Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
First sighting of Health Minister Matt Hancock at Thursday’s Downing street briefing since he was laid low by infection and what a fine, measured performance it was. Rather unfortunately, I thought, he did clearly state he’d be getting Covid testing up to 100,000 per day by the end of the month, without leaving himself much wriggle room. He also, a bit off the cuff, said “so, get into the car and take the dog for a walk”. I wanted to use this in a mail to the Chief Constable, hoping to substitute fishing rod for “dog” and beach fishing for “walk”. I listened keenly to the repeat on iPlayer this morning - but it’s gone. ‘They’ have edited it out. So, if in any doubt that editorial control rests with the Government, there it is...
He is recognising Pharmacies and making operational funds available to them and also writing off £13.4bn of running deficits owed by hospitals to aid free spending. I recall our ‘local’, James Paget at Yarmouth was hampered by £6m a year or so ago. Heroic effort has just reduced that to zero - a rather poor reward for years of good management and belt-tightening, they needn’t have bothered.
UK mortality now 2921, global total infected is nearing 1,000,000.
Last night was a second opportunity to make co-ordinated noise at 8pm to show support for those front-liners. Though, as mentioned before, we know it’s futile as no-one will hear us, we ‘upscaled’ from clapping to banging saucepans with our biggest wooden spoons enthusiastically. We broke both spoons but I brought into play our ultimate salute, and gave the night sky a couple of rounds from the trusty old shotgun. The guineafowl went crazy.
Today, feeling immortal and failing that, being very careful, I went back to the hardware store for compost - for my 2020 tomatoes - and disposable gloves, more to stop the ingrained dirt unavoidable from working with compost than coronavirus sanitation. In truth, I don’t need this just now, there won’t be any plants to transplant for weeks yet, but a) I’m guessing statistically there’s less likelyhood of infection at current levels than there may be later, and b) if things get really bad, there may be no sources of compost. The hardware queue was longer than for the butchers next door. Judging by the purchases that emerged - a bucket, grass seed, a fork handle (4 candles?) paint tray/roller/paint, I’m not the only one determined to be as normal as possible for as long as possible while ‘keeping safe’, the current farewell.
A snatch of Norfolk dialogue, gleaned from Twitter just now and grimly appropriate to the day:
“heya gort a corf bor?”
‘I hint, hey yoo?’
“Not yit oi hint.”
Sheila and I sit in the warm Spring Sunshine, gathering hens around us, safe but wary.
Musings from self isolation
When I awoke this morning, I had a strange notion of utter stillness, as though I had not yet fully roused from sleep. The world was so quiet, not a car nor a runner disturbed the silence. I pulled on my dressing gown and ventured downstairs, opening the curtains and looking out onto the garden, the birds on the feeder, startled by the movement, flitting away. The roads were utterly devoid of movement.
I read the newspaper, always a dangerous course of action, and was reminded, once more, of the lockdown. Still, each time that I hear any mention of the lockdown, it feels jarring, as though, aware of it as I am, some part of me is suspended in disbelief, still not quite grasping the enormity of the change that has occurred nation wide. I find it strange, therefore, glancing around me now, at the books till scattered, half read, across the Persian rug, at the half drunk cup of tea, that the change is not visible. There are no sirens, no nothing, everything in my room, in my house, in my town, has remained as it was, except for the people who are gone, staying in their houses, looking at their belongings and realising that they have not changed either.
I look around me now, at the cat asleep in his favourite spot, the papers strewn on the desk, the sound of my sister humming as she draws in the kitchen, of my mother reading aloud, and feel that somehow, the normality is the most alien aspect of lockdown, as though it would be easier to comprehend the state of things if something, anything, looked different. Peering out of the window, cars drive up and down the road, people walk by; if I had not been told the state of things, I would not know.
Today the Daughter said;
‘It’s like Narnia Mum.’
Upon asking her to elaborate she explained; ‘Well, it feels like Christmas.’
