Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York

Last night, for the first time, I took a walk with another person from outside my household. Albeit two metres apart it was so lovely to be able to talk to someone face to face. We encountered a pair of golfers who told us quite how glad they were to be back on the course and seeing their friends. I felt more optimism at seeing them out on the golf course than i hadn’t felt in a long time as it seemed that, even in such uncertain times, if people can cling to small acts that bring them joy then getting through lockdown and beyond seems that distinctly more doable.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK


Yesterday I went for my first run for a week. My vertigo is almost gone, so gambled that I wouldn’t keel over en route. I am immensely grateful to those journalers who proffered sympathy and remedies: thank you so much for your kindness. What it is to belong to such a group. Perhaps some of us (who haven’t already) will meet one day.


I knew I would be risking life and limb, not to mention allegations of trespass, if I were to go back onto the golf course, so pounded the parallel streets up to the woods instead. There, bluebells all but gone, but a haze of cow parsley on the way up just as lovely. And the heavy scent of now-blousy may (here, may came out just as May came in) provides overwhelming madeleine moments: when I was around six I was fascinated by a pair of hawthorn trees which grew at the entrance to our block of flats, and the smell is forever connected with poignant, heart-twisting love for my mother, who was virtually my sole carer. Each deep breath of it still stirs in me a maelstrom of joy, fear and loss.


Of course, pain is the price of love - as so many are, before their time and in agonising circumstances, finding out.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA


Last night was the last of the cold temperatures in the 30’s for the foreseeable future ~ and if one can rely on the weatherman, it should be warming up from now on with days in the 60’s, 70’s and even a day in the 80’s next week to look forward to. All the houseplants I moved outside a few weeks ago, only to bring back in, are now free to live in the fresh air, sunshine and rain as they please.

Many of my friends have been going to nurseries to get annuals for their gardens already but I am still waiting til after Memorial Day and to hear if restrictions will be slowly lifted. My young neighbors would be happy to pick up a few things for me, I am sure ~ like geraniums and petunias and such for pots. The garden is really greening up with baby leaves on all the trees and flowering shrubs and Patrick has mowed for a second time making everything looking so pretty!  I love the dandelions which are so good for our bees so we try to leave quite a number of them and their bright happy yellow faces are so cheery to see!

Well, it has been two months since we were told here to stay at home ~ I can hardly believe it has been that long.  One would think that the time would drag being home day after day, but as everyone has remarked, the opposite seems to be true ~ here it is, almost the end of another week! Where has the time gone? And I continue to feel incredibly grateful for my health, the beautiful spring we are having, the garden, my engraving and the pleasure of being a part of this journal ~ all of which keep my spirits up.



At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

Gloomy, gloomy, gloomy. Not sure what I’m gloomy about exactly except that I grieve my art classes, my daughter being able to teach archery,  just being able to go anywhere. If I’m going to be locked up I’d rather it be with B. than anyone else, but I don’t like being locked up. This is house arrest except it isn’t of course. It’s local arrest. I’m lucky to be able to drive to Coburn Rd and go for a walk, pass through the covered bridge, walk along side the river, capture a photo of the pair of Mergansers being swept downstream by the spring current, see a fox in the distance with a light camel coat and dark tail. I’m lucky to stand and watch for the brightly patterned wooducks who never return to the marshy water if they know I’m there. Well, they return eventually, but not while I’m there. 


Lucky lucky lucky, genuinely lucky. Yet I wake up gloomy.  

Yesterday Sam introduced me to the Brompton.


I wobbled around on the bicycle. Haven’t ridden a bicycle for about twenty years and in the meantime I’m fatter and much less flexible. So I got on it, rigid with fear. It has tiny wheels so it felt totally out of control. But then I realized I was tense so I relaxed and it got easier. I remembered how to ride a bicycle. Soon I was riding around the parking lot in circles going to the right and then I tried going to the left which was harder. Sam said his mother told him she used to have a car that only turned right. He didn’t know if the story was true.  


Two young women sitting on their car smiled at me. I told them not to laugh or I would fall off… they said the bike was cool, I’m guessing because it looks like those small bikes people do tricks on. My trick is to not fall off. Plus it is a great color, a bright dense turquoise. 


Sam leant me the bike and a helmet so now I can drive to the parking lot on my own, figure out how to put the bike together, and ride around in circles. If I get really brave I’ll bike down into the village. But it is quite likely I’ll get there and be unable to put the bike together. Or able to put it together and then unable to break it down. But then I have a negative mindset this morning.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

I watched Renoir's "La Grande Illusion' on my laptop last night and wondered, or rather I'm wondering, in retrospect, whether such a well-balanced, humanist film could be made now. There are subjects, I suspect, that the new caution, or the new puritanism or the new squeamishness, I don't know what to call it, might make unacceptable. The only Jewish character is a rich banker and, though he's a generous, modest man who never shrugs or rubs his hands together, his occupation and wealth might well cause him to be regarded as a stereotype in the eyes of the politically correct. The film was made in 1937 when it was an instant success but re-evaluated in 1946, a particularly sensitive time obviously, when the depiction of Rosenthal, the Jew was indeed considered by some, anti-semitic. There's a scene where he and Marechal, the Jean Gabin character who have escaped together from a first world war POW camp, are tramping towards Switzerland across the Alps. The Jew has injured his foot and impedes their progress with his limping. Marechal is frustrated and they have a row at the height of which he says 'I've always hated Jews.' But their bond, a compound of honour and love, survives his outburst and they trudge on together to safety. The film also portrays the officer class, both French and German, in a sympathetic light even though the German (the great Erich von Stroheim) is avowedly anti-semitic and snobbish. They seem to know, like those impoverished toffs in the Chekhov plays, that they and their code of behaviour are already anachronistic and, indeed the French officer knowingly sacrifices his life for the lives of the two escapees, one working-class, one Jewish. IF I say it's a complex, nuanced film that makes it sound inaccessible which it emphatically isn't; I am convinced it will always be watched. It changed my mood yesterday which had been a struggle up till then, with inner demons, current anxieties, and my wrestling with the intractable sonnet 16 which I can only liken to Ahab grappling with Moby. It's done now and, when I've finished this I'll go for a long walk though it's quite cold out there. 


