The Heart of Cornwall
Today I sat in the glorious weather in my garden cutting a lino print.
I had the idea to raise money for the NHS this morning and spent some time thinking of a word I could use, I spoke to my dear friend Louise about the idea and she suggested the word ‘hope’, perfect! So I began drawing Out designs, surrounding the word ‘hope’ with flowers that grow wild and are usually considered weeds (except the dog rose).
I got the idea for the specific flowers from a series of etchings of weeds by the artist Michael Landy, he had pulled weeds up from pavements in city’s and had rendered them in exquisite detail. I loved his idea that these amazing plants manage to thrive against the odds and often in the most inhospitable of places, that they were symbols of hope and endurance and growth.
In my darkest moments I’ve clung to hope and it has been so desperately needed and powerful it hurt, but right now the people who work in the NHS give myself and so many others hope about the goodness and kindness of humanity and with the awful reports we hear each day in the news, hope is exactly what we all need.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
So strange not to hear church bells on Easter morning. We live within earshot of two great medieval parishes churches. Beverley Minster, which lost its collegiate status at the Reformation, is a Gothic masterpiece of Cathedral size, with a ring of 10 bells. Closer to home is St Mary’s, described by Pevsner as one of England’s most beautiful parish churches. It was built to serve the townspeople, and benefitted from the patronage of wealthy merchants, for in the later 14th century Beverley was the tenth largest town in the realm outside London, and one of the most prosperous. Thanks to a recent benefaction the church now has more bells than the Minster. Today they are silent. Instead the birds in the garden seem to sing more loudly and more sweetly than ever.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I attended Mass at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Easter Sunday 1988, and I did so again this morning, courtesy of the Vatican’s YouTube channel: a familiar mix of Italian and Latin, overlaid with beautiful and uplifting music. Over this holiday weekend I am not spending as much time outside in the garden as I would like because the tree pollen is quite challenging. But then I am one of the lucky ones for whom the lockdown is not a great burden. We have a nice house with garden front and back, and woods and common land at the bottom of the road where we can walk. Our daughter, who is living with us at the moment, had a very successful trip to Sainsbury’s on Thursday, so our fridge is well stocked. But how does a single mother living with young children in cramped inner city accommodation cope with 23 hours a day of house arrest? This pandemic will certainly draw more attention to social inequality and this is just one of the political issues that are coming to the fore.
The government’s response so far to this crisis has been expressly based on scientific recommendations – but if they had asked other scientists, might they have had different advice? The government of Sweden is acting on the advice of its scientists and therefore its schools & restaurants remain open. The shutdown is designed to save lives, and because we have a daily death count, pounced on by journalists, the terrible cost of the virus in terms of human suffering is hammered home to us every day. But what about those suffering because their cancer treatment has been postponed, or their organ transplant delayed? What about the inevitable health consequences of the rise in unemployment and the recession we are falling into? What about those who are ill, but are not presenting at A&E because of fear of catching the virus? These impacts are very real, but not so easily measured. So sooner rather than later the question of relaxing some of the lockdown rules will come centre stage, and this is an intensely political question. In my dealings with politicians, whether the Conservative MP for the town where the factory is, or his Labour predecessor, or the Conservative MP for the town where we live, I have found them to be decent, well-intentioned individuals, committed to improving the lives of their constituents. So I hope that our politicians can rise to the challenge of making fair and balanced judgements, and have the courage to explain them confidently to the public. In this last regard, I am very relieved that our Prime Minister did not succumb to the virus – it would be just too much for the country to bear if we had a political crisis on top of a medical and economic one. At the moment the country needs a PM who can connect with the population at large (even if the metropolitan elite cannot stand the man), and Boris might just be that person.
Meanwhile the crisis is exposing the tragedy of our brave and dedicated front line medical staff denied proper PPE because of the inefficiencies of the NHS’s logistics and distribution systems. And maybe when all this is over, Public Health England will spend less time lecturing the population about the evils of chocolate and alcohol and more time focused on the real threats to humanity’s survival.
