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Day to Day

Mick Manning, Northumberland

Days go by at the moment in a routine: breakfast, followed by work out with Joe (our boys and Brita) while I walk the Lurcher-girls. After that: coffee, homework for the boys and either gardening or illustration or painting work for us. Like many others I have been selling some smaller works via the social media hashtag artistsupportpledge. This clever hard-times initiative encourages artists to sell work for a maximum of 200 pounds/dollars, and then if they reach 1000 they pledge to buy another artist’s work. I have made some whimsical ‘owl messenger artworks using painting with collaged envelopes. Most of them have thankfully sold. My own favourite is a very serene Barn Owl delivering a 19th century envelope addressed to a Miss Bennet which I have called Mr Darcy’s Letter. Escapism? Yes, of course it is.



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Navigating The Distance

For: PW


Sun cuts in low.

Light slices into my eyes.

Cap on I bend my head,

tap the keys and write.


Inner space is daunting,

a myriad of maps to consult,

so many plausible journeys to take.


Words are my compass

pointing me to true north,

venturing into the boundless white,

characters like footsteps inching outwards,

returning to the margin,

setting out again to the beat of a different heart.

“What did you do in the pandemic, daddy?”

“I stayed put, wrote poetry and socially distanced

myself from the grave,” I replied.

Compared to an intubation tube

that sentence is as of nothing, non-medicinal,

not worth a jot alongside attempts to flatten the curve.


But the production of words 

is what I do and I am fortunate

in this time of plague

to reach across time and space and experience

entanglement with you on the infinite potential

of this once blank page, our bodies safely distanced,

our minds conjoined in the plump potential of this full stop.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Awake at 05.25 to the unmistakable deep drone of a Hornet in the bedroom. Well, I say unmistakeable - in my woosiness I admit my first uncharitable thought was that my dear wife had developed an interesting variation on night-time breathing, but looking across to the window showed the real culprit - a Hornet and a big’un too. I’m not particularly spooked by Hornets, a casual view I’d probably revisit if I were ever stung by one, but I haven’t and we see them often. I was once investigated by one, out in the garden. It flew past, came back to within about 3 feet and hovered, looked me up and down and flew off... 

Anyway, I went over to this one, opened the window, coaxed it onto the birdwatching book left there and offered it to the open air. It seemed to hesitate, sniffing, before taking off and away into the garden. 


Getting back to sleep wasn’t easy, and I found myself listening to early morning ‘Wake up to Money’, (Radio5), where an exec of a medium sized company was explaining how they’d modified some production to supply sanitiser bottles from normal bottles, but other aspects, gift boxes, the sort of thing used by high-end chocolatiers, were pretty much business as usual. I was mildly reassured that there’s still a market, that luxury chocs and gifts still needed boxes. Then a mention of the ‘B word’ - it turns out much of their preparation for Brexit had put useful strategies in place for trade in the Time of Plague. 

Two announcements from Min of Health yesterday: 

1) a £60,000 payment to the families of any NHS or Health Care sector worker dying from Coronavirus in the line of duty (brings with it the spectre of argument first seen when Hancock wriggled over death numbers early on, saying “ we’re not sure where they contracted it” - and there were ‘only’ 16 then, there’s over 100 now) 

2) that in order to encourage normal working and normal admittances - ie not Corona-related - at traditional hospitals, they’re considering segregation, making the Nightingale hospitals the UK’s ‘Corona Hospitals’. Attendance at conventional hospital A&E is down from 400,000 to 200,000 per week thought to be due in part to a reluctance to ‘bother’ staff while they’re busy with Coronavirus cases, or possibly because of a nervousness about attending amid the Corona infection.

Yet at the same time there’s anecdotal evidence of shortage of staff needed to make Nightingales fully functional and in one (London) case, even a refusal to accept the transfer of 14 Corona patients from a ‘normal’ hospital because Staff weren’t available on site and there were none spare to travel with them. What to believe, what to believe?


News yesterday of one patient successfully ‘brought back’ from 21 days ventilation perhaps highlights just how effective labour and equipment intensive treatment can be.


