Thursday 26 March 2020

My Time Has Come

Black and white photograph of two elegant women walking arm in arm with masks during the Spanish flu epidemic
Do not try this at home
Keep your distance, ladies!

I've never been one for Mingling with a crowd nor having a gang of girlfriends to hang about with. From even an early age, I was more of a one-on-one sort of friend. But everything has its day, and I find that my style of friendship has become rather more respectable in this new age of Social Distancing. My advice to you, Dear Reader, is to treat your friends like treasures; keep them in little boxes and do not let them mix!

Georg Hainz still life painting "A Collector's Cabinet", 1664
A treasury of friends
 Georg Hainz, 1664

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I found sitting in my email inbox an invitation to participate in a sort of morale-boosting, chain letter for women. It was asked that the participant send an inspiring quote or verse (presumably by a woman - Virginia Woolf, whose hairdo I'd been loosely sporting of late, was my obvious selection) to only one person named on the email but then link the chain with a further twenty women that I admire. Well, it really did have me stumped. For a start, do I even know that many women?

George Charles Beresford black and white portrait photograph of Virginia Woolf, 1902
"No need to hurry. No need to sparkle.
No need to be anybody but oneself."

From memory, the chain letters of old required you to post to seven people you knew, and necessitated the thrilling use of carbon paper to prevent writer's cramp. Alongside an address book and the purchase of stamps, it was a rather considerate undertaking and I'm quite sure it only ever occupied me once in my childhood. But in this age of bigger, better, faster, it seems that even one's circle of friends must be a rather grand affair, and all accessible at the click of a button. If the internet was to switch off, however, in these Interesting Times, that old-school, bound address book which has never really gone out of fashion for me, may come in rather handy.

NASA photographer Bill Taub black and white photograph of two men in coats in Langley Wind Tunnel
Correct use of Social Distancing for Spooks
During a dead letter drop

Image credits: 1: 2, 3: Wikimedia Commons 4: Sotheby's


  1. When and where was the first photo taken, the one of two fashionable ladies in face masks? During the Spanish Flu of 1918-19?

  2. Hels: Hi Hels, I found it on but came with no attribution. It is from the Spanish flu epidemic but looking at the streetscape and footpath it's rather hard to tell. I'd hazard a guess of Paris but it truly is only a guess.

  3. If I remember correctly, those chain letters always said that to break the chain would bring bad luck.I think a lot of children found that very intimidating.

    Those two ladies are very elegant; with or without their masks.

  4. Cro: Yes, I remember that and it did seem alarming, in the way that bears in the cracks of the footpath could set the imagination off down an ugly avenue, yet we did indeed survive those hazards!

  5. The mask on the left looks more effective than that on the right. Masks are difficult with eyeglasses. Having no mask, I pulled up a scarf over my nose at the grocery, more to avoid nasty looks from others than to actually ward off germs (the non-professional masks are mostly good for not spraying one's germs on others, rather than barring entry of those already floating around), and was nearly blinded by my glasses fogging up. One solution: don't breathe, which also aids in not hoovering up airborne germs, but it has other drawbacks.
    My reaction to chain letters was dread about not being able to afford the postage; I flinched at everything, thinking it was Fate come to collect dues for having broken the chain.
    I ADORE your photos.

  6. That is a striking photograph. Who would have thought that the powers that be would ask their healthcare workers to simply “bandanna“ their faces in a not dissimilar way.

    These are strange, surreal times. Many of us can’t help but hold our breath, just a little, and count our blessings, among them internet access (for however long!) and even a handful of real world friends with whom we could say hello, how are you, on a telephone.

  7. Ah, the chain letter! I never did get into participating in writing them.

    Be well, my dear!

  8. SHE IS GREAT ON THE TELEPHONE I have had the pleasure like I have had with YOU!
    I do remember the number SEVEN and BREAKING THE CHAIN.................
    Can you imagine if the PHONE were to LOSE ALL YOUR LISTINGS?!!!!!
    SO, GIRLFRIEND did YOU find 20 people to send the EMAIL ON TOO?
    MY nickname by another AUSTRALIAN is VITA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    That is because VITA would GARDEN IN PEARLS and loved her animals.........!!!
    Remind YOU of ANYONE!!!?

  9. ToF: I wore a mask during the bushfires when we went on a walking tour and it was a complete struggle with glasses, not to mention boiling hot on the summer day, but have not taken to one yet. Things aren't so restricted yet where I am but it will come. As the masks are basically gone, save for the one I managed to buy for Mr P. to keep for a work emergency (they're single use!), I'm going to have to make my own. Fabric stash will provide for the necessaries so it will only be, as you say, to keep my own germs to myself ... Yes, it would be easier not to breathe but I don't think it will take off as a public health policy! ... Ah, the postage - I hear you. Tricky when one didn't get pocket money, either ... Glad you like the images; it's always a pleasure to go on the hunt for them!

    DAW: During the Spanish flu here it was an offence to not wear a mask, enforced by fine and imprisonment. I read about a young woman who had loosely draped her mask under her chin when on the tram and was caught. Strange how it seemed like a more well organised effort back then but it must be the cherry-picking nature of Historical Record ... Strange times, indeed. Blessings are many, including cheap telephone calls and their myriad alternatives! Even ten years ago some may have paused to make calls to stay in touch with the world.

    Bea: The chain letters weren't in the least chatty, from memory, just grim and sensationalist warnings about the dire consequences of breaking them! I must admit that I don't think I ever went through with it as a kid ... What are you doing now that you can't swim? My dancing has gone to hell in a hand basket!

    Contessa: During the bushfire evacuations we were saliently reminded that when the power goes and your phones are disconnected and/or cannot be recharged, if you don't have an address book on you then you need to have memorised some phone numbers. Most of us have forgotten them! Just such an exercise for the idle times at home now. It would be nice if everyone comes out of this having used the time wisely and worked on some meaningful projects! ... There was a further complication with the chain letter in that the instructions were ambiguous and upon consulting the friend who sent it, I discovered that many had abandoned it. No, I didn't actually find twenty who I thought would appreciate the exercise, but I had included you, haha!! ... Vita is the perfect nickname for a Contessa. xx

  10. How spot on is your idea of keeping friends (like treasures) in little boxes... I used a thing called Zoom for the first time yesterday and behold all six of us were peering down on one another other from our little boxes.
    Not quite as beautifully displayed as your treasury. xxL

  11. stringfingers: So much chatter about Zoom! Another new word for the vocabulary of the pandemic. I must eventually see for myself but with I could imagine that with a bit of effort it could be made to look like a display cabinet for the little heads. A sort of steam punk enhancement, perhaps? xx

  12. Odd isn't it how the Spanish Flu, West Nile, Ebola, MERS, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme Disease arouse no reproachful virtue signals yet when a governing authority actually lies about danger and extent then arrests whistle-blowers, that is the one virus we mustn't identify with place of origin?

    And now Boris has tested positive for The Wuhon China Virus.

    Please feel free to disseminate my sentiments to 7 or more friends

  13. My Self-Isolation Cardio soundtrack.

  14. GSL: Well, I guess only time will tell how this will be remembered, regarding nomenclature - much like the Spanish onion and the French pox! ... As for your workout music, do take care you don't end up having a heart attack prancing about your living room to that!

  15. We'll, seems like we're kindred spirits because I was never one for having bevies of friends either. And I too have my trustworthy address book. I still love sending and receiving letters or cards. Have joined a site called Postcrossing which is a postcard exchange and I love it.
    Carbon paper - ha, how many people remember that?


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