David Horovitch, Twickenham
On Tuesday I set off to walk to the other side of Richmond Park, ending up at White Lodge, the headquarters of The Royal Ballet School. I'd been feeling a bit down in the dumps and took off on a grumpy impulse and equipped only with a bottle of water and a biography of cricket writer Neville Cardus. About 12 miles there and back it was under a hot sun and some of it climbing. Apart from stopping for a gulp and a few pages of Lancashire cricket in the 1920s, at the finest viewpoint in London, high over the bending river and beyond to Hampshire, I trudged on determinedly and perhaps a little masochistically until I reached my goal. Surprising how few people were about on this radiant afternoon; a large percentage of them seemed to be Italian. Hearing Italian spoken in Richmond Park is probably the nearest I'll get to Italy for a while. I used to be a great wanderer, especially in my holidays from drama school in the 60s; I took a train from London to Athens with a friend in 1963, island hopping from Athens to Mykonos and Mykonos to Rhodes, thence to Marmaris in southern Turkey (now, I believe, a large resort) where I got very drunk on my eighteenth birthday, and then we hitch-hiked from southern Turkey and back to Athens - with a detour to Corinth - for our train back to London. The following year I went with another friend to Valencia and then hitched down to The Costa del Sol where I loafed around for a couple of weeks until my money ran out when I hitched back on my own, meeting a young guy from Paris and staying in his flat for a few days. The next year I hitched to Sicily on my own and was taken in by a family in a little resort called Alcamo Marina who wanted somebody to speak English to their kids. It all seems unbelievable now but sometimes I feel that wanderlust come upon me all over again and I wonder what the old geezer's equivalent of this freewheeling holiday would be. When I was about 50 I did do the Offa's Dyke Walk, 170 odd miles on the England/Wales border on my own and it gave me that same sense of freedom and exhilarating uncertainty that I'd had 30 years before.
Zoom quiz night in the evening of the day of my great walk. Only one question I got that I was pleased with - Who is this actor? Born in Vladivostok in 1920, emigrated to The US in 1940, awarded a Tony in 1951 for his role in a Broadway production; and an Oscar for the same role on film in 1956. Died in 1985. Any ideas?
Yesterday, my friend and neighbour collected a consignment of ceramic plates that she, I and another friend (Margaret) had made (well, decorated in fact, the plate 'blanks' were supplied by our Tutor, Rachael Cocker) during a workshop in March before the plague struck.
We had a truly fabulous creative day together in Rachael Cocker's small studio in Great Yarmouth and we left all our pieces there to be fired by Rachael, for collection at a later date. Well, it has taken all this time, with coronavirus travel and socialising restrictions, to finally get hold of our fired work, and I for one am totally thrilled to see our finished pieces.
I truly believe that creative activity is fundamentally important to our well-being. The arts in general have been mentioned on numerous occasions in this journal and it appears that many of us have turned to creative activities during this difficult time - creativity has a beneficial and calming effect.
Grayson Perry's Art Club - Channel 4 on Monday - has been an inspiration to many and I have been struck by how broad his selection of pieces, for an 'after the virus' exhibition, has been. It seems to me that work has been chosen as much for the inspiration and comfort that the work has given the creators as for the artistic excellence of their work. Grayson Perry is obviously an extremely talented artist (a real favourite of mine) and the choices he's making for his exhibition seem to be delighting the creators, people with ordinary lives in the main, who have simply been compelled to express themselves creatively during this time. It just goes to show the power and importance of art to the masses.
I sincerely hope that whatever government we have in place in the UK after we're 'back to normal' takes into account this very natural upsurgence of arts & crafts in the general population and start funding the Arts properly - as a priority! I think the Arts could be a major contributor to the recovery of the nation and not just a comfort while we're going through this awful time.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
The Great Escape
The cats had been watching great lockdown films,
I could tell. In retrospect evidence
For a breakout was in plain sight. Listings:
The Birdman of Alcatraz, [a claw mark
Margin ticked], likewise Chicken Run had mitts
All over it; Pawshank Redemption too
And Steve McQueen looked licked, ripped,
Astride the Triumph Trophy. They purred in
Anticipation, dawn ambush preferred.
With three pressed behind the door the decoy
Idly waved a paw across long whiskers
Centre stage. Its tail twitched enticingly.
Just one small step for man, one giant leap
For feline over outstretched leg, and gone!
Switzerland was in sight! Upland pastures,
Such openness, space, light, air, coalesced
Into such a dazzling vision he froze.
The enormity, scale, overwhelming
Rush of senses rose to almost drown him.
A gobsmacked cat transfixed by what goes next.
Reunited with his conspirators
He chose a nice small corner, curled up tight
To ponder what life beyond may be like.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
I have felt flat all week. I don’t know if my mood has been transmitted to my husband but he admitted at lunch to feeling low. All those people dying and truly idiotic politicians saying ridiculous things. Poor America and Brazil. I agree with Margaret that a few more Jacinda Arderns would be great, but in spite of the need maybe wait until the crisis recedes. Australia has a sorry record of handing women (talented, intelligent, hardworking women) poisoned chalices. A Prime Minister or a State Premier torn down and attacked so personally and with such venom it must surely be a disincentive for any young woman to choose it as a career.
