From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

The sun has just popped over the trees that border the far edges of the corn field which meet the end of my property; the spring green grass glistening in the soft morning light casting long shadows here and there. Soon it will pass behind the barn and lighten up the entire narrow yard of gardens, boxwoods and soon-to-bloom bushes of deep purple lilacs, mock-orange, and espaliered pears. 


But here in the northeast our spring is way behind the beautiful spring I am seeing in all the instagram posts from the UK ~ it will still be a few weeks before we see fritillaries and primroses and tulips. I have some lovely daffodils and scilla blooming in the front of the house and a nice big patch of something bright yellow I can’t for the life of me remember the name of ~ oh, well! 


I shall spread rich manure over my flower beds and rake and prune today ~ The larder is full and no one I know has become sick yet. I heard yesterday that a friend and fellow printer, Kathy Whalen Moss died after a very long illness, her lovely husband, Graham by her side. I know Kathy’s struggle is over, while the ones who loved her will go through the long process of grieving and my heart feels very sad. It is going on all over the world ~ the weight of such sadness mixed with all the beautiful light during this spring season.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Mid week, and the focus of the Press seems largely to have shifted from the statistics available to those not available: of course mounting hospital deaths, currently 12,107 and job losses are hugely relevant, but the nursing home and community deaths figure is becoming a fixation, and there’s even the suggestion it’s being withheld. The usual (and I mean daily) explanation is the numbers take time to verify and collect from the thousands of sources, but the suspicion is the death figure is huge and a condemnation of the lack of testing and the lack of PPE to that sector. Perhaps even an indication of a remnant of the herd immunity ‘policy’. 


As a consequence the regime has shifted from only testing if 5 or more in a Home show symptoms, to testing if just one shows, and further testing of individuals being placed in Homes from hospital to demonstrate they’re ‘clear’. Much wringing of hands citing lack of testing capacity to date. 


There’s promises of comprehensive supply of PPE too, but as hospitals are still complaining of shortages and are to be found washing kit originally designed as ’single use’, there's little confidence much will change, quickly. The Public Health rep did offer two scraps of info that can be used, and will, no doubt, wind up the Hacks: “over 2000 Care Homes have been affected”, and “9 out of 10 are Hospital deaths”. 


If 12,107 is 90%, the total is more like 13,452. In which case the Care Home deaths are 1345. Horrible though that figure is, 1345 from 2000 Homes doesn’t seem likely. Some are reporting 15 just for themselves. It’ll no doubt feature on today’s Briefing.


Tom Moore aged 99 and recovering from a broken hip gets sponsored to walk round his garden with his walking frame, originally hoping to raise £1000 for the NHS by completing a hundred laps before tomorrow. To his surprise and delight he’s so far raised £5m from 170,000 sponsors worldwide and says he may carry on until he’s a hundred. Go Tom!

My ambitions here are positively selfish and trivial in comparison: I am moving on to a bit of hard landscaping, the opening up of a doorway through the potting shed, allowing a sort of minihaha (!) of my own, a glimpse of what lies beyond not seen for 200 years or so - the door has been bricked up that long. Repton may have done that - he was here then, and the brickwork is an ancient afterthought. Spent over an hour in the online queue to B&Q ‘click and collect’  for suitable paint for a door I have, only to be given the sole option of collecting from Bishop’s Stortford - a 5 hour round trip, every mile fraught with the threat that motorway police may turn me back at any moment, as it’s hardly the ‘essential shopping’ we’re allowed. I will find something acceptable in the shed.

The job so far:


From St Just

Jane G, St Just

It has just occurred to me that all the preparations we've been making to teach and examine remotely next term aren't some strange self-imposed kind of drill but are because there really won't be a next term: not quite sure how I managed not fully to realise that till now. Normally at this time I'd be rather gloomily contemplating the return from the margins to the centre of the country for term; the last day or two I've been surprisingly disconcerted that there's nothing to return for. Virtual Shakespeare can be done just as well from here as from there, and if anyone glimpses a bit of the Atlantic over my shoulder it can confidently be identified as 'the sea-coast of Oxfordshire, extension of the well-known sea-coast of Bohemia'. In many ways (apart from the cause, the cause, the cause) this is no bad thing - but having no term makes me feel a bit like the lighthousekeeper who slept through his clock striking every hour on the hour all through each night & who, when once it failed to strike, leapt out of bed shouting 'what was that?'


