Lauren McGregor, Michigan, USA


We live between a fire station and hospital. The former is one block north, the latter is nine blocks south. After two years in this home, periodic sirens’ blare is a familiar, almost unnoticed, sound. Until the virus.  


Since social distancing was enacted, the increase in sirens’ cry - and decrease in other traffic noise – has become unmistakable. All hours of the day, constant reminders of the threat.  


Our three-year-old son listens for them excitedly, unaware of the word ‘pandemic,’ of the struggling people for whom the siren sounds. At 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. every day, the Presbyterian Church’s bells ring out in haunting comfort. Today their low, rhythmic tones are drowned out by the frantic vehicles.   


Yesterday, the sirens were made realer to us. For the first time, they penetrated our walls with news of a fallen friend. A reckoning of a woman, who beat cancer and weathered more blows than most. Only to bid farewell to life after a single week of symptoms. On the day in which we’d received news of her improvement. Then gone. This woman? Impossible.  


I stare at my one-month-old daughter and think about my poor friend’s child, her grandchildren. About her as a child. My heart aches. Another siren sounds. Graham squeals “ambulance!” joyously. I grimace and let him believe I am pinching the place between my eyes to quell a headache and not tears.


Behind the Red Door

LS, West Sussex


The house smells of cooked cheese and bacon, pasta bakes made this afternoon of which two will be delivered to my daughter and her partner. They are struggling a little, feeling poorly and looking after their 7 week old baby boy. Missing them so much. 


I must admit to not feeling very upbeat for the last week and almost having a bit of a panic attack at one point. M says not to worry so much but that’s easy to say. I decided to try to produce a little ten minute sketch of a different bird every day and so far it’s been quite therapeutic, I hope I maintain the output. Still haven’t managed any mosaics but I have looked at plenty online, some wonderful medicine bottles in mosaic by Cleo Mussi, always coming up with such original work.  


This weather is so lovely and I count myself lucky to have a little garden to potter round. 


I realised I didn’t have anywhere near enough compost to repot and plant up so I looked around locally. The best garden centre in our town has started to deliver but as you have to spend over £100 to get free delivery it’s a non starter. £15 delivery charge for a few bags of compost a bit steep but I understand the logistics. Anyway, good old Lidl to the rescue! Plenty there, not sure what the quality will be like but just glad I can plant. I do need to edit on the pot front though....far too many as I’m very bad at discarding anything that looks like it might have a sign of life in it. Lots of old packets of seeds left from last year and even the year before that, I’m just going for it anyway and see what comes up.   


An interesting post online from a lovely young Czech girl trying to persuade us all on the merit of wearing masks. Apparently their death rates are very low (not verified) and the only different measure they’re taking is that everyone wears masks. Maybe worth a try?


Thoughts from the Suffolk Coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold


Any truth is better than indefinite doubt - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  


Yesterday’s walk took me beside three bright yellow fields and along some very overgrown footpaths. It was a beautifully sunny afternoon - despite an overcast morning. I tried to walk at a fast pace since I’ve starting putting on weight. (Well, I never really stopped but I’m using this period as an excuse). Yet, I was still able to enjoy my solitude and the sounds of nature as it gets on with its usual business. Bees buzzing. Birds singing. Squirrels rummaging in the undergrowth. I felt quite warm by the time I got home but glad to say - no temperature. In fact, no symptoms of anything that I‘d usually worry about... except this constant checking of myself. Did I just clear my throat or cough? Does my throat feel sore or simply a bit dry? Am I looking flushed and feverish?   


I’d been decorating in the morning. It’s just one room but the whole house is now in chaos. Piles of books and DVDs. Curtains down. Bureau emptied of its treasures. Dust sheets over the furniture. And I’m finding things I’d forgotten I had. A book about pruning. Another about garden birds. No time to stop and read but lots of pleasures to save for later. Get on with the painting, I tell myself. Stop procrastinating. Stop finding ways to avoid what must be completed. Oh but won’t it be good recreating order when this is all over?!  


