John Underwood, Norfolk UK
This rather contrary view of Plague appears in my copy of Bacon’s “Sylva Sylvarum“ for 1639, but first published in 1627 posthumously by Bacon’s friend William Rawley. It was published in London; “ Printed for W. Lee and are to be sould at the Great Turks head next to the Mytre Tavern in Fleetstreet”. It seems to run counter to our understandings of infection, and it betrays a knowledge system before Science or modern Medicine. Plague has a “ Sent” (scent) of Mellow Apple or possibly May Flowers, and it not easily received by those who nurse those sick of the plague or by old people who are of “ a drie and cold complexion”. It takes hold of people coming from fresh air apparently.
I note warily that a government minister has suggested that spreading false rumours about Coronavirus should be a criminal offence......
WARNING do not take advice from early seventeenth century so-called-scientists.
This is Fake News.
Read online journals.
From St Just
Jane G, St Just
Yesterday the police stopped a friend from walking her dog at Marazion, even though it was on her way home from a vital (estate-winding-up) visit to the bank in Penzance. On PM, David Blunkett (of all people) suggested the police approach was lacking in common sense.
This morning I reversed my normal walk and went down through the town early: there were more cats out than humans, many with a purposeful Simpkinesque errand-running look, and several of them very talkative. The Brisons opposite the cove seemed more than usually covered in guano, which made me think of From London Far - & that that should have been the running title for these posts. I also keep thinking of the episode from On the Beach where a submarine from Australia ventures into the zone in the northern hemisphere that has been destroyed by a nuclear disaster. One of the crew realises that they've surfaced in the bay where he grew up; he instantly strips off his protective gear, leaps overboard and swims for the shore, knowing that he'll die within the hour, but preferring that to living in a bubble of physical safety away from home. I haven't quite teased out the connection with the here and now, but there certainly is one.
It goes on and on being beautiful out - over a week now of blue and gold days - some scrappy and windy, some utterly clear - and today, in a haze on the horizon, the ghosty white blur of one of the Scilly lighthouses. Scilly comes and goes, depending on the light. It can be absent for weeks; it can be close enough to show its beaches. Even as I typed this the lighthouse disappeared again.
Mother and Daughter - Snippets from Somerset
Caroline and Daisy
Posted below our recipe for cheddar cheese curry which we posted about the other day but didn’t add the recipe! 🤦🏻♀️ (still tired from lambing!) it’s made using store cupboard ingredients and utterly delicious with either rice or a jacket potato and salad. (Sounds bonkers but trust us it’s good!)
Cheddar cheese curry
1 onion chopped
1 oz plain flour
1-2 tea/s curry powder
1/2 pint of of stock
2 level table/s branston pickle (or similar)
1 oz sultanans 6oz cheddar cheese (half inch cubes)
Melt butter, fry onion until golden brown, add flour and curry powder and stir over a gentle heat.
Gradually beat in the stock.
Heat whisking continuously until sauce thickens.
Add salt and pepper, chutney, sultanas and cheese.
Mix well and then serve.. On rice or jacket pots.
March has luckily been a busy month for us and gone by in a flash.. Can hardly believe we are now in April!
Here in Somerset we haven’t had rain for a while, the ground has dried up nicely after what was a super wet winter. The sun has come out a few times over the last week, still a nip in the air though and thermals being worn!
Field hedges are beginning to sprout and I see lots of birds taking wool from our ewes, the horses hair and small feathers from the chickens to take back to their nests.
My robins are busy coming and going for food I put out for them, I don’t know if they have hatched chicks or going to and fro with food for Mrs Robin sitting on the nests?!
Spring has certainly arrived! Hope everyone is staying safe. Love and thoughts to all!
Caroline and Daisy
Mary's Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Bristol
Weaving requires a lot of tools and equipment - some not so obvious. A small digital scales is very useful to a weaver. If you can weigh your yarn you can, by using various formulae, gauge whether you have sufficient yarn for a project. A very fine silk might give you 1250 metres per 25 grams; a thick cotton might give you 4225 per kilo.
So I was not pleased to find the numbers on the screen of my digital scales jumping about - evidence that the batteries are dying.
Are batteries for a digital scales essential? Am I wrong to ask the neighbour who buys groceries for us to make a special trip to Boots for the required batteries just so I can continue with my weaving? How do you measure what is essential? What do you put in the balance?
