Bumpy landing on the south coast
I have been ruminating on the way in which this journal, the reading and writing of it, has given rise to - rumination. The fact is, that beyond providing material for contributions, this turning over of thoughts, letting them flow around, has a more directly beneficial effect.
In the world of psychotherapy it is not, as you might suppose, the sessions and what is said therein which help the healing. It is the spaces in between, when the patient walks away and spends, say, a week letting the newly -churned up thoughts swirl around and settle back down, often in a different pattern. From mud comes clarity.
And so it is with this journal. (Patients are, in fact, sometimes encouraged to chart their in-between progress in a diary.) For me at least, my troubled times which partly coincided with, and were partly caused by, the shutdown have been counterbalanced by the fact of consolidating my thoughts and writing them down, honestly, the better for knowing that they would be read by empathic souls.
This identifying and marshalling of thoughts has grown over the months, to the point at which I can rise above the swirling, extract a less personal strand of thinking and craft it into something pleasing in its own right. I have begun to have confidence again in my own intellect, survival and even ability to impart a little interest or, dare I say it, pleasure to others (as you have all, greatly, to me: even, at times, welcome hilarity).
I am also glad that, if the journal is in some form kept for posterity, our contributions, gloomy as well as happy, and all stages in between, will give a genuine overall flavour of these times.
More mundanely, the plumber and his dad finished up and departed yesterday. They were lovely, but I did find it a nervous strain because of the difficulties of remembering (and politely reminding - there has been no time for this new etiquette to become socially established) about masks (though that did improve) and distancing, so ‘in the zone’ were they. Still, this attention to their work meant they were in and out in two days, and we now have fabulous hot water and pressure. There were a few startled jump-backs as taps gushed unexpectedly. Unfortunately the enhanced pressure did for the old kitchen tap, so washing up is now done in the bath until the new tap arrives - and then the plumber will be back…
This morning I ventured out to buy some toothpaste (a fancy kind which I can only get in a wholefood shop) and, although I have been out in some form or other most days, I suddenly felt a bit more like my old (urban, that is, as opposed to being up in the woods) self - independent, enjoying new scenes. We are all getting more used to swerving about like old drunks, trying to spot oncomers and guess their intended route, so the walk there and back was less frazzling than it has been in the past. I almost sashayed. Let the good times roll!
John Mole, St Albans
The old black cat
is here again
and looks both ways
before crossing the street.
Trusting in luck
he reckons his chances
deciding on balance
that safety comes first.
With tail erect
and whiskers aquiver
he makes a straight line
for the neighbour’s garden
where he’s always welcome
to lie in the shade
and count his blessings
as old cats should.
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
The background rumble of heavy traffic has returned to the early mornings. For the past week we’ve been on a reduced level of restrictions following the blanket lockdown imposed at the end of March. The aim then was to “flatten the curve” of the spread of Covid-19. There were only a few hundred cases of the disease in the country at the time, and the government moved fast to try to cap it. Suddenly, the early mornings were silent, and in Gauteng’s chock-a-block townships and suburbs you could hear little but birdsong and the dry autumn breeze.
The lockdown slowed the spread of the disease and allowed hospitals and the rest of the healthcare system to prepare as best they can for when the pandemic hits hard. That’s expected to be in a couple of months. The blunt instrument of a blanket lockdown brought much hardship to many people depending on subsistence livelihoods - street traders, hawkers, rubbish pickers, beggars, itinerant farm workers. Capital, which wields a particularly big stick in SA, has also upped the pressure to ease the lockdown, arguing that ‘herd immunity’ - discredited elsewhere in the world - would eventually protect workers.
And so now, as the curve of the pandemic moves onward and upward, we’re seeing more restrictions on movement being lifted. A few days ago the schools reopened for grades 7 and 12 (the exam grades of primary and high schools). The idea is that all the other grades will return to class in July. Schools are supposed to get learners to practice social distancing, wash their hands, wear masks, sit at a good distance from one another. It’s hard to see how it’ll work. A number of schools have anyway had to close again this week because some teachers had tested positive for the virus.