I’m finding it is better to paint the walls with music playing - like the songs of Leonard Cohen or Carole King belting out ‘Do the Locomotion’. But I’m so easily distracted. Coffee, tea, must check the phone. I get texts from friends and read the breaking news bulletins that pop up on the iPad even though I’m usually out of touch with the latest developments. So much is sad and painful to hear. Lives cut short and so much suffering. I missed the Queen’s address but I’ve read that it was very up-lifting. Our local village web page has praised the message of hope and pragmatic resolve that she gave.   


There are lots of practical tips on the village web - including how to make a face shield - sort of Blue Peter style - only without John Noakes or the cardboard toilet roll! Does wearing a mask help to protect us? It sounds like there’s a whole industry emerging in face shields and mask production. Aside from a couple of inevitable exceptions, neither of us has been closer than two metres to other people for two weeks. But it is the exceptions that are the worry. One message says that when visiting the GP surgery people should wear suitably protective clothing including rubber gloves. My mind boggles. I imagine queues of people in boiler suits with bulletproof vests and hands in pink Marigolds ....   


The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic - John F Kennedy.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands


After a weekend in the garden, lifting and dividing snowdrops, deadheading daffodils and tidying hellebores, I was back to work yesterday. Which means shutting myself in the study with one computer connected into the company systems, and the other open for emails and video meetings. I have a headset with a microphone, which improves the sound quality for both speaker and listener, though my colleagues now refer to me as “call centre Mike”. I mentioned in my 29th March notes that I had emailed our local MP about the inadequacies of the government’s emergency business loan scheme. Our MP did respond, assuring me that he had passed on my concerns to the Chancellor. Anyway, probably not because of me, the Government fixed this issue at the end last week, and I had a friendly exchange of emails about it with our MP over the weekend. Our UK sales have been particularly poor over the last 4 or 5 days, and as these are settled by credit or debit card, this has an immediate negative impact on our cashflow. However, because March was a good month for exports, we still expect cash to hold up well in April because our international distributors generally pay on 30 to 45 day terms. As things stand, I reckon we won’t have to draw on our overdraft for at least another 6 weeks. In contrast to the company’s reasonably stable health, I am feeling pretty ropey. I suspect though that this is my tree pollen allergy and not the early signs of the virus.


Stay at home

Ann, London


Yesterday I began to feel muddled. One activity blurred into another, and my dining area had become messy after sewing during the weekend and newspaper cuttings littered the floor around the television. Things were not where they should be. By the evening I was sinking into low-level panic. I realised that action was necessary, but better done in the cool and optimistic light of a new day. So, after my morning walk at seven – with birds tweeting under a blue sky and the sun shining – I spent 45 minutes tidying, sorting, cleaning, making order. Calm regained.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA


While everyone here is minding the ‘stay at home’ and social distancing restrictions our little 6 month old corgi has recklessly thrown caution to the wind and found the weak spot in the fence which enabled him to get into our neighbors’ yard to visit the two dogs who were outside for their morning ball-toss with their owners.  Obedient and gentle Plum, a black lab who will soon be 4, stayed behind like a good girl observant of the serious state of affairs.

My neighbors brought the little whippersnapper back to my house and you can imagine my surprise to find them knocking at my door with Dickens in their arms for more than one reason for no one has knocked on the door in weeks.  And despite our efforts at patching the fence, he managed to get out again the following day....this time I met them in the driveway with no distancing possible for the second time. 


Now the fence is very old and I had plans to have it replaced in the spring, but it has become necessary to do right away so I called the hardworking man who brings me my firewood who was going to tackle the fence and asked if he were free. During the day he works on a farm, which is still considered a necessary business but he offered to come after work.


With true New England thrift he brought wire left over from some other job, and sturdy posts both he and I have around, and came yesterday.  We all kept our distance (Dickens was left in the house, mind you) while I stayed at least 6 feet away.  The weak fence is gone and we have a lovely sturdy one in its place.  And the best surprise of all, four large plastic bags full of rotted manure from the farm Patrick works on for my roses! 


So, we shall all be out in the garden today ~ safely behind our fence, spreading the ‘black gold’ on our flower beds.


