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Choose Something Like a Star

Kate, Hitchin

Choose Something Like a Star has been the running title for my few and far between posts -  it's a poem by Robert Frost. The poem suggests we choose something like a star for our hearts and souls to focus on in times of confusion. Now I'm reading it again and the last few lines seem very appropriate-


So when at times the mob is swayed

To carry praise or blame too far

We may choose something like a star

To stay our minds on and be staid.


Yes, such great advice! After a week of being surrounded by angry media, (rightly so, too) storms in the world, cyclones, race riots in America and economic collapse, it feels good to walk alone on a still calm evening and look at the beautiful little half moon, at the end of a stressful day, which ended with one of my daughters chickens being eaten by a rat...

It's hard to feel hopeful about humanity sometimes, although I'm naturally positive it's a tough time right now.

Let's try and choose something like a star now and then !


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Too old to shop


Winston Smith would feel at home.

First of all you must have a phone

That can be traced and tracked.

Prior to entry scan QR code

Printed where you start to queue,

Ensuring social distancing

By standing precisely please

On the designated lines.

Face masks must be worn at all times.

For your safety several guards

Disguised as shopping helpers

Patrol the line; all is fine.

To left and right of course

Cameras record your twitch

Itch, cough, splutter; woe betide

A sneeze. Obediently

Shuffle onwards. Anonymous

A ‘helper’ holds a plastic gun 

To your head, temperature.

Write your name, number, time, date,

Reading: 36.4 

Just the sliding door to go

When the teenaged chief of staff

Sidles up. “How old you are!”

You look down at her. Statement?

“No, how old you are? Sixty?”

Oh, I see, confusion. “Yes.”

You smile uselessly, mask gagged.

“You too old to shop! Step back!

No sixty plus or ‘low twelve.

No entry, no shop for you!”

More uniforms just appear

As if by remote control

Or ear-pieced radio.

Four words shatter paradise.

Imagine, too old to shop! 

Back at Victory Mansions

You take a pen and write.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

The laws of the Universe


During lockdown, like most of us, I thought I will make the house very clean and put everything in the right place including in the bin, and make boxes to give away to Emmaüs, the french charity. 

My taste and pleasure for and from ceramics, artefacts for walls and books is great and shared by Rob. I have developed the habit of reading minimalist blogs and books these last 14 years with the idea to improve house life. It looks very ambitious and not the best way, the time I spend reading, dreaming and today writing about it, is not put in tidying. I am discovering that it's not my fault, it's the universe. My daughter told me few month ago that it was called entropy, I did not notice at the time. 

Today in one of those minimalist cool blogs, I read that if the house it messy, it just because of the second law of thermodynamics, which summaries the property of energy. Yes. It changes it all, what can I do, can I change the law of the universe? In fact, when you tidy things away, you are just doing math called combinatorics, it seems to me more exciting, it is a bit like sudoku ordering numbers, multiplying the number of choices. That's what you do when you try to put things away. BUT the author says that even when you tidy up you increase chaos in the universe, and that is a serious responsibility. 

To make the transformation of the mess on the dining room table, I need energy for sure, that's when the law of thermodynamic comes in. And to have energy, I need food and cooking, not mentioning having plates and pans, stove, water, gaz... and then our stomach breaking the molecules, and then all the extra mess produced.

I know now why I don't like too much tidying, I try not to disturb too much the universe, it may be dangerous.  Sorry, I need to clean the table and hope that nobody is going to suffer from the consequences.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Momentous times in Covid-land... in millions of homes, parents are having to decide whether to send their children to school tomorrow against mixed Scientific Advice, some of it that it’s too early. Estimates haven’t changed for days now - that only 20% of those eligible will attend. My guess is that in many households it’ll be a discussion for this evening, much sleeplessness and changes of mind either way, and finally a decision at the last minute in the morning. 

