“We will meet again”

QEII Speech - April 5I’ve always loved that WWII song “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when …”. If you’re too young to know about it, take a minute to listen here. It’s a sweet mix of hope and melancholy. The Queen’s speech yesterday evoked a connection to a time when the western world was called on to tap into our reserves of “resolve”, “self-discipline”, “fellow feeling”, and ability to work “together”.

“Together we are tackling this disease,” she said. “If we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.” As the royal  correspondent to the BBC put it “This was not a warrior-queen’s speech; it was about collective effort.”

I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like to live through the dark and uncertain days of WWII. Looking back from the vantage point of victory and post-war economic success, it’s hard to imagine that the outcome did not seem inevitable in the middle of the crisis. The raw feelings of hardship, doubt and despair has been dulled by the passage of time, and the passing of the generation that lived through it.

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps giving us a glimpse into some of our grandparents’ and parents’ struggles during that war. They were uniquely shaped by that experience. They have been called “The Greatest Generation”, as if we could never surpass their achievement or grit. Maybe we will get to prove ourselves too?

I found the Queen’s speech a welcome, soothing antidote to the political finger-pointing and chaotic leadership I read about in the US press everyday. She’s calling on the “Britons” to come together to overcome. This is a message needed even more desperately across the Atlantic in a country built on rugged individualism. The speech is a very straight, low-tech, unglitzy, zero drama delivery. It’s a message of “we shall overcome”, and this is how.

It’s worth listening to. You won’t regret taking 4 minutes out of your day to hear some great-grandmotherly wisdom in this clip (Click HERE).

“You joking? It’s not Easter today?”

Hereford Girls MapGetting back online with my high school friends this morning, ‘Waltham‘ was a few minutes late. [I’m going to call them by the towns/villages where they live now — a loose attempt at preserving some anonymity] Anyway, back to Waltham. She jumps in with “sorry I’m late, I was just outside checking what bins people were putting out, since tomorrow’s Easter Monday”. We all jam the airwaves on top of each other with “what?”, “tomorrow’s not Easter Monday!”, “what you up to?”, “today’s not Easter yet”. Waltham is in disbelief. She’s shocked. “Crikey, I ate my Easter eggs already!”. Deary me, we’re all losing track of time.

And with that, we were in hysterics. Just like the time in the second Form (aka Grade 7 in the US) when Mr. Stamp told us not to panic on April Fool’s Day when Keighley fake fainted in Geography class.

From there we flitted back and forth trading the latest excitements from another week of lock down living. We shared advice on how to dry out a phone dropped into the toilet …. ewwww. Broadmayne assured us that nothing else had been dropped into said toilet before the phone fell in. Now keeping fingers crossed that several days of resting in rice grains will do the trick.

Wigston had finally cracked the secret of getting into the Waitrose queue for her grocery shopping curbside pickup and was very chuffed with her midnight stealth work online. Well done we cheered!

Broadmayne confessed to having been stopped by the police on her 2-mile car trip to the beach to walk the dog. When she explained where she was going the policeman replied with “no you’re not, you’re going back home”. Apparently it was all very nicely put and he did take the time to elaborate that he didn’t want her getting into a car accident and using up medical services. We were sorry for her, but at the same time we thought it all seemed very sensible.

Louth shared some surprisingly f***-laced exchanges her and her husband had with some fellow queuers at the local supermarket. The mother of three active children didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that her children were getting too close to them. Tempers are rising. What happened to British reserve?

Keighley is, unbeknownst to me, the gardening expert in our group, so much advice was dispensed regarding rose pruning and other important gardening tasks for this time of year. All beyond my grasp living in a completely different climate.

Waltham and Wigston shared conversations with friends and family in France and Italy describing forms that now have to be filled out every time you leave the house in Paris and Naples. Apparently the French and Italians are required to write down the time of their departure, the destination and purpose, and have that piece of paper on hand in case they are stopped by the police. Word has it that lots of fines are being given out. Gosh. That’s a warning to the rest of us who are still being asked to isolate voluntarily. 