All is quiet

Tilly Wonham, Hertfordshire


In my pre - lockdown life exercise takes the form of two dance classes and two short runs per week. We walk for pleasure at weekends and holidays. Of course, now the dance classes have ended - although I can keep it up online to some extent - and with an annoying shoulder injury, the running is on hold. Therefore, walking has become the exercise of choice. With lockdown restrictions we no longer take the car to remote villages, but find routes from the front door. We are lucky to live on the edge of the countryside so it is easy to find new-to-us footpaths nearby. The recent glorious sunshine adds to the enjoyment. With skies silent from aeroplane rumbles the birdsong is much more present. We are seeing all sorts too; skylarks, woodpeckers, chiff-chaffs, herons, kites and buzzards. We have also seen a couple of hares bounding across the land. There are certainly more walkers and cyclists around, but we keep our distance and sometimes it feels like it is just us in the world. I do appreciate our good fortune. Our son and girlfriend live in one room in a shared house of 6 in London. With the parks closed their walks now have to be taken along the canal towpath jostling with runners and cyclists who have no respect for social distancing.


The man on the radio who had been in isolation for one and a half years on an astronaut mission advises us all to take up a new skill. Our new life is an opportunity, he says. I offer this advice to my husband Nick who grumbles that he thought it better to concentrate on the skills we already have. After some cajoling, I persuaded him that our new joint venture could be learning to dance the Salsa. I found a video on YouTube and we got the hand of the basic steps quickly. Our new found confidence didn’t last when turns and twirls were added and I ended up being clunked on the head. Maybe the glass of wine hadn’t helped, but it did make us laugh. I’m not giving up, but I may be alone.


Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York


The sun has been shining in York the last couple of days, perfect weather for gardening, and so myself and my family have spent much of our time pruning and cutting, mowing and trimming, trying to get the back garden looking presentable. This morning we were greeted with the news that the prime minister has been moved to intensive care having contracted the virus. It seems quite dystopian. Peculiarly, I miss things which before I never paid attention to such as reading varied headlines, turning on the radio and hearing about more than just the virus. One finds it harder to remain positive in the face of such negative media. However, it is important that one remembers to moderate the media one consumes, making sure that I do not watch excessive news broadcasts.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire


Each evening we go outside to listen and join in with the two verses of three hymns played by my neighbour on her cornet. She now sends me the running order so I can be ready for the ones I'm not so familiar with. It feels comforting to use my prayer book which was given to me by my grandmother about 60 years ago.  


One of the members of the youth section of Youlgrave Silver Band who lives a few gardens away has started to follow on with his own piece. We had 'You are my Sunshine' for a few days. 


'Do you want some more music?' was relayed across the gardens from next door. 

'Yes' was passed back from his mother. 

'Ok I'll email you some' 

Quite a few people now join in and, as there are many musicians in the village, we are wondering if we could organise a sequence of music to go around the village. A bit like passing on the Olympic torch.  

I am very excited to be expecting a delivery of plants and seeds on Friday. I spent a whole day trying to get through to our local garden centre. When the phone was at last answered I felt I should apologize for interrupting them. The first question was, 'Where do you live?' Apparently they used to deliver within a radius of 20 miles but are so busy they have had to reduce it. Luckily we are within range. Jeremy has made me a fantastic cold frame out of two shower screens he found in a skip so I'm ready to go.  


Granddaughter Margot, age three, was out for her daily walk and chat with her mum. 'Humans can walk and talk at the same time.' says mum. 


'Iris can't walk or talk and she's a human.' was the immediate response. Iris is her one year old sister. She always has an answer so will be well prepared for being a teenager.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England


For breakfast I’ve had six chocolate biscuits and three cups of tea. It’s gone twelve noon, I’ve been on the phone all morning. It was announced last night that the prime minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care at St Thomas’s hospital. Suddenly today I can’t pretend I am on some kind of sabbatical or retreat. Japan has just declared a month of lockdown. I spoke to my friend from South Africa, whose elderly mum lives near Cape Town . “How’s the situation there?” I ask. “My mum hasn’t left the house for two weeks, the country is a couple of weeks behind us, Jane - the army is on the streets, but it’s going to spread like wildfire, people live in shanty towns, eight to a shack! How the hell are they going to social distance??”  


