Stay at home
On 13 March I decided to not go out of my flat unless I had to. I am just below the age where the impact of CV19 starts to get serious, but I am cautious by nature. So, since then, Zoom and Meet video conferencing have been added to my regular use of Skype for keeping in touch. On Sunday I enjoyed a three-way conversation celebrating my father’s 89th birthday – he is not going out either.
Since the sun came out over the weekend, my mood has been more buoyant and I decided to add walks to my 30 minutes morning yoga and stretching. This morning, at 6.30am, I went to my local park, expecting there to be few others out at that time. However, I met a good number of dog walkers and joggers. With last night’s admonition to stay at a two-metre distance from all humans when outside the home, I thought that the new etiquette would be adhered to. No such luck. Some were just forgetful, or lost in their own head-phone world. One bloke was rude, and a pair of builders were way too nonchalant for my liking. I probably did not help myself by sticking out an arm at right angles to indicate I did not want anyone to come close. Perhaps they thought that the gesture was part of an erratic exercise regime.
My biggest worry at the moment is my realisation that the block of 45 flats where I live is tantamount to being a cruise ship-like incubator for the virus. Various notices have been posted in the entrance reiterating NHS advice and the seat in the entrance hall has been removed so that residents don’t hang around. Some residents – myself included - are clearly more anxious than others. Should we not allow the postal team or other delivery services into the building? Is the back stairs less likely to harbour droplets than that at the front? Are contingency plans sensible?
Susan Fox, USA
I must preface this entry by saying that it will take some reading to get to the point of why this entry is part of the Plague Journal…please bear with me…
Last month our 15 year old rescue dog Bo died. Michael and I lost our sweet boy and our dog,Jay ,lost his big brother. Heartbreaking…obviously. We knew we would eventually rescue another but we had thought we would probably wait a few months and work through our grief before beginning the exciting agonizing search for a new rescue.
After a couple of weeks of crying my attitude changed and I decided to gently begin to look on line. I was thinking that it would be more of an exercise…something like going to the gym for the first few times…building up emotional strength so that I would eventually be able to look in earnest. This, I felt, would be rather painlessly possible by looking on line at the two rescue groups from where we adopted Bo and Jay. Wonderful organizations which pull dogs from high-kill shelters in southern US states (where spaying and neutering are not as responsibly performed as in northern states..resulting in all sorts of dogs breeding and being born). The dogs are then transported up here to New York. Pet Rescue, from whom we adopted Bo, puts their adoptees into local foster family homes. Jay’s Alma Mater -For the Love of Dogs -rescues theirs from high kill shelters and then puts them into southern foster homes until space opens up on their enormous luxurious horse farm in Ossining, New York…not far from where I live. Once there, the dogs are looked after by a kind and supportive staff, volunteers, vets and trainers. The dogs run and play in paddocks and in fields and get to visit their horse neighbors.
Anyway, I began to look at the dogs featured by the above groups but, while they were all beautiful, none felt like ours. Every day I would look …so many dogs but none felt like ours…until one day a dog suddenly appeared on the For the Love of Dogs website…a dog just rescued and waiting her turn to come north to the horse farm. I don’t know what it was…there was no description (not even a “he” or a “she”)…only a photo of this dog staring straight at the camera which somehow felt like she/he was hypnotically staring straight at me….every time I looked at the photo I felt something so powerful, indescribably deep.
I immediately contacted FTLOD, told them I was interested and asked if they had any further information about this dog. They did not. Not even a “he” or a “she” piece of description. They said they should know more soon and suggested we come to the farm just to meet, even though the dog was not yet there. We had to wait a week for our visit because they were so busy with other potential dog adopters.
Eventually our turn came and off we went to the farm. We were introduced to several dogs but none felt like ours. I then asked about the southern dog I had been taken with online. Synchronistically, further information had been received just before we had arrived. When the description was read to us it was all I could do not to burst into tears (this time for happy reasons)…it was as if, whomever had composed description (i think it was the dog’s foster family) ,had looked into our minds and had transcribed all the traits we had ideally hoped to find in our next dog. Sort of magical it was, although we knew we would have to meet the dog in person to clearly figure out if the adoption would work for all of us. We were told that the next transport would be arriving on 28 March and that “our” GIRL would probably be on it. At that point, her landing date was three weeks away. I didn’t know how I would be able to patiently wait for so long to meet her. Every day I would look at her photo and every day she would draw me in. And every day the 28th felt like it would never come. Every day we came up with new names for her.
