Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
BACK TO LIFE
Baby Flora arrived with her parents on Monday. It's nearly two years since we have seen the parents and this is our first meeting with our grandchild.
Last week I wrote about, distortion of time, absence of hierarchy of actions and lack of variety in human company.
This week with a nine-month baby with us, all that has exploded. We have no spare time, and time follows the needs of Flora, there are meals time, sleeping time, playing time, teething time with cries of lament. There is only one hierarchy of action, baby care, the way to get out is pushing a pram. Lack of human company gone in a day, the main company being the baby, very pretty and charmingly alert, expressing herself with a kind of Yodel - maybe a genetic predisposition from the German part of her American family.
There is so little time left in our life that I started writing at 2 o'clock Friday afternoon. I usually spend some four hours on Thursday dedicated to Plague20 weekly journal, today my brain is drained by baby activities and domestic tasks.
I must go!
But before I go, here is a picture of baby Flora in her playpen/workshop/study.
John Underwood, Norfolk
“Xmas day in the trenches was a sort of ragtime war affair..”
This week I have been working on several manuscripts, with various online book fairs to prepare for, and a “trade only” book fair in a few weeks time. I was stopped in my tracks by finding a letter sent from the front line trenches at Christmas 1914, when soldiers from both sides left their trenches to fraternise in no man’s land. I offer this in a transcript (although it is not very topical apart from our rather wintry weather), simply because it is an astonishing first hand account and nothing I could write could compare.
26 Dec 1914
It was awfully good of you to send chocolate which arrived quite safely & went down very well indeed.
We have just come out of the trenches again having spent Xmas day there & are billeted in a (?) factory. Xmas day in the trenches was a sort of ragtime war affair & I think about the funniest thing I have ever struck; if you imagined by any chance we should have a rotten Xmas I can assure you that you were very much mistaken. On Xmas Eve until about 4 o’clock our guns were shelling the German trenches but then stopped & a little rifle fire was kept up till about 5 when it became dark. We then started singing carols and songs: the Germans doing the same. After a bit we put candles & lights on top of the trenches to cheer things up a bit & carried on a sort of matey conversation with the enemy! As things seemed to be going very well we thought we might as well get out on top so four of us got on top of the parapet & struck matches which was received by a cheer from the other side so we all got out & held a concert & dance out in the open. After this a few thought it would be just & well to shake hands & exchange cigarettes &c with them so we called to them & met a few half way between the trenches & they were jolly good sports too. On Xmas day we had a football out in front of the trenches & asked the Germans to send a team to play us but either they considered the ground too hard as it had been freezing all night & was a ploughed field or else their officers put the bar up. Anyhow we had a chat with each other in the afternoon & one of them produced a camera & we had a group taken about 12 of us & 12 Germans. Xmas dinner was not exactly a great spread consisting of sausages, biscuits & chocolate but went down very well.
I expect you think this a bit of a (?) that the regulars who were in reserve here would not believe & some of them came up to see for themselves.
It’s very good of you to ask me about anything in the clothing line but we get plenty out here as it is sent on from our headquarters & when anyone send me anything I generally find it arrives at a time when I cannot change & space is rather limited for carrying anything so please don’t send anything though it’s awfully good of you to offer just the same. Have just heard we may have to go up again to-night if we do it will be different trenches & not against our Xmas day crowd which perhaps is just as well….
…Cannot think of any more news except perhaps I might mention that it’s freezing hard which is much better than the rain we have had.
Kindly remember me to every one
With love Nick
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
It has been very chilly during the last week with rain and hail, the land urgently needs rain, as there have already been a few fires in forests, so that way it is good weather. Unfortunately, I have not much to tell as I keep marking a lot, which leaves little space for inspiration... I hope everybody is well and I send best wishes.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
Last Sunday I went to an open-air antiques fair - held in one of the meadows at Beccles Quay. It is a great spot at one end of the town with some super riverside walks. Unsurprisingly it was busy - lots of people wandering about - but wide aisles and a good amount of space between the stalls made it easy to “socially distance”. Some stall holders provided hand gel and many wore face masks. Some visitors wore masks too. Although the weather was not the best, I think the rain held off until late afternoon and people could enjoy this new freedom. I bought a large terracotta garden pot with saucer, some quirky porcelain columns (what will we do with them?) and a Stilton scoop which we will probably never use. Acquisitive desires temporarily satisfied!
