Mother and daughter snippets from Somerset
Caroline and Daisy
A bright sunny day here in Somerset. The ewes are out in the field with lambs all at foot (2 ewes still keeping us waiting but ready to pop soon!) The fields are drying out at long last and I’ve taken my horses rug off so he can enjoy the spring sunshine on his back.
We can’t help thinking that while we are so very lucky to be having this wonderful weather people in towns, in flats etc will not be able to enjoy it like we are are and how very lucky we are to live in our small holding bubble here in Somerset. We find ourselves constantly talking about this through out the day, talking about those less fortunate than us.. low income families struggling with the food shortages from the selfish idiots stock piling at the supermarket, people who are on top up meters that haven’t got the disposable income to top up their electricity at the moment, those in abusive relationships, etc we hope that all those people are able to weather this storm and stay safe during this uncertain time!
The Undivided Self
JH, East Sussex
On Monday, AH (13) came downstairs wanting to plan his school day. We drew up a timetable, with blocks of ‘online learning’, ‘project work’, ‘art’ and ‘comprehension’. We agreed that, three nights a week, he will help to cook the evening meal, and in the afternoons he will have ‘active time’.
We spent the rest of the morning admiring the plan.
Today, AH is not in the mood for schoolwork. He heard the Prime Minister announce the national lock-down and has realised that his birthday will fall within this three-week period.
‘It’s ruined!’ he says. ‘My birthday’s ruined.’
I try to cheer him up but I’m not feeling great myself. Another broken night, followed by a hypochondriac headache, has left me short-tempered. The morning slowly disintegrates into separate silences. There will be no home schooling today.
At 11, I log onto the daily team meeting. I take my bad mood out on my colleagues, sniping at their plans and suggestions.
Like crossed wires in a fuse box, my home self and work self are short-circuiting; sparks of emotion are leaping across the narrowing gap between them.
I am grateful for the sun, and in the afternoon we go out on our bikes, with the dog scampering alongside and, for a while, that’s enough.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Skiving A very frustrating process, skiving. Those folk who would otherwise be at work, but are working from home or whose work has been pulled from under them, might feel a considerable sense of unease, apart from the fear of illness -as if they were “skiving off work”. In bookbinding terms skiving is the process of thinning leather, especially at the edges, so that it can be glued on to the spine and boards. I am preparing leather for the spine and corners of the Journal I am working on. It will, in bibliographic language, end up as “half calf with grained cloth covered boards”.The leather has to be very thin where it meets paper or cloth edges. It is laid suede side uppermost on a marble slab, and the surface is shaved using a wide chisel-like paring knife. Keeping the tool edge sharp is a constant battle. The edge should be sharp enough to cut a sheet of paper held up in the air with a clean stroke. All leather parings have to be constantly swept clear of the working surface- if they get trapped underneath the leather creating a high spot, it is easy to nick a small hole in the leather, ruining it. I approach skiving with trepidation. It can be quite hard on arthritic fingers and shoulder muscles, and there is a constant frustration that the blade is never quite sharp enough. I feel that this is a skill that I am still struggling to master, but usually manage to “get away” with. We face our enforced involuntary “skiving” with considerable anxiety, and try and fathom a life pared back to essentials. I am beginning to sound like a Vicar
Earnie, you are allowed one walk a day!
Very surreal, the sun is shining and the birds tweeting.
Disposable gloves are the new black.
Still 6000 dahlias to pot up and seeds to sew. Hunting down every old flower pot cast out in hidden messy corners of the garden.
So grateful to have a garden.
I do believe this morning that I may of completely lost the plot . Last night’s coronavirus update to be fair didn’t make a lot of difference to our current situation as we have been self isolating for over a week now. However in an attempt to make sure that we weren’t missing any other important information I made the fatal mistake of looking online just before bed. Well as mistakes go it was a whopper! It is a fine line between me burying my head in the sand and pretending things aren’t really happening (not helpful as I was once advised by my cognitive psychotherapist) and obsessing (not helpful as I was also advised by my ... yes you guessed it).
However in an attempt to stay informed I was met by some buffoon who was supposedly licking packaging in supermarket, some yobs who apparently coughed deliberately in someone’s faces and a muppet claiming he wasn’t closing his sports shop chain because “it was for the health of the people”. So I was awake at 4 am worrying and getting things totally out of proportion. The final straw for me was the announcement that some people thought that the instruction of “do not go out” wasn’t clear enough and that is why the whole family took off to the beach today. So for those struggling I am sure they could hear me scream “IT MEANS STAY IN!!!!
Therefore, I am currently gluing and sticking whilst listening to a cd of Parisian Cafe music - why? Because I can thump the little sticky pieces of paper down onto the surface whilst listening to the jolly music and failing to understand a single word being said.
