Midwife 42

Emma, NZ

You'll all be pleased to know I have completed and submitted my work ahead of the deadline! Appropriate referencing in the correct format and everything. One of my markers is known for a very pedantic approach to marking the referencing - an incorrectly placed full stop or a clumsily italicised title can mean a loss of precious marks. 


The academic year in New Zealand begins in January and ends in, unsurprisingly, December. It feels horribly off-kilter. The summer break, 7 long weeks of sun and bike rides, camps and lounging, wilting and burnt shoulders, is taken from December to February. Swallowing up Christmas! It always leaves me feeling a bit ripped off. 

12 years living here and I don't think I will ever, EVER, acclimatise to a summery Christmas.  

How can I watch The Box of Delights unless it's on a dark, wintery evening drinking possets? 


My plunge back into education was meant to be a lovely treat - something for me to indulge in - is there anything like sitting in a class trying to get to grips with theories and new ways of thinking? It is also a career shift of sorts. As a midwife, I have specialised in maternal mental health and over the years have been leaning further towards a career as a therapist, and so this year I have returned to retrain as a psychotherapist. The delight of being in a class, meeting new people, grappling with Carl Rogers and Carl Jung, has been a little scuppered. It's not so much fun online - especially when the Boy bursts in and thrusts you a freshly lost tooth. 

Everyone on the Zoom was most impressed!


The Undivided Self

JH, East Sussex

I haven’t felt able to write this journal for three weeks. I’ve been too busy. Too preoccupied. Too anxious. Too depressed.


I ground to a complete halt over the Easter weekend. Simply lying or sitting for long empty stretches, unable to commit to anything.


On Tuesday, I was supposed to go back to work. Back to my desk in the little room behind the kitchen. The room is cold and the sun comes into my eyes. I moved into this room when AJ demanded to have the upstairs study back – the study with the blue velvet sofa, the fireplace, the paintings, the bookshelves and the chestnut table. 

Now, I am in here with the microwave, the dog food and the broken radiator.


But this isn’t what has depressed me. Or not this alone. And it’s not the health fears. In fact, I’d quite like to catch the virus. I’d like to get it over with; clean myself out and come back stronger.


So, what am I worrying about?


I’m worrying about my son. He’s fourteen and doesn’t like school at the best of times. Our experience of home schooling was unimpressive, and now that he’s ‘on holiday’, he gets up late, goes to bed late and mopes around the house for the hours between, gaming or watching Netflix.


A couple of times last week, he met up with friends (‘we keep our distance from each other’, he promises) and they got into good old-fashioned scrapes – swimming across the river and walking for miles along country lanes in their pants. But his friends’ mothers put a stop to this, and now once again he’s stuck on his own.


When I’m not worrying about my son, I’m worrying about our Government. Have they got it right? Should we really be allowing the virus to shape every aspect of public policy? Are the negative impacts of the lockdown ultimately going to outweigh the benefits? The late cancer diagnoses; the delayed treatments; the lost jobs; the violence within families…


Or will this experience transform our society for the better? Have we learned something valuable from the experience – a sense of solidarity that was last felt in the War, and which has dissipated over the generations since then?


When I’m not worrying about these things, I’m worrying about myself. 


I’m used to dividing myself into a work self and a home self. The work self gets his energy from the train journey into London; the crowds on the Underground; and the trappings of status in my office. My work self uses these props to handle difficult meetings and big decisions. 


My home self, by contrast, is thoughtful, funny, kind and cross. Emotionally exposed, how can someone like this be expected to deal with the real world? I’ve survived in the past by separating out different aspects of myself and deploying them in different situations. Now, the situation is unified but the self is still fragmented.


And there’s so much to worry about.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

When I was a child I had one of those toy kaleidoscopes. I recall holding it up to the light and looking at the patterns as I rotated one end of the metal tube. Then if I put my thumb over the lens - total darkness. Blackness. Remove my thumb, shake the tube or rotate the end again and yet another new and beautiful pattern emerged. 


I watched the news last night - the first time in quite a while. Such bleak forecasts and harrowing stories. Death rates rising and worries about NHS and welfare staff. People looking frazzled. A short news item focusing on a care home with a manager paying a poignant tribute to one of several residents who recently died. Then, in another section, the death of a young nurse. She was delivered of her baby just days earlier. Tragic. Stories from inside an ICU included a young man who was recovering and warned us all to stay at home - ‘going out for even a pint of milk’, he said, ‘is just not worth it’. Another recovering patient spoke of the pain in trying to breathe while affected by the disease. She said it was the worst experience of her life.


”April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain”

(From T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land).


In stark contrast, spring seems so exceptionally beautiful this year. Fine weather and blossom everywhere. As the neighbours daffodils die back, I see their gorgeous pink and orange tulips emerging and their lush green lawns freshly mowed. I continue with my after lunch walks - the usual route along the lanes and through the meadows. The dogs run about joyfully. A few people are out wandering too but really quite a way off - so no one to distract me. Had hot cross buns for lunch. Warm with butter. Extra fruit and spice the packet read. Last night watched the final episode of the drama called the Quiz. Really rather enjoyed it. Feel guilty for even thinking of this banality. 


