Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
People are getting restless. I can feel it on the street when I meet people walking and I can hear it along the freeway where I occasionally walk. Birdsong is again being muted by sounds of traffic. The Government have released their tracking app, and overnight 1 million Australians have downloaded it (as I write this another .9 million have signed up). We are assured by the Minister managing it that we can trust them not to misuse the information. This comes from a man who has been involved in multiple scandals in which he has been exposed as rather “loose with the truth”. We are not well served by politicians. Our Prime Minister has lost the look of a man totally out of his depth and has resumed his default appearance; the smug and oily look of a confidence trickster. He boasted a couple of days ago that the Leader of the Free World had rung to congratulate him on the “job well done in Australia”. Now he has gone very quiet, as the Donald tells people to drink disinfectant and that he finds it “very interesting” that beams of light might offer a cure. You just can’t make these stories up.
The weather is just glorious at the moment. Western Australia and Queensland have eased restrictions and gatherings of ten people are now permitted. Travelling moderate distances away from home is encouraged and people are allowed to picnic in parks. We had our first frost this morning and snow is forecast in the high country by the end of the week.
This usually means cold days and icy winds for us. If our restrictions are eased, it won’t be until the second week in May which will preclude much outside entertainment. We can have a winter “Christmas” feast though and the thought of sharing a turkey and a plum pudding with friends and family makes me feel quite tearful.
The town is full of puppies at the moment and a friend told me that the animals shelters have been completely emptied. The poultry seller at my farmers market says he can’t keep up with the demand for hens. If people discover the joys of animals, gardening and cooking it won’t have been all bad.
But at some point most of us are going to need to meet this virus because we cannot live like this forever.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Today, in the spirit of Peter Scupham’s Christmas Competitions, I built a Book Poem.
Please read from the bottom and note the blanks for verse endings.
John Underwood, Norfolk
“They all fell to acting of Tragedy…”
Nathaniel Wanley in his “Wonders of the Little World” London, 1678 writes in a section on
“unusual Diseases wherewith some have been seized”;
“This world is a kind of great Hospital, wherein is contained a numberless number of miserable creatures, wearied out with a variety of infirmities and diseases… And as the impiety, luxury, and idleness of men hath advanced, in the same manner new diseases have encroached upon us, and those also accompanied with such an unwonted malignity, and such unheard of symptoms as are sufficient to excite the admiration of the Reader”
He then goes on to describe all manner of horribleness, including The Sweating Sickness in England which “seized men with a deadly Sweat all over the body, and together with that a vehement pain and heat in the head and stomach infested them” and he tells that “scarce one of a hundred of the sick recovered”. Wanley enjoyed a good story, and reports an extremely fanciful account of a disease thus:
“First a violent and burning Fever universally seis’d them; Upon the seventh day after they bled at the nose very copiously, or others of them fell into an exceeding sweat; and this was the end of the Fever: But a ridiculous affection was left on their minds; for they all fell to acting of Tragedy; they thundered out Iambicks, loud as they could… so that the City was full of these pale extenuated Actors, crying up and down the Streets: O love thou tyrant over Gods and Men! And such like. The occasion of all was this:.. in the Theatre they had got the cause of their Fever; and these representations remain’d in their minds after their recovery.”
One can only wonder at what equine prancing and whinnying might befall those attendees of the Cheltenham Races a few weeks ago, should that unlikely fever have traveled down the centuries. You sometimes see interviews in newspaper weekend magazines asking the question “If you could travel in time, when in history would you most like to visit or return to?” and the interviewees enthusiastically suggesting that it would be fascinating to return to Tudor times say, or to the time of the great Dinosaurs, or to experience Pepys’ London or some such. I find myself silently shouting at them “are you mad? Just think of the dentistry for starters”, or “oh yes, and become the bottom of a very long food chain” or “have you read Pepys’ account of his operation of being ‘cut for the stone’ and seen engravings of C17th surgery?”
Much of the world is undoubtedly a “kind of great Hospital” at the moment but at least in this country, there is a wonderful health service. Tragically and wilfully under resourced and consequently severely stretched, but there for all of us. Just let them try and flog it to the highest bidder now.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
The Amazing Dumpo
Roll up! Roll up!
With the highest number of cases
in the world, see the amazing Dumpo release
asymptomatic carriers into healthy populations.
Smartest. Move. Ever.
Marvel as he launches words without
a safety net. Best. Words. Ever.
Gasp as they fail to connect with reason.
Fake News! Fake News!
Laugh as the stable genius removes the steering wheel
from the clown car and his passengers cheer.
Watch as the Great Mystifier waves his magic wand
and functioning government disappears.
Be astounded as he squirts Dettol up his nose.
Weep as he celebrates ignorance and guns.
Despair as he disowns responsibility.
Celebrate his mastery of sarcasm.
Vote in November in such numbers
there is simply no way, but out,
for the Best. President. Ever.
