Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York

Today, with blonde hair and the sun shining alike, I decided to spend the day painting and so, since 11:00, I have been working away in the garden, painting on old pieces of unbuilt shelves found in the shed, getting myself quite covered in paints in the process. Around me, over the fences, I can hear my neighbours busily hurrying around, mowing and pruning, cleaning and sweeping. In the house behind ours, a man is cleaning his windows by hand. As I carry on painting, he waves at me.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

A week or so before we all locked down, I saw Joan Bakewell interviewed from her home where she had already gone into isolation; asked if she thought everything would be changed after this  she said 'Changed, changed utterly.'


Yesterday the weather was impossibly beautiful. I met a friend, Anna, at the corner of the walled spinney that forms the grounds of Orleans House and we listened to a mistle thrush. Anna knows about birdsong and she said you could easily mistake a mistle thrush for a nightingale. Certainly I have never heard anything more full-throated in its ease. She had heard it in that precise spot two weeks before and had been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it but we didn't. We sat then on two separate benches by the river and talked. We agreed to meet there again, same time next Thursday, so there are now two regular things in the diary for Thursday as it's NHS clapping day. I'm beginning to acquire a structured social life. After that I came home and recorded KUBLA KHAN for a fund raising thing for The National Hospital. Then I sat in my little courtyard which forms a well between my kitchen and my bedroom and learned sonnet no 10. I heard the other day on The Graham Norton show that Judi Dench is learning the sonnets too. It's a great discipline as well as a pleasure. When I come to a new one it often seems opaque but there's always a line or two that sings out - Sonnet No 3 -

'Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;' 

and then the sonnet assembles itself in my memory around those lines, though there are often a couple of lines that I never crack and those are the hardest to learn. 


In the afternoon Francis came round and we sat on folding chairs in the courtyard next to the carwash which is closed. We were very careful; I put plastic bags on my hands to pass him his tea and threw him the roll so he could do the same when he passed the empty cup back to me. My neighbour Thomas came by with his son Phillipe and I asked Phillipe how it was being away from school and he clung to his father's leg and said "Hard' which is just what he'd said when I asked him on Sunday, only then it was his mother's leg he was clinging to. I must vary my conversational gambits to him or our brief and infrequent exchanges will become dull. I introduced Thomas to Francis and he said - 'It's all right for me, I can give my son a cuddle,'  but I didn't mind because I have never been so happy to see Francis who looked well and tanned. We walked along the towpath and he picked nettles, plastic bags over his hands again, for the nettle soup he's insisting that I cook from the recipe he's going to send me. When I asked what I should do with the nettles when I got home he said 'Well you'll need marigolds' and, in a moment of senior density, I said ' Oh Jesus, I don't need marigolds as well as nettles do I?' and he said no, he meant rubber gloves. On the way home I got an email from my agent, forwarding one from The Young Vic saying HAMLET had been postponed for at least six months. No surprise there and surprisingly little disappointment. It's not unrealistic to suppose that I will never work again and, as long as it's the same for all of us over seventies, I don't think I'll mind. There are 154 sonnets to be learned. Yesterday was Shakespeare's birthday.


There's a channel on TV that's showing highlights of old test matches every night and, after Francis had gone, I slumped in front of that with a ready meal and watched England beat South Africa at Old Trafford, 2017. I wonder if they're only showing England victories to keep up morale. My father first took me to Lord's in 1956; we sat on the grass and ate egg and watercress sandwiches made with my mother's crumbly home made bread, and watched Keith Miller and Fred Trueman, May, Cowdrey, Benaud. Australia won. Watching Anderson bowling to du Plessis on TV last night I thought of Francis Thompson and his  ghostly batsman playing to the bowling of a ghost, his shadows flitting to an fro, his Hornby and his Barlow long ago. It all seemed so arcane - earnest, passionate, beautiful, meaningless; beautiful because meaningless perhaps. It's not quite conceivable to me that next summer the theatres and the cricket grounds will re-open at the snap of a switch and the ghosts will assemble to re-enact their odd and elitist rituals as if nothing has happened. 'All changed, changed utterly.'


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Yesterday’s briefing brought much trumpeting of an enhanced testing offer to those beyond the NHS frontliners. Now pretty well anyone with keyworker status can apply for testing at 31 ‘pop-up’ centres around the UK. Or was it England, I can’t remember. What I do remember, very clearly, is that in the map of dots not one was within Norfolk or the East generally. So, our keyworking carehome staff may still have to go to Leicester. And another thing: these drive-thrus are in Ikea carparks and the like. What happens when, as is inevitable, these places open up for business again? 

