These entries are contributions from the ongoing journals and scrapbooks of subscribers to the Bath Writers and Artists group. Here is the invitation to contributors from Sue Boyle
DEAR WRITERS AND ARTISTS
You may remember that I promised to firm up my thoughts about the morning of the second planned meetup of our revised year, which we are still calling “September” although it certainly will be happening much later than that.
Here is the link to the blog Page : https://bathartistsandwriters.blog/saturday-26-september-2020/
Now that we have allocated the full “June” Day in the Murch Room to those subscribers who would like to work with the idea of Climate Change and Climate Catastrophe, we will pull this theme entirely out of the “September” morning and I want to propose instead a project linked to the Bath Record Office invitation which Ann Cullis recently sent out.
Bath Record Office ( as you can see on the link below) are asking people to keep a diary of their experience of the corona virus lockdown. I am asking you to do something very similar, using any medium/any media you please, and with the idea that you will bring some or all of your ‘corona captured’ pieces when we assemble in the Lonsdale Room. It will be journal, but you don’t have to write it every day. It will record your experience of the pandemic lockdown, but the words ‘your experience’ of course also mean ’your thoughts’, ‘your reflections’, ‘your moments of insight’, even borrowings from other people’s experiences and thoughts. I also think that the idea of ’scrapbook’ might be useful to some people, as an alternative to ‘journal’ depending on how you individually like to work.
At this stage, you need not be thinking of polished/edited work because there will be plenty of time to select and structure and plan our morning programme when we get closer to our actual sharing time.
TRUTHFUL, INSIGHTFUL, PERSONAL, UNEXPECTED are qualities which make any journal come alive. And of course, because this is inevitable, if you really are being truthful and personal, what you bring will be PRECIOUS, SURPRISING, ENRICHING and ILLUMINATING to anyone lucky enough to share.
If you live in Bath, of course, you can also make your BW&A project part of/the whole of a response to the Bath Record Office, whose website details I am repeating here : https://www.batharchives.co.uk/corona-captured
This CORONA CAPTURED Page is for subscribers who would like to start contributing to a conversation as we go along. Please post up for yourselves if you have the WordPress skills. If not, I will update the Page as up with contributions coming to me as The Venice Book allows.
from SUE BOYLE on 20th April 2020
And make one little room an everywhere …. seems quite an appropriate legend for my corona posts. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, as I am, and with it being spring, it seems wonderful to have time to do a bit of learning about all the strange and magical things that are going on. I caught this newt yesterday, by accident, while bailing out duckweed from my pond. He/she had come to the pond to breed, attracted apparently by the nocturnal purring of the mating toads a little earlier in the year. This is the first time ever I have seen a newt. The photo is imperfect because this newt is small, but I shall treasure it just the same. Tomorrow I am going to do a little post about ladybirds. ( Thank you google for all this home education.)
from ANN PRESTON on April 21 2020
Just before the pandemic took hold I wrote a poem called Don’t Think about the questions that kept me awake at night, questions like ‘Does this word really pull its weight?’ and ‘Where does one line start and another finish?’ Yesterday I deleted those questions and replaced them with the following: ‘Will she ever get the promised job?’, ‘Will their love withstand long separation?’ and ‘How will the world be changed?’
from SUE BOYLE on April 22 2020
Love Ann’s contribution about changing the questions that we ask. We inhabit imaginary houses with so many different rooms. The small compass of a garden. The vast compass of the world. Is Ann’s thought partly about choosing your vantage point at any particular moment in time? Or perhaps having it chosen for you by events. When we write only for ourselves, we can write in any room we choose. But when our writing goes out into the world, does it have any obligation to take notice of shared concerns? The pandemic rages on, but yesterday I could only focus on whether, following emergency surgery, my cat would get through the night.
from JANET SNOWDON on 30 April 2020
Nature is so generous, forgiving us our betrayal, our heedlessness of her warnings and most shamefully of all our refusal to acknowledge her pain and suffering. Forced by our ignorance to re-assert herself she does so not to mete out punishment but to save herself and us from total destruction. She continues to share her beauty and creativity, her burgeoning Spring, buds bursting forth on the trees, hedgerows brimming with colour and further promises to come. Her birdsong thrills us with its melodies, her sun warms us within and without, reminding us in these days of lockdown and fear that hope is still there if we open our eyes and move away from the blasphemy of greed and selfishness to the truth of compassion and love.
