from Louis in Johannesburg: life under lockdown …

June 29. Life under lockdown in South Africa has settled into a routine. These routines have been stripped of the jarring interruptions from another way of life where the clock and the time it keeps rules. Electric lights still extend the day beyond what is a healthy cycle. I prefer this rhythm. The rooster’s crow as the sun rises is one signal of dawn breaking. The playful bark of our small dogs starts their announcement of a new day. No better, non-violent alarm system, self-adjusting to solar time. Going into Southern Hemisphere winter in May, nights are lengthening and days shorter. Our little natural system is geared to track this shift. I am the beneficiary of that shift for now. Time to feed the dogs, and the chickens and also to collect any eggs for breakfast. Enjoying an egg this fresh tends to make one judgemental about the so-called fresh eggs from the local supermarket

Then into my workspace to continue working on the writing and other matters of developing an income in this time of lock-down. I am committed to converting a thesis to a readable piece of writing for practitioners interested in rebuilding towns and cities as the next phase of my so-called career. This diary has recently taken second place to my plan to leverage my modest process-consulting business of scenario-based strategy and executive education (aka capacity-building) during and after this lock-down. I appreciate the privilege we enjoy working from a home office. Commuting to the office is a one minute stroll down the corridor gets me into my “office.” From there Zoom and Google meeting connects me to a scenario session in New Hampshire and a family friend’s funeral in Dublin in the same day.

Since 1990 when I left the corporate world, I have enjoyed the benefit of knowledge work. Long may it continue. In the early 2000s an Irish Life assurance company engaged us to develop scenarios for a viral attack and its consequences. That’s where I learnt that a viral attack similar to the 1918 so-called Spanish Flu was inevitable. The timing was unknowable. Since the Spanish Flu we have seen a succession of viral attacks on the human species. A number of other “inevitable surprises” spurred me to consider what a sustainable, robust plan for our home in Midrand would look like.

We live in a community of 450 families. Together we have pooled our resources to ensure that criminal elements cannot enter to make or lives a misery. Our security manager, an ex-cop with sound relationships with the South African Police Services (SAPS), understands that criminals are not deterred by the consequences of their actions but by being tracked around and within our community. In these days of extended lock-down our community support grows by the day. Sean from Homestead Meats delivers bacon, sausage and steaks later today. His meat processing is down the road from our home. Sara brought in eggs by the dozen a couple of days ago. She is down the road as well. We support both these home-based entrepreneurs in their efforts to sustain their families in these times. Back to creating a sustainable home, we installed solar water-heating and grid tied, generator-assisted electricity, which hedges us against our faltering national electricity supplier and its predatory pricing. We have been off the water grid for years but receive regular “accounts” from Joburg water. The so-called accounts seem to be based on some poor soul extending last month’s reading and rendering an account based on that estimate.

Our organic garden delivers, spinach, pumpkins, gem squashes, basil, rosemary and other herbs for kitchen cooking. “Flattening the curve” between growing your own veggies and the demand in the kitchen takes on a whole new meaning. Suddenly the importance of curried beans, frozen veggies and surplus pesto to absorb an overproduction of basil highlights the complexity of farming where supply and demand must be matched to avoid wastage.  We are constantly and painfully aware of our privileged life and remain engaged in assisting in the broader community at an interpersonal and project levels.

A local car guard, from the DRC whom we have befriended, receives a monthly stipend to sustain his six children and spouse. Another person, a Malawian, receives food parcels and monthly payment regularly as he stays in isolation. During the hurricane/typhoon last year in Mozambique, Marie moved 32 tons of clothing and food into Mozambique via the Charitas faith-based network to help the needy there. Currently she is again coordinating the Charitas efforts to assist people in need as result of the Covid19 pandemic. 

Over the past four years, I have coordinated a blanket-fund as part of a men’s group. We raised funds, acquired and distributed more than 4,000 blankets to the poorest of the poor. My engagement in various poorer communities has indelibly changed my perspective on township life in our province and how to support the needy. For instance, balancing the quality of blankets purchased and distributed, with the context of the recipients is critical. Too high quality and they are sold to buy food. Too low quality and they are discarded on the refuse dump where I understood they are harvested by other people lower down the needs chain. Zero wastage in poorer communities. This, besides raising money for numerous other donations to orphans in distress in an underfunded orphanage and a mission station for abused women and their families to name a few. In these ways we ensure that as a family we maintain an ethical balance between our relative comfort and those in need in this country fraught by the greatest inequality anywhere. Dwelling on how corrupt politicians blatantly steal food parcels destined for the poor or use their power over the starving to extort votes for food seems “just how it is here” for now.

