Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Final week of lockdown diaries featuring ideas, projects, walks and birthdays

MIKE ROWBOTTOM is a journalist, writer, musician, lecturer and theatre reviewer who lives in Stoke Row.

I’M that guy in the team-building exercises who is the ideas person. Not the organiser, not the leader — although I will be if I have to — no, I’m the one who has the lightbulb moment, the off-the-wall thought which takes things forward — or it would if there was someone to do that part of it.

Ideas on their own are useless if there’s no one around to make them work and we lightbulbs tend not to do that, we just fire up like Time Square and hope someone will do the heavy lifting for us. The last year, with its endless lockdown, has been wonderful for us, we’ve been sparking up filaments like never before, then leaving their glow to die as we move on to yet more.

But that’s about to change and it’s daunting. All those great thoughts, which I’ve been spreading around my friends and colleagues, now have to assume a physical shape and I’m cursing the number of things I’ve let myself in for.

Up until now I’ve dreamed up something and then passed it on with a little sketch of how it might work and then moved on to the next thing. Now there’s a mountain to climb starting with the musical play I’ve written, Sing From The Heart. The Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society will be putting this on in October with Julie Huntington directing and already I’m scared.

I’m constantly rewriting the script and redoing the music but it has to be settled by the time we get to auditions in May. That would be fine if not for the Rolling Stones project I enticed folks into a few weeks ago — a bunch of friends who play and sing getting together to do an hour of Stones music.

That would be fine as well if not for the skiffle band I’ve been discussing with Wallingford’s own Pete Orton. And now it starts to get crowded. Loads of ideas and so far no follow-through.

We must add in the blues band I’d been planning with a few friends and then the band I’ve been with for the last two years, Busted Flush.

If I could just turn off the lights and get down to organising some of the above it would be fine, but I’ve had the idea in my head for a while of a full-length play about a rock band falling apart, so I’ve started on that.

And then there’s the fringe comedy play I’m hoping to do with a group of actor friends.

We have all had to fill our lockdowns with something; some took the sensible route and drank their way through it, but I’ve gone teetotal so no joy there; some binge-watched Netflix and Amazon and I did a fair share of that but the call of the Macbook and the guitars dragged me away from it.

I would have gone on like this, writing songs, plays, the third novel, making plans, lighting bulbs, it was right up my street, an endless stream of creative thought which never had to be realised — until now.

Now there’s a pile of stuff that needs to be done and no running away from it by looking away and flicking on the next lightbulb. Now I have to make it happen.

Maybe I’ll see you at one of the happenings.

KATE ASHBROOK, 66, is general secretary of the Open Spaces Society in Bell Street, Henley. She also chairs Ramblers Great Britain and lives in Turville.

IT is my good fortune to live in the heart of the Chilterns with a multitude of public paths on my doorstep. Rising behind my cottage is Cobstone Hill where one can roam freely, thanks to the Ramblers and Open Spaces Society which won a right of access there 15 years ago.

The local Ramblers aim to check all the paths in their area at least once a year, and I have taken on my local parishes of Turville and neighbouring Ibstone. Last year, I walked all the paths and reported 14 problems to Buckinghamshire Council — mostly poor stiles and missing signposts and waymarks.

It’s good to combine my professional interest in keeping paths open with walking and bird watching, my personal pleasures. In lockdown I have been staying close to home and have listened to the dawn chorus in the nearby woods.

The downside of lockdown for me is the constant online meetings. These are a chore and distinctly hairy when the internet fails. It’s disconcerting to be chairing a meeting, or giving a talk, when suddenly everyone freezes then disappears.

The Open Spaces Society has never been busier as people turn to their local paths and open spaces. Unlike many charities, our membership has increased in the last year as people come to us for help.

Developers have not let up and the countryside is under unprecedented threat. It’s difficult working remotely, with only occasional, solo visits to our Henley office. I have been able to continue producing our magazine Open Space, thanks to Pete Webb at the Higgs Group in Henley who maintains his firm’s standards though compelled to work inconveniently from his Henley home.

In other words we soldier on.

SHEILA FERRIS was born in 1935 and has lived in Shiplake for more than 60 years. She celebrated her diamond wedding anniversary two years ago, just before her husband passed away. She has four children, eight grandchildren and now one great granddaughter and is proud of them all.

I HAVE not been a bit bored during lockdown — I do not have enough hours in my day — so I am one of those lucky people.

I walk with a dear friend of similar age, most days. We are Nordic walkers and are both interested in the countryside and all that goes on around us so we have much to see and talk about.

An app on our camera will identify a particular bird song. It will also tell us the names of all the different butterflies and flowers. I ask you all to look out for fungi too.

“Look, look, look,” I say to my friend and “Do stop talking — you’ve missed that interesting knarled tree root” and “Careful, watch out, tripping roots”; “That’s a bit dodgy” and “Let’s try another route”.

This is the sort of conversation we have. Steep climbs are rather taxing for us and wet puddly areas are to be avoided. Poor old things you might say but we are determined to walk every day, except for extreme cold and wet days. Only they are to be avoided.

I urge everyone to go out. Take your cameras with you and enjoy everything around you. The air is so beautiful.

I am a potter and have converted my garage into a studio. A bag of soft clay keeps me very happy for at least one hour a day and I am making small sculpture shapes which I hope to show during the Artweeks later in the year.

The shapes come out of my head. I draw several sketches until there is one that speaks to me. I have several books and I use them as a guide but I never copy.