We are still in this Alice in Wonderland situation where, in striving to save face having promised 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month, and having creakily got up to capacity of 51,000 with 6 days to go, we can’t get anything like that number to the testing centres anyway. To actually test 100,000 a day, every day, seems impossibly remote. We’re sternly reminded that the ‘5 Critical Pillars’ before easing of social restriction can be contemplated are 1) ICU capacity must remain sufficient to cope 2) there must be a sustained fall in daily deaths, 3) the new infection count is reassuringly down, 4) testing capacity and PPE supply is fully adequate and 5) Easing of restrictions won’t result in a second wave of infection. Get those 5 ducks in a row, and we’re away to the races, me dearios.


I seemed to be entering a variation on the ‘If it’s Friday this must be Belgium’ phase of lockdown where the passage of my week is defined by tiny regular events: milk delivery, must be Friday (added to next door’s delivery)... do you know what? I was about to list them, but that’s the only one. Everything else that happens inbound is most likely the result of random acts of shopping delivery kindness, otherwise, like you all, or those not key workers (bless you) we make our own slim amusement from within this citadel, this benign fortress of sanity and sanitation. As I said earlier, here we’re safe, out there we’re at risk. Simple. Must stay here, must stay here.


So, the mildly illicit and hugely welcome visits by two couples at different times yesterday were especially welcome. We preserved more or less the required distancing, had refreshments served with a nod to avoiding cross infection - no sharing of anything, strict ‘own spoon in the hummus’ protocol, a real blue catering glove operation - but deliciously social nevertheless. One pair revealed they’d broken out and visited a nearby beach, ignoring local signs to ‘go away‘ planted in the roadside. The other was here for a not-strictly-legal collection of tools needed for a garden project. All a heartening reminder of what’s usual and what’s possible, and, I think, what’s reasonable.


Notwithstanding the 5 Pillars, the Natives are revolting. I’m revolting.


Emboldened by these visits and the news that hardware giant B&Q are opening their stores, a devilish plan has emerged: we go to B&Q Yarmouth to get sand and cement needed to repair a wall (legit-ish) and then on just 5 mins drive to nearby Gorleston for a walk along the prom. We can park the car easily enough away from compromising contact, go through the narrow border of municipal gardens on the cliff top and survey the beach scene below, inserting ourselves at distance from others. Social distancing in fresh, breezy surroundings. 

On a sunny weekend in normal times it’s never busy at Gorleston, so we’ll be unlucky if it’s suddenly crowded now - but if it is, well, we just get back in the car and come home. We’ll have tried, and I shall have sand and cement to play with. All being well, I’ll bung a pic on here tomorrow. 


Now, in view of the in-force diktat to ‘stay at home, save lives save the NHS’, am I actively plotting this despite the risk to others (antisocial), to ourselves (stupid), the risk of a police stop and fine (the shame, the shame). Are we being wild and foolish?

Sod it. Run ‘Great Escape’ soundtrack. We’re getting outta here!


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

I confess:


I am uncomfortable with the clapping and drum banging on Thursday evenings. Not other people doing it - they’re very welcome to do it. It’s a nice thing. A kind, generous and supportive action. But me - I feel self conscious. It’s too demonstrative for me. So why do it? I do it because I feel it is expected. I do it because the neighbour’s granddaughter loves to see and hear it. I feel bullied and cornered into doing it. I do want to show support for the NHS and believe in the goodness and kindness of all the essential workers but I would rather we planted a shrub or tree and possibly did a weekly waving of our arms. Should I be ashamed of myself? 


I am sceptical. Our neighbours - (I'm acquainted with about six of them) - all chat on Thursday evenings. Well, we all shout across the lane. It’s almost impossible to hear. Everything has to be repeated or gets rallied along in relays. There is a lot of smiling and well wishing. On the surface, there is unity. That resolve - “we’re all in this together” - abounds. “I’ll email you that recipe, darling”. “Their vegetable boxes are just so good”. “See you all next week. Same time, same place - hee hee”. But the bonhomie is wiped from the faces as we retreat to our separate homes. I hadn’t been indoors for more than ten minutes when the phone rang: “Did you hear what she said? Her daughter stocked up with powdered milk and toilet rolls at the start. Now we know who caused the shortages”. Then, just a few minutes later - another call “he is so scared of catching the virus but their family still visits and yes, all the grandchildren. They could be superspreaders”. 


I am guilty. I feel like the voice of dissension. The one bad apple. The mean, rotten one. Doom and gloom. Couldn’t we all do without this negativity? Oh shut up, Harris!  Do us all a favour and cheer up. “Oh what’s the use in worrying? It never was worthwhile... so pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile ..” That’s the ticket, boy. That’s more like it!


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

I have just been to Holt for a little shopping and to check Verandah. Holt looks so weird as most of the shop windows are empty and just look closed up for ever though signs in the window say otherwise.

We have left our shop looking pretty. I hope its not a mistake.