We’re groping in the dark. No one’s really sure what to do. I hope the school year will be cancelled and that we’ll get study packs for kids to work on at home. The government says that if things get very much worse with the spread of the virus, we’ll have to go back to the heavy lockdown of a few months ago. At least then the roar of early morning traffic will be muted once more.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
The beginning of restrictions was marked by a medical crisis in our extended family, which ended happily with a thirty six year old woman walking away from a ventilator with a pacemaker in her chest.
This week my eldest sister lost her husband Bruce. A complete bolt out of the blue. While I was faffing around labelling and storing my dahlias she had a procession of constabulary, forensics and the Coroner’s office through her very private home. Putting aside its effect of others (& the fact that he was too young too die) it would be what most of us might choose. Sitting up in the bed in his office, iPad on his lap, a book tuned face down marking the page, a newspaper opened at the opinion pieces. The autopsy is tomorrow, but we’re guessing a heart attack. A doctor who never once consulted a doctor. He spent his working life in general practice and moved into psychiatry a decade ago. I know people who are alive because of his care, but he wouldn’t take his own blood pressure. Loved Gilbert and Sullivan, Charles Dickens and Sigmund Freud.
My sister and her family had a fabulous Queens Birthday weekend with a lovely big bonfire that Bruce had spent a couple of weekends constructing. He didn’t manage to find fireworks (Thank heavens; I am guessing they are illegal everywhere now) but it was a perfect night. Different state restrictions on travel will make funeral arrangements complicated for some family members. He was a force of nature and he has left behind a very complicated estate. I’d have words with him if I could...
Five new cases of the virus by community spread in Victoria. One of them has come out of the BLM demonstration in Melbourne. Our town is full of visitors today. We are only an hour from Melbourne, so it is an easy day out for people. I guess the weekend will be even worse. I wish people would be a little more conservative and make wise personal decisions (see above). Everything we do effects those around us.
Take care fellow journal writers. This has got a way to run yet.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
A child plays in a sandpit unable to make
sand from an emptied mould stand coherent.
His mother returns. He asks her.
“What did you do at work?”
“I topped out a skyscraper,” she replies,
filling his pot with sand, tamping
down the grains, turning out a perfect sand cone.
Last night, serenaded by the bulbous
voices of a hundred and one courting frogs,
I watched quantum particles flashing for a nano
second in and out amongst a background of trees,
their glowing echos reflected on the surface of the lake.
Was I witnessing the births of failed universes
appearing from, being reabsorbed into the void,
a swarm of singularities,
a finite number of failed infinities?
I’m not sure, maybe all of it,
because uncertainty is the principle.
Light is both a wave and a particle.
Solid is fuzzy. Quarks are flavorful.
The foundations of the universe last for ever,
(and for the merest tick of time) powered by that
which cannot be created or destroyed.
Oh, and Higgs bosons give particles mass
slowing them down, preventing them
careening off at light speed unable
to attract and coalesce with other particles.
Quantum thoughts as I tinker in the
sandpit of ignorant souls, nature's equations
impenetrable, my level of understanding
nothing more than an incoherent pile of
awe and incomprehension tipped onto the page.
But I do get this. I stood in awe
astounded by a constellation of fireflies,
remembering long ago my mother releasing
an injured one from a hankie, whispering:
“so his light will not be lost.”
