Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Covid toe, by Franklin Lewis Macrae


It is now the New Year. For Christmas, I received many nice things. My Christmas stocking was stuffed with choc and I got a pc case that I really wanted. I also got a Lego set and my sister bought me another Rubik's cube.  

We didn't see anyone because of the virus. Mum was tired in the afternoon so she stayed at home for a nap and dad took us out on our rollerblades. We had our Christmas dinner then relaxed by the fire with the tv and our books. It was peaceful. 

Dad cooked Mexican food for New Year's Eve and he made the best trifle ever. My mum and Marli went to bed but dad and I stayed up to watch The Mandalorians, part of the Star Wars story. We woke them both up at 23.45. Marli and I had hot chocolate and mum and dad had champagne. We all watched the fireworks together on the TV, they were awesome. Mum asked us what the best thing about 2020 was and we all agreed it was Saskia our cat coming to live with us.  


I also had to have a COVID test last week. I have a swollen toe and the doctors think it's a sign of COVID in children and young adults. Dad and I drove to a test centre. The test was horrible; I had to stick a swab stick up my nose and one down my throat. The test was negative but my toe is still swollen and painful. It's possible that toes and fingers swell weeks after having COVID. It's called Covid Toe. I've had no symptoms of the virus but it doesn't always show in my age group. Anyway, the start of term is delayed because school has to set up a testing centre and test us. My mum has volunteered to help at the school test centre, every morning. I will be learning at home on Microsoft Teams but Marli will be going to school.


Celebrations by Marli Rose Macrae


It was my birthday two weeks ago and I was ten. I got a tiny greenhouse but you have to build it yourself. I'm still building it, it takes a lot of patience. Franklin wanted to help but it's my present. I could tell he loved it and it is the type of thing he enjoys. I just need to wire it up now (it lights up!) but I need daddy's help with that part. I also got the sequel to Pippi Longstocking. My copy is signed by the illustrator, Lauren Child. I love her illustrations. In this sequel, Pippi's father returns so she's not an orphan after all. She has to make a choice though. She can return with her father to his land and become Princess of Koratutts or she can stay at Villa Villekulla. She chooses to stay. 


Christmas was only a few days after my birthday and I got lots and lots of books, which is what I wanted. Mummy and daddy bought me a Spirograph too but my favourite present was in my stocking, from Santa. It was a Little Red Riding Hood peg doll.


For New Year's Eve, daddy cooked and we watched TV for a bit before mum and I went to bed. Daddy and Franklin woke us up before midnight. We watched the fireworks on TV but we could hear them outside and Saskia was a bit nervous. The fireworks on TV were fantastic! They had so many wonderful colours and even fireworks of hearts and Sir Captain Tom!  


I am looking forward to going back to school on Monday and seeing my friends. There is no ballet or swimming again though because of COVID. Franklin is home learning for a few weeks and I am so glad that I will be at school.



Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

Christmas Eve turns out to be unexpectedly eventful. Large tracts of Norfolk are flooded by torrential rains. My niece has to abandon her car in the floods and her husband carries her to safety through waist-high water. Scary.
At 1 a.m. my doorbell rings. Initially I put my head out of window but I can’t see anything in the driving rain. As I go downstairs the bell starts to ring nonstop. This really wakes me up! Race to the door. No-one there. Rain has seeped inside the doorbell mechanics and set it on continuous ring. I wander into the kitchen to find that rain is coming in through the ceiling and flooding parts of the kitchen. Thinking of migrating to warmer climes when times are more certain.


Uncle, in his mid-nineties, develops a non-Covid infection and is taken into hospital. He is responding to treatment. The hospital does not allow visitors, but a nurse rings my aunt twice a day so my uncle can talk to her. Uncle is very confused and does not understand where he is. My aunt spends most of their calls telling him where he is and then repeats the same conversation during the next telephone call.  


Dressed-down Christmas is relaxing. When I see her, Barbara tells me she has also had a pleasant Christmas. This is good news. Without wishing to understate events, this year has been difficult for her. I’ve managed to sneak in an extra visit this week. Foolishly, I video my sister so she can say hello to Barbara. Neither can hear each other so I have to write on the wipe-board for both of them whilst trying to balance my mobile up to the pod screen. “What’s she done to her hair?” asks Barbara.Sister says, “It was easier to grow it as we couldn’t get to the hairdressers”.  “It makes her look old.” I don’t pass this message on. It was a short video-call. 


