Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
I got up at 12.30 am on Saturday morning to try and score a home food delivery slot. The last one I had managed to arrange was over two weeks ago. Since then I have tried but have been blocked out at every attempt. Then an idea had occurred to me…. perhaps I might have a better chance if I were to try in the middle of the night and so, I crawled out of bed, went online and was thrilled when a slot appeared at 1.01am. I pushed the reservation button. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep from all the food delivery excitement, I went off cruising around the internet for awhile to try to calm down. About ten minutes later I went back to look at and to gloat over my delivery booking and it had vanished. Not sure what had happened but it was, selfishly, quite upsetting. And so upsetting to be in a state where one must feel so upset over things like that. It is just that I have become nervous even thinking about going to the grocery store since we live in such a highly infected area of New York.
I decided to try again this morning…so again, I crawled out of bed just before 1am and again I tried… and I scored!! A slot appeared for two weeks from now at 6.30am and I took it. I checked it over and over to make sure it did not disappear and it continued to show as a future event to look forward to. I went back to bed happy as if I had accomplished something important.
This morning we woke up to howling winds and sheets of torrential rain. Trees have been bending over and branches and tree limbs have been coming down and blowing through the air, while the stream which runs by our house has been transforming itself into a raging river. We lost power several hours ago. As I write this, the power is still out and the utility company cannot tell us when it may be restored. Thank god I can transform my iPhone into an internet hotspot so I can submit this plague journal entry about very little and distract myself from wondering if our trees will fall on the house and if our stream will rise too high. Such a good start to the week. NOT.
Oh… wait a minute… the power has just come on.
All… well obviously not all… but some… is right with the world again.
All Day Exercise
David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire
Over the last couple of weeks I've had a toothache, which at times in the last two or three days has got unbearably painful. So, I phoned the dentist's emergency number this morning only to be told that, due to Covid19, they are not seeing patients for the foreseeable future. I said I would probably take it out myself if this carried on, like Tom Hanks in Castaway. The receptionist said that probably wasn't a great idea. I did eventually have a telephone consultation (my dentist doesn't do on-line extractions), drove into Keighley and collected a prescription at the door for some penicillin. The chemists was defended by a ring of chairs over which I had to hand my slip. Got home, ate some soup, which immediately set off the agony. I gave in, took some powerful opioids that I have left over from a post-op (I know, but sometimes desperate situations call for desperate measures), went to bed and woke up two hours later pain free. Pain I can generally deal with. Goodness knows, I've had a bit over the years, but it's the absolute total attention grabbing annoyance of feeling pain that I find so distressing. It's as if everything that usually makes life good and meaningful and do-able is stripped away by the utter urgency of it. Anyway, lets hope they get back to me and have this one out soon.
Gettin' Down With The Lockdown
Ben M, Norwich
5 Memorable Moments of the Lockdown so far…
1. Lidl – 10.30am – An elderly lady around 80 years, pulls a surprise manoeuvre in the milk isle, sailing silently across the shop floor to shunt me out of the way of opening the fridge door. Her hand touches mine on the fridge handle, I recoil, quickly retreating to 2 metres away. But alas the damage has been done. In true British non-confrontational style, I stay silent.
2. I’m taking an autistic child I work with to do his weekly shop. He coughs loudly in an aisle of the supermarket. The vapour descends in a mist, illuminated in the strip lighting of the supermarket. The isle turns as one. I try to explain to him ‘dude you really need to cough into your arm. People are afraid right now about getting ill’. The student replies ‘why? Because of the coronavirus?’. I reply ‘Yes, that’s right, well done for understanding man’.. Autistic children can see things differently to us…. 5 minutes later I’m waiting in the checkout que and the students shouting ‘I’VE GOT CORONAVIRUS’ at the top of his lungs, thoroughly enjoying the reaction of the alarmed Sainsbury’s shoppers. He has no clue. The most surreal shop yet.
3. The heart of Norwich is empty. But some people are pulling some risky moves. I saw someone escaping his house via scaffolding to meet a friend down below. Is he doing it for fun? To impress his mate? Is he scared his mum will catch him on the way out? A Mystery. But it makes me sad to see people flouting the rules.
4. Realising there is serious lack of board games in my house. In times like these, the simple, time tested methods of entertainment shine out.
5. Norwich Market Place on a beautiful sunny evening. ‘MOVE BACK. AWAY FROM ME’ she projects. I turn my head to see what the noise is about. I see a lady opening the boot of a fiat panda wearing a mask and massive goggles. A crowd of homeless men and woman move in, crowding together to receive their evening meal. ‘ALL OF YOU MOVE APART. 2 METRES DISTANCE’ – ‘Now who wanted cheese and pickle?’, ‘Who was it for Ham?’. Bless you fiat panda lady. You rock.
A View From Crazy Town
Chris Dell, Washington, DC
The longer we admire this problem, the more crazed we become, discovering ever more divisive rabbit holes to jump down. This is due, in no small measure, to a president who thrives on polarization and diversion. Got off to a slow start and feeling the heat? Throw out hydroxychloroquine as a magical solution. Caught bumbling supply lines? Blame Obama! Make it all about politics (and himself). Public health be damned.
