Day Sixty-three: One of the surprises in the tv schedule during lockdown has been Retreat: Meditations from a Monastery it makes for very tranquil viewing.
Set in three Benedictine Abbeys observing the monks conducting prayers and services has a calming effect, a bit like that feeling of reverence and history when you step inside a church or minster. Even if you haven’t the slightest shred of religion in your body, there is still that sense of awe, a stillness, call it what you will, that comes over you.
I’m not saying I’d like it for myself but it is endlessly fascinating watching the monks carrying out their duties, taking their meals, in complete silence. It offers an insight into a different way to live, and being on my own at the moment and largely silent, and somewhat meditative, there are undeniable parallels that can be drawn.
At times it is as if someone just left a sound recorder running and you are listening to field recordings. There are birds trilling in the abbey grounds and bees in the apiary; the grinding of the hoe on dry earth, a brush being cleaned in a jar of water; the tolling of the bell, the call for compline for psalms and song.
I’ve always liked listening to plainsong ever since I was introduced to Taverner by my music teacher. There was that brief craving for monastery music in the nineties, with the unlikely new age/Gregorian chant smash hit Sadeness by German producers Enigma. Quite often Morse will feature church music, Libera Me for instance, then there was Cadfael, of course I watched that for the dashing Hugh Beringar, the Sean Pertwee incarnation. It’s very distracting and not all helpful, when the actors face, voice and hair colour changes repeatedly.
The most recent of the Retreat series featured Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire and another absorbing watch as Father Alex painted a religious icon of Archangel Michael, the patron saint of the abbey. It’s a Catholic Benedictine order and I don’t know whether they have unsavoury beliefs or doctrine, but from the outside it looked like a very peaceful existence. Of course I had a quasi-religious upbringing by the Christian Deaconesses from the Sisterhood of the National Children’s Home, until I was adopted. I have scant memory of that time but there are some moments which appear in writings and poems from time to time.
qua vos gaudium et pax
Day Sixty-two: I wrestled back power from the furry bunch but it came with a price, I can’t do so much screen time right now. I missed a friend’s party last night, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, I was just focussing on keeping this room in the house of isolation the right way up.
Salvation comes as it does on Sundays, along side relief from dizziness and nausea, in the form of art and Bluebeany’s Art Club. I’ve got quite a collection of work now enough to have my own lockdown retrospective. Magical beings, Mythical beings… almost immediately I knew I was going to do something to do with the Kraken, that giant cephalopod, scourge of the deep, deep blue. There are pictures aplenty of tentacles rising from the water dwarfing the masts and rigging of tall ships floundering in the waves.
I flicked past all those classic images and came to this one and it made me smile and Christ could we do with some smiles right now.
It could be an analogy for the virus or the initial perception of the virus, on the surface you see one thing but just behind, is a whole helluva a lot of something far bigger. I added the da-dum just to give him a voice. The important thing is that for two hours I lost myself trying to copy this drawing freehand. I like it.
I got a doctor’s appointment Monday afternoon, not a face to face but an over the phone. It’s pretty good timing seeing as I’ve been feeling poorly lately. By the way I think I know what it is, the reason I’ve been feeling dizzy, sick with chills, they are all side effects of one of my meds. I matched them up and if you add the occasional numbness and tingling in thumb and finger I got a full house.
Screw you lockdown!
Day Sixty-one: The bears have taken over the asylum. This one is in charge and he is Oswald and he has a disagreeable air. There’s something off about the way he looks straight through you.
Roden didn’t want the job, he’s taking lockdown very seriously, and remains in his room waiting for the sun to rise again. I haven’t the heart to tell him its just a stick on moon. Ozzie not to be confused with Oswald, is only interested in his music, and the oldest bear Bert, has never gotten over getting his stomach ripped out by an over zealous Staffie.
The reason behind the bears take over? Well I’m still feeling fragile but I’m fine really. If you do feel the need to size me up for a wooden box, make sure you leave some foot room, don’t want to be spending all of eternity with cold ankles.
