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A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

Jumping the shark 


A phrase from what now seems like a simpler, happier past, has suddenly been revived thanks to the antics of our Dear Leader. The admonition to experiment with cleaning products may finally have gone too far, and you know you're in deep doo doo (to quote one of his predecessors) when even Fox News, Breitbart and the Drudge Report all say so. And so for 48 blessed hours, Dear Leader held to his newfound resolve to spare us the Daily Corona Virus Clown Show, announcing that it wasn't worth his time. Finally, something we could all agree on.


But alas, all good things - even radio silence from Crazy Town -  come to an end, even "Happy Days" and The Fonz (whose literal jumping of said shark not only coined an immortal phrase but sounded the death knell of the long-running show), and Monday evening we were treated to a new episode of the Clown Show. Or was it a re-run? It's getting harder to tell.


As it turns out, the formerly excellent Center for Disease Control has long been preparing for a potential pandemic of the current sort, and has trained an elite body of public health experts for such an eventuality.  It even prepared a training guide called the Field Epidemiology Manual and dedicated a chapter to public communication and went so far as to draft a script and offer casting suggestions: develop public trust by endlessly repeating a single, simple message; appoint a single spokesperson who develops public trust (preferably a scientist or health professional, but never a politician) express empathy to establish common ground with a worried public; make special efforts to explain both what is known and unknown - transparency is essential - and don't over-reassure or over promise. Clearly, our Dear Leader read the chapter (or more likely, had it explained to him in charts and pictures), absorbed its content and then deliberately ignored every single best practice in favor of his own Great Instincts and Stable Genius. He is in charge of an ever changing cast of characters - Dr. Tony, Debbie the Scarf Lady, Mikey P. and Jared; empathy is replaced with the endless airing his grievances - why don't he get no respect?; and, calm, professionalism abandoned in favor of politicizing testing, health care and the economy. Best of all, every day we get an Amazingly Good New Message - hydroxychloroquine will save us! That's too hard to say, so Clorox will save us! Warm weather will save us!  So much saving. We're getting tired of saving.


But the shark has been well and truly jumped and that may in fact save us in the end.


At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US


Well yesterday was hard. First the funeral, with a hundred people attending the zoom service including her distant and her elderly family members. Then B and I did go to the graveyard. Her partner had asked that we be there, and the rabbi conducting the service proved to be a bit flexible, and allowed ten people. We all socially distanced (odd new verb curtesy of the virus) and wore masks. Jewish burial custom is brutally stark: the coffin drops then we shovel dirt onto it, physically beginning the process of burying. The weather was just above freezing, drizzling and grey. Bleak. A day full of sadness and loss and fear.  

Then I came home to a zoom meeting because I somehow inadvertently got myself on the Friends of the Library group. It took ten people thirty minutes to decide to cancel a plant/book sale that obviously needed cancelling. But still, I’m glad to support the library, it’s small and sweet and important. I’m sure I wouldn’t have survived without libraries. I’ll stay on the group and maybe eventually I’ll move boxes of books around to sell, or pick up plants and try not to kill them before someone buys them and the library can buy more books.  


Today I went walking with the dog and my camera. We have wood ducks near us, they’re very shy, but I finally got a picture of a few of them, enough to identify. They’re distinctive. Dramatic colors and even in a fuzzy photo the white markings show up. And the redwing blackbirds posed for me.   


And I did have the realization that probably everyone else in the world has had, which is that I will cope better if I stop worrying because the situation is what it is, with nothing I can do about it.


View from a balcony

Constance, Southern France


The clouds don't care about Covid.

The skies have been beautiful for the last two days. It must be because of the stormy weather. A tremendous storm broke in the night. Heavy rain and thunder waking me in the night, nice and cosy in bed (and not under it on my little bike getting soaked on my commute to work). The small stream which sadly trickles down its bed became a large powerful torrent overnight. 

I have always enjoyed staring at the sky, taking the colours in, the deepness of a threatening summer storm to the soft pastels of a gentle winter dawn.

This evening I watched the sun go down behind the roofs. Its late rays reflecting the golden light on the neighbouring block of flats and I imagine it could be the cliffs of the Causses (high plains in the north of the region). Other times, when the sky was clear, I listened to the silent city night admiring the stars. This silence which will soon be over is one of the memories I will keep of this strange time.


Isolating (seriously)

Jean, Melbourne Australia


The best part of the day is early morning. It feels good to look at the lightening sky, listen to the birds, open the balcony door, feel the air, and put the kettle on. After that I know I've hit a slump because it feels like treading water, wondering just how long this 'unreal' life is going to last. I worry about what's going to happen to my kids who are working in hospitals overseas where medical staff (U.S. and U.K) aren't adequately protected with testing and ppe. Here I am living in Australia but the only politician I can listen to at the moment is the New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He is a rock! His briefings are comprehensive and factual, but he can also talk about the tragedy of each death. He emphasises that now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to work together. And I can even feel hopeful about the future when he talks about what we can learn from this terrible experience to make a better and more equitable society. That after previous tragic events, governments were able to 'see the world anew' and enact legislation to protect the health and safety of their citizens.



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysian


The haves and have nots: nowhere is this more explicitly seen in the current circumstances than with the army of sweating desperadoes who keep the roads and the exclusive estates clean here. So while many of the wealthy are not permitted out and about, their roads and their landscaped gardens are tended by people who must be on the most subsistence of wages. The local 3 lane highway today had, completely without any warning, lane closure or regard to their safety, folk sweeping by hand the edges of the road. The task seemed utterly ridiculous and insanely dangerous. To make matters worse the stretch of land behind the road has been earmarked for another 'exclusive luxury development' and for this there were of course numerous signs, warnings, notices and pictures, lots and lots of pictures alerting us well in advance to the shiny happy folk. As a backdrop to the grinding life of the have nots it was pretty stark.  



