Leaving Lockdown, Challenging Assumptions

I was intrigued to see which Tarot card the Major Arcana would turn up today.  It’s The Hermit, a wise old man holding a lamp.  Exuding calm, his simple presence brings new light and hope when we have lost our way.  His message is to discover and nurture our own hidden spark, withdrawing from society if we need to. Talking to family and friends I find we are all wary of coming out of lockdown, of returning to ‘normal’ activities. Friends admit reluctance to commit to meetings, actual and virtual.  Like the Hermit, we need more space and time for quiet reflection and growth.  I like the idea that this wise man is there, watching over me.

This poem, quoted by Seamus O'Reilly
in his Guardian column, appealed to me:

Subh Mills by Seamus O'Neill. (Translated)
There was jam on the door handle, 
But I suppressed the anger that rose up
in me,
Because I thought of the day that the door
handle would be clean,
And the little hand would be gone.
Children have lost some of their innocence, 
some of their trust in the world being a
benign place, taught not to touch door
handles, to keep washing their hands,
to see danger everywhere.

Black Lives Matter has become the focus for young people leaving lockdown to come out on the streets. It has certainly generated discussion. A friend asked ‘Where are you on statues?’ I’ve thought a lot about my own attitudes to race. I  remember a school assembly just after Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11th 1965 to prevent black majority rule in what is now Zimbabwe.  Our school chaplain, Rev Dr William Rogan, spoke in support of Smith and white supremacy,  From the top balcony one of the science teachers shouted ‘Shame on you!’  I was very struck by this unprecedented evidence of opposing views expressed in the setting of my very traditional school.  It generated a great deal of discussion among pupils and staff.  At home that night I had an argument with my parents about it and I think that was the start of my awareness of the injustices of colonialism.

In 1968, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech again divided opinion and I remember many heated exchanges.  By then I was at university and attended political debates which widened my knowledge and shaped my views.  I had still encountered very few non-white people but that began to change.  Friends adopted two mixed race children (this was the 70’s).  My own children were unaware that they were in any way different from them.  A close friend whom I visited in Oxford in the 1980s had an African partner and friends from different racial backgrounds. Now I too have friends of different ethnicities.

Bernardine Evaristo’s book, Girl, Woman, Other, had a major impact on me.  By telling the stories of women of colour from different generations and backgrounds, she paints a vivid picture of the casual racism experienced in Britain over past decades up to the present day.

In Sitting in Limbo, a recent BBC tv drama, a Jamaican-born British man, Anthony Bryan, living in the UK since 1965, is a victim of the UK Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policy. He is suddenly told he has no right to remain and taken to a detention centre. The idea of repatriation has become acceptable although in the 1950’s Commonwealth citizens were encouraged to come here. Many people are still waiting for their cases to be resolved.

David Olusoga, a historian born in Nigeria, goes some way towards explaining this in his book and BBC television series Black and British. There have always been black Britons, seen at different times as equals, novelties, entertainers, freaks, pets, soldiers, cheap labour and, of course, slaves.  Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann tells the story of the free Africans of 16th C England when social class was more important than skin colour.  Theories about fundamental genetic inferiority, limited intellectual capacity, insensitivity to pain, lack of morality,  came later as scientific knowledge developed in the 19th C.  The history of the slave trade is well known, although to read the stark detail of Bunce Island, the notorious British slave trading fort in Sierra Leone and the horrors of the ‘Middle Passage’
(the sea journey undertaken by slave ships from West Africa to the West Indies) is shocking. I was also appalled by the way black soldiers were treated in both world wars.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson is a
fascinating, if harrowing, historical novel
which uses real events such as the Zong massacre
as the background to a murder mystery. This event
was the mass drowning of more than 130 enslaved
Africans by the crew of a British slave ship in
November 1781. Set in Deptford, London, it
deals with inter-racial relationships, the
politics of the slave trade and, above all, power.
For light relief, I'm painting my nails
and eyelids blue (just for fun) and reading
this clever ghost story by Elly Griffiths.

I read about Grace Nichols in the Observer. Born in Guyana, she wrote this poem in May. It’s called Harbour

How are you doing? Just getting back to normal or creeping cautiously outside and retreating? Where are you on statues? Let me know through commenting below, emailing timewithelinor@gmail.com, WhatsApp or however suits you.


How to Hug

It’s almost ten weeks now since lockdown began.  Last Sunday a neighbour’s son asked me (through the fence) how my week had been.  All right, I said, much the same as last week, and the week before, and the week before that…. The garden project, including rehabilitating the pond, is almost done.  I have painted a broken mirror which I found buried under ivy and used it as a backdrop for fairytale figures collected in my time as a dramatherapist.  I can change the figures and the story.

