Corona Diary, Day 29

Monday, 13 April

 A slow day. I check the news and then stamp another three shelves with my Ad libris stamp. I need to catalogue my books but that’s a much bigger project, extending over several years. It would be practical to be able to check on the net what I already have on a particular topic so I will probably catalogue sections of my books according to what I’m working on (and start with my collection on UK politics and economy, Dorset and contract law).

I have a session cleaning my flat. For health reasons, I have to avoid letting the flat get dusty, which requires a bit of effort in such a bookish environment. But also because I dislike the picture of helpless old men living by themselves, letting themselves be oppressed by objects, accepting stains and splashes as unalterable acts of God and not understanding that once past 70, nature can’t bear the whole burden of beauty alone but culture has to play a part. The untidy old man, whose poetic appearance in youth turned thoughts to Baudelaire, becomes a grey hedgerow. I continue this fight against the ravages of time in the evening by sewing a button on my overcoat. Six words but quite inadequate to convey my titanic struggle to find a needle with an eye of sufficient dimensions, the right colour thread and the right size button, to thread the needle and to locate it on the floor after I dropped it (relieved not to have to leave it until I have a visitor which is a favourite moment for needles to reappear when tempted by a passing soft guest foot).

My ripped Indian shirt which I use as a nightgown has to wait as I have no reel of cotton of the right colour to mend it. Unfortunately, it was too delicate to adjust to the rigours of tumbling around in a Swedish washing machine instead of the gentle cool slosh-outs of the East. I like to sleep in nightgowns so I will use it from time to time, perhaps a weekly Bangla night, but if I do it every night, it will soon be no more. Back in the dawn of my Swedish pre-history, I used to go to Arbetarboden where you could buy heavy duty jeans and boots, string vests and nightgowns of a traditional type (probably flannel). I don’t miss the string vests whose contours I can clearly see on old photos of myself from that distant period in the 70s (I find it difficult to recreate the image of myself in my mind which made such an uncomfortable object attractive). But I miss the simplicity of nightgowns and will make a serious effort to find one once we have moved from BC to AC (I’ll skip the tallow candleholder and the tasselled night cap for the time being).

I then decided to go for a walk in the direction of the closest of Linné’s paths. I take my flower book and magnifying glass with me. I have the same book in English, Swedish and French and have tried during previous summers to improve my knowledge of plant names.

One of my favourites as far as comparative names are concerned (not on Linné’s paths as far as I know) is Nigella damascena, known as Love-in-a-mist in English (as well as popularly ragged lady or devil in the bush). The Swedes call it Jungfru i det gröna, similar to the German Jungfer im Grünen and the Dutch Juffertje-in-het-groen. The Latin languages stick closely to the Latin name with the French Nigelle de damas and the Italian and French Nigella damascena. According to Wiki, it is also popularly called « cheveux de Vénus », « diable-dans-le-buisson » or « Belle-aux-cheveux-dénoués. 

There’s also considerable disagreement about the toxicity of Nigella damascena’s seeds which, according to one source characterized the toxicity of Nigella damascena seeds as “very high”, causing “vomit[ing], headache, diarrhea, convulsions, icterus, liver injuries, weakness, coma and death” (!) (

While according to another source “Damascenine is a toxic alkaloid found in Nigella damascena seed. However, in vivo studies and in vitro assessment on human cell lines has not shown any toxicity”

( And Petit Robert has it as a condiment.

I suspect, however, that there may be confusion with another non-toxic member of the Nigella family, Nigella sativa which, according to another online source “nigella sativa …like most seeds, contain fibre, minerals and essential fats. … This completes the Holy Trinity among the health food brigade who recommend nigella seeds in the diet as they are “anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic”. The use of nigella without specifying which nigella seems rather dodgy.

The comparative names are in any case attractive so if you see a person with a pile of books and a magnifying glass laughing to himself in a field, don’t run before you’ve checked it isn’t me (or perhaps run anyway, in case I have toxic avatars..).

There wasn’t much botanising this afternoon as it was clearly the north wind’s turn to be in charge: not many flowers were yet in evidence and small sleety drops were drifting down. It was the kind of very early spring day when Swedes might take their first cup of coffee outdoors with a hopeful “it’s almost warm enough to sit outside” before gratefully making a swift retreat to their warm burrows. And swiftly back to burrow for me too.

But the winter is almost over. Even a cold day with a northerly wind has a milder feel; there’s no longer a feeling of absence and stillness, quietly passively ominously waiting

Back in the flat, I have a leisurely conversation with my daughter and then sort out the pictures of churches from my collection of West Country postcards to start to make a record of the churches I have illustrations of. After that, my daily Bangla. I run through the first two lessons again for the nth time. It takes for ever for something to stick in my aged brain but stick it does eventually and I can now recognise at least six or seven letters of the alphabet without problems and am familiar with about 50 words.  A slow slog but a slow rewarding slog and, if Corona stays around for a while, I will undoubtedly make progress.

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