Author Topic: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird

A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« on: April 06, 2020 »
Day 42 - It wd have been a perfect day to sleep in, but the cats are wauling next door.  The rumour has been floated that the owner is relocating.  Strange, after he just paid a king's ransom to install a catflap in a window.  I had complained that the door flap was too noisy opening and closing.  The window flap is silent.  If he asks me to pay for it, I imagine the only solution would be to have him pay for installing it in my window instead. 

The streets are quiet as catflaps, except when the gangs of vandals roam, looking for food.  I have locked the gates.  When the postman brings mail, he must pull a chain which connects to a bell in the hall.  He brought news of the death of an old colleague.  If life were a tontine, why would anyone want to win?

My daily meal today will be vegetables, finely chopped, mixed with bread crumbs and one of the last dozen eggs I have.  This I shall form into bullets and fry in oil.  I use the same oil to rub on my legs so I do not get thrombosis.  If anyone needs minor surgery these days, the out-of-work barbers will have to suffice.  Luckily, when I lost the crown on my canine tooth, I found I could eat comfortably still with the underlying support tooth.  This has been a benison, as it is golden and looks quite rakish.  The crown fell to the floor unnoticed by me until a month later when I trod on it.  Had I Hoovered as I had intended, it would have gone into the dustbin.

Yesterday, when I mentioned the fireworks, I was under the impression that someone was celebrating.  Now I discover that the noise and explosions were the result of a chemical fire at a nearby warehouse.  I state this only to clarify the matter. 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2020 »
Day 43 - After I wrote yesterday, the postie returned and rang the bell.  I went to the balcony to see what he wanted.  I always converse from the balcony with the postman.  But he wanted a quiet word.  Hmm.  So I went down and to the gate.  I trust him, so I did not feel endangered by his proximity.  His message has no direct bearing on anything here, so I shall not mention it further.  But I needed to find a solution to this business of conducting private conversations from within to someone without. 

I am inventive, as a rule.  I knew I could manage a form of simple, or intricate, means of inter-communication.  Had I not heard of speaking tubes?  Yes, indeed.  They feature on ships and submarines.  Terrestrial speaking tubes seemed the "way to go", as I believe the saying is.  I hied it off to the garden and into the shed.  Amongst the poisons and the pots, I turned up just the things I needed.  A set of graduated copper funnels (I would need the two largest ones) and a great length of flexible rubber conduit.  I added a roll of laundry line wire to my load and set to work.

I ventured into the outside world beyond the front gate.  Here the bushes grew thick along the iron fence across the breadth of my property.  I would have to ask the boy to cut them back someday.  I lodged the larger of the two funnels into a thickness of shrub, joining it to one end of the tubing.  It was a perfect fit, and was quite impossible to dislodge once in place.  The rest of the tubing lay before me inside the gate.  I had forgotten to consider how to get it up to my balcony.

Scurrying back inside and up the stairs, I found a long piece of string and dropped one end off the balcony, securing the other end to the railing (Lesson learnt from an earlier episode).  Back down, I tied the tubing to the string.  Back up again - pulled the string and the tube up and onto the balcony.  It draped nicely from the outer fence over the bamboo bordering the walk up to the front steps.  I needed only to connect the other funnel to this end, and I would be able to speak to the postman when he next came.

Indeed, I could surprise him by speaking as if I were standing before him!  That would be a lark!  But would he know where to speak in return?  That was to be our secret knowledge.  For I found I could produce noises eerie enough to frighten away any vandal who might be lurking at the gate.  I must now await the opportunity. 

That was all yesterday.  This is an unsurprising today.  The postman is late.  I must leave the journal for a while, but I hope to continue later today with adventurous tales of speaking tubes and frightened vandals. 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2020 »
Day 44 - What an inauspicious number.  It brings out my orthophobia.  I never remember how to spell words with the number 4 in them  Forteen or fourteen,  forty or fourty?  It is a spellcheck I must perform mentally every time I read the words. 

