Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

Unsurprisingly, given the bias of this journal, bookbinding has been on my mind. Very briefly (it’s a few years since I did this research), my paternal ancestors from at least the mid-1700s (six generations back from me) were bookbinders, based in and around Fleet Street and Gough Square (where Dr Samuel Johnson was a neighbour, at no 17). The Whites (a confusing number of whom were named Joseph) were an industrious lot, people of substance, eschewing chauvinism when a five-generations-back daughter took up the trade. I would have liked to meet them.


In 1770 the King’s New Printing House was built in Goldsmith’s Row, Gough Square. Six years later bookbinder Joseph White Esq was working in no 14. A hundred years on, another Joseph White worked his way up the trade in the same area and by 1871 was a master bookbinder at 10 East Harding Street (between Holborn and Fleet Street), employing ‘seven hands’. His daughter Caroline married an electrotyper and, with husband, two small children and a third on the way, took the gruelling three-month journey by sailing ship to Australia, where his prospects were enticing.


Within three years he had died, and Caroline returned to England, where she remained with her three children. By 1891, aged 38, she too was listed as a bookbinder. Meanwhile one of her sons, yet another Joseph, became a vellum binder. Caroline’s brother, a further Joseph White, was also a bookbinder. By 1891 Joseph’s son, my grandmother Emily White’s brother Joseph (!), was another vellum binder.


There, sadly, the bookbinding tradition petered out.


Gough Square


The printing room


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

Jay and I have just come home from a short wander on the Rockefeller trails. We parked in the back of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where there is a gate directly opening onto the trails. There was no one else around. 


When we finished we got back into the car and made our way towards the main gates. Just as we got there, an enormous hearse was driving in. I could see the driver who was wearing a mask. Behind the hearse was only one car. As I passed, I could only see one person in the car. A man with a pale, mournful, ghostlike face. He turned and looked at me and then turned back and stared ahead at the hearse in front of him.


A powerfully upsetting image for these times.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

Glorious Autumn weather continues here. Cold, crisp frosty mornings are followed by bright sunny afternoons that close in again by 3.30. Meg doesn’t appear to be resenting the two long walks we are taking each day, and she has taken to sitting in on the three or four Pilates sessions which have become routine. I began cutting back some of the perennials this week and started lifting dahlias for the new beds I want to make next season. It is still too early to think about the roses, but I gave them a bit of a tidy up and got rid of some aphids which are plainly immune to a heavy frost. The sweet peas have put on a lot of growth and I had to run some new string lines around the teepees and do some training.  I took some cuttings of a couple of beautiful chrysanthemums. One is a gorgeous bronze and I had some fun this morning arranging it in a majolica casserole.


A friend wanted to borrow my painting ladder for a decorating project today which spurred me into action cleaning my very high, and very dirty windows. The ladder has a platform and safety rail around it, so I ignore the injunctions of well meaning people who tell me I should get a “man” to do the job. They should have been given attention months ago but we had three dust storms in a row after I finished them last time and I was jolly upset at not even getting a week of clean glass. The red dirt of inland Australia’s topsoil was still sitting there today. I felt quite virtuous when I finished the job. 


Our little part of the town was very busy today. Restrictions have hardly altered in Victoria, but it was clear that many had travelled to visit for the day. I would be more relaxed about it if there was some observation of distancing recommendations, but people are getting quite slap dash about it. We can now have five guests in our homes or ten if we sit outside. It will be nice, but I don’t think quite yet. I think of my much older sister, my friend Don who has had a kidney transplant or my Pilates chum Julie who has an ongoing battle with a stage four cancer diagnosis (which was meant to carry her off six years ago but she manages to steal time with her two daughters who are now teenagers). What a disaster it would be if they got this virus. There has been a large spike in cases in Melbourne centred around an abattoir and a popular hamburger chain. Very few of these people have been hospitalised, but it really demonstrates how easily a second wave could occur. I think we will take things pretty slowly and see what emerges as schools transition back to face to face teaching and more businesses are permitted to operate.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

Sue, who runs the Travel PR company in the offices below my flat and who has been working from home since the lockdown, turned up the other day. Her business has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in the last two months. When I asked her how she was she replied, with a smile and a hint of surprise in her voice, that she had been a bit depressed 'yesterday'. My sister texted a couple of weeks ago and said she'd been a bit depressed for a couple of days but now the sun was out she was feeling better. I do that - I make the blues yesterday's thing, a matter of recollection, something I'm ashamed to bring to today's party. My Polish neighbours across the landing aren't like that - cooped up with a six year old boy and no garden to speak of they're fed up and don't mind saying so; but then their upper lips aren't so stiff. 


At the end of 'The Tempest', Prospero drowns his book of spells to return to the prosey world of government. He sets free the mischievous spirit of his imagination, Ariel, but he has learnt from the events of the play which takes place over only a day, that, even if the fetid and ungainly Caliban remains on the island, he will always be a part of him - 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.'


