In a Canary Plantation

Amanda White, Canary Islands, Spain


Lady Macbeth had nothing on me yesterday as I scrubbed away like billy-oh at my hands at the kitchen sink. And I wasn't singing Happy Birthday. Living as we do at the best of times in splendid isolation, geographically speaking, I freely admit I have been lulled into a false sense of security. It all began after phoning for delivery of a bottle of butane gas. The last time I had seen our friendly delivery chap was in his usual togs. This time around he was barely recognisable in mask, blue onesie and sinister-looking heavy duty black rubber gloves. It was only a few minutes after he left that I realised I had punched in my number on the card reader with my naked fingers, defenceless against whatever microbial life might be lurking on that inoffensive-looking gadget. Paranoia in times of global pan(ic)demic?  Getting on for 4 weeks after lockdown and hardly having seen another soul apart from family, it is finally hitting home personally. In a country suffering from galloping Covid-19 I must think twice. I have now placed a swatch of disposable plastic gloves filched by my daughter on weekly shopping expeditions by the front door. Lest I forget.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia.


After a beautiful morning walk with Meg along the river in soft mist, my quest is fresh food. It involves car travel. I think about leaving my phone behind, in case “ they” track me away from home, but then tell myself sternly to get a grip. Regional interpretations of new Commonwealth directives saw police roaming Sydney streets; parents with new borns were evicted from parks, and lone people sitting staring at the ocean told to go home. So perhaps my paranoia isn’t entirely unfounded. It makes me think as I drive about the “essential”. Surely parents sitting quietly in sunshine or looking at the sea makes the cut? I think about how fleeting collective memory can be, and I hope the significance of this time is not lost. We have brightly lit in front of us, what is essential, who are essential. My daydreaming causes me to forget to slow going through a little town, and I suddenly turn my mind to what I need to buy. I laugh out loud when I remind myself not to come home without some reggiano. Essential.


In Flat N.4 

 Petra Wonham, Edinburgh


This week it has become a lot sunnier in Edinburgh, yesterday it got up to almost 11 degrees! Which obviously called for lunch in the garden, the issue being, we didn’t know if we were actually allowed in the garden. All the flats in my small section in Marchmont surround an average sized walled garden. I regularly see children playing on the trampoline out my window, and regularly want to join them, to take off the stress that work can place on me. However, I never have.  Yesterday though, we braved the onlookers and headed out to the garden, pulled a table into the sun, sat and drank gin and tonics, juggled (a perfect time to learn a new skill) and casually discussed the idea of planting flowers in a discreet location. The garden, which we have now concluded we can sit in, because no one has complained from their windows, and we have shared many a far away hello, only gets about an hour of sunlight a day. All the more insight to be up and ready to soak in that sweet Vitamin D… until Friday, when it is forecasted to rain.



 John Underwood, Norfolk


Feverish activity. I am just about to carry out a bookbinding job that is a very intense and feverish activity.
Tomorrow I will be covering the Bible that I have been working on with leather. I tend to dye my own leather, so that I control the texture, and can artificially age it. This means that the piece of leather is wet from the dye and methylated spirit which fixes the dye. It is slathered with starch paste, as is the book. The book is placed on the fore edge, spine uppermost. The leather has to be laid over the spine, down the board sides, and turned under the edges. The leather is stretchy, which is a mercy, because there is some serious stretching to be done. The raised bands on the spine of the book to which the folded paper sections are sewn , have to have the leather persuaded over them and nipped into place, repeatedly. The leather has to be smoothed over the boards, and then tucked under itself at the spine ends. This will require several frantic visits. At the same time, the corners will need to be formed carefully, using a special angled cut. Back to the spine for work with the band nippers, back to the spine ends, and forming the head and tail pieces, back to the corners… and repeat… feverishly. You might start work wearing gloves to avoid the leather dye getting on to your hands, but they invariably have to be discarded, to grip the book and tools, and to be able to handle the book with the required dexterity. I am working quickly, my fingers dyed. The leather is drying and needs dampening, the spine needs a last firm nip, and another, the head and tailpieces need forming prettily as well as functionally, and the corners should be perfect. More nipping? And once finished, the binding might last a century, maybe more. If the joints fail, (and that is where most bindings fail) they can be restored. My bindings will outlive me.


