John Underwood, Norfolk
Nathaniel Wanley, in his “ Wonders Of The Little World Of Man” gives many examples of “ Perjured persons and how they have been punished.” The current news in the Covid 19 pandemic in this country has been revolving around the Prime Minister and his chief advisor, and their fairly obvious struggles with telling the truth. The Observer newspaper today relates how the advisor sought to manipulate his back story, by editing (on April 14th this year) an article written in 2019, to suggest that he had predicted the arrival of the Coronovirus. Astonishing vanity. One might imagine that one could possibly hope to conceal this kind of activity from others, with the expectation that ones status might preclude someone from checking what you had written a year ago, but it is certain that one cannot hide this kind of perfidy from oneself. I know that I still blench with shame at my past untruths told, harsh words, mistakes or unkindnesses.
We call people who do not feel that kind of remorse at their past actions Sociopaths. Do any of these definitions ring any bells? “Doesn’t respect social norms or laws…consistently break laws or overstep social boundaries… lies, deceives others, and uses others for personal gain…behaves without thinking of consequences… doesn’t consider their own safety or the safety of others... doesn’t feel guilt or remorse for having harmed or mistreated others. “This is an edited list of seven definitions of Sociopathy, but a diagnosis can apparently be made if three of them apply. Wanley writes of Nemesis - an inescapable instrument of downfall. Perhaps these days we talk about Karma or our wrongdoings “biting us in the bum”. Whatever you call it, it’s as certain as eggs is eggs, that this won’t end well for the protagonists, or for the rest of us in the attendant lack of governmental authority in the management of the pandemic.
David Horovitch, Twickenham
8.30, Sunday morning. I'm listening to Chopin and waiting for the place that does the good baguettes to open at 9. When they do, I'll buy one along with The Observer and sit on my courtyard in the glorious sunshine and, with apricot jam, unsalted butter and coffee instead of the usual tea - do the crossword and pretend I'm in France. I do this every Sunday when the weather's like this. The trachelospermum's almost out and in a few days its little white stars will climb up the back wall and the smell of jasmine will waft through my bedroom window. But for how much longer will the sun slant through that same window onto my pillow? These cloudless days have contributed to the feeling of unreality that this pangolin's virus has brought with it, a little like the Edwardian summer before World War 1 perhaps, with the crucial and surreal differences that the casualties have been mounting up behind closed doors in our midst and all our communal pleasures have been put on hold. The crunch will come soon I suppose, undisguised by furloughs and income supplements but for the moment there's a feeling of holiday in the air. Is it part of the relaxation of the lockdown that beggars are beginning to reappear in the streets? A reminder of the vastly unequal society that we live in, of which the egregious Cummingsgate is one of its more grotesque manifestations.
11 am. I've been thinking about my dad. The son of poor, illiterate Jewish immigrants in The East End, he was ferociously intelligent but had to leave school at 15 as his parents couldn't afford to keep him there. He worked at various menial jobs for several years, meanwhile reading voraciously and following Bernard Shaw around London to hear him speak at working men's clubs. After one of these meetings he dared to approach him and say "Mr Shaw, I have read your "Quintessence of Ibsenism" and I just want to say that I think you are a far greater playwright than Ibsen,' to which Shaw replied in his soft Irish brogue, with the twinkle in his eye that relieves his polemic from tedium 'Ah, they all say that.' In his and the last century's thirties he started to work at various homes for disadvantaged children, at one of which he met my mother, and eventually he was appointed head of his own home in Essex. He always felt the lack, though of a formal education and, in his late seventies, took a degree in Politics and Government, writing a thesis on Sidney and Beatrice Webb and, of course, Shaw. He was 81 when he was finally awarded the degree, after which he embarked on a PHD on maladjustment in children which he never completed. I wonder why he came into my thoughts this morning. I think it was something to do with my learning of the Shakespeare sonnets and the feeling that I must press my mind and memory into action at this late age lest it atrophy. I've inherited some of his auto-didactic zeal, having also never been to university: my three years at drama school were emphatically a training, not an education.
My dad was, as I am from time to time, a bad sleeper: as I read the first line of sonnet no.27 -
'Weary with toil I haste me to my bed' - I want to say to WS, with whom I've grown rather chummy over the last few weeks, 'Not a good idea, Will, to "haste" to bed however weary', and, sure enough, then begins a journey in his head and he no quiet finds... I could have told him he should have had a cup of cocoa, a hot shower, read a little Plutarch and only then slipped between the sheets. I've slept well this last week.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Catherine, Sussex, UK
I had a bit of a surprise (another!) yesterday.