David Horovitch, Twickenham
I've been thinking about breath. When I was about 15, in my summer holidays from my co-ed boarding school, I went with a friend to stay at his parent's smart but arty retreat in Kent. It was called St Julian's and several rich but bohemian families (an oxymoron? ) had a share in it and came and went there as they pleased. It may have had a pool, it certainly had a tennis court. I was overawed by the whole ethos, at once well-heeled and casual, but was determined to keep my end up in the bar. There was one chap there - I think he may have been called Leonard and was probably an architect - that I was eager to impress. He was short, dark and trim with a an almost imperceptible twinkle in his eye and I never knew whether he was taking the piss. When I told him I wanted to be an actor he said
' You'll have to learn to do a Shakespeare sonnet on one breath. ' As soon as I got home I set about learning 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day ?' which I still know now.. I had a prodigious memory in those days and I had it under my belt in no time, wandering round the garden at my parent's home in Essex. I also managed to do it in one breath without much difficulty and wrote to Leonard that I'd done it. 'Now you'll have to do them all,' was his reply. A hard taskmaster but, as I say, with a twinkle.
All these years later I've set myself the task of learning as many sonnets as I can before I am released from this confinement. I'm not doing them in one breath but breathing is what it's all about. It came to me a few years ago that a Shakespeare play, probably any play, is a body. The actors give life to that body by becoming its heart and lungs; the words are the blood and the actors pump them around the body. There should be no pauses in Shakespeare - as few as possible in any other play - for when the heart stops pumping the body dies.
Breath is everything in the Theatre. I can always tell when I'm on stage with an actor who isn't breathing properly, who hasn't learnt that there is no thought without breath, no words without thought, no life without words. Even when you are not speaking the inhalation of the breath is till there, preparing for the moment when it is your turn to become the pump.
Breath is everything in Life. 380 people died yesterday from the virus, a respiratory disease. They stopped breathing. I watched a friend of mine die in a hospice about 6 years ago. He was gasping and struggling, semi conscious, but he did have a respirator. I asked the nurse if he was in pain and she told me it was like drowning.
These thoughts are almost unendurable. What can we do but write in this journal, look after ourselves, tell each other jokes, and, in my case learn as many sonnets as I can. I've only done one so far.
Musings from self isolation
I am lounging on my bed, my completed schoolwork for the day scattered about the room and a wonderfully peculiar 1982 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, watched on my phone screen, wondering quite what to write about for this entry to the journal. I realise now that it is proving rather more difficult than I first imagined, to remain cheerful whilst in isolation, missing my grandparents vastly and my friends too, and that the notion of being starved of human contact for four months is something of anathema to me. The best way, indeed the only way, in which I find myself able to lighten the concerning state of quarantine is to acknowledge each occurrence as though it were, in itself, something remarkable and, in this way, to fill up the hollow days with such menial tasks, upon which one places such paramount importance, such as reorganising a cabinet or making a cup of tea. Why, the blandest thing becomes, in the words of Keats 'a theme for Sophocles.' And so it is that I allow my self to indulge in things that take time: rereading Wilde, lingering on my readings of Herbert, writing, drawing and other such tasks for which I never usually find time. To say that I, as an extrovert, enjoy the state of being in lockdown, is, of course, quite untrue, but I do, even in such worrying times, believe one must relish any opportunity for easing the mind, whether that be finding time for reading, or in the act of video calling a friend.
It was in pursuit of such ease that, yesterday evening, having been startled by the discovery of a spider in my bed and thenceforth having decided to sleep on the floor, that I found myself rereading The Picture of Dorian Gray for what must be the dozenth time. Unable to sleep on my makeshift divan of duvets and pillows scattered upon my rug, I flicked on the light and felt drawn to reading Dorian Gray again. Perhaps due to it's comforting familiarity, I found it easy to lose myself in the languid words of Wilde, and soon found the time to be somewhere past four o clock in the morning, with darkness, like velvet, pressed against the window. Turning out my lights, I rolled over and endeavoured to make myself comfortable enough to sleep, thinking all the while about the importance of familiarity in a time such as this, a time which is named by so many: 'unprecedented'. I think that it is now, more so than ever, important to find comfort in the familiar things over which we have some control as we try to forget, for a precious moment, the turbulent unfamiliarity that the virus has thrust upon us.
Une vie banale, la France profonde
MJK, Magrie, France
SANS DOMICILE FIXE
Homelessness is as much an issue here in France as in UK. During our rare sorties from the village our thoughts turn to those without permanent homes whom we see regularly around the local town and byways. The French relish acronyms and abbreviations – probably as a spin-off to their slightly legalistic and bureaucratic culture – and they’ve sanitised the rough sleepers and van-dwellers into three neat letters: SDF (sans domicile fixe = with no fixed abode). This may seem heartless but the prevailing attitude towards them here in the rural south is one of acceptance and widespread generosity.
