Keeping Calm in London Town

“You ol rite?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Not coughin’?”
“No Maddy, not coughing.”
And Maddy gives me a thumbs up sign before she scurries away to catch an overland train to Battersea and visit her ailing mother.

Thank you Zine

“Do you need anything? Can I shop for you?”
“Thank you Sinder. We are ok at the moment.”
A note is slipped through the letterbox from Zine our neighbor at # 37. “… I would be most happy to help”.
“Aggie, Aggie.” Mr Habto has returned from his early morning taxi run and is standing by his cab. 

“Anything we can do to help. Please let us know. Knock on the door or leave a note.”
Maddy is probably London born and bred, Sinder is Hindu, Zine is from Eastern Europe, and Mr Habto a Coptic Christian from Africa. This is the mix of the little community at the bottom of our street. They all have families to care for and yet are finding moments to be watchful over us. We have become the “old folks” on the street. Thus neighbour cares for neighbour in our little corner of London. And we are grateful.

It is Sunday afternoon. The sun will not come out again today. The wind is blowing and the raindrops seem hesitant and unsure where to fall. Families are walking home from their ‘fresh air and exercise’ moment in the park. Football games are still scrubbing along in the mud. White shorts are streaked with brown, hair is windblown and there is quiet laughter coming across the pitches from the players. Out there – the city, London, – is very quiet.

Boris Johnson and his lieutenants appear very old school serious as they stride to the podiums set up in the State dining room at Number 10 Downing Street, while trying to cover up the fact that Number 19 Coronavirus may be beyond their abilities. This may be the first time in his life that Johnson gets really serious, and not everyone is convinced he knows how to do that. We can only hope that he might in fact be growing into the role of Prime Minister and treating this with all with the gravitas it deserves. One does suspect that upsetting the populace is as an important part of the equation as is protecting the insurance companies. Another supposition is that this is seen, by Johnson at least, as his Churchill moment. One can be grateful though that he has these two lieutenants: England’s Chief Scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty by his side. Whitty, or is it Vallance, produced graphs on a large board and pointed away so that the journalists in the room, sitting as close together as ever, could understand what was trying to be accomplished and then relay that information to us, the presumably less well-educated public. Vallance and Whitty are both, in their English way, considerably more competent than the school-yard gang that surrounds Donald across the water.

Daily updates from the government will now to come from Number 10 Downing Street as the situation changes every twelve hours with more confirmed cases and deaths. Johnson and his team are putting some guidelines in place while they wait to come down with a heavy hand. It’s a gamble for sure. Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, sputtered and muttered on the Andrew Marr Sunday morning show about ‘Doing everything we can and self-isolation’. Manufacturers have an opportunity to make millions of Pounds Stirling and ventilators. “Other countries in the world will be needing them too.” Mostly though it is businesses, sports centers and banks (!) that are leading the way, encouraging working from home, cancelling big matches (though not the Cheltenham Race meet last week), and encouraging self-isolation.

And now, on Monday morning, there are more shutters coming down. Museums have already closed, special openings have been postponed, and the British Film Institute team all work from home, strategizing what this means for the film industry in England. We withdraw too, canceling lunch dates with friends and family. Being well over a certain age, 70, we are all ‘vulnerable.’ and many of us have at least one strike hitting our general health. We are being encouraged to self-isolate. What will happen then to the organizations run primarily by older volunteers who serve their communities? As I write an email comes through from one such trusted leader: ‘The Library is closed for the foreseeable future’. What will happen to those books? Sitting on their shelves so lonely and unread. Theatres, cinemas, concert halls, hotels and restaurants are all growing dark as their lights dim. Today all religious leaders united in asking their followers to pray at home.

Hand sanitizers are out and visible – where they are available. Otherwise it is serious and constant hand washing – by those who do that sort of thing. Shop-keepers and checkout folks wear rubber gloves to handle the £ coming in. And £s are rolling into supermarkets as folks panic buy and buy. That may have begun to calm down now with ‘assurances’ that the stores have enough of what we need stock-piled somewhere. This morning the pharmacy was full even as folks tried to stay apart from each other. The doctor’s office is closed with a notice on the door saying that appointments will be by phone for the near future! The local Deli and other coffee shops on the street are almost empty. Can they hold on for those over-70s for whom a little sandwich at the coffee shop is their main meal?