My hope is that as the Covid19 exposes the political opportunists and fracture lines in the SA society opportunities for policy improvement will open up. The imminent entry by the IMF to fund the national deficit will eliminate short-sighted ideology-based decisions and encourage pragmatism in terms of evidence-based economic policy. According to the Institute of Race Relations’ surveys, the average South African simply wants government to create jobs, reduce criminality, provide education for their children and medical care for the sick. Expropriation of property without compensation is ranked last in a list of ten top priorities. The ideological blinkers worn by the socialist/Marxist national political leadership of the ANC prevent them from seeing the priorities of the average person in the street. Never were Prime Minster Thatcher’s words more prescient; socialists are politicians that run out of other people’s money.  Every Rand paid by the taxpayer devotes 58 cents to servicing foreign debt. Many of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are technically insolvent. Eskom now owes R500 Bn which is state guaranteed. Ministers are trying to recover South African Airways (SAA) which is also technically insolvent. This in a climate where airlines in general are struggling to survive.

For the first time in memory, government is turning to the much maligned private sector vilified as “white monopoly capital” (WMC) as a potential source of further borrowings. LOL. Attention is gradually shifting towards unlocking the economy and restarting organisations which have been dormant during lockdown. The extent to which society has adapted to social distancing, and other behaviour required to keep safe, is astounding. Many now prefer this mode. School children in high school now prefer what they call home-schooling via computer link. Teachers have made the investment in digitally delivered provision. The adjustment may be permanent, with typically the higher grades preferring this mode while the lower grades, which need careful supervision by parents at home prefer a back to school choice.

Many of the private schools have been accused of racism amidst the global wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM). In South Africa its history predisposes this society to ingrained racist practice which is often invisible to itself. Transformation usually begins with non-racial policy and due process to deal with behaviour that violates policy and agreements between parents, pupils and schools. However, behaviour of pupils is shaped by the attitudes and values formed in the family context. Prejudice and stereotyping persists in families long after the need for societal transformation is seen to be essential. Schools as institutions are also being called out for individual racist behaviour under the current our cry for BLM.    

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

June 18.  I recently had a discussion with a Dean at a university I am reviewing, about intrinsic versus extrinsic reward.

She was arguing that in her faculty, staff found such satsifaction in their teaching and research that external validation was not important. 

There is a truth in this view.  One of the great privileges of a career in higher education is that it is full of people who found a passion in life, and a form of employment that enabled them to pursue it.  Most academic staff pay little attention to the exact length of a working week, or indeed very often to their maximum holiday entitlement.  They work long hours because of their commitment to the progress of their students, and their desire to push back the boundaries of knowledge in their chosen field.  A smart or lucky institution will align the enthusiasm of staff with the interests of the organisation without imposing a formal regime of mission statements and coercive strategies.

And yet, from a PhD onwards, every move is subject to peer review.  Projects are initiated and completed as part of a conversation with fellow researchers, and their response will range from the supportive to the terminally destructive.  And however much an academic’s labour is driven by personal enthusiasm, mortgages have to be paid.  Everyone in the trade has either experienced or witnessed the colossal demotivation a failed or delayed promotion can cause. 

There is a contrast with the passions that get you out of bed in this lockdown world.   Where there is no remunerative labour to undertake, what is the purpose of the day’s activities? 

Take for instance gardening.  My village takes part in a national open gardens scheme, where on a given summer Sunday, people can visit private gardens for a small fee which this year is donated to a nursing charity.  We have always refused absolutely to take part, however worthy the cause.  This is partly because in normal years we lack the time to arrive at a point of weedless perfection, but more fundamentally because what we grow is no-one else’s business.  We are happy to show it to visiting family and friends, but our pleasure in our achievement is, in management speak, entirely intrinsic.  Even between the two of us, each has their own programme of work, and we choose whether to tell the other what we are doing and how well it is going.

