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From St Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

After another week of remote teaching and remote meetings, 'zoomed out' has taken on a new meaning. It seems particularly harsh on art galleries, museums, musical venues and theatre companies who are doing fantastically enterprising things online that - inevitably - many people are looking at a screen all day and would do almost anything to avoid them evenings and weekends. 


One odd thing I've noticed is that Zoom suffers from unconscious gender bias: in a meeting with a (male) colleague and (male) graduate student the other week I realised that I had to make a conspicuous effort to get the box that lights up round a speaker to light up round me, whereas they had only to clear their throat. Neither of them has a loud voice and both are entirely courteous. I've been looking out for comparable effects in other meetings since, and it really does seem to be to do with the frequency that the system is set to respond to. If voices have frequencies, that is.


The slight easing of lockdown measures yesterday paradoxically brought home all over again just how restrictive they really are: whatever the circumstances, the idea that the PM is telling people who they are allowed to meet in their own gardens and who is allowed to use their loos would be outrageous if it weren't so absurd. And England allowing gatherings of six while Scotland allows gatherings of eight shows how totally arbitrary the 'rules' are: presumably this means that in Berwick on Tweed there are streets where people in one half of a semi can have more friends round than the people in the other half. Or perhaps they could have a gathering of fourteen, so long as six were on one side of the border and eight on the other?


I've been trying to persuade myself that lockdown was the right decision by comparing Covid charts for countries that locked down with charts for those that didn't, or didn't fully (Sweden and Holland) - but there seems to be no pattern to it: last week it looked as if numbers of deaths in Sweden weren't coming down the way they are in other countries (including Holland), but this week it looks as if they are. And Belgium (full lockdown) has the worst death rate of all, and we're not far behind. Are the charts wrong? Is the reporting dubious, or simply different from one country to the next? Clearly the one thing that does work is closing borders, so long as they are sea borders and it's done in good time: I was talking to a graduate student from Guernsey yesterday and he says there have been no cases there. And almost none in New Zealand. But presumably we'd have needed to do that in February...


Of course you can't say that lockdown is a sledgehammer to crack a nut: Covid is very obviously not a nut. But it is rather as if someone's response to finding a tarantula in their house was to pull down the house - with a more than even chance that the spider will slip out from under the rubble and get away.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

The last happy clappy evening yesterday. Can’t say I’m sad it is over. But I shall miss seeing the neighbours. Perhaps we will form in groups of six socially distanced garden party guests! After Monday, that is. Doubtful.


The decorating continues. Chaos prevails. Books in piles. Everything under dust sheets. My forearms are speckled with green emulsion. To accompany my painting, I’ve been listening to blues and jazz on Spotify and YouTube. Nina Simone has just sung:-


“Everything must change, 

Nothing stays the same...

The young become the old,

Old mysteries do unfold,

Because that’s the way of time:

Nothing and no one stays unchanged”


Have heard from a few people. Phone calls. A letter. And emails of course. Mixed bag of responses to the way things are now... Some say nothing will ever be the same, others that we will be back to normal by the end of the year.


It seems odd to be thinking of the end of our separation. But it is on its way. I wonder if more television programs will be made from people’s homes in the future? So many interviews are lately conducted from sitting rooms, kitchens or at least at desks by bookcases in someone’s home. 


I guess I have been rather cocooned in this gentle spring, early summer. Green fields. Blue skies. Listening to music, reading, pottering by. Nearly 40,000 UK deaths. How can this be? Is the number correct? Really? And now a wartime song is on:


“Dear, I thought I’d drop a line,

The weather’s cool,

The folks are fine.

I’m in bed each night at 9.

PS I love you”


Another lovely morning. The clock is chiming. Time for coffee. Write more soon. Same time tomorrow...


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

I have been sinking a bit.


At the beginning, my dismay, fear and anger at finding myself backed into a dark existential corner slammed my mind and body into such red alert that I became over-wound. It reminds me now of my mother describing the nervous tension of hearing a doodlebug approaching, never knowing whether this time one was its intended target.  I needed to burn off my adrenaline and dispel those dark thoughts and feelings by running, walking, wandering, touching base with nature, urgently realigning myself.


When that wasn’t enough, and I feared for my physical health as a result, I turned to pharmaceutical help, after all.  That worked wonderfully: I found my sweet point, somewhere between duck’s-back deflection and just enough connection with the world around me.


Lately, though, I have been finding it harder to connect or get motivated to do anything past what I absolutely have to. I could have quite - I was going to say ‘happily’, but that’s not quite it - easily continued like that, vegetating.

It sounds a little alarming - but in fact it has just been a case of adjusting medication to reset the sweet point. In fact I already feel a little more up-and-go.


Something which significantly ratcheted up my mood was the discovery that my beloved ‘Springwatch’ had begun; I was able to catch up online, happily ensconced under my duvet. It’s funny, I can no longer (for many years) cry about the things which matter, but gentleness and kindness do set me off, viz. Monty’s Nigel, and now Chris et al’s genuine love of their world and its inhabitants (even some of its human ones). I thought the of-necessity new format even better than usual: less faffing about round the campfire and more getting on with it.


Although I feared it would feel like trying to wade through treacle, yesterday evening I went out for my first run/walk for some time. I had found that one can pay a cheque in by post, so I needed to get as far as the post box, at least. Actually, it was fine, and even lovely once more. My energy is returned and I even ran some of the uphill stretches. Sadly, when I got to the woods I found that the logging, abandoned some two months ago, has restarted.  The once-lovely and delicate bluebells and their companions have been trashed by the dragging of the logs into piles. That said, I do find a certain beauty in these piles: somehow the colours and patterns of nature (even if, in this case, man-made) never cease to please me.

