Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway


On this day, eighty years ago, Norway and Denmark were invaded by Germany. Dark days indeed. We honour the brave Ålesunder, Joachim Rønneberg, who led Operation Gunnerside which sabotaged the German heavy water plant in Telemark, with a statue in front of the Ålesund Town Hall.   


We binge-watched the brilliant series A Confession on Saturday night. My favourite season in Norway is Påske or Easter not least for the tradition of watching ‘Påskekrim’ or Easter crime movies especially picked for this week. I wonder if the tradition of viewing murder and crime is in some strange way empathizing with the Passion of Christ. We also use this week to read crime novels. Odd Norsk tradition!  


Less than five percent of the population attend church at Easter but we certainly enjoy the side benefits of a long holiday extending from Skjærtorsdag (Maundy Thursday) through Langfredag (literally “Long Friday” rather than Good Friday, which is a misnomer for the number of hours I spent in genuflection and fasting in my youth), through to Monday, “andre påskedag” which is a public holiday. Together with Iceland and Denmark, we enjoy the longest Easter holidays in the world. Everything is closed from today, so we bought a leg of spring lamb in preparation for Easter lunch from our treasured old butcher, Hole Kjøtt, on Tuesday and my husband put yellow tulips on his parents and brothers’ grave. Norwegian cemeteries are beautifully cared for and those who have passed are often visited in the course of the year.


There is a very strong theme of yellow that runs through this period. Yellow candles, yellow napkins, yellow tulips, yellow daffodils and yellow primulas. Curtains are changed, spring cushions put out, vintage nesting hen lidded dishes are brought out and eggs painted and hung from birch branches. To celebrate the end of a harsh winter and welcome the promise of renewal in Spring. One can’t find a yellow candle in Autumn for the love of money so I bought them out at Nille, a local discount store well-known for great candles.   


My husband loves listening to the radio Easter quiz, Påskelabyrinten (Eastermaze) on waking and watching another quiz Påskenøtter (Easternuts) after the evening news, which is far simpler. It’s just during Easter week and Norwegians are, if nothing else, quite competitive. It’s estimated that approximately half the population heads for the mountains to ski. Don’t think Aspen or Whistler. Bjorli and Stranda are the closest cross-country and downhill ski areas here. Dedicated to the pursuit of fresh air, beautiful views, brisk exercise and the de rigueur snacks of Kvikk Lunsj (the Norwegian KitKat) and “appelsiner” (oranges) whilst on the slopes. It’s often said that Norwegians are born with a pair of skis on their feet, so you won’t find them posing in Moncler drinking hot chocolate or eating at glam ski slope restaurants. There are none. It’s all about getting cosy in your cabin and roasting lamb, boiling potatoes and vegetables or firing up the barbeque. Social isolation was the norm way before coronavirus. One likes the sound of birdsong and silence on the mountains or the sea. Those who don’t ski, launch their boats and go for little boat tours. Alone and in silence.   


Off to watch The Shining whilst eating gjeitost (brown goat cheese) on hot toast dripping with orange marmalade accompanied by a cup of Lapsang Souchang. God Påske and keep safe.    

Joachim Rønneberg in PPE

Jack Nicholson at his crazy best in The Shining.


Bristol Calling

Simon Davies, Bristol


These pieces that we write, I suppose, are essays which although this form has an impressive history it also has unfortunate connotations of schoolwork and "A Day in the Life of a Penny". It can also be wholly delightful as you can see by the contributions around me.


When we consider that we know an area such as a city, a county or a country, what we actually know is a few routes within it. In the case of Bristol we know by foot or by bus (of fond memory) the roads bewteen the regularly used shops or services. These are usually the main arteries. Now we are interested in the hinterland of capillaries.


Mary and I get our exercise by a city walk between around five o'clock and seven. We want to look at buildings that we haven't seen before. The Georgian houses of Hotwells and Clifton are much more characterful than the sublime sweep of Georgian Bath. Consequenty after the war Bristol was not limited to merely copying the bits that had been destroyed but could create totally  new buildings or buildings that attempted some reflection of their Georgian neighbours using for example similar proportions or similar stone. We came across a stunning example of this yesterday and I took a picture of it that I had hoped would accompany this piece. Unfortunately I couldn't get far back enough so the picture was mostly hedge. Behind me was a primary school from where I could have got a good picture but of course the school is closed and locked. 


I had assumed that we would go Pevsnering  because he makes you look at buildings so much more carefully and draws your attention to features that you can otherwise look straight at and not notice. However, so far our copy of Pevsner Bristol has stayed stubbornly in the sitting room. 


New avenues were opened up to us when the Suspension Bridge instituted one footpath going out and the other coming back with no running, stopping or overtaking in order to facilitate social distancing. We now had access to Leigh Woods with its massive baronial mansions built I assume in the late Victorian and Edwardian period. It is staggering to think of the money it took to build them and the money that people must have today to maintain them. Interspersed with these are several small blocks of 1970's flats with stunning views but our view of them is less impressive.


Just at the end of this district is the gatehouse, one of several, to the vast stretches of Ashton Park. A gatehouse at the other side opens to the sprawling village of Long Ashton where I grew up. At around that time the whole of this estate and the huge house it contains all belonged to one woman. Now it is owned by the Council and is busy with walkers, runners, cyclists and at other times golfers and hot-air ballooners. This is how pragmatic Bristol evolves.


I do enjoy reading our pieces: definitely worth trying.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England


It is reported that over 7,000 people have died from Coronavirus so far. That doesn’t include the people who have died in care homes, but includes 14 bus drivers. Over 18,000 have died in Italy, over 15,000 in Spain. That’s a lot of bodies. It is only my third week in lockdown, I have my daughter for company and I have never had a problem spending time with myself, I like my own company, but the collective loss, grief and fear that this crisis brings will have a lasting impact on society. Already it’s difficult to imagine going for a drink to a crowded bar, then to see a theatre show. Something we used to do often. I miss the Dutch flowers, and flirting with the delivery drivers. I miss getting a takeaway cappuccino. I miss going to a yoga class, it’s just not the same doing it on your own. (that’s if  I can get it together to do it at all!) I like cooking, but the enjoyment comes from feeding friends and family and everyone gathered together around the table.  


Deciding I needed to ‘do something useful’ I went to the allotment, thankfully that’s not off limits. The weather was warm, and no longer a slave to time, I was there for almost four hours. I made a bed for the dahlias, I didn’t wear gloves, I wanted to feel the cold earth in my hands. This will be my focus for the foreseeable. To plant some flowers. The world needs flowers.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just


I shut down my work email yesterday on the instructions of the university's Vice Chancellor, who sent what must be one of the better letters to staff from a VC, pointing out how much extra work many of us have been doing over the last few weeks and telling us to go home in mind as well as body over Easter. In my case that meant re-painting the stairs and trying to repair the failing concrete round the bedroom window, where someone once took out a sash window and put in a smaller uPVC one - not altogether a bad one, as they go, but the concrete and the granite now seem to be at odds and gaps are appearing. The stairs were quite successful, the repair probably less so. Winter storms will tell.  


I also started photographing my jewellery for the very many exhibitions that are moving online over the next few months, and completely lost track of time and the world: a huge relief sometimes to forget about the circumstances to the extent that, when you re-surface, it's possible for a moment to look out across the ridiculously beautiful cliff-scape to the sea and breathe as if all were well. And a huge luxury, if a fleeting one.


We got this! This could be cool!

t, Rural Norfolk


So, having successfully navigated the supermarket last week, I thought I’d have another go today, replenish dairy and perishables. My boy is a typical teen; 6ft 4” with hollow legs. He doesn’t eat meals so much as swoop and consume. 


Anyway. The queue. I texted the boy when I arrived; “I’m going to be a while, it’s creepy” I have just passed the marker saying 60+ minutes from here, I wonder what the queue will be like at the other end. Everyone silent, heads down, except those usual few who have immensely personal phone conversations as though we cannot all hear; cash flow, cancelled work, arguments with partners, mental health issues, fear for ageing parents... no doubt a microcosm of all the rest of us. I smiled at the one person who looked up “At least it isn’t raining, glorious day!”. So British of me, but what else is there to say?


I have noticed that in our house we consume what must be an above average quantity of lemons, I hope they have multipacks again today, and that quantity restrictions are lifted. Lemon tea, lemon marinade for the teen’s steak dinner (his go to recipe when it’s his turn to cook), lemon roasted chicken, and of course lemon drizzle cake. I baked a large cake yesterday, I thought it would be there for treats today too. Oh silly me. 


So, as I approach the entrance, I am posting from the field, so to speak, or I shall miss today’s deadline!


This is t, reporting to you from a supermarket somewhere in England, the sun is shining, and the world is upside down.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham


Now that I'm on my own so much I need someone to talk to so I do it myself. These conversations  are conducted in a murmur and I always address myself as Dave which I was called when I was at school; sometimes I do it in an Irish accent. Usually O'Horovitch offers Dave encouragement and praise for performing long-deferred, commonplace tasks like putting the spice rack in alphabetical order or cutting his toenails. Well, someone's got to encourage him. I suppose. I wonder if this auto-rabbit thing's hereditary as I often used to catch my mother doing the mad muttering but I didn't think she was bonkers; I just wished she'd turn the volume up. If the saw that I'd caught her, she'd turn away for a second and then turn back to face me, humming as brazen as a bee as if that's what she'd been doing all along. There's no-one here to catch me of course but if there was I'd pretend to be trying to remember my lines although that would only be credible if I was in rehearsal for something. I am still at it with the sonnet learning so I suppose I could pretend I was doing that, although, come to think of it, I probably wouldn't be doing that if I wasn't on my own. I'm treating it like work and, like most work, there's an aspect of it that's an arduous chore. It's exhilarating, though, when you can begin to feel it going in and you start breathing in the right places and understanding the audacious compressions - 'happies those' instead of 'makes those happy.' Just as long as you can cram it into the pentameter Will. Nearly learnt number 6. Well done, Dave. 


