Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York


Jay and I have been going out to the Rockefeller trails earlier and earlier for our daily hikes. I guess one reason for this is that I have been waking up earlier than usual, feeling anxious. Secondly, I really do not want to see anyone. I am not sure why I worry about complete people-less seclusion because there are miles and miles of trails and it is never crowded. At most we see just several people... and usually no one at all for the first hour.  


We see funny things on the trails as the day is dawning. It feels as if the animals are not quite ready for us to appear at that time ...as if they are preparing for their daily performance and we catch them rehearsing. Today a swallow swooped and wooshed just by the side of my head and then shot up into the sky. Not long after, a female mallard duck flew by us as we made our way down Canter Alley… exactly at my eye level (which is not very high off the ground as I am 5’1”) no more than about 15 feet away… quacking and flapping parallel to the little stream which weaves around a line of trees lining the bridlepath. Then we saw two deer, casually wandering up the trail in front of us. When they realized we were behind them, they jumped and ran off into the adjoining field.


And then the sun rose and everyone took their positions.


Sublime Noise

Kevin Gardner, Waco, Texas


I've been thinking about time a lot lately. With lockdowns and quarantines, it feels like time is standing still. The spring weather here is also on lockdown, as we cycle back and forth between wintry and springlike conditions. This sense of time having been caught in a vortex is of course a terrible illusion. A few days ago our son turned 21. Just yesterday, it seems, he was a child. And just like that we get the sense of a rapid forward movement of time, pulling us out of the vortex into which this plague has drawn us. Beethoven's sublime noise explains it all. He was the master of endless variation: a simply melody is twisted and expanded, repeated with subtle changes but always driving forward to a joyous conclusion, and Beethoven's conclusions are always triumphant. In the finale of the Violin Concerto is this sense of time swirling and repeating, but time also driving us forward to a celebratory conclusion.


From St Just 

Jane G, St Just


Despite the news, it's still feline rather than human health that's my immediate concern. Early this morning I discovered a large lump on Smokey's chin - which rather explained why she's been having trouble eating for the last few days. The vet, though, remains firm about what is an emergency and said this wasn't. Looking at Smokey's dull eyes, I thought it probably was - & remembered that my neighbour Gemma is also a vet. With huge kindness she said of course she'd have a look, and we devised a way of getting her to Smokey without having to encounter me (it involved shutting Smokey in the bathroom, which involved tying its door-handle to the bedroom door-handle with a scarf, since the bathroom door can't be shut properly from the outside). She promptly diagnosed and dealt with an abscess, equipped only with a properly sterile needle, a bathroom towel and a pasta bowl. Like so many things, a strange turn of events: I'd never normally have asked and suspect she'd normally feel she had to refuse if I did - but this was to Smokey's great relief and my infinite gratitude. Before she left she listed all the parts of the bathroom she'd had to touch, so I'd know where to aim the disinfectant.  


Most of the rest of the day was spent in virtual meetings, mostly saying things like 'It's breaking up' and 'I think you need to unmute it' - and was generally a great deal less edifying.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia


For the first time I felt unsafe being out in public. I had a parcel to post. The queue snaked out the door and down the street. People constantly squeezed past to post letters, or to leave after their business was transacted. There were the obligatory distancing marks on the ground, which people were largely respecting until we reached the service area. Even though the signs clearly stated only three people at one time there were double that number. One of them was an older man with a hacking cough. The space was only ventilated by an open door blocked by people waiting or leaving.


I had heard Australia’s most respected commentator on C19, Dr Norman Swann speaking that morning on the pros and cons of face masks. Apparently if someone with C19 coughs or sneezes the droplets hang in the air like a cloud. A “snot cloud” were his words. A Scottish Australian doesn’t mince words.


Then an aggressive woman waiting outside shouted a question that was a statement, “are you queue jumping “ she demanded of an elderly woman. The lady had waited patiently to get inside, waited patiently to get her post pack and had then stepped aside to address it. She had just stepped back into the line to hand it over the counter. She looked like she might cry. I turned and explained the situation, and the woman looked back as if she might hit me. I couldn’t exit fast enough. I couldn’t sanitise my hands quickly enough. I headed for home at a trot. This country has suffered very little compared to many others but there are some very strident voices that whinge about small inconveniences like queues.


