Day Forty-nine: For the regulars readers of these posts, it will not have escaped your attention that Sunday’s entry has, up until yesterday been led by Bluebeany Art Club. Let me be clear The Archers waits for… oh, let’s just leave that one there shall we?
This week artist Anna Bean challenged the community to create artistic responses, to the subject of Food. I was concerned, Saturday came and went and I still didn’t have my moment of inspiration… perhaps a collage, cut and stick? I’ve certainly enjoyed some cut and stick collaging with Bluebeany in workshops in the real world. See below the self portrait ‘precarity of the socialite‘ and a satirical depiction of the leader of the free world from 2018.
I was walking down the stairs on the sunday morning and talking to myself again which is happening all the time now. “Down the apples and pears,” I sang out stumbling into another day in the house of isolation. There it was: idioms. We make Idioms about food in picture form. Perfect. Here is the result on a pizza crammed with fillings and a heavily garnished garlic bread.
How many idioms and food based rhymes can you find?
Today, Monday was about food also, in that I baked a chocolate cake. I was asked if I’d share the recipe below. Its an oil-based cake so really simple and easy to make and relatively inexpensive.
Michelle’s Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake
6 oz/175g plain flour
2-3 tbsps cocoa powder
2 large tbsps black treacle
1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 heaped tsp baking powder
5 oz/125g sugar
5 floz milk
5 floz vegetable oil
Beat all the ingredients together pour into 3 greased 8 inch cake tins (line the base of the tin with baking parchment if you wish)
Bake at gas mark 3 for 35 to 45 mins or until done (test with a skewer)
Turn out, remove baking parchment carefully and leave to cool
Sandwich with blackcurrant jam when cold
Ice with chocolate spread
Food glorious food!
Day Forty-eight: That’s it the End of the World is nigh… strange lights in the sky, the horsemen are riding four abreast in the final third, and life in Ambridge has come to a lumbering halt.
I must admit that it’s made for very strange listening lately, village life seems to have slowed to a snail’s pace and Easter alone sure seemed to take longer than usual.
You see there has been no mention of the Coronavirus, none at all.
You just know that Brookfield would be the first to be quarantined, they are so used to being in lockdown there. Endless stories abound about agricultural nasties in the Archers: there was the contamination of the Am; IBR during spring calving, the Neospora followed by the BVD in the Grundy herd at Grange Farm.
Suspicion falls on Fallon as Susan spreads rumours about unhygienic practices in the kitchen at Bridge Farm cafe, and half the elderly residents at The Laurels are struck down by a mystery illness.
Covid-19 steals through Ambridge turning the once bustling Borsetshire village into a ghost town, and Lillian is cautioned by Sgt. Burns after going out three times in one day to source tonic water and limes.
VE Day preparations are put on hold sending the fete committee into a spin and Tracy Horrobin declares nets as a valid reason to be outdoors.
At the village shop there’s a rush on loo roll as Jim and Susan trial the new one-in one- out policy.
There’s a cruel twist of fate for Tracy as she contracts the virus along with boyfriend Roman during a boozy last night of freedom in the Feathers.
Lynda and Robert find their plans to relaunch the B & B put on hold as Leonie leaves them to look after grandson Mungo.
Kenton has to close The Bull, but continues to serve Shires from the back of the pub, meanwhile Clarrie takes up residence at the sewing machine, making face masks for the whole village.
Tracy and Roman are rushed to Borsetshire General and put on ventilators (which would give the village a rest from her constant harping about the fitness of the cricket team)
Filled with wartime resolve Leonard and Jill scandalise David, by announcing their intentions to move in together for a bout of joint shielding.
Ambridge says goodbye to Oliver as Covid-19 claims its first victim, meanwhile Kirsty is stocking up on eco-friendly cleaners.
Rex Fairbrother turns his hand to making P.P.E. while brother Toby continues to profiteer from homemade hand sanitiser.
Having brought the big day forward Kirsty and Gangmaster Philip have a shotgun wedding after forcing Alan to marry them and Jazza to act as a witness.
The ground floor of Lower Loxley has been commandeered as a field hospital, and in the Orangery Elizabeth is handing out emergency food parcels.
Jennifer complains about living off Tom Archer’s sausages, so Brian tells her he will flout the lockdown rules to bag them a brace of grouse.
Over at Home Farm sales of Borsetshire Blue are sky rocketing and in the dairy Pip and Helen argue about the milk delivery.
Jolene discovers Ed Grundy selling the pubs beer at a premium and comes down hard on Kenton.
And at Home Farm Adam is desperately worried about the soft fruit fields, as all the pickers are sent home. Archers superfan, me? Never.
