Musings from self isolation
Billy Hearld, York
The other day, with my family engaged in housework, I decided to take a walk and so, my grandparents’ dog Blue in tow, I walked for some three hours through the fields and across the Tilmire. The Tilmire is a strange place that seems both extremely bleak and haunted and exceedingly rural and beautiful. Sheep and their lambs gambol and bleat between shards of skeletal trees and buzzards circle, imposing shadows against the sky. Walking about it, Blue halted abruptly, straining at his lead and refusing to go any further. I turned back and back obliged him, letting him lead me over to a large clump of tall, brittle grass. We stood in silence for some moments, Blue taut and patient, waiting and watching intently, though what exactly he was seeing I was initially uncertain. Then, having stood some three minutes, Blue sprung forward and, in an explosion of feathers and screeches, a partridge burst from the grass and shot off, flying away at great speed. Blue, exceedingly proud of himself, looked up at me and wagged his tail whilst I watched the partridge flap away, completely unharmed.
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Today I am reminded of two very important women in my life: my mother and my Auntie Jeanne. Both were wonderful cooks and from a very early age they nurtured a love of cooking/baking in me as well.
My Mum was fantastic at baking. As kids we would sometimes return home from school to freshly made biscuits, often still warm from the oven (so I quite like soft biscuits when others like a 'crunch'). She made all manner of cakes and believe it or not Chocolate Eclairs were a regular part of our afternoon teas. This wasn't normal in a household where only one parent was working (Dad) and he was a teacher. Mum's family gathering speciality was always a Coffee Cake, and as her daughter I am often asked to make ‘Grandma’s Coffee Cake’ for special family occasions - of course I oblige, I have the recipe!
It’s coming up to my Mum’s birth date and although she is no longer with us, she is on my mind - even more so because I have just delivered (social distancing rules observed) a Coffee and Walnut cake for a dear friend, whose birthday it is today.
Jeanne (also brilliant at baking), who did a great deal for me when I was a troubled teenager, died very nearly a year ago. Before her house was sold, we went there and chose a few things from her garden. She was passionate about her garden and so it was fitting to take something from there to remind me of her. Well I took many cuttings and have now planted them here, but in the corner of her plot, tucked away I found a lovely classical plinth and urn which last year was simply ‘found a place’ here.
This year, my terrace display of pots (I do a lot of pots) has this columned urn as the centrepiece and currently it has a very fragrant Vanilla (yes, back to baking again) Nemesia given to me last year (by the Birthday friend) and from which I have taken cuttings to make 3 sizeable plants. It has the most wonderful scent and a long flowering habit - I absolutely love this little plant.
So, I have neatly combined all three things in a day to remember: my Mum, Auntie Jeanne and Margaret. How delightful.
Happy Birthday Margaret. x
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
Beneath the span of the Victorian
Railway arch a giant grin outlining
Undoubted benefits of insurance;
More life, more fun, more family as one.
Rain sodden section reveals garish sports
Drink, plus now an extra 20 percent!
Next, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Live, in concert, your favourite bands for three
Anarchic days in some stately mansion
Grounds. Layers of appealing dishonesty
Clinging to the surface of passers-by.
No surprises why introspection’s tough
When well trained in the superficial stuff
Of life. One layer at a time is enough.
John Mole, St.Albans
Early evening light
arrives on time
and brings a welcome
gift of closure.
The moon appears
to lift its lantern,
guiding us silently
towards the dawn.
on our brickwork,
lies along the grass,
distraction plays around
with lines of poetry
hoping that words
may do the trick.
David Horovitch, Twickenham
When I went on the 33 bus to see Martin, my friend from St Chris, he told me of a new washing capsule which made your towels soft and fluffy. When I got home I texted, as I'd forgotten what it was called and he texted back "Fairy Pox'. I didn't think that could be right so I texted back -' POX?!!' and he said 'No - pod., Google changed it.' He'd given me one so, at my next towel wash, I tried it and I'm here to tell you my towels are as soft as a baby's bum and, moreover, Fairy Poxes have 3,642 4.1/2 star reviews online but, wouldn't you know it they don't have any in The Tesco's in St Margaret's. It's the crumpet thing all over again. In the unlikely event that you're still awake the whole point of this story is its extraordinary tediousness. When Martin came round here for the return fixture on Saturday he told me he'd had to buy some hand cream as his skin was drying out from so much washing. I've known him since I was twelve - we used to talk about football. While we were sitting there outside my front door a complete stranger came up and told me how dapper I looked in my straw hat. He asked how old I was and, when I told him I was 74, he said his father would be 70 now but he'd died twenty years ago. Then he said he'd shaved his head, raised £1,500 for cancer research and took his hat off to show us; he asked if we minded if he bored us for a few minutes more. I think we rather did but we didn't say so and he got down on his haunches and told us all about his father who'd been an engineer and his grandfather who'd made a lot of money out of patenting an invention. After he'd driven off my neighbour, Thomas, came down with some rhubarb pavlova that his wife Katzyia, had made and wanted to share with us and she leant out of an upstairs window smiling and waving. I've never had such rhubarb pavlova. It was ambrosial. Actually I don't think I've ever had rhubarb pavlova at all but it's a bloody good idea. Martin and I talked about other things, including existential angst. I've got it, he hasn't, but we both have angst about our kids and their uncertain futures.
