Behind the Red Door

LS, West Sussex


On Thursday we collected about half the number of blood units we would normally. 

Extra triaging, keeping the donors apart and fewer staff meant that was unavoidable. 

The donors were wonderful, stoically waiting outside which was very cold after the sun went down, all obeying the 6m rule. I had forgotten about the planned NHS applause and when at 8pm they all stood, cheering and clapping, it caught me by surprise and I cried.   


First proper shop yesterday. Thought I’d try Waitrose and bowled up about 3pm and found it incredibly organised and calm. Once inside whilst most people kept their distance some seemed oblivious. I’m sure my face probably gave away the fact that internally I was shouting “remember the broom handle” but I managed to zip it! I found nearly everything I needed except yeast, so I’ve decided to have a go at a sour dough starter instead. One positive to maybe come out of all this is a renewed interest in home cooking and I’m enjoying Jamie Oliver and Masterchef, Jamie being very canny adapting to a change of lifestyle. Saw a piece about folks turning their gardens into veg plots as they’re worried about finding fresh produce later, I don’t think I’m going down that route, (although I usually grow some runners and courgettes), hope I don’t regret it.   


I wonder how long the lockdown regime will take to affect the infection rate? I’m trying not to look at the news and social media too much as it makes me feel quite anxious. One thing that caught my attention was a piece on the BBC news app about Ibuprofen, although I think it needs more research. There is a lot of fake stuff out there though.   


My 6 week old grandson has developed a horrible cough and cold, distressing especially in this present climate, my daughter managed to get our GP to call her and he was reassuring. I long to give him a cuddle, it makes me tearful even writing that.   


Planting up dahlias today and going to try to finish cutting back, I’ll probably have to water all the pots too. And sod it, I’m going to treat myself to a very expensive pot I’ve been lusting over from Whichford pottery. It’s probably a bit too big to sneak in without M noticing though. Hopefully in the next few weeks going to crack on with some more mosaicing, and maybe try to finish a still life that’s been on the easel far too long.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just


No sign of the human virus, so far, but poor Smokey has been very wheezy & unwilling to eat - & today was granted a WhatsApp vet consultation, promptly followed by a dash into Penzance to get her a variety of injections before early closing. The drill was to phone reception from the car, deposit Smokey in her basket on a chair outside the door and retreat to a safe distance; the receptionist then slipped out to retrieve Smokey, basket and all. Various people came and went in their cars, phoned in, and collected medicines from the chair. After a while the vet came & smilingly shouted decisions and instructions at me through a single glazed side-window; I smilingly shouted back thanks. Smokey reappeared on the chair; I retrieved her and stowed her in the car. It felt like a slightly batty relay race - particularly when my credit card receipts were offered up to the chair, & I had to wait at 2.5 metres distance till the receptionist had closed the door, then sprint for them before the wind took them off.  


Smokey went straight for her food bowl on return, & is now sitting up and washing, so the early signs are good.


All Day Exercise

David AP Thomas, North Yorkshire


Yesterday in the garden. Well, It's more like a back-yard, but it has two, rather old cordon apple trees. They are very knarley and, at the moment, leaf free. I spent the morning drawing them; very quiet, cold and the air was so clear that you could make out every rock on the crag. At one point a long-tail tit landed in one of the trees. It didn't notice me and hopped about, clearing up thrips and greenfly. I don't find this isolation a problem; it's comforting in some way as it gives me an excuse to withdraw from the world, solitude being something I've often craved, but I have always felt perverse. It has now become acceptable, in fact desirable. Then off to my studio by bicycle. Today is Saturday. For years we have kept, totally unnecessarily, to a five day, 10 till 6 week. It's an imaginary structure.


We got this! This could be cool!

t, Rural Norfolk


What day is it? My mother in law used to ask me that, because without a working life, her weekdays and weekends had no particular boundaries, and she missed that ‘Friday feeling’ of looking forward to the weekend. I am beginning to understand how she felt. Early today the wonderful man working with me on my new website (Yup, stupidest time ever to be launching myself online), called to discuss a technical issue. I don’t think either of us had registered the weekend.  


Working from home the school calendar has, until now, dictated my timetable. It is oddly sad that over a decade of school came to an end in a stilted damp squib of a shutdown. Sixth form closed two days before schools, and that was that. I think we will have a big celebration one day when it sinks in, there may even be party poppers. We had both had enough of the school system.  


The pantry and freezer continue to keep us amply fed, it has after all only been 4 days! Why do I have the urge to go and shop already?! I usually only do one big monthly shop and top up at local stores for fresh goods. Both our local farm shops seem to be ticking over so it must be some primal need in a crisis to go hunt and provide for my baby. Said baby would actually be very happy to live on steak, and strawberry protein shakes.   

There seems to be a rash of home growing advice on the socials, I’m ignoring that. We have a large patch which, aside of a small front courtyard which I find manageable, is an enigma to me. Our most successful plants are ground elder and bramble. One large ‘border’ in particular, has me baffled; how do you dig out the blackthorn and bramble if there are lovely spring bulbs growing through it all?! So I enjoy the bulbs, and try to ignore the rest. The idea of growing anything remotely edible is beyond me. The rabbits will break through from the warren next door soon and I’d just be feeding their babies. And I really, really don’t like rabbits. I mean scream when confronted with one on the lawn, dislike. Last year a baby one took up residence in the big border, and I was frequently seen running the short commute to my garden studio yelling and waving a broomstick. (To scare the rabbit, I mean, it’s not my mode of travel!) Maybe the rabbits will be on lockdown too.  


