John Underwood, Norfolk UK
I am ashamed to admit that witnessing the beastliness of drunkards has not cured me of imitation. My liver however is suggesting that I may have had close to my lifetime allocation of alcohol, and I struggle these days to drink enough to become any beastlier than usual - although others may disagree. Form a queue, suitably distanced of course. I do tend to read a lot of books, and will admit to being infected, addicted, and beyond hope.
Having more time to read during our enforced isolation has not improved my reading choices. I think that I read partly because of the mental space that it puts me in, as much as seeking any enlightenment. “Simple” books as Felltham called them are the carbohydrates of the literary world, they fill the need for the process of reading. I’m not sure that they make the author “ ridiculous”, and I am certain that I do not grow wiser by the folly presented to me. Perhaps they are the adult equivalent of the Dick and Jane readers that were still in schools when I was a young teacher. I can remember “ Come and have fun” (one of the titles) which had the memorable lines “ Come Dick come” (and you can fill in the rest yourselves….) —fodder for barking at words out loud rather than introducing children to literature.
Seeking reading material and revisiting books from my youth, I have recently picked up and put down (again) Sartre’s “ Roads to Freedom” trilogy. I bought my paperback copies in 1976 and have still never managed to finish the three books, and I suspect I never will. I managed Kerouac’s “ On The Road” last week, and enjoyed remembering when I had enjoyed the book. More of a personal history lesson than a pleasurable reading experience.
Carlos Castaneda’s “Teachings of Don Juan” were more interesting (now that they are widely supposed to be largely fiction), and reminded me of my life thirty years ago.”The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there..” And since then, three Scandi noir novels gobbled up in as many days. Contributing to this journal has made me look deeper, however. I have dipped in to several of the best “ dipping in” books of the seventeenth century, in search of pieces that might entertain. I hope that they will
From Owen Felltham’s “ Resolves : Divine, Moral, Political” London, “ at the Flower-de-Luce in Fleetstreet” ninth impression 1670.
Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
I’ve been missing Billie. We first met about 20 years ago when she was studying to be a psychoanalyst and was doing Bed and Breakfast out of her house in Knightsbridge (London). I had found her through a B and B agency (long ago pre-airbnb days!). On my way there for my first, of what would turn out to be many stays, I felt apprehensive because the description of her accommodations seemed too good to be true. But…the taxi pulled up to an elegant house and I thought ‘so far so good.” I rang the bell and when the door opened, there was a man who looked remarkably like Roger Moore when he was playing James Bond. “Hello,” he said “ I am Simon. Billie’s boyfriend. Welcome. Let me take your bag and show you to your room,” which turned out to be even more comfortable and peaceful than I had hoped it would be. Later that day I met Billie, a tall, glamorous and cashmere-y woman with whom I immediately felt a connection to because of her calming interesting presence.
From that time forward, our friendship grew and for years, on all my visits to London, I would stay with Billie and Simon. There was always so much to talk about. I always felt better for having spent time with them.
Eventually, as that area of London, like so many others, transformed into something different than it once was, Billie and Simon moved to Chelsea. She stopped doing Bed and Breakfast, but we never stopped spending time together on each of my visits to London. Ironically, it wasn’t until my most recent dinner with them in February, that we worked out her brother, Noel, was buried very close to where I live, in nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, here in New York. It happens to be a place which has long intrigued me and in which I have spent much time exploring and digging up (sorry bad pun) or should I say…researching.. life stories of people who are buried there. I promised Billie I would visit her brother upon my return home, but as Noel had died in 1986 and Billie had not been there since the funeral, she could not remember where his grave was located.
After doing some research on line, I realized Noel was, coincidentally or ironically…not sure which…related to two sisters I had already researched. It made sense that he would be buried near to them, but when I went to that area I could not find his grave. I walked down the hill to the cemetery office and they gave me a plot map which showed I had been in the correct area. I went back up the hill to the site and tried again. Still could not find Noel. Eventually I discovered a very small cement disc..about 4” wide, with a cross on it… mostly overgrown with moss. There was Noel…in a practically unmarked grave…sitting alongside a lane I had walked down countless times, never knowing I was walking past someone who connected to someone I love.