Hello from Eastbourne
Fortunata, by Marli Rose Macrae
Over the weekend, daddy and Franklin took the old shed down. While they were doing that, me and mummy went into daddy's office and decorated the spines of his box files with pretty paper. I made labels for them with brown paper and stuck them on. I covered the box for our passports in the same paper. The shelves look much neater and nicer now. All the time we were doing this we could hear smashing and banging as the shed came down. Mummy asked daddy if she could have the shed door. It is covered in ivy. She told me that we could stand it against the wall and pretend it was a door leading into the Secret Garden!
Afterwards, I made rose lemonade. All you need is lemonade, rose water and if you want to add it, a drop of pink or red food colouring. Pour the lemonade into a jug and add the rose water. If you want it very rosey then obviously add more but do keep taste testing it. You can experiment with how pink you want it to be with the food colouring, it can be blush or it can be coral.
Before teatime we had a look on eBay for bunnykins stuff as I wanted a bunnykins plate for my cheese sandwich. I found a plate with two bunnies having a pillow fight and a cross bunny mother with her hands in the air. Then I found something wonderful. A bunnykins figurine of a bunny fortune teller. I don't like ornaments but I loved her. She wears a pink headscarf with holes for her ears, a matching pink dress, dark green cloak and she's holding a crystal ball with one paw and rubbing it with the other. I had been reading an old book mummy bought before we were born called 'A book of enchantments and curses' and one of the characters in it was called Fortunata. I'm calling the fortune telling bunny Fortunata. It means 'lucky one'.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
Well, I never ever thought I'd feel a slight tug at the emotions when our illustrious and fantastic (see earlier post) Prime Minister appeared on my TV this morning. I suppose the feeling was mostly engendered by the hope that UK politics might become amusing again, and thus fall in line with the amazing and superlative Dr Trump's achievements across the pond. No, I haven't ingested or otherwise allowed ingress of Jeyes Fluid into my body, so the insanity might not be permanent. That's the sum total of my political musings this afternoon...
Yesterday, I went for a morning walk. I usually go out in the afternoon, mainly because I am too idle in the mornings, when I'm wont to allow distraction by social media and so on. Later in the day I become guilty and generally sally forth if the weather is good enough. Anyway, my walk yesterday was down towards the seafront in Ryde. I wondered whether I might encounter the strong arm of the law at any time, because they have been questioning many people who risk all by walking down by the sea. Heaven forbid anyone might sit down or otherwise remain motionless for a time - that is not approved! Indeed, I did encounter them twice; firstly, a PCSO who scrutinised me closely from her bike before continuing her journey. She seemed suspicious of me, and if she had known I was going to write about her today, she might have been justified! Why she looked at me as she did, I cannot imagine, unless I look too old for any excursion away from home. Later, having enjoyed a look at the beach and pier, I was walking jauntily homewards when what should I spy, but another PCSO coming my way! As we converged thoughts were rushing through my mind. Would he challenge me, arrest me (PCSOs cannot), or call up the flying squad to deal with this errant oldie? As it happened, he crossed towards my side of the road and asked after my health. I replied that I was very well. At this point, looking at his face I began to realise I had known him in the past through my church work. I think he was ahead of me in the recognition stakes and had known who I was from the start. The uniform had confused me. So, we reminisced and otherwise spoke of our past association in a way that convinced me finally that the worst was not about to happen. Finally we parted, but he, ever on duty, just had to ask whether I was on my exercise session. I'm sure he noted my affirmative reply in his notebook or whatever device he uses to make notes.
Then and Now
“Sunday morning, go for a ride” as the song has it - until the car is turned back and the good little pigs cry ‘wee, wee, wee all the way home”. In the ‘Then’ years, I have no memory of over-protection from the great outdoors at all. In the years 1939-1942 we lived on the outskirts of Derby, a suburban life. So the outdoors was scrabbling about in streets, with go-carts, throwing stones, collecting shrapnel, pushing the salvage cart and collecting paper and the famous aluminium saucepans on their glorious way to becoming Spitfires. Really? I remember a favourite possession of mine was a set of ‘crashing plates’. These metal plates simulated the sound of breaking glass. One went up to a parked car - rare anyway - and saying “Let’s break that car’s windscreen’, threw the plates on the ground, quickly picked them up and hid round the corner. Analogous to my other favourite, a ‘shocking coil’. You held two handles and slowly inserted a plunger into the coil attached to a big battery. You stopped the plunger when the jolting and tickling and trembling became unbearable.