As I walk home I see people loading their cars preparing to leave to go away for Easter. It beggars belief that the seriousness of the situation is yet to hit home. I’m happy to go back in the kitchen faffing around with a sour dough, and I gild the lily by deciding to make some plum jam. Not even a long walk in the afternoon fresh air removes the thought of that wretched cloud.


Rural Norfolk 

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


I’m re-reading some Pepys - who had his own Plague Journal of course 355 years ago:


16th October 1665 

“But Lord, how empty the streets are and melancholy, so many poor sick people in the streets full of sores, and so many sad stories overheard as I walk, everybody talking of this dead, and that man sick, and so many in this place and so many in that. And they tell me that in Westminster there is never a physician, and but one apothecary left, all being dead - but that there are hopes of a great decrease this week: God send it.”


A wing and a prayer, then - not much changes.  


Seriously, it’s to be fervently hoped we’re beyond the ‘wing and a prayer’ approach, but Raab’s appearance last night was a faltering affair, more than usual unable or unwilling to answer journalist’s questions and of course it was immediately picked up and became the news itself. Not least being if Boris is well enough to not need intubation, does not have pneumonia, is in good spirits, was recently able to work ‘on his boxes’ and remains in contact with his Downing Street team, then why is he bed-blocking in St Thomas’s ITU? It doesn’t add up. To make it worse, CMO Chris Whitty dared say what no politician would: “Germany got ahead on testing. There’s a lot to be learnt from that” and it came with some sobering stats:


UK just over 200,000 tested now. 

50,000 positive (18,500 currently in hospital) 6159 dead in hospital, that’s 786 up in 24 hrs (others elsewhere in the community) 

Recovered 135  


Germany: close to 1,000,000 tested so far, tested 352500 last week 

103,375 positive 

2100 dead 

Recovered 36,081  


Bearing in mind of course ‘lies, damn lies and then there’s stats’, early testing does seem to result in higher recovery. In the Media this feeds the constantly repeated chilling remark that early ‘herd immunity’ policy here (and thus no need for testing) is now biting despite a turnaround of policy. We didn’t get our testing regime organised quickly enough. When (if) we get out of this, what will sober analysis show, and whose hand(s) will be on the levers?  


Here, it’s another world. 

Much excitement that a White Tailed Eagle has been spotted. 

Fear that our best productive hen may be broody. 

Sheila “Oh, there’s no chocolate cake.” 

Chris. “Not yet there’s not.”  


I think I might wander over to the carp pond.


Rural Norfolk 

Sheila Gates, Norfolk UK

I got up at 5am (for no particular reason) and took this picture from our back door of the 'pink moon', which is so named after a pink flower that comes out at this time in the Americas, apparently.

The chickens have been rather endearing today, although I have to put sticks in all my pots to stop them and all the other varmints from sitting on me blooms!


Vie de Château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France


Abstract: Go on the metopera.org  


Bonjour les amis,  


Rob and I are confined in our hometown of Blois. After 48 years of hard medical work, I am home enjoying the mental and humanist pressure rest. I will be a second line doctor when my job will be reopended by the autorities (I will be a nonsense close to any emergency). The government will probably give us 2 more weeks at home. Our children are fine in their places far away from us so no problem up to now.  


My great joy, one of the most intense cultural experience of my life, is watching every day the Metropolitan Opera on line, it is my 19th today. It need some kind of emptiness to have such intense pleasures. I remember reading Tolstoi Guerre et Paix on a hospital bed with a badly broken leg, that was so good too, I kept a dear souvenir of it. The MetOp gave me back all the time I had missed opera, because of distance, money, and dedication to other tasks. Wonderful.  


It's also making me very romantic. 


Give it a try.  May be a bit of art history in case you want to come on the Loire valley this summer and feel so good around Chambord. A wonderful large garden and house without the problems of owning it. 


We got this! This could be cool!

t, Rural Norfolk


The days seem to blend and I am determined to know what day it is as I wake. Today is… Wednesday; put the bins out day. I have an alarm set in my phone every Wednesday to remind me to do that, because I used to forget multiple times and then we’d have a rubbish crisis. So as far as remembering what day it is goes, today was a cheat day.   