Daffodils from Taghi A’s Morning walk

We are grateful for the Hill and Regent’s Park where we can walk in isolation. Wild primroses rise from the soil to shine close to the ground. The daffodils are reaching their peak, staying upright through the foul weather of the last weeks. But the plum and pear trees lining the street are beginning to loosen their soft blooms and whisper in the breeze for us to keep heart. Our Robin Red Breast hops down to check my worm count as I work in the little garden. She too tells me to let the warming soil soothe my soul.

Primrose in St. Mark’s Church garden Wall. Photo WSM

‘Our’ Robin checking my work

Lassie, Monkey and Memories

Banner and Bea

Bea’s banner goes up at the Botanical Gardens

Each morning at 7.30 a.m. David runs across the terrace, knocks on, and then opens the door and calls out, “Granny”! For there is book reading to be done or green play-dough dinosaurs (dinosaurs are green at the moment) to be made before breakfast. But today David came early only to help Granny with her morning yoga and then left. He took his Mama off to Palermo, to his music class and then for Bea to hang the banner for her show that opens on Saturday at the Botanical Gardens by Plaza Italia.

So I’ve not felt this morning stillness since arriving in Buenos Aires two and half weeks ago. The early delivery of food crates for the restaurant down below have been stacked and we won’t hear more until later this afternoon when it is time to chop vegetables for the evening meals.

Lassie and Monkey

My Monkey – and sofa too

Lassie has come to join me as he (yes he) does everyday now. The ‘Abuela Dome’, as we have named the little studio, is a quiet place where he can rest his tired old body on the sofa, paws wrapped firmly around monkey.

This morning after laying my breakfast carefully out on the little table, I looked at every piece of china and food and saw memories alongside of breakfast.

Breakfast

Breakfast for one in the Abuela Dome

There is honey from our bees in Bolinas, and homemade strawberry jam made by Bea. The stewed apple are in one of two Johnson Bros, Indie bowls that I found at the street market at Plaza Dorrego one Sunday.

We got the money honey.

“It is an antique.” No, I first had that set in London thirty-five years ago. Does that make an ‘antique’? The petal-pink teapot came from the San Telmo Market when we first knew we would make a little home here. On it is the tea cosy I knit for the tea pot in the work kitchen of Tetro when the film crew were based in San Telmo in 2008. The bright and cheery butter dish was bought as a souvenir from our overnight visit to Uruguay last year. A surprise storm kept us there where we were lucky to be able to return to our hotel and ‘if’ we could find cash, still get a good deal.

The French Jacques Cout un Jandin …en plus milk jug came from a small village shop in Corsica. We went to visit old friends for the weekend and stayed on in their villa for ten days after their return to Paris, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. One afternoon a big thunder storm came across the bay and we stood naked, watching from the tall glass veranda doors, mesmerized as the darkening clouds and rain came closer and closer to finally wash over us and leave a calming stillness in its wake.

The Heirloom Royal Albert tea cup and plate belonged to my mother-in-law Katharine. I remember her at the end of a long day in New York City, sipping her tea while often smoking a cigarette. If my husband’s memory is correct this tea-set would have been from her mother, Mary Elizabeth Scott and probably sent as a wedding present from England to Mary Elizabeth MacCallum on her marriage to Thomas Beckett Scott in Canada. The tea-set was soon packed up carefully and taken to Ceylon in 1893 where she and her husband worked as medical missionaries, directing the Green Memorial Hospital and starting a nursing school. In 1913 Mary and Thomas retired and returned to the States where, until 1925, they ran the Walker Missionary Home at Auburndale, Mass, caring for the children left behind from other missionary workers.

Tea time, on another continent, with another generation

How much of the set made it back from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka? Did Mary Elizabeth sit at the end of her day and draw comfort from the delicate china as well as the tea, as did her daughter Katharine? After Mary died in 1941 was the tea-set divided up between her four daughters? Who got the tea pot, milk jug and sugar bowl?

