Nature, walking and countryside
Another glorious day with wall-to-wall sunshine. Is it day two of the lockdown? I seem to be losing track of time! I fortunately live right by a country Park, with woodland, a river and a pond. It is always very quiet, more so over the last few weeks. Walkers are very sociable people-many of the ones I see are walking the dogs, and over the past couple of years I have got to know a few of them and we always have a chat. The chats are now at a very safe distance of course, But as someone who lives on her own I am grateful for face-to-face contact and chance to talk and laugh and compare notes. I am a real nature and wildlife lover, and I’m enjoying watching spring unfold as the buds burst open. Walking along one particular bridle path, I was aware that the canopy of trees was turning a lovely fresh green - such a lovely sight. The pond is part of a conservation area, very well maintained by local volunteers, several of whom I have got to know. I swear the ducks recognise me these days – I usually take a bit of food with me, so it is probably cupboard love. Hoping this beautiful weather continues and I can continue to enjoy my lovely walks.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I went for a long walk last night, to try and clear my head of all the stresses of the day, and the deep nagging fear that I will end my career committing the finance director’s unforgiveable sin of running out of money, and costing the livelihoods of my 239 fellow employees. Instead I found myself making lists of “last things”. Not the theological four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. But rather the last time (until who knows when) that I did things that are now forbidden. Our last cinema trip – to see “Emma”. Our last visit to the theatre – to see Juliet Gilkes Romero’s new play “The Whip” at the RSC. Our last visit to a pub, in Stratford before the play. Our last family holiday, a week at a villa in Portugal last September. My last business trip – to Jeddah in February. My last attendance at Mass, on Thursday evening just one week ago – grabbing the last opportunity before the lockdown. And perhaps most troubling of all, my last visits to see my 88-year-old mother and my 92 year old mother-in-law. Maybe worrying about work is less upsetting than worrying about family!
John Underwood, Norfolk
Curtailing. Bookbinding is not like plastering a wall. When you mix plaster and begin to apply it, you know that you are going to finish the process within a time limit- the time it takes for the plaster to “ go off” and become unworkable. Binding a book is a series of activities, linked, but different, and with separate tools to be used during each part. This is a great joy in binding a book, you never become bored with the process as it is so variable. I often begin a few books at the same time, carrying out the same process on several books in turn. This is so that I am not constantly getting out and tidying away tools and materials, but can use them a few times. The strangest activity has to be “ rounding and backing”, which involves taking a hammer to the spine of a sewn and glued text block, and persuading it into shape . Hammering. Folded paper. Sewing sections together is a repetitive and fairly contemplative activity. It is a precise task, and one can take pleasure in lining up stitches carefully. When you sew sections ( of folded pages) together to form the text block of a book, you end with a stitch commonly called a “ kettle stitch”. This stitch is at the head and tail ( top and bottom) of a book, and acts to join all the sections of a book together firmly at the head and tail. I can remember my brilliant binding teacher Jane ( bless you for your teaching) first using the term and wondering at the derivation . Years later, having mused on it every time I sewed a book together I came to the conclusion that it must have originally been a “ curtail” stitch, an end stitch. Now whether I read this somewhere or it simply popped into my mind I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Whilst sewing a binding the other day I thought how our lives have been curtailed. We have been “kettled” ( to use a term used by police referring to containing demonstrators) . We have been firmly topped and tailed without room for movement- hopefully to make us stronger and united in our purpose.
All day exercise
David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire
My exercise routine (so far) is to go out in the morning, cycle to my studio, work for six hours & then cycle home. I never see anyone during the day anyway, apart from the occasional delivery driver and even more occasional lost Turkish lorry driver- the mill next door makes cloth for Burberry - but I doubt I'll see one of those for a while. I did see a friend on the way home this evening but standing and talking at 9 foot distance wasn't a problem as it was so quiet. Spent some of today painting two big boards. I'm going to put up an exhibition of a variety of small work in the window (I work in an old shop, next to a main road), not to sell (although any customers would be welcome at a distance) but rather to provide amusement, distraction and I hope some pleasure for the people with children & dogs exercising past.