On  BBC’s Broadcasting House, a fairly gentle news round-up, host Paddy O’Connell has the Children’s Minister on for ten patronising minutes or so. Her, not Paddy. She is Vicky Ford, and a less child-centric voice and attitude you couldn’t cast. Think Thatcher crossed with... oh, I dunno, any other ghastly politician. Ghengis Khan maybe. Or Herod. Anyway, this woman is asked, in relation to the return to school “Are you braced for an increase in infection?” six times in the course of the ‘interview’, each time launching into rhetoric and never answering. Clear as mud, then.


And amidst this muddle, 2m people previously advised as extra-vulnerable are - allowed? encouraged? - out of self isolation for the first time to experience the same ‘freedom’ the rest of us have tomorrow to risk catching a dose, but maybe enjoy themselves while risking it. With the controversy surrounding the wisdom/safety of getting kids out into the world, you could well understand a vulnerable person being less than enthusiastic at the prospect and similar “should I, shouldn’t I?” turmoil in their homes too. Matt Hancock is unequivocal: “Now we’ve flattened the curve and reduced new infections, from tomorrow, 2.2million people who have been shielding can safely go outside”. Well, that’s allright then, if Matt says so.

‘Numbers’ may be relevant, they’re certainly being talked about, though not by Gov’t.


Bob Benkhen and Doug Hurley are flying as I write (+/-10am) to the International Space Station in Elon Musk’s rocket. Or, rather in Elon’s capsule via Elon’s rocket. Used only to the multi-billion dollar/rouble projects encountered since the earliest days (I was travelling back from Spain by car the night of the first moon landing - and astonished to find my parents up at 4am watching it on tv) I am equally astonished that now, 51 years later, a private individual can fund a full-on rocket trip. His business plan is to provide the ‘taxi’ to and from the ISS so NASA doesn’t have to. He’s got a contract, apparently - the biggest Uber deal of all time. Uber-Uber, in fact.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany

It is Whitsun, the weather is lovely and walking and cycling at the weekend are lovely. My husband and I are going to visit two close friends later this day. It is the first visit to be carried out in order to meet anyone outside the family since lockdown in March. You are by now allowed to meet up to ten people in public.


My husband does not work from home anymore but shall return to his office on Tuesday, I meet divided classes in schoolrooms now and have to teach as well as deliver tasks for those who are at home during that week. The oral exams of my A Level students are getting closer and are soon going to take place. Currently, we are planning the ceremony of handing over their school reports. Earlier we were afraid of having to send them with a letter via mail, but luckily the authorities have allowed larger school gatherings again provided the rules of keeping 1.5 metres distance are strictly followed. Therefore I need to think of an appropriate speech for the occasion.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Turn the page?


My thanks to Home Thoughts who wrote about culling books, and got me thinking.


In two weeks our boxes will arrive from storage. I will be faced with the possibility of doing some serious weeding of my books. Or not. Many of them have been half way around the world and back. They are the single largest weight and bulk in all our moves. My books have endured earthquakes, riots, years of humid tropical weather, living on shelves in faraway places. Now we have somewhere to settle it is time to think around the issue of culling.


Someone entering my house once remarked: “my, you have so many books.” A bit like walking into a mechanic’s garage and saying “my, you have so many tools.” What did she think a writer might have on his shelves? Stuffed animals and chintzy figurines? The rate of paper book consumption has fallen away, that’s true. Replaced by the practical, lightweight, cold glow of the Kindle. So I guess her reaction was understandable.


When I go into a strange house and the only books I see are color-coordinated I am lost. Who are these people? What interests do they have? What do we have in common? Or is a collection of creative minds far greater than mine just a display of ego - talent by association? The literary posturing of an aging dinosaur?


One problem is that my books are my friends. They define me. When they are comfortable on shelves I walk by and they locate me. There are gaps I still mourn - books borrowed and not returned, those I betrayed selling them when I was broke. Handling books gives me a sense of time and space - they place me in a specific part of my life. Where I bought them, or who gave them to me, where I studied them. Authors I’ve known or met. Heart lifts at the sight of a once intimately known hand. Signed editions, surprise book marks, photographs, love letters if I am lucky, my love poetry if I am not. Then a few first editions of treasured authors: the real deal, regardless of blemishes, a bookseller agreed. Time machines back to when a book was first published. Exiting Blackwells, cycling along The High, up the Cowley Road, Hurst Street, and into my garret, door closed. The world go hang.


