Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

On Monday, I celebrated my second lockdown birthday - my 75th. Restrictions were lifted so we might have been able to host one person in the garden but Simon needed to isolate prior to day surgery on Thursday. So it might have been a quiet birthday but it was anything but. We enjoyed a strangely delightful succession of events over several days: calls on zoom, FaceTime and Whatsapp; deliveries from the post man, the Amazon driver and a socially distanced knock on the door from Jill.


Despite the restrictions of lockdown and my inability to host a party, I felt so cherished. 


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

The Matriarch is now back in her own home where the first thing she did was take down the Christmas decorations she had put up just before she left for Norfolk! Then, the weather being so wonderful, she spent two days outside ‘rescuing’... and she is to have her second AZ jab at Liverpool Football Ground! Just a phone call quoting the reference on the little card we were given at Wells after jab number one... and it’s all booked!


Other news? I read and critiqued a novel for a friend before he sends it off to his publisher. I wrote a poem and entered it into Peter’s latest competition. I have almost finished Perec’s ‘Life: A User’s Guide’ which has been astonishing. (Some of it I confess to skimming but the main story of Bartlebooth and his jigsaws is remarkable and prescient!) I tuned into the AGM of the English Ceramic Circle on Zoom and was delighted to learn more about the programme of lectures being made available on Zoom. Finally, I took enormous pleasure in the sunshine marvelling at sheets on the washing line and enjoying the return of our two person teapot having put the larger one away for the time being.


Wishing you all a very happy Easter!


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

Spring has arrived with temporarily high temperatures and sunshine, there is plenty to do in the garden. I took part in some webinars about motivating in online lessons and including movement. 


Apart from the usual business, I wrote to several friends, who cannot celebrate their birthdays. Well, normally we also join some friends in their garden for an Easter fire, which is once again strictly limited to one household. However, even after many months of working from home and not meeting many other people, my husband and I still get on well with each other, luckily.


I got a motivating Easter message from my employer, attached was a seed band for the garden. If I am lucky, some poppies, zinnias and cosmoses will grow soon.


I wish everyone a happy Easter!



View from the top of the hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

Here we are at Easter, how lovely to see the sunshine and daffodils and to have the lighter evenings! The hens' production has picked up and we're now getting three or four eggs a day. It's lovely to see them parading along in front of the house on a sunny day. The rule of six has returned and we are planning to take some Easter eggs over to my daughter's for the boys, so I'm quite excited.


Our week has been quiet, the main events all seem to have been about shopping. On Tuesday afternoon we were told that the lane through the caravan site was going to be closed for resurfacing on Wednesday morning, which was unfortunately just when our Sainsbury's delivery was due. Richard phoned Sainsbury's to try and change the time, or at least get them to tell the driver to phone us so we could arrange to collect the shopping from his van but the person on the phone was in a call centre in Glasgow or somewhere and was unable to offer any flexibility. She said the van driver was not allowed under any circumstances to deliver the shopping to anywhere other than our address and there were no other delivery slots available for a week. The discussion became heated and she hung up when Richard mentioned we might change to Asda! 


Happily, someone from the caravan site came up later and offered to help. He thought they would have finished the work in time for the van to get to us and would phone us when it arrived. If the van couldn't get along the lane he would help to carry the shopping along the grass verge to our car. Faith in human nature restored, we awaited the delivery and all went well. The driver said he would have phoned us if there was a problem but the work had finished. He was very chatty about how much he loves his job and went off to park up and enjoy the view while he ate his lunch. The new tarmac is a great improvement on the potholes, although it only covers a stretch of about twenty yards.


Also on Tuesday I took some post down to the Post Office and found a white van blocking the entrance to the car park, which caused an obstruction so that it was impossible to see if another vehicle was coming out as I turned in. I've seen that van there before so I thought, should I say anything? Well, of course I did. I intercepted the driver on his way back to the van and suggested he should perhaps park somewhere else as he might cause an accident and his rather arrogant reply was “I've lived here for 48 years and I'll park where I like”. My parting shot was “you'll know then that it's a yellow line.” So I was a bit on edge when I went into the shop and decided to just drop off my post and go home, rather than shop for Easter eggs. There was a huge display of them all down one wall, so plenty of choice.