Have had a couple of other trips out too - one to the big bank in Lowestoft and one to Southwold. A few walks in the forest. It has been sunny but so very cold and the rain (much needed) has been heavy at times. Some people are braving the weather and lunching and having coffee outdoors as the pubs and cafes and hotels start to reopen. Alas, the cold winds around the coast don’t encourage me to stay sitting in one place for too long. We are fortunate in East Anglia in that we often have more sunshine than other parts of the country and we certainly did not see the snow that some areas have had this week. Yet, the chill wind has been keen and spiteful. The forecast suggests it will be getting warmer next week - I’m keeping fingers crossed because I’m eager to get more of the vegetables and plants out from the greenhouse and into the ground.
While out driving, we saw quite a few learner vehicles on the road. I had forgotten about this - but understand there is a backlog of tests to be completed and huge waiting lists for driving instruction. I guess it is the same for lorry, bus and - to some extent - train driving. A year of very limited activity will take a toll. A friend’s son is doing a social work degree. The university where he is studying has adapted the course - “front loading it” with theory and cancelling most placements. Sadly, he is unhappy that his theory-practice learning has been affected. He is itching to do “real, meaningful work with real people”. I recall from years ago that attrition rates on vocational programmes like social work and nursing often rocketed when students first experienced the reality of placements. And I wonder what will emerge from the hidden lives of lockdown - will the reality of the clinical practice be too much for some students? For that matter, will it all be too much for the existing practitioners?!
Today it is sunny and breezy here and I’m hoping to get out in the garden again. Yesterday was polling day - local council voting, police etc. I wonder what that will have done to the shape of 2021 in this country. More change? All staying the same? Have recent events dented Boris’ lead? Is the country happy with the way the pandemic has been managed and will that show in the results? Have the whiffs of alleged shady goings-on in Downing Street repelled the population? Have the words of Dominic Cummings influenced voters? Too soon to say... I think I’ll listen to some music to cheer me in my efforts to get the day started. Whose songs shall I play today? How about some Buffy Saint Marie? Oh yes, here goes - some lines from the song “The Big Ones Get Away”...
“Love junkies wanna change the world:
It quickly stays the same
Money junkies hire all the smart ones
Power junkies run the game
One step at a time
If the bad guys don't get you, baby
Then the good guys will
With angels on the take
And gangsters in the yard
Hey don't the wars come easy
Hey don't the peace come hard
Now if I had a way to reach the sky
I'd grab that crescent moon
Wield it like a knife
Save you from the lies
From the ropes that bind you
And the role you play
And the game that hooks you
While the big ones get away“
Buffy St Marie, 1992.
From the album ‘Coincidence and Likely Stories’
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
Until Tuesday, I have been unable to take Barbara out of her care home for any reason other than medical emergencies. And, if I did, Barbara would have had to isolate for fourteen days on her return. On Tuesday the rules were relaxed, mainly thanks to a campaign group, John’s Campaign.
Since last summer John’s Campaign has been in legal correspondence with the government about its guidance to care providers which discriminates under equality and human rights legislation and "falsely imprisoned" residents. The lobby group also wants care providers to undertake individual risk assessments and not just ‘blanket ban’ all visitors. Keeping residents "under surveillance" had a "terrible impact". Indeed it did, and on their friends and relatives too as Barbara and I can confirm. The Ministry for Health and Social Care finally capitulated last week. Care home residents are now able to leave their home for ‘low-risk trips’ without having to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards. Low-risk includes walks or garden visits.
There is still some way to go. I cannot take Barbara out in my car so she cannot come to my garden. Furthermore, Barbara is frail and sitting outside is unrealistic. Indeed, in a week where one day had all four seasons in 24 hours, outdoor trips can be harmful to many residents. If the rest of the population are to be allowed into cafés and homes in a week or so, will this include residents from care homes? The John’s Campaign spokesperson said it seemed "massively inadequate" to retain any restrictions on leaving care homes.
Meanwhile, a new procedure has been put in place for visiting a care-home resident. Visitors are required to order test kits from the government’s website; carry out a test prior to visiting; upload the results to the NHS website and take proof of the results to the care home. We still have to book visits, are only allowed one hour per week and have to wear full PPE. Slick it is not!
