23/03/2020

Care in The Time of Corona

Shirin Jacob

       We live in a beautiful Art Deco town on the western coast of Norway, which serves as the gateway to the famous Geiranger fjord. Ålesund was about to be engulfed by the annual tourist season. Though we had confirmed our first imported case of Covid-19 on the 26 th February,  life had carried on much the same. 

     The 11 th of March, two weeks later, was a turning point when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO. Overnight, the Norwegian government closed kindergardens, schools, universities, beauty parlors, pubs, wine bars and, horror of all horrors, gyms and hairdressers. Keeping fit and beautiful hair are national obsessions.

      Economically, our little town took a major hit when the port was closed both to the monster cruiseships as well as Hurtigruten, the famous postal boat, which plies daily with travellers from Bergen on the south west coast to Kirkenes above the Arctic Circle. Many businesses faced closures and layoffs. The mood was uncertain and fearful. 

       What happened next in Norway requires a little off-piste preamble. What is ‘typisk norsk’ or typically Norwegian is  a favourite topic of discussion here and we even have an amusing TV documentary dedicated to it. Norway has been independent for only 115 years and defining our national identity separate to the general Scandinavian one is important. Simultaneous to independence from Sweden in 1905, Norway chose to invite a Danish prince to be our king. And even though Norwegians embody ‘likestilling’ or equality, we treasure and respect our royal family. 

     King Harald V, the grandson of the beloved Danish Prince Carl, made a televised speech to the nation four days after the sweeping laws came into effect. He has looked frail for some time and was observing quarantine at the royal lodge after an official trip to Spain.

    The King addressed his people with a simple but powerful speech that left me emotional and touched. It was a masterful speech. 

     He first acknowledged that the terrible uncertainty, the seriousness of the situation and our sense of powerlessness understandably led us to feel vulnerable. 

    Secondly he urged  everyone to follow the government’s regulations. 

    He finally stirred the nation like a king rallying his troops into battle by reminding us the values we stand for: our trust based society, our sense of fellowship and free service we routinely extend to each other and unique to most international leaders, he urged us to Take Care of and Reassure our Children. The Children. Always the Children. 

    This is ‘typisk norsk’. Our children are our future. The weapons on show on our national day is the barnetog- the children’s parade. Not soldiers, not planes but Norways most potent weapon for the future, our children. 

     Erna Solberg, our highly respected prime minister and two cabinet ministers, the following day, held a televised speech for .... The Children. She sympathised with the cancelled birthday parties, reassured them that it was perfectly normal to feel afraid of getting infected, clarified that the age group at risk was not them; explained to them how she would handle it if she herself fell ill and shared her succession plan if she was not well enough to run her government. Finally, the children were urged to call an emergency number or seek help if they felt unsafe with the adults around them at home. 

    It may seem like window dressing to foreigners but here, respect for children is an essential part of our cultural identity. The prime minister who is a mother herself probably felt the need to reassure them whilst they were being overwhelmed by disaster news. Post traumatic stress disorder has been a result from much less. By allaying the children’s anxiety and answering their innocent and direct questions, she managed to calm the watching adults as well.

 

Det er bedre å tenne et lys enn å forbanne mørket. Konfucius. 
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
A Chinese proverb that is often quoted in Norwegian.

 

Our harbour
When the Covid-19 gets tough, go cod fishing.
Viking proverb.

23/03/2020

Bristol Calling

Simon Davies

  When a good friend asked me to write this piece I had to accommodate it in my busy routine: nine hours of sleep; one hour in the bath listening to Front Row; and two hours reading The Guardian. 
 

  It was in The Guardian that I came across an article on the charity, Art UK, which was expanding its database to include sculpture and to allow people to make their own selections and post them on line (“But I Know What I Like” – virtual art shows for DIY Curators, Friday 20th March). I had never heard of it before but it shows every publicly owned oil painting in the UK and tells you where each one of them is.
 

