Rosemary, Rodborough Common
Make haste if you wish to see the Bluebells this year; in my area they are already past their peak - far earlier than normal. I very nearly missed them as I had assumed that the car could only be used for essential things such as food shopping, but I was misguided, walking and exercise are essential, so driving to a beauty spot for a walk is permitted. I always make a point of trying to visit our local bluebell wood every year as I recall the words that A E Housman wrote in A Shropshire Lad, in his case regarding seeing the Cherry blossom in flower.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
However, unlike Housman, I do not have fifty more, so every year feels like a bonus.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold
It's raining. Oh but how we needed it. The ground was as hard as rock. Just a few hours of light rain and things are looking refreshed.
I have been out to check on my plants and opened up the greenhouse. No more nocturnal visitors! Mr Mouse and his family are staying away - for the time being at least.
The garage rang yesterday - do I want to book in the car for its annual service? They have never phoned before. My suspicious mind is immediately concerned. The chap starts rambling on about the virus and how they wear protective clothing and keep a distance from customers. He then recounts something about his sister-in-law being ill with the virus since before Easter and not yet recovering. Then - one of his mechanics knows somebody who was in hospital. I listen. I make appropriate noises. "No one", he says, "will be untouched by this disease". I agree. I will ring back - I say. I will book an appointment.
Later - the phone rings again. This time it is a friend. How am I off for bleach and flour?! "There's none in any local supermarkets". Then more bad news. Sally who is friends with Yvonne who used to work with Mary and Amy - "you know the one" (I don't but I say I do) "Well, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital. She couldn't breathe. Nearly died. Was blue". I'm beginning to feel alarmed. And then - he tells me another of his other friends who has died. Found in a chair. Probably there for two days. Must be the virus. Apparently. Lots of commiserations. I felt rather flat after the call.
We watched a cheerful DVD in the evening and considered paint colours for the corridor and bedroom. I made a supper of cheese on toast followed by prunes and custard. How I love custard!
After I checked the greenhouse this morning, I checked our cupboards.
Plain flour - tick.
Self raising flour - tick.
Bleach - three quarters of a bottle - tick.
I am going to phone a garage. A different one from last year I think.
Hello From the Hudson Valley
Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York
While nothing of great importance has happened today, our early morning hike provided us with subtle Spring changes to admire and an urge to try to create a small collage impression of a scene we saw.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
As soaps go it lacks finesse; plotline clunks
Along, caricatures auto-cued smile
A-front a slogan for the NHS.
Costume dramas need authenticity
With scrubs, gloves, gowns, aprons, visors, goggles,
Not airbrushed, private-sector-suited tykes
Rank with ambition, inexperienced.
Sets erected in haste, poor use of props,
Succession of exhausted looking docs,
No wonder the programme’s lost its appeal.
Low budget advertising underlines
The desperation of the actor’s lines:
Sing “Happy Birthday” twice, across the land
Just listen to the sound of washing hands.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Combat body armour
Apparently, the £60,000 amount for the grant to be awarded to the families of NHS staff and carers, “frontline” staff who die of Coronavirus, was decided upon to match the amount paid to families of frontline troops killed in conflicts. I don’t know about you, but I find the militaristic metaphor for the “fight” against the virus, and the evocation of the Dunkirk spirit (my father was there) wrongheaded and inappropriate. It does however allow our Prime Minister to come over all Churchillian on the television News. We’ll fight ‘em on the beaches, straight from the playing fields of Eton.
£60,000 is a lot of money if your annual salary is around a third of that amount. I did some checking and came up with these figures. According to PayScale.com, the median salary for a registered nurse (RN) in the UK is £23,000. The average salary for a care worker is £17,199, taken from a sample size of 1,072 individuals. These figures were pulled off the internet, but I have no reason to doubt them.
