Thoughts from the Suffolk Coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold


This morning when I opened my iPad - a message flashed up “Your screen time has increased by 26% this week” (or words to that effect). It is nothing new. Every seven days I am told how much usage I make of this amazing device. Usually I think nothing of it - yet today I took note. It seemed almost accusatory! Increased time on the iPad?! What a sinner! Or was it a congratulation? Maybe a virtual 'well done?' 'You have moved up a level ... from iPad user to iPad super user '!   


When I was a child, my parents limited the time we could watch television. Too much screen watching was considered bad - an overindulgence. ‘You’ll get square eyes’ they would chide. Yet it seems watching the screen has become very acceptable. In fact, it is a great help right now - especially for parents with children and families stuck indoors - needing to be occupied. And not just television. The internet has become a lifeline too - a means to stay in contact with people now we are all social distancing. And the telephone of course.  


There is so much silence that I am noticing much more of the world about me. On my daily walk, I hear birds and see wild flowers - totally undisturbed by intrusive traffic and people noise. I would love this peace if it were only less eerie. The village school is empty and there are no joyful cries coming from the playground. The village hall is locked up. A car on the road is a rarity. Have I died and gone to a heaven (or perhaps hell) peopled only by those with a 26% increase in their weekly screen time?!


From the Irish Midlands

Irish Nana, Edenderry


Week 3 in confinement started today. I'm lucky, I have a comfortable home, warmth, light and enough to eat. I live with someone I love and who loves me and we are good together. So it is not so traumatic for us. The hardest part is not being able to spend time with other friends I'd normally see weekly. And not being able to see the grandchildren who live in Ireland. I never thought I'd say it, but I miss my daily walk. 


We bought enough to keep us inside for a number of weeks and that is working out well, except for fresh green vegetables and fresh herbs. I am never bored, so this time of confinement is an opportunity to develop my knitting skills and I have a couple of other crafts to try when I need a change. I have received some hilarious funnies, many of which I've passed on. Normally I never have a problem filling time. So we will see if that continues throughout he Covid-19 confinement. But so far so good. I feel privileged everyday to feel well and happy when so many others are having such a hard time.


The foxes were the first to notice

RJG, Birmingham


Both foxes now seen, by a boy – the boy. A tentative understanding.


We got this! This could be cool!

t, Rural Norfolk


Yesterday I spent hours and hours in front of a screen doing the final testing of a three month web project. Tomorrow my new website will launch in a wilderness, which is not what I had planned. But at least I can get back to spending more time painting, and maybe start to take control of the garden… 


My antidote to wading through all the tech was to bake shortbread, because if you’re going to prevaricate it might at least taste good. Apparently it did. I came down this morning to two and a half biscuits left. I don’t mind, it just means I shall need to bake more, or maybe some sticky flapjack, or a big cake…

Actually what I’m really missing is fresh fruit, so one day this week I shall have to get out there and find some. But not today. Today I am going to paint pictures, and get lost in an audiobook. 


We haven’t seen our postie much, but a letter arrived today, complete with topical letter stamp. One for the history box.


A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.


We're finally going on a more rigorous lockdown beginning tomorrow. Over the weekend the numbers of people out and about seemed to be growing, but today was quieter. It looks like they finally closed down public sports fields and the police were parked outside to enforce the closures.  


Fortunately, we got in one last really long walk today. The Soldiers and Airmen Home is a government run facility for indigent veterans, and the nearly 300 acres of grounds begin only about a half mile from our home. It's also the site of Lincoln's summer home - a place to which he and his family escaped the humidity and heat of downtown Washington during the Civil War. The Lincoln house and grounds are currently closed, but it was still a lovely uphill walk. Pushing past the entrance we discovered some other relatively unknown treasures nearby. The oldest national cemetery in the U.S. is on just the other side of the Soldiers Home. The latter was used as a hospital during the Civil War and the first (of over 2000 from that conflict alone) burial was recorded in early August 1861, suggesting that the soldier most likely died of wounds received at the very first major battle of the war First Bull Run, which took place in July. Also nearby is the Rock Creek Cemetery. I'd long been curious about it because one corner contains the U.S. Foreign Service Cemetery (I'm a retired diplomat and eligible for burial there; while I'm in no rush to exercise the option, it's good to know I could keep such distinguished company in the future). Turns out to be a truly beautiful old-school cemetery, but best of all it contains the only colonial period church in Washington: St. Paul's Parish church, built in the early 18th c.


