Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
This week has involved lots of travelling – visits to grandsons being the most joyful of the trips. Being alone in the car gives me time to ponder and I found myself musing about how the pandemic is adding new words to our lexicon and new meanings to existing words. Many words are almost in daily use. Not that everyone actually understands all the words. The ability to “socially distance” springs to mind. After visiting three shops recently that were non-compliant, I rest my case.
We have come to understand and use highly scientific and technical terms, previously rarely heard outside epidemiological circles. For example, the expression “flatten the curve” for when the powers that be want to spread the rate of infection so health services are not overwhelmed. We mostly hear it used by SAGE scientists during their NHS COVID-19 public updates to the media. However, the term has also entered our everyday lexicon. Pubs, bars and restaurants invite us to ‘help us flatten the curve’ to let us know that it’s safe to eat and drink there. But then the numbers go back up and the government shuts down the hospitality sector.
Politicians, media and public alike use another scientific term “R”. They talk about the R value, R rate or R number. R is the reproduction number, a way of rating any disease’s ability to spread. If R equals one it means that a carrier will, on average, infect one person. Currently here in the East of England we have an R of 1.2-1.4. Oddly a number higher than the parts of the country in Tiers 2 and 3. Can someone explain please?
Shielding, face mask and lockdown are existing words with new meanings. Most of us understand them. Except that is friend’s 85 year old uncle. Friend’s uncle lives in Manchester and caught coronavirus in April. He became very poorly and needed hospital treatment. He was even put on a ventilator for a while. A very jolly man, he bounced back to full health and goes out and about wheresoever he pleases. Living in the North West, he will probably misconstrue Tier 3 and all the restrictions that accompany it. After all, he considers himself to be immune. Now where did he get that idea from?
Hands up, anyone who had used Zoom regularly prior to March 2020. Yet here we are in late October and the noun has been mangled into a verb. Zooming. WhatsApping. Skyping. Suddenly we’re all doing it.
Of all the new words the term I find the most thought-provoking is “Stockholm syndrome”. The assumption is that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions. Didn’t we try that in February and early March?
Living in a rural area, when I first heard the term super-spreader, I thought it was referring to a new piece of agricultural machinery. Almost home, I ponder what will be written by etymologists on “Test Positive”. Two words that can stop conversation in its tracks. Dependent on age and disability, test positive can fill the recipient of the news with horror. Barbara’s care home is in lockdown for the third time in as many months as a member of staff has tested positive. Friends and relatives are learning to live with the worrying uncertainty. Fortunately the home manager acts swiftly and the virus has not passed to any other person in previous incidences. Fingers crossed that it will be the same this time.
During a rather packed week, a friend and I went on a couple of hours walk. We chose a local woodland and water garden. A lovely combination of waterways and boardwalks by the Norfolk Broads. Fortune smiled on us as we went on the most glorious day of recent weeks. Blue sky. Spectacular autumnal colours. Burnished golds. Crunching leaves. There were many shade and water loving plants, some striking Candelabra Primulas were growing in abundance. The woodland part was equally as spectacular, including a glorious tree which I know as the Red Cypress (Taxodium Distichum). Autumn is the Red Cypress’ most vibrant season. We foraged some sweet chestnuts which were roasted on the fire that evening. As we arrived back at the car park we felt the first spot of rain. Perfect, perfect timing. Attached are some photos to remember the day.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
My working week was mainly taken up with meetings. On Tuesday we held our monthly board meeting at which among other things we approved a £100k investment project to upgrade all the handheld barcode scanners (and associated software) that are used across the warehouse and factory to process orders and record inventory movements. That was followed on Wednesday with the monthly meeting between the directors and the senior management team, where, building on the experience of working from home, we agreed to introduce a new permanent and more liberal approach to flexible working. And on Thursday the MD and I met, in person, with the non-exec directors of our holding company, and with the Trustees who own the business on behalf of the employees (we are an employee-owned company) for a quarterly update.