It also came to me that I'd very much like to drive to Rosudgeon car boot sale, and then that I'd planned to have a stall there this summer to sell excess wardrobe items, and meant to ask Paul to help (he'd have loved it): and that in my mind, when I think of things returning to normal, I half believe that that will include Paul being alive. His death was nothing to do with the virus, and I was very grateful for a poem sent in to the Oxford Magazine called 'The Other Dead' - a spin off Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts', which eloquently shows how normal death, like normal life, goes on. It seems to me that neither is being sufficiently acknowledged (did I read that 80% of UK deaths, even now, are non-virus-related?), and that the anti-virus measures seem designed on purpose not to acknowledge them.


In other news, since most of my non-excess wardrobe items as well as all the excess ones are currently elsewhere, I've done a proper calculation of what garments my furnishing fabrics will run to, & apparently that's two vest tops, one blue linen smock top, a sleeveless A-line top in Annabel Grey florals, one skirt in deck-chair stripes and one in Liberty Zebak fabric that was a curtain in my school bedroom in 1987. And another smock top if I can be bothered to unpick all the channelling from an old blind. This could take some time. And then I'll paint the bath red on the inside.


Une vie banale, la France profonde - MJK, Magrie, France

Une vie banale, la France profonde - MJK, Magrie, France

The holiday is over 


Easter was an event to look forward to – a calendar marker, as predictable as its nature as a moveable feast allows. We ate well, scoffed a chocolate chicken and her golden eggs, made special phone calls and WhatsApp reunions.


Our four weeks of lockdown since 16th March had seemed manageable. As a couple we’ve been busy: getting over my hip op; planting out pots; cooking and improving the house; walking every day, however restricted in mobility and distance; finding creative ways to keep occupied; making prints; reading more books, seeing more films and listening to more music than I’d ever have thought possible in my ‘before’ life; supporting neighbours with chats through windows and over walls; improving my rusty French; and generally staying positive.


Then on Monday night came the anticipated news. Emanuel Macron addressed the French nation with gravitas and at length – 20 minutes of carefully balanced ‘allocution’. First came gratitude and praise for the doctors and nurses, the healthcare workers, the people in vital jobs, the transport workers, the cleaners, all the otherwise invisible ‘little people’ whose daily work continues to make life as normal as possible. Not a word about big business, capital, corporations, the damage to the wider economy – Macron knows that won’t play well with the French at this time.


Then the inevitable, definitive statement regarding ‘le confinement’. We’re not out of the woods, times are still very worrying, hospitals in the worst-hit parts of the country are saturated and critical care facilities have become overwhelmed. But Germany, Luxembourg, Austria and other countries are taking French patients to relieve the overload. No-one can relax their guard. So restrictions continue as before, for a further four weeks until 11th May. Then there will be a further statement, a possible relaxation of some restrictions. And at the end of his speech, positively but without detail or timescale, came a hopeful promise: in the ‘après-temps’ things will be different, more equal, accepting of society’s divisions.


The end is in sight – but is it? We were feeling a little deflated until we considered the efforts of everyone around us, both in the village and in the wider world which we can now only see filtered through increasingly confused and contradictory news channels. The French picture gives some hope – they seem to have been better prepared than UK – but the outlook in Britain and the USA looks dire, especially in urban areas.


Those weeks from mid-March seem to have brought out the best in most people, creating bonds near and far, strengthening old friendships and building new ones. But it’s been a strange experience, trying to put some structure into the passing days, not falling too far into introspection or senseless anger, celebrating in succeeding with small objectives that previously we’d have taken for granted. The times are moving on but time seems to stand still sometimes.


There’s life and hope out there. Neighbours hammer away at their home improvements; the church bells ring on the hour – twice, so that the men out in the sunshine trellising the young vines shoots and feeding the roots with carefully measured scoops of fertiliser don’t miss their midday lunch or the 6 p.m. return home; the rip and roar of a chainsaw rasps from our neighbour’s log pile; children laughing and chasing each other around in front of their houses. 


