Paul Lowden, Malaysia
In the panic before the border with Singapore closed, the family next door were herding unwilling wildlife into small travelling cages; 3 children were looking a tad distressed. They all had 2 hours to get across to Granny's tiny flat or face the consequences of the parents losing their work visa. By bizarre coincidence, newly arrived, I happened to pop out. It seemed a simple thing to do, looking after four cats for a few days and pottering in the garden. What could go wrong? [In my mind I can still hear our three children in England shouting: "But Dad, you hate cats!"] That was March 18th...
Behind the house is another neighbour separated, as are all the properties, by a most Robert Frost-like fence.
“You’re a good neighbour,” she said, nodding at the trowel
And secateurs. “They’re away,” I explained,
“And I look after their cats.” She grinned.
I’d seen her padding, sari-clad, clutching
Water in a washing bowl to souse her plants:
“Guava, mango, papaya.” Here everything grows
So rapidly and so I poked the hose
Through the chain link fence and turned it on
For her. An hour’s endeavour done in a
Splash. The water gurgled, sputtered then stopped;
A kink. “Oh, that often happens,” she chuckled
“But so easily solved.” A little unravelling,
The water returns. And so it was left
Like the fruit that appeared on the morning step.
Browning notably wishes he could be in merrie England and muses on the comparative delights of the simple aspects of home. There are also I thought some benefits, however much one might wish to be there!
Home Thoughts from Abroad
I have to confess to a certain smug pleasure
In being ‘locked down’ during tropical weather.
‘Locked down’: how dramatic, but what does it mean
When one is surrounded by glistening green?
The birds don’t mind, in fact the large stork
Now patrols the front patch where last week we walked.
The wildlife moves in and instead of a car
Contentedly lounges a huge monitor.
Freed up from the perils of dog walkers and kids
And cyclists and joggers and exercise freaks
I sense a glint in the eye of what’s been kept at bay
Perhaps it’s just Nature having its way.
Inconvenient? Perhaps, but freeing up in one go
A reassertion of the status quo.
Like many who could not travel back I received a standard marketing department letter from the airline. But what's this? In almost surreal fashion the document, with minimal tweaking, transformed itself into a sonnet!
Dear Valued Customer
Dear Valued Customer: Thanks for submitting
A request for a refund or voucher
To Qatar Airways. Your case is in process.
We understand your worry at this time
As travel dates approach, then pass you by.
But rest assured as long as your request
Was here just 72 hours before you fly
It will go through. While you cannot reply
To this email some further services await
At “Zendesk.com” slash requests slash new.
We do of course remain grateful to you,
Your understanding and your loyalty.
Welcome back onboard when the time is right.
At Qatar Airways we value your flight.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
A few very quiet days
The sitting room redecoration is as good as done and we are catching up with chores in the garden. A very peaceful existence right now and actually very pleasant. Yesterday was dull and cold and we lit a fire last night. I love the warmth and light it gives. Today was overcast to start but is now sunny and much warmer. Had a lovely walk after lunch and went much further than usual. I’m not losing any weight but I seem to be getting faster. If everyone else is similarly exercising - we will all be getting fitter!
From the black shed
David E, East Norfolk
The Black Shed
Garden sheds are often in the news these days. They may be a place of work or reflection, a place to write, like Roald Dahl or retired politicians who perhaps should best be forgotten, an art studio or maybe a children’s play area.
My shed is different. It’s quite large, (once a tractor shed) black with no windows, quite forbidding and menacing to some. No one goes in there except for me and an occasional inquisitive visiting grandchild.
I’m often accused of hoarding, as evidenced by the state of my study, or worse the garage which is full of everything except vehicles. My excuse is that I’m left with the detritus of children long since left home together with my accumulated tools, bits of wood, pieces of furniture no longer in fashion and tins of various screws, brackets, electrical bits and pieces and things which will undoubtedly “come in handy”.
Back to the shed. I know what’s in it but no one else does. There are seven lawn mowers at the last count, three in use and one vintage pre-war Atco 22inch cylinder mower awaiting some restoration. In addition there are various garden chairs and old deck chairs, more wood, two canoes, an ancient cement mixer and a large board on which is fixed the model railway layout from my childhood.