One topic close to my heart that was discussed in the Thursday meetings was succession planning for the role of finance director, currently held by yours truly, who would like to retire in 12 months’ time. We are steadily growing more confident that my number two, who has really matured in the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic, will be ready to succeed me by the end of 2021. This would mean that we can avoid the risk and uncertainty of having to go outside to recruit a new FD. Of course I attribute this not just to my younger colleague’s talent and expertise, but also to the expert training and coaching he has received from me! The final meeting of the week, later this Friday morning, will be our annual review with an “Investors in People” assessor, ensuring we are on track to maintain our accreditation next year.
In the outside world, what for me cut through all the Covid and Brexit news, was the horrific Islamist terror attack in the cathedral in Nice: three individuals murdered, even beheaded, for the “crime” of being a Christian worshipper. This follows the shocking murder of a French school teacher a few weeks ago for the “crime” of testing the boundaries of free speech in a history lesson; the Ariana Grande concert bombing in May 2017, killing 23 and injuring hundreds for the “crime” of enjoying modern popular culture; the murder of an 84 year old priest near Rouen in July 2016 for the “crime” of celebrating Mass; and the 2015 Bataclan theatre massacre, another attack on modern culture. In short there is a small but dangerous minority living in Western Europe that is so fundamentally opposed to the basic Enlightenment values of toleration, progress, constitutional government, secularism, and liberty that it is prepared to kill in its battle against the modern world. We studied the Reformation and Wars of Religion in history, shocked at how barbaric we Europeans could be to one another, killing in the name of religion, but we felt reassured that it all lay in the barbaric and ignorant past. The European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, giving birth to the French Republic and in due course the American Republic, was built on, among other things, a rejection of religious fanaticism, and yet now a new and very dangerous strand of religious fanaticism is roaming our streets. And perhaps our weak spot is that because of the decline in religious belief in Europe in the last century, we are no longer capable of comprehending how religion can drive people to commit such terrible acts. To defeat one’s enemy, one must first understand him.
On a lighter note, did you know that Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister of Scotland, for our overseas readers) is an anagram of “contagion rules”: five tiers of them apparently! And in Wales the devolved administration has decided that the pandemic can be overcome by closing all bookshops. But I suspect that in Wales they are secretly trying to build a socialist paradise along the lines of East Germany: a centrally planned economy, but with added sheep.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
When I stop to consider the possible scenarios surrounding next week’s election results, I become suddenly, literally, breathless. So, I am thankful for the timing of a week long, on-line course I am engaged on that is so compelling it can completely occupy my thinking. The course, Design for Weave, was originally scheduled for March as two, in - person, Study Days in London.
Although weaving is a “niche” activity there are a surprising number of weaving organisations and groups, both local and international, and I am a member of several. This course is part of Complex Weavers (it is not the weavers themselves who are complex but the projects they attempt). Our tutor, Laura Thomas, an excellent weaver and teacher, restructured the course for Covid on zoom. Offered over two Saturdays, it had the added benefit of an intervening week to work through the content. Offered in zoom it also allowed several of the group - in the Netherlands, in Wales and in Scotland - to participate who would otherwise have found travelling to and staying in London more difficult.
When we met at 10.30 last Saturday Laura gave us the password to a video she had prepared which we then watched and worked through at our own pace. The video outlined the processes required to design a weaving project - purpose, theme, colour, structure,texture, etc. We could speak directly on zoom with Laura at set times during the day and then gathered altogether again at 3.45 for a summary.
What has occupied my thinking throughout the week is colour. Having chosen an Autumn palette I have attempted to examine it and recreate it in cuttings from magazines, in 3D objects, in watercolours, in paste papers, and finally in yarns. For me, in this particular week, blessedly engrossing.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
Due to the infection rates doubling from last week to this week some serious restrictions are going to be imposed again from Monday on. As expected schools, nursery schools, shops and businesses are going to remain open. But all leisure activities are forbidden, sportsclubs have to close as well as swimming pools, cinemas, theatres, opera houses and especially all restaurants, cafes and pubs. The latter are supposed to get a compensation of up to 75% of their income which they generated in November 2019.
