Words know no distancing
A B Lindgren, a Swede in Beaconsfield
A HOLIDAY FROM NORMALITY
What a difference a year makes
A year ago we were on our way to my beloved Gotland. The island in the crispy, brackish, clear waters of the Baltic Sea where I feel more at Home than anywhere else on this planet. We took a taxi, a plane, a train a ferry and then got in my mother’s wonderfully familiar car to be able to spend time with family and friends in the motherland. It was a beautifully sunny Easter and my sister’s newly acquired smallholder farm became the centre of our tribe and the source of our togetherness. We spent our days tending the meadow, talking, making fires, working our bodies to the full. Our hearts were full. Full of air. Full of love, gratitude and belonging. Full of play and joy. I overheard the cousins revel in each other’s company and the giggles rang true and unbridled. The picture-perfect atmosphere provided a great sense of security and the sense of belonging I often miss in the UK.
At mealtimes we would all sit, four generations all together filling our bellies with hearty, homegrown vegetable soup accompanied by home-made stone bread (a traditional Gotlandic bread with a “secret” recipe and a phenomenally subtle Seville orange bitterness that my Father is a wizard at baking!). We were together, we laughed, we watched as my wonderfully resourceful and inspiring sister cooked, fed and held us at the very heart of her warm and inviting kitchen of love. The smells. The steam from the pans. The people. The cat. The tortoise. The music and the conversations - all part of a perfect chaos plentiful with deep, deep belonging and happiness.
Fast forward 12 months
I found 2019 a particularly challenging year for many reasons (too mundane to go into here). I was ready for a new start and raring to go when 2020 finally opened its long longed for doors. It was time for a fresh start. I was starting the new year as I meant to go on. A year with interesting and fulfilling creative projects in the pipeline combined with a focus on good health and self-care. All this whilst trying to be the best mother, partner and person I am able to be. Having had my sufficient share of health challenges over the past few years, I felt my energy creeping back and some space acquired thanks to a break from endless hospital appointments and clinical investigations which allowed for some creative thought. It gave leeway for new ideas to be born and tentatively explored.
January was rainy and grey, yet my productive meetings with likeminded artists and exciting personalities kept me going and helped me focus on an auspicious spring full of hope, light and artistry.
February arrived faster than expected with its teasing of brighter days within reach and its welcome distractions of numerous birthdays, lovely celebrations and its evident brevity.
How wrong was I when I though the sandstorm experienced alone with my children during a half-term break on Tenerife (and subsequently being stuck on the island longer than expected) was our adventure for the decade. How wrong was I to believe this was the event we would always remember as “do you recall in 2020 when we were locked in our hotel room due to the howling winds and unsafe outdoors…?!”
How correct was I when I thought maybe we’re taking flying, travelling by trains, planes, ferries and taxis for granted. Maybe this has to stop. YES. It Has All Stopped.
Here we are.
Neatly tucked away from the dangers of CV-19 and it’s unpredictable spreadability.
In quarantine since the eve of the 12th of March.
Barricaded away from the rest of our world as we knew it.
Here We Are. Just us. Just me, my thought, my family, our guinea-pigs in our nest. WE are the lucky ones. We have food. We have space. We have love (mostly) and We have a garden.
Today my mobile phone reminds me we had flights to Geneva to go skiing we could have checked in to…
The outside beckons and I am here coughing away dreaming of a world where people look out for each other and where those things taken for granted pre Covid will change for the better.
We would have taken a taxi to Heathrow, a plane to Geneva, a van to La Cluzac. All merrily so without much thinking of the environmental impact of our fancy ways. We would have turned up at our Alpine hotel with a pool and added creature comforts provided. All happily without thinking (much) about the environmental impacts of our holiday ways.
We would have skied and played in the snow. We would have ice skated and rolled down the mountain whilst giggling and feeling the freedom of our well-earned break from the mundanity of our every day lives.
Here we are, trapped in the banality of the situation that is developing at a rapid pace outside our stained windows. The situation that is beyond our control. A position that is seeming a way off anybody’s control! The moment in time that will go down in history as one of the most challenging of our generation.