Stay at home
Wednesday 25 March 2020 On Monday morning I cancelled travel arrangements for a weekend trip in April to Paris by train with my brother and sister. So, it is perhaps not surprising that last night I dreamt of Paris but the nature of the dream was odd. My sister and I visit a shop that I know well in the real world, but the dream-shop is not the smart, interesting and well-presented place of my recollection; rather, it is filled with lack-lustre products and staffed by off-hand assistants. Last night I also dreamt of a visit to a cinema complex that featured a large and bare municipal-style hall suggesting inadequate acoustics, a temporary projection screen and uncomfortable chairs. I guess my psyche is trying to tell me that activities I normally enjoy are not, in truth, up to much, that the potential for disappointment saturates the world beyond my home, and that I am better off staying put. It is 16.15 and I have not been out today.
Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
25 March 2020 I wish I could write something about the sun shining but I can’t because it isnt. And I'm still upset over something I saw this morning on my way to the post office. Our mail is delivered to a tiny old post office.. which was once a railway station for trains headed into New York City… which sits on the banks of the Hudson River next to the current day train station. We could have our post delivered to our house but I enjoy going to collect it there because I feel like I am stepping back in time and I enjoy looking at the river whose vastness changes depending on the light and the time of day and the season.
Anyway, I went to get my mail and I noticed a woman trudging up the hill as I was headed down it. A lot of people in the village where I live, employ house cleaners who take the train up here from the Bronx or Manhattan. Some of them are fortunate enough to be met at the station by their employers. Others are left to their two feet to hike up the steep hill , sometimes having to cross a very busy road at the top, to wherever it is they go to clean large prosperous houses. It always bothers me when I see these women walking.. especially in bad weather. You would think their employers could take a few minutes and run down to the train station to pick them up. Today, as has been the case for awhile now, the train station parking lot was completely empty because all the commuters are staying home. And here was this elderly-out-of -shape woman with two heavy looking bags trudging up the hill from the train station to wherever it was she was going to clean. Obviously she needs to work in order to be paid, and in order to make this happen, she had to put herself in danger by taking the train up from infected Bronx or New York City, potentially exposing herself to the virus germs.
And the same will be true when it comes time for her to return home. And on top of that she had to struggle up the hill. Why, in light of all that is going on, couldn’t her employer find time and some compassion to meet her at the train and drive her to her place of work???? Wasn’t the situation bad enough for her already? I so longed to be able to offer her a ride after I had collected my mail, and on my way back up the hill, but the instructions we have received about what to do to stay safe prevented me from offering this woman a ride. I felt so guilty.
Bunny and me
So Bunnyhop and I sit in the sunshine on the back terrace, me with my earl grey tea in a pot, freshly brewed from a recent purchase of leaves from New English Teas. Quite a refreshing change from bags. He’s watching a huge pigeon that’s just landed on the rickety trellis and is trying to balance its weight accordingly. Bunny makes an interesting chattering sound with his mouth, half mew, half quiver. It’s what they do. It’s quiet in the village, and as I sit and watch his chattering and the pigeon balancing I wonder if I should be doing more. Is it ok to sit in the sun and just be? I suppose it is.
Rosemary, Rodborough Common
As a small child you probably danced around to the nursery rhyme Ring-ring o’ roses, ending up in a heap of laughter at the end when you all fell down. There is, however, a far more sinister tale connected to this childish rhyme, one which I was reminded of whilst visiting my childhood haunts in Derbyshire. The ring of roses is alleged to be symbolic of a rosy skin rash which turned purple, a plague symptom in England during 1665. The posies were herbs and flowers carried as a protection and to ward off the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and 'all fall down' - death!!!