Cooler and inclined to drizzle here today in the UK’s driest county. Good weather for planting-out, and I’ve another lockdown project on the go, a bed of free-form box topiary, ‘cloud topiary’ I believe it’s called - so that’s what I’m up to, pottering on, keeping out of trouble. There’s a lot to commend it.

Over lunch I’ve just watched BBC’s ‘Panorama’ broadcast last night. My relatively light-hearted ramblings above stand, but I must add this for today’s record:


If the Panorama report is to be believed, the lack of PPE adding to the danger the NHS and Health Care face, every day, stems from a miserable catalogue of ineptitude and obfuscation, not least the deliberate ‘downgrading’ of Coronavirus treatment from “high consequence” requiring full respirator mask, visor, gown and gloves in January to a low risk requiring only a fabric mask, goggles, apron and gloves in March. 

This was a Ministry directive, taken with “the best scientific advice” and is now widely seen to be pragmatic due to lack of kit rather than true evaluation of risk. More a question of ‘making do’, not ‘keeping our NHS safe’.


There was no stockpile. No competence. No chance of avoiding the deaths in the NHS and Health Care. This emergency may be unprecedented, but it was not unexpected. Just ignored.

An absolute disgrace, and casts doubt on everything issuing from Matt Hancock and his Scientists. There must be a fully transparent investigation into this one day to discover the truth.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I do wonder how teachers will cope with the hugely variable gaps in their pupils learning when they finally get back into school.

Thinking of the youngest children in particular.

There are parents who will have gone above and beyond to make sure their children have exceeded their learning objectives.

Then there are those who will have worked hard to make sure their children have kept up with their lessons.

Others will have decided that their children should spend this strange time doing whatever makes them happy, for the good of their mental health. They can catch up with their school work later?

Another group of parents are the ones who struggled in school themselves and are finding it really difficult to teach their own children no matter how hard they try.

Added to this are the problems of working from home and home-schooling at the same time.

Some parents will be in a much better position to do this than others. Some families have limited access to outside space. Some families are having to cope 24 hours a day with a child with SEND, such as autism or ADHD.

Imagine a three year Key Stage 1 class of 30 5-7 year olds on their return to school. Their teacher will have to work out the gaps in each child's learning and try to fill those as well as extending those children who are ahead. This is a challenge at the best of times but will be so much more so now. To date the department for education has not issued any changes to the objectives or expectations for each child.

Who will be blamed if these are not met?


Bristol Calling

Simon Davies, Bristol

Returning across the Suspension Bridge from one of our daily walks, I noticed an inscription on the west tower “suspensa vix via fit”. My sixty year old “O Level” Latin was not up to the job and nor initially was Google which gave the translation as “The road becomes barely suspended”. However, when connecting the inscription to the bridge it provides “a suspended way made with difficulty”, which from what I have learned from the internet seems to have been the case. 


One of the earliest proponents of a bridge across the Avon was by the engineer Sarah Guppy who used to live in the house next but one to our flat. In 1811 she patented a method of ”erecting and constructing bridges and railroads without arches or sterlings, whereby the danger of being washed away by flood is avoided”. The method employed a chain suspended bridge.


In 1829 there was a competition for the bridge design for which there were twenty two entries, four of them by Isambard Brunel. There was an initial selection but the engineer, Thomas Telford, rejected the remaining entries on the grounds that no bridge could cross the gorge with a single span. 

A second competition was held and Brunel again submitted a design which did not win. However, he managed to persuade the judges that they had made a mistake and that they should accept his entry. Work started in 1831.


At this time Bristol was striving to get a fairer representation in Parliament but the Second Reform Bill which would have provided this was rejected by the House of Lords. This resulted in riots in Bristol which shook the confidence of investors so that construction ceased. It started again in 1836 but the contractors then went bankrupt. The towers remained with no bridge between them although it was possible to pass between the two in a basket.

Brunel died in 1859 and new funds were raised in order to complete the bridge as a memorial to him. Work restarted in 1862 to a revised design by William Barlow and John Hawkshaw and was completed in 1864. Hardly smooth progress.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

In my notes a few weeks ago I talked about the board’s recognition that communication with staff was a key element of managing the business through this crisis. We are now moving from written to video communications, and the board have decided that a reassuring message from the FD would cheer everyone up. We opened up an online questionnaire ten days ago and this has given me some questions which I can attempt to answer. There are plenty of positive things I can say: despite sales shrinking by a third the decline seems to have bottomed out; we have money in the bank so the business is secure for now at least; the new bank funding should be arriving any day now (I’ve told everyone it should arrive mid-May, but the bank are trying to get it sorted this week); and our IT systems are functioning well and supporting remote working. The one question I cannot answer is whether or not there will be job losses in the future, but I will kick this into the long grass for now.  


