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Then and Now

Peter Scupham




Now, stretching itself after a sleep

this animal thing shrugs its greening pelt.

Tethered stuff nods and sways itself about;

a thousand eyes break open


and all those implements of garden surgery

flash their serrations to the coming light.

The garden meets your strictures, hand in glove;

small lives hop-dance


as it turns itself over, flexes its claws.

Hold life up to the light, see clean through it,

each droplet curled on a pulsing spectrum -

limb, petal, thorax.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

A definite typo yesterday: when I said I had accidentally let the alpha male tortoise in with the baby, I meant the tortoise baby (of which there are two, not to mention the snake)!  George, the aforesaid male, has a mean bite (though he never bites tender-hearted me) so it could have been tricky with either.


The human baby is still on the way. But - today Junior 1 had her 20-week scan, which meant that not only were all Baby's vital stats checked but it was revealed that it is a boy!  Everyone is happy (I cried), and domestic harmony reigns. Plus, they celebrated by buying (more shopping!) not only a little blue outfit but also a stair gate - the latter for George, who can now stay in the kitchen while the two babies have the dining room (of course they also have posh cages with lights etc for nighttime and when it's not sunny).


I heard on the radio that sales of bikes and bike bits are doing well. I'm glad, although one of my first upsetting encounters in the new Big Wide World was of a lad riding his bike directly at me, shouting 'You shouldn't be out!'. I couldn't believe it, and trembled for a while afterwards. I suppose that's ageism, as opposed to the racism which is reportedly being experienced by Asians and Far Eastern people the world over.


I would love to see Jacinda Ardern in charge of Everything. Perhaps then some common sense would prevail.


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham

Flat dog


The trickle of cars returning to Wymondham streets is becoming a steady stream, it feels as if life before isolation has finally returned. Instead of looking like a ghost town a week ago it is now busy with shoppers, but only the bank, the baker, the pharmacy and the Co-op are open. Looking up the main street towards the shops in the distance people fill the scene or so it looked that way. I thought they were standing too close to one another. This is too complacent and will lead to a spike in infections again. How are we going to keep up the regime of social distancing for months to come especially when all the shops eventually open and we will be tempted out again in ever increasing numbers? Will all the shops re-open ? Some will have found the complete loss of income recently impossible to recover and close down permanently . 


Since B&Q opened their retail stores earlier this week the number of car journeys has risen sharply. In Manchester the other day a man was shot dead in a ‘busy’ shopping street! Busy !! In the coming weeks the question will be how the Government is going to persuade the public to continue to stay at home, to help the NHS and save lives! People are very worried about the effect this lockdown is having on the economy and their jobs.


Our car hasn’t been used for six weeks now, maybe longer. The battery is probably flat. This week I feel flat. I think it is probably the ‘six week isolation’ syndrome. I am sure prisoners experience this too, and more so for they are locked in their tiny cells, described as no larger than a toilet cubicle, to avoid infection spreading in the prisons. 


A child living down our street has been posting a leaflet each week suggesting ideas to keep us sane. The first week we had to find twigs, leaves, petals and make an artistic collage to put in the window to cheer people up as they passed by. I missed that one due to lack of interest in twig collages but I admire the child’s initiative and desire to help her trapped neighbours combat depression. This week, the note asks us to write a funny joke or quote on the paper provided and put it up in our window so lots of people see them and smile!


Here’s a quote I like - it reminds me there is such a thing as joy.

‘In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag’

W H Auden


Lily (cat) , where are you?


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

The first of May... Spring, renewal, Labour day. The former KK hospital in Singapore was in the Guinness Book of Records in 1966 for delivering the highest number of babies in the world. 


