Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk


My coffee break telephone call today was late. Julie and Charlie live in Charlottesville, Virginia - former colleagues who, when I was working in New York during 9/11, insisted I get on the first flight possible to join them at their beautiful home overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the first time I had sat down with friends and neighbours who all held hands around a supper table to say Grace. Last year they moved to a ‘retirement compound’ ... also very beautiful ... which is now in lockdown. Yesterday, after a fortnight, they decided to drive their cars around the compound to make sure they (the cars!) hadn’t seized up. It creates a lovely domestic image of that old fashioned Sunday pastime ... going out for a run ... I remember when I was about 10 ... my Mum and Dad, brother and sister, all piled into our Riley Elf to drive to the service station on the newly opened M6 motorway ... because we’d never seen one before! The chief delight for we three children was Forte’s largesse in providing free sugar lumps in the cafeteria ... bowls full of them ... presented in twos in crisp white Tate & Lyle wrappers. I recall it because it must have been the first time I stockpiled!!! Anyway, I said to Julie and Charlie that I couldn’t take my car out for a run because I have weeded and brushed the gravel around it to such a level of perfection that it cannot be moved ...


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire


We went for a glorious walk along the footpath next to our local river, the Bradford , for our 48th wedding anniversary excursion. We are very lucky to have two rivers that converge in our village, the other one is the Lathkill. There are lovely walks along both of them. Everything was in bud and lots of coots were busy building their precarious nests in the flowing water. As we reached the ‘swimming pool’ we saw a cyclist, who had passed us earlier, up to her chest in the freezing water. She wasn’t quite brave enough to immerse her whole body and swim. The water flows fast and over a weir out of the pool so never has a chance to warm up at all. I wondered how far she had cycled and if she should be there. Normally I would just wonder why.  


Walking back through the village we passed a farmer friend chin wagging with another local. “Isn’t it peaceful,” said Jeremy, “and no vapour trails in the sky, so strange”  

“Ah,” said the farmer, “that’s because I’ve tethered the cows. I’ve tethered the cows to the ground Jeremy, so they can’t fly” So no global warming from these cows then.  


I did my Pilates class today. Our Pilates teacher is putting a weekly lesson online for us so we can still keep supple and support her while she is unable to run her normal classes. I had thought I would do the class at least twice a week as I have so much time, and would become much fitter. However I am only managing once a week and somehow missed the first class completely.  


Last night I mended some of my socks while watching Jane Eyre from the National Theatre. At New Year a friend and I made a pact to buy no new clothes for the whole of 2020. We agreed that we have far more clothes than we need and are appalled by the amount of clothing going into landfill and the environmental cost of producing all of these clothes. This is easy at the moment as neither of us tends to buy online anyway. We can still buy from charity shops so I suppose we should be looking at Oxfam online as a way of supporting them.  


In the NTL Jane Eyre I liked the way they disposed of their dead bodies. I don’t remember there being so much about her grim early life in the book so maybe I need to go and reread it. I found Adele’s high pitched hyperactive voice a little jarring but very much enjoyed the performance. Looking forward to the next one.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold


Had to go shopping today. Out of milk and bread and a few other items. Drove into town and realised how much I miss driving. Put music on and sang along. Uplifting! So few cars on the road too - it’s a pleasure to be out.


Parked at the supermarket close to the entrance and was able to meander around the peaceful store at a rather leisurely pace. Everything so well organised. 


Had to queue for a while at the checkout. It is a very structured experience with all the waiting distances marked out with two metre floor signs. There were two queues and in the other - were a couple of men - one with a toddler - chatting away and ignoring the guidance about keeping separate.


A store manager walked over and in a loud voice said - “You’re breaking the rules. Please will you separate”. An angry and even louder response - “We haven’t got the f .......... virus you know!”. From out of nowhere, two security officers arrived. Voices were raised. Shouting. More swearing. A free but most unwelcome floor show - hmm.


One of the two men turned and appealed to the audience. “Did you see that? She verbally abused me in front of my child”.  “Typical. This always brings out the bullies. Shop is full of little Hitlers” shouted the other. People near me looked uncomfortable. Staring at the ground. Staring at the ceiling. One chap shouted “the staff shouldn’t have to put up with this. You’re out of order”. 


