. It's been a joy to have the children at home, I will miss having them potter about and the slower pace to our days, however, my grades will certainly benefit.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Little Richard has died, aged an almost incredible 87. His career spans my entire musical awareness, albeit filtered since the 70’s through others from the Beach Boys to the Stones, who readily acknowledge the debt.


It seems to be mainly Transport and leaks from UK.gov over the weekend; 

ahead of the full story - perhaps to be told tonight - anyone arriving in the UK from any country after the end of this month must go into quarantine in a private residence for 14 days. There’s reasonable speculation that will mean providing onward address details at Immigration, and presumably if an arrival can’t produce details, they won’t be allowed in. As ever, leaking policy ahead of time just germinates questions.

Enter Transport Minister Grant Shapps. He is to encourage local councils to make more provision for walking and cycling to work (whenever that may be) and is prepared to back it with cash - apparently in response to reports that major cities have seen up to 60% reduction in nitrogen dioxide, associated with car traffic. Hurrah! Details next week.


Less positively, it’s emerged not only hasn’t the 100,000 tests a day target been met due to uptake/distribution problems - except on the day Matt Hancock had to appear - last week we sent 50,000 samples to America for testing due to some problem here. Full marks for initiative, but really...

Boris himself isn’t immune to premature ejaculation. By announcing his announcements tonight on television before appearing in the The House tomorrow, he’s upset some in Parliament (including Mr Speaker), who think it more appropriate to announce to the House first and hold a Press Conference after. 

Another ‘announcement’ according to this morning’s 8 am headlines is that the mantra “stay home, save lives, protect the NHS” is to be changed to “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” Why not save that til tonight? 

Anyway, I think we need more than one. How about “get out, spend money, save the Economy”?


There’s a flavour here of a current TV programme: “The Great British Menu” where chefs compete to cook for a banquet. Among their tasks is the provision of a “pre-Pudding Pudding” for those who can’t wait for their real Pudding.


Geriatric Happy Wandering is the mainstay of UK Garden Centres. News is that they are to be allowed to open next week provided the ‘2m distancing and restricted numbers within’ approach is used, like the big DIY stores. This announcement must irritate Boris no end as it would have been yet another crumb he could have thrown us in the Address tonight - but the Welsh Assembly has stolen his thunder by announcing their garden centres will open tomorrow, Monday, so England must follow suit or face hordes of revolting Pensioners. A decision taken out of the Gov hands.


Yesterday I declared a lazy day with no real major projects other than an hour or two of mowing. I did manage a research trip to a huge local reclaim yard, looking for a neat way to cap a couple of brick piers before installing their crowning glory - a pair of magnificent stone balls. The yard was closed due to trading restrictions but I got access to it and mooched around in splendid isolation. Sure enough, I can get some shaped bricks to form the launchpad that will do a treat and my balls can be displayed to full advantage. 

We had a lovely visit from our neighbours, plus their daughter, her husband and toddler son/grandson. All suitably and correctly distanced, with much laughter and conversation, only the extension into afternoon refreshments missing. Almost normal. Very welcome.


Last evening, seeking even more ‘normal’, Sheila and I drove down to a favourite nearby (ie ten minutes drive) waterside spot, collecting a couple of Cornettos on the way. This place has a pub (closed) a shop/cafe (ditto) and a Tourist Info Office. Closed, of course. 

In happier times it would be, as youngsters say, ‘rammed’. As there’s a sort of mini harbour - ‘Staithe’ in localese, it would also be end to end with moored boats, boats queuing to land and boats frolicking out on the Broad. It was marvellously - and at the same time distressingly - deserted. I’m guessing the two boats that were moored there were caught out at the time of lockdown - all boat traffic on the Broads and connecting rivers has ceased. They have their own sort of unoccupied isolation.


Merrywood Dispatches

Lily Wonham, Bristol

It's a strange bank holiday weekend, with those still going into work invariably being key workers whose hours are unaffected. My partner who works for the government was certainly in the office as usual on Friday. As someone on furlough, I have, in contrast, been living one long bank holiday for well over a month now. I hope that those who have been working from home were able to close their computers and enjoy the sunshine for an extra day. 


