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Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

I am feeling disturbed as I try to reconcile two upsetting conversations I have had over the past couple of days... at opposite ends of the spectrum.


As a backdrop to both stories I would like to say that the area in which I live, has been one of the most heavily infected parts of the country. Any businesses other than those offering necessary and vital services have been ordered to cease operations.


Yesterday, a friend (who has told me that she is immuno-compromised) admitted to me in a telephone call, that she had made a secret appointment to have her poodle groomed because she was not liking his shagginess. She also wondered if, since the groomer is also the owner of the business, was it really necessary to give a tip in addition to the grooming fee. I don’t think I need to list all the things wrong and unethical with all of that. I cut the conversation short. It deeply disturbed me for the rest of the evening and continues to do so today.


Early this morning Jay and I were on our usual hike. About half way through our route we encountered a woman and her dog. I didn’t know her but her dog wagged his tail, as did Jay, and so we stopped to talk… at a distance. She told me she is a teacher of 10-11 year olds. Their classes are being conducted on Zoom and she is exhausted from working 12 hour days both in preparation and in class time. She then said that she feels guilty complaining about being tired in light of the fact that her sister is an ICU nurse working 18 hour days in our local hospital. She went on to tell me a number of disturbing things. The hospital normally has one ICU unit, but because of the overwhelming effect the virus has had in our area, they now have three units operating. The sound of so many ventilators running is similar to loud thunder. The pumps are kept in hallways so the nurses and doctors can check and regulate them without having to go into the patients’ rooms more than was necessary in order to avoid more exposure than was necessary. On the other hand, one of the jobs her sister is performing is to go into the rooms of dying patients with a mobile. She holds it up to the dying patients’ mouths so they can say good bye to their families (since their families are not allowed to visit). At this point we both began to cry.


I can’t reconcile all of the above.


Sequestered in Sequim

Beth, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Two story lines have been emerging in the past few weeks that may well overlap. One is that non Covid Emergency Room visits have dropped dramatically. The other is that death statistics have dramatically increased in many areas, even after accounting for verified Covid deaths. While it is guessed that many of these deaths were in fact Covid, I suspect that many were deaths that might be non Covid, that may have been prevented with medical assistance. My own experience leads me to this conclusion.


Over the past fortnight, I experienced my first, and very hopefully my last, kidney stone. It was a fairly horrific experience, and one marvels at the startling effects that can be unleashed upon the body by a tiny speck of mineral crust (in my case around 4-5mm in size). It started with some very vague but persistent pains in my abdomen on a Saturday morning, but by Easter evening I was doubled over in agonizing pain, well beyond anything I can remember in my life. I had my children at home, have experienced gallstones, and have significant spinal issues, so a new high bar for pain was quite a surprise.


And I was panic stricken! The very LAST place in the world that I wanted to be was in a hospital. I just could not even imagine going there. Until I could not imagine NOT going there. Although the symptoms appeared to be a very good match to a kidney stone, I did not really know, and that was a panic in the other direction, and it eventually won the battle of the panics.  


The hospital was so unexpectedly quiet, so empty. Only patients may actually enter. I was questioned and my temp was taken outside. The staff inside was so incredibly kind. They said that it has never been so quiet in their ER. All patients arriving are very rightly emergent, and they know there are “missing” patients. No one wants to be there.


It has been more than 14 days since the hospital visit, so it appears that it was safe contact with the medical establishment. Numbers in my county are still low. And that nasty bit of crust is gone.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Watering Bananas


Some things thrive with benign neglect: birds, lawns.

Children too if left alone, while not quite feral,

Grow up; lanes, up trees, in dens, round fires. Their knees-

Scabby, nails-likewise, and unruly hair testify to mother

Nature. Birds succeed-although a little ouncing might help, the odd

Crust, some rind-a wingless intervention.

And lawns. It’s grass. Let be. It grows-albeit patchily.

So too with folk; some quite like being left to make do,

To rummage their way through the day, to say ‘Hi’

As you pass by. They don’t need constant watering 

More a daily dose of common courtesy. Don’t 

Scarify everything just because you can. Likewise bananas

Here. They’re not exotic for the tropics, only novel to you

Don’t water, don’t worry, they’ll pull through.    


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

Yesterday I heard a short discussion on the radio. It didn’t say anything earth-shattering but some thought-provoking points were made. A scientist was explaining the reason that the world was not prepared for the pandemic - and he talked about risk assessment. A key factor in risk assessment is living memory - being touched by a threat. So, for example, he said, we have fire brigades in place because as a people we know the real threat of fire - with some of us even having experience of fire devastation. A pandemic like this was not in living memory and hence we closed our minds to it - even though there were many warnings. 


The radio scientist then said after we get on top of this situation many human activities will change. He said, for example, we may find we travel less. People will meet more on virtual platforms and via video calls. He said we are already aware, however, that our tolerance of video calls is time-limited. People can spend a whole evening with others “face to face” but will struggle with an hour on a video call.


I thought about what he was saying. A few weeks ago - just after lockdown started - we tried out the video calling facility on WhatsApp. We rang my sister and her partner. It was surreal. We all got the giggles. Tinny voices squeaked out of the telephone speaker and our communication got all out of sync. Blurred images at times but then moments of real clarity. Rather good in a way but we haven’t repeated the experience. We have yet to try FaceTime with our iPads... I’m not sure that I’m ready for that! 


I’m in bed typing this. Early morning tea beside me - it is 7am. My second cup of tea too!  I just read the actress Jill Gascoine has died. Don’t think it was virus related. She was in her 80s and had been living with Alzheimer’s disease. I’m looking out of the window onto the garden. After two days of rain, there’s a blue sky and some watery sunshine. Sunshine after the rain. Oh where is the silver lining shining at the rainbow’s end?


