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A Tally

Lauren McGregor, Michigan, USA

I am taking a tally now. Of the ways in which we have, as a family, been altered by the pandemic.


For starters, there is the co-worker and friend who belongs to a time before the virus. I can't shake the disbelief of her death. Of its occurrence within an era outside of time. Outside of reality. No, I remind myself, this is reality. New Reality, I call this era. 


And our neighbor. He retired last year. Friendlier than any. My son video chatted with his grandchildren. We toasted with cheap beer during our annual block party. His wife Brenda sent me photos afterward. I knew he was a pastor. It wasn't until I read his obituary that I discovered he was the president of Detroit's bus drivers union. That he was a good friend of the mayor and so beloved that a never ending parade of mourning drivers cruises our street in honking, waving, visiting remembrance.


I look at photos of gatherings with those we've lost. Instead of reminiscing, I am hung up on the impossible closeness of the bodies. I am unnerved by these photos, scared for the people in them. Too close. They have no idea. 


Somehow, my son knows. He is three and we have done our best to shield him. When he asks to go to someone's house, I respond that they are sick right now. Yesterday, his astuteness was made clear. I had escaped to my parents' house to get work done. My husband called so that my son could hear my voice. 'He's crying. He's scared you're going to get sick at work,' he explained. I stop calling people sick. Stomach knotted with regret, I rethink my approach. 


And amid this pain, another sears. The country cracks. Detroit opens its doors not for the end of the pandemic, but for marches and chants. Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER. The president attacks peaceful protesters. 'I can't breathe.' They can't breathe. Again, marches, chants, louder and larger than ever. This could not have happened had we been distracted by our commutes. By our social calendars. The hours are open and they are free. For us to reckon with our privilege, our faults, our racism. For us to don our masks and march in a cry for justice, one that has been centuries in the making. A COVID-gift. A start.


What are we at? Two friends dead, a son with dawning awareness, a revolution. The tally is long and I am exhausted. Full of hope, dread, awe, fire.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Over the previous weeks many have referenced the role that the Arts play in their life, sometimes as distinguished artists themselves in a multiplicity of disciplines as well as the fundamental importance of the interplay that Art in all its forms can have in the tapestry that is woven. Its cessation has been a cause of concern. 


Last year I was privileged to attend a brilliant talk titled "Engaging with Sienese Painting" by my sister-in-law Prof Joanna Cannon; it resurfaced in my mind as all the wonderful artists in this group were pondering what will happen next. Any factual inaccuracies will have to be put down to my poetic licence not her scholarship! An image of the beautiful piece appears here, and can be easily sourced under Simone Martini Agostino Novello.


Time: a Narrative Tool


In troubled times interesting to focus on Art

In all its forms and how artists will respond.

Interesting to see how previous eras

Illuminate our reading of our current days.

How to fuse the current with the eternal

How time’s depiction in an image reveals

The transitory moment, the point of action

As well as a fundamental truth that falls

Forever beyond the instantaneous

Ensuring, across six centuries, permanence

In the series of events caught for our gaze.

How in Simone Martini’s Cradle Miracle

Part of the Agostino Novello panel

The energy of the act itself, the breaking

Cords, the child flung out, combines with 

A wider narrative arc of events spilling

From this moment to sequence the tale,

The journey to Agostino’s shrine. 

The settings, clothing and backgrounds

Are both simultaneously contemporary

And eternal; the moment is trecento Siena

But connects with the 21st century viewer.

Today then what will art have to say

About what is unfolding; how will it capture

The current time; what narrative will it tell

To echo down the next six hundred years?


Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York

As the lockdown is eased, it is a pleasure to go and sit in the garden of my grandparents, a cup of tea already laid out when I arrive with rich tea biscuits and a blanket to keep me warm in the cold weather. Sitting there, the cup of tea still too hot to sip, my grandad tells me about his childhood, tells me about the games which he used to play, about the places he used to play them. I am transported as he speaks, the words conjuring’s images of a boy almost at odds with the figure I see as my grandfather. He tells me of himself running, hollering and clamouring, a winter warmer (a tin can filled with newspaper and twigs and with holes poked in it for string) whirling madly around his head, occasionally sending plumes of ash and sparks in arcs across the sky as though trying to replace the stars that were hidden by snow clouds. He tells me of himself, in the streets, his friends gathered in the road, a log laid between them and, lain like a seesaw over it, a sharpened pole - like a javelin - onto the blunt end of which one of them would jump, catapulting it upwards and sending the crowd of children scattering away. He takes a swig of his coffee from those cups I know so well, and I sip at my tea, content now, to at least be able to spend time with him and my grandma.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

A quiet day yesterday. Pottering in the garden. Had to go to the garage for petrol. When I went in, I completely missed the new exit signs and having paid, went out via the way in! Nobody seemed to notice but I saw the sign “Entry only” as l left... My head must be elsewhere - I’d totally forgotten. I’m so unaccustomed to social distancing. Even now. My default position is not set to people avoidance and I must change. The future - for a good while anyway - seems to be staying away from others.


