Hilary Q, North Norfolk
The rose arrived last night. Delivered personally by Max of Burnham Market in his Van Rouge. He left it in the porch where a robin is building a wonderfully mossy nest atop the muddy one maintained every year by the house martins. There may be trouble ahead! Have postponed decision re the big read and am enjoying ‘Rescuing Horace Walpole’ by Wilmarth S Lewis. Today’s coffee call was to Una who is Irish and lives in Ealing. Everyone in her road has been asked to put a teddy bear in the window for a children’s Easter Parade! Una’s bear is a panda aged 63!
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
Greetings from South Africa, where we’ve been under a stringent lockdown for the last few weeks.
The big worry at the moment is the situation of people in slum areas (euphemistically known as 'informal settlements'), which are dotted around the townships and city limits, where shacks are packed together and there is no running water or communal taps are few and far between. Eleven million people live in these conditions, and the danger is the virus could devastate such communities.
The government aims to relocate people from these areas to enable hygiene and distancing, but this has yet to happen, and doesn’t seem feasible. South Africa is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, and the massive racialised inequality is likely to be heavily reflected in the Covid-19 impact.
I live in a suburb north of Pretoria and together with my kids can easily comply with the current lockdown. I just have to help them not get too bored, which is a privileged position to be in.
There’s an echoey silence when you step outside, where usually you hear the background thrum of the city and ‘schoom’ of cars on the main road.
The lockdown is supposed to end on April 16 but will almost certainly be extended. We don’t yet know what the toll of the virus will be here. If it hits very hard, millions of people, already vulnerable because of the high prevalence of HIV and TB, will be in danger. So far, or until there’s effective treatment or a vaccine, the lockdown and hand washing are the only buffers we have against the plague.
Counting my blessings....
Counting my blessings.... - Sue, Yorkshire
Feeling strangely content and lucky today. Expecting a grocery delivery any time today which I ordered on line and was amazed to learn it is arriving today Maundy Thursday - only ordered on Tuesday this week! At last I do not have to rely on lovely neighbours to do my shopping. Apparently I am not sufficiently vulnerable to be offered a slot from my regular supermarket! I am lucky I am not vulnerable, I have a garden and wonderful neighbours but I like to be independent (don't we all?) and hate to rely on others.
Count your blessings is a phrase we use but do we always follow the advice? I am now. I live alone, my husband of 54 years, died last year. Yes, I am grieving but I have lovely memories, I have two caring sons who live away BUT contact me most days. I have a small garden, a comfy home and am fit. I continue my Pilates Classes through Zoom once a week. I have friends and cousins phoning or emailing every day. How many blessings is that? I do not intend to sound smug just very grateful.
It is my children and grandchildren I sympathise with. Cancelled GCSEs, University final exams, one just had his first exciting year at Oxford University - so very sad and disappointing for teenagers.
This is just my personal feelings this morning to share with you my perspective. The rambling jottings of an Octogenarian!
John Underwood, Norfolk
A Glomeration of Small Drops. The symbol of a rainbow has been much in evidence during this time of pandemic. I wrote yesterday of my attempts to teach the colours of a rainbow to young children. Today, a couple of excerpts from c17th writings about rainbows which might amuse for their understandings and turn of phrase.
Sir Thomas Browne of Norwich, in his book Pseudodoxia Epidemica (often called “ Browne’s Vulgar Errors”) London, to be sold in Ivie Lane 1646, writes in refutation of the commonly held idea that “there was no Rainbow before the flood”. Much of his essay concerns theological argument, but towards the end he writes “ …that the colours are made by refraction of light, and the shadows that limit that light; that the Center of the Sun, the Rainbow, and the eye of the beholder must be in one right line; that the spectator must be betweene the Sun and the Rainbow; that sometimes three appeare, sometimes one reversed; with many others, considerable in Meteorological Divinity, which would more sensibly make out the Epithite of the Heathens, and the expression of the son of Syrach, very beautiful is the Rainbow, It compasseth the heaven about with a glorious circle, and the hands of the most High have bended it.”
Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans, however, in his work“ Sylva Sylvarum” London, to be sold at The Great Turks Head next to the Mitre Taverne in Fleetstreet 1627 writes about an experiment “ touching Sweetness of Odour from the Rainbow”. “ It hath beene observed by the Antients, that where a Raine-Bow seemeth to hang over, or to touch, there breathe forth a Sweet Smell”. Not something that I have noticed myself, not being a regular rainbow sniffer - but Bacon offers an explanation for this idea; “The Cause is, for that this happeneth but in certain Matters, which have in themselves some Sweetnesse; Which the Gentle Dew of the Rain-Bow doth draw forth; As the like doe Soft Showers; For they also make the Ground Sweet: But none are so delicate as the Dew of the Rain-Bow, where it falleth. It may be also, that the Water itself hath some Sweetnesse; For the Rain-Bow consisteth of a Glomeration of Small Drops, which cannot possibly fall, but from the Aire, that is very Low. And therefore hold the very very Sweetnesse of the Herbs and Flowers, as a Distilled Water.”
