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Painting during lockdown

Fiona Green, Totnes, Devon

Cry My Beloved


This painting was in response to my grief at my childhood going up in flames.



Hello From the Hudson Valley 

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

For the past number of weeks I have so enjoyed getting to know (at a distance) the herd of cattle and the flock of sheep which were brought over to fields on my early morning hiking route from the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. The farm is located on another part of the Rockefeller estate which is many many acres away. I've been so grateful for the atmosphere that these lovely gentle beings have created. My jangled nerves have benefited from quietly standing and listening to the field neighbors as they breath and eat and walk through tall grass. They have helped me to live in the moment during all these weeks of trying not to worry about the future.


The herd and flock were in a different field at dawn today. I spent time with them and photographed them and stared at them for a long while before moving on. Later this morning I decided to go back for a little while. As I got to the field, I saw a woman quietly encouraging them all to move to a lower portion of the field they were in. I couldn’t figure out why she was doing that. I walked on. Then I walked back. By this time all the cows and all the sheep and the sheep dog were clustered together, all facing forward. It looked so strange. And then I saw the woman open the fence as a man in a cart on the trail in front of them moved forward. And then I realized that the herd and the flock were being moved back to the farm. As I stood and watched, the animals were gently encouraged to move forward and then… they were on their way… away from the field. All the cows were on the left and all the sheep were on the right... two long flowing lines. They looked like a river as they flowed under the arched stoned bridge. I could hear the woman encouraging them as they flowed away into the shadows towards the other side of the bridge. And then they were gone. It made me so sad. I will miss them.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Glorious morning. 

More painting to do today - the walls of the spare room. 

Then gardening possibly. The ground is like rock so it isn’t easy. 


Saw a neighbour on yesterday’s evening walk. She called out from a distance. Quite uncomfortable chatting. (I’ll need to get my hearing tested soon and then must get my neck looked at - have been craning and straining to hear people calling from so far away!). 


Neighbour says she realises that she doesn't miss shopping. Likes the online experience. Happy not to bother with shops at all. Said she doesn’t care if she never goes into a town again.


I feel very different. I miss the relaxed experience of rummaging through things at the auction house or in junk shops. I miss going out for lunch or for coffee. I really miss sitting in the basement cafe of Jarrolds in Norwich - having coffee or tea and - of course - a slice of cake! I miss pubs and bars - not that I go regularly - really not more than once every few months - but I seem to want to go now. Oh to smell that beer and salt and vinegar crisp aroma when the door opens! 


Had a blood test the other day. Such a slick operation. Arrived at reception desk. Receptionist was expecting me and showed me to the empty waiting room. Showed me to a seat and explained the route for exiting the building. So pleasant. Spoke from a distance but no shouting and simply pointed out the written instructions. After a couple of minutes, the phlebotomist called me in and having confirmed my identity and the required blood test, took the blood. Again so friendly and helpful. Done and dusted. Chatted and we said our thank you and goodbye. 


Such a contrast to the experience of going to the bank. Had to queue for over twenty minutes. Then a young chap in what looked like riot gear (rather than protective clothing) appeared at the door. “You’re next”, he snarled. I waited. “In” he ordered and pointed at the bank teller. I wanted the statement machine. “No print outs” he bawled. Was that an order or a caution? I didn’t ask. Checked and then left. Perhaps my neighbour is right. Some things may be better online.


Am not bothering with the news. Seems that government has no respect for their own guidance. Not worth listening. Do I believe the figures they spew out each day? Not sure that I do. Test and Trace? Weren’t they two sisters on the Birds of a Feather show?


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Director’s Cut

This will be the opening money shot 

36 frames per second, no need 

For tumbleweed, no Tommy Lee Jones drawl

No undulating fence lines vanishing 

To the rising sun; or if Australian 

A single Southern Cross slowly creaking

In the dust-ridden distance of the porch

Where a single Williams boot lies gathering

Memories; Ondaatje’s patient, haunting

Refrain over undulating desert 

Skin, deft water colouring narrative;

No, here torn, faded ForSale/Auction/Rent

Banner hangs limp, plate glass may reflect

Cracked concrete driveway, inside unused a

Ceiling fan observes flies buzz, spattered tiles,

While nothing stirs in the humid close outside. 