Voting at the local elections and a dental check-up on Thursday morning gave me a feeling that some things are returning to normal. However, parking in the city can be tricky. For people who no longer carry cash, finding a car park that takes card payments can be arduous. Many of the car parks still operate cash-only systems. As I drove in and straight out of one cash-only car park, I noted that there were much fewer vehicles parked. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
Normal for Norfolk
Hoarding disguises environmental
Vandalism from prying public eyes,
Bloated pixels extol varied virtues,
Your luxury estate, “gated and guarded”
That just awaits completion of phase five.
Smug suited gurning business folk, all teeth
And designer specs leer out, a team shot,
As if sheer force of deceit, rot, denial,
Tempts the littered buckled pavement to swoon:
“Truly inspirational lakeside lifestyle”.
You too could nestle; “Nature’s Capital”
Awaits just the replacement lake, jungle,
Birdlife, flora, mangroves, monkeys, and peace,
Land greedily close, convenient for some
Eager to dwell at “Asia’s #1”.
Bile rises. A 45 storey turd
Squats over the remaining patch of scrub
Also earmarked for “improvement”; a park,
Children’s slides choked, overgrown paths consumed
By viciously hooked creepers suggests otherwise.
“Modern urbanites,” concrete boxed dwelling,
Need “multi generational living”
Which means shifting the bamboo stilted huts
Where local families still survive, just,
To the other side of their estuary.
The pictured water, advertiser’s blue,
Is lapped by self-satisfied couples who
Stroll in their after-dinner good fortune
Reserved, exclusively, for them alone.
But there, slap bang in the middle, the Red
Duster cracking, boom to starboard, fresh from
Norfolk, a quintessentially English
Broads yacht. I stop and stare! Mirth erupts!
Tissue-thin, ludicrous absurdity
Selling this tropical residence dream
Some snapped airbrushed scene from dear old England.
And comes the thought if they’ve got that so wrong
What other ironies, surprises wait
For lucky folk who might swallow such bait!
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
Yesterday was my birthday so I am now in my 70th year which seems ancient and far older than I feel. I remember a similar feeling when I was 39, 49 and 59. The grandchildren are very vague about ages and Naomi, age 10, thought it was my 56th. I pointed out that that meant I must have had my first child at 14.
We have a tradition in our family in which the birthday person can have all of their requests met for one whole day. I made the most of my 24 hours by getting jobs done in the garden. Jeremy put up a sturdy row of bean canes ready for the runner beans and brought me barrow loads of compost to pot up my tomato plants. It was a weird sort of day weather wise – sunny and warm, hail and cold winds. We managed to work around it. Then Jeremy cooked a delicious mutton tagine with local meat and my eldest granddaughter made a baklava which is one of my favourite desserts. So a lovely day with presents and cards as well. I felt very spoilt.
I get my second vaccination today and do feel very positive about the summer and being able to meet with more people in larger groups. Using lateral flow tests before seeing people seems like a good idea. The new variants worry me a little but not too much. I do feel that people shouldn’t be going abroad on holiday unless they have family living in another country. I feel the same about tourists coming here. The fewer people travelling around the world the better at the moment.
There is a huge disparity between us and the third world countries when it comes to vaccination roll out. We have done so well but other poorer countries are struggling. We have to get the whole world vaccinated for our sake as well as theirs. I read about people in India being tested with used testing kits. Was it done out of greed or necessity? If the kits used had already given negative results would it matter? Is it better to use used kits than not test because you don’t have enough kits? Do they still work if they are used a second time? Is there a shortage of testing kits? My initial thought was ‘how terrible’ but now I’m not sure.
And now I’m off for my vaccination. How lucky we are.
David Horovitch, Twickenham
Diana sits in the bus shelter outside my local Tesco's selling The Big Issue. I've been having the same conversation with her at least twice a week for two years.
'How are you Diana?'
As the vowels are given more than their usual length and the consonants almost totally neglected I'm not always sure whether she's good and cold or cold and good or just oo and o or o and oo. Shortly after I'd moved into the area she became pregnant and, after a few months, she disappeared for a few weeks; when she returned she told me her baby was called Lucca and he was 'Goooood. Big.' She has a pleasant, moony face and smiles and shakes her head whenever I ask about Lucca.
This week she had some new words.
'How are you Diana?'
'Happy. Home. Monday. Romania. Mummy. Baby. Hot. Not cold. Happy.'
She'll be back in the autumn. I shall miss her.