I have a little job on so have been arguing the toss with my client so life feels normal bantering about budget etc and me saying get rid of that hideous thing and him saying no. I win some arguments and have to shut up about others.


The mini nursery garden is a full time job. Everything out of the greenhouse and shed and then back in again. I am desperate to plant everything but fear its too cold. The garden is full of blackbirds following me around even playing in the seed trays! Two were in the green house this morning. Slug wars carry on.


Earnie has now got a proper high vis harness. A few locals think theres some dodgy poaching behaviour going on. 


Testing is being ramped up. Trump is suggesting we all drink bleach. A lot of people have died now, fast approaching 20,000 though we have apparently hit the peak..

Love Annabel xxx


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Heard on the news that Donald Trump has put forward the idea of injecting bleach as a means of guarding against Covid-19. How can we have anything to do with a country that elects someone like this as its leader? This morning I went to the fishmonger for my friends who are not going out, and found that it is cash or cheque only, probably the only shop that actually welcomes cash. Just had enough in my purse. If we stop using cash as much in the future the charities that depend on street and shop collections will really suffer. Came home to write my share of the labels that people in the street will be attaching to their wheelie bins on Monday, thanking them for carrying on working. Not sure if the binmen/women will read them, but it's the thought that counts.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Charleston by Marli Rose Macrae


Today after breakfast I put on my pink ditsy print Rachel Riley dress and my red velvet cloak. Me, Franklin and mummy then jumped in the car and drove to mummy's work, Charleston. She had to drop some things off with the gardener and housekeeper. It was nice driving though the countryside, we passed mint green, shady, colossal trees and I thought how lovely it would be to have a window that looked over the Downs.


When we arrived at Charleston Franklin had to stay in the car as he has bad hay fever. Mummy met her friend Harry the Gardener and they chatted for a bit before we walked over to the house. The door is salmon pink with grey edging. Thick lime green stalks climbed up the house with thorns as sharp as razors and hanging from the stalks were two, delicate roses. One rose was the colour of milk and the other was coral pink. They looked as if they were made of paper.

Mummy chatted to her friend Kathy and then we wandered into the Walled Garden. There were dark, magenta Queen of the Night tulips everywhere and a white tulip with red streaks through it. That tulip looked as if someone had splattered it in crimson red blood!  There were hundreds of apricot-pink parrot tulips planted with Queen of the Night. There were also beautiful purple acquilegia planted with the iris although the iris hadn't opened yet. You could hear the rippling water of the small pond on the piazza and the chirping and fluttering of birds, their voices pure and true. They reminded me of Wrennie, the little wren that perches on our fence and chirps her head off and waves her tail as if saying "hello!". The apple trees were snow white with blossom and musical with bees. I thought a fairy had sprinkled some magic in the garden, it was so beautiful.


Mummy gave her friends some pots for their flower stall and her friend gave her some plants. We drove home for lunch and saw a very handsome pheasant on the track. We are working for a bit this afternoon and then having a barbecue.


A Poole-side View

Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole



There's nothing like a good glass of claret after another day of self-isolation. Claret, a very British word, even if derived from the French "vin clair". It's not a word in the Frenchman's vocabulary; at the bar he will order "un bordeaux rouge". When Harry Paye (see a previous post) stole all that wine from the French and inebriated the population of Poole, it would have been with this "vin clair" or "clairet" rather than the Lafite or Margaux style we are used to, though there is still a Clairet appellation in Bordeaux today.


In the Middle Ages the English wine of choice (or perhaps necessity) was white, thin, acidic. It was imported first from merchants in Rouen - they had the monopoly - and later from La Rochelle. When both these towns, in turn, fell to the French the supply dried up. But, fortunately, in 1152, Henry Plantagenet married Aliénor d'Aquitaine, thus acquiring, with her duchy, the port of Bordeaux. The wine trade was assured and clairet, though of poor quality and cheap, became a national drink.


Clairet was not the full-bodied red of today. More akin to rosé, it was quickly fermented (2 days was apparently sufficient for the English trade) and quickly transported - it did not keep well. In those days "new wine" was always the preference, last year's was considered distinctly dodgy. According to some reports Henry II was no wine connoisseur: the wine served at the royal table was variously described as stale, sour and muddy !


In the early XIVth century Bordeaux was exporting 6 bottles for every English man, woman and child. With the advent of the Hundred Years' War in 1337, however, the English again lost their source of supply and, for a time, had to rely on wines from Spain and Portugal. Bit by bit, the trade revived (even in times of enmity) and, thanks to swamp drainage and new vinification techniques, the XVIth century saw the birth of Claret - deeper in colour, more body, greater cellar worthiness. In 1663 Samuel Pepys sampled a wine he called Ho Bryan (Haut Brion) "that hath a good and most particular taste that I have never met with."


Another glass? Cheers.

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