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At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

Our friend Sheri died yesterday. It was a quick death and a peaceful death. But what happens now is just as complicated by the virus as her last couple of days were. The funeral will be conduced on zoom. No-one is allowed to be with the immediate family at the graveside. One member of the community is plotting to be at the cemetery anyway, at a distance, in hope of having her distant presence be some consolation and help. B. wants to go to the cemetery too. I have great sympathy for B. and the friend’s perspective, but also great sympathy for the Rabbi conducting the funeral, She lives in Vermont’s largest city, where there are more cases than here in the country. And what we all know of course, is if they say there are say a hundred cases, that only means the people sick enough and able to get tested. It’s still not easy to get tested. And in this case the number of infected where she lives is about 450 which means there must be several thousand cases locally at least. I think the Rabbi is brave to be conducting services at all.   


In the meantime there’s an even deeper wash of sadness over everything. And that is the point.  


Last night B and I distracted ourselves by watching several episodes of West Wing. We’re watching the entire series for perhaps the second or third time. The first time was to get us through the Bush era. At that time we never imagined the level of incompetence and ignorance and corruption possible in the U.S. The day before yesterday, after hearing our president suggest that people be treated with disinfectant, our neighbor suggested that we should go to the hardware store and buy bug spray. Surely that would work? If we get the virus we just need to spray our throats and we’ll be cured of this beastly bug.


The Heart of Cornwall

The Heart of Cornwall - Tristan, Truro, Cornwall

I haven’t written an entry for ages and today’s attempt is a bit of a ramble. At the start of this whole situation I had a romantic notion that lockdown would make for a quieter simpler life. However working from home & home schooling & trying to get on with my own printing have all collided in a claustrophobic crescendo! I normally strive to keep work at work (where possible) and this separation allows me to pursue my printmaking practice in peace at home. But now it feels like there is no escape from work or jobs at home or entertaining our children and it can all get a little overwhelming! I have the insidious and creeping feeling that I should be doing something else all of the time and it is very difficult to get any headspace. On the plus side my ‘Hope’ print raised £1000 for the NHS and I received so many lovely messages about its recipients, often very moving, they have been sent to Friends who work in care or for the NHS as well as elderly relatives and it was amazing that people from all over the world were happy to support our NHS. So all in all, it was a good venture, if not in the short term a little demanding! 

However with recent news about care homes my anxiety for my Grandmothers safety grows (In my immediate family she is my absolute favourite person and at 94 is an amazing conversationalist), however too frail to live independently she now lives in a care home and although I write her cards regularly, I am missing our chats which can’t happen over the telephone as she relies on lip reading. I know she will be so proud of the money I raised. She nursed pre the NHS at St George’s Hospital on Hyde Park corner and travelled the world as a young woman. I have given a print to every single carer at her care home to thank them for their work, they are always so kind. I hope that the care givers in our communities get a better deal once this is all over, it’s hard to imagine a more valuable and often demanding job, but we shall see. It’s a strange culture that values so little the care we would all be so thankful to receive.


My Grandmother Patricia with my grandfather, they would be 18 years old approximately which would make the date about 1944 - they were at a party when it was taken unbeknownst to them, taken on an extremely early version of a Kodak camera. It is the most lovely candid portrait of them both at a time which must have so often been quite daunting and uncertain. 


Isolating in Great Chishill

Angela Mary Patrick, Cambs

Reading the Sunday Observer this morning there was an article about lockdown logs which I found interesting, especially as I know that I’ve contributed to this one. People are reported at the start of the lockdown as being calm, hopeful and grateful during the first couple of weeks happy to have some peace and down time, recently however, the words being used are worried , frustrated and bored.


We are among the group of vulnerables both being over 70 and my husband has underlying health problems. The main challenge for us has been getting shopping, negotiating Tesco during the special time was not a pleasant experience that I have no wish to repeat. I’m the one who goes down to the village shop and gets the necessary supplies, our community is very grateful to the owners and the staff for being there providing all the basic necessities to keep us going. Some neighbours also offer to put a few items on their supermarket delivery for which we are grateful, I’ve tried to book a slot but when I look there aren’t any!

Two weeks ago after receiving a gift of fresh rhubarb from my neighbour, I made some rhubarb chutney which has been a success but we have to wait a month before it’s okay to taste. Needless to say a few of the jars will be given to those special people around here. The kitchen has been well used making all sorts of culinary delights that I don’t usually have time for, I understand that banana bread has been one of the most popular lockdown recipes, I’ve been making that too.

