Small Things

Jo Aylward, East Kent

Last weekend I spent a relaxing few hours making a dead hedge at the bottom of the garden where I am trying to create a small woodland/wild area with habitat and food for wildlife in mind. The idea came from the gardener Alys Fowler who has recently posted a video of the one in her garden, which she describes as an excellent habitat for bees, slow worms, frogs and most likely mice. I thought I would share how to make this simple structure as it utilises the sort of green waste that could be difficult to dispose of during a lockdown.


The idea is to make a simple enclosure against an existing fence or boundary. You will need some larger prunings for the upright stakes, we used hawthorn from a recently pruned tree and sharpened the ends with a knife so they would go into the ground more easily. Once you have created the enclosure with the upright sticks you use thinner ones to weave through the uprights to form a loose three sided hurdle. You can then start filling it with woody garden waste which will break down very slowly and provide valuable habitat in the meantime.


It still feels strange to have time for projects like this. With the flower and vegetable beds in unusually good order I am finding time for the sort of jobs I usually only daydream about doing. I also feel able to do a morning inspection of the garden, water seeds and tend potted plants and take in the activity of birds and insects on a daily basis. I am aware that my family and I are able to pass these days peacefully and in comfort and I don't know if I have ever felt so fortunate and thankful for my health and the place where we live.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

This morning on NPR I heard an interview with a couple who were just delivered of their first child, a baby girl named Lulu. The mother had a successful c-section but an hour or so afterwards came down with a very high fever and tested positive for the Coronavirus, while baby Lulu and father were negative. Now Mother is isolated on the top floor of their home, recovering from the surgery and the virus, while the new father is caring for the baby, feeding her with her mother’s breast milk, and carefully bringing food up to his wife which kind neighbors and friends have been bringing to the family. Praise for the father who has surprised himself and it seems his wife, who is bonding with little Lulu and doing a fine job of it single handedly while poor mother is understandably feeling left-out, but grateful that they are all home and managing very well without her and she expressed the worry that her daughter won’t need her as she now does her father. Of course, this is a temporary situation and mother and daughter will reunite and hopefully have a lifetime to bond.


And I thought of the nurse who was mentioned yesterday by a few of our contributors, who does not have a lifetime to look forward to with her newly delivered baby. And of all the stories going on all over the world of mothers and fathers and their children, grown or still young, whose lives are forever changed or taken during this pandemic and I think of my own children ~ my daughter gone almost 25 years ago, and a son, certainly a grown man, but who still reminds me how much I am needed. Now in my seventies, I feel the weight of such losses we who are left behind carry with us and when our time comes, grateful to put down.


On another note, I send David H my thanks for that marvelous website Once Upon a Quarantine.com ~ I have watched and listened to almost all of them ~ just brilliant! And what a wonderful portrayal he did with the Poe story, standing in front of his phone balanced just so ~ so completely did I believe his terror!


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

The den, by Franklin Lewis Macrae 


The weather has been good this week and so instead of doing maths first thing, my mum has swapped the day around. We are heading out in morning if it is sunny. Mum said it's quieter then too so it's safer. Me and my sister have discovered a secret den in the park that no-one knows about. We have have covered the opening with leaves and twigs so no-one can see in. We cleared the ground of undergrowth so that we could sit down comfortably. We plan to take some logs from our log shed and put them in the den and use them as stools to sit on. There is even an old staircase that was completely hidden by undergrowth. I have started to clear it. Once at home we found an old box that we are covering with leaves to camouflage it then we will hide it up a tree. We will fill the box to the brim with sweets and choc! We are going back later tonight with our dad after we have finished our afternoon lessons and he has finished work but this time we will take our head torches.

Baking kit for the mice, by Marli Rose Macrae 


Today I found it hard to get out of bed as I was so tired but in the end, I did. Mummy is taking us out early if the weather is nice. We have been stopping at Waitrose to buy croissants on the way to the park. We found a little hole in the bushes and we crawled through it and at the other side, we discovered lots of twisty, secret paths. We have been chomping our croissants in here. The paths are covered in twigs and leaves, no-one has used them in a long time. It's a bit like the Secret Garden. We have made it into a den. There was an ancient staircase but the stairs are rather dangerous, they are crumbling. Franklin set about fixing them by clearing some of the rubble. The paths are so twisty with such steep slopes that you must hold onto the branches to stop yourself from falling. When we returned home we started to camouflage an old cardboard box. We are going to fill it with sweets and hide it there. Franklin wants to put fizzy Haribo in it and go there with his best friend when things reopen.