Well, yesterday!  I waited for the postman, funnel in hand, but he never appeared!  Perhaps he had nothing for me (four me?). I have put a small note by the gate to inform him that he MUST ring.  But time is never wasted here.  As I waited, I listened to the blackbirds sing their wonderfully imaginative songs.  I have different birds in the front garden from those in the back.  This is a terraced house, and thankfully that has kept the cats in the back garden, without access to the front.  It occurs to me now why the birds are singing so joyfully - the cats are all gone! There were five at the end, but at their worst, there were over a dozen.  Blackbirds being territorial as they are, there may be a few squabbles over the wider range of free space now. 

There WAS a chance yesterday to frighten someone passing the house.  The spot has always been a popular one to stop for a chat, as there is a streetlamp just there.  Now, it would seem that there is also a "Hot Spot", where people can pick up signals for their telephones.  According to science, these fluctuate randomly, so there might not be another chance for me to frighten those abiders.  Consequently, I waited not a long time at all until a young fellow stopped with his fag and his 'phone.  I do not like fag ends thrown into my garden.  If they must be thrown, why can there not be fag end filtres made with plant food or fertiliser?

The fellow was but a minute at his post before I began a low growl from my end of the speaking tube.  That was my first real test of the soundness, as it were, of my apparatal contraption.  He heard it, I could tell, but he ignored it much as a fellow might ignore a bullfrog.  Figuring out how far to ramp up my repertoire of sounds, I decided to hoot like an owl.  That got him, all right!  Perhaps the poor man has a fear of owls, I do not know.  But he scampered off just like a fingersnap. 

You may wonder at my bravery, or indeed my recklessness in confronting strangers at my gate.  But we are living in an anonymous society.  I dare say, the fellow would not even recall his position in space if asked to find my house again.  He was but a phantom of the plague, not just the viral sort, but the plague of modernity as well.  Why wear a mask over the one we always wear when we are out in society? 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2020 »
Day 45 - OCHLO-phobia.  That is the word I needed yesterday.  Fear of owls, remember? Not me, though.  I love owls, and birds in general, and spiders.  Bees, as well. 

Speaking of "Hot Spots" yesterday reminded me of the time when there was a prostitute living across.  I must explain that our street is sharply divided down the length - bourgeoisie on my side, the proletariat across.  My side are terraces built in 1888, the other side are blocks of flats built within the last 80 years or so. Once large flats, these were later subdivided into studio flats. 

The woman in question lived in one of the larger flats on the top floor.  Her habit was to stand leaning over her balcony with her upperwares on display.  Then when a fellow's attention was caught, she would shout out her services and the price list.  I imagine it must be similar to what goes on in a fast-food establishment.  Still, I don't think I ever heard her ask, "Would you like fries with that?"

She was actually a kind-hearted soul, whose daughter later took up the slack when mama's charms started to tarnish.  Only recently have I noticed that they are no longer in the neighbourhood.  They were working with a flower-seller who plied the pick-up places in town, offering roses for some exorbitant price.  The delivery lorry from Holland used to drop off his flowers by the cartonload, so he must have been a distributor as well.  My street has seen many changes.

Behind my back garden are the gardens of the houses on the next street up the hill I live on.  Have I mentioned the hill?  Here it is referred to as a mountain.  It is a hill covered with woods, which, accordingly, are referred to as forests.  You needn't worry about these distinctions.  On top of the hill is the main secondary school, built in brutalist style, all concrete and straight lines.  I tell visitors who see it from my terrace that it is the North Korean embassy. 