from JANET SNOWDON on May 1st 2020
When I look back on the lockdown my memory will be of two things. The first will be my early morning cycle rides in the hills above Bath, the fresh smell and sight of Spring, the welcome of the birds greeting the new day. I feel I am celebrating it in unison with them. There is an effortlessness and exhilaration that takes away all thought. The second is “ The Mirror and The Light, “ so absorbing nothing else exists. Unlike most other books the reader knows the outcome so instead of wondering what happens next we stay with the thoughts of the man in whose head we are travelling. We move at his pace again being completely absorbed in the moment. The deliciousness of the languages means automatically reading slowly to savour it. Having now finished the book I am bereft.
from VERONA BASS on May 10th 2020
This is a follow-up to my 4 th February post where I described planting several shrubs. Much has intervened since that time In a way that I could not have envisaged. In the last few days I have seen that several of the shrubs I put in so enthusiastically have indeed started showing some flowers, tentatively, but wonderfully encouragingly. One of the shrubs, however, has not done well. It is the Blue Ceanothus which had a less advantageous position being somewhat shaded for much of the day. I became aware that it was not thriving but let it stay at the back of my mind.
One day on a ramble in the locality I passed a spot where somebody had chosen to beautify a little public space on the roadside. This generous attitude is exemplary and part of the public -spiritedness that currently prevails. However a newly planted shrub was stolen by somebody within two hours of it being planted. The gardening benefactor wrote a notice and put it in the centre of the bed in question. He emphasized that it was for the public good and asked that things should not be pinched. I looked at this with the sort of outrage that one feels and then realized that I could offer my ailing blue Ceanothus because that was exactly the variety that was taken.
What I like about this story is that it wasn’t a straightforward matter of contacting the person who was managing the spot. It could’ve been one of several houses. But just then a postman that I know from his rounds came by and in the way that one does, at a suitable distance, I asked if he knew who did the planting. He did, or he thought he knew. I had already written on a handy envelope I had with me in my rucksack giving my phone number and making the suggestion, and I asked if the postman would put it through the relevant door. Within hours I had a WhatsApp message asking me for a picture of the plant with a garden fork next to it so that he could gauge the height. This was so that he could fetch it in his wheelbarrow. It was duly done the following morning, and a friendship has developed in the course of this process. I was sent a picture of the plant with details about the full bag of compost it received and the two gallons of water which saw it well established In its new home.
I have good reason to walk in that direction and to enjoy that blessed corner of Beachwood Drive. I often find my new friend working in his own garden set back from the spot, and we have our distanced conversations. It seems to me that this is a little parable of how things might be in our altered circumstances and in the peculiar times we find ourselves. Surely these generous local exchanges and the concentration of energies in the locality is a good outcome, or at least one of the hopeful signs?
from JANET SNOWDON on May 24th 2020
When I look back ( hopefully !) in years to come two memories of the strange time of lockdown will be at the forefront of my mind, the first being my early morning cycle rides in the hills around Bath with the spring bursting forth fresh and vibrant and the only company being that of the birds and their songs. The other will be The Mirror and The Light. I entered the world of the Tudors through the thoughts of Thomas Cromwell as I travelled with him in the last months of his life. We all know the story so there was no wondering what would happen next, just complete absorption in the head of the man as his life progressed slowly at the speed of his thoughts. I shared his experience of the sound of the church bells at evensong from a distant church, the darkening sky over the churning brown waters of the Thames, the smells of the city assailing the nostrils of his fellow Londoners. The reader experiences the taste of the herbs flavouring the food of the day, at least the food of the wealthy. The poverty of Thomas Cromwell’s background ensures we are acquainted with the dreary smells of deprivation in the streets of the poor in London. All the senses are engaged throughout the book as we effortlessly see, hear, smell and feel the details of the surroundings of the king’s favourite, soon to become his enemy. But this is not just the story of one man and his place in Tudor England. The characters of those who people the story reveal themselves in ways familiar to us all, reminding the reader that human nature beneath the veneer of culture is the same everywhere regardless of time, country, creed or race. The scheming, betrayals and ambitions of the courtiers are no different from those of politicians everywhere in all times, the only difference being in modern democracies at least we don’t physically behead them! This alone gives the story a relevance to the lives we all lead. There is even a plague and the fears and attempts at isolation that follow in it’s wake ! Sitting at the bottom of my garden by the pond I remained utterly absorbed in the moment as if in a state of meditation. The only problem was reaching the end. I returned to my concerns of what our predicament entails for our future, thoughts even the glory of my cycle rides failed to entirely dispel.