The number of patients in intensive has also doubled from last week to this week and surely everybody understands that some measures have to be taken, but today there was a heated debate in parliament about the decisions which were announced last night.
My husband is back to working from home and actually does not miss his commute but his colleagues. I keep cycling from Hamburg main station to work in all weather gear and quite enjoy that. I am also glad to see my students in person although by now there is in all classes at least one student at home in quarantine and has to be included in lessons via computer.
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
When you’re told by your kid’s school that “lockdown schooling can be very challenging”, you know as a parent that you’re being hauled over the coals.
My youngest, Masana, did very well in his Grade 1 school assessment, following some eight months of home schooling. But his older sister Gracey fared badly in three of her six Grace 6 subjects. Her teacher wrote me a diplomatic note to say that I can always get in touch with her if I’m facing “difficulties”.
Gracey got a lot of sympathy, which is how it should be. After all, she’d done excellently in all end of term assessments before this bloody pandemic, and had always had good reports. Her teacher knows that. It’s me who flunked maths and Afrikaans.
Because lockdown or home learning during Covid is a test of whether you can teach your kids. It’s not about how well your kids can do their school work when cooped up indoors. They, after all, increasingly have a harder time concentrating and face constant distractions.
My first reaction was to go into denial and make excuses. But she did fine in the other subjects. And anyway I don’t know, Afrikaans, I told myself, acting for the defence. I’m only learning it to teach Gracey. The same goes for maths.
None of this cuts any ice with the prosecution, which argued adroitly that I could have used any number of online aids to tackle the Afrikaans and maths exercises Gracey had to do. Ignorance of a subject is no longer an excuse for not doing it.
So, I asked Gracey - pleaded with her more like - to return to school for the final term of the year, which is the important one because there are exams to decide if you proceed to the next grade.
She’s having none of it, and says she will definitely get through. She says that once she gets the exam study packs, she’ll be OK. Thing is, she has enjoyed a lot of the lockdown time, hanging out on TikTok and generally getting her own way.
“We’re doing lockdown school because you’re shielding. You wouldn’t want me to bring corona home with me, would you?” She says this with a glint in her eye.
I have a feeling that I’ll soon be appealing to her teacher because of “difficulties”.
A View from Crazy Town
Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.
After a seasonally appropriate cornucopia of Crazy last week, Your Intrepid Reporter began to despair at the (relative) absence of insanity unfolding in these final days before The Ultimate Apotheosis.
Thankfully, Y.I.R. has learned that he must sometimes quietly put his thoughts elsewhere when the Dear Editors chivvy him with reminders about deadlines and other such trifles. Good things come to those who wait; a thought which is no doubt greatly comforting to our Dear Leader in these dark days.
But wait we did, and our reward was some pretty Crazy shit. Our Dear Leader never fails to deliver. He held a Big! Beautiful! Rally!! in Omaha, Nebraska, a locale famed for its seasonally appropriate blizzards and freezing temperatures. There the Faithful gathered in the great outdoors at a windswept airfield in unmasked attendance. Their warmth and joy at seeing His Dear Visage made the wait in the cold worth it. Why even the failure of the buses to collect several thousand of them for many hours after He jetted off did little to dampen the enthusiasm. The relatively few elderly Faithful who wound up hospitalized with hypothermia were a small price to pay for the glow which filled Dear Leader's heart as He flew off to meet Destiny (as in fate, not a young Faithful – that sort of thing is better left to Rudy). Then not thirty-six hours later, He staged another Big! Beautiful! Rally!! Not trusting the intemperate northern climes further, He held this one in Tampa, FLA. Again, the joy was palpable, Faith was restored to the Faithful and the warmth... well, the warmth was not lacking and might even have been seasonally inappropriate. In fact, there was so much warmth that trucks (lorries) had to be called in to hose down the Faithful. Once again, the multiple hospitalized attendees must be chalked up to the cost of doing bidnez.