From my terrace, near the top of the house (have I mentioned that there are eight distinct levels to the house, from attic to cellar?), I witness many mysteries.  The one that still intrigues me is that of the woman of foreign features who washes and hangs out a huge carpet twice a week.  She struggles to get it thrown onto the railing of her balcony to wash and dry it after sweeping it.  It is not a special carpet; though oriental, it is machine-made and quite ordinary. And large - probably 2 metres by three metres.  The mystery is why she washes it so often. I presented this problem to an acquaintance more familiar with the customs of the woman's homeland.  Immediately came the answer - they probably eat off it.  Just imagining this made me so very hungry!  All that wonderful spicy exotic colourful food! 

The postman arrived today as usual.  He had had no mail for me yesterday.  It happens, he said.  I wanted to demonstrate my speaking tube, but he was in a great hurry to get his round finished.  He would not explain why, and he was in such a state of excitement that I could get nothing from him, other than bills and adverts to spend money to generate more bills.  Tomorrow there is no post, it being a special holiday here.  It is annoying to have to wait for the news he must be soon to share with me.  I shall sign off for today as your humble and obedient correspondent. 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2020 »
Day 46 - Today I learnt not to count my chickens, or in this case, my schemes before they have hatched.  Let me explain.  When I installed my speaking tube device to communicate with people at the front gate, I knew that I should have to be able to use it with my balcony window closed, in the event of inclement weather. 

I had my eye on the neighbour's window catflap as inspiration.  But suddenly I realised that what need had I for inspiration?  I needed merely the catflap itself.  The old neighbour with the cats is suddenly gone, together with his five remaining cats, and a new young couple are moved in, sans chats.  They need no catflap.

As I mentioned, these are terraced houses, all built at the same time, with only slight variations in design.  Without benefit of telemetric implements, I could still determine, from a certain vantage point in my garden, that the window with the catflap matched that of my balcony, being one of two panels which open at the middle.  I need not draw you a plan.  The two windows, doors actually, would merely need exchanging, one for the other.  I need only get the required permission from the new neighbour fellow, as well as a person to perform the task, possibly also the neighbour fellow.

So, early this morning, as I heard the shutters of the couple's bedroom being raised (I assume it is their bedroom), I prepared myself to meet someone's morning gaze into my back garden.  My gardens are far the lovelier of the two, and even the cat neighbour agreed that cats and gardens do not go well together.  The young woman who had raised the shutters stood at the window, laughing and rubbing her scalp through her long red hair.  Yes, fine, I muttered.  Now get your husband to the window.  Duly he made his appearance, and I halloed him, wishing him a good morning.  He smiled and waved back.  I told him I wanted to discuss a matter with him as soon after breakfast as he was available. 

So, at half past ten we were all three in the back of the house, standing on either side of our adjoining fences.  I explained my idea of exchanging the window (although I was rather vague about my actual reason for wanting to do so), and they seemed quite willing to agree, so long as the windows fit, and that mine was not defective.  The fellow, Michael, said he could do the work easily enough with a bit of balancing help from me.  His wife, Ann, mentioned that the flap had worried them, as one of the cats had not yet been caught and was running wild.  They had sealed the flap, but the cat still managed to get through.  This would solve their problem well.

Just as we were turning to go back inside to prepare access (we would be using only the rear doors into and through my house so as not to arouse suspicion from people in the front of the house), just then the cat in question tore past us at bullet speed.  Michael put out his foot to trip it up, which caused the cat to run to the very back of the garden.  There it turned and headed back again towards us, picking up even more speed with its longer run.  It crashed headlong into the catflap, which was sealed, ripping it from its position in the window, and breaking the window as well.  The cat had got inside the house for the last time.  It lay dazed and fazed in the room, much out of breath, to be sure, but still breathing and not actually wounded in any way.  Ann put on a pair of gardening gloves and threw a cover of some sort over the cat, grabbed up the ends of the cover, and tied the cloth together like a bag.  Or so I was told, for I had immediately retreated to my back door at first sight of the dreaded beast.  I learnt later too that the old neighbour had been notified, and that he had sent someone 'round for the animal.  The question now is who should pay for a new window.  At least I am in the clear. 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2020 »
Day 47 - It was a day that started like any other, except it most decidedly did not. Yesterday evening I had raised the glass covers of the cold frames which have been protecting my rhubarb, and, since the weather report promised no ground frost, I left them open overnight.  When I say open, I mean set up off the base about two inches.  Besides rhubarb, I have cucumbers, radishes, chard, and various seedlings ready to plant out later this spring. 