I reckon that is a pretty convincing Norwich 1, St. Albans 0 for scientific understanding, or possibly St Albans edging it in the second half for sweetnesse of language. Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
The board are issuing a weekly update to staff, focused on three aspects of resilience:
• Financial resilience: the actions we are taking to protect the company’s financial security, to manage day to day cash and to access additional funding;
• Operational resilience: how we are adapting our manufacturing and logistics operations to be able still to meet reduced customer demand whilst facilitating social distancing, and encouraging working from home; and
• Human resilience: how we are supporting colleagues during this period of worry and disruption.
The first two are the sort of challenges that experienced managers in well-run companies should be able to cope with, even if the scale of the changes, the number of decisions required and the speed of implementation is quite unprecedented. Human resilience is more difficult for us to manage. There is a limit to the promises we can make about future financial security, and I personally struggle to know how to respond to colleagues who say they are living in fear of the disease: quoting statistics and probabilities isn’t very helpful. We know that regular supportive communication is key. But we have a further challenge in that the natural cultural divide in a manufacturing business between shop floor staff and office staff, is exaggerated when most of the office staff are working from home. So the messages to one audience may not be appropriate to the other. To complicate matters further, we now have 31 staff on furlough. We need to keep in touch with them as well, so that they don’t feel forgotten, or worry that they are first in line if we end up facing the prospect of redundancies.
At home we are experiencing another test of human resilience. I have a small house near the factory, about 60 miles away from home, where I generally stay 3 or 4 nights during the week. And in fact throughout my career, and nearly 30 years of married life, it has not been unusual for me to be away from home during the week, and sometimes for much longer periods. But now I am at home all day, 7 days a week. So S and I are getting our first taste of what impact my retirement, currently planned for the end of 2021, might have on our domestic arrangements. So far we are managing to cohabit reasonably successfully. S. generally works in the south-facing dining room, whereas I am in the study on the other side of the house, so outside of meal times we generally keep ourselves to ourselves. One minor glitch: it was S’s birthday earlier this week. I commented that if my electric piano was at home, not in my other house, I would have been able to start her day with a rousing rendition of “When I’m 64”. This suggestion was met with a long pause, and the somewhat barbed observation that I was a year early. Oh dear. Sorry!
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Catherine, Sussex, UK
'Well, is it on or isn't it?', asked the removals boss, planted stolidly in my front garden, vans parked imposingly behind him.
I had no idea. I was standing amidst my life in boxes which were waiting to be borne away or unwillingly unpacked, but the previous night had heard the shock news that society had been closed down with immediate effect. This morning I knew things were tight, but surely folk, newly exhorted to get home from wherever they were, needed a chance to get there? Still, was I going home - or leaving it? At that precise moment the new house was not yet legally mine, nor had I legally parted with the old.
My artfully arranged mask and scarf, which had caused such hilarity among the men the previous day, began to slip out of use, as did distancing.
Lots of frantic texts and phone calls, in a turbulent sea of sudden ignorance and confusion - then with hope in my heart I waved goodbye to the laden vans, which were possibly heading into limbo. We still couldn't be certain that the chain would complete. I prepared my speech for the police who would doubtless stop me as I followed in a car bursting with private boxes and last-minute cleaning materials and meter readings.
Having breathed a tentative sigh of relief that things had so far gathered themselves together, it seemed sensible to stop en route and top up my low petrol tank. I had some miles to go, and wouldn't it be annoying to run out before I got there? To the desk to pay: card refused three times, despite immaculate punching in of pin number. Card now no longer usable, and petrol still to pay for, never mind the removals boss at the other end. Just pence in my purse.
'Oh', said the cashiers unperturbed, 'It's been doing that, because we've sprayed so much disinfectant on the keypad that it's got behind the buttons.' Thanks for telling me now, girls. Standing in a corner surrounded by crisps, mags and engine oil, fruitless and frustrating phone calls to bank. Stress levels, briefly abated, rising. No one in, and even automated lady willing to deal only with emergencies such as being evicted. This is an emergency, but obviously not a sufficiently major one.
With a promise to pay when I can, and much paperwork added to my pocket (already full of scraps of paper bearing irreplaceable nuggets of information like meter readings - later mislaid for heart-stopping days, phone numbers and so on), I'm on my way again, cashless but with hope as well as worry in my heart.
