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12 November 2020
This Letter could not be written earlier in November because it was impossible to think about anything except the American election. Then it was impossible to write anything coherent because of the elation. Although we are still groaning about the fact that 70 million people actually voted for Trump and that he shows no sign of conceding.
Here in England (not the UK, because alas the Tory government has succeeded in separating England from its old allies in a once united kingdom) we have started a second lockdown. This one is going to be worse than the first because it is now winter. The spring and summer ‘stuck’ at home was perfectly bearable IF you had access to a garden or outside space (a big if); but the autumn and winter are not so great, despite the magical yellow and red autumn leaves. What is lowering are the incredibly short days. But there is nothing to be done about that except having an open fire, a glass of madeira at 5 instead of 6, and early bedtime. In any case, lockdown2 is infinitely better than lockdown1 because the children are at school as normal and this makes the world of difference.
So we have watched The Queen’s Gambit (about the child chess prodigy) which was absolutely excellent although slightly odd because it was fiction not a documentary. And yet why was this so with a series about chess and not so about, say, a film about fashion (Phantom Thread) or a novel about India (The Far Cry)? And then one throws The Oppermanns (almost documentary about the rise of the Nazis) or Despised and Rejected (about a gay conscientious objector and obviously based on truth) into the equation and there are so many variables that one cannot sort out the arguments. Oh, a good example of where the line between truth and fiction mattered was Mrs America. If it had simply been fiction one could have watched it with enjoyment. As it was, because it was based on truth, the fact that the appalling heroine (so wonderfully played by Cate Blanchett) wins in the end, ie she stops the Equal Rights Amendment, made it almost too upsetting to watch as she set back the cause of women’s rights by decades. We have the same difficulty with The Crown, which begins a new series on Sunday. Should one watch it as fiction or documentary?
Quite flatteringly, a few people have written to ask why this Letter did not appear in early November. But not only was it hard to concentrate then, it is still hard. Maybe we are all exhausted after four years of Trump and Brexit (the two being linked in all kinds of ways). Whatever it is, sending out the orders, playing with the office puppy and cooking nourishing meals is about the the limit of our capabilities at the moment.
Obviously it is Kamala Harris on the Post this week. Next week we shall revert to our more normal territory, by featuring the painter Alfred Wallis. And all during the busy days of sending out the orders we are proofreading the two April books and, as ever, marvelling at their brilliance. There are difficult decisions to be made, particularly with The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher: it has fifty chapters and is six hundred pages, but in some ways is a trilogy. We are wondering whether to give the chapters titles as a form of signalling. But then if DCF had wanted that she would have done it herself. So it is tricky deciding what to do.
Other news: sadly, the shop is closed and although it will be open in December (we hope) we are unlikely to be allowed to have our usual Open Day. Therefore we shall be sending out an email offering free gift wrapping, probably this will apply over a weekend in early December, and we shall email everyone alerting them to this. Otherwise Christmas will be quite low key for us. By the way, we have the Stendig calandars in stock, they are still £50 plus £15 courier charge.
The Guardian had a supplement about the impact of lockdown on children. We were very moved by this eight year old boy Aryan Nair:
‘Lockdown made me feel really sad a lot of the time during the week but there was loads of happy stuff at the weekends: we had a pretend birthday party, we went to the woods a lot and to the zoo. My parents were working pretty full-time during lockdown. I had a home-working schedule stuck to the wall and I tried to do it but once the novelty wore off, after a month or so, I used to look at it and just think, “Oh no!” I began to feel really annoyed by it and so my parents said I could give it up. I just played with my Lego. That was OK. I played with my Lego for hours.' Etc.
Here is a picture of a godwit (as in The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde, PB No. 117).
One has recently been tracked flying more than 7500 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to New Zealand, setting a world record for non-stop flight. It apparently set off from south-west Alaska on 16th September and arrived in a bay east of Auckland on the 27th. The bird, which had a five gram satellite tag attached to its lower back flew at up to 55 mph. It will start its return flight north in March, flying across Asia to feed for a month around the Yellow Sea before returning to Alaska. Robin Hyde's book is called The Godwits Fly as a reference to the eternal dilemma for someone living in New Zealand – should they fly north to the 'home country' of Britain or stay put. As things are at the moment here and given how brilliant the New Zealand government is at the moment – well in the twenty-first century this is not something we would imagine a New Zealander yearning to do.
Maybe something new to wear would be cheering: this knitted polo shirt is tempting, it's from Woolover here.
59 Lambs Conduit Street