I often look at the shed with a view to clearing it out to make more space (what for you ask) but despite having more time available these days it never seems to be top priority.
I’m reminded of a patient from some years ago who became ill from living in a home in which he could no longer move because of accumulated hoarding of everything from newspapers to plastic bags, empty food tins and piles of clothing I proudly told my students that he was suffering from Diogenes syndrome, without knowing enough about Diogenes. Actually this is a misnomer. The label was first published in The Lancet in 1975 but those of you who are scholars will know that Diogenes lived in a barrel in Athens and although he kept all his belongings beside him he was perhaps the ultimate minimalist. A better moniker would be Plyushkin’s syndrome after the character in Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls”.
I refute the suggestion that I might be suffering from the early stages of Plyushkin’s syndrome because despite the quantity of retained “stuff” I feel that I’m in control and because I know (or think I know) where everything is I can always respond when one of the family says “Dad can you fix this?”
One day I will have a good clear out.
John Underwood, Norfolk
I heard the Buzzards calling as they soared on rising air and shading my eyes against the light craned my head back and saw them meet and wheel apart, still calling, moving in circles and rapidly towards the north. By the time that I had fetched binoculars and tried to focus them, the birds were almost out of sight and beyond my hearing. They are regular visitors, usually a pair, but we have had four on occasion, perhaps parents with young. They might stay for minutes over the garden, but they follow the air currents and seem to move swiftly from one column of rising air to the next, gaining height, swooping down and away, to rise again, often calling, before the prevailing wind direction carries them away. Their utter freedom feels poignant today. I want them to stay, but I am tethered and anchored and clumsily fixed to the ground; it is all I can do to turn myself to keep them in sight, and though I stumble in the direction that they are travelling, my boots tripping on uneven grass as I wheel about, I begin to lose sight, and see only glimpses and then they are gone. I feel at once better for having shared a piece of space and time with them but all the worse for losing it. Smaller birds react as if freed from a tyranny, and fly pell mell for better shelter. There is a flurry of Pigeon activity, they clatter about and make for the trees, and safety, and I spy a Magpie sneaking into the hedge to steal their squabs. I return to digging and planting, rooting in the soil, and thinking the new green shoots everywhere small recompense. The Pied Wagtails strut about on the shorter grass in their Coco Chanel black and white trying to pretend that they hadn’t flown at the first Buzzard call. Ruffled feathers are preened. And relax.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I drove over to the factory yesterday, the first time I have been to my office for two weeks. Driving down the M6 and A14 at seven in the morning was a delight – very little traffic, and beautiful weather. But I had to keep an eye on my speed, driving on empty roads that felt more like France than central England.
At work the car park is half empty, because many employees are either working from home or furloughed. The factory and warehouse are still operational, though much less busy than before. Because of our efforts to facilitate social distancing, we don’t allow non-essential visitors into the factory, and that includes me, so I couldn’t go in and express my appreciation for the work my colleagues are doing. Along my corridor, which includes the finance, IT and logistics offices, there were only 3 other people in, and over 20 empty desks. Conversations were conducted safely – one person sitting behind their desk, and the other person standing in the corridor.
Good news from the bank – they have approved the asset finance transaction I proposed, and subject to lots of paperwork being completed, we should be getting the cash injection in the next few weeks.
I also took the opportunity after work to call round to my weekday house, which is just a couple of miles from the factory. The milk in the fridge had almost turned into cheese. I cleared out the kitchen of anything perishable and switched off the central heating. I think it will be a while before I am staying over there again.
Musings from self isolation
Billy Hearld, York
Today the sun has come out again in York and the day has passed very rapidly. There is, in fact, very little to report other than that yesterday one of my cats brought into the house not one but three mice, all quite unharmed, and we were forced to abandon our dinner in order to apprehend them as the cat released them into our home. Thankfully, with the assistance of an old envelope and a plastic box, we managed to catch the little critters and release safely back into the common opposite our house!
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
This morning, as every morning, my husband ventured forth for his newspaper. ‘Anything you need?’ he always asks. I am increasingly charmed and wondrous at my answer ‘No’. I was ironing at the time and listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Patch’ centred on The Rex at Elland near Halifax. Delightful, unexpected and prescient. After he had gone, I wished I’d asked for an electric organ to play during ice cream intervals.