It was one of the two days a week when J1 and I can be together (should we choose) without J2. We chatted about their house-hunting, which has so far drawn a blank, partly because there has been such a gush of pent-up demand that the (affordable) good places go in an instant. The only positive is that there are no students here now, and might not be for a while, slightly taking the pressure off the market even though it’s not specifically at the level at which the Js are looking.
The point of my relating this is that J1 told me she is, for the moment, content to remain here a bit longer. This was my happy surprise: her contentment is significant because it means I have successfully disguised my stupid, unwanted, fractured state, which pleases me a lot. (A big help has been that the habit of handwashing, at least on entry, was at last established.) And if others feel content, then I too can continue to relax a bit - a virtuous cycle, I hope.
That said, the biting point of the pharmaceutical gear-change is here this morning, so now I am tweaking dosages again. But I have been expecting it and so it’s ok.
In the evening, despite having turned into a bench-bound sloth, I trotted up the hill again (lovely to no longer have hair flapping round my face). At the entrance to the woods, where the exiting track narrows at the approach to the gate, there was a bottleneck of several dogwalkers all trying to pass one another in opposite directions, with much reining-in of pooches and ‘after-you-no-after-you’s while they stood there, confused as to the protocol. I could see this might take a while, so carried on to the next entrance to the woods, where I haven’t been before. More logging devastation, but the resulting woodchips which have been thoughtfully strewn on the track make running absolute heaven, springy as they are. There is something indescribable about running in woods: it’s a whole new dimension which I can’t explain in prosaic language. And in general the rush of fresh, warm, air across my skin awakens some primitive, elemental, joy. At the back of my mind is always the vision of a little log cabin in the woods, à la Thoreau’s ‘Walden Pond’, where I can be slow and quiet, pace and ground myself, barefoot, and feel the real world. (I am certain that wearing shoes and walking on pavements messes with our internal electrical circuits.) Of course, the dream is stronger when the weather is nice…
On the way home I got talking with an interesting woman, PhD in History, retired lecturer at Sussex University and - more pertinently - the keeper of three beehives. (It is a nice quiet road so we didn’t have to shout.) It just so happened that I had, while lounging in the garden, reading this month’s National Geographic and its article on the catastrophic loss of insects and, more particularly, pollinators, been thinking that once I had lifted the omnipresent paving stones and laid my wildflower turf, I would like some bees. However, she told me that in a small garden the bees would at certain times of year be a low-flying, buzzing, nuisance, but still said she would be happy to be consulted at any time, along with her website, whose name I promptly forgot. When I got home J1 told me of a friend who had recently gone into anaphylactic shock after a bee sting. During shutdown she had been stuck in the family home, where her mother not only keeps bees but is some sort of roving bee or honey judge. Sod’s law.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Tomorrow is the 1st June and I have just realised that our pandemic Journal ends on 12th June.
I have enjoyed having a deadline every day though have failed to meet it sometimes.
I hope I haven't bored the pants off my fellow journalers in this little bubble of seedlings, golden retrievers, weird cakes, cutting the grass and moaning about not having any staff.
I never did have any staff apart from Roger one morning a week. My lockdown hasn't been vastly different to my normal life apart from less outside proper jobs and the shop and less people calling by and eating cake. I shall miss writing it and reading all the diary entries from my new gang. I think it has made me feel less alone and have had someone to tell about the minutae of the day.
Anyway, yesterday I took Earnie for a walk past the little stream, ditch might be a more accurate description which he went in. I then held the gate open for him so he could get by at speed but he stopped in the gateway and shook all over me. I was wearing shorts and a clean white t shirt and was splattered from head to toe with black filthy water. My handy anti covid 19 alcohol wet wipes were very handy.
We walked on a bit through the water meadow past some cow pats and ripe smell of the country and then saw the cows so did a swift turn around and went back the same way where we met some one else who also turned around so we walked along together with the distance of the track between us for a while. She was a carer for some people in the next village.
There are lots of baby pheasants and partridges everywhere so I have to be careful with Earnie surprising them but he is very good and either stays by me or comes back and doesn't eat them.
A little further on Earnie went into another couple of black ditches and was so filthy he had to be shampooed when we got back which involves buckets of warm water and a saucepan and a bag of markies for bribery.
I fell asleep on the sofa and woke up at 5.30 am and it was light.
People flocking to beaches and getting into trouble.
Some unlocking tomorrow and some schools going back and some shops opening.