The old hospital held much significance for me. My mother did part of her training there, I was born there and 22 years later I studied and worked there. It was pure magic. As medical students, it was the only posting where we felt like valued members of the team. We had to deliver a quota of babies and perform episiotomy repairs. It was a case of all hands on deck. The highly charged atmosphere in Labour Ward, at times like an Intensive care unit, was inspirational and catnip for me. Many of us came from very traditional, strict Asian backgrounds where sex was never discussed. The high point of the O&G posting was being shown the animated frog video which showed every possible permutation of copulation, vital for the dodos who’d possibly not had the birds and bees explained to them by their parents. Years later, my mother aged 70, came home from a medical lecture, in shock, after being shown said frog video. She had been a doctor for over forty years and had been clueless. This was a woman who believed both in the Immaculate Conception and had many gay friends, believing them to be purely good friends. 


The University unit under Professor Ratnam had done groundbreaking work in the field of molar pregnancies, in-vitro fertilisation and transsexual surgery in East Asia. One night as a young houseman, I had to hang on to the legs of a postoperative patient as “she” attempted to climb out of the fourth floor window after having second thoughts about transitioning to becoming a woman. It was heartbreaking. 

On another night, I was paged to the bedside of a woman, whose perineum had been stitched up so carefully by an over zealous medical student, that penetration would never occur again. Permanent contraception so to speak. It was a long night. 


As a student in the late 70’s, another brilliant professor would insist that we examined all the patients with sexual transmitted diseases with our bare hands in order not make the streetwalkers feel like they were “unclean.” It was pre-AIDS. He died the following year, seemingly overnight from an overwhelming infection. It was strictly gloves on after that. As a consultant obstetrician in the mid-nineties, I had a lovely patient, who had been a ex-bar girl in a neighbouring country, and her Singaporean husband both test positive for AIDS at the 12 week antenatal visit. After counselling, they elected to keep the baby and the husband was determined to form a little community of friends to take care of their child should anything happen to them. 


One night I had an emergency call from another patient in labour from her car on the way to hospital. She had been desirous of a “natural” birth and had left it too late to come to the Labour ward. When I ran down to the car, I found mother and newly delivered baby in the back seat. I triaged quickly and took their young son, at the foot end of his mother, back into Casualty. Mother and baby were well but the boy was in shock. I cleaned him up and bought him some chocolate from the vending machine and spent some time comforting him as “a brave boy.” Ten years later, I was enjoying brunch with a girlfriend at PS Cafe in Dempsey, a scenic spot, when the young good-looking waiter asked if I had been his mother’s doctor. He was the little boy from years ago. He was working, after his compulsory Army service, whilst waiting to join the Law faculty at Nottingham University, where by coincidence, my daughter was studying. It was such a lovely experience and I tried to introduce him to my daughter. Never a successful venture. 


I had sent Tara by herself to University to settle in, as I had too many deliveries to take care of. Having spent quite a few years in boarding school, she could get around Britain better than me. I went to check on her two months later and asked Tara to invite eight friends for dinner. All I remember is that they ate me out of house and home. When we left, I told her the only one l liked was the boy who sat next to me. Well behaved and softly spoken, I had taken down his mobile number in case of an emergency with my daughter. Every time I rang, I would ask if they were dating. Tara told me to stop ringing if the first two questions were about her work and her love life. Years later, I got a phone call from Tara if I could entertain Barney, a friend who was working in Singapore for a few months and was all alone. I took him out for a couple of Sunday lunches and enjoyed his intelligent company. My best friend, Ralitsa, thought he would be perfect for Tara. I reassured her that, unfortunately, they were just friends. When he offered to pay, I refused but when he asked what he could do for me in return, I asked him to take my daughter out. Well, it turned out that he had been secretly in love with her. Four years later they married. Barney was the lovely boy who sat next to me in Nottingham. I still have the same mobile number of my lovely son-in- law. My son really. There are no coincidences.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Birds of the Mind


Like an idea unexpectedly received,

a pair of black turkey vultures -

Cathartes aura - circle into a tree-defined

patch of sky, glimpsed sinister through

the window of my work space. 


Primary wing feathers fluttered

welcome, then farewell, as they floated

from sight, returning a moment later,

taunting earthbound me, seeking the release

of thermal lift from the green mundane 

for the weightlessness of rarified blue.


