Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Son visited Saturday afternoon with his lovely girlfriend, bearing a gift of super-succulent sausages from their local butcher. We eat chocolate cake on the terrace, in sunny but blustery cool weather which has bedogged us these past 24 hours or so. This visit is possibly illegal, but if challenged we shall invoke the tried principle that it was, in fact, essential - sausages being essential to my Mental Health and general wellbeing. We touched elbows too. Dom said it would be OK.
At Saturday’s Briefing, poor old Grant Shapps (Minister of Transport) had some good news including the dualling of the A66 Scotch Corner to Penrith. He’s a bit plaintive when all Hacks want to talk about is Cummings... ”what about the A66?” he murmurs during yet another DC question. There's also a scheme to issue £2m in £50 vouchers due to start in June to get your bike fixed up and use it to get to work - which on the face of it seems a good, positive idea. Call me an old cynic, but my experience is that whenever you interfere with the marketplace with any form of subsidy, you generally get poor value. I predict the price of bike repairs will soar.
Well, Cummings divided the political ‘world’ along the Party lines, every Cabinet Minister supporting him and a sprinkling of reps from Other Parties baying for blood.
Oddly, frustratingly, no-one apart from a Barrister wheeled out by a Hack referred back to the Hancockian Law viz “this is not a request but an instruction” which is Law, real Law - which prima fasciae has been broken. But the moment has passed, the world moves on, no-one much cares what Dom and Mary did back in March and probably quite right too.
At least, it seemed like that Saturday evening... overnight the Mirror and Observer run a follow-up story - held back til after the Briefing for impact - that he was up in Cumbria again a fortnight later, and invite an explanation. This is immediately rebutted as untrue, by No 10, not Cummings himself. Other papers are positively foam-flecked with impotent rage (it now seems these trips coincided with Mary and Mum’s birthdays) and come the Sunday morning tv and radio programmes, Guest Speakers ensure the heat is maintained. One Tory Backbencher, Steve Baker, breaks ranks and calls for resignation. With his own brand of huffalump bewilderment and speaking from Borisworld, the PM is quoted as saying “It’s not like he was visiting a lover...”.
Then - and you couldn’t make this up - glutton for punishment Grant Shapps appears on the Andrew Marr Show saying he has no new information re Cummings and asking in vain for airtime re his Transport Policy. Marr gives him a bollocking for not preparing for the programme and won’t let him off the hook for 15 minutes but he (Shapps) is resolute in his defence of Cummings’ interpretation of reasonable behaviour, and with a final “No” in response to Marr asking if Cummings should resign, they run out of time with no transport dialogue. Exit peeved Minister.
For balance, Labour have their own problem: Stephen Kinnock and his wife Helle drove from Wales to sing Happy Birthday to his Dad in London, and there are calls (in vain) for Keir Starmer to condemn. This time there is no doubt btw - Helle takes a pic of the event and, extraordinarily, Stephen puts it out on social media. Again, the maverick in me has some grudging sympathy with this filial devotion. If they were quarantined in the car, paid for fuel at the pump, sat in the front garden and returned with no direct contact it’s difficult to see real harm done, other than to reputation. Anyway, Dom said it was OK.
At day 65, a summary of where we seem to be: embroiled in a massive distraction of the Government’s making, estimated ‘excess’ deaths are approaching 60,000, still relatively little testing, public tiring of lockdown and the closure of public toilets, car parks etc if they do venture out, confusion re school return, flatlining Economy, no display of dynamic leadership. And we’re in the curious situation where 200 deaths a day seems like good news. It isn’t, I do know that.
I’ll venture the ‘No country for Old Men’ quote, I may have used it before but it bears repeating - and besides, repetition is what Old Men do, so I’m in character.
Deputy, gazing upon a scene of carnage:
“Sure is a mess ain’t it Sheriff...”
“Well, if it ain’t, it’ll sure do til the real mess gets here.”
Domestically, we’ve a whole heaping helping of good news plus a lightbulb moment:
1) we get a mail from the owners of a modest private pool we rent for an hour a week, which closed at the start of lockdown. We go for what amounts to Physio for our arthritic knees. It’s been much missed by the knees but now, if enough regular punters wish to return and make it viable, the owners have got a workaround that should satisfy ‘regulations’ and they’ll fire up the boiler again. We’ve signalled our eagerness.
2) Coincidentally, we’d just come to the conclusion that gentle cycling, electrically-assisted cycling, would also be good Physio, and we may be in the market for an e-bike. Or maybe a brace...
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
Bro, as you know I have never
given a damn about my appearance,
which now matters not even a jot. I am
liberated, in my own fashion vanguard.
There is no man from Porlock,
or woman for that matter
to knock on my front door where
spiders weave their webs
and rain-dashed leaves
lie exhausted on the porch.
My beard is regrowing, I have
aspirations to reach Edward Lear
levels of profusion, providing a nesting
place for birds and small mammals.
My hair is growing longer, happily
wilding in all directions.
As you know I have an uneasy
relationship with clothes,
always a train-wreck of
fashion blindness and confusion,
the contents of my closet remain
Like a child I play in the sand box
of isolation, a seashore of delight
where I dwell at my workspace
wallowing in the expanded internal
real estate, peaceful in headphones.