I wonder if the amount for the armed forces was originally designed to be an amount that you would risk your life for? Perhaps the figure was arrived at by questioning the poor working class families whose sons have historically fought and died in wars started by governments. It comes down to what a government thinks your life is worth in the end. It feels rather like dirty money to me, thirty pieces of silver in a modern form. No doubt the money would be hugely beneficial for bereaved families for a while. But as Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA pensions committee chair, said, again using the military metaphor: "Whilst this single payment may seem a sizeable sum, it comes nowhere near compensating families for the lifetime income their loved one may have earned if they hadn’t died prematurely, fighting this crisis on the frontline.” I agree with him entirely, it is a paltry sum for a life’s work. Perhaps that is what it takes, staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror each morning. You have to gird yourself as if you were going into battle.
It is usual, is it not, to give some form of protection to front line troops? Our modern soldiers are equipped with combat body armour costing around £1000 a soldier, and it is heavily criticised by the troops themselves for being unwieldy to use in combat situations. But at least someone took their protection seriously in advance of their going in to battle. I doubt that they source their equipment personally or rely on groups of people with 3D printers to knock it up for them.
To put the salaries into context, the basic annual salary of a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons is £81,932, as of April 2020. In addition Matt Hancock (to pluck one name out of the hat) claimed £181,194.78 expenses in 2018/19 including £220.68 for constituency Christmas cards and envelopes. What can £60,000 buy? A Land Rover Discovery on the road price is £48,340.00. Eton College fees come in at £42,501 per year plus extras, and if shooting is your thing, a Purdey 12 bore shotgun starts from £65,000 + VAT. Or you could buy a couple of Rolex Oyster submariner date watches, 40 mm in yellow gold, at £28,650 each. The gold model might be rather heavy on the wrist, especially whilst clapping for the NHS and carers.
Hello from Eastbourne
Donald Trump, by Marli Rose Macrae
Donald Trump has said the most idiotic thing. He has suggested that drinking or injecting yourself with cleaning products like bleach will get rid of Corona virus. It actually says on all the bottles 'IF SWALLOWED SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE IMMEDIATELY'. Didn't his mummy and daddy ever tell him not do to this? Did they not put a lock on the cleaning cupboard? Did his mummy and daddy not tell him what would happen if he swallowed cleaning products? It's mostly toddlers or young children that eat or drink cleaning stuff because they don't know not to. The liquids are so colourful, sometimes powder blue, sometimes pumpkin orange or peony pink or purple like wine. They can smell delicious. Young children have eaten dishwasher tablets because they are wrapped in silver foil and look like sweeties. Do you not know Donald Trump, what will happen if you eat a dishwasher tablet? Clearly you don't because otherwise you wouldn't have said what you said. This is what happens; it will burn your mouth and throat and you will have to go to hospital! Honestly, I don't think he's fit enough to be the president of America. There's a lot of stupid people out there who would actually do it, thinking they are scot free of Corona virus.
You can tell that Donald Trump is a scatterbrained, immature person just by looking at him. His blonde hair is dreadful and he says the most preposterous stuff. Do not eat or drink or inject cleaning products unless you want to become even more ill.
Musings from self isolation
Billy Hearld, York
Yesterday began well with a lovely walk through the woods and fields of Heslington, pausing to coo over the cows and their calves and watching a skylark dipping, with blue sky above and green grass below. We walked past great fields of oil seed rape, the scent of which got up our noses and made us sneezy. We encountered a slight bump in the road when my sister, possibly as a result of hay fever, found herself having a little trouble breathing and was advised to pop along to the doctors. Thankfully, she soon felt entirely well again and was found to be in perfect health! We therefore spent the evening adding the finishing touches to the decoration of her room.
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
Longing for Freedom
We woke up to rainfall this morning. It has been dry for weeks. Farmers will be happy and gardeners too. We only have a small yard so I don’t know if I can be included in the gardener category, but we have a brick trench planted with various shrubs. Last month a blackbird family moved in, building a nest in the bush which grows against the warm south facing flint wall. The nest is an improvement on last years effort; beautifully constructed, deep and snug.