I notice the clocks go forward later. Does that mean one less hour of lockdown, or will they tack it on the end?



Steven O'Brien, Worthing


Enforced hermitry sends me to the garden. Yet while my neighbours are busying themselves, as all good suburban husbands do, with cutting the grass and weeding, I am instead mesmerised. I go to take the lawnmower from the shed but spend ten minutes looking at the robin ducking on the branches of the wisteria. I take up my secateurs and hold them loosely. There is white blossom by the fence. I hear my grandmother remind me from her grave that you must never take the colour of death into the house. Under the pergola there is a tree stump, I see a face in the twisted bark. Wandering back to the back door I am overwhelmed with pareidolia. It is as if I am in an Arthur Rackham drawing. There are expressions everywhere, in the crease of the tea towels, the weather-beaten grimace of the rockery stones and the sly glint of the door handle. Gnomic, canny faces, watching.


On the Quiet

Stephen, Midhurst, West Sussex


A picture I started painting at my regular art class just before everything closed down, on the theme of ‘winter to spring’. Now it seems to have some kind of resonance to today? All the flowers/blossom are from our garden. Let’s all spring out of this winter.


Then and Now

Peter Scupham


I saw the sunlit vale, and the pastoral fairy-tale,

The sweet and bitter scent of the may drifted by,

And never have I seen such a bright bewildering green,

But it looked like a lie,

Like a kindly meant lie.


We create the landscapes we look at; landscape is a shape-changer, withdrawing and approaching as our emotional and intellectual life shifts and changes. So, Edmund Blunden, the “harmless young shepherd in a soldier’s coat”, most pastoral of his contemporary poets, saw the French landscape in the Great War. I was six and a half  in 1939, and the day war was declared was helping lug a case up the path of our semi on the edge of Derby after our summer holiday.  The barrage-balloons flocked the sky, tethered over the city. Two remarks stay with me from my contemporaries’ memories of that time: how everything, from the door knobs to the tins in the larder, the beetles climbing the grass to the sunlight on a window pane became part of the other, part of that most mysterious word ‘war’.  And someone said that when war came, the sky suddenly became a huge hawk silently hovering overhead.   Now, as we move carefully over the grass, watching MacNeice’s sunlight on the garden, or consider a short excursion to nowhere, I can hear the invisible siren moan its warning. As we wipe stuff down, take care, I remember, ironically, the posters which turned butterfly into ‘butterfly-bomb’, that device which spread little wings as it lay in the grass waiting for the incautious inquisitive to pick it up and take a short trip into the next world, or oblivion.

At that stage of the war, too, we were all haunted by the invisible, the rumour, the possibility. Perhaps my early equivalent of social-distancing and self-isolation is the image of myself sitting with others on a long bench wearing our gas-masks, flubbering and snoring away as our eyes misted over with trapped breath. The air we breathed could suddenly become unsafe: I think Liddell Hart told the government 250,000 gas casualties could be expected in London during the first week of war . . .  As now,  fact, and supposition play hide and seek with each other.

And, as the war dragged on, so the changed landscape grew into its own normality: the street littered with shrapnel, the field with skylarks chinking over trees dangling with ’window’, aluminium strips dropped to fool raiders.  As I wrote:-

Under the magic apple-tree

Lie tracer and incendiary.


Perhaps, today, it is not ‘careless talk costs lives’, but ‘careless walk costs lives’. At least my parents had the sense to put the incendiary bomb I brought home in my bike-basket into a bucket of water and the service revolver (loaded) our mad neighbour gave me went straight to the police. William Brown’s playtime spoiled by adult interference, as usual !


The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin


Kwadbak and Ownes (Quadbike and Stones) 

It’s been a week since we arrived in our hideaway in the hills.
You are currently sleeping, your lunch time nap taking you to a dreamland far away.
At one and half you’ve been on 6 protests, for Europe, against our government, for the earth and now you are experiencing a plague. But you take it all in your stride, you know no different and your moment by moment living is inspiring.


You’ve blossomed in the countryside and like nothing more than throwing stones in the stream or stomping in the mud. You’ve turned into a walker like your parents and I’m glad to have brought you here where your toddle can develop in the hills behind the house.


We have kept our vow on leaving London and have not ventured to the small town near where we live, we have stuck to the house and surrounding valley, taking our exercise where only the wild horses tread. 


We have encountered five people in the seven days we have been here; a fell runner reached the peak before we did and we were able to give her a socially distant wave as she touched the cairn at the top before running back down again; two neighbours who live in the same valley who, did not eye us with the suspicion we expected, but who were smiling and welcoming and invited us to call on them should we need to; one dog walker who kept her distance and sadly so did the dog despite your best efforts to try to pet it; and a farmer whose quadbike became your most desired thing. 


How strange to only see five people in a week.


The three of us are developing our own language, instigated by you and I fear, that when/ if we leave here, we will only be able to communicate in toddler speak. The fear of not participating in the world is very real. For my work I have specialised in making theatre in communities, bringing people together through stories, rituals and experiences to create shared experiences. And here I am hiding out in the countryside. I feel redundant and at a loss as to how to help.


On Thursday we clapped for the NHS, your dad and I, we stood out on the patio and clapped to the surrounding valley, we only heard the stream babbling in response and saw the stars twinkling and we felt so far from the chaos and catastrophe that is engulfing the world. You slept on, probably dreaming of quad bikes.  

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