Gardener in lockdown
A different Easter Sunday, roasting hot and irrigated the gardens for two hours before breakfast, accompanied by a lolloping Labrador, who needs training not to lay in the flower beds. I decide that I should spoil myself to eggs, even though they are hard to come by. I then pick an armful of double daffodils in slightly opening bud, with the help of Archie the dog and a chat to my under gardener who lives in the cottage next to the daffodils and take them to the House. I place vases of Easter yellow flowers on a grand piano, either side of a great fireplace, just as Head Gardeners have dressed this great room in this old house for hundreds of years. My final vase is a posy on an intimate dining table. I walk back home with Archie, thinking how fast the grass has grown, it’s that time of year that you just can’t keep up with it. I pass the field that I have named the maternity wing, it is fully of ewes and lambs. I notice that the lambs are really growing and one has a number 56, so many more than the first five that I watched come off the first trailer. They bounce and play, some of them are starting to charge about in gangs, like children in a playground. The ewes give very wary eyes at Archie, he ignores their stares, as sticks are more interesting. I decide that I am very lucky to have all this space around me, and I feel glad I live in the country during this time. My only lack is an Easter egg. So busy I forgot.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
A quiet Easter Sunday after an even quieter Saturday. Glorious weather. Gardening and finishing the sitting room. An easy time in so many ways ...
Spoke with friends and family on the phone. Lots of laughter but lots of anguish and frustrations. Uncertainty about the lockdown, doubts about the future, concerns about other people’s behaviour, fears about catching the virus and becoming very unwell or worse, worries about the impact on everyone and everything - all over the world. When will normality resume? Will anything ever be the same?
Lovely walk today and saw just a few people in the distance until I got to the church. In the garden of the large house just below the graveyard, a chap was pottering about. “Lovely day”, he called from over his garden wall. “It is!” I replied “and what a lovely garden for you to enjoy this sunshine”. He stood way back but continued to chat. In the space of a few minutes we covered the pros and cons of clay soils, how the Georgians put a facade on his and several other village houses, improving housing stock locally and the vicissitudes that the virus has brought to our ways of life.
“Rain tonight or tomorrow” he said and on that note we nodded our goodbyes.
“And all over the world
Talk only about the weather.
All over the world
It's the same
It's the same
It's the same.
The world is getting flatter,
The sky is falling all around
And nothing is the matter
For I never cry in town”
From the song ‘Strange Weather’ by Kathleen Brennan & Thomas Waits
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
So, 4 weeks since my ‘pre-journal’ posting, logging the first Johnson Address, flagging up life changes to come and 3 weeks since the imposition of the lock-down with its huge social and financial ramifications. Today is nominally the end of the ‘first period’. The second and any changes - particularly easing, if any - will be announced by the end of the week.
The PM himself was released from hospital over the weekend, and puts out a heartfelt, rather touching video from the sanctuary of Chequers thanking the staff that cared for him and two nurses in particular who were there during his darkest 48 hours. He looked a bit ragged, but jolly enough and is, no doubt, champing at the bit. When we listened to him 4 weeks ago in the car on the way back from an outing (remember those?) we certainly wouldn’t have thought it possible 10,000+ would have lost the battle he’s just won - we passed that awful milestone yesterday. And that’s just the hospital deaths, ‘others’ won’t be known for another two weeks.
Given the information available to Government, I wonder if he knew but didn’t share back then.
A cloudy, cold Bank Holiday Monday here, but I can find plenty to do in the shelter of the polytunnel and from the ease of my ‘garden window’ chair. So far, while typing this and out of the corner of my eye I‘ve seen ‘my’ Wagtails, and Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Robins, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Tits of most sorts and a Nuthatch on the feeders. Brilliant.
Things have been pretty hectic of late. A long run of night shifts, Easter Birthdays, and, a desperate bid to make the most of the last few sunny days, and so no plague journal submissions for an age!
Work is work. Babies are born, emergencies happen and it all continues through a haze of covid nervousness. There is only so much distancing possible on a maternity ward - and the whole thing is suffused with bodily fluids. We wash our hands and wash our hands - and talk about numbers of cases, of hot spots, of PPE, of cleaning routines…
The Husbands birthday was a damp squib of an affair. But we both had time off work - which is a treat in itself, and a sunny garden to lunch in - but gifts were uninspired as only items deemed ‘Essential’ could be bought. Pyjamas, a panini press and new coffee cup.