So who cares how I look? The
dog loves me no matter what,
my family are quite used to me
and as for my sartorial vagaries,
the post lady’s attire is just as janky.
Anyone else I meet, out walking
the dog, is more of a mirror really,
mad hat, glazed expression,
rather pasty, but smiling.
I too am unconscionably happy.
This poem in praise of sartorial anarchy
leaves me unkempt in the bosom
of my loved ones, as I am certain
it reaches you in yours.
Much love, as always, my dear,
more fashionably fastidious bro.
From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
I have to confess that it didn't occur to me until yesterday that this was Memorial Day Weekend, a holiday that changes depending upon when the final Monday of May arrives. It seems as if May just began and here we are, on the brink of June. My garden feels a bit empty without all the annual flowers as I haven’t figured out how to get them ~ My son is very anxious for me perhaps even more so now that restrictions are beginning to be loosened. There are now long lines with space between everyone wearing their masks in grocery stores, the farm stores and nurseries. My neighbors spent two hours at the local grocery store waiting on lines that went from back to front ~ so many many people were out and shopping for the holiday! How do I explain to my son or to my kind neighbors who have also offered to shop for me, the very particular kind of pelargoniums I like, or the many other favorites I enjoy spending hours selecting at my favorite farm store ~ the herbs and heirloom tomatoes I want.
It seems easier to just take a deep breath and either leave it to someone else to choose, or to go without this year. And fondly remember years past and look forward to next year. Meanwhile, the lilacs are blooming, the creeping phlox, and beautiful bluebells, and lovely tall alliums are just about to pop and it will again be a special but different Memorial Day Weekend.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
Well, you couldn't make it up could you? I refer of course to the biggest news item of the weekend, about Dominic Cummings going to Durham to go into lockdown.
Apparently he thought it was perfectly acceptable to take his wife, who already had Covid symptoms, and his 4 year old child, on a 260 mile trip to his parents' property so that they would have family support if they were too ill to care for the child. The Prime Minister had just announced on Friday that he had tested positive for the virus. Dominic Cummings was seen running away from Number 10 - at the time we said he was probably frightened of catching it! He may have already had it, as it transpired he experienced symptoms over that weekend. If his wife already had symptoms, what was he doing in Downing Street? Surely he should have been self-isolating for 14 days? Then they drove all that way (did they stop for petrol or a toilet break, we wonder) so that his sister could drop shopping outside their door, even though it turns out his wife's sister lives just round the corner from their London home. Well. Maybe they've fallen out with her...
What has been most upsetting about this affair is the way the cabinet and even the scientific advisers have twisted the formerly quite clear advice to "stay home, protect the NHS and save lives". They have now retrospectively added "unless it is necessary to travel to another location to get childcare". If only that had been made clear to the general population from the start, everyone could have gone to their relatives' houses to lock down together. I might even have had my family here. Instead of that, many thousands of people have made great sacrifices to obey the letter as well as the spirit of the rules, mistakenly believing they applied to everyone.
The government have tried to draw on the public's gullibility and sympathy for a fellow parent doing the best for his child and that might enable him to keep his job. However, the nail in the coffin is the additional alleged sighting of the family in Barnard Castle by a sharp-eyed former teacher who took the registration number of their car. We are watching with great interest to see whether the car number will confirm the allegation and whether the Prime Minister will come to the Downing Street briefing this afternoon to publicly sack his special advisor. Or will the government keep up their pathetic defence of his actions, even if it means bending the truth a little more? Time will tell. We would like answers sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, we have remembered that the government graph of infection rates around the country showed a late peak in the North-East, just as the rate came down in London. Surely Dominic Cummings can't have caused this all by himself but it's tempting to dwell on the possibility.
The Runaway Diaries
On Thursday when it was hot and balmy a family in Deptford, down the road from us, decided to have a BBQ on their balcony; the only outside space they have access to and they made the most of it. Unfortunately the BBQ got out of control and the top floor of their apartment block went up in a blaze. 12 fire trucks were called and it took all night to get the fire under control. Incredibly all residents were evacuated safely.
I know their street well having staged plays in the park near by and having commissioned stories about the local area for a walking tour. When I was pregnant with you we would travel together to that street to meet with local writers and artists and discuss the details or our play and the logistics of navigating the local politics. It was a spine-chilling moment to read the news. The memories of Grenfell flood in and to know people directly affected and during a pandemic when their jobs are on the line and now their homes are gone too.
Tweets, messages and emails circulate asking for donations – clothes, food, bedding, nappies. That last one, a clear signal that children, babies are also caught up in this. We take a car load of things we hope will be useful.
Driving through these familiar streets my heart feels heavy with the shops shuttered and restaurants and bars boarded up. The playgrounds have police tape wrapped around their gates.
As we approach the fire damaged building, the community is out in force. Friends and neighbours in masks, gloves, high vis, shorts and tshirts. There’s ash on the streets and a burnt tang in the air. Eyes smile and heads nod thanks, arms wave.
