Diary of the Plague Year: Day 18 2 April 2020: Mown paths


I have mown paths around the apple trees and narcissi.

Listening to Rameau Les Indes Galantes.

And whilst reading Michael Longley this thought suddenly came into my head: “What clothes we used to wear!”. No idea why.

But what clothes we used to wear!

A tartan nightshirt over leggings and pixie boots.
Layers of junk shop skirts
Junk shop earrings
A pair of striped metallic silver leggings so that I looked like a young tough in a Renaissance painting
Tiny, knitted mini-skirts worn, luckily, with thick tights and flat shoes
A peculiar mustard velour miniskirt that looked like it was made from carpet
Chef’s trousers
Zouaves – does anyone even remember what those are?
A gigantic tank top that must have been made for the fat man at the circus from Flip or was it Mr Howie?
A HUGE blue mohair tam-o-shanter – in payment for the first painting I ever sold
The pièce de résistance – the bottom half of some prison pyjamas, grey-and-white striped tucked into the aforementioned pixie boots under a moth-eaten old fur coat, with diamante clips in my hair – one half of my head shaved.  I remember sashaying down some steps at a Hayward opening and seeing Waldemar Januszczak at the bottom slack-jawed in amazement, as well he might. I thought I was the bees knees. I’m not sure what he was thinking, nothing remotely similar I’m sure. Strangely though, I was not a confident young person but I did have a lot of bravado.





Diary of the Plague Year: Day 18 2 April 2020: An old photo

It is a beautiful sunny morning.

I think I will mow the grass.

It’s funny what comes into your head when reading poetry. After reading Jo Shapcott’s Of Mutability I had the most vivid memory of a bedroom ceiling. It was the ceiling of the first flat I owned, in Camberwell, essentially the kitchen and scullery of an 18th century rectory.  And then the photograph of the flat fell out of The Whitsun Weddings. Tiny, and when I saw it, in the hands of the banks and looking very sad.  The fireplaces had all been boarded up by the previous landlord and nasty, smelly brown carpet throughout. The kitchen was a void without even a sink.

I have loved all the places I have lived for various reasons.  At first, I  loved this flat because of the magnolia tree in the garden, old and huge with bowl-like flowers. The garden had been carved up as so often in London conversions and I had the patch with the ancient magnolia, next door had an even more ancient mulberry. The fabric of the house went back to medieval times with wattle and daub foundations and Walter, thrillingly, said he could “feel something” …. I  never did.

I bought it by sheer fluke. I had just come back from Africa and was waiting for a bus – buying anything, much less a flat, was far from my mind. I had spent all my money on safari – my Dad had died and left me a tiny amount and I blew it all on the trip. I was living in a very expensive rented flat and wondered as I mooched around the estate agent’s window  – would that damn 36 ever arrive? – if buying would be as expensive as renting? With nothing to lose I went inside and started to chat to the woman at the desk. A dapper man breezed in and instantly said – “Enid, she looks like an Old Rectory Type”. Was this a good thing? I wondered, also to be classified so instantly was rather insulting. Anyway to cut a long story short it turns out I am an Old Rectory Type because the moment I walked in I knew I would buy it if only for the big old magnolia in the tiny garden.

The flat itself was minute – a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Very dark, very tatty but with the tree in the garden, its branches tapping at the window.

Anyway weeks of hard work paid off. Ripping off the hardboard covering the fireplaces revealed beautiful Victorian fireplaces with their original tiles. I found an old German sink with brass taps in a reclamation yard and suddenly had a functioning kitchen but with no cooker for weeks until I managed to save for one. I existed on sandwiches in the interim.

The most exciting moment was walking in after the carpet had been ripped up and the floorboards sanded. Floorboards that had not seen the light of day for decades suddenly had a honey slick, so glowing and pristine so that I could hardly bear to walk on them. And after that the tiny flat became home. I found a wardrobe in a junk shop that just fitted its alcove, some ancient linen curtains looked just at home and I painted the bedroom ceiling cerulean blue and hung a kitsch old lantern. I woke up to a warm blue glow every morning. Most of the end wall of the bedroom was taken up by ancient rattling sash windows –  so cold in the winter with an icy draught whistling round my head.