Surprisingly (not) the guidance about the lockdown is unclear, so we don't know if any more long walks will be permitted. Glad we had the chance to discover such beautiful, calm and empty -albeit slightly melancholy - spaces while we can still get out. The melancholy spirit of Lincoln and the Civil War still looms over Washington in many ways, so it seemed likely a truly fitting way to spend out last day of freedom.


Isolating (sort of) in Melbourne

Jean, Melbourne


I start the day most often with an account from my elder daughter on her day working in a Cambridge hospital. Her news is confronting and a big wake-up because we in Australia are still behind. Each state is putting different restrictions in place and the official messages are not clear enough. Things are finally changing though. Each day I see fewer and fewer people in the neighbourhood on the daily walk although there is still some darting and dodging required keep our distance. A friend tells me centre of the city is a ghost town - weird as I went into the city just over 3 weeks ago after returning from overseas and the streets were bustling. It seems wrong that the weather is now so beautiful. Luminous autumn light, gatherings of fallen leaves in the curbs, the air is warm and cool at the same time. I am not hurrying anywhere! How is it then each day I run out of time to do all the things I want to do and talk to everyone I want to talk to?


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands


The Board of Directors and most of our office-based staff are working from home. We have been conducting our daily 3pm crisis meeting by video conference, sometimes meeting up again later in the evening or over the weekend to consider our reaction to the government’s latest announcements, and the messages we need to give to staff the next day. Video calling provides a fascinating and literal “in-sight” into the homes of my fellow directors. They have been admiring the bookshelves in my study: a backdrop which one of them thought might actually be wallpaper. And we are somewhat concerned to discover that one colleague owns a deactivated AK47. A lot of non-verbal communication is lost when meeting by video conference, like the chair’s nod to show who should speak next, or the subtle indications through body language of agreement or disagreement with the proposal being discussed, but we are getting better at it. Like every company director in the land, none of us has ever had any experience of, or training in, managing a business in the midst of a pandemic: to some extent we are making it up as we go along. There is no manual we can refer to; instead we have to reply on our experience, common sense and a clear focus on keeping the business alive. We had an informal “pause and reflect” discussion late on Friday afternoon, sharing a bottle of beer or glass of wine, and making sure that we are all bearing up under the strain. We reckon we are doing OK so far.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA


My bed faces east so the sunrise and I usually get up together, but lately I find I wake sometime after 5 am, so turn the radio on and get back under the covers to listen to NPR and the latest reports on the progress of the virus as it continues it’s spread.  I think I am becoming somewhat less alarmed though it is probably that I have simply become resigned to what is happening. 


After I feel I have heard all I need to know, I let the dogs out, make a fire in the kitchen wood stove, put the kettle on, feed the little menagerie, etc.  I no longer make a mental list of what I will do today ~ places to go, friends to meet, errands to run.  The day is all mine to spend however I wish right here at home.  So yesterday morning, before I was even dressed, I sat at the kitchen table with my coffee, and listened to a favorite monthly podcast I usually save for bedtime, after the day is done and before I pick up the book that is waiting for me on the bed table. 


Slightly Foxed podcasts are just delightful to listen to, with the cheerful background sounds of dogs under the table (just like home) and the now familiar voices of the interviewers who make up the charming and interesting staff of this wonderful quarterly.  This month’s guest was Dame Margaret Drabble, a name I recognized but someone whose books I have never yet read.  Something else to look forward to when it is safe to get out to some of our favorite used bookstores again.


Not Walking the Dog

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham


The streets are emptying out and that means dogs too are disappearing. I miss seeing them pass by with their owners (who are mostly older self isolating people so that explains a lack of dogs)   


My studio is in the shop part of the house (in the centre of town) hence I can feel when someone goes by or I hear voices and look up from my work. It is slightly eerie to not hear any humans, only the odd vehicle. Evenings are even more ghostly when the street lights come on pooling in deep shadows and then there is complete silence. Someone might say a 'deafening silence' but then there wasn't an awful lot of noise earlier. This is Wymondham after all, a medium sized town, growing at its' edges but still with a small medieval centre.  

It seems everyone is following the Government's advice - STAY AT HOME. Cats too are absent.   


Although we are close to shops (a Co-op, a health food delicatessen, bread shop) it is difficult to keep safe so trying to find food by other means such as online shopping is almost a full time job! Delivery slots are all booked up and we are advised to return regularly to the website in the hope the supermarket has released more slots. I wrote to them to complain citing vulnerability and underlying health issues meant we couldn't risk going to the shop ourselves. An email came back promising a dedicated time for us as we are loyalty card customers. We are still waiting.   


Nothing for it but to console myself returning to my drawing of 'Wiggins'. He is sitting in splendid isolation on a dark reddish brown A2 piece of paper,, waiting for 'Walkies' or for some background colour.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk


Some very sad news yesterday from down the road.

The awful thing about a death now within self isolating but separate families is the lack of contact you can have with each other when you need support more than at any other time. No hugs or physical contact. Probably unable to go to the funeral as well though it may be live streamed. Awful and heart breaking situation to be in.


When you put my name into email or texts on my phone, predictive text calls me Annoying.


Can't listen to too much news now. 

Have been listening to Jennifer Ehle reading Pride and Prejudice on Instagram. Lovely.


Got the lawn mower out. (no staff)

Started cleaning the yard or some might say terrace and in the corner behind the pots was a lot of soil banked up. Buried in there was the bate box which I gave a good shake and out popped Voley who had obviously moved in. I see him regularly going to eat his breakfast from seed fallen from the bird feeder.

There were some huge worms under the pots which I passed to the waiting blackbirds.

Spoke to a friend this morning who was waiting for the rat man.

For one reason or other, in error she ended up with 1500 tulip bulbs. A few hundred were stolen from her garage and of the remaining hundreds that got planted a handful have survived. 

STOLEN! By ratty said the squirrel man. By squirrels said the rat man. Eventually the culprit was caught on camera. King Rat had dug them up through all the defences and stock piled them. 

For the last two days, Earnie and I have not broken the law and have walked miles. On Sunday a huge block on little lanes from my house and back. 

Yesterday we found the track to the track to our normal track! He was in a better humour but he is like a coiled spring and utterly bonkers. 

He is not enamoured by this new regime of being on the lead and on the road. Just can't understand it.

My thighs will be marvellous.

Love Annabel xxx


Then and Now

Peter Scupham


Self-isolation? Of course, as any fule kno, writers, composers and visual artists have been doing this since the year dot — that was when Seurat accidentally let a brush fall vertically on a primed canvas and discovered pointillism. A kind of self-isolation became an agreeable habit of mind for this thirties and forties boy, juggled from school to school and avoiding the thrown board-rubber and the practitioners of gang warfare. Our present self-isolation seems a doddle, to which the flickering faces on Whatsapp and the myriad modes of non-physical contact make a pleasing accompaniment. The boy I was and can still, just, shake hands with and talk to, always had a friend, but lived most intensely inside himself, the denizen of sounds, smells, night-lights, furniture — all that sensuous bric-a-brac of the world. And, of course, books.


I am not yet noble enough to start learning Greek or how to play the Ophicleide, but I have just surfaced from reading all the Hardy novels which have been waiting patiently unread on the shelf, and I have been delighted with the more shimmeringly elegiac than tragic ones — the Well-Beloved, A Pair of Blue Eyes, The Hand of Ethelberta, Two on a Tower and the delightful Trumpet Major.  I have no intention whatsoever of reading Jude the Obscure or Tess again. If the mood takes me to do so, I shall call on Arthur Ransome and Richmal Crompton to defend me. Books do furnish a mind.

Part of the sense of self-isolation of that earlier period came from the absolute distancing of parents and children, the rejection of intimacy in the adult world of the time. My early schoolmasters were the kind of dyspeptic growlers for whom tweaking ears and rapping knuckles was communication; love, understandably, was for my parents during the thirties and the war, an unexpressed background to a foreground of anxiety and difficult living. The intimacies that now seem natural and proper between parents and children did not exist; my bedroom as always “the spare room”, but I was the only one who ever slept in it, visitors, those honorary ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, were almost unknown. What have I to complain about ? Nothing. It was a kind of isolation which accompanied the great freedoms of wandering, exploring and being. A harassed mother’s “get out from under my feet” allowed one to use one’s own feet to advantage. 

And the shadow side? There is solitude; there is loneliness. It is a linked dance. I think that during those years I made a friend of myself and of the darkness,  at home with the dwarves and gods of Norse mythology, the stripes and fur of the Jungle Books  —


Slipped between the worlds of the dead and living,

Between the seconds of the front-room clock,

Between the grains of sand which pad the sandbags

Layered like drowsy pigs against the window . . .


The sirens have sounded the ‘Alert’.  I can sense, though, the dawn light respite of the ‘All Clear’. But makers will still know that self-isolation comes with their territory.

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