Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

It is cold now: occasional snow and even hail today, and I had not packed for that when I took the train 200 kilometers north of Uppsala, to work at a smaller hospital, in the stroke ward, which I do on a regular basis. At least I brought an umbrella so that´s good. 


Here I learned that a very kind colleague, who had kindly driven her severely ill neighbour to the emergency room instead of waiting for an ambulance, as had been recommended, has been now herself in the ICU in a ventilator for four weeks, so that is sobering. Just one single mistake, but huge consequences. 


I really hope that the Swedish strategy for handling the epidemic will not prove to have been a mistake. 

It is a relief that my mother´s old house is finally out for sale, after weeks of clearing out so much stuff. There were always really long queues at the recycling centre. Many more people are working on improving their homes when they are working from home due to the epidemic. It was great though, to find all the photos from our childhood. I look forward to sorting and scanning when I get the time. 


My mother, who no longer remembers her house, managed again to escape from her dementia care facility on Saturday, but the police found her quite quickly. She was in a good mood, and she even invited them in for coffee. It seems that she really needs her daily outdoor walks.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

A disturbing report on the BBC and a chance encounter here fused several ideas that have been unwelcomingly bubbling around. The Beeb's research into online extremism has revealed an upsurge in the vicious poisonous marginalisation of groups by both left and right wings of the political spectrum, the sort of thing that the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps might have served notice on. Here I am in the process of doing some volunteer work for a group that educates children of migrants. Shockingly 8 in 10 are Rohingya, who it emerges are the scapegoat/target group for all ills - accused of spreading covid due to their filthy lifestyle - that befall the locals; they are the new untermenschen of Malaysia as far as I can ascertain. Stateless and in fear of deportation they are easily exploited. Listening to Trump trying to bat away anything threatening his regime by calling it fake news and his casual denigration of minority groups [take your pick of the day] has horrible echoes. Small wonder extremists everywhere smell an opening to drop some poison into the echo chambers.  

I wonder if the UK would pass the litmus test of tolerance today?     


Tropical Litmus Test


Banners, distant speaker, one people roars,

Boots, muscular policies, brute applause.

A familiar uniform of sorts 

Rally to a narrative and a cause.

Dip litmus in acid, watch poison rise,

It’s just the same of course with alkali,

No middle ground. “The immigrant hordes swarm

At the gates, killer diseases,” they warn, 

“Threaten kids, race, skin, lifestyle." Transmitted

Lies gobbled up by the shaven headed.

Untermenschen then, now it’s called fake news

So just select Chinese, Mexican, Jews

Rohingya. But peddle the same old lie:

Arbeit Macht Frei.


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

I am confused about some of what I am feeling at present. While the lockdown has been difficult and frightening, now that there are rumblings of the beginnings of an easement of restrictions on the horizon, rather than feeling more optimistic, I am feeling apprehensive and just as frightened. I am thinking that this is because, while being extremely difficult and stressful, the lockdown has given me clearcut guidelines about what we can… but mainly…what we cannot do. I have thought that if we followed our quarantine lockdown guidelines and stayed home, we had a chance of staying safe. It also afforded me the opportunity to only live in the moment. To not think too far ahead and not to wonder what our future might be and how it will change from what we once thought it would be.


Now that a route to opening is being mapped out, it is clear that no one really knows what the results of these easing of restrictions will mean for our health safety. And once the world reopens and we begin to go out into it, I will have to face up to uncomfortable aspects of life which will be the results of what the pandemic has wrought.


Or maybe it will be okay. Maybe I need to develop some bravery so I can break out of my cocoon and find a new outer world for myself.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Reclining in my garden room this beautiful cloudless morning makes me feel there is little in the world about which I should have reason to worry. However, about 12 hours ago my mood took a dive. Several factors may have contributed to that brief foray into darkness. During the afternoon my best beloved revealed over the phone that she had a sore throat and was feeling so tired she was going to bed. Not surprisingly, I suppose, that triggered my emotions. In the evening I drank a couple of glasses of red with my meal and ended up thoroughly melancholy. About 9 o’clock I decided that I was feeling very tired and dispirited, so went to bed and sleep. Then this morning I awoke at about a quarter to 6 and felt transformed - full of enthusiasm and certain that all would be well. When my love phoned later this was made certain. She is well and feeling full of life - so I find myself giving thanks that the most significant life relationship remains undamaged by the hidden enemy. Birds are singing and making their lives within few feet of me and all seems good at the moment...


Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York

Following the briefing from Downing Street last night and very glad at the prospect of taking unlimited exercise, I awoke early this morning, some time before six, dressed and, having stopped to eat a crumpet, set out for a walk. As I walked through familiar streets, I noted quite how silent everything was and how there was no one about. Out in the country lanes, a sparrow hawk swooped low to the ground no more than a metre away from me and, startled by my presence, flew up to the boughs of a tree and settled there, only a few inches above my head, to watch me with mounting suspicion.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Woke to a beautiful sunny day and to feeling much better after having nipped my cold in the bud (I hope) with massive doses of ‘Emergen-C’ and lots of naps. My son has been sending me articles about the spread of the virus in upstate NY among the hardworking migrant workers on all the beautiful farms. We see them at the market cashing their checks on Fridays and wiring money to family back home in Mexico, Haiti and the like. Likewise, a local nursing home has reported a distressing number of cases, and where do all those aides shop, my son asks me? Worried for my safety, he has asked that I not go out at all and let him do the shopping when I need anything. I am touched and grateful for his concern and offer, but the idea of not being able to select the toothpaste or shampoo I prefer or browsing for the vegetables or somesuch need, myself, will take some getting used to. I haven’t done much in the way of shopping, but to do no shopping at all, to reassure my son, will feel even odder than things already are.


Dickens has found a way into my lovely little boxwood knot garden and then can’t remember which little shrub he scooted under so he has been tromping through my delicate flowers and ready-to-bloom bulbs trying to find an exit breaking some in the process. This I realize I just have to let go of ~ He will get too big to get in there next spring. This, too shall pass, I tell myself, along with everything else. 


I am so looking forward to designing the little tailpieces for the next book I am working on, called ‘Seasons’ with excerpts from Nicholas Breton’s ‘The Twelve Moneths’ written in 1657.  Having finished the four engravings for each season, I have the little decorative bits after the text for each season and then something for the title page. Inspired by a lovely copy of the book done by The Golden Cockerel Press with Eric Raviloious’ wonderful engravings, a gift from John Randle of the Whittington Press, it is the perfect project for these months (let’s hope not twelve) of lockdown.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



These popular melodies

return to haunt us;


nothing but blue skies

from now on


until we dance together

cheek to cheek.


May our humming along

to such palpable


yet ghostly music

keep its promise


that beyond all this

there lies a world elsewhere.

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