I was musing today about possible futures, and what we will carry with us into the next one hundred years. I suspect that leather bindings will be looked upon with horror, as the extraordinary book bound in the murderer William Corder’s skin is today. No one will eat meat. No one will own a personal vehicle. Now that air travel has been shown to carry viruses across the world, personal travel worldwide will be greatly limited. We will see a huge migration of people from the desiccated equatorial regions towards the northern and southern poles of the earth. Norwich will be a seaside town. Any other possible futures must be decided upon by the young people who will live them.


Thoughts from the Suffolk Coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold


A brighter day today.  


Awoke to sunshine and decided that the time was right to start decorating the sitting room. One of those decisions that was made hastily - a now or never moment! Got everything ready and started with the ceiling. Half way through the morning thought “why oh why did we start this?” but with half the ceiling painted - there is no turning back!


Took my usual afternoon walk - saw a few people but all in the distance so just arm waving. No one drowning, just waving. I do miss the chats I used to have - talking to people over their gates or along the lanes. I wonder how people cope in towns. It must be tricky trying to keep a distance when areas are heavily populated.  


Didn’t watch or hear the news. Yesterday was bleak and the rising death toll so worrying. Purposely tuned in to light-hearted programmes. Peggy on Hi-de-hi. Lionel on As Time Goes By. Compo in Last of the Summer Wine. Still the advert comes on : Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.  


Night, night all. Same time tomorrow.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just


I've just realised that the last time I had a face-to-face conversation with a live human being was almost a fortnight ago. I don't at all mind solitude, and often try quite hard to get out of seeing people who aren't close friends - but that does seem slightly odd.  


My internet purchase history over the last week may be showing signs of strain:


item:  4 months' supply of ginseng

item:  6 metres of 1.2 and 1.0 diameter silver wire, fully annealed

item:  a skipping rope

item:  24 small cardboard boxes

item:  2 diamond coated drill bits

item:  The Making of the Vernon Manuscript, ed. Wendy Scase  


The wire is, of course, to wrap the ginseng tablets, which can then be placed in the cardboard boxes and sold as amulets against the plague.  


Amazon won't deliver the Vernon book until 14 April because it's not considered to be medicinal. I've considered phoning them to explain that the ms says on the first leaf that it is for 'sowlehele'.  


On a more cheerful note, today is the day of my first veg box from Bosavern Community Farm, and I've finished my coursework marking, which is as much of a mental straitjacket as isolation is a physical one.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England


British summer time began almost a week ago. All the clocks in the house are still an hour behind as time is no longer our master, we no longer dance to his tune. All appointments, schedules and gatherings cancelled until further notice. The only exception was 8pm last night when we kept a date with our door step to clap for all the people working hard on the frontline. The sound of so many clapping and cheering rippling out into the distance was deeply moving, we felt like crying. It was dusk and all the birds joined in. We exchanged a few pleasantries with the neighbours then returned to the sofa and Netflix. 

I work as a florist and have spent the last two days making a heart shaped floral tribute for a friend of a friend’s funeral. Used to an abundance of the finest flowers in the flower shop, I found this slightly challenging. I have a small allotment and the only things in bloom are moody hellebores. I had no idea how it was going to turn out, but did the best I could. It was made on a moss and chicken wire frame, all the stems were wired into the frame. I delivered said heart to the funeral directors leaving it in the porch as instructed. There were only ten people allowed at the graveside and strict rules for social distancing were in place. I am a ‘huggy’ person and the thought of attending a funeral and not being able to throw my arms around loved ones or even hold their hand breaks my heart.  


PS Just wondered if David Horovitch (another contributor) was in a production of Single Spies in the late 80s??? If so, I was wardrobe mistress on that show. (before I became a florist) Hello and all good wishes if it’s you!