The village of Eyam has drawn visitors for centuries. Situated in magnificent scenery it has both a grim and heroic story to tell. Contemporary windows in the church of St. Lawrence tell the story. In 1665, cloth arrived in the village from a London tailor but it was infested with flea larvae - the Plague was caused by a bacterium spread from rats to fleas. After the first deaths, amongst whom was the tailor, the inclination of the population was to flee. However, the young rector, William Mompesson, won the villagers' agreement that nobody should leave until the infection passed. This was in order to protect the population of Derbyshire. The message went out that Eyam had been turned into a quarantined fortress, with requests that food should be left for the villagers at a parish boundary stone well outside the village. The villages paid for the food by placing coins into small holes cut into the boundary stone which were filled with vinegar to disinfect the money. The Duke of Devonshire, who lived nearby at Chatsworth House, donated food and medicine to the village. The Plague lasted for 14 months in Eyam and according to church records 273 villages died out of a population thought to number around 350.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
Streets are becoming quieter and more deserted through the day. We have just returned from an evening walk and there were many couples walking. We pass at a respectable distance and exchange cheerful greetings. We pass Pete and Bec’s house. They came to live here about the same time we did. They have left their lights on and the curtains are open. There is a Teddy in the window. I text and tell Pete that I also put a teddy in the window. Pete’s aunt gave him the bear when he was three, his name is Sooty, mine is called Winston. Someone I have never met, but know through Instagram pulled up at my front gate as I was leaving to walk and handed me a beautiful bunch of dahlias. I ask her to wait while I run inside a fetch a warm jar of quince jelly. We have both just checked our temperatures and just washed our hands so we think it’s safe. It has become a routine now and we never leave the house without doing both. I leave another jar of jelly with the friends who gave me the quinces, and Peter gives me a jar of sour dough starter. Tonight we read a newspaper report about the people who have C19 in our local area. Spot checks are now being made by the police. They decided to relocate to the seaside and then not to self isolate. Good grief.
From the South Downs
I can’t stand not seeing my children and not knowing when we'll be able to meet. I keep regretting times when I could have seen them but didn’t organise it. My daughter was going to stay with us and then thought it too risky, as she was mixing with so many people in London. Shortly after that, the restrictions came in, and so now it could be months, even though we are less than fifty miles away. It’s a long drive to Norwich where my son lives. We saw him in February. He and his girlfriend were coming down for Easter, and we were looking forward to it. All this torments me as we take uneasy solace in the Sussex countryside. We make our daily exercise walk a lengthy one - responsibly - as we seldom see people on these paths and there is plenty of space. On Tuesday, a lizard on the South Downs was the first lizard I’ve ever seen here. She or he paused companionably with us, basking in the sunlight, unafraid.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
"I secure myself as a tortoise doth, by not going out of my shell." Bishop Duppa of Salisbury, 1652
From St Just
Jane G, St Just
I've just been to Sainsbury's - in the hope not to have to go again for a fortnight at least. I assumed there would be a Christmas-Eve-style scrum and took three back issues of the TLS and Sebastian Langdell's book on Hoccleve to read - but in fact it was calm, quiet and rather balletic, as people politely choreographed their trolleys round one another and round the very many staff efficiently restocking shelves. No one spoke, and faces were tense - but whenever two people did one of the ballet manoeuvres, they smiled at each other. Most items were restricted to three per customer, some to two, and the only aisles that looked bare were pasta and wine (except for prosecco and lambrusco, which were plentiful). More worryingly, I tried to make a vet's appointment for Smokey, who has lost the very last of her teeth and isn't eating at all well - which also means she isn't getting her anti-inflammatory medicine, so that her arthritis and breathing are even worse than they usually are. But they say they can only see emergency cases, and that this isn't. So I suppose she will either stagger on or become an emergency. I really do NOT want her to be a coronavirus fall-out victim.
I was also thinking that although two people I know have died in the last fortnight, neither of them had the virus. There's almost certainly a moral there, but I'm not sure what it is, unless Muriel Spark / King Canute ...
Chris Gates, Norfolk
So, the three wise men appeared at Downing Street without their crowd of reporters last night, but after repeating the mantra ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ several times, called for Laura Kuenssberg (BBC) to appear with her question and suddenly, there she was, vast and in unflattering, slightly hightened colour on a huge screen, streamed from somewhere safe and isolated. Now the big pronouncements have been made, I fear the daily briefings will be like this: feeble, slightly contrived, with reporters asking much the same questions over and over: when are the masks/tests/ventilators arriving, and why haven’t you done it all sooner? There is an unwelcome outbreak of estimate contagion too: you know the thing, confusing under-estimating with over and rendering a point farcical... ‘you can’t under estimate how important it is to have proper protection...’