THE FALLING TOWER is my Tarot card (chosen at random from the Major Arcana) for today.  Another transitional card, signifying change from an outside source (lightning).  Some figures are safe inside the undamaged part of the tower which can be seen as a refuge.  Others leave, acrobatically or stealthily.  We can leave home now, visit family and friends, within strict limits, but the Covid threat is still out there.  Contact tracing may affect anyone. The other night we clapped for carers – the woman who instigated the Thursday night ritual had said this week should be the last time.  It felt a bit sad, although I did feel it was right to stop.  It has been a focal point in the week for neighbours to emerge from isolation and meet at a distance.  But it is time to move on. I have taken down my rainbow picture from the window. Many of the children’s drawings put up in the first weeks are fading now. 

I’m interested in how children are reacting to things. Locally, some have been painting stones and leaving them on walls and windowsills for people to take. I saw an exceptionally lovely one in the next street and went back with a thank you note. It will always remind me of this time.

The other day, on my usual walk, I saw two examples of social distancing. A wee girl, maybe four, on her pink scooter, flattened herself against the fence, shouting ‘Mummy, a lady!’  On the cycle path, an older girl leapt onto the verge as I approached. Her mother, pushing a pram, called, ‘On the grass!’ Indignantly the girl replied, ‘I am!’ A four year old was reluctant to leave the house (like Wee Boy) so her mother explained that the Government said everyone had to go out once a day for exercise. She accepted this and went out for a walk. Later that day, another outing was mooted, but the four year old was adamant that she had obeyed the rules and was on no account going out again. Wee Boy distracts himself by building walls and killing zombies and ghasts on Minecraft, with myself or Cannyrob sharing his progress on Skype. ‘Live’ bedtime stories have joined the video recordings of favourite books as another way of keeping in touch.

I heard someone on the radio talking about explaining to her young granddaughter about not hugging. For lots of us this is going to be so hard. This woman came up with a simple idea. You each put your hand to your heart, hold it out to the other person. Then, still maintaining eye contact, hug yourself as the other does the same. Younger Daughter met a friend with a three year old who wanted picked up and cuddled. She explained the virtual hug idea and the wee girl was very taken with it! See below.

My adult children have coped remarkably well with different experiences of this strange time, keeping in regular contact.  Younger Daughter juggles home schooling with her jewellery business while Older Daughter has been working very hard from home, but finding distraction in her windowsill garden, growing tomatoes, peppers and herbs for cooking.

Son has given permission for me to include some of his photos emailed to me over the last nine weeks recording some moments from his Life in Lockdown.

Visit to doctor’s surgery today for tetanus jab and removal of rose thorn from sole of my foot.  Large older man in waiting area on seeing doctor in PPE remarked, without irony,  ‘You’d think there was a plague or something’

Cannyrob found a review of The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Antony Jones, a book about archaic language. There were two words I particularly liked – worldcraft – ‘the cumulative wisdom of an aged person whose long life has given them unique and much venerated insight.’ I’d definitely like some of that.   Supernaculum – a drink ‘so appreciated that it is savoured to the very last drop’ describes the Italian rosé La Jara we enjoyed in the garden this afternoon. Books continue to be a distraction and a pleasure. Having just emerged from post Roman Britain in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy, I am now in 1920’s Calcutta with Abir Mukherjee’s Sam Wyndham in Smoke and Ashes, his third crime novel. I have a stack of books bought online for lockdown, as well as another dozen on my Kindle, so I am unlikely to run out of reading material. Hamnet and Girl, Woman, Other are next on my list.

I had rather expected to be binge-watching Netflix and stuff we’d recorded but we haven’t spent much time in front of the telly recently. Apart, that is, from the brilliant Sex Education, which should be compulsory viewing for teenagers and parents (not in the same room). And old people. New favourite song from the series is Ezra Furman’s Love you so Bad. I’m still singing with B on a Saturday. We are actually meeting up for real today! As well as the Beatles and the Beach Boys, we’ve been doing some Bob Marley. I’m practising Redemption Song.

I feel unsettled by the easing of lockdown. The comforting routine of video meetings with friends each week will change as we begin to go out again. Making decisions about where and how to meet safely, negotiating greater numbers of people, wearing face coverings all make life more complicated. Staying at home was simple. I spotted this in our second hand furniture shop. It’s almost identical to the dolls house I got when I was four. I loved playing with it, even turning it upside down to simulate disaster. When I was eleven my mother said I was too old for it and it was refurbished and given away to the ‘poor children’. I mourned it for years. Does that relate to my reluctance to leave home now?

How are you doing? Are you hopeful that tracking and tracing will work? Are you keen to get out and socialise? Let me know in whatever way suits you. Lots of friends use WhatsApp or you can leave a comment below. But anyone can email me privately at timewithelinor@gmail.com. It’s lovely to get feedback. A friend emailed recently, ‘You cover such a range, imaginatively and intellectually which is wonderful’. A few new drawings (Pilates inspired) have been added to My Recent Artwork. You should be able to subscribe by email (see ‘follow this blog’ below) and get next post sent directly.

