Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
Heard yesterday that my aunt’s nursing home finally has swab testing kits for the staff and residents. Should have happened much earlier than this. Very hot today. Usual walk on Westwood common, where there are now swathes of yellow buttercups and the May blossom is out. The children’s rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’ was running through my mind - it seems to make no sense. Apparently it might a corruption of ‘knots of May [blossom]’. This seems to fit better, although it certainly wasn’t a cold and frosty morning.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
Today I am trying to shake off the lethargy that has been affecting me for the past few days. It seems to slither in under the doors and round the windows, drowning my usual optimism with an unwelcome negativity.
It seems to me, and I am sure many others, that the handling of this crisis has been a disaster from beginning to end and now that the true extent of this bungling is coming to light the powers that be are retreating into an unseemly position of finger pointing and passing of bucks, while accusing their detractors of not working together for the common good. I have been feeling a great sense of shame that our country has been let down in this way and can only hope that the bereaved will find some comfort when justice is done, as it surely must be.
I wonder if others have been sinking into the torpor of "why bother" and "what's the point" lately. Our book sales dropped off abruptly on Monday afternoon. Perhaps the hope of getting out and about has put people off any further investment in reading matter.
However, I am going to get motivated and write catalogue descriptions for a collection of books I acquired last week. Let's see if I can tempt some customers into my virtual shop with the Illustrated Betjeman, Constable's Memoirs or some guides to British birds. Something has changed already in the sub-ether - an order has come in for the Illustrated Guide to Feng-Shui. That's a start.
Belated happy birthday wishes, Margaret, the cake looked wonderful!
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
The garden centre is open again, hurray!! Not that I actually need anything, but I am sure I won’t come away empty handed! I might wait until the novelty wears off and the crowds diminish before visiting. Today is very hot, too hot to actually do any gardening. Yesterday we were going a bit ‘loopy in lockdown’. Feeling slightly in limbo, in mourning for all the missed get togethers and events etc. We dragged ourselves out for a walk, then watched the news on tv. Moving stories from the front line, which I think is important to show, as it is so easy to forget how much people are suffering when you’re sat safe in the sunshine. One patient had just been taken off a ventilator, after being on it for four weeks. He had to learn to do everything again, even standing up was an effort, his recovery will be a long slow process. He was 57 years old.
On the way back from her run, Grace brought home coffees from Starbucks. We drank them in the garden, surrounded by ‘flaming parrots’, savouring the change in routine.
Keep well everyone xxxxx
Words know no distancing
A B Lindgren, A Swede in Beaconsfield
Covid-19 raged around our home like a livid teenager. I had envisaged weeks of endless, creative fun with my two children. A time of bonding and being together. An opportunity for us to reunite and for me and my partner to reconnect, perhaps to change a few negative habits even!
Before official lockdown, the grumpy, stubborn, invisible force that is the dreaded virus entered our home and threw the picture I had created miles and miles away from our home hub.
We are the lucky ones. We have space. We have a garden and I have a balcony next to my self-isolation window.
Time with my children has been so limited I feel a distinct lack of attachment. We wave from at a distance. My daughter brings the occasional, handwritten message of encouragement followed by a sweet “I miss you”. My son sits at the bottom of my bed pouring his heart out and at times watching “Bright Side” so we can connect over intelligence riddles and random, interesting facts.
As he leaves I fill with dread, did we get too close? Could I have passed on the infection? He is at risk…!
My partner runs in. Runs out. Seems stressed, distracted and has a tight feeling in the chest.
This was not the painting I had carefully conceived in my creative mind awash with multi-coloured flowers and sunny days. This was grim. My image used to be bright and joyful. People in it were dancing together, effortlessly and beautifully. Those involved were content, smiling and above all (what I took for granted) healthy.
Coughing and coughing and coughing yet again
Sorry children, my body is letting us down. This was not the plan.
In my picture, there were no masked paramedics with big boots and friendly eyes. There were no machines for measuring vital signs. No, I was dancing, not collapsing on the floor!
I am here to tell this tale so once this pain is over and Covid-19 has been chased out of our nest, I shall fly again. Fly onto that dance floor of coloured lights filled with family members.
Once this virus has been chased away from our shores and far away into the distance we shall all dance again. Together in a marvellous swirl of light, music, freedom and rainbows with treasures by the end.