And then the virus came. And life began to shut down and draw inwards. And then we were told that the transport had been cancelled and that no new transport had yet been scheduled. And then I realized that I had created a fairy tale in mind about this girl and I should have kept an emotional distance. And then our neighbor sent me a text to say that they had decided only that morning to get a puppy…a french bull dog…and that they were driving to a breeder in Pennsylvania to pick him up. Did we have a spare collar and leash? We did…the collar Bo was wearing when we adopted him and he came home to us. And so I put it in a bag along with a leash and some dog treats and hung the bag on a tree between our property and the neighbors’ so we could adhere to our social distancing mandate…and the next morning they took the bag and Bo’s collar and leash and drove to Pennsylvania and collected their new beautiful little boy and drove home with him. And meanwhile, there is my girl, eleven hours away, while we wait for this virus to go away (New York has more cases than any other state and our county has the second highest number of cases beyond NYC). And we continue to hope that one day before too long, she will be transported to the horse farm so that one day we will meet her and bring her home where I think she may belong.
At the end of my path there is a cherry tree in white blossom and the blackbirds are sewing silver coins of song across all the back gardens. On the BBC I heard a young doctor keen to go into the wards. They speeded up his final month of training. He will be about twenty four I suppose. He spoke with a clarity and sense of duty that I would not been able to muster at his age. I walk into the garden imagining a white noise of contagion whispering across all our faces, while men and women, scarcely grown up, prepare in flimsy plastic aprons and paper masks.
From St Just
It’s 11.50 and the first Skybus from Scilly is just in. I’m very fond of these planes even under normal circumstances: Land’s End airport is half a mile away, and the pilots’ landing instructions are clearly to ‘head for Jane’s window and turn right when you see her look slightly alarmed’; they then brush the top of the carn and drop down the other side. They’re tiny little planes - 12-seaters, I think, that make no more noise than a drone and fly with their wheels dangling like mosquito legs. In summer there are several an hour; even in winter there are quite a few each day. At the moment they seem to be down to one or two and I feel like waving and cheering each time one comes in.
In town the DIY and pet food shop has a sign up saying ‘delivery only’ and the deli has a trestle table set up outside its doors for people to pick up their phone or email orders. (Both are tiny spaces crammed with all manner of goods.) The newsagent has a sign limiting customers to three only; so too the pharmacy, where there was a small group of people outside waiting to get in. If people have to pass in the street they cross to opposite sides while simultaneously smiling warmly and saying good morning.
Day one of lockdown. Emergency mobile alarms sound at 6 pm with the ominous warning that where you sleep tonight is where you sleep for the next month. Maintain your Bubble! The Husband and I are discussing safety procedures for when we return home after a shift. - strip at the laundry door, sanitise hands, all clothes into a hot wash, shoes bagged and left outside, straight into a hot shower. only using our own cars. I've been practising not using my hands to open doors, not touching my face, removed my wedding ring. The first shift back is going to feel surreal. The children are a little tenser, we've been trying to not talk 'shop' at home, but answer their questions honestly and attempt to dispel their worries. The daughter's laptop has decided to call it a day with woeful timing.. she's not too worried and blithely commanders mine. By evening things have settled a little more, the children choosing Disneys Robin Hood to watch whilst munching on banana bread. I just need my cat to turn up, I currently have 3 out of 4 asleep in various spots - it's not unusual for him to wander off but I worry he has chosen a calmer Bubble to wait it out.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
Tonight we are giving thanks because we have cause for hope that a wife, a daughter, sister and niece will be returned to health. I couldn’t manage a diary entry yesterday, late in the day we heard my sisters-in-law’s 38 year old niece had a massive heart attack and was (is) on life support. Rani’s life is hospitality, and shortly after closing the doors of two businesses and letting staff “go” she became gravely ill. Tonight she has recognised her husband and wriggled her toes. We dare to believe she will recover and immediately all we can think is whether she can be kept safe from what is happening in the world outside intensive care. I am reminded that doctors and nurses are caring for people with problems that are not dominating headlines, and that there is an extra layer of complexity and difficulty in their lives. On my walk today I am taken close to the freeway and unusually I can hear the calls of frogs and crickets that are normally muted by the sound of traffic. Yellow tailed black cockatoos fly over the top of me. Their insouciant flight pattern contrasts with their mournful call, but seeing them makes me happy. There are few people about and no one I know. People are surly and drivers are angry and aggressive. No one returns my greetings. I stop by one of my local cafes to tell Ed I’ll be in next week to collect a take away meal. We both cry when he tells me they will shut on Sunday and that they are worried about their mortgage. Flippant thoughts come unbidden through the day. “Extra measures” are announced last night by our very silly prime minister. Hairdressers will stay open, but clients must be in and out in thirty minutes. I am reminded how few women there are in positions of power in government. I wonder what kind of job my husband could do with a basin and sewing scissors? The list of businesses forced to close has me shaking my head, I can’t believe many weren’t shut weeks ago. This afternoon he announces a “coordination committee” for C19 headed by a multimillionaire from the mining industry. My normally placid husband has a good rail. I check in with my sister late this afternoon. She had breast cancer three or four years ago. Today is her annual mammogram, which is clear. While we talk, she sends me a photo of her granddaughter wearing an enormous set of cardboard rabbit ears made by her four year old hands. She looks so chuffed. A day of hope, happiness and unease. As I write, the amber fluid of quince juice filters through the jelly bag waiting to be made into ruby beauty tomorrow. And now more good news Rani has just been taken off the ventilator. Huge sigh.