On the up and heartwarming side, nearly half a million have volunteered for NHS work. Tim Martin of Wetherspoons continues to be reviled as he lays off his 43,000 staff without notice - and without much discussion about retention on 80% wages if he’ll stump up the 20%. I guess he sees it as a poor bargain. He never suffered from lack of staff before and will hope to recruit easily enough in better times. One or two of his pubs are daubed with paint overnight in protest , but he’s not a man given to much self-doubt.
Charles, P of W, has tested positive and is in self-isolation up at Balmoral. With the Queen at Windsor and William at Sandringham, that’s the succession well protected from each other. Just the flunkies to worry about then...
As we dwell very much in the moment, a gentle reminder of better, more normal things to come: the deep throaty drone of a huge tractor drilling Spring Wheat in the field that surrounds us. That farmer is over 90. He’s not giving in. ‘Stuff to do, boy.’
Well, I did go for a walk this morning very early - or so I thought. I was out by about 6.15 but there were still quite a few others out too. I walked 5 miles and then crashed out on the sofa with The Guardian crossword for nearly an hour.I was expecting a delivery from ASDA this morning but think I must have done something wrong - like not proceeding to checkout and paying - because they didn’t turn up and when I called them the recorded message said ‘ If you’re expecting any help tracing your online order hang up now and never try again’, or words to that effect, a kind of Abandon hope all ye who dialled this number sort of thing. I’m all right for food for the next few days but I’ve been trying to cook properly for myself and I need fresh ingredients for that so I texted a kind young social worker friend - I don’t just know actors and other lightweights - who had offered to do some shopping for me and she’s putting her money where her mouth is and going to Waitrose for me this evening. Francis cooked Greek Lamb Chops and crispy Greek lemon smashed potatoes last night. I’m hoping he freezes them and I can have some when we come out on the other side. They looked bloody good. My Keralan prawn curry was not bad too even though I couldn’t get the spinach.
I’ve been wondering why we’re still publishing newspapers. Newsagents were originally on the governments lists of essential stores that were allowed to stay open (I don’t think they are now). But why? Most people get their news online or TV nowadays and it would mean print workers and others wouldn’t have to go to work, making unnecessary journeys and not having to worry about being 2 metres away from each other.
Also wondering what’s going on in Russia. There was a news item at last about them yesterday …no deaths so far? Can that be true?
I’ve been reading a biography of Elizabeth Bowen by Victoria Glendinning - particularly taken with one little anecdote- in one of her later novels, I forget which , she writes in her typically tortuous, Jamesian manner- ‘Absolutely,’ he said, ’not.’ To which her editor responded - ‘A little far, if I may say so, fetched.’ She didn’t change it though. They all knew each other in that generation. The Woolfs , E.M.Forster, Cyril Connolly, William Plomer, Frank O’Connor, A.E.Coppard, Stephen Spender, Sean O’ Faolain, Greene, Waugh. I don’t think it’s like that now is it? though it is with actors because ours is a social art and we all work with each other.
Also read a couple of her short stories and a couple of Henry James which I’d read before.
From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, NY
I wake to find emails and videos from friends and family with warnings, worries, and updates on life with Coronavirus. I remind myself and others that anxiety is so debilitating and useless and try to remain in the present, but at times find it more challenging to do.
Little Dickens got neutered yesterday, all safely managed at the vets, but he is so subdued lying in his little bed by my feet as I write rather than enthusiastically running about the garden after Plum. I considered stopping at the local farm market on the way home from the vet but instead took heed knowing I still have enough food to manage for another few days. I recently inherited a wonderful cookbook on making pasta sauces ~ I could survive on pasta for months!
The sun is shining this morning and the crocus seem to have survived their blanket of snow, the red-winged blackbirds sing from the tree tops and the spring peepers from the pond across the road. A good day ~
Pedagogy and Print
Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire
Another beautiful sunny day, perhaps the last for a while as colder air returns. We took advantage by going on another walk. We’re choosing more obscure footpaths now in the hope of having them to ourselves, and generally succeeding. This walk was between the villages of Preston and Frogmore.
Back home I finished off the first two illustrations for the school project I mentioned on the 23rd. I will require ten different images of monsters. The idea is that the students, with severe learning difficulties, will be given choices between the monsters so that five are chosen, then they will learn to tell a story, incorporating their choice of monsters, to their peers using a call and response approach. It is great fun and the students love it. I’ll give more information in a later post.