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
The Queen, in her new message yesterday, spoke of goodwill and encouragement, of light overcoming the darkness (And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.) Easter Sunday is a time for hope. This Easter is not being cancelled. I hear of family events (just the immediate family allowed) happening in gardens where Easter eggs are hidden for the children to find. I haven’t done this since our children were small but it is good to think that this festivity will give pleasure today as there doesn’t seem to much hope out there. Listening to the endless outpouring of gloom from Radio 4 is a big turn off, I am sure it is making my heart beat faster which is why I am only tuning into Radio 3. I feel the programme planners are putting on music to cheer the soul. Private Passions is on as I write this. Like a lot of friends I am in touch with, I too am swinging between states of contentment and a deep troubling rumble within. Besides music I find a single portion of very dark chocolate (90% Lindt, my favourite) is a good uplifter! Plus a slug of Talisker whiskey.
Looking out from my window today the street is very still as it would be on most Sundays the only exception being the New Year Day’s Run. A local pub has an in-house group which takes part, wearing the pub’s name proudly on their running strip. It’s a pity they don’t have a mascot dog, a St Bernard with his barrel of reviving liquor for the participants who faint along the way.
Thinking of a different resurrection I was reminded of the horribly diseased dog my father had to shoot in China in 1939. It had been coming to the hospital where someone had been feeding it. He secretly shot it with his .22 rifle behind the ear and arranged for the 'kenmendi' (gate keeper and dogsbody) to bury the animal. Two hours later during a prayer meeting, in walked the dog! In Dad's words ‘Raised from the dead- that is, except for its head hanging down on its left side. It was looking at me with the one eye without rancour. I took the poor thing out and dispatched it without any last rites and this time I attended the interment’
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
I want to start making lists... lists are my default whenever I feel unsettled. I take enormous pleasure in lists and in crossing off items as I complete them... but for three weeks I haven’t made any... I've just done the things I have needed to do as well as the things I have wanted to do... quite calmly and methodically and without any pressure from deadlines. Now I am beginning to feel the need to prepare for the start of what comes next... ‘after’... and the list of lists in itself is daunting and, perhaps premature. The deciduous tree blossom bulked out with green overnight. The robin in the porch is a wren. I am savouring each chapter of ‘Rescuing Horace Walpole’ and add the author Lewis S Wilmarth to my list of role models. Page One of the book is titled ‘The Fantasy’ and begins ‘Two years ago the Almighty called me into His office and said, I am going to destroy every object in your house except one, and you have twenty minutes to choose it.’ Salutary.
All Day Exercise
David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire
Above the village where we live there is an area called 'The Clough". A clough (pronounced cluff) is a deep, water-formed scar, cut into the side of the Pennines. This particular clough was, in the 18thC, an industrial area, home to several mills with their attendant dams and sluices and even a small and unsuccessful coal drift-mine, of which there is barely any trace, apart from the remains of an old drop forge. Today it is a place of rough and dense woodland, falling water and birdsong. At the top end there is a sharp climb over slippery rocks and along a small gorge, which brings you out onto fields, with clear views up into the dales. Just by there, isolated and almost hanging over a low crag is a small house. It is rectangular in plan and elevation, one up one down with a chimney and lean-to. It's old Mr Riley's house. I met him up there years ago. I think he was suspicious that I was about to steal from it, but he eventually decided I was no threat. He had bought it, and the land, after the war when he was first married. The house had no, still has no, running water or electricity. Someone stole the stone slates from the roof (a common occurance round here with isolated buildings) so it is now roofed with some kind of white metal. Old Mr Riley died a while back. His son Chris still farms the land but lives elsewhere. I always do a (very) quick sketch of it whenever I walk up there, as I did today. To me it is the ur-house, an architypical dwelling in the news, hope is exactly what we all need.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
I spoke to my nine year old great niece Olivia today and she tells me this has been the best school holidays and Easter she and her step sister have ever had. Their family holiday to Queensland had been cut short with the closing of the borders between the states and they had been forced home 3 days into a three week holiday. I thought she would be disappointed, but she tells me they have more time to do things at home and they are enjoying have a tent and a camp fire set up in the backyard. The prospect of beginning home schooling on Tuesday is exciting and they are not missing the rather large number of adult organised extra curricula activities that crowd their week. The two girls are having fun reading and using their imagination to fill in their time. My niece and her husband have been surprised and pleased by the productivity and harmony in the household.