Talking of them, Francis came round yesterday and we had a take-away from Del Posto, the local Italian. We sat on the little courtyard between my kitchen and bedroom. He had melanzana parmigiana, and penne ragu, and I had a goat's cheese thing in an almond crust and chicken in mushroom sauce and the hand sanitiser flowed like wine. It was the first time anyone's been in my flat, apart from the chap who came to mend my tumble dryer, since lockdown. We did a quiz thing in The Observer - a real Sunday, a touch of sanity, of normality, which has made me yearn for more. Before he went, he fixed my TV so I can now watch MUBI, the app that does great foreign films, on my TV rather than my laptop. I watched an early and little-known Fellini last night which I thought was much more interesting than some of his overblown later stuff. It made me realise too what a huge influence he'd had on those Italian Americans like Scorcese and Coppola.
I was so pleased to hear from John Underwood that I'd given him a laugh. Great to have a bit of feedback as he says. Like him, I love reading so much of this journal and I particularly liked the poem, John. I too have noticed that sentences so often start with 'So'. And many thanks too for the theatre picture. So thoughtful.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Catherine, Sussex, UK
Over the last two months I have prided myself on shedding not a single tear.
But on Friday evening Monty’s announcement, with a break in his voice, of Nigel’s death uncorked me, and that was it. I was dignified and restrained, but all my sadness came knocking at the back of my eyes at once.
At least I was alone. RIP Nigel, symbol of patient, loving, unquestioning fidelity.
Yesterday I had most of the day to myself, which was lovely (I did that cathartic thing of cleaning the house from top to bottom), on top of which we had a little excitement in the street: a sweet young photographer working on behalf of some larger nationwide movement came to take pictures of some of us standing in our doorways. She was marked by a Liverpudlian accent and Doc Martens, both of which are unusual in this slightly staid area and so instantly endeared her to me. I was also glad I had had time to put on some decent clothes and a bit of slap. I wondered aloud whether instead of just doorway portraits she had considered including some symbol of shutdown activities - in my case, writing and playing. She seized on this and so pen and flute were brought out, the former behind my ear (whence it kept slipping off), the latter in pretend-play mode as I felt shy and in any case hadn’t warmed it up.
Another unusual day!
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
Monday, again, already. Strange how the weeks seem to fly by even when nothing is happening. We have stopped compulsively watching all the briefings and hourly news bulletins as we are getting increasingly frustrated with it all, just catching up in the evening and watching the press preview, which is sometimes quite interesting.
The argument continues about children going back to school. Are other countries having these squabbles or is it just happening here in the UK? It is obvious, to me anyway, that small children can't be expected to understand social distancing and that the scientific evidence about children not spreading the virus is a bit thin on the ground. Actually, I haven't seen any published evidence. What I have seen are reports of a new mystery illness appearing in children and possibly connected with the virus. It's rare at the moment, but then so was Covid-19 at first.
If we are expecting to learn lessons from other countries who are ahead of us in the cycle of the virus, why don't we wait and see what effect the return to school has in Denmark and elsewhere, then act accordingly? It is being rushed, together with the instruction given to go back to work, when public transport and workplaces were visibly not safe. I see today that Paddington Station was completely deserted during this morning's rush hour, with many staff waiting to enforce social distancing and few takers. That's what you get for giving out mixed messages.
Having read that Shakespeare introduced hundreds of new words to the English language, many with the prefix un-, including 'unlock', I have decided to drop my snobbish attitude to the word 'unlockdown' Why shouldn't it become a word? I do however still take issue with the constant use of 'ramping up', when people mean 'increasing' Why can't government spokesmen (or women) just say 'increasing'? It must be because it doesn't sound dramatic enough to have the desired effect on the population. I looked up 'ramping' in the slang dictionary and the verb ramp means to swindle.
From the Editor
What you might call an editorial meeting this morning, and not virtual, just socially distanced. Excitement! Real People! Co-editor, Sheila, came round with her husband, Chris, and sat ten feet away from us in the garden. Not in a park, and not just one person, but one person each in the open air. Sheila had made me a wonderful birthday cake, and we ate it in the warm sunshine, coffee cake with coffee. So kind. So delicious. And there’s plenty left! Thank you Sheila.
It felt strange seeing other people, good but strange. We have got oddly used to FaceTime and Zoom and WhatsApp. I’m still trying to work out what I feel about friends’ faces on screens. It was so nice to see people in the flesh, though we are not at all used to the strange choreography necessary to maintain distance. It reminds me of an exercise I used when I was teaching drama, where I would ask the group to walk round and round the studio space, sometimes five yards apart sometimes five feet apart, sometimes five inches apart. Keep moving, don’t touch! Such an exercise could be appropriate now... perhaps Boris could use it as a warm-up for cabinet meetings.
We also did a plant exchange... so planting work to do the next couple of evenings.
We’ve decided to leave the back grass unmown for the moment, as it looks rather lovely and meadow-like and the birds are enjoying it. I was going to cut it this afternoon, now I can lie in the shade and read.
Hurrah for Amber Rudd saying something related to Annabel’s comment yesterday and mine a couple of weeks ago about the countries with female leaders having considerably fewer deaths. Ms Rudd asks why no women are in the present all male “war cabinet” against Covid. Listening to the Science doesn’t seem to have been enough, does it, gentlemen? And now all this pressure to get children back to school already. I don’t believe the government are interested in the education of children, they just see schools as providing alternative childcare so that parents can return to work and help get the economy moving. I rather hope teachers and parents resist being bullied by the Covid all male war cabinet. War cabinet ! No woman, apart perhaps from Margaret Thatcher, would use such a phrase. Remember what Jacinda Arden said when she shut down New Zealand... ‘Be kind.’
As Henry James said:
‘Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.’