Should I keep X, Y or Z? To remind me of the influence they still exert over me? Should I keep paperbacks only when they are part of my long favored authors: Fowles, McEwan, Waugh, Boyd, Hughes? And Mother’s books: English poetry: and a leather bound Chaucer (1940 - right in the middle of the blitz, signed with her maiden name); and her heavily annotated Shakespeare (to her, a man second only to Jesus). I promised to keep her library together. Do I betray that commitment?

There is no answer yet. Having help from family, a glint in their eyes as they toss Brink’s “An Instant In The Wind”, into the bin, won’t work. Do I keep those titles that are not great works of fiction, but are a really good read? But the pages are yellowed, perfect binding failing, covers creased. The type is now so small I can no longer read them with comfort.


I guess I will place my ragged army of survivors on new shelves and take it slowly. Word by word, page by page, book by book, cherish them, as Home Thoughts is doing, one last time and consign a few of them to the dwindling supply of the real thing struggling to survive in a harsh, increasingly book-free world.


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham

Dogs, Dentists and Lambs


It is sunny and I wanted to see how my ‘Edward Hopper ‘Early Sunday Morning’ view from the bedroom window was looking since I wrote about it (April 26th) during the early days of lockdown when the sun was shining. It has been shining ever since, making this spring the sunniest on record. The shadows lying across the road are shorter as the sun is rising earlier and there are no doves fluttering down, like white cotton handkerchiefs, to enjoy pickings on the hot tarmac. The reason? Suddenly the roar of a sporty looking car comes down the street shattering the silence and next a van followed swiftly by three more cars. Sunday traffic is building up substantially and so is the number of people, most of them dressed in shorts and vests, probably excited about the latest Covid-19 directive. 


Tomorrow, groups of up to six people are allowed to meet up including grandparents. Is this not too early? The infection rate is still high. It is important to remind everyone that social distancing is key to keeping the R rate under 1. The virus was described in a press briefing as being a ‘jack in the box’ and if the lid is lifted too much we are in deep trouble. I had a mental image of the colourful round virus with spikes, an image we are used to seeing in coronavirus updates, waiting, with an evil grin, in the darkness of the box. I thought the visual aid was a good way to express the need to flatten the curve. The Government have had to do something to get the trust of the population back.


It is so convenient the sun is out and burning those virus microcosms silently moving through air. Judging by the crowded beaches (this is half term) a lot of families are flocking to the coast to ease the torment of home schooling and bored teenagers. It is strange to see packed beaches in May where the sizzling heat, usually associated with high summer, bounces off bright sand. I inwardly shudder as lying on one of those crowded beaches, without any shelter, is an anathema to me. 


This is ‘dog days’ before proper ‘dog days’ or ‘canicular days’ if you prefer. I imagine the Government is hoping the ‘dog days’ to continue all summer if it helps to keep the ‘R’ rate down. It might even give them time to sort out the ‘Track and Trace’ app. which is ‘vital’ to overcoming the pandemic. On the other hand a long hot summer will give rise to water shortages. Or forest and moor fires. There is no end to what might happen in this pandemic.


Dentists surgeries opening again is becoming an urgent matter. The news of people pulling their own teeth out puts my own teeth on edge! It is a tricky situation and as one person on the radio put it ‘when the dentists do open, every man and his dog will want an appointment’! I wonder whether vets have a problem treating animals who might be Covid 19 carriers? Or is that fake news? 


The Abbey meadow behind our house is quiet again, no bleating lambs or responding calls from their mothers. It is the ‘silence of the lambs ‘ here in Wymondham. Sadly their lives are ‘normal’.

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