All is quiet
Tilly Wonham, Hertfordshire
The lockdown is easing. We are able to meet more people just as the weather has cooled. Yesterday I sat in a friend’s garden wearing a woolly jumper. It felt like autumn. The friend is moving house. Up to the north of England so I won’t see her again for a long time. It seems as though she is quietly slipping away from us. There was no grand gesture for a goodbye. No gathering of all friends together for a farewell fanfare. Just the allowed amount of people in a garden not being too close.
At the weekend, Nick and I walked to our local nature reserve for a walk and to find the elusive kingfisher who lives there. We know he is there, others have seen him, but not us this lockdown. The weather was grey and drizzly. By the time we were in the woods, the skies had turned dramatically dark and the thunder loud. It wasn’t forecast. The washing was out. It was a glorious feeling to be out in the rain, yet sheltering under a canopy of leaves. It took me back to childhood holidays camping in a tent with the rain lashing outside. The air smelt of summer. It must be weeks ago that I was last caught in the rain.
Today Nick returned to work in an adapted form. Being on the vulnerable list with asthma and ongoing chest infections, he is avoiding peak travel times on his train commute into London and back. Working with special needs students who can not socially distance, he should be able to catch up the admin work he was unable to do at home rather than being a class teacher. It is a strange day. We have been together 24/7 since the middle of March. I’m not sure I remember what being alone is like. However, I have lots to do. I found some hidden away elastic so was able to make some more masks as they will need washing frequently as commuting returns.
Lockdown in Birmingham
Kevin Godfrey, Birmingham UK
I have walked this path a thousand times. The buildings and trees are familiar and the distant view one that I know; I know well; I have lived here for years. In the distance I see a woman walking towards me, or do I? As we near she moves to the side of the path and slows as if to avoid me. A wan smile as we pass, but fleeting. Is it a smile of recognition or of some sad and quiet secret we should be sharing? Was she really there or just another ghost of a former life?
Where are all the others? Where are the people who once hoved into view, said hello and smiled to remind me that we shared the same air, the same path - and life? What has happened to that life I am so sure I once had? There was sound beyond that of birds, there was bustle and - and what? There were people with whom I shared more than a short, wan smile and then distance. No one will come near me, and, sadly, I realise I am ensuring I go near no one. We must live our lives apart when once we lived them together.
I see someone I’m sure I know across the road. A day was when I would cross over and hug her with recognition and fondness. But not now. We seem to speak across that road; we appear to be communicating, but apart again. How do we communicate when we avoid contact? What exactly is the two metres rule and why is my life constricted by it? In what way is distancing social?
Others I see, or think I see, wear masks. Are they from another world or trying to appear anonymous? Or both? If I cannot see their faces then are they really there?
I hurry back to my home and rush through the door. There before me is the one person I can really know exists and I hug her closely, very closely. I try to explain my fear and isolation. She smiles and reminds me that the world has altered; this is another existence and one we must accept until the world changes again. Until someone finds a subtle knife and cuts a door back into the world we knew. In the meantime I must try and live with ghosts and wraiths, with silence and - isolation. I will try, but fearfully. How long does isolation last? But, more importantly, what does isolation mean? The problem is that I no longer know. Words can lose their meanings and if they do, then what comes next?
From the South Downs
On Sunday, we met up with two good friends to go for a socially distanced walk on the Shoulder of Mutton hill at Steep and to visit Edward Thomas’ memorial stone. (I was to have given a reading with another poet for the Edward Thomas day in Steep - and was very pleased about it - all cancelled, of course.) Right at the beginning of the walk, I slipped down on the dry chalky downward path and twisted my ankle really badly. Fortunately, my friend Jo is a marathon runner who knows much about the body and gave me some good advice, about raising my blood pressure and helping the faint feeling pass. So instead of the walk, we sat in the meadow near the Thomas stone and looked out on the remarkable view towards the South Downs, chatting. It was very nice to have a social event and see them again.
On the drive home, I remembered that old herbalists use comfrey for broken bones and bruises. The last two Septembers, I’ve given poetry workshops at the Weald and Downland museum and became interested in what they were growing in the gardens of the medieval houses. ‘Comfrey’ is an old word for ‘comfort’ and another of its names is ‘knitbone’. There is masses of comfrey growing wild in Stedham, a village on the way home, so Stephen pulled in there and picked me some leaves, which I wrapped around my ankle when we got back. It did seem to soothe the pain, although maybe that’s a psychological reaction, as I think really you’d need to make an ointment of it from the mucilage of the stems.
