Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
The government has extended the lockdown until the end of the month but it probably won’t be stopped then. To do so would make people vulnerable to the virus just when we’d managed to slow the rate of infection. This, we’re told, is crucial not because we’ll avoid the pandemic’s full force at some point but because the country and its fragile health services need to buy time. They need to get ready for the worst by bolstering the capacity to test and to respond to vast numbers of people needing treatment. So no one’s under any illusion about what lies ahead. Our poorest communities make up the majority of the population, and they do not allow people much space for physical distancing. Or for abundant hand washing. So when the virus hits, it’ll likely hit those communities the hardest.
Today, the President announced that there would be no relaxation of the prohibition on the sale of alcoholic drinks. He’d been pestered by a federation of shebeen (pub) owners to unban alcohol sales. A booze and fags ban has been squarely part of the lockdown mandate, making its rules generally stiffer than elsewhere. Prohibition tends to drive booze sales underground. Or then it sparks people’s creativity.
Pineapple pop is the fizzy festive sounding name for what can be a densely heady home brew. Made simply from yeast, sugar, water and copious slices of pineapple, the brew, which is served after just a few days fermentation, has long been a township favourite. During apartheid, black communities were prohibited from buying and selling liquor. It didn’t stop them. It also led to a lot of home brewing.
This evening, I noticed that the local supermarket in Pretoria North, where I live, is all out of yeast. I wanted to bake bread but will make soda bread instead. Before today’s announcement you could easily find yeast on the shelves, even when people were panic buying. I checked the fruit and veg section and, sure enough, there wasn’t a pineapple to be found.
Counting my blessings
Why am I not depressed that this lock down continues for at least three more weeks? Am I actually enjoying it? The positives are certainly outweighing the negatives. I love chatting with friends over the phone, my family are more attentive than BEFORE, I am communicating with my neighbours more frequently, I love hearing the children next door laughing while they play in the garden with their parents, I have time to 'stand and stare' at the arrival of Spring - why is it I have never noticed it quite so much as this year? Why is the birdsong so absolutely astounding this year? It is so good to have shopping delivered; my newspaper collected, my letters posted. The big news this week is I have at last got a delivery slot for groceries to be delivered on Sunday. I am beginning to feel rather spoilt as I count my blessings!
Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
Time these days is different than time was a few weeks ago. There is more time to focus on smaller details and more obscure pursuits. This, I am finding, is not only true for my days, but for those of Jay, my dog. He has developed a new pastime. One he thought of himself and had not done previously. Each afternoon, he insists on going down to the icy cold and shallow stream which runs past our house where he lunges and plunges into it and through it, biting as many bubbles as he can as they float by. I have no idea what made him think of doing that but each afternoon he comes to me with pleading eyes and down we go to the stream.
Further downstream, the water flows over a 15’ foot dam, and continues on its way for about another 200 feet before it passes through a tunnel under the Croton Aqueduct which rises about 40’ above it. The aqueduct was constructed in the nineteenth century as a means to supply water to New York City. It began further north, ran for 41 miles and ended up in a reservoir in the middle of Manhattan on the site where the New York Public Library now stands. While it has not been used for this purpose for many many years, and some of it has been obliterated by developing towns, the top of it provides a lovely trail which passes through segments of the western edge of Westchester County, New York. Our property borders the aqueduct and we can see it in the distance through the trees.
In normal times as they once were, and over the years, we would see very few people using the trail, but when lockdown began, we noticed many more people hiking and running and biking on it in the distance. So many more people intensely intent on finding a way to maintain some sanity and fresh air while adhering to social distancing. So many resolutions to stay healthy and active. So many people not knowing what to do with time.
For the past week and a half we have noticed the aqueduct activity has quieted down considerably. There have been very few people using the trail. I wonder if people have settled into a more quiet routine at home or have they become complacent or are they just too tired from the stress of today.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
One obvious benefit of the current situation is the way it has required folk to readjust their clocks and re-examine their routines. From a life often dominated by schedules, timings, numbers and rush to the current almost surreal suspension of all such things, is a profound shift. I think it might be one for the better.
