Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

The school year has its rhythms like anything else and the Summer term is [used to be...] one punctuated by rites of passage of various sorts. One of these where I taught was the appearance of Vernon Dobtcheff who was the school's single most consistent long-term supporter [and I hope still is!] After his own time at school he decided to institute an annual award which would be given for creative work undertaken that had no connection to the syllabuses studied! The English Department embraced this and so annually he'd appear for a day and read everything that the year's pupils had volunteered to submit. It marked a very special time of the year: not quite the end for the U6th pupils but almost, tantalisingly close. 

Entries varied wildly and widely from the absolutely exquisite [like the poem in Persian illuminated by the girl's watercolours] to the more banal like the very last minute entry of a rugby ball with some 'go to' motivational phrases on it [he did go on to play for England so the last laugh was with him I think!] Undeterred, Vernon would plough through the offerings and then wonderfully talk to all of the pupils about their work. 

Occasionally someone recognised him from a film and he'd offer enormous encouragement to anyone wanting to try out for the creative arts in any way. "With a nose like this," he'd say, "I wasn't going to get the romantic leads at school so I went for the villains instead!" Magically for the pupils he produced wads of cash - real money not tweaky school prize vouchers - and, if the arts had been kind to him, often gave out a prize to every submission. This was particularly galling for the kids who hadn't bothered to do anything and especially satisfying for the staff!


I just wonder this year what he'll do. His string of unbroken appearances hangs in the balance.




Annually a card would appear, sideways 

Scribed, announcing, en route to Paris,

Alas Cannes, no Montreal, now London

Intention to arrive! Projects completed

He’d wade through teenage-scripted angst, poetry,

Illuminated short stories, a diary,

Short tales, heart-rending adoption, beer mat

Collections, fables, art work, masks, rap,

Installations, films made beautifully

on phones, lyrics, Persian calligraphy.

Sandaled, he’d describe their creative wealth

Liberating the choking syllabus.

Now, uniquely, pupils and Vernon wait

Artists handwashing at the sink of Fate.


Choose Something Like a Star

Kate, Hitchin

Today, heres a few thoughts from 19, 20, 21 March - before "lockdown" began.
I'm not sure why I wrote for these few days - I dont normally write a thing, but it's quite interesting looking back, already it seems like a distant world ! 


More soldiers on standby. Why? Schools closed, Universities shut. Worldwide theres 10,000 deaths. Meanwhile in Yemen theres a Cholera outbreak that makes no news.

Interesting video on facebook by Naomi Klein 'Coronavirus Capitalism' smart thinking.

Spring equinox. Everyone worried. Counted work cancellations - 50 life modelling and 26 classes. I might teach at Emmelines on Saturday, but so far 5 have cancelled.

Made a rainbow with Annabelle to put in their window. 

Spent an interminable time trying to get paid from Bucks Uni and sign on with Universal credit. Highly frustrating and difficult.

Today I think 1,000 dead in UK. All shops, bars, clubs, theatres, shut now. No markets, festivals, football matches, etc etc. Last workshop tomorrow. Jack's cancelled tonight.

No driving tests, no cricket, no Glastonbury, no Eurovision, possibly no Olympics. 

Popped down to pick up a prescription for Jeanette next door - an hour and a half queue in the cold!

Rishi Sunak is bailing out businesses but nobody understands how the government can do all this...


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

I felt flat over the weekend. That “grumpy flat” that men of my age are renowned for. Sort of Victor Meldrew crabby. Is that politically incorrect? A sexist, ageist insult? A form of self-abuse to mock my own mood swings? A feature of the andropause?  Huh! Whatever! 


So what brought on my grumpiness? I don’t know but...

I saw discarded used-plastic gloves in the lane. Carelessness.

I finished my book. Didn’t like the ending. Displeasure.

There was nothing I wanted to watch on television. Repetition. Boring repetition.

Too hot on Saturday, too cold on Sunday - grrrr. Never satisfied. Irritation.

Only half the order from the garden centre delivered. No explanation. Frustration.

Garden needs rain but all we get is that misty vapour that just wets the surface. Ungrateful.


Watched Mr Johnson’s speech then took the dog for a walk. This little stretch of countryside was suddenly utterly silent. Not even birdsong. Was it joy? Despair? Bemusement?