Opposite the same and framed by two more

A slow piano score will build. Lizard 

Tail vanishes beneath the brand new door

Sticker welcoming “Selamat datang”

As your perfect life in this paradise

Fades from shot; distant solitary steps. 



Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York

The day began with feeding the eager squirrels, crows and magpies, each of them twittering and snuffing eagerly as I scattered a few handfuls of monkey nuts for them. Still dressed in my pyjamas and dressing gown, I watched for a few moments as the cool morning air, still fresh with the scent of dewy grass and of the white lilac. Hanging, upside down, faintly vampiric in appearance, on the pale blooms, a peacock butterfly drank in the nectar deeply before fluttering away drunkenly. Getting dressed, I got out my bicycle and, pedalling away, I cycled out onto the roads, sparrows and pigeons squawking indignantly as the sound of my tyres on the tarmac disturbed their early morning meal of worms and, as I drew closer to the village, seed placed by early risers in the hopes of attracted the collared doves which frequented the gardens and driveways of the residents who watched and smiled as I cycled past, one or two of them offering me a quiet hello.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

A medical discovery and the old new world: no silver lining today.


I read in the daily newspapers, that there is a new eye-test in UK: if you can't see very well, you go for a drive of about 20 miles and back, if you don't have an accident, you probably can see well enough. 

If on the way back, you feel sick, you just stop 15 minutes by the side of the road, and when you feel better is OK to drive 260 miles on motorway. No need of medical advice, you have saved the NHS, 2 consultations less and no risk to get Covid in the hospital because you suspect you have it already. And if you have not killed anybody on your drive, you have saved more people and more money for the NHS. Contaminating your boss? he is already sick. 

No need to submit for publication in The Lancet, Richard Horton, the editor, will have probably rejected it if not enough patients have participated in that trial just a man, his wife and his child. Now, Horton is writing in the Guardian. Maybe he wants the job of Chief medical advisor, to discuss directly with the author of this trial who first gave the result orally in front of the press in a famous garden because medical congresses had been suspended. 


After 2 weeks back to work, and a day of consultations, yesterday night, back home, I felt the old exhaustion. I have forgotten that sensation of physical and emotional fatigue, that has to be kept buried deep inside if one wants to enjoy the nonprofessional part of life. I guess careers in the Covid departments must feel that much more strongly after those terrible two months of misery. In France, the Gov is talking to give extra 1500 € to some Covid units workers, not all, it will be too expensive. Président Macron is also thinking to give some special medals that nobody asked or wants. 

What adding to the difficulty of my work is that some people now have internet consultations, that the government likes because it looks modern and it is popular, no need to go and see that old doctor of mine. The patient come with a prescription which doesn't correspond to their needs and without a proper diagnosis. It is something new, we lose a lot of time on that, providing extra work and time consuming = the other patients waiting, getting bad tempered. I feel a revolting impression that somebody has not done his job properly - in real life one has to see, touch, talk to and feel the patient and his complaint. No more clapping for the carers.

By that time, in the care every body is back to work but all government offices are still closed to the public, for example the tax office and pension office that I need. The evidence is that one does have a very very low risk of getting contaminated by objects. And none if you wash hands regularly. One is never less than 1 meter from an official desk person, respecting the physical distancing and with mask. My accountant and banks are also closed to the public which include me. I shall think of going 100% on line for that.