5.58, carriage 3 seat 12 then change to platform 2,
12 strides up the steps, keeping left, very few.
Concourse barrier 4, tap and go, or the guard
2 flights down to level 1, veer right 48 degrees, if required.
Escalator down. Then 1st archway to the left and position
By the sign. Wait. Approaching train 1 minute; transition
To elbows, stand tall. Do Not Budge. Doors slide and stride.
2 shots espresso, 50 ml cup, dash of soya, finally inside
Grab 1 meal deal, including free bottled water, hooray,
“Any chocolate to add? It’s two for one today.”
Office 14th floor, lift 2, room 12, desk 8
Nod at the supervisor, check not late. And begin…
Now the cat purrs me awake. Time? Day? I’ve no notion
But book, lawn and family help re-calibration.
A routine of sorts, as Larkin observed in Toads Re-Visited, helps to get us through the day. The familiarity of things in unfamiliar times or strange surroundings is comforting. It gives a day a certain anchor, a structure and sense of shape. Life abroad can seem challenging - even without the added sense of dislocation courtesy of covid - and so 'home brands' take on a disproportional significance: spreads, cereals, cosmetics or in my wife's case tea...
Tea in the Tropics [And Coals to Newcastle]
Keen on a good cuppa, doubting supply
Of a most particular variety,
I was requested, required, encouraged
To find a year’s supply to ease her mind.
I tried to explain “Tea grows in the tropics”
That plantations don’t envelope the Dales
And Yorkshire’s main crop is not, well, tea.
To no avail. I pointed out that her tropical region
Is famed for its leaves, hand-picked in season
And carefully graded and freshly packed
And that shelves I’m sure would be well stacked
With every conceivable type and that
She could probably try a blend each week
And still in a year have more to seek. No.
A thousand tea bags later, more or less,
Straining under the weight of my success
I made it through customs. Who could do more?
The routine of tea was established at four.
The first supermarket that I went to see
Had an aisle and a half devoted to tea,
The second one, not to be outdone,
Had every leaf grown under the sun.
Floor to ceiling extended the view
So not much need for her ‘special’ brew…
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
I’ve woken this morning with the feeling that I must remember something... that there is something I told myself I must remember to do and of course I can’t think what it is...
Yesterday I had a proper run out in the car - from Suffolk into Norfolk. A “legal” journey but I did check first to see that it was okay. A friend had to have emergency surgery as a day case and his wife could not pick him up from the hospital. Anyhow, I volunteered. I called the Ward Sister and she explained what I had to do. Arrived at the hospital after a leisurely drive in soft, afternoon sunshine. The car park was half empty! Large signs said “Respiratory A &E” and then pointing in the other direction - “Main Hospital”. It was slightly eerie - a scene from a science fiction film. I looked to see if Donald Sutherland was roaming the car park but no sign of him!
Inside - the hospital was equally quiet. No visitors. A few people in masks. At the appropriate ward, I had to buzz on the intercom and eventually a gowned-up nurse arrived - escorting my friend. She wished him well and said goodbye before passing him the paperwork and his bag. She then disappeared - retreating into clinical mystery behind the locked doors. I wheeled him along the empty corridors. We stopped at the hospital shop (no other customers) and bought water and some fresh pineapple chunks (his mouth was so dry after the anaesthetic). To the car and then took a different route home. It was just lovely travelling along and seeing how beautiful the unpeopled world is looking.
It is overcast here today. I’m still in bed. Drinking tea actually. Can’t think what I’ve forgotten to do. Oh well. Hey ho. No rush to get up. Well, it is the weekend...
John Underwood, Norfolk
Matt Hancock (or Matt Handjob as he is allegedly known in Government circles) lives in a different space time continuum to me. I know this because he confidently predicts that tests for Coronavirus will reach 100,000 a day by the end of April. He must have found a portal (that is what they seem to be called in Science Fiction stories) between my universe and another that he chooses to live in most of the time. In his universe, testing is probably at about 80,000 a day right now, with the testers finishing their training, the test kits purchased and the first tranche of those to be tested given their time slot. In the remaining couple of weeks in April, this will “ramp up” to reach 100,000.