When I looked out my bedroom window this morning, after a pleasant sleep filled with dreams of architectural wonders and traffic designs for modified aeroplanes, I was disturbed to see a layer of snow covering the ground.  It covered only bits of the ground, not all, as if some patches had already melted or had been too warm to hold the snow.  In despair, I threw on my dressing gown and raced down to the garden to survey the damage done to my cold frame plants.  The meteorological office at the radio station would pay for any loss or damage, I vowed. 

The covers of the cold frames, every single one of them, were closed and locked shut.  I turned around, expecting to see the perpetrator of this act of kindness, but all I saw were footprints in the snow.  Mine, to be sure, were there, as well as a set of dainties, as much unlike mine as feathers are to scales.  These led up to and away from my frames but stopped where the snow had melted.  Although they seemed to head toward the direction of my new neighbours, Michael and Ann, and although she surely has a daintier foot than Michael, I feared to jump to any hasty conclusions as to the identity of my protectress.

At least, Ann and Michael will be receiving a plentiful bounty of vegetables when things ripen, all thanks to some unseasonably hiemal stranger of the night.

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2020 »
Day 48 - After the "cold-frame mystery", I decided to take a more "spiritual" approach to gardening.  The Green Man works in mysterious ways, if you believe in him as a force of good.  There is good in all of nature; evil is found only in humankind.

The rabbits do not commit sin; neither do spiders nor snakes nor shark.  If a plague of aphids should destroy my roses, ought I blame the pests for my loss?  Or should I be thankful they have spared my sage leaves and nasturtiums this year?  Should I seek vengeance for my labours, if they be in vain, my very ground-plans thwarted? 

Though worms destroy my bounty, yet in the vegetable and fruit stalls of the marketplaces shall I find goodness.

And goodness me!  Michael, my new neighbour, has been bicycling to his office during the quarantine.  He tells of empty streets and litter-free verges along the roads.  And all manner of wildflower in great abundance.  Sadly, he has heard that road repairs are planned for later this month, and that will surely mean the end of the brief paradise. 

Michael rides a Bianchi - white, of course, with gold trimmings, as it were.  Although he wears a special selection of apparel for his trips to the office, he is in no way one of those awful Lycra Lads.  Indeed, he is a most Un-Lycra Lad.  He looks ready to assume nearly any role - farmer, poet, plumber, publisher.  He dresses anachronistically very like a bicycle rider of the early half of the last century.  I believe Ann is a fashion designer, which would account for the authenticity of his image.  I have awaiting me the treat of seeing them both on their bicycles, apparently advertising margarine spread, or hair conditioner, or anti-allergy nasal spray.  I have seen such couples on the television.  They are always the same actors and actresses, dancing delightfully until the dawn, and then waking up bright and refreshed, ready for another idyllic day.  I would miss them, were they to disappear.   

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2020 »
Day 49 - I can hear the neighbour woman - not Ann, Anna this time - talking to someone on her front balcony.  She is Italian and is also in quarantine.  Her husband died a few years ago, and she carries on as tough and resilient as ever.

Before he died, her husband built a shed.  At least that's what it turned out to be.  In the planning board drawings put up for approval at the city hall, it resembled a veritable chalet.  Pitched roof, shuttered windows with flowerboxes full of geraniums, even a drawing (for scale) of a jaunty young woman walking past carrying a tennis racquet. 