After clearing off Noel’s small cement disc, I took a photo of it and sent it to Billie. Apparently this then ignited a spark of family discord because Billie had been under the impression that arrangements for a gravestone had been made years ago by another family member.
I have been missing Billie a great deal lately and have been feeling quite anxious…. wondering how long it will be before I can return to London, a place which feels deeply like home to me. She and London and all my other British friends seem particularly far away now and interminably out of reach.
Early this morning, at dawn, while Jay and I were on our hike, I was thinking about all of the above. And then I realized, with somewhat of a detour, we could climb a hill, follow a trail and reach the cemetery. This we did. It was still too early for the cemetery to be officially open for the day, but Jay and I know a place where the cemetery chain link fence near Noel’s grave has a gap in it. We climbed through it, picked a few tiny wild flowers and a small bough of Andromeda which grows in profusion and took them to Noel. It made me feel closer to Billie. And it made me feel a little bit less anxious.
All Day Exercise
David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire
My wife has a handwritten admonition pinned by her work-bench: "Take your time. Do it better". Time has become viscous. We must all take our time. I was reading the other day about Piero della Francesca taking twenty years on a painting. The commisioners got so frustrated they demanded their money back (as you would). I've got fascinated by the Flagellation of Christ. I don't know how long he took on this one but such is the effect of the perspective that the movement of time appears to have stopped altogether. The lash will never fall; there will be no crucifixion and the three worthies in the foreground will continuse to chat about this & that for ever. Maybe it's something in Northern Italy, or maybe it's just painters, but there is something of the same stoppage (& similar hues) in the paintings of Georgio Morandi. Or perhaps it's just down to the ability to sit quietly in a room alone.
A Norwichian Isolation
Andrew McDonnell, Norwich
I ferry my kids from their mother's house to mine. Although after much anxiety for single parents after The Johnson did his address to the nation, and The Gove giving paradoxical advice on his interview milk round, the shuttling of children from one house to another was allowed to continue, but I still felt like a fugitive waiting for my collar to be felt. It didn't help that we pulled up while people were clapping for key workers. It threw me and for a moment I was expecting a peloton of lycra clad machines or an Olympic torch to appear. But the road was empty as if the applause was something invisible, like a virus.
I wear hearing aids for tinnitus, and my four year old was shouting the random sea of words that come just before bedtime. A woman, miffed at my (accidental) lack of respect for her applause and full of passive aggression said: 'Hello! I am just saying hello.' 'Hello!' my son trilled back. 'Hello, Hello, have a good evening, have a good night, have a good bum bum!'
We managed to read Not Now, Bernard before sleep. A book that is more a warning for parents who ignore their children than children not listening to monsters who eat them.
'Go up to bed, Bernard. I've taken up your milk.' Said his mother.
'But I'm a monster!' Said the monster.
'Not now Bernard.' Said his mother.
This morning we got the fake Lego out. My daughter (7) and son (4) built a police station and a house. I noted that none of the fake Lego men, who look like a homoerotic disco band, akin to The Village People, left the building. Kids already know what the adults don't see, and in play the real world is acted out in miniature.
In the afternoon I manage to fall asleep on one sofa while they watch a film. I awake to Powerman Junior next to my ear shouting 'bum bum' in its robotic speech. There is a quick stomp of retreating feet and a laugh of pure mischief. Not now, Bernard, I think.
Yesterday the village shop had moved a table to stand in front of the doorway. Now we stand at a distance and give our orders to the lovely ladies inside. Only contactless cards can be used and we are asked not to touch the screen. Our groceries are put in a bag and placed on the table to take when the staff are a safe distance away. Weirdly alien. The post office opposite is still operating fairly normally. Our milkman still delivers our milk every other day as usual.
I visited - dare I use that word? - a friend who bought 6 rescue hens just before everything went weird. She already had 3 and thought the rescue ones would be so traumatized that they wouldn't lay many eggs. However they are obviously so happy in their beautiful rural retreat that they want to show their gratitude. She had 4 dozen surplus eggs and was about to trial ways of freezing them. I bought a dozen and left my money in her pot containing a weak solution of bleach. In Eyam they used vinegar.
I am part of a wonderful group of supportive women called The Charioteers. It was set up a couple of years ago to put on a performance to celebrate 100 years of the WI in Youlgrave. Now, although we can no longer do our drama workshops, we keep in touch daily and are there for each other. So important.