A red robin appears at my balcony and I stop for an instant. I smile. I haven’t smiled for days... the robin reminds me of the world out there filled with beauty. It reminds me of natures, simplicity and it reminds me of Corona.
I will put some crumbs out to see if the hopeful robin chooses to fly back my way later. I would certainly like that!
The star dense and chilly eve arrives with a roar of applause and cheers for those who sacrifice their own safety, their own families and (at times) their mental wellbeing for those in need of medical attention due to the outbreak. WE THANK YOU NHS!
It’s a new day. The sun is radiant. I am still coughing like my lungs are screaming for incessant attention. Heeeelp! We don’t feel right. We hurt. We are unable to operate at capacity.
This is certainly a peculiar Easter Break.
The breadcrumbs are still in place and the hopeful robin is shining with its absence.
My phone keeps reminding me of the trip we could have been on. It beeps and prompts the next step of our journey that is no more. The jaunt so longed for and so needed on many personal levels.
Now I journey inwards and I imagine what is going on deep within my lungs. I take a trip into my far fetched brain cells and I imagine what others think of all this. How different brains cope with this scenario that unfolds minute by minute. Moment by moment worse news as well as rising numbers of dead people and infected NHS staff.
We had planned to spend Easter wrapped up tightly in the woolly, Gotlandic blanket that is my family. I was hoping to pick up that rake again and to keep going until my hands bled and my body ached, to then sit down at the long, rustic wooden table with my amazing clan and revel in a hearty, homegrown meal. To replete my core with warm food rooted belonging and love. Another magic sisterly meal that hits right deep down to the hidden pockets of my soul.
A new day. A new experience. Many visits from the robin of hope later…
Am I grateful for Corona? Yes, I am grateful. I am thankful for any new experiences that one can learn from yet I am of course, like so many others sad it had to happen this way. Did it have to happen this way? Does everything have a meaning? Does it all happen for a reason?
The environment is certainly thanking humanity for a pause from pollution, speed and greed. Nature is unquestionably appreciating a break from jet planes, cars, ferries and trains. A deep breath a universal sigh of relief from Mother Nature and her horde.
These are, as they say, unprecedented times. This is, as they say, a global crisis. This is, as they keep reminding us of, a pandemic we have no control over.
All delivery slots are booked, food is hard to come by, people are either at home isolating or hiding frightened out of their skin. Some people even carry on as if this is not really happening - I guess those are the people I have the least understanding for. The humans that think no further than their own little world, those who are not touched yet. They feel invincible and don’t seem to care that their actions can have a knock-on effect on the wider community. A negative one at that.
I want this virus out of my home. As far away from my tribe and my extended family and my dear friends as possible. I cannot wait for the day when I feel well again. The day when my partner hasn’t got a tight chest anymore. I long for the morning when I wake up with the absence of a huge knot in my tummy. The relief. The reassurance that my clan at least is safe and healthy and thriving once more.
These are unprecedented times, they say. It is indeed…
Another breath from angry lungs that hurt with inflammation. Another day lived with a cough and with pain. Another day fighting for a healthier tomorrow. A day living in hope of a better dawn.
Easter is around the corner and the holiday we had in mind feels so very far from this brutal reality we now endure. Skiing only happens in our minds and playing in the snow is but a playful dream that teases of a better could have been.
A very different holiday undeniably, one that my partner has worked through to try to cling on to the job that he still has. Some form of income for months ahead. A prospect of a truly peculiar Easter peering around the corner like a lost chicken. No chocolate eggs to be had. No festive meal cooked by my dear sister in her warm, welcoming and rustic kitchen. No raking, making fires and stopping for a well earned cool drink. No playing with cousins, laughing in unison or feeling free. No feeling of great accomplishment as we sit down, all together, at the end of a long, wonderfully labour intensive day. The smell is mere memories. The steamy pans and belonging. The hearty spread across generations and the love flowing freely in the warming air.