I feel very sombre: even my usual optimism is getting low, today I share the opinion of Michel Houellebeck that "the new world will be the same but a little bit worse". Being an independant worker, I lost two month of income and next income is coming back low, like all the independant workers in France. Even if I am almost cool about it because it's how things are, I feel really jealous of my pensioners friends of the same age who doesn't work and the civil servants who are at home with their full salaries or pensions. I read that in UK, 2.5 million people lose up to 60% of their income. The world is going to divide sharply between the ones which will have not suffered financially and the others, and for the working ones between the ones who can work for home and the ones which are needed "hands on" and working on the spot. No good. No silver lining today



From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

The Dominic Cummings’ story isn’t funny, if you’ve stayed away from family conscientiously during lockdown especially in tragic circumstances, and yet I couldn’t help admiring the wits who put fake reviews of Barnards Castle on Trip Advisor signed by D. Cummings or the designer who put the letters from ‘Durham to Barnards Castle’ arranged as an eyesight test on a t-shirt, examples of British creativity of which our Churchillian leader should approve, given the sensitive thoughtful humour of his Spectator articles, which exhibited such understanding towards the integrity of single mothers and those of religious faiths. Naturally, as a father who didn’t even want to recognise one of his children, he feels compassion for Dominic’s child-care problems. Let’s hope Mary Wakefield finds these responses as ‘almost comical’ as she did lockdown London, with its lack of PPE, multiple deaths and people forced out of jobs by the situation. But having said that, I hate the feeling of self-righteous ranting that this story induces in me. What a waste of energy and morally wrong. I was brought up with the following sayings, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ and something about not critiquing the mote in another’s eye when there is a plank in your own. As a child, I visualised huge planks sticking out of eyes, and heard ‘mote’ as ‘moat’, another surreal image of eyes with moats in them or moats with eyes in them, and perhaps a swan floating by over the eye, with a castle in the background. Those castles get everywhere. And one’s own planks increase in size.


When we first had our two children, child-care and money were a constant worry. There were no child-care vouchers then. We operated by both working part-time with a timetable of hours on the kitchen wall. We called on friends, asked my mother to stay sometimes, swapped child-care and paid for some child-care at home. I was always desperately tired. Mondays when I first had my second child involved looking after a neighbour’s child in the morning, while pushing the pram and walking my toddler a mile to a playgroup which lasted one and three quarter hours so by the time I got home with the neighbour’s toddler and the baby, it was time to change nappies, give a snack, and then set out again for the playgroup. After dawdling home at toddler pace, I gave them all lunch. I swapped the childcare with the neighbour and headed off to teach for the afternoon. Home for tea. My husband returned from Bath with the car and then I drove to Bath (people who’ve done the Bath to Bristol run in rush-hours will know the problem) to teach for the evening. I’d get home at about ten pm and then I was teaching Tuesday morning. In between these kinds of arrangements, I prepared the classes. We just about scraped by. The final straw was me crying on the pavement opposite my neighbour’s house saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore’. She had no idea that I was teaching so many hours in that day - she was nice about it, but it was hard for her too. I also had good friends, two of whom kindly shared the coverage of an hour we couldn’t cover when they could only cover half-an-hour each because of their jobs. Once, a friend nobly gave up a rare morning she’d put aside for her research by organising her child-care to come along and cover my child-care because our child-minder didn’t show. Child-care is difficult enough without coronavirus creating a situation where you can’t ask anyone for help, but it seems that the unprivileged mothers whom the PM despised in his Spectator article may have more of a handle on it than those for whom castles are essential.


I’ve been supervising a PhD thesis by a talented poet on poetry and motherhood. She has taught me that it’s a political act to be open about child-care issues, whereas in those days I would never mention child-care issues at work, and even hid my second pregnancy as long as possible, as I couldn’t afford to miss out on part-time teaching. Even when I gained a full-time properly paid post (few arts lecturers are actually paid salaries or full salaries - another hidden issue), I didn’t refuse last minute out-of-hours meetings. Parenthood was not regarded as a reason for refusing unreasonable requests, but I could only comply because my thoughtful husband shared the load, taking time away from his work. The PM’s special adviser answering questions about childcare in the Rose Garden of Downing Street should be a positive result of this debacle, making visible the tensions for working families.

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