Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk


Spent an amusing quarter hour in the garden playing with a tin chicken and a bag of pretty foil-covered chocolate eggs.  Sent two of the photographs to those I love and here, I share them with my fellow journalists with wishes for a kind and gentle Easter weekend.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


Good Friday

So, yesterday’s briefing from No10 was very much ‘business as usual’, Raab, fresh from a COBRA meeting, was always unlikely to flag up much relaxation of isolation rules - particularly ahead of the coming Easter Weekend - and as if to emphasise the point revealed to the contrary the decision has been made to review no earlier than the end of next week, not this coming Monday, the 3 week anniversary of Boris’s first announcement, as we all hoped. They are looking for evidence we’ve passed the peak of infection and of the impact of current measures before taking the brakes off (sensible) but at the same time the open-ended nature of the curtailment of normal life must start to gnaw dreadfully at some. He dripped into the conversation that Greater Manchester police had to intervene in over 1000 ‘gatherings‘ last weekend and implored us to hold the line. Some welcome news: BoJo is out of ICU, back on a general ward and in good spirits. He will have much-enhanced clout as a ‘vet’ when he gets back on our screens.


Last night was the third opportunity to go outside and make a racket at 8pm, showing solidarity and appreciation for all in the ‘frontline’ who are keeping things going for the rest of us. As Journalled, we clapped the first time but found the experience lacking due to the fact that no one could possibly hear although I suppose the gesture counts. Last week we upped the ante (or ‘we up to annoy his auntie‘ as my ipad dictation would have it) considerably by taking saucepans and wooden spoons and when the spoons broke I gave a couple of barrels to the night sky in salute. Last night we took heavy frying pans and large stainless steel spoons out in the car with the windows open, and at 8 drove slowly up our lane and back past the dozen or so houses and made a real old racket. We have active and retired NHS plus other frontliners in our tiny hamlet, it was good to let them know. Hope it wasn’t over the top. Btw, I can rarely participate or even hear the word ‘clap’ without remembering the marvellous “Great Soprendo” otherwise magician Geoffrey Durham in his foreign stage persona who on producing a really fantastic trick but sensing the slightest delay in applause would smile beatifically and say “Now you give me the clap“.

We registered a few days ago with an online study of self-reporting by King’s College, Guy’s and St Thomas’s - https://covid.joinzoe.com/ - which only takes a minute a day, basically to log-in and report a) if you’re well and b) if not, have you tested positive. They publish a map which you can customise to your own area, it’s interesting to see if covid-19 is hunting us down. There’s a strong indication of heavy infection to the east, a little lighter to the west, but surprisingly Norwich itself is as unblemished as the rural area surrounding it containing us. You’d think that city population density would, literally, colour the report. The fatalist in me worries that statistically we are at risk here as if we were in heaving Norwich, but it must be due to lack of registrations, surely...


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA


Having my coffee as I write this morning and waiting for the garbage pick-up to appear. This may not sound like a particularly interesting topic to write about, but as long as I have lived here in the country I have taken my household waste and recyclables to the local recycling center, which is the most economical way to get rid of one’s garbage. I usually fill the trunk of my car with cardboard, paper, cans, and bottles while the kitchen garbage I put into prepaid bags which I keep in a bin outside until both trunk and bin are full and I take a ride to the ‘dump’. There are separate places to put all the trash but one encounters lots of other people including the men who work there along the way so, despite the extra cost, I have arranged to have my garbage picked up in front of the house once a week and today is the first day they will come through our little hamlet and collect my garbage for me. It feels rather like a treat, and I woke up a few times to see if they had already come for I was told to put it out the night before in case they come through in the wee hours of the morning. When I dressed, I went out to look inside my bins to see if they were empty as one was filled to almost overflowing and from the house it looked empty, but no, someone must have rummaged through what I had put out and decided it was ‘good junk’ and took it home with them, for the rest remains, waiting to be whisked away like magic when the big noisy truck finally comes through. It all feels rather extravagant.  


I shared the story I wrote last time of little Dickens’ escapade with an old friend who wrote back to me that I sounded quite cheerful. I was surprised and must confess that while I am trying to stay positive and not let the magnitude of the Coronavirus, which continues its spread throughout the world, take over my life, in truth I relate to everyone who is writing about how very hard it is to settle and focus on the work I usually do, and that before I realize it it is noon and all I have done is to sit at the computer, emailing friends or talking to my family trying to wrap my mind around how the world has changed from a relatively safe one (in my life anyway) to one of such uncertainty and danger. It feels as if we are all waiting for the other shoe to drop.