Later I searched on line for famous speeches. Inevitably, I found this:-

“We shall go on to the end...

we shall fight on the seas and oceans...

we shall fight on the beaches...

we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, 

we shall fight in the hills; 

we shall never surrender”

(Words from Churchill’s speeches - more on https://winstonchurchill.org/publications/finest-hour/finest-hour-138/the-churchill-centre-1/)


This morning the reactions to the Johnson speech are all over the internet - “Nothing’s changed”, “He’s gone too far”, “Obfuscation”, “Three cheers for Boris”, “Outrageous buffoonery”. I will await my friends and neighbour’s pronouncements. Anticipation.


Anyway, I am pleased to say I feel much better today and normal service will shortly be resumed.

Ah a big sigh for normality. 

Cheerful, hopeful, “this-is-just-right”-said-Goldilocks normality .  

Let’s have a nice day normality. 

A “stay alert, control the virus, save lives” normality.


From the black shed - David E, East Norfolk

From the black shed - David E, East Norfolk

Are visitors allowed?

Our daughter lives in a terraced house in North London with her family. They are coping reasonably well with lockdown but like the rest of us stresses are beginning to show. Yesterday she informed us that she will be sending Wallace to stay next week! Our daughter is a key worker so is at work every day, her husband works from home but can’t provide constant family vigilance.

Wallace is two years older than Reuben who is coming up 18 months. He’s only recently started walking so is now super active and needs a lot of attention. 

“Are you sure this will be allowed?” I ask. “Well “she says, “he’s getting fed up with being inside, he’s not getting enough exercise and he needs a haircut”. I say “surely this isn’t essential travel and how do we know it will be safe to send Wallace to stay with ageing grandparents? And what will the neighbours say?”

I’m not sure that the announcements from Boris last night make things much clearer. Is it confused messaging or confused thinking? We are constantly told that everything that is said follows the science. The problem now is that the science is getting too complex as we learn more about this virus and its beyond the ability of Boris and co to fit it into a simple clear message. Even among the true experts there are different interpretations of what might be the correct “road map”. There’s a strong sense among politicians and trade unionists that “the natives are getting restless”.

My understanding so far is that we will be allowed out for more time for exercise and that we can meet extended family as long as we are outside and at two metres. Wallace is generally well behaved but he doesn’t really understand the two metre rule and he’s bound to pop inside the house at some point. We can’t keep him in the garden constantly! Further discussions needed I think!


Cotswold Perspective

Rosemary, Rodborough Common

As Lockdown continues, albeit slightly modified, there are so many different things that I am appreciating and actually even liking.

I appreciate:

  • The postman.

  • The bin men and the garden rubbish men.

  • The man who cuts our lawns.

  • The girl who helps with the weeding.

  • The ‘Greenthumb' man who gets rid of weeds and moss from our lawns.

  • Our heating engineer who came to fix a leak, 

  • and all of those supplying our shelves with food and power for our homes.


I am really grateful that all of my family appear to be coping.

There are also things that I am liking about Lockdown:

  • The lack of daily junk mail - now we have far less recycling.

  • We have not purchased any petrol for the car for nearly 2 months.

  • The fact that carbon emissions have fallen around the world by 20%.

  • The lack of urgency.

  • Taking time to appreciate nature.

  • Being able to hear the birds chirping away all day long. 

  • Blue skies from my childhood filled with white fluffy clouds and no vapour trails.

  • The peace and quiet.

  • Venturing out and finding that now the traffic lights automatically turn green. 


I do not like:

The spammers who compromised our email and then BT said that the password should be changed.

This I did with difficulty, but then discovered that the Apple iMac email no longer worked.
Having been raised pre-computers, and not knowing how it should be fixed gave me a sleepless night, but I did it, I don't know how, but I did.                 


We had some interesting mail today, my husband has been invited by Lord Bethell of Romford and Professor the Lord Darzi from Imperial College in London to participate in a Covid-19 testing research study, so we now await the “swab test kit” arriving.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

Vague, vague, vague. Does Mr Johnson have a speech writer or such like? Surely they did a little run through of Sunday’s address to the nation? Did no body think to say “Boris, no offence, but it sounds like you don’t know what you’re talking about”. Even the news readers and reporters were trying to make sense of what it actually meant in layman’s terms. The ‘Stay at home’ slogan has now been replaced with ‘Stay alert’. Scotland, Wales and Ireland all disagree with this approach and are continuing with the ‘Stay at home’ message. Nicola Sturgeon stressing in her speech that ‘It is a matter of life and death’. Boris said “Coming down a mountain is often more dangerous”. His shambolic guidelines for people who are able to return to work, if they can get there safely, if their workplace is suitable to allow for social distancing rules to be met, has caused mass criticism. No mention of child care, if you have to leave children to return to work, but he urged people to cycle or walk rather than use public transport. He has set himself up for ridicule. Janet Street Porter needs to have a word!! 

