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Photo of a bottle of vodka

Don’t forget the vodka

Newsletter: March 2020

Dear Web friend

Greetings again in times stranger than strange; it would be nice to live in more precedented times, though they seem a long time ago.

So how is life for you? For myself, I was moved to come out of my Lent retirement from blogging, to write about this whirlpool of events. It’s a piece called Hopeful imagination – a virus spirituality.

Most of the virus stories are negative, of course, and with good reason; so many people’s lives and wellbeing are being battered and shattered in a storm which makes Ciara, Denis and Jorge look almost inconsequential. I’m losing chunks of work myself and daily feel the dread and fear of cancellations; and there are plenty in situations a great deal worse.

I also hear of the ‘killing of spring’, the joy and energy of the season lost in the endless rain and the viral threat. Difficult days… our dancing shoes still in the winter cupboard.

But I was up in London last week to lead a quiet day called The Journey Home. The venue was the lovely Medatio Centre in Clerkenwell, just up from Kings Cross. But arriving early, (always my wish) I decided to turn left instead of right at the top of Pentonville Road – and so found myself in Chapel Market.

For those unfamiliar with the territory, it’s an open market of long-standing, full of stalls selling fruit, clothes, plants, all sorts of gear, just off Upper Street – and a place where I worked for a few years in Sainsburys. It was moving for me to be back, to stand there again, to smell and remember, to feel another life I once lived. I sat in a new Costa, looking across at the old shop; though it is now an Iceland. Time and tide…

And as I sit, I watch a woman on the table next to me. She’s putting on some anti-bacterial hand wash. I’m clearly looking too interested, because she asks me if I’d like some. I happily accept and discover she’s from Singapore and that she made it herself, with 65% vodka and some aloe vera.

‘The alcohol has to be 65% or it is without protective value,’ she says.

A man asks if he can join me at my table and I say ‘Yes’. He too accepts the offer of some hand lotion. We discover he is from Iran, as another woman - a blond in her forties and on the table by the door - joins our conversation. We are now a hand-lotion meeting.

The blond hasn’t realised how important the percentage of alcohol is, and wants details of the recipe; but our Iranian friend has some other thoughts he wishes to share. ‘You can ignore me,’ he says, ‘and I’m not sure if it’s right to tell you this.’

‘But I think you’re going to tell us just the same,’ says the blond.

And he does tell us, moving into an impassioned speech, among the flat whites, about the roots of this virus. ‘They live on dead animals,’ he says. ‘If we didn’t murder and torture animals for our food, these viruses wouldn’t happen in the way they do.’

We discover he is a vegan; but a supremely fit one, as he is keen to explain – ‘I am always in the gym,’ he says, ‘look at my arms!’ He rolls up his sleeves; they are impressive. ‘And I run a lot and I’m never ill. I’m just saying. You can be a vegan and fit.’

I have edited the speech slightly, it was longer, but you get the gist; and soon after this, we disband for our separate Saturday adventures. The blond woman is off to buy some vodka for her hand-washing – ‘I may just use it straight’, she says - while I walk to Clerkenwell, charmed by the truth that the virus, which is meant to separate, has, in fact, created a brief and international community that would never otherwise have occurred.

There is some light in this tunnel; and I hope there is for you, as these disturbing days unfold. And if you are self-isolating in enforced hermitry - well, what a wonderful opportunity, ladeez and gennelman, to visit this lubberly-jubberly library, where there’s a book, I tell you no lie, which has somehow been waiting for you all these years…

(Sorry, I’ve gone into full ‘stall-holder’ mode. Where did I get that from?)

Books page

Stay calm and kind, my friends, though scream and weep when you have to; and may you find moments and views beyond the fear,


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