This year we will not be together and we will not rake. We will be away from everything and everyone we love. The children will miss revelling in that precious bond they have with their unbridled cousins and we will not have access to the home-grown wonders of my sister’s garden. Treasure hunts will be improvised on a whim and Easter eggs might be made from whatever we can find. The biggest loss is perhaps the freedom we all take for granted along with the direct, human connection. I can’t even hug my own family at this present time…!
I am turning all various shades of grey. Never have I seen too many newly sprouted uncoloured hairs before. Like stubborn little seedlings, they grow rapidly, daily. Like the deaths, we hear of through the news. Perhaps each new grey hair represents another life, gone to Covid-19. Never have I felt so dull with illness and worry. Not being a natural worrier is something that has served me well for 44 years. It has allowed me to take risks and it has meant I can live, sleep and take a day at the time without too many questions in my mind. Now I worry for my son specifically (with his preexisting medical condition) and also for my daughter, for my partner, for my friends who are suffering, for the frontline workers, for my Father (and his compromised cancer treatment). I am concerned about my Mum’s mental welfare. I feel the world’s pain, the immense loss and I wonder what might we gain…?
The little grey strands remind me of the absurdity of life and of how little it matters what your hair looks like or if you’ve gotten dressed, or not. Who cares that my roots are exposed to the point of looking on the verge of being a funky choice? Who cares if I smell of perspiration, perfume or putrid pong? Does anyone fret over my greasy hairline and well-worn tracksuits? What remains to care about now?
Health. Love. People. That is it! Simple…
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
The small rather barren area around the house is undergoing a makeover as I undertake some amateur haughty-cultural duties-hence the loss of an entry yesterday due to planting fatigue. One obvious advantage of the Bollywood film set luxuriant growth is that it ought to be easy to propagate stuff; virtually any old scrap of greenery explodes into mad life when left outside [either that or it rots/eaten!] The terrace is now awash with jars of dubious murky water filled with cuttings from around the place so I have high hopes. Just how tropical the area is was underlined last week when they hauled an enormous python out of the undergrowth in the next door estate; although entirely appropriate that the Edenic setting should contain such a monster I may suspend my David Attenborough/Bellamy exploration for new plants to take cuttings from, for the time being!
I have also learned that in place of rooting powder you can use: aspirin, cinnamon, diluted honey, aloe vera sap or a combination of them all. They all contain a key ingredient required for root growth. If this lockdown goes on much longer I will have a jungle of chemically enhanced wonder plants.
Bougainvillea rewards short stemmed cuts,
Leave seven or eight nodes, dip the end in
Cinnamon as root hormone, place in pots.
Pineapples can be chunked in water, trimmed,
Leave just the green spikes, watch the roots sprout, plant.
Coleus can be liberated, clip,
Variegated colours favoured by aunts
In windowsill spots, all yours for a snip.
Aloe Vera juice [slice open a leaf]
Contains all a newly sprouting plant needs.
It also provides some stinging relief
So smear yourself as well as the seeds.
Mangoes once eaten are easily grown
Prise open and place in water as shown.
Such abundance surrounds us, all for free
An advantage of life lived tropically.
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
“Pray for the huggers......we are not okay. Do you know how hard it is not to hug when you’re a hugger at heart???! The struggle is real”. A friend sent me that on Instagram, and it is a struggle!
It was another friend’s birthday recently, obviously original plans for celebration all cancelled. I made her a big bouquet yesterday using flowers from the garden and allotment. We decided to drive over and deliver it. We stood on the path blowing kisses in the air, arms flailing like Kermit from the muppets! It was a lovely sunny evening and we fantasised about sitting in a pretty beer garden, chinking glasses and feasting on some kind of sharing platter! Despite the weirdness it was wonderful to see her and have a face to face chat. So much more traffic on the roads now. Public transport in London looks really busy, I’m not ready to get back on a train yet (my usual commute to work). The good news is my hair dresser has been in touch and I have an appointment for a cut and colour on July 7th!