On the subject of post, my long-awaited little pot of monlaurin, which unbeknown to me had had to come from the US, finally arrived. It had taken five weeks.


Apparently we are now down to firefighting the virus, while life returns to as much normal as we can muster. Still, I feel confusion reigning everywhere; I think it’s now just down to personal common sense, regardless what Those Above say - or try to say. Of course it is also down, in some cases, to lack of personal common sense, which is the continued worry.


Meanwhile, I hear that last night’s clap etc (I ring two little handbells) for the NHS might be the last. I have all along had mixed feelings about the event, but what I do like is the way it is a weekly ‘get together’ of micro-communities, which I think will last, in our street at least.



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Garden Centre

The tropical hardwood steamer lounger

Comes with fully fitted cushions, covers

[Washable] include Empire green, navy,

Terracotta and Cotswold stone [that’s beige];

Featuring five adjustable settings,

Luxury foot rest and elegant arms

It’s a must have for verandah, terrace,

Patio, yard. A rattan option proves 

Your indulgence is our priority.

Here the clear-felled landscape’s mute testament

To estates of office efficiency.

Trees recycled for Home Counties gardens

No longer shade undergrowth, birds, soil.

But now it’s too hot to lounge exposed so

Why not buy our giant parasol

In matching colours, cantilevered and

With genuine tropical hardwood stand?


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

We were due to fly to Naples today for a week’s holiday. We had booked a hotel in the city centre and had plans to explore churches, galleries, restaurants and probably take a day trip by train down to Pompeii. Better luck next year, I hope. British Airways Holidays refunded the deposit in full about 6 weeks ago, so we have incurred no financial loss. We booked flights from and to Gatwick, so that on return we could go down to Brighton for a couple of days because we had tickets for L’Elisir d’Amore at Glyndebourne. Those tickets have also been refunded. But cancelled events like this bring into focus for me the financial peril that the whole arts and culture sector of the economy is facing. Who, over the age of 30, would feel safe sitting for two or three hours in a theatre or concert hall surrounded by hundreds of other people, regardless of what reductions in lockdown rules might be made in months to come? How long can arts organisations exist with no income?


Anyway, despite not going away, I have decided to take today as holiday, so that I can enjoy a long weekend doing nothing.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

Honestly, sometimes I despair at the values of my country. Rio Tinto has in the past few days detonated explosives that have destroyed a 46,000 year old Aboriginal rock shelter of “staggering archaeological significance”. They did it legally, they did it knowing its importance and they did it knowing the traditional owners opposed their actions.  


Decades of mining could have laid down a legacy for the future of this country. Global warming, the Global Financial crisis and now C19 have demonstrated that we do need to have a plan beyond burning and mining coal,  increasing debt and printing money. That cliche about the price of everything and the value of nothing pretty much sums us up. We have one manufacturer of personal protective gear and none for respirators. As one of Australia’s (well actually we claimed him as Australian, but like so many splendid Australian things he was a New Zealander) greatest satirists said about manufacturing in this country; “You know the valves on bike tyres... we make the plastic bags they come in”. 


A poem by Wendell Berry - The Peace of Wild Things, and a beautiful foggy mild morning restores some calm. 


Thank you to several diarists who have made me laugh out loud. Peter’s acrostic for Boris was wonderful and sent me down the rabbit hole of Mr Pooter and the Diary of a Nobody. Now to find a copy. 

The Macrae children continue to delight. What a beautiful birthday tea. I have had scrumptious food, yummy food and delicious food, but I do think in future I will be aiming for scrumdiddlyumtious. 

Harris’ Test and Trace made me snigger and then Marie Christine’s dissection of Mr C was hilarious. I thought I might take a quick jolly in the car tonight after a couple of glasses of Shiraz, just a teeny test of my sobriety.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Yesterday was the ‘Test and Trace’ launch, with its possible imperfection of maybe how reluctant people might be to list contacts. This morning the reverse, a humourous spoof Tweet: someone is tested positive, and under questioning admits to close contact with Messrs Cummings, Johnson, Hancock, Raab and Trump, consigning them to 14 days isolation, pending tests... wishful thinking.

We had The Boss himself back on the lectern for the afternoon Briefing, notable for two things: 

a) the Announcement of Relaxations - as all five of the Tests have been satisfied (just) we’re to be allowed meetings of 6 in the open air, (with distancing) in addition to the flagged-up school and shop openings and 

b) an attempt to extinguish the Cummings affair by not only refusing to answer questions if raised by Hacks, but refusing to let Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance answer either, even if dressed up in ref to the threat to bio-security. He really does want to ‘move on’.


No deaths reported in Norfolk hospitals yesterday - wonderful news - but ‘r’ has crept to more like 9 than 7-9 as before. Squeaky bum time.

As ever, in my privileged, lucky world nothing much intrudes... shopping is still constrained and next week’s openings will only add more scope for unmissed and now constrained shopping. Apologies to retailers, but I never was much of a browser and there’s nothing I need that badly. Apart from shackles to repair a harrow. I shall have to queue for them. My Hoop is fully Cocked though because of the ‘meetings of six in the open air’ - my Bass fishing trip on the Stour can now go ahead with three of us in the boat (I almost put spaced-out in the boat... there’ll be none of that, this is serious fishing) now pencilled in for Wednesday. I am trusting my companions are ‘safe’ of course. Frankly, I don’t much care if the Bass aren’t there in numbers.

Today, once I’ve finished an appointment with someone who’s hoping to design a new beehive and in between rude bricklaying and rehydration breaks, I’ll be happily crooning over fishing tackle selection. May your lines - in whatever form pleases you - be tight...


BBC weather says 19deg max for us today, meanwhile, my working conditions on ‘The Beach’ here, full sun, midday:

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