This day began with old memories and ends with new. Lassie has returned to the sofa to hug his monkey. Beatrice joins me in our quiet catch-up ritual, sipping our late afternoon tea in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

The little tea-set has traveled many miles over many years, bringing comfort along with tea to four generations of women. We have been blessed and are grateful.

Nurse’s Day 2017

Today is May 6th, the beginning of Nurses Week in North America which ends on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, and, since 1974, is celebrated as International Nurses Day.

1963 Prize giving @ Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford

Though I will not be buying any Hallmark cards for my nursing chums, I am thinking of my comrades and sisters who are my fellow nurses. Those friends we made, bonded in student years with the sharing of patients as we changed ward rotations; the remembrance of patients who were dear, beloved, or cantankerous, those we recall as much by attitude and character as by disease, those births celebrated and deaths honored. Then there were the working years before reentry to university bringing new adult companions, both student and teacher. Now, in this final quarter of life, I have found a sisterhood of nurse writers and poets. Some still work at the bedside of, or in the clinics with, patients – others teach, and all of us remain nurses within our communities and families. We write of the past, distant and immediate, bringing disease and care into the present.

Nurse Poets reading in Charleston 2016, Veneta Mason, Cortney Davis, Muriel Murch and Jeanne Bryner

 

We are lucky to have found each other and are grateful for the collectors among us: Cortney, Judy and now Jeanne who gather up our words, harvest them to reseed the bare virgin soil of tender young hearts. We write from different geographies of the Americans and the world. Jeannie Bryner from Ohio, Cortney Davis from Connecticut, Venenta Masson from Washington DC, Judy Schaefer from Pensilvania, Madeleine Mysko from Maryland, Patsy Harman from West Virginia.

Before I left California, I took from my bookcase the written work of my nursing friends. It is an impressive display of non-academic writing from professional women and men, and grows each year.

Within my bookcase

In 2018 Kent State University will publish another anthology of nurse writing, ‘This Blessed Field.’ Within this anthology are stories from young nurses, our stories, sharing our innocence with the new nurses of today helping to guide and comfort those following in our footsteps with the light we shine for them.

Each year on May 12th a church service is held in Westminster Abbey in London and at St. Margaret’s Church at East Willow in Hampshire. Wikipedia tells me that during the service, a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another, thence to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar to signifies the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another.
I will be in London that day and will go to the Abbey.

Grieve, Unite, Act.

We Still Have Each Other

We Still Have Each Other

As we leave our West Marin Hamlet we pass two signs sitting side by side on the fence. The first one went up immediately following the November election results and is written in English ‘We Still Have Each Other’. It was quickly followed by the Spanish version, ‘Aun Tenemos Uno a Otro’.

Returning from a village slightly further north is another sign stuck into the hillside,

‘Grieve, Unite, Act’.

We were not the only family to be struck by post election sickness. Apparently there was a wave of illness throughout the country. It could be attributed to the cold winter months, waves of colds, flu or pneumonia – or maybe to the sudden change in America’s fortunes, her perceived place in the world and all manner of personal and global changes that will effect every one of us. As we nursed our loved ones and held our families and friends closer we grieved, united and wondered how to act. The younger generations recovered faster that we did. They shook off the despair that we felt and began to act though one of the manifestations of this activity actually came from a Grandmother in Hawaii. The Woman’s March on Washington. Problems and obstacles have been put in their way and surmounted. The march is going ahead with thousands of women heading to Washington DC. Though the focus and purpose of the march has been knocked this way and that, primarily one could say they are marching to protest the agenda of the new government administration on Inauguration Day.