This week has seen two contrasting pieces of news: the approval of the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca with its accompanying promise of mass immunisation starting soon; and a rise of coronavirus deaths to levels not seen since April. NHS services in many parts of the UK are at crisis point. Essex NHS declares an emergency and asks for the military to create additional hospital capacity. Government moves more of England onto Tier 4 and delays the opening of secondary schools in January. When I go to visit Barbara, it is disturbing to see a steady stream of cars driving to and from the local Covid-testing centre.  


Boris changes metaphors this week. After a year of looking, someone rummages in the freezer and finds his oven-ready Brexit meal-deal. It is passed into law with 24 hours to spare. Boris starts to wax lyrical about having our cake and eating it. He comes up with a new word “cakeist”. Don’t think it will catch on. Perhaps I can remind him of another adage: pride coming before a fall. It may emerge that they have reheated some flavourless repast left over after it was rejected by Theresa May. But, it’s a deal and I am hoping it’s better than nothing at all. Why, oh why, are we doing this mad thing? 


The media is full of the usual end-of-year look backs. For now, I find myself unable to do much by way of serious reflection. Where does one start? Maybe that’s what happens in times of disaster? On a personal level, this year could never be more life-altering than 2019 when R died. Even so there were times when 2020 tried damn hard. Any considered thoughts may need to wait until we have moved forward from the pandemic. And started to adjust to no longer being part of the EU. At the moment, it feels as if so much has been lost. 


A timely message pops up on my mobile: “I’m staying up on New Year’s Eve this year. Not to see the New Year in but to make sure this one leaves.” I’ll second that.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

Our Flight into Bristol

We originally planned to return to Bristol early in the new year for about a month. Later in January I am doing an online weaving course and most of the materials I need for it are in Bristol. But fearing a total, countrywide, lockdown which could keep us in Bristol for months, we made a sudden decision to do a quick twenty four hour visit instead. So, on Monday, after breakfast, we just packed a few overnight things and left. We planned to pick up and pack what I needed and drive back the next day.


I like change; generally it energises me and I was quite excited to be off somewhere. We packed a picnic of Christmas leftovers for the road. But this trip was the complete opposite of energising. Everything was so alien at the flat. Even from the outside things were different. The front door of the house was yellow. It was red when I left. I had agreed to this change last year but just the same was surprised to see it.


Inside, the flat was terribly cold. The temperature never rise above 15 degrees and we stayed in our coats until midnight. In addition there was some work done in the flat last month supervised by my neighbour. She hadn’t understood that we planned to return so soon and we found the work unfinished - floorboards were up that required us to jump or hop from the hallway to the the kitchen and sitting room. I love my flat but I longed to get back to Devon. 


We did have a chuckle on the road however. As we drove from Devon on Monday the highway signs signalled “Tier 2 - Stay Local” and then as we passed Taunton “Tier 3 - Stay Local”. But soon after a third sign, “ At the Border - Have your Documents Ready”. I had a moment of panic - what documents? before I realised the latter sign was directed at hauliers and related not to the pandemic but to Brexit.


From S Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

It has been a subdued festive season - not only for the obvious reason, but also because Smokey (Our Feline in St Just) died shortly before Christmas, a couple of days after her 18th birthday. She came to me 13 years ago after a tricky start in life when she was used to breed from and abandoned when she caught cat flu; she was rescued by a friend of a friend, who then had to go into sheltered accommodation where pets were thought to be a health hazard, and within the space of 24 hours I went from not knowing of Smokey's existence to driving her home in a borrowed cat basket. She has been an entirely wonderful companion - affectionate, imperious, given to falling out of windows and wonderfully incompetent as a hunter: in our whole time together she caught only one bird - a young starling that literally flew into her mouth, and which she promptly let go. It turned out she had a tremendous will to live, waking up with a great purr even in the last few months when she really wasn't at all well, and purring softly even as I stroked her while we waited to go in to the vet, when she was too weak to eat and couldn't stand. She moved with me from Bristol to Chipping Norton and from Chipping Norton to Banbury, as well as travelling back and forth with me between Oxfordshire and St Just - and, in pre-Covid times, between Oxfordshire and Norfolk. It's dawning on me only very slowly that she isn't coming back, and I miss her horribly.