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
The silage was safely gathered in before the rain arrived and now the long grass at the edges of the fields, which the machines can't reach, is being grazed. In the field at the front of the house there are some cows with tiny calves, overlooked by a huge and handsome brown bull. At the back there are some recently shorn sheep munching their way along the side of the hill. The army of huge tractors, hoppers and other harvesting machines has been replaced by a fleet of slurrying machines. Whenever we see them coming, as they do after every silaging operation, we always exchange dismayed cries of "oh no they're slurrying", as if it was unexpected. The machine that pumps the slurry out from under the cowsheds runs all day and late into the night, with a terrible low growl that makes our heads ache and the house vibrate. We stay in with the doors and windows shut tight to avoid the smell which rises from the newly sprayed fields all around. The people who lived here before used to evacuate to a hotel during the slurrying. We are seen to be slightly more hardy than they were as we stay put.
Despite the hardships, all this farm activity has been a welcome break from the dreary news. We now have some actual statistics on the track and trace efforts and a large percentage of people who tested positive for the virus have given details of their contacts. I wonder what the ones who didn't give contacts said to the track & tracers, that's the interesting part. Go away, I'm not giving out personal data? I haven't been in contact with anyone for months apart from the... person who gave me the bloomin' virus? It turns out the much heralded app will not be ready until September. Is this the same app that was rumoured to be connected to the sister of Dominic Cummings? Whoever owns or promoted it, it's not much use to us in September.
The big U-turn this week has been on getting children back to school. Boris now says it can't be done because there would not be enough room in the schools to have classes which are half their usual size. That's an Eton education for you, can't divide by two. It was obvious to anyone that the government needed to make a national plan to make facilities and staff available. They've had months to do it but instead they ask teachers to use their resourcefulness, which I suppose must include an ability to build prefabricated classrooms in the playground (it's been done before) and to be in two places at once. They are not allowed to have a rota to accommodate all the children. Give me strength.
Meanwhile, my grandchildren have been almost unaffected by schools being closed as they are being home educated, as they have always been. No, it isn't easy, and I found it tiring to support my daughter's efforts for two days a week before lock down. There are a lot of plus points though. No bullying, no stress from being pushed to remember endless facts to pass exams. No worrying about being left behind if they have an off day and can't concentrate. Fun meeting up with other home schoolers for drama, games and safari days. The freedom to learn what they want, when they want and to complete something they're interested in, rather than having to stop and put it away when the bell rings and start something else that they're not the slightest bit interested in doing. Now I send little projects for them to do. I'm delighted if they enjoy doing them, philosophical if they lose interest.
Strangely enough, the powers that be have often in the past threatened to curtail, monitor and inspect home schoolers out of existence. Even now, when they are dependent on parents to take up the challenge and "get on with it", they are still saying it is somehow second rate and inadequate for children. I hope some of the parents who have had home education thrust upon them in recent months will have enjoyed such success they will keep going and give their children the chance to be the clever, independent and curious people they really are, when they are not being subjected to the Gradgrind life of facts, facts, facts!
David Horovitch, Twickenham
I sat in bed this morning with a cup of tea and read the whole of yesterday's journal. Just gulped it all down A feeling of solidarity as I read it. Wonderful. It's dismal outside and I feel a bit low, probably won't go out at all today. I've felt this journal to be a safe place where I don't have always to pretend to be buoyant but can shout and scream from time to time.
I feel increasingly confused, rudderless, unqualified to have opinions, Tuesday I think it was, I lose track of the days, I heard an Oxford epidemiologist on the radio describing the easing of the lockdown restrictions as farcical. Her contention was that the policy of herd immunity should have been adhered to: only the elderly and vulnerable should have isolated while as many other people as possible should have contracted the virus. The total collapse of the economy, the severe interruption of our children’s education were both unnecessary and, on crucial issues, the government kept changing its mind. Zoos are open, schools are closed. Yes, farcical. Other scientists say other things and it seems light years ago since our prime minister himself was advocating herd immunity, presumably advised by experts of the same persuasion as this Oxford epidemiologist. I didn't dream that did I? No I didn’t - that was in the days when he seemed to think it was a bit of a lark to say sing Happy Birthday to yourself twice while washing your hands and every little thing is gonna be all right. I may feel uncertain of my opinions but I am sure of my visceral dislike of the man. At that time it seemed demeaning to be considered part of a herd, but now I’m not sure I’d mind if I felt the herd had a leader.
