At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

A good day today. For one thing, the sun is shining and the snow has melted. I walked the dog and then gave him a haircut. After thirty odd years  of me offering B. finally allowed me to cut her hair. She was desperate. And now the poor dog, who has a much more substantial hair problem. Thick, long, the thistles get caught in it, and it mats. So I began cutting today. Enough hair, because in Tibetan Terriers it really is hair, not fur, to put out for an army of robins to use in building their nests. Or maybe robins don’t use hair. We’ve had their nets in the porch eaves before and they make untidy nests… long scraps of straw flapping around. Mind you these are the larger American robins not even a relative of the the British robins I don’t think, just named for their red breasts. Which is about all I know about birds. After the hair cut and the cleaning, though I only did one side of the dog, my hand gets tired, so he looks a little lopsided and I’m sure he isn’t excited about the repeat session tomorrow, I collected the hair in a paper bag to throw out for potential nest building activities. Maybe the phoebes with their tidier nests will use it in the back. And I threw it out because I’m trying not to create much rubbish. Rubbish isn’t easy to dispose of at the moment. 


And then I had actual human interactions with people I didn’t know. I went to pick up vegetables from the local farm that usually provides vegetables to NY and Boston restaurants but out of necessity has switched to us locals. Carrots, spinach, daikon… what am I going to do with several large daikon?  Japanese radish? Gallons of miso soup I suppose. And I picked up seeds for the garden, and bags of compost from Maine. And all appropriately socially distanced.


And I painted. I’m learning to do washes, and managed to paint a fairly authentic looking desert landscape. And as usual I learned something, and I had a good time.  


And more requests for masks, now I’ve stopped mass producing them.  I’m happy to make them, especially for people living in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. So that will be tomorrow morning’s project. I get up early to sew them, and then do the ironing and pleating while talking to my aunt before she goes to bed in Western Australia. Then I’ll do the finish sewing and mail them, one mask per envelope. 

Some days efficacy really helps my spirits.


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

23 April 2020

So this happened at 6.15 am

Jay and I had just begun our dawn hike. We were on Canter Alley…. a quarter mile flat stretch. On the right hand side is a vast field. On the left is an avenue of Sycamore trees which always remind me of a Van Gogh drawing. Threading its way in and out of the sycamores is a small brook and on the other side of that is a scrubby field.  We had stopped for a moment so I could give Jay a treat, when out of nowhere an enormous coyote suddenly appeared… just on the other side of the brook… maybe fifteen feet away from us.  She/He was running parallel to the trail in the opposite direction to where we had been heading… running at top speed… looking very much as if she/he were late to a meeting.  Jay and I froze… I think we were both awe- struck by her/his magnificence which we were able to observe at close range. Normally coyotes are shy and elusive. The coyote never once looked at us. So wild and powerful and healthy.  Grey with rusty brown belly and legs and tail. And so large. Apparently further north, wolves are mating with coyotes, producing offspring which are being referred to as Coywolves. They are beginning to head south along the power lines. I suppose it could have been one of them. We stood absolutely still as we were passed by.  And then we resumed our hike. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I thought about what we would have done if the coyote had run directly towards us. Jay would have made a tasty treat. But while small, he is feisty and I am sure he would have fought back for the both of us.


All Day Exercise

David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire

My turn to do the shopping this week. I haven't been out in public, except to cycle to the studio, for three weeks so I made an effort and wore cleanish trousers and a jacket. And a mask! There has been some debate about the efficacy of masks but a doctor friend has been posting stuff from the Lancet and others about them. Apparently the main benefit is not to the wearer (although there is some) but to those with whom we inadvertently come in contact. Sort of sartorial altruism if you like. As infectiousness preceeds symptoms by 4 or 5 days, none of us knows if we have Covid19 (or Corvid, as I can't help calling it). So, the benefit is mostly to others. Anyway, my wife has made some from a pattern out of African fabric. I thought I was going to feel like a right klutz, but after about 2 minutes in the supermarket all self conciousness disappeared. And it didn't seems to upset anyone and nobody made rude comments about it. Perhaps Skipton folk have suddenly gone all reticent in their opinions? Or perhaps they recognise the start of a new altruistic fashion?


And Morrisons had bread flour!!! In 16 Kilo sacks!!! Piles of it!!!. We've made our own bread for the last thirty years and I'm a bit miffed at all these neophytes getting in on the act and disrupting supplies. So, I was unreasonably pleased. As was my wife, who was really pissed off with me because I had misplaced some of her video files and she had spent all morning looking for them. So me carrying in the sack from the car went some way to restoring peace.


