From South Oxford
South Oxford, Friday. Passed Tom Paulin at a wholly safe distance of 3.5 metres, he on the tarmac path through the Nature Reserve by the river, I on the grass with the old dog. He heading downstream and home, I heading upstream towards the little coppice and the green lane beside the railway. Gean trees, white wild cherries, in bloom against a pale blue sky. First oxlips, small in the grass, thorn trees in new green leaf. The oddly inconsequential whole-tone chime from Merton Tower, bourne on cool wind from the east. No cars, no air traffic, and strangest of all, no trains. Very few people, family groups and couples, all keeping a very clear distance. A couple of genial young policemen in the green lane, labrador and I moving onto the bank to let them pass. On the football field a father and daughter, playing football with considerable skill. Marlborough Road empty in the sun, like an Edward Hopper or, to be precise, an Algernon Newton.
Stay at home
This morning two novels I had ordered from Amazon arrived. I picked up the brown card packet with my blue protective gloves and placed it in the sunshine on the utility room sill with the window ajar. I posted an image of the basking packet on Instagram asking whether I should place it in quarantine and for how long. The consensus of two of the three followers who responded was 24 hours, so when the weather turns cloudy and cold tomorrow I shall release my books from their isolation and tuck myself under a rug and read.
Chris Gates, Norfolk
Shopping remains difficult though stocks are improving. At the bigger supermarkets there’s huge queues of widely-spaced shoppers outside - and inside loudspeaker announcements reminding you to keep a safe ‘social’ distance from each other. In these uncertain shopping times, I guess we should all be prepared to be open to new ideas...
Now comes unwelcome - but not unexpected - clarity on the ‘you can only leave home for...’ directive: Police say that you cannot use the car to access a place to take your recreational walk, with or without a dog. You must walk to your walk. So, little chance of persuading them that to drive alone to a deserted beach and fish is a reasonable interpretation of recreation - and I don’t feel inclined to risk a £60 fine.
A couple of nights ago brought the opportunity to show collective appreciation of NHS staff (and Volunteers) by clapping or otherwise creating noise at 8pm nationwide. We did our bit, but being so remote fear the gesture may have been was lost in the rippling breeze. It got the guineafowl going though, and they joined in enthusiastically. The PM plus neighbour Rishi were televised outside No 10 clapping away... later that evening the PM was being tested following the emergence of symptoms and news in the morning is that he has indeed got ‘it’, as has the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock and one of the 3 wise men, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
Spain continues to be hard hit - 769 deaths in the past 24 hrs. While penning this I got the latest UK numbers, a terrible running total of 1,019.
I was after Chicken Noodle, but don’t knock it til you’ve tried it...
Thoughts from the Suffolk Coast
Harris Galbraith, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
Beautiful sunshine again today.
Achieved quite a lot. Washed guttering and paintwork, did gardening, did some tidying indoors. Saw the news about Boris Johnson testing positive for the virus but decided again not to watch the public address or the other news programmes. Head in the sand or what?!
Took my daily exercise as a walk across the empty fields down into the village and then home. Saw no one except for a couple with a dog - way off in the distance. Felt glad to be alone.
At the plant stall there was a sign that read ‘plants and plant pots not touched by seller since 12 pm on 26th March’.
Thought of that Bob Dylan song:-
Sign on the window says "lonely, "
Sign on the door said "no company allowed, "
Sign on the street says "you don't own me"
Sign on the porch says "three's a crowd"
Lovely evening. Sister rang and we laughed and laughed. Watched Morse and ate pistachios. Now in bed and listening to Mahler. Food, comfort and music. “That must be what it’s all about”.
Hoping for sunshine again tomorrow.
Rosemary, Rodborough Common
The garden is our sanctuary with dry stone boundary walls that now constitute lifestyle restrictions. Wandering around I realise that the grass urgently needs a hair cut, but then so do I. Large furry bumble bees, along with butterflies, and insects are all busily going about their Springtime tasks.
Male blackbirds are squabbling with one another, and I am taken aback at just how aggressive they can be. Various different tits busily flit around the hedgerows but spending time viewing the nest boxes on offer. 'Jenny' wren is observed scurrying around like a harassed housewife beneath the heathers, whilst the solitary bees fly in and out of their luxury chalet style accommodation.
Saw 'Freddie' the fox this morning, peacefully curled up and snoozing in a corner of the flower bed. He appeared to have a smile on his face as if relishing the warming rays of the morning sun beaming down on him.
By spending time quietly and observing Mother Nature I appreciate even more the intricate and magical gifts that she offers. What a relief it is to know that whilst things have changed so drastically for all of us, she is still busily renewing herself day by day.