My close colleagues have already had sight of my home office in our regular video calls. But now I will be sharing my backdrop of books, (lots of old orange Penguins) to all 240 colleagues in the video message. I’m under instructions to keep it to less than 3 minutes, so I have been practicing with a timer. It seems much more stressful than standing up in front of them all in person, where I can see my audience. So far I have made 3 or 4 recordings and binned them because I think I can do better. So I think I should just get on with it, record one more, send it off, and hope it is a few weeks before I have to do it again.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

Next to my new house, and towering above it, are two trees - holm oak, I think. They are inhabited by a parliament of rooks, who in between childcare spend most of the day squabbling and hurling sticks and poop over my garden (draw what parallels you will).


But I don't mind: they were here long before I. I was going to continue 'and will be long after'. However, last week I found one lying dead on its back under one of the trees. It was larger than I expected. Its head was neatly tucked to one side and its feet furled tidily against its belly; no sign of violence, just a terminal weariness with life. The vision moved me, I don't know why, and has stayed with me. Perhaps because of the corvid/covid connection (though I couldn't think of anything witty to say about that - answers on a postcard, please) or because it resonated with my own weariness at that time.


A couple of days later I went with my camera to record its passing, but it had been tidily removed by a creature higher up the food chin (I hope not a human). Still, the image lingers.


On a livelier note, yesterday evening, up on the golf course again, at the margin of the woods. I spotted a little family of rabbits (adult, three babies) out silflaying (remember that?). I lay on a handy hummock and watched them contentedly, shutting out everything else. I could focus because I was relatively certain that no one would invade my space, as there it is very open and one can be aware of who's coming.


And yet almost every time I go out (which is not so often, but I have come to see the need) there is some idiot(s) who completely disregards any kind of distancing. I mean almost brushing past one. The worst are fellow runners who whizz up from behind before one has realised they are there, despite antennae being on hyper-alert. This necessitates a most unsophisticated hurling of self into whatever lateral space is available, be it uphill, down dale or deep undergrowth (though I have managed so far to avoid the nettles). If anyone remembers Lark Rise to Candleford it contains the world's most hilarious (though nor for her) moment when one of the ladies, chatting at the edge of the woods, suddenly needs to be invisible and drops, still ramorod straight, into the undergrowth.


That is another memory which lingers, though this time a welcome one.


Yesterday there was also a momentary uplift in the household dynamics, resulting in a haircutting session in the garden. First, Junior 1 set to on Junior 2's barnet with clippers and scissors, then, remarkably, I was then asked to cut Junior 1's hair, which was a real surprise as it is carefully guarded, to be touched only by Alex at £35 a pop (even when they are purportedly stoney broke - which is why they're here). Plus Junior 1 is rarely very keen on me. Happily, both cuts were good! Junior 1, riding the wave, then asked if I would like mine cut, too - but I declined. Better my own haystack than Junior's version.


There is even potential for a continued improvement in the household dynamics - but only potential - because I have had a Major Lightbulb Moment, the result of living in such close proximity with the Juniors. If my resulting strategy works, then I might have more happy news to impart. If not - oh dear. Watch this space.


Meanwhile, this morning I have been at my pc drooling over rural hideaways in a distant country, where I could be alone with the wildlife (and, in my dreams, the coming grandchild) and grow my own food, ready for the next apocalypse. I have for many years hung on my wall this Goethe (Faustus, Prelude at the Theatre) quotation:


'Are you in earnest?  seize this very minute -

What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Only engage, and then the mind grows heated -

Begin it, and the work will be completed.'