Today was also International Dawn Chorus Day and so I thought I’d share with you the briefest of clips of birdsong on the field near Garrowby Orchard sent me by artist Chrissy Collinson.
Day Forty-seven: It’s forty degrees in the shade during the dry season in the south east corner of Zimbabwe. We are away from the capital living on another construction compound in a prefab for two weeks. It’s a holiday of sorts on the road job within sight of the Mozambique border and a stones throw from the Sabi River (now Save River).
On the way in my father has told us in no uncertain terms can anyone stop on the bridge, because if you do, the guerrilla fighters guarding it will suspect you of planting a bomb and open fire as a precaution. Whether this was true or whether my Dad was just trying to scare us I don’t know. Of course as soon as he said this I began imagining what would happen if someone had a breakdown, their vehicle stopped and it wasn’t their fault and any number of scenarios.
The bridge over the river, that in the wet season would be teaming with crocs and hippo was barely a stream as the earth baked hard in the heat. The occasional winds would whip up the dust devils and we’d slip beneath the perimeter wire and chase them in the bush, daring each other to get really close. After about a week of being on the compound, with minimal entertainment that didn’t involve doing something we weren’t supposed to be, a strange rumour found its way to our young ears.
To this day I don’t know from where the story originated, but to find out if it was true we were going to have to duck under the wire again, and head in the direction of the bridge. Goading each other on we soon found ourselves well outside the safety of the compound, and down by the dry river bed, and in front of us the bridge that over the week loomed large in the landscape, and in our minds.
We walked with a sense of purpose, nearer towards the concrete structure. It was a road bridge with concrete pillars supporting a surfaced roadway above. It was on the back of one of these pillars we found what it was we’d come looking for. Graffiti. More properly described as a series of crude drawings and bad language: this was the rumour that we’d heard, that some dynamite graffiti had suddenly appeared underneath the bridge.
To an outsider it might seem that we had incredible freedoms as children, and it is true sometimes our lives in Africa do resemble an adventure story, but despite the exposure to a wilder side of living, we were still very sheltered, very innocent. At that moment in time, dirty words on a forbidden bridge was a most thrilling prospect.
Underneath the bridge it was noticeably cooler and we stood a while examining the words and pictures daubed in front of us, we recognised the blue paint, the same colour of all the company vehicles. We stood there in the shade underneath the bridge, ten year olds pretending to be nonchalant and all-knowing, casually tossing the words to and fro, the initial rush of excitement fading into the dusty dry heat of mid-afternoon.
Little did we know we had been seen, and right now were being approached from behind. I don’t know which one of us it was who saw him first, whether he had made himself known first the years dull the exact series of events. He was a youngish black man wearing camouflage fatigues, a beret on his head and in his hands he levelled an AK 47. We froze.
The soldier spoke english and he asked us who we were and why we were underneath the bridge. We glanced at each other quickly, then all eyes turned back to the weapon which hadn’t shifted position and was still pointing straight at us. I explained we were from the construction compound, that our fathers were engineers. He seemed satisfied but the gun still hadn’t moved and he asked again why it was that were we under the bridge. I spoke very quickly and avoiding any mention of the lure of dirty words and pictures said the immortal line. “I am doing a project on bridges at school,” which was no word of a lie we had indeed been tasked with building a model bridge to be judged when we returned to school, “And I wanted to see what the underside of bridges looked like.”
“Go home! Go now!”
So we did, we moved like lightning looking back once to see more armed soldiers appearing from the bush, we must have been surrounded and being watched the whole time.
Once back behind the wire we felt sure that news of our adventure to the bridge would have found its way back to each of our parents, and we were preparing ourselves for the fallout. Strangely enough nobody ever seemed to find out. Not a word was ever said and we kids agreed never to talk about it again. I pictured the soldier checking out the graffiti in his search for a suspicious package, left by four ten-year-old would-be bombers, and having a smirk to himself.
In another twist to this story the bridge project that had in my mind saved us, had gone ahead when we returned to school the next term. There had been a personnel change in our bridge building team in my absence; I’d been kicked off Cantilever who would fail to build a version of Birchenough Bridge. I was out in the wind, no project and no time to start designing and building from scratch.
That was until a friend, who had up until that point been working on her own, took pity on me and suggested that I help her in building a working model of Tower Bridge. The iconic design across a painted Thames, complete with a road that should open to allow a boat to pass through.
I’m pleased to report team Tower Bridge won, our prize was some fancy sweets which we coveted wildly. I’d like to make it quite clear that our success had nothing at all to do with the fact that both our fathers were highly-skilled engineers.
Building bridges saves lives!