It seems strange that the beginning of Covid and the end of the year were both marked by deaths that had nothing to do with it - my friend Paul's in March, and Smokey's now; because I've been lucky, in Covid terms, and don't know anyone badly affected by it, it seems likely I'll remember the year primarily for those unrelated deaths, with Covid and anti-Covid measures as a tedious, sapping, sometimes alarming but mostly just desperately dull backdrop, illuminated by flashes of rage at the government. I wish I could think that the deaths were the terrible bookends to a grim 9 months, the way an utterly disastrous period of my life a decade or so ago was bookended by a pair of head-on car crashes. But it doesn't feel as if this is anywhere near over, & I've none of the bizarre sense of relief that followed the second crash, when in the teeth of all the evidence I was convinced (rightly, as it turned out) that that particular period of horror was done with. Smokey was with me that day, and I'm also fairly convinced that she lent me one of her lives - it still seems implausible that I came out with just cuts, bruises and concussion, and that she came out with no damage at all, and was only rather annoyed that she was fished out of the remaining half of the car just as she discovered that the straps on her basket had burst and that she was free to explore.


Clearly none of this is to do with Covid or lockdown... In other news, though, there is no news; I've been avoiding most of what's broadcast and all of my work emails - but on Monday no doubt we'll start discussing how to manage a new term under new restrictions, and I'll get a sense of whether I'll be going back to Oxford to teach in person, or whether it will all be remote and I'll once again prove to be locked down in St Just by accident rather than design. If so, that will be exactly where we came in - but without Smokey.


Clean, sort, tidy

Lily, Camberwell, London

Friday 25 Dec

I couldn’t sleep properly again this morning. Usually I can find something to listen to (a podcast or a radio 4 drama) that holds my attention enough to stop me thinking while also not being too attention grabbing to not lull me to sleep, but not today. It’s not early (8:30) but I got up to have a coffee on my own before anyone notices I’m up and the day starts. 

The cat is sitting in front of me on the kitchen table (shhhh it’s our secret). I can hear the heating clanking as it moves into the house. There is a pigeon on the ivy that grows on the wall at the back of our garden and the cat chirrups at it. But it is quiet. 

The sky is blue. Pale blue. And the clouds are moving fast. When the boys were much smaller and we were at mum’s in the country for Christmas we were awake early and went out into the garden. An aeroplane was kind enough to leave a trail that allowed us to imagine we had just seen Father Christmas fly by. 

I had not expected to hear a plane this morning but the rumble just now has demonstrated there are still flights even on Christmas morning, Tier 4, 2020. 


And now I hear sirens. Briefly. 


Our street did come out to sing carols together last night for Christmas Eve. Or murmur. I could suggest that no one wanted to sing too heartily in case we created a hurricane of virus swirling between us. But we were just being English and middle class and no one is familiar enough to carols to feel confident after the first verse. 

Husband and I got giggles throughout as I failed to find a note or he exaggerated a trill or the meanings of the lyrics became absurd. 

It was good to be amongst people. It’s a street in London I chose to live on through instinct and chance and what felt like some kind of alignment 20 years ago. And it’s a good street, in a good set of streets. Full of a very good mix of people. 



My sister forgot to bring the “best cranberry sauce ever”. So we have jumped in the car to fetch it from Brixton.

There are a few cars about. Lots of people walking in the cool Christmas Day sunshine. Everyone is wearing the same duvet coats. We spotted 3 police cars. It’s all relaxed and calm and perhaps not quiet as Christmassy as it should be. 

As ever Christmas day was filled with the flurry of cooking lunch, swapping dishes between ovens to get things cooked and kept warm. But it was easier to do than last year, experience coming with practice. 

It was weird to see Mum. Although we speak everyday I had not seen her for several weeks. I think she was glad to be with us – she had after all insisted – and it would have felt like the wrong decision to leave her on her own for the day, it would have upset her a lot. Since we and my sister had barely been out or mingled with anyone (Christmas Eve and walks in parks being the exceptions) it felt like a reasonable risk. Although I felt bad for letting the bigger team down, as so many others did not meet up as families.

1st January 2021

I feel like I have mostly been cleaning and tidying since Christmas Day. How can 1 day create so much untidy? I have the kitchen worktop clean and bare then I leave the room, come back and there are crumbs, and marks and stuff there again. The usual satisfaction of getting a job done is lacking. 