A Poole-side View
Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole
A WALK IN THE PARK
There really isn't anywhere else to go. If I turn north from here, it means a climb to The View but these days my legs aren't too keen on uphill. So I set my compass on south and head for the park - sometimes I even reach the sea, the very edge of the Bay.
Through the churchyard, with its lemony splashes of primrose and its daffodils still on sentry duty by the church porch. In the street the shutters are up: the Bricklayers, the Ox, the florist, the library. The screen in the Christian Science window urges me "to find ideas about God you can believe in": ideas not truths. Even the baker, where last week there was a politely spaced queue, is closed: perhaps he, like me, has run out of flour.
I turn into the aptly named Copse Close. Here, in the wild copse, I see bluebells and lesser celandine, three-cornered leeks (yes, really!) nestling in the soft shade and dappled sunlight. Above, on a bare branch, a mistle thrush surveys his prospects. No flannelled fools on the cricket pitch at this season but a scattering of feathered friends - seagulls and terns, geese and the ubiquitous pigeons. I have seen oyster catchers here and yesterday ten magpies were chattering in the outfield. A tiding perhaps, a charm, a parliament! certainly a surprise not to be misssed.
Spring is in the air, the birds on the lakes are pairing off: elegant black-necked Canada geese with their white chinstraps, Greylags strutting proudly in their pink boots. Female mallards take their ease on the banks while their drakes argue noisily in the water. A whole flotilla of swans sails by but I see no cormorants today.
The Memorial Garden next - patterned blankets of patriotic flowers, red, white and blue, with, here and there, a splash of gold. The benches say "rest awhile" before the circuit of the lake where the water catches the sunlight and sparkles with myriad stars. Few exercisers this morning: a runner or two - one passses me threee times, greeting me each time. Some long-limbed, lithe, athletic; others clearly, as Ogden Nash puts it, haven't seen themselves retreating.
The corner of the lake where, in non-viral times, men become boys, playing with their radio-controlled boats, is empty and silent now, until the thunderous roar and blasted horn of the London train rattling over the bridge - not a soul on board. Just time to see if my robin friend is at home in the Quiet Garden. Yes! there he is, rummaging amongst the dead leaves beneath the bench. I head back through tranquil streets full of cars sentenced to immobility and arrive at the squirrels' playground by the church; a single crow, like some Dickensian headmaster, paces up and down...
Home again - to the chains and charms of isolation!
Thoughts from the Suffolk Coast
Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
Had to go into town to collect my prescription and do some food shopping today. Very impressed at the GP surgery. So calm, well organised. Staff all masked and gloved. The waiting room rearranged. Chairs separated so patients waiting do not sit close to each other. Lots of large signs explaining about hand sanitizer and where to queue, where to see the receptionist and what to do to be safe. Large, clear screens separating staff from visitors.
There was just one person waiting - an elderly lady with bandaged legs. In fact, she was ‘all wrapped up’ - hat, gloves, scarf, overcoat and yes - a face mask. I smiled and gently waved from the queue to dispensary and saw her eyebrows raise in acknowledgment. She must have been baking inside all that garb, I thought.
Chap in front of me was collecting prescriptions for several people. He turned and spoke. “Never thought I’d see the day when things would be like this ... Isn’t it all a mess?” I nodded and agreed. “I know, oh I know”. He was quite a live wire - jumping about from one side of the distance marker to another but quickly disappeared when his packages were ready.
From the doctor’s surgery, I walked back into town - noticing how much more was shut. Shops that had been open only last Thursday were now decidedly closed. I ventured into the small convenience store as it was largely empty. Milk, eggs, bread, butter, cheese, fruit, vegetables ... everything plentiful.
As I was trying to find eggs a tall young man appeared. “Do go ahead”, I said, “I’m taking my time looking for things”. The young chap was wearing a scarf around his face so only his eyes were on show. “I can’t pass you”, he said “it’s social isolating”. I nodded - “yes, of course”. “I don’t usually dress like this”, he said, “but I’ve got asthma. I don’t want to die”. Indeed.
Girl at the check out barely made eye contact. With utter disinterest in her voice she told me how much I had to pay. I paid and said thank you. Staring at the trays of mints and chewing gum she said “ta. Have a nice day”. And I did!
