Midwife 42

Emma, NZ

Back to busy again. Back to work and an attempt to corral the children into some kind of formal school work. 

The Daughter has been taking full advantage of me sleeping after night shifts, she 'forgot' a maths class (who can really blame her!) and took her English class dressed in fluffy sheep pyjamas. I suppose she'll be back in a blazer and kilt, hefting her rucksack around before long.


The Boy has taken to designing board games that are impossible to play. They are convoluted, come with a long list of rules and are enormous fun - even if only to see him roll his eyes as he once again explains that no, "when you land on the second boat - you can only take the horse with you if you have the leader rope - which you should've traded for when you left the castle just before heading to the market place - if you don't have the rope you can leave the horse with the ferryman if you roll a double, but you can't get him back until you've reached the forest and completed the riddle" ... and so on. 


Our little Island of Aotearoa feels to be on the way out from under the Covid cloud, the numbers of new cases seem to be lower and lower, only 7 in the last 24hrs. All the talk is about dropping back to Level 3 and what that might mean, I worry that people will stop being as careful as they have been.


Lockdown 2020

Naomi - 9, Darley Dale

Usually I scoot up and down on my scooter for ages and ages every day because I have barely anything else to do. Sometimes I go on bike rides with my sister or walks with my brother for exercise. I've already crashed into my sister on the way down our hill on my scooter, cut my hand scraped my leg, then the day after skidded on my bike and got a nasty graze on my side. School work is proving fun with my mum teaching me although my brother and sister are driving me mad!


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Fortunate to live by the coast in the UK I spend a lot of time wandering the cliff tops admiring the sea birds, the changing moods of the ocean and the way perspectives shift according to the weather. On a falling tide there is also a magnificent walk under them and often you will be entirely alone-all just 2 miles from the town. So sometimes you look down and sometimes you look up. As in the theatre [of life] with its exits and entrances it seems to be a matter of perspective, so a character going off is also coming on somewhere else [so brilliantly and wittily exploited in Stoppard's re-working of "Hamlet" from the perspectives of the two unfortunate stooges Rozencrantz and Guildenstern.] I also love the way in "The Winter's Tale" that Shakespeare sets every director the ultimate challenge with his now infamous stage direction! 


In the current times it is easy perhaps to succumb to the overwhelming nature of events towering above one, a seemingly insurmountable barrier, to see every action as an exit. But daunting as cliffs may be they also offer good perspectives and opportunities, challenges if one wishes to accept them; imagine the sense of triumph as you emerge at the top! Finally in Larkin's "Here" the poem ends with a beautifully abstract image of 'unfenced existence' when the journey ends [not at a cliff] on the beach. 


Where things begin or end, entrances or 

Exits, may be a matter of view. Do 

They rear up, impregnable, towering

Over you, defining and defying

Attempts to scale? They mark where countries 

Start, your America, renewfoundland

A beachhead opportunity, a stand.

Lark height above, horizons stretch away

From that anvil forged finality.

They mark where countries end, its character,

Rugged, majestical, dominant, proud.

‘Here’, they seem to say, ‘here’ is good.

Disaster: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

Salvation: the entrance of Perdita!


From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

  • Our neighbour Steve is walking 100 miles in his garden to fund raise for the NHS. 

  • Chichester Scrubs have raised money on GoFundMe to buy patterns and fabric. They supply their sewing volunteers with fabric lengths for each scrubs outfit.

  • They’ve also appealed for laundry bags, which can be made of anything washable at 60C. I’ve identified two old poly-cotton sheets and will have a go – as that’s about the level of my sewing skills currently. The Bell in Chichester (a pub full of signed posters from Chichester Festival Theatre) have offered to be a drop-off point.

  • Last Thursday our eight-year old neighbour Jacob got out his African drum to accompany the NHS clapping.


What about those with no IT or car?


  • My close relative has no access to IT now the library in town is closed.
    About 20% of the UK population don’t use IT.

  • The post has been unbelievably slow. We sent each other Easter cards but I’ve never received hers (17 days since posting) and she received mine after 12 days. What if an energy company sends you a bill that you don’t receive? And you end up accidentally not paying?