But from 1942 to 1945 we lived in a threadbare village, Harston, five miles out of Cambridge. Before the famous Virus, children seem to have been penned into their houses and gardens by their so-anxious parents. I think Robert Macfarlane analysed graphically in terms of circles the distances children now travel from their homes. Soon, it seems, simply a small circle will be drawn round a centre of electronic gadgetry. Well, the war was fairly busy in East Anglia, but that did not seem to worry my parents. Out after breakfast, no special questions as to where you were going, and be sure to cut the mud off your boots when you came in at teatime. How very grateful I am for those years when push-bikes and shanks’s pony were the order of the day and my friend and I could perch on the gravel extractor, high up, watching the meshed cylinders screening the gravel, stand watching work go on in the village forge - horses then halving farm-work with tractors - even be allowed into the signal box and let pull the right lever at the right moment. An additional pleasure, not known by the signalman, was putting pennies on railway lines for the pleasure of picking them up looking less like pennies than they did before. All the traditional pursuits of conkers, cutting stems for whistles, digging out ploughshares - and the special pleasure of wandering up to the Quarry, used as a rifle-range for the Home Guard and collecting squashed bullet-heads, spent cartridge-cases and clips for cartridges.
My father, then a Corporal in the Home Guard, formerly a Warden in Derby, brought me home a sticky-bomb case, used for affixing to the enemy tanks which never came, and firecrackers, five crackers tied to a string. These were used to simulate the five rounds which could load a rifle. There was simple fishing at the Mill in Hauxton, paddling in the Mill Leat, being given locusts and stick insects by Mr.Ripper of Pest Control, cycling on empty roads round nearby villages and drawing pictures of the inn-signs, making collections of pressed flowers... all this punctuated by such incidents as seeing two planes, Lockheed Lightnings I think, colliding overhead and a parachute floating down a mile or two away. Then I was with my parents on a hillside. I remember my mother haring down the hill after the parachute, but she was beaten by an American U.S.A F. ambulance.
Were we the last generation to enjoy quite such freedoms? My own children were given roaming rights; later generations seem to have led more restricted lives, with adult hands never far away from the children’s. And, of course, the current lockdown seems to have conferred both difficulty in going out freely and also a greater awareness of birdsong, the “million-fuelled bonfire” of the natural world, (That’s Gerard Manley Hopkins), and what a less polluted environment night feel like. I was never very conscious of edicts and restrictions. The actions of some policing activites now seem to share the style of some A.R.P. wardens (Air Raid Precautions), of the time - as so pleasingly exemplified by Bill Pertwee in ‘Dad’s Army’, but I don’t remember much nannying or chivvying. Am I allowed to say ‘Happy Days’ ?
Harston Home Guard. Father front row second from right.
Just an Observation
I have been walking the same field paths every day for the past four weeks. Treading the same familiar route has opened my eyes.
I have found myself fascinated by in the frantic dashes, chases and pairings-off of goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, yellowhammers, blue tits and more.. I am engrossed in the furtive scuttling of blackbirds and amused by their sudden alarm calls. The hedgerows are buzzing and above larks are throwing themselves into song while a lone red kite circles and waits. In a dappled wood edge a deer floats through shadows and the insistent hammering of a woodpecker breaks the stillness. Butterfly life has become seriously busy with urgent flitting from flower to flower and tantalising courtship dances.
Now when I walk each morning, every step has added purpose - the absolute need to see the steady unfolding, to see who's doing what and where and to note new beginnings. Changes are observable - I've watched the wheat grow and trees push into leaf and aconites and cowslips give way to bluebells, cow parsley, dead nettle and campion. I'm beginning to know the woodlands and tree-scapes and the overlapping, rolling contours of hills and distances. This is becoming my own.
I've lived for over 20 years in this corner of north Essex, but never so fully known the Spring - it's taken a crisis to bring it all into sharp focus.
From the Editor
So lockdown is to continue.
A few days ago Peter Davidson mentioned that a survey found that only 9% of the population wanted the world to return to what it was before the pandemic. Unfortunately, I think that the 9% has the power.
A longer lockdown might help to avoid going back to the way things were… can we use aeroplanes less? Can we work from home through technology much more. Can all of us get used to a smaller income? Do we begin to realise that we don’t need so much materially? That we don’t need so much choice in supermarkets, such as fruit out of season (there’s no taste to winter strawberries anyway) that a lot more of us can grow our own or buy seasonally and locally? Can we find a way of curing the divide between rich and poor… will we recognise that the key workers need more appreciation and more pay? Will we recognise that the NHS is a magnificent organisation that needs better management? And care homes: they have become big business over the last twenty years, but in a pandemic their weaknesses become clear. Will families rethink using this facility for elderly relatives?
I know, as a teacher of long ago, that home schooling has been difficult for many families, and a delight for some. I have long been of the opinion that our present education system is more of a social engineering device to keep children occupied, rather than an ideal setting for learning. Will we rethink this?
Will people be cured of celebrity worship having seen how so many of the rich and famous merely hide in their country mansions?
We haven’t heard much of Extinction rebellion lately… how can we ensure that governments take on board the fact that lack of traffic of all sorts has made such a difference to pollution levels? Will we be able to slow or end the destruction of natural habitats for creatures in different parts of the world, restore a better balance with the natural world? And what about Brexit? What will Europe look like when we come out of lockdown. Can the EU survive ? What will happen to our relationship with China now… or to our relationship with the U.S? How will the political situation be changed/modified?
So many questions. I really don’t want to catch this virus and die. I’m fascinated to see what happens next.