They won't look after you...
A week ago I didn’t know anyone personally who’d had the virus - now I have six or seven friends who’ve come down with it. It’s becoming more real and immediate by the day. About a week ago an actor friend, Alex, was sent home from rehearsals at The Almeida because the theatre was closing and came down with it the next day. He’s had a particularly nasty case, very high temperature, and is still stricken.
I recognise that I am now inhabiting a mental landscape where the virus has imposed it’s own extreme limitations which I accept unquestioningly. Even anachronistically. If I see a programme on TV, made more than a couple of weeks ago, as all dramas are, where people shake hands or hug I almost shout at the screen that they shouldn’t be doing that, haven’t they heard of social distancing?
I’ve decided to stop walking outdoors, for the time being at least, I mean stop going out altogether. I went to bed scared last night after hearing of the dramatic escalation of deaths in the UK. On my walk yesterday I found Marble Hill Park closed and had to walk down to the river past the magnificent Georgian terrace where there’s a plaque to Walter de la Mare. An elderly woman was standing outside one of these houses and she told me that her son-in-law was a doctor and he had forbidden her from going for a walk
‘ "All the beds in intensive care are taken",’ he’d said. ’ "They won’t look after you". I don’t mean to be personal.’ she went on, ' but you’re not in the first flush of youth are you? No more walks for you either.’ A well-heeled attractive old woman, nothing batty or apocalyptic about her - but still I continued on down to the river. Maybe for the last time in a while - or maybe I’ll go very early in the morning or late in the evening when there’s no-one about.
Avec amour, Le Malandri D174
Another quiet day...the sky's so clear and blue. Thank god for the internet we're so far away from our family but at least we can talk to each other often. Jim's sister is stuck in Grand Canaria, it's certainly sunnier there than Oswestry.
We got this! This could be cool!
t - Rural Norfolk
The fresh milk is going down fast, the teen has always guzzled at least a pint a day. We have cartons of long life milk and I’m thinking I will wash out the usual milk bottles, and disguise the long life milk so there is less opportunity to declare it unfit for human consumption. I am also considering the ethics of rationing my child’s daily milk consumption to a level similar to a kitten’s, in order to sustain supplies for cups of tea. He is 18 now, and 6ft 4”. I think my tea needs it more. As a compromise I have ordered strawberry protein milks from Amazon. Amazon are still delivering. I consider this to be essential supplies so am trying not to feel guilty about it. Since one hour after the Boris Bomb our supermarket of choice appear to have torn up the bit of the map where we live. I hope this means they have reserved delivery slots for the vulnerable, but in my experience, those who need it most do not order online. My mother passed last year, and against all odds she never did warm to the idea of online shopping, except when asking me to order for her using my Amazon prime! I suspect that will be happening a lot now, kids making online orders for parents far away, I have no idea how supermarkets will prioritise delivery slots, but I have decided to feel virtuous that we cannot get one for the duration.
I received a text from the government last night. Straight into my personal mobile phone. Is it just me or did that feel a bit terrifying? But it’s cool, apparently, they didn’t access the camera, they can’t actually see into our home…
All being well, my boy will be going away to study Triple E this autumn. I had no real clue what that meant until we visited open days: Electrical, and Electronic Engineering. The course for future engineers who will expand the Internet of Things, or 'I.O.T.'. The technology his generation seem so unquestioningly to welcome into their private spaces. I am sitting here looking at my refrigerator, and feeling very grateful it is just a humble electrical cool box, and not a diet/use-by date monitoring and stock keeping device (yes, they exist). There is a job called an Ethical Hacker, and these clever people expose security flaws in tech; from home CCTV, to interactive toys. We are so very far from having the security for me to feel comfortable about such intrusions. And similar to my mother and her aversion to online shopping, I’m not sure I ever shall. I can manage my own fridge, even in a crisis, thank you kindly.