But wait, Gentle Reader, it gets better. This election stuff is super serious bidnez, after all, and Dear Leader is leaving nothing to chance. Thus it is that Dr. Stella Immanuel reappears in our pages. When last seen, Dr. Stella was espousing theories about COVID being the result of sleeping with devils and demon sperm, and the wonders of hydroxychloroquine in vanquishing both. We note with some concern that this line of thought skates perilously close to the heresy of denying devils the Right to Life, even in non-consensual circumstances. Fortunately, the good doc pulled back at the last moment. "Sex with demons is a very biblical concept," she said, citing references in both Genesis and Jude to back her claims, but we digress. Dr. Stella made an on-line appearance in support of Dear Leader at His Victory phone bank in Houston, rallying the Faithful to the flag, or at least raking in some much needed cash for His Greatest Campaign of All Time.
In a related development, all this talk of sex, demons, and other unmentionable topics would appear to have marred the color of Dear Senate Leader's greatness, as he appeared this week with fetchingly blue-and purple-colored hands. The reason for this sudden infusion of color in one normally known for favoring white and Whiteness, was not disclosed, but demons and HCQ have not been ruled out.
And, yes, we once again close with a pandemic bulletin. A late breaking update from Flat Rat Alley confirms fears that conditions are worsening, as a yet another rodent of soon-to-be-reduced dimensions has met his or her untimely demise on the mean streets of Crazy Town. Even as Your Intrepid Reporter is typing these lines, a bulletin from The New York Times has landed in his in-box (with an appropriately alarming BING!) bearing the news that we have surpassed nine million cases of COVID on Dear Leader’s watch. OMG, OMG, can you believe it? That’s just, like such a TOTALLY CRAAAY-zee coincidence. Or not.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Groan. I have a vice-like cold, which has gripped the whole family. Which reminds me that I keep meaning to counterbalance my witterings about not wanting to catch Covid with the fact that we thought, in the early days, that J2 and I might have had a mild version. Goodness it seems so long ago. My witterings still stand, though, because it seems increasingly clear that antibodies are shortlived, and the virus in any case Protean. Students at Manchester University (my alma mater), interviewed, seem determined to continue to party, come what may; my initial response was ‘How very dare they?’ – but then remembered (and I have the stark black and white truth in my diaries and letters of the time) that my priority was exactly the same. Granted, there was no pandemic then, and my partying was balanced by a full timetable of lectures and intimate tutorial groups. To some staff, we were actually named individuals with recognisable faces and individual styles. I can’t help wondering what today’s youngsters feel they have let themselves in for, being summoned to put bums on seats and pounds in the university’s account and then finding themselves seemingly abandoned in their halls and digs.
But there is always someone far worse off. In the 2016 Turkish coup d’état a dear friend, who had previously lodged with me as a mature English student, was arrested along with tens of thousands of others – because she was a teacher. She was dismissed and exiled, with her husband and new son, to another city hundreds of miles away, while waiting for her court case to come up. Just now I have heard from her that finally she won the case and has recovered her profession, although she remains exiled. She hopes that she will eventually be allowed to travel, and to visit the UK again. For four years to be a non-person, not to mention the legal work, cost and uncertainty – that knocks a few months of shutdown into perspective. Her suffering is evident in photographs.
HN came to stay with me last weekend and was rather inconsolable, given that he was unbeknown to us brewing a cold, so I have since then been enjoying catching up on my sleep – as well as catching his cold. The bond is deep and beautiful, impossible to describe in words. I already feel I could cut off my arm for him, this tiny, wriggly being. My house is filling up with baby impedimentia, which surprises me as all I seemed to have as a mother was a packet of nappies and a rocking horse. This week I bagged a bargain pram, lighter than his parents’, which is a real plus as I do like to get us both out and about. He adores looking up (at his age he has to lie on his back) at the colourful, waving, rustling leaves above. It’s lovely to see everything through his innocent eyes. He even watched a clock ticking, rapt.