There are, of course, those who treat gardening, or some other recreation, as a form of work or competition.  Targets are set, outcomes are measured.  A brother-in-law runs every Sunday, recording his performance on an app that allows him to compare his times with runners of the same age around the world.  Gardeners have been forming themselves into societies and awarding prizes for fruit and vegetables for more than two centuries in Britain.  This was not just the practice of the well-heeled.  A survey of working-class gardeners in the industrial north in 1826, identified fifty auricular and polyanthus shows annually, together with twenty-seven tulip, nine ranunculus, nineteen pink and forty-eight carnation competitions.  The committee of the society would meet for a leisurely, alcohol-fuelled judging dinner, and then award prizes.

It is, nonetheless, one of the reasons why the pandemic lockdown has been bearable for those lucky enough not to be struggling with working and child-teaching at home.  We have always pursued our recreations for our own satisfaction, and it is a minor matter that, in my case, the best of my garden will be over this year before anyone else gets to see it.

That said, were I to win a prize for my sweet peas at the Shrewsbury Flower Show, all my promotions and all my books would be set at nought.

from Steph in London: transport or teleporting?

June 15. So, the shops can open tomorrow – it will be interesting to see how successful it will be and who will venture forth.

It made me think how we will get into London when it’s time to go – public transport being off limits for the foreseeable future. We made a conscious decision to run a small car several years ago. It is great for city living, can be parked in the smallest spaces and suits us…. Or it did suit us. Faced with no trains, UK holidays and car travel to Holland to see the children do we need to think about a different option – slightly larger, more powerful and more comfortable for long journeys? It goes against our environmental philosophy to think about it but we are all being pushed onto the road again. I’m not sure how that will play out.

We moved a huge pot containing a Cornus Kousa (dogwood) up to the top of the garden today to finish off the design in that area. Having time to get the whole garden replanted and organised has been a joy and for the first time since we moved in, we feel as if the garden is now ours. All we have to do now is keep everything alive.

Relationships with lockdown and Covid appears to have changed considerably. Is it fatigue or a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to get us out of this mess? They certainly have lost the confidence of many- to the point that we no longer believe almost anything we are told. How could it have been handled better and why on earth wasn’t it?

 Answers on a postcard …

from Nike in Katerini, Greece: the classics, a baptism and a survivor

Diotima

June 14. I am steeped in the classics, the Greek classics. Every day I study at least one of the philosophers or the great plays and today my subject was Diotima because I’m working on a small project on the women philosophers of Ancient Greece. Diotima scores a mention today not only because she is part of what is probably the most famous teacher – student chain in history, Diotima taught Socrates, Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great – but because, according to Socrates, she delayed the onset of the plague to Athens by ten years. It’s not made clear how, other than by appeasing the gods, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if a woman first taught the principles of care, isolation, hygiene and so on over two and a half thousand years ago.

baptism of Hektor

My study had to be put aside. The garden required serious attention. I scraped back my hair, put on my daggiest, least flattering work gear and worked hard digging and weeding. Any makeup had sweated off and my damp with sweat hair stuck to my head when my little neighbour, Artemis, called out for me to come out of my garden and onto the road.
She had a puppy with her.
‘I want to baptise him,’ she said.
Now, it must be made known, each and every one of Artemis’ dolls has been baptised in our tiny chapel, plus there have been some doll weddings, so it makes sense she’d want her first pet baptised too.
She asked me to be the Nouna, the godmother. So, in the height of my sweaty gardening non-glamour, puppy was baptised in my shiny new red bucket as the baptismal font. He was given the name, Hektor.

the goats arrive

After the baptism I returned to work and soon heard the jingle of goat bells. The shepherds were guiding their herds back from the day’s grazing. It’s such a common sight I didn’t stop to look. I had too much work to do but I caught a glimpse of the shepherd. It was Christo, the snake bite victim of a few weeks ago.
I yelled out to him. ‘Perastika sou.’ The traditional phrase one says to someone who has been through trauma. It means, May it pass.
‘Thank you. Thank you. I’m not well yet but I thought I should start going out again.’

Christo, the snake-bite survivor

He re-enacted the event showing me how his kerchief slipped from his neck and how he bent to retrieve it when the snake struck to bite him on the hand. His hand is still bandaged. ‘I might only lose this finger,’ he says, wiggling it at me before he herded his goats away.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Aaron’s walnut tree

The walnut tree

June 5.  Back in early April, I wrote a piece lamenting my barren walnut tree.