Typing this in the newly redecorated siting room. Still need to place a few objects. Have got a bust of an unnamed man I bought at the auction of things from Euston Hall. He looks very stern. Where might he sit? 


“Across the Indian carpet, the cold floor,

While the brass man

Kneels, back bent, as best he can


Hefting his white pillar with the light

That keeps the sky at bay,

The sack of black! It is everywhere, tight, tight!

He is yours, the little brassy Atlas —

Poor heirloom, all you have,

At his heels a pile of five brass cannonballs,

No child, no wife.

Five balls! Five bright brass balls!

To juggle with, my love, when the sky falls”


(From Sylvia Plath, By Candlelight)


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

News from the outside world

Captain Tom Moore has just finished 100 laps of his garden to mark his 100th birthday. It ended with a guard of honour from the Yorkshire Regiment having raised over 13 million pounds for the NHS. What an absolute hero and sweet man.


I saw a second or two last night of Norfolks virtual drag queen choir singing on the telly. 


126 penalty notices were issued over the Easter weekend in Norfolk for covid breaches. 2nd highest in the East of England. A naughty lot.


On Instagram I have been enjoying  Jennifer Ehle reading the whole of Pride and Prejudice often sitting in her car with Violet the dog who helps. Also Mary Chapin Carpenter who has been singing songs from her kitchen with her percussionist Angus the golden retriever playing Squeaky Toy and occasional guest appearances from White Kitty.


The lock down is going to continue for at least another 3 weeks. Government getting quite tetchy when asked about an exit strategy. They must all be so tired.


News from my world

Just "happened" to bump (2m gap and rubber gloves) into Earnie's Auntie Doggy Day Care yesterday when out for a walk. He was so pleased to see her. He's missing Roger the gardener and all his friends, even the postman.

I think he's lonely.

Had some logs delivered that need stacking. No staff!

Managed to upload one cushion on my website. That took hours.

Slug watch continues.

Yesterday there was great excitement as I managed to improvise 2 leaky hoses by stabbing them with a bradawl and making masses of holes and it actually worked.


My garden is in various sections and heights all of which need watering and it consumes hours and hours. I am going to buy a few more proper leaky hoses to release some more time.


A cutting garden is a very time consuming and needy beast.

Spending hours nursing all the little babies growing away. Either too wet or too dry or not enough light as have more seedlings than greenhouse or garden.


There is an unsightly corner at the end of the drive where I park the car and keep the logs etc behind a south facing fence that I've planted sweet peas on, separating it from the pretty cutting garden bit.


It looks like a scrap yard. My friend with the afore mentioned eye brows refers to it as the estate yard. The gardener who built the raised beds added to the horrific mess by emptying the junk from his pick up truck and burying it along with cans of Diamond White tins of cider which still emerge. 

I just tackled the mass of crap to get a few sleepers out, reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy's plank trick to try and make a raised bed by placing grow bags on top of them. I don't think that is really how you're meant to do a raised bed but needs must. No staff.

Love Annabel xxx


A Poole-side View

Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole


Every normal year in Poole, mid-June, we celebrate Harry Paye Day (all the fun of the fair, in aid of charity). But who was Harry Paye and why a special day ?


Harry Paye was a XIVth century buccaneer (born 1360) - a pirate, no less. With his ship, the Mary, he was also an early tour operator, ferrying pilgrims to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela. On his way home, he would increase his profits by raids on the coastal towns of western Spain and France and by attacking ships in the English Channel, capturing crew and cargo. The humans he ransomed, he kept the loot. Sometimes he would lurk by the rocks on the Isle of Purbeck (now named Old Harry Rocks), lying in wait for unsuspecting merchantmen.


To the English, and especially to the people of Poole, he was "a Robin Hood of the high seas". On the other hand, "Arripay", as the called him, struck terror into the hearts of the French and Spanish. He was their public enemy no.1. In his time he raided some 40 towns and villages. He burned down the town of Gijon in Spain (he was working for the Count at the time!) and, on another occasion, stole an important cross from the Church of Santa Maria in Finisterre. In 1404 Harry and his ship were briefly captured by the French but he turned the tables on them, took two of their vessels and sailed up the Seine under French colours, raiding on his way.


By 1405 the French and Spanish had had enough. A joint expedition, sent by Charles VI of France and Henry III of Castile & Leon, headed for the south of England: the target - Poole, home town of Arripay. Unusually, this armada, under Don Pero Nino, was not interested in plunder, but destruction. They torched the town but were initially forced to retreat as the townspeople had been reinforced by horsemen and archers from the Manor of Canford. But desperate hand to hand fighting in street, alley and even tavern failed to dislodge the invaders and finally, after a second, more brutal attack, the people of Poole made a vain final stand on the Quay before being forced to fall back all the way to Canford Heath.


The foreigners had achieved their aim - or had they? Harry Paye was away at the time of the attack, doing a bit of private marauding. He was incensed when he learnt what had happened, all the more because his own brother had been killed. Inevitably, the following year he took his revenge.