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

I lay in bed this morning thinking what I'd have for breakfast; porridge I thought, and some yoghurt with blueberries and raspberries and then I agonised over whether to have a little honey or was I more in the mood for Tesco's finest maple syrup? The sunny spell is over for the time being and it's cold and wet so I found the thought of porridge comforting. I'm hungry all the time, craving, above all things on earth, a buttered hot cross bun, which craving I indulge at 4pm every day along with a cup of tea. Teatime has come into its own again, and so has elevenses which could be a slice of home-made soda bread with maybe a little smoked salmon. 


I called a friend in Sussex the other day; she literally  hasn't seen a soul since isolation was first imposed six weeks ago though she's in constant touch with her children and grandchildren on the phone. 'Oh, the monotony' she wailed. Then we talked about this constant hunger; she'd just made a banana cake and so had my son, rather enforcing my theory of the synchronised movements of the herd. Oddly coincidental too that both of them said it wasn't something they would normally do and neither of them was entirely pleased with the result. 


In Shakespeare sonnet no 11, my unfavourite so far, I came across this yesterday:

'Let those whom Nature hath not made for store, 

Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish.'

Pretty unambiguous in its casual advocacy  of genetic engineering from The Sweet Swan of Avon.'

When I read the next line -

'Look, whom she best endowed she gave the more...'  I saw a man in a pub leaning over the table , his  forefinger and  his voice both raised in anticipation of the modern reader's liberal objection. 


Dipped into the Pepys book - I hadn't realised that the Bubonic Plague was transmitted by rats via fleas and not by humans at all so isolation would have been irrelevant. Unlike us, he's critical of people who hadn't had the forethought to stock up or hoard. It must have been a constant battle with no elevenses or Netflix or online yoga classes. At least 70,000 people died in London alone.



John Underwood, Norfolk

The day breaks, my mind wakes


It is silent

Now that the birds have shut the fuck up.

Dawn light nudges grey into shapes,

As a paintbrush pushes watercolour on wet paper.

I sense my wife beside me.


The palette is umber, flake white, flat grey,

Shadows stumble into the lines of ceiling beams,

A brown tries to impose itself and there is an attempt at red

In my boys school jumpers in the photograph.

I hear her breathe beside me.


There are mortuary blue blinds, 

A puddle petrol blue box on the chest of drawers

Which I will admit into the corner.

My eyes are more closed than open,

As I feel her stir beside me.


Dreams of my father and a broken fence retreat,

It might be light that pushes against the dark,

Or a liar’s earnest promise of the sun.

A pink trinket box separates from brown.

As she awakes beside me.


Details sharpen brutally.

Impressionism is elbowed by Photorealism,

The cat invites evisceration on the shelf above the radiator.

We talk the day into being.

My wife drinks tea beside me.


At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

Our friend Sam (who designed and built our house) built us a frame from very green hemlock for a raised vegetable bed. I helped put it together… which involved the highly skilled holding of pieces of wood while he drilled screws to hold the planks to the metal corner pieces. The tricky part was tipping the frame (much too heavy for us to lift) over onto the ground. It had the potential to turn into an episode worthy of Three Men in a Boat but instead it landed in exactly the right place. Afterwards we sat at a suitable distance on the porch and toasted ourselves and congratulated each other on how clever we were. Then B. persuaded Sam to read Kiplings’ Kim. 


The high point of yesterday was the inaugural lighting of wood in the fire pit. Our neighbors gave us wood, they heat with a wood stove, in honor of my mask making. That was lovely. And Sam gave us kindling scraps from his woodshed. We lit the fire and our eight year old friend Micah arrived.  He had taken a picture of the same cornfield bear I’d seen, and was very proud of himself. We lit the fire, his parents organized tofu hotdogs on sticks, Micah carried wood and played with the fire, then Micah and his father sang to us. All at a safe distance. It was truly lovely and heartening.  


In response to Catherine’s question of April 25 in Bumpy Lands, yes, I am the Nicky who ran away from St. Chris to Scotland and got married. It never occurred to me that other boarders would notice, really. Even though school had been utterly miserable it had been my home for eight years and while I promised myself I wouldn't regret leaving, I did dream about it for many years.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

It’s the 30th April, henceforth should be known as ‘Tom Moore’s Day’ and perhaps celebrated by pensioners everywhere aspiring to have a happy extra 30 years beyond the arbitrarily allotted three-score years and ten.


So far, he’s:

  • Had a breakfast flypast of a Spitfire and Hurricane 

  • Received 150,000 birthday cards

  • Got a birthday No1 in the Charts

  • Passed the £30,000,000 mark on his fundraising page

  • Been made up to Colonel and got a new medal to prove it

  • Been made an hon. Captain of the English cricket team

  • Had two trains named after him

  • A commemorative postbox named after him

  • A named commemorative postmark


and it’s only 9.15


Elsewhere, and slightly eclipsed by Tom and other news, Graham Walters, a sprightly, positively youthful 72, who’s just completed an Atlantic solo row raising funds for ‘Help for Heros’. has arrived in Antigua in a boat he built himself 25 years ago in his front garden. When he set off in January he had no idea he would be in competition with Colonel Tom or bigger charity story, and though briefed by phone during his endurance test is likely to be bemused by what he’s come back to, when/if he’s allowed to return to the UK. One of the changes is the lack of commercial flights, then there’s the masks...

And The PM himself is scheduled to give the No10 Briefing this afternoon. Hurrah!

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