Last night there were random fireworks from about 7pm. They increased through the evening to build inevitably to a crescendo at 12. 

We opened the curtains to see the sparks flare over the rooves. There were a couple of people out in their pyjamas also searching for the best view of the fireworks. A man came peddling lonely on a bike, past the pyjamas. I wondered if they would greet each other. Sadly no. 

We let the boys stay up to watch a film with us, to give the evening some highlight. 

Although we have not been out for New Year’s Eve for years, Husband wanted to go out, just because he couldn’t. If he could go out, he wouldn’t be bothered.

We had run out of food yesterday so I, like probably everyone else, ventured out to the shops. I went into Sainsbury’s carpark and turned around again. There was a queue of cold looking people straggling half way into the car park. 

I carried on to the gentrified but useful high street. Queues into Marks and Spencer’s but not the independent deli/grocer/wholefood shop, where I was able to replenish our vegetables. There was a queue once I left. Smug.


In comparison to the spring, people are not so afraid of each other. They don't give each other a wide birth any more, shuffling back-to-back in shopping aisles. But face masks are everywhere. 

I was in a Camberwell shop at the start of the week (to send back a coat that is far too big for eldest son). Customers were limited to 2 at a time. So, there was a small group of people outside the shop. One man did not have a mask so was politely asked to wear one if he wanted to come in. He said he was exempt. And became aggressive quickly. Claiming he had the law on his side. He also pulled out the social media card. “I have 2500 followers and now they are going see what you are like and they are not going to come to your shop.” 

I think there is always anger, or aggression or frustration and everything that is associated with Covid 19 is the post they can be tied to at the moment. It's also the post to tie friendly moments of connection to too.


We have been out for walks, to stretch our legs. And as before the parks are busy. On Tuesday I had to stretch my legs a little further and little faster than I can with the boys. So, it was time for another walk onto central London, on my own. From Blackfriars I went west along Fleet Street, Strand, Aldwych, Trafalgar Square, St James, Piccadilly, New Bond Street, Berkley Square and home via Green Park and Victoria. Shops were closed, but cafes were open for takeaways. And, of course, Fortnum and Masons was open. And busy. Most people were out to find something seasonal to enjoy. The shop windows and street lights are pretty, especially in New Bond street. Where especially glossy groups were taking photos of themselves with sparkly backdrops. 


Now a week after Christmas we will steadily build up to going back to normal – children home for online learning (we know not for how long) and juggling them with work.


Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

I just read in the Guardian that University College Hospital in London has warned that because of the surge in cases, they are looking at converting all available space into ICUs and may be faced with taking only seriously ill Covid patients.  


I've got a soft spot for UCH. I worked right across the street from the hospital at the UC library bindery for several years and then my older daughter was born there. I remember the conditions were fairly basic - there were quite a few of us mothers all lined up in a large ward, with a table in the middle of the room where we had our meals - but it had a really nice communal and convivial feeling. You could have your baby with you all the time if you wanted, or they could sleep in the nursery. It was great because you could pick up tips on how to hold and feed your baby from some of the other more experienced (and more relaxed) mothers. I also remember the old, very deep bathtubs that were quite hard to get in and out of.

Poor old UCH and all the people that work there. I gather other hospitals are experiencing the same challenges. And if this is happening all over, what about all the other people who need treatment and operations? I can only begin to imagine the stress doctors are under in this situation, having to put a case for prioritising THEIR patients' urgent need for treatment before all others, let alone the feelings of patients who are waiting for a hospital bed and medical staff who aren't sick or burnt out.


Having daughters working in hospitals in the UK and US makes this all close to home. One hasn't yet been vaccinated, the other has only just got the first jab.


I am fighting anxiety for my daughters' well being AND corrosive anger at Trump and Johnson for their narcissism, ineptitude and reckless disregard for human life. What a combination. I'm sorry to bring such glum feelings to the journal.


Still, a bright spot of sunflowers!  And may 2021 bring everyone health and happiness.



Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

This morning, on my usual radio station, the 8h30 journalist, a superficial talkative man I don't very much appreciate - in the category covidiot, he refuses to wear a mask - went on and on about all the possible miseries of this year 2020 as it comes to a close. 


I decided to wake up to all the good things that the year brought to me. 


Number one: a new life added to our family, baby Flora was born on the 24th of July, 5-months-old now. That's the wonderful main news of the year for us. If I had just one good thing to choose, that would be my choice.