With a mere 15 ships he succeeded in capturing a French fleet of 120 off the coast of Brittany, seizing the cargo of iron, salt and claret, especially claret. There was 12,000 gallons of it ! Back in Poole, Harry invited the citizens to partake, in compensation for what happened during his absence. It is recorded that they were drunk for a month - no wonder Harry is remembered here with such affection, the pirate-adventurer who cocked a snook at the French and shared his wine.


(Postscript: Harry's story doesn't end here. In 1407 he left Poole to take up his appointment as Admiral of the Cinque Ports' Fleet. One day a pirate, the next an admiral in the King's navy !)


Bristol Calling 

Simon Davies, Bristol

Bristol Calling

Like most people, I suppose, Mary and I have become more ardent followers of news. Each day I am keen to know whether the decline in the deaths due to the virus is turning into a trend or whether it is merely a pause before a leap to much higher numbers as has happened several times before.


Our source is usually the BBC. The BBC was one of the reasons that persuaded Mary to stay on in England rather than return to the States. (There is now another reason which she could not have foreseen.) 


However we have difficulty with the television news. For example when a few days ago Boris Johnson was recovering in hospital the voiceover giving the headlines said” Boris Johnson is sitting up in bed”. There was then the pounding introductory music and we go to the studio where a presenter, with appropriate gravitas, confirms that Boris is indeed sitting up. We move to another presenter outside the hospital who gives a bit more context finishing on the uplifting note that Boris is sitting up. Next we go outside Number Ten where yet another presenter informs us that only a few days previously it was here that Boris Johnson was chairing committees and leading the government. Now in hospital, he is doing none of these things but what he is doing is – altogether now, you must have guessed it - sitting up in bed!


Compared to this, the news on Radio 4 is a model of informative precision but somehow watching the news on television gives you more of a feeling of being there. It is more immediate, more immersive and on some occasions, more intensely irritating. 


This is why the newspaper is such a joy. Although it is a day behind and although the stories that it covers are often continuing ones, so that the first paragraphs give the new development and then the article is merely recapping information from earlier in the story, nevertheless you can read what you want and move on. I spend hours reading The Guardian but I probably read less than 20 percent of it. The range of what is presented allows me to chose the items that interest me. Two people reading the same issue might have both read none of the same articles,  just as two brothers could conceivably not share any of the same genetic information.

Illustrating the range that you would be unlikely to get in broadcast news was an article on a lab in the Faroe Islands that had been testing salmon for a virus disease. With a few different reagents the test was converted to one for coronavirus which put these islands ahead in dealing with the outbreak.

My niece, who lives in London, told us that she had decided to cycle into the empty city centre and had chosen Cleopatra’s Needle as her destination. This immediately reminded me of a short Guardian article which could hardly be described as news and was situated surprisingly with the weather forecast. It described how the Needle was given to Britain in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt to commemorate the battles of the Nile and Alexandria. Unfortunately the UK government was not willing to pay for transport and it was fifty eight years before money was raised to build a cigar shaped boat in which to tow it to London. A storm in the Bay of Biscay caused the boat to roll wildly and so a six man rescue mission was launched from the towing ship. These men drowned in the attempt but the towing ship managed to get alongside the boat and rescue the crew. They had to abandon the boat and assumed it had sunk. Four days later it was spotted off the coast of Spain, brought to England and erected on the embankment. The names of the six men who lost their lives are inscribed at its base.


What an idiosyncratic delight.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

So, with nearly 14,000 hospital deaths logged and still no figures for Care Homes (400,000 residents) or Prisons (100,000 residents) plus very much at-risk Staff, today Raab tells us we’re in for a second three week period of lockdown with no relaxation of restrictions until there’s confidence it won’t result in a surge of infection. The Mantra ‘stay home, save lives, save the NHS’ is repeated again and again but resolve will be tested in view of the extended lockdown... maybe they should allow for a little self interest and make it ‘save yourself, stay home, save lives, save the NHS’.


Beyond the briefing much is made of improved testing for Care Homes and their staff today, and media focus is brought to establish just what the “4100 individuals are now referred for testing” trumpeted actually means. It also seems impossible for The Ministry to find a single Care Home rep who will support the claim kit is getting through while news programmes are stuffed with those eager to testify is isn’t - and when it does it comes with unrealistic and dangerous instructions to make, say, a mask last a whole 12 hour shift. 

Amidst this ‘we’ have imported 150 Romanian fruit pickers who arrived today on a special charter flight - but it’s not said if they‘ve been tested back home and are known to be clear, will be tested here for an immediate start at work if they are clear or whether they’ll enter a period of quarantine to demonstrate they’re clear. Maybe they won’t be tested at all. After all, hardly anyone else is... why should we care, they’re only handling our fruit.

Marvellous Captain Tom Moore finishes 100 laps of his garden to find his hoped-for £1000 sponsorship has become £14million and cannily says if people will keep on giving, he’ll keep on walking! He’s a hundred at the end of the month.

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