During our company's furlough period, one of my colleagues has been coordinating an ongoing 'Taskmaster' challenge. For anyone who hasn't seen the very funny Taskmaster on TV, the programme involves setting comedians silly challenges, the results of which are marked and given points. Similarly, my colleague has been setting challenges to do at home every few days and keeping a leaderboard of everyone's resulting points. Some of the challenges have included putting on as many pieces of clothing as we can in 10 minutes; writing a poem; crafting a giant Easter egg; drawing a self portrait without lifting our pen from the page; assembling a giant Domino run around our house; crafting a portrait out of food; or recreating a work of art using props in our house, among many others. As it's a bank holiday weekend, we have been set a bonanza of tasks. Yesterday, Saturday, I tried my hand at completing the challenge to create 'GPS art'. By going on a walk and using a GPS app called Strava, which creates a red line on a map of your route, I managed to draw out the letters 'NHS' with a love heart, in a rather wobbly fashion, by walking the letters out across a large park. By the time I had finished, the letters and heart came to 1.2km. Today, I am spending the rather cloudier Sunday indoors, attempting to complete the challenges to choreograph a dance routine to the old Nokia ringtone, as well as building an epic blanket fort in the living room. 


These challenges are fun and silly and lighthearted, but they also bring structured, timed activity and laughter into my day. They have forced me to be creative in ways I would have never thought up on my own. On some days, they have forced me to move around when I was in danger of falling into a sofa slump. Mostly, competing against my colleagues to complete the challenges in the time limits and win the most points has kept us all in touch and allowed us to enjoy each others' humour and creativity even when all stuck at home. Long live silliness! 


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Tropical Inferno


Dante should have reserved a small circle

In his Divine Comedy for trainee

Musicians, those gut scrapers, ivory 

Punishers, bent tube blasters, blowers,

Who daily wreak havoc on lockdown time.

I do not wish for ‘chop sticks’ to be played 

Fortissimo on finger splayed upright,

Tropically out of tune from the start

With that little pause for adjustment mid-

Phrase each time around! ‘Greensleeves’ lies bleeding

From repetitive strain syndrome, each squealing

Note overblown just enough to be wrong

Everytime. But all this pales into naught

When faced with “The Phantom Skin Masher.”

Drums, bought by wicked uncles on Xmas Eve

Are why they leave, the next day! Perhaps the kid

Really wants to play reggae, syncopating

Rhythm or has no sense at all. Now snares

Thrash in and next the booming bass. No tune

Of course, just the high hat, mid hat, crash, ride;

Oh why can’t kids just play outside?


At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

Yes, of course we can have a new member of the Unhappy at St. Chris club… and we’ll welcome more. I too have memories of languid summer evenings, of hiding in the shed opposite the swimming pool and having a cigarette, of the fruit shop in Letchworth where by some miracle I once had an account and it coincided with reading somewhere that you could get high smoking lychee skins. At the fruit shop they sold fresh lychees and while I certainly didn’t get high (though I probably wouldn’t have known what that would have felt like, I just enjoyed the idea) I did discover that I loved fresh lychees, never again to be seen at the fruit shop. Which actually must have been a vegetable shop, on the top of the high street on the corner, but I was utterly uninterested in vegetables. Speaking of food, I did also appreciate the food at St. Chris, except that there was never enough butter. But there were those lovely potato halves, roasted and crunchy. And in Little Arundale we had baked bean pie, which was like a shepherd’s pie but with Heinz baked beans instead of meat, and a favorite, the potato cheese pie which was all mashed potatoes with melted cheese on top.  


Here at the beginning of the second week of May it is snowing. We woke up to three inches. It meant I didn’t have to shovel (yet) the compost delivered yesterday from the college where I used to teach. They compost all the food from the dining room, and it arrived in a dump truck and was mostly dumped into the raised bed Sam made. Happy day.  


But another day of being homesick for everywhere I’ve ever been… I expect tomorrow will be better. Warmer anyway.

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