Pedagogy and Print
Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire
This morning Tilly and I set off early to brave the supermarkets for our weekly shop. I stayed in the car so I could continue to self-isolate, with my asthma and a book to keep me company, but could help Tilly with the heavy lifting as she is suffering with a painful shoulder injury. First, we visited Lidl. The carpark was reassuringly relatively empty and Tilly was able to find most of what we needed. The pasta and rice shelves were again empty, as were the shelves with tins of vegetables although there were still some tinned tomatoes. She was able to get the last pack of expensive mature cheddar and some chocolate. I was beginning to worry about Easter. Next stop Sainsbury’s, a routine stop, rather than an enforced one, as Lidl never have everything we need. Here, there was a greater range of cheese but no tinned tomatoes. The main thing we haven’t been able to find since the crisis began is risotto rice; it’s hard to believe that risotto has become a staple of the nation’s panic diet. However, it is an excellent comfort food so perhaps it is understandable. Returning home, and the delivery man arrives with the lino I ordered online a few days ago. We had requested that it be left on our patio, in case he came while we were shopping, so he appears at our garden gate. We go out and greet him and exchange pleasantries while maintaining a healthy distance. He places the package on the garden table, takes a photo of it for his records, and departs. We both look at it for a few seconds, then I go inside for a pair of scissors and remove the outer layer of packaging and dispose of it immediately. Then I wash my hands; you can’t be too careful.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
March 25th, Ladyday. Until 1752, when England adopted the Gregorian calendar, this was the first day of the New Year. If we had stuck to the ‘Old Style’ calendar, last night would have been the eve of a new year. What a contrast it would have been to 31 December 2019. Empty streets, closed pubs and restaurants, no joyful ringing of church bells, no fireworks. Social isolation for many. Fear for the future. How different our New Year plans, hopes, dreams and resolutions would have been. Yet here the sky is blue, the sun continues to shine, and there is still hope. Yesterday everyone in our street received a little compost pot and a sunflower seed. The gradual growth of these cheerful flowers will surely mark the progress towards happier times
The Undivided Self
JH, East Sussex
Yesterday afternoon, we had a meeting with a member of the House of Lords. He was at home, in his shirt sleeves, and my colleagues were speaking from their sofas around the country. The peer began with some tough questions for us. For a few minutes, I found it harder than ever to reconcile being at home with the demands of work. Then I began to enjoy the peppery exchange. This remote meeting technology is terrible at nuance, anyway, so it’s best to speak plainly. He asked his direct questions and we gave our direct answers and everyone was happy. By the end, he was suggesting that we should get together again for more interesting conversations. This morning, we even managed some home schooling: a bit of maths and some touch typing. AH is using an old laptop, and after hearing his cries of frustration at its slowness, we agreed to buy him a new one. He then retired contentedly to lie on the sunny sofa, his work done for the day. Anyway, as he said, we’re only just getting started with this new way of doing things.
Dawn Cliff, Yorkshire
Day 3 and I should start by apologising for yesterday’s rant - I know - I lasted 2 days - I had just explained to Mr C that the writers on this blog were more from the Wordsworth school of writing than mine and that maybe my down to earth way of writing was not quite what people were looking for. He said I was more the Sean Bean school of literature and not to worry so here goes. Short and sweet today as things are a tad fraught here. Tried to order shopping on line (for the first time) took ages only to be told delivery in 3 weeks so trying another option for that! Four vans from somewhere have turned up right outside our row of houses and are digging the road up - !!!!!!!! And had a call from mum to say dad’s been taken into hospital . All in all today is just a bit pants. On a plus note I have lots of glue . Love Dawn xx
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
I wake up to a text from a friend whose husband has developed a temperature. Norfolk normally seems quite separate but it is not. Last weeks feeling of county xenophobia was weird as we all love the visitors. They keep "our" shops and restaurants and holiday houses going. They buy my cushions and keep the world going round. I think most of Norfolk gets by on a wing and a prayer and we are very grateful to them. Dear Rishi .....
Later I'm pottering about with seeds and start to feel hot. Oh here we go, I think and then realise I have just stepped out of the greenhouse which is at least 90. There are a thousand and one jobs waiting for me there. All the seedlings need transplanting as do the afore mentioned dahlias. I have bought and sown more seeds than I have garden. I don't eat nightshades but might plant some tomato seeds. I can survive all summer on garden frittata of courgettes etc. I keep looking at the old Hettie box that is full of dahlia tubers like a blot on the landscape. Sorry @blotshells, I don't mean you. I finally bought the Hettie late last year after the exasperation of the hated Dyson. It only has to face 3 dog hairs and a leaf and it comes to a choking holt.
Roger is my gardener who comes for 4 hours a week and does man jobs. Last year he had an accident and broke his hip. We all felt dreadful for him as he hates sitting still. The sympathy soon waned when I had to plant all the dahlia tubers myself apart from cleaning out the chickens, cut the grass, stack the wood and then my jobs of planting the cutting garden and trying to do my work and run the shop. I issued a fatwah to him in the autumn when the dahlias were lifted. I said what ever happens even if you're a ghost you're going to plant the bloody dahlias. What happens? He's in lock down. Honestly, the staff problems! It turned out that Roger does all the man jobs for the whole village. I religiously make him paleo cake and good cups of coffee to stay in his favourite ladies of a certain age list. I don't know what I would do without him. I took him a couple of trays of seedlings for him to plant up on Sunday and was going to leave them by the gate. I was met by a forcefield of protectiveness from his daughter saying, " Leave them there". I wasn't going any further. I expect the few bits of food I took were steam cleaned.
The postman comes to the door smiling at me and waving his blue gloved hand the other side of the window. I receive the post in gloves and think perhaps it is a good idea to leave some disposables by the door. Earnie looks at me and then the gloves. He is obsessed by gloves but he prefers cashmere. Prince Charles has been struck down by the coronavirus. Camilla is OK. Pom pom samples have arrived in the post for an interior job that I am not sure I can do. The news gets grimmer and the bird song louder. I've got to go now and clean out the chickens, cut the grass, transplant seedlings etc. Earnie and I will be going for our walk later. Oh and now I am a diarist, I have to submit my column! Love Annabel xxx
A Wymondham Plaguery
George Szirtes, Wymondham
25 March 10:00am Here's the sun again, lavishly generous in its spring mood. Looking at the sunlit flint wall is like feeling someone's warm hand on one's own forehead. It is refreshing, both a psychological and physical gift.