I took some night nurse last night, it’s great for numbing the mind and inducing sound sleep. I dreamt about Boris. We were in Marrakesh, the colours were so vivid, vibrant oranges and cobalt blues. “Where’s Boris?” said my sister, who was also in the dream. “He’s over there.” I answer “His hair has grown, so he looks different.”  


I have to turn the radio off, Jeremy Vine is talking about not being able to visit dying relatives in hospital, it’s too much to contemplate. This crisis is GLOBAL , that is the thing that’s hard to get your head around. Everybody is affected. Everybody! There is no cure, and if your immune system is not strong it kills fast.  


“Give my love to your mum” I say to my friend “Ring me anytime, I’m always in”........ Today will be one of those days when we just be kind to ourselves and acknowledge our mercurial emotions. My daughter who is usually practical and fearless is also feeling overwhelmed by information. I could tidy up, but no one is coming round, I might plant some more sweet pea seeds. ‘To plant a garden is to plant hope’ as the saying goes. I hope Boris makes a full recovery, and goes on to be a great leader. I hope we all come out of this crisis alive and more tolerant, kinder and less judgmental, with big hearts and open minds, able to hug each other tight and speak our truths, and laugh out loud. Hopefully I will have my best dahlia crop this year too! Keep safe everyone xxxxxx


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


Made, or was party to, two decisions today (oh, how quickly our horizons and ambitions shrink):


1) have granted to earnest gardener-type with not enough scope at home the opportunity to use some of ours. Scope is something we have, the energy to grow vegetables we don’t. As I know full well how labour intensive starting from scratch through turf can be, and how tedious ongoing weeding etc is, I’m v pleased that our understanding is clear. I cannot possibly help as I am self isoloratin*. She is out there now, laying heavy cardboard sheets to kill a large patch of grass, over which, to keep it pressed down hard she is emptying 20 bags of a special organic horse-muck based compost, which will form the growing bed. You can start sowing/transplanting straightaway. If it ends up no-dig, organic and productive it’ll be a marvellous thing. 


2) also, despite ongoing concerns about leaving the house for shopping, Sheila went off to our local Farm Shop with the idea of buying the makings of a roast dinner which we suddenly fancied. They have a strict ‘queue outside -widely spaced - two at a time in the shop and contactless payment, don’t dawdle’ regime. She’s come back with a chicken, spuds, parsnips, french beans and the first of the fresh local asparagus plus a whole load of fruit. I know the Tacon ‘asparagus’ family, they make the most wonderful black-currant jam, so thick you have to carve it out of the jar.  

Simultaneously, I am putting the finishing touches to a rose-bed formed to liberate 6 bush roses trapped in pots. It’s on a bare patch revealed and prepared for me by being under the canopy of 3 huge buddleia I’d let get out of control and which have now been lopped back hard. Two of these roses are Archiduc Joseph and Jeanne de Montfort to mark the passing of a favourite aunt and uncle Joe and Jeanne. Indeed there’s some cremation ash in there and so a bit of both.  


The overnight news is that PM Boris has been moved from obs to intensive care ‘as a precaution’ - there’s no indication that he requires intrusive ventilation, but much speculation it’s to get him on oxygen quickly should he need it. As I write this, 2.15, there’s no change, which I guess is good.  


* yes, I know. I thought it a jaunty Norfolk-dialect thing to do.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley


Another glorious Spring day. Hard to believe what is happening in the world outside. Prime Minister in hospital; elderly aunt (97) in a nursing home that the virus has reached. No visitors allowed, and nothing one can do. Time passes, much more quickly than anticipated. Libraries and archives closed, no visits from family and friends, singing group on hold, no Silver Swans ballet, outings prohibited, yet where has all that extra time to get on with writing gone? For a start there is that long walk after breakfast every day (never to be missed), more cards and letters to be written than usual, new technology to be mastered (first meeting by Zoom last week). The street is a hive of community activity. Rota to ensure everyone is OK; plant swap on Thursday, egg to decorate for Easter competition, notes on history of the street to write for the weekly newsletter, and so it goes on. Last week much brain activity went into doing the ‘sweet’ quiz (I won ....). Now it’s 2.50 and the PlagueJournal20 deadline approaches. Then I’ll get down to some proper work.

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