There...............that’s better love Dawn x
From St Just
From St Just, and now likely to be from St Just in perpetuity. I’m almost relieved that the lock-down coming so soon means I don’t have to decide what to do. And entirely relieved that Paul’s funeral was on the last possible day for any kind of gathering, even though it was a sadly tiny one, and even though someone shouted at us to piss off home as we ate pasties on the beach in lieu of a wake - which given most of the group were St Ives residents and we were mourning someone who was born in St Ives, grew up in St Ives, lived in St Ives, and had a fatal stroke in St Ives, was not particularly apt.
Odd feeling of serenity since the self-isolation thing was prescribed for over 70s a week or so ago. it’s as if someone has finally given me
permission to do what i’ve always wanted - i.e. bugger all - but it’s very counter-intuitive to feel that you are making a heroic contribution to
the war effort, so to speak by sitting on your arse watching Better Call Saul. I do, however, pay for this serenity by waking at three every morning
in a state of chronic anxiety, possessed by nameless dread. Of what precisely? I don’t think it’s my own demise to which I have gradually
become quite reconciled in the twelve years since my older son Tom died. It’s rather the feeling of storm-clouds gathering, of waiting for the
inevitable deluge. What’s happened already in London has been pretty horrible but it’s nothing compared to what is to come, though you’d never
guess that walking in the lovely spring weather round the leafy streets of St Margaret’s.
My younger son, Francis, and I had arranged weeks ago that he would come over and visit me this coming Thursday and so conflicted were the
messages coming from the blonde bombshell in number 10 that we didn’t finally decide this would be unwise until Sunday. Instead we text all the
time and speak every evening. He lives alone, like me, about 12 miles away, is a rock guitarist (I am an actor) and I think our reactions have
been remarkably similar. We are both cooking properly for ourselves, eschewing ready meals and in the evenings we text each other pictures
of our dishes.
“Bloody good-looking lasagne, Francis.’
‘Damn, that pesto looks good, Dad.’
The local greengrocer said to me yesterday ‘ I’ve got a thousand eggs coming here tomorrow morning. Shall I put some by for you? You’ll have to
bring your own egg box though. They’re coming on trays.” He was the spiv in Dad’s Army. Who was I ? Captain Mainwaring I suppose.
In flat N.4
The night we heard of the lockdown we headed off into the darkness. Climbing Blackford Hill (for our one exercise per day) which lies at the edge of the Pentlands. It felt like leaving the world behind us, we didn’t have to think about what was going on anymore, the fact our lives had suddenly stopped, and doors were closing on places and opportunities we were dreaming of. Yet as we were looking out over the view of Edinburgh, I was wondering to myself, are there more lights on than normal? Is everyone down there okay? And feeling for those not in happy homes or without stable incomes.
I have always found that inspiration comes from the outside world, be that the people I pass, shops I go into, or places I visit. However, now more than ever I feel so inspired to make work, to prove corona wrong, to show I can create artwork wherever I am situated and whatever situation I am in. Yes, it has been tough, some days I feel like the work I am making won’t count to anything so why bother, but most of the time I look to the positives and see all this time I now have to just make artwork, experiment with techniques and processes a lot more, I can put aside hours a day to just doing one piece, or I can divide my time up into smaller projects. I am the only person that can control my time and I have the last say in how I run my life, so these future days that I spend in the house I can decide what I want to make and how I’m going to make it, and that is one thing that is so strange and so satisfying to come out of this virus that I know will inspire the future way that I put pen to paper, just giving myself more time to create.
In July 1637 there was an outbreak of plague in Hull. To prevent the spread of infection to Beverley the Governors of that town made it known that ‘if any person or persones within the town of Beverley doe entertaine any inhabitant of the towne of Kingstone-upon-Hull without a certificate from the maior of Hull with the approbation of the maior of Beverley and two governors’ they would be fined £5 and imprisoned. Furthermore, the person who had come from Hull would ‘be restrayned from going about for the space of fourteen days’. History often repeats itself.
A house in the country
So this is it! We are now officially in ‘Lockdown.’
I detest that word but in our Warwickshire village there is no sense of panic or dread. A Village Watch Group has been set up with leaflets distributed to each group giving numbers that those in need or the vulnerable can call to ask for help. It’s all very organised and efficient but as the days have passed the village streets and lanes have emptied.
There is a muted quality to our days. There isn’t church bell ringing practise on a Friday night. The WI aren’t meeting for most of the ladies are in the ‘vulnerable’ group. They have taken isolation very seriously but have embraced the various ‘Whatsapp’ group which have been started and so we still have contact even if it is just words rather than voices.