The long way back

Nicolás Maurokefalidis, Argentina


On April 2nd, I begin the long way back to Argentina from London. For weeks I've been staying in my student accommodation while London self isolated. The streets which I used to avoid because of the traffic are now empty. The intersection of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street used to be hectic on Friday nights, roaring with cars and people. Now there is no sign that that ever happened.


My room overlooks the British Museum. The sight of its marble pillars and deserted courtyards is eerie and disconcerting. Only two security guards remain within its closed gates. Usually, lights are left on during the night, but now even those have been turned off, and the heaps of white rock loom threateningly in the shadows.


Despite the painful sluggishness that reigns in the streets of London, some things move extremely fast. Plans are made in a hurry, and they can change even faster. Such was the case with my flight back home. I received an email on April 1st from the Argentinian Embassy about a flight departing the next day. It would likely be the last flight to land in Argentina for weeks. I had to book a flight to Frankfurt to catch that plane. Two hours after the initial email was sent, another one came announcing that all spots on the flight were taken; I managed to move fast enough and got one.


April 2nd. The streets are still deserted, and a man stops his cycle outside the British Museum to take a picture of its glaring emptiness. Departing feels strange. After a year of university, London feels more a home than my home in Argentina. But even London has become alienating. Family and friends are just as important a part of 'home'; in London there remain none. All my friends from university have gone back to their homes, either in or outside the UK. I am one of the last few who still hasn't, and the text messages of pity or concern I receive daily make my situation all the more awkward.


The drive through the deserted main roads is swift and effortless. My Uber driver reflects on this, saying his job is made a lot easier now because of the lack of traffic. Indeed, I've never seen Euston Road this empty. Heathrow's emptiness also reflects London's; one has to get used to being an outlier where they once would have blended in the mass of people. In Heathrow, special forms need to be filled out so we are allowed in and out of Germany. Embassy workers in the airport try their best to bring some clarity which they don't have. 'We don’t know for sure yet,' we hear constantly. Embassy dispatches or official emails are the maximum authority.


After a short flight, we arrive in Frankfurt where we have to spend the night. No one is allowed out of the airport. People seek certainty and will ask anyone questions about anything. The answers are not important and the authority figures they ask (embassy officials, flight attendants, taxi drivers) are just as clueless as them. After a few more hours of waiting, we are told that the German government has authorised us to leave the airport to go to a hotel. Small groups form, bonding over the prospect of finding somewhere to spend the night. By the time we reach the Frankfurt city centre, it’s dark and empty, but not as empty as London. The lockdown measures in Germany are laxer, but most of the people who remain outside are still the outliers of society. Homeless people begging for spare change or a woman shooting up heroin dwell at the train station: you can't avert your gaze from them because there's nothing else to look at. I head towards the hotel with a group of four other Argentinians who, for one reason or another, found themselves in London trying to get back to their country.


After a night at the hotel, we head back with our newly founded group to the airport. Again, someone else from the embassy; again, a bundle of forms to be filled. And so we wait again. When the time comes to board the plane, we do so with some suspicion. After the pains it took to get here, surely it won’t be as simple as boarding any other plane. But it mostly is. The 14 hour flight goes by without any trouble. Up in the air we seem to have found neutral ground, and all previous arguments are momentarily soothed. 


On landing, everyone is handed another form, asking if we’ve had any symptoms in the last week. The calm that ruled during the flight breaks down as medics board the plane to escort out the two passengers who showed symptoms of the virus. After a nervous wait, we descend the plane in small groups. The phrase with which we are welcomed as we enter the airport, ‘bienvenidos señores,’ sounds as if it was taken from a 90s detective movie. It is late in the night now, but the wait is hardly over. We spend another four hours in line, waiting for a decision from the government authorities. Now, well past midnight, we are told that we’ll all be sent to a hotel to quarantine. People's complaints about going back to their homes will not be listened to. And so we are put in buses and sent across the city.


By the time we arrive at the hotel, it’s four in the morning. The hotel is old and its facade dull, of the kind that blends unnoticeably in the streets of Buenos Aires. Above the entrance are four worn-out golden stars, which may have held true 20 years ago. The hotel is now run by government officials with white uniforms and white face masks. The instructions are as follows: no one is allowed out of their rooms, and meals are left in a tray outside the room four times a day. Call reception if you need anything; we’ll see what we can do.


The first morning is the cruellest. The lady down the corridor is talking about suicide on the phone with her room door open for everyone to hear. 'I'm gonna kill someone or kill myself.' Someone from the Ministry of Health comes to try and soothe her, standing at a safe distance outside her room. The lady shouts about wanting to go back home, cursing the shabbiness of the hotel room, the food, the inefficiency of the government. Her hair is falling, she says, she's been in and out of sleeping pill cycles all day. She's got no family, no husband or children to talk to. Her five dogs are left home with no one to feed them and soon enough they’ll start killing each other. After an hour I stop hearing her voice.