Then one of the security staff asked the men to either separate or leave - “immediately”. I did not see what happened next because it was my turn to start unpacking my trolley. The checkout assistant spoke with bored, ‘seen-it-all-before’ disdain - “they shut the pubs and this is what happens. Do you need a bag, dear?”


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


I’m sorry, something of a rant today.

Yesterday, after an hour or two at the carp ponds (or as Mac Dictation would have it ‘arrow to the carport’) and rewarded with some lovely fish winkled out with a bit of floating bread, I was in a very mellow mood. This was completely undone as we progressed into the ‘Daily Briefing’, hosted by Matt Hancock, flanked be Jon van Tam Deputy CMO and Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer. 


It started well enough with Hancock focussing on Boris’s improvement “out of bed at times, engaging with Staff”, then on to the test of resolve the Easter weekend it going to be (beautiful day here in The Broads btw) and how we must resist visiting a beach - “Stay at home!” - and having got our Nightingale Hospitals going how we are now moving on to Mega Labs, “Lighthouse Labs” to step up testing supplies before turning to PPE and the lengths we were going to source and deliver it - a “Herculean effort” apparently since it involves getting millions of components to hundreds of locations.  


Now then, this is something Amazon does every day. It’s called Logistics and a huge Procurement and Distribution dept at the NH should be well versed in this, but Hancock is worried, worried that frontline Staff are squandering the PPE he’s giving them. He’s actually telling them to stop changing during the day - ie in between patients - and keep the same stuff on through their shift. If only they would be more reasonable, more careful with the precious kit, use less, he could more reliably get stuff out to them...so, it’s not his fault, it’s the Nurses!  


‘Questions from Hacks’ is a shambles of repetition and obfuscation, only DCMO JvT seeming to give a credible and creditable performance. The first low point is the direct question “How many NHS staff have died?” Hancock in a blink says “One for Ruth, I think.” Ruth, curiously not in her usual ‘scrubs’ showing some alignment with her nurses - she actually calls them ‘my nurses’ when it suits her - but in a rather elegant black dress and sporting a new hairstyle, won’t confirm staff fatalities, claiming ‘confidentiality’ - WHAT!? 


The second low is a Producer somewhere cutting to the Weather during another awkward moment: Hancock asked why, when everyone else is asked to observe social distancing at work, he continues to host meetings at No 10 that don’t. We shall never know the answer to that, or the follw-up. The Hack only just got the words “and another to Ruth...” out when the plug was pulled.  


Someone at number 10 and the BBC is getting this terribly wrong. We don’t need to be fed good news and sanitised news - we want to know how it is. Why are they risking offending us by patronising in this way, daily?  


As we hear from Johns Hopkins that the global death toll has reached 100,000 a couple of observations:


After every briefing announcement that we shouldn’t worry, all’s in hand, the next 24 hours brings a stream of complaint from the ‘front line’ that it isn’t. Today is no exception; from first thing we hear of nurses and doctors lacking PPE. It is the headline on the 7am news. Hancock is evidently economic with the truth, and it’s just stupid.

There is also the direct accusation that while concentrating on supplying ICU’s, midwives, carehomes and other health facilities are being sidelined while at considerable risk to themselves and patients.   


Also, a pic of the ten ‘lost’ doctors shows them all of colour, or BAME - Black, Asian Mixed Ethnic origin, Such is the general climate of media fear/political correctness no-one comments, but either these heros represent the preponderance of them in the NHS or they have a heightened predisposition... a compromised immune system? So, should we be putting them in the front line?  


I’ll tell you this: if I succumb and end up in ITU I’d like to think my attendant NHS Angels are wearing fresh PPE, not soiled from previous contact, and that they change again after dealing with me and before getting intimate with the next...