A metre-long stick had arrived from a garden centre, and despite the most careful planting, had refused utterly to grow.  All around it, Spring burst into life.  The forsythias, lilacs and wisteria bloomed, the fruit trees blossomed, the daffodils, tulips and roses flowered, the lawn grew, even the adjacent beech hedge, always the last to move, had become a shiny green wall.  Still, every morning when I went glumly to inspect its corner of the garden, nothing had moved.  Then one day, a definite swelling of the buds, and, earlier this week, finally shoots and leaves (see photo).

Readers will recall the Biblical story of Aaron’s rod during the plagues of Egypt:

Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. (Numbers 17: 8).

Thus with my rod.  ‘Almonds’ may have been a translation error for walnuts.  At a time when rational, quantifiable evidence about our present circumstances and future prospects is in such short supply (see ‘Miscounting’ on June 2) foundation myths, metaphors, parables, have a particular attraction.  Insight and comfort can be afforded by such verbal constructions, particularly when they are enshrined in authoritative documents.

So what does my walnut tree mean?

Clearly there are opposing interpretations.  On the positive side, the tree represents the triumph of persistence over doubt (my life-partner was heard to pass discouraging comments about the entire enterprise of walnut trees during the barren weeks).  It represents the unshakeable rhythms of nature in the face of man-made misfortune.  It represents an investment in the future, however uncertain our present times.

On the negative side, look more closely at Aaron’s achievement.  His rod produced blossom and fruit.  Mine has grown only leaves, late in the season.  No walnuts until at least next year, no serious crop for some years beyond that.  We’re not there yet.  So also, most probably, with defeating the coronavirus.  Even in those countries which appear to have suppressed death and infection, there is no security that the plague will not return, whether as a small upturn or a full-blown second wave.  It will be around next Spring, and could well be a permanent presence in all the future that we can see.

But that is the point of such stories.  They can contain opposing meanings.  As also, when it comes to it, most current statements from the Government.

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Flowers…

May 29. Flowers!  On May 19 I discussed the very high level of domestic gardens in this lock-downed country.  It is a practice with a long and much-described history.  During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, specialised plant-rearing spread out from country houses to the mass of the population.  By the beginning of the Victorian period there was a large industry of specialised nurseries, supported by a burgeoning literature which in its way supplied as much useful and timely information as Monty Don’s Gardener’s World.  The 1803 edition of John Abercrombie’s Every Man His Own Gardener, for instance, ran to 646 pages of monthly tasks, followed by another hundred pages cataloguing plants and then a thorough index.  Artisans joined together in associations which offered annual prizes.  A survey of the industrial north in 1826, identified fifty auricular and polyanthus shows annually, together with twenty-seven tulip, nine ranunculus, nineteen pink and forty-eight carnation competitions. 

I have on past Fridays, supplied stay-at-home food from Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor of 1861Here now, for those who like me still cannot get to garden centres, is the London trade in plants as sold in the Covent Garden and Farringdon wholesale markets.  In this case the volumes are not the point; there were numerous nurseries on the edge of the capital also supplying a substantial market.  But Mayhew’s table does describe the basic tastes of Londoners in garden flowers:

Primroses         1,000                                     Polyanthus                         1440

Cowslips           1200                                       Daisies                                  1400

Wallflowers     1920                                       Candytufts                          1200

Daffodils          1200                                       Violets                                  2400

Mignonette      3800                                       Stocks                                   2880

Pinks & and Carnations   800                      Lilies of the Valley            288

Pansies              1080                                      Lilies and Tulips                 280

Balsam               640                                       Calceolarii                            600

Musk Plants       10560                                   London Pride                     720

Lupins                 1600                                     China-Asters                      850

Marigolds           10560                                    Dahlias                                  160

Heliotropes        1280                                      Michaelmas Daisies         432        (p.131)

Most of these plants, in one form or another, are the staple of modern nurseries.  It could be argued that gardens constitute one of the strongest links between the present and the past.  In most other areas – diet, clothing, occupation, health, mortality, warfare, politics, religious belief (in particular) there is a void between our own times and a period even as recent as the Victorian era.  But less so in the practice of growing flowers (and vegetables).

Rose Cecile Brunner

John Clare (1793-1864), the great peasant poet of nature, owned half a dozen gardening books, including Abercrombie, and had a deep interest in the latest developments in horticulture.  Were he to find his way into my garden, he would recognise many of the plants as versions of those that he grew, and would take an informed interest in later imports and introductions.