Update from Lancashire

Messycrafterpam, Lancashire

I think We have been in lockdown for around a month now - I seem to be losing track of time. I actually had no clue what day it was when I woke up this morning!


I seem to have gone through various stages these past few weeks: disbelief, fear, panic, and finally some sort of acceptance. And a few tearful days in and between. 


I live in quite a big cul-de-sac, and quite spontaneously a few of my neighbours and I decided we should have afternoon tea on the Queen’s birthday! Looking at the space we have, we realised we could do the social distancing thing keeping 6 feet apart pretty easily. I baked scones, there were a selection of cakes and chocolate biscuits, and quizzes. We brought our own chairs and mugs of tea (some brought something stronger) and had a really fun afternoon chatting and laughing together - had to involve quite a bit of shouting as people were a good distance away. Absolutely did me the world of good having social contact - I am lucky to live in a very lovely neighbourhood with great neighbours. Everyone said how much good it had done them, just to do something “normal” again. We will repeat it in a couple of weeks time.


The weather has been glorious these past days - blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine. I live right on the edge of a country park and walk a couple of miles each day. There are two families of ducks and ducklings on the pond, and I love watching them grow and become a bit more adventurous and a bit less reliant on their parents. Nevertheless, mum and dad ducks keep a very close eye on their broods.


All in all I am ending the week on a positive note. On Saturday I will look forward to picking up a lovely selection of fruit and vegetables from my local farm shop. They have set up a phone ordering system, giving you a date and time when you can collect your order. The produce is absolutely beautiful - I never buy these things from a supermarket.


On a final note today, I was checking my bank statement and noticing just how much less money I am spending. Maybe time to treat myself to something!

Hope everyone is keeping well, Pam xx


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Adjectives are on my mind today. Maybe I'm losing my marbles, but they seem significant for some reason. The origin seems to be the dreadful (note the adjective!) daily briefing. Whoever the minister was - and I can't tell them apart - giving out words from the standard script, he couldn't stop himself. No noun, it seems, could be left naked; each just had to have a beautiful (!) adjective along with it. The first one I really noticed was in reference to the army. No, I'm wrong, it's not the army, but the 'brilliant' army. Next came the care workers and nurses who inevitably were 'heroic'.  Having worked in the past as a hospital and hospice chaplain I know that the situation such people are working through makes them truly heroic sometimes, but I really think we could do without the adjective every time they are mentioned. Of course, even the virus is getting the treatment, something I'm doubtful it really deserves. Those beginning with letter T, 'terrifying' and 'terrible' seem to be the favourites so far. Perhaps more could be thought up for this minute thing that can't even be called an organism, or even alive. I tend to use 'damned', but that breaks the T-rule doesn't it! I note that adjectives seem to be mostly missing from the political vocabulary when victims are mentioned - exception the Prime Minister of course.


If you think the above was a rant, then you're wrong, because it wasn't. Truly I find the way in which people in power use or misuse words quite amusing. It isn't particularly threatening, but it illustrates to me that most politicians indeed treat the electorate as idiots - well, we knew that didn't we! Covid-19 is bringing this art to heights never before equalled I'm sure. Even Winston Churchill during the war referred almost politely to the enemy leader as Herr Hitler. What adjective, I wonder, would a modern day politician in that situation have inserted. Hitler wouldn't have ever got away without at least one 'dastardly' or some such would he!  In those days the army was 'brilliantly brilliant' I'm sure.


It's been a sunny day, so that's all good then...


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Previously, in "Fences",  I briefly touched on the small matter of looking after the neighbour's four cats. In mid March with time on my hands I thought it was only fair to help since soon his three lovely children would be back and all would be well. In a delicious twist of feline fate I think the Singapore government felt that I needed, perhaps deserved, more time to be acquainted with the 4 Mouseketeers and decided to draw out the joy for a little while longer. Rather than the 7 or so days I had anticipated it seems that it will be more like 7 or so weeks!  I need to get a grip of the situation, issue some clear expectations, draw up a list of what is going to happen; firm but fair with the felines. That should do it.



“Singapore extends to June.” Cats eyed each 

Other and me, wary. Discipline is 

Required to avoid catastrophe. All

Cats shall stand when I appear, no paws in 

Pockets, and shall not slouch, sneer, yawn, lounge, sniff

Or demonstrate their disrespect; claws, teeth,

Are banned; no cat shall hide or disappear

Behind cushions, curtains or upstairs.