But in ways both surprising and unexpected, our common enemy keeps presenting uncommon challenges. In a move most thought quite sensible, the mayor of Washington joined her local and state counterparts across the country in closing public parks. Too many people refused to practice social distancing, so she put an end to the football and basketball matches. But, the Federal government won't close our beloved National Parks, and we happen to have a small one, about two square city blocks, in our neighborhood. Exploiting this bureaucratic loophole, people again congregated, practicing tai chi, group aerobics and all manner of games. Now the local constabulary have ramped up their presence on federal land to enforce the rules, although no one quite knows if they have the authority to do so, which rules are being enforced, nor how. Friends circulate petitions demanding the reopening of parks as a safer alternative to tramping the streets. On and on we go. Who is right and who is wrong? And how can we possibly tell?
At the same time, the sharp reduction in business activity, the related drop in vehicle traffic, and the increase in strolling has accelerated and brought into focus another, longer-term trend: the literal smell of the city is changing. Just as the medieval city of Europe was notorious for the smell of rubbish and open sewers, 19th c. London for its coal vapors and fogs, and the 20th c. urban landscape for exhaust fumes, Washington of the 21st c. is at the forefront of a new dominant top note - marijuana. After the decriminalization of pot several years ago, the good citizens are lighting up everywhere, anytime. Strike that. All the time. Now a pleasant walk through the tree-shaded streets is marked by the sharp, piercing scent of smoldering cannabis (which is surprisingly reminiscent of that other hardy North American perennial, the skunk). All well and good, except when the odors waft from the open windows of passing vehicles inhabited only by their driver. No letting down our guard and sloughing off our cares and woes for a pleasant walk with a socially-distance-approved partner. No, we must remain nimble and alert or we'll soon find ourselves updating that old New Orleans jazz lyric:
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
If Trump n' CV don't get ya,' then the ganja must
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
King Lear in the Tropics: Act 3 again…
Daily, roundabout four, Act 3 erupts
On encore. Spit fire, spout rain; again
and again the hurricanoes rage, blow
and oak-cleaving thunderbolts sear the sky…
Then minutes later it is dry. At least
For Lear there is some closure, and a Fool
To guide his madness from the wrathful skies
But here its just mosquitoes; I suppose
As substitutes for ingrateful children
At a pinch they’d do; bloodsucking, vicious
Persistent and shrill, Regan and the Goneril
The curse of his daughters filling the skies.
Now I know how he felt with whining mind
When Nature’s forces erupt on mankind.
Two refuse men on their round
and one leisurely observer in a park
As Ferlinghetti astutely observed
Sometimes the gap between the rubbish truck
And the Merc is not as wide as we’d like.
One small step would cross the space that divides
The shiny happy people from the filth
That hides inside. So as I rest between sets
I raise a cheerful hand to wave at two guys
Swinging out from the back, swathed in the stench
Of rotting food, masked, sweating, nosing air;
I’m seeking some kinship; they stare ahead.
Some guy in sports kit has the park to himself,
Bottled water, a towel, monogrammed wealth.
The machine lumbers on, trailing its stain
Turning back I raise the free weights again.
Then and Now
Similarities ? Well, several commentators have drawn parallels - and an equal number have denied them - between 1940 and 2020. To me, yes, there are parallels, but the chief one is the total, if temporary transformation of one world: into another, as if a familiar window was thrown open and the whole landscape had changed: nothing was quite a fit for what you had seen before. The word ‘war’ had the same effect as the word ‘virus’: both dyed the landscape in their own colours. In my poem ‘The Stain’, I tried to express this sense:
It is reaching nearer and further: a salt tongue lapping
The first beachhead of sleep; a ghost of grey
Is nibbling at paint, finding our level, keeping
Our small world company, stretching out each day,
Hunting like a bad smell for an unused corner.
In both periods the stain is accompanied by speculation, rumour and the sense of being quickened against something - in that phony-war period - invisible, life-changing, unpredictable. “Things will never be the same again”. Well, again the division. There are those who say “All is changed, changed utterly” with Yeats; others say with the French “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”. The tone-colour of the fifties had a strong sense of being the thirties continued; the ‘togetherness’ myth and, in some sense, truth, of the war-years did not break for long the old social and class barriers. It took a long time to loosen those.
Of course my analogies are deeply confused by my comparing an old man with a child. That child was immune to fear during the war. Oh, yes, I was frightened, but my real fears were pre-war. They included girls with long hair, especially plaits, balloons, and a mechanical Father Christmas’s head bobbing and grinning at the entrance to a Department Store. I cured the girls with long hair problem by confiding to my father, carried home from a party on his shoulders: “It’s only a kind of walrus”. Problem sorted. Honesty compels me to say that in Just William style the war was thoroughly enjoyable. We were never far from its reach in the Midlands and the East, but our lives were safe enough, though threadbare. I have been more frightened thinking about it later than I ever was at the time.
So, how do children feel now?
The Macrae children’s contributions are a delight. It would be good if some more children could join them in the journal. I understand their observations and can relate them to my own childhood’s love of natural things. For me, though, and children then - boys ! - the worlds of war and not-war constantly jumped in and out of each other.
I remember one Easter being given a chocolate egg with ribbons and a boxed Machine-gun Section from Britain’s lead soldiers. No doubt my parents were remembering the officer who led his troops over the top, calling “A Blighty one or the Resurrection”. You’ve got to laugh. ‘Blighty’ is ‘England’, a corruption of an Urdu word, used from the days of the Raj by British troops.
And my great-grandmother, in her nineties, gave me a tin army lorry with a searchlight. Are great-grandmothers giving their descendants model viruses to play with ?