  Ever since I watched a television programme by Mark Gatiss on John Minton, I had wanted to see some of his pictures but had only found his self portrait in the Portrait Gallery. He was a popular artist and teacher in the 1940s and 50s with a life centred round Soho. When he went out of fashion he became depressed and in 1957 took his own life aged 39. He illustrated Elizabeth David’s cookbooks and travelled to Corsica and Jamaica. I was particularly interested to find the Jamaican paintings as I had spent part of my life there. I knew there was enormous Jamaican painting that had been sitting in a barn or garage for years. 
 

  Art UK lists 53 of his pictures in galleries and institutions from Southampton to Aberdeen. There is also a map of where they are which I found difficult to manipulate. The location of several pictures is given as The Tate but on the map they don’t appear to be in Tate Britain or Tate Modern so I suppose they could be in Liverpool or St Ives. 

I have only looked at the site once so I hope to get better at it and to plan some visits but not of course for the duration.
 

23/03/2020

Hello from where I live in New York State….

Sue

Hello from where I live in New York State, about  45 minutes north of Manhattan and about 2 minutes from the 3-mile-wide Hudson River.  You may know me by my Instagram name Carrlytt….my real world name is Susan.

 

As I am writing this, the sun is shining and the stream which passes by our secluded house in the woods, is flowing under the bridge and over the dam. Spring is only just now beginning to appear here, with delicate tinges of green and daffodils on the verge of blooming.  My surroundings are so difficult to reconcile with what is going on just up at the top of our drive and out into and around the world.  At present, my geographical  location is unfortunately winning the prize for being the state with the most coronavirus cases within the United States, and the second most infected county within the state (NYC being the grand prize winner). When I look at the graphic virus map (which I try not to do very often), our location looks like a gigantic infected blister which keeps expanding and reddening.

 

Meanwhile, back down our drive, over the bridge and across the stream…now that we are living as we are told we should live, in our virus-induced secluded life, I feel like this should be a good opportunity for me to work on some new introspective and creative projects… but I am having great difficulty concentrating. Instead, much time is spent with our dog Jay outdoors- hiking… hiking… and more hiking..  absorbing nature, fresh clean air, listening to sounds and watching the light change.   While it is possible to see the skyline of densely populated and developed NYC from the Hudson River just below us, we are fortunate to live near miles and miles of  bridle trails which wind their way through the nearly 1800 pristine Rockefeller State Park Preserve acres….passing through fields and forests and alongside rivers.  The area is home to all sorts of wildlife….deer, a few coyotes, foxes, smaller mammals and birds. We go at dawn because I like to watch the sun rising and at that time of day there are very few people…..mostly people with their dog (s).  

 

The highlight of today’s hike was when we ran into a lovely Peruvian lady and her Mexican hairless dog, or as the breed is officially known- Xoloitzcuintle  (I have no idea how it is pronounced!!!) who was dressed...the dog not the woman...in fuzzy pajamas and a Navajo Indian Blanket cape..a much appreciated incongruous vignette.

23/03/2020

Pedagogy and Print

Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire

Over the past two weeks I’ve been watching as the train I catch every morning has been emptying. Generally, I consider myself lucky if I get a seat at all, but this last week there was another teacher I know, a school girl, a handful of other people and I in the entire carriage. As an asthma sufferer I was wondering why I was still running the gauntlet of the commute and classroom. On Tuesday it emerged that an ‘at risk’ list had been released by the government and that I could start to self-isolate. I chose to go into school on Wednesday as one of my students had his final Annual Review meeting, but from Thursday, was self-isolating and working from home. I have some termly reports to finish off and an idea for a story project for my students that I want to work on; it involves making a series of pen, ink and watercolour illustrations. I may share them with you here at some point. 
 

On Wednesday evening the government announced that schools would close indefinitely from Monday. All staff at my school received an email from the headteacher on Thursday to say that in line with the governments recommendations for vulnerable students and those with education, health and care plans (EHCPs), as a special school, we would remain open, including during the Easter holidays. This is good news for the students, who dislike having their routines disrupted, the parents, who need as much support as possible to continue going to work themselves, or work from home, and who sometimes struggle with their children’s behaviours. It is also good news for those colleagues of mine who are employed through agencies and were worried that their incomes were about to drop off a cliff. However, I also fear that the school environment is a breeding ground for coronavirus. Anyway, I won’t be among them and that makes me feel guilty.
 