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham


Yesterday I was sent a link to another website called Once upon a Quarantine.com. It's actors reading stories - the likes of Hugh Bonneville, David Morrisey - would I like to do one? I had a look at Hugh doing Lawrence's 'The Rocking Horse Winner', realised it had to be in vision and felt immediately defeated as I always do when confronted with anything technological. I wanted to call for my son's help but we're both in isolation and there's a limit to how much help even he could be over the phone. The authors had to  be out of copyright which ruled out Nabokov, Elizabeth Taylor and Bowen and other favourites. Henry James? too long, both in length and wind and Chekhov had already been nabbed. And how to do do it technically? I had a little go with the camera on my I-Phone but wherever I propped it up it slid down and, anyway my eyeline kept straying down uninterestingly to the book, there was too much ceiling in the shot and too much of my quarantine paunch too. Not a good idea, shan't do it, never mind Dave, got quite enough to do, forget it, put it from your mind, would have been nice but still... woke early this morning, something on my mind, couldn't think what, dressed and down by the river by sunrise, home by 7.30, eggs, bacon, grapefruit, coffee and then - I know, Eureka - The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, necessity the mother of invention, Heath Robinson would be proud of me, two piles of big books, one topped by a honey jar against which I propped my I-Phone, the other by my open lap-top, Tales of Mystery and the Imagination open at the relevant page and leaning against that. Framed quite close on the visage with mad quarantine tufts of hair, ceiling less, paunchless - 'camera rolling, ACTION.'.. I did it straight through - 18 minutes - with only one little glitch, finished by 9.30. I'd done it once before in a restaurant in Stoke Newington which has a plaque to Poe as he went to school there. We were  commemorating his birth or death or something and I sat in evening dress eating with my audience. It's a great story to read aloud as it starts by the narrator saying ' True - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am'- and the trick is to make the audience bloody nervous, especially if they've just been sitting eating with you, because they think it's you that's nervous, not the character. Doesn't half grab the attention.

I live in a flat above offices in a little mews at the end of which is a carwash. It's quiet in normal times but now  that there's no-one in the offices, and the carwash is closed it's deserted, apart from my Polish neighbours across the landing who I've only seen once since lockdown when she, Katzyia, rang my bell and asked if I'd like her to do some shopping for me. On Thursday evenings I go out and bang my rolling-pin on my frying pan lid for the NHS but I can't see anyone else around doing anything. This week though I ventured round the corner and I could see a blonde woman on a balcony banging a saucepan with a ladle in a vigorous and concentrated way. We didn't look at each other till we'd finished our homage then she looked down, I raised my rolling pin, she her ladle in a defiant salute, we smiled at each other, and then I turned away and cried.

“But look the morn in russet mantle clad walks o’er the dew of high Richmond Hill.”


From St Just

 Jane G, St Just


Yesterday I went into Penzance for supplies (including more temptingly smelly cat food for Smokey than is to be had in St Just), and combined it with Daily Exercise, for a change of scene: along the promenade, up Chapel Street to the Co-op, and then back along Morrab Terrace (a lovely row of discreetly four-storey Georgian houses, plastered and painted different colours, set back from a pedestrian-only lane behind hedges and shrubberies). It's a favourite loop - but rather marred by the presence - except down Morrab Terrace - of not very discreetly cruising police cars and so many shutters up, and brought home just how lucky it is not to be locked down in a town. Here there's just the odd helicopter flying low along the coastline, which may or may not be surveilling.   


On the way down Cot Valley to the cove this morning I found a complete sloughed snake-skin, curved as if mid-slither. There was a lot of vigorous insect-noise, but almost no wind - almost unheard-of here - and a strange hazy light that made it feel like walking through a watercolour. The lack of any kind of movement, even of the sea, was disconcerting: slightly end-of-the-worldy in a very beautiful way. It wouldn't entirely have surprised me if I'd looked down to find my hands had become translucent, or looked up to the row of cottages on the ridge of the carn to find they weren't there.   


I realise I've very nearly stopped listening to the news.


Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York


Having spent yesterday reading a collection of Lord Peter Wimsey stories - bought long ago and never read - I rather felt that I had better do something a tad more adventurous, and so my sister and I, along with our somewhat reluctant mother, decided to attempt to dye our hair with food colouring. Of course, the results this little experiment may yield are of dubious quality and, with cling film wrapped around our heads, we are all currently waiting for the “dye” to set. We certainly hope that all of our efforts shall not be in vain although, regardless of the results, it certainly has been an interesting way to spend a morning.

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