Clearly she was under the impression this helped.
With an eye roll; ‘At the start - it’s always winter but never Christmas! And being off school and all the sun - it feels like it should be Christmas here too !’
A Kiwi child raised by English parents has a muddled set of reference points.
From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
It is a rainy chill morning here in upstate New York ~ looking out the window, no sun greets me but the fields grasses and trees are all taking on that early-spring green that gladdens the heart. Wondering what I might write about these days which seem all the same, I realize that now I look forward to each day’s journal entries. No matter where we are from we are all very much the same in the way we are coping with our quarantined lives ~ many of us mention feeling renewed by a heightened appreciation of bird song and long walks if we are permitted them, the comfort of friends and family who now reach out and offer each other support on social media, the pleasure many of us have in being able to have long stretches of uninterrupted time to create, the company of our dogs and cats ~ the many ways we are coping. But I have begun to learn that some of you have lost friends and acquaintances and I realize these kinds of stories will likely become more common. I just want to say how worried or sad I feel when I read that someone is not feeling well, or unable to attend the funeral of some treasured friend. I also appreciate the occasional laugh I get when I read something funny or wry ~ you have begun to feel a bit like neighbors, folks I am learning a little about and each day I wait to see how you are faring and hope you stay safe and well, my fellow ‘journalists’.
Une vie banale, la France profonde
MJK, Magrie, France
PRO ARIS ET FOCIS
Confinement means looking at household supplies in a new way. What do we really need, and what can we eke out or do without? How much longer will essentials last – wood, bread, wine?
Bread and wine are easy enough: partner bought plenty of flour, bicarb and yeast when lockdown was signalled. And we’re in a winemaking village so if the worst comes to the worst we can buy five-litre plastic barrels of drinkable red or bottles of excellent local bubbly – cremant or blanquette – for around five euros a bottle. Some of the younger, more switched-on small local producers even have online sales facilities now – just email your order, then go along to the domaine to pick up your case(s) and pay by cheque or even by card.
Wood is the difficult one: the log pile has dwindled and although the days are getting rapidly longer and warmer, evenings and nights are still cold enough to warrant lighting the stove. Around here, no-one delivers less than a small trailer load of cut logs – not a sensible purchase at the tail-end of stove season – the supermarkets in town have sold out of smaller sacks, and the garden supplies stores and DIY sheds are all closed.
Kindling is no problem. We just gather an armful of crisply dry chestnut-brown winter prunings from between the newly budding vine rows. They light easily and burn brightly but only for five minutes or so. It’s the big stuff that’s the problem – logs thick enough to last an hour or more. Partner takes the dog on regular scavenging missions, his hawkeyed peasant instinct for something for nothing leading him to fallen branches, old fence posts and broken pallets washed down the brook in the midwinter floods, and – most prized – gnarly grubbed-up vine stocks and roots, cast aside when vieilles vignes were ploughed out after yielding their final grapes last autumn.
Times were when these ‘souches’ were gathered up, carted home, stacked to dry out, and then fed into slow-burning cheminées to provide warmth, hot water and the cooking fire. Now that’s too much hassle for all but the poorest vignerons. Most would rather pay for the convenience of soul-less electric radiators or have a road tanker deliver bulk fioul for central heating boilers and kitchen ranges.
Souches certainly aren’t a fuel for the fastidious. The heavy pale yellow clay of the valley soils clings to their cracked and creviced bark and has to be removed from the grate in hard-baked chunks each morning. And their contorted limbs are hard to cleave into chunks small enough for our stove. But they’re worth the effort, burning hot and slow, and reminding us of more self-sufficient and sustainable times past when the world must have seemed a smaller and less threatening place.
So much begins
to vanish into it,
a palpable disappearance
step by step
as what we’ve lost
our cautious footfall
* * *
Take a deep breath
to welcome springtime.
Blossom and leaf
are ready for our touch.
No harm can come of this,
no keeping distance
as warm air rises
from abundant earth.