We did some heavy sighing between outbursts of hilarity. Everyone was looking forward to the Queen’s televised message at 8pm.

Ta-ta for now. Let’s do this again in a couple of weeks. We’ll skip next Sunday since it really will be Easter Sunday – except maybe in Waltham!



High school check-in from Grimsby days

2020-03-29_10-11-51Growing up in Grimsby on the northeast coast of England in the late 60s / early 70s, the sound of Radio 4 programming was the constant background to our family life. The little wireless radio in the windowsill was turned on in our kitchen when the sun came up and didn’t go off again until the family sat down for supper in the evening. It was our mother’s primary source of all knowledge, rather like me and NPR today. Family life clattered around it with the radio fading into the background when we came through for breakfast, after school hellos, just hanging around or hunting for snacks.

The only time of the week that our noisy comings and goings took a backseat to Radio 4 was at 9am on Sunday mornings when Alistair Cooke delivered his weekly “Letter from America“. It was like church in the kitchen for those 15 minutes every week.

He would would speak of a topical issue in the US, tying together different strands of observation and anecdote and often ending on a humorous or poignant note. As ex-pats living in the pre-internet, CNN, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. era, I’m sure my parents were eager to hear any deeper commentary on the news from their home country. I can still hear his distinguished voice speaking into that quiet Sunday breakfast gathering around our Formica kitchen table.

Today, on a Sunday morning, another lifetime later, I connected in Zoom with five of my high school friends from that period of my life. They are now scattered across England, and I’m in the US. I felt as hungry for connection to what’s going on with them this morning, as my parents must have been seeking in Alistiar Cooke’s letters from America — especially during times of crisis as their home country dealt with assassinations, riots, a war gone wrong and even an impeachment.

I realized this was my Alistair Cooke moment.

This morning I wanted the threads still connecting me to that part of my life to tell me how they were doing with the coronavirus back in England. What were the restrictions? Were people following them? What were their new routines? How were they coping? What is the general mood? Are they getting tested? Zoom put us all together in one virtual moment in time.

We jumped around from being serious to giggly, upbeat to gloomy, to joyful and comforted. It was as much fun as the last time we gathered three years ago for several days of reminiscing, sharing of laughter and tears, and reflecting on the passage of so many decades.

We were amazed on either side of “the pond” at the dramatic differences in how the pandemic is being handled. The most notable aspect of their reports to me was how similar, consistent and aligned they were in their understanding of the national messaging and the responses each one of them was taking personally. The only point of some dispute – really more of a discussion – was whether you could go out for longer than a 30-minute walk each day. A finer point, which seems trivial compared to much larger questions of intent and interpretation here at home. Otherwise, it all sounded very similar from Dorset to Yorkshire to Leicester to Lincolnshire.

It was pretty simple: Only go out once a day for exercise and do not leave the house otherwise — unless it’s necessary to purchase food. Work from home unless otherwise deemed essential or exempted. They also all seemed to be tuning into the 5pm Daily Briefing, which sounds similar in concept, if not actual execution, to our “White House holds Coronavirus Task Force briefing”.

I can feel the pressure to get back to work building up in the national conversation here, so I was struck by the fact that they are all expecting to be in isolation like this for 12-14 weeks — until early June. And nobody seemed to take issue with it – no questions asked. In fact, they are prepared for the June date to be extended. They understand that this is required to avoid a disastrous spread and complete collapse of the health system. One of our group had just returned to the UK after living in Italy for the past 40 years. She’s very close to what is happening there. Daily videos and messages from Italy leave no doubt as to what the UK fate might be if they do not heed the government restrictions. I did not expect this level of unanimity from a group that had expressed different emotions over Brexit a few years ago.

On a lighter note, they were all getting involved in the various online choirs being organized, music lessons and regular coffee morning visits on video chat. Several of them are newly besotted with a Joe Wicks’ exercise program online – apparently he’s very easy on the eye. I will definitely have to check that out. I was also introduced to some new Netflix series and was left feeling uplifted, connected and hopeful about our future.

We had so much fun that we scheduled another gathering next Sunday.

It took a pandemic for us to even think about this. We are wondering why?