May Day or MAYDAY?

Hooray, Hooray, the first of May! Outdoor f***ing begins today!

Jilly Cooper

I last wrote on Good Friday. May Day is another marker of time passing. Not much chance of any outdoor pastimes, saucy or otherwise, just now.

This is my randomly chosen Tarot card for today. The Wheel of Fortune is a transitional image, halfway through the Tarot journey. Fate spins the wheel while the figures wait to see where it stops. Free will is of no use. The world is a system endlessly beginning and ending.

Someone suggested we might face another year of restrictions. For those of us over seventy, a blanket ban on contact with family and friends seems unthinkable. One friend says he doesn’t have a year to waste. A fit, energetic man who has spent retirement travelling the world, walking, climbing and interacting with family including six grandchildren, he has much more to do. I feel great sympathy. I miss my family and close friends terribly. I miss physical contact, always important to me. Not something I had much of as a child, it’s been important in my relationship with my children and my close friends.

I was talking to Cannyrob about this and he suggested I look at this http://www,5lovelanguages If you can get over the tabloid tone of the site, there is some useful stuff there. Although it is aimed at couples, I think it applies equally to any relationship. A quiz asks you to find your preferred style of communication.

  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • receiving gifts
  • quality time
  • physical touch

I think about interactions with my children and grandson in this time when hugs are not an option. A parcel arrives from Older Daughter. Always the giver of thoughtful and unexpected presents, she sends us home-made marmalade and two Good Food magazines for Cannyrob. Son emails me photos from his everyday life: his tidy garden, a newly mopped floor. I send him audio recordings of a favourite childhood book. These could be ‘acts of service’. The time I spend on Skype sharing the Minecraft keyboard with Wee Boy is ‘quality time’ for both of us. Younger Daughter passes on Wee Boy’s reactions to a story we read on video. He loved this one! At one point he said , show me the picture and you did. He was amazed. How did Grandma know? Grandma just knows. ‘Words of affirmation.’ All of these things make me feel loved.

We are connecting in different ways, maybe more than we might do under normal circumstances. Once a week I have a video chat with three friends, all former colleagues. In ‘normal’ times we meet for lunch, perhaps every three months. Our weekly chats connect us in a way that reminds me of staff room conversations, often about books, but we also have plenty of laughs. I think these chats bring us closer.

This beautiful connection that’s going on reminds me of how people were in the 50’s and 60’s. People have time now to think of others, to contact them, to keep in touch.

JPG (see below)

Now that we have a kind of lockdown routine, I’ve wanted to do more drawing, play more music. Last Friday in our Zoom Pilates class our Teacher suggested we channel Rubens and imagine we had large pillowy buttocks. I came home with images in my head, did some sketches, found some Rubens paintings online. This was the result (pastel on crumpled waste paper strips 48 x 24 inches)

Nude Pilates

Tomaso del Garbo, a Florentine physician working during the 14th-century Black Death, wrote that those who could not “flee the pestilence must “use songs and games and pleasant stories that do not exhaust the body”. A 15th-century revised edition of Aldobrandino of Siena’s Régime du Corps, which circulated widely during epidemic outbreaks, told its readers to “read joyful and strange things”.

Katherine Rundell, the Guardian

Singing songs and telling stories are things I want to do just now. I played Nina Simone singing Mr Bojangles on repeat on my half hour walk yesterday. I think it will be the song I will associate with this time. The man who keeps on dancing, no matter what life brings.

Quick sketches of Cannyrob doing Zoom Zumba

On television, fantasy drama like The Witcher (Netflix) is absorbing. Cannyrob is enjoying National Theatre productions like Twelfth Night. I am enthralled by The Great British Sewing Bee which lets me know it’s Wednesday. A friend is losing herself in the Game of Thrones books, others are re-reading Georgette Heyer and Susan Cooper. I have Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth trilogy waiting to be read and another favourite from childhood 1066 and All That on order.


Title of notice in pet shop window
Photo by Freddie Ramm

I find myself looking for a theme on my morning walk. This week it has been tulips which seem exceptionally bright this spring


I want to mention JPG (quoted above), a very good friend and fan of my blog. She’s not online, so I send it by post. In response to the last one, she sent me a long, beautifully written letter, such a rare treat. I appreciate all the feedback I get, in whatever form. Please continue to respond in any way that suits you. You can reply below (scroll down) or email me privately at: timewithelinor@gmail.com. I have just added a page with new drawings and paintings alongside my older SKETCHBOOK page. You can scroll down to leave comments there too. To see these, click MY RECENT ARTWORK (desktop or tablet view) In mobile view, click MENU then MY RECENT ARTWORK. (Thanks to MC for pointing this out!)

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