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham


I go to sleep every night around midnight and I wake every morning around four. Sometimes I go back to sleep, more often I can't. If I can't this is my nadir - a time of terror: personal anxieties all tangled up with cosmic concerns. Ingmar Bergman said 'my demons hate air and exercise.' and if I get up about six and go for my daily walk the blues disperse.  


Before all this happened I was due to start rehearsal on May 25th, as Polonius in a new production of Hamlet at The Young Vic. Just before lockdown the director called me to say he was optimistic that the production would re-open the theatre, which had just closed,and he was confident that rehearsals would only be delayed by a week or two. I thought this unrealistic. A couple of days ago I heard that they were now hoping to go into rehearsal in mid - July and I found myself wondering how it would be to be in the first post Covid-19 London production of the most famous play in the world. Would there be a halfway house between lockdown and its release? Would social distancing still be in force and, if so, would they only sell every other seat? And would the actors have to stand two meters apart on the tiny Young Vic stage.? How would they manage the fight which I knew the director was planning to do with knives rather than swords? How would Hamlet stab Polonius' ? How would he 'lug his guts into the neighbouring room'? How would he lift Ophelia's body out of her grave? If necessity is indeed the mother of invention these constraints could give rise to the evolution of a whole new style - something as remote from naturalism as Japanese Kabuki. Or even something - a consummation devoutly to be wished - where the attention is focused once more on the word, rather than the director's pictorial predilections. I suppose the actors might all be self-isolated in barrels as W.' B. Yeats would have liked them to be.   


I've now learnt 3 Shakespeare sonnets. They're bloody difficult because they are so compressed that they almost defy paraphrase. But they are extraordinarily beautiful and the discipline helps to give a shape to my day.  

I'm not lonely or bored but there's always that nadir just before dawn.


Dog Day Off 

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham


Wiggins’ Day Off  

Owing to a bursting forth of an eye inflammation I had to refrain from drawing yesterday and today. ‘Wiggins’ is almost complete so this is a blow for him. All I have to do is to put some work into his left front paw and then it is done (until I see something else).  


I am secretly pleased because I thought once I finish this pastel Wiggins will leap off the paper and be gone like the wind! You can’t keep a greyhound posing for ages, not even three months…. or is it six months ?
(Government guidelines? Who knows).   

There are a few more dogs around the lanes with their owners, sniffing urine soaked posts and blades of grass for the latest news. Is there a problem obtaining bones? When will a total ‘walkies’ lockdown come?  


I feel a sense of great achievement today (and relief) as I managed to book a food delivery slot for next week. The neighbours who own a white lop-eared rabbit have offered to shop for us so we are not in a dire situation but it is good that we don’t put their lives at risk.  


Now to rest my eye and dream of fields, rabbits, etc.


Stay at home

Ann, London


3 April 2020  


Morning - I spent a couple of hours sitting at my dining table, on my computer, occupied firstly with a French conversation on Skype and then with a news web-cast devoted to the financial markets. Apparently, we should hope for a V shaped recovery, but might experience a W shaped one, that is, two dips in economic activity.  


End of the afternoon - I chatted with my Uncle in South Africa on WhatsApp, the first time I had used this means of video communication. He showed me his favourite photograph of his beloved second wife who died just a few weeks ago. We spoke with regret of his cancelled trip to England - cancelled due to the virus - to stay with his brother, my father. We finished our conversation agreeing that I should call again on Monday.  


Evening - At 7 o’clock I attended (from my sofa) a local Green Party meeting on Jitsi - yet another video conferencing app - discussing possible on-line events and wondering how this period might change lives permanently. After the 8 o’clock Key Worker Clap, and using the BFI's subscription service, I streamed Werner Herzog’s 1972 film, Aguirre, Wrath of God, so that I am ready for the second meeting of the Corona Cine Club with my brother, due to take place tomorrow, early evening, via Skype.  


4 April 2020   


Morning - I finished Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), started on 28 March. Page 144 reads: ‘As we age, we are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade… But under certain circumstances … this process can occur in the comparative blink of an eye.’

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