Day Forty-six: Lockdown hangover cure is tea, bread and jam and the Simpsons on in a darkened room. You are welcome. Five hours later I feel just about okay to update you on last night’s shenanigans.
We did the Quiz thing with questions set by B. The round about Hull was good, the round Pub I should have done better with, who knew that The Minerva had the boy wizard’s snowy owl on the sign… There was also a general knowledge round, that was all about us and should have been called the how much do you know about your friends round, I got a point for knowing where I lived… All in all I scored nine and a half points out of thirty or something.
At 12 we were comparing soft toys, at 1 we were discussing the longevity of Blondie, at 2am it was a deep dive into Shakespearean motifs found in Lion King and a similarly deep dive into Tim Roth in leather trousers, by 3 we were debating the merits of Shrek Too, and singing show tunes.
It felt glorious to be with my friends again, and I honestly had the most fun I’ve had in two months. The beers helped a little, Drinks of choice were Great Newsome Brewery’s Sleck Dust times three, and two mini wines, one white, one red… It was also good to just climb into bed and leave the pub downstairs.
I look forward to doing it again but I look forward more to being able to give them all a hug.
Don’t get dressed, outdoor clothes are overrated!
Day Forty-five: Today felt almost normal. I had a job to do, a pseudo client in Park Street Performing Arts Centre, a deadline and a performance to see in the evening. Today reminded me that I was good at what I do, that I can still deliver, help build an audience, and get enthused about the creation of new work.
I’ve always supported the underdog, those groups, organisations and artists, that the established media continually ignore. I was glad to do it, supporting the young talent in the city as I have done for years.
The word from the head of the project is that over a hundred people joined us tonight, for the premiere of Inmates, a unique piece of theatre made by students at Park Street Performing Arts Centre. So big shout out to the staff and the students for using the lockdown and all the inherent challenges and making an intriguing multi-layered drama
In other news: I didn’t clap tonight. I didn’t do the Clap for Carers and this doesn’t make me a nurse hater, or anything of the sort. I have long felt there was something slightly off with the practice of clapping for the NHS each week. It felt to me like self aggrandisement, a very visible opportunity for virtue signalling. Look at me, look how much of a good person I am, stood outside banging a saucepan at 8pm. As for those people who take it that one step further and travel to hospitals to make a racket, they are just plain idiots.
I also agree with this idea that we shouldn’t be using language that is usually associated with wartime, phrases like: going into battle; defeating the enemy; honouring the fallen and heroes of the frontline. By adding these layers of glorification we run the risk of losing sight of what is really happening here. The health professionals, right across the country each have a demanding job which they choose to do, and for which they get paid for. but and it is a big but, they don’t expect to have to pay for with their lives. The govt. and the shady Sage advisory board should not abdicate responsibility for their failings, nor should you be letting them, with applause: it is in really bad taste.
Ever since this started there has been a hierarchy of lockdown experiences, a one-upmanship where people feel they have to outdo each other: that doing lockdown is a competition. Rather than come together the nation has found another way to be divided.
Clap for Carers if you must, but don’t be deluded that you are supporting anyone else but yourself.
Day Forty-four: I just want to say thanks for reading as we slide into the third quarter, if twelve remains the magic number. Today I put that wifi connection to good use and responded to a creative writing tutorial on Youtube, with First Story writer Cecilia Knapp.
It was part of the build up to National Writing Day 2020 which takes place on 24 June this year. The hashtag is #WriteFromHome for obvious reasons. Even if we have by then begun to relax lockdown measures, there won’t be the same programme of events being held in venues all around the country, rather it will be an online celebration of creative writing, and a call to get everyone to take part.
The craft of writing fosters experimentation, risk and resilience.
It cultivates curiosity and play, while teaching discipline and persistence. Writing regularly promotes mental health and wellbeing, as much as it furthers literacy and attainment. First Story
The tutorial was very gentle and Cecilia explained everything a few times, so nobody could have said they were unable to respond in their own way. I did the whole hour the freewrites and the exercises, and below you will find two of the pieces I shared online using the hashtag #WriteFromHome.
There will be more prompts and exercises and freewrites to get involved with as the big day arrives, and I look forward to doing some more, and using that wifi. I know I go on about it but hey when you can remind yourself of how good Camera Obscura were at two am, because someone posted it in their top ten list, it just feels good. Truth be known I’ve not rinsed it weirdly, a few zooms, a few videos bit of music but nothing what might be described as excessive use.
I said I’d keep it short tonight because I have been writing all day and my hands are complaining awfully. Do have a go at the tutorial and use the hashtag to share your words if you want to and @FirstStory on Twitter.