In other news, Eastenders is going back into production in a couple of weeks. I have no idea how that is going to work. Apparently the actors are going to have to do their own hair and makeup. My daughter worked as a trainee in the hair and makeup department for the show and she just can’t imagine how it’s going to be possible for continuity and such like. Another worry is that if the producers, or whoever deals with the money etc, see that it is doable not to have a big hair and makeup team, will this lead to more cost cutting and job losses??
Today is shopping day, so we are off to the posh butchers and friendly greengrocers shortly. Keep well everyone (sending big hugs) xxxxx
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
I didn’t think I was feeling particularly stressed by our current situation but I had a dream which perhaps indicates otherwise. I often can’t remember my dreams, they seem to slip away as I wake up, but this one was very clear.
I was in a care home which also seemed to be a maternity unit. Perhaps this idea was prompted by the maternity unit which is operating in a football stadium although the care home/maternity unit combination seems considerably more risky.
I was looking after a physically disabled teenage boy with severe autism. I was carrying him to his bedroom. He coughed and a tiny piece of food was projected from his mouth into mine. I was worried about the virus but couldn’t do anything as I was holding him and also didn’t want to upset him by reacting.
I took him to his room but there was a new born baby in his bed. I was concerned that he might be agitated by seeing a baby in his bed – I had been watching ‘The A Word’ on tv which is about a boy with autism. I reassured him and said how lovely the baby was. I then noticed another new born baby in a small cot and a third one lying on the floor against the wall. ‘Fancy leaving a baby on the floor where someone might tread on it’ I thought.
I laid the boy down on his bed and covered him up. He turned away, curled up and settled down to sleep. I was worried he might have too many covers on and be too hot but I knew he liked to be cosy and warm.
Then some other people came into the room and started to coo over the babies. They were grandparents who hadn’t met their new grandchildren yet. ‘Surely this shouldn’t be happening’ I thought.
Then I woke up. So many worries mixed up in that dream!
I later spoke to my daughter-in-law who is a primary school teacher. She had been awake since 2am worrying about how she was going to manage her class if schools go back in June.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
Today’s contribution will be something different – an early 19th-century account of infection control. This comes from a published volume of reports by ‘The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor’ and was given by a Miss Horner of Hull. It relates to an outbreak in 1801 of typhus, which began in Duke Street. Although the street had only seven houses, all newly built, and with eight rooms per house, the living conditions were exceedingly cramped and squalid. Fifty-one families lived here, most in just one room, and the population numbered 200. It was no wonder the disease took hold so quickly, resulting in many deaths. Unlike viral infections such as Covid-19, typhus was transmitted by infected lice, fleas or mites, and spread quickly where there was overcrowding and poor sanitation. Part of the blame in this case was laid at the door of ‘neighbours crowding the rooms of the sick’, and attendance by so many people at the funerals of those who died. There were no social distancing measures in place, nor was there any PPE for those caring for the infected.
Duke Street was visited by a local doctor and by the surgeon from the workhouse, and together they came up with a plan. A number of strict measures were put in place, some of which sound only too familiar. As well as washing the furniture and floors regularly, and providing fresh linen, ‘steady and attentive nurses were engaged to wait on the sick; and they were charged neither to suffer strangers to come into the rooms, nor to go into the apartments of other families’. The patients’ hands were washed night and morning, and their mouths cleansed frequently with vinegar and water. In just over two months ‘the contagion was entirely destroyed’.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
Went outside to clap last evening. Truly I am a little doubtful about doing it, but it seems to have become a social imperative round here, so I make noise with everyone else. Life is full of compromises I suppose - at least if it is to be lived in harmony with others.
I am now enjoying harmony in listening to music quietly, eating breakfast and reading. The news is depressing as always. Were I to believe everything I read or hear I think I would probably want to end it all, except of course as an eternal optimist I wouldn’t! There is so much good in the world. I join others in wishing for increased friendship between people after the dreadful plague experience. Sadly, that possibility doesn’t seem to exist between nations. Perhaps it’s just in the nature of those in power to lack trust. As usual I don’t know anything...