It's been a busy week. I went over to Dalston, East London, on Monday to record a monologue for a show reel for a young aspiring director, son of some friends. It was a good piece in a sort of Alan Bennett way and, by having an Ipad positioned directly above the camera, the director scrolling down the text as I spoke, I hope it will look as though I'd learned it. I used to live round there and I was shocked to see how ravaged the area seemed - really desolate with lots of the local Turkish and Kurdish shops shuttered or boarded up, seemingly for good.
I'm to play King Lear in a zoom production in July and met virtually with the director and producer on Wednesday to discuss how we're to proceed with the casting and production. I have loved the play since I did it for A-level at St Chris and this may well be the nearest I ever get to playing the king himself.
Yesterday I recorded a voice-over for a podcast of testimonies of holocaust survivors that is being compiled in Vienna. Fascinating, heartbreaking stuff.
And I've been asked to take part in a rehearsed reading at The Almeida theatre in Islington of The Dybukk, a famous but rarely performed Jewish play written and set in the nineteenth century. It's to be the opening production in The Almeida's post-pandemic season and as I've never worked there, I'm glad to be asked.
A good, productive week.
Best wishes to all fellow journalists xx
Hello from Eastbourne
Introspection by Shirley-Anne Macrae
I had a job interview this week for my old job. Sort of. My old job doesn't really exist anymore. It's been tweaked. I was relieved to get an interview however and off I went early on Tuesday morning. My immediate sensation was how strange it felt to be groomed and elegant after over a year off. My husband and children commented that I ought to make an effort more often. I felt rather worn out with the effort!
I always enjoy the drive to Charleston, especially up the country lane to the House. The road is dreadful but it makes it feel like an adventure and you cannot help but feel cheered by the pheasants roaming around. However, it was a strange experience, being interviewed by people I know extremely well, being formal, pretending I didn't know them, wearing a mask, my glasses steaming up rendering me blind! I bumbled through it and afterwards I drove to a local farm shop and treated myself to a cream tea, to decompress. It seemed a pity to let the manicure and general sartorial tidy-up go to waste after all. I switched the phone off, rather unkindly probably, I couldn't be bothered with the well meaning post mortem chats from friends and family. I enjoyed sitting in the sun with my tea and groomed hands. I had made peace with the idea that I may not work at Charleston again because I'm enjoying other things. I've been gardening and emptying my attic of the years of vintage things I've collected. I'm planning to attend a bric-a-brac fair with the lot. I'm going back to Italy as soon as possible. I'm flower pressing on a grand scale. I'm planning a summer on the Downs with my children. I can volunteer at Charleston any time I like, I haven't lost anything there. I'm obsessed with my little cat. I love my husband. All would be well regardless.
I took the garb off as soon as I got home, got into my civvies and back into the garden. The manicure was ruined by school run time. I made the tea and went through the motions of the day, happily knowing I was happy and that I have always done my best. The next day I received an email.
I got the job 😉
Hello from Eastbourne
Visitors by Franklin Lewis Macrae
This week our grandparents came for the afternoon. We had to maintain a two metre distance at all times so no hugging or touching. We had to keep all the doors open for ventilation. They brought us sweets and £10 each in a cardboard box. The sweets and cash had been in a box for three days beforehand. They have been vaccinated twice but they are still super careful about any contact. I was bored sitting in the kitchen in the cold, I couldn't relax. I got upset before they arrived, I hate all the COVID rules so mum allowed me to go on the computer upstairs. Marli read her book too. It was quite strange.
Visitors by Marli Rose Macrae
On Sunday our grandparents came to see us for the day. Just an afternoon, they weren't allowed to stay overnight. It was different. We had planned lunch in the garden but it was much too cold so we stayed in the kitchen with all the doors open. The downstairs loo was for them only, we weren't allowed to use it. They brought us some chocolate buttons but they put them in a cardboard box that they left on the floor for us. Grandma said they had been in there for three days and they hadn't touched them. We weren't allowed to hug each other and we had to keep our social distance as we had to be careful to protect ourselves as well as them.
I'm reading Great Expectations. There is a dirty bride in it, her name is Miss Havisham. She only wears one shoe because she only had one shoe on her foot as she was dressing for her wedding when her love ran away. The wedding cake and banquet has been left to rot. Mummy says there is an old film and rats run around the table top.
Mummy also got her job back at Charleston this week and she is looking forward to starting again. Her job is going to be different because of COVID but I am extremely happy for her.