Above all he would understand why I spend so much time between my hedges, and what pleasure it gives me, with or without the current inconvenience.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Of Sheds and birds.

May  20th

Our allotment came with a shed.  We acquired it in bygone days (about twelve years ago) when there wasn’t a waiting-list list of 50 to 100 aspirant fruit and vegetable growers anxious to get their hands on a piece of earth to till.  We even had a choice of allotments, whereas now people are lucky if, when they get to the top of the list, there is a vacant quarter of an allotment for them.  There is an element of lottery to what one finds. If you are very lucky your allotment will come with a greenhouse, or established raspberries, or apple, plum or pear trees.  One of the ones we were shown had three knarled apple trees at the far end, but was some way up the hill from both the main path and the nearest tap; another was an impenetrable bramble jungle.  The one we chose was on the main path and, in addition to a world-beating crop of couch grass, it had a shed, inherited from many generations of allotmenteers who have tilled that piece of land before us.

This isn’t the kind of shed David Cameron bought to lick his wounds and write his memoirs in after the Brexit referendum, nor is it a Roald Dahl bottom-of-the-garden, cosy book-writing type shed.   Our shed looks as if it was somewhere on the fringes, rather too close to the trenches, during the Battle of the Somme.   The vintage looks about right, and, while it doesn’t appear to have sustained a direct hit from which it has been resurrected, it gives every evidence of having had its now rusting corrugated-iron sides pierced by a variety of shrapnel and the occasional stray bullet.  This is surprisingly helpful in a number of ways.  We were able to have a choice of allotments partly because there had been a spate of vandalism at the time and a number of the tenants had given up in despair.  Our shed looked as if it had already been so severely vandalized that there wasn’t any point in setting it on fire.  It appears never to have had a door and looks so decrepit that nobody in their right mind would dream of keeping anything valuable in it.   So through all these years I’ve kept all my garden tools there quite safely, using a motorcycle lock to secure the wheelbarrow, spade and fork to one of the still very solid uprights.  

Best of all, the shed allows free passage to any intrepid bird interested in exploring it, and right now it boasts three blackbird chicks in an appropriately dilapidated nest on a high shelf in the far corner from where the door isn’t.   The nest, like the shed, has clearly been inherited from a venerable lineage of previous tenants.

The morning’s jobs being done, we sat down to have tea in the only significant shade on the allotment at present, which happens to be beside the shed, to the evident consternation of the two adult blackbirds who were intent on feeding the chicks.  The male had tried a couple of intimidatory fly-pasts quite close to me during the course of the morning to let me know I wasn’t welcome and, deciding there was no mileage in that tactic, concluded that stealth was the answer.  As the female sat at a safe distance waiting her turn with a beak-full of grubs, the male flitted nearer and nearer from cover to cover:  from behind the cordon apples, to the rhubarb, from there to a clump of lupins, getting closer and closer to the shed with each flit.  If either of us looked directly at it, it suddenly remembered that it had urgent business elsewhere and headed off back to the cordon apples to start again. When we pretended not to be watching it, once it had stalked close enough it would make a couple of feints to see what we might do, which was obviously precisely nothing, and than take a giant leap for blackbird-kind by flying in through one of the shrapnel holes and depositing its worm into one of the eagerly waiting mouths.  As soon as the female saw that her pioneering mate had made it past us, she flew straight in herself.   He, however, still didn’t share her newly acquired confidence and, once he had collected his next mouthful, which he did surprisingly quickly, he started the whole routine all over again.   So our tea took much longer than usual. TV and Netflix have their uses under lockdown, but there is a greater immediacy to live entertainment, and one gets it where one can. 

from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: pickled eggs

May 19.  Last week the invaluable Office for National Statistics published a survey of gardens in the UK.  The headline news was that one in eight homes lacked a garden, another measure of the wide-ranging inequality of experience in this crisis.

It is possible, however, to take a glass half-full, or seven-eighths-full, view of this finding.  It seems to me astonishing that on this over-crowded island, so long after the invention of high-rise living, the great majority of people in Britain want to live in property with a fenced fragment of nature attached to it, and are able to do so.  For the locked-in elderly the proportion of those with access to private outdoor space is even higher at 92%.