John Underwood, Norfolk UK
IN THE GUTTERS Disbinding a book is a cathartic experience. Once a decision has been made to completely rebind a book and break it into component parts, the process is laid out before you. If there are boards to the book, they might need to be saved and removed with care. If a spine remains on the book, it too might need saving, and a label almost certainly so. Books were traditionally sewn and glued together. The glue and residue needs softening , dampening before scraping and wiping from the spine. Old sewing threads need cutting, and the sections of the book easing apart. Sometimes they behave nicely, and come apart when the sewing is taken away. Other books are more reluctant to be butchered and filleted, and need more work, and repair upon rebinding. Inside the folded sections lurks all manner of dust, hair and …disease….I think “disease; does anthrax lurk in the dust? How long can smallpox last on paper? This book was bound before the Great Plague, it survived the Great Fire, what manner of crud and bumf lurks in the gutter margin?” The gutter margin is the inside edge of the book- where it folds, and where you might tuck your bookmark, or slice of morning bacon if Librarian’s tales can be credited. When rebinding, I usually sweep out the gutter margins with a soft brush, always slightly horrified with the results and squeamish if the book is a few centuries old. I have toyed with the idea of presenting the sweepings to a public analyst and having them,....well, analysed. Human hair, skin, earwax, food crumbs can easily be imagined, but what else might lurk? Spores, seeds of lost wildflower species, a squashed and extinct spider? In this time of disease, we have allowed people to fall into the gutters of our towns and cities. To be stepped over, ignored, pissed upon. And now, suddenly, there is a realisation that these people might need to be helped. Money is apparently to be found, with talk of housing in empty hotels perhaps. What is shocking is the simple fact that the money has been there all along, but because of some misguided and vicious political dogma, has not been employed in the care of those in the gutter margins of society.
Behind the Red Door
LS, West Sussex
Monday evening we needed milk, so I walked for the 10 minutes to our local CO OP. There were a few people out and I skirted round them, keeping my brooms length, which weirdly made me feel rude. I needn’t have bothered as the cupboard as bare, the worst it’s ever been in there, the lockdown rule seeing off the last supplies on the shelves. On the way home I thought I’d try the corner shop on the off chance...., milk aplenty! Limited to one 4 pinta only, fair enough. Felt very risky though as the shop is tiny and crammed with units, so impossible to safe distance, undoing the precautions en route. Tuesday we set to and emptied the entire contents of the garden shed, who knew it could swallow up so much essential equipment and “stuff”, the latter causing quite a bit of bargaining and argy bargy over what to keep. I believe the “stuff “ to be essential gardenalia waiting to be released from hibernation. M doesn’t agree. We do agree to differ and now we’ve removed the overwintering dahlias in their pots and had a really good sweep it looks much better and you can actually turn round inside. No work for our son who is an actor and as yet no help for the self employed. As he’s now on his own in his flat there will be lots of face time between us. Our daughter, baby and partner are ok but it’s hard not being able to have contact with them, plenty of videos and face time there too. Back to work tomorrow. Already 25% of the team are self isolating which is worrying at this stage. They are very upbeat and soldiering on despite the challenges. Making a loaf today as we’ve run out of bread and I want to avoid the shops as much as possible. Yeast is impossible to find and I’ve only got enough for two more loaves. I made harissa chicken last night using up the rest of a jar, possibly too much for two people as M who’s not a huge spice fan got very red in the face, frantically fanning his mouth, much to my rather cruel amusement. While I was standing preparing it, with the kitchen door open, the bird song outside was so lovely, and for that little moment everything felt really calm and normal until I jolted back into this surreal experience. I sometimes make mosaics from old china, mirrors, birds, the usual hearts. I’ve been neglecting it though as last year both my parents died. Lost my mojo for a while and struggling to recapture it, I know have no excuse now as time in abundance and also my son has booked me in for a little exhibition in the gallery space at our local theatre (Jan 21). This is the perfect antidote for my stress. We live on a fairly busy route in our town and have seen a huge increase in joggers and walkers especially little family groups out getting their exercise but being sensible. . Horrifying though to see footage from USA, I think it was Miami, of spring holiday crowds with zero distancing and seemingly no concern at all about infecting. But likewise construction workers over here, crowded together in canteens or clocking in to work. I don’t think it’ll be long before the rules become even stricter. Off to smash up some china now!