The Children are almost completely feral. They have moved into the garden and are living in tents. Any attempt to structure their day has fallen by the wayside as they take nighttime strolls on the beach under an extremely full moon, eat when it pleases and declare that reading Paddington Bear and reciting long passages of Harry Potter can be their contribution to the curriculum. I am envious.
My days off see me in the garden pottering, I am accused of stalking about with secateurs looking for something I haven’t pruned and shaped or tweaked in some fashion. Inclement weather finds me wandering around the house rearranging book shelves or half starting puzzles. The deadline for my postgrad assignments loom ever closer and I find that I am as unstructured as the children - maybe its time to join them in the tent.
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
Easter Sunday started at 10am with hymns played around the village. Youlgrave Silver Band members played from their own gardens one after another with a pause between each one. It was beautiful and eerie, particularly the last one which drifted across the valley to us. In another part of the village an avenue of residents stood outside their houses and sang hymns. There is plenty of musical talent in Youlgrave.
I have been trying to think of ways to engage with the younger grandchildren during this unusual time. Margot who is nearly 4 finds zoom meetings difficult, unlike one of our son’s bosses whose 3 year old daughter sits and takes ‘notes’ during his zoom conferences. Apparently she is very well behaved. Margot’s dad suggested we do a zoom craft activity together. I wasn’t convinced but was willing to give it a go. Being an ex primary school teacher I had plenty of ideas. So I sent Margot a pack of everything she would need including a book about frogs to read before the zoom meeting. It was surprisingly successful and we made the life cycle of a frog. It was lovely to see the concentration on her face as she attempted to copy the picture of the frog from the book and carefully put the black felt tip blobs on the bubble wrap bubbles to make frogspawn. I have already planned our next activity.
I have discovered that cleaning windows with damp newspaper works just as well as it always did and am wondering why I moved on to using sprays in plastic bottles. Less messy I expect but I’m definitely going back to the old ways. I cleaned all of the windows in our front porch and turfed out the dead and dying plants. Only the postman uses this door so it is easy to ignore the messiness out there. To brighten it up I have moved my Dali elephant from my craft room. The elephant was a challenge from a friend after we had seen similar ones in Dali’s wife’s gardens in Pubol. We had to each make one taller than ourselves, out of any material and decorated in any way we chose. There are rainbows everywhere and this is a rainbowish elephant.
Having not played the piano for years I am now going to find my Beatles song book and have a go at Blackbird.
I’m a teacher and during what would normally be term time I’m busy setting work for my class. I have been advised that ‘a piece of English and Maths plus something else’ is the requirement, so each day I plan and set some work. To make it more personal, my class are only 5&6 years old, I make a short video and include personal messages such as a happy birthday wish or an April Fool joke. But the idea of setting lots of work for parents to teach doesn’t sit well with me. Yes I want the children to keep up with academic learning, but I know from personal experience that trying to teach your own children is a completely different ball game to teaching children at school. I know that in many households around the world, home learning will be the cause of many tears of frustration both from children and adults and I don’t want my incredibly inquisitive, curious learners to lose their love for learning and become reluctant to engage.
I wrote a letter to all my class on their last day at school, I won’t bore you with the full details but I listed some things that I wanted them to do and they included taking time to look at the beauty of nature, reading lots to develop a love of books, to learn new skills by helping their adults and singing along to songs on the radio.
Academic work will continue as normal when we are all back at school and parents can all breathe a sigh of relief that someone else can teach long division, or whatever was the flashpoint in their house.
I hope that my class will come back to school having had time to talk, play and learn alongside their adults and will have a wealth of knowledge from their time together.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Exercise: “Women live longer then men, because they stirre less”.