So.. time for the editor to write something.
An unreal week, anchored by work on the journal each day. Sheila does the hard work, getting it online and looking good, I just field emails, answer questions, persuade contributors, have interesting online conversations. It takes time. But it puts one in touch with so many. One can’t feel lonely.
We have been self isolating for two weeks now. Thanking delivery men from a distance, lots of phone calls from friends and family, WhatsApp. Washing our hands till mine, anyway, are raw.
We are used to not seeing many people in the winter. So is this a continuation of hibernation? The natural world doesn’t think so. I found a dead hedgehog in the field. It’s skin and prickles only. All of the flesh scooped out. A prickly empty glove in the grass.
The garden is full of pheasants; they burrow through the growing carpet of cow parsley in the copse, their heads emerging like swimmers from water. The cats leave them alone, though Bertie did try to drag one through the cat flap last year. It was very much alive, and when I intervened flew off with a great rattling sound. Bertie is not a hunter, really. Bengal cats love watching small life: insects especially. The most he ever catches is a vole or shrew. The birds are safe I think. I hope.
A few first tulips. I can’t wait. I’m a tulip maniac. Another week and there should be a sea of rich colour in the cutting/ vegetable garden, with the companion planting of wallflowers and euphorbia. A gorgeous riot. And we’ll have tulips back on the kitchen table; we’ll watch them open and change shape, and die in the most flamboyant fashion.
The greenhouse is bursting with seedlings and potted dahlias: summer in waiting.
Sad that we won’t be able to share this with others as we usually do. Summer is the main time for visitors here , culminating in our annual Poetry Picnic at the end of August. Will that too be cancelled? We had been planning a special one to celebrate thirty years here. Perhaps this year our only (but very welcome) summer visitors will be the swallows.
And then the trek back into hibernation for the natural world. Will we be emerging from it then.. or back in lockdown?
I look forward to the tulips.
Then and Now
This is a good time to make closer relationships with the curious, mysterious others who share our lives: cats and dogs, I mean, not wives and husbands. Recently more and more has been learned of their complexities, their languages, their emotional lives. I was brought up at University in the harsh world of Ayer’s Language Truth and Logic and the Behaviourism of Skinner. But, as a corrective to that acidulous, profoundly unmetaphysical Cambridge atmosphere of the fifties, my friends and I discovered Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis and their tribe. I don’t want to return to them, but I remember Lewis’s hostility to the cramping words ‘merely’ and ‘only’. Always allow for the possibility there is more there, wherever ‘there’ is, than you think. And Blake: “How do you know but every bird that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?” My first cat, Timmy, (who has his own poem), was an unneutered Tabby, a wanderer and fighter who disappeared for weeks and who equated the two words ‘puss’ and ‘pus’, since my mother spent much time squeezing his infected wounds . . . And, thank you America. On a dark wartime visit to the vet’s in Cambridge from Harston, four miles away, my mother and I missed the last evening bus home. An American G.I, saw us struggling with the basket setting off into the dark. He picked it up with a strong arm and with great good-humour carried it home for us those four dark miles. Such long-ago acts are never forgotten, as one believes the countless acts of kindness and sympathy now being shown will continue to be remembered with gratitude and affection. Let me introduce you: Timmy, Bertie; Bertie, Timmy.
THE SHIMMERING CAT
For Bertie, the Snow-spotted Bengal.
Legs far too long to reach the ground -
so, stepping high, he walks on air;
sand, cinnamon and rumpled lace
weave the coat this cat must wear.
His dapples shift like water-rings
bounced from the path by summer rain,
or clouds which sail their sunlit cusps
down drying puddles. Dyed in grain,
that shimmering camouflage must hide
the secret cat beneath the skin,
mortality transfigured there:
an angel dancing on a pin.
With flick-flack tail and haunted stare,
with eager ears and lime-white throat,
he sings of life in the greening year,
the cat that wears the Joseph coat.