From St Just
Jane G, St Just, Cornwall
I've been having some very strange virtual experiences - in the total absence, of course, of any live ones other than with Smokey and the garden.
One was talking to a colleague who had had to go in to college because her home internet had collapsed, idly thinking that I'd never seen her office from that angle before - and realising that that was because I was quite literally looking out from her computer.
Another was teaching an introductory class to a medieval manuscript online. This involved 'sharing' my screen so that students could see the digitised images of it that I was talking about - which technically worked very well. The strangeness was that looking at and talking about the images, I couldn't also see them, so that on the one hand I had the feeling that I was speaking and gesturing enthusiastically to the manuscript and telling it about its own features, while on the other hand I was uneasily aware that behind the virtual page seven pairs of real eyes were watching. It was rather like thinking, as a child, that the man in the radio could hear us having breakfast - only true.
But perhaps strangest of all was watching the pilot for Lewis last night, only 15 or so years late. The college scenes were all filmed in Wadham, and - unusually - the continuity was genuine continuity: when Lewis and Hathaway went through an arch in Front Quad they came out in the gardens; when they went up Staircase 5 they got to the Knowles Room (a rather lovely panelled teaching room reconfigured as a student bedroom), and even when someone said 'is he up there?' and dashed up some steps he really could have got to the room he was meant to be going to (the old SCR, reinvented as a seminar room). The contrast with those series' habitual wild cutting was remarkable (I once yelled 'NO!' and flung my arm across my eyes when Morse accelerated to 60 under the Bridge of Sighs, to my certain knowledge and in real life with about 20 yards to go before he hit a right-angle bend and a high stone wall - but on tv continuing seamlessly up Headington Hill). But what was most odd was seeing college look so very like college, with extras coming and going just as we do, & thinking that for all the dead bodies at the moment the fictional version of Wadham is closer to reality than the real thing.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Catherine, Sussex, UK
On Monday I did a very brave thing. I had been thinking about it for several days, swinging from one decision to another. In the end, the swing which won the day was to accept an offered visit by a plumber (son of Junior 1’s colleague, so with a certain amount of traceability) to look at revamping my kitchen, boiler and shower. Phew: big one! (Remember: this is me, who throws herself into undergrowth and jumps over walls to avoid oncoming homicidal foot and bike traffic.) But I had figured that once people feel a bit braver all tradesmen will be overwhelmed with work, so better to bite the bullet now if I ever want it done (which I really, really do). I wrapped up in mask and visor and he, similarly well-attired (I hope his mum would tan his hide if he weren’t), arrived via the back gate and door, direct into the kitchen, and we more or less remembered to keep our distance. So far, go me - again!
What I hadn’t thought through, this being a very preliminary visit, was that he would also need to go upstairs to look at the tank (in my bedroom) and shower. Eeek! But of course needs musted, as it were, so up we went, me hastening to deal with any touching before he could get his (admittedly gloved) hands on handles, etc. Fortunately, he already knew that I was very nervous, and was gently understanding. One day those of us still here will have a good laugh at it all.
This morning he sent through a very precise quotation which I would be mad not to accept. So next Monday he will return with chippie, who will look at the wooden side of things and give me a price for that. I have to a point committed, and am relieved at the ending of the should I/shouldn’t I? dilemma. I did consult the Juniors, as the work will involve several days of two blokes being slightly all over the house, but being gung-ho as they are Junior 1 said ‘Go for it!’ and Junior 2, as ever, nodded in agreement; Baby gets no say.
Baby has, however, at last said hello to me: yesterday evening I had an urgent call from Junior 1: he was kicking, and I got to feel it for the first time! It was a bit muffled, because the placenta is in the way (in the wrong place - that’s Junior 1 all over), but he was definitely wriggling and shuffling around, getting comfy as his mum lay down.
On a more global note, the other evening, high up in an open space, I saw my first contrail for two months. A long, lone white brush-stroke, stretching from north to south (or the other way round?), cleaving the blue sky. Because I have lately got used to a different kind of sky, it disturbed me somewhat, seeming as it did to tear the heavens in two, unnaturally.
Not only things, but I, have changed.