For the others positive aspects (after all it was not the worse year of my life by a long way): 


  •  just being alive and taking more pleasure in what we have and what we do. 

  •  two unexpected free months locked at home - free of income too, no serious damage, just a challenge. It was the first time I was away so long from medicine since I left school.

  • discovering Opera, many thanks to the Metropolitan Opera New-York (and some to Glyndebourne too). I have seen 95 different operas. It gave me a great pleasure, better understanding of music and composition, and a regular schedule every morning for two months. The most memorable one will be L'Amour de Loin, spectacular economy of settings and scenario, still in my head 8 months later. 

  • the creation of Sheila and Margaret: Plague20 journal. It gave us the opportunity to build an international community. For me, maybe for some of you, learning to write regularly, going on weekly explorations. Spending half a day writing and then one hour with Rob to make some repairs - he is my private creative writing teacher. Regular writing gave me some ideas, let's see where it will take me to.

  • decision to ask for my pension in case the government decides a new lockdown in 2021, to avoid digging more in our savings. I can hardly believe that somebody is going to give me money to do no work at all. Having started to work when 3 or 4 years old, in my grandmother's village shop, it is not my way to get money for doing nothing.  

  • the pleasure of living in our house together with Rob. I used to leave home to go to work at a quarter past seven and come back twelve hours later.

  • the beautiful unforgettable driving experience through the Sologne - forest and villages for 40 km - and 20 km along the river Loire, going to work during the first week of lockdown in March. I was practically alone on the road. All the vibrations of spring, lively trees, flowers, and animals. A little idea of what wild life would be here with just a few human beings.

  • Brexit divorce done. We continentals will no longer be made to feel somehow guilty, and we hope that the insults and bad behavior from over the water will now be at an end (at least with regard to ourselves, now the English only have themselves to quarrel with). France, it seems, will get a new immigrant "citoyen", Boris's Dad, trust him to hedges his bets. The real job starts now, Prime Minister. God save the Queen and help us all. The Europeans anglophiles were made to feel responsible for the drifting away of UK. Qu'est qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu? What have we done, Good God? The feeling of having done something really bad since 1973, so awful that UK needed to " take back control". Now, we feel it's no more our "responsibility". Maintenant je m'en fous - now I don't mind (this is not true of the English in the EU, who feel comprehensibly betrayed, forgotten and locked into exile, there was a continuity which has now been broken).

  • I have started to cook regularly: soups, French pancakes and desserts. That is just the beginning, ambition growing. The restaurants being closed, I will get more active and skilled. Rob is happy not to be the only one in charge of the food supply.

  • more time to read books. Discovering all the books I accumulated over three decades, the joy of discovering new fields of knowledge. Life will be too short to read them all, but at least a few will be read. 

  • more time to listen to music. Discovering all the CD's we have. Listening the podcasts of Christian Merlin on France Musique - he knows everything about music, orchestra, musicians and has an absolute talent for teaching it. This man can make a fabulous one-hour broadcast about somebody like, say, the second violin of the Cincinnati Orchestra in 1980 or the flute player in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam. 

  • more time to consider projects for my time in retirement.

  • at 9 pm, on the last day of 2020, I accomplished one of my lifelong dreams : going to Leipzig, to St Thomas Church where JS Bach is buried, to listen to the Christmas Oratorio. It was online, but that does not matter. I discovered it just before supper on Arte Concert Classique (which delayed supper), after watching live the Berliner Philharmoniker New Year concert - a friend gave me the link. I feel so so lucky.


As you see, not a bad year for me. Only the pain of not seeing our children, Flora and friends. Almost in the category of the good years, two months without thinking about breast cancer. The last hours, spent in Leipzig, made me so full of joy. Nobody killed by the virus among loved ones.


The year I needed to unwind from work's pressure and to let go all kind of unnecessary opinions and sort out my beliefs. 


The COVID-19 took us by surprise. A lot of people, young and old, had aspirations for a change, it's there for us. We should be able to do something different with our lives, and we will have to do it, so let us put our hearts into it. 


All my best wishes for 2021 to all of you. 


Virtual hugs and kisses to you all - Rob says that in France the less you know each other the more you kiss, and when you get married, you stop doing it at all - not 100% true.

Photos: 2 post cards printed by a local artist I like, one for the New year 2020 and the other for the end of this year. 