However, when I returned on Thursday the display had gone. There were only six large eggs left, three of them had almonds in, and the only one with chocolate buttons in was broken. I bought the other two at great expense in spite of the unwanted Crunchie bars and went to look for a bottle of wine. The drinks aisle was practically empty. A forlorn assistant was shuffling bottles around to try and make the shelves look less bare. He told me they had restocked the day before but they had been inundated for the last twenty-four hours and most of the beer and wine was gone. We then had a great natter about all the silly people crowding onto beaches and into parks this week, which has been on the news. He had a great story about someone in a traffic jam, on seeing the people in the car in front throwing litter out of their window, got out and picked it up and threw it back into their car. We had a good laugh, but then I thought you would have to be careful as these days you could be knifed for doing something like that. In fact I would think twice about tackling the white van man again just in case. Once upon a time young people were deferential to their elders and would take notice of what they said, but sadly things ain't what they used to be and the carefree youth of today will happily leave their litter in beauty spots because “someone will pick it up”. They have been taught to think that they are above doing menial tasks and therefore someone else should clean up after them.


Probably best not to venture out too much over the weekend. I think the entire country will be blind drunk, or everyone in Pateley Bridge at any rate.


Happy Easter everyone!


Tropical thoughts Part 2

Paul Lowden, Malaysia



Prominent dividers or bluff conjoiners

A matter of perspective. For some

An end-point, a granite finale, the destination

Sought over aching limbs and back-packed

Lives. For others it is where it all begins

The splendid adventure. How strange

A geographic spot should mean so much.

The historian unfolds his map and points 

To distant hills, strategic wrinkles, landscaped

Battle lines; the mariner peers at the chart,

Glances anxiously at tidal races and calculates

Distance off; the lover sees the sun kiss the horizon

Better than anyone else in the world; the farmer just

Knows crops grow better on t’other side; the vicar

Recognises God’s beauty here where solitude

Communes with faith; the naturalist

Scours the skies for birds blown by, admires the flora

And jots a note in the leather backed diary. 

The sky unrestrained seems bigger here, even the ocean expands

To fill the view. So you sit, or stand, or lie

Drawn together, separately 

Contemplating simplicity.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Today is Good Friday, and for Christians perhaps a fascinating interlude in which to examine so many emotional responses to things that just happen to us, and also around us. No, I'm not really going back into my old role as preacher and priest, but I suspect a story of complete disaster and desolation can at this time speak to people regardless of faith, or non-faith.


In the story, the disciples clearly felt betrayed. The person they had given their lives for had, after all, just died after dreadful torture. Their world had collapsed, so how could they believe in anything good any more! So, they dispersed, back to their homes in many cases. There they would learn to live with grief and loss. Does this ring a bell with all of our experiences this past year? I think probably it does, and really strongly.


I don't need to write this, but from about a year ago so many of us had our hopes destroyed or damaged by something beyond our control. Plague struck as it has throughout human history. Nothing new perhaps, but for this generation completely novel. Surely stories of plague were about the past - at least that's how it appeared for those in the hygienic and medically supported richer places. Famine had happened, but that was far away. War had happened, but again in recent years mostly far away. We - and I include myself - had become complacent in an unhealthy way, and then suddenly our hopes were destroyed. Speaking only for myself, I lost much of the faith that had sustained me. I metaphorically packed up and went home.There I went into my Nero phase, fiddling while Rome burned brightly. Quite rightly, music helped a lot - and still does. Being loved by others and being able to love those close to me helped most of all. Best beloved held her place in my heart and in life, even through physical separation. My family and friends were also close by in a mostly virtual way. So we kept on, plodding our way with hopes raised and then dashed so often. Loving and being loved.

Then, new loves came along, and I definitely include you, my fellow journal contributors. From your own desolation you have provided so much for me and for others. You have done this by voicing your fears, hopes, artistic creativity, and so many things about your transformed lives. I feel great thanks to all for the opportunities for reflection, presented in this sometimes happy, and sometimes sad, cyber place. I think it has been transformational. As yet there is no resurrection, but for me at least, there is some hope.


