Clean, sort, tidy

Lily, Camberwell, London

Cleaning, sorting, tidying. They are my default actions when there is nothing else to occupy me. Naturally disorganised I am consciously over organised. And so, two days ago I was emptying and re-shelving my home-office book case. The base for everyday essentials: a printer and its inks, envelopes, post it notes, folders of probably very important bills and documents, staplers, hole punches, glues and tapes,  2 bonne maman jam jars and 1 Berwick cockle tin of pens and pencils. And the resting place for my many years of work note books, university notes and essays, birthday cards worth keeping, defunct cameras, passports, postcards from galleries collected since school and a green box of photographs organised in their envelopes; some labelled with place and date or occasion. 


Many of those objects are now stifled into plastic boxes, waiting to be archived to the cellar. And they will now have to wait as we suspect we have the virus. Or is it just a regular virus? Whatever it is my husband and I are both too tired to do anything, my joints and muscles ache and he has no sense of taste or smell. So now I clean, sort and tidy my head, thoughts and memories; either side of keeping the 2 small boys, of 5 and 8, busy and happy doing something. We can’t exit the house now (in case we do have the virus) for our daily football kick about in our park at the end of our road. This afternoon in our small walled garden random bottles of bubble mixture and several balloons have succeeded in the simple pleasure they offer, while a newly purchased Kindle now takes advantage of the eldest’s love of reading and the youngest charges about in a succession of past book-day and Halloween costumes while offering me a full commentary on his actions and thoughts, real and imaginary. He is now snubbed that I would not smell his wolf’s tail. Another 30 seconds and the tears will be gone. A new delight will hold him. 


It is interesting that despite our best efforts we are ill. Somewhere we found the germs on the deliveries of food and parcels or on my once a week visit to the local shops to find gluten free bread and the vegan hotdogs my eldest son has to have or while taking food to my mother or when rescuing her from herself. She told me today that her good friend, oh she’s such a tonic. She’s not stupid, I mean she’s a scientist. Well she says it’s all a conspiracy. It’s nothing to worry about. I know people are dying all over the place but it’s fine. How are my boys? Oh, I had such a lot of lovely phone calls yesterday for my birthday. How are my boys? Oh, they are so good. Are you going out? It's very nice today. It felt very warm when I went for a walk today. Oh, that’s it you said you were ill. How are you? I’m ok I was feeling ill too but I’m fine. I felt very weak. We’ll get through this. Up the revolution. How are my boys? Are you going out today?


My house was a shop. In the middle of the road. I think it was a "dairy", in other words it sold everyday produce to those that didn't want to walk the farther five minutes that would take them to the shops of Camberwell Green. The shop window remains, the front ground floor wall of the house is a door and a window. Sitting in front of it my eyes are constantly distracted by people, bikes and cars going past the window. It’s Sunday but today is noisier than it usually is, during the lockdown. There is more music coming from my neighbours’ homes and cars. Loud conversations. There are hand tools shrieking. A fight in the flats behind us. There was an un written rule that we (not the birds) would be quiet. The rule is slipping today. 


The photographs in the green box in my office book case distract me since I looked through them the other day. Taken when I was 19, 21, 25, 30 they capture my history on paper, pivotal moments: parties at university, my 21st birthday at now long gone soho club, flatmates and housemates, moving into this house, my first Christmas with my now husband. Exiled from the things that make me “me” today, I feel too close to the awkward younger version of me who is caught in those photos. Having been physically self-conscious, I found confidence in my mid-thirties when I had my children. I then owned and belonged in my body, aware that many women felt the opposite having had children. But in these weeks without the stimulation of my work and the enjoyment of exercising my expertise, the photographs of the me I do not wish to identify myself as, demand my attention. But they are not as immediate, as present, as real, as the youngest child dancing over the sofa, singing at the top of his voice, “Work together, work together. Work together. You know what I mean. You know what I mean. Anyone want chocolate? Together, together. Any one together.” 

The adult this child will become will not have photographs of an awkward child to haunt him. If I can take some credit for him I will.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA


Like No Other Retail Experience


What an idiot. No gloves, no mask,

all swagger and a Chinese red hat.

He’s thinking, my president will protect me,

anyway, what do these scientific elites know?

I’ve got God on my side. 