In the fabric of space compulsively they

patterned the sky, swooning black into blue,

green into white, a tapestry of flight,

absolute certainty and control,

elevated towards the razor edge of the void.


Instinctively I knocked on wood

as the Jim Crows were joined by another,

then another, heads dropping, seeking sight

and the raw rising odor of carrion.

They were angels of death, nature’s morticians,

soaring over an apocalyptic landscape.


Rather them than me.

I watched breathless as the wake 

of vultures rose graceful beyond the level of detail,

and in an instant of forgetfulness, vanished,

leaving the carcass of memory to be picked clean

by the flapping congregation of imperfect recall.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

On Wednesday evening I decided to try a late night visit to Aldi, for our fortnightly shop, hoping to avoid the queues. So I made my preparations. Credit card in pocket so I didn't have to search for it in my bag at the till. £1 coin in pocket just in case I needed one for the trolley. Mask (not sure I'll wear that) and gloves. Boxes in car to easily unpack the shopping into so I spend as little time at the till as I have to. Hand sanitiser. Feeling surprisingly nervous and anxious to get it over with my driver and I got in the van. All to no avail as the battery was flat. So back to watch the Sewing Bee and relax.


Another attempt last night following the same ritual. Much more successful thankfully. 9pm and the shop was virtually empty and no queue to get in. I had a smiley chat with a guy as I stood back while he chose his sausages.

"It's ok I'm waiting to get some sausages."

"Sorry, I'm buying for other people and not sure what they want."

"No problem I can come back."

"No really I've finished now."



After that pleasant interlude everything went smoothly and I even felt relaxed enough to browse the craft section.

As the shop was so quiet Jeremy came in, which he shouldn't have done - only one member of the household to do the shopping. At the till he tried to help with the packing. "Excuse me sir , you can't stand that side, you have to be behind the screen." So patient.


Still no flour but luckily we have plenty from our local mill. However we are running out of yeast and the mill are struggling to get it. Apparently people were buying yeast from them in large quantities and selling it on Ebay, so now, when they do manage to get some, they will only sell it in small quantities along with flour. Jeremy is trying to culture yeast from a small amount of dried yeast but not having much success. He can't understand why it is not working. I remember years ago being told that you can't culture dried yeast but didn't tell Jeremy as he would have wanted me to explain the science behind it which I wouldn't have been able to do and anyway he often proves me wrong. 

I'm hoping to plant out more runner bean and pea plants today. Hail yesterday and very cold but warming up today, A zoom drama meeting to look forward to this afternoon and then a walk to wish a friend a happy birthday. We enjoyed NT live performance of Frankenstein. Looking forward to Antony and Cleopatra.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

It’s May Day. May is my favourite month, not just because it’s my birthday month. I love the lush greenery, the heavy, scented boughs of may blossom, the six or seven foot cow parsley jungle in our small copse, that wonderful heady smell after rain.

May Day. Beltane. We should have lit bonfires last night and spent the night under the trees making love and bathing our faces in the dew this morning, celebrating the marriage of Flora and Jack in the Green. The marriage of earth and sky. Well, the house insurance won’t let us have bonfires within 100 yards of the thatch, and we spent the evening watching Sherlock Holmes and drinking cocoa. Inside. Enough said.

But we have a statue of Pan on the edge of the wood, so who knows what the wood spirits got up to.


This morning had a fresh-washed feel. As I opened the back door a group of pheasants rattled into the air, a deer bolted undercover, and two squirrels teased Bertie from the medlar tree. They were having fun. The garden, apart from my flower garden, is getting ever wilder. I haven’t mown the grass at the front for two months. I want to see what comes after all the dandelions and daisies. I want to see what the house looks like rising up behind long grass and wild flowers - will it all be alive with bees and insects? 

Today is the only day you can bring hawthorn into the house without it being unlucky. Perhaps we’ll deck the kitchen in hawthorn and candles for supper, even though we didn’t earn them by spending last night in the woods.

Welcome May!

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