Can anyone explain to me what the fuck Boris Johnson was on about on Sunday? To be so deliberately obfuscatory feels like an abdication of responsibility. Although Matt Lucas does a brilliant parody of it - 'Go to work, don't go to work...' - that speech was really a parody of itself. Disappointing that the rallying cry was first to dynamism and innovation with generosity and caring tacked on as an afterthought.


The title of La Grande Illusion refers to the hope that the war will end soon and that it will be the last such war. Must our hopes of a better, kinder world always be a Grande Illusion? Even as I write that, I know that, unlike the film, I'm not being complex or nuanced because homosexuality is not only legal now but so are gay marriages,  abortion too is legal, a rainbow is the symbol of our marvellous NHS, and our dreadful politicians are at least more accountable than the politicians of the past whom we regarded with an inordinate and quite inappropriate respect.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Just heard on the news that scientists want to test the whole of Norwich every week for 3 months for the Coronavirus antigen costing 2 million. Taxi drivers and refuse collectors etc could deliver and pick up the samples which would be tested by a team of biologists. Southampton have a similar scheme. Eventually it could be done nationally with 10 million tests a day. Brilliant. They need the backing of the government for the 3 months trial. They should be biting their hands off. In the scheme of things 2 million is a drop in the ocean and could actually lead to a way of living with this horrible uninvited guest.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk with Earnie. It was grey and cold but when I drove up the road it was a beautiful blue sky with dramatic clouds and lovely light but freezing. Still in my winter clothes of 2 cashmere jumpers, anorak, hat and wrist warmers and mittens. When I got back I put the garden to bed as it was going to be frosty. All the dahlias back in to their house. Duvet covers and fleece on the beds, all tucked up for the night. Takes hours and looked like a Christo garden. 


Spoke to my out worker Jenny today who has been cutting out scrubs for 3 or 4 weeks for a group of probably older ladies with sewing machines at home. So many companies offered to manufacture PPE here yet it has ended up with an array of keen sewers without the right tables or overlockers etc doing their bit. 


Have got as far as picking a bunch of tulips to paint but no further. This is procrastination of the highest order. 

Have asked my neighbours to put the Ikea trolly together for me.  Just can't go there, trying to go to paint world not self assembly frustrations.

Love Annabel x



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA



I drop like a stone deep

into wells of madness and hatred,

the demented militia swirling

over, in my head. Scrambling,

I push upwards, take a deep breath

of reason, and click exit.


Bruised and confused I look out 

through my window into the

green envelope of sanity —

woodland unswayed by the 

gale of news or the breeze of gossip.


If I quarantine the media

the absence of my eyeballs

would count for nothing,

the curve of earth or virus

wouldn’t somehow flatten, 

the R t factor wouldn’t diminish,

the lunatic fringe, trimmed, 

would not fall silent.


Better to follow the twitter of birds,

walk soft pathways,

watch the gentle program 

of dawn rise through

the lattice of branches,

read the day’s edition

of clouds ad free.


Liberated from headlines,

opinions and speculation I watch

the raw reality running beyond

the screen of my windows.


As the sanity of gentle rain falls

I script a hushed voice-over,

a bear grumbles in his sleep,

and the sky lightens in the east.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

So, we’ve read so much about others cleaning, decluttering, building, making... after eight weeks (or is it more?) we are at last contemplating doing something inside the house. We are going to redecorate the hall, stairs and landing, apart from the high bits we can’t reach. The Annie Sloan paints have arrived this morning, and this afternoon we’ll start on the landing. First, we have to strip off old paper that has been painted over. When we first bought this then-ruin of a house in 1990, every wall was covered in at least five layers of paper, 1970s on top, nineteenth century at the bottom. All came off, and then we had to treat the old lime plaster walls with respect, no modern emulsion, but lime wash or distemper or colour wash we made up. But some of the landing walls are painted over paper. We are going to remove it. I wonder what we will find underneath. There’s just a chance that the older walls might have traces of sixteenth century wall painting on them like some of the other rooms; we’ll see. But our plan is to build up a rich earth-tones Bloomsburyish palette starting on the landing, travelling downstairs and into the hall. I’ll have to repaint my Bloomsburyish designs on the stair risers, and perhaps add decoration to the window embrasure.


Over thirty years here, rescuing and partly restoring the house, we have adopted a style of rich colours and decorative detail, partly inspired by the house itself (we found traces and more of rich Tudor decoration everywhere as well as the fabulous wall paintings of hunting scenes in the second floor rooms), partly by my fascination with Bloomsbury and Charleston, partly by the fashion in the early nineties for stencil decorated walls, floors and furniture. Two of our painted floors have survived thirty years, and my homage to Charleston fire-surround has been moved from one room to another, but is still there. So we continue; think of us splashing on colour in the next week or so... we use Annie Sloan paints now, as they are water based and lime friendly! And can be mixed to produce further gorgeous colours.


But of course, the weather is getting warmer, and the garden beckons, so inside/outside work will have to be balanced. My dahlias in the greenhouse are getting tall and strong, longing to get out there. The cosmos and zinnias are growing well, the love-in-a-mist is already planted out as are the sweet peas; the marigolds and nasturtiums are demanding freedom. Perhaps some of them will also find themselves translated into wall decoration. We’ll see.