How are the SDFs handling lockdown and social isolation? Even in lockdown, anyone with a roof over their heads is at least secure. British authorities seem to be recognising this now, and making more effort to get people off the streets – however temporarily. Here the attitude is more laissez faire and the support more community-based. Going to the supermarket or travelling into town, we see battered vans and campers at the roadside, in lay-bys, tucked away down quiet tracks. A middle-aged man has been living in the swimming pool car park for a year now. Others live on the edge of town in informal isolation. No-one moves them on.
Putting these people on society’s margins into camps or categories isn’t helping. There are many reasons why they are who they are, and why they live as they live. Some are proud gypsy folk, often Catalan or Occitan, who move around in clans with all the risks of infection and transmission that come with living cheek by jowl. A gitane community in Perpignan has suffered badly from Covid-19. Others are the ‘nouveaux pauvres’ – people who’ve lost their rented accommodation along with their job or their family bonds. Others again have made lifestyle choices – the new travellers with their dogs, children, music, braids and happy stoned smiles. But some simply cannot cope and will do well to survive the present times: the mentally ill, the confused, the hopeless.
People give money and goods; the Restos du Coeur provide meals without judgment or question; organisations like Emmaus do what they can but always need more resources; some villages have ‘magasins gratuits’ where people simply deposit things they don’t need for others to take. Little gestures that add up collectively, make a difference, reaffirm our humanity and ability to pull together, in sickness or in health.
Then and Now
Self-isolation — Mark II, as they used to say. I suddenly think of Thomas Hardy, my recent companion, being reproached for his incommunicative nature. “Why,” he replied, or is said to: “ I said ‘Good-morning’ to the gardener only three weeks ago”. And, to come closer to now, the egregious Rod Liddle, who loves to trail his coat as the self-appointed Aunt Sally for the Left, claims to have always kept two metres distance from others, five metres in the case of Liberal Democrats. The government, though, allows — even encourages — people to make love, so long as they stay those two metres apart.
Back to ‘Then’. The most intense period of solitude I enjoyed was a six-months’ or so evacuation, leaving my young sister behind, from the outskirts of Derby to my grandparents’ Victorian house and garden in Market Town Lincolnshire. (I came back just in time not to miss the German forays into the Midlands, culminating in the Coventry raid, named ironically by the Germans ‘Mondscheinsonate’.) That house had remained unchanged since the 1900s: long dark corridors, gas-lighting, Tilley lamps and paraffin stoves throwing wavering circles on the ceiling; brick walls, the remains of a tennis-court, an old croquet set and a summerhouse in the garden:
You carry yourself away: a freight of silence
Closed by the settling dust, the curtains’ slow, calm fall
Across the bent glass and the deep lustres,
The phlox, the hot paths and the cherry wall.
Your gas lamps burn on, pressing their yellow blurs,
Their soft snake-hiss against the swarming night,
Your furniture is mirrors, dark smells, lairs;
Lawns level off, your trees twist out of sight —
My slow-moving, rather formal grandparents moved as quickly as the furniture or their grumpy gardener, which wasn’t very fast. At the time, I don’t think I made much of a distinction between, as the farmers say, livestock and deadstock — at least as far as my internal life was concerned. To add to this late-Victorian / Edwardian ensemble, they had a live-in maid, Evelyn, my love, my friend in that remote adult world. The solitude, for me, is best conjured up by one of my strongest images: the small light in the dark place, the candle on the stair, the evening star, the pencilling searchlight . . . This was the house and garden where, as Geoffrey Grigson says of his father’s Cornish Rectory: “Everything was in the right place for the last time”.
There, I spent much of the time like an observant ghost, punctuated by walks with Evelyn and kitchen-life. Of course, solitude and silence were only a major, chosen way of being for that child; there were others. It is wonderful, though, how much is noticed, gazed at, absorbed by a child who is left to his own devices. Now is not a bad time to look at things, rather than just see them, and give what is found, in some way, back to the world again.
Together, apart? Let Auden have the last word in the close to that wonderful poem from his Canonical Hours sequence — Lauds, the service held at daybreak.
God bless the Realm, God bless the People;
God bless this green world temporal:
In solitude, for company.
The dripping mill-wheel is again turning;
Among the leaves the small birds sing:
In solitude, for company.