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Norway
My best friend’s husband was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Singapore on returning from a business trip to France.
His only inkling was fatigue, more than the usual jet lag. He had the presence of mind, fortunately, to ask for testing at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). According to protocol he was picked up, tested at the hospital and dropped home by an ambulance. Within an hour of the test being positive, the ambulance from the hospital swooped him up so swiftly that he didn’t have a chance to pack an overnight bag. His teenage daughter and wife had maintained a safe distance throughout and each had slept in separate rooms. My friends are European but have lived and worked in Singapore for the last 18 years.
They now experienced the full Singaporean Monty, so to speak. The police tracked down and tested the taxi driver whom he had flagged at the airport. All that Vaughn (names changed to protect the not so innocent) had remembered was the colour of the taxi and the time he had boarded it at the airport. That’s Singapore sleuthing for you. Gloved and masked, but not Hazmat-suited, the police turned up at the apartment a few hours later with a comprehensive quarantine document, to be signed and witnessed, detailing the conditions for quarantine and the fine and jail term if Caroline and Emma, their daughter, broke it. If strict quarantine is not observed in Singapore, all permanent residents or work-permit holders risk being stripped of their permits and immediately repatriated to their country of origin, with no hope of return. Draconian terms perhaps but necessary for the protection of almost six million people crammed into the world’s only city state that takes barely forty minutes to cross from East to West. The next day, the National Environment Agency brought bleach, industrial gloves and a set of detailed instructions on how to clean and disinfect the flat, his clothes and bed linen. The Singapore government leaves nothing to chance for the police had already given Caroline masks, thermometers and sheets to record their temperatures.
The Government distributed more than five million masks as early as 1 February to allay the panic buying of masks. Each home received four masks distributed by the armed forces. Having learned valuable lessons from the SARS epidemic in 2003 Singapore was super effective in the early days of this pandemic. Prime Minister Lee’s speech to his people on 8 February, to take courage, is a study in leadership. The populace smiles fondly at his pink shirts and even pinker ties as his wont, and his messages strike home to the heart of a people who have complete and utter trust in their government.
The Ministry of Health tracks Caroline and Emma separately thrice daily on WhatsApp video without warning. The primary reason is to check on their physical and mental wellbeing, temperatures and see if they are at home. Most of the officers are very empathetic, others sound exhausted and a few are monosyllabic. I treasure Caroline as the kindest person I know with an inability to tap into indignation or anger. The privations of quarantine and isolation for her and Emma as a result of her husbands ill timed and badly judged business trip to a European hot spot are beginning to crystallize. She has been overwhelmed by the kindness of acquaintances who have sent messages, masses of food, temporarily adopted her dog and neighbours who left the local bean soup and garlic outside her apartment. She lives in a large apartment complex. Caroline’s eldest daughter,Imogen, flew back from university in the United States last week in order to be with her family, but, unfortunately, arrived just after they were quarantined and was forced to stay in a hotel. Echoing “The Lives of Others,” a 2006 German film, an anonymous neighbour complained to the apartments’ management office that they had witnessed Imogen delivering groceries outside Caroline’s door. They reported that she had contravened quarantine rules for returning students from abroad. Caroline had to write a reply that Imo had arrived way before these rules had come into play. What Vaughn missed most was his bathroom slippers which had to be sent with a little care package to the hospital. Emma’s Headmaster rang to ask after her. Emma confessed what she missed most was hugging her mummy.
“I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens.
Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today.”
The late Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of modern Singapore
Rosemary, Rodborough Common
Meteora is a Greek word which means "suspended in mid-air". Meterora is also the name given to our garden statue by the Sculptor, Simon Manby, who designed and had her cast in bronze. She peers skywards from the top of her pillar, which is suggestive of her flying through mid-air. She symbolises a celestial body, a comet or perhaps the earth itself, hurtling towards an uncertain future, standing as a metaphor for existence. She has sat in our garden for the past 15 years, and suddenly her symbolism holds so much more poignancy for us than before.