Everyone’s looking forward now, making plans, hoping for a future that’s different, better, freer, fairer. Yet hoping for days more normal, that are reliably and reassuringly as before.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

Watching the daily briefing from Downing St last night my electricity went down. For the first time since the lockdown started I felt really alone and helpless. I'd had the tumble dryer on which I've never done before and that apparently had tripped the whole works. Called a friend who called an electrician - God, this must be even more boring to read than it is to write - but by the time I'd got his number Francis had told me to turn the tumbler off: I did and everything came on. The only problem was the burglar alarm joined in the celebrations. I've never used that before either and neither had the previous occupant of the flat so no-one knows its code. I yanked the box off the wall and then it stopped but I know it's crouching like a tiger, ready to pounce again when I'm least expecting it. Found someone online this morning who came and disabled the tumbler for me and I can still use the washing machine - I really don't need the tumbler, never used it before, so, although I'm £130 poorer I've got a little peace of mind apart from the tiger that is crouching in a bell in a box on the wall outside the silent office below me. When something like this happens I always think it's my fault but I didn't know that tumblers have a bad name for this sort of thing - I mean, they must have a good name for something - tumbling I suppose - or why do they exist? The chap who came and did the disabling gave the impression that they were always being disabled That's what they were there for, to be disabled. Anyway you can't know everything can you? I know 8 Shakespeare sonnets (nearly).


I was going to write about learning them today but now I've been brought low by this bloody thing. Don't laugh there missus. It's not funny. Well, it is now I've written about it. 


Incidentally, someone in New York was asking where she can hear the stories that some actors have recorded online. It's not called Once upon A Coronavirus but Once upon a Quarantine.com. 

Mine's not on there yet but there are four or five others already - and I'm going to do another. 


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

At last the Government has acknowledged the vast number of cases of Covid-19 in care homes. There have been deaths from the virus where my aunt lives, and each day I wake half expecting a phone call to say she is unwell, but so far all seems fine. It must be so hard for the staff. I’m cheered up most days by finding in my email inbox a painting of a blossom tree or flowers sent from Normandy during the night. Perfect Spring weather again. Will it change when lockdown eventually ends, and we can venture further afield? For the moment we are just enjoying the garden, for now that April’s here there are blue tits in the nesting box, gold finches on the feeder and a chaffinch is singing on the orchard (or rather hazel) bough.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

So the journal is into its fourth week..

Every morning I check my iPad every hour to scoop up new contributions and pass them on to Sheila. Some days at lunchtime I’m worried that we haven’t enough.. then - usually - others arrive. Sometimes I say to Peter ‘get writing’, sometime I email friends who I know will add an entry quickly and interestingly... sometimes I sit down myself and start typing. Sometimes all that is quite unnecessary.

Sheila has put a counter on our website at the bottom of each page .. 600 hits in a couple of days. So there are a lot of readers out there... and perhaps some of those will use the contact page and turn into new contributors. Please do! Sheila has also changed the navigation tool so that entries before 4th April can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the Journal page and clicking a button. Do let us know if you have any problems with the website. And carry on writing... so much good stuff. And some of you we haven’t heard from since the early days. How are you? What are you doing?


Today I’m sitting in the sun outside finishing my coffee, pleased because a local nursery has just delivered compost and some plants on to the front gravel. I’ve decided to grow strawberries as well as raspberries this year. Until a year or two ago we enjoyed some very good pick-your-own farms around us, but inthe last year or so, these seem to have closed, and soft fruit is only available prepacked in plastic from supermarkets. I want to avoid all that.

Even as I write this I realise how lucky I am to even contemplate growing my own. All those city flats without even a balcony...

And every two weeks we have a grocery delivery, every week a vegetable box... lucky. Lucky. Lucky. 
Will this pandemic bring social change, greater equality, or will it simply harden the divide between have and have not? I’m well aware that most of our contributors lead fairly safe, privileged lives, as we do. Lockdown may have its inconveniences, separations, loneliness - but not panic, desperation, deep fear, and a more daily exposure to the virus. 

I was phoned up by a friend in a nearby village yesterday, living alone in an old rectory, unable to meet children and grandchildren. As a child she lived through the Second World War. ‘At least we could hug each other then. And Food is no problem now. I know all about rationing. My mother used to cook the vegetables for us one day, and make us drink the vegetable water next day.’ So perhaps we shouldn’t worry if we can’t get all the necessary ingredients to make Moroccan lamb Tagine or chocolate and chestnut roulade. Drink the vegetable water!

Our fabulous Ornamental Cherry does this for us every year right outside the kitchen.


Just lifts the spirits!

Sheila, Norfolk

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