The sitting room was the old scullery with a stone slab where the old washing copper would once have stood.  I painted one wall a pale, jonquil yellow and another a dark, shiny aubergine. Another rattly sash window and a door into the garden. I found it very easy to be happy in that tiny flat. Dark summer London evenings with the Proms on the radio and my legs dangling over the side of the minute two-seater sofa. It is hard to describe that solitary happiness, alone in the warm summer night with the faint sound of sirens carrying on the warm air, it was like living in a music box.

Wells Way Window





Diary of the Plague Year: Day 18 2 April 2020: Apple Crumble for Christian

Dear Christian

So glad you enjoyed the crumble when you came to visit.  My cooking is strictly improvisational so the crumble we had was made with whatever was to hand – pears, apples, blackberries. However, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a standard no-nonsense recipe for your first go so that you have something to go by (see below for a classic crumble recipe).

If you are using really good apples that is all you need. I bought some beautiful organic apples from the market the other day just to stew. I usually add spices such as cloves, ginger, five-spice, cinnnamon (NOT all at once!). But these apples were so beautiful I just stewed them with a knob of butter (large) and not much water and they were wonderful. So use your intuition.

Afterwards you can ring the changes – I add ground almonds to the crumble sometimes, maybe oats or crushed walnuts and you can use all manner of fruit. I once had a delicious strawberry and banana crumble – it sounded very unlikely but it was delicious. I made a peach crumble last summer – absolutely divine.

I tend to make it up as I go along and never bother to weigh anything, though when making a crumble I always feel that the more butter the better! So when it says “the consistency of breadcrumbs” make sure they are buttery breadcrumbs.

Serve with PLENTY of cream or custard.

Have fun!


For the filling:

600g apples – peeled, cored and sliced to 1 cm thick
2 tablespoons golden caster sugar

For the crumble:

175 g plain flour
110 g golden caster sugar
110 g cold butter

For the topping:

1 tablespoon rolled oats
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

  1. Heat the oven to 190C/170 fan/gas 5.
  2. Toss 575g peeled, cored and sliced Bramley apples with 2 tbsp golden caster sugar and put in a 23cm round baking dish at least 5cm deep, or a 20cm square dish. Flatten down with your hand to prevent too much crumble falling through.
  3. Put 175g plain flour and 110g golden caster sugar in a bowl with a good pinch of salt.
  4. Slice in 110g cold butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like moist breadcrumbs. Shake the bowl and any big bits will come to the surface – rub them in. Alternatively, pulse in a processor until sandy (don’t over-process).
  5. Pour the crumb mix over the apples to form a pile in the centre, then use a fork to even out.
  6. Gently press the surface with the back of the fork so the crumble holds together and goes crisp, then lightly drag the fork over the top for a decorative finish.
  7. Sprinkle 1 tbsp rolled oats and 1 tbsp demerara sugar over evenly, if you wish.
  8. Set on a baking tray and put in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden and the apples feel very soft when you insert a small, sharp knife. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 17 1 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin

The Importance of Elsewhere

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch.

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker’s cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.

Living in England has no such excuse:
These are my customs and establishments
It would be much more serious to refuse.
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.



The Whitsun Weddings
Faber and Faber (1964)

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 17 1 April 2020:


Woke feeling tired and below par so had a lie-in. Didn’t get up till 9.30 and not sure this was a good idea. Fast day today worse luck but I feel it must be done.

I did spend the first hour reading my poetry today it’s Philip Larkin – The Whitsun Weddings. They are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, bitter, snobbish, full of pathos and with the time-bomb of An Arundel Tomb at the end.

I had not read these poems for years and had not noticed when I read them that they are written within a very tight and formal structure. It reminded me of Shakespeare so I am going to do a bit of research.

An added bonus,  three photographs fell out – one of the window of my first flat in Camberwell, one taken through a derelict window at Castlefreke and the third a landscape photo taken in Ireland.

Just off for a walk.

The landscape photograph showing The Galley Head in the distance.

Galley Head

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 16 31 March 2020: Keats, Sonnet to Sleep

The Keats poem from Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings:

Sonnet, to Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom‑pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:

O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.

Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords

Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd Casket of my Soul.