Well, that has been a bit of a sermon hasn't it, but we haven't endured too many of those, so I hope you will forgive me. This past week has been pretty good - apart, that is, from some vandalism to the beach hut - with no serious damage. Best beloved and I are waiting for our second jabs still. We have managed to meet face to face, and that has been really good. We are planning some changes, notably resumption of our coast walk, perhaps as soon as next week. That will be a delight!


I include a picture of a somewhat bedraggled Peacock Butterfly warming up after a cold winter's hibernation. That's surely a symbol of hope...



Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

We wrapped up warm today, Good Friday, to welcome our four visitors to the garden for coffee and hot cross scones. Chris makes good scones and so added mixed spice, fruit and apple to his usual recipe and decorated them with a flour and water cross. The lower temperature didn’t spoil the pleasure of seeing our youngsters and catching up on all their news – it was good to laugh together again! (Left over scones in picture attached).


What a change in weather from earlier in the week when a sun hat and bottled water was necessary when out walking. With the school children on their Easter holidays, the paths and lanes have been busy but it has been good to see them out enjoying the sunshine and meeting in groups down by the river (hopefully no more than six, I didn’t stop to count)!

My nettle cordial has been stirred every day this week and yesterday I strained it into a Kilner jar ready for bottling into small bottles to freeze or give away. It is a beautiful rosy colour and the flavour is hard to describe but perhaps a little like raspberry.


I look forward to reading this Journal every week both for the views of contributors on the news around the world but also for the stories, recipes, inspiration and comfort it brings from hearing about the daily activities of everyone. I enjoyed Marie-Christine’s description of her visit to the bookshop and how the craft section made her think of her mother-in-law and how she would embroider flowers over holes in her clothes. Well, a hole had appeared at the corner of a pocket sewn on a favourite top of mine so I have copied the idea! Thank you Marie-Christine, it has given my plain grey top an added detail. I expect that lovely French bookshop has been closed for a while now as France goes into lockdown, but not for too long I sincerely hope.


Happy Easter to all.



Gratefully sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia

This Too Shall Be Forgotten:

13.8 Billion Years


How many sentient beings

have looked into a night sky

and wondered what is this place?


How many civilizations have 

evolved, flowered, died

recording as they went extinct?


How many empty planets store

cloistered islands of history

archives shining inexplicable?


How many worlds

of unwritten secrets

decay in the dark expanding?


In this universe

or the one next door

growing on the infinite vine 

worlds seed die reevolve

revolving around suns

igniting in unknowable skies.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

March 31st marked the end of our financial year, almost matching the first (and hopefully last) lockdown year. The business finished very strongly, particularly in the UK, with March being not only our best month ever, but also the first month that we have sold more than £6m. We are also delighted that we did eventually manage to make up all the shortfall from last April and May, and finished with annual sales 0.5% ahead of 2019-20. The whole company is justifiably proud of this achievement.

A lot the work of a Finance Director is “translating” – not from one language to another, but from numbers to words (explaining the numbers) or from numbers to graphs (drawing the numbers). This graph is one that tells the story of our monthly sales across the last 12 months. The blue line is the prior year, and shows the normal pattern of sales through the seasons, with the low point being December – not many people go on a diet in December! The pandemic year is the red line, showing the collapse in sales at the start of the year, the strengthening recovery through the summer and autumn, the dip in January (zero exports to Europe, thanks to Brexit) and then the very strong finish in March.


And there was lots of other good news to cheer us this week. The weather was apparently excellent on Monday and Tuesday – though I was inside working all day. The long overdue easing of lockdown restrictions was introduced on Monday, and the nation celebrated accordingly. The India England cricket series ended in a nail biting game last Sunday which England lost by only 7 runs. And in other sporting news, North Macedonia pulled off an stunning victory over Germany in the World Cup qualifiers. Such events create a great feeling of pleasure at another’s discomfiture: somebody should invent a word for that! 


As I type this morning, Sarah is in the kitchen baking a Simnel cake for Sunday; no cake today though, Good Friday being one of the two “fasting” days of the Church’s year. And I am taking next week off work, to read, relax, potter in the garden, help Thomas with his renovation project and possibly (this just occurred to me this morning) dash up to Lancashire for a probably illegal visit to my old school friend. One of the consequences of illogical, illiberal and largely unenforceable laws is that otherwise law-abiding citizens become quite blasé about lawbreaking. It’s a funny old world. Happy Easter, dear journalers.