A pair of trees holding hands, as if in the face of adversity
Sophie, Suffolk, UK
It occurred to me today that I’ve not had such a long amount of time off work like this since I finished my last exam at university, nearly 10 years ago. When the lockdown started I’ll admit, although not under ideal circumstances, a break from Dentistry was welcomed. The constant fear of litigation, keeping patient’s happy, doing your work to a high standard, keeping to time pressures, meeting targets, and being pulled from several different directions at the same time can be overwhelming and highly stressful. But as the weeks have gone by and my offers to help in the pandemic declined, I feel I’ve lost some of my purpose. For a proportion of NHS dentists, and (pretty much all) private dentists having no financial help, the thoughts of dwindling savings, financial difficulties, and going back to work are beginning to play on my mind.
When lockdown was slightly lifted last week, not a lot changed in the world of Dentistry. “Work from home if you can, go to work if you can’t” isn’t really a viable option for us. With a global lack of PPE, no vaccine in sight, and the high probability of generating aerosols whilst being in close proximity to potential carriers, the guidelines for how we get back to any kind of normal are blurry at best. With no governing body willing to provide any clear way forward, the road back to work is blocked by officials scared to take the fall for any guidance published. It seems any way back, any level of PPE, any range of treatments could be seen as incorrect, and litigation sadly appears to be the secret forefront of the debate.
For such a vital segment of frontline healthcare, I can’t help but feel like we’re still an afterthought, like so many other healthcare professions, as a result of Corona Virus.
My close friends who work in the Urgent Care Centres that have been set up have told me stories of manic days with no respite. They speak of the only real options being extraction of teeth unless absolutely necessary not to. Where does that leave patients? I worry for the undiagnosed oral cancers that have probably been missed since lockdown due to ceased check-ups and routine treatments. The decay that’s heading towards the nerves of probably thousands of teeth that will die from lack of treatment. The countless patients with gum disease that without routine maintenance and reassessments will lose more that they’re prepared for. I think of the likely over-prescribing of antibiotics that’s happening, because dental professionals have no real other choice than leaving a patient in pain. New more personal worries also have begun to manifest too. Will my friends be ok? Will I have a job to go back to if the practice can’t survive? What if I’ve deskilled? What if I get the virus when I go back?
A friend who’s a consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich made a very good point recently. He told me that the hospital throughout the pandemic has been at about 40% capacity and that they’ve not been hit badly regarding the virus. However he’s worried that because our area hasn’t had a decent chance to develop herd immunity, and with a generally large older population, he fears that as the lockdown gets lifted there’s a chance we could be hit harder than during the lockdown. It makes me realise that although things are improving, the threat is still very much present.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
“Boundless as the Sea”
This rainy day I remember her on
Cornish cliffs, grey granite plunging
south into the breaking Atlantic,
side-by-side, our adolescent legs
dangling over the edge of the world,
our potential suspended like a gull
on flexing wings adjusting
into the wind, balancing on the
fulcrum of the onrushing element.
We were so young, well before
the age of articulation,
hearts dancing to the beat
of hormonal commotion.
Wordless, we looked across
into still, replying eyes,
our hearts lost on the
ocean of the indefinable.
Intruding into the swirling
viral uncertainty from
nowhere a worry intruded:
had she been scythed down?
With only the address of memory
to consult and imagination
to map the way I see her
brown hair now grey,
her gentle face worn,
innocence fashioned by the
blows of life’s hammer.
Reaching across thousands
of days our hands all but touch
as the gull tucks in her wings
and tumbles from view
dissolving into the blue.
From the South Downs
Beautiful weather. Our large poppies are out creating huge cups of red in two flower beds. The first roses have bloomed. Lettuces, courgettes, broad beans and rocket are all surviving. And yet I feel intensely uneasy.
We managed to see our daughter at the weekend. An early morning drive to London. She sat on her front steps. We sat on chairs, with our own picnic blankets over them for safety, in her front area. We were well distanced and it was a huge relief to see her after three and a half months. We could take treats and flowers. She gave me my birthday gifts. The whole experience was precious, and we didn’t disadvantage anyone around us by taking up room in a park. We were back home by lunchtime. And without the recent let up of restriction, we wouldn’t have felt able to do this. By sheer will power, we used no public facilities and didn’t put ourselves or others at risk. Before the Covid-19 crisis, it was difficult to see our daughter as she had so many jobs out of hours in order to support taking her MA.