The size of the patch of land is not really the point.  Obviously, half an acre is a luxury to be enjoyed if it can be afforded.  But each of my children, living in their first houses in London, take immense pleasure in the small rectangles of grass and surrounding borders beyond their back doors.  The two that have young offspring have room for a sandpit, a paddling pool on hot days, a portable wigwam to play in.  It’s been kind of rite of passage for them to start acquiring the horticultural knowledge and skills that they saw their parents possess and practice when they were themselves growing up.

Possession and use of a garden are matters of private choice.  It is a measure of the relative transience of the coronavirus pandemic is that we have not been instructed to ‘dig for victory’ as was the case in the Second World War (although today Prince Charles has launched a ‘pick for victory’ campaign to help the commercial fruit growers).  Despite occasional gloomy forecasts, we have not been told to grow our own food to survive.  In the First World War the pressures of urban slums were relieved by the provision of over half a million allotments following the Smallholdings and Allotment Act of 1908, which required local authorities to purchase or lease land upon which their communities could grow flowers and food.

Gardening is a necessary pleasure.  As we begin to reduce the lockdown, garden centres have been amongst the first to be allowed to re-open, albeit with appropriate distancing measures.  That much of their retail space is out of doors makes them a safer proposition than, say, clothing shops, but the queues that immediately formed once the relaxation was announced were testament to the pent-up demand.  As I noted in a previous entry, the fact that in the northern hemisphere the pandemic has coincided with Spring not Autumn has helped to make the crisis bearable, but it has also created a lively market for plants, fertilizer and other sundries.

As with any recreation, gardening also performs the function of providing substitute dramas and anxieties, to distract from the larger problems.  Last week the major misfortune in my life was not some coronavirus-related event, but a sharp May frost which decimated fifty cosmos plants that I had grown in my greenhouse and just planted out in the garden.  Then there is the mole which has started digging up a lately sown patch of grass.  In a Zoom session with my home-schooling seven-year old granddaughter, I asked her to research humane remedies for moles.  She came back later in the day with information that putting pickled eggs down their holes should keep them at bay.

But where, in the midst of a lock-down, am I going to obtain pickled eggs?

https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/articles/oneineightbritishhouseholdshasnogarden/2020-05-14

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: what to do? Plant trees …

May 2. Have you watched the controversial, free, Youtube movie, Planet of the Humans with Jeff Gibbs, produced by Michael Moore? This 1 hr 40-minute film was obviously made before the arrival of Covid-19. If the pandemic has made you worried, wondering if you are approaching a state of depression, this film will take you there.

Jeff Gibbs is not a human-induced-climate-change denier. This must be said at the beginning. What he does do is look at the story behind the production of some ‘green’ energy:  solar, wind and biomass fuel. And what he finds may surprise you. The reaction from the environmental lobby has been quick to point the many errors in the film with regard to wind and solar but admit the commentary about the burning of biomass is accurate. What Gibbs also says is that overpopulation is the ‘elephant’ in the room: too many humans consuming the world’s finite resources.

We must all admit it is the western world’s wealthy that are the heaviest consumers. And so it goes.

Trump’s administration has extended the USA’s controls on what can be taught to women world-wide by cutting all funding to any NGO that still offers counselling on abortion:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/17/trump-takes-war-on-abortion-worldwide-as-policy-cuts-off-funds

… under Trump, the net has been thrown wider and pulled tighter than ever. Sexual health organisations have said women will die as a consequence, as they pursue dangerous DIY solutions or “back street” abortions instead.

In March (2019), the US extended the gag, stating that any organisation counselling women on abortion and using funds from elsewhere – even from its own government or a donor in another country – will no longer be eligible for any US funding. The diktat applies to all global health organisations. HIV and children’s charities must sign up to the pledge, alongside those running sexual and reproductive health clinics.”

Coming back to the biomass discussion … after seeing forests being cut down for fuel, Gibbs spoke about how animal fats can be turned into biomass – and there was a brief, almost subliminal, clip showing a whole cow being put through a giant mincer. I could not believe what I had just seen. Shocked is an understatement. It appeared that the cow was alive. I know that animals often are not killed by the bolt in abattoirs and so enter the processing stage still alive.

Some time ago, I read, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (highly recommended) and at one stage Foer says that if abattoirs had glass walls, we humans would NOT allow what goes on there to continue.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6604712-eating-animals

Two days ago, I read that Tyson Foods, the mega-producer of meat in the USA (yes, the one that recently lobbied Trump to declare meat production factories as essential facilities) is producing biofuels from ‘beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat, and cooking grease’ – and no doubt getting subsidies for doing this.

