From St Just
Jane G, St Just
VE Day and the virus seem to be getting mixed up in a slightly dream-like way. I have Radio 4 on a lot, and coming and going from the room I hear 'This is the BBC Home Service. This is the news', then that the prime minister will be telling us to stay alert rather than to stay home, then that the prime minister has announce the liberation of the Channel Islands. Presumably we can now take down our black-out curtains and turn them into face masks.
And the quite remarkable number of ships that pass Wallis-like somewhere between sea and sky may have got lost on the way back from Dunkirk.
Other things seem seriously not to be making a great deal of sense, particularly the reason given for not having had quarantine for travellers arriving in the country for months already: apparently that it was thought that only a few of them would have the virus. But not many people in lockdown have it either. And if we'd had the wit to start quarantining in February, we might have got away without either the virus or the lockdown.
There also seems to be great excitement in the papers that we are entering the worst recession since the South Sea Bubble. This doesn't sound like news to me, just the obvious consequence of the government closing down the entire country overnight. The real news seems to me to be that the contraction in the economy is, apparently, 14%: I don't quite see how it's not closer to 80%, and can only think that the difference is because 66% of the national economy consists of trade in pasta and loo roll.
Or that might be 'pasta, loo roll and plaster': a couple of my Oxfordshire ceilings had got as far as having the woodchip scraped off when lockdown happened. Last week the plasterer called to say that since I'm not there he thought he might go and plaster them - but then added that he's clean out of plaster and that there's none to be had, not even for ready money. Why? Is it a commonly-accepted substitute for bread flour?
On a more cheerful note, though, if it weren't for lockdown I wouldn't have learned that one of my students has a poor internet connection because a fox chewed her cable, nor that one of my colleagues lives in John Buchan's cow shed.
From our feline in St Just
Smokey, St Just
Yesterday I went as far as the top gate three times in short succession. Each time Jane caught me and carried me back down the garden.
I dislike this level of surveillance.
John Mole, St.Albans
Curious or indifferent,
the natural world
blind though we’ve often been
to such fierce beauty.
As Blake saw heaven
in one wild flower
so now let us celebrate
the earth’s abundance
and its generative
root and branch
loosened on the air
in purer light.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
It’s prophetic. The glorious idyll of this lockdown spring, all soft and green and warm - celebrated with jam tart tea parties, and jam jars full of cow parsley on a bank holiday which was like every other day - has turned. The rapper is tapping its fingernails against the windowpanes and breathing erratically, covidly, down the chimney! Tonight Boris Karloff speaks to the nation. Right now, he will be setting his alarm... seven o’clock... Bedtime? No! Speech time! Wake up, lad! Stay alert! Meanwhile, I am communing with an ear worm of the eerie human whistling at the start of the Scorpions ‘Winds of Change’... the sound which looks like newspapers blowing in slow motion down a deserted street filmed in black and white. Of course, on Tuesday they say it will be sunny again!
I like hand-sewing. My mum taught me to sew from an early age along with knitting. I'm grateful for both skills and have enjoyed making things during this lock-down.
After I'd finished my Foundation in Art all those years ago, I was offered two places to progress to: Graphics at Hornsey College of Art and Embroidery at Goldsmiths. I chose Graphics because I thought it would give me a more secure career pathway, but I often wonder how my life would have been if I'd chosen embroidery. Anyway, as I said, I like hand sewing.
I found a really neat hand sewn mask-making video on You Tube and using some in-house linen scraps have made two masks - his & hers. They are the newest addition to the hallway dresser, ready to be deployed as and when necessary - (hanging on the left).
John Underwood, Norfolk
Getting through the days
I have begun work on the five volume set of books that I mentioned recently. Because each volume has to be uniform with the others, it has turned out to be a rather meditative activity. Split the edge of a three millimetre board with a scalpel, ease the cut slightly to accept a glue brush, tease in some fabric to form the hinge of the book, press the board in a book press, and repeat another nine times. Offer the dried board to the text block, glue the spine of the book and cut and fold over the fabric hinge , repeat for the other board, and then do the same for the other four books… a couple of days pass in a gentle rhythm, with drying time between the processes for a coffee break.