Roden as you know, was introduced to me in Leicester, Ozzie is from Saltburn, he was liberated from the amusement arcade on the pier. I cannot remember where Bert came from he may have been a raffle prize or perhaps a gift for finishing my A ‘levels’.
Oswald just appeared one day, moved in and carried on glaring for the next ten years. He’s like a little bear dictator, bossing everyone around. You all better pray for my speedy recovery otherwise you’ve got Oswald until June 30th. I think that was his plan all along, maybe it was he who poisoned me? I’ll have to interrogate him later…
Bears Rule in the house of isolation!
Day Sixty: Woke up late switched the radio off, went back to sleep for an hour woke up later. Had a yoghurt and a coffee. Looked at the pears suspiciously opted for honey on toast.
New jar opener arrived yesterday, most exciting, so I will be master of all the cooking sauces, bleach bottles and juice drinks from now until queendom come. I bathed to the sound of Pink Floyd’s Division Bell, I’d hoped for the full album but halfway through it flipped to Echoes, so was immediately relived I’d not opted for mushrooms for breakfast. I considered washing my hair with the new Tea Tree conditioner, but decided to put that particular excitement on ice till Sunday. The washing was still wet in the drum from last night where I’d forgotten to take it out, so I put it on another cycle and checked the post.
New movies from Shandie in Leeds for Cinema Paradiso include Muriel’s Wedding, I saw a doco on cult Aussie movies last week sometime, and that this little beauty was among them, so will be watching that as soon as I’ve finished talking to you nitwits.
Face on and hair done I sat down for a meeting with the Sisters of Ink and we made plans for some more live recording and ridiculed Bojo for shits and giggles. I’d had a Galaxy hot chocolate on the go when I suddenly felt crook. I looked at the floor as my ears popped a bit bringing on my Tinnitus like crazy. Reaching for the blanket I felt cold as ice and I dropped on to the sofa, the room was spinning my head was pounding and I felt sicker than a dingo with rabies. Can you tell I’m looking forward to watching the film? I didn’t move until gone seven, I must have slept and I woke with a sudden need to eat, without thinking I started peeling spuds, badly I might add, then similarly carrots in cavalier fashion. I made some tea and sat on the kitchen floor and drank it. Dug out some chicken bunged in the oven and sat on the kitchen floor a bit longer. Remembered I had to still put the washing on the dryer, cursed myself for not doing it earlier, had a sniff smelt conditioner put it out and stuck it next to a radiator. Wandered upstairs, wandered back down again, put the potatoes on, wandered back upstairs put fresh sheets on whilst imagining a world without poppers, buttons can do one, especially those that you have to button backwards so they sit inside the duvet. Put pyjamas on radiator, nothing better than toasty jamas: I’m so flaming cold these days, just cannot get flaming warm. Missed Channel 4 News twice, decided it was a good thing and ate my tea after rearranging my food cupboard on a whim. Chucked out some very old hot chocolate and sat down to write this rubbish.
Movie Time thanks Shandie!
Day Fifty-nine: I could talk about the fact I lived on Zoom today, a Listening Party this morning with Drake Music where I was particularly interested in the partnership between two of my friends namely Sallie Currie and her band The Dyr Sister, and visual artist Bluebeany. You can see the kaleidoscopic results of their collaboration below on new track The Rainbow Song.
Or maybe that I recorded yesterday’s poem on Place on Zoom earlier, flying solo on the video conferencing platform for the first time. Then I caught up with my good friend and colleague Jerome on Zoom. Around teatime I had a food delivery from food bank volunteers and not forgetting the fact I went out to have my blood test.
That little venture was tense, but having planned my route I made sure I had escape routes should the path have gotten crowded. A big day, much going on in the house of isolation but so much going on just outside the door now with the ludicrous decision to ignore the fifth test set out by the government and demanding people go back to work without test, track and trace in place. There is now a real risk in resurgence in the transmission of the virus now.