It’s been seven days since I arrived at the hotel. Every morning I get a call from the Health authorities: ‘Feeling unwell? Any symptoms?’ It’s easier to fall into a routine now: the four meals structure my day, but sometimes those take longer than usual and I am left blankly staring at the door. The man in the room in front of mine always starts a conversation with the hotel staff, and now they greet each other as if they were lifelong friends. They’ve told me in four more days we’ll be sent back to our homes: I’ve grown accustomed to being here, but I sure won’t miss anxiously waiting for a knock on the door to let me know that the food is outside.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk


It's Friday again today so I have been to check the shop, and do a bit of shopping for me and a few neighbours and friends. Not so much required this week. 

I dug out one of my beautiful Hermes scarves that I inherited from Joan, my 2nd cousin once removed for emergency scarf use. I think this is quite a look, pale pink cashmere jumper, pale pink Hermes scarf and clear rubber gloves.


I met Mary in the car park at Back to the Garden outside Holt and we had a dahlia swap. I expect hers are a bit better than mine. I hope she doesn't end up with all the boring ones though I have tried to give her a good selection of tubers.


I have been looking forward to going here all week to get some Booja Booja ice cream. They have rearranged the layout of the shop and I didn't realise you are meant to pick up a basket at the new entrance so I went in to the shop  and then through to the normal entrance to get one. It is now an exit by the till and I asked someone in the queue to pass me one. She said "No you have to join the queue, wait like everybody else", quite aggressively I would say. Well I didn't know. No need for that response you old cow! We're all in this together don't you know.


Last night at around 8.00pm I was shutting up the chickens etc and heard a weird noise. I then realised it was clapping and whooping for the incredible NHS from all around the village. It brought a tear to my eye and I really felt quite emotional so I stood in the garden alone and clapped.


I really hope that all these key workers of all cultures, races, colours and religions will get a bloody big pay rise after this and all the children of deceased key workers get grants and pensions and help.


Boris is out of critical care which is a relief. Stanley has been on the radio to say Thankyou to the NHS and say how relieved he is and Boris must rest now. I doubt he will.


I have planted more sweet peas and arranged their wigwams and chucked compost everywhere.

Roger, my in lock down gardener gave me some baby lettuces just now when I dropped off some stuff for him.

Love Annabel xxx


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham


A Dog’s Wedding Postponed


While considering dog life, an image came into my mind of Paolo Veronese’s ‘The Marriage at Cana’ (in the Louvre if you want to look it up) but it was the two hounds practically centre stage in the painting that I chiefly recalled. On looking closely at the painting again online (how wonderful to have this facility during the plague) I noticed another dog to the left edge of the composition, also a hunting dog I suspect, as hunting wild animals was a popular sport. 


What I had missed seeing previously is a tiny dog (looks like a spaniel) walking along the edge of the table on the right. Is this a ‘lap dog’ I wondered? I don’t think it is part of the wedding meal. The Asian custom of bringing live animals on the menu to the table to get approval before they are slaughtered and roasted did not happen in 16th century Italy I believe. 


Oh, there is a playful cat by a huge jar of water that is ready to be turned into wine and it doesn’t look at all bothered by the presence of dogs, though one of the white hounds is straining very elegantly on its leash towards the cat while its companion is slumbering with what looks like a very full stomach. 


It dawned on me while looking at this marvellous wedding picture that one of the lockdown downsides is that our son has had his wedding on May 1st cancelled/postponed. I was looking forward to it so much as he is in his mid forties now and I wondered if he would ever marry. My cousin in Carlisle told me ‘he is doing what your father did’. She is referring to my father aged 38 who married my mother and pretty soon took her out to China. Maybe we can have a Skype ceremony but he will still have to find two witnesses off the street and that might prove very difficult if we have a total lockdown in the coming weeks when the temperature is rising and resistance is low. That reminds me of a Hoagy Carmichael song….


Life is very quiet here, everyday feels like a Sunday except there are no excursions planned and the Government pleads with the public to STAY AT HOME. I occasionally see from my studio window trickles of people walking down our half deserted street dressed in summer clothes obeying the rules, maintaining their exercise programme for the day. I heard today that the virus lives suspended in the air far longer than scientists had first thought. So joggers, cyclists, walkers have to keep out of the slipstream if anyone speaks, coughs, sneezes or splutters ! 


You maybe wondering where Wiggins is today. He has been put away (not down) for now and I will have to find another companion.

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