So, apart from school work, what am I going to do with all this time? I am looking forward to doing more printmaking, spending time with my lovely wife, Tilly, reading, and possibly doing some projects around the house and garden. One thing we both want to keep up is regular exercise. With the weekend weather shaping up nicely and full sun in the forecast we decided to revisit some of our favourite walks. On Friday we went on one which follows the boundary of the grounds of St Pauls Walden Bury, the house where The Queen Mother grew up, a walk most noteworthy on this day for the muddiness of the paths. By Saturday the paths had dried out somewhat and we made a circular walk from the little village of Hexton that also takes in Pegsdon Hill which still shows iron age terracing along its flanks. The red kites were out in force, flying low over the farmland, while higher up, buzzards were circling on the thermals. Today we walked from Sundon Country Park to Sharpenhoe Clappers, a tree topped hill which dominates the landscape at this northern point of The Chiltern Hills. I have included it in the background of a couple of my linocuts such as ‘Fox’ reproduced here. 
 

There is plenty to enjoy and lift the spirits in nature at this time of year. Leaves are beginning to burst from bankside, hedgerow, tree and forest floor, and the blackthorn blossom is blooming on their otherwise skeletal bushes. Birdsong is all around from blackbirds, robins, wrens and tits. When we left the wooded top of Sharpenhoe Clappers and walked through the adjoining meadows, we suddenly found ourselves joyously surrounded by the sound of skylarks. The countryside was full of people, walking their dogs, giving the children a chance to stretch their legs. I looked up and didn’t see any white streaks of airplane trails to spoil the unbroken blue. At least this virus is giving the planet a much-needed pause from some of our polluting.

23/03/2020

From St Just

Jane Griffiths

     In the real world, I’d have arrived here next Wednesday for a month or so. In this unreal world, I arrived yesterday for a close friend’s (non-virus-related) funeral, having considered packing for only a few days but then adding the bread-maker and a large number of tins in case of needing to self-isolate, also on reflection the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the Complete Works of Chaucer, the Complete Works of John Audelay, John Gower, and James Ryman, quite a bit of Spenser, Hoccleve, and Lydgate and most of Elizabeth Bishop - though foolishly no Elizabeth Bowen. And extra cat food. And on third thoughts some spring-like shirts in case there’s a lock-down and I end up staying till June, next term having been cancelled – except virtually – anyhow.

    What is wretched is the way the virus has made it impossible for a lot of people to come to Paul’s funeral, and the way the general chaos has made it very difficult to realise his death.

23/03/2020

From rural New York

Sandy Connors

Nestled between the Hudson River on the west and the Berkshire Mountains on the east, my hamlet (too small to be a village) surrounded by gentle hills, pastures and farmland, is about 150 miles north of New York City which was just reported to be the epicenter of the Coronavirus in the US. Most of my neighbors are full-time residents with a few weekenders from the city, but very few of those are here this week.  Many of us are retired, and almost all those that work are now doing so from home. Schools are closed so every day the children are playing outdoors.  There are no church services and our lovely little library, just down the street is also closed. Only the Post Office is open and I walk down to pick up my mail and hear whatever local news there may be from our favorite postmistress.  I am now wearing rubber gloves I had in my print shop and a surgical mask left-over from my elder-care-giving days when I have to shop.  I don’t know anyone who has tested positive or who is sick yet.


I heard the first spring peepers yesterday, a sound I look forward to every end of March, and I rejoice as I always do, with the comforting reliability of their return and the promise of spring.  Thank heavens for spring ~ the garden beckons, the dogs run and play tag, then come back in to rest by the warmth of the wood stove.  I make a cup of tea, pick up my knitting, or work on an engraving, check on my family and friends and somewhere in middle of my day, I remember ~ and wonder what is to come.