I fire my pieces in an old electric kiln bought many years ago. My kick wheel is sometimes used but I can only make small shapes. The clay has to be soft enough to throw. I used to make large thrown pieces but I do not have the strength I had years ago. Also, I cannot find any glazes that please me so I now make my own. This is complicated and all the weights are in the new format. I like subtle colours which I could get from the Fulham potteries but they closed some years ago.

I love my garden and am creating a colourful country garden area with mixed seeds that will give me that effect. I have always admired tall teasels that grow on the edge of the motorways. I love architectural shapes and these caught my eye. I managed to find a packet of seed and planted them before Christmas.

Teasels are tall. They are biennial, and have large prickly seed heads that provide a source of food for birds. The seed heads with their lilac pink flowers also attract bees, butterflies and many other pollinating insects. All this is very good news. What a wonderful plant.

The seedlings are now ready for planting out and I have an area ready for them. They are going into this special area which is set aside for this purpose.

I ask you — am I completely mad? They may get out of control but at least the bees and the butterflies will be very happy.

LIS RANSOM, from Binfield Heath, looks forward to normal life resuming.

Tuesday, February 23

FIRST recorded sounds from Mars reach us — wind rushing over a rocky surface. Hard to believe what we’re hearing.

Kites flying with twigs in beak. Red camelia and mimosa tree in blossom.

People absorbing the Prime Minister’s roadmap. Thousands booking holidays from mid-May, at home and overseas. Nothing changes for us until we can meet our families again, one at a time, from March 29. Power cut this morning — only mobile phones work. Even solar panels need electricity to operate.

It’s 200 years since Keats died, aged just 25, from TB in Rome.

Wednesday, February 24

VACCINE certificate debate hots up. Government thinking about it. Reading and Leeds music festivals will go ahead end of August.

First deliveries of Oxford vaccines via United Nations Covax, to Africa. Much more will follow.

Lockdown suits moths: they have been eating through silk tapestries and wool carpets in closed National Trust houses. Super-hungry mini wasps are being recruited to eat them.

Find a butterfly painted on a pebble beside footpath during dog walk.

Thursday, February 25

BIRTHDAY. Last year’s feels like yesterday, but in a different time. That was the year that never was. Husband makes a cake — first ever. Flowers and fizz and home-made cards from family; pink soap from Channel Islands girls and matching unicorn jewellery from granddaughter up the road. They all sing on Zoom — can see why choirs have problems; all fabulous.

Queen says people should ‘think about others’ and have the vaccine.

All exams cancelled this year: teachers, not algorithms, to grade pupils this year.

Friday, February 26

GLORIOUS sunny day in garden. Camellia and mimosa in full flower.

Covid hospitalisations down to pre-November rates, but London infection level still high. Vaccine roll-out gets faster, continues to be done by age not professions. All over-40s should be vaccinated by end of July. London daughter and son-in-law unexpectedly invited for jab, as nearby big hospital has some over at end of day.

Saturday, February 27

PALPABLE mood change, people feeling happier, more optimistic, impatient to be free. Hotels and holiday venues filling up for summer, tickets selling out for Chelsea Show in September. PM says we should not get carried away, must continue with lockdown rules. But here in the village we are thinking about our Flower Show, it could still happen at end of August.

Funeral of Captain Sir Tom Moore. Determinedly cheerful, modest man who inspired millions, laid to rest with military fly-past, Yorkshire Regiment pall bearers and Last Post. Family says “his spirit lives on as a beacon of light and hope”.

Sunday, February 28

END of a short month with snow storms, floods and record-breaking heat. Today, gloriously sunny, sounds of spring all round: aircraft overhead, lawnmowers, hedge cutters, motorbikes doing circuits on the main road. One thing I have enjoyed through lockdown in our rural paradise has been the silence.

Monday, March 1

HARD to believe it’s March again, first day of meteorological Spring. St David’s Day and local granddaughter’s fifth birthday. More pink presents in unicorn paper.

Duke of Edinburgh changes hospital for tests and observation.

Cases of feared Brazilian virus variant have escaped from South America to South Gloucestershire and the hunt is on for them. This strain could outwit the vaccines. French and German governments concede that AstraZeneca vaccine is good for over-65s and their stocks should be used.

Tuesday March 2

BUDGET day tomorrow, chancellor says he will continue to support people and businesses, but one day we will have to pay back the £270bn he has borrowed from somewhere. He’s parking that one for the moment.

It’s almost a year since I started this diary of life in lockdown. We had no idea then how long it would last, how heartbreakingly hard some of it would be, how it might change things for ever. Now we are so used to our restricted world, how will it feel on June 21 when we hope to be let out? Will we emerge blinking into the sunlight?

Find myself waving goodbye to presenter at end of TV news: definitely time to stop living on-screen and get back to real life.

JANE MATHER lives with her husband, Rev Dr James Mather, in Kidmore End.

THERE are so many people who have helped me through this last year of lockdowns. It’s way more people than I can do justice to in one diary entry.

My niece who is working in a laboratory in Oxford studying covid-19 viruses. She got me started writing a journal and shared the first few entries with her boyfriend, who paid me the enormous compliment of suggesting I publish it one day.

Local Veg etc — a tiny food distribution scheme set up at the beginning of the first lockdown. My husband James was shielding as he has diabetes. I thought that if we offered to act as a distribution hub I would more likely keep the supply lines. A year later and we are a community scheme based at Kidmore End Parish Room.

It is run by three of us Sarah, Sally and myself and it is a hoot. We have a loyal customer base of whom one of the most supportive are our near neighbours, Michael and Jan Skinner and their Jack Russell, Twifey. It was Michael’s birthday last Sunday and Local Veg etc delivered a card and some cake — happy birthday, Michael.

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