All the same, my immaculate planning has already been wobbled. Daughter primed in new town to obtain keys as soon as she hears from me that they are available. As I drive, the phone goes off periodically - but no call is the awaited one from the agent. At the new house, the vans are waiting. The boss is impatient to throw the stuff off and get back to the original town before he is stopped by police. But where are new keys? Drive to agent's house (it's a one-horse home-based outfit), find Daughter still waiting outside; she eventually knocks on the door, to be told the keys had been available for hours. Thanks for telling me, agent-ducky.
Race back to my (as it now, at last, is) new house; men are muttering that boss intends to charge 'waiting time,' so despite being beyond exhausted I help the men unload, while Daughter and her partner unexpectedly and with poor timing clear off to bring their own stuff, as they are moving in too (another story). Men as usual quickly lose interest and dump everything - meticulously labelled with destination - in sitting room, which is just inside the front door. Fortunately, as the boss is there they decline endless cups of tea. When he's not, where do they put it all?
Come paying time, I am clever: have realised I know where both my credit card (plus remembered pin no - hooray!) and cheque book are, so am covered. But: where the hell is the box in which lies the smaller box in which I know they are? The men's chaotic hurling of boxes anyoldwhere means I have no idea. Again. For the second time that day, awkward negotiations, standing in the street, around the lack of wherewithal to pay for services rendered. So anxious are they to be off, however, that a promise to pay by phone as soon as the cards are unearthed suffices. I am a serial mover, so have good 'credit' with the boss.
Wave them off, close front door behind me, and can't believe it's all done. What a day.
Thence the next chapter, to come at another time.
Une vie banale, la France profonde
MJK, Magrie, France
Maundy: from Latin ‘mandatum’ and medieval French ‘mande’ – command, commandment or mandate. An archaic term, brought to life for most of us just once a year, on this Thursday in the Christian Holy Week, when the monarch performs an ancient ceremony of distributing alms to the poor.
That’s not happening this year, obviously. At this strange, dangerous time, the queen, herself 94, older and more vulnerable than most of the indigent elders to whom she doles out the ritual coins, obviously isn’t expected to uphold a tradition of symbolic humility and compassion that started with events around the Last Supper.
Jesus washed the feet of his apostles before that last shared meal. His simple mandatum: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:34, King James Version).
Although the Last Supper has an explicitly Christian significance, the Maundy message transcends cult or creed. In these days of confinement, crisis and Covid-19, we see vital, practical examples of humility and compassion all around us. Doctors, nurses, healthcare staff of all ranks, transport workers, retail operatives... all trying to preserve our health, save our lives, enable us to endure our confinement in as normal a way as possible, often for little monetary reward and at very real risk to themselves.
Care and compassion are agnostic, inclusive, available to all. Each of us has it in us to share in this, even it’s only by looking out for neighbours, doing a bit of shopping for people who can’t run the risk of going out, or just cheering up the lonely or isolated with a phone call or a chat on social media. And, above all, by sharing a commitment to stay at home whenever possible, to protect not just our own loved ones but also those whom we don’t know, whom might never know, but whose lives might be changed forever if we fail to protect them, too.
For many – certainly for me – this new-found time for reflection is helping to keep us sane. It’s a privilege to be able to see mundane things with a different, perhaps more appreciative eye. Yesterday was only my second time out of confinement; just a quick trip to the supermarché scarcely five minutes’ drive away. It was liberating trundling along the country road fringed with abundant blossom, the first vibrant field poppies, bursts of yellow, white and orange wildflowers, purple lilac hanging like perfumed chandeliers. The birds’ unscripted choruses were loud in the bright sun, the sky a vivid blue, the car windows rolled down. A perfect spring day, a day for feeling joyous, thankful.
Choose Something Like a Star
What a strange mixture of incredible stillness, quiet, with so much Spring beauty, and horrific news from here and around the world. On one hand I'm revelling in time I never normally have, painting, drawing, looking at art and poetry and long phone calls...., and doing jobs on my van....and then I listen to a programme such as "fallout" on R4 and it's clear that life will be irrevocably changed by this pandemic. Sub - Saharan Africa, like so many other parts of the 'developing world' is going to be hit incredibly hard, by the sounds of things.
Yet the birdsong is so sweet, the butterflies are vibrant, the nearby fields are still, sunny and atmospheric....
Today I washed my little van (not that I'm going anywhere soon) and decided to build a tiny sink in there somewhere.
Future van travels.....back to Cornwall, South Wales, Sottish borders....but I'm starting not so far away, my mission to go to Coventry Cathedral to visit the stained glass designed by John Piper.