When arrived home, there was a parcel for me. Mummy 's friend Sue sent me £10 and I used it to buy a mixing bowl, a whisk, a wooden spoon and posh linen tea towel for my mice dolls'house. Mummy said I can put real flour in it  for the mice to bake with. The mixing bowl is real terracotta! We start our lessons after the park but tonight, daddy is taking us back to the den with our head torches and flasks. I can’t wait, it will be so exciting! 


From St Just

Jane G, St Jus

Rain here today for what feels like the first time in months, and that soft south-west quality to the air that's madeleine-like for me. The only downside is that I was going to try fetching the weekly veg box by exploring on foot - there really must be a footpath that goes more or less directly over the carn to the farm - but it seemed not worth scrabbling through wet bracken to find out. Next week perhaps. And anyhow the car needed its exercise. 


Preparations for term are becoming less frenetic and more focused - almost more like normal, even if they do involve rewriting the finalists' practice exam papers in a new remote-friendly format while also explaining to the second years that their papers will be as always, because surely by the time they come to the real thing the world will be functioning again? Meantime a colleague explained to me how to look at facsimile manuscript pages online whilst simultaneously holding a virtual meeting - as this is how the Material Text paper is going to be taught. This seems too ironic to need comment. That colleague is also a friend and neighbour, and said in the non-work part of the conversation that foxes and squirrels in our street in Oxfordshire are behaving as if humans are extinct, roaming through gardens and coming right up to the windows. I feel this may be connected to that problem in philosophy (and social science), of how to observe a scene as if you weren't in it when your presence inevitably affects it. 


The first item from the coronavirus capsule wardrobe - a sleeveless tunic in a lovely soft, bright Annabel Grey fabric, labelled as suitable 'for curtain or decorative cushion cover' - is coming on quite well, though I did also take our editor's advice that there are still things called shops that deliver and ordered a pair of linen trousers.


Sequestered in Sequim

Beth, Olympic Peninsula, Washington


It changed nearly nothing, but more importantly it changed everything.


Our day to day routine in our rural abode has been little changed by the virus.  We are by and large asocial.  We are both retired from the working world, and we are newcomers to this area and know very few people here so far.  We sleep, cook, eat, exercise. I am still taking photographs and Tom is working on many projects at once.  


That so little in the day to day routine has changed just seems ridiculously incongruous to the actual fact of the world being upside down. Of course things have changed for us, some large and some small. And we feel very different than we did in January, which just seems like years ago now. The first case in Washington occurred in January, ushering in the first two stages of grief for me - denial and anger. I had already been in denial. Our son Peter is a mountain climber and was planning a new quest for May 2020 that would take him through China. He had alerted us that something was brewing there that worried him. We felt so confident that it would not affect us here in the US. So confident that I continued to embroider our enormous plans for traveling through the year. The next stage of grief was the bargaining regarding these travels - could we still do Europe, if we just canceled Trinidad?


Denial is gone. Bargaining still keeps rearing up (Alaska in July?). I work to keep anger at bay, but anger has just been a fact of daily life since November 2016. So much anger. But mainly I waver now between depression and acceptance. I am a planner by nature, which I suppose means that I suffer under the delusion that I have control over my life. So the idea that there can be no plan, really no plan at all, is a tough pill to swallow.  


I will share more of our day to day, but first wanted to just unpack some of the emotional toil of this situation. Thank you for indulging me.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia


Today I finish my course of antibiotics for a root canal that began to niggle a week or so ago. My dentist will not be working again for another month and the emergency dentist has no desire to touch what he believes is going to be a complicated (read expensive) treatment. It sits in the background contributing to the generalised feeling of anxiety.


We managed to get on the list for a flu shot today and so we travel the hour into Melbourne this morning for our appointments. The nurse is a warm and beautiful young woman with parents who have migrated here from Italy and Albania. She tells us that she misses hugging and that we can be sure the Italians will resume it at the first possible opportunity. She holds our hands in her gloved ones and tells us to come back, and talk about where we should travel to in Italy when life resumes some equilibrium. She says to my husband that his yellow jumper has brightened her day, “it is like sunshine”. She will have delivered roughly five thousand flu shots by the end of season. 