In another most useful and welcome initiative, Hancock has instigated the “Care” badge, to be worn proudly by carers in the community. In a slice of irony that is beyond sick humour… I really don’t have the words to express this… beyond kindness, beyond hope, beyond empathy, beyond belief,
the badges themselves are not available at the moment. This is true, I have just this last few minutes checked the website, downloaded the image of the badges, and copied the text on the “Buy Now” page. Utterly shambolic. Right now, right here, this journal records yet another low point in decency. I’m off to organise a piss-up in a brewery.
Due to changing circumstances, the CARE badge CIC is not able to accept new orders at this time.
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
My phone sends me regular messages telling what I was doing a year ago. Lovely memories to show me what I will be able to do again once this is over. Last year we were in London for four days with the three oldest grandchildren. Harry Potter World was the highlight for them. This year I should be in Devon doing indigo shibori with Mary, enjoying lovely walks and playing Ticket to Ride. It will happen but not just yet.
I'm finding posting parcels to people very satisfying. Yesterday I sent bread flour to our son in London who has a bread machine but can't get any flour. Then chutney and marmalade to a worried friend who has two daughters, both with young children, working in the health service. She is the sole carer for a man in his 90s with dementia and hasn't been out for a month. Finding an appropriate birthday present for another friend in lockdown was tricky but hopefully he will like it. Once a week l send a craft activity to the three year old. Yesterday it was accompanied by a child's bicycle seat, requested by her father, some rhubarb and a little girls' cardigan given to me by a friend to pass on. All the extras fitted into the bicycle seat. We print the labels and and pay the postage online but should I be sending parcels and putting delivery drivers at risk?
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
An Exciting Day!
Yesterday I was reading outside enjoying the sun and the quiet (a few twittering birds in the bushes). We have remarked almost daily how quiet the place is, you wouldn’t think we are situated in the centre of a small but getting larger town. In our kitchen upstairs at the back of the house which overlooks old roof tops the tranquility that descends reminds one of a somnolent version of a French village in summer. The faint baaing of lambs in the adjacent abbey meadow enhances this experience and may eventually lead us to have a siesta if feeling tired enough.
I have heard that the lockdown has sent people into a ‘sleep mode’; that having no structure to the day has meant staying in bed until lunchtime is a pattern of life now. Myself, I could never do this unless I am seriously ill and I am thankful I am feeling well these dangerous days. Another sensation is not knowing what day it is. Days roll slowly into one another, living life is a long seamless unnamed day. Easter too came and went by silently.
My peaceful state in the sun was suddenly shattered by a police siren, then another, and then another plus the sound of roaring engines somewhere to the south of us. Ahh I thought the police have got onto the trail of county lines drug pusher and dealer on his way back to the ganglands in London and the A11 nearby is about to become a chase scene and eventual capture! I envisaged a huge German Shepherd Police Dog bringing the criminal down when the chase ended. The sirens stopped. Silence returned.
Later on the EDP news website I saw the exciting headline, in sleepy Wymondham, who would have guessed! Drug dealer 50 years old from Great Yarmouth with class A drugs successfully apprehended by HM officers. A photo of the capture showed 5 police vehicles surrounding the car on a minor road T junction just half a mile away from our house, a quiet country lane that we have often walked along. One of the vehicles was a dog handling van. I didn’t see ‘Rocky’ in the photograph - I wondered if he was the hero of the day!
I thought I would do a bit of leg exercise this morning in the kitchen. One hand on the worktop and swinging leg on opposite side of body to the aforementioned hand. It felt good. I could even get used to this. Turn around and swing the other leg. Good, the hips are moving…. to the music….. the leg like a metronome needle, keeping time. What time? Slow time, but I can speed it up if I want to and get out of this lockdown!