At the workshop last September, I’d written a few simple poems myself out of the exercises I’d set for the group. Here’s one. Perhaps almost too simple to publish in a way - but I like it. I wrote several about herbs that healed and I've returned to them in this time of the virus, thinking how much humankind longs for a cure for so many ailments - think of pharmaceutical companies and research labs now - and the scientists searching for a vaccine against coronavirus - and how we share that need for a cure and all the experimentation, ingenuity and plant-growing (after all many medicines still use the chemical properties of plants) with the people of the past.
Where there is pain,
a knocked arm, a bruised knee,
search for knitbone, bruisewort,
comfrey swayed by bees
in a warm breeze,
the mind longing for ease.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
The 14 day ‘self quarantine’ regulation for travellers started yesterday, prompting O’Leary of Ryanair to threaten Court action as it kills tourism - though already there’s talk of the ‘air bridge’ approach in three weeks - no quarantine for travellers to/from accepted low infection destinations.
While the Global economic screw tightens - BP announces 10,000 jobs to go worldwide is the latest indicator - an anomaly from the US: you may recall Hertz filing for protective bankruptcy about 14 days ago. Their shares are widely tipped to go to zero in the face of insupportable borrowings and little business, yet such is public disbelief that this could possibly happen they’ve been bid up from 80cents to 5 dollars+ in the past few days. Not sure if this is a heartening display of faith in the US economy or another example of ‘only in America’...
And while I’m in an International groove, the odious Duke of York is putting on his habitual display of denial and arrogance by refusing to cooperate with those investigating the under-age sex exploits of his friend Jeffrey Epstein. Sadly, for those of us that would like to watch, there is little chance of extradition.
Back home, at the Briefing, Matt Hancock is animated with the positive news that:
most recent testing is at a useful 140,000 per day
of those tested ‘only’ 1205 are found positive - down
new hospital admissions 519 - down
Sunday deaths 55 - the usual weekend low, but nevertheless down on weekend figures
zero deaths in London Hospitals, N Ireland and Scotland
‘r’ below 1 in all regions and on a downward trajectory.
This last is a bit at odds with the Covid Symptom Study (4,000,000 recruits) which shows several areas in the North and Midlands/SE at 1 to 1.2 - however, Matt covers this in ‘questions’ by saying they look at all sources and take ‘a view’. Hugh Pym (BBC) is bold and suggests this view is linked to a Gov’t desperation to get the Economy going, i.e. they’re a bit fast and loose with safety. Hancock denies.
The ‘back to school’ experiment is quietly dropped in the face of some disinterest by parents and practical difficulties with normal, full class sizes. E.g. a class of thirty may need to be split to attain correct ‘distancing’ - so each class needs two classrooms. So, some kids will have been out of the discipline required for schooling for 5 months + by the time they return for the new school year in the autumn, assuming safe normal spacing is restored or more accommodation (and staff) provided. Some will relish it, but some... we may never capture their attention again.
My reintroduction to Society continues:
yesterday was shopping at the Co-op followed by a frivolous jaunt to a Garden Centre (solo, poor Sheila much improved on new drug regime, but unable to get into a car) and I’ve decided this will be the first week we’ll be totally self-sufficient and not take advantage of kind neighbours. Everywhere I’m likely to go is well managed with open-air queuing on a small scale and, if anything, quicker service than usual once inside. I don’t feel at all threatened. Sheila has made me a utility mask and a mask for best. Anyway, I like shopping, I should get out more.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Sky blue, trees green,
a/c cool, music fills my skull,
flesh and blood surrounds a
fully nourished me. Clean water,
on the horizon blue unfurls.
I sleep deeply, dream, am connected
to the world via the technology
of the lightening fast.
I am wracked by cold turkey.
A human junkie I crave
a contemplative audience or
the mainlining of a cheering crowd,
a ballpark on a hot summer’s day —
riotous cheer, a fraternal chat
with a stranger. Standing inside the
marshaled forces of 150 voices,
performing a requiem, singing our
lungs out. That I miss the most.
Free movement is as natural as breathing,
swarming in a mass, traveling downtown,
the doors opening on a train,
exiting through a knot of passengers, being
a member of a close knit social species
and not a recluse with birds in his beard.
There are no longer a thousand
faces of fascination on the street,
half obscured we continue down the road
tapping with latex sheathed knuckles on
plastic screens, waiting for release from the mask.