At the beginning of the restrictions on movements our expresso machine stopped heating. We allow ourselves each morning one wickedly strong expresso (for me) and a strong flat white (for my husband). Being without it has been like being short a good red wine, do-able but I’d really rather not. We drive home via the gaggia dealer and leave the machine for what will be a simple and straightforward repair. More lovely warm Australians of Italian descent make our day. It will be ready early next week and we both wonder idly what essential reason we could find for travelling to collect it.


It is a crisp, cool Autumn day and we enjoy the drive back home along the unusually quiet freeway. The countryside is looking fresh and beautiful after last week’s soaking rain. We comment how Mount Macedon and Hanging Rock never look the same two days running and then both burst out laughing when when see the illuminated sign on the exit to the mountain (which is more of a hill) “Autumn leaves have been cancelled”.  


We are very happy to discover when we walk this afternoon that Autumn leaves are still available for those of us who live here.


Pedagogy and Print

Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire


The Plague has entered my subconscious. For the last two nights I have woken from dreams about it; not nightmares, as I haven’t experienced any of the associated hardship or horror, but statistical, as befits much of the reporting on the virus. What number of the population has it; what proportion of this person’s face is covered in ‘plague rash’.


We’re still going on our (almost) daily walks into the Hertfordshire countryside. Today we spied two handsome male deer with large antlers sunbathing on the edge of a field. Every now and then we hear ambulance sirens in the distance reminding us of the situation we are all in.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


Some confusion in the camp the morning: we remember hearing during yesterday’s radio news two things of note: a) that the police are to be told to lighten up and allow folk to use their cars to get to the walking destination of choice - providing the duration of the walk exceeds the duration of the drive, and b) that in care homes and hospitals, more is to be done to accommodate relatives at the bedside of the terminally ill, near the end.

There is no mention of either in the briefing at 5pm. No mention in the news coverage, post-briefing or as the evening progresses, right through to Newsnight, which I always watch a bit of in case they flag up something momentous.


So, to this morning and as I say, we’re still perplexed when finally at 2.30 our local paper via Twitter publishes a ‘What you can do and what you can’t, outside the home’ feature following Police briefings and sure enough the ‘car to the venue is ok’ thing is there. Together with a tempting ‘exercise takes many forms...’  So, that’ll be roaming a beach fishing for Bass then. I’ll email the Chief Constable, just to make sure.

As for the ‘end of life’ thing, that remains a mystery.


A relatively small gesture of great importance from No10 - £10m to the inshore fishing industry to develop local markets and to export if possible. A much needed boost for these self-employed fishermen, I look forward to seeing progress.


Remembering Captain Tom’s pledge to keep walking if we keep donating I track down his ‘Just Giving’ page this morning and bung him a few bob. Astonishingly as I do the total is showing just over £18,000,000. In case you feel inclined to do the same, it’s https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tomswalkforthenhs

A separate campaign is now launched to get him a Knighthood. As before, Go Tom!


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk


Two of our contributors have mentioned coffee and cafes today, and both from Australia.

In this mad time, when days seem to drift in and out of each other, I hang on to certain rituals. I haven’t mastered a routine yet, but there are one or two rituals.

My first cup of tea, alone with the cats, always drunk from my lovely David Garland cup/mug. Sometimes whatsapping my friend Mary in Bristol, sometimes sitting by the Aga, or lately in the garden.

And then mid morning, or later these days, our coffee. I make it very simply with an old fashioned filter, but I froth the milk, and produce the nearest to flat whites I can manage. Can’t do those nifty designs on the froth yet. But I like a strong coffee, and have been experimenting with different coffees from small firms advertising on the net and Instagram. What luxury. Hardly wartime rationing!

But, yes, Jean in Melbourne, I too look forward to being able to go to a favourite cafe in months to come. Hopefully with you! Do you remember the one in Norwich, Strangers, with the most delicious pastries? Well, alas, I can’t make delicious pastries... not that I’ve tried. Yet.


I read that New Zealand has had only one death from Coronavirus. Can this be true? Apparently, NZ shut down all flights in to and out of the country. In The U.K., apparently, 15,000 passengers arrive every day. Why is the country not in lockdown when it’s people are? Who is doing all this flying? Am I being naive?

I notice that New Zealand has a female Prime Minister..


I feel bad at forgetting to cheer the NHS last night. Truth is, I’d no idea it was Thursday. Days are so less defined. As I said, they drift in and out of each other...

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