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
MOUTH-WATERING STICKY LEMON CAKE
4oz/100gm each of butter or olive spread etc.,/soft brown sugar/self-raising flour
1 large egg;
grated rind of 1 large lemon
1oz/25gm soft brown sugar;
juice of 1 large lemon
Melt butter & sugar in a small pan. Stir in lemon rind before adding to flour; stir beaten egg into the mixture. Put in small cake tin lined with baking parchment.
I bake this cake in the top oven of a gas-fired 2-oven Aga, with shelf resting on base of oven & cold plate on second set of runners from top, for between 20 and 25 minutes. In a conventional oven (non-fan) bake at 180 degreesC/Gas mark 4 for about 25 minutes, until firm to touch.
Remove cake from oven. Leave in tin and whilst still warm prick all over with cocktail stick. Spoon over syrup mixture made by warming together syrup and lemon juice.
Haven’t met anyone of any age who doesn’t like this cake!
Pedagogy and Print
Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire
Over the past couple of weeks Tilly and I have been doing a long walk most mornings for our ‘daily exercise’. To begin with we drove to places where we knew there were walks that we liked, but since driving became for essential reasons only, we have been going for longer walks from our front door. What have I learnt? I’ve discovered a lot of new footpaths into new areas of the countryside. I’ve found that, at this time of year, the fields around Hitchin are full of skylarks and the woods are full of chiffchaffs, and if you are lucky you can see hares and lapwings, and there are lots of quieter bits of woodland where you can find wood anemones and bluebells growing, rather than going to Hitch Wood to see the bluebells where everyone goes in April.
In the afternoons I’ve been working on illustrations for my school project, and also printing my first ‘lockdown’ linocut which I finished yesterday and can now share with you. It’s an illustration for a story that I wrote a few years ago as part of a book of fairy tales, some re-tellings of traditional tales, and a couple of originals. This print illustrates a story about a fisherman whose wife embroiders him a shawl before he goes on a perilous fishing trip into dangerous waters.
A Week in the life of Edward & Molly (w/c 30th March)
Carla, South Norfolk
Dear Edward (5) and Molly (3)
School, nursery and all our groups are now closed and cancelled, due to the corona virus so I thought I'd write to you so you know why we are not formally home schooling and so one day you can read what a normal day in the life of us consists of:
Dear Edward and Molly
Feels like we haven't done much today, we made a plan and didn't stick to it. Tomorrow we must achieve more of what we plan as you both said you were bored lots today and were quite whingey. We need to tidy your bedrooms so we can see the floors and then you'll have another exciting place to play!
We did however make pizzas and veggie sausage rolls, cycle to get eggs and watched the chickens (approx 25 of them) for some time.
We made lots of duplo ball rolls (Edward's choice) which was fun and then played with duplo for ages making farms.
We were planning to start learning to play recorders (Mummy's choice) and paint some footprints (Molly's choice).
We ordered Siri a freestanding water bottle online as we rang 3 local pet shops and none of them had any.
Your cress heads now have loads of hair but next time we would use LOADS more cress seeds. You both loved how the leaves wore the seed cases like hats.
Our chalk rainbow has now washed off the drive despite you rechalking the message last night Edward.
Over the weekend you had a nice surprise when we lifted the kitchen blinds one morning, the ducks were waiting for us. The Mummy duck then turned her head backwards and tucked her beak in her wings and went to sleep on the grass, you loved seeing that. We are still not feeding them but they must be finding some seeds as they do have a good look around under the bird feeders.
Edward, you suggested we needed to do some compliments for Pheasant of the day, like school do for Caterpillar of the day on a certificate. We wrote down the following:
My friends say: Eleanor says I like doing jigsaws with you.
My brother says: You're very good at playing with me.
My Daddy says: I love your laugh.
My Mummy says: You are good at getting dressed on your own.
The highlight of the weekend was that Siri has her new massive home so we will let her settle in to that.
Yesterday we made pastry pesto snails and they were really tasty and all gone as soon as they came out of the oven!
It's been pretty chilly and even snowed yesterday so we lit the fire which made us nice and cosy.
After tea, you watched some cartoons on TV. The clocks have changed so now it's light when you go to bed, but that didn't seem to matter.
Love from Mummy.x