Litter will be used AT ALL TIMES, likewise

Feeding bowls; crab and tuna, chicken, mince

Are perfectly safe to eat from tins; games

Viz: ‘keeping off the floor’, ‘window-silling’,

 ‘Trash-the-water’, are not permitted nor may

Any cat, at any time make a dash

For the open door. Self-grooming is fine

Provided all fur is tidied away

Not left on furniture, floor, table, chairs

Cupboards, mirrors, sink and stairs. Scratching post,

[provided] is self-explanatory

And charges may be levied for damage

Found elsewhere on covers, door frames, books, shoes

Arms, legs, open toes. No cats shall form groups

Of more than two; no ambushing, lurking

With intent, no arrogant nose licking

Or shrugging of hoody fur; no gum, drugs,

Smoking or teenage disobedience;

No "mooning" under any circumstance!

Acceptance of the terms is now required

By paws on the dotted line; don’t delay!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What do you mean, “Can it be in Malay?”


From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

Yesterday was a good and bad day here.

The good first: I planted my sweet peas; we went on a long walk by the river and saw bluebells, stitchwort, buttercups, alexanders, speedwell and soapwort. It was very hot and the weir that is always thundering seemed to have gone down to a trickle. We spoke to Stephen’s family via Zoom, so Suffolk, Sussex, Amsterdam and Vermont were united for half an hour. I spoke to my old university friend, Lynne. We spoke to our son Ben, who is a key worker in Norwich as well as an amazing drummer. His band HANK have a fun video on Instagram, where they play one of their tracks together but in isolation all from their different rooms - do check it out. We went out with the neighbours to clap the NHS and remembered to take our maracas. The runner bean plants I sowed from seed survived their first night out in the open. I have surrounded them with wool pellets and holly in the hope that slugs won’t dare to venture. Listed here everything sounds good and productive, which is one benefit of writing it down, I suppose.


The bad side was the government announcement that social distancing might go on for a year. I refuse not to see my children for that length of time. On the walk we had a chat with a passerby from the safe distance of nearly three metres. Why can I chat with a passer-by like this but not see my children at a safe distance? Went to bed devastated about the enforced separation. Some things could be got over by administrative methods - spacing out people in shops, limiting entry, allowing those who’ve had the disease to lead a normal life. I know the measures are sensible - but what if we got CV from a trip to the supermarket and then died without seeing our children? I’d rather see them. And my daughter and her housemates have had the virus anyway - so I don’t quite see why we can’t get in the car and drive to see them. I keep worrying that I haven’t got all our affairs in order in case anything happened to us and yet I feel superstitious about tackling all that in case it means we affect our immune systems by auto-suggestion – rather like always getting ill after completing university marking but not getting ill if there are some essays still to mark. Test, track and trace must become part of the protective measures. It would allow for more freedom not less.


Gratefully Sheltering

 James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

The Deception of Beauty


Out here in untainted air

sunlight dances on the surface

of breeze-ruffled water. Birds

rise from nests into a sky

as blue as mountains recalled

from the dreams of a sleeping child.


Out there, ushered in by 

an aria of green-driven spring,

the viral angel squeezes

her asphyxiating wings

around a million throats,

while we watch a bear cub

struggle to climb a tree

before resuming our walk,

hand in hand, 

around the sunfire lake.


Mary's Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

I got up to a lot of mischief in my youth but now regard myself as a pretty steady, law abiding ancient. So, it was alarming to find that Simon and I were disturbing our neighbours!


We are in the second floor flat, at the top of a converted Georgian house - very high ceilings, creaky floorboards, windows a bit wonky. To our left is a nearly identical, adjoining house similarly converted into flats. This week an open note was put through our communal letterbox, from the couple in the first floor of that neighbouring building. It was addressed to the first floor flat, the one below ours, complaining, in very measured tones, that late night television viewing was keeping them awake. But no one is living in the flat below me just now. The neighbours even mentioned the name of the programme they could hear, so loud was the sound.


Well, dear readers, that was our programme. Simon and I were the culprits - late night owls that we are. Our television was disturbing the sleep of the neighbours in the flat across and below from us. This, despite an insulating wall of books each side of the fireplace!


How can this be? Of course we have become a bit deaf, often having to pause a programme long enough to ask “What did he say?”. And we find the background music can swell so loud that it almost overcomes the dialogue. So, I guess we increase the sound by increments, without realising how loud it has become. But I have lived here for 15 years and have never had a complaint. So, why now?


I think the answer is that Simon and I are rarely here for so long; we are often away travelling or in London or in Devon. When we are here we are often out in the evening. It is that virus once again, keeping us in isolation, inside. So, for the duration, the sitting room has had a refit - a new look - with the television moved as far from the adjoining wall as possible. If that doesn’t work we may need to learn to lipread.

In some ways I like the vision of myself as a delinquent - I could almost be back with my teenage friends driving around the lake singing at the top of my lungs!

© 2020 Margaret Steward  Proudly created with Wix.com