We limit our exposure to “corona talk” to 45 minutes in the early morning. We start with the 6am radio news and then move on to a respected current affairs programme and finish with the world summary as we sit down to eat breakfast at 6.45. Then it is classical music, where the morning announcer is sounding more like Pollyanna every day. It really is becoming irritating. I hate being jollied along. Yesterday evening I looked at The Guardian’s statistical analysis of C19 (breaking two of my rules about screens and bad news in the evening). I see our state has one of the lowest rates of testing in the country, so it is no longer a puzzle why we are doing so well compared to other states. You can’t find what you don’t look for.
It was a perfect autumn day here today. It is a beautiful season in southern Australia. Our town has a fine legacy of colonial tree planting - oaks, elms and horse chestnuts, and they are in fine colour today. We walk an unfamiliar pathway and meet many other walkers. Everybody is in good spirits and stopping to talk for a few minutes seems important. I made potato gnocchi for lunch with a salsa verde from herbs and greens picked from the garden.
I have a lovely afternoon planting out spring bulbs. Meg had a grand time patrolling her boundaries, and sending off a larger than usual passing parade of unfamiliar dogs. We are very lucky.
A Wymondham Plaguery
George Szirtes, Wymondham, Norfolk
A friend writes telling me about this strange state of affairs in which even thoroughly secular friends talk in almost religious terms.
My own first supposition is that that demonstrates how thin is the wall between what we think of as reason and what we know to be, and yet can never be certain actually is, our imagination. It is like the idea of the haunted house. Few of us believe in ghosts, nevertheless we are quickly made fearful in an old, dark, untenanted house. The unknown or unexplained - even the not-fully-explained - quickly unsettles us.
We know, of course, that this is not the first pandemic in history and that there have been several waves of such things against which humankind felt just as helpless at the time, some of these plagues more widespread than others. And because we are secure most of the time, especially secure in the sense, at best, of the intellectual power of humankind, our helplessness quickly turns to a kind of horrified admiration of what appears to be defeating us. Trump - not a man given to crediting anyone or anything other than himself - was talking, almost admiringly, about the 'genius' of this particular virus.
And, of course, we tend to personalise and to impute intent to anything that threatens us. Hence the use of all those war and battle metaphors, particularly 'the enemy'. These 'enemies' are not just deadly but presumed to be malignant, We regard them as malign agents, or - in the case of religion - as potential avenging agents sent to punish us for crimes that we might have regarded, or chose to regard, as petty.
And what are these agents? I tend to think of them, in as far as I am able to think at all, simply as examples of 'Life on Earth', that is to say the constant evolutionary drive at all levels, in all organisms, including ourselves, to survive and thrive by feeding on whatever is available.
Saying that, however, ignores the deeper and more genuinely religious question as to whether that organic, impersonal, drive - the same drive that powers bees and ants, and organisms much much smaller and of course infinitely greater - is a drive with an identity? Is there a machine without a ghost, in other words? Is the drive itself that which we, with our habitual perceptions and concomitant habits of language, perceive as 'the ghost'? What the hell does that mean?
There I am lost.
The surreal element in this case is that, counter to expectations (how did we - you and I with our own complex and dramatic histories - come to have these expectations?) we are suddenly without sufficient ingenuity to deal with what, surely, ought to be within our compass. This is what disorientates us - at least me - though I sense it as background disorientation, not as something at the fingertips (not yet anyway). And it seems to me all the stranger for it being the background.
The Runaway Diaries
The Golden Rabbit
Your dad drew a treasure map, x marks the spot, I made you some bunny ears which you dutifully donned for five minutes, and the three of us set off on our hunt.
This is my seventh easter in Wales, your dad's 45th and your second.
The house is usually full to bursting with friends and family, the cupboards groan with food and booze and the garden is peppered with chocolate shapes.
Shrieks of delight usually fill the air as the many young people (and often their parents) go hunting for brightly wrapped treasure.
But not this year.
Being your second Easter, your expectations were low and were easily surpassed by the one small, gold, chocolate rabbit you discovered in the wheel arch of the trailer.
Seeing this solitary gleaming sweet thing made me think of all my beloved folk in their own isolation.
We'll find each other soon I think.
Even if we don't taste like chocolate,
The finding will be just as sweet.
Happy Easter everyone from your Editor
First tulips picked for the kitchen table!