Our life at home is slightly varied by the weather, by the need to shop, by long ‘phone conversations with family, but the substance of each day is much the same. Both of us feel that we are isolated in a bubble, and although we can empathise with those who are in want of food and money, who are worried about work or lack of it, and those who are living with grief and loss, it feels distanced, removed from our current experience.
I can no longer bring myself to “clap for the NHS and carers”. To me it feels hollow and rather shabby. I just can’t escape from the thought in my head that some of those people clapping voted for a government who refused to end the public sector workers pay cap, the same government that cheered and applauded themselves in the House of Commons when they won the vote. I have written about it before, but, like the repetitive course of my days, it keeps coming back. To me it was unforgivable, and those same people clapping now, especially government ministers, seems the height of hypocrisy and underscores their apparent lack of self awareness and empathy. My wife feels differently about it, as do most people I know.
I can no longer trust any advice given to me by this government. There have been a list of failures as long as your arm. A failure to lock the country down quickly enough, a failure to close airports, a failure to supply protective equipment. A failure to protect care homes and carers. The prime minister shaking hands when he should have been giving a completely different message. The failure to ensure that the “Carer” badges would be available, the failure to ensure that the PPE equipment bought from Turkey was suitable. And the latest failure - to test the promised 100,000 people daily on any day at all in the last week. And now we are supposed to accept an easing of the lockdown, when the messages given out are muddled, and when everything that we know about government ministers suggests that they never trusted those swotty scientists or any other experts in the first place, preferring to wing it with their alt-right posturing. But at the same time they tell us that they have been “listening to the Science” - which of course will provide them with a convenient scapegoat when we finally see the shambolic non- strategy that has been in place. Apparently, epidemiologists use the term “harvesting” to talk about excess mortality above and beyond normal expectations during heatwaves, ‘flu epidemics and the like. It seems likely that there is a level of harvesting that the government accepts as inevitable in the same way that they apparently accepted “herd immunity” as a policy.
I am profoundly grateful that my Aunt, who lived with dementia in a care home and who died of age related illnesses before the pandemic, did not have to live through this – what is the appropriate word - disaster, tragedy... reaping? I’m so thankful that my sister, who was the last family member that my Aunt recognised in some way, did not have the worry of being unable to visit her and bring her a comforting cuddle. I cannot imagine how having someone you love in a care home or in Intensive Care in Hospital must feel. How do they get through the days?
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Through forests green
I walk the road from Babylon
resting at night alongside
waters mirroring a million
ignited beacons marking
the way to her mystery.
Leave me under these
quiet skies to recall
that morning when
my love was born still,
silent, as I watched
her discrete in her domain,
beauty enshrined, looking upwards
at the carved fires inflaming her.
Don’t unlock me just yet,
leave me free confined
to dwell on her secret pristine,
celebrate unmeasured her eroticism,
worship divine her creativity in repose.
Leave my imagination liberated
from the prematurely awoken
churning machine. Keep me distant
from the returning pollution of normal,
for I am already reopened by rediscovery
of the dawn rising in these cathedral woods,
exploring, refreshed, this memory of ignition.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Always did like to work to a deadline!
Boris to speak to the nation tonight and change the message to Stay Alert.
Obama trashes Trump
Greece has only had 151 deaths.
UK deaths 31,587
50,000 tests sent to America as systems here gone to pot.
The masses behaving badly and having parties and picnics.
The big pots arrived and are fantastic, huge and very cheap and they will hold masses of dahlias and zinnias.
Was filling in the gaps in the raised beds with my unhelpful assistants. There is a continuous blur of blackbirds and Earnie keeps carrying off my seedlings. The price of return, 1 markie.
I have a frog in the greenhouse.
Lily beetles eating the lilies.
Its incredible anything survives.
This morning I went to buy a paper in my feral half dressed state of shorts, wellies and a jersey.
All the plants came out this morning and now it is freezing, wet and windy so they have all gone back to bed in the little shed and the green house. They'll probably be in lockdown for a couple of days.
My hands are frozen.
The big excitement for today though is I bought a big coir rug and a little trolly from Ikea so I can paint upstairs. Can't paint on carpet but I can trash the rug. Carpet impedes creative juices. Two men brought it in and actually came into the house! Blimey. So weird how normal things now seem outrageous. The next challenge will be dragging it up the spiral staircase. I thought that was a step too far to ask them to take it upstairs.