  • What if you live in a village where the village shop recently closed down, the post office closed down and there is no bank machine? Where the buses have been reduced to 3 a day on weekdays only and there are now no taxis? And where the road is going to be closed for a week cutting off the bus? Except that they told you the road wasn’t going to close when you enquired three weeks’ ahead after noticing a warning sign in the high street? You were waiting to go shopping in the nearest town. You had no food in. The bus didn’t come. Because the water company hadn’t told the council they were digging up the road, and so the council told the bus company the works were cancelled because of the lockdown and the bus company told you that the bus was running as normal. The truth turned out to be that the water company, county council and bus company don’t communicate with each other, forgetting that there is someone with no car, no email, no online access, who is waiting at the bus stop to go shopping. (East Hampshire County Council, South East Water and Stagecoach buses – I’m talking about you, though Stagecoach did ask HCC directly and were given the wrong answer.)

  • What if you can’t order an online shop? Neighbours have offered to help. We’ve helped, but still it’s difficult. What if we were ill ourselves? We don’t hear about those with such challenges, so strong is the assumption that we are all online and/or have cars.


Repair problems


  • I mowed through the lawn mower lead just when the grass needs cutting regularly – and I won’t be able to get it fixed anywhere because of the lockdown.

  • Bosch advice line want to charge me £5 per query, refundable if I pay £30 a month for the honour of accessing their expertise. In three months, I could buy a new mower at that rate. 

  • The electrical advice for mending the lead came from Chris in Washington (a contributor to these pages). Fortunately, he didn’t charge me.




I was talking with my friend Charlotte in Bristol about freedom. I miss the freedom of knowing I could drive or go by train to London or Norwich to see my children whenever I am able. I want to see my children again.


All Day Exercise

David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire

Every year we take part in what is usually a very successful, socially & financially, North Yorkshire Open Studios. Of course this is off this year but there are plans for a virtual open studios, which includes as many people as possible filming their work, their environs and studios, and chatting about their work. I'm not used to moving images, being a stillness and quietness fan, but we've got an all singing and dancing camera so I'm learning to handle it. This coincided with me getting the most appalling toothache, which of course cannot be treated anywhere at the moment. All I've had is some penicillin and some illicit but industrial strength opioids. 


The whole point of this tale is that the two coincided today when I started editing the rushes (am I allowed to say "editing the rushes" or is that really pretentious? What the hell! I am the new Alan Parker). I'm not used to seeing myself in high def and even less used to listening to me rambling on about my paintings and working process. I leave that pleasure to other people. I was horrified as the person I saw looked sallow, sunken, had difficulty stringing together a sentence and, to be honest, looked a bit out of it as well. I said this to Anna and she said "Yes, you were off with the fairies". And there I was thinking I was being wonderfully articulate and witty. Anyway, I've done it all again this afternoon, and the public wont need to see me anyway, as I'll just be a voice over, an ambient drone as background to my wonderful cinematography.



Keith Chandler, from Bridgnorth, Shropshire



Feeling low locked in 

against the spread of Coronavirus

the incessant rain of bad news 

looking up I see

how suddenly the sky is filled   

with little birds flying too fast for the eye to follow 

white vests & chokers twinkling like stars

skittering around corners   

tying knots high in the clouds

using the whole sky for their skating rink 

for five minutes or so the air brisk

with their twittering clicking gossip   

finding us full of insect promise 

as they pause in their flight up the Severn 

as if time has undergone some acceleration

F1 racers taking over from the traffic

of stay-at-home garden hoppers 

think of the miles these passerines have crossed 

through the burning hoop of the Equator

over the brush fires of the Sahel 

Sahara with its heaps of hopelessness    

how the Greeks even Plato believed that martins

overwintered in mud bogged down like catfish

not realising how their lives

are in fact more wonderful than myths about them

how our planet is full of the magic 

of migration like a ball of wool being wound 

by invisible electromagnetic hands

higher deeper currents of knowledge 

than we can know or be certain of

for five minutes while those small birds passed 

felt free and glad to be alive


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

Musings from the book shelf

What would Dickens have made of all this? The master of character description and observer of the human condition certainly experienced some of the epidemics of Victorian London several decades before Louis Pasteur and later Robert Koch confirmed germ theory in the 1880s. There was plenty of miasma about!

In Bleak House, when young Jo, a homeless boy, becomes ill he describes the experience of fever, much as might be seen with Covid-19:

“I’m a-being froze, and then burnt up, and then froze, and then burnt up, ever so many times in an hour. And my head’s all sleepy, and all a-going mad like—and I’m so dry—and my bones isn’t half so much bones as pain.”