I never imagined I would miss crowded squares,
herding in the unprotected embrace of strangers.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Well Roger didn't come back today for various good reasons. I knew he hadn't come as Earnie hadn't barked. Later I rang his wife who said that he was behind by a day as yesterday they were exhausted after their very difficult and stressful weekend. When I put the phone down it rang again almost immediately and it was my neighbour to say "Oh its so lovely, Roger is here, I'm so pleased!!!" Well you can imagine!
Have you rung to brag and rub it in? I say.
Did YOU make him a cake at midnight? No!
Anyway he called by later to say hello and it was lovely to see him and he is coming tomorrow. He was quite impressed that the garden was in such good order and said he was proud of me. I sent him off with a bunch of red roses from the rose we had heavily pruned in January. He probably got shouted at a lot and Monty's name was probably hurled about a bit. Don't cross the stems! Just squashed 5 lily beetles. The pigeons have decimated the leaves off the purple sprouting. They have obviously just perched on the pot in front of them and had a good old munch.
Other pests include my neighbours who own the garden behind. They have a planted a container just behind my bedroom window. Last week it became bright green! Have you done that for my benefit? Yes they said. Well you've missed the end as it was still sick pale yellow. Yesterday I looked up and it was covered in camouflage netting. Just the bit I can see behind my shed and from my bedroom, the rest is still green. It is slightly better though shouldn't be there at all but it doesn't stick out quite so badly. Its obviously not going anywhere.
My hands and wrists have been hurting for the last few days, a little flare. I hope it doesn't kick off, probably too many fake cream teas.
Have C club dinner tonight with 2 friends. We try and meet every month for dinner but haven't met since early March I think. It will be fake fur coats and candles outside. Have cleaned the outside khazi in their honour. Usually the post men and couriers use it but it hasn't been touched for weeks. All clean and shiny now.
Must work, someone else can tell you about Pritti, Boris and Matt.
Love Annabel xxx
From the Editor
So. Our twelve weeks end on Friday, June 12th. And what then?
Sheila and I have been giving this some consideration and listening to the voices of you, our contributors. It seems to us that we are stopping at a time when things and the world are getting even more complex, difficult, tangled, when we need to go on recording what’s happening both to us and in the wider world. The document is incomplete.
I realise, too, that we have become an online community, and feel, with many of you, that ‘doing’ the journal has become part of the structure of my day. Many say it has helped them through these twelve weeks. Well, Sheila and I feel that, too, and would like to thank all of you for your friendship, your wonderful contributions, and for keeping writing. Keeping us connected.
And there are a fair number of readers out there. The website gets a goodly number of hits. We have an audience. Thank you readers!
But, as lockdown eases (for how long?) there are other things demanding attention. Our lives will change, perhaps we will have other things to do, places to go, people to see, even work to do! The new normal. We’d like that recorded, but will we have the time? With the journal, Sheila does the lion share of the work, putting everything online, and designing how it looks online. It isn’t just a jumbled blog or forum, it looks more like a book or magazine... she brings her graphic artist’s skills to the task, and makes something special, something attractive to look at. But it takes her four or five hours a day to get the journal online. And if lockdown continues easing, she’ll need more time in the next few weeks for dealing with the yurt business she and Chris run.
So perhaps a less frequent edition of the journal?
We would like to suggest morphing Plague20journal into Plague20weekly and ask you all to make a submission during the week with a deadline of Friday 3 o’clock, for a longer weekly edition to be released each Sunday by 10 a.m. Read it over a late breakfast or your coffee! As short or as long a piece as you wish... but not novel or even novella length!
But we are only suggesting this... we’d like your responses... not in your journal pieces, but a separate email to us, saying briefly whether you think weekly is a good idea, whether it is too frequent or infrequent, whether you’d continue writing, - or whether simply stopping at the twelve week deadline is best.
We hope the majority of you will want to carry on, so that we can continue our journal record, and maintain contact with each other.
The journal is a record and as such could become a useful historical document for future generations. Several people have told me that it should, when complete, be archived, so I will be contacting the British Library to see if they are interested. All contributors would be asked permission for their writing to be archived, and all would be able to use a pseudonym if they so wished. But that’s in the future, and I’ll keep you updated on that. And again, we’d like your reactions... is that a good idea?
So... let us know what you think about continuing the journal, and the possibility of archiving it. And keep on writing. Only four more editions of the journal in it’s present format! Send in your entries.
We’ll make a final announcement about the journal’s future by Thursday after hearing your responses. I’m sorry this is so last minute, we should have discussed this a couple of weeks ago.
Now... we are looking forward to a tsunami of submissions, from everyone who has ever contributed, for our last three editions of Plague20Journal!
My first small vase of Sweet Peas - just had to share them with you.