The second challenge is not seeing family and friends and having all of our social plans cancelled. Like many others we use the internet to have virtual face time conversations which keep us in touch. I sometimes pop in to see a friend who has had her cancer treatment stopped, we have been sitting 6 feet apart and chatting in her garden over a drink or two. She is being very positive and brave but the future doesn’t look good, We do have a pleasant time though sitting in the glorious sun, enjoying a bit of gossip, she can’t go anywhere, her husband in his 80s is looking after her very well.


One of the things about being in lockdown means that when things breakdown or don’t work we are left trying to figure stuff out for ourselves, this week we have had to clean the pond that is still very green and then the pump wouldn’t come back on so it’s taken a while to take everything apart and put it back together, well, we actually managed to get it working again. Next job is to replace the uv light in the filter, a bit difficult when nowhere is open, another challenge to order the correct one on the Internet.


We have been keeping fit, swimming, cycling, walking and gardening, we are so very blessed living here in our countryside village.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Finally, one lovely sunny day in the garden spent happily raking, mulching and digging ~ with so many plants coming up ~ snakes head fritillaries, various primroses, and all the alliums to come all budded up! Today, thankfully, it has rained all day so I can recuperate from my aches and pains. I found the courage to sit down and pick up my gravers and revisit an engraving for a new book I’ve been working on off and on, and oh, it does feel good to be at it again.  


Muddy dog paw prints all over the house and the week ahead looks like more rain and possibly snow ~ oh, poor little flowers!

For the record, as an American,  the comments that come out of Trump’s mouth astound and distress me terribly ~ sometimes I laugh in disbelief ~ ‘We are King of the Ventilators'? He reminds me of a childish bully in the playground ~ but it is so far from funny and there are many Americans who must agree with him, which distresses me even more. I am so hopeful something good will come from all of this.


A new week and how they seem to fly by.


Tropical Thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia



Imposing, strident, the alarm repeats its siren song

That something’s awry; the house is empty

The owners long gone to seek sanctuary

Over the borders of uncertainty 

Where garishly final lights blaze and shake

Defiant fists at the gathering storm.

The piercing refrain, insistent, and shrill

Drills into the brain until I can bear it

No more. On the horizon brief flickers, 

Precursors of deep throated roars announce

The horsemen are on their way, riding steeds

Of darkness across the brightest of days.


The rain washes in, dust settles, until

Silence descends; all is gracefully still.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

It seems odd that it’s been just 6 weeks since we listened with increasing foreboding to Boris Johnson’s initial address as we came back from Aldeburgh. That was a week after the first reported UK virus death.


So much has happened since that we couldn’t have anticipated, including an uncomfortable 3 week spell off duty for BJ himself and the terrible passing of the 20,000 UK hospital deaths marked this weekend. Now we hear he’s back at No10, delivered in a plain van, the Press snatching just the most contrived brief long-lens glimpse of a blonde tousled head through the railings at a back entrance.


And sure enough, early this morning he’s there on the steps in the sunshine, ebullient as ever delivering a lengthy and impassioned speech in a Statesmanlike manner that puts his Cabinet colleagues in the shade. According to some, he wasn’t chosen by his Party for his diligence but because he’s the best communicator - and despite his attachment to the Churchillian maxim that “Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Too many points to remember or report, other than that with our help and patience we can “start up the vast engines of the UK economy”. Oddly, I don’t recall any mention of the part a vaccination programme will play in all this.


While paying full and due respect to those so cruelly affected, I find it doesn’t do to dwell too much on the gloom, and in our neck of the woods we’ve coped well with containment and developed cheerful strategies to keep ourselves occupied despite what goes on beyond. A simple walk down the lane to visit our furthest neighbours to collect plants brought a coffee and chat, socially responsibly apart, then conversations over garden gates and more plants  with four other households on the way back, all more eager to converse rather than the ‘wave and casual greeting’ we’d usually exchange on our way past. I even got a copy of the local paper, tucked in a hedge for me. All are well, I’m pleased to report.


I think I’m generally cheerful. I refuse to let anything worry me. I take things seriously, of course I do, but I refuse to let them get me down. I have a Mantra, I’ve been like this for the last 35 years - can pinpoint an exact moment when I declared the new policy to myself following a spot of bother - but it may anyway be easier when you pass 70, a degree of gallows humour inevitably follows you... as in “should you really be planting trees?” or “don’t get a dog - who’ll look after it when you’re dead” or even  “that’s a fat old book for someone your age to be starting”. If you took notice of any of that you’d never do anything, except follow the latest life-expectancy tables to see if anything’s changed, a bit like following Shares. Anyway, having recently sought a bit of financial advice, I know what mine is, pre-Corona: 19 years.