In our community, as in almost every community around the country, women come together in groups. Some are involved with fundraising for local needs – maybe a school project, or a book group. I belong to a knitting group. The Witty Knitters have been going strong for a good 18 years, I am a relatively new member of maybe of 4 or 5 years standing. We meet once a month at a member’s home. We knit, share news of communities and families, and, of course, gossip while our hostess prepares a meal of nourishing comfort. At last December’s gathering the conversation naturally turned to the recent political events and, as we went around the table, each one of us told of how we are ‘stepping up’ and adding one more thing to our already busy agendas. One spoke of engaging with Planned Parenthood (Love their tote bags), another of joining a local political group, Main Street Moms. I am working more with the United Religions Initiative. We are all beginning to see what we can do.

Baby Starling in knitted nest

Baby Starling in knitted nest

Usually in January we make a point of knitting for others. Carol Block shares her project of knitting little hats for Preemie babies which she then gathers up and takes to Oakland Hospital. Laurel Wroten has had us making baby birds nests.

We love to do this. But this year our January hostess, Susan Allan, has added another project. We are knitting hats for the women marching in the Woman’s March on Washington on January 21st. After she sent out the website, we all started rummaging through our wool stash searching out every ball of pink and red wool we have.

‘Grieve, Unite, Act’.

Beginnings

Beginnings

And finally, those of us who cannot get to a march, those of us who love to ‘do’ something, can. We’re knitting.

In the Christian tradition ,this weekend is the feast of the Epiphany, the day of the visitation of the Three Kings to the Christ child. The word Epiphany came to mean ‘a sudden, intuitive perception into the essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple experience’ – Such as knitting.

Over halfway done

Over halfway done

And in England during the fifteenth century the Monday after Epiphany became Plough Monday marking the start of the agricultural year. This tradition lingers on as the time when work is taken up once more and schools reopen after the Christmas and other festivities of late December. Plough Monday occurs this Monday, and when we meet on Wednesday we will be back at work again – knitting –

 

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And it went on. Now, after almost three weeks of tumbling down I’m still so sad and angry, watching as the English politicians made such a cock-up of their dear referendum. Yes I’m going to say that. Though in a global view this is small blip. America is churning and bleeding to death and Africans are dying in the Sahara desert, the Libyan jails and finally the Mediterranean ocean as they struggle to escape a certain death for a less certain life. But still, I’m so sad and mad. I don’t know when I have struggled so to write. If this was a yellow pad, which it was earlier, I would be back at the stationary shop buying another one. But the emotions that have been going around and around in my (and a lot of other people’s ) head, as the television and newspapers reports changed, history being eloquently rewritten every day and Great Britain as it was is no more.

That morning, the one when we all woke up to the Brexit decision was sobering and most of the country, even those who voted out, to show ‘them’ a lesson were stunned and grieving as the realization of what could come to pass began to sink in.

The eye watches London

The eye watches London

So I’ve read, and read and read, mostly coming back to The Guardian editorials which are the ones that make the most sense – to me. I’m suspicious even of my beloved Telegraph, seeing hidden agendas in each opinion column and page. But there are good articles. Lighthearted and accurate from Buzz-feed and somber and intellectual in The Guardian. Maybe there will be a breather today as the politicians wait for Her Majesty to return to London. The Queen is not going to break off other engagements just because these boys have all behaved so shockingly badly.

The weekend after the vote we took a train to Shropshire to visit with a beloved old friend who lives deep in sheep country. That evening he took us and another couple who were staying in Wales, (with more sheep), for dinner. The long evening light was still with us as we climbed out of the taxi (no drinking and driving with this crowd, who can still drink as if they were twenty). Our driver, a young lad, was built like a Sumo wrestler. Overflowing from the van’s upright driving seat he yet held a gentle hand on the wheel and had a sure knowledge of the small country lanes and the farmers heading towards us.

Deah heading the roses

Deah heading the roses

Summer roses

Summer roses

The following day it became clear that ‘a spot of lunch’ was actually a full blown ‘Luncheon for 30 plus’ and I was going to be vastly under-dressed and under-blinged. While the most amazing meal was being prepared in the garage, I was set to deadheading the roses, which with all the rain and very little sun, were glorious.