And yet without a recovery from this crisis the chaos of life post-covid, will be long-lasting and felt across the globe. Huge swathes of the country will be plunged into financial free fall, hitting the poorest in society the hardest. Poverty will lead to even more ill health, physical and mental, as we each grieve for our personal losses, some, more grave than others, but each as valid.
I can’t realistically imagine when we will be able to be close again. We may, and I stress may because who can trust any figures presented after the last few weeks, have been spared huge numbers of death in our region, but with warmer weather and freedom of travel, we will have an influx of people in weeks to come.
Then there are all those who have to be shielded, what about them? How long realistically can you stay without human contact, without going outdoors for any meaningful length of time?
It doesn’t look good.
Day Fifty-eight: Spent some time with Vicky online, Vicky Foster the founder of WoW, she invited me in and I grafted the Sisterly of Hull on to my skin. Now Vicky is here in my room, on my screen inviting me to write during lockdown: write about Place.
Having spent the morning in a gown of the dressing variety, I made an effort to pull on old jeans and a comfy jumpey and then I was ready. That little bit of preparation is important to portion this time off from all the other portions of time: change seat, table direction, room if you can.
I can’t tell you how much fun it was seeing Vicky doing the tutorial, it came as a complete surprise, you could have knocked me down with a feather, when she said, “Hello and welcome, my name is Vicky Foster,” in that familiar Hull accent. I enjoyed the early exercises and the abstract questions to provoke more poetic imagery. I’d never thought about asking what the time tastes like…and using place in different timeframes worked well for me I think. But I mustn’t spoil it, if you choose to have a go yourself, which is the point and if you feel like sharing your writing to this prompt, you can do on Twitter just use #WriteFromHome and @FirstStory. And just so you know I had my hot chocolate while writing.
Here’s mine it recounts the last time I saw my sister.
In other news, I had a phonecall from a friend, another from a colleague and a further one from my nurse checking on whether I’ve got a new cough, temperature -you know the drill- ahead of my blood test tomorrow. A blood test which means a walk to the surgery, out there.
Wish me luck!
Day Fifty-seven: I want to talk about identities tonight, I touched upon the idea of identity linked to occupation in an earlier blog. Put simply in my case it works like this ‘I write therefore I am, I perform therefore I am.’
The second is symbiotic, it needs an audience to become all it can be. Writing is mostly a solitary occupation and the need for an audience is important but isn’t dependant on whether the writing is complete. In lockdown without the multi-stemmed stimuli of modern life, where so much time is spent with just your thoughts, and your thoughts appear to take on great depth. I suppose this is about feeling vulnerable putting life on the page in this daily blog ritual.
Identities, I rebuilt mine over a number of years. As I write I imagine that this process is not unique to me, but we all move through life trying the air breathing it in to see if it agrees with you. We pick up new aspects and discard others, make room for the new and abandon old behaviours and beliefs. Our identities are not fixed, they are amorphous and as plastic as the grey matter where perhaps identity lies. Identity lies.
A friend of mine suggested that maybe due to the constrained times now might be the time to put aside the creative career, being a professional artist, and get a real job to go legit we might joke. The creative pursuit can still be there but perhaps can be more because it is not dependent on funding bids, and meeting funder’s criteria and goals and audience targets and all the things that get in the way of being an artist today.
Opportunities will be slim picking, thin on the ground, when we finally move out of lockdown and begin to open up the Arts sector. There will be huge pressures on organisations just to stay afloat, never mind deliver outreach programmes, commissions and all those things that keep freelancers biting and believing they can make it. Maybe now is not a good time to pursue a career in the creative arts, but it might be a good time to create. In whatever way that might be, however that looks to you. I’m aware this feels like me spouting my privilege all over the page when thousands are just trying to survive, but my world is much smaller now and I can only write for me.
writing words every day does strange things to you