At the top of the village where we live the buses and cars have disappeared over the last few days. Slowly, as the virus seeped into our society, the busyness of the world even in our village receded so that I could have slipped quietly back in time to village life a hundred years ago for our house would have been there as it has for several hundred years and the thatched cottages would have been there too. Some of the oldest houses in the village would have seen the last great plague of 1665. Even when the country is under quarantine a lone thatcher has still arrived daily to thatch a cottage down a lane. The new thatch is a stunning bright colour that dazzles the eye and I love each morning watching the thatcher as he works atop the roof. His trade is so ancient that he, too, could have been a shadowy slip of time from another century.
We live opposite the church and its graveyard. It is a beautiful honeyed colour building that has sat atop the hill since the twelfth century. Inside is very plain and very simple apart from one wall that shows a faded painting of Time. I can only imagine how bright and dazzling the walls would have been before the reformation and before the Victorians painted over what was left. It has weathered many a crisis and season after season remains like a beacon on top of the hill for all to see but in this rather cruel century, the doors are locked day and night and services, even without this new plague, have been reduced to a couple a month.
Despite this new and strange world of quarantine as we saunter through the days of late March, there is one thing that is still so familiar that it is even more joyful to witness. Nature is revelling in Spring this year. The sun is warming the earth day by day and the fat buds of trees and flowers are almost ready to burst open. The birds are singing at dawn and building nests as they always have done year after year. There is one huge old Chestnut tree which I always look out for on the school run. Last Friday was my final school run for some time, and I noted how the buds of the chestnut were on the edge of leafing; tips of frilly deep green were glimpsed alongside the deep pink of the bud. I love this Chestnut tree with its buds, and candelabra boughs in late spring; its huge bright green leaves in summer and its glossy cookers in autumn. I do wonder when I will next pass this tree as it stands in a Cotswold village on top of the Campden hills and it is only in term time that I witness its changing beauty.
I’m sure that as we isolate ourselves from the outside world the natural world is reclaiming its position; of ensuring that life in the wild is continuing as it always has done and always will. That in itself is a blessing.
Yesterday I cycled to Screwfix, to get plastic sheeting so I can paint in my bedroom, or outside. I was hoping to get gloves and masks too, but unsurprisingly they had sold out. The tiny pencils in Screwfix were all gone from the plastic boxes and the counters where the catalogues usually lay were empty too, and I stood, there, floored for a moment, realising I should have used the online catalogue, before reaching for a disposable one underneath. I kept my gloves on as I clumsily found the numbers and pages. I felt irresponsible being there, doing the last of my preparations. We were unsure when lockdown would come, but I was certain it would be this week. Little actions made me nervous, awareness of hygiene heightened; before I would have thoughtlessly thumbed through pages touched by many hands. I placed the order on the counter – thin white column, crossings out and graphite numbers, stood as far from them as I could while I paid.
I always think of J when I go to Screwfix. I cycled past our old studio on the way there. I could have taken a different route, but the pathways are engrained into my orientation. The grille to the entrance where we kept our bikes, the coded door, the slanting font of listed studio numbers, I didn’t want my mind to travel up the staircases, along the corridor to the mezzanine studio where we had lived together for over a year. To the right, binbags were laid on the street where my friend had her car accident right outside where we lived; overtired, she’d come to pick up a monitor for her degree show, and revved instead of braked, smashing her car into a tree and onto the pavement as she was parking. The centre of the low wall outlining the council estate fell down, and within the same morning, people had already started using it a short cut.
I travelled back along the same roads, then down through the green band of Burgess Park to Peckham where there are always people. No commuters. It was finally quiet, even with a queue forming outside Poundland before it opened.
I felt distracted all morning, unsure how to carry on with the same work I had been making. Later I cycled back to Burgess Park, to the ‘secret’ garden, and saw my studio neighbour on the bench with his girlfriend, I stood far away and we shouted to each other. Around the mosaic tiled water feature, people sat separated by four or five metres. Even so, it was busier than usual. A bearded man with a crumpled black Picasso t-shirt on a folded out green chair turned his face to the sun. Walking past anyone, you were aware of the space between you. I felt I shouldn’t be out and left quickly.
When lockdown was announced, I felt relieved in some ways. The uncertainty of it all, the feeling that this could be the last time you had to go out, was undermining any focus I could have. W called his cousin, I called my friend X, and we had two conversations that overlapped in the same room. X’s second flight to China had been cancelled but she seemed in good spirits. Every time I had spoken to X recently, she told me to prepare, to plan where I want to be for the next three months. She keeps checking that I have enough food in. Her mother told her not to eat or drink on the plane so she doesn’t risk sharing a public toilet. She laughs at herself, taking all the precautions, going outside with huge goggles over her glasses, a face mask, three layers of gloves. Y told me to be careful in January. H told me he feared people’s attitude here was too casua; hundreds of people died in Hong Kong during Sars. My Asian friends could see that in the UK we weren’t taking this seriously. In China, X’s mother was quarantined for 2 months, she could go outside for 2 hours every other day to go shopping. Now in China, they can move about and life is returning to normal. I hope X can get a flight out of here.