I don't think we will open until nearer the end of June. I'll see how everybody else gets on.
Love Annabel xxx
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
Happily, I stepped back from the brink the other day and calmed down, so the TV and computer are safe from imminent destruction. Unfortunately this means we are still following the round of news bulletins and briefings and getting cross all over again.
There is a lot of debate now about whether the government is lowering the lock down restrictions too early. Their scientific advisers appear to have widely differing opinions. My view is that these are political decisions based on the fact that they are running out of money, demonstrated by the announcement that employers will be forced to contribute to furlough payments. I always thought it was a bit rash to say "we'll spend whatever it takes". Very hasty. Now it's "we can't stay in lock down for ever".
I have just reached the part of Cromwell's story in Hilary Mantel's new book, where the King's gold had to be melted down to pay for the armies sent to repel the Pilgrims' march. People were rising up in all parts of the realm in protest, not just about Henry displacing the Pope but about taxes, the price of food and all manner of other grievances. Cromwell has to stay out of view because he is so hated by the populace for his rise to power. I can't help making comparisons, I haven't seen Cummings for several days.
Of course, in medieval England they were no strangers to the plague. They may not have had Sage advising them, but they knew enough to ban large gatherings whenever there was an outbreak. I'm not sure if there had been any cases of Plague reported at the time of the Pilgrims' March but having watched with growing alarm the riots in the USA and today's solidarity protest in Trafalgar Square, it is clear that anger overrides all rational behaviour and self-interest. A protester interviewed in London today was asked about the lack of social distancing and I think his answer was "they're going to kill us all anyway" or words to that effect.
We're thinking that society may polarise post-Covid, with one group who rush out to embrace their "freedom" and another group who stay at home to "keep safe". We could call them Leavers and Remainers if those terms hadn't been used already.
From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
I am writing this at the last minute to be included in Sunday’s Journal. I will not be able to express the Enormity of feelings and thoughts that fill me after seeing the horrifying murder of another black man in this country. Rather than share the everyday goings on here in my own small world, I must join my voice with so many others in expressing my grief. How someone could coldheartedly do such a terrible thing to another is beyond understanding. I stand in protest with the rest of America.
From the Editor
‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;’
Those lines have been buzzing round in my head this last week. Mr W.B. Yeats.
Let me give you the four opening lines of his poem ‘The Second Coming’ :
‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, ‘
The last ten days have certainly seen things falling apart politically, the centre determined to maintain its hold, and in an attempt to do so, loosening the restrictions (I think) far too soon and far too fast. Will anarchy follow? Certainly chaos seems inevitable. Schools reopening without it being at all possible to make them safe, and with little idea of how many pupils to expect.
My least favourite man, Jacob Rees Mogg (Harry Potter lookalike - sorry Harry) is trying to force Parliament out of virtual reality and back to Westminster (social distancing in a full chamber?) to ‘set an example to the country ‘. Well, that might well end with a COVID spike in Westminster. And what do the elderly or vulnerable MPs do? That’s been solved, as it has just been announced that all the really vulnerable and elderly citizens (who last week were told to stay ‘shielding’ till June 30th) can re-enter the world on Monday. June the first. A U- turn. Just like that. R number hasn’t gone down, deaths still high but...
We are all being encouraged, like lemmings, to rush, self destructing, over the cliff...
And certainly the crowded beaches of this weekend are already full of lemmings, some jumping 200 feet into the sea and needing rescuing (herd up the beach lemmings as close as possible, crushed together, to make way for the rescue helicopters). Oh dear!
Peter and I are staying put till the end of June and going nowhere. We are very lucky to have a large garden, so that’s no hardship. We will happily receive people in the garden for tea or coffee at a distance. We are not afraid or hiding, we are just being sensible. Hoping that anarchy is avoided. But NOT taking government advice. Look where it’s got them/us so far...
I wonder what the great William Butler Yeats would have done in these circumstances?
A few years ago, Peter found among some papers my cousin had inherited from her great, much older friend, Avies Platt, an account by Avies of meeting Yeats in London in the mid thirties, and spending the night driving round London and talking to him, the start of their friendship. It’s a fascinating, very funny story, and can probably be found in the archive of The London Review of Books who published it for us in 2015. The Observer also took up the story (see photograph) and Peter and I were interviewed on the radio. Fifteen minutes of posthumous fame for Avies. Yeats was an old man then, but still eager for a new adventure with a younger woman.
Who knows how the over-eighties released from lockdown will behave?