I caught a couple of minutes of the evening news - a pub landlord was being interviewed. He has been getting his pub ready to re-open. People will be able to use the outside space - “the beer garden” and purchase their drinks via a window that will act as the bar. There will be a route for customers that is one way - going up to the bar and then to one of the wooden garden tables - as yet to be separated - to follow the guidance on social spacing. He is worried that he will not really be able to enforce the rules.


My neighbour tells me that he has bought three face masks for him and three for his wife. He ordered them on-line - £40 for the six. He said they contain a special filter that prevents virus transmission. Ordinary masks, he assures me, cost £50 for a box of 50 - disposable. They’re only that price if you buy in bulk. He wondered if the village might want to put in an order. As for his special masks - well, he arranged for his daughter to do the ordering as the masks will be a birthday present for his wife. White cloth. Presented in a plastic container - hygienically sealed. He has asked for gift wrapping too. Oh my! Do you think she’ll be delighted? I promised to say nothing. Mum’s the word, eh? 


Dare I mention Christmas? What’ll be the guidance then? I’m already starting to plan and make my lists... 

Aunt Jane - a box of disposable gloves

Lucy - antimicrobial hand wash

Ralph - Perspex goggles


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Tonight I lay out under the dimming sky with clouds tinged pink by the setting sun and feel a rich lushness in the air thick with the fragrance of garden heliotrope, blossoming privet and roses in full bloom. In some way it feels incomplete ~ is it because I cannot share it with another?  Of course, I can tell you in this journal, or tell friends in emails or by phone, but it is such a different feeling from sharing it in person and how much I am missing that.


Bristol Calling

Simon Davies, Bristol

At the weekend we try to avoid parks for our walk and wander around the suburbs or central Bristol. This Sunday we set off for the centre to photograph 10 Guinea Street, the subject of “A House Through Time” on television. We were wrong about the crowds: as we got towards the centre we met groups of young people with “Black Lives Matter” cardboard placards. We were not near enough to where the statue of Edward Colston, slave trader and philanthropist, had been, to see that it was no longer there. Only on the television news that evening did we see the statue being hauled to the dock and thrown in next to Pero’s Bridge (named after a slave brought to Bristol from the Caribbean).


Recently on Front Row Radio 4, Liz Lochhead had read her poem “The Space Between” in which she draws parallels between two hands almost meeting either side of a hospital window and the cave paintings produced by hand stencils. She makes the point that the image is produced when the hand is removed. I wondered whether the empty plinth with the statue removed could also create a lasting impression. 


One of the protest placards in these recent demonstrations that I thought was most telling said “What about the cases that weren’t filmed?”. It is only since the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles twenty nine years ago that so much of police brutality has come to light but there will have been many cases before and since when no one was around to film the incident. All police should wear video cameras. Of course they could be turned off or turned away but then in a court case the absence of footage could be equally damning.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Come fly with me


Two contrails, nail marks scored

across the cheek of blue deep,

the polluting return of normalcy

tarnishing the clarity of isolation.


Yet at the end of the white trails

are loved ones long unseen, 

the familiar and the estranged, the present

united with the future by lines from

time zones flowing from the past.


It is rare up there, six miles above my head,

cloud landscapes, castles towering in airspace,

mountains of thunderous electric height,

clear night, the moon following along

as if for companionship, far distant

navigation lights flashing in the dark.


On final approach down from the roof

of the world we flew into the humidity

of the Gulf, darkness singed

by cometary flares from oil wells, and

hovering above the invisible sea below

the light of a domed city suspended

in dark velvet - pulsing, fast receding

runway lights inviting us to dock.


I lift my foot over a small rock, look

up into the sky, trails dissolving like

the memories of a time when we flew as

gods, liberated from the earth on which

children built sandcastles on the

margins of the other big azure,

and mothballed chariots were parked at the

end of runways waiting to throttle up 

and lift us again into the mirrored blue.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

The spirit of "Make-do and mend"


Let's start with little ambitions. We don't need to make our own walnut oil, butter, cheese, ham... like my grandparents used to do. But I notice that most semi-urban people here in France have hens in their garden. In the Y generation, it is becoming very trendy to minimize purchases, both by rebellion and necessity. Their salaries are, at least in France, rather low and more or less the same whatever the job or the qualifications. 