What else to report on? The walk yesterday with its few steering-clear-but-vocal-greeting encounters, a distinct comradeliness-at-distance, that we are comrades precisely because of the distance. After you with the distance!
No, I insist, after you! The whole world comes to us from great technological distances. At home we are all in
direct-contact intimacy. Our hands move in the same physical space. When we speak to each other we see our lips move and could extend our arms to touch them. We breathe each other, we inform and comfort each other. We think of those who live alone who don't have this luxury - since it feels like a luxury - and know ourselves lucky.
The concept of luck make me recall today's Thought of the Day by a clergyman who, this being the Feast of the Annunciation, talked of the Angel Gabriel 'inviting' Mary to be Mother of God. That's not the way I remember the Annunciation. I don't think Mary has much choice. I know Gabriel is courteous in his address but he doesn't say, Think about it and I'll come back tomorrow. Nor is it exactly the way of the Skinhead Hamlet (by Richard Curtis in his early much funnier period) whose first words are: Oi! Mush! but, apart from the social niceties it might as well be.
Holly Howitt, North Wales
I have an excess of energy: it tingles in my legs, and my feet kick out under the kitchen table, which has become my desk, watching the sunshine outside that I’m too afraid to go out into. A few weeks ago, I – or rather, my partner – bought an exercise bike online. I remonstrated, arguing it would be relegated to the garage, crocheted by spider webs in a month. I cancelled the order, but it was too late. A week later, the bike arrived. A day later, we were self-isolating. After the embarrassment of accepting the bike was a good idea, I get on. I pedal harder than I thought I could, resistance at the maximum level, listening to Blondie and cycling at 30km/hr. The first time I heard this album I was 14, having found it in a junk shop I got the bus to every Saturday. I imagine my 14-year-old self watching from the corner of my hall, where I’ve propped the bike in front of a window. I am watching myself sweat and swear and sing in a dirty t-shirt and the leggings with the hole in. I can hear the 14-year-old say, What the hell, Holly. I could have never imagined self-isolation, then – I might have felt it, alone in the back woods of Wales, unable to drive and isolated by accident – but I would never have understood this strange new world in which I had to exercise behind a closed window, had to go nowhere on a static bike, singing tonelessly to a song I don’t even like that much, didn’t like then. What the hell, Holly.
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
After a wet and thoroughly depressing January/February I started drawing a dog for consolation. I had promised a family member to do a portrait of her rescue dog, Wiggins almost a year ago. Wiggins is a greyhound, he was fast hence the name. I have to use photographs to work from as he lives 90 miles away and now we are advised to self isolate and not make unnecessary journeys. My first study of Wiggins is on postcard size watercolour paper, one of those small packs that are given away free with a set of paints. I decided to use a 2b pencil and to make a close detailed study. Dogs are not my usual subject matter so I had to get to grips with the anatomy. I found the process of the pencil moving over the rough paper texture very satisfying. This first study I later donated to a charity event to raise money for Children's Cancer Research. A fellow artist's child was in remission from leukaemia after several worrying years.
Since making that drawing I have gone on to do more including a watercolour. Now I am working on a large colour pastel drawing which will be the commissioned work. While engaging in this work I was reminded of the book 'The Plague Dogs' by Richard Adams about two dogs who escape an animal testing research centre. They are hunted down because there is the idea they are carrying a plague like disease. Wiggins being a rescue dog is fortunate as a lot of young greyhounds are killed after their racing life is finished. This is getting a bit morbid - but we are living in troubling times. When I feel troubled I put on some music and turn to my drawings of Wiggins.
In a Canary Plantation
Amanda White, Spain
Day 11. Or is it day 12 or even 13 of lockdown here in Spain?
I am fast losing track, living as we do down a potholed track in the middle of nowhere. And the government has just promised us another 20 days at least of this regime.
I read the press online and am instantly drawn to stories of the flouters. Spain is nothing if not a land of the "picaresque" and the big news is that Don Quijote is alive and well and trying by every ingenious method to beat the lockdown rules. Even if it is on pain of fines of between 100 and 6,000 euros and beyond, which I must say make the UK's 30 quid look pretty paltry.
So in one week we read about a man who dressed as a dinosaur to put out the rubbish (I'm not sure why), two people in different parts of the country taking goats they claimed to be pets for walks, others out with pot-bellied pigs and one with a soft toy on a lead. And there have been any number of cases of people hiring out their dogs to neighbours desperate for a legitimate excuse to get out of their homes and get a breath of fresh air.
As far as shopping ruses go, we learnt of a man whose sole purchases in a supermarket were half a dozen litre bottles of beer, and another leaving with just two large packets of crisps. They were both fined on having their bags searched by police at the exit, beer and crisps not being deemed "essential" foodstuffs. One woman was caught after wandering the streets of Barcelona for three hours, baguette in hand.
It all makes me realise how lucky we are not to be cooped up in a flat like an awful lot of people in the pandemic world we are living in right now.