I was going to cut the grass again today but its too wet. I could take to the sofa when we get back from our walk.
Bye for now
Love Annabel xxx
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
Well, Britain has celebrated, albeit in subdued tones, the 75th Anniversary of VE day and now attention returns to the fight against the ‘virus’, and a tricky enemy it is turning out to be.
I notice the fighter squadrons of swifts that scream down our street are late arriving (reminds me of the Government tardiness in arriving at a plan to beat the pandemic) from Africa but I spotted three swifts the other morning while I was exercising in our yard with the blackbird family looking on from their nest two meters away. There is hope that more will come and fill our sky with their screams.
The new silence suits Mr and Mrs Blackbird who have become extremely socially relaxed. They have mastered the flight path from fence to nest extremely well avoiding collision with my arm stretching and circling exercise moves that create wild air currents, a challenge in a small space! I always enjoy watching swifts rising swiftly into the upper stratus, a mere 10,000 feet, disappearing momentarily and then wheeling again into view moving around each other in circles and dives, the ‘Red Arrows’ of the bird kingdom. These are not the sort of moves one can do in the confines of the yard but both blackbird and I do our best.
Greece which has had very few cases of infection and death have wondered at the British ‘Covid chaos'. The British ‘fighting spirit’ refused to surrender to lockdown after other countries had done so and now we are paying the price. Greece, on the other hand, imposed an early total lockdown, two weeks before Britain. Greece with its poor austerity-hit economy and medical system had to act quickly. The Greeks are now out of lockdown but the virus might make a surprise counter attack, just as in Germany when there was a relaxing of restrictions a week ago. Time will tell...
Windy weather today. Maybe a change coming? Relaxation of restrictions is in the air and, as mentioned a few days ago, people are making their own decisions about leaving their houses, and are beginning to flock to parks and drive- through MacDonalds. There were, according to one nurse crowds of drunk youths in A & E last night, a reminder of a normal Saturday night in town. This dam has sprung leaks. It is rumoured that STAY AT HOME will be replaced by STAY ALERT this evening. I wish the Government had been ALERT in December!
* This morning I saw a very large shaggy dog. The anticipation around the next ‘phase’ or ‘the road map’ as it is called, might lead to a horrible anticlimax followed by a spike! Painful!
From the Editor
The weather has turned. Grey and windy, though not very cold. On the whole I’m a fair weather gardener, so shall only venture out to the greenhouse to pot up some seedlings. Might deadhead the tulips so that they return next year.
I’d been in bed an hour last night when I remembered that I’d left the sprinkler on in the cutting garden. Help! Managed to find a torch, shoes, dressing gown, and struggled out into the dark. Rather lovely, and a wonderful orange moon. The nigella seedlings I’d planted out earlier this week looked flattened by so much water but I hoped they’d recover. (They did). I should have gone on a slug hunt in the greenhouse (they are starting to nibble the dahlia leaves) but my warm bed beckoned. Some unknown Pest attacked one of my eight inch high, strong dahlia plants the night before last, not just nibbling leaves, but felling it completely at soil level, like a tree. A clean cut. What did that? Moreover, it was the plant labelled Senior’s Darkness, that I wrote about and photographed for the journal last week. Is this an omen or a sign? Are Seniors about to be released from Lockdown, or left incarcerated for ever? We might know more tonight after Big Boris has spoken..
As I write, the wind is growing stronger, the skies darkening. A theatrical build up like the start of Macbeth. All we need is some shakes of the old thunder sheet, a flash or two of lightning. The witches speak... disappear .
7o’clock. Enter Boris stage right ( naturally)... a survivor and hero of the great battle against Covid... pale but defiant... he speaks..
What I want to know is why there aren’t more calm sensible women in posts of real influence ( Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon we need more like you!). I’m tired of the warlike terminology, the inability to think forwards let alone sideways, setting impossible targets, not working together - whether it’s within the party, between parties, between countries.
I attended a Sarah Raven gardening course a few years ago. All women there. One woman asked “what is double digging? “. A pause, then Sarah said, “It’s something men do.” An unnecessary complication. My father was always double digging. I find any digging difficult, mainly I’m on my knees with a hand trowel, or piling on more mulch. Let the worms do the hard work. My garden is a testament against double digging. So is Sarah’s!
I wonder what sort of gardener Boris is?