Red squirrel, whom I know as Squiggle, is out and about carrying the nuts that my neighbour puts out for them. She or he seems to be well and enjoying life! Haven’t seen the grey ‘red’ since a few days ago.
Yesterday, when I went for a walk I noticed some change; traffic has increased a lot and golfers are out, the latter seeming not bothered much with social distancing!
So what today for me? I intend to reseal my shower cabinet, but getting a ‘round twit’ may prove hard...
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
Yesterday evening I took the long walk into town. Probably four or more miles. I am not being smug - I needed to do it and really should walk more to tackle this comfortable lethargy that has settled over me. Never mind the government’s latest slogan ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’. Eat too much, potter about gently, sleep a lot - this has become my mantra.
The walk took me through fields, woods and eventually a new housing estate. There is a small Tesco in town. I bought milk, ignoring the chocolate and sweeties despite the lure of their enticing wrappers and well known deliciousness! The shop assistant smiled and laughed with me - we share sugar addiction apparently!
Walking home I took a different route. I had forgotten about the Thursday evening “clap for essential workers” but sure enough around 8pm, doors opened in the high street and houses behind and a cacophony of clapping, pan banging and car horn hooting broke out. I put down my bag and clapped too. It was like a clock striking - a cuckoo clock or one of those amazing town hall clocks like the one in Munich with its animated figures. Within minutes - everyone was back in doors and traffic gone.
I like the freedom to travel more and the reopening of garden centres but the increasing traffic is threatening the safer world we have come to know. People are concerned. BBC 1 Question Time last night was unsettling. On radio 4 I heard a very incisive speaker accusing the government of ‘saving the NHS’ at the cost of lives. Mortality rates have soared, he said, with policies that led to the virus being seeded in care homes and general communities. We have failed to protect the most needy and vulnerable. As usual.
The easing of lockdown is chaotic - a confusion of hope and anxiety. It seems like we were in a ceasefire, but now more than ever we must ‘stay alert’ to the enemy. But what are we looking for? A cough? Vague symptoms similar to the common cold? A group of people huddled together? Where once we were given clear orders to stay at home and protect the NHS, we are now told some vague principles - stay alert (but to what?) and control the virus (but how?).
We woke to a frost this morning so it’s still too early to empty the greenhouse of all its tender, vulnerable and budding beauties. But I shall try to go for more fast paced walks and avoid delicious, homemade cakes. Today I will instigate my new healthy campaign:
Eat less, walk more, and keep the encroaching world at a distance.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
A blackbird flew in yesterday. He was stuck in the big window amongst all the jugs on the window sill. I caught him and took the panting little bird outside and released him. I seem to spend my life doing bee or toad rescue or some such as things are always coming in.
Have been to Holt this morning. The lady in the veg shop has made my day by asking whether I would like her husbands old cloches. He died before Christmas and she doesn't do that sort of gardening. YES I said.
The paint for The Pigs has finally arrived and they have started painting it pale pink. It looks very pretty. Then I swung by Edgefield nursery and there were huge queues around the car park. I left. There is much more traffic on the road.
On the news this morning they were saying the R value is 4 times higher in Gateshead than London. Cases rising in Yorkshire and the North East. A quarter of the people who have died have had diabetes. A lot of unrest with teachers and schools opening, though they have been partially open anyway.
When you hear economists on the radio late at night or on the telly, the panic in their voices is palpable. Cliff Edge gets mentioned alot. There are lots of new words or expressions through all this: furlough, stay safe, stay at home, stay alert, R number, coronavirus, Covid 19, PPE, pandemic, social distancing, shielding, self isolation, lock down. Inflamation gets discussed a lot. That's been my favourite subject for the last 7 years. Alcohol, sugar, white carbs, dairy, processed food are all inflammatory and subsequently weaken your immune response.
I think celebs and interviews on radio programmes etc are a lot less guarded than normal. Maybe because they're in their bedrooms or in their pyjamas. It seems like there's the odd less layer of crap.
Love Annabel x