from ANN PRESTON on May 28th 2020
though written on May 13th
G is making lemon marmalade. It has to be lemon because Seville oranges aren’t available in the middle of May. He hasn’t been food shopping since before the lockdown but none of the local shops sell un-waxed lemons so he’s done a click and collect order (minimum of £40) from Sainsbury’s and made up the rest with beer, wine and esoteric items like ginger in syrup and jumbo raisins. The lemons are pale and quite small. After they’ve been simmering for two and a half hours they look even paler and shrunken like small sponges. They’re so soft that they can be shredded with a pair of scissors. Then they’re added back to the water in the pan together with two bags of sugar and simmered again. Finally, the hot liquid is poured into carefully prepared jam jars and the lids screwed on tightly. From time to time the kitchen echoes with the sound of gunshots as the safety buttons on the lids are drawn down into the contracting air.
When I was a child my sun-loving father enjoyed reading one particular Rupert story to me more than any other. In it, Rupert and his friends track down a mad scientist who has invented a way of bottling sunshine. When I hold a jar of G’s lemon marmalade up to the light, its golden glow is as magical as the thought of bottled sunshine on a dark winter’s evening.
from JANET SNOWDON 9th July 2020
There comes a time when the new normal becomes tedious. Zoom fatigue sets in and a yearning for real contact grows. In the early days of lockdown we were enthusiastic users of Zoom marvelling how we could be in touch with family and friends. But now Zoom fatigue has taken over and in reality touch is what we don’t have. The lack of human contact in some way diminishes us. Greeting friends and family was accompanied by a hug, a kiss, at the very least a shake of the hand. Children would run spontaneously into the arms of a grandparent, a favourite aunt, a friend. Now children have had to be taught to stand back, go against their instincts of spontaneity in love and tactile contact. When such is allowed again will there be a generation of children hesitant to be spontaneous in their affections ? Will their psyches be beset by new fears ? How will any of us trust again? Will social distancing be a permanent factor in our lives ? The old certainties will have gone as we remember how in the space of a few weeks we found ourselves in a dystopian world we never imagined we would inhabit.
from VERONA BASS 5th August 2020
THE GREEN FENCE
This is a tale which addresses how one approaches vexing problems in life. But I start with the fact that there are now only one and three-quarter panels left to paint. I’m prevented from doing so by wind and rain, but in fact I am glad because it means that there will be a few more fine hours for me to set up my gear for a quiet painting session of my fence, now a gentle olive green. A green that I like, as it complements the rest of the garden, acts as a foil and blends in quietly. These fifteen panels of standard wooden fencing ( seen all over the country in various states of repair and disrepair) have been the bane of my life in my quiet neck of the woods.
Legally it isn’t my fence to maintain, and over time there have been many terse exchanges with the people whose business it is to repair it, as the deeds show it as being ‘theirs’. Whenever winds have wreaked havoc and panels have been violently yanked out of place I have reacted with a mixture of distaste and despair at the ugliness of it all. Every time yet another mismatched panel was finally fitted in, the new colour offended my sensibilities and I railed at the lack of uniformity and the intrusive effect in my line of sight. I couldn’t help looking at it. I didn’t like the way it brought about this inharmonious state. It was a continuous irritation in a garden that otherwise was proving a haven of tranquillity.
One very sunny hot day with the forecast for a heatwave, I suddenly emerged from my lethargy and went to the shed, hauled out the pot of green fence paint that had been there for several years since the last painting of the same shed. I knew there would not be enough, but if I eked out the quantity across the first six or seven panels then it would be a start, and I would hope to source a matching green later, when I could leave the garden for a hardware store. I found a brush and a shallow paint tray; an old chair picked up in the road acted as the useful base to work from. Soon a rhythm developed, as efficiency makes for a better experience. I discovered that at most I could manage one full panel per hour, and also needed to start work when there was still shade on the area to be worked.