I really have had the perfect training for social isolation. My first career was cataloging books and artefacts in one of our large public libraries. Walking in the miles of stacks with that glorious book smell was heaven. Bringing items back to my desk to describe them and to carefully consider how others would think of searching for them filled me with pleasure. The second was farming, where I would spend the greater part of my time working alone or with my husband. I found working with animals relaxing for the most part. My cattle were like a prescription-less medicine. So quiet and so gentle. Sale days were difficult. The more you know them, the less desire you have to eat them or see them eaten. Retiring here, with my husband travelling away from home to work through the week, forced me to become more social. For the first time I wasn’t someone’s daughter or sister or wife. I made friends simply for who I was. Now I feel myself turning in again. Friends called me into their garden when I was walking today. I really struggled to make conversation. I felt clunky and awkward.
I spent a productive afternoon repairing a Sanderson linen quilt that was on my bed when I was a child. I thought about the books I read then. Some I can remember by the smell and the texture of the paper.
My husband is travelling away tomorrow for work; the first time in 8 weeks. He is able to make a flying visit to see my brother and sister in law. I made lime curd to send them this afternoon. It has joined a large slab of quince cheese I made a few months ago and a bottle of sour dough starter, some excess vegetable seedlings and some Italian garlic bulbs.
Belated happy birthday wishes to you Margaret. I so enjoyed Peter’s charming picture and poem and I also love that you have friends who braved the blue bottles to bring you that splendid cake.
Nicky, Vermont, US
I enjoyed Linzy’s word analysis and her irritation at “rampedup” as an invented word, especially when “ramped” connotes “swindled.” Though “swindled” is a mild word for what some politicians are proposing with our very lives.
My great success yesterday was the new lawn mower. I bought it last November when the electric company offered a rebate. B. really likes to mow B. has a wonky shoulder so can’t pull the cord on our ancient petrol one so I have to re-start it every time it conks out, which is often. Also, our rickety gas mower lives in the neighbor’s garage so I have to go and get it, lift the five gallon heavy container of petrol (which always veers slightly out of control) and fill it, pray it will start, then push the mower uphill the fairly considerable distance to our house. Or rather, our lawn. Needless to say I never want to do that, so our grass gets longer, and then the kind neighbor eventually comes and does some swipes with her riding mower.
So last November, lured by the rebate, I bought an electric mower. I took out the battery to store inside because it is too cold in the winter outside for batteries, and put the folded up mower in the our shed.
Intimidated by the mower, I have been putting off sorting it out for a couple of weeks but now the grass is growing and yesterday I had some courage. I found the battery filed on a bookcase in the basement, and charged it in the charging thingy. It looked like the child of a dalek, and made a continuous loud whooshing sound noise but charged efficiently. Then I figured out (I do hate to read books of instructions) how to unfold the lawn mower and where to slot in the battery. And then turn it on. What a wondrous thing. I released the metal lever and it turned off. Then I pressed a switch and held the lever and it turned on again. Then I remembered how my heart would sink every time the gas mower conked out. Because this time all I had to do was press a switch and hold a lever. Liberating.
Also, in the process of pushing the new mower up an incline in the first experimental swipe to see if it would actually cut grass I accidentally moved a green plastic lever near the handle and it continued up the hill under its very own power. A self-propelling lawn mower. That was exciting too.
Maybe everyone in the world now has an electric mower and is used to using it, but my success with ours and the mower itself afforded me great pleasure yesterday. Plus it is a lovely bright green. Viridian. (I'm getting to know my greens.)
Today I might sit down and read the book of instructions and see what else it does.
John Mole, St.Albans
Putting one foot
in front of the other
is of course
the best way forward,
steadiness of pace.
To step back
bowing as you go
is an obsequious
gesture of resentment
so better think hard
before you move.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
Just enjoying a lunch of a steak slice from our excellent local bakery, accompanied by the cold remains of a tin of baked beans. As a sop to ‘healthy’ I’ve also eaten some tomatoes and will follow with a conference pear. All very yum!
Today has been an eclectic mix of activities so far. It began with a phone call from best beloved - always a joy. That has been followed by tidying of my study and watching a British Museum video about Pompeii and Herculaneum. Then it was out into the garden to work on the leaky fuel tank from my 1930 American Austin car. This sort of keeping occupied I find really good for my mood, which like that of so many others it seems, takes a dive sometimes. The garden looks beautiful today, despite the scant attention I give it.
There is so much in the media about reducing lockdown. I really hope that somebody knows what they are doing. My guess is that they don’t - in fact such a thing is probably impossible. This situation is being treated as controllable by our politicians. I suspect that the non-scientific mind thinks that the situation is complicated and thus manageable. The scientist on the other hand sees the situation as complex and subject to many random possibilities. There is no likelihood that scientific advisors can give the government the certainty they crave. It’s an impasse that is certainly going to be difficult to resolve. Science is about probabilities. Politics is about convincing the electorate of certainty. So control is an illusion and people will be frustrated by this in the long run I’m sure. Had to get my ha’penneth in!
Tried cycling yesterday. I can balance ok, but found it really exhausting. It works my ancient body harder than my cross-trainer it seems. That’s an activity I need to work on slowly.