Private subject, mainly for ladies :

Let's start with small ambition to improve our environmental behavior. I thought cupboards full of loo paper for a year. Before the lockdown, I was interested in reducing my use of loo paper, I don't like flushing paper which end up in nature at the end of its life and I don't want to destroy the boreal Canadian forest. The other consideration is all the processes to make the paper, transform into the little rolls we know, then to put it by 6 rolls, cover them with plastic rapping...  put it in a lorry, then all the different actions when it arrives in the supermarket. Then I go to the supermarket, buy it, then store it in the bathroom. Crazy. You see all the energy used. Not only the Canadian forest destruction is damaging the planet but also, as I explained last time about my tiding up, it really disturbs the universe by the laws of thermodynamics. 

One pees about 7 times a day, so if I take 2 little sheets a time, it makes 14 a day, about 100 a week, 5200 a year. Multiply by all the ladies of the developed world. All that for 2 or 3 drops of sterile liquid each time. My recipe is cutting cotton material recycled from Rob's old shirts. It is incredible the number of different things my daughter and I have done with Rob's old shirts (Rob often goes looking for his old shirts in vain). 

Cut the natural material you have chosen the length of 3 units of loo paper with notched scissors. Put them in a basket, after wetting it, drop it in a ceramic box or a glass jar with a little baking soda with a drop of lavender oil, or nothing if it's lidded. Wash with your clothes, iron, put them back in the basket. It cost nothing, nothing unpleasant. And the nice feeling to have saved at least a tree in Canada. 

On any need, the internet provides creative solutions. One can find all kind of tutorials for cleaning products for the house, tooth paste, deodorant... much more planet friendly too and more amusing than to go to the supermarket. Johson and Johson, or L'Oréal may have a little competition. 


A long-term benefit for me: it cured me of my newspaper addiction, I had an overdose during 3 months of lies and incompetence about health issues, in France and the UK. Politics in general and health policies, two of my time-consuming hobbies, have been discarded, a lot of brain space recovered. Replaced partly by Opera, but I can control it better. It's much more satisfying and fulfilling. And the rest of the time not much for the moment, but space to let new things to emerge.

Out of the lockdown without having been ill, it gives us some responsibilities. A lot of people lost their lives, mostly of the older generation which I belong to. We had time for changing the usual rhythm, to reconsider priorities, ethics, values, beliefs... An unforeseen compulsory interval to be transformed into gold if possible, a present for oneself to share with others, like Plague20 journal. I am grateful to Margaret for it. It allowed me to put words in the shamble of my thoughts, and the duty to make it readable for others. And also, to meet all of you, contributors, more intimately than if we had met for few hours in real life. I had explored a bit of your passion, your daily life, your relations with your pets (as well as persons!), your magnificent gardens, shared your walks. You shared with me some love and friendship, a great sense of human diversity which compensated the loss of the relationship with my patients. It will be for that reason a very dear souvenir. If your steps take you to Blois - all the numerous Châteaux, the Loire and the Sologne are world class beauties. And there is great food and good wines all of which comes from around us - please do come for a meal or tea, ask Margaret for our address. Remember that Calais is closer to Dover than say Aldeburgh to Beccles, even the blond Devil and his crew can't change that. Here at home it's something like an island in the Channel, a little bit of true (i.e. pre-Brexit) England, not completely France, a home-made addition of two sister complementary European cultures. Love and peace, let's try as hard as ours hearts can.



Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

So yesterday afternoon I rushed to the fish shop timed to get there at 3.50 as they shut at 4.00 to pick up the dressed lobster halves and crabs for our club dinner. Disaster, they shut at 3.00 now and nobody was there. Luckily there is a nice butcher in the same village so we had steaks instead. What a fun evening. So nice to see my friends, and the first dinner for all of us in this new era. We all got slightly tipsy, ate too much, sat in the garden as far away as possible from each other but round the table with our coats on and candles burning. A bit nippy but it was warmer than the night before. The sanitised outside khazi was appreciated. There was a bit of eremurus envy from one of the friends and I think I might come back to a hole in the ground one day. The paleo chocolate brownies I had made for Roger were delicious. My best ever yet, really squishy.


Roger came back this morning and Earnie knew he was coming. He was waiting on alert in the garden for a good 15 minutes barking before Roger got here.


I had to leave at 9.30 this morning as I had a real life meeting and when I got back the dead standard privet on the terraced bank had been taken down. The old tulips emptied from all the pots. The yard outside the back door all clean and weeded. Edges trimmed, brown bin outside on the road. The bliss and joy, I can't tell you. Thank God for Roger. So nice he's back.


Just heard Boris on the radio being challenged by Kier Starmer at Prime Ministers question time. He sounds so clear thinking, logical and professional compared to the huffing and puffing coming from Boris. Nipped into Back to the Garden on the way home and got some booja booja ice cream.


Got to go as have another meeting at 6.00 and need to have some lunch, do some research and walk Earnie first.

Love Annabel xxx

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