On the first day there was a tremendous racket coming from somewhere nearby, and I was grateful for the distraction of a practical task as our peace in the gardens was shattered by the noise. I later realised it was merely a careless mower next door, but it sounded as if there was construction work going on, of the long-lasting sort I dreaded. The next day I remembered that there was a small roller somewhere. I willed myself to find it, and by now there was something else at work here. It was ‘intention’ and a sort of goodwill towards the work itself. There was also silence, and blue skies and heat. In the concentration and quiet that has been one of the blessings of the lockdown phase I stayed with the task, feeling the beginnings of ‘flow’, the oneness with the task itself.
The pattern developed, of applying a thin layer with the roller, the first wash of diluted pale green, where it would give an initial purchase for the next, slightly denser layer which would be followed up by the brush, often held in my left hand, depending on the angle and the height I was working at. I’m wary of repetitive strain injury. Edges require a different movement, knot holes need extra covering. I could see the grain of the wood enhanced as I gradually worked across the grey ( or yellowy) panels. Each one had a slightly different characteristic, some more warped, rougher or smoother, the sliced sections thinner or thicker. I came to know the most efficient way to go about the shape as a whole. The order of progression became predictable, and every so often I could stand back and rest a bit, but mostly it was to admire, and feel a pride in my handiwork.
By the time I reached the bottom of the initial pot of Woodland Green paint, I was satisfied with the camouflage effect that was happening. With the completion of every panel there was more harmony. I could bask with pleasure in my efforts. I liked the look of it, a crucial difference to my previous active dislike. Before finding new paint – during a first adventurous trip to Homebase – there were new practical problems to overcome. A step-ladder and attempts to clear encroaching ivy over the back of the fence from the neglected nether regions of ‘next-door’s garden’, and hacking back of nettles and other growth were part of the next phase. The panels themselves were in poorer repair, some actually rotting at the base. Strangely, I didn’t resent them for it ( see the personal relationship I have with this fence?) but accepted their ageing rather as I do mine, with resignation, and the wish to enhance in whatever way I could.
The new pot of Forest Green paint was a fair match. I found a way to blend it and continue the process without a jarring change of tone. And this is where I shall end, before the job is complete, because I need to remember for the future that what was required is a change of tone in me and in my attitude.
Diagonally parked in a parallel universe, with a hen on my lap
Ama Bolton, 9th August 2020
Thank you, Verona, for that thoughtful essay. Good fences, as we know, make good neighbours, but in the absence of good neighbours the mindful painting of a fence can give consolation and insight.
As we come out of lockdown, I feel nostalgic for a sky free of vapour-trails and fresh air free of exhaust fumes. I resent the return of traffic noise from the relief road a couple of hundred yards away. I think fondly of the months when the no-through-road on which we live was not cluttered all day with the parked cars of shoppers and commuters. I can see local friends and meet my children and grandson, but I can’t hug or kiss them. As for more distant friends and relations – I wonder if I shall ever see them again.
I enjoy my long walks in the woods and fields, but I badly miss the dancing that was such a joyful and important part of life before lockdown. I have more time for writing, but a more insistent internal voice asks, “What’s the point?” I have a sense of being stuck in a broken-down train while the train I should have caught moves on into a different future.
A fellow creature came into our lives two days ago. Hari Rama is a three-month-old Brahma hen, slightly disabled, socially isolated and very much at the bottom of a heartless pecking order. I have promised her that she will never be bullied again, and I shall do my best to give her a good life. She has the run (not that she can run!) of our small walled garden and is slowly beginning to find sunny and shady places to sit. Coincidentally a poem from The Paris Review appeared in my inbox the day we brought her home. I take this as a good sign.
From Pindar Says the Poet Must Guard the Apples of the Muses
by Antonella Anedda, tr. Patrizio Ceccagnoli & Susan Stewart
Pindar says the poet must guard the apples of the Muses
like a dragon, but …
if anything, we need a hen,
the creature that hatches the egg of verses:
white for the void, yellow for the words.