1) "Happy New Year 2020", in French the word 20 (vingt) is pronounce like wine (vin). 

2) "I survived 2020, the messed-up year". There is another play on words here also, too complicated to explain. 

3) Flora at Christmas wearing Rob's baby smock dress made by his mother in 1947.



Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

The long week - xmas eve to New Year.


As at teatime Boxing Day, Manston Airport is cleared of trucks and closed, and the 1600 backlog balance on the motorway and other approaches to Dover will be cleared soon. An odd thing, redolent of Urban Myth and Misinformation: it was reported that there were 10,000 trucks when now the most commonly accepted figure is 6400. That only 3.6% of driver tests are returning positive (possible, drivers are largely solitary animals) indicating when false positives are taken into account, infection is negligible. If true, the whole sorry exercise at the behest of France is/was pointless...


Things here in newly assigned Tier4 Norfolk are tricky, to say the least: we’ve bumped along happily, infection sub 100 per 100,000 for a while, and suddenly the average is 260 and Norwich has peaked at 390. 

There are daily reports of the NHS creaking under the load of new infections (staggering figure of 53,000, Tuesday/24hrs) and consequent hospitalisation. There’s a News shot of 21 ambulances queuing to deliver patients and streams of exhausted staff are interviewed. Transfers out of London hospitals to anywhere in country with spare capacity begins. By common consent, you ain’t seen nothing yet.


Oddly, at a time London Hospitals are full/filling, we see pics of the London Nightingale empty. Empty not only of patients - it’s been decommissioned, completely stripped of all equipment. 


There’s a call to delay proposed phased return to schools next week and the associated testing. The Best Brains have come up with a plan that kids can test themselves under the supervision of the Army, and have drafted in 1500 ‘qualified’ Squaddies to do that. The fact that there are 3500 schools seems to have been overlooked. Chaos looms. Poking it’s snout through the tangle is a change in policy: London primary schools are to remain shut for a couple of weeks.


Midweek finds Minister Hancock addressing the Nation - and plunging most of it not already there into Tier4, another 20,000,000 of us.

On the considerable upside, the ‘Oxford’ vaccine gets approval for use, allowing him to sweeten the medicine. Then a PR glitch: the four regional Medical Officers - Atherton, McBride, Smith and our very own Whitty tell the Immunisers that they should cancel all the follow-up, 21 day, second doses of vaccine promised to the first cohort. By  knocking them off the list, the reasoning goes, we’ll get through the list quicker, giving a degree of protection to more. The GP’s and others given the thankless task of cancelling these second visits aren’t at all happy. Since there’s no shortage of vaccine, it must be vaccinators in short supply - Hancock didn’t want to tell us that.


Deadline day, New Year’s day, bright, sunny, and though all of the above applies - having proved to be reality, not a bad dream - it’s difficult to be downhearted.

One other thing for the record, and a big’un: this week sees ongoing feverishness re Brexit, The Deal having been done just after last week’s Journal hit the streets.

11pm NYE sees us slip out of the union, this morning shows a trickle of trucks moving happily onto the ferries and away into The Continent and matching ones trickling in to the UK. France still insists inbound drivers have confirmation of a negative test with them.


See you in The Brave New World. Take care. Wear a mask - it keeps you warm.