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk

In these horribly uncertain times, it's such a boost to find that some things are continuing to function exactly as they always have done. Even better than normal on occasion - and the garden here is proving that whatever the pandemic is doing to affect our lives, growing patterns seem essentially unaffected. 

Two particular things have delighted me this week - a plant and a bird.

We have acquired and planted loads of irises in recent years but never before had so many of them in bloom simultaneously. It's as if they are all starting to feel settled and comfortable. I don't know the names of these as we've not bought any of them commercially. We simply took advantage of any offers when others were dividing or discarding. There are three of them here - all in bloom now in various parts of our garden. 

We have a wide range of birds feed here on the extensive array of feeders that Chris fills every day. Over the last few days we've witnessed the return, again, for the third or fourth year, of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers. We see the individuals (mum and dad separately) over a period of weeks and to our ultimate delight eventually find three at our feeders right outside the kitchen window - a kind of last feed together before they leave again.

Right now, the first of the parents is regularly and enthusiastically feeding on the fat balls.



The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin

An A – Z of our Isolation.

A is for Alphabet games played in the sunshine and Airplane spotting; rarer than a cowslip.

B is for a Barn full of Bats, Basking in Birdsong and Breathing more easily.

C is for Chickens, Car, Cat and Corona. The last one we barely mention. 

D is for Dogs we see on our walks and ‘Daddy!’ shouted loudly when you’re Delighted.

E is for Eggs with Everything but now rationed.

F is for Fire keeping us warm like the thoughts of our Friends and Family.

G is for Grass stains and Gratitude

H is for wild Horses seen on the ridge, a low flying Helicopter and Home, where we will soon return.
I is for Idiosyncrasies that we all have and that we’ve learned (grudgingly) to accept.

J is for more JUUUIICCCEEE requested with increasing volume until you get what you want. 

K is for the house Keys that we must find before we leave, where did you hide them?!

L is for Laughter of the hysterical kind and Love of the overwhelming kind and London. 

M is for MORE cheese, more singing, more stories and for Mummy! yelled at 6.20am every Morning.

N is for Nana whom we speak to everyday and No, rarely said these days; A New Normal.

O is for Open spaces to run, play, roll and dream

P for Please, Peanutbutter, Play and Plasters.

Quadbike! Riding on it, sitting on it, singing about it. What will we do without it?

R is for Remembering Rainy walks, Riverside strolls, Ravens, Roosters and Running away. 

Sunshine, Singing, Signing and Storytelling; I remind myself that all the world is a Stage.

T for Trailer, Tractor, Train and let’s not leave Today, how about Tomorrow? 

U is for just the three of Us. Unemployed but Undaunted.

V is for Virus and Vaccine, but enough of that, look at the View!

Wheelbarrow rides, splashing Water, Writing in your nap time, early morning and late at night.

X for the kisses we put at the end of our letters, emails, messages; a virtual touch.

Y is for You. And Yogurt all around your face. 

Z for Zooming, no longer rocket related but an opportunity to see familiar faces.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Voices Silenced


Vocal chords nestle, discreet,

neatly folded out of harm’s way.

Airflow from the lungs bullies

them into heroic performances,

and everyday speech, following

the principles of fluid mechanics

(in aerodynamic terms there is no

difference between air and water)

described by Dr. Daniel Bernoulli

who was Dutch and lived

in the tidy Swiss city of Basel.


Vocal chords are also the gateway

the Covid-19 virus passes through

on its way to the lungs of others.

The virus loves the energetic

explosion of sound and air in song, 

and travels much further on a note

loudly sung than on the zephyr

of a quiet daily breath.


In the beauty of a requiem

the venom of a viper rode

in on the human voice infecting

sopranos, altos, tenors and basses,

leaving shuttered halls deathly silent

full of deserted stages and empty seats,

the cooperative chorus of vocal chords

drowned in silence for years.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

This morning, very early, my husband drove to London for the first time since early March, to check his office, and then drove back to Norfolk. He was astonished. Comfortable cruise control both journeys and the whole of Westminster with hardly a parked car. He saw nobody. After so long together in Lockdown, I really missed him!


Yesterday we cut down a very large, very prickly, very misshapen shrubby tree which has been a bone of contention since we moved to this house in 2007. It has been an ugly, flesh-ripping specimen, ‘on the huh’ as they say in Norfolk and has never demonstrated its true purpose. But it cast a pleasing shadow in high summer and, as a lover of Tanazaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadows’ I have always begged reprieve. 


It is in an exposed part of the garden. We worked hard and happily together, rather in the close harmony of ‘Gardening’ by Stanley Spencer, but with with saw and loppers rather than spade and trowel. Suddenly, we both stopped. Buzzing. Without a word we cast our tools and hot-footed it to the safety of the kitchen from where we watched a swarm of bees hurtle and skirtle across the garden. They were just passing. 


We are very pleased the shrub has gone. Now there is a spot of bright light at the end of the day and a lovely curve to the horizon.