I briefly touch an elbow to one belonging to a previous community chorus member. She takes a moment from organising food parcels to ask after you, having previously been acting in a play I was directing whilst very pregnant. She tells me how some people have been rehomed in terribly run down houses, but that she heard one girl was lucky to have been sent to a fancy apartment with an huge tv near London Bridge. Life is all about how lucky you are she says.
The volume of donations is impressive. The steady stream of people arriving to give and the number of people offering their time to help demonstrates a true Deptford spirit. For me life is all about how kind your are. But what next for those without homes, are they allowed to go and stay with family in Durham?
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
I haven't bought the paper as haven't got time to read it and I'm getting the gist of it all from the radio.
Paddy OConnel on Broadcasting House on a Sunday morning is my favourite. He is so nice but so sharp and puts people in the their place if they step out of line. A lot of rubbish being spewed out about DC and what he did and didn't do and also a major bit of rewriting about him driving his sick wife. He had CV as well and drove while ill. He has been caught out again for going to Durham for a 2nd time over Easter. It is embarrassing listening to them all trying to squirm their way out of what is an untenable situation. Boris should just come out and say. Yes he broke the rules but he's my bestie and I can't live without him so tough!
Back in the garden, pulling out weeds, trying to find every available tiny little gap to squeeze another seedling in.
Still trying to work out whether one bed reserved for the dahlias should in fact have sunflowers and tithonias and then put the dahlias in the big plastic pots. Need to go and beg some more pots from Gary down the road. These are major decisions!!! Still haven't opened the huge boxes of the latest delivery of pots. There has been so much lugging of soil and sacks of compost.
I meant to say yesterday I loved the dream by Marli Rose Macrae. “I wandered up a candy floss pink path lined with saffron yellow primroses. It was opened by a shy fairy wearing an acqua marine blue dress made of the finest silk, spun by the most noble of spiders.” I was there Marli Rose. So lovely.
The cat has come on the table and is dangerously close to the delete button.
I made some delicious paleo "fudge" the other day and am just finishing it. Delicious and very easy. Melt cashew butter, maple syrup, a little coconut oil, a dash of vanilla essence and you can throw in a bit of chocolate and pecans and a sprinkling of salt at the end when its in a tin. Keep in the freezer. There is also a chocolate brownie cake, in reality it is more like chocolate bread made with raw cacao and again a bit of chocolate and nuts. My neighbours came and helped me sort out the new hose connectors. I have now got the leaky hose dripping away and have to get the bradawl out for the new home made leaky hose for the 1st storey terrace on the bank. There is one on the 2nd storey working a treat.
I await Boris who is going to speak to us later I think.
Love Annabel xxx
John Mole, St.Albans
Never to confuse
movement with action
was Hemingway’s advice
to Marlene Dietrich.
I have remembered this
so plan the day
A little now
must go the distance
about its business,
not in miles
but in application,
never far from home
and holding fast.
From the Editor
MIND THE GAP.
It has been a strangely exhausting week. After nine weeks of isolation, only seeing the family next door at a distance or on what’s app, talking to others on the phone or FaceTime, we suddenly found ourselves interacting with real people several times. A sort of socialising. Sitting ten feet apart in the garden, eating cake, drinking tea or coffee, talking, exchanging news, and plants, laughing. The return of gardener Jack, weeding very weedy areas, sharing lunch at a distance outside, catching up on news and discussing replacing broken fence panels. All absolutely lovely. Cheering. Revitalising.
And exhausting !
We had got so used to a quiet life, talking to each other or the cats, or not talking at all. A certain rhythm had been laid down. Perfectly sustainable. And now that has been broken. We have to adjust. If we feel this in a small way, how must it be for others who start moving further and more often out of lockdown and interacting much more?
I think for those who have kept one foot in the ‘real world’, still using shops, going for walks, exercising outside the home, it might seem a more natural step. And they will be used to the choreography of social distancing. We really had to think hard about where to place benches, tables, chairs, what to do with plates and cups. How would we manage walking down a street?
I can see that it’s not just people not bothering to retain the two metre gap that creates a problem, there will be those, like us, who have to learn how to do just that. People like us who have been at home alone or with one or more others for nine weeks, living quite naturally with them, not needing to keep apart or go out. We are nine weeks out of practice. Perhaps we’d better practise with each other, and the cats?
There is talk of social distancing having to be maintained for months. We are still hoping that we might be able to hold our usual Poetry Picnic in the garden at the end of August. August Bank Holiday Sunday. (Keep that day free everyone). It was supposed to be a special celebration as we’ll have been here at Old Hall for 30 years. 31 doesn’t have the same ring... but will it be possible if we have to dance round each other at 6 feet? Or cram into the marquee for the readings or if it rains? Or have visitors staying in the house? Oh dear...
At the moment we’ve no intention of actually going very far. Visitors have been coming to us. The furthest out we’ve been is the postbox and back twice. Exercise for the car, which otherwise gets started occasionally, driven round the field once, then returned to the back drive. Still almost a full tank of petrol. The display board in the car tells us there is over 400 miles of petrol there. Tempting. Enough for a real jaunt... Durham perhaps?