So, over the weekend I was hosting - at a safe distance - a casual visit from a neighbour and his two young daughters, 7 and 8. At my invitation they’d had a bit of an adventure in outlying parts and tracked me down to the polytunnel, toying with my scaffold boards and pegs, and bags of compost, making a long raised bed for salad stuff and cues, but mainly tomatoes. I grow a lot of tomatoes.

“I like your house,” said the youngest, “will you sell it to us?” 

“Sure,” I said “but wait a bit, you can have it when I’m dead.”

“When’s that then?” she said, smart as a whip.


Installing the most elaborate tomato raised bed yet in the polytunnel (I reckon 5 or 6 years before the boards rot) might seem wildly fate-tempting, inter-Corona - and now I’ve compounded risk with the most elaborate raised pumpkin bed yet as well. Yesterday I collected my pumpkin plant. Each year some of us here in Burlingham Cottage Gardeners have a light-hearted pumpkin competition, and now I have my official competition-issue seedling. We all fully expect to meet in September or October for the weigh-in and the Grim Reaper can bloody well wait.



Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

The weather here has been as nice as it can be,

Although it doesn’t really matter much to me,

For all the fun I’ll have ...


There have been some miserable moments this week just gone:

The news. It just seems awful and more awful all the time. Twenty thousand deaths. Unimaginable.


The daily public address from the government (which I only watch every few days and never in full). On the day I watched - there was a particularly insincere and cold person speaking - disdain and arrogance seemed to ooze out with her every word. Oh her performance was polished and she spoke the rehearsed lines about the need to stay at home. I would trust her about as much as I’d trust a rattlesnake. 


I also saw around ten minutes of a late evening documentary about life in an American women’s prison. All the inmates were “lifers” - but not on “death row”.  In fact, when asked when her sentence would end - one said almost casually “Never. I’m here until I die”. I was struck by the vastness of the prison, the sunshine, the ease of movement and openness, and although one woman was clearly distressed (and protesting her innocence), there seemed to be a sense of resignation and general calmness.


Lockdown is of course not like prison. But sometimes I get a renewed realisation that we are all under control. Am I calm and resigned to this? Do I trust the commandants of this situation? Well, the people who are doing the controlling would not all be my choice for prison guards. 


To cheer myself this week I’m going to:

• Have a picnic one afternoon - perhaps in the summer house

• Phone and write to the people I love ...

• Avoid the television and radio at news times ...

• Walk my dogs and wave and smile at my neighbours ...


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

Two days ago I decided I must take myself in hand. After several bruising encounters with aggressive youngsters in the Great World Outside, I plotted a route which promised fewer encounters and wider vistas, the better to avoid others.


It was heaven. I jogged up to the golf course through a nave of tall green trees, then walked up over the sward until I reached the woods at the top, full of bluebells, freshly cut wood and dappled light. After jogging down and home again I felt I had turned a corner, and could start to find my feet in my new situation.


Life is full of corners to be turned.



From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

Keeping Perspective    

Passing the death toll of 20,000 in the UK is an awful statistic and can make one fearful of what is going on and what is to come. Boris is back in charge today and is sounding upbeat about progress against covid-19 but also clear that we have to stay home for the time being.


I’ve been trying to see the big picture and to keep some perspective on what’s happening around the world. New Zealand is in the fortunate position of being isolated and far from anywhere so closing borders early and keeping up contact tracing has contained the virus. Singapore thought they were doing well but are now seeing a large second spike of disease. 


There have now been over three million cases of covid-19 around the world and over 200,000 deaths but consider this against other medical conditions: Malaria kills about two million each year, mostly children and TB kills over 1.5 million. Diabetes kills 1.6 million and dementia another two million. Tobacco kills eight million each year!


We are told (ad nauseam) that the government is following “the science” but since this is a new virus the science is lacking in so many respects. We know what it looks like but not what its weaknesses are. The situation isn’t helped by some world leaders who have no concept of scientific principles and continue to make fatuous statements! We do need to rely on evolving scientific knowledge, both biological and behavioural, but the skill is in weighing the evidence to decide how well we eventually surface from this disease.


I’ll feel better tomorrow.

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