This is where I confess to being a vandal. I threw the messy disintegrating nest away last autumn hoping to dissuade the bird from putting herself and her chicks in danger, for we have a cat, Lily aged 13 years. Not that she has ever caught anything larger than a house spider and a few butterflies. Lily is a naturally timid creature so I picture the birds sniggering as they cheerfully peck at seeds in the feeder, pointing up two wing feathers at Lily’s frustrated face behind the glass in the back door.
So it is lockdown for Lily too except for the short time she is allowed to go out, under strict supervision, to chew a bit of grass (I had to dig up a clump from the abbey grounds) to ease her digestion. Immediately she is through the door her eyes dart up to the nest where Mrs Blackbird sits, still as a cat herself before the real cat strikes, her beak slightly open in a locked weapon mode. Then Lily turns and slinks back inside.
It is wonderful to observe nature closely and the blackbirds are very friendly considering we share a very unsocial distancing space. I have engaged in a clicking back-of-throat conversation with the male while he perched on the fence and we bandied noises back and forth for a few seconds before he flew off to find more worms. This relationship between human and bird has been so successful that one clutch has fledged already and yesterday Mrs B laid another three eggs! Poor Lily, she will have to spend more time incarcerated with the occasional yard exercise just when she thought freedom had finally come.
Globally there is bit more freeing up and a gradual loosening of restrictions but here the only decisions have been those of a few individuals as most people are still very cautious, especially the elderly. The Government have not yet released details about how they are going to proceed, though they may do so later this week.
I have noticed more vehicles passing the house and the jets are back, screaming over-head. There are fewer instances of wild life invading towns and villages. Last week, just outside Wymondham, a herd of 30 deer, mainly stags broke the restrictions of their country estate. Soon they were making a dash across the busy and dangerous A11. It was amazing none of them were hit. The episode was filmed by a first responder. Apparently it was a magnificent sight. Later on at three am an ambulance hit the same herd as the deer were returning to their estate. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the A11. The crew and patient were fine but one stag died and two more were injured, later put down. It could have been much worse.
Just down our road a new neighbour has moved in - a Beagle puppy!
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
Tuesday? When all the days are much the same we have to ask each other what day it is, or look on the computer. On Sundays the courier doesn't come. On Tuesday the Radio Times should arrive, but didn't. Once we've worked it out, we settle down to our separate little routines.
I was touched by a writer here who wrote of a longstanding feeling of alienation from the less fortunate members of society. I feel some empathy for this. I sometimes think of them as the people "down below" as we live on a hill. I also share some of the anger he described, at the political decisions which have preceded these times, which people keep calling "unprecedented".
Of course, they are not entirely unprecedented. There have been other, far worse, epidemics in the past. However, in our time this situation is terrible and strange and terrifying, as we have become used to science providing easy solutions to our ills.
Which leads me to think about fear. Fear and guilt. Perhaps if I was not about to turn seventy, living with a partner with what they like to call "underlying health issues", I might have sprung forward to volunteer, delivering medicines and feeding the poor and vulnerable, perhaps manning a helpline for victims of domestic abuse. However, I have perfect excuses in place and I am indeed one of the very fortunate who can retreat to somewhere pleasant to ride out this deadly tide. I feel guilty and grateful in equal measure.
There are no guarantees of course. When the risk is deemed low enough for people to return to work and society cautiously opens its doors, we know that this virus will still be there, lurking in corners, sneakily landing on surfaces, floating on the breath of people singing in the street. What then? Will there still be support for the elderly, too frightened to emerge from their isolation, once it is completely voluntary? Will the pharmacy still have volunteers willing to cycle up the hill with medicines? I wonder if society has really become more kind.
Many years ago I read Frank Herbert's Dune Trilogy. There was a wonderful mantra against fear. It started "Fear is the mind killer"... Why is it that I have never forgotten that phrase but I can't recall the next part, which opens the door to overcoming fear? I must look it up.