Then and Now

Then and Now - Peter Scupham

The Flying Bomb


Christmas, as was customary in my childhood, was Christmas in the big Victorian house of my maternal grandparents in Lincolnshire. In 1944 I was eleven years old, and in my small bedroom, window-barred so that my much younger self couldn’t fall out, I waited in fitful sleep for the moment when I could drag my knobbly end-of-the-bed pillowcase to join my sister for present giving in the next bedroom, where a popping gas fire would be lit under the picture of the fisher-girl and my parents would gaze at us sleepily from their double bed. But those old war-horse reindeer, Donner und Blitzen had other ideas. V1 ‘doodlebugs’, known in German as Vergeltungswaffen, reprisal weapons, were familiar to us, but unknown in the wastes of rural Lincolnshire. There we were, in our enchanted fastness, while General Patton was telling his troops that Christmas Day would be a good day for killing Germans and the Ardennes campaign was reaching its bloody climax. And, as a piece of pointless idiocy 45 Doodlebugs were launched off the Yorkshire coast from beneath Heinkel He111 bombers flying over the North Sea. The bombers released the V1s aimed at Manchester, then turned back to base. The launch was from the Yorkshire coast, but also the Lincolnshire coast, off Mablethorpe. (We were in Market Rasen, almost on a straight line from Mablethorpe to Manchester !) We happened to be in a virtual direct line from the coast to Manchester, so I woke to a wild banging, popping and spluttering. I was used to the throb of Lanacasters, but this was a novelty. So, rubbing the sleepymen from my eyes, I lit a candled nightlight on the landing and stumbled to the back staircase, a steep affair, doored into the kitchen at the bottom. Down this staircase my mother, in about 1915, had pitched herself from top to bottom and broken her nose. I remember running my fingers over the fracture and mend. Like mother, like son. I tripped on the top step, flung the lit night-light against the wall, and in darkness and a strong smell of paraffin I tumbled downstairs to join the tumult overhead, bursting the kitchen door open, where Evelyn, the maid and Stan, her husband, gazed with open eyes and stary hair as if their end had come. I think some three of the bombs landed in Lincolnshire, some hens suffered in Lancashire — and 42 people were killed in this most meaningless of gestures. Funnily enough, I can’t remember what happened next, but here is the poem that goes with all this black fun-and-games.


Falling Downstairs


Falling downstairs, further, and still falling,

I passed the good dreams hunting for the light,

but the house was black dust in my staring fingers

and the bad dreams tumbled with me into the night

as the raid went head-over-heels down the snuffed chimneys.


Dragging their sacks of sound into the Midlands,

the Flying Bombs growled over their blazing tails;

I came to grief where the treaders followed the risers,

and things were as soft as rot and as hard as nails.

The floor boards walked in their sleep and groaned for comfort.


Falling downstairs, further, and still falling,

I bounced the candle-flame off the stinking wick;

the yellow lamp-glass ducked its head in a corner,

the dropped light played its simple vanishing trick

and switched the darkness on like a witch’s lantern.


Then the dreams got lost in the dark and punched each other,

and the chuckle-headed bombs were having a war,

busy becoming murder and fireside stories.

I hit the bottom rung; love cracked the door

and hauled me through by the hands to the Christmas kitchen.


Falling downstairs, further, and still falling,

I clutch at the lost faces, but in my ear

a throat of shining sound is singing for morning,

rubbing it up like Aladdin’s lamp: All Clear.

And the sheets frozen to ghosts in an empty bedroom.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

New Year’s Day 2021

New Year greetings to you all! May it be a year which sees the world emerge from this pandemic tunnel. 


Here in Norfolk we had a sudden severe frost yesterday morning and I kicked myself for not mulching over the dahlias. I’d better buy a lot of new tubers to fill in the gaps created by sudden death of dahlias. New Year’s Eve was incredibly cold. We don’t have central heating, and we remember in the warmth of last summer saying we must improve the heating somehow for the winter. More storage heaters. We didn’t do anything. We failed to prepare properly for the inevitable.

It seems to me that the government has behaved in a similar fashion: failing to prepare for another winter lockdown, failing to realise that the vaccine needs the manufacture of more phials, failure to train people up as vaccinators, failing to find more space for schools etc etc. Always last minute bodging. Perhaps that’s what we as a nation are best at, most comfortable with. Peter and I put on more layers and coats.


At the beginning of this pandemic in March, we were shown how to wash our hands.

But no real demos on social distancing or mask wearing. Surely some simple education on this would be good. Perhaps schools do it? On the screen, or when I occasionally go out, I see so many wearing masks under their noses, so many rubbing their faces, so many with no idea what 2 metres is, so many refusing to dodge out of the way of each other, and keep a polite sensible distance, that I feel the ex-teacher stirring within me, and I want to create a mask and social distancing workshop for the whole world. It could be fun, entertaining. No good for all the deniers, non-mask wearers jostling along, but for ordinary and sensible people who just have very little body awareness / personal space awareness, who stand feet wide apart, unable therefore to move quickly and neatly. Lily, is this something you could encompass in your work?!

Or Ellie? Or Sophie?

It’s good to welcome a new voice to the journal this week, Jane Stebbing, who is morphing from reader to writer. All you readers out there, pick up your pens, or your iPads or laptops.


And all of you, keep safe, warm and well. And hopeful.

I’m now going to order my dahlia tubers for the summer... and perhaps another storage heater?