A few days ago, citing his authority under the Defense Production Act, Trump declared in an executive order that “it is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (‘meat and poultry’) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.”

So, they must remain open (and Trump said he would seek to shield the meat plants from legal liabilities …)

After all, Americans must have their meat, and the left-over animal bits and pieces will become bio-fuels for us to feel good about green energy.

Something is wrong in the world if it has come to this.

So, try and forget about Covid-19, about Trump and his bunch of crazies, get out and plant a tree or two.

We have had glorious rain – over 3 days about 3 inches fell (about 75ml). The best Autumn rains for years. So, we drove into the hills above Adelaide to buy some native plant tubestock for our bushland. We were not alone; the place was packed.

Belair State Flora Nursery, South Australia

We bought 20 plants: eremophila, banksias, eucalypts, allocasurinas and acacias. Gardening in South Australia is not a simple matter, as it was in my old home town, Durban, South Africa, where gardens blossomed with little care. Our plants have to be tough to survive dry hot summers and droughts. We are the driest state in the driest continent in the world.

I struggled with getting my head around the native plants in South Australia. Did you know that there are 900 species of eucalypts in Australia? They exist in every corner of this complex country. AND they hybridise and they look similar to the untrained eye. Many plants we have bought, planted and cared for over the years have died, but enough have survived to make a difference to our property.

The soil on our land is alkaline, part of the 700-million-year-old Adelaide Geosyncline complex that once was undersea. The land is bent, crushed and winkled: the soil formed before the first land plants, around the time of snowball earth when multi-cellar algae and bacteria developed. Think about it. It makes our current woes a minor blip in life.

So, it is not too late, nor are we too old, to plant a tree and maybe become vegetarian.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Some things have to change!

25 April: I am not a person who likes routine. This quiet life that Corona has visited upon me, and the  routines, I find very irksome. This week I sought to change at least some things. Other changes were thrust upon me!

  1. I decided that my daily walk in the park would incorporate a walk through the meditative maze in the park. This particular maze is a “labyrinth-like design based on a fingerprint set into the turf using stone, on a slight incline in the park”. Such a design is said to be “an ancient, mystical pattern – a meandering path to the centre, which is often used to symbolize the journey through life.” http://www.publicsculpturesofsussex.co.uk/object?id=358 Rather unlike life, the labyrinth has only one path to the centre, requiring no decision and allowing the mind free to contemplate – in theory. I set off rather pleased at the prospect of something different only to find that two people were sitting right in the middle of the maze – and showing no signs of moving. Pipped at the post. Tomorrow is another day. And the day after that.
  2. Our shopping list has been, more or less, the same – week after week. Nice enough dinners but the sameness is what gets one. An Instagram advert presented the possibility of a change. A company called #Mindfulchef delivers – once a week – a box containing five selected recipes and all the ingredients necessary. Everything is fresh – and all are gluten free. Today is Day One of a more adventuresome diet. Can’t remember when I was more pleased.
  3. I have big plans for my balcony garden. Getting planters and pots was easy enough but pot trays impossible. I couldn’t get potting soil either. Everybody who could was out there, gardening their heads off! Finally a kind gardener I know said he would deliver potting soil and some plants to my front door – if I put out plastic sheeting. His choice of plants, not mine. Beggars can’t be choosers. Nearly fifty plants and eight (eight!) bags of soil were duly deposited in the passage outside our door. I already had taken delivery of three dozen plug plants. The first hurdle was the absence of crock. We have recently moved and I didn’t think to bring such a thing with me. Any delivery that entails polystyrene has been greeted with unusual delight and I spend evenings pummeling pieces of polystyrene into suitable sizes to go at the bottom of my pots – and, in the process scattering little white balls all over the apartment. Some routine that! Watering not a simple matter either: one watering can at a time from the kitchen to the balcony – taking care to only water when the woman in the flat below me is safely tucked in bed and cannot be rained on from above! This is not gardening as I know it. Bloody but unbowed, I continue.
  4. I signed up with the Commonwealth of Learning to act as a mentor for young women in far-flung places. I was informed of the names of my mentees today. None of my present cohort would imagine that they are doing me a much greater favour than I am doing them. I will tell them!