At last a silver lining… by Beatrice Crawford

I have just been sitting at my big desk computer iMac 21 for hours preparing a delivery order from Tesco for a friend. Fortunately Tesco are still offering a list of food items available to buy. So I clicked like crazy, going from one page to the next, not remembering what I had already clicked, but obeying their repeated invitation to benefit from a price offer for two items, etc. It took me over an hour.

Then, full of confidence, and as naive as Candide, I clicked to choose a delivery slot. Horror! None available until Heavens knows when!!!  Fortunately I had not lost my list, but silly Tesco refused to show me that list line by line. So I then set about making screenshots of all the small columns in the right margin showing each of my selected items.  I ended up with five screenshots stored on my computer desktop inside my newly created folder, ’TESCO’.  Then, the prospect of having to select the most urgent items on each screenshot and type them into a Word file felt like an added Herculean task…

Well, Apple must have detected my slowing down, becauseall of a sudden it displayed on my screen a small window saying ‘dictate’,  and a small microphone appeared on the top right of the screen and began to wink at me!!!  I immediately opened a Word page, clicked on the microphone and a red circle appeared on it inviting me to speak. I read aloud the first essential item on my first screenshot and, Alleluia, the words appeared on the page!! So I kept reading more. My Apple could even understand my French accent, except the word ‘original’ that came out just about recognisable but with funny spelling. At that point it became a joy to ask clearly and loudly for one item after the other on each of the five screenshots. I got carried away and created a longer list, though still shorter than my initial longlist. Why had I kept it? Well, last but not least, I knew that if I sent my friend that original typed list for her Tesco slot, everything would be at our door on Friday morning. 

It’s so good to remind ourselves of some benefits from this crisis. First, to have wonderful friends. But then these surprising hours at my Apple computer with the great technical discovery at the end. No excuse now for not starting seriously to ‘dictate’ to my iMac that potential ‘second book’ that has been turning in circles in my head for the last few years. Onwards, with my newly discovered friend, the iMac 21…

The Corona Shuffle – by Jenyth Worsley

Swerve to the left, and then
Swerve to the right.
Do the corona shuffle
and you’d better stay upright.

Prams take priority
and walkers with their dogs,
the elderly with sticks although
some are on their trikes.

Beware the pavement cyclists
and joggers sweating hot,
or they’ll knock you to the road
where you’ll be run down by a bus.

In the shops avoid the aisles
where toilet rolls are gone.
Bananas are quite nourishing
and soups are always fun.

Swerve to the left and then
Swerve to the right.
Keep two metres distance
and you’ll come out alright.

Jenyth Worsley April 2020

Virus Diary – by Brenda Stones

Yes, I’ve got it. Got IT. Not just The Flu, I reckon, but THE flu. How can you be sure, with no testing available? Well, you check the list of symptoms daily: yes, got that one; no, not as bad as that one, but mainly it’s that feeling yuk for days and weeks on end.

It all started at the 274 bus stop (yes, we can blame the 274 for most ills in our London neighbourhood). I just missed one of those rare passings, because they’d moved the bus stop back from the Zoo to Regent’s Park Road, so I was stood for 20 mins in freezing winds and blustering rain waiting for a glimmer of red to appear down the road. I felt my resistance levels to the London bugs slipping down around my ankles; and sure enough the next morning there I was coughing in bed and having no trouble in isolating for a week.

But people’s reactions were strange back then, in early March. When I said I was self-isolating, most friends responded with jokes at the novelty of it: “Oh yes, most of my life has been self-isolation.” There was no hint of sympathy; either it just passed over their heads, as the dreaded illness was still something weird out in China, or else I feared I’d be accused of deficient hand-washing.

Then after the first week of extreme symptoms, we moved into the second week when the government was tentatively introducing social distancing. By this point nobody wanted to hear about other people’s illness because they were stocking up on their hand sanitisers and loo rolls, and it was still a bit of an exotic experiment to fortify their family strongholds.

That’s when I noticed real differences in attitude: those who had not encountered the illness drew their battle lines ‘out there’, protecting themselves from other people who dared to approach closer than 2 metres; whereas if you’ve got the illness, your battle lines are inside you, as you check for night sweats and straining lungs, imagining it’s all much worse than it might be.