He started building as soon as he got the approval, using old wood from various structures in the cellar, old fences and gates, a lean-to he had torn down earlier, and so on.  It looked rustic - and was rather pleasing to the eye, I must say.  But it was definitely NOT a chalet.  The flat roof was only slightly pitched to allow rain to run off, there was no window, shuttered or otherwise, and Maria Sharapova?  She must not have got the memo to put in an appearance.  Nonetheless, it was a self-build of which he could be proud. 

Then, it all started to go wrong.  The neighbour behind the Italian discovered, or decided, that the shed was half a meter too close to his property, even though he could not even see it because of his own thick bushes and tall trees.  Cue a visit from the planning board, with theodolites and triangulators or whatever.  Yes, indeed, the shed was 47.2 cm too close.  So, the Italian tore down the entire structure, except the foundation, which he could shift, and rebuilt the shed.  Fine.

But then some kind soul donated some white plastic insulating material to cover the shed.  Normally this would be an inside layer, but with the aesthetics of a true believer touching up a damaged painting of Jesus to make Him look more simian than saviour, the neighbour haphazardly covered up his beautiful old wood with patches and off-cuts of white vinyl.  Fervent prayers for a second layer of old wood went unanswered. 

Things were nearly complete.  His approved shed now was entitled to a house number - 42a in this case.  Proudly he nailed the official blue number plate to the wall next to the shed door.  He got it crooked, of course.  But he did not notice.  On sunny days, he sat sleepily on the little porch of his chalet, whilst Anna kept herself busy inside the house.  She used to look out the window for him, but I had a quite vigorous bamboo plant which blocked her view of her husband.  So she had to shout to get his attention.  Bamboo or not, she would still have shouted at him. 

What was it that suddenly inspired me to undertake the arduous task of uprooting the bamboo?  I ponder that question to this very day. 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2020 »
Day 50 - Yes, thank you for mentioning it, the days ARE going by rather strangely.  At first, I thought it was because I was calling this a Journal, and since the French word Jour means Day, every entry was a day's Journey through my life.  But in quarantine, time is going by just as fast, if not faster.  My Routine is the same Route through my day, and it takes me the whole day to travel it.

I've been so busy, from a safe distance, with cats in the back garden, that I've neglected to report much from the home front, as it were.  More on my speaking tube adventures later, but now I want to say something about the house across the street.  I've mentioned it before.  There are eight flats, all but the two first-floor having front balconies.  There are windows over the front door, at the top of the stoop.

A new fellow moved in last week under cover of night and fog, or so it seemed, into one of those flats without a balcony.  He has taken to sitting on the stoop to smoke his evil weed and to take the benefits of the sun.  He is a calm-looking young lad, and I am certainly glad that he has moved into the neighbourhood.  He rides a bicycle, not like a pro, but like an aficionado.

Anyway, he sits out regularly enjoying the stoop, sometimes on the top step, sometimes lower down, depending on the sun.  Now, in the top left flat live a mother and her son.  I really do not know much about them, except that during lockdown they are both always at home.  The boy's name sounds like Dicko or Digo. 

The boy, he must be ten years old or so, has started noticing when the new fellow (I suppose I shall have to give him a space-holding name - let us call him Roger) is on the stoop.  Digo sits at the open window directly over the stoop and has been floating little scraps of paper down into the wind.  Most of these have escaped Roger's notice.  A few days ago, Digo dropped what looked like a match or a toothpick, managing to land it in Roger's hair. 

You must picture Roger now: tall, thin, casually dressed but always wearing white socks.  His hair sticks up on top in what I am told is called a barnet.  He does not notice the sliver of wood lodged in Barnet.  My eye travels from Roger to Digo.  Digo sees me and ducks from view.  He slowly reappears, and I quickly motion that I am on his side in this little game of his.  I fashion a large-ish object with my hands.  He disappears to return with what looks like a paperweight.  No!  No!  I signal.  Smaller.  Roger is still sunning his barnet.  Digo comes to the window again, this time with - perfect! - a ping-pong ball.