He’s all the social distancing I need

to protect me from this liberal virus hoax.


Ten minutes and I have had enough.

Hands sweating in latex gloves, nose pinched

by mask. How do frontline medics

do this for hours at a time,

sweat mingling with tears?

“Hey. Buddy. Six feet.” Muffled I remonstrate,

and receive a stare, as uninformed

as a southern state governor.

Here comes Mr Macho, walking straight

through an infectious vector, a cloud

of four contractors hovering around a cart,

shedding viral load through mask-less mouths

waiting to breathe over the Ethiopian

employee huddled at the check-out,

desert eyes looking out over her paper mask

into an unconscionable hell at the

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

bearing down on her with naked hands.


I wish I had a wipe large enough

to wash the world, a mask

to cover all, gloves to protect

every hand, a wonder cure

for ignorance and a magic wand

to wave at those who know better

and make them vanish, like Covfefe-19,

in a cleansing spray of disinfectant.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

A quiet weekend... spent most of the time in the garden or greenhouse or shed - even on Saturday which was so overcast and then raining at times... Sunday was a glorious day. We pottered about enjoying the weather and a slice or two of my homemade caraway seed cake... Need to be more disciplined with food... having too many goodies! Perhaps I will walk a bit faster tomorrow... burn off a few calories! 


And so another week begins... wonder what will it bring?

Here's a photo of the garden and also of the bust that I bought... as I mentioned a few days ago... 


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Another lovely walk, down to Raper Lodge which was used in the 1970s film of The Virgin and the Gypsy, then past Jaws's pool where once lived a massive trout, over fields leading to Haddon Hall and back through Alport, a hamlet joining Youlgrave.

We had seen a notice on the village notice board saying, 'If you don't live here go home. If you are seen you will be reported to the police.'  It made me feel sad and selfish and somehow guilty. We are so lucky. I wanted to take it down but decided I shouldn't. The rules about driving to somewhere to walk say you can drive as long as you spend longer walking than driving. So driving 40 minutes from Sheffield to Youlgrave, walking for 85 minutes and driving back is ok?


As we stood on the bridge in Alport looking at the river I noticed two villagers watching us. Were we being judged?


On the way back we collected eggs from the rescue hens and were given cauliflour and sprouting broccoli plants. Then a neighbour gave me 2 tomato plants. More plants to put in my new cold frame. So much sharing going on.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

One advantage of the long spells of uninterrupted time is the possibility it affords of reading all those books that you have been putting off; "Moby Dick" had, according to the little date inside the paperback cover, been waiting since 1987 for me. I was temped to re-name it Mobius Dick as it ravelled and unravelled and re-ravelled itself seemingly without end in a mathematical conundrum but eventually all was revealed. I did enjoy Ishmael's wry philosophical musings on how to get through tough days, one of which for him almost ended very badly indeed. It all had a sort of Monty Pythonesque world view and set me tinkering with some of the prose as he determinedly looks on the bright side of life.   


“Call me Ishmael”  Moby Dick: Herman Melville At the start of chapter 49 [The Hyena] Ishmael, having endured extreme privations, near certain death after being hurled into the ocean and being almost run down by the ship, is unceremoniously hauled on deck… and yet emerges bizarrely cheerful. How so? Conveniently the prose seems to lend itself to verse: 


There are certain queer times and occasions 

In this strange mixed affair we call life, 

When a man takes this whole universe 

For some vast, and practical joke.  

Though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns 

He bolts down events, all creeds and beliefs, 

Prospects of disaster, peril of life, 

Of limb, seem to him but good-natured hits, 

Jolly jabs in the side, blows from a cove,  

Th’unaccountable old joker above.  

This genial, easy, free philosophy 

Allows him to face with equanimity 

Moments of tribulation extreme 

With a smile, as though he nothing had seen.      



How’s the rationing going? I don’t mean 

The cans of beans and pasta on the shelf 

But the rationing of oneself. The way that  

Although three strides could take you round the room 

You eke it out a little, make it seem 

An adventure, a journey, a voyage 

Unfolding. You pause to study that book, 

A real look, not glancing or skimming 

But something taken in, absorbed; a whole 

Delicious feast of characters unfold. 

