With Love from Lockdown

Is anyone else finding this stage of lockdown the hardest, the most uncertain and the most stressful? I’m probably going to stay with the former stages for a bit longer in a hopefully safe summer hibernation in quiet and lovely East Runton.  I am privileged to be able to do this and totally recognise that so many others do not have this choice.

Lockdown has been a positive experience from the micro point of view but extremely disturbing from the macro point of view.  The what-ifs and uncertainty, the heart plummet and increased heart rate with every newsfeed scroll and perusal of the weekend papers.

So, in this blog I’m going to focus on the micro and  the positive and share some of my lockdown experiences.  I hope you will all do so too in the comments section of the blog page!

Lockdown Highlights

  • Sunsets over the sea. We try to watch these a couple of times a week – they are always different – sometimes watercolour, sometimes oil, sometimes the sun hides behind angry monochrome.  One of the things which hasn’t improved over lockdown is our photographic skills, but this one’s my favourite so far.

 

  • Beach walks. Foam on the beach liked whipped cream from churned algal blooms; terns diving like tiny missiles; the changing texture of the sand underfoot and the thought that these were once part of much bigger rocks and stones, that we are treading on particles of pre-history; the occasional paddle with underlying thoughts of when the sea will be warm enough for me to attempt my first swim of the year; Cromer Pier as the light changes.

 

  • Local walks inland – we’ve seen the lambs grow from bouncy Easter newbies to plump-bottomed teenagers. The pygmy goats are still pregnant, as is the dun coloured donkey – come on girls, we want babies!

  • I’ve been enjoying a friend’s on-line diary/blog which he kept every day for at least 12 weeks to record impressions of pre-lockdown and lockdown. I didn’t realise that the Mass Observation project, which started in 1937 and continued into the 1960s, had been revived.  They’ve been recording the observations of ordinary people since 1981 and are particularly interested in responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The original project consisted of questionnaires and diaries kept by 500 volunteers, one of which was Housewife 49, Nella Last.  Her diaries have been published and were immortalised on TV with Victoria Wood in the role of Nella.  It feels an important time to record experiences, this is history in the making.  If you are interested in sending your observations go to http://www.massobs.org.uk/write-for-us/covid-19  for more information.
  • Cycle rides – we are gradually going a little bit further every time. When we lived in Norwich I clocked up around 100 miles a week cycling to work, into the city to meet friends and to the stables where the horse I owned for around 10 years would be impatiently waiting for his hack around Keswick Mill.  Some weekends we would cycle for around 70 miles for pleasure.  Then there was a 12 year gap where, once we relocated to West Norfolk, we tended to walk rather than cycle.  Now, we’re back!  We’ve cycled to Mundesley and back via the Quiet Lanes (Mundesley, sadly, always looks closed, lockdown or not), then another trip to Cley where we sat on the beach and watched cormorants and avocets fly past as we ate our sandwiches.  This week was the big one – all the way to Waxham.  As we hit the beach we could see a row of curious grey seal heads, like black periscopes, all turning to watch the spectacle of humans sitting and walking and paddling.  Waxham’s sands are punctuated by old style groynes and rocks and, as we clambered over each one, the same scene greeted us until we hit the jackpot – hundreds of seals, all different ages, basking on the beach, their low moaning calls muffled by the noisy waves.
  • New murals appearing in Cromer and Sheringham – lockdown art is a big thing from rainbows to chalk drawings on the seawalls.  Here’s my favourite.  Einstein on the Beach!
  • Chris’s harmonica lessons. I thought this might drive me slightly crazy but it’s actually been really endearing to hear his dedication to the cause.  The other day a shiny new harmonica arrived in the post with the all important 10 holes (he’d been struggling with an inappropriate 12 apparently).  His impression of a 1930s American goods train is slowly taking shape…
  • Chris’s 1960s viewfinder found in the loft of his childhood home and languishing in our own loft until very recently. We ration ourselves to a set of slides a day.  The commercial slides all seem to have been compiled in the 1950s and early 1960s: a very jingoistic set of Tarzan slides, bizarrely out of order Munsters and Mary Poppins.  There are also endless slides of Greece, Italy, Berlin – all very unprofessional with garish colour, people in the way and dodgy composition (yes, these are commercial slides you actually bought back in the day!).  It’s been totally engaging and an insight into what now seems a very innocent age of travel and entertainment.Vintage 1950's-1960's Sawyers 3-D 3-Dimension Viewer Model E ...
  • Poetry Events. Normally I have to limit myself due to time and travel but not now!  Every Monday night I “go” to an open mic poetry event in Paris.  It used to be held in the basement of Le Chat Noir but is now hosted by organiser David Barnes from his balcony near Père Lachaise.  It was once called Spoken Word but is now called Spoken World – the poets come from all over the USA as well as Paris, Berlin, Edinburgh and East Runton!  The Norwich Stanza group (peer poetry feedback) I belong to is now happening via Zoom (no more worrying about missing the last train home!) and I’ve joined another Stanza group in South Kensington.  I’ve been to lots of poetry launches and open mic events in London and next week I’m going to the launch of Katrina Naomi’s new collection, Wild Persistence, hosted by her Welsh-based publisher, Seren.  One of my favourite events was Jenny Pagdin’s Lockdown Stage which brought together a host of Norwich poets and two talented London guests too, you can still hear the readings via this YouTube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g32XN9tlcwo  Martin Figura and Helen Ivory are regularly hosting some great poetry readings from lockdown in The Butchery.  All this without shelling out for a single train fare.  The downside is that I’ve bought rather a lot of new poetry books, no, wait, that’s an upside!
  • I’m just writing my 20th new poem since lockdown although my creative energy is starting to flag a wee bit. There have been a lot of articles in the press about how productive Shakespeare and Milton were when they were, respectively, locked out of London and theatreland due to the Plague, or in prison.  My life hasn’t been quite so extreme.  I’ve very much enjoyed having time to curl up on the sofa in our garden room (more like a ramshackle conservatory-cum-lean-to, but we aspire…) and write.  The title of this blog With Love from Lockdown is also the title of the first poem I wrote after lockdown.  I was delighted when it was accepted for the Poetry for an Infected World, Postcards from Malthusia project by the two poets who run New Boots and Pantisocracies where you can find a series of interesting poetry projects. Go here to see the poems: https://newbootsandpantisocracies.wordpress.com/  I’ve always been interested in 18th century economist Thomas Malthus’s ideas.  His theory that if a species becomes too dominant then nature will find its way of redressing the balance seems to have considerable relevance today.  He’s known as the Gloomy Philospher but looks unfailingly chirpy in the portraits I’ve seen of him:

Thomas Malthus on Population

  • I’ve loved catching up with friends via Zoom, Skype and phone calls. So much more time to do this – I feel much more connected to my gang! It’s been wonderful to connect with friends in Europe and London friends who have, in the past, had such busy diaries it’s been like trying to find a tricky bit of sky on a giant jigsaw for a get-together.  Another upside is that I’m more technologically literate than I used to be, but that’s not difficult to achieve as I was a pretty low-level user before lockdown!
  • More time to read has been a real boon. I’ve got through piles of hitherto unread books and have been particularly enjoying exploring American poets including Ada Limon (The Carrying, Dead Bright Things), Mary Ruefle (My Private Property), Danez Smith (Homie).  Heidi Williamson’s superb Return by Minor Road is out officially this month (one of the many books delayed by the Coronavirus).  I love, respect and admire this book.  Heidi is a great friend and she has put her heart and soul and so much else into this collection which explores the primary school shooting at Dunblane where she was living at the time.  It’s so sensitively written.  An intensely profound meditation on love and loss.  If you do buy any poetry books during this period then do try to get them directly from the publishers as they are really struggling with no bookshops open to sell their authors’ work and the only launches possible are on digital platforms with no bookstalls…  Heidi’s is available from Bloodaxe  https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/search/  My latest read has been the bizarre and wholly wonderful Alice B Toklas Cookbook which describes all the recipes Alice would cook for her lifelong partner, Gertrude Stein.  They lived together from 1908 when Alice arrived in Paris, a refugee from the San Francisco earthquake, and were together until Gertrude’s death in 1946.  My favourite moment is where Alice serves a dish to Picasso and is told it would be more suitable for Matisse! I love this picture of them, they look really conventional but were completely groundbreaking in so many ways.

Legendary Lovers: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

  • T’ai Chi, qi gong, meditation and yoga. I used to do these so regularly but other things gradually pushed them into a minor role.  During lockdown I’ve been doing a combination of these practices on a more or less daily basis, with a bit of Pilates thrown in to try and strengthen by ever pesky wrists (weak thanks to a bout of tenosynovitis in my twenties).
  • I’ve learnt how to cut my own fringe!
  • Recipes – new and old – one of my best re-discoveries is the joy of cornbread and how much better the accompanying spicy chilli is with the addition of a bar of very dark chocolate.  It takes me back to my travels in Mexico, but that’s another story…

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