The foxes were the first to notice
Celandine and bramble. Disturbed earth. The sound – again.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Once skived and pared paper thin at the edges, the leather for the spine and corners have to be dyed. I tend to undertake more repair and restoration work these days, often recreating a binding from scratch, reusing old materials ( the boards, the cloth covering). The manuscript Journal that I have described in previous entries is one such. The original book has been completely disbound, the old coverings stripped from the book, the pages resewn, and the boards reattached, and the book prepared for leather. The thin pieces of leather are at present a pale flesh colour “ Fair calf” in bookbinding terms. They need to be dyed to a suitable tan/ brown to compliment the cloth covers for the board. I have stolen an old baking tin from the cooker. Into this I pour methylated spirit, which will fix the dye. I pour in a capful of a couple of different shades of liquid dye and mix, but deliberately not thoroughly. I am trying to create an aged, uneven finish in the leather, and a uniform colour looks…..modern. The dye tends to stain my finger ends. It is difficult to work with plastic gloves on sometimes, and my fingers end up dyed a light tan colour. I had a heart procedure years ago, and in the initial stages, the doctor was asking some lifestyle questions. Drinking? Yes moderately. Smoking? The occasional roll-up. I could see the doctor looking sceptical, and staring at my finger ends - which were dark tan stained like a very heavy smoker’s might have been. It took a while to convince him, “no, no, I have been dyeing leather …really.”
Leather will degrade over time. It dries out, it rots, boards come away from the text block. Sometimes it can be retrieved, but often one has to accept that the leather is beyond restoration. It might have already lasted three hundred years, so a decision to repair or replace has to be taken with care. Usually I will try to save what can be saved. I might completely rebind a book in new leather using the original rather uneven boards and then lay the original leather on to the new leather covers, dyeing the spine to match. The leather, old and new might require sanding back in order to achieve a uniform, aged look.
Throwing away what needs to be thrown away, and keeping , patching and preserving what is valuable seems to be most pertinent in these times. What should we choose to discard when this crisis passes? What will we discover to have been essential to preserve?
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Norway
I read an article in the Daily Mail, my secret bathroom vice, about a nurse who was required to write a will before looking after Corona patients. I felt befuddled after perusing the headline. Doesn’t everyone write a will on reaching the age of majority?
The two events we have absolutely no control over is the accident of place and time of our birth and that of our passing. The vast majority plan parties for baptisms, confirmations, hen and stag nights, weddings, key birthdays and graduations. Most shudder at the thought of funerals and memorials. It always happens to someone else. This procrastination leaves the last hurrah in the hands of either children and partners crazed with grief, stepchildren overcome with joy or well meaning friends who have better things to worry about. We are in need of Goodbye Planners.
I have pondered for some time about being buried on the island of Lepsøy, where we have a summer home, in a plot by the Norwegian Sea. One can hear the waves and the sound of the children playing on the beach next to the cemetery. I prefer not to be preserved in formaldehyde and have always appreciated the Muslim tradition of family members washing and dressing the body and burying it before sunset. However, I can’t imagine anyone in my lovely family offering to do that. I was a cradle Catholic and in the daze after my mother’s passing 23 years ago in Singapore, sat through three sleepless nights at the wake in our home. Being an only child and divorced, I was the Lone Ranger in the early hours before dawn. I’ve never forgotten the kindness of a friend, a gynaecologist, who sat with me from 8 pm till 6 am the next morning, when he left for work. I loved mummy but became a fan of InstaFunerals after that ordeal.
A van from the Raffles Hotel rocked up on the second day, and out came the most delicious canapés and cocktails for all the mourners. An outrageously fabulous gift from another friend. A defining feature of born and bred Singaporeans is our obsession with good food. We are competitive and think we have the best airport, the safest city, the highest standard of living in Asia, best airline and are galloping towards being the country with the highest rate of diabetes in the world.
Father Choo, the middle-aged priest from our parish, sped through mummy’s funeral like he had to catch a train. His only comment to me was that my mother had been so disappointed that I had stopped going to church. I believe in God but was taken aback at the speed at which he dispatched her into the flames. Wicker coffins aren’t the vogue in my little corner of Norway but I would easily fit into a large cardboard box covered with masses of antique green and burgundy hydrangeas. Said blooms requires one to die in the autumn though. I look forward to all the flags flying at half-mast and traffic stopping as I’m trundled past, as is custom in Norway, with the church bells pealing for an extraordinarily long time. A Viking princess for a day. I regret the days long gone when the funeral byre in a longship was buried with all the possessions required in the next life. Except I wouldn’t have allowed my horses to join me. I‘d adopt the Hollywood version: flaming arrows shot into Viking ship carrying Viking queen. Sans horses.
I have a little fund set aside for an afterparty with my favourite food, enormous cheese platters, sticky toffee pudding, apple crumble and cheese cake accompanied by copious amounts of whisky. No teary speeches or an even drearier slideshow of selfies from infancy to old age, just drunken toasts to a background of my chosen playlist. Debo, Duchess of Devonshire thought Elvis was the best singer that ever lived. I much prefer a selection of my pedestrian muzak ranging from Dionne Warwick, Dianne Ross and the Supremes, Bill Withers “Lovely Day,” the Bee Gees and Queen interspersed with some classical Maria Callas, Thomas Tallis and Carnatic music from Subbulakshmi to redeem my reputation.
‘Tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him.
Wherever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone.