The Runaway Diaries
Sophie Austin, London
It’s the 31st of December 2020 and we’ve just come back to our warm home after a walk in the park. Our first excursion in ten days.
Our breath is still shallow, the slow suffocating feeling hasn’t left yet and the residual tiredness remains in our bones. But we are walking, smiling and feeling very lucky to have got away with a mild bout of the virus that has derailed this year for all of us.
This was to be your third Christmas, and, at two and a half, your first when decorations, Christmas trees, presents and Father Christmas start to have some meaning. We’ve been telling you about our plans; spending Christmas day with our London family and then heading off to Norfolk to see Nana, Grandpops, Auntie Jess and her new kitten Jasper. You were excited, but also slightly daunted by the idea of Santa coming to town.
These plans didn’t play out and instead, the government delivered a tier 4 lockdown and Santa brought us a bout of Coronavirus to ensure we couldn’t leave the house. (you were right to be concerned about him!)
And the final nail in our 2020 coffin was the postponement of our wedding, planned as a small hurrah, to end the year on a positive note, we instead spent the day making toasted sandwiches with our new sandwich toaster and dancing to our wedding playlist in the kitchen.
It could have been worse!
Your ability to float above all the lumps and bumps, changes and cancellations has been a true blessing and enabled your dad and I to appreciate the joy in the moments, we’re not relentlessly positive all the time, but your smile helps a lot! From playing with giant bubbles in the garden to baking together, this confinement has been another precious time for the three of us to sit in each other’s company for a little longer than is usually comfortable.
But if this all sounds a bit too jolly, I’m afraid it probably is, along with the waves of tiredness I’m getting these waves of deep darkness, a sinking dread. I’m struggling to shake it. The yawning chasm of not really knowing what to do, how to help, what will make life better for you, for your cousins, for those I love. The reality of the virus too, we’ve managed to skirt around it for most of the year and now it’s come through the door, eaten our porridge, slept in our beds. Whose doorstep will it land on next, and will they be treated so lightly?
Sorry. I’m having a rare moment to myself which is when my resolve turns to jelly and the darkness leaks out.
I promise to hold my nerve.
New Years Resolutions – read more: books, poems, ideas, dreams
Sending love and wishing 2021 to be a kinder year for all.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
We spent New Years’ Eve wrapping Christmas presents for my daughter who has quarantined for fourteen days so she can come and visit us. I realized as we were wrapping that most of my presents are to keep her warm or safe. She lives alone and keeps sane partly by going for long walks in all weathers. I got her two hats, one pink, one red, so she’ll be visible. One is a balaclava helmet, good for those days that are so far below freezing that you don’t care what you look like as long as your skin is covered. Cleat spikes for her shoes so she can walk more safely on snow and ice. Hand and foot warmers, these miraculous modern inventions. You slip one in your sock or your glove and it radiates heat for several hours. And then a voucher to buy supplies, including a kitty condo, for the two kittens she is about to adopt. She sent a picture of one of them, a tabby boy, and I suddenly understood the calming joyous effects of looking at pictures of kittens and puppies, the internet’s most popular images by far.
Then we stumbled across a film profiling Peter Souza, President Obama’s official photographer. It was totally inspiring. He was with the president all the time, or almost all the time, and the photographs themselves are wonderful. Pleasing, illuminating. Interesting. Then we learn about his unlikely (for him) journey becoming a photographic activist, casting shade on Trump’s tweets by answering them with tweeted photos of President Obama revealing how a president could or should act. Photos revealing empathy, or attentiveness. Honesty. Commitment. The film was a great way to transition to a new year and the prospect of a competent administration in Washington.
While the last nine months have been horrifying, I am also struck by how so many of us have managed as well as we have. For those living alone, a crash course in becoming a hermit. For those living with other people, a crash course in intensive human relations. And we have managed this, sometimes with grace, sometimes calling on coping skills that perhaps we didn’t know we had. For me, as I’ve written here, the lesson of how important people are to me has been well and truly learned, and now I pick up the phone more easily, write an e mail, go for masked socially distanced walks, have the occasional zoom tea date. And I appreciate how much you fellow journal keepers have shared of yourselves, and how much wider my world has become through reading and writing this journal with all of you. I appreciate your stories, your humor, your rage, your analysis, and perhaps most of all the quirky wonderful ordinary details of your daily lives. Thank you everyone.
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
Well that was a very different New Year’s Eve. Usually we are down in Devon with Mary and Simon and a few close friends enjoying Simon’s delicious goose, my Christmas pudding and a summer pudding. Then a fun game - Ticket to Ride has taken over from Articulate for the last few years. Champagne at midnight and watching the fireworks through the window or outside if we feel inclined. This year, in Youlgrave, we had leftover stew and I was sewing more masks while Jeremy watched YouTube DIY videos on his phone… then I spoke to Mary on WhatsApp and realised what an effort they were making to enjoy the occasion. So out came Ticket to Ride Europe and Hotel Chocolat chocolate! We walked down into the village at midnight and only saw two very giggly girls to whom we could wish a Happy New Year. We could hear lots of fireworks rumbling in the distance – probably in Matlock.
Number 4 son and his Greek partner followed a Greek tradition of making a cake with a coin inside. The cake is cut into slices and each slice allotted to a family household. The household who gets the slice with the coin in will be the luckiest household in 2021. It turns out that Number 3 son and his wife will have a particularly lucky year. I think we all need a lucky coin this year.
We had a couple of lovely walks this week. One of my favourites was through the snowy fields to Over Haddon. The Lathkill Hotel there does delicious hot chocolate and very tasty meals. Sadly neither was available, so we trudged on. There was, though, a notice in the window wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and looking forward to seeing everyone in the New Year. That could be a while.
On the walk we encountered a dog’s lead, a fluffy white baby’s mitten, a blue bobble hat and a child’s pink glove with white hearts. It made me wonder how many thousands of unintentionally abandoned items are strewn across the footpaths of our country and how many of their owners retrace their steps to recover them.
There was a large group of very boisterous bullocks in one field. I always feel nervous with bullocks as many years ago our dog was attacked by some Charolais beasts and subsequently died of her injuries. Jeremy walked ahead with his stick and had a face-off and long conversation with one of them while I made it to the gate.
I try not to think too deeply about the situation we are in. There have been a few occasions in my life when I have felt overwhelmed by the realisation that I can’t go back and change things but can only carry on and get through it, even though I don’t know how it will end. Now I sometimes feel a kind of nausea deep inside and feel scared. Today I heard about my neighbour’s relative, in her fifties with no underlying health problems, who has died of Covid. Then there is the worrying issue of Long Covid. But I try to be a positive person with a ‘stop complaining and get on with it’ attitude. I know how lucky and privileged I am to live in a beautiful place and not have to worry about money. I feel I should be doing more to help those who aren’t so lucky. I am full of admiration for all the wonderful people who have thought of so many ways to help out – making PPE, providing meals, supporting those sheltering, raising money… I know that we will look back at this time and understand exactly how the situation should have been handled and how we could have saved many more lives. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We have to do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the moment.
I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021. We will get through this.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
55,892 daily tested positive cases
964 deaths today.
New Years Eve: 31st December 2020
I’ve no idea what day of the week it is. I’m in Salzburg at a ball with my distant cousins the Von Trapps.
The Brexit trade deal was done and the poor lorry drivers got home eventually.
The Oxford vaccine has been approved and they will start rolling it out next Monday. It’s marvellous news. What amazing clever women they are and all the dedicated people who worked on it and took part in the trials. Brave Astrazeneca taking a punt on it working and being approved. If it hadn’t they would have had to bin millions of pounds worth of dud vaccine.
The virus is going up at an alarming rate now and the mutant variant is spreading exponentially. Hospitals in London and the South East are reeling, queues of ambulances are treating patients outside and they are on the brink of being overwhelmed. The Nightingale hospitals are being cranked up but there don’t seem to be enough staff to run them. The doctors and nurses are already exhausted and hospitals at over capacity. Covid patients are being shipped out to hospitals miles away where there are spare intensive care beds. They havn’t even reached the Christmas mixing peak yet.
Huge rows about schools reopening or not and the lack of help with mass testing etc which was thrown on them before Christmas. The government u turn.
Jane Garvey leaves Woman’s Hour.
Norfolk was put in Tier 4 from Boxing Day night so the shop is shut now until who knows when. No visitors in your house or garden and you can meet one person for a walk in a public place. The rest of England is in Tier 3 or 4 as of today. Every pub is shut apart from takeaways. Politicians, doctors and nurses are pleading for people to respect the rules and not go out. You will have blood on your hands if you break the rules.
My mum had the first part of her vaccine yesterday which is a relief.
Christmas Day passed uneventfully. I cooked the turkey legs which my sister said would be disgusting and they were but Whitty and Earnie loved theirs. I had also bought a piece of roast beef which I couldn’t find so I nipped into the shop thinking I had left it there. I hadn’t.
My sister and mum face timed me when they were about to have their turkey and we had a drink together over the airwaves. My sister was imitating me shouting at the customers, “use the hand sanitiser”, “wear a mask”, “get out of my shop”. We got the giggles.
They said I sounded like a mad old lady re the roast beef which was confirmed half an hour later when I found it in the fridge! We (EP, Whitty and me) ate the roast beef on Boxing Day and it was delicious. I had also made a paleo trifle which really hit the spot. Not like real trifle but enough to stir trifle memory.
On Sunday my friend Carolyn and I went for a walk and then we opened our Christmas presents with coffee and cake on a deserted pub table at Blickling. I took her a mug of the weirdo trifle which she loved and the sun shone and we chatted until it got too cold, even her dog was shivering but it was nice. The new going out.
On Monday Lisa and I went for a walk with Earnie and her dog Luna and when we got back to our cars we had Christmas cake and coffee each sitting in our own car with the doors open. Obviously the future of social engagements.
Tuesday and Wednesday were occupied with cleaning and a smattering of Netflix. Bridgeton is wonderful.
Earlier today Lisa dropped off another part of my Christmas present on the doorstep. A beautiful candle and then Louisa, my client, brought me… wait for it, drum roll… a very pretty, pink and flowery boxed bottle of pink champagne. Aaah.
In 45 minutes time it is the 11pm Brexit deadline, the UK leaves the European Union as the transition period ends and chaos will begin I presume. I heard Micheal Gove putting a ridiculous spin on this the other day. So lame!
1st January 2020
613 deaths today
53,285 new cases
At 00.15am 01 01 21 I had a moment of panic as Earnie didn’t come in from the garden when I called him and on further investigation he was eating something and looking sheepish. I was worried that he had eaten a rat so rang the vet who advised I ring The Animal Poison Line. £45 after 8pm to speak to a vet. o card duly debited she said a dog of his weight would not be affected by the amount of poison in a dead rat so panic averted! Oh Earnie. Who knew there was such a service? I think he probably had just eaten his pig snout but couldn’t be sure and I would have worried for days imagining him bleeding to death. £45.00 for peace of mind.
I watched a bit of the New Year celebrations on the telly. Amazing synchronised drone display for a socially distanced Hogmanay in Edinburgh of a galloping stag. Never seen anything like it before. There’s a series of films of the lit drones on Instagram @edhogmonay looking like fireworks or a bird etc. Very clever.
Still farting about until about 3.30 and eventually turn the light out listening to the Newscast podcast just before 4.00am but then there’s the most dreadful violent bashing sound, a bit of muttering and more smashing. They are beating the shit out of something. Earnie and I both sit up wondering whether we are being broken into. I turn out the light again and stand on extremely unsuitable chairs peering out of the velux windows trying to work out what is going on and where the sound is coming from. Another emergency telephone call, 2nd in the first 4 hours of 2021?
No other lights come on so I ring 999. They come in 14 minutes. While on the phone the alarm goes off so I realise that the school has been broken into. The bashing stops and they leg it.
The police arrive, no sirens but they seem to be there for a while so I try and go to sleep. Still awake at about 5.20 when the phone rings and it’s the police. The school has been badly smashed up. The windows had been stoved in though I didn’t hear smashing glass.
I get up again and make some tea. It’s now 6.00 ish so go back to bed listening to the farming programme featuring the Archers as it is their 70th anniversary.
In the morning my friend in Switzerland, the one who has been seriously ill with an auto immune condition rings up. She and her son have got covid from a cousin who came for their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. She was talking to me on whats app video for quite a while when she said laughing in her loud French accent, Look, I’m talking to you from the toilet now at which point the police rang on the landline. So funny. I said I’d call her back.
The policewoman came round a few minutes later as she had been making house to house enquiries and was round the corner. She said a lot of damage was done to the poor little school. Earnie tried to retrieve her police notebook so I put him in the car before another crime was committed.
Later my neighbour came round for a coffee in the garden (don’t tell) and told me about the school. The village is shocked as nothing like that has happened here before. When Earnie and I went out for a walk we saw all the sad boarded up windows. What a horrible sight. Horrible people.
It doesn’t bode well for 2021 does it?
Wishing you all a very happy New Year and do stay safe.
Love Annabel and the klepto dog xxx
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
So, the new variant of the virus could turn out to be of South African origin, another claim to notoriety for this turbulent country. It’ll be interesting to find out why, if the variant really is from here, it has emerged, whether it has anything to do with the way the older variant of the virus seemed to gain relatively little traction among the population.
But the sudden rise in numbers of infections and deaths in the last few days is being attributed more to the problem of people disregarding the three mainstays of protection — masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing. A few days ago we went into a harder, level three, lockdown. Sales of booze have once again been stopped, there’s a longer night curfew and a lot gatherings, such as our ever ubiquitous funerals, have been restricted.
Last night Gracey, Masana and I saw in the New Year with sparklers, grilled marshmallows and iced coffee and juice. We waved to our neighbours, from our garden to their garden as they played loud, festive Sotho music.
At just before midnight they cut the volume and we could hear the crescendoing crackle and boom of fireworks near and far as 2021 approached, but could see nothing in the sky. Most years there are constant starbursts from the rockets that people fire off. But this year the sky was dark.
Today, everything’s back to abnormal. We like to think that the New Year really marks something different, though we all know that time is a continuum and our changes of year mere lines scored in the sand at the edge of the surf. The unreality of the change of year now feels more true than ever. The plague continues to level so many of things by which we recognise and mark off chunks of time.
Which was why this year Christmas was more special than ever, at least as far as my young ones were concerned, because it was something vivid, that involved doing something definite and enjoyable together over a number of days. Christmas, and even to some extent New Year, may have been muted — and for many people in many countries undoubtedly an ordeal — but in our small bubble it meant more than it ever has.
John Mole, St Albans
Strung up across the hall
a row of dancing cats,
each one a Puss in Boots
prepared for pantomime.
Alas, this year
will not be choosing one
to keep him company.
He won’t be setting out
to seek his fortune
on a London stage
so gloomily shut down
where even Gus the theatre cat
is looking for employment
as a mouser who I hear tell
was once a name up there in lights.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It’s the first day of 2021 and I’m looking out on a lawn dusted with a light frost. It’s a very chilly, grey morning. The dogs have been skidding across the grass and seem full of joy. There are lights on in the attic windows of the pink farmhouse that I can see from the kitchen window and I’m wondering if they’re packing away their decorations.
I really liked our quiet Christmas. To be honest, I preferred it to previous years. It didn’t feel so overwhelming - so overblown. I missed seeing people certainly - but pottering about at a leisurely pace was so good. On Christmas Day - we had a super lunch, a glass or two of something warming, a walk with the dogs down the muddy tracks and through the woods and then home for a snooze. Not very different from other years - just much less crowded, noisy and “full-on”. Not that our Christmases have ever been hugely busy. Never have been a wild child!
New Year’s Eve was the same. Quiet. Gentle. Sober. Saw Tom Jones on Jools Holland’s show, said our “Happy New Year”s... then “climbed the wooden horse to Bedfordshire”! When I was younger, I used to imagine that the rest of the world would be out “partying” all evening. Dancing the night away. Having fun. Trafalgar Square merry-making, cheering for the chimes at midnight. Once or twice, we even attended New Year’s parties, sang “Auld Lang Syne”, toasted the new year and danced in a circle of new and old friends, arms crossed and hopeful.
But that was years ago...
So what about hopes for this year? Resolutions? Ambitions? I guess since March a lot of us have already re-evaluated our lives. Many may have made major changes. Lots may be feeling exhausted, fatigued, disheartened. Are we any further forward? Will the vaccine help us to gradually resume the lives we led before? Will we be able to meet people again? Feel safe and secure? Reduce our social distancing? I do hope we can start again at some point not too far away. Oh to be liberated from masks, lockdowns, hand gel. Oh to be able to speak to people face-to-face, to shake hands or hug or just simply sit among people in a cafe...
Until then I must content myself with thoughts of spring and the re-greening of the world. Already I’m seeing new growth and promising bud... signs that better times are coming...
Sending all good wishes to you for 2021 x
From the South Downs
This week, I read an article that explored uncertainty as a form of stress. Apparently, people respond well to an actual crisis, but uncertainty plays havoc with our heads.
Christmas Plan 1: the government were allowing three households to mix for five days. And so our daughter Francesca, our son Ben and his girlfriend Valeria were to stay with us for the designated five days of Christmas. In anticipation, we were texting each other messages about how much we were looking forward to it, what food we’d eat, ideas for gifts and plans for walks.
Christmas Plan 2: on Saturday 19th December, Boris announced that London would go into Tier 4 and Francesca wouldn’t be able to come after all (he didn’t actually say that last bit, but parents create their own headlines). Household mixing would only be allowed for one day – thus putting Ben and Valeria’s visit from Norwich in jeopardy too – it’s too far to drive for one day only.
Christmas Plan 3: an hour after Boris’ speech, we wrapped Francesca’s gifts quickly and set off for London. We sat in the dark with her, by candlelight, socially distanced and chatting, outside her shared house in Peckham. At least she had presents for Christmas Day.
Christmas Plan 4: on the drive home – among the many cars leaving London before it entered Tier 4 – Stephen came up with the brilliant idea of renting our friend’s flat, just ten minutes from us. Ben and Valeria could still come for a few days and stay in the flat. As we were all in Tier 2, we could go for walks and meet in the garden. They could still stay locally till 27th December as per the original plan, even though they could only enter our house on Christmas Day.
Christmas Plan 5: on Wednesday 23rd December, Matt Hancock made his announcement that Sussex and Norfolk would go into Tier 4 at 00.01 am (a time I’ve rarely seen specified in print) on Boxing Day and that people shouldn’t be travelling. I was worried about doing the wrong thing, but we agreed in the end that Ben and Valeria should drive down on Christmas Eve, stay in the flat and that we would meet outside that day, although they would be allowed in on Christmas Day. I lost sleep over this as it was against the advice to ‘stay local’.
Actual Christmas: they arrived at about 1.30 pm on Christmas Eve. We had a soup in the icy garden, with the shed heated up to give them occasional respite. (We quarantined the shed for three days, which incidentally was deemed the best heated place Valeria had visited in the UK.) We went for a walk on Midhurst Common where the orange glow from the sun, going down over the Downs, lit the pine trees on Sunset Hill and the half moon above them. Ben and Valeria returned to the flat to warm up, while Stephen prepared the fire bowl in the garden. Later, we drank hot mulled cider by the fire, then ate vegetarian goulash and tarragon dumplings, somewhat smoked up by the wood fire. We watched the stars – Valeria has an app which identifies stars when you point the phone at them. We finished the evening fairly early with a walk round the empty town, where usually Francesca goes out for drinks on Christmas Eve, meets her old school friends and last year ended up dancing in a wine bar. This year, not a soul was about.
On Christmas Day, households could mix – so Ben and Valeria came in and had breakfast, the Christmas meal, presents, another beautiful walk – it was lovely. We zoomed with Francesca and saw her open her gifts. They drove back to Norwich before we all turned into Tier 4 residents at midnight.
Other people gave a variety of opinions about whether they could have stayed on a day or two and whether it was ridiculous of us to meet only outdoors on Christmas Eve and nearly freeze to death. We stuck to the rules – and currently, touch wood, none of us is ill.
Boxing Day: I was exhausted. We had a much luckier time than many though it was so sad to be without Francesca. And there were magical elements to being freezing cold in the garden with a strong inhalation of woodsmoke and the clouds moving so fast past the moon that the moon appeared to be flying off. I think it was the constant change of plans that wore me out. We were on the verge of ditching Christmas. I’m so glad we didn’t. And I don’t believe any of us spread Covid. We were very lucky but the changing goalposts still mess with one’s head, not that I blame anyone for changing them if it saves lives.
When will we three households meet again? The population is divided into nine groups for the jab – and our age-group is in low down group seven while our adult children’s age group isn’t even on the list. Will we have to wait till we older people are vaccinated? I hope not. I don’t foresee that happening before the summer (though since writing this, the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine has been improved and the plan has changed to first doses for everyone with second doses delayed - a controversial decision among scientists.)
Meanwhile, a welcome surprise – Ian McMillan chose my poem ‘Miracle’ to read on Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4, Sunday 27th December. The poem took about twenty years to get right and, at a reading (when those happened) my friend and fellow poet Dave Swann was surprised to hear that, saying, ‘It sounds as if you wrote it in five minutes’ – a comment I’ll try to take as a compliment or an example of sprezzatura! If other journalists would like to hear Miracle, it’s accessible on BBC Sounds, a few seconds of listening around seven minutes into the show - but then you’d miss a wonderful poem about swifts by Kathleen Jamie and Ian McMillan reading George Mackay Brown’s Hamnavoe Market which has one of the best last lines I’ve ever read - and later there is the amazing villanelle, One Art by Elizabeth Bishop - the art of losing has even greater poignancy this year.
This entry has been dogged by numbers: number of households, number of plans, number of people who can meet, number of groups for vaccination, deadlines, tiers, dates, minutes and seconds. Even One Art bears a number in its title. Every poem is about time in some way or other, and maybe everything is. The number of infections, the number of dead, the numbers in hospital are now shocking and make my own reflections on numbers seem trivial.
It’s 18.10 now on wet Bank Holiday Monday 28th December 2020, the meadows of Midhurst are flooded by Storm Bella, and I’m about to leave the shed to spend one hour forty minutes making and cooking a vegetarian Christmas pie planned for the vegetarians who either couldn’t come or couldn’t stay here long. Serves six but there will be only two of us for the time being. Plenty is a privilege, of course. However, everything above tells me how lucky we are when so many families will be mourning at the end of this sad year.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
As I start to write, the New Year is still not here, but this time tomorrow it will be. Just another day really, nothing more, because this idea of years with numbers is surely a human artefact. People I think find me a little odd, because I never have had much inclination towards marking dates, especially birthdays and New Years. Whilst I enjoy celebration, I don’t tend to initiate parties at such times. Others do it for me sometimes, and I’m grateful for that, but it isn’t something I do naturally. “It’s just another day” is my response to birthdays and New Years for the most part. There is no doubt that we are about to leave a year that has seen climactic, if not apocalyptic happenings for humankind. Tomorrow it seems really is just another day and the apocalypse will continue until it ends, and there is hope and we must bask in that I think. Believe it or not, I am at heart an optimist. There will be another day!
The Island has reached Tier 4 today, and thank goodness for that. With what is almost a lock down again at least we know something of where we are in this pandemic experience. Even with the new stricter rules there is room for differing interpretations. I’m amazed by my family and friends, many of whom seem to interpret the idea of support bubbles differently. Some see no problem with being in multiple bubbles - to my reading an impossibility. Others, like me and best beloved are pretty strict. How much does it really matter I wonder - I’m not going to shop anyone to the authorities. People are aware and trying to do what they can, so good for them.
Pier walks are back in. The FastCat ferry service is suspended, so all serene on that strange old cast iron structure. It really is nice to walk there and interesting wildlife may sometimes be encountered on the shoreline. Yesterday an oystercatcher was trying to feed, digging it’s long bill into the sand. Unfortunately it was being stalked by a hungry black headed gull. As soon as the poor oystercatcher got its meal, the gull struck, and stole the bounty. Eventually the oystercatcher flew off, presumably to find a robber free zone, which might be a difficult task on Ryde Sands.
Haven’t mentioned Christmas yet have I! It was good in this neck of the woods. Best beloved came over and I cooked a very basic turkey lunch. It was good fun and takeaways were put together for a neighbour and best beloved’s granddaughter.
I’m now going to post this to the marvellous Margaret, early for me. I really appreciate the journal and those who reside within. It’s all been down to the creative genius of Margaret and Sheila. Heartfelt thanks to them and good fortune everyone...
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Fires and feasts, jigsaws and dominoes, walks on the beach and the boxed Smiley Collection by John Le Carre which I have never read before. Wishing you all a quickly vaccinated new year. With love, Hilary
PS Jigsaws from Present Indicative... fiendish but fabulous... two down two to go! They are the most beautiful jigsaw puzzles we have ever done... beautifully packaged and post free!
David Horovitch, Twickenham
New Years Day
Christmas glows and crackles in my memory like an old log fire. Best Christmas ever we both said. All simple. Francis arrived in the early afternoon with some presents. I'd bought a fire pit which I lit on my courtyard so we sat outside drinking coffee and eating mince pies while the smell of the roasting goose, stuffed with its own liver, minced pork, onions, apple, grated potato, garlic, sage, mace and egg, wafted out through the kitchen window. When the time came Francis was in charge of roasting the potatoes in goose fat and I did some sprouts with flaked almonds and bacon. We drank a bottle of Malbec and afterwards there was home-made cheesecake, the opening of presents, Pat and Mike, my favourite Hepburn/Tracy film and a funny Australian box set which Francis had brought. Sue, my bubble support, came round the next day to help me finish off the food. I laid low for a couple of days and then went over to see my sister and brother in law in Alexander Palace. Observing the rules, I didn't go into the house and only walked with my sister and not my brother in law in the park. It was only the second time I'd seen them since last Christmas. Again it was wonderful; I didn't want it to end though it was all strangely exhausting.
Since then, with the alarming figures and prognostications, I have pulled up the drawbridge, cancelled a few walks with friends, placed an order for delivery with Waitrose, learned a couple of sonnets, planted an abutulon in a lovely pot, both pot and plant presents from my sister, read for hours and now intend to seriously isolate until things improve which, with my middle name being Jeremiah, I can't imagine will be any time soon. I'm scared and not just for myself.
When I can't sleep, I think of Clean, Sort, Tidy Lily lying awake in Camberwell. It comforts me to know there are others counting the moments before dawn. This journal reinforces the sense of solidarity I already feel when I think of the sufferings, the joys, the courage the decency, the sanity of my friends. The pandemic is unlike any of the other misfortunes and sorrows that have befallen me in that it is a universal experience and so self-pity is not an option. And yet - I'm struggling to express this thought - though it's tempting and somehow reassuring to think that our fortuitous resemblances are actual likenesses, I also feel as ever that we are all secrets from each other, that, though we find ourselves in the same play we are all playing different parts. As Tolstoy says - "Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' Not that any of us is unhappy all the time. But it's not been an easy or comfortable year for any of us. I've had my blessings though - my son, the sonnets, my friends and my fellow journalists.
Let's shed a tier
In the New Year,
with love, David xx