It’s harder to see our son, who lives a five hour drive away and is a key worker, so not isolated. My son doesn’t qualify for sickness pay if he’s ill in his job. His contract specifies that. He earns very little indeed, and they are very lucky to have such a kind, intelligent and talented graduate, whose student loan is piling up at 7% interest, a higher rate than any interest offered on savings or paid on mortgages. The interest my building society savings account was recently reduced from 1.45 to 0.25% but no one reduces the student loan. The council buys the services of the company he works for to run a special needs school. The company has shareholders. They get a dividend, while my son gets no sick pay. What if he gets coronavirus? The hit will be his own. He’s lost the one day a week where he could teach drums in a regular primary school - so that is now an unpaid weekly day. The responsibilities he takes for others are, in my view, huge. Clap for key workers, but how about paying them better, providing sick leave and career enhancement for younger workers?
Ten years of austerity, which my children have been on the end of - student loans, weekend working, reduced rights at work, the gig economy, cuts to the NHS... Perhaps it’s not surprising that our prime minister could stand in front of us and level with us that we would lose our loved ones early for the sake of herd immunity. (I listened to that speech with horror.) It’s great that they are moth-balling the economy, but nevertheless an earlier and more decisive approach (isn’t that the compassionate leadership which schools like Eton are supposed to teach?) that showed proper care for people would have mitigated the suffering to families and the effects on the economy. A long-term government culture of unkindness and lack of compassion has partly led to where we are now. While eyes are on Covid, a no-deal Brexit is mooted, which, if successful, I suspect will further reduce workers' rights and safety regulations. Let's hope the unflappable Keir Starmer can steer us away from this culture of harshness.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Arise, Captain Sir Thomas Moore!
It’s “World Bee Day”, apparently. When I first heard this my first thought was of a celebration of bidets, something to do with corona-cleansing of an exceptionally thorough sort perhaps. But no, we’re to take bees more to our collective bosom and try to do everything possible to encourage them into our lives, our gardens, our agriculture. No bad thing of course, though with Monsanto doing everything it can to eliminate wild-flower habitat and Councils the length of the country mowing flower-rich meadowy verges, it does sometimes seem hopeless. I host a few bees here. I used to do the whole bee-keeping thing, but since that ends with robbing them of their honey and assuaging the conscience by feeding them sugar to reprocess to honey for themselves, I rather gave up on it and now ‘keep’ them to the extent I’m pleased a couple of colonies generally inhabit two of the three remaining hives out there - but I don't disturb them.
There is no let up in the Press regarding the possible return to school of younger children. What appeared to be a pastoral exercise in introducing tiny ones for a month to the school that awaits them in September and reuniting older ones ahead of their move onto Secondary education is finding little support among parents or teachers. Some Local Authorities across the country have declared they won’t be participating, the Government has been forced to offer an amnesty to parents who rebel (no non-attendance fine), Scotland, Wales and Ireland have declared total rejection. I’m no apologist for the Government, but in all the excitement it’s been forgotten Boris actually said ‘as soon as possible after June 1st’ or something very like that. Not ‘on June 1st’, suggesting it was always negotiable. And schools aren’t closed, of course - many are open acting as a sort of creche for keyworkers’ kids. ‘Test, track and trace’ was to be a key part of the reassurance to teachers and parents, and of course that’s got nowhere yet. All in all a right buggers muddle.
At the same time there’s an undercurrent of cynicism that links the ‘start up’ of schools with the need to get parents back to work, to start the ‘great engines of the UK Economy’ - though as a proportion of parents will still need to stay off work because not all their kids can return, that seems a policy doomed. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had to relay the gloomy news that increasing job losses (9000 announced at Rolls Royce Aviation today) and lack of vacancies in any event have reshaped the recovery plans: instead of a relatively painless ‘bounce back’ as we emerge from lockdown, we now face a pronounced recession. As is the Modern Way, he announced that on a morning tv show, not in the House.
So, today was not only “Bidet” it was “Let off the Leash” Day - I shot off early to the coast and parked at my chosen spot, walked all of 30m and set up camp. I suppose I was there by 8 and by 9.30 I could see beyond the seawall that all parking was filled. So, as you can see, I was forced to share with an absolute herd of lockdown-crazed sun worshippers. I caught a flounder, consider the morning a triumph and just when I thought I’d reached peak-happiness, returned to find two dressed crabs and a huge slab of Battenburg, secured by Sheila from the Farm Shop.