I have settled into a pattern of two-weekly trips to Sainsbury's to fill my larder. I have decided that early on a Wednesday is the least of all evils, although the branch is so large and badly signed that it will take an age to learn where everything is: currently it takes me far too long to get round, and then the crowds start drifting in. What with unpacking and sanitising at the other end, it all takes the best part of a morning. I still keep vowing to actually have a go at click and collect...
Other shopping has been less successful: after waxing lyrical about the wonders of Amazon, I had this week to return a wrong item - what a to-do! It might be free but it’s not hassle-free. I used yards of sellotape and finished a roll of parcel tape to confect a requested box in which to enclose the original package – why, I can’t imagine. And I have ordered a babycare book from America which, chances are, will not arrive until said baby has grown his first whiskers.
He is here with me now, snoozing on my duvet; he came yesterday, will go home this evening and return here tomorrow evening, to go home again on Sunday evening. I still need that night in between, to recover from broken sleep. I’m learning to be organised in advance, as I only have two arms and hands, which are often full of child. Yesterday I bagged a new kind of baby sling to free up at least one limb, and will see whether I can manoeuvre him into it – utterly failed with the last one. You need to be an octopus, with a very compliant baby. I also managed to sleep more deeply in between feeds last night, which was a blessing.
But who outside a tiny coterie of new grandparents wants to read all this? While my strange little microworld spins, the strange larger world spins too, with all its uncertainties and fears. I wish fervently for myself and all my dear friends to stay safe and well. May there be something other than death and destruction for HN to inherit.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Another week has shot by.
My pandemic birthday was very nice. Lots of small covid compliant visitations, loads of presents and cards including 3 big boxes of booja booja chocolates, several amaryllis and allium bulbs and packets of seeds.
It started on Saturday morning when a group of 6 women in a bubble asked if they could all come into the shop together. I said yes but they had to sing to me so they launched into a rousing version of Happy Birthday.
Bridget and her boyfriend came over with Champagne and paleo snacks when they brought Earnie home then my friend Lisa whose birthday was the day before came round with steaks.
Sunday morning was a birthday breakfast with 2 friends who do shell mosaics. We’ve tried to get together for ages for a shell girl convention. The phone rang and the friend with the eye brows like blackbirds rang to say he was on his way back from Norwich and would be calling in to the cafe. Had he been tapping my phone? He must have smelt the bacon. B arrived, then C and then him within seconds. I think he must have cctv on my Aga!
It was lovely sitting in the garden in the sun eating eggs and bacon and drinking coffee. The weather the day before had been atrocious with rain and wild winds. Later there was a birthday tea also in the garden and the paleo scones went down well but it got very cold when the sun went down. We were trying to work out how to have warm outside entertainments if we go into lockdown again. I think a lot of hot water bottles and 6 layers of cashmere, maybe heated seats.
On Tuesday I had to go to London again. My car has been a bit on the blink for a while and I talked to the garage man on the way who said to bring it in the next day. A bit later I had to stop to make a phone call and then it wouldn’t start. When I got to London it went dead but it started later on.
I was approaching the Rotherhithe tunnel on the way home in the pouring rain and dark and the temperature gauge was going up and up. I was stuck in the tunnel watching the gauge as it got nearer and nearer the red imagining fire and explosions. I got my bag and phone ready for a quick escape. Can you imagine a worse place to break down? Anyway I made it to a garage near by where it broke down again so I checked the water and the radiator was completely empty!
They were very nice in the garage in SIlvertown and I managed to move out of the way of the pumps and call the RAC..
A very nice young man called Charlie arrived, and checked it out, filled up the radiator, checked to see if the water was coming out and then he drove off in it for a test drive leaving me standing by his van. He hadn’t left the keys in his ignition. He came back!