At noon the guests began to arrive. It was time to change from jeans to a not quite dressy enough skirt and join the friends who had come to share this day. As we sat down to lunch I took the opportunity to really find out a little more what people were thinking, and how they voted. I became impolite, asking those questions one never discussed in public (politics and taxes). Here were the land owners of Shropshire. The charming gentleman on my left was happy to tell me why he had voted Brexit, “We don’t like being told what to do,” And by “we” he did mean all of us, the Sumo wrestler driver, the milk-man, the chicken farmer as well as the Lords of the Manor (most of Shropshire’s around the table) were of one mind.

“We don’t like to be told by Angela Merkel. We don’t like to be told by George Osborne. And we don’t like to be told by Your Barack Obama.” And so out of sheer bloody mindedness they, to a man and woman, voted out.

“To show those politicians what we think.” The rifts that have erupted within families are startling and have taken this grey haired and somewhat still with it generation by surprise.

By the time the cigars and snuff were coming around I was being sleepily interrogated by Algie, (Algernon Heber-Percy Esq.) Shropshire’s very own lord-lieutenant. As the Queen’s representative in the county he could not venture his opinion. But by the languid body language he displayed as he placed his pinch of snuff surely on the back of his hand, he showed that he too was with the aforementioned gentleman on my left, his shepherds and arable farmers.

Today the Queen will return from her morning of duties and have time for a light lunch before meeting with David Cameron (let’s hope he doesn’t whistle a happy tune on his way out of the palace). Then maybe she will have time for a soothing cup of tea before she summons Theresa May to formally ask her,

“Can you command a majority in the House of Commons?” May will say ‘Yes Ma’am I can.”  May might add a curtsey and there you have it. While those two politicians are trotting in and out of the palace moving vans will have been in and out of three houses and on Thursday morning Great Britain will wake up to a new Prime-minister.

Grey skies over Westminster

Grey skies over Westminster

Meanwhile Humpty Dumpty will join his nursery rhyme pals, other eggs who have fallen, and lie broken on the ground, below the wall and under the benches in the House of Commons. They will pretend to care. Some will be swept up and discarded. Others might return to their seats, now knowing how precarious their hold and seat is on the wall. Who knows, one or two may even reach out for a drink with Tony Blair, also bruised if not bowed. The Chilcot Report has been released and the film ‘We are Many‘ is being shown in theaters again and again.

A Parcel at the Post Office

Farmer Pete

Peter Martinelli’s helping hands

Arrived in NW1

The Bell Lap arrives in NW1

Shelved in NW1

And is shelved, over photographs of Bobby

The yellow slip, almost used up with names and numbers, is stuffed into our roadside mailbox. I put it in my jacket pocket, now ready to walk into town before the next rain storm moves in and lingers over the village.
Shannon passes the parcel across the post office counter. It is very light.
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Stay dry.” As I turn to leave, Peter Martinelli, who is leafing through his mail box gleanings, smiles a hello. We stop and great each other. Peter is a farmer, a DJ on KWMR, and a good chum. It was time to confess to him that I have written a piece about him for a new book; ‘Peter brings the best presents.’ We chat and I show him the parcel and ask, “Who is it from?” He digs into a pocket fumbling for his glasses, “ This is new” he smiles as he finds and then puts them on.
“ Francis and Taylor” he replies. And I realize this contains the culmination of the last few years of work.
“ Oh you have to help me. I can’t do this alone.” Peter smiles and in his farming way understands that I need a witness and help with something that is too big for me.
“You have a knife?” Of course he does and it is much easier to reach and use than the glasses. Smoothly he pulls out and opens his knife, sliding it effortlessly along the packing seams and slitting them open. Together we pull back the cardboard flaps and there they lie, five copies of The Bell Lap. Alex Hillkurtz’s art work is smiling at me and I smile back. But I don’t dare to take a copy out. Peter has to encourage me to do so.
There it is, as thin and delicate as a journal. We laugh together as I bundle the box back up and walk to his pick-up truck outside the post-office.
We linger while Peter shares his good news. He has a new restaurant buyer for all of his organic farm produce. I run my hands through the light compost he has in the back of his truck. He is preparing his soil for planting while I have just harvested my ripe fruit. The sun began to shine as I walked home holding the box of books close to me.