Disturbing statistics on the news last night, only 50% of patients put on ventilators actually come off them. Some patients have been on them now for over a month! What an awful situation for relatives, and so stressful for nurses and doctors.


We’ve decided to stay as we are for the time being, sticking to our shopping routine and local walks. I’ve just heard Jane Garvey on radio 4, she talked of ‘lack of clarity’. That’s enough COVID news for now, the weather is cooler and cloudier today, so a nice day to read and cook a nice meal.


‘National treasure’ Dame Judy Dench is on the cover of this month’s Vogue, like David H, journal contributor, she is spending this time learning Shakespeare’s sonnets, according to the interview she likes a glass of champagne. She looks sensational in the pale pink silk-mousseline dress. Keep well everyone xxxxx


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

A skeleton crew is back in the factory today, in preparation for a return to production tomorrow. Our sales last week showed some tentative signs of growth, which is very encouraging. The factory manager reported to me on a video call this morning the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the factory staff when told last Thursday that we were restarting production this week. As an employee owned business, with all the shares being held in a trust, we acknowledge that each of us whether finance director or forklift truck driver has a dual role - firstly the job we are paid to do, and secondly our role as owners, with a personal responsibility for ensuring the long term success of the business. Social distancing in the workplace is being developed jointly between the staff concerned rather than being imposed by managers. And of course those who can work from home are continuing to do so.


Meanwhile, after sitting down to listen attentively to the PM’s address last evening, I am not really any the wiser. It was very Johnsonian in style, but sorely lacking in detail - which we are promised will arrive in a 50 page document at 2pm this afternoon. Overall, very disappointing.


We enjoyed a socially distanced VE Day afternoon tea last Friday, a great opportunity to catch up with neighbours, about 20 or 30 people sitting in spaced out household groups; physically, not metaphorically spaced out. Our son and his girlfriend, who live a few miles from us in Leamington Spa, joined the party at a separate table. We are not sure if this was entirely legal, but their cover story, had they been stopped by the police, was that they were taking vital food supplies (a VE day cake) to their ageing parents. And it enabled our son to catch up face to face with his mentor at work, who is our next door neighbour. Our son and our neighbour are employed by JLR, the largest local private employer, and there was much discussion of the future of the car industry.


“Survival” diary 

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

Our Prime Minister tells us we have all behaved so well “we deserve an early mark” and so he “recommends” to the State Premiers that they should ease restrictions. Before the Premiers make it back to their home states, shopping centres and department stores open and people flood them. Was I looking at footage from the Boxing Day sales? Unbelievable. I thought people might have more common sense. Perhaps I should cut Scotty some slack for constantly speaking to us as if we a naughty children. 


Each of the States is in a different position and accordingly we are all in varied situations today. The Victorian Premier is resisting the relentless pressure to open schools and to ease restrictions on cafes and restaurants. To keep the outbreak under control the growth rate of the virus has to be at a factor of 1.0, Australia is tracking at 1.6. If restrictions are eased too quickly it will rapidly turn pear shaped. There would be nothing worse than to go back to onerous restrictions (which I doubt people would accept a second time around), there would be nothing worse than more people dying. Melbourne has some worrying hotspots. 

We are back to glorious autumn weather again. I worked on new raised vegetable beds in the sunshine this afternoon. My husband helped me manoeuvre the two large fruit packing boxes I had been using to the back gates. I reckon they have another two years of life without repairs. He laughs out loud at me and lays a wager that we will be bringing them back in tomorrow when one of us wants to use a car. They were collected by someone with a trailer in under thirty minutes. Yes!!! 


I finished the day with with a beautiful walk and then a Zoom Pilates class. Oh, and Cream of celery soup with toasted sour dough. My new super power developed in the last 7 weeks has been sour dough. So it could be worse, much worse.

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