23/03/2020

Survival diary

Susan - Country Victoria, Australia

Next weekend we had planned a five hour road trip to see my nephew in a little hamlet near the Gippsland Lakes. It is his birthday on Friday and we wanted to share food to celebrate the day of his birth and also his still being with us. In January he survived catastrophic bushfires. For 24 sickening hours we watched, waited and feared the worst. We cannot go now, all non essential travel has been curtailed and the first two cases of Covid 19 have been recorded in our area. The pandemic is the only thing anyone talks about (oh, except the man at the panel beaters, he and I exchanged joy about the glorious sunny day) and the anxiety sits in the back of my mind no matter what sits in the forefront.

 

Preparing food for the weekend and packing a box of home preserves for Philip was taking me away from a form of madness that has gripped my community. A little town with streets crowded with cars, the destination in my part of town is the wholesale butchers. People not maintaining any safe distance from each other are piling enormous bags of lamb and beef into car boots and the backs of utes. Many are wearing plastic gloves which somehow alarms me more than the huge packages of bloody cargo. I don’t live near the abattoir, but that is all I can smell on my verandah as I step outside before bed to look at the stars.

 

The town is at least being spared of the bus and carloads of people from distant communities panic shopping. I am pleased to see people I know carrying essential supplies from the supermarket today. On my long dog walk I see few people, but those I do exchange happy greetings. I leave a card with my phone number in the mailbox of a casual acquaintance who lives alone and has diabetes. As I near home car horns toot and windows are wound down to call out my name and a greeting. I feel a warmth.

 

Late this afternoon my phone sounds it’s warning. The app which tells me there is a bushfire within my 20 km watch zone is now being used to send out a daily pandemic update. I decide to cut up some pears I was going to bottle tomorrow and do them now instead, and smell the slow baking quinces I prepared earlier are starting to perfume the house. They will be good for breakfast on top of the oat porridge. I hold on to the ordinary. 

23/03/2020

Behind the red door

LS - West Sussex

I admit I’m scared. On Saturday after hearing an emotional, bare interview with an A&E doctor on the BBC radio 5 sounds app, I almost had a melt down. Actually, everyone should listen to it. I gave myself a good talking to and my husband (M) hugged me and said all the right things. Just the two of us at home now and we’re lucky as we are both curious about life and have plenty to fill our days. We have been lucky and really so far have been able to find all the food etc that we need, finally found tin toms in Lidl!

My son and his partner called round yesterday but we didn’t go indoors, just stayed on the patio, kept our distance and spent a lovely hour drinking tea and gorging on the scrummy cherry traybake his partner had baked. Sad, as this lovely baker has to return to Canada today to look after his elderly parents, we couldn’t hug him goodbye and god knows when we will see him again.

My daughter’s first child is five weeks old so contact is very limited. Never in our wildest dreams did we envisage this strange world for our beautiful grandson.

Gardening today and probably most days and that is a wonderful thing. I’m going to move lots of things around, starting with a huge clematis which always gets covered in mildew. 

I work for the NHS and I’m back on Thursday. I am worried as we have no option but be very close to the general public. We collect blood donations and I’m sure there have been some changes while I’ve been away, we shall see but I work with a fantastic team of funny, supportive and hardworking people so we’ll be ok.

23/03/2020

Midwife 42

Emma

Whilst I give the lawns a late summer mow and deadhead the hydrangeas - I’ve been mulling over what to write. 

 

My adopted home - the South Island of New Zealand - has been on the periphery of the pandemic and though it’s a subject on everyone’s mind - it’s been pretty much business as usual; Supermarkets have remained un- ransacked, we have piled into school and work as always. Keeping an eye on the global news; predicting our future over flat whites and friands.

 

1/2 an hour ago our Prime Minister has announced a Level 4 lockdown - everyone back to barracks, no school, no work, no loitering with anything close to intent- for the next 4 weeks. 

There’s a palpable sense of urgency as we’re given 48hrs to prepare for the coming month and a call from my husband as to what essentials we might need - a bit more milk, juice, extra cat food. 