He has to lean out a bit to get his aim just right.  Careful, young Digo!  The wind has died down in cooperation with our prank.  Digo makes a few dropping gestures, I give him a thumbs-up, Roger maintains a steady position, and the ball drops.  We two pranksters pull back into the shadows slightly.  The ball floats only minimally away from its target, drifts back again, and lands in Barnet. 

This time, something has alerted Roger the lodger to check his coif.  He runs his hand carefully over the landscape of his head, harvesting both the toothpick and the ping-pong ball.  Well, his mind was working openly for all to see.  He thought: one of these might be an accident, but both?  He looks up, but there is only a lonely pigeon flying by.  I cough.  He looks in my direction, and I wave a friendly greeting, innocent as a lamb.  He waves back and smiles broadly, holding out his hand with the objets trouvĂ©s in his palm like an offering.  Then - as if he knew what to do - he puts both toothpick and ball into his shirt pocket, waves again to me, and goes back inside the house. 

I think we all shall be continuing this game soon.  A good time was had by all. 

Re: A Journal of the Plague, by A Rare Bird
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2020 »
Day 51 - I think I was dreaming about harpies or other such large birds, when the morning sun caught a chink in the curtain and woke me.  As I lay, still half-dreaming of flapping noises, a woman shouted No!  It was Ann from next door.  The flapping continued, getting louder with each occurrence.  The cat flap was back!! To be honest, I had forgotten so completely about the original one that made so much noise that I forget now if I spelt it as one word or two.  It was the original, entirely mechanical flap which prompted my request of the previous neighbour to install a quiet one in the window.  That, as readers will recall, was violently broken by the cat itself. 

I rose and looked gingerly out the bedroom window.  Ann saw me directly and halloed a good morning.  Michael was summoned from within to greet me as well.  Evidently my night attire looks just as it is - night attire - for Michael enquired whether they had awoken me.  Now, Rule One of Neighbourliness is: never let your neighbours know which room is your bedroom.  For, when you do, it is underneath that very window they will perform their most unneighbourly activities.  I say no more.

I shrugged and smiled in response.  Then I saw the source of the flapping.  It was actually clapping or slapping.  They had constructed a long box with a perspex wall at one end and a falling door at the other, also perspex.  This they were triggering to fall by means of a string which one or the other was pulling.  The door fell closed, and did I mention my Uncle Robert? 

What's up? I asked.  Ann said that the cat was back, that very one which had destroyed the window.  Like in one of those heart-warming films of Pets Reunited, the creature had returned from the gulag to which it had been exiled. This contraption was a cat trap.  The string was to lead from their kitchen window to the portcullis.  Relying very much on chance observation, one of them would pull the string when the cat had ventured inside for the bait.  An electronic warning system was out of the question, it seems, although it had been discussed.

I would enjoy being able to watch this capture, although I would prefer the cat to arrive on a tumbrel, accompanied by a nasty old woman doing her knitting, before being de-catified by the falling guillotine.  Hanging's not good enough for 'im!  By absolute coincidence, in my lavatory hangs, as it were, a coloured engraving of just such an execution. 

A greedy field mouse is going to be hanged by a farmer whose crops were ravaged by said mouse.

Like in real life, just when you want to perform a small bodily function in the middle of nowhere and out pops a total stranger, wonder of wonders!  The bishop himself rides up, fully mitred and coped, to remonstrate.  One wonders if the mouse showed proper gratitude to its episcopal saviour.

Meanwhile, or rather, later in the day, Anna, the other next-door neighbour (don't bother trying to confuse them - there is still another Anna next door to her, as well), said that she had seen the cat again.  Evidently it sleeps under the shed.  She told me, too, that it sheds in her garden.  I think she was not referring to moulting hair; she was just pronouncing another word wrong.  I explained what Ann and Michael were up to, and Anna gave such a good laugh, I wish the cat could have heard it.  Blood-curdling, it was.