I wrote in here around the beginning of April that breath is the theatre, breath is life. Department of the bleeding' obvious as Basil Fawlty might say. Two months later we are all still holding our breath while George Floyd's heartbreaking last words echo round the world.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Woken up this morning by a man bearing the most beautiful bunch of peonies. This is the husband of Kate who I mentioned a few weeks ago who delivered the asparagus and these are the field grown peonies planted as a the companion crop. Their first year of 200 stems. Next year there will be 3000 stems. They are absolutely beautiful and smell heavenly and all their hard work and research and trips to Holland is paying off.
I fed the chickens and when I opened the door to the little shed where their food is I was met with tidiness and order. Roger had been in here yesterday as well. So much order restored.
Then I had another gentleman caller, Charles who came for a cup of coffee and a Jaffa cake in the garden. It was so hot and sunny I had to don sunhat and sunglasses and Charles called me Vita Sackville East. An hour later it was freezing and raining again.
Some gorgeous fabric samples arrived for cushions for The Pigs new bedroom and a cotton sample from the printers for future face masks.
On the news, statues and monuments and BLM.
A split in the cabinet seems to be happening. Boris is getting criticised from the inside for over control, surrounding himself with yes men, not listening and that old chestnut, our friend the Rasputin of No 10 Dominic Cummings.
Track test and trace not gold standard yet but going in the right direction a spokesman said.
I am in my spoilt bubble of pigeon and lily beetle attack and clashing printed velvets and over layering patterns and a profusion of roses everywhere.
Rather alarmingly there was a man reading the water meter outside the gate. Hate to think how much that is going to be after all the watering I've been doing.
Have made appointments for the hairdresser and the dentist in the next few weeks to try and get presentable again. A pedicure wouldn't go amiss either.
Just had another delivery of my lovely vegetable bag from a little community project up the road.
15.10 now! Got to go.
Love Annabel xxx
From the Editor
Thank you for all your emails and messages; there is evidently a lot of support for our Journal, after Friday, becoming a weekly journal. This means that all submissions for the first weekly edition must be in by 3 pm (UK time) on Friday June 18th, and the first edition will go online at about 10 a.m. (UK time) on Sunday June 20th. In fact, you can submit any time during the preceding week.
So tomorrow’s journal is the final edition of the daily Plague20 Journal. Thank you all for being part of it , and keeping it going with such energy and enthusiasm. Let’s make tomorrow’s edition a full one to end on a high note. If you haven’t written for the journal yet, or not for a while, start typing !
Many have said how the journal’s writers have helped them through this strange twelve weeks. As far as I know, all the contributors have survived the pandemic so far, though many have been touched by death and illness in someone near to them. It’s been a strange, unreal time, in which many of us have enjoyed a sort of rural idyll far from the epicentres of the pandemic, and have rediscovered the pleasures of a simpler, quieter life, a less materialistic life perhaps. And we have to keep reminding ourselves not everyone is as safe and privileged as that. What happens next.. and next and next? Well, no doubt the new weekly journal will chronicle that as, perhaps, restrictions ease, and we start moving out into the world again. At the same time feel free to write about other matters. No restrictions on what you write about! Homer, Yoga, bread-making, wild swimming, the life cycle of the slug, astronomy, astrology, the Theatre of the Absurd, keeping tropical fish. Your choice.
We look forward to keeping in touch with you all, and hearing more about your lives, thoughts, observations.
And perhaps one day, when we can move around easily again, we’ll hire the Burlingham Green marquee, put it up in our field, and have a big Party for the Journal and all those involved. Here’s to that moment, even if some of you from distant places will have to be but a virtual presence there.
REMEMBER , after tomorrow, next submissions in by FRIDAY 18th JUNE.