 

We are very lucky to live in the middle of nowhere, on an island that has more sheep than people. Our lockdown will look quite different to my UK counterparts we have the countryside and the ocean on our door step. The children are already loudly proclaiming their joy at this unexpected holiday - the idea of online classes in pyjamas with lap cats appeals to them no end.

 

And yet I’m not sure how I feel. 

 

However, there are babies to be caught and fed and no amount of social distancing will stop life from arriving. 

23/03/2020

Musing from self isolation

Billy Hearld

It’s the first day of the quarantine and the world seems softer, less loud and slower. We of course still go about our day to day mundanities, but without urgency. 

 

Our stomachs warm from carrot and coriander soup (wolfed down with muffins and tea) myself and my family pull on our mud gilded wellingtons and shrug our tatty old coats, driving out to the Ings to stretch our legs. 

 

It is difficult to describe the Ings. I think it feels haunted. There’s something about it- the way the wind hisses in the bulrushes, whips the grey grass or makes the branches of trees dance - that tints it’s beauty with foreboding. My sister and I race around, tearing over the marshy soul, filling our lungs with air. We are glad to be out in the open. We scramble over fallen trees, climb oaks and leap over the hay bales which slump on the path. 

 

The crows caw mockingly. I always loved crows. 

 

We follow the path round until it become impassable. There recent floods had brought detritus to the rivers shore and had flattened the reeds, paving the floor with dry, cracked branches and stalks, littering it with a plethora of sorry looking objects:

 

A coconut

A tyre

Tennis balls

A children’s football- faded and flat

 

Unable to go any further we make our way home, resuming our mundanities with renewed vigour. 

23/03/2020

In a Canary Plantation

Amanda White

In the garden yesterday with my granddaughter. Her mum (my daughter) works at a local clinic so I am day carer in chief. We are squabbling amicably over where to plant half a dozen sprouting agapanthus bulbs bought at the church jumble sale weeks ago in what I now in my head call "normal times".

Lilly digs a far-too-big hole with all the gusto of a 4-year-old then carefully pats the earth snugly round the somewhat wilted green shoots. In the distance, the unmistakable chop-chop rumbling of a helicopter coming our way. 

And suddenly they are above us. Because, to Lilly's total delight, it turns out to be not one ordinary old police one as we expected, but two big huge mud green military choppers. They are flying so low we can see the soldiers sitting in the hatchway (is that the word?), legs dangling. We wave enthusiastically. Lilly shouts and jumps up and down. Seconds later they are gone. Huge excitement for a child, for me an unsettling sign of the lockdown times we are living through. 

We choose the next bulb, kneel down and begin digging another hole.

23/03/2020

Mary's Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard

I took a course last summer with a friend, Dianne, in Shibori Dyeing. Shibori involves stitching, folding, clamping, wrapping or crunching fabric before dyeing – most commonly in indigo. The resulting fabric is patterned with shapes where the dye does not penetrate. The effects can be terrific.

Dianne and I have been trying to organise a session at home ever since and we had planned a dyeing session for just after Easter. As that is now postponed we are both practicing our stitching techniques in preparation for a later date. 

I cut out fabric for a shirt/blouse in white cotton to sew after dyeing. On the fabric pieces I outlined one particular leaf shape in clusters – front, back, sleeves. I am now stitching the leaf shapes -each in one of six different ways, hoping to see a variety of patterns within the shapes. 

 

Each line of stitching needs to be done separately so that the stitching can be drawn up tight so the dye does not penetrate. It is time-consuming, and meditative and time is what I have just now.

23/03/2020

Corona Diaries

Annabel Grey

Friday 20th March - Day 1

We shut the shop today. 

Every Friday and Saturday I work in Verandah, a little shop in Holt. More than 4 people and its crowded, social distancing won't work here and I can't shout at the customers "Don't touch" "Wash your hands”  "Keep back”. I can't wipe down blankets or Marilyns knitwear though there is no feeding frenzy for a fair isle hat, or a cushion.

I call Marilyn, my fellow Verandah girl and tell her we have shut. She says she’ll come over so I go and get her some bread and milk from across the road. 