Maybe life is too short to just drool, and it's time to act.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

It's as well to have a sense of history. Didn't we have Austerity in the 40s and 50s? And wasn't it associated with successive Labour chancellors, Stafford Cripps and Hugh Dalton? And didn't it mean something rather different from what it's meant in the last ten years.? I'm neither historian nor economist so when I ask these questions it's as well to bear in mind that they aren't entirely rhetorical. They are part of a continuing dialogue within myself rather than a polemic but it seems to me that The NHS was built on and then, 50 years later, damned near dismantled by Austerity, differently interpreted.


I can remember it in the 40s and 50s; strict rationing on luxury goods including all the most basic foods; wages were kept down and I expect progressive taxation was relatively high(?). I wouldn't know, I was 9 when it finished. But in the meantime money, our money, was being poured in to the formation of our first NHS, and a vast postwar rebuilding programme biased towards social housing was instituted. The message from The Government was you can't have your sweets until we've cooked the first course and we're sure that there's enough to go round for everybody. It was so tough in the short run that Attlee wasn't returned for a third term but by then the sun had all but set on The British Empire and the NHS had been born. 


In the last ten years wasn't Austerity manipulated to mean the opposite? Wasn't the message this time that, due to the cosmetic accounting techniques of some fraudulent bankers we had to get the banks, corrupt as they were, up and running again before we could spend the money needed on our essential services - that's how the money would be saved, not by imposing a burden on the rich through selective taxation. That was ok of course if you had private health insurance and could afford to send your kids to Eton but not so good if you were on a waiting list for a CT scan. The yacht owning entrepreneurs could have as many sweets as they liked - they could still pay £200 a ticket to see Les Mis. There'd be plenty of circuses for those who could afford them but no bread for the rest of us. Meanwhile the whole country was being led by blindfold Brexiteers into a pandemic, for which they were almost criminally unprepared. 


I like Shaker furniture, the films of Robert Bresson, the novels of Marilyn Robinson. I think they're austere. Aren't they? This is a dialogue with myself.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

I think I’ve gone feral in the garden. I look like a muddy, unwashed, dirty nailed old woodland nymph with hair that needs washing and is permanently under my cashmere beanie apart from when Earnie nicks it off my head every night. It is returned in exchange for a Markie.


I’m desperately trying to plant up the cutting garden but half the problem is knowing where to put it. I have far too much to fit in and then there are all the dahlias. Seed packets, bulbs and tubers have the appeal sweets used to have and tube of paint and paint brushes still have. Utterly addictive. You want them all but then you have to grow them and plant them! I keep wandering around wondering where they can go.


People on the radio are saying they’re drinking a lot and eating too much. I hardly have time to eat at the moment as there’s so much to do. Its like a constant stretching class. I have been tucking little seedlings into the gaps in the border with the help of my assistant blackbirds then the next day I forget where they are and either dig them up again or tread on them. I’m really quite a hopeless gardener.

Managed to plant out one bed of the dahlia seedlings and have got quite a lot of stuff hardening off. Have had a sort out in the messy green house and moved the dahlias around so there is a bit more space.


Yesterday a friend whose husband is a farmer dropped off some asparagus and she was telling me they have grown a field of peonies alongside it. How exciting. She also has a cutting garden in her parents walled garden run along more professional lines with staff I might add. 

She stayed for a socially distanced cup of coffee which was lovely, like the old days of having human friends as well as blackbirds. 


I am desperate to get my paints out but need to plant up the beds first otherwise it will all get pot bound. I watched Grayson Perry on the telly last night with his art class. Non professional artists and children are much braver in their approach to things. Last night was a portrait class and 2 people had picked Chris Whitty to paint. Grayson did a portrait of his wife Philippa and he felt out of his comfort zone but she was almost in tears by the end result of her portrait on a plate. 


In the real world Boris is back and looking slightly thinner. A third of all CV deaths are in old peoples homes, 2000 cases a week. Truly shocking. There are going to be some big conversations about all this later on and the mistakes that have been made by the government ignoring all the pandemic threat warnings.


Captain Tom is going to have a special Happy 100th Birthday franked on letters to celebrate the 27 million he has raised for the NHS.


Might have a snack and then go back into the rain.

I forgot to say the doctor’s rang and I don’t have to be sheltered for weeks. Hooray. Thank God for weird cake. 

Might have the last slice of the fake Victoria sponge and a cup of tea with Earnie.

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