Hiding in plain sight its gathered dust for years 

But now unrationed, its joy appears and 

You can take your time. The page invites you in… 

Rejoice, the hidden bliss of rationing!


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

We haven’t seen hair nor hide of Boris Johnson since he left hospital and retreated to his country mansion. He was full of admiration for the NHS staff after his treatment at St Thomas’. “They are the beating heart of this country, together we will beat this virus” bla, bla, bla and other throw away comments. The government are not doing themselves any favours with regard to the PPE situation, some was due to arrive from Turkey, but it’s been delayed. 


I think this is week five now, the news bombards us with numbers everyday. More than 500 dead in 24 hours. 16 women killed in their own homes, victims of domestic violence. 100% more demand at food banks. I’ve potted up 24 dahlias. Could I be more helpful or useful? I can sew, I can pack food parcels, I can make soup! Maybe next week we will volunteer for some good cause? 


Janet at our local shop is now selling masks and gloves along with milk, bread and cigarettes. We are going in search of a farm shop later today, a friend told me about it, I didn’t even know it was there. I love a good farm shop, and a good gastro pub! (remember them?) .


I’ve been digging flower beds, turning over the soil and pulling out mares tail. It’s harder than any pilates class! “You’re doing a  grand job there girl, so you are!” said Tony, his blue eyes twinkling. I like Tony, he has the allotment next to mine, he has a lovely soft Irish accent, so he has! He’s a casual gardener, only doing what’s absolutely necessary, which is fine by me because it makes me look like I know what I’m doing. He doesn’t mark out his rows before planting “There are no straight lines in nature”. He keeps pigeons and wears a flat cap so he reminds me of my grandad. Apparently, rumour has it, when he’s not at the allotment he can be found in Wetherspoons. (Not any more!) 


Graham, next door but one, likes order. He’s ex-military, he likes straight lines and stiff backs, no weeds. Definitely no weeds. “You’ve been busy” he comments. “Yes! Are you impressed?”I enthuse.


“I will be when it’s finished” he says, reluctant to give praise. His wife sometimes helps him out. He tells her what to do and how to do it. Repeatedly. I’m surprised she hasn’t told him where to shove his trowel!


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

I mentioned the other day the surprising news (from Matt Hancock, so it must be true) that though testing capacity per day was 38,000, uptake was only 22,000.


This morning from the bottomless seam of ‘you couldn’t make it up’ we’re mining at the mo, the head of an Oxford care home, in a radio interview, says his staff - who it must be said are in the main low paid and possibly without a car - have indeed been invited to testing, but though facilities exist in Oxford, their designated test centre is in Twickenham, a 120 mile round trip. This is quickly trumped by our local rag reporting online that Norfolk care home staff have to report to Sheffield, a 300 mile round trip though NHS staff get tested in Norwich. Must be a blip, surely? It seems an extraordinary ploy to maintain testing headroom... If MH is on Daily Briefing duty today, it will be fascinating to hear his explanation if a Hack gets hold of the story.


The Sunday Times article lambasting Government Covid failings rebutted this morning in an extraordinary Gov point by point list. Since both sides appear so reasonable, so informed, it makes truly informed news gathering all a bit difficult - as does the BBC’s Today programme’s habit of cutting off informative interviews because of upcoming weather or pips. They did it three times this morning - the message being that if you have anything interesting to say in interview, refuse to appear close to the hour.


It’s only 9.15. I can’t stay in this state of impotent angst, it’s not good for me. I’ll get out into the sunshine and brisk Easterly, got a new shrubbery to mark out and an automated hen-hatch to plan. Toodle-pip!


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Monday. Garden even more stunning. House a little more untidy. One of the great disappointments of this year (excepting the bl**** obvious) has been the postponement of the Norfolk Churches Trust’s Stately Car Boot Sale. Boxes of stuff ready to be  exposed to the bargain hunter are buried in the garage beneath bags of garden rubbish waiting for the dump to reopen. Now, with that other pandemic - the let’s tackle the jobs we’ve been putting off for years - at large in the attic, the chaos in the garage is likely to overwhelm and become another project for another day! The Stately Car Boot Sale has been rescheduled for 2nd May 2021, my Mum’s 90th birthday. As always, she will be taking a pitch, having determined many years ago to end her life with just a cup and a cushion.

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