The  lovely, normally calm shop assistant was upset and exhausted by an influx of abrupt weekenders stripping the shelves bare. There's a maximum of 2 items per person now. Families were there with their kids like a day out in the summer. You shouldn't be here she said to an elderly gentleman in the queue. She gives me my weirdo flour, paleo, perfect for a pandemic. No one eats like me and I don't eat pasta, bread or tins of tomatoes. A weird restricted diet has got an upside.

 

Marilyn arrives and we sort out the books and take things out and I re arrange the shelves. We receive 2 parcels of huge beautiful porcelain jugs from Richard Pomeroy, part of our new stock for spring. I put them in a glass case and they look stunning. The armandii is in some vases and smells beautiful. It all looks very pretty.

I lock the door and feel very sad.

 

Go to the tiny veg shop up the road. It is the size of a small bathroom or big loo. A couple come in and the girl stands a foot behind me.  You're too close I say. You need to behave like I'm diseased and you are too"  They give me a death stare and strops out.

Then a man comes in and does the same thing. I lean into the sweet potatoes to make a gap. When I try and leave his stomach is so large I can't get past. He breathes in which makes no difference. My way is blocked.

 

Rishi Sunack is on the radio. Massive eye watering amounts of money to be given to businesses to pay 80% of employees wages. No help for the self employed. Feel even more sad and scared. Were all f.....d!

 

I take Earnie for a walk.

Ring my mum who is chomping her way through the violet creams I sent earlier in the week for Mothers Day. There's no run on them either.

Listen to an awful interview with a doctor who pleads for people to self isolate. The news is dire. 

 

Saturday 21st

Wake up early. Listen to the news. What about the self employed they say.

Feed the cat, Earnie and the chickens. Nowhere to go. Verandah is shut. 

Get the Dyson out, kitchen is a tip. Hate the Dyson, put it away and get Hettie, Henrys sister. Stress requires major cleaning.

Make a paleo cake for the neighbours (70 and 80 ish) who are going to come for a socially distanced tea in the garden. Its freezing. I make Diana guess the pattern of nuts on top of the cake. She guesses correctly, a coronavirus. She gives me a dark look. It tastes delicious.

800 people die in Italy today.

 

Sunday 22nd

The sun is shining.

I go and get some grow bags and some veg from down the road and consider getting some more chickens. The lady (2 metres in front of me) picks up every leek and puts it back. I keep my mouth shut and pick the leek up with a paper bag. 

Go for a walk with Earnie where there won't be anybody. I meet Ramblers! The husband peels off into the newly sown field and the wife into the hedge. Then I see more people, not locals, I dive into the next field. I pass their very clean, white and urban cars, no mud. Pot up dahlias.

 

I watch Belgravia then the news. The beaches are heaving, queues at the chip shop in Wells. Shops close as so many holiday makers are there. The locals are fearful. Tension in the air, the borders are closing. The local MP writes an open letter pleading for the second homers to stay away. 

The government announces that self isolation and staying in does not mean going to your second home, or on holiday or camping!

Stay in your primary residence they say.

The poor doctors get together and plead for people to stay at home. I go to bed.

23/03/2020

The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin

‘I got eggs!’ 

Dad is back; the hunter gatherer returned.

‘One box per customer, but at least we’ve got one.’

I take the box and pack it with the rest of our fridge contents into cool bags. 

We’re packing. Running away. Corona Cowards. 

Leaving before London gets locked down, before the parks are shut, before the police have to patrol to keep people indoors.

Peckham is our home, where you were born and, over the last week, it’s felt like Christmas; streets full of people, churches in full voice, Rye lane packed with people of all ages, busy with shopping, not for a celebration, but for who knows what. 

We’ve joined the throng, queued at the butchers and got take-away at the cafes, we’ve taken you to the park and watched as what felt like the London marathon took over the rye as hundreds of Working From Home joggers took to their trainers. 

As the week went on, the forays to the shop felt more alarming, distances between neighbours were clocked, Dad and I muttered that so and so was too close, that Mr coughed in our direction, that Mrs didn’t look all that well.