(Esther Summerson, the narrator, who visited the boy, also became ill despite attempts at social distancing and she became disfigured and blind. Dickens doesn’t name the disease but it was probably smallpox which caused 42000 deaths in Great Britain between 1837-1840. Despite vaccination being deemed compulsory the anti-vaccers were in full flow.)


Another “Joe” in Dickens of less current relevance but perhaps greater interest and whose condition entered the language of medicine is the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers. He ate so much that he fell asleep at any time of day. The condition was unrecognised in medicine until at least 1900 and later described as “Pickwickian Syndrome” in a case report in 1956. It was later given its less romantic title of “obesity hypoventilation syndrome.” The mechanisms are complex but his sleepiness is due to nocturnal sleep deprivation, not fully recognised until the 1970s.


Dickens language in describing young Joe makes one marvel at his ability with words:

“on the box sat a fat and red-faced boy, in a state of somnolency”

“the fat boy, with elephantine playfulness, stretched out his arms to ravish a kiss; but as it required no great agility to elude him, his fair enslaver had vanished before he closed them again; upon which the apathetic youth ate a pound or so of steak with a sentimental countenance, and fell fast asleep”

“the fat boy laid himself affectionately down by the side of the cod-fish, and placing an oyster barrel under his head for a pillow, fell asleep instantaneously”

“damn that boy, he’s gone to sleep again”

“how very odd! Said Mr Pickwick.”

(If you have a penchant for Dickens reread chapter four of TPP for more on Joe) 


When Dickens died of a stroke on the 9th June 1870, (250 years ago) aged only 58, the British Medical Journal in its eulogy wrote: “what a gain it would have been to physic if one so keen to observe and facile to describe had devoted his powers to the medical art.”


On the other hand, if that had been the case, we might have been denied the joy of his prose. 



John Underwood, Norfolk

I have started work on a new binding, or more accurately, am continuing work on a binding which I had forgotten about. I have a large cupboard which contains all my bookbinding equipment, and some books needing work. I don’t delve into this pile often but late last week, having some time to fill as many of us do in these times I started digging around. I was delighted to find a partly bound copy of John Aubrey’s “Miscellanies” that I had worked on several years ago. It is not a brilliant copy but I have been searching online to buy a copy recently (having forgotten all about the one in the cupboard) and had failed to find a anything half decent at a sensible price. It is becoming an uncommon work I think. It is a delightful book. It contains notes made by Aubrey on things supernatural, omens, dreams, knockings, transportation in the air, converse with angels and spirits, second sight and the like. Dipping in to it I found a wonderful page in a section titled “Marvels” devoted to a strange event which I quote below. He is writing about a Parson Hill of Stretton in Hertfordshire:


“ This Venerable good old Man one Day (after his accustomed Fashion) standing up, with his Head uncovered to Drink His Majesty’s Health, saying God Bless Our Gracious Sovereign, as he was going to put the Cup to his Lips, a Swallow flew in at the Window, and pitched on the Brim of the little Earthen Cup (not half a Pint) and sipt, and so flew out again……I cannot doubt the Veracity of the Witnesses”.


Now this lovely little scene reminded me of a very similar event that I witnessed. Ally and I were in holiday in France with another two couples, sharing a gîte. The gas stove was extremely difficult to light, and was causing us problems. One of our friends turned on the gas, and knelt in front of the oven with a lighted taper, and tried in vain to light the stove. At that very moment, a Kestrel flew in at the open window, hovered for a second or two over our friend, and then flew out of the window. Seconds later, the gas, which had been building up, ignited with a flash and a whoomph, singeing our friend’s hair and eyebrows. I remember it clearly some thirty five years later.


Peter might remember an occasion at Old Hall in the garden. I think that we must have been rehearsing a Shakespeare production, and were gathered outside. Peter  must have been speaking, when suddenly a bee flew into his mouth - unnoticed at first. He closed his mouth on the bee, and obviously realised that he had a buzzing insect inside and opened it again, whereupon the bee flew out. I think that there were comments about “waspish words” and “a honeyed tongue” and the like. I don’t believe in portents or omens or the like, (although the idea of karma seems to have some traction in life), but I do love Aubrey’s eager gullibility and reportage. He liked a good story, and gathered up all kinds of snippets about curing diseases by touch and the like. More on the binding another time…

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