Day Forty-three: For those of you fond of my stories of life in Africa, you are in for a treat today because I’m taking you to a place north-west of Nairobi called Lake Naivasha.
Whilst in lockdown with limited opportunity for travel, I began thinking about some of the journeys I’ve made. The longest in miles or rather air miles will of course be the overseas flights, largely from Heathrow, often via a European city and once with a half-day stopover inside Addis Ababa airport. I cannot say legally that I’ve been in Ethiopia because legally we did not enter the country, we stayed in arrivals and looked at the planes through the glass, and got very hot, very quickly.
My other plane memory? Well there’s two one was the inflight entertainment a looped hour long radio package, that contained some kind of sketch show with canned laughter, where the pay off was the discovery of a spanish woman hiding in a cupboard (Good memory you say? I heard this hilarious thing more times than I cared to on that flight) Also repeated infinitum, but for which I am eternally grateful, was the glorious Tom Lehrer and The Element Song. Hearing it today takes me straight back to being on that aircraft with the plastic headphones on in the darkened cabin.
The second recollection apart from the dream invite to go see inside the cockpit of the 747 and meet the pilot, is about the experience of being sat by a low window somewhere towards the back of Club Class, and looking at the ground below. I saw blankets of brown and green and yellow neatly carved into the landscape, it really is like the patchwork quilt we’ve all seen on Google Earth… but I was seven or eight and I was seeing Africa in daylight spread out below me like irregular postage stamps.
Nobody disturbed me, nobody looked for me, adults tend to sleep on plane journeys, children rarely do and I suspect they were more occupied with making sure my sister was coping with all the strangeness: she had very sensibly decided that sleeping through it all was the best policy. As I write an image of the two of us comes to mind, we are both sat in the same seat together, I have my arm around her supporting her tiny frame and I’m telling her not to worry, and that I’d look after her.
However, this particular journey is on land, this journey is memorable because it takes place without my folks being present. Instead it is with a couple of my dad’s engineering friends. Now I can’t remember their names, but there were these two guys and while we were in Nairobi we saw them every day, we may have even been staying in their house.
We’d been to a tourist hotspot in the morning to see the wildlife come down and lick at the salt pan, then in the afternoon we were to go to Lake Naivasha. I was very worried because of the not swimming, and also the thought of getting in water with strangers was too much for me, and by now we knew I had bad ears. (This trip may have been, in part, to visit the ENT in Nairobi) The thought of water filled me with dread, so I promptly threw up. My mum who throws up at the merest sight of anyone else throwing up, fearing a repeat episode, decided I should travel with the two guys and not in the hire car where she would be. So there I am in a strange car with these two friends of my fathers, one might have been called something like Ian or Dale… the other… it’s not important.
Getting out of Nairobi is a real pain, the traffic today is terrible, but back then in the early eighties it would still have been a considerable task. Once out on the open road into northern Kenya the geography outside the window demands your attention. I remember the two guys sat in front getting very animated, as they shared the stunning landscape with me. After a while the road began to climb, and then continued climbing and then didn’t stop. “How high are we?” comes a voice from the backseat: me, starting to feel a little nervous again. “As high as the clouds,” came the response.
We continue going up. “Now we are higher than the clouds,” one of them says grandly. And almost as he said it the road plateaued and we drove along a ridge, on my left I could see white wispy clouds skimming far below, to this day I’ve never felt so alive. The road then drops down and you finally see the lake, fifty-four square miles of blue reaching out in front of you at one thousand eight-hundred and eighty-four metres above sea level. Exhilarating isn’t the word, that drive and the first glimpse of Lake Naivasha is just jaw-dropping.
The lake trip was fun in the end. Having bonded with the two guys in the journey over, I was now firmly with them: and while my family went to the swimming area, I somehow managed to convince mum and dad to let me go out on a boat by myself around the lake with the two guys. “Just don’t go getting water in your ears,” my mum called out and with those words of warning ringing in the still air, we three set out.
The boat had an engine and bow waves rose either side as the ride became just that little bit more exciting. The best moment of that whole trip, the moment that will stay with me forever and a day, was just after I’d been told not to trail my hands in the water. “You never know what might be down there,” one had said half teasing, half not. At that very moment a fish eagle that we had just moments before been watching perched high up on a gnarly tree, swooped down beside the boat and splashed into the water right where my fingers had been barely seconds before. With a flash of wings and talons it rose again immediately, dragging a dripping fish out of the water, before circling back to its vantage point to feed. There in a motor boat on a lake in the Great Rift Valley, we had been granted the privilege of witnessing the awesome beauty of Africa’s wildlife.