He was trying to work out what to do as he could only tow me for an hour and a half radius from where we were and a low loader would take all night to organise. Also I would have to sit in his van with him for an hour and a half which under the circs seemed a bit weird.
He thought I would probably make it home as long as I checked the water levels a few times so I drove off into the night. I got back just before midnight by the time I’d picked Earnie up after a quiet and uneventful drive.
I stopped at Bishops Stortford services to get a cup of coffee where every one was ordering their non paleo compliant chicken and chips and hamburgers remotely from machines in the restaurant area. The world has changed. The Waitrose there hardly sells any proper food, nothing that I can eat anyway as it’s all processed.
I came out with a banana. It seems to mainly sell booze.
The news today has been dreadful. The scientists said coronavirus had gone up 4 times their worse case scenario. Boris and Mat said there won’t be a full lockdown but everyone is half expecting to be locked down any minute. People are buying the odd Christmas present in the shop in case they can’t later.
The other main news is the American election. Biden is the favourite but Trump could get back in. Who knows! I hope not. Theres a scathing programme about him on BBC2 at the moment where all the people he's sacked are spilling the beans. It's fascinating.
Covid cases in US around 9 million with 229 thousand deaths.
They’ve just said on the news we might be locked down from Wednesday! Coronavirus is out of control. Deaths could potentially be 4000 a day depending on who you listen to.
Scientists advise we need a months lock down to calm things down. Boris was advised to have a fire break a few weeks ago and declined.
I think it’s going to be a long cold winter.
Take care every one.
Love Annabel xxx
From the Editor
I’ve missed Autumn this year. So far, it hasn’t really happened. Oh, some of the leaves have turned colour and fallen... but where are those glorious Autumn days, with sun, blue skies, crisp at the edges? Five weeks ago, in the middle of September, the warm weather suddenly turned into gale force winds and rain, rain, rain. We have had five weeks of grey skies and rain with very little respite. I have yet to experience walking over heaps of crisp, crunchy golden leaves... they are all soggy and mushy. October is usually a glorious month. Not this year. The wettest October I remember.
Thinking of what to write for this week’s journal, I glanced back at all my entries from the beginning. Do any of you do the same? Or perhaps you don’t keep copies? You’d probably be surprised at how much each of you has written over the five months. And most of you have written far more than I have. And there were so many things I’d forgotten about.
Back in May I wrote ‘The last ten days have certainly seen things falling apart politically, the centre determined to maintain its hold, and in an attempt to do so, loosening the restrictions ( I think) far too soon and far too fast. Will anarchy follow? Certainly chaos seems inevitable.’
And chaos followed. Crowded beaches. Eat out to help out. University students paying £9000 a year to be locked up and taught online. Chaos continues. Different rules for different regions and cities, people flouting and breaking the regulations amid division in the Conservative party, division in the Labour Party. Brexit as a tug of war. Track and trace failing to deliver, hospitals filling up with COVID patients again. And, and... Christmas?? Personally, I’d rather sacrifice Christmas to COVID than the vulnerable and elderly. Twenty first century Christmas needs to be rethought anyway.. too commercial. And yes, I know commerce and the economy is important. But so are people. And people’s lives. Things are obviously getting worse again and Boris dithers.
Apparently Boris used to earn £275,000 as a Daily Telegraph columnist. Do they all earn that? Imagine if Sheila and I had to pay all of you that for your contributions - most of which are far more intelligent and interesting than the P.M’s. No wonder he’s not happy with a mere £150,000 as P.M. These figures must seem out of this world to workers on minimum wages, or those living on benefits, or unable to afford to feed children properly in the holidays.
Enough. I met the first hedgehog I’ve seen this year on our front drive, and ushered him away from the road and our cars, back into the garden. I hope he/she finds somewhere safe to sleep out the winter. I wonder what the world he wakes up to next Spring will look like?