I managed to rouse the teen before midday. I am counting this amongst my great Lockdown Achievements to date. I may even bake a Lemon Drizzle cake later to celebrate. 

We had student admin to do, again. None of the deadlines for finance have moved, but the systems for medical evidence required for some of those applications have obviously ground to a halt, for good reasons. So we are having to make additions of evidence as it becomes available. The loops any young person eligible for Disabled Student Allowance is required to leap through are despicable at the best of times. Right now, I find myself growing angry at every stage, for my own young person, but also for those vulnerable children who do not have endless parental support to help them through the bureaucratic maze. So then we took an extremely brisk daily walk, to blow it all away.  


The teen is back in his lair, I can hear he is online with his best friend, the joy and laughter is wonderful to hear. I think they’re doing ok.  


I will retreat to my shed and paint on some envelopes, because I’m enjoying that, and it requires just the right amount of concentration between mugs of tea to complete each picture.  


I am listening to music in between books this week. Víkingur Ólafssons new album of Debussy and Rameau just released. It is fluid and light and everything a lockdown is not. Music to be carried away by.



John Underwood, Norfolk




The Coronovirus pandemic seems to have brought about a rash of rainbows, with children being encouraged to colour them and place them in outside windows as a symbol of something. Hope probably. I taught Infants for 35 years or so, and used to teach the names of colours, and ask children to colour in a rainbow. This could be doubled up as an R.E.lesson if required. It was a fairly frustrating activity. I usually provided a rainbow shape on A4 paper, photocopied one for each child, with several spare. This was a mission in itself, as the school photocopier was often uncooperative, or in use by the office, or plain broken. It jammed, and you had to find the person who could unjam it. If I had used my allocated supply of paper, I might have to scour the school for a colleague who could be persuaded to loan a packet, or grovel to the school secretary who usually had a hidden stash. And then there were the crayons. There were dark blue crayons that you could use for indigo if you had to, reserving light blue for blue. There were purple crayons that would serve the same purpose, if you had any violet crayons. For some reason, crayons were ordered in different quantities by those who had the power to order things. Violet crayons were as rare as rocking horse you know what. The crayons had to be sharpened and placed in pots close to the children who were going to use them. One or two groups might be allowed a sharpener, but this was usually not a good idea, because some children would simply spend their time sharpening crayons for the whole lesson. Others would deliberately break the crayons and collect the little broken leads - and spend the lesson re-sharpening the crayons, and then breaking them. And repeat. This is one of the lesser known of Dante’s circles of hell.  


I usually spent time in the story corner with the class looking at different colours in nature and in the classroom; an orange, a banana, wooden building blocks etc. We looked at how to spell different colours, we talked about rainbows and when we saw them. I stressed the order of the colours, and talked about a writing activity, thinking of a mnemonic that we might use to remember the ordering. 


If I had been able to find the school prism I would show it to the children and project the spectrum onto a wall. The prism was usually not wrapped in tissue paper in the ancient cardboard box in the stock cupboard. It was usually stuffed in the back of a colleague’s desk drawer somewhere. And then to the colouring in. There were usually more than thirty six year old children in any class, and I might, if lucky, have a teaching assistant in class, or perhaps a work experience youth. Each of those thirty odd children, and some of them were very odd, had their own way of colouring in. There were the handful of careful children who stuck to the lines, knew the order of colours and took their time. Usually girls. There were the children who rushed to finish first, who scribbled roughly near the lines and clamoured round you to tell you that they had finished in a couple of minutes and had to be persuaded to try again. There were the children who refused point blank to do any colouring. These were often the same children who had been admonished for lead breaking and reading Dante in the story corner (etc). There were constant squabbles with children being unwilling to share their colours, usually violet of course. There were the children who couldn’t give a stuff about the order of the colours and reached for black crayons if I had neglected to remove them from the pots. There were teachers who left teaching when the first opportunity to take early retirement presented itself. 


I hope that parents at home are enjoying their rainbow colouring experiences as much as I did.

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