I find exercise for its own sake boring. I used to dance to reggae music but stopped when my children mocked my “ dad dancing” and when my body fat stopped dancing shortly after I had. Now I consider that dancing is merely fidgeting to music, and ballet fidgeting to music whilst wearing tights. I like a walk, but never because I feel the need for brisk exercise, and I like to cycle. The health benefits that both might afford come second to the opportunity they give for “not doing”. I prefer mindlessness to mindfulness. I’m sure I don’t need to explain myself; there are a lot of us about, we just don’t bother to tell anyone. I have always agreed with Churchill (on this one thing alone I must stress) - when I feel the need for violent exercise I go and sit in a comfortable chair until the feeling wears off. I’m sure that I would need to get out into the local park if I lived in shared accommodation or a small flat and I don’t know how people cope with constant company, conversation and interaction. Solitude is a huge privilege when Hell is other people. Sir Francis Bacon had something to say about exercise, and you might feel it contentious, but I couldn’t be bothered to argue with you about it. You can sit in a comfortable chair and read what he says below.
From Francis Bacon’s “Sylva Sylvarum” 1639 edition, London.
From St Just
Jane G, St Just
I dreamed last night of running into my friend and colleague Ankhi in a supermarket. We stood and chatted while other people edged their trolleys past us. In any other circumstances it would have seemed an almost bizarrely insignificant dream.
Metric/imperial conversion rates may have a part to play in the spread of the virus: since 2 metres is generally translated as 6 feet, people using metric presumably have a greater chance of survival. Though the stats will be confused by the way, until a few weeks ago, the supposedly safe distance was said to be '6 feet, that's about one metre'. Since we're also being told that transmission is unlikely unless people are in contact for 30 minutes, presumably there's no need to restrict entry to supermarkets so that there are 30 minute queues to get into them. Unless of course that's 30 imperial minutes.
Of figures, one thing I did hear on the radio the other day was someone giving an extraordinarily powerful tribute to her sister, who had died the previous week: it was a kind of prose poem, with the refrain 'My sister is not a statistic', which struck me as by far the most necessary thing anyone has said in any kind of broadcast since all this began.
That aside, having had a few days off trying to work out how next term will happen when it can't happen has reminded me of a (pre-virus) complaint by a friend who wasn't enjoying their recent retirement: 'It would be over-exciting to go to the hairdresser and wash the car on the same day.' Not that I'm considering the hairdresser, and I'd very much enjoy this time and space if it weren't for the sense of the world disintegrating around us. I've used some of it by working out what the well-dressed person who has been locked down at a distance from their wardrobe will be wearing for spring/summer 20: smock tops lovingly handstitched from curtain fabric remnants, by the look of it.
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
Easter came and went, without ceremony or celebration. No churches were decorated with flowers, no bells rang out, no bonnets paraded, no big family reunions with roast lamb. I am not even sure what day it is anymore, every day is like a lazy Sunday. Mealtimes are whenever we are hungry. Thursday is the only day we need to remember ~ the bin men come first thing and we clap at 8pm. Thankfully Mr Johnson is now out of hospital convalescing at home. He had nothing but praise for the NHS staff who stayed by his bedside. Nursing staff are still reporting shortages of PPE. I can’t warm to Matt Hancock. He lacks confidence. I got to thinking that being a politician is a bit like being a parent, you’ve got to give the impression that you know what you’re talking about, that you’ve got your shit together, that you’re going to sort things out, even if you’re just winging it! It’s your job to be everyone’s rock, dispel fears, and create a sense of security and calm.
The total number of people who have died in hospital now exceeds 10,000. Calls to domestic abuse helplines have increased by over 100% since the lockdown began. One of the most disturbing images I’ve seen is of the mass graves on Hart island, New York. Simple pine boxes piled close together, each containing an ‘unclaimed’ body, next of kin unknown. I think it’s the fact that so many people are unclaimed that disturbs me more than the mass grave.
A five minute drive from our house is a reservoir surrounded by beautiful countryside, it’s a hidden gem. It’s a centre for water sports, all closed now. It’s wonderful to walk round and already the trees are so much greener than last week. It is so peaceful, we went yesterday and only saw a few people walking dogs. On the way back we called into the little co-op for essentials - ice-cream and wine! I picked up a pint of milk too in case anyone was judging my definition of essential! Half expecting to be stopped on the way out and questioned! At the checkout they now have perspex screens between the customers and shop assistants. Generally, people are well behaved and considerate when out shopping which is nice to see. I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend and are all safe and well. I will submit this now, as I am a bit peckish.