In the central reservation workers

Brush aside twigs, stones, dust, pointless piles of

Detritus while cars sweep past within feet.

One stands astride the outside lane, brooming

Litter others tossed; no cones, no flashing

Lights announce he’s there, no arrows shelter

Him. Behind for half a mile the hoardings

Are replete, images of plotted joy.

A marina, cocktail yachts, pooled life, slides,

Seafood plattered luxury, and yet more

A smiling couple and their girl and boy.

Signs indicate where paradise is found

Show no reserve but urgently exhort

A rapid investment: life can be bought.


Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa


After weeks of stringent lockdown it looks as if the government will try to open up some areas of the economy. The pressure on it to do so from big business, the mining conglomerates in particular, is intense. So the latest talk is all about how eased restrictions will kick in. The danger is that we might then see a spike in infections and an unravelling of a lot of the good work done to flatten the upward curve of corona cases. 


News of an impending easing of the lockdown is clearly seen by many people as a sign that things will soon go back to normal. There are more people casually out and about, more cars on the roads, and the government’s urging that we all wear face masks when we go out is interpreted only very loosely. In the shops, in queues, or when out walking, people do wear their masks, but for the most part as odd accessories, casually strung around their necks or pushed up on their foreheads. Physical distancing has little traction. In communities where most life is lived in the open air, in big gatherings and groups, the idea is alien. You may as well expect people to stand on one leg for days at a time. The relatively slow spread of the virus, thanks to all the lockdown measures we’ve lived under since last month, is taken as a sign that things are not that bad and so it’s OK to jump the gun. But we’re repeatedly warned by the epidemiologists who advise the government that the worst is yet to come, that we won’t avoid an exponential spread of the disease.


The beautiful autumnal days of cooler weather, chill nights and more filtered dawns and sunsets also seem a prelude to a harder period. Winter here, though fairly short, always hits the poor majority hard, and this year, because of the lockdown, plain lack of food is another crisis that compounds the bigger one of the pandemic. It shouldn’t be so. The mellow fruitfulness of this time of the year should offer much. Gorgeous citrus fruits, glossy red and green capsicums, heavy avocados, pawpaws, papayas, granadillas are all abundant now, but for most people largely out of reach.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight


I have been having trouble deciding whether to write today, and if so what about. The problem was solved by my best beloved who suggested I watch Grayson Perry's Art Club on Channel 4. It is broadcast on Tuesdays, but I decided to do a catch-up on episode 1 from a week back. The subject was portraiture - not something I've ever been good at. I don't seem to be able to capture the essence of my subject for some reason. Not one of my skills I'm afraid, but there you are and I don't think I'll pursue the matter further. It did take my mind back to the period in my life when I probably made more attempts at artistic work than any other. This was when I attended a certain boarding school in Hertfordshire known, I believe, to at least another couple of contributors to this journal. While there I greatly enjoyed making pottery taught by a certain Peter Elbra A couple of my efforts from those days (when I was aged about 12) still exist. The picture is of a rather weird salt cellar I made for my mother. She actually used it for many years and it wasn't till she died in 1990 that it came back to me. It sits on my kitchen window sill and reminds me of what was probably the happiest and most formative time of my schooldays.  


So what has the above got to do with Covid-19? Simply this - I now have the time and energy to reflect on many things. This must apply to so many others and of course the evidence is here in the journal, for which I give heartfelt thanks...



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA




Semi-circular stairs lead up

to a stone archway where a cellist 

sits alone, sheltering from the rain,

playing Bach, notes as intricate as raindrops

that fall drip, drop, glissando,

energetic as a flock of birds rising

from the square into clean air,

pulsing over empty streets,

swooping low, shuffling,

like an audience shaking out their coats,

settling into their seats in a concert hall,

flocking unmasked into the close confines 

of a shared space, breathing the same air,

moved as one by a cellist,

playing for herself, playing for us, 

up there on the stage on top of stone steps,

notes warm as waning memories

of fingers intertwining, and fingertips

soft touching the skin of your cheek.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

The shed by Franklin Lewis Macrae


My mum has pointed out a few times that I should be writing 'my dad/sister/mum and I', not 'me and my mum/dad/sister'. Today I will remember.  


Over the weekend, my dad and I took down our rotten shed. It was riddled with woodworm and mould with a hole in the roof. My dad and I took out the windows and the shelves inside. We salvaged one of the old windows to make mum a cold frame, although my dad said the glass is very old and brittle. After that, we used a sledgehammer and a crowbar and I stood on the garden wall and smashed the roof down. The noise was tremendously loud and sometimes I had to let go of the sledgehammer as it went through the roof! We didn't want lots of splinters everyway so we cut down the walls with a saw rather than smashing them down. We stacked some for kindling but the rest of the shed has been stacked in a lane in our garden. My mum also packed a lot of it into a huge builder's bag. The problem is now is that all the tips are closed and we can't get rid of it. My mum did say this to my dad before we took it down. However, the space is very nice, you can see the old wall. My mum wants to put a pergola there with comfy chairs and a firepit. It will be nice to sit there.

I saw on the news that Corona is infecting kids in a lethal way that the doctors don't really understand yet. I spoke with my parents about it. I am extremely worried. I'm not worried about myself but I am worried about Marli because she has asthma. I'm worried for the children, I feel so upset for them. Most of them are under five, it's so upsetting. I feel so sad for the oldies that have died or are in danger too, I cried because a lot of them are dying on their own with no family there. I don't like seeing people wearing masks, it's frightening and sometimes, they don't keep their social distance. I had to sleep in my mum and dad's bed with them last night and I had a lie in this morning. My dad said we can have a film night this week. He has ordered some dvds.

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