Into the third week I was seduced into feeling I was recovering, venturing out for tennis (which was still permitted) and long bike rides. But then out of the blue it resurfaced. Had I re-infected myself, or had I unwittingly handled something suspect, or were the germs just more persistent in taking hold? Again I googled for virus relapse, but all I came up with was one woman in Japan who might have got it a second time round.

The trouble is that there’s no manual for this. We’re used to scientific explanations for everything in life, but this one is unexplored territory. So any pattern of symptoms might be just how it affects you. Nobody knows. There’s no treatment, except for gallons of water and the occasional paracetamol. We should really form Support Groups to swap symptoms and thereby collect data.

Of course I’m hugely relieved not to be carted off for a ventilator or suffering the terrible experiences we see in Italy and Spain. My battle field is rather more domestic and internal, for now.

The people I really feel for are also three friends of mine with cancers and tumours who have been ‘de-prioritised’ for treatment: they’ve lost their operation slots because of rescheduling of priorities by the NHS, so they might well become indirect casualties of the illness.

And when they talk of next winter, when it’s due to resurface, one’s heart sinks. Can our bodies keep fighting for that long? I’m stocking up on books and wine; it’s going to be a long haul.

Brenda Stones – 30 March 2020

Who is the real Elena Ferrante? – by Brenda Stones

When the literary scandal broke, of Claudio Gatti unmasking the ‘true identity’ of Elena Ferrante in 2016, most people seemed content to accept that she was Anita Raja, the wife of novelist and journalist Domenico Starnone. However, now that Elena Ferrante prolongs her identity, even signing up to write a column for Saturday Guardian, maybe it’s time to challenge this ruse again? There are many points of evidence:

1 Anita Raja actually left Naples when she was aged three, whereas Starnone grew up in the tenement area around the station, one of a family of five, whose father was a railway worker. He therefore had the first-hand memories and experiences to elaborate into a fictional quartet. 

2 The royalty payments for the Neapolitan Novels were apparently paid into the bank account of his wife; but you would, wouldn’t you, if you’d suddenly come into unaccustomedly large royalty income? Starnone then bought an eleven-room apartment in Rome, which seemed disproportionate to his previous income…

3 Crucially, Ms Raja had no need to create an alternative identity, if she was indeed author of the Neapolitan Novels. Why not simply publish under her own name?

4 Whereas I can imagine that Starnone was drawn into creating this ‘alter ego’ as a kind of dare, to see if it was possible to pass himself off and tap into the female readership market. But now that the ruse has become so successful, it’s too late to get out! So all correspondence is conducted by email, no face-to-face interviews, and he daren’t let on in case he loses his loyal female readers…

5 Then there is the chronology of publication: Starnone wrote ten books between 1988 and 2000, but only three in the last seventeen years. By contrast, ‘Elena Ferrante’ only wrote one before 2000, but seven since, suggesting that this is one and the same identity, switching pen names.

6 It could be that Starnone’s publishers, keen to shore up the profitable dual identity, suggested around 2014 that it was time that ‘Starnone’ produced another novel(Ties, Starnone, 2014), so in desperation he revisited their work of 2002 (The Days of Abandonment, Ferrante, 2002) to expand it into a three-handed version of the theme.

7 Which brings us to the detail of Ties and its incredibly close similarity to The Days of Abandonment: both deal in startling symmetry with a rejected wife’s anguish at ‘abandonment’, with echoes of detail down to a glass vessel which is broken in both versions. If this was not plagiarism, then it was ‘uxorious collaboration’, or else simply ‘authorial revisiting’. Why did nobody query this in 2014, before the actual ‘reveal’ in 2016?

8 Finally, in September 2017, a team of scholars, computer scientists and linguists at the University of Padua analysed 150 novels written in Italian by 40 different authors, including seven books by Elena Ferrante. Based on analysis using several authorship attribution models, they concluded that Anita Raja’s husband Domenico Starnone is the probable author of Ferrante’s works. Say no more!

So why this continued subterfuge, including by Saturday Guardian? Well, when you have a precious feminist icon on this scale, you don’t rock the boat. And after all the years when the Brontes, Colette and The Wife hid behind male identities, maybe it’s time to turn the tables and have a male author believing it’s preferable to masquerade as female!