Chekhov knew a thing or two when it came to work. There's nothing wrong with those three sisters that a good job wouldn't cure. It's not so much The Puritan Work Ethic as the distraction from the question of whether you are happy or not and if not, why not. I've only been happy when I've not had the time and the space in my  head to ask myself that question and not necessarily then of course. I had masses of love and sympathy when Tom died but it was my oldest school friend and Harriet Walter who both said  - ' You must get back to work as soon as you can.' Three months later I did a play in Dublin. My memory of it raining all the time might be a Pathetic Fallacy but I do know I wasn't happy, of course I wasn't. I had to learn lines though, get up every morning and be there on cue every evening I did it and, Time being the longest distance between two spaces, it passed and  put a distance between myself and my loss.


I do know how lucky I am that I can worry about putting my herbs in alphabetical order, that I have a comfortable home, friends, my health, enough of a pension to live on and another son. Meanwhile this thing is everywhere outside and around and the only escape is to stay indoors and protect ourselves and others by doing nothing. I do think about it a great deal but it's so incomprehensible that sometimes I think I'm not thinking about it as much as I should be. 


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


As we wait for our new lockdown details (expected Monday) with the big test of lockdown resolve - a forecast fine bank holiday in between - news reaches me from Dubai of their idea of a lockdown: you are only allowed out of your flat or house to shop for food and you must take a picture on your phone of the dated receipt to lodge with the authorities on return or there is an immediate fine of £2000. Let’s hope we don’t go that far. 


Mind you, it’s just been announced that Yarmouth is closed to tourists this coming weekend, extraordinary in itself.


Yesterday the likeable Chancellor Rishi took the No10 briefing, the headlines were:

PM is sitting up and engaging with staff at Saint Thomas’s – improving but still in ICU.

Death toll in France nears 10,000, Spain nearing 15,000. Here, ‘hospital deaths‘ are 7000+ but overall figures are confused and time-lagged by collection of details from Death Certificates which would show community and Care Home deaths. It’s a lot, anyway.


Perhaps stung by ongoing Press criticism of unpreparedness, Gov’t announces more Nightingale-style field hospitals: another five immediately (Making 10 in total) but more planned.


As if to reinforce the idea that Government forward planning is perhaps a good thing, the ‘Miss Strict’ of TV, Emily Maitliss starts her program tonight with this heaviness re the emergence of the realisation that the disease isn’t striking ‘fairly’ across the population but hits the poorest hardest  “... It’s a health and welfare issue with huge ramifications. As France goes into recession and the WHO warns the pandemic could provoke the worst economic downturn of our lifetime, we need to ask what kind of social settlement might need to be put in place to stop the iniquities becoming even more stark.” Blimey. 

In stark, privileged contrast -


Minutia, or today’s tasks from the sanctuary that is home:

Locate nest of rogue hen evidently going broody as she would rather race out of sight to her chosen spot than take breakfast with the others.

Plant out sweet peas.


Today’s tasks that involve leaving home: 

collect some ‘home delivery’ shopping from kindly friend and neighbour who’s bought it on our behalf.


Today’s cancelled tasks that would’ve involved leaving home:

We have a wood pellet boiler, and we are running low on pellets. However, by careful stock taking and prudent alteration of the central heating controller, I calculate that I no longer need to visit the yard of the distributors to collect some ahead of the planned delivery in two weeks. Who knows what dangers may lurk there...





Silence. So many of you write about the Silence now. This morning, I feel like saying, ‘What silence?’


We are used to silence in rural Norfolk, although the road passing our gate is busy is here at certain times of day. And then there’s the farm traffic. But today, sitting in the garden, I am amazed by the lack of silence. An awful lot of cars passing up and down; cyclists yelling to each other; someone in the barns next door using an electric saw; the distant purr of the A47 (surely not a queue of caravanners heading for the coast?); and then, suddenly, the sky trembling with noise, deafening. Aircraft - can’t see them - but the air thrums with the noise, the garden trembles. Probably RAF planes from Marham. What are they doing? Going out to fight the Virus? Minutes later, and I could hear the birdsong again.


The day before yesterday, I thought I saw a Hoopoe in the lime tree. Yes, a Hoopoe.; they have been seen in Norfolk. But, after talking to Mark Hearld on the phone, I’m wondering whether it was a Jay. We have several pairs of Jays around. I’m sure this was different: that amazing crest. I hope it was a Hoopoe.


So, I sit at the table in the Herb garden, which hasn’t really been a herb garden for twenty years, watching the tulips come out, the sky as blue as blue. And I know we are so lucky: a large old house and garden, enough food in the cupboard, the company of two cats... and the possibility of a Hoopoe.

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