I began to panic when you meandered towards a fellow toddler at the playground and then worried more about the impact isolating a toddler might have on your future social skills. 

Your Dad and I are both self employed, we work in film and theatre, our industries ground to a halt last week, cameras stopped rolling, theatres switched off the lights except for a solitary bulb on stages across the land (a promise to return). Shows cancelled, months of work put on hold, a massive abyss opened and a million screaming artists fell in. 

The noise of those silent screams emanating across tweets and posts and messages was immense. This is the sound of a very modern battle; the sound of silence except for my own breath getting sharper as my fear for friends and colleagues grows with every tweet. 

The day we decide to leave, I’m awake at 6am. I’m listening. I can hear bird song, loud and clear. No drones of planes or chugs of trains to drown them out, the birds are delighting in the quiet. There are positives to be found.  

We pack the car with at least seven days worth of food and vow not to see another soul for at least a week whilst we rid ourselves of our city germs. 

You are restless and force us to stop once for a pee. It’s eerily quiet at the Welcome Break, all we see is an illicit gathering of mods, who share fags, banter and germs before getting back on their scooters. 

We arrive at our little house in the hills, the sun is shining and the country birds are in as fine voice as their city cousins. 

We unpack and watch as you explore your new surroundings; the mud, the huge trees, the babbling stream. We breathe a sigh of relief to be here, the middle of nowhere, and then the guilt creeps in…

23/03/2020

Avec amour, Le Malandri D174

J.C.

Thank goodness the suns out today. Only 2 cars have passes by in the last 3 hours while I've been preparing the potato patch. There are no jet trails.... just the sound of birds and frogs.

23/03/2020

The Undivided Self

JH, Lewes, East Sussex

We passed the Equinox just before 4 o’clock on Friday morning.

I was lying awake at the time, thinking about public health. Macroeconomics. Behavioural science. I don’t have the capacity to process these things in the daylight, let alone the small hours, but my brain won’t let them alone. It’s as though it’s taking orders from somewhere else.

I was grateful for the dawn. When I got down to the kitchen, the dog was equally pleased to see me, capering at my heels as I got his food out of the back room. I fed him, made myself a mug of tea and sat down on the sofa to absorb the day’s news.

Normally, by this time, we are rushing in and out of the bathroom and the kitchen, hunting for coats and shoes and school things and car keys.

Normally, I leave the house at 7.30 and walk to the station, where I buy another mug of tea from the café and stand in my usual place on the platform.

Normally, I board the 7.46, get a table seat, open my laptop and start work as we rattle over the level crossing at Cooksbridge.

Normally, the train fills up around me as we pass through Hayward’s Heath, Gatwick, East Croydon and Clapham Junction. At Victoria, I push through the crowds and into the Underground. 

Normally, I get to the office at 9.30 and enter a round of meetings and phone calls. I make difficult decisions and balance conflicting ideas and demands. I give speeches and interviews and draft policy papers and lobby MPs and laugh with my colleagues. I put on a good show.

But this isn’t a normal day. I am still on the sofa as 7 gives way to 8, to 9, to 10 o’clock…

At 11, we have a team meeting. I open my laptop, but I don’t feel ready for this. I am not in work mode. I have not passed through the ritual stages that divide home from work. I feel naked.

The screen subdivides to show my colleagues in their homes. Very literary, says one, as my backdrop of bookshelves and paintings comes into view. This is who I am at home, not who I am at work.

I hear my family move around the house as I try to chair the online meeting. They hear me attempting to get into professional mode, deepening my voice, conjuring up a more decisive version of myself.

RD Laing said that the self is divided in two: an authentic self, which we keep private; and a public persona, which we share with the world. For me, the border between my two selves is located somewhere near Horley.

For the next three months, I will not be passing through Horley. My two selves will be forced to share a single existence. My ‘work’ self and my ‘home’ self have not cohabited like this since I started nursery school, more than forty years ago.

From this Spring Equinox until the Summer Solstice, I will be